Sunday, January 12, 2003

News Feed 20120221

Financial Crisis
»Austria: Controls Essential for Greek Bail-Out
»Default Averted: Euro Zone Agrees on 130-Billion-Euro Bailout for Greece
»Dutch Budget Deficit Up at 4.8 Percent in 2011
»Eurozone Agrees to Greek Bail-Out, But Doubts Remain
»Finland and Greece Sign Collateral Deal for Bail-Out
»Greece Lurches to Left Amid Radical Austerity
»Italy: Spread Drops Below 340 Points
»Nordic Currencies Stung in Crisis
»Norway Central Bank Warns Problems Remain Despite Greek Deal
»Portugal Needs More Money to Stay Afloat
»Spanish Student Protesters Beaten
»Frank Gaffney: Blind Ideology
»Hollywood Snubs Muslim Stone
»Canada Threatens Trade War With EU Over Oil Sands
Europe and the EU
»Another Term for Mr Van Rompuy
»Austria: Graz Attacker Just 14-Years-Old
»‘Caliphate Conference’ Seeks to Islamize Europe, U.S.
»Cyprus: Reunification Talks, Leaders Meet Again Today
»Dutch Professor: Type 1 Diabetes Can be Cured
»EU Faces Multiple Trade Wars Defending Green Policies
»First EU-Based Chinese Car Plant Opens in Bulgaria
»France: Arab World Institute Museum in Paris Reopens
»France: Racism Returns to Football Terraces: Police
»France: Le Pen’s Halal Meat Claims Attacked
»France: Strauss-Kahn Held for Questioning Over Sex Ring
»Frozen Falling Faeces Flummoxes Germans
»Germany: Controversial Israeli Sub Surfaces in Kiel
»Italy: Police Launch Wide-Scale Tax-Evasion Crackdown
»Muslim Name Ruins Swedish Dream Holiday
»Netherlands: Christian Democrat Statesman Sounds Wilders Alarm
»Netherlands: Anti-Polish Site Boosts Wilders Popularity
»Norway: Past and Present — 22/7 as Prism
»Norway: Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’ To Go Under the Hammer
»‘Rhino Horn Gang’ Strikes in Germany
»Spain Sends Planes to US for Shipwreck Treasure
»Spain: Thousands Take to Valencia Streets in Protest Against Police Violence and Education Cuts
»Sweden: Man Admits to Stabbing 10-Year-Old Girl
»Sweden: ‘He Said He Was Living in the Woods’: Shopkeeper
»UK: ‘We Need Community Cohesion’: Ministers’ Pledge to End Era of Multiculturalism by Appealing to ‘Sense of British Identity’
»UK: Asian Children Face Higher Risk of Gambling Addiction
»UK: Eleven Asian Men ‘Plied Girls of 13 With Drink and Drugs to Use Them for Sex’
»UK: Grooming Trial: Girls ‘Plied With Drugs’
»Serbian Thaw: Melting Danube Ice Creates Chaos in Belgrade
Israel and the Palestinians
»A Palestinian Take on the Mideast Conflict: ‘The Pursuit of a Two-State Solution is a Fantasy’
Middle East
»Xi Arrives for Turkey Talks Amid Uighur Protests
»Ancient Plants Resurrected From Siberian Permafrost
»Anti-Kremlin Paper Blames Police for Funding Problems
»Lithuania Hails Latvia’s “No” Vote on Russian Language
»Medvedev Hosts Russia’s Protest Leaders
»Plant Blooms After 30,000 Years in Permafrost
»Putin Backs ‘Unprecedented’ Boost for Russian Army
»Russia to Modernise Military
»Scientists Regenerate a Plant — 30,000 Years Later
South Asia
»Afghanistan Erupts Over Koran ‘Burning’
»Afghans React With Anger Over Koran Desecrations
»Marines to be Held for at Least 3 Days in Indian Case
Far East
»Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest: Trading Gold for Oil
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Plankton-Fuelled Ocean Eddy is 150 Kilometres Wide
»S. African Police Arrest 350 After Clashes at Platinum Mine
»S. Africa to Deploy More Soldiers to Fight Rhino Poaching
»‘Most Swedish Emigrants Ever in 2011’: Report
»Switzerland: SVP Slams ‘Exploding’ Number of Asylum Seekers
Culture Wars
»Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affirmative Action Case
»‘Marsquake’ May Have Shaken Up Red Planet
»New Type of Alien Planet is a Steamy ‘Waterworld’

Financial Crisis

Austria: Controls Essential for Greek Bail-Out

Reforms implementation is the most important condition for the second Greek bail-out, Austrian finance minister Maria Fekter said on her way into the Eurogroup. “We have to make sure there are enough enforcement mechanisms for all these reforms to be implemented. We can’t simply send billions to Greece without checking.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Default Averted: Euro Zone Agrees on 130-Billion-Euro Bailout for Greece

Following marathon talks in Brussels, euro-zone finance ministers have agreed upon a second rescue package for Greece, worth 130 billion euros. The deal saves Athens from having to default in March. As part of the agreement, the private sector will take a 53.5 percent haircut on its holdings of Greek debt.

Its fate had been hanging in the balance for weeks. But in the early hours of Tuesday, euro-zone finance ministers approved a new, €130 billion ($172 billion) rescue package for Greece. The last-minute deal effectively saves the country from bankruptcy. Without the new loans, Greece would have been forced to default on March 20, when €14.5 billion in loans mature.

Euro Group head Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, announced early on Tuesday that finance ministers had reached “a far-reaching agreement” on the bailout. The deal would “secure Greece’s future in the euro area,” he said. The announcement came after marathon talks lasting over 12 hours in Brussels.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that today is a historic day for the Greek economy,” said Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who had attended the meeting. The euro leapt in value after news of the deal came out, climbing to over $1.32.

The €130 billion package will be funded by the euro-zone members, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Of that total, €100 billion will take the form of direct assistance, while the remaining €30 billion will be used to provide guarantees for new bonds for private-sector creditors.

As part of the deal, private-sector creditors — mainly banks and hedge funds — will take a “haircut” of 53.5 percent on the nominal value of their Greek bonds, a higher amount than the 50 percent originally envisioned. The debt swap is expected to immediately reduce Greece’s total debt — currently estimated at over €350 billion — by €107 billion.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Dutch Budget Deficit Up at 4.8 Percent in 2011

The Netherlands’ 2011 budget deficit (EMU definition) is now expected to turn out at 4.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product, 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous estimate. “Due to the economic downturn, tax income will turn out lower than estimated. Total spending in 2011 did however remain within the ceiling set by the coalition government when it took office,” said Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager.

Total revenue from taxes and premiums in 2011 was 1.1 billion euros lower than projected in the Autumn Memorandum, as it is known. “It was mainly a matter of lower revenues from corporate tax and wage and income tax.” On the spending side, there was a new overrun of 0.3 billion euros in healthcare. “This overrun is the result of higher spending in the area of GP and dental care, physiotherapy and psychiatric care.”

Partly offsetting this in 0.1 billion euros in savings on on childcare. ““There are also departmental budgets with a small surplus. As a result, total spending is within the agreed ceiling.” The Netherlands’ EMU national debt lies at 65 percent of GDP in 2011. This is unchanged from the previous projection in the Autumn Memorandum.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Eurozone Agrees to Greek Bail-Out, But Doubts Remain

BRUSSELS — After a 14-hour meeting eurozone finance ministers and bankers have agreed on a second bail-out package for Greece with extra supervision and an “absolute priority” on paying back its debts. But doubts remain on whether the country will avoid default. “We have reached a far-reaching agreement on the new Greek programme with a very significant debt reduction. This will give Greece the time needed to follow a credible path of structural reforms and restore growth,” Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker said at the end of the marathon meeting early Tuesday morning (21 February).

The deal comprises loans to the tune of €130bn mainly from the eurozone bail-out fund (EFSF) — with a “significant contribution” from the International Monetary Fund to be decided in March. Following negotiations with bankers from the International Institute of Finance, Athens on Wednesday is set to launch a bond-swap offer for banks to take a 53.5 percent loss on their old Greek bonds.

If this ‘haircut’ proves successful and all the structural reforms are implemented, eurozone ministers expect Greece’s debt to be slashed from 160 percent to 120.5 percent of its gross domestic product by 2020. To achieve this target, extra help will come from national central banks foregoing their profits on Greek bonds and by lowering the interest rates on the first bail-out.

As for Greece, “further major efforts” are expected to meet the “ambitious, but realistic fiscal consolidation targets”, under extra supervision by the EU commission and member states, the final statement of eurozone ministers reads. A special account, sealed off to Greek authorities, will be set up especially to guarantee that Greece pays back its debt. The Greek government also pledged to introduce a legal provision ensuring “absolute priority” to debt repayments, Juncker said.

However, a leaked EU-IMF analysis of Greece’s debt developments in the coming years questions the feasibility of this programme.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Finland and Greece Sign Collateral Deal for Bail-Out

Finland and Greece’s finance ministers on Monday signed a collateral deal, Finnish national broadcaster YLE reported. The agreement is a pre-condition for Finland’s participation in the new bail-out package for Athens to be agreed later on Monday. Greek banks will provide collateral in cash and highly rated assets.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Greece Lurches to Left Amid Radical Austerity

A radical austerity drive has triggered the biggest political upheaval in Athens since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974. So far, it is leftist parties who have benefitted the most from the debt crisis. The deeply divided left, however, would likely be unable to form a stable coalition.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Spread Drops Below 340 Points

Yield on 10-year bonds down to 5.37%

(ANSA) — Rome, February 21 — The spread between 10-year Italian bonds and their German equivalent dropped below the 340-point mark in early trading on Tuesday.

The spread, a key indicator of market confidence in Italy’s ability to withstand the eurozone crisis, dropped to 338 points following the news that a 130-billion-euro bailout deal had been reached to stop Greece going bankrupt.

The spread had closed Monday at just over 351 points.

The yield on 10-year bonds, another measure of market sentiment, fell to 5.37% after closing at 5.48% on Monday.

Europe’s stock markets, however, appeared sceptical about the prospects of the bailout deal contributing to a lasting solution to the eurozone crisis and the Milan bourse lost 0.7% in early trading.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nordic Currencies Stung in Crisis

Sweden and Norway are losing their appeal as havens from Europe’s debt crisis at a time when the krona and krone are more overvalued than at almost any point in the past 40 years. Sweden’s central bank cut interest rates for a second- straight meeting on Feb. 16 after exports, accounting for about half of the nation’s output, fell 6 percent in December. Norway’s foreign trade slid 4.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The Swedish krona is about 25 percent too expensive, and the Norwegian krone more than 40 percent based on an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development measure of the relative costs of goods and services.

