Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20111211

Financial Crisis
»As the Dust Settles: A Cold New Europe With Germany in Charge Will Emerge
»Franco-German Eurozone Plan is “Insufficient”
»Greece’s EU Fund Absorption Climbs to 27%
»IMF Economist Says E. U. Agreement is Partial Solution
»Inflation Officially Drops, But it is Not True as China Edges Ever Closer to a Crisis
»Italy: Schifani, Fini State Desire to Cut Parliament Salaries
»Netherlands: PvdA Threatens to Withdraw Support to Cabinet on Euro
»Netherlands: Next Year’s Bank Tax Will Also Tackle Excessive Bonuses
»Premier’s TV Warning — Italy Insolvent Without Budget
»Sovereignty Portions to be Yielded to EU Over Next Months
Europe and the EU
»EuroMP Suspected of Rake-Offs From Spastics Charity
»Italy: Bologna Named ‘Most Liveable City’ In Italy
»Italy: Former Economy Undersecretary Probed for Alleged Mafia Ties
»Italy: Powerful Mafia Group ‘For Decade’ Has Invaded Wealthy Milan
»Italy: Fight Against Mafia Means Attacking the Bosses’ Property
»Netherlands: Secret Service Worried About Radical Muslim Group
»Norway Dairy Sends SOS
»Sweden: Loose Wire Saved Dozens of Christmas Shoppers Caught in Suicide Bomb Attack by Taimour Abdulwahab
»The Netherlands Resists Pressure Over Bulgaria and Romania
»Vatican-OSCE: A Day Against the Persecution of Christians, But Especially Against Religious Intolerance
»Italy-Serbia: Andrea Confezioni Factory in Jagodina
Mediterranean Union
»Exchange With Italy Rises, 82 Bln Target for 2013
Middle East
»Jordanians Protesters Call for Reforms
»Lebanon: Political Dispute Over Electrical Blackout
»NATO Mission in Iraq to End Over Immunity Issue
»Turkey: Trial Starts for Shorn-Head Protesters
South Asia
»US Forces Leave Pakistani Air Base in Shamsi
Far East
»Across China’s Border, Myanmar’s Fate is a Question of Drugs as Much as Democracy
»South Korea to Allow 2 More Christmas Trees Near Border
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Bombs Explode in Kenyan Cities Near Somali Border

Financial Crisis

As the Dust Settles: A Cold New Europe With Germany in Charge Will Emerge

After the EU summit, the prospect is of a joyless union of penalties, punishments, disciplines and seething resentments

As a clear damp dawn rose over Brussels on Friday morning, the tired and tetchy leaders of Europe emerged, bleary-eyed from nine hours of night-time sparring over how to rescue the single currency and indeed the entire European project.

Brave faces were put on, bluffs called, counter-bluffs revealed, vetoes wielded. Histrionics from France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, poker-faced calm from Germany’s Angela Merkel, David Cameron gambling the UK’s place in Europe by opting to battle for Britain rather than helping to save the euro. When the dust settles, Friday 9 December may be seen as a watershed, the beginning of the end for Britain in Europe. But more than that — the emergence for the first time of a cold new Europe in which Germany is the undisputed, pre-eminent power imposing a decade of austerity on the eurozone as the price for its propping up the currency.

The prospect is of a joyless union of penalties, punishments, disciplines and seething resentments, with the centrist elites who run the EU increasingly under siege from anti-EU populists on the right and left everywhere in Europe.

“For the first time in the history of the EU, the Germans are now in charge. But they are also more isolated than before,” said Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform thinktank. “The British are certainly more marginal than before. Their influence has never been lower in my lifetime.”

Whether or not the summit has saved the euro remains, of course, to be seen. At a single stroke, however, it has transformed Britain’s place in Europe. With the fate of the currency at stake in the EU’s worst crisis, Cameron opted for a fight and lost, placing the interests of the City of London before the European priority. Battling for Britain and wielding my veto in the Great British national interest, Cameron averred. There are senior UK officials who believe the prime minister betrayed the British national interest by picking the wrong fight at the wrong time, losing, and forfeiting a seat at the table that will determine the future shape of the EU…

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

Franco-German Eurozone Plan is “Insufficient”

As leaders prepare for a crucial European Union summit, Swiss specialists tell why the latest bid to save the euro currency from collapse is inadequate.

Over the next two days the leaders of France and Germany will be hoping to build support in Brussels for their plan for eurozone nations to submit their economies to much greater scrutiny.

René Schwok is a political scientist at Geneva University and Manfred Gaertner works as economics profesor at St Gallen University.

René Schwok: The latest proposals by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are not original. They repeat those already adopted by the European Council on October 23. And they are well below the expectations of most observers.

Indeed, there is no proposal on an enhanced role for the European Central Bank (ECB). There is no mention either of the creation of eurobonds or equivalent instruments, and the European Commission would not get new powers to control budgets before adoption.

The “golden rule” is not original as it is a simple copy of the EU Stability and Growth Pact criteria [agreement adopted in 1997 to facilitate and maintain the stability of the Economic and Monetary Union]. The only novelty is that the imposition of sanctions will be automatic, unless a qualified majority of the European Council opposes it.

Even if they are going in the right direction, these proposals are insufficient to prevent further attacks against the eurozone area.

