Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/29/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/29/2009There are lot of news stories sprinkled throughout tonight’s feed that refer to problems with immigrants in Europe and their failure to integrate. If you add those to our recent posts on the same topic, it looks like we may be seeing a trend.

Also take note of the news stories about Russia and the Russian military.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Gaia, Holger Danske, Insubria, Islam in Action, JD, KGS, Reinhard, The Lurker from Tulsa, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Al Qaeda Suspect, Held in U.S. for 7 Years, Became Recruitment Tool for Terror Group — Officials
All Hail the New God-King!
Arsonist Intended Murder at Palin’s Church
Great Bright Hope to End Battle of the Light Bulbs
Is Jimmy Carter Guilty of Treason?
Legislation Drafted to Keep Gitmo Detainees Out of Oklahoma
Liberal Victimhood: a Game You Can Play at Home
Muslim ‘Honor Killing’ American Style
New Theories, Still No Suspect in Deadly Mall Attacks
Obama Team Drafting Letter to Iranian People
The Collapse of the Left-Wing Media
Europe and the EU
Another Traditionalist Denies Shoah
Child Pornography in Swedish National Library
Danish “Tunisian Act” Not Working
Europe Retreats From Socialism
Finland: Neighbours Not Panicked by Prospect of Refugee Reception Centre
French Crowds March for Job Security, Pay Rises
Lucca Bans Kebabs
Madoff: Santander, 2008 Profits -2%; 350 Mln Loss
Netherlands: Parents to Sign Contract Against Genital Mutilation
Netherlands: Friesland Pupils Get Lessons on Manners
Norway: Police Officers Out on Nationwide Political Strike
Police in Iceland Arrest NATO Flag Burners
Spain: No Conscious Objection Against Citizenship Education
UK: ‘They Say We’re Too Old to Care for Our Grandchildren’…
UK: BNP Police Officer Back on the Beat After Being Cleared in Met Probe
German Files Lawsuit Over CIA Rendition Flights
Kosovo: Serbia; Jeremic Goes to UN, Letter to 80 Countries
Mediterranean Union
Greece-Iraq: Economic and Cultural Cooperation Begins
North Africa
CIA Algeria Station Chief Faces Sex Assault Probe
Terrorism: Algeria; Belkahdem,Thousands of Weapons Handed in
Why President Obama Should Speak in Morocco
Israel and the Palestinians
Gaza: Mitchell Insists on Truce, Help PNA Open Crossings
Israel Expels Venezuela Envoy
Transplants: Cagliari Hospital to Host Ramallah Doctors
Middle East
Bahrain: Three Terror Suspects Held
Emirates: Pre-Marriage Courses to Lower Divorce Rate
Gaza: Jordanian NGO to Help Clear Mines in Gaza
Human Rights:Turkey;Two Teenagers Sentenced to 10 Years Jail
Iran: Ahmadinejad Urges End to US ‘Expansionism’
Italy-Yemen: Stefania Craxi Opens New Embassy HQ in Sanaa
Jordan: Anti-Human Trafficking Law Passed
Kuwait: No Gaza Donations for Palestinian Authority, Says Emir
Mid-East: Cost of Conflicts, 12,000 Bln Dollars in 20 Years
Revealed: the Letter Obama Team Hope Will Heal Iran Rift
Turkey to Buy 10 Spy Aircraft From Israel
UAE: Dubai; Almost 3,000 People Turn to Islam, +71% in 2008
Europe, Beware: Obama Speaks With Two Tongues
Recruits Deserting the Russian Army
Russian Military a ‘Paper Tiger’ Despite Symbolic Comeback, Says IISS
Russia Poses Biggest Security Threat — Czechs in Poll
Russia Unveils Aggressive Arctic Plans
South Asia
Abdul the Taliban, on the Hunt for American ‘Infidels’
Bangladesh on Alert for Japanese Red Army Fugitives — Police
Japan: Tokyo Rethinks Alliance With United States in Multipolar World
Malaysia Proposes OIC Film Festival
Pakistan: Militants Blow Up Boys’ School and Homes in Northwest
President Obama! Muslims Don’t Consider Americans as Enemy
Singapore: Mosques Using English More
Far East
North Korea Scraps Military Accords With South Korea
Philippines: NPA to Step Up Attacks vs RP-US Exercises in Panay
S. Korea: Labor Party Leader Indicted for Violence in Parliament
Australia — Pacific
Aussie Charges Swedish Women’s Group in Sons’ Abduction
Sub-Saharan Africa
S. Africa: Two Women ‘Rescued’ From Envoy’s Home
Somali Pirates Hijack German Gas Tanker, 13 Crew
Finland: Arajärvi: Speedier Language Training for Immigrants
Frattini, Ready to Reeavaluate Tunisian Permits
Italy: Agreement Reached With Tunisia Over Illegal Immigration
Lampedusa: Fresh General Strike
S.Craxi in Yemen, Support for Coastal Security
Tunisians Repatriated From Lampedusa in 2 Month
Culture Wars
Toned-Down Atheist Bus Ad OK’d
Economic Meltdown Excuse for ‘New World’
Tremonti’s ‘Legal Standard’ Plan


Al Qaeda Suspect, Held in U.S. for 7 Years, Became Recruitment Tool for Terror Group — Officials

WASHINGTON — A group of intelligence experts argued today that holding an Al Qaeda suspect for seven years on U.S. soil without charge has been a recruiting bonanza for Osama Bin Laden’s thugs.

The 16 highly-respected intelligence and counterterror officials signed a brief filed with the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri — a top priority of Team Obama.

Eyed as an Al Qaeda “sleeper” agent, Al-Marri was arrested at his home in Illinois three months after the 9/11 attacks and charged with terrorism. But in 2003, ex-President Bush turned him over to the U.S. military, which holds him without charge in a South Carolina Navy brig.

As a legal U.S. resident, Al-Marri’s treatment is “far outside the traditions of this nation” and “undermines” U.S. credibility on the rule of law, the experts wrote.

“The result is a powerful recruitment tool for violent extremists … and greater risk to the security of the Nation,” argued experts from the top ranks of the CIA, FBI, NSA, National Security Council, Pentagon, Treasury and Justice Departments.

The ex-officials include Iraq WMD hunter David Kay, Bush’s terror adviser Frank Cilluffo, CIA counterterror chief Paul Pillar, and CIA and FBI adviser John MacGaffin…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

All Hail the New God-King!

It didn’t take long. On his second full day in office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that will close the United States’ detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within one year. He also set the wheels in motion to suspend the war crimes trials of Gitmo detainees, outraging the families of 9/11 victims. Further, Obama’s order will limit methods available to the CIA and military personnel as regards interrogation of prisoners, and will cease the operations of clandestine foreign prisons.


Through his Jan. 26 interview on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya network, our new god-king smooched the buttocks of the radical Muslim world, declaring that “all too often the United States starts by dictating” in matters affecting the Middle East. Arguably, this was one of the most unintelligent things an American president could do pertaining to foreign policy. As if in response — and perhaps it was — Iran’s president and resident proto-human Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for “profound changes” in U.S. foreign policy, including giving up support for Israel.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Arsonist Intended Murder at Palin’s Church

A new report from a leader in Wasilla Bible Church in Alaska says the arsonist who started fires that left $1 million in damages intended murder, and possibly targeted the church because of the attendance there of Gov. Sarah Palin, whose Christian faith confounded critics during her 2008 campaign with Sen. John McCain.

The information comes through blogger Kevin “Coach” Collins, who writes the Collins Report.


Collins said he discussed the situation with a church elder, Tom Ryan, who confirmed the case isn’t a simple arson, but an attempted murder situation.

“There were five adult women and a 17-year-old girl in the church during the arson,” Collins wrote.

He also reported the telephone wires and those controlling the fire alarm and water sprinkler were cut before the fire was set from within the building, because footprints were found inside the control room.

“Clearly the arson[ist] knew the victims were present,” he wrote.

“The facts speak clearly. This attempted murder was perpetrated by someone from outside of the Wasilla area, a hired assassin who went there to kill people because of what they believe,” Collins reported.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Finally we get some good news, as the FBI has decided to cut off all ties with The Council on American Islamic Relations. This was due to ties between CAIR and Hamas. In the past CAIR was actually allowed to train our FBI agents in regards on how to deal with Muslim “sensitivities”…

           — Hat tip: Islam in Action[Return to headlines]

Great Bright Hope to End Battle of the Light Bulbs

[Comment from JD: Far superior to toxic compact flourescents.]

A lighting revolution is on the way that could end at the flick of a switch the battle between supporters of conventional bulbs and the eco-friendly variety.

Cambridge University researchers have developed cheap, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that produce brilliant light but use very little electricity. They will cost £2 and last up to 60 years.

Despite being smaller than a penny, they are 12 times more efficient than conventional tungsten bulbs and three times more efficient than the unpopular fluorescent low-energy versions.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Is Jimmy Carter Guilty of Treason?

On Jan. 20, 2009, Jimmy Carter announced a new plan for peace in the Middle East and appealed to President Barack Obama to implement that plan. He met with Obama just days before the inauguration to attempt to sway him about what the former president called an “unnecessary war” in Gaza. Carter has long been a vocal proponent of establishing an ongoing relationship with Hamas’ terrorist leaders. It appears his influence has already made inroads in Obama’s Middle East policy plans.

Today’s society is replete with makeovers, everything from extreme home makeovers to extreme people makeovers — everything from plastic surgery, to botox, to liposuction and other cosmetic enhancements. However, one of the most extreme makeovers took place in France in the late 1970s when the dour Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was transformed almost overnight into a VIP, the darling of the liberal Western media.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Legislation Drafted to Keep Gitmo Detainees Out of Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s congressional delegation thinks there’s a good chance those prisoners could move from Guantanamo Bay, to Oklahoma. They’re drafting legislation to make sure that doesn’t happen.

OKLAHOMA CITY — President Obama said he’ll close the prison camp in Cuba and now the question is, ‘What do you do with the 250 terror suspects staying there?’

Oklahoma’s congressional delegation thinks there’s a good chance those prisoners could move from Guantanamo Bay, to Oklahoma. They’re drafting legislation to make sure that doesn’t happen. It is a bipartisan bill to keep those detainees out of Oklahoma.

The proposal by President Obama to close Guantanamo Bay was enough for members on both sides of the aisle to close ranks. Republican Congresswoman Mary Fallin was first to oppose the measure last week.

“I’m going to file separate legislation that they cannot come on U.S. soil and they cannot come onto the Federal Transfer Center right here in Oklahoma,” Fallin said…

           — Hat tip: The Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Liberal Victimhood: a Game You Can Play at Home

I notice that liberals have not challenged the overall thesis of my rocketing best-seller, “Guilty: Liberal ‘Victims’ and Their Assault on America,” which is that liberals always play the victim in order to advance, win advantages and oppress others.

I guess that would be hard to do when the corrupt Democratic governor of Illinois is running around comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

Indeed, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing some liberal playing victim to score the game-winning point.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Muslim ‘Honor Killing’ American Style

The place is Atlanta, Georgia.

Twenty-five year old woman is slain by Islamic father who seeks to regain the clan’s honor.

Now Islamic ‘honor killing’ has come full circle to the land of the free. It is here. It is going to continue. Muslims carry their sharia insanity wherever they go. Some may not. Others do. Those who do maim our culture and increase the angst of freedom lovers throughout the Republic.

When a Muslim male within a clan concludes that a female has spoiled the clan’s honor, that female is to have a bullet put through her head or her neck slit. In some way, a male must do away with the dishonoring female in order to please Allah. This is an evil practice worldwide throughout Muslim environs and now threatening civil countries.

The Pakistani woman did not want to remain in an arranged marriage. She thereby was slamming the marriage planners. Therefore, she had to be done away. Dad did it.

In America alone, there are 5,000 so-called ‘honor killing’ deaths every year. Five thousand!…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

New Theories, Still No Suspect in Deadly Mall Attacks

Thousands of people swarm to the vast and luxurious Town Center Mall every day. But one man who went to the Boca Raton, Fla., shopping center in August 2007 was shopping only for a victim.

The man abducted a woman and her 2-year-old son in their black sport utility vehicle from the mall parking lot. Although the woman and son survived uninjured, she remains terrorized to this day. The woman, who asked to be identified as Jane Doe, worries that the man will hunt her down and kill her to protect his identity.

And the worry does not end there. A few months before Jane Doe’s abduction, a woman named Randi Gorenberg who, once again, was driving a black SUV and shopping at the same mall, was found killed a few miles away.

Jane Doe’s lawyer, Skip Cummings, believes that the same man is responsible for the attack, and that he’s on the loose in the area of Florida known as the Gold Coast.

“I believe that this gentleman is a serial killer,” he said. “I believe very strongly that he is involved in at least three of these murders — and who knows how many other ones?”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Team Drafting Letter to Iranian People

Officials in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration are drafting a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing relations and opening the way for direct talks, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday. The U.S. State Department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected last November.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Bill Hands ACORN $5.2 Billion Bailout

A rising chorus of GOP leaders are protesting that the blockbuster Democratic stimulus package would provide up to a whopping $5.2 billion for ACORN, the left-leaning nonprofit group under federal investigation for massive voter fraud.

Most of the money is secreted away under an item in the now $836 billion package titled “Neighborhood Stabilization Programs.”

Ordinarily, neighborhood stabilization funds are distributed to local governments. But revised language in the stimulus bill would make the funds available directly to non-profit entities such as ACORN, the low-income housing organization whose pro-Democrat voter-registration activities have been blasted by Republicans. ACORN is cited by some for tipping the scales in the Democrats’ favor in November.

According to Fox news, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., could appear to be a “payoff” for community groups’ partisan political activities in the last election cycle.

“It is of great concern to me,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., tells Newsmax. “I think our government has stayed strong because we’ve had a two-party system, we have had robust debate, people have felt that it was one man-one vote. They are privileged and grateful that they have that ability to cast that vote. And when something is done to belittle or diminish that, it is of great concern to me.”

Regarding ACORN, Blackburn added, “Additional funds going to these organizations that have tried to skew that system, it causes me great concern and I believe that it causes many of my colleagues great concern.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Collapse of the Left-Wing Media

The Minneapolis paper, dubbed the Red Star by some in Minnesota, filed for bankruptcy after its earnings dropped more than 50 percent in one year. That despite the presidential vote and a vicious election between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

As for The New York Times: It is Twilight Zone time. The paper was already trying to use equity in its Manhattan office building to pay debts, and now has borrowed $250 million from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu. And get this: The Times is paying old Carlos an astounding 14 percent interest. What, was Tony Soprano not available? Does the description “loan shark” mean anything to the ideologues running the Times? The prime lending rate in America is 3.25 percent, and these guys are paying Carlos Slim 14 percent. Wow.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Another Traditionalist Denies Shoah

Ultra-Conservative priest disputes use of gas chambers

(ANSA) — Treviso, January 29 — Another leading member of the traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has denied that gas chambers were used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews during the Second World War.

‘‘I know that gas chambers existed as a means to disinfect, but I cannot say for sure if they killed anyone because I really haven’t looked into it,’’ Father Floriano Abrahamowicz, the head of SSPX in northeast Italy, told the Tribuna di Treviso daily on Thursday.

The ultraconservative priest’s statements came a day after Israeli’s highest religious authority, the Chief Rabbinate, threatened to sever ties with the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVI lifted an excommunication on four SSPX bishops, including one who has repeatedly denied that the Shoah took place.

The pope immediately responded by reiterating his strong stand against denying the Holocaust, saying that it was important to never forget the Shoah. This to appeared avert an official break, although the Rabbinate has yet to make a formal statement.

