Friday, May 29, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/29/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/29/2009Good news: the lawsuit by the Thomas More Law Center over the use of AIG bailout funds for Islamic purposes has passed its first hurdle: the judge has refused the Obama administration’s request to dismiss it.

In other news, the Indian government has officially protested the violence against Indian students in Australia. My sources in Australia report that the assailants are alleged to be Africans, most likely Sudanese or Somalis.

Thanks to ACT for America, Andy Bostom, C. Cantoni, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, Nilk, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
France: Many Looking to Morocco to Escape Crisis
Merrill Lynch Urges Turkey to Come to Terms With IMF
Merrill Accused of Insider Trading
Trouble Brewing for AIG and Federal Government
Europe and the EU
Britons Increasingly Eurosceptic: Poll
Brussels a Riot With Spy vs Spy
France: Security, Sarkozy to Tackle Crime Without Concession
France: Schools to be Allowed to Search Pupils’ Bags for Weapons
France Acquits Djibouti Officials
Italy: First Veiled Italian Muslim Woman Runs for Local Elections
Italy: Security: La Russa, More Soldiers in Cities for 12 Months
Netherlands: Raped Journalist Furious With Wilders and Taliban
Sarkozy Cancels Sweden Visit Over Turkey
Spain: Campaign to Protect Local Production of Milk
UK: BBC Offers £30,000 and an Apology for Question Time ‘Slur’ on Islamic Leaders Over Anti-War Protest
UK: Teacher Sacked After ‘Making Pupils Kneel and Pray to Allah’ During Re Lesson
UK: Woman Who Treated Daughters- in-Law Like ‘slaves and Dogs’ is Jailed for Seven Years
Will France Really be a Muslim Country?
Bosnia: Citizens Get Access to Punto Car Trade-in Program
North Africa
Banks: Populaire Maroc Opens First Agency in Italy in Milan
Egypt Pigs Meet Cruel Fate in Swine Flu Cull
Libyan Interior Minister Meets With US Ambassador
Israel and the Palestinians
Andrew Bostom: The “Moderate” Palestinian Faction’s Vision
Israel Refuses to Freeze All Settlements
Israel: Heated Debate on Two-State Solution
Threat of the ‘Thought Police’ Alarms Israel’s Arab Minority
UK: Director Hands Back Award in Protest at Loach
West Bank: Israelis Kill Hamas Official
Middle East
Iran Official Accuses US Over Mosque Bomb
National Geographic Blames Israel for Christianity’s Decline in Middle East
Turkey Joins EU Information, Communication Program
Russia: Village Accidentally Shelled; No Injuries
South Asia
Bangladesh: Village Woman Mercilessly Whipped After Fatwa is Issued Against Her
Islamic Extremism on the Rise Again in Central Asia
Sri Lanka: UN Rejects War Crimes Inquiry
Far East
China: Police and Army Used to Solve the Problem of Chinese Farmers
N. Korea Vows Response if UN Imposes Sanctions
Australia — Pacific
Alleged People Smuggler Arrested in Western Australia
Australia Considers Taking Guantanamo Detainees
Family Court Forces Mum to Stay in Isolated Town After Split
India Summons Australia Envoy Over Attacks, PMs Speak
Latin America
Bolivia Confirms Plans to Explore for Uranium
Mexican Trains, Trucks Hijacked in New Crime Wave
Amnesty International Slams Italy
Italy-Malta Quarrel Resolved
Italy: Maroni, Illegal Immigration Has Been Halted
Roma Camps: Turin and Venice Prefects Named Commissioners
Culture Wars
UK: Government Fights for Numbers Secrecy on Abortions
UN Expert: US Failing to Properly Probe War Crimes

Financial Crisis

France: Many Looking to Morocco to Escape Crisis

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — More and more French pensioners as well as young people are planning to build a new life on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, in Morocco — in Tangiers, Agadir, and Essaouira. The trend was confirmed by the large number of visitors to the Moroccan Property Expo, which drew to its end yesterday in Paris. The event’s organisers reported an increase in requests for first homes, apart from the usual demand for holiday homes in Marrakech or the ancient Mogador. People have begun considering a move to the south in order to escape from the economic crisis, enabling them to live the rest of their lives more comfortably. There are many advantages to this radical choice, such as the presence of quality French schools for people with school-age children. Moreover, house prices in some regions — such as Al Hoceima, 200 km east of Tetouan — are very affordable compared with their French counterparts: a new, 100-square-metre villa costs around 130,000 euros. Moreover, with average salaries in Morocco standing at 300 euros, French pensioners have more purchasing power in the country. According to Chama Haddioui, a young notary in Casablanca, the number of Frenchmen who have lost their jobs and are planning to leave France to look for work in Morocco is on the rise. The country offers tax advantages for those investing in property: no tax has to be paid on the surplus value when selling a house after living there for at least eight years. In addition, pensioners who receive their pension on a Moroccan account get a tax cut of up to 80%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Merrill Lynch Urges Turkey to Come to Terms With IMF

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MAY 28 — Turkey must change its attitude and sign a new standby deal with the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, because of its urgent need for outside financing, said Merrill Lynch, a global financial services firm owned by Bank of America, as reportede today by Hurriyet. The Turkish government has been dragging its feet since the last standby expired in May 2008. The government is “trying to write history by helping Turkey to pull out of the IMF yoke,” the Anatolia news agency cited Merrill Lynch’s weekly analysis of developing markets. But the timing is not quite right due to the global crisis, Merrill added. The analysis also said Turkey was right in postponing IMF talks due to imposed restrictions by the Fund and the local elections last March. Turkey should sign a loan deal with the IMF, otherwise growth would slow down significantly as the declining foreign capital inflow would be added on top of a widening funding deficit, Merrill said. That would cause the Turkish Lira to lose significant value and generate higher real interest rates. The private sector would also be negatively affected by such developments, according to Merrill. By keeping investors waiting longer, their risk perception could be heightened and the possibility of them pulling out of the market could be reinforced, said the bank. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Merrill Accused of Insider Trading

MERRILL LYNCH and its subsidiary Berndale Securities face allegations from the Sydney businessman David Waterhouse that they engaged in what would be the biggest case of insider trading in this country’s corporate history.

The allegations relate to the short-selling of $55 million of blue-chip Australian stocks in January last year — deals allegedly done while some Merrill Lynch and Berndale executives in Australia knew that the company’s head office in New York would announce “awful” news to the market within days.

Merrill Lynch is accused of using Mr Waterhouse’s accounts to short-sell shares in Australia’s big four banks and the mining giant BHP Billiton in the days before that announcement was made, in order to reap tens of millions of dollars in a falling market.

It is expected that Merrill Lynch will object to any of Mr Waterhouse’s untested insider trading allegations being read in court.

On January 14 last year, Berndale seized control of the account of How Trading, an account Mr Waterhouse held with Berndale to trade options, because it had breached its agreed margin call levels.

After gaining control of How Trading, Berndale used it to short-sell $51,634,606.22 of blue-chip Australian shares — primarily in the major banks and BHP Billiton.

On January 17 last year, Berndale used How Trading to short-sell a further $4,260,850.63 of Commonwealth Bank shares.

On January 18 — or January 17 in New York — Merrill Lynch announced a $US9.83 billion fourth-quarter loss, including a $US16.7 billion write-down associated with subprime mortgage losses.

Sharemarkets and bank stocks around the world tumbled on the news. In the three trading days after the Merrill Lynch announcement, the ASX200 index fell 609.3 points, or more than 10.5 per cent, to 5186.8 points.

A witness statement has been provided by Mr Waterhouse as part of a legal dispute between Berndale and How Trading before the Supreme Court of Victoria. Berndale is suing How Trading for $9.2 million it says it is owed. How Trading has made a $4 million counter-claim for unjust enrichment and damages for breach of contract.

According to the witness statement provided by Mr Waterhouse, which the Herald has seen, Merrill Lynch and Berndale employees in both Australia and Asia were aware that head office in New York was about to release “awful” news.

In his statement, Mr Waterhouse says he was told this at a meeting at Merrill’s Sydney office on Monday, January 14 — three days before the New York announcement was made.

At that meeting, at Governor Macquarie Tower, Mr Waterhouse says, he was told the “market has gone against you” and he would lose control of How Trading’s account.

In the statement, Mr Waterhouse says he was told: “The market is expecting Merrill Lynch in New York to come out with a bad result on Thursday night. It’s not going to be bad, it’s going to be awful, and this market is going to plummet on Friday and may fall leading up to the result, as it will start to leak out. I know you have other accounts with other brokers, do yourself a favour; do not write any puts whatsoever this week. We’ve known a little bit about this before you got into trouble and the market is starting to wake up that the financial world is in for a lot of pain and trouble. We will close out your risky positions as quickly as possible.”

Mr Waterhouse claims that a Merrill Lynch employee at the meeting told him: “We wanted you done and dusted before our head office reported their results this week. That time has come and gone. Now we have to do some heavy things straight away today. We will short the hell out of stocks in the market that you have option positions on, maybe up to $100 million, which will more than match your option positions, it’s a great opportunity for you, that we know what is coming this week. With this huge short sale, we will then close the option positions and at the same time buy back the short sale stock, which will support the price on the options.”

Mr Waterhouse says he was told at the meeting that How Trading’s losses would be contained at $5 million and that, if the short-selling plan worked, “we maybe give you money back”.

Counsel for Mr Waterhouse, Donald Grieve, QC, said his client had no comment to make about the allegations made in his witness statement.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Trouble Brewing for AIG and Federal Government

Challenge of AIG Bailout Allowed to Proceed

ANN ARBOR, MI — Proclaiming that times of crisis do not justify departure from the Constitution, Federal District Court Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff allowed the lawsuit against Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the Federal Reserve Board challenging the AIG bailout to proceed. The lawsuit was filed last December by the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attorney David Yerushalmi, an expert in security transactions and Shariah-compliant financing.

In his well-written and detailed analysis issued yesterday, Judge Zatkoff denied the request by the Obama administration’s Department of Justice to dismiss the lawsuit. The request was filed on behalf of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the Federal Reserve Board — the named defendants in the case. In his ruling, the judge held that the lawsuit sufficiently alleged a federal constitutional challenge to the use of taxpayer money to fund AIG’s Islamic religious activities.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, commented, “It is outrageous that AIG has been using taxpayer money to promote Islam and Shariah law, which potentially provides support for terrorist activities aimed at killing Americans. Shariah law is the same law championed by Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. It is the same law that prompted the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our soil that killed thousands of innocent Americans. We won this skirmish. But the war to stop the federal government from funding Islam and Shariah-compliant financing is far from over.”

In its request to dismiss the lawsuit, the DOJ argued that the plaintiff in the case, Kevin Murray, who is a former Marine and a federal taxpayer, lacked standing to bring the action. And even if he did have standing, DOJ argued that the use of the bailout money to fund AIG’s operations did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The court disagreed, noting, in relevant part, the following:

In this case, the fact that AIG is largely a secular entity is not dispositive: The question in an as-applied challenge is not whether the entity is of a religious character, but how it spends its grant. The circumstances of this case are historic, and the pressure upon the government to navigate this financial crisis is unfathomable.

           — Hat tip: ACT for America[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Britons Increasingly Eurosceptic: Poll

LONDON (AFP) — British voters are increasingly opposed to the European Union, a poll for the Economist weekly revealed Thursday, just days before elections for the European Parliament.

The poll commissioned by YouGov shows that over the past 25 years, the proportion of people who think that Britain’s membership of the EU is a good thing has fallen from 43 percent to 31 percent.

The share of respondents who think the EU is a “bad thing” has risen from 30 percent to 37 percent.

And while the bloc has expanded eastwards to boost its membership to 27 states, British voters have become more and more reluctant to support greater integration. Just one in five backs the idea now compared to one in three in 1995.

The poll shows 33 percent want a less integrated Europe “with the EU amounting to little more than a free trade area”.

And the number of people who want Britain to pull out of the EU has almost doubled, from 12 percent to 21 percent.

A total of 2,322 adults in Britain were questioned between May 22 and May 26.

Many observers believe Britons will opt for fringe parties in the elections to lodge a protest vote against the main parties, whose lawmakers have been embarrassed by damaging revelations about their expenses.

In the June 4-7 elections, an estimated 375 million voters across the EU will elect 736 deputies for a five-year term at the parliament, which is the only directly-elected EU institution.

The parliament, which has an important role passing pan-European legislation drafted by the EU Commission and passes the commission’s annual budget, is expected to remain under centre-right control after the elections.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Brussels a Riot With Spy vs Spy

El Periodico de Catalunya

Europe’s political and administrative capital is also a hotbed of international espionage where secret services vie for economic, technological, geopolitical and military supremacy.

Brussels is a nest of spies. In the aftermath of the Cold War, foreign secret services did not downsize activities in the Belgian capital: on the contrary, they redoubled their efforts and the range of their objectives. Brussels-based espionage is now so widespread that the European Commission recently circulated an internal memo to its directors to take precautions against recurrent attempts to “obtain confidential and sensitive documents” concerning Commission activity.

The memo said “some countries, lobbyists, journalists and private organisations are trying to obtain classified information”, adding that “people linked to secret services” are operating undercover as “interns, journalists, EU countries’ attache’s to the European Commission and computer technicians”.

