Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/19/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/19/2009Once again we present an abbreviated version of the news feed, since our email is still down. Today everything had to come in by skype, or we had to find it ourselves. Dymphna did the bulk of the work, digging through the news sites like a wino through a dumpster…

Thanks to Fausta, Frontinus, Henrik, Holger Danske, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Dow Ends at Lowest Close in More Than 6 Years
Obama Stimulus Saves Microsoft Billionaire Hundreds of Millions
While New York Bleeds, Washington Thrives
A Federal Appeals Court Has Blocked the Release Into the US of a Small Band of Chinese Muslims Held at the US Military Prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
CAIR: Penn. Muslim Students Allowed to Wear Kaffiyehs
Islamist Running for Virginia Delegate Seat
Muslims Protest School Mascot Names
Muslim Community Knew of Hassan’s Abuse
Prosecutor Argues That Judge is Wrong in Terror Ruling
Santorum Ignorantly Refers to Language of Qur’an as ‘Islamic.’
Stanford Found in Virginia
Suspect ‘Almost in Shock’ Over Wife’s Beheading
Terror Training Camps on American Soil
U.S. Begins Third Effort to Convict 6 in Terror Case
Europe and the EU
Britain: Muslim Cleric Receives Court Compensation
Czech President Compares EU to Soviet Union
Greece: “More and Strenuous Efforts Are Needed to Protect Minority Rights” Says Commissioner Hammarberg
Tariq Ramadan: the Liberals’ Favourite Muslim
Kosovo: UN Mission Head Meets Serbian Leader
North Africa
Morocco: Rights Group Demands to Know Activist’s Fate
Syria: Jailed Rights Activist Welcomes Release of Egyptian Dissident
Middle East
Are There Prospects for Peace With Islam?
Iraq: Shoe-Thrower’s Trial Adjourned
Saudi Arabia: Imam Forbids Alcohol to be Used as Fuel Substitute
‘Turkish Nationals Can Visit EU Countries Without Visas’
UAE: Israeli Tennis Player Granted Visa to Play in Tournament
South Asia
Academic ‘Pinpoints Bin Laden’
Afghanistan: Italian Minister Floats Greater Role for Iran
Indonesia: President Invites Obama to Visit
Pakistani Woman Watches Taliban Take Over Town She Loves
Pakistan: Child Poet Takes on the Taliban
Far East
Beijing Blanketed by Snow After China Seeds Clouds to Beat Drought
Sub-Saharan Africa
Somalia: Italian Nuns Freed by Kidnappers
Latin America
Missing Stanford and His Destructive Path
Italy: 300 Illegal Immigrants Transferred From Lampedusa After Riot
Exclusive: Bizarre Love Triangle — U.S., Russia, and the Arctic’s Untapped Resources
New Atlas Shows Dying Languages Around the World
Vatican Study Shows How Sexes Differ on the Seven Deadly Sins

Financial Crisis

Dow Ends at Lowest Close in More Than 6 Years

An important psychological barrier gave way on Wall Street Thursday as the Dow Jones industrials fell to their lowest level in more than six years.

The Dow broke through a bottom reached in November, pulled down by a steep drop in key financial shares. It was the lowest close for the Dow since Oct. 9, 2002, when the last bear market bottomed out.

The blue chips’ latest slide dashed hopes that the doldrums of November would mark the ending point of a long slump in the market, which is now nearly halfway below the peak levels reached in October 2007.

The market’s inability to rally signals that investors see no immediate end for the recession, which is already 14 months old and one of the most severe in decades. Investors also haven’t been impressed with two major economic initiatives from the Obama administration this week, an economic stimulus package and a mortgage relief plan…

[rest of story at URL]

[Return to headlines]

Obama Stimulus Saves Microsoft Billionaire Hundreds of Millions

by Nicholas Carlson

(See Also: Sir Allen Stanford’s Circle of Friends)

Billionaire Paul Allen is a Microsoft cofounder, the owner of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the owner of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers.

And, thanks to the stimulus bill President Obama signed this week, he’s also about to be as much as a billion dollars richer.

Here’s how:

Allen owns a majority stake in cable provider Charter Communications.

Charter Communications this month said it would reduce its debt load by $8 billion and enter Chapter 11.

Normally, partners at a firm like Charter Communications would have to pay taxes on the amount of debt forgiven in this process, which is, in a sense a one-time income windfall. Tax law calls it a “deemed distribution.”

But under the new bill, companies like Charter Communications will be able to avoid paying taxes on forgiven debt until 2014. Even then, Paul will have until 2018 to pay it completely off.

Paul owns about half of Charter, so his share of the Charter Commuincations’ $8 billion debt forgiveness is around $4 billion. At a tax rate of 25%, Allen could avoid paying as much as $1 billion in taxes until 2014, tax expert Robert Willens told the WSJ.

Not clear how a corporate tax benefit would be passed through to Paul’s personal tax payments? A reader informs us:

“It’s not a ‘corporate tax’ since it’s a partnership rather than a corporation. The partners pay tax on their share of a partnerships income, which is why partnerships are referred to as “pass-through” entities.”

For what it’s worth, one of Paul’s representatives told the WSJ the billionaire didn’t lobby for the windfall. It just fell into his lap, lucky dog.

So what will Paul do with that money until 2014? Invest it in technology that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and creates new “green collar” jobs for America, per the goals of Obama’s stimulus plan, of course.

Or maybe Paul could buy a new boat!

[go to URL to see photos of the two he already owns]

[Return to headlines]

While New York Bleeds, Washington Thrives

by Peter Coy

Look out, New York. Washington is gaining on you.

As the nation’s most populous metro area feels Wall Street’s pain, the fourth-largest-Washington-is barely sensing the recession. In fact, Moody’s estimates that metro Washington’s economy will actually grow 2.5% from mid-2008 through mid-2010. New York’s economy is expected to shrink 4.2%.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Washington benefited from a national crisis. Back in 1930 the District of Columbia was a quiet Southern town, scoffed at by New York sophisticates. But as the federal government ramped up to fight first the Great Depression and then World War II, its population grew 65% in two decades, vs. just 14% for New York City.

This time Washington is getting a boost from government spending to fight the recession and fix the financial system, as well as the ongoing expenses of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promoting homeland security. While President Barack Obama pointedly left Washington for Denver to sign the $787 billion stimulus package on Feb. 17, locals expect the metro area to garner a big share of the dollars.

Where Home Sales Rise

“Oversight alone will [mean] tons of new jobs,” enthuses Jill Landsman, a spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Assn. of Realtors, who says the pace of home sales has picked up over the past year even as prices have continued to fall.

Job-seeking Wall Streeters who jump on Amtrak’s Acela to Washington may be dismayed to find that the maximum pay for an FDIC bank review examiner is close to $180,000. That’s great for most folks, but paltry next to the bonus-swelled compensation many bankers are used to. The pay can be a lot better, though, at the Beltway Bandit consulting firms that are ramping up to assist the FDIC, Treasury Dept., and others. Consulting jobs for senior specialists in finance “can pay north of $200 an hour,” says Andrew Reina, a practice director for risk consultant Ajilon Solutions.

Companies such as Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC (SAI), and Booz Allen Hamilton employ tens of thousands of people in the Washington area and continue to expand. Even before the current crisis, professional and business services, which include private-sector lawyers, accountants, engineers, and consultants, made up 21% of metro Washington’s annual economic output, even more than the 20% made up by government itself, according to a BusinessWeek estimate based on government data. The financial crisis “creates opportunities for companies like ours” to provide expert assistance, says David Booth, Computer Sciences Corp.’s president of global sales and marketing.

The New Talent Magnet

By at least one measure, it’s Washington rather than New York that’s attracting the best and brightest these days: According to George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, metro Washington leads the nation in the share of jobs that are in high-tech and the share of workers with advanced degrees.


Adds Moody’s economist Marisa Di Natale: “New York, we think, is going to have a pretty severe recession.”

In one measure of how dire things have gotten for New York’s finance sector, Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Feb. 18 announced a $45 million plan to retrain investment bankers, traders, and others who have lost jobs on Wall Street. The money will also provide startup money and office space for new businesses by the former Wall Streeters. According to The New York Times, city officials expect New York to lose 65,000 jobs in finance during this recession, and not gain them back any time soon.

“We say good luck to the people in New York. We know they’re going through some tough times,” says Arnold Punaro, general manager of SAIC’s Washington operations.

Then again, there is one resource that New York has in abundance, and that’s self-confidence. Regional Plan Assn. President Robert Yaro, whose nonprofit organization coordinates planning in a 31-county area, says New York has been declared dead over and over since the 1880s, but always springs back.