Concern the krona’s appreciation is weighing on growth amid the euro-region’s turmoil marks a reversal from late 2010, when Riksbank Governor Stefan Ingves dismissed calls to manage the currency. His Norwegian counterpart, Oeystein Olsen, said last week he’s ready to act on krone strength even as European leaders crafted a second Greek bailout and the U.S. economy showed signs of gathering strength.

“Those currencies need to depreciate,” Peter Von Maydell, head of foreign-exchange strategy at Credit Suisse Securities in London, said in a telephone interview on Feb. 14. “Monetary policy in the case of Norway and Sweden is resisting currency strength.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway Central Bank Warns Problems Remain Despite Greek Deal

(OSLO) — The European Union is not yet out of the woods despite the adoption of a 237-billion-euro ($310 billion) Greek bailout plan, the head of Norway’s central bank warned on Tuesday. “There has been some positive news but of course so far in Europe the debt has not … disappeared. They’re shuffling the debt around. They’re discussing who is going to take how much of the bill,” central bank governor Oeystein Olsen told reporters in Oslo.

“We should perhaps be relatively optimistic but I am not quite sure that we have seen the last round of unrest in Europe,” he added. Olsen noted several positive signals in recent weeks, such as a gradual recovery in the United States and European Central Bank loans to improve liquidity, but said “the problems have not disappeared clearly.

“We read of problems of managing Greek debt and indebtedness as such every day … I think it’s too early to say that the danger is over,” he said, but still qualifying the deal with Greece on Tuesday as “a positive step.” The rescue plan provides up to 130 billion euros in direct aid in return for conditions being met. It follows a first bailout in May 2010 worth 110 billion euros which proved not to be enough. The bailout also depends on bond-holders agreeing to wipe 53.5 percent off the paper value of privately-held Greek sovereign debt, or the equivalent of 107 billion euros.

Oil-rich Norway, which is not a member of the European Union, has weathered the crisis relatively unharmed, although part of its manufacturing sector has been hit by a slowdown in exports to Europe.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Portugal Needs More Money to Stay Afloat

With its massive austerity measures, Portugal has become the poster child of the troika of the EU, ECB and IMF. But the country is still stuck in a deep recession and it is unclear how it will return to growth. It may need to rely on European loans for years to come.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spanish Student Protesters Beaten

Students in Valencia, Spain demonstrating against austerity measures on Monday clashed with baton-wielding police. Media reports say the police fired rubber bullets into the crowds as they dragged bleeding students away by their feet. A dozen or so students have been arrested, including several minors say the press.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Frank Gaffney: Blind Ideology

Last week, President Obama feted Communist China’s Xi Jinping, the man who hopes to lead his country as it emerges as the world’s next superpower. Mr. Xi must have been delighted to see press reports that his host is poised to end America’s claim to such status — at least with respect to the traditional means of measuring it: nuclear weaponry.

According to a story first reported by the Associated Press, Mr. Obama has directed the Defense Department to come up with plans for reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal by as much as eighty percent. Evidently, he is prepared to take such a step unilaterally in order to encourage by our example other nations to join in his longstanding ambition to “rid the world of nuclear weapons.”…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Hollywood Snubs Muslim Stone

Sean Stone, son of controversial director Oliver Stone, converted to Islam in Iran last week and says he’s already experiencing a Hollywood backlash.

The ceremony was held in Isfahan, where he is researching a documentary. He now goes by the name of Sean Christopher Ali Stone.

He told Page Six: “I’ve already experienced the reverse of anti-Semitism, having people within the film industry express a reluctance to work with me now that I have said a simple prayer, ‘There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his messenger.’ I am sure I have [bleeped] off some powerful people.” Speaking over dinner at Barrio 47, Sean told us, “Having read the Koran and having been around the Islamic culture, especially in Iran, I do believe that Mohammed is a prophet of the same god worshipped by other religions.

“I am of a Jewish bloodline, a baptized Christian who accepts Christ’s teachings, the Jewish Old Testament and the Holy Koran. I believe there is one God, whether called Allah or Jehovah or whatever you wish to name him. He creates all peoples and religions. I consider myself a Jewish Christian Muslim.

“What I am trying to do is open up a dialogue about religion. There is such Islamophobia in the West. Islam is not a religion of violence any more than Judaism or Christianity is.”

He said his dad welcomed the move.

“My dad said, ‘Allah be with you.’ My father understands that I am trying to bridge certain gaps and bring about peace.”

But he has been shocked by the reaction from others. Sean, about to release his horror movie “Graystone,” said, “I didn’t realize I would be so vilified. It is almost like I am a criminal for having accepted Islam. I didn’t realize Islamophobia was that deep. People have speculated that I have done this because I am from a spoiled family or that I am lost and trying to find myself. That is ridiculous.

“I don’t care if I get criticized. If I can open up a debate about religion and create some understanding, then it is worth it.”

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


Canada Threatens Trade War With EU Over Oil Sands

Canada has threatened to lodge a World Trade Organization complaint against the European Union if the bloc labels oil from Alberta’s tar sands as highly polluting, documents published Monday show. Environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe obtained a copy of a letter sent in December by Canada’s ambassador to the EU, David Plunkett, to EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, which contains the explicit warning.

The group was then released to Canadian media and excerpts were published on Monday. Canada would “explore every avenue at its disposal to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organization” if a new EU fuel directive were to single out oil sands crude in a “discriminatory, arbitrary or unscientific way,” Plunkett wrote.

The proposed EU fuel quality directive would limit use of non-conventional fuel, such as the oil extracted from the vast tar sands in western Canada, saying that exploitation of the oil sands threatens the environment. Such fuels would be labeled as causing more highly polluting than other sources of crude. A key bloc committee is due to vote Thursday on the measure.

Canada currently does not export crude to Europe, but Ottawa and the oil industry fear that if passed, the EU measure would have ramifications for its sales in other markets. Canada’s natural resources minister Joe Oliver criticized the EU proposal in October and said Ottawa would defend its interests if the EU were to discriminate against oil sands crude.

Canada and the EU are in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement, which both sides hope will go into effect this year.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Another Term for Mr Van Rompuy

Belgium’s Herman Van Rompuy is standing for a new term as term as European Council President. The reappointment of the Flemish Christian democrat politician is expected to be rubberstamped by a European Council at the beginning of March. Mr Van Rompuy is the first politician to fill the post created in 2009 stepping down as Belgian Premier to accept the job.

Mr Van Rompuy’s two and a half year term is nearing its end, but it is understood that no other contender has come forward to fill his shoes. European Council Presidents can only serve two terms in office. During the past two years Mr Van Rompuy has mainly concentrated his efforts on trying to solve the Eurozone debt crisis.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Austria: Graz Attacker Just 14-Years-Old

An attacker who spent several weeks sexually harassing women in Graz, Austria has finally been caught. The unidentified “man” who ambushed his victims, pushed them up against the wall and attempted to touch and kiss them, has turned out to be just 14-years-old.

For more than a month, between 12 January and 16 February, 13 women were harassed in Graz. Amongst the victims was a 20-year-old student who came across the then unidentified boy twice in February. As with most of his attacks he would push the woman against a wall, speak obscene words to her and attempt to touch and kiss her. On 9 February the boy was punched in the face by one of his victims only to attack a 19-year-old girl five minutes later.

Thanks to a primary school teacher the attacker was eventually arrested. The 23-year-old woman watched on in a shopping centre in Graz as the 14-year-old pestered and stared at female shoppers whilst they tried on shoes and even went around showing unsuspecting shoppers sex-DVDs. The woman then went to the police and explained what she had seen Policeman Patrick Tremmel said, “I searched for the student using a photo from a security camera and exposed the child on Friday.”

The attacker was discovered to be a 14-year-old school boy from Turkey. He is being charged with sexual harassment but a motive has not been revealed.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

‘Caliphate Conference’ Seeks to Islamize Europe, U.S.

By Soeren Kern

The explicit aim of the Istanbul Process — currently backed by the Obama administration — is to make it an international crime to criticize Islam.

A Muslim fundamentalist group is organizing a conference focused on turning Austria and other European countries into Islamic states.

The “Caliphate Conference 2012” will be held on March 10 in the Austrian town of Vösendorf, situated just south of Vienna.

The main theme of the event will be “The Caliphate: The State Model of the Future.” The conference is being organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir [Party of Liberation], a pan-Islamic extremist group that seeks to establish a global Islamic state, or caliphate, ruled by Islamic Sharia law…

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Cyprus: Reunification Talks, Leaders Meet Again Today

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, FEBRUARY 21 — The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu, will meet on Tuesday, February 21, in the context of the UN-led direct talks to solve Cyprus problem, as CNA reports. The meeting will take place at the Chief of Mission’s residence in the United Nations Protected Area of Nicosia and will begin at 10:00 am local time. Speaking after the last meeting of the two leaders, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Cyprus Lisa Buttenheim said that at that meeting of next Tuesday the leaders will discuss the property issue. Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. The latest round of UN-led talks has been underway since 2008 with an aim to reunify the island under a federal roof.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Dutch Professor: Type 1 Diabetes Can be Cured

People suffering from type 1 diabetes can possibly be cured even years after the original diagnosis was made. This is the conclusion of research conducted by Professor Bart Roep from the Leiden University Medical Centre who published his findings on Tuesday. Professor Roep discovered that people suffering from type 1 diabetes still have insulin-producing cells, albeit dormant. His discovery negates earlier research which concluded that these cells are completely absent in type 1 diabetes patients. If these cells can be reactivated the patient could be cured, even as long as 10 years after the original diagnosis was made.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Faces Multiple Trade Wars Defending Green Policies

BRUSSELS — EU measures to cut CO2 emissions and improve the climate have sparked outrage in the global aviation industry and most recently in Canada, home to the world’s second largest fossil fuel reserves.

The Guardian newspaper has revealed that the EU intends to label fuel from tar sands, which would include oil from the Canadian Alberta province, as “highly polluting” in a vote in an expert committee dealing with energy issues on Thursday (23 February). The label could render extraction and exploitation of the tar sands more difficult and more expensive.

The move follows a decision by the European Commission in October to qualify tar sands as a quarter more CO2 polluting than crude oil. The EU executive is also preparing a draft bill that would require suppliers to reduce transport-fuel carbon emissions.