R.S.: Merkel and Sarkozy clearly state that these new agreements should be incorporated into EU treaties. Maybe this will appear in the form of a protocol to which only the 17 eurozone states subscribe. Under EU law this is called enhanced cooperation, allowing some states to move forward in some areas without forcing the others to follow. The only requirement is that recalcitrant states let the others go ahead.

I don’t see Britain preventing the 17 eurozone states making decisions for themselves. It is rather countries that aspire to join the eurozone like Poland, which do not like the idea that others decide the rules that will be applied to them in a few years without being able to participate in their elaboration…

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

Greece’s EU Fund Absorption Climbs to 27%

1,852 new projects add up to some 4 bln euros

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, DECEMBER 7 — Greek Development Ministry is trying to make the best possible use of European Union funds to bolster growth by including feasible projects in the funding framework and scrapping those that have remained idle, daily Khatimerini reports quoting minister Michalis Chrysochoidis as saying. In a joint press conference with Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, Chrysochoidis presented the implementation course of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) and claimed that the acceleration achieved has led to the absorption of 27% of the funds for the period up to 2013. The 1,852 new projects included add up to some 4 billion euros, while the active contracts amount now to 8.2 billion euros. In the context of the effort to inject some much-needed liquidity into the market, negotiations with the European Commission and the European Investment Bank are close to completion regarding the creation of funds that will release resources for small and medium-sized enterprises and infrastructure projects. Chrysochoidis and European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn are likely to make formal announcements on the subject next week.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

IMF Economist Says E. U. Agreement is Partial Solution

(AGI) Tel Aviv — The IMF’s chief economist Olivier Blanchard said today that fiscal union is a step in the right direction for the EU, but it is not an overall solution for the sovereign debt crisis. “At the moment,” he said, “I am more optimistic than I was a month ago, and some progress has been made. “What took place last week was important and is part of a solution, but it is not an overall solution.” Blanchard did not address in detail the problems Europe must solve.

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

Inflation Officially Drops, But it is Not True as China Edges Ever Closer to a Crisis

China’s National Bureau of Statistics said today that inflation in November was 4.2 per cent. However, a closer look at prices shows that some have jumped as much as 36 per cent. Provincial and central government spending on dinners, receptions and parties is higher than the country’s education budget. Small- and medium-sized enterprises are closing whilst foreign investors are told to lie on their possible investments. According to Bloomberg, the crisis is near; according to Goldman Sachs, things are okay.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) — Consumer prices rose at 4.2 per cent last month compared with the same month last year, China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said today, the lowest in 14 months. However, no one in the country gives much credence to the figure because people have seen prices surge, up to 30 per cent in some cases, rising much faster than official figures. In addition, fears are growing that China’s economy is edging ever closer to a hard landing.

Inflation increased by at 4.2 per cent in November from a year before, the National Bureau of Statistics against 5.5 per cent in October, after hitting a three-year high in July of 6.5 per cent. However, things are worse on the ground. “In fact, inflation is skyrocketing,” a businessman from China’s coast said. “Before, with 50 yuan three people could eat at a restaurant; now, it is not enough for one.”

Other indicators throw a different light on official figures. Meat jumped 36 per cent. Until two months ago, half a kilo of garlic cost two yuan. Now it takes half a yuan just to buy a single clove (when it is available). Now many working families cannot get to the end of the month.

But whilst ordinary people complain about extreme poverty, provincial and national authorities are spending lavishly on dinners, receptions, parties, etc, whose total cost is now higher than the country’s education budget.

Inflation has also risen because of the government’s attempt to shield the economy from the aftershocks of the 2008 subprime crisis. At the time, the authorities introduced a US$ 4 trillion stimulus package that led to runaway inflation caused by overproduction and excess investments. The result has been a real estate bubble with many new but empty houses and unused office space (at least 50 per cent), as well as factories with a lot of unsold inventories. Likewise, provinces have invested heavily in infrastructure, building high-speed railways, airports and port facilities that are underutilised or too far from markets.

Given the situation, the central government has cut lending. However, that and lower exports due to the world economic crisis have been hard on many companies, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In October, one fifth of Zhejiang’s 360,000 SMEs had to close for lack of credit.

At the same time, it order to maintain an appearance of growth, highly indebted provincial governments have told foreign investors to declare the amount of new capital they intend to invest, which is then classified as “new investments”.

Recently, Prof Larry Lang said that China was on the brink of collapse (see “As China’s govt cheats, its economy is “on the brink of bankruptcy”, Chinese scholar says,” in AsiaNews, 30 November 2011).

Similarly, 61 per cent of investors surveyed said they anticipate a crash in the financial industry in the next five years, Bloomberg reported, eroding confidence in the country’s leadership.

Enthusiasm for Chinese stocks has also flagged among Bloomberg subscribers. In the latest poll, 21 per cent called China one of the best places to invest over the next year. That was less than half the 44 per cent who named China in an October 2009 survey.

The scepticism contrasts with the outlook of economists from Goldman Sachs and the International Monetary Fund, who predict China will avoid a growth slump whilst defusing inflation. Goldman, in a 1 December report, projected the nation’s gross domestic product would rise 8.6 per cent next year and 8.7 per cent in 2013.

