Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/30/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/30/2009Iran is reverting to what passes for normal, now that Ahmadinejad has been irrevocably declared the winner. Six supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi were reportedly hanged. Meanwhile, in Iraq a Swedish politician was attacked with a knife.

In other news, Nepalese authorities have banned pockets from the uniforms of airline staff, as a method of discouraging rampant bribe-taking.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CSP, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, Steen, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Latvia on the Brink
Air Security Better Post-9/11, But Vigilance Needed: U.S.
‘Go After ACORN, ‘ Judge Says
Obama Administration Wants National Guard Volunteers to Patrol Mexican Border
See How Government ‘Fixed’ Hazards of Infectious Waste
Sen. Inhofe Calls for Inquiry Into ‘Suppressed’ Climate Change Report
The Dog Flu Virus: Are You or Your Pet at Risk?
Tylenol May be Pulled From Market
Europe and the EU
Brussels Wants Smoking Ban Across Europe
Czech Jewish Cemetery Desecrated
Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Mustard Gas Conviction
Hungary: Parliament Rejects Bid to Change Constitution to Punish Holocaust Denial
Italy: Berlusconi Calls ‘Tapped’ In Escort Probe
Netherlands: White Prisoners Forced to Eat Islamic Diet
Netherlands: One in Five Muslims Supports Wilders
Netherlands: More Powers for Local Govt to Spread Population Via Housing
Qaeda Warns France of Revenge for Burka Stance
Romania: Med Students Accused of Buying Bones of Holocaust Victims
Spain Closes Gaza Strip Bombing Case
Spanish-Belgian Squabble Puts EU Foreign Policy in a Poor Light
Sweden: Coming Home From School With Strawberry Condoms
UK: City Lifts Ban on Life of Brian
UK: Crown-Shaped Dome Planned for Westminster Abbey
UK: Universal Embryo Test ‘Very Near’
Serbia: EU to Provide 9 Million Euros for Refugees, Lloveras
North Africa
Italy-Libya: Al Mukhtar Guarding Over Tripoli
Israel and the Palestinians
French-Israeli Spat Over Comments
Israel: Deputy Mossad Chief Resigns Amid Squabbles
Middle East
6 Mousavi Supporters Reportedly Hanged
Barry Rubin: A CNN Editor Discovers Islamism
Frank Gaffney: ‘Take My Voice’ — An Everywoman’s Story From Iran
Probe of Attack in Iraq on Swedish Politician
Saudi Arabia to Introduce Fingerprinting for Visas
Turkey: Leader of the Young Party Lands 3.5 Years Jail
Turkey Opens Taxation Chapter, Urges EU to Play the Game by Its Rules
Russian Corruption Reporter Dies From Head Injury
Western Observers Pulling Out of Abkhazia
South Asia
For All Malaysians: New PM Abandons Ethnic Capitalism
India Says Fired at From Pakistan Side, 1 Killed
Nepal Bans Airline Staff Pockets
Far East
China and India: Deals Signed in Agricultural Sector, Open Challenge to Myanmar
China Halts Metals Stockpiling for Now: Report
North Korean Ship Retreats, Headed Back North
Latin America
Obama Sides With Marxists Over Honduras
NGO: Italian Repatriations Violate Asylum Right

Financial Crisis

Latvia on the Brink

For a long time the country with the highest growth in the EU, Latvia finds itself staring into a financial abyss. Seeking to economise its way out of the crisis by slashing public spending, it may even have to devalue its currency.

We had no political will, we lacked economic and entrepreneurial foresight, the government was pathetic. Now we face the existential question: Will Latvia survive?

Pretty strong language — especially when you know who said it: Latvian president Valdis Zatlers. Civil servants are taking a 20% pay cut, pensions have been pruned 10%. That was the only way for Latvia to get any more money from the International Monetary Fund and the EU: money without which the government would already be going broke in July.

How could it come to this? How can it be that the same national economy that for years grew faster than any other in the EU is suddenly on the brink of a financial abyss? The answer is, in a word, debts. Nowhere else in the European Union did the banks extend so much credit, and nowhere else did that produce such an overheated economy. And because Latvia’s economic boom was based almost entirely on credit, the international crisis packed a full wallop there.

In December 2008 the IMF and the EU already had to provide a quick fix to the tune of €7.5 million because Latvia couldn’t raise credit on the international capital markets any more. So wherein lies the remedy? Certainly not in the nation’s overindebted consumers or companies. Nor in the government either, which will have to resolutely retrench for the next two years at least to meet IMF requirements. So it’s no wonder foreign countries — particularly Sweden, which has such close ties to Latvia — are mulling a remedy that seems unthinkable even to Latvians themselves: devaluing the Latvia lat, which is currently tied to the euro with a fluctuation band of plus/minus one per cent. Devaluation would make Latvian products cheaper abroad and the export sector more competitive. But that would be capital punishment for many Latvians who see the strong lat as the anchor that kept the economy from going adrift after the inflation-ridden early 1990s.

And that is not the only argument against devaluation. For one thing, the European Central Bank has ruled out the possibility of introducing the euro in Latvia any time soon if the currency is devalued. For another, who is to guarantee that a devaluation will be kept within fairly orderly bounds and will not culminate in the kind of complete currency collapse that rocked Argentina? The risk of a run on the banks is not to be ruled out, if only because many Latvian depositors can convert their lats into foreign currency at the click of a computer mouse. What’s more, other Eastern European currencies also tied to the euro could come under pressure, too — first in Estonia and Lithuania, then in Bulgaria.

In the meantime, Latvia is trying to recover its competitiveness by slashing wages. In Germany that would be utterly impossible if only on account of its strong trade unions, whereas organised labour hardly plays any role in Latvia. The only question is whether this sort of devaluation will actually do the trick — and kick in fast enough. On the one hand, by dint of the crisis Latvia has again become a country with plenty of cheap labour. On the other hand, however, domestic and foreign investors are still holding back.

Whether the country can cope with this uncertainty will depend above all on its ability to regain its reliability. And to do that it will have to adhere to the IMF’s strict regimen and stick to its austerity policy. If it succeeds, Latvia really deserves to be admitted into the euro club. But that will be an uphill battle to say the least: Sisyphus would have considered his job a cinch in comparison.

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


Air Security Better Post-9/11, But Vigilance Needed: U.S.

LONDON (Reuters) — Most but not all of the 19 September 11 attackers would have been picked up beforehand if today’s air travel security had been in place, so vigilance is still needed, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Tuesday.

“We think that with many of the rules on travel and screening that have been put into places since 9/11, all but four of the 9/11 attackers would have been picked up,” Napolitano, on a tour of Europe and the Gulf, told reporters.

“So there’s been a lot of progress made. But I said ‘all but four’. So again you cannot thermoseal the entire United States of America. It means we have to be ever vigilant.”

The Department of Homeland Security was created in response to the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, when al Qaeda hijackers commandeered four planes, slamming two into New York’s World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon outside Washington. The fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

The United States now requires operators of international flights to and from the United States to electronically provide full advance manifests of their passengers and crew before departure, to keep suspected terrorists off such flights.

Napolitano, who has already visited Ireland, said she would also travel to Portugal, Spain and Kuwait to discuss aviation security, cyber security and violent extremism.

She said the issue of terrorism “is always with us.”

“I wake every morning with the belief that terrorism is there and that there are those who seek to harm us and they are looking for ways to do so.. I don’t have the wherewithal to say we have taken care of that issue. The issue is how to minimize the risk.”

