Sunday, January 12, 2003

News Feed 20120418

Financial Crisis
»A New Dispute Over Euro Rescue Fund: Spain Wants Billions for Its Banks
»Balanced Budget Enshrined in Constitution
»EU Gives €1mn to Orange Order Ahead of Irish Referendum
»EU on Greek Statistics Scandal: ‘Never Again’
»EU: Banks Gorging on Sovereign Bonds Shifts Risk
»Hungary Bows to EU Pressure on Central Bank Law
»Italian Family Debt Lower Than EU Counterparts Says IMF
»Obama Stimulus Dollars Funded Soros Empire, In Scandal That Dwarfs ACORN and Gsa, Says New Report
»One Jobless Person Per Day Kills Self in Italy
»Portugal: Possible Extension Financial Support, Premier
»Premier Monti is Grateful to Italians for Their Courage
»Showdown in Washington: Emerging Nations Vie for Power at IMF
»Slovenian Public Servants Strike Over Austerity Measures
»3 Out at Secret Service in Colombia Prostitution Scandal
»A Progressive Perverts the Commerce Clause; But O’Reilly Gets it Right
»Comic Books as a Method of Missionizing for Islam (Da’wa)?
»Dick Clark: TV Impresario, Is Dead at 82
»Helter Skelter Manufactured Crisis = Manufactured Race Wars
»Liberal “Political Psychology” Propaganda
»Man Charged With Murder in Beating Death of Stepson, 10
»Media Hysteria and the Remolding of the American Mind
»Middle Class San Franciscans Fleeing City
»NASA Requests Inspiration for New Mars Quests
»Obama’s Illegal Alien Uncle Gets Driver’s License After DWI
»Stakelbeck on Terror Show: Is the Muslim Brotherhood Winning?
»What Passes for Intelligence — SPLC Intelligence Report, Spring 2012
»Wolf Blitzer Should Apologize to Allen West
Europe and the EU
»Accusations Against Lord Ahmed Merely Highlight a Vile Anti-British Career
»Cyprus’ Church Set to Start Private Power Station
»Europe Needs to Profit From Human Spaceflight
»Germany: Father Gets 17 Years for Killing Daughter With Axe
»Greece: Riot Police Warned on Press Attacks
»Italy: Medical Association’s President Probed for Investment Fraud
»Italy: Ex-League Treasurer Belsito Hands Over Gold and Diamonds
»Italy: Berlusconi Party Slams Minister Over TV-Frequency Auction
»Italy Hopes Sponsoring Can Save Cultural Treasures
»Italy: Soccer: Radu Denies ‘Fascist Salute’
»London Celebrates 100-Day Countdown to Olympics
»Norway: Judges Right to Let Killer Have His Say: Survivors
»Norway: ‘The Knights Templar Doesn’t Exist as You Describe It’
»Real Estate: Berlin Rivals London in Attracting Greek Money
»Sweden: Museum Evacuated After ‘Racist’ Bomb Threat
»Macedonia: Mysterious ‘Army’ Threatens ‘Liberation of Albanian Lands’
Mediterranean Union
»EU Launches ‘ENPARD’ For Southern Neighbours
North Africa
»Egyptian Presidential Hopefuls Banned
»Group of 100 Tunisians Kidnapped Close to Libyan Border
»Italian Hostage Freed in Algeria
»Turks to Get Same Rights in Europe’s Economy as EU Residents — Commission Decision Taken Last Week — Brussels Bringing Turkey Into EU Under the Radar
Israel and the Palestinians
»Cyprus, Israel Discuss Exploitation of Hydrocarbons
Middle East
»Bahrain: Amnesty Report, More Human Rights Violations
»Exclusive: Iran Ships “Off Radar” As Tehran Conceals Oil Sales
»Jordan’s Parliament Bans the Muslim Brotherhood’s Party
»Muslim Brotherhood Plans to Take Over Kuwait by 2013: Khalfan
»Saudi to Create 12,000 Security Jobs for Women
»Spengler: Recall Notice for the Turkish Model
»Syria: As Rebels and Regime Violate the Ceasefire, Kofi Annan’s Plan Collapses
»Yemen: Drone Strike Kills ‘At Least 7’ Militants
South Asia
»150 Afghan Schoolgirls Seriously Ill After Being Poisoned in Anti-Education Attack by Muslim Extremists
»How Pakistan Makes US Pay for Afghan War
»India: New Delhi Ready to Launch a Nuclear Missile That Can Reach China
»India: Series of ‘Acid Attacks’, But Cops Inactive
»Indonesia: Aceh’s New Governor Zaini Abdullah Pledges More Sharia
»Pakistan: Karachi Violence Heats Up Leaving at Least 7 Dead
»Pakistan: Bin Laden’s Family to be Expelled Wednesday
»Pakistan: Muslims Strip Christian Woman in Punjab Because She “Dressed Up”, Shoot at Her Son
»Poison Scare Highlights Threats to Girls’ Education in Afghanistan
Far East
»Volkswagen Builds New Car Factory in China Trouble Region
Sub-Saharan Africa
»Extended Somalia Pirate Plan Creates Waves
»Germany Expands Military Mission Against Somali Pirates
Latin America
»Asian Investment Boom Seen in Latin America
»‘Latin America Must Open Up’
»Germany: Deportation to Kosovo Means a Life in Misery
»Italy: Deportees on Alitalia Flight With Taped Mouths
Culture Wars
»Switzerland: Sex Box for Kids Sparks Call to Action
»Italy: Another Northern League Heavyweight Resigns
»‘Rogue’ Alien Planets May Circle Billions of Stars

Financial Crisis

A New Dispute Over Euro Rescue Fund: Spain Wants Billions for Its Banks

A number of euro zone countries and senior officials at the European Central Bank would like to see the euro bailout fund changed so that it can provide direct aid to banks. This could help Spain, which has emerged in recent days as a new center of the euro crisis, but Germany is opposed.

With an eye on the growing banking crisis in southern Europe, particularly in Spain, an increasing number of goverments as well as senior represenatives of the European Central Bank are pleading for the European Union’s temporary euro backstop fund to be used to provide financial institutions with direct assistance.

Sources familiar with the discussions told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the parties would like to see the criteria used by the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to allocate aid be relaxed to include financial institutions in the event they represent a greater problem than a country’s government finances. So far, this aid has been paid to governments, which in turn provided some forms of assistance to beleagured banks.

Such a move would enable the temporary euro-zone rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), to directly transfer money to these banks, bypassing national governments.

Süddeutsche reports that the primary supporter for the calls is the Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which is having increasing difficulty raising money on the markets to fill the country’s budget shortfall. Relaxing the rules could help ease the burden of the banking crisis his government faces and it would enable Spain’s comparably low debt-to-GDP ratio to remain constant. In addition, it would mean that his country wouldn’t be forced to implement strict savings and reform measures that are stipulated by the rescue fund in exchange for aid. As some observers have noted, austerity measures appear to be contributing to Spain’s slide into recession.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Balanced Budget Enshrined in Constitution

Extended austerity proposal passes Italian Senate

(ANSA) — Roma, April 17 — On Tuesday the Italian Senate passed a balanced budget law, to be written into the Constitution without the need for a referendum.

The extended austerity proposal, which is part of the European Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance, will become national law after it gained two-thirds of the Senate vote, hence avoiding referendum.

Premier Mario Monti took part in the vote, which he called “important”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU Gives €1mn to Orange Order Ahead of Irish Referendum

Victims of republican violence during The Troubles in Northern Ireland are to get help from a €1.1mn EU grant paid to The Orange Order, a Protestant-unionist movement, the Press Association reports. The news could rouse anti-EU feeling in Ireland in the run-up to the May referendum on the fiscal treaty.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU on Greek Statistics Scandal: ‘Never Again’

BRUSSELS — The EU commission has proposed new rules on how to shield national statistics bureaus from political influence, three years after Greece lied about its deficit, triggering its first bail-out and marking the start of the eurozone crisis.

Under the new regime, unveiled on Tuesday (17 April), EU governments will have to sign written pledges that they will not make political appointments in the sector and on the independence of national number-grinders more broadly.

Failure to comply would lead to legal action at the European Court of Justice and potential fines, apart from the market turmoil that such a breach of confidence can trigger. MEPs and member states still have to bless the scheme. But for his part, taxation commissioner Algirdas Semeta told press in Brussels: “We want to ensure that, (that) never again, will we have any political influence on our statistics.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU: Banks Gorging on Sovereign Bonds Shifts Risk

Rome, 18 April (AKI/Bloomberg) — Italian, Spanish and Portuguese banks are loading up on bonds issued by their own governments, a move that shifts more of the risk of sovereign default to European taxpayers from private creditors.

Holdings of Spanish government debt by lenders based in the country jumped 26 percent in two months, to 220 billion euros ($289 billion) at the end of January, data from Spain’s treasury show. Italian banks increased ownership of their nation’s sovereign bonds by 31 percent to 267 billion euros in the three months ended in February, according to Bank of Italy data.

German and French banks, meanwhile, have cut holdings of those countries’ bonds, as well as Irish and Greek debt, by as much as 50 percent since 2010 in some cases. That leaves domestic firms on the hook for a restructuring such as Greece’s last month and their main financier, the European Central Bank, facing losses. Like Greece, governments would have to rescue their lenders with funds borrowed from the European Union.

“The more banks stop cross-border lending, the more the ECB steps in to do the financing,” said Guntram Wolff, deputy director of Bruegel, a Brussels-based research institute. “So the exposure of the core countries to the periphery is shifting from the private to the public sector.”

ECB Lending

The jump in sovereign-debt holdings by Spanish and Italian banks has been fueled by the ECB’s 1 trillion-euro long-term refinancing operation, or LTRO, initiated in December, to provide liquidity to the region’s lenders. Encouraged by their governments to take the money and buy bonds, banks borrowed 489 billion euros on Dec. 21 and 530 billion euros on Feb. 29.

For lenders in so-called peripheral countries — Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Italy — profit also was an inducement: They could borrow at 1 percent to buy government bonds yielding between 6 percent and 13 percent.

Lenders in those five countries have taken about 715 billion euros from the ECB through emergency programs, including the LTRO, according to the most recent data provided by the central banks of those nations. Irish and Greek lenders have borrowed an additional 83 billion euros from their central banks, using collateral that isn’t accepted by the ECB.

The bond purchases helped bring down borrowing costs at first. The yield on Spain’s benchmark 10-year bond dropped below 5 percent in January from more than 6.5 percent in November. Concerns that a deepening recession will lead the government to default on its bonds have driven yields back to 6 percent and the cost of insuring Spanish debt to levels that prompted other European countries to seek bailouts.

Ireland, Portugal

Irish banks increased ownership of that nation’s sovereign debt by 21 percent in the three months ended in February, according to the Central Bank of Ireland.

Government-bond holdings by Portuguese banks jumped 15 percent to 30 billion euros in the same period, according to ECB data. While the central bank doesn’t provide a breakdown of the holdings by country, most debt sold by Portugal in recent months has been snapped up by its own lenders, according to two primary dealers who serve as middlemen in the sales and who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

French and German banks bought the sovereign debt of other European countries last decade as the region’s financial sector became more integrated and interest rates declined. That process has been fragmented by the debt crisis.

Since 2010, banks in France and Germany have retreated, cutting lending to the governments of Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece 42 percent, according to data compiled by the Bank for International Settlements. Dumping Italian sovereign bonds began more recently, with German lenders reducing their Italian holdings 13 percent in the second and third quarters of 2011, BIS data show. French banks shrunk their holdings of Italian government debt about 25 percent in the third quarter.

Debt Relief

While French and German banks lost money on Greece’s restructuring last month, a delay of more than a year allowed a similar shift of risk to the public sector. When the exchange took place, the debt relief was capped at 59 billion euros because fewer bonds were held by the private sector, including banks outside the country. If Greece had defaulted in 2010, the reduction could have been as much as 232 billion euros.

Greece had to borrow an additional 49 billion euros from the International Monetary Fund and the EU to recapitalize Greek banks that couldn’t handle losses on their sovereign-debt holdings during the restructuring.

“If there’s a private-sector restructuring of Portuguese sovereign debt, then Portugal’s banks will need a bailout like Greek banks did,” Dimitri Papadimitriou, president of the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, said in an interview.

Regulatory Pressure

In Spain, stronger banks such as Banco Santander SA (SAN), the country’s largest lender, can handle losses from their sovereign holdings, while weaker savings institutions stung by soured real estate loans will need help, Papadimitriou said. Italian banks probably are buying more of their country’s debt because they can sell it to retail customers who still have an appetite for the securities, he said.

Lenders in peripheral countries are facing pressure from regulators and the ECB to buy government debt, according to two executives and a banking supervisor who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. German and French regulators, meanwhile, have said they asked banks to cut lending to those nations.

“As German banks reduce their exposure and the domestic banks pick up the slack, credit is becoming national again,” said Michael Dawson-Kropf, a Frankfurt-based senior director at Fitch Ratings. “But in most cases, like Ireland, there aren’t enough domestic deposits to do that, so they need external financing.”

