Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/10/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/10/2009There are several news stories from the USA tonight about the use of GPS for law-enforcement or political purposes, from tracking the movement of suspects to identifying the location of every residential front door in America for “census” reasons.

In other news, the stakes were raised in Malmö as police were shot at by a “youth”.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, KGS, TB, Zenster, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Obama and ACORN GPS Marking Every Front Door in America?
CAIR Declines Invite to Discussion With Devout Muslim Film Narrator, Who is Expected to Speak Out Against Radical Islam at the Third Jihad Premiere
Court Upholds GPS Tracking by Police Without Warrant…
Life With Big Brother
News Release: Obama’s FY’10 Budget Recommends Significant Decrease for Port Facility Security
Obama to Cut Slain Officer’s Benefits in Half
Report: Hackers Broke Into FAA Air Traffic Control Systems
Video: Limbaugh Over Democrat Powell for Cheney
Europe and the EU
EU Presidency Plans First Summit With Pakistan
European Demand Grows for Khat High
Finland: Tuomioja Slams Berlusconi
Germany: Merkel in Veiled Attack on British Conservatives
Iceland’s Government Moves Closer to Joining EU
Israeli Foreign Minister’s Visit Irks German Politicians
Sweden: Man Shoots at Police in Malmö
Sweden: Art Thief Seeks Statue Resale ‘to Cover Expenses’
Thousands Turn Up to Boo Racists in Cologne
U.S. Data on Guantanamo Inmates Insufficient: Germany
UK Govt. Urges Commonwealth Citizens to Join EU Vote
Israel and the Palestinians
EU Presidency ‘Not Happy’ With Israeli Policies
Hackers Sabotage Arab-Language ‘Hasbara’ Site
Italian Financial Aid for Gazan Families Blocked by Israel
Middle East
Energy: Turkey Hopes to Sign Nabucco Deal by June, Minister
Obama’s Green Light to Attack Iran
Pope Disappoints Muslim Leaders With No Apology
Pope Calls for Courage Among Mideast Christians
Turkey: ‘Leave Secularism Alone, ‘ Says Judge
South Asia
Myanmar Activist Denied Doctor
Far East
Russia’s Putin Warns Against Arms Race Over N.Korea
Sub-Saharan Africa
Mortar Attack on Mogadishu Mosque
Clashes at Athens Building Taken Over by Migrants
Immigrants Hurt in Greek Violence

Financial Crisis

Obama and ACORN GPS Marking Every Front Door in America?

Republican Senator Judd Gregg was Obama’s first choice for the Secretary of Commerce post, and Gregg was actually considering joining the Obama team, until he found out that control of the US Census was being stripped from the Commerce Department and placed under the direct control of White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel.

GPS Marking EVERY Front Door — Part II

Then, the same week that Americans learned that they were “domestic terrorists”—at least according to Obama’s new DHS (Department of Homeland Security),—if they own a bible, a pocket Constitution or guns, and still believe in Life, Liberty and Freedom, — they also learned that Obama’s Census Bureau had hired thousands of new temporary employees, equipped each with a handheld GPS computer and sent them out to mark GPS coordinates for every residential front door in America.

Oddly, it was this same period that news was breaking of an international flu pandemic, suspected of being a weaponized strain of the virus never before seen, — and that Obama’s team still sees no need to close the US-Mexican border, despite the cross continental spread of a deadly illness now claiming American lives.

Now, if any one of these events happened alone, one might not get too excited. But when a string of such events happen all at once, one begins to question the string of freedom and life threatening coincidences.

I can’t resist the urge to question the authority and purpose behind such a BIG BROTHER initiative, when the official Census itself is not due to be taken until 2010.

No imagination is required to think up a whole laundry list of evil that could be done with a nationwide GPS grid of coordinate’s markers painted on every private home across the country. But I was having trouble thinking up one good reason for it, even one legitimate use that would justify what must be a very expensive undertaking.

According to one of the Census workers, who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, they must GPS mark the coordinates “within 40 ft of every front door” in America and they are supposed to complete that mission nation wide, within 90 days, by the end of July 2009.

The workers were not told why they were GPS marking every front door. But a supervisor is sent out to follow them door-to-door, to make certain that no door is left unmarked. Every door will be marked by one employee, and then checked by a follow-up supervisor.

So, I had to ask, why?

Why does the Obama administration need or want the latitude and longitude coordinates for every home in America? Why the rush to GPS paint every home in the next 90 days? Why must the marker be within 40 ft of every front door? For what possible purpose does the Fed need GPS coordinates for every home, and under what authority do they have the right? Census workers, whom I asked, had the same holy-crap look on their faces that I had by then.

ACORN signed on as a national partner with the U.S. Census Bureau in February 2009 to assist with the recruitment of the 1.4 million temporary workers needed to go door-to-door to count every person in the United States — currently believed to be more than 306 million people. But the count doesn’t take place until 2010. This is April 2009.

Obama’s interest in an ACORN controlled 2010 Census, for the purpose of redistricting to the advantage of Democrats before the 2010 mid-term elections, comes as NO shock from a regime known for their heavy handed Rules for Radicals political strategies. But what does this have to do with GPS marking every home in the country?

The 2% of Americans, who have served military duty at some point in life, are very familiar with the most common use of GPS target painting. The other 98% of Americans might want to pick up a book on the subject, such as The Precision Revolution: GPS and the Future of Aerial Warfare .

Their Authority? has just about the only online report available on the matter, and they report, “Why does the government (and ACORN) need to have the GPS coordinates of your FRONT DOOR? Your house is probably on Google Maps already. But the front door? Sounds like a jackboot convenience to me. This is a developing story, and several reports of those who have already been visited by the GPS squad can be found in this forum thread.”

If you challenge Census Bureau employees about the GPS marking of your private residence, you will be handed a preprinted explanation referring you to Sec. 223, Title 13, U.S. Code, Chapter 7, Subtitle 2, which explains the penalties for refusing to provide names and statistics of occupants when asked for by a census taker. This only applies when they are taking a census, (which will not be taken until next year), and the penalty for refusing to answer questions for a census is up to a $500 fine.

However, since the actual Census is not due to be taken until 2010, nobody is asking for any information today. They are only GPS marking your front door today, and Sec. 223, Title 13, U.S. Code, Chapter 7, Subtitle 2 provides the Fed NO authority to GPS paint your front door.

Best I can tell, the Fed has NO authority whatsoever, to paint the front door of every private residence in America. Still, that is exactly what they are doing. Now, the trillion dollar question is, why?

A State of Emergency

From Wikipedia — The Posse Comitatus Act is a United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385) passed on June 16, 1878 after the end of Reconstruction, with the intention of substantially limiting the powers of the federal government to use the military for law enforcement. The Act prohibits most members of the federal uniformed services from exercising nominally state law enforcement, police, or peace officer powers that maintain “law and order” on non-federal property (such as states and their counties and municipal divisions) within the United States.

In short, the statute generally prohibits federal military personnel and units of the National Guard operating under federal authority, from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States.

As members of the military are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution and the American people against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, a federal order to do the exact opposite, and take aim at American citizens, would be a clear violation of the US Constitution and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, unless.

US Military personnel are trained to follow orders. But they are also obligated to refuse any order deemed “unlawful.” In order to make such an order appear “lawful,” the federal government would first have to declare a national “state of emergency,” such as in the case of an international pandemic, which can be demonstrated to threaten the health and well-being of American citizens.

Following a state of emergency declaration, a federal order for Martial Law would be expected, to allegedly provide law enforcement and security for citizens. This type of scenario can be followed by a presidential order to quarantine, disarm and contain American citizens in the name of national security, all of it, having the appearance of being “lawful.”

Is this what is happening?

Connecting the Dots

Alone, individual events look concerning, but not conspiratorial. What about when you place the pieces of the puzzle together and take a look at the entire picture developing?

