Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/28/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/28/2009The swine flu continues to spread all over the world, but is surprisingly non-lethal, with the most deadly effects seeming to be limited to Mexico.

Also, containers of a non-pandemic version of the swine flu exploded on a Swiss train.

In other news, a Swedish company has been fined 25,000 kronor because a robot attacked and nearly killed one of its factory workers.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, CSP, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, islam o’phobe, JD, KGS, Paul Green, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Finnish Unemployment Rate Rises to 8.3 Pct
Obama’s Muslim Advisor (Exclusive)
Bail Out Newspapers?
Swine Flu an Act of Biological Warfare?
U.S. Regulatory Czar Nominee Wants Net ‘Fairness Doctrine’
Uh Oh…Team Obama Claims Americans Use Too Much Health Care
US Lawmakers Urge President Obama to Back Turkey’s EU Bid
Europe and the EU
3 Men Acquitted of Helping 2005 London Bombers
Berlin Referendum Fails at the Polls
Britain Proposes Affirmative Action Bill
Cyprus: Greek Cypriots ‘Can Reclaim Land’
Daimler Renounces Stake, Forgives Chrysler Loans
Denmark: Politicians Unite Against Forced Teenage Weddings
Denmark: 55% of Muslims Think Criticizing Religion Should be Forbidden
EU Optimistic on Renewing Ties With Russia
Finland: Defence and Equality Ministers Do Not See Male Conscription as Equality Issue
Rise of Wilders Divides CDA and D66
Robot Attacked Swedish Factory Worker
Sweden: ‘Make Conscription Mandatory for Women’ Say Social Democrats
Swedish Rapists ‘Enjoy Impunity’: Amnesty International
Switzerland: Swine Flu Container Explodes on Train
UK Warns Against Mexico Travel After Swine Flu Confirmed
UK: Brown Touts Anti-Terrorism Strategy
UK: Mother Bored With Pregnancy ‘Killed Her Unborn Twins’ — Then Blamed the Midwife
UK: Tories, Unreliable as Ever on the EU
UK: Teenage Boy ‘Murdered After Being Tied to Tree, Forced to Drink Petrol and Then Set Alight in Recreation of Scene From Horror Film’
UK: Whitehall’s Dark Side
EU Police Disperse Serb Protest in Kosovo’s North
Israel and the Palestinians
Israel’s Arab Cheerleaders
Israel Already Forfeited Temple Mount, Divided Jerusalem
The Hamas Lobby
Middle East
Cabinet Denounces Racism
Iraqi Archbishop Decries Christian Slayings
Islam Calls for Professionalism, Says Scholar
Refugee Kids Build New Lives in Europe
Culture Wars
Distorting the Word ‘Hate’
Mexico Death Toll Stabilizes as Epidemic Spreads
OIC Expresses Concern Over ‘Faith Fighter’ Computer Game
Shariah in the West: a Discussion With Andy McCarthy

Financial Crisis

Finnish Unemployment Rate Rises to 8.3 Pct

HELSINKI (AFP) — Finland’s unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent of the labour force in March from 7.6 percent a month earlier, the national statistics agency said Tuesday.

A year earlier the jobless rate for March was 6.8 percent, Statistics Finland said in a statement, noting that the number of people out of work last month rose by 42,000 year-on-year to 222,000.

Seasonally adjusted, Finland’s unemployment rate increased to 7.6 percent compared to 7.1 percent a month earlier.

Some 2.5 million Finns out of a population of 5.3 million had a job last month, down by 1.1 percent from March 2008, the agency said.

The figure for unemployment among people aged 15 to 24 rose last month to 17.5 percent up from 16.3 percent in February.

The global financial crisis has since late last year decreased the demand for Finnish products, which has been reflected in massive layoffs and fewer available jobs.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Muslim Advisor (Exclusive)

WASHINGTON — Dalia Mogahed, a hijab-clad American Muslim, has made history being the first Muslim woman appointed to a position in President Barack Obama’s administration.

She sets on a newly-formed interfaith advisory board the administration hopes will improve relations with Muslims in the US and across the globe.

The Egyptian-born American heads the Gallup American Center for Muslim Studies, a research center that produces studies on Muslim public opinion worldwide.

In an exclusive interview, IslamOnline.net discussed with Egyptian-born Mogahed her new role, the challenges facing Muslims, Islamophobia in the US and her own success story.

- How do you feel about being the first Muslim appointed to the Obama administration?

I am not actually the first Muslim. There have been other Muslims appointed to Obama’s administration. I am also not the only Muslim on the White House advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I join Dr. Eboo Patel as the second Muslim on the council. I am, however, the first Muslim woman in this council. I feel very honored for the privilege to serve in this way, but also recognize the responsibility that I’ve agreed to take on. I see my role much more in terms of what needs to get done rather than a historical accomplishment. I believe the accomplishments are yet to be fulfilled.

- What is the role of the Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership?

I am a member of a 25-person advisory council to the White House focused on offering solutions for societal problems sourced in the wisdom of faith communities. More specifically, I am on the Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation Task Force, a group of only 5. We will work on recommendations for our area of focus and these will be reviewed by the larger council and then included in an annual report with recommendations from the council to the President.

- What is your role as an advisor on Islam?

I would not say I am an advisor on Islam. I would say that it is my role to convey the facts about what Muslims think and feel. I see my role as offering the voices of the silenced majority of Muslims in America and around the world to the council so that our deliberations are informed by their ideas and wisdom. I believe that I was chosen because the administration cares about what Muslims think and wants to listen.

- What kind of advise would you be giving Obama to improve relations with US Muslims and the Muslim world?

I would advise him to listen first and foremost. Many have claimed that terrorists have ‘hijacked Islam’. I disagree. I think Islam is safe and thriving in the lives of Muslims around the world. What the terrorists have been allowed to take over are Muslim grievances. Muslim concerns over injustice have been largely dismissed by the previous administration leaving a vacuum exploited by extremists. This is a dangerous reality for all of us. Instead, the US must hear mainstream Muslim concerns even if America does not agree with their perceptions. These issues can no longer be ignored or left and the extremists to monopolize.

- What areas of domestic and foreign policies you think the administration should be introducing change in?

I would endorse the action plan outlined in the report “Changing Course” which recommends four areas of action: Respect, Reform (political and economic) and Resolution of conflict. When it comes to the US, I would recommend that a senior member of the administration go on a “listening tour” of the US and hear what Muslim Americans are concerned over. Like all Americans, they are worried about the economic crisis, their financial future and jobs. And like many other US citizens, Muslim Americans are also worried about racial profiling, discriminatory immigration policy and the erosion of civil liberties.

- What do you think of the rising Islamphobia in America?

Islamphobia in America is very real. Gallup finds that Muslims are among the most unfavorably viewed groups in the US and only a little over a third of Americans say they have no prejudice against Muslims. This presents a grave danger to America as a whole. The disease of racism, by definition, is a bias in judgment. This means that racism clouds sound judgment and leads people to make irrational decisions. It also divides a nation and prevents the full utilization of its intellectual and cultural resources. Racism is wasteful. Racism is a strategic disadvantage. I am very proud of the progress America has made in fighting this problem as it relates to the relationship between blacks and whites. In 1956 only 4% of Americans approved of a marriage between whites and blacks. The marriage that produced our president was illegal in Virginia when he was born. Today 80% of Americans approve of marriage between blacks and whites. Last year, Barack Obama became the first Democratic Presidential candidate in decades to carry Virginia. We are a stronger and smarter nation because of this growth. Our next growth spurt will be in ridding our society of anti-Muslim prejudice.

- What do you think US Muslims themselves need to do?

Muslim Americans lag behind other Americans in their political and civic participation according to our research (National Portrait). The best thing they can do to strengthen America is to become fully engaged in writing its next chapter by getting involved and feeling a strong sense of ownership for the future of their country.

- What are you hopes and aspirations for US Muslims?

I hope that they enrich America by becoming fully engaged in its growth and development, as well as its struggles.

- Tell us about your own journey of success as an American Muslim woman, with hijab. What challenges have you faced along the way?

I have been tremendously blessed, Alhamdulillah. I feel that mine is a uniquely American story. I grew up in an educated middle class home, but with no special connections or privilege. By excelling in school, I was able to attend a top university and helped pay my way by working during the summer as an engineering intern. My summer job was at a paper factory in a small Wisconsin town. I was only 19 years old. Managing technicians often reminded me that they’ve been working on the machine longer than I’ve been on Earth. Many also told me that I was the first Muslim they’d ever met. Very few women worked in the factory, so I was already a minority just as a female, but I was also the only hijab-wearing woman in the entire town and the only Muslim in the factory. All of this of course presented a challenge, but one that taught me a great deal. Once people got to know me I became a professional to them, not a woman in hijab. I took this experience with me to my permanent job after college and to my graduate work. These situations taught me that living according to your conscience was more important than comfortably conforming to your surroundings. I think this simple lesson of life is one that has helped me succeed and given me the courage to face the most difficult and daunting situations.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Bail Out Newspapers?

The good news for readers of the Los Angeles Times came April 9 when columnist Rosa Brooks announced she was writing her last column.

The bad news for the rest of us came when she announced she was going on to accept a job as an adviser to the undersecretary of defense for policy.

There was much to absorb in this column — especially for someone like me who has spent his entire adult life working in journalism, while people like Brooks have jumped back and forth seamlessly from media to government jobs without raising a cynical eyebrow.

The first question: What expertise does Rosa Brooks have to qualify her to advise the undersecretary of defense for policy?

This is mind-boggling to me. Has she ever served in the military? Has she ever worked in defense? Do you feel safer knowing a Los Angeles Times columnist is helping to craft defense policy?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Swine Flu an Act of Biological Warfare?

Klayman questions whether virus is planned attack on U.S.

With 40 confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S., an anti-terrorism expert is questioning whether the outbreak is an act of biological warfare.

Freedom Watch, a public interest watchdog, believes that there is a very good possibility that the precipitous outbreak of the virus in Mexico, which has now spread to the United States and other western countries, is not the result of happenstance — but terrorism.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

U.S. Regulatory Czar Nominee Wants Net ‘Fairness Doctrine’

Cass Sunstein sees Web as anti-democratic, proposed 24-hour delay on sending e-mail

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama’s nominee for “regulatory czar” has advocated a “Fairness Doctrine” for the Internet that would require opposing opinions be linked and also has suggested angry e-mails should be prevented from being sent by technology that would require a 24-hour cooling off period.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Uh Oh…Team Obama Claims Americans Use Too Much Health Care

Last Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser, let the cat out of the bag on health care. In explaining why universal health care wasn’t going to increase the deficit, Summers said that people are just getting too much unnecessary care. Summers claimed: “whether it’s tonsillectomies or hysterectomies . . . procedures are done three times as frequently [in some parts of the country than others] and there’s no benefit in terms of the health of the population. And by doing the right kind of cost-effectiveness, by making the right kinds of investments and protection, some experts that we — estimate that we could take as much as $700 billion a year out of our health care system.”

This sure seems like rationing.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Lawmakers Urge President Obama to Back Turkey’s EU Bid

ISTANBUL — U.S. lawmakers urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to strongly support Turkey’s accession to the European Union and the NATO ally’s reconciliation with Armenia. (UPDATED)

“The United States must remain an iron clad supporter of Turkish membership in the EU,” AFP quoted 29 Democrats and Republicans from the House of Representatives as saying in a letter to Obama, who will visit Turkey on Sunday.

The U.S. lawmakers urged the president to help the Turkish government undertake the necessary political, economic and judicial reforms to join the 27-member bloc.

“We believe Turkey’s success as a secular democracy that fully respects the rule of law and guarantees freedoms, civil, religious and human rights are in the interest of the Turkish people, the European Union and the United States,” they said.

Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005, but it has so far opened discussions on only 10 of the 35 policy areas that candidates must successfully negotiate. One of the main stumbling blocks has been a trade row over Cyprus and opposition from some bloc members.

The U.S. lawmakers also thanked Turkey for its support in stabilizing Afghanistan, including hosting three-way talks with Pakistan, and for U.S.-led efforts to build democracy in Iraq, AFP reported.

Turkey-Armenia thaw

In the letter, the congressmen also urged “unequivocal” U.S. support for Turkey and Armenia’s efforts at normalizing their bilateral relations.

Representatives Robert Wexler, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ike Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, and Alcee Hastings, co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, were among the group who penned the letter, according to the Anatolia news agency.

A group of U.S. lawmakers, including Wexler, Skelton and Hastings, had expressed readiness to help Turkey and Armenia’s tie-boosting efforts in another letter they sent to the presidents of the two countries earlier this week.

Ankara and Yerevan have agreed on the major parameters of a historic reconciliation in secret talks to start diplomatic relations and re-open their shared border, which Turkey closed in 1993 after Armenia occupied the Nagorno-Karabakh region, sources have told Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

The letter also praised Obama’s visit to Turkey, the Anatolia news agency reported.

“The visit will be a historic opportunity to improve one of the most strategic partnerships of the U.S. and to renew a 60 year-old friendship, mutual respect and ties based on common goals,” the letter was quoted by the agency as saying.

“We believe that Turkey will continue to be a leading partner in the future political, economic and security achievements of Iraq. Turkey can also play a role in a safe and effective withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Iraq, provided that all sides agree,” the letter said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

3 Men Acquitted of Helping 2005 London Bombers

LONDON — Three men accused of helping plan the 2005 London transit bombings were acquitted Tuesday of playing any role in the plot, a blow to investigators’ hopes of convicting anyone over the worst attack on Britain since World War II.

A jury in London found Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem, and Mohammed Shakil not guilty of conspiring to cause explosions. They were accused of working with four suicide bombers who attacked three subway cars and a bus July 7, 2005, killing 52 passengers and themselves.

Prosecutors had alleged the accused took part in a test run for the attacks in December 2004, when they joined three of July 7 bombers on a trip to London.

The group visited subway stations and a host of popular tourist spots, such as the London Eye observation wheel and Natural History Museum, prosecutors said.

But the jury rejected claims the three men were involved in plotting the attacks. It was the second time they had been tried. A different jury failed to reach verdicts in August.

Ali and Shakil were convicted Tuesday of a lesser charge of conspiring to attend a terrorist training camp. They will be sentenced Wednesday..

Legal experts said the outcome has highlighted concerns about how Britain prosecutes alleged terrorists, following a series of high-profile acquittals in major trials.

Prosecutors must tackle increasing public skepticism about the extent of the terrorist threat to Britain, fueled by the failures of recent police raids against Muslim communities to result in charges.

“Many of these cases take months, and juries get to know and like the defendants,” said human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who was not involved in the latest case. “They begin to think they’re not so bad and they doubt the strength of the evidence against them.”

Ali, Saleem and Shakil had been tried last year, when a different jury failed to reach verdicts.

In another major case, Jordanian neurologist Mohammed Asha was cleared last December of involvement in botched car 2007 bomb attacks on Glasgow and London. Last October, the trial of people alleged to have plotted to bring down airliners bound from Britain to the United States also collapsed.

Shakil, Ali and Saleem, who were close friends of the four suicide bombers, are the only people to have been tried in connection with the July 7 transit attacks.

Police said their inquiry — Britain’s largest police investigation ever — is continuing. But officers say their work has been hindered by the reluctance of witnesses in Britain’s Muslim communities to come forward.

Jacqui Putnam, who was injured in the blast in a subway car at London’s Edgware Road station, said the failure to bring anyone to justice has left survivors frustrated.

“It was painful to follow the trial, and it is equally painful to be here, nearly four years after 7/7 and still have so many unanswered questions,” Putnam said in a statement after the verdict.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Berlin Referendum Fails at the Polls

Berliners voted Sunday on whether students can take religion instead of compulsory ethics classes. In the end, the referendum failed to attract either enough voters or a majority of those who did vote. Now the proposal’s backers are saying Berlin’s mayor hasn’t been playing fair.

A campaign to allow students to choose between religion and ethics courses failed at the polls in Berlin Sunday.

It was a referendum that dominated discussion in Berlin for weeks: Should school students have a choice between ethics and religion classes, or should ethics continue to be compulsory and religion an optional extra course?

But after the streets had been plastered with posters and the radio waves full of ads, after all the workshops, discussion panels and street-level campaigning, after all the special newspaper sections and all the lining-up of supporters drawn from the world of politics, sports and television, in the end, not enough people showed up at the polls to push the referendum through.

“I’d been hoping for a different result,” said Christoph Lehmann, the lawyer who led the “Pro Reli” campaign, which was backed by the Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the churches. Archbishop Robert Zollitch, the head of the Catholic German Bishops Conference, viewed it as a “painful outcome.”

If passed, the proposal would have allowed students to choose between ethics and religion courses, which would have seen Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism taught separately.

In the end, only 14.2 percent of all eligible voters in Berlin cast their ballots on Sunday in support of the “Pro Reli” proposal, which was well short of the 25 percent — or 611,422 votes — needed to effect the change. A total of 713,228 (29.2 percent) of Berlin’s 2.45 million eligible voters cast their ballot, 51.3 percent of which opposed and 48.5 percent of which supported the proposal.

Berlin has a long secular tradition, and 60 percent of Berliners are not members of any church. In 2006, ethics classes became a compulsory subject for Berlin students between grade 7 and grade 10, with religion being an optional extra class, after the “honor killing” of a Turkish woman murdered by her brother.

The proposal was opposed by Berlin’s ruling left-wing parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Left Party. The city-state’s government argues that all students, regardless of their cultural or ethnic background, should learn a common set of values.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit pronounced himself pleased with the results of the referendum, telling Reuters: “This shows that those in ‘Pro Reli’ who were portraying this as a ‘freedom’ issue — as if the Russians were about to invade — are out of touch with the real situation in Berlin.”

‘Pro Reli’ is responding to the loss by accusing the mayor of using his decision-making powers to favor the proposal’s opponents. For example, Lehmann is now criticizing city hall for allegedly directing more funding to groups campaigning against the proposal as well as for refusing to hold the referendum on June 7, when Germans would have already been going to the polls for the EU parliamentary vote.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Britain Proposes Affirmative Action Bill

LONDON — Is the end near for the English gentleman of privilege?

Britain has proposed an affirmative action bill meant to tackle thorny class divisions and encourage equal opportunities for women and minorities — a proposal already causing an uproar in some circles.

Under the proposed act, white male job applicants could lose out to women and minorities with equal qualifications, while private companies with 250 employees or more would be required to disclose salary discrepancies between male and female employees.

Although no date has been set for parliamentary debate, the Labour-led government hopes to push the bill through before next year’s general election. The bill, which would collect a raft of anti-discrimination provisions in a single act, would likely fail under a Conservative-led government.

“The economies of the future that will prosper are the ones which are not blinkered, held back by old-fashioned hierarchies, by a sense of women knowing their place, by overlooking the talents and abilities of people on the basis of the color of their skin,” Equalities Minister Harriet Harman said Monday when the bill was published.

Business leaders say the proposals are ill-timed, as industries grapple with the recession.

“This bill will discourage job creation and make employers fearful of the recruitment process,” said David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. “Coupled with the 50 percent tax rate, this sends a poor message about doing business in the UK.”

The United States was one of the first countries to pass affirmative action legislation — measures originally designed encourage the hiring of blacks, who had been subject to large-scale discrimination. The programs were later extended to women and other minorities.

Britain’s bill takes that one step further by addressing long-standing inequalities between the classes — divisions that go back centuries.

Class divisions are entrenched in Britain, with many of the highly paid, prestigious jobs still going to an aristocracy of Cambridge or Oxford graduates. Eton College, an all-boys school that was once referred to as “the chief nurse of England’s statesmen,” still produces many of Britain’s top conservative politicians.

The government says parents in lower classes are often cheated of opportunities for their children. Government statistics show some more capable children from poor backgrounds are often eclipsed by wealthier children.

Under the bill, all-male clubs would still be allowed, but they could not discriminate against racial or ethnic minorities. Some private clubs that have both men and women as members would be required to treat both sexes the same — for example allowing women to play golf on the same days as men.

The Carlton Club — an elite gentleman’s club with ties to the Conservative Party — changed its rules to grant Margaret Thatcher membership when she became prime minister. White’s, the most traditional of the gentlemen’s clubs in London, still has a “no women” policy after 300 years.

“Our aristocracy is not fixed — it has been replaced to some extent with wealth and celebrity — but who you know still often means more than what you know,” said Patrick Cracroft-Brennan, editor of Cracroft’s Peerage, an electronic reference guide to Britain’s aristocracy.

A prominent part of the bill is devoted to closing pay gaps between men and women.

In Britain, women still earn about 22 percent less per hour than men, one of the largest discrepancies in Europe. In Sweden, the discrepancy is 16.3 percent; in Spain, 17 percent; and in Italy, about 20 percent.

Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has reported pay gaps of up to 60 percent in the financial services sector. The gaps in annual bonuses were as high as 79 percent.

The bill will require companies with 250 or more employees to report gender pay discrepancies, but Harman said the requirement will only take effect in 2013 — and only if companies aren’t complying voluntarily. Public sector disclosures on pay gaps could be required before 2013.

“This bill needs to contain real action to actually clamp down on discrimination, rather than exercises in box-ticking without proper enforcement,” said Theresa May, a Conservative lawmaker.

Employers would also be allowed to give hiring preference to a member of a minority when they have a choice between candidates who are equally qualified. Minorities are still 13 percent less likely to find work than their white counterparts, government figures show, although the bill would not set quotas.

In Norway, which requires company boards and government agencies to have a certain number of women, salaries are public records. The same is true in Sweden.

Secrecy clauses on salaries would also be outlawed under Britain’s Equality Bill, and age discrimination would be banned in and outside the work place. Travel and motor insurance companies, for example, would be prohibited from denying insurance solely based on age.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Cyprus: Greek Cypriots ‘Can Reclaim Land’

The EU’s top court has backed the right of a Greek Cypriot to reclaim land in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus that has since been sold to a UK couple.

Meletis Apostolides was one of thousands of Greek Cypriots who fled his home when Turkish forces invaded in 1974, following a Greek-inspired coup.

The land was later sold to Linda and David Orams, who built a villa on it.

The European Court of Justice says a ruling in a Cypriot court that the villa must be demolished is applicable.

Even if the ECJ ruling cannot be enacted because the land is under Turkish Cypriot control, it means Mr Apostolides will be able to pursue a claim for compensation in a UK court.

It could also open the way for hundreds more Greek Cypriots to demand restitution for properties they were forced to flee.

Many Britons and other foreigners have invested in property in northern Cyprus, despite the legal ownership still being in some doubt.

Mr Apostolides said he was “very much” pleased with the EU court’s ruling, and that it was “what we expected”.

He added: “This is a difficult issue that has to be decided by the courts.”

Property boom

The European Court of Justice ruling on Tuesday said that the decision of a Cypriot court in Nicosia was applicable in the north, even though Cyprus does not exercise control there.

It also said that one EU country — in this case the UK — must recognise judgments made in the courts of another.

The Republic of Cyprus joined the EU in 2004.

EU law was suspended in northern Cyprus for the purposes of Cyprus’s accession, but lawyers argued successfully that the Orams’ civil case still falls within the scope of the EU regulation.

Northern Cyprus is self-governing and still occupied by the Turkish army, but is not recognised internationally.

