Sunday, January 12, 2003

News Feed 20120312

Financial Crisis
»Eurozone Finance Ministers to Meet Monday on Greek Bailout
»Greece: Goldman Secret Loan is ‘Sexy Story of Sinners’
»Ireland Confirms EU-IMF Debt Negotiations
»Italy-German Bond Spread Unvaried Since Friday
»Google Isn’t ‘Leveraging Its Dominance,’ It’s Fighting to Avoid Obsolescence
»Gun Sales in America Soar … Again
»How a Nuclear Bomb Could Save Earth From an Asteroid
»LAX Bomb Plotter’s Sentence in 2005 Overturned
»My Muslim President Obama
»Study Finds 18 Percent of Social Media Users Block, ‘Unfriend’ Over Politics
Europe and the EU
»Delors Concerned by Loss of European Democracy
»Fico’s Huge Majority in Slovakia Vote is ‘Dangerous’
»Finland: EU Countries Lack Will for Joint Foreign Policy
»France: Sarko Junior Pelts Police Woman With Tomatoes
»France 2012: Sarkozy Floundering, Must Now Change
»Imam Dies in Mosque Arson Attack in Anderlecht, Belgium
»Italy Summons Indian Ambassador Over Jailed Marines
»Poland Blocks Tougher CO2 Limits
»Sweden: Three in Four Rosengård Children ‘Live in Poverty’
»Swiss Central Bank in New Trading Controversy
»The Pro-Palestinian Bias of Europe’s Foreign Policy Elite
»Croatian MPs Vote Yes to EU Membership
North Africa
»Tunisia: Dean Beaten by Salafite Students for Opposing Niqab
Middle East
»Muslim Extremists and Terrorists Taking Advantage of Syria’s Revolution
»Turkey: Journalist in Isolation for a Year
»‘Eurasian Union’ Publishes First Foreign Policy Statement
South Asia
»India — Italy: More Than 230,000 Fishermen Protest Against Local Authorities
»Indonesia: Using Food and Cigarettes, Muslim Merchants Converting Christians to Islam in Papua
»Indonesia: Witnesses Remember Church Bombings
Far East
»China Denies Blocking Airbus Purchases
»Chinese Diplomat Sees Airlines Turning to Boeing Over EU Tax
»South Korea’s Unification Plan: ‘No One Wants to Just Swallow Up the North’
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Nigeria: Operation Led by UK Special Forces. Italy, Informed “Only After the Fact”, Demands Explanation
»Sarkozy Threatens to End EU Passport-Free Travel
»Sarkozy Threatens to Pull France From Europe Visa-Free Zone
Culture Wars
»UK: Christians Have No Right to Wear Cross at Work, Says Government

Financial Crisis

Eurozone Finance Ministers to Meet Monday on Greek Bailout

(BRUSSELS) — Eurozone finance ministers meet Monday in Brussels to give their final approval to the second Greek bailout and discuss tightening measures to prevent a repetition of the crisis. The ministers are expected to sign off on the 130 billion euro ($171 billion) rescue programme after Greece’s private creditors approved wiping off some 100 billion euros from Athens’ debt.

Their chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, said last week after the success of the debt restructuring offer was announced, that “the necessary conditions are in place” for the bailout to go forward. Eurozone ministers, in a conference call on Friday, already approved releasing part of the 130 billion euros that is helping finance the debt swap.

However the ministers have much time for celebration as they are expected to turn their attention to troubling spending gaps in a number of the other 16 countries besides Greece that share the euro.

In particular they are expected to focus on Spain, whose Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stunned his European partners at the beginning of the month by saying that it would only be able to cut its public deficit this year to 5.8 percent of annual output, instead of the planned 4.4 percent.

“The European Commission wants to know the reasons behind this budget slippage. This issue should be discussed by the Eurogroup even though it isn’t on the formal agenda of their meeting,” said a diplomatic source.

“This situation isn’t unique to Spain,” added the diplomat, citing the Netherlands, whose deficit is forecast to rise to 4.5 percent of GDP next year according to government forecasts, above the 3.0 percent European limit.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Greece: Goldman Secret Loan is ‘Sexy Story of Sinners’

Athens, 6 March (AKI/Bloomberg) — Greece’s secret loan from Goldman Sachs Group was a costly mistake from the start.

On the day the 2001 deal was struck, the government owed the bank about 600 million euros more than the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed, said Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over the country’s debt-management agency in 2005. By then, the price of the transaction, a derivative that disguised the loan and that Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece not to test with competitors, had almost doubled to 5.1 billion euros, he said.

Papanicolaou and his predecessor, Christoforos Sardelis, revealing details for the first time of a contract that helped Greece mask its growing sovereign debt to meet European Union requirements, said the country didn’t understand what it was buying and was ill-equipped to judge the risks or costs.

“The Goldman Sachs deal is a very sexy story between two sinners,” Sardelis, who oversaw the swap as head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency from 1999 through 2004, said in an interview.

Goldman Sachs’s instant gain on the transaction illustrates the dangers to clients who engage in complex, tailored trades that lack comparable market prices and whose fees aren’t disclosed. Harvard University, Alabama’s Jefferson County and the German city of Pforzheim all have found themselves on the losing end of the one-of-a-kind private deals typically pitched to them by securities firms as means to improve their finances.

Goldman Sachs DNA

“Like the municipalities, Greece is just another example of a poorly governed client that got taken apart,” Satyajit Das, a risk consultant and author of “Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk,” said in a phone interview. “These trades are structured not to be unwound, and Goldman is ruthless about ensuring that its interests aren’t compromised — it’s part of the DNA of that organization.”

A gain of 600 million euros represents about 12 percent of the $6.35 billion in revenue Goldman Sachs reported for trading and principal investments in 2001, a business segment that includes the bank’s fixed-income, currencies and commodities division, which arranged the trade and posted record sales that year. The unit, then run by Lloyd C. Blankfein, 57, now the New York-based bank’s chairman and chief executive officer, also went on to post record quarterly revenue the following year.

‘Extremely Profitable’

The Goldman Sachs transaction swapped debt issued by Greece in dollars and yen for euros using an historical exchange rate, a mechanism that implied a reduction in debt, Sardelis said. It also used an off-market interest-rate swap to repay the loan. Those swaps allow counterparties to exchange two forms of interest payment, such as fixed or floating rates, referenced to a notional amount of debt.

The trading costs on the swap rose because the deal had a notional value of more than 15 billion euros, more than the amount of the loan itself, said a former Greek official with knowledge of the transaction who asked not to be identified because the pricing was private. The size and complexity of the deal meant that Goldman Sachs charged proportionately higher trading fees than for deals of a more standard size and structure, he said.

“It looks like an extremely profitable transaction for Goldman,” said Saul Haydon Rowe, a partner in Devon Capital LLP, a London-based firm that advises global investors on derivatives disputes.

Disappearing Debt

Goldman Sachs declined to comment about how much it made on the swaps. Fiona Laffan, a spokeswoman for the firm in London, said the agreements were executed in accordance with guidelines provided by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency.

“Greece actually executed the swap transactions to reduce its debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio because all member states were required by the Maastricht Treaty to show an improvement in their public finances,” Laffan said in an e- mail. “The swaps were one of several techniques that many European governments used to meet the terms of the treaty.”

Cross-currency swaps are contracts borrowers use to convert foreign currency debt into a domestic-currency obligation using the market exchange rate. As first reported in 2003, Goldman Sachs used a fictitious, historical exchange rate in the swaps to make about 2 percent of Greece’s debt disappear from its national accounts. To repay the 2.8 billion euros it borrowed from the bank, Greece entered into a separate swap contract tied to interest-rate swings.