The Rabbinate, as well as Jewish leaders in Italy and around the world, were particularly upset over the reinstatement of Bishop Richard Williamson. The British-born bishop recently told Swedish TV that he did not believe in the existence of gas chambers. In his view not six million but only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps ‘‘and not one of them in a gas chamber’’.

The current SSPX head, Bishop Bernard Fellay, stated firmly that Williamson’s views did not reflect those of the order and he apologised to the pope for any problems his views may have created.

He has also ordered Williamson not to voice his political opinions in public.

However, according to Father Abrahamowicz, ‘‘all this fuss over Msgr Williamson’s statements is being exploited against the Vatican. Williamson simply expressed his doubts. He did not deny the Holocaust, as the press has mistakenly said he did; he only gave a technical opinion on the gas chambers’’.

‘‘The question of denying the Holocaust is a false problem because it focuses on numbers and methods and does not address the real problem,’’ he added.

‘‘Had Msgr. Williamson denied on TV the (1915) genocide of 1.2 million Armenians by the Turks I don’t think the press would have acted the same way ,’’ Father Abrahamowicz said.

The Vatican has yet to reply to the ultra-conservative priest, but when Milan Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi was asked for his view he observed that ‘‘the Holy Father has been clear and explicit’’ on the church’s relations with both the SSPX and Jews.

Lifting the excommunication on the four bishops, he added, ‘‘was an act of mercy which in no way represented a compromise,’’ he said.

In order to truly return to the fold, the archbishop added, they must renew ‘‘their loyalty to the Church and its teachings,’’ including the changes made by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s.

The archbishop of Treviso, Msgr, Andrea Bruno Mazzoccato, adopted a similar position and told the members of his diocese that any stance on the Holocaust which differed from the one expressed by the pope ‘‘has no foundation and is unconnected to Christian thought and an elementary sense of humanity’’.

He then repeated the pope’s warning to be on guard against ‘‘the unexpected power which evil can exert on the hearts of man’’.

The SSPX was created in 1970 by late dissident French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who broke with Rome over the changes made at the Vatican Council.

Among the changes the group opposed was the decision to celebrate Mass in local languages rather than in Latin and to adopt the view that Jews today should not be blamed for the death of Christ. Lefebvre, who died in 1991, was excommunicated in 1998 for ordaining four bishops, including Williamson, in defiance of a direct order from John Paul II. The four bishops were also excommunicated.

Abrahamowicz’s views have come under heavy fire from the governor of the Veneto region, where the headquarters of his SSPX branch is located.

‘‘I don’t know if we’re dealing with plain ignorance, madness or some horrifying political choice, but if any priest denies the Holocaust, denies the existence of gas chambers, then he’d best change jobs,’’ said Giancarlo Galan, of the center-right People of Freedom party, ‘‘And if any of these priests happen to live in the Veneto region, as is the case with Father Abrahamowicz, then they’d best move out and, who knows, even take refuge in one of those concentration camps they know so much about,’’ he added.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Child Pornography in Swedish National Library

The relaxed and tolerant policies of the Swedish government towards pornography occasionally create embarrassments for the nation, as in the latest discovery that its national library has a large collection of child pornography in its archives. The revelation was brought to light by an ex-porn shop employee who told The Local newspaper that Sweden’s national library contained thousands of porn magazines, including several that feature children.

In the 1970s, child pornography was legal in Sweden, and apparently some of the titles remain within the archives of the library. The informant noted to The Local the irony that the “Royal Library” contains a huge amount of pornography, which is something Sweden’s Queen Silvia has fought passionately against for years.

He told the newspaper, “It was so easy to gain access. All I did was sign up to check out books and send a letter explaining my reasons for wanting to view the material. Anyone could have done the same thing.”

In the national library’s defence, their goal is to collect everything that is printed in Swedish, with no exceptions. Although child pornography has been banned for decades, old, at-the-time legal, materials still exist in the vaults of the library.

Sara Bengtzon, a national library spokesperson, admitted the library has “a lot of sensitive material” because of its obligation to archive. However, she claims access to the material is restricted to journalists, researchers, and those who are judged to have a “highly credible” reason for wanting to access certain material.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Danish “Tunisian Act” Not Working

A requirement that some 20 foreigners encompassed by the so-called Tunisian Act must report in every day is not being enforced.

None of the 20 foreigners, who are in Denmark on tolerated stay permits because they cannot be expelled to their home countries, have been ordered to report daily at the Sandholm asylum centre since the Act was adopted by Parliament six weeks ago, according to Information.

Not even the person the law was named after — a Tunisian that the Security Service claimed had plans to kill the Mohammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard — has had to change his life as a result of the Act.

Lives with his family in Århus SC only has to visit Sandholm once every Tuesday and every second Thursday. Apart from that he spends his time with his Danish-born wife and their two children at a housing estate in Århus.

“I just arrived from Århus and I am going back again this afternoon,” said SC when Information visited Sandholm last Tuesday.

Two other foreigners — Turkmen of Iraqi origin — whom the Security and Intelligence Service say endanger the safety of the country, told Information that they do not have report to Sandholm more frequently than previously.

DPP demands explanation The Danish People’s Party, which helped secure a parliamentary majority for the Act, has demanded an immediate explanation from the integration minister.

“I am very surprised that nothing has happened despite such a swift passage of the bill. Out of consideration for the safety of Kurt Westergaard and the efforts of the Security Service, this is extremely unsatisfactory,” says the DPP Integration Spokesman Peter Skaarup who has demanded an explanation as to why the requirement for daily reporting has not been applied.

Morten Østergaard of the Social Liberals does not entirely agree. “The Tunisian Act was mainly aimed at the public. If the safety of the nation was at risk, the authorities would probably have acted more rapidly,” he says.

Integration Minister Birthe Rønn Hornbech declined to comment on the issue as did the National Police Foreigners Department.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Concern Over Infants’ Lack of Danish Skills

Parents could face financial sanctions from the local authorities if it is deemed that their children need help with Danish and they as parents are not taking the responsibility to help them

A recent proposal from the Conservative Party could see parents’ child welfare payments being docked if they don’t actively encourage their children to learn Danish from an early age.

Conservative education spokeswoman, Charlotte Dyremose, has proposed that the current parental order that the council can enforce on parents of truant children also be applied to the parents of pre-schoolers.

‘If they can’t speak proper Danish when they start school they are going to have big problems. We must do everything possible to teach them and that’s why we think it should be possible to impose sanctions on the child support payments of parents who don’t encourage the necessary language stimulation,’ said Dyremose to Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

The language development of all three year olds is checked by a state examiner while the child is in kindergarten and if it is not up to standard, then parents can receive help to stimulate their child’s language either at home or in the preschool.

Both the Liberal and Danish People’s Party education spokespeople said they supported the proposal, which is likely to apply to families where one of the parents is not a native Danish speaker.

‘I’m fairly certain that this concerns a particular group and we have to get to the root of the problem. Even though cooperation is preferred, I believe that in extreme circumstances you should be able to take the child welfare payments away from the family,’ said Liberal spokeswoman Anne-Mette Winther Christiansen.

Parents in Denmark receive a quarterly state support stipend of between 2,500 and 4,100 kroner for their child’s welfare until the child turns 18.

Around 57 percent of young bilingual children receive language stimulation in Denmark and both the local authorities and parents have an obligation to ensure the child receives help if it is needed. However, the local councils currently have no sanctions in place against parents who deny help for their children.

In a study taken by the Danish Evaluation Institute last year, 17 percent of the language consultant respondents said that they knew of parents refusing language help for their children.

The most common reasons given for children not attending language stimulation classes included problems with transport or the stigma associated with receiving aid. The welfare minister, Karen Jespersen, said that if there were gaps in the language stimulation of kindergarten children then her ministry, together with the Education Ministry, wants to get to the root of the problem.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe Retreats From Socialism

How ironic is it that the U.S. is embracing socialism at the very moment Europe and many other parts of the world are running away from it?

Somebody needs to ask Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi about this.

In the past five years, 33 countries, including 20 in socialist Europe, always held up as the example for a new American economic model by Democrats, have cut their personal income taxes, according to a study by KPMG, the giant accounting firm.

In the past four years, 60 countries have cut their corporate income tax rates.

Why have they done it?


They want to compete more effectively for capital and human resources.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Finland: Neighbours Not Panicked by Prospect of Refugee Reception Centre

Some concern voiced by Uudenmaankatu residents

Irene Kristiansen steps out of the doorway of Uudenmaankatu 26. Her building is next door to Marttahotelli, a disused hotel that could be converted into a refugee reception centre. “I am afraid that the asylum seekers will cause problems and unrest here, because they have no money”, says Kristiansen, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 30 years. “In other respects, I am a warm defender of immigrants, but do refugees have to be placed right here in the centre?” Kristiansen asks.

In the same building, Teija Jones says that friends had told her about the city’s plans to open up a refugee centre nearby. “They asked me if I was not worried that asylum seekers were to be housed next door. I don’t see things that way. If they make some noise, it probably will not be any more than from remodelling taking place on the other side of the wall.” “And they have to live someplace”, Jones notes.

Upstairs neighbour Hannes Tuomi is more reticent. “My attitude is perhaps negative. Maybe they will bring unrest to the area”, he says, through a crack in his door. Esko Kettunen from nearby Tarkkampujankatu, is exercising to help his knee recover after recent surgery. He is not worried about the prospect of asylum seekers in his neighbourhood. “I think that Marttahotelli is a good option. We can’t send people who don’t speak the language into some snowbank in Kajaani”, says Kettunen.

At a shop selling military clothing and sportswear, Henri Eerola does not expect that the reception centre will affect his business in any way. “We have all kinds of extreme types as customers, and I don’t think that the people there would be any worse.” “But why do they have to be placed in the centre? Many local people here are losing sleep because of it”, Eerola adds. Timo Mehtonen, who works at the nearby Finnish Customs Administration, takes a positive view of the reception centre. “The centre is a good place. Services and officials are nearby. We simply need to accept the fact that there are people on the streets of Helsinki of different backgrounds.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

French Crowds March for Job Security, Pay Rises

PARIS (Reuters) — Hundreds of thousands of strikers marched through French cities Thursday to demand pay rises and protection for jobs, challenging President Nicolas Sarkozy to do more for ordinary workers.

While the streets thronged with flag-waving protesters, the one-day strike failed to paralyze the country and there was little evidence of huge support from private-sector employees.

However, labor leaders hailed the strike, which marked the first time France’s eight union federations had joined forces against the government since Sarkozy took office in 2007.

“This is one of the biggest days of worker action in the past 20 years,” said Francois Chereque, head of the large, moderate CFDT group.

Unions said 2.5 million people took part in dozens of rallies across France, including 300,000 in Paris. Police put the figure at just over a million.

“The government has taken measures for banks but today it is the workers who are suffering,” said striker Charles Foulard, a technician at a refinery run by energy giant Total.

“This crisis comes from the United States, it’s the financial bubble that is bursting. It’s not for the workers to pay for that,” he said as crowds gathered at the Place de la Bastille in Paris, birthplace of the French Revolution.

In a rare show of unity, the unions drew up a joint list of demands for the government and companies, demanding that Sarkozy drop reforms that they see as a threat to public services and aim stimulus measures at consumers rather than companies.


Specific demands included better pay and conditions for public transport workers as well as dropping plans to reform hospitals, to cut 13,500 jobs in education this year and to change the status of the state-owned post office.

Unlike in 1995 and 2006, when mass strikes forced the governments of the day to back down on reform plans, public transport continued to run Thursday, albeit on a reduced and erratic schedule, and many schools stayed open.

Perhaps encouraged by that fact, ministers indicated they were not ready to review their 26 billion euro ($34 billion) economic stimulus plan, which is aimed at encouraging industrial investment rather than boosting consumer spending.

“I don’t think one can constantly zap and change policy,” said Budget Minister Eric Woerth. “We have to keep our cool during this very major storm,” he told RMC radio.

France’s economic woes are less severe than Spain’s or Britain’s but its jobless rate is rising, hitting 2.07 million in November, up 8.5 percent on the year, and unions say Sarkozy’s policies are not helping ordinary people.

“I am protesting against wages that are stagnating, demands on workers that are constantly increasing, and understaffing. It’s my first strike in the 20 years I’ve been on the job,” said Malika Youcef, who works at a school canteen in Paris.

At the Paris march, hospital workers in white coats mingled with Air France staff carrying model planes, chemical factory workers, teachers and plumbers, among other professions.

The powerful CGT union was out in force with its red balloons filling the horizon and loudspeakers blasting the revolutionary chant “The Internationale.” Other unions favored the hippy anthem “California Dreamin.’“

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Lucca Bans Kebabs

Regional councillor denounces “gastronomic racism”

LUCCA — Goodbye to North African couscous, Indian chicken curries and papaya salads from Togo. It’s Italian food only from now on. Or rather, strictly Luccan fare, such as spelt soup, chestnut flour cake, torta co’ becchi cake and other Tuscan delights. Should any restaurateurs be so adventurous as to present a menu based on non-Italian cuisine, they are warmly invited to include “at least one typical Luccan dish, prepared exclusively from products generally acknowledged as being typical of the province”. Challenging globalisation, and perhaps also the freedom of the kitchen, Lucca’s executive council, led by the People of Freedom with the backing of a civic list, approved a new by-law for clubs, bars and restaurants that is unlikely to go unobserved. The new regulations, from which the Democratic Party (PD) and Communist Refoundation (PRC) opposition parties distanced themselves, draws a very firm line to stop ethnic restaurants from opening in the Lucca’s historic centre.

The area concerned lies within the city’s splendid, four-kilometre long walls, which are still intact today. The regulation is hard to misinterpret: “It is not permitted to open commercial premises serving food and drink whose business is related to other ethnic groups”. PD councillor Alessandro Tambellini immediately denounced the ban as “discriminatory”, accusing the executive council of “opting to slam the door on other cultures, replacing the logic of dialogue with that of refusal”. He went on: “The reference to ethnic groups is ill-chosen, to say the least. What does it mean? Are French and German cooking OK, because they have the same roots as ours, but not Indian, Chinese or Arab food? The regional authority agrees: Councillor Paolo Cocchi said: “We are against veiled forms of gastronomic racism”. “What racism? Our sole aim is to safeguard the historic heritage of the city centre”, countered Lucca’s astonished executive councillors angrily.

Councillor Filippo Candelise explained: “The by-law dates from a resolution passed in 2000, which we have updated”. He added: “The ban also includes shops selling pizzas by the slice, McDonald’s, other fast food outlets and sex shops. It will not affect existing commercial premises”. But there’s still that reference to ethnic groups. “I realise it might give rise to misunderstanding but you have to bear in mind that 8,000 people live within the city walls and there are already five kebab shops”. Benedetto Stefani, president of restaurateurs belonging to the ASCOM retailers’ association, takes the council’s side: “It’s not a crusade, just a desire to safeguard the specific nature of our cuisine, which is threatened by recent liberalisations in the sector”. Regulations also lay down that waiters “should have a knowledge of the English language”. What’s the English for “bruschetta”?

