Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/21/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/21/2009Police in France have been on the receiving end of Kalashnikov fire. Police in Greece have been attacked by anarchists again. And a Swedish journalist was injured in a bomb attack.

In other news, in Indian elections the Marxists lost big time in one of their former strongholds, and the Congress Party gained at their expense.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Fjordman, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, TB, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
- - - - - - - - -
Financial Crisis
Foreign Investments in China Plummet by 22.5% in April
The Mighty American Oak, Pruned by an ACORN?
Capped, Traded and Scammed by Fake Markets
Democrats’ Assault on the CIA
How the GOP Beat Obama on Guantanamo
Obama Lacks Substance
Panel Votes for Probe of ‘Extremist’ Report
Salvaging Social Security
The Medicare Ponzi Scheme
Canada: ‘Mounting Prejudice’ in Harkat Case: Defence
Canada: Female Doctors Hurt Productivity: Report
Canada: Afghan Detainees Have No Charter Rights: Scoc
Europe and the EU
Berlusconi in Fresh Justice Row
Denmark: Record Number of Late Term Abortions
Dieudonne: Anti-Semitism as Art
Finland: Male Figure-Skaters Irked by Laura Lepistö’s “Feminine” Barbs
Finland: Person With Dual Citizenship Can Apparently Vote Twice in Upcoming European Parliament Elections
France: Illegal Halal Meat Butcher Network Uncovered
French Police Under Kalashnikov Fire: Early Riot Warning?
German Muslim Community Split Over Co-Ed Swimming Classes
Greece: Anarchists Set Sights on Police in Double Raid
Institutional Decay
Ireland: Changes to Defamation Bill Made by Minister
Netherlands: Rotterdam Contract Against Arranged Marriages
Reflections on the Revolution in Europe
Sweden: Journalist Injured in Suspected Bomb Attack
Sweden: ‘Isolationism is Passé — Sweden Needs to Join NATO’: Liberals
Switzerland: Foreign Worker Numbers May be Cut
Switzerland: Geneva Insecurity Threatens Cultural Mix
UK Uses “Orwellian” Tactics on Muslims: Report
UK: BBC Receives 115 Complaints Over Muslim Head of Religious Programming Aaqil Ahmed
UK: Muslim Mother Who Sent Her School Age Daughters to Pakistan to Marry Their Cousins is Jailed for 3 Years
UK: MPs’ Expenses: If Only Westminster Were a Gentlemen’s Club
UK: Police Chief Ali Dizaei Charged With Perverting Course of Justice
UK: Women Having Multiple Abortions Reaches Record High
Croatia: Telekom Spied on Applicant’s Sex Life
EU-Croatia: Frattini, Slovenia Should be Flexible
Serbia: Biden Turns New Page in Relations
Serbia: Presidency Building Drama Ends
Serbia: Along the Human Walkway
Mediterranean Union
France: A Cultural Council for the Mediterranean
North Africa
Egypt: Explosions in Military Depot, Zone Closed Off
Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Officials Face ‘Terror Camp’ Charges
Egypt: Death Sentence for Singer’s Murder
Egypt: Brazilians Arrested for ‘Pro-Israel Propaganda’
Terrorism: Algeria, 11 Supporters of Al Qaeda Arrested
Israel and the Palestinians
Israeli Minister Calls Obama Peace Plan Impossible
Obama Peace Plan, Draft Raises Controversy in Israel
Palestinian Policeman Shoots at Israeli Soldiers
Middle East
Detailed Analysis of the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting
Iran Claims Missile Test With Europe in Range
Iran: Frattini ‘Avoided Trap’
Iran: Tick, Tick, Tick
Italy Hails Turkey’s Presence at Eurogendfor
Turkey: Honour Killings Issue at Pace Conference in Istanbul
Russia: Medvedev Creates History Commission
Russia Threatens to Bar Europeans Who Deny Red Army ‘Liberated’ Them
The Kremlin’s Chechen Franchise
South Asia
Bastion of Indian Communism Crumbles
India: Elections in Kerala: Collapse of the Marxists
Pakistan: EU Aproves 5.5 Million Euros of Aid for Northwest
Singapore: Review of Censorship
Sri Lanka: Peace Through Force in Sri Lanka
Far East
8 Rebels Killed in Philippines
Japan: Obama Supporter Nominated as Envoy to Japan
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Nightmare for Business
New Zealand: Victoria University Students Thrown Out for NZ Flag Burning Protest
New Zealand: Police Picture of Siege Now Complete
70% of Britons Want Big Cuts in the Rate of Immigration
Britain’s Biggest Immigration Wave Ends
Denmark: PM: No Change to Iraqi Asylum Agreement
Finland to Start Repatriating Iraqi Asylum Seekers
Italy: Immigrants — Rotondi: Government is Acting Responsibly
New Zealand: Kiwi ‘Buddies’ for Asian Migrants
Switzerland: Bern Awaits More Tamil Refugees From Sri Lanka
UAE: HRW, Thousands of Workers Exploited
UK: Home Secretary Announces Gurkhas Can Stay in Britain
UK: Sham Colleges Open Doors to Pakistani Terror Suspects
Culture Wars
Angel or Demon? in the Vatican, Obama is Both

Financial Crisis

Foreign Investments in China Plummet by 22.5% in April

The biggest drop is in South Korean and US investments, but also from Hong Kong. Cars and medicines buck the trend. The collapse in investments causes the closure of new factories and an increase in unemployment.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The downward spiral of foreign investments in China has worsened, plummeting 22.5% in April compared to the same month last year.

They “only” dropped by 9.5% in March. In the first 4 months of 2008 there was a comprehensive decrease of 21%. Analysts observe that the April data is unreliable because in April 2008 there was a record in foreign investment. They reveal that China is still an attractive market, especially because there are 1.3 billion consumers and that add that foreign investment in 2008 amounted to 92.4 billion dollars, 23.6% more than 2007. But the prolonged decline in foreign investment, over the past 7 months, is the first since the Asian financial crises in the late ‘90’s.

Above this has been caused by a drop in funding from the United States and South Korea as well as Hong Kong even if the latter is still the biggest source of investment equal to 45%. Instead the auto and pharmaceutical industries are experiencing growth, because of growing internal demand.

This drop in investments has led to the closure of thousands of factories every month, with an increase in unemployment. Since October in Guangdong alone tens of thousands of factories have been closet.

This decline has also affected the specialised jobs market: foreign companies in the past absorbed many diplomats and Chinese graduates, who had chosen their studies with this in mind and now find themselves with no alternative.

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

The Mighty American Oak, Pruned by an ACORN?

The mighty American oak may soon be pruned down to size. And the “Association of Community Organizers Now” — or ACORN —could accomplish it all. The shift from the seizure of power by violence taught by Comrade Lenin in The Communist Manifesto to the seizure of power by the corruption of elections and the constitution taught by Fidel Castro and the Sao Paulo Forum won’t be so hard after all.

Founded on the Cloward/Piven Strategy, the goal of ACORN is the destruction of capitalism through the creation of chaos to overwhelm the system. Fresh off the heels of their stunning success in intimidating banks into offering bad loans, and of nearly destroying the welfare system of New York City by flooding the rolls with new recipients, they have moved on to the voting process.


Well, who would bring them to justice? Local officials seem intent on doing that, but ultimately it is the Justice Department who places pressure on law enforcement to pursue certain crimes. So just where does our new attorney general stand on the issue of election corruption? “I think there is a feeling among Republicans that there is a widespread amount of voter fraud out there. I don’t think the statistics actually would substantiate it,” said Eric Holder in 2004. That’s about the time many of us were first hearing of ACORN and its antics in New Mexico and Wisconsin and Florida: registering felons in prisons, illegal immigrants, and whomever else they could find to pad their roles.

Attorney General Holder knows ACORN well. They are, after all, a sister organization to The American Constitution Society, on whose board he serves along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Both groups are funded by George Soros, the Hungarian/American leftist bent on the destruction of the American system. One of the stated goals of Soros and the ACS is to deconstruct the American Constitution by 2020.

Potentially protected at Justice by Attorney General Holder, to add insult to injustice, ACORN is further eligible for funding by our tax dollars through the 2009 stimulus bill to the tune of somewhere between three and five billion dollars.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Capped, Traded and Scammed by Fake Markets

Not that we needed proof that the ideology of market mechanisms and carbon taxes as a cure to environmental problems is a total sham. We now have enough evidence to convict the perpetrators for first degree economic policy fraud. The evidence mounts around the world, but now mostly in the United States of America, where President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are on the brink of burying real markets in energy and automobiles under the biggest command-and-control economic experiments since the great totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

First we have President Obama’s fuel-efficiency standards, in which he dictates that passenger-car fleets must average 35 miles per gallon by 2016, up from 25 today. It’s the auto tech equivalent of flying to the moon. To get there, the government inevitably will have to force automakers, energy suppliers and car buyers to do what they are told. It takes a lot of bureaucratic and political muscle to get people to make things they don’t want to make and buy things they don’t want to buy.

This is not just a matter of corporate CEOs sending directives down to product development: “Get me a 35-mile-a-gallon fleet!” It means massive government subsidies, rebates, mandates, trade protections and prohibitions of all kinds.

The economic shysters who promoted carbon taxes and cap-andtrade emission-control regimes claimed none of this command-and-control chaos would be necessary. If carbon were properly priced, they said, consumption of carbon-producing products would decline accordingly. Carbon emissions would fall, or at least stop rising, and the great theoretical risk of global warming would disappear. And so would the need for massive, inefficient, cumbersome, burdensome and uneconomic regulation of the kind promised Tuesday by President Obama.

Mr. Obama, who is now the de-facto CEO of GM — Government Motors — about to order up what Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins refers to as Obamamobiles. In the end, the only market mechanism at play will be the rush of consumers trying dodge high costs and the small confines of the new, unwanted models.

But the era of Government Motors is only half the story. The second shaft in the Democrats’ drive to reduce the U. S. economy to a government-controlled regime is now making its way through Congress. Called The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, or the Waxman-Markey bill, the proposed legislation is a counterpart to the Obama auto regulations —only worse.

The Waxman-Markey bill is Exhibit No. 2 in the case proving carbon pricing as an economic policy sham. The central role of the bill is allegedly to provide the framework for a cap-and-trade emissions control system. It is hailed by proponents as a market-based alternative to a carbon tax. In the Waxman-Markey bill, the market scheme soon blows up into a massive regime of regulations, subsidies, agencies, kickbacks, loans, grants, social programs, controls, tariffs, mandates and directives.

At last count, from the version of the bill posted Monday night, the thing was up to 946 pages. It should be a must-read for everybody interested in the future of U. S. and Canadian economic policy.

The cap-and-trade portion has already been destroyed. Originally, industry groups, including electric utilities, were expected to pay for the right to emit carbon as envisaged by proponents of cap-and-trade schemes. But thanks to back-room politicking, 85% of the permits will now be given away to big industrial groups. The remaining 15% will be auctioned off but used to help low and moderate income groups survive the coming industrial dislocation brought on by the legislation. A section of the bill says that, “The purpose of such grants is to increase the flow of capital and benefits to low income communities, minority-owned and woman-owned businesses and entrepreneurs and other projects and activities located in low income communities in order to reduce environmental degradation, foster energy conservation and efficiency and create job and business opportunities for local residents.”

Very little of Waxman-Markey is market oriented. The bulk of it — or as much as I have been able to read so far — places the U. S. Economy under carbon control:

Utility Plan for Infrastructure: Each electric utility shall develop a plan to support the use of plug-in electric drive vehicles, including heavy-duty hybrid electric vehicles. The plan may provide for deployment of electrical recharging stations in public or private locations, including street parking, parking garages, parking lots, homes, gas stations, and highway rest stops. Any such plan may also include (i) battery exchange, fast charging infrastructure and other services …

There are thousands more control schemes set up under the bill, a remaking of the U. S. Energy sector by bureaucrats, politicians, lobbyists, activists and others using the grossest forms of intervention known. Billions will have to be spent on “climate change worker adjustment assistance.”

In addition to facing emissions mandates, manufacturers of vehicles will be forced to retool their plants. The amount of cheap loans —at a 25year term at U. S. T-Bill rates— available will be doubled from $25-billion to $50-billion.

Bureaucrats will monitor industrial activity. A federal agency “shall calculate the average direct greenhouse gas emissions (expressed in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) per unit of output for all covered entities in each eligible industrial sector.” The emissions will be controlled so as to “limit the average direct greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output … to an amount that is not greater than it was in any previous calcuatlion …”

And on it goes, over 900 pages of law that turn the economy of the United States upside down.

Meanwhile, trade risks loom. The bill hands the president power to impose tariffs on imported goods that do not face carbon tariffs in their home country. U. S. industry wants protection, understandably.

At a meeting of the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board yesterday, Politico reports, Caterpillar CEO James Owens said the cap-andtrade system—if implemented by the United States but not by countries around the world — could harm the nation’s economy as companies left for countries where it is less expensive to do business. “Our concern,” Owens said, “is we need to put this in an international context.” Moving “unilaterally” could mean dire consequences for the economy, he said.

The Waxman-Markey bill is a long way from passage, and may not make it through this year. But it stands as Exhibit No. 2 as proof that the ideology of market mechanisms is a destructive and dangerous fraud for which all of us, Americans and Canadians, will pay.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Democrats’ Assault on the CIA

In a little over 100 days, the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress have delivered a series of blows to the pride and morale of the Central Intelligence Agency.

It began with the release of the Justice Department memos — a move opposed by CIA Director Leon Panetta along with four previous directors. Then, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. did not rule out Justice Department cooperation with foreign lawsuits against American intelligence operatives. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 about waterboarding, which she admitted learning about five months later anyway but did nothing to oppose because her real job was to “change the leadership in Congress and in the White House.”

To stanch the CIA’s bleeding morale, Democrats have tried reassurance. President Obama, speaking at CIA headquarters, took the Fred Rogers approach: “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn.” Yes, children, hypocritical congressional investigations and foreign kangaroo courts are really our friends. House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes sent a sympathy note to Langley: “In recent days, as the public debate regarding CIA’s interrogation practices has raged, you have been very much in my thoughts.” There should be a section at Hallmark for intelligence operatives unfairly accused of war crimes.

The only effective reassurance came from Panetta, who pointed out to Pelosi and others that the CIA actually keeps records of its congressional briefings. “Our contemporaneous records from September 2002,” Panetta wrote, “indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida, describing ‘the enhanced techniques that had been employed.’ “ A primary advocate of the “truth commission” has apparently misplaced her own supply.

Is there any precedent for a speaker of the House of Representatives seeking political shelter by blaming national security professionals? Or for a commander in chief exposing intelligence methods at the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union? Actually, such treatment has precedents. In 1975, the Church Committee nearly destroyed the human intelligence capabilities of the CIA. In the early 1990s, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan urged closing the agency entirely. The Clinton administration imposed massive budget cuts, leaving behind a demoralized institution.

And now Obama has described the post-Sept. 11 period as “a dark and painful chapter in our history.” In fact, whatever your view of waterboarding, the response of intelligence professionals following Sept. 11 was impressive. Within days, the CIA had linked up with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and begun preparations to remove the Taliban. The counterterrorism center run of out CIA headquarters was the war on terror in the months after the attacks, making daily progress in capturing high-value targets. Now the president and his party have done much to tarnish those accomplishments. So much for the thanks of a grateful nation.

Contrast this affront to Obama’s treatment of the military. When Gen. Ray Odierno argued that the release of military abuse photos would put American troops at risk, Obama quickly backed down. By one account, Odierno told the president, “Thanks. That must have been a hard decision.” Obama replied: “No, it wasn’t at all.” Obama has deferred to his military commanders on the timing and strategy of American withdrawals from Iraq. And he has proposed an escalating military commitment in Afghanistan and Pakistan — leading 51 House Democrats last week to vote against a military funding bill.

Defense writer Tom Ricks claims that Obama is being “rolled” by the military. Perhaps it is just an appropriate respect by the commander in chief for the troops at his command.

This obvious difference in treatment between military and intelligence is both paradoxical and hypocritical. Traveling recently in Iraq, Pelosi noted, “If we’re going to have a diminished military presence, we’ll have to have an increased intelligence presence.” This has been the main Democratic argument against the whole idea of the war on terror — that guns and bombs are no substitute for timely information. “This war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement operation,” Sen. John Kerry once claimed.

But this object of praise — intelligence-gathering — is again the object of liberal assault. “To put the matter at its simplest,” writes Gabriel Schoenfeld, “American elites have become increasingly discomfited over the last decades by the very existence of a clandestine intelligence service in a democratic society.”

But our democratic society still depends on intelligence officers — just as surely as it depends on our men and women in uniform.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

How the GOP Beat Obama on Guantanamo

It took a while for people to notice, but in the last few months, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made 16 — yes, 16 — speeches on the Senate floor questioning the wisdom of Barack Obama’s decision to close the U.S. terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. McConnell started January 22, the day the president issued an executive order declaring that Gitmo will be closed within a year. McConnell is still going.

“Sometimes it takes a little bit of repetition for people to get the story,” one Republican Senate aide says. “People weren’t asking these questions back in January.”

Now they are. For the moment at least, Obama has lost the Battle of Guantanamo. What began with pressure from McConnell, whose 40-member Republican caucus in the Senate has no power to enact anything by itself, has ended with the crumbling of majority Democratic support for closing Guantanamo. And that is a major defeat for Obama.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Lacks Substance

When Americans elected Barack Obama as president of their country, enthusiasm took over the minds of those who were inspired by the lawyer’s promises of change and a march towards a better world behind the slogan ‘yes we can’.

He looked like the right man at the right time, with the financial crisis battering the United States and Americans’ trust in their homeland at stake.

It seemed the obvious thing to do to allow the charismatic politician to take centre stage. People in the US and all over the world hailed his victory, hoping he would somehow spread justice, peace and fraternity.

This peculiar optimism is explained in part by the desire to throw off the legacy of former president George W. Bush, which was marked by wars and natural disasters.

But it took no more than two-and-a-half months to realise that we had all bought into the biggest con job pulled off in Washington since the American Civil War. By then, it seemed abundantly clear that Obama was drowning in dangerous political blunders resulting from what some describe as an ideological and class revenge on Republicans and conservatives.

Others say that he buried himself in the mire of unrealistic promises made during his campaign.

Many were shocked and outraged upon hearing an American president announce with absolute utopian idealism that he dreams of a nuclear-free world. In the Kremlin, meanwhile, where nobody knows who is really in charge, there were no doubt broad smiles, which grew even broader when Obama signed a declaration with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev committing to talks on reducing their countries’ nuclear arsenals.

Obama waited to make this announcement in Europe, which years ago had witnessed the beginning of the American era and the fall of Communism. It was a controversial speech by Obama at a time when nuclear powers such as China and Russia are questioning America’s leadership, and other extremist ideological regimes with nuclear appetites pose a strategic threat to the geopolitical influence of the US on the Korean Peninsula and in the Middle East.

This American president sent the wrong message at the wrong time to Iran with his unprecedented recorded address to its people and the brief encounter between Richard Holbrooke, his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at Pakistan Donors’ Conference in Tokyo. In return for his diplomacy, Obama received only a temporary moratorium on Tehran’s threats to wipe Israel off the map, an even more resolute Iranian stand on carrying out uranium enrichment, and vague hints that the country would contribute to bringing stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.

