Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/30/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/30/2009Nicolas Sarkozy’s favorite project, the Mediterranean Union, has been stalled for the last year or so. Now the French and Egyptian foreign ministers, after meeting in Paris, have announced their determination to revive the initiative to unite the Maghreb with the EU.

In other news, a study indicates 40% of Somali women in the Netherlands have been genitally mutilated.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Fjordman, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Germany Agrees Deal With Magna, GM to Save Opel
Islamic Finance: Can it Save Western Banks?
Japanese Industrial Output Jumps to 56 Year High of 5.2%.
The Revenge of the Italian Way
Are Tea Partiers the New ‘Terrorists’?
Career Lawyers Overruled on Voting Case
Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food
GOP Attacks Democrats for Climate Proposal
Guess Who Speaks at Commencement Ceremonies
Ohio Man Arrested for Mowing Unkempt Grass at Park
Oklahoma Druggist Arrested for Killing Holdup Man
U.S. Man Who Gave Secrets to Israel Spared Prison
Europe and the EU
Austria: Chancellor Calls for Extension of Army’s Border Patrols
Banks: Spain, Santander to Rebrand U.K. Banks
BBC Offers Apology to Muslim Council of Britain Over Guest’s Remarks
EU: The Conversation Continues, Not Always Politely
‘Forty Percent of Somali Women in Netherlands Genitally Mutilated’
Greece Fears Immigrant Unrest
Gulf Capital Used to Buy Polish Shipyards: Tusk
Italy: Criminals, Judges, Press ‘Evil’
Michael Nazir-Ali: Jesus Wouldn’t Have Voted BNP, and Neither Should Any Christian
NATO: Berlusconi-Rasmussen, Resume Relations With Russia
Sweden: Iraq-Born Teen Solves 300-Year Old Math Puzzle
UK: Poll Reveals Labour Heading for Election Humiliation
UK: Tragic, Unwise: Conservative Grandees Turn on David Cameron Over Plans for European Union
Unmasked: The Football Hooligans Behind Last Weekend’s Bloody Protest in Luton Against a Muslim War Demo
Croatia: Hague; Zagreb Assures Full Cooperation
Mediterranean Union
Cairo and Paris to Re-Launch Alliance
North Africa
Tunisia-Algeria: Strengthening of Border Control
Israel and the Palestinians
Italian Mission in West Bank for New Marshall Plan
Middle East
Defense: Turkey; Expenditures Jump With New Chopper Project
Lebanon: Hezbollah, Facing International Judicial Attacks
Lebanon: Iran Ready to Strengthen Army, Nasrallah
Over Turkish Objection, UN Extends Cyprus Peacekeeping Mandate
Terrorist Flees to Lebanon, FBI Confirms
Turkish Awareness on Human Rights Increases
South Asia
Bangladesh: Two Young Brothers, Victims of a Family Feud, Disfigured With Acid
Pakistan: Islamic Radicals Storm “Blasphemy” Hearing
US Urges Europe, China to Step Up Afghan Help
Far East
Asia: Vietnam Gearing for War With China?
Japan University Gives Away Iphones to Nab Truants
U.S. Won’t Accept North Korea as Nuclear State: Gates
Australia — Pacific
Flu Prompts New Powers
Sub-Saharan Africa
Britons to Return From Zimbabwe
Latin America
‘Homophobic’ Christian TV on the Outs in Brazil?
Miami Judge Awards $1.2 Billion in Suit Against Cuba
Barrot to EU-27, Refugee Transfers Into Union
‘EU Response Needed’ on Immigration
France to Accept 80 Immigrants From Malta
Maroni: EU Commissioner Open to Our Proposals
Sweden: Tax Agency Ready for June 1st ID Card Rush
Culture Wars
Deadline Set in Banned Bible Study Case
‘Gay’ Activist to Oversee Public Classroom ‘safety’
Mandatory ‘Gay’ Day for K-5 Students
Predator Drones Could Face Legal Challenges From Human Rights Advocates

Financial Crisis

Germany Agrees Deal With Magna, GM to Save Opel

BERLIN (Reuters) — Germany reached a landmark deal with Canadian auto parts group Magna, General Motors and governments to save carmaker Opel from the imminent bankruptcy of its U.S. parent, German leaders said on Saturday.

Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck told journalists waiting outside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s offices during the six-hour meeting that a comprehensive deal had been agreed.

“I can tell you that a deal has been reached,” Steinbrueck said shortly after 2 a.m. He added that the deal included bridge financing for Opel worth 1.5 billion euros ($2.1 billion) and a trustee model for the German carmaker.

Siegfried Wolf, the co-chief executive of Magna, cautioned there were still details to be ironed out.

“In five weeks’ time we should have the formal signing of the contract,” he said.

Hesse state premier Roland Koch said, for example, the state assemblies in both Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia — two of four states with Opel plants — would still have to endorse it. He said he hoped that could be completed by Sunday.

Leaders of all four states have endorsed the deal.

Metalworkers’ union IG Metall also backed the accord.

“It is good that the state has finally cleared things up. It was high time,” said Oliver Burkhard, head of the union in North Rhine-Westphalia.

“Now we can look ahead. Now the real work begins. The only thing that is certain is that Opel will keep going.”

Steinbrueck said U.S. Treasury representatives at the meeting had also endorsed the agreement.

Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg renewed his reservations about risks involved with the rescue but added there would also have been risks if Opel declared bankruptcy.

Magna and Opel had presented their plan to senior German officials and representatives of the U.S. Treasury to win their support and ensure the release of the financing that Opel desperately needs to survive over the coming months.

An agreement between GM and Magna is a first step toward securing the future of Ruesselsheim-based Opel, which has been under GM’s control for the past 80 years and traces its roots in Germany back to the 19th century.

“I think this is the start of a new future for Opel, for the workers, the company and the brand,” GM Europe head Carl-Peter Forster told journalists. He added, however, that there would still be some hard negotiations on the fine-print ahead.

The German government has been scrambling to safeguard Opel’s future before GM files for bankruptcy, a step which is expected to come by Monday.

A first round of talks in Berlin collapsed amid mutual recriminations on Thursday morning, prompting the German government to set a new round of negotiations for Friday.

Italian carmaker Fiat, Magna’s main rival in the battle for Opel, pulled out of talks, leaving the door open for Magna, a company that was started by Austrian emigre Frank Stronach in a Toronto garage nearly half a century ago.

Magna plans to use Opel to push into Russia, Europe’s fastest-growing car market before the economic crisis hit.

The company, which has 70,000 employees in 25 countries, supplies components and systems to many of the world’s leading carmakers, including fuel tanks and radiator grilles for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and fuel filters for the BMW X3.


Speaking to reporters in Montreal, Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne had earlier appeared to concede defeat to Magna, saying his focus was on the company’s deal with Chrysler.

“If the Opel transaction is not available to Fiat, life will move on,” he said.

A stumbling block had been U.S. Treasury opposition to German demands that Opel assets be temporarily placed in a trust to protect them from GM creditors. Germany will now release the bridge financing to tide Opel over until a merger is completed.

Based in Ruesselsheim near Frankfurt, Opel employs 25,000 staff in four German plants.

It is part of a GM Europe operation that employs more than 50,000, with car manufacturing plants in Spain, Poland, Belgium and Britain, where Opel cars are sold under the Vauxhall brand, as well as engine and parts sites such as Aspern near Vienna.

Like its parent GM, Opel has suffered acutely from the worldwide economic slowdown. Its fate is being followed closely in Germany, where the auto industry remains a potent symbol of the country’s post-war recovery and export-driven economy.

Merkel faces an election in September and was keen to ensure a deal that would avert large job losses.

(Additional reporting by Christiaan Hetzner in Frankfurt, John McCrank in Montreal, Ian Simpson in Milan; Tom Kaeckenhoff in Duesseldorf; Writing by Erik Kirschbaum and Noah Barkin; Editing by Dhara Ranasinghe)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Islamic Finance: Can it Save Western Banks?

Financial crisis offers Islamic banks a chance to flourish

The rules are simple, no dealing in alchohol, pornography or anything deemed morally harmful coupled with no interest and you have the foundation for an Islamic financial system, which has been able to withstand the current economic meltdown, presenting Islamic banks with a unique opportunity to flourish.

Unlike banks in Western economies, Islamic banks have been delt less of a blow by the financial crisis and experts believe it is because the laws followed are based on those set out in Islam’s Holy book, the Quran, which for Muslims is the word of God.

No interest and risk sharing

Islamic banks do not borrow in interbank markets as their funds are from their own deposits and they do not hold toxic collateralized debt obligations. Furthermore Islamic law forbids interest and encourgaes risk sharing, which means that any investment, profit or loss, is shared by both the bank and its clients.

The fact that Islamic banks have seen minimal adverse effects from the crisis has made them more attractive to investors, especially in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), who watched the value of their investments in conventional banks plummet, according to a new report, named The development of Islamic finance in the GCC, from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

“There has been much questioning of the values underpinning the conventional financial system, and the search for alternatives means that Islamic banks are likely to receive more attention, especially as their raison d’être is morality in financial transactions, based on religious teachings,” said author of the report Professor Rodney Wilson, who wrote the report for LSE’s Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalization in the Gulf States.

The demand from the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims for investments that comply with their beliefs means assets that comply with Islamic law range between $700 million and $1 trillion, with some estimates seeing assets growing to $1.6 trillion by 2012.

The value of Shariah-compliant assets in the GCC, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, amounts to more than $262 billion.

“The increasing international respect for Islamic finance has been noted in the GCC, and this should encourage local acceptance by both governments and bank customers, not least because no Islamic bank has failed in the crisis and required a substantial government bail-out,” Wilson said.

Linking the West with Shariah

Wilson said the GCC’s position in the heart of the Muslim world made the area a strategic hub that could link Islamic finance to Europe, Asia and Africa and argued the spread of subsidiaries of GCC-based Islamic banks was an indication that it was already happening.

However, regulatory differences and harmonization among different schools of thought, are just some of the main obstacles of Islamic banking as it looks to grow into a cross-border system, mainly targetting European countries with large Muslim communities.

As the industry expands into non-Muslim or secular states, the need to educate others about the sector has become greater.

In a sign that cultural barriers may be coming down, this week a London-based training program was launched by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Ian Luder, to enable the European financial hub to better cater to the requirements of Islamic finance.

“Despite the current global financial crisis, Islamic finance continues its growth as an increasingly viable alternative banking system for both Muslims and non-Muslims. It will be a vital component of the new global financial infrastructure,” Luder said.

The program, which will be run by the Islamic Banking Finance Center U.K., was established to provide research and training for private and public organizations such as insurance companies, banks, non-financial businesses and academic institutions.

“The Islamic finance sector is expanding at an exponential rate…due to its strong financial principles and ethical values, which prohibits the charging or paying of interest and encourages mutual risk and profit sharing between parties,” Akmal Hanuk, chief executive of IBFC-U.K., said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Japanese Industrial Output Jumps to 56 Year High of 5.2%.

A government stimulus plan seeks increased industrial output in coming months. But unemployment is on the rise and internal demand slowing. Experts forecast uncertainty until the second half of 2010.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Japan’s industrial production jumped at the fastest pace in 56 years in April, with predictions for further gains in May and June. Even though economists are optimistic, time will be needed before there can be an effective economic recovery with an unemployment rate that has risen to 5% (maximum levels since 2003) and slowing internal demand.

Companies making electric parts, chemicals and transport equipment posted particularly strong gains. According to the Ministry of Economy, manufacturers expect production to soar 8.8 % in May and 2.7% in June due to brightening prospects for a recovery in global demand. Thus Japanese exports continue their upward trend of April after relatively sluggish period.

The increase comes on the back of massive lay-offs and production cuts by companies due to recession pressures, in their efforts to reign in production costs. For example, innovation costs slid to 2.7%in April. But this directly affected many family budgets, with 3.46 million unemployed according to official data. Family consumption slid to 1.3% in April compared to the same time last year. The consumer index dropped by 0.1%, and is forecast to drop by a further 0.7% in May. Symptoms that any real recovery is still a long way off and that the increase in production is linked to the stability of world markets, after recent heavy losses.

Chiwoong Lee, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo, predicts unemployment will rise to record levels and hit 6 % by the end of next year, and that weak consumption and expanding job losses could reverse the recovery in industrial output later this year. This week global camera manufacturer Nikon announced it will cut a further 1,000 jobs.

Yasunari Ueno, chief economist at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo, has also forecast that the “economy will remain sluggish with “highs and lows until the second half of 2010”.

Other analysts note that these improvements are a result of the government’s stimulus package for a total of 15,400 billion Yen (circa 113billion euro) aimed at supporting production and internal demand.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Revenge of the Italian Way

Italy is known for the fragility of its public accounts. But in the current economic storm, some features of its economic system, until recently stigmatised, are seen in a new light. Despite of Maastricht’s religion.

by Giorgio Fodor

The financial crisis has had a devastanting impact on bank’s balance sheets. As markets froze financial models used by the financial sector proved deceptive and assets that had been presented as safe revealed themselves dangerous and overvalued.

Investment banks soon ran into trouble. As they did not take deposits from the public they were not regulated as normal banks but they had borrowed heavily and were highly leveraged. This posed a threat to the whole of the financial system and with one exception (Lehman Brothers) were saved from bankrupcy where necessary.

It should be realised that this was not supposed to happen. Only institutions regulated by the banking authorities were legally entitled to protection, but the danger was so big that action was considered indespensable. Even a giant insurance company AEG was saved with $80 bn because of its role in the banking system. This company had sold insurance on the future value of dubious securities to banks who thus were able to lower their capital requirements under existing rules. The failure of AEG, that is, a counterparty to banks in these contracts, would have forced banks to try to raise capital in a desperate moment or to further curtail lending. This would have provoked further falls in the value of bank shares and aggravated their problems.

