Friday, December 12, 2008

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/12/2008

Gates of Vienna News Feed 12/12/2008Two unusual headlines from Japan tonight:

Economic Misery Threatens Peace, Japanese Bishops Say

and:

Japan Moves Carefully Toward Islamic Finance

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Diana West, Folly, Henrik, Insubria, spackle, TB, Tuan Jim, TV, watling, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
- - - - - - - - -
USA
Are There Plans for a Modern Constitutional Convention?
Where Were You Born, Obama?
 
Canada
Gangs Infiltrating Canadian Airports
 
Europe and the EU
Dutch Govt Juggles With Islam Film Statement
EU Climate Accord: Berlusconi Hails Deal
EU: Eurostat; New Euro Citizens Mostly Turks and Moroccans
France: Schools; Demonstration, Teachers Against Minister
Greece: What Unites the Stone-Throwing Black Bloc?
Netherlands: Protect Religions Through Human Rights Compliance
Outperforming Their Peers: Italian Banks Surge Past Rivals
Riots in Greece: the Undercover News
Solidarity Protests Across Europe Turn Violent
Spain: 60,000 Shops at Risk But PM Optimistic
Spain: Report, More Than 3 Mln Unemployed by Year End
Sweden: Dutch Woman Barred From Borrowing Books
UK: BNP Member Targeted in Hoax Anthrax Attack
UK: Tories Pledge to Help Defeat Labour Welfare Rebellion
 
Balkans
Bosnia: Dodik’s Statements Stir New Controversy
Serbia: Jeremic, if EU Presses on Kosovo We Give Up Adhesion
Serbia-Croatia: Border Police Carried Out Joint Manoevers
 
Mediterranean Union
EU-Turkey: Small Progress in Last Year, Foreign Ministers Say
France: Officer of Algerian Descent Nominated Prefect
Libyan Stake in ENI Positive, CEO Says
 
North Africa
Kuwait Investments in Algeria Top USD 6 Billion, Report
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Israel: Lay-Offs Grow in Press Sector
Israel: Press Speaks of US Nuclear ‘Umbrella’ Against Iran
Israel: Labour Party Down in Polls, Turn to Mysticism
Livni Rules Out Expulsion of Arabs From Israel
Middle East: Israeli Arabs Should Live in a Future Palestinian State Says Livni
Mideast: Gaza; 100 Mln Shekel Transferred, Despite Protests
Mideast: Abbas Mandate Expires in Jan. for 64% Palestinians
 
Middle East
Jordan: Saddam Hussein’s Death Remembered in Aqaba
Made in Italy: Interna Furnishes First Armani Hotel in Dubai
Terrorists in Mumbai May Have Had Indian Accomplices, Bases in Nepal
Turkey: In Istanbul 30,000 Children Live on the Street, Study
 
Russia
Russia: Stabbing of African-American Exchange Student May be Hate Crime
 
South Asia
India: New Anti-Terror Measures After Mumbai Attacks
Malaysia: Surprised But Not Alarmed
Pakistan Bans Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Arrests Leaders
Primary Colours: West Realises it Has Reared a Monster Called Pakistan
 
Far East
Babies and Toxic Milk: Chinese Companies Will Pay….”Maybe”
Economic Misery Threatens Peace, Japanese Bishops Say
Japan Moves Carefully Toward Islamic Finance
Philippines: Manila Bomb Plot Foiled
Seoul Cuts Funds to Initiatives Designed to Help Immigrants Integrate
 
General
Far-Right Belgian Party Vlaams Belang Says Invited to Jerusalem Meet

USA

Are There Plans for a Modern Constitutional Convention?

According to WND, there have been 32 states that have voted to call a new Constitutional Convention. The 5th Amendment lays out the requirements for creating Amendments to the constitution, and only a couple of restrictions to what the convention would be able to do.

From Founding Fathers:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Basically, the 5th Amendment says that Congress can call for Amendments with a 3/4 vote, and states can call for a convention with 2/3 of the legislatures voting in approval. So if 34 states vote for a convention, we get one.

To determine what this means, we have to consider the history of the creation of the Constitution…

           — Hat tip: Folly[Return to headlines]


Where Were You Born, Obama?

by Diana West

Roger Kimball may have tagged it first: The real news out of Chicago this week wasn’t Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest on cartoonishly lurid charges of corruption stemming from his alleged attempts to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s now-vacant U.S. Senate seat. The real news out of Chicago this week was that President-elect Barack Obama had nothing to do with it.

And I mean nothing to do with any of it. There was an almost comical aspect to the spectacle of journalists across the mainstream media (MSM) suddenly, as if on command, assuming pretzel positions in a contortionist’s effort not to seem at all curious, for instance, about the discrepancy between David Axelrod’s recent declaration that the president-elect had discussed Senate-seat replacements with Blagojevich, and Obama’s more recent declaration that he had done no such thing.

The MSM instantly agreed: Obama had nothing to do with it. Such a message took Obama out of the story even before the story itself was clear.

This mantra, this strategy should be familiar by now. Whether it is Jeremiah “G — d — — America” Wright, William “We didn’t do enough” Ayers, or now, Rod “F — — him” Blagojevich, Obama is never a player, never even a responsible presence in controversies involving associates past and present. In the media-filtered version of events, he’s just not even there. But in no story is what we may one day come to think of as Obama’s invisible man-hood more obvious than in the still-roiling controversy over Obama’s birth certificate.

What controversy? Anyone who relies solely on MSM outlets (and most conservative outlets) may not even know that Obama has, to this day, not authorized the state of Hawaii to release his Certificate of Live Birth — the “long form” — to prove that he is a “natural born citizen” (NBC), a Constitutional requirement of all presidents. Instead, We, the People, have online access to an Obama document known as a Certification of Live Birth, which, as Randall Hoven explains at American Thinker blog, is a computer-generated short form that is not even accepted by the Hawaii Department of Home Lands as adequate verification of Hawaiian identity. (The Home Lands Department requires “information that is found only on the original Certificate of Live Birth,” or long form.) Further dimming the online document’s Holy Grail aspects, it has been altered — the certificate’s number has been redacted — which, according to a statement printed on the document, actually invalidates it.

But that’s not all. Back on Oct. 31, Hawaii’s director of health, along with the registrar of Vital Statistics, released a statement verifying that the Hawaii’s Department of Health has Obama’s “original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures.”

Well, that’s just great. But no matter how many times this statement from “Hawaiian authorities” is cited as the NBC clincher, it doesn’t prove a thing. It turns out, as Hoven reports, that Hawaii issues birth certificates even for babies born elsewhere, so simply having an original Hawaiian birth certificate “on record” doesn’t answer the key questions. Namely: What exactly does this original birth certificate say? And why doesn’t Obama simply authorize the document’s release and be done with the question?

This is some of the background to the birth-certificate controversy. According to the same MSM reporting that omits Obama from everything, however, the controversy is the sole, self-inflicted creation of people unreasonable enough — no, kooky enough — to be concerned about the issue. This includes citizens who have gone to court (up to the U.S. Supreme Court) in more than a dozen states with various NBC-related complaints, all of which could be resolved by the release of Obama’s original birth certificate. It also includes followers of radio shows or Internet forums including KHOW’s Peter Boyle in Denver, the blog Atlas Shrugs and the news Web site WorldNetDaily.com, which have aggressively covered the story.

In the MSM’s no-Obama version of events, though, such efforts and interest are mocked as the freakiest kind of lunacy. And this same MSM argument has lately been trumpeted by prominent conservative voices.

“Shut up about the birth certificate,” David Horowitz wrote this past week…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Canada

Gangs Infiltrating Canadian Airports

Canada’s airport security has been compromised by hundreds of workers

who have used their security clearances to smuggle drugs and people

into the country, according to a new police report.

Project Spawn, a two-year RCMP inquiry into hundreds of police

investigations at Canada’s eight largest airports, has identified

nearly 60 active gangs infiltrating airports, concentrating on

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Montreal’s Trudeau

International Airport and Vancouver International Airport.

The Globe and Mail has obtained a 22-page declassified summary of the

Project Spawn conclusions, which show the Mounties reviewed files from

2005 to 2007 and concluded that hundreds of people were suspected of

involvement in smuggling during that time — 298 of whom were current

or former airline employees.

Not all the cases culminated in charges and convictions.

The report says that federal laws prevent federal agencies from

sharing information about such chases that would allow better

screening of airport employees.

Project Spawn was completed in the spring, and its findings were

released by the RCMP to Senator Colin Kenny this month.

The senator said the conclusions buttress those made by the

national-security committee he chairs, and are likely to soon be

reiterated by a federal commission of inquiry report on the 1985 Air

India terrorist bombings that killed more than 330 people.

“Where you have fertile ground for organized crime, you also have

fertile ground for terrorists,” Mr. Kenny said.

The Mounties “have come up with very significant numbers of people who

meet the definition of organized crime within the airports,” he said,

adding, “It’s significant these people are able to operate with

impunity.”

The senator then expressed a harsh criticism of Transport Canada,

which he argues should inspect airport workers on their way into and

out of work. “There’s no question the police involved feel that this

could be shut down, and shut down firmly, if Transport Canada got off

its ass.”

A spokeswoman for Transport Canada, Nicole McNeely, said last night

that it has reviewed the report and is “developing a comprehensive

response to the issues raised.”

Significant busts in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg during the study

period appear to have helped winnow the ranks of problematic

employees, along with high turnover. Even so, the RCMP says 68 of the

problem employees were still working at airports at the conclusion of

the study.