Canada’s ambassador to the EU and its oil minister has warned the new labelling may spark a trade war. A letter sent to EU commissioners in December stated “Canada will not hesitate to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organisation.”

According to the Albertan government, the province ranks third after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela in terms of proven crude oil reserves and generated €2.8 billion in royalties from oil sands projects in 2011. As a whole, the industry was worth €8.6 billion in 2009 and employs some 140,000 people.

The tar sands, a wide expanse of heavy molasses-like bitumen seeping to the surface in Canada’s western province of Alberta, is described by environmental groups as one that accelerates climate change and destroys surrounding communities.

Both the Canadian and Albertan governments announced an oil sands research agreement last Thursday (16 February) that they claim would help reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

First EU-Based Chinese Car Plant Opens in Bulgaria

Chinese carmaker Great Wall has completed a test run in its first production facility in the European Union. The plant at Lovech in Bulgaria will now start production and sales for the European market. Chinese carmaker Great Wall on Tuesday officially started the first Chinese auto production facility in the European Union. In its first phase, the plant in the northern Bulgarian town of Lovech is to produce 4,000 sports utility vehicles for the European market.

Alongside the Hover H5, Great Wall’s Voleex C10 and the Steed5 pick-up are also planned to be made in the factory, which is run together with the Bulgarian company Litex. In the long run, the facility may produce up to ten different models. The Lovech facility initially employs 150 Bulgarian workers who’ll be busy assembling car parts from China.

“If demand is high enough, we can work in two or three shifts and can eventually put out between 50,000 and 70,000 cars per year,” Litex Marketing Director Ivo Dekov said in a statement. Great Wall as China’s largest SUV producer already runs facilities in a large number of countries, including Indonesia, Egypt, Russia and Ukraine. But never before has it been able to actually sell its cars to Europe.

But its Bulgarian undertaking is meant to change this. All brands produced there are expected to secure the “Made in EU” quality label and will be available for export to each of the other 26 European Union member nations at a competitive price without the imposition of tariffs or duties.

German car expert Ferdinand Dudenhöfer told dpa news agency that European carmakers should brace themselves for fierce competition. “Chinese carmakers may still be weak today, but Great Wall, Chery, Geely, Foton and others will learn to walk very quickly,” Dudenhöfer warned.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Arab World Institute Museum in Paris Reopens

After 3 years of work, around 600 objects from 22 countries

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — While the Louvre is preparing to open its new department of Islamic Arts (after this summer), the new museum of the Arab World Institute (AWI) in Paris will be opened tomorrow, after three years of work. Around 600 works will be exhibited, cult and daily-live objects, many of which given in loan by museums in Tunis, Amman and Damascus and shown for the first time in France. Opened in 1987, the AWI museum, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, used to focus exclusively on Islamic art.

This is no longer true in the new museum, which is larger, on four levels, and more varied. The topic is no longer the Islam, but the Arab World in all its diversity. All 22 countries that participated in its creation 25 years ago are represented. “We have gone back in time to prehistoric cultures and to the ancient civilisations that have influenced this area,” explained AWI president Renauld Muselier. “It is not only about Islamic art, but about the region’s diversity and polytheistic origins, until the development of Judaism, Christianity and the Muslim expansion.” The museum is expected to receive 300 thousand visitors per year, but the goal is to double this number in a short time. The museum has remained closed for three years during its makeover.

The project was funded by Kuwaiti patrons, by the Lagardere Foundation and by Saudi Arabia. The total budget was 5 million euros.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Racism Returns to Football Terraces: Police

France’s top two football divisions have witnessed an unwelcome upsurge in racist abuse from the terraces in the 2011-12 season to date, a police report released on Monday revealed. According to Antoine Boutonnet, head of the National Division for the Fight against Hooliganism (DNLH), “a worrying phenomenon is the return of racism in the stands”.

He cited a fan arrested for making a Nazi salute during a game at Brest on January 28th, as well as “six pseudo-Lyon supporters” who were arrested after “spraypainting the cars of Saint-Etienne supporters and a building with signs resembling swastikas”.

“Although the signs are weak for the time being, we’re taking them into account immediately and we are extremely vigilant,” added Boutonnet. “There is zero tolerance and we won’t hesitate to intervene.”

Boutonnet also revealed that, although instances of hooliganism in and around stadiums had fallen, the use of flares and other pyrotechnic devices had risen sharply. Since Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 resumed at the start of the season, police have made 432 hooliganism-related arrests and issued 341 stadium banning orders.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Le Pen’s Halal Meat Claims Attacked

On a visit to Paris’ main meat market on Tuesday morning, President Sarkozy rejected the claims of far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen that all meat consumed in the Ile-de-France region is halal, without consumers being aware. Le Pen made her claim at the weekend when she said the meat distributed in France’s most populous region, which includes the capital, is “exclusively” halal. She added that “all the abattoirs in the Ile-de-France sell halal meat, without exception.”

Halal means lawful in Arabic and can be used to describe meat that has been prepared in accordance with Islamic law. Le Pen was repeating claims made in a TV documentary in which François Hallepée, the head of Ile-de-France cattle breeders, said all abattoirs in the region were slaughtering according to Muslim ritual.

President Sarkozy made an unscheduled early morning visit to the Rungis food market outside Paris on Tuesday morning where he said Le Pen’s claims were “groundless.” “We eat 200,000 tonnes of meat every year in the Ile-de-France and only 2.5 percent is halal,” he said. The agriculture minister also criticised Le Pen’s remarks, describing them as “false.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Strauss-Kahn Held for Questioning Over Sex Ring

French police detained former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for questioning on Tuesday over allegations he took part in orgies in Paris and Washington paid for by a pair of businessmen. The 62-year-old former Socialist minister, who until last year was seen as the frontrunner to replace Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France, had been due to face questioning as a witness, but prosecutors said he was now a suspect.

He arrived at a police station in the northern city of Lille just before his 9am (0800 GMT) appointment for what could be up to 48 hours of questioning about his role in the latest sex scandal to beset his ruined career. Shortly after his arrival, prosecutors said he would instead be questioned on suspicion of “pimping and misuse of company funds” and was thus not free to leave and could face charges and see his questioning stretch to 96 hours.

Afterwards, if a judge agrees, he could be remanded in custody. Investigating magistrates want to know whether he was aware that the women who entertained him at parties in restaurants, hotels and swingers’ clubs in Paris, Washington and several European capitals were paid prostitutes. They will also seek to determine whether Strauss-Kahn knew that the escorts were paid for by funds fraudulently obtained by his hosts from a French public works company for which one of them worked as a senior executive.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Frozen Falling Faeces Flummoxes Germans

Residents across Germany are complaining that they’re receiving unwanted gifts falling from the heavens: Giant chunks of frozen faeces and urine that plummet to the ground after leaking out of passing aeroplanes. There have been at least three incidents of falling bodily waste in the last few weeks in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony, according to the daily Bild Zeitung.

Although chunks of ice have been known to fall from aircraft in the past, the string of recent incidents has officials scratching their heads, but thankful that no-one has been hurt so far. In Rodersdorf, Saxony two weekends ago, an 81 year-old pensioner heard something hitting his roof. Upon further investigation he found 20-centimetre frozen balls in his garden that stank terribly. And earlier in February a 1.5-kilo chunk of urine crashed into a family’s garden in Niefern, Baden-Württemberg.

A family in Nuremberg had a similar experience when a 2-kilo piece of ice smashed into its garden. “I was relaxing in our living room. Suddenly there was a huge bang,” 59-year-old Erika Keil told Bild. “I thought our roof was caving in.” Investigating officials said the ice is likely falling from leaky aeroplane toilets.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany: Controversial Israeli Sub Surfaces in Kiel

A controversial submarine soon to be delivered to Israel — the largest produced in Germany since World War II — has made an appearance at the northern port city of Kiel. The 68-metre-long sub is currently at the shipyard of the HDW shipbuilding company, which is testing the vessel before it is shipped to Israel later this year. Police in boats have been protecting it.

Although HDW and government officials have lately remained silent about the sub, it is thought that officials are preparing to begin extensive in-water checks before delivery. The advanced Dolphin-class sub combines high-tech diesel and electric power sources. It is among the world’s most advanced submarines and is allegedly capable of launching nuclear weapons.

Israel has already received three Dolphin-class submarines from Germany and is expected to get at least two more by the end of 2013. But their sale — partly subsidised by German taxpayers — has been controversial in light of Israeli military policies in the Middle East.

Last year the German government nearly put a halt to submarine purchases by Israel as relations frayed between top government officials. The main sticking point has been Israel’s approving of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem despite Palestinian opposition.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Police Launch Wide-Scale Tax-Evasion Crackdown

Palermo, Trento in Treasury’s sights

(ANSA) — Palermo, February 21 — Police were conducting a large-scale tax-evasion sweep in Palermo on Tuesday after announcing that a similar crackdown in Trento found merchants had dodged 17% of what they owed. Dozens of officers in the Sicilian capital were performing random checks on shopkeepers after a police report showed merchants in the northern Trentino province were delinquent on a large range of taxes. Of 250 employees questioned, roughly 30 were paid under the table. Of 350 transactions that police reviewed, 60 were either reported incorrectly or not declared at all. Police also randomly stopped luxury vehicles in the Alpine region over the weekend and were verifying owners’ tax records. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday called tax evasion “a terrible scourge” that is partly responsible for “the explosion of our debt”. With cash needed to balance the budget by 2013 and emerge from the debt crisis, Premier Mario Monti has launched a drive against tax cheats, who he recently said “are giving poisoned bread to their children”.

The campaign has featured a number of headline-grabbing operations among rich tourists in Cortina d’Ampezzo and the Ligurian Riviera, shoppers at exclusive stores in Rome and nightclub owners in Milan.

Italy’s internal revenue agency has said that it will ramp up the pressure further by introducing a new system to find evaders by cross-checking incomes and spending by the end of June.

The tax agency last year estimated that around 120 billion euros’ worth of undeclared business was done on the Italian underground economy each year.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Muslim Name Ruins Swedish Dream Holiday

STOCKHOLM — A Swedish tourist became the latest victim of Islamophobia after being barred from a flight to his dream holiday in Mexico for having a Muslim name, The Local reported Tuesday, February 14.

“I was told that I couldn’t board the flight,” Abdifateh Ahmed Mohamed told the local daily Aftonbladet.

The dilemma began in Oslo airport when the 30-year-old met problems at international border controls.

He recalled that he was stopped at the airport by border police who delayed the procession of his ticket.