The crisis hit many different financial institutions that were helped by central Banks or governments. They were saved partle because of a strong intellectual movement that developed after Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz published their research on the Great Depression, where a central role in the transformation of a recession ino a Depression was given to the shrinking money supply, caused by bank failures. If monetary policy had been important at the time, it was crucial to repeat that tragic mistake.

The massive aid given to banks in the present crisis is however of a different order of magnitude from the past because of the explosive growth of financial institutions in the recent past, in many cases abroad. Because of this a totally new problem arises: in some cases banks are so big that saving them may endanger the debtor status of the country’s Government. The assets of only one bank, Barclays Bank (£2547 billion) are higher than Britain’s GDP. One Icelandic bank, Kaupthing, has assets that are six times the GDP of Iceland and a second bank, Landsbanki, has assets that are over three times the country’s GDP. Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium Luxemburg, Cyprus, Spain, the UK, France and Ireland all have at least one bank whose assets are higher than the home country GDP.

Clearly it would be absurd to think that all these assets are worthless, but potential losses may be very big indeed and it is not surprising that in some cases the quotations of the official debt of these countries has suffered. The damage to public finance is therefore due not only to the known cost of bailouts like capital injections or the buying of preferential shares,but also to concern about the total possible costs in the future, also because the credibility of audited accounts has been severely dented due to recent scandals. Nobody knows the market value of many of the frozen securities for which there is no market, nor the possible suprises hidden in bank’s balance sheets or kept in Special Investment Vehicles.

There are studies of the impact of banking crisis on government debt, a subject carefully studied in papers by Reinhart and Rogoff…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Are Tea Partiers the New ‘Terrorists’?

Blogger claims he received visit from FBI after sending letters to lawmakers

A tea party protester claims he was investigated as a terrorist by the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI after he sent letters to his representatives criticizing the government for spending money he says the U.S. does not have.

Steve Shirk, a Tea Party Patriots blogger who attended the Atlanta Tea Party, said he began a letter-writing campaign in September 2008 to representatives, senators and the White House to express his frustration with what he considers to be irresponsible spending. He said he sent his letters through the official government websites with identifying information and indicated that he was offering his political opinion about pending legislation or governmental policy.


But Shirk claims that on April 23 he was visited by the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI. He said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I, reported to the FBI that he was endangering the government and should be investigated as a suspected terrorist.


But Shirk said the more he thought about the incident, the more he became upset.

“Is this where we are headed?” he wrote. “Is this the Socialistic Fascism the current majority is pushing on the American people to be followed by not only political Fascism, but tyranny at the hands of our Federal law enforcement agencies at the direction of political hacks? Is this the last of it, or am I now identified somewhere as a terrorist threat to be watched?”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Career Lawyers Overruled on Voting Case

Justice Department political appointees overruled career lawyers and ended a civil complaint accusing three members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense of wielding a nightstick and intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place last Election Day, according to documents and interviews.

The incident — which gained national attention when it was captured on videotape and distributed on YouTube — had prompted the government to sue the men, saying they violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act by scaring would-be voters with the weapon, racial slurs and military-style uniforms.

Career lawyers pursued the case for months, including obtaining an affidavit from a prominent 1960s civil rights activist who witnessed the confrontation and described it as “the most blatant form of voter intimidation” that he had seen, even during the voting rights crisis in Mississippi a half-century ago.

The lawyers also had ascertained that one of the three men had gained access to the polling place by securing a credential as a Democratic poll watcher, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Times.

The career Justice lawyers were on the verge of securing sanctions against the men earlier this month when their superiors ordered them to reverse course, according to interviews and documents. The court had already entered a default judgment against the men on April 20…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food

On May 19th, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on “Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.”[1] They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. AAEM’s position paper stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. They conclude, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation,” as defined by recognized scientific criteria. “The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.”

More and more doctors are already prescribing GM-free diets. Dr. Amy Dean, a Michigan internal medicine specialist, and board member of AAEM says, “I strongly recommend patients eat strictly non-genetically modified foods.” Ohio allergist Dr. John Boyles says “I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it.”

Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, President of AAEM, says, “Physicians are probably seeing the effects in their patients, but need to know how to ask the right questions.” World renowned biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava goes one step further. After reviewing more than 600 scientific journals, he concludes that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a major contributor to the sharply deteriorating health of Americans.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

GOP Attacks Democrats for Climate Proposal

WASHINGTON — Republicans on Saturday attacked the climate change proposal crafted by congressional Democrats and endorsed by President Barrack Obama as doing little to reduce global warming while saddling Americans with high energy costs.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, in the GOP’s weekly radio and Internet address, called the House climate bill “a classic example of unwise government.” The address culminated a week of coordinated Republican attacks on the Democratic proposal which would require the first nationwide reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

GOP House members used the weeklong Memorial Day congressional recess to drum up voter opposition to the Democratic bill. The governor’s criticism echoed Republican lawmakers’ arguments at “energy summits” in Pennsylvania, Indiana and California and at other forums during the week.

The proposal to cap greenhouse emissions “will cost us dearly in jobs and income and it stands no chance of achieving its objective of a cooler earth” because other nation’s such as China and India will not have to follow, argues Daniels, according to a transcript of the Saturday address.

“The cost for all American taxpayers will be certain, huge, and immediate. Any benefits are extremely uncertain, minuscule, and decades distant,” maintains Daniels.

The climate bill would require a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and 83 percent reduction by mid-century. It advanced from the House Energy and Commerce Committee shortly before lawmakers left Washington for their holiday break, getting only one GOP vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to take up the measure in the full House this summer.

“The national energy tax imposed by Speaker Pelosi’s climate change bill would double electric bills here in Indiana, working a severe hardship on low income families, but that’s only where the damage starts,” says Daniels. “In a state where we like to make things, like steel and autos and RVs, it would cost us countless jobs. … Our farmers and livestock producers would see their costs skyrocket. and our coal miners would be looking for new work.”

Daniels made no mention of compromises crafted by the bill’s chief Democratic sponsors — Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts — aimed at easing the economic costs on energy-intensive industries such as steel and automobiles, and on regions heavily dependent on coal for electricity generation.

Under a so-called cap-and-trade provision, polluters would be able to buy and sell emission allowances to ease the cost of the reduction. Initially free emission allowances would be provided to electric utilities and other energy-intensive industries facing unfair competition from abroad.

Waxman and Markey have argued much of the higher fuel costs would be offset by increased energy efficiency and rebates — using money from the sale of emission allowances — to people facing higher energy costs.

But Daniels says there’s a better approach than the cap-and-trade government mandate and “protect the environment, lower energy costs and create jobs at the same time all without raising taxes.” He cited Indiana’s production of ethanol and biodiesel, efforts to develop less polluting coal plants, expansion of wind power and conservation programs.

Congressional Republicans said that instead of a mandatory cap on pollution, they want to expand domestic oil and gas development, using some of the proceeds for renewable energy development, expansion of nuclear energy and more support for research into ways to capture carbon from coal burning.

The Democratic bill also would devote billions of dollars to carbon capture research and would require utilities to generate at least 12 percent of their power from renewable energy.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Guess Who Speaks at Commencement Ceremonies

Survey reveals invitations to conservatives rare — and sometimes rescinded

A new survey shows that invitations to conservatives to speak at university commencement ceremonies are rare — and sometimes even have been rescinded, apparently because of the political views held by that group of people.

The newly released assessment by the Young America’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to training future conservative leaders, said for the 16th straight year, liberal speakers are dominating at college commencements this year. The organization called the emphasis “disproportionate.”

“This year is no different,” the report said. “Commencement ceremonies were dominated by those on the Left, while conservative representation was shabby, at best.”

In cases when conservatives are invited, there is a response that could be described as disruptive, and in at least one case an invitation this year to a high-profile conservative actually was withdrawn.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Ohio Man Arrested for Mowing Unkempt Grass at Park

SANDUSKY, Ohio — An Ohio man arrested for mowing unkempt grass at a public park said he just wanted to make his city look nice. John Hamilton said he took control of the situation because the grass in Sandusky’s Central Park was about a foot high. According to a police report, a witness said Hamilton was blowing grass onto the sidewalk and shredding trash in the park that had not been picked up.

Police said they arrested 48-year-old Hamilton after he refused to stop mowing and charged him with obstructing official business and disorderly conduct.

City Manager Matt Kline called the arrest unfortunate and said he understands Hamilton’s frustration. Kline said budget cuts have left Sandusky understaffed for seasonal maintenance work.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Oklahoma Druggist Arrested for Killing Holdup Man

OKLAHOMA CITY — Confronted by two holdup men, pharmacist Jerome Ersland pulled a gun, shot one of them in the head and chased the other away. Then, in a scene recorded by the drugstore’s security camera, he went behind the counter, got another gun, and pumped five more bullets into the wounded teenager as he lay on the floor.

Now Ersland has been charged with first-degree murder in a case that has stirred a furious debate over vigilante justice and self-defense and turned the pharmacist into something of a folk hero.

Ersland, 57, is free on $100,000 bail, courtesy of an anonymous donor. He has won praise from the pharmacy’s owner, received an outpouring of cards, letters and checks from supporters, and become the darling of conservative talk radio.

“His adrenaline was going. You’re just thinking of survival,” said John Paul Hernandez, 60, a retired Defense Department employee who grew up in the neighborhood. “All it was is defending your employee, business and livelihood. If I was in that position and that was me, I probably would have done the same thing.”

District Attorney David Prater said Ersland was justified in shooting 16-year-old Antwun Parker once in the head, but not in firing the additional shots into his belly. The prosecutor said the teenager was unconscious, unarmed, lying on his back and posing no threat when Ersland fired what the medical examiner said were the fatal shots.

Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called it an “execution-style murder” and praised the district attorney for bringing charges. Ersland is white; the two suspects were black.

Parker’s parents also expressed relief that Ersland faces a criminal charge.

“He didn’t have to shoot my baby like that,” Parker’s mother, Cleta Jennings, told TV station KOCO.

But many of those who have seen the video of the May 19 robbery attempt at Reliable Discount Pharmacy have concluded the teenager in the ski mask got what he deserved.

Mark Shannon, who runs a conservative talk show on Oklahoma City’s KTOK, said callers have jammed his lines this week in support of Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel who wears a back brace on the job and told reporters he is a disabled veteran of the Gulf War.

“There is no gray area,” Shannon said. One caller “said he should have put all the shots in the head.”

Don Spencer, a 49-year-old National Rifle Association member who lives in the small town of Meridian, 40 miles north of Oklahoma City, said the pharmacist did the right thing: “You shoot more than enough to make sure the threat has been removed.”

Barbara Bergman, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, likened the public reaction to that of the case of Bernard Goetz, the New Yorker who shot four teenagers he said were trying to rob him when they asked for $5 on a subway in 1984.

Goetz was cleared of attempted murder and assault but convicted of illegal gun possession and served 8 1/2 months in jail.

Bergman said those who claim they used deadly force in self-defense have to show they were “in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury.”

The pharmacy is in a crime-ridden section of south Oklahoma City and had been robbed before.

The video shows two men bursting in, one of them pointing a gun at Ersland and two women working with the druggist behind the counter. Ersland fires a pistol, driving the gunman from the store and hitting Parker in the head as he puts on a ski mask.

Ersland chases the second man outside, then goes back inside, walks behind the counter with his back to Parker, gets a second handgun and opens fire.

Irven Box, Ersland’s attorney, noted the outpouring of support for the pharmacist, including $2,000 in donations, and said: “I feel very good 12 people would not determine he committed murder in the first degree.”

Under Oklahoma’s “Make My Day Law” — passed in the late 1980s and named for one of Clint Eastwood’s most famous movie lines — people can use deadly force when they feel threatened by an intruder inside their homes. In 2006, Oklahoma’s “Stand Your Ground Law” extended that to anywhere a citizen has the right to be, such as a car or office.

“It’s a ‘Make-My-Day’ case,” Box said. “This guy came in, your money or your life. Mr. Ersland said, ‘You’re not taking my life.’“ The gunman “forfeited his life.”

Box said that another person might have reacted differently, but he asked: “When do you turn off that adrenaline switch? When do you think you’re safe? I think that’s going to be the ultimate issue.”

If convicted, Ersland could be sentenced to life in prison with or without parole, or receive the death penalty.

Jevontia Ingram, the 14-year-old boy accused of wielding the gun in the robbery, was arrested Thursday. The district attorney on Friday filed a first-degree murder charge against him, as well as against a man accused of being the getaway driver, and another man suspected of helping talk the teens into the crime.

The charges accuse all three of sharing responsibility for Parker’s shooting death.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

U.S. Man Who Gave Secrets to Israel Spared Prison

NEW YORK (Reuters) — An 85-year-old former civilian employee of the U.S. Army was fined but avoided prison time on Friday after earlier pleading guilty to giving classified documents to Israel in the 1980s in a case the sentencing judge said was “shrouded in mystery.”

Court documents showed that Ben-Ami Kadish, who was fined $50,000 but spared prison time, reported to the same handler as Jonathan Pollard, an American who spied for Israel in the 1980s and triggered a scandal that rocked U.S.-Israeli relations.

“Why it took the government 23 years to charge Mr. Kadish is shrouded in mystery,” U.S. District Judge William Pauley said during the sentencing hearing in Manhattan federal court. “It is clear the (U.S.) government could have charged Mr. Kadish with far more serious crimes.”

Kadish pleaded guilty in December to acting as an unregistered agent of Israel. He was arrested in April 2008 on four counts of conspiracy and espionage. The spying charge, dropped under a plea deal, had carried a possible death sentence.