“Along with Washington DC and Geneva, Brussels is one of the three key cities for secret services the world over,” explains Kristof Clerix, author of the book Vrij spel. Buitenlandse geheine diensten in Belgie (“Foreign Secret Services in Belgium: Beyond the Law?”) “The methods remain the same as during the Cold War: to gain people’s trust and then exploit it. What has changed is the use of new technologies and the ever-increasing importance of economic issues,” notes Clerix, a staffer for the Belgian journal of international politics MO.

“In political and military terms, Brussels is now even more interesting for spies than it was during the Cold War,” Clerix points out, especially since Brussels-based NATO no longer confines itself to allied defence, but has launched military operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan and extended its influence into the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The EU, moreover, now has foreign and defence policymaking powers, and is even developing large-scale military and political operations (in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, the Congo, Somalia).

Besides these garden-variety political and military interests, there are three other factors adding to Brussels’ appeal for foreign intelligence agencies: aerospace and military technology centres located in Belgium; the country’s role as a rearguard of international terrorism; and its sizeable Turkish, Moroccan and central African immigrant communities, which are very active politically — and closely monitored by the governments in their native countries. “Over the past 20 years, Belgium has been a linchpin of international terrorism. It’s a small country, easy to escape from, with a large Muslim immigrant community,” notes Clerix. Furthermore, China is among the most active new players in the Belgian intelligence arena, with a keen interest in procuring scientific and technological know-how, but also in keeping close tabs on the Tibetan question, its political opponents and the Falun Gong religious cult.

Apart from the US monitoring of global banking transactions through the Swift Code database — still ongoing despite widespread uproar —, the most serious recent case of espionage took place at the EU Council of Ministers and went on continuously for eight years, until its detection in 2003. A set of five boxes were installed during the building’s construction to tap the telephone calls of the delegations from Spain, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Austria. Diplomatic sources impugned Israel, but nobody dared to make an official accusation and the Belgian investigators were instructed not to dig too deeply, according to sources close to the case.

With some 56,000 diplomats, 15,000 lobbyists, 1,200 journalists and thousands of foreign interpreters and students, Brussels is the perfect spot for the world’s second-oldest profession — and the place where you’re most likely to be rubbing shoulders with a spy without knowing it.

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

France: Security, Sarkozy to Tackle Crime Without Concession

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 28 — French president Nicholas Sarkozy has today said that he wants to put an end to the “dictatorship of conciliatory attitude”, in a speech held in Paris on the issue of spreading criminality. In speaking from government buildings, Sarkozy promised to fight “without hesitating and without granting any concession” against crime, speaking out against the “conciliatory attitude” which have taken the upper hand over the past few decades. Sarkozy, in commenting on the rise in violent acts in schools, said that May’s figures on this alarming phenomenon would surely be worse than those of April and March. The president gave his backing to the proposals made by Education Minister Xavier Darcos to provide for searches and checks on students at the entrances to schools. “Headmasters and didactic staff,” said Sarkozy, will have the right to open students’ bags, and “mobile police teams” will be set up at local education superintendencies, as previously suggested by Darcos. The head of state also expressed the hope that “the possibility of opening up the civilian reserves of national police” (pensioners and volunteers) would be looked into, for their use in missions to “maintain security in schools and their surrounding areas”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France: Schools to be Allowed to Search Pupils’ Bags for Weapons

[Note: There is a video at the link. — io’p]

AFP — President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans Thursday to let school staff search pupils for weapons and for special teams to be set up to intervene in schools where discipline was breaking down.

He unveiled the plans in a major speech on law and order reform aimed at fighting drugs and weapons trafficking and tackling crime in areas such as the suburban ghettos that ring Paris.

“There is no question of tolerating the presence of weapons in schools,” Sarkozy said in the speech at the Elysee palace in which he said school staff will soon be allowed to search students’ bags for arms.

“I say this with solemnity: let us never forget the deaths in Winnenden in Germany,” he said, referring to an incident in which a 17-year-old shot dead 15 people at his old school.

France has been rocked in recent months by several incidents in which gangs of youths entered schools to attack pupils or teachers..

“I want the head of each regional education authority to have at his disposal a mobile team of specially trained officials who can come and help out on the pedagogical front heads of schools who are facing discipline difficulties,” Sarkozy said.

He also said retired police officers or other volunteers could be asked to carry out missions aimed at “securing schools and their surroundinag areas.”

The president vowed to stamp out crime in the high-immigrant suburbs of Paris.

“The priority today is the recovery of the difficult areas. I want a complete mobilisation of security forces for this necessity,” he said.

“We must concentrate on the 25 areas, 21 of them in the Paris region and four in the provinces,” which are “ravaged by delinquency, by drug and weapons trafficking,” he said.

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

France Acquits Djibouti Officials

A French court has overturned jail sentences handed out in absentia to two Djibouti officials convicted of halting a probe into a French judge’s death.

The court also ordered the cancellation of international arrest warrants for public prosecutor Djama Souleiman and the secret service chief, Hassan Said.

Judge Bernard Borrel’s corpse was found in 1995 in Djibouti and local officials initially said he had killed himself.

But his widow said he was murdered on the orders of high-ranking officials.

At the time of his death, Borrel was acting as a consultant to the Djibouti justice ministry and reportedly investigating arms smuggling.

Mr Souleiman and Mr Said were both accused of having put pressure on key witnesses in the Borrel case with the aim of discrediting testimony that potentially linked Djibouti’s President, Ismael Omar Guelleh, to the death. He has denied any involvement.

Mohamed Saleh Alhoumekani, a former member of the Djiboutian presidential guard, told a French court last year that he had heard five men discuss the elimination of the “nosy judge” with Mr Guelleh, who was head of the former president’s private office at the time.

The court of appeal did not give a reason for Thursday’s acquittal.

Correspondents say relations between France and its former colony have been strained over the Borrel affair, especially since President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to help his widow, Elisabeth, find the truth.

She maintains that Paris co-operated with efforts to obstruct the inquiry because of fears of losing its major military base in Djibouti.

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

Italy: First Veiled Italian Muslim Woman Runs for Local Elections

Perugia, 28 May (AKI) — An Italian Muslim woman wearing the veil, or hijab, in the central city of Perugia will for the first time run for local elections, on 6 and 7 June. Maymouna Abdel Qader, an Italian of Palestinian descent, is a political science graduate of the University of Perugia.

She is running for Perugia’s communal council for the Sinistra e Liberta coalition, which is made up of mainly socialist, anti-war and secular parties.

“Though being the first veiled Muslim woman that has ever run for elections in Italy, until now I have received a positive response from the people, who have also appreciated my choice, and look at me as a novelty of the local political scene,” said Abdel Qader in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).

Abdel Qader — who is the daughter of the imam of Perugia Mohammed Abdel Qader and is also one of the founders of the Young Italian Muslims association — said she is personally campaigning and distributing fliers to promote her candidacy.

“These days I am personally distributing fliers for my candidacy in order to ask the citzens of Perugia for their vote. Many have wished me well, after they see that I am Italian and not a foreigner,” she told AKI.

Abdel Qader also said her objective is to represent Italy’s second generation of Muslim immigrants in Italy, that are now what she calls “The new Italians”.

Among the things she wants to promote if elected, is that Perugia’s public pool can be reserved solely for women, at least once a week.

“It is a battle that it not just limited to Muslim women. The pool will be open to all women, and I count with the support of many women about this.”

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

Italy: Security: La Russa, More Soldiers in Cities for 12 Months

(AGI) — Rome, 28 May — The government could pass a decree to continue the deployment of soldiers in the city with a possible increase of up to 4,000 soldiers, announced Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa after a cabinet meeting in which “the lengthening and renewal of the decree for the use of the armed forces to provide protection in cities” was discussed. “Since the soldiers have been well received in the cities where they were deployed, the Defence Ministry’s proposal is to extend the decree for another 12 months,” said Minister La Russa. “We want to assure that there is no overlap and the Interior Ministry will continue to coordinate the project. We have heavily considered the caution that the head of state advised yesterday during the supreme defence council.” The increased soldiers, said La Russa, should be used in evening patrols and patrols on foot, but the total cost of the operation should remain the same, at 30 million euros per 6 months. “The discussion,” announced Minister La Russa, “will conclude in the next cabinet meeting”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Raped Journalist Furious With Wilders and Taliban

THE HAGUE, 30/05/09 — Journalist Joanie de Rijcke stressed Friday she does feel angry with the Taliban fighter who raped her in Afghanistan. She was reacting to Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders, who in the Lower House called her alleged Stockholm syndrome symbolic of the leftwing elite in the Netherlands.

The PVV leader succeeded for the umpteenth time in attracting all the media attention for a debate to himself during Accountability Day — the cabinet defending its policy of the past year — by appropriating the rape of De Rijke and her reaction to this as a metaphor for the way in which many Dutch politicians and journalists look at Islam. “This entire elite suffers from the Stockholm syndrome” — developing sympathy for one’s kidnappers — according to the MP. “They are blinded by their own ideology of multiculturalism.”

De Rijcke, 43, was kidnapped in November in the town of Sarubi, some 50 kilometres from Kabul. She was kept prisoner for six days and raped repeatedly by a Taliban leader, Ghazi Gul. But she wrote in a book; “I do not want to portray the Taliban as monsters, nor am I angry with Ghazi Gul. After all, he allowed me to live.”

De Rijcke now sounds a different note. “I am indeed very angry with the perpetrators. I am furious with my abductors and rapists. All the things Wilders is saying are completely wrong,” said De Rijcke in Algemeen Dagblad Friday. “It is very, very painful. I am trying to recover from my trauma.”

Wilders on Thursday had termed the journalist’s reaction a typical example of the moral decline of the elite in the Netherlands. Virtually all parties and particularly leftwing Green leader (GroenLinks) Femke Halsema furiously rejected Wilders’ metaphor. Premier Jan Peter Balkenende also called the comparison “extremely painful and tasteless.”

De Rijcke’s employers are the Belgian men’s magazine P-Magazine and publisher Think Media Magazines. They paid a ransom of 100,000 euros for her release.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Sarkozy Cancels Sweden Visit Over Turkey

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has cancelled a visit to Sweden scheduled for next Tuesday (2 June) in order to avoid a clash on the question of Turkey’s EU membership just days before the European elections and a month before Stockholm takes over the EU’s rotating presidency.

Officially, Mr Sarkozy’s office said the trip was cancelled “for agenda reasons.”

But the French president, who is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s entry to the European Union, did not want to highlight the strong divergence of views on this topic with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Le Monde reported on Thursday (28 May).

Sweden favours further EU enlargement, including to Turkey. On Monday this week, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt told Le Figaro newspaper that the EU had “a strategic interest” in Turkey’s EU integration and warned against “closing the door” to Ankara.

“If we judge Cyprus to be in Europe, although it is as in island along Syria’s shores, it is hard not to consider that Turkey is in Europe,” Mr Bildt said, referring to Mr Sarkozy’s repeated statements that Turkey is not a European country and does not belong to Europe.

Additionally, Mr Sarkozy probably did not appreciate that Mr Bildt expressed views different from his on the economy, French newspapers comment.

In the Figaro interview, Mr Bildt said: “My vision of Europe is not as defensive as I observe it with other people.”

In a reference to aid plans for the car industry — very much promoted by Mr Sarkozy — the Swedish top diplomat said that for him, “spending taxpayers’ money to subsidise existing structures is a very good way of wasting money.”

The French president’s trip to Sweden was cancelled the day after the interview was published.

“Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled his visit because of the Carl Bildt interview,” one minister told Le Monde.

“The president wanted to avoid a clash on Turkey and did not want that his visit to Sweden interferes with the elections [five days later]. There are [also] too many dossiers that are too important to prepare with the Swedish EU presidency to spoil that visit,” another official told the paper.

The upcoming Swedish EU presidency is the real reason behind the cancellation, rather than the context of the European elections, according to Le Figaro journalist Pierre Rousseiln.

“Nicolas Sarkozy does not fear confrontation,” he wrote in his blog, adding that defending his position in Sweden could even have been beneficial for Mr Sarkozy ahead of next Sunday’s vote.

If he refused to go to Stockholm, he did it to avoid a clash just a month before the Swedish EU presidency starts and it is a sign that Mr Sarkozy is expecting a number of difficulties during Sweden’s six-month term at the head of the bloc, Mr Rousselin wrote.

The French president’s office is currently working on rescheduling the visit for another date before the end of June.

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

Spain: Campaign to Protect Local Production of Milk

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 25 — Spanish farming organisations have started a campaign to protect the consumption of locally produced milk against imported milk sold under Spanish trademarks. El Pais writes today that the organisations urge consumers to verify the origin of the product before buying it. The initiative is part of a campaign by Spanish milk producers against large-scale retail trade, which the Spanish producers accuse of charging lower prices on the Spanish markets than in other EU countries, marketing surplus milk in the country with serious consequences for local producers. The organisations want milk bottles to indicate the origin, the processing and the bottling of milk produced in Spain. At present milk can be imported and bottled in Spain, putting the letters ES (for Spain) next to the code of the producer. Falling prices in the past months have led to a number of protests by Spanish farmers, first in Galicia and later also in Madrid. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: BBC Offers £30,000 and an Apology for Question Time ‘Slur’ on Islamic Leaders Over Anti-War Protest

The BBC has offered to pay £30,000 and apologise to the Muslim Council of Britain after airing claims that it encourages the killing of British troops.

