Sunday, June 14, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/14/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/14/2009The big news tonight comes from Iran. Ahmadinejad has been declared the winner, but a large number of Iranians are protesting a rigged election. Opposition leaders have been arrested, and there is violence in the streets. It’s still too early to venture an opinion about how this will turn out.

In other news, Brazil, Russia, India, and China (now known as the BRIC group) have decided not to try to establish a new reserve currency, at least for the time being.

Thanks to Amil Imani, Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, Jewish Odysseus, KGS, Rolf Krake, Zenster, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
BRICs Won’t Mull New Reserve Currencies: Kremlin
Spain: 600 Intellectuals Say No to Labour Market Reform
Spain: More Than 600,000 New Homes Unsold
Barack H. Obama: Administrator
CIA Chief Believes Cheney Almost Wants U.S. Attacked
Just Make Stuff Up
Obama Fires Watchdog Who Barked at His Crony
Supervolcano Brewing Beneath Mount St Helens?
Europe and the EU
Another Year of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism in Norway
Culture: ‘Turkey Season’ in France Could be Postponed, Erdogan
Dutch Divided Over Geert Wilders as Radical MP Eyes Premiership
EU Woos Ireland Ahead of Lisbon
Finland: $17m Ransom: Kidnap Victim Freed
Gaddafi Fails to Show Up at Top-Level Meeting in Rome
Italy: Anti-Trust Body Says ENI Should Sell Assets
Italy: Centre-Right Wins Administrative Elections
Italy: PDL Fails to Make Inroads as PD Falters
UK: An Audience With a Racist
UK: Gordon Brown to Announce Iraq War Inquiry — But Faces Backlash if It’s Behind Closed Doors
UK: Ken Clarke: We Won’t Tear Up the Lisbon Treaty if Ireland Votes Yes Before Election
UK: Put a Stop to These Insensitive Ambulances
Serbia-France: French Ambassador, New Beginning in Relations
North Africa
Morocco: Women Arrested at Outlawed Islamist Group Meeting
Israel and the Palestinians
PA Blames Israel for Wild Boars
PM Lays Down Conditions for Peace in Foreign Policy Address
Survey: 56% of Israelis Against Block on Settlements
U.S.-Trained Officer Caught Helping Terrorists
West Bank: Italy Opens Breast Cancer Prevention Center
Middle East
Barry Rubin: Iran’s Stolen Election Should Change Western Policies
EU’s Solana Meets Hezbollah in Beirut
Iran Opposition Seeks Fatwa Against Ahmadinejad
Kurds Lay Claim to Oil Riches in Iraq as Old Hatreds Flare
Turkey: Ergenekon; Military to Weaken AK Party, Newspaper
Unrest in Iran Deepens as Leading Critics Are Detained
Yemen ‘Arrests Senior Al-Qaeda Man’
Russia: Gazprom’s Leading Role as an Energy Giant in Crisis
South Asia
India: Church in Kerala Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Anti-Communist Liberation Struggle
Pakistan: Mutilated Body Sparks Religious Torture Charge
President Obama in Cairo: Islam and End-Time Prophecy?
Suu Kyi: Is There Still Purpose in Her Struggle?
Australia — Pacific
NAB to Introduce Muslim-Friendly Loans
Latin America
Air France Crash Jet ‘Split in 2 at High Altitude’
Air France Crash: Messages Sent From Plane on Rudder Problem
Gaddafi: Sapienza, Immigrants Threatened by Libyan Services
Culture Wars
Kids Attend Prom From ‘Sexual Hell’
Amil Imani: Liberty vs. Demagogues
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Financial Crisis

BRICs Won’t Mull New Reserve Currencies: Kremlin

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Leaders of Russia, China, India and Brazil do not intend to discuss new global reserve currencies at their first summit in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on Monday, a top Kremlin aide said on Sunday.

“We will hardly be discussing the new reserve currencies,” Sergei Prikhodko told reporters. “As far as practical issues are concerned, we will speak more about the possible ways to reform international financial institutions.”

Brazil, Russia, India and China are trying to strengthen their clout as the producers of 15 percent of global output by building up their BRIC grouping into a powerful world player.

Russia, holder of the world’s third largest foreign exchange reserves, has called for the world to become less dependent on the dollar and suggested that the yuan and the rouble could become reserve currencies in the future.

Concerns that dollar’s role as the dominant reserve currency has contributed to global financial instability has been discussed by BRIC’s top security officials, who met in Moscow last month to prepare the summit.

Brazilian Strategic Affairs Minister Roberto Mangabeira Unger told Reuters last month the summit was due to discuss the role of the U.S. dollar, strengthening the G20 group, reshaping the world trade regime and reform of the United Nations.

“We don’t want a European-style central bank made global. We don’t want a global Brussels,” he said, adding that the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights were an option as long as the issuer’s powers were limited.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said on Saturday the dollar’s role as the world’s main reserve currency was unlikely to change in the near future

“It is hard to say that in the next few years this system will change significantly,” Kudrin told reporters after a meeting of finance minister of the G8 (Group of Eight) leading economies in Italy.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Spain: 600 Intellectuals Say No to Labour Market Reform

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 12 — Tensions are high in Spain over planned labour market reforms requested by the country’s main industrialists’ association, COEOE, and the Partido Popolare (PP), but opposed by the Zapatero government. Now, around 600 left-leaning intellectuals, economists and employment law professors have drawn up an essentially neo-Keynesian manifesto, which will be presented on June 19 by the Chancellor of Madrid’s Complutense University, Carlos Berzosa, reports today’s La Vanguardia newspaper. The manifesto, brought to fruition through the May 1 Foundation led by Rodolfo Benito, the president of Spain’s trade union federation (Comisiones Obreras), is very close in spirit to the model proposed by Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Zapatero. It is also seen as a response to a manifesto issued a few days ago by a hundred economists, including the Secretary of State for the Economy, Juan Manuel Campa, which demanded labour market reform including the introduction of a standardised, single contract. The single contract has been the object of the industrialists’ association’s proposals and also coincides — albeit to a lesser extent — with PP policies. The manifesto outlines the signatories’ opposition to anti-crisis measures which hide labour market reform of the type proposed by the industrialists, which include a cut in contractual guarantees and make it easier for employers to fire workers. The signatories also highlight the origins of the crisis and the inability of the economic authorities to control Spain’s excessive growth. The manifesto calls for greater state regulation and whilst highlighting the decent regulation of the banking sector in Spain also point out the lack of control over the housing market. Among the recommendations contained in the document is the extension of unemployment subsidies to all those without work and increasing the amount of time that this subsidy can be claimed. It also calls for a contained increase in public spending to give consumption and investment a kick-start, as well as reviving the market and helping SMEs and the country’s most dynamic sectors. The intellectuals also propose a change to the country’s economic model, saying that it should be based on innovation and high-quality labour, including changes in industrial, energy, education and environmental policy and better training for workers. That the workers should pay the biggest price for the crisis is, according to the signatories, “politically indecent”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: More Than 600,000 New Homes Unsold

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 12 — The number of new homes in Spain which remained unsold by December 31, 2008, reached 613,512 units, 45% of which concentrated on the Mediterranean coast — according to the first report published by the Housing Ministry on new housing stocks. An estimated 70% of the unsold homes were intended to be primary residences, while the remaining homes were to be vacation residences. By province, Barcelona holds the record with 55,315 lodgings; followed by Madrid (51,034); Alicante (46,366); Valencia (30,038); Murcia (27,279) and Malaga (21,092). The average for unsold houses stands at 13.3 for every one thousand inhabitants. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Barack H. Obama: Administrator

Barack H. Obama will forever be known as the first black president of the United States. This fact will likely be the least impressive item about him in tomorrow’s history books. The first four months of his administration strongly suggest that he will most likely be known as the president who transformed America’s system of government.

The U.S. Constitution provides for a system of representative government with a degree of checks and balances. This system has been tested, twisted and tormented over the years, but has always survived the abuses inflicted upon it. Obama brings a new threat, in a new era, to a new generation.

Obama is creating a system of government that is beginning to look much like an “Administrator” form of government that will ultimately have no checks and balances, and little need for legislators.

This form of government was the fantasy of Col. Edward Mandell House, the “alter-ego” of President Woodrow Wilson, a designer of the League of Nations, and author of “Philip Dru: Administrator.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

CIA Chief Believes Cheney Almost Wants U.S. Attacked

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — CIA director Leon Panetta says it’s almost as if former vice president Dick Cheney would like to see another attack on the United States to prove he is right in criticizing President Barack Obama for abandoning the “harsh interrogation” of terrorism suspects.

“I think he smells some blood in the water on the national security issue,” Panetta said in an interview published in The New Yorker magazine’s June 22 issue.

“It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point.”

Cheney, who was a key advocate in the Bush administration of controversial interrogation methods such as waterboarding, has become as a leading Republican critic of Obama’s ban on harsh interrogations and his plan to shut the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a blistering May 21 speech, Cheney said Obama’s reversal of Bush-era policies were “unwise in the extreme” that would make the American people less safe.

Panetta called Cheney’s actions “dangerous politics.”

He told The New Yorker he had favored the creation of an independent truth commission to look into the detainee polices of former President George W. Bush. But the idea died in April when Obama decided such a panel could be seen as politically vindictive.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Just Make Stuff Up

President Obama’s war on the truth.

In the first six months of the Obama administration, we have witnessed an assault on the truth of a magnitude not seen since the Nixon Watergate years. The prevarication is ironic given the Obama campaign’s accusations that the Bush years were not transparent and that Hillary Clinton, like her husband, was a chronic fabricator. Remember Obama’s own assertions that he was a “student of history” and that “words mean something.. You can’t just make stuff up.”

Yet Obama’s war against veracity is multifaceted.

Trotskyization. Sometimes the past is simply airbrushed away. Barack Obama has a disturbing habit of contradicting his past declarations as if spoken words did not mean much at all. The problem is not just that once-memorable statements about everything from NAFTA to public campaign financing were contradicted by his subsequent actions. Rather, these pronouncements simply were ignored to the point of making it seem they were never really uttered at all.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Fires Watchdog Who Barked at His Crony

Rush Limbaugh calls action illegal, ‘bigger’ than Alberto Gonzales fray

Former Inspector General Gerald Walpin filed two reports exposing gross misappropriation of federal AmeriCorps funds by a prominent Barack Obama supporter and was shortly thereafter fired by the White House, circumstances he told WND are likely linked and others have called an outright illegal action by the administration.

“I think you have to look at the facts and the circumstances and reach your conclusions,” Walpin said in a WND interview. “I will tell you that [my firing] came only after we had issued those two reports to Congress, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

Further, Walpin said, “I am convinced that I and my office are not guilty of any impropriety. In essence, I was fired for doing my job.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Supervolcano Brewing Beneath Mount St Helens?

‘It seems likely that there’s some partial melt down there’

IS A supervolcano brewing beneath Mount St Helens? Peering under the volcano has revealed what may be an extraordinarily large zone of semi-molten rock, which would be capable of feeding a giant eruption.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Another Year of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism in Norway

by Manfred Gerstenfeld

  • Again over this past year there were significant anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli incidents in Norway. Among these were anti-Semitic television satire programs, an act of the Nazification of Israel by a Norwegian diplomat, physical attacks on a pro-Israeli demonstration, death threats against Jews and a desecration of a Jewish cemetery.
  • Publications by NGO Monitor reveal that the Labor-dominated Norwegian government is indirectly giving financial support to NGOs that demonize Israel. This Norwegian government’s attitude toward Israel is among the most negative in Europe.
  • A number of Norwegian Jews have said in various media that anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are on the rise in the country.
  • There are increasing indications that the number of extreme and sometimes violent anti-Semites among Muslim Norwegians may approach or even exceed the membership of the local Jewish community. Some of these Muslims participated in the largest riots in many years in Oslo in January 2009.

There are an estimated 1,300 Jews in Norway.[1] This means that for every ten thousand Norwegians, there are three Jews. The Jewish community constitutes a tiny fraction of West European Jewry. Norway’s overall population makes up slightly more than 1 percent of that of Western Europe.

The book Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, which I edited, was published in August 2008.[2] (As it sold out rapidly, it is now available for free on the Jerusalem Center’s website.[3]) It analyzes anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli attitudes at various levels in the Nordic countries. The book also indicates why Norway’s place in any history of postwar anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in Western Europe should be “disproportionately” larger than its population size or number of Jews seems to warrant.