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

Italy: Schifani, Fini State Desire to Cut Parliament Salaries

(AGI) Rome — The Senate and House Speakers, Schifani and Fini, have announced quick action on parliamentary salaries. “The suppositions of some information fonts about the presumed unwillingness of Parliament to assume behaviors in line with the severity that the serious economic-financial crisis imposes on all, does not correspond to the truth.” Renato Schifani and Gianfranco Fini made the statements with regards to the reduction of parliamentary salaries.

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

Netherlands: PvdA Threatens to Withdraw Support to Cabinet on Euro

AMSTERDAM, 09/12/11 — Labour (PvdA) is threatening to withdraw its support for the cabinet regarding the tackling of the euro crisis. The biggest opposition party will press for elections if more power is shifted from the member states to Europe.

On Wednesday evening, the Lower House debated the Dutch effort at the European summit today and tomorrow on the euro crisis. PvdA MP Ronald Plasterk unexpectedly came out with threatening language. If substantial authority is to be transferred to Brussels, this must be presented to the electorate by means of elections, he said.

The PvdA is to date still supporting the cabinet of VVD and the Christian democrats (CDA) regarding the approach to the euro crisis. This support is of great importance because the PVV, the coalition partner of the minority cabinet, is against any rescue operation for weak countries.

It is expected that the PvdA will have to give way on this after the EU summit. PvdA leader Job Cohen however declined to respond yesterday morning to the question of whether he would indeed withdraw support for the cabinet’s European policy if the cabinet refuses to hold elections.

According to Premier Mark Rutte, no sovereignty whatever will be transferred to Brussels. He does expect a minor amendment of the EU treaty, But this will only amount to the enforcement of existing agreements on budget discipline.

Rutte is pushing for automatic sanctions to be enshrined in the EU treaty for when member states do not stick to budget agreements. He compared this with the introduction of speed limits on the roads.

“How do we enforce the standards? Not just with a board saying you can only drive at up to 50 kilometres, but also with an officer who says: You are driving too fast, I am going to fine you. This is not the transfer of sovereignty.

As far as Rutte is concerned, revision of the treaty is no goal in itself, but a means to prevent the budget rules once again being trodden underfoot. This may be possible without treaty amendment, if only this is sufficiently watertight judicially, according to Rutte.

Rutte did not want to give much comment on the proposals of Germany and France, but said he was not much in favour of a monthly meeting of the government leaders of the 17 eurozone counties, as Berlin and Paris want.

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

Netherlands: Next Year’s Bank Tax Will Also Tackle Excessive Bonuses

Draft legislation introducing a new tax on banks next year will also include an extra tax of 5% for banks which pay excessive bonuses to executives, the Volkskrant reports on Friday.

The extra tax will be imposed on banks which pay executives a bonus of more than one year’s salary, the paper said on its website.

The aim of the bank tax is to raise some €300m a year. Risky short-term debt will be taxed at a higher rate than long-term loans. The cabinet says the tax is justified because several banks were saved by billions of euros of taxpayers’ money during the 2008 crisis.

‘Now the time is right to ask for something back,’ the Volkskrant quoted junior finance minister Frans Weekers as saying after the weekly cabinet meeting.

He admitted banks would be able to pass the extra costs on to consumers but said he hoped they would primarily cut their own costs and bonuses.

Listed companies

Meanwhile, economic affairs minister Maxime Verhagen said on Friday the executives of listed companies should limit themselves to a golden handshake of no more than one year’s salary if they leave a company because of a difference of opinion.

However, the minister is opposed to anchoring some parts of the voluntary corporate governance code — which covers executive pay and standards — in law.

If this happened, managers would instead start ticking items off lists, rather than ‘thinking about what is socially acceptable’, Verhagen said.

Verhagen made his remarks in a speech at the presentation of a new report on monitoring corporate governance.

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

Premier’s TV Warning — Italy Insolvent Without Budget

PM confident Italians will understand. Pensions decision hardest. Little room for adjustments.

MILAN — Mario Monti took off his technocrat’s hat, and even got slightly sentimental, as he explained his emergency government’s swath of just-launched budget measures to an Italy getting ready to take its collective belt in another notch. “I’m here to explain, not to do you a favour”, was his opening gambit for interviewer Bruno Vespa, host of the TV talk show that earned the nickname of Parliament’s “third Chamber” for Silvio Berlusconi’s many appearances, including the one when he signed his “contract with the Italians”. The prime minister told his default anxiety-stricken fellow citizens that there was no alternative to the budget: “I invited everyone to consider that this operation of rigour, fairness and growth required sacrifice. But the other option wasn’t carrying on as if nothing was amiss. It was running the risk that the state might not be able to pay wages and pensions. Protests are justified but Italians will understand”. What follows is a summary of the main issues the premier discussed on his first television appearance, including a question on the women in his life, his mother and his wife.

MARKETS — “Today, the markets are wild beasts that have taken fright. It’s our task to tame them. We are working on behalf of Italians, not the markets. We have to take the markets into account because their function is essential but we don’t have to bend the knee”. “Who is the bogeyman?” asks Bruno Vespa. “There’s no bogeyman as such but there could be others, like the Chinese or Canadian investors. Anyone who moves assets around the world can take advantage of the little errors countries make but there are also speculators. We have to tame the markets”.

