Sunday, January 12, 2003

News Feed 20120213

Financial Crisis
»Athens in Flames: Violent Clashes as Parliament Passes Austerity Bill
»Athens Reeling From Latest Riots
»Athens Smoulders After Blazing Protests Over Austerity
»Austerity Feeding Public Discontent in Europe
»Berlin Vows to Maintain Pressure on Greece After Vote
»China Won’t ‘Buy’ Europe
»Financial Transactions Tax Ineffective: Analysts
»German Ministers Pressure Athens Over Reforms
»Greece Having Problems Absorbing EU Funds
»Japan Hopes for Economic Rebound
»Number of Dutch Poor Growing Fast
»Romania to Cut 600 Postal Jobs in Accord With IMF: Report
»Spiegel Interview With George Soros: ‘Merkel is Leading Europe in the Wrong Direction’
»‘The Troika’s Policies Have Failed’: European Doubts Growing Over Greece Debt Strategy
»Violence Offers Glimpse of Greece’s Reform Challenge
»White House Asks for Brutal Planetary NASA Budget Cuts
»Obama Asks Congress for Funds for Arab Spring Countries
»Obama’s 2013 NASA Budget Request Shifts Funds From Mars to Space Tech
»Obama Administration Proposes Big Cuts to NASA’s Mars Programs
»Srdja Trifkovic: Obama’s Game
»US Commissions First New Nuclear Reactors in 30 Years
»When Arctic Ice Locks Up Your Submarine, It’s Time to Break Out the Chainsaw
Europe and the EU
»Ambassdors to Complain Over Dutch Rightwing Website
»Aviation Industry Warns of Trade War Over EU Carbon Tax
»Belarus Claims Poland Funded Coup Attempt
»Belgian Court Refuses to Ban ‘Tintin in the Congo’
»Belgium in Longest Cold Wave Since 1941
»Britain Nurses Wounds After Snubs by India
»Dutch Sailors Clash With Norwegians
»EU Condemns Dutch Anti-Migrant Website
»EU to Keep CO2 Aviation Tax
»Europe Launches New Vega Rocket on Maiden Voyage
»France: Plan for Carla Statue Stirs Local Resistance
»French Police Lose Track of ‘House Arrest’ Algerian
»Germany: Barefoot Snow Runner Sets 5km World Record
»Germany: Cologne Witchcraft Trial Reopens After 400 Years
»Hairline Cracks Could Cost Eads 100 Million Euros
»Italian Rocket Vega in European Satellite Advance
»Italy: Former German Corporal Allegedly Ordered Cephalonia Executions
»LHC Boosts Energy to Snag Higgs — And Superpartners
»Libyan Rebels Treated in Belgian Hospitals
»Muslim Refugees Housed in Swiss Brothel
»Netherlands to Protest Saudi Death Sentence
»Norway Sending Tooji to Eurovision Song Contest
»Norway Beer Makers Can’t Show Beer
»Norwegian Billionaire to Buy 10 Oil Tankers: Report
»Spain: Baltasar Garzón Protest in Madrid
»Swedish Town Gives ‘Negro Village’ New Name
»Swiss Work Ethic Trumping Extra Holidays
»Swiss Billionaire Sentenced to 16 Years
»UK: ‘I Used to Sit There for a Long, Long Time Crying’: Woman Tells How She Was ‘Kept as Sex Slave in Cellar for 10 Years’Deaf and Mute Victim Uses Interpreter to Tell Jury of Horrifying Ordeal
»UK: Abu Qatada Release Imminent Amid ‘Exhaustive’ Efforts to Deport Radical Cleric
»UK: Abu Qatada Banned From School Run
»UK: Abu Qatada to be Released Immediately
»UK: David Cameron Has Raised the Prospect of Throwing Abu Qatada Out. Now He Has to Deliver
»UK: London Olympics Security Report Warns of Extremist Threat in Host Borough
»UK: Mosques Honoured in Parliament for Flood Disaster Donations
»UK: On Top of Everything Else, Abu Qatada Costs us a Small Fortune
»UK: Procession Through High Wycombe Celebrates Prophet Mohammed
North Africa
»Algeria: New Snow Emergency
»Arab Spring: EU Influence at Risk
»Egyptian Police Prevent Christian Protesters From Reaching Parliament
»No Arab Spring for Egypt’s Women
»Tunisia: School Closes in Protest at Violence
Israel and the Palestinians
»Egyptian Diesel Finished, Gaza Dark and Cold
Middle East
»EU ‘Disappointed’ By Malaysia Deportation of Saudi Blogger
»Israel Says Iran Behind India, Georgia Attacks
»It’s Democracy, Stupid!
»MEP Calls on Ashton to Make ‘Operational Plan’ For Syria
»Shariah’s Police?
»Putin Vows to Reverse Russian Population Decline
»Russian Hot Springs Point to Rocky Origins for Life
South Asia
»Swiss Hostage Gives Birth in Pakistan
Far East
»To Escape Chinese Espionage, You Must Travel “Electronically Naked”
»Czech Republic Targets Migrant Workers
»Tunisia Looking for Its Lost Children
Culture Wars
»Traditional ‘Sexist’ Beliefs Keep Women From Combat, Scientists Say
»Antarctica’s Lake Vostok is Test Case for Exploring Icy Jupiter Moon
»Debate Bubbles Over the Origin of Life
»OIC to Host Media Workshop in Fight Against Islamophobia
»OIC to Hold Media Workshop to Address Smear Campaign Against Islam
»Supercontinent Amasia to Take North Pole Position
»The Dark Side of the Personalised Internet
»UN Chief: Aides Plot ‘Green Economy’ Agenda at Upcoming Summit

Financial Crisis

Athens in Flames: Violent Clashes as Parliament Passes Austerity Bill

The Greek parliament has passed an austerity package that clears the way for a 130-billion-euro EU/IMF rescue package intended to save Greece from default. Violent protests against the austerity measures took place in Athens and elsewhere, with at least 120 people injured.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Athens Reeling From Latest Riots

Firefighters were dousing smoldering buildings and cleanup crews were sweeping rubble on Monday morning following a night of rioting in central Athens after Greek lawmakers approved tough new austerity measures demanded by foreign creditors to prevent default. At least 45 buildings were burned — including the neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870 — while dozens of stores and cafes were smashed and looted.

The stench of tear gas hung in the air on Monday morning, choking passers-by. More than 120 people were hurt in the rioting which also broke out in cities across the country, including Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki and the islands of Corfu and Crete.

Police said 150 shops were looted in the capital and 48 buildings set ablaze. Some 100 people — including 68 police — were wounded and 130 detained, a police official told AP on Monday.

Lili Bertsou, a 35-year-teacher who took part at the demonstration, told Kathimerini English Edition, the police had blatantly failed to protect peaceful demonstrators as well as the city. “Police must finally nab those who cause the mess. They are no more than 100 people,” she said of the groups of self-styled anarchists. She said she had joined the Sunday protests because she was “disgusted” with the fresh austerity measures.

Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis has come under fire for failing to contain the violence. PASOK spokesman Panos Beglitis earlier Monday defended the socialist minister against calls to resign from his post.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Athens Smoulders After Blazing Protests Over Austerity

(ATHENS) — Neo-classical buildings and shopfronts in the Greek capital bore the smouldering scars Monday of the flames and fury that erupted during street protests against tough new budget cuts. Some buildings were in smoking ruins, shop windows gaped where the glass was smashed, and steel shutters on commercial premises bore twisted witness to rampaging violence that gripped central Athens on Sunday.

According to official figures, 45 buildings were wholly or partly destroyed by fire as violence erupted during demonstrations while parliament voted through the tough new austerity measures aimed at averting national bankruptcy.

Rioters attacked “emblematic buildings, about 10 neo-classical edifices,” dating from the beginning of the 20th century, the deputy mayor in charge of maintenance Andreas Varelas told AFP. Two historic cinemas were gutted by fire.

“I am ashamed, it’s hooliganism,” lamented one of Sunday’s demonstrators, a 55-year-old security guard who gave her name only as Melpo, standing outside one of the ruined buildings. Athenians on their way to work were shocked at the extent of the damage inflicted on their city during the running street battles between rioters and police.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Austerity Feeding Public Discontent in Europe

(BRUSSELS) — Scenes of burning buildings and street battles in Athens offer a violent reflection of growing weariness among Europeans at the austerity-first philosophy sweeping Europe. Last week alone, firefighters doused the streets of Brussels with water to protest pension reform, thousands of public workers took to the streets of Madrid and thousands more in Lisbon waved banners saying “no to impoverishment.”

Strikes and demonstrations have taken place across Europe in recent months, from France to Italy and Britain, as people demand jobs and policies designed to boost growth in a continent hit by chronic unemployment and the looming spectre of recession. More social action is planned in coming weeks, with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) calling for EU-wide protests on February 29, on the eve of an EU summit, under the theme “Enough Is Enough.”

“Greece is a now a highly combustible mix of economic collapse, political corruption, social discontent and human suffering,” said Sony Kapoor, head of Re-Define, a Brussels economic think tank. “While its situation is worse than that of other countries, it offers a glimpse of what may lie ahead for others if the EU does not change course,” said Kapoor, who has argued for a shift to growth-enhancing economic policies in Europe.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Berlin Vows to Maintain Pressure on Greece After Vote

(BERLIN) — Germany’s economy minister on Monday warned against euphoria in the wake of Greece’s approval of key austerity measures, and defended the pressure that both Berlin and Brussels have exerted on Athens. Speaking on ARD public television, Philipp Roesler said that the approval late on Sunday in the Greek parliament of a raft of unpopular savings was “basically a must” but still “a step in the right direction.”

Nevertheless, he insisted that a report drawn up by Greece’s main creditors — known as the “troika” — would be the decisive factor in whether Athens received more cash to stave off bankruptcy.

“It is good that the laws were passed and with a large majority but what counts now is the implementation of structural reforms,” added Roesler. “We have gone a step in the right direction, but we are still a long way from the goal,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

China Won’t ‘Buy’ Europe

An op-ed published in China’s People’s Daily newspaper on Monday suggests that China does not intend to sweep up bargain deals in a Europe gripped by economic crisis and debt. The paper, largely considered to reflect the Communist party’s views, says China instead wants a stronger trading partner.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Financial Transactions Tax Ineffective: Analysts

A proposed financial transactions tax that France hopes other European countries will also adopt is likely to be ineffective and difficult to implement, analysts say. The plan, promoted by President Nicolas Sarkozy as part of efforts to tame the eurozone debt crisis, centres on a 0.1 percent tax on buying shares in firms with a French headquarters and more than one billion euros in capital.

The finance ministry estimates the tax, which if passed by parliament would take effect on August 1, will bring in €1.1 billion ($1.45 billion) annually to state coffers. The project will also include a 0.01 tax on naked Credit Default Swaps — a bet that a country will default on its debt — and on high-frequency trading, both features of modern markets which critics say stoke volatility and risk.

“Putting such a tax in place, in the run-up to the presidential election, is much more of a political move than an economic one,” said Frederik Ducrozet at Credit Agricole CIB. “In the past, the introduction of such a tax unilaterally in one country has never been proof of its effectiveness,” Ducrozet said.

Sweden adopted a transactions tax in the 1980s but had to reverse course when its banks and bankers simply moved offshore, mostly to the City of London, and the proceeds were much lower than anticipated.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

German Ministers Pressure Athens Over Reforms

Three German ministers urged Greece to show through its actions that it wants to remain in the eurozone, with one suggesting that the country’s exit from the single currency is no longer a scary prospect. German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said in an interview with Germany’s ARD television on Sunday that fears about a disorderly Greek default and exit from the eurozone are dying down. “It’s in the hands of the Greeks,” he said.

“D-Day is less and less scary,” he added later in the interview. Roesler said that Greece had to make more of an effort to conduct structural reforms. “We are ready to help. But once again, we have and want only to help if there is something in return from the Greek side,” he said “Other countries — Portugal and Spain — are much more engaged than their colleagues in Greece,” he added.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Der Spiegel that “it is not enough to adopt the reform program. It is also necessary to begin without delay the implementation of these reforms.”

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that Greece would have to quickly show through its actions that it deserves a new bailout package. “The promises from Greece aren’t enough for us anymore,” he said.

Schaeuble pointed out that German opinion polls show a majority of Germans are willing to help Greece. “But it’s important to say that it cannot be a bottomless pit. That’s why the Greeks have to finally close that pit. And then we can put something in there. At least people are now starting to realize it won’t work with a bottomless pit.”

Schaeuble said Greece would be supported “one way or another” but warned the country needs to improve its competitiveness and hinted it might have to leave the eurozone to do that.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Greece Having Problems Absorbing EU Funds

Greek newspaper Ekathimerini reports that the Greek government is having problems absorbing EU aid, with €1.1bn from the European Social Fund, meant to go for employment schemes, not yet dispersed. The labour ministry is struggling with the high number of unemployed Greeks while the education ministry is itself short-staffed.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Japan Hopes for Economic Rebound

Japan’s economy contracted considerably in the final quarter of 2011, triggering worries of a recession. Growth was hampered by falling overseas demand and a strong yen. The world’s number-three economy, Japan, contracted 2.3 percent in the final quarter of 2011, the Cabinet Office announced in Tokyo on Monday. It shrank 0.6 percent quarter-on-quarter and 0.9 percent through last year.