As airport officials called their counterpart in the United States, they decided to bar the tourist from boarding the flight.

“They said I was a terrorist,” Mohamed said.

“I’ve never been suspected of a crime in my whole life.”

After pleading to know the reasons behind having him denied the flight, Mohamed only got the advice of airport officials to contact the American embassy to know why he was barred.

It is unclear why American officials got involved in the case, as the passenger was heading elsewhere.

US embassy officials in Sweden said they were not aware of the incident.

“As the traveler wasn’t travelling to, or through, the USA, this case shouldn’t have had anything to do with American authorities,” said Chris Dunnett of the American Embassy in Stockholm.

The case is not the first involving American officials.

A growing number of Muslims were victims of what some call “traveling while a Muslim”.

US rights groups say that racial profiling has been on the upswing since 9/11.

More than 500 people are denied entry to the US daily because of their identity.

Muslim Name

The Swedish tourist said that his two travelling companions, who did not have Muslim names, were allowed to continue their way to Mexico.

“We’d planned the trip for so long,” he told the Aftonbladet.

“I was so damn irritated. What can I do? I feel powerless and offended.”

Stranded in Oslo, Mohamed was forced to turn back to Arlanda airport in Sweden.

“My friends who don’t have Muslim names can go straight through while I am taken into a room by the side of the desk,” he said.

“I am actually thinking about getting rid of the name ‘Ahmed’ as it’s always that bit which causes problems.”

Muslims make up some 200,000 [nearer 500.000] of Sweden’s nine million people, according to semi-official estimates.

But according to the Islamic Center in Malmo, there are around 350,000 Muslims living in Sweden.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Christian Democrat Statesman Sounds Wilders Alarm

The Christian Democrats CDA must no longer allow themselves to be humiliated by Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders and should speak out strongly against his ideas, says a veteran CDA politician. Willem Aantjes made the statement in an interview with news site His party is junior partner to the conservative VVD in a minority cabinet which is dependent on the Freedom Party’s support in parliament.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Anti-Polish Site Boosts Wilders Popularity

Despite widespread condemnation of Geert Wilders’ urging the public to file complaints against immigrant workers from Eastern Europe, his Freedom Party PVV has climbed back up the opinion polls amidst all the commotion, according to a Dutch opinion poll. The PVV would gain 24 seats in parliament if elections were held today , the number of seats the party currently holds, says pollster Maurice de Hond. Geert Wilders’ populist far-right party is the third largest party in the Netherlands.

A week ago, the PVV stood at 20 seats, but following the enormous response to the site — which has angered Central and Eastern European governments — the party gained four seats in one week. More than 40,000 people have responded since its launch on 8 February. The homepage displays news clippings with bold headlines blaming foreigners for petty crime, noise nuisance — and taking jobs from the Dutch. “Are immigrants from Central and Eastern countries bothering you? We’d like to hear from you,” it says.

Besides criticism from ten European ambassadors and the European Commission, the Dutch public has also expressed concerns about possible repercussions. Poles are calling for a boycott of Dutch products. Dutch daily observes that, conversely, Wilders lost popularity in the polls when he criticised Queen Beatrix for wearing a headscarf while visiting a mosque in Oman earlier this year. The Queen was on an official visit to the Arab state, accompanied by Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima.

Criticism levelled by the PVV — which props up the minority coalition government in parliament — during a debate sparked a national row. The PVV said it regarded the headscarf as a symbol of female oppression.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway: Past and Present — 22/7 as Prism

by Hans Rustad

Bruce Bawer’s book The New Quislings. How the International Left Used the Oslo Massacre to Silence Debate About Islam, is interesting for a particular reason: very few American writers have observed Norway from within over a long period. (Bawer has lived in Oslo since 1999). His reflections on 22/7 should be interesting for both Norwegians and and an international opinion.

Norway’s public sphere is still a tribal affair, and hard to penetrate. A heavy dose of political correctness goes perfectly well with tribalism, and gives it a sense of purpose and self-righteousness. Foreign journalists have a difficult task trying to dechiffer what is going on. They are left to scratch the surface, and may be forgiven for thinking that it is authentic.

That may be one of the reasons why Bruce Bawer has been a non-person in Norway up til now. One reads about foreigners in Japan who are told “you are getting to know us a little too well”, and Bruce Bawer may be unwelcome for the same reason. The powers that be don’t like prying eyes. They want affirmation, not criticism.

Is Bawer up to the job? Yes and no.

Bawer has an important point: the media and commentators showed no restraint after 22/7, but started what is correctly called a witch hunt.

No wonder Bawer was provoked. But he spends too much time elaborating on personal attacks. It is true: people like Sindre Bangstad, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Jostein Gaarder, Aslak Sira Myhre, Lars Guleet al showed no restraint. They openly called for dissenters to be muzzled.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway: Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’ To Go Under the Hammer

The only privately owned version of Edvard’s Munch celebrated Scream series of paintings is set go up for auction in New York on May 2nd. Auction house Sotheby’s expects the work by the Norwegian symbolist master to fetch at least $80 million. There are four versions of the painting, which features a man screaming and clutching his head against a wavy, brightly-colored landscape, but this is the only one in private hands.

The influence of the disturbing picture has few parallels, making “The Scream’s” fame “perhaps second only to the Mona Lisa,” Sotheby’s said. On two occasions, other versions of the painting have been stolen from museums, although both were recovered. Copies have adorned everything from student dorms to tea mugs and the work is arguably one of the few known equally to art experts and the general public alike.

Dating from 1895, “The Scream” offered by Sotheby’s was done in pastel and is the only one in which one of the two figures in the background turns to look outward. The work will be exhibited at Sotheby’s in London on April 13th and in New York starting on April 27th ahead of the sale.

Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York, called “The Scream” the “defining image of modernity.” “Instantly recognizable, this is one of very few images which transcends art history and reaches a global consciousness. ‘The Scream’ arguably embodies even greater power today than when it was conceived,” he said in a statement.

Olsen said in a statement that he wants proceeds from the sale to go toward establishment of a new museum and hotel on his farm in Hvitsten, Norway. The others are owned by the Munch Museum in Oslo and the National Gallery of Norway. Munch died in his native Norway in January 1944 at the age of 80.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

‘Rhino Horn Gang’ Strikes in Germany

A gang of four has carried out an “unbelievably audacious” theft of rhino horns worth 50,000 euros, German police said Tuesday, the latest in what appears to be a spate of similar robberies. As two of the suspected thieves distracted staff at a museum in Offenburg, south-western Germany, the other two clambered on a display case, removed a rhino head from a wall and smashed off the horns with hammers, police said.

“Then everything happened in the blink of an eye,” police said in a statement. “The two men stuffed the horns into a bag and left the museum. At the same time, the other two lost interest in their chat with staff members and followed their accomplices,” the statement added.

The rhino head was left behind during the suspected robbery, which happened on Saturday afternoon, according to authorities. Rhinoceros horn is especially prized in Asia where many consider it to have aphrodisiac and disease-fighting properties.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain Sends Planes to US for Shipwreck Treasure

Spain said it was sending two military planes to the United States Monday to recover a horde of coins rescued from a shipwreck and wrested from US treasure-hunters in a long court battle. Two military transport planes are heading to Tampa, Florida, to pick up the cargo of a sunken 19th-century galleon: more than half a million coins worth 350 million euros (over $460 million) in total, the defence ministry said.

Joaquin Madina, director of communications at the ministry, said the handover was due to take place on Wednesday or Thursday and that the planes would return with the treasure on Saturday. A federal judge in Tampa ruled last week that the US company that rescued the sunken treasure from the ocean, Odyssey Marine Exploration, must hand it back to the Spanish government after a five-year battle in the courts.

Odyssey found the treasure in 2007 in the wreck of Our Lady of Mercy, a Spanish warship that was sunk by a British fleet in 1804 off the coast of Portugal as it headed back to Spain from Peru. “They are due to hand over everything… in theory, more than 500,000 coins worth 350 million euros,” which will be given to Spain’s culture ministry, Madina told AFP.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain: Thousands Take to Valencia Streets in Protest Against Police Violence and Education Cuts

Following violent confrontations between students and police on Monday, thousands of demonstrators began gathering again in front of Valencia’s Lluis Vives public school on Tuesday afternoon, holding up textbooks and calling for the resignations of a host of government officials. “Our weapons are our books,” said the students. Parents, teachers and other adults joined them in what was the biggest gathering since last Wednesday’s demonstration, called to protest the regional government’s cuts in education, which have left many classrooms without heating.

Compared to the past few days, there was little police presence at the school, although a police helicopter was flying above the demonstrators. On Monday, police clashed with students in violent confrontations that left a number of demonstrators injured. Twenty people were arrested.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Man Admits to Stabbing 10-Year-Old Girl

A 28-year-old man suspected of stabbing a young girl in the throat in a Gothenburg schoolyard at the beginning of February has confessed to the crime, after being apprehended in another European country. The attack, which took place on February 6th, saw the man stab a ten-year-old girl in the throat out the front of a primary school in Hjällbo, before fleeing the scene. Police say the man then headed to another European country that he has no connection to, according to Göteborgs Posten (GP).

The girl is reportedly doing well after the incident, in which a knife was stabbed into her neck, which was not removed until she reached hospital. Despite a minor infection in the stab wound, the girl has recovered from her injuries, and is reportedly angry with the man, claiming she wants to “kick him”, according to GP.

A relative of the girl was not so easy on him: “I am afraid he will just got to psychiatric care for a few months and be out again. He’ll surely do the same thing again, he’s a dangerous man”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘He Said He Was Living in the Woods’: Shopkeeper

A Swede pulled from a snowed-in car claiming he had not eaten for two months had lived in the vehicle since mid-2011, media reported, as experts said the “miraculous survival” was theoretically possible. The emaciated 44-year-old man, named in media reports as Peter Skyllberg, was pulled from a totally snow-covered car parked deep in the woods near the northern Swedish town of Umeå last Friday.

He claimed he had not had access to food since December 19 and had survived on snow, according to local police. Starving and barely able to move or speak, the man himself, who has been hospitalized, has so far shed little light on the mystery of how and when he got into the unlikely situation. Police have only been able to say he must have been in the isolated spot since before the autumn snow-fall, as there were no tracks to or from the car.

