Sunday, January 12, 2003

News Feed 20120315

Financial Crisis
»China Central Banker: EU is Our Biggest Uncertainty
»Economic Woes Drive Down European New Car Lust
»Greece: Fight Against Export of Capital Begins
»Italy: Consumer Group Says Govt ‘Killing Italy’ With VAT Hike
»UK’s Triple a Credit Rating is at Risk, Fitch Warns
»Military Seeks Cheap Satellites to Watch Out for Soldiers
»Representative Gary Ackerman of New York Says He Will Not Seek Re-Election
Europe and the EU
»Belgistan? Sharia Showdown Looms in Brussels
»EU Looks Into ‘Solution’ For Arrested Marines
»France 2012: Sarkozy Accused of Arranging for ‘Halal Bus’
»Iceland Considers Canadian Dollar Instead of Euro
»Italy: Man Suspected of Planning Milan Synagogue Attack Arrested
»Italy’s Mason-Dixon Line
»Norway Police Sorry for Massacre Delay
»Petrol Prices in Greece Second Highest in EU
»Portuguese Seek Greener Pastures in German Town
»Spain: Motion for Revision Deal With Holy See Rejected
»Two French Soldiers Killed in Drive-by Shooting
»Vatican Listed as Money-Laundering Risk by U.S.
North Africa
»Algeria Targeted by Foreign Terrorists
»Egyptians Tired of Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood, Says Coptic Bishop
»Egypt’s Parliament Describes Israel as the Country’s “First Enemy”
»Egypt MP Proposes Sharia Punishments of Crucifixion and Amputation
»Tunisia: Trade Deficit in First Two Months Doubles
Israel and the Palestinians
»Blindfolded: Palestinian Demography
»Submarine Cable to be Built Between Israel and Cyprus
Middle East
»Power Play in the Gulf: Tiny Qatar Has Big Diplomatic Ambitions
»Russia Aims for Manned Moon Landing by 2030
»The Battle for Moscow: Russian Opposition at Odds Over Path for Future
South Asia
»Accused G.I. ‘Snapped’ Under Strain, Official Says
»Marines ‘Coerced’ To Shore in India, Says Terzi
»Pakistan: Lahore: Fear and Angst Among Relatives of a Woman Arrested for Blasphemy
»Dutch PM Refuses Europe Call to Disavow Far-Right Website
»Norway: Oslo Mayor Welcomes Immigrant Boom
»Belgian Trades EU for US to Build Star Trek Medical Device
»Private Submarines Gain Popularity With Millionaires
»Slam Dunk! Why Giant Squid Sport Basketball-Size Eyes

Financial Crisis

China Central Banker: EU is Our Biggest Uncertainty

BRUSSELS — In a sign of growing confidence on the global stage, China on Monday (12 March) singled out Europe as the “biggest uncertainty” for the future of its economy.

The governor of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, said that a slow world recovery process and the unstable economic and financial situation in Europe will be the big unknowns for China’s economy this year.

Speaking on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, Zhou was quoted by Reuters as saying that “the biggest uncertainty in the international economic situation, as we all know, is the economic recovery process, especially the European economy and financial market development relating to the euro sovereign debt crisis.”

The comment has sparked a mix of reactions from commentators in Brussels.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Economic Woes Drive Down European New Car Lust

The decline in new car sales in Europe accelerated in February, compounding fears of yet another dire year for the European auto market. Sales figures from 30 European states show only Germany to be holding out.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Greece: Fight Against Export of Capital Begins

Old affliction of the economy never tackled by the state

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MARCH 1 — One of the main causes of the serious economic crisis engulfing Greece is undoubtedly the export of capital abroad, an old affliction of the Greek economy that the country’s political system has always refused or been unable to counteract. For decades, Greeks have been hearing of tax evasion, of the export of capital abroad, of nepotism and of the many other dysfunctions needing to be corrected in the country.

Parties have often won general elections by basing their election campaign on the promise that they would refound the state, fight tax evasion or bring back money taken abroad. All of the proposals have popular backing, especially when the dizzying figures involved are quoted. There were suggestions recently that 600 billion euros had been transferred to Switzerland by Greeks, almost double the country’s total debt, though of course no-one can say for sure exactly how much money has been taken abroad.

Recent figures from Greece’s central bank show that since the second half of 2009, effectively since the beginning of the crisis, around 64 billion euros have been exported, some 30% of the country’s GDP. Bank figures say that deposits made over the period in question dropped from 237.5 billion euros in June 2009 to 174.22 billion in December 2011. The more than 10 billion euros per year sent back to their country of origin by immigrants working in Greece should also be added to this figure, according to the leader of the far-right LAOS party, Giorgios Karatzaferis.

The Ministry of Finance, however, is convinced that the time has come to repatriate capital. The conditions of stability being created in the country, they claim, are paving the way for such a move. The Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, has called on Greeks to bring their money back to the country’s banks, and has even invited them to open up their hidden safes and place the money in banks, as “there are no risks, the Greek banking system is absolutely safe”.

According to the financial newspaper Imerisia, the ministry is studying an emergency plan to bring about a return of capital to the banks. The models being examined include that of Italy, which, the paper says, has had the greatest success in repatriating money. Sources close to the Ministry of Finance estimate that around 40 billion euros in capital could be brought home initially, while money hidden in safes and stashed under mattresses (expected to emerge later) could account for 10 billion. Other calculations, meanwhile, say that safe-deposit boxes and money hidden under mattresses currently make up more than 30 billion euros. The ministry says that a tax amnesty could be used as an incentive, as could a rate of 2% to be imposed on the capital, or the total exemption from tax if capital has been invested in a relatively short time. All that remains is to wait and see whether or not the Greek political system is really able to succeed in its attempts, if indeed it wants to succeed at all. Judging by the chaos caused by the scandal of a deputy alleged to be responsible for the legal export of a million euros, Greek citizens will certainly feel awkward.