Nevertheless, it has become a thriving tourist destination in recent years, and house-building has boomed.

Some of those houses have been sold by Turkish Cypriots to foreigners, even though the land they were built on was once owned by Greek Cypriots and its legal status remained uncertain.

Property disputes dating back to 1974 have been one of the main obstacles to efforts to reunify Cyprus.

Correspondents say dispossessed Greek Cypriots are now likely to launch more legal battles, which in turn may harden opposition to reunification among Turkish Cypriots.

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

Cyprus: Top EU Court Backs Return of Northern Cyprus Property

ISTANBUL — The European Court of Justice, or ECJ, on Tuesday backed the right of Greek Cypriots to reclaim property they abandoned in the north of the island when it was divided and which was then sold to foreigners. (UPDATED)

The ECJ supported the claim of a Greek Cypriot to receive restitution from a British couple who built a holiday home on land he left when Turkish military intervened on the island in 1974, following a Greek-inspired coup.

Cyprus was divided in 1964 when Turkish Cypriots were forced to withdraw into enclaves.

After the division, some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fled south, abandoning their properties. Many were distributed among Turkish Cypriots who subsequently sold them to foreigners, mainly Britons.

The legally complex ruling is likely to strengthen the Greek Cypriots’ legal claim on their former properties.

The decision revolves around a court case in Nicosia in 2005, in which Britons Linda and David Orams were ordered to demolish their villa, built on land they had bought from Turkish Cypriots, and to pay compensation.

The land’s former owner, Greek Cypriot Meledis Apostolides, took the case to a British appeals court so that the order would be enforced.

The British court sent the case to the EU court in Luxembourg for a ruling on the complicated issue of whether the decision by the court in Nicosia is applicable in the Turkish north.

“The recognition and enforcement of the judgments of the Cypriot court cannot be refused in the United Kingdom,” the court said in its ruling.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Daimler Renounces Stake, Forgives Chrysler Loans

NEW YORK (AFP) — German automaker Daimler said Monday it would giving up its 19.9 percent stake in its former US unit Chrysler and forgiving outstanding loans from the struggling Detroit firm.

A Daimler AG statement issued in Stuttgart said a deal signed with Chrysler LLC and US pension authorities marks a definitive separation of the German and US firms following a 2007 spin-off to the private equity firm Cerberus.

“Under this agreement, Daimler’s remaining 19.9 percent shareholding in Chrysler will be redeemed and Daimler will forgive repayment of the loans extended to Chrysler, which were already written off in the 2008 financial statements,” the statement said.

Daimler also agreed to pay 600 million dollars in three annual installments into Chrysler’s pension plans.

In exchange, Chrysler and Cerberus agreed to “waive any claims” against the German group “including the accusations made against Daimler in 2008 that Daimler allegedly improperly managed certain issues in the period between the signing of the agreement and the conclusion of the transaction.”

Daimler bought Chrysler for 36 billion dollars in one of the largest transatlantic mergers of all time, but the deal soured and failed to last a decade.

The new deal with Daimler comes as Chrysler is scrambling to get additional concessions to keep US government emergency aid flowing.

President Barack Obama’s task force has given the Detroit firm until the end of the week to come up with a viable plan to continue providing aid or face bankruptcy court.

Chrysler is seeking to seal an alliance with Fiat to provide new technology and small cars for the US market, which would give the Italian firm a stake in Chrysler without a cash investment.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Politicians Unite Against Forced Teenage Weddings

The Social Democrats join the government coalition parties in condemning imams who perform forced weddings A majority in parliament is prepared to crack down on imams who perform forced and unregistered Muslim marriages — particularly those involving girls under 18….

A majority in parliament is prepared to crack down on imams who perform forced and unregistered Muslim marriages — particularly those involving girls under 18.

The Liberals, Social Democrats, Conservatives and Danish People’s Party are unified in their efforts to come up with an effective means of preventing the weddings from taking place and punishing the imams who perform them.

Several leading Muslim experts and counsellors have indicated to Jyllands-Posten newspaper that the number of forced marriages in the country is significant — also for teenage girls who have converted to Islam.

‘These marriages have to be identified and stopped,’ said Karsten Lauritzen, integration spokesman for the Liberal Party. ‘The imams who perform these weddings are contributing to the repression of women and there ought to be consequences for them.’

Experts say that girls forced into these marriages cannot escape them because they have no rights when the marriage is not recognised by Danish authorities. It is normally the imam who decides if a divorce is possible, and often this decision is made according to sharia law.

In addition to the forced marriages, many experts and Muslim women themselves have indicated that polygamy is also common within the Islamic community in Denmark. MP Naser Khader warned the authorities not to take the issue lightly.

‘It must be taken seriously and suppressed in all possible ways,’ said Khader. ‘You can’t just wave it off as a part of Muslim culture.’

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Denmark: 55% of Muslims Think Criticizing Religion Should be Forbidden

64% support curtailing freedom of speech

More from the big DR survey of Muslims in Denmark, titled “Your Muslim neighbor” (DA). h/t Peter. The data published in different papers is different by one or two percentage points, but the overall direction is clear.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

EU Optimistic on Renewing Ties With Russia

LUXEMBOURG — The European Union’s foreign policy chief says he is optimistic the European Union can follow the lead of the U.S. in rebuilding ties with Russia.

Javier Solana says recent cooperation between the 27-nation EU bloc and Russia “is much, much better” since President Barack Obama took office in January.

The U.S. and Russia have started negotiations on a new treaty to reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is chairing EU talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday to put back on track talks to forge a closer partnership between the EU and Russia in fields of energy, trade, human rights and migration. The EU and Russia continue to disagree over last year’s war in Georgia.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Finland: Defence and Equality Ministers Do Not See Male Conscription as Equality Issue

Government ministers responsible for defence and equality do not see Finland’s system of universal male conscription as a violation of gender equality.

Kari Uotila (Left Alliance), the chairman of the mail division of the Consultative Committee for Equality Affairs, has voiced the opinion that compulsory military service for only one gender is discriminatory and therefore illegal. The issue has been raised recently by other male equality advocates.

Finland’s Minister for Equality Affairs Stefan Wallin (Swedish People’s Party) says that he does not want to change the current system, even though he understands “that not everyone feels that it is equal if an obligation applies to only one gender.”

“What would be the alternative? This requires a broad-based approach. I have pondered this as both the equality minister, and as a captain of the reserves, and the present system is the best that is available.”

According to Wallin, the number of conscripts, and the size of the reserves does not need to be expanded in both directions. He also feels that a professional army would not work for Finland, and it would be expensive. He also says that it would not be possible to arrange a credible defence on a volunteer basis.

“The country’s security, and the coverage of state expenditure can never be based on voluntary contributions. The state needs taxes to be paid by everyone, and military service from men.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Rise of Wilders Divides CDA and D66

THE HAGUE, 28/04/09 — The rise of the Party for Freedom (VVD) is dividing centre-left D66 and the Christian democrats (CDA). The youth branch of D66 does not want the party to rule out partnership with Geert Wilders. Conversely, prominent CDA members actually complain that their party is distancing itself too little from Wilders.

The Young Democrats (JD) — the youth branch of D66 — have called on D66 leader Alexander Pechtold not to rule out partnership with the VVD in advance. The JD says this is not democratic. The youth branch is not saying that D66 must work with Wilders, but that debate should show the differences between the parties.

Pechtold called Wilders a “racist” last year. Recently he has not been using this term any more, but he does remain the most vehement opponent of the PVV in the Lower House. Pechthold said two weeks ago he would emigrate if the “extremist” Wilders landed up in government.

Also within the CDA, the rise of the PVV has led to disunity. Within the biggest government party, the opposition however comes from the veterans, including CDA ideologist Anton Zijderveld. He has cancelled his CDA membership because he says the party distances itself too little from Wilders.

Zijderveld urges rapprochement with Islam and considers the CDA deals frenetically with this religion. On IKON radio programme, he termed it “scary” that the party leader says the CDA would be open to partnership with the PVV after the next elections.

Last week, three other CDA dinosaurs, including former Premier Dries van Agt, had already emphatically distanced themselves from flirtations with the PVV. Zijderveld was for years one of the most important CDA thinkers. In recent years, he has been a columnist for TV debate programme Buitenhof.

Wilders extended his leading position this week in the weekly poll of Maurice de Hond. The PVV would win 33 seats in the Lower House, one more than last week. CDA is unchanged at 29 seats. PVV currently has just 9 seats and CDA, 41.

D66 would win 18 seats, one more than last week. The party currently has only three seats and along with the PVV, would thus be the big winner if elections were held now.

Labour (PvdA) loses two seats this week. De Hond attributes the drop from 24 to 22 to the debate on the purchase of a test F35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) plane. Last Wednesday, the PvdA first said it would block this but went back on this in 24 hours after a crisis compromise with CDA.

De Hond reports that 70 percent of all voters say the JSF compromise in fact means that a JSF test plane is being purchased. Around 23 percent say it does not. A majority (53 percent) of PvdA voters also consider the compromise in fact means a JSF test plane is being purchased. In total, 35 percent do and 54 percent do not think that the Netherlands can still decide against ordering a large number of JSF planes.

The Socialist Party (SP) is, like last week, at 14 seats. The conservatives (VVD) drop back from 14 to 13. The leftwing Greens (GroenLinks) are steady at 11 and small Christian party ChristenUnie, at 4. Proud of the Netherlands (Rita Verdonk) edges up from one to 2 seats, the same as the smallest Christian party SGP and the Party for the Animals (PvdD), according to De Hond.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Robot Attacked Swedish Factory Worker

A Swedish company has been fined 25,000 kronor ($3,000) after a malfunctioning robot attacked and almost killed one of its workers at a factory north of Stockholm.

Public prosecutor Leif Johansson mulled pressing charges against the firm but eventually opted to settle for a fine.

“I’ve never heard of a robot attacking somebody like this,” he told news agency TT.

The incident took place in June 2007 at a factory in Bålsta, north of Stockholm, when the industrial worker was trying to carry out maintenance on a defective machine generally used to lift heavy rocks. Thinking he had cut off the power supply, the man approached the robot with no sense of trepidation.

But the robot suddenly came to life and grabbed a tight hold of the victim’s head. The man succeeded in defending himself but not before suffering serious injuries.

“The man was very lucky. He broke four ribs and came close to losing his life,” said Leif Johansson.

The matter was subject to an investigation by both the Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) and the police.

Prosecutor Johansson chastised the company for its inadequate safety procedures but he also placed part of the blame on the injured worker.

[Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Make Conscription Mandatory for Women’ Say Social Democrats

The Social Democrats want make it mandatory for Swedish women to register for military conscription, rather than allowing them to do so voluntarily.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility in an egalitarian society,” said Social Democratic defence policy spokesperson Anders Karlsson to the TT news agency.

As the number of Swedes entering compulsory military service declines, the current government wants to scrap the current system altogether in favour of a volunteer fighting force made up of contracted employees.

Throughout all its years in power, the Social Democrats never made conscription compulsory for women.

The party last examined the issue in 2004, but according to Karlsson, who represents his party in the Riksdag’s committee on defence, the time wasn’t right.

But five years later, the Social Democrats believe attitudes have matured somewhat and in its recently presented defence policy bill, the party proposes not only that Sweden continue with mandatory military service, but also that it be made completely gender-neutral.

“It entails that everyone born in a given year, which is about 100,000 people, registers through a computer. Of those, approximately 30,000 people would be called to a two-day physical inspection and then 10,000 to 12,000 people are conscripted,” Karlsson explained.

“But it’s not about forcing women to join, but choosing those which are best suited and those are hardly people who do want to [join].”