“The contractions came after external demand was significantly reduced due to the one-off factor of the Thai flooding, which came amid the weak recovery of economies overseas,” said Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Motohisa Furukawa in a statement.

Severe fall flooding in Thailand disrupted global supply chains and impacted Japanese manufacturers. Worst hit were electronics suppliers and automakers, just as they were about to recover from the quake-tsunami disaster in March. The marked drop in growth was also attributed to a strong yen, which is still sitting close to record highs against the dollar and is also putting pressure on the euro.

Sluggish growth is standing in the way of speedy budget consolidation in Japan. Public debt is already twice as high as the annual growth domestic product. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned in a statement that Japan could lose market confidence if it didn’t raise VAT and generally increase revenue. But analysts are seeing a silver lining, and are expecting a rebound amid continuing and new post-disaster reconstruction programs organized by the state.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Number of Dutch Poor Growing Fast

The number of people living on or just above the poverty line is growing fast. Aid workers and debt-collecting agencies say the number of people facing major financial problems is on the rise, even though they do not have the figures yet to back this up.

Debt relief sector organisation NVVK says the increase is mainly due to falling prices in the housing market, high fixed expenses and dismissals. In addition debt collectors have become much stricter. “Businesses and institutions are looking for money. Creditors are becoming increasingly assertive.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Romania to Cut 600 Postal Jobs in Accord With IMF: Report

(BUCHAREST) — Romania’s centre-right government has agreed to an IMF call to cut 600 jobs in the state-owned postal service before opening it up to private capital, the Mediafax news agency reported Sunday. Citing a written agreement between the IMF and the government, the agency reported that the job cuts had to come before the end of March.

The government must then find one investor or more to take a stake of up to 20 percent in the country’s postal service, it added. Romania won a 20-billion-euro credit line ($26 billion) from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank between 2009 and 2011 to get itself out of recession.

It subsequently agreed another deal under which it could borrow another five billion euros if needed. In return, it has to submit to regular evaluations by inspectors from its international creditors and follow their instructions on maintaining a balanced budget.

The IMF and EU have for some months now been insisting on the need to restructure state-run operations, including its postal service. Already since 2011, the number of post offices has been cut from 7,100 to 5,835, in a country where nearly half of the 19 million inhabitants live in rural areas.

That number should be cut even further to 5,700 by April, Mediafax reported, citing the same document. Since the end of 2010, postal services in 16 EU member states have been completely liberalised, with another 11 member states due to follow by the end of 2012.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spiegel Interview With George Soros: ‘Merkel is Leading Europe in the Wrong Direction’

Global investor George Soros considers the German government’s policies in the euro crisis to be disastrous. In a SPIEGEL interview, he warns of a vicious circle triggered by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s strict austerity measures and pleads for more money to be pumped into the countries most plagued by the debt crisis.

Soros: I admire Chancellor Merkel for her leadership qualities, but she is leading Europe in the wrong direction. To solve the euro crisis, I advocate a two-phase policy — which is first austerity and structural reforms as Germany implemented them in 2005, but then also a stimulus program. If you do not provide more stimulus in Europe, you will push many European countries into a deflationary debt spiral. And that would be extremely dangerous.

SPIEGEL: Are the new austerity guidelines for countries like Spain, Italy or Greece too tough?

Soros: They create a vicious circle. The deficit countries have to improve their competitive position vis-a-vis Germany, so they will have to cut their budget deficits and reduce wages. In a weak economy, profit margins will also be under pressure. This will reduce tax revenues and require further austerity measures, creating a vicious circle. Markets do not correct their own excesses. Either there is too much demand or too little. This is what the economist John Maynard Keynes explained to the world, except that he is not listened to by some people in Germany. But Keynes explained it very well — when there is a deficiency of demand, you have to use public policy to stimulate the economy.

Soros: When a car is skidding, you must first turn the wheel in the same direction as the skid. And only when you have regained control can you then correct the direction. We went through a 25-year boom in the global economy. Then came the crash in 2008. The financial markets actually collapsed, and they had to be put on artificial life support through massive state intervention. The euro crisis is a direct continuation or consequence of the 2008 crash. This crisis isn’t over yet and we will have to spend more state money in order to stop the skidding. It is only afterward that we can change the direction. Otherwise we will repeat the mistakes that plunged America into the Great Depression in 1929. Angela Merkel simply doesn’t understand that.

SPIEGEL: Are you going to fight Romney and support President Barack Obama with millions of dollars in donations as you did during his last campaign?

Soros: I do not intend to make contributions on that scale.

SPIEGEL: Are you disappointed with Obama?

Soros: Disillusioned is a better word. He is more of a follower than a leader — much less so than Angela Merkel, for example. Unfortunately, she is leading Europe in the wrong direction. That is why I am trying to change her mind. I still believe Germans are open to arguments.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

‘The Troika’s Policies Have Failed’: European Doubts Growing Over Greece Debt Strategy

For months, European leaders have been trying to find a way out of the Greek debt crisis. But austerity is merely driving the country deeper into economic despair. Is it time for a radical rethink? Many think the answer is yes.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Violence Offers Glimpse of Greece’s Reform Challenge

Greeks swept rocks and broken glass from the streets of Athens on Monday after a night of violence that gave lawmakers a taste of the challenge they face in implementing a deeply unpopular austerity bill demanded by the country’s foreign lenders. Firefighters doused the smouldering remains of several buildings, set ablaze by hooded youths during protests against the package of pay, pension and job cuts adopted by parliament on Sunday after 10 hours of debate.

Police said 150 shops were looted in the capital and 48 buildings set ablaze. Some 100 people — including 68 police — were wounded and 130 detained, a police official said on Monday. There was also violence in cities across the country, including Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki and the islands of Corfu and Crete, said the official, who declined to be named.

Greeks were shocked at the burnt buildings that included the neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870. “We are all very angry with these measures but this is not the way out,” said Dimitris Hatzichristos, 30, a public sector worker surveying the debris.

Altogether 199 of the 300 lawmakers backed the controversial bill. The 43 who rebelled were immediately expelled by their parties, the socialists and conservatives. “Night of terror inside and outside the parliament,” conservative daily Eleftheros Typos wrote on its front page.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

White House Asks for Brutal Planetary NASA Budget Cuts

The White House has released its Presidential budget request for fiscal year 2013 today, including the budget for NASA, and as usual there is some good news and some bad. But the good news is tepid, and the bad news is, well, pretty damn bad. I can lay some of this blame at NASA’s feet — a long history of being over budget and behind schedule looms large — but also at the President himself. Cutting NASA’s budget at all is, simply, dumb. I know we’re in an economic crisis (though there are indications it’s getting better), but there are hugely larger targets than NASA. If this budget goes through Congress as is, it will mean the end of a lot of NASA projects and future missions.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Obama Asks Congress for Funds for Arab Spring Countries

(AGI) Washington — President Obama has asked Congress to allocate $770 million in aid in 2013 to help Arab Spring countries. the funds will be destined to the creation of a “Fund of Incentives for the Middle East and North Africa,” for “long term economic development and to support political and commercial reform in countries experiencing a transition.” The president has proposed that a total of $51.6 billion should be allocated to the State department and for foreign aid, of which $8.2 (+1.6%) to support people living in war zones.

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

Obama’s 2013 NASA Budget Request Shifts Funds From Mars to Space Tech

The proposed 2013 federal budget unveiled by President Barack Obama today (Feb. 13) keeps NASA funding relatively flat next year, but bites deep into the agency’s robotic Mars mission coffers while shifting new funds to human exploration and space technology.

“We are having to make tough decisions, because these are tough economic times,” NASA chief Charlie Bolden told reporters today. “We are doing all that we can to be fiscally responsible.” The reduction in planetary science funding compels NASA to drop out of the European Space Agency-led ExoMars missions, which aim to launch an orbiter and a drill-toting rover to the Red Planet in 2016 and 2018, respectively. NASA was due to provide rockets and various instrumentation for the two missions, but Bolden confirmed today that NASA will withdraw from both of them.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Obama Administration Proposes Big Cuts to NASA’s Mars Programs

NASA just released its presidential budget request for 2013 and, as expected, the space agency’s planetary science program takes a big hit. The budget document (summary pdf) is merely the first volley in an often drawn-out exchange between the White House and Congress, but still sets the general direction for the space program. Although the Obama administration’s proposal would slice less than 1 percent from NASA’s current budget, it proposes some major shifts of funds within the agency.

The planetary science program, which received $1.5 billion for 2012, would take a 20 percent cut. NASA would still fly the Mars MAVEN atmospheric mission in 2013 but would back away from two joint missions with the European Space Agency.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Srdja Trifkovic: Obama’s Game

I was away in Europe when President Obama delivered his third State of the Union Address, hence a belated commentary.

Obama’s carefully crafted speech sounded more like the opening shot in the reelection race than a set of serious policy proposals.. His “blueprint for the future,” which supposedly will bring about a new era of social and economic revival, was vague and—significantly—contained no reference to the reduction of the $17 trillion debt. His insistence that an economic recovery is finally under way was misleading and predictably mendacious.

In view of his ideological and cultural preferences, it was irritating to hear Obama muse on “the American Dream” and call for “a return of American values of fair play and shared responsibility.” His demand that “Wall Street plays by the same rules as the rest of the country … with no bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs” made it sound like he had nothing to do with the biggest bailout in the history of the world. He blamed the bankers, China’s unfair trading practices and his predecessor for the high unemployment rate, while taking credit for the modest improvement of recent months.

On the foreign front—according to Obama—”the United States is safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of all, Al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.”

The most significant foreign event of the past year has been the misnamed Arab Spring, heartily supported by the Obama Administration, which has changed the geopolitical equation in North Africa and the Middle East to America’s detriment. The United States is not “safer” with the predictable triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood and its various affiliates in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and America will be even less safe if the relentless campaign against the Syrian regime is ultimately successful. Although clear to everyone but Obama, Muslim countries that oppose autocratic regimes stem not from secular reformers, but from true believers who accuse those regimes of betraying the “True Faith.”

As for the “respect,” Obama’s support of the regime changes in Cairo, Tripoli, Tunis and Damascus has not improved America’s standing in the Arab world…

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

US Commissions First New Nuclear Reactors in 30 Years

But government incentives go begging as applications for plants dry up.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) signed off on the first new nuclear reactors since 1978 on Thursday, marking the beginning — and some might say the end — of the United States’ nuclear renaissance.

Southern Company, a utility giant based in Atlanta, Georgia, can now move forward with a pair of Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at its Vogtle nuclear station near Waynesboro. But whereas many within government and industry were hoping for a wave of new reactors — to the point of planning for workforce and regulatory difficulties that would stem from a sudden surge in nuclear construction — Southern Company now stands virtually alone. As discussed in a preview of the decision by the New York Times, aside from a pair of possible reactors in South Carolina, the pipeline has pretty much dried up, despite unclaimed government incentives.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

When Arctic Ice Locks Up Your Submarine, It’s Time to Break Out the Chainsaw

The U.S. Navy runs into an unusual obstacle as it increases its activity in the far north.

Mechanical engineer Nicholas Michel-Hart chainsaws through ice blocking the hatch to the nuclear submarine USS Connecticut last March. The boat surfaced through three feet of Arctic ice 200 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, where the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab conducts underwater communications and sonar experiments for the Navy.

Locating subs in the Arctic is difficult because the jagged undersides of ice garble sonar tracking. So APL researchers brave -30 degree Fahrenheit temperatures every spring to test devices like Deep Siren, which uses satellites and acoustics to send messages through more than 100 miles of water. The weeklong experiments also increase the Navy’s visibility in the area. “The Arctic is governed by international agreements, but now that the ice is retreating it’s getting a lot more interesting,” says APL field engineer Keith Magness (observing, second from right). “Countries are trying to expand their coastline to claim resources, and this is one way the Navy maintains its presence.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Ambassdors to Complain Over Dutch Rightwing Website

(THE HAGUE) — Ambassadors from 10 eastern European states are to send a protest letter to the Dutch parliament Monday in concern over a website by the country’s extreme right, a Polish embassy spokesman said. The letter, signed by ambassadors including from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania, will “express concern” over the Dutch Freedom Party’s (PVV) website, where readers can lodge complaints against eastern European migrant workers.

“The states agreed Friday that there should be a common reaction to the idea of the Freedom Party when it comes to a website where one lay complaints against central and eastern Europeans,” Janusz Wolosz, Polish second secretary told AFP. “Today we plan to have it delivered, after being signed by all 10 of the ambassadors, to the Dutch Lower House of Parliament,” he said.

The Freedom Party, whose anti-Islamist leader Geert Wilders was acquitted of hate speech last year, last week launched the site called “Report Middle and Eastern Europeans”.

“Are you being bugged by middle and eastern European immigrants? Have you lost your job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? Then we would like to hear from you,” the website said, which also flashed Dutch news reports about rising criminality blamed on eastern European migrant workers.