After a week of frantic investigations aimed at identifying the member of parliament in question, during which all deputies were viewed with suspicion, the offending party was found not be a politician but rather a shipowner, while the money exported turned out to be not euros but US dollars that were transferred from a Greek to a British bank account, for the completely legal purchase of a ship.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Consumer Group Says Govt ‘Killing Italy’ With VAT Hike

Junior economy minister confirms tax to go up to 23%

(ANSA) — Rome, March 7 — A leading Italian consumer group said Wednesday that Premier Mario Monti’s government risked killing Italy after it confirmed that the top band of value added tax (IVA) will go up from 21% to 23% in October.

The hike is part of Monti’s ‘Save Italy’ austerity package of spending cuts and tax increases that was approved in December to put Italy on track to balance the budget by 2013 and stop the debt crisis spiralling out of control.

Monti’s emergency government of non-political technocrats had said the IVA increase would only be imposed if necessary.

But Junior Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli said late on Tuesday that there was no plan B that would make it possible to avoid the tax hike.

Consumer group Codacons blasted the measure, which it said will cost Italian families made up of three people 418 euros a year on average.

“Obviously the Monti government is not making do with wiping out the deficit, it also wants to knock down the debt even at the cost of killing Italy and the Italians,” Codacons said in a statement. The association said that the move would further hit consumer spending and growth, which is negative at the moment after the economy slipped into recession in the second half of last year.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK’s Triple a Credit Rating is at Risk, Fitch Warns

Credit rating agency Fitch Wednesday warned the UK is at risk of losing its AAA-rating within the next two years. “A week from the budget, this is a reminder of why it is essential Britain sticks to its plans to deal with its debts,” a Treasury spokesperson told the Guardian.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Military Seeks Cheap Satellites to Watch Out for Soldiers

Ordinary U.S. troops can only dream of on-demand battlefield images from the U.S. military’s limited fleet of satellites. That spurred the Pentagon to envision swarms of cheap, disposable satellites that can give small squads of soldiers or Special Forces the latest battlefield images on their mobile phones or tablet computers.

The military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) research lab aims to launch about two dozen satellites — each costing about $500,000 — for missions lasting 60 to 90 days in low-Earth orbit. Such satellites would not only launch cheaply from aircraft rather than ground-based rocket launch pads, but could also de-orbit at the end of their mission lifetime and burn up safely in the Earth’s atmosphere.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Representative Gary Ackerman of New York Says He Will Not Seek Re-Election

Representative Gary Ackerman, a longtime member of Congress from Queens and Long Island, announced on Thursday that he would not seek re-election, in an unexpected development that brings an end to a colorful political career.

In a statement, Mr. Ackerman said: “The residents of Queens and Long Island have honored me with their trust and support for the past 34 years, first as a New York state senator, and for the past 15 terms as a member of Congress. I’ve been truly privileged to have had the opportunity to fight for the beliefs of my neighbors in both the state capital and in the halls of Congress.”

His term will end Jan. 2, 2013.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Belgistan? Sharia Showdown Looms in Brussels

By Dale Hurd

BRUSSELS and ANTWERP — Brussels is the capital of Europe. But some are now calling it the Muslim capital of Europe.

The graffiti on a building in Belgium says it all: “Welcome to ‘Belgistan.” Muslims are still a minority in Belgium, but in the capital of Brussels, they’re already the largest religious group, comprising one-quarter of the city’s population.

In less than 20 years they’re expected to be the majority.


The most confrontational Muslim group here is Sharia4Belgium.

Many don’t take the small group seriously. But Sharia4Belgium head Fouad Belkacem, alias Abu Imran, sounded very serious when he told CBN News he expects Muslims to dominate Belgium and the world.

“The Sharia will dominate,” Imran said. “We believe Sharia will be implemented worldwide.”

In a second portion of CBN News’ interview with Imran, he describes the world under Sharia as something like heaven on Earth, without crime, hunger, or injustice. Watch below:

Sharia4Belgium is a public relations nightmare for those Muslim groups that try to play down their ties to radicalism and Sharia law.

Imran was completely open with CBN News, saying Islam and Sharia law are inseparable, and that democracy is evil.

“Sharia is Islam, to be clear,” he said. “There is no difference between Islam and Sharia, it’s just a name.”

“Democracy is the opposite of Sharia and Islam,” he said. “We believe Allah is the legislator. Allah makes the laws. He decides what is allowed and what is forbidden.”

CBN News asked Imran about self-described “democratic Muslims” who are against the extreme parts of Sharia law.

“That’s really funny when I hear someone say I was speaking to a ‘democratic Muslim,’“ he replied.

“It’s the same thing as saying I was speaking to Christian Jew, or a Jewish Muslim or something like that. It’s impossible.”…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

EU Looks Into ‘Solution’ For Arrested Marines

Italian MEPs ask for bipartisan support

(ANSA) — Brussels, March 7 — Following a request by Italian European Parliament members, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said Wednesday that the EU was moving to “find a satisfactory solution” for the Italian marines arrested and incarcerated in southern India.

On Tuesday, Italian MEPs reprimanded European Union representatives, saying that the lack of bipartisan support from fellow MEPs was “unacceptable” and called for the EP to stand next to Italy.