The Corporation caved in after a panellist on the Question Time TV programme accused the country’s most influential Muslim organisation of failing to condemn attacks on soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The broadcaster was threatened with legal action over comments by former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore during a debate about Islamic protests which marred a soldiers’ homecoming parade in Luton.

Mr Moore blamed the MCB’s leadership for its apparent reluctance to condemn the killing and kidnapping of British soldiers overseas. He went on to claim that it thought it was a ‘good thing’ to kill troops.

Faced with the threat of a writ, the BBC made an offer of ‘amends’ and an apology on the Question Time website. But this has been rejected and the MCB is demanding an apology on air.

The Corporation’s decision to pay out will raise eyebrows in Whitehall, where ministers have refused to settle a similar defamation claim over a letter written by Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.

A BBC insider said the move has also angered Mr Moore, who was not consulted over the legal response to the complaint or even informed that an offer to settle had been made.

Question Time is recorded an hour before broadcast specifically so that legal advisers can check its content for possible libels.

No legal worries were expressed over Mr Moore’s remarks, which were seen as provocative but not defamatory.

Apology for one and not the other: Charles Moore’s words compared to Hazel Blears’s letter

The row dates back to March 12 when Mr Moore appeared on the BBC1 show.

The panel was debating protests by a group of Islamic extremists during a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment in Luton two days earlier.

Muslim extremists heckled the troops and waved placards which read ‘Butchers of Basra’ and ‘British Government: Terrorist Government’.

All the panellists condemned the protesters, but political biographer Mr Moore took the opportunity to attack the MCB.

How the Mail reported the protest

He said: ‘The Muslim Council of Britain, which is the umbrella organisation for all Muslim groups in this country, I’ve gone to them many times, and I said will you condemn the killing and kidnapping of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they won’t.

‘But there is a bigger, another step that they take, they say it is actually a good thing, even an Islamic thing, to kill or kidnap British soldiers.’

The MCB’s leadership described Mr Moore’s claims as a ‘total lie’.

Last night secretary general Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari said: ‘These kinds of statements are very damaging, and we received many complaints from our Muslim supporters who said they were extremely offended by the comments.

‘In fact when a British man called Ken Bigley was kidnapped in Iraq, we sent envoys there to plead for his release. This is accusing us of encouraging terrorism abroad.’

The MCB engaged costly libel lawyers Carter-Ruck, who wrote a formal letter of complaint.

Question Time, chaired by David Dimbleby (above), is recorded an hour before broadcast so that legal advisers can check its content for possible libels

Last night it emerged that the BBC decided to offer to settle amid fears that the Corporation had libelled Dr Abdul Bari even though he was not mentioned by name.

A BBC spokesman said: ‘Question Time always has lively and wide-ranging debate. On occasion this results in unfairness to individuals who aren’t there to put their point of view and this is one of those occasions.’

The separate row between the MCB’s deputy secretary general Dr Daud Abdullah and Miss Blears centres on a document relating to the recent conflict in Gaza which was signed by Dr Abdullah.

In March, Miss Blears interpreted the document as justifying attacks on the Royal Navy and wrote to The Guardian to explain her concerns.

A solicitor’s letter was sent on behalf of Dr Daud Abdullah demanding she pay £75,000 by last month or face full legal proceedings. But she refused to do so and no further correspondence has been received.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Teacher Sacked After ‘Making Pupils Kneel and Pray to Allah’ During Re Lesson

A teacher has been sacked after parents claimed that their children were forced to pray to Allah during a religious education lesson.

Alison Phillips was accused of giving two pupils detention after they refused to kneel down and ‘pray to Allah’ during the class.

However, an investigation by the school concluded that there was no truth in the allegation.

Investigation: Alison Phillips was sacked after parents claimed their children were made to pray to Allah during an RE lesson

Parents were outraged after stories emerged that the two boys, aged 11, were allegedly punished for not wanting to take part in a practical demonstration of how Allah is worshipped.

They said children should not be forced to take part in the exercise, which included wearing Muslim headgear, was a breach of their human rights.

But governors at Alsager High School, near Stoke-on-Trent, denied Mrs Phillips made pupils pray or that two boys were put into detention for refusing to do so.

The school suspended the teacher last July after receiving complaints and a lengthy disciplinary process was carried out.

A statement released on behalf of the school by Cheshire East Council said: ‘It can be confirmed that following a long and rigorous disciplinary process, a member of staff at Alsager School has been dismissed from her post.

‘The member of staff was suspended in July 2008 following parental complaints and newspaper reports relating to an RE lesson.

‘In reaching this decision, the governing body wish to make very clear that they were completely satisfied that at no point did that member of staff make children pray to Allah or put boys in detention for refusing to do so.

‘The RE lesson in question contains an element of role play which complies with acceptable practice.’

At the time of the alleged incident, one parent — Sharon Luinen, said: ‘This isn’t right, it’s taking things too far.

‘Being asked to pray to Allah, who isn’t who they worship, is wrong and what got me is that came away thinking they were being disrespectful.’

Another parent, Karen Williams, said: ‘I am absolutely furious and I don’t find it acceptable.

‘I haven’t got a problem with them teaching my child other religions and a small amount of information doesn’t do any harm.

‘But not only did they have to pray, the teacher had gone into the class and asked them watch a short film and then said “we are now going out to pray to Allah”.’

The grandfather of one of the pupils in the class added: ‘It’s absolutely disgusting, there’s no other way of putting it.’

Parents had claimed that their children were made to bend down on their knees on prayer mats which the teacher had got out of her cupboard.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Woman Who Treated Daughters- in-Law Like ‘slaves and Dogs’ is Jailed for Seven Years

A woman was jailed for seven years today for falsely imprisoning her three daughters-in-law who she treated as ‘slaves and dogs’.

Naseebah Bibi, 63, would not let the women leave the family home in Blackburn, Lancashire, without her permission.

One of her victims told detectives she was forced to work on an industrial sewing machine day and night for 13 years.

Bibi, of Pringle Street, was convicted by a jury at Preston Crown Court last month of falsely imprisoning Nagina Akhtar between 1993 and 2006, Tazeem Akhtar from 2001 to 2003 and Nisbah Akhtar between 2005 and 2007.

All three women were brought to the UK following arranged marriages to Bibi’s three sons but were subjected to beatings and abuse from her after they arrived.

Sentencing her, Judge Robert Brown said it was evident that her victims were ‘traumatised by you both physically and psychologically and spent long periods living in fear’.

He ordered that Bibi serve three and a half years of her sentence in prison before she would be allowed out on licence and would then need to be monitored for up to nine years from the start of her custodial sentence.

He said: ‘It seems to be necessary in the public interest that you should be subject to a long period of supervision after you are released from prison so that your situation and that in your household can be monitored.

‘At the same time because of your poor health and in particular your mental health I shall keep the custodial element of sentence as short as I can, consistent with my duty to punish you, to deter you from further offences and to protect the public.’

The court heard that a fourth woman had been betrothed to one of her sons and that she had been destined to live in the Bibi household but Judge Brown said he would pass on the information to the immigration authorities.

Prosecutors said Bibi ruled the household with a regime of beatings and threats as she totally dominated the three women who were treated as unpaid servants.

The daughters-in-law had high expectations of a happy family life in England when they married their first cousins in Pakistan but instead they were cruelly abused and allowed no contact with the outside world.

One of the victims, Nagina, told the police that she was ordered to spend her time sewing as soon as she arrived in Blackburn in 1993 following her marriage to Bibi’s son Fahim and was also told she could not have a higher education.

She carried on sewing up to a fortnight before the caesarean birth of one of her three children and was back on the machine within a month.

When the sewing work ran out she was made to do household chores, cooking and cleaning.

She said Bibi struck her with a brush handle and slapped her across the face whenever she disobeyed her.

Sisters Nisbah and Tazeem also gave evidence to the jury that their lives were ‘made hell’. They too were slapped across the face, hit with a brush handle and struck with shoes when they answered back to Bibi.

Judge Brown said that he had taken into account the ‘cultural element’ of the case.

‘You had a dominant position over your daughters-in-law. I take into account that in arranging the marriages in the first place you felt obliged to follow the wishes of your own parents concerning arranged marriages,’ he said.

‘But none of these facts can be an excuse for the degree of cruelty and imprisonment to which the three victims were subjected.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Will France Really be a Muslim Country?

There’s a 16-page discussion at a Muslim forum called Mejliss el kalam, linked by Francois Desouche. To translate the entire discussion is out of the question. But here is the first page somewhat simplified…

The initial question, dated April 11, 2009, comes from ShamsTabrizi, from Somalia:

- Salam. In a city of 22 thousand inhabitants a few miles from Paris, more than 6 thousand persons participated in the Friday prayer at 2:00 p.m., including a significant number of converted Frenchmen and Frenchwomen. At the end of the prayer, seeing these people, I began to wonder in how many years France will be a mostly Muslim country.

- (Abelatif from Belgium responds): You must not have any illusions, my brother. France as a Muslim country will be several generations form now, or more. But it’s true that it’s beautiful to see Muslims of all origins at the mosque… Praise be to Allah

- (ShamsTabrizi): I don’t agree. considering the evolution of the situation I have been witnessing, I do not give it more than 30 years before we will see mayors giving sermons on Friday to the faithful.

- (Abdel93600 from The Netherlands): Salam. The French are no longer having many children. Let’s do France a favor and ensure the renewal of generations. It’s a problem for many European countries! The birth rate in France recently reached a record, the highest in Europe, due in great part, to immigrant women.

- (Prince.Hakim from Belgium): I think we’re heading for a Franco-Creole-Maghrebin civilization with massive intermarriage under the aegis of Islam.

- (Maléikite from Belgium): Brussels will be majority Muslim in less than 20 years (these are non-Muslim statistics). Inch’Allah.

- (MonSpeudo2 from France): Stop dreaming up tales about our country. It will never belong to you

- (ShamsTabrizi to Prince.Hakim): Then you agree with me. France will surely be a Muslim land for our grandchildren, maybe our children. So we must begin to construct a good basis to avoid unpleasant surprises for them in the future.

- (Maléikite to MonSpeudo2): Don’t worry, we’ll protect your rights, you will have the status of dhimmi.

- (ShamsTabrizi to MonSpeudo2): Ask your father if he ever imagined so many mosques and Muslims when he was your age. Then you’ll have the answer as to whom France will belong. I like France, and I will like it even more when it’s Muslim. Don’t worry, we will be lenient on Christian minorities.


Like the discussion at Mejliss, this goes on and on. It’s very interesting, but the main question still remains: What will really happen when the tipping point has been reached? Will the French wait until that happens, then rebel in violence? Violence can be prevented by sane immigration policies, a refusal to build mosques and an affirmation of nationalism, if not Christianity. If violence does erupt it will be chaotic and directed at the “collaborators” as much (possibly more?) as towards the Muslims.

One recurring theme is that despite outward passiveness, the French, in general, know that violence will come. This seems to indicate a higher level of awareness on the part of the population than is generally acknowledged. Notice that the Muslims calmly plot the takeover without any thought of a rebellion from the natives.

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


Bosnia: Citizens Get Access to Punto Car Trade-in Program

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MAY 28 — The Serbian government’s subsidized loan programs will also apply in Republika Srpska RS (Serbian entity in Bosnia) including a car trade-in arrangement, representatives of Serbia and RS agreed on. “Citizens of RS will be able to purchase Punto cars manufactured by ‘Fiat automobili Srbija’ in Kragujevac as of September 1 for 5,999 euro for the basic model, via a seven year loan with an interest rate of only 4.5% per year,” Deputy Prime Minister Mladjan Dinkic said at a meeting with RS Premier Milorad Dodik in Banjaluka — Tnjug news agency informed. Dinkic said the conditions will be the same as those that apply in Serbia. The signing of a contract on the program is expected by mid-June. Dinkic confirmed reports that the same offer will be made to the Muslim-Croat Federation in a bid to extend the initiative to all Bosnia. ((ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Banks: Populaire Maroc Opens First Agency in Italy in Milan

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, MAY 26 — The Groupe Banque Populaire du Maroc, through its European branch Banque Chaabi, has opened its first agency in Italy to strengthen collaboration with Italian banks and financial institutions and to serve companies active in both Italy and Morocco. GBP President Mohamed Benchaaboun participated in the inauguration ceremony, as well as Moroccan Ambassador to Italy Nabil-Benabdallah and Moroccan Industry and Trade Minister Ahmed Reda Chami. “GBP’s objective,” said Benchaaboun, “is to offer banking services to the Moroccan community residing in Italy, to create incentives for remittances to Morocco through the bank, and to offer consultation and financial products to Italian companies with interests in Morocco”. The Moroccan banking group, which already has cooperation agreements with Banca Popolare di Sondrio, Banca Popolare di Milano, Gruppo Banco Popolare, Banca Popolare di Bergamo, Unicredit, and Poste Italiane, intends to have a total of 40 branch offices throughout Europe this year. In Italy, new agencies are expected to be opened in Turin, Bologna, and Verona. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt Pigs Meet Cruel Fate in Swine Flu Cull

Pigs squeal loudly as they are thrown into the scoop of a bulldozer and dropped onto a mass of squirming animals which already half fill the back of a lorry.

After three hours on the highway they are offloaded in the desert, apparently to be buried alive in quicklime and other chemicals.

“We leave them for 30 to 40 minutes until they stop breathing and die,” says an official at the disposal site in Qaluybia governorate, outside Cairo.

