Friday, April 24, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/24/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/24/2009The most under-reported story of the last few weeks concerns the two American journalists who were arrested and are in effect being held hostage in North Korea. Neither the American media nor the current administration are making much noise about this atrocious state of affairs.

In other news, part of a man’s jaw was blown off, and other customers were injured, by a grenade attack on the outdoor tables a Danish restaurant.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CSP, Fjordman, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, TB, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
EU: Mediterranean, Few Reforms in 2008, Slump and Mideast
Germany’s Slump Risks ‘Explosive’ Mood as Second Banking Crisis Looms
Germany Warned of Unrest as French Protesters Turn Violent
Government Watchdogs Warn of Lack of Oversight for Trillions in President’s New Spending Programs
Border Incursions Rocket 359%
Judge Throws Out Dole “Bananeros” Cases, Citing Fraud
Kia Auto Plant ‘A Winning Ticket’ for U.S. Town
Many Contra Costa Crooks Won’t be Prosecuted
Obama Positioning for Backdoor Gun Control
Obama Legal Team Wants Defendants’ Rights Limited
The Honeymoon is Over — President Barack Obama Has to Show That He is a World Leader
What Are US Students Learning About Islam?
Will Obama Seize the Radio Stations Next?
Can You Belong to More Than One Nation?
Chris Selley: Rethinking Refugees
Woman Facing Deportation Fears Honour Killing
Europe and the EU
Berlin Doctors Remove 18-Kilo Bone Tumour
British Police Officer Admits to Being a ‘Jedi’
Brussels Quietly Trains a Foreign Service
Cyprus: Republic of Northern Cyprus, Nationalists Win
Cyprus: One Billion Euros Pumped Into Banking System
Defense: Italian Company to Set Up a Plant in Malta
Denmark: Army Honours Fallen Major
Denmark: Man’s Jaw Blown Off in Grenade Attack
Denmark: High Court: Starthelp Benefit Not Discriminatory
EU: Budget Surplus, Cyprus to Receive 2.4 Million Euro
Frattini: Italy is Not a Racist Country
Frattini Blasts EC VP Over Fiat
Italy: Police Arrest 10 for Keeping Young ‘Slave’
Italy ‘Made 670 Rescues in Malta Waters’
Mussolini Secret Son Film at Cannes
Netherlands: Government to Receive Dalai Lama “as Religious Leader”
Netherlands: Freedom of School Choice Meets Its Limits
Netherlands: ‘Teen Repellent’ is a Mixed Success in Rotterdam
Netherlands: Orange Headscarves for Dutch Muslims
Parents: Required Sex Ed Violates Daughter’s Rights
Spain: in September Mausoleum Will be Memory Centre
Spain: Service Sales Fall, Peak in Repossessions
Sweden: Stockholm Taxis to Double as Ambulances
Switzerland: Georgian Gangs Behind Rise in Geneva Burglaries
Switzerland: Minaret Initiative Divides Opinions
Switzerland: Identity of Abandoned Woman is Determined
The Life and/or Death of the Euro
UK: Gurkha Immigration Policy Condemned as ‘a Sham’
UK: Home Office Whistleblower Sacked Over Leaks to Tory MP
UK: RBS Demands £40,000 Damages From Unemployed Teenage Girl Who Smashed Bank Window During G20 Protest
UK: Woman Who Fractured Baby’s Skull is Freed by Judge, Saying She Had Suffered Enough
Croatia: Morales Murder Plot Suspect ‘Wanted to Form Separatist Army’
Kosovo: Amnesty Asks NATO to Investigate Bombs on Serb TV
Mediterranean Union
Italy: Algeria is Number One African Client
North Africa
Algeria: Christian Churches Reopen
Egypt-Israel, Netanyahu Invited to Cairo
US: Obama Urged to Resolve Sahara Conflict
Israel and the Palestinians
Lieberman: For Peace Initiative in Our Hands
West Bank, Joseph’s Burial Site Desecrated
Middle East
David Frum: Israel’s Insidious Plot Against America
Turkey Offers Libya Free Trade Agreement, Minister Says
Turkey, Armenia Agree on a ‘Framework’ to Normalise Ties
Turkey: Cash From Credit Card as Last Resort
Turkey-Armenia: Roadmap for Normalisation Agreed
UAE: Dubai Denies Laundering Pirate Funds
No Foreign Military to Join Ukraine’s Sea Breeze Exercises — Navy
South Asia
Extraordinary Security Measures for Celebrations of 60th Anniversary of Chinese Navy
Indonesia Nabs Terror Suspect
Pakistan: Parties Re-Evaluate Swat Deal
Terrorism: Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons ‘At Risk’
The ISI Surge Against India
Far East
[Editorial] N. Korea as a Hostage Taker
China Parades Naval Might
Korea: North Says it Will Put 2 U.S. Journalists on Trial
Korea: Leftwing Groups Wake Up to Abuses in N.Korea
Korea: U.S. Changes Course on N.Korea
Australia — Pacific
Anzac Day Cartoon
Australia: Sydney Man Shot 34 Times in Head With Nail Gun
Australia: Tribute Paid to All War Dead at Mass
Australia: No Right to Silence Refugee Debate
NZ: Anzac’s Changing Face
People Smugglers Use Chaos in UN Office to Get Asylum Seekers to Australia
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sudan: President Beshir: “Charges Against Me Have United Arabs and Africans”
Latin America
Obama Goes South: an Analysis of the Summit of the Americas
Finland: EU Survey: Half of Somali Immigrants Regard Discrimination as Widespread in Finland
Finland: Poll: Nordics Satisfied With Immigration Policy
Germany: Refugee Kids Build New Lives in Europe
Italy: Dedalo Project, Young Tunisian Gardeners at Monreale
Culture Wars
Judiciary Committee Greenlights ‘Hate Crimes’
“Hijacked” UN Racism Conference

Financial Crisis

EU: Mediterranean, Few Reforms in 2008, Slump and Mideast

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 23 — First came the economic slump and financial crisis, then the war in Gaza. These were the two factors that weighed most heavily in determining a general slowdown in the pace of reforms for countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean during 2008. This is the finding of the annual report issued by the EU Commission on progress toward reform in countries forming part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). 2008 ‘was a difficult year” said EU Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero Waldner, with ‘democratic reforms” showing the most marked slowdown. But political crises, too, such as the one blocking Lebanon which ‘was tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bogged the reform process down. And the effects of war in Gaza are still being felt. ‘I do not think that the time has come to deepen relations with Israel,” the Commissioner said, ‘ we first want to see what commitment the new government has towards resolving the conflict with the Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution”. According to the Brussels report, while reforms in the direction of human rights and freedom of expression are foundering on the ground on the southern shore, in terms of trade, 2008 saw increases in Egypt’s, Jordan’s and Lebanon’s exports to the EU, while negotiations on agriculture and fisheries have been sealed with Egypt and Israel and are still underway with Morocco and Tunisia. Other accords have been signed in the area of air transport with Israel and Jordan. Overall, the portion of EU assistance under the ENP last year neared 1.71 billion euros, as against the 1.67 in 2007. Here are some figures highlighted from the report: ISRAEL: limited collaboration in seeking a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and limited progress in terms of democracy, constitutional law, human rights and humanitarian rights. Greater efforts needed to improve the lot of the Arab minority. PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: political reform and institution building suffering from division between West Bank and Gaza. LEBANON: stalemate at institutional level, with various normative projects not discussed by Parliament (for example, that on VAT and competition). Slow progress on human rights, judicial, social and administrative reforms. EGYPT: no progress on the independence of the judiciary. Limited progress in the fight against corruption, freedom of expression and religious rights, rights of assembly and of association. MOROCCO: greater dialogue attained on the fight against illegal immigration and strengthened cooperation over energy. Freedom of press, freedom of expression and justice reforms a priority; TUNISIA: significant increases in illegal immigration flows towards the EU. Missed targets of increasing freedom of association and of expression. JORDAN: needs more protection for the rights of immigrant workers and to work towards the independence of the judiciary. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Germany’s Slump Risks ‘Explosive’ Mood as Second Banking Crisis Looms

A clutch of political and labour leaders in Germany have raised the spectre of civil unrest after the country’s leading institutes forecast a 6pc contraction of gross domestic product this year, a slump reminiscent of 1931 and bad enough to drive unemployment to 4.7m by 2010.

Michael Sommer, leader of the DGB trade union federation, called the latest wave of sackings a “declaration of war” against Germany’s workers. “Social unrest can no longer be ruled out,” he said.

Gesine Swann, presidential candidate for the Social Democrats, said “the mood could turn explosive” over the next three months unless the government takes drastic action.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Germany Warned of Unrest as French Protesters Turn Violent

In the wake of violent worker protests in France, rhetoric over social unrest in Germany is growing as the economic crisis continues to take its toll.

German presidential candidate Gesine Schwan added her voice to that of top union leader Michael Sommer late on Wednesday, when she warned that the ongoing economic crisis could unleash violent reactions from a distraught population.

“I can well imagine that in two or three months, people’s anger will grow considerably,” Schwan told the Muenchener Merkur newspaper. That’s when some of the government’s measures to cushion the blow from the recession — such as filling in the pay gap for people who are forced into shortened work hours — are due to run out.

“If there is no sign of hope for things to improve, then the mood can turn explosive,” she added.

Schwan’s comments followed those of Sommer, who heads the Federation of German Trade Unions (DGB) umbrella group.

In an intervew with Germany’s ARD television, Sommer warned of social unrest comparable to that in the 1930s — when widespread poverty paved the way for the Nazi regime’s rise to power.

Fraying tempers in France

The projected economic contraction of up to six percent is comparable with data from the years 1930, 1931 and 1932, Sommer said.

Making the rounds of the German press, Sommer told the Nordwest Zeitung newspaper that if there are mass layoffs, it would be “a provocation for workers and the unions,” indicating that “social unrest could no longer be discounted” in Germany.

The seams of civil restraint are already beginning to fray in France — a country known for frequent strikes and an active labor movment.

On Tuesday, a French court rejected a motion brought by employees of a factory run by Germany’s Continental AG to block the plant’s planned 2010 closure. Citing the steep drop in demand in the automobile sector, Continental announced in March plans to shutter the factory in Clairoix, north of Paris, which employs 1,120.

Smashed windows, destroyed equipment

Workers responded to the ruling by smashing windows and destroying equipment at the factory and regional administrative offices in nearby Compiegne.

On Wednesday, factory management distributed fliers reading: “We have no other choice but to suspend production as well as the whole of the site’s activities until further notice.”

French government officials condemned the workers’ rampage, calling it “unacceptable.”

Continental workers have drawn nationwide attention, meeting with top government officials at the presidential palace, burning tires in the streets of the capital and leading weeks of protests.

Their actions are part of a wave of increasingly radical employee movements to fight layoffs and cutbacks prompted by France’s worst economic performance in 30 years. Workers have held managers hostage and blocked production at sites around the country.

On Tuesday, workers in southwest France released two bosses held for two days over plans to shut a subsidiary of American automotive company Molex.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon criticized what he called a small minority of “very violent” workers who are hijacking peaceful union mediation efforts. He called for charges to be laid against the rampaging workers, the AP news agency reported.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Government Watchdogs Warn of Lack of Oversight for Trillions in President’s New Spending Programs

The Government Accountability Office today issued a report on the $787 billion stimulus bill called “RECOVERY ACT: As Initial Implementation Unfolds in States and Localities, Continued Attention to Accountability Issues Is Essential.”

The GAO study asserts that officials from most of the states surveyed “expressed concerns regarding the lack of Recovery Act funding provided for accountability and oversight. Due to fiscal constraints, many states reported significant declines in the number of oversight staff — limiting their ability to ensure proper implementation and management of Recovery Act funds.”

Because the economic downturn has led to “fiscal constraints, many states reported significant declines in the number of oversight staff, limiting their ability to ensure proper implementation and management of Recovery Act funds.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Border Incursions Rocket 359%

‘Our agents are being attacked and our sovereignty violated at alarming rates’

Foreign government incursions into the United States rocketed 359 percent from 2007 to 2008, and the nation is under attack in San Diego, according to a new report from Judicial Watch.

“These new Homeland Security documents indisputably show there is a crisis on our border with Mexico,” said Tom Fitton, president of the Washington watchdog organization.

“Our agents are being attacked and our sovereignty violated at alarming rates,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Judge Throws Out Dole “Bananeros” Cases, Citing Fraud

LOS ANGELES, April 23 (Reuters) — A California judge on Thursday threw out two pesticide lawsuits against Dole Food Co and other companies by plaintiffs claiming to be banana farm workers, citing a “pervasive conspiracy” by plaintiffs’ attorneys and Nicaraguan judges.

The ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney puts in doubt $2 billion in pending judgments in dozens of similar lawsuits. Chaney also said she would refer the matter to states’ bar associations and to prosecutorial agencies.

The plantiffs, known as bananeros, have won judgments against Dole in Nicaraguan courts after claiming they were made sterile by the chemical DBCP, which was banned in the United States but was used by Dole to control fungus. The other defendants were Dow Chemical (DOW.N) and AMVAC.

Privately-owned Dole, is the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables.

Chaney made the ruling after a three-day hearing on fraud allegations that cropped up during the first of about 40 toxic tort lawsuits to be tried in her court involving thousands of plaintiffs from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and the Ivory Coast .

“What a sad commentary that somebody thought that they were free to bring this fraud in the U.S. courts,” Chaney said. “What a sad commentary for individuals who will not be able to come to this court or any court for redress of wrongs that have been committed against them.”

A federal judge in Miami, who is considering whether to enforce a $97 million judgment, behind which sits another judgment for $800 million won by bananeros in a Nicaraguan court, had been waiting for the outcome of the California fraud hearing to rule on his case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Robinson, a major fraud prosecutor who acted as lead counsel in the Justice Department’s case against the Milberg Weiss law firm, attended the hearing but had no comment about whether an investigation had been opened.


More than 10,000 plaintiffs have brought cases against Dole and other defendants over exposure to DBCP in U.S. and Nicaraguan courts, Dole attorney Scott Edelman said in his closing argument on Thursday.

Chaney found evidence “that the proof of employment and medical evidence presented to me that came out of Nicaragua was manufactured and not honestly so by certain individuals in Nicaragua,” Chaney said.

“I find that there is and was a pervasive conspiracy to defraud American and Nicaraguan courts, to defraud the defendants, to extort money from not just these defendants — but all manufacturers of DBCP and all growers or operators of plantations in Nicaragua between 1970 and 1980,” she said.

Plaintiffs attorneys Juan Dominguez of Los Angeles and Antonio Ordenana of Nicaragua, accused Dole of bribing witnesses but put on almost no defense to the allegations during the hearing.

They did not appear at the hearing but their co-counsel Mike Axline, presented little evidence at the hearing. He had no comment after the hearing.

Edelman argued during the Los Angeles hearing this week that a special Nicaraguan law passed in 2001 to address the pesticide cases has brought “intense political pressure to bear on judges … who have ceded to that pressure.”

Edelman said Special Law 364 also has spawned an industry in which local attorneys have recruited thousands of men to pose as bananeros in a wave of lawsuits that hit U.S. companies, including Dole, Shell Chemical and Dow in recent years.

Edelman showed videotaped testimony from witnesses who said they were approached or recruited by plaintiffs attorneys to pose as bananeros, promised rich rewards, and threatened with harm if they revealed the scheme to Dole investigators.

The lawyers charged the plaintiffs on a monthly basis to attend seminars where they were trained to be convincing as banana workers, Edelman said.

But problems began surfacing in depositions with Dole’s lawyers and medical exams, which resulted in more than half of the plaintiffs in the three lead cases being dismissed from the cases by their own lawyers, Edelman said.

“These plaintiffs are unable to testify to basic farm facts … they just hadn’t studied hard enough,” Edelman told the court.

The cases are Mejia v. Dole Food Co et al, BC340079, and Rivera v. Dole Food Co et al, BC379820, in Los Angeles Superior Court.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Kia Auto Plant ‘A Winning Ticket’ for U.S. Town

Residents in the little town of West Point in Georgia are insulated against the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression thanks to a new Kia Motors manufacturing plant that opens at the end of this year.

“Kia’s is the only car factory scheduled to open in the country, drawing workers to one of the few regions now with concrete hopes of quickly escaping the economic downturn,” the New York Times said Wednesday.

“While much of the rest of the country remains mired in the depressing gray of recession, this rural town of fewer than 3,500 people on the Georgia-Alabama border, about 80 miles southwest of Atlanta, has somehow managed to draw the winning ticket in the nation’s economic lottery,” the daily added.

Kia plans to manufacture the Sorento SUV here. About 43,000 American workers have so far applied for 2,500 assembly-line jobs that will open late this year, a competition ratio of 17:1. Many applicants were laid off in Michigan, where U.S. automakers are clustered. Kia’s subcontractors will employ another 7,500 workers.

“We’re the only place in the nation that is fixing to put between 7,000 and 10,000 manufacturing jobs online,” Mayor Drew Ferguson told the paper. “We are the place that has the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Three years ago, Ferguson persuaded Kia to move to his town by offering incentives worth US$400 million including tax benefits.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Many Contra Costa Crooks Won’t be Prosecuted

Misdemeanors such as assaults, thefts and burglaries will no longer be prosecuted in Contra Costa County because of budget cuts, the county’s top prosecutor said Tuesday.

District Attorney Robert Kochly also said that beginning May 4, his office will no longer prosecute felony drug cases involving smaller amounts of narcotics. That means anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than 0.5 grams of heroin and fewer than five pills of ecstasy, OxyContin or Vicodin won’t be charged.

People who are suspected of misdemeanor drug crimes, break minor traffic laws, shoplift, trespass or commit misdemeanor vandalism will also be in the clear. Those crimes won’t be prosecuted, either.

“We had to make very, very difficult choices, and we had to try to prioritize things. There are no good choices to be made here,” said Kochly, a 35-year veteran prosecutor. “It’s trying to choose the lesser of certain evils in deciding what we can and cannot do.”

Barry Grove, a deputy district attorney who is president of the Contra Costa County District Attorneys Association, said, “There’s no question that these kinds of crimes are going to drastically affect the quality of life for all the citizens of Contra Costa County.”

The decision not to go after any perpetrators of certain offenses, Grove said, amounts to “holding up a sign and advertising to the criminal element to come to Contra Costa County, because we’re no longer going to prosecute you.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Positioning for Backdoor Gun Control

On his recent trip to Central America, President Barack Obama did more than cozy up to Marxist dictators; he also signed onto an international treaty that could, in effect, be used as backdoor gun control. It appears that Obama wants to use international treaties to do what congressional legislation is not able to do: further restrict the right of the American people to keep and bear arms.

Obama is using the oft-disproved contention that “90% of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States” as the stated basis of his support for the international treaty he is promoting. The treaty is formally known as the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials (CIFTA) treaty. The Bill Clinton administration signed the treaty back in 1997, but the U.S. Senate has never ratified the treaty. Obama intends to change that.


In addition, CIFTA would authorize the U.S. federal government (and open the door to international entities) to supervise and regulate virtually the entire American firearms industry. Making matters worse is the fact that, as a treaty, this Act does not have to be passed by both houses of Congress, nor is it subject to judicial oversight. All Obama needs to do in order to enact this unconstitutional and egregious form of gun control is convince a Democratic-controlled Senate to pass it.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Legal Team Wants Defendants’ Rights Limited

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to overrule long-standing law that stops police from initiating questions unless a defendant’s lawyer is present, another stark example of the White House seeking to limit rather than expand rights.