The two Italian marines, sent to prison on Monday, are accused of killing two Indian fishermen when they were guarding an Italian merchant ship from pirate attacks in the middle of last month.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France 2012: Sarkozy Accused of Arranging for ‘Halal Bus’

‘Separating men and women to win Muslim support’, UMP denial

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — The UMP, the party led by Nicolas Sarkozy (running for a second term in the French presidential elections in April and May), is courting Muslims, and reportedly made long-distance buses available to them with separate sections for women and men. The buses were used to bring them to the large elections rally the presidential candidate held on Sunday in Villepinte. In addition to Sarkozy’s visit yesterday to Paris’s Grand Mosque (where the outgoing president reached out to Muslims in France, trying to soothe the polemics on halal meat), the French press said today that the UMP had made a free shuttle service available to bring members of a number of Muslim associations to Villepinte. In an article entitled ‘Halal Bus”, the satirical weekly magazine Le Canard Enchainé went so far as to say that the buses provided separate sections for men and women. This news led to an immediate reaction from the Young Socialists Movement, which spoke out on its site against the “bus of shame” and an “unhealthy and dangerous game” played by the UMP. Contacted by Le, the head of the “Diversities” section of Sarkozy’s election campaign Patrick Karam, brusquely denied the news. “We have never engaged in this type of separation. We simply made specific buses available to some Muslim associations.” The latter version was confirmed by M’hammed Henniche, secretary general of the Muslim Associations Union of the Seine-Saint-Denis, in Paris’s tough banlieue. “There were no buses with separate sections,” he said, noting however than one bus which left from Montreuil only had women since it had been reserved for a women’s training centre. The two men did however confirm the existence of a specific campaign by the UMP directed at Muslims, in the attempt to win over mosques and those directing them less than 40 days before the presidential elections.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Iceland Considers Canadian Dollar Instead of Euro

BRUSSELS — Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Siguardardottir has said the tiny Nordic country faces a choice between using the Canadian dollar or the euro. “The choice is between surrendering the sovereignty of Iceland in monetary policy by unilaterally adopting the currency of another country, or becoming a member of the EU,” she said in a speech at the Social Democrat Alliance party convention on Saturday (10 March) in Reykjavik.

A spokesman for the country’s foreign ministry on Wednesday clarified that, for her part, EU membership is the best option. Iceland is expected to hold a referendum on EU membership early next year, but the euro-crisis has shaken confidence in the Union as an economic safe haven.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Man Suspected of Planning Milan Synagogue Attack Arrested

20-year-old Moroccan did Facebook ‘weapons training’

(ANSA) — Milan, March 15 — Police arrested a suspected terrorist in the northern city of Brescia early on Thursday who they believe may have been planning an attack on Milan’s synagogue.

Jarmoune Mohamed, a 20-year-old Moroccan national who has lived in Italy since he was six, is also suspected of setting up secret Facebook pages providing training on making bombs and using weapons for budding terrorists.

Correlated investigations are being carried out in the United States and Britain and London police have arrested a woman suspected of being an accomplice of Mohamed in the synagogue plot.

Police said they found evidence in the man’s home and on his computer that he has conducted a thorough inspection of Milan’s synagogue, with information on the security measures used and the police who guard the building. They showed some of material they seized from his home to reporters.

Investigators added that they had intercepted messages in which the man talked about a “jihad mission”.

They said he was identified as a suspected terrorist during monitoring of websites that feature forums and publish documents on the ‘jihad’.

Police have not detained anyone else in Italy, although they have not ruled out the hypothesis that he may have accomplices here.

Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri praised the police operation and said that, at the moment, there were “no particular terrorist alarms”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy’s Mason-Dixon Line

Euro Crisis Fuels South Tyrolean Separatist Dreams

Many in northern Italy have long wanted to secede. Now, the euro crisis is giving the separatist movement new momentum, with the rich north unwilling to pony up for the poor south. Prime Minister Monti’s efforts to exert control may be making matters worse.

The governor loves to hunt — geese, rabbits, fox, whatever happens to cross his path. Luis Durnwalder, the top hunter in South Tyrol, grants hunting licenses as if he were the lord of the manor, and when farmers in Vinschgau complain that the deer are ruining their fields, he issues a direct order to his hunters: Shoot seven deer, right away!

The Italian government could have guessed that it would only make enemies in Bolzano when it filed a complaint against the state hunting law in South Tyrol before the Italian Constitutional Court. Rome doesn’t like the fact South Tyrol doesn’t adhere to the hunting season mandated for all Italian provinces.

None of Rome’s business, says Durnwalder. He points out that Sicily and South Tyrol are so different in terms of flora and fauna that it isn’t possible “to apply the same law from the Brenner Pass to Sicily.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti disagrees. He wants to prove that Europe can rely on Italy. To that end, his cabinet of technocrats has assembled a package of reforms that also makes additional demands on the five Italian regions with semi-autonomous status — even down to legal details regulating the damage done by wildlife.

Money is at the core of the dispute. South Tyrol is expected to contribute €120 million ($161 million) to cleaning up the Italian national budget. To do so, it will have to raise real estate, value-added and income taxes, as well as fees paid by farmers — measures that violate Rome’s promise that 90 percent of the taxes collected in South Tyrol will stay in South Tyrol. On an almost daily basis, Durnwalder cites paragraphs from the reform package against which he intends to make his own case before the Constitutional Court.

‘Foreign Dominance’

What is happening in Italy’s northernmost and wealthiest province mirrors the larger euro crisis: The rich north doesn’t want to pay for the poor south. In the 1950s and 60s, this attitude was reflected in the “Away from Rome” movement, which, until recently, was considered just as outmoded as the prejudices of Northern Europeans against Southern Europeans that have now been brought to the surface by the crisis.

“What else has to happen for South Tyrol to finally separate itself from this country?” asks Eva Klotz, a member of the state parliament for the “South Tyrolean Freedom” separatist movement. The 60-year-old has spent half her life fighting for independence, although she has never been taken very seriously. But now the time is ripe, she says, to put an end to Italy’s “foreign dominance.” The people of her province, she adds, are unwilling to be dragged down with the rest of Italy.