The video shot by the al-Masry al-Youm newspaper has renewed controversy about Egypt’s cull of over 300,000 pigs — which is now more than half complete.

It is being carried out because of fears about swine flu — even though there has not been a single case in the country.

“I was shocked. It’s horrible,” says Ahmed al-Sherbiny of the Egyptian Federation for Animal Welfare which is suing the government for cruelty.

“These methods and practices are totally unacceptable. Everybody must speak out against them.”

Religious objection

Other footage shows pigs being beaten with an iron bar and piglets being stabbed with a bloody knife.

The film has been viewed tens of thousands of times on the YouTube website and has attracted hundreds of angry comments.

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

Libyan Interior Minister Meets With US Ambassador

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, MAY 28 — Libyan Interior Minister Abdel Fatah Yunis Al-Obaidi has recently met in Tripoli with Gene Cretz, the US Ambassador to Libya. Cretz said he was willing to promote relations between the two countries and highlighted recent developments in bilateral agreements signed by Libya and the U.S. Cretz also said that the US is ready to exchange technical experience with Libya, specifically in sectors involving combating crime, controlling drug trafficking and terrorist activities, and said that he is ready to organise specific training courses in these fields. The US Ambassador then underlined the importance of facilitating procedures in order for Libyan and American citizens to enter and leave the country and to allow for visas to be granted faster, as mutually agreed upon. Minister Al-Obaidi stressed the developments in relations between the two countries.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Andrew Bostom: The “Moderate” Palestinian Faction’s Vision

Holocaust denier Mahmoud Abbas: The face of “moderate” Palestinian irredentism

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum [1] offered this accurate assessment of today’s (Thursday, May 28, 2009) scheduled meeting [2] between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and President Obama, “…President Abbas is too weak to achieve any accomplishments for the Palestinians…particularly as the president’s term has ended, he no longer represents the Palestinians.” Barhoum then noted that, at any rate “We [Hamas] will not abide by any agreement with any party in the world.”

Having written at some length recently about the Hamas Covenant [3]—a document redolent with jihad and Muslim eschatology-inspired annihilationist Jew-hatred, it is worth re-visiting the PLO Covenant of the erstwhile “moderate” Fatah/PLO faction of Palestinian leaders represented by President Abbas, as seen through the prism of a brilliant analysis by Yehoshafat Harkabi, originally published in 1979. As a fitting preface, Benny Morris in the book “One State, Two States [4]” just published by Yale University Press, decries the “mendacious implication” of Palestinian agit-prop, pseudo-academic Rashid Khalidi, and his ilk, that the PLO Covenant was ever “amended in a positive, two-state direction.”

What follows are extensive extracts from Harkabi’s sadly timeless 1979 critique, entitled, “The Palestinian Covenant and its Meaning [5]”…

           — Hat tip: Andy Bostom[Return to headlines]

Israel Refuses to Freeze All Settlements

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, MAY 28 — In what was clearly a reply to the statements made by U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton concerning a total freeze on all expansion plans for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an Israeli spokesman has today said that the building works would be going ahead in existing settlements to meet the needs of their inhabitants and their natural growth. Israeli government spokesman Mar Regev has said that, in any case, the future of the settlements would have to be decided at the negotiating table and that in the meantime it was necessary to ensure normal living conditions to Israeli settlers. Yesterday Clinton said that President Barack Obama “wants to see settlements stopped: not only some settlements or outposts. He does not even want to see exceptions linked to ‘natural growth’“. According to the daily paper Haaretz, a high-ranking Israeli delegation just back from talks in London with U.S. government representatives has reported that Washington does not seem willing to soften the request for a total stop to settlements. The latter are considered to be “an obstacle to peace” by the United States and illegal by the international community. Meanwhile, a group of well-known rabbis from the religious, Zionist extreme right have urged Israeli soldiers to disobey the orders to evacuate and pull down Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “The Holy Torah,” said the rabbis according to the local press, “prohibits taking part in any removal of Jews from our holy land.” “We are asking all security forces personnel to refuse expulsion orders. A soldier or a police officer who is asked to take part in an expulsion operation is obliged to refuse this order, which violates the values of the Torah,” said the rabbis, who include representatives of such settlements as Kiryat Arba and Bet El.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel: Heated Debate on Two-State Solution

(by Alessandro Logroscino) (ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MAY 27 — The debate in Israel on the Palestinian peace process and the two-state solution has burst into the Knesset. Part of the government majority openly opposes this solution and some have already rejected it with the “alternative idea” of a carve-up of the West Bank, despite the fact that both President Shimon Peres and Premier Benyamin Netanyahu (in a lesser measure) have distanced themselves from this possibility. The debate became more heated precisely when the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), arrived in the USA to ask Barack Obama for his full support (and to increase pressure on Israel) for the prospect of a future Palestinian state, as well as the freezing of all Jewish settlements in the territories. The fact that this is not a minor conflict was confirmed by the direct intervention of the president. On public radio he warned that the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be reached without a compromise “with the Palestinians”. His principle aim was to brand the idea of an annexation of a section of the West Bank to Israel with the transfer of the rest to Jordan, whether Amman likes it or not, as “an unfounded hallucination”. The idea, disdainfully thrown out by Peres, was proposed at the Knesset in recent days by Aryeh Eldad, a famous surgeon and MP for the National Union (a far-right party from the settlement movement). The idea explicitly backs the goal of carving up the Palestinian territory and 53 MPs (including the hard core of the traditional rightwing of Netanyahu’s Likud party, and even two Labour party ministers Benyamin Ben Eliezer and Yitzhak Herzog) agreed to discuss it in parliament. Israel’s Foreign Ministry rushed to announce that the proposal does not “represent the country’s official policy” after the Jordanian government had summoned Israel’s ambassador to Amman, Yaakov Rosen, to explain the situation and to point out that the bilateral peace agreement signed in 1994 includes a precise clause that Jordan will lay no claims on the West Bank, in support of the creation of a Palestinian State. Netanyahu stressed today that his cabinet has no intentions of backing out of the agreements signed in the past by previous Israeli governments with the Palestinians and with Arab countries, glossing once again over requests to commit to the two-state solution. Many commentators and analysts close to the right rejected the solution some time ago. One of the most bellicose members of Likud, the former Chief of Staff and Minister for Strategic Affairs, Moshe Yaalon, yesterday called the idea ‘unlikely’, excluding the possibility “in the near future of discussing solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” other than “managing the crisis” from positions of strength.(ANSAmed).

2009-05-27 18:50

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Threat of the ‘Thought Police’ Alarms Israel’s Arab Minority

Freedom to oppose Israel’s right to exist among acts that right-wing politicians are attempting to outlaw

Israeli Arab leaders have called an emergency meeting today to discuss their growing alarm over a series of “racist and fascist” bills being promoted by right-wing members of the country’s parliament. One of the bills has already brought fierce accusations from two prominent Jewish Knesset members that its backers are trying to create a “thought police” and “punish people for talking”.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee — the main umbrella body of Arab political and civic leaders in Israel — cited special concern over another bill which would outlaw the commemoration of the Nakba or catastrophe on Israel’s Independence Day. While Israel’s Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948 is celebrated annually as the foundation of the state, Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and in refugee camps abroad mark the expulsion and flight of some 700,000 Arabs during the war of that year.

But the Committee is also protesting at another bill, which was given its first reading in the Knesset this week, that would make it a crime to negate Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

It was during a heated debate on that bill last Wednesday that Haim Oron, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, declared: “Have you lost all faith in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? This crazy government, what on earth are you doing? A thought police? Have you all lost it?” And Roni Bar-On, who was the centrist Kadima finance minister in the last government, asked the promoters: “You want to punish people for talking? Soon, will you want to punish for thoughts?”

A third bill which is expected to come before the ministerial legislative committee tomorrow would enforce a “loyalty oath” on those seeking Israeli citizenship. The idea of the oath was a centrepiece of the election campaign waged by Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the hardline Yisrael Beiteinu party who is now foreign minister.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which says it represents well over one million Arab citizens in Israel, has declared its outrage, saying that these are “racist and fascist proposals aimed against the Arab public in Israel, and there is no doubt that these proposals must be dealt with”.

The bill effectively outlawing Nakba commemoration was approved by a majority of the legislative committee last weekend after it was proposed by Alex Miller, a Russian-born Yisrael Beiteinu politician who lives in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Mr Miller’s explanatory notes call for “harsh punishment for those who take advantage of the democratic and enlightened nature of the State of Israel to bring it down from within”.

Saying that it would be inconceivable to hold protests against American Independence Day, Mr Miller declared this week: “It’s high time for us to be proud of our country.” The bill would carry penalties of up to three years in prison for violators.

It is far from certain that the bills will pass or that they will survive the scrutiny of Israel’s Supreme Court even if they do.

Bills similar to Mr Miller’s Nakba proposal have been proposed several times before and failed, though the rightward shift in Knesset representation in the last election may give them a better chance this time around.

A majority of Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud ministers on the legislative committee voted in favour of the Knesset debating the Nakba bill, although two ministers — Labour’s Isaac Herzog and Likud’s Michael Eitan — opposed it.

Mr Herzog, the son of a former President of Israel, said he had done so “because I believe that it could impair freedom of expression and freedom of protest and achieve the opposite goal — increasing alienation and strengthening extremists, who are on the margins of Arab society”.

The first Knesset reading of the bill seeking to compel citizens to recognise the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state secured a majority of 47 to 34.

The bill’s promoter, Zevulun Orlev, a Knesset member in the right-wing Jewish Home party, cited the case of Azmi Bishara, a Christian Arab who resigned his Knesset seat in 2007 and fled Israel, where he was facing charges of treason and espionage. Mr Bishara was heavily criticised for trips to Syria and Lebanon, where he reportedly praised Hizbollah.

Mr Orlev claimed during the debate that Mr Bishara’s case showed that what begins with words “very quickly leads to actions”. But Mr Oron said: “It is the right of Israeli citizens to say that they think Judaism and democracy are not the correct formula. I think that they’re wrong, but what does that have to do with criminality? Lay off it.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Director Hands Back Award in Protest at Loach

Gary Sinyor accuses Edinburgh Film Festival of caving in to anti-Israeli views

A Jewish film-maker has handed back a prestigious award from the Edinburgh International Film Festival in an ugly spat with the British director Ken Loach.

Gary Sinyor, who won a Charles Chaplin Award at the EIFF for his Jewish comedy Leon the Pig Farmer, said he wanted nothing more to do with the festival after accusing it of caving in to Mr Loach’s anti-Israeli views.

The row began after the festival accepted a £300 donation from the Israeli embassy to pay for a film studies graduate of Tel Aviv University to attend the premiere of her short movie Surrogate at the festival in Scotland next month. But the sponsorship raised the hackles of Loach, who backed a boycott unless the money was returned forcing the EIFF to find alternative ways to fund Tali Shalom-Ezer’s trip.

Now the row has flared up again. In an article for The Independent, Sinyor brands Loach “an extremist”, a “blackmailer” and a “hypocrite” for raising objections over the source of funding.

He also accuses film festival organisers of “rolling over”, saying: “Why on earth did the EIFF take his (Loach’s) views into account?”

He said: “Today I am writing to the Edinburgh Film Festival and asking for my name to be taken off their records. I am removing Winner, Best British Film, Edinburgh 1992, from my CV. If I could cut the award in half and send it back, I would.”

Sinyor saved his most damning indictment for Loach. “Ken Loach took it upon himself publicly to endorse the boycott of the entire Edinburgh Film Festival to make his views doubly clear… It’s a shame that Ken feels particularly strong about not having anything to do with Israel or Israeli money. It’s a shame because clearly some Israelis obviously like Ken.”

Yesterday, Loach remained intransigent, saying: “I don’t respond to personal attacks. I would urge Gary Sinyor and others to look at the facts of the boycott.”

He also sent The Independent a copy of his open letter, written to Ms Shalom-Ezer, explaining why he objected to her source of funding, which said: “To be crystal clear, as a film-maker, you will receive a warm welcome in Edinburgh. You are not censored or rejected. The opposition was to the festival’s taking money from the Israeli state.”

In a blog, Tali Shalom-Ezer, aged 31, was quoted as saying: “Generalising all citizens of Israel as warmongers and racists is racism and outrageous, and as members of the peace camp we are personally hurt by it.”

Iain Smith, chair of EIFF, said he had launched a review. “I apologise sincerely for the distress. Clearly we didn’t appreciate enough that our festival cannot keep itself entirely detached from serious geopolitical issues,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

West Bank: Israelis Kill Hamas Official

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, MAY 28 — A Palestinian sought after for terrorism charges, including murder, was killed today by Israeli security forces in an armed clash that took place near the village of Dura, not far from Hebron (West Bank), reported official sources. The operation, according to the sources, aimed at the suspect’s capture, but it digressed into a shoot-out and the latter was mortally wounded by Border Corps patrol. The raid was jointly conducted by the Border Corps, Shin Bet (internal security) and Army units. The man that was killed, according to the Israeli online agency Ynet, was Abdel Majid Dudin, described as “a front-line member of the military wing in the West Bank” of Hamas, the radical Islamic movement that holds the reigns in the Gaza Strip. Already arrested and imprisoned for some time in the past by Palestinian National Authority (PNA) security forces, Dudin had been followed by Israeli law enforcement since 1995. Considered the leader of an active Hamas cell in Hebron, he was accused, among other things, of having organised two bloody attacks 14 years ago on two Israeli buses: the first in Jerusalem and the second in a Tel Aviv suburb, which cost the lives of 4 and 6 people respectively. According to PNA police forces interviewed by Ynet, Israeli security forces tried to flush him out with a bulldozer from the house that he was hiding in near Dura and then returned fire inside the dwelling. During the operation different residents of the area were arrested for aiding and abetting the suspect. From Gaza, the spokesman Abu Obaida already threatened revenge from the Qassam Brigade (the armed wing of Hamas): “We feel free to retaliate in the West Bank to avenge commander Dudin and we will do it soon,” he proclaimed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iran Official Accuses US Over Mosque Bomb

A provincial official in Iran has accused the United States of being behind Thursday’s bombing of a mosque that killed at least 19 people.