FAMILY — Mr Monti rejected criticism, mainly from Catholic circles, that he had neglected the needs of the family. He said: “That’s not true. We have taken care of women and young people, who are fundamental components of the family and of society. Although ‘tax relief’ isn’t a particularly fashionable word at the moment, there is a reduction of employment taxes, through IRAP, for businesses that hire women and young people on open-ended contracts. We have given no tax bonus for short-term employment”.

HOMES — “First homes are important for people’s lives but they also consume public resources. You need infrastructures around homes. Towns cost money. In all countries, first homes contribute to maintaining public services”, said the prime minister, justifying the re-introduction of the ICI property tax on first homes.

PENSIONS — “I sympathise with bewildered pensioners but Italy’s spending on pensions is skewed. Fairness includes fairness to future generations. This is not an abstract issue. In the past, politicians in search of consensus have satisfied everyone by passing the debt on to young people”, said the PM…

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

Sovereignty Portions to be Yielded to EU Over Next Months

(AGI) Cagliari — “Over the next months we will have to yield increasing portions of sovereignty to Europe, that is why the quality of politics must be heightened”. The leader of ‘Futuro e Liberta” (Future and Freedom) Gianfranco Fini spoke about what is happening to the European countries, in a speech at the Teatro Lirico in Cagliari tonight .

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

Europe and the EU

EuroMP Suspected of Rake-Offs From Spastics Charity

(AGI) Messina — EPP EuroMP Sebastiano Sanzarello is among those being investigated as part of the anti-Mafia Gothas 2 enquiry.

Sanzarello, a former regional health councillor from Mistreta (Messina) is suspected of misappropriation of funds by taking rake-offs worth over half a million euros from the Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto AIAS spastics charity. Sanzarello was denounced by the former chairman of the charity, Luigi La Rosa, commissioner for financial irregularities since 2010.

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

Italy: Bologna Named ‘Most Liveable City’ In Italy

‘We can overcome crisis’, says mayor

(ANSA) — Bologna, December 6 — The northern city of Bologna has been named the most liveable city in the country, according to a new survey.

Bologna has long been recognised as a centre of arts and culture and is home to the oldest university in the world, the University of Bologna, which was founded in 1088.

A poll conducted by the national business daily, Il Sole-24 Ore, announced the finding after assessing the quality of life in 107 provinces across Italy.

The survey looked at a number of issues spanning business, work, health and hospital services and the state of the local environment, public services and availability of free time. Bologna’s Mayor Virginio Merola welcomed the news saying the city was well-placed to weather the current economic crisis.

“I believe that this region and urban network has all the conditions for overcoming this crisis,” he said.

One of the major assets of the city is its commitment to childcare and education. In 2010 the city offered places for 3,275 children at nursery schools and kindergartens.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Former Economy Undersecretary Probed for Alleged Mafia Ties

Nicola Cosentino pressured Italy’s biggest bank, prosecutors say

(ANSA) — Naples, December 6 — Naples prosecutors on Tuesday requested an arrest warrant for former Economy Undersecretary Nicola Cosentino for suspicion of corruption and colluding with the mafia. Among other things, the former undersecretary from ex-Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party is accused of pressuring members of Italy’s largest bank Unicredit into providing financing for a shopping mall with alleged ties to the Camorra mafia, which is based in and around Naples.

Cosentino decided to resign last year after allegations of being part of a lobby that aimed to influence high-court judges in Berlusconi’s favour.

However, the former undersecretary did not give up his post as the ex-premier’s party leader in Campania, the region around Naples.

Cosentino was also accused by prosecutors in 2009 of links with the Camorra but parliament rejected an arrest warrant and Berlusconi turned down his proffered resignations from both his posts.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Powerful Mafia Group ‘For Decade’ Has Invaded Wealthy Milan

Reggio Calabria, 2 Dec. (AKI) — Milan is the centre of a decade-long invasion by Italy’s most powerful and violent mafia syndicate, according to a leading prosecutor from southern Italy.

A judge, regional politician, doctor, lawyer and police official were among the 10 suspects people arrested Wednesday in a probe that Milan prosecutors said shed light on the ‘Ndrangheta’s infiltration into Italy’s wealthy Lombardy region where Milan is the industrial and finance hub.

“The north, the heart of the country’s production, is the centre of an offensive by “Ndrangheta clans, Reggio Calbria head prosecutor Michele Prestipino told Italy’s Sky satellite news channel. The ‘Ndrangheta is based in the southern Calabria region where Reggio Calabria is the largest city.

“It’s an offensive that didn’t just begin today. It’s been happening for a decade The group has multiplied and created a grey area of infiltration inside the public administration. Investigations show the ties with civil servants and professionals that aim to create ways for clans to recycle money.”

Investigators say the affluent Lombardy region has fallen victim to a colonisation by the ‘Ndrangheta which invests billions of euros in businesses and real estate to launder money through illegal activities. Its activities have also been tracked to North and South America, Australia, as well as other European countries.

Italian authorities consider the ‘Ndrangheta the country’s most dangerous crime syndicate. It reportedly earns tens of billions of euros each year, largely from narcotics smuggled from Latin America, but also from extortion and other types of smuggling.

Among those arrested on Wednesday was Reggio Calabria Tribunal magistrate Giuseppe Vincenzo Giglio, who has headed an anti-organised crime unit, aided a member of the Lampada crime clan and “facilitated” ‘Ndrangheta activities.