Under this “theory,” how does the GPS marking of every private residence in the nation fit into the picture?

I wish I knew. but I don’t!

What I do know is this. Coincidences of this number and magnitude don’t happen. They certainly do not happen all at the same time, within hours or days of each other, out of the wild blue tin-foil hat heaven.

I also know that people had better start asking the right people the right questions and demanding answers fast. Begin with asking the mainstream press why there has been no public notification of the federal governments GPS marking your front door?

Then, I suggest contacting your local Census Bureau office immediately, and demanding an explanation as well as advice as to what law gives them the right to GPS paint every front door in America?

I’d also recommend sending a copy of this column to your state and federal representative, demanding that they put a stop to it or explain why it’s necessary, and what law gives them the right?

Unfortunately, we live in a moment of history when real events are much stranger than nutty conspiracy theories. The people have every right to know what is happening. But unless you demand to know, nobody’s talking!

Bill Clinton sold US nuclear technology to Red China for a mere $300,000 in campaign contributions. The event landed Chinese bagman Johnny Chung in prison, but put Hillary Clinton in the US Senate, and now at the helm of the US State Department.

Highly secured government servers are hacked daily. Soon, hackers will be able to grab a nation wide GPS grid map, marking the front door of every home in America.

How much is a GPS grid of every American household worth to the enemies of America, both foreign and domestic? I’d estimate, PRICELESS!

There is a foul odor resonating from the current regime in Washington DC and most Americans can smell it. Can most Americans gather the strength to do something about it?

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


CAIR Declines Invite to Discussion With Devout Muslim Film Narrator, Who is Expected to Speak Out Against Radical Islam at the Third Jihad Premiere

05.10.2009 — (New York, NY — May 10, 2009) The Clarion Fund announced today that it will premiere its newest documentary film, The Third Jihad, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 13, 2009. In addition to the screening, several American Muslim groups have been invited to participate in a roundtable discussion where the film’s narrator, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser — a devout Muslim and chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) — and its producers will speak out about the threat of radical Islam in America.

Clarion’s first documentary film, the award-winning Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, communicates the global threat posed by the radical elements of Islam. The Third Jihad shifts the focus to the growth of radical Islam on American soil via “Cultural Jihad,” the use of the democratic system to transform the American way of life from within to a society governed by Sharia Law (Islamic religious law).

“Clarion Fund recognizes the propagation of radical Islam and the promulgation of Sharia Law within our borders as a clear and present crisis affecting the Muslim American community and the American public at large,” said Peter Connors, Executive Director of Clarion. “Our educational tools and media properties will serve as a platform for the American public — including Muslims — to embrace Western liberties and speak out in a meaningful way to silence radical elements in our midst.”

Among these tools is, the foundation of Clarion’s grassroots movement. The user-friendly website was developed to spread awareness about the threat of radical Islam in America as well as to provide practical response tools. For the launch of the film, the site has been redesigned to include up-to-the-minute updates from major news sources as well as social media-driven networking capabilities.

“We are focused on educating the American public about this eminent threat to their rights and freedoms, with the goal of bringing ‘Creeping Sharia’ to a screeching halt,” explained Raphael Shore, producer of both The Third Jihad and Obsession and the founder of Clarion. “We want to expose the true intent of radical Islam in order to secure the future of the American public at large, including its Muslim community.”

Among those organizations invited to participate in the roundtable discussion is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). However, CAIR has declined the invitation, a surprising turn of events considering the group’s usual insistence that a representative of their “mainstream Muslim” staff be present at such events to offer a “balanced perspective.” In fact, since the beginning of 2009, CAIR has requested such representation in at least three U.S. events focused on radical Islam.

“We invited CAIR and they said they wanted nothing to do with this film,” said Connors. “CAIR’s response is unfortunate, as The Clarion Fund believes that the only way to address this issue is to discuss it openly and honestly with those who agree with us and those who disagree. Then, based on that education, the American public can decide for itself.”

The Third Jihad, which is narrated by devout Muslim American Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, centers on the FBI discovery of a Grand Jihad Manifesto calling for the destruction of the U.S. and the establishment of a radical Islamist theocracy in its place. The film features interviews with experts on radical Islam and American security specialists, including leading expert professor Bernard Lewis, as well as a first-hand account from a former terrorist. All those interviewed agree that the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in America is a societal reality that cannot be ignored.

Though a shortened version of The Third Jihad has spread virally on the Internet since the beginning of the year, the Washington, D.C. screening will serve as the official launch of the feature-length version of the film.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Court Upholds GPS Tracking by Police Without Warrant…

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin police can attach GPS to cars to secretly track anybody’s movements without obtaining search warrants, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

However, the District 4 Court of Appeals said it was “more than a little troubled” by that conclusion and asked Wisconsin lawmakers to regulate GPS use to protect against abuse by police and private individuals.

As the law currently stands, the court said police can mount GPS on cars to track people without violating their constitutional rights — even if the drivers aren’t suspects.

Officers do not need to get warrants beforehand because GPS tracking does not involve a search or a seizure, Judge Paul Lundsten wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel based in Madison.

That means “police are seemingly free to secretly track anyone’s public movements with a GPS device,” he wrote.

One privacy advocate said the decision opened the door for greater government surveillance of citizens. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials called the decision a victory for public safety because tracking devices are an increasingly important tool in investigating criminal behavior.

The ruling came in a 2003 case involving Michael Sveum, a Madison man who was under investigation for stalking. Police got a warrant to put a GPS on his car and secretly attached it while the vehicle was parked in Sveum’s driveway. The device recorded his car’s movements for five weeks before police retrieved it and downloaded the information.

The information suggested Sveum was stalking the woman, who had gone to police earlier with suspicions. Police got a second warrant to search his car and home, found more evidence and arrested him. He was convicted of stalking and sentenced to prison.

Sveum, 41, argued the tracking violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. He argued the device followed him into areas out of public view, such as his garage.

The court disagreed. The tracking did not violate constitutional protections because the device only gave police information that could have been obtained through visual surveillance, Lundsten wrote.

Even though the device followed Sveum’s car to private places, an officer tracking Sveum could have seen when his car entered or exited a garage, Lundsten reasoned. Attaching the device was not a violation, he wrote, because Sveum’s driveway is a public place.

“We discern no privacy interest protected by the Fourth Amendment that is invaded when police attach a device to the outside of a vehicle, as long as the information obtained is the same as could be gained by the use of other techniques that do not require a warrant,” he wrote.

Although police obtained a warrant in this case, it wasn’t needed, he added.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said using GPS to track someone’s car goes beyond observing them in public and should require a warrant.

“The idea that you can go and attach anything you want to somebody else’s property without any court supervision, that’s wrong,” he said. “Without a warrant, they can do this on anybody they want.”

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s office, which argued in favor of the warrantless GPS tracking, praised the ruling but would not elaborate on its use in Wisconsin.

David Banaszynski, president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, said his department in the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood does not use GPS. But other departments might use it to track drug dealers, burglars and stalkers, he said.

A state law already requires the Department of Corrections to track the state’s most dangerous sex offenders using GPS. The author of that law, Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said the decision shows “GPS tracking is an effective means of protecting public safety.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Life With Big Brother

Census GPS-tagging your home’s front door

Coordinates being taken for every residence in nation

According to an online Yahoo program, the Global Position System coordinates for the White House, probably one of the best-known publicly owned buildings in the world, are 38.898590 Latitude and -77.035971 Longitude. And since you know that, it’s no big deal for the White House to know the coordinates for your front door, is it?

Some people think it is, and are upset over an army of some 140,000 workers hired in part with a $700 million taxpayer-funded contract to collect GPS readings for every front door in the nation.

The data collection, presented as preparation for the 2010 Census, is pinpointing with computer accuracy the locations and has raised considerable concern from privacy advocates who have questioned why the information is needed. The privacy advocates also are more than a little worried over what could be done with that information.