A criminal record doesn’t preclude getting an airport job, and the

RCMP says a “lack or resources” and “technological impediments”

frustrate screening processes. The Project Spawn summary says laws

prevent the Canada Border Service Agency and Transport Canada from

fully sharing employee information with police.

Apart from corrupt airport workers — a small percentage of 88,000

people who work in Canada’s airports — the Mounties flagged another

thousand outsiders as individuals intent on “infiltrating the airports

to facilitate criminal activity.”

These are allegedly agents of 58 crime groups, who police say work at

“corrupting existing employees or by placing criminal associates into

the airport work force.” Some crime gangs are said to plant spouses

and relatives, whereas others have their members get hired for airport

jobs.

Project Spawn reveals the drug most frequently imported illegally to

Canada is khat —a leafy East African plant with narcotic qualities.

Usually, it comes from Britain, where it’s legal. [TJ: Although they

certainly try to avoid naming the gangs or folks involved — this is a

pretty big indicator. Most likely Somali IMO.]

More troubling were dozens of conspiracies to import cocaine, usually

from the Caribbean, and often arriving in Vancouver. Toronto was the

most popular destination for heroin, usually from Latin America.

Canadian courts have revealed some of the finer details of smuggling

schemes. A groundbreaking 2006 crackdown against mobsters associated

with the Rizzuto crime family revealed the extent that the Mafia had

infiltrated Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

using airline employees, a catering company and baggage handlers to

import cocaine.

A 400-page RCMP affidavit filed in court revealed the gang relied on a

corrupt customs agent. Usually, passengers arriving from overseas fill

in a declaration card and pass through a primary inspection line,

where a customs agent stamps the form. Depending on the stamp, some

passengers submit to luggage inspection.

But drug traffickers got a supply of pre-stamped declaration cards

from a corrupt agent that enabled their cocaine couriers to avoid

inspection.

The Montreal file even shows that during a debt dispute between rival

Quebec gangs, the RCMP secretly recorded mobsters musing about buying

$400 plane tickets so they could have a conciliatory get-together in a

departure lounge.

The reasoning was it would be a safe spot, as everyone had to pass

through airport security checks. Members of the Rizzuto crime family

plead guilty to a variety of conspiracies this fall.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Dutch Govt Juggles With Islam Film Statement

THE HAGUE, 12/12/08 — The Dutch government has given its own population a different statement than the international community on the Islam film of Ehsan Jami.

Jami, an Iranian-born 23 year old Dutchman, launched his short film ‘Interview with Mohammed’ on the Internet (blip.tv) this week. In his film, Jami asks a masked actor dressed as the Prophet Mohammed what he thinks of modern Islam. The Prophet says the times have changed since he lived 1,400 years ago and that Muslims should adapt to these changes.

In an English-language statement, apparently mainly intended for the Islamic world, Premier Jan Peter Balkenende condemned the film on Wednesday. The Dutch government “regrets that Mr Jami’s film deeply offends the feelings of many Muslims.” But the Dutch version of the same statement, however, said the government “regrets it if Mr Jami’s film deeply offends the feelings of many Muslims.”

The remarkable difference was discovered by Geenstijl.nl website. Practically no mainstream medium picked up the revelation.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


EU Climate Accord: Industry Concessions

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) — European Union leaders broke a deadlock over climate-change legislation with concessions that ease costs on energy and manufacturing companies, seeking to spur a new global accord.

EU heads of state and government delayed plans to end after 2012 the free allocation of allowances on which carbon-dioxide emission quotas are based, giving relief to eastern European electricity producers that rely on coal and to steel, paper and other industries across the 27-nation bloc that face an economic slump.

In upholding the main plan to reduce the CO2 quotas, the leaders aim to spur the U.S. and China — the world’s biggest emitters — to join the fight against global warming. The EU accord balances worries about job losses and a desire to help the United Nations draft a treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012.

“This is really historic,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, said after a summit meeting today in Brussels. “There’s not one continent that has rules as strict as we’re adopting.”

The accord puts most of the finishing touches on draft legislation that underpins the EU’s goal to cut greenhouse gases including CO2 by a fifth in 2020 compared with 1990. The new EU rules center on the European emissions-trading system, the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas market, which requires companies that exceed their CO2 quotas to buy permits from businesses that emit less.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]


EU Climate Accord: Berlusconi Hails Deal

Italian demands met but Europe must not ‘foot bill’ alone

(ANSA) — Brussels, December 12 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Friday said he was satisfied that Italy’s requests had been accommodated in a compromise on the European Union’s climate package.

‘‘Once again our tactical ability has paid off,’’ he said after the leaders of the 27 member states hammered out a new deal on the climate package that takes the global economic crisis into account.

Berlusconi said Europe was now at the forefront of the battle against climate change but insisted that it could not be ‘‘left to foot the bill on its own’’.

‘‘The other carbon-dioxide emitting countries must also make a commitment at the Copenhagen world climate conference in 2009,’’ Berlusconi said.

The new deal accommodates two Italian demands that Foreign Minister Franco Frattini described as deal-breakers earlier this week.

In one new clause, the entire climate package will be reviewed in March 2010 after the Copenhagen conference in December 2009 in order to ensure Europe is not isolated, and therefore penalised economically, in its fight against climate change.

In a second major concession to Italy, the Italian manufacturing sector will receive free ‘polluting permits’ when European industries and companies have to start ‘paying to pollute’ via an auction system in 2013.

‘‘No Italian jobs will be put in jeopardy and the manufacturing industry will be fully safeguarded,’’ said Italian EU Affairs Minister Andrea Ronchi.

Renewable energy credits generated by Italian-funded projects in non-European countries, such as Albanian windfarms, will also be viable on the European market until 2016.

Germany, Poland and other eastern European countries who had expressed concerns about the package also found satisfactory compromises on Friday.

‘‘We reached an accord that on one hand stands firm on the aims of greenhouse gas emission reduction and on the other takes into account the needs of the various member states, emphasising the sustainability of the measures by the various national economies as Italy had requested,’’ Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who led the talks, thanked Berlusconi for helping to reach the deal quickly, while Berlusconi paid tribute to Sarkozy’s ‘‘intelligence and dedication’’.

On Thursday the Italian premier had repeated a threat to veto the package if Italy’s demands were not met, and said in a frank exchange with journalists that he thought it was ‘‘absurd’’ to be talking about carbon emissions in the face of the more pressing financial crisis.

‘‘It’s like someone with pneumonia thinking about having a hairdo,’’ he said.

The climate package sticks to its original aims of a 2020 deadline to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% below 1990 levels through a 20% increase in the use of renewable energy and a 20% boost in energy efficiency.

However, environmental groups including Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam and Friends of the Earth branded the new deal a ‘‘failure’’, saying it was now dramatically watered down with compromises.

The deal will be examined by the European Parliament in Strasbourg on December 17.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


EU: Eurostat; New Euro Citizens Mostly Turks and Moroccans

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 10 — The new citizens of Europe are Turks and Moroccans above all, according to the most recent survey carried out by Eurostat (the European statistics office). The majority of the citizenships granted in the EU in 2006 were to Turkish and Moroccan emigrants. The Turks are the leaders among new EU citizens (64,000 people), followed by the Moroccans (48,000), Iraqis (23,000), Ecuadoreans (21,000), and then the Serbs and Montenegrins (20,000). Germany received the bulk of the Turkish immigrants (52%), France the bulk of the Moroccans (46%), Sweden most of the Iraqis (56%) and the United Kingdom welcomed the largest share of Serbs and Montenegrins (38%). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


France: Schools; Demonstration, Teachers Against Minister

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, DECEMBER 11 — Tensions between students and teachers on one side, and the Ministry for Education on the other remain high in France over a reform which the Government has no intention of giving up. An internet petition to call for the dismissal of the Education Minister Xavier Darcos has already gathered more than 13,000 signatures in just a few days. “Stop the demolition of State schools” declares the site www.darcos-demission.org. About 100 primary school teachers put the notice on the website, along with teachers from secondary schools who have been protesting for months against the school reforms and cuts in teaching posts announced by the Government. Yesterday thousands of teachers, students and partents went onto the streets again in several cities. Some schools are still occupied. In Brest (in the west of France) and Aix-en-Provence (south) demonstrations degenerated into clashes between youths and police, with stone-throwing and tear gas. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Greece: What Unites the Stone-Throwing Black Bloc?

For days, youths in Athens have been fighting with police. The riots have spread to other parts of Europe, where left-wing radicals are protesting in support of their Greek brethren. They’re considered the militant spearheads of an international scene that is largely united by violence…

…Dieter Rucht, in Berlin, believes a similar eruption of violence in Germany is not impossible — though it is “highly unlikely,” he says. When outbreaks of violence take German security forces by surprise, they prove that a situation can always lurch out of control — and not just when members of the international anarchist scene come for a visit.

In May, when left- and right-wing extremists fought in the streets of Hamburg, police reported that some people were almost killed. A year earlier, at a protest held against a meeting of European and Asian foreign ministers, an isolated cop failed to draw his weapon, and several rioters attacked him. They threw stones and bottles and paint bombs until, at the last moment, he fired a warning shot, and managed to escape and get to the safety of his vehicle.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Netherlands: Protect Religions Through Human Rights Compliance

THE HAGUE, 12/12/08 — Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen does not believe there is any negative link between religion and human rights. In fact, defending and promoting human rights is actually necessary to protect religions, in his view.