The book also gives examples of some pioneering impacts of Jew- and/or Israel-hatred emanating from Norway. Proof keeps surfacing of the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli attitudes mainly among parts of Norway’s elite and immigrant populations.

The future of the Jews worldwide as well as the state of Israel is threatened by a variety of forces. In increasingly uncertain times, details of the ongoing global anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli defamation and hostility should be documented. As events unfold, this will make it more difficult in future for those promoting hatred, their accomplices, and the bystanders to deny their role in the process of demonizing Israel and the Jews. Even in a country with a small population such as Norway there is a significant number of these.

In the new century there have been a number of physical, and verbal, anti-Semitic attacks against Jews in Norway. Norwegians often stress that much of this aggression is committed by Muslim immigrants who hold Norwegian citizenship, and that one should not hold Norwegian society responsible. This attitude has an underlying racist implication, as if some Muslims are second-class citizens whose personal responsibility for their acts is different from that of “real,” that is, ethnic Norwegians…

           — Hat tip: Rolf Krake[Return to headlines]

Culture: ‘Turkey Season’ in France Could be Postponed, Erdogan

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 12 — The ‘Turkey Season” cultural event in France could be postponed because of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s strong opposition to Ankara’s bid for full membership in the EU, daily Hurriyet reported quoting Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan also said he might not travel to France for the event. “Mr. Sarkozy will regret what he has been doing sooner or later”, the prime minister told private channel NTV, adding that “we had contacts with former French President Jacques Chirac for a long time, but we have not seen such an approach from him”. It was not clear whether Erdogan meant to postpone his trip to France or call off the entire Turkey Season event. President Abdullah Gul and Sarkozy were expected to launch the event which aims to introduce Turkish culture to France through 400 activities in 40 different French cities on 1 July. The “season” is scheduled to continue through March 2010. Gul recently said he would travel to France to kick off the events with the French leader. Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is also set to travel to France to participate in one or two activities, his spokesman said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Dutch Divided Over Geert Wilders as Radical MP Eyes Premiership

Until last week, the Bernard family had the normal concerns of any middle-class Dutch family — putting their teenage children through university, living a greener life, and paying the mortgage.

But that has all changed since the European election — and the triumph by Geert Wilders, the right-wing populist and outspoken critic of Islam who in February was banned from entering Britain as a threat to “community harmony”.

To many abroad Mr Wilders, a Dutch MP, appears an old-fashioned racist whose views put him on a par with other far-Right politicians elsewhere in Europe.

Yet in its first ever test of national electoral support among the normally tolerant Dutch, his anti-immigration Party for Freedom which he founded in 2006 won 17 per cent of the votes — making it the second biggest party. That has shaken the country to its core — opening up the real possibility that, through the Dutch coalition system, Mr Wilders could win power at the next general election.

Now, like many others in the Netherlands, the Bernards are desperately worried. “This has the feeling of what happened to Germany in the 1930s,” said Alfred Bernard, 52, a lawyer. “Wilders blames foreigners for everything. People are disoriented because of the economic crisis. Everywhere there is dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians.

“After this I really believe that Wilders could become prime minister in the 2011 parliamentary elections, or at least set the political agenda.”

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Wilders, 45, was frank about that ambition. Asked about the prospect of taking power in two years’ time, he said: “That is our biggest job. We had an enormous success last week and our biggest task is to keep up momentum. I am very confident that we will have an excellent result.

“If my party becomes the biggest party, I would be honoured to be prime minister.”

Sitting in his office in the Dutch parliament building in The Hague, protected from the threat of assassination by 10 armed secret service bodyguards, he summed up his antipathy to the religion of many immigrants to the Netherlands.

“Islam wants to dominate our society,” he said in fluent and only slightly accented English. “It’s in opposition to freedom.

“If people are offended, that’s not my aim. I don’t talk about Muslims but about Islam. Everything I say is against the fascist Islamic ideology.”

To the charge that to many his views appeared to be racist, he responded: “If that was true, we would never have been the second biggest party in the European elections.”

Why, then, did Moroccans and Turks living in the Netherlands so fear him? “As long as they don’t commit crimes, it’s a baseless fear,” he said. “If you adhere to our laws, if you act according to our values, you are free to stay. We will help you to integrate.

“But if you cross the red line, if you start committing crimes, if you want to do jihad or impose sharia, we want you to be sent out of the Netherlands and we will get rid of your permits to stay.”

An admirer of Churchill and Lady Thatcher, he is charismatic as well as combative. Holland’s conventional politicians — mostly dull men in suits — have no idea how to counter his politically incorrect taunts, which outrage the parliamentary chamber but delight his supporters.

He has come a long way since the days when he could be lightly dismissed as an eccentric fringe politician with an extraordinary blond quiff, known mainly for baiting Muslims.

“Half of Holland loves me and half of Holland hates me. There is no in-between,” Mr Wilders said. “This is a new politics, and I think it would have a great chance of success in other European countries. We are democrats. On economic and social issues we are centrist. We want tougher laws on crime and we want to stop Holland paying so much money to the European Union.

“We would stop immigration from Muslim countries and close Islamic schools. We want to be more proud of our identity.”

He admitted that he is frustrated at his image abroad, especially in Britain, a country which he admires. He claimed to believe in freedom above all else and pointed out that he is despised by Holland’s Neo-Nazis, who dubbed him the “blond Zionist” because of his links to Israel — a country which he has often visited and where he counts politicians among his friends.

He is still angered at being banned from entering Britain, where he had been invited to show his controversial 17-minute film linking the Koran with the September 11 terror attacks. Muslim groups were among those who campaigned against his admission, and he dismissed the Home Office ruling as an attempt at “appeasement” of Islam.

Dutch liberals groaned when the British Government refused entry, because they knew Mr Wilders would milk the decision to generate massive publicity at home. He is also being prosecuted in Holland for promoting hate crimes, a case which is thought unlikely to succeed but which has allowed him to pose as a martyr.

In the European Parliament his four MEPs will not ally with the British National party, he said, claiming he had never met a BNP Member. “I understand they talk a lot about blacks and whites. This is disgusting,” he said.

Then a dreamy look of a man convinced of his own destiny came into his eyes as he launched into a fresh tirade about the threat to Western civilisation from Islam. “Samuel Huntingdon was being too positive when he talked about a clash of civilisations,” Mr Wilders said. “It is civilisation against barbarity.”

His conviction explains why families like the Bernards, who know what happened next door in Germany during the 1930s, find Mr Wilders so unsettling.

In the past, the Bernards always had confidence in the post-war Dutch dream of equality and tolerance. But now Mr Bernard and his librarian wife Marjina, also 52, have been forced to ask whether their country is fundamentally changing.

The day after the results were announced, Mrs Bernard joined a mainstream political party for the first time in her life because she thinks that if Mr Wilders is to be opposed, ordinary politics must first be revived.

“It is getting scary,” she said. “He is becoming more extreme. He has made it respectable to speak out against Muslims.”

They live in an airy ground-floor flat in a neat suburb of Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port with a population of 580,000, about four out 10 of whom are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. On current birth rates, the city is expected to become Europe’s first with a Muslim majority in about 2020. That has put it firmly at the centre of Holland’s anguished debate about race, immigration and Islam — a debate which is apparently being won by Mr Wilders.

The young watch his irreverent attacks on YouTube, relishing the novelty of a politician who can make them laugh. His older supporters are fiercely loyal to a leader who is bold enough to voice what they think, but for years dared not say.

“I voted for him because immigration isn’t working here in Holland any more,” said Ben De Reus, a 40-year-old bus driver from Rotterdam.

“He wants to get rid of the Turks and they don’t belong here,” said an elderly woman supporter in a prosperous southern suburb — wrongly, since Mr Wilders says he would “encourage” repatriation but wants the expulsion only of immigrants convicted of crimes.

Some 15 per cent of the Dutch population of 16.5 million are from ethnic minorities — many from Morocco and Turkey.

Most of the Party for Freedom’s 17 per cent of the vote was cast in Holland’s four big cities, where the immigrants live and where white voters grumble about high crime rates, chaotic foreigners who don’t understand orderly Dutch ways, and Muslim families who refuse to learn the language and fit in.

But it did well in parts of rural Holland too. It polled highest — 39.8 per cent — in Volderdam, a picturesque, overwhelmingly white town surrounded by windmills and tulip fields, where there are no burkhas but tourists queue up to take photos of women in clogs.

His rhetoric has delighted many voters, the ones who fear that their beloved Dutch values are under attack from an alien way of life.

Dutch tolerance has shaped the Party of Freedom to be quite unlike most European Right-wing movements: its election campaigning championed the victims of gay-bashing gangs of Moroccan youths, and Mr Wilders talks often about the threat from Islam to women’s rights.

His success is a sign of how the political landscape has changed. Even Dutch left-wingers now have to admit that there is a problem with Moroccan street gangs are a problem, and liberals wring their hands about the failure of immigrants to integrate since the first were admitted during the 1960s and 70s — many from Morocco and Turkey.

“Everybody assumed that immigrants would go home once they had finished their work here. But instead they stayed and brought their families,” said Rita Van Der Linde, a spokeswoman for the Rotterdam municipality.

The city’s large Moroccan population have found jobs harder to come by in recent years. Unemployed, and often feeling unwelcome, they have become more Islamic and retreated to the security of the mosques in their communities, in the older, scruffier parts of the city where they are isolated from mainstream Dutch life.

“This development has made white Dutch people nervous of them, especially since September 11th 2001,” Ms Van Der Linde said.

Hopes for harmony on the streets have been invested in a new mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, a member of the Dutch Labour Party whose parents came from Morocco.

He has broken with multiculturalism by urging immigrants to learn the language and fit in, or get on a plane out. He has also pledged to crack down on Moroccan criminals, using language which Right-wingers say would get them branded as racists if they used it.

But in office he has tried to remain aloof from the fray, leaving the field almost clear for Mr Wilders to argue against immigration, which in reality has slowed to a trickle.

Not everyone believes there is enough substance to the Party of Freedom for it to have a chance of achieving real power.

In a little café in Rotterdam which proudly serves only traditional Dutch dishes, owner Martin Voltuees, 46, said of Mr Wilders: “He has a lot of good one-liners but no solutions. We have always been a culture of immigrants ever since the Jews arrived. The difference is that in the past people brought their skills, but now we have immigrants who just bring their poverty.

“Twenty years ago there were plenty of jobs in Rotterdam in the shipyards, and we needed them. That’s gone now. But you see in Holland black and white, Muslims and Christians, intermarrying, so perhaps these problems are solving themselves.”

Others are less sanguine — not least the Dutch citizens who feel themselves to be under fire.

Omar Kirac, 19, an engineering student at a Rotterdam university whose Turkish parents moved to the Netherlands before he was born, said: “Wilders hates people like me, and of course I hate him. I voted against him — it was the blond people who voted for him.

“We think he could become the prime minister and that would be dangerous for us, and dangerous for the Netherlands.

“Politicians need to focus on the economic crisis, not blame Muslims for everything.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

EU Woos Ireland Ahead of Lisbon

Employment commissioner plans visit to win over trade unions on treaty

VLADIMIR SPIDLA, the EU commissioner for employment, is to visit Ireland as part of a charm offensive to secure the support of the trade union movement for the Lisbon treaty, writes Mark Tighe.

Spidla’s visit forms part of a plan by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to convince trade unions that did not support last year’s Lisbon referendum that ratification will not have a negative effect on labour standards. A number of unions opposed Lisbon following a series of European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings, such as the Laval and Viking cases on the right to strike.

The government has proposed a “solemn declaration on workers’ rights” which would reaffirm the commitment of all member states to the “high importance of workers’ conditions”. This, together with other guarantees proposed by the government, will be discussed at a European Council meeting this week.

According to briefing documents on the second referendum released under the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of Enterprise believes there is “an emerging consensus” among EU governments despite “strident trade union arguments” that the solution to the problem of workers’ rights does not require a revision of the Lisbon treaty.

Instead, according to the department, countries are agreed that an existing 1996 directive on the Posting of Workers can be “substantially improved” by member states. Further implementation of this directive would eliminate “some of the kind of problems that prompted the kind of cases to be referred to the ECJ”.

Unions said they would welcome further legislation that would clarify the employment standards of employees of non-Irish companies based here.