Falling bond yields caused that bet to sour, and tweaks to the deal failed to prevent the debt from almost doubling in size by the time the swap was restructured in August 2005.

Greece, which last month secured a second, 130 billion-euro bailout, is sitting on debt equal to about 160 percent of its GDP as of last year.

Eurostat Rules

Under Eurostat accounting rules, nations were permitted until 2008 to use so-called off-market rates in swaps to manage their debt. Greek officials, including Sardelis, say they learned that other EU countries such as Italy had employed similar methods to shrink their debts, taking advantage of the secrecy of over-the-counter derivatives compared with swaps traded on exchanges.

Eurostat said Greece didn’t report the Goldman Sachs transactions in 2008 when the agency told countries to restate their accounts.

“The Greek authorities had never informed Eurostat about this complex issue and no opinion on the accounting treatment had been requested,” the Luxembourg-based agency said in a statement last month.

Eurostat said it had only “general” discussions with financial institutions on its debt and deficit guidelines when the swap was executed in 2001. “It is possible that Goldman Sachs asked us for general clarifications,” Eurostat said, declining to elaborate.

Loudiadis Role

Bloomberg News filed a lawsuit at the EU’s General Court seeking disclosure of European Central Bank documents on Greece’s use of derivatives to hide loans. Releasing such information could damage the commercial interests of the ECB’s counterparties, hurt banks and markets, and undermine the economic policy of Greece and the EU, the central bank said last May in a response to the suit. A judgment is pending.

Sardelis, 61, and Papanicolaou, 72, said several banks, including Goldman Sachs, made proposals to manage Greece’s debt. The bank was represented by its top European sales executive at the time, Addy Loudiadis. She was trusted, said Papanicolaou, because she had helped price competitors’ derivatives and in 1999 warned the Greeks against buying a complex swap.

Sardelis, a former bank economist, described Loudiadis, who’s based in London, as “very professional — a little bit aggressive as is everyone at Goldman Sachs.”

‘Teaser Rate’

The derivative Loudiadis offered Sardelis in 2001 was also complex. Designed to provide a cheap way to repay 2.8 billion euros, the swap had a “teaser rate,” or a three-year grace period, after which Greece would have 15 years to repay Goldman Sachs, Sardelis said. All in, the deal appeared cheap to officials at the time, he said.

“We calculated that this had an extra cost above our normal funding cost on the yield curve of 15 basis points,” Sardelis said. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

Loudiadis, now CEO of Rothesay Life, a Goldman Sachs unit that insures longevity risk for U.K. corporate pension plans, declined to comment, a company spokeswoman said.

‘Very Bad Bet’

Sardelis said he realized three months after the deal was signed that it was more complex than he appreciated. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., bond yields plunged as stock markets sold off worldwide. That caused a mark-to-market loss on the swap for Greece because of the formula used by Goldman Sachs to compute Greece’s repayments over time.

“If you calculated that when we did it, it looked very nice because the yield curve had a certain shape,” Sardelis said. “But after Sept. 11, we realized this would be the wrong formula. So after we discussed it with Goldman Sachs, we decided to change to a simpler formula.”

The revised deal proposed by the bank and executed in 2002, was to base repayments on what was then a new kind of derivative — an inflation swap linked to the euro-area harmonized index of consumer prices. An inflation swap is a financial bet that pays off according to the degree to which a consumer-price index exceeds or falls short of a pre-specified level at maturity.

That didn’t work out well for Greece either. Bond yields fell, pushing the government’s losses to 5.1 billion euros, according to an analysis commissioned by Papanicolaou. It was “a very bad bet,” he said in an interview.

“This is even more reprehensible,” Papanicolaou said of the revised deal. “Goldman asked them to make a change that actually made things even worse because they went into an inflation swap.”

Confidentiality Requirement

Greece was handicapped, in part, by the terms Goldman Sachs imposed, he said.

“Sardelis couldn’t actually do what every debt manager should do when offered something, which is go to the market to check the price,” said Papanicolaou, who retired in 2010. “He didn’t do that because he was told by Goldman that if he did that, the deal is off.”

Sardelis declined to comment about the analysis, as did Petros Christodoulou, director general of the debt-management agency since February 2010.

It isn’t unusual for dealers to impose confidentiality requirements on clients in complex transactions to prevent traders from using the information to front-run or trade against the bank arranging and hedging the deal, said a former official who analyzed the swap and asked not to be named because the details are private.

‘Large Number’

Goldman Sachs’s initial 600 million-euro gross profit “sounds like a large number, but you have to take into account what the bank will be setting aside as a credit reserve, the cost to Goldman to fund the loan and the cost of hedging the currency component,” said Peter Shapiro, managing director of Swap Financial Group LLC in South Orange, New Jersey, an independent swaps adviser. “It’s hard to tell what the profit margin would have been.”

The report Papanicolaou commissioned after taking over the agency showed the repayment formula meant that Greece would have to pay Goldman Sachs 400 million euros a year, he said. The coupon and the mark-to-market swings on the swap prompted George Alogoskoufis, then finance minister, to decide to restructure the deal again to limit losses, Papanicolaou said.

Loudiadis and a team of Goldman Sachs advisers returned to Athens in August 2005, according to former Greek officials. The agreement they reached to transfer the swap to National Bank of Greece SA and extend the maturity to 2037 from 2019, gave the Greeks what they wanted, Papanicolaou said.

‘Squeeze Taxpayers’

The 5.1 billion-euro mark-to-market value of the swap was “locked in,” Papanicolaou said. It was that politically motivated decision to restructure and fix the increased market value that did as much damage as the original swap, said Sardelis, now a board member of Ethniki General Insurance Co., a subsidiary of National Bank of Greece.

“You can’t have prudent debt management if you change all the assumptions all the time,” he said.

Gustavo Piga, a professor of economics at University of Rome Tor Vergata and author of “Derivatives and Public Debt Management,” sees a different lesson.

“In secret deals, intermediaries have the upper hand and use it to squeeze taxpayers,” Piga said in an interview. “The bargaining power is in investment banks’ hands.”

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

Ireland Confirms EU-IMF Debt Negotiations

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan confirmed on Sunday that Dublin is negotiating with its international creditors the restructuring of Ireland’s banking debts, RTE reports. If international creditors agree, the burden of loss-making mortgages would be lifted from some of the banks.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy-German Bond Spread Unvaried Since Friday

Positive performance against Spanish bonds continues

(ANSA) — Rome, March 5 — The spread between Italian and German 10-year bonds closed at 310.4 points Monday, practically unvaried from Friday’s close at 310.7 points, while the yield was slightly up to 4.96%.

Italy’s 10-year bonds closed the gap on the Spanish Bonos with a yield of 4.97%, continuing Friday’s positive performance in Italy’s favor for the first time since August.

The spread between the German Bund and Spanish Bonos closed at 318.1 points on Monday.

Both the bond spread and yield are considered important financial-market confidence indicators of Italy’s economic strength against the eurozone crisis.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Google Isn’t ‘Leveraging Its Dominance,’ It’s Fighting to Avoid Obsolescence

Six months may not seem a great deal of time in the general business world, but in the Internet space it’s a lifetime as new websites, tools and features are introduced every day that change where and how users get and share information. The rise of Facebook is a great example: The social networking platform that didn’t exist in early 2004 filed paperwork last month to launch what is expected to be one of the largest IPOs in history. To put it in perspective, Ford Motor went public nearly 40 years after it was founded.

This incredible pace of innovation is seen throughout the Internet, and since Google’s public disclosure of its Federal Trade Commission antitrust investigation just this past June, there have been many dynamic changes to the landscape of the Internet search market. And as the needs and expectations of consumers continue to evolve, Internet search must adapt — and quickly — to shifting demand.