“Respect for freedom of religion and belief is declining in many parts of the world. That is why we need to safeguard human rights,” stated Verhagen at an international inter-religious conference at the Peace Palace in The Hague. “Religion and human rights are not in conflict. In fact, religion can be a major source of legitimacy for human rights.” It is important for religions to convey that message, he added.

The conference marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Representatives of different world religions signed a Declaration of Faith in Human Rights, underscoring their respect for each other and for universal human rights.

At a ceremony in the Ridderzaal (parliamentary building) in The Hague, Verhagen presented the first Human Rights Defenders Tulip, a new award launched by the Dutch government this year, to Congolese activist Justine Masika Bihamba. She and her organisation, Women’s Synergy for the Victims of Sexual Violence, provide medical, psychological and legal support to thousands of women who were raped and also campaigns to have the perpetrators prosecuted.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Outperforming Their Peers: Italian Banks Surge Past Rivals

Because of their conservative business models, Italy’s banks have done better than their larger continental peers over the past 18 months.

European banks will be happy to put 2008 behind them. From the $48 billion (€37.3 billion) in writedowns suffered by Swiss financial giant UBS to the €4.9 billion ($6.3 billion) trading scandal that rocked France’s Société Générale, the Old World’s banking sector has been at the center of the global financial crisis this year. Indeed, European financial institutions have booked $1.2 trillion in mark-to-market losses since the credit crunch began — not far short of the $1.6 trillion loss recorded by US banks, according to the biannual Financial Stability Report from the Bank of England.

To make matters worse, analysts don’t expect Europe’s financial-services sector to pick up until the second half of next year at the earliest. Yet despite the bleak outlook, one European country has bucked the trend of multibillion-dollar writedowns and government bailouts: It’s Italy, Europe’s fourth-largest economy, whose banks have outperformed larger continental rivals over the past 18 months…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Riots in Greece: the Undercover News

International Analyst Network — By Ioannis Michaletos

The present Analyst-Network website has as a main aim to inform a specialized and enlightened audience of the “undercover” nature of events within the global security & intelligence sector.

In this case, an alternative point of view is going to be presented which derives from a careful analysis and observation of the riots in Greece and reliable information streaming from the domestic security circles. For obvious reasons, matters concerning operational or intelligence procedures will not be mentioned or commented.

The riots were orchestrated since late summer 2008. There were reports within the Greek police that the riots would commence by the Christmas period at the latest; the location and the justification was not known, but any event could have caused them. This is a copycat case of what happened in France in Octomber 2005.

The culprits in the higher level are Islamic netowrks in the Middle East, hand-in-hand with corrupted Western officials that are selling their services for the highest bidder.

The purpose is to destabilize Greece, since it is the “Weakest link” of the Eurozone countries. The ultimate goal is the creation of a European space suitable for expansion of the Middle Eastern networks. For the moment the latter use a variety of techniques to bolster their aims…

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]


Solidarity Protests Across Europe Turn Violent

As Greece entered its sixth day of unrest sparked by the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy, violence spread to other parts of Europe on Thursday. Solidarity protests in cities including Rome, Madrid and Copenhagen turned into skirmishes between demonstrators and police.

The unrest that has gripped Greece for days has started to spill over into other European capitals, with arrests made in Rome, Copenhagen and Madrid on Wednesday night after solidarity demonstrations descended into violence…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Spain: Zapatero, Recession Predictions May be Wrong

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, DECEMBER 11 — Spanish Premier, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said today that he is confident that forecasts that indicate a global recession in 2008 are wrong, “as was the lack of a forecast for the present crisis”. In participating in the inauguration of the Ceoe (Spanish Industry Confederation) conference, Zapatero assured that “no government will conform to these predictions”, as has been demonstrated by the global reaction “with an unprecedented intensity” to the crisis. The Spanish premier underlined the positive data registered “over the past few weeks” like decreasing interest rates, the euribor index, and inflation rates, which, according to Zapatero, “will soon have a positive impact on family incomes and business revenues”. Just yesterday, the International Monetary Fund further lowered it’s forecast for Spanish economic growth in 2009, going from +1.2%, predicted in July, to -1% indicated yesterday, and in line with the predictions of main Spanish studies and analysts. The Imf has also warned Spain of the risk of prolonged economic stagnation after the recession if structural reforms are not passed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: 60,000 Shops at Risk But PM Optimistic

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, DECEMBER 11 — Some 60,000 shops are at risk of closure in Spain due to the economic crisis which has caused a sudden slowdown in consumer spending, falling in the first 10 months of 2008 on average by 10% compared to the same period in 2007. The Trade Confederation (CED) launched the alarm, asking through its Secretary General, Miguel Angel Fraile, for ‘‘a clear response from the Government’’ to ward of a ‘‘real danger’’ capable of removing from 25,000 to 30,000 jobs. The crisis has mainly hit the furnishing sector, where the fall in spending is between 40% and 50%, textiles (-25%), white goods and electronic equipment (-15/25%). If the negative trend continues in the next six months, 10% of commercial businesses will be forced to close. Many are placing their hopes in the ‘Christmas campaign’ said Fraile during a press conference, when the hope is for a change, and the effects of the 10%-20% discounts which shops are putting on all types of goods. ‘‘If we manage to end the year with a fall in sales of 7-8% we will be more than happy’’, said the Secretary of the CEC, to which 650,000 businesses belong. Fraile has asked the Government for a bill to postpone tax payments and a reduction of at least 10% on direct contributions, while he hopes that a reduction by the banks in interest rates ‘‘will immediately be transferred to creditors in commerce’’. To provide cash to the banking sector and reactivate credit for families and businesses the Treasury today completed the second auction for the purchase of mortgage debt in 31 banks and credit institutions for 7,224 million euro, through the Acquisition Fund for Financial assets. The fund, which could grow to 5 billion in 2009, has already distributed 91% of the 7,855 million total in three years. In the last bid on November 20 the Treasury bought financial assets for 2,115 million euro, involving 23 banks, at a marginal rate of 3.15%. The Council of deputies today gave the go ahead to two bills for the creation of state funds for local investments and the dynamisation of the economy of 11 billion euro. These will be needed, said Vice President and Minister for the Economy Pedro Solbes ‘‘for investments in strategic sectors and in public works’’ and the creation of around 300,000 jobs. A package of measures which form part of the response by the Spanish Government to the crisis, welcomed by the IMF as ‘‘energetic and more speedy’’ than in other countries. The measures, said the IMF ‘‘have not been used to speed up structural reforms’’ and to avoid the risk of stagnation. The IMF predicts negative growth for Spain in 2009 of -1%. However, Prime Minister Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has not given up hope and today said he was confident that predictions of a global recession in 2009 ‘‘are wrong, as was the failure to predict the current crisis’’. Stressing the positive figures released ‘‘in a few weeks’’, Zapatero said he was convinced that ‘‘they will soon have a positive effect on the incomes of families and businesses’’. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Spain: Report, More Than 3 Mln Unemployed by Year End

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, DECEMBER 10 — At the end of the year there will be more than three million unemployed in Spain, with a 13% unemployment level, according to extracts regarding the employment market, issued by International Financial Analysts (AFI) and Large Business Associations for temporary Work (ARGETT). The report says that unemployment will rise by 4.1% next January and by 4.7% in February. The upward trend in unemployment will continue in December, although it will be lower than previous months in real terms, thanks to temporary contracts being signed during the Christmas period. At the beginning of December there will be 900,000 more people unemployed compared to one year ago. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Sweden: Dutch Woman Barred From Borrowing Books

A Stockholm-area library is being sued by Sweden’s Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination (DO) for refusing to let a Dutch woman check out more than two books because she wasn’t Swedish.

“Täby municipality has treated [the woman] unfairly by limiting the number of books she could check out of the municipality’s library,” writes the ombudsman in documents filed with the district court in Attunda near Stockholm.

Now the ombudsman wants the municipality to pay 60,000 kronor ($7,500) in compensation for what it sees as “discrimination on account of her ethnic background”.

The woman, who moved to Sweden in 2006, had been hired last spring by the municipality to work as a home language tutor.

In April, she went to the local library and found three books she thought would be helpful for her lessons.

But when she came to the counter, the Dutch national was told by the librarian she could only borrow two books because she lacked Swedish citizenship.

The woman explained that she had a valid Swedish personal identity number (personnummer) and even provided documentation from the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) confirming the number, as well as her address and the date she moved to Sweden.

“The library staff member answered that that wasn’t enough and that immigrants aren’t allowed to borrow more than two books because [library staff] couldn’t check what they did with them,” reads the complaint.

Further investigation by the ombudsman revealed that the library’s policy only placed the borrowing limit on people who lacked Swedish personal identity numbers because of the difficulty it created in tracking down missing books.

Nowhere in the regulations was there any stipulation limiting the number of books people could borrow on account of their citizenship.

But the ombudsman countered that according to Swedish law, an employer is liable for discriminatory behaviour by one of its workers even if that behaviour contradicts the employer’s stated policy.

In the eyes of the ombudsman, however, the library’s policy is not the issue.

“Regardless of which borrowing rules were officially in force in Täby municipality, [she] has quite simply been denied the possibility of borrowing more than two books from the municipality’s library on account of her citizenship,” writes the ombudsman.