Spidla will visit Ireland next month. The commission is carrying out an analysis on work mobility in Europe in the aftermath of the ECJ rulings to develop “concrete initiatives”.

Spidla’s spokeswoman said the commission was “well aware” of the concerns of Irish unions. “We don’t agree that the Lisbon treaty would weaken workers’ rights,” she said. “On the contrary, it marks a real improvement, in particular because it enshrines the social charter. Negotiations around the so-called ‘Irish guarantees’, including workers’ rights, are ongoing.”

Jimmy Kelly, the regional secretary of Unite, which told members to reject the treaty, said he had heard nothing to change his union’s stance.

As Irish unemployment has doubled since the referendum, he believes a second Lisbon vote is more likely to be passed. “People are fearful and believe we should firm up our EU membership with Lisbon II, as having the euro means we don’t face as much difficulty as countries like Iceland,” he said.

[Return to headlines]

Finland: $17m Ransom: Kidnap Victim Freed

The daughter of a Finnish industrialist was released this weekend following a two-and-a-half-week kidnapping ordeal after payment of a 10 million euro ($17.23 million) ransom, police reported on Sunday.

Minna Nurminen, 26, was released in a forest near the city of Turku on Saturday after the payment. Police said she was in good health. She had been reported missing on May 27.

She is a daughter of Hanna Nurminen, an heir to the Herlin family and owner of elevator manufacturer Kone. The mother is considered to be Finland’s richest woman.

Minna Nurminen’s parents had cooperated with police in their contacts with the kidnappers, including on the decision to pay the ransom.

Shortly after the payment, one of the alleged kidnappers lost several thousand of the euro notes, which were picked up by a passer-by and returned to police. Officers later arrested a 44-year-old female suspect in the kidnapping.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Gaddafi: Libya an Example Not to Live Under Missile Threat

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 11 — “We cannot accept living under the threat of intercontinental missiles and nuclear weapons and this is why we decided to change our course”. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, speaking in Rome at Palazzo Giustiniani, defended his country’s choice to give up its power as a nuclear country and accused those that have not made the same choice, like North Korea. “We would have wanted Libya to set an example for other countries”, said the Colonel. “We had the chance to develop nuclear weapons and instead we made this decision, but the world did not reward us for it”. Being reintegrated into international institutions such as the United Nations and the fact that Libya has regained its status as a player on the world stage is not enough, according to Colonel Gaddafi. “We would have wanted Libya to set an example for other countries”, he repeated once again. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Gaddafi Fails to Show Up at Top-Level Meeting in Rome

Rome, 12 June (AKI) — The speaker of Italy’s lower house cancelled a top-level conference in honour of Muammar Gaddafi in Rome on Friday after the Libyan leader failed to arrive.

“The conference with Gaddafi has not been held due to the delay by Libyan (leader) Gaddafi,” said Gianfranco Fini, a senior ally of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. “The two-hour delay is not justified.”

Gaddafi was scheduled to meet Fini late Friday and take part in a conference with the speaker and former Italian foreign minister Massimo D’Alema.

Gaddafi had failed to arrive two hours after the agreed time and at 6.30 p.m. in Rome Fini called off the meeting.

Earlier on Friday Gaddafi pledged to give greater priority to Italian companies doing business in his country, but warned business leaders against “corrupting” the Libyan people.

“Italian companies will have priority in Libya,” said Gaddafi in a speech to 600 Italian business leaders organised by Confindustria, Italy’s largest private employer body. “Libya will not favour other countries at Italy’s expense.”

Libya has earmarked spending of 11.8 billion euros to attract foreign investment to the North African country.

But Gaddafi also warned that any company which took advantage of the Libyan people would have to leave the country.

“There are companies that are wrong, thinking they can work by buying (or taking advantage) of the Libyan people. But if we discover this practice, these companies will have to leave the country,” said Gaddafi.

“The company which succeeds will be the one which benefits the Libyan people. Do not say you didn’t know about it, I have warned you.”

“We carried out a revolution not just against colonialism, but also against corruption. We are very sensitive to this issue,” Gaddafi said.

In regard to Italy’s energy needs, Libya said Italy would have preferential treatment.

“Libya will not favour other countries at the expense of Italy, said Gaddafi.

“More than 75 percent of Italy’s energy needs comes from abroad, and most of it from Libya. If Libya sent gas and oil to other countries, it would cause serious damage to Italy. Libya should not do such a thing.”

The controversial leader launched an attack against Italy’s centre-left and praised prime minister Silvio Berlusconi for providing greater business opportunities.

“If the left was heading the government in Italy, the profits of the companies would be lower. As long as Berlusconi governs Italy, the opportunities for companies will be higher.”

On Friday Italy’s farmers’ association, Coldiretti, reported that the export of Italian agricultural products to Libya rose by 51 percent to total a record 105 million euros in 2008.

Gaddafi and his 200-member entourage have been given a warm welcome by Berlusconi and other senior government officials on his first visit to Rome.

But on Thursday students at Rome University staged a noisy protest against the Libyan leader.

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

Italy: Anti-Trust Body Says ENI Should Sell Assets

Rome, 4 June (AKI) — Italy’s oil and gas giant Eni should sell some of its storage sites to other companies to promote competition, according to the country’s energy watchdog and the anti-trust body. The Italian Anti-Trust Authority (AGCM) and the Italian Authority for Electric Energy and Gas (AEEG) said that Eni’s upgrade of gas storage had been “totally marginal” and insufficient to guarantee Italy’s energy security.

Eni should sell to third parties part of its assets to encourage rivals to enter the market and to reduce its dominance of the sector, the regulators said.

The two bodies said the oil and gas sector was of “critical relevance” and there was a need for a “significant reinforcement of storage capacity, essential to reinforce the level of security”.

Eni’s Italian gas storage capacity is held by Stogit SpA. Earlier this year, Eni agreed to sell Stogit to Snam Rete Gas SpA (SRG.MI), Italy’s biggest gas transmission network by pipes. Eni controls Snam Rete Gas.

Eni, which controls 97 percent of stocks through its Stogit unit, has made “absolutely marginal” improvements to guarantee greater security to the system and increase competition, the authorities said.

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

Italy: Centre-Right Wins Administrative Elections

Second rounds in Florence and Bologna

PDL and Northern League wrest 15 provinces from Centre-left. Democratic Party (PD) hangs on in Emilia and Tuscany but loses ground in Umbria and Marche MILAN — The Centre-right has emerged victorious from the administrative elections. The People of Freedom (PDL) and Northern League forged ahead, winning a number of Centre-left strongholds. Voting for 4,281 municipal and 62 provincial authorities reflects the wider picture in Italy. Fifteen provinces switched from the Centre-left to the Centre-right but there were no shifts in the opposite direction. The Democratic Party (PD) did reasonably well, if not brilliantly, in its traditional strongholds but had to suffer the indignity of dropping to second place in Umbria and Marche. In the municipal elections, the Centre-right was equally successful. The Centre-left lost six administrations, almost all in the north of Italy, and a further seven up and down the country will go to a second ballot. The key battles are in Florence and Bologna, where a second round will be needed to elect the new mayors. In Florence, the Centre-left’s Matteo Renzi failed to see off Giovanni Galli in the first ballot, partly because of the good result obtained by the leftwing list supporting Valdo Spini. In Bologna, the Centre-left’s Flavio Delbono failed by a whisker to reach the 50% threshold so the contest with Alfredo Cazzola will be resumed on 21 June. The provincial election in Milan will also go to a second round. The Centre-right’s Guido Podestà could manage only 48.8% while the outgoing president, Filippo Penati, garnered 38.8%. But the PDL took Naples, where Luigi Cesaro picked up 53% against Luigi Nicolais’ 35%. Second rounds will also be needed in Bari and Padua for the municipal elections and in the polls for the provinces of Venice and Turin. In the Piedmontese capital, the Centre-left’s Antonino Saitta obtained 44.33% against 41.5% for the Centre-right’s challenger, Claudia Porchietto. A dramatic result in the Venice provincial election leaves the Centre-left’s outgoing president Davide Zoggia facing a second ballot against the Northern League’s Francesca Zaccariotto.

LOMBARDY — The advance of the Centre-right looks to have been brought to a temporary halt by the second ballot for the province of Milan but provincial authorities changed hands at Lecco, Lodi and Sondrio. The newly created province of Monza and Brianza went to the PDL’s Dario Allevi, who beat the Centre-left’s Pietro Luigi Ponti. Pietro Pirovano is the new president of the province of Bergamo, having won 58.99% of the vote. Pirovano, who was backed by the PDL, Northern League, Pensioners’ Party (PP) and others, defeated Francesco Cornolti. The municipality passed to the Centre-right. Franco Tentorio was elected as mayor with 51.44% against the 42.35% received by his opponent Roberto Bruni. Sondrio, too, saw a clear victory for the Centre-right. Massimo Sertori scooped up more than 60% of the vote in the first ballot, leaving the Centre-left’s Giacomo Ciapponi struggling in his wake. Daniele Nava is the new president of the province of Lecco, where he won 54.31% of the vote, defeating the outgoing president, Virginio Brivio. In Brescia, the Centre-right’s Daniele Molgora outdistanced Diego Peli, the contender from the Centre-right. The Centre-right’s Massimiliano Salini saw off Giuseppe Torchio in Cremona but the province of Lodi went to the Centre-right for the first time. In the first round, the Northern League candidate, lawyer Pietro Foroni, 33, made sure of the presidency. Foroni won 54.2% of the vote against the 38.2% picked up by the Centre-left candidate, the outgoing president Lino Osvaldo Felissari. The municipal authority of Pavia also went to the Centre-right, Alessandro Cattaneo finishing ahead of the Centre-left’s Andrea Albergati.

PIEDMONT — The second round in Turin will, as we said, pit the PD’s Antonio Saitta against Claudia Porchietto (PDL) but change is in the air elsewhere in Piedmont at Novara, where the Centre-right’s Diego Sozzani won the provincial presidency, and Cuneo, where Gianna Gancia secured the provincial authority for the Centre-right with 54.1%. The provincial and municipal elections in Biella, and the elections in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossio, saw the Centre-right take over from the Centre-left. The Centre-right’s Massimo Nobili won the provincial election with 57.5% against the 39.5% of the Centre-left’s Paolo Ravaioli. The municipal authority of Verbania passed to the Centre-right, Marco Zacchero becoming mayor with 54.1% against the 45.9% of the Centre-left candidate, Claudio Zanotti.

VENETO — Attention here focused on the Northern League, although there will be a second round to decide the provincial presidency in Belluno. The PDL continues to be the leading party, as the provincial elections confirmed. Barbara Degani emerged victorious in the poll for the province of Padua and it was a similar story in the province of Verona, where Giovanni Miozzi (PDL-Northern League) triumphed. The provincial election in Rovigo goes to a second round between Antonello Contiero (PDL-Northern League) and the Centre-left’s Tiziana Virgili, as does Belluno, where Gian Paolo Bottacin (PDL) and Sergio Reolon (PD) are the contenders for the provincial presidency.

FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA — The Centre-right emerged victorious from the provincial elections at Pordenone.

EMILIA ROMAGNA — Up to now, no province in the region had ever been led by the Centre-right but last weekend’s vote saw the PDL and Northern League take the province of Piacenza. The Centre-left’s Beatrice Draghetti overcame the PDL-backed candidate, Enzo Raisi, in the battle for the province of Bologna. Emilio Sabattini’s victory in the ballot for the province of Modena was less emphatic. The Centre-left took Reggio Emilia, where Sonia Masini ended ahead of the Centre-right’s Giuseppe Pagliani, but both provincial and municipal elections will go to a second round at Ferrara.

TUSCANY — The wind of political change was also blowing in Florence. The Centre-left’s candidate in the provincial ballot, Andrea Barducci, held off the Centre-right’s Samuele Baldini and at Pisa, Andrea Pieroni won 53.1% of the vote to fend off challengers for his provincial presidency. That pattern was confirmed by Simone Bezzini’s victory in the province of Siena, where the Centre-right’s Donatella Santinelli lagged behind. But there is still everything to play for in the province of Arezzo, which goes to a second round. Against all the forecasts, there will be another ballot in the province of Prato but at Pistoia, Federica Fratoni’s 51.3% for the Centre-left was enough to see off the Centre-right’s Ettore Severi.