One noteworthy development was the release of Siri by Apple, which was introduced to the world in late 2011 on the most recent iPhone. Today, many consider it the best voice recognition application in history, but its potential really lies in its ability revolutionize the way we search the Internet, answer questions and consume information…


The search box, once needed to connect us with information on the web, is dead or dying. In its place is an application that feels intuitive and personal. Siri has become a near-indispensible entry point, and search engines are merely the back-end. And while a new feature, Siri’s expansion is inevitable. In fact, it is rumored that Apple is diligently working on Siri-enabled televisions — an entirely new market for the company.


Expanding consumer welfare requires that Google, like its ever-shifting roster of competitors, must be able to keep up with the pace and the unanticipated twists and turns of innovation. As The Economist recently said, “Kodak was the Google of its day,” and the analogy is decidedly apt. Without the drive or ability to evolve and reinvent itself, its products and its business model, Kodak has fallen to its competitors in the marketplace. Once revered as a powerhouse of technological innovation for most of its history, Kodak now faces bankruptcy because it failed to adapt to its own success. Having invented the digital camera, Kodak radically altered the very definition of its market. But by hewing to its own metaphorical ten blue links — traditional film — instead of understanding that consumer photography had come to mean something dramatically different, Kodak consigned itself to failure.

[Return to headlines]

Gun Sales in America Soar … Again

by J.D. Longstreet

e very possible reelection of Barrack Obama for another four years as President of the United States is frightening the living daylights out of Americans. So, they are buying up guns and ammunition at yet another record rate just as they did in 2008. There are already shortages of weapons and ammo in parts of the country.

As folks have observed the Republican primaries, watched the debates, and considered the polls, they are becoming more and more convinced that not only will the republican candidate for President lose, but he will lose big.

Added to that fear is yet another — that Obama, with another four years and no worries about having to stand for reelection, will toss the Second Amendment out on its ear. His disregard for the US Constitution has become something of legend here in America’s southland.

The fear that with a second term of Obama, the country will quickly sink into total anarchy is driving Americans to seek some kind of security and protection for themselves and for their families.

The possibility that Obama will ignore the Second Amendment is not as ridiculous as it might sound at first. By now, Americans have witnessed Obama’s abuse of the power of the Executive Order. It is a powerful tool in the hands of any President. But, in the hands of a socialist president, it can be an offensive weapon to strike deep into the heart of American freedom. THAT is why so many Americans no longer feel protected by the US Constitution.


[Return to headlines]

How a Nuclear Bomb Could Save Earth From an Asteroid

A well-placed nuclear explosion could actually save humanity from a big asteroid hurtling toward Earth, just like in the movies, a new study suggests.

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a United States Department of Energy facility in New Mexico, used a supercomputer to model nukes’ anti-asteroid effectiveness. They attacked a 1,650-foot-long (500-meter) space rock with a 1-megaton nuclear weapon — about 50 times more powerful than the U.S. blast inflicted on Nagasaki, Japan, to help end World War II.

“Ultimately this 1-megaton blast will disrupt all of the rocks in the rockpile of this asteroid, and if this were an Earth-crossing asteroid, would fully mitigate the hazard represented by the initial asteroid itself,” Los Alamos scientist Bob Weaver said in a recent video released by the lab.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

LAX Bomb Plotter’s Sentence in 2005 Overturned

The 9th Circuit rules Ahmed Ressam’s 22-year sentence for the attempted bombing of Los Angeles International Airport was unreasonably lenient.

A 22-year sentence was unreasonably lenient for Al Qaeda-trained terrorist Ahmed Ressam, who drove a trunk full of powerful explosives into the United States from Canada with the intent of bombing Los Angeles International Airport, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The 7-4 ruling by the full U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to a Seattle federal judge for resentencing with the recommendation that the Algerian-born prisoner be given a term more in line with federal sentencing guidelines that call for 65 years to life for the offenses for which Ressam was convicted.

Disputes over the appropriate punishment for Ressam have roiled the federal courts for more than a decade, as the young Algerian, who was intercepted as he entered Washington state on a ferry from Canada, initially cooperated with U.S. counterterrorism agents, exposing the inner workings of the global terror network and helping identify and convict other extremists.

But Ressam ceased cooperating with national security agents after two years, citing a fading memory and mental trauma from his harsh confinement at a federal detention facility in Seattle.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, who oversaw Ressam’s 2001 trial and conviction on nine criminal charges, sentenced Ressam to 22 years in 2005, rejecting the government’s urging of at least a 35-year term. Coughenour said the need to balance the severity of Ressam’s planned attack and his contributions to the fight against terror was the most difficult decision he faced in 24 years on the federal bench. Ressam had identified 150 jihadists to U.S. intelligence agents and testified in two trials that resulted in convictions, the judge noted.

The government appealed, and a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit struck down the sentence on procedural grounds in 2008. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit, sending the case back to Coughenour, who again imposed the 22-year term. A 9th Circuit panel vacated that sentence two years ago and ordered that a different judge decide how much time Ressam should serve.

That order was put on hold when the appeals court agreed to reconsider the case with a full 11-judge panel last year, leading to Monday’s ruling that 22 years was too light a sentence for the serious terrorism offenses for which Ressam was convicted.

The 11-judge panel said a more appropriate sentence would be in the range set by federal guidelines, suggesting that Ressam remain in prison for what may be the rest of his life. The four dissenting judges, all appointees of Democratic presidents, said the district court’s judgment should be respected.

Ressam would be 51 when released from prison if the 22-year sentence were left in place, the appeals court majority pointed out. The judges agreed with the government that national security could be in jeopardy if Ressam were freed at that relatively young age.

[Return to headlines]

My Muslim President Obama

I know President Obama is not Muslim, but I am tempted nevertheless to think that he is, as are most Muslims I know. In a very unscientific oral poll, ranging from family members to Muslim acquaintances, many of us feel, just as African-Americans did for the non-black but culturally leaning African-American President Bill Clinton, that we have our first American Muslim president in Barack Hussein Obama.

I know it’s odd to say this. At first, I thought I was the only Muslim engaging in this folly, and I am reluctant to express it lest right-wing zealots try to use “Muslim” as a smear and cite my theory as proof of an Islamic traitor in the White House or some such nonsense. But, since Election Day, I have been part of more and more conversations with Muslims in which it was either offhandedly agreed that Obama is Muslim or enthusiastically blurted out. In commenting on our new president, “I have to support my fellow Muslim brother,” would slip out of my mouth before I had a chance to think twice.

“Well, I know he’s not really Muslim,” I would quickly add. But if the person I was talking to was Muslim, they would say, “yes he is.” They would cite his open nature and habit of reaching out to critics, reminiscent of the Prophet Muhammad’s own approach, and also Obama’s middle name, Hussein. Most of the Muslims I know (me included) can’t seem to accept that Obama is not Muslim

Of the few Muslims I polled who said that Obama is not Muslim, even they conceded that he had ties to Islam. These realists said that, although not an avowed and practicing Muslim, Obama’s exposure to Islam at a young age (both through his father and his stint in Indonesia) has given him a Muslim sensibility. In my book, that makes you a Muslim—maybe not a card-carrying one, but part of the flock for sure. One realist Muslim ventured that Obama worships at a Unitarian Church because it represents the middle ground between Christianity and Islam, incorporating the religious beliefs of the two faiths Obama feels connected to. Unitarianism could be Obama’s way of still being a Muslim.


[Return to headlines]

Study Finds 18 Percent of Social Media Users Block, ‘Unfriend’ Over Politics

About 18 percent of social media users have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone because of political material the person posted online, a study released Monday by the Pew Center found.