Enhancing the concerns is the Obama administration’s recent decision to put White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in an oversight role over the census, which will be used to determine a reapportionment of congressional seats and could be used to solidify a single political party’s control over the nation, its budget, military and future.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke recently told the Washington Post: “The census director reports to me, and, of course, I serve at the pleasure of the president.” He added the White House told him “it has no interest in politicizing [the census].”

But at American Daily Review, blogger Douglas Gibbs had more than a few doubts.

“GPS coordinates of your front door will make it easier for the government to monitor you,” he said. “The U.S. Census Bureau is simply an excuse — a harmless looking means of obtaining the front door coordinates. The creation of GPS coordinates for front doors has nothing to do with the census, in all honesty, no matter how much the United States government tries to convince you that it does.”

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He recalled wondering why, just weeks ago, the Obama administration announced its oversight of the census, “literally taking control of the census away from the Commerce Department.”

He put that together with Obama’s longtime push for national service.

“The Obamites, thirsty to serve their new messianic figure, have lost enough of their objectivity to be willingly recruited into such an insidious program like gaining these coordinates for the U.S. government. . I ask again, what would be the purpose of shooting the GPS coordinates of American doorways?” he wrote.

The answer he provided was alarming.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

News Release: Obama’s FY’10 Budget Recommends Significant Decrease for Port Facility Security

FY’10 Federal Budget Request Falls Short For Ports

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) today signaled its disappointment over the Obama Administration’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget, saying that it would significantly underfund the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Port Security Grant Program and the portion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Program that includes crucial deep-draft maintenance dredging for seaports. In addition, while the administration is asking for a higher funding level than was requested last year for a key program that provides grants to reduce diesel emissions from trucks and other equipment, the request is far below what Congress actually authorized for the program.

“AAPA and its member ports understand the Administration’s desire with this budget to direct funding to responsible programs that stimulate the economy, but that’s precisely what ports do,” said Kurt Nagle, the association’s president and CEO. “We hope that, as the budget process moves forward, Congress will recognize-as it did last year-that port security, navigation maintenance and clean-air initiatives are the kinds of critical infrastructure investments that generate economic activity, improve air quality and enhance the flow of international commerce.”

The Administration’s request calls for a 6.5 percent overall increase in DHS’s budget for fiscal 2010, but recommends a significant decrease for port facility security funding over what Congress appropriated last year. In its proposed budget, the Obama Administration recommends the Port Security Grant Program-the only federal program that assists public ports to fund marine facility security improvements-receive $250 million in Congressional appropriations. While this is $40 million more than the fiscal 2009 budget request, Congress authorized $400 million for the program in the 2006 SAFE Port Act and approved a $400 million appropriation for port security grants in fiscal 2009.

With regard to navigation funding, Mr. Nagle said the ports association is also disappointed with the Administration’s fiscal 2010 budget request, which falls well short of the funding needed to properly maintain America’s federal navigation channels. He said that while the Administration’s $793 million Civil Works program request is higher than the $729 million requested last year, between $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is needed just to maintain federal navigation channels at their required depths and widths.

On the issue of air quality, the Administration’s funding request for the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA)-which provides grants to entities like ports and school bus owners to help reduce pollution from older diesel engines-comes in at $60 million. This represents an increase over last year’s $49.2 million budget request, but falls far short of the $200 million annual funding level that the 2005 DERA legislation authorized.

“Our nation’s prosperity, environment and national defense depend largely on how well we can ensure deep-draft shipping access to our seaports, protect our ports against terrorism and keep our air clean,” Mr. Nagle remarked. “While this year’s budget request for seaport-related programs is below what we had envisioned, we hope that the Administration and Congress will recognize and agree to fund them at the levels required.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Obama to Cut Slain Officer’s Benefits in Half

In a fit of hypocrisy sure to outrage, just as Attorney General Eric Holder makes ready to attend a ceremony to honor fallen police officers, the Obama administration is proposing to cut almost in half a program that provides benefits to the future families left behind.

So much for the more loving, more caring president “we’ve been waiting for.” So, wouldn’t you think the Old Media would be braying at the hypocrisy here? Wouldn’t you rather think that the Old Media would be up in arms about this one? Isn’t this typically the type of story that would get them motivated to get their high dudgeon on? Guess not because it is nearly invisible in the media today.

Of the very few reporting on this, the Associated Press reported on May 7 that the president’s proposed budget calls for cuts in the Public Safety Officer’s Death Benefits Program. Obama wants to cut $50 million from the program, the budget to fall from $110 million to $60 million.

Apparently Obama imagines that his ascension to the White House will heal the tortured minds those criminal miscreants and cop-killers that might be lurking around out there because according to the reasoning offered to cut program funds, Obama claims that the number of on-the-job police killings is supposed to drop.

Justice Department budget documents say the reduction is being made because “claims are anticipated to decrease” because the number of officers killed in the line of duty has been decreasing.

The director of a police survivors group begs to differ, however. They have found that police officers killed on duty have gone up 21 percent over last year’s numbers already.

But, let’s consider how this story would be reported if it were Bush proposing to cut survivor’s benefits like this. Who cannot imagine that the media would be falling all over itself to scold Bush if he should have been the one to propose such steep cuts to benefits for the families of our fallen police officers?

It would have been ginned up into a firestorm of outrage against a president Bush, wouldn’t it?

Yet, for Obama, mums the word.

Imagine that?

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Report: Hackers Broke Into FAA Air Traffic Control Systems

By Elinor Mills

Hackers have broken into the air traffic control mission-support systems of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration several times in recent years, according to an Inspector General report sent to the FAA this week.

In February, hackers compromised an FAA public-facing computer and used it to gain access to personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, on 48,000 current and former FAA employees, the report said.

Last year, hackers took control of FAA critical network servers and could have shut them down, which would have seriously disrupted the agency’s mission-support network, the report said. Hackers took over FAA computers in Alaska, becoming “insiders,” according to the report dated Monday.

Then, taking advantage of interconnected networks, hackers later stole an administrator’s password in Oklahoma, installed “malicious codes” with the stolen password and compromised the FAA domain controller in the Western Pacific Region, giving them the access to more than 40,000 FAA user IDs, passwords, and other data used to control a portion of the mission-support network, the report said.

And in 2006, a virus spread to the air traffic control (ATC) systems, forcing the FAA to shut down a portion of its systems in Alaska, according to the report.

The attacks so far have primarily disrupted mission-support functions, but attacks could spread over network connections from those areas to the operational networks where real-time surveillance, communications and flight information is processed, the report warned.

“In our opinion, unless effective action is taken quickly, it is likely to be a matter of when, not if, ATC systems encounter attacks that do serious harm to ATC operations,” the report concluded.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Video: Limbaugh Over Democrat Powell for Cheney

rough transcript of 45 sec. video segment from Meet the Nation:

Uh, Colin Powell — Rush Limbaugh said the other day that the party would be better off if Colin Powell left and just became a democrat and Colin Powell said that American’s would be better off if they didn’t have Rush Limbaugh speaking for them. Where do you come down?

Cheney: Well, if I had to choose, uh, in terms of being a Republican, I’d go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. My take on it was that Colin Powell had already left the party. I didn’t know he was still a Republican.

MTP: So you think that he’s not a Republican?

Cheney: I just noted that he endorsed a Democratic candidate for President this time, Barack Obama. I assume that’s some indication of his loyalty and his interests.

MTP: And you said Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell.

Cheney: I would.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

EU Presidency Plans First Summit With Pakistan

PRAGUE: The European Union plans to hold the bloc’s first ever summit with Pakistan in June to ‘help strengthen the civilian government’ there, an EU presidency source said Saturday.

The decision to hold the summit is also ‘a testament to the political importance the EU attaches to its relationship with the country,’ the Czech EU presidency source said.