“The fundamental strength,” says Yaro, “is that every 24-year-old in America and the world wants to be here. Because every other place seems kind of sleepy.”

[Return to headlines]


A Federal Appeals Court Has Blocked the Release Into the US of a Small Band of Chinese Muslims Held at the US Military Prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a lower court ruling that ordered the transfer.

The 17 Chinese Muslims, all Uygurs, have been held since 2002. In October a federal judge ordered the men released into the US after the Government presented no evidence to justify their imprisonment. The Government no longer considers the Uygurs to be enemy combatants and has been trying to find other countries to accept them for years. Australia has twice refused requests to resettle them, most recently in January.

The Uygurs and scores of others are challenging their imprisonment in a federal lawsuit under the legal doctrine of habeas corpus.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

CAIR: Penn. Muslim Students Allowed to Wear Kaffiyehs

Students initially barred from high school to ‘diffuse [sic] tension’

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group said today that two Muslim high school students in Pennsylvania will now be allowed to wear kaffiyehs, a checkered scarf worn by many men in the Middle East.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said the students at Gateway High School in Monroeville, Penn., were sent home yesterday after refusing to remove their kaffiyehs.

In a meeting this morning with the parents of one of the students and a representative of CAIR’s Pittsburgh chapter, the school’s principal agreed to allow the kaffiyehs. He reportedly said his initial ban on the scarves was an attempt to “diffuse [sic] tension” between Jewish and Muslim students. The Muslim students say they suffered verbal abuse after another student at the school published a commentary falsely claiming the scarves are “hate” clothing.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Islamist Running for Virginia Delegate Seat

It’s none other than Esam Omeish, who resigned in 2007 from Virginia’s Commission on Immigration—where he had been appointed by Governor Tim Kaine—after details emerged about his calls to jihad against Israel, not to mention his leadership of the Muslim American Society—a group that has been called an American front for the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement. For the uninitiated, the Muslim Brotherhood—founded in Egypt—serves as inspiration to Hamas (which evolved from the M.B.) and Al Qaeda.

I covered the Omeish controversy back in ‘07 for CBN News, and had the chance to interview him. You can watch the story here.

Here is Omeish’s homepage for his delegate race. Pretty slick. And here’s more on his political aspirations in Virginia, from Northern Virginia Daily…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Muslims Protest School Mascot Names

(PRNewswire-USNewswire) — The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) today called on state legislators to end the use of race-based or offensive names for schools, teams or mascots by supporting the Anti-Discriminatory Mascot Bill.

In a statement, CAIR-OK Executive Director Razi Hashmi said: “We commend the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism (TICAR) for its leadership in introducing the Anti-Discriminatory Mascot Bill.”

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Muslim Community Knew of Hassan’s Abuse

Grand Jury will decide if he heads to trial

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — A grand jury will now decide whether the founder of Bridges TV will go to trial for the decapitation murder of his wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan.

“Everyone in the Muslim community was aware that she was indeed going through abuse,” said Attorney Nadia Shahram.”

Although not evident in family pictures, investigators say the 37-year-old mother endured abuse at the hands of her husband, Muzzammil Hassan.

Hassan is accused of beheading his wife last Thursday at Bridges TV in Orchard Park.

He walked into Orchard police headquarters and told them that his wife is dead. “Well, obviously that statement is part of the case and will be part of the proof the prosecution has,” said James Harrington, Hassan’s Defense Attorney.

Hassan founded Bridges TV following the 9/11 attacks against America. He wanted to dispel stereotypes about Muslims and to bridge cultures.

“We have to make sure act of one Muslim does not create any doubt on the religion of Islam,” said Shahram.

Shahram added, “This act has no roots in the religion of Islam. It’s just unfortunate that we have a bad practioner of Islam.”

Aasiyah had recently filed for divorce and got a court order of protection.

“Divorce means shame for Muslim woman,” said Shahram.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Prosecutor Argues That Judge is Wrong in Terror Ruling

by Steve Emerson

A federal prosecutor is challenging a judge’s order to provide internal, behind-the-scenes communication by the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s offices regarding a 2006 guilty plea by Sami Al-Arian. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled February 5th that prosecutors need to disclose information about their strategy during negotiations with Al-Arian’s attorneys. Al-Arian pleaded guilty to providing goods and services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Brinkema said she needs to review the material before deciding whether Al-Arian can fight criminal contempt charges by saying he merely followed the advice of counsel. Al-Arian has repeatedly defied subpoenas to testify before a northern Virginia grand jury investigating terror financing by a group with which he previously worked. He insists terms in his guilty plea absolve him of ever providing any information to the government, be it voluntary or compelled.

His trial is scheduled for March 9th. The information the judge seeks is already in the record, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg argued in a motion filed February 11th. In addition, the material Brinkema wants is privileged.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Santorum Ignorantly Refers to Language of Qur’an as ‘Islamic.’

Yesterday, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) delivered “a lecture on Islam” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Santorum argued that the American public knows too little about the Islamic faith, and to prove his point, he asked the students whether they knew the difference between Sunnis and Shias. Only three audience members raised their hands. He continued:

Santorum said he believes Muslims’ religious views cannot be changed or altered, so Middle Easterners reject American, democratic ideals.

“A democracy could not exist because Mohammed already made the perfect law,” Santorum said. “The Quran is perfect just the way it is, that’s why it is only written in Islamic.”

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Stanford Found in Virginia

FBI agents have served legal papers alleging a multibillion-dollar fraud on Sir Allen Stanford after the “missing” cricket tycoon was found driving in Virginia, US.

The entrepreneur had not been seen in public since being charged with frauds totalling £5.6 billion on Tuesday by regulators in the US.

But on Thursday night, authorities located a “very co-operative” Stanford in a car in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “He wasn’t hard to find,” a spokesman for the FBI said.

It ends two days of speculation over his whereabouts.

Reports had earlier suggested that he had tried to leave the US in a private jet. But authorities have been keen to stress that Stanford was not being seen as a fugitive on the run.

The papers served on him relate to civil court proceedings and as such he has not been placed under arrest and was not taken into custody.

But the tycoon has had his assets frozen and been placed under a temporary restraining order. It is also understood that he has agreed to hand in his passport.

According to US financial regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission, the tycoon is guilty of fraud “of a shocking magnitude” relating to a certificate of deposit scheme and a separate investment vehicle.

It follows a probe into Stanford and his firms, Stanford International Bank (SIB), Stanford Group Company and Stanford Capitol Management.

[Return to headlines]

Suspect ‘Almost in Shock’ Over Wife’s Beheading

Under arrest in his wife’s brutal death, Muzzammil Hassan is “almost in shock,” his attorney said Wednesday following a court appearance in Orchard Park.

“He’s having difficulty coping with this,” attorney James Harrington said.

Hassan, 44, appeared briefly in the Orchard Park courtroom Wednesday for the first official proceeding since he was arrested last week and charged with seconddegree murder. His wife, Aasiya, was found beheaded at the office of their business in the Village of Orchard Park.

Tall and stout in a tan suit, he was led into the courtroom in handcuffs, blinking through his glasses at the approximately two dozen people gathered.

Police had blocked off the street in front of the municipal building on South Buffalo Street and prevented attendees from taking cell phones, cameras or recorders into the courtroom.

During the brief felony hearing, Harrington waived the presentation of evidence, clearing the way for a grand jury proceeding.

“If and when he’s indicted, he’ll plead not guilty,” said Harrington, adding, “It’s too early to know what approach we’ll take, but we’re exploring everything.”

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Terror Training Camps on American Soil

by Robert Spencer

“We are fighting to destroy the enemy. We are dealing with evil at its roots and its roots are America.”

So said the Pakistani Sheikh Muburak Gilani, leader of the jihad terrorist group Jamaat ul-Fuqra. And the way that he and his organization are “dealing with evil at its roots” is to set up jihad terror training camps all over the United States — often under the noses of government and law enforcement officials who are either indifferent or too hamstrung by political correctness to do anything about it.

Sheikh Gilani is no shrinking violet, and Jamaat ul-Fuqra is a force to be reckoned with both in the United States and elsewhere. Journalist Daniel Pearl was on his way to interview Gilani when he was kidnapped and beheaded in 2002. The following year, a member of Jamaat ul-Fuqra, Iyman Faris, pled guilty to plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security included the group among “predicted possible sponsors of attacks” on American soil. And in 2006, the Department of Justice reported that Jamaat ul-Fuqra “has more than 35 suspected communes and more than 3,000 members spread across the United States, all in support of one goal: the purification of Islam through violence.” That means, of course, violence against unbelievers.