Users said they cut off contact with someone if that person posted too frequently about politics, posted something offensive or argued about politics online.

People usually block distant friends or acquaintances, not close friends or family members. But about a third of those who have cut off social media contact with a person over politics say they have ended contact with a close friend or family member.

Two-thirds of users said they usually ignore political posts that they disagree with, while 28 percent said they usually respond and 5 percent said it depends on the circumstances.

About a fifth of users said they avoid making any political comments for fear of offending others. But 38 percent said they have posted positive comments in response to a political post and 47 percent said they have pressed the “Like” button on a political post on Facebook.

The study found that the people who post the most often about politics are usually either very liberal or very conservative.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Delors Concerned by Loss of European Democracy

Busy with austerity and euro crisis, European leaders are creating an undemocratic EU, where smaller countries have little say, former commission president Jacques Delors told Danish newspaper Politiken. “Anything other than the euro is in effect being ignored, Germany has taken power, while France is trying to keep up.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Fico’s Huge Majority in Slovakia Vote is ‘Dangerous’

German media commentators have their doubts about left-wing populist Robert Fico, who won Sunday’s general election in Slovakia with an overwhelming majority, giving him the same degree of power as his controversial Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban. Editorialists warn Fico may undo reforms that have made Slovakia a success story.

Slovakia’s center-left leader Robert Fico scored a landslide election victory over the weekend with his Smer party. The former lawyer swept the conservative SDKU party of Foreign Minister Mikulas Dzurinda from power in the early election, called after the cabinet fell apart in a row over the euro rescue fund last October after just 15 months in office. It has been acting in a caretoker role since then.

Fico, who was prime minister from 2006 until 2010, pledged to uphold the outgoing government’s commitment to cut Slovakia’s budget deficit and support efforts to strengthen the euro zone. Slovakia’s European Union partners were angry at Slovakia’s refusal to contribute to the first bailout of Greece and the government’s delay of plans to strengthen the euro bailout fund for troubled countries.

“The European Union can lean on Smer because we realize that Slovakia, as a small country living in Europe and wanting to live in Europe … desires to maintain the euro zone and the euro as a strong European currency,” Fico said at his party headquarters.

Final, unofficial results showed Smer took 44.4 percent of the vote on Saturday, giving it 83 of parliament’s 150 seats. Damaged by allegations of graft, Dzurinda’s party won just 6.1 percent, less than half of what it garnered in 2010.

The size of the victory has led to comparisons with the sweeping win by Hungary’s center-right Fidesz party of Viktor Orban in 2010. Fico and Orban, though at opposite ends of the political spectrum, are both seen as populists prone to nationalist rhetoric, and both have harangued the press and passed controversial media laws, as well as criticizing foreign-owned companies operating in their countries.

Fico has vowed to raise taxes on the rich, doubling a tax on bank deposits to 0.7 percent, raising corporate tax to 22 percent from 19 percent, and raising income tax for those earning over €33,000 ($43,200) per year. He has also criticized reforms by the previous government that made it easier to hire and fire workers.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Finland: EU Countries Lack Will for Joint Foreign Policy

BRUSSELS — Finland’s foreign minister has said EU countries are more divided on foreign policy now than before the Lisbon Treaty came along. Erkki Tuomioja made the remarks after informal talks with his EU counterparts in Copenhagen on Friday (9 March) and Saturday.

“The real problem is with member states and their willingness to work together — this should be a basic pre-condition when we start a discussion on this or that subject, there should be no red lines … (But) the commitment to this is actually less than it was five years ago. The Lisbon Treaty has given us a new instrument but this is a matter of political will,” he told EUobserver by phone from the Danish capital.

He gave as an example the UK’s opposition to creating a joint command centre in Brussels for EU military operations. “The UK is reluctant to go ahead with this but everybody else wants to, so we should move forward,” he noted.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France: Sarko Junior Pelts Police Woman With Tomatoes

The 15-year-old son of President Sarkozy was in trouble after throwing tomatoes and other pellets at a policewoman guarding the Elysée Palace where the president lives.

Louis Sarkozy, the son of the president and his second wife, Cecilia, was reportedly playing with a friend at the end of last week in the courtyard of the palace. Their game became a bit boisterous and they started throwing objects at the officer. She was hit on the cheek and, on discovering the identity of the culprit, complained to her supervisor.

After news of the incident reached the president he went to apologise to the policewoman. It is not known what punishment was handed out to his son. Louis Sarkozy lives in the US with his mother, who has now remarried.

One of Sarkozy’s other sons was recently in the news after he fell ill in Ukraine and needed to be flown home on a presidential jet. In January, Pierre Sarkozy was working as a DJ at a private party in the resort city of Odessa when he was struck down by food poisoning.

Weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné reported that the president’s oldest son was flown home on a Falcon jet from the presidential squadron at a cost of around €40,000 ($52,376). The Elysée Palace said at the time the president covered part of the costs of the flight from his own pocket.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

France 2012: Sarkozy Floundering, Must Now Change

President behind in polls, will attempt shift to the right

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — Nicolas Sarkozy is officially floundering. After a few days of timid growth, the polls are once again firmly against the outgoing President, putting him 6 or 7 points adrift of his rival, Francois Hollande. The issues launched by Sarkozy during the election campaign have appeared uncertain and much less incisive than those of his Socialist opponent, who is more divisive but is playing more of a leading role. Now, hints from the Sarkozy camp suggest, it is time for a change of tack, with election issues set to be rooted on the right of the political spectrum.

Sarkozy, whose re-election appears increasingly unlikely, has been penalised by a lack of conviction as much as by the need to fit in to 20 days a process that Hollande set in motion in October. The President has now realised that he entered the fray too late to dictate the themes of the debate and that his rival took to the stage too long before him. The issues pushed forward by the Socialists have often been open to debate, but at least have the merit of being clear, while Sarkozy has been forced to cram his entire manifesto into three weeks of speeches. As a result, the election campaign has not been marked by a Sarkozy effect, with a potential gulf emerging for the election’s second round, for which Hollande has a lead in the polls of about 10 points.

For all the criticism of Hollande, including his proposal to tax income above one million euros at 75%, his ideas appear to be significantly more incisive and are leading to debate between French voters. The President’s favoured issues, meanwhile, such as immigration, have appeared to be a rehashed version of the 2007 campaign, with Sarkozy doing little to make them more aggressive. “Immigration is a problem,” wrote Sarkozy’s plume, the super-advisor Henri Guaino, ahead of the election rally in Bordeaux. In the speech, though, the President was more cautious. “Immigration is an opportunity but can become a problem”. Now, say campaign staff, the time has come to step up a gear before it is too late.

One of the key issues of the debate is connected to Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, who is still a few dozen signatures from deputies, mayors and consultants short of being able to present her bid for the presidency.

If Le Pen officially joins the campaign, Sarkozy’s bid will be made even more difficult, with the far-right returned to its leader and no longer a hunting ground for the President. Security is set to bounce back to the top of the outgoing President’s agenda. However, there is no longer room for slip-ups or gaffes, such as the grotesque sortie by Marine Le Pen on halal meat, which she said is invading Paris. The President will instead aim for a more reassuring right-wing campaign, against illegal immigration but guaranteeing the rights of those who reside on French soil and respect the rules.

It is a delicate operation, and one that Nicolas Sarkozy is forced to carry out with some desperation, with a little under two months until polling day.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Imam Dies in Mosque Arson Attack in Anderlecht, Belgium

An imam has been killed in a fire at a Shia mosque in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht, in what is believed to have been a deliberate attack.

Anderlecht Mayor Vincent Van Goidsenhoven was quoted by local media as saying the suspect threw a petrol bomb at the mosque.