Wolosz said the website was of great concern to the Polish government which was “trying to come up with a sensible reaction.” There are some 90,000 registered Polish citizens in the Netherlands, but the unofficial figure is believed to be around 200,000, he said. Since the site went live, it has drawn a slate of criticism including by the European Commission.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Aviation Industry Warns of Trade War Over EU Carbon Tax

(SINGAPORE) — World aviation bosses warned Monday of a potential trade war over a carbon tax imposed by the European Union on the airline industry to reduce emissions and curb climate change. In a conference on the eve of the Singapore Airshow, one of Asia’s largest aviation trade fairs, industry executives expressed concern over the political and economic impact of the charges which took effect on January 1.

“I have to say I’m really worried, also as a manufacturer, about the consequences,” said Airbus Chief Executive Thomas Enders. “I have seen the position in China, in Russia, in the US, in India, and what started as a scheme to present a solution for the environment has become a source of potential trade conflict,” he added.

The EU imposed its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) on airlines flying into the continent despite opposition from over two dozen countries including India, Russia, China and the United States.

The EU says the scheme was designed to reduce carbon emissions blamed for climate change, and will help the 27-nation bloc achieve its goal of cutting emissions by 20 percent by 2020. EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas, who also spoke at the Singapore conference, said Europe was committed to reducing carbon emissions.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Belarus Claims Poland Funded Coup Attempt

Belarus authorities claimed on Sunday that Poland funded a ‘coup’ attempt that led to a violent crackdown in the aftermath of a presidential election on 19 December, 2010. The claim was made during a programme aired on Belarus state-backed television.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Belgian Court Refuses to Ban ‘Tintin in the Congo’

A Belgian court refused Friday to ban the sale of “Tintin in the Congo,” rejecting arguments by a Congolese man that the iconic comic book was filled with racist stereotypes about Africans. The Brussels court ruled that Belgian anti-racism laws only apply when there is a wilful intention to discriminate against someone, said an attorney for Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, the man who tried to get the strip off bookshelves.

The court argued that given the historical context — the book was written during the colonial era in 1931 — the author, Herge, “could not have been motivated by the desire” to discriminate, the lawyer, Ahmed L’Hedim, told AFP.

For the past four years, Mbutu Mondondo had sought to get the book banned or at least force stores to place a warning label on the cover or add a preface explaining that it was written in a different era, as English versions do.

“It is a racist comic book that celebrates colonialism and the supremacy of the white race over the black race,” he said last year. Both of his requests were rejected but Mbutu’s lawyers said he would appeal the decision on Monday.

A representative for French publishing house Casterman and Belgian firm Moulinsart, which holds the rights to the Tintin franchise, welcomed the decision with “great satisfaction.”

“This decision is very sound. You have to take the work in its context and compare it with the information and cliches of its time,” said Alain Berenboom, who had warned that a ban would amount to censorship.

Herge, real name Georges Remi (1907-1983), justified the book by saying it was merely a reflection of the naive views of the time. Some of the scenes were revised for later editions.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Belgium in Longest Cold Wave Since 1941

Belgium is being confronted with the longest cold snap in more than 70 years, the Met Office reports. Saturday was the 13th consecutive day with maximum temperatures during the day staying below zero degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) in Ukkel (Brussels).

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Britain Nurses Wounds After Snubs by India

British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing growing calls to cut huge aid handouts to India after a series of perceived snubs from the former jewel in the crown of London’s colonial empire. Britain was stunned this month when New Delhi announced a big contract to buy French warplanes instead of the UK-backed Eurofighter Typhoon, despite intense efforts by the British government to boost trade.

Angry lawmakers then stepped up pressure on Cameron to axe the more than £1-billion ($1.6-billion, 1.2-billion euro) aid budget for India after reports that the Indian finance minister described the handouts as “a peanut”.

Cameron — who led a huge business delegation to India soon after taking office in 2010 — has pledged to press New Delhi to reverse its decision on the warplanes.

“I’m very disappointed by what has happened in India, but Eurofighter is not out of the contest and we need to re-engage as hard as we can,” Cameron told parliament this week when questioned about the deal.

The fighter jets setback was particularly bruising as it came during a war of words between France and Britain over the strength of their economies. Downing Street meanwhile insisted that its aid commitments to India would remain unchanged despite the furore.

“The government has always been very clear about sticking to its aid commitments and the fact that it would not balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world,” a spokesman said.

But the handouts to Asia’s third-largest economy have sparked anger at home, where austerity measures are biting as Britain tries to curb a record budget deficit.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Dutch Sailors Clash With Norwegians

Dutch servicemen in have been involved in fighting with Norwegians outside a bar in the port of Bergen. One of the Norwegians was badly hurt and had to be hospitalised. It’s not known what caused the fight. A police spokesman said the Dutchmen are believed to be sailors from a naval vessel in Tollbodkaien, a harbour to the north of Bergen.

This is not the first time Dutch servicemen have been involved in violence in Norway. In 2006 there was a fight involving Dutch military personnel in a disco in the north of Norway. The case did not go to court because the witness statements were too contradictory.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Condemns Dutch Anti-Migrant Website

EU citizens rights commissioner Viviane Reding over the weekend condemned a website set up by Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders inviting complaints against Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants as an “open call to intolerance.” “Europe can get stuffed. We’ve had more than 32,000 complaints,” said Wilders in reply.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU to Keep CO2 Aviation Tax

The EU will keep its CO2 aviation scheme that places a tax on any airline flying into and out of Europe reported Reuters on Monday (13 February). The European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme has drawn global ire but the EU claims it is essential in reducing C02 emissions throughout Europe.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Europe Launches New Vega Rocket on Maiden Voyage

A brand-new rocket soared into space early Monday (Feb. 13) in a launch debut that carried nine small satellites and the hopes of the European Space Agency all the way into orbit. The space agency’s new Vega rocket, which is designed to launch small satellites, blasted off from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, on the northern Atlantic coast of South America and reached orbit minutes later. Liftoff occurred at 5 a.m. ET (1000 GMT).

“Today is a moment of pride for Europe as well as those around 1,000 individuals who have been involved in developing the world’s most modern and competitive launcher system for small satellites,” said Antonio Fabrizi, ESA’s launch vehicle director, in a statement.

ESA spent 700 million Euros (about $930 million) and nearly nine years developing the four-stage Vega rocket and plans to spend another 300 million Euros (about $399 million) on the booster’s first five flights. The new booster is designed to serve as a launcher for small payloads to complement Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rockets and the medium-class Russian Soyuz rockets that lift off from the Guiana Space Center.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Plan for Carla Statue Stirs Local Resistance

A mayor’s plan to erect a bronze statue of France’s first lady has not been universally welcomed by local residents. Jacques Jean Paul Martin, mayor of the Parisian suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne, is apparently planning a statue of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that will stand more than two metres tall, reported Sunday’s Le Parisien newspaper.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Martin is a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party. The statue is designed to be a tribute to the mostly Italian women who worked in a feather factory in the town. Bruni-Sarkozy herself is Italian-born.

Not everyone in the town seems impressed by the loyal mayor’s artistic venture. “It’s sad for the women who did this work,” said William Geib of the opposition Socialists. “Carla Bruni must have seen more feathers on ostriches and in fashion shows than in factories.”

Other politicians in the town of 30,000 people also reacted angrily to the news. “This small detail has not been specified when we had budget discussions,” said one. The statue will apparently cost €80,000 ($105,000), of which half will be paid by the council and the other half by a private sponsor.

Local people interviewed by Le Parisien didn’t seem impressed by the plans. “Does she really deserve a statue?” said Jean and Bernadette. “First ladies come and go and this one might not be around for too much longer!”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

French Police Lose Track of ‘House Arrest’ Algerian

An Algerian convicted of planning terror attacks in France has disappeared after being placed under house arrest while awaiting a legal decision on his deportation from France, sources said Monday. Said Arif, who French investigators said was linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the deceased former leader of Iraq’s branch of Al-Qaeda, was convicted in 2007 for planning attacks on French targets in 2001 and 2002.

He was given a 10-year sentence but was released from custody in December last year and placed under house arrest in a hotel in the southern town of Millau while he awaited a judgement on whether to send him back to Algeria. The European Court of Human Rights has asked France not to send him back to his homeland, where, his lawyer says, he faces the risk of torture.

Sources close to the case said Arif, a former soldier in the Algerian army, had since January 22 stopped checking in as required with local police. His lawyer Sebastien Bono said he did not know where his client was, and noted that Arif, 46, had no money and did not have working papers for France.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany: Barefoot Snow Runner Sets 5km World Record

A German physiotherapist who ran barefoot over snow for five kilometres in less than 25 minutes has gotten into the Guinness Book of Records — but paid for it with bloody feet which needed medical treatment afterwards.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany: Cologne Witchcraft Trial Reopens After 400 Years

A witchcraft trial is re-opening in Cologne on Monday in the hope that one woman will have her name cleared, centuries after being burned at the stake. It is thought around 25,000 women were sentenced to death for witchcraft down the centuries in Germany — including Cologne native Katharina Henot. She was arrested and thrown in prison under charges of witchcraft in 1627.

But it is said Henot had nothing to do with the occult; as the head of the city’s post office and a powerful socialite it was more likely that her charges were politically motivated. After weeks of torture, Henot eventually lost all movement in her right hand, meaning that her final plea for innocence was scrawled, almost illegibly, with her left. But no matter how fiercely she protested, city officials ignored her and she was sentenced to death.

Henot was then paraded around the streets of Cologne in a wagon, until being brought to a large square in the city, where she was tied to a stake and burned to death. To this day, neither Henot nor many of the 25,000 women killed for alleged witchcraft have had their names cleared — in the eyes of the law, they are still guilty of the mystic misdeeds they were convicted of centuries ago.

This could change for Henot on Monday, as her case will be reopened by the same panel at the city council that was responsible for her death nearly 400 years ago. They will assess the case, and provided that their feelings towards the supernatural have changed since she was sentenced, Henot’s name should be cleared.

“Katharina held her own reputation in high esteem, she would want to have it cleared,” said Hartmut Hegeler, an evangelical priest and religious education teacher who made the request to the Cologne council.

The 65-year-old from Cologne was approached by a group of students who wanted to learn about the witch trials. It was only when the same students started to ask Hegeler questions he could not answer, that he realised Henot had not yet been acquitted. Henot’s case then became a problem of faith for the priest; “As Christians, we find it challenging when innocent people are executed, even if it was centuries ago,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Hairline Cracks Could Cost Eads 100 Million Euros

Last week, European aviation safety authorities ordered all Airbus A380s to be checked after hairline cracks were found in wing brackets. Now SPIEGEL has learned that the inspections and repairs could cost Airbus parent EADS up to 100 million euros — over 1 million euros per plane.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italian Rocket Vega in European Satellite Advance

Gives Europe vehicle for scientific missions

(ANSA) — Kourou, February 13 — Italian-built rocket Vega carried out its first mission Monday, advancing Europe’s ambitions in sending scientific satellites into orbit.

Vega took up two satellites and seven mini-satellites from the European Space Agency base in French Guiana.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Former German Corporal Allegedly Ordered Cephalonia Executions

(ANSA) — Rome, February 13 — A Rome military prosecutor said Monday he would call a 90-year-old former German officer to court for alleged involvement in the massacare of thousands of Italian soldiers on the Greek island of Cephalonia in World War II. The suspect, an ex-corporal, will be called to trial for ordering the execution of “approximately 73 Italian officers” after they surrendered, said Rome Prosecutor Marco De Paolis, who claimed to have material evidence for his case. “Prosecute the Germans? Immediately, now, as soon as possible,” said survivor Libero Cosci, who hid for hours beneath the bodies of his comrades. “It’s one of the most just things to do in history”. The incident was just one episode amid a much larger massacare which came after the 1943 armistice between Italy and the Allies that instructed Italian troops to switch sides.

After news of the September 8 armistice filtered across to the island on September 14, 1943, General Antonio Gandin told each of his men in the Acqui division to follow his own conscience and choose between three alternatives: fight on alongside the Germans, surrender his weapons, or keep them and resist German attacks.

Over the next eight days, 1,300 men died in battle, 5,155 were shot after being taken prisoner, and 3,000 drowned when a ship carrying them to Nazi concentration camps sank.

The bodies of 200 were tossed down a well, from which they were only recovered and sent back home a few months before former Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi’s visit in 2001.

To the outrage of Italy, a German court cleared then 86-year-old former lieutenant Otmar Muhlhauser of war-crime charges in 2006.

Deceased in 2009, he was believed to be the last survivor of the Werhmacht regiment which carried out the massacre, and he reportedly admitted he had personally ordered the execution of hundreds of soldiers including General Gandin.

The incident forms the backdrop to the best-selling 1994 novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

It became a film in 2001 starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

LHC Boosts Energy to Snag Higgs — And Superpartners

It has already broken the record for the most energetic particle collisions, but the world’s largest particle smasher is boosting its energy still further. Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider hope this will confirm or rule out tantalising hints of the elusive Higgs particle.