‘Backdoor Exposure’

That’s when the ECB and other public lenders step in, creating a “backdoor exposure” for wealthier nations such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, said Sean Egan, president of Egan-Jones Ratings Co. in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

“Private-sector banks offloading their obligations to the public sector doesn’t get the German taxpayer off the hook,” Egan said. His firm downgraded Germany’s sovereign credit to A+ in January, four levels below the top rating, amid worries that the country will have to rescue other EU nations.

Before the 2008 crisis, banks in Ireland held almost no Irish government debt. They owned about 20 percent of that nation’s sovereign bonds as of Dec. 31, according to data compiled by the Washington-based Institute of International Finance. In the meantime, the Irish government has pumped 62 billion euros into its banks to cover losses on real estate loans and now owns most of the banking system.

Tied at Hips

“The Irish government and the banks are tied at the hips,” said Constantin Gurdgiev, a finance lecturer at Trinity College in Dublin. “Banks get money from the government, which turns around and borrows from the banks. But how long can this game go on?”

Portuguese banks’ ownership of that country’s sovereign bonds jumped to 12 percent at the end of 2011 from 5 percent in 2007, according to IIF data. Spanish banks’ share of their government’s debt rose to 35 percent from 24 percent.

Meanwhile, foreign banks’ holdings of Spanish government debt dropped to 64 percent at the end of September from 74 percent a year earlier, IIF data show. In Ireland, the share declined to 23 percent from 27 percent, and in Portugal it fell to 19 percent from 26 percent.

‘National Fragmentation’

“This national fragmentation of credit is beginning to undo the financial integration that was one of the biggest benefits of the monetary union,” said Hung Tran, deputy managing director of the IIF, which represents more than 400 banks worldwide. “It’s not reducing the vulnerability of the banking system to the sovereign risk either.”

The ECB’s emergency-lending programs can provide indirect support for governments, “but only if sovereigns are perceived by markets to be going in the right direction,” David Mackie, chief European economist for JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in an April 10 note to investors.

“If there are doubts about the path ahead for sovereigns, then longer-term financing for banks will not necessarily provide much support as domestic banks may be reluctant to buy and other holders of sovereign debt may be keen to sell,” wrote Mackie, who is based in London.

Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Greece relied on banks in countries with stronger economies to finance their budget deficits for a long time, said Jan Hagen, a banking professor at Berlin’s European School of Management and Technology. With those lenders now weakened by losses and pressed to reduce risk, governments will struggle to finance themselves as the rest of the world stays away, he said.

“Governments loved the banking sector’s growth in the last two decades because they could borrow so easily,” Hagen said. “It was like a drug addiction. But like all addictions, it probably will end in a bad way.”

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

Hungary Bows to EU Pressure on Central Bank Law

(BUDAPEST) — Hungary’s government said Wednesday it is altering legislation that the EU had criticised as curbing the independence of the central bank, in the latest attempt to unblock talks on financial aid. “The Hungarian government has tabled changes to the central bank law concerning several points contested by the European Commission,” the economy ministry said in a statement.

A government representative will now not take part in meetings of the central bank’s rate-setting committee, which will no longer be obliged to send to the government the minutes of these talks, the ministry added.

In addition, a constitutional change has also been tabled excluding a merger of the central bank with Hungary’s financial regulator, which critics had said would have further increased government control over monetary policy.

“These changes have been sent to the European Commission, which has taken note of them,” the statement added.

The announcement followed talks on Monday at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt between officials from the Hungarian government, the European Commission and the ECB.

In November Hungary approached the European Union and the International Monetary Fund about a possible 15-20-billion-euro ($20-26-billion) credit line after the forint currency plunged and Hungary’s borrowing costs soared.

But talks have snagged on EU objections to a raft of legislation passed by the centre-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban that Brussels worries increases state control on the judiciary, the media — and the central bank.

In March the European Commission gave Hungary a month to amend the judiciary and data protection laws or face court action, saying financial aid depended on Budapest proving its commitment the EU’s democratic principles.

Orban on Friday accused Brussels of “blackmail”, but behind the combative rhetoric his government has moved to assuage the European Commission’s concerns, submitting in late March changes to its legislation on the judiciary.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italian Family Debt Lower Than EU Counterparts Says IMF

Only 51% of GDP

(ANSA) — Washington, April 18 — Italian families have lower household debt than other eurozone countries and the US an International Monetary Fund report released on Wednesday said.

Italian family debt was registered at 51% of GDP, while in the US it was 88% of GDP and in the UK 99%.

Financial institutions in Italy were at 97% of GDP while non-financial institutions 122%, reported the IMF.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama Stimulus Dollars Funded Soros Empire, In Scandal That Dwarfs ACORN and Gsa, Says New Report

Billionaire “philanthropist” George Soros expanded his U.S.-based empire by using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Newly recently released tax documents, examined and analyzed by Tina Trent of, reveal how billionaire “philanthropist” George Soros expanded his U.S.-based empire by using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the Obama stimulus. Soros and Obama worked hand-in-glove through the stimulus, which has been called the largest single partisan wealth transfer in American history.

The new report has been released by America’s Survival, Inc. (ASI), publisher of the Soros Files website, and posted under the title OBAMA STIMULUS DOLLARS FUNDED SOROS EMPIRE. The release of the report coincides with an Internet advertising campaign on, a global source of news and information, drawing attention to how the transfers of federal funds to the Soros empire constitute a bigger scandal than ACORN.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

One Jobless Person Per Day Kills Self in Italy

Unemployed male suicides up 45% in three years

(ANSA) — Rome, April 17 — Joblessness is driving nearly one person everyday to commit suicide in Italy, a new report showed Tuesday. In 2010, 362 people who killed themselves were out of work, up from 357 in 2009, both a significant rise from an average 270 in the three previous years, according to the Eures think tank’s report ‘Suicide in Italy in a Time of Crisis’. Of the total number of those who committed suicide from 2008 to 2010, 39.2% were unemployed. The rise in suicides among the unemployed was particularly apparent among the male population. In 2008, 231 jobless men killed themselves; in 2009 the number went up to 303; in 2010, it went up again to 310: a 45.5% jump in only three years. The authors of the report credited men’s tendency to identify themselves with their occupations as a factor for the disproportionate toll on men compared to women. The suicide rate is also up among those aged 45 to 64, corresponding to the so-called ‘esodati’ (‘exiled’) demographic, who are laid-off employees who are ineligible to receive a pension because they are younger than the minimum retirement age. That age group suffered a 12.6% rise in 2010, following a 16.8% rise in 2009. Artisans and merchants suffered the greatest suicide toll among sectors in 2010 with 192 total deaths. Businessmen and independent contractors accounted for 144 suicides.

The industrial north of Italy leads the country in total suicides, with the Lombardy region surrounding Milan in first place, the Veneto region second and Emilia-Romagna third. photo: demonstrators protesting lay-offs

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Portugal: Possible Extension Financial Support, Premier

Due to events out of our control, article in Financial Times

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 18 — The premier of Portugal, Pedro Passos Coelho, has warned that the country may need financial aid for a longer period due to “circumstances that are outside the government’s control.” In an article published today by the Financial Times, Passos Coelho underlined that Portugal will respect its international commitments and will be financially autonomous again in 2013, despite the risk that factors outside the government’s control may keep Portugal from reaching its targets.

“It is important to say something that will sound controversial, but is in fact not controversial at all: in an age of uncertainty there are no guarantees,” the Portuguese premier wrote. “There are no guarantees and we cannot legislate for events out of the government’s control”, he continued. The premier referred to external factors that may cause Portugal “to rely on the commitment of our international partners to extend further support” if circumstances beyond Portugal’s control obstruct its return to market financing. Portugal has received 78 billion euros in support of its economy from IMF, the European Commission and ECB. The country is implementing the agreed financial restructuring programme.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Premier Monti is Grateful to Italians for Their Courage

(AGI) Rome — “I am deeply grateful to Italians for the awareness with which they are facing this difficult moment”.

The statement was made by Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti during the ceremony for the award of the Goldan Necklace for Sporting Merit and the Honors Diplomas at the CONI, the Italian Olympics Committee facilities. In order to restore hope to the Country, Monti went on to say, “it is the ruling class that must do more: this is the commitment that I share with everybody and also what you give Italians through your achievements is a message of hope”, Monti added addressing a public of male and female athletes. Monti also recalled the closing of the year celebrating the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy: “throughout the year, million of flags have been hung from the windows and homes of Italians and our Mameli national anthem has been played frequently. Our hope is that in 2012 our tricolored Italian flag and Mameli’s anthem will continue to wave and echo in the homes of Italians”.

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

Showdown in Washington: Emerging Nations Vie for Power at IMF

The European Union would like to see the International Monetary Fund provide billions in additional funds to help relieve the debt crisis. However, a number of emerging economies are resisting the plans, accusing the West of abusing its power within the organization and creating a “North Atlantic Monetary Fund”.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Slovenian Public Servants Strike Over Austerity Measures

Slovenian public servants have walked off the job to protest against the government’s austerity measures, which they say they are being forced to bear the brunt of. Prime Minister Janez Jansa says his hands are tied. Civil servants went on strike in Slovenia on Wednesday to protest against planned pay cuts.

The strike closed schools and other public services across the small European Union country. Around 80,000 public sector workers took part in the general strike, according to union officials.

The center-right government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa, which took office just two months ago, is planning to cut public sector wages by more than seven percent as part of its austerity drive aimed at wrestling down Slovenia’s high budgetary deficit. Jansa’s government is hoping to reduce the deficit from 6.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 3.5 percent in 2012. That’s still well above the three-percent ceiling set out in the European Union’s Stability and Growth Pact, which is designed to safeguard the bloc’s common currency, the euro.

The unions, though, argue that it is unfair for civil servants to have to shoulder the bulk of the burden through wage cuts. “This is the wrong idea for Slovenia to grow,” Branimir Strukelj, the head of the confederation of public trade unions said. “The strike is a serious message to the government that we are determined to defend the social state and the acquired standards in education,” he added.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


3 Out at Secret Service in Colombia Prostitution Scandal

Three Secret Service employees are leaving in the prostitution scandal that has rocked the agency, and eight other employees remain on administrative leave, the agency announced Tuesday evening. One supervisor was allowed to retire, and another faces termination proceedings. The third, a non-supervisory employee, resigned, the agency said. It is unclear if more firings are imminent, but one federal law enforcement official said the number of firings would be between two and “a handful.”

The scandal was made public Saturday. As many as 11 agents and 10 military servicemembers allegedly brought prostitutes back to their hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, while doing advance work before the president’s arrival for a trade summit. The swelling scandal has raised questions about the “secret” culture at the nation’s elite protection agency — and few are feeling the heat more intensely than its director, Mark Sullivan.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

A Progressive Perverts the Commerce Clause; But O’Reilly Gets it Right

Bill O’Reilly (Fox News) made our Framers proud when, on March 26, 2012, he correctly explained [probably for the first time ever on TV] the genuine meaning of the interstate commerce clause. O’Reilly’s guest was Big Government Progressive Caroline Fredrickson, Esq., of the inaptly named “American Constitution Society.” In trying to defend obamacare, she said that our Framers intended to grant to Congress extensive powers over the “national economy”:

“When the Founding Fathers adopted the Constitution, they put in the commerce clause ah specifically so that Congress could actually regulate interstate commerce. They envisioned a national economy, and we really have one now, and to the tune of over two trillion dollars, health care makes up a big big part of that and so it’s completely within the power of ah Congress to pass this legislation [obamacare] and to attempt to provide some reasonable regulation…”

But what she said is not true! Accordingly, O’Reilly responded:

The interstate commerce clause was put in so individual States could not charge tariffs [for] going from one state to another. So, for example, Pennsylvania would say to New Jersey, ‘Hey, you can’t bring in anything here from New Jersey unless you pay us 2% on it.’“

Bravo, O’Reilly! That is precisely the purpose of the interstate commerce clause.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Comic Books as a Method of Missionizing for Islam (Da’wa)?

Yes. One year ago, Harvard University hosted a workshop to teach comic book artists how to address Americans’ “unease with Islam and the Middle East.” And later this week, Georgetown University will air a PBS documentary, Wham! Bam! Islam! celebrating a comic book called The 99.


But a closer look reveals the Islamic nature of the comic book. The title, 99, refers to Islam’s concept that God has 99 names, each of which appears in the Koran and embodies some attribute of His character: the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Kind, the Most Holy, and the All-Peaceful, but also the Avenger, the Afflicter, and the Causer of Death.


Likewise, Barack Obama praised the comic books for having “captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Dick Clark: TV Impresario, Is Dead at 82

The television legend Dick Clark, who originated “American Bandstand” and the perennial New Year’s Eve celebration on ABC, died Wednesday morning, his representative Paul Shefrin said.

Mr. Shefrin said that Mr. Clark, 82, had suffered a massive heart attack.

[Return to headlines]

Helter Skelter Manufactured Crisis = Manufactured Race Wars

As the economic pressures increase in the United States and across the world, people have a tendency to retreat into tribal, ethnic and racial groups. That tendency is amplified by radical groups on both the right and the left , who seek to use racial conflict as a means to maintaining and acquiring political power. The stage is being set by the media and other powers in the United States for all-out class warfare. It started months ago with powerful television images of gangs of African American girls brutally beating up a white girl in a fast food restaurant.