Initial reports say the imam, 47, died of smoke inhalation and that one other person was injured.

Local media reports say dozens of people have gathered near the mosque.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Italy Summons Indian Ambassador Over Jailed Marines

Measures are ‘unacceptable’, Foreign Minister Terzi says

(ANSA) — Rome, March 6 — Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi summoned the Indian ambassador to Rome on Tuesday over the “unacceptable” jailing of two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen.

The diplomatic row between the countries escalated on Monday when Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were sent to a prison in the Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram.

Terzi also told the ambassador that the special treatment the marines were being given, including “alternative detainment” outside the state prison and freedom to wear their uniforms, was “not sufficient”, a spokesman said.

The marines, who were guarding an Italian merchant ship from pirate attacks when the fishermen were killed, had been detained in police custody since the incident in the middle of last month.

Italy says it should have jurisdiction for the case as the officers were aboard an Italian vessel in international waters, but the Indian authorities do not agree. The Italian government also believes that, regardless of who has jurisdiction, the marines should be exempt from prosecution in India as they were military personnel working on an anti-piracy mission. Italy has said the marines fired warning shots from the merchant ship they were guarding, the Enrica Lexie, after coming under attack from pirates. It said they followed the proper international procedures for dealing with pirate attacks, which are frequent in the Indian Ocean. The Indian authorities, on the other hand, said the marines failed to show sufficient “restraint” by opening fire after mistaking the fishermen for pirates.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Poland Blocks Tougher CO2 Limits

Poland Friday blocked an attempt to set green goals for the EU beyond the current reduction of 20% CO2 emissions by 2020. It refused to sign up to a long-term aim to reduce the bloc’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The commission promised to pursue a low-carbon roadmap anyway.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Three in Four Rosengård Children ‘Live in Poverty’

In the Malmö district of Rosengård over 70 percent of children are living in relative poverty, according to fresh figures from Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån, SCB), which measures the growing economic divides across the country. “It is unfortunately a trend that we can see all over Europe, that the gap between certain groups is widening,” said Hans Swärd, professor of social work at the Lund University, to news agency TT.

At the behest of the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), Statistics Sweden has measured poverty levels among Sweden’s children and youth. The figures build on how many families have a disposable income 60 percent below the average for the population.

“It is a recognized EU-measurement to assess financial vulnerability. In the calculations one allows for the size of the family and the number of adults,” said Petter Wikström, SCB statistician, to TT. The results show that the number of poor children differs across Sweden, with Rosengård standing out from the rest.

There, 71 percent of all children are living in poverty, compared to 51 in the Stockholm suburb Rinkeby/Kista and 50 in Gothenburg’s Angered. In Stockholm suburbs Danderyd and Täby, however, the corresponding number is six percent.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Swiss Central Bank in New Trading Controversy

The Swiss central bank is in the spotlight for the second time in three months over alleged currency trading by a key official during sensitive times for policy over the Swiss franc. An audit by accounting firm KPMG, published last week, alleged that an executive member of the Swiss National Bank, Jean-Pierre Danthine, had sold €126,000 ($165,280) for francs in May 2010 before the SNB stopped its interventions to support the franc when it was weak.

However the audit stressed that he had not acted for personal profit. A senior leader in the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), Christoph Blocher, said on Monday that the central bank should consider his situation. “We’ll have to see whether Danthine can survive or not,” Blocher was quoted as saying in the Sonntag newspaper.

His remark followed the resignation of the chairman of the bank, Philipp Hildebrand, in January when it was found that his wife had engaged in a currency trade a few weeks before the bank put a €1.20 limit on the Swiss franc because it was too strong, driven up by a flight to safety in view of the eurozone debt crisis.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union and so is not a member of the eurozone, but the bank in general tries to manage monetary policy to shadow eurozaone policy, given the high exposure of the Swiss economy to trade with the EU. KPMG examined personal financial transactions of central bank board members after Hildebrand stepped down.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Pro-Palestinian Bias of Europe’s Foreign Policy Elite

by Peter Martino

It does not often happen that a cabinet minister loses his temper and starts scolding a parliamentarian of his own party. Last week, however, William Hague, the normally even-tempered British Foreign Secretary and one of the most influential politicians of the governing Conservative Party, lost his cool in a heated discussion with thirty MPs belonging to the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI). The MPs accused Haig of being part of a “bigoted” Foreign Office plot against Israel.

“The Foreign Office is not pro-Palestinian. I’ve never heard such claptrap,” an angry Haig snapped at Douglas Carswell MP when the latter told Haig that he is “under the thumb” of “pro-Arabist” diplomats in the Foreign Office. “The Foreign Office displays a kind of bigotry towards Israel,” Carswell said. “The whole idea of self-determination in the Middle East is anathema to some Foreign Office people. It is anti-Israel just as it is pro-EU.”

Haig reacted by calling Carswell a “fantasist” who is “talking total nonsense.” Carswell, however, was not alone in his criticism. James Arbuthnot MP, a respected senior Tory, called on Haig to be “more constructive” and not “alienate” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Haig had recently called “belligerent.” Robert Halfon MP told Hague: “The Foreign Office has not done enough to stop the delegitimization of Israel. We must speak up for its right to exist.”

Others were equally critical. Nick Boles MP claimed that Britain had not done enough to condemn the Palestinian National Authority for glorifying suicide bombers. Hindu MP Priti Patel, one of the young upcoming women in the Conservative Party, said: “We must be more critical of the Palestinians for not giving up violence.” Andrew Percy MP added: “We give the Palestinians money to help the poor, but they spend it on hate education.”

When Carswell insisted and told Haig, “Ministers are supposed to direct officials, not the other way round. You are being one-sided and saying completely unacceptable things about a fellow democratic country,” Haig replied: “It is completely untrue to suggest I have been taken captive by the Foreign Office. I overrule their advice all the time.” With this remark, Haig implicitly acknowledged that the Foreign Office is, indeed, biased against Israel.

The Palestinian Authority gets £86 million ($135 million) of British aid a year. Last year, it was revealed that the PA had given £5 million in compensation to the families of terrorists who had died while perpetrating their terrorist activities and another £3 million to 5,500 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The payments, using taxpayers’ cash donated from Britain and the European Union, were described by Conservative MP Philip Davies as “ludicrous” and “utterly inexcusable.” However, Britain has not cut back its aid to the PA.

The diplomats of the British Foreign Office share most of the opinions of their colleagues in the other member states of the European Union (EU). They belong to the cosmopolitan elite which favors the transfer of national sovereignty to the EU institutions in Brussels and the latter’s political goal of transforming Europe into a genuine federal state. It is highly paradoxical, but the foreign departments of the various European states, which were once established with the explicit goal of furthering their nation’s national interests and defending its sovereignty, have today come to loathe that very task.

They are as pro-EU as they are anti-Israel, says Carswell. It is as if they despise Israel because it is one of the last Western nations which unashamedly defends its national interests in a way which European nations no longer dare or want to do. Hence, the reproach to Netanyahu that he is “belligerent.”

Apart from bilateral aid to the Palestinians, Britain also gives large amounts to the PA through the European Union. The EU started funding the Palestinians in 1971. These funds dramatically increased after the signing of the Oslo Agreements in 1994. Since the start of the Second Intifada in 2000, the EU aid, which was initially given in the form of development assistance, has focused on direct support to the Palestinian Authority and the development of the PA’s institutions.

The EU does not seem tot mind that the PA is rife with corruption. In 2005, the EU anti-fraud office OLAF investigated allegations of abuse of funding by the PA to support terrorist activities. OLAF found “no conclusive evidence” of abuse, although it admitted that “the possibility of misuse of the Palestinian Authority’s budget and other resources cannot be excluded, due to the fact that the internal and external audit capacity in the Palestinian Authority is still underdeveloped.”