But the debate isn’t limited to marginal groups. South Tyrol Economics Minister Thomas Widmann, with the conservative People’s Party, proposes that South Tyrol “buy its freedom” from Italy. The minister even names a concrete purchase price. Italy’s debt amounts to €1.911 trillion, or €30,000 per capita. For the 500,000 citizens of South Tyrol, this would amount to €15 billion. If Bolzano paid this sum to Rome, says Widmann, it could demand “full autonomy” in return. From then on, Italy would only handle monetary, foreign and defense policy for South Tyrol.

The right-wing populist Libertarian Party advocates the model of a free state. “Why should we be the ones to rescue Italy?” asks Ulli Mair, 37, the party chairman. “After all, we didn’t make this mess.” The party intends to explain how the Free State of South Tyrol could work in a draft constitution it will release soon.

‘First-Class Passengers’

Pollsters have noticed that separatist arguments are gaining traction, especially among young South Tyroleans. Their share of the membership of the Libertarian Party and South Tyrolean Freedom is growing significantly. The province is experiencing a general shift to the right, says political scientist Günther Pallaver.

While 90 percent of South Tyroleans identified with a limited autonomy status in the 1970s, this share has dropped to about 60 percent today, says Pallaver. “We are dealing with conflicts that could become even more severe in the future.” According to Pallaver, South Tyrol’s German-speaking voters are moving more and more to the right, and it’s conceivable that lawmakers with the relatively tame South Tyrol People’s Party (SVP) in the Italian parliament could be joined by representatives of parties less interested in compromise.

After having served 22 years as governor, Luis Durnwalder, known as “State Luis” and “the eternal Durni,” finds this notion horrifying. “South Tyrol also has to do its part to overcome the crisis,” he says, after a meeting with Prime Minister Monti in Rome. “We are still traveling on the same ship as Italy. The only difference is that we South Tyroleans are first-class passengers.”

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

Norway Police Sorry for Massacre Delay

Norwegian police apologized on Thursday for failing to stop Anders Behring Breivik sooner on his shooting rampage last July that left 77 people dead, admitting lives were lost as a result. “On behalf of the Norwegian police I want to apologise that we did not arrest Anders Behring Breivik sooner,” Norwegian national police commissioner Øystein Mæland said in a statement that presented an evaluation report on the police response to the July 22nd twin attacks. “It is hard, knowing that so many lives could have been spared if the perpetrator had been arrested sooner,” he added at a press conference.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Petrol Prices in Greece Second Highest in EU

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MARCH 7 — Greeks are paying 12.5% more for petrol compared to 2011, the Greek Consumers Centre (ELKEKA) said on Wednesday as reported by Athens News Agency. The centre said that in March 2011, when petrol cost 1.57 euros per litre, it cost a driver of a 1,400hp car 176.63 euros to cover the distance of 1,250km (on 9lt/100km). In March 2012, the same distance costs the driver 198.68 euros, or 22.05 euros more than last year. According to the study, at 1.80 euros a litre the Netherlands and Italy are the most expensive petrol. According to the development ministry’s price observatory, the nationwide average price of unleaded petrol on Wednesday was 1.78 euros. In Athens, the average was 1.75 and in Thessaloniki 1.74 euros. The average EU price is 1.54 euros per litre.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Portuguese Seek Greener Pastures in German Town

A mini job miracle has taken Schwäbisch Hall in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg by surprise. After a Portuguese journalist wrote a rosy report on the town and its efforts to seek skilled workers from crisis-plagued European countries, job applications have flooded in. More than 10,000 people have written in so far, but results have been mixed

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Spain: Motion for Revision Deal With Holy See Rejected

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 8 — The Foreign Affairs Commission of the Spanish Congress has rejected a motion of the left-wing parties on a revision of the agreements closed by the Spanish State and the Holy See in 1976 and 1979, the Spanish media report today. The motion of the PSOE council group and the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG), asked the government of Mariano Rajoy to revise the legal, cultural and economic aspects of the deals as well as the religious presence in the armed forces that is part of the agreements, in order to defend the state’s secularity and stress the non-denominational character of the Spanish Constitution. The motion also proposes tax payments for the religious institutions present in Spain, on the same level as other institutions. The PSOE, BNA, the leftwing non-denominational coalition and the constitutional UpyD party voted for the motion, but it was rejected by the overwhelming majority of the PP, together with the Catalan Christian Democratic CiU party.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Two French Soldiers Killed in Drive-by Shooting

REUTERS — Two uniformed French soldiers were shot dead and a third seriously injured by a gunman on Thursday as they tried to withdraw money from a cash machine in the town of Montauban in southwest France, the defence ministry said.

Two paratroopers died on the spot after being shot in the head by the unidentified gunman on a scooter, who wore a helmet with the visor pulled down, police sources said.

The third soldier was rushed to hospital in Montauban where he was in a critical condition, a ministry spokesman said. The ministry had said earlier in a statement that the third paratrooper had died, but it later retracted this.

The shooter did not take any money and there was no immediate indication of the motive for the rare attack. The shooting took place at 2 p.m. (1300 GMT) near the barracks of the 17th parachute regiment, to which the victims — aged between 24 and 28 — belonged.

“The circumstances are confused and at the current time I cannot give you any explanation,” President Nicolas Sarkozy told journalists during a visit to the Marne in eastern France, adding that he had sent Defence Minister Gerard Longuet to Montauban to direct operations.

Investigators found some 15 spent pistol cartridges at the scene of the shooting and said it appeared the gunman had been waiting for his victims, according to an official from the local mayor’s office.

“There were two rounds of shots. One from a long way which brought down the first two soldiers and a second from closer which wounded the third soldier,” the official told Reuters.