But the political opposition is split on the issue, with the Left Party supporting the Social Democratic proposal, while the Green Party (Miljöpartiet) rejects the idea in favour of completely voluntary service.

A government commission examining conscription in Sweden, which is set to present its final recommendations on June 15th, is currently examining how the Armed Forces could be staffed voluntarily.

A Moderate Party representative on the commission, Rolf K. Nilsson, disagrees with the Social Democrats’ suggestion.

“It’s unfortunate that the Social Democrats are digging themselves a hole on the question of compulsory military service,” he said.

In the commission’s interim report, all the political parties were in agreement that the legislation should be gender neutral.

But now what separates the Social Democrats from the other parties is whether or not conscription should be voluntary.

“We said in our interim report that we want to have as broad an agreement as possible, so it’s too bad that they’ve now locked themselves in [to this position],” said Nilsson.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Swedish Rapists ‘Enjoy Impunity’: Amnesty International

Sweden needs to do much more to clamp down on rapists, according to reports from Amnesty International and the United Nations. Jennifer Heape examines the disparity between the country’s high incidence of rape and its low conviction rate.

Sweden’s image as an international forerunner in the fight for gender equality has been damaged by recent reports comparing rape statistics across various countries.

A recent study commissioned by the European Union (EU) found that Sweden has the highest incidence of reported rapes in Europe.

And an Amnesty International report on rape in the Nordic Countries took Sweden to task last autumn for what the human rights organization saw as an abysmally low conviction rate for rape cases.

Released in September 2008, the Amnesty report — Case Closed — examines issues surrounding rape and human rights in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Despite Sweden’s considerable emphasis on women’s rights, currently ranking an impressive 3rd place in the UN global gender-related development index, instances of reported violence against women are showing no signs of abating.

In fact, statistics published by the National Council of Crime Prevention (BRÅ) show that the number of sexual offences reported from January to August 2008 saw a 9 percent increase compared to the same period in 2007.

Amnesty’s most damning criticism of Sweden relates to the considerable disparity between the number of rapes reported and the conviction rate.

Case Closed highlights the damning evidence that, despite the number of rapes reported to the police quadrupling over the past 20 years, the percentage of reported rapes ending in conviction is markedly lower today than it was in 1965.

Sweden’s profile in terms of violence against women has also attracted concern from the United Nations.

As UN rapporteur Yakin Ertürk comments in a special report released in February 2007, there is a notable discrepancy “between the apparent progress in achieving gender equality and the reports of continued violence against women in the country.”

The statistics are certainly alarming. Results from the annual, government commissioned National Safety Survey (NTU), which is conducted by BRÅ, indicate that the actual number of rapes in Sweden in 2006 was estimated to be close to 30,000.

If this figure is correct, then it indicates that as few as 5-10 percent of all rapes are reported to the police.

Equally disturbing is the statistic from BRÅ stating that in 2007, less than 13 percent of the 3,535 rape crimes reported resulted in a decision to start legal proceedings.

Over the past ten years there has been a 58 percent increase in reported sex crimes and according to BRÅ, it is now statistically more likely for a person in Sweden to be sexually assaulted than robbed.

The phenomenon of alleged offences not formally being reported to the police or dropped before reaching court is termed ‘attrition’.

Amnesty slams the Swedish judicial system and the prevalence of attrition within it, concluding that, “in practice, many perpetrators enjoy impunity.”

In analyzing attrition and the failings of the police and judicial system, Case Closed draws attention to “discriminatory attitudes about female and male sexuality,” which may cause police investigators to “assume that women who report rape are lying or mistaken.”

This in turn brings up the notion of ‘real rape’ and the ‘ideal victim’. Researchers for Amnesty found that frequently:

“Young (drunk) women, in particular, have problems fulfilling the stereotypical role of the ‘ideal victim’, with the consequence that neither rapes within intimate relationships nor ‘date rapes’ involving teenage girls result in legal action.”

Helena Sutourius, an expert in legal proceedings in sexual offence cases concludes that, in Sweden, “the focus appears to be on the woman’s behaviour, rather than on the act that is the object of the investigation.”

In addition to challenging victim and crime stereotypes, perceptions surrounding ‘typical’ perpetrators must also be considered. The UN Special Report discusses how there is a widespread belief that the type of men who commit intimate-partner violence are not typical, ‘normal’ Swedes.

They are usually imagined as somewhat ‘deviant’ — unemployed, uneducated, alcoholic or from non-Western backgrounds, and so on. However, as Ertürk challenges: “In absolute numbers, the vast majority of the perpetrators of intimate-partner violence are ‘ordinary’ Swedish men.”

In a country where women’s rights feature high on the public agenda, there is a pervasive “fear of public shame — being regarded as a tragic failure in a country of supposed gender equality” especially among well-educated and successful Swedish women, which creates yet another obstacle for the victims of violence and rape, the UN report concludes.

Lina Plong from the National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence against Women (NCK), based at Uppsala University, tells The Local:

“There is a real concern as to why the instances of rape and violence are not decreasing, despite the law becoming more strict and there being more public information available than ever. We need to concentrate on educating those professionals working in the area.”

Amnesty has also condemned the limited amount of scrutiny of and research into the quality of rape crime investigations in Sweden as, “a serious shortcoming that needs to be addressed immediately.”

The Case Closed report states that, “while an impressive level of gender equality has been achieved in the so-called public spheres [in Sweden]…this achievement seems to have halted at the doorsteps of private homes.”

In its conclusion, Amnesty blames “deeply rooted patriarchal gender norms” of Swedish family life and sexual relationships as a “major societal flaw” and a reason for the continued prevalence of violence against women in Sweden.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Swine Flu Container Explodes on Train

When a container holding swine flu exploded on a Swiss train on Monday, it could have led to a nightmare scenario. Luckily the virus was not the mutated swine flu that has killed around 150 people in Mexico and that has already spread to parts of Europe.

It has all the hallmarks of a disaster movie: A container filled with the swine flu virus explodes on a busy train. But that’s exactly the scenario that briefly caused the Swiss authorities some alarm on Monday evening. In the midst of global fears of a swine flu pandemic, a container with swine flu exploded on a train carrying over 60 people.

The Intercity train is seen in Lausanne station after it had been evacuated.

Luckily, however, it was not the mutated swine flu virus that has killed around 150 people in Mexico. The police quickly reassured the public that there was no danger of any infection.

According to the police, a lab technician with the Swiss National Center for Influenza in Geneva had travelled to Zurich to collect eight ampoules, five of which were filled with the H1N1 swine flu virus. The samples were to be used to develop a test for swine flu infections.

The containers were hermetically sealed and cooled with dry ice. However, it seems the dry ice was not packed correctly and it melted during the journey. The gas coming from the containers then built up too much pressure and the ampoules exploded, as the train was pulling into a station.

After consulting with a virologist, the police stopped the train just before Lausanne station and evacuated it, taking the precaution to isolate all those on board for one hour. A specialist for infectious diseases then reassured all those involved that the particular strain of swine flu on the train posed no risk for humans.

Taking no chances, the police took the contact details of all the passengers before allowing them to continue on their journey.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK Warns Against Mexico Travel After Swine Flu Confirmed

LONDON (AFP) — The government urged against all but essential travel to Mexico on Tuesday after a deadly outbreak of swine flu which officials confirmed has now spread to Scotland.

Two people admitted to a Scottish hospital after travelling to Mexico were confirmed as the first cases of the virus in Britain on Monday, although Scottish Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon said they were “recovering well”.

Hours later, the World Health Organisation (WHO) raised its flu pandemic alert level to mark a significant increase in a risk of a pandemic.

The WHO said there was no need for travel restrictions but the Foreign Office said: “We are now advising against all but essential travel to Mexico.”

A statement on its website said British nationals already there “may wish to consider whether they should remain.”

Earlier, Sturgeon announced two confirmed cases of swine flu and said seven other people who had been in contact with them, among 22 tested, had shown signs of similar illness.

“I can confirm that tests have demonstrated conclusively that the two Scottish cases of swine flu are positive,” she said.

“I am pleased to say that both individuals are recovering well in hospital.”

The other seven have developed “mild symptoms” which have not been confirmed as swine flu and are being treated with drugs at home, Sturgeon said.

She added: “I would reiterate that the threat to the public remains low and that the precautionary actions we have taken over the last two days have been important in allowing us to respond appropriately and give us the best prospect of disrupting the spread of the virus.”

The two infected patients, reportedly a man and woman who had been travelling together, were being treated at a hospital in Airdrie, east of Glasgow.

The likely death toll in Mexico from the flu is 149.

The health minister for the government in London, Alan Johnson, said earlier that Britain was implementing “enhanced” health checks at entry points across the British Isles to identify passengers arriving with symptoms of the illness.

Europe’s first confirmed case of swine flu was in Spain.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Brown Touts Anti-Terrorism Strategy

KABUL — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned yesterday the Afghan-Pakistan border was a “crucible of terrorism” as he touted a new strategy to tackle Islamist insurgency. Brown, who held talks in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said the new approach would treat both countries as “different but complementary..”

“These border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan are the breeding ground, the crucible of terrorism,” Brown told a news conference with Karzai. “A chain of terror links these areas to the streets of many of the capital cities of the world,” Brown added. “Our approach to those countries is different but must be complementary. Our strategy for dealing with this breeding ground of terrorism will mean more security on the streets of Britain,” Brown said. The new strategy is to be unveiled in a statement to parliament in London tomorrow.

After holding talks with Karzai, Brown flew into the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where he faced questions about the botched arrest in Britain of 11 Pakistani students on terror charges. As Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review went to press yesterday, British Prime Minister was holding key talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Karzai to run for re-election

Meanwhile, the Afghan leader Karzai told the news conference with Brown that he would run for re-election, saying he would shortly register his candidacy for the August vote that had been pushed back from April over security fears. “The election year will be a stern test for everyone, but we face a choice: confront extremism here and in Pakistan or let it come to us,” said Brown.

Britain is the second-biggest contributor of foreign troops to Afghanistan after the United States, deploying around 8,300 as part of a NATO-led force based mostly in the south, the heartland of a Taliban insurgency. A total of 152 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in October.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Mother Bored With Pregnancy ‘Killed Her Unborn Twins’ — Then Blamed the Midwife

A mother bored with waiting in hospital for her twins to be born killed them with an injection she thought would induce labour, a court heard.

Mother-of-five Faiso Sahil, 35, then blamed a midwife for the tragedy, it was claimed.

Sahil was fed up with being pregnant, and ‘impatient’ with hospital life because she disliked the food, the court was told.

So the Somalian, who herself had limited training as a midwife, injected herself with Syntometrine to bring on the birth, it is claimed.

Syntometrine is a drug used to reduce the risk of haemorrhaging from the placenta during the delivery.

The twins — a boy and a girl — were stillborn soon after and Sahil told doctors at Southmead Hospital in Bristol that Caroline Randall, a ‘senior and experienced’ midwife, had adminstered the jab, the jury was told.

Miss Randall was arrested, but when Sahil was interviewed by police she attempted to withdraw the accusation against her and was charged with perverting the course of justice.

Opening the case, prosecutor Martin Steen said: ‘Drugs are used in Somalia for assisting in delivery by encouraging contractions.

‘(Sahil) wanted to have those twins. She wanted them born alive and healthy. This was a woman who wanted those two children delivered as soon as possible.’

Bristol Crown Court heard that on March 27, 2007, Sahil, who was due to give birth on May 5, suggested her twins be induced but had her request turned down. On April 9 she was seen by a doctor who refused her second request to be induced or have a Caesarean section.

The next day she was admitted to the maternity ward under the care of Miss Randall.

It is alleged that, in an attempt to speed up the birth, Sahil, of Southmead, repeatedly claimed she was having painful contractions when she was not in labour, before injecting herself with the drug in the early hours of April 11.