She agreed in answer to questions that Somalia and Yemen were of growing concern as sites of militant activity, but declined to elaborate.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

‘Go After ACORN, ‘ Judge Says

A district judge who held another ACORN worker for trial Monday on election law violations urged prosecutors to go after the real culprit, the organization that employed him.

“Somebody has to go after ACORN,” Senior District Judge Richard H. Zoller said about the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

“It’s happening all over the country. All you have to do is turn on the television,” he said, referring to voter registration fraud charges brought recently against ACORN and its workers in Nevada.

“We will,” Allegheny County Detective Robert F. Keenan promised as he wrapped up his testimony.

A spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said following the hearing that the county’s investigation into members of ACORN and their activities during the 2008 campaign “remains open and active.”

“(T)here is quite a bit of activity aimed at determining if anyone else should be charged,” Zappala’s spokesman Mike Manko said.

Eric E. Jordan, 20, of North Braddock became the sixth person ordered to face trial in Allegheny County. He is charged with soliciting a voter registration and interfering with county voter registration officials by submitted applications for himself in order to meet his quota for registrations.. A seventh defendant faces a preliminary hearing next month.

Zappala claims the ACORN canvassers engaged in voter registration fraud and a quota system for registrations, which is barred by state law.

Olga Salvatori, Jordan’s attorney, told the judge her client did not know a quota system was illegal. She said Jordan was told he had to bring in a set number of registrations each day or he would be fired.

“ACORN should be charged, not my client,” Salvatori said.

But, argued Assistant District Attorney Matthew Robinowitz: “By accepting a job with a quota, he violated the law.”

Salvatori argued that Jordan didn’t “interfere” with anyone because all he did was resubmit his own voter registration three times, changing his address or party affiliation.

ACORN officials repeatedly have denied the organization imposed a quota system on workers, although they have acknowledged they had “standards” canvassers were expected to maintain. They did not respond yesterday to requests for comment.

Salvatori said after the hearing it was unfair that her client and other workers were charged for such technical violations.

“I didn’t even know a quota was illegal until I looked it up,” she said. “They go into poor neighborhoods and sign these people up. They tell them they have to meet minimum standards. How would (the workers) know what the law is?”

Keenan testified that he questioned Jordan last spring about suspect voter registrations he filed. He said Jordan, who was in custody on unrelated charges, acknowledged during the interview that he had to get 10 to 12 registrations per day or he would be fired.

Jordan attended the hearing but did not testify.

County Elections Division Director Mark Wolosik testified that every time a voter registration application was submitted or resubmitted, county workers had to process the application and generate a voter card and other paperwork.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Obama Administration Wants National Guard Volunteers to Patrol Mexican Border

The Obama administration is developing plans to seek up to 1,500 National Guard volunteers to step up the military’s counter-drug efforts along the Mexican border, senior administration officials said Monday.

The plan is a stopgap measure being worked out between the Defense Department and the Homeland Security Department, and comes despite Pentagon concerns about committing more troops to the border — a move some officials worry will be seen as militarizing the region.

Senior administration officials said the Guard program will last no longer than a year and would build on an existing counter-drug operation. They said the program, which would largely be federally funded, would draw on National Guard volunteers from the four border states. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been finalized.

Officials said the program would mainly seek out guard members for surveillance, intelligence analysis and aviation support. Guard units would also supply ground troops who could assist at border crossings and with land and air transportation.

President Barack Obama earlier this spring promised his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, that the United States would help with the escalating drug war, which has killed as many as 11,000 people since December 2006.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a 2009 counternarcotics strategy, saying the U.S. would devote more resources to fighting the Mexican drug cartels, including the cash and weapons that flow across the border from the U.S. into Mexico.

But officials say that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed concern that tapping the military for border control posts is a slippery slope and must not be overused… [..]

[Return to headlines]

See How Government ‘Fixed’ Hazards of Infectious Waste

Public exposed as contagious medical trash routinely trucked across America’s highways

Contaminated needles and scalpels, bloodied bandages, unused prescription drugs, soiled hospital garments, radioactive waste and refuse tainted with infectious disease: These are only a few items that may be discarded on a curbside, abandoned in a nearby lake or piled in a dumpster headed for the local landfill.

Some say Americans are simply oblivious to the imminent risk of major hazards and contagions spreading throughout their communities at any given time.

Former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., grew concerned about medical waste hauling after Sept. 11. He told WND that 15 years ago, the nation’s hospitals incinerated much of the infectious waste on site. However, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated strict guidelines for incinerators after concerns about air pollution, forcing most hospitals to hire outside personnel to haul medical waste away.

“What happened was that most hospitals and most doctors’ offices started going off site because they had no other way of treating it on site,” Pombo said. “So this industry was born that picked up medical waste and took it to a centralized site. Those centralized sites are sometimes several hundred miles away from the doctor’s office or the hospital where they’re picking this stuff up.”

Darrell Henry, executive director of the Healthcare Waste and Emergency Preparedness Coalition, expressed concerns about national safety when contagious medical waste that could be contaminated with hepatitis, tuberculosis, flu or even small pox is trucked across America’s roadways.

[Return to headlines]

Sen. Inhofe Calls for Inquiry Into ‘Suppressed’ Climate Change Report

Republicans are raising questions about why the EPA apparently dismissed an analyst’s report questioning the science behind global warming.

A top Republican senator has ordered an investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency’s alleged suppression of a report that questioned the science behind global warming.

The 98-page report, co-authored by EPA analyst Alan Carlin, pushed back on the prospect of regulating gases like carbon dioxide as a way to reduce global warming. Carlin’s report argued that the information the EPA was using was out of date, and that even as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased, global temperatures have declined.

“He came out with the truth. They don’t want the truth at the EPA,” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a global warming skeptic, told FOX News, saying he’s ordered an investigation. “We’re going to expose it.”

The controversy comes after the House of Representatives passed a landmark bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, one that Inhofe said will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate despite President Obama’s energy adviser voicing confidence in the measure.

According to internal e-mails that have been made public by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Carlin’s boss told him in March that his material would not be incorporated into a broader EPA finding and ordered Carlin to stop working on the climate change issue. The draft EPA finding released in April lists six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, that the EPA says threaten public health and welfare.

An EPA official told FOXNews.com on Monday that Carlin, who is an economist — not a scientist — included “no original research” in his report. The official said that Carlin “has not been muzzled in the agency at all,” but stressed that his report was entirely “unsolicited.”

“It was something that he did on his own,” the official said. “Though he was not qualified, his manager indulged him and allowed him on agency time to draft up … a set of comments.”

Despite the EPA official’s remarks, Carlin told FOXNews.com on Monday that his boss, National Center for Environmental Economics Director Al McGartland, appeared to be pressured into reassigning him.

Carlin said he doesn’t know whether the White House intervened to suppress his report but claimed it’s clear “they would not be happy about it if they knew about it,” and that McGartland seemed to be feeling pressure from somewhere up the chain of command.

Carlin said McGartland told him he had to pull him off the climate change issue.

“It was reassigning you or losing my job, and I didn’t want to lose my job,” Carlin said, paraphrasing what he claimed were McGartland’s comments to him. “My inference (was) that he was receiving some sort of higher-level pressure.”

Carlin said he personally does not think there is a need to regulate carbon dioxide, since “global temperatures are going down.” He said his report expressed a “good bit of doubt” on the connection between the two.

Specifically, the report noted that global temperatures were on a downward trend over the past 11 years, that scientists do not necessarily believe that storms will become more frequent or more intense due to global warming, and that the theory that temperatures will cause Greenland ice to rapidly melt has been “greatly diminished.”

Carlin, in a March 16 e-mail, argued that his comments are “valid, significant” and would be critical to the EPA finding.