Part of Giglio’s job was to order the seizure of assets of property belonging to convicted members of the mafia.

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

Italy: Fight Against Mafia Means Attacking the Bosses’ Property

(AGI) Naples — The fight against organized crime cannot be carried out without attacking the property of criminals and cutting the bonds between mafia and politics, especially in a moment in which crisis “lowered the defence mechanism of the economic, financial and political system”, as claimed by the writer Roberto Saviano in a videomessage to the initiative “Politics against Mafias”, organized by the City of Naples. The author of “Gomorra” aknowledged the merits of the former Interior minister Roberto Maroni, but he said that this action was not “fundamental”, since it progressively became “weaker and weaker and did not manage to change the economic policies”.

The role of politics in this field must be “to create instruments to allow the judges to attack the mafia’s real estate and liquid assets”. Saviano underlined that the Berlusconi Government “claimed they carried out a great campaign against mafia”, but this is “difficult to believe since the Finance Undersecretary was under investigation, and his arrest had been asked by the Mafia Prosecutor in Naples, and since one of the funding fathers of majority party was Marcello Dell’Utri”. Saviano stressed that Italians are “tired of being associated to mafia” and, repeating former premier Berlusconi’s expression, according to which those who talk about mafia smear Italy, he explained that “the truth is just the contrary of it: it is a way to defend our country, especially considering that we have the best antimafia legislation in the world”.

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

Netherlands: Secret Service Worried About Radical Muslim Group

The Dutch Intelligence Service, AIVD is worried about the rapid radicalization of the Muslim group “Sharia4Holland.” The AIVD remarked that the group appears increasingly in public and hands out flyers on the street. This group is held responsible for the disturbance in an Amsterdam meeting where Parliamentarian Tofik Dibi, (Green Left) had eggs thrown at him. Radical slogans were also shouted. Various parliamentarians of the Labor Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals have criticized the group. The Freedom Party wants the group to be prohibited.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Norway Dairy Sends SOS

Norway’s major butter producers are appealing for foreign help as they are struggling to keep up with demand.

“Butter has traditionally had a bad reputation, health-wise, but now everyone wants a lot of it,” Jon Holstad, head of TINE’s Voll dairy in Rogaland, western Norway, tells NRK.

In yesterday’s article on The Foreigner, both Tine and branch organisation Opplysningskontoret for Meieriprodukter (Dairy Product Information Office) blamed bad weather, poor harvests, and healthy cooking with fresh ingredients for the butter shortage. The finger has also been pointed at low carb diets.

A TINE representative also assured customers there would be an adequate supply if everyone remained calm.

Today, Mr Holstad says 4,600 packages per hour are insufficient. He says, “We are not accustomed to butter almost being taken out of our grasp. We used to have a supply in storage.”

TINE has called for lowered butter import duties during this exceptional period, the company has imported 150 tons for industrial use, and increased production by reducing the amount of cheese made. Supplies are still slipping away, however.

“These measures we have adopted won’t be enough,” says Executive Director Elisabeth Morthen.

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

Sweden: Loose Wire Saved Dozens of Christmas Shoppers Caught in Suicide Bomb Attack by Taimour Abdulwahab

The Stockholm suicide bomber Taimour Abdulwahab was carrying up to 17kg of nails and explosives when he blew himself up among Christmas shoppers a year ago but a loose wire meant the bomb did not detonate properly saving dozens of lives.

Details of the last hours of Luton extremist Taimour Abdulwahab were revealed by the Swedish security services as they laid out the results of a 12-month investigation.

The bomber arrived at Skavsta Airport, Sweden from Britain on November 19 and from there he went to Tranas where he stayed with his parents for three weeks, investigators said.

He had already begun purchasing bomb-making equipment in the form of a handheld pollen press on the internet before he left Luton, sources said.

They said that in Britain, Abdulwahab was not a “leading man who charismatically gathered people around him.”

“His views appear to have been shared with a handful of other people who were also part of his social network,” a security source told the Daily Telegraph.


Sweden: four arrested over ‘terror plot’

11 Sep 2011

Nursing student charged with funding Stockholm suicide bomber

14 Mar 2011

Sweden suicide bomber went to British university

12 Dec 2010

Investigators could find no evidence that he had accomplices with him in Stockholm when he launched the attacks but investigations are continuing in Britain where one man has been arrested and charged.

In Sweden, Abdulwahab apparently stayed around Tranås but investigators have been unable to discover where he assembled his bombs.

They have been able to establish that he bought a white Audi, which he used for the attack, in Tranås on November 22 and bought other bomb-making equipment in shops around the town…

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

The Netherlands Resists Pressure Over Bulgaria and Romania

Despite strong pressure from other EU countries, the Netherlands has refused to agree to Bulgaria and Romania joining the open border Schengen zone.

The two countries have still not done enough to combat corruptions and organized crime, prime minister Mark Rutte said.

The EU will consider the question again in March but ‘I do not rule out the Netherlands saying no again,’ Rutte was quoted as saying by news agencies.

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

Vatican-OSCE: A Day Against the Persecution of Christians, But Especially Against Religious Intolerance

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti appreciates the idea of an annual day to commemorate the 200 million persecuted Christians. But OSCE efforts against religious intolerance is important, especially in the countries of North Africa and the former Soviet republics.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) — An annual international day to remind the world of persecution of Christians: This is the idea that for some time now has been discussed within the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and it has met with the appreciation of the Holy See, even if the Vatican seems to push more for a commitment against intolerance of all religions.