Francesco Alberti

27 gennaio 2009

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Madoff: Santander, 2008 Profits -2%; 350 Mln Loss

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 28 — Banco Santander is expecting to have closed 2008 with a fall in profits of 2%, following a loss of 350 million euro over the fraud engineered by Madoff. The net profit for last year fell to 8.88 billion euro, from 9.06 billion in 2007. The result is lower than predicted in June by the President of the Spanish group himself, Emilio Botin, who had expected to close the year with profits of 10 billion. Santander also communicated that the 2008 dividends will be 25.7 euro per share. Yesterday the Spanish bank announced that it will compensate its own private customers who were hit by the Madoff crash, by issuing 1.38 billion privileged shares (without voting rights). The full figures for the 2008 financial year will be published on February 5. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Madoff: Spain, Santander to Compensate Private Clients

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 28- Santander Bank has decided to compensate part of the losses from the 50 million dollar scam attributed to American financier Bernard Madoff for its private clients in Spain and Latin America. According to a source from the bank reported by the Spanish media, the decision was made to safeguard the commercial image of the credit institute. Santander Bank will compensate the initial sum invested in Madoff funds without accounting for earnings up until the collapse, which was the largest financial scam in history. The cost of the compensations was estimated by Santander to be 500 million euro gross, which will be transferred to the bank’s clients in the form of 1,380 million euro in shares of the financial institute. The bank will not compensate institutional clients or earnings that were gained by investors on paper. According to sources, the biggest investors including investment funds, pension funds, and insurance companies were conscious of the risks that they assumed in placing money in hedge funds like Madoff. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Parents to Sign Contract Against Genital Mutilation

Dutch deputy health minister Jet Bussemaker is trying to clamp down on female genital mutilation for daughters of African immigrants. She has proposed that all parents need to sign a contract before they take their daughters traveling to ‘high-risk’ countries, stating that they will not allow their daughter to be circumcised. Traditional surgeon holds razor blades before carrying out female genital mutilation on teenage girls from the Sebei tribe in Uganda.

These countries include Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan — where genital mutilation is considered a rite of passage. It is unclear how many girls in the Netherlands have undergone the ritual.

The contract must be presented before families can travel to their country of origin, the justice ministry explained on Wednesday. The contract is intended to prevent parents and foreign family members from undertaking the procedure. Genital mutilation is currently against the law in the Netherlands.

French experience

The idea came during a working visit to France, said a justice ministry spokesman. There, a medical contract exists “with stamps and signatures and a translation. Thereby the parents can make it clear to the family: if you circumcise our child, you are hurting not only her, but also us.” The French experience could indicate that many parents approve of such a contract. “The pressure from the extended family can be huge. It can happen that foreign parents living here will not undertake the circumcision themselves, but let an aunt undertake it,” the spokesperson said.

In the Netherlands there are about 16,000 girls and around 34,000 women from these high-risk countries, according to the ministry. A national child abuse reporting organisation counted a total of 44 cases between July 2007 and March 2008. Bussemaker said the government will set up an electronic registry, whereby all daughters from these high-risk groups will be registered. The parents should sign the contract, with assistance from social welfare organisations.

The spokesman said that checking on compliance is “difficult.” “It is really about supervision by those involved. For instance, a girl at school can say to her teacher that ‘I am going on vacation back to my land of origin and there will be a big party.’ The teacher would then think: ‘is it only about a party or is there something else involved?’ She can then move to report the incident. Physical checks of girls is not planned. “Especially when girls are 12 and above, this is difficult to imagine.”

The health minister is currently discussing the proposal with justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin regarding the content of the contract. A letter with further explanation to parliament was announced for later this week.

Psychological pressure tool

Yet, according to Dirk Engberts, professor of law and the ethics of healthcare at Leiden University, no legal ‘contract’ can exist in this context. “What are the penalties if you break it? Female circumcision is punishable in the Netherlands. Such a contract seems to me to be a psychological pressure tool — an instrument to rub the noses of the parents on the potential penalties for offending it.” Egberts compares the contract with that of a suicide pact. “Suicidal people agree not to, in the coming days, commit suicide. It can work well as a pressure tool, but you can’t call it a real contract.”

The justice ministry could not say what eventual sanctions might be attached to the breaking of the contract, according to the spokesman. “We’ve researched it and concluded there are a number of reports of circumcision, but little or no prosecution thereof. How is that possible, we asked ourselves, and how can we solve that? In principle the maximum sentence for circumcision as a form of severe child abuse is up to 15 years.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Lawyer Requests Protection After Threats

One of the lawyers behind the prosecution of Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders has asked for bodyguards because of threats from Mr Wilders’ supporters. Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reports that the lawyer, Gerard Spong, has received hundreds of hate e-mails since a court in Amsterdam decided that the PVV leader could be prosecuted for his anti-Islamic remarks. Mr Spong is one of a number of people who openly support the prosecution of the controversial MP. The lawyer expects the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the matter.

In response to the report, Geert Wilders has said he condemns “in the strongest possible terms” any threats towards Mr Spong. Since the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the MP has lived in a series of safe houses and enjoys round-the-clock protection.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Friesland Pupils Get Lessons on Manners

Starting tomorrow, etiquette books will be handed out in primary schools in the Fries municipality of Lemsterland. Teachers at one school in the municipality were shocked and surprised by children’s appalling manners and called on the authorities to start issuing etiquette books. According to a schools inspector, most of the pupils have absolutely no idea how to behave properly and were appallingly rude to their teachers.

The pupils will be given a book called Children Know How to Behave by etiquette expert Reinildis van Ditzhuyzen. One of the golden rules in the book is, “do not behave towards others in a way that you would not like to be treated”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Norway: Police Officers Out on Nationwide Political Strike

Most of Norway’s police officers walked out on a nationwide political strike between 11:30 and 13:00 on Thursday. — Minimum emergency services will of course be maintained, union leader Arne Johannessen says.

The strike was in protest against what the Policemen’s Union (Politiets Fellesforbund) claim to be the Government’s forcing the police to accept an excemption to the Health and Safety at Work Act (Arbeidsmiljoeloven), dealing with rest periods, as well as denying the staff representatives their negotiating rights.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Police in Iceland Arrest NATO Flag Burners

Police resorted to pepper spray during protests outside Hilton Reykjavík Nordica yesterday where participants in a NATO seminar had arrived to attend a reception. Some protestors burned the NATO flag and were arrested.

Originally the reception was supposed to take place in the Culture House on Hverfisgata in the city center but was relocated in the last minute. The seminar begins today and will be attended by around 300 representatives of NATO member countries.

The duty officer told Fréttabladid that the flag burners had also crossed the police line. Although it is not illegal to burn all flags, it is certainly illegal to burn national flags and the NATO flag, the duty officer explained, adding that police are not keen on people lighting fires at such occasions.

Ragnar Adalsteinsson, advocate to the Supreme Court, was uncertain whether burning the flag of an international organization is a punishable act, although people have been arrested for flag-burning in Iceland before.

In the 1930s, famous Icelandic authors and poets Thórbergur Thórdarson and Steinn Steinarr were convicted in the Supreme Court for burning a Nazi flag that had been raised in Siglufjördur, north Iceland.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Spain: No Conscious Objection Against Citizenship Education

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 28 — Conscientious objection against Citizenship education is not allowed. The obligatory course was introduced by the Zapatero government but the Church and associations for Catholic parents are against it. The Supreme Court took this decision today by broad majority and after three days in council chamber. The Court had to decide on the appeal presented by the public prosecutor’s office against the verdict of the Court of Andalusia which recognised the right of conscientious objection against Citizenship education. At the same time the Court had to pronounce itself on the appeals presented by parents against the decision of the Court of Asturias, which did not recognise this right. The Supreme Court finds that the subject is not in violation with the fundamental right of parents to choose the kind of religious and moral education for their children. The verdict unifies the jurisprudence on the issue, which has given rise to hundreds of different verdicts. Many parents who had opted for conscientious objection have already announced they will lodge an appeal at the Court of Human Rights in Strasburg.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: ‘They Say We’re Too Old to Care for Our Grandchildren’…

Social workers hand brother and sister to gay men for adoption

Two young children are to be adopted by a gay couple, despite the protests of their grandparents.

The devastated grandparents were told they would never see the youngsters again unless they dropped their opposition.

The couple, who cannot be named, wanted to give the five-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister a loving home themselves. But they were ruled to be too old — at 46 and 59.

For two years they fought for their rights to care for the children, whose 26-year-old mother is a recovering heroin addict.

They agreed to an adoption only after they faced being financially crippled by legal bills.

The final blow came when they were told the children were going to a gay household, even though several heterosexual couples wanted them.

When the grandfather protested, he was told: ‘You can either accept it, and there’s a chance you’ll see the children twice a year, or you can take that stance and never see them again.’

The man said last night: ‘It breaks my heart to think that our grandchildren are being forced to grow up in an environment without a mother figure. We are not prejudiced, but I defy anyone to explain to us how this can be in their best interests.’

Social workers themselves have admitted that the little girl is ‘more wary’ of men than women…

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: BNP Police Officer Back on the Beat After Being Cleared in Met Probe

A police officer who was named on a leaked list of BNP members is returning to work.

PC Joe Cutting was suspended in November after he featured on a list of 12,000 members published on the internet.

He is now being allowed to return after an internal Metropolitan police investigation found there was no evidence to justify sacking him.

The force said PC Cutting, who was due back on the beat this week, had been ‘exonerated’ by the inquiry, but declined to explain how his name had come to appear on the BNP membership list.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Jail Violence a ‘Growing Concern’

The risk of violence and disturbances in jails in England and Wales is a “growing concern”, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned.

In her annual report, Dame Anne Owers said the system was still under “sustained and chronic” pressure.

She said the tension was often caused by inmates on longer sentences who may feel they have “little to lose”.

The Prison Service said the total incidents remained “fairly constant” and most were resolved quickly.

In her annual report, Dame Anne said disturbances had been contained “so far” but identified “real risks” of a loss of control.

Learn lessons

One in seven prisoners is on either a life or indeterminate sentence, creating a “huge strain” on jails.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: What is an “indeterminate sentence”? That sounds like an unclear, police-state style violation of human rights to me.]

Dame Anne said the strategy for the next decade needed to learn the lessons of riots in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Otherwise there are real risks of destabilising safety and control, and of reducing opportunities for change and rehabilitation,” she said.

“There have been more disturbances than last year, so far able to be contained. This year, too many of the most volatile of our prisons… were not judged to be sufficiently safe.

“Violence reduction procedures, in increasingly fractious prisons, are underdeveloped, and there are particular challenges in large establishments holding young people, where the use of restraint is too often a response to the need to manage behaviour safely and consistently.”

She said force should only be used as a “last resort” but noted that it was increasing in larger, more crowded prisons.

She went on: “It is of concern that extreme forms of restraint are being used on some of the most vulnerable prisoners.”

The 5,000 prisoners on indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) were creating a “huge strain” on prisons,” she added.

Ministers had failed to anticipate the impact on the system of such sentences and introduced laws which were poorly resourced and not properly planned.

“It is astonishing that more than one in every seven prisoners is now serving a life or other indeterminate sentence,” she said.

Alcohol abuse

She said larger prisons were generally worse than smaller jails, and raised concerns over plans for giant “Titan” jails — which would house 2,500 inmates each — to ease overcrowding.

Surveys revealed alcohol abuse in some prisons had quadrupled, and prisons were responding “inadequately” to the problem, the report found.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: How is it that alcohol is even being served in prisons?]

Dame Anne said: “It is remarkable that there has been so little investment in alcohol services, either in prisons or in the community.”

However, she did not paint a completely bleak picture, and the report recognised progress over the past year, particularly when preparing inmates for release.

She said: “It is a credit to those running and working in prisons that, in spite of the pressure, many were able to sustain or even improve performance.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said Justice Secretary Jack Straw needed to “break the vicious cycle of a rising prison population, ineffective rehabilitation in overcrowded prisons and sky high re-offending”.

She added: “We should be helping people break free from addictions, diverting the mentally ill into proper healthcare and making sure that petty offenders do community service to pay back for the harm they have done, not building super-sized prisons.

She said plans to spend £2.3bn on building giant US-style prisons “can only ever be a temporary solution if the root causes of the rising prison population continue to be ignored”.

Prisons Minister David Hanson said the report acknowledged that prisons have become “better-run, more effective and more humane places”.

He said: “That is something that has not been easily achieved, and should be unequivocally welcomed.

“It is not only right, but it has made prisons safer, more secure and more likely to rehabilitate those within them.”

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the report was a “damning indictment of the government’s reckless prison policy”.

“The failure to provide enough prison capacity has created internal turmoil in prisons, prevented proper rehabilitation of offenders and is putting the public at risk,” he said.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth said: “Ministers must realise that building more prisons is throwing good money after bad. They should take immediate action to stabilise and reduce the long-term prison population.

“That means fewer short-term sentences, less posturing on punishments in the press and treating drug addicts and the mentally ill more appropriately.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Protest Over Use of Foreign Labour

Hundreds of demonstrators have protested outside an oil refinery against the use of foreign workers on a £200 million construction project.

Humberside Police said around 800 people took part in the demonstration outside the giant Lindsey Oil Refinery at North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire.

The action followed a walkout by hundreds of construction workers on Wednesday. The dispute centres on a decision to bring in hundreds of Italian and Portuguese contractors to work on a new £200 million plant on the site.

Protesters said the foreign workers will be housed on barges in docks off the nearby River Humber.

Unite union regional officer Bernard McAuley said workers at the refinery were joined by hundreds of trade unionists and other supporters from around the UK.

He said: “They’ve come from all over the country. We reckon there were almost 1,000 people here today. We’ve also had huge numbers of messages of support from people who are incensed by this decision. It’s a total mockery.”

Mr McAuley added: “There are men here whose fathers and uncles have worked at this refinery, built this refinery from scratch. It’s outrageous.”

Derek Simpson, joint leader of Unite, called for urgent meetings with the Government and employers to discuss the “exclusion” of UK workers from some of Britain’s major engineering and construction projects.

He said: “It is outrageous that during a recession British workers are not even getting the chance to apply for well-paid work. The Government must intervene to level the playing field as a matter of urgency.”

Superintendent Steve Graham, of Humberside Police, said the demonstration passed off peacefully and refinery owner Total said operations continued at the site despite the protest.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


German Files Lawsuit Over CIA Rendition Flights

German citizen Khaled el-Masri was arrested by the CIA in Skopje, Macedonia in 2003 and taken to Afghanistan where he claims he was tortured. He is now suing Macedonia for the part it played in his abduction.

A German citizen of Lebanese descent is suing the eastern European nation of Macedonia for 50,000 euros ($65,000) in damages after being abducted there by the CIA and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation on terrorism charges, his lawyer said Monday, Jan. 26.

According to his lawyer, Khaled el-Masri was arrested by the American intelligence agency in Skopje in December, 2003 and held in a hotel near the American embassy for three weeks before being flown on one of the CIA’s infamous rendition flights to Afghanistan and tortured.

This is just the latest in a succession of lawsuits by el-Masri, who has tried suing both the United States and Spain. The US Supreme Court upheld a decision to reject his case on national security grounds in 2007.

Masri, who worked as a car salesman, was traveling to Macedonia in late December 2003 to celebrate the new year. He was held in a hotel near the US embassy in the capital Skopje and questioned. He was asked in English, a language he does not speak well, about ties to al Qaeda and Islamic extremists.

The lawsuit said Macedonia violated provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, including on torture, liberty and respect for human rights.

Traumatic experience

El-Masri’s lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, told the AFP news agency that his client was beaten and bullied for five months without explanation in Afghanistan before being freed in Albania.

Gnjidic has argued that the detention and interrogation of his client by the CIA left him traumatized and his mental distress led to him setting fire to a supermarket in Germany in 2007.

“He is undergoing therapy because still nowadays he cannot get his psyche under control,” said Gnjidic. “He doesn’t know who is responsible for what happened to him.”