UMBRIA — In Umbria, the municipality and province of Perugia, and the province of Terni, went to PD candidates.

MARCHE — Ancona will choose its next mayor in the second ballot on 21 June, as will the municipality of Fermo and the province of Ascoli Piceno, but the PD’s Luca Ceriscioli took the municipality of Pesaro for the PD in the first round of voting.

ABRUZZO — The Centre-right’s star was shining bright in Abruzzo, where the PDL clinched the provinces of Pescara, Teramo and Chieti, and the municipalities of Pescara and Teramo.

MOLISE — Campobasso was another municipality that went over to the Centre-right. Outgoing mayor Giuseppe Di Fabio had resigned on two occasions only to withdraw his resignation because of internal problems in the Centre-left majority. Gino Di Bartolomeo, a former president of the Molise regional authority, cruised to a first-round victory with 56.72%.

CAMPANIA — Campania, too, saw power changes hands in the provinces of Naples, Salerno and Avellino, which passed into Centre-right control. There will be a second ballot for the municipality of Avellino between the PD’s Pino Galasso and challenger Massimo Preziosi, who is supported by the PDL and UDC.

PUGLIA — It’s a two-horse race between Michele Emiliano and Simeone Di Cagno Abbrescia for the Bari municipal authority while Enrico Santaniello, backed by civic lists, is ahead at Foggia. Provincial elections at Taranto and Lecce will go to a second poll while the province of Bari was secured by Francesco Schittulli for the PDL.

BASILICATA — The Centre-left ran out winners at the elections for the provinces of Potenza and Matera, where Piero Lacorazza and Francesco Stella held off their respective challengers from the PDL. At Potenza, the PD’s outgoing mayor Vito Santasiero is ahead of Giuseppe Molinari, formerly of the Daisy Alliance, who has the support of the PDL. The UDC’s Emilio Libutti is in third place.

CALABRIA — There will be a second ballot for the presidency of the province of Cosenza, despite the substantial advantage the Centre-left’s Mario Oliviero has over his Centre-right opponent, Pino Gentile. The destiny of the Crotone provincial authority will also go to a second vote.

SICILY — Another ballot will be needed to decide whether Fiorella Falci of the Centre-left or the Centre-right’s Michele Campisi will be installed in the municipality of Caltanissetta.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: PDL Fails to Make Inroads as PD Falters

IDV and Northern League forge ahead. UDC on 6.5%. Radical left shut out of European parliament. Overall turnout 65% (7% abroad)

MILAN — The People of Freedom (PDL) made gains over the previous European elections but failed to reach the benchmark 40% it was hoping for before the poll, losing ground with respect to the last general election. The Democratic Party (PD) lost votes but managed to stay in sight of the psychologically important threshold of 27%. The Northern League and Italy of Values (IDV) made clear gains, as did the Christian Democrat UDC. The radical left was squeezed out of the European parliament, having already disappeared from Italy’s Chamber of Deputies and Senate after last year’s general election. With returns from about 900 polling stations still to come in (results are in from 63,442 out of the 64,348 stations in Italy plus the stations abroad), the PDL is on 35.24%, the PD has 26.14%, the Northern League has 10.25%, IDV 7.98% and the UDC 6.51%. The European Left-Communist Refoundation (PRC)-Italian Communist Party (PDCI) coalition took 3.37% with the Left and Freedom-Green alliance picking up only 3.11%. Neither radical left grouping reached the 4% threshold that would have secured a seat at Strasbourg and Brussels. The same fate befell the Radicals, who scraped only 2.42%, as well as the PDA Autonomists with the Pensioners Party and The Right, on 2.21%. None of the other parties obtained more than 1%. On the basis of these figures, the PDL should have 29 MEPs and the PD would have 22. The Northern League would have eight MEPs with seven for IDV and five for the UDC.

REACTIONS — As they wait for the final figures, the political groups have started to give their evaluations of the results, obviously with all due caution. The PDL is striving to play down the significance of a poorer than expected performance, pointing out that the PD’s percentage drop was higher and blaming the poor turnout. Among the opposition parties, the IDV’s exultant reaction to the poll is particularly striking. The Northern League is very happy, ascribing the vote mainly to efforts made to combat illegal immigration. The UDC’s Pierferdinando Casini sees in the result the electorate’s rejection of the two-party system. The divided parties of the left are out of Europe. PRC secretary Paolo Ferrero talked about “one split too many”. The Radicals also complained about their effective exclusion from publicly owned TV current affairs programmes, engaging in a spat on air with presenter Bruno Vespa during the special edition of the Porta a Porta talk show.

TURNOUT — One point to have emerged already is the significant fall in turnout. Overall in Europe, a lowest-ever turnout of 43.02% was recorded. In 2004, the comparable figure was 45.47%. Numbers in Italy were more encouraging but voter interest also fell in the Bel Paese, where 65.04% of the electorate cast a vote (66.46% in Italy and only 7.1% abroad), compared with 73.9% in the 2004 European poll. This is a drop of 8.87%: top of the class if we look at the average turnout in Europe but the worst-ever figure for voting habits in Italy. The poll “confirmed the higher turnout in constituencies in the north west, with 72.75%, the north east with 71.89% and central Italy with 72.13%”, said the minister of the interior, Roberto Maroni, commenting on figures that were still provisional at the time. Mr Maroni continued, saying that “turnout was lowest in southern Italy (64.21) and very, very low in the islands (47.33% compared with 64.75% in the last European elections)”. He then pointed out that “this year for the first time, all the figures are online and updated in real time, including those relating to the turnout. They can be consulted by anyone”.ADMINISTRATIVE ELECTIONS — In contrast, turnout for the election of new municipal administrations was 76.70%, in comparison with 79.33% in the preceding poll. Final figures from the ministry of the interior put the fall in voter numbers at -2.63%.

EVERYTHING SMOOTH — “The poll went smoothly. There were no significant incidents of any kind”, said the interior minister, Roberto Maroni. “Counting is also proceeding without problems”, he added. Stations were open from 7 am (voting on Saturday took place from 3 pm to 10 pm) as Italians went to the polls to choose the the country’s 72 MEPs, the presidents and councils of 62 provincial administrations and the mayors and councils of 4,281 municipalities, including 30 provincial capitals. More than 49 million electors were eligible vote in Italy at the European election whereas fewer than 33.5 million voters were involved in the administrative polls.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: An Audience With a Racist

Peter Victor meets the newly elected MEP Nick Griffin — and asks why the British National Party wants to throw him out of the country

Nick Griffin: MEP elect, BNP mouthpiece, convicted Holocaust-denier and would-be deporter of black people invites me into the back seat of his car. He jokes that there is no egg on his jacket as I move it and climb in: last Tuesday he was pelted with eggs as he tried to give a victory press conference after Sunday’s election results.

On Thursday morning, a sunny day in Shrewsbury, Griffin makes small talk as we drive in his Mondeo estate to a garden centre: “Normally we’d do this in a pub but it’s too early for that.” From the moment we meet, there is an unspoken compact: he has never met me before but does not flinch or blanch when he does. I refuse to be shocked or angered, regardless of how sweeping or wild his claims about race.

At Dobbie’s Garden Centre, less than five minutes’ drive out of Shrewsbury, the BNP leader and I share a table. I sip black coffee, he swigs from a bottle of James White’s apple juice. We talk about the BNP’s election to two seats — North-West England for him and Yorkshire and Humberside for Andrew Brons — in the European Parliament; about being pelted with eggs; racism; whether his party deserves to be ignored because its views are abhorrent, or whether non-supporters should be told what he stands for and make up their own minds.

Is he a racist? The denial is out of his mouth before I finish the question. Does he have a problem personally with me because I am black? “None at all.” So why does he want to give me £50,000 to leave Britain? “This country is the most overcrowded in Europe.”

He argues that by paying non-whites to go away he is actually working to preserve racial diversity. So, why are people throwing eggs at him? He laughs, nervously…

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Gordon Brown to Announce Iraq War Inquiry — But Faces Backlash if It’s Behind Closed Doors

Gordon Brown was facing an angry backlash last night over the Government’s long-awaited inquiry into the Iraq War.

Families of soldiers who died in the conflict and MPs from all main parties warned the Prime Minister it would be ‘completely unacceptable’ to hold the probe largely in private.

There was also widespread concern that the findings appear unlikely to be published until after the General Election, which is expected to next May.

The Prime Minister will attempt to reassert his battered authority and win over Labour MPs and voters who have deserted the party this week by giving the go-ahead to an inquiry. An announcement is expected as soon as today.

Mr Brown’s political fightback is being hampered by continuing ructions over the failed coup attempt to oust him from Downing Street last week.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott launched a savage attack on Foreign Secretary David Miliband for revealing he considered joining a ministerial exodus from the Government in an attempt to topple Mr Brown.

And Schools Secretary Ed Balls, one of the Prime Minister’s closest allies, was forced to dismiss claims that he had told MPs he would wield the knife against Mr Brown if Labour’s position does not improve by the autumn as ‘ridiculous and completely true’.

A poll suggested more than half of voters — 51 per cent — think Mr Brown staying on as Prime Minister is harming Britain..

The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times also found 74 per cent said Mr Brown was doing badly as Prime Minister and 60 per cent said he should step down now or before the next general election.

After surviving the attempt to oust him from Downing Street, Mr Brown hopes the Iraq inquiry announcement will help draw a line under the most controversial decision of 12 years of Labour government.

For years, ministers have resisted demands for an inquiry, insisting it must wait until all British troops have left Iraq.

Now the process of withdrawal is almost complete, Mr Brown will announce a probe with a ‘similar but not identical’ structure to the Franks inquiry into the 1982 Falklands War, according to Government sources.

That raises the prospect of the Iraq investigation being conducted by a group of Privy Councillors, with many hearings held behind closed doors.

While there may be some opportunity for the public and media to hear discussions, this is expected to be strictly limited.

It falls far short of the full-scale public inquiry which families and campaigners have demanded.

Relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq said they would march on Downing Street if any of its deliberations are kept secret.

Rose Gentle, whose teenage son, Gordon, was killed in Iraq in 2004, said: ‘What is the point of an inquiry behind closed doors? No family would be happy with that.

‘We already feel that we have been lied to by the government. We don’t want any more lies. We would be prepared to go to Downing Street if the inquiry is not transparent.’

The Conservatives accused Mr Brown, who as Chancellor supported and finances the conflict, of dragging his heels in order to ensure that critical findings are delayed until after the next election.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: ‘An announcement of an inquiry is long overdue.

‘The Government has dragged its feet on this for months to try to ensure that an inquiry will only be concluded after the latest date for the general election.

‘Given that many key decisions and events were back in 2002 and 2003 it is vital that an inquiry starts work with all possible speed.

‘If this inquiry is to have the confidence of the public at the moment, it is vital that it holds sessions in public when possible.

‘It is crucial that it has access to all government papers, and that it is able to report on what went wrong with the planning and co-ordination of the occupation of Iraq as well as the decisions about the war itself.’

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said his party would not cooperate with the inquiry unless it reported within months and had the power to summon witnesses under oath.

‘If it does not have this kind of remit, my party will not back it or participate,’ Mr Clegg said.

‘We are talking about the biggest foreign policy mistake since Suez. To lock a bunch of grandees behind closed doors in secret and wait for them to come up with a puff of smoke, like the election of the Pope, would be an insult.

‘This inquiry is an acid test for all of Gordon Brown’s talk of reforming British politics.’

Labour MP Alan Simpson, chair of the campaign group Labour Against the War, said Mr Brown’s attempt to rebuild his authority with the announcement risked backfiring spectacularly.

‘If it is done secretively, it could be the final nail in his coffin,’ Mr Simpson said.

‘We need no less rigorous an examination on this than we had on the far less important issue of MPs’ expenses. A secret examination would be worthless.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Ken Clarke: We Won’t Tear Up the Lisbon Treaty if Ireland Votes Yes Before Election

The revised EU constitution will not be torn up if it has been implemented by the time the Tories win power, Kenneth Clarke declared yesterday.

The Conservative business spokesman angered Eurosceptics in his party by insisting that the Lisbon Treaty would survive if all 27 member states succeed in forcing it into law before the next election.

The intervention of Mr Clarke, who has always been fervently supportive of the EU, appeared to rule out categorically the possibility of a referendum on the treaty if it has already been ratified when the Tories win power.