“I am sorry I made a mistake,” a frail-looking Kadish said during the sentencing hearing. “I thought I was helping the state of Israel without harming the United States.”

The judge said he gave a lenient sentence due to Kadish’s age and infirmity, but said Kadish had committed “a grave offense” and had “abused the trust” of the United States. For much of the hearing, Kadish sat slumped in his chair with heavy eyelids. At one stage, he had to be shaken awake by his lawyer.


Prosecutors had recommended no prison time as part of the plea deal. They said between 1980 and 1985 Kadish provided classified documents, including some relating to U.S. missile defense systems, to an Israeli agent, Yosef Yagur, who photographed the documents at Kadish’s residence.

Yagur also was Pollard’s main Israeli contact. Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to spying for Israel in 1986. Israel gave Pollard citizenship in 1996 and acknowledged he was one of its spies in 1998.

During the hearing, the judge questioned a prosecutor as to why it took so long to charge Kadish when the telephone records on which the case was based were available in the mid-1980s.

“There is no mystery behind it, it’s just what happened,” said prosecutor Iris Lan, who explained she understood it took the FBI that amount of time to assemble the evidence.

The judge also questioned Kadish’s lawyer about how Kadish was able to earn $104,000 in 2007 when he does not work. His lawyer said it was from investments.

Kadish was born in the United States but grew up on a farm in Palestine before the founding of the modern state of Israel. He served in the British and U.S. armies in World War II.

From 1980 to 1985, Yagur asked Kadish to obtain classified documents, which Kadish retrieved from the U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey, according to a sworn statement by Kadish. Kadish said he kept up a friendship with Yagur after 1985.

“While Kadish knew he was aiding Israel, an ally to the United States, he also knew his crime compromised the national security,” the judge said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Austria: Chancellor Calls for Extension of Army’s Border Patrols

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Werner Faymann called today (Tues) for an extension of the army’s border patrols beyond their scheduled cancellation at the end of the year.

Faymann called the extension of such patrols in the country’s eastern regions one of three anti-crime measures he would discuss with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso tomorrow in Brussels.

The chancellor cited resolution of security problems along EU Schengen Agreement countries’ eastern borders and the hiring of more policemen as the two other anti-crime measures he had in mind. Faymann said People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Maria Fekter would have his full support in her efforts to increase the number of police in Austria.

Burgenland SPÖ Governor Hans Niessl immediately welcomed Faymann’s proposal to extend the army’s border patrols indefinitely, claiming their end would be “a blow to provincial security”. Niessl, however, added that the extension should not be considered a substitute for the 270 additional policemen the province needed.

Noting a dramatic increase in the number of break-ins in Burgenland, the governor said: “People’s security must be guaranteed. We cannot leave citizens living near the border in the lurch.”

Faymann’s attention to security may reflect fear that the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Alliance for the Future of Austria’s (BZÖ) focus on crime and immigration in the European Parliament (EP) election campaign will give them a big boost. Both parties have risen in the polls during the campaign for the election on 7 June.

The two right-wing parties are also exploiting Sunday’s massacre at a Sikh temple in Vienna.

Ewald Stadler, who heads the BZÖ’s list for the EP election, said yesterday “problem gurus and hate preachers” should not be allowed into the country. We cannot become the marching field for all the insane.”

Stadler called for the re-introduction of border checks between Austria and Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, respectively, and suggested similar restrictions on borders with Italy and Germany could also be an option.

Stadler repeated his calls for more police officers and called for an increase in subsidies for institutions that secure internal security and for the formation of a special commission to deal with “immigrant crime”.

“Criminals” who have already been given Austrian citizenship should lose it again, Stadler said, adding they should also be jailed for at least one year.

FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache claimed on Sunday evening the SPÖ’s “open-door policy” would “lead to chaos and soaring multicultural crime”.

Constitutional experts Bernd-Christian Funk and Heinz Mayer claimed today that extension of the army’s border patrols would be unconstitutional.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Banks: Spain, Santander to Rebrand U.K. Banks

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MAY 28 — Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, all under the Spanish banking group Santander, will be changing their names to Santander as well at the end of 2010. Any customer of the three groups will be able to carry out transactions in all of the branches under the same brand name. Santander is currently the second largest banking group in the world after HSBC. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

BBC Offers Apology to Muslim Council of Britain Over Guest’s Remarks

The BBC has offered £30,000 and an apology to the Muslim Council of Britain after airing accusations that it encouraged the killing of British troops.

The corporation offered the settlement after a Question Time panellist accused the council of failing to condemn attacks on British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Charles Moore, a former editor of The Daily Telegraph, made the comments on the programme in March during a debate about Islamic protests at a soldiers’ homecoming parade in Luton. He claimed that the council thought it was a “good thing, even an Islamic thing” to kill troops.

The council, an umbrella organisation representing about 500 Islamic bodies in Britain, said that his claims were a “total lie” and threatened the BBC with legal action.

It pointed to a 2007 interview with its secretary-general, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, published in a national newspaper, in which he categorically condemned attacks on British soldiers.

Last night Dr 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 council’s lawyers are now considering the BBC’s offer.

It is believed that Mr Moore was not consulted over the BBC’s decision to settle.

A BBC spokesman said: “Question Time is a programme that includes input from a wide range of contributors. On occasion this means that those who are not present don’t get a chance to put their case. This was one of those occasions.”

Question Time is filmed one hour before it is broadcast for legal advisers to check its content. No concerns were expressed at the time over Mr Moore’s remarks, which were seen as provocative but not defamatory.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

EU: The Conversation Continues, Not Always Politely

…Now to some of the more recent comments. A person calling himself ‘Crumblekid’ (oh dear) produces the ancient, rust-streaked EU propaganda claim that the EU has somehow prevented a European War since 1945. I’ve asked before, and I’ll ask again, which potential armed conflict has been in any way prevented by the EU? The only European power-struggle during this era was that between the USSR and the Western European free countries. The EU played no part in preventing that developing into war. That task was achieved by NATO (in its first, genuine, incarnation).

There is a strong argument for suggesting that the EU (largely under German pressure) actively caused the various armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia by pushing forward with the recognition of Croatia as an independent state. It is widely believed, for instance, that Britain’s opt-out from the Euro had to be ‘paid for’ by British recognition of Croatia. It is true that the Franco-German conflict has been institutionalised by the EU. But that was made possible by France’s humiliating and permanent defeat at the hands of Germany in 1940. No new war was ever likely.. Vichy France (in which Francois Mitterrand was deeply involved) was in a way the prototype for the new Franco-German relationship. Germany had by then defeated France three times, (though initially it had not yet become a fully-fledged nation) playing a decisive part in the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig in 1813, and again in the Anglo-Prussian victory at Waterloo in 1815, the debacle of 1870 and the second debacle of 1940. The French elite realised in 1940 that they would never again be able to seek military supremacy over Germany, and thought deeply about what sort of new relationship they could have with their Eastern neighbour. The original ECSC was based upon a French recognition that France could no longer contemplate war with Germany, and must come to a permanent accommodation (the Elysee Treaty of 1963, signed by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer, is the real political basis of the modern EU, codifying a Franco-German axis under which Germany is the unacknowledged European superpower, while France maintains its international prestige, nuclear weapons etc, has its agriculture lavishly subsidised, and that the two countries consult before any EU summit to ensure that they present a united face).


The moves towards ever-narrower union, which is stipulated as the EU’s aim in the Treaty of Rome, might conceivably cause conflicts in Europe that could lead to war. They are at least as likely to do so as they are to prevent it. Those who seek to justify British membership of the EU will have to do better than this. In any case, secessionists like me do not want to break up the EU. We just want to leave it, and negotiate a civilised relationship with it as an independent nation. If other countries are happy with it, that’s their affair. Most, I think are. The fundamental difficulty for Britain is twofold. One, its Common Law presumption of innocence tradition is incompatible with EU law and two, its outward-looking global trading engagement is unsuited to membership of a continental protectionist bloc. Adversarial government is also pretty much unknown in continental countries, and our strong, independent national press is pretty much unique as well.

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

‘Forty Percent of Somali Women in Netherlands Genitally Mutilated’

THE HAGUE, 30/05/09 — Four out of ten Somali and Ethiopian women who give birth in the Netherlands have been genitally mutilated. This is relatively few, Health State Secretary Jet Bussemaker wrote to the Lower House on Friday.

The figures were recorded by research organisation TNO after questioning midwives. The number of cases of female circumcision is fairly low, since nine out of ten women in the countries of origin have been circumcised, Bussemaker reasoned.

To obtain a better picture of female circumcision, the state secretary previously announced that midwives would be registering this form of mutilation. They will also be trained in how to discuss circumcision with families.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece Fears Immigrant Unrest

Eleftheros Typos

Panic has swept through the Greek police force following clashes with immigrant Muslims that occurred in the wake of a demonstration against “racism and Islamophobia,” on 22 May.

Police across the country are now on alert, fearing civil unrest on the scale of the riots which occurred in Greece in December 2008 or the Paris ghettoes in 2005. Experts have reported that Muslim immigrants are unable to control their anger at what they have termed “police racism.” There have been several demonstrations in the capital, and a number of extremist groups have taken advantage of the situation “to pour petrol on the flames.” The worst of these incidents occurred on 23 May, when arsonists attacked a basement that serves as a makeshift mosque in the centre of Athens. No one has claimed responsibility, but members of an extreme-right group were seen in the area of the building shortly before the fire broke out.

During the demonstrations, immigrants chanted “Allah, Allah” and denounced police methods. The protests were sparked by reports of a police officer throwing a Koran onto the ground and stamping on it, in the course of an identity check. An inquiry is underway, but may prove to be inconclusive due to a shortage of neutral witnesses. Ahead of demonstrations planned for the weekend, the Minister of the Interior has convened several crisis meetings, and asked police to remain on alert across the country. Greece’s Muslim population is not confined to Athens, and there are fears that the flare up may extend to Turkish, Pomak and Roma Muslim communities, which for centuries, have lived alongside orthodox Greeks in Thrace, in the north of the country. But for now, the violence appears to be concentrated in Athens where, only a few days ago, a Muslim attempted fire shots at a police station in a suburb of the city. The man was arrested in time, but his action immediately triggered the setting up of a series of identity checkpoints targeting immigrants, with plain clothes and uniformed police searching cars.

Resentment at this type of police action is exacerbated by the fact that there are currently no Muslims in the Greek police force. However, in recent months, the Ministry has set up advisory groups with a view to establishing a recruitment programme for Muslim police and to improve its response in the event of an emergency. However, these initiatives will be hard pressed to compensate for the lack of collaboration with the Muslim community, which is highly critical of the Greek state’s failure to keep its promises. Over the last thirty years, successive governments have failed to honour a commitment to establish a mosque in Athens. In the last decade, with the arrival of large numbers of illegal immigrants, the Muslim population has grown rapidly, and now more than 700,000 people have to contend with the chronic lack of facilities in which to practice their religion.. Over a hundred illegal, makeshift prayer halls have been set up in basements and garages, located between Omonia Square and the poor neighbourhoods, between the capital and Piraeus. These are not mosques, but the plans to build a place of worship in Athens have been in existence for years.

As early as 1978, the king of Saudi Arabia, Khaled, obtained a commitment from the prime minister of the period, Constantin Caramanlis, to build a mosque in the northern suburbs of Athens. In the year 2000, in the run-up to the Olympic games, the prospect of the arrival of a large contingent of Muslim athletes in four years time resulted in a plan to build a Muslim centre and a mosque at Peania, close to Athens airport. However, the project was shelved, when the Greek Orthodox church, which has a special status in the Greek state, submitted a formal objection. The story was repeated in 2006, when the neighbourhood of Eleona, close to the centre of Athens was chosen, and once again the plan was set aside. Muslims also have to cope with the lack of a proper cemetery in Athens, and many of them pay thousands of euros to bury their dead in Thrace or in their country of origin. Foreign analysts have criticized Greece, a Christian Orthodox country, for its failure to take proper care of Muslim immigrants. Clearly, the problem of Muslim resentment is deep-rooted one, and the recent violent clashes with police are simply the tip of the iceberg.

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

Gulf Capital Used to Buy Polish Shipyards: Tusk

WARSAW (AFP) — Gulf capital is behind the consortium which bought two of Poland’s three historic shipyards this week, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk indicated Saturday.

“There is a specific fund which represents the interests and financial potential of that region,” he told the radio station RMF FM.

“It would not have been possible without my many visits to Qatar and Kuwait, without my telephone conversations and the exchange of mail.”

The ARP, a government agency responsible for handling privatisations, said Thursday that United International Trust had paid a total of 364 million zlotys (82 million euros, 115 million dollars) for the yards at Gdynia and Szczecin on Poland’s northern Baltic coast.

It said that the buyer was planning “other forms of economic activity” in parallel to shipbuilding.

Warsaw has revealed little about the buyer, only saying that it had acted through an an intermediary, Stichting Particulier Fonds Greenrights, which like United International Trust is based in Curacao, a Caribbean offshore haven run by the Netherlands.

“Why are Arab investors interested?” Tusk said on Saturday. “Because they are interested in cooperating with us in the field of gas, and to participate in the Polish gas market.”

Polish gas firm PGNiG announced on April 15 that it had signed a deal with the Qatari firm Qatargas for the supply of one million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year.

PGNiG said that the deal provided for a 20-year supply contract with Qatargas, with shipments set to begin in 2014.

The gas will be shipped by tankers to a terminal currently being built at Swinoujscie on Poland’s northwest Baltic coast, near the border with Germany.

Poland, which meets 30 percent of its gas needs from its own resources, 40 percent from Russian imports and the remainder from a variety of sources, has been looking for ways to further diversify its suppliers.