When contacted by The Local, the woman declined to comment on the case until after a the court had reached a decision.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


UK: BNP Member Targeted in Hoax Anthrax Attack

A British National Party member was the target of a hoax anthrax attack which saw part a Norfolk village sealed off earlier this week.

A small road in Dersingham, West Norfolk was closed after a Christmas card containing a message about anthrax and white powder was sent to the home of a known BNP associate.

The scare comes following the publishing of a list of members on the internet last month.

The all-day security alert on Central Crescent in Dersingham saw a response which included a large-scale police presence and a decontamination unit dispatched after three people had come into contact with the substance.

The Christmas card was written in green felt tip pen and also held an abusive and derogatory message.

Spokesman for the BNP, Simon Darby said: “It just shows the people that are out there against us. How much would it have cost to send an anti terrorist unit and a decontamination unit?

“I’m pretty sure the person who did it didn’t realise the resources that are going to be spent taken them down.

“It’s a very foolish and irresponsible thing to do. It’s not the sort of thing you expect.”

He said it later turned out to be a laxative.

He added that they could not name the victim due to data protection.

Police yesterday confirmed they had attended the scene and said there was an ongoing investigation taking place. They visited Dersingham post office yesterday as part of their enquiry.

           — Hat tip: watling[Return to headlines]


UK: Tories Pledge to Help Defeat Labour Welfare Rebellion

The Conservatives pledged yesterday to help the Government defeat a Labour backbench rebellion to ensure that a shake-up of the benefits system becomes law. Some Labour MPs criticised plans by the Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell under which almost all claimants would face cuts in their benefits if they did not prepare for or seek work. He said taxpayers’ money would no longer be “frittered away” on claimants who “play the system”, adding that there were 500,000 job vacancies compared to 200,000 people a month finding work…

…Mr Purnell insisted his changes were in line with the founding principles of the welfare state. The only claimants exempt from the “preparing for work” rule would be lone parents whose youngest child is under one year old, carers and the disabled.

“Some people say we should be slowing the pace of welfare reform because of the downturn,” he said. “The Government believes we should be doing the opposite. We should not repeat the mistake of the recessions of the 1980s and 90s, when hundreds of thousands were shuffled on to inactive benefits to keep the unemployment count down, and trapped there.”

Under the proposals, after a year on the dole, the jobless would be allocated to a work provider and expected to do four weeks in full-time activity. Under a pilot scheme, after two years the jobless would have to work full-time.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Balkans

Bosnia: Dodik’s Statements Stir New Controversy

SARAJEVO — Republic of Srpska (RS) Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said that he would not allow Muslim judges to preside over cases in the RS…

…”It is unacceptable for the RS that Muslim judges try us and throw out complaints that are legally founded. And we think that it is only because they are Muslims, Bosniaks and that they have a negative orientation towards the RS, and we see the conspiracy that has been created,” Dodik said.

International officials are reportedly shocked by Dodik’s statements…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Serbia: Jeremic, if EU Presses on Kosovo We Give Up Adhesion

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, DECEMBER 11 — Post-Milosevic Serbia is at a standstill over its European ambitions, but is ready to give up EU adhesion if Brussels places recognition of the breakaway Albanian province of Kosovo as a condition, said Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic in a hearing in Parliament, adding that he did not believe that the Union would do this. If such a situation happened “Serbia would have no other option than to say ‘no’ to any further negotiations with the EU” said Jeremic, confirming the current Government’s pro-Europe commitments, but also the wish to continue to defend the territorial integrity of the country with “diplomatic and legal” means. The Minister however said that it was “unlikely” that Brussels would try to impose agreement by Serbia to Kosovòs unilateral declaration of indipendence on 17th February: if only because “there are five countries in the EU which have no intention of allowing it”. (Serbia and the majority of the non western states, Ed.) Similar opinions were expressed in recent days by President Boris Tadic, whose support in Europe Belgrade considers to be strategic, but who “will not accept any more conditions” with regard to those already agreed to.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Serbia: Number of People Returning to Kosovo Reduced

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, DECEMBER 11 — Since the beginning of this year, 368 internally displaced persons have returned to Kosovo, which is a much smaller number than in 2003, when 3,801 people returned to Serbia’s southern province, the Union of Associations of Internally Displaced Persons (IRL-Union) stated at a news conference, reports Tanjug news agency. IRL-Union representative Dosta Palic said that there are 206,000 displaced persons in Serbia at present. They are mainly Serbs, but there are also Roma and other ethnic minority communities among them. She said that “the process of return is being slowed down by insufficiently expressed political will of the Kosovo institutions to create conditions for their return.” Palic underscored that there are no linked activities to stimulate people to return, because some of them are being offered collective return, while only a small number of them are being offered to return individually. Assistant Minister for Kosovo, Metohija Bojan Andjelkovic said that “guaranteed safety and rule of law are the key to the survival of people in Kosovo.” Andjelkovic stressed that the Draft Strategy for Sustainable Return and Survivor is expected to be completed by the end of the year, adding that the aim of the document is to create a framework and solutions for implementation of action plans for return. UNHCR representative John Andrew Young asked why the protocol on sustainable return is not being implemented, underlining that work has to be done on developing a right strategy for return. He also said that the process of return has not produced good results despite the invested efforts, and that one of the reasons for that is the declaration of independence by Kosovo early this year.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Serbia-Croatia: Border Police Carried Out Joint Manoevers

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, DECEMBER 9 — Members of the border police units of Serbia and Croatia carried out joint manoeuvres in the Croatian border village of Tovarnik, the aim of which was to help prevent illegal migrations and car trade, reports Tanjug news agency. The manoeuvres represent the final part of the project of technical capacity building and boosting of cross-border cooperation of the two countries’ police units, which was realized with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the British Embassies in Belgrade and Zagreb. Head of Border, Asylum and Refugees Department of the Serbian Interior Ministry Nenad Banovic told journalists before the exercise that it had taken about two years to realize the project, and that a number of donations in equipment had made it possible to put the border police technical competence at a higher level.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

EU-Turkey: Small Progress in Last Year, Foreign Ministers Say

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 8 — The European Union regrets the very small progress that Turkey has made in the last year, in particolar concerning the political reforms, and underlines with disappointment the stalement in the relations with Cyprus which Turkey has never recognized. According to the conclusions of the Foreign Council, Ankara has yet to define “the reform of the judicial system, a strategy for the fight against corruption, a plan to guarantee the freedom of expression and religion, the protection of the rights of the citizens, the complete implementation of zero tolerance policy against torture and abuses”. As for Cyprus, EU stresses the fact that Turkey “has not yet applied the Ankara protocol”, which extends the customs union also to Cyprus and has not yet advanced “on the way of normalization of its relations with Nicosia”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


France: Officer of Algerian Descent Nominated Prefect

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, DECEMBER 11 — Another officer of Algerian descent, Nacer Meddah has been nominated prefect of Seine-Saint-Denis, a district north of Paris with a high population of immigrant residents of northern African origin. “He is a good example a prefect, of personality, and of public responsibility in the framework of a diversity policy at the highest level of the state”, stated Luc Chatel, a government spokesperson making the announcement. Many Parisian suburbs are under the authority of Seine-Saint-Denis, the location of tensions in November of 2005. With Kabyle parents, Nacer Meddah, 48 years old, has already been prefect of Aube, in northern France from August 2006 — July 2008. He is the second immigrant officer to obtain the role of prefect after Aïssa Dermouche whose nomination in 2004 in Jura (east) created controversy, with a full debate between Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy and President, Jacques Chirac on the notion of “positive discrimination”. In November, after the Council of Ministers had nominated Pierre N’Cahane who is of Cameroon descent as the prefect of the High Provence Alps, the head of state had announced new initiatives “in the upcoming weeks” to improve the representation of minorities in high positions. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Libyan Stake in ENI Positive, CEO Says

(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 11 — The fact that Libya wants to become a shareholder in Italian energy giant ENI should be considered a “positive” development, CEO Paolo Scaroni told the House today. “It is a good thing to have a shareholder who is not only interested in our positive results but who is also our chief oil supplier,” the CEO explained. “I never express my opinions about our shareholders, they can do what they want. As a rule I like all shareholders, especially those who hold ENI stock,” Scaroni added. The ENI chief also told MPs that Tripoli was not opposed to the possibility of Russiàs Gazprom buying into Elephant, a joint ENI-Libyan venture, in the future. “But therés no rush and we need to wait for the seesawing of oil prices to end in order to properly determine the value of these assets,” Scaroni added. According to the ENI CEO, the price of oil has fallen because of consumer reaction following record high prices of over $100 a barrel and due to a slowdown in the American and European economies. Libya last Saturday voiced an interest in buying as much as a 10% stake in ENI but said this would only be an investment and that it had no intention of assuming any management role. Market operators believe the oil-rich North African country is “bargain hunting” and taking advantage of the recent financial crisis to buy into undervalued Italian companies. Tripoli recently acquired an almost 5% stake in UniCredit, Italy’s biggest bank. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Kuwait Investments in Algeria Top USD 6 Billion, Report

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, DECEMBER 8 — Direct investments in Algeria since early 2008 have amounted to USD 6 billion according to a report from the country’s Ministry of Industry and Promotion of Investment. The report, as Kuna news agency reports, attributed the rise in foreign investments to a newly-improved set of trade laws that have led investors to choose the country over its Mediterranean neighbours. Foreign investment in the country mainly covers construction and the banking sector, with branches of banks recently opened from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and France. Algeria has recorded good economical growth this year, unaffected by the global economical crisis felt across the regions of the developing world claimed the report. It also deemed a relieving Algerian financial outlook in light of exchange reserves that amounted to more than USD 135 billion in October. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel: Lay-Offs Grow in Press Sector