Yet despite the fact that Justice and the DHS are obviously aware of what is going on, Jamaat ul-Fuqra continues to operate, relatively unhindered, in the United States. A new documentary from the Christian Action Network, Homegrown Jihad: The Terrorist Camps Around the U.S., tells the whole shocking story. CAN spent two years visiting many of these Jamaat ul-Fuqra terror compounds, at great risk to network personnel. The documentary filmmakers dared to go inside these camps, cameras rolling, to ask compound leaders pointed questions about who they were and what they were doing.

The documentary reveals that these compounds are dedicated to the training of Muslims in terrorist activities. Most of these camps are tucked away in remote rural areas — Hancock, N.y., Red House, Va. — as far away from the watchful eye of law enforcement as possible. And what goes on in them is truly hair-raising: a training video that the network obtained shows American Muslims receiving training in how to fire AK-47 rifles and machine guns, and how to use rocket launchers, mortars, and explosives, as well as training in kidnapping, the murder of hostages, sabotage, and subversive operations.

Yet the State Department doesn’t include Jamaat ul-Fuqra on its Foreign Terrorist Organization Watch List. And so far the mainstream media’s reaction to the documentary has run from indifferent to hostile. CBS News ran a hit piece on the film last Wednesday, saying that “officials describe the film to CBS News as ‘sensationalistic’ and without any real foundation. According to one official, it is strictly designed to upset and inflame people and does not present a true picture of any so-called ‘homegrown Jihad’ danger. No current intelligence exists to suggest any threat connected with this group, which officials describe as ‘wannabes’ and not terrorists.”

No current intelligence? Someone should notify the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which currently has posted on its website a page about Jamaat ul-Fuqra.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

U.S. Begins Third Effort to Convict 6 in Terror Case

MIAMI — In the government’s third effort to convict six Miami men of planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago as part of an Islamic jihad, federal prosecutors Wednesday portrayed the group’s ringleader as a man obsessed with overthrowing the United States government.

In her opening argument, Assistant United States Attorney Jacqueline Arango told jurors that the ringleader, Narseal Batiste, was a “power-hungry vicious man who wanted to make his mark on the world.”

The prosecution has failed twice to convince juries that Mr. Batiste and his followers were serious supporters of terror, with both trials ending in hung juries.

Mr. Batiste and five co-defendants face four counts each, including conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and to wage war against the United States, or sedition. A seventh suspect, Lyglenson Lemorin, was acquitted after the first trial ended in December 2007.

Prosecutors said the government would show how the 34-year-old Mr. Batiste recruited the other five defendants to form a “paramilitary and cultlike group” that trained in martial arts and met in a ramshackle warehouse in an impoverished Miami neighborhood known as Liberty City.

It was there and at other locales in South Florida, Ms. Arango said, that an F.B.I. informant posing as a member of Al Qaeda met with Mr. Batiste and his followers to discuss providing money and weapons for his group in exchange for helping Al Qaeda carry out attacks in South Florida and elsewhere.

While posing as a member of Al Qaeda from Yemen, the informant also secretly videotaped the suspects taking an oath of allegiance to the terror group.

In a shift from the first two trials, Ms. Arango appeared to be trying to draw attention to Mr. Batiste’s admiration for a former Chicago gang leader, Jeff Fort, who in 1987 was convicted of conspiring with the Libyan government to carry out terrorist attacks on American soil.

Mr. Fort had been mentioned in the earlier trials, but not in opening arguments.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Britain: Muslim Cleric Receives Court Compensation

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada has been awarded 2,500 pounds (3,600 dollars) in compensation by the European Court of Human Rights. The court’s judges ruled on Thursday that his detention without trial in the United Kingdom under anti-terrorism laws had breached his human rights.

After his arrest last year, he was subjected to a domestic curfew and then detained in London’s Belmarsh high security prison.

On Wednesday, the upper house of the British parliament , sitting as Britain’s highest court, unanimously ruled that Abu Qatada could be deported from the UK to his native Jordan where he faces jail for terrorism.

Jordan’s justice minister, Ayman Awda, told Arab satellite TV network, Al-Jazeera, that Qatada has nothing to fear if he is deported home to Jordan.

The 48-year-old cleric, once described by a judge as ‘Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe’ is still in London’s Belmarsh prison. Britain’s interior ministry has long campaigned for Qatada’s deportation.

Qatada’s convictions in Jordan relate to an alleged conspiracy to bomb hotels in the capital Amman along with allegedly providing finance and advice for other plots.

“Like every accused, Qatada will receive a fair trial,” Awda said. “If his deportation has been delayed, it has been only because he is seeking legal recourse through the European Court of Human rights.”

Qatada has claimed that his conviction in Jordan was based on evidence extracted by torture.

Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised the Brtitish ruling, saying there was a real risk that Qatada would be tortured.

Qatada was first arrested in the wake of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States amid allegations that he was one of the most influential Islamist preachers in Europe.

The Jordanian father-of-five, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, claimed asylum when he arrived in Britain in September 1993 on a forged passport.

Qatada issued a 1995 fatwa or religious edict justifying the killing of converts from Islam, their wives and children in Algeria.

In a 1999 sermon he called for the killing of Jews and praised attacks on Americans. The same year, Qatada was convicted in his absence of planning terrorist attacks in Jordan.

[Return to headlines]

Czech President Compares EU to Soviet Union

The European Union has turned into an undemocratic and elitist project comparable to the Communist dictatorships of eastern Europe that forbade alternative thinking, Czech President Vaclav Klaus told the European Parliament on Thursday.


Klaus is known for deep skepticism of the EU and has refused to fly the EU flag over his official seat in Prague during the Czech presidency, saying the country is not an EU province.

He said current EU practices smacked of communist times when the Soviet Union controlled much of eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic and when dissent or even discussions were not tolerated.

“Not so long ago, in our part of Europe we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition,” said Klaus. “We learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom.”

He said the 27-nation bloc should concentrate on offering prosperity to Europeans, rather than closer political union, and scrap a stalled EU reform treaty that Irish voters have already rejected.

Klaus said that questioning deeper integration has become an “uncriticizable assumption that there is only one possible and correct future of the European integration.”

[rest of story at URL]

[Return to headlines]

Greece: “More and Strenuous Efforts Are Needed to Protect Minority Rights” Says Commissioner Hammarberg

Strasbourg, 19.02.2009 — “Effective protection of minority rights is a fundamental pillar of pluralist societies. Greece still needs to make more and strenuous efforts to ensure that these rights are fully respected and protected”. With these words Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, published today a report on human rights of minorities in Greece, focusing on issues relating to the right to freedom of association, statelessness and application of the Sharia Law.

While commending certain efforts made by the authorities in particular in the field of minority education in Thrace, the Commissioner remains deeply worried about the persistent denial of recognition of minorities other than the tripartite ‘Muslim’ one in western Thrace. The Commissioner also expresses his serious concerns by the over-restrictive practice of Greek courts that has led to non-registration of certain minority associations. “The authorities should urgently make possible the effective enjoyment by minority members of their right to freedom of association” said Thomas Hammarberg. “A consultative mechanism should also be created to ensure a continuous dialogue at all levels with minority groups, in accordance with the Council of Europe standards.”

The Commissioner also urges the authorities to complete promptly their efforts aimed at restoring the Greek nationality of those minority members who were deprived of it unlawfully by virtue of the former nationality code. “Particular care should be provided to those remained in Greece and who have limited financial resources to cover welfare and medical services” said the Commissioner. “As for the denationalised persons who are abroad, the authorities should consider the possibility of providing them, or their descendants, with satisfaction.”

Furthermore, Commissioner Hammarberg expresses serious concerns about the application of the Sharia Law concerning family and inheritance matters to Muslim Greek citizens in Thrace, by Muftis appointed by the Greek state. “Given the issues of incompatibility of this practice with European and international human rights standards, it is necessary to overhaul this practice and strengthen the substantive review and control by domestic courts of the Muftis’ judicial decisions.”

Finally, the Commissioner calls upon the Greek authorities to proceed promptly to the ratification of or accession to certain major Council of Europe treaties, such as the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Convention on Nationality and the Fourth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The report is based on the Commissioner’s visit to Greece on 8-10 December 2008. It is available, together with the Greek authorities’ comments, on the Commissioner’s website.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Tariq Ramadan: the Liberals’ Favourite Muslim

The post-modernist Muslim is worryingly short on ideas and tailors his message to different audiences, says Andrew Anthony

Although Koranic study and French post-modern theory may seem to be two very distinct modes of thought, they in fact share a common openness to multiple interpretations. At least, that’s the polite way of putting it. Some might say that they are both refuges for intellectual vagueness and evasion.