North Korea, too, made the most of this American administration’s naive diplomacy. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who seems to be under Obama’s spell, said in an interview recently that there is not much the US can do to prevent Pyongyang from launching a long-range missile capable of reaching American territories — effectively giving the totalitarian regime the green light to proceed.

Washington subsequently found itself in an embarrassing situation with the United Nations Security Council in trying to adopt a resolution condemning the Korean test. In the end, there was only a compromised statement. Ironically, it was Obama himself who accused Bush of isolating and weakening the country in the international arena by clashing with the UN.

It seems then, that we have witnessed no substantial changes in US policies on Iran or North Korea. It is essential for Washington to radically change its position on rogue states before thinking of reaching out to them. Many fear a new epoch of war and crisis if Obama continues to rely on his rising popularity rather than substantial foreign policies. The US president’s gung-ho, ‘yes we can’ approach threatens to open a new Pandora’s box.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Panel Votes for Probe of ‘Extremist’ Report

Bipartisan move calls on Napolitano to yield documents

Democrats joined Republicans on a key House panel Tuesday in voting for a formal inquiry into the development and distribution of a contentious Homeland Security Department report that described military veterans as possible recruits for extremists.

In a rare bipartisan move, the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously approved a resolution of inquiry that calls for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to turn over all documents used to draft the report “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”

“When this DHS-produced assessment first surfaced in April, like many Americans, I had issues with its content,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and committee chairman.

“Certainly its definition of ‘right-wing extremism,’ which did not clarify that extremist violence was the department’s true focus, raised considerable concern,” Mr. Thompson said. “So did the suggestion that returning war veterans posed a potential threat to the homeland.”

The subpoena measure was originally introduced May 6 by Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the panel’s ranking Republican, along with other party leaders. But the move was criticized then by Mr. Thompson as “another GOP stunt aimed at embarrassing the new administration.”

The full House must approve the subpoena for documents before it becomes binding. The documents must be turned over within 14 legislative days of such a vote.

“This is not a partisan issue, but an American issue,” Mr. King said.

Ms. Napolitano appeared before the committee last week and said the report had been pulled from the agency’s internal Web site.

Mr. Thompson did not say during Tuesday’s hearing why he changed his mind, and a spokesman did not return a call for comment.

“I am interested in getting all of the facts that went into this report,” Mr. Thompson said during the hearing. “I would expect the department to provide without prejudice whatever information is available.”

In an interview after the committee vote, Mr. King called it an “unprecedented display of cooperation on a resolution of inquiry.”

“I assume Bennie wanted to do the right thing, and he realized that we have members across the board who are dissatisfied with the department, and it really created a firestorm in many districts.”

“It is important to find out why it happened and to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. King said.

However, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat, defended the report and said it “does not target veterans.”

“They are simply listed as targets potentially coming out of war, not unlike Tim McVeigh, who came out of a military situation and became radicalized in the process and killed Americans,” Mr. Pascrell said.

One section of the report, titled “disgruntled military veterans,” said that Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis assesses that “right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”

The report also cites McVeigh as an example of such radicalization, which became a lightning rod for criticism from veterans and the American Legion.

In a footnote, the report defined “right-wing extremism” as including hate groups, anti-American groups or groups dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration. It also listed those who oppose gun control as potentially facilitating violence.

Ms. Napolitano initially defended the report after it was reported by The Washington Times on April 14, but later told lawmakers the report was not properly vetted or approved before it was sent to state and local law enforcement officials.

The measure also calls for the department to turn over all written material to reflect when the research and writing began on the report, a written description of clearance procedures and written opinions or guidance from several internal agencies, including the DHS’ Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Salvaging Social Security

In “net present value,” the report says Social Security has promised to pay out $7.7 trillion more in benefits than it will receive in taxes. “Net present value” means Congress would have to invest $7.7 trillion today to have enough money to pay all of Social Security’s promised benefits between 2016 and 2083.

That’s more than twice what the federal government will spend this year on everything it buys. And again, this investment would be on top of the funding Social Security will collect through payroll taxes.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Medicare Ponzi Scheme

…But, in fact, the average Medicare beneficiary today collects two to three times more money than he paid in.

“I would argue that this is not only unfair, it’s downright immoral,” says billionaire Pete Peterson.

Peterson is a rarity: a senior who decided he cannot in good conscience accept Medicare. He and his foundation ( worry about the looming fiscal disaster. When Medicare began in 1965, six working-aged people paid for each Medicare recipient. Now the figure is four. It will get worse as baby boomers like me retire.

Medicare is unsustainable.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Canada: ‘Mounting Prejudice’ in Harkat Case: Defence

The Federal Court continued yesterday to deal with legal fallout from the government raid on Mohamed Harkat’s home as the terror suspect’s lawyer demanded the return of sensitive documents and a home computer.

That fallout threatens to delay — and seriously complicate — Mr. Harkat’s security certificate case, which is about to enter a critical, public phase.

Mr. Harkat, 40, is accused of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent.

Judge Mireille Tabib was asked yesterday to examine eight documents on a computer belonging to Mr. Harkat’s wife, Sophie, along with six other items seized by the Canada Border Services Agency last week.

Defence lawyer Matthew Webber argued the material should be immediately returned to the Harkats because it is privileged information, created as part of litigation related to Mr. Harkat’s security certificate case or refugee claim.

“There is mounting prejudice to my client as a result of this search,” he said, arguing that further delays will add to the legal harm.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Canada: Female Doctors Hurt Productivity: Report

The growing ranks of female physicians in Canada will slash medical productivity by the equivalent of at least 1,600 doctors within a decade, concludes a provocative new analysis of data indicating that female MDs work fewer hours on average than their male colleagues.

The paper comes just a year after a blue-chip list of medical educators publicly condemned what they called the scapegoating of women for Canada’s severe doctor shortage.

Dr. Mark Baerlocher, the study’s lead author, acknowledged he is tackling a thorny issue, but stressed he does not favour curbing the number of female physicians. Instead, the study calls for greater increases in medical-school enrolment to offset the phenomenon.

“It’s not meant to be a negative paper in any way,” he said in an interview. “It’s meant to take an objective, hard look at the work-hour differences that most people would agree are very real… You can’t simply ignore it because it’s a sensitive issue.”

The researchers led by Dr. Baerlocher analyzed results from the 2007 National Physician Survey, a canvass of doctors sponsored by major medical associations.

The survey found that women, on average, provided 30 hours a week of direct patient care, compared to 35 from men, a result of female doctors — still burdened disproportionately with child rearing and other domestic tasks — doing less on-call work and being more likely to take leaves.

Those figures were then factored in with population numbers to calculate doctor productivity per capita.

In 2007, women made up 32% of doctors. But with female students accounting for about 60% of medical school classes now, the numbers are expected to even up within a decade. When the male-female balance reaches 50-50, overall productivity will have decreased by the equivalent of 1,588 male doctors or 1,853 female doctors, all else being equal, the study concluded.

The decreased productivity would be felt sooner in specialties already becoming female-dominated, such as pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology, the researchers say.

The long surgical wait times and lack of family physicians that plague the Canadian health care system are largely blamed on the paucity of doctors. Their ranks — now at 67,000 — would need to jump by another 20,000 to reach the average for Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Much of the problem is blamed on a decision by provincial governments in the early 1990s to slash medical-school enrolment, just as the ageing Baby Boom generation was producing more illness. In recent years, enrolment has been increased somewhat again.

Dr. Robert Ouellette, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said medical schools need to train even more doctors than they do now, but he steered clear of suggesting the lifestyles of female doctors are making the shortage more acute. The new generation of physicians — both male and female — tends to work fewer hours generally than older colleagues, he said. And there is evidence that women spend more time with patients, are better communicators and offer more preventive medicine.

“It’s not only the hours that count — it’s the quality of care that’s important also,” Dr. Ouellette said.

After a spate of media coverage of male and female doctors’ different work patterns, the deans of medicine and other senior administrators at the universities of Toronto and Western Ontario wrote an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last year that urged “ending the sexist blame game.”

“To disparage in any way the intelligent, dedicated women … who have chosen to devote their lives to medicine is shameful,” they wrote.

Dr. Baerlocher, a radiology resident at the University of Toronto, said he agrees women should not be blamed, but lamented a general reluctance in the medical profession to examine controversial issues, such as gender differences and abortion.

“There are a lot of topics that aren’t adequately studied, because it’s deemed a socially sensitive topic.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Canada: Afghan Detainees Have No Charter Rights: Scoc

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada declined Thursday to be the final referee on whether the Charter of Rights should apply abroad to protect Afghan detainees whom Canadian forces have handed over to Afghan authorities.

Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association have been fighting the matter in court for two years, arguing that the charter obligations of Canadian soldiers should not end at the border and must apply to “government agents acting in foreign countries.”

A three-judge panel, by convention, gave no reasons for refusing to consider the case.

The two groups wanted the Supreme Court to overturn two Federal Court decisions that found the Charter of Rights does not cover Afghan citizens because international law protecting the sovereignty of other counties precludes it.

Amnesty and the B.C. association contend that the charter should prohibit Canadian soldiers from taking part in prisoner transfers when there are grounds to believe the detainees will be tortured by their captors.

The Supreme Court’s decision effectively upholds a December 2008 ruling in the Federal Court of Appeal, which had refused to overturn an earlier Federal Court decision.

The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that the charter does not apply abroad.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Berlusconi in Fresh Justice Row

Premier under fire after Mills ruling

(ANSA) — Rome, May 20 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi faced a fresh legal and political storm Wednesday after a ruling that his former corporate lawyer perjured himself to protect his business empire.

Berlusconi, who was removed from the trial under a new immunity law, described Tuesday’s ruling as “simply scandalous” and suggested the judge, Nicoletta Gandus, was politically biased against him.

He said she was an expression of “political hatred and jealousy”.

Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party claimed Gandus had issued her ruling — an explanation of why in February she handed British lawyer David Mills a four-and-a-half-year sentence for taking a $600,000 bribe — to throw a political “time-bomb’ aimed at denting the premier’s popularity ahead of upcoming local and European Parliament elections.

PDL national coordinator Denis Verdini claimed “sentences against Berlusconi are always already written”. In reply, the Italian magistrates’ association called the invective levelled at Gandus “unacceptable” while the judiciary’s self-governing body said it was likely to take a stance in defence of magistrates and prosecutors.

The premier has repeatedly claimed he is the victim of a witch-hunt by an allegedly leftist judiciary. Berlusconi unsuccessfully tried to have Gandus removed from the trial because of past statements on Internet sites against laws passed by his previous, 2001-2006, government.

Both Berlusconi and Mills on Wednesday reiterated that no money had changed hands and the lawyer, ex-husband of British Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, said he saw “excellent prospects” of having the verdict overturned on appeal.

Gandus found Mills guilty of telling lies in two corruption trials involving Berlusconi in the late 1990s.

Berlusconi’s political rivals continued to criticise the premier Wednesday with Dario Franceschini of the biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party, claiming Italians were “indignant” at him allegedly dodging judgement.

A member of the small Communist Refoundation party, Vittorio Agnoletto, claimed Berlusconi recalled the late Central African Republic dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa “because he is a symbol of power that corrupts, gives away diamonds and proclaims itself above the law”.

Former Milan graftbuster Antonio Di Pietro, who heads the second-biggest opposition party, said he would file a no-confidence motion in the premier when Berlusconi makes an announced statement to parliament on the affair.

Other opposition members reiterated calls for the premier to be impeached, unless he resigns.

But Berlusconi’s lawyer Nicolo’ Ghedini said the premier had pressing commitments which would prevent him from reporting to parliament any time soon.

“I don’t know when the premier will be able to come to parliament,” said Ghedini, who is also a PDL MP.

Sources inside the PDL said the premier might wait until after the EP elections to address parliament.

Another member of the PDL, Senator Piero Longo, said opposition claims that the new immunity law — which shields the premier, the president and the two parliamentary speakers from prosecution while in office — were “rubbish”.

When he took office last year, Berlusconi said he would not avail himself of the law.

The premier, who has been in power for almost eight of the last 15 years, has been convicted in several corruption cases but the sentences have always been overturned on appeal or annulled by a new shortened statute of limitations.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Record Number of Late Term Abortions

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Any Danish-language press with more details on this? — particularly following the May 12 article regarding legality of gender-based abortions in Sweden.]

Advances in foetal scanning have led to growing numbers of abortions permitted after the 12th week of pregnancy

The number of abortions performed after the 12th week of pregnancy reached its highest figure ever last year, with 822 women given permission to have the procedure performed, reports Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper.

This figure follows on from the previous record year of 2007 for women who received abortions after the 12th week — the last week of a pregnancy where official permission for an abortion is not required. The number has increased each year since 2004, when foetal scans became a common procedure between the 13th and 19th weeks of the pregnancy. A total of 886 women requested late-term abortions through their regional abortion board last year. Those who are turned down by the board can appeal to the national authority, the Abortion Appeals Board, which then makes the final decision.

Torben Hvid, chairman of the Abortion Appeals Board, says the increased number is due to the foetal scans, which allow parents to see if there are possible deformities or defects with the unborn child. ‘It’s solely the foetal diagnoses that are the cause of the increase,’ said Hvid. ‘There are no increases in any other grounds given by women seeking abortions.’

If there are any visible chromosomal errors shown in the foetal screenings, a woman can petition the regional board for an abortion. But despite the increasing numbers, the Ethics Council does not believe the official 12-week time limit should be changed.

‘Personally, I don’t think it would solve any problems making the deadline 18 weeks, for example,’ said the council’s Lotte Hvas. ‘But we have to have someone who protects the unborn child’s interests. We don’t want to get to the point where we’re aborting every other viably healthy baby.’

Ane Esbensen, secretariat of the Central Handicapped Council, said the increasing number of late-term abortions should be cause for some serious afterthought.

‘It’s important that we ensure a family makes its decision based on the proper grounds and not based on delusions about the difficulties of living with a handicap.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Dieudonne: Anti-Semitism as Art

Le Point profiles Dieudonne, who has declared his anti-Semitism as art

Post-colonial comedian Dieudonne caused quite a scandal at the end of last year in France, when he awarded the Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson a prize for political incorrectness. Now Dieudonne has announced that he will be presenting an ‘anti-Zionist’ voting list for the European parliamentary elections in June (more here). Le Point profiles the stand-up comic: “He is playing with the ‘marketing of scandal’, which is something he loves to theorise about and which he compares with the contemporary art strategies… He sees himself as something of a Marizio Cattelan of laughter and refers to that artist’s controversial installations (a child-size statue of Hitler praying, an elephant in Ku Klux Klan costume). It is in this spirit that he nominated Jean-Marie Le Pen to be the godfather of his youngest child.”

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

Finland: Male Figure-Skaters Irked by Laura Lepistö’s “Feminine” Barbs

“Just as attitudes were starting to change”

Finland’s male figure-skaters are not best pleased with the remarks by the 2009 European Ladies Figure-Skating Champion Laura Lepistö to the effect that they are rather feminine.

The six-time Finnish men’s national champion Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari, encountered during a session where he was training young ice hockey players on how to use the different figure-skating skates, pulled a copy of the April edition of Cosmopolitan from his bag to show off an interview that Lepistö gave after her recent win.

She described her Finnish male colleagues as very feminine, and “a bit that way”.

In Lepistö’s view, things are quite different elsewhere in Europe, for example in France.

Does it seem that there would still be too much of the attitude going around that men shouldn’t be getting involved in figure-skating?

“Well, it certainly does after Laura’s comments”, replied a narked Nurmenkari.

The way he sees it, the male skaters have for some time now been pleased to note that attitudes are changing at long last. In this context, Lepistö’s surprising branding of the men annoys and puzzles Nurmenkari quite a bit.

“Laura brought quite a lot of anger down on her head with her remarks”, said Nurmenkari, who at 180 cm (5 ft 11 in) is one of the tallest male skaters on the European circuit.

Laura Lepistö herself is completely puzzled. She says the magazine article in the Finnish Cosmopolitan was a misunderstanding and she has not been directing her comments at Finnish skaters.

“I meant that generally — on the world stage — male skaters are a bit more feminine. In Europe the men are in my view all very masculine”, she said in her defence.

“I have been speaking on behalf of the Finnish men, and not against them”, she commented.

The remarks do come at a slightly awkward time, as efforts are being made to encourage more boys to take up the sport, for example by introducing it to junior hockey players.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Finland: Person With Dual Citizenship Can Apparently Vote Twice in Upcoming European Parliament Elections

In Sweden one person entitled to vote receives two voting slips, another none

If one holds the citizenship of two different EU countries, either through birth or naturalisation, can one vote in both countries in the June European Parliament elections?

This question, which one would assume contains a “No” answer, was prompted in Sweden, when the postman dropped voting slips from both Finland and Sweden into the mailbox of a person with a dual citizenship.

On the other hand, just to confuse things, the person’s adult daughter did not get a slip from either country, though she also enjoys dual citizenship status.

“Yes. In principle one can! In the European elections every voter has only one vote. Those with a dual citizenship status, however, are entitled to vote in both countries”, replies Arto Jääskeläinen, Elections Director at the Finnish Ministry of Justice.

It is a question of a loophole in the election system. In practice, voting in two countries by those holding dual citizenship is not monitored in any way.

“The EU Commission is aware of the situation, but it has not wanted to interfere with it.”

From the democracy point of view, the loophole presents an obvious problem: voting is a basic right, but each person should only have one vote. This is stated in the EU decree on voting.

“At the very least this should be discussed within the Commission before the next EU election. The rules of the game should be clear even for those holding dual citizenship”, Jääskeläinen emphasises.

A citizen of another EU country who resides in Finland can only vote here if he or she has been entered in the Finnish voting register. When this is done, the right to vote in another country is revoked by a notification from the Finnish election authorities.

Then how come this other person with dual citizenship living in Sweden did not receive a voting slip from Finland?

A person living abroad is responsible for forwarding his or her address to the Finnish population register.

Around half of the 200,000 Finns living abroad have not done this, which means the slip cannot be forwarded to them. But the right to vote as such is still in force.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

France: Illegal Halal Meat Butcher Network Uncovered

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 12 — An illegal network of Halal meat providers was found and dismantled in the French region of Toulon today. Several presumably involved persons have been detained for questioning, among them the alleged head of the ring, a 63 year old farmer and breeder. Various food dealers and intermediaries as well as religious Muslims who gave their consent for the sale of the Halal meat are amongst the detainees. The network, according to information from the investigation, had been active since July 2007, its total production equal almost 40 tonnes of meat. The slaughterhouse clients included private buyers, such as Kebab and Halal meat vendors. The unlicensed operation, where investigators found scattered animal remains, was discovered in the neighbourhood of Sollies-Pont, north of Toulon, equipped with refrigerated rooms and containers. The net was discovered during a judicial investigation, “regarding the slaughter of animals in illegal conditions… a general health hazard due to the absence of regulations security and attention by those involved”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

French Police Under Kalashnikov Fire: Early Riot Warning?

Every time trouble breaks out in a tough French suburb, the dreaded scarecrow of November 2005 rears its ugly head — when the country descended into three weeks of nightly riots in its “banlieues”.

The scarecrow was back this week after police were “ambushed” on Saturday night by assailants in the Cité 4000 — a housing project in the La Courneuve district in Seine-Saint-Denis, north east of Paris — as they transferred two suspects to a hospital in the area.