The programming of mass consciousness is accelerating with stroboscopic intensity: television images of the New Black Panther Party, Neo-Nazi groups parading in uniform, Trevor Martin, George Zimmerman and on it goes. It seems the mass media, or the people who control the media, want a race war. This should be obvious to anyone who is not wacked out of their mind on drugs or television. The 24/7 news cycle seems intent on stirring the pot with powerful and hateful emotions.


Images and messages that stir up racial violence can easily to lead to race wars and then to class wars. Is that their purpose? I believe it is.

The Cloward-Piven Strategy was developed in the 1960s by a pair of radical leftist Columbia University professors, Richard Andrew Cloward and Frances Fox Piven. The Cloward-Piven Strategy is to force political change through manufactured crisis. Specifically, a manufactured crisis like race wars is intended to create the fall of capitalism by triggering class warfare and violence. It is classic Marxist strategy and that is why we hear terms like the 99% and the 1% repeated like mantras hypnotically through the media.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Liberal “Political Psychology” Propaganda

Blatant propaganda attack on conservatism, tea party, religious beliefs, and intellectual ability of Americans who disagree with liberals Liberal “Political Psychology” Propaganda.

Chris Mooney wrote an article for the Washington Post on “why Republicans and Democrats don’t just vote differently — their brains work differently too.” He is the author of “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why they Deny Science — and Reality.”

Mooney, who has an English degree from Yale, wrote two other books, “Republican War on Science” and “Unscientific American.”

According to Mooney, political differences are no longer just about divergent philosophies, wealth, or lobbying, but about “political psychology.” “Political psychology” is psychobabble for pseudo-science. We know how many times throughout history real science has been wrong.

“Political psychology” is the ultimate euphemistic leftist talking points interpretation of why liberals and conservatives “hold wildly incompatible views on issues ranging from global warming to whether the president was born in the U.S. to whether his stimulus package created any jobs.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Man Charged With Murder in Beating Death of Stepson, 10

A 10-year-old boy was found dead in the basement of his Guilford Street home late Tuesday and his stepfather, Ali Mohamed Mohamud, has been charged with second-degree murder, Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards announced this afternoon.

Mohamud, 40, took his stepson, Abdifatah Mohamud, into the basement of the family home, which is near the Broadway Market, to discipline him and proceeded to beat him to death, possibly with a blunt object, police said.

Ferry-Fillmore District Police Officer Christopher Fields responded to a missing person call at 10:40 p.m. and was let inside the house, where, moments later, he found the boy’s body in the basement.

The stepfather, Richards said, had left the house earlier in a red Subaru Forester and Fields radioed a “pick-up” request for the vehicle, which was spotted parked in the vicinity of Washington and Scott streets.

Investigating officers learned that Mohamud worked as a security officer for U.S. Security Associates at The Buffalo News, where he was arrested within an hour of the initial call and without incident, the chief added.

The News is located at the intersection of Washington and Scott.

“The suspect made a statement to police indicating his involvement in the death of his stepson,” Richards said. “There are certain indications the victim had been beaten. It was a disturbing scene.”

A neighbor said the family, which consists of three older children and three younger children, is from Somalia. Mohamud, Richards said, has been in the country for a decade.

The neighbor added that Mohamud is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Homicide Det. Sgt. James Lonergan is heading the continuing investigation into the killing.

           — Hat tip: MS[Return to headlines]

Media Hysteria and the Remolding of the American Mind

During the Cold War, Soviet leadership counted on fear and terror—the Stockholm Syndrome—to implant socialist sympathies in the hearts of Americans for their cause. Americans, who felt helpless before their dark fears of impending doom, started to look to the Soviets for relief from this fear. To some extent Reagan slowed this process in the two key ways suggested in Part I of this article—strong defense and values. Knowing what we stood for helped us stand against tyranny, and with SDI, for the first time it seemed like there was an alternative to living in fear. But both of these things were made light of by the liberal media who considered SDI a “star wars” fantasy and American values somewhat corny—like Reagan himself. So with certain Americans, the Soviets still enjoyed considerable success.

Watching angry “peace” demonstrations must cause most Americans to scratch their heads in wonder. Nothing America does seems to satisfy these people. Jeane Kirkpatrick described them as people who “blame America first.” What’s really going on is straightforward enough; living with fear and resentment, many Americans were going through what Patty Hearst experienced—a conversion. Forty years or so of intimidation have transformed the thinking, feeling, emotional lives of these Americans. Through fear, rage, and intimidation, they have developed a subconscious affinity with the other side.

The technique is simple enough. Place a person under extreme pressure. Threaten his or her life over a long period of time without rest, and just as you see the terror transforming the victim, change the face of cruelty and smile sweetly at your victim; you become his friend after the terror does its work. Now you reward the slavish submission with approval and validate your victim’s altered belief system as the truth, and give them new direction. Police sometimes use this bad guy/good guy routine to break down a suspect and obtain confessions.

Of course, you can’t terrorize people if you can’t reach them. The point is, the media must bear great responsibility for what has happened in America. They are supposed to report the news, but not in a distorted manner that frightens people. I remember during the Second World War in England the calm, matter-of-fact manner of the newscasters. They told us the most unpleasant truth with great dignity. They didn’t try to panic the British people as they reported the Nazis were overrunning France and poised at our doors. On the contrary, the honesty and the dignity with which the bad news was presented seemed to bolster British morale. It made us all the more resolute to fight “the Jerries,” as we called them to make light of the matter.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Middle Class San Franciscans Fleeing City

Tony Bennett famously left his heart in San Francisco. And, for thousands of middle class residents in the City by the Bay, their hearts may be the only part of them they can afford to leave there.

Like all great world cities, San Francisco is an attractive destination for tourists, businesses and workers from all walks of life looking to better their lives in a diverse and thriving environment. But, the city’s popularity does have a side effect. It’s creating a cost of living so high that it’s chasing away the middle and low-income immigrants and minorities who make the city tick.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

NASA Requests Inspiration for New Mars Quests

“Have a good idea about Mars exploration? We’d like to hear about it.” So tweeted NASA’s John Grunsfeld. Following budget cuts, the US space agency is rewriting its Mars exploration programme and clearly needs all the inspiration it can get.

The programme was hit hard by the proposed 2013 US federal budget, and so NASA pulled out of European-led missions planned for 2016 and 2018. It has two other missions in progress — the rover CuriosityMovie Camera, pictured during take-off (see right) and set to land on Mars in August, and the orbiter MAVEN, which should launch in 2013.

NASA is looking to the public and the wider science community to help decide what happens next. On 13 April, the new Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) announced that it wants ideas from researchers, government and industry for how to reach Mars cheaply. The ideas will be presented at a workshop in June in Houston, Texas.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Illegal Alien Uncle Gets Driver’s License After DWI

After pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated, President Barack Obama’s illegal-alien “Uncle Omar” was handed a Massachusetts driver’s license by the Motor Vehicles Registry, making it legal for him to drive again in that state in spite of protests by law enforcement officials. In addition, federal officials continue to say Uncle Obama doesn’t belong in the United States in the first place.

“Onyango Obama, 67, who lost his regular license for 45 days last week, gained his driver’s license yesterday from the Registry’s Wilmington branch, after telling a hearing officer that life without wheels would have posed an undue hardship on his livelihood as a liquor-store manager. Obama bolstered his case with a letter from his employer, Conti Liquors, as well as proof that he’d enrolled in an alcohol-treatment program,” said John Zaremba and O’Ryan Johnson of the Boston Herald.

There are many who have become highly suspicious of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s complicity in the decision to give a license to a man just convicted of drunk driving. Patrick is a staunch Democrat and was appointed the co-campaign manager for President Obama’s re-election run the same week Uncle Obama got his driver’s license.

“How is it possible that a previously deported illegal immigrant stripped of his driving privileges after getting busted for drunken-driving gets his license reinstated? Hint; his beloved nephew lives in the White House,” stated the Judicial Watch blog.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck on Terror Show: Is the Muslim Brotherhood Winning?

On this week’s episode of the Stakelbeck on Terror show, we examine the Muslim Brotherhood’s alarming recent strides in the United States—including a visit by a Brotherhood delegation to the White House to meet with Obama administration officials.

We also show how radical, Brotherhood-linked American groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are benefiting from the group’s newfound “mainstream” status.

Plus, General Jerry Boykin joins us for an exclusive interview about CAIR’s pressure campaign against him and we also sit down with a leading Egyptian dissident—a former Muslim turned Christian—who warns about the Brotherhood’ rise.

And you won’t want to miss Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert as he calls the Obama administration on its open door policy for Islamists.

Click the link above to watch.

           — Hat tip: Erick Stakelbeck[Return to headlines]

What Passes for Intelligence — SPLC Intelligence Report, Spring 2012

The spring “intelligence” report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has been released and as usual it has little to do with intelligence and more to do with fear mongering and misdirection. As an intelligence analyst I know what an intelligence report is and this is not that.

They start off with identifying what they call “Patriot” groups in the United States in 2011. Now in my 56 years in this country I always thought of myself as a Patriot. I have served in the military, went to war, was awarded the Purple Heart, swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and always thought being a Patriot was a good thing.

Not these, ahem, intelligence analyst of the SPLC — they classify these groups as anti-government. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of anti-government groups around but just because citizens are wishing to hold government accountable, which is their duty, is admirable and does not make them “anti-government.” Maybe anti-unlawful government.

So how does a group get on this prestigious list? Evidently not hard at all; I personally know of a number of these “groups” that have only just started and have done nothing so far, and I mean absolutely nothing. In fact one group, and I’ll get to them later, has a total of 3 people involved, have only had a handful of meetings and have set up a rudimentary web page — that’s it. They must be very dangerous and scary to the “intelligence” folks at the SPLC.


Everything I have placed in this article can be found with a simple search on the internet. What really worries me is not that the SPLC publishes such unfounded misinformation; it is that the current administration and especially the Department of Homeland Security have a history of communication and sharing with the SPLC and that the SPLC is taken seriously by our government when so much of what they “report” is just plain wrong. The SPLC has been cited numerous times in state fusion center and DHS literature as being a credible source of their information. That, to me, is what is really scary.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Wolf Blitzer Should Apologize to Allen West

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer played the role of wise guy during a segment last Thursday on Rep. Allen West and communism. West “sounds like McCarthy,” Blitzer said, referring to his allegations of communists in Congress. The comment was designed to ridicule West, a combat veteran of the Iraq War and a man considered by many Republicans to be vice-presidential material. Blitzer urged West to issue a public apology.

But Blitzer is the one who should apologize, for he did not offer West’s comments in context. Blitzer also ignored clear and convincing evidence that the Communist Party USA, once funded by Moscow, regards the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Democratic Party as allies in the “struggle” for socialism in the U.S.

“What’s the difference between the CPUSA and progressive Democrats?” asked CPUSA writer Dan Margolis. “The CPUSA has worked to get Democrats elected, fought for health care reform with the public option, and embraced most of what organized labor has been doing.”


Although Blitzer used the phrase “sounds like McCarthy” in order to mock West, it bears repeating that the communist threat was much greater than even Sen. Joseph McCarthy had feared. The Venona transcripts of communications among Soviet spies in the U.S., many recruited by the Communist Party, and Moscow, demonstrated as many as 350 infiltrators, including numerous high-level government officials.

With some prominent exceptions such as Democratic Rep. Danny Davis, members of Congress do not advertise their work or affiliations with the CPUSA these days. However, as West noted, the party has referred to “our allies in Congress, the Progressive Caucus, and John Conyers,” the Congressman from Michigan who participated in events sponsored by the U.S. Peace Council, the CPUSA front.

The problem is actually much worse than that.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Accusations Against Lord Ahmed Merely Highlight a Vile Anti-British Career

Lord Ahmed exemplifies ‘Labour appointments to the Lords in the 1990s designed to make Parliament more ‘multicultural’, a deliberate project by Labour to make Parliament represent ethnicity over the love of our country.

Lord Ahmed was suspended by the Labour party yesterday for allegedly putting a bounty on the heads of President Obama and former President GW Bush while supporting the man indicted for the Bombay terror attacks.

It is unclear whether Ahmed actually said this. However his past record is not unblemished.

In 2005 he invited well-known anti-semite Israel Shamir to the House of Lords to talk about ‘Jews and Empire’.

In 2007 he savagely attacked Tony Blair for giving Salman Rushdie a knighthood, by oddly stating: ‘he’s honouring a man who has insulted the British public and been divisive in community relations’. It’s excellent that we have a Peer that has such an awful regard for our tradition of freedom of speech, who believes that literary merit cannot be praised if a minority might be offended.

In 2008 he ran over and killed a man on the M1 after texting on his mobile phone. He was given a prison sentence for dangerous driving, which was later suspended.

In 2009 he threatened to mobilise 10000 Muslims to prevent democratically elected Dutch MP Geert Wilders from speaking in Parliament, this is despite his own invite of the anti-semitic Israel Shamir who has been accused of denying the holocaust.