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, DECEMBER 10 — There is a worrying atmosphere among Israeli journalists, while some important print media seem to be suffering the repercussions of the world economic crisis. Traditionally Israel is considered one of the top news producers in the world, and a stimulating environment for those wanting to practice journalism. But now even this industry is feeling the crisis. Tens of journalists have been dismissed from the economic daily ‘Globes’, the same from the website ‘Walla’: finding a new job is not an easy task for them. Journalists on the weekly ‘Makor Rishon’ are collecting their salaries in arrears, those on the daily ‘Maariv’ know that the company is losing money, and that it may be forced to sell the historic editorial which has been a point of reference in Tel Aviv for decades. The project is to raze it to the ground and build a skyscraper in its place. A salary cut has been imposed on journalists on the TV channel ‘Channel 10’. Problems in the press were tackled last week in an in-depth conference in Eilat (Red Sea). The editor of ‘Haaretz’, Amos Schocken spoke in alarmist tones: “If we just the status of journalists with economic criteria the prospects do not look encouraging”. Anyone who thinks he may one day have to support a family, he implied, would do well to look for a different occupation. Schocken justified his pessimism with the increase in the price of paper, the fall in advertising and subscriptions, and with an excess of print material on offer. The number of dailies circulating among the 5 million Hebrew readers has grown with the recent addition of three free dailies (‘Israel ha-Yom’, ‘24’, and ‘Metro’) and of one economics journal (‘Calcalist’).. Journalists often receive minimum wages on the free papers, as well as on websites which give journalistic updates. The leader of the journalists’ union complains that many publishers oblige their journalists to sign binding contracts which do not guarantee their basic rights. According to the Government press office the crisis is also hitting foreign press in Israel, which is now trimming down on contributors.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel: Press Speaks of US Nuclear ‘Umbrella’ Against Iran

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, DECEMBER 11 — In order to confront the ‘Iranian threat’, Barack Obamàs new US administration is readying to offer Israel a “nuclear umbrella”. The news comes in Haaretz, which cites people close to Obama who are broaching the idea that the United States should openly threaten to launch a nuclear strike on Iran should the country attack Israel with atomic weapons. The sources, which are not specified, also stress the need for the United States to strengthen Israel’s defensive capabilities against missile attack. Already over recent months a high-tech radar station has been set up in Neghev, exclusively staffed by US personnel. Such projects, Haaretz points out, are not, however, welcome in Jerusalem because they are an implicit admission that the United States is giving up its line of preventing Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. Daily paper Maariv today notes that Iran should have enough enriched uranium to produce its first atom bomb within the coming few months. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Israel: Labour Party Down in Polls, Turn to Mysticism

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, DECEMBER 11 — Doing very poorly in polls two months before election time, the Labour party under Ehud Barak turned to an ancient mystical-religious tradition in the hope that it can go towards turning their luck around. Early this morning a Labour party leader, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon, arrived in the party headquarters in the ha-Tikwa area of Tel Aviv, and had all the mezuzots (small metallic containers with a parchment on which religious verses are written) replaced over the doors. In traditional Jewish customs, there is the belief that an imperfect parchment could be the source of bad luck, and replacing it can therefore help matters out. It is not known whether party leader Ehud Barack, not of any religious affiliation, had been asked by the minister before the latter engaged in this act of “mysticism” in the party’s headquarters. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Livni Rules Out Expulsion of Arabs From Israel

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who hopes to become prime minister after February elections, on Friday ruled out the expulsion of Arab-Israelis after a Palestinian state is created.

“The national aspirations (of the Arabs) should be realized elsewhere, but there is no question of carrying out a transfer or forcing them to leave,” she told public radio.

“I am willing to give up a part of the country over which I believe we have rights so that Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state in which citizens have equal rights, whatever their religion,” she said in reference to the creation of a Palestinian state.

On Thursday, Livni drew criticism for saying Israeli-Arabs who had national aspirations should move to a Palestinian state when it is established.

“My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two distinct national entities,” she told a group of secondary school students in Tel Aviv in remarks broadcast by army radio.

“And among other things I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Arab Israelis, and tell them: ‘your national aspirations lie elsewhere.’“

Arab heads irked

“ She must decide whether she means to leave a million Arabs without political rights or a national identity, or whether she really intends to transfer a million Arab citizens to the Palestinian state that will be established “

Arab Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi Livni leads the centrist Kadima party. She is in a close race with former premier Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party ahead of legislative elections set for February 10.

The polls were called after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned over a series of graft scandals.

The 1.4-million-strong Arab-Israeli community makes up about 20 percent of the Jewish state’s population, and consists of the descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.

The remarks drew an angry rebuttal from Arab Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi and from the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas.

“She must decide whether she means to leave a million Arabs without political rights or a national identity, or whether she really intends to transfer a million Arab citizens to the Palestinian state that will be established,” he said.

“Livni must be straightforward and open as is appropriate for someone running for prime minister,” Tibi told army radio.

Palestinian presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP Livni’s remarks “put obstacles on the way of the peace process and will not lead to a peace agreement and a just and comprehensive solution.”

“These statements don’t serve the cause of peace or efforts being made to reach a comprehensive peace in the region. They show that Israel is not serious about a solution or the negotiations with the Palestinians,” he said.

“The way to peace is by respecting international legislation. The Israeli election campaign should not be exploited to create tensions,” Abu Rudeina added by telephone from Amman.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Middle East: Israeli Arabs Should Live in a Future Palestinian State Says Livni

Tel Aviv, 11 Dec. (AKI) — Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister and presidential candidate Tzipi Livni said on Thursday that Israeli Arabs should go live in a future Palestinian state, suggesting a ‘transfer’ of population. “My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic state of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines,” said Livni while speaking to a group of high school students in Tel Aviv.

“I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, ‘your national solution lies elsewhere.’“

Her statement caused widespread anger in the Israeli Arab community.

“She must decide whether she means to leave a million Arabs without political rights or a national identity, or whether she really intends to transfer a million Arab citizens to the Palestinian state that will be established,” said Israeli Arab MP Ahmed Tibi quoted by Israeli army radio.

“The roots of the Israeli Arab citizens of Israel were planted before the state was established…They are residents of this country with rights; their residency and citizenship are not open for negotiation,” said Culture, Sports and Science Minister Ghaleb Majadele, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

Livni, leader of the ruling centrist Kadima party is running in a neck-and-neck race with Benjamin Netanyahu of the hardline Likud party to win Israel’s upcoming general elections in February 2009.

Israeli Arabs make up 20 percent of Israel’s population of seven million. The great majority are Muslims and the rest Christians and Druze.

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


Mideast: Gaza; 100 Mln Shekel Transferred, Despite Protests

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, DECEMBER 11 — Armoured cars coming from the West Bank containing a total of 100 million shekel (20 million euro) were able to enter into the Gaza Strip despite protests started by Israelis at the Erez pass, according to the military radio. In the past days a money shortage had forced various banks in Gaza to close. The transfer of funds — necessary to pay Pna salaries in Gaza — was requested by Palestinian Premier Salam Fayad to Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak who had given authorisation yesterday. But the decision which was bitterly criticised also by ministers in the Israeli government according to whom, there is a risk that the funds will be used by Hamas. The demonstrators that tried to prevent the trucks from entering Gaza sustain that Israel should have given the funds on the condition that Ghilad Shalit, a soldier held prisoner by Hamas since June of 2008 be liberated. Despite protests — reported military radio — in the early afternoon the trucks entered into the Gaza Strip. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Mideast: Abbas Mandate Expires in Jan. for 64% Palestinians

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH, DECEMBER 11 — In Gaza and the West Bank 64% of Palestinians believe that the mandate of PNA President Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) should expire on January 1, 2009, after the fixed term of four years (as Hamas claims), and that it cannot be extended to 2010, as leaders of the PNA and al-Fatah want. This is one of the indications that emerge from a poll published today by the Palestinian research centre (Psr) led by doctor Khalil Shikaki. Of those who believe Abu Mazen’s term should end soon, the majority wants new presidential elections, a minority would like him to be succeeded by the president of Parliament, Abdel Aziz Dweik (a Hamas leader, held in Israel). Mahmud Abbas — according to the poll — keeps a lead on Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas). But if al-Fatah would move Marwan Barghuti forward as candidate (serving a life sentence in Israel), that lead would be bigger. The poll also deals with the question of political elections for the renewal of the Palestinian legislative council (the Parliament of Ramallah), if al-Fatah and Hamas can’t resolve their conflict. Three quarter of those interviewed approve the proposal of Abu Mazen to have those elections at the start of 2009. >From the poll also emerged that three quarter of all Palestinians are in favour of extending the truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The truce will expire on December 19th after six months. The economic situation in Gaza meanwhile is cause for great concern: 40% of those who live in the Gaza Strip would like to emigrate. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Mideast: Abbas, to Work With Israel Despite Winner