Although the Higgs is the LHC’s main quarry, the biggest advantage from the boost in energy goes to searches for signs of supersymmetry, or SUSY. Many researchers had hoped that by now this elegant theory would have left traces in LHC, which is at the CERN particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland.

The LHC has already seen many events that could be signs of the decay of the long-sought Higgs boson, which is thought to endow other particles with mass. But more mundane reactions can also produce such events, so more experiments are needed to confirm or rule out the Higgs explanation.

Researchers want to maximise the potential for new discoveries this year because at the end of it the LHC will shut down for two years. Upgrades will then allow it to run at its full design energy of 14 TeV.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Libyan Rebels Treated in Belgian Hospitals

More than one hundred victims of rebels injured during the revolution in Libya are to be treated at Belgian hospitals such as the Academic Hospital in Jette during the next few months. This was confirmed after a meeting last Friday between Minister-president Kris Peeters (CD&V) and a Libyan delegation. “All health care and special care costs will be covered by the Libyan government,” Peeters confirmed. “The collaboration with Libya and Healthcare Belgium is proof that our healthcare rates among the best in the world. Belgian radiologists will also be travelling to Libya to train radiologists in the country.” Peeters has also released funds to send Managers without Borders to the country to help their Libyan colleagues set up profitable businesses. “They are all volunteers from Ex-change, a Flemish temporary employment platform for experts,” Peeters adds. “Flemish SMEs have considerable expertise to share in order to get the country’s economy back on its feet.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Muslim Refugees Housed in Swiss Brothel

Eleven Muslim refugees have been housed by Social Services in a brothel in Thurgau in north-eastern Switzerland. On the ground floor of the Erotic Hotel Venus, a brothel that has been around for some 20 years, seven Romanian and Hungarian women serve guests with drinks at the bar, or entertain them in the strip bar. If the men want sexual services, they’re taken to the first floor.

But sitting on the second floor, drinking black tea and trying to make plans for their futures, are 11 Muslim asylum seekers, newspaper Blick reports. Beat Schlierenzauer, the man responsible for placing the men there, maintains he did not know when he first looked at the rooms that they were in a brothel.

“They met our requirements exactly,” he said. Having later discovered what the rest of the building was being used for, he then avoided housing women and children there. The brothel’s landlady, Mrs. Wyss, complains that having asylum seekers in the building has hurt trade. Nevertheless, the men keep themselves to themselves and do not have anything to do with the women.

“I think the men are more afraid of us than we are of them,” she said. The asylum seekers know what the women do, but have no desire to talk about it other than to describe the situation as as alien, unpleasant, and “noisy”.

“If an applicant is not satisfied with his accommodation, he can have it checked,” Bernard Koch, member of the Swiss Christian People’s Party in the Thurgauer government, told Blick. “But the people living in Switzerland have to get used to our rules. And prostitution is legal. “

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Netherlands to Protest Saudi Death Sentence

Dutch Human Rights Ambassador Lionel Veer intends to bring up the case of Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari while he is visiting Saudi Arabia. Kashgari faces the death sentence for criticizing the Prophet Mohammad on Twitter. A spokesman for foreign minister Uri Rosenthal says the minister is worried about the fate of the journalist and, together with other European Union countries, will call for a protest against the Saudi authorities.

Hamza Kashgari fled Saudi Arabia but was sent back there by Malaysia. Following a Dutch request the EU had appealed to Malaysia not to do this. The opposition labour Party wants the Netherlands to offer him asylum and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party wants Minister Rosenthal to summon the Saudi ambassador and demand the journalist’s release.

The Freedom Party also wants Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten to investigate the role of Interpol in the case. Kashgari was reportedly arrest in Malaysia following a warning from the international police organisation.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway Sending Tooji to Eurovision Song Contest

Norway has selected 24-year-old one-time refugee Tooji Keshtkar to represent the country at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Tooji, who came to Norway from Iran at the age of one with his mother and older brother, was the surprise runaway winner in the national final on Saturday night.

With more than 155,000 votes, Tooji proved three times more popular than pre-final favourites Plumbo, who slumped to fourth place. “This victory is dedicated to absolutely everybody who believed in me and voted for me. There’s nothing better than people believing in you,” a tired but contented Tooji told news agency NTB on Sunday.

Tooji trailed Nora Foss Al-Jabri after the jury vote but eventually swept to victory with the overwhelming backing of the general public. The duo consisting of American country legend Bobby Bare and Norwegian singer Petter Øien took third spot. The winner’s performance so impressed Oslo mayor Fabian Stang that he gave Tooji the day off from his job as a child welfare worker.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway Beer Makers Can’t Show Beer

Norwegian beer makers have reacted with fury to “surreal” rulings by two government agencies forbidding brewers from reviewing beer or showing pictures of beer on their own websites. The Norwegian Marketing Council on Monday gave its full backing to a Directorate of Health decision that found Aass Brewery and the Norwegian Brewery Association guilty of violating the provisions of the Alcohol Act.

The health directorate previously ordered Aass Brewery to remove from its websites all images of foaming beer, all information about microbrewery beer, as well as any specific beer recommendations. Brewery association website meanwhile has been barred from publishing a beer selection tool that helps users choose suitable beers for different occasions. The association has also been commanded to remove any links to articles reviewing beer in the Norwegian media.

Furthermore, the Marketing Council agreed with the directorate that a censored beer picture on the association’s website was in breach of laws against alcohol advertising.

Furious at the ruling, the Brewery Association has now asked health minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen (Labour Party) to work towards a change in the laws surrounding alcohol advertising. “We find these measures quite surreal,” said chairman Petter Nome. Nome pointed out that it was fully legal for star skier Emil Hegle Svendsen to appear on public television in skiwear advertising a German beer while Norwegian beer remains subject to “total secrecy”.

He noted too that the state-run alcohol retail monopoly, Vinmonopolet, was free to describe its products in great detail, while the Brewery Association was barred from providing “sober consumer information” about low-alcohol beers. The association characterized as a breach of freedom of speech the Marketing Council’s decision to ban it from linking to four news articles about the economic growth of microbreweries.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norwegian Billionaire to Buy 10 Oil Tankers: Report

Norwegian-born shipping tycoon John Fredriksen plans to spend millions of dollars to buy 10 oil tankers, hoping that their fuel capacity will give him an edge in a market facing severe overcapacity, the Financial Times reported on Monday. Fredriksen plans to buy the medium range oil carriers from an as yet undisclosed builder for Frontline 2012, which was created last year as part of a massive restructuring of Frontline, one of the world’s leading oil tanker shipping companies, the British financial daily reported.

The plan of adding more new tankers to a market already facing a significant glut might “seem crazy to most people,” Fredriksen acknowledged to the paper. But he insisted that “at today’s bunker prices, we’ll save $10,000 a day” due to the new vessels’ high fuel capacity, and pointing out he had been offered prices down to $85 million per vessel compared to the peak price of $180 million.

Fredriksen, who lives in London and has become a citizen of Cyprus for taxation reasons, owns 52 percent of Frontline 2012. Last year, Fredriksen ranked 72nd on Forbes’ list of world billionaires, with a personal net worth of $10.7 billion.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain: Baltasar Garzón Protest in Madrid

Some 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Madrid on Sunday (12 February) to support the embattled Spanish human rights judge Baltasar Garzón. Garzón was disbarred for 11 years on 9 February for secretly recording conversations between attorneys and prison detainees. Demonstrators shouted “Garzón, friend, Spain is with you”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Swedish Town Gives ‘Negro Village’ New Name

A suburb of Mjällby, southern Sweden, which has been known by locals as ‘Negro Village’ for forty years, will be changing its name after a storm of recent attention.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Swiss Work Ethic Trumping Extra Holidays

With the Swiss looking likely to reject an initiative extending paid holiday time to six weeks, politicians and academics believe a mixture of fear and Calvinism are keeping workers off the beach.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Swiss Billionaire Sentenced to 16 Years

A Swiss billionaire and a Belgian baron were found guilty on Monday in a groundbreaking trial into 3,000 alleged asbestos-related deaths, and were sentenced to 16 years each in prison. Stephan Schmidheiny, the former owner of a company making Eternit fibre cement, and Jean-Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, a major shareholder, were sentenced in absentia after being found guilty of causing an environmental disaster and failing to comply with safety regulations.

They were also ordered to pay damages to civil parties in a payout expected to add up to tens of millions of euros. Hundreds of relatives of victims had waited anxiously for the verdict in a trial which was closely watched as a potential precedent around the world, and they wept, cheered and clapped when the sentence was read aloud.

“It’s a fair verdict which acknowledges their responsibility… the problem now is to see if the condemned men will face up to their obligations, because we’re not sure,” lawyer Sergio Bonetto told AFP.

Schmidheiny is now 64 years old and De Cartier 90. Their crimes usually carry a maximum 12-year sentence, but prosecutors had sought a harsher punishment because they say the fall-out continues to affect victims.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘I Used to Sit There for a Long, Long Time Crying’: Woman Tells How She Was ‘Kept as Sex Slave in Cellar for 10 Years’Deaf and Mute Victim Uses Interpreter to Tell Jury of Horrifying Ordeal

A deaf and mute girl allegedly kept in a cellar, repeatedly raped and treated as a virtual slave told a court today of years of beatings and cruelty.

The victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the jury of almost a decade of alleged abuse after being trafficked into the UK from Pakistan in 2000, supposedly to work as a domestic help.

The orphaned youngster, who does not know her true age but is believed to be between 19 and 21, was slapped, beaten, sexually abused and hit with a rolling pin while forced to work for no money during the day, the court heard.

At night the victim was made to sleep on the concrete floor of a cellar, the door bolted, Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester heard.

Her alleged abusers were Ilyas Ashar, 83, and his wife, Tallat Ashar, 66, who deny charges of false imprisonment, human trafficking, sexual offences, violence and benefit fraud.

Today the girl told of her treatment while at their home on Cromwell Road in Eccles, Salford, Greater Manchester.

Giving evidence from a separate room via videolink, she was assisted by a deaf and dumb intermediary and a sign language interpreter.

The girl was also interviewed by police 14 times with the aid of specially-trained interpreters and the recordings are being played to the jury over the next few days.

The witness will then be cross-examined by lawyers defending the three accused.

Asked about her life, in her words via an interpreter and sign language, she told the jury: ‘I was sad and weak because I was working so hard.

‘They used to hit me from being very very little, all the time.

‘I used to cook and clean for hours and hours.

‘She (Tallat Ashar) used to hit me with her ring, she used to hit me in the face and cut my face with her ring. It hurt. She would scratch me.

‘I would be down in the cellar, sitting alone and very upset.

‘I would sit there for a long, long time, really upset and crying. I could not get out.’

The girl, being deaf, would put cups and crockery down on tables but Tallat Ashar would complain she put them down too hard and made too much noise — and so would slap her, she said.

At 7am in the mornings while the girl was drinking and eating, Tallat would allegedly come to the cellar, clicking her fingers and demanding she stop and get on with her jobs.

Shaking her head and wringing her hands together on her lap, the girl added: ‘The woman and that man would do that to me. They are bad.’

Shown a photo of Tallat Ashar, to identify her alleged abuser, the girl said: ‘That’s the woman who used to hit me and beat me all the time as I was growing up.

‘All through my life she’s been hitting me.’

She was also shown a photo of Ilyas Ashar, who allegedly repeatedly raped the girl.

‘The old man, he’s bad,’ she replied, ‘He’s the one who has sex with me.’

The victim’s true age is not known but it is thought she was aged between 10 and 12 when she came to the UK.

Earlier the trial heard the girl lived in a ‘state of servitude’ and was an ideal target for exploitation because of her vulnerability.

It is also alleged state benefits were claimed in her name — though never handed over.

She has no family in the UK and has never been to school in the UK or Pakistan and cannot read or write. She had no-one to turn to and nowhere to go if she tried to leave the Ashars.

Ilyas and Tallat Ashar both deny two counts of human trafficking into the UK for exploitation and a single count of false imprisonment.

Ilyas also denies 12 counts of rape, Tallat denies one count of sexual assault and unlawful wounding and the pair along with their daughter Faaiza, 44, deny charges of benefit fraud.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Abu Qatada Release Imminent Amid ‘Exhaustive’ Efforts to Deport Radical Cleric

The Government is still considering “all possible avenues” for removing Abu Qatada from Britain, which could include defying the legal ban on his deportation to Jordan.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman today would not rule out the idea that Qatada could simply be sent back to Jordan, as the 51-year-old was about to walk free for the first time in six years.

This would ignore a decision by the European Court of Human Rights that Qatada would not get a fair trial in his own country.

Qatada is being released on bail in Britain today, even though he has been convicted in Jordan of terror offences in his absence.

He has been fighting extradition to Jordan, but he is being freed because the European Court of Human Rights has concerns that evidence to be used against him was obtained by torture.

A growing number of Conservative MPs have been calling for Qatada, known as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, to simply be sent back.

Asked whether the Government could ignore the European Court’s ruling, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We are committed to removing him from the country. We want to see him deported. We are looking at all the options for doing that.