The administration’s action — and several others — have disappointed civil rights and civil liberties groups that expected President Barack Obama to reverse the policies of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, after the Democrat’s call for change during the 2008 campaign.

Since taking office, Obama has drawn criticism for backing the continued imprisonment of enemy combatants in Afghanistan without trial, invoking the “state secrets” privilege to avoid releasing information in lawsuits and limiting the rights of prisoners to test genetic evidence used to convict them.

The case at issue is Michigan v. Jackson, in which the Supreme Court said in 1986 that police may not initiate questioning of a defendant who has a lawyer or has asked for one, unless the attorney is present. The decision applies even to defendants who agree to talk to the authorities without their lawyers.

Anything police learn through such questioning cannot be used against the defendant at trial. The opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the only current justice who was on the court at the time.

The justices could decide as early as Friday whether they want to hear arguments on the issue as they wrestle with an ongoing case from Louisiana that involves police questioning of an indigent defendant that led to a murder confession and a death sentence.

The Justice Department, in a brief signed by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said the 1986 decision “serves no real purpose” and offers only “meager benefits.” The government said defendants who don’t wish to talk to police don’t have to and that officers must respect that decision. But it said there is no reason a defendant who wants to should not be able to respond to officers’ questions.

At the same time, the administration acknowledges that the decision “only occasionally prevents federal prosecutors from obtaining appropriate convictions.”

The administration’s legal move is a reminder that Obama, who has moved from campaigning to governing, now speaks for federal prosecutors.

The administration’s position assumes a level playing field, with equally savvy police and criminal suspects, lawyers on the other side of the case said. But the protection offered by the court in Stevens’ 1986 opinion is especially important for vulnerable defendants, including the mentally and developmentally disabled, addicts, juveniles and the poor, the lawyers said.

“Your right to assistance of counsel can be undermined if somebody on the other side who is much more sophisticated than you are comes and talks to you and asks for information,” said Sidney Rosdeitcher, a New York lawyer who advises the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Stephen B. Bright, a lawyer who works with poor defendants at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, said the administration’s position “is disappointing, no question.”

Bright said that poor defendants’ constitutional right to a lawyer, spelled out by the high court in 1965, has been neglected in recent years. “I would hope that this administration would be doing things to shore up the right to counsel for poor people accused of crimes,” said Bright, whose group joined with the Brennan Center and other rights organizations in a court filing opposing the administration’s position.

Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and former FBI Director William Sessions are among 19 one-time judges and prosecutors urging the court to leave the decision in place because it has been incorporated into routine police practice and establishes a rule on interrogations that is easy to follow.

Eleven states also are echoing the administration’s call to overrule the 1986 case.

Justice Samuel Alito first raised the prospect of overruling the decision at arguments in January over the rights of Jesse Montejo, the Louisiana death row inmate.

Montejo’s lawyer, Donald Verrilli, urged the court not to do it. Since then, Verrilli has joined the Justice Department, but played no role in the department’s brief.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

The Honeymoon is Over — President Barack Obama Has to Show That He is a World Leader

The Taliban continues its menacing advance on the Pakistani capital. The Iranian president reiterates his hateful anti-Israeli rhetoric, while Israel’s newly elected Right-wing prime minister makes veiled threats about launching military action to prevent a second Holocaust. Yet the only subject that appears to concern Barack Obama is whether or not senior officials from the previous administration should face prosecution for the harsh interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Mr Obama has attracted much international goodwill since he took up residence in the White House — not least in Europe, where his youthful charm and conciliatory approach are seen as a refreshing change from his predecessor’s hectoring and arrogant attitude. But even the most propitious honeymoons have to end sometime, and that moment seems to be fast approaching, as Mr Obama finds that his international standing has been weakened by a domestic scandal of his own making.

Mr Obama no doubt believed that by exposing some of the darker secrets from the annals of the Bush administration, he might be able to consolidate his moral authority. Instead, he has found himself mired in a made-for-Washington controversy over waterboarding and other dubious techniques employed by the CIA against al-Qaeda detainees five years ago.

It is not just the damage this unnecessary intervention has inflicted on the CIA’s morale that gives cause for concern. Whether a president supports a policy of hard power, as did George W Bush, or one of soft power, which appears to be Mr Obama’s preferred option, it is nevertheless important that the White House projects the sense of global leadership that goes with being the world’s largest military superpower.

This is particularly true in the current climate, in which there is no shortage of rogue nations and terror groups seeking to challenge America’s global hegemony. The dramatic territorial gains made by the Taliban this week in North-West Pakistan, which have brought the radical Islamist group to within 60 miles of the Pakistani capital, is a good example of what happens when there appears to be an absence of strong and decisive leadership in Washington.

Pro-Western Pakistani politicians argue, with some justification, that a major factor in the rapid growth in support for the Taliban in the tribal areas has been America’s use of unmanned Predator aircraft to attack Islamist militants. American commanders insist that Predator strikes have played a significant role in killing al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders and disrupting their infrastructure. But they have also been responsible for high levels of civilian casualties, which have led to significant sections of the indigenous Pashtun population switching their support to the Taliban.

The Pakistani government now finds itself in the invidious position of surrendering sovereignty over large tracts of the country. This has allowed the Taliban to implement its particularly brutal interpretation of sharia, which earlier this month saw a 14-year-old girl executed by firing squad for planning to elope with her lover.

It is all very well for Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to call on the Pakistani people “to speak out forcefully” against the Taliban’s power grab. But the Pakistanis would be in a far stronger position to reassert their sovereignty if the White House was fully focused on addressing this potentially calamitous development.

The same goes for Iran, where Mr Obama’s appeal to the hardline regime to “unclench its fist” appears to have fallen on stony ground. Although Tehran has hinted that it is prepared to resume talks with the West over its uranium-enrichment programme, the more telling response has been the jailing of a US-Iranian journalist on trumped-up spying charges. This is a classic Iranian ploy to pressure Western governments. During the 1980s, when Iran sought to undermine US involvement in the Lebanese civil war, Tehran ordered the radical Shia Muslim militia Hizbollah to kidnap scores of Western citizens, who were only released once hostilities were concluded in Tehran’s favour.

Now the fate of Roxana Saberi, who earlier this week was jailed for eight years for espionage, will most likely depend on the outcome of any future negotiations between Washington and Tehran on the nuclear issue, another subject that appears to be beyond the Obama administration’s grasp.

For once there is unanimity within the West’s intelligence community about the progress Iran is making with its uranium enrichment programme, which should give it sufficient quantities of fissile material to build an atom bomb by the end of the year. Time, then, is of the essence — but rather than taking a firm grasp of the issue, the Obama administration is split between those who want to force Iran to declare its hand now and those who argue that it is best to wait until after June’s presidential election, so as not to play into the hands of anti-American hardliners during the election campaign.

In another age, putting off an inevitable confrontation to keep the peace was called appeasement: a charge that will soon be levelled against Mr Obama, unless he starts to demonstrate the true qualities of leadership that his office requires.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

What Are US Students Learning About Islam?

In the same way, students today are being taught a distorted view of Islam. Having been on the front lines in the struggle to achieve the best education for our children, I understand that change will come only when teachers’ and parents’ voices are heard. Teachers need courage in overcoming political correctness by talking candidly about controversial topics like Islam. Parents must be engaged in their children’s education by participating on curriculum committees and communicating with teachers. Parents also should communicate with their members of Congress to ensure that textbook publishers are not being pressured to present a false account of history. Feel-good distortions of history don’t help our kids; they just help those who wish to do us harm.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Will Obama Seize the Radio Stations Next?

So when the Senate recently voted 87-11 in favor of an amendment prohibiting reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, with obvious White House approval resulting in the support of all those Senate Democrats, I immediately started looking for the other shoe to drop. What is the real plan to shut down conservative talk radio and Christian broadcasts? Where is Obama hiding the peanut this time?

FCC Regulation The standard playbook for revolutionaries is to seize all the television and radio stations first, and announce the rebels are the new government. The Left has already done this in America. Except for a couple of holdouts — conservative talk radio and Christian broadcasts.


The main frontal attack is not going to come through Congress, where talk radio audiences and Christian grassroots can be mobilized to stop it. It is going to come through regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which already has all the legal authority it needs.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Can You Belong to More Than One Nation?

by Margaret Wente

A few weeks ago, I ran into a traffic jam in downtown Toronto. Thousands of people were thronging the streets and waving colourful banners. Many were families with small children. Perhaps it was a religious festival, I thought — just another piece of the kaleidoscope that makes up our multicultural city.

I should be ashamed of my ignorance. But I suspect it’s shared by most Canadians. It’s safe to say that not one in 50 would be able to explain who these people are and what they want — even though, on Tuesday, more than 30,000 of them staged one of the biggest demonstrations that Parliament Hill has seen in years. “Canada don’t fail your people,” the signs demanded.

The people in question are Tamil Canadians. The banners they have long waved are the colours of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group banned in Canada whose goals (if not methods) are supported by most of Canada’s 200,000-strong Tamil community. They want Canada to intervene in the bloody civil war that may now be in its final stages, as the Sri Lankan government bears down on the Tigers’ last stronghold.

Is this our fight? I’d say no. But Tamil Canadians see it differently. Their relatives are being massacred as Canada stands by. Their government should be acting on their behalf. Otherwise, it will have blood on its hands.

In this new, transnational era, issues of identity and politics spill over national borders. And questions of citizenship and belonging become increasingly blurred. Tamil Canadians “belong to more than one nation,” says R. Cheran, a Tamil poet and sociology professor at the University of Windsor.

The Tamils are just one of several large ethnic groups that have sprung up in the urban ring around Toronto. Today, they are the biggest Tamil diaspora in the world. With their own newspapers, TV and radio stations (all pro-Tiger), strong community networks and Tamil-language services, they are a little world within a world. They are also a major source of funding for the Tamil Tigers, who, for decades, have been extracting “war taxes” from the willing and the unwilling alike — sometimes by threatening to harm relatives back home if people don’t pay.

The Tamils’ nationalism isn’t fading with the second generation. Instead, it’s more passionate than ever. Most of the demonstrators are second- or even third-generation Tamils. “There’s an important change taking place,” says Prof. Cheran. “They are reaffirming their ethnic identity. Their attachment to the collectivity has become much stronger.”

According to research by sociologist Jeffrey Reitz and others, this trend is increasingly pronounced among the second generation of immigrant visible-minority groups. Compared with their parents, they feel less, not more, “Canadian.” That doesn’t mean Tamil Canadians don’t engage in mainstream politics. They do — and they’re acquiring a lot of clout.

Stories about the Tamils often centre on the Tamil Tigers, who are infamous for pioneering the use of suicide bombing, recruiting child soldiers and massacring innocent civilians. To most Tamils, the Tigers are their only protection against a brutal government that has oppressed the Tamil population for years and killed its own share of civilians. But the real question for Canada is not about good guys or bad guys — it’s to what extent our government will respond to the pressures of transnational ethnic groups, as these groups become ever more influential.

There’s another question: How will Canada evolve when so many people have multiple allegiances, to homeland and to host land? “I believe it is possible for people to be loyal to more than one nation, one history and one idea,” says Prof. Cheran, who thinks we should embrace the idea of transnational citizenship.

I don’t know if he’s right, but I do know this. There are many mini-nations in our midst. And most of us don’t know anything about them.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Chris Selley: Rethinking Refugees

Here’s a fun fact: in 2008, the seventh-biggest source of refugee claimants in Canada was the Czech Republic-bigger than Somalia, Afghanistan, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is ridiculous, and not because there aren’t bona fide asylum-seekers in Eastern Europe, where the Roma face a level of exclusion and persecution that really has no analogue in North America. Rather, it’s ridiculous because no system that purports to help the world’s most downtrodden should be expending more resources on Czech citizens than on, say, Somali, Zimbabwean, Iraqi or Burmese citizens, just to pick four weatherbeaten nations out of a hat. As I’ve argued many times before, our refugee system directs far too many resources towards those who can manage to get their feet on Canadian soil, and not nearly enough towards those who most need to.

Why can Czech Roma suddenly claim asylum in Canada, when before they couldn’t? Because they don’t need tourist visas anymore. Why don’t they need tourist visas anymore? Because in 2007, Brussels pitched a minor fit and demanded the requirement be lifted, else Canadians might face retaliatory visa requirements across the European Union. Why did Czechs need tourist visas in the first place? Because of all the Roma refugee claimants who came to Canada in the 1990s. Like the Griswolds in European Vacation, we’re stuck on a roundabout.

It’s safe to say Jason Kenney is more likely to fix this problem, or to try to address it anyway, than any predecessor immigration minister in recent memory. He has no problem calling out “false refugee claimants,” or accusing vast numbers of Mexicans of abusing the system-of de facto immigration “queue jumping.” He seems to have some actual ideas, too, on immigration in general if not on refugees per se, as he demonstrated in a solid, serious speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce last week. And as has widely been noted, he actually relishes the slurs and catcalls awaiting any Conservative politician wading into this issue.

On refugees, though, he’s well and truly up against it. As illustrated by a recent Embassy magazine article, simply banning claims from certain countries outright-theoretically the simplest solution to the problem-would unleash a torrent of negative headlines. Domestically, refugee advocates would complain legitimate refugees were being kept out, and they would be entirely correct. It’s true Mexico is the largest source of failed refugee claims in Canada, but it’s also the third-largest source of successful claims, and you don’t have to be a world-renowned Mexicologist to figure our why. Banning claims from people of certain nationalities might also create diplomatic tensions, because you can’t designate certain countries “safe” without implicitly labelling others “unsafe.” For example, creating a list of “no-refugee” nations that didn’t include Mexico-far and away our largest source of refugee claimants-would ostensibly anger the Mexican government and risk all sorts of repercussions. (I’ve never totally understood this, since the fact Canada is in fact accepting scores of Mexican refugees should be far more embarrassing. But that’s the conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is the most powerful force in Ottawa.) Nevertheless, even if Kenney could somehow establish such a “safe list,” it would be a muddy, deeply flawed solution.

In his Calgary speech, Kenney laid out a compelling case that the more Canada-centric our immigration system is, the more beneficial it will be to immigrants. If we don’t need cardiologists, there’s no point bringing them here to drive taxis. And if we do need cardiologists, there’s no point bringing them here just because they’re cardiologists without knowing if their skills are sufficient, or sufficiently promising, to be of use in the Canadian medical system. Ideally, it’s always seemed to me, that determination should be made overseas, as early on in the immigration process as possible.

I think a similar approach could help the refugee system enormously. Canada currently allows war-torn citizens of Sierra Leone, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia to apply for resettlement in Canada without having left home. Why not extend that approach to other nations Ottawa deems a priority? Among other benefits, it would redirect resources towards the most oppressed and imperiled people, and away from people who can afford a plane ticket, false documents and other things they might use to get to Canada even though their refugee claims have no merit.

Naturally, this would require a massive expediting of the system overall, as the only thing more unconscionable than leaving refugees in limbo for years in Canada would be leaving them in limbo in the country they’re trying to flee. First, the government would at the very least have to fill the inexplicably numerous vacancies on the Immigration and Refugee Board, so the system can run at its intended capacity. Second, we obviously need a blanket ban on refugee claims from nations whose “safety” is painfully obvious, and I’m not talking about Mexico. Citizenship and Immigration Canada normally considers imposing a visa requirement on citizens of a given country if it contributes more than two per cent of the total refugee claims in a given year. In 2008, an astounding 2.7 per cent of those claims were from Americans-nearly 1,000 in all, and more even than from the Czech Republic. Third, a person’s mere presence in Canada should no longer grant him an absolute right to a refugee claim. If we started allowing Mexicans (again, just for example) to apply while still in Mexico, we would need to be able to deport those who arrive in Canada back home, without prejudice, with instructions to make their claim there.

I think the most crucial precondition for logical reform, however, would be an international agreement that certain countries or regions should be primarily responsible for certain refugees. I sympathize with the Roma, but if they can find no safe or prosperous home in Europe, then surely that’s more an issue for the European Union and its considerable human rights infrastructure than it is for Canada. The refugee system is supposed to rescue the world’s most desperate people from untenable situations, not necessarily scatter them throughout the world to their most preferred destinations. It’s not just Canada’s refugee system that makes no sense, in my view, but the whole idea of forcing the world’s most persecuted people to scratch, claw and connive their way to safety however possible. The developed world can’t save all of them, unfortunately, but surely it can deploy its considerable resources far more coherently than it currently does.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Woman Facing Deportation Fears Honour Killing

TORONTO — A Muslim woman who says she’ll be slain in the name of honour if deported to Pakistan finds out her fate next Monday.

“It feels like I am dying a slow death,” said Roohi Tabassum, of Brampton. “Waiting to find out what happens is like a death sentence.”

A federal court judge will decide on Monday if Tabassum should be deported. A federal immigration department review of her case is also pending.

“I know I will be killed if I am sent back,” Tabassum, 44, said, referring to her ex-husband, Faisal Javed. “My nerves are bad and I can’t eat or sleep.’“

According to court documents, Javed is outraged Tabassum works in a salon where she cuts men’s hair.

Tabassum says Javed, a businessman and Sunni community leader, will seek revenge.


Her cousin was the victim of an honour killing after she refused to submit to an arranged wedding to an older man.

Officials of the Canada Border Services Agency said Tabassum has had her hearings and must leave.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Berlin Doctors Remove 18-Kilo Bone Tumour

A Saudi Arabian woman now weighs just 37 kilogrammes (81 pounds) after doctors in Berlin removed an 18-kilogramme (40-pound) bone tumour from her pelvis, the hospital said on Friday.

According to the private Capital Health Hospital Group, it was the largest such tumor ever to be removed worldwide.

The 35-year-old mother of three has been undergoing chemotherapy in Berlin since September 2008 to shrink the tumour enough for safe removal.

Removing the growth — which was one-third of the woman’s body weight — required five operations, the hospital said.

The woman, diagnosed with a malignant bone cancer called chondrosarcoma in 2003, came to the Berlin hospital after refusing to have part of her pelvis amputated.

By the time she reached Berlin, the tumour had gotten so big that the woman could no longer walk. The growth was tearing through her skin and threatened to obstruct her bowels.

“She was in a desolate state,” head surgeon Dr. Heinz R. Zurbrügg told journalists on Friday.

When the follow up examinations show no further tumours, the woman will have a missing section of her pelvis replaced with a tailored implant and an artificial hip joint, the hospital said.

Appearing before journalists in a traditional Arab abaya, the woman said she felt “born again,” and looked forward to standing before the doctors in her home of Kuwait who told her there was “no hope.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

British Police Officer Admits to Being a ‘Jedi’

A police officer in Scotland has confessed to following the Jedi faith beloved of Star Wars film fans, respected policing analysis group Jane’s reported Thursday.

Pam Fleming, a 45-year-old beat officer in Glasgow for Strathclyde Police, said that she thought all police officers “should be Jedis,” when interviewed by Jane’s Police Review.

“For me, it is not a joke,” she said. “Being a Jedi is a way of life.”

“I love the Star Wars films and the concept of being a Jedi, that the faith is not divisive.”