(by Aldo Baquis) (ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, DECEMBER 11 — On moving forward with the Israel-Palestine peace process, Pna President, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is not making any distinctions: ‘I will work’ — he promised — with whoever is elected premier in the Israeli political elections in February: both Tzipi Livni (Kadima) and Benyamin Netanyahu (Likud)’’. In an interview with Arab newspaper Al-Shark el-Awsat, which was published today, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) confided that he was not excessively worried about the radical right wing profile adopted by Likud following the primaries two days ago in view of February’s political elections. He also explained his optimism regarding American President Elect, Barack Obama who declared recently to attach ‘‘high priority’’ to the Middle East peace process. While conciliatory with Israel, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was harsh with the Hamas movement, comparing them a Shiite sect that occupied Mecca 1,000 years ago. In the interview he confirmed that there would be no dialogue until the Islamic ‘coup’ of 2007 is wiped out. He concluded: ‘‘I do not want to be president of the Pna but I have a responsibility, and I cannot leave a vacuum behind me. When I feel that the Pna and al-Fatah are moving forward on all fronts, only then will I withdraw from the scene’’. But Mahmoud Abbas’ road is full of obstacles. Since even before the Israeli elections there was a critical deadline in Palestine: on January 9th his presidential mandate is supposed to end. Hamas has warned for weeks that on that day they will no longer consider him the president of the Pna. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the meantime has also assumed the role that Yassar Arafat did as President of Palestine as a result of the declaration of Independence of Algiers (1988). But according to opinion polls published today, 64pct of Palestinians agree with Hamas: his mandate, they state, expires in January. While the feud continues between Hamas and al-Fatah, most Palestinians favour new elections in the Territories in spring of 2009. Polls state that at the moment, al-Fatah is more popular than Hamas and expect Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to win against Ismail Haniyeh. But no one knows how the Pna would technically organise a vote in the Gaza Strip, under the iron control of Hamas and it’s services, which in a further act of challenge in Ramallah, are organising a new ‘presidential guard’ in Gaza, which is certainly not faithful to Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The atmosphere in Gaza is scathing. On Sunday, Hamas will celebrate the 21st anniversary of it’s foundation by Sheik Ahmed Yassin (killed years ago in a targeted Israeli attack). A leader of the movement, Sallah al-Bardawil, expects that ‘‘a new intafada (popular revolt) is imminent’’, the third after the last one broke out in December of 1987 and September of 2000. Almost identical were the words of another Hamas leader, Mushir al-Masri: ‘‘The signs are multiplying -he stated — of the nearing of another explosion of popular rage’’. Bardawil addressed his warnings not only to Israel and the Pna, but the entire region. ‘‘Since it’s foundation, Hamas has been able to strengthen at all levels. Hamas — he underlined, referring to, without stating any names, to Egypt and Jordan -are starting to lead the Arab and Islamic masses thanks to it’s extraordinary example of resistance, sacrifice, and the adherence to national interests’’. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Jordan: Saddam Hussein’s Death Remembered in Aqaba

Amman, 11 Dec. (AKI) — Two years after the execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, his supporters have commemorated his death in Jordan. According to a report in the Arab newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, inhabitants of the tourist city of Aqaba on the Red See distributed books and pamphlets in commemoration of his anniversary and invited people to pray for his soul.

“Let’s read some verses of the Koran and pray to God for the soul of the martyrs of the nation, on the second anniversary of the martyrdom of the father of martyrs, the warrior and leader Saddam Hussein, who through his actions supported the unity and the Arabness of Iraq and Palestine to obtain their freedom from the occupiers and their guardians,” read a pamphlet.

The publications were distributed to people who were leaving mosques and tourists in the resort town of Aqaba for the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha.

Saddam Hussein (photo) was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court on 5 November after a year-long trial over the killings of 148 Shias from the town of Dujail in the 1980s.

He was executed by hanging for crimes against humanity in northern Baghdad in December 2006.

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


Made in Italy: Interna Furnishes First Armani Hotel in Dubai

(ANSAmed) — UDINE, DECEMBER 11 — Interna Contract, world leader in the luxury hotel contracting sector with headquarters in Tavagnacco (Udine), will furnish Armani Hotel Dubai and Armani Residences Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. The order — announced today in a press conference — includes around 6,000 one-offs: furniture, chairs and beds, which Interna will supply for the over 160 rooms and suites of the hotel and the 144 luxury apartments, all designed by Giorgio Armani. “The acquisition of this prestigious project” said the president of Interna Holding, Diego Travan, “shows that during times of international crisis, Italian products do well with their tradition in manufacturing with technological innovation and management capacity”. Hotel Armani Dubai will be located in the Burj Dubai tower owned by Emaar, the biggest property company in the world. The exclusive hotel and residences will be the first of the chain Armani Hotels, Armani Resorts and Armani Residences. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Terrorists in Mumbai May Have Had Indian Accomplices, Bases in Nepal

India is stepping up security measures. Meanwhile, the UN outlaws a Pakistani charity group, but its leaders are appealing to the government. Reaction awaited from Islamabad, where the deputy U.S. secretary of state flew today.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Indian accomplices may have helped the Pakistani terrorists who killed about 172 people in Mumbai. Meanwhile, the UN has outlawed an important Pakistani group.

Amitabh Yash, director of the Indian police task force that arrested Sabauddin Ahmed in February, for assaulting a police station, yesterday said that “he was their main point man in Katmandu, a very trusted man by Lashkar (Lashkar-e-Taiba, LeT),” which is accused in the attack. Allegedly his job was, among other things, to manage safe houses in Nepal, where it is easier to cross the lightly controlled Indian border. According to Yash, Ahmed has admitted to “contacts with several officials from Pakistan’s spy service.”

India has asked Pakistan for the arrest and extradition of 40 people believed to be accomplices of the attack, and is accusing Islamabad of not cooperating.

Yesterday, the United Nations security council declared as a “terrorist organization” subject to sanctions (like the freezing of assets, travel restrictions, and the prohibition against its members owning weapons) the charity group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), as requested by India and the United States, which accuse it of being a front group for the LeT. JuD is permitted in Pakistan, where it supports numerous Islamic schools and clinics.

JuD spokesman Abdullah Muntazir has contested the decision, and has asked the Pakistani government not to act against those who “only want to help poor Pakistanis.” Hafiz Saeed (in the photo), the leader of the LeT until 2001, and now head of the JuD, said at a press conference in Lahore, “We will not accept any decision taken under Indian pressure. This decision was taken to defame Pakistan.”

UN sources maintain that the LeT is also active in Saudi Arabia and Europe, has participated in attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, and receives money from al-Qaeda. The UN has also classified as terrorists four leaders of the LeT, with the exception of Hamid Gul, a retired Pakistani. India had wanted him on the list. It appears that China, an ally of Pakistan, vetoed on behalf of Gul. And now reaction is awaited from Islamabad, where U.S. deputy secretary of state John Negroponte went today to ask for concrete action against the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, Indian interior minister P. Chidambaram told parliament today that domestic security is being stepped up, in part through more strict anti-terrorism measures, the deployment of more men and resources, and close supervision over the trains and the coasts: India has 7,500 kilometers of coastline, and it is believed that the terrorists came to Mumbai by sea.

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


Turkey: More Than 18% of Turks Below Poverty Line, Report

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, DECEMBER 9 — More than 18% of the Turkish population lived below the poverty line in 2007 while around 0.5% lived below the hunger line, daily Today’s Zaman reports quoting a survey by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat). According to the study, 18.56% of the Turkish population lives below the poverty line, which refers to the minimum amount a family needs in order to pay its rent and meet its basic needs, such as food, transportation, clothing and education. Another 0.54% of Turks live below the hunger line, the monthly cost to adequately feed a family. Around 0.74% of the population was below the hunger line in 2006, and the percentage of those below the poverty line was 17.81%. The hunger level for a family of four was calculated as 237 Turkish Liras (130 euro) in 2007, and the poverty level was 619 Turkish Liras (300 euro). The survey also revealed that people living in rural areas are poorer compared to those living in urban areas. While the amount of people in rural areas living below the poverty line was 32.18% in 2007, it was 10.61% for those living in urban areas. The rate of poverty is directly related to the number of family members. While the poverty rate for families of three or four members was 9.28% last year, this figure was 42.07% for families with seven or more members. The more educated the members of a family, the more likely the family is to be prosperous, according to the survey. While 34.76% of families who are illiterate were below the poverty line in 2007, this figure was 14.9% for primary school graduates, 8.16% for high school graduates and 0.9% for university graduates. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Turkey: In Istanbul 30,000 Children Live on the Street, Study

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, NOVEMBER 24 — In the streets of Turkey, 30,891 abandoned children live on their own including both sexes, of which there are 30,109 just in Istanbul, where there are about 15 million inhabitants. This alarming news was published by Today’s Zeman newspaper which reported data of a study carried out by the Agency for the Protection of Human Rights of the Presidency (Bihb), in which the numbers were elaborated — it was not explained in what way — regarding the street children who live on begging and petty theft. Rehabilitation centres for the children were also the object of the study, which were counted as 92, together with 94 orphanages. Hasan Tahsin, president of Bihb, stated that “this study will be carried out every year until the problem is resolved”, adding that “children’s rights occupy a key role in the human rights and both the states and the NGOs should work in a more systematic way to find a solution to this problem”. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Russia

Russia: Stabbing of African-American Exchange Student May be Hate Crime

MOSCOW — An African-American exchange student has been stabbed by unknown assailants in a southern Russian city in an attack officials say may have been racially motivated.

Stanley Robinson, 18, of Providence, Rhode Island, was in grave but stable condition Friday at Hospital No. 12 in the southern city of Volgograd, the hospital’s head doctor said.