‘This is the first EU Pakistan summit ever to be held, the EU wants to help strengthen the civilian government in Pakistan by showing strong support on the highest level,’ added the source for the Czech presidency, which will hand the European Union’s reins over to Sweden in July.

Among the subjects mooted for the summit, provisionally planned for June 17, are the fight against terrorism —including in neighbouring Afghanistan —as well as enhanced cooperation in the field of the rule of law and trade issues.

The European Union and the United States have in recent months showed a growing urgency to boost ties with Pakistan amid fears of increasing militancy and due to its strategic importance to the US-led action in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s mountainous border region with Afghanistan is an al Qaeda haven. US President Barack Obama has pledged a new focus on fighting Taliban and al Qaeda extremists in the region.

A key US senator on Thursday pledged quick action on a giant aid package to stabilize Pakistan as a committee cleared an early one billion dollars to support the insurgency-hit US ally.

Last December European nations signalled their wish to reinforce links with Pakistan.

‘The European Union stands ready to strengthen bilateral relations with Pakistan and to look for possible ways of increasing its financial assistance to the country,’ EU foreign ministers said in a statement then.

The 27 EU nations agree that cooperation should be boosted in the areas of trade and development, intercultural exchange, non-proliferation, human rights, migration, counterterrorism and education.

The EU has sent some 500 million euros in aid to Pakistan since 1976, according to the European Commission, and has quadrupled its funding for the 2007-2010 period, with 50 million euros (65 million dollars) earmarked so far.

Brussels wants to target Pakistan’s lawless border areas with Afghanistan with its aid, focusing on rural development, natural resources management, education and the development of human resources.

Britain is championing a free-trade deal with Islamabad.The EU source said only that the summit could help towards a ‘substantial improvement of our trade relationship

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

European Demand Grows for Khat High

One of the world’s oldest drugs, khat, is being snapped up in the UK, where it is legal. Once the preserve of the Somali community, now students, bankers and former addicts are buying the traditional chewable plant.

The eight perforated cardboard boxes standing in front of Yassim’s counter look inconspicuous enough. Each box contains 40 bundles, wrapped in banana leaves, of a thin-stemmed plant with shiny brown leaves that looks like wilted basil. The plants were harvested in northern Kenya less than 24 hours before, flown to Heathrow Airport, loaded onto trucks and distributed to merchants throughout London. One of those merchants is Yassim, 43, a former welder from Somalia who has fathered nine children with four different women and now owns a café on Kentish Town Road.Speed is of the essence, because Catha edulis is a delicate plant. It begins to die the minute it is harvested, and after 48 to 60 hours it is nothing but a vegetable. If that happens, all the effort put into harvesting and transporting the plant will have been in vain. But when the plant is fresh it is nothing short of green gold, a paradise flower known as khat. When the user chews several bundles for one or two hours, cathinone, referred to as a “natural amphetamine,” is released, causing intoxication. Its effect has been likened to that produced by a mixture of caffeine and morphine, cannabis and cocaine.

Khat, one of the world’s oldest drugs, is believed to have been used in ancient Egypt, during the days of Alexander the Great and to produce the smoke at the Oracle of Delphi. Its use was long restricted to the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa, but then refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen came to Europe. Roughly 250,000 Somalis now live in Great Britain, and they brought khat with them — first in their suitcases and later by mail. Today, four cargo flights a week from Nairobi to London are loaded with the coveted plant. According to a 2005 estimate, 10,000 tons of khat are shipped to Great Britain annually.

Drug Hub

Great Britain, unlike Germany and most other European countries, has not banned khat, and London has become a hub for international exports of the drug as a result. From London, it is distributed, either by mail or courier, to countries where it is illegal, including the United States and Norway. “Many packages are intercepted, but if one makes it through, that’s enough for the smugglers,” says Yassim. Khat is 10 times as expensive in the United States and Norway as it is in London.

Khat is more or less openly available in cities like Tel Aviv, Chicago, Sydney, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Authorities in New York seized 25 tons in 2006, while German law enforcement confiscated more than eight tons of the drug in 2008.The plant has also crossed a cultural barrier on its global voyage of conquest. It is no longer a drug of immigrants, but a popular stimulant for a broader group of users, at least in London. A bundle, weighing roughly 100 grams (3.5 ounces), sells for £3 ($4.50).

Khat, the drug of choice of Somali warlords and pirates, has recently become popular among students, who use it to boost concentration, and among former addicts, who use it as an alternative to other drugs. Meanwhile, there are the young people who simply want to try it out and the bankers who can no longer afford cocaine.

A woman walks into the café on Kentish Town Road, buys five bundles of khat and leaves. “One of my regular customers,” says Yassim. Britons rarely sit down with Africans, and most buy the plant and take it with them. “For us Somalis, on the other hand, chewing khat is a social event. Chewing khat at home alone is unusual.”

Close to 80 percent of Somali men in London use khat, a higher percentage than at home in Somalia. It is a community drug, and perhaps its high use in the UK is a reflection of a need for community in a foreign country. This also explains why Somalis come to khat cafes, known as mafreshi, hundreds of which have sprung up throughout London.

“Crazy Ones”

In the early afternoon, only a few regulars are sitting on the red, upholstered benches in Yassim’s café. He calls them “the crazy ones.” “I am here 365 days a year, four or five hours a day,” says Ibrahim, one of the regulars. He is sitting in front of two bundles, his daily ration, slowly chewing one of the stems and drinking sweet tea to offset the drug’s bitter taste. “For us, khat is a way to escape the dreariness of reality and flee into the past,” says Ibrahim. Men like Ibrahim, doctors, lawyers and teachers in Somalia, work as bus drivers in London — if they are lucky enough to have a job, that is. Eighty percent of Somali immigrants in the UK are unemployed.

By the evening, all seats are taken. In the front room, a group of older men — nicknamed “the parliament” — discusses politics. The younger men sit in the back room, watching football and talking about music. Every so often the men go into the basement to pray. Khat and Islam are not incompatible. Early users included Islamic scholars, who chewed khat to improve their concentration while studying the Koran.Yassim sells four cardboard boxes of Catha edulis a day, or 160 bundles, making £480 ($720). Khat, as a drug of the common people, is not exactly making Yassim a rich man. A ban on the drug is discussed periodically, a controversial topic among Somali immigrants. Many women favor a ban, arguing it makes the men lethargic and causes them to spend too much money. Some say it harms the stomach and leads to nervousness, malnutrition, depression and psychosis.

But opponents of a ban argue that it would become the preserve of professional drug dealers, sparking price rises and the risk that Somalis would be tempted to switch to harder drugs.

Another argument against a ban is the fact that an entire khat industry has developed in London, supporting thousands of Somalis, who work as wholesalers, shippers, mafreshi and mobile vendors. It would also affect the thousands of small farmers who cultivate the plant in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia.

The one country that no longer exports khat is Somalia, where 18 years of civil war have virtually wiped out cultivation.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Finland: Tuomioja Slams Berlusconi

The Chairman of the Finnish Parliament’s Grand Committee, Social Democratic MP Erkki Tuomioja has issued bitingly harsh criticism of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconia. Writing in his personal blog, Tuomioja calls Berlusconi a disgrace to Italy and the whole of Europe.

According to Tuomioja, Berlusconi speaks and acts in such a chauvinistic manner that he could hardly continue as prime minister in any other civilized country than Italy.

He also wrote that Berlusconi has acquired a fortune worth millions by unscrupulous means. Tuomioja, a former Finnish foreign minister, chairs the Grand Committee in Parliament which is responsible for Finland’s EU affairs.

Silvio Berlusconi is known for his colourful speech. In the past he has criticized Finnish food and recently made a statement about visiting a “Finnish wooden church” that in Italy would have been demolished.

Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb has confirmed to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Berlusconi was on a private visit to Finland in 1999. However, he is not known to have been taken for a visit to a wooden church.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Germany: Merkel in Veiled Attack on British Conservatives

BERLIN (AFP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a thinly veiled attack Sunday on Britain’s eurosceptic main opposition Conservative Party, who are currently riding high in opinion polls.

“We refuse to stretch out our hand to those who oppose the (EU) Lisbon Treaty. but who at the same time talk about enlargement,” Merkel said.

“Those who want more (Europe) have to cooperate,” Merkel said in Berlin at a campaign meeting for European elections in June attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Merkel named no names but a French MP listening to the speech said it was clear that it was the Conservatives’ leader David Cameron who was in her sights, with what he called his “disturbing” euroscepticism.

Britain has ratified the EU’s reforming Lisbon Treaty but Cameron wants to hold a referendum on it if elected. At the same time he supports Turkey joining to the EU — something opposed by Merkel and Sarkozy.

The Conservatives plan to quit after the European elections the European Parliament’s main centre-right grouping that includes Sarkozy’s UMP party and Merkel’s CDU, the European People’s Party/European Democrats (EPP-ED).

“Angela Merkel is right,” Sarkozy said. “With Angela Merkel we want a Europe with institutions worthy of the name.”

A BPIX/Mail on Sunday poll put backing for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party at a record low of 23 percent — 22 points behind the Conservatives. The next British general election is due before June 2010.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Iceland’s Government Moves Closer to Joining EU

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland’s new government said Sunday it will ask parliament to vote on whether the recession-hit country should start membership talks with the European Union.

Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir said a bill authorizing accession talks would be introduced when Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi, resumes sitting on Friday.

“In the coming weeks the demand of the people of Iceland will be to find out what the EU has to offer to us,” Sigurdardottir said. “It would not be fair for the Althingi to prevent that.”

Sigurdardottir and Finance Minister Steingrimur J. Sigfusson also introduced their new Cabinet, two weeks after their two party coalition won elections.

Talks on forming a government had snagged on whether Iceland should seek to join the 27-nation EU, and potentially the euro — seen by many Icelanders as the country’s best route out of financial crisis.

Sigurdardottir’s Social Democratic Alliance supports EU membership, while Sigfusson’s Left Green Movement opposes it.

Sigfusson acknowledged that asking the parliament to make the decision on EU membership talks, rather than putting it to a national referendum, would be difficult for many Left Greens to accept, and said the party’s lawmakers should vote according to their consciences.

Sigfusson insisted, however, that the Left Green Movement is still against joining the EU and “has in no way deviated in its policy on the matter.”

A final decision on EU membership would be put to Icelanders in a referendum, the government said.

Iceland, a volcanic island of 320,000 people, has been devastated by the global financial crisis after years of having one of the world’s highest standards of living. The country’s banking system collapsed late last year under the weight of huge debts amassed during years of light economic regulation.

The country’s currency, the krona, has plummeted, while unemployment and inflation have spiraled. Iceland has sought a $10 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout.

The two leaders promised to work closely with the IMF on rebuilding Iceland’s economy, and said their first 100 days in office would include measures to restructure the banking system, placate foreign creditors, introduce political reform and create jobs.

The government announced Sunday divides Cabinet posts between the two coalition parties, and also includes two unaligned outside experts.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israeli Foreign Minister’s Visit Irks German Politicians

German politicians expressed disappointment on Friday over a visit from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this week, saying he treated them like weaklings.

“It was a swan song of soft power in every way,” foreign policy expert for the pro-business Free Democrats Werner Hoyer told daily Berliner Zeitung. “Lieberman sees us Europeans as a pile of cowards.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with Lieberman on Thursday discuss the Middle East peace process and other regional issues on Wednesday.

Steinmeier emphasised Berlin’s expectations that the new Israeli government would adhere to agreements made in previous negotiations and move towards a goal of a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Hoyer told the Berliner Zeitung that he saw “no noticeable outlook for a secure Israeli future” during the visit.

Meanwhile foreign policy expert for the centre-left Social Democrats Gert Weisskirchn said Lieberman focused most on containing Iran and the terrorist organisations Hezbollah and Hamas.

“If I try to frame it in a positive light, then Lieberman is playing the role of the bad guy, Weisskirchen said, adding that at least he hadn’t discussed trying to bring Iran to its knees.

Vice head for the environmentalist Green Party’s parliamentary group Jürgen Trittin said Lieberman left the idea of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine open to interpretation.

“Germany expects the Israeli government — and Foreign Minister Lieberman — to stop building settlements, for settlers to retreat from the West Bank, and for promises made in Oslo and Annapolis to be kept,” Trittin told the paper.

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

Sweden: Man Shoots at Police in Malmö

Malmö police are searching for a man who opened fire at officers after a car chase in the city on Saturday night.

The man opened fire after police tried to stop a car at a routine traffic control. When the car did not slow down police took up chase. After a short chase, the car stopped and a passenger climbed out and opened fire.

The pursuing police returned fire but it was unclear on Sunday morning whether they had hit the gunman, who escaped on foot.

How many shots were fired by police and the gunman is also as yet unconfirmed.

The car’s driver, a 23-year-old man known to police, was arrested at the scene.

A large deployment of police officers, including a flying squad and dog patrols were searching for the gunman on Sunday morning. At 8am on Sunday the search was extended outside of the immediate area where the shooting occurred.

“The search is continuing, both internally and externally,” Cindy Schönström-Larsson at Skåne police told news agency TT.

A short debriefing has been held with the police involved in the incident.

“They have now been taken off duty and are being looked after.”

The police have as yet been unable to confirm the type of weapon used by the car’s passenger. According to media reports it was either a hand gun or an automatic weapon.

Police report on Sunday that they do not consider the man dangerous to the general public.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Art Thief Seeks Statue Resale ‘to Cover Expenses’

A rowing club in Malmö has opened negotiations with a thief that made off with their statue last autumn.

“It has not gone that well so far. We don’t have the money that they want,” said Peter Kauranen at Malmö Rowing Club to local newspaper Sydsvenskan.

“The thief has realized that the statue is so well known that it can’t be sold at auction. Now he wants to be compensated for ‘his expenses’,” Kauranen told the newspaper.

The statue, “The Indian” or “Spirit of Transportation” by Carl Milles, was donated to the club by Malmö council in the 1960s and from 1972 until last November sat outside the club’s premises.

The theft was reported to the police but the case has now been closed.

The statue has a sentimental value to the club which is reported to be short of funds to finance its return as their premises are undergoing a costly renovation.

The statue is an approved replica of an original sculpture by the celebrated Swedish artist Carl Milles which was created for the Civic Centre in Detroit, USA in 1954.

The statue was not however unveiled at its Detroit home until 1960, after Milles had agreed to a modification to meet the demands of the city’s mayor — to preserve the statue’s modesty by adding a loin-cloth to cover the genitals.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Thousands Turn Up to Boo Racists in Cologne

Several thousand people turned up in Cologne to protest racism and xenophobia at a far-right extremist rally in the city on Saturday.

At least 100 protestors used whistles and shouts to try to drown out the speakers at the rally, who had arrived from around Europe to voice their opposition to the construction of a mosque in Cologne, and Islam in general.

Authorities said despite the large numbers of people, and the potential for violence, there were only a few minor incidents.

Cologne’s ruling mayor Fritz Schramma spoke at the main liberal rally, under the motto “Cologne stands in the way,” which had gathered church groups, mainstream political parties and trade unions.

He said Cologne was a city of tolerance and diversity and that it was an act of insolence and audacity for people to hold a racist event there.

The “Anti-Islamisation Congress” held under the banner Pro NRW, was surrounded by a strong police presence on the Barmerplatz.

The group’s first such rally last year was broken off after serious rioting developed on the edges with left-wingers clashing with police as they tried to disrupt proceedings.