Police set up roadblocks around Montauban, which lies some 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Spanish border, in a major deployment to hunt for the gunman. The incident came days after a 30-year-old soldier in civilian clothes was shot dead in the nearby city of Toulouse at the weekend.

Defence Minister Longuet condemned the assassination and said he hoped those responsible would be swiftly brought to justice.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Vatican Listed as Money-Laundering Risk by U.S.

First time for Holy See, ranks alongside Albania, Yemen

(ANSA) — Rome, March 8 — The United States has listed the Vatican as a state that is vulnerable to money laundering.

Appearing for the first time in the US State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy report, the Holy See was classified as a “jurisdiction of concern” alongside 67 other countries such as Yemen, Malaysia, Vietnam and Albania. By setting up anti-money-laundering programs last year, the Vatican has been making efforts to secure inclusion on the international ‘white list’ of countries which are considered to have acceptable financial transparency laws, unlike tax havens.

A State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that such efforts were still under observation and it would take another year to determine their efficacy. The Vatican was rated one level below “jurisdictions of primary concern”, which include countries like Afghanistan, China, Russia, France and the United States, and are considered “major money laundering countries,” the report said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria Targeted by Foreign Terrorists

Tamanrasset barracks attackers came from Sahel

Algeria now finds itself open to attacks from outside its borders

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS — While the victories in the giant operation carried out in some regions over the past weeks made it look like the battle on Islamic terrorism was close to being won, Algeria now finds itself open to attacks from outside its borders, from the Sahel countries which have become a kind of “laboratory” for fundamentalism. The investigation into the suicide attack of March 3 on the national Gendarmerie barracks in Tamanrasset (in which around 20 people were injured, 15 of them police officers) has had a worrying outcome. In fact it turns out that the two suicide attackers were foreigners, almost unprecedented in Algeria’s recent history. An examination of the remains of the car what was used in the attack made this clear.

The car, a Toyota Station all-terrain vehicle, was stolen in a Sahel country, from where it entered Algeria (probably from Mali), taking advantage of the relatively open border. The car had a false number plate and its chassis number had been removed. Experts of the forensic laboratory of the national Gendarmerie in Bouchaoui have discovered more facts. First of all the car was literally packed with explosives (between 180 and 200 kg of TNT). Two Kalashnikov machine-guns, ammunition, two grenades and a detonator were found after the blast. The two attackers were ready to kill as many police officers as possible even if their car failed to blow up. So the attack was well-prepared, including a backup plan. Certainly better than earlier terror attacks in Algeria’s past, in which explosives were usually detonated by remote control. This is what was found in the investigation. Now it is up to Algerian intelligence services to analyse these finds. A crucial element in this analysis is the responsibility claim made by the ‘Movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa’. This recently formed group broke away from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in December. The new formation is showing that it is competent in its actions and in publicising what it does, also thanks to its apparently available resources. If this group really was responsible for the attack (which appears to be so), the fact that a group that is not based in Algeria turns up in the country seems to show that a loose, but dangerous, alliance is being formed around a common goal. Terrorism experts from Mali have said that the attack in Tamanrasset could have been an act of revenge against Algeria, which is trying to seal its borders, making it difficult for Tuaregs of the Awazad Liberation Movement to get supplies, fuel in particular. This Movement reportedly has closed a military agreement with AQIM and with drugs dealers, offering protection in exchange for their knowledge of the border area between Mali and Algeria.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egyptians Tired of Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood, Says Coptic Bishop

For Mgr Golta, patriarchal auxiliary bishop of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate, anti-Christian discrimination show the real nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. In Upper Egypt, two Christians were convicted after a row with Salafist leaders. Young Jasmine Revolution leaders remain in the forefront of the fight for religious freedom and democracy.

Cairo (AsiaNews) — “The Egyptian people, Muslims and Christians, are discovering the true nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists and they are tired of this climate of intransigence and hatred. If elections were held today, extremists would not likely win a majority,” said Mgr Youhanna Golta, bishop of Andropolis and patriarchal auxiliary bishop of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate, as he spoke to AsiaNews. Events in the last two months, he explained, are cause for alarm and show how Islamic leaders are using power unscrupulously to put pressure on local governments under their control.

“For Christians, the situation has worsened,” the prelate said. “In the past few weeks, Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist leaders have toned down their rhetoric in the media and public speeches. For some, this is a sign that extremists are undergoing a real change; others fear it might be a smokescreen to hold onto their majority ahead of the upcoming presidential elections.”

In the past few days, two Christians were sentenced to prison after a row with Muslims. Today, a court in Edfu sentenced Rev Makarios Bolous, pastor of St. George’s Church in the village of Elmarinab, Edfu, in Aswan province, to six months in prison and a fine of 300 pounds because his church was too high. On 30 september 2011, a group of Salafists had torched the church because it it was higher than the minaret of the smallest mosque in the village.

A court in Abanoub, Assiut Province (Upper Egypt) sentenced Makram Diab, a young Copt, to six years in prison for insulting Mohammed and Islam. Local sources said that the young man, a school secretary, was involved in a heated debate with a Salafist teacher who filed a complaint against him with the police. In order to put pressure on the presiding judge, more than 2,500 extremists besieged the court house.

Such cases are frightening moderate Muslims, Mgr Golta noted. There is a danger, he believes, that clashes might break out between supporters of the government, now controlled by Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood, and the partisans of liberal and secular parties, who are trying their best to hold back the disproportionate power of extremists.

“The young people who launched the Jasmine Revolution are opposed to extremist politics,” the bishop said. “Even though their faces are largely forgotten, they are still in the forefront of the struggle, willing to give their life for democracy and religious freedom”.