“All I would say is we are looking at all the possible options and we will be exhaustive in our efforts.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “It is clear the Government has not done all it can to stop Abu Qatada being released from high-security prison today.

“As soon as the European Court judgment was delivered a month ago now, the Government could have appealed the decision and begun urgent negotiations with the Jordanian government.

“Instead the Government did nothing, leaving a judge to decide there was little progress being made in deporting Qatada and that bail was the only option.

“And still the Government have failed to appeal, while activity with the Jordanians seems restricted to belated calls from the PM and a trip to Jordan for James Brokenshire.”

She went on: “We are also seriously concerned that, should Qatada’s bail conditions be relaxed, within weeks he could be free to do the school run he has been banned from today.

“The Government’s scrapping of control orders means that even were Qatada to be given a new Tpim (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures), he would be free to move around during the day, even using the internet and a mobile phone.

“Inaction from this Government could soon be followed by more failure after the Home Secretary’s decision to weaken counter- terror powers designed to deal with situations like this.

“In issues of national security, a more urgent and less cavalier approach is needed.”

Qatada has strict bail conditions that will be ban him from taking his youngest child to school when he is released from prison.

In a small victory for the Government, a court ruled that the preacher’s hours under curfew will not allow him out at school opening and closing times.

The cleric must obey a 22-hour curfew, wear and electronic tag and is banned from using the internet and telephone.

The Home Office went to court on Friday to obtain an order to ensure that his hours of freedom would not allow him to take his youngest son to and from school.

The taxpayer will have to fund up to £10,000 a week to help protect Qatada from vigilante attacks once he is released.

James Brokenshire, the security minister, is due to fly to Jordan in an urgent bid to gain necessary assurances that will allow the UK to deport Qatada.

The UK Government is seeking guarantees evidence obtained by torture will not be used and Qatada will get a fair trial.

The courts have described Qatada as a “dangerous risk”. Despite strict bail conditions, he will have unrestricted access to his family and there was growing concern last night that he could now radicalise his teenage son.

His security monitoring is likely to cost more than half a million pounds a year and critics said that was as much to protect him as to protect the public from him.

A YouGov poll yesterday found seven in ten people thought Qatada should be deported regardless of whether he can be guaranteed a fair trial.

Once Qatada is released he will be restricted on who he can meet, with the exception of his immediate family.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Abu Qatada Banned From School Run

Abu Qatada will be banned from taking his youngest child to school when he is released from prison today.

In a victory for the Government, a court has ruled that the preacher’s hours under curfew will not allow him out at school opening and closing times. Under the terms of his release, the cleric — described as Osama Bin Laden’s ambassador in Europe — must obey a 22-hour curfew, wear and electronic tag and is banned from using the internet and telephone. The Home Office went to court on Friday to obtain an order to ensure that his hours of freedom would not allow him to take his youngest son to and from school. A senior legal source told the Daily Mail: “The court came back and said the Home Office request was fine. Abu Qatada won’t be able to do the school run.” The disclosure comes as ministers resort to a change in tactics to see Qatada deported to Jordan amid anger that the taxpayer will have to fund up to £10,000 a week to help protect Qatada from vigilante attacks once he is released.


[JP note: Number 94 in the Government’s perhaps less-than-well-conceived ploys to stem the tide of global Islamic extremism.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Abu Qatada to be Released Immediately

Radical Islamist cleric will live with his family under a 22-hour curfew with severe restrictions on his activities

The radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada is to be released imminently from Long Lartin maximum security prison in Worcestershire. Abu Qatada is to be taken to an address in London, where he will live with his immediate family under a 22-hour curfew and with severe restrictions on his activities for the remaining two hours of the day. The judicial communications office said on Monday that bail conditions had been agreed without the need for a further court hearing. Negotiations had been going on since last week between the special immigration appeals commission (Siac) and the Home Office over details of the bail conditions and had been expected to be finalised by Mr Justice Mitting on Monday.

The decision by Siac to order the release of Abu Qatada on bail followed the European court of human rights ruling that he would face an unfair trial based on evidence obtained by torture if he were sent back to Jordan. The European judges said that would amount to a “flagrant denial of justice”. The Home Office minister James Brokenshire is travelling to Jordan this week in an attempt to get a fresh reassurance that Abu Qatada would face a fair trial if he were sent back to Amman. David Cameron spoke to the King of Jordan on Thursday in an attempt to find a solution to the case that could clear the way for Abu Qatada’s deportation. “They agreed on the importance of finding an effective solution to this case, in the interests of both Britain and Jordan,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

The release of Abu Qatada, who has been described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, comes despite the fact that Siac has accepted that he continues to pose a risk to national security. The details of his bail conditions are to be published when they are finalised but they are expected to be some of the strictest available under English law. They include 22-hour curfew enforced by an electronic tag — six hours longer than the 16 hours maximum allowed under a terrorism control order — and severe restrictions on his access to telephone and computer communications. His movements during the two separate hours he is allowed out of the vetted address will also be within a tight geographical area.

The home secretary, Theresa May, made clear in the Commons last Thursday that he would not be able to take his children on the school run, as he had done during six months spent on bail in 2007. He is also expected to be banned from leading prayers at any mosque. Mitting has given the Home Office three months to make “demonstrable progress” on securing fresh assurances from Jordan. The judge has warned that he will have to relax the stringent bail conditions after those three months if no progress is made and there is no realistic prospect of deporting Abu Qatada. Abu Qatada has spent nearly nine years in detention or under effective house arrest without being charged since he was first imprisoned under emergency anti-terrorism legislation in Belmarsh top security prison, London, in October 2002. He has spent six and a half years in detention or under 22-hour curfew under immigration powers pending his deportation.

[JP note: I expect it is an infringement for my human rights for Abu Qatada to be released.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: David Cameron Has Raised the Prospect of Throwing Abu Qatada Out. Now He Has to Deliver

‘Underpromise, overdeliver’ is one of those handy rules of politics that those in Government should keep in mind at all times. At some point today, we are told, Abu Qatada will be released from Long Lartin prison. What happens after that is a bit of a mystery. We know the bail conditions are strict, and as Hizzoner the Mayor explains in his column today, police surveillance will require 60 officers a day divided over three shifts to keep a 24 hour watch on him wherever he is (his family moved a few months ago and no one seems to be quite sure where he will turn up). The matter is exercising politicians and officials alike. David Cameron is under heaps of pressure to stick him on a plane back to Jordan, not least from Boris Johnson. The Government has been treading cautiously, fearful of giving any signal that it is playing pick and choose with the law. Which is why, going back to the ‘underpromise, overdeliver’ point, what Downing Street said earlier about Qatada is so startling. “We are committed to removing him from the country. We want to see him deported. We are looking at all the options for doing that. All I would say is we are looking at all the possible options and we will be exhaustive in our efforts,” the PM’s spokesman said. This has been interpreted as paving the way for Qatada to be taken straight to the cargo area at Heathrow. And there is the danger: having tickled up the idea that he is about to kick him out, Mr Cameron cannot afford for nothing to happen. He has raised expectations. He has, possibly, overpromised. If he then underdelivers, there will be plenty on his side who will take him to task.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: London Olympics Security Report Warns of Extremist Threat in Host Borough

High-level threat of al-Qaida-inspired extremism reported in Waltham Forest, home to part of the Olympic Park

One of the London boroughs hosting the Olympics has been warned by counter-terrorism officials that it is home to a high number of al-Qaida-inspired extremists. Councillors in Waltham Forest, north-east London, which will accommodate a section of the Olympic Park and a visitor campsite during the summer Games, have been given a restricted counter-terrorism local profile (CTLP) authored by police and the Home Office. According to a council paper, the CTLP reported “a high-level threat of AQ-inspired extremism from males aged between 20 and 38. The individuals of interest to the police are predominantly British-born second and third-generation migrants from south-east Asia. There is also interest from a number of Middle Eastern political movements and AQ-affiliated groups from north Africa.”

A paper seen by councillors on how Waltham Forest implements the government’s Prevent strategy on combating violent extremism says there are a number of other concerns, including “perceptions of inequality driven by relatively high deprivation levels, particularly within Pakistani communities”, “experience of criminality due to high levels of crime and strong gang culture”, and “possible radicalisation within family structures”. It argues there are signs of “‘jihadi cool’ possibly linked to macho gang culture” and “negative perceptions of Prevent”. It also acknowledges the growth of far-right extremism and admits there is “growing discontent on local benefits around the Olympics”. Specialist officers from the Metropolitan police’s SO15 counter-terrorism command visited Waltham Forest Islamic Association in December to warn Muslim children about the dangers of internet radicalisation.

Valentina Soria, a counter-terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a security thinktank, said the authorities were uneasy about the possibility of a homegrown attack during the Games, which are expected to attract up to 5.5 million visitors to the capital. “They are particularly worried about the possible threat from ‘lone wolf’, self-radicalised individuals, because they are more difficult to detect,” Soria said. “The security agencies will be keen to take less and less risk so will try to investigate any intelligence leads of this kind that will come up. Security around the Olympics will be their first concern.”

Each of the Olympic host boroughs — Waltham Forest, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich — has been allocated three engagement officers as part of the £60m Prevent strategy. An Olympics-specific Prevent group has been established, led by the Home Office, to co-ordinate a concerted national attempt to “challenge extremist activity” in the build-up to the Games. This includes offering mosques training in leadership and governance and distributing “counter-narrative” material produced by the government’s research, information and communications unit.

Launched in 2007 to stop the growth of homegrown terrorism, the Prevent programme was revised by the coalition in June last year . It set a number of objectives on how to “respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat from those who promote it” and identified the most serious threat as coming from al-Qaida and affiliated groups.

In August the Guardian reported that the Home Office was ramping up efforts to target universities as part of the initiative, with lecturers, chaplains and porters asked to inform the police about depressed or isolated Muslim students.

Scotland Yard has said it believes the risk of a terror attack on Britain during the Olympics is severe, the second highest threat level, meaning an attack is highly likely. A Home Office spokesperson said: “The focus of the government and everyone involved is to deliver a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games. We are working to a robust and comprehensive safety and security strategy. We want to reassure everyone that we will leave nothing to chance in our aim to deliver a Games that London, the UK and the whole world will enjoy.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Mosques Honoured in Parliament for Flood Disaster Donations

Mosques that donated money to help Pakistan recover from the devastating 2010 floods have been honoured at a parliamentary reception. The Pakistan Recovery Fund (PRF), founded by the Prince of Wales, asked mosques to donate some of their Friday collections. Mosques in Kingston, Sutton and Epsom were among those to receive a bronze medal from the fund after taking part. Local MPs from four parties attended the House of Commons reception on Thursday, February 9. Epsom and Ewell MP Chris Grayling said: “I’m really pleased that the efforts of Epsom Mosque have been recognised in this way. “This appeal has been enormously important, and I want to congratulate everyone in the mosque for their efforts.”

Sadiq Khan MP, the first cabinet member of Pakistan decent, said: “I travelled to some of the flood-affected areas and met dozens of victims who lost friends, family members and their livelihoods. “I am extremely proud of the hope the British public gave to thousands of people through their generous donations. “Many people feared that the tough economic climate would limit the amount donated to the Pakistan Recovery Fund, but we saw just the opposite — despite the difficult times the British public face at home, they haven’t lost their sense of humanity.”

John O’Brien said: “On behalf of HRH The Prince of Wales I would like to extend my gratitude to the mosques who have come together to answer the prince’s call to action. Without the support of these communities we would be unable to raise awareness and build momentum for the Pakistan Recovery Fund. We are grateful for all the funds you have collected and for the future support you have pledged. We will ensure that your contribution goes to rebuilding the lives and homes of Pakistan’s flood victims.”

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: On Top of Everything Else, Abu Qatada Costs us a Small Fortune

Rather than waste police resources, we should give him a one-way ticket to Jordan, writes Boris Johnson.

There are all sorts of reasons to gibber with anger at the Abu Qatada business. This is a man who came here illegally in 1993, and has used his time in our country to issue a series of revolting injunctions to his followers. He has called for the murder of any Algerian who converts from Islam — including their wives and children. He used one of his Finsbury Mosque sermons to propose the killing of all Jews, and followed this up by suggesting that his admirers should not only kill Americans, but British people as well. That’s right, folks. Of all the countries in the world he could have blessed with his presence, of all the places he could have picked to bring up a family, he chose little old us — and now he wants us all dead. That’s gratitude, eh? It would be lovely to pretend that no one listens to this raving. But innocent Algerians did indeed have their throats cut; and his sermons were found in the possession of the late Mohammad Atta, who led the 9/11 suicide mission; and the tragic reality is that his exhortations, with their nauseating veneer of theological authority, are the legitimating voice in the minds of the poor, sad and deluded people who commit murder in the name of Islamic extremism. There is no reason whatever why he should not go for trial in Jordan, where he is wanted for his role in encouraging the bombing of a hotel in Amman. As even the judges of the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights have conceded, he is at no risk of torture when he gets there. No matter that he has egged on murder and mayhem, his own human rights would be fully respected, just as they have been observed, for the last 20 years, with all the punctilio of the British judicial system. And yet we are told that we cannot send him back, because there is a risk that some of the evidence at his trial may — may — be tainted, in the sense that it may — may — have been extracted from other witnesses by the use of torture. Even if this is so (and the Jordanians vehemently deny it, of course), it is not clear to me how this would amount to an abuse of Qatada’s own human rights.