Fleming said she knew of other Jedis in Strathclyde Police — the force apparently has eight in total.

According to Britain’s Office for National Statistics, a total of 390,000 people in England and Wales listed their religion as Jedi in the most recent census in 2001. Scotland has a reported 14,000 followers.

But it noted that this may have been largely due to an Internet campaign launched in the run-up to the census. Jedi followers are grouped under atheist.

Jedis are fictional creations from George Lucas’ popular Star Wars movies. They are an ancient monastic organization fighting for peace and justice, known for their observance of the Force. They specifically use the “Light Side” of the force and reject the “Dark Side” of the Force, as well as the Dark Side’s adherents, the Sith.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Brussels Quietly Trains a Foreign Service

A number of eurocrats will soon form part of an EU diplomatic corps, if European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso has anything to say about it. He’s looking forward to the day when the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect — and the EU has to build embassies.

The European Union, for now, lacks most trappings of central government because it has no constitution. Most “EU diplomats” are in fact diplomats from EU member nations, not from Brussels itself. Even Javier Solana, the EU’s high representative for the common foreign and security policy, can’t technically call himself a “foreign minister.” Instead, he is generally referred to in the media as the EU’s foreign policy chief. But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is quietly working for the day when he can.

Hundreds of bureaucrats at Barroso’s European Commission, the EU’s executive body, are being educated in the diplomatic arts, taking courses at universities and international academies on “Political Analysis” and “Handling the Media” to prepare for a new role that would be created under the imperilled Lisbon Treaty. Among the key provisions of the treaty is the creation of a European External Action Service and the appointment of a “foreign minister,” though the title has been renamed as the “high representative of the Union,” as well as an EU president. The idea is to groom an EU diplomatic service so it can start its work the day the treaty — once known, and rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands, as the “EU constitution” — goes into effect.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Cyprus: Republic of Northern Cyprus, Nationalists Win

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, APRIL 20 — The National Unity Party (UBP) won 44% of the vote in the elections of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara. According to the definitive results, after the UPB, which was the opposition until now, was the Republican Turkish Party (CTP), which was in power until now, with 20% of the vote. The Democratic Party (DP) took 10% of the vote. The UPB should be able to form a single party government after having won 26 of the 50 seats in the Parliament of the small ‘republic’. Nationalist leader Dervis Eroglu, a former Premier, said to journalists that it is his intention to proceed with negotiations for a possible reunification with Greek Cyprus. “It will be one of the priorities of the UPB,” he said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Cyprus: One Billion Euros Pumped Into Banking System

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, APRIL 20 — Cyprus will inject an additional liquidity of 1 billion euro in the banking system in a bid to stimulate the decline of interest rates and to refinance expiring public dept, Famagusta Gazette daily reported quoting Finance Minister Charilaos Stavrakis. Speaking after a meeting with Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Antonis Paschalides and representatives of the island’s commercial banks and cooperative societies, Stavrakis said the government will issue a short-term bond to Cypriot banks worth 1 billion euro, which expires in late December, at a rate of 1.5%. According to Stavrakis, this bond can be used by the Cypriot banks as collateral to pump liquidity from the European Central Bank at a rate of 1.25%, while the government will deposit these funds in the Cypriot banks. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Defense: Italian Company to Set Up a Plant in Malta

(ANSAmed) — LA VALLETTA, 16 APR — International Aviation Supply, a Brindisi based company which manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, is to set up a plant in Malta with an initial investment of euro 2.7 million. The 2,000 square metre Malta plant, which will employ 15 people, is to be based in Safi, near the Medavia aviation company. Malta Industrial Parks, which manages industrial estates, has applied for additional land in Safi with the intention of creating an aviation park to cater for other similar companies. Finance Minister Tonio Fenech told The Times Business: “We believe there is a huge potential in the aviation sector and such a company gives Malta high value added. We are very well placed in the market to service such industries and we are also in discussions with other aviation companies which could set up a plant in Malta. Our agreement with International Aviation Supply is very good news particularly in view of the current economic climate.” The Italian company, which conducts research and prototype testing of unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as the manufacture of drones, is to retain its Brindisi plant, which employs 35 people. While the Italian plant will continue to manufacture large drones, the Malta plant will manufacture smaller ones and will also conduct research into unmanned aircraft. International Aviation Supply caters for both civilian and military clients. It was founded in 1985 and started off as a worldwide spare parts supplier and in 2005 it invested into research for the promotion and use of unmanned civilian aircrafts. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Army Honours Fallen Major

The military has named an army academy class after a fallen soldier for the first time since World War II

At a military parade early this week, the armed forces honoured a solider that lost his life in Afghanistan by naming a new military class at the Royal Danish Army Officers Academy after him.

It was the first time since World War II that such an honour has been bestowed. Previous officer classes were named after exceptional officers from the 19-century Schleswig Wars and World War II.

Major Anders Storrud lost his life in a mortar attack in Afghanistan 18 months ago and was honoured at Frederiksberg Castle on Wednesday. His widow Susie Storrud gave a moving speech to the 500 assembled soldiers about her ‘hero’.

‘Anders was dedicated to and believed in what he did. That’s why he was my hero,’ said Storrud, adding that while his military mission was important, his journey towards the goal and his comrades were more important to him.

Berlingske Tidende reports that the first ever ‘Class Storrud’ will begin at the Officers Academy in September.

Wednesday would have been Major Storrud’s 36th birthday. His death in Afghanistan made him the highest ranking Danish officer to be lost in combat since the Schleswig War of 1848.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Man’s Jaw Blown Off in Grenade Attack

A number of people were injured — one seriously — when a hand grenade was thrown at them outside a Christiania café

A young man had part of his jaw blown off in an indiscriminate attack last night in the Christiania area of Copenhagen.

The 22-year-old and four friends were sitting at a picnic table outside Café Nemoland when a hand grenade landed near them shortly after midnight.

The man’s face was badly injured when he was hit by shrapnel, but his condition was described as stable last night.

Three of his companions received less severe injuries to their backs and legs, while one escaped injury in the attack. The three have been discharged from hospital.

Henrik Vedel from the Copenhagen Police called it an ‘unscrupulous attack, where the perpetrator had no qualms about who was hit’. Vedel said the hand grenade had been thrown from a darkened area behind the restaurant, but so far police have found no trace of the attacker.

No motive has yet been established for the attack and police said none of the five people at the table were previously known to authorities. They have appealed for witnesses to the attack to come forward with any information.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Denmark: High Court: Starthelp Benefit Not Discriminatory

A court ruling today found that the starting welfare allowance is not discriminatory even though it is less than other unemployment benefits

An Afghan man has lost his High Court case against Egedal city council in northern Zealand which alleged the state’s Starthelp welfare benefit programme was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Starthelp is a monthly sum paid out primarily to immigrants and refugees who arrived in Denmark after 1 July 2002. The government intended the sum — which ranges from 2,525 kroner for people under 25 who live with their parents to 6,124 kroner for single people 25 and over — to encourage them to enter the workforce.

It is the individual city councils that determine Starthelp eligibility. But although the sum is lower than regular unemployment benefits, the Eastern High Court ruled that the programme was not discriminatory.

The Documentation and Counselling Centre for Race Discrimination (DRC) has provided financial assistance to the Afghan man to pursue his case. Niels-Erik Hansen, head of DRC, said he was not surprised by the decision and would appeal to the Supreme Court.

‘We fully expected the case would go to the Supreme Court,’ he told TV2 News. ‘We hope the decision will be reversed, but in the end this is all about international conventions.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

EU: Budget Surplus, Cyprus to Receive 2.4 Million Euro

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, APRIL 20 — The European Union 2008 budget has a surplus amounting to 1.79bn euro, that will be returned to member states. Cyprus will receive 2.4 million euro. As Famagusta Gazette reported, according to a European Commission press release, in 2008, member states’ contributions to the European Union budget almost exactly matched agreed spending for the year. With just over 1.5% of the overall EU budget unspent, the high implementation rate of funds has left another record low surplus, reflecting effective budgetary management and ongoing efforts only to call on member states for payments that are strictly necessary. The end-of-year surplus — the difference between all EU budget revenue and spending — amounted to 1.79bn euro of the total euro115.771bn budget in 2008 and will be returned to member states. This 1.5% compares to 16% in 2001, when the EU budget surplus was at its peak.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Frattini: Italy is Not a Racist Country

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 22 — Italy “is a country in which the people are strongly opposed to all intolerance and episode of racism” as shown by the Italian government in the Pinar ship affair, said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini during question-time in parliament. “We did not hesitate to rescue 150 immigrants that were definitely illegal, because human solidarity correctly prevailed over rules of sea rescue, which was not Italy’s duty in this case”, he continued. The minister came under intense scrutiny on the issue and the treatment of the migrant workers from experts from the International Labour Organisation and the European Council during the parliamentary session. The Italian government strongly distinguishes between “legality and illegality” but at the same time “is ready to let human solidarity prevail when even a single person is in danger. This means that our country is absolutely not racist”, he concluded. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Frattini Blasts EC VP Over Fiat

Verheugen accused of interfering in possible Fiat- Opel link

(ANSA) — Rome, April 23 — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Friday blasted European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen for allegedly interfering in private business decisions.

The attack came after Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne verbally sparred with Verheugen over the possibility of Fiat acquiring a stake in German carmaker Opel, currently owned by General Motors.

Germany’s representative in the European Union executive fired the opening shot by questioning Fiat’s ability to strike an accord which would make it a partner of Chrysler and, at the same time, make a deal with its Detroit rival GM for a stake in Opel.

Verheugen, who is responsible for industry in EC, also questioned where Fiat could find the capital needed given its debts and the fact that it is “not exactly the European carmaker that is doing the best”, implying that Germany’s Volkswagen was.

Marchionne responded to what he viewed as clearly partisan remarks by saying he was “astounded by the tone and the content” of Verheugen’s statements.

“I would have expected him to engage in constructive dialogue with the European car industry on issues which are negatively impacting our industry today, rather than issuing death sentences or unilaterally deciding who will survive,” Marchionne said.

This prompted Verheugen to explain that he was “in no way contrary” to Fiat being interested in Opel but that “too many questions remained unanswered”.

“I had no intention of being discourteous, but we need to know more about the operation. It is still too early to judge,” he added.

SCAJOLA SAID EU COMMISSIONER WAS ‘OUT OF LINE’ At this point Frattini, who until taking his post last year was also an EC vice president, stepped in and accused Verheugen of “unacceptable interference”.

Frattini said he was “very surprised” by his former colleague’s statements which he considered “interference in industrial decisions between private subjects. This becomes even more unacceptable when one of the companies involved is of the same nationality as he is”.

The foreign minister went on to recall that the EC’s job was to ensure that EU regulations are respected by all, including those regarding the single market and open competition.

Frattini added that he hoped EC President Jose’ Manuel Durao Barroso would correct Verheugen’s position.

Italy’s industry minister, Claudio Scajola, also got into the rumble and branded Verheugen’s remarks as “unacceptable and totally out of line”.

“I understand how it must be very difficult for a German politician to accept the help of an Italian company like Fiat to save an American-German company like Opel. But the commissioner’s statements were unacceptable and totally out of line,” Scajola said.

According to the industry minister, “it is not a European commissioner’s job to intervene in negotiations between companies belonging to two EU member states”.

The EC, he added, can only review an accord between private companies once the agreement has been finalised and this in the framework of its established responsibilities. Fiat officially has not expressed an interest in buying a share of Opel, which GM is spinning and putting up for sale to avoid bankruptcy, although many pundits see this as a ‘Plan B’ for the Italian automaker should its deal with Chrysler fall through.

Other experts think Fiat will seek to pull off both deals in order to reach the size that Marchionne has indicated will be necessary to survive in the future.

Observers noted that, in contrast to Verheugen’s position, Fiat has been given the full support o US President Barack Obama to hook up with Chrysler. Opel’s unions are sharply opposed to joining up with Fiat because, due to product overlapping, it would surely mean job cuts and plant closures.

Because of this, the question has taken on political overtones in Germany where federal elections will take place in five months.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Police Arrest 10 for Keeping Young ‘Slave’

Milan, 23 April (AKI) — Italian police on Thursday arrested 10 family members of a young woman who claims they kept her as a slave for years in a Roma-Gypsy camp in the northern city of Milan. The young woman, a Romanian Roma-Gypsy, said before arriving in Italy, she lived and studied in Germany, where she had a relatively normal life.

Then she moved to Italy together with her extended family and lived in a Roma-Gypsy camp on the outskirts of Milan.

After moving to Italy, the woman’ said her living situation went awry and she was forbidden to go to school.

She said she was beaten every day because she refused to go with others to steal from shops.

The girl said she was forced to live inside the camp and allowed to leave only if accompanied by some of her uncles, as they feared she would flee.

She claimed she was insulted and beaten every day by cousins and uncles, who reprimanded her for not wanting to dress in traditional Gypsy clothing.

She also alleged her father intended to sell her to another man who would have paid 20,000 euros and a certain quantity of gold for her.

The young woman said her father punished her by sexually abusing her.

She contacted local police and is now in a protected community managed by the local council.

At least two family members, among them the father and an aunt managed to escape. Police say they could be hiding in Bosnia.

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

Italy ‘Made 670 Rescues in Malta Waters’

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 21 — Italy has carried out 670 search and rescue operations in waters controlled by Malta since the beginning of 2007, according to a dossier Italy presented to the European Commission in a dispute between the two countries. Italy reiterated in the dossier that Turkish freighter Pinar with 240 migrants aboard was in Maltese waters when it launched a distress signal Thursday and it should have been up to Malta to rescue it. After a four-day stand-off, Italy intervened for humanitarian reasons but has brought the case to the EC. Malta contends the freighter was closer to Italy and was under Italian jurisdiction. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mussolini Secret Son Film at Cannes

Marco Bellocchio in sixth bid for Palme d’Or

(ANSA) — Rome, April 23 — A film about the secret son of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini is Italy’s only entry for this year’s Cannes Film festival.

The film, Vincere, will be the sixth bid for the Palme d’Or for director Marco Bellocchio, 68. As Bellocchio recounts, the future Fascist strongman was an ardent Socialist when he met and married Ida Dalser, a Milanese beauty salon owner who supported the often penniless political agitator.

First one of his many mistresses, Dalser became Mussolini’s first wife in 1914 and bore him Benito Albino Mussolini in 1915.

They would both end up ‘non-persons’ in the Fascist years and eventually die in internment after Dalser’s untiring efforts to have have her son recognised.

“What fascinated me about Ida Dalser was that heroines are usually sympathetic characters while she was a real ballbreaker,” Bellocchio said Thursday.

Dalser split with Mussolini the same year Albino was born when he got hitched to second wife Rachele Guidi.

After numerous dalliances with intellectuals, Mussolini chose a more down-to-earth, hometown woman to become his ‘official’ wife.

Guidi bore him two daughters and three sons including the concert-pianist father of today’s rightwing MP Alessandra Mussolini.


Mussolini at first recognised Dalser’s son, Benito Albino, but after his rise to power had him and later Dalser interned.

The son died in a Milan asylum in 1942 at the age of 27, five years after his mother, who had been sent to a Venetian island after threatening to expose unsavoury details about Mussolini’s past.

The Fascist cover-up was so effective that proof of their existence and the marriage was only clinched by an investigative journalist in 2005.

The second part of Bellocchio’s film highlights the increasing desperation of Dalser, played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and her son, played by Filippo Timi, and Mussolini appears mainly in newsreel footage — although Timi plays him earlier on.

A similar mix was used by Bellocchio in his acclaimed retelling of the kidnapping and murder of Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro, Buongiorno Notte (Good Morning, Night, 2003). The title of the film, Win! was one of Mussolini’s favourite battle cries when he threw his weight behind WWI as a young Socialist newspaper editor, later going to fight at the front.

Bellocchio is a leftwing director who first broke through with an anti-establishment picture called Fists In The Pocket in 1965 and has made a number of controversial films since.

He won a ‘little Golden Lion’ in Venice for Buongiorno, Notte, one of five of his films that have received nominations for the top prize at Cannes.

Bellocchio faces competition from, among others, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, Pedro Almodovar’s Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric (about a soccer-mad postman who gets life training from Eric Cantona), and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist.

Italian actress Asia Argento is on the jury led by French actress Isabelle Huppert. The fest runs from May 13 to 24. The official poster is an iconic image of Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Government to Receive Dalai Lama “as Religious Leader”

THE HAGUE, 24/04/09 — Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen will receive the Dalai Lama. He will be welcomed as a leader of Buddhism, but not as the leader of Tibet, it emerged yesterday in a Lower House debate.

As already announced, the Dalai Lama is visiting the Netherlands on 5 June. He was invited by an independent foundation. The Lower House said last week it will go ahead and receive the Tibetan leader after China told the House in a letter that this would be damaging to relations with the Netherlands.

The question remained whether the government would show resistance to the Chinese pressure as well. Verhagen said yesterday that he will receive the Dalai Lama at a meeting along with other religious leaders. He stressed that the Dutch government will not meet him as leader of Tibet. “The Netherlands does not support the independence struggle of Tibet,” he said. It is not clear whether Premier Jan Peter Balkenende will be present as well.

There are concerns in the business world about trade relations with China. Verhagen takes these concerns seriously. “But it is completely clear that it is up to the government to weigh up whether and in what way it receives the Dalai Lama as religious leader,” said Verhagen. This also applies to parliament, he informed the Chinese ambassador in “clear terms.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Freedom of School Choice Meets Its Limits

A new study reveals that one in three Dutch schools are segregated. Attempts to discourage ‘black’ and ‘white’ schools often clash with the constitutional right to freedom of education.

The Dutch take their constitution seriously. A few articles jump out: article 1, about the principle of equality, and article 23, about freedom of education. Article 23 is so important that professor emeritus Dick Mentink made a career out of it.

Mentink, who taught educational law at Rotterdam’s Erasmus university until his retirement, says article 23 is unique in the world. “The Netherlands are the only country in the world where the state is constitutionally bound to finance confessional schools in the same way it finances public schools.”

The Dutch state, says Mentink, “recognises that all parents must have the unlimited freedom to give their children the education they want. Article 23 guarantees that the state cannot force parents to send their kids to a school against their will.”

The Nijmegen challenge

The adoption of article 23 in 1917 was seen at the time as a compromise between liberals and confessionals. Then prime minister Pieter Cort van der Linden, a Liberal, felt that the state ought to be only minimally involved in organising education, but that it had a duty to facilitate free competition between the different educational and philosophical views in Dutch society. Article 23 also says the state cannot intervene with the fundamentals of confessional schools; its only role is to finance all schools equally.

In 2009, Dutch society is profoundly changed. Because of immigration, confessional schools — traditionally Catholic or Protestant — have come to include Muslim and even Hinduist schools. Added to the distinction between public and confessional schools is the distinction between ‘black’ (ethnic minority) and ‘white’ (native Dutch) schools.

According to some people, it is a perverse effect of article 23 that the freedom of education now allows Dutch parents to cycle across town just to send their kids to that one good — usually white — school. These schools have long waiting lists, while other schools become more and more populated with immigrant children.


The city of Nijmegen has recently decided to challenge article 23 in an effort to fight the increasing ghettoisation of its primary school system. Starting next school year, parents in Nijmegen will be allowed to name up to six preferred schools, after which a central committee will determine to which school the child will be admitted.