At the 18th OSCE Ministerial Council, held in Vilnius (Lithuania) on December 6, Msgr. Dominique Mamberti, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, encouraged “the participating States to report hate crimes against Christians, I wish to express my hope that in the near future there is a sequel to the Rome Conference [held last September — ed], in particular in discussions with our partners for cooperation. The celebration of International Day against the persecution and discrimination of Christians could prove an important sign that governments are eager to tackle this serious issue. “

Referring to Benedict XVI’s Message for World Day of Peace 2011, religious freedom, Msgr. Mamberti recalled that “Christians are now the religious group that suffers the highest number of persecution because of their faith …. There may be more than two hundred million Christians of different denominations, who are in difficulty because of legal and cultural structures that lead to their discrimination. “

The Vatican Secretary expressed appreciation for the OSCE efforts to support religious freedom. He recalled that “the Astana Summit Declaration [of 2010] clearly stated that ‘ greater efforts must be made to promote freedom of religion or belief and to combat intolerance and discrimination’. The right to religious freedom, despite being repeatedly proclaimed by the international community and in the constitutions of most states, continues today be widely violated”.

“This commitment to combating religious intolerance is what motivates the Holy See,” a Vatican official told AsiaNews. “This work which is of utmost important would be fitting for the OSCE.”

The OSCE is an international organization that developed after the Helsinki Conference of 1973, for the promotion of peace, political dialogue, justice and cooperation in Europe. It currently has 56 member countries and is in fact the largest regional security organization. Among the member states and partners are the former Soviet republics and the countries of North Africa. In recent times in these two areas serious attacks against the religious freedom of Muslims and Christians have been registered.

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


Italy-Serbia: Andrea Confezioni Factory in Jagodina

Production of sheets to protect cars and motorcycles

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, DECEMBER 7 — The Italian company Andrea Confezioni is going to build a factory for the production of special canvas sheets for the protection of cars and motorcycles in Jagodina, a city in Serbia located 140km south of Belgrade. The contract for the project was signed by Serbia’s Vice Premier Verica Kalanovic, the mayor of Jagodina Dragan Markovic and, representing the Italian company, Paola and Andrea Tavelli.

Kalanovic has said that nine million euros will be invested in the construction of the factory, which will be completed in 2012 and will create jobs for 500 people. The clients of Andrea Confezioni include Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Bmw, Ford, Peugeot, Citroen, Aston martin, Hyundai, Lamborghini, Porsche and Suzuki.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Exchange With Italy Rises, 82 Bln Target for 2013

Report: southern firms want development after stabilisation

(ANSAmed) — NAPLES, DECEMBER 2 — “We believe that the current period of turbulence in the Mediterranean area could be stabilised within six months, paving the way for the significant recovery in the development of investments from Italian entrepreneurs and those from Campania in particular”. This bright outlook comes from the Paolo Scudieri, chair of the association Study and Research for the South (SRM), which presented its new report entitled “Economic relations between Italy and the Mediterranean” in Naples today.

The report shows that Italy is the leading trade partner of the Mediterranean area (which, for the sake of the study, includes the Middle East, North Africa and the non-EU Balkan states) with exchange totaling 63.3 billion euros, 30% of which concerning southern Italy. The study predicts that the figure will rise to 82.3 billion euros in 2013. Germany and France are currently in second and third place respectively, with totals of 52.4 and 46 billion euros. Net of energy trade, however, Italy slides down to third place with 35.9 billion euros, behind Germany and France with 46.7 and 37.1 billion euros respectively.

“Bridging the ten billion euro manufacturing gap with Germany must be the priority for Italy, and for the south in particular,” said Massimo Deandreis, the director general of SRM. “Just as Germany made the most of the transition of eastern European countries in the 1990s towards a market economy, Italy must accompany the growth of countries in the MENA area to revive its own growth”. The study sees this growth as constant, in spite of the international crisis. The GDP of the MENA area is predicted to rise by 3.7% in 2012, with Algeria, Egypt and Jordan expected to record above average rates of growth. Even the Arab Spring has failed to slow down trade with Europe and Italy in particular. In the first six months of 2011, growth was slower (only 2%) but weighed down significantly by the ban on imports of energy products, from Libya in particular.

Looking at financial flows, the SRM report highlights the role of sovereign funds in the area, which are the second richest in the world after those in the Far East, with assets worth over 1.750 trillion dollars, a figure expected to rise to 1.75 trillion dollars by 2015. The flow of investment of MENA area sovereign funds is expected to rise by between 4 and 10 billion dollars in the next four years. Analysis of economic relations then pays particular attention to infrastructure, with two figures used as a starting point. Firstly, 37% of Italian exports are carried out by sea. Secondly, between 2005 and 2010, Italian ports lost major market shares in container flows to other ports on the southern side of the Mediterranean, such as Port Said in Egypt and Tangiers Med in Morocco. The port of Gioia Tauro, in Calabria, has gone from 20% of the Mediterranean container market in 2005 to 14% today, while Port Said has grown from 10% to 17% in the same time, while Tangiers Med has gone from zero to 10%. “In this sense, the dredging plan recently launched by the port of Naples is very important, as it will allow big ships to dock there. This means that positive responses occur when entrepreneurs are spurred on by institutions, as occurred with the Campania region’s recent measures in favour of exports in the automotive industry. In terms of infrastructure, the report says, another topical factor in relations with the Mediterranean is the development of the production of alternative energy on a large scale. Authoritative studies have shown that thermodynamic solar power stations, set up over less than 0.3% of the entire surface area of deserts in North Africa, would be able to generate electricity and drinking water to meet demand in MENA countries and throughout Europe, as well as the estimated requirements for the near future. “These prospects, which may seem futuristic, actually represent concrete business, the feasibility of which is already being studied, and could seriously stimulate the increase in economic relations with our country”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Jordanians Protesters Call for Reforms