They came under fire from an assault rifle, but miraculously, nobody was hurt. One suspect escaped but was quickly re-captured.

As it happened on Saturday night, the story was aired all Sunday — an otherwise dead news day — and snowballed. The incident had all the right ingredients for an explosive news story along the lines of “suburbs on verge of explosion”.

Firstly, this estate has huge symbolic importance, as it was here that Nicolas Sarkozy, while he was interior minister, famously promised to rid the place of drug dealers using “Karcher” (an industrial cleaner) after a youth was shot dead in the crossfire of a local feud. Critics say his words fuelled the suburban anger that led to the 2005 riots.

The fact that automatic gun-toting bandits are still there appears to suggest Sarkozy has not kept his bombastic promise; to rub salt in the wound, Michèle Alliot-Marie, the interior minister, described the estate as a “drugs supermarket”. Sarko has kept uncharacteristically quiet this time.

The use of an AK-47, Alliot-Marie said, was as a “worrying development” and the first time such a weapon had been used against police. She made a surprise visit to the estate last night and promised to send machine-gun wielding police reinforcements immediately.

Unions said that a “new line has been crossed”.

This is undoubtedly a worrying development, but should we be talking about (sub)urban unrest and a further deterioration in the tinder box banlieues? That was the initial knee-jerk media reaction.

But Mediapart, a subscription-only web site launched by a former editor of Le Monde, got hold of the police eyewitness report today written shortly after the shooting. A car swerved in front of the police van and a man came out, opened fire, and tried to open the back of the van. He ran off after police returned fire.

We only have the police view, but it does make one thing clear: this was not some random “kill the cops” attack pointing to banlieue meltdown: it suggests that the drug dealers were either being helped to escape or targeted by rivals.

I’m not saying that the situation has improved greatly since 2005, despite Nicolas Sarkozy’s pledge to launch a Marshall Plan for the suburbs. Yes the whole story is depressing and serves as a reminder of the type of violence that undoubtedly exists, but it cannot be taken alone as a sign of more widespread worsening tensions.

So put the scarecrow away…for now.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

German Muslim Community Split Over Co-Ed Swimming Classes

Muslim parents have lost an appeal against their nine year-old daughter having to attend mixed swimming lessons with boys. The girls can protect their modesty, however, with full-length bathing suits.

A court in the western city of Muenster has ruled that Muslim girls at elementary schools in Germany must attend mixed swimming classes with boys, rejecting a request from the parents of a nine-year-old girl for her to be excused from the lessons.

The parents from the industrial city of Gelsenkirchen told the school authorities that they lived strictly to the teachings of the Koran, adding that they found mixed swimming “immoral”.

“Protective” suit

The administrative court said, however, that the girl could protect her modesty by wearing a full-length bathing suit dubbed a “burkini.”

It also dismissed complaints that the the bathing suit hindered swimming because of excessive absorption, endangering their daughter’s life.

German teaching unions and education authorities have adamantly refused to segregate swimming classes in state schools at the request of parents, contending that mixing of sexes is a goal of education.

The tribunal refused Wednesday to issue a temporary injunction and said it would allow no further appeal.

The issue has also divided the Islamic community into conservatives and liberals who say the custom should change in Germany.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Greece: Anarchists Set Sights on Police in Double Raid

An anarchist group claimed responsibility yesterday for placing two crude explosive devices at building sites in Athens and Thessaloniki that are due to house new police stations.

Nobody was hurt in the explosions, which caused a limited amount of damage but signaled an increase in the intensity of the activity of a group calling itself Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire: Athens and Thessaloniki.

An anonymous caller rang Antenna TV yesterday morning to claim the blasts. The group has carried out several attacks in the past, including the torching of an electric railway train in Kifissia, northern Athens, on March 3.

One explosive device went off in the early hours at a building site in Nea Pendeli, northern Athens, where the area’s police station is due to move.

Another homemade bomb went off in the Stavroupoli area of Thessaloniki at another building site where a new police station is to be housed.

Police experts said that both devices had timers and could have caused more serious damage had they been wired correctly.

Officers are linking the latest round of attacks with the arrest of a 32-year-old man in northeastern Greece on Sunday who had breached his bail terms after being arrested in connection to the beating of former General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) chief Christos Polyzogopoulos in 2006.

A 22-year-old student was also arrested in the city early yesterday after being found in possession of cooking gas canisters and a CD containing texts written by the 32-year-old.

Meanwhile, the US State Department yesterday designated Revolutionary Struggle as a foreign terrorist organization.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Institutional Decay

The closest anyone got to it yesterday was Richard H Turner of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, in a letter published by The Daily Telegraph. Referring to the op-ed by Charles Moore last Saturday, Mr Turner agrees that the problem stems from “wholesale losses in the authority of Parliament.”

In particular, Turner argues that the “watering down of draft legislation permits ministers to force through the contentious aspects by statutory instrument and Order in Council,” a reference to the way the government has progressively been able to by-pass Parliament as a legislature, turning the Houses into little more than faded rubber stamps.

Turner puts this loss of authority in the time frame of the last 10 years of “quasi-presidential management under the previous prime minister,” but, of course, the rot started long before that. Blair simply continued and reinforced a trend which had started nearly thirty years before he took office, with the European Communities Act.

It was this Act which enables governments to implement what is now EU law, often encompassing hundreds of pages of provisions which dwarf all but the most ambitious Bills. And so convenient did the government find the process that it has adopted it for most of its legislation, effectively robbing Parliament of its meaning.

It is this loss of authority that lies at the heart of the current crisis. Long before it broke, people already had begun to realise that much of what went on in Westminster was a hollow charade. The “expenses” issue is simply the “rock” on which the crashing waves of public contempt have broken.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Ireland: Changes to Defamation Bill Made by Minister

MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern has amended his proposals on blasphemous libel in the Defamation Bill to allow for a defence of “genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic value” in the alleged blasphemous material.

“As a republican, my personal position is that church and State should be separate,” he said. “But I do not have the luxury of ignoring our Constitution. So, as Minister for Justice I faced a choice — referendum or reform.”

He said the Bill before the committee introduced no new statutory offence in regard to criminal or defamatory libel. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan had stated twice in the Seanad, he noted, that an outstanding issue remained to be addressed, in making legislative provision for the offences, including blasphemous libel, contained in Article 40.6.1.i of the Constitution.

He had said that by repealing all the provisions in the 1961 Act, a gap would be created unless some provision was made for the constitutional offences.. Mr Ahern said he had reiterated this point.

“I am, therefore, puzzled as to the hysterical and incorrect reaction whipped up by some media reporters and commentators on this point,” he said, adding that his explanation would disappoint “fantasy conspiracy theorists that have detected dark machinations and bogey men behind this proposal and have attributed to myself the most debased motives”.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said this week the plan to introduce a new blasphemy law risked flouting international standards on free speech. Mr Ahern acknowledged yesterday that the all-party Committee on the Constitution, which favoured removing the Article from the Constitution, saw no need for a constitutional amendment in the short term.

“However, I, as the responsible Minister, and we, as legislators, do not have the luxury of pursuing a ‘do nothing’ approach while we wait for an opportune moment to move a constitutional amendment,” he said.

Successive attorneys general had said that he had a constitutional obligation not to leave a legal void, he said. “Until the Constitution is amended, it is necessary that blasphemy remain a crime and that the relevant legislation must make provision for punishment of this crime. There is no alternative to this position.”

He added that he wanted it put on the record that in bringing forward this proposal neither he nor his department consulted with any religious organisations, nor did they seek or receive any representations in that regard.

Fine Gael’s spokesman on justice, Charlie Flanagan, said the amended proposal was “an Irish solution to an Irish problem”, and would ensure that it would be almost impossible to bring any prosecution. He said if the only argument was a constitutional one, an amendment could be proposed before the forthcoming Lisbon referendum.

Earlier, Mr Ahern withdrew an amendment that would have permitted a judge to order costs against a defendant in a libel action, in the light of the manner in which the case was fought, even if money had been lodged in court. This followed requests for its withdrawal from both Opposition deputies and Fianna Fáil backbenchers Seán Connick and Thomas Byrne.

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

Netherlands: Rotterdam Contract Against Arranged Marriages

Rotterdam is trying out a new system which should help prevent teenage girls from being pressured into marriage when they go away on holiday to their family’s country of origin.

Before they go away, the girls sign a contract stating that they do not want to marry. Dutch police will be notified immediately if the girls fail to return at the end of the summer. In the past, it has always been the school truancy officers who were notified about such incidents; however they were unable to do much about them. A contract system to prevent forced arranged marriages in the United Kingdom has been successful.

The city of Rotterdam also plans to educate students about arranged marriages and violence committed in the defence of family honour. Students are given extra lessons so that they know what to do if they are confronted by an arranged marriage. Most cases of arranged marriage occur within the Moroccan, Turkish and Pakistani communities.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Reflections on the Revolution in Europe


As EU population growth grinds to a halt, the continent is still over-represented in global terms as a destination for migrants, many of whom, unlike in the past, come from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. And a lot of them are Muslims. The prospect of demographic apocalypse has always attracted Cassandras; about the only subject that is scarier is Islam. Put the two together, especially after 9/11, and you have a combustible mix.

Caldwell is an American journalist, an editor at The Weekly Standard and a columnist for this newspaper. He knows the banlieues and has talked to more than his fair share of extremists of all persuasions. But Reflections on the Revolution in Europe provides less an analysis than a call to arms to a continent supposedly already capitulating to the new enemy in its midst.

His argument, baldly put, is that Enoch Powell was more right than wrong. Europe is in decline from an “adversary culture”, and Muslim immigration, in particular, poses a mortal threat. He fails, however, to deliver the Burkean tour de force implied by his title.

Throwing off the shackles of political correctness, he plays fast and loose with the data and switches between talk of immigrants, Muslims and “non-natives” as it serves his argument. Europeans, he alleges, are fleeing abroad out of fear of Islam. But the best case of “white flight” he can find is of emigrating Jews and even this is unpersuasive since the number of those leaving for this reason is small and almost certainly exceeded by the reverse flow from Israel and elsewhere. Oddly, Caldwell unselfconsciously invokes the Jews as indigenous Europeans when just two generations ago they were regarded much as he regards Muslims.

Does Islam threaten European traditions of free speech? It is not fear of offending Muslim sensibilities that lies behind recent unprecedented efforts to criminalise scholarly interpretation. As Caldwell admits, Holocaust denial and debates about slavery, the legacy of empire and the Armenian genocide have been far more important catalysts for European legislators than anything to do with Islam. By contrast, the efforts he mentions by anti-racist or Muslim groups to get expressions of prejudice prosecuted have generally ended in judicial or legislative failure.

Nietzsche’s observation that all philosophy is disguised psychology is useful to bear in mind when seeking to understand why commentators such as Caldwell talk about Europe in such alarmist tones. They would say they have to because Europeans have been cowed into submission. Caldwell’s fast-breeding, over-sexualised immigrants have already established what he calls “beachheads” — the idea that the immigrants are the vanguard of a larger invading force — and engineered a reverse “colonisation” of historic cities abandoned by their native inhabitants. Muslim immigration, apparently nothing less than a “project to seize territory”, is well on the way to bringing Europe within the House of Islam. But this sinister fantasy has less to do with reality than with neo-conservative anxieties about the decline of the west.

As a concept the idea of the west has always had its expansively confident side. Yet for decades it also conveyed the fear of its own cultural and racial demise, a fear reflecting Europe’s massively weakened position in the world after 1945 and uncertainty whether the US possessed the self-confidence and political will to step in and take over.

The collapse of the USSR made people wonder what would happen with no shared enemy to keep the transatlantic partnership of the west intact. Then came 9/11 and the sharp divisions over Iraq and the war on terror that split the western alliance in its aftermath. One could trace these divisions back to profound disagreements that emerged between Europeans and Americans about the nature of international institutions, the rule of law and the path to peace in the Middle East. Preferring moral and cultural explanations to political ones, however, neo-cons attribute European dissension to a softening of the continent’s moral fibre, to burgeoning anti-Americanism and, as the ultimate cause of both, to the growing importance of Islam on the continent.

Of course in many ways, Islam ought to attract them — for at least in the stereotypical version presented here, Muslims believe in family, in honour, in fighting for one’s beliefs. Above all, they are united. Caldwell insists that talk of Islam’s diversity is beside the point. Behind the critique, one therefore detects a profound ambivalence: for all their primitivism, Muslims are, in fact, almost what Europeans should aspire to be. The truth, of course, is that generalities of this kind are not much use either in understanding Islam or in finding answers to complex social problems.

No question about it: immigration is one of the key issues facing contemporary Europe. But if you want a good guide to the debate, this is not your book: it is too unhinged, too doggedly provocative, for that. Yet the cultural historian of the future may find it valuable nonetheless, for it reveals the beleaguered cast of mind commonplace among some Americans at the moment when the waning of Washington’s power became evident and a new epoch in world history opened up.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Journalist Injured in Suspected Bomb Attack

A journalist employed by Sweden’s TV4 was taken to hospital early Wednesday morning following a powerful explosion at the door of her Stockholm apartment.

Police believe the bombing was a deliberate attack against the journalist, and have launched an investigation into attempted murder, according to several media reports.

“We can confirm that the victim is a TV4-journalist. The person is doing well considering the circumstances, but is naturally quite shocked,” said TV4 spokesperson Gunnar Gidefeldt to the TV4 news website

The explosion, which occurred shortly before 4am, blew up the door of the woman’s second storey apartment on Fatburskvarnsgatan on the island of Södermalm.

The blast also caused a fire to break out in the apartment, filling the building’s stairwell with smoke, and forcing the TV4 journalist to escape through a window. No other residents in the building were injured, however.

Gidefeldt told the Aftonbladet newspaper, there were no known threats against the woman.

“No. There is nothing as far as we know, but that is one aspect of the police’s work, so it’s foolish to speculate,” he said.

Police have begun a preliminary investigation into attempted murder, despite lingering uncertainty whether the explosion was directed specifically at the TV4 journalist.

“The explosive was so powerful that we can’t rule out that she could have been injured or killed by it,” said interim police commissioner Anders Bjäregård to

“We’re going to interview residents in the building as well as look into her background to see if there is any motive behind the act.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Isolationism is Passé — Sweden Needs to Join NATO’: Liberals

With neutrality outdated and Sweden unable to effectively defend it’s borders, the country needs to set aside its hang-ups and start thinking seriously about joining NATO, argues Birgitta Ohlsson, foreign policy spokesperson for the Liberal Party.

NATO is an alliance of countries with the common cause of safeguarding democracy as a societal model. Though essentially thought of as a defence alliance, NATO is just as much an ideological alliance committed to securing the survival of our pluralistic and liberal societal systems for future generations. For me, and for the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), it is more evident than ever before that Sweden should be a member of NATO. Political parties can’t just follow public opinion, they have to influence it too — and isolationism is very passé.

As the world outside moves on, time continues to stand curiously still in Sweden when it comes to the NATO debate. Eastern European and Baltic states have joined NATO: in 2004, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania all became members. Now it’s also full steam ahead for some Balkan countries well on their way to full NATO membership. Albania, once ruled with an iron hand by Enver Hoxha, and Croatia, emerging from its recent wars, have both become members of an alliance made up of thirty member states. The eminently competent prime minister of our neighbouring country Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmusson, is NATO’s new secretary general.

In Sweden it is politically correct to be anti-American and to have a reflexive dislike of NATO. But with Barack Obama as president, these are hard times for all those who love to hate the United States. And we can never forget that democracy would not have survived beyond 1945 without the US. For Sweden, the transatlantic link is of central importance. All the signs suggest that multilateralism and diplomacy are staging a powerful comeback under Obama. George W Bush’s foreign policy has fuelled anti-Americanism the world over. But the closure of Guantanamo is a symbolic act that marks a shift away from the dark worldview represented by Bush. America should lead through inspiration, not domination.

Obama views NATO as an important link between the US and the rest of the free world. The change in office means the preconditions now exist for the western world to coalesce around the great challenges of our time: the climate, terrorism and the financial crisis, as well as jointly standing up for democratic values. This is more necessary than ever before. For the third successive year global freedom is in regression, according to Freedom House. Just 46 percent of the world’s population lives in democracies. Unless NATO and the US act as guardians and drivers of democracy, there will be nobody to assume that responsibility. The EU is not yet capable, a point that makes the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty crucial from a security policy perspective. The EU needs to be able to act in a unified and effective manner.

Sweden’s neutrality and non-allied status mean the country has to be able to defend its own territory in almost any situation. It is just nonsense to say that our security policy is “fixed in place”, as it was so unfortunately expressed in the latest foreign policy declaration. Both the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and the Minister of Defence have stated that Sweden would be unable to defend its borders without help were the situation in Europe to drastically deteriorate. Russia is not the Soviet Union, a fact that bears repeating. But were Swedish to join NATO we would not have to worry about Russia’s ongoing rearmament.

Time and time again the government has insisted that Sweden’s security is based on fellowship with other countries — not independence from others as was the case during the Cold War. Our official defence policy even states that Sweden should “take joint responsibility for Europe’s security” and that “a neutrality option is no longer feasible when it comes to conflicts in the surrounding area”. But despite these changes in Sweden’s security policy doctrine, the NATO debate here is barely live; in fact, it is practically mummified.

The EU is not a military alliance and is therefore not an alternative to NATO. The reintegration of the French military into NATO is a clear sign that even the French have given up on the idea of having a competing organization as a counterbalance to the United States. We have to face up to reality. If we really want Sweden to take joint responsibility for Europe’s security then Sweden needs to play an integral role in the context of European and transatlantic defence. A combination of the EU’s civilian skills and NATO’s military acumen represent the future for European — and, by extension, Swedish — security.

It’s disingenuous to have so few Swedes aware of the fact that their country is in practice already part of NATO. Sweden has a lot more soldiers under NATO Command than under the UN flag, and many Swedes are unaware that we have a NATO ambassador with her own secretariat at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Yet we allow Swedish soldiers’ lives and security to be decided at meetings where we have very little say. If we were members we would be able to take responsibility and exert a far greater influence over these operations. As it stands, we have to rely on others to take responsibility. Really Sweden has already taken the step from neutrality to solidarity vis à vis our security policy. All that remains to seal the deal is NATO membership.

Ever since 1994, Sweden has cooperated with NATO through the Partnership for Peace (PfP). Through its participation in PfP, Sweden can contribute to the construction of a more stable and secure Europe — but entirely on our own terms. To me it seems strange that Sweden doesn’t want to attend the NATO birthday party, choosing instead to stand on the outside looking in with dictatorships like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belarus, who have just about been allowed to join PfP.

Finland has conducted three inquiries into eventual NATO membership compared to Sweden’s none. We have to come to grips with the NATO issue and put all the facts on the table. Voters should have the chance to take a position on NATO membership and the price of exclusion. We need to start talking about the fact that our dogged refusal to even consider signing up the alliance has a political price. With Obama’s presidency and Anders Fogh Rasmussen as new secretary-general, friends of NATO are beginning to see an opening. We can’t be kept quiet any more. It’s time to wake up from the Sleeping Beauty slumber of the Cold War. Springtime has arrived for a new NATO debate.

So, congratulations on your 60th birthday, dear NATO, and I hope to be able to attend your 70th.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Foreign Worker Numbers May be Cut

The government is set to decide whether to limit the number of foreign workers in Switzerland in response to rising unemployment, an economics ministry official says.