The committee will use several criteria to determine the choice of school, but the first criterium is that children must be encouraged to go to school in their own neighbourhoods. If parents name faraway schools they decrease the chance that their child will be able to attend the school of their choice, because children living near those schools will be given preference.

The second criterium is to strive for a better balance between disadvantaged and mainstream children. Research shows a ratio of 30 percent disadvantaged children to 70 percent mainstream children is beneficial to both groups: it encourages disadvantaged children to do better without lowering the quality of education in the process.

The right to choose

The two criteria are sometimes at odds with each other because the demographics of the neighbourhoods are not always desirable. In those cases preference is given to sending kids to schools in their own neighbourhoods.

Nijmegen denies that its policy is a violation of the freedom of education principle. Article 23 only guarantees the right to choose a kind of school, based on its denominational or educational fundamentals, the city says. It does not guarantee the right to choose a specific school establishment.

The right-wing liberal party VVD in the Dutch parliament objected to the new policy because it could force parents to send their children to Islamic schools against their will. The city authority says all parents have to do is not to list Islamic schools among their preferred schools.

Nijmegen is not the only local authority in the Netherlands to have challenged article 23. In the town of Tiel, parents have to report to either the public, protestant or catholic school system, after which their children are assigned to a school in their own neighbourhood. Tiel does not use a ratio of disadvantaged to mainstream children, which means that Tiel schools better reflect the demographics of the neighbourhood they’re in. Another difference is that Nijmegen assigns children to one specific school; in Tiel, parents can choose between any school of the same denomination within the same neighbourhood.

There has been little protest in Tiel, but the changes in Nijmegen are more controversial. Educational columnist Leo Prick wrote in NRC Handelsblad that the city is “riding roughshod over the fundamental right of parents to send their children to a school of their choice.”

Closing achievement gaps

Mentink disagrees. He says article 23 has often been misinterpreted in the past. “Article 23 was never about the consumer’s right to choose. It is about the right to organise education”, he says. And former prime minister Cort van der Linden’s interpretation that “no child shall be forced to attend a school that doesn’t respect the religious convictions of its parents” stands unchallenged, says Mentink. “Parents in Nijmegen can still chose the denomination of the school their kids are sent to.”

At issue is whether local authorities have the right to spread out pupils in their efforts to fight ghettoisation. Doing so is illegal when it is based on nationality or ethnic background, but it is compulsory when it comes to closing achievement gaps. Article 167a of the law on primary education says local authorities have to consult with the schools in order to prevent segregation and spread out struggling pupils equally.

But is the Tiel or Nijmegen approach applicable to all areas, especially to the big cities? Tiel has only one “very weak” primary school. Amsterdam and Rotterdam have fourteen “very weak” primary schools.

Christian Democrat member of parliament Jan Jacob van Dijk is not opposed to the Nijmegen experiment. But what if all the schools in your neighbourhood are marked as very weak? he asks. “I wonder if one can force parents to send their kids to an obviously underperforming school. The system can only work if the quality of education is guaranteed across the board.”


Study reveals primary school segregation

The Knowledge Centre for Mixed Schools says one third of primary schools in the Netherlands do not reflect the ethnic backgrounds of their local communities. The observation is based on a survey of over 2,000 primary schools in nearly 40 municipal districts. The centre presented its report to deputy education minister Sharon Dijksma on Wednesday.

The centre, which promotes desegregation in education and is subsidised by the education ministry, believes that schools should reflect the ethnic and social make-up of their areas. It says research shows that this is not the case in one third of all primary schools. They have mostly either immigrant or Dutch-background pupils, while their local areas are much more diverse.

The centre describes the results of its research as “shocking”, pointing out that the children are not learning to get along with people from other nationalities and religions. The cities with the worst results according to the survey were Lelystad, Leiden and Almelo.

The study reflects ongoing concerns about the degree of ethnic segregation in Dutch schools, caused by ethnically Dutch parents opting to send their children to schools where the pupils have a similar background to their own, even if the school is outside their neighbourhood. This has led to the intake at schools in some neighbourhoods becoming dominated by pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds. Such schools are officially termed “black schools”. ]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: ‘Teen Repellent’ is a Mixed Success in Rotterdam

The mosquito — or ‘teen repellent’ — is meant to discourage groups of kids from loitering in the streets and making a nuisance of themselves. “It’s a free country isn’t it?”

“It sucks! It gives me a headache,” 10-year-old Mohammed says about the mosquito — a device that emits an annoying sound with a frequency that can generally be heard only by people under the age of 25. His friends Ercan, Anass and Nordin agree. “It’s like when you’ve been listening to loud music for a long time and then you stop. This buzzing sound.”

The kids all live in the Rotterdam neighbourhood of Oud Charlois, where mosquitoes first appeared a year ago. We take a walk from the Wolphaertsbocht to an interior court off Clemens Street. Within this small perimeter there are no less than six mosquitoes: above snackbar Marlena, clothing shop Hans, the bakery and the supermarket, and on the courtyard itself.

The mosquito — or ‘teen repellent’ — is meant to discourage groups of kids from loitering in the streets and making a nuisance of themselves. Opinions about its efficiency diverge. A group of older kids are willing to comment. “It hurts my ears but I’ve grown used to it. We’re still here,” says one. “It’s like swimming under water but we’re used to it,” says another.

There is just as little enthusiasm among local shop owners. “It hasn’t changed anything,” says sales clerk Ingrid Rotermundt at Hans’ clothing shop. “I never saw why we needed it in the first place. Things are not that bad over here. Sure, someone threw a brick through the window the other day, but I don’t know who did that.”

Less work for the police

At Marlene’s snackbar they’ve noticed that more and more kids prefer to hang out inside the premises since last winter — a result of the mosquitoes buzzing outside? “I don’t know. All I know is they can be very annoying. They throw food around.”

By contrast, the local authority of Charlois is extremely pleased with the mosquitoes. “We were getting complaints about intimidation and vandalism,” says borough president Dick Lockhorst. “The nuisance has diminished by 70 to 80 percent. That means less work for the police.”

The importer of mosquitoes for the Netherlands says he has installed some five-hundred devices in 120 municipalities. Nuisance has diminished in nearly all the locations, says general manager Donald van der Laan of the Rhine Consulting Group. He knows the Woplhaertsbocht in Rotterdam. “Before, it was not the kind of place I would go after dark. But it has improved a lot.”

The use of the mosquito is controversial. An often-heard criticism is that the device affects everyone within a twenty-metres radius, including people who are not creating a nuisance. Like sisters Saloua and Keltoum Azerkane and their friend Marwa Massali. “Whenever we pass by here we get a headache,” they say.

Move the problem

At our request, school principal Henny de Koning asks eighty kids on the second floor of the Charlois international primary school if the mosquito outside the school premises bothers them. Twenty kids say they have heard it on occasion. “But it doesn’t bother them much.” Except for a girl who lives above the bakery. She can sometimes hear it inside the house.

Social workers in Charlois are extremely negative. Jan Schellekens: “It makes the kids irritable and aggressive. It makes the want to tear the device from the wall.” Schellekens feels the mosquito is the wrong tool. “All it does is move the problem. Young offenders are forced even more underground so that they are even harder to reach. And there is so little for the kids to do anyway. They don’t have a place to go except the street. And now they are being chased off the street.”

The kids agree. “Where are we supposed to hang out?” they say. “People say we are menacing. But we don”t do anything. It’s a free country isn’t it?”

Home affairs minister Guusje ter Horst (Labour) is not a fan of the mosquito. Her department’s lawyers fear it might even be unconstitutional, but since nobody has tested the law so far Ter Horst cannot stop local authorities from installing the device. At parliament’s request she has started negotiations with the association of local authorities to establish ground rules for the use of the mosquito.

No-go area

The left-wing Socialist Party is dead set against the mosquito. It has adopted a party motion prohibiting individuals to install mosquitoes. The party’s youth organisation is lobbying for a national ban. “To declare the street a no-go area is simply unacceptable,” says party official Leon Botter.

The city of Rotterdam has asked the land’s advocate, an adviser to the government on legal issues, for guidance. He wrote to Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb that he sees no legal objections. But that doesn’t mean that we should flood the country with mosquitoes, his spokesperson says. “We should see it as a last resort.” Rotterdam is now working on a plan of action. In the meantime, a moratorium on new mosquitoes is in place.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Orange Headscarves for Dutch Muslims

This year, Muslim women in Haarlem will be able to celebrate Queen’s Day appropriately dressed. A group of students will hand out more than 5,000 orange headscarves on 30 April to promote tolerance in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The orange headscarves will allow Muslim women to express their loyalty to their faith as well as to the queen.

The two students who thought up the idea say they are annoyed by politicians and others indulging in rabble-rousing rhetoric about Islamic headscarves. The orange headscarves have been partly paid for from a 3,000 euro prize awarded by Haarlem council to the two students for their initiative.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Parents: Required Sex Ed Violates Daughter’s Rights

Challenging school program for teaching kids ‘feel good’ promiscuity

Parents of a school-age girl in Germany who were convicted and fined for refusing to allow her to take a mandatory sex-ed class and preventing her from participating in a required “body” play are appealing their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The case involving Eduard and Elisabeth Elscheidt is being handled by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has assigned attorney Roger Kiska to defend the family. Kiska told WND the case provides a good opportunity to further challenge Germany’s opposition to parental influence in their children’s education and the government’s totalitarian-type ban on homeschooling.

“Parents, not the government, are the ones ultimately responsible for making educational choices for their children,” Kiska said. “These parents were well within their rights under the European Convention of Human Rights to opt to teach their children a view of sexuality that is in accordance with their own religious beliefs instead of sending them to a class and stageplay they found objectionable.

“These types of cases are crucial battles in the effort to keep bad decisions overseas from being relied upon by activists who attack parental rights in America,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Spain: in September Mausoleum Will be Memory Centre

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 22 — By the end of September, the Valle de los Caidos, a mausoleum close to San Lorenzo dell’Escorial where the remains of the dictator Francisco Franco and the Phalange founder Primo de Rivera are buried, is expected to be transformed into a “centre of historical memory”. The news was taken in a motion approved yesterday by a majority in congress following Izquierda Unida’s (IU — United Left) lead, with opposition votes from the Popular Party and the Popular Navarre Union. The idea had already been raised in the law for historical memory, which parliament approved in December 2007. But quoted in the press today, IU is hoping to put the plan into action. The foundation which manages the Valle de los Caidos now has six months to include amongst its objectives: “the honouring and readdressing of the memory of all those who fell in the Civil War and in the repression that followed,” so that the mausoleum becomes a “centre for memory and reconciliation.” Congress has further asked the government to approve the scientific and multidisciplinary procedure for properly exhuming the mass graves of the victims of the Civil War and repression under Franco in the next six months. The motion also asks the government to produce a map of existing mass graves throughout Spanish territory in six months, so that it is made available to all citizens who are interested in recovering the remains of family members. The autonomous regions and city councils will be required to provide a list of the remaining signs of the Civil War and period of dictatorship, so as to hasten the removal of emblems, signs, plaques and other objects “which exalt the military insurrection of the generals which preceded the Civil War and the dictatorship.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Service Sales Fall, Peak in Repossessions

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 20 — The Spanish services sector has recorded a tenth consecutive fall in sales in February, with a loss of 20.5% against the same month in 2008, according to statistics released by the national statistics institute, INE. The economic and real-estate crisis led to a 55.6% rise in home repossessions in the region of Madrid. In 2008, 1,912 properties were put under the hammer by courts after home-owners were unable to keep up with mortgage repayments, compared to 1,229 cases in the previous year. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Stockholm Taxis to Double as Ambulances

[Comment from Tuan Jim: any chance this is intended to address the issue of attacks on emergency service providers…or am I just reading too much into things?]

Stockholm taxis are to be deployed to respond to emergency calls and drivers trained to treat cardiac arrest using defibrillators, medical and taxi officials said on Friday.

More than 100 Stockholm taxis will be equipped with the defibrillators and deployed to respond to emergency calls when they have no customers, according to Jeanette Lindström, who heads the project at Stockholm’s biggest taxi company Taxi Stockholm.

“The sooner the patients get help the greater their chances of survival. We are out on the roads 24 hours a day. In the event of an emergency, we can get there quickly and begin life-saving measures,” Lindström said.

But “we are absolutely not going to replace ambulances,” she added.

The initiative is a collaboration with Stockholm hospital Södersjukhuset.

“Every minute that passes reduces the chance of survival without any lasting injury by 10 percent. So this project increases patients’ chances significantly,” the head doctor at emergency rescue service SOS Alarm, Lars Engerström, told Sveriges Radio (SR).

One Taxi Stockholm driver taking part in the project, Joakim Svendsen, said the defibrillator was simple to use.

“It’s incredibly easy. You just lift the lid, push the on-off button, and it starts giving you instructions,” he told SR, adding that with his own background as a nursing assistant he hoped to be able to help someone in an emergency.

“I would probably be incredibly nervous. You’re standing there and have the chance to save a life,” he said.

The defibrillators will only be used when the patient’s heart has stopped and there is no pulse.

Several dozen security guards and their vans will also be equipped with defibrillators.

According to the Swedish Heart and Lung Association, 11,000 Swedes die every year of acute cardiac arrest.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Georgian Gangs Behind Rise in Geneva Burglaries

Georgian criminal gangs are chiefly responsible for the large rise in burglaries in French-speaking Switzerland over the past year, the Geneva police have confirmed. Ten additional officers have been assigned to tackle the rising number of burglaries of apartments and villas in canton Geneva — up by 21 per cent in 2008 over the previous year, said the police on Tuesday at a presentation of their 2008 annual report.

In all, some 5,934 attempted or successful break-ins were reported in canton Geneva in 2008, compared with 4,878 in 2007. The region experienced peaks in August and December 2008, with over 400 reported burglaries each month.

Georgian nationals carried out a large proportion of these crimes, say police. Of the 305 burglars arrested in Geneva in 2008, 69 came from Georgia. A further 30 came from Moldova, Lithuania and Russia.

Out of a total of 100 people arrested for burglaries in Geneva so far this year, 40 are Georgians, the police say.

“It’s clearly organised crime — with mafia-like structures. They are very well organised at every level,” Jean Sanchez, deputy head of the Geneva police, told swissinfo.

“They have people who commit the burglaries, others who handle the stolen goods, and a rear base for recycling or laundering the money.”

The Georgian gangs are fairly well known to police forces in the rest of Europe but their presence in French-speaking Switzerland has only been registered since last year, said the deputy head.

But it’s also difficult to work out how many people are involved as some move from gang to gang, he added…

…Ne me Tase pas, mec! The Geneva force also announced on Monday that it had become the first canton in French-speaking Switzerland to acquire Taser stun guns.

In all, it has purchased three Taser stun guns that would be used by trained officers in “exceptional” circumstances, such as during a prison riot, or to disable a criminal with a gun or someone who was about to commit suicide.

According to the police, only a dozen such incidents would have warranted the use of a Taser in Geneva last year.

On “no account” would a Taser be used during the expulsion of a rejected asylum-seeker, added Laurent Moutinot, Geneva’s justice and police minister.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: And what precipitated this statement exactly???]

Tasers are already authorised by several other Swiss cantons (cantons Zurich, Bern, Basel City, Aargau, Appenzell Inner Rhodes, Nidwalden, Schwyz, St Gallen, Thurgau and Lucerne, as well as by the Zurich and Zug municipal police), all of which have widespread autonomy for their police work.

50,000 volts The Taser uses a temporary high-voltage low-current electrical discharge to override the body’s muscle-triggering mechanisms.

Two barbed darts embed themselves into the skin and deliver a series of around 50,000-volt electrical pulses for up to five seconds. The maximum range of the darts is ten metres.

Experts say a shock lasting half a second will cause intense pain and muscle contractions. Two to three seconds will often cause the subject to become dazed and drop to the ground. More than three seconds will usually completely disorient and ground someone for up to 15 minutes.

Employing a Taser avoids the need for physical force or a firearm and prevents injuries, the Geneva police claim.

But a report by Amnesty International in December 2008 found 334 people died in the United States between 2001 and 2008 after a stun gun was used on them. Voltage from the guns “provoked or contributed” towards death in around 50 cases.

The report found that around 90 per cent of the people who died after being stunned had not been armed and had not seemed to pose a serious threat to anyone.

Amnesty says it is not opposed in principle to their usage, but believes that a Taser is a lethal weapon, and should be considered the same as a firearm.

“This is bad news, even if it is only three Taser stun guns,” said Manon Schick, spokeswoman for Amnesty Switzerland.

“We had asked for a suspension of their use and of new purchases of Tasers in Switzerland. We would like the police not to use them until there is an exhaustive, impartial study into deaths using Tasers.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Minaret Initiative Divides Opinions

A proposal by rightwing political parties to ban the construction of minarets appears to have limited backing among the Swiss. Around 37 per cent of respondents said they agreed with the ban, while nearly 50 per cent came out against the proposal, according to a survey published on Friday.

A further 14 per cent of those interviewed said they were undecided.

The poll was carried out among 1,000 people in the German and French-speaking regions a month ago on behalf of the Protestant church newspaper, Reformiert.

The report says most supporters of the proposal consider themselves close to the Swiss People’s Party.

The House of Representatives in March overwhelmingly recommended rejection of the proposal, but no date has been set for the nationwide vote.

In Switzerland, only the mosques in Geneva, Zurich, Wangen near Olten and Winterthur have minarets.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Identity of Abandoned Woman is Determined

A woman dumped outside a hospital in northeastern Switzerland on Tuesday has been identified as a 43-year-old Macedonian. Police inquiries discovered that the woman, suffering from cancer, had been living illegally for some time at an acquaintance’s home in the nearby town of Kreuzlingen.

Authorities at Münsterlingen Hospital, where she was found emaciated and wrapped in a blanket, say the woman’s condition remains serious but stable.

It is still unclear how the woman came to be in the hospital’s car park and local authorities are continuing an investigation.

Police say it was evident from her condition that she could not have reached the hospital on her own, adding the woman must have been ill for several weeks or months.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

The Life and/or Death of the Euro

Is the euro zone, 10 years old this year, going to live or die?

As this article of mine from Poland suggests, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated, at least in the sense that anyone is abandoning it. In fact, Polish business would be delighted to ditch the zloty tomorrow and adopt the euro instead. Yet the financial crisis has highlighted a paradox of the euro: a bunch of countries want in, while — arguably — some might benefit from getting out.

Getting whipsawed by unruly currency markets is no fun at all. Since the euro has fared a lot better than currencies outside the 16-member union, its appeal has risen.

Just ask Iceland, whose krona collapsed last year as the country faced what the prime minister called “national bankruptcy.” Now his successor is predicting euro adoption in four years. In Denmark, a well-governed country that has felt the market’s pressure, the euro may be closer than ever. The Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia desperately want to adopt the euro. Slovakia got in under the wire: it became the 16th member of the euro zone on Jan. 1.

Being inside a currency union has its disadvantages as well.

Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain — now waggishly called the PIIGS by some commentators — face steep, in some cases, debt-driven downturns. (See here for the Greek example.) Their sin has been to watch their competitiveness decline vis-à-vis fellow euro-users like Germany. Since they cannot devalue their currencies, they have to regain lost ground by letting wages stagnate or fall in real terms. (They do, however, benefit tremendously from the euro’s credibility by being able to borrow more cheaply than they would outside the euro area, something not lost on finance ministers.)