McGartland, though, wrote back the next day saying he had decided not to forward his comments.

“The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision,” he wrote, according to the e-mails released by CEI. “I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.”

He later wrote an e-mail urging Carlin to “move on to other issues and subjects.”

“I don’t want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change. No papers, no research, etc., at least until we see what EPA is going to do with climate,” McGartland wrote.

The EPA said in a written statement that Carlin’s opinions were in fact considered, and that he was not even part of the working group dealing with climate change in the first place.

“Claims that this individual’s opinions were not considered or studied are entirely false. This administration and this EPA administrator are fully committed to openness, transparency and science-based decision making,” the statement said. “The individual in question is not a scientist and was not part of the working group dealing with this issue. Nevertheless the document he submitted was reviewed by his peers and agency scientists, and information from that report was submitted by his manager to those responsible for developing the proposed endangerment finding. In fact, some ideas from that document are included and addressed in the endangerment finding.”

The e-mail exchanges and suggestions of political interference sparked a backlash from Republicans in Congress.

Reps. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., also wrote a letter last week to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging the agency to reopen its comment period on the finding. The EPA has since denied the request.

Citing the internal e-mails, the Republican congressmen wrote that the EPA was exhibiting an “agency culture set in a predetermined course.”

“It documents at least one instance in which the public was denied access to significant scientific literature and raises substantial questions about what additional evidence may have been suppressed,” they wrote.

In a written statement, Issa said the administration is “actively seeking to withhold new data in order to justify a political conclusion.”

“I’m sure it was very inconvenient for the EPA to consider a study that contradicted the findings it wanted to reach,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement, adding that the “repression” of Carlin’s report casts doubt on the entire finding.

Carlin said he’s concerned that he’s seeing “science being decided at the presidential level.”

“Now Mr. Obama is in effect directly or indirectly saying that CO2 causes global temperatures to rise and that we have to do something about it. … That’s normally a scientific judgment and he’s in effect judging what the science says,” he said. “We need to look at it harder.”

The controversy is similar to one under the Bush administration — only the administration was taking the opposite stance. In that case, scientist James Hansen claimed the administration was trying to keep him from speaking out and calling for reductions in greenhouse gases.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

The Dog Flu Virus: Are You or Your Pet at Risk?

In today’s Science Times, health reporter Donald McNeil writes about a new flu virus circulating in dogs. Mr. McNeil writes:

While fears of a flu pandemic among humans have shifted from the lethal H5N1 avian flu to the relatively mild H1N1 swine flu, the H3N8 canine flu has been a quiet undercurrent in the United States, rarely discussed except among veterinarians and dog owners in the few areas where it has struck hard: Florida, New York City’s northern suburbs, Philadelphia and Denver.

Dr. Cynda Crawford, co-discoverer of the dog flu virus.This week, Dr. Cynda Crawford, one of the discoverers of the virus and a veterinarian at the University of Florida veterinary school, joins the Consults blog to answers readers’ questions about the dog flu and the first vaccine approved for it.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Tylenol May be Pulled From Market

June 30 (Reuters) — Prescription painkillers that include acetaminophen should be pulled from the U.S. market because they can make it too easy for patients to take dangerously high doses, a government advisory panel narrowly recommended on Tuesday.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel of outside experts voted 20-17 to urge the agency to eliminate such products, which include, among others, Abbott Laboratories’ (ABT.N) Vicodin and Endo Pharmaceuticals’ (ENDP.O) Percocet — two drugs that combine acetaminophen with powerful opioids.

“This is clearly the biggest cause of overdose problems,” said panelist Dr. Marie Griffin, a preventive medicine professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The recommendation is one of several from the panel, which is weighing potential steps the agency can take to help prevent liver damage and even death seen in patients who take too much acetaminophen.

Overdoses of acetaminophen, most commonly known as Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ.N) Tylenol, have long been known to cause liver failure and even death.

Acetaminophen use is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the 1,600 cases seen each year in the United States, according to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate.

FDA officials are concerned that warnings are not heeded by consumers and are looking for new ways to reduce the number of overdoses…[…]

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Brussels Wants Smoking Ban Across Europe

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The European Commission on Tuesday (30 June) called on member states to boost their non-smoking legislation in order to move towards a “smoke free” EU by 2012.

The commission is suggesting the bloc’s 27 member states agree smoking in “enclosed public places, workplaces and public transport” be banned by 2012, while children’s exposure to tobacco should be specifically tackled and “efforts to give up tobacco use and pictorial warnings on tobacco packages” should be encouraged.

According to commission estimates, 25 percent of cancer deaths and 15 percent of total deaths in the EU can be attributed to smoking.

Last year alone, 6,000 people died in the EU just from “workplace exposure to tobacco smoke,” including 2,500 non-smokers, it says.

“It is my firm belief that each and every European merits full protection from tobacco smoke. There is a wave of support from the general public and we will work with member states to make this a reality,” EU health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said.

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, around 32 percent of the bloc’s citizens currently smoke, with the proportion being highest in Greece (42%), Bulgaria (39%) and Latvia (38%).

Simultaneously, a large majority of Europeans favour smoking ban in the workplace (84%), restaurants (79%), as well as also bars, clubs and pubs (65%).

“We have come a long way since the time smoking was considered glamorous,” Ms Vassiliou said.

She praised the UK and Ireland for being the two only member states where a full smoking ban has been introduced for all work and public places, adding that Bulgaria is to follow suit in 2010.

In eight other member states — Italy, Malta, Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Slovenia, France and the Netherlands — there is legislation banning smoking at work and in public places, but allowing for special enclosed smoking rooms.

In other EU countries “some form of legislation” aimed to limit smoking in public areas exists, “but it’s not ideal.”

UK pub scare

The EU proposal was met with scepticism and by some, however. The UK Independence Party says it will further harm UK pubs and accused Brussels of crossing the line.

“Nobody pretends that smoking is a good thing, but it is legal,” said UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom.

“These bullies seem to have no truck with freedom, liberty or tolerance. Well in that case we shall have to take it back. And if that means a certain level of civil disobedience, well so be it,” Mr Bloom added.

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

Czech Jewish Cemetery Desecrated

PRAGUE — A Jewish cemetery has been desecrated in the eastern part of the Czech Republic, members of the community there said Tuesday.

Jaroslav Klenovsky of the Jewish community in nearby Brno said 63 tombstones were overturned at the cemetery in Uhersky Ostroh, some 280 kilometers (175 miles) southeast of Prague.

He said the cemetery, which dates from 1862 and is no longer used for burials, contains a total of 300 tombstones.

Police said several tombstones were broken and said they were investigating.

Sunday’s incident took place when Holocaust survivors, Jewish groups and government officials from almost 50 countries gathered in Prague to assess efforts to return property and possessions stolen by the Nazis during World War II to their rightful owners or heirs.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Dutch Supreme Court Upholds Mustard Gas Conviction

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the war crimes conviction of a businessman for selling chemicals to Saddam Hussein that his regime in Iraq turned into poison gas and unleashed on Kurds and Iranians.

However, the highest Dutch court rejected an appeal by 16 victims for compensation, saying their claims are too complicated. The court also shaved six months off the 17-year sentence handed to Frans van Anraat of the Netherlands because his case took so long.

In May 2007 a Hague appeals court upheld Van Anraat’s 2005 conviction for complicity in war crimes and increased his sentence from 15 to 17 years.. It rejected a prosecution appeal against his acquittal of complicity in genocide.

Danya Mohammad, who was 11 when she survived Saddam’s notorious March 1988 gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, Iraq, by sheltering in a cellar, said she was disappointed by the court’s refusal to award damages.