Rather than suspending its financial support, the EU increased it. While the European governments are imposing austerity measures on their own taxpayers, these taxpayers are being asked to give ever more money to the Palestinians. Last year, the European Parliament decided to raise Europe’s aid to the Palestinians by €100 million ($130 million).

The pro-Palestinian bias of the British and European foreign policy establishment makes little sense unless one sees it in the broader picture of the EU’s attempts to forge an alliance with the Islamic world.

In her book Eurabia, historian Bat Ye’or argues that the EU authorities are creating a European-Arab axis. In fact, the idea of a Euro-Islamic Alliance is much older than the EU, which was established in 1957. It was already present during a meeting of the British Cabinet’s Palestine Committee on April 20, 1939, in which Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told his Cabinet that it was of “immense importance” from the point of view of strategy, “to have the Moslem world with us;” he added: “If we must offend one side, let us offend the Jews rather than the Arabs.”

The plan to sacrifice the Jews to an Arab appeasement policy resurfaced after the 1973 oil crisis, when the Arab countries used oil as a weapon against countries which had allied themselves with Israel in the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War of that same year. In exchange for a guaranteed steady supply of oil, the EU promised to give the Arab countries technological and economic assistance, to take in large numbers of Arab immigrants, who would be allowed to preserve their own culture, and to forge a joint EU-Arab foreign policy.

Bat Ye’or cites official documents, agreements and “directives” (pieces of EU legislation) to prove her thesis. “Eurabia,” she says, “represents a geo-political reality envisaged in 1973 through a system of informal alliances between, on the one hand … the European Union (EU) … and on the other hand, the Mediterranean Arab countries. … This system was synchronised under the roof of an association called the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD) created in July 1974 in Paris. A working body composed of committees and always presided jointly by a European and an Arab delegate planned the agendas, and organized and monitored the application of the decisions.”

Bat Ye’or argues that the fear of losing Arab oil even led the European establishment to accept an “oil for immigrants” policy. She fears that Europeans will never be able to liberate themselves from Eurabia. “It is a project that was conceived, planned and pursued consistently through immigration policy, propaganda, church support, economic associations and aid, cultural, media and academic collaboration. Generations grew up within this political framework; they were educated and conditioned to support it and go along with it.”

Perhaps, however, Bat Ye’or is too pessimistic. The establishment of groups such as Conservative Friends of Israel shows that Europe still has perceptive and courageous politicians who speak out in defense of Israel. It is no coincidence that the same people stand for their own national interests and sovereignty. Europe’s freedom and independence is best served by standing side by side with Israel.

[Return to headlines]


Croatian MPs Vote Yes to EU Membership

All 136 MPs in the Croatian parliament on Friday voted Yes on joining the EU. EU countries have signed the accession treaty, but must still ratify the text in each of their 27 legislatures before the Balkan country can become the 28th EU member in July next year.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Tunisia: Dean Beaten by Salafite Students for Opposing Niqab

Forced to escape to police station

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 6 — The dean of the Literature and Life Sciences Faculty of the Tunisian University of Manouba has been attacked in his office by Salafite students, because he refuses to allow students wearing a niqab, a full Muslim veil, to take lectures. Habib Kazdaghli, Tunisie Numeique reports, was in his office when two Salafite students came in, turning the place upside-down. The two may have asked other Salafite students to give them a hand. At that moment Habib Kazdaghli decided to take shelter at the police station of Manouba. Reinforcements are currently arriving at the station.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Muslim Extremists and Terrorists Taking Advantage of Syria’s Revolution

Sources tell AsiaNews that al-Qaeda operatives are in Syria to pursue the jihad. The interests of the Arab League are fuelling the climate of hatred and violence, reducing hope for a lasting diplomatic solution.

Damascus (AsiaNews) — “Muslim extremists are hijacking the pro-democracy movement that came out of the March demonstrations of young unemployed Syrians,” sources told AsiaNews. In their view, what started out as peaceful protests against the regime has morphed into an armed struggle that is leading the country in the direction of a bloody civil war.

“So many interests are involved in the fight against Assad, and not all of them with the well-being of the Syrian people at heart,” the sources said. “Foreign Muslim terrorists, some from al Qaeda, have joined the ranks of the rebels. They are in Syria to fight a jihad against the regime and defend the interests of countries in the Arab League. This is fuelling a climate of violence and hatred and is undermining hope for a diplomatic solution based on talks between the parties.”

“People are afraid,” they added. “A curfew has been imposed on Damascus. The city is divided between those who are in favour of the regime and those in favour of the rebels. The same is true in other cities.” For the sources, Syria is at impasse as violence begets counter-violence.

The recent constitutional referendum highlighted these divisions. Although the new constitution ends the Baa’th party monopoly of power, opening society and politics to pluralism, contrary to the claims that 87 per cent voted Yes (with a 57 per cent turnout), the actual results indicate that less 50 per cent of those who cast their ballot were in favour of the new constitution. “Such a result hurts the regime, but also the opposition, which failed in its boycott campaign,” the sources said.

Meanwhile in Homs, fighting between troops loyal to Assad family and the rebels of the Free Syrian Army continue.

This morning, the Red Cross was able to bring aid to Syrian refugees who fled the violence in the city’s Baba Amr district. The latter has suffered the brunt of the fighting and remains off limits to aid workers.

Today, Arab League General Secretary Nabil al-Arabi announced that Syrian authorities have accepted Kofi Annan as a special UN envoy. He is scheduled to arrive in Damascus next Saturday.

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

Turkey: Journalist in Isolation for a Year

Balbay among most well-known of more than 100 in jail

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 29 — One of the most well-known of the more than a hundred Turkish journalists in prison, Mustafa Balbay, has been in isolation for a year, according to the Turkish newspaper Vatan, which has focussed its attention on the detainment of journalists, one of the most widely-criticised aspects of Turkish democracy, which aspires to be a model for the Middle East.

The newspaper says that Balbay has been in prison for almost three years (since March 6 2009) and until last year was the cellmate of another journalist awaiting sentencing, Tuncay Ozkan, who was arrested earlier still (in September 2007). Both have been in isolated cells since February 28 last year. On Saturday, journalists, intellectuals and deputies will march in Istanbul in support of Balbay and Ozkan, who are accused of having a role in an attempted coup against the Turkish Islamic government organised by the presumed ultra-secular subversive organisation “Ergenekon”, and who have been held in detention for years, despite continuing to protest their innocence.

At the end of January, the Platform for solidarity with imprisoned journalists claimed that 105 employees from the information sector were being held in Turkish prisons, “the highest number in the world”. Even when the total stood at 97, and included publishers and distributors, the union of Turkish journalists said that the figure was worse than that of China. Those most widely arrested are Kurds accused of being complicit in pro-independence terrorist acts by the PKK.

The Turkish government claims that, with the exception of a handful of cases, none of the journalists are in prison as a result of their writing, but only for terror or, at least “common” crimes (forgery of documents, illegal phone-hacking and even sexual abuse). There has been widespread criticism and concern over press freedom in Turkey from the EU (both the European Commission and the European Parliament), the European Council the OECD, the USA, associations, intellectuals and the Turkish opposition. Tables such as the World Press Freedom Index and the figures drawn up by the World Economic Forum put Turkey at the very bottom of press freedom standings (respectively 138th out of 179 and third bottom). There is also the issue of political pressure on the information sector, which includes tax fines (imposed on the Dogan publishing group, which was once known as an “opposition” group), court cases for libel (as in the sentence of the leader writer Erbil Tusalp, which was overturned this month by the European Court of Human Rights) and nepotism (the Prime Minister’s son-in-law manages a major holding company with interests in the publishing sector).