A shopkeeper in the nearby village of Saevar meanwhile told Monday’s Aftonbladet daily that the man had come into his small petrol station and grocery store starting in the summer. “He drove here in the car. Sometimes he filled the tank, sometimes he bought sausages and coffee,” Andreas Oestensson told the paper’s online edition, adding:

“He said he was living in the woods and was sleeping in a tent and sometimes the car.” He said the man, who is from the central Swedish town of Örebro, had told him he had worked as a carpenter but had lost his job. The paper also quoted an unnamed person who knew him saying he had just taken off last May with debt collectors on his heels and had not been heard from since.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘We Need Community Cohesion’: Ministers’ Pledge to End Era of Multiculturalism by Appealing to ‘Sense of British Identity’

The English language and Christian faith will be restored to the centre of public life, ministers pledged today.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles heralded the end of state-sponsored multiculturalism by vowing to stand up for ‘mainstream’ values by strengthening national identity.

He said the government will celebrate what people in England have in common, rather than what divides them.

And he called for local communities to use events such as the Big Lunch or the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and inter-faith activities to bring together people of different backgrounds.

Mr Pickles said there will be a strategy on community cohesion and integration which calls for people to come together around shared values.

He accused the previous Labour administration, and its equalities minister Harriet Harman, of taking the country down ‘the wrong path’ by encouraging different communities to live separate lives.

Migrants will be required to speak English, the number of official documents translated into other languages will be reduced and councils will be allowed to hold prayers at the start of meetings.

New education standards will bar schools from teaching which ‘undermines fundamental British values’, said today’s document from his Department for Communities and Local Government.

But he also confirmed his commitment to tolerance, insisting that the Government will remain vigilant to hate crimes directed at Muslims and Jews.

‘We are rightly proud of our strong history of successful integration and the benefits that it’s brought,’ said Mr Pickles.

‘Britain is a place where the vast majority of people from all walks of life get on well with each other. Events such as the Royal Wedding and the Big Lunch show that community spirit is thriving.

‘I welcome the contribution of everyone but those who advocate separate lives are wrong. It is time to concentrate on the things that unite the British people.’

Today’s paper said that, despite Britain’s tradition of tolerance, the past decade has seen growing concern over race relations, as incoming migrants in some areas have shown themselves ‘unable or unwilling to integrate’.

Last summer’s unrest in English cities highlighted some of the challenges caused by the swift pace of change, but should not be seen as ‘race riots’.

People of all backgrounds were involved in the violence, but also in the efforts to clear up afterwards.

The paper, entitled Creating the Conditions for Integration, argued that problems have been made worse by top-down government action, which has encouraged communities to resort to the law to settle their disputes and assert their rights.

‘It is only common sense to support integration,’ it said.

‘In the past, integration challenges have been met in part with legal rights and obligations around equalities, discrimination and hate crime.

‘This has not solved the problem and, where it has encouraged a focus on single issues and specific groups, may in some cases have exacerbated it.

‘There are too many people still left outside, or choosing to remain outside, mainstream society.’

And it added: ‘Today, integration requires changes to society, not changes to the law.

‘This means that building a more integrated society is not just a job for government. It requires collective action across a wide range of issues, at national and local levels, by public bodies, private companies, and above all, civic society at large.

‘Our first question must always be, “How can people contribute to building an integrated England?”.’

Mr Pickles made clear that the Government wants local communities to take a lead in finding ways of encouraging people of different backgrounds to find ‘common ground’ with one another.

But he said the state will be ready to step in to ‘promote mainstream British liberal values’ — for example by banning marches which could cause racial tension.

The Government will ‘robustly challenge behaviours and views which run counter to our shared values, such as democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity and treatment, freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind’, said his paper.

Speaking ahead of the announcement today, Mr Pickles told the Daily Mail the Coalition celebrated Britain’s tradition as a nation of ‘tolerance’ and insisted he was proud to celebrate the special customs and practices that make communities unique.

‘But it’s sad to see how, in recent years, the idea of tolerance has become twisted,’ Mr Pickles added.

‘A few people, a handful of activists, have insisted that it isn’t enough simply to celebrate the beliefs of minority communities; they want to disown the traditions and heritage of the majority, including the Christian faith and the English language.

‘In recent years we’ve seen public bodies bending over backwards to translate documents up to and including their annual report into a variety of foreign languages.

‘We’ve seen men and women disciplined for wearing modest symbols of Christian faith at work, and we’ve seen legal challenges to councils opening their proceedings with prayers, a tradition that goes back generations, brings comfort to many and hurts no one. This is the politics of division.’

Communities minister Andrew Stunell said: ‘We have many balanced and successful communities but we know this is not the case everywhere and there are still enduring problems in many neighbourhoods.

‘The coalition is determined to give everyone the ability and aspiration to prosper, breaking down barriers to social mobility. Every community is different and we need local diversity, not central prescription, if we are to grow prosperous and productive communities.’

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said Mr Pickles’ strategy would fuel sectarianism.

‘While we agree that there should be some common values to live by — a shared language and respect for human rights — there cannot be a religious hierarchy that discounts the feelings of those who don’t share in that faith,’ said Mr Sanderson.

‘It is a recipe for conflict between communities that already eye each other with suspicion.

‘We see all over the world that when religion is given power, conflict follows. We have managed to some extent to keep this kind of sectarianism out of our policy making; now Mr Pickles intends to restore it in a big way.

‘The Government is going in completely the wrong direction with this and it is bad news for all of us.’

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: ‘The vast majority of people in Britain are not members of any local church, religious group or community, and so to lay such emphasis on religious identities as being the ones most important for encouraging voluntary work or community building is misguided.’

Rob Berkeley, director of the Runnymede Trust race equality think-tank, said Mr Pickles’ announcement marked ‘a dangerous and ill-advised reversion to assimilationist policy where all differences of ethnicity and heritage are subsumed into a majoritarian “mainstream” ‘.

Dr Berkeley added: ‘The Secretary of State appears to have completely misunderstood the problems we face in building a successful multi-ethnic society, and the solutions proposed as a result simply miss the point.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Asian Children Face Higher Risk of Gambling Addiction

British Asian children who gamble are twice as likely to become addicted as white children, new research suggests. Nine thousand 11-15 year olds were surveyed by the University of Salford and National Centre for Social Research (NatCen). Of the ethnic groups studied, Asians were the least likely to gamble, but those who did had the highest rates of problem addiction.

Children with the highest pocket money were more likely to become addicted. Researchers found that only 13% of British Asian children questioned were found to be regular gamblers, compared to 20% overall. But Asians were proportionately at greatest risk of developing addictive and problem behaviour, such as lying to friends and family or using money meant for other things.

Slot machines and betting with friends on cards were the most popular methods of gambling. Although some games and arcades are for over 18s only, low payout slot machines are legal at any age.

“I’ve been going to the arcades for 2 years,” said Imran, aged 12 who uses 10p slot machines. “Mostly nothing comes out, but it’s very addictive so we just keep coming back and spend most of our money.” Kasim, aged 15, said that placing a wager with friends makes computer games more fun.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: Eleven Asian Men ‘Plied Girls of 13 With Drink and Drugs to Use Them for Sex’

A group of 11 Asian men plied girls as young as 13 with drink and drugs so they could use them for sex ‘several times a day’, a court heard today.

The five girls, who were aged between 13 and 15 when the alleged abuse began, were passed around by the men ‘who acted together to sexually exploit the girls’, a trial at Liverpool Crown Court was told.

The offences are said to have happened in and around Rochdale, Greater Manchester, in 2008 and 2009. All the girls were from broken homes and one was in care.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that some of the girls were raped and physically assaulted and some were forced to have sex with ‘several men in a day, several times a week’.

Opening the case, prosecutor Rachel Smith said: ‘Some of you may find what you are about to hear distressing. The events and circumstances described by the girls are at best saddening and at worst shocking in places.

‘No child should be exploited as these girls say they were.’

Miss Smith said the girls were given alcohol, food and money in return for sex but that there were times when violence was used.

‘There were also occasions on which one or more of the girls were so incapacitated by alcohol and/or drugs that they were incapable of having any control over whether or with whom they had sexual intercourse,’ she said.

The court was told that some of the defendants paid the girls and took payments from other men to whom they supplied the girls for sex.

Kabeer Hassan, 24, Abdul Aziz, 41, Abdul Rauf, 43, Mohammed Sajid, 35, Adil Khan, 42, Abdul Qayyum, 43, Mohammed Amin, 44, Qamar Shahzad, 29, Liaquat Shah, 41, and Hamid Safi, 22, are on trial at Liverpool Crown Court charged with conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children under the age of 16.

They have all pleaded not guilty along with a 59-year-old man who cannot be named for legal reasons.

He also denies two counts of rape, aiding and abetting a rape, one count of sexual assault and an allegation of trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation.

The court heard the men knew each other and that two of them worked in the takeaways Tasty Bites and the Balti House, both in Market Street in the Heywood area of Rochdale.

Four of the other men worked as cab drivers at local taxi firms, one was a student and four were jobless.

The men were known to the girls by nicknames such as ‘Master’ and ‘Tiger’, the court was told. The girls would often spend their days ‘unsupervised by responsible adults’.

They were not in school regularly and ‘drank and smoked and hung around with little to do’.

Miss Smith said they were the ‘sort of children who were easy to identify, target and exploit for the sexual gratification of these men’.

One girl, who was 13 when the alleged abuse began, told police that the men she met were ‘friends’ who looked after her and ‘her number would be passed around amongst the Pakistani men in her area’.

She told police: ‘When you’ve got Asian friends, number gets passed and they pass it to their friends. And they pass it to their friends, end up with a massive circle… everyone’s got it.’

Miss Smith said: ‘The prosecution say that what this girl was describing was the group activity of a number of adult men, including these defendants, who had spotted the opportunity to sexually exploit children who were vulnerable to that sort of exploitation and were taking it.’

One 13-year-old victim fell pregnant to one of the defendants and had the child aborted, the jury was told.

Another teenager recalled being raped by two men while she was ‘so drunk she was vomiting over the side of the bed’.

Miss Smith told the jury that one of the older girls, who was 16 at the time of the alleged abuse, recruited younger girls for the men as well as having sex with them for money.

Miss Smith said she introduced a 14-year-old girl ‘to a number of different men who wanted to have sex with her, with or without her consent’.

The victim met the defendants at a takeaway, including the 59-year-old male who cannot be named.

‘She was raped there and elsewhere and also taken by the man to other places where she was provided by him to other men for sex,’ Miss Smith said.

One girl, who was 15 when she met the defendants, told police that she was initially ‘flattered’ by the attention of the men. She said that she thought it meant that she was ‘attractive and they thought she was pretty’, the court heard.