Jalal Sayah, deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchestan province, said three people had been arrested following the attack..

“According to the information we obtained they were hired by America and the agents of arrogance,” he said.

Some 60 people were hurt in the attack during evening prayers at the mosque in Sistan-Baluchestan’s capital, Zahedan.

The city is mainly Sunni Muslim and the remote province is one of the most deprived in this mostly Shia country.

It comes at a time of heightened political sensitivity nationally, with just over two weeks before the first round of the presidential election.

Zahedan’s Amir al-Mohini mosque — an important Shia mosque in the city — was crowded with worshippers when the attack happened.

They had gathered for prayers on what was a public holiday to mark the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima.

Iranian media said a suicide bomber had carried out the attack, and officials said after the blast that arrests had been made.

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

National Geographic Blames Israel for Christianity’s Decline in Middle East

In its June 2009 issue, National Geographic demonstrated just how far it is willing to go to scapegoat Israel for suffering in the Middle East. The magazine also showed how far it is willing to go to downplay the role Islam played in contributing to Christianity’s decline in the region. In an article written by Don Belt, the magazine’s senior editor for foreign affairs, National Geographic portrays the departure of Christians from the Holy Land as largely a consequence of Israeli (and American) policies in the region. The article offers no honest description of the well-documented mistreatment of Christians at the hands of Muslim majority populations in the Middle East.

The Crusades

Belt’s efforts to whitewash the role Islamic conquest played in the decline of Christianity in the Middle East becomes obvious in the third paragraph of the article which states that “it was during the Crusades (1095-1291) that Arab Christians, slaughtered along with Muslims by the crusaders and caught in the cross fire between Islam and the Christian West, began a long, steady retreat into the minority.”

In reality, Arab Christianity began its “long, steady retreat” into minority status hundreds of years before the European crusaders ever set foot in the Holy Land. As Bat Ye’or and other commentators have documented, the process of forced conversion and subjugation of Christians in the Middle East began soon after the death of Mohammed in 632. Ye’or writes that after unifying the Arabian Peninsula under Muslim rule, Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s successor, brought war to non-Muslims, including Christians, outside Arabia. In her book The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Farleigh Dickinson Press, 1996) Ye’or writes:

Arab idolaters had to choose between death or conversion; as for Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, if they paid tribute and accepted the conditions of conquest, they could buy back their right to live, freedom of worship and security of property.

In 640 the second caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, drove the Jewish and Christian tributaries out of Hijasz by invoking the dhimma (contract) of Khaybar: the land belonged to Allah and his Envoy and the contract could be broken at the discretion of the imam, the religious and political leader of the umma [Muslim religious community] and the interpreter of Allah’s will. Umar also invoked the desire expressed by the Prophet on his deathbed: “Two religions should not co-exist within the Arabian peninsula.” (Page 39)

While Ye’or is careful to explain that the subjugation of peoples and faiths was part and parcel of life in the Middle East at the time and that offering conquered peoples a chance to convert to Islam “curbed the barbarity of war,” she also makes clear that Christianity declined under Muslim conquest in the region conducted under the rubric of jihad, or holy war against non-Muslims.

Instead of acknowledging this history, Belt portrays early Muslim history as a time of tolerance, describing the Levant’s history of “coexistence between Muslims and people of other faiths, which dates from the earliest days of Islam. When the Muslim Caliph Omar conquered Syria from the Byzantine Empire around 636, he protected the Christians under his rule, allowing them to keep their churches and worship as they pleased.”

Here again, Belt ignores an inconvenient truth: that by the eighth century Arab Muslim rulers used indigenous Christian communities as both a source of income and forced labor (slavery) in the Middle East, a policy that contributed to the decline of Christianity in the region. (For a detailed description of this process, consult Bat Ye’or’s The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, pages 100-140.)

Key passage

In one key passage, Belt lays out his agenda: Obscure the facts about where Christianity is growing in the Middle East (Israel), downplay and minimize the role Muslim extremism plays in marginalizing Christians in Palestinian society, and blame Western Christians for the misdeeds of Muslims in the region. In this passage, Belt writes:

For anyone living in Israel or the Palestinian territories, stress is the norm. But the 196,500 Palestinian and Israeli Arab Christians, who dropped from 13 percent of the population in 1894 to less than 2 percent today, occupy a uniquely oxygen-starved space between traumatized Israeli Jews and traumatized Palestinian Muslims, whose rising militancy is tied to regional Islamist movements that sometimes target Christians. In the past decade, “the situation for Arab Christians has gone rapidly downhill,” says Razek Siriani, a frank and lively man in his 40s who works for the Middle East Council of Churches in Aleppo, Syria. “We’re completely outnumbered and surrounded by angry voices,” he says. Western Christians have made matters worse, he argues, echoing a sentiment expressed by many Arab Christians.. “It’s because of what Christians in the West, led by the U.S., have been doing in the East,” he says, ticking off the wars in Iraq Afghanistan, U.S. support for Israel, and the threats of “regime change” by the Bush Administration. “To many Muslims, especially the fanatics, this looks like the crusades all over again, a war against Islam waged by Christianity. Because we’re Christians, they see us as the enemy too. It’s guilt by association.”

The first problem with this passage is that it obscures the increase of the Christian population in Israel.

Belt is correct when he reports that the overall percentage of Christians in Israeli society has declined from what it was in the 1800s. Christians have become a smaller proportion of the population in Israel — not because they are leaving but because of the growth of Israel’s Jewish population. Israel is after all, the Jewish homeland. Despite this proportional decline, Israel’s Christian population has increased substantially in absolute numbers since its founding, a fact Belt does not acknowledge. As previous CAMERA analysis on this subject reveals, the population of Christians in Israel is currently increasing at a rater faster than that of Jews in Israel. Analyst Tamar Sternthal writes:

As documented in the Central Bureau of Statistics’ Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 (Chart 2.2), in the last dozen years, Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 percent. In fact, the Christian growth rate has outpaced the Jewish growth in Israel in the last 12 years! In 1995, there were 4,522,300 Jews in Israel, and in 2007 there were 5,478,200, representing a growth rate of 21 percent — 4 percent less than the Christian population grew during the same time.

Since 1949, when there were 34,000 Christians in Israel, the population has grown 345 percent.

Clearly, Israel’s population of Christians is growing substantially. Why does Belt omit this fact?

Another problem with Belt’s analysis is that it portrays Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as caught between two local parties — traumatized Israeli Jews and traumatized Palestinian Muslims — who are equally responsible for the suffering of Christians in Palestinian society. Numerous sources — which have largely been ignored or dismissed by the human rights and peacemaking communities in the West — have shown that the mistreatment of Christians in Palestinian society is rooted in a religiously-based ideology that calls for the subjugation of non-Muslims in Muslim majority society. For example, in 2005, Justus Reid Weiner invoked the phrase “imperfect citizenship” to describe the precarious position Christians endured in Palestinian society as a result of the Muslim influence on Palestinian governance and law. He writes:

As long as the religious factor influences the Muslim concept of citizenship, it will remain a particular problem for Christians, as Muslim culture only grants the rights and benefits of full citizenship to followers of Islam.

While Weiner reports that Muslim hostility toward Christians has increased since 9/11, the fact remains that the subjugation of Christians in the Middle East has roots much deeper than 9/11, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. support for Israel. Religious and ethnic minorities are badly treated throughout the Middle East and when it comes to human rights and civil liberties, Arabs, whether Christian or Muslim, enjoy more rights in Israel than they do in Arab-majority states throughout the region.

National Geographic‘s attempt to blame the decline of Christianity in Palestinian society on Israel is also evident in the captions to the photos displayed along with the cover story. Underneath a photo of barbed wired in the West Bank, a caption reads “Christian farmers lost their olive groves when Israelis built a fence around a settlement.” Another caption quotes a Christian in Bethlehem as saying “Under Israel occupation, normal life is impossible.”

Nowhere in the article is there any testimony about the harassment of Christians in Palestinian society. Nor is there any explanation why Israel built the security barrier and instituted checkpoints. The security barrier and the checkpoints were put in place for a reason which Belt cannot be bothered to acknowledge — Palestinian terrorism. At what point will the Christians start holding terrorists responsible for the construction of the security barrier and the checkpoints in the West Bank?

Exaggerating Christian Influence

Belt also exaggerates the role Christianity plays in the Middle East, invoking the quote from a Syrian monk who says

… Muslims are us. This is the lesson the West has yet to learn and that Arab Christians are uniquely qualified to teach. They are the last, vital link between the Christian West and the Arab Muslim world. If Arab Christians were to disappear, the two sides would drift even further apart than they already are. They are the go-betweens.

Here Belt proffers a well-worn trope of Arab Christians serving as “go-betweens” between Muslims in the Middle East and Christians in the West. But Arab Christians have barely any influence among their Muslim brethren. Their main influence is on Christians in the U.S. and Europe.

For example, Bernard Lewis, in Semites And Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice (W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), offers a detailed narrative about how Christian churches in the Middle East and the governments of the countries in which they were located worked to dissuade the Vatican from removing the deicide charge (the notion that the Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Christ) from the theology of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s. Fortunately, these negative efforts failed to prevent landmark theological changes that have fostered improved Catholic-Jewish relations in the years since.

Another example of the “influence” of Arab Christians is the work of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. This organization has little, if any ability to constrain suicide attacks against Israel, but does condemn Israel to American audiences at numerous conferences. To be sure, the group’s founder, Anglican Priest Naim Ateek, condemns suicide bombings — in English — to audiences of Western Christians (people who are not likely candidates for perpetrating suicide attacks), but his influence over Hamas is minimal at best.

If Arab Christians are go-betweens, their influence is one way — from the Middle East to the West. Their ability to moderate political life and reduce violence in Muslim-majority countries in the region is miniscule.

Attacks on Palestinian Christians Omitted

While Belt acknowledges the hostility between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon in an extended interview with a Maronite Christian who worries about being outgunned by Shiite Militias, he fails to mention the mistreatment of Christians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by the Muslim majority. There is no lack of information on this subject, just a lack of Palestinian Christians willing to be quoted publicly about it. Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian Muslim journalist who has covered the problem extensively for the Jerusalem Post, recently wrote the following for the Hudson Institute:

Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Beit Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents. . . .

Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.

While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.

In addition, Christians continue to complain about discrimination when it comes to employment in the public sector. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 15 years ago, not a single Christian was ever appointed to a senior security post. Although Bethlehem has a Christian mayor, the governor, who is more senior than him, remains a Muslim.

Toameh is not the only source of this type of information. Harry de Quetteville reported the following Sept. 9, 2005 in The Daily Telegraph (London):

Christians in the Holy Land have handed a dossier detailing incidents of violence and intimidation by Muslim extremists to Church leaders in Jerusalem, one of whom said it was time for Christians to “raise our voices” against the sectarian violence.

The dossier includes 93 alleged incidents of abuse by an “Islamic fundamentalist mafia” against Palestinian Christians, who accused the Palestinian Authority of doing nothing to stop the attacks.

The dossier also includes a list of 140 cases of apparent land theft, in which Christians in the West Bank were allegedly forced off their land by gangs backed by corrupt judicial officials. . . .

The alleged attacks on Christians have come despite repeated appeals to the Palestinian Authority to rein in Muslim gangs.

A spokesman for the Apostolic Delegate, the Pope’s envoy to Jerusalem, said nothing had been done to tackle the problem. “The Apostolic Delegate presented a list of all the problems to Mr [Yasser] Arafat before he died,” he said. “He promised a lot but he did very little.”

In the offices of his tiny Christian television station in Bethlehem, Samir Qumsieh said this week that Christian appeals to Mr Arafat’s successor as Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, had also gone unheeded.

“At least Arafat responded,” he said, “Abbas does not answer our letters.”

Nowhere is any of this mentioned in Belt’s article, possibly because no one is willing to be quoted on these issues. Paul Merkley, author of Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001) reports that after the Oslo Accords, Palestinian Christians were very reluctant to publicly criticize the Palestinian Authority. On page 81 Merkley writes:

It is very difficult to get at all the truth about life for Christians under the Palestinian Authority. The official Palestinian press speaks of the unqualified enthusiasm for the new situation, which extends to the whole Christian community. Arab Christian spokesmen insist that relations between Christian and Muslim Palestinians have never been better. But there is a compelling body of evidence indicating that Christians are now facing many more obstacles to the free exercise of their faith than they ever endured under direct Israeli rule. Designated spokesmen for the various Christian communities all insist that they have no concern for the future of Christianity in a Muslim state.

The story is a bit different, Merkley reports, when one speaks to the lay members of the Christian community.