The CIA rendition flights took suspected terrorists captured in one country to another or a US-run detention center for questioning and, as many allege, torture. The program began after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Kosovo: Serbia; Jeremic Goes to UN, Letter to 80 Countries

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JANUARY 28 — Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic will go to the United Nations in New York today to continue a diplomatic offensive against Kosovo’s unilaterally proclaimed independence almost one year ago. In October on Belgrade’s request, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to rule on the legitimacy of Kosovo’s proclamation of independence. The Court should make a ruling this year. According to Tanjug press agency, before the meetings at the UN, Jeremic sent a letter to about 80 countries proposing to make the Court aware of their position on Kosovo’s secession. The letters were sent to UN member countries who have not yet recognised Kosovo’s independence and have remained neutral until now. In his letter, Jeremic underlined how the Court was consulted for the first time about the legitimacy of secession of a region in one of the UN member countries. For this reason, the Court’s decision will be a very important precedent for the future of international relations. In the past days, Serbian President Boris Tadic sent a letter of protest to the Secretary Generals of the UN and NATO, Ban Ki-moon and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, to denounce the creation of a new security force in Kosovo which Belgrade considers illegal and contrary to UN Resolution 1244. Until now 54 countries have recognised Kosovo’s independence proclaimed on February 17 2008. These include the United States and most of the EU countries including Italy, but not Spain. Disagreeing with Kosovo’s independence is Russia and obviously Serbia, which continues to consider Kosovo a southern province. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Greece-Iraq: Economic and Cultural Cooperation Begins

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, JANUARY 28 — Greece is set to open an office for economic and business affairs in Iraq and will contribute to the reconstruction of museums looted and destroyed during the war with financial aid and the necessary technical capabilities. The news comes from the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis following a meeting with his Iraqi colleague Hoshyar Zebari. Bakoyannis said that Greece wanted to increase cultural cooperation with Iraq, where thousands of precious antiquities had been plundered following the invasion in 2003. Bakoyannis and Zebari also decided to erect a monument to Alexander the Great in the former Gaugamela (Northern Iraq), where the legendary Macedonian leader defeated the Persian emperor Darius III in 331 a.d. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

CIA Algeria Station Chief Faces Sex Assault Probe

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Federal investigators have launched a probe of the CIA’s former station chief in Algeria, the State Department said after US media reported allegations that he drugged and raped two women.

The station chief, a 41-year-old convert to Islam who was in his post since September 2007, was ordered home in October after two women came forward last year with separate allegations they were raped in the official’s residence in Algiers, ABC News reported.

It said both women had provided sworn statements to federal prosecutors in preparation for a possible criminal case against the officer, with a grand jury likely to consider an indictment on sexual assault charges as early as next month.

“The US takes very seriously any accusations of misconduct involving any US personnel abroad,” State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

“The individual in question has returned to Washington and the US government is looking into the matter,” Wood said, referring further media inquiries to the Justice Department.

A Central Intelligence Agency spokesperson would not name the agent, and refused to confirm to AFP that a Justice Department investigation of the station chief had been launched. Both the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Terrorism: Algeria; Belkahdem,Thousands of Weapons Handed in

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 28 — Since the Chart for peace and national reconciliation has come into force in Algeria “at least 6,000 weapons have been handed in” writes Aps quoting the secretary general of the National Liberation Front (Fln), Abdelaziz Belkahdem, during a meeting on “national reconciliation” organised by the three parties that back President Abdelaziz Bouteflika: Fln, Rnd and Msp, former Hamas. The balance of the Chart, according to the former premier, “is positive because it has allowed the return of elements (members of armed Muslim groups, editor’s note) to society”. “National reconciliation” he added “is a political process and no procedure that is limited in time”. The Chart for peace and reconciliation, a key project in an attempt to turn the tragic page of Muslim terrorism, which has continued to rage in Algeria since 1992, was adopted after a referendum in 2005. The terms for terrorists to surrender and take advantage of the amnesty as decided in the Chart expired a long time ago, but the authorities are still willing to welcome those who hand in their weapons. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Why President Obama Should Speak in Morocco

Our story on the possibility of President Obama speaking in Morocco drew a very strong response from Hassan Samrhouni, the Founder of Obama to Speak in Morocco. Here is why Mr Samrhouni says Obama should speak in Morocco.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: Mitchell Insists on Truce, Help PNA Open Crossings

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH, JANUARY 29 — The US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, insisted today, at the end of a meeting with the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Abu Mazen, in Ramallah (the West Bank), that it was vital to “strengthen” the truce in the Gaza Strip. He also asked that the PNA were involved in the border controls so as to make the full opening of the crossing points a more likely possibility. “It is important to strengthen the ceasefire and to make it last, and we encourage all efforts being taken in this direction”, Mitchell stressed. He went on to renew the new US administration’s support for Egypt’s attempted mediation, despite the fragility of the truce called after three weeks of Israeli war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the steady trickle of its violations in recent hours with Palestinian rockets and retaliatory raids. The envoy from Washington, speaking alongside Abu Mazen, also added that the truce must guarantee the safety of all involved, stressing that in order to permit the full reopening of the border crossings (which the Palestinians consider to be an essential condition of the truce), it was important that “the illegal transport of arms should be prevented” (as Israel had protested) and that “only legal goods” should be allowed through. A result which Mitchell believed could be reached through the “PNA’s participation in the border controls”, despite the fierce conflict between Abu Mazen’s party and the radical Islamist party Hamas which holds power in the Gaza Strip. The envoy is expected to return to Israel once again today, after two days of meetings with top Egyptian and Israeli leaders and a step to Ramallah earlier today, to then proceed with his visits to other capitals in the region tomorrow. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel Expels Venezuela Envoy

Israel says it has ordered Venezuela’s diplomats to leave the country, following the decision by Venezuela to sever diplomatic relations.

Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador and his staff from Caracas on 6 January in protest at Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.

A week later, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez broke off ties.

Israel has now given its response, setting a deadline of Friday for the Venezuelans to leave.

Israeli foreign ministry official Lior Hayat said the Venezuelan head of mission in Tel Aviv, Roland Betancourt, and two colleagues are now “persona non grata in Israel”.

President Chavez has been a strong critic of Israel’s actions against Hamas militants in Gaza, and has called on Israelis to stand up against their government.

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry has said Caracas plans to denounce Israel’s military actions at the International Criminal Court, according to the Associated Press news agency.

‘Not anti-semitic’

Relations between Israel and Venezuela were already tense because of President Chavez’s friendly relations with Iran, which backs Hamas and has called for Israel’s destruction.

In an interview with Venezuelan state television channel VTV, the country’s foreign minister Nicolas Maduro denied that the Venezuelan government was anti-Semitic.

Mr Maduro also denied that his government has relations with Hamas and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the French news agency AFP reports.

Israel declared an end to its three-week operation in Gaza on 17 January. Hamas followed with its own suspension of hostilities a day later.

More than 1,300 Palestinians, including 400 children, have been killed since Israel began its land, sea and air operations in Gaza. Fourteen Israelis have died.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Transplants: Cagliari Hospital to Host Ramallah Doctors

(ANSAmed) — CAGLIARI, JANUARY 28 — The hospital company Brotzu is to host a delegation of Palestinian doctors from the West Bank until February 4. The project was born from the Palestinian public health sector’s need to open a kidney transplant centre in Ramallah. The hospital health director Rashid Bakeer is to lead the delegation, accompanied by four doctors from the cities of Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah and Jericho. During a press conference held to present the twinning of the hospital with Brotzu to the media, Bakeer explained the difficulties in the Palestinian situation. “There are around 500 patients in Palestine that are suffering from chronic renal insufficiency: the majority are not able to get to dialysis centres due to the Israeli control points. This is why we need to open a transplant centre directly in Ramallah. Until now”, Bakeer said, “14 kidney transplants have been carried out in Palestine, but all of these were in a private clinic in Nablus”. Doctors were accompanied by the Brotzùs Department for renal pathology, directed by Mauro Frongia; this is to be the first step forwards within a larger twinning project between the hospital company and the Palestinian Health Ministry. During the meeting with journalists, the regional Health council, Nerina Dirindin, expressed “Sardiniàs availability to share technologies and the island’s health system above all at this time when the Palestinian people are in need of everyonés combined support” to the assembled Palestinian doctors. The regional councillor for General Affairs, Massimo Dadea, was also present at the welcoming ceremony, as was the company’s general director, Giorgio Sorrentino, the health director, Roberto Sequi, and the director of the transplant centre, Ugo Storelli. The doctor in charge of organising the initiative, who is also playing the role of cultural mediator, is Mohammed Ayyoub. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrain: Three Terror Suspects Held

MANAMA: Three more terror suspects were arrested in Bahrain yesterday.

The General Prosecution ordered their arrests after the three suspects, wanted in connection with a National Day bombing plot, ignored summons to appear before the authorities by 5pm on Sunday.

This follows the arrests of 14 Bahrainis on similar charges in December.

“My client was arrested at dawn today along with two others,” said lawyer Jalila Al Sayed, who is defending Hassan Mushaima, the head of the opposition group Haq.

She said that the other two suspects were Mohammed Al Moqdad and Abduljalil Al Singace.

General Prosecution’s questioning of the suspects continued until late last night in the terror plot, also known as Al Hujaira. Six lawyers and MP Jalal Fayrooz were present.

General prosecution has charged the suspects with three main crimes:

l Unlawfully joining groups with the purpose of hampering the implementation of the constitution, law and violating citizens’ personal freedoms with the intention to spread terror.

l Promoting and instigating to topple and change the political system by using violent means.

l Inciting people to spread hatred against the ruling system and mocking it.

Al Moqdad was charged with a fourth felony: Financing and supporting a terrorist group. Al Moqdad’s lawyers Ahmed Al Arrayed and Isa Ibrahim said he denied the charges and refused to answer questions, adding that his speeches had called for change via peaceful means.

The prosecution presented him with some of the suspects’ televised confessions, which pointed to his role in financing these groups. Al Moqdad denied the charges and said that he does not know the people. The prosecution displayed four speeches of Al Moqdad, in which he instigated the public to resort to violence.

Defence lawyer Al Arrayed praised the general prosecution’s co-operation throughout the investigations.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard[Return to headlines]

Emirates: Pre-Marriage Courses to Lower Divorce Rate

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, JANUARY 27 — Pre-marriage courses in an attempt to lower the divorce rate among young couples: the General Women’s Union (Gwu) of the United Arab Emirates has come with this initiative in collaboration with the Justice Department. At present there are no official estimates available of the number of divorces in the Emirates, reports daily The National, but a survey carried out by the UN registered a 13pct increase between 2002 and 2004, with around 13,000 cases tried in court. Social workers and judges say that this trend continues its alarming growth, and that it must be tackled through an adequate preparation for marriage. The main reasons for divorce would be the often young age of the bride and bridegroom, problems in balancing social traditions and a Western lifestyle and excessive costs. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaza: Jordanian NGO to Help Clear Mines in Gaza

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, JANUARY 26 — An Amman based NGO has deployed a team of experts to assess the threat of unexploded devices of war in Gaza, an official statement from the group said today. “The disposal of the unexploded mines is a pre-requisite for any reconstruction effort in Gaza as well as a primary safety measure for the people on the ground” says Stephen Bryant, Programme Manager of the Norway Peoplés Aid (NPA) in Jordan, the organization overlooking massive de-mining project in the kingdom. The dangers imposed by unexploded ordnance are exemplified even more clearly in Gaza by the deaths of two children by UXO on January 20, added the statement. “Gazàs being one of the most densely populated parts of the world makes the problem even more acute. Apart from posing a threat to the population, UXO contamination will hold back rescue teams as well as reconstruction and humanitarian work on the ground,” said the statement. A team from Norwegian Peoplés Aid, led by Secretary General Petter Eide, travelled to Jerusalem and Gaza on 22nd January to find out how the group can best make further contributions — both in the short and the long term — in relation to reconstruction work and supporting the population of Gaza following the war. “Based on the findings of this mission, NPA will look into launching and seek funding for an emergency Explosive Ordnance Disposal Response programme in Gaza”, said Per Nergaard, NPA Head International Mine Action Department. The war on Gaza has left at least 1300 dead and thousands injured. Ten Israeli soldiers were also killed in the offensive. The organization has launched similar Emergency EOD response programmes in Lebanon and Georgia following the end of conflicts in 2006 and 2008 respectively. NPA has been working in Jordan since 2006 and has so far cleared around 14 million square meters of suspected hazardous areas in Wadi Araba and Aqaba, removing over 51,000 landmines in the process. It is currently clearing the last known minefields in Jordan along the northern borders with Syria. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Human Rights:Turkey;Two Teenagers Sentenced to 10 Years Jail

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 27 — Two 17-year-old boys were sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for participating in the violent Nevruz (Coming of spring) demonstrations in the South eastern town of Gazinantep, Hurriyet Daily wrote. The court in the southern province of Adana sentenced each boy to 10 years and eight months in prison for propaganda of a terrorist group, carrying Molotov cocktails, throwing explosive materials, wounding a person and being members of the illegal terrorist group Pkk. The boys were found not guilty due to a lack of evidence against the charge of torching five cars. The Human Rights Association (IHD) has reacted to the the boys’ sentence. “Such sentences were taken under the mentality that severe prison terms would prevent others from committing similar crimes”, Adana IHD representative, Ethem Acikalin, said, adding that “we believe protecting children is everyonés duty”. “All individuals are children until they turn 18, but courts believe they have no other option than handing out heavy sentences to set a deterrent”, Acikalin declared, stressing that “efforts to rehabilitate children in Turkey were made through punishment”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iran: Ahmadinejad Urges End to US ‘Expansionism’

Kermanshah, 28 Jan. (AKI) — During Barack Obama’s presidency, the United States must respect other nations, understand the true causes of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks and end its military intervention in the world if it wants to change, Iran’s hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday. He said he expected two kinds of change which were “deep and fundamental”.

“Meet people, talk to them with respect and put an end to the expansionist policies. If you talk about change it must put an end to the US military presence in the world, withdraw your troops and take them back inside your borders,” he said.

“We welcome change if it is fundamental and in the right direction. Real change is change in the tone of talks with people, to enter from the door of respect and not to pursue expansion and imperialism.”

Ahmadinejad (photo) was addressing a large gathering in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which was broadcast on state television.

Former US president George W. Bush had been consigned to the “historical scrapheap for his dark page full of crimes against humanity and betrayals,” Ahmadinejad said.

He drew parallels between attitudes to the Nazis’ World War II extermination of Jews in the Holocaust and Al-Qaeda’s deadly attacks against US cities on 11 September 2001.

“Just as with the Holocaust, they have left no chance of understanding what actually caused the 9/11 attacks and the wars that killed a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“If they really want to change, this has to start with understanding what really happened on 9/11, he said.

He called on the US to withdraw its support from Israel, “which kills Palestinians”.

Obama’s policy of change means recognising the Palestinians’ rights, Ahmadinejad said.

He also accused the US of meddling in Iran’s affairs for 60 years and said Obama must apologise for “crimes” against Iran, including American support for the 1953 coup in the country and the backing of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988.