If so, then no one has benefited more from this particular conjunction of obscurantism than Tariq Ramadan, who brings a post-modernist sensibility to the business of discussing Islam.

The grandson of Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan is a senior research fellow at St Anthony’s College, Oxford, and president of the think tank European Muslim Network.

As such, he is often spoken of as a leading Muslim intellectual, a reformist who is able to move between the academic circuit, the clerical establishment (he’s been an ardent defender of the reactionary Sunni scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi) and the wider Muslim population with equal felicity.

But so far the size of his reputation comfortably outstrips the strength of his ideas. There are plenty of people who know who Ramadan is, but far fewer who know what he actually stands for.

And of those that do think they know, some believe that Ramadan tailors his message to different audiences — secular and Muslim — to such an extent that it amounts to deception…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]


Kosovo: UN Mission Head Meets Serbian Leader

The head of the outgoing United Nations mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Lamberto Zanier on Thursday met Serbian president Boris Tadic and other officials in Belgrade to discuss future cooperation.

Before the visit UNMIK spokesman in Pristina, Russel Giki, said Zanier would discuss with Serbian officials the implementation of the UN plan for Kosovo proposed by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

But after meeting Tadic (photo) and foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, Zanier evaded journalists and Tadic’s office issued a statement stating only Serbia’s position.

Ban’s plan, approved by the UN Security Council last November, grants a certain degree of autonomy to minority Serbs in the judiciary, police and customs, areas where they represent a majority, as well as the protection of Serbian heritage and freedom of movement.

Belgrade opposes Kosovo’s independence, declared by ethnic Albanians last year. But it has consented to UNMIK being replaced by the European Union mission (EULEX) after Ban’s plan was approved by the UN Security Council last November.

EULEX was deployed in Kosovo in December, but Belgrade has complained that the Ban’s plan wasn’t being implemented.

UNMIK took control over Kosovo in 1999, based on Security Council resolution 1244, which treats Kosovo as being officially a part of Serbia. UNMIK has meanwhile drastically reduced its presence in Kosovo, leaving only essential staff and has turned its competences to EULEX and the Kosovo government.

The UN general assembly last year approved a resolution backing Serbia’s demand to ask the International Court of Justice to take a position on Kosovo independence.

Belgrade political analyst Dusan Janjic said Zanier’s visit was important only because in some way it “keeps alive” the UN and Serbian presence in Kosovo.

[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Morocco: Rights Group Demands to Know Activist’s Fate

Human Rights Watch has called on Moroccan authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts of human rights activist, Chekib el-Khiari who has not been seen since he reported to the judicial police in Casablanca on Tuesday.

Early on Thursday, plainclothes police searched el-Khiari’s home in the city of Nador without a warrant and confiscated his computer and documents, family members said.

El-Khiari, 30, is president of the independent Human Rights Association of the Rif and has spoken out publicly on sensitive issues confronting this coastal region of northern Morocco, including illegal drug-trafficking and migration to Europe by Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans.

He also discussed major issues on a programme on Moroccan TV last month. El-Khiari often spoke publicly about the cultural rights of Morocco’s Amazigh (Berber) population.

“El-Khiari is a well-known and respected human rights activist in a region facing many challenges,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Authorities should comply with Moroccan law and disclose immediately where he is being held. They should also release him quickly unless they charge him with a recognisable offense.”

El-Khiari received the summons from the national bureau of the judicial police on 16 February in Nador but it did not state its purpose or relationship to any charge or investigation, HWR noted.

Morocco’s code of penal procedure allows the police, with the approval of the prosecutor’s office to place a person suspected of non-terrorist offences in detention for up to 72 hours. However, the police are required to inform the suspect’s family immediately.

El-Khiari’s relatives have heard nothing about his whereabouts, said Amine El-Khiari, Chekib’s younger brother.

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Syria: Jailed Rights Activist Welcomes Release of Egyptian Dissident

Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni has welcomed a decision by Egypt to free Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour after three years in prison. Al-Bunni, president of the Centre for Syrian Judicial Studies, spoke to Adnkronos International (AKI) from his prison cell inside Daraa prison.

He expressed the hope that other countries would follow Cairo’s example and appealed to Syria to review its policies.

“I hope that this step sends a signal for every country and all governments that violate human rights and freedom of expression and opinion, above all Syria,” Al-Bunni, a lawyer said. “Because I want them to rethink their own policies in this regard and adopt the necessary measures to put an end to these violations.”

Al-Bunni, Syria’s most prominent human rights activist, was arrested in May 2006. Nearly a year later he was jailed for five years for spreading hostile information and joining an illegal political group. He is also the spokesman for the National Centre for the Defence of Press and Journalists’ Freedom and several other rights groups.

Egyptian Ayman Nour was freed on Wednesday after pressure from the United States government, according to media reports. The reports said that Nour’s release took place less than a week after Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit visited Washington.

Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi claimed Nour’s release was been linked to a possible visit by president Hosni Mubarak to the US. The Washington Post daily alleges that US president Barack Obama asked for Nour’s liberation as a condition for Mubarak’s visit.

Egyptian authorities said Nour was released on health grounds, after three years of imprisonment on alleged forgery charges he claims were politically motivated.

The US welcomed Cairo’s decision to free the 44 year-old lawyer. Human Rights Watch however, asked the Egyptian authorities to show they were “turning over a new leaf by releasing all the peaceful dissidents they continue to detain unlawfully.”

Nour is Egypt’s best-known political dissident. The leader of the centrist, liberal al-Ghad party, he is thought to be the strongest challenger to authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak.Nour received 13 percent of the vote during Egypt’s first multi-party presidential elections in 2005 since Mubarak came to power in 1981 .

Mubarak won a fifth consecutive six-year term in office, with official results showing he won 88.6 percent of the votes cast.

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Middle East

Are There Prospects for Peace With Islam?

( Participants at the 2009 Jerusalem Conference, held late last month, were fortunate to have the opportunity to share a candid conversation with Professor Bernard Lewis, world-renowned expert on Islam, on the prospects for peace in the Middle East. The historian, a nonagenarian, was questioned by Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Below is a transcript of the talk, in which the professor explains that the Arab world must be seen in context of its religious heritage, rather than its ethnicity.

Dan Diker, Introduction: The region’s so crazy there are really more questions than answers. There are some that say there are no conflicts that can’t be solved, and there are others that don’t have answers. The first question that I have is, or that we have, as I am speaking on behalf of everyone here, is, what is going on in this recent conflict? You had three major Arab powers publicly condemning the Hamas. And in a way, silently expressing support for Israel. What’s going on with that, Bernard?

Bernard Lewis: I think what we are seeing is a recurrence of what one would call the Sadat bit. Let me remind you of what happened with Sadat. Sadat didn’t make peace with Israel because he was suddenly persuaded of the merits of the Zionist case. It for was a quite different reason. What drove Sadat towards peace was the growing awareness on his part and on the part of the Egyptians that Egypt was becoming a Soviet colony.

I was in Egypt during the late 60s and early 70s, and I saw for myself that the Soviet presence had become more obvious and to Egyptians more offensive than the British presence had been in the last phase of the British occupation of Egypt.

He tried to deal with it in other ways, through Washington but Washington responded with [an] agreement, which was in effect handing Egypt back to the Russians. They decided that Israel was less dangerous than the Soviets, which was true.

That is what led him to make peace and it has endured since—a peace that is at best cool and at times frosty, but it has held. What I think we are seeing now is a similar phenomenon.

The danger that they see this time is not the Soviet Union, which has disappeared, but the multiple dangers presented by Iran. This comes in many forms, one which you might call the Iranian Danger.

Iran, unlike most of the countries of this region, is a real nation with a history and a self-awareness going back not just centuries, but millennia, and it is quite prominent in Jewish history if you recall.

We have two images of Iran in the Jewish memory, one typified by Haman and the other by Cyrus. Both are visible at the present time, though Haman seems to be dominant.

Let me come back to my point. Iran is once again stretching out westward and eastward. Eastward to Pakistan, and across the Middle East towards the Mediterranean. This comes in several forms, one of them I just mentioned, it’s what you might call the Iranian imperial.

The second is the Shi’ite threat. Islam almost since its beginning has been divided into two major sectarian groups, the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. The Sunnis are the overwhelming majority and in countries where there are only Sunnis and no Shi’ites the differences are unimportant and they are hardly aware of it.

Where it is important is where Sunni and Shi’ite meet, particularly in countries where you have Sunni dominance over Shi’ite population, a situation for which I would borrow a word from Irish history and call it a Sunni ascendancy. The most notable is Iraq.