Mr Steen said: ‘Sadly, it resulted in a tragic end. The twins had died inside her prior to 8am.’

Miss Randall told the court: ‘She wanted to be in labour. That was overriding everything else.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Tories, Unreliable as Ever on the EU

Now, that’s why I just can’t trust David Cameron on the European Union. Yesterday he gave a speech meant to warn the British that an incoming Tory government would make so many cuts to spending that it would preside over ‘an age of austerity.’ This apparently was all meant to sound fierce and determined about cutting costs. Yet if the Tory leader wants to start cutting costs, the obvious first place to look is at the costs the EU imposes on Britain. You have to wonder why he is happy to talk about cutting middle-class tax credits and pensions and the rest, but hesitates to mention cutting EU costs.

How much does membership cost this country? In the Lords last month, Lord Pearson of Rannock quoted figures put together by the TaxPayers’ Alliance from official statistics. The figures show that the cost per year to each UK citizen is £2,000 — that is, £300m a day for the country as a whole, or £120,000m a year. Over at the Open Europe thinktank, researchers have calculated that EU regulation alone between 1998 and 2008 cost the British economy £148.2bn: ‘Of the cumulative cost of regulations introduced over the past decade, £106.6bn, or nearly 72%, had its origin in EU regulation.’

I’ll believe Cameron is serious about cutting costs when he promises to start untangling Britain from this utterly unnecessary burden of euro-costs.

Meanwhile, William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, inspires no more trust than does Cameron. Yesterday, while his leader was promising cuts, Hague was promising that a Conservative government would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty — but only if the treaty had not yet been ratified by all 27 member states.

What a weasel promise, and not least because Hague knows that the Irish and the others who have not yet completed the ratification of the treaty will be bludgeoned into saying ‘Yes’ months before the next election here.

What Hague is saying is that the freedom of the British people to vote on what is in fact a new Constitution must depend on what the Irish, and the Czechs, and even the German constitutional court, finally decide on Lisbon. If the Tories had any spine they would simply say the British will be allowed a vote to stay in the Lisbon Treaty, or withdraw from it, no matter what any other country decides.

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

UK: Teenage Boy ‘Murdered After Being Tied to Tree, Forced to Drink Petrol and Then Set Alight in Recreation of Scene From Horror Film’

A teenager was set alight by jealous love rivals who copied a scene from a spoof horror movie, a court heard yesterday.

Simon Everitt, 17, died after being tied to a tree and having petrol poured down his throat, it was claimed.

The teenager had allegedly been lured to a meeting and attacked after beginning a relationship with Fiona Statham, 19.

Jimi- Lee Stewart, 25, and Jonathan Clarke, 19 — who had both been involved with Miss Statham — are said to have then bundled him into the boot of a car driven by a friend, Maria Chandler, 40.

The group drove to a wooded area near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk where their victim’s hands and ankles were bound and he was doused in petrol before a burning match was thrown at him.

The gang later allegedly returned to the spot and Clarke dragged the engineering student’s body to a shallow grave nearby.

Simon’s remains were not found until three weeks after he disappeared when Stewart confided in his mother and she reported him to police, the court was told.

Karim Khalil, QC, prosecuting, said that a year before the attack Clarke, a father of five, had been with a friend watching British horror spoof Severance, in which a group of Britons go on a teambuilding exercise in a remote part of Hungary and are slaughtered by masked soldiers.

In a scene shown at Norwich Crown Court yesterday, a woman is tied to a tree and covered in petrol while a man tries to ignite a lighter and throw it at her. When it fails to light, he uses a flame thrower.

Mr Khalil said: ‘When Clarke watched that DVD he made a comment to this effect, “Wouldn’t it be wicked if you could do that to someone in real life?” [The murder] reflects some of the worst aspects of the film clip — but it is for real.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Whitehall’s Dark Side

Two scandals reveal the nastiness of the British political class.

LONDON — Within a month of the G-20 circus leaving London, British politics is back to business as usual. As the protagonists in “The Godfather” would explain to their victims, “it’s not personal, it’s business.”

Over the Easter weekend, a political blog published a series of emails sent by one of Gordon Brown’s personal advisers, Damian McBride. The emails revealed that No. 10 was planning a campaign of false and scurrilous attacks in the media on the private lives of leading Conservatives

and their families.

Mr. McBride immediately resigned, and the prime minister was forced to write letters expressing his regret to the intended targets. An apology would come a week later. Too late. The world had seen what Mr. Brown’s opponents in the Labour Party had long maintained: that the Scripture-quoting prime minister has a Nixon-like need to destroy his political enemies, by whatever means come to hand.

Yet an even worse abuse of power — by both elected officials and civil servants — has also continued to play out in recent weeks. The McBride affair was nasty enough, but the latter case offers evidence of Whitehall’s violation of fundamental constitutional safeguards. Arresting an MP for doing his job is a line that should not be crossed in a democracy. In this case it was a line no one in Whitehall observed or respected.

Back in November, a Conservative member of Parliament named Damian Green and a junior official in the Home Office, Christopher Galley, were arrested and held by antiterrorist police on suspicion of “conspiring to commit misconduct in public office.” Specifically, Messrs. Green and Galley were accused of leaking confidential government documents which revealed embarrassing failures in the Home Office’s immigration policies. Mr. Galley was fired for his actions.

Yet on April 16, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announced that he would not press charges against either Mr. Green or Mr. Galley. The leaked information, Mr. Starmer said, was not secret and did not affect national security. In some cases, he noted, it “undoubtedly touched on matters of legitimate public interest.”

The scandal here is that it took so long for someone in the government hierarchy to state this plain truth.

While the majority of the politicians not aligned with Mr. Brown expressed their revulsion at Mr. McBride’s dirty tricks, and members of the Brown faction at least gave the impression of doing so, the arrest and questioning of an opposition MP is a serious abuse of public power. Whitehall prides itself on its probity and political neutrality, but Mr. Green’s detention illustrates its dark side.

Ministers and high-ranking civil servants had a shared interest in suppressing the leaks about the government’s immigration failures. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and her department’s permanent secretary, Sir David Normington, were increasingly embarrassed by the leaks. The latter subsequently discussed the matter with an official at the Cabinet Office, who then asked the head of the antiterror branch of the Metropolitan Police to act. The alleged grounds, parroted by ministers in the media, were that the information was prejudicial to national security.

The desire of ministers and bureaucrats to suppress the leaks meant that, for the first time since Parliament established its supremacy in the English civil war, agents of the executive entered Parliament and searched a member’s office. Antiterror agents removed computers and a Blackberry from Mr. Green’s office for examination, and the MP later said police had threatened him with a life sentence on conviction.

But even before Mr. Starmer dropped the case, a House of Commons committee report published earlier this month dismissed the national-security claim as hyperbole. And as Mr. Starmer noted, even though the leaks might affect the proper functioning of the Home Office, that’s not a matter for the criminal courts. If it were, others surely would already have found themselves in the dock. One former Home secretary, John Reid, has described the department as not “fit for purpose,” and auditors have had to qualify the department’s accounts in the past.

The arrest of Damian Green and the absence so far of any sanction against those responsible bear out political philosopher Harvey Mansfield’s description, in his 1989 book “Taming the Prince,” of the “numbing careless bureaucracy” acting in the interests of the ruling party. And, he might have added, particularly when those interests coincide with its own.

The Green episode reveals a Whitehall that covers up poor performance and sees itself as operating outside the rule of law binding everyone else, using antiterror police as its own private security force to settle scores. Even after Mr. Starmer declined to prosecute, Home Office sources were still briefing against Mr. Green (“not whiter than white”) and the official (“a loser”). Evidently the Home Office didn’t need Mr. McBride to do its press briefings.

Richard Thaler, Barack Obama’s favorite economist, recently said he would like to clone Whitehall’s top civil servant and take him to Washington. Maybe the head, but not the system.

For Britain’s permanent civil service needs thorough reform similar to that in New Zealand, where an arm’s length relationship between ministers and departments formalizes what the former has a right to expect from the latter. Such an overhaul requires the separation of ministerial support, where politicization is legitimate, from those areas where it is not — especially the use of public powers, the spending of public money and the objective reporting of both. And it needs a much-strengthened freedom of information regime, so that performance failures and policy tradeoffs are automatically in the public domain rather than finding their way out through unauthorized leaks.

The arrest of an opposition politician for doing his job is a line that should not be crossed. Mr. Green’s arrest was provoked by the desire to suppress evidence of performance failure. The fact that it was permitted to happen brings shame on the mother of parliaments. In any self-respecting democracy, that alone should be sufficient cause to bring about the reform of Whitehall that Britain badly needs.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green[Return to headlines]


EU Police Disperse Serb Protest in Kosovo’s North

MITROVICA, Kosovo — Serbs protesting the building of homes for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo’s tense north threw two hand grenades and fired gunshots at European Union police officers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades to drive the crowd away Monday.

It was the gravest incident since the EU took over policing Kosovo from the United Nations late last year, as part of an earlier peace plan that opened the way for the heavily Albanian region to declare independence from Serbia.

Dozens of NATO peacekeepers in riot gear and armored vehicles rushed to provide support after the protesters broke through Kosovo police lines and shots were fired in the direction of EU police officers.

Christophe Lamfalussy, spokesman for the EU police mission, said only minor injuries were reported.

A similar incident occurred Saturday at the same construction site in Mitrovica, a northern town bitterly divided into Serb and Albanian communities whose members often clash.

Serbs have said they will allow Albanians to return to northern Kosovo only if Serbs are permitted to go back to the Albanian-run south.

Kosovo’s drive for independence in early 2008 received strong backing from the United States and major European Union nations, and 58 countries have so far recognized it as an independent country.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israel’s Arab Cheerleaders

By Caroline Glick

It is a strange situation when Egypt and Jordan feel it necessary to defend Israel against American criticism. But this is the situation in which we find ourselves today.

Last Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee that Arab support for Israel’s bid to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is contingent on its agreeing to support the rapid establishment of a Palestinian state. In her words, “For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can’t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts.” As far as Clinton is concerned, the two, “go hand-in-hand.”

But just around the time that Clinton was making this statement, Jordan’s King Abdullah II was telling The Washington Post that he is satisfied with the Netanyahu government’s position on the Palestinians. In his words, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has “sent a message that he’s committed to peace with the Arabs. All the words I heard were the right words.”

As for Egypt, in spite of the media’s hysteria that Egypt won’t deal with the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration’s warning that Israel can only expect Egypt to support its position that Iran must be denied nuclear weapons if it gives Jerusalem to the PLO, last week’s visit by Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman clearly demonstrated that Egypt wishes to work with the government on a whole host of issues. Coming as it did on the heels of Egypt’s revelation that Iranian-controlled Hizbullah agents were arrested for planning strategic attacks against it, Suleiman’s visit was a clear sign that Egypt is as keen as Israel to neutralize Iranian power in the region by preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

And Egypt and Jordan are not alone in supporting Israel’s commitment to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. American and other Western sources who have visited the Persian Gulf in recent months report that leaders of the Gulf states from Bahrain — which Iran refers to as its 14th province — to Saudi Arabia to Kuwait and, of course, to Iraq — are praying for Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities and only complain that it has waited so long to attack them.

As one American who recently met with Persian Gulf leaders explained last week, “As far as the Gulf leaders are concerned, Israel cannot attack Iran fast enough. They understand what the stakes are.”

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

Israel Already Forfeited Temple Mount, Divided Jerusalem

New book by WND Jerusalem bureau chief warns of ‘The Late Great State of Israel’

JERUSALEM — With the aid of the U.S., sections of Jerusalem essentially have been forfeited on the ground to the Palestinian Authority, while the Temple Mount — Judaism’s holiest site — is quickly being consolidated by Islamic authorities who are erasing any vestiges of Jewish history and archaeology.