However she quickly became regularly heavily drunk, depressed and ‘incapable of getting herself out of the situation’.

She told police: ‘At first I was scared, then after that it….just didn’t bother me anymore…At first I felt dead bad and horrible but then I didn’t feel anything anymore.

‘I didn’t like it but it didn’t bother me….Because, it had been happening every day. Most of the time I was just dead drunk so that when it happened I wouldn’t feel as bad.’

Miss Smith said the girl was ‘persistently coerced or forced into submission by them’.

‘When she was told that she had to have sex with the particular defendant or other men, she would submit to them, although she describes herself as lying impassively with her eyes shut or looking at the wall. She was given alcohol, which she drank heavily, not least because it numbed her thoughts to what was happening to her.’

The court heard that it was ‘common knowledge’ among the defendants that the girl was 15 and that Abdul Aziz would give her lifts to school while Abdul Rauf asked the other older girl if she ‘knew anyone younger’.

The court heard that on one occasion the 59-year-old man met two girls at a takeaway where they were given food and vodka.

He demanded sex from one 15-year-old, saying: ‘It’s part of the deal because I bought you vodka, you have to give me something.’

Miss Smith said the girl refused and he raped her. When the girl started crying, he said: ‘Don’t cry, I love you.’

On another occasion, the 59-year-old took one of the girls to Oldham where she was raped by another male whom she did not know.

On the way home, he told her: ‘Don’t tell anyone, I’ll give you money, I’ll give you anything you want.’

The court heard about another occasion when the man said he gave girls the vodka as a ‘treat’ and that they had to have sex with other men. He also plied girls with cannabis, the court heard.

The court was told that in about August 2008 Abdul Aziz ‘took over’ from the 59-year-old and started taking girls to various locations where they would have sex with older men — including a flat in Rochdale where Mohammed Sajid and Mohammed Shazad lived — where a ‘group of men’ would always be waiting to have sex with them.

‘Abdul Aziz was being paid by the various men to whom he delivered the girls for the purposes of sex,’ Miss Smith said.

One girl estimated that she was ‘having sex with several men in a day, several times a week’, Miss Smith said. Another girl said she was attacked by Adil Khan when she refused ‘two of four men’ who were waiting for sex at a Rochdale house.

Another alleged victim, who was 14, said she would get ‘proper hammered’ and she ‘lost count of the number of times she had had sex with men when she did not want to do so’.

Miss Smith said: ‘She was unable to describe all of the men but said she would regularly find herself drunk to near-unconsciousness, waking up with men having sex with her.’

The same girl said she was raped by Abul Aziz in his taxi in December 2009 and afterwards he told her she no longer needed to pay a taxi fare.

She also described an occasion when Liaquat Shah raped her while Hammid Safi watched.

The court heard that on another occasion the same two defendants raped her together with Safi saying ‘I want a turn, I want a turn’ after Shah carried out the first rape.

She also said the two men raped her while she was so drunk ‘she was vomiting over the side of the bed’ after drinking Sambuca, vodka, beer and Jack Daniels.

She told police: ‘They were just having it in turns sort of thing… there was nothing I could do, I was throwing up, I just kept throwing up… And I felt like I couldn’t move.’

Miss Smith said: ‘They saw her being sick and each raped her. Afterwards they left and she cried herself to sleep.’

Another girl said she was attacked by Adil Khan when she refused to have sex with ‘two of four men’ who were waiting for sex at a Rochdale house.

In December 2008 a 13-year-old girl fell pregnant to Adil Khan, who later denied even knowing her, despite police having DNA proof he was the baby’s father.

Hassan, from Oldham, and Shahzad, from Rochdale, also deny rape.

Aziz from Rochdale, denies two counts of rape and one allegation of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Khan and Rauf, both from Rochdale, have also pleaded not guilty to trafficking for sexual exploitation. Sajid, from Rochdale, denies trafficking, two counts of rape and one allegation of sexual activity with a child.

Amin, from Rochdale, denies sexual assault. Shah and Safi, from Rochdale, each denied two counts of rape and Safi has also pleaded not guilty to trafficking.

Aziz, Khan, Safi and the 59-year-old are remanded in custody. Qayyum, from, Rochdale, and the rest of the defendants are on bail.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Grooming Trial: Girls ‘Plied With Drugs’

Eleven men have gone on trial accused of sexually exploiting underage girls who had been plied with drugs and alcohol.

The five youngsters — aged between 13 and 15 when the alleged abuse began — were thought to have been “passed around” among a group of men in Rochdale and sometimes subjected to violence.

A jury at Liverpool Crown Court has been told that one of the girls became pregnant at the age of 13 and had to have an abortion.

The court heard another girl “very quickly became regularly and heavily drunk, depressed, incapable of getting herself out of the situation and resigned to what was happening to her”.

Prosecutor Rachel Smith said: “She did not always cry or protest or tell the men that she did not want to have sex with them although she often did both.

“But she was persistently coerced or forced into submission by them.”

Another girl, who had absconded from a council care home, said she was sexually exploited by large numbers of men and given “substantial amounts of alcohol such that she was severely drunk when she was used for sex”.

Some of the men accused of sexually exploiting the girls

She said: “They just get you proper hammered so that you can’t do anything.”

She claimed that she would regularly find herself drunk to near unconsciousness, waking up with men having sex with her.

She also claimed that one man would pull her hair and grab her neck if she resisted and had threatened to cut her with a razor blade if she refused to have sex with him.

The girl was eventually removed from the area and accommodated in the south of England after social workers had become aware of the extent of the alleged offences.

The court was told that the case followed an investigation by Greater Manchester Police with the first arrest in 2008 and the final one in 2011.

The jury heard police missed an opportunity to intervene earlier when one of the alleged victims disclosed what had happened but officers decided at that stage not to take the matter further.

The defendants are Kabeer Hassan (25), Abdul Aziz (41), Abdul Rauf (43), Mohammed Sajid (35), Adil Khan (42), Abdul Qayyum (43), Mohammed Amin (44), Qamar Shazad (29), Liaquat Shah (41) and Hamid Safi (22).

Another defendant cannot be named for legal reasons. All deny the charges against them.

Many other men, who have not been identified by the police, are said to have been involved in the exploitation. The trial continues.

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]


Serbian Thaw: Melting Danube Ice Creates Chaos in Belgrade

The Arctic cold front was long and hard. Yet now that temperatures are warming up across Europe, melting snow and ice are causing chaos as well. Hundreds of boats and barges on the Danube have been crushed by huge chunks of ice and officials are concerned about flooding.

As the Arctic cold front gripped Europe in the first half of February, a thick slab of ice formed on the Danube, one of the Continent’s most important waterways. Ship trafffic came to a standstill in many areas; the ice in some places was half a meter thick. Now, though, with the thaw setting in, a new danger has emerged. As temperatures have warmed, the ice has begun breaking up around Belgrade. And the damage has already been significant.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

A Palestinian Take on the Mideast Conflict: ‘The Pursuit of a Two-State Solution is a Fantasy’

Prominent Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh believes it is too late for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. In a SPIEGEL interview, he outlines his vision for an Israeli-Palestinian confederation and why he mistrusts the new moderate stance taken by the Islamic militant group Hamas.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Xi Arrives for Turkey Talks Amid Uighur Protests

Dozens of ethnic Uighurs have protested the presence of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in Turkey, as the man expected to become China’s next leader arrived for talks with Turkish leaders. The man slated to become China’s next leader, Xi Jinping, was in Turkey on Tuesday for talks with President Abdullah Gul.

The visit marks the rise of Turkish clout on the international stage and recognition of the country’s role in maintaining stability in the Middle East. “In today’s complex and changing international situation, the enrichment of the strategic cooperation between China and Turkey is to the benefit of both countries, now and in the long term,” Xi told the Turkey Sabah newspaper in an interview.

“A member of the G20 with a growing economy and an important country in the Middle East, Turkey has for a long time tried to bring stability and development to the region and played an active role in trying to solve ‘hot’ issues,” Xi said, citing Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear dispute among others.

Xi Jinping, the expected next leader of China, is making a key visit to Turkey. While the emerging global powers aim at developing strategic ties, the crisis in Syria has offered a test case for their cooperation. But Xi’s arrival has already been marked by protests by dozens of ethnic Uighurs, who desecrated a poster of the senior official and set fire to two Chinese flags. The demonstrators were venting anger over Beijing’s treatment of Uighur populations in China. Turkey is also home to a large Uighur community.

On Wednesday, Xi is to attend a business forum in Istanbul, where he is likely to be assailed by exporters eager to bridge a wide trade gap between the countries. China sells some $21.6 billion worth of goods to Turkey, whilst Turkey sends only $2.5 billion worth to its Asian partner.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Ancient Plants Resurrected From Siberian Permafrost

Thirty thousand years after their burial on the Siberian tundra, immature fruits have been cultivated into small, weedy plants — the oldest successful regeneration of a living plant from ancient tissue.

The fruit tissue came from animal burrows frozen in permafrost by the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia. Small creatures, such as an Arctic species of ground squirrel, once stored away tens of thousands of seeds and fruits in these burrows, where they remained in a deep freeze. The newly revived fruit tissue has been radiocarbon dated to between 28,000 and 32,000 years old.

“This is a plant that has a lot of built-in mechanisms for survival in a harsh environment,” Shen-Miller told LiveScience. Most plant seeds die within a few years, she said. But a few hearty species, including the 1,300-year-old lotus and S. stenophylla have built-in mechanisms that either preserve or repair the plants’ DNA.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Anti-Kremlin Paper Blames Police for Funding Problems

Russia’s main opposition newspaper expressed fears over its funding on Tuesday after security services raided the bank of its co-owner and occasional Kremlin critic Alexander Lebedev. Novaya Gazeta said agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) had blocked the personal account of National Reserve Bank owner Lebedev used to help fund the paper.

The thrice-weekly has remained one of Russia’s most outspoken critics of Vladimir Putin’s 12-year domination of Russia and is owned jointly by Lebedev and the Soviet Union’s last leader Mikhail Gorbachev. “Lebedev’s accounts have been frozen in connection with the check,” the newspaper’s editor Sergei Sokolov told the Interfax news agency. “This was the account he used to finance Novaya Gazeta and several charity projects.”

Lebedev also controls The Independent and the London Evening Standard as well as other media outlets in both London and Moscow. The tycoon denied having his account blocked by the FSB but confirmed that he was no longer able to finance the paper. Lebedev said the personal account at the bank was now empty because constant checks into his business activities were preventing him from carrying out regular business activities.