It is clear that Ahmed is a character that consistently shows dubious moral judgment, and Miliband should show some strength to move to annul his Peerage altogther.”

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Cyprus’ Church Set to Start Private Power Station

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, APRIL 17 — The Church of Cyprus has signed preliminary agreements to start the island’s first private power station, wrote quoting Archbishop Chrysostomos II as saying on Orthodox Easter Sunday.

The station will start using mazut fuel and then switch to natural gas, with the Church offering its land and foreign companies offering technology and know-how, according to the Archbishop. Due to the economic recession, the Church’s revenues have dropped by 60%, he said, and the planned electricity plant will bring new income and create new jobs. There is a crisis in the energy market in Cyprus due to the deadly explosion last July, which critically damaged the island’s largest power station, Vassiliko’. Electricity prices have increased by at least one third as the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) added a 6.95% charge to cover the costs of hiring generators to take over some of the missing power. But in an overall economic crisis, consumers have had difficulty paying their bills, which frequently reach hundreds of euros. As one of the island’s largest landowners, the Church is possibly the most likely candidate to compete against the EAC, which has been criticised for failing to adapt to changing technologies and was left financially and technically vulnerable by the damage to Vassiliko’. When the EAC’s board of directors presented the authority’s 1.8 billion-euro 2012 budget to Parliament — with a 66 million-euro surplus — DIKO MP Nikolas Papadopoulos said that the EAC should make radical changes if it wants to be competitive in the near future. He backed the Cyprus Energy Regulatory Authority’s (CERA) call to rationalise and reorganise the company’s structure to make it more efficient. The EAC’s monopoly is the reason that consumers pay the highest electricity rates in the EU, and this was true before the explosion at Mari naval base which critically damaged the Vasiliko power plant, he said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Europe Needs to Profit From Human Spaceflight

As the final space shuttle lands at a US museum, Europe’s top astronaut says keeping humans in space is important for Earth-based research — and that it makes financial sense.

The European Space Agency (ESA) director of human spaceflight and operations, Thomas Reiter, said there was a simple reason why Europe should continue space missions: European countries have already invested considerable sums in the International Space Station, particularly the Columbus laboratory that permanently attached to the ISS, and “now it is time to reap the harvest.”

The Columbus laboratory, which was launched in 2008, provide space for research into material science, fluid physics and life science as well as an external payload facility for experiments the fields of space science, Earth observation and technology. Reiter’s remarks came following Italy’s decision to cut financing for ESA projects due to the ongoing economic crisis.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany: Father Gets 17 Years for Killing Daughter With Axe

The 53-year-old Pakistani man who killed his 16-year-old daughter, Swera, at their home in Zurich-Höngg in 2010 has been sentenced to 17 years imprisonment. The Zurich District Court found the father guilty of murder, and concluded that although it had not been an honour killing in the sense most commonly understood, the man had killed his daughter “to get out of a humiliating situation and to restore his honour”.

The court stated that the father, referred to as Scheragha R, had used “really excessive violence” and that he had killed his teenaged daughter with “reckless brutality”, newspaper Tages Anzieger reported.

The court listened as the defence lawyer, Matthias Brunner, described a man who had reached the end of his tether, both physically and emotionally, having been particularly burdened by his two younger daughters’ psychological, behavioural and developmental problems.

The discovery that his favourite eldest daughter wanted to move out of the home finally destroyed the family ideal he had held and sent him over the edge, Brunner said. But the prosecution, represented by Ulrich Krättli, went in hard and asserted that the father “had downright massacred his daughter”.

The court found that the brutality was such that Scheragha R deserved a life-sentence, although this was partially reduced because the 53-year-old had confessed to the murder and demonstrated feelings of remorse.

Each of the remaining children will receive between 12,000 and 15,000 francs in compensation for suffering. The murder took place on May 10th 2010, not long after 16-year-old Swera had been picked up at a Zurich police station by her parents. She had been caught stealing cigarettes.

It was the first time the girl had seen her father for two weeks: she had run away after her father had allegedly tried to electrocute her by throwing a hairdryer into the bath, online news site 20 Minuten reported.

Once back at their apartment Swera said she wanted to leave home permanently and started to pack a bag. She then went down to the basement of the building to get a pair of shoes. While she was gone, her father allegedly retrieved an axe from the balcony and hid it in the bedroom he shared with his wife.

Once she was back in the apartment, the girl went into her parents’ bedroom to pick up some of her belongings. When she bent down to retrieve some items from the wardrobe, her father hit her with the axe on the back of the head, the prosecutor says. The man struck his daughter 19 times with the axe: 12 times with the blade and seven with the blunt end.

The teenager did not die instantly, but lay on the ground in agonizing pain for several minutes until her life finally slipped away. After washing his hands, Scheragha R left the apartment and called his wife to say he had killed his daughter. Fifteen minutes later, he called the police, who arrested him shortly after near his apartment.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Greece: Riot Police Warned on Press Attacks

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 17 — Greek police officers have received a written warning from senior officers to stop attacks against journalists, after a veteran photographer was brutally beaten by riot policemen suffered a fractured skull, as daily Athens News reported. “While carrying out police duties, news media professionals must be treated with respect for the role that they must fulfil,” the written notice to officers said. “We must always display understanding and act professionally and responsibly.” Photographer Marios Lolos was seriously injured earlier this month after being confronted by riot police in Syntagma Square, during demonstrations that followed the suicide of retired pharmacist Dimitris Christoulas. Lolos, who colleague says was struck with the handle of a riot police truncheon, suffered a fractured skull and has still not recovered full use of his left arm. It was the latest in a series of recent incidents that have seen photographers and other news staff beaten by police, in several cases what appeared to be targeted attacks.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Medical Association’s President Probed for Investment Fraud

Investigators say scheme put 500 million euros at risk

(ANSA) — Rome, April 17 — The president of the Italian physicians’ insurance agency and pension fund Enpam, Eolo Parodi, is being investigated for alleged real estate investment fraud along with three others, police said on Tuesday. Raids on 47 homes, real estate studios, investment brokers and Enpam offices were conducted for probes into the alleged mismanagement of high-risk property acquisitions worth approximately 500 million euros.

Investigations into the president’s alleged misdeeds were initiated in May 2011 at the request of Enpam board members from the Catania, Ferrara, Bologna and Latina branches, and also include abuse of office.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Ex-League Treasurer Belsito Hands Over Gold and Diamonds

200,000 euros in jewels still missing, investigators say

(ANSA) — Rome, April 17 — The former treasurer of the scandal-plagued Northern League came forth on Tuesday with some of the diamonds and gold bars that were allegedly bought illegally with public election funds, ANSA sources said. Francesco Belsito, under multiple investigations for fraud and money laundering, gave his lawyer gold bullion and diamonds valued at hundreds of thousands of euros. But investigators say that 200,000 euros in diamonds are still unaccounted for. The items handed over Tuesday are said to be 11 gold bars weighing a total of five kilos and 11 packaged diamonds, which were passed on to party representatives who then handed them over to police. Prosecutors said Monday that bank records for the jewels and gold surfaced as part of an investigation into Belsito for allegedly channeling public funds to the family of ex-leader Umberto Bossi, who stepped down at the beginning of April.

Belsito is accused of buying the items along with former Senate Deputy Speaker Rosy Mauro, expelled last week from the party, and League Senator Piergiorgio Stiffoni.

In addition to turning over gold and diamonds, Belsito also handed over an Audi A6 sedan which at one point belonged to Bossi’s son Renzo, who stepped down last week as councillor in the Lombardy regional assembly.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Party Slams Minister Over TV-Frequency Auction

Passera ‘made a mess’ of plan says predecessor Romani

(ANSA) — Rome, April 17 — Ex-premier and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party on Tuesday slammed Industry Minister Corrado Passera for making “a mess” of a plan to auction off six new digital TV frequencies.

PdL heavyweight and former industry minister Paolo Romani said the approval of the plan, passed by the House finance committee with the PdL voting against, was a “serious” issue which would have to be taken up by a summit of the parties backing the government Tuesday night.

Romani claimed Passera went back on an original draft and framed the new plan, which would reportedly exclude Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire and state broadcaster RAI, with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) over the head of the PdL. The previous Berlusconi-led government was to have given the frequencies free to big media players including RAI and Mediaset in a so-called ‘beauty contest’.

The European Commission on Tuesday voiced approval for the auction plan, saying it would boost competitiveness in the Italian TV sector. Experts say the sale should bring in an estimated 1.2 billion euros for the government, which has imposed stiff austerity measures in a bid to balance the budget next year.

The original beauty contest for the frequencies had been opposed by critics of Berlusconi, who accused him of a conflict of interest.

The row over the frequencies is the latest sign of mounting tension between the PdL and PD over the economic policies of the technocratic government led by Mario Monti, which replaced Berlusconi’s executive at the peak of Italy’s euro debt crisis in November.

The PdL and PD are the main backers of Monti’s government.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Hopes Sponsoring Can Save Cultural Treasures

With the country mired in debt, Italy’s cultural budget has been slashed in recent years, spelling trouble for several historic sites. Many local politicians have turned to corporate sponsorships to raise the money necessary for vital upkeep. The trend has attracted considerable criticism.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Soccer: Radu Denies ‘Fascist Salute’

‘Doesn’t even know what Fascism is’ says Lazio defender’s lawyer

(ANSA) — Rome, April 18 — Stefan Radu on Wednesday told an Italian soccer disciplinary panel he had no intention of making a Fascist salute when he directed a stiff-armed gesture at celebrating fans after Lazio’s 3-1 win over Napoli at the Stadio Olimpico on April 7.

“(Radu) doesn’t even know what Fascism is,” the Romania defender’s lawyer told reporters after the hearing.

The lawyer said he was “convinced” that, even if found guilty, his client would be “let off with a fine”.

Lazio has a section of hard-core rightist fans and former striker Paolo Di Canio was fined for Fascist salutes to them twice in 2005.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

London Celebrates 100-Day Countdown to Olympics

It is 100 days until Britain hosts to the 2012 Olympics games and celebrations have been in full swing. Organizers have been keen to build Olympic fever after some trepidation over London’s ability to stage the event.

Britainmarked the 100-day countdown to the London Olympics on Wednesday with a series of celebrations around the country.

Some 20,000 flowers were planted in the shape of Olympic rings in London’s Kew Gardens and were visible to planes flying into London Heathrow airport. With some 31 out of 42 sports test events completed so far, dress rehearsals for wheelchair rugby, synchronised swimming and shooting were also scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

“There is a groundswell of support and excitement, not just in the UK, but internationally as the final countdown to the London 2012 Olympic Games begins,” former Olympic gold medallist and London Games chairman Sebastian Coe told reporters at Kew Gardens.

“Whether it’s the competing athletes or people getting ready to join their communities in supporting torchbearers on the streets of the UK, the whole world is getting ready for London.” “Expectations are high, and we won’t disappoint,” he added.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway: Judges Right to Let Killer Have His Say: Survivors

Anders Behring Breivik must be allowed to speak about what pushed him to kill 77 people in Norway last year, even if it is painful to hear, survivors and relatives of the victims say.

Telling the court on Tuesday that he “would have done it again” if he could, Breivik read a prepared text on his xenophobic and anti-Islam ideology for an hour and 13 minutes, much longer than the 30 minutes initially granted.

Chief judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen occasionally reminded Breivik to wrap up quickly and tone down his comments, but nonetheless allowed him to finish, a decision backed by survivors and relatives of the victims at the courthouse.

“He was allowed to finish yesterday, which was important for the court to be able to determine who he really is, why and how he was radicalized to the point of becoming a terrorist,” Trond Henry Blattmann, the head of a support group for the families of victims killed in the July 22 twin attacks, told AFP.

“Breivik has been treated correctly, in line with existing legal principles in Norway,” he added. The head of the Norwegian Lawyers’ Association, Berit Reiss-Andersen, agreed. “He’s being treated like any other accused in Norway,” she told AFP, saying that was absolutely crucial.

“Of course, he could have been stopped occasionally on some of the sensitive points, but the important thing was for the court to hear him. Especially to determine whether or not he can be held accountable for his actions,” Blattmann said on Wednesday.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Norway: ‘The Knights Templar Doesn’t Exist as You Describe It’

Lawyers rubbish claims mass killer Breivik was part of militant group

Lawyers in the trial of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik today set about rubbishing his claims that he was part of a sophisticated anti-Muslim militant group.

Prosecutors said they believed the 33-year-old’s so-called Knights Templar group did not exist ‘in the way he describes it’.

Breivik grew visibly irritated and refused to answer questions about the group, as his trial on terror charges for the massacre of 77 people entered its third day.

He insisted the group did exist and blamed police in ‘not doing a good enough job in uncovering it’.

He added: ‘It is not in my interest to shed light on details that could lead to arrests.’

Observers said the issue was of key importance in determining Breivik’s sanity.

It could ultimately decide where he is sent to prison or compulsory psychiatric care for the bomb-and-shooting massacre that shocked Norway on July 22, 2011.

Breivik claims to have carried out the attacks on behalf of the organisation, which he described in a 1,500-page compendium posted online before the attacks as a militant nationalist group fighting a Muslim colonization of Europe.