There is a legal basis for making such a decision, Serge Gaillard, head of the labour directorate at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), told Sunday’s edition of Le Matin Dimanche newspaper.

The cabinet will decide in the coming weeks whether to restrict the number of employees that firms can recruit from abroad, he said.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf is overseeing a dossier being compiled on the issue and a ministry spokesman confirmed the cabinet would be taking a decision in the near future.

The Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported that the cabinet would discuss the issue on Wednesday.

A clause in Swiss bilateral accords enables the government to limit numbers of work permits for people from 15 European Union member states, as well as Cyprus and Malta.

The measure can be enforced for up to a maximum of two years.

Unemployment in Switzerland is currently at 3.5 per cent, the highest level in three years.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Geneva Insecurity Threatens Cultural Mix

Several hundred violent petty criminals and drug dealers risk damaging the multicultural fabric of Geneva’s central Paquis district and tarnishing the city’s image. Politicians, the police and local residents remain at odds over how to get to grips with the persistent insecurity in the popular lakeside district and in particular, how to deal with repeat offenders.

The Paquis quarter, squeezed between Lake Geneva and the train station, is best known for its colourful blend of cultures, funky restaurants and shops, five-star hotels, relatively cheap accommodation and for being Geneva’s unofficial red-light district.

But over the past two years the area has grown increasingly seedy and dangerous, attracting some 200-plus hardcore petty criminals from North Africa, who prey on tourists and passers-by, and the same number of drug dealers, mostly West Africans, some of whom are from other Swiss cantons.

After months of complaints from residents, the police last week carried out three major operations in the district. In all, 186 people were stopped and questioned and 12 were arrested either for drugs or asylum matters.

Paquis seems to have temporarily rediscovered its calm, but for how long, wonders Alain Bittar, the owner of the Arab bookshop L’Olivier in the rue de Fribourg.

“The operations are a signal to the residents that they have been listened to,” he told “If the canton and city of Geneva, the judicial authorities and the police get together as quickly as possible and come up with a serious adequate response I don’t think the problem will go on much longer.”

Cafe owner Jalel Matri said he was happy to see a greater police presence but he felt local politicians seemed “powerless” and “incapable of finding a long-term solution”.

Bittar said he started lobbying the authorities to do something about the insecurity for one specific reason.

“The bookshop has existed for 30 years and for 29 years I never heard a single racist word. Suddenly owing to a small group of people community tensions started to emerge,” he explained.

Dealers versus petty criminals According to the police, the dealers are mostly asylum seekers from other cantons who travel to Geneva as other cantons have stricter laws.

“They understand very well how the system works. They don’t arrive in Paquis and start selling drugs by chance,” said police spokesman Eric Grandjean.

Bittar makes a clear distinction between dealers and the more menacing petty criminals.

“Some dealers would like to find work. They say hello if you greet them or ignore you if you don’t — they are transparent,” he noted. “But there would be no dealer if there were no buyer. That’s another problem.”

Another local shop owner agreed.

“The dealers don’t pose a particular problem. I ask them to move on from the front of the shop and they are not aggressive,” he explained. “But with the Algerians the problem is different: they are arrogant, aggressive, looking for a fight and often armed with knives.”

They live from pick pocketing, mugging and stealing cars, and they give false identities saying they are Palestinians or Iraqis, for example, added Bittar.

The petty criminals are thought to have sought exile in Switzerland after having been forced out of Italy and France due to tougher security regimes there.

“They all take advantage of the system here, whereby they get stopped, arrested and freed — for most of them it’s impossible to send them back to their country of origin,” said Grandjean.

Underestimation The residents accuse the authorities of having underestimated the situation and of passing the buck.

But Monica Bonfanti, head of the Geneva police, denied being powerless to deal with the troublemakers.

“I am simply one element of a chain,” she told Le Matin newspaper on Thursday. “If I don’t have the legal means to send criminals who are staying here illegally back home, other people are working on it.”

According to the Federal Migration Office, Switzerland has signed some 46 asylum readmission accords with 49 countries and 20 more are in preparation.

These agreements should in theory facilitate the expulsion of the troublemakers. The problem is that in the case of Algeria, the accord entered into effect in 2007 but will only be applicable once an additional protocol is signed — possibly in June 2009. Other African countries are accused of dragging their feet over the negotiation of these kinds of agreements.

Administrative detention But in the absence of a readmission agreement there is another solution, the head of the Federal Migration Office, Edouard Gnesa, told Swiss radio a week ago.

“Under the new foreigners’ law, it is possible to combat these kinds of abuses using administrative detention,” he said.

This is the legal option of imprisoning repeat offenders up to 24 months while preparing their return home. In 2008 2,500 people were held in other cantons before being sent home, but the option is not used very often in Geneva.

“Administrative internment makes no sense,” René Longet, president of the Geneva Social Democratic Party, told Le Temps newspaper. “You lock people up without judgement for 24 months, and then what? You just send them away. It’s like treating people as subhuman and wanting to open a kind of Geneva Guantamano.”

Penal Code Geneva’s Radical Party and Daniel Zappelli, Geneva’s public prosecutor, support the idea of administrative detention. Zappelli also wants to see fundamental changes to Swiss law.

“The current penal code is much too nice for these kind of cases. The system of day fines calculated on the earnings of the person who has committed the crime is completely ineffective,” he told Swiss radio.

While the insecurity question is being kicked around among the authorities, Bittar and other Paquis residents are crossing their fingers that the politicians will eventually join forces to find a long-term solution.

“But it doesn’t fool me; we are in the run-up to the [November cantonal] elections,” he told

“All we want is to feel that in this street we are proper citizens, like those in the banking or residential districts.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK Uses “Orwellian” Tactics on Muslims: Report

Become informants or go to jail, MI5 tells Muslim men

Five British Muslim men accused the United Kingdom’s security services of “blatant blackmail” and threatening them with jail if they did not agree to work as informants, press reports said Thursday, sparking outrage and concern over Islamophobia.

The community workers said they were given a choice of working for MI5, the U.K.’s counter-intelligence and security agency, or face detention and harassment at home and internationally, Britain’s Independent reported.

“Orwellian society”

The men, three of whom said they were detained at foreign airports on MI5 orders, made official complaints to the police, the body which oversees the work of the security service and their local MP Frank Dobson, the paper said.

“The only thing these young people have in common is that they studied Arabic abroad and are of Somali origin. They are not involved in any terrorist activity whatsoever, nor have they ever been and the security services are well aware of this,” said Sharhabeel Lone, the chairman of Kentish Town Community Organization, where the men work with disadvantaged youth.

“These incidents smack of racism, Islamophobia and all that undermines social cohesion,” the paper quoted Lone as saying. “When people are terrorized by the very same body that is meant to protect them, sowing fear, suspicion and division, we are on a slippery slope to an Orwellian society.”

Meanwhile MP Dobson seemed less sympathetic and expalained: “To identify real suspects from the Muslim communities MI5 must use informers. But it seems that from what I have seen some of their methods may be counter-productive.”…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: BBC Receives 115 Complaints Over Muslim Head of Religious Programming Aaqil Ahmed

The BBC has received 115 complaints for appointing Muslim programme-maker Aaqil Ahmed as head of BBC religion and ethics.

Aaqil Ahmed, who is currently commissioning editor for religion and multicultural programmes at Channel 4, was confirmed for the role on Monday.

Ahmed’s appointment is only the second time that a non-Christian has been made head of religion.

The first was Alan Bookbinder, an agnostic, who was appointed in 2001.

The BBC confirmed that the “vast majority” of the complaints were about Ahmed not being a Christian.

A spokesman said: “The BBC’s commitment to religious broadcasting, and to Christian broadcasting as the dominant part of that, is entirely secure.

“Aaqil Ahmed was appointed as Head of Religion and Ethics because he was the best candidate for the role.

“Aaqil has 10 years’ experience in religious broadcasting — both at the BBC and as the religion commissioner at Channel 4 — and was responsible for commissioning programmes such as ‘Christianity: A History’, ‘The Qu’ran’ and the BAFTA-winning ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’.

“It is BBC policy, consistent with UK law, to recruit on the basis of experience and suitability for a role, not on the basis of faith. As the majority faith in the UK, Christians are and will remain the key audience for the BBC’s religious television output.”

His appointment has raised fears at the top levels of the Church of England, which has expressed its concerns over the BBC’s treatment of religion and warned that it must not ignore its Christian audience.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, last month was reported to have told the director general, Mark Thompson, that the “Christian voice” was being sidelined.

Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, has warned: “ The vast majority of the population identifies itself as Christian and as the established Church in England we would be negligent not to take an active concern in the changes happening with the BBC’s religion and ethics department.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Mother Who Sent Her School Age Daughters to Pakistan to Marry Their Cousins is Jailed for 3 Years

A Muslim mother who forced her two daughters to marry their cousins in Pakistan has been jailed for three years and ordered to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register. She told her elder daughter that if she didn’t have sex with her new husband, she would tie her to the bed, blindfold and strip her, a court heard. The woman, from south Manchester, also said she would be there to make sure the marriage was consummated. She cannot be named to protect the teenage victims. She was convicted of inciting or causing a child to engage in sexual activity; two charges of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence; and two of intending to pervert the course of justice. She had denied all charges. Judge Clement Goldstone QC ordered that she sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for life and told her: ‘You have absolutely no idea of the enormity of what you have done or its effect upon your daughters.

‘Forced marriage is cruel — it deprives children, your children, of their basic human rights. It must, and will, be distinguished by the courts from arranged marriage, which is conventional in many religions and societies.’

She was found guilty in April and sentenced at Manchester Crown Court yesterday. Bunty Batra, defending, said it was a ‘highly unusual case’. The mother took her daughters to Pakistan in 2007 for a family wedding, the court heard. But within a month, both were engaged to their first cousins. Judge Goldstone said: ‘Everyone is entitled to his or her beliefs… but those who choose to live in this country and who — like you — are British subjects, must not abandon our laws in pursuit of those beliefs and that culture.

‘They will, if they breach the law, be punished in accordance with it.’

Both victims returned to Britain by September 2007. They later told their teachers, who called police.

One daughter told police: ‘Even though she has been mean, I forgive her.’

The other said: ‘At the end of the day, I love her. No one can be like my mum.’

Judge Goldstone added: ‘The forcing of a child into marriage, against his or her will, will not be tolerated. Where a forced marriage leading to consummation is accompanied by threats of violence and is tantamount to cruelty, the punishment will be more severe.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: MPs’ Expenses: If Only Westminster Were a Gentlemen’s Club

Andrew Roberts says MPs could learn a lot from the behaviour of London’s clubmen.

‘Westminster cannot operate like some gentlemen’s club,” the Prime Minister has said, echoing remarks of various other MPs — Tories, as well as Labour — that Parliament needs to reform itself or it will continue to be an archaic, inward-looking, inefficient institution such as they infer are the gentlemen’s clubs of London.

What infernal cheek! How dare the denizens of Westminster, mired in this cesspit of scandal of their own making, look three-quarters of a mile westwards and try to equate London clubmen with their repulsive practices. If one is looking for sleaze and corruption in today’s society, where do you look for it: Westminster, or St James’s? If club members were caught doing half of what it turns out MPs have been up to, they would immediately be forced to resign their memberships and never show their faces again.

London clubs are superbly well-run, often by people who have expertise in the worlds of estate management and business, and are far better at self-regulation than Parliament. The food is far better at clubs like Boodle’s or Brooks’s than at the Palace of Westminster, and club members don’t try to sting the taxpayer for lunches and dinners. In Anthony Lejeune’s fine book, The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, one reads of institutions defined by their charm, eccentricity, elegance and tradition, not adjectives that anyone would ascribe to the MPs who have so far been implicated in the expenses scandal.

Gordon Brown, who is not a member of any of them, ought to look at the gentlemen’s clubs of London for inspiration on how to run the economy. I have just been sent the annual report and accounts of one of the oldest and grandest St James’s Street clubs for the year ended December 31, 2008, and they show a healthy operating surplus, a strong balance sheet (£3.2 million in the black), a well-funded staff pension scheme and benevolent fund, and a contingency reserve of nearly £500,000. Contrast that to Alistair Darling’s latest Budget.

The House of Commons has been called “the best club in London”, but only by people who aren’t members of any others. For it lacks the key ingredient that makes up a really good club: the blackball. Absolutely anybody can become a Member of Parliament who has the qualifications of a thrusting temperament, opinionated nature, desire to boss us about, need to show off and, very often, a gnawing inferiority complex and mother fixation. Who would want to belong to a club full of people like that? And that was before we discovered they also had their fingers in the till.

Neither, since the abolition of the hereditary element of the House of Lords, is that as attractive a club as it once was. The long years of New Labour creating vast numbers of peers has inevitably taken its toll on the quality of the people there, and, unlike clubs, no one is forced to resign through bankruptcy or imprisonment. The recent cash-for-questions scandals have debased what was once the most noble institution in the land, after the monarchy.

If you want to witness vicious, noisy, self-interested, boorish and, we now discover, corrupt behaviour in London society, where would one go? To the sepulchral Athenaeum, courtly Brooks’s, elegant White’s, beautiful Garrick, noble Pratt’s, witty Beefsteak or palatial Reform? Or to the chamber of the Commons on any day the House is sitting?

It is all very well for MPs to make themselves despised by the nation for the way so very many of them have cheated us, but they should not try to drag down honourable clubland with them. If, completely to invert the Prime Minister’s statement, Westminster did operate “like some gentlemen’s club”, all of this foul morass would have been avoided. The gentlemen’s club is a political idea whose time has come.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Police Chief Ali Dizaei Charged With Perverting Course of Justice

The president of the National Black Police Association was charged today with misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice.

Commander Ali Dizaei of the Metropolitan Police faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if he is tried and found guilty of the offences.

The charges were authorised following an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into a disturbance at a London restaurant in July last year.

“These charges relate to an incident in which Mr Dizaei, in his capacity as a police officer, arrested a man on allegations including assault,” Gaon Hart, a senior lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, said.

“A decision not to charge that individual was made by the CPS in August 2008.

“Following an investigation by the IPCC, a file was submitted to me in November 2008. I asked the IPCC to undertake further enquiries and I received the results of those inquiries this month.”

It is understood that Dr Dizaei’s defence team will be Imran Khan, the solicitor who represented the family of Stephen Lawrence, and Michael Mansfield, QC, who will come out of retirement to take the case.

Dr Dizaei, an Iranian-born officer who joined the police in 1986, has been suspended from duty for eight months while investigations were ongoing.

He was critical of the Metropolitan Police when Sir Ian Blair was commissioner.

Last year he sided with Tarique Ghaffur, a former assistant commissioner, who accused Sir Ian and the Met of race discrimination.

Mr Ghaffur eventually retired after receiving a substantial out-of-court settlement and dropping the racism allegations.

Dr Dizaei, one of the most senior ethnic minority officers in the police service, has protested his innocence.

Alfred John, chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, said that the decision to charge Dr Dizaei was “outrageous” and the result of personal vendettas.

He said: “The National Black Police Association and the Metropolitan Black Police Association fully support Commander Dizaei during the course of this prosecution.”

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Authority said: “The MPA has been informed by the CPS of its decision to proceed with charges against Commander Ali Dizaei.

“Commander Dizaei remains a serving police officer for whom the MPA has a duty of care. We require the Metropolitan Police to ensure that all necessary support is in place.

“The professional standards cases sub-committee will continue with its statutory duty to review regularly the decision previously taken to suspend Commander Dizaei.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Women Having Multiple Abortions Reaches Record High

Repeat abortions have reached a record high, figures released today reveal.

One third of women who had an abortion last year were on their second, third or even eighth termination, new figures show.

The statistics will fuel the debate over whether some women are using abortion as a form of contraception.

In total, there were 64,715 repeat abortions in 2008, 33 per cent of the total and up from 64,230 the year before.

A breakdown of the data showed 11,354 women had their third abortion and 2,780 their fourth. The figures showed 46 women had had eight or more terminations.

Last year the Commons voted to keep the upper time limit on abortion to 24 weeks. But in the intense debate that preceded the vote, many MPs voiced their concern that the number of repeat abortions was on the increase and said it was too easy to obtain a termination.

The ProLife Alliance, the main umbrella group that is seeking a change in the law to reduce the number of abortions, said the figures confirmed their worst predictions.

“Back in 1967 we said that the Abortion Act would eventually lead to women using it as a form of contraception, and here we are with the data showing that is exactly what is happening,” a spokeswoman said.

Overall, the number of abortions fell to 195,296, down 1.6 per cent from 2007. It was the first fall in the total for six years.

Among teenagers the number of repeat abortions fell slightly to 1,452 from 1,522.

The Government seized on the fall in the overall numbers and on figures showing that more abortions are now taking place earlier in the pregnancy.

“More abortions are now happening at under 10 weeks gestation. This is a key priority for us — to reduce the time women have to wait at what is already a very difficult time,” said Dawn Primarolo, the health minister.

Liz Davies, spokeswoman for Marie Stopes International, which carries out abortions, said the reduction in teenage abortions was particularly welcome.

“We are pleased that those teenagers who have aspirations other than motherhood appear to be protecting themselves against unintended pregnancy,” she said.

The under-16 abortion rate was 4.2 per 1,000 and the under-18 rate was 18.9 per 1,000 women, both lower than in 2007.

The vast majority o abortions — 90 per cent — were carried out at under 13 weeks gestation and three quarters at under 10 weeks Almost 2,000 were conducted because the child would be born handicapped.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Croatia: Telekom Spied on Applicant’s Sex Life

The Deutsche Telekom spying scandal has been found to extend to the sex lives of job applicants abroad, financial daily Handelsblatt reported on Wednesday.

According to a 2004 document obtained by the paper, entitled “Company Security Personnel Screening,” the company hired private German investigators to spy on a female manager for a Croatian telecommunications company.

The document reveals intimate personal details, including how many lovers she had and her “select association with older men.”

“In her personal life she could be described as a female carnivore with an extremely elevated need for sex,” the document continues, adding that the woman’s sister is an “active agent of free love.”

The woman was apparently applying for a high-level management position at Deutsche Telekom’s Croatian subsidiary.

The document also reveals that the company also used the German intelligence service as a source in their analysis of the employee.

Deutsche Telekom assured Handelsblatt that they generally do not analyse the personal activities of job applicants. But at the end of 2004, the company’s human resources department used personnel screenings with private details as an example for possible future security measures.

“The suggestion to make these kind of screenings standard practice was rejected by human resources,” the company said.

Deutsche Telekom has already been the focus of a spying scandal since last spring, when the company confirmed bank records of more than 100,000 workers had been trawled for possible instances of corruption.

The operation was intended to track down the sources of leaks to the media, the company said.

Investigators say they have found evidence that the company took telephone records of supervisory board members as well as the workers’ council, journalists and other such as Frank Bsirske, head of the Verdi trade union.