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, DECEMBER 2 — Throngs of Islamist leaning activists participated in a rally in Amman on Friday calling for genuine reforms and end to infested corruption in public institutions.

Demonstrators held placards to condemn lack of action against high profile corruption cases and the manner in which governments are formed. Security forces were visible in the area, but the rally ended without friction with protesters.

Opposition activists demand new parliament law and a system by which governments are formed based on parliament majority.

Opposition parties say the approve the king but want to trim powers of the monarch by pushing for constitutional monarchy.

Abdullah has promised to step up reform efforts.

“The reform we seek should see authorities capable of making liable corrupts and allow people take part in decision making,” said one protester as he marched waiving a flag of the Islamist movement.

Activists say recent constitutional amendments fall short of public aspirations.

The amendments allowed creation of independent committees to run elections and a constitutional court.

However, protesters said it kept the king in control of naming governments and dismissing the parliament at his wish.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Political Dispute Over Electrical Blackout

Workers cut power at plant in south;Shiite group Amal accused

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, DECEMBER 6 — A stoppage caused by workers at Lebanon’s second-largest power plant, which led to blackouts last weekend in Beirut and in several other areas in the country, has reignited controversies between political and confessional factions, causing continual and dangerous rivalries to re-emerge. The blackouts were a “national catastrophe” which “threatened to damage government institutions and installations”, denounced Energy Minister, Gibran Bassil, cited today by The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper. While Fares Souhaid, the leader of the ‘March 14’ opposition coalition, directly accused Amal, a Shiite movement with strong support in the region involved in the controversy, of being responsible for the incidents on Friday at the Zahrani power plant in Southern Lebanon, which provides nearly 40% of the country’s electricity. According to the press, the incident occurred when workers at the power plant autonomously decided to cut power because they received threats from residents in the area, who were furious with a decision by distribution company, Electricité du Liban, to move a transformer at the plant to another in Sidon. This sort of dissatisfaction is widespread in Lebanon, where chronic power shortages cause blackouts on a daily basis at various hours of the day, which cause residents to use private generators. In a statement, Electricité du Liban made accusations at “political parties that tried to use force to impose their domination over a public sector”. The reference is to Amal, a Shiite movement led by Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri. And the crisis was only resolved after a meeting between Berri and Prime Minister, Najib Maqati, which took place at the private residence of the speaker in Zahrani. “Even during the civil war water and electricity were never deliberately cut,” said Minister Basil, an ally of Hezbollah, the other more powerful Shiite movement in the country. Basil said that the power shortage problem in Lebanon can be resolved by enacting a plan that he has presented and which has been approved by the government, which aims to increase production on a national level by 700 MW with investments of 1.2 billion dollars.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

NATO Mission in Iraq to End Over Immunity Issue

(AGI) London — NATO’s mission will not go beyond the end of the year, because Baghdad will not give NATO soldiers immunity from prosecution, said Falah al-Fayadh, and Iraqi national security advisor. “NATO surprised us with this decision,” said al-Fayadh speaking on the flight that is taking Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to Washington. “We are disappointed that NATO is withdrawing its mission from Iraq, because immunity is something the government has no control over.” said al-Fayadh, adding that the Iraqi government was informed of the decision on Thursday.

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

Turkey: Trial Starts for Shorn-Head Protesters

Far-left youths have been months in prison

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA — With the accompaniment of mass shaving of heads in a sign of protest, a controversial trial has begun in Ankara today of youths from far-left organisations after months of imprisonment. The youths stand accused of serious charges which, the country’s main opposition party says, are unfounded, but serve only to intimidate anyone opposing the government of Conservative Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

According to opposition newspapers and websites, among the 28 accused are at least three young people who have been arrested for having done no more than cut off their hair in a sign of solidarity with a companion whose hair was force-shaven when he was admitted to prison.

Although the youths made a point of having their protest photographed, the accusation was that they had cut off their hair in order to disguise themselves and thus avoid arrest.

In the trial, which has been called “one of the more controversial ones of recent years,” the defendants face the charge of belonging to a terrorist organisation, criminal damage and resisting arrest. The youths, almost all belonging to far-left collectives which are in the front line of opposition to Erdogan, were arrested when a protest demonstration degenerated into clashes in Ankara. The demonstration was organised on May 31 this year to protest against the death a few hours previously of a pensioner who succumbed to a heart attack when choked by tear gas and chilly-powder spray used by the police to break up an anti-Premier protest during electoral campaigning in Hopa on the Black Sea.