Prosecutor Inga Bejer Engh pressed him about details on the group, its members and its meetings.

Breivik claimed to have met a Serb ‘war hero’ living in exile during a trip to Liberia in 2002, but he refused to identify him.

‘What is it you’re getting at?’ Breivik told the prosecutor, then answered the question himself, saying prosecutors want to ‘sow doubt over whether the KT network exists’.

The main point of his defence is to avoid an insanity ruling, which would deflate his political arguments.

One psychiatric evaluation found him psychotic and ‘delusional’, while another found him mentally competent to be sent to prison.

If found sane, Breivik could face a maximum 21-year prison sentence or an alternate custody arrangement that would keep him locked up as long as he is considered a menace to society.

If declared insane he would be committed to psychiatric care for as long as he’s considered ill.

Breivik also refused to give details on what he claims was the founding session of the Knights Templar in London in 2002.

He conceded, however, that he embellished somewhat in the manifesto when he described the other three members at the founding session as ‘brilliant political and military tacticians of Europe’.

Breivik testified that he had used ‘pompous’ language and described them instead as ‘four people with great integrity’.

Bejer Engh challenged him on whether the meeting had taken place at all. He replied: ‘Yes, there was a meeting in London. I haven’t made up anything. What is in the compendium is correct.’

Later, he answered with more nuance, adding: ‘There is nothing that is made up, but you have to see what is written in a context. It is a glorification of certain ideals.’

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

Real Estate: Berlin Rivals London in Attracting Greek Money

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 17 — Greek capital transfers for the purchase of property abroad, particularly Germany, have acquired a steady pace in recent months, daily Kathimerini reports. “We are doing business with people interested in properties that are taxed less and yield higher returns than those at home,” says ImmoConsult’s Konstantin Vollbach. He notes, however, that most prospecting investors find it hard to sell a property they own in Greece in order to buy one abroad because of lack of interest and low prices. “Most investors have sums of around 250,000-300,000 euros and make up for the remaining required amount with a bank loan. As a rule, the preferred city is Berlin, where prices are relatively low compared to other cities,” Vollbach says. One of the main advantages of the German property market is easy access to financing. Banks cover up to 50% of the value of the property but tend to be particularly strict in scrutinizing the legitimacy of the origin of the funds transferred. London has traditionally been the top preference of Greek property investors, who account for about 3% of foreign purchases. The trend has tended to abate in recent months, in favor of cheaper destinations, including France, Switzerland and Turkey — which offers a wide price differential. According to Greek realtors, the average annual return of a local apartment now stands at 2-3%.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Museum Evacuated After ‘Racist’ Bomb Threat

A Stockholm museum was evacuated on Tuesday afternoon after receiving a “racially motivated” bomb threat, just days after a controversial piece of artwork had been revealed. Stockholm’s Moderna Museet received the call on Tuesday at 4pm, directly after Queen Silvia and the Finnish prime-minister’s wife Jenni Haukio had been visiting.

“The person who rang spoke English and said that there was a bomb and that it wasn’t a joke. He said the museum was a racist one,” said Lotta Guffhe of the Stockholm police to Aftonbladet newspaper.

The building was evacuated and a bomb squad was called in, complete with sniffer dogs. By 8pm, the police confirmed that the threat was false. The Moderna Museet has caught the public’s attention in Sweden this week after the Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth carved up a cake depicting a naked black woman.

The move by the minister, who claimed her actions were “misinterpreted”, sparked outrage amongst the National Afro-Swedish Association, resulting in spokesperson Kitimbwa Sabuni calling for the minister’s dismissal.

As part of the installation, which was reportedly meant to highlight the issue of female circumcision, the culture minister began cutting a large cake shaped like a black woman, symbolically starting at the clitoris.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Macedonia: Mysterious ‘Army’ Threatens ‘Liberation of Albanian Lands’

Skopje, 17 April (AKI) — Tensions were high in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Tuesday, less than a week after the murder of five Macedonians near the capital of Skopje, as a mysterious “army” threatened a “liberation of occupied Albanian lands”

Recently unknown “The Army for Liberation of Occupied Albanian Lands”, in a statement published by Macedonian media, gave the government an ultimatum to withdraw in two weeks from what it called “occupied Albanians lands” or face reprisals.

The “army’ said it has decided at the meeting of its “general staff” it would attack “Slavo-Macedonian police and military structures” if they don’t withdraw from the territory inhabited by ethnic Albanians.

Ethnic Albanians, who make about 25 percent of Macedonia’s two million population, are concentrated mostly in the west of the country bordering Albania, but there are numerous cities, like Skopje, with mixed population.

Five Macedonian youths and a middle aged man were killed last week near a lake north of Skopje while fishing and local media speculated the murders were ethnically motivated.

The police still haven’t discovered the perpetrators and about one thousand Macedonians protested in Skopje Monday evening, smashing windows on the government building and clashing with police.

Six people, including three policemen, were injured in the clashes and fourteen protesters were arrested as police blocked demonstrators from marching onto Albanian section of the city.

Ethnic Albanians rebelled in 2001, demanding more rights and regional autonomy, gaining concessions from the government under international mediation. But tensions have been running high ever since.

Macedonians are Slavs and the mysterious army has accused prime minister Nikola Gruevski of “daily violations of the rights of Albanians”, of “spreading anti-Albanian ideology, staging attacks on innocent Albanians and of blocking Albanian villages”.

“We have been silent long enough, the silence is now over,” the statement said. It vowed to “revenge brothers” and to “respond on fire with fire, an eye for an eye and an arm for an arm”.

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

Mediterranean Union

EU Launches ‘ENPARD’ For Southern Neighbours

Supports agricolture in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 17 — ENPARD is the new programme launched by the EU aiming to support agriculture and rural development in the southern Mediterranean, as part of its response to the Arab Spring under the renewed European Neighbourhood Policy.

According to the Enpi website (, with the launch of this programme the EU aims to meet the needs of Southern Mediterranean countries and to further a more inclusive growth, through the identification and implementation of operations that can be funded under its new SPRING programme and that answer three objectives: to improve farmers’ revenue and rural employment, in particular among young people; to increase the productivity of production systems, improving at the same time the quality of products and the capacity to adapt to changes; to reinforce organizational and institutional capacities and adherence to the operational principles of good governance. To achieve these objectives, a multi-annual work programme will be set through a dialogue with national partners.

The Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Montpellier of the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Studies (IAMM-CIHEAM) has been tasked with the mission of accompanying this initiative in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. This mission will last 30 months (January 2012-June 2014) and will be divided into two phases: a preparatory phase to identify the initiatives to be reinforced and to prepare the countries’ action plans by June 2012; the second phase will include the starting of a national dialogue to implement ENPARD by June 2014.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egyptian Presidential Hopefuls Banned

The candidates that were barred from standing in the upcoming Egyptian elections have lost their appeals, marking another twist in the Egyptian presidency saga.

Ten candidates in the Egyptian presidential election, including Hosni Mubarak’s spy chief Omar Suleiman, Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat el-Shater and Islamic preacher Hazem Abu Ismail, lost appeals Tuesday against their disqualification.

“All appeals have been rejected because nothing new was offered in the appeal requests,” a member of the investigating judicial committee said.

The committee had spent all day hearing the candidates’ appeals. The three individuals were banned from standing for different reasons.

Suleiman was barred because of his failure to get enough endorsements from all 15 provinces, as the law demands.

Shater was rejected because of a law that stipulates that candidates linked to criminal activity in the past cannot stand in elections until they have been released or pardoned for six years; he was imprisoned last year for terrorism and money laundering.

Abu Ismail was disqualified because his mother holds a foreign passport. Election rules say that the parents of candidates must be solely Egyptian citizens.

The development is a boost for the country’s secular liberals and for other Islamists standing in the election.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political organization in Egypt, is still in the race. Mohamed Mursi, who heads the group’s political party, was nominated as a back-up candidate in the event of Shater’s disqualification.

The presidential election is scheduled to kick off with a first round of voting on May 23 and 24. Commentators expect that to lead to a run-off in June between the top two candidates. The ruling military council is scheduled to transfer power to the new president on July 1.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Group of 100 Tunisians Kidnapped Close to Libyan Border

(AGI) Tunis — Some 100 Tunisian workers were kidnapped on Monday in north-western Lybia’s Zauia, close to the Tunisian border. The incident was reported by the Tunisian Human Rights League.

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

Italian Hostage Freed in Algeria

Maria Sandra Mariani kidnapped last year by Al Qaeda affiliate

(ANSA) — Rome, April 17 — Italian hostage in Algeria Maria Sandra Mariani was freed on Tuesday, the Italian foreign ministry confirmed. “She is free. I have just informed her family. I join them in their great happiness and relief over this wonderful news,” said Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi. Mariani, a 54-year-old tourist, was in the hands of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which seized her in the Algerian Sahara near the border with Niger last February.

The Italian foreign ministry has been closely following the case, under tight reporting restrictions, with Algerian authorities.

AQIM, who have staged several kidnappings in the area between Mali, Mauritania and Niger in the last several years, had not issued any known demands for Mariani’s release.

The kidnapping was the first in Algeria since 2003, when 32 Western tourists were taken hostage.

Mariani is not believed to have been the initial target of the AQIM group that came into a tourist camp at Alidena, 2,000 km south of Algiers, reportedly looking for a party of Westerners.

Mariani, from Tuscany, had been going to the Djanet oasis city for five years, for spells of one or two months.

The foreign ministry is still working to free Italian aid worker Rossella Urru, abducted on October 23 in southwestern Algeria.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turks to Get Same Rights in Europe’s Economy as EU Residents — Commission Decision Taken Last Week — Brussels Bringing Turkey Into EU Under the Radar

Detailed plans to extend the same rights to Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Israel

The Slog has obtained sight of an official Brussels Commission document which, while not confidential, has not as far as I can tell been the subject of MSM coverage, or indeed any vote at all among MEPs. Although dated March 30th 2012 as a ‘proposal for a decision’, I can reveal that the decision has been approved and is already going ahead. It is to grant Turkish citizens the same residency and labour rights in Europe as existing EU citizens.

The unelected European Commission has repealed the 1980 Ankara Accord between what was then the EEC and Turkey, and replaced it with a major change to the rights of Turkish citizens in the EU. The proposal was presented to a working group (we know not who) eleven days ago on March 30th, and approved by that same anonymous gathering. It specifically adds that ‘A first package with similar proposals in respect of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Israel was adopted by the Council in October 2010’ and that this too will be updated to bring it into line with the Turkish proposals.

I was certainly not aware of the October 2010 ‘package’, and I doubt very much if even the eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party is up to speed with the fact that this Turkish grant of rights is about to pass quietly into law — as so many of these lunatic Commission decisions have a tendency to do. But the clauses in relation to non-eurozone members like the UK (already sinking under the weight of unrestricted migration) are truly mind-boggling. For example: (my emphasis)

‘this [Turkish accord] will facilitate the application of these provisions by Member States’ social security institutions. This Decision shall apply:

(a) to Turkish workers who are or have been legally employed in the territory of a

Member State and who are or have been subject to the legislation of one or more

Member States, and their survivors;

(b) to the members of the family of workers referred to in point (a) provided that these

family members are or have been legally resident with the worker concerned while

the worker is employed in a Member State;

This gives Home Secretary Theresa May-and-very-probably-will something of a problem: despite her protestations of ‘cracking down’ on migrant numbers and the rights of their dependents, as a Member State Britain will have to obey the diktat. Does Theresa even know about it, I ask?

I do not employ the phrase ‘ lunatic Commission decisions’ above lightly. Any unelected and yet sovereign body happy to take on the welfare needs of these workers at a time of euro meltdown must be deranged at least. To enumerate the idiocy involved here:…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Cyprus, Israel Discuss Exploitation of Hydrocarbons

Announcement of the two Foreign Ministers, accord soon

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, APRIL 17 — The Cypriot and the Israeli Foreign Ministers discussed here today the issue of shared development and exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits in the cross median line of the two countries and a mutual agreement soon to be signed between the two sides. The Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman, in Cyprus on a two-day official visit, today met with his Cypriot counterpart Erato Kozakou Markoullis. Speaking to the press after the meeting which lasted an hour, as CNA reports, Markoullis said they had a discussion on some of the pending agreements currently under negotiation, “especially the one on the shared development and exploitation of hydrocarbon reservoirs in the cross median line”, noting that “we are in the final stages of the negotiations on this agreement and hopefully soon we will have the opportunity to sign it”. She described the visit of the Israeli FM and the talks they had today as an indication of the very high level of bilateral relations and of what the two countries have achieved during the past two years, especially with the exchange of visits and the signing of very important agreements and cooperation in a number of very important areas. The two Ministers also discussed other regional issues, the situation in the Middle East, the Cyprus problem and threats from Turkey as well as the situation in the countries of the Arab spring. Lieberman described the discussion very fruitful and expressed his satisfaction over the fact that a lot of tourists from Israel visit Cyprus, hoping that this tourist flow will increase. The Israeli FM said that they discussed water management and energy issues, stressing that “we will have more investments and more activities in these fields”. He expressed hope that both sides will reach an agreement on double taxation and the protection of investment, saying that the Israeli Finance Minister is expected to visit Nicosia in the coming months, “to accelerate on these talks regarding economic issues”. Regarding the situation in the region, Lieberman said that both Nicosia and Tel Aviv monitor the situation very closely and “hope to see a peaceful transition period in all our neighboring countries”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrain: Amnesty Report, More Human Rights Violations

Reforms lacking, abuse victims have not received justice

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 17 — Human rights violations in Bahrain are continuing and the reforms implemented risk appearing hollow, according to a report published today by Amnesty International, as the emirate prepares to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix next weekend, after last year’s race was suspended because of the uprising in the country. In the 58-page document, entitled “Bahrain: Flawed reforms and absence of justice for protesters”, Amnesty reports that the reforms have not ensured justice for the victims of human rights violations, despite the government’s insistence that it would learn its lesson from the disorder of February and March 2011. “While the world’s eyes are focussing on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Formula 1 Grand Prix, no-one should be under the misapprehension that the human rights crisis has passed,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “The authorities are trying to depict a country on the road to reforms, but we continue to receive new of torture and of excessive and unnecessary use of force against protesters,” Sahraoui said. “The reforms have only scratched the surface”.