The European Commission, which polices competition rules in the 27-nation European Union, had ordered Poland to sell its shipyards, after ruling that Warsaw had doled out illegal state aid to keep them in business.

The proceeds of the sales must be used to pay off the yards’ creditors and the state subsidies which were faulted by the European Commission.

The no-strings tendering process was open to all, from shipbuilders to bidders with an eye on the yards’ real estate — leaving some 9,000 employees nervously awaiting news of their future.

The issue of the third yard in Gdynia’s neighbouring port of Gdansk is being handled separately by Brussels, which has yet to give its verdict on a restructuring plan there.

The shipyards hold particular significance for many Poles because they were the cradle of protests against the communist old order.

Dozens of people were killed there when security forces fired on workers demonstrating against food price rises in 1970.

In 1980, a strike at the Gdansk yard led to the creation of the trade union Solidarity, which snowballed across the shipbuilding industry into a nationwide protest movement.

Driven underground by a military clampdown in 1981, Solidarity reemerged to negotiate a peaceful end to communist rule in 1989.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Italy: Criminals, Judges, Press ‘Evil’

Berlusconi rails against three greatest bugbears

(See related story.) (ANSA) — Rome, May 28 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday said the three greatest evils facing Italy were criminals, magistrates and journalists. “I’ve always said that for me there are three categories that do evil: criminals, public prosecutors and dentists. But since dentists now use injection to anaesthetize… I put journalists in their place,” he told an assembly of national retail services association Confesercenti. He singled out “certain journalists” especially, saying “look (at the newspapers) in recent days”, referring to coverage by national and international papers over rumours about his relationship with an 18-year-old girl whose birthday party he attended.

The premier hit out at criticism by some foreign failies, saying this proved they were “lackies of the Italian Left”.

In turning round an observation by the Financial Times on Wednesday that one of the differences between Berlusconi and dictator Benito Mussolini was that “he has squads of starlets, not of Blackshirts,” the premier replied “thank God (I have starlets), they’re better, much better”. The premier received several whistles and boos when he spoke of left-wing “subversive clots” in the justice system as the reason why his government pushed through a law giving immunity from prosecution while in office to Italy’s top four institutional figures, but Berlusconi brushed these off. “There are just four or five of you whistling, 10-15 at the most. You’re statistically irrelevant,” he said. He pledged “not to quit politics” until he had overhauled the justice system, “because only then will a citizen be able to have a fair trial”. The premier has repeatedly claimed he is the victim of a witch-hunt by an allegedly leftist judiciary and was booed in June last year when he described the magistrature as “a cancer in our democracy”, also during an address to Confesercenti. Berlusconi, who has been in power for almost eight of the last 15 years, has been convicted in several corruption cases relating to his business empire but the sentences have always been overturned on appeal or annulled by a new shortened statute of limitations.


The premier meanwhile also hit out at criticism that Italy’s new policy of returning illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Libya is anti-humanitarian. “There’s nothing non-humanitarian in it,” he said. “Extremely precarious boats are pinpointed, the illegal immigrants are given something to eat and then they are taken back to Libya”. Berlusconi blamed the influx of illegal immigrants on the former centre-left government. “This has happened because the former government gave the impression to the eastern and African countries that our frontiers were open. We will no longer tolerate this immigration and we are prepared to accept into Italy those who have jobs and not those who are forced to resort to crime to live,” he said. On the basis of an accord with Tripoli, Italy has sent back to Libya nearly 500 would-be migrants since the launch of its controversial new policy on May 6, despite criticism from the UN, the Catholic Church and humanitarian organisations. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has claimed the new policy is a success, with the arrival of large boats from the North African coast ceasing almost entirely.


The premier also talked about the quake-hit Abruzzo capital of L’Aquila, which is due to become the focus of international attention when it hosts the Group of Eight summit in July.

Berlusconi has been working hard to keep damage caused by the April 6 quake in the spotlight, moving the G8 summit to the stricken city from its original venue on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena.

On Thursday he said that houses for 3,000 people left homeless by quake in L’Aquila and surrounding villages will be ready by mid September.

“Today 63,000 people are not in their homes,” he told the national retail services’ association Confesercenti, referring to those being accommodated in tent camps and other temporary accommodation. “Some 53% of houses are inhabitable but people don’t have the courage to return because the wave of aftershocks continues, and nobody has the courage to push them into doing so,” he said. “We’ve suggested to people still in tents that they go and have a holiday by the sea,” where the government would house them in hotels, “because we don’t want anyone still in tents in the summer”. The premier said the final houses would be made available to earthquake survivors “by the end of November, before it starts getting cold”. On Friday Berlusconi is scheduled to reopen “65%” of L’Aquila’s hospital, which failed to hold up to the quake despite being theoretically quake proof. He will also present university degrees and school certificates to the families of some of the students killed in the quake, which claimed nearly 300 lives. Abruzzo Governor Gianni Chiodi said Thursday the region and the government had agreed to an investment package for infrastructure and to relaunch economic development worth six billion euros, 1.7 of which could be spent in the next three years. Minor seismic activity in the region has continued since the main earthquake, with the most recent quake recorded on Wednesday between L’Aquila and Rome and measuring 2.1 on the Richter scale.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Michael Nazir-Ali: Jesus Wouldn’t Have Voted BNP, and Neither Should Any Christian

Hard on the heels of the financial crisis, we have a political one. People were just coming to terms with betrayal by one trusted group — the bankers, custodians of our hard-earned savings. Now The Daily Telegraph has revealed that politicians, too, have been cynically manipulating the system to gain maximum financial advantage: an advantage denied to others because of legislation enacted by the very people who were flouting it.

Understandably, the stories have caused fluttering in the dovecotes of Westminster. Not a day goes by without nostrums being prescribed by political leaders, social commentators, and religious leaders. Some seem to believe that simply by fiddling with processes and structures the problem will be solved: if only we had a smaller Parliament, or electoral reform, or an elected House of Lords, we would not again have to face this lack of confidence in our democratic institutions.

Others predict that a political vacuum will develop, which various kinds of extremists and mavericks will attempt to fill — even those, such as the British National Party, who enlist Jesus in support of their campaign, when their ideals are as anti-Christian as they come.

Yes, we need to have confidence in our democratic institutions. But this will not be engendered by tinkering. What is needed is moral and spiritual renewal. We should begin to acknowledge that a culture built on the expectation of endless growth — regardless of its effects on the environment, the person and family relationships — is not the way. Nor will panaceas based on crude utilitarianism and an ethics based on the findings of focus groups serve us well. We need a robust moral framework for our life together. In this country, the Judaeo-Christian tradition has provided the basis for the institutions of state, the laws of the land and the values by which we live. It has also given rise to a sense of mutual obligation which has characterised British society at its best. The notion of the human person, as made in God’s image, has given us an understanding of moral agency, the formation of conscience and of freedom. Our commitment to equality derives from belief in the common origin of all human beings; our commitment to liberty from the teaching that people are created free and subject, ultimately, to God alone.

This tradition holds that creatures have been endowed with inalienable rights. Recognition of this would go a long way in limiting the role of the state in people’s lives and, by trimming the role of government, prevent the emergence of elected oligarchies, such as the ones on display at the moment.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

NATO: Berlusconi-Rasmussen, Resume Relations With Russia

(AGI) — Rome, 29 May — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi today had a long talk over the phone with the new secretary-general of the NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will take office on August 1. Rasmussen again thanked Berlusconi for the crucial role he has played during the latest NATO summit in Strasburg-Kehl, resolving the question of the appointment of the new NATO secretary-general. Berlusconi told Rasmussen about his recent talks in Russia with President Medvedev and Premier Putin. Both agreed on the importance of re-launching the dialogue between Russia and the NATO, examining ways to reach this goal. The Italian premier underlined the importance of NATO paying constant attention to its relations with the Arab-Muslim world and choosing experienced personalities to develop NATO’s new strategic concept, announced a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Iraq-Born Teen Solves 300-Year Old Math Puzzle

Finds formula to explain and simplify Bernoulli numbers

A 16-year-old Iraqi immigrant living in Sweden was the youngest student to solve a math puzzle that has stumped experts for more than 300 years, Swedish media reported last week.

In just four months, Mohamed Altoumaimi found a formula to explain and simplify the so-called Bernoulli numbers, a sequence of calculations connected to numbe theory named after the 17th century Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli, the Dagens Nyheter daily said.

Altoumaimi, who came to Sweden six years ago, said teachers at his high school in Falun, central Sweden were not convinced about his work at first.

“When I first showed it to my teachers, none of them thought the formula I had written down really worked,” Altoumaimi told the Falu Kuriren newspaper.

He then got in touch with professors at Uppsala University, one of Sweden’s top institutions, to ask them to check his work. After going through his notebooks, the professors found his work was indeed correct.

Although the Bernoulli numbers formula had previously been solved, Altourmaimi’s solution was praised because of his young age and school level, the paper reported.

Lindahs said that Altoumaimi is a very gifted student and found it remarkable that a high scool student was able to solve the puzzle.

Senior lecturer Jan-Aake Lindhal verified the formula, but added that although correct, it was well known and readily available in several databases,” a statement from the university said.

“It’s really exciting, now all the teachers have come and congratulated me,” the teen said of the response to his formula.

Altoumaimi plans to take summer classes in advanced mathematics and physics this year.

“I wanted to be a researcher in physics or mathematics; I really like those subjects. But I have to improve in English and social sciences,” he told the Falu Kuriren.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

UK: Poll Reveals Labour Heading for Election Humiliation

The expenses scandal has had a devastating impact on Labour and Gordon Brown, a Populus poll for The Times finds today.

Labour’s overall position has slid to 21 per cent, its lowest in polling history. When asked how they would vote in next week’s European election, those polled have put Labour in third place behind UKIP and the Tories, for the first time.

All the minority parties, including the Greens and the British National Party, have made striking advances in the past three weeks as the row over MPs’ allowances has engulfed all the main parties.

Surprisingly the Liberal Democrats have been hit almost as badly as Labour in both the general election and European voting standings.

But it is Labour and Mr Brown who appear to have taken the biggest hit over the expenses scandal, with 62 per cent of those polled citing the Prime Minister as the most damaged, compared with 5 per cent citing David Cameron. Only 14 per cent believe that Labour is likely to win outright at the next general election, compared with 51 per cent for the Conservatives.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Tragic, Unwise: Conservative Grandees Turn on David Cameron Over Plans for European Union

Lord Brittan and Lord Patten attack alliance with hard-right Polish and Czech parties

A group of Tory grandees and former Âsenior diplomats will tomorrow launch a devastating attack on David Cameron’s flagship Eurosceptic policies, warning that they pose a threat to British influence in the European Union.

On the eve of the European elections, the Tory leader stands accused of adopting a “rigid commitment to impotence” after he pledged to withdraw from the main centre-right grouping in the European parliament.

Cameron, who will appear alongside highly conservative EU allies in Warsaw tomorrow, goes into the European elections next Thursday on the most hardline ÂEurosceptic ticket of any mainstream political leader since Britain entered the EEC in 1973.

Cameron also says that a future Conservative government would be prepared to break with convention by reopening the Lisbon treaty, which is designed to streamline the working of the EU after its recent expansion.

The fears of Britain’s most senior serving diplomats, one of whom described the Tory plans as “bonkers”, are only being voiced in private.

But the Guardian has spoken to four Tory grandees, as well as two of Britain’s most senior retired diplomats, who voice those fears in public. Lord Patten, the mastermind of the Tories’ 1992 Âelection victory, and former home secretary Lord Brittan both criticise Cameron’s tactics, with Patten describing them as “unwise”.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a former head of the Foreign Office who was Britain’s ambassador to the EU at the time of the Maastricht treaty negotiations in 1991, is also highly critical.

“I do not understand a rigid commitment to impotence,” he said. “I do not understand why [the Czech and Polish parties who will form a new group with the Tories] are preferable to Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy, or why they think the route to influence lies that way.”

Lord Wright of Richmond, head of the Foreign Office in Margaret Thatcher’s final years as prime minister, questioned Cameron’s decision to try to reopen the Lisbon treaty. “It will be a formidably difficult negotiation,” he said. “There will be very few allies.”

Lord Tugendhat, a European commissioner between 1977 and 1985, said it would be a “great tragedy” if the Tories tried to renegotiate a ratified Lisbon treaty once the party is in office.

Retired diplomats are careful about speaking in public. However, the strength of their language reflects Foreign Office concern that Cameron will trigger the worst crisis yet in Britain’s relations with the EU. Their fears centre around Cameron’s two key policies:

* The Tories have pledged to withdraw from the EPP-ED grouping, which consists of all the major centre-right parties within the EU. Instead, Cameron will establish a new group, principally with Poland’s deeply conservative Law and Justice party, whose leaders have banned gay rights marches. It will also include the Czech ODS party, whose founder, Václav Klaus, disputes that global warming is man-made. Cameron met leaders of the ODS in the Czech Republic last night and in Warsaw tomorrow will meet leaders of the Law and Justice party.

The Tories have also been talking to the Lavtian Fatherland and Freedom party, some of whose members attend ceremonies to commemorate a Latvian unit of the Waffen SS.

* A future Conservative government will also offer a referendum on the Lisbon treaty if it has not been ratified by all member states. In the more likely scenario that it has been ratified, Cameron says he “would not let matters rest”. Kerr was scathing of this stance.

He said: “Everyone is fed up with institutional treaties. The Tories owe it to us to tell us what they mean, because they will have to tell the world at the end of the first European council they attend, when they discover there is no majority for calling the intergovernmental conference to change the treaty as they propose.”