“But the most important thing is that he stays in prison,” she said.

Saddam, then Iraq’s dictator, ordered the Halabja attack as part of a scorched-earth campaign to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north, which was seen as aiding Iran in the final months of its war with Iraq. An estimated 5,600 were killed in the nerve and mustard gas attacks — the vast majority Kurds — and many still suffer the after effects.

Presiding Judge Leo van Dorst said that from the mid-1980s Van Anraat was Iraq’s sole supplier of a chemical called TDG, or thiodiglycol, for its mustard gas production program.

“The suspect knew … the TDG he was delivering was being used for mustard gas,” Van Dorst said. “The suspect knew that the poison gas would be used in the (Iran-Iraq) war.”

Lower court judges in The Hague called the sales a “heinous breach of international humanitarian law” that left thousands dead and thousands more maimed, and said Van Anraat was driven by “naked greed” to supply 1,100 tons of the chemical to Saddam.

Van Anraat and his lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s brief sitting.

Victims’ lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld also was disappointed by the court’s refusal to award damages but vowed to continue their fight for compensation in Dutch civil courts.

“We now have a criminal conviction, so we have a clear and sound legal ground,” she said. “There’s no doubt they will get their decision in court and now they can also claim much higher compensation.”

Zegveld said that the judges considered the compensation case too complex since they would have had to take into account laws in Iraq and Iran where the victims came from.

But there was a silver lining. Zegveld said that under the original claim filed in a criminal court, victims’ compensation would have been capped at euro700 ($984). In a civil procedure, she added, “they can go to the real value of their injuries.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Hungary: Parliament Rejects Bid to Change Constitution to Punish Holocaust Denial

Parliament on Monday rejected the ruling Socialist party’s proposal for a constitution change which aimed to make Holocaust-denial punishable.

In a vote of 189 to 165 and 5 abstentions, deputies voted down the Socialist proposal to lift Holocaust-denial, currently regulated by the Criminal Code, to a constitutional level.

The Socialists put forward the proposal in the wake of a neo-Nazi gathering in Budapest Castle in April, where speakers made remarks denying the Holocaust.

Socialist MP Gergely Barandy said earlier in parliament on Monday that through the vote it would transpire whether the main opposition Fidesz party was willing to distance itself from extremist forces.

A civil group, the Szabadsag (Liberty) Kor, said that adopting the Socialist tightening would only strengthen extremist manifestations. Spokesman for the group Gergely Gulyas said that a consensus had formed over the past 20 years of the limitations of sanctioning hate speech and that society must differentiate between politically rejecting such manifestations and making them a subject of criminal law.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Calls ‘Tapped’ In Escort Probe

Rome, 23 June (AKI) — Prosecutors are reported to have tapes of several telephone conversations between Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Gianpaolo Tarantini, a businessman who allegedly paid young women to attend parties hosted by the premier in the capital, Rome, and on the island of Sardinia.

Tarantini, 35, a Berlusconi acquaintance, is being investigated by prosecutors in the southern Italian port city of Bari on suspicion of abetting prostitution by recruiting models and call girls for private parties at Berlusconi’s Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli, and Villa Certosa, his residence on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.

The tapped phonecalls between 72-year-old Berlusconi and Tarantini are reportedly “jokey and convivial” and discuss arrangements for various parties, dinners and holidays, according to investigators.

Tarantini has admitted paying “expenses” to a number of young women to attend parties at Berlusconi’s residences and other private homes.

He is being probed for alleged kickbacks he and his brother paid to obtain public health service contracts in the Bari area.

Prosecutors are currently examining the authenticity of a number of audio and video tapes made by one of the women, Patrizia D’Addario, a high-class escort, who is at the centre of the scandal.

D’Addario claims she was paid 1,000 euros to attend a party in October 2003 at Palazzo Grazioli, and to have stayed overnight with Berlusconi. She alleges the tapes prove her claims.

D’Addario’s allegations have been largely corroborated by two other women who allegedly attended the party, Lucia Rossini and Barbara Montereale.

Italy’s La Repubblica daily on Monday published pictures of Montereale and Rossini posing in short black dresses in a bathroom in what they said was Palazzo Grazioli.

Montereale, who subsequently auditioned for the job of weather girl on one of Berlusconi’s commercial TV channels, can be seen seductively holding a hair dryer, with an erotic porcelain statuette behind her.

She claimed to have been offered a large sum of money for the photos but gave them to La Repubblica because she wanted “the truth” about the evening to be established beyond doubt.

The photos and video and audio tapes have raised concerns about security at Palazzo Grazioli, where the women claim they arrived by car with Tarantini and were not asked for any identification before they entered.

Montereale, a single mother, claimed she was also invited to a party at Berlusconi’s villa in January.

She said she was flown there on a private jet and received 1,000 euros from Tarantini as well as 10,000 euros from Berlusconi.

She has denied working as a prostitute, instead said Berlusconi gave her the cash after she told him it was hard providing for her young daughter.

D’Addario and Montereale are among up to 30 models, actresses and others due to be questioned by prosecutors after their names emerged from tapped phone conversations.

The women reportedly include Eastern European models, who were recruited to attend parties given by Berlusconi at Palazzo Grazioli and Villa Certosa.

Italian investigative weekly L’Espresso this week published pictures of numerous young women aboard and disembarking from Berlusconi’s boat at Villa Certosa last summer.

Montereale has confirmed to prosecutors that Eastern European women were at the party she attended in January, and said they appeared very familiar with Berlusconi, who they called ‘Papi’ or ‘Daddy’.

The personal life of the media magnate turned politician has been under public scrutiny since late April when a newspaper report revealed he had attended the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model, Noemi Letizia, who also calls him ‘Papi’.

Berlusconi’s wife, Veronica Lario accused him of “frequenting minors” and said she wanted a divorce.

Apart from being prime minister, Berlusconi is Italy’s richest man with a fortune worth 6.5 billion dollars.

Berlusconi, 72, owns a vast business empire that spans media, advertising, insurance, and construction as well as Italy’s most successful football club, AC Milan.

Berlusconi has blamed a “media conspiracy” and denied having had “saucy” relations with Letizia. Last week he promised to respond to allegations that women were paid to attend his private parties.

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

Netherlands: White Prisoners Forced to Eat Islamic Diet

AMSTERDAM, 30/06/09 — The justice ministry considers that whites should after all have the option of eating pork, a spokesman has stated in reaction to a report in De Telegraaf. According to the newspaper, many Dutch prisons currently only serve Islamic food.

The ministry has concluded contracts in which the suppliers only provide halal food. Having two different menus was found too expensive. Prisoners are as a result no longer given any pork and only ritually-slaughtered beef or lamb, according to De Telegraaf.

The matter came to light in a court case brought by a prisoner against his prison in Sittard. “Freedom of religion is a great asset,” said his lawyer. “But my client does not want to have any religion forced on him, he simply wants some meatballs.”

The justice ministry said after the publication in the newspaper that pork will be put back on the menu for those who want it. How many prisons in the Netherlands only put Islamic food on the menu will also be investigated.

The Party for Freedom (PVV) will request clarification from the cabinet in today’s weekly Question Hour. “It is known that Dutch prisons are packed with Muslims, but that of course does not mean that you must serve everyone with meat from ritually slaughtered animals,” according to MP Sietse Fritsma.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: One in Five Muslims Supports Wilders

THE HAGUE, 30/06/09 — Most Muslims in the Netherlands see Geert Wilders as a threat, but nearly one in five share his criticisms of Islam partly or in full, according to a survey by TV programme Netwerk.