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

Italy-Yemen: Stefania Craxi Opens New Embassy HQ in Sanaa

(ANSAmed) — SANAA, JANUARY 28 — The new headquarters for the Italian Embassy in Yemen was opened today in Sanaa. The ceremony, with flag-raising and the national anthem, was preceded by a speech from Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Stefania Craxi, with Italian Ambassador Mario Boffo and in the presence of Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abubakr Abdallah Al-Qirby, Culture Minister Mohammed Abubakr Ismail Al-Arhabi, Ambassadors from several other countries and numerous Italians who work or study in the country. “Italy wishes to give its support to the Yemeni Government and its population, especially at a time when Yemen is forced to confront major challenges tied to security and the economy” said Stefania Craxi, pointing out that Italian cooperation is already involved in projects “in vital sectors such as naval security, biodiversity, sustainable development, health and the exploitation of cultural heritage”. Italy was the first European country to recognise Yemen and establish diplomatic relations in 1926. The new Embassy headquarters is a three storey building in the residential district of Haddah, in south-west Sanaa, where other embassies are situated. The transfer was made for security reasons: the old headquarters, which held the Embassy since 1986, were in the central district of Safiah, which over time became too densely populated and busy, and therefore dangerous. The old headquarters was no longer big enough for the needs of the Embassy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Anti-Human Trafficking Law Passed

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, JORDAN, JANUARY 26 — Jordan’s parliament endorsed an anti-human trafficking law following international complaints of persistent trade in foreign workers in the kingdom, an MP said today. The law imposes a penalty of three years behind bars on violators and hefty fines, said deputy Mubarak Abu Yameen, head of the parliament’s legal committee. “The law will be a deterrent to companies that seek to exploit foreign workers and assure Jordan’s commitment to international laws on this issue,” he told ANSAmed. The law was rubber stamped by parliament on a session held late Sunday. Two local companies were recently the subject of a legal action in American courts after several Nepalese nationals said they facilitated sending them to Iraq against their wish. A Nepalese national and relatives of 12 who were killed in Iraq filled a law suit against the Jordanian firms, saying they were sent to Iraq by force. The men were told they will be working in Jordan, but later sent to work in American base in Iraq. But 12 were kidnapped by the insurgency and killed. Also local factories that employ Asian workers and exports to the US market have drawn fire from human rights groups who say workers are abused and placed in slavery like conditions. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kuwait: No Gaza Donations for Palestinian Authority, Says Emir

Kuwait City, 27 Jan. (AKI) — The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, says no donations destined for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip should go to the Palestinian National Authority led by president Mahmoud Abbas.

Al-Sabah made the remarks after Muslim parliamentarians asked the emir about the destination of funds to help the people of Gaza.

“We will announce the precise figure that we will donate only at the donor countries conference due to take place in Cairo,” said the emir, cited by Arab TV network Al-Jazeera.

“Our government will, however, put conditions on the deposit of the funds which will be made to the Arab fund for development and one of these conditions is that they cannot be managed by the PNA.”

According to local media, Islamic MPs are thought to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement which is banned in Egypt, and active in Kuwait, Jordan and Algeria.

The MPs and other organisations are concerned that donations collected in Kuwait could end up in the coffers of the PNA.

Last week the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement, Khaled Meshal, asked donor countries to donate funds to the Hamas government led by deposed prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, and not the PNA government led by caretaker prime minister Salaam Fayyad in the West Bank.

The oil-rich emirate last Monday hosted a two-day Arab economic summit. However, talks about the crisis in the Gaza Strip dominated the agenda.

Sheikh Sabah appealed to Palestinian politicians to seek unity and condemned the divisions between the rival Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas.

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

Mid-East: Cost of Conflicts, 12,000 Bln Dollars in 20 Years

(ANSAmed) — GENEVA, JANUARY 23 — Middle Eastern countries hit by conflicts have ‘burned’ 12,000 billion dollars in the last two decades in terms of economic losses and missed opportunities. According to research by the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) presented in Geneva by the Security Policy Centre (SPC), the region has paid an extremely elevated price due to wars and the absence of peace over the last two decades. The price was calculated taking into consideration all of the countries in the region, including Iraq. It is a detailed evaluation of the costs in economic, military, environmental, social, but also in psychological terms since 1991, following hundreds of parameters. The study carried out by the Strategic Foresight Group, an Indian based think-tank, includes the valuation of missed opportunities. Researchers — quoted by the Swiss agency ATS — calculated for example that if Iraq had not suffered from sanctions or the war, the GDP of the country could have reached 2,262 billion dollars compared to the current 58.6 billion. Israel has lost about 15 billion dollars in earnings in the tourism sector from 2000 to 2006. According to the authors of the study, Israeli and Palestinian income are equal to half of what they would be today if a peace agreement had been reached in the Madrid Conference in 1991. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Revealed: the Letter Obama Team Hope Will Heal Iran Rift

Symbolic gesture gives assurances that US does not want to topple Islamic regime

Officials of Barack Obama’s administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Turkey to Buy 10 Spy Aircraft From Israel

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 28 — Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, asked if procurement of Heron spy aircraft would be delayed after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s harsh criticism against Israel regarding the Gaza issue, said to daily Vatan that “our agreement to jointly produce Herons is still in force. They (Israel) sent two of the aircraft late December. There is a little bit delay but I think they will send remaining eight aircraft until the end of April.” Each Heron unmanned surveillance aircraft costs 18 million USD. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UAE: Dubai; Almost 3,000 People Turn to Islam, +71% in 2008

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, JANUARY 29 — Almost 3,000 people, the majority of them women, from dozens of nationalities became Muslims in Dubai last year, it was announced as reported by Arabian Business online. A total of 2,763 individuals — 1,869 of them women — from 72 countries embraced Islam in 2008, an increase of 71% over 2007, according to figures released by the Islamic affairs and charitable activities department. Announcing the data, Hamad bin Al Sheikh Al Shaibani, director general of the department, said: “We are delivering our message properly by spreading Islamic culture and instilling national identity through giving greater attention to mosques, holy Quran sciences, Islamic heritage, research fatwa and charity works.” The Islamic message was being delivered through a moderate school of Islam by highly qualified and conversant individuals using the most advanced methodologies, he added. “We are lending special care to new Muslims, providing them with all they need from audio-visual materials, books, lectures and training programmes in all languages so as to become true Muslims,” Al Shaibani said. However, some other factors could have influenced the choice to turn to Islam. In the country, in fact, in case of the husband’s death and without a will, the wives who do not convert may risk to be excluded in the division of assets. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]


Europe, Beware: Obama Speaks With Two Tongues

Obama is holding out an olive branch to Islam: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” Obama is quoted as saying, adding “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect.” Coincidentally, across the board US-muslim relations are quite good. Most Middle Eastern regimes are somehow or other supported by the US. Saudi Arabia is a close ally and so are the Gulf States. Egypt’s regime can only survive thanks to regular wheat shipments from the US. Arab (Muslim) bankers and businessmen have invested heavily in the US economy and have been buying plenty of bonds over the past decades.

On the other hand, Obama has announced he will step up military efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the recently inaugurated US embassy in Iraq indicates the US is planning to stay indefinitely and continue to run the country like a colony or protectorate.

In line with Samuel Huntington’s concept of a struggle between civilizations, at least since 9/11 2001, the US has been engaged in a widely publicized war on Muslim fundamentalism. It has been trying with reasonable success to draw its European client states into the fight as well, but the Europeans seem reluctant to go whole hog. After all, there are sizeable Muslim minorities in most of Western Europe. North African Muslims, especially young male Moroccans who tend to be woefully undereducated, constitute a serious social problem in countries like France, the Netherlands and Belgium. These kids tend to be violent, volatile and aggressive, engaging in periodic bouts of rioting with often devastating results. There are efforts under way by imams in Britain and elsewhere to introduce Muslim law (sharia) in neighborhoods with a Muslim majority. With segregation rampant-most Western European inner cities are in the process of being islamicized or are already muslim-it is understandable native Western Europeans are worried about the future. Most are now afraid of terrorism…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Recruits Deserting the Russian Army

PETER CAVE: The Russian military may have delivered a crushing blow to neighbouring Georgia six months ago in the conflict over South Ossetia, but right now it’s having to battle bad publicity over a deserter.

A Russian soldier based in the disputed region has fled, citing terrible living conditions as his main reason.

In what’s shaping up to be a propaganda skirmish Russia has countered that the soldier was kidnapped by Georgian authorities.

Moscow correspondent Scott Bevan reports.

SCOTT BEVAN: Russian army sergeant Alexander Glukhov says that early this week he walked away from his unit in the disputed region of South Ossetia bound for the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

But it wasn’t the destination that was driving the soldier to desert. Rather, he says, it was what he was leaving behind, claiming the living conditions were terrible.

(Alexander Glukhov speaking)

“They haven’t even brought a good bath point there where you would just wash yourself once a week,” Alexander Glukhov has told the Echo of Moscow radio station.

The soldier has also complained of harsh treatment from a commander and has added that his desertion is not politically motivated nor, in his eyes, an act of treachery.

But the Russian Defence Ministry sees politics in it, telling media that Sergeant Glukhov had been kidnapped by Georgian special services officers. Alexander Glukhov refutes that.

(Alexander Glukhov speaking)

“I left by myself,” he said. “Nobody made me do it”.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: It was not a secret that all these soldiers that are deployed now in Southern Ossetia live in unbelievably bad conditions. Even in compare with others of Russian armed forces.

SCOTT BEVAN: Alexander Golts is a military analyst in Moscow. He says this case is just another indication of the conditions those serving in the Russian forces have to endure.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: More than 50 per cent of barrack rooms in this country have no warm water, hot water.

SCOTT BEVAN: Valentina Melnikova is the head of the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee, which fights for better conditions and rights for those in the services.

She says Sergeant Glukhov’s story of desertion is hardly unique.

VALENTINA MELNIKOVA (translated): He is just one of 50,000 who leave their military unit. Thank God he’s safe and sound, and it seems, with no injuries. He left in time I suppose.

SCOTT BEVAN: Not all leave the Russian military safe and sound. A government commission has been meeting to discuss the controversial issue of non-combat deaths in Russia’s armed forces.

The commission has been told that last year 604 servicemen died in ways other than in combat; 292 of those deaths were listed as suicide.

Russia’s armed forces are heavily reliant on conscription to fill the ranks and the commission’s chairman has said there has to be greater research into the psychological readiness of conscripts for service.

While the Russian Government has repeatedly outlined how it’s increasing funding and introducing reforms to improve the servicemen’s lot, Valentina Melnikova says the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee has one recommendation to make things better and to even save lives.

VALENTINA MELNIKOVA (translated): It is necessary to stop compulsory service.

SCOTT BEVAN: Military analyst Alexander Golts agrees.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: What we badly need is to refuse as soon as possible of conscription, and have a modern, rather small army which is ready to solve problems in local and regional conflicts.

SCOTT BEVAN: But in a country where military service is seen as a national duty by its political leaders, Alexander Golts doesn’t expect that reform to be embraced in a great hurry.

This is Scott Bevan in Moscow for AM.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Russian Military a ‘Paper Tiger’ Despite Symbolic Comeback, Says IISS

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Not a bad article, but as one commenter correctly points out — despite defense spending % GDP dropping from 1998 to 2007, overall GDP in 2007 was over 12x larger.]

Russia may be flexing its military muscle once again, sending warships into international waters and dispatching long-range bombers on reconnaissance trips, but the former superpower remains a paper tiger, according to a respected London think-tank.

The recent naval manoeuvres in the Mediterranean and Latin America were symbolic gestures — the former maritime giant was able to deploy only a small number of ships, while the rest of the fleet was anchored at home without enough money to keep it at sea, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says.

In February last year a naval force led by the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov completed a two-month deployment, including a period in the Mediterranean — one of the longest of its kind since the Cold War, the IISS said in The Military Balance, its annual assessment which was published yesterday.

An exercise with the Venezuelan Navy took place in October and a Russian warship joined the antipiracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

However, Oksana Antonenko, a senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the institute, said: “In military terms it was all very modest. This is not a major military comeback, it was just a symbolic deployment.”

She cast doubt on the ability of Russia to project force and said that the victory of Russian troops in Georgia in August merely exposed the Army’s shortcomings. She predicted that the Russian defence budget next year would suffer from an even greater deficit.

The Navy plans to build six carrier battle groups, but the publication said: “The Russian military has a long way to go to recover from 20 years of mismanagement and neglect.

“Only 12 nuclear-powered submarines, 20 major surface warships and one aircraft carrier remain in service with the Russian Navy, the last of which is routinely followed by two tugs in case of breakdown,” it added.

According to the institute’s estimate of Russian defence expenditure, the percentage of GDP devoted to military spending dropped from 5.25 per cent in 1998 to 3.9 per cent in 2007.

The assessment is contrary to the high-profile foreign policy approach adopted by Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister.

There was not enough money for Russia to achieve what it wanted in military terms, Ms Antonenko said. There was also a lack of consensus in the Russian armed forces. Some sections of the Army want to remain focused on territorial defence and the nuclear establishment insists on training for work beyond Russia’s borders.

The Military Balance said that national pride in Russia’s military forces was being restored, however.

Russia remained sensitive to the enlargement programme of Nato, particularly since Georgia and Ukraine had been put on the list of potential new members of the alliance, Ms Antonenko said.

She added that there was no clear understanding in Moscow of what Nato was trying to do with its enlargement programme and she called for a different dialogue between Russia and the alliance.

Ms Antonenko said there were signs of a better working arrangement, with the announcement that Russia was willing to consider allowing Nato to use a northern corridor through its territory for delivering supplies to alliance troops in Afghanistan.

John Chipman, the director-general and chief executive of the IISS, said that since the conflict in Georgia the Russians had announced plans for radical reforms, including turning the Army into a fully professional force.

“This restructuring could make Russian armed forces more capable to operate against modern threats and potentially better interoperable with Western forces,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Russia Poses Biggest Security Threat — Czechs in Poll

Prague — Russia poses the biggest threat to the Czech Republic, Czechs said in the December poll conducted by the CVVM polling agency and released today.

Two years ago, it was Iran. At present, Iraq and Afghanistan, too, are reasons to worry.

The smallest fear is felt of Palestine and Germany.

Russia is strongly opposed to the planned installation of some elements of the U.S. radar anti-missile project in the Czech Republic. It has said it might retaliate.

Last December, Russia was considered the biggest threat by 17 percent of Czechs, 7 percent more than in December 2006.

At the end of 2006, Iraq was considered the biggest threat, at the end of last year Iran. Germany and Palestine were considered a threat by a mere one percent of Czechs.

Three-fifths of Czechs believe that international organised crime poses a big threat to peace and security of the Czech Republic.

About one-fifth considers ethnic minorities (largely Romanies) a threat. In this sphere, there are big discrepancies along regional lines. In the North Bohemian Usti region, 39 percent of those polled consider them a threat.

One-third of Czechs are afraid of a natural disaster or epidemic. One-fifth is afraid of war.

The poll was conducted on a sample of 1152 Czechs over 15 on December 1-8, 2008.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Russia Unveils Aggressive Arctic Plans

In a new national directive, Russia has asserted claims on large sections of the Arctic Ocean. The tone of the document is openly aggressive, prompting fears of increasing international tension over who has the right to exploit the mineral-rich territory.

Cold temperatures and boredom are normally the order of the day at Russia’s northernmost border post on the Arctic Ocean island of Alexandra Land. Icebergs as big as houses drift past, while old diesel drums stand silent in the dry air.

Gone are the days when the engines of bombers carrying nuclear warheads droned over Nagurskoye military station. Nowadays, there is only one flight a month to the station, which is home to 30 soldiers, 16 scientists and six meteorologists who report to the FSB, Russia’s powerful domestic intelligence service. They live in austere wooden huts, braving the indifference of the Arctic.