The party has pledged to hold one if the ratification process is not complete across all 27 member states, but been deliberately vague about what it would do if it is concluded.

Mr Clarke’s remarks enraged Eurosceptics who believe Mr Cameron should go ahead with a vote and then tear up the treaty even if it means having to leave the EU.

Gordon Brown has ditched Labour’s manifesto promise from the last election to hold a referendum seeking public approval. He insists that the constitutional element of the treaty has been abandoned, making a vote unnecessary.

But most other EU leaders admit that it is virtually the same as the original version, which was rejected by voters in France and Holland in 2005.. Ireland voted against the latest version last year.

The blueprint will create the first full-time EU president and foreign affairs chief, give the EU its own legal personality like a nation state, and do away with Britain’s right to reject EU proposals in more than 40 policy areas.

It appears increasingly likely the Lisbon Treaty will be implemented before the next election, with the Irish expected to vote ‘yes’ in a rerun referendum this autumn.

Yesterday Mr Clarke told BBC1’s The Politics Show: ‘If the Irish referendum endorses the treaty and ratification comes into effect, then our settled policy is quite clear that the treaty will not be reopened.’

But he added: ‘I think we will want to open negotiations with the EU about a return of some responsibilities, particularly in employment law, to individual nation states.’

Mr Clarke pointedly said he did not think ‘anybody in Europe, including me, is in the mood for any more tedious debates about treaties, which have gone on for far too long’.

But Eurosceptic Tory MP Bill Cash said: ‘It appears Kenneth Clarke has reinvented unilaterally Conservative Party policy on Europe. It is essential we have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty irrespective of the Irish vote, and this is supported by a very substantial number of Conservative MPs.’

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said: ‘Ken Clarke has let the cat out of the bag. The Conservatives have no intention of holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.’

A Tory spokesman said: ‘There is no change to Conservative policy. As Ken Clarke explained, if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified and in force across the EU by the time of the election of a Conservative government, we have always made clear that we would not let matters rest there.

‘We would regard political integration as having gone too far. We have consistently made clear, for example, that the return of social and employment legislation to UK control would be a major goal for a Conservative government.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Put a Stop to These Insensitive Ambulances

After news that a Labour MP wants to ban the Red Cross, because the symbolism is offensive to the Middle East, Michael Deacon wonders if we shouldn’t go further.

By Michael Deacon

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for the Rhondda, told the Commons last week that the Red Cross should become the Red Some Other Symbol. The charity’s logo might cause offence in the Middle East, he said, because the cross was “a reference to the Crusades”.

It would be easy for cynics to scoff at this valiant man. They could point out that the Red Cross has nothing to do with the Crusades, that it’s merely the Swiss flag with the colours flipped. They could observe that it isn’t the shape of a Christian cross, in which the vertical beam, if that’s the word, is longer than the horizontal. They could even remark that, upon the arrival of an ambulance, the first thought of a person bleeding to death is unlikely to be revulsion at the logo emblazoned on the vehicle.

Ambulance drivers told to forget sat nav and use maps insteadWell, let the cynics sneer to their shrivelled hearts’ content. For I am right behind Mr Bryant in his heroic campaign (not crusade, of course, let’s be clear about that) to avoid upsetting people thousands of miles away who, in order to take offence at the logo of selfless humanitarians, would have to be thunderingly unintelligent. Indeed, I call on Mr Bryant to dedicate his energies to the eradication of all possible references to the symbol of a religious conflict that ended several centuries ago.

We must, at the very least, ban the following:

+ The flags of England, Northern Ireland, Georgia and Tonga. All brazenly feature a red cross on a white ground. It’s not known why Tonga, a tiny Pacific archipelago, feels the need to taunt the Middle East about the Crusades, but it must be stopped, if necessary by force.

+ Batteries. These ostensibly innocent power sources are adorned near their tips with a small cross, clearly in tribute to that murderous Christian tyrant, Richard the Lionheart.

+ Addition. Multiplication, subtraction and division are blameless mathematical functions. Addition, however, requires the use of a symbol that is unmistakably reminiscent of the Crusaders. Adding numbers to other numbers should be prohibited in all schools.

On top of these measures, all books of crossword puzzles exported to the Middle East should be renamed “Empty Boxes Word Challenge”. Only then can we hope for the rift between Christian and Islamic cultures to close.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


Serbia-France: French Ambassador, New Beginning in Relations

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JUNE 12 — French Ambassador to Serbia Jean Francois Terral said that the general impression of all the members of the French business delegation which had recently visited Serbia was that the visit was very successful and that it represented a new beginning in the relations between Serbia and France, reports Tanjug news agency. He assessed that all conditions had been provided for Serbia to make significant progress on its European pathway. Summing up the impressions at the end of the visit of the high-ranking French MEDEF (Movement of the French Enerprises) delegation, Terral told a news conference that the image of Serbia had been changed significantly, especially after the last parliamentary and presidential elections. Head of the MEDEF delegation, Charles Paradis, said that Serbia’s European orientation, as expressed by Serbian President Boris Tadic, as well as the announcement of important infrastructural and other projects in the country, represented a guarantee of future investments and the engagement of French businessmen in Serbia. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Morocco: Women Arrested at Outlawed Islamist Group Meeting

Rabat, 12 June Ibadi and others at the meeting were arrested by police and charged with organising a public event without the necessary permits, the newspaper said.

Police raided the home on Wednesday and the women were detained for six hours and interrogated before they were released.

It was not clear whether the group had convened to discuss administrative elections being held in Morocco on Friday. The outlawed group is not allowed to participate in elections.

Police have reportedly been following members of the group for three years.

According to Al-Masa, police have reportedly detained 5,733 members of the group, of which 899 were women.

Al-Adl Wal Ihsan is committed to the creation of an Islamic state that follows a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law and the replacement of the monarchy in Morocco.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

PA Blames Israel for Wild Boars

( Palestinian Authority media outlets continue to blame Israel for problems caused by wild boars in Samaria, despite Israeli efforts to cull the animals. On Thursday, PA farmers near Ariel complained that “Israeli settlers” had engineered a wild boar attack that destroyed agricultural produce.

The farmers’ claims were repeated by the head of the regional PA farmers’ union, who accused Israelis living in Ariel and nearby towns of planning the attacks. The union head did not explain how Israelis allegedly trained the pigs to destroy only Arab crops.

Arab residents of Samaria have made several similar claims over the past three years. The claims have been backed up by PA armed forces, whose officers have been quoted as confirming to PA media that Israel is behind wild boar attacks.

Media outlets have also lent credence to the claims, with the PA-based Ma’an news agency stating, “The wild boars are being released by Israeli settlers in order to destroy the plants and crops of Palestinians.”

The claims of malicious Israeli control of the wild animals have continued this year despite Israel’s efforts to cull the wild boar population in areas under its control. The Nature and Parks Authority has worked to control the boars since May of this year, due to damage caused by boars in the Haifa district.

Israel is unable to cull the boar population in Arab villages in Samaria, as those areas are entirely under PA control.

           — Hat tip: Jewish Odysseus[Return to headlines]

PM Lays Down Conditions for Peace in Foreign Policy Address

In a much-anticipated foreign policy address Sunday night Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called for the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel, but only if the Palestinians recognize Israel’s nature as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu said that he embraced President Barack Obama’s vision, adding, however, that the Holocaust was not the reason for the establishment of the Jewish state.

The prime minister said that the descendants of the Palestinian refugees must not be resettled within Israel borders and that Jerusalem must remain united. Israel, he said, would not build any new settlements or expropriate new land for existing settlements.

“Peace has always been our objective,” Netanyahu began. “Our prophets always envisioned peace; we bless each other with Shalom; our prayers end in peace.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Survey: 56% of Israelis Against Block on Settlements

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 12 — 56% of Israelis are against the total freeze on building in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians, the Obama Administration in the US and the international community support fervently. These were the results that came out of a survey from the Maagar Mohot Polling Institute quoted today on the newspaper Haartez’s website. According to the majority of those interviewed, Premier Benyamin Netanyahu should not back down on this point, in particular on the building projects justified due to “natural growth” in the population of the settlements, during the speech that is set to take place in Tel Aviv Sunday June 14 in response to Obama on the issue of peace and security. Just 37% were favourable to a total and immediate stop. Moreover, according to the survey, 36% of Israelis declared themselves contrary to retreat from the settlements (considered illegal by the international community) even in the case of a definitive peace agreement with the Palestinians, while 30% would accept only a partial clearing out and relocation. A recent survey, from another institute, also credited a hostile majority (52%) to extended defence of the settlements in the long term. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

U.S.-Trained Officer Caught Helping Terrorists

Issue highlights jihadist infiltration of American-backed forces

JERUSALEM — An officer in a U.S.-trained militia of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization was arrested yesterday after he was caught training militants from the rival Hamas terrorist group, according to information obtained by WND.

The officer, from Fatah’s national guard units, was arrested when he was caught training a Hamas cell in the northern West Bank city of Qalqiliya, Palestinian security sources said. Five Hamas members, all in their early 20s, were arrested along with the officer, who lives in the West Bank city of Jenin, the security sources said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

West Bank: Italy Opens Breast Cancer Prevention Center

(ANSAmed) — BEIT JALA — The first Palestinian breast cancer prevention centre, funded by ‘Cooperazione italiana’ (Italian Cooperation) with 500,000 euros, was opened this morning in Beit Jala (Bethlehem), in the West Bank. The centre has been operational since January and is equipped with a breast screening machine, an ultrasound scanner and X-ray material. It will be used by people living in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron, practically the whole southern area of the West Bank. “So far patients had to go to Israel for this kind of breast screening, with all the related problems of going there. That’s why people here are grateful for this project” said Nida Khalil, one of the centre’s X-ray technicians. The centre has been visited by 615 since January; breast cancer was found in seven cases. “Cancer is the second cause of death among Palestinians, after cardiovascular diseases, and breast cancer is much more widespread than in Europe” explained Angelo Stefanini, head of the health programme of the Italian Cooperation Office in Jerusalem. “But the most worrying figure” he added “is the age at which women get breast cancer: in Italy the average age is 49, here it is 39. Yesterday a 25-year-old girl was diagnosed with the disease. That’s why” he concluded “prevention is crucial”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Barry Rubin: Iran’s Stolen Election Should Change Western Policies

Many Western analysts and journalists are treating the stolen election in Iran as something of no international significance. After all, they say, it is only an internal matter. Why should it affect Western attempts to engage with the Islamist regime?

If we hadn’t been previously conditioned by so many crazy ways to view Middle East politics this alone would be a shocker. True, in international affairs one has to deal with many dictatorships and national interests sometimes require putting aside one’s repugnance at repression.

(Though, by the way, are we now going to see efforts at academic boycotts and nonstop human rights’ denunciations of Iran in the manner apparently reserved for democratic Israel?).

Let me put it this way. I certainly expected Ahmadinjad to win but figured the regime would play out the game. He’d either genuinely gain victory in the second round or they’d change just enough votes to ensure his victory. What no one expected is that the regime would tear up the whole process like this. Their brazen way of doing so—if you don’t like it you can go to hell, we’re going to do whatever we want, and we don’t care what anyone thinks—signals to me that this ruling group is even more risk-taking and irresponsible than it previously appeared.

This is the key point: the problem with Iran’s regime isn’t just that it is a dictatorship, it’s that it is such an extremist, aggressive dictatorship.

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

EU’s Solana Meets Hezbollah in Beirut

A senior EU official has for the first time held talks with a politician from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana met Hezbollah official Hussein Hajj Hassan at the Lebanese parliament building in Beirut.

Mr Hajj Hassan is one of Hezbollah’s 11 members of parliament, following recent elections which were won by a rival Western-backed alliance.

Hezbollah is regarded by the United States as a terrorist group.

The EU has previously rejected public contacts with Hezbollah, which also controls Lebanon’s most powerful military force.

But Mr Solana said: “Hezbollah is part of political life in Lebanon and is represented in the Lebanese parliament.”

Mr Hajj Hassan described the meeting with Mr Solana as a “goodwill gesture from the European Union towards Hezbollah.”

He said it was an attempt by the EU to “get to know” Hezbollah.

Britain said earlier this year it favoured re-establishing links with Hezbollah’s political wing.