“It is wrong to say that my account was blocked. It simply has no money,” Lebedev told Interfax. “Money has to be earned. And when I have more than 100 inspectors inside the National Reserve Bank checking who knows what, there is little chance of earning the money needed by Novaya Gazeta.”

Lebedev has been a cautious critic of the government who has refused to attack Putin directly while criticising widespread corruption among the Russian authorities.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Lithuania Hails Latvia’s “No” Vote on Russian Language

Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius on Monday hailed Latvian voters’ rejection of Russian as a second state language in a weekend referendum, saying it showed “high maturity” in the fellow Baltic state. Latvia along with neighbours Lithuania and Estonia, experienced so-called “Russification” during nearly nearly five decades of Soviet rule making language a sensitive issue during their two decades of independence.

“The Lithuanian government and Lithuanian people express support for Latvia’s unity,” Kubilius said in a Monday statement. “Latvian voters, by firmly rejecting the proposal to give Russian the status of a state language have demonstrated the high maturity of their civic society and self-awareness,” the Lithuanian premier added.

Saturday’s Russian-minority sponsored referendum was headed for almost certain defeat even before Latvian leaders hailed results showing a 75 percent “no” vote as proof of their country’s formal break with its past. Latvia, Lithuania and the fellow Baltic state of Estonia were annexed by Soviet Union during the World War II and often flaunted their suspicions of Russian settlers in the subsequent decades.

But the tensions are much sharper in Latvia, where Russians make up 27 percent of two million-strong population, compared with five percent in Lithuania, a nation of three million. The three Baltic states, which joined the EU and the NATO Western military alliance in 2004, have had rocky ties with Moscow since they regained independence in 1991.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Medvedev Hosts Russia’s Protest Leaders

President Dmitry Medvedev hosted leaders of Russia’s protest movement on Monday, in a rare move after an outburst of rallies against Vladimir Putin’s likely return to the Kremlin. Medvedev discussed ideas for reforming Russia’s “far from ideal” political system at a meeting that would have been almost unthinkable before mass opposition protests broke out in the aftermath of December parliamentary polls.

Leftist radical Sergei Udaltsov, ex-cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov and liberal politician Vladimir Ryzhkov — leaders of the movement that organised mass rallies against the authorities — were all present at the meeting.

“Our political system is far from ideal and most of those present here subject it to criticism and sometimes very harsh criticism,” Medvedev said at the meeting at his Gorky residence outside Moscow. “There are people here with different political opinions and that is good because we have to understand in what direction our political system will develop,” he said in comments broadcast on state television.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Plant Blooms After 30,000 Years in Permafrost

A plant that last flowered when woolly mammoths roamed the plains is back in bloom. Biologists have resurrected a 30,000-year-old plant, cultivating it from fruit tissue recovered from frozen sediment in Siberia. The plant is by far the oldest to be brought back from the dead: the previous record holder was a sacred lotus, dating back about 1200 years.

The late David Gilichinsky from the Soil Cryology Laboratory in Moscow, Russia, and colleagues recovered the fruits of the ice age flowering plant (Silene stenophylla) from a fossilised squirrel burrow in frozen sediments near the Kolyma river in north-east Siberia. Radiocarbon dating of the fruit suggests the squirrel stashed it around 31,800 years ago, just before the ice rolled in.

By applying growth hormones to the fruit tissue, Gilichinsky and his colleagues managed to kick-start cell division and ultimately produce a viable flowering plant. Modern day S. stenophylla looks similar to the resurrected plant, but has larger seeds and fewer buds. Modern plants also grow roots more rapidly. Studying these and other differences will reveal how the plant has evolved since the last ice age.

Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, is impressed but cautious, because some supposedly “ancient” plants grown from permafrost have turned out to be modern contaminants. To rule out this possibility, Gilichinsky’s team went to some lengths to verify that the fruit came from undisturbed deposits, they say.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Putin Backs ‘Unprecedented’ Boost for Russian Army

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Monday Russia had launched “unprecedented” steps to boost the army as he played up his strongman credentials ahead of March 4 presidential polls he is likely to win. “We have approved and are carrying out unprecedented programmes to develop the armed forces and modernise Russia’s military defence complex,” Putin wrote in state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta as he bids for a third Kremlin term.

In the next decade, Russia will acquire more than 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, eight nuclear-armed submarines and around 20 non-nuclear submarines, more than 600 warplanes and 28 S-400 missile defence systems, he said. “In total we are allocating around 23 trillion rubles ($773 billion) in the next decade for these aims,” Putin said in his sixth campaign article listing his political goals.

The newspaper article came out on the same day as Putin visited the Far Eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, which has a defence plant making Sukhoi fighter jets, on a visit that is not explicitly part of his election campaign. Russia a year ago said that 19 trillion rubles ($639 billion) had been allocated to a military development plan running through to 2020 and the defence ministry gave many of the same hardware acquisition figures.

While Putin as prime minister for the last four years has not headed the armed forces, his latest article implicitly suggests he will be the one to see the plan through, without mentioning the elections.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Russia to Modernise Military

Russia intends to spend €590 billion on defence over the next ten years, Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote in the article published Monday on the frontpage of Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The Russians want to build a new and more modern army with a barrage of new submarines, fighter jets and missiles.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Scientists Regenerate a Plant — 30,000 Years Later

Fruit seeds stored away by squirrels more than 30,000 years ago and found in Siberian permafrost have been regenerated into full flowering plants by scientists in Russia, a new study has revealed. The seeds of the herbaceous Silene stenophylla plant, whose age was confirmed by radiocarbon dating at 31,800 years old, are far and away the most ancient plant material to have been brought back to life, said lead researchers Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The previous record for viable regeneration of ancient flora was with 2,000-year-old date palm seeds near the Dead Sea in Israel. The latest findings could be a landmark in research of ancient biological material, and highlight the importance of permafrost in the “search of an ancient genetic pool, that of preexisting life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth’s surface,” they wrote.

The study, to appear in Tuesday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, described the discovery of 70 squirrel hibernation burrows along the bank of the lower Kolyma river, in Russia’s northeast Siberia, and bearing thousands of seed samples from various plants.

“All burrows were found at depths of 20-40 meters (65 to 130 feet) from the present day surface and located in layers containing bones of large mammals such as mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse, deer, and other representatives of fauna” from the Late Pleistocene Age.

Scientists were able to grow new specimens from such old plant material in large part because the burrows were quickly covered with ice, and then remained “continuously frozen and never thawed,” in effect preventing any permafrost degradation.

In their lab near Moscow, the scientists sought to grow plants from mature S. Stenophylla seeds, but when that failed, they turned to elements of the plants’ fruit, which they described as “placental tissue,” to successfully grow regenerated whole plants.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan Erupts Over Koran ‘Burning’

Furious protesters firing petrol bombs and slingshots have besieged the largest US-run military base in Afghanistan after reports that Nato troops had set fire to copies of the Koran.

The enraged crowd shouted “Death to Americans” and “Death to infidels” at guards at Bagram airbase, north of Kabul. The guards responded by firing rubber bullets on the crowd, said an AFP photographer, who was hit in the neck.

US helicopters fired flares to try to break up as many as 2,000 demonstrators who massed outside several gates to the base.

Hundreds of other people protested in the Afghan capital as security forces dispatched reinforcements in a bid to stop the demonstrations from spiralling out of control in the fiercely conservative Islamic country.

The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, apologised and ordered an investigation into a report that troops “improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans”.

“I offer my sincere apologies for any offence this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan,” he said.

Gen Allen’s remarkably candid statement, apparently aimed at damage limitation after similar incidents led to violence and attacks on foreigners, was played repeatedly on Afghan television.

Allegations that Nato troops at Bagram had set fire to copies of the Muslim holy book were first reported by Afghans working at the base, a senior government official said.

Ahmad Zaki Zahed, chief of the provincial council, said US military officials took him to a burn pit on the base where 60 to 70 books, including Korans, were recovered. The books were used by detainees once incarcerated at the base, he said.

“Some were all burned. Some were half-burned,” Zahed said, adding that he did not know exactly how many Korans had been burned.

A local police official said more than 2,000 people were demonstrating outside the sprawling US-run Bagram base at one stage.

The AFP photographer saw at least seven other protesters hit by rubber bullets, some of them bleeding.

Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said that by early afternoon the demonstration was under control and there was no further violence.

Another protest by about 500 people broke out in the Pul-e-charkhi district of Kabul not far from major Nato bases on the Jalalabad road, police spokesman Ashamat Estanakzai said.

That was also brought under control and the crowd later dispersed, he said.

Last April, 10 people were killed and dozens of others were injured during days of unrest unleashed by the burning of a Koran by American pastor Terry Jones in Florida.

Gen Allen’s statement reflected concern over the impact of the latest incident in the country, where US troops have been fighting against a Taliban insurgency for more than 10 years and supporting President Hamid Karzai’s government.

“I have ordered an investigation into a report I received during the night that ISAF personnel at Bagram Airbase improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans,” he said.

“When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them. The materials recovered will be properly handled by appropriate religious authorities.

“We are thoroughly investigating the incident and we are taking steps to ensure this does not ever happen again. I assure you — I promise you — this was NOT intentional in any way.”

Gen Allen thanked “the local Afghan people who helped us identify the error, and who worked with us to immediately take corrective action”.

           — Hat tip: EDO[Return to headlines]

Afghans React With Anger Over Koran Desecrations

Thousands of angry Afghans chanted anti-Western slogans outside the largest US-run airbase in the country on Tuesday after reports NATO troops had set fire to copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran. Guards at the Bagram airbase north of the capital, Kabul, fired rubber bullets as crowds shouted “Die, die foreigners” and “Allahu akbar,” or “God is the greatest.”

“The protest is ongoing right now in front of Bagram airport gate and nearly 3,000 people are protesting right now,” Roshana Khalid, a spokeswoman for Parwan provincial government, told German news agency dpa. “The Afghan labourers at the Bagram military airbase brought copies of Koran burnt by the coalition troops out of the base this morning.”

Hundreds of others protested in Kabul as security forces were dispatched to try prevent the rallies from spreading across the conservative Islamic country. Similar protests have in the past turned violent in Afghanistan, an extremely devout Muslim nation where an insult to Islam is punishable by death.

The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, apologized for the incident and said he had ordered an investigation into the reports of the improper disposal of “a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans.” “I offer my sincere apologies for any offence this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan,” he said.