The American economist Martin Feldstein famously predicted 10 years ago that the euro could not succeed for these reasons. As its 10th birthday arrived, Mr. Feldstein amended his comments in a recent speech that essentially argued that he was right — just not yet.

So which side will win? The answer may be that the euro zone will get bigger before it comes apart — if, indeed, it ever comes apart…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: Gurkha Immigration Policy Condemned as ‘a Sham’

Gurkhas who risked their lives for Britain suffered a major blow today in their attempts to win the right to settle here.

The Home Office announced that after a High Court ruling 10,000 more former soldiers and family members would be eligible to live permanently in Britain, but campaigners say that in reality the new rules may help fewer than 100 men.

David Enright, a solicitor acting on behalf of the Gurkhas, said: “They have set criteria that are unattainable. They require a Gurkha to serve for 20 years — but a rifleman is only permitted to serve for 15 years.

“It’s a sham and an absolute disgrace. It’s far more restrictive than the old policy.”

The Home Secretary agreed to announce a new policy on the right of Gurkhas to settle in Britain after campaigners returned to court last month to enforce a legal ruling won at the Royal Courts of Justice in September. A High Court judge had ruled that the Government’s existing immigration policy, excluding veterans from settling, was unlawful.

Campaigners, including the actress Joanna Lumley, said that today’s announcement was disingenuous and offensive. “The Gurkhas cannot meet these new criteria. It makes me ashamed of our government,” Lumley said. “We will fight on. We don’t stop. This has been a setback but that is all.”

The Home Office said that it would will allow in around 4,300 more former Gurkhas out of a total of 36,000 who served in Britain’s Armed Forces prior to July 1997.

Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said: “This guidance honours the service, commitment and gallantry of those who served with the Brigade of Gurkhas. Now, another 10,000 Gurkhas and family members will be able to benefit from our revised guidance.”

He denied that the Government had betrayed the Gurkhas.

“What we’ve done today is to allow even more people in without setting a precedent that would create a massive pressure, in my view, on the immigration service, which I don’t think the public would want me to grant,” he told the BBC.

Rules introduced in 2004 allowed serving Gurkhas with at least four years’ service to settle in the UK but they did not apply to Gurkhas discharged from the British Army before July 1, 1997.

Under the new guidelines Gurkhas and their families will be allowed to settle if they meet one of five criteria: they have three years’ continuous residence in the UK during or after their service; they have close family in the UK; they received a level 1-3 bravery award, including the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross; they served for 20 years or more; or they suffer from a chronic or long-term medical condition caused by, or aggravated by, service in the brigade.

In addition Gurkhas will normally be allowed to settle in Britain if they meet two or more of the following criteria: they were previously awarded an MoD disability pension but no longer have a chronic medical condition; they were mentioned in dispatches; they served for 10 years; or they received a campaign medal for active service in the brigade.

The brigade was formed after the partition of India in 1947, but Nepalese Gurkha soldiers have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years.

More than 200,000 Gurkhas fought for the Allies during the First and Second World Wars, with 43,000 giving their lives. There are currently around 3,500 serving Gurkhas.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: A couple key reader comments following the article:

It makes me so angry that there could be any question for the Gurkhas and their families to stay in the UK. They fight and die for us and we reward them by denying them any of the rights their military colleagues have. And yet we will open the door to absolutely everyone else in the world!

Martin, Bristol, UK

If you are as ashamed and incensed as I am at the way the Gurkhas are being treated please spare a couple of minutes to sign the petition at

Thank you

Frank March, Southampton, UK]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Home Office Whistleblower Sacked Over Leaks to Tory MP

[Comment from Tuan Jim: No whistleblower protection in the UK?]

The Home Office whistleblower who sparked a police probe by leaking information to a top Conservative MP has been sacked, it was revealed today. Christopher Galley, 26, lost his job as a junior member of staff in the Government department after a disciplinary hearing this morning.

The decision comes just over a week after prosecutors decided to drop the case against Mr Galley and the shadow frontbencher Damian Green. Home Office officials told police they had caused ‘considerable damage to national security’, prompting a full-scale investigation. But in fact, the revelations represented no risk of any kind to the country and were simply embarrassing to the Home Secretary.

Officers raided Mr Green’s Commons office and home and both men were arrested and placed on police bail until the case was dropped last week.

The decision not to pursue it left Jacqui Smith’s political future hanging by a thread and she is now expected to be demoted in a June Cabinet reshuffle. After it was shelved, Mr Galley — in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail — said he would have done exactly the same again despite the fallout.

He said he had decided to leak the documents after being shocked by the incompetence he uncovered. ‘I did it because what I saw happening was wrong, ‘ he added. He also revealed extraordinary details of the heavy-handed operation against him by anti-terror police, who raided his flat at 5. 30am last November 19. Mr Galley recalls how one officer immediately told him: ‘We are offering no deals. You can get life imprisonment for this.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: RBS Demands £40,000 Damages From Unemployed Teenage Girl Who Smashed Bank Window During G20 Protest

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Great photos!]

A 17-year-old girl caught smashing up bank computer equipment during the G20 protests has been hit with a demand for £40,000 of damage by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was caught red-handed in the bank’s Threadneedle Street branch and pleaded guilty to burglary and criminal damage.

She admitted following friends into the branch after its windows were smashed and joining them as they damaged property during angry demonstrations on April 1.

The cost of the damage, including three broken plate glass windows and several pieces of computer hardware, was estimated at £40,000, West London Youth Court heard today.

Prosecutor Ann Crighton said the bank wanted to recover all of its losses from the teenage environmental activist.

But her solicitor, Miranda Ching, said the Scottish-born teenager, who lives in Brighton, is unemployed, does not claim benefits and lives on hand-outs from friends and family.

She said: ‘RBS have gone for compensation in the sum of £40,000. In my view, this is wholly unjustified.

‘It may well be that a substantial amount of criminal damage was caused as a whole by other people on April 1.

‘We must look at what my client is charged with and that is IT equipment.

‘That seems to be, at most, one computer keyboard and one computer monitor.’

The teenager was sentenced to an eight-month referral order which may include a smaller sum of compensation, a letter of apology and an agreement not to commit further crimes.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Woman Who Fractured Baby’s Skull is Freed by Judge, Saying She Had Suffered Enough

A woman who battered a nine-week-old baby in an horrific attack has avoided jail after a judge decided she had already suffered enough. Claire Thompson, 32, who had been entrusted with looking after the infant, was found guilty in March of fracturing its skull, breaking a rib and inflicting up to three leg fractures. An expert at her trial said the skull fracture was probably caused by the baby’s head hitting a hard surface with force, the rib was probably broken by severe squeezing and the the leg bones were likely to have been fractured by forceful pulling or twisting, or by violent shaking. But yesterday Judge David Goodin spared Thompson from prison, handing her a nine-month suspended prison sentence, ordering her to do 200 hours of community service and telling her to pay £500 costs. Hearing that she had ‘lost everything’ following the assault, he heaped praise on her character and told her she had already suffered more than any sentence he could impose on her. Judge Goodin said: ‘All evidence simply confirms you to be an industrious, decent and placid well-liked young woman who was slow to anger and disinclined to confrontation.’ He added: ‘The only sensible explanation for these injuries must have been a sudden and momentary loss of control.’ Thompson, of Sudbury, Suffolk, was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm to a baby she was looking after — but was cleared of causing the injuries intentionally. Despite denying both charges, Thompson admitted she was one of three people who could have injured the infant. Lindsay Cox, defending Thompson, told Ipswich Crown Court yesterday: ‘She was engaged and lost that. The home that she had with a former partner was again lost to her.’ He added: ‘She was working in the retail industry in a job that would bring her into contact with children. Although she has not been told that she is fired, she has not gone back to work, and I cannot in all honesty think that she could keep that appointment.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Croatia: Morales Murder Plot Suspect ‘Wanted to Form Separatist Army’

Zagreb, 22 April (AKI) — A Croat allegedly involved in a plot to kill leftwing Bolivian president Evo Morales said in an interview that he travelled to Bolivia to form a secessionist army in the country’s mineral-rich Santa Cruz region.

“They called me from Bolivia, from Santa Cruz, they told me to come home, because the motherland calls,” Eduardo Rosza Flores said in a Hungarian media interview.

The interview was recorded last September and excerpts from it were published on Wednesday by Croatian daily Jutarnji.

Flores, who had dual Bolivian-Croatian nationality, was killed last week in Bolivia in a gunfight with police.

“My task is to form an army in Santa Cruz as soon as possible and to be its leader,” Flores said. “I’m not a mercenary, nor will I ever be, but if motherland needs me I’m going,” said Bolivian-born Flores.

In the interview, recorded just before he travelled to Bolivia, Flores said the Santa Cruz region opposed Morales’ rule and was fighting for autonomy.

“Only if autonomy doesn’t succeed by peaceful means, will we proclaim independence,” he concluded in the interview.

Flores, 49, a Bolivian of Croatian origins, said that his trip to Bolivia was well organised, including his air tickets and illegal crossing of the border from Brazil.

Flores, nicknamed Chico, went to Croatia in 1991, to fight in the secessionist war against the former Yugoslavia.

After the war ended with Croatia’s independence in 1995, he retired from the army with the rank of major and lived in the Hungarian capital, Budapest.

Apart from Flores, an Irishman, Dwyer Michael Martin, and a Romanian, Arpad Magyarosi were killed in a shootout with police in the eastern city of Santa Cruz.

Two other suspected plotters, Elot Toaso, a Hungarian, and another Bolivian of Croat descent, Mario Francisco Tadic, were arrested during the gunfight.

Morales said they were members of a gang planning to kill him and several other officials. The Bolivian press linked the plotters to an opposition leader in Santa Cruz, Branko Marinkovic, who is also of Croatian descent.

The discovery of the alleged plot raised concern in Croatia about the fate of a sizeable Croat community in Bolivia after Croats were described in the media as separatists and fascists.

Some Bolivian newspapers have made a link with the World War II fake or quisling state in Croatia that was formed by the leader of the separatist Ustashe movement, Ante Pavelic, under the auspices of Hitler and Mussolini.

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

Kosovo: Amnesty Asks NATO to Investigate Bombs on Serb TV

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 23 — Amnesty International invited NATO to open an investigation for ‘war crimes” related to the air raid that exactly 10 years ago, on the night between April 22 and 23 of 1999, targeted the headquarters of Serb television (Rts) in Belgrade, causing the deaths of 16 people. In a statement quoted today by Serb media, Amnesty International said that “Ten years after NATO’s bombing of the Serb television building nobody has been brought to trial for this major violation of international human rights”, adding that ‘the bombing of Rts headquarters represents a deliberate attack on a civilian target, and as such it constitutes a war crime”. Because of this, Amnesty asked NATO and member countries to guarantee ‘independent investigations”, take on ‘full responsibility” for the event, and guarantee that damages will be paid to victims and their families. The attack occurred during air raids which NATO decided to launch against Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia to force Belgrade to put an end to the campaign in Kosovo based on terror and ethnic cleansing. Amnesty International stated that NATO had selected the television network as a target because of its propagandà activities, but failed to announce the strike despite being aware of the presence of civilians within the building. SEEMO, a Vienna-based international organisation that protects free press in south eastern Europe, also asked NATO to open an investigation into the air raid on the Serb tv network. Today the families and relatives of the 16 victims commemorated the tragic event of 10 years ago by gathering in front of the memorial monument that was built close to the Rts building, the same that was bombed in April of 1999. Today ‘Politika’, Belgrade’s most authoritative newspaper, published the pictures of the 16 people killed by the NATO air raid on a full page. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Italy: Algeria is Number One African Client

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 21 — According to the Italian national statistics office (ISTAT), in 2008 there was a 62.7% rise in Italian exports to Algeria, making Italy the second largest supplier to the North African country after France. These figures also confirm Italy’s position as Algeria’s second most important trade partner after the United States. The Italian Foreign Trade Commission (ICE) reports in a statement that this is “a constant increase, which began in 2004, to reach 3 billion euros in 2008, a historical record for our exports to Algeria.” Algeria, the ICE continues, “has become our top export market for the first time ever, replacing Italy’s historical trade partners such as Egypt and Tunisia, which used to be the major destinations. The boom in exports is due to the significant rise in iron and steel industry products (+117%) to around 875 million euros, and auxiliary goods for the production and harnessing of mechanical energy (+65%) to around 409 million euros.” After the United States, Italy is Algeria’s top source of imports, for a total of 8.6 billion euros. Compared to 2007, Italian imports have grown 41% in 2008, 99% made up of the acquisition of natural gas and refined oil products, which reached record prices in 2008 and had a significantly negative effect on Italian trade balance. In 2008, Italian trade with Algeria rose 32%, to reach 11.6 billion euros (as against 8 billion euros in 2007). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Christian Churches Reopen

Algiers, 23 April (AKI) — Twenty-two Christian churches closed by Algerian authorities last year have reopened. According to a report in the Algerian daily, Ech-Chourouk citing an American Christian group called Open Doors, the protestant churches were among 26 churches shut down in 2006 because they were considered outside a law governing religious practice.

Based on the newspaper report published on Thursday, it seems that the 22 churches have obtained the permits required by Algerian authorities for Christian worship.

In recent months many politicians and Muslim religious leaders have criticised the activities of Christian missionaries in Algeria, stressing the opening of new evangelical churches, particularly in the area of Cabilia.

Several French and American religious groups have recently been accused of pressing Algerians to convert to Christianity in exchange for help to emigrate elsewhere.

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

Egypt-Israel, Netanyahu Invited to Cairo

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has invited Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Cairo. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman handed a message from Mubarak to Netyanyahu when the two met in Jerusalem Wednesday. The spokesman said the visit might take place in the next few weeks. Yesterday’s was the first meeting between Netanyahu and General Suleiman, an official who has had a major role in the Middle East peace process all the time. Many Israeli officials have paid visits to Cairo since the two countries signed the peace treaty in 1979. Mubarak, on the contrary, has never been in Israel. Speaking at a military ceremony in Ismailiya, Mubarak said “the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Egypt will take place in May. To those who say that he will bring his Foreign Minister with him, I say that it is normal for the heads of Israeli governments to come alone or to travel with the directors of their cabinet, as has always happened when heads of the Israeli government have come to Egypt in the past.” Mubarak went on, “but first of all, the Palestinians must find some cohesion, because their internal division will never bring about the creation of two states. If the Palestinians are happy with their current situation, then they must present themselves to the international community and say that they want two Palestinian states, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza, and Israel will certainly be happier with this outcome”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

US: Obama Urged to Resolve Sahara Conflict

A total of 229 US legislators have asked president Barack Obama to resolve the long-running conflict in the Western Sahara and support Morocco’s autonomy.

Washington, 24 April(AKI) — The Algerian-backed Polisario Front movement has been seeking independence for the Western Sahara since it was occupied by Morocco in the 1970s. Peace talks over the status of the region have been stalled since July 2003 and last year militants threatened to resume their armed struggle if there was no progress in a UN-brokered peace plan.

This is the letter that US lawmakers recently sent to president Barack Obama.

“Vital US interests in North Africa are increasingly challenged by growing regional instability. Terrorist incidents in the Maghreb have increased by more than 400 percent since September 11, 2001, and the emergence of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has led to a spike in terror attacks against both symbols of national government and institutions reflecting cooperation between the Arab world and the West.

The single greatest obstacle impeding the security cooperation necessary to combat this transnational threat is the unresolved territorial dispute over the Western Sahara.

In addition to bringing peace to the people of Morocco and to the Saharawi, and shrinking the space for global terrorist elements to recruit and operate, resolving the conflict in the Western Sahara would have considerable economic benefits and improve the lives of millions of Africans.

The entire Maghreb would finally be free to pursue serious economic integration, attract increased foreign investment, and realise the potential for regional trade and cooperation. All of these important goals are currently blocked by the continued conflict and the tension it creates between states in the region.

In 2007, at the urging of the United States and the United Nations, Morocco , our oldest ally and partner for peace in the Middle East, initiated a ground-breaking autonomy plan to resolve the more than 30 year-old conflict within the framework of self-determination for the Western Sahara.

The Moroccan compromise plan received widespread support from the international community as a critical breakthrough for achieving peace and led to four rounds of UN mediated negotiations.

The UN Security Council, in resolution 1813 (2008), described Morocco’s compromise efforts as “serious and credible.” In pressing for adoption of the resolution the United States reaffirmed the policy initiated under president Clinton, and continued under president Bush, that: “Genuine autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution.”

After the four rounds of negotiations did not produce any real progress, the UN secretary general’s personal envoy for the Western Sahara , Mr Peter van Walsum, issued an assessment to the Security Council in April 2008.

He said, “My conclusion is that an independent Western Sahara is not an attainable goal that is relevant today because it lies at the root of the current negotiation process,” and he urged that future rounds of talks be held only on the subject of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

Unfortunately, following this bold statement the negotiations process stalled. Mr. van Walsum has been replaced by ambassador Christopher Ross as the new UN personal envoy. We are hopeful that Ambassador Ross’s appointment will result in the continuation of the talks based on Mr. van Walsum’s assessment.

We remain convinced that the US position, favouring autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty is the only feasible solution.

We urge you to both sustain this longstanding policy, and to make clear, in both words and actions, that the United States will work to ensure that the UN process continues to support this framework as the only realistic compromise that can bring this unfortunate and longstanding conflict to an end.

We look forward to working with you towards the success of this policy.”

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

Israel and the Palestinians

Lieberman: For Peace Initiative in Our Hands

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV — The new Israeli government intends to go ahead with the peace process with the Palestinians, but it intends take the initiative into its own hands. These were the words of the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, speaking on military radio today, following the stir raised yesterday when he spoke out against the Saudi regional peace initiative and the previous initiatives for an Israel-Palestine agreement arising from Annapolis in 2007, which were signed under American supervision and focused on bilateral commitment to a two-state solution. Lieberman reassured that, “we are interested in taking the initiatives into our own hands and moving on with it,” adding, “there is no sense in wasting time, we want to lead and not be led.” When questioned about his negative reaction to the Saudi initiative, which puts Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories as the price for the collective recognition of the Jewish state by Arab nations, Lieberman confirmed that he was against the proposal, in particular the recognition of the “right to return” for all Palestinian refugees, which he described as being “out of the question.” The Foreign Minister added that the Annapolis agreement was too far removed from the reality of the struggle against terrorism, stating, “I have not seen the Palestinians manage to disband a single terrorist organisation.” Yesterday in Jerusalem Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met for the first time Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who handed him a message from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with an invitation to go to Cairo in the next few weeks. Suleiman has also met Defence Minister Ehud Barak and handed him, too, an invitation to go to Egypt. Many Israeli officials have paid visits to Cairo since the two countries signed the peace treaty in 1979. Mubarak, on the contrary, has never been in Israel.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

West Bank, Joseph’s Burial Site Desecrated

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, APRIL 23 — The burial site of biblical patriarch Joseph, which lies close to Nablus in the West Bank (Palestinian territories) and is venerated in Jewish tradition, was desecrated last night by persons unknown. Today Israeli sources reported that it was found littered and laid waste. The believers who arrived there in the morning for prayers discovered the place covered in anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas, as well as burns and damage to the tombstone. The site is venerated almost daily by the inhabitants of orthodox Hebrew settlements inserted in the Nablus area, and is viewed as a sort of symbol of the presence of settlers in the heart of Palestinian territory by the Arab population. Recently restored, it had already been the object of desecration in the past. Gershon Mesika, who works with the coordination of Jewish settlements in Samaria, commented that ‘only barbarians can carry out such acts of violence” and called on Israel’s authorities to promptly repair the site. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

David Frum: Israel’s Insidious Plot Against America

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Different side of the story than I’ve seen in the wire reports so far.]