Iraq has had a Shi’ite majority as far back as we can trace the history. And it has remained under the rule of the Sunni minority through ancient times, medieval times, Ottoman times, under the British, under the various rules. Only now for the first time is there a Shi’ite majority government in Iraq. And the links with Iran are obviously a matter of concern.

Going beyond Iraq, there are significant Shi’ite populations in Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in that region.

Now for the first time in many centuries, they see Shi’itism as a serious threat, a mortal threat to the Sunni ascendancy which has prevailed since time immemorial. What makes this threat even worse is that it is linked with what one might call the Iranian Revolutionary Regime.

The word revolution is much used in the Middle East but most regimes that call themselves revolutionary could be better described by the French term ‘coup d’etat’ or the German ‘putsch’, English history happily provides no equivalent.

The Iranian revolution is a genuine revolution resembling in some ways the French and the Russian revolution — the struggle between modernists and extremists, the terror, the vast impact on the world which they share, common universal discourse. And now, I think, they are following the French model, the Russian model. You might say that the Iranian revolution is entering the “Napoleonic” or the “Stalinist” phase…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Shoe-Thrower’s Trial Adjourned

The trial of an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former United States president George W. Bush has been adjourned until March. Muntadar al-Zaidi is charged with assaulting a foreign leader and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years, but says he confident he will be acquitted.

In his first appearance in court on Thursday, al-Zaidi wore an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders. It was his first appearance in court since his arrest, and he was met by applause, ululating and chanting.

Dozens of Iraqis reportedly gathered outside the courthouse to show solidarity with al-Zaidi, whose gesture against Bush (photo) last December during a farewell press conference made him a hero in the Arab world and a symbol of disrespect for protesters in Europe.

Al-Zaidi says he has confidence in the Iraqi judicial system and that he will be acquitted, the Voices of Iraq news agency reported. Several journalists in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, who were interviewed by VOI said they were sure he would be cleared.

Al-Zaidi’s lawyers argue he was simply expressing his views in a country where passions are still inflamed after the US-led invasion in 2003.

During his court appearance, Zaidi requested two more lawyers to be added to his already huge defence team, and the judge ordered a short break to consider the request.

The judge later adjourned the trial until March 12, saying the court needs time to ask the Iraqi cabinet whether Bush’s visit was “formal or informal”, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Zaidi stands by what he had done and would not be offering any apologies to Bush, according to his defence.

The trial is not expected to last long, as the sequence of events, captured on TV is not in dispute.

Zaidi threw first one of his shoes then the other at Bush during a press conference in Baghdad on 15 December. He shouted that Bush was “a dog” and the shoes were “a farewell kiss” from those who had been killed, orphaned or widowed in Iraq.

Bush artfully ducked both shoes and appeared untroubled by the incident, joking shortly after that he knew they were a size 10. He is not known to have asked for al-Zaidi to be pardoned.

Zaidi was arrested immediately and has been held in custody ever since, where his relatives allege he has been ill-treated.

His actions were condemned by the Iraqi government as “shameful”.

He had been due to go on trial last December, but his trial was postponed.

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Saudi Scholar Warns Alcohol in Bio Fuel is a Sin

Sheikh advises ethanol bio fuel use prohibited by Islam

A prominent Saudi scholar warned youths studying abroad of using ethanol or other fuel that contains alcohol in their cars since they could be committing a sin, local press reported Thursday.

Sheikh Mohamed Al-Najimi, member of the Saudi Islamic Jurisprudence Academy, based his statement on a saying by the prophet that prohibited all kinds of dealings with alcohol including buying, selling, carrying, serving, drinking, and manufacturing, the Saudi newspaper Shams reported Thursday.

Saudi and Muslim youth studying abroad would violate the prohibition if they used bio fuel, he said, since it “is basically made up of alcohol.”

Majimi stressed that his statement should not be considered an official fatwa, but is rather a personal opinion. He noted that this is an important issue that needs to be studied by the relevant religious bodies.

Bio fuel is becoming increasingly popular in the West for its relatively low price and as an environmentally-friendly source of energy..

In the past few years, millions of organic-fuel cars have been manufactured in Europe, the United States, Brazil, China, and India.

Bio fuel is derived from recently dead biological material. Bio fuel is manufactured by growing plants that are high in sugar, like sugar cane or sugar beet, or high in starch, like maize. The sugar or starch is then converted into cellular energy by using yeast fermentation to produce ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, which is also found in alcoholic beverages.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Imam Forbids Alcohol to be Used as Fuel Substitute

A Saudi imam has issued a fatwa or religious edict, banning the use of alcohol as a fuel substitute for petrol. “I warn Saudi students that live abroad not to use alcohol as a cheap substitute for petrol, because the prophet has cursed not only who drinks it but also those who use it for other purposes,” said the Saudi imam Mohammed al-Najimi, quoted by Saudi daily, Shams.

“The prophet has cursed whoever uses alcohol, not only for drinking but also other purposes.”

Al-Najimi, who is also a member of the Saudi Islamic jurists, said that using alcohol falls within the ‘jurisdiction’ of what Islam’s prophet Mohammed said.

“For this reason, I warn Saudis who live abroad and who use alcohol instead of petrol that this case is related and falls within the parameters of what the prophet said.”

The Saudi daily claims that many students and researchers who live in western countries use alcohol as an alternative source of fuel, because it is cheaper, pollutes less and many automobiles lately have been made to run with alcohol.

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‘Turkish Nationals Can Visit EU Countries Without Visas’

LUXEMBOURG — The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday that visas should not be required from Turkish nationals planning to enter the European Union (EU) member states to provide service.

In a decision sent to a German court, the ECJ said that the EU can not require visas from Turkish nationals based on Article 41 of an Additional Protocol signed by Turkey and the European Economic Community on November 23, 1970.

A Turkish lorry driver, Mehmet Soysal, filed a case with a Berlin State court in 2007 asking for the cancellation of a visa requirement from Turks.

The Berlin court then asked the ECJ to rule on whether Article 41 of the Additional Protocol could be applied to Germany’s demands of Schengen visas from Turkish drivers working internationally.

The German court also requested from the ECJ, in the case the ECJ ruled that visas may not be required from Turkish lorry drivers, to explain if the decision entitles all Turks to enter Germany without visas.

ECJ said, “at the time of the entry into force of the Additional Protocol with regard to the Federal Republic of Germany, namely 1 January 1973, Turkish nationals such as the appellants in the main proceedings, engaged in the provision of services in Germany in the international transport of goods by road on behalf of a Turkish undertaking, had the right to enter German territory for those purposes without first having to obtain a visa.”

ECJ ruled, “In the light of all the foregoing considerations, the answer to the questions referred is that Article 41(1) of the Additional Protocol is to be interpreted as meaning that it precludes the introduction, as from the entry into force of that protocol, of a requirement that Turkish nationals such as the appellants in the main proceedings must have a visa to enter the territory of a Member State in order to provide services there on behalf of an undertaking established in Turkey, since, on that date, such a visa was not required.”

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske[Return to headlines]

UAE: Israeli Tennis Player Granted Visa to Play in Tournament

The United Arab Emirates on Thursday decided to grant Israeli tennis player Andy Ram a “special entry permit” to allow him to play in the men’s draw of the Dubai Tennis Championships next week. The UAE’s ministry of foreign affairs approved the visa after a row erupted over the country’s refusal to grant a visa for Israeli female tennis player Shahar Peer.

“The decision to issue the permit (for Ram) is in line with the UAE’s commitment to a policy of permitting any individual to take part in international sports, cultural and economic events or activities being held in the country, without any limitation being placed on participation by citizens of any member country of the United Nations,” said Sultan al-Qertasi, director of the ministry’s consular affairs department.

The UAE has no diplomatic relations with Israel. However, al-Qertasi said that granting the visa did not require a normalisation of ties between both countries.

“This is a well-established policy and has no political implications. Nor does this decision indicate any form of normalisation of relations with countries with whom the United Arab Emirates does not have diplomatic relations.”

Last week, tournament organisers refused a visa for Israeli female player Shahar Peer, citing concerns for her safety after Israel’s recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE’s refusal to grant a visa to Peer generated widespread protests both from players and executives from the Women’s Tennis Association and fuelled speculation that the Dubai tournament may be cancelled next year.

The men’s draw is due to begin on 23 February. Ram is ranked 11 in the world in the men’s doubles.

Ram, born in Uruguay, immigrated to Israel when he was five-years-old and turned professional in 1998. He currently lives in Jerusalem.

Israel’s recent military operation in the Gaza Strip provoked outrage across the Arab world and sparked worldwide protests against Israel.