His views are echoed by Tory grandees. Lord Patten, the former Hong Kong governor who went on to become a European commissioner, is dismissive of Cameron’s pledge on the European parliament. “It is an unwise decision and will reduce the Conservatives’ influence in the European parliament,” he said.

Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, a former Tory home secretary who went on to become European trade commissioner, said: “I think it was a mistake for the Conservatives to leave the EPP. It will be a great loss. There is no doubt that the attempt to leave the EPP has annoyed a lot of the European leaders who are members of the EPP and are in government. It will make it more difficult to establish relations with them.”

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “It is not true that the Conservative party would retreat to the margins of Europe. Centre-right governments … are not only willing to work with us, they are already working with us behind the scenes in anticipation of the demise of this dreadful Labour government.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Unmasked: The Football Hooligans Behind Last Weekend’s Bloody Protest in Luton Against a Muslim War Demo

Dave Smeeton agreed to meet us outside a Portsmouth pub. There was one condition. ‘No photographers — I don’t want my photograph taken,’ he insisted when we contacted him on his mobile phone earlier this week.

Smeeton, 53, is a married father of two, who lives in a terrace house in the south coast town and works in the motor trade.

But he also has another career: as the leader of a group called March for England. Its motto? ‘We are English and proud — not racist.’

The group, which has more than 400 members, has turned up in towns and cities for occasions such as Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London.

Its unofficial coat of arms is the flag of St George — which, Smeeton says, they are determined to ‘reclaim’ from the Far Right and hooligan element. A noble sentiment — but one which events last weekend would seem to undermine.

Smeeton and his supporters were in Luton for the Bank Holiday to lay wreaths at the war memorial. And to take part in a supposedly peaceful demonstration against Islamic fanatics who jeered and waved placards saying ‘Butchers of Basra’ during a homecoming parade for The 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in March.

But the event on Sunday turned into mob violence. Asians — and Asian shops — were attacked, cars vandalised and stones hurled at police. At the centre of the mayhem, whipping up the 500-strong crowd, were skinheads and men in balaclavas with shirts bearing the Cross of St George.

‘I was very disappointed about what happened,’ Smeeton claimed. ‘Our members were not involved in the trouble. That sort of thing couldn’t have been further from our minds.’

It would be easier to believe Dave Smeeton if it were not for his unsavoury past.

It is encapsulated in a spoof advert for Dr Martens on his Facebook page, in which three skinheads are kicking a man on the floor in the head. The caption reads: ‘Kicking the f*** out of you since 1960.’

Smeeton has added, for good measure: ‘Those were the days.’ He is, after all, a former skinhead himself. He used to belong to the ‘6.57 Crew’, one of the country’s most notorious gangs of football hooligans.

They got their name from the train that took them to away games. Their arrival in a town or city — particularly during the Seventies and Eighties — usually resulted in mindless thuggery and bloodshed.

Some of the 6.57 Crew, according to anti-fascist campaigners, belonged to Combat 18, the armed wing of the British neo-Nazi movement. The ‘18’ stands for the first and eighth letter of the alphabet — AH — for Adolf Hitler.

The men who formed Combat 18 used to handle security at British National Party events, but the BNP was too ‘moderate’ for them so they broke away. They were associated with acts of terrorism, arson attacks and assaults throughout the Nineties.

‘I can understand why people might get the idea I’m a racist because of my past. I was involved with the 6.57 gang — at a low level — in the Seventies,’ Smeeton admitted when challenged about his past.

‘Some of the things we did were wrong. I’ve changed. I despise anyone who says they’ve never made a mistake.’

‘Mistake’? Well, that’s one way of putting it. The Facebook picture of those skinheads, however, to mark a reunion of the ‘crew’ two years ago suggests Smeeton still gets a ‘kick’ out of the old days.

He insists he is a changed man and that March for England comprises upstanding people from all walks of life. You will not be too surprised to learn, however, that many come from one walk of life in particular — the football terraces.

They include ‘QPR Casual’ (‘casual’ is slang for a member of a hooligan gang), ‘Chester Casual’ and ‘Chester skin’ (as in skinhead), to name but a few of the contributors on the March for England website.

Large numbers of the protesters who ran amok in Luton, of course, were wearing football shirts and chanting football songs. Just a coincidence, obviously.

Shortly before the protest started at about 5pm, Smeeton and 16 of his March for England associates were spotted in the Wheelwright pub in Luton town centre. Among their ranks was a skinhead in trademark Ben Sherman shirt, red braces and Dr Martens.

Smeeton had been due to address the demonstration, but witnesses say police confiscated his megaphone. By then, trouble was brewing and, presumably, officers feared he might inflame the situation further.

He did speak, but only briefly. We have a copy of the full text of what he intended to say. It ends with a passage from Winston Churchill’s historic wartime speech made on June 4, 1940: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender . . .’

Churchill, of course, would have been horrified to find his words being used by individuals such as Smeeton. But the British National Party employed the same strategy earlier this week when its leader, Nick Griffin, argued that modern Britain, with its record of welcoming immigrants, has betrayed the ‘blood, sweat, toil and tears’ of those who fought for freedom during the Second World War, cynically echoing Churchill’s first speech to parliament as wartime prime minister.

Smeeton is adamant he has nothing against Muslims — only Muslim extremists. Few, however, will be convinced. He and his fellow ‘patriots’ are proof, if nothing else, that extremism breeds extremism on both sides.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Luton. Anger has been building for some time against the Muslim community — the vast majority of whom are decent, law-abiding citizens — because of the activities of a tiny and unrepresentative minority.

One of the militants convicted of plotting to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre in Essex in 2007 came from the town and the 7/7 London bombers congregated at Luton station before heading to King’s Cross.

Luton, according to a leaked intelligence report, remains a focus for concern for anti-terror police. But, more than anything else, it was the ‘reception’ given to soldiers that caused so much outrage here. Many local families have fathers, sons and brothers in the regiment.

The backlash has been violent and indiscriminate. Already one of the young Muslims who jeered the returning soldiers has had the windows of his home smashed, his car set alight, and the words ‘Scum’ and ‘Get out’ daubed on his walls. The man, in his 20s, had to be given round-theclock police protection, along with his sister and parents.

Just after midnight on May 5, Luton’s Islamic Centre was torched; a firebomb hurled through a window.

For the record, those who run the centre have utterly — and publicly — condemned the Islamic fanatics, such as Sayful Islam, the so-called Sword of Islam, who, among others, barracked the soldiers returning from Iraq.

Islam, one-time leader of the town’s branch of extremist Islamic group Al-Muhajiroun, was ‘roughed up’ recently and warned to stop his vile activities — by moderate Muslims, it should be pointed out, who blame him for bringing their community into disrepute.

The mob — and racists — don’t distinguish between ‘innocent’ and ‘guilty’, moderate and militant Muslims.

Shortly before the Islamic Centre, which houses a mosque and school, was set alight, staff received a string of threatening anonymous letters. One warned: ‘We know who you are … we have plenty of pictures of you … we are watching you … we will certainly have you for what you did this week’ [a reference to the homecoming parade].

A second was littered with references to the crusades, including the name of Reynold de Chatillon, whose brutality towards Muslims in the holy land was infamous.

‘Saladdin once preached Jihad against the Christian kingdom, so now we preach our Jihad against Islam!!’, ranted the letter, which described Muslims as ‘parasites’ and ‘Allah’s vomit’.

A similar coat of arms and Crusader imagery is featured in a notorious anti-Islamic website penned by someone calling himself Lionheart.

Lionheart, we discovered, is Paul Ray, 32. Ray used to run a computer repair shop in nearby Dunstable, but is now unemployed. Last year, he was arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred and is still on bail.

Asked if he sent the poisonous letter to the Islamic Centre weeks before it was torched, Ray replied: ‘This is the first I’ve heard about the letter. The Muslims must be trying to pin the firebombing on me.’

Guess which organisation Paul Ray belongs to? Yes, that’s right, March for England. He took part in Sunday’s demonstration, but says he was not involved in any of the trouble. Ray calls Smeeton a ‘very good friend.’

Another link between the men is Glen Jenvey, accused by several newspapers of fabricating stories about Islamic extremism. Jenvey has eight ‘friends’ on his Facebook site; two of them are Ray and Smeeton.

Smeeton has made much of the fact that March for England pulled out of organising last weekend’s protest a few weeks ago because the council was being uncooperative.

But, on May 11, the day the group officially dissociated itself from the event, Smeeton was on the internet posting this rallying call: ‘We will not be putting their name to this march. There’s no reason not to go. As far as I know of up till today this will go ahead but not official.’

Another site, run by ‘associates’ of Smeeton, advertised the event with crude insults designed to whip up the mob. Among the vile postings was this: ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Muslim, when you think the English will back down? Take your beard and that stupid f****** dress you wear, and f*** off out of England.’

Is it any wonder that a supposedly peaceful protest became a riot? The thugs were organised, peeling off into groups, each rampaging through the town centre, making it almost impossible for police to contain them.

One group of about 40 or 50 protesters tried to storm an Asian-run fast-food outlet, Pepe’s Piri Piri fried chicken shop in Chapel Street. Staff and customers trapped inside locked the door, but the mob began banging on the glass with sticks.

Then they unfurled the flag of St George and pressed it against the window. A young Asian man trapped outside was beaten up and left covered in blood — in a scene not unlike the one depicted in Dave Smeeton’s ‘skinhead’ advert.

The toll so far: nine arrests — more could follow once police have finished analysing CCTV footage — thousands of pounds’ worth of damage, not to mention the bill for the police operation, and community relations at breaking point.

You might think the protesters had made their point, but no. We understand another demonstration is planned for Luton in August.

‘It’s time to unite against everything that is ruining our country,’ declares Dave Smeeton on the March for England website.

‘It’s time to remove that notion that the St George flag is racist … to claim back our flag which should never have been associated with racism in the first place.’

Patriotism or stirring up trouble? Either way, it would be better coming from someone who was not a (former) football hooligan.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Croatia: Hague; Zagreb Assures Full Cooperation

(ANSAmed) — ZAGREB, MAY 29 — Croatia has today given assurances that it is willing to collaborate with the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague and that it will shortly call on it for official notice of the criticisms passed by General Prosecutor Serge Brammertz, according to whom Zagreb has been deliberately withholding certain documents on its army’s military operations. The announcement has come from the country’s Justice Minster, Ivan Simonovic, who neither confirmed nor denied press reports that it was General Ante Gotovina, himself facing charges for war crimes, who removed the reports on artillery deployments during the summer of 1995 requested by the Court from the Defence Ministry’s archives and destroyed them. Full cooperation with the Hague is one of the conditions for Croatia’s membership of the EU and since 2005 — when their last remaining fugitive was handed over: General Gotovina himself — Hague prosecutors have always expressed their satisfaction with Zagreb’s conduct. Over the past few months, however, Brammertz has been expressing suspicions that the documents referring to the bombardment of the town of Knin, a secessionist stronghold, which took place in August of 1995 during the Croatian army’s final offensive, have not been handed over. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Cairo and Paris to Re-Launch Alliance

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 29 — France and Egypt, the co-president of the Union for the Mediterranean, which is dormant almost a year after its creation in Paris, intend to relaunch the alliance on a “technical and sectional basis”, said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit after a meeting in Paris with counterpart Bernard Kouchner, who last week said that the current state of the UM is due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dramatic situation in Gaza. “We must realise the original idea of the UM, which was not created to resolve conflict in the Middle East or conflict between two countries, but to strengthen the fabric of relations between countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea,” said the head of Egyptian diplomacy. He added that a UM meeting will take place in Paris on June 23 on sustainable development. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Tunisia-Algeria: Strengthening of Border Control

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MAY 29 — According to the Tunisian website African Manager, which cited information from the Algerian daily paper Al Moujahid, the border between Tunisia and Algeria is due to be strengthened with the setting up of 23 posts in the Algerian zone Tebessa. This part of the border covers 300 square kilometres, which will be subjected to advanced surveillance equipment. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Italian Mission in West Bank for New Marshall Plan

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 29 — The aim of the Italian mission in the West Bank and Israel is to “mark the way for a new Marshall Plan”. The mission, which is set for June 9-11, is to be comprised of the Foreign undersecretary Stefania Craxi and 40 Italian businesses. It is a practical mission “with a political significance”, underlined Craxi, because “political peace and economic peace can, and must, go hand in hand”. Small and medium-sized Italian enterprises are attracted by investment prospects in the West Bank in the sectors of infrastructure, transport and agriculture “and can bring social stability by creating a Palestinian middle class”. The aim is to create “small incubators of development” along the lines of the Jenin industrial park, where both Israeli and Palestinian contractors are already present. According to Craxi, this is an example of a peaceful and exemplary coexistence between two peoples, which constitutes an example for political peace. This is a new mission because “projects will be established in loco for the first time”. Until now, the “logic of large conferences that allocate money but which then struggle to find the right path to pursue” had been followed. Italy, on the other hand, is aiming for a new Marshall Plan for concrete development “which first of all looks at the feasibility of the projects and then puts down the money”. A policy of “small steps instead of giant proclamations”. As well as the business people, Craxi will meet both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities on the occasion of a conference on the West Bank and Gaza to be held in Ramallah. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Defense: Turkey; Expenditures Jump With New Chopper Project

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, MAY 28 — Expenditures by the Turkish Defense Industry Support Fund (SSDF), an extra-budgetary defense resource, jumped by 39% to $1.6 billion last year as a result of the military’s ATAK helicopter project, daily Today’s Zaman reports. According to a report from the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), on the 2008 expenditures of SSDF, 85% went to the ATAK project. Tusas Aerospace Industries (TAI), Italy’s AgustaWestland and local defense contractor Aselsan signed contracts valued at approximately $2.7 billion for the production of Italian A-129 attack helicopters in Turkey in June 2008. The export of the Turkish domestic defense sector increased by 37% in 2008 to $576 million over the previous year, the report indicated. Minister of Defense, Vecdi Gonul, said expenditures for research and development in the defense industry increased by a record 90% in 2008 over 2007, to $510 million. The SSM report said the government expects to meet half of Turkey’s defense technology needs with domestic products by 2010. Turkey currently has the second largest army among the members of NATO. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Hezbollah, Facing International Judicial Attacks

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MAY 29 — Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement supported by Syria and Jordan, and a local daily newspaper, which sympathises with the movement, stated yesterday that Hezbollah is currently facing “an international judicial war” which ranges from the US to Argentina and all the way to Germany. “The campaign is a continuation of the US-Israeli war on the resistance (Hezbollah), after the failure of Israel’s military offensive in 2006,” Hassan Nasrallah, one of Hezbollah deputies in the Lebanese parliament, told Lebanese TV broadcaster, LBC. Nasrallah was referring to a recent article published in German weekly magazine, Der Spiegel, which reported that Hezbollah was involved in the assassination of Lebanese former PM Rafik Hariri. He was also referring to the decision by the Supreme Court of Argentina to reopen investigations into the 1994 anti-Semitic attack in Buenos Aires of which Iran and Hezbollah are accused, and to the decision by the US Treasury to freeze US assets of people connected to Hezbollah. The Shiite movement rejects all the accusations. “Preparations are underway for an international judicial attack on Hezbollah”, writes daily newspaper Akhbar, according to whom “it seems that Hezbollah will shortly be confronted by a large number of international and local courts”. (ANSAmed).