These and other shocking revelations are revealed in a blockbuster new book — “The Late Great State of Israel” — that hits bookstores nationwide today. In the urgent work, author and WND Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein documents the unprecedented, mortal danger that Israel faces.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Hamas Lobby

By Jonathan Spyer*

A meeting was meant to take place on Wednesday, April 22nd, in the Grimond Room at Portcullis House, adjoining the House of Commons in London. The planned meeting was titled “Talk with Hamas” and was meant to feature a video link to Damascus.

Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas, was supposed to address members of Parliament and journalists via the link, but he failed, due to a technical glitch.

This planned meeting was the latest event in an ongoing and organized campaign to break the Western boycott of Hamas and transform policy toward the organization. Much energy is being expended in the UK. But London is only a way station, with the real prize being the transformation of the US stance.

This campaign is part of a larger effort to change the way that the West sees Islamist movements — and by doing so to bring many of the arguments made by such movements into the mainstream.

Who is behind this effort? The invitation to MPs to the Mashaal meeting came from the office of Independent MP Clare Short.

However, it was issued in the name of John, Lord Alderdice. This name immediately offers a pointer. Alderdice, a veteran Northern Irish politician, is head of the board of advisers of an organization called Conflicts Forum…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Cabinet Denounces Racism

DAMMAM: Saudi Arabia yesterday emphasized the significance of the recently concluded UN anti-racism conference in Geneva and voiced its concern over a number of phenomena that are considered the causes and sources of racism across the world.

“The Kingdom gives the utmost importance to the problem of racism and works to prevent racist practices, and in order to do that, it follows the regulations drawn from Shariah that emphasize humanity irrespective of sex, color and race,” the Council of Ministers said.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who chaired the Cabinet meeting at Al-Aziziya Palace in Alkhobar, earlier briefed the ministers on the outcome of his talks with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina Wajed in Riyadh last week.

King Abdullah is currently on an inspection tour of the Eastern Province. During the weeklong tour he is expected to launch a number of industrial and welfare projects worth SR54 billion in Jubail, including a SR12 billion water and electricity plant.

The just-concluded anti-racism conference in Geneva called for concerted efforts and a greater resolve and political will in fighting all forms of racism. The conference’s final document talked of a common aspiration to defy racism in all its manifestations and work to stamp it out wherever it may occur. The Untied States and a few other countries had boycotted the conference.

Popular writer and columnist Hatoon Al-Fassi said the Cabinet’s endorsement of the anti-racism conference was a huge step forward. “Let us be frank — racism does exist in our society as well and there is a need to weed it out,” she told Arab News. “The fact that the Cabinet discussed the issue of racism is quite significant. This is a sign that we are taking the issue seriously.”

Al-Fassi said there is tendency in the Kingdom to highlight such issues when they occur outside. “We are not very vocal in confronting it domestically,” she said. She felt the Human Rights Commission and National Society for Human Rights were doing a decent job of highlighting such cases and condemning them wherever possible.

According to Al-Fassi, discrimination against women is a form of racism too and should end. “This is gender apartheid. We need to acknowledge that there is discrimination against women … The Cabinet move against racism will help us move in that direction,” she said, adding: “Our endorsing the anti-racism conference document means we will now be accountable for what we do vis-à-vis cases of racism.”

Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja said the Cabinet meeting reviewed the recent launch of new projects by King Abdullah at the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology as well as the opening of the Advanced Technologies Forum in Riyadh.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Iraqi Archbishop Decries Christian Slayings

KIRKUK, Iraq — At two Christian homes, the gunmen used the same methods: point-blank fire that claimed three lives in a 30-minute span. The attacks left another outpost of Iraq’s dwindling Christian community frightened Monday that it could become caught in the struggles over disputed Kirkuk.

“Innocent people who have no relation with politics and never harmed anyone were killed by terrorists in their homes just because they were Christians,” Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako told more than 600 mourners in this ethnically mixed city 180 miles north of the capital.

The motives behind the late Sunday attacks remained unclear, with suspicions mostly falling on Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.

But fear of reprisals and worries about vulnerability have become common themes for members of one of the world’s oldest Christian homelands.

Iraq’s Christians, who numbered about 1 million in the early 1980s, are now estimated at about half that as families flee warfare and extremist attacks that target their churches and homes.

The future of Kirkuk — an ethnic patchwork led by Kurds and Arabs — has become one of the most politically sensitive issues for Iraqi leaders and for U.S. military commanders preparing to withdraw their troops by the end of 2011.

The city is the hub of Iraq’s northern oil fields and a key prize for both Kurds and the central government in Baghdad. The showdown is so volatile that Kirkuk was excluded from regional elections in January and the United Nations has offered a proposal for compromise plans.

Caught in between are the smaller communities of ethnic Turks and Christians, including the ancient branches of Chaldean and Assyrian churches and smaller communities such as Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

Speaking to mourners at Kirkuk’s main Chaldean church, Sako blamed political leaders for failing to reach compromises on the many ethnic and political disputes.

“It seems that violence is coming back and they lost that chance,” he said.

Two of the victims were Chaldean Christians; the other was Assyrian. Family members said all would be buried in their home areas around Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Kirkuk police Lt. Col. Anwar Qadir said the slayings appeared to be an attempt by al-Qaida to spark sectarian clashes or scare away the more than 10,000 Christians remaining around Kirkuk.

In the past, insurgents have described Iraq’s Christians as “crusaders” whose true loyalty lies with U.S. troops and the West.

On Monday, round-the-clock security patrols and checkpoints were increased around Christian areas..

Christians in the Mosul area have faced the brunt of attacks, including a string of bombings and execution-style slaying in late 2008 blamed on Sunni insurgents. An estimated 3,000 Christians fled the area in a single week.

In March 2008, the body of Mosul’s Chaldean Archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was found in a shallow grave — a month after he was kidnapped at gunpoint as he left a Mass.

Kirkuk, however, has not been spared. In January 2006, two churches here were bombed as part of a series of coordinated attacks that also targeted the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Baghdad.

“If we can’t feel protected, then more Christians will leave Iraq,” said the Rev. Giorgos Alywa, an Assyrian Orthodox cleric at the burials in the Mosul area.

The first assault killed a woman and her daughter-in-law. About a half-hour later, gunmen killed a 27-year-old man in another part of the city, said Qadir.

Eman Latif, the sister of the younger woman killed, said the attacker stabbed the victims after they were gunned down.

“What have they done to be treated like this?” she said.

Last week, U.N. representatives gave Iraqi leaders a report outlining suggestions to ease sectarian tensions in Kirkuk, including a proposal to grant the area “special status” that would allow joint oversight by both the Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad.

Kirkuk “should be solved through political, diplomatic channels and dialogue. There is a chance to solve it,” the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said Monday in an interview with Iraq’s Al-Sharqiya television.

But a Christian university student in Kirkuk, Rudi Shammo, said there is a different reality on the streets: “We Christians in Kirkuk have no weapons or militias to protect us.”

Still, he plans to take a stand.

“Some groups may have plans to push us out of our own country, but I say we will not leave Iraq,” he said. “This will not happen.”

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

Islam Calls for Professionalism, Says Scholar

JEDDAH: Islamic teachings emphasize the importance of professionalism, and Muslims should carry out their activities in a planned and professional manner, said Nabeel Al-Azami, HR adviser to Ford Motor Company in London.

“Honesty and trustworthiness are the first quality of a successful professional,” he said quoting a study on prominent business leaders. He added that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was known as Al-Ameen (trustworthy) and that this was one of the main reasons for his success.

Al-Azami made this comment while delivering a lecture on “Islam and Professionalism” organized by Al-Islam Group here recently. He urged Islamic movements to induct more professionals into their leadership in order to run them efficiently.

He advised Muslim organizations not to waste their time worrying about the huge obstacles they face. “Instead they should think about how to overcome such challenges and make their surroundings favorable,” he said.

Every Muslim should think what he or she can contribute to the progress of the Ummah. “We Muslims should be agents of change in our societies. We should have a plan for future and work hard to realize it,” he added.

Keeping time and following traffic regulations are some of the features of a decent and disciplined society. “The GMT is now elaborated as Generous Muslim Time,” he said, ridiculing Muslims for failure in time management.

Earlier, Abdul Mateen Osmani, director of Al-Islam Group, briefed the audience on the history and achievements of his organization in Islamic propagation. Mustafa Khan welcomed the guests. Those who wish to acquire DVDs of the presentation can do so by contacting 0508604182.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]


Refugee Kids Build New Lives in Europe

By Nicolas Büchse

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.

Sudanese children at a camp in Chad: Between 3,000 and 5,000 youth from other countries are believed to have sought refuge in Germany.

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.

Ibrahim*, 16, flew to Germany from Sierra Leone, armed with a fake passport. Jihua, 14, came by ship — a trip that took several weeks to complete and took him from his former home in China to a country he knew absolutely nothing about. Hassan, 15, from Iraq, was brought here in a truck by a band of human traffickers.

When Hassan finally arrived on German soil, he didn’t know whether his long and arduous journey would end in vain. He remembers being awakened at night by a sharp jab in the ribs. The smugglers shooed their human cargo off the bed of the truck they had used to transport them. Hassan and the other refugees in his group were left standing in the dark. The steady rattle of the truck’s diesel engine, a sound that had been pounded into their heads for days, gradually faded away in the distance. All Hassan knew was that he was somewhere in a forest in Germany. It was night, it was cold, and he had no choice but to wait there until it was light enough to continue his journey.

At dawn he and the other refugees made their way to a train station. He got on a train and rode it for two hours before the police came and asked for his papers. He didn’t have any.

Last year, the number of refugees below the age of 18 who came to Germany rose. The majority of these unaccompanied minors came from Iraq, but there are also others from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guinea and Afghanistan. No one can say for sure how many of these young refugees are currently living here, but refugee organizations estimate the number at somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000, including both legal and illegal arrivals.

Hassan ended up in a suburb of Munich, in a receiving center for child refugees where he was placed together with boys and girls from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, China and a number of fellow Iraqis, the youngest of them just 10 years old.

Three months later, he is sitting here on the blue couch at Chevalier House, the home he is staying in together with a group of 11 youths who were brought together randomly by the vicissitudes of global refugee flows and others who were sent by their parents to find a better life in this far-away country.

One day, while still living in northern Iraq, Hassan was taken aside by his father, who told him he had something important to discuss. His tone of voice was serious. He said: “You’re my eldest son. You have to get out of here. There’s no work, only fear. You are going to leave Iraq.” His father didn’t ask him for his opinion. He gave him a clear order, and disobeying was out of the question.

Hassan is tall and slender. Under his cap he wears his hair in a carefully gelled fauxhawk — like the one David Beckham used to sport.

“Could you please translate so that the newcomers will understand what I just said,” a worker at the home asks him. Hassan pulls the bill of his baseball cap to one side, leans forward and begins to formulate the rules of this new and unfamiliar world in the more familiar sounds of the Kurdish language. The staff worker wants to remind them to adhere to the home’s rules about separating trash. The Kurdish kids look at each other a bit perplexed, but recycling is a part of everyday life in Germany they will have to get used to.

Hassan’s father had instructed him to “learn German and work hard.” The hopes of an entire family now rested on Hassan’s shoulders, a family whose existence was threatened in their homeland. Hassan was sent here with a mission to fulfill.

Fourteen-year-old Jihua, for his part, isn’t quite sure why he is in Germany. While the Iraqis play pool and chat inside, the Chinese boy prefers to stand outside in front of a glass door.