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South Asia

Academic ‘Pinpoints Bin Laden’

A Californian geography professor claims to have pinpointed three houses in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden could be hiding.

Thomas Gillespie, at the University of California in Los Angeles, used techniques for hunting endangered species, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Using patterns of how animal species spread, the world’s most wanted terrorist could be tracked down to a town in the tribal region of North West Pakistan, he claimed.

By factoring in his need for security, electricity, high ceilings to accommodate his 6ft 4in frame and spare rooms for his bodyguards, the search was narrowed to three walled compounds.

Mathematical models used to explain how animal species spread out say he should be close to where he was last spotted.

Their research published in MIT International Review also concluded he should also be in a large town with a similar culture to Afghanistan where he can remain largely anonymous.

The most likely candidate was Parachinar, 12 miles inside Pakistan, which housed many mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Finally after looking at his need for electricity for dialysis, high walls, spare rooms for his entourage, and trees to hide from prying eyes, satellite pictures show just three suitable houses.

“We believe that our work involves the first scientific approach to establishing his current location,” the research concluded.

But Kim Rossmo of Texas State University, who has worked with the military to find terrorists, said: “The idea of identifying three buildings in a city of half a million especially one in a country the authors have likely never visited is somewhat overconfident.”

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Afghanistan: Italian Minister Floats Greater Role for Iran

Italian foreign affairs minister Franco Frattini discussed a greater role for Iran in the stabilisation of Afghanistan in talks with new US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, on Thursday. The two leaders had a lengthy telephone conversation on how to ensure peace and security in Afghanistan to counter a resurgent Taliban.

The Italian foreign minister stressed in a “clear and unambiguous” message that stability cannot be reached exclusively with military means and discussed the need for greater regional diplomacy and support.

Italy intends to reinforce that message during its current role in the rotating presidency of the Group of Eight nations during 2009.

The foreign affairs minister also spoke of the need for a greater commitment to reconstruction and cooperative efforts for the country’s development.

As president of the G8 this year, Italy is organising a conference on the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the northern Italian city of Trieste at the end of June.

Holbrooke said he would convey Frattini’s views to the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, whom Italy’s foreign minister is expected to meet soon.

Frattini said in Herat on Tuesday that it was essential to find a way for Iran to become a “positive interlocutor”.

The US general in charge of the war in Afghanistan on Wednesday predicted a tough year ahead despite the transfer of 17,000 extra US troops due to arrive in the south of the country.

Army general David McKiernan said the US would need to be heavily committed for years to Afghanistan, where insurgent violence has increased to its highest levels since US-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.

McKiernan said he was delighted by president Barack Obama’s decision to send extra troops to Afghanistan but warned that their mission would be difficult.

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Indonesia: President Invites Obama to Visit

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has re-extended an invitation to his US counterpart Barack Obama to visit Indonesia. He made the invitation through US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a presidential spokesman said Thursday.

Presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said that Yudhoyono (photo) has again invite Obama to visit the Indonesia, where he spent four years as a child.

“The president has extended the invitation through the Secretary of State. The official invitation was already extended through a phone call with President Obama in December,” he told journalists, after a meeting between Yudhoyono and Clinton.

Dino said Yudhoyono was hoping that Obama would be able to make the visit before the APEC Summit in Singapore by the end of the year.

Earlier on Thursday Yudhoyono held a 45-minute closed-door meeting with Clinton at his office.

During the meeting, the president was accompanied by acting coordinating minister for economic affairs Sri Mulyani, coordinating Minister for the People’s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie, state secretary Hatta Rajasa, and cabinet secretary Sudi Silalahi.

Clinton who is on a two-day visit in Indonesia came to the presidential office with a large group of US security officers, State Department officials, US embassy staff and a number of US journalists.

On Thursday she relentlessly hammered home the Obama administration’s message that America is under new management and ready to listen and engage the world.

She also made clear that Washington wants to address Muslim concerns about U.S. policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Although most of Indonesia’s 190 million Muslims practise a moderate form of the faith, public anger ran high over US policy in the Middle East and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan during the presidency of George W. Bush, fueling a small but increasingly vocal fundamentalist fringe.

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Pakistani Woman Watches Taliban Take Over Town She Loves

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) — Gul Bibi and her three children fled the Taliban’s bloody interpretation of Islamic law in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, hoping one day to return.

But now that the Pakistani government has recognized Taliban rule in the region in exchange for a temporary cease-fire, she said those hopes have been dashed.

She warned that the government’s deal with the Taliban will have worldwide implications.

“The whole point is, if it’s not contained to Swat, it’s going to spill all over in Pakistan and the West also doesn’t realize the seriousness of the situation,” Bibi said. “Probably your next 9/11 is going to be from Swat.” Watch Gul Bibi talk about Taliban threat "

The chief minister of North West Frontier Province announced on Monday that the Pakistani government will recognize the Taliban’s interpretation of strict Islamic law, or sharia. The Taliban’s interpretation of sharia has included banning girls from school, forcing women inside and outlawing forms of entertainment.

This form of Islamic law is already in effect in parts of North West Frontier Province where the Taliban have control — including Swat, which is located about 100 miles northwest of Islamabad.

           — Hat tip: Henrik[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Child Poet Takes on the Taliban

Tuba Sahaab is taking on the Taliban. But the 11-year-old Pakistani girl is no militant and her weapons are simply her words. She lives on the outskirts of Islamabad and writes poems about the pain and suffering of children in her country despite personal threats from hardline Islamic militants.

“If they kill me, do not worry,” she says. “I want everyone in Pakistan to be equal.”

The young poet has been interviewed by US network, CNN, and now regularly appears in the media. She is not afraid to express her views and is famous in Pakistan.

“I want to give peace to my nation,” she tells CNN (photo). “I will fight for it.”

Tuba is strongly opposed to hardliners who have tried to restrict girls from going to school in certain parts of the country.

Before a peace agreement announced in the volatile Swat Valley in the country’s northwest on Monday, the Taliban was forcing girls out of the classroom and destroying schools.

“This is very shocking to hear that girls can’t go to school, they are taking us back to the Stone Age,” Tuba says.

For the past 18 months, militants have beheaded opponents and burned scores of girls’ schools in Swat, which lies next to Pakistan’s tribal regions close to the Afghan border.

Monday’s peace deal allows for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the former tourist region and surrounding districts in exchange for an end to the Taliban insurgency which has killed hundreds and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

Tuba refuses to remain silent despite threats on her life — by letter and telephone. “Stop it or we will kill you,” they say.

Tuba’s parents are proud of their daughter and say they are not afraid even when she speaks out publicly against the Taliban.Her mother says she is “worth more than seven sons and seven daughters.”

Tuba is inspired by US president Barack Obama and his recent election. She tells CNN she prayed for his election and dreams of meeting him Obama one day.

“I want to go the White House and show him my poems, show him what is happening and ask him to come to Pakistan and control it because he is a super power.”

In her playground at school, Tuba dances and laughs with her friends. She loves writing her short stories and has already published a book.

Tuba also has a personal dream to be an astronaut and one day lead her country.

“I will do anything, if my life goes I don’t worry, I just want to do something,” she says.

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Far East

Beijing Blanketed by Snow After China Seeds Clouds to Beat Drought

by Jane Macartney

A carpet of snow blanketing the Forbidden City and the ancient halls and courtyards of the Lama Temple has transformed China’s capital into a fairyland. Hundreds have played truant from offices to sneak a peak of the first snowfall of the winter.

But nature has been given a helping hand. The heavy snowfalls over Beijing have principally been induced by meteorological offices to try to mitigate the most severe drought to grip northern China in nearly half a century.

City officials have been blasting chemicals into clouds over northern China to create the first precipitation in more than 100 days. The first flurries fell on the capital on Tuesday. By Tuesday, more than 500 cigarette-sized sticks of silver iodide had been seeded into clouds above Beijing from 28 rocket-launch bases around the city, said the Beijing Weather Modification Command Centre.


So heavy was the fall that officials closed 12 highways around Beijing yesterday. Residents got up early to sweep the carpet away from their front doors with bamboo brushes. Few are equipped with spades, since snow has become such a rarity in recent years. Road sweepers were drafted in to work overtime, pushing snow into piles against pavements and around trees…

[rest of story at URL]

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia: Italian Nuns Freed by Kidnappers

Two Italian nuns kidnapped in Kenya three months ago and taken to neighbouring Somalia have been freed, the Italian government said on Thursday. Gunmen abducted Maria Teresa Olivero and Caterina Giraudo, who are both in their 60s, in the northern Kenyan district of Mandera in November and took them across the border.