In September of last year, this ghost station of the Cold War was suddenly returned to the center of geopolitical events, when two dozen government representatives were flown there, including Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. They quickly agreed that “the Arctic must become Russia’s main strategic base for raw materials.” Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council of Russia, was quick to point out: “If we do not become active now, we will simply be forced out.”

The group of powerful men decided to have a comprehensive strategy prepared for development of the Arctic by 2020. The document will be released this week.

Some of the content has already been leaked, revealing an uncompromising tone. “It cannot be ruled out that the battle for raw materials will be waged with military means,” the explosive document reads.

It seems that Russia, with almost one-third of its territory lying north of the Arctic Circle, is about to prove that the fears of Western nations bordering the Arctic are not unjustified. The nuclear power will soon begin flexing its muscles along the icy shores of its giant realm.

The interest of nations bordering the Arctic is growing as polar ice recedes. One week before leaving office, outgoing US President George W. Bush unveiled a strategic plan for the Arctic region. Canada, Denmark and Norway have launched their own initiatives. Even the European Union announced a new polar policy in November.

Meanwhile, the government-controlled newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta is preparing Russians for the notion that “the fight for the Arctic will be the initial spark for a new division of the world.” Artur Chilingarov, a member of the Russia parliament and Moscow’s chief ideologue when it comes to conquering the Arctic, puts it this way: “We are not prepared to give our Arctic to anyone.”

Chilingarov — who in August 2007 used a remote-controlled submarine arm to plant a Russian flag made of titanium on the ocean floor at the North Pole at a depth of 4,261 meters (13,976 feet) — wants to “present evidence to the United Nations within one year” that the North Pole belongs to the Russians. His threat to those in the West who disagree is simple: “If these rights are not recognized, Russia will withdraw from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Alexander Dugin, a political scientist and well-known intellectual backer of Moscow’s neo-imperial claims to a Greater Russia, becomes so caught up in nationalist fervor that he loses his grasp on biological realities: “The purpose of our being lies in the expansion of our space. The shelf belongs to us. Polar bears live there, Russian polar bears. And penguins live there, Russian penguins.”

Although the Arctic may be somewhat lacking in penguins, Russia’s frozen north does contain vast mineral resources. Arctic Russia is already responsible for 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 22 percent of its export earnings.

The intended expansion of Russia’s northern border by at least 150 miles (241 kilometers) and 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles), an area three times the size of Germany, promises to yield immense natural resource earnings.

It was precisely these riches that Russian Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Sergei Donskoy discussed at the Arctic Frontiers conference in the northern Norwegian city of Tromsø, where several hundred scientists, politicians and economic experts came together last week.

“We hope to find reserves of oil and gas corresponding to about 20 percent of Russian reserves,” Donskoy said, outlining Russia’s plans for the Arctic.

Under that plan, geologists will first study the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea. They expect to find at least two to four large oil or gas fields beneath the ocean floor in each of these two seas. According to Russia’s environment minister, a petroleum engineer by trade, the fields contain an estimated 3.3 billion tons of oil and up to 5 billion cubic meters of gas.

If all goes according to plan, the first gas from the Arctic should begin flowing in 2013 or 2014, says Hervé Madeo, the deputy director of an energy consortium led by Russia’s Gazprom that is developing the Shtokman field in the Barents Sea. Of the field, he says: “It is one of the largest in the world and unique in Russia.”

Despite the financial crisis, preparations for drilling are moving forward at a fast pace. The project “has too much potential” for the global economic downturn to affect it much, Madeo claims.

The gas field could become the first major milestone in the development of the energy reserves of the north. This prompted Norwegian Rear Admiral Trond Grytting to comment sarcastically in his presentation at the Tromsø conference (entitled “From the Cold War to the Hot Arctic”): “We have lots of natural resources, military personnel and disputed borders in the Arctic. This has never been a recipe for peace.”

Grytting showed slides of his fleet commander exchanging gestures of friendship with his Russian counterpart. But he also showed the flight paths of Russian reconnaissance planes off the Norwegian coast.

The Norwegians are worried about three unresolved territorial disputes with their eastern neighbor, and all it takes is a glance at their radar screens to witness the extent to which the former Red Army is already amplifying its presence in the Arctic Ocean. “The Russian doctrine is unmistakable,” warns Grytting. “The army is supposed to advance the state’s goals in the surrounding region.”

These goals openly call for expansion. As far back as 2001, Russia submitted claims to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a panel of scientists at the United Nations that will be called upon to make decisions about expanded territorial rights in the Arctic Ocean in the coming years.

To support its claims, Russia will have to compile evidence to prove that its own continental shelf extends beyond the 200-nautical-mile zone known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Russian request was denied the first time around, with the CLCS demanding additional geologic evidence.

Even many of Chilingarov’s fellow Russians doubt whether he will be able to fulfill his ambitious promises to have compiled all the necessary documents and samples before the end of the year. “A little bucket of sediment won’t be enough,” Leopold Lobkovsky of St. Petersburg’s Institute of Oceanology said caustically in Tromsø.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Abdul the Taliban, on the Hunt for American ‘Infidels’

KABUL (AFP) — Abdul Shafiq is around 30 years old and has sacrificed his family life for two things: reading the Koran and fighting.

After years in exile following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, this Taliban commander is back in the mountains of his birth, having left behind his old life with his family for one mission: chasing out the “infidel” Americans.

It takes several cups of tea in a house next to a snowy hill, somewhere in southern Kabul, before the fighter with a thin face and the features of a Pashtun from southern Afghanistan, agrees to tell his story.

Abdul Shafiq — an assumed name — looks like any other Afghan, except that he has never been as unhappy as in times of peace.

He wears a long cream shirt and leather jacket; his hair and beard are thick and black, his clear brown eyes sparkle as brightly as his silver Pashtun cap dotted with shiny plastic beads.

In hiding in Kabul, he rarely spends two nights in the same place, taking a break before returning to the fight.

In the mountains, he heard of new US President Barack Obama “who will change nothing” and of Palestine “where something is happening”.

His future seems set: “As long as the Americans are here, we will fight them,” says the Taliban militant, whom AFP could only meet through local intermediaries.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Bangladesh on Alert for Japanese Red Army Fugitives — Police

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AFP)—Police in Bangladesh are on alert after Interpol warned that seven members of the banned Japanese Red Army militant group could be hiding in the South Asian nation, police said Thursday. A police official in the capital said the alert concerned seven members of the group, confirming a report by the state-run BSS news agency that quoted a provincial police officer. “So far we haven’t arrested anyone linked to the group,” said the Dhaka police official, who asked not to be named. A spokesman with the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka and officials in Tokyo refused to comment. The Red Army is now considered defunct, but some of its members are still on the run and wanted in connection with global militant activities in the 1970s. The Japanese Red Army first made the world stage in May 1972 when three members dressed in business suits sprayed gunfire at Tel Aviv’s airport after stepping off an Air France flight. Twenty-six people were killed in the attack, most of them Puerto Rican pilgrims. Two of the Japanese assailants also died. In September 1977, the Japanese Red Army hijacked a Japan Airlines flight over India and landed it in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. They forced the Japanese government to free six imprisoned members of the group. According to the BSS report, one of the militants named in the alert is Kozo Okamoto, wanted in connection with the Tel Aviv airport attack and last known to be living in Lebanon.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Japan: Tokyo Rethinks Alliance With United States in Multipolar World

The global economic crisis and the presidency of Barack Obama are prompting Japan to rethink policy and international prospects. The 21st century will be that of Asia, and Japan, with its “soft power,” can take the lead even in front of China and India.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) — The Japanese find themselves facing an historic challenge not unlike those of the second half of the 19th century, when they shook off feudalism, and of 1945, when, with the rejection of militarist nationalism, they chose democracy. This time, the spur to choose radical change is coming from the global economic crisis and from the new American president, or better, from the America that he represents.

Prime Minister Taro Aso, at the nation’s helm since last September, has lost no time in establishing contact with the new president, in order to plan a meeting in Washington by March. In a statement released to the press, Aso said that he intends “to work hand in hand with President Obama in order to reinforce further the alliance between Japan and the United States.”

The motivation for this desire is not so much national prestige as the awareness that Japan has long required political initiative in worldwide governance, and not only the diplomacy of economic aid. In this context, the Aso government, in addition to its efforts to confront the worldwide economic emergency, is proposing three areas of collaboration with the United States: climate change, the reduction of nuclear weapons, and support for Africa.

For Washington’s part, Hillary Clinton, the new American secretary of state, has stated that “the alliance between the United States and Japan is the cornerstone of American policy in Asia.”

From hegemonic power to a multipolar world

But the true interpreters of the position that Japan must take in the new international situation are the intellectuals. Professor Yasuaki Onuma, who teaches international law at the University of Tokyo, has spoken out with particular clarity on this topic, in an article entitled “Japan can prosper in a multipolar world,” published in Asahi. The study is of particular value because it summarizes the convictions of historians and essayists, and is based on a cultural analysis of reality beyond petty nationalistic prejudices.

For Onuma, the severe economic crisis, which is unprecedented because it is globalized, is not a whirlpool into which the world has fallen, but a dark and perhaps a long tunnel, beyond which a brilliant future shines. The enormous global crisis is not in itself a factor of change, but something that brings to light the process of epochal change now underway.

Reflecting from the point of view of Asia, he distinguishes three centuries in the historical perspective: the first two (nineteenth and twentieth) concern the past, and the third (twenty-first) the future.

The nineteenth century was the century of Europe. So, he writes, “the leading European powers built a global colonial system, they spread modern science to the world, and guided ‘civilization’. The twentieth century was that of the United States. We enjoyed the benefits of motorization, we cultivated the sensibility spread by Hollywood movies and rock music, and we were brought to the threshold of a civilization characterized by information technology.”

The historiographical outline sketched by the Japanese professor is useful from an educational point of view, although it is incomplete and its contents. He does not underestimate the benefits that the world has received from these two civilizations, but he also highlights their hegemonic aspects: the world has been governed first by Europe, and then by America.

And how will the twenty-first century be? It is a widespread conviction that it will be the century of Asia. China is expected to become an economic superpower surpassing America, and India will also join the ranks of economic superpowers. When this happens, some predict, Asia’s power will exceed that of Europe and the United States before the end of the century.

Onuma hesitates to claim that the twenty-first century will be the century of Asia. He expects that “the world will be more multipolar, with different civilizations than those of the twentieth century, dominated by the values of Europe and America.” The prediction of Asia’s dominance in world governance is based on the ‘understanding’ of the past, while the vision of a multipolar world is based on the ‘imagination’ of the future. It is an imagination that is not fantasy, but an attentive reading of the ‘signs of the times’.”

Japan’s role in epochal change

The second half of the twentieth century has seen the enormous and positive economic influence of Japan all over the world. But now, because of the decline of the Japanese economy, which has been pulled into the vortex of the worldwide crisis, some are afraid that there is no more room for Japan in the multipolar world. Those who base the influence of the nation on material power — meaning military and economic — fall into this pessimism. Much more important is the influence that the Anglo-Saxons call “soft power,” that of a civilization that puts man at the center, and not things. In the West, there are three elements of this power: democracy, human rights, and, we would add, Christianity, which constitutes its foundation. But Asia also has its own spiritual values that have forged very ancient civilizations.

But the fever of rapid economic and industrial development is playing havoc with these values in the two nations that were the cradle of Asian civilization: India and China. It is at this level that there emerges the “soft power” of Japan. The various threads of Asian culture over several centuries have arrived in the country of the rising sun as if coming to their last shore, and here they have undergone a process of elaboration that has continued even over the past 150 years, in spite of the grim tragedy of imperialist militarism. “The Japanese were among the first peoples of Asia to learn modern Western civilization, and use it extensively,” Onuma observes. “But at the same time, they have maintained their identity as part of Eastern civilization.” Now they are in a position to assist the nations of Asia to accomplish this synthesis. The power of Japanese culture elaborated by these experiences is the “soft power” of Japan, which Onuma does not hesitate to describe as “colossal.”

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

Malaysia Proposes OIC Film Festival

RABAT (Morocco), Jan 27 (Bernama) — Malaysia has proposed that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) countries hold a film festival like that in Cannes or Berlin to promote the works of their producers and directors and provide a marketplace for people in their creative industries.

Malaysian Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, speaking at the opening of 8th Islamic Conference of Information Ministers (ICIM) here, said such a festival should be held back-to-back with the next ICIM meeting in 2011.

“The meeting may be known as the ‘OIC Film Festival’ or by any other name. But, the important thing is to allow our creative industry players to think beyond their shores and have a better grasp of the untold commercial benefits once they work together,” he said.

Ahmad Shabery said television channels and cinemas in OIC countries should promote movies, documentaries, entertainment shows and animations produced by their own creative industries.

As ministers responsible for information, he said, they must work to ensure that “we should have more visuals, more images, more sound-bites so that we can really feel the bonds of our brotherhood among us”.

Ahmad Shabery also called on OIC member states to take a more aggressive stance towards news and information from the international media, which may be sometimes distorted.

“As such, our media organisations must be prepared to print and broadcast more news, images and visuals provided by our own media players. This sharing of information will certainly enable us to mobilise world opinion on various matters affecting the Ummah,” he said.

In this regard, he proposed that OIC member states work on the establishment of an OIC TV news channel.

“Maybe we can begin with a selected few member states to jump-start the project. I propose that this item be discussed in the agenda of the next OIC Summit.”

Ahmad Shabery said this year’s ICIM meeting came at a crucial time after the Israeli aggression in Gaza.

He told the meeting that the Malaysian parliament at its recent special session had called on the United Nations to immediately form an international war crimes tribunal to investigate Israeli atrocities and violence on the Palestinian people.

“I believe that we must mobilise efforts in the OIC to galvanise support to bring the Israeli perpetrators to the World Court, to be tried for atrocities against humanity. We cannot allow these criminals to go scot-free and we must mobilise worldwide opinion against such crimes,” he said.

To help mobilise world opinion, Ahmad Shabery said, the Palestinians should be equipped with know-how and the resources to become “citizen journalists”.

“We want them to relay real-time information and pictures via the New Media directly to all of us. We in the Islamic world should be able to tell about ourselves better rather than being overly dependent on other people’s media,” he said.

At the meeting, Ahmad Shabery also welcomed efforts to restructure the International Islamic News Agency (IINA) and the International Islamic Broadcasting Union (IBU) to make them more dynamic and effective entities in the OIC.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Militants Blow Up Boys’ School and Homes in Northwest

Khar, 28 Jan. (AKI) -Taliban militants have blown up a boys’ school and the homes of six pro-government tribal elders in Pakistan’s troubled northwest Bajaur tribal region, a local official said on Wednesday, quoted by media.

The incidents took place late on Tuesday in the restive tribal region of Bajaur, where government troops have been battling militants in a major operation launched last August.

None of the six tribal elders were at home during the attacks and there were no reports of casualties. The elders were all members of a ‘lashkar’ or local force that was set up in the Mamoun area of Bajaur to counter the Taliban, the official said.

Over the past year, the Taliban has ordered most of the private schools to close in North West Frontier Province’s Swat district and has destroyed nearly 150 schools as part of their campaign to ban education for girls.

Although 400 private girls’ schools complied with a Taliban edict to close by mid-January, Taliban militants continued their campaign of violence and blew up another five schools in Mingora, the largest town in Swat.

The closure of the private schools will deprive more than 40,000 students of their basic right to education. In addition, 84,248 girls students in state-run schools are unlikely to attend class because of fear of attacks by militants.

Hundreds of female teachers, most of them lone breadwinners face economic hardship as a result of the ban.