Sometimes in Washington, what is most scandalous is the attempt to create a scandal where none exists.

Let me give you a current example.

Maybe you’ve heard about an allegation of scandal against Jane Harman, the California Democrat who served with great distinction on the House Select Committee on Intelligence until Nancy Pelosi gave her the heave-ho.

The story is almost insanely complicated. But the deeper you delve into the details, the more you see that if there is any wrongdoing in the case, it was done by Harman’s accusers.

Some background:

Elements within the FBI and other U.S. agencies have been convinced for years that Israeli spy agencies have penetrated the U.S. government. These anti-Israel elements responded with what spy types call a “mole hunt”-a ferocious search for the suspected infiltrator. Again and again, the search has turned up empty. But from the point of view of a mole hunter, nothing is more damning than the absence of evidence: The inability to discover the mole only proves the mole’s vicious cunning!

Then, at last, in October 2005 the mole hunters found their man: a career Defense Department employee named Larry Franklin. Franklin’s offense? Brace yourself …

Franklin had learned of U.S. intelligence reports that Iranian sabotage teams were operating inside Iraqi Kurdistan. These reports were being disregarded for a reason very familiar in the Bush years: They contained uncomfortable news that higher-ups did not wish to know.

Franklin, however, thought the information important-maybe vitally important. He thought it needed to be pushed up the organization chart. Lacking the clout to move the information himself, he decided to do what frustrated officials often do: He leaked it.

Specifically, he leaked the information to two employees-American citizens both-of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in the hope that they could galvanize a response from their contacts in the White House. The two, Steve Rosen and Kenneth Weissman, shared Franklin’s information with journalists, colleagues, and the Israeli embassy.

For this action, all three were charged with criminal offenses. Investigators squeezed Franklin’s point of vulnerability: He had a seriously ill wife and could not afford the loss of his government health-care coverage. He pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information and was sentenced to almost 13 years in prison. Rosen and Weissman go to trial in June for violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

Two months after Franklin’s sentencing, another leak of classified information hit the newspapers. On Dec. 16, 2005, The New York Times reported the existence of a vast, unknown National Security Agency program to intercept foreign electronic communications.

Unlike the Franklin leak, which was intended to jolt an unwilling bureaucracy into action to defend the country, the Times leak was intended (by the leakers) to sabotage a program integral to that defense. The leak lethally compromised a vital intelligence-collection effort. In terms of its direct and immediate usefulness to America’s enemies, the Times story may count as the worst betrayal of vital national information in a generation.

Needless to say, nobody has ever been prosecuted for that or for any of the other leaks that have done actual damage to American security since 9/11, such as The Washington Post leak that revealed the locations of prisons in which high-value al Qaida detainees were being held.

The stories of these two leaks converged in Jane Harman’s office.

The Franklin prosecution appalled and disturbed many people who care intensely about national security. A campaign was launched to help raise awareness of the Franklin case. Sometime in October 2005, a call was placed by a Franklin supporter to Harman. (This as-yet-unnamed supporter is described in some accounts as a suspected Israeli agent; but by October 2005, of course, the anti-Franklin prosecutors were convinced that Washington was half-filled with Israeli agents.) The Franklin supporter offered Harman a political proposition: If she would take up the case of Franklin and the two AIPAC officials, the supporter would undertake to mobilize political support for Harman’s campaign to keep her job as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee.

Harman seems never to have acted on this proposition. But the fact that she had taken the call persuaded the mole-hunters that she, too, was part of the Israeli conspiracy in Washington. Department of Justice prosecutors determined to file charges against her. Those charges were promptly vetoed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He pointed out that Harman was working fiercely to persuade the Times not to publish the NSA intercept story. “We need Jane,” he said.

There’s no evidence of a deal or trade between Harman and Gonzales. No suggestion that she was motivated to lobby the Times for reasons other than her own initiative. No suggestion that Harman’s actions stemmed from anything except a public-spirited effort to stop a newspaper from compromising the country’s security in order to achieve the thrill of a scoop.

And yet for acting public-spiritedly and responsibly, Jane Harman is now being treated like some kind of corrupt dealmaker.

In fact, this whole bundle of stories is one in which the designated targets of outrage are those who have behaved well-while those who behaved badly escape entirely.

Franklin’s leak intended to safeguard the nation? Espionage.

The Times’ leak that intensely damaged the nation? A prize-winner.

Harman’s deal-making to keep her highly deserved seat on the Intel committee? A scandal.

Nancy Pelosi’s dealmaking to force Harman off and replace her with either Alcee Hastings (a former federal judge impeached on corruption charges) or the very lightly knowledgeable Silvester Reyes? Business as usual.

The “Israel Lobby’s” support for Franklin and Harman and other hawkish Democrats? A sinister conspiracy of intergalactic proportions.

The anti-Israel mole-hunters’ eagerness to prosecute Franklin and give a pass to the many more damaging leakers who have done actual harm to the country? Solid policework.

We have here a situation in which patriots are being treated like traitors-while people who have done the country more harm than many traitors are being treated like patriots.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Turkey Offers Libya Free Trade Agreement, Minister Says

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, APRIL 22 — Turkish state minister for foreign trade said that Turkey had offered Libya to sign a free trade agreement, as Anatolia news agency reports from Tripoli. “We have proposed a free trade agreement and pledged to sign it in September, on the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution, at a ceremony which would be participated by the Turkish prime minister,” Kursad Tuzmen told reporters after a meeting with Muhammad Ali al-Huwayz, Libyan trade and investment minister, as part of his contacts in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Tuzmen said the proposed agreement would increase the trade volume and mutual investments between the two countries. The Turkish minister later met with Shokri Ghanem, head of the Libyan National Oil Corp.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey, Armenia Agree on a ‘Framework’ to Normalise Ties

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 23 — Turkey and Armenia have agreed on a “framework” to normalise their bilateral relations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. The two countries are in high-level talks to restore ties and reopen their borders that were closed in 1993. “The two parties have achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding in this process and they have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalisation of their bilateral relations,” a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry said late Wednesday. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Cash From Credit Card as Last Resort

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 22 — Turkish people are increasingly drawing cash on their credit cards, taking on high interest rates to meet pressing needs, as banks began to implement tighter policies to lend loans due to the global crisis and prefer to have commercial relations with the customers that do not face problems in payment. As daily Hurriyet reports today, cash withdrawals on credit cards rose 22% to 5.1 billion Turkish Liras ($3.1 billion) in the first quarter of the year over the same period of 2008, according to figures from the Interbank Card Center, or BKM, which monitors transactions. Meanwhile, the consumer loan volume of banks declined 644 million liras during the first quarter of the year. Since the end of October, when the crisis was fired up, the banks’ consumer loans have contracted $2.6 billion liras. The amount of cash advance rose to 12.2 billion liras over the period. Those who cannot access consumer loans, whose rate range between 1.5 and 2%, are orienting toward cash advances, which have a monthly interest of 4 to 4.5%. But this has made it difficult for consumers to pay back their debts, with unemployed people and those who have no hope for being awarded a bank loan constitute a substantial proportion of cash withdrawals on credit cards. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey-Armenia: Roadmap for Normalisation Agreed

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 23 — Thanks to Swiss mediation, Turkey and Armenia have agreed a ‘roadmap’ to the normalisation of bilateral relations between the two countries, according to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry. A communiqué reveals that the talks have led to “real progress and a reciprocal understanding” and have brought about an “all-encompassing” agreement “for the normalisation of bilateral relations, which is satisfactory to both parties”. “In this context”, continues the statement, “it has been decided to set out a ‘roadmap’“. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 out of solidarity with Azerbaijan, a Muslim and Turkish-speaking nation which was in conflict with Armenia at the time for control of the Nagorni Karabakh region, an Armenian enclave in Azeri territory. A normalisation of relations between the two countries has been on the cards for some time. Rumours of forthcoming detente between the two countries grew stronger after American President Barack Obama’s visit on April 6, who wanted to meet the foreign ministers of Turkey (Ali Babacan), Armenia (Edward Nalbandian) and Switzerland (Micheline Calmy-Rey).(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UAE: Dubai Denies Laundering Pirate Funds

Dubai, 23 April (AKI) — The emirate of Dubai has rejected a British newspaper report suggesting pirates have laundered their ransom money through banks in the Gulf city-state. A report in Al Emarat Al Youm newspaper quoted Maj. Gen. Khamis Mattar al-Mazeina as saying Dubai has strict laws to prevent money laundering.

The Arabic language newspaper has close ties to Dubai’s ruling family.

Al-Mazeina was responding to Tuesday’s report in the British daily, The Independent, that quoted investigators hired by the shipping industry who said organised piracy syndicates in Dubai and other Gulf states have laundered large amounts of ransom money.

The Independent said that much of the 80 million dollar ransoms that pirates had received in 2008 for the release of ships they had hijacked off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of African was transferred to piracy ‘godfathers’ based in Dubai and other gulf states.

The British newspaper quoted Christopher Ledger, a former Royal Marine officer, as saying that “syndicates based in the Persian Gulf — some in Dubai — play a significant role in the piracy which is taking place off the African coast.”

Dubai, located in the United Arab Emirates is the Arab world’s second largest economy and is considered the most liberal of the federation of seven Emirates.

Dubai is also host to 3 million expatriates who comprise at least 85 per cent of the population.

In recent years, Dubai has become a commercial hub, where the world’s property developers and wealthy have vied with one other to acquire real estate, steadily driving up its value.

The UAE is a federation made up of seven emirates, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain and Ras al-Khaimah.

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


No Foreign Military to Join Ukraine’s Sea Breeze Exercises — Navy

KIEV, April 24 (RIA Novosti) — There will be no foreign military involvement in this summer’s Sea Breeze military exercises in Ukraine’s Crimea, a first deputy Ukrainian navy commander said Friday.

The Sea Breeze exercises have been taking place annually in the Crimea since 1997, and have seen occasionally violent anti-NATO protests in recent years.

Last year’s Sea Breeze drills saw protesters set up camps along the Black Sea coast, and reportedly attempt to prevent foreign warships participating in the exercises from leaving the port of Odessa.

“Sea Breeze 2009 does not envision the stay of foreign military units on the territory of the Crimea,” Vice Admiral Viktor Maksimov said, adding that, “only Ukrainian Armed Forces units” would take part.

He also said that media reports suggesting that the exercises would see the involvement of U.S. and other NATO forces were false.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Extraordinary Security Measures for Celebrations of 60th Anniversary of Chinese Navy

The three-day celebration begins tomorrow in Qingdao. There is tight security around the entire area, partly in order to protect the many foreign leaders. Naval representatives from various countries have been invited, but not from Japan.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The strictest possible security measures are in place around the port of Qingdao, where a naval parade will take place tomorrow to begin three days of celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Chinese navy.

21 ships from 14 countries are scheduled for the parade, and the leaders and military officials of many countries will be present. In recent days, uniformed naval officers from a number of countries have been seen in the city, drawing the attention of citizens and tourists. There will also be seminars and exchanges of information. The high number of officials from foreign countries increases the risk of attacks.

Every point of entry to the port is being guarded by navy personnel, and control of the surrounding area is also high. Local sources tell the South China Morning Post that the police have even “asked” taxi drivers not to bring foreigners into the area near the port, or to tell the police as soon as they have dropped them off at their destination. There are also heavy restrictions on the media.

Beijing is proud of celebrating its new naval power: in 1949, it was nothing but a force for coastal defense, while today it is capable of carrying out missions all over the world. The country is also recalling that 115 years ago, at the delta of the Yalu river in the Yellow Sea, its fleet from the North Sea, considered the most powerful in Asia, was defeated in a few hours by the Japanese navy, which was more efficient and better trained. This defeat marked the beginning of Japanese aggression against its larger neighbor, and decades of war. The Japanese navy has not been invited to the celebrations, while India, Pakistan, the United States, and Russia have been.

The projects underway include the creation of a submarine, with a titanium skeleton covered by a special plastic capable of operating at depths of up to 7,000 meters, which the engineer Zhao Junhai of the China Ship Scientific Research Centre hopes can be launched between 2009 and the beginning of 2010. Zhao says that the submarine, which is superior to the current models of the United States and Japan, can sustain pressure of up to 700 kilograms per square centimeter.

Experts nevertheless maintain that China is still far behind the world’s greatest naval powers. Its greatest task is the creation of an aircraft carrier capable of competing with those of the United States.

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

Indonesia Nabs Terror Suspect

JAKARTA — AN ISLAMIC extremist accused of murdering a Christian professor in 2004 has been arrested in Indonesia, police said on Friday. Spokesman Abubakar Nataprawira said the suspect, Amirullah, was a member of a terrorist organisation but he would not confirm reports he was affiliated to the Jemaah Islamiyah regional militant network.

‘Amirullah, also known as Kana, 30, was nabbed on Monday in South Sulawesi.

He is a fugitive wanted by Central Sulawesi police,’ Nataprawira said.

He allegedly shot dead a professor of Sintuwu Maroso university in Poso, in Central Sulawesi, with a revolver.

Jemaah Islamiyah veterans who fought in Afghanistan and the southern Philippines are suspected of recruiting and training extremists in Central Sulawesi province.

Fighting between Muslims and Christians in Poso and surrounding districts claimed about 1,000 lives in 2000-2001. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Parties Re-Evaluate Swat Deal

Peshawar, 24 April (AKI/DAWN) — An All Parties’ Conference was being held on Friday in Peshawar, the provincial capital of the North West Frontier Province, to discuss the Swat peace deal under which militants agreed to lay down their arms in exchange for the implementation of Islamic (Sharia) law in the Swat valley and the surrounding Malakand division.

According to sources, the meeting discussed the Taliban incursions beyond Malakand and the future course of action if the Taliban refuse to disarm and continue their offensive into districts adjoining Swat.

After the recent Taliban incursions into Buner, a backlash to the Swat peace deal is unfolding across NWFP province and the rest of the country, especially among its political leadership. Islamic tribal leaders had threatened to pull out the peace deal unless Sharia law was rapidly implemented.

The United States expressed extreme concern on Thursday about advances by the Taliban in Pakistan and said the issue was taking up a significant amount of president Barack Obama’s time.

On Wednesday, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton warned in extremely strong language that Pakistan, a key US anti-terror ally, was ‘basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists’ with an agreement permitting Sharia law in the Swat valley.

The meeting of Pakistan’s various political parties is important as it was preceded by a high level meeting late on Thursday between the NWFP governor, its chief minister and high ranking army officials.

The possibility of restarting the military offensive against the emboldened Taliban was also discussed during the meeting, sources added.

The historic Swat peace deal was signed in February between the NWFP government and Taliban-led militants. It brought to an end two years of bloodletting in which hundreds of people died and tens of thousands fled their homes.

Once one of Pakistan’s most popular holiday destinations, the Swat valley came under Taliban control after an insurgency began there in 2007 following the siege of Islamabad’s Red Mosque in which over 100 people died.

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

Terrorism: Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons ‘At Risk’

Rome, 24 April (AKI) — Pakistan’s nuclear weapons would be at risk if militants took control of the government, a leading international terrorism expert has told Adnkronos. However, Brian Michael Jenkins, an advisor to the American Rand Corporation and international security expert, said Pakistan was a “failing state” but was not in danger of imminent collapse.

Jenkins was visiting the Italian capital Rome at the request of the Italian government as part of the country’s rotating presidency of the Group of Eight of the world’s top economies plus Russia ahead of their forthcoming July summit.

He took part in a conference of Italian and foreign officials at Italy’s foreign ministry, on “Transnational threats and destabilising factors” before visiting the Rome headquarters of the GMC-Adnkronos media group where he met president, Giuseppe Marra.

“There is concern that if there is a radical takeover of Pakistan itself, the armed forces will behave like the Iranian forces and simply say ‘This is the new government, we are part of the new government’ and therefore the nuclear arsenal could become part of a more radical government,” said Jenkins in an exclusive interview with Adnkronos.

Jenkins said while claims of the government’s imminent collapse was an “overstatement”, the long-term outlook is bleak.

“I see this much more as a slow descent which can be arrested,” he said.

“I think some of these headlines that we have seen such as ‘on the verge of collapse’ are overstatements, nonetheless, the long term trends are not good.

“This is not a failed state, this is not a state that is going to fail tomorrow, but this is a gradually failing state.”

Jenkins also said that there has been an escalation of violence in Pakistan which is moving from the tribal areas into the cities and the government does not know how to handle the threat.

“What we see now is both a geographic escalation of the fighting in Pakistan. Before it was confined to the tribal areas, now we see the violence moving into the settled areas, into the major cities,” he said.

“Now we see the increasing use of large scale terrorist attacks, in many cases involving suicide bombers, this is new and extremely serious. In fact, the Pakistani authorities have not known quite how to deal with it.”

In addition, Jenkins said the Pakistani government’s strategy of either confronting the Taliban militarily or making deals with the militants has failed and will require “decades” to overcome.

“Neither strategy has worked well thus far and so there is a long-term challenge here that the Pakistan government with international help is going to be dealing with for many years, this is a task of decades,” concluded Jenkins.

A former US army Green Beret in Vietnam, Jenkins has advised the US government and many others around the world on terrorism and security issues. He is the author of numerous books, including ‘Unconquerable Nation’ and his latest ‘Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?’.

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

The ISI Surge Against India

Mandeep Singh Bajwa

There has been a spate of fresh infiltration attempts into the Kashmir Valley in recent weeks. The Indian security forces bolstered by good intelligence attained through penetration of the insurgent groups, sigint and heightened vigilance have achieved notable successes albeit at a high cost in killed and wounded. Pakistan is thus waging a war on two fronts though of course one has one’s doubts whether the country’s establishment is indeed serious about the war on terror or against the Jihadi alliance. So what are are the Pakistani Army and ISI really up to and what are their plans?

It is learnt that the ISI has in place or is in the process of putting into position some 50 deep-penetration groups of infiltrators, saboteurs and intelligence modules in the depth areas on the Indian side from Gulmarg in South West Kashmir to Akhnur in Jammu province. Many of the personnel of these groups are from the SSG some serving most retired. While some of these modules are active the majority it is learnt are sleeper cells to be activated when the time comes (which may be very soon). At present there is a major surge of training in camps both in POK and NWFP of mixed teams of infiltrators for deep penetration into Kashmir and Muslim majority areas of the Jammu region. These comprise both serving personnel from the SSG and infantry of the Pakistan Army and elements of the Taliban. Now this is a new phenomenon which needs closer investigation. Hitherto the Taliban had not been noticed fighting in Kashmir. Is Pakistan trying to side-track the Taliban or is the ISI simply running out of the usual Punjabi recruits for the Jihad in Kashmir?