The nuns had been working with the poor on hunger and health programmes in Kenya.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters on Thursday the two Roman Catholic nuns were now at the Italian embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

“Their morale is high,” Berlusconi told reporters.

Following the nuns’ abduction, Pope Benedict XVI had expressed concern about their fate.

The Italian foreign ministry, which first announced their release, did not give further details.

[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Missing Stanford and His Destructive Path

Allen Stanford is missing.

The Texas-born banker, formerly No. 205 in Forbes’s list of 400 Richest Americans, managed to scam hundreds of investors while keeping a very high profile. The resident of St. Croix and holder of dual US-Antigua citizenships supported cricket, golf and tennis tournaments and even managed to get knighted by the government of Antigua while reportedly being investigated for fifteen years by American authorities. In spite of those investigations, it wasn’t until yesterday that a US District judge signed a temporary restraining order in Dallas federal court freezing the Stanford companies’ assets and property.

Bloomberg reports…

           — Hat tip: Fausta[Return to headlines]


Italy: 300 Illegal Immigrants Transferred From Lampedusa After Riot

Three hundred illegal immigrants were transferred from the southernmost Italian island of Lampedusa to holding centres elsewhere in Italy pending their deportation, Italy’s interior ministry said on Thursday.

The transfers came after rioters on Wednesday burned down an entire wing of Lampedusa’s detention centre in protest at expulsion orders issued to 100 Tunisian illegal immigrants.

After the riot, in which 50 people suffered smoke inhalation and other injuries, the interior ministry announced it intended to speed up deportations from Lampedusa.

Wednesday riot and other protests on Lampedusa this year are the direct result of the Italian government’s decision late last year to turn the facility into an expulsion centre instead of a temporary reception centre, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told Adnkronos International.

“The Lampedusa centre has never previously seen such human fury, such self-harm, or arson attack. It was designed as a reception centre and a change in policy does not mean it is equipped to function as an expulsion centre,” UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini told AKI .

Since the new government policy, Lampedusa’s detention centre has suffered severe overcrowding, as people are being held there for many weeks at a time. Some illegal immigrants having been detained there since December.

The centre was designed for illegal immigrants to stay there for a couple days for medical and ID checks before being transferred to facilities elsewhere in Italy.

“Lampedusa was previously a transit point. The system has gone up in smoke. We need to go back to the old system,” said Boldrini.

Illegal immigrants staged a mass breakout from the Lampedusa centre in January and a group of Tunisians and Moroccans held there went on hunger-strike.

Some 200 Tunisians who were due to be repatriated under a bilateral accord reached in late January with the Tunisian government were transferred from Lampedusa to Rome’s Ponte Galeria expulsion centre, Boldrini said.

The interior ministry did not specify the nationalities of the 300 illegal immigrants transferred between Wednesday and Thursday to holding centres in Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia, in the northern Italian city of Turin and the southern industrial port of Crotone in Calabria.

Lampedusa which lies around 113 kilometres from Tunisia and 205 kilometres south of Sicily, has become the main landing point for rapidly growing numbers of illegal immigrants arriving in Italy by sea from North Africa.

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants now arrive annually on Lampedusa, and their numbers have been growing rapidly in recent years. Residents say the island is being turned into a Mediterranean ‘Alcatraz’.

Rights groups have voiced concern at conditions at the Lampedusa detention centre and the Italian government’s policy of repatriating illegal migrants to countries where they could suffer human rights violations.

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Exclusive: Bizarre Love Triangle — U.S., Russia, and the Arctic’s Untapped Resources

Space may be the final frontier off the planet, but the Arctic is likely the final frontier on earth, especially for energy exploration, with the promise of readily accessible energy resources — and the U.S. has a claim to it. Finally, energy that isn’t just for the crazies, the corrupt or the Jihadists. It will be a happy day when we say ciao to OPEC. Or will we? Transition periods are always vulnerabilities — especially when incoming presidents differ with the policies and politics of their predecessors. “43” set the stage for the Arctic; will “44” carry through? Recent events at home and abroad underscore the urgency to explore now.


Just prior to leaving office in January 2009, President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 66/Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HPD) 25 — “establishes the policy of the United States with respect to the Arctic Region and directs related implementation actions.” The directive asserts that “the United States is an Arctic Nation with varied and compelling interests in the region.” The policy prescriptions provide for “meeting the national security and homeland security needs relevant to the Arctic region.”

From a security perspective, President Bush is quite clear how far we should push the issue: “The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests. These interests include such matters as missile defense and early warning, deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence and maritime security operations and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.”

In terms of natural resources — “Defining with certainty the areas of the Arctic seabed and subsoil in which the United States may exercise its sovereign rights over natural resources such as oil, natural gas, maritime hydrates, minerals and living marine species is critical to our nations interests in energy security, resource management and environmental protection.” And Mr. Bush has those listed in the right priority. Unlike Mrs. Clinton who during her confirmation hearing replied “I believe that the issues of the Arctic are one of those long term matters that will dramatically affect our commercial, our environmental and our energy futures.” Hmm, no concern over security? Not to mention the order of priority needs to be reoriented.

President Bush’s NSPD 66 is the first new directive of U.S. policy towards the Arctic in 15 years, and sets the groundwork for an important opportunity in the region. Will President Obama have the wisdom and courage to follow through? For the sake of the nation, the answer better be yes. But if current performance is indicator of future outcomes, one has to wonder, and worry…

           — Hat tip: Frontinus[Return to headlines]

New Atlas Shows Dying Languages Around the World

Only one native speaker of Livonian remains on Earth, in Latvia. The Alaskan language Eyak went extinct last year when its last surviving speaker passed away.

Those are just two of the nearly 2,500 languages that UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, says are in danger of becoming extinct or have recently disappeared. That’s out of a total of 6,000 world languages.

In a presentation Thursday of a new world atlas of endangered languages, linguists stressed the list is not restricted to small or far-flung countries. They also sought to encourage immigrants to treasure their native languages.

“Language endangerment is a universal phenomenon,” said Christopher Moseley, an Australian linguist who edited the atlas’ third edition, which is to appear in digital and paper versions.

The atlas says 200 languages have become extinct in the last three generations, and another 199 languages have fewer than 10 speakers left.

More than a fourth of the 192 languages once spoken in the United States have disappeared. Another 71 are severely endangered, according to the atlas.

There is Gros Ventre, spoken by fewer than 10 people in north-central Montana. All are elderly, and none is fully fluent. The last fully fluent speaker died in 1981.

Or Menomonee, spoken in northeast Wisconsin, with just 35 speakers left.

The digital version of the atlas invites users to contribute with updates and allows them to search according to country, degree of endangerment, name of languages or by number of speakers.

Type in Russia, and color-coded flags appear ranging from white (unsafe) — denoting languages such as Lezgian, spoken in the Caucasus Mountains — to red (critically endangered), marking those such as the Tundra Enets, spoken in Arctic islands.

Not all is bleak, however. Some endangered languages, like Latvia’s Livonian, are being revived by young people and through poetry.

Marleen Habard, editor of the atlas’ Andean regions, said indigenous groups in South America have been at the forefront of preserving their regional tongues by pressuring governments to recognize indigenous rights.

Some languages have only recently been discovered. Andoan was not known until a journalist discovered a small group of its speakers on the border between Peru and Ecuador in 2000, Habard said.

Francoise Riviere, deputy director of culture at UNESCO, said raising awareness of the importance of mother tongues is a crucial goal of the project.

“We are trying to teach people that the language of the country from where we come is important, and what counts is being proud of one’s own language,” she said.

A paper version of the 2009 atlas — which was funded by Norway and involved a team of over 30 linguists — will be launched

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Vatican Study Shows How Sexes Differ on the Seven Deadly Sins

As if there aren’t enough differences between the sexes — now it seems we sin in quite diverse ways. Men struggle most with lust, while for women it’s the issue of pride.

A Vatican report has found that after excessive pride, the most common sin for women is envy; for men the urge for sex is followed by desire for food, The Advertiser reports.

Looking further into the gender divide, the top three sins of blokes are the bottom ones for the fairer sex.

The report is based on a study of confessions carried out by Father Roberto Busa, a 95-year-old Jesuit scholar. The Pope’s personal theologian backs up the report in the Vatican newspaper.

“Men and women sin in different ways,” Monsignor Wojciech Giertych, theologian to the papal household, writes in L’Osservatore Romano. “When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create, you find that men experiment in a different way from women.”

Monsignor Giertych says the most trying sin for men is lust, followed by gluttony, sloth (laziness), anger, pride, envy and greed. For women, the most dangerous are pride, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, greed and sloth.