Some daily newspapers, including Hurriyet, have reported how many university students, professors, opposition MPs and other people have been cutting off their hair in a sign of protest at the charges levelled at the youths before the court.

The producers and writers of a popular TV programme have also joined in the protest. Photos show a “hair-cutting fest” during which around 200 participants — many of whom from universities — put their shorn locks into envelopes to send to the Ankara court. A paper which is even further on the side of the opposition, Cumhuriyet, claims that “the hair organisation” is a growing one.

A crowd, said to be a large one, followed court proceedings from outside chanting slogans such as “No surrender to the AKP” (the party giving the Premier his almost absolute majority) and “No room for Fascism”. Inside the courtroom, onlookers applauded the students at the dock. Ilhan Cihaner, an MP for the CHP, the main social-democratic party in the opposition, claimed that “the trial launches the message that those opposing the AKP can be arrested as members of terroristic organisations”.

The left-wing press is giving credence to an estimate whereby there are around 500 Turkish students in prison mainly for having protested against university fees but facing charges of terrorism. In Turkey, remand sentences can last for up to ten years and this has been a target of criticism from Europe.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

US Forces Leave Pakistani Air Base in Shamsi

(AGI) Islamabad — The US has complied with Islamabad’s requests to evacuate the Shamsi air base, in Pakistan. The evacuation was demanded after a November 26 NATO air raid resulted in the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers. “Americans have left the base in Shamsi, handing over to Pakistani security forces,” a Pakistani officer said. The incident which led to Islamabad’s evacuation demands occurred in the south-western Baluchistan province. The Shamsi base had been used as a strip for drone missions along the Afghan border.

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

Far East

Across China’s Border, Myanmar’s Fate is a Question of Drugs as Much as Democracy

Hillary Clinton makes a historic visit, Myanmar may be starting to edge to more openness, and perhaps even real democracy. But along the border with China, the so-called “golden triangle” is a haven of drug and human trafficking

Most people have probably never heard of this place named Ruili. And yet it should be mentioned in the same breath with the world’s other capitals of globalized crime: like the mafia base Gioia Tauro in the Italian region of Calabria, the European center of human trafficking in Veleshta, Macedonia, and Ciudad del Este, in Paraguay, where the black market is legal and no goods are taxed.

The city of Ruili has a population of 140,000 and is located in the Chinese province of Yunnan on the border of Myanmar. This “golden triangle” is the world’s second-largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, with hundreds of heroin and amphetamines refineries scattered across the landscape.

Reporters and activists are busy chronicling signs that Myanmar may be edging toward democracy. This week’s visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives them even more to talk about. What isn’t being mentioned much, however, is that drug production and trafficking will have a decisive influence on the country’s future.

“In Ruili, you’ll see things you won’t see anywhere else in China,” says a taxi driver, stunned to meet an Italian. On the street leading into the city center, we encountered four roadblocks.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government has sent the army here. Burmese businessmen cross the borders nonstop to buy products on sale, browsing Ruili’s small parking slots, which have been turned into makeshift shops.

On the other side of the border, Chinese buy raw jade, wood, minerals, and exotic animals. Others export heroin and amphetamines from Myanmar through the check point between Ruili and the Burmese city of Muse. Then the drug is sold in South China, Canton, Hong Kong, and finally to the rest of the world.

Human trafficking is flourishing too. There are many young Burmese women in Ruili’s hundreds of brothels. Some of them came here looking for a new life. Many have been sold by their own families. Often, Chinese gangs cross the border to kidnap Burmese girls and sell them as wives in China. The first AIDS epidemic in China exploded here, and the area continues to have China’s highest percentage of HIV-positive people.

This is also a strategic area for the region’s energy future. A $2 billion oil pipeline projected to carry Middle East oil from the Bay of Bengal to Ruili via Myanmar is currently under construction. It will allow oil to be transported through the Malacca Strait where piracy attacks are too frequent…

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

South Korea to Allow 2 More Christmas Trees Near Border

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea will allow Christians to light two more Christmas tree-shaped towers near the tense border with North Korea despite strong opposition from Pyongyang, an official said Sunday. The South Korean government allowed a Christian group to light a massive steel Christmas tree near the border last year for the first time in seven years as tensions flared in the wake of two deadly attacks blamed on the North.

That tree will be lit again this month, while South Korea has also decided to allow other Christian groups to light two other front-line Christmas trees, a Defense Ministry official said. The decision is meant to help guarantee freedom of expression and religion, the official said on condition of anonymity, citing office policy.

Earlier on Sunday, North Korea’s state-run Uriminzokkiri website said that lighting the first tree was a form of psychological warfare and would trigger an “unexpected consequence.” South Korea’s military will bolster security near the three trees, located on the western, central and eastern portions of the border, the Defense Ministry official said. The trees will stay lit for 15 days starting Dec. 23.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Bombs Explode in Kenyan Cities Near Somali Border

(AGI) Isiolo — Two bombs have exploded in as many Kenyan cities close to the border with Somalia in what appears to be a coordinated attack for which Shabaab has claimed responsibility. Local police authorities have reported that a policeman has been killed and twelve people wounded. one of the bombs exploded in Mandera as a police patrol drove by wounding three officers. The second bomb instead was made to explode near a military base in Wajir .

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