A march through the Cologne city centre to the building site of the Ehrenfeld mosque by Pro NRW was banned by the Constitutional Court, which cited security concerns.

On Saturday evening, Schramma said he was happy with the way the day had gone, saying, “Cologne has delivered a clear and sovereign answer to all far-right extremists and agitators who believed they could conduct their cheap election campaign on the backs of foreigners here.”

He said the demonstrators had helped to “underpin the reputation of Cologne as a cosmopolitan, liberal and peace-loving city.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

U.S. Data on Guantanamo Inmates Insufficient: Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) — The United States has not provided Germany with enough information on inmates at Guantanamo Bay for Berlin to take a decision on whether to accept any of them, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told a German newspaper.

In an interview to be published in the Sunday edition of top-selling daily Bild, Schaeuble also laid out a strict set of criteria he would use when assessing whether to take on detainees from the U.S. military prison for terrorism suspects.

U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to close the detention center by early 2010 and is lobbying allies in Europe and elsewhere to accept prisoners who are not believed to pose a security threat but cannot return to their home countries.

Bild reported that Washington had provided Berlin with a list of 9 Chinese Muslims, members of the Uighur ethnic group, that it hoped Germany would take on.

“The information that we’ve received so far from Washington is insufficient for us to take a decision on whether to accept any one of the cases,” Schaeuble told Bild.

Asked to list his criteria for accepting inmates, Schaueble said, “First, are we sure that these people do not pose a threat because this a worry of many citizens here. Second, why can’t the United States take them on? And third, do they have a link to Germany?”

A government spokesman said this week that the process of examining individual cases had just begun and that “intense talks” would be held on the matter over the coming weeks.

Some European countries have signaled a readiness to accept former Guantanamo inmates, including France which said on Wednesday it would take in an Algerian detainee.

But in Germany, political considerations have clouded the issue ahead of a federal election in September and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “grand coalition” is split.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat (SPD) who will challenge Merkel in the vote, has said Germany should accept some prisoners as a token of solidarity given that Berlin had long pressed the United States to close the prison.

But Schaeuble, a conservative ally of Merkel, has expressed reservations about such a move.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on a visit to Berlin last month that about 30 of the 241 inmates at the prison on Cuba were believed to be fit for release.

Holder said earlier this year that it was possible that 17 Chinese Muslims, held at Guantanamo for years, could be freed in the United States. But some members of Congress have vowed to ensure no prisoners are released within the United States.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK Govt. Urges Commonwealth Citizens to Join EU Vote

Sun May 10, 1:36 pm ET

LONDON (AFP) — Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Sunday urged European and Commonwealth citizens living in Britain to vote during next month’s European Parliament elections.

Citizens of European Union and Commonwealth countries legally resident in Britain are entitled to cast a ballot in the June 4-7 polls.

Miliband’s Labour Party estimates there are around 500,000 Europeans eligible to vote in the United Kingdom.

“You have every right to vote in Britain if you’re from a Commonwealth or European country,” he said before an international audience in London.

“We have to explain that to people because I think the exercise of democratic rights is a very important thing.”

He predicted the economy and climate change would be among the big issues, and highlighted the need for a high turnout to prevent victories by the far-right British National Party.

Miliband was addressing a meeting organised by Labour with others from the Party of European Socialists caucus in the European Parliament.

The Labour Party is currently struggling in opinion polls ahead of vote — a BPIX/Mail on Sunday poll Sunday put them with just 23 percent support, 22 points behind the main opposition Conservatives.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

EU Presidency ‘Not Happy’ With Israeli Policies

Brussels, 31 March (AKI) — The European Union presidency, headed by the Czech Republic, said it is “not happy” with Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank and said an Israel-EU summit is unlikely to take place in the next three months.

“We are not happy with some of the steps of the Israeli government, namely construction works close to Jerusalem but also access to Gaza, which is today very limited,” said Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg quoted by daily Lidove Noviny.

Schwarzenberg’s comments about construction works refer to Jewish settlements inside the Palestinian territories and take place the same day incoming conservative prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu swore in his government.

Schwarzenberg’s view is echoed by the European Commission’s spokesperson for external relations, Christiane Hohmann.

“Given how things are at the moment, we cannot but support the opinion expressed by the EU’s presidency about an EU-Israel summit,” said Hohmann on Tuesday.

Around 300,000 Israeli settlers live east of the 1967 Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank. The figures exclude East Jerusalem which is primarily inhabited by Arabs, however Jewish settlers number over 191,000 in that part of the city.

Israel’s construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased mistrust of Israel’s intentions among Palestinian negotiators and are considered illegal under international law. They are one of the most contentious issues in the long-running conflict.

Last Wednesday, Netanyahu — chief of the conservative Likud party said he would engage in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. He is not known to support a separate Palestinian state, favouring instead Palestinian economic development and greater autonomy.

However, Israeli daily Haaretz also reported last Wednesday that Netanyahu and the chief of the Yisrael Beiteinu party Avigdor Lieberman had struck a secret deal to continue expanding Jewish settlements inside the Palestinian territories.

A source close to the negotiations between the pair told Israel’s Army Radio that the plan did not appear in the official coalition deal. The plan is for the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim to build 3,000 new housing units on the territory, which stretches between it and Jerusalem.

The view of expanding settlements is not shared by the Obama administration or the EU.

Last Friday, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, urged the new Israeli government to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel

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

Hackers Sabotage Arab-Language ‘Hasbara’ Site

An Arab-language Web site dedicated to presenting Western and Israeli news stories to the Arab world was hacked on Sunday morning by a group signing off as “Gaza lovers.”

The site,, edited by former ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel and maintained by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was reduced to a black screen featuring a photograph of an Arab terrorist brandishing a weapon.

Visitors were unable to access the site, hacked by a group calling itself “The C-H-Team,” and were instead faced with an abusive paragraph in broken Hebrew referring to the site staff as “children of monkeys and pigs.”

The hacking was discovered on Sunday morning by the Web site team at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The Internet supplier was working to restore the site.

In the site’s 18 months of operation, many small-scale attacks have taken place, according Mazel, but Sunday’s incident was the worst. A few months ago, his team received 150 empty e-mails within seconds — an unsuccessful attempt to crash the Web site.

“I knew [sabotage] would happen, because I am aware of what happens in the Arab world, I have been following the Arab world in the last 40 years.” he said.

Mazel couldn’t confirm whether Sunday’s incident was connected to the barrage of e-mails received previously.

“They tried to do something in the last few months, but they did not succeed. Now they put their most intelligent fellows on it. It might be the same people, I don’t know.”

The Web site attracts 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a month, some of whom hail from Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank. Mazel emphasized he was surprised by the number of positive reactions he had received.

“Some of [the feedback] was negative. They say it’s a Zionist site. But quite a number were positive and they told us that they think we can make peace, Israel has a right to exist and we can cooperate together,” he said.

Mazel remained resolute.

“We will continue. The principle is to tell Arabs what they cannot get from their own press. In the Arab press, they don’t write everything about what’s going on in the West and what the West think about them,” he said.

“One of the aspects of confrontations between Israel and the Arab world is also on the level of ideas. [The hackers] don’t accept criticism or other opinions. We live in a completely different society where everything is free, where self-criticism [appears] in the press.

“There is a lot of fighting and terrorism, but we must try to [facilitate] dialogue and we are doing it. They don’t want it and by hacking into such sites, they tell us, ‘Whatever you say isn’t interesting, you are the bad fellows and we are going to fight you.’“

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Italian Financial Aid for Gazan Families Blocked by Israel

Gaza City, 30 March (AKI) — Israel has refused to allow the distribution of funds provided by the Italian government for almost 24,500 of the poorest Gazan families in the blockaded coastal strip. The social welfare payments were meant to be made on Monday, but there is not enough cash available in Gaza’s banks.