Following last November’s publication of the report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), known as the “Bassiouni Commission”, Amnesty International has concluded that, despite a few institutional and other reforms, the government’s overall response has been inadequate. The special department set up to assess the work of the security forces responsible for human rights violations against protesters is lacking independence and impartiality and no member of the security forces has been called to answer for their actions, while dozens of prisoners, detained after unfair trials, are still in prison and subject to torture and ill treatment. The report, which is available in English on Amnesty’s website (, says that the actions of the country’s security forces have remained largely unchanged. Amnesty International has asked the Bahraini government to release immediately and without conditions all political prisoners and to ensure that all individuals suspected of torture and killings, including those with responsibility for such individuals, be called to answer for their actions.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Exclusive: Iran Ships “Off Radar” As Tehran Conceals Oil Sales

LONDON (Reuters) — Iran is concealing the destination of its oil sales by disabling tracking systems aboard its tanker fleet, making it difficult to assess how much crude Tehran is exporting as it seeks to counter Western sanctions aimed at cutting its oil revenues.

Most of Iran’s 39-strong fleet of tankers is now “off-radar” after Tehran ordered captains in the National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) to switch off the black box transponders that are used in the shipping industry to monitor vessel movements, oil industry, trading and shipping sources said.

“Iran, helped by its customers, is trying to obfuscate as much as possible,” said a senior executive at a national oil company that has done business with Iran.

And Iran may have countered a reported reduction in its oil sales in March by offering big discounts in the form of free freight, finance and insurance and generous credit terms, the sources said.

Europe’s July 1 oil embargo, and U.S. and European financial sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program have seen Tehran’s oil sales drop to most Western destinations and drawn promises from some Asian buyers that they will cut purchases.

But cheap, covert sales may have curbed or even reversed the reduction in shipments, the sources say.

Discretion is paramount.

Ship captains steering NITC supertankers have switched off recognition systems and customers are keeping business strictly under wraps.

“People are being very secretive right now. They are not talking about this on email, Yahoo or mobile,” said the head of a crude oil desk at a top oil trading houses.

A Reuters’ survey of the Iranian fleet via the ship tracking system AIS (Automatic Identification System) Live shows only seven of its 25 very large crude carriers are still operating on-board transponders, allowing computers to track vessels.

Only two of NITC’s nine smaller Suezmax size tankers now have their tracking systems in operation, shipping sources say.

“NITC oil tankers are going to operate in stealth mode,” said a shipping official, who declined to be identified.

Under normal circumstances, tankers would generally not turn off their tracking systems, which were introduced to improve safety at sea and allow marine authorities to locate vessels.

Ships are obliged by international law to have a satellite tracking device on board when travelling at sea. However, a ships’ master has the discretion to turn off the device on safety grounds with the permission on the vessel’s flag state.

Some tankers turned off their trackers to avoid detection last year during the Libyan civil war in order to trade with the Gaddafi government.

As sanctions make it harder to pay for and ship oil from Iran, it is increasingly difficult to gauge how much is moving out of the country’s main terminal at Kharg Island.

Iran’s Oil Minister, Rostam Qasemi, has said Tehran’s crude exports are steady at last year’s rate of 2.2 million barrels per day. But that has been hard to square with tanker tracker data and market intelligence.

Expert opinion is that Iran’s visible crude oil sales fell to about 1.9 million bpd in March.

These calculations are backed by some of the best oil industry forecasters in the business including the International Energy Agency and Geneva-based Petrologistics, the respected tanker tracking consultant which monitors global oil shipments.

New estimates for April put Iranian exports down by as much as 500,000 bpd from last year.

The trouble is there is no hard evidence that Iran’s oil production has actually fallen or that it is going into storage.

Millions of barrels of Iranian oil that were in storage in Iranian tankers a few weeks ago now seem to have disappeared, ship tracking data shows.

So where is it going? Has it been re-routed, has production been shut in or is the oil being stored somewhere else? Is it all being stored at sea?

“It’s the million-dollar question — the billion-dollar question even,” a senior executive in Asia at a large oil trading house said.

The hunt is getting more complicated as OPEC’s second biggest producer comes up with a range of tactics to avoid scrutiny.

“Some big Asian companies may be taking oil on Iranian ships provided they switch off the transponders,” said another European shipping industry source.

A trader in Singapore said Iran has managed to sell all the crude stored on half a dozen vessels floating off Singapore earlier in the year. The buyers were mainly Chinese and South Korean.

Given the lack of visibility of NITC’s fleet, it will become increasingly difficult to measure floating storage. Industry sources say parts of the fleet were storing up to 12 million barrels of crude in March. That has now disappeared.

An NITC official, contacted by Reuters, declined to comment. NITC have declined to give press interviews for several weeks…

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

Jordan’s Parliament Bans the Muslim Brotherhood’s Party

Under the country’s proposed political parties law, parties based on religion and ethnicity are banned. The Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s and the main opposition party, will thus be excluded from the next parliamentary elections.

Amman (AsiaNews/ Agencies) — The Jordanian parliament has banned the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the country’s main opposition party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the lower house, 46 out of 83 members yesterday voted to outlaw any political party based on religion or ethnicity. Now the vote goes to the upper house for final approval. Effectively, this means that the IAF will not be able to take part in next parliamentary elections.

For the leaders of the Islamist movement, the government is trying to silence the opposition to ensure the continued dominance of tribal groups loyal to the regime.

“This is only the latest in a series of measures by deputies to limit the influence of political parties and any dissenting views in parliament,” Zaki Bani Rsheid, head of the IAF’s politburo, said.

“We believe all Jordanian citizens-not only Islamists-should have the right to form a political party without conditions,” he added.

The proposal was made by Mamdouh Abbadi, deputy speaker of the lower house, and is part of a draft political parties bill presented to parliament in response to last year’s Arab spring protests by pro-democracy parties and later embraced by the Islamist opposition.

Starting on14 January 2011, people began protesting against poverty, youth unemployment and corruption with demonstrations continuing until the present.

Faced with the emergency, King Abdullah II changed prime minister twice. Then Prime Minister Samir Rifai resigned in February 2011 after two weeks of protests amidst accusations of corruption. His successor, Marouf Bakhit, who held office in 2005, quit on 17 October 2011 also because of corruption charges.

Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, a judge and former vice president of the International Court of Justice, is the current prime minister.

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

Muslim Brotherhood Plans to Take Over Kuwait by 2013: Khalfan

KUWAIT: General Dhahi Ben Khalfan, Dubai Police Director General, warned of the dangers against ruling systems in the Gulf by the Muslim Brotherhood, after their successes in a number of Arab countries.

His information to the media extended to saying that the Muslim Brotherhood are conspiring against the GCC ruling systems, and they will be in control by the year 2016.

He said they will start with Kuwait in 2013.

“They are concerned only with ruling chairs and have nothing to do with implementing Islamic Jurisprudence. Whoever become one of them after they ruled Egypt is a traitor. They are also secret soldiers for America and they are executing plans to create tension,” he said.

Additionally, he described them as corrupt and very far from religion. He said they are morre dangerous for the GCC countries than Iran.

Khalfan released some declarations lately which met reactions in most of the GCC states and particularly in Kuwait. General Dhahi Ben Khalfan has a high ranking post, and people are not used to a man in his position speaking publicly. -Al-Watan

           — Hat tip: RR[Return to headlines]

Saudi to Create 12,000 Security Jobs for Women

(ANSAmed) — GEDDA, APRIL 18 — Saudi Arabia plans to generate 12,000 job opportunities for female security guards over the next five years, it has been reported. The scheme, which will be implemented by Jeddah’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), is part of the gulf state’s government’s drive to get more Saudi nationals working in jobs, Arabian Business online reports.

The chamber will meet with the Minister of Labour, Adel Fakieh, at the end of April to discuss ways to encourage both male and female Saudi citizens to work as security guards, said Abdul Hadi Al-Qahtani, chairman of the security guard committee at the JCCI.

“We’re determined to remove all obstacles security guards face in the private sector and we will ensure that proper regulations are in place to serve this purpose,” he added. Saudi Arabia, the most populous nation in the GCC, is one of the few countries in the world where strict gender segregation is still largely enforced.

While Saudi women are permitted to work in some cases, social convention prevents them from driving cars and forbids them from associating with unrelated males and taking part in a large array of other social activities.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spengler: Recall Notice for the Turkish Model

Among all the dumb things said about the so-called Arab Spring last year, perhaps the dumbest was the idea that the new democracies of the Arab world might follow the Turkish model.

In fact, if you had invested in the Turkish model (that is, in the Turkish stock market) at the outbreak of the Arab revolts, you would have lost about half your money. If you leave your money in Turkey, you probably will lose the rest of it. Turkey is not a model. It is a bubble, and it is bursting, starting with the stock market and national currency.

Full disclosure: I shorted the Turkish market after I published my obituary for the country’s economic boom (see “Instant Obsolescence of the Turkish model”, Asia Times Online, August 10, 2011). And I was denounced as a Zionist plotter in the Turkish media. As a matter of record, I wish to state that I am shorting Turkey not for any political motivation, but only because the Turkish government economic policy is a clown show. I make a point, however, of contributing some of the profits to Zionist causes…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Syria: As Rebels and Regime Violate the Ceasefire, Kofi Annan’s Plan Collapses

Speaking to AsiaNews, sources describe a chaotic, unstable and dangerous situation. Extremists who flocked to Syria only to kill are among the opposition. UN-Arab League observers begin their mission.

Damascus (AsiaNews) — “Kofi Annan’s ceasefire has failed. Fewer deaths were reported in the first two days, but now shooting has restarted. More than 50 people were killed yesterday in clashes between the military and rebel groups,” sources told AsiaNews. They describe the situation in Syria as “chaotic, unstable and dangerous. [. . .] An Assad government official told us that neither side wants to end the violence. The war will last for a long time.”

Six observers from the joint UN-Arab League arrived in Syria yesterday. Their task is to monitor the ceasefire that came into effect on 12 April, and to implement Kofi Annan’s peace plan.

Today, after setting up their operational base the officials began contacting regime officials and rebel leaders. When the team sent by United Nations Security Council is up to full strength, it will have 250 members.

Annan’s plan calls for an end to the violence, gradual implementation of the ceasefire, shipment of humanitarian aid, release of people held without trial, free movement for journalists, and political talks between the government and the opposition.

Despite the best efforts by the UN-Arab league envoy to broker talks between the Assad government and rebels, sources say that people inside the country are pessimistic about its future. Even the capital Damascus is affected by explosions, clashes and violence.

“As described in the media, the opposition does not exist,” sources say. “Rebels are divided in various factions. They include groups of common criminals moving around the country, and foreign terrorists who have come to Syria only to kill.”

“The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is considered the opposition’s official representative, but in reality it is just one many armed groups fighting against the regime,” the sources added. “Both sides are violating the ceasefire. (S.C.)

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

Yemen: Drone Strike Kills ‘At Least 7’ Militants

Sanaa, 17 April (AKI) — At least seven Al-Qaeda militants were killed early Tuesday during an overnight drone attack in different locations in southern Yemen, according to news reports.

The strikes took place in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The drone strike hit several militant hideouts, training facilities and arsenals in the insurgent-controlled town of Azzan, around 150 kilometres east of Ataq, the provincial capital of Shabwa, the report said.

Among the dead are “foreign jihadist leaders,” from Syria and Algeria, the report said, citing unnamed security officials.

The Yemeni Defence Ministry on Monday said at least 11 militants were killed in a drone strike on Saturday.

The United States is increasingly depending on unmanned armed aircraft to target militants.

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

South Asia

150 Afghan Schoolgirls Seriously Ill After Being Poisoned in Anti-Education Attack by Muslim Extremists

Ultra-conservative extremists have been blamed for poisoning the drinking water at a high school in north Afghanistan — making more than 150 girls seriously ill.

Students in the northern province of Kunduz suffered nausea and vomiting and some were left in a critical condition, a government education chief said.