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

EU-Croatia: Frattini, Slovenia Should be Flexible

(ANSAmed) — GORIZIA, MAY 15 — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has said that he hoped “Slovenia is flexible, in the European spirit” in its sea-borders debate with Croatia. Frattini was speaking in Gorizia today on relations between the two countries and, in particular, on the difficulties that Ljubljana is making in the Croatian government’s quest for EU membership. “There is a European Commission proposal which I think deserves to be accepted. It is a proposal which goes halfway on the rightful concerns of Slovenia over access to the Adriatic, but at the same time on Croatia’s worries over seeing 12 chapters blocked by what is just a bilateral issue”. “Europe is united”, explained Frattini, “in encouraging both parties. We support Slovenia which is a European country but we also support Croatia’s just aspiration to finally gain membership of the European Union in 2010”. Frattini then noted that “there has already been” an Italian proposal on the matter. “We have already contributed to the adjustment and fine-tuning of the tests,” he added, “but we preferred to work with the European Commission, although I am in almost daily contact with both parties.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Biden Turns New Page in Relations

Belgrade, 20 May (AKI) — United States vice-president Joe Biden has assured Serbia that the two countries can start a new era in relations, regardless of differences over Kosovo. During his visit to Serbia on Wednesday, Biden and Serbian president Boris Tadic said they had “agreed to disagree” over the status of Kosovo, which declared independence last year.

“I came to Serbia with a message that the US wants to promote cooperation with Serbia, with the region, and to help Serbia to become a factor of stability in the region,” Biden told journalists after an hour of talks with Tadic.

He said the US backed Serbia’s plans to join the European Union.

Biden is the most senior US official to visit Serbia since president Jimmy Carter’s visit in 1983. He arrived there from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, where he began a three-day visit to the region on Tuesday.

Tadic said the two states could progress “on the basis of dialogue rooted in mutual respect”.

Relations between the US and Serbia have been at a very low ebb since the 1990s Balkan wars that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The US remains deeply unpopular among some Serbs

The US led a Nato bombing campaign to expel Serb forces from Kosovo in 1999 and relations with Serbia worsened after Washington, along with sixty other countries, recognised Kosovo independence.

Biden said the differences over Kosovo remained, with each side sticking to its earlier position: the US backs independence while Serbia wants to keep Kosovo within its borders.

“I guess we could say we agreed that we don’t agree over Kosovo,” Biden said. But he added there are many areas of mutual interest in which the two countries could promote cooperation.

Tadic said opportunities for such cooperation lay in bilateral economic, trade, scientific and educational ties.

“We don’t expect that Serbia will soon accept Kosovo independence,’ Biden said. But he pointed out that the US expected Serbia to cooperate with the European Union, whose mission is stationed in Kosovo, to improve lives of Serbs and Albanians there.

Biden said recognition of Kosovo wasn’t a precondition for US support to Serbia to become a member of the EU and said the US will insist on the greatest possible protection of minority Serbs in Kosovo.

Despite differences over Kosovo, Tadic said Belgrade wanted “the best partnership relations with America”.

“Vice-president Biden and I have agreed that now is the occasion to establish a completely new level of communication between our two countries,” Tadic said.

Biden was scheduled to meet with Serbia’s prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic, defence minister Dragan Sutanovac and army chief Gen. Miloje Miletic, before flying to Pristina on Thursday, on the last leg of his Balkan tour.

Biden, as former president of the US senate foreign relations committee, has been known for years as an advocate of Kosovo’s independence and the NATO bombings of Serbia in 1999. His visit was accompanied by a security lockdown in Belgrade, whose main streets were completely closed to traffic.

Biden’s visit has triggered protests by some ultranationalist and opposition politicians and activists who described him as an “enemy of Serbia”.

MPs from the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party held up banners in parliament saying: “Biden, you Nazi scum, go home.”

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

Serbia: Presidency Building Drama Ends

BELGRADE — A man who entered the Serbian Presidency building in Belgrade armed with two hand grenades has been disarmed, B92 has learned.

Police officers have also arrested the man, identified as Dragan Mariæ, and taken him out of the building.

President Boris Tadiæ was not inside at the time Mariæ went in, but Beta news agency says that he was seen entering by the main door at around 14:30 CET. Tadiæ has in the meantime praised “police and army” for their handling of the situation.

In an email sent to “11,000 addresses”, including numerous Serbian and European institutions and media this morning, Mariæ reportedly asked to sign a “fair settlement with the government, or else activate the bombs by 16:00 CET”.

Beta reports that Mariæ is a Valjevo native who in 2004 embarked on an 80-day hunger strike over a court case involving his private company and national carrier Jat Airways.

Also in 2004, he filed a lawsuit against the state of Serbia with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, unhappy with the Commercial Court’s verdict in the case.

New Serbia (NS) MP Aleksandra Jankoviæ said earlier today that an unknown man gave her an envelope Thursday morning which contained a letter saying that Mariæ’s move was “forced by the regime, which is threatening to liquidate his family and take away his child”.

Serbian police (MUP) formed a negotiating team in the hope of resolving the situation peacefully. Mariæ was inside the building, at the back door entrance, for over fiive hours.

A spokeswoman for the Presidency said earlier that the man was “in the 1.5 sq meter space that is not secured, where citizens come to file their complaints”.

Our reporters said that many uniformed and plainclothes police were inside the Presidency, as well as MUP’s riot police officers, ambulances and firefighters outside the building.

Defense Minister Dragan (c)utanovac and several VS officers also arrived at the scene. Numerous journalists and cameramen crowded the space in front of the building…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Along the Human Walkway

In case he would like to use one of them, the City of Belgrade deployed its 4,500 uniformed policemen to close down the streets for Joe Biden.

I think, as a courtesy, this may have been somewhat over the top, but I am not a diplomat, I suppose.

Contrary to what you are already setting your surmisers to surmise, this is NOT going to be a litany of complaints about the fact that our already traffic-impaired City on the Danube has literally been closed down today, forcing people to either a) take extraordinary measures to come to work or b) stay home in their pyjamas and watch Oprah. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

This morning, from around ten until around eleven, I walked the 25-minute distance to my office. We all knew that there would be traffic problems today, and some of us prepared for it. I left my home with a backpack full of electronics, a new shirt, music, and a full measure of determination.

What I saw along the Human Walkway which was New Belgrade was as much of a slice of life in the White City as I should ever have hoped to see. People were swarming along the sidewalks while the busses stagnated along the roads in long lines. No cars moved.

Some were wearing jogging suits, carrying briefcases. Some were in business suits carrying Ipod cases. Some seemed to have been waiting all of their lives for this day and looked happy, laughing their way through the streams of humanity. Others (many others) grumbling, spoke loudly into mobile phones, gesticulating widely for the benefit of passers-by who should take note of their Indignation. At least one of these gesticulations resulted in a hand-to-face injury.

No, it was not me.

I observed people carrying fishing poles on the way to the river. I watched normally office bound fashion victims making their way gingerly along the street in high heels. Bank managers and kiosk owners walked side by side. I passed my neighborhood barber and the Governor of the National Bank. Even he, I thought. Even he.

I composed a few letters on the way:

Dear Joe,

Do you really think that these security precautions upsetting our city streets have made people want to shoot you LESS or more?



A lot of backpacks (including mine) were in evidence. Some people pulled rolling suitcases along, mistakenly having taken a lot of papers home last night to work on them. One man was wearing a tie and jacket and shorts. My hope is that he plans to change in the office. Large groups of people milled about the bus stations, waiting for the hubbub to pass. Hubbub is the technical term for Vice-President of the United States.

We looked at each other, watching for signs of how to respond emotionally to this Crisis. There were a prodigious amount of us who sneered openly. Some carried the sad faces of resignation, ready to get back to the office or kafana and shake their heads because they KNEW it would be this way. Some of us were just blank-faced and sweating with the unaccustomed practice of placing our feet one in front of the other as a means of transportation.

Dear Joe,

Did you ever stop to think that the police are doing this NOT to protect you from us, but to protect US from you? After all, your predecessor Dick Cheney made it legal for vice presidents to shoot people in the face…

Kind regards,


I began to wonder, as you do as you walk along, what was happening in the rest of the city. If all the cops are guarding the streets for the vice-presidential feet (or wheels), should we not be planning to loot the city blind? I then formulated a business plan for placing ice-cream and coffee concessions on each street corner where pedestrians were detained for extended periods in case the motorcade should motor by. As we waited on the corner of Proleterske Solidarnosti and Bulevar Zorana Djindjica, across from Société Générale, I wondered about the guy next to me who was CLEARLY late for work and was about to tell his boss that he was stood for an hour on the other side of the street, detained by the police. I could see the wheels spinning as he embellished and polished the excuses one by one.

Joe Biden has given us the chance to see each other at our best and worst, on public display, along our cracked and unmaintained sidewalks. He has afforded us an opportunity to break with dull routines and replace them with grueling activity instead. We should thank you, Joe.

Dear Joe,

Thanks for the visit. We really appreciate it. But next time, send a postcard.



           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

France: A Cultural Council for the Mediterranean

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 14 — Today the Mediterranean Union (UPM) established the Cultural Council, which aims to “foster political and private initiatives for the development of the cultural dimension of French Mediterranean policy, particularly within the UPM.” The Council was presented today in Paris by the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who described it as a “political adventure”, stressing that “culture should be at the centre of the Mediterranean project because that is the only way that we can put an end to prejudices and become the springboard for a Mediterranean consciousness.” The council is presided over by the former Secretary of State, Renauld Muselier, who was born in Marseilles in 1959, “a man of incontestable Mediterranean origins,” Fillon stressed. The council has over twenty members, all of whom come from different backgrounds, from the director and producer Luc Besson, to the President of France Television Patrick de Carolis, from the President of the Institute of the Arab World in Paris, Dominque Baudis, to the businessman Francois Pinault, the founder of the PPR group. André Azoulay, the president of the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation, Anna Lindh, the advisor to the King of Morocco, Ismael Serageldin, the former vice-president of the World Bank, who is currently responsible for the Library of Alexandria, and Rodi Kratsa, the vice-president of the European Parliament, are also members of the strategic committee. The council, amongst other things, will deal with “mobilising all the forces in the Mediterranean” towards the “Marseilles Provence 2013” plan (the southern city was in fact nominated European Capital of Culture for 2013). Muselier also pointed to a “Mediterranean Academy of cinema and the donation of several thousand works from the French National Library to the Library of Alexandria.” Muselier concluded that “this council will be a kind of experimental French template, an incubator for plans and a confederation of ideas at the service of a common ambition, the success of the UPM.”(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egypt: Explosions in Military Depot, Zone Closed Off

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MAY 18 — Whilst military sources have yet to provide an official report, local witnesses have said that explosions at a military depot in Egypt may have lead to the death of five soldiers, as previously announced, as well as injury to ten others. Certain sources are also suggesting that many soldiers may have died — including a high-level official — in the series of explosions which followed an initial large-scale blast. The Egyptian armed forces have closed-off the entire area surrounding the military depot close to Ismailia, north-east of Cairo, and roads leading into the area were sealed off. For the moment, no information is pointing to possible acts of sabotage or terrorist attacks and official sources have yet to make a statement. Inhabitants of the area not far from the Suez Canal have been reported as suggesting that yesterday’s intense heat of over 40 degrees could have been partly responsible for the explosions at the weapons stores. The Ismailia depot is the military’s largest in north-eastern Egypt.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Officials Face ‘Terror Camp’ Charges

Cairo, 18 May (AKI) — Thirteen officials from Egypt’s banned opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, have been formally charged with terrorism and money laundering in Cairo. According to the Arab daily, al-Hayat, the leaders have been accused of running “secret training camps called ‘jihadist camps’ where they trained groups of students in armed combat”.

The most important member of the group, Osama Nasr, has been accused of “having supported an illegal group that uses terrorism to achieve its aims and publishes brochures and and books to spread its ideological message, recycling money obtained from terrorism”.

Prosecutors claim that the accused hid their training camps behind the guise of so called “sports camps” and young recruits were taught how to use arms before being sent to “war zones” to show their solidarity for besieged Gazans their and opposition to Israel’s recent military offensive.

The leaders were arrested last week in Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in the north.

The were reportedly detained for 15 days on charges of “belonging to a banned group, calling for demonstrations and possessing documents seeking to spread the (Brotherhood) ideology”.

The organisation’s number two, Mohammed Habib, accused the government in a statement of seeking to “prevent the brotherhood from having a role in Egyptian political life.”

The organisation, founded in 1928, was officially banned in 1954. Using sympathisers running as independents, the group won one-fifth of seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

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

Egypt: Death Sentences for Suzanne Tamim Murderers

An Egyptian billionaire and former top political figure has been sentenced to death in Cairo for the 2008 murder of Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim.

Hisham Talaat Moustafa was found guilty of paying $2m to an ex-policeman to kill the singer. The killer Muhsin Sukkari was also sentenced to hang.

Ms Tamim reportedly broke off a secret love affair with Moustafa months before she was stabbed to death in Dubai.

The tale of sex, politics, money and show business gripped the Arab world.

The courtroom descended into chaos after the judge read out a short statement and ordered the sentences referred to the religious authorities for confirmation — as is normal in Egypt. The defendants looked shocked at the verdict and relatives of Hisham Talaat Moustafa jostled with reporters to prevent them photographing his reaction.

Female relatives burst into tears and one of them fainted in the pandemonium.

Lawyer Samir Shishtawi called the verdict “severe”, adding: “I want to assure Talaat Moustafa’s family that this verdict will be overturned by the appeals court”.

Newly married

The indictment had accused the security guard who worked at a hotel owned by Moustafa of killing Suzanne Tamim, 30, with a knife at her luxury Dubai apartment last July.

Clothes found at the apartment carried his DNA, and he was identified after being caught on film by a security camera.

Telephone conversations between Sukkari and Moustafa also formed part of the prosecution’s case.

The indictment had accused Moustafa, former head of the Talaat Moustafa Group property empire, of participating in the murder through “incitement, agreement and assistance”.

The court heard that he had ordered the killing after twice-married Ms Tamim ended their relationship in favour of an Iraqi kick-boxing champion, Riyad al-Azzawi, whom she had met in London.

Sukkari then followed Suzanne Tamim to the United Arab Emirates and staked out her flat. He gained entry by saying he worked for the building owner and killed her as she opened her front door.


As well as serving in the upper house of the Egyptian parliament, Hisham Talaat Moustafa is known to have been close to President Hosni Mubarak’s politically powerful son Gamal.

He sat on the ruling National Democratic Party’s policy committee.

Members of the Egyptian elite are often viewed in the country as being above the law, and there was massive public interest in the case.

The Dubai authorities applied such pressure on the Egyptians to bring the case to trial that he was eventually stripped of his parliamentary immunity.

But reporting of the case was banned in Egypt after the opening statements — a ruling which brought sharp criticism from the opposition.

Reporters from Tamim’s home area in the Lebanese capital Beirut said her family was “grateful for the verdict”.

Suzanne Tamim had risen to stardom throughout the Middle East as the winner of a pop idol contest in Lebanon in 1996.

But her career was marred by reports of a troubled private life.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Death Sentence for Singer’s Murder

Cairo, 21 May (AKI) — An Egyptian business tycoon and a former police officer have been sentenced to death for the murder of Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamim. The singer was found dead in a luxury apartment in the emirate of Dubai in July 2008 and the case shocked the Arab world.

Hisham Talaat Moustafa, the former chairman of Egypt’s top real-estate developer Talaat Moustafa Group, and former police officer Mohsen al-Sukkari will be hanged for ordering and carrying out the murder of Tamim.

Talaat Moustafa, who is alleged to have had an affair with Tamim, is reported to have ended the relationship with her months before the murder.

He was accused of paying Sukkari two million dollars to stab Tamim to death.

“Until now I still believe that Talaat Moustafa is innocent,” said lawyer Samir al-Shishtawi, quoted by Arab TV network al-Arabiya. “The evidence we have is strong and the ruling of the court is severe.”

“We are going to take the case to the appeals court and we are confident the ruling will be overturned,” he said.

The indictment had accused the security guard who worked at a hotel owned by Moustafa of killing 30-year-old Tamim, 30, with a knife at her luxury Dubai apartment last July.

Clothes found at the apartment carried his DNA, and he was identified after being caught on film by a security camera.

Talaat Moustafa’s two daughters burst into tears after the ruling, while his sister fainted.

Tamim became well-known in the Middle East after winning a popular TV talent show called Studio El Fan in Lebanon in 1996.

But her career was marred by reports of a troubled private life.

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

Egypt: Brazilians Arrested for ‘Pro-Israel Propaganda’

Cairo, 21 May (AKI) — A group of 24 Brazilian tourists were arrested in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, because they were allegedly carrying leaflets featuring Israel’s right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu promoting immigration to Israel.

Yisrael Beiteinu or Israel is our Home, is the party of Israel’s hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

“The leaflets are in Portuguese and call on Brazilians to immigrate to Israel,” said an Egyptian source, quoted by Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

The Brazilians, who arrived in Cairo on an Alitalia flight from the Italian capital Rome, were stopped by local security forces, said Arab media, based on a report by Egyptian daily al-Shorouk.

Before becoming Israel’s foreign minister Lieberman called on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to “go to hell” if he did not want to visit Israel, and once advocated bombing the Aswan dam in Egypt.

Lieberman’s party favours redrawing Israel’s borders, removing non-Jewish Israelis and annexing occupied territory settled by Jews.

Lieberman, who emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union in 1978, is also a strong supporter of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

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

Terrorism: Algeria, 11 Supporters of Al Qaeda Arrested

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, MAY 12 — The court of Ain EL-Melh, close to M’sila, in Algeria — 400 km south-east of the capital — has issued warrants for the arrest of 9 alleged members of a terrorist organisation. Two additional suspects have been put under judicial supervision. The information was issued by the Algerian Press Service (APS), which said the detainees are members of a nomadic group which “has housed members of the Salafite Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), al Qaeda for the Islamic Maghreb,ed.) and providing them with information regarding the movements of national security forces”. The nomads were said to have confessed to “knowing the routes used by terrorists” to move toward the country’s northern regions. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israeli Minister Calls Obama Peace Plan Impossible

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MAY 20 — Israel was not consulted in advance about the Middle East peace plan attributed by the press to US President Barack Obama, said government sources to Israeli military radio, according to whom the plan is “unprecedented” and “worrying”. “This is a well-packaged plan, but has no substance,” observed Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Likud). “There is no possibility for the plan to be completed.” Landau cast doubt on whether a future Palestinian state will be demilitarised: “We saw, after our withdrawal from Gaza, how Hamas created a militia and armed itself. The same would occur in the West Bank if we withdraw. The future Palestinian state would, in reality, enter into Iran’s sphere of influence.” Israeli former Defence Minister Amir Peretz (Labour) initially made positive comments, saying that Israel must back Obama’s plans and put Palestinian leadership to the test. Israeli daily Israel ha-Yom, which is close to Likud, took a more skeptical tone, saying that already in early June, Iran will register two substantial successes, with a probable victory of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the completion of a second year of Hamas government in Gaza. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Obama Peace Plan, Draft Raises Controversy in Israel

(by Aldo Baquis) (ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, 20 MAG — US President Barack Obama “has developed a regional peace plan that he will illustrate on June 4 in Cairo”. This is the front page of Tel Aviv’s tabloids. It may be that Obama has yet to define the details of any plan, but the Israeli papers are already offering news and details. These reports alarmed Israel’s leaders who see their worst fears come to life: that Benyamin Netanyahu’s government and the US Democratic Administration are about to enter a troubled, if not stormy, period. In a strange coincidence, Yediot Ahronot, Maariv and Israel ha-Yom — a free of charge pro-Likud paper — today printed information that was first released at the beginning of May by London-based Arab newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi which made reference to an initiative drafted by President Obama with King Abdullah II of Jordan, along the lines of Saudi one in 2002. The basic idea is for the Arab world to effectively support peace talks between Israel and Palestine through a gradual normalisation of relations with the Jewish State by, for example, opening financial, trade and tourism offices. The aim is to set up an independent, democratic, geographically homogeneous and demilitarised State of Palestine next to Israel in the next four years. Palestinian refugees would be offered the choice between gaining citizenship in their countries of residence or making a home within the boundaries of the future Palestinian State, i.e. in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The old city of Jerusalem, which is home to major holy places for the three monotheistic religions, would fall under the authority of the United Nations, with parallel negotiations between Israel on one side and Lebanon and Syria on the other. Interviewed by a military radio station, the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Dany Ayalon confirmed that, to the best of his knowledge, Obama is effectively looking into a regional approach to solve the conflict that is also based on a gradual rapprochement between Israel and moderate Arab countries. Ayron made it clear that Israel has drawn “red lines” that will never be crossed and one of these is Jerusalem, where it intends to hold on to sovereignty, especially over “the Temple Mount and the Holy Basin”, in other words the biblical-archaeological area that lies at its feet. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Palestinian Policeman Shoots at Israeli Soldiers

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MAY 21 — Two Israeli soldiers and a Palestinian policeman have been injured in a shootout in the West Bank, according to reports from the Israeli army. The shooting began when the Palestinian policeman opened fire on an Israeli military patrol carrying out a raid in Qalqilya, north of Jerusalem near the line separating Israel and the occupied territories. In a series of raids carried out in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers have arrested 26 Palestinians suspected of involvement in hostile acts against Israel. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Detailed Analysis of the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

by Barry Rubin

This article includes Part 1, an analysis of Obama’s statement, followed by Part 2, an analysis of Netanyahu’s statement.