The infiltration into North Kashmir through the traditional routes in the areas of Kupwara and Gurez is again active. The object is to take advantage of the deep snow and the tough terrain. I’ve already mentioned the current advantages the Indians posses by obtaining good intelligence on routes, launching pads and dates of infiltration. In addition the use of special forces to lay ambushes based on actionable intelligence and aggressive patrolling has proved successful. The main aim of these infiltrations and the positioning of deep-penetration teams is to:-

Sabotage the ongoing elections to the Indian Parliament. It’s noteworthy that elections to the J&K State Assembly were successfully held in Dec 2008 with a high voter turnout dealing a severe blow to the aspirations of overground and underground militants.

Prevent any sort of democratic, political activity

Curb the growing assertiveness of the Kashmiri people. They’re no longer in thrall to the militants or their political counterparts.

Keep the Kashmir issue alive with the international community through acts of violence and political defiance.

So much for keeping the jihad alive in Kashmir. The ISI also keeps the offensive against Indian interests in Afghanistan. Braving terrorist strikes, kidnappings, beheadings and numerous difficulties the Indian paramilitary engineering organisation the BRO was able to complete the construction of the 219 km long strategically important Zaranj-Dilaram highway which provides Afghanistan access to the ports of the Persian Gulf. However the ISI is not deterred and plans more attacks on Indian companies and Govt officials working in the country. Adam Khan, Head of Station, Kabul has already been identified as the organiser of attacks on Indian personnel in Afghanistan notably Kabul. Colonel Ashfaq Afridi, commander of the ISI detachment at Peshawar coordinates the operations targeting Indian interests in the eastern part of the troubled nation. He is believed to be a retired officer re-employed for this specific purpose and belongs to Kohat. Again this is attributed to knowledgeable sources.

Within the country apart from the main ISI station within the embassy in Kabul, the major saboteurs, organisers of raids on Indian interests and general trouble makers from the ISI including officers, JCOs and civilian staff are based in the Pakistani consulates at heart and Mazar-i-Sharif which are somehow, perhaps because of their geographic location considered less suspect by the Afghan authorities.

Pakistan continues its strategic offensive against India whether against a growing move for peace and internal settlement of the Kashmir problem or to curb increasing Indian influence in what is considers its strategic backyard. Will the ISI attacks and amplified violence stagger Indian moves to encircle Pakistan strategically or deny it a potential to interfere within its territory? We can’t really say given the Indian reluctance to adopt aggressive postures. What is certain is that ISI attacks on India will continue whether through surrogates planting bombs in Indian cities or mercenaries targeting Indian companies. The latest round of attacks by Leftist guerrillas aimed at thwarting elections in the Red Corridor in Central and North Central India have raised hopes within Pakistani strategic circles that they (the Naxalite rebels) could do their job for them. We might well see in coming months Pakistani aid albeit through covert means to these Leftist extremists. Stranger things have happened before.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Far East

[Editorial] N. Korea as a Hostage Taker

North Korea has demanded that South Korean companies raise wages for North Korean workers in the industrial complex in Kaesong to 70-75 U.S. dollars a month and for the South to pay rent for land four years ahead of time. Pyongyang also unilaterally demanded that Seoul sign a new land lease though they had agreed that South Korean companies use the land for 50 years. It was suggested as a demand for renegotiation but virtually constituted a unilateral notice. While again claiming that Seoul’s participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative constitutes a declaration of war, the North linked the issue with the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong out of the blue. The North also failed to mention the Hyundai Asan employee who has been detained for 25 days.

The Seoul delegation hurriedly headed to Kaesong in early morning in its attempt to use the encounter as official bilateral talks. As the North delayed the meeting for as long as 11 hours, however, the meeting lasted for just 22 minutes, which was truly embarrassing. The Seoul delegation did not even have a chance to see the Hyundai Asan employee who was detained in the building where the meeting was held. Still, the presidential office in Seoul tried to give meaning to the talks, saying, “We can construe the occasion as a momentum for dialogue.” South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek remained low key in making his post-meeting comments, saying, “We will carefully consider the proposal for renegotiation.”

It might be important for Seoul to try to keep the momentum for dialogue going amid the sorry state of inter-Korean relations. What is more important, however, is for Seoul to figure out Pyongyang’s intent accurately and cope with it wisely. Considering the string of measures taken and demands made by Pyongyang following South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s inauguration, has the North initiated a plot to close the industrial complex after judging it has no more use for its interest? Pyongyang’s demand is being seen as a threat against the South to continue the complex by paying hefty prices or shut it down on its own.

The move could also be Pyongyang’s ploy to hand over the risks to the South, as it will have to take responsibility, make compensation, and face intense criticism if the North unilaterally shuts down the complex.

The Kaesong complex was glorified as a symbol of inter-Korean compromise and a beachhead for inter-Korean economic exchange under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. The complex, however, is now a hostage being used by North Korea against the South. Seoul must carefully examine the utility of the complex in light of inter-Korean relations and the economic impact from the very basics. It needs to send to the North a clear signal that it can give up the complex if Pyongyang makes excessive demands.

Attempted wheeling and dealing to demand more money by taking a South Korean staff member hostage is nothing other than kidnapping. Seoul should never give the impression that it is at the North’s disposal. It should make it clear that it cannot hold renegotiations with Pyongyang in any circumstances as long as a South Korean staff is taken hostage. Seoul said its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative has nothing to do with its relations with Pyongyang, but it has postponed its participation three times due to the North, which is a mistake. The South must now repeat the hopeless behavior of putting itself at the North’s disposal again because of the industrial complex.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

China Parades Naval Might

China paraded its warships and nuclear submarines on Thursday in an unprecedented display of maritime might attended by 14 other nations to mark the 60th anniversary of its navy.

Fifty-six Chinese subs, destroyers, frigates, missile boats and planes were displayed off the eastern port city of Qingdao just weeks after tensions flared following a naval stand-off with the United States in the South China Sea.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Korea: North Says it Will Put 2 U.S. Journalists on Trial

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Has anyone even heard a single thing out of the White House (much less the president) regarding these two hostage US citizens in the month since they were captured — before, during and after the missile crisis???]

North Korea said yesterday it will put the two American journalists detained in the country on trial to face criminal charges.

“A competent organ of the DPRK [North Korea] concluded the investigation into the journalists of the United States. The organ formally decided to refer them to a trial on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said yesterday without providing further details.

On March 17, Euna Lee, a Korean-American, and Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, were captured near the China-North Korea border on the Tumen River. Working for San Francisco-based Current TV, Lee and Ling were in China to report on the plight of North Korean refugees.

The U.S. State Department wasn’t immediately available for comment yesterday. But its spokesman Robert Wood said last week the department was “working through a number of different diplomatic channels to try to see what we can do to get these folks released.” The United States doesn’t have formal diplomatic ties with North Korea. Instead, the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang has been acting as the U.S. representative.

On March 31, North Korea announced that it was planning to put Lee and Ling on trial, saying, “[The journalists’] suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements, according to the results of an intermediary investigation conducted by a competent organ.” At the time, the Korean Central News Agency said Lee and Ling would be granted consular access and treated according to international law.

The announcement comes as a South Korean worker at the Kaesong Industrial Complex remains in detention for allegedly criticizing the North Korean political regime and encouraging a North Korean worker to defect.

South Korea has attempted to gain access to the man, mostly recently at the abbreviated inter-Korean talks on Tuesday, but North Korea has not cooperated. In light of the North’s announcement of the trial, the Unification Ministry in Seoul yesterday wouldn’t speculate on the fate of the worker.

“It’s obviously a serious situation but [the U.S. journalists’ trial and the South Korean worker’s detention] are two separate issues that took place in different areas,” said Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman with the Unification Ministry. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to speculate what’s going to happen to our citizen based on this recent development with the Americans.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Korea: Leftwing Groups Wake Up to Abuses in N.Korea

Ahead of the UN Human Rights Commission’s review of North Korea’s human rights record later this year, leftwing groups in South Korea including the Sarangbang Group for Human Rights and PeaceNetwork on Wednesday said they compiled their own report to publicize their views of the situation.

The groups said they submitted their report to the UNHCR on Monday. So far leftwing groups in South Korea have ignored human rights abuses in North Korea and accused people of harboring “impure” political motives whenever they raised the matter.

But in their introduction to the report, the groups say there are “alarming” areas in the activities of South Korean groups seeking to improve human rights in the North as they are using their work to justify or conceal human rights abuses in South Korea. They have got things backwards. Every time the appalling human rights situation in North Korea is highlighted, leftwing groups in South Korea try to stifle the issue by raising human rights problems in the South.

The report says even considering the realities of North Korean society, it is true that there are areas of concern. The groups say they are “deeply concerned” about the North Korean government’s view, as stated in the official Rodong Shinmun daily on Jan. 18, 2008, which says human rights are “impossible to even mention.”

Freedom of ideology and conscience are “not completely” guaranteed in North Korea, the report says, due to the wide application of criminal laws banning political activity, such as Article 61 on “Anti-State Propaganda” and Article 67 on “Treason.” The groups said North Korea was using the death sentence to generate fear and called on the regime to conduct an independent study of its concentration camps and unveil the results. That is certainly a step in the right direction.

But the report is too abstract, making it impossible to recognize the true conditions in North Korea. This is especially clear when comparing it to the U.S. State Department’s report on North Korean human rights issued in February. On the first page of its report, the State Department says extra-judicial executions, missing people, arbitrary confinement, torture and political prisoners are constantly brought to the attention of human rights watch groups. The U.S. report cites specific accounts of such abuses based on the testimonies of North Korean defectors, those who have visited the communist country and officials with international organizations.

The reason leftwing South Korean groups have begun to address North Korean human rights abuses is probably because they are in a situation where they can no longer ignore that issue. They should use this opportunity to start looking at human rights abuses in North Korea from a humanitarian perspective rather than an ideological one.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Korea: U.S. Changes Course on N.Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has apparently decided on a different North Korea policy from the one she planned three months ago. At a hearing by the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, Clinton clarified the administration’s position on stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, Taliban expansion in Pakistan, Middle East issues, and Iran’s nuclear development program. But she said nothing about North Korea, nor did she mention the six-party nuclear talks.

In her confirmation hearing on Jan. 13, she said, “We will… act with urgency to prevent proliferation in North Korea and Iran, secure loose nuclear weapons and materials, and shut down the market for selling them.” At the time, she said there could be a chance for the U.S. to have a bilateral meeting with North Korea through the six-party talks.

But on Wednesday, in a reply to a question by Republican Rep. Dan Burton, she said, “I think we have to be strong, patient, persistent and not give in to the kind of back-and-forth, the unpredictable behavior of the North Korean regime.” Three months ago, North Korea was a potential dialogue partner. Now it is now a country which the U.S. should not give in to.

“Nobody can rule out that North Korea will launch some provocation in time with President Lee Myung-bak’s scheduled visit to the U.S. in June,” a diplomat in Washington speculated.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Anzac Day Cartoon

[See link]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia: Sydney Man Shot 34 Times in Head With Nail Gun

CANBERRA (Reuters) — Australian police released Friday a shocking x-ray photo showing the skull of a murdered Chinese immigrant shot 34 times in the head and neck with a high-power nail gun.

The body of Chen Liu, 27, was found by two children last year in marshland in south Sydney, wrapped in a carpet and bound with electrical wire.

Detectives said the weapon used was a standard gas nail gun widely available and used in construction, firing nails up to 85mm (3.3 inches) long.

“In 36 years, I’ve never seen a murder of this nature,” Homicide Squad Superintendent Geoff Beresford told reporters.

Liu arrived in Australia in 2000 and was reported missing last year.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia: Tribute Paid to All War Dead at Mass

MORE than 1000 people, including veterans of World War II and Vietnam, came to Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral on the eve of Anzac Day.

They came to remember the sacrifice of Australian servicemen and women and honour those who continue to defend their country.

The nation’s most senior Catholic priest, Archbishop of Sydney George Pell, celebrated the Solemn Vigil Mass of Remembrance held last night.

At the opening of the service, which was attended by senior state and federal politicians and NSW Governor Marie Bashir, and lasted more than an hour, Cardinal Pell said the mass would “commemorate war dead of all conflicts”.

The service also offered support and prayers to those serving in the Australian Defence Force, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The chalice used during the celebration of the eucharist was the same as used by Australian soldiers at Gallipoli and the Somme during World War I.

Royal Australian Navy fleet chaplain Paddy Sykes delivered a moving homily in which he referred to the emotional turbulence of serving overseas.

“Many people who have been in international conflicts never come home,” he said. “They are buried overseas.”

Father Sykes offered a prayer for the “peace we enjoy in our country” but warned it often came at the highest price.

“Peace is the fruit of hard work and sometimes loss of human life … I’m not sure how much light many of the men would have seen at Anzac Cove,” he said.

“We serve our country … If we follow Jesus we must be prepared to share his cross.”

Father Sykes also referred to the basic “human need to respect the dead” and mentioned the “closure” brought by the discovery in March last year of HMAS Sydney, which was lost on November 19, 1941, with 645 crew on board.

He added that the possible recent discovery of the resting place of the last Australian service personnel thought missing in action in Vietnam — Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver — would help bring a sense closure to their families.

At the close of the mass the Last Post was played by Corporal Ian Stenning from the University of NSW Regiment Band.

The Reveille was then played as the flags of the three services — the RAAF Ensign, the White Ensign of the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian flag representing the army — were slowly carried out of the cathedral.

The Anzac eve vigil mass has been held for more than 20 years in different venues in Sydney. Last year it was attended by Kevin Rudd.

Professor Bashir gave the first reading from Isaiah 9: 1-6, while Brigadier Shane Caughey CSC, Chief of Staff Land Headquarters, gave the second reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 1: 18-25.

The gospel reading by Father John McKnight was from the gospel of John 12: 23-28.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia: No Right to Silence Refugee Debate

REMEMBER when bipartisanship was the new political black? Then when a boat carrying 47 asylum-seekers exploded off Ashmore Reef last Thursday, it was clear that this season’s new runaway success is the politicisation of sensitive issues. Avoiding politicisation, that is.

For maximum effect, the phrase must be uttered with a pained look and as much confected moral outrage as possible. The undisputed winner in this category in recent days has to be the Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus when he responded to Opposition spokeswoman Sharman Stone’s view that the Rudd Government’s softer immigration policy may have induced the latest boat to head for Australia.

With a hint of quiver in his voice and an injured puppy-dog look, Debus said: “I am not going to allow this particular incident to be politicised as some incidents have been politicised in the past, often to our national shame.”

As an example of thespian skill, it was masterful. But the politics were even more sensational. It evoked children overboard without even using the words. Having harnessed the high moral ground, Debus was able to completely avoid the critical — and difficult — questions while still leaving the adoring press gallery baying for more.

Debus had to buy time to avoid tough questions about whether the Government’s new immigration policies have indeed acted as a come-hither message to people-smugglers. Putting aside the hypocrisy of the Government’s plea against politicisation of an issue it regularly whipped up into an emotional and political frenzy, this is an issue that worries Australians. And rightly so.

It will not go away. The “don’t you dare politicise this issue” rhetoric of the Rudd Government will work for a while. But eventually even the fawning throngs in the Canberra press gallery must eventually realise — as they did with the PM’s demands for bipartisanship when what he really meant was supine obedience — that hard questions need to be asked.

Is it really true that increased boat arrivals are just down to so-called push factors and that changes in Australian government policy are virtually irrelevant? Those peddling this line would have us believe that in comparison with the halcyon days of 2005 and 2006, violence and oppression has suddenly escalated in Afghanistan, Iraq and other home countries of asylum seekers, leading to a rapid increase in boat arrivals.

In fact, it is not cheap politicisation to ask whether it is much more likely that changes in immigration policy do have a significant effect. Playing politics himself, in order to sidestep the more important questions, the Prime Minister was quick to describe people-smugglers as “the vilest form of life”.

Vile they may be, but people-smugglers are running a business. We may excoriate the morals of these low-lifes but Rudd and his ministers make a very grave mistake if they underestimate the rationality, indeed intellect, of people-smugglers. They respond to changes in their regulatory environment, to alterations in their risk-reward trade-off and to general perceptions within their target market just as any other business does, criminal or otherwise. And it is indisputable that they perceive increased rewards — and reduced risks — in the Australian people-smuggling business.

While The Age’s Michelle Grattan is convinced that it is a “long bow to make too much of Kevin Rudd’s limited changes removing the harsher edges of earlier policy”, the facts suggest otherwise. As The Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday — a story ignored by large sections of the media — the Australian Federal Police provided secret intelligence briefings to Rudd government ministers weeks ago warning that canny people-smugglers had noticed Australia’s softer border protection laws.

To be sure, we must distinguish between people-smugglers, who are rational and well informed, and refugees, who are often neither. It takes a longer time for accurate information about policy changes to be disseminated among refugees but people-smugglers learn fast and with precision.

So what then are the tough questions that need to be addressed about refugees? Let’s start with a couple of basic propositions. Let’s start by pointing out that the scale of human misery is vast. Australia cannot possibly deal with it all, let alone cure it.

Australia can maximise its efforts to alleviate misery by controlling and targeting its responses. Undisciplined, uncontrolled responses are wasteful, help fewer people and jeopardise critical political support needed to support immigration.

If we must say no to thousands, nay millions, of heart-wrenching stories every year, how do we choose among competing claimants? It is neither moral nor rational to choose according to those who make the most noise.

Ignoring those who wait in camps in favour of those within range of our nightly news bulletins, those backed by articulate advocates or those with the money to pay people-smugglers or lawyers, is immoral. More important, it drains the goodwill available in Australia for the benefit of all refugees. We are entitled to focus on helping the most deserving cases, not the queue jumpers or media manipulators. We are entitled to ask why those asylum seekers who land safely in Indonesia, where they are free from the oppression and persecution in their home countries, do not apply for refugee status in Indonesia. We are entitled to prefer a refugee program that we control rather than one controlled by people-smugglers.

And we are entitled to ask whether the Government’s preferred option of outsourcing this issue to Indonesia — though a pragmatic and politically astute solution — is just a bigger Pacific solution. If our concern is genuinely about the wellbeing of refugees, how certain are we that Indonesian authorities will treat refugees humanely?

But to read much of the media in the past few days is to step back into a time warp when legitimate and important debates about immigration were deemed immoral and divisive by the moralising elites. Predictably, David Marr would have us believe that this issue taps the “deep pool of xenophobic hostility there to be exploited”.

Similarly, Grattan says we are “facing a fresh divisive debate about asylum seekers”. In fact, the evidence shows that when the Howard government took a firm approach towards illegal immigration, Australians grew more comfortable with immigration. Immigration rates duly increased. Oh, and the rickety boats that endangered the lives of asylum seekers stopped coming.

That was then. Regrettably there is a growing internal inconsistency towards this issue. Many Australians loathe people-smugglers but do not have the stomach to take the steps necessary to deter them. This issue demands an honest debate followed by courageous leadership to reconcile this dilemma. While it may suit the Rudd Government — and many in the media — to try to shut down this debate by describing any legitimate questions as unseemly politicisation, history says that won’t work.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

NZ: Anzac’s Changing Face

Thousands will rise in the dark tomorrow and make their way to a dawn service to commemorate our fallen in war. It’s a sombre ritual, one deeply wed with notions of nationhood, that continues to grow even though the last of the World War I veterans have passed away, and the tragic events at Gallipoli recede further into history. It’s a day when an increasing number of New Zealanders take the opportunity to reflect on difficult issues like loss, sacrifice and loyalty. Jock Phillips, a historian and general editor of Te Ara, The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, believes the growing profile of Anzac Day is due to a growth in interest in what it means to be a New Zealander over the past 15 years.