Radicals who are fiercely opposed to female education may have carried out the attack — the official added.

Some of girls were allowed home after hospital treatment, but many remain unwell.

‘We are 100 percent sure that the water they drunk in their classes was poisoned. This is either the work of those who are against girls’ education or some other irresponsible armed individuals,’ said Jan Mohammad Nabizada, a spokesman for education department in northern Takhar province.

They said they knew the water had been poisoned because a larger tank used to fill the affected water jugs was not contaminated.

‘This is not a natural illness. It’s an intentional act to poison schoolgirls,’ said Haffizullah Safi, head of Takhar’s public health department.

Since the overthrowing of the Taliban government in 2001, females have largely returned to schools especially in Kabul.

The Taliban had enforced a six-year ban on education for women and girls between 1996 and 2001.

There are now thought to be around 2.7 million girls in school, compared to only a few thousand under Taliban rule.

Girls, teachers and school buildings frequently suffer attacks from insurgents; usually in the more conservative south and east of the country where radicals draw most of their support.

Government officials have not blamed any particular group for the attack, fearing retribution.

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

How Pakistan Makes US Pay for Afghan War

By Dilip Hiro

The following ingredients should go a long way to produce a political thriller. Mr M, a jihadi in an Asian state, has emerged as the mastermind of a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, which killed six Americans. After sifting through a vast cache of intelligence and obtaining a legal clearance, the State Department announces a $10 million bounty for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Mr M promptly appears at a press conference and says, “I am here. America should give that reward money to me.”

A State Department spokesperson explains lamely that the reward is meant for incriminating evidence against Mr M that would stand up in court. The prime minister of M’s home state condemns foreign interference in his country’s internal affairs. In the midst of this imbroglio, the US decides to release $1.18 billion in aid to the cash-strapped government of the defiant prime minister to persuade him to reopen supply lines for US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces bogged down in the hapless neighboring Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Alarmingly, this is anything but fiction or a plot for an upcoming international sitcom. It is a brief summary of the latest development in the fraught relations between the US and Pakistan, two countries locked into an uneasy embrace since September 12, 2001.

Mr M is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a 62-year-old former academic with a tapering, hennaed beard, and the founder of the Lashkar-e Taiba (the Army of the Pure, or LeT), widely linked to several outrageously audacious terrorist attacks in India.

The LeT was formed in 1987 as the military wing of the Jammat-ud Dawa religious organization (Society of the Islamic Call, or JuD) at the instigation of the Pakistani army’s formidable intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The JuD owes its existence to the efforts of Saeed, who founded it in 1985 following his return to his native Lahore after two years of advanced Islamic studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, under the guidance of that country’s grand mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz.

On its formation, the LeT joined the seven-year-old anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, an armed insurgency directed and supervised by the ISI with funds and arms supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Saudis. Once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Army of the Pure turned its attention to a recently launched anti-Indian jihad in Indian-administered Kashmir and beyond.

The terrorist attacks attributed to it range from the devastating multiple assaults in Mumbai in November 2008, which resulted in 166 deaths, including those six Americans, to a foiled attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi in December 2001, and a successful January 2010 attack on the airport in Kashmir’s capital Srinagar.

In January 2002, in the wake of Washington’s launching of the “war on terror”, Pakistan formally banned the LeT, but in reality did little to curb its violent cross-border activities. Saeed remains its final authority. In a confession, offered as part of a plea bargain after his arrest in October 2009 in Chicago, David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American operative of LeT involved in planning the Mumbai carnage, said: “Hafiz Saeed had full knowledge of the Mumbai attacks and they were launched only after his approval.”

In December 2008, the United Nations Security Council declared the JuD a front organization for the banned LeT. The provincial Punjab government then placed Saeed under house arrest using the Maintenance of Public Order law. But six months later, the Lahore High Court declared his confinement unconstitutional.

In August 2009, Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice, essentially an international arrest warrant, against Saeed in response to Indian requests for his extradition. Saeed was again put under house arrest but in October the Lahore High Court quashed all charges against him due to lack of evidence.

It is common knowledge that Pakistani judges, fearing for their lives, generally refrain from convicting high-profile jihadis with political connections. When, in the face of compelling evidence, a judge has no option but to order the sentence enjoined by the law, he must either live under guard afterwards or leave the country.

Such was the case with Judge Pervez Ali Shah who tried Mumtaz Qadri, the jihadi bodyguard who murdered Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer for backing an amendment to the indiscriminately applied blasphemy law. Soon after sentencing Qadri to capital punishment last October, Shah received several death threats and was forced into self-exile.

Aware of the failures of the Pakistani authorities to convict Saeed, US agencies seemed to have checked and cross-checked the authenticity of the evidence they had collected on him before the State Department announced, on April 2, its reward for his arrest. This was nothing less than an implied declaration of Washington’s lack of confidence in the executive and judicial organs of Pakistan.

Little wonder that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani took umbrage, describing the US bounty as blatant interference in his country’s domestic affairs. Actually, this is nothing new. It is an open secret that, in the ongoing tussle between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his bete noire, army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, the Barack Obama administration has always backed the civilian head of state. That, in turn, has been a significant factor in Gilani’s stay in office since March 2008, longer than any other prime minister in Pakistan’s history…

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

India: New Delhi Ready to Launch a Nuclear Missile That Can Reach China

The Agni-V will have a range of over 5 thousand miles and can reach all of Asia and some parts of Europe. If the launch proves successful, India will become the seventh country with intercontinental ballistic missiles in its arsenal, along with the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France and Israel.

Mumbai (AsiaNews / Agencies) — India is ready to test Agni-V, a long-range nuclear missile, capable of reaching across Asia (including China) and the eastern parts of Europe. In fact, the rocket will have a range of over 5 thousand miles and will be launched from Wheeler Island in the eastern state of Orissa. If the launch were to be successful, India would become the seventh country to have intercontinental ballistic missiles in its arsenal, thus joining the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France and Israel.

Costing more than 2.5 billion rupees (480 million dollars), Agni-V is 17.5 meters long and weighs 50 tons. It carries a single nuclear warhead weighing up to 1.5 tons that can penetrate up to China.

While waiting for the launch, the Indian authorities continue to insist that the country has a policy of “no first strike” and that the country’s missile program is purely defensive. However, many consider this launch a way to assert India’s supremacy in Asia. “This missile — said Uday Bhaskar, a retired Indian Navy commodore and analyst of the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi — will neutralize the threat of China and create equality between the two countries.”

The Agni missile (the name of the Hindu god of fire) is the spearhead of the Indian arsenal and one of the most sophisticated weapons. The first was tested in 2002 and had a radius of 700 kilometers.

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

India: Series of ‘Acid Attacks’, But Cops Inactive

NAGPUR: A brief entry on April 15 at the Ajni police station diary is all that cops have to show for a series of attacks on girls with a corrosive liquid, suspected to be acid, that leads to deep irritation and burning sensation.

The incidents took place at Kunjilal Peth, Chandramani Nagar and Rameshwari in the southern part of the city. Though the pain has subsided, the girls are still running scared. One of them told TOI, “Fear of the unknown assailants has compelled us to remain passive, instead of register offence.”

This is the second acid attack within a month. In the earlier incident, a woman professor suffered serious burns after her jilted lover threw acid on her near Telangkhedi. The culprit was let off with simple preventive action by Ambazari cops as the woman’s kin were not interested in lodging a complaint.

In the latest case too, police have cited the same excuse of uninterested complainants to wash their hands of any responsibility.

Puja (name changed), a first year student, said the incident took place in Kunjilal Peth when she was returning with family members from a programme. “Initially, I smelled thinner, then suddenly I started feeling the burning sensation on my back. The pain was so much that tears started flowing out of my eyes,” said Puja. She said the culprit seemed to have a spray can in his hand. “What surprised me was that the culprits were in no hurry to leave the place,” said the girl.

Puja says a neighbour too was attacked and sustained a big reddish swollen burn on her back. “We did not want to report the matter but approached the cops with the help of a neighbour to ensure the perpetrators do not feel they can get away with it,” said the student of arts.

A similar attack also took place on a girl in a mob at a fair at Chandramani Nagar. She was taken to Government Medical College and Hospital by cops after she raised an alarm. Similar incidents have also taken place at Rameshwari.

Assistant commissioner of police (Ajni) GM Sakharkar said that he would look into the matter. “It is a serious issue,” he said.

Former district government pleader Prashant Sathianathan said that police are bound to register an offence of cognisable nature upon being informed by a complaint under section 154 of Criminal Procedure code. “If the victim is ready to furnish a statement and there is a medical evidence then police can always register a complaint and start an enquiry,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Nick[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Aceh’s New Governor Zaini Abdullah Pledges More Sharia

With his deputy Muzakir Manaf, Abdullah will run the province for the next five years (2012-2017) after winning 55.75 per cent of the vote. His programme includes fighting corruption and full implementation of Sharia in Indonesia’s most extremist province.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — For the second time in its recent history, the Indonesian province of Aceh will be led by a former separatist rebel leader. Zaini Abdullah, a doctor who spent many years in exile in Sweden, won by a landslide (55.75 per cent) the election of 9 April. He will take the place of outgoing Governor Irwandi Yusuf, also a former separatist leader. Together with his deputy Muzakir Manaf, Abdullah will be responsible for policy-making and administration in a province, where Islam is extending its grip on society in more radical and fundamentalist ways. Both ran for the newly established Aceh Party.

Until a few years ago, Zaini Abdullah topped Indonesia’s most wanted list. He was forced to flee to Sweden in 1981, where he spent the subsequent 24 years. In exile, he was the ‘foreign minister’ for the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) under the late Hasan Tiro, a hero to many Aceh nationalists.

Last night, the new governor gave a brief speech to his supporters in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. He told them that he would fight corruption, one of the most serious problems afflicting Indonesian society, and that he would fully implement Islamic law.

Indonesia is famous for its moralisation campaigns in the name of Sharia and Islamic customs. In Aceh, the latter have taken on a special character. Recently for example, a proposal was made to ban short skirts, local ulema launched a moralisation campaign against yoga and tobacco, and police cracked down on people wearing jeans and tight skirts.

During the fight between the pro-independence GAM and Indonesian Special Forces sent by then President Suharto, who ran the country from 1967 to 1998, claimed the lives of at least 15,000 people, mostly civilians.

However, the devastation caused by the December 2004 tsunami couple with the need to bring humanitarian aid to the affected areas created a window of opportunity that led to a hitherto unthinkable peace agreement.

The first gubernatorial election under the agreement reached by the Indonesian government and GAM was held in December 2006 and saw the victory of Irwandi Yusuf.

Protected by thousands of police officers deployed in 9,754 polling stations, last week’s election had been scheduled in 2011 but had to be postponed over a dispute concerning the right of independent candidates to run. After four postponements, threats and extremist intimidations, the poll went off without a hitch on 9 April.

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

Pakistan: Karachi Violence Heats Up Leaving at Least 7 Dead

Karachi, 18 April (AKI) — At least seven people have been killed and dozens injured in separate shooting incidents in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, according to news reports.

In one incident, a pair of bodies were found with their hands bound and police say their are signs of torture before the victims were killed late Tuesday, Pakistan’s Geo TV reported.

Demonstrators took to the streets on Wednesday to protest what they consider a lack of action by police to put an end to the violence that has left hundred dead in Pakistan’s business hub.

Ethnic and political violence is closely linked in Karachi’s numerous incidents of widespread violence between people of different ethnicity including Urdu, Balochs and Pushtun backgrounds.

The sprawling city accounts for over 60 percent of Pakistan’s revenue. The country’s main financial institutions, multinational corporations and industry are located there

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

Pakistan: Bin Laden’s Family to be Expelled Wednesday

Islamabad, 17 April (AKI) — Osama bin Laden’s family is due to be expelled from Pakistan Wednesday, the AFP news agency reported, citing their lawyer and an intelligence official.

“They will go tonight or tomorrow early in the morning. After 12 tonight they can be deported any time,” their lawyer Mohammad Aamir told AFP on Tuesday.

The deportation of the 12 family members, including three widows, comes 11 months after American special forces flew by helicopter from neighbouring Afghanistan and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist at a compound where he was living in the city of Abbottabad, north of Islamabad.

A Pakistani intelligence official confirmed to AFP that the family was expected to be deported “sometime around midnight” and said “most likely they would be flown to Saudi Arabia,” AFP said.

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

Pakistan: Muslims Strip Christian Woman in Punjab Because She “Dressed Up”, Shoot at Her Son

A family in Gojra is attacked by some Muslims because they like to “dress up”. The mother is brutally beaten whilst her son is shot at, luckily without consequences. Police and the courts fail to apprehend the offenders. The local priest says that such violence is used to maintain people in “conditions of inferiority”.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) — A Christian woman was harassed, beaten and stripped in public by some Muslims belonging to the local land mafia because in her family people like to dress up too much. Her son almost suffered a worse fate. When he tried to help her, they fire at him but narrowly missed. As tragic as this is, it is typical of the violence and persecution Christians endure. More than a month after the incident, which occurred in mid-March, both police and the courts have not brought any redress or punished the offenders. “These thugs pursue their own interests,” a local priest said; in so doing, they violate the rights of the “weakest elements in society.”