2009-05-29 14:38

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Iran Ready to Strengthen Army, Nasrallah

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MAY 29 — Iran is willing to contribute to a strengthening of the Lebanese army without demanding any political price, should such a request be presented to Tehran, said the leader of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, today. “The Islamic Republic…will not turn down any request for help by the Lebanese army and will make Lebanon a strong nation, an all without any conditions”, Nasrallah said, speaking via a large screen to his assembled followers close to the Beqaa valley. If the political alliance led by Hezbollah wins the general elections of June 7 and forms the new government, it will work “to make sure the army is well armed and powerful”. (ANSA)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Over Turkish Objection, UN Extends Cyprus Peacekeeping Mandate

ISTANBUL — The U.N. Security Council extended its Cyprus peacekeeping mandate for another six months on Friday as Turkey voted against the resolution.

The mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping force, or UNFICYP, which patrols the divided Mediterranean island’s ceasefire line, had been due to expire on June 15 and was extended until December 15.

The resolution was adopted by 14 countries in favor, and one, Turkey, against for “reasons of principle.” Turkey has been a member of the U.N. Security Council since January.

“This wrong approach to consider the government of Cyprus as the sole government of the whole island has unfortunately been the main obstacle on the way to finding a just, lasting and comprehensive solution for over 45 years,” Turkey’s U.N. Ambassador Baki Ilkin was quoted by news agencies as saying.

Cyprus has been split since 1964 when Turkish Cypriots were forced to withdraw into enclaves.

Re-launched in September 2008 after a four-year hiatus, Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Demetris Christofias, have been involved in UN-sponsored unification talks aimed at reaching an agreement to end the island’s decades-long division. But little progress has been made so far.

The talks mark the first major push for peace since the failure of a U.N. reunification plan in 2004, which was approved by Turkish Cypriots but overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots.

The Security Council resolution also strongly urged Christofias and Talat “to increase the momentum in the negotiations to ensure the full exploitation of this opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement.”

The council reiterated that a settlement should be based on two strong separate zones with an overarching federal government.

The resolution also welcomed the implementation of some confidence-building measures by the two leaders and urged further steps, including the opening of additional crossing points between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot zones.

Ilkin told the council after Friday’s vote that the “yes” vote by Turkish Cypriots in the 2004 referendum proved “that they want a just and lasting comprehensive settlement.”

“They are prepared once again not to spare any effort to achieve a durable and equitable solution,” he said, expressing hope that the Greek Cypriots would also “respond positively.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Terrorist Flees to Lebanon, FBI Confirms

NEW YORK — A master bomb maker who once targeted commercial airliners and was suspected of aiding the Iraq insurgency has fled to Lebanon, an FBI official has confirmed.

There is information that 73-year-old Abu Ibrahim was reportedly in Tripoli, a city in northwest Lebanon, the official said earlier this week. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation continues.

The Palestinian terrorist is accused of bombings in the 1980s. He was indicted in the 1982 bombing of Pan Am Flight 830. The explosion killed a 16-year-old boy and wounded more than a dozen passengers as the plane headed to Honolulu from Tokyo.

The FBI has been looking to catch Ibrahim for decades and has recently increased its efforts to arrest him. In April, an FBI committee recommended Ibrahim be placed on agency’s list of most wanted terrorists.

The FBI is also trying to tap a State Department reward program to boost the bounty for his capture to millions of dollars. Ibrahim’s real name is Husayn al-Umari.

Ibrahim has remained out of reach for decades while living in Baghdad. With the help of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Ibrahim ran a feared terrorist organization called “15 May,” according to federal court documents and terrorism experts. The group is named for the date Israel was founded.

Ibrahim, a devout Sunni who was born in Tripoli, is suspected of carrying out more than two dozen attacks on mainly American, Israeli and Jewish targets in a career that spans decades.

The Iraqi government also used him to conduct terrorism operations against Syria and Iran. In his book, former CIA spy master Duane R. Clarridge wrote that Ibrahim had a “talent for constructing ingenious machines of death, such as refrigerator trucks whose cooling pipes were filled with liquid explosives.”

He’s accused of training a slew of operatives in the art of bomb making whose expertise metastasized across the Middle East, including Mohammed Rashed and Abu Zyad. Rashed is behind bars at the Supermax maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo. He’s scheduled to be released in less than four years.

Some still remain unaccounted for, like Zyad.

Zyad, 60, was born in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. He assisted Ibrahim in Baghdad in the early 1980s, according to CIA investigative notes obtained by The Associated Press. The notes say Zyad lived in Sudan for two years before leaving for Algiers, Algeria, in 1989. His current whereabouts are unknown.

A former senior CIA official who was stationed in Baghdad after the Iraqi invasion in 2003 said there were serious suspicions that Ibrahim had helped the insurgency.

The official said Ibrahim had recently slipped into Lebanon through Syria after coalition forces began to increase efforts to drive insurgents out of the Mosul area and the Saladin Province in Iraq, where Ibrahim had been operating.

The former CIA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works in the Middle East, said that Ibrahim had also gone to Tripoli. Ibrahim’s second wife, Selma, is from Tripoli.

“He’s got a lot of resources there,” the official said.

Ibrahim’s family also has connections to the Badawi Palestinian refugee camp on the northern fringes of Tripoli, according to the CIA notes.

The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Turkish Awareness on Human Rights Increases

ISTANBUL — Turks’ human rights have increased, albeit just slightly, within the last two years as well as their familiarity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to a poll by International Amnesty Turkey.

Of the poll participants in 2007, 36 percent said they knew the declaration, while this ratio increased to almost 38 percent in 2009. The poll was conducted by TNS Piar company for the organization under the framework of the 60th Year project, which was initiated in 2007 for the 60th anniversary of the human rights declaration. The aim of the poll was to increase awareness about human rights and familiarity with the declaration.

There were also some more drastic changes about the perception and awareness of human rights. The percentage of people in 2007 who said they had read the declaration was almost 13 percent. But, this ratio increased to 19 percent in 2009. The percentage of people who said they knew that every individual has the right to live, have freedom and security was 56 percent in 2007. In 2009, the amount increased to almost 64 percent.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Two Young Brothers, Victims of a Family Feud, Disfigured With Acid

Their father’s first wife demanded a sum of money and a piece of land. The target of the attack was the boy’s mother; on not finding here the women and her brother attacked the children. In ten years Bangladesh has seen 2200 acid attacks.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Two brothers disfigured with acid because of a family feud — over a question of money — with their father’s first wife the author of the attack. This is the fate of Joanki (only six months old) and his brother Arman (18 months), currently under treatment in hospital in Dhaka for the grave injuries they received. Their parents are of humble origins — Mohammad Ali is an ironmonger — and have appealed to people for funds to help them pay for their son’s treatment.

Sriti Costa, a nurse at the severe burns unit in Medical College Hospital Dhaka, has told AsiaNews that Jonaki has “serious burns covering 7% of his body” and that his condition is “not good”. Abu Zafar, the investigating police officer, confirms that a file has been opened against Asma, father of Siraj Mia, and the women’s two brothers, Dulal and Ujjal. “The suspects have fled — the inspector reports — but we have set up numerous check points. We hope they will be soon caught”.

The episode took place in Sharifpur, in the centre east district of Bramhanbaria, on May 23rd last. “Asma, my husband’s first wife” the mother of the two boys Morzina Begum, tells AsiaNews — and her brother Ujjal entered our home with the aim of pouring acid over me. At that moment I wasn’t in the room and as a result they changed their target, attacking the babies”. Morzina explains that “money issues” still pending between her husband and his first wife were behind the attack. On separating from his first wife, the woman demanded 50 thousand Taka [circa 525 euros] and a piece of land. “When my husband refused — concludes Morzina — they began to persecute me”. In order to guarantee treatment for the babies, their parents have appealed for a loan from their neighbours.

Acid Survivors Foundation, a foundation based in Dhaka that cares for victims, reports that between January and April 2009 there have been 28 cases of acid attacks. In total over the last decade since May 1999 — December 2008 there have been 2198 attacks. Many organisations for human rights — among them Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Christian Development Alternative and Acid Survivors Foundation — condemn “the brutal attack on two little brothers” and ask for “the immediate arrest of those responsible and exemplary punishment”.

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

Pakistan: Islamic Radicals Storm “Blasphemy” Hearing

Christian couple on trial; member of prosecution team threatens to kill wife.

Radical Pakistani Muslims in a town outside of Lahore this month overran a courtroom in hopes of swaying a judge in a “blasphemy” case against a Christian couple, and a member of the prosecution later threatened to kill the wife.

Some 50 molvis (Muslim clergy) on May 14 burst into the courtroom in Mustafabad, where a bail hearing was taking place in the case against Munir Masih and his wife Ruqiya Bibi, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).

“Nobody could stop them as they rushed into the court,” said CLAAS’s Tahir Gull, sole representative for the accused. “They said, ‘No non-Muslim has the right to keep a Quran in his house, they have done this so they are liable to be punished.’“

Masih and Bibi, both in their 30s, were originally accused under section 295-B of Pakistan’s penal code with defiling the Quran by touching it with unwashed hands on Dec. 8 of last year. Masih was taken to prison and remained there until Jan. 22, when a Muslim neighbor who had asked him to store some of his possessions, including his Quran, testified on his behalf and the case was dropped.

The complainant, Mohammad Nawaz, subsequently filed another accusation on Feb. 12, this time under 295-C, blasphemy against Muhammad, Islam’s prophet. This charge carries a death sentence, whereas defiling the Quran calls for life imprisonment.

Despite pressure from the crowd of clerics, Judge Shafqat Ali — also a molvi — granted the couple bail. Following the hearing, however, a member of the prosecution team approached Bibi outside the courtroom and threatened to kill her.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

US Urges Europe, China to Step Up Afghan Help

SINGAPORE — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Europe and China to step up their involvement in rebuilding Afghanistan, saying Saturday that America alone cannot put the conflict-ridden nation back on its feet while mired in a fight against the Taliban.

Gates said he has been tougher on the Europeans than countries in Asia in demanding bigger contributions because three successive NATO summits have declared Afghanistan to be their “highest priority.”

But he said he is concerned by “the difference between the rhetorical emphasis … and the capabilities that our allies are prepared to put forward.”

“The need is greater than the commitment that has been made,” Gates told an Asia-Pacific conference of defense ministers, officials and analysts.

Afghanistan is seen as a crucial test of the power and relevance of NATO, but the escalating war in the Central Asian nation has raised doubts in Europe about the ability of the alliance’s 32,000 troops to stem the Taliban insurgency.

Worries about casualties and costs have contributed to opposition to the conflict that many Europeans see as an unnecessary distraction during economic crisis.

The U.S. has 38,000 troops, and President Barack Obama has ordered 21,000 more be sent there.

“A lot of our allies are there in very large numbers … so it’s not like people have been sitting with their hands in their pockets,” Gates said, answering questions from delegates after his speech.

But to establish a sustainable and effective government in Afghanistan, the country needs additional aid and expertise to build infrastructure and more funding to expand and maintain the Afghan army, Gates said in the speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The annual conference is organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank.

Gates also said the United States would “welcome China’s help in Afghanistan, whether it is for the security fund or a number of these civilian areas of expertise.”

“This is one of the places in the world where all contributions are welcome,” he said.

Hundreds of U.S. experts and diplomats will be flying into Afghanistan in the months to come but that’s “still far short of what the need is,” he said. “It’s one thing for the U.S. to be able to surge a significant number of military forces, but our civilian capabilities are limited,” he said.

The ultimate solution to Afghanistan’s security is a strong national military and police force, for which the U.S. will pour billions of dollars over the next several years.

“Afghanistan for a considerable period of time will never be able to afford the size army and police that is required to take on the security challenges in the country,” Gates said.

Gates also praised Pakistan for stepping up the war against Islamic extremists in the region bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani military says it has killed more than 1,100 militants in a month of heavy clashes and has the Taliban on the run in the Swat Valley region.