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

Iran Opposition Seeks Fatwa Against Ahmadinejad

Mousavi Spokesman Says President’s Re-Election Is ‘Coup D’Etat’

A spokesman for Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi says his camp will keep pushing to change the results of Friday’s election that gave incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad a landslide win.

“We are going to stay in the streets and ask the mullahs to give fatwas that Ahmedinejad is not our president. We are going to ask the Leader, through the will of the people, to change his mind,” said Mostafa Makhmalbaf, who is speaking to the foreign press on Mousavi’s behalf from his home in Paris.

“I don’t think we can do a total Revolution in Iran but we can make some change,” he told ABC News, describing what would be an unprecedented reversal for the Islamic Republic.

Mousavi’s campaign claims the announced outcome, which gave Ahmedinejad 63 percent of the vote, was fraudulent.

Iran Opposition Says People ‘Feel Betrayed’

Mousavi, a former prime minister of Iran during the 1980s, ran as a pro-reform centrist. He launched a campaign known as the Green Movement that attracted young supporters, especially women drawn to a platform of equal rights.

“Most of the people are trying to have their vote … for peace in the international relationship, for changing the economy, more freedom for the young generation,” he said.

“The Iranian people are angry that their vote was changed,” he said. “They feel betrayed.”

Ahmadinejad’s victory has caused the worst unrest in Tehran in a decade as protestors battled police in the streets and shouted from the rooftops..

Seemingly unfazed, Iran’s president likened the riled crowds’ outbursts to “passions after a soccer match.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Kurds Lay Claim to Oil Riches in Iraq as Old Hatreds Flare

Sitting on vast untapped oilfields, the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk has the natural resources to become one of the wealthiest places in the Middle East. But a standoff has developed between local Kurdish leaders and Baghdad over rights of ownership. And in Kirkuk itself, ethnic tensions are rising

In mid-2003, as Baghdad fell, Simzad Saeed, 39, returned to Kirkuk to build a house on land he did not own and to stake a claim in a new homeland.. He did not mean Iraq. Ever since the Iraqi central government has paid Saeed’s salary but, like roughly 200,000 other returned Kurds, he pays his dues to ‘Kurdistan’.

“I feel at home,” he said from his new lounge. “I was forced to leave after the first Gulf war [in 1991] and we didn’t return to our original home six years ago because my father still lives there.”

Across town in a ramshackle suburb built on a dried-up swamp, Faisal Mathor Mohammed, a 69-year-old Arab retired army officer from Baghdad, sat sweating in his mud-brick house, which he says was promised to him 22 years ago. He laid down his roots with a government grant.

“I went to the mayor in my town and asked him,” the former Iraqi army officer said. “They gave me land in Kirkuk and 10,000 dinars ($30,000) — enough to buy a house outright and furnish it fully in 1987. I have lived here ever since.”

Strewn across the landscape between both neighbourhoods are rows of shooting flames, roaring like Roman candles from the desert plain. Shifting winds send an oily film in both directions, letting no one in town forget what lies beneath their feet and what will soon shape their collective destinies.

Over the past six years of violence in Iraq, oil has been the flashpoint in Kirkuk, a city forever home to a combustible mixture of races. Kurds have always claimed Kirkuk as a homeland; Turkomans, Assyrians and Arabs have at various times based empires here. The resulting melting pot of races and clans has never mixed comfortably.

Since the US declared its invasion a success in mid-2003, Kirkuk has seen its biggest population shift in centuries, with Kurds capitalising on a power vacuum in Baghdad and Arabs rushing to reinforce their foothold. Kurds have been accused of ethnically engineering Iraq’s most divided city to lay the foundations for a nascent Kurdistan. Arabs have been accused of doing anything — including bombings — to stop the city from escaping their grasp.

All along, Kirkuk has had the feel of a boom-town-in-waiting, sitting on a subterranean lake of fabulous wealth that would one day create fortunes.

“That day is closer than ever,” said Sharlet Yohana, 50, an Assyrian woman who works in the Iraqi government-owned oil extractor, the North Oil company. “The real conflict here is about oil,” she said from the sitting room of her middle-class home in an Assyrian Christian neighbourhood. “Oil may well provide our future wealth and comforts, but it will also be our damnation.

“We will never have peace until the political problems surrounding the oil are solved. Everyone will suffer, far more than we are now: Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Christians. Already we have a curfew from midnight to 5am, and many Christians are blown up or assassinated. They are bringing this to a head now, before the foreign contractors come in.”

Later this month, Baghdad will announce the results of a tender for service contracts to start oil extraction. Last week Hussein al-Shahristani, the oil minister, announced a shortlist of companies in the running, among them BP, BG International and Premier Oil.

Foreign companies have circled Kirkuk since the fall of Saddam. Earlier this month, Norwegian and Turkish companies helped one large crude oil field in Iraqi Kurdistan, Tawke, to come on stream for the first time in Iraq since 1972. Kurdish leaders cheered like football fans as live footage was beamed back to Irbil of tankers unloading at an export facility nearby, which will eventually pipe the oil north to Turkey.

A Norwegian engineer stood at the site in the Kurdish foothills where tankers will cart their cargo away, alongside a drawling Texan computer programmer in a straw hat, a Canadian drilling expert and a Turkish site manager. A Kurdish employee pointed to the straw-coloured nearby ranges that border Turkey and said: “This is the land of Saladin, the great Kurdish warrior. He wanted to make peace with everyone, the Crusaders included. But in the end he knew where his home was and how to protect it. And so do we.”

Tawke is a relatively new oilfield, the first to be developed since the invasion. Its inauguration was backed by Baghdad despite the central government’s anger at a series of production-sharing agreements between the Kurdish government and private companies. This deal, Baghdad says, is acceptable because revenue will be piped back to central government coffers, which will in turn distribute 17% of the proceeds to the Kurdish administration.

To Baghdad, this is how it should be: it runs the show and the provinces pocket their share. The Kurds, however, are celebrating the symbolism of oil dollars flowing from fields they control. The Kurdish government’s separate deals have not been nearly as well received by Baghdad, which is withholding up to $400m in revenue that it deems the Kurds have made through contracts they struck that steer profits away from their rightful place in the national coffers.

Iraq’s oil minister said last week that Baghdad would not pay any firms who signed deals with the Kurdish regional government. In return, the Kurds are threatening to veto any oil deals signed by the Iraqi government that they don’t like.

All sides have been watching the posturing with great interest. “What they do up there will be very instructive for us,” said Ahmed al-Othman, 71, a Kurdish native of Kirkuk. Othman goes round town in the traditional Kurdish shirwal (baggy trousers) and says his closest friends are Arabs. “I’ve never left and I have never thought to leave,” he said. “Until recently.

“Last year, my brother was killed by an explosion in the market and so were two shopkeepers I drank coffee with for years. Since then, things have not been the same. Arab eyes don’t always look at me now and the marketplace is not what it was. The greed surrounding all the oil may change this place.”

Marketplaces were for centuries the one place that locals of all sects would meet. Fruit, falafel and Iraqi bread are still sold alongside butchered lambs dripping blood on to rubbish-strewn pavements.

Locals still mix there, but so, too, do suicide bombers. Kirkuk until recently was a killing field of the Sunni insurgency. But security officials, among them US officers, suggest Kirkuk’s militants have long had a Ba’athist flavour. “This was a city that Saddam long tried to orientate towards his regime and to Arab Iraq,” said one local intelligence official, a Turkoman. “There was a strong al-Qaida presence and there are still sleeper cells, but the Ba’athists were stirring the pot more than anywhere else in Iraq except Tikrit.”

Major-General Jamal Bakr, the regional police chief, said security had improved about 80% since mid-2007. He confirmed that militants had regularly tried to blow up oil pipelines: “But what we have seen here is similar to the rest of Iraq. Al-Qaida trying to cause havoc, no more, no less.” Sunni extremists were foiled in their most recent terrorist attempt when a Syrian youth wearing a suicide vest was tackled trying to enter the Shia al-Hussein mosque.

One of Bakr’s officers showed photographs of sappers cutting the suicide vest off the would-be bomber. “He was skinny, and looked unusual with this bomb strapped to him,” the officer explained. “That’s the only reason we don’t have a new sectarian war here. The bomb was enormous.”

From his office in a heavily guarded compound at the centre of town, Kirkuk’s mayor, Abdul Rahman Fatah, conceded that oil was a major obstacle to progress in Kirkuk, but claimed it was secondary to the continuation of a central government-funded project that pays for Kurds to return to Kirkuk and offers Arabs money to leave. It is this law that funded the return of Simzad Saeed, who has since started work at the agency that paid for his return.

“The real conflict is between the politicians,” said Fatah. “It is not really a conflict between the ethnic groups and religions. The issues here are not new; they are historical and well known. Even the Arabs who came here as part of Arabisation were victims. They were sent here by the previous regime and most came from the south of Iraq. Kirkuk was a much better option for them.”

Nearby, in an office set up to facilitate the Kurdish and Arab movements, the director, Tahsen Ali Weli, said 92,000 families displaced by Saddam had applied to return, all Kurds or Turkomans.

A total of 28,000 families has so far been allowed to return, most to homes built on new land. Each family has been given 10m dinars (£5,000). The precise number of Arab families who relocated to Kirkuk under Saddam is not known, but 14,700 have applied to leave: they will get 20m dinars (£10,000) each.

Advocates of the Arab claim to Kirkuk, among them an outspoken Sunni MP, Osama al-Najafi, insist the programme, which is authorised by article 140 of Iraq’s constitution, is no longer relevant, because it has expired. “The UN in its final report said article 140 was not suitable to solve this problem in its present form,” al-Najafi said.

The UN report was released in April after two years of searching for a solution for Kirkuk. The UN recommended a jointly administered region and a referendum to decide the city’s future racial complexion. But with the population and mix having changed so markedly and with Baghdad fearing it is now on the wrong side of the ledger, it is highly unlikely to endorse such a ballot.

“The report was unjust and one-sided,” al-Najafi complained. “They dealt with the Kurdistan province and Iraq as distinct areas, not one country. And they compared the situation to Northern Ireland and the UK. And when they dealt with the Arab perspective, they put inside quotes and added question marks.

“The Kirkuk problem comes down to oil,” he said. “The Kurds want the funds to finance the proposed state of Kurdistan. It is enshrined in the constitution that oil and gas is for all Iraqis. But they have signed a range of contracts from those that are without agreement from the central government.

“This situation cannot continue for long. The tensions are growing and there is no agreement about the shape of the future Iraqi state. There are deep divisions and they are not drawing any closer.”

To many Kurds, the divisions are indeed becoming more entrenched. “We don’t see this so much as Northern Ireland as a new Jerusalem,” said one senior member of the Kurdish parliament. “This is a conflict with a history and we are prepared to play a long game on it. The oil is bringing things to a head rapidly and Baghdad feels it is starting to lose significant ground..

“The Turks remain uneasy in the north, but we will do nothing to provoke them. Time is on our side.”

Perhaps realising this, some small-scale rearguard actions are taking place. Several of the Arab families who applied for and received their £10,000 grant to leave took the money and then stayed, prompting claims from Turkomans and Kurds that the article 140 project is now about consolidating the remnants of Arabisation.

Among the hangers-on is retired army officer Faisal Mohammed. “I got the money from the government, but I’m not leaving and I won’t be leaving. My sons are here and they won’t leave and so, too, our families. If both governments leave the future of the city to the residents, I’m sure we can do a better job of sorting this mess out.”

The Kurds of Iraq claim Kirkuk as part of their ancient homeland, which takes in about 40,000 sq km to the Turkish border in the north, Iran to the east and Syria to the west.

Successive empires of Babylonians, Assyrians, Arabs and Ottomans rose and fell, while Iraqi Kurdish nationalism failed to take root.

The post-Ottoman British mandate saw many revolts which inched the region towards autonomy.

Oil was first discovered near Kirkuk in 1927, and has underwritten eight decades of tensions.

Iraq, Iran and Turkey all felt threatened by this tide of nationalism and, throughout the 1970s, Kurds were squeezed into areas near Iran or deported elsewhere inside Iraq.

In the late 1980s, Saddam used chemical weapons against the Kurds of Halabja.

In 1991, Saddam attacked them again for co-operating with the US military during the Gulf war.

After the 2003 invasion, moves towards autonomy gained strength and the Kurdish regional government runs much of Kurdish Iraq with central government influence.