In my own conversations with Palestinian Christians who were not designated spokespersons for their church communities, I was told of abandonment of the ordinary Christians by the political opportunists who are leaders of their congregations. According to [Judith] Sudilosky [an Israeli journalist]: “Privately, Arab Christians will say what they dare not say publically: that most Christians would rather live under Israeli authority than risk living under another Moslem regime.” Yossi Klein Halevi quotes one of the few remaining Christian merchants in the Christian quarter: “Our leaders are liars: They tell the newspapers that everything is OK. But when Christians go to the market, they’re afraid to wear their crosses.” (Page 84).

Dubious Testimony

Belt does include testimony from a pseudonymous couple as they celebrate Easter, who like the leaders of the Palestinian Christian community, apparently say very little about the Muslim majority, but a lot about the hated state of Israel. Belt, who assigns them the names “Mark” and “Lisa,” reports the following:

This is the first Easter, ever, that Mark has been allowed to spend with the family in Jerusalem. He is from Bethlehem, in the West Bank, so his identity papers are from the Palestinian Authority; he needs a permit from Israel to visit. Lisa, whose family lives in the Old City, holds an Israeli ID. So although they’ve been married for five years and rent this apartment in the Jerusalem suburbs, under Israeli law they can’t reside under the same roof. Mark lives with his parents in Bethlehem, which is six miles away but might as well be a hundred, lying on the far side of an Israeli checkpoint and the 24-foot-high concrete barrier known as the Wall.

Yes, it is sad that the couple cannot live together in Jerusalem. But it’s also unreasonable to expect that “Mark” would be given citizenship or residency based on his marriage to Lisa. Israel, like most other countries, including the United States, proffers residency and citizenship to foreigners after an extensive application process. Marriage alone does not guarantee the right to residency or citizenship, as Belt seems to suggest it should. If the couple were interested in living together, it is very likely “Lisa” could move to Bethlehem without any difficulty. Yes, she could very well lose her Israeli identification papers and the fact that she has not made that sacrifice indicates that Israeli residency, even for a Palestinian Christian is valuable enough to endure separation from her husband. Why? One likely reason is that as a Christian in Israel she enjoys rights that she would not enjoy in the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Belt, however, fails to address any of this, but provides the reader with a narrative that portrays Israel as denying a married couple the right to live together.

Belt fails to provide his readers with an important part of the story. Prior to the Second Intifada, passage between Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was much easier than it is today. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians worked legally (and illegally) in Israel, and made up a significant part of the Israeli labor force. The suicide attacks which took place during the Second Intifada had a two-fold impact. First, they prompted Israelis to institute stricter security measures such as the security barrier and the checkpoints. Second, they reduced the numbers of Palestinian workers in Israel. In other words, what Belt is leaving out, is that Palestinian terrorism played a substantial role in making passage between Bethlehem and Jerusalem difficult for the married couple he is describing.

The contempt “Lisa” and her family have for Israel is revealed when Belt describes “Mark’s” washing the family car on Easter.

Right on cue, with a playful flourish, Mark squeezes the nozzle on the hose. Nothing comes out.. He checks the faucet, squeezes again. Still nothing. So there he stands, empty hose in hand, in front of his kids, his neighbors, and a visitor from oversees. “I guess they’ve opened the pipes to the settlements,” he says quietly, gesturing to the hundreds of new Israeli housing units climbing up the hills nearby. “No more [water] for us.” Lisa is still trying to explain this to the kids as the car pulls away from the curb.

I hate the Israelis,” Lisa says one day, out of the blue. “I really hate them. We all hate them.. I think even Nate’s [her son] starting to hate them.”

Given that Belt offers no evidence to suggest that he has confirmed for himself that “Mark” was unable to wash his car because water was being shipped to Israeli settlements, it is entirely possible that the event was staged for his benefit. It would not be the first time. Hamas staged “blackouts” in the Gaza Strip in 2008, and French filmmaker Pierre Rehov has documented in his movie The Road to Jenin how Palestinian officials encouraged sources to fabricate stories about delays at checkpoints for the benefit of Western journalists. And there is ample evidence to indicate that much of the footage broadcast from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is staged to portray Palestinians as suffering under the lash of Israeli oppression. (For more on this issue see Richard Landes’ website,

Regardless of what caused the apparent lack of water, Belt fails to report that Israel has been subject to a serious drought in the past few years. In January 2009, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israeli experts predicted a water shortage for the upcoming summer because of a lack of rainfall. Clearly, there is more to this story than Belt reports, but the car-washing episode was apparently too good to check. Belt himself reports the feelings of hate members of the family openly express for Israel, giving him good reason to question their story, but instead of doing his job as a journalist, he passes on their innuendo without challenge.

This highly distorted and deceptive rendition of Christian difficulties in the Middle East is not worthy of National Geographic.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Turkey Joins EU Information, Communication Program

(ANSAmed) — BRUXELLES, MAY 28 — Turkey joined the European Union’s information and communication technologies policies support program, the second component of the compatibility and innovation frame program aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. As daily Hurriet reports today, the memorandum of understanding for Turkey’s participation in the program was signed between Turkey’s permanent representative to the EU, Volkan Bozkir, and European Commission Information Society and Media Directorate-General head Fabio Colasanti on Tuesday. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Russia: Village Accidentally Shelled; No Injuries

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — A Russian naval ship carrying out target practice off the Russian Baltic Sea coast accidentally rained shell fragments on a village near St. Petersburg, officials said Friday.

Nobody was injured when the fragments from shells fired by an anti-submarine ship in the Gulf of Finland fell on houses in the village of Zelyonaya Roshcha, close to the border with Finland, regional military prosecutor Igor Lebedev said. An investigation has begun, Lebedev said.

Russia’s NTV television said that the ship fired its six-barrel anti-aircraft gun near the shore, and the exploding shells rained shards of metal on the village. It showed metal fragments several centimeters (inches) long which were spread all over the area.

“Some people thought that a war started,” one villager, Yuri Mikhailov, was quoted as telling the RIA Novosti news agency. “It was like a hail of steel.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Village Woman Mercilessly Whipped After Fatwa is Issued Against Her

The woman was punished for filing a paternity claim after her son was born out of wedlock. Village judges say they imposed punishment in accordance with Qur’anic tenets. Human rights activists describe the affair as another “example of social discrimination” and call for greater protection for women.

Dhaka (Asia News) — Rahima Akter, a woman from Noagon (Daudkandi sub-district, eastern Bangladesh), was mercilessly whipped until she lost consciousness after she dared to file a paternity claim against a married man with children. A fatwa ordering that she be whipped 100 times was issued against her by a local Islamic judge for “false testimony”. For human rights activists, the case is but another example of “social discrimination against women” based on the failure to implement laws that protect them and the overall lack of gender equality. After her public ordeal the single mother was taken to the Dhaka Medical College for medical treatment.

“Arbitration in my daughter’s case began at 8 pm on 22 May. The Mawlana chaired the committee,” Rahina’s mother, Rasheda Begum, told AsiaNews. “She [the daughter] explained that she started an affair with Abdul Karim, who is married and father of three children. As a result of their relation, my grandson Ramzan was born.”

The young mother tried without success to get him to acknowledge paternity and this led to an arbitration hearing, which was held in the village madrassah or Qur’anic school.

“There were 200 to 400 people,” Rasheda Begum said. “My daughter swore on the Qur’an that Karim was the father, but he strongly denied it. He, too, took an oath.”

The arbitration council then ruled that the man was right, based on the Islamic legal principle that the testimony by a man is worth more than that of a woman. Therefore, Rahima was found guilty of perjury and was sentenced to be whipped 100 times.

The sentence was carried out right away, but the young woman lost consciousness after 39 blows. Her parents took her away but the conditions of the young woman were so bad that she had to be hospitalised.

Village leaders also warned the family not to file any complaint with the police, or they would suffer consequences.

Contacted by AsiaNews the doctor that treated Rahina said that when the victim arrived in hospital “she was in a really bad situation. I was shocked at the brutality of the treatment.”

On Tuesday the family too was moved to the hospital where they took DNA tests.

For security reasons, outsiders were not allowed to meet them.

Police said that they were conducting an investigation into case and announced that they already had “three of the six accused in custody after a case was filed by Abdul Matin, the father of the victim.”

The men charged are Mawlana Abul Kashem, 55; Abdul Karim, the alleged 35-year-old father; and Shah Alam, 50.

Police are also trying to apprehend the other three men involved in the case but are facing legal hurdles since the law has no provision about fatwas issued by Islamic judges.

For human rights activists the whole story is shameful. Khushi Kabir, coordinator of a human rights organisation that helps poor families, explained that “there is no specific law regulating fatwas by Islamic courts or concerning paternity.” For this reason the “government should take the proper initiative and introduce a new law.” Rahina’s case is “an example of a gross injustice against a woman.”

For Sarah Hossain, a barrister and human rights activist, the whole affair smacks of “social discrimination against women” based on the failure to implement laws to protect them.

Equality between men and women in Bangladesh remains a pipe dream because of the country’s dominant patriarchal culture which crushes every effort to emancipate women.

Despite government openness in the matter and some social groups in favour of change, Islamic legal scholars and ulemas are steadfastly opposed to gender equality because in their view it is incompatible with the Qur’an and the Sunnah, “the way and the manners of the prophet”.

In Bangladesh many women who dare rebel against their husbands or demand greater social justice have been dealt with sulphuric acid.

The first documented case goes back to 1967. Since then there has been a steady rise in the number of cases: 47 in 1996, 130 in 1997 and 200 in 1998. In 2002 more than 480 women were disfigured. In fact in October 2008 AsiaNews published the story of a young woman who was disfigured with acid by her husband because her family would not pay her dowry.

As a result of local and international awareness raising campaigns, the government adopted in 2002 a law banning throwing acid in the face of young women for economic reasons, jealousy or refusal to submit to forced sex.

So far though, only 190 cases went to trail between 2002 and 2007 out 1,428 cases filed in courts with 254 people found guilty and sentenced.

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

Islamic Extremism on the Rise Again in Central Asia

A blast kills policeman in Andijan. Uzbek-Kyrgyz border is the scene of shoot-out with police. Experts fear government repression and poverty in the Ferghana Valley, a crossroad of three states, might make residents more susceptible to radical Islam.

Tashkent (AsiaNews/Agencies) — A police man was killed and others injured in a suicide attack in the city of Andijan yesterday. Unknown gunmen also fired at Uzbek policemen in Khanabad on the border with Kyrgyzstan. Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), on offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan accused in the past of various attacks in Central Asia, and have reignited fears of a rise in Islamist militancy in the Ferghana Valley, an area that borders on several countries.

Kyrgyz sources said that four policemen were killed in Khanabad when they tried to stop a car that was trying to drive through a border checkpoint into Kyrgyzstan, something that Uzbek authorities have denied. Uzbekistan said instead that it is in perfect control of its territory and that Uzbek troops are patrolling the border.

Whatever the case may be, such incidents are a sign of widespread instability and violence in the Ferghana, a valley that is divided between the two countries and Tajikistan that has been affected by significant social unrest since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is also one of the poorest areas of Central Asia with high unemployment and limited social assistance from governments.

Making matters worse the circumstances “could make the population susceptible to radical groups who provide a means of channelling this discontent,” said Matthew Clements, Eurasia editor in the Country Risk Department for Jane’s Information Group.

Although unemployment is high in Uzbekistan and millions of Uzbek men and women have left the country for seasonal jobs in Russia, Kazakhstan, and even impoverished Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the Uzbek government continues to claim that unemployment is less than 1 per cent.

In May 2005 Uzbek troops fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing hundreds, in Andijan. But instead finding out what really happened, the government has consistently claimed that there was a riot. At the same time though, many eyewitnesses to the “riot” were incarcerated, tortured and sentenced to silence them.

The situation is so uncertain that many doubt that the IJU is really behind the attacks.

Many suspect that organised crime is responsible with the help of rogue officials from both countries.

On each side of the border the local population has been increasingly left without outside help, making it more easily susceptible to appeals by proponents of radical ideologies.

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

Sri Lanka: UN Rejects War Crimes Inquiry

Colombo, 28 May (AKI) — The United Nations human rights council has rejected calls to investigate allegations of war crimes committed by both sides in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s bloody 25-year conflict. The country’s allies on the 47-member council, including China, Cuba and Egypt, on Wednesday forced through a resolution — with 29 votes to 12 against and six abstentions — condemning Tamil Tiger militants for using civilians as human shields.

But it stressed that the war was a “domestic” matter that did not deserve outside interference.

Meanwhile the UN’s humanitarian wing said that the scale of the relief operation in Sri Lanka, where nearly 300,000 people have been displaced, remains “huge”.

An action plan for assistance still needs 60 per cent of the requested funding, it said.

The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs also reported that since UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the country this past week, an interim measure has been agreed whereby aid agency vehicles have greater access to areas such as Menik Farm which need relief.

Menik Farm is among the largest camp sites hosting internally displaced persons resulting from the fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Last week, the Government announced that its military operation against the Tamil separatists had ended.

OCHA also noted that it has been announced that the military will relocate out of the camps, turning over all camp management activities to civilian authorities.

The overall needs in the camps remain “acute,” the office said, with the greatest needs being health posts, doctors and medical personnel, as well as water and sanitation facilities.