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

Egypt’s Parliament Describes Israel as the Country’s “First Enemy”

Lawmakers vote symbolic resolution calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the cancellation of the peace treaty with Israel. The call is a response to Israeli raids in Gaza. Sources tell AsiaNews that such moves exemplify the conceited populism of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

Cairo (AsiaNews) — Egypt’s extremist-dominated parliament adopted a motion that describes Israel as Egypt’s ‘first enemy’. In it, lawmakers also demand the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador in Cairo and a halt to gas exports to the Jewish state at favourable prices.

The text was prepared by the Arab Affairs Committee of Egypt’s People’s Assembly (lower house) and is largely symbolic. Only the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) can make such decisions, and has already ruled it out. Until presidential elections are held, the SCAF remains in charge of policy-making.

The motion follows Israeli strikes in Gaza since 9 March that left 25 people dead. For Egyptian MPs, such actions are a gross violation of human rights.

Despite its lack of legal import, the motion exemplifies what a source, speaking to AsiaNews, calls the “conceited rhetoric” of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

Emboldened by their electoral victory, both groups are trying to spread their ideology after 40 years of repression under Egypt’s military regime.

According to the text approved on Monday, “Egypt will never be the friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity which we consider as the first enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation”.

“Muslim extremists are populists,” the sources said. “All they want is to remain popular among voters, especially at a time of economic crisis. They blame Israel for all of the country’s ills.”

Since January, political instability, government spending restraints to keep the national debt under control and attacks against gas pipelines in the Sinai have caused energy shortages in the country.

Several cities have been without supplies, forcing people to line up to buy a gasoline by single cans or the few cooking gas canisters left. Police have been deployed at distributors to prevent disorders.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists blame the situation on economic agreements with Israel. At present, Egypt sells gas and gasoline to the Jewish state at 80 per cent less than market prices.

For experts, Muslim extremists could undermine Egypt’s move towards democracy.

The military continue to follow Mubarak’s foreign policy and obtain billions of dollars from Israel’s main ally, the United States.

Should the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists also win the presidential election, SCAF might cancel the vote and install their own man. (S.C.)

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

Egypt MP Proposes Sharia Punishments of Crucifixion and Amputation

The penalties according to Azzazy’s bill are execution in the case of murder, or cutting one arm and one leg from opposite sides of the culprit’s body in the cases of robbery and forcible taking of property. If the taking of possessions is accompanied by murder, the penalty would be death or crucifixion, to be determined by the judge.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Trade Deficit in First Two Months Doubles

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 7 — Tunisia’s trade deficit almost doubled in the first two months of the year compared to the corresponding period of 2011, going from 761 million dinars to almost 1.639 billion dinars. The figures were released by the country’s institute of statistics, following the comparison of figures relating to the first two months of 2011 and 2012.

The increase is largely a result of the rise in imports, which this year were up 25.3%, while the figure rose only by 2.9% in the first two months of last year.

The rise in the import of food and agriculture products (+23.4%) also played a role, as did increases in energy products (+32.3%), minerals and phosphates (+17.9%), primary materials and semi-finished products (+20.9%).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Blindfolded: Palestinian Demography

Israelis and Jews around the world are rightly proud of our small country’s hard-punching intelligence services. Each month brings new revelations of operational triumphs, which burnish such legendary agencies as Mossad, or Army intelligence Unit 8200 into the nightmares of our enemies, while earning the admiration of our friends around the world.

Quietly liquidating a Hamas weapons trafficker in Dubai? No problem. Monitoring and arranging explosive accidents for Iranian arms convoys on their way through Africa? Piece of cake. Penetrating the most heavily guarded facilities in Iran to take pictures of German serial numbers on nuclear centrifuges? Been there, done that, and got the matching mug and t-shirt to prove it.

Great, then perhaps someone in the IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad, or Unit 8200 could tell me how many Palestinians there are in the West Bank. Determining this may not be as glamorous as cataloguing what Bashar Assad had for breakfast this morning by way of satellite imagery. Still, I would contend that knowing how many West Bank Palestinians we must contend with is considerably more important for the security and future of what Moshe Dayan referred to as the 3rd Temple — the State of Israel.

Actually getting a head count for West Bank Palestinians from the Government of Israel, or its many intelligence agencies, is exceedingly difficult. The Army will refer you to the Civil Administration, which will refer you to the Israeli government, which will refer you to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, which will refer you to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).

Of course, the PCBS, having for years grossly inflated Palestinian demographics as a political weapon in the Arab conflict with Israel, is an organization greatly lacking in credibility, to put it mildly. As Michael Rubin neatly summarized in Commentary, the PCBS “isn’t allowed to report Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem (which is also counted by Israel), and has made revisions at the request of the Palestinian leadership when the population in Jerusalem, for example, was found to have declined. The error today may exceed one million people throughout areas claimed by the Palestinian Authority.”

More importantly, if we wanted to ask the PCBS how many Palestinians there were, well, we’d ask them. What I’d like to know, is how it is possible for Israeli intelligence agencies, which can remotely hack Syrian air defense systems, to not know whether there are 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, as Palestinians claim, or more like 1.5 million, as asserted by reputable, independent studies.

By all accounts, official Israeli confusion on this question should be outright impossible. After all, Israel maintains an extensive paperwork regime in the West Bank, now helpfully managed by the Palestinians in coordination with the Civil Administration. Every Palestinian birth and death is noted in one database or another. Likewise, every eligible Palestinian is issued a Hawiyeh — a cross between a form of identification and an internal passport. Other metrics exist, including the number of Palestinian households connected to electricity, water or sanitation infrastructure. If nothing else, let’s simply count the residential and cellular phone numbers.