Part 1

So what did President Barack Obama say after the meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and what does it mean?

First, Obama went to great lengths to stress his belief in the special relationship between the two countries, knowing his fealty to it has been (understandably and rightfully) challenged. He consciously escalated it by calling it an “extraordinary relationship” adding “historical ties, emotional ties,” “only true democracy of the Middle East,” “a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people.” He then went on to say Israel’s security “is paramount” in his policy.

No signal to Arab regimes or Iran here of eroding support. This is the part they will look at and he knew it. This is not mere boiler plate. By setting the bar so high he is saying that the relationship is central and important, one not to be lightly undermined. That doesn’t mean he won’t do anything in that direction but it is publicly limiting himself from making any fundamental shift.

Of course, he and his administration can, and will, justify things they do as being for Israel’s own good. But again, opening with this statement is important and very purposeful…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Iran Claims Missile Test With Europe in Range

EUOBSERVER/BRUSSELS — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed to have sucessfully tested another ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe.

Speaking in the northern Iranian city of Semnan, where the Sajil-2 missile was allegedly test-fired, Mr Ahmadinejad said the blast was a success and “met the predetermined target.”

If its alleged range of almost 2,000 kilometers is true, the missile could reach Athens, southern Italy and the Black Sea coast of new EU members Romania and Bulgaria.

A similar test was carried out in November, while in February Iran launched a domestically-made satellite that prompted France and Great Britain to express their concerns over the missile capabilities of the Islamic state.

Israel, also a nuclear power, said Wednesday’s test should be more of a concern to Europe, since previous missiles tested by Iran could already reach the Jewish state.

With presidential elections scheduled for 12 June, the test could also be read as part of Mr Ahmadinejad’s re-election campaign, as three other contenders have been approved by Iran’s electoral council.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini had to cancel at the very last minute a trip to Tehran when he found out that Iranian authorities had organised his meeting with reformist ex-president Mohammed Khatami in Semnan, where the missile was tested, not in the capital as initially agreed.

Iran made the venue switch from Tehran to the Semnan missile site a condition for the visit, the Italian foreign ministry said.

Mr Frattini’s visit would have given Mr Ahmadinejad an electoral boost, as it would have been most senior visit from a European country since he came to power four years ago.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, visited Iran a year ago but EU governments said they would avoid individual visits because of Tehran’s refusal to halt its nuclear programme.

Mr Frattini intended to ask Tehran to send a high-level delegation to an international conference in Italy next month on stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan, diplomatic sources told Italian news agency Ansa.

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

Iran: Frattini ‘Avoided Trap’

Launch site meet would have been humiliating, Resistance says

(ANSA) — Rome, May 20 — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini avoided a diplomatic trap by cancelling Wednesday’s scheduled trip to Iran because a key meeting venue was switched to the country’s top missile launch site, the Iranian Resistance in Italy claimed.

“(Frattini) dodged at the last minute a trap that would have humiliated Italy,” said Mahmoud Hakamian of the National Council of Iranian Resistance in Italy.

Hakamian claimed the alleged trap, which would have “forced (Frattini) to take part in the anti-Israel missile test celebrations,” showed “the arrogance of power that has spun out of control”.

He said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who wanted to greet Frattini at the Semnan site near the Afghan border hours after the successful testing of a new missile, was “a ruthless dictator who has now shown his true face to the Italian people”.

“He wants war, first with Israel and then with the West,” the Resistance spokesman said.

Hakamian also claimed he had heard from unidentified sources in Tehran that Iran would have a nuclear bomb “within three years”.

Frattini’s decision to cancel the visit was hailed by a member of his People of Freedom party, Benedetto Della Vedova, as “showing Italy’s opposition to (Ahmadinejad’s) aggressive and provocative policy”.

The small opposition Radical Party also praised the decision and said Iran posed a threat “not only to world peace and security but also, for decades, to its own people”.

Mario Barbi of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, said: “the reasons voiced by the foreign ministry for the sudden cancellation of the foreign minister’s long-awaited visit to Tehran are not very convincing”.

“We expect Frattini to explain what happened, above all with reference to the agenda of meetings, and conferring about the mission with (our) allies,” he said.

Barbi voiced the hope that the incident would not jeopardise Iran’s participation at a Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy in June on stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iran: Tick, Tick, Tick

Yet another iteration of the negotiations track that has yielded nothing.

Who said “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable and we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening”? It wasn’t Benjamin Netanyahu. No, Pres. Barack Obama said that at his first press conference after winning the 2008 election.

The clock is ticking ominously on that front. “We feel a sense of urgency,” an Israeli spokesman said as Prime Minister Netanyahu prepared for his first meeting with Obama since both were elected. All Israelis feel that sense of urgency because they have watched, frustrated, as the Bush administration signed on to a lengthy series of negotiations with Iran headed by the Europeans. With U.S. approval, the Europeans offered a smorgasbord of incentives for Iran to give up its nuclear program. They were met with meetings and more meetings. Iran agreed to nothing except more meetings in an attempt to run out the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italy Hails Turkey’s Presence at Eurogendfor

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MAY 14 — Italy has praised Turkey’s presence in the European Gendarmerie Force (EUROGENDFOR/EGF), an initiative comprising six European Union member states: France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain, while applauding Turkey’s role in strengthening European security. In a written statement, the Italian Embassy in Ankara expressed pleasure over the fact that Turkey for the first time participated in an executive committee meeting of the EGF which was held in Paris yesterday. “Italy has always pointed out the importance of having Turkey included in the EGF. The aforementioned development is once more proving the importance of the role played by Turkey in strengthening the European security system,” the statement said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Honour Killings Issue at Pace Conference in Istanbul

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MAY 13 — Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) will discuss the issue of “honour killings” during a meeting to be held in Istanbul tomorrow, Anatolia news agency reports. During the meeting, a report prepared on the issue by British parliamentarian, John Austin, will be discussed in a detailed way. Another report on “sexual violence against women”, prepared by Belgian parliamentarian, Miet Smet, will be on the agenda of the gathering as well. PACE’s Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men will hold another meeting on “violence against women” on Friday with the participation of Turkish State Minister, Selma Aliye Kavaf. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Russia: Medvedev Creates History Commission

MOSCOW-President Dmitry Medvedev has created a special commission to counter what he says are increasingly aggressive attempts to rewrite history to Russia’s disadvantage. Supporters said the commission is needed to tackle anti-Russian propaganda in the former Soviet Union, an area Moscow regards as its backyard, but liberal historians called the initiative a return to Soviet-era controls.

In a signal that the Kremlin is continuing its assertive foreign policy despite Russia’s weakening economy, Mr. Medvedev, in a decree made public Tuesday, ordered the commission to investigate and counter falsified versions of history that damage Russia’s “international prestige.”

Mr. Medvedev empowered the commission-comprising senior military, government and intelligence officials-to launch inquiries, unearth historical documents, and call government and expert witnesses, as well as formulate possible policy responses for the president to consider.

The ruling United Russia party also has proposed a draft law that would mandate jail terms of three to five years for anyone in the former Soviet Union convicted of rehabilitating Nazism. Analysts say they expect it to become law, though it will only be enforceable in Russia.

First under Mr. Putin, who is now prime minister, and now under Mr. Medvedev, the Kremlin has sought to boost patriotic sentiment and its own popularity by tapping nostalgia for Soviet wartime achievements.

But while the Kremlin encourages Russians to celebrate the Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazism, politicians in several former Soviet republics denounce the Red Army as occupiers who brought their countries decades of totalitarianism.

Russia in turn has accused those countries, including Estonia and Latvia, of rehabilitating Nazism, highlighting, for example, that some Estonians and Latvians fought alongside the Nazis.

In Ukraine, attempts to classify a Stalin-era famine as ethnically targeted genocide have angered Russia. The Kremlin says ethnic Russians too died of hunger during the same period in other parts of the U.S.S.R., and that the Ukrainian initiative is a ploy to stir anti-Russian sentiment.

Polish attempts to delve into a massacre of Polish officers at the hands of Soviet secret police during World War II have also rankled. Russian authorities have refused to disclose information about the killings from their archives or to initiate a new investigation.

Estonia’s decision to relocate a monument to the Red Army away from the center of its capital, Tallinn, is another source of tension. The Kremlin also has accused Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia of honoring those who fought alongside the Nazis by allowing them to hold public commemorations.

Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker and member of the new commission, said the new body wouldn’t throw people in jail or blacklist historians whose analyses it disagrees with. Its priority, he said, was to challenge what he said were distorted interpretations of the Soviet Union’s role in World War II. “There’s an information war going on,” he said. “This is about defining who the Russians were historically.”

The new commission will ensure the Russian view prevails, said Mr. Markov.

He said grants would be given to pro-Russian historians in other countries to ensure their voices were heard. “We have to choose which history textbooks are telling the truth and which are lying,” he said.

Inside Russia, the Kremlin has already mandated certain textbooks for all Russian schoolchildren. Critics say the new books go easy on Stalin and justify Mr. Putin’s political model of “sovereign democracy.”

Liberal historians said the commission initiative undermines Kremlin claims that Mr. Medvedev is less hard-line than his predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

“One year ago Mr. Medvedev said he preferred freedom to non-freedom,” said Alexander Cherkasov of human-rights group Memorial. “Initiatives of this sort have never led to greater freedom.” Mr. Cherkasov compared the commission to Soviet-era bodies that had tried to establish a monopoly on various scientific and ideological truths.

Earlier this month, shortly before Russia marked the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany with a military parade on Red Square, Mr. Medvedev said attempts to falsify history had become intolerable.

“Such attempts are becoming more hostile, more evil, and more aggressive,” he said in his online video blog. “We must fight for the historical truth.”

Historian and author Orlando Figes, a professor at the University of London, says the new commission is part of a clampdown on historical scholarship.

“They’re idiots if they think they can change the discussion of Soviet history internationally,” Prof. Figes said. “But they can make it hard for Russian historians to teach and publish. It’s like we’re back to the old days.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Russia Threatens to Bar Europeans Who Deny Red Army ‘Liberated’ Them

Eastern Europeans who believe their countries were occupied by the Soviet Union after the Second World War could soon be barred from Russia under new proposals given official weight by the Kremlin.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, created a commission of 28 legislators and senior intelligence officers which will identify foreign “revisionists” who “disparage the international prestige of the Russian Federation”.

The move, condemned as “Orwellian” by its critics, comes shortly before the Russian parliament is expected to pass controversial legislation outlawing the “rehabilitation of Nazism”.

The bill has attracted criticism because of its definition of Nazi rehabilitation, with those who “belittle” the Soviet Union’s role in the war or criticise it in any way being regarded as equally culpable as those who glorify Hitler.

Those found to contravene the new law, which Russia insists is little different from Germany’s Holocaust-denial legislation, face up to five years in prison.

Foreign countries whose officials who the commission rules to be guilty of the new crimes will face sanction as well. The bill gives Russia the authority to expel ambassadors or sever diplomatic relations with offending nations and to impose full transport and communications blockades on them.

The legislation is thought to be primarily aimed at states like Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which maintain they were occupied rather than liberated by the Soviet Union. Sergei Shoigu, a senior cabinet minister who initiated the legislation, has already said it could be used to ban senior Estonian officials.

A Russian MP yesterday said that the Baltic states deserved “to suffer punishment” for holding such views.

The new law could also be used to bar Western historians who accuse the Red Army of carrying out atrocities during its advance on Berlin or point out that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were once allies under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Seen as a way of teaching recalcitrant former Soviet states respect, the legislation has won almost universal backing in the Russian parliament.

But opposition politicians, who have no representation in parliament, have attacked the bill, saying it effectively reintroduces state ideology for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

“The creation of this commission allows the state to impose its own idea of political will and ideology,” said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former Duma deputy who was forced out of parliament in 2007 by a law banning independent MPs.

“The former KGB will once again decide what is anti-Soviet and what is not.”

Mr Ryzhkov said that the new legislation was also part of a continuing rehabilitation of Stalin as it will effectively outlaw criticism of many of the former Soviet dictator’s policies.

An officially sanctioned history text book, introduced into schools two years ago, presented Stalin as a great leader while glossing over his repression of millions of Soviet citizens.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


The Kremlin’s Chechen Franchise

By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC News, Grozny

Grozny. It is not a name that conjures up thoughts of anything good. In Russian the word means “terrible”. And for most of the last 15 years that is what life there has been.

So what I am about to say may come as a bit of a surprise.

Grozny is no longer terrible. It is not war-torn, it is not shattered, it is not even mildly depressing. Today Grozny is, on the surface, one of the most pleasant provincial cities in Russia.

The transformation from “most destroyed city on earth” to a city of tree-lined avenues, well groomed parks and pearly white apartment buildings, is nothing short of astonishing.

And then there is the new mosque. It dominates the city centre, a huge marble pile, with a soaring minaret at each corner. It is an almost exact copy of the great Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and can fit 10,000 worshippers.

So what does all this show? Have Chechens really laid down their arms and accepted Russian sovereignty?

Well no, not quite.

Kremlin franchise

Standing across the road from the great mosque last week, I watched the following peculiar spectacle.

On top of a reviewing stand, a corpulent Russian general stood shoulder to shoulder with a former Chechen rebel.

The two of them watched proudly as hundreds of former rebel fighters marched past in crisp Russian uniforms, carrying shiny Russian assault rifles.

Moscow has effectively franchised its war in Chechnya.

The former rebel is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. The former fighters, his private army.

Ramzan Kadyrov is just 32 years old. He has the physique of a wrestler and a reputation for violence.

Moscow’s policy in Chechnya revolves around this young man. It supplies him with lots of money and Mr Kadyrov makes sure Chechnya is no longer a “problem” for Moscow.

Both sides are getting most of what they want. Moscow gets to keep Chechnya inside the Russian Federation. Mr Kadyrov gets bankrolled by the Kremlin and runs Chechnya as a personal fiefdom.

The result for ordinary Chechens is less certain. Most are simply relieved the war is over.

Dirty war

But apart from the construction industry, the Chechen economy is still in ruins.

Unemployment runs at 75% and the only skill most young Chechen men have is how to shoot a gun. We found labourers from Azerbaijan working on construction sites in Grozny. The waiter in our hotel restaurant was from Tajikistan. This is not a recipe for success.

And then there is the dirty war.

You will search long and hard in Grozny to find anyone with a bad word to say against Ramzan Kadyrov. Much of the regard for him is genuine. The attitude of many of the Chechens I spoke to is “he may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard”.

But there is also no doubt that people fear Mr Kadyrov.

The militias he controls have a well-deserved reputation for brutality. Human rights workers in Grozny told me the militias’ main method of fighting the remnants of the Islamic insurgency is to abduct suspects and torture them until they confess.

In Grozny I met one family whose three sons were abducted from their home last December. The next day they were called to a police station to identify the bodies.

Two of the men had been shot, the other strangled. The family said the bodies had been dressed in combat fatigues to make them look like rebels.

We also discovered evidence that the Chechen government is retaliating against the families of rebels by burning their houses.

In a village in Vedeno district I was shown a house completely gutted by fire. Relatives told me how militiamen had come in the middle of the night, forced the family out of the house and then thrown in petrol bombs. The militiamen told them it was punishment for their son “going to the forest”.

Villagers laughed at the idea the burnings might discourage other young men from going to the forest to join the rebels. “It will just make the young men more angry,” they said.

The government in Grozny claims there are only a few hundred rebels still holding out in the mountains and that they are no longer any real threat to Moscow’s control.

But if the men in the Kremlin think they can now sleep easy, assured that Chechnya is secure, they may want to think about this.

In quiet conversations, the Chechen men told me they do not forgive Russia for what it has done to them, they hate the Russian military with a deep loathing, and above all there will be no forgiveness for Vladimir Putin, the man who ordered the assault that killed so many of their kin.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bastion of Indian Communism Crumbles

For decades it was a fortress for the Left, but now Indian voters have radically reshaped the politics of West Bengal. The BBC’s Subhir Bhaumik, in Calcutta, considers where it all went wrong for a once untouchable political force.

Anti-incumbency has finally caught up with the ruling Left coalition in the Indian state of West Bengal, which has been in power for 32 years.

On Saturday, the coalition could only manage to win 15 of the state’s 42 parliament seats.

The opposition alliance of Trinamul Congress and Congress swept the thickly-populated state, where the Leftists had pioneered land reforms and institutionalised local self-government to build up what appeared, until not so long ago, an unbeatable political support base with the rural poor at its core.

The fiercely anti-Left Trinamuls won 19, the Congress won five and a smaller socialist ally won one seat.

Early signals

Many, like political analyst Ranabir Sammadar of the Calcutta Research Group, had seen this coming.

“The signs of erosion in the Left support base was becoming evident over the last three years. First, there was widespread rioting against the public distribution shops manned by Leftist cronies throughout rural Bengal,” he said.

“Then there was the huge unrest against the Left’s efforts to take over fertile croplands for setting up industry. Finally, when the Left lost nearly 30% of seats in last year’s village council elections, it was clear that the slide had started.”

But analysts are stunned by the speed with which this happened.

“Only three years ago, the Left won a resounding victory in the state assembly polls and looked unbeatable,” says Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri, Bengal’s leading psephologist.

“And now they have lost more than 53% of their parliament seats. Though detailed statistics are not available, a four-to-five per cent swing would be needed to make this [happen].”

Mr Chaudhuri says the Left failed to retain its support base among the rural poor who felt threatened by the government’s cropland takeover plans , while it failed to gain support from the urban voters for its plans to rapidly industrialise the state.