Most people arrived in the camps with nothing, so distributions of non-food items like plates, cups and other basic household goods are also priorities when the trucks are re-entering the camps, it noted.

The UN Human Rights Council ended its special session on Sri Lanka, adopting a resolution urging the government to continue strengthening its activities to ensure that there is no discrimination against ethnic minorities.

The 47-member body also welcomed the Sri Lankan authorities’ resolve to start a broader dialogue with all parties, in order to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.

In addition, the Geneva-based council urged the international community to cooperate with the Government in reconstruction efforts, including by increasing financial aid.

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

Far East

China: Police and Army Used to Solve the Problem of Chinese Farmers

Army moves in Rongli (Guangdong) to convince farmers to sell their land at dismally low price. In Yingde (Guangdong) accused of corruption, local authorities use police to prevent residents to present petitions. Row leads to protests; police responds by beating up protesters and arresting everyone.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Residents in Rongli, a village near the city of Foshan (Guangdong), do not want to sell their land for the construction of n expressway. In order to convince them, the authorities have sent in the army. In the meantime police arrested 200 farmers involved in protests in Yingde last Saturday.

Rongli lies in the path of the planned Panyu to Shunde expressway, part of a network of highways being built across the Pearl River Delta economic area, connecting the port with the inland manufacturing centre of Shunde.

Local residents told Radio Free Asia that the price offered for the land is so low that they had could not but refuse the offer.

On Monday night more than 2,000 people went to the Rongli Village Residence Committee to protest.

Eyewitnesses said that the next day 300 soldiers showed up in six buses without licence plates.

Soldiers and local land management bureau officials went house to house “trying to get people to sign an agreement to sell their land, or take responsibility for the outcome. The soldiers were really mean. Some of the older people were so scared they wet themselves,” a resident said. Police and officials stayed until around 9 pm.

Given the rising number of incidents and the growing social unrest China’s national leaders have urged local leaders to solve issued fairly and through dialogue, but local leaders are increasingly resorting to law enforcement and security forces to break any opposition.

In the city of Yingde (Guangdong) police arrested more than 200 people last Saturday for attacking a police station and setting it on fire (rounded up protesters pictured).

Farmers accuse local authorities of corruption and demand to know how public funds were spent.

But police is preventing residents to move freely, stopping them from travelling to the provincial capital to petition higher authorities.

Street protests exploded after the arrest of a number of farmers, who were accused of “plotting to gather several hundred persons to petition at the city government office and creating traffic jams on April 29 and May 11 this year,” an alleged plot that “disrupted government business and hurt social stability”.

In the end hundreds of people demonstrated in front of the police station.

According to the authorities, protesters were wielding hoes, sickles, lime powder, bamboo sticks and other weapons when they faced off against the police.

By contrast, eyewitnesses said that more than a thousand policemen charged the demonstrators, beating anyone and anything on their path, launching trained dogs against people, and arresting anyone who was not able to flee.

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

N. Korea Vows Response if UN Imposes Sanctions

SEOUL (AFP) — North Korea fired another short-range missile on Friday and threatened fresh steps if world powers impose sanctions for its nuclear test, amid signs it may be readying a new long-range launch.

With US and South Korean troops on high alert at the border, Chinese fishing boats were reported to be leaving the area in the Yellow Sea that was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002 between the two Koreas.

The communist North, which has warned it could launch an attack on the South, vowed to respond to any fresh sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

“If the UN Security Council provokes us, our additional self-defence measures will be inevitable,” the North’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried by official media.

“The world will soon witness how our army and people stand up against oppression and despotism by the UNSC and uphold their dignity and independence.”

Tensions have been running high since Kim Jong-Il’s regime tested a nuclear bomb on Monday for the second time and renounced the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

In Washington, two US defence officials said that satellite photos suggest that North Korea may be preparing to launch a long-range ballistic missile.

Vehicle movements at a missile site in North Korea resemble work done before North Korea fired a long-range rocket last month, the officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The UN Security Council unanimously condemned last month’s missile launch. In response, North Korea stormed out of a US-backed six-nation disarmament deal.

The Council has been discussing a potential resolution — stronger than last month’s statement — to condemn the North’s nuclear test. But it was not yet clear if that would include new sanctions.

“This is quite a complicated discussion,” Britain’s UN ambassador John Sawers said Thursday. “We need some time.”

The Council was holding expert-level talks on Friday on how to move forward.

South Korea and the put their troops on the Korean peninsula on higher alert on Thursday, and Seoul’s defence ministry said forces were keeping a close watch on the land and sea border with the North.

North Korea test-fired another missile off its east coast Friday, the sixth this week, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

There was no immediate confirmation but the agency’s reports of five launches earlier this week were later confirmed by Pyongyang.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, en route to a regional security meeting in Singapore, accused the North of “very provocative, aggressive” actions but tried to play down the threat.

Gates said he was unaware of any unusual troop movements in the North, which has around 1.1 million soldiers, compared with 680,000 South Korean and 28,500 US troops south of the border.

“I don’t think there is a need for us to reinforce our military presence in the South. Should the North Koreans do something extremely provocative militarily, then we have the forces to deal with it,” he added.

The North may take further steps following its latest verbal statement, which aims to send a “strong warning” to the Security Council, said Professor Yang Moo-Jin at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.

“The North may put its military on a war footing, test-fire a long-range missile and restart the plutonium reprocessing facilities at Yongbyon,” he told AFP.

The North could also stage a third nuclear test but this would come much later than the other steps, Yang said.

In a possible sign of trouble ahead, Chinese fishing boats were leaving the tense border area in the Yellow Sea, with the number of vessels more than halving on Thursday, South Korea’s defence ministry said.

“As this could be a signal foreboding a possible provocation by the North, we are watching the situation closely,” ministry spokesman Won Tae-Jae said.

Pyongyang warned Wednesday that it could not guarantee the safety of US or South Korean ships after Seoul said it was joining a US-led international effort to stop the trade in weapons of mass destruction.

Many experts believe, however, that the North is not yet able to deliver a nuclear weapon by missile.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Alleged People Smuggler Arrested in Western Australia

May 29, 2009, 10:46 pmA 19-year-old Indonesian man has faced court on multiple people smuggling charges after he was arrested in Perth on Friday morning.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the man was a crew member on a boat intercepted off Ashmore Reef in mid-April.

It’s alleged he helped 47 asylum seekers enter Australia illegally.

“The man was charged with facilitating the bringing of non-citizens into Australia contrary to … the Migration Act,” the AFP said in a statement.

The alleged people smuggler appeared in Perth Magistrates Court on Friday, where police asked for him to be extradited to Darwin.

He’s expected to appear in Darwin Magistrates Court on Monday.

Another alleged people smuggler Hadi Ahmadi appeared in a Perth court on Wednesday.

Ahmadi, 33, a dual Iraqi-Iranian citizen, has been charged with four counts of trafficking people into Australia in 2001.

He also faces at least 17 charges of assisting individuals illegally into Australia.

Ahmadi was extradited to Perth from Indonesia on Tuesday and arrested at the airport.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Australia Considers Taking Guantanamo Detainees

The Federal Government is considering a request by the United States for Australia to resettle detainees from the Guantanamo Bay.

It is the third request by the US but the first to be made by the new President Barack Obama.

The detainees are 17 Uighurs, who are Muslims from north-western China.

They have been held for seven years at the prison camp, despite being cleared of links to terrorism.

A Pentagon report in February called for them to be urgently released, but the US Government fears they will face persecution if they return to China.

A spokesman for Kevin Rudd says the Government will consider the request on a case-by-case basis.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Family Court Forces Mum to Stay in Isolated Town After Split

WIVES who follow their husbands to remote corners of Australia in search of work may find themselves stuck in their new home town, unable to leave with the children.

The Family Court has ruled that new shared-parenting laws, brought in by the Howard government in 2006, mean that the right of a child to have a relationship with both parents trumps the right of a mother to return to her home state, even if she has lived in the new location for less than a year.

In the most recent case, the court ruled that a 34-year-old mother could not leave an “isolated” town in northwest Queensland with her five-year-old daughter after her marriage broke down, because it would rupture the close relationship the girl had with her father.

The case has prompted concern among family law experts that the shared-parenting law is effectively forcing people “back into failed relationships”.

Elspeth McInnes, a researcher in family law at the University of South Australia, cited research by the Family Law Council that suggested the right of women to relocate after divorce had essentially been lost, under the amendments to the Family Law Act.

Previously, judges were prepared to consider the idea that women or mums could go where there is extended family support for them and their children,” Ms McInnes told The Australian.

The mother in the northwest Queensland case, known in court transcripts as Mrs Rosa, got married in 2000 and had her child in 2002.

She lived with her husband in Sydney until 2007, when he got a job as a mining engineer in a remote part of Queensland. The town is not named in the transcript, but is described as “isolated”.

The Rosas moved up as a family, but after eight months, the husband told the wife that the marriage was over, put her possessions in boxes, and put them on the deck.

Mrs Rosa, 34, took their daughter back to her mother’s house in Sydney but the father petitioned the Family Court for their return, saying he wanted to maintain a relationship with his child.

During court proceedings, the mother argued that the father could quit his job and return to Sydney and share custody of their daughter in their home town.

He declined, saying his job had become important and was “interesting”.

The court ruled that the mother could not leave northwest Queensland with the child. She argued that she was isolated and impoverished. She lives in a caravan, because it is the only accommodation she can afford. She appealed to the Full Court of the Family Court, which upheld the decision on May 15.

The federal magistrate said the mother’s plan to move would have a “most serious and detrimental effect upon the very close and important relationship that exists (between the daughter and her Dad)”.

Family law academic Barbara Biggs said: “It’s a dreadful situation, to force a woman to live in a town where she has no family and no work, and to say that’s the only way the child can be raised.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

India Summons Australia Envoy Over Attacks, PMs Speak

INDIA’S prime minister spoke to Kevin Rudd yesterday and expressed concern over a spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, as New Delhi summoned the Australian ambassador and urged action.

The two leaders spoke by telephone against the backdrop of a media storm in India after four Indian students were attacked with a screwdriver by a gang at a Melbourne party last weekend.

One of the victims remained in hospital with serious injuries.

On Monday, an Indian student was attacked in what appeared to be a robbery, and there were three other attacks in early May, including two on Indian taxi drivers.

An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also spoken about the attacks when Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called yesterday to congratulate him on his re-appointment.

“Our concerns at attacks on Indian students were conveyed suitably,” spokesman Vishnu Prakash said.

Media reports in India say the attacks were race-based.

“I have not seen the evidence that they were racist, but I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t discount it. Some racism exists in Australia, it’s appalling, we condemn it,” ambassador John McCarthy said after meeting Indian officials.

“The Secretary (East) conveyed India’s concerns very clearly and very much urged that we take steps to ensure that students are better briefed about conditions in Australia and to ensure these sort of incidents do not occur again.”

He said police had made several arrests in the attacks.

Indian TV stations repeatedly showed footage of one of the attacks inside a train in which a group of young men wearing hooded jackets were seen punching and kicking a man.

Australian colleges and universities are popular with Indian students pursuing degrees in business, information technology, engineering and hospitality.

More than 80,000 of them have enrolled in Australian institutions since August last year.

Mr Rudd said: “I am concerned about any act of violence in the streets and suburbs of Australia’s cities and towns and particularly when we are obviously hosts to students from around the world.

“It is appalling in every sense. Any act of violence, any decent human being just responds with horror at the sorts of attack which have occurred recently.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Bolivia Confirms Plans to Explore for Uranium

LA PAZ — The Bolivian government confirmed Thursday that the provincial government of Potosi has a project in the works to explore for uranium at an old mine.

National Mining Director Freddy Beltran told Efe that efforts will be carried out to find uranium at the Cotaje mine; uranite (any of the uranium phosphates) was produced there in 1974, although because it was “of low concentration” the mine was shut down shortly thereafter.

On Tuesday, an official from the Potosi administration told the media that that region plans to invest $300,000 to begin exploring for that mineral, while Beltran said Thursday that the project still is in a “preliminary” phase.

Beltran added that the national government is unaware whether uranium exists in other parts of the country because “regrettably” Bolivia’s geological map covers just 25 percent of its territory.

At the end of March, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, met in La Paz with leftist President Evo Morales and announced that organization’s willingness to cooperate with Bolivia on the exploration and exploitation of uranium mines.

After his meeting with the president, the IAEA chief said there are “several nuclear development projects in Bolivia,” including one to “explore uranium mines.”

Meanwhile, Beltran stressed Thursday that Bolivia is not currently producing or exporting uranium, as the Israel government claimed this week when it accused the Andean country and Venezuela of providing that mineral for Iran’s nuclear program.

“It’s a tall tale, it’s a lie, because Bolivia doesn’t export even one milligram to any part of the world. It doesn’t export because it doesn’t exploit uranium,” he said.

Earlier this week, Morales’ chief of staff, Juan Ramon Quintana, called Israel’s accusations “ridiculous” and said they would “only occur to a clown.”

Quintana said Bolivia’s relations with Iran are “totally transparent” and aimed at “industrialization projects.” EFE

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Mexican Trains, Trucks Hijacked in New Crime Wave

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) — With Mexican law enforcement tied up attacking drug cartels, free-lance crime gangs have become more daring and sophisticated, hijacking trucks and trains and stealing massive loads of steel, coffee and beans..