The government, through the Minister for European Affairs, Egemen Bagis, denies that there is a problem of press freedom in Turkey, but has said that it is tired of criticism and is looking at the country’s penal code and the law governing the sector.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


‘Eurasian Union’ Publishes First Foreign Policy Statement

The governments of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia have issued a joint statement saying the EU should not impose economic sanctions on Belarus. The three countries have formed a Customs Union and plan to create a quasi-EU “Eurasian Union” in the coming years.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Asia

India — Italy: More Than 230,000 Fishermen Protest Against Local Authorities

Fishermen demand greater security and protection at sea, including satellite communications, an emergency hotline and a beefed-up coast guard. The case against the Italian marines continues. “We are waiting for the ballistic test. It is the only way to find the truth,” Quilon parish priest says.

Kochi (AsiaNews) — More than 230,000 Christian, Hindu and Muslim fishermen met in front of government buildings today in Thiruvananthapuram to call on the authorities to ensure greater security at sea. “This is a special event,” said Quilon parish priest, Fr Stephen Kulakkayathil. “We hope our government will heed our requests. In the past few weeks, there have been too many incidents that have affected our community.”

The worst incident occurred on 15 February, involving Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie and an Indian fishing boat, the St Anthony. Two members of the St Anthony, Gelastine and Ajesh Binki were killed. Two Italian marines on the tanker stand accused in the incident and are currently in an Indian jail.

The protest action, which started in Chingavanam, is organised by the Kerala Fisheries Joint Action Council, a group that includes trade unions and community-based organisations. At the end of the march, a petition was handed to Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.

In it, the petitioners call for the Navy, coast guard, the Shipping Ministry’s Mercantile Marine Department and unions to enforce greater maritime surveillance. More staff should also be hired as well.

An emergency hotline should be set up and satellite technology should be used to follow shipping and communicate with local fishing boats.

Families of men lost at sea should also receive greater financial aid and job offers.

The fate of the two Italian marines held in connection with the death of two Indian fishermen remains in the balance. The results of ballistic tests by Indian experts in the presence of Italian officials on weapons seized on the tankers are still pending.

Results “should come this week,” Fr Stephen said. “But they are taking too much time. It is crucial evidence. The lives of many people depend on them: the dead men’s families and the marines. If they are not guilty, we’ll still have to find the truth.” (GM)

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

Indonesia: Using Food and Cigarettes, Muslim Merchants Converting Christians to Islam in Papua

A growing number of tribal people are embracing Islam in the province. Priests and missionaries cannot easily reach remote communities and villages, whilst Muslim merchants from Java and South Sulawesi move to the province and, with the pretext of providing goods and services, attract natives.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — The eastern Indonesian province of Papua, a once largely Christian and Catholic territory, has seen a rise in conversions to Islam. The news has caused shock and disbelief among the faithful, but it comes as no surprise to local clergymen who know well the area, its people and the problems they face every day.

The crucial issue is the way mission is promoted in the province. Communities are far too often left to fend for themselves. Priests are able to visit them only a few times a year, sometimes only at Christmas and Easter. By contrast, Muslim merchants have established thriving businesses and a stable presence. They provide basic items, like cement and tobacco, and through trade, can make a breakthrough in religious matters and convert the natives.

The latest case occurred on 19 February at the Darussalam Mosque in Jatibening, East Jakarta. A tribal Asmat man, Sinentius Kayimter, from the Diocese of Timika, West Papua Province, embraced Islam taking on the name of Umbar Abdullah Kayimter. His wife and 12-year-old son, Salim Abdullah Siwir, did the same. The case was related in an Islamic newspaper, the Jakarta Republika.

In recent months, a Papua Muslim religious leader Fadzlan Garamathan spoke about the conversion of locals in the West Papuan capital of Manokwari. The paper attributes the phenomenon to two factors. First, Islam can help revive the local culture, and Muslims do not lie to locals.

Contacted by AsiaNews, a priest with many years in the Diocese of Timika, who asked his name be withheld, confirmed the trend of conversions among native Papuans and tribal people, who are increasingly attracted to Islam.

At the same time, Muslims from Java and South Sulawesi have moved to Papua to build a new life. Unofficial data indicate that 60 per cent of the population in Papua is made up of non-native outsiders. The indigenous population, mostly Christian or Catholic, are about 40 per cent. “This is why we cannot say that Papua is Christian territory.”

Poverty and backwardness are widespread in the province even though it is a treasure trove of mineral wealth, including gas, gold and other minerals.

Indigenous communities live in remote, hard-to-reach areas, which missionaries visit a few times a year, travelling on ultra-light airplanes.

Typically, Muslims are merchants who become permanent residents, open businesses such as food stands or stores selling cement or tobacco. This way, they can easily earn the trust of locals, who come to depend on them for vital supplies.

Thinking about his experience among Papuans, the priest bitterly said, “Never forget to bring tobacco,” adding, “No cigarettes, no alleluia.”

The Catholic Diocese of Timika, Papua, includes 25 parishes and at least 85,000 members spread over five regions: Teluk Cendrawasih, Paniai, Kamu-Mapia, Puncak Jaya and Mimika-Agimuga.

However, only 24 priests, 35 nuns and 4 seminarians serve the area. which covers 24 per cent of Papua Province. The latter is divided in eight districts: Biak-Numfor, Mimika, Nabire, Paniai, Puncak Jaya, Serui, Supiori, and Yapen-Waropen.

In order to travel between communities, clergymen use planes provided by the Associated Mission Aviation (AMA)

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

Indonesia: Witnesses Remember Church Bombings

Jakarta, 12 March (AKI/Jakarta Post) — Four witnesses consisting of three security guards and a police officer gave their testimonies on the Christmas Eve bombings at six Indinesian churches in 2000 at the West Jakarta District Court on Monday.

The witnesses, who were presented by prosecutors, recollected the night of the bombings, but none testified about Umar Patek’s involvement in the blasts.

Two security guards said they had been traumatized by the bombings.

“I am still traumatized. I feel cautious every time I guard a mass,” Wagyono, a guard at Kanisius church, told the trial session.

Wagyono and his friend fought the fires caused by the bomb, which was placed in a Toyota Kijang SUV in front of the church.

“Yes, I have a bit of trauma. It was something that I never imagined,” Sugiono, a security guard at the Tedja Buana building in Menteng, which is located near the church, told the court.

Both Wagyono and Sugiono heard two explosions on the street in front of their posts. Sugiono was standing guard in the lobby when the larger second blast occurred.

“I felt heat waves,” Sugiono told the panel of judges recalling the accident.

Another Tedja Buana security officer, Abdul Jamil, was on his way to the office when the explosions took place.

Iteng Waluyo, a police officer who was guarding the Anglican Church on Jl. Arief Rahman Hakim in Menteng, said that he reported a small suspicious bag to his superior. Thirty minutes later, the Gegana bomb squad secured the bag.

Patek’s lawyer Asrudin Habjani told The Jakarta Post that the witnesses only described their experiences of the bombings, but had not revealed Patek’s involvement.

“The testimonies will likely neither damage nor support Patek’s indictment as they did not reveal any connection to Patek’s acts,” Habjani said after the trial.

The 45-year-old militant, allegedly an expert bomb maker, was allegedly involved in the church bombings in 2000 and the first Bali bombing in 2002 that killed more than 200 people. Patek may face the death sentence for conspiring to commit terrorism.

Patek’s next trial session is on Thursday.