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

India: Elections in Kerala: Collapse of the Marxists

Congress wins in a stronghold of the left. Fr. Paul Thelakat, spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church: it’s a vote against those seeking to divide society along class lines. Bjp and Marxists represent the same fundamentalist ideology “contrary to a secular democracy”.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — The two communist strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal have collapsed. Both states are governed by left wing parties, but have registered a strong preference for Congress.

In Kerala the Communist Marxist Party (Cmp) passes from its triumph off five years ago to total defeat. In 2004, led by the Left Democratic Front (Lft), the Marxist party had won 19 of 20 available seats, today it has been left with four. The fragmentation of the LFT has had a devastating effect on the result of the vote as well as the contradictory stance of CMP leaders. The collapse of the Marxists appears all the more significant in relation to the fact that in 2006 it had won the State Assembly beating the local alliance of United Democratic Front (Udf) led by Congress.

Kerala has the largest Christians community, even thug a minority in respect to the total population, almost 20% out of a total 31 million. Fr. Paul Thelakat, director of the newspaper Satyadeepam, and spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church says the vote is a rejection of CPM politics.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr. Thelakat says they are also paying for their opposition to the Church, deemed “too confrontational”. The priest explains that not only do CPM leaders object to the self-financed education programs operated by the Church, “but also in areas of religion where the leaders began to use abusive language and to tarnish Church’s reputation wherever they got a chance to do it.”.

Fr. Thelakat confirms that the State is influenced by strong ideological currents that aim to divide the people. On the one hand are the Marxists who “have been trying to divide the people in the name of class, rich and the poor with a class war based on economic divide. This class war separating the rich and the poor with religion always at the side of rich and branded as opium of the people “. On the other the Hindu nationalists of the Bjp who “divide people on the line of religion and caste”.

For Fr. Thelakat “Both sides represent some sort of fundamentalists and are as Karl Popper called them enemies of an open society”. (NC)

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

Pakistan: EU Aproves 5.5 Million Euros of Aid for Northwest

Brussels, 14 May (AKI) — The European Commission has approved 5.5 million euros of emergency aid for over half a million people displaced by ongoing fighting between security forces and militants in the troubled Swat valley and in neighbouring areas of North West Frontier Province.

The European Commission said it feared the numbers of homeless people fleeing the conflict could increase in the next few days.

“As a result of the intensified fighting in Swat and other parts of the country, Pakistan is facing not only a security threat but also a humanitarian threat,” the EU’s humanitarian aid commissioner Louis Michel said in a statement.

“Hundreds of thousands of civilians are fleeing the combat zones and they need urgent assistance. Pakistani authorities are doing their utmost but their relief capacities are now overstretched.

If necessary, the European Commission is ready to increase its assistance from 5.5 million euros, Michel said.

The funds will mainly be directed towards basic humanitarian needs such as shelter, food, domestic items such as clothes and cooking equipment and medical support, the statement added.

In some areas hit by the conflict, the EU said it will also help to provide clean drinking water and sanitation.

The Pakistani military said up to 15,000 troops are fighting an estimated 4,000 well-armed militants in the region who are seeking to implement Islamic law there under a February accord with the NWFP government.

The government estimates more than 750 militants and 33 troops have been killed in its operations in Lower Dir, Buner and Swat. There is no independent confirmation of the figures and no word on civilian casualties.

The Red Cross is working closely with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to provide shelter, food, water, sanitation and health care for displaced people in the Malakand and Swabi districts of NWFP.

The Red Cross said it had entered NWFP’s Buner district and delivered medicines and surgical materials to the main hospital there. It is also assisting people left behind in Swat and Lower Dir districts.

The World Health Organization warned that the displaced faced serious risks of disease outbreaks and malnutrition.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said on Thursday Pakistan needed massive international help for the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting in the Swat valley and surrounding area to avert a tragedy.

The United States has donated 4.9 million dollars for basic supplies such as tents, blankets and cooking kits while Britain had donated 10 million pounds (15.2 million dollars).

Pakistan’s prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has announced the government would soon organise a conference of aid donors to raise funds.

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

Singapore: Review of Censorship

SINGAPORE will reconvene a committee this year to review its censorship of media and the arts. The move is aimed at giving citizens more choices without compromising social fundamentals. This independent Censorship Review Committee (CRC) will study content regulations in broadcast media, films, videos, publications, audio materials, the arts and new media to see if they need updating.

The last time such a review took place was in 2003, said the Ministry Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) in a statement on Thursday, elaborating on its addendum to the President’s address in Parliament on Monday.

Previous CRC reviews were held every 10 years.

This time, the committee will be reconvened earlier to help Mica and the Media Development Authority keep pace with the rapidly-changing media environment and societal changes.

Issues that have been raised by industry players include fine-tuning of film and video classifications, video distribution and rules on entertainment and lifestyle publications.

The CRC will also look at what the convergence of multiple media platforms means for content regulations.

Its chairman and members will be announced soon.

Mica has also said it will continue to invest in the arts and creative industries despite the economic downturn.

It plans to open a new library in Clementi and relocate the Orchard library to the new Specialist Shopping Centre. The old library at Orchard moved out of Ngee Ann City in end-2007.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sri Lanka: Peace Through Force in Sri Lanka

If the international community had gotten its way, the war in Sri Lanka would now be in abeyance. A ceasefire would have been declared, the shooting might have stopped and the beginnings of a humanitarian rescue operation would have been put in place to deal with the refugees created by the fighting.

Instead, the Sri Lankan government ignored pressure to halt its offensive, standing by its decision to end the rebellion launched more than 30 years ago by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE).

It appears to have accomplished that task. With the death of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, the driving force behind the calamitous civil war has been eliminated and the fighting abilities of the Tiger army decimated. The Tigers no longer control any territory and the bulk of their leadership has been captured, killed or neutralized.

Tragic though the humanitarian consequences of Colombo’s policy have been, the chances for peace appear better now than they would have under a ceasefire. While much work remains if the government’s military victory is to lead to reconciliation between Sri Lanka’s Tamils and the majority Sinhalese, at least now the way is clear to attempt it.

Although Tamils in Canada and many other countries maintain that the LTTE was founded to protect their rights and oppose the oppression and inequality they suffered at the hands of the Sinhalese-dominated government, the Tigers regularly set new standards for brutality. The group killed opponents, assaulted critics and was recognized as a terrorist organization in more than 30 countries. As the Sri Lankan army closed in on them, the Tigers used their own people as human shields to ward off the inevitable.

Prabhakaran was not interested in a negotiated peace. Numerous high-level attempts at compromise had been made, but all fell apart. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s vow to finish off the Tiger army came only after peace talks had failed and it became evident the Tigers would not quit fighting until they had either achieved their goal of an independent Tamil homeland or been comprehensively defeated on the battlefield.

That conclusion was no doubt behind Mr. Rajapaksa’s refusal to be pressured into a ceasefire, despite international revulsion at the tactics employed by both sides. The consequence of that determination has been a nightmare for tens of thousands of civilians forced to flee their homes for an uncertain future in refugee camps. Nonetheless, perhaps another truce would only have delayed the inevitable, and extended the suffering by allowing the Tigers a chance to re-arm.

It is imperative now that the Sri Lankan government follow through on its victory with a campaign of reconciliation. The sense of inequality that gave strength to the terrorists remains and could give rise to further violence if not extinguished. That can only be prevented by recognizing the validity of Tamil grievances and working assiduously to eradicate those grievances.

Thousands of Sri Lankans of all stripes have given their lives, not to bring about a victory of arms, but to achieve peace through equality. Bringing that about would allow the government in Colombo to legitimately claim the title of peacemaker.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Far East

8 Rebels Killed in Philippines

MANILA — AT LEAST eight communist insurgents were killed in fighting with government troops in the southern Philippines on Thursday, the military said. Troops raided a small camp of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels near the town of Rosario in Agusan del Sur province, triggering heavy clashes that led to the casualties, said Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Godfrey Gammad, the local army commander.

‘At least eight were killed. There are no casualties on the government side,’ Lt-Col Gammad said.

‘Fighting is still ongoing,’ he said. He added that troops also captured automatic rifles and documents left by the fleeing rebels.

The NPA is the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been carrying out a Maoist rebellion since 1969. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Japan: Obama Supporter Nominated as Envoy to Japan

John Roos, a lawyer without diplomatic experience, has been nominated as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. The campaign supporter of U.S. President Barack Obama was picked over Joseph Nye, a Harvard University professor who was believed the likelier candidate.

A graduate of Stanford University Law School, Roos has chiefly handled mergers and acquisitions of IT businesses in Silicon Valley. He still is the head of a law firm and has no political or diplomatic experience. Nor does he seem to have any previous relationship with Japan, the Asahi Shimbun reports.

But Roos has had a close relationship with Obama since he threw a fund-raising party at his home in February 2007 before Obama joined the Democratic Party’s presidential race. The New York Times last August called him one of the biggest fundraisers for the Obama camp.

Tokyo had welcomed rumors of Nye’s appointment as a token that the Obama administration values ties with Japan but has made no comment on news of Roos’ nomination.

Earlier, Obama nominated Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (49), a China expert seen as one of the Republican Party’s next presidential hopefuls, as the next ambassador to China. “Given the breadth of issues at stake in our relationship with China, this ambassadorship is as important as any in the world,” Obama said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Nightmare for Business

AN alarming realisation is firming in the minds of close observers of the Rudd Government. Increasing signs suggest that this is not a Hawke-Keating style of Labor government: careful, consultative and sensibly managerialist. Instead, what is emerging is the Whitlam model that relishes revolutionary changes and grand gestures, wreaking vast upheavals in the name of ideology or class war without sufficient thought or care for the consequences.

Just about every week, we see more of this style from the Rudd Government. Its $43 billion national broadband proposal was uncovered to great fanfare, but with no business case or indeed any prior feasibility analysis. Then came laws touted as instilling a responsible lending revolution but which will dry up the flow of credit when the Government is desperately trying to stimulate the economy.

More ill-conceived policy emerged last week when the Rudd Government proposed a taxation regime for employee share schemes that betrayed a deep ignorance of the way these schemes work. The new measure has already led companies to suspend their schemes and unless changed will ultimately kill share schemes stone dead, not wring tax from them.

Possibly worst of all is a little-noticed, but revolutionary, measure sneaked out by Chris Bowen, the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, in the pre-budget week and given an 11-day period for consultation.

The new national unfair contract terms legislation will, at a stroke of the legislative pen, render the vast majority of Australian contracts uncertain. Uniformity is a fine idea except when it means uniformly bad laws. Overnight no business or consumer will know whether the contracts they have entered, or seek to enter, will be enforceable. Any term — apart from the price and main subject matter of the contract — in a standard contract may be declared void by a judge who thinks it unfair.

The certainty of contract so fundamental to Western commerce — and prosperity — will no longer apply in Australia. We will substitute rule by judges for the rule of law, at least in contracts. No standard contract, though freely entered into by willing parties, is final. If one party decides the contract no longer suits him, he can take it to a court and roll the dice to see if a judge will back him out of that contract.

Not content to follow the Victorian model enacted in 2003, which only covers consumer contracts, Bowen’s draft is far more Whitlamesque in its sweep. Bowen’s draft applies to all standard-form contracts between any parties of any kind. The legislation would be problematic even if it only applied to contracts entered into by consumers. However, applying the new laws to all standard-form contracts between businesses is radical lunacy of a kind that even Gough would worry about.

Every contract is presumed to be a standard contract unless the party who wants to enforce it can prove otherwise. And any inequality of bargaining power or evidence the contract was presented on a “take it or leave it” basis — as so many contracts are — will invariably allow a court to treat it as a standard contract, open to potential judicial interference.

A judge can strike down any term in a standard contract apart from the “upfront price” or the main subject matter of the contract. That leaves nearly all contractual terms open to uncertainty. It means that when a person signs a contract with an Australian party, they effectively sign up to whatever an unknown judge at an unknown future time decides the contract should be.

Standard contracts are the lifeblood of businesses, small and large. These businesses use standard forms so they can have uniform, predictable risk allocation and thereby price their offerings sensibly. They save time in negotiations and make it easier to train staff. They promote efficiency and reduce prices to consumers. Whole industries standardise their contracts so consumers are offered a common product and can easily do comparisons.

It is obvious Bowen sorely lacks any kind of experience in, or appreciation of, business and does not understand how business is conducted. Clearly he does not understand the stifling and costly consequences of his proposed laws. His demonisation of standard contracts betrays his ignorance.

Indeed, Bowen ought to get out more and see how litigants will use laws like these. Borrowers (even large corporate borrowers) will now routinely be able to defer or avoid repayments of their loans by complaining about terms in a loan contract. It will become standard for anyone who does not like how a contract has turned out, or who has financial problems, to buy time or seek “go away” money instead of honouring their contract.

The international consequences don’t bear thinking about either. Microsoft, Dell and all other foreign providers of services in Australia will be told that their Australian lawyers can no longer give the usual opinion that their contracts are enforceable in accordance with their terms. Standard-form global agreements in the financial services sector — such as foreign exchange, swap and derivative agreements — are now only as good as the judge who hears your case.

Foreigners will learn fast about “maverick judge” risk in Australia. And more likely they will ask, why should we subject our standard terms of trade to the whims of some hometown judge if our Australian counterparty gets into trouble and wants to renege on its contract? Australia may well become an international contractual pariah. Regrettably, the legal profession — normally so vocal on matters legal — is silent on this issue. No surprise. These laws may be disastrous for Australia but they offer lawyers newfound riches.

What is almost as troubling as this draft legislation and the legal profession’s silence is the process Minister Bowen has adopted. This draft legislation was slipped in before the budget with only 11 days for consultation. And Bowen’s previous attitude suggests he won’t be listening anyway. His insistence last week that he would stand by his employee share scheme tax changes — even after it was pointed out that it would kill off employee share ownership by requiring employees to pay tax on shares that may never vest — was stiff-necked and haughty. Likewise, his stubborn rejection of criticism on issues such as creeping acquisitions and the new cartel laws points to that most lethal cocktail of characteristics: equal parts of incompetence and arrogance.

Murmurs that some senior Labor ministers feel unable to rein in Bowen’s obvious blunders because he is Kevin Rudd’s protected golden-haired boy are even more troubling. One can only hope that wiser and more experienced Labor minds will give the inexperienced Labor pup a clip over the ear, if only for the sake of sanctity of contract in Australia.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

New Zealand: Victoria University Students Thrown Out for NZ Flag Burning Protest

Victoria University in Wellington has temporarily banned three students for burning an New Zealand flag on campus.

The students burnt the flag outside a campus bar on May 6 as part of an Anzac Day anti-war protest.

The university has disenrolled flag burners Joel Cosgrove and Alistair Reith, and Ian Anderson, who filmed the protest, until the end of the first trimester on June 7 on the grounds they breached health and safety standards.

It also issued a written warning to Marika Pratley, who was there at the time, and banned all four from the Mount Street bar.

“These students have shown a disregard for the safety of others and of university property,” dean of humanities and social sciences Professor Deborah Willis said.

The students had set the New Zealand flag alight using an accelerant without warning anyone around them or having any means to put out the fire.

The students said the 20-second flag burning happened outside in the rain and was not a danger to anyone.

They had been passing their courses and not being able to complete the trimester would cost them about $2000 in fees, Mr Reith told Radio New Zealand.

The students planned to boycott the ban and continue to attend classes.

Prof Willis said the university had a statutory duty to provide a safe environment for all its students and employees.

“We view these students’ conduct very seriously.”

The decision on penalty had been made after they failed to attend a disciplinary meeting to discuss their conduct, she said.

The students could appeal the decision and would be able to re-enrol for the second trimester starting on July 13.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

New Zealand: Police Picture of Siege Now Complete

Police recovered 127 spent cartridges scattered around the house and yard. They had been fired from every room.

A fear of prison and losing his house, with paranoid delusions that police were spying on him, drove Jan Molenaar to open fire on officers, the police investigation has found.

Police yesterday finished the scene examination of the bullet-ridden Chaucer Rd house where the 51-year-old killed himself after a 48-hour armed siege that left one policeman dead and two others and a civilian critically injured.

Detective Superintendent Rod Drew said no one else would be charged in relation to the attack and the picture of what had happened was now complete.

“The picture is one of a preconceived attack by the gunman alone.”

Molenaar had been growing and dealing cannabis for more than 10 years, Mr Drew said.

“When the cannabis cultivation and dealing were discovered by the police officers that morning, he feared confiscation of his house and imprisonment.

“He therefore determined to ‘go out fighting’ rather than permit that possibility.”

It appeared this and his erroneous belief that police had been spying on him had created a situation in his mind that did not exist and led to the sudden and unprovoked attack, Mr Drew said.

There was no evidence anyone else was involved, but people had known Molenaar had illegal firearms and he had discussed with friends what he would do if police caught him.

“Tragically, they did not pass that information on. If they had, perhaps this tragedy might have been avoided.”

None of these people was criminally liable, Mr Drew said.

Police found 127 spent cartridges scattered around the Chaucer Rd house and yard.

They had been fired from every room, but mostly from the entrance-way, lounge and the master bedroom where Molenaar had barricaded himself. He had knocked holes through the walls of the master bedroom so he could fire into other rooms from his stronghold, Mr Drew said.

Police also found about 2000 live rounds, 10 fully loaded spare magazines and improvised explosive devices.

Three of the weapons had been stolen in burglaries in Feilding, Napier and Taihape between 2003 and 2008 and police would continue to investigate the origins of the others, Mr Drew said.

Molenaar’s partner, Delwyn Keefe, 43, returned to the Chaucer Rd home on Wednesday.

She was upset when she arrived there about 2pm, and told media to get off the property, Hawke’s Bay Today reported. Friends and family supported her as she entered the house and they brought food, cleaning products and blankets.

A relative of Molenaar told the newspaper that tradespeople had offered to help restore the house and a friend of the couple had offered to paint the interior.

The family planned to conduct a cleansing ceremony. “It’s about getting back to reality, back to life and trying to deal with the pain,” the relative said.

The siege started on May 7 after police went to Molenaar’s house to serve a cannabis search warrant.

Molenaar shot and killed Senior Constable Len Snee and injured Senior Constables Grant Diver and Bruce Miller.

He also shot Leonard Holmwood, a friend and neighbour.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


70% of Britons Want Big Cuts in the Rate of Immigration

Seven out of ten adults want a massive cut in immigration, a poll has revealed.

The YouGov survey found that just one person in 20 supports the current record levels, which have boosted Britain’s population by 300,000 a year over the past five years.

The findings suggest immigration could become a significant election issue and sparked warnings that voters could turn to extremist parties if mainstream politicians fail to acknowledge their concerns.

The poll, commissioned by MigrationWatch for the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration, was published on the eve of the release of immigration figures today.

It found that 79 per cent of people were concerned or very concerned about immigration. Seventy per cent of the 2,072 respondents favoured cutting levels by 80 per cent or more.

Of those, 17 per cent said net immigration should be brought below 50,000 a year — a level last seen in the early 1990s.

Another 39 per cent favoured a policy of zero net immigration, with the numbers settling in the UK matching the numbers emigrating. Sixteen per cent said the number of immigrants should be lower than those leaving.

Just over half of more affluent voters — ABC1s — wanted either zero or negative net immigration, while 63 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds favoured a figure below 50,000.

Home Office ministers say their new points-based immigration system represents a tough crackdown.

But critics say it will have little effect, especially as Britain has no control over the numbers arriving from EU states, including eastern Europe.