Kurdish elections are set for 25 July.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Ergenekon; Military to Weaken AK Party, Newspaper

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 12 — Documents recently discovered as part of the ongoing investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal organization charged with plotting to overthrow the government, have revealed plans to defame the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) through claims of reactionaryism, to weaken the Gulen movement and to support individuals arrested on charges of Ergenekon membership, daily Taraf reports. The documents, according to Taraf, revealed that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had a systematic plan to damage the image of the AK Party government in the eyes of the public, to play down the Ergenekon investigation and to gather support for members of the military arrested as part of the probe. So far, dozens of people have been arrested in the Ergenekon operation, launched after the existence of the gang was discovered in June 2007, when police found a house full of ammunition in Istanbul. The neonationalist Ergenekon gang, suspected of having ties to various individuals and groups within the State bureaucracy and the military, is accused to work to create a chaotic atmosphere in Turkey in which people would welcome a military coup against the ruling AK Party. Gen. Metin Gurak, the head of the Communication Department of the General Staff, said today that the military will conduct “immediately” an enquiry on the matter. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Unrest in Iran Deepens as Leading Critics Are Detained

TEHRAN — The Iranian authorities detained more than 100 prominent opposition members, and on Sunday unrest continued for a second day across Iran in the wake of the country’s disputed presidential election.

The leading opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, issued a fresh statement calling for the election results to be canceled, as his supporters skirmished with a vast deployment of riot police and militia members on the edges of a victory rally organized by the government in central Tehran.

A moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy, issued a statement posted on reformist Web sites saying the election was rigged and calling for it to be canceled, warning that “if this process becomes the norm, the republican aspect of the regime will be damaged and people will lose confidence in the system.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the opposition’s allegations of large-scale election fraud, saying his landslide victory had given him a bigger mandate than ever. He hinted that Mr. Moussavi — who remained at home Sunday with the police closely monitoring his movements — might be punished for his defiance.

“He ran a red light, and he got a traffic ticket,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said of his rival, during a news conference at the presidential palace.

Those arrested were from all the major opposition factions and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami. Some were released later in the day.

Calling the opposition protests “unimportant,” Mr. Ahmadinejad suggested that they were the work of foreign agitators and journalists. But he also seemed to throw down the gauntlet to other nations, saying, “We are now asking the positions of all countries regarding the elections, and assessing their attitude to our people.”

But Mr. Ahmadinejad’s electoral rivals appeared to be holding firm in their protest against the vote.

Mr. Moussavi issued a statement saying he had asked Iran’s Guardian Council, which must certify the election for it to be legal, to cancel the vote. He also said he was being monitored by the authorities, and was unable to join his followers. His campaign headquarters have been closed down, he said.

Another candidate, the reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi, echoed Mr. Moussavi’s demand for the election to be canceled.

“I am announcing again that the elections should not be allowed and the results have no legitimacy or social standing,” Mr. Karroubi said. “Therefore, I do not consider Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of the republic.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad also spoke at a square in central Tehran, surrounded by thousands of flag-waving protesters in what was clearly intended to be a show of popular support for his election victory. But the smell of tear gas and smoke drifted over the cheering crowds, and only a few blocks away, groups of protesters chanted their own slogans against the government, and bloodied people could be seen running from baton-wielding police officers.

As night fell, chants of “God is great!” could be heard from rooftops in several areas of the capital.

[Return to headlines]

Yemen ‘Arrests Senior Al-Qaeda Man’

The alleged top al-Qaeda financier in Yemen has been arrested, security officials say.

He has been named as Hassan Hussein Bin Alwan, a Saudi Arabian national.

Reports say he was detained two days ago in Marib province, east of the capital, Sanaa, and is facing charges of forming an armed group.

Yemen has been combating Islamic militants suspected of links to al-Qaeda since the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

The family of Saudi-born al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden is originally from Yemen.

Officials have expressed fears that Yemen might be used as a staging post for attempts to destabilise Saudi Arabia.

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


Russia: Gazprom’s Leading Role as an Energy Giant in Crisis

For years, Russia’s state-owned energy company held a quasi-monopoly position. During this time it failed to invest in technology and innovation, restricting itself to signing high price contracts to maintain its stranglehold over the market. Now it is backing away from contracts it signed with Central Asian nations whilst its pipeline network is aging and becoming increasingly dangerous.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Times are tough for Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom, the third most profitable company in the world in 2008 when it was worth US$ 350 billion. Now, it has shrunk by two-thirds to about US$ 120 billion, dropping to become the world’s 40th-largest company, this according to The Moscow Times.

For years the company’s fortunes soared, pushed up by rising oil and gas prices and Russia’s pipelines which are the only ones that allow Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to get their own gas to market. At home the company also enjoys a near monopoly.

However, Gazprom failed to profit from its dominant position. Instead of investing in technology and innovation to improve its position, it tried to gain control over foreign energy sources even at the cost of high prices.

Gazprom has also suffered from deals it worked out last year with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan when the price of gas was rising. At the time Gazprom agreed to pay the three Central Asian states “European” prices for their gas as a way to head off moves by European Union countries to reach an agreement on a rival pipeline project that would have brought Central Asian gas by a route that avoided Russian territory. Now the “European” prices that were at one time approaching US$ 400 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, have fallen to below US$ 300 and are expected to drop further.

Turkmenistan, for one, has insisted that Gazprom pay European prices as agreed, something Gazprom refuses to do because they are now too high and because its supplies meet Russia’s domestic needs.

Since Central Asian gas was always meant for Europe, current prices are no longer of interest to Gazprom. But for Turkmenistan the issue is more important since gas is its main source of government revenues.

However, Central Asian oil and gas producers have another card up their sleeve. In addition to Europe they are being courted by mainland China which is willing to pay good money for their energy.

Energy demands in Europe have also dropped in the first quarter of this year because of Gazprom’s inflexible pricing policy

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) gas consumption in the European Union has in fact decreased by 2-3 per cent in the first quarter of 2009, whilst gas imports declined by about 12 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2008.

In the same period, Gazprom’s supplies to Europe fell by 39 per cent (50 per cent in the case of Germany and Italy).

Gazprom is also facing another major problem: its aging pipeline network. Some of its sections date back to Soviet times when the network was built to ensure that gas and oil went through Russian territory. Now they are in a state of disrepair and prone to frequent breakdowns and explosions.

In the meantime other powers are making their presence felt in the region. China for instance is building an oil pipeline from Kazakhstan, and both Pakistan and India have expressed an interest in building gas pipelines from the Central Asian nation. At the same time the European Union wants to build pipelines that bypass Russia.

Ultimately Gazprom has lost credibility, creating enemies, when it got involved in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis of the beginning of this year, when it allowed itself to be used as a tool of blackmail.

Even in Russia Gazprom has lost some ground as a result of a ruling on 2 June by Russia’s antimonopoly authorities which forces the company to share its export pipelines with independent gas producers.

Some analysts point out that Russian leaders like current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have never liked the company’s leadership position.

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

South Asia

India: Church in Kerala Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Anti-Communist Liberation Struggle

In 1959 Catholics took to the streets of the Indian state to protest against the Communist government. Clashes caused the death of 15 people and more than 170,000 arrests. The confrontation was sparked by a state law that would have effectively taken over Catholic education facilities. Fifty years on the memory remains alive since the underlying causes have not been resolved.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — On 13 June the Catholic Church in the State of Kerala along with the Nair Hindu community will mark the 50th anniversary of what has come to be known as the Vimochana Samaram, the liberation struggle against the then ruling Communist government, something which still remains current today.

For the occasion Card Varkey Vithayathil, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and major archbishop in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, made public a letter urging the faithful to remember what happened 50 years ago and pray for the ‘martyrs of Angamaly’, the seven Catholics who were killed protesting the Communist government’s policy.

Fr Paul Thelakat, editor-in-chief of the Satyadeepam weekly and a spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Synod spoke to AsiaNews about the events of 1959.

“Police opened fire in four different places, killing 15 people. In 248 places they resorted to lathi sticks to push back the crowd. Altogether some 177,850 arrests were detained, including 42,745 women. But after 28 months the state government fell (pictured, Kerala’s first Communist Chief Minister Namboodiripad, first to right, after his resignation). Ever since the liberation struggle has been an important moment in the history of Kerala.

In 1957 the Communist Party came to power. Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad became the first and only democratically elected leader who did not belong to the ruling Indian National Congress. Once in power he began policies meant to discredit the Catholic Church and eliminate it as the only obstacle on the path to building a Marxist society.

Unrest followed when the new state government introduced an education bill that would remove the administration of educational institutions from the control of Church or the Nair Service Society, an organisation that manages education and health care for the Nair Hindu caste.

Catholics and Nairs took to the street in protest. Opposition parties did the same. In the following clashes people were arrested and killed. Only the intervention of then Union Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru brought the protest movement to an end.

“Invoking Art 365 of the constitution Nehru dismissed the state government. And in the following elections in 1960 the Communists lost badly, seeing their seats drop from 60 to 29,” said Father Thelakat.

Today the Vimochana Samaram continues to be controversial. The Communists, who are now in power at the state level but lost badly in last May’s federal elections, called it a “political game.”

For this reason Cardinal Vithayathil wrote the aforementioned letter and it is also why the Catholic Church in Kerala plans a remembrance Mass and symposium on the struggle and its victims.

P. Thelakat said that the Vimochana Samaram “must be remembered if for no other reason that it taught the Communist that they cannot be part of a multiparty system without respecting the democratic values of the constitution.”

This is still important today since the Church and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are still at loggerheads.

Their attempt to nationalise the school system and the country’s rigid class system are still source of discussion today.

For Father Thelakat the struggle in 1959 at least “forced the Communists to understand that violence cannot succeed in India. It forced them to actually accept the democratic process if they wanted to get into power.”

For some commentators the results in India’s recent elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, which saw the Communist lose represent a silent version of the Vimochana Samaram.

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

Pakistan: Mutilated Body Sparks Religious Torture Charge

Family: Christian man raped, killed for refusing to convert to Islam

A young Christian man was raped and brutally murdered in Pakistan for refusing to convert to Islam, and police are doing nothing about it, the victim’s brother and minister told

Pakistani police reportedly found the body of Tariq “Litto” Mashi Ghauri — a 28-year-old university student in Sargodha, Pakistan — lying dead in a canal outside a rural village in Punjab Province on May 15. He had been raped and stabbed at least five times.

“They have sexually abuse him, torture him with a knife on his testicle and genitals,” Ghauri’s brother, 24-year-old Salman Nabil Ghauri, said. “They have tortured him very badly, and after that they have stabbed five times with a knife and killed him.”

The family believes Litto Ghauri was murdered by the brothers of his Muslim girlfriend, Shazi Cheema, after they found him in a compromising sexual position with their sister.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

President Obama in Cairo: Islam and End-Time Prophecy?

One clue may come from President Obama’s early upbringing in Indonesia, where different monotheistic religions are tolerated under the banner of a state ideology known as pancasila. More Muslims live in Indonesia than in any other nation, and most Indonesian Muslims view their Islam through the prism of these five principles of tolerance and social justice first enunciated in 1945 by Indonesian independence leader Sukarno. The moderate Islam with which President Obama has firsthand acquaintance is not the extremist Islam of al-Qaeda.

[Return to headlines]

Suu Kyi: Is There Still Purpose in Her Struggle?

COME Friday, the world’s most famous prisoner of conscience will turn 64. But there is no cause to celebrate.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s latest gift from the government of Myanmar was another farcical trial designed to extend her detention. On May 14, she was moved from her home on University Road in Yangon, where she has been under house arrest for most of the last 19 years, to Insein prison.

The court’s argument was that, by allowing American John William Yettaw to enter her lakeside residence, she had violated the terms of her house arrest.

Suu Kyi’s plea was that she felt sorry for Yettaw after he swam across Lake Inya to visit her.

This recent travesty is yet another tribulation the Nobel Peace Prize winner has had to endure in her long struggle to bring democracy and freedom to her native country (called Myanmar by its military rulers, but still known as Burma internationally).

Despite a thumping win in the 1990 general elections, Suu Kyi has never been allowed to take office as her country’s rightful leader. During her extended detention, her British husband, Dr Michael Aris, died, and she has barely seen her two sons, Alexander and Kim.