Some people, such as the excellent Dominic Raab MP, are concerned that the Strasbourg court is expanding its remit, and some people are enraged by the spectacle of them bossing us around. After all, they say, we more or less invented the post-war concept of human rights in Europe. Our judges have decided that his rights would not be infringed — and now we are told what to do as if we were some kind of banana republic. But what gets me is not so much the outrage to common sense, grievous though that is. It’s the expense of the whole thing. This fellow has never worked in this country; of course not. He has never contributed to the UK economy, never paid a penny of tax; and yet he has cost at least £500,000 in benefits and other payments, and the bill is set to soar. In tough economic times, Abu Qatada represents a completely mad and unnecessary expense for the police — and a throwback to an era of public-sector waste. I am proud to say that London is now one of the safest big cities in the world. Since May 2008, robbery has fallen by about 18 per cent, crime on buses is down 30 per cent, and crime overall is down more than 10 per cent. That’s not bad going for a recession.

In case you think I am fudging the figures, let me point out that you can’t easily hide a corpse, and the murder rate is down 25 per cent over the past four years. By this May, there will be about 1,000 more warranted officers on the streets of the capital than there were four years ago, and a million more patrols every year — and the police have achieved this in the face of the tightest public sector squeeze in memory. We have done it by cutting vast amounts of the waste that was the hallmark of the last administration. Human resources departments have been amalgamated. Buildings have been sold or let. The grace and favour flat of the last Met Commissioner is being sold off, and Bernard Hogan-Howe is looking to make further savings in his plan to deploy even more officers on “total policing” of the city. And so it is utterly infuriating to discover that someone like Abu Qatada will now require round-the-clock surveillance in London. I am not giving away any operational secrets if I say that this means three eight-hour shifts employing 20 officers each. In other words, a full 24 hours of surveillance means that at least 60 officers are diverted to allow the fellow to go to the shop or the mosque or whatever he wants to do in his time outside his house.

Then there is the continuing housing cost and general benefit support for him and his family, a family that seems to have mysteriously expanded during the years he was supposed to have been incarcerated. Then there is the vast bill for his lawyers, and his appeals, all of which must be funded by the taxpayer. And then there are all the others who must get the same treatment, like Abu Hamza, who is also likely to come out on bail. It is an industry, and in its profligacy it is all so pre-crisis. We got into all sorts of bad habits during the debt-fuelled boom. Government, not least the last semi-loony government of London, wasted spectacular sums on nonsense of all kinds — and we cannot afford to go back to that mentality.

This is a man who came to this country illegally. He has preached hate and violence. By common consent, he is at no risk of torture in Jordan; indeed he is guaranteed a fair trial. It is lunacy to waste police time on allowing him and his family to use taxpayers’ money to go shopping in London. He should be given a one-way ticket back, in steerage.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: Procession Through High Wycombe Celebrates Prophet Mohammed

ABOUT 2,000 Muslims marched through High Wycombe today to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammed and spread a message of peace. A colourful procession, led by an open top bus, marking the Eid-Milad-Un-Nabi weaved its way through the town centre. Roads were closed as the march took place. After beginning at the Jamia Mosque in Jubilee Road at about 11.30am, it made its way through Desborough, into Bridge Street and onto Oxford Road. Sahibzada Jeelani, one of the Imams at the mosque, explained what the event is all about. He told the BFP:”We show our gratitude and thanks to almighty God and we extend our best wishes and goodwill not only to the Muslim community but the non-Muslim community as well. Islam is a religion of peace and mercy and the prophet Mohammed is the messenger of mercy so we try to explain the real nature and picture of Islam. It’s not what unfortunately gets put across sometimes in the media.”

Mr Jeelani, who has been an Imam in High Wycombe since 1986, said: “Today is very peaceful and when we walk through the street we praise to almighty God and the prophet Mohammed. We send salutations and blessings on all the prophets.” Some of the messages on the banners are compilations of verses of the Islamic holy book the Koran, he explained. He said the Eid-Milad-Un-Nabi stands out from other Islamic festivals such as Eid after Ramadan. This is a very unique event in Islamic history and culture,” he said.

“It’s not just confined to just a few hour sessions, actually it’s really experiencing the life of the prophets through listening to lectures of the scholars and their explanation about the beautiful characteristic of the prophet Mohammed. This is something very joyful and very close to the heart of the people. It’s very special. In other festivals people are usually confined to their family and friends but this is the whole community. As a Muslim we extend our best wishes to the whole community on this happy occasion.” He wished readers a happy birthday of the prophet Mohammed.

The march takes place every year, but has grown over the past two decades. Mohammed Jamil Ali, a director at the mosque, said it was about keeping the name of the prophets alive. Mr Ali, 45, who runs Jimmy’s Pizza on Brindley Avenue, High Wycombe, said:”About 20 years ago you probably wouldn’t have seen anything like this in England. It’s praising and singing as we walk all the way to the High Street. It’s one of the best moments of our calendar, and Mohammed is not just our prophet but everyone’s prophet, showing mercy to all humankind. There are messages for everyone. But sometimes people get a wrong impression of what the march is about, he added. “Sometimes when people see us walking with flags they think it’s a protest,” he said. He hopes the event helps to promote more awareness and understanding in the general public.

The final leg saw the bus and many followers go through Frogmoor, before ending in the High Street outside the Guildhall, where prayers, speeches and blessings took place from the top of the bus in a mixture of English and Urdu. Sajid Ali, Mosque Chairman, said: “Everything went well, it’s been successful and it’s been a good gathering.” He estimated about 1,500 to 2,000 took part in the march. Marchers returned to the mosque for food this afternoon.

[A reader comment at 7:42 pm on 12 February 2012]

Just a few years ago the council was threatening to cancel the remembrance day parades saying the policing was too expensive, and that the marchers would have to pay for it if they wanted to go ahead. So could the council or police explain where the money for the policing of this event came from?

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: New Snow Emergency

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 13 — The emergency situation caused by snow in Algeria, where a number of towns remain cut off as a result of conditions in the last few days, is continuing. An urgent bulletin by the national weather office has released the latest alarm for the next 48 hours, during which snow will again fall, even in low quantity, in huge swathes of the country. The provinces concerned by the alarm are in the centre and east of the country and include Algiers, Blida Médéa, Boumerde’s, Bouira, Tizi Ouzou, Béjaia, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Sétif, Jijel, Skikda, Constantine, Mila, Guelma, Souk Ahras e Oum El Bouaghi.

Meanwhile, there is continuing disruption for the country’s population, which has staged protests, often with the occupation of streets), urging the government to send in rescue teams.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Arab Spring: EU Influence at Risk

BRUSSELS — Egypt on Saturday (11 February) marked the first anniversary of the fall of Hosni Mubarak, with crowds blocking the streets of Cairo and demanding that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) delivers on its promise to transfer power to civilian rule.

Egypt is a showcase of how the European Union’s weight in the region is decreasing. So far, the Union has been little more than a timid bystander in Egypt’s democratic transition. Now it is standing by and watching as the US tries to stamp its influence on post-Mubarak Egypt — a tug-of-war between Washington and Cairo which may determine the future of Europe’s most vital interests in the Middle East.

The recent Scaf campaign to crack down on NGOs working to support the transition recently culminated in the indictment of 44 Egyptian and foreign employees, accused of “operating without a licence … receiving unauthorised foreign funding …(and) engaging in political activity.” Those indicted — among whom are 16 Americans and two Germans — have been banned from leaving the country and are to face trial in Cairo’s criminal court. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.

The motives for the witch-hunt — initiated by Egypt’s minister of planning and international co-operation, Fayza Abouelnaga, one of the few holdovers from the Mubarak era — are obvious.

The conspiracy theory that foreigners are trying to destabilise the country resonates well the Egyptian public. The NGO crackdown distracts from the government’s increasing lack of legitimacy — mass mobilisation is back and people are calling for Scaf heads. It is also way to intimidate reformers — in particular liberal pro-democracy activists, the main target of the crackdown, who are represented in civil society more so than in the party political landscape.

The indictments have put Egyptian-US relations on a knife-edge, and the fact that one of the indicted workers is the son of US transport secretary Ray LaHood makes matters worse.

The US could end up freezing badly-needed aid. Egypt is currently negotiating a $3.2 billion loan from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF). Non-IMF US aid ($1.6 billion annually) has already been frozen since December, pending assurances that Egypt’s new rulers will not harm Israel and will support democracy.

The US aid package — $1.3 billion of which goes directly to the ruling generals’ military budget — has been the backbone of the US-Egyptian security partnership since the signature of the Camp David peace accords in 1979 and of Egypt’s regional security strategy in general. Now it is at serious risk.

Much of the EU’s wariness of the 2011 Arab uprisings is also rooted in fears that new Islamist governments, linked to the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood movement, may be less friendly toward Israel. The Union’s top priority in its talks with Egypt’s emerging leaders is the continuation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

As things stand, the EU can do little to influence the course of events.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Police Prevent Christian Protesters From Reaching Parliament

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — Egyptian Security forces yesterday prevented a rally of hundreds of Copts and activists from various political groups from reaching the Egyptian Parliament. The rally was staged to condemn the eviction of 8 Coptic families from their homes in El-Ameriya in Alexandria, on January 27 (AINA 2-9-2012).

The protestors were angry at the Parliament Speaker, who ignored last week an urgent request submitted by elected Coptic member of Parliament Dr. Emad Gad, to discuss this issue. The protesters said they wanted to meet with members of parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi parties to inform them of their condemnation of the events in El-Ameriya. Two Copts, Hani Ramsis and John Talaat, were chosen as delegates to the Parliament Speaker to deliver the message “No to reconciliation sittings or to the displacement of the Copts in El-Ameriya.”

John Talaat, former elections candidate for Parliament, said that what is going on is a “farce caused by lack of security and we are here to deliver the message, and we demand a formal questioning of the Minister of Interior regarding this deportation [of the Coptic families from the village].”

Dr. Emad Gad, Coptic member of Parliament, presented on February 7 an urgent request, supported by 22 signatures of liberal members of parliament, to the Parliament Speaker, Dr. Saad el Katatny, who is from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Liberty and Justice Party, to discuss the Eviction of 8 Coptic families and the seizure of their property. The request was ignored. “Katatny just folded the paper I presented and put it on his desk”, said Dr. Gad. “Within a tribe, in the desert, or in a tent, you apply these unofficial reconciliation sittings, but in Egypt we have civil law.” Dr. Gad, who is deputy director of the Al-Ahram Institute of Strategic Studies, said he would escalate the matter further if the Parliament does not respond to this issue. He was due to submit another request to the Speaker today.

Today’s a meeting was held in a room in the Parliament, attended by several members of parliament, mainly liberals and Copts. It also included the three MPs from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties who were involved in the reconciliation sitting. Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination presented a petition, signed by 13 NGOs, to the Speaker, criticizing the military and security authorities for not protecting the Copts and for giving their blessings to “the shameful reconciliation sittings.”

Sheikh Sherif al-Hawary, who was present at the meeting, pointed out that he intervened after the people of the village contacted him due to the lack of police presence and their inability to enforce the law, and that his primary aim was to prevent the shedding of blood.

Liberals and Copts insisted there has to be an end to collective punishment, forced eviction of Copts and reconciliation sittings, and that the rule of law has to prevail. Some of the attendees joined in the debate and unanimously agreed that the family of Abeskhayroun Soliman should not be evicted. They also discussed a solution to apply the law and provide means for protecting this family in view of the prevailing lack of security

The meeting established a fact-finding commission affiliated to the parliamentary human rights committee, to be made up of all Alexandria members of parliament and two Coptic members.

Dr. Emad Gad, in an interview tonight on CTV Coptic Channel, was optimistic that the parliamentary commission would develop recommendations to stop eviction and put an end to reconciliation sittings and the application of the law. “These recommendation will be presented to parliament and if it passes through parliament I believe this will be a significant achievement, because parliament can oblige the government to apply them.”

Other Coptic observers did not seem to share Dr. Gad’s optimism, but rather anticipated that there will be a chain of parliamentary committees and no results in the end.

           — Hat tip: Mary Abdelmassih[Return to headlines]

No Arab Spring for Egypt’s Women

Side-by-side with fellow male protesters, Egypt’s women stood on Tahrir Square demanding freedom and democracy. But due to the military regime and the rise of Islamic factions the situation of women is deteriorating. Starting on time is not essential for Amani El Tunsi. Around eight in the morning, or maybe half an hour later, she is ready to go. Ready to fire up the computer, grab the microphone and get her radio show Banat Bas — which means “just for women” in English — on air.

She is on a mission to raise the topics that are important to Egyptian women and to alert them to their rights. “I want to give women more self-confidence,” El Tunsi said, “and change their mentality.”