Three-quarters of the Muslims consider it a threat if Wilders were to enter government. Nonetheless, one-third of them find it logical for a portion of the Dutch to vote for him. Eighteen percent of the Muslims agree with the Party for Freedom (PVV) leader on a number of points. On the other hand, 22 percent feel hatred towards Wilders.

On the question of how the Muslim community should deal with Wilders’ rising popularity, there are divergent thoughts. Most support is for ignoring him (40 percent), closely followed by ‘enter into the discussion’ (35 percent). Next come ‘let a tough counter-voice be heard’ (25 percent) and ‘tackle problems within the Muslim community’ (23 percent).

Nearly three-quarters of the Muslims have the feeling that the ‘ordinary’ Dutch have judged them more negatively in recent years than in the past. Additionally, 4 out of 10 Muslims say they are discriminated against more often nowadays.

Two-thirds of the respondents see ‘a future for themselves’ in the Netherlands. It is noteworthy here that young Muslims in particular see it this way (73 percent). Muslims aged over 35 have less confidence: 43 percent see no future here for themselves any more.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: More Powers for Local Govt to Spread Population Via Housing

THE HAGUE, 30/06/09 — Local authorities are to be given more powers to offer rental accommodation only to particular groups of people, the cabinet has decided.

The public housing corporations, which largely control the rental market, are already allowed to impose income conditions for certain housing; those earning too much are not eligible for a small apartment. There are also age criteria for certain blocks of flats; only people aged below 35 or above 55, for example, can move into them.

Via an amendment to the Housing Act, municipalities will however in future be allowed to use other criteria in allocating cheap housing as well. They can use these to try to give districts their own character, for example by putting “peaceful people with peaceful people” or by encouraging ethnic diversity, according to the Housing Ministry.

Municipalities will be more restricted from keeping people living in other municipalities out of their own rental market. While they can continue to demand that people have “economic and social ties” with the municipality, they can only do so if the waiting lists are so long that their own residents already have scarcely any chance of getting a different home.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Qaeda Warns France of Revenge for Burka Stance

Al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing threatened on Tuesday to take revenge on France for its opposition to the burka, calling on Muslims to retaliate against the country, the US monitoring service SITE Intelligence reported.

Earlier this month, President Nicolas Sarkozy said the burka, which covers the whole face, was not welcome in the strictly secular country.

“Yesterday was the hijab (the Islamic headscarf long banned in French schools) and today, it is the niqab (the full veil),” Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was quoted as saying.

“We will take revenge for the honour of our daughters and sisters against France and against its interests by every means at our disposal.”

The group also called on Muslims to retaliate for what it called French “hostility” against the community and its attempt to obstruct Islam’s practice on its territory.

“For us, the mujahedeen … we will not remain silent to such provocations and injustices,” Abdul Wadud said without elaborating, according to SITE.

“We call upon all Muslims to confront this hostility with greater hostility, and to counter France’s efforts to divide male and female believers from their faith with a greater effort … (by) adherence to the teachings of their Islamic sharia.”

He said Muslims in France, who are estimated at around five million, are “increasingly concerned about the practices of French politicians and leaders and their harassment”.

On June 22, Sarkozy said the burka was not a symbol of religious faith but a sign of women’s “subservience,” adding that the head-to-toe veil was “not welcome” in staunchly secular France.

The French National Assembly set up an inquiry into the rising number of Muslim women who wear the burka.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community and faces a dilemma between accommodating Islam and maintaining secularism. In 2004, it passed a law banning headscarves or any other “conspicuous” religious symbols in schools to uphold a separation between church and state.

Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri criticized the law, saying the decision showed “the grudge the Western crusaders have against Islam.”

France is the only state in Europe to have such a ban.

It is not known how many women wear the burka in France.

The majority of Muslim clerics around the world do not regard wearing the burka, unlike the head cover, as a religious obligation under Islam.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Romania: Med Students Accused of Buying Bones of Holocaust Victims

Medical students at the Iasi University in Romania allegedly have been purchasing bones from mass Holocaust graves and using them for research, the European Jewish Press (EJP) reported. The Rabbinical Center of Europe has been investigating the charges.

The alleged practice came to light after an American student notified the rabbinical group that local students bought bones and skulls of victims of the Holocaust who were buried in a nearby village. The bones were reportedly sold for $40 a piece and were used in research in place of those made of plastic.

Thousands of students from all over the world attend the university, which includes a well-known school of medicine and pharmacy.

The Rabbinical Center sent two students to the university to pose as medical students in order to verify or deny the claim. A caretaker of the mass grave did not deny being involved in the sale of the bones but apparently was suspicious of the would-be buyers and referred them elsewhere.

One Jewish student, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals, said it was obvious the caretaker was concealing information, according to EJP..

Jewish medical students confirmed to the two “students” that information about the sale of human bones was available throughout the university, but no single purchaser has been identified.

The price for the bones included the workers’ task to “clean them up nicely.”

One of two death trains that left Isai during the Nazi regime stopped in the village of Podu Iloaiei, where nearly 1,200 Jews were buried in a mass grave after dying of starvation.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Spain Closes Gaza Strip Bombing Case

Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu cannot investigate the IAF bombing in Gaza on July 22, 2002 that killed Hamas terrorist Sheikh Salah Shehadeh and 14 others, Spain’s National Court ruled Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the Jerusalem Post reported exclusively that the Spanish Appellate Court was due to make a decision on the matter.

The Penal Hall of the court decided, in a vote of 14 against 4, not to proceed with the war crimes allegations against seven senior Israeli officials, including former IDF chiefs of staff Dan Halutz and Moshe Ya’alon, and former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

The panel supported prosecutors who opposed the probe on the ground that Israel was already investigating the attack, the court said in a statement. The judges announced only their decision, not the specific legal reasoning behind it. The court said that the reasoning would be published in a matter of days.

The complaint was lodged by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) after Israel had refused to answer the questions from an investigative commission in August 2008.

Andreu had said the bombing in densely populated Gaza City might constitute a crime against humanity.

Spanish prosecutors asked the judge to suspend the investigation, but in May, he announced he would continue. Andreu said he had found no evidence that Israeli prosecutors were conducting a probe of their own, so he had jurisdiction to press ahead.

Andreu said he was acting under Spain’s observance of the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction, which holds that grave crimes such as genocide, terrorism or torture can be prosecuted in Spain, even if they are alleged to have been committed outside the country.

Last week, the Spanish Congress restricted such cases in which Spain could use the principal to those in which the victims of the crime include Spanish citizens, or when those charged are living in Spain.

The bill still has to go before the Senate, but passage is expected because both major parties support it.

However, the new law will not be retroactive, so cases like the one against Israel would have remained active.

Shehadeh was killed when an IAF plane dropped a one-ton bomb on the apartment building in Gaza City where he was spending the night. Palestinian officials said 15 people were killed in the raid — Shehadeh, 49, his wife, a daughter, and his right-hand man, Zaher Nasser, 35, as well as nine children.

PCHR can still appeal to the Supreme Court in an effort to keep the case alive.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Spanish-Belgian Squabble Puts EU Foreign Policy in a Poor Light

The last time that a dispute between Madrid and Brussels seized the international spotlight was in 1568 — and boy, was it big. That was when the Spanish rulers of the Low Countries sparked the 80-year-long Dutch Revolt by executing Counts Egmont and Horne on the Grand’ Place of what is today the Belgian capital.

This month, another quarrel between Spain and Belgium broke out. Admittedly, it’s less serious, and for the moment it’s stayed behind closed doors. But in the interests of transparency, and because the squabble tells you rather a lot about the way the European Union operates, I shall share the details with you.