Investigators were trying to determine if the Dec. 5 assault on Robinson was a hate crime, said city police spokeswoman Svetlana Smolyaninova. No suspects have been detained, and she said authorities have not ruled out robbery or random violence.

But Robinson’s mother, who has spoken twice with her son by telephone since the attack, has no doubts about what motivated the attack.

“I believe it happened because he is a person of color,” Tina Robinson said in a telephone interview Friday from her home in Providence. “It was completely unprovoked.”

The stabbing took place in Volgograd, an industrial city of 1 million people 550 miles southeast of Moscow.

Tina Robinson said her son had developed pneumonia, and said she was trying to arrange his transfer to a Western-style medical facility. “I’m very concerned about the care he’s getting there,” she said.

The U.S. Embassy declined comment, citing privacy concerns.

In recent years Russia has seen a rising number of attacks against members of non-Slavic ethnic groups, particularly darker-skinned migrants from the Caucasus region and Central Asia. African students and immigrants are also frequent targets of attacks, but attacks on Westerners are rare.

           — Hat tip: spackle[Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: New Anti-Terror Measures After Mumbai Attacks

Mumbai, 11 Dec. (AKI) — The Indian government has announced a dramatic overhaul of the country’s security and intelligence agencies following last month’s Mumbai terror attacks. Interior Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told Parliament on Thursday that an investigative agency would be established and coastal security strengthened to monitor the country’s 7,500 km coastline.

He also said India would train more commandos and upgrade its anti-terror laws. It is the government’s first detailed response following a public outcry over the attacks which left at least 173 people dead, including nine of the 10 gunmen.

“I have found that there is a tendency to treat some intelligence inputs that are not specific or precise as not actionable intelligence,” Chidambaram told Parliament in a statement about the Mumbai attack.

“Further, the responsibility for acting upon intelligence input is quite diffused.”

The minister identified the lone surviving gunman, now in police custody, as Mohammed Ajmal Amir Qasab. The suspect was remanded in custody for another two weeks on Thursday.

Chidambaram, who took office after the previous minister resigned during the attacks, said evidence gathered from the dead gunmen and the boats on which they allegedly travelled showed that that they were Pakistani nationals belonging to the banned Kashmiri separatist group, Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Pakistan has denied any involvement in the attacks, but has pledged to work with the Indian investigation.

Under the Indian proposals, Indian schools will be set up in various parts of India to train to train police and security personnel and commando forces will be set up in the states.

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


Malaysia: Surprised But Not Alarmed

SECURITY analysts were taken by surprise yesterday when they found out that Malaysia had released terrorist Yazid Sufaat and more than a dozen Jemaah Islamiah detainees in the past month. They believe Yazid, who had links to the Al-Qaeda, still poses a security threat to Singapore and other countries.

However, they are not alarmed by the move, pointing to the cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia, as well as other neighbouring countries, in dealing with terror threats…

However, Dr Gunaratna believes security agencies should keep a close watch on Yazid, for three reasons.

One, the 43-year-old, who was arrested in December 2001, had allowed two terrorists to use his home in Kuala Lumpur. They were Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, hijackers of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, the US military headquarters, on Sept 11, 2001.

Two, Yazid, a former army captain, is a biochemist who had headed an Al-Qaeda anthrax programme on using the deadly biological agent for terror attacks.

Three, he had a hand in terrorist attacks in Indonesia and had travelled extensively in the region, including Singapore.

‘Yazid Sufaat is one of the most dangerous terrorists in Asia,’ said Dr Gunaratna…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Pakistan Bans Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Arrests Leaders

Islamabad complies with UN resolution describing the group as a front for the terrorists who carried out the Mumbai attacks. For Pakistan’s Catholic Church both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism and must work together and not succumb to jingoism.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Pakistan’s government banned the Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity, arrested its top leaders, sealed its offices throughout the country, froze its bank accounts and banned its publications after the United Nations blacklisted the organisation for being a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, an al-Qaeda-linked extremist group involved in the Mumbai attacks. TV stations also can no longer air statements by “banned groups”.

Although no official announcement about the banning of the organisation has been made, it is expected after a meeting of top security officials at the Foreign Office late in the night.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani “has taken note of the designation of certain individuals and entities by the UN under 1267 resolution of the UN Security Council and would fulfill its international obligations,” a government statement said.

Police sealed Qudsia Mosque, Jamaat-ud-Dawa headquarters in Chauburji Chowk, Lahore, and 18 other offices throughout Punjab.

Weekly Ghazwa and monthly Al-Dawa, both published by the charity, have also apparently been closed.

Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed has also been placed under house arrest. Police now surround his home.

Before his arrest Saeed said that the move was an attempt to target religious groups, and that his organisation would fight the decision in Pakistani and international courts, challenging Indian and US officials to produce evidence against it.

He claimed his group was not involved in the Mumbai attacks, adding that “[w]e do not accept terrorism, killing innocent people, or carrying out suicide attacks. [. . .] This has always been our stand.”

The organisation runs hundreds of Islamic schools and health clinics (pictured, Jamaat-ud-Dawa members handing out food).

Following the Mumbai attacks in which 172 people were killed by ten Pakistani terrorists, Indian sources accused Pakistan of not doing enough to arrest possible accomplices.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking in parliament before the latest steps were taken, called Pakistan “the epicentre of terrorism,” and the latter’s “infrastructure [. . .] has to be dismantled permanently.” India, he insisted, “could not be satisfied with mere assurances.”

India and Pakistan “need to work hard and resolve this issue wisely,” said in a statement the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church of Pakistan.

None the less, if it “s true that terrorists have enjoyed impunity and developed their root very deep in Pakistan,” it is also true that “Pakistan itself is victim of this terrorism.” In fact, in Pakistan authorities are hard pressed to hold on to entire regions “like the Swat Valley, for years the scene of military clashes.”

Similarly, for a long time India too “has been facing home-grown terrorism [. . .] in Assam, Orissa, Rajasthan, and Punjab among others”.

In “order to eradicate the roots of terrorism from South Asia, both countries will have to make joint efforts.,” for this reason, “this is not the time to succumb to any kind of jingoism.”

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


Primary Colours: West Realises it Has Reared a Monster Called Pakistan

The Mumbai attack and high death toll have served to bring the United States-led power axis closer to India. The US and its Western allies now share our concerns about the great danger posed to security, both domestic and global, by Pakistan-sponsored jihad. For, at stake are their massive financial investments as well as shared human values. American President-elect Barack Obama’s pronouncement after the blasts that India, as a sovereign nation, has the right to protect itself is a sign of the shift in stance. It is in line with his aggressive approach to resolve the problem of Islamist terrorism, voiced before the US election, when he had advocated bombing terror camps in Pakistan on the basis of evidence…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

Babies and Toxic Milk: Chinese Companies Will Pay….”Maybe”

The health minister confirms he is working on a compensation plan for families with small children affected by the melamine poisoned milk. “Probably” companies responsible for the disaster will pay. Scepticism among lawyers and families of the 294 thousand children struck by kidney stones and urinary tract diseases.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Some of the production companies who caused kidney diseases in over 300 thousand babies will “probably” have to pay compensation to victim’s families. This according to the Chinese health minister. Department spokesperson, Mao Qunan, confirms that so far the government has paid for ultra-sounds and medical exams for babies who have kidney stones or “abnormalities in their urinary tract”. But — he added — there is “a strong possibility that compensation will be paid out by companies held responsible”.

In a press conference yesterday Mao Qunan stated that the ministry for health is working on a “compensation plan” for those families whose small children were poisoned by milk powder containing melamine, but failed to give details.

The sale of products for infants containing melamine provoked a scandal among the Chinese population, for the unscrupulous actions of the implicated production companies (among them Sanlu) and the existing corruption among government representatives, who remained silent for years regarding the poison, despite the fact they had been warned by diverse sources.

The presence of melamine in milk formula for small infants led to the death of 6 new born babies and the illness of a further 294 thousand.

Many families are seeking to bring the responsible companies to trial, but the courts and judges are blocking the presentation of petitions.

Li Fangping, a lawyer who helps families seeking justice, in an interview with Reuters affirms: “Clearly, the government does not want these problems aired in the courts, open to the public”. Li is also highly sceptical regarding the “compensation plan” being prepared by the government. “This plan is being developed behind closed doors” he adds, “[Instead] the victims and their lawyers should be involved in setting the rules for compensation”.

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


Economic Misery Threatens Peace, Japanese Bishops Say

In a message released on the occasion of the 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the bishops say that immoral “market fundamentalism” humiliates human dignity. They call on the country’s laity to join a new path of mission.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) — In occasion of the 60 years of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Catholic bishops of Japan yesterday released a message to their “brothers and sisters” titled ‘Respecting everyone’s human rights’ in which they stressed the urgent need to guarantee human rights for everyone, freeing them from economic misery.

Criticising “market fundamentalism”, the Bishops’ Conference calls on “individuals, enterprises and nations” to transcend their own narrow interests, and instead guarantee everyone the right to life. If we want to guarantee peace in the world, “there is no time to lose,” the bishops said.

To emphasise its importance and policy nature, this document must be seen in conjunction with an equally solemn message titled ‘Resolution for peace’ which the bishops issued in 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

In it they engaged in a courageous purification of the memory, acknowledging that the Catholic Church in Japan “had failed in the prophetic role it was supposed to play to protect human life and accomplish God’s will,” hence asked for “God’s forgiveness and that of the people who had to endure immense suffering during the war.”