“The Iraqis are pretty noisy,” Jihua says, shrugging his shoulders. A quiet kid, Jihua smiles when he says something and tends to look away shyly when spoken to.

The first impressions he had when he arrived in Germany over three months ago were a bit frightening. The country was full of people who were either white or black, he recalls. They were very big, had long noses, spoke loudly, and what they said sounded threatening. Even worse for him was the fact that the moment he arrived here he was no longer able to communicate verbally with others.

In the first few weeks he slept a lot. After all, sleep meant not having to talk to anyone. Why, he asked himself, should he get up? For who? And for what?

One time he was sitting with the others, watching a live television broadcast of the Olympic Games from Beijing. The other boys in the home marveled at the colorful robes and cheerful people. “China is great,” they said. “Why in the world did you come here?”

Jihua’s story is confusing and tragic. But in contrast to that of most other refugees, it is not based on war, poverty or persecution. It is a tale of being caught in the maelstrom caused by a natural disaster and of a refugee flow that swept him up and carried him to Germany.

Like Hassan, he has been placed at Chevalier House. In the course of the average period of six months that these young people are kept here the facts behind their individual cases are examined and an application filed for asylum or at least for a temporary residency permit to allow them to stay. They are also provided with medical examinations. Some need treatment for intestinal parasites or tuberculosis. And, in the past, some have even tested HIV positive. Social workers are here to provide support for these youth, and they are given German language lessons starting the first day.

Young people under the age of 18 have a legal right to be cared for and provided with support in Germany. Ideally, this would be provided by an institution like Chevalier House, one of eight receiving centers for child refugees in Germany. Those who are 18 or older are sent to receiving centers for adult asylum seekers and are left to their own devices in dealing with their asylum applications.

Ibrahim, the boy from Sierra Leone, claims to be 16, but the authorities don’t believe him. He says he is plagued day and night by memories of the war and the victims he saw, victims of his own actions. His cheeks are hollow, his eyes directed towards the ground, his shoulders slumped. Ibrahim is present physically but not mentally.

He sits on his bed, wrapped in a thick jacket, slouching with his face buried in his hands. He has taken wool blankets, stuffed their edges under the mattress in the bunk above him so that they hang down and form a kind of tent he can withdraw into in the room he has been assigned to at the receiving center for adult asylum seekers in Munich. The room is filled with three bunk beds, six metal lockers, scribbled-on walls, a table and chairs. On the door there is a picture of the German national soccer team, an image of one of the country’s more positive aspects. Out in the corridor beyond the door there is a pervasive odor of stale urine. There’s trash in the stairwell.

“This boy is crying all the time, it’s a pity,” says one of his roommates. At night, he says, Ibrahim gets out of bed, sits at the table, and sobs incessantly, and that this has been going on for months now. It has gotten to the point, he says, that the others in the room want to grab him and give him a good shaking to make him come to his senses.

He says Ibrahim is struggling with the memories he has of his parents, his sister and his homeland, Sierra Leone. But first and foremost he is having to cope with memories of hands getting chopped off. Memories of a woman and her child, and memories of the weapon he carried in his hand.

He is also struggling to deal with the officials at the foreign resident registration office who don’t believe that he is 16 years old.

A Childhood Stolen

He has a backpack that always stays on his back, even when he is sitting down. In it he carries a sheaf of personal documents. “Ausweis,“ he says in German, pointing his bony index finger at two slips of paper. “Ausweis,” or identification, was the first German word he learned.

The first document, issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, officially recognizes him as having been a refugee in Guinea. The other document, a residence permit, was issued by the Guinean Interior Ministry in 2002. The information given in these two documents is consistent with his assertion that he is 16. However, foreign resident registration officials have thus far refused to believe this, saying that the documents could have been forged.

Two of the officials took a closer look at him in a procedure referred to in legal jargon as an “eyeball inspection” and decided that in their view he was 18 or older. As a consequence of their decision he must go through asylum proceedings on his own, live in a mass accommodation facility for adult asylum seekers — and all of this without getting any assistance in dealing with the situation.

The methods the authorities use to try to determine a refugee’s age are controversial. Children’s rights organizations claim that in most instances when the authorities try to guess the age of the youth in question, they settle on a number higher than that which the young person has provided. Consequently, support has been denied in numerous cases simply because the young people in question were declared to be 18 or older and thus legally no longer minors.

Ibrahim takes his hands away from his face and looks up. Albert has come into the room. As far as Ibrahim is concerned, Albert is one of the best things that has happened to him since coming to Germany, running a close second to the absence of war. Albert Riedelsheimer works for the Catholic youth welfare organization and for two weeks now has been Ibrahim’s legal guardian. Riedelsheimer is 42, has worked for 17 years as a guardian for child refugees, has written a number of books on the subject and knows the relevant sections of asylum law by heart. “Ibrahim needs someone who can help him, who can be there for him, who can listen to him,” Riedelsheimer says. “He needs to be taken out of this environment as quickly as possible.”

In Riedelsheimer’s view, as long as there is no proof that Ibrahim’s documents were faked he should be given the benefit of the doubt and the age he has given should be accepted as truth.

Ibrahim’s situation is symptomatic of some of the things Riedelsheimer sees as being out of kilter in the German system and which — working together with child rights organizations and related policy experts — he is striving to correct. These undesirable circumstances came under fire from the European Commission a year-and-a-half ago. The EU executive body pointed out that Germany, Portugal, and Sweden are the only EU countries in which unaccompanied refugees between the ages of 16 and 18 are frequently placed in housing facilities for adult asylum seekers rather than children’s homes or foster families.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bestows the same rights upon unaccompanied refugee children as it does on orphan children who are citizens of the receiving country, is not fully observed in Germany. Indeed, Amnesty International holds the view that refugees here under the age of 18 are often treated like second-class citizens.

But that’s not the case at Munich’s Chevalier House. Here refugee children are put through an active program of teaching in which they learn all about the country they have come to. Hassan, the boy from Iraq, sits with the others in his group in their classroom. Outside, a fog bank has pushed up against the windows. To these boys Germany had until recently seemed something like a fairy tale, a far-away kingdom where peace and prosperity prevail.

“Hassan, we don’t say ‘Finger kaput’, that’s the way foreigners speak German, that’s not the way we talk here,” the teacher says.

Hassan corrects himself: “Yeah, I know, you’re supposed to say ‘My finger hurts’.” Having already worked his way through 11 lessons, he’s ahead of everyone else in his class. Some of the others are still working on lesson four. Many of them didn’t even know how to read and write before they came to Germany.

On Saturday, Hassan will speak to his parents again by phone. He will be able to report to them that he is making good progress in learning German and that they have every reason to be satisfied with him.

Germany. The word always had positive connotations in Hassan’s village near Mosul in Iraq. The people there spoke with admiration of one of their own, a young man who went to Germany, studied, earned a doctoral degree and managed to accumulate a certain amount of wealth. The man in question is one of Hassan’s uncles and lives in Dortmund.

The more insecure their region became, the more the people of the village tended to talk about this man. “We were always afraid. When we left the house to go somewhere we were afraid that we wouldn’t make it back alive and when we came back we were afraid we would find the house destroyed and everyone dead,” Hassan says. His family are Yazidi, members of an ancient monotheistic religion whose roots precede Islam. The Islamists regularly persecute the Yazidi.

Hassan’s father was a taxi driver. He sold his taxi for $7,500 and used the money to pay the smugglers for his son’s passage to Germany. He saw this as in investment in the future, with the hope being that his son would eventually make good and be able to send money back home to his family.

Hassan is not very willing to talk about the details of his trip from northern Iraq to Germany. Perhaps the traffickers threatened him to keep him quiet. At any rate he is unable to say how long he and the others who were with him remained huddled together in the back of the truck. All he was able to bring with him was a plastic bag with a sweater, t-shirts, and an extra pair of pants. In his pants pocket he had a slip of paper with the address of his uncle in Dortmund written on it, his ticket to a new life in Germany.

The first few days, he says, looking to one side in embarrassment, he just laid in bed and cried. The children and young people who come here are faced with the task of getting used to the country that is going to be their new home and, at the same time, coming to terms with the fact that they have lost their former homeland.

Jihua stares at the floor as he tells his story. Sometimes he gets the order of events mixed up a bit. It’s difficult to sort out all the things that happened, to put the horror in a sequence.

Jihua’s former life ended on May 12, 2008 at 2:28 p.m. He was at school in Wenchuan, where he was in the 8th grade. He had been looking forward to the end of the school day. He had planned to play ping pong with his friends. Then the building began to shake. They all ran out into the open. Within a very short period of time the world around them was reduced to rubble. Whole towns and villages, whole streets, and whole factory complexes were flattened. More than 80,000 people were killed and some 370,000 were injured. Jihua’s parents, both factory workers, were among the dead.

In the confusion that reigned after the earthquake, he says, friends took him in and promised they would get him out of the disaster area. But he had no idea the journey was going to take him outside of China.

He traveled twice by ship and spent a month at sea. The only things he was offered to eat or drink were bread and water. He said the smugglers had used him as a guinea pig. Every time they came to a border he was the one they would send across first to see if the coast was clear. Eventually he ended up in Munich.

Now he’s sitting here on a bench and asking himself whether China will continue to be his homeland or whether the time has come for him to open up to the idea of accepting Germany as his new home. He cried when the other kids at Chevalier House told him he was going to be deported because he doesn’t have a passport. He went to the counselors and asked them to send him away as soon as possible, before he had a chance to get accustomed to life in Germany.

Ibrahim, the former child soldier, sees in the foreign resident registration office an administrative authority that is doing everything it can to get him out of the country again. It is difficult to get it across to him that the officials there are not his enemies and that he needs to work with them.

Ibrahim was born in the midst of a civil war, and he was seven years old when his childhood was stolen from him. It was 1999. He and his father, his mother, and his 14-year-old sister were fleeing from the fighting when they were kidnapped by rebels. His mother was shot immediately.

Ibrahim speaks in a monotone, with no expression in his face that would reveal what he is feeling as he relates these horrors. They were taken to a rebel camp. There was very little to eat and hardly any water. “If you want to eat then you’re going to have to shoot,” the rebels told him.

Prisoners were brought into the camp a couple of times a week. They would be lined up in a row and their arms tied to a log. He was ordered to ask them if they wanted a “short sleeve” or a “long sleeve”. Then he would take a machete and either cut off their hand or a longer section their arm. With children this was fairly easy. With adults he sometimes had to apply the machete more than once.

It is memories like this that haunt him like evil spirits, he says.

He lived in the rebel camp for a year. His father was killed in the fighting. When one of the rebels got his sister pregnant the two of them were released. They moved from one refugee camp to the next, always on the run in a constant effort to get away from the rebels. They made it to Guinea where his sister had a miscarriage. She died soon afterwards. Ibrahim has a photo of her in his backpack. It shows a woman lying in a hospital bed and a doctor standing beside her. You can see in the woman’s face that she is in pain and making a great effort to smile.

Culture Shock in Munich

In his story Ibrahim talks about a diamond that his sister gave him and the man who helped him get to Germany in exchange for it, by getting him a forged passport and an airplane ticket. Ibrahim says he can’t remember most of the details. Many child refugees are afraid to speak openly about what they experienced for fear of being deported.

Riedelsheimer hopes to secure a residence permit for Ibrahim. Over half of the unaccompanied refugees under the age of 18 are given a time-limited residence permit. The others are granted temporary asylum for a period of six months but with the possibility of having this period extended. Very few of them are deported.

Four months have gone by and Ibrahim has to go back to the foreign resident registration office. He takes the relevant papers out of his backpack and lays them out on the linoleum-covered floor, his documents from Guinea and other papers from Germany with bureaucratic-sounding headings on them like “Instructions regarding your obligation to cooperate with the responsible authorities in connection with your application for asylum” or “Instructions with regard to the storage of your fingerprints”. Ibrahim is unable to understand what is written on these papers, but this fact fails to make any impression at all on the man at the local government registration authority.