Karel De Gucht, Belgium’s foreign minister, has written an indignant letter to Miguel Angel Moratinos, his Spanish counterpart, complaining about a stitch-up at an EU operation known as the Union for the Mediterranean. The UfM is a pet project of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, aimed at reinvigorating relations between the 27-nation EU and its North African and Middle Eastern neighbours.

When they launched the UfM last year, the EU and its neighbours agreed that it should have a co-presidency, with one EU country and one non-EU country sharing the post. First up were France and Egypt. No problem there. But it was never officially spelled out who should represent the EU after France. Belgium, which will hold the EU’s six-month rotating presidency in the second half of 2010, thought that under EU rules it would be a logical choice.

So, not surprisingly, De Gucht was most unhappy to discover, from a letter that Moratinos had written to his French and Egyptian colleagues, that Spain and France appeared to have reached a private deal without telling anyone else in the EU (or, at least, without telling Belgium). Under this arrangement, France was to hold the job for two years and then hand over the reins to Spain, which would hold it for the following two years.

No doubt Moratinos thinks Spain is entitled to have the UfM’s co-presidency because it will hold the EU presidency in the first half of 2010. But for two years? The polite language of European diplomacy can scarcely hide De Gucht’s displeasure. “I confess that I was really amazed,” he writes in his letter to Moratinos, arguing that the Franco-Spanish deal violates fundamental EU rules that set out how the bloc must be represented on the world stage.

This incident reveals many things about the EU. It reveals how trivial squabbles constantly interfere with the efficient conduct of a common EU foreign policy. It reveals how big EU countries (France and Spain) think they have the right to push around small ones (Belgium). It reveals an EU obsession with process rather than substance.

And, lastly, it reveals how, all too often, EU governments look like mice fighting over a piece of cheese, while outside Europe the world is full of large, fierce cats.

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

Sweden: Coming Home From School With Strawberry Condoms

Mandatory sex education classes for 14-year-olds anger Muslim immigrants in Sweden.

STOCKHOLM — Proper condom use, sex positions and same-sex relationships are all part of the curriculum for 14-year-old students in Swedish high schools.

But many Muslim immigrants, who require their daughters and wives to wear head scarves to ensure modesty, have prevented their children from attending the classes.

A new law proposes to change that by abolishing a provision that was initially created for Catholic and Jewish students looking to get out of religious education classes. All students were allowed to opt out of subjects if they wanted.

Without that provision, Muslim parents would no longer be able to stop their teenage children from participating in the mandatory sex education, or in sports lessons.

“All students have the right to take part in the compulsory school education, regardless of whether their parents approve or disapprove,” said Sweden’s education secretary, Jan Bjorklund.

Muslim parents who grew up in conservative Middle East countries have reacted with shock when their daughters and sons come home from school with condoms handed out by their biology teachers.

Teenage girls said their parents prohibit them from participating in school lessons because they contradict the family’s religion or culture, according to a new survey from Stockholm University. Twenty-seven percent of immigrants’ daughters are kept from participating in some school subjects.

“My parents do not think that the school should run any sex education at all. They say it is not the school’s business. But I think it is exciting. I do not show the condoms for Mum or Dad,” said Fatima Omed, 14. Her parents moved to Sweden from Turkey, but she has lived in Sweden her entire life. “I do not plan to use the condoms anytime soon,” she added, laughing.

The number of students prevented by their parents from attending sex education classes increased during the Iraq war, when many Muslim families immigrated to Sweden. The Scandinavian country, with 10 million inhabitants, granted full refugee status to 24,799 Iraqis between 2003 and 2007, compared with 260 by Britain. Sweden’s right-wing government said the increase in students opting out called for action.

Muslim parents who were born in Sweden have not used the exemption nearly as much as parents who are immigrants. Families where both the parents and children are immigrants have expressed the most anger.

“It is a problem and usually it is the father who is protesting the most, especially when it regards a daughter,” said Magnus Ericsson, a teacher at one of Stockholm’s largest high schools.

Although paternal protectiveness can be viewed as noble and admirable, Swedish medical experts think it’s counterproductive and potentially harmful for young women.

The classes are designed to educate students about sex before they reach 15, the age of consent in Sweden.

“The purpose of the sex education is to provide good information about how the body works, to make the students feel secure in their sexuality and to prevent sexual diseases and unwanted pregnancies,” said Ann-Cristine Jonsson of the Swedish National Institute of Public Health.

Students learn about HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, herpes and hepatitis, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms with different flavors, such as strawberry and orange, are handed out to the students. “We want to prevent both diseases and unwanted pregnancies,” Jonsson said.

The students are also taught that it is normal to have intercourse with people of the same sex and that it is unacceptable to tease or bully classmates who are gay.

Sweden has required sex education be taught in its schools since 1955 and has earned a reputation as a sexually liberal country. The 1967 landmark movie “I Am Curious (Yellow),” which American author Norman Mailer called “one of the most important movies I have seen in my entire life,” helped solidify that reputation.

Last year, Sweden’s state-run pharmaceuticals retailing stores launched a line of sex toys aimed at women. The initiative was financed by taxes and within a few days the products became the chain’s bestsellers.

Some members of the left-wing opposition expressed concern that some Muslim families would be so upset by the proposed change that they would pull their children out of public schools, thus increasing segregation in Sweden. But for the most part, support for the law exists throughout the political spectrum.

The paragraph in question was designed decades ago to allow students to opt out of Christian education, which was erased in Swedish schools in 1969 and replaced by the broader subject of religious education.

Forty years later, amid an influx of Muslim immigrants, it is that paragraph that is set to be abolished.

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

UK: City Lifts Ban on Life of Brian

Councillors in Glasgow have lifted an unofficial 30-year-old ban on the Monty Python film The Life of Brian.

The council’s licensing and regulatory committee approved a request on Tuesday from Glasgow Film Theatre to show the biblical satire under a 15 certificate.

Glasgow was one of 39 local authorities in the UK that refused to grant the film a general release in 1979.

Opponents said the film, about a Jewish man who is mistaken for the Messiah and crucified, was blasphemous.

Councillor Willie O’Rourke, vice convener of the licensing and regulatory committee, said: “This is the first application we’ve received to show Monty Python’s Life of Brian since the first request.

“Life of Brian has been broadcast on television over the years and is now widely available on DVD.

“The world, and people’s attitudes, have moved on in the last 30 years, so I believe the committee made the right decision today.”

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

UK: Crown-Shaped Dome Planned for Westminster Abbey

LONDON (AFP) — Westminster Abbey wants to build a crown-shaped dome above the spot where every monarch has been crowned since 1066, its top clergyman said on Monday.

The corona would be part of a proposed 23-million-pound scheme which would also see a visitor and education centre added to the abbey, which dates back to 960 and is the burial place for 17 kings and queens.

Abbey officials are throwing the plans open for comment from the public and, if they receive approval, it is hoped the corona will be constructed in time for the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 2013.

Announcing the plans, the Dean of Westminster John Hall said: “It is an odd accident of history that, where so many great churches have a magnificent tower or spire or dome, the abbey remains unfinished over the site of every coronation since that of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day 1066.

“Now is the time to consider afresh what should be built there.”

Heir to the throne Prince Charles, who will likely be the next monarch to be crowned at the abbey, is well-known for his conservative views on architecture and drew criticism from top architect Richard Rogers this month after reportedly lobbying against one of his projects.

Hall told BBC radio officials had been in touch with Buckingham Palace and Charles’ Clarence House office about the plans, adding: “We wouldn’t have gone ahead if we weren’t sure we had that area covered.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Universal Embryo Test ‘Very Near’

A gene mapping test that can test embryos for almost any inherited disease could be available in the UK within a year, say researchers.