To put it bluntly, there is no shortage of ways to determine or estimate how many Palestinians there are in the West Bank. Yet, all official Israeli bodies, including those conducting diplomacy at the highest levels, refer only to Palestinian demographics as certified by the PCBS, fully cognizant that the bureau’s professional credentials are politically compromised, and for the express purpose of manipulating to the Palestinian benefit the very diplomacy Israel is engaged in.

Given what we know of the capabilities of Israeli intelligence agencies, thinking minds cannot accept that Israel does not, in fact, have its own, internal estimates of the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank. This number must certainly exist, but if so, it’s reasonable to ask why it isn’t being made public. Either Palestinian demographic data supplied by the PCBS matches internal Israeli estimates, or it doesn’t. If the Palestinians truly are in the range of 2.5-3 million residents in the West Bank, as they claim, this has important implications, not just for Israeli diplomacy, but for the future of more than half a million Israelis currently living in Judea and Samaria. Likewise, if Palestinian demographics are closer to the 1.5 million figure, as reputable critics allege, then this, too, has considerable repercussions for all parties.

The lack of official Israeli transparency on the question of Palestinian demographics has led to some unfortunate speculation on the potential motivations of Israeli officials in sequestering data vital to a healthy, democratic decision-making process from the public eye. Given that the official Israeli position parrots the Palestinian figures, without corroborating them using internal Israeli estimates, it is reasonable to suspect that actual Palestinian demographics are more favorable to Israel than we now believe. The time has come for the Israeli government to make internal estimates on Palestinian demographics available to its citizens. That way we, the people, and not unelected bureaucrats or unaccountable diplomats, can make responsible decisions about our country’s future.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Submarine Cable to be Built Between Israel and Cyprus

(ANSA) — NICOSIA, MARCH 6 — The Euro-Asia Interconnector, the world’s longest submarine electricity cable reaching 540 nautical miles (287 km) at a depth of 2,000 meters and delivering 2000 MW, is set to be built between Israel, Cyprus and Greece, according to a new agreement signed on Sunday in Haifa. “Greece will increase its energy efficiency and become a significant player in the european energy chess board. Cyprus will cease being an island and secure a steady flow of energy in and out of the country. And Israel will become a major energy provider to the European continent while strengthening its energy sustainability,” said chairman of Greek-Cypriot company DEH Quantum Energy, Athanasios Ktorides. Studies on the ambitious project are currently underway and will be presented later in the year, said Ktorides. The agreement is to launch a trilateral cable project that will ultimately link Israel’s electricity supply with that of the European Union, through Cyprus and Crete. DEH Quantum Energy is owned by Greece’s DEH state Power Corporation, Quantum Energy of Cyprus and the Bank of Cyprus.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Power Play in the Gulf: Tiny Qatar Has Big Diplomatic Ambitions

With his wealth, diplomatic skills and Al-Jazeera television network, Qatar’s Emir Hamad Al Thani has become one of the most important politicians in the Middle East. The tiny state is becoming a force to be reckoned with, but the emir’s motives are obscure.

He is completely in his element here, underneath the heavy chandeliers in the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton, surrounded by dignitaries from neighboring countries and delegates from the United Nations and the Arab League. He practically purrs when the Palestinian president praises him as the man who brings “oil into the mosque,” in other words, providing light and inspiration among the faithful. Here in this ballroom, His Highness the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is completely himself — or rather, completely the man he wants to be.

He is today’s version of the classic oil sheikh, a global player, intermediary between east and west and the ruler of a “new world power,” as a French weekly recently described his small realm.

He looks serious as he takes notes. He sports a large moustache above a double chin, and the gold hem of his robe practically glows with dignity. The emir loves these events, like the “International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem” in late February or a meeting that was held in January to help bring about reconciliation between the Palestinian factions. The events usually end in some “Doha declaration,” ensuring that, once again, the name of the Qatari capital goes down in the annals of history.

“Getting back to oil…” says Sheikh Hamad, and proceeds to describe how his emirate is supplying the Gaza Strip, which is under an Israeli blockade, with money and food. There are murmurs of approval from his audience, which includes representatives from Ramallah, Yemen, Morocco and the new Libya, because they know they will always have good credit here in the Emirate of Qatar.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Russia Aims for Manned Moon Landing by 2030

Russia plans to send cosmonauts to the moon and unmanned spacecraft to Mars, Venus and Jupiter, all by 2030, according to news reports.

These ambitious spaceflight goals are laid out in a strategy document drawn up recently by Russia’s Federal Space Agency (known as Roscosmos), the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Tuesday (March 13).

And there’s more. Roscosmos wants a new rocket called Angara to become the nation’s workhorse launch vehicle by 2020, replacing the venerable Soyuz and Proton rockets that have been carrying the load since the 1960s.

The space agency also plans to top Angara with a new six-seat spaceship, an upgrade over the three-passenger Soyuz spacecraft that is currently the world’s only means of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

The Battle for Moscow: Russian Opposition at Odds Over Path for Future

In the wake of the recent elections in Russia, opponents of newly elected President Vladimir Putin are struggling to find a common approach and viable new slogans. Some suggest that the best way to challenge Putin would be winning control of the Moscow city parliament and mayor’s office.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Accused G.I. ‘Snapped’ Under Strain, Official Says

WASHINGTON — The American staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers had been drinking alcohol — a violation of military rules in combat zones — and suffering from the stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments on the night of the massacre, a senior American official said Thursday.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” said the official, who has been briefed on the investigation and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the soldier has not yet been formally charged.

As new details emerged about possible reasons behind the shootings, the American official said the military was preparing to move the sergeant to a prison in the United States as early as Friday, most likely to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., just a day after he was flown to a detention site in Kuwait from Afghanistan…

[Return to headlines]

Marines ‘Coerced’ To Shore in India, Says Terzi

Italian foreign minister suggests foul play by Indian police

(ANSA) — Roma, March 13 — The Italian marines under arrest in India since mid-February accused of killing two Indian fishermen when they were guarding the Italian merchant ship Enrica Lexie were “deceived” by Indian police who lured them into the port of Kochi, Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi told the Senate on Tuesday.