An interpreter translates for Ibrahim into Krio, his native tongue. Ibrahim stares out the window into the fog. Riedelsheimer says he has never before seen such a traumatized young refugee and that this is the most difficult case he has ever had to deal with.

Two months later Ibrahim’s case has still not been decided.

Ibrahim, Hassan, and Jihua have been in Germany for six months now. Hassan and Jihua, who continue to live at Chevalier House, often go into the city together. Once they even went to the circus.

Jihua has become more outgoing and laughs a lot. He is holding a nine-month-old baby on his lap that belongs to a young woman who is also staying in the home. He tickles the child and makes it laugh. Another girl, from Vietnam, sits down next to him. He tells her in broken German about an experience he had two months ago. He had gone into a Chinese grocery store because he wanted to talk to someone who spoke his language. He greeted the Asian woman behind the counter.

“Nihao,” he said.

“Sorry, I don’t come from China. I’m from Vietnam,” she replied.

He says he is no longer very homesick for China. There is no one there he could go home to anyway. He has an appointment soon with the child welfare office and will probably be transferred to a group living facility.

Hassan has already had an appointment to discuss his future. He wears his hair a little longer in the back now, and his jacket has “US Air Force” written across it in big letters. He won’t be going to Dortmund to live with his uncle as his father wanted. He has been given a room in a group facility in Munich and is happy to be living there. One reason is that he has been reunited with two friends from a neighboring Kurdish village in Iraq.

His teacher told him that he will soon be able to start attending secondary school. When he finishes, he wants to go into training to become a barber or hairdresser so that he can start sending money back to his family.

Ibrahim is standing in a well-lit room. It’s been almost three months now since he moved out of his bunk bed tent at the adult receiving center. He is in a group living facility now, together with nine other young people his age — most of them Germans. He no longer looks down all the time. It’s as if he wants to see and absorb everything that’s going on around him. He speaks fairly good German, is eager to learn and asks the most questions in the German course offered for young refugees.

He excuses himself for the untidiness in his room, the first place he has ever been able to call his own. He doesn’t have many possessions. On his desk, he has a toy horse made of plastic. He says he found it in the garbage, adding that in Germany people throw away so much stuff that is still good.

At Christmas Albert Riedelsheimer sent him a picture — a group photo taken last fall of the kids who were in his care, including a rather downcast-looking Ibrahim. A girl living in the facility comes into the room and Ibrahim hides the photo behind his back. Yes, he’ll be glad to come down and help her cook dinner. He’ll be there in a few minutes.

When the girl has left he shows me the photo. “Oh, my God, I looked like I was about to die,” he says.

There are professional staff at his facility who comfort him at night when he cries after having nightmares. He’s not having bad dreams as often as he used to, he says. He’s soon going to start therapy to help him deal with his dreams.

Ibrahim is going to be able to stay in Germany for the time being.

He spoons the last bit of coffee out of his cup and confides that during the past several months he had always carried a pocketknife with him in his jacket. He say he would have tried to kill himself rather than get deported back to Sierra Leone.

* The names of the refugees referred to here have been changed to protect their identities.

Translated from the German by Larry Fischer

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Distorting the Word ‘Hate’

Homosexual activists aren’t easily deterred. Unable to persuade even the people of California to change the definition of marriage to legitimize their lifestyle, they’re resorting to a backdoor approach to accomplish the same thing: pushing federal hate crime legislation while few are paying attention.

Well, people better wake up, because the House Judiciary Committee has already approved Barney Frank’s bill, H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The full House is expected to vote on the bill April 29, and various liberal groups, from gay activists to liberal religious organizations, are engaged in a full-court press to get this bill passed.

The bill would make it a federal crime to willfully cause bodily injury to someone (or to attempt to do so with firearms or explosives) because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

If states want to pass their own hate crime legislation, they are free to exercise such poor judgment. But they don’t need the long arm of the federal government cramming it down their throats.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Mexico Death Toll Stabilizes as Epidemic Spreads

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The toll from the swine flu epidemic appears to be stabilizing in Mexico, the health secretary said late Tuesday, with only 7 more suspected deaths. But an outbreak of the virus at a New York school showed it is capable of repeated jumps between humans — meaning it can keep spreading around the world.

The new virus suspected in 159 deaths and 2,498 illnesses across Mexico, said Health Secretary Jose Cordova, who called the death toll “more or less stable” even as hospitals are swamped with people who think they have swine flu. And he said only 1,311 suspected swine flu patients remain hospitalized, a sign that treatment works for people who get medical care quickly.

“You can see the total of new cases,” Cordova said. “In the last days there has been a drop.”

The positive news came hours after Mexico eliminated more reasons to visit the country Tuesday, putting its pyramids and all other archaeological sites off limits nationwide and closing restaurants in the capital for all but take-out food in an aggressive bid to stop gatherings where the virus can spread.

Other countries also took tough measures. The United States stepped up checks of people entering the country and warned Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico. Canada, Israel and France issued similar travel advisories. And Cuba became the first country to impose an outright ban on travel to the epicenter of the epidemic.

Argentina soon followed with its own ban, and ordered 60,000 visitors who arrrived from Canada, Mexico and the U.S. in the past 20 days to contact the Health Ministry.

Experts on epidemics said these kinds of government interventions are ineffective, since this flu — a never-before-seen blend of genetic material from pigs, birds and humans to which people have no natural immunity — is already showing up in too many places for containment efforts to make a difference.

Outside Mexico, confirmed cases were reported for the first time as far away as New Zealand and Israel, joining the United States, Canada, Britain and Spain. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. has 66 confirmed cases in five states, with 45 in New York, one in Ohio, one in Indiana, two in Kansas, six in Texas and 13 in California.

“Border controls do not work. Travel restrictions do not work,” said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl, recalling the SARS epidemic earlier in the decade that killed 774 people, mostly in Asia, and slowed the global economy.

Instead, they say, governments should do more to provide medical help to people with swine flu symptoms, since the virus is proving to be treatable if diagnosed early.

U.S. officials stressed there is no need for panic, noting that flu outbreaks are quite common every year. The CDC estimates about 36,000 people in the U.S. alone died of flu-related causes each year, on average, in the 1990s.

Still, without a solid understanding of where the outbreak began or even how fast it is spreading in Mexico, authorities were focused on preventing people from gathering in groups where mass contagion could result.

Mexico City’s mayor ordered restaurants to limit service to takeouts and deliveries, and closed gyms and swimming pools and restricted access to many government buildings.

The economic toll also spread. Even before the restaurant closings, the capital has lost 777 million pesos ($56 million) a day since the outbreak began, said Arturo Mendicuti, president of the city’s Chamber of Trade, Services and Tourism.

“Of course we don’t like these measures,” he said. “We hope they don’t last.”

In the U.S., President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion in emergency funds to fight the illness.

“I fully expect we will see deaths from this infection,” said Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC.

In New York, there were growing signs that the virus was moving beyond St. Francis Preparatory school, where sick students started lining up at the nurse’s office days after some students returned from Cancun.

At the 2,700-student school, the largest Roman Catholic high school in the nation, “many hundreds of students were ill with symptoms that are most likely swine flu,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. A teacher was one of 28 confirmed cases. And a nearby school with siblings at St. Francis was shut down as well after more than 80 students called in sick.

“It is here and it is spreading,” Frieden said.

Rachel Mele, a 16-year-old at the school, saw her fever break Tuesday for the first time in five days. It had been hovering around 101 since the terrifying night when her parents rushed her to the hospital.

“I could barely even catch my breath. I’ve never felt a pain like that before,” Mele said. “My throat, it was burning, like, it was the worst burning sensation I ever got before. I couldn’t even swallow. I couldn’t even let up air. I could barely breathe through my mouth.”

It is significant that some of confirmed New York cases passed swine flu to others who had not traveled — this suggests the virus can jump from human to human to human, spreading through other countries, said Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization.

“There is definitely the possibility that this virus can establish that kind of community-wide outbreak capacity in multiple countries, and it’s something we’re looking for very closely,” Fukuda said. So-called “community” transmissions are a key test for gauging whether the spread of the virus has reached pandemic proportions.

Mexico opened its national naval hospital to civilians to deal with the still-mounting wave of suspected swine flu cases. Staffers wore goggles, masks and booties as they treated patients who had crowded the waiting rooms and reception areas for a chance to get in.

As Mexico’s caseload grew, complaints were heard throughout the capital of 20 million that the supply of surgical masks was running out.

Scientists hope to have a key ingredient for a vaccine ready in early May, but it still will take months before any shots are available for the first required safety testing. Using samples of the flu taken from people who fell ill in Mexico and the U.S., scientists are engineering a strain that could trigger the immune system without causing illness.

“We’re about a third of the way” to that goal, said Dr. Ruben Donis of the CDC.

U.S. officials said they may abandon the term “swine flu” since the virus blends genetic material from three species, and because many people mistakenly fear they can get it from meat. The outbreak has been a public relations nightmare for the pork industry, and China, Russia and Ukraine are among the countries who have banned imports from Mexico and parts of the U.S.

“It’s killing our markets,” said Francis Gilmore, 72, who runs a 600-hog operation in Perry, Iowa, outside Des Moines, and worries his small business could be ruined by the crisis. “Where they got the name, I just don’t know.”

[Return to headlines]

OIC Expresses Concern Over ‘Faith Fighter’ Computer Game

When his attention was brought to an internet report posted by metro.co.uk on an online game depicting holy figures such as Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad (PBUT) fighting each other to the death, a spokesman of the OIC Islamophobia Observatory in Jeddah today expressed his concern stating that the computer game was incendiary in its content and offensive to Muslims and Christians.

He said that the game would serve no other purpose than to incite intolerance. He called on the Internet service providers who are hosting the game to take immediate action by withdrawing it from the web.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Shariah in the West: a Discussion With Andy McCarthy


Last week, former Senator Rick Santorum and the Ethics & Public Policy Center’s Program to Protect America’s Freedom presented a symposium exploring the relationship between Shariah law and the West. The featured speaker was Andy McCarthy, author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.

Mr. McCarthy famously served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he was involved in the prosecution of both foreign and domestic terrorism— including Omar Abdul-Rahman, the ‘Blind Sheikh.’ After September 11, he supervised the U.S. Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Command Post in New York City. Mr. McCarthy is a regular contributor at National Review Online and Commentary where he writes on a wide range of subjects including law, terrorism, and national security. Mr. McCarthy has long been a friend of the Center for Security Policy, and is the recipient of the 2008 Mightier Pen Award.

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]


heroyalwhyness said...

Mixed messages re:flu
Authorities admit that Oaxaca census taker transmitted the virus door-to-doorThe first person to die of swine flu was a 39-year-old tax inspector whose job required her to make door-to-door visits, putting her in contact with at least 300 unsuspecting members of the public when the disease was at its most virulent, Mexican authorities have said.

Maria Adela Gutierrez, a census-taker in the southern tourist city of Oaxaca, was admitted to a local hospital on 8 April and died five days later. She'd been suffering acute respiratory problems, exacerbated by diabetes and severe diarrhoea, and is believed to have infected scores of people.

The story of her death, which occurred three weeks before the virus was officially identified, came as Mexico remained on a state of high alert, with schools, government offices and many workplaces closed. The suspected death toll in Mexico reached 152 last night, with over 2,000 people infected. In the US the confirmed total of cases jumped to 64; California, with more than a dozen infected, declared a public health emergency and the World Health Organisation said it had notification of 79 confirmed cases worldwide.

WHO: Only 7 swine flu deaths, not 152...