Allen’s statement was replayed repeatedly on Afghan television after a senior Afghan official made the allegations that NATO soldiers at Bagram had set fire to copies of the Muslim holy book.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Marines to be Held for at Least 3 Days in Indian Case

Indian judge to decide Wednesday on putting them in jail

(ANSA) — Kollam, February 20 — An Indian judge on Monday ordered two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen in repelling what they thought was a pirate attack on a tanker last week to be detained for three days.

The judge, who said the detention period could be extended for up to two weeks, said he would decide on Wednesday whether to put the marines in jail.

An Italian delegation to this south-western Indian city, made up of officials from the foreign, justice and defence ministries, said it was “exploring all paths to reach a positive conclusion to the affair, which at the moment, however, presents many difficulties”.

“No State likes to yield its jurisdiction and the affair is complicated by the fact that the Italian ship is now in Indian waters,” a source added. While they are in police custody, the marines will be moved back from Kollam to the port of Kochi where they were detained on Sunday, the judge ruled.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Far East

Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest: Trading Gold for Oil

A Monday morning musing from the mercenary geologist, who was stunned to learn that India and China had made a deal with Iran to pay for their oil imports.

A recent headline blasted the “breaking news”:

“India to Pay Gold Instead of Dollars for Iranian Oil: Markets Stunned”

I too was stunned; well, more like dumbfounded. That is one of the dumbest ideas to cross my desk in a long while. The article underneath the headline immediately brought China into the mix. These two countries, India and China, were purported to have made a deal with Iran to pay for their oil imports, totaling one million barrels per day, with gold in order to skirt United States and European Union sanctions. As you are aware, the freezing of Iranian offshore assets and the embargo of its oil exports came about because of the rogue nation’s continuing efforts to produce highly-enriched uranium and concoct an atomic bomb.

While reading, I immediately envisioned a sequel to the movie “Dumb and Dumber” called “Dumber and Dumbest.” However, I suggest we shed actors Carrey and Daniels and get Tommy Chong (aka “Man”) to play Dumber with Kal Penn (aka “Kumar”) to play Dumbest.

Let’s analyze the numbers and the economic, monetary, and political ramifications of such actions:

One million barrels of oil is about US$100 million per day or $36.5 billion per year. At a price of $1700, that is 59,000 oz or 1.9 tonnes of gold per day and 690 tonnes per year. India’s oil imports from Iran cost $12 billion per year or 227 tonnes of gold. China’s portion would be $24.5 billion per year or 463 tonnes of gold. In 2011, China produced 345 tonnes of gold while India produced a measly 2.8 tonnes. Furthermore, last year saw record demand for gold in both countries with Indian imports estimated at about 1000 tonnes and the Chinese likely over 550 tonnes.

To put this in perspective, 690 tonnes is over 25% of 2011 world gold production of 2700 tonnes. That’s a whole lot of gold. So where could India and China obtain additional yellow gold to trade for black gold?

India’s central bank holds 615 tonnes of gold; China holds 1162 tonnes. If either country were to use its central bank holdings to buy oil, each would exhaust its gold reserves in little more than 2.5 years. Folks, that would be just plain dumb.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Plankton-Fuelled Ocean Eddy is 150 Kilometres Wide

Deep below the surface, the ocean has its own weather. Huge eddies like this one, spotted by NASA’s Terra satellite last December in a photo released last week, show the turmoil that lurks underwater. Rather than wreaking havoc like terrestrial storms, though, these ocean whirlwinds draw nutrients up from the deep, nourishing blooms of microscopic marine life in the otherwise barren open ocean.

Eddies often spin off from major ocean current systems and can last for months. This one probably peeled off from the Agulhas current. which flows along the south-eastern coast of Africa and around the tip of South Africa. In fact, this eddy is visible from space because of its life-giving properties — it is a lighter blue than the surrounding water because of the plankton blooming in the 150-kilometre-wide swirl.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

S. African Police Arrest 350 After Clashes at Platinum Mine

Police arrested at least 350 people after a deadly violence during an illegal strike at the world’s largest platinum mine run by South Africa’s Impala Platinum, a senior officer said Sunday. At least one person died as rival groups of workers clashed, with roads blocked, cars stoned, shops looted and a small police station torched on Thursday and Friday outside the northwestern town of Rustenburg.

Police Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said at least 350 people had been arrested and faced charges ranging from public violence to theft. Many miners went home for the weekend, leaving the site quiet, but Ngubane warned that Monday could see fresh unrest. “The people responsible must put an end to this. That is all we are asking for,” he told the Sapa news agency.

Many of the shops looted during the unrest belonged to Somali and Ethiopian immigrants, about 100 of whom had fled their businesses to seek shelter in nearby areas, he added.

The strike began on January 20, but a court declared it illegal, allowing the company to sack more than 17,000 workers who did not return to work. A week ago, Implats agreed to re-hire them, but the deal failed to address the root cause of the strike — discontent that some categories of workers had been awarded bonuses while others had been left out.

Impala, the world’s second-largest platinum producer, blames the unrest on feuding among rival unions. The labour dispute has delayed production at the mine, which usually produces 3,000 ounces of platinum a day.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

S. Africa to Deploy More Soldiers to Fight Rhino Poaching

South Africa will deploy hundreds more soldiers to its borders to crack down on international syndicates blamed for a surge in rhino poaching, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said Sunday. “We will be deploying a further four military companies on the Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho borders as of April 2012, bringing the total number of companies to seven,” he told reporters.

Each company comprises 150 soldiers. “The deployment includes army engineers who are conducting repairs and maintenance on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border fence, which is approximately 140 kilometres (85 miles),” he added.

Troops were first deployed on April 1, 2011, along the Mozambican border, many of them inside the world-famous Kruger National Park — one of South Africa’s premier tourist draws that has become a magnet for poachers.

Despite their sometimes deadly clashes with poachers, the military deployment has so far failed to stop the poaching crisis. A record 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa last year — more than half of them inside Kruger.

In 2007, the total was just 13, but demand for rhino horn in Asian traditional medicine has rocketed, especially in China and Vietnam, where they are thought to have powerful healing properties. But rhino horns are mostly made of the same substance as human fingernails, and have no special medical value, say scientists.

South Africa blames the surge in poaching on international syndicates who slip across the vast land borders to kill the rhinos, and then smuggle the horns to Asia.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


‘Most Swedish Emigrants Ever in 2011’: Report

2011 marked the largest exodus from Sweden in history with over 50,000 people leaving the country, with China proving to be an ever more popular destination for Swedes who move abroad. While Sweden added 67,285 people to its population last year, a record 51,179 people left the country, reported Statistics Sweden (Statistiska Centralbyrån — SCB).

“I would say this is due to Swedish companies that have moved abroad, and to an extent, some Swedes follow. I’m thinking of these call centers, they maybe move to other countries and then have a need for people who can speak Swedish,” said Lena Bernhardtz of the SCB to Dagens Nyheter on Monday. 2011 gave the biggest emigration figure ever, even larger than 1887’s mass exodus to America.

SCB suggests the growing numbers of emigrants are due to the populations “increased ability to move”. However, the agency emphasized the importance of viewing the emigration figures in relation to Sweden’s larger population. While the 1887 movement entailed one percent of the total population leaving Sweden, the new figures, while involving a larger total number of people, only amounts to one half of a percent of Sweden’s total population of 9.48 million people.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: SVP Slams ‘Exploding’ Number of Asylum Seekers

The far-right Swiss People’s Party, the country’s largest, on Monday accused the government of inaction and abuses in dealing with a surge of asylum seekers. “The number of asylum applications is exploding, crime increases, the costs of asylum progressing from year to year,” the SVP said in a statement, lamenting that processing takes up to four years.

“The Swiss asylum policy is now marked by abuses, absurdities and by inaction and confusion,” the party said. More than 22,000 people applied for asylum last year, the largest number since 2002 and a 45 percent increase from 2010, according to official figures. The main countries of origin were Eritrea, Tunisia and Nigeria.

The SVP said it suspects that many asylum seekers are in fact economic migrants. A leading figure of the party Christoph Blocher said those who are rejected should be deported more quickly. Proposed revisions to the asylum law “will bring no improvement, quite the opposite,” Blocher was quoted as saying by the ATS news agency.

The anti-immigrant SVP has drawn international criticism over several of its campaigns, including calls to ban minarets and expel foreign criminals. It has also been slammed over advertising depicting white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag. Yet despite a drop in support in October legislative elections, the SVP remains Switzerland’s largest party, though it has only one cabinet member under a so-called “magic formula” power-sharing agreement.

The SVP, which last week filed a request for a referendum that would impose a cap on immigration, wants Switzerland to reintroduce border controls.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affirmative Action Case

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a major case on affirmative action in higher education, adding another potential blockbuster to a docket already studded with them.

The court’s decision in the new case holds the potential to undo an accommodation reached in the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger: that public colleges and universities could not use a point system to boost minority enrollment but could take race into account in vaguer way to ensure academic diversity.

[Return to headlines]


‘Marsquake’ May Have Shaken Up Red Planet

The surface of Mars appears to have been shaken by quakes relatively recently, hinting at the existence of active volcanoes and perhaps reservoirs of liquid water on the Red Planet, a new study suggests.

Using photographs snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers analyzed the tracks made by boulders that fell from a Martian cliff. The number and size of these boulders — which ranged from 6.5 to 65 feet (2 to 20 meters) in diameter — decreased over a radius of 62 miles (100 kilometers) from a point along Mars’ Cerberus Fossae faults.

“This is consistent with the hypothesis that boulders had been mobilized by ground-shaking, and that the severity of the ground-shaking decreased away from the epicenters of marsquakes,” the study’s lead author Gerald Roberts, of the University of London, said in a statement.

The dirt patterns created by the toppled Martian rocks weren’t consistent with how boulders would scatter if they were deposited by melting ice, researchers said. Rather, they resembled the boulder falls seen after a 2009 earthquake near L’Aquila, in central Italy.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

New Type of Alien Planet is a Steamy ‘Waterworld’

Scientists have discovered a new type of alien planet — a steamy waterworld that is larger than Earth but smaller than Uranus. The standard-bearer for this new class of exoplanet is called GJ 1214b, which astronomers first discovered in December 2009. New observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope suggest that GJ 1214b is a watery world enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere.

“GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of,” study lead author Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement. “A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water.”

Adding to the diversity

To date, astronomers have discovered more than 700 planets beyond our solar system, with about 2,300 more “candidates” awaiting confirmation by follow-up observations.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]