Terzi also said that “coercive action” was used to remove the marines from the ship.

Italian government officials continue to express “serious concern” for the two marines held in India and diplomatic tension persists.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Lahore: Fear and Angst Among Relatives of a Woman Arrested for Blasphemy

Shamim Masih has been in custody for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Local sources say she is being punished for refusing to convert to Islam. Her relatives are keeping silent for fear of retaliation. For Islamabad bishop, this is another case of abuse against Christians using the ‘black law’.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — The relatives of Shamim Masih, a 26-year-old Christian woman from the Punjab, are terrified and scared after she was arrested on blasphemy charges. The mother of a five-month girl, she was taken into custody in Bahawalnagar, Lahore, on 28 February for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The accusation came from some of her relatives who recently converted to Islam. When she turned down their request to follow them and insisted that she was happy as a Christian, they reacted violently, first proffering threats and then accusing her of blasphemy.

Masih’s family has been going through hell since then and has chosen not to make any statements to the press for fear of exacerbating tensions and provoke a reprisal by extremist groups.

For its part, the Catholic Church has condemned the latest case involving the ‘black law’, which occurred on the same day that 50 human rights activists and political figures appealed to the United Nations for Asia Bibi’s release. For Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, “this is shocking news.” Once more, “the blasphemy law is being misused in Punjab,” he lamented.

When a Christian institution, a church, Bibles or a statue of our Mother Mary are desecrated in Lahore, the incident is not filed under the blasphemy law even when the evidence is there.

However, if a minor unsubstantiated incident involves a Christian woman, the police very zealously files a case under Article 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

For the prelate, “law enforcement agencies now have a duty to ensure order and justice for the woman.”

Fr John Mell, an activist in Multan, is angered by the incident. For him, this case is a “huge violation” of the blasphemy law, which is being used indiscriminately against minorities.

“The government of Punjab is a silent observer” to what is happening. It “is allowing the law to be misused.” Time has come “for us to raise out voice. Otherwise, we shall be silenced forever.”

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


Dutch PM Refuses Europe Call to Disavow Far-Right Website

(THE HAGUE) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte refused Thursday to condemn a website described as “deplorable” by the European Parliament, the work of a far-right party that partners with his government. Stressing the site was a party initiative and did not reflect any official views, Rutte said his government does not “comment on the measures of political parties”.

The European Parliament earlier called on Rutte to condemn and distance himself from the “deplorable” Party for Freedom (PVV) website, which invites citizens to complain about immigrants of east European origin.

“The government has always insisted that the site is the initiative of a political party, the PVV” of extreme right politician Geert Wilders, Rutte wrote in a letter to the Dutch lower house of parliament. “The site does not reflect the views or the policies of the government with regards to job migration from eastern and central Europe,” the document added.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution describing the site as an affront to the fundamental values of human dignity, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

The text “urges the Dutch government not to turn a blind eye to the policies” of the PVV, which it said “are in contradiction with fundamental EU values.” The resolution also urges EU leaders to condemn the website and asks Dutch authorities to investigate whether it amounts to an incitement to hatred and discrimination.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway: Oslo Mayor Welcomes Immigrant Boom

Oslo’s mayor Fabian Stang has said he is unconcerned by statistics showing that immigrants will make up half of Oslo’s population three decades from now. His reaction stood in stark contrast to that of Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who immediately called for tighter restrictions on immigration when Statistics Norway published its projections on Tuesday.

“No, I’m not concerned,” Stang told news agency NTB. “But the high number shows that we’ll have a major task integrating immigrants. It’s up to parliament and the government to decide how many people will move to the country. Our job is to integrate them.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Belgian Trades EU for US to Build Star Trek Medical Device

BRUSSELS — Start Trek fans will know about the Tricorder, a handheld device used by Captain Kirk and company to, among other things, scan the biological state of the living creatures they encountered on their interplanetary voyage.

Today, almost 50 years after the science-fiction series first aired on American television, the device is close to becoming a reality.

“It really is very difficult to build, but not impossible,” says Walter De Brouwer, the founder and CEO of Scanadu, a start-up company based in Sillicon Valley working with the NASA space agency to build a 21st-century Tricorder, to be put on the market by 2014.

The Tricorder, he says, will be not much more than a smartphone extension and be able to monitor and diagnose your health conditions without needing blood, urine, saliva, physical contact or even cooperation from the patient.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Private Submarines Gain Popularity With Millionaires

A new class of private submarines has become the latest plaything for the super rich. They allow would-be adventurers to navigate the wonders of the coral reefs, explore shipwrecks or even to cruise alongside dolphins. The cheapest models start at $1.7 million, but prices can go as high as $80 million.

The financial crisis hasn’t stopped the demand for submarines, says Jones, 55. “There are 2,500 large yachts in the world today,” he adds, and most of them have enough room to carry a submarine.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Slam Dunk! Why Giant Squid Sport Basketball-Size Eyes

The enormous eyes of giant and colossal squid may help them spot predatory sperm whales in their dim undersea habitat, a new study finds.

These mysterious squid are tough to spot and even tougher to study in their natural habitat. But squid that have been caught or observed have huge, basketball-size peepers — three times the diameter of another other animal, including behemoths of similar size, such as swordfish.

True to its name, the colossal squid is a pretty big squid. It is thought to be the largest invertebrate, measuring 39-46 feet long. It also has the largest eyes of any animal. One of the few animals that dares to mess with a colossal squid are sperm whales. The squid account for about 14% of the squid beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]