These gangsters are armed not only with guns but heavy machinery to unload industrial materials and bulk agricultural goods, deftly passing them off to the black market.

Mexico’s third largest steel producer, Altos Hornos de Mexico, or AHMSA, has been victim of nearly 40 robberies since January 2008, mostly along one stretch of deserted road in northern Mexico between the cities of Monterrey and Monclova.

“This wasn’t happening before,” AHMSA spokesman Francisco Orduna said.

“To unload a 30-tonne roll of steel is complicated,” he said. “Not just anyone can do that and to find someone who will buy that amount is not that easy either. You have to be really well organized.”

Mexico’s steel chamber said robberies skyrocketed by 250 percent last year, as 12,500 tons were carted off by thieves, sometimes truck and all. Losses totaled 150 million pesos ($11 million) in 2008 and have continued as a fast clip this year.

The robberies are raising the cost of doing business in Mexico as companies hire guards, expensive security consultants and specialized satellite positioning devices to track cargo.

The United States, worried about violence spilling over the border, has pledged millions of dollars to help Mexico attack drug traffickers and some 2,250 people have been killed this year alone as cartels fight the government and each other.

Analysts say the thefts could come from groups splintering off from drug gangs in the chaos.

“The internecine warfare has caused some of the smaller groups to branch off into other lucrative organized crime activities. It’s a kind of diversification,” University of Miami drug expert Bruce Bagley said.

“Stealing cargo, collecting protection money, kidnapping are all part and parcel. Once you get a taste for this life, it is hard to go back,” he said.


Using intelligence gathered from employees either intimidated or paid off to leak transport routes, the well-connected groups can hijack a truck making a pit stop, empty out the cargo and dump the driver on an abandoned road.

Gerardo Bortoni, who heads an association of truck drivers in Monclova, said the thieves hand products over to corrupt businessman while authorities turn the other way.

“They are stealing everything, coffee, cacao, pistachios. Before it was just sporadic now its very common. We’re afraid to haul a lot of products,” he said.

Due to the murky nature of the crimes, it is unclear who the customers are for the stolen goods but Bortoni said in the case of steel, buyers would need the capacity to process raw materials. Wholesalers say stolen food products will show up at the same markets they were taken from, just at a lower price.

Grupo Mexico, which operates Ferromex, one of Mexico’s main railroads, set up a system to pay government security forces to guard their trains after a spike in thefts.

In a series of hijackings late last year, bands of dozens of people, armed sometimes with machetes and rocks, sacked entire trainloads of corn and beans.

Rising unemployment from an economic downturn in Mexico and the United States has left legions of young men out of work, also aggravating the crime problem.

If the goods are not targeted in transit they can be hit before they are even loaded up.

When the lime harvest began last December in the western state of Michoacan, truckers packing produce were greeted by men with guns claiming links to two powerful drug cartels in the region and demanding a fee for each crate.

Luis Armas, who represents a group wholesalers in western Mexico, said the extortionists asked for cash as frequently as three times a week until the season ended in March.

The “tax” on about three-quarters of the national supply during those months raised the price of limes by a peso or two per kilo, Armas estimated.

“We usually don’t carry weapons and don’t have private security. We are easy targets,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Amnesty International Slams Italy

‘Climate of racism and failure to respect migrants’ rights’

(ANSA) — Rome, May 28 — Amnesty International has slammed Italy for racism and its failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers in its 2009 global report on the state of human rights.

The report highlighted the plight of Roma gypsies living in Italy, who it said were the victims of racially motivated attacks and forced evictions as well as being unprotected by the authorities Speaking on Wednesday, a day before the report was made public, Amnesty’s Italian branch president, Christine Weise, said the Roma were “in many cases at the centre of contempt” for human rights in “a climate of growing racism”.

Amnesty also criticised Italy for failing to address human rights violations committed in the context of the United States-led programme of renditions with reference to the alleged CIA abduction of a Muslim cleric from Milan in 2003.

Abu Omar says he was snatched by a team of CIA operatives with the help of Italian military intelligence agency SISMI and whisked off to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany.

From there, he was taken to Egypt to be interrogated, reportedly under duress.

Nasr, who was under investigation in Italy on suspicion of helping terrorists, was released early in 2007 from an Egyptian jail where he says he was beaten, given electric shocks and threatened with rape.

He has demanded millions of euros in compensation from the Italian government.

Italy is currently conducting a landmark trial into the affair but this is being held up by conflicting state-secrecy pleas.

Amnesty’s report also condemns Italy for “failing to include torture as a crime in its criminal code or to introduce an effective police accountability mechanism”.

It claims investigations into allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials were “inadequate” and highlighted trials against police accused of brutality at the 2001 Group of Eight summit in Genoa.


The report does not cover Italy’s recent controversial decision to to return migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya back to the north African country.

However, it criticised Italy for “lacking comprehensive legislation for the protection of asylum seekers”.

Weise on Wednesday described the “driving back of refugees who arrive by boat in deep seas” as “an expression of (Italy’s) contempt for human rights and for really desperate people who are looking for help”.

She also said Italy would be “held responsible” for what happens to migrants and asylum seekers brought back to Libya in view of “persistent reports of torture and other mistreatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers” there.

Italy has sent back to Libya, which has not signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, nearly 500 would-be migrants since the launch of the policy on May 6. In a chapter on Libya, the Amnesty report says authorities announced in January their intention to expel all illegal immigrants from the country. “They consequently conducted mass expulsions of Ghanaians, Malians, Nigerians and citizens from other countries,” it said. The report said that 700 Eritreans are also “at risk of forced repatriation (from Libya), despite fears that they will be exposed to serious human rights violations in Eritrea”. On Tuesday Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini pledged to put pressure on Libya to grant full diplomatic powers to UN refugee agency UNHCR so that it will be able to vet the asylum claims of would-be migrants. Frattini added that Libya had expressed willingness to work with UNHCR, describing this as “an important step forward”. Last week the UNHCR complained that Libya does not allow its representatives to visit all its migrant holding centres.

The UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Italy, Laura Boldrini, told RAI radio that although the agency has an office in Tripoli with local staff and two foreign representatives, it is there “unofficially”. Italy’s immigration policy has come under criticism from the UN, the Catholic Church and humanitarian organisations.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-Malta Quarrel Resolved

(ANSAmed) — ROME — A summit between Italy, Malta and Libya to face the problem of immigration together, helping the UNHCR to have greater power and recognition in Tripoli as well. But not to solve it, because the problem of immigration is still a “European problem”. In their first meeting since the Pinar incident, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and his Maltese counterpart, Tonio Borg are now speaking about “quarrel between old friends”, confirming that cooperation between the two countries will be the utmost, and they are united in calling Europe in to help: “we refuse to solve this problem bilaterally if Europe is at a standstill”. What Italy and Malta can do, explained Frattini, is to try to “avoid new cases like the Pinar one”, the boat loaded with immigrants which was rescued by Italy in Maltese waters after Valletta turned it away. Through patrols along the Libyan coastline, where 95% of immigrants come from, with bilateral agreements (during Saturday night, Sunday morning, Libyan police arrested 400 people including human traffickers and illegal immigrants), and not just that. The Foreign minister, supported by his Maltese counterpart, relaunched the idea of examining the position of immigrants and asylum requests directly from Tripoli through the UNHCR. And after the harsh criticisms of recent weeks, he confirmed today that the UN office in Tripoli would not be abandoned but would have Italy and Malta’s support. Full “willingness” has come from Tripoli to work with the UNHCR. Libya today launched an appeal to ask the EU to honour agreements made over employment. This was positive news for the UNHCR’s spokesperson in Italy, Laura Boldrini, who remarked however that “the UN agency alone cannot be the solution for protecting those seeking asylum” in a country like Libya which still has no asylum law, and has not signed the Geneva convention of 1951 on the status of refugees. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Maroni, Illegal Immigration Has Been Halted

(ANSAmed) — ROME — The flow of illegal landings on the southern shores of Italy has come to an “almost standstill”. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni stated as much during question time in parliament. He stated that this was achieved “thanks to the effective political fight against illegal immigration carried out by the government, which has implemented operations to accompany immigrants back to where they departed from and turn away illegal immigrants”. As a result the reception centre in Lampedusa was basically empty today because the last 20 illegal immigrants have been transferred to centres that handle requests for political asylum. Minister Maroni then revealed that since the May 6, the day when Italy started directly sending immigrants back to Libya, “the flow of illegal immigrants towards the shores of Sicily, and Lampedusa in particular, has been stopped. This will not make us shut down the Lampedusa centre”. Maroni then announced that he will meet with representatives of the Libyan government in the coming days to “promote” cooperation and commitment to raise awareness in the EU about the battle against illegal immigration. Maroni, boasting results achieved by the government’s policies, emphasised that “Lampedusa has been depicted by the press as a place where a large number of illegal aliens are crammed into a reception centre, all 2,000 of them, and in the past there were even more people, with all sorts of problems”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Roma Camps: Turin and Venice Prefects Named Commissioners

(AGI) — Rome, 28 May — The prefects of Turin and Venice have been appointed extraordinary commissioners to manage the emergency situation of Italy’s Roma camps with an civil protection ordinance, announced Interior Minister Roberto Maroni after a cabinet meeting.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: Government Fights for Numbers Secrecy on Abortions

Data on the number of abortions performed for conditions like club foot and cleft palate must remain secret, government officials will argue today.

An appeal panel will listen to experts who believe the numbers must remain confidential after the Information Commissioner ruled that they must be disclosed.

Such data — involving abortions carried out for reasons like cleft palate, club foot and webbed fingers or toes — was published up until 2002.

But ministers stopped the practice if fewer than 10 cases were involved, saying there was a risk the women or doctors involved could be identified.

The ProLife Alliance challenged this stance in 2005 and requested a release of the figures under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Information Commissioner ordered ministers to publish the data, but the Department of Health refused and appealed against the commissioner’s decision.

Ministers originally called for the hearing to be held in private so the data could be discussed.

An agreement has since been reached with the Information Commissioner’s Office for only part of the hearing to be heard in private.

Abortions can be carried out up until birth under category E, which relates to disability, as long as two doctors agree the procedure should be performed.

There is no list exempting certain conditions such as cleft palate or club foot.

A spokeswoman for the ProLife Alliance said: “We believe there should be absolute transparency and openness about these statistics.

“Abortion is not a right; it can be performed if you fulfil certain conditions under law. Otherwise it remains a criminal act.

“We have been very clear that we have asked for information about all abortions, not just those after 24 weeks.

“This case is about transparency.”

She said it was “nonsense” for the Department of Health to suggest doctors could be at risk of being identified.

People who wished to campaign or pray outside abortion clinics only had to go on the internet to find a clinic rather than looking through Department of Health figures, she said.

She said it was the department’s job to adopt a neutral position on the issue rather than “taking sides” in the debate.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Data on abortions is considered highly sensitive personal data.

“The Office for National Statistics guidance does not recommend releasing any data with a count of less than 10. Releasing such data could increase the risk of identifying individuals.

“The guidance provides clear boundaries to make as much information about abortions available as possible, whilst protecting the individuals concerned — both patients and doctors.

“When the ProLife Alliance asked the Department to release the full data in 2005, we withheld it to secure individuals’ confidentiality.

“However, following an appeal from the ProLife Alliance, the Information Commissioner ruled that the department should release the full data.

“The tribunal hearing taking place on 29 May — 3 June will decide whether the data should be released.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


UN Expert: US Failing to Properly Probe War Crimes

GENEVA — An independent U.N. human rights investigator said Thursday that the United States is failing to properly investigate alleged war crimes committed by its soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although some cases are investigated and lead to prosecutions, others aren’t or result in lenient sentences, said Philip Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings.

“There have been chronic and deplorable accountability failures with respect to policies, practices and conduct that resulted in alleged unlawful killings — including possible war crimes — in the United States’ international operations,” Alston said in a report dated May 26 and published on a U.N. Web site.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission in Geneva, Dick Wilbur, said Alston’s conclusions and recommendations would be reviewed closely.

“We support the independence and work of all U.N. special rapporteurs and meet regularly with those who examine issues in the U.S., including Mr. Alston,” he said.

Alston, a New York University law professor, stressed he saw no evidence on a recent trip to Afghanistan that U.S. forces were committing “widespread” abuses or war crimes.

The U.S. military has conducted dozens of investigations into misconduct by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which have resulted in trials and convictions.

But among numerous cases mentioned in the report, Alston cited that of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, convicted of negligent homicide in the death of Abed Hamed Mowhoush, an Iraqi general who had turned himself in to military authorities. Mowhoush suffocated after his head was covered with a sleeping bag and an electrical cord wrapped around his neck. Welshofer was fined and ordered reprimanded, without jail time.

The U.N. investigator raised the case with U.S. authorities but said he has yet to receive a response.

Alston also criticized the lack of solid statistics on civilian casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Figures collected by the U.S. military on Iraqi civilians killed at checkpoints because they were mistaken for suicide bombers had resulted in changes to military procedure that saved lives, he said.

Alston, an Australian, also examined alleged instances of illegal executions inside the United States, and recommended a systematic review of the death penalty in those states that apply it.

Like other U.N. human rights investigators, Alston is independent and unpaid, but his expenses are covered by the United Nations. His reports have no legal impact, but serve to highlight what he sees as abuses. He is reporting next week on Brazil, Afghanistan, Kenya and Central African Republic.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]