If the 1995 message was a reflection on the responsibilities of the past, this year’s concerns the future.

The image of war, a demonic event that crushes human rights, links the two.

The introduction to the new message says that the General Assembly of the United Nations “adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after reflecting upon the great number of human lives destroyed in the two world wars.”

Certainly war can shake minds but cannot renew them. For the bishops “human rights are violated at home and abroad even now, 60 years after the adoption of this declaration.”

The message relies on knowing this in order to show Catholics, and at least indirectly, Japanese society, the path to follow for the future.

Citing Article 1 of the Declaration which says that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” the bishops clearly indicate its theological principle.

“Based on the Bible, we believe that God creates each human person in His image and that God-given human dignity—not created by human society—is universal and that no one can violate it.”

New human rights crisis

It would be self-defeating to say that the UN Declaration was a failure. In the past 60 years many people have worked to protect and promote human rights, in Japan as much as in other Western countries. As much as economic misery is one of the main causes for the violation of the dignity of millions of human beings, no one can deny that this country has been in the forefront of the struggle against such violation in Asia and Africa.

But it is a fact that “unequal distribution of the means of subsistence and thus the unequal distribution of benefits deriving from them (John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis) have widened the gap” between rich nations and poor peoples.

Japan’s bishops acknowledge this fact and identify the cause of such a situation in the ideology that pervades the modern world and which they call merciless “market fundamentalism.”

“Market fundamentalism,” they say, “has caused great harm like environmental degradation and climate change. It has wrecked the lives of the world’s countless poor and threatened their fundamental right to life.”

Peace under threat

Inspired by Pope Benedict XVI”s address to the United Nations, the bishops said that “if individuals, enterprises and nations continue to pursue their own self-interest, human dignity will be trampled upon and the world will become an even more violent and twisted place where victims of deprivation and desperation, whose human dignity is violated with impunity, will become easy prey for the muse of violence and will thus become themselves violators of peace.”

“There is not time to lose” is the key expression with which the bishops conclude their analysis, as they stress the crisis’ urgency.

“If we do not take up the case of the marginalised,” they warn, “we are bound, even unintentionally, to be on the side of those who say that some human rights violations are inevitable.”

For them the crisis is above all moral, not structural. “Every offence against human rights is an offence against humanity,” they said, citing John Paul II. Everyone is responsible for everyone else.

Will this Church document have any influence in a country where Catholics represent 0.5 per cent of 130 million people?

It must be remembered that the letter is meant for Catholic laymen and women, like most of the 188 Japanese martyrs beatified two weeks ago.

That beatification was a starting point for a new journey of inner and outer evangelisation, especially by the laity.

With the message on ‘Respecting everyone’s human rights’, the bishops show the first steps.

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


Japan Moves Carefully Toward Islamic Finance

The Japanese government has taken a small but important step toward introducing Islamic finance here amid the global financial crisis triggered by unsustainable subprime loans in the United States.

Earlier this month, the Financial Services Agency (FSA) amended financial regulations to let bank subsidiaries handle Islamic finance operations.

The Islamic finance market has become increasingly attractive for Japanese, having already grown to about $1 trillion with a potential to reach an estimated $4 trillion.

Obviously, “oil money” has been undermined by the global financial crisis. Yet the latest push forward by the FSA strongly suggests that Japan has a growing interest in Islamic finance as a competitive way to attract huge amounts of petro-funds.

Last year, the Japanese government revealed its Asia Gateway Initiative, which includes the promotion of Islamic finance as a method to develop the Asian bond market…

…Central to Islamic finance is the fact that interest, known as riba, is prohibited. All gains and risks must be shared between the person providing the capital and the business proprietor or owner. And the transactions must basically involve trade backed by assets.

Speculation (Maisir) is also forbidden, as are transactions with businesses dealing with pigs, alcohol, gambling and other items that are not Shariah-compliant.

One popular form of transaction used by banks is Murabahah financing, which is said to account for as much as 70 percent of all Islamic finance deals.

Murabahah financing involves markups on goods, such as cars and houses, mostly for personal use. A bank plays go-between for the supplier and the purchaser by buying the desired commodity from the supplier.

The bank then resells the commodity with a markup price to the client, who pays for it in installments, including the markup amount.

Conventional Japanese regulations have prevented banks from buying or selling commodities as part of their business operations. But a recent measure adopted by the Financial Services Agency allows subsidiaries of banks to take part in such transactions.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Philippines: Manila Bomb Plot Foiled

MANILA — SECURITY forces have foiled a plot by Al-Qaeda-linked militants to set off bombs in Manila and other major Philippine cities with the arrest of an alleged conspirator, the national police chief said on Friday.

Suspected militant Guiamaludin Edsrafil — wanted for multiple murder and attempted murder for his alleged role in bombings in the country’s troubled south — was arrested on Tuesday in southern Cotabato city possessing some components for making bombs, police Director General Jesus Verzosa said.

Mr Verzosa said Edsrafil belonged to a terrorist cell of the Special Operations Group of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu denied the front had such a group but acknowledged that the suspected bomber was a follower of guerrilla commander Ameril Umbra Kato, who is wanted by the government for leading attacks on civilian communities in August.

Mr Verzosa said in a statement that government forces ‘foiled an elaborate plan by separatist and extremist groups to sow terror in some key cities in the country, including metro Manila.’

Citing military and police intelligence records, Mr Verzosa said Edsrafil was a ‘key player’ in several bomb attacks on the main southern island of Mindanao since 2005 that killed and wounded dozens of people.

Edsrafil acquired bomb-making skills from Jemaah Islamiah operatives and received funds for bombing missions from the extremist Abu Sayyaf, Mr Verzosa added. Both groups have been linked to Al-Qaeda.

The MILF, which has about 11,000 fighters, has repeatedly denied any links to the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf, a smaller but more brutal group blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist group for ransom kidnappings, bombings and beheadings.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Seoul Cuts Funds to Initiatives Designed to Help Immigrants Integrate

Migrants’ Arirang festival, an annual event for tens of thousands of foreign workers, is in jeopardy. Funds for an immigrant women’s hotline also dry up. Activist slams the decision, claiming it is an attempt to undo the integration policies of the former government.

Seoul (AsiaNews) — Various government initiatives in support of immigrant integration could be cancelled or scaled back as a result of major budget cuts; this could jeopardise South Korea’s “multicultural society” idea, warns the Multicultural Open Society, citing a press release by Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announcing that support for Migrants’ Arirang, which is celebrated in May, would be discontinued starting next year.

Established in 2005 the Migrants’ Arirang (pictured) is the most important event for immigrants. More than 40,000 foreign workers from more than a hundred countries participated in this year’s edition. The government contributed just over US$ 340,000 to the event. Now it could be drastically scaled back.

For Multicultural Open Society Secretary-General Lee Wan, the “Migrants’ Arirang is a symbolic event representing the social integration of immigrants.”

Thanks to public funds the foundation was able to print 2,800 copies of its multicultural guidebook, but it ended up receiving requests for up to 8,000 copies, he said.

For many immigrants the text represents a valuable tool to better understand Korean society in all its facets and thus favours their integration.

“Behind the ignorance of more than ten years of experience accumulated by civic groups,” there “is a political logic of viewing all multiculturalism projects as a legacy of the previous government,” said Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea General Secretary Lee Young; hence a desire “to eliminate them.”

An ‘immigrant women’s hotline’ and support for local immigrant programmes are among the initiatives that might also have to close for lack of funds.

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

General

Far-Right Belgian Party Vlaams Belang Says Invited to Jerusalem Meet

The leader of the Flemish far-right Vlaams Belang party said Thursday that MK Aryeh Eldad has invited him to an anti-Jihad conference in Jerusalem next year, though Eldad denies this.

According to Filip Dewinter, Eldad invited him to an event scheduled for March. The conference was planned as a follow-up event to an anti-Jihad summit which Professor Eldad is expected to open on Sunday in the capital.

Although many observers do not view Vlaams Belang’s anti-immigrant platform as anti-Semitic, and its leaders speak of Jews and Israelis as “allies” against radical Islam, Belgium’s Jewish leadership has boycotted the party, citing “strong anti-Semitic characteristics.”

After an initial inquiry from Haaretz, Dewinter confirmed yesterday to Joods Actueel, a Dutch-language Jewish-affairs publication based in Antwerp, that Eldad had invited him, adding that no exact date had been set due to Israel’s general election. Dewinter said he was waiting for Eldad’s final confirmation.

Queried about this, Eldad’s office wrote: “No follow-up conference is currently planned.” The leader of Flanders’ Jewish community, Eli Ringer, told Haaretz that should Vlaams Belang visit Jerusalem, “there will be a right mess because it will break the Jewish boycott of this problematic and xenophobic entity.”

Eldad said last month he would consider inviting Vlaams Belang to Jerusalem. “Theoretically, I would,” he said when queried. “On paper, Vlaams Belang is so pro-Jewish it should chair the conference, but we’re aware of its problematic aspects,” he added. “Still, Israel is in a crucial struggle and can’t be choosy with allies now.” Eldad said he organized the event due to take place on Sunday because of this urgency.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

1 comments:

Tuan Jim said...

I'll see if I can find it this next week - completely forgot about it after I read it. There's a few articles floating around in the B-H press about how some of the Mumbai guys were trained or actually worked in Sarajevo back in the '90s (or something along those lines). Can't remember the details but I'll look it up again.