Unlike current tests doctors do not need to know the specific gene mutation involved.

At the same time embryos can be tested to check they are generally in good genetic shape.

Experts say there will have to be strict limits on what the test can be used for.

“ We’re not mad Frankenstein’s working away in our laboratories to create designer babies “

Professor Tony Rutherford British Fertility Society

The test — which will cost around £2,500 — uses a technique called karyomapping which looks for the inheritance of sections of DNA or chromosomes.

Rather than knowing the exact gene mutation which is passed down the generations in an family affected by a condition such as cystic fibrosis, doctors can just look for the block of DNA containing a faulty gene.

At the moment genetic testing of embryos is generally limited to a few conditions.

But karyomapping could in theory be used to test for any one of the 15,000 genetic defects known about.

Using the same test doctors could also look at whether any chromosomes are missing or duplicated which suggests the embryo will not be viable.

It would also be far quicker than current tests, taking only three days instead of weeks or months.

Professor Alan Handyside, from London’s Bridge Centre, who developed the test said in the handful of families they had looked at, it had been 100% successful in picking up affected embryos.

US researchers have also run the test in embryos at risk of cystic fibrosis.

In five cases where families had donated embryos to research, they proved the test can pick up cystic fibrosis mutations.

At the same time they found serious chromosome abnormalities suggesting those embryos would not have resulted in successful pregnancy, delegates at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference heard.

That could boost the chance of a couple having a successful pregnancy through IVF as well as a baby free from the condition in question.

Ethical issues

The UK team has applied to the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for a licence.

Clinical trials of the test are due to start by the end of the year.

Regulators will be assessing whether it works and whether it is safe.

But there are also ethical issues to consider.

Ultimately, the test could be used to test for conditions which are not serious or life-threatening — leading to concerns about designer babies.

The HFEA will be able to set conditions on what the test can be used for.

Professor Handyside said one use for the test could be looking for genetic causes of autism which occurs in 5% of cases.

Other likely candidates are Huntington’s disease and spinal muscular atrophy — a condition that can cause death in infancy.

“What we’re mapping is inheritance from the father and the mother across the entire genome.

“The potential criticism of this work is we could find all kinds of changes in the embryo.

“But we wouldn’t get a licence to do this for all conditions.

He added: “We are limited in the number of embryos we can test so something has to be very likely to turn up.”

Professor Tony Ruthford, chair of the British Fertility Society said the test would be more reliable although admitted such technology was opening a “Pandora’s box”.

“The issue here is we may find out a lot of genetic information and how is that going to be used or stored.”

But he said the regulations in the UK on what could be tested for were very strict and would remain so.

“We’re not mad Frankenstein’s working away in our laboratories to create designer babies.

“We are only allowed to look for major diseases which cause handicaps.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Serbia: EU to Provide 9 Million Euros for Refugees, Lloveras

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JUNE 25 — European Commission Mission to Serbia head Josep Lloveras announced that the EU will offer 9 million euros in aid to refugees and the internally displaced in Serbia, reports BETA news agency. Lloveras told a news conference at Belgrade’s Media Center that this important program, which is even more significant given the economic crisis, is the EU’s way of demonstrating its will to resolve to aid refugees and the stability of Serbia. He recalled that the EU has already assisted refugees with EUR26.5 million through the CARDS program and plans to invest another 26 million by 2010. The support program is to help provide housing for refugees and the displaced and assist with the launching and expansion of business or farming activities. Serbian Assistant Commissioner for Refugees Danijela Popovic-Roko reiterated that there are some 97,000 refugees and about 210,000 displaced from Kosovo in Serbia, which ranks the country among the five countries experiencing “an extended refugee crisis.” UNHCR representative in Serbia Lennart Kotsalainen said that the implementation of the program will give around 1,000 refugees and displaced people not only a roof over their heads, but also the possibility of achieving financial independence. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Italy-Libya: Al Mukhtar Guarding Over Tripoli

(by Francesca Spinola) (ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, JUNE 18 — In this current era of warm friendship between Italy and Libya, Omar al-Mukhtar, hero of Libyan resistance against the one-time colonial occupying power, “blesses your victory from heaven above”, the your’ referring to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. These words and the proud portrait of Gaddafi in uniform, with the now-famous photo of the national hero surrounded by fascists which he wore pinned to his chest whilst in Italy, have been on display slap in the middle of Tripoli’s Green Square for the past two days. The same images are also on many of the town’s billboards, which, instead of being used for advertising merchandise, as would be the case in Europe, are dedicated to the leader’s image. Along the motorway running from Tripoli airport into the city, the same photo of Omar al-Mukhtar facing the fascist hierarchy is reproduced, six metres high and three metres wide, with the words spoken by the hero shortly before he was sent to his death blazoned in capital letters, “Generations and generations will fight after me: I will live on after my executioners.” It is no coincidence that Gaddafi yesterday received an honour bearing the name of the resistance fighter, al-Mukhtar’ from the hero’s son and grandchildren, the award made to him because he “had made it a symbol of resistance against Italian colonialism”. Gaddafi’s historic visit to Italy, in which the two countries were formally reconciled, was made even more momentous by the photo which the colonel wore on his lapel, in which he drew attention to Italy and Libya’s past relations. ANSAmed has been speaking to one elderly gentleman who knows Libya very well, Professor Ali Sadiq Husnein, Secretary General of the Academy of Arab Language. We asked him to explain who al-Mukhtar was and why it is that young people put his pictures on the dashboards of their cars, sometimes next to the famous image of Che Guevara, and why the past should not be forgotten. “You have to go back to the Sanussite movement to understand al-Mukhtar’s role. He was a loyal supporter of the movement and was part of the congregation founded in Giarabub by Grand Sanussite Mohammed ibn Ali,” Husnein explained. In 1911, when Italy occupied Libya, the Sanussite movement and all its followers opposed the invasion and this became the start of a ferocious resistance “against the invader and infidel”, as the Italians were known. Omar al-Mukhtar emerged as an important figure during this struggle and for the twenty years from 1911 to 1932 he fought the colonial powers with all his might. On September 15, 1931, in Bengazi, he was put on trial as the undisputed leader of Libyan resistance. The next day he was taken to the Soluch concentration camp, where he was hanged at 9 am, in front of twenty thousand Libyans. His execution was intended to serve as an example, to dash Libyan hopes of rebellion. In fact, just a few months later, Badoglio, the governor, was able to declare that the Cirenaica revolt had been completely put down. “After his death, the people were silenced until 1942, when Italian occupation ended,” Husnein continued, noting that “after liberation from Italy, Libyans started to publicly recognise his honour, merit and sacrifice, as Colonel Gadafi himself always has. He has been seen as a hero so much so that that every year on September 15, there is a day dedicated to his memory, where his story is told in schools.” According to Professor Husnein, that photo, which went from lying in historical archives to being pinned on the chest of the Libyan leader during his visit to Rome, and blazoned across the streets of Tripoli, means that “despite our past, we are reaching out our hands in friendship.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

French-Israeli Spat Over Comments

Israel’s foreign ministry has accused France of unacceptable meddling in its internal affairs over a reported comment by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He was quoted by Israeli TV calling for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads a far-right party, to be sacked.

The plea, which has not been confirmed nor denied by officials, was allegedly made during a meeting with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu last week.

Israeli Arab leaders have accused the foreign minister of anti-Arab racism.