The Italian pledge was made through the EU’s PEGASE financial mechanism, said the Palestine Liberation Organization’s official news agency Palestine Media Centre.

“The more than 24,500 families based in the Gaza Strip who should be receiving this payment will be unable to collect it until Israel eases the restrictions on the transfer of cash into the Gaza Strip,” said PEGASE in a statement.

PEGASE is currently used to provide fuel for electricity generation, for the payment of social allowances to 24,500 vulnerable families and the salaries of over 28,000 civil servants and pensioners in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The mechanism has enabled aid worth 421 million euros from the EU and 130 million euros from other donors to reach the Palestinians since it was set up in January 2007.

“It is highly regrettable that, for the second time running, the Palestinian Authority and the EU have been unable to reach these families through this assistance,” European Commission Representative Christian Berger said.

“We continue to make every effort to persuade the Israeli authorities to ensure that sufficient cash reaches the Gaza strip to enable this payment to be made, as well as other crucial payments such as salaries and pensions.”

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

Middle East

Energy: Turkey Hopes to Sign Nabucco Deal by June, Minister

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 14 — Turkish Energy Minister, Hilmi Guler, expressed hope that his country will sign Nabucco gas pipeline deal with European countries by June, daily Hurriyet reported. According to Guler, Turkey has sent a letter to EU countries which are part of the Nabucco gas pipeline project and now expects their answers. “If they sent the answers by the end of April, we will sign deals by June”, the Minister declared, adding that “we expect the EU to send us the text that other countries agreed on”. The EU currently relies heavily on Russian natural gas carried through Ukrainian pipelines and 80% of gas bound for Europe travels via Ukraine. Nabucco is planned to be an alternative route to transport gas from Turkey to Austria through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. It is also an alternative source to the Russian supply. Construction of the 3,300-km pipeline is scheduled to start in 2011 and first deliveries are expected in 2014. The project is expected to cost around 7.9 billion euro. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Green Light to Attack Iran

By Caroline Glick

Arctic winds are blowing into Jerusalem from Washington these days. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s May 18 visit to Washington fast approaches, the Obama administration is ratcheting up its anti-Israel rhetoric and working feverishly to force Israel into a corner.

Using the annual AIPAC conference as a backdrop, this week the Obama administration launched its harshest onslaught against Israel to date. It began with media reports that National Security Adviser James Jones told a European foreign minister that the US is planning to build an anti-Israel coalition with the Arabs and Europe to compel Israel to surrender Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

According to Haaretz, Jones was quoted in a classified foreign ministry cable as having told his European interlocutor, “The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question. We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.”


REGARDLESS OF the weight of Netanyahu’s arguments, and irrespective of the reasonableness of whatever diplomatic initiative he presents to Obama, he can expect no sympathy or support from the White House.

As a consequence, the operational significance of the administration’s anti-Israel positions is that Israel will not be well served by adopting a more accommodating posture toward the Palestinians and Iran. Indeed, perversely, what the Obama administration’s treatment of Israel should be making clear to the Netanyahu government is that Israel should no longer take Washington’s views into account as it makes its decisions about how to advance Israel’s national security interests. This is particularly true with regard to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Rationally speaking, the only way the Obama administration could reasonably expect to deter Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear installations would be if it could make the cost for Israel of attacking higher than the cost for Israel of not attacking. But what the behavior of the Obama administration is demonstrating is that there is no significant difference in the costs of the two options.

By blaming Israel for the absence of peace in the Middle East while ignoring the Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist; by seeking to build an international coalition with Europe and the Arabs against Israel while glossing over the fact that at least the Arabs share Israel’s concerns about Iran; by exposing Israel’s nuclear arsenal and pressuring Israel to disarm while in the meantime courting the ayatollahs like an overeager bridegroom, the Obama administration is telling Israel that regardless of what it does, and what objective reality is, as far as the White House is concerned, Israel is to blame.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that Netanyahu shouldn’t make his case to Obama when they meet and to the American people during his US visit. What it does mean is that Netanyahu should have no expectation that Israeli goodwill can divert Obama from the course he has chosen. And again, this tells us two things: Israel’s relations with the US during Obama’s tenure in office will be unpleasant and difficult, and the damage that Israel will cause to that relationship by preventing Iran from acquiring the means to destroy it will be negligible.

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

Pope Disappoints Muslim Leaders With No Apology

Pontiff delivers keynote adress in Amman’s Al-Hussein Mosque

Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday urged inter-faith reconciliation on the second day of a Holy Land tour but disappointed Muslim clerics by failing to offer a new apology for remarks seen as targeting Islam.

The pontiff in a keynote address to Muslim leaders in Amman’s huge Al-Hussein Mosque bemoaned “ideological manipulation of religion” and urged Muslims and Christians to unite as “worshippers of God.”

“Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied,” the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics told his audience.

“However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?”…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Pope Calls for Courage Among Mideast Christians

Thousands celebrate papal mass in Jordan

Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians at an open-air mass in Jordan on Sunday to be faithful to their roots in the troubled Middle East where decades of conflict have forced many to emigrate.

“I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the Risen Saviour and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love,” the pontiff said in his homily.

“The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East,” he said to around 50,000 worshippers from across the region, including Syria and Iraq.

“May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world,” he added.

“Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition,” he said…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Turkey: ‘Leave Secularism Alone, ‘ Says Judge

ANKARA — An amendment that poses a threat against secularism could not be protected under international law or the universal principles, says Mustafa Birden. Secularism is one of the leading elements that should be protected while preparing the constitutional amendments

As the government prepares for a new package of constitutional amendments, the top judge of the administrative court urged the ruling party to keep away from changes that would undermine the principles of secularism.

“Any amendment that will harm our republic’s basic principle of secularism and secular educational institutions has no place in our domestic law,” head of the Council of State Mustafa Birden said, speaking at the ceremony that was held yesterday to celebrate the Council of State’s 141st anniversary.

Birden said an amendment that poses a threat against secularism could not be protected under international law or the universal principles. Recalling that secularism forms the basis of human rights and freedoms, and makes the state stand at equal distance from different beliefs, Birden said secularism was one of the leading elements that should be protected while preparing the constitutional amendments.

Though the government is studying draft amendments, its failure in getting the backing of opposition parties in Parliament will make the process difficult.

“It is not possible to say that the latest constitutional amendments fulfilled the expectation for social negotiation or were actualized without haste by informing the public opinion,” he said, adding that these amendments had legal and technical deficiencies. Birden referred to 2007-dated amendments allowing the wearing of Islamic headscarves at universities that were later annulled by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that it was contradicting the secularism principle of the Republic. Amid the reactions by the military and civil society, the chief prosecutor demanded the closure of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. The party narrowly escaped the closure in 2008.


Birden said their task as a constitutional institution is to submit their offers on the constitutional amendments to the interest of authorities. “Our offers and statements about the amendments should not be considered as an intervention in the legislative body’s field of activity,” he said, stressing that they had no other aim but to fulfill the missing parts of the state of law and judicial independence.

In his speech, Birden referred to the ongoing Ergenekon case, which has led to the detention of many journalists, politicians, academics and retired generals. “Prosecutors, who undertake an important role in terms of distributing justice, should carry out their investigations in strict privacy, considering not only our domestic legislation but also the universal principles of the law, which are stated in the United Nations’ Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors,” he said.

Birden said prosecutors should technically examine the legal subjects and pay attention to the presumption of innocence. “They should not use evidence that is acquired through illegal ways or that violates human rights,” Birden said, noting that prosecutors should act according to concrete evidence that the law accepts.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Myanmar Activist Denied Doctor

BANGKOK, May 10 (UPI) — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is dehydrated, has low blood pressure and is being denied adequate medical care, her party said.

Suu Kyi, 63, a Nobel Prize winner, was visited by her doctor Friday but he was denied permission to see her Saturday, said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The doctor was substituting for Suu Kyi’s main doctor, Tin Myo Win, who was arrested Thursday on undisclosed charges, CNN reported Sunday.