The Pakistani establishment has come to “understand that what was happening there represented a truly existential threat to the Pakistani government and Pakistani democracy,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Far East

Asia: Vietnam Gearing for War With China?

Billions of dollars in oil prompts purchase of sub fleet

With attention focused on North Korea’s brinkmanship on nuclear weapons and missiles, another potential crisis is brewing that is about ready to spill over into violence, with Vietnam apparently preparing to challenge China’s ownership of a string of islands thought to be the link to billions of dollars worth of oil.

In asserting its rights to the Spratly Islands also claimed by China, Vietnam has ordered six Project 636 Kilo-class submarines from Russia and has gotten permission for the purchase, in addition to other military arms Vietnam has ordered.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Japan University Gives Away Iphones to Nab Truants

TOKYO — A prestigious Japanese university is giving away hundreds of iPhones, in part to use its Global Positioning System to nab students that skip class.

Truants in Japan often fake attendance by getting friends to answer roll-call or hand in signed attendance cards. That’s verging on cheating since attendance is a key requirement for graduation here.

Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo is giving Apple Inc.’s iPhone 3G to 550 students in its School of Social Informatics, which studies the use of Internet and computer technology in society.

The gadget will work as a tool for studies, but it also comes with GPS, a satellite navigation system that automatically checks on its whereabouts. The university plans to use that as a way check attendance.

Students who skip class could still fake attendance by giving their iPhone to a friend who goes to class. But youngsters aren’t likely to lend their mobile phones, which are packed with personal information and e-mail, according to the university.

U.S. universities use the iPhone for various, other purposes. At Stanford University, students have developed iPhone applications in a course. At Duke University, the gadget is used to get around the campus and find information about course listings and other events.

Aoyama Gakuin signed a deal earlier this month with Softbank Corp., the exclusive vendors of the iPhone in Japan.

The number of students using the iPhone is expected to reach 1,000 in the program — the first time the iPhone is being used on such a scale at a Japanese university.

The iPhone will be used to relay course materials, lecture videos and tests. The university hopes students will develop software applications and other lifestyle uses for the cell phone.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

U.S. Won’t Accept North Korea as Nuclear State: Gates

SINGAPORE (Reuters) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday that the United States would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and sternly warned it against transferring any nuclear material.

In a speech to an Asian defense conference in Singapore, Gates also said the threat from North Korea, which this week detonated a nuclear device and launched a series of missiles, could trigger an arms race in Asia.

“We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region or on us,” Gates said. “We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state.”

Compounding tensions on the Korean peninsula, a South Korean newspaper quoted a source in Washington as saying Pyongyang was preparing to move an intercontinental ballistic missile from a factory near the capital to a launch site on the east coast.

Increasingly belligerent North Korea has warned of war, saying it was no longer bound by an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and threatened further provocations in response to U.N. Security Council censure.

Gates said the Obama administration would hold North Korea “fully accountable” if it transferred any nuclear material outside its borders.

“The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies. And we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.”

The statement seemed to harden and broaden the Obama administration’s stand on North Korea’s recent series of provocations from a regional security issue to a global proliferation threat.

Regional powers are waiting to see what the North might do next after it conducted a nuclear test on Monday. South Korea is on alert on the assessment Pyongyang may make provocative moves using conventional weapons at their heavily armed border.

North Korea has warned of an intercontinental ballistic missile test in anger over U.N. Security Council punishment for what Pyongyang said was a satellite launch on April 5.

“Preparations to move an ICBM from the Saneum Weapons Research Center near Pyongyang by train have been captured by U.S. spy satellites,” Saturday’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper quoted a source in Washington knowledgeable about the issue as saying.

The research lab is the North’s main center of research and manufacture of long-range missiles, the newspaper said.

South Korea’s defense ministry could not immediately comment on the report.


In New York, the United States and Japan circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to key members, condemning the claimed nuclear test and demanding strict enforcement of sanctions imposed after the North’s first atomic test in October 2006.

Gates said North Korea was not a direct military threat now but said sanctions that bring home “real pain” were needed against Pyongyang.

“If (the North Koreans) continue on a path they are on, I think the consequences for stability in the region are significant and I think it poses the potential, the potential for some kind of an arms race in this region,” Gates said.

Western diplomats said permanent Security Council members Russia and China have agreed in principle that North Korea should be sanctioned for its nuclear test, but it was not clear what kind of penalties they would support. Both are generally reluctant to approve sanctions.

“Our hope is that all parties concerned will remain cool-headed and take measures to address the problem,” Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, told the Singapore defense conference.

“Our stand on the issue is consistent. We are resolutely opposed to nuclear proliferation. Our view is that the Korean peninsula should move toward denuclearization.”

U.S. officials have urged China to pressure North Korea to step back from nuclear brinkmanship and return to stalled disarmament talks. But many Chinese analysts say Washington overstates Beijing’s sway over Pyongyang, as well as their government’s willingness to use that influence.

The two Koreas have fought two deadly naval clashes on their disputed maritime border in the past 10 years and the North has warned another could happen.

A U.S. defense official said the United States had observed “above average activity” in the past 24 hours at a site in North Korea that has previously been used to test fire long-range missiles.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it had seen the number of Chinese fishing boats near the peninsula in the Yellow Sea drop sharply in recent days and is watching the North’s activities for indications of aggression.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Flu Prompts New Powers

The NSW chief health officer has been given stronger powers to ensure people suspected of having swine flu remain in isolation, as the state’s infection rate continues to rise.

Under the extra powers granted by the NSW government, Dr Kerry Chant can order anyone who has been in contact with a suspected case and has ignored advice to voluntarily quarantine themselves to stay isolated for up to 14 days.

She can also stop children who have been in contact with a suspected case from going to school.

NSW police can assist in compliance on request from Dr Chant.

Dr Chant said the powers were an emergency measure and she did not expect to use them because most people were heeding advice given by health authorities.

“These are measures that I think the general community would be very supportive of … the vast majority of the community have been adhering to our messages. This is just to ensure we have the powers,” Dr Chant told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca said swine flu clinics were also being set up in major public hospitals across the state to assist in managing the virus.

Royal North Shore, Sydney and St George hospitals were among those who had already set up flu clinics, while some regional hospitals were on stand-by.

The clinics will allow for rapid assessment and treatment of suspected swine flu cases and minimise the risk of infecting other patients and hospital staff, Mr Della Bosca said.

“It’s important also to note that that will mean that our emergency departments in public hospitals will be able to continue their important work … with minimal disruption,” he said.

Mr Della Bosca also said 25 NSW nurses had joined the cruise ship Pacific Dawn when it docked in Brisbane to assess and screen passengers before they arrive in Sydney on Monday.

As of this morning, there was no local transmission of swine flu in NSW.

There were 54 people in NSW who had tested positive for swine flu, out of whom 43 had been on the cruise ship Pacific Dawn when it docked in Sydney last Monday and 11 had picked up the virus on overseas travel

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Britons to Return From Zimbabwe

More than 60 British passport holders, reduced to poverty in Zimbabwe, are to be repatriated to Britain over the next few weeks.

They are the first successful applicants to a UK government scheme to resettle elderly and vulnerable people unable to afford the move themselves.

All their savings were lost in years of hyper-inflation in Zimbabwe.

The government says it may eventually have to pay for the return of 750 of its citizens.

The scheme is available to people aged over 70 with medical or care needs.

Bags packed

Fred Noble has lived in Zimbabwe for 51 years, but is now packing his bags for the move back to Britain this weekend. He had built up a good pension fund working on the railways, but is now almost destitute.

“I got sick, had to go to a private hospital and pay all the expenses myself. I had to sell my flat,” he said.

“One day you are very well off, and the next day you are a poor man.”

Inflation in Zimbabwe, which at one point reached 231m%, made pensions, savings and investments worthless.

British local government minister John Healy says the number of enquiries went up after last year’s presidential election in Zimbabwe.

“People were looking for help, particularly as the economy was still collapsing, the health care system, food supplies were getting more difficult,” he said.

With the new unity government in power, the economy in Zimbabwe is beginning to stabilise. But it has come too late for Mr Noble.

“I’ll miss this,” he said. “Wonderful years. But I am not a young man any more, and I am going home to die — that is how I look at it. I came to a beautiful country and I will remember it as that.”

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

Latin America

‘Homophobic’ Christian TV on the Outs in Brazil?

The Brazilian government is seeking to ban from daytime television what it refers to as “homophobic” Christian programming.

The government initially wants to put up a disclaimer that the shows are not recommended for people under the age of 18. A Brazilian government official told a newspaper there that while such programs would be restricted to after 11:00 p.m., “the ideal is that they not be shown at any time.”

Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality offers his reaction. “It seems that the Brazilian government is moving towards a pro-homosexual totalitarianism which directly impinges on the rights of Christians to be Christian,” he shares. “I think that this is a very dangerous road, and we need to be watching it from the United States.”

The move, he points out, also means children will not be getting the biblical view on the subject from television.

“This is the new socialism, which now appears to be directly repressing biblical speech on the issue of homosexuality — and we need to watch it because there are socialist advocates in the United States,” LaBarbera cautions. “The idea that Christian programming needs to be labeled as…’homophobic’ is just bizarre, but it’s very dangerous that this is being done so openly.”

The family advocate believes the Brazilian government is so beholden to its homosexual allies that it is directly suppressing speech. He contends that homosexual activists know there is little support for homosexuality in the South American country, so they want to suppress opposition to it before it mounts.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Miami Judge Awards $1.2 Billion in Suit Against Cuba

MIAMI (Reuters) — A Florida judge awarded nearly $1.2 billion on Friday to a Cuban American former CIA operative who hunted revolutionary Che Guevara, in a lawsuit he brought against Cuba over the suicide death of his father.

The award eclipses past judgments against the Cuban government handed down by courts in Miami, the heart of Cuban exile opposition to the island’s communist leadership. But it was not immediately clear if the judgment could be collected.

Gustavo Villoldo, now in his 70s, blamed Guevara, former Cuban president Fidel Castro and others for the death of his father, who killed himself in 1959 after the family’s property was seized in the wake of Castro’s revolution.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Peter Adrien awarded Villoldo damages of $1.179 billion, a court official said.

“You have brought closure to us after 50 years. Justice has prevailed,” the Miami Herald quoted Villoldo as saying following the verdict.

Villoldo’s attorneys told the Herald they would try to collect the judgment from frozen assets belonging to the Cuban government. But their prospects for success were uncertain. The frozen accounts in the United States have been depleted by past judgments.

The award far surpassed a judgment of $253 million last year in a wrongful death case brought against Cuba by the family of Rafael del Pino Siero, a U.S. citizen who was a friend of Fidel Castro but turned against him after Castro took power in 1959.

Castro’s forces captured del Pino Siero and he died in a Cuban prison cell 18 years later.

The award to del Pino’s children bested a $188 million judgment for the relatives of three people killed when a Cuban military jet shot down two small planes belonging to the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue in 1996.

Villoldo is a former CIA operative who participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and later helped hunt down Guevara in the jungles of Bolivia. The bearded revolutionary was captured and killed by CIA-backed Bolivian soldiers in October 1967.

Villoldo has said he personally supervised the burial of Guevara’s body and cut off a lock of Guevara’s hair, which he kept for decades. The hair and related items were sold at auction for $119,500 in October 2007.

Guevara, a leading figure of the Cuban revolution, became an international icon of rebellion for generations of leftists.

The Cuban government recovered what it said were Guevara’s remains from Bolivia more than a decade ago and buried them at a monument in Santa Clara, Cuba.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Barrot to EU-27, Refugee Transfers Into Union

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — It is necessary to make haste, given the dramatic situation bound to arise with a possible increase in migrants trying to make their way across in the Mediterranean Sea with the arrival of the summer season, and make an appeal to the sense of solidarity among member states. The EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Jacques Barrot, in view of the upcoming Council meeting on June 4-5, has drafted a letter to EU-27 Interior Ministers in which he sets forth the measures Brussels intends to take as concerns illegal immigration, and has asked for all member states to contribute. PILOT PROJECT FOR REFUGEES — Barrot has proposed a pilot project to deal with the problems involved in taking in asylum seekers benefiting from refugee status. For those in need of international protection, the Commission has put forth the possibility that they — once taken into a member state which is most heavily exposed to migratory pressures, or even a transit country like Libya — will be transferred into the Union. An immigrant taken in by Malta or Italy, therefore, could then be transferred to Sweden or Finland, for example. To do this the Commission is willing to increase the funds available. As it stands, 4,000 euros in EU financing is set aside per refugee for the country that agrees to take them in. However, Brussels is aware of the suspicion that such a proposal is likely to run up against in some countries, and so has asked that every country make its own choice on the matter. PARTNERSHIP WITH AFRICAN COUNTRIES — The Commission is aiming at better cooperation with North African nations, especially with Libya, but — according to Community sources — Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco have already given signals that they would like to work together. The idea is to try and bring in a regional partnership beginning with a conference: a sort of Tripoli II, according to EU sources who have hinted that Brussels might be willing to make up to 20 million euros available to the countries willing to take part. STRENGTHEN FRONTEX — The European agency created to manage cooperation with foreign borders, according to the Commission, should be strengthened to improve the planning of the operations, with clear accords and modalities which would make it possible to take action in order to prevent human lives from being lost and to bring rafts loaded with migrants to shore at pre-established points.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

‘EU Response Needed’ on Immigration

‘Not just Italy’s problem’, Justice Commissioner Barrot says

(ANSA) — Brussels, May 29 — European Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot on Friday called for a “real European response” to deal with illegal immigration in Italy and other southern Mediterranean countries.

“Immigration is not just Italy’s problem but a European issue on which we must have greater solidarity,” he said in a letter to the current Czech European Union presidency, illustrating proposals he plans to make at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Luxembourg next week.