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

Far East

China Denies Blocking Airbus Purchases

China’s new ambassador to the EU, Wu Hailong, Friday denied that Beijing blocked Chinese firms from buying Airbus jets in retaliation against an EU airplane-CO2 tax, but said it “makes sense” for the companies to freeze orders themselves. EU environment commissioner Hedegaard threatened EU countermeasures if there is a freeze.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Chinese Diplomat Sees Airlines Turning to Boeing Over EU Tax

A senior Chinese diplomat said it “makes sense” for Chinese airlines to shun aircraft made in Europe, owing to an EU tax on aircraft emisssions, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. The newspaper reported that the new Chinese ambassador to the European Union in Brussels Wu Hailong told reporters that a decision by the European Union to make non-European airlines subject to the tax “contributed to the current dilemma.”

The EADS aerospace group which controls the European aircraft maker Airbus said last week that “Airbus is subjected to retaliation measures” and that “the Chinese government rejects (refuses) to approve airlines’ orders for long range airplanes.” The main competitor to Airbus, which has important interests in the Chinese market, is the US group Boeing.

The European Union has imposed a carbon tax on airlines with effect from January 1, but no carrier will face a bill until 2013 after this year’s carbon emissions have been calculated. The EU has said the emissions tax will help the 27-nation bloc achieve its goal of cutting carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and that it will not back down on the plan.

But more than two dozen countries, including China, Russia and the United States, have opposed the EU move, saying it violates international law. The newspaper quoted Wu as saying that when a Chinese airline was included in the emission tax scheme “it makes sense for them to go to Boeing.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Korea’s Unification Plan: ‘No One Wants to Just Swallow Up the North’

Is it possible that Korea will ever reunite? People in the South firmly believe it will happen — and are even starting to save up money for the massive costs it would entail. In an interview, South Korea’s unification minister, Yu Woo-ik, shares his assessment of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and what his country could learn from Germany.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria: Operation Led by UK Special Forces. Italy, Informed “Only After the Fact”, Demands Explanation

Lamolinara and other hostage die

MILAN — Italian hostage Franco Lamolinara has died during an operation by UK special forces. A British hostage, Christopher McManus, was also killed. Events unfolded at Sokoto in the north-west of Nigeria, not far from the spot where the Italian engineer was abducted on 12 May 2011. Lamolinara and his British colleague were already dead when British and Nigerian special forces secured entry to the compound where they were being held, according to Nigerian secret service sources. The men’s killers have been arrested. They are thought to belong to the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, said Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan. According to an early reconstruction of the operation published in The Times, Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara were abducted by three men, two of whom were killed in the firefight.

ITALY NOT INFORMED — The Italian Prime Minister’s Office was not given warning of the operation which was “initiated independently by the Nigerian authorities with British support, and Italian authorities were informed only when the operation started”, according to a statement issued by Palazzo Chigi. Mario Monti was informed by a phone call from David Cameron while the Italian PM was flying back to Rome from Belgrade. Mr Cameron said that the two hostages had been killed by their captors. Massimo D’Alema, who chairs COPASIR, the parliamentary defence committee, said that the committee would take action to ensure there was “full light on the reasons why the British government failed to inform the Italian government”. Mr Monti has also requested clarification and in the course of a telephone conversation asked Nigeria’s President Jonathan for a detailed account of events. The Italian PM called a meeting of CISR, the interministerial security committee, for 9 am today [Friday].

CAMERON: “IMMINENT DANGER” — On the diplomatic front, Mr Cameron expressed regret for the deaths but did not apologise to Italy. He explained that he had “authorised [the operation to rescue the two hostages] to go ahead” when “credible information” was received “after months of not knowing where they were being held”. “We also had reason to believe that [the hostages’] lives were under imminent and growing danger”, the British premier said in a television statement to announce the deaths of Mr Lamolinara and Mr McManus. Mr Cameron said that since the abduction, “we have been working closely with the Nigerian authorities to try to find Chris and Franco, and to secure their release. The terrorists holding the two hostages made very clear threats to take their lives, including a video that was posted on the internet. After months of not knowing where they were being held, we received credible information about their location. A window of opportunity arose to secure their release”, added Mr Cameron. “Preparations were made to mount an operation to attempt to rescue Chris and Franco. Together with the Nigerian government, today I authorised it to go ahead, with UK support”…

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


Sarkozy Threatens to End EU Passport-Free Travel

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has threatened to pull France out of the EU’s borderless Schengen agreement unless action is taken to reduce the number of illegal immigrants.

Speaking at an election rally on Sunday (11 March), Sarkozy said some EU member states are too lax with their borders, enabling unwanted migrants to enter France and causing a heavy burden on its social welfare system.

“At a time of economic crisis, if Europe doesn’t pick those who can enter its borders, it won’t be able to finance its welfare state any longer. We need a common discipline in border controls … We can’t leave the management of migration flows to technocrats and tribunals,” he told around 50,000 supporters at an event in the Paris suburbs ahead of the first round of voting on 22 April.

Schengen lets people travel without passport checks in its 25 participating states, including 22 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland and is seen as a landmark achievement in EU integration.

“The Schengen Agreement can no longer respond to the seriousness of the situation. It must be revised. There is a need to implement a structural reform that we have implemented for the euro,” Sarkozy said.

The anti-immigration rhetoric is widely seen as an attempt to woo those who may be thinking of voting for the far-right. Last week, the President said he would halve the number of immigrants arriving in the country if he is re-elected.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sarkozy Threatens to Pull France From Europe Visa-Free Zone

(PARIS) — President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened in a key election rally Sunday to pull France out of Europe’s 26-nation visa free zone unless the European Union does more to keep out illegal immigrants.

Sarkozy, who this week said France had too many foreigners, made the threat at a mass meeting which he hopes will turn the tide against front-running Socialist Francois Hollande with just 42 days to go before election day.

The so-called Schengen passport-free zone must urgently be overhauled to fight the flow of illegal immigration, said the right-wing leader, returning to a constant theme in his bid for five more years at the Elysee palace.

To chants of “Nicolas, president!” from the tens of thousands in the flag-waving audience, Sarkozy said unchecked immigration would put extra strain on social safety nets for Europe’s poorest.

“In the coming 12 months, (if) there is no serious progress towards this (reforming Schengen), France would then suspend its participation in the Schengen accords until negotiations conclude,” he declared.

The Schengen area is home to 400 million Europeans who can cross borders without a passport, and once inside the area illegal immigrants can theoretically move freely between the participating states.

Sarkozy accuses some EU states of having lax border controls that let in illegals who may later turn up in France. Sarkozy’s UMP party chartered TGV high-speed trains and fleets of buses to ferry supporters from across France for the rally in a cavernous exhibition hall in Villepinte, near Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

Sarkozy also said he wanted the EU to introduce a “Buy European Act” based on a US measure that obliges the state to use domestically produced products in public contracts.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: Christians Have No Right to Wear Cross at Work, Says Government

Christians do not have a right to wear a cross or crucifix openly at work, the Government is to argue in a landmark court case.

In a highly significant move, ministers will fight a case at the European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to establish their right to display the cross.

It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.

A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so.

The Government’s position received an angry response last night from prominent figures including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

He accused ministers and the courts of “dictating” to Christians and said it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined in official life.

The Government’s refusal to say that Christians have a right to display the symbol of their faith at work emerged after its plans to legalise same-sex marriages were attacked by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain.

A poll commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph shows that the country is split on the issue…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]


kloutlichter said...

I am against organised religion on the whole but there is definately an attack going on against christianity in britain .This comes from the govt and the media.One headline this morning read 'church is the last bastion of prejudice'.
If they accuse the church of that then why are they not accusing the mosques? For the love of god or Allah can these people who advocate a multicultural and multi religiou society not see that ISLAM is by far the most prejudiced.We are all infidels for a start.
I dont blame christians for getting work up about this .It is a disgrace!