Three years ago she founded the station, which now has five million listeners worldwide, most of them in Egypt. But it is no easy task. Since last year’s revolution women are worse off, despite having stood together with the men, demanding freedom on Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

The military is brutal in their treatment of women. Not long after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, female demonstrators had to undergo virginity tests to ascertain whether they were ‘suitably moral.’

At the end of last year, soldiers beat one female protester, beating her with batons and undressing her. One soldier kicked her face with his boot, another jumped on her breasts, leaving her lying there half-naked and seemingly lifeless. The pictures of her dressed in a blue bra went around the world, no one seems to know what happened to her.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: School Closes in Protest at Violence

After occupation by Islamic extremists over niqab in class

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS — Tunisian educational circles have decided to react against the wave of violence in a number of schools in recent weeks, caused mostly by Islamic extremists, who are attempting to use force to overturn the ruling that bans women form wearing the niqab in class. Schools will be suspended for twenty minutes by teachers on Wednesday, who are looking to force action from the government, which has been accused of a complete lack of action against the problem. Teachers have also accused the media of not paying enough attention to the problem.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Egyptian Diesel Finished, Gaza Dark and Cold

(ANSAmed) — GAZA — More than a million Palestinians were last night plunged into darkness in the Gaza Strip, with the last reserves of Egyptian diesel from the only local electric power station about to run out. The “lucky ones” are those who live in the far south and north of the Gaza Strip, areas that remain connected to the Israeli electrical network, and the city of Rafah, in the far south, which continues to receive electricity from across the border in Egypt. For everyone else, there is no alternative but to make use of the deafening family generators.

As night fell, complete darkness fell on a number of areas of Gaza City, demoralising children. This was accompanied by bitter cold. So as not to spend the night in the open, the only option, as it was two centuries ago, is coal. During the day, electrical current was rationed in towns around the Gaza Strip. Some households enjoyed electricity for eight hours, others for just two. With no more television or Internet, the population of Gaza has again gone back in time. Mosques, at least, have seen a growing influx in worshippers, who at least are confident of finding some semblance of human warmth. The crisis had been on the horizon for some time, not least because trouble in the Sinai had led to the suspension of Egyptian supplies. Electricity is also said to be rationed in the Egyptian Sinai. Continuing hostility between Hamas and Israel means that the possibility of asking the Jewish state for assistance has been ruled out.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Middle East

EU ‘Disappointed’ By Malaysia Deportation of Saudi Blogger

(BRUSSELS) — The European Union on Monday condemned Malaysia’s decision to deport a Saudi journalist back to Saudi Arabia to face charges of blasphemy for comments deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed. Hamza Kashgari, 23, did not appear to have been given access to a lawyer or offered the possibility to appeal his deportation “in accordance with international standards,” an EU spokeswoman said.

“We were deeply disappointed to learn that the Malaysian authorities had deported Mr Kashgari,” said Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The EU also voiced regret that the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was not granted accesss to Kashghari in order to assess his situation and his potential status as an asylum seeker.

“The EU will continue taking all appropriate steps to achieve a positive outcome of Mr Kashgari’s case,” Kocijancic said.

The blogger was arrested on Sunday after arriving at the international airport in Riyadh, according to the English-language daily Arab News. Kashgari, who worked for local daily Al Bilad in Jeddah, was detained in Malaysia last week after fleeing Saudi Arabia in fear of his life after his Twitter post about the prophet sparked outrage.

Insulting the Prophet Mohammed is considered blasphemous in Islam and is a crime punishable by execution in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia. Human rights groups had warned that deporting Kashgari would be akin to a death sentence and urged Muslim-majority Malaysia to free him.

Referring to the prophet, Kashgari had tweeted: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you. “I will not pray for you.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Israel Says Iran Behind India, Georgia Attacks

(Reuters) — Israel accused arch-enemies Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of being behind twin bomb attacks that targeted embassy staff in India and Georgia on Monday, wounding four people.

Tehran denied involvement in the strike, which has amplified tensions between two countries at loggerheads over Iran’s contested nuclear program. Hezbollah, the powerful Shi’ite Muslim movement in neighboring Lebanon, declined comment.

Police in the Indian capital New Delhi said a bomb wrecked a car carrying the wife of the Israeli Defence attache as she was going to pick up her children from school. She needed surgery to remove shrapnel but her life was not in danger, officials said.

Three others suffered lesser injuries in the same blast. Israeli officials said an attempt to bomb an embassy car in the Georgian capital Tbilisi had failed and the device was defused.

Israel had put its foreign missions on high alert ahead of the anniversary of the February 12, 2008 assassination in Syria of the military mastermind of Hezbollah, Imad Moughniyeh — an attack blamed on the Jewish state.

Israel is also believed to be locked in a wider covert war with Iran, whose nuclear program has been beset by sabotage, including the unclaimed killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists, most recently in January.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to blame both Iran and Hezbollah, accusing them of responsibility for a string of recent attempted attacks in countries as far apart as Thailand and Azerbaijan.

“Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are behind each of these attacks,” said Netanyahu. “We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran.”

Iran’s ambassador to India denied that his government had anything to do with the attack on the New Delhi embassy.

“Any terrorist attack is condemned (by Iran) and we strongly reject the untrue comments by an Israeli official,” Mehdi Nabizadeh was quoted as saying by IRNA. “These accusations are untrue and sheer lies, like previous times.”

Israeli officials have long made veiled threats to retaliate in Lebanon for any Hezbollah attack on their interests abroad, arguing that as the militia sits in the government in Beirut, its actions reflect national policy.


The New Delhi blast took place some 500 meters from the official residence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

B.K. Gupta, the New Delhi police commissioner, said an eyewitness had seen a motorcyclist stick a device to the back of the car, which had diplomatic plates.

“The eyewitness … says it (was) some kind of magnetic device. As soon as the motorcycle moved away a good distance from the car, the car blew up and it caught fire,” said Gupta.

The Iranian scientist killed in Tehran last month died in a similar such attack. No one has claimed responsibility for this.

Israel named the injured woman as Talya Yehoshua Koren.

“She was able to drag herself from the car and is now at the American hospital (in New Delhi), where two Israeli doctors are treating her,” said a Defence ministry spokesman.

[Return to headlines]

It’s Democracy, Stupid!

Editor’s note: M. Steven Fish is professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Are Muslims Distinctive? A Look at the Evidence.”

(CNN) — Westerners have become accustomed to regarding Muslims as immune from democracy’s charms. Little wonder the popular revolts around the Arab world have taken us by surprise.

We often think of Muslims as extraordinarily religious and eager to combine religious and political authority. According to late-night favorite Bill Maher: “Muslims still take their religion too seriously. Whereas we have the good sense to blow it off.” Maher may be joking, or he may really believe as and many others do that Muslims’ religiosity inclines them to theocracy and jihad rather than democracy and reason. I recently did research for a book that compares the attitudes of Muslims and non-Muslims on political questions. The findings challenge some common assumptions. I relied on the World Values Survey, the prominent global project on popular attitudes that is directed by Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan. The survey covers about 100,000 people in more than 80 countries. The world’s most populous Christian and Muslim societies are included in the study. One survey item asks whether the respondent considers himself or herself “a religious person.” With Muslims, 85% say yes, but 84% of Christians do as well. Maher might blow off religion, but most people do not.

Yet religiosity does not translate into thirst for theocracy. Sixty-six percent of Muslims versus 71% of Christians agree that “religious leaders should not influence how people vote.” When the numbers are crunched with the proper controls, even this small difference evaporates. The survey also asks about preference for political regime. Respondents are asked to evaluate four types of political systems: “A strong leader who does not have to bother with parliament and elections.” “Having experts, not government, make decisions according to what they think is best for the country.” “Having the army rule.” “Having a democratic political system.”

Working with a co-author, Danielle Lussier, I created an index of the four response items, reversing the direction of responses for the “democratic system” and averaging across all responses. The result is an index ranging from 1 to 4, in which 1 indicates least support for democracy and 4 represents highest support for democracy. When the data are analyzed using the appropriate statistical methods, the score for a Muslim respondent is 2.94, compared to 2.98 for a non-Muslim. This difference — 0.04 points on scale that runs from 1 to 4 — is trivial. The uprisings in the Middle East are all about aspirations for self-government. Demonstrators are demanding the ouster of dictators and free elections. They are not calling for trading secular dictators for rule by religious guides.

The fault lines that divide governments in the Middle East are telling. Most governments, including those of Algeria, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia, have reacted with dismay to events in Egypt and Tunisia. One major Muslim neighbor, Turkey, has supported the uprisings. The reaction of the Saudi government would seem to be especially peculiar. The Saudis stake their legitimacy on their puritanical brand of Islamist rule and their alliance with the kingdom’s hidebound Wahhabi clergy. Yet Saudi rulers eagerly offered refuge to Tunisia’s fleeing dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali — a man who for a quarter century mercilessly persecuted any Tunisian suspected of embracing Saudi-style Wahhabi beliefs. Saudi rulers also ordered their clergy to condemn the Egyptian uprising as un-Islamic, even though Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who is the target of the Egyptian demonstrators’ ire, is a staunch foe of Islamism of any type.

Yet such reactions are not as ironic as they might seem. The Algerian, Libyan, Syrian and Saudi Arabian regimes differ in countless ways, but they share a common trait: The rulers fear their people. Turkish leaders suffer no such discomfort, since their people elected them. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, holds power at the pleasure of the voters, who elected his party in 2002 and reaffirmed its mandate in 2007. Even on the international level, the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia are not about religion. They are about democracy versus tyranny. If the demonstrations are not about religion, isn’t it possible that Islam will still hinder democratization in Egypt and its neighbors?

The Muslim world does lag on democracy. But experience counsels skepticism about assuming a hard link between religion and regime. During the first three decades after World War II, scholars produced copious explanations for why democracy could thrive in Protestant countries alone. Catholics were seen as being steeped in a spirit of hierarchy, patriarchy, and rigidity that made them resistant to democracy. From today’s perspective, such theories look almost humorous. The Spanish and Portuguese threw their dictators out in the 1970s. Latin America, the Philippines and Catholic Eastern Europe followed suit in the 1980s and early 1990s. Perhaps in 2025, our theories about Muslims and democracy will seem as quaint as our older theories about Catholics look today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of M. Steven Fish.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

MEP Calls on Ashton to Make ‘Operational Plan’ For Syria

Leading Liberal MEP, Guy Verhoftsdat, has in an open letter urged EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to draft an “operational plan” to help the Syrian opposition. The blueprint should include humanitarian “safe zones” on the Jordanian-Syrian and Turkish-Syrian border, as well as “substantial material and technical support.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Shariah’s Police?

by Frank Gaffney

Over the weekend, a drama with potentially horrific consequences for freedom-loving Americans played out half-a-world away.

A Saudi newspaper columnist named Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia, reportedly on the basis of an alert by the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol. Reuters quotes a Malaysian police spokesman as saying that, “This arrest was part of an Interpol operation which the Malaysian police were a part of.” It was apparently mounted in response to a “red notice” (or request for help apprehending an individual) issued by Saudi Arabia. Kashgari was then sent back to Saudi Arabia where he faces almost certain death…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]


Putin Vows to Reverse Russian Population Decline

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday vowed to reverse Russia’s demographic decline and boost its population to 154 million, as he ramped up his re-election campaign in the face of protests. In a new campaign article addressing his core constituency including employees of state companies and blue-collar workers, Putin also promised salary hikes to teachers and doctors and pledged to create a more just state.

Putin reeled off a list of social policies that he said could reverse a demographic decline and boost Russia’s current population that has now dwindled to nearly 143 million and which he said risked falling to just 107 million.

“In a global sense we are facing the risk of turning into an ‘empty space’ whose fate will not be decided by us,” Putin said in an article published on his campaign website. “If we manage to formulate and implement an effective complex people-saving strategy, Russia’s population will go up to 154 million,” he said.

By contrast, he said, if the authorities do nothing to combat the demographic crisis, the country’s population would fall to 107 million by 2050. “The historic price of the choice between action and inaction is nearly 50 million human lives over the next 40 years,” he said in the piece, his fifth campaign article since January.

After serving two consecutive presidential terms between 2000 and 2008 and a term as prime minister, Putin is seeking a third term in the March 4 presidential election. He is however facing the worst legitimacy crisis of his 12-year rule, with tens of thousands taking to the streets in protests since December.

Russia’s future president will have to tackle an acute demographic crisis exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyles, blatant disregard for safety protocols and traffic accidents which all contribute to high death rates.

Upon his widely expected re-election, Putin will have to push through long-delayed pension, utilities and tax reforms whose costs will be partly shouldered by the country’s quickly-aging population.

As part of demographic policies, the government will combat widespread alcohol and drug abuse and entice some 300,000 migrants a year to Russia, Putin said, also proposing monthly cash incentives for women to bear more than two children.

“These measures are not enough,” said Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow-based Demography Institute at the Higher School of Economics.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Russian Hot Springs Point to Rocky Origins for Life

It’s a question that strikes at the very heart of one of the deepest mysteries in the universe: how did life begin on Earth? New evidence challenges the widespread view that it all kicked off in the oceans, around deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Instead, hot springs on land, similar to the “warm little pond” favoured by Charles Darwin, may be a better fit for the cradle of life.