Barrot described the immigration problem as “increasingly serious”.

“Many people lose their lives in the sea attempting to reach the EU, the protection systems of some member countries are under very heavy pressure and a growing number of immigrants are managing to enter the EU illegally,” he said.

Barrot called on the Czech Interior Minister, Marin Pecina, to kickstart an initial exchange of views on the issue by his EU counterparts, calling on them to try to identify “concrete and priority actions that will have an effect in the short term and that would be put into action in the next few months”.

“It’s very important that all the EU interior ministers believe that the situation can only be resolved through great European solidarity,” he said.

“At the moment not everyone is convinced”.

On Thursday Barrot said one way the EU could offer support would be to collaborate with UN refugee agency UNHCR to set up identification centres in the countries from where would-be migrants board boats to cross to Europe.

“We need to organise centres to examine asylum requests in the countries of imbarcation: Libya, Tunisia, Egypt,” he said.

Barrot added that the EU was also”working to facilitate readmission agreements with the countries of origin” to ease the repatriation process.

“But the priority is to avoid tragedies,” he said. “If we don’t find a common solution and shared rules, the risk is that the immigrants rebound between one country and another. This is the premise for a humanitarian disaster”.

According to EU sources, the Czech duty presidency is willing to include the immigration issue on the agenda of the June EU leaders’ summit.


Italy is determined to convince its partners that the emergency is “a European problem” and the EU needs to apply the principle of solidarity and share hospitality costs for immigrants who have been granted refugee status.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Friday he was “very satisfied” by Barrot’s letter.

“This represents a significant advance,” he said.

The minister reiterated that Italy will ask the EC to help it deal with the immigration issue by evaluating its two-pronged suggestion: the principle of burden sharing so that the 27 EU members would agree to provide hospitality for asylum seekers arriving here; and reinforcing the role of its border agency Frontex by making it responsible for the creation and management of a European network of identification centres.

Earlier this month Italy introduced a controversial new policy of turning back boats trying to reach Italy’s southern shores to Libya, the main stepping-off point for would-be migrants.

Italy has sent back nearly 500 would-be migrants since the launch of the policy on May 6 despite heavy criticism from the UN, the Catholic Church and humanitarian organisations.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

France to Accept 80 Immigrants From Malta

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, MAY 28 — By July France will accept around 80 of the illegal African immigrants who arrive on the Island of Malta on a daily basis. The operation is unique in Europe and was announced in December 2008 by the then minister of immigration, Brice Hortefeux, and elaborated by his successor Eric Besson with the help of the French ambassador to Malta, writer Daniel Rondeau. The news was announced this morning by the French Catholic daily La Croix. Assisted by the Maltese authorities, the island’s temporary reception centres have drawn up lists. Twenty illegal immigrants have already been chosen, men and women mostly from Somalia and Eritrea. “Each case has been closely examined” said Rondeau, “considering the possibility of their integration into French society. We have assessed their skills and their chances of finding work in France, as well as their personalities”. According to the Maltese, “there are more than 700 illegal immigrants on the island at the moment”. “Malta has so far been neglected by the other European countries in this tragedy of illegal immigration. This situation is unsustainable”, said the former president of the island, Guido De Marco. “We must help Malta as French, Europeans and Mediterranean citizens. Europe must stop being selfish and must show more solidarity. Therefore we have signed this solidarity pact” concluded the French ambassador. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Maroni: EU Commissioner Open to Our Proposals

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MAY 29 — In European Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot’s view, there has been a “full willingness” to discuss Italy’s proposals for a greater sharing in Europe of the burden of combating illegal immigration, said Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni after a G8 Justice-Interior Ministers meeting in Rome on immigration. “We asked,” explained Maroni, “the European Union and the European Commission to intervene to support border countries like Italy to combat illegal immigration.” The agreement with Libya, he underlined, “works: landings have stopped, but the very intense bilateral effort that also benefits Europe must be shared by the entire EU to help the countries of origin and transit of migrants and to adopt policies to accept migrants and share the associated burden.” We will “discuss this in Luxembourg next week at the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union, where we will bring our proposal drawn up together with other Mediterranean countries who share our position. The point is that all European countries must assist in accepting asylum seekers and in the repatriation of illegal immigrants, and the EU must improve FRONTEX (The European border management agency) to better prevent the flow of illegal migrants,” said Maroni. Barrot has been “fully willing to discuss these topics and today we made substantial progress”. (ANSAmed).

2009-05-29 20:22

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: Tax Agency Ready for June 1st ID Card Rush

After two and half years of waiting, immigrants arriving in Sweden will finally be able to obtain Swedish national identity cards.

Starting June 1st, the Swedish Tax Agency (Skatteverket) will begin accepting applications from people who are registered as living in Sweden with a personal identity number (personnummer), are at least 13-years-old, and can verify their identity.

“We’re absolutely ready and have done all that we can do at this point,” the Tax Agency’s Anna-Lena Österborg told The Local.

“It’s exciting. This is a whole new activity for us.”

Österborg, who has managed the ID card project, said the Tax Agency expects a wave of applications to flood in during the first few days.

Extra staff have been assigned to the 23 different offices around the country accepting applications in order to troubleshoot any possible problems.

“Since it’s the first time that any of us will be carrying out this activity, we’re going to be well-prepared,” said Österborg, although she couldn’t elaborate on any specific glitches that may be likely to occur.

In addition, Österborg urged patience from applicants who show up to file applications on the first few days in June.

“There may be long lines and application times may end up being longer than the expected two weeks,” she said, adding the agency had no concrete estimate of how many people may apply for ID cards.

Ever since early 2007, when the now shuttered Svensk Kassaservice announced it would no longer be issuing ID cards to non-Swedes, foreigners living in Sweden have been forced to turn to banks in order to obtain ID cards — and with decidedly inconsistent results.

While certain branches of some banks issued ID cards to non-Swedes, other banks refused to accept applications because foreigners were not able to adequately verify their identity.

For well over a year, the government has been wrestling with how to deal with an issue which has been a constant thorn in the side of new arrivals to Sweden who find themselves unable to obtain an ID card to help them carry out many of life’s basic functions like seeing a doctor or collecting packages from the post office.

After months of silence the government confirmed in September 2008 that the Tax Agency would take over responsibility for issuing ID cards.

And starting Monday, Tax Agency offices around the country will begin accepting applications, which must be filed in person.

“We’re also really hoping that people take time to ensure they meet the requirements before coming in to file their application,” said Österborg.

In addition, she stressed the importance of paying the 400 kronor ($52) application fee by bank- or plus-giro before showing up at the Tax Agency in person.

“Our offices don’t handle cash for security reasons,” she said.

The Tax Agency also requests that people hang onto their payment receipts to present as proof of payment when submitting their ID card application.

Also important is making sure that the applicant has an approved type of identity document, such as a previously issued Swedish identity card or passport, or an EU passport issued after September 1st, 2006.

In addition, passports from Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein are also acceptable, although passports from more recent EU members Romania, Cyprus, and Bulgaria are not.

For people lacking the approved documents, it’s necessary for them to come to the Tax Agency with someone who can vouch for their identity, such as a parent, sibling, spouse, or adult child.

In certain cases, an employer can also serve as an identity witness.

“It’s really important that we make sure these documents are credible and that cards are issued to the people who are who they say they are,” said Österborg.

She admitted, however, that some cases may require additional investigation, such as cross-referencing an identity witness with the Tax Agency’s population registry to verify their relationship to the applicant, or checking that two people claiming to be a couple are registered at the same address.

“At the end of the day, we’re relying on people’s good faith,” she said.

Applicants will then be photographed at the agency’s offices, and should receive their ID cards within two weeks of filing the application, assuming everything is in order.

But again, Österborg emphasized that the first wave of applications may take somewhat longer.

“Once we’ve got everything up and running smoothly, we shouldn’t have any trouble meeting the two-week deadline,” she said.

“But we know expectations are high and want people to understand that at first, we may take a little bit more time than expected to get them their ID cards.”

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Deadline Set in Banned Bible Study Case

Demand letter warns of ‘irreparable’ harm from First Amendment violation

Code enforcement officials in San Diego who banned a pastor and his wife from holding Bible studies in their home or face fines have taken less than 24 hours to respond to a demand letter from a legal team representing the couple in what could be a major First Amendment dispute.

And now they have a deadline to withdraw statements that lawyers believe already have created an irreparable violation of the First Amendment.

Dean Broyles, the chief of the Western Center for Law & Policy, told WND today the letter was dispatched to Pam Elias, chief of the land use division for the county of San Diego, on Tuesday, and a meeting was held among the parties yesterday.


The sequence of events developed this way.

“On April 10, 2009, Good Friday, a female county employee came to the Joneses’ residence. The county employee appeared in the front yard and proceeded to take pictures of our clients’ home,” the letter said. “She noticed the Joneses’ daughters in the front yard and asked to speak with their mother. Although she did not provide any paper work or identification, subsequent information obtained by the WCLP leads us to believe that the county employee who went to the Joneses’ residence was Code Enforcement Officer Cherie Cham.”

“Do you have a regular weekly meeting in your home? Do you sing? Do you say ‘amen’?” the official reportedly asked. “Do you say, ‘Praise the Lord’?”

The pastor’s wife answered yes.

She says she was then told, however, that she must stop holding “religious assemblies” until she and her husband obtain a Major Use Permit from the county, a permit that often involves traffic and environmental studies, compliance with parking and sidewalk regulations and costs that top tens of thousands of dollars.

If they fail to pay for the MUP, the county official reportedly warned, the couple would be charged escalating fines beginning at $100, then $200, $500, $1000, “and then it will get ugly.”


Broyles earlier told WND that oppressive governments, such as communist China or Nazi Germany, worked to repress home fellowships, labeling them the “underground church” or “subversive groups,” legally compelling Christians to meet only in sanctioned, government-controlled “official” churches.

“Therein lies my concern,” Broyles said. “If people can’t practice their religious beliefs in the privacy of their own homes with a few of their friends, that’s an egregious First Amendment violation.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

‘Gay’ Activist to Oversee Public Classroom ‘safety’

Homosexual group founder handed federal Education Department post

The founder of the homosexual activist group GLSEN, which promotes homosexual clubs in high schools, middle schools and grade schools and is the driving force behind the annual “Day of Silence” celebration of homosexuality in many districts, has been handed a federal appointment where he will be responsible for overseeing “safety” in the nation’s public schools.

Linda Harvey of Mission America, which educates people on anti-Christian trends in the nation, said it is nothing more than a “tragedy” for an open homosexual who has “had an enormously detrimental impact on the climate in our schools” to be in such a position.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Mandatory ‘Gay’ Day for K-5 Students

Board imposes homosexual curriculum on classes

A California school district has approved a mandatory homosexual curriculum for children as young as 5 — and parents will not be allowed to remove their children from the lessons.

The mandatory program, officially titled “LGBT Lesson #9,” was approved May 26 by the Alameda County Board of Education by a vote of 3-2. Students from kindergarten through fifth grade will learn about “tolerance” for the homosexual lifestyle beginning next year.


Parents will not be given an opportunity to opt-out of lessons that go against their religious beliefs. Some parents are threatening to sue the school board and mount a recall. Opponents presented a petition with 468 signatures from people who don’t want the homosexual lessons in the curriculum.


… Capitol Resource Institute’s Karen England explored the curriculum and released a statement condemning the program before the board’s vote.

“This curriculum ignores the fact that every child has a mom and a dad, to redefine ideas like ‘family.’ School absolutely should be a safe place, but this isn’t just about safety. Students have to embrace highly controversial social values or risk being labeled as bigots,” she warned. “Five year old kids aren’t ready to think on their own about sexuality — and their families’ values will be dismissed. That’s not an education in critical thinking. It’s social activism.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Predator Drones Could Face Legal Challenges From Human Rights Advocates

Human rights activists are turning their attention to the drone program in part because they say there’s no warning to innocent civilians who are in a targeted area.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Unknown said...

"However, the project was shelved, when the Greek Orthodox church, which has a special status in the Greek state, submitted a formal objection [to building a mosque at Peania]."

Here is an example of how an established church can act as a brake on the government.

laine said...

The idea of advanced Western societies joining backward primitive ones with the "compromises" ending up as one-sided bowing and scraping to an inferior culture is some kind of sick suicidal masochistic white guilt fest.

We have nothing improving to learn from them. They are unwilling to learn from us, and are merely looking to spread their swamps of ignorance as the genital mutilation stats demonstrate.

As Mark Steyn once said, when you mix ice cream and manure, the mixture ends up tasting much more of the latter than the former.

Let me stipulate for anyone ready to fling the "racist" canard, that any Magreb denizen who understands the Enlightenment and aspires to bring it to his nation would be welcome, whatever his hue, but that is never what we see. Co-operation thus far has always been the enlightened giving in to the benighted societies (i.e. instead of the GM rate falling in Egypt, it rises in Europe). That's what the ice cream analogy addresses, not the capacity of any race to participate in Western civilization if they were so inclined.

Anonymous said...

In the last decade, with the arrival of large numbers of illegal immigrants, the Muslim population has grown rapidly, and now more than 700,000 people have to contend with the chronic lack of facilities in which to practice their religion..Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are dissatisfied, then go on a riot, because they cannot pray in a mosque. The only way this can treated as the fault of Greece, is that Greece did not immediately deport the illegals. By allowing the illegals to reamin in Greece, they effectively accepted illegal entry to Greece.

Jack Reylan said...

Cyprius was the petroleum banking nexus from which the islamosoviets wreacked havoc on the world financial system in recent months. Cyprius must be eternally decimated to finish what we failed to do in the Crimean War so as to eliminate the soviet threat from humanity.