Shamin Bibi, a 42-year-old mother of five, works in a brick kiln. She is originally from Chak 179 G.B., in Gojra, a town in Toba Tek Singh District (Punjab), where several Christians died in an attack in 2009.

During her brutal assault, her attackers badly beat her and ripped her clothes off. When her 22-year-old son Naqshaq Masih tried to intervene, they attacked him with bricks and shot at him. Luckily, they missed.

Two Muslim landlords, brothers Sajid Ali and Abid Ashan, were responsible for the attack. They exert a mafia-style control over the area.

The reason for their action appears even more absurd than the action itself. They do not want Christians to “dress up”, even on holidays or Sunday for Mass.

As second-class subjects, not much better than animals, minority Christians are not allowed to wear elegant clothes. They can only dress rough garments. In the past, they have often been subject to mafia-styled threats and “warnings”. In fact, another of Shamin Bibi’s sons had to flee to avoid being killed.

On the day of the atatck, the Christian woman was at home alone with a daughter, and pleaded to the men to go away because there was no male member of the family present.

Initially, police opened a first information report and arrested the offenders. However, a week later they were released after paying off the police.

On Monday, Shamin Bibi filed a suit against her attackers, appearing before a district judge in Gojra. The latter however rejected her application. Her family plans to continue their battle for justice but their chances in court are slim.

A resident in her town spoke to AsiaNews on condition of anonymity. “Landlords have no pity,” he said. “They can only waste the wealth” their parents accumulated. They engage in violence and abuse the poor. “If the latter refuse to follow their orders, they are beaten.” These people “walk around with guns and have no respect for Christians,” he said.

Fr Yaqub Yousaf, a parish priest in Gojra, agrees. “Social injustice and divisions are used by cruel landlords to protect their vested interests and maintain people on the margins of our society in conditions of inferiority.”

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

Poison Scare Highlights Threats to Girls’ Education in Afghanistan

More than 100 schoolgirls have been rushed to hospitals in northeastern Afghanistan after drinking what is feared to be poisonous water from a tank at their school. More than 100 schoolgirls in Afghanistan have fallen sick after drinking water that is suspected to have been poisoned in the small town of Rustaq in the northeastern Afghan province of Takhar.

In what appears to be an attempt by opponents of education for girls, the poison scare incident highlights threats to girls’ education in Afghanistan. “I think some radical elements who oppose girls going to school are behind this act,” said district governor Mohammad Hussain, adding that police were investigating the incident.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Far East

Volkswagen Builds New Car Factory in China Trouble Region

The German auto giant is due to sign an agreement with China for a new car plant to be built in the western region of Xinjiang. The region is home to the Uighurs — a Muslim minority opposed to Chinese central power.

The new Volkswagen (VW) car factory is to be set up in the provincial capital Urumqi with a production capacity of up to 50,000 vehicles per year, German news agency DPA said Wednesday.

Funding for the project worth 2 billion yuan (240 million euros) would be provided by a joint venture between VW and Chinese automaker Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), the agency said.

In addition, news agency Reuters quoted a German government source as saying that the agreement for the plant would be signed in Germany on Monday in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

The Urumqi plant, which is scheduled to start production in 2013, will be Volkswagen’s fifth car factory in China with an additional four plants on the drawing board. The German auto giant already has six component factories in the Asian country.

In China, Volkswagen reached a new sales record of 633,000 vehicles in the first quarter of 2012, and has announced investments in China to the tune of 14 billion euros until 2016.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Extended Somalia Pirate Plan Creates Waves

Germany could fly bombing missions into Somalia to destroy pirate bases, if a plan set to be discussed in cabinet on Wednesday is adopted. The idea has infuriated opposition parties who described it as senseless and dangerous.

The European Union anti-pirate mission “Atalanta” which has for the last three years been patrolling around the Horn of Africa, currently involves up to ten ships at any one time — in an ocean area nearly the size of Europe.

Expanding the mandate to include airborne missions up to two kilometres inland to target “logistic facilities of the pirates” as the text describes it, has infuriated German opposition parties.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved the expansion on Wednesday, which Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere denied was a radical transformation of the initial mandate.

“This is a small, useful, additional military operation — it doesn’t take the mission to a new level,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels. “This is about additional action on the beach, not inland.”

But Green Party defence expert Omid Nouripour said it was “a bad, senseless adventure,” while his counterpart from the Social Democrats, Rainer Arnold said his party would either vote against or abstain in a parliamentary poll. Despite opposition, the mandate is expected to be approved in the vote on May 11.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany Expands Military Mission Against Somali Pirates

The German cabinet has agreed on new rights for the Bundeswehr in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia. If parliament approves, the mission — previously restricted to the sea — will be taken inland.

The German government agreed to expand an EU mandate on Wednesday to allow the Bundeswehr to target inland Somali pirate bases as part of the European Union anti-piracy Atalanta mission.

The German military had previously been restricted to only carrying out missions at sea, but the cabinet has now advocated that airborne attacks be allowed up to two kilometers inland. In line with an EU amendment in March, pirates’ weapons, ships or fuel depots can all be targeted. The mandate does not sanction the deployment of any military personal on the ground.

“It is a small, useful additional military option,” German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said as he arrived at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Asian Investment Boom Seen in Latin America

Selling soybeans, iron and copper ore and other commodities to Asian countries has transformed Latin America over the past decade, stabilizing economies despite worldwide crises and lifting tens of millions of people into the middle class. Now, say officials from both Asia and Latin America, a second gold rush is under way.

Asian investors flush with hundreds of billions of dollars in cash now see Latin America as a top business opportunity, and they’re flooding into manufacturing, construction and other industries, particularly in up-and-coming countries such as Brazil, Peru and Mexico. That’s transforming the lucrative relationship that was based primarily on exporting raw materials to Asia, an arrangement that frustrated governments eager to stimulate their own manufacturing.

Government and business officials meeting this week at the World Economic Forum in Mexico said the investment surge means Asia is poised to overtake the United States and the European Union as Latin America’s top trading partner over the next decade. Asian representatives have been an unmistakable presence at the forum, with South Korean, Chinese and Japanese investors making the rounds at this seaside city’s gleaming white convention hall.

“We’re talking about tens of billions of dollars in just Korean banks looking for a destination,” said Kevin Lu, Asia Pacific regional director of a World Bank Group agency that insures foreign investments against political risk. “When I meet with investors, Latin America is in every conversation about this.”

Already, Chinese investment in Latin America has jumped from a few million dollars just a few years ago to about $15 billion in 2010, with most of the money going into mining and other extractive industries in Brazil, Peru and other nations, said Alicia Barcena, executive secretary for the Chile-based United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Chinese investment in the region jumped again last year, to about $23 billion, Barcena said.

Japan, meanwhile, surpassed even that figure last year and displaced China as the region’s top Asian investment and trade partner, Barcena said. She didn’t provide a precise number for Japan’s total.

China already ranks among the top three trading partners with Peru, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, and Asian investment in auto and other manufacturing in Mexican industrial cities has greatly expanded the middle class.

“I don’t have any doubt that Asia will soon become the region’s top trading partner,” said Mexican Economy Secretary Bruno Ferrari Garcia de Alba. “In Mexico, we believe we need to get closer and closer to Asia.”

According to the U.N. economic commission, 17 percent of Latin America’s exports went to Asian-Pacific countries in 2010, more than tripling from 5 percent in 2000. Over the same span, the share of the region’s total exports that went to the United States dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

‘Latin America Must Open Up’

The opening of the World Economic Forum on Latin America is overshadowed by a row over Argentinian plans to nationalize a Spanish-owned oil company. Spain has reacted with anger.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s visit to Mexico began on an unexpected note. As he arrived in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta for the opening of the World Economic Forum for Latin America, there was only one issue on the agenda — Buenos Aires’ plans to nationalize YPF, Argentina’s biggest oil company which is controlled by Spanish energy giant Repsol.

Dozens of camera teams lay in wait, hoping for a statement from the Spanish delegation. But Rajoy was in no mood for a press conference.

On Monday, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner asked her country’s Congress to put 51 percent of YPF- Argentinina’s biggest oil company — in state hands, ousting flagship Spanish energy firm Repsol as the majority shareholder.

The decision likely took the Spanish delegation at the WEF unawares, and counter-measures were hurriedly discussed on the long flight from Madrid to Mexico. Prime Minister Rajoy however did use strong words as he took the stage at the WEF.

“This decision by Argentina will cause lasting damage to the economic relations between the two countries,” Rajoy said at the opening, which was originally meant to focus on the state of the global economy. “If laws are simply changed, when rules are not upheld any more — that will have consequences for investments by Spanish companies in Argentina.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Germany: Deportation to Kosovo Means a Life in Misery

Deportation to Kosovo from Germany often threatens young people’s mental and physical health, says a new UNICEF report. Ardian Canaj was repatriated against his will and is now living in misery, he says.

Peja in Western Kosovo is a miserable slum area that’s drowning in garbage; rubbish piles are being burnt carelessly in the streets. This is where Ardian Canaj is supposed to feel at home now. The 20-year-old was born and raised in Germany, but seven months ago he was deported to his parents’ home country.

“I went to school in Germany, but that’s over now. I have to work to pay my rent,” Canaj explained. He earns a mere 100 euros a month — and rent costs 120. “I’m feeling awful here. I don’t have my family here or anybody who’s close to me. I don’t see a future here for me” he said.

Germany received permission to deport Kosovars in 2009. Kosovo was considered safe enough now for them to return. And so, in 2010, German interior minister Thomas de Maizière signed a repatriation agreement with the Republic of Kosovo, which foresaw the return of some 12,000 members of minority groups to the Balkans — among them 6,000 children and teenagers. UNICEF, the UN’s child protection organization, says the deportation of young people should be stopped if it threatens their mental and physical health.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Italy: Deportees on Alitalia Flight With Taped Mouths

Italian film director posts picture on Facebook

(ANSA) — Rome, April 18 — A photo of two Tunisian men being deported from Italy on an Alitalia flight, their mouths sealed with duct tape and their hands cuffed with plastic bands, was posted by Italian film director Francesco Sperandeo on Facebook Wednesday.

Under the picture showing a policeman in street clothes standing over a seated man with his mouth taped, Sperandeo commented that the worst part of the incident was “the indifference of the other passengers”.

Sperandeo said that he was ordered to return to his seat by police when he requested that the deportees be treated humanely and was told that the methods used were “normal”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Switzerland: Sex Box for Kids Sparks Call to Action

Politicians from different parties have joined forces for an initiative aimed at preventing children under the age of nine from receiving sex education just months after the use of educational “sex boxes” sparked uproar in Basel.

“Increasingly, our children are being molested in kindergartens and primary schools with pornography and sex education,” a committee of parents and civic leaders told newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

The committee, made up in large part by members of the far-right Swiss People’s Party, launched the initiative on Tuesday to “protect against sexualization in kindergarten and primary schools”.

The proponents of the initiative no longer want children younger than nine to be taught any sex education at all, although certain education relating to child abuse would be permitted. From ages nine to twelve, the committee wants sex education to be non-compulsory so that families can choose to either opt in or out.

From age twelve onwards, the initiators say, children would receive education about sex and reproduction during biology lessons, which they argue is the proper place for such instruction.

The root of the initiative lies in the canton of Basel City, which came to media attention with reports of “sex boxes” being used as educational tools. The boxes contained various materials for teaching young children about sex, including wooden replicas of penises and fabric vaginas.

Benjamin Spüler of the Basel City Parents Committee believes such materials to be pornographic, he told news agency SDA. He says giving children such tuition when they are so young serves only to sexualize them at an unnecessarily early age.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]


Italy: Another Northern League Heavyweight Resigns

Lombardy regional assembly chief Davide Boni probed for graft

(ANSA) — Milan, April 17 — Another Northern League heavyweight resigned Tuesday when Lombardy regional assembly president Davide Boni stepped down.

Boni, 50, was placed under investigation for fraud and corruption last month.

Earlier this month League leader Umberto Bossi resigned after an unrelated probe into his party’s treasurer appeared to show party funding had been diverted to the personal use of his family.

Bossi’s son Renzo, who was being groomed for a top political career, also resigned from the Lombardy regional assembly.

The scandal about alleged misuse of taxpayers’ money has dealt a hard blow to the image of the League, which had always stood against corruption.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

‘Rogue’ Alien Planets May Circle Billions of Stars

Billions of stars in our Milky Way galaxy have captured rogue alien planets that once cruised freely through interstellar space, a new study suggests.

Many wandering alien worlds, which were ejected from the solar systems in which they formed, likely find new homes with different suns, according to the study. The finding could explain why some alien planets orbit extremely far from their stars, researchers said.

“Stars trade planets just like baseball teams trade players,” study lead author Hagai Perets, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement.

Perets and co-author Thijs Kouwenhoven of China’s Peking University simulated the evolution of young star clusters containing about as many free-floating planets as stars. They found that 3 to 6 percent of the stars would grab a rogue over time. The more massive a star, the more likely it is to snag a planet.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]