“It is arguably the closest ceremony of nationalism which we have in New Zealand — far more than Waitangi Day I believe. The schools have also encouraged this awareness. For younger people participation in war is now associated with grandparents or even great grandparents and the activities of grandparents always have a real interest for young people, far more than the activities of parents which young people are inclined to reject and dismiss. In addition the experience of war is something so foreign to young people that it has a certain fascination. The Great War in particular was by far the worst experience which New Zealanders have ever suffered, so it deserves attention by that fact alone, but it is also very different and distant for young people today — so the thought that their grandparents actually took part demands their interest.”

Anzac Day was first commemorated on April 30 1915, soon after news of the tragic events at Gallipoli reached New Zealand. A half-day holiday was declared. In 1916 some saw potential profits from using the term Anzac to promote their products but after complaints by returned soldiers, the use of the word Anzac was prohibited for business purposes — a ban that continues today.

For the vast majority however the events at Gallipoli were regarded with horror and shock and the first response was to build memorials. The first was a marble statue built in Kaitaia in 1916 and similar monuments stand today in most towns and cities. The status of Anzac Day was unclear until 1921, and it was only after lobbying by the RSA that a public holiday was finally declared. Phillips has watched with interest the changing attitudes towards our sacred holiday, as our social and political landscape has shifted.

“When I was a kid in the 1950s Anzac Day was an opportunity for returned soldiers to parade in front of their community and as they marched people applauded because they remembered the two wars and were genuinely grateful. The focus was very much on the returned soldiers rather than on remembering the dead whose names were on the war memorials. In the 60s and 70s Anzac Day became contested ground as my generation came of age and went into the streets to protest against the Vietnam war. For us Anzac Day was seen as a justification for war; it was seen as a pro-war ceremony and therefore as implicitly a justification for involvement in Vietnam. In the last twenty years people have begun to read and see TV programmes about the experiences of war, and Anzac Day has shifted from being a celebration of war to a genuine recognition of the terrible costs of war. There has been more focus on remembering the dead and the sufferings of those who went rather than as an opportunity to glorify our war traditions.”

How the day will be commemorated in the future will depend, says Phillips, on the political situation of the time.

“If we are again involved in war then it will be commemorated with that in mind. If we retain a strong commitment to an anti-nuclear peacekeeping role then it will be remembered for the deaths and the suffering which war has brought to this nation. Whatever, Anzac Day will be remembered because New Zealanders are increasingly interested in collective rituals and ceremonies. We have not had many of these in the past, and we have begun to treasure them — from Maori language week to Conservation week to Matariki we are increasingly commemorating our diverse culture and history, and this will undoubtedly continue.”

George Davis, a researcher at Otago University, who is working on a PhD on Anzac Day, believes that the status of the day has moved from the political to the personal, a shift which explains the lack of substantial protests in recent years.

“Anzac Day was, in the period 1960-1980, faced by gritty issues of contestation. Protests have diminished not because there is nothing to protest about but because the focus of protest has shifted. In the 1960s and 1970s the Vietnam War stimulated protest about war generally. Protesters often identified old soldiers as representatives of a warlike world. This was far from the truth from the returned servicemen’s point of view. In the late 1970s and early 1980s some women protested about rape in war. Both of these movements were related to possession of the landscape of Anzac Day. That issue has been addressed. Anzac Day now belongs to the whole society, not just to a few.”

Over the last decade there’s also been an increasing spiritual component to the day, with one clergyman calling it our major religious festival, one which comes complete with it’s own, latterly controversial, pilgrimage to the Gallipoli battlefield.

Davis believes young people especially are attracted to the spiritual aspect of the day.

“Young people have always been seekers for the indefinable, and Anzac Day provides connections with the standards and attitudes of the past. The dawn ceremony is intensely moving and it is this quality of spirit that resonates with the young. In an age where secularism has been too loosely defined in terms of a rejection of institutional religious values, there are many people who do recognise that issues of spirit, such as are presented on Anzac Day, are worth understanding. I think this partially accounts for why so many young parents and their children turn up to the dawn ceremony. The New Zealand take on Anzac Day is that it does not reflect doom and gloom, but provides hope. There is a general realisation that the diggers who fought and died did so to ensure a better future.”

Davis doesn’t see the events at Gallipoli the way many Australians see it — as “the forge of nationhood”.

“For New Zealand, it rather depends on when you think we became a distinct nation, comfortable in our own skin,” he says. “That development did not happen until the 1970s when we realised Britain had cut us loose as she moved further into the European community and away from her old dominions in the south-west Pacific. Is Gallipoli important? My word, yes. Kiwis hold the sacrifice made at Gallipoli in high regard. It was the standard for New Zealand forces from that moment on.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

People Smugglers Use Chaos in UN Office to Get Asylum Seekers to Australia

PEOPLE smugglers are using the chaotic registration process of the UNHCR to make it easier for asylum seekers to get to Australia by boat.

Since the beginning of March, 483 Afghan asylum seekers have turned up at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta but none has been formally registered with Indonesian authorities. The Indonesians were unaware precisely where the asylum seekers were living and, in some instances, had not even been told they had arrived, said Ade Endang Dachlan, a senior Indonesian immigration intelligence officer who heads the department’s Bogor office.

“This should not happen,” Mr Dachlan said. “The UNHCR office should only issue refugee processing status based on the recommendation from the immigration office.

“Since we can’t get hold of them [the asylum seekers] and closely monitor their whereabouts, they have plenty of chance to escape and use illegal ways to enter a third country such as Australia.”

Raids this month in Bogor netted 22 asylum seekers who carried genuine UNHCR papers but were not registered with the Department of Immigration. Mr Dachlan said it was only the tip of the iceberg, adding that people smugglers were exploiting the “loophole” — staying in touch with asylum seekers until “such time as the syndicates can get them access to Australian borders”.

Ali Khatri, one of the Afghans snared in the Bogor raid, said a people smuggler had given him the address of the UNHCR office, told him to go straight there when he arrived in Jakarta, and he was assured that, by turning up, he would have protection as a refugee. He denied he planned to go to Australia, though others at the same villa said they were prepared to make the crossing. They asked not to be named.

“The UNHCR gave us some papers, like an appointment slip,” Mr Khatri said, adding he was not told to register with Indonesian police or immigration. “We just left and went back to our hotel in Jakarta. Then we came to Bogor because it was cheaper.”

Bogor is a mountainous holiday area 11/2 hours’ drive from Jakarta and a favoured hideout for asylum seekers.

The 22 caught in Bogor were only a small fraction of an estimated 2000 Afghans in Indonesia looking to come to Australia.

A spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Jakarta, Anita Restu, said 483 Afghans had come to its Jakarta office in the past seven weeks alone. “Because of this influx, we have just given them appointment slips,” she said.

They were not formally registered because “it takes too long to go through our system and there’s so many people”.

Even if Indonesian authorities were told of the arrivals, “we cannot give out the address of the asylum seeker”, she said.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sudan: President Beshir: “Charges Against Me Have United Arabs and Africans”

The arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al Beshir “has been a good event for Sudan, which was able to note that regional bodies such as the Arab League and the African Union rallying in its support”, said president el-Beshir during a press conference in Addis Abeba. As for the internal situation, “we have all watched the spontaneous street demonstrations from people to challenge foreign interference in the country” said the head of state in his speech. For his part, Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi, reiterated that “the ICC accusations against al-Beshir have in no way affected relations between Ethiopia and Sudan” asking the international organism “to revise its positions”. This was Beshir’s 6th trip abroad since he was handed the ICC arrest warrant, last March 4th, alleging war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

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

Latin America

Obama Goes South: an Analysis of the Summit of the Americas

By Sol Sanders, Grady Means

For more than a half century, dating from FDR and Cordell Hull’s “Good Neighbor” policies, U.S. diplomacy in Latin America has been focused on encouraging democracy, free markets, and economic development. Over those five decades there have been huge successes — and there have been dramatic failures.

An historical perspective, however, shows remarkable overall progress:

The 1980 map of Latin America was largely one of authoritarian, often military governments, generally controlled by small oligarchies, with hyper-cyclical, commodity-based economies, nearly all plagued by huge debt and hyper-inflation.

However, by 2000, Latin America was largely an array of broad-based popularly elected regimes, structured and diversified economies with low to moderate inflation and manageable debt. The problems of severe poverty, economic inequity, and drug cartels remained, but significant progress had been made.

The U.S., as the largest foreign direct investor and the largest supplier of development aid and offering the largest market for Latin American exports, as well as the most active supporter of centrist democratic movements, played a significant role in this massive transition…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]


Finland: EU Survey: Half of Somali Immigrants Regard Discrimination as Widespread in Finland

According to a recent survey conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), one in three Somalis in the Greater Helsinki area reports that he or she has been a victim of racially motivated crimes in the course of the past 12 months.

Of all the groups surveyed by the FRA, Finland’s Somali immigrants reported the second-highest levels of racist crime. The survey involved 45 selected ethnic minority and immigrant groups in all member-states of the European Union. The crimes covered by the survey included for example thefts and serious harassment. In some sections of the survey, Finland’s Somalis were among those ten minority groups who had personally experienced the highest levels of discrimination. Roma minorities in Eastern Europe and Africans in various countries reported the highest levels of discrimination. When it comes to treatment at a bank or a shop, Finland’s Somalis emerged among the groups most discriminated against. However, compared with other countries’ minorities the Finnish Somalis were more informed of competent authorities who could give them support or advice. Yet some 69 per cent of the interviewed Finnish Somalis said that they did not know of any organisation that could offer support services to victims of discrimination.

Half of the Finnish Somali respondents think that discrimination is widespread in the country, while half or other ethnic minorities regarded discrimination as even more common. A total of 23,500 persons of ethnic minority or immigrant background were interviewed for the survey in all member-states of the Euroopean Union in 2008. In Finland, 484 immigrants of Somali origin and 562 immigrants of Russian background were interviewed in the Greater Helsinki area.

In its report, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights acknowledges that because of the large differences between the interviewed groups, the results of the survey on immigrant and ethnic minority groups’ experiences of discrimination and racist crime should be interpreted with some caution.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Finland: Poll: Nordics Satisfied With Immigration Policy

Most Nordic residents are satisfied with their countries’ refugee policies.

More than half of respondents in Finland, Sweden and Denmark find the number of refugees to be acceptable, according to a survey by Nordic public broadcasters.

Norwegians were the toughest in their attitudes about immigration policy, with 46 percent saying the amount of refugees was appropriate. However, 42 percent of Norwegian respondents said too many refugees were being allowed into their country.

In Sweden 32 percent said they thought there were too many refugees — as did 29 percent of Finns.

In Denmark, however, 25 percent said there are too few refugees. In Finland, Norway and Sweden 11 to 12 percent of those polled thought there are too few refugees.

Iceland did not participate in the poll.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Germany: Refugee Kids Build New Lives in Europe

Some come to escape the brutality and horror of war — others are sent by parents who hope they will one day send them money. The number of unaccompanied youth refugees from Africa and Iraq to Europe is increasing. They are part of a massive trend in global migration.

It was bombs that caused a young Iraqi to lose his home. It was an earthquake in the case of a Chinese teenager who is now no longer certain where he belongs. It was war in the case of a former child soldier from Sierra Leone who is plagued by recurrent nightmares.

This is the story of three boys who made it to Germany on their own in a physical sense but in many ways took longer to get here in mental and emotional terms…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Italy: Dedalo Project, Young Tunisian Gardeners at Monreale

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, APRIL 21 — Seven young Tunisians (including one woman) are working as gardeners to restore park areas in the historic centre of Monreale (Palermo). The initiative is part of the Dedalo project financed by the Ministry of Labour and which focuses on socio-employment integration for non-EU young people who have immigrated to Sicily. The headquarters of the programme is the House of Smiles (Casa del Sorriso) community in Monreale. “Italy, and especially Sicily”, said Monreale Mayor Toti Gullo speaking at a press conference to introduce the initiative, “has traditionally always welcomed different ethnic groups, that is why we immediately embraced the project and decided to entrust some green areas in Monreale to these young immigrants”. “Dedalo is an ambitious project”, added Giuseppe Pitti, director of the initiative, “but not so presumptuous as to think it can solve the problem of immigration. The strong desire is to create a replicable model by experimenting with training programmes for non-EU young people and also for those working in the sector”. “Currently”, concluded Michele Crapitti, Dedalo project manager, “we have involved 3,000 young people in workshop activities all over Sicily and 80 community workers, 50 teachers in public schools, and 65 young immigrants who are already working. Dedalo will finish at the end of 2009 but the results up to now are more than positive”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Judiciary Committee Greenlights ‘Hate Crimes’

Members refuse to protect Christian pastors from charges

Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee today rejected an opportunity to protect Christian pastors who preach the biblical condemnation of homosexuality and approved on a 15-12 vote a “hate crimes” bill that supporters admit could be used to bring charges against religious leaders.

The bill, H.R. 1913, now will be considered by the full House of Representatives.


“The federal hate crimes bill is bad news for everyone,” said Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute, who testified in Congress against the bill two years ago.

“Instead of treating all crime victims equally, it creates a caste system where select groups, such as gays and lesbians, are given greater priority in the criminal justice system. This is not progress; it is political correctness. In other nations and states, the adoption of hate crimes legislation has been the first step toward widespread suppression of speech and ideas critical of homosexuality,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


“Hijacked” UN Racism Conference

GENEVA — Rather than addressing rampant forms of racism, the UN conference on racism has largely been hijacked by groups determined to undermine any criticism of Israel, leaving all key issues on agenda sidelined.

“Many issues are not being taken seriously like colonialism, slavery and reparations,” Fatima Doubakil, of the Sweden-based Muslim Human Rights Committee, told

Countries, organizations and NGOs from across the world are participating in the five-day Geneva conference, the UN’s first global racism conference in eight years.

Participants were expected to review progress in combating racism since the first meeting which was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

But the final communiqué was endorsed on Tuesday, April 20, three days before the end of the conference.

This infuriated many of the participating organizations and NGOs who complain that key issues were not discussed and debated before the text was rubberstamped.

“The Conference is not taking Islamophobia seriously,” says Masoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in Britain.

“Muslim communities in Europe already don’t believe they are full citizens; this will alienate them.”

Islamophobia has been at the heart of a debate about blasphemy or defamation of religions.

In a report released last year, the Organization of Islamic Conference warned that defamation of Islam and racial intolerance of Muslims were on the rise in western societies.

The same concerns were voiced a year earlier by UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance Doudou Diene.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Zenster said...

Hijacked” UN Racism Conference: GENEVA — Rather than addressing rampant forms of racism, the UN conference on racism has largely been hijacked by groups determined to undermine any criticism of Israel, leaving all key issues on agenda sidelined.

“Many issues are not being taken seriously like colonialism, slavery and reparations,” Fatima Doubakil, of the Sweden-based Muslim Human Rights Committee, told

… In a report released last year, the Organization of Islamic Conference warned that defamation of Islam and racial intolerance of Muslims were on the rise in western societies.

The same concerns were voiced a year earlier by UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance Doudou Diene
. [emphasis added]

Terrorism Top Forty Hit List™

1) Ayman al-Zawahiri
2) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
3) Ayatollah Kahmeini
4) Mullah Muhammad Omar
5) Abu Bakar Ba'asyir (Bashir)
6) Moqtada Sadr
7) Abu Hamza al-Masri
8) Fateh Najmeddin Faraj — Mullah Krekar (AKA: Abu Sayyid Qutb)
9) Khaled Meshal
10) Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
11) Ismail Haniya
12) Mohammed Abbas
13) Yusuf al-Qaradawi
14) Tariq Ramadan
15) Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali
16) imam Omar Bakri Muhammed Fustuq
17) imam Abdel-Samie Mahmoud Ibrahim Moussa
18) imam Sheikh SyeSyed Mubarik Ali Gilani
19) Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal
20) Sheik Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi
21) Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar
22) Prince Sultan Ibn Abd al-Aziz
23) Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz
24) Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz
25) Muhammad Taqi Usmani
26) Yasin al Qadi (Saudi terrorist financier)
27) Sheikh Abdullah bin Jibreen — top Wahabbi cleric
28) Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan — top Wahabbi cleric
29) Sheikh Nasser Al-Omar — top Wahabbi cleric
30) Sheikh Essa
31) Abu Waleed Ansari
32) Abu Yahya al-Libbi
33) Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri
34) Sheikh Abu Yahya al-Libi (al Qaeda CEO)
35) Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al al-Sheikh — Saudi Grand Mufti
36) Ramadan Shalah — Islamic Jihad leader
37) Ali Abdullah Saleh – Yemini President
38) Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith — head SA’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
39) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu — OIC Secretary General
40) Suggested: Nour al Maliki or Hamid Karzai

Replacement Candidates:

41 Chabid Benmakhlouf, Marocko/Sweden - new chief of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe; chairman of FIOE (Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe).

42 Doudou Diene, Senegal - former UN Special Rapporteur on racism

43 Abdallah Fahd Abd Al-Aziz Al-Nafisi, genocidal Kuwaiti professor and pro-Hamas / Hizbullah advocate.

Nominations more worthy than those already presented are cheerfully accepted. Comments and notices regarding the current list as it is presented are ALWAYS welcome.

Where to start first is a critical matter which is always open to discussion and consideration. Here's hoping it's done right the first time.

(With deep appreciation to America's Special Forces Groups and their inestimible contribution to our nation's security. I leave them with two words: Good Hunting.)

Homophobic Horse said...

Charles Johnson's credibility is shredded for good.

"Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, in his attempt to portray the German anti-jihad group Pro-Köln as neo-Nazi and to smear [Robert Spencer] in the process, has fallen for the same Photoshop techniques that he has unmasked when Leftists and jihadists use them in the mainstream media."

Henrik R Clausen said...

As for Denmark adopting the euro soon:

Not bloody likely!

We just had a new prime minister, and he sortof kicked the idea into a corner. We have more urgent problems to deal with.

Public opinion in Denmark is very split about the euro. The government, as we knows, permits only referendums it is confident it will win. That's the main reason we didn't get a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - our government was pretty sure it would lose, and destroy the treaty in the process, if it asked voters about it.

There's a ton of good reasons not to threw away another piece of independence, the right to issue our own money. Having our money controlled by the ECB rather than a Danish institution is stupid, as we would not be able to benefit from the healthy Danish economy if were were bundled with the PIIGS countries.

It'll be years until we get back to this. And the financial crisis makes the euro look worse, not better.

laine said...

“Many issues are not being taken seriously like colonialism, slavery and reparations,” Fatima Doubakil, of the Sweden-based Muslim Human Rights Committee, told

Could someone clue me in on the part of history where Muslims were slaves now owed reparations by whites instead of the biggest slavers of all time, of blacks, whites and possibly unlucky fellow Muslims? And what was the spread of Islam except colonialism by scimitar and rivers of blood?

With a cultural history such as hers and the current ongoing slaughter perpetrated by her co-religionists in Sudan, Ms. Doubakil redefines chutzpah if it not a crime to use a Yiddish word to describe a Muslima.

Why are these people not jeered for their shameless hypocrisy instead of given soapboxes by the West?