Over 350 privately-owned schools in Swat have separate sections for boys and girls, according to data available from a local association of schools

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

President Obama! Muslims Don’t Consider Americans as Enemy

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney

The new US President Barack Hussein Obama, in his recent interview to Al Arabiya Satellite Television, said that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world. He vowed to improve US relations with the Muslim world. He said that he would travel to Muslim capitals and address the nations in order to create a better understanding. He pointed out that he had lived in Indonesia for several years and travelled to many Muslim countries and found that regardless of faith, people had certain common hopes and dreams. He said his administration is initiating a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Singapore: Offensive Booklet Reported

A MUSLIM administrative manager said she felt offended and angry after reading a small anti-Islamic booklet sent to her by post. Madam Farhati Ahmad, 36, said she received the comic book called The Little Bride through the mail at her Woodlands home on March 6, 2007.

After reading the contents of the booklet, published by Chick Publications, an American Protestant publisher, she made a police report the same day.

She did not know who sent it but suspected that a Christian organisation had done it. She said she felt very insulted by the booklet whose objective was to insult and confuse Muslims.

‘I also feel that its intention was to instigate feelings of anger or hatred for Islam as a religion,’ she said.

She was testifying at the third day of the trial of technical officer Ong Kian Cheong, 50, and his wife, Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 45, an associate director with a bank, on charges under the Sedition Act and Undesirable Publications Act.

The Christian couple are alleged to have distributed a seditious publication each to two men, and the objectionable publication to Madam Farhati between March and December 2007.

The charges say the publications had the tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between Christians and Muslims in Singapore.

When Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala asked why she made a report instead of throwing the booklet away, Madam Farhati said if the publication which she described as dangerous were to fall into wrong hands, it might disrupt racial harmony in Singapore. She also said people could use it to cause harm and chaos.

The other two Muslims who made police reports after receiving The Little Bride and Who Is Allah? are Mr Irwan Ariffin, 32, and Mr Isa Raffee, 35.

The hearing continues.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Singapore: Mosques Using English More

ALTHOUGH Malay is still the dominant language of instruction in Singapore’s mosques, English is increasingly being used in Friday prayer sermons and religious classes at some mosques. According to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), about 30 per cent of the 69 mosques in Singapore are currently giving sermons in English.

Although the number of mosques using English dropped from 28 in 2007 to 22 last year, there has been a 10 per cent increase in the frequency of English sermons delivered at the 22 mosques.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

North Korea Scraps Military Accords With South Korea

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) — North Korea said it is scrapping all military and political agreements with South Korea, accusing the government in Seoul of pursuing confrontational policies that are pushing the two nations to “the brink of war.”

“All the agreed points concerning the issue of putting an end to the political and military confrontation between the north and south will be nullified,” the reunification committee in Pyongyang said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency today.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry “will discuss the matter and how we will respond” at a meeting today, spokesman Kim Ho Nyoun said in a telephone interview.

North Korea’s announcement comes less than two weeks after it threatened “strong military steps” in response to South Korea’s confrontational policies and about two months after North Korea imposed border restrictions with South Korea.

Kim Jong Il’s regime has repeatedly called South Korean President Lee Myung Bak a “traitor” and a “sycophant to the U.S.” It has demanded South Korea stop civic groups from launching balloons loaded with so-called propaganda leaflets criticizing Kim.

North Korea also announced today it is canceling an Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Cooperation and Exchange with South Korea and nullified the military boundary in the West Sea, according to KCNA’s statement.

Peaceful Resolution

North Korea’s move comes two days after South Korea welcomed comments from Kim that he is committed to scrapping his nation’s nuclear program and will continue efforts toward a peaceful resolution.

Kim told a Chinese Communist Party official at a Jan. 23 meeting in Pyongyang that North Korea “is committed to making the Korean peninsula a nuclear-free zone and wishes to live in peace with all the parties concerned,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported at the time.

North Korea, which tested a nuclear weapon in 2006, has rejected international demands that inspectors be allowed to remove samples from its Yongbyon reactor, the source of the regime’s weapons-grade plutonium. The refusal has stalled six- nation disarmament talks that also involve the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war as their 1950-1953 conflict ended in a truce and not a peace treaty. The two nations are separated by one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders, with 1.7 million soldiers facing off each day.

South Korea placed its military on alert after North Korea’s threat of military steps on Jan. 17.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Philippines: NPA to Step Up Attacks vs RP-US Exercises in Panay

MANILA, Philippines — As joint RP-US military exercises in Panay started Monday, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered the New People’s Army (NPA) to heighten offensives there, as well as in Bicol.

In a statement on its website, the CPP called on residents to “expose and oppose” the Balance Piston 09-1 in Panay and the Balikatan exercises in Bicol.

“The CPP directs NPA units, particularly those in Bicol and Panay, to intensify tactical offensives in their respective areas of operation in mockery of the US-RP joint military exercises and to prevent US troops from strengthening their foothold in these areas,” it said.

CPP scored the scheduled 25-day US-Philippine joint military exercises starting Monday at Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz in Panay island.

It said the military exercise is an instrument of the US in violating Philippine sovereignty and keeping a tight leash on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The CPP said the US training of “puppet troops” for inter-operability and providing war materiél to it paves the way for increased intervention in the local armed conflict.

“Through its military doctrines, advisers, trainers, intelligence and arms support, the US has been directing and buttressing the local counterrevolutionary war and campaigns, hand-in-hand with its policy to dissuade and put an end to formal peace negotiations between its puppet regime and the local armed revolutionary forces,” it said.

Also, it said the US-designed “counter-insurgency” Oplan Bantay Laya has become the principal tool of the Arroyo regime in waging a “brutal, antipeople campaign of suppression and repression not only in areas of the armed revolutionary movement in the countryside but also in the open, legal and parliamentary arena of the patriotic and democratic mass struggles.”

The CPP also said the exercises are being carried out in outright contempt of the Tumanduk people, saying the exercises will take place in their ancestral land.

“Since the time of Gloria Arroyo’s father, the puppet government and its armed forces have been violating the Tumanduks’ ancestral rights over more than 33,000 hectares grabbed from them by the AFP to put up the second largest military camp in the country, and the largest on indigenous land. Diosdado Macapagal’s Presidential Decree No.. 67 in 1962 declared the area as a military reservation,” it said.

“By holding the joint military exercises in Camp Peralta, the US military is rubbing salt on the collective wounds of the Tumanduk people who have been continually subjected to fascist terror and abuses by the puppet army,” it added.

It also said the upcoming war exercises in Capiz as well as the planned Balikatan exercises in Bicol this April signal stepped-up US military intervention and direct involvement of US troops in the AFP’s counterrevolutionary war against the NPA.

Current joint military exercises are being conducted in these areas to pave the way for the US to gain more access to the NPA’s areas of operation, it added.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Labor Party Leader Indicted for Violence in Parliament

SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) — Rep. Kang Ki-kab, leader of the progressive Democratic Labor Party (DLP), was indicted without detention Thursday on charges of obstructing official parliamentary duties and will soon face court trial, prosecutors said.

Kang is accused of throwing furniture in the office of National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o, assaulting parliamentary security guards and using foul language in protesting against the forced breakup of a sit-in staged by DLP lawmakers and officials on Jan. 5.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Aussie Charges Swedish Women’s Group in Sons’ Abduction

An Australian man searching for his two sons, whom he suspects have been abducted by his estranged Swedish ex-wife, alleges that a publicly funded women’s rights group in Sweden may be helping the woman elude police.

George Pésor has been searching for his sons, Frank, 11, and Andre, 9, since they failed to return to Australia with their mother, Ann-Louise Valette, following a visit to Sweden last October.

An international arrest warrant for Valette was issued shortly thereafter, but neither Pésor nor authorities in Sweden have been able to locate the boys or their mother, who lost custody of her sons following a bitter divorce battle with Pésor in 2003.

Swedish authorities, who have long suspected that Valette was receiving assistance in order to avoid detection, now say they are investigating Föreningen Kobra (‘The Cobra Association’), according to a report in the Brisbane Times newspaper of Australia.

Pésor suspects the group, which aims to support mothers trying to protect their children from abuse, has offered its network of 30 safe houses around Sweden to keep Valette in hiding.

“I am really worried for the children, the mother is capable of anything,” he told the newspaper, adding he thought Kobra was involved in the kidnapping.

According to Pésor, a number of people he’s contacted in the course of his search for the two boys have pointed to Kobra as a likely collaborator in the alleged abduction.

The organization also receives government funding, having recently been awarded 77,000 kronor ($9,500) to support projects to spread information about children’s rights and the group’s legal advice hotline.

The Brisbane Times also reports that Kobra members who support Valette have used blogs to spread claims that the two boys were abused by their father.

Other websites have also appeared defending Pésor, who gained custody of his sons after Valette was declared unfit to parent by a Swedish court in 2004.

Swedish police had no direct comment on the investigation, but Pésor said they had informed him Kobra members were being questioned in the case.

Pésor and Valette lived in Sweden together for 12 years before the marriage ended.

Their two boys were both born in Sweden, but have Australian citizenship.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

S. Africa: Two Women ‘Rescued’ From Envoy’s Home

A diplomatic row is brewing following the “rescue” of two Filipino women who fled from a Saudi Arabian diplomat’s home in Pretoria during an apparent late night escape.

The women, who allegedly escaped on Monday night, had been working for the diplomat at his Monument Park home since late last year as an au pair and a cook.

The two, aged 23 and 25, are alleged to have been brought to South Africa on tourist visas after they worked for the diplomat while he was in Saudi Arabia.

Allegations of labour exploitation, including the withholding of salaries, have been levelled against the diplomat by the women who are now in a safe haven.

Reacting to the allegations Saudi Arabia second secretary, K Al Salloom, said they were false.

“These women are being manipulated so that they can make more money. We have documents to prove that these allegations are false and an exaggeration,” he said, adding that the embassy’s lawyer had assured the embassy that this was not a problem because they could not prove the allegations.

In an apparent threat, Al Salloom, said the Pretoria News would be in a “critical” position if the allegations and an article on the alleged rescue and escape went to print.

Asked if the documents which apparently proved the allegations were false could be seen, Al Salloom said the Pretoria News could view them today (Thursday).

He said additional proof that the allegations were false were indications from the women that they wanted to return to work for their employer.

Allegations that the women “escaped and were rescued” from the diplomat’s home emerged after they were helped to flee by the diplomat’s neighbours on Monday night.

One of the residents, who helped the women escape from the upmarket complex, said she became aware of their situation after his gardener told him about two notes which the women had slipped to her.

Asking not to be named for fear of victimisation she said: “In the notes the women said they needed help and that they were trying to get in contact with the Philippine embassy.

“When I got the second note I became really worried. I thought they might be victims of trafficking and may be in serious danger,” she said, adding that it was then that he decided with other residents to rescue the women.

In a note smuggled back to the women by the resident was a detailed plan of how and when they would be helped, including the exit code for the security complex and the time police from the Diplomatic Unit would be waiting for them outside the complex.

At 9.45pm on Monday the women slipped out of the house and fled to a neighbouring house in the complex. From there they were helped by the homeowner to the entrance where they were handed over to police who took them to a place of safety.

The resident said when he met the women shortly after their escape they looked scared.

“They were crying. They were afraid that they would be found before they reached the police and that something would happen to them,” she said.

She claimed on the few occasions she had had contact with the women they had told her that they were not allowed to leave the house and that their salaries were being withheld.

Confirming that officers from the Diplomatic Unit had helped the women and had put them into a place of safety, police spokesperson Captain Dennis Adriao said they had responded after they received a call for assistance.

“We placed the two women in a place of safety shortly after they fled from the diplomat’s home and informed the foreign affairs department of what had taken place.”

Adriao said after interviewing the two women police established that there had not been any form of physical abuse which could warrant a criminal investigation.

“There, however, appears to be some sort of labour dispute resulting in the women fleeing the diplomat’s house,” he said.

Commenting on the plight of the two women and charges by Al Salloom that the women wanted to return to work, Philippines embassy vice-consular, Eric Aquino, said the women wanted to be paid their outstanding salaries and return home.

“We have been informed by the women that they want to go back home,” he said.

He said following discussions with representatives from the Saudi Arabian embassy, the department of foreign affairs and the police yesterday, the women would meet face-to-face with their employer on Monday to tell him exactly why they had left.

“We are investigating this matter,” he said, adding that the embassy was concerned about the women’s welfare.

He said the women had expressed a number of concerns over the conditions of their employment including that they had not been paid their salaries for several months.

“We are going to be interviewing the women again so that we can clarify several other issues which have been raised,” he said, adding that the diplomat had on Wednesday surrendered the women’s passports to police who had returned them to the women.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Somali Pirates Hijack German Gas Tanker, 13 Crew

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Somali pirates hijacked a German tanker loaded with liquefied petroleum gas Thursday off the Horn of Africa. The ship’s 13-man crew was reported safe even though gunshots were heard over the ship’s radio.

The MV Longchamp is the third ship captured this month in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The Longchamp, registered in the Bahamas, is managed by the German firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which said in a statement that seven pirates boarded the tanker early Thursday.

Spokesman Andre Delau said the ship’s master had been briefly allowed to communicate with the firm and had said the crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian were safe.

“We think that everything is in order, nobody is injured,” he told The Associated Press.

No ransom demands have been made yet, the company said.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the ship was seized off the southern coast of Yemen, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the town of al-Mukalla, the capital of the Hadramaut region.

Robin Phillips, deputy director of the Bahamas maritime authority in London, said the Longchamp had been traveling in a corridor secured by EU military forces when it sent a distress signal before dawn.

“Ships and helicopters were dispatched, but they arrived too late,” said Phillips, adding that gunshots could be heard over the radio. He said the ship later set a course for Somalia, to the south.

Liquefied petroleum gas is a mixture of gases used to fuel heating appliances and vehicles.

Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal with the Indian Ocean. Pirates made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom last year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia’s 1,900-mile (3,000-kilometer) coastline.

Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. China and South Korea have also ordered warships sent to the region to protect their vessels and crews from pirates.

The warships have helped many cargo ships fight off the pirates, but Christensen said they were not near the Longchamp when it was taken.

He also said 21 ships since Dec. 1 have taken “aggressive, evasive maneuvers” and successfully evaded pirate attacks.

The German military reported two more suspected attempts by pirates to attack ships in the Gulf of Aden early Thursday.

A German navy frigate received an emergency call from a cargo ship, the European Champion, which reported that it was being followed by a skiff. A military statement said the skiff backed off after the German ship sent its on-board helicopter to the scene.

A second cargo ship, the Eleni G., radioed that it was being pestered by several skiffs. A German frigate sailed toward the ship, which shook off the suspected pirates.

Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. Its lawless coastline is a haven for pirates.

Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau said 166 crew on nine ships were still being held off the coast of Somalia, not including the Longchamp. Six other hijacked ships have been released this month, including an oil tanker freed for a reported $3 million ransom.

Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center, said Thursday’s hijacking was the first attack since Jan. 14. For the past two weeks, strong winds have made it difficult for pirates to launch their small boats, but the weather has now improved, Choong said.

There have been 15 attacks so far this year, and three ships seized, he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Finland: Arajärvi: Speedier Language Training for Immigrants

Finnish language courses should be more readily available for immigrants, outlines Pentti Arajärvi in his report on immigrant employment, which he handed over to Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors on Thursday.

Arajärvi underscores that employment, even short-term work, is key to integration. He also calls for increasing apprenticeship programmes as a tool for upping immigrant employment.

Practical language skills key

“Native-level Finnish language skills shouldn’t be the primary goal. Once basic Finnish is mastered, the next step should be taking Finnish language courses geared towards specific professional fields,” adds Arajärvi.