The report was released amid Vatican concern over the declining rate of confessions — a trend also noted by the Catholic Church’s Adelaide office.

Another recent survey of Catholics found nearly a third no longer consider confession necessary, while one in 10 deem the process an “obstacle to their dialogue with God”.

Pope Benedict, who reportedly confesses his sins once a week, last year voiced his own disquiet on the subject.

“We are losing the notion of sin,” he said.

“If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm.”

On the other side of the argument, renowned Buddhist nun the Venerable Robina Courtin scotches the concept of “sin”.

The Australian nun, in Adelaide for a series of public lectures, says the issue of sin illuminates the differences in fundamental beliefs.

“Buddhism doesn’t have a God as a divine power who creates us. We believe that everything that happens to us is a result of our own actions — that concept of Karma,” she says.

Instead, Buddhism highlights “negative actions” and their impact on others based on emotions all humans share.

“The concept in Buddhism is negative states of mind, neurosese, that sense of self hate,” she adds.

“We all have these tendencies. They are not sins; we don’t use the term ‘sin’. Instead of blaming everybody else, feeling like a victim, living in denial, you own your action. You regret and vow don’t do it again.”

[ed.And these vows prevent backsliding?? Hmm… the rest of this theological debate is at URL]

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Terry Morris said...

...digging through the news sites like a wino through a dumpster…

What a hateful thing to say! ;-)

dienw said...

A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group said today that two Muslim high school students in Pennsylvania will now be allowed to wear kaffiyehs, a checkered scarf worn by many men in the Middle East.

The Christian students real or not should flood that school with crosses worn on their clothing and around their necks.

And in NJ, the students should demand private prayer rooms for Christians and Jews: if they are denied while the Moslem demand for one is granted, they should sue the local and state governments for billions.

I posted a design concept for a counter-kaffiyeh a few weeks ago: it is time for someone to make it a reality.

heroyalwhyness said...

NJArtist, now that you mention it, you may find this of interest as it may provide fuel for such a lawsuit :


Earlier this week, Robert Spencer and several bloggers posted links to video segments of a Fox Strategy Panel discussion, "Stealth Jihad, Terror from Within" hosted by Heather Nauert (**).

The video quality was poor but I decided to go back and transcribe a portion which finally answers a question I've asked hundreds of times . . . do footbaths and prayer rooms exist in muslim country's airports, universities and businesses? See highlighted portion below:

From the Center for Security Policy, February 11:

On Monday, February 10, the Fox News Strategy Room presented an hour-long panel discussion on the 'stealth jihad' called Terror From Within. The Center's Frank Gaffney appeared alongside noted Shariah expert Robert Spencer (Stealth Jihad), Nonie Darwish (Now they Call Me Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror), and Tarek Fatah (Chasing A Mirage). The host was Heather Nauert.

The panel discusses Shariah Compliant Finance, Muslim Brotherhood front-groups, Lawfare and other issues. Click the embedded videos to watch.

Terror From Within, Part 1 (14:46)

Terror From Within, Part 2 (11:28)

Terror From Within, Part 3 (16:25)

Terror From Within, Part 4 (17:08)

This unofficial transcript is from Part 2

6:38 Ok, Let's go back to how these groups literally intend to try to impose or try to push sharia in the United States. How are they trying to do it.

Spencer: Small example. They are doing it little by little. They are not coming out and actually full frontal and saying, we want to impose sharia and replace the Constitution . Although there are examples you can find of that. The Saudi embassy in Washington had that on their website - that it was the responsiblity of muslims to wage war against Jews and Christians ultimately to replace their laws with Islamic law. Up until November 2003, two years after 9/11. But in any case, the Islamic groups that we have been discussing, they are doing little things asserting Islamic law here and there. One notorious example was alcohol in the cabs. The Minneapolis airport, the cabbies who were almost all Muslim, suddenly refused to carry passengers who had alcohol. Now, Islamic law specifically forbids drinking of alcohol but also having anything to do with it. Transporting it and selling it as well. Now, as a matter of course,when muslims are a small minority in a land in a land that is not muslim are given allowances under the principle of darura or necessity, to obey the laws of the land and to where those laws conflict with Islamic law, they are not considered to be a grave sin. I myself have bought alcohol from muslim store owners. It is not something that has ever been enforced in the United States before.

(**) And now a lot of them by the way , they have reopened in Iraq now that the religious extremists have not won provincial elections.

Spencer: Oh sure. Well those are, a lot of those are Christians in Iraq. But the Muslim American Society which is the Muslim Brotherhood of the United States, they issued a fatwa, a relgious decree saying that they couldn't carry alcohol and suddenly this principle is being asserted in the Minneapolis airport that the cab drivers were saying that this is a matter of our religious freedom. But actually, it is a question of which will win, Islamic law or American law? American law, we just fought the civil rights movement to allow for, there is a great victory in American History that we have established the principal of equality of treatment of all people and no religious or racial discrimination and now the Muslim American society in this small way, and there are many other examples it - they are asserting that Islamic law allows for religious discrimination that they are going to carry it out.

(**) Let me play devil's advocate for a minute. If I get in a taxi cab and I'm smoking the taxi driver has the ability to say, don't smoke in my car. How is this any different?

Spencer: It's very different because smoking laws are universally enforced. And it 's as if you're not allowed to smoke because you are a woman or because you're a member of one group or another. But the idea of Islamic law being asserted , would ultimately if you carried it out to it's fullest extent, as Frank mentioned they're already discussing seeing eye dogs not being allowed . . .what next? If you have a ham sandwich you're not allowed

(**) Seeing eye dogs, I'm not familiar with that story

Frank Gaffney: Dogs are considered to be unclean, so a driver would have a right to say even to a blind person, if you have a dog, you can't get in my cab. This is creating special rules. And this is really the point. It is all about separate societies. It is about creating a mechanism that is as Tariq says, segregate muslims, whether they want to be segregated or not. They are put in a position where of necessity no longer applies, they are no longer a part of home society - they are separate. And that is a classic totalitarian step towards dominating other populations.

Spencer: And instead of offering equal treatment to all citizens, which is a hallmark of American society, they are getting special treatment to people who obey Islamic law and forcing Americans to abide by Islamic law.

(**) OK. We have the example of taxi cabs. Are there other examples of what's going on here in the United States? Because then we can talk . . .we can talk about the Netherlands and places where there are problems with assimilation. Our viewers will be familiar with that. But what other things are taking place in the United States?

Nonie Darwish: There are the foot level faucets that they were demanding for prayer for airports and in schools and even in businesses

Frank: Public institutions

(**) Separate gyms for men and women, I guess that would be an example.

Nonie Darwish: I lived in Islamic society for 30 years and I have never seen foot level faucets except in mosques

Tariq: Not even in mosques

(**) Tell us, let's make it more basic than that What exactly are these and where do you find them?

Frank: Give the explanation of why the feet have to be cleaned (pointing towards Nonie)

Nonie: Well, according to, when you pray you have to wash before you pray so they are trying to bring the most radical muslim laws

Frank: Sharia

Nonie: Sharia which is practiced only in Saudi Arabia. I lived in Egypt. We never had foot level faucets in businesses. I was a journalist in Egypt. We didn't have any foot level faucets. But, they want to bring it to America. Because, they want to bring to America the most radical form of Sharia.

Tariq: I think there is another agenda here. The Islamists want a backlash against America's muslim population. They would love to see a few muslims beaten up in downtown New York, or Chicago or LA so they can then go back to their communities and their Islamists headquarters in Saudi Arabia and Iran and say, "Look, we told you, the United States of America is against Islam." They will never acknowledge the fact that the number one selling poet in the USA is medieval poet called Rummi The number one novelist for two years running is ?? Hamad Hussein from The Kite Flyer. The most popular sportsman in this country is Mohammed Ali. The President's middle name is now "Hussein". Yet, their agenda is to portray western civilization as essentially hostile to Islam, therefore justifying jihad. Therefore justifying suicide bombing.

(**) So you're saying they are looking for anything that they can take back to the rest of the world to try to get certain people to .

Spencer: This is why CAIR fakes hate crime scenes.

Nonie: They have to . ..
Frank: They are radicalizing and dominating their population but there are two aspects of this if I may just very quickly. One is to create this notion that they're victims helps justify the argument that Islamophobia has to be criminalized. Anybody who says, even having this conversation according to sharia adherent muslims, could be considered to be blasphemy to the muslim faith. It's not of course. We're talking about an enemy threat doctrine and if don't we are going to be defeated by it. But another, and I would argue, the most sinister of all of the efforts to insinuate the stealth jihad, the sharia - piece by piece - is the trojan horse known as sharia compliant finance.