His arrest followed the detention Wednesday of a U.S. citizen who reportedly swam across a lake to Suu Kyi’s house, where he stayed for two days.

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest by Myanmar’s military junta for 13 of the last 19 years and rarely has been allowed visits from anyone except a doctor. Her detention is scheduled to end May 27, Win said, speaking from Bangkok.

Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, after leading protests in Myanmar in 1988.

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Far East

Russia’s Putin Warns Against Arms Race Over N.Korea

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called for calm over North Korea in an interview published on Sunday and warned of the danger of an arms race developing in Asia after Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket.

Putin, in an interview with Japanese media before a visit to Tokyo, called for a return to six-country talks on North Korea, comprising China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States.

“It would be absolutely wrong if we increased the emotional temperature around what is happening today and used this to destabilize the region or to start some sort of arms race. I think this would be a big mistake,” Putin said, according to a transcript of the interview supplied by the Russian government.

“We need to take account of the positive things, of what has been achieved as part of the negotiating process in the six-party format,” he said in the interview with the Nikkei business daily, Kyodo news agency and public broadcaster NHK.

“Everyone needs to return to them (the six-country talks) without emotion and without anything else that could hinder the resumption of the process,” said Putin, who rarely comments on North Korea.

The United Nations Security Council last month condemned North Korea’s launch of what the United States and Japan said was a long-range missile but North Korea insisted was a rocket carrying a peaceful satellite.

The Security Council called for tougher enforcement of U.N. financial sanctions and a limited trade embargo against Pyongyang, placing three large North Korean firms on a U.N. blacklist for aiding the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea retaliated by announcing it would boycott the six-party talks and promising to restart a nuclear plant that makes arms-grade plutonium.

Pyongyang, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, also threatened a fresh nuclear test unless the U.N. Security Council apologized for chastising North Korea.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Mortar Attack on Mogadishu Mosque

At least 14 people are reported to have been killed in a mortar attack on a mosque in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

In total 64 people are now thought to have died in recent fighting between Islamists and government forces.

The mortar shell struck at the gate of the mosque, a worshipper was quoted as saying by the AFP agency.

The interim government has been fighting hardline Islamist groups in long-running violence which has killed thousands since 2006.

“The mortar shell struck at the gate of the mosque. I counted about 14 people who died instantly and 10 others were wounded,” Hassan Abdifatah was quoted by AFP.

Another worshipper, Mumin Haji Yusuf, said: “I was inside the mosque when I heard a heavy explosion and shrapnel was flying everywhere killing many people.”

Radical Islamist guerrillas such as al-Shabab group have sworn to topple the fragile and more moderate government led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

At least 50 people are thought to have died in gun battles between the rival factions since Thursday, when clashes erupted in a northern area of the city.

The BBC’s Africa editor Richard Hamilton said the fighting has been some of the fiercest seen in Mogadishu in recent years.

Somalia, a nation of about eight million people, has experienced almost constant civil conflict since the collapse of its central government in January 1991.

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


Clashes at Athens Building Taken Over by Migrants

ATHENS, Greece — Far-right protesters tried to storm an old courthouse in central Athens Saturday where hundreds of illegal immigrants have lived for months amid piles of fetid rubbish and human waste without electricity, running water or sanitation.

The group of several dozen people hurled rocks and firecrackers at the eight-story building from the street and nearby buildings, while those living inside threw back slabs of masonry and bricks. At least three people were hurt in the clashes, two of them with head injuries.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades, and a tense standoff followed. Some immigrants accused the police of ailing to protect them and said they would stand guard around the building throughout the night because of fears of further attacks.

The attack followed an anti-immigrant demonstration by the far-right Chrisi Avgi, or Golden Dawn group. Scores of protesters waved banners reading “foreigners means crime” and “we have become foreigners in our own country.”

“We didn’t do anything. Why do they treat us like this?” questioned Fouad, a 33-year-old Moroccan immigrant living in the building. “The police did nothing. . Here in Greece, human rights don’t exist.”

Left-wing and immigrants’ rights groups staged a counter-demonstration nearby, and riot police kept the two sides apart.

Greece is on a main smuggling route for immigrants heading to Europe, with tens of thousands entering the country every year. Authorities say the Greece needs help to cope because it stands on Europe’s eastern frontier.

Thousands of the new arrivals head to the cities in search of work. But with the global financial crisis beginning to bite in Greece, both immigrants and aid groups say jobs are becoming scarcer, leaving many unable to pay for even basic necessities. Although Greece has not yet faced major layoffs, the economy is slowing and unemployment jumped to 9.4 percent in January.

Aid workers said Saturday that conditions at the courthouse had been allowed to spiral out of control and turn into a public health hazard. The building is owned by an insurance fund and has been vacant since 2000.

“It’s a lot worst now,” said Maurice, a 22-year-old Algerian living among the estimated 500 squatters, mostly men from Morocco and Algeria, inside the old Appeals Court building. “We live in misery.”

He, like all the other squatters willing to speak, would only give his first name for fear of trouble from the authorities.

“It is an epidemiological time bomb in the center of Athens,” said Nikitas Kanakis, head of the Greek section of the medical aid group Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), which set up a mobile medical unit outside the building Friday.

The immigrants live amid piles of rubbish and human waste in former judges’ offices. Several men share a room, with most using cardboard covered with the occasional blanket to sleep on.

With no sanitation, they use empty offices, the roof and even the corridors as toilets. But the stench emanating from the building is so strong that it wafts across the street, a few hundred yards (meters) away from tourist hotels.

The immigrants began cleaning up the worst of the rotting garbage in the building this week, removing dozens of bags of trash.

It is unclear when the first immigrants broke in, but many say they have been there for months, even a year. Medecins du Monde said the situation came to their attention in the last few days. They believe diseases such as hepatitis are rife, while many of those seeking their help were suffering from skin complaints such as scabies.

“It’s clear that we don’t have the means to cover the massive health issues that this place has,” said Yiannis Mouzalas of Medecins du Monde. He said authorities must help to sanitize and clean the building, and that they had been irresponsible in allowing the situation to become so severe.

“We consider it’s not possible for this situation to have been created without (their) knowledge,” he said. “We are afraid that they have chosen irresponsibility so that the problem is solved by the police and through racism.”

Athens Deputy Mayor Eleftherios Skiadas told media that City Hall has no jurisdiction over abandoned private buildings.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Immigrants Hurt in Greek Violence

Five immigrants have been injured after far-right demonstrators tried to storm a disused courthouse in Athens occupied mainly by illegal migrants from Africa.

Dozens of protesters hurled stones and fireworks at the eight-storey building on Saturday night, while those living inside threw bricks and masonry slabs.

Police said nine officers were also injured in the violence.

Three youths were arrested over the attack, which came after a march by the anti-immigrant Golden Dawn group.

The protesters waved banners reading “Foreigners mean crime” and “We have become foreigners in our own country”.

Left-wing groups staged a counter-rally nearby and riot police were deployed to keep the two sides apart.

Petrol bombs and stones were thrown between the two groups, and the violence continued when anti-immigrant protesters descended on the old courthouse.

The Associated Press news agency reports that hundreds of immigrants live in squalid conditions in the building, amid piles of fetid rubbish and human waste without electricity or running water.

Fouad, a 33-year-old Moroccan immigrant living in the building, told AP that he could not understand why the protesters had attacked.

“We didn’t do anything. Why do they treat us like this?” he said.

“The police did nothing. Here in Greece, human rights don’t exist.”

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


dienw said...

The GPS marking is disturbing. It will be excused as necessary to take an accurate census count: checking taken census against known GPS points; also will be used to determine if census taker was actually at the location. There really is no excuse for this activity.

Unknown said...

The GPS marking makes me wonder if sales of these are going to skyrocket.