What does this woman really mean to the people of Myanmar today? Is there still purpose in her struggle, or is hers a futile effort?…

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

NAB to Introduce Muslim-Friendly Loans

ONE of Australia’s major banks is planning to introduce “Muslim-friendly” loans that do not charge interest, to comply with Sharia law, The Sunday Telegraph reports.

Instead, the National Australia Bank will structure an Islam-approved line of finance to make money from alternative methods.

These include profit-sharing on the transaction, joint-ventures or leasing-type arrangements.

For example, to get round the Islamic ban on usury — or unfair lending — a Muslim mortgage often works by the bank buying the property, then selling it to the customer at a profit, with the customer then repaying the entire sum in instalments.

In this way the profit margin is built in from the start. It also has the advantage of making the loan immune from future interest rate rises.

NAB said the loans, which will start out small, will have to be cleared by a Sharia Advisory Board to ensure they meet strict criteria before they can be made available to the public.

“We are dipping our toe in the water with this scheme and thought we may be able to offer this product in high-density Muslim areas,” said Richard Peters, head of community finance and development at NAB.

“We suspect there is demand out there, but we don’t know how big it is, so we will trial a few products first.”

For the trial’s purposes NAB will pump $15 million from its not-for-profit finance division into the program, which will distribute the funds through various community finance schemes around the country.

The bank will monitor the take-up and assess potential demand.

Interest-free loans of up to $1000 will be available to help finance household items, such as washing machines and fridges.

The loans would also be available to non-Muslims.

The news comes just days after federal Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen said that Australia could exploit international demand for Islamic finance to create more jobs.

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

Latin America

Air France Crash Jet ‘Split in 2 at High Altitude’

Investigators’ conclusion based on discovery of 2 trails of bodies 50 miles apart

THE Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic with 228 people on board broke apart before it hit the water, throwing out some passengers at high altitude, investigators believe.

Their conclusion is based on the discovery of two trails of bodies more than 50 miles apart, suggesting that the Airbus split in two after going out of control in bad weather and turbulence during its flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Air France Crash: Messages Sent From Plane on Rudder Problem

A burst of last-minute automatic messages sent by Air France Flight 447 included one about a problem with a rudder safety device but that did not explain what sent the jet plunging into the Atlantic Ocean, an aviation expert said.

The industry official, who has knowledge of the Air France investigation, said that a transcript of the messages posted on the website EuroCockpit was authentic but inconclusive.

The flight was carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on May 31 when it ran into fierce thunderstorms.

One of the 24 automatic messages sent from the plane minutes before it disappeared points to a problem in the “rudder limiter,” a mechanism that limits how far the plane’s rudder can move. The nearly intact vertical stabiliser — which includes the rudder — was fished out of the water by Brazilian searchers.

“There is a lot of information, but not many clues,” the official said..

Jets like the Airbus A330 automatically send such maintenance messages about once a minute during a plane’s flight. They are used by the ground crew to make repairs once a plane lands.

Martine del Bono, spokeswoman for the French investigative agency BEA, which is in charge of the crash probe, and an Airbus spokesman declined to comment on the transcript.

If the rudder were to move too far while travelling fast, it could shear off and take the vertical stabiliser with it, which some experts theorise may have happened based on the relatively limited damage to the stabiliser.

The industry official, however, said the error message pertaining to the rudder limiter did not indicate it malfunctioned, but rather that it had locked itself in place because of conflicting speed readings.

Investigators have focused on the possibility that external speed monitors — called Pitot tubes — iced over and gave false readings to the plane’s computers.

“The message tells us that the rudder limiter was inoperative,” said Jack Casey, an aviation safety consultant in Washington, D.C. “It does not give you any reason why it is not working or what caused it, or what came afterward.”

Unless the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders — the black boxes — are found, the exact cause of the accident may never be known.

A French nuclear submarine is scouring the search area in the hopes of hearing audio pings from the black boxes’ emergency beacons.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Pattern of Dead Bodies From Doomed Air France Plane Suggests it Split Up in Mid-Air

The doomed Air France plane in which 228 people died broke in two before it hit the Atlantic Ocean, investigators believe.

They think the aircraft split in the air because of where the bodies of victims were found in the water.

Two trails of bodies were discovered, more than 50 miles apart, which suggests the jet broke up before impact.

Bodies discovered off the north-east of Brazil also support the theory passengers were dead before they were plunged into the ocean.

Their clothes had been stripped off, presumably in the rush of air as the plane fell from as high as 35,000ft, according the Sunday Times.

Some 50 bodies have been discovered. The post mortems done on 16 show they had no water in the lungs — which would have indicated drowning.

Investigators have also not yet found any traces of an explosion, burn marks or smoke which backs up the idea the accident was not the result of a blast.

It is thought it might have started with the blocking of the plane’s speed sensors — called the pitot tubes, which are prone to getting clogged up.

One possibility is that they started to malfunction leading to confusing speed readings which in turn knocked out the automatic pilot.

This would have left the crew trying to fly the plane by hand, which would have been very difficult given the difficult weather conditions.

The same pattern of events has happened in six cockpit emergencies on Air France jets since February 2008, it has emerged.

Leaked documents from the airline say the incidents involved ‘a rather incoherent cocktail of alarms’ and ‘severe breakdowns’.

They appear to have started with problems in the sensors during bad weather, according to the Sunday Times.

Pilots in all six cases managed to regain control of their planes, although in one flight the problem did cause the auto pilot to disengage.

Air France advised its pilots last year about the problem of the sensors confusing the autopilot.

The firm replaced the speed sensors last week after the pilots’ union threatened to boycott its long-distance craft.

Chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said at the time: ‘We do not deny that there is a problem with the sensors. But we cannot say that this is the cause of the accident. We do not know that.’

Investigators including a French submarine are still combing the Atlantic for the black box flight recorders in the hope they will reveal the truth about the accident.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Gaddafi: Sapienza, Immigrants Threatened by Libyan Services

(AGI) — Rome, 11 Jun. — “I was threatened some Libyan men who were amongst the students”. The quote is from Amina, a 47 year old woman who was amongst the students from Rome’s La Sapienza University together with the movement for Casa Action. Men speaking only Arabic have been amongst the students and demonstrators: “They asked me why, though I was wearing my veil, I had come to protest against a Muslim leader — and they told me they had photos of me with posters against Gheddafi”.

The students, on their part, are trying to distance those they see as “provokers” — though when asked to leave, the men responded only in Arabic. When an Arabic language and culture major tried approaching them, they refused any response.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Kids Attend Prom From ‘Sexual Hell’

You won’t believe how children as young as 12 years old partied

Note: This story contains material that readers might consider graphic and offensive.

Family advocates are outraged by a prom held at Boston City Hall that was open to children apparently as young as 12 featuring crossdressers, homosexual heavy petting, suspected drug use and a leather-clad doorman who teaches sexual bondage classes


“Why would 22-year-olds be mingling with 14 and 15-year-olds?” Camenker asked, troubled by the details of the event. “As we saw, they pay no attention to any age limit at all. It was full of all of these strange adults.”


“As a young person who has been exposed to many disturbing things within today’s youth culture, I believed I was prepared to deal with what I saw at the 2009 BAGLY Prom,” Max wrote.

“Minutes after entering the event, I discovered that I was not.”

Camenker agreed that the affair was shocking.

“This stuff doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t have these kinds of really weird people around these kids by accident. These guys actually think that this is what these kids should be experiencing,” he said.

“This movement has an obsession with kids, and there are no boundaries. It’s worse than anybody thought.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Amil Imani: Liberty vs. Demagogues

What is a demagogue? According to the encyclopedia, a demagogue is a politician skilled in oratory, flattery, and invective, evasive in discussing vital issues, promising everything to everybody, appealing to the passions rather than the reason of the public, and arousing racial, religious, and class prejudices.

History tells us that personal liberty is most often the demagogue’s first victim, particularly when popular sentiment is whipped up against some internal or foreign enemy. In other words, liberty and demagogues cannot coexist. The ancient Greek word “demagogos” means simply a spokesman for the people or, more pejoratively, a leader of the mob. “Modern usage implies rhetorical gifts and the ability to arouse an audience, usually with the promise of radical change.”

           — Hat tip: Amil Imani[Return to headlines]

Flickr and Getty Images Buy Your Photos

Photo-sharing website Flickr has teamed up with Getty Images to let users sell their pictures.

One of the biggest photo libraries in the world is hoping the work of amateur photographers can reinvigorate its collection and help to create an edgier persona.

Getty Images, the world’s largest distributor of still imagery, has teamed up with Flickr, the photo-sharing website, to allow keen photographers around the world the chance to make some money out of their regular, everyday snaps. Over the past 12 months, Getty has had 30 art directors scouring Flickr’s archive of three billion images to find the ones that will “sell” and have commercial appeal.

So far, the team has identified 100,000 images it would like to add to the “Getty Flickr” collection, which can be accessed by consumers and customers alike via There is also a supportive Facebook application called “PictureMe”. This allows Facebook users to attach photos from the collection to their status updates to help them visually express their mood.

The collection contains only 20,000 images at the moment, as the team is still waiting to hear back from the photographers responsible for the other 80,000 cherry-picked photos, or for rights clearance. Flickr users can “opt in” to have their photos considered by the Getty art directors by clicking on a designated tab once logged into their accounts.

The rest is up to Getty, which will then email the Flickr users who have a minimum of five photos which interest them. If they consent, a contract follows and the photographer has to set about ensuring each that any photo that includes a person or piece of property has the appropriate permission from all concerned parties. Once all the formal processes are completed, Getty can go about selling the images.

One person who received such an email is Anna Creedon, a digital collections developer at the London Transport Museum by day, and an avid amateur photographer in her spare time.

“I only joined Flickr last October, after doing an Open University photography course. Someone on the course set up a supportive Flickr group and I progressed from there,” she explains.

“I opted in to be seen by Getty and one day I received an email from them asking me to upload seven of my images … one of which [a close-up abstract shot of an iris] has now been bought for use in a brochure. It’s given me a new zest for taking photos.”

Creedon specialises in macro photography, which means taking extreme close-up shots and she usually only uses a compact hand-held camera. Her choice subjects are flowers and nature.

However, there is no pattern as to what the Getty team are looking for..Often the chosen photos are very regular daily scenes: a baby playing in a swimming pool or a someone smoking a cigarette. But it’s more the spirit and the way these imagesare taken that attracts Getty.

However, not every Flickr user views the “Getty email” as a prime opportunity to gain market exposure. There is a big debate going on across the photo-sharing site about whether Getty’s plan is compromising people’s artistic integrity and just another example of a big market player abusing user-generated content for mass gain.

The man in charge of bringing Flickr content to Getty customers is Andy Saunders, Getty’s vice-president of creative stills and footage. His job is to try to introduce new content to the Goliath collection and keep it fresh. He recognises that commercialising a personal photograph collection isn’t for everyone and admits some people have refused Getty’s offer.

“I understand that when you reach out to a community whose original intention was not to sell content, but simply to share images and experiences, there will be some negative feedback, but that’s up to the individuals. They can opt in or opt out.”

Getty Images decided to sign the five-year exclusive deal with Flickr expressly because it wanted photos that hadn’t been taken with a commercial purpose in mind.

“It is because the Flickr images haven’t been taken with a view to being sold, that a lot of passion and emotion comes through in the shots.They can be more original than traditional photography and offer that emotional connection which our customers really value,” Saunders explains.

Users take, typically, a 20-30 per cent cut on any images that are sold; how much a user can hope to make varies, Saunders says, from as low as $10 a shot to as much as $100,000. So you won’t know what publication or campaign your pictures of your grandmother snoring or your baby swimming could end up being part of, but you do become elevated to the same status as a professional photographer just by clicking a tab. And you get paid, too.

Five tips to get your pictures noticed

Keep your approach original and fresh.

Think about whether you will be able to contact any people in your photo again in case you need to obtain their permission. Possibly take down their contact details at the time, just in case.

Regionality is always attractive — especially in areas such as the Far East, where the economy is booming. Photos of your travels which show off an area’s culture are very useful to us — this is something which we hope to build upon in the future.

Humour always sells and is something to bear in mind.

Don’t get into stale patterns. Keep snapping only what matters to you and not what you might think will sell.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Ron Russell said...

If the unrest should continue on the streets of Tehran the Obama may have to reconsider it stated policy toward the government there. This would be a hopeful sign in an otherwise bleak situations.