[Return to headlines]

Britain’s Biggest Immigration Wave Ends

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Great comments at the bottom of this article.]

The biggest wave of immigration in British history appears to be at an end, according to official figures published yesterday.

Since 2004 almost a million eastern Europeans have arrived in the country since Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU.

But the latest figures show that the number of migrants returning home to eastern Europe almost doubled last year. At the same time, the number of east Europeans registering for work in the UK continued to fall with the recession and lack of jobs taking hold.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics confirm a trend that became evident almost 12 months ago as a result of other EU states easing restrictions on migrants right to work.

The number of east European migrants given the right to work under the official government registration scheme fell to 133,000 in the year to the end of March — a 36 per cent drop on the year ending in March 2008.

Long term emigration from the country also increased last year. Provisional figures on people emigrating for more than a year show that the number of non-UK citizens leaving the country increased by 30 per cent in the year to the end of September 2008. Overall net immigration was down to 147,000 — down from highs of over 200,000 in 2005.

The figures also show a jump in asylum applications which rose by 27 per cent in the first three months of the year to 8,380 compared with the same period in 2008.

The Government is also still struggling to increase the removals of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers from the country.

In the first quarter of this year the number removed or leaving voluntarily was six per cent fewer than in the same period last year. There was also a fall of seven per cent in the number of failed asylum seekers removed from the country.

A spokesman for the Institure for Public Policy Research said: “After years of rising net migration into the UK, the trend is going into reverse.

“It’s striking that the great influx of Eastern Europeans of the last five years is tailing off dramatically.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Denmark: PM: No Change to Iraqi Asylum Agreement

Prime Minister Rasmussen has said now that a repatriation agreement is in place with rejected Iraqi asylum seekers will be sent home

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has addressed the issue of the Iraqi refugees denied asylum who are currently holed up in a Copenhagen church as they face forced repatriation to Iraq.

Following the announcement by church authorities that they would allow the 50 or so Iraqis to stay in Brorsons Church in the Nørrebro district until at least August, the prime minister waded into the ongoing debate.

‘The authorities will respond to the rejected asylum seekers in exactly the same way as if they were somewhere other than in a church,’ said Rasmussen during his weekly press conference yesterday. Rasmussen said that as a result of the repatriation agreement reached with the Iraqi government, the way has been cleared to send home 282 failed asylum applicants, whose cases have been settled by the Refugee Appeals Board.

Birthe Rønn Hornbech, the immigration minister, continued to remain firm on the issue and said yesterday that the police can go into the church if necessary to remove the Iraqis, but she hoped it would not come to that.

Chief Superintendent Per Larsen of the Copenhagen Police told public broadcaster DR that they were not thrilled or used to the idea of having to carry out policing within a church, but would do so if they had to.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Finland to Start Repatriating Iraqi Asylum Seekers

All but four provinces in Iraq considered safe

Finland is planning to start sending Iraqi asylum seekers back to their home country. According to the Finnish Immigration Service, the security situation in Iraq has improved significantly.

Last year 1,255 Iraqis sought asylum in Finland, which is more than from any other country. With very few exceptions, Finland has not expelled Iraqis.

Iraqis in exile have started going back home. The Finnish Immigration Service notes that acts of terror by the Iraqi al-Qaeda and other extremist groups can no longer be seen to pose a threat to the government, and that the capabilities of the country’s security forces are growing stronger all the time.

Under the new policy put in place by the Immigration Service, those from the south of Iraq and the capital Baghdad are no longer seen to be in need of special protection simply by virtue of their area of origin. Their asylum requests will be rejected, and they will be sent back to Iraq, unless they can demonstrate some other grounds for a residence permit.

The security situation of the autonomous Kurdish area in the north of Iraq has remained stable, and asylum seekers from there can also be sent back, under the new Finnish policy.

However, the situation in four provinces of Central Iraq, Nineve, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk, and Dijala remains unstable, preventing a secure return home for asylum seekers from those areas.

The Immigration Service is continuing to grant residence permits to asylum seekers from those areas, according to instructions from the UNHCR.

The Immigration Service plans to use a language analysis on asylum seekers claiming to be from the four provinces as a way to help determine if these provinces really are their place of origin.

So far this year nearly 700 asylum seekers have arrived in Finland from Iraq.

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

Italy: Immigrants — Rotondi: Government is Acting Responsibly

(AGI) — Rome, 11 May. — “This government aims to increase security and create a new immigration policy, taking a consistent and responsible approach,” said a statement by Gianfranco Rotondi, the Minister for Government Policy, “To Europe,” he added, “We want to say that solidarity means allowing those who really need to be here and those who have the right to be here into Italy, rather than adding to the ranks of the criminal organisations and increasing the number of poor people.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

New Zealand: Kiwi ‘Buddies’ for Asian Migrants

Auckland City Council will be getting into social networking when it launches a pilot project tomorrow to “buddy up” Chinese-speaking immigrants with Kiwis living in the central city area.

The project, Come Over to Our Place, aims to overcome shyness and the fear of the unknown — identified as barriers that are preventing people from meeting those from different cultural backgrounds in a study by the Office of Ethnic Affairs.

“New migrants often have good connections with their own ethnic or cultural communities, but it can be challenging to create these within the broader community,” said Nandita Mathur, the city council’s community services manager.

“There are often cultural and linguistic barriers for many New Zealanders both from migrant communities and more established groups who want to mix socially with people from different cultural backgrounds.

“Successful settlement into New Zealand society is a two-way process with benefits for both migrant communities and for those who already live here,” Mrs Mathur said.

According to the 2006 Census, 24.4 per cent of people living in Auckland City are Asian and 9.8 per cent speak Chinese.

Chinese are the largest Asian ethnic group with 98,390 people identifying themselves as belonging, and the combined total of speakers of Chinese languages makes it the most common language spoken after English.

The project will pair people up for a range of social activities, such as Chinese cooking classes and creative sessions at Artstation.

Participants will spend about three hours every week with their buddy learning about each other’s culture for a seven-week period.

“Many people living in large cities experience a sense of isolation and marginalisation,” Mrs Mathur said. “This experience can be acute for migrants. This project aims to provide an accessible way for the everyday person to extend the hand of friendship and enjoy the many gifts that come with cross-cultural sharing.”

Participants will share their experiences through photographs, pictures and, possibly, each other’s languages at the end of the project.

An Asia New Zealand Foundation study last year found that the number of New Zealanders who had personal involvement with people from Asia was increasing, but those who had “hardly any” contact with Asians felt significantly cooler towards them.

The study, New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia, found almost six in 10 (58 per cent) said they had “a lot” or “a fair amount” of personal involvement with Asians, up from the 2007 result of 48 per cent.

Primary points of contact include shopping, business, friends, the neighbourhood or community and schools and education.

“Generally, results over time indicate that personal involvement with Asian people has been steadily increasing since 1998.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Bern Awaits More Tamil Refugees From Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has announced an end to its decades-long conflict, yet Swiss officials are expecting the number of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka to increase this year. The country has long been a destination for Tamil refugees and many of the Swiss Tamil community have relatives in the north of Sri Lanka. But concerns have been raised that people will not be able to flee.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared his country “liberated” from the Tamil Tigers on Tuesday, after a 26-year-long conflict between the government and the rebel group.

The announcement came one day after the military said that it had killed Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Around 70,000 people are thought to have died during the violence, which saw rebels fighting for an independent homeland in the north.

In a statement the Swiss government said that it welcomed the end of the armed conflict in northern Sri Lanka and called on the parties to engage in political dialogue.

It added the Sri Lankan government should allow humanitarian aid through to the population.

The conflict has already had an effect on asylum requests from Sri Lanka. Requests to Switzerland last year rose to 1,282, compared with 636 in 2007, according to the Federal Migration Office.

Spokesman Jonas Montani said that the trend should continue, but that the number of refugees was not “skyrocketing”.

Each application would be considered carefully. “We are not sending anybody back into a conflict zone,” he said.

A report by the Federal Police Office on Tuesday observed that a worsening of the conflicts in Sri Lanka, as well as Turkey and Iraq had increased the danger of extremist violence in Switzerland.

No peace yet For its part, the non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council said that although the violence had ended in Sri Lanka, peace was still far away. It said that more than 180,000 people had fled their homes in the north.

“Our main concern is that a kind of revenge could happen. Refugees are now in camps, which are more prisons than camps and they will be screened to look for Tamil Tiger officials,” the refugee council’s Rainer Mattern told

Most people are not able to leave the north. “But I think in other parts of Sri Lanka the search for Tamil Tigers will go on and I could imagine that people who are able to flee will leave and come to Switzerland and other countries,” he said.

The Refugee Council is calling on the Swiss authorities to wait with their decisions on new applicants and to stop forcible returns, while the situation is so severe and unclear. “People who are at risk should be protected,” Mattern said.

Tamil community concerns Among the Swiss Tamil community itself concern is running high.

“Tamils in Switzerland are worried about relatives living there, and already have relatives who have been killed,” community leader Anton Ponrajah told

Ponrajah, the administrative director of the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy in Lucerne, said that the situation in the north of Sri Lanka was “desperate”.

But he was sceptical about the Sri Lankan president’s speech in which he made overtures towards the Tamil minority for a peaceful future.

“We as Tamils living in Switzerland will never believe that this government will deliver any political package,” said Ponrajah.

Lathan Suntharalingam, a Lucerne local politician of Tamil origin, said he was disappointed that the international community had not intervened in a conflict in which the Geneva Conventions had been broken by both sides and so many civilians affected.

Requests for help He said that he had received a lot of phone calls from the Tamil community asking for help.

Tamils have been coming to Switzerland since 1970s. They are known to be hardworking and integrated into the labour market, but many have lowly jobs. There is still a strong community feeling.

Suntharalingam said that new Tamil refugees would probably be in a state of shock after losing their political voice with the death of the Tamil leader, whose group they felt had mostly represented them for a long time.

But he said that they would quickly adapt to life in Switzerland and on a political level, would look to the international community.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UAE: HRW, Thousands of Workers Exploited

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 19 — Thousands of foreign workers are victims of abuse in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reported the international organisation for the defence of human rights, Human Rights Watch, in a report issued today in Abu Dhabi. Beginning with the Saadiyat, an island just off of Abu Dhabi, case, which should soon become an international tourist destination and host, among other institutions, branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums, the HRW report , entitled “The island of happiness” from the name chosen by the government for the project, documents a series of abuses which were reportedly carried out at the expense of foreign workers. HRW highlighted that, even if in recent years the local government has acted to improve living conditions and ensure timely payment of salaries, exploiting workers remains commonplace. Problems include overly long shifts and extreme climactic conditions, low pay, excessive obligations to the employer, confiscation of passports, crowded housing and inadequate or inexistent health care. The international institutions that are planning to open establishments on the island should obtain soon, HWR advised, stronger guarantees on the respect of fundamental workers rights from the construction companies involved in their projects. “These international institutions must show that they will not tolerate the exploitation of the immigrant workforce and that they will not benefit from it”, Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, said. Among the various institutions contacted by HRW, the organisation reported, only the French institution (responsible for the opening of the Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre in 2013) acted to independently monitor the respect of workers who are employed on the projects’ rights. The government of Abu Dhabi hopes to transform the island of Saadiyat into an elite tourist destination with four museums and a theatre and dance centre designed by the world’s must famous architectural firms, as well as a New York University campus, golf courses and luxury homes and hotels. (ANSAmed).

2009-05-19 13:55

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Home Secretary Announces Gurkhas Can Stay in Britain

All Gurkha veterans who served in the British Army before 1997 will be allowed to settle in Britain, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said today.

The announcement was the culmination of a long and hard fought campaign by the veterans, which saw the Government suffer a major defeat in the Commons last month.

Joanna Lumley, the actress who has championed the cause of the Gurkha soldiers, paid tribute to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, who she said was a “brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave”.

She choked back tears as she spoke, adding: “A great injustice has been righted. The Gurkhas are coming home.”

She then joined hundreds of former Gurkhas and supporters in screaming their famous battle cry “Ayo Gurkhali”, meaning “the Gurkhas are coming”.

Earlier in the Commons, Ms Smith had announced changes which will allow retired servicemen with four years’ service to move to this country.

She said: “Generations of Gurkhas have served the United Kingdom with great courage, sacrifice and distinction and they continue to make a vital and valued contribution to our operations around the world.

“We respect the will of the House of Commons on this issue and that is why I have now announced a new policy, the basis of which we have worked on with the Home Affairs Select Committee and Gurkha representatives.

“This means we can now welcome any Gurkha who has served for four years or more to settle in the UK.”

The campaign stemmed from a decision in October 2004, when the UK decided that current serving Gurkha soldiers would have the right to stay in the UK after four years service in the Army. But the rule would not apply to veterans who served before July 1997 when their base moved from Hong Kong to Kent.

The Gurkhas demanded all retired soldiers be given equal treatment. They were furious that thousands who left the service before 1997 were refused settlement rights.

The Government’s new stance was praised by opponents.

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg, whose Commons motion led directly to the u-turn today, said: “I am absolutely thrilled that the Gurkhas have finally been given justice.

“This is a great victory for the Gurkhas and for everyone who has campaigned on their behalf.

“Gordon Brown has finally woken up to the principle that people across Britain understand instinctively: if someone is prepared to die for this country, they must be allowed to live in it.

“Tragically this decision will come too late for many of those brave Gurkhas who have been waiting so long to see justice done.

“Gordon Brown’s claim of a ‘moral compass’ rings hollow when, on every issue from Gurkhas to expenses, he has to be dragged every inch of the way towards doing the right thing.”

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: “This has been a great victory for Joanna Lumley and her well-run campaign that has publicly embarrassed Ministers and has reminded us all of the role that the Gurkhas have played in helping defend this country over the centuries.

“First and foremost this case was about basic decency. People from around the world have come to live in this country in the past decade.

“There was never a justification to deny that right to a group of people who have long lived in the nation’s affections, and who have risked and often given their lives for its protection.

“It is just a shame that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts and then through the crowds of Gurkhas outside parliament before it finally did the right thing.”

Campaigners for the veterans had already been celebrating after sources close to the Prime Minister signalled they would all be given the right to live in Britain.

Mr Brown previously told the House of Commons he had a “great deal of sympathy and support” for the Gurkhas, saying: “I believe it is possible for us to honour our commitment to the Gurkhas and to do so in a way that protects the public finances.”

The Government suffered a major defeat on the issue in the Commons last month after being accused of a “betrayal” after revised rules pronounced that, of the pre-1997 Gurkhas, only officers and those injured in battle or given medals will be allowed to stay.

Following the Commons drubbing, the Prime Minister agreed to meet Ms Lumley to discuss the issue.

She then cornered Immigration Minister Phil Woolas in a TV studio after a group of veterans were sent letters telling them their applications had been rejected.

Earlier this week, Home Office and Ministry of Defence officials met Gurkha groups at talks hosted by the Home Affairs Committee.

Afterwards the committee wrote to the Prime Minister asking for all Gurkhas to be given citizenship rights.

Labour MP Martin Salter, who sits on the committee and chaired a group of MPs calling for Gurkha rights, said: “This has been a long and brilliantly fought campaign both inside and outside parliament.

“It has encapsulated the British sense of fair play and forced the Government to look again at a policy that was blatantly discriminatory.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Sham Colleges Open Doors to Pakistani Terror Suspects

Thousands of young Pakistanis exploited a hole in Britain’s immigration defences to enrol as students at a network of sham colleges, The Times can reveal.

The gateway, opened by fraudsters who have earned millions from the scam, has allowed in hundreds of men from a region of Pakistan that is the militant heartland of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taleban.

Eight of the terror suspects arrested last month in Manchester and Liverpool were on the books of one college.It had three small classrooms and three teachers for the 1,797 students on its books. Another college claimed to have 150 students but secretly enrolled 1,178 and offered places to a further 1,575 overseas applicants, 906 of them in Pakistan.

The investigation has also revealed:

  • those running the scam charged at least £1,000 for admission places and fake diplomas. They created their own university to issue bogus degrees;
  • they also charged £2,500 for false attendance records, diplomas and degrees that were used to extend the students’ stay in Britain;
  • one wealthy associate, Mir Ahmad, linked to two murders in Pakistan, was arrested yesterday after The Times gave the Home Office a dossier implicating two of the colleges.

The Times has uncovered close ties between 11 colleges in London, Manchester and Bradford, all formed in the past five years and controlled by three young Pakistani businessmen.

Each of the three men entered the country on a student visa. One has fled to Pakistan after earning an estimated £6 million from the scam. Fayaz Ali Khan and another man are in the UK.

All but two of the ten students arrested last month over an alleged al-Qaeda bomb plot were enrolled over an 11-month period at Manchester College of Professional Studies. Two Liverpool universities admitted last night that they had given places to four of them, who had used a diploma from the college when they applied.

The massive fraud has fuelled a surge in student arrivals from Pakistan, which the Prime Minister has identified as the birthplace of two thirds of terrorist plots in the UK.Between 2002 and 2007, the number of Pakistani nationals with permission to enter or remain in the UK as students jumped from 7,975 to 26,935.

Manchester College of Professional Studies, set up in 2006, sold places to more than 1,000 students, including hundreds of men from North West Frontier Province, where a battle is raging between Taleban fighters and the Pakistani Army. Others came from mountainous tribal areas near the Afghan border, described by President Obama as “the most dangerous place in the world”.

The college was removed from an official government register of education providers last summer but those who ran it have set up other colleges.

Tougher rules on the admission of international students, introduced last month by the UK Border Agency, aim to weed out bogus colleges and close the immigration loophole. The Times has evidence, however, that those involved in some abuses are already seeking to exploit the new system.

Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said last night: “The information provided by The Times has been passed on to the UK Border Agency, which is investigating.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Angel or Demon? in the Vatican, Obama is Both

“L’Osservatore Romano” praises him. Two prominent scholars of the pontifical academy of social sciences rail against him. The complete text of the accusation, signed by Michel Schooyans in conjunction with the archbishop of Dijon, Roland Minnerath

by Sandro Magister

ROME, May 8, 2009 — At the end of April, “L’Osservatore Romano” surprised everyone a little with the admiration it expressed for Barack Obama after his first hundred days as president of the United States. It was wide-ranging admiration: not only for his strategy in international politics, but also on ethical questions “that are very pressing for the Catholic bishops.”

The amazement arose from the contrast between the Olympic calm of the Vatican newspaper — according to which Obama’s first hundred days not only “did not shake the world,” but even gave encouraging signs “in support of motherhood” — and the outspoken criticism of Obama on the part of a growing number of American faithful and bishops, led by Cardinal Francis E. George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States episcopal conference.

The criticisms concern the measures that have been taken or announced by the new president in regard to unborn life, as well as the decision of the Catholic university of Notre Dame to give Obama a degree “honoris causa”on May 17: many view this honor as unjustifiable, given the new president’s pro-abortion positions.

An important part in the latest controversy was played by Mary Ann Glendon, a very prominent Catholic scholar and a professor of law at Harvard University — where her students included Obama himself — and the United States ambassador to the Holy See during the last part of the Bush administration. Glendon, who is staunchly “pro-life,” refused to receive an award from Notre Dame University on the same day on which Obama will be given his honorary degree. And she explained her refusal in a letter to the president of Notre Dame, Fr. John I. Jenkins, in which she says she is “dismayed” by the Catholic institution’s decision to honor someone who acts “in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]