Arajärvi also wants to see public offices dealing with immigrant affairs streamlined.

“The main responsibility for immigrants should lie with the Ministry of the Interior, whereas immigrant affairs at the regional level could be handled by regional employment and economic development offices,” adds Arajärvi.

“Immigrant services are in need of more funding,” concludes Arajärvi.

Dr. Pentti Arajärvi is a professor of social and education law at the University of Joensuu — and the husband of President Tarja Halonen.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Frattini, Ready to Reeavaluate Tunisian Permits

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 28 — Italy is ready to look into the possibility of increasing the number of work permits granted to Tunisian citizens, as well as to promptly re-opening negotiations on the agreement regarding work-orientated immigration. The Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, made the declaration earlier today, after holding talks in Rome with his Tunisian counterpart Abdelwahab Abdallah, following the Tunisian authorities announcement of an increased commitment to tackling illegal immigration. The Foreign Office reported that in their shared will to continue the process of consolidating the political dialogue between Italy and Tunisia, and strengthening existing cooperation in all sectors, Frattini and Abdallah looked closely at the major bilateral themes and the most significant regional dossiers. The two ministers also agreed to go ahead with the amendment to the Exchange Agreement of 1998 on the subject of readmission and the fight against clandestine immigration. Frattini revealed that Tunisia is one of the Mediterranean countries where Italy’s commitment to cooperation is most significant, and went on to stress to his Tunisian colleague that Italy still intended to honour the 2008-2010 intervention plan, signed during the “Great Mixed Commission” in 2007, and that it would evaluate the possibility for further aid in those sectors of the Tunisian economy most hit by the economic crisis, particularly in those regions where migration was most likely. The meeting also served as the occasion for a joint analysis of the more recent developments in the Middle East, with particular reference to the situation in Gaza and to the international efforts underway and planned for the future, including those forming part of the Italian presidency of the G8. A visit from Minister Frattini to Tunisia was agreed for the near future. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Agreement Reached With Tunisia Over Illegal Immigration

Rome, 28 Jan. (AKI) — Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni and his Tunisian counterpart Rafik Belhaj have agreed to step up the fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking and all criminal organisations behind these phenomena.

They also agreed to simplify and speed up procedures to identify Tunisian illegal immigrants currently held in Italian detention centres.

Those currently held in the overcrowded detention centre on the southern island of Lampedusa who have already been identified, will be repatriated “gradually and constantly” over the next two months, Maroni (photo) and Belhaj agreed.

The deportation of illegal Tunisian immigrants will be assisted by European Union funds and international organisations operating in the region.

The accords follow a visit to the Tunisian capital on Tuesday by Maroni, the head of Italy’s police, Antonio Manganelli and a team of senior officials from the Italian interior ministry.

Maroni’s visit to Tunisia came after protests by illegal immigrants held in Lampedusa’s overcrowded detention centre — included a reported 1,000 Tunisians — and residents on the island, who fear it is being turned into a ‘Mediterranean Alcatraz’.

The United Nations refugee agency, the Red Cross and other organisations have expressed grave concern at the conditions in Lampedusa’s detention centre.

Maroni has announced plans to build a new detention centre on the island, where 31,000 illegal immigrants landed last year out of 36,900 who reached Italy by sea.

The government no longer intends illegal immigrants to be transferred elsewhere in Italy but wants them to be detained on Lampedusa, identified and deported, unless they are eligible for asylum or refugee status.

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

Lampedusa: Fresh General Strike

(ANSAmed) — LAMPEDUSA (AGRIGENTO), JANUARY 28 — For the fourth day in less than a week, the inhabitants of Lampedusa have been striking to protest against the opening on the island of an centre for the identification and deportation of immigrants announced by the Interior Ministry. Shops are closed and a large number of citizens are taking part in an open town council meeting, in which also the regional president Raffaele Lombard is participating. The latter visited the centre on the island and, on leaving the structure, said that the conditions of the centre “are certainly not bad. UNHCR spokesman Laura Boldrini said that it is considered a model of efficiency at the European level. I would tend to agree since, when observing the maximum holding capacity, offers the best of conditions.” Lombardo also visited the former naval base Loran, which is to be used as a new centre for the identification and deportation of immigrants, but which has been strongly opposed by the island’s inhabitants. “For the moment there are mostly women in Loran,” said the regional president of Sicily, “I was told that it will at some point likely be fully equipped, but for the moment it is a temporary holding centre.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

S.Craxi in Yemen, Support for Coastal Security

(ANSAmed) — SANAA, JANUARY 27 — Italy will continue to support Yemen in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and in managing the massive immigration by sea of refugees fleeing Somalia. The promise has come from Italy’s Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, Stefania Craxi, during a meeting today in Sanaa with the President of the Yemeni Republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The undersecretary also invited Yemen to take part in a coast guards’ conference of the ‘enlarged Mediterranean’’ which is being held in Genoa on May 6 and 7. ‘The Italian Government greatly appreciates the efforts Yemen is making on the road to strengthening its democratic institutions’’, Craxi said, ‘We are aware of the difficulties which it has to face in any case, above all in terms of security, given the closeness of the Somali coast’’. Italy’s coast guard completed a first mission to Yemen last week ahead of technological training of their Yemeni colleagues, for using the coastal control system VTS (Vessel traffic System), created by Italy’s Selex Sistema Integrati, which will be in operation over 450 kilometres of the Red Sea coast and the Gulf of Aden by 2009. President Saleh, in recalling ancient ties of friendship between the two countries, express his confidence that ‘Italy will also finance the second phase of the VTS project’’, which should make it possible to monitor the nearly 2,500 kilometres of the entire Yemeni coastline. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisians Repatriated From Lampedusa in 2 Month

(ANSAmed) — ROME — The Tunisians identified and held in the immigration centre on Lampedusa will be repatriated within the ‘‘maximum time’’ of two months, according to an agreement signed by Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni and his Tunisian counterpart Rafik Belhaj Kacem. Maroni, along with Police Chief Antonio Manganelli and a delegation of other officers from the Ministry of the Interior, met Minister Kacem yesterday in Tunis, to discuss the state of bilateral cooperation over immigration between Italy and Tunisia. The meeting led to an agreement on several specific points: an intensification in the fight against human trafficking and all forms of organised crime which exploit illegal immigration; the definition of a plan to simplify and speed up the procedures for identifying Tunisian immigrants in Italy’s identification and expulsion centres, and the gradual and consistent repatriation of those who have already been identified and are currently in the institutions on Lampedusa, within a maximum of two months; the commencement of support actions for Tunisia, as already laid out in the agreements which were signed since 1998, to prevent and fight illegal immigration. At the same time a project will be launched to provide incentives in assisted repatriation, using European funds and the support of international organisations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Toned-Down Atheist Bus Ad OK’d

Original message canned after religious protests

(ANSA) — Genoa, January 29 — Italian atheists have succeeded in getting an OK for a toned-down No God advert to be carried on Genoa buses next month.

The original message, canned after protests from Catholics and Muslims, was The Bad News Is God Doesn’t Exist, The Good News Is You Don’t Need Him.

The new message, OK’d by advertising licensing agency IGP Decaux, is: The Good News Is There Are Millions of Atheists In Italy; The Excellent News Is They Believe In Freedom Of Expression.

IGP Decaux said the message would be carried by a single bus in the northwestern Italian city, ‘‘probably’’ from the middle of February to the end of the month.

The secretary of the Italian Union of Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists (UAAR), Raffale Carcano, said the UAAR was working to get the original message approved in cities where IGP doesn’t control advertising.

‘‘We aren’t offended if someone writes that God exists,’’ Carcano said.

‘‘But the (Genoa) Curia demanded a halt to our bus and hailed its banning’’.

‘‘It would be nice to be able to run the campaign all over Italy,’’ he said, adding that a Facebook group in favour of the UAAR’s drive had drawn 4,000 members.

The Italian campaign follows similar ads in London, Barcelona and Washington where the slogan was: There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’’.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Economy: Trust Me — The Experts Here at Davos Don’t Know Either

Steer clear of economic forecasts — but remember that things are unlikely to be as bad as the doom-mongers say

According to a survey that greeted the 2,000 captains of industry, Nobel laureate economists and heads of government arriving in Davos for the World Economic Forum, confidence among them has “plummeted” and hopes of an economic recovery have “evaporated” in the past four months. Only 21 per cent of corporate leaders now expect their businesses will improve significantly (down from 50 per cent a year ago) and most of them hope for nothing better than a slow and feeble recovery over the next three years.

The good news is that captains of industry, Nobel laureate economists and heads of government are usually wrong about the future. Like the cover stories of Time or Business Week, “the view from Davos” is one of the more reliable “contrary indicators” of what will happen.

The reason why magazine covers and surveys of elite opinion are so often wrong is not because magazine editors and business leaders are stupid or irresponsible. On the contrary, these people are intelligent and responsible enough not to put a story on their covers or to express a strong opinion until they are sure it is right. And by the time all these distinguished people are sure enough about a trend to create an almost unanimous elite consensus, the chances are that almost everybody in the world has also recognised and acted on this trend — and therefore the trend does not have much farther to run.

It is a cliché of financial markets that the four most expensive words in the English language are “this time it’s different”. In every speculative mania, optimistic investors convince themselves that they have discovered some new magic ingredient that will make the current boom more durable than previous boom-bust cycles. And every time they turn out to be wrong.

But cynics who ridicule the gullibility of bullish investors forget that exactly same thing happens on the way down. Just as in every boom the bulls proclaim that “this time it’s different” so in every slump the pessimists insist that the world faces unprecedented disaster and that this time the recession will not be followed by recovery, as it always has before.

And in a sense the pessimists are right — every recession and financial crisis really are different. This time, the driving force is an unprecedented credit crunch. In the 1990s it was the hangover from German reunification and the expulsion of Britain, Italy and Sweden from the European Monetary System; in the 1980s it was 20 per cent interest rates and a one-day fall in share prices which, according to statistical models, should only have occurred once in a billion years; in the 1970s it was the break-up of the Bretton Woods currency system, closely followed by an oil shock and inflation that nobody imagined possible.

After each of these unthinkable disasters, the prophets of doom declared that capitalism was finished, that markets would never recover and this was the biggest crisis since the Great Depression. Yet every time the world economy recovered and capitalism survived. A lovely illustration of this syndrome was brought to my attention this week.

Denis Gartmann, a prominent US investment adviser, quoted an academic friend who had studied media reports of the US recession of the 1990s. This was a selection of comments from the US press in early 1991: “There is no question that this is the worst economic time since the Great Depression”; “Forecasts for a weak recovery in 1992 suggest the period since 1990 will be the worst for the economy since the Great Depression”; “This recession is hitting white-collar workers more heavily than any since the Great Depression of the 1930s.” And so on.

Most of these comments were published near the low point of the 1990-91 recession — a recession that, far from being the deepest and longest since the 1930s, turned out to be the shallowest and shortest to date.

This is not to deny that many features of the present crisis really are worse than ever before. The collapse of global finance triggered by the Lehman bankruptcy really was the greatest banking crisis in history and the fall in output triggered by this financial panic really has been the steepest since 1981.

The upshot is that world economy does now face the greatest deflationary pressures since the 1930s. But against these deflationary forces some equally unprecedented expansionary forces are arrayed: the lowest interest rates in history; the fastest fall in oil and commodity prices; the biggest peacetime public works programmes; and, most importantly, a willingness and ability by governments to print money and support their financial systems with open-ended guarantees.

So what can we say about the outcome of this tug-of-war between the forces of expansion or deflation? Only one thing for certain: no economic forecaster will predict what happens in the next year correctly, except by chance. This is not because economists are stupid, but because computer models they use are based on past experience — and at a time of unprecedented upheavals, computer forecasts are of no use.

Does this mean that all economics is useless? Not at all. But it does mean that we should not trust any quantitative forecasts produced by computers and return instead to qualitative reasoning about society and human nature. This is how the word economics was understood by Adam Smith, Joseph Schumpeter and Maynard Keynes and why the subject was called “political economy”. These great economists never claimed to be able to predict the future. What they tried to do instead was to shed light on the social processes and political and psychological pressures that lead to the creation or destruction of wealth.

These qualitative economic theories tell us that the creative force of the profit motive, backed by the expansionary power of ultra-low interest rates and government deficit spending, will eventually prevail.

But political economy cannot tell us exactly when or how. It cannot tell us, for example, whether Britain and America will suffer more than continental Europe, as several of the spurious computer forecasts are suggesting — or whether the Anglo-Saxon economies will, as I believe, recover sooner because of their more flexible markets and policies. Neither can it predict what new industries and jobs will be created by market forces to fill the vacuum left behind by the demise of leveraged finance in the City of London and New York.

The masters of political economy should, however, leave us confident that in a capitalist system “something will turn up”, as Mr Micawber put it — a much more reasonable expectation, in a market economy, than most people realise. And pretty soon what will turn up will be the world economy. Followed, a year or so too late, by the “view from Davos”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Economic Meltdown Excuse for ‘New World’

Leaders at global forum see money crisis as chance to expand government control

NEW YORK — A call to utilize the current global economic crisis as a panic in which governments worldwide can move to nationalize banks is emerging from the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, told CNN yesterday the current global economic slowdown is a “transformational crisis” that should be utilized to shape a “new world.”

“Above all else this is a crisis of confidence,” Schwab said. “To restore confidence you have to establish signposts that the world after the crisis will be different. We have to create a new world and that is what Davos 2009 will be all about — serving society.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Tremonti’s ‘Legal Standard’ Plan

As G8 president, Italy proposes plan for tighter rules

(ANSA) — Davos, January 29 — Italy’s priority for its Group of Eight presidency will be tackling the global market turmoil through a set of international standards, Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti said on Thursday.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tremonti returned to the idea of a ‘legal standard’, which he launched at the start of the year when Rome became G8 president. ‘‘More regulation, rather than more capital, is the only way out of this financial anarchy,’’ said the minister.

‘‘We need more rules and more coordination’’. The minister has discussed his idea of a new ‘‘legal standard’’ on several occasions. It would comprise a series of rules and guidelines, mainly based on existing agreements under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The minister has suggested that voluntary and binding codes would be monitored through tools such as peer review, naming and shaming, and black listing.

According to Italy’s website for the G8 presidency, Rome ‘‘plans to put forward a proposal for the establishment of an international ethical legal standard with which all countries will be bound to comply. ‘‘Such a method will make it possible to establish as convergent a network as possible of legal systems governing financial affairs, in order to safeguard savers and citizens’’. But Tremonti also stressed Italy’s commitment to liaising between the world’s eight richest nations and the Group of 20, which includes leading developing nations. ‘‘The G8 is honestly too small, although the G20 is still too unbalanced, for example between Africa and Latin America,’’ Tremonti said. ‘‘Our plan is to cooperate with the G20’’.

The G20 comprises the G8 plus Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey and the European Union. The minister made his remarks two weeks ahead of a Rome meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s seven richest economies.

Britain will host the second G20 summit in spring, while the G8 meeting will take place on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena in July.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Czechmade said...

Bad news for Afonso - "only 1% Czechs scared of Germany". Imagine 5% - 10% Germans scared of Germany and you get the newest news:

"Germans more scared of Germany than Czechs".

no2liberals said...

Another report on the Russian military from the Moscow Times,
on an outbreak of pneumonia.

Also, here's a video with the Russian soldier that deserted.

Afonso Henriques said...

Deserted? Hm...

And that is bad news to the Germans, not to me ;)