Armen Mulkidjanian at the University of Osnabrück in Germany says there is a fundamental problem with the ocean floor hypothesis: salt. The cytoplasm found inside all cells contains much more potassium than sodium. Mulkidjanian thinks that chemistry reflects the chemistry of the water life first appeared in, yet salty seawater is sodium-rich and potassium-poor.

“The ancient sea contained the wrong balance of sodium and potassium for the origin of cells,” says Mulkidjanian. Now, after extensive field studies, he claims to have found the one place on Earth where that balance is right: in the thermal springs of Kamchatka in far-east Siberia. Mulkidjanian found that puddles condensing from the hydrothermal vapour at Siberia’s Mutnovsky thermal springs are potassium-rich, just like cell cytoplasm. Life first appeared in similar pools, says Mulkidjanian.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Swiss Hostage Gives Birth in Pakistan

Swiss hostage Daniela Widmer has reportedly given birth to a baby boy while in captivity in Pakistan. Widmer, abducted from the province of Balochistan with her partner David Och in July last year, would already have been pregnant when she was captured.

Meanwhile, negotiations with the Taliban for the release of the hostages have failed, newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported Sunday. The militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban, is holding the hostages in north-western Pakistan. The group do not usually mistreat their prisoners, and are known more to use hostages as bargaining chips for ransom.

So far messages have been passed between both sides through tribal elders and religious dignitaries. The Pakistani government refuses to negotiate directly with terrorists. However according to an anonymous source, talks broke down after 15 paramilitaries were killed in attacks on Taliban units in December, the newspaper reported.

In October, a video showing the two hostages was posted on the internet. In the clip, the couple request officials to give in to the kidnappers’ demands. This was the first in a line of kidnappings of foreigners since July last year. Most recently, two European aid workers, one German and one Italian, were abducted from where they were staying in Multan City in the province of Punjab.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Far East

To Escape Chinese Espionage, You Must Travel “Electronically Naked”

If you carry classified government information or trade secrets as part of your job, traveling in China is risky. Hackers, whether affiliated with the government, on the payroll of competing companies, or operating alone, are a constant threat, and you generally have to assume that you are never unobserved online. But a piece in the New York Times makes it exceedingly clear just how far one has to go to get even a measure of electronic privacy and security in China:

When Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, travels to that country, he follows a routine that seems straight from a spy film. Kenneth G. Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution takes precautions while traveling. He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings “loaner” devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”

This is a philosophy that Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, calls traveling “electronically naked”; Jacob Olcott, a cybersecurity expert at Good Harbor Consulting, calls it ‘Business 101’ for people involved in commerce in China.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Czech Republic Targets Migrant Workers

The Czech Republic will stop issuing work permits to non-EU nationals in a bid to get unemployed Czechs back to work it was reported on Monday in the Polish press. The migrant workers are usually paid less for jobs involving physical labour.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Tunisia Looking for Its Lost Children

DNA and fingerprint experts to arrive in Italy

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS — When Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, nobody in his regime that was brought down by the popular uprising and “revolution” imaged that the large flow of young Tunisians to Italy and Europe would continue. And yet that is exactly what happened. The migration of people who were desperate to leave was only brought to a halt in the spring of 2011, when Italy and Tunisia closed an agreement. But thousands of people left Tunisia in the months before the agreement was signed, often defying death. Many of them have disappeared, perhaps drowned during their journey, perhaps dodged the authorities once they reached the Italian coasts.

Tunisia now wants to heal this open wound, and has decided to find out what has happened to its lost children. This search will be difficult, because the Tunisian emigrants (imitating their Algerian ‘brothers’, the ‘ arragah’) throw their documents over board once they reach open water. They do this to make their identification and expulsion by the Italian police more difficult. This is why many corpses of illegal immigrants found in the sea or on the Italian beaches are still lying in the freezers of Italian mortuaries, mainly in Sicily, waiting to be identified.

The Tunisian government has now decided to form a commission that will use the most advanced identification techniques — like DNA and fingerprint tests that can be carried out on bodies that have been in the sea for a long time -, in an attempt to take the corpses of these unfortunate young people home. The decision was announced by the Secretary of State for Emigration and Tunisians Abroad, Houcine Jaziri, and is a response to the relatives of those who have left and, as far as these relatives know, never reached their destination. Thirty thousand people left Tunisia between January and April 2001. One thousand of them certainly died at sea and another two hundred are missing. Most migrants made the journey in make-shift boats, left to themselves by ruthless human traffickers. The commission includes official of the Justice, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Interior Ministry and teams of experts. The difficult mission will start after the Italian authorities have given their approval. The pressure of Tunisian citizens is high: they want the mission to be completed as soon as possible. But the problems are enormous and therefore Jaziri has asked for patience: “We have already started the necessary procedures, but the relatives must understand that all this will take time.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Traditional ‘Sexist’ Beliefs Keep Women From Combat, Scientists Say

The military is opening up jobs for women thanks to eased regulations announced Thursday (Feb. 9), but Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s opposition to women in direct combat may help reveal the reasons women haven’t been allowed on the front lines. The belief, however, contains more myth than science, say sociologists and others who study women in the military.

The truth is, some women are capable, both physically and mentally, of performing admirably on the front lines, just like some men are, Ryan Kelty, a sociologist specializing in the military from Washington College, told LiveScience.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Antarctica’s Lake Vostok is Test Case for Exploring Icy Jupiter Moon

Russian scientists in Antarctica have reached a lake that’s been buried in ice for more than 14 million years — a milestone that could provide hints of what to expect when the ocean under the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, is similarly explored.

After more than a decade of drilling, the team broke through the ice on Feb. 5, reaching a hidden cache of water known as Lake Vostok that has been cut off from the surface since an ice sheet covered it between 14 million and 34 million years ago. The isolated lake bears similarities to features on Europa, whose icy surface is thought to hide a liquid ocean layer.

“When it comes to Europa, there’s no better analog on Earth than Lake Vostok,” Kevin Hand, deputy chief scientist of solar system exploration for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told “In both cases, the liquid water envelope trapped beneath the ice is cut off from the sun,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Debate Bubbles Over the Origin of Life

Could life have originated in geothermal ponds?

How life began is one of nature’s enduring mysteries. Fossil and biological clues have led scientists to estimate that cells originated on this planet about four billion years ago, but exactly what catalysed their emergence has remained elusive.

In an 1871 letter to botanist Joseph Hooker, Charles Darwin wondered whether life might have begun “in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc. present.” Since then, scientists have come to conclude that life began in hydrothermal vents in the deep sea, but a controversial study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that Darwin might have been on the right track.

The study, led by Armen Mulkidjanian of Germany’s University of Osnabrück, suggests that inland pools of condensed and cooled geothermal vapour have the ideal characteristics for the origin of life. The conclusion is based mainly on the chemistry of modern cells. Citing an observation made in 1926 by biochemist Archibald Macallum that the composition of the cytoplasm of modern cells differs greatly from that of seawater, and assuming that cells have changed little over the past four billion years led the researchers to propose that modern cell chemistry would provide clues about the type of environment in which life emerged.

The study is already generating strong disagreement among other early-life experts. Nick Lane, a biochemist at University College London, UK, points out that the geothermal-pool hypothesis is problematic both biologically and geologically. “There was almost certainly very little land 4 billion years ago and terrestrial systems would have been unstable, short-lived, and severely limited in distribution,” Lane says. Such conditions would have made it difficult for early life to gain a foothold, he says.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

OIC to Host Media Workshop in Fight Against Islamophobia

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has announced it will host a media workshop — the first of its kind — in Brussels on Feb. 15 and 16 for the development of media-related mechanisms to address smear campaigns against Islam in Western newspapers and other media institutions.

The media workshop will touch upon issues related to the negative representation of Islam in the Western media and will bring together Muslim and non-Muslim journalists, intellectuals, academics and civil society organization leaders to engage in in-depth discussions that will work towards the development of a stand against the misrepresentation of Islam in the media and the elimination discriminatory discourse and language.

The idea to organize a media workshop was first noted at the Mecca OIC Extraordinary Summit of 2005 and was shaped by the OIC Ten Year Programme of Action and the Islamic Conferences of Information Ministers (ICIM) in the years that followed. Workshop participants will discuss at length the reasons behind and the results of the Western media’s offensive campaigns directed against the symbols and sanctities of Islam and Muslims, which still occur from time to time, and how to address the issue.

The workshop is of particular importance as it will be held only weeks before the convening of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, which will put Resolution 16/18 to a vote for the second time after its unanimous endorsement in the previous session.

Resolution 16/18 aims to combat intolerance, stereotyping, stigmatization, discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against individuals based on religion or belief. The resolution is the outcome of bilateral talks between the OIC and a number of Western countries, including the US. The statement noted two meetings between the OIC and the US, held in Istanbul and Washington, to discuss this issue in order to develop operational mechanisms to implement the resolution at the level of the UN.

The two-day workshop will take the form of a series of brainstorming sessions to develop mechanisms for cooperation with external partners and to develop an action plan to address the phenomenon of Islamophobia. The recommendations of the media workshop will be presented at the 9th Session of the ICIM, which will be held in Libreville, Gabon, in April for endorsement and implementation.

           — Hat tip: Frontinus[Return to headlines]

OIC to Hold Media Workshop to Address Smear Campaign Against Islam

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 (Bernama) — The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is to hold a media workshop in Brussels on Feb 15 to 16 pertaining to the smear campaigns against Islam in newspapers and media institutions in the West.

The objective of this first-of-its-kind workshop is to develop media-related mechanisms to address the smear campaigns, the OIC said in a statement.

It said the workshop will discuss at length the reasons behind and the results of the Western media’s offensive campaigns against the symbols and sanctities of Islam and Muslims, which it added still occur from time to time.

“The workshop will represent a quantum leap in media action, as it discusses, beyond rhetoric, the practical steps to address the phenomenon of Islamophobia,” the OIC said.

           — Hat tip: Papa Whiskey[Return to headlines]

Supercontinent Amasia to Take North Pole Position

Next supercontinent will form over the Arctic Ocean.

In 50 million to 200 million years’ time, all of Earth’s current continents will be pushed together into a single landmass around the North Pole. That is the conclusion of an effort1 to model the slow movements of the continents over the next tens of millions of years.

A supercontinent last formed 300 million years ago, when all the land masses grouped together on the equator as Pangaea, centred about where West Africa is now. After looking at the geology of mountain ranges around the world, geologists had assumed that the next supercontinent would form either in the same place as Pangaea, closing the Atlantic Ocean like an accordion, or on the other side of the world, in the middle of the current Pacific Ocean.

But Ross Mitchell, a geologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and his colleagues have a new idea. They analysed the magnetism of ancient rocks to work out their locations on the globe over time, and measured how the material under Earth’s crust, the mantle, moves the continents that float on its surface.

They found that instead of staying near the equator, the next supercontinent — dubbed Amasia — should form 90 degrees away from Pangaea, over the Arctic.

“First you would fuse the Americas together, then those would mutually migrate northward leading to collision with Europe and Asia more or less at the present day North Pole,” says Mitchell. “Australia would continue with northward motion and snuggle up next to India.”

Mitchell and his colleagues think that this is part of a pattern: Pangaea formed at about 90 degrees to the previous supercontinent, Rodinia, and Rodinia at about 90 degrees to Nuna, which existed around 2 billion years ago.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Dark Side of the Personalised Internet

JOSEPH TUROW’S invaluable The Daily You is a warning about the impact of the “Web 3.0” revolution — though he doesn’t use the term — on individual freedom and privacy.

Coined by Reid Hoffman, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-founder of LinkedIn, the term Web 3.0 defines our digitally networked age of “real identities generating massive amounts of data”. It is via this avalanche of personal data, available through networks like Facebook, Foursquare, Google and The Huffington Post that, Turow warns, “the new advertising industry is defining your identity and your world”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UN Chief: Aides Plot ‘Green Economy’ Agenda at Upcoming Summit

At a closed-door retreat in a Long Island mansion late last October, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his topmost aides brainstormed about how the global organization could benefit from a “unique opportunity” to reshape the world, starting with the Rio + 20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which takes place in Brazil in June.

A copy of the confidential minutes of the meeting was obtained by Fox News. According to that document, the 29-member group, known as the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), discussed bold ambitions that stretch for years beyond the Rio conclave to consolidate a radical new global green economy, promote a spectrum of sweeping new social policies and build an even more important role for U.N. institutions “ to manage the process of globalization better.”

At the same time, the gathering acknowledged that their ambitions were on extremely shaky ground, starting with the fact that, as Ban’s chief organizer for the Rio gathering put it, “there was still no agreement on the definition of the green economy, the main theme of the [Rio] conference.”

But according to the minutes, that did not seem to restrain the group’s ambitions.

Its members see Rio as the springboard for consolidation of an expanding U.N. agenda for years ahead, driven by still more U.N.-sponsored global summits that would, as one participant put it, “ensure that the U.N. connected with the roots of the current level of global discontent.”…

           — Hat tip: JLH[Return to headlines]