Ahmed Tibi, a member of the Israeli parliament for the United Arab List, welcomed President Sarkozy’s comments, saying: “The international community has started to absorb the danger of the fascism” coming from Mr Lieberman.

However, the deputy leader of Mr Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party called the comments “grave and unacceptable”.

Mr Lieberman’s office said: “If this report is correct then this is an unacceptable interference in internal Israeli affairs.”

Mr Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying the PM voiced his “full confidence” in Mr Lieberman during a meeting with ambassadors from European Union countries.

‘Privately pragmatic’

Israeli Channel Two reported that President Sarkozy advised Mr Netanyahu to “get rid” of Mr Lieberman during their meeting in Paris.

He also suggested that his predecessor Tzipi Livni be restored to the post, according to the report.

“You need to get rid of this man… You need to remove him from this position,” Mr Sarkozy reportedly said, to which Mr Netanyahu replied that “in private [Mr Lieberman] is pragmatic”.

Mr Sarkozy then reportedly said France’s far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was also a pleasant person in private.

Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, who belongs to Yisrael Beiteinu, told Israeli army radio: “It is hard to believe that the leader of a friendly country would express himself in such a way.”

“If I was the prime minister, and those statements were made in my presence, I would have banged on the table and protested. That is how a prime minister who preserves his country’s dignity should behave.”

Avigdor Lieberman has been a controversial figure in Israeli politics and his appointment as foreign minister after the February 2009 election was received with caution internationally.

He is known for a hard-line stance on peace negotiations with the Palestinians and remarks about Israeli Arabs that have been widely seen as racist.

He has also been a staunch defender of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where he has a private residence.

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

Israel: Deputy Mossad Chief Resigns Amid Squabbles

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 29 — Israeli press reports that Mossad (Israeli intelligence agency) was “shaken” on learning yesterday that its second-in-command had resigned, indicated only by the first Hebrew letter of his name, ‘T’. Commentators have called it a gesture of protest, since ‘T’ believed that he should have been named to lead Mossad instead of having to see his chief, Meir Dagan, reassigned the position for the eighth year in a row. The daily Yediot Ahronot reported that ‘T’ has a large deal of experience, having been at the head of “hundreds of secret operations”. In addition to personal differences between Dagan and himself, there are also reportedly differences of opinion as concerns cooperation between Mossad and foreign intelligence agencies. Some experts have said that his replacement is likely to be chosen from among the ranks of the Mossad. However, others (such as the intelligence site Debka) have not ruled out the possibility that ‘T’ will be replaced by a general of distinction in the reserves. Among the names mentioned as possibilities are: Eliezer Shkedi, former air force commander, and Yedidia Yaari, former navy commander. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

6 Mousavi Supporters Reportedly Hanged

As the Iranian authorities warned the opposition on Tuesday that they would tolerate no further protests over the disputed June 12 presidential elections, a report emerged of the hangings of six supporters of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

…the hangings took place in the holy city of Mashhad on Monday. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

Underlining the climate of fear among direct and even indirect supporters of Mousavi’s campaign for the election to be annulled, the sources also reported that a prominent cleric gave a speech to opposition protesters in Teheran earlier this week in which he publicly acknowledged that the very act of speaking at the gathering would likely cost him his life.

“Ayatollah Hadi Gafouri said that the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] never wanted [current supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei to succeed him. He even went to say that the Islamic republic died the day the Imam did,” one source said.

Other criticisms from senior clerics over the regime’s handling of the elections and subsequent protests included a report from a Persian news agency, which on Tuesday quoted a senior cleric from the city of Esfahan, Ayatollah Seyyed Jalaleddin Taheri-Esfahani, defending Mousavi against the regime’s criticisms […]

[Return to headlines]

Barry Rubin: A CNN Editor Discovers Islamism

Analysis of Middle East events, it often seems, is the worst-managed of all intellectual chores concerning the contemporary world. There are ideological and political barriers that get in the way of accuracy (not to mention fairness); ignorance plays a role, as does fear. But often underlying everything is the fact that when the Middle East knocks at the door, common sense jumps out the back window.

Consider a blog posting entitled, “CNN journalist asks: ‘Punished mercilessly’—Is this Islam?’“ I don’t write this to attack the author—whose intentions are clearly good ones—but merely to ask how people examine the regional issues. What makes this interesting is that the author is Octavia Nasr, Middle East Affairs editor for CNN, in other words a person who has a great deal to do with what appears on that channel and how it’s presented.

Nasr’s basic argument is that the Iranian regime’s repression of anti-government demonstrators is contrary to Islam. One should begin by noting that in the fictional world wherein we live today, a huge amount of attention is paid to the idea that Islam is treated worse (“Islamophobia”) than other religions or doctrines in terms of its intellectual and analytical examination. In fact, it is treated far better almost all of the time. It should be treated the same.

Nasr begins by quoting an Iranian cleric at a Friday prayer sermon who calls on supporters to “Annihilate the rioters” who “should be punished mercilessly.”…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: ‘Take My Voice’ — An Everywoman’s Story From Iran

Starting last Friday, theaters across the country gave Americans a vivid, dramatic and most timely insight into the struggle now playing out in Iran. More importantly, the extraordinary new film, “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” offers each of us a way to help the the Iranian people — and most especially the women — to free themselves from the theocratic repression with which they have been afflicted for the past 30 years.

“The Stoning” unflinchingly depicts an act of unimaginable brutality: a small Iranian town’s collective execution of a woman who became inconvenient to her faithless husband. Soraya M., however, is not just a victim of Shariah — the theo-political-legal program of authoritative Islam that makes a capital offense of adultery, the charge falsely leveled at this mother of four.

No, Soraya truly is an Everywoman under the mysogenistic, Shariah-adherent Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, not all of Iran’s females are stoned to death. But each of them must live every day with the knowledge that they can be abused and perhaps killed by their own men-folk or by the authorities for behavior deemed un-Islamic or otherwise proscribed

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Probe of Attack in Iraq on Swedish Politician

The stabbing in Iraq of a local Swedish politician has prompted an investigation into whether or not the attack was paid for by the woman’s relatives back in Sweden.

The woman, an Iraqi-born Swedish citizen who has lived in Sweden for 25 years, was attacked from behind while visiting her brother in Kirkuk in northern Iraq, the Göteborgs-Posten (GP)newspaper reports.

The assailant come up from behind and stabbed the woman several times, puncturing a lung and sending her to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Iraqi police arrested the man two days later, but the woman has long suspected that disgruntled relatives back in Sweden were behind the attack.

The trouble started when the woman, who friends describe as a strong and self-assured advocate for women’s rights, refused to bow to the wishes of influential member of her extended family, many of whom live in western Sweden.

“I upset him. In December 2007 I was threatened and I reported him to police,” she told the newspaper.

According to the woman, the man’s anger escalated when he learned of the police report, leading to the nearly-fatal knife attack in Iraq.

Now Swedish prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether or not charges of conspiracy to commit murder can be filed back in Sweden in connection with the incident, according to chief prosecutor Thomas Ahlstrand at the International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg.

The trial of the man arrested for the stabbing in Iraq starts soon, and the woman has been called to testify. She fears, however, that heading back to Iraq puts her in danger of further attacks.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia to Introduce Fingerprinting for Visas

(ANSAmed) — RIYADH, JUNE 26 — Saudi Arabia will introduce fingerprinting for visa applicants from next year to improve security and curb identity theft, it has been reported. International firms have been invited to bid for the tender to set up a network of biometric centres across the Kingdom to process the new visas, Arab News reported. Prince Khaled bin Saud, undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said biometric centres will be established in major cities from next year. He did not reveal the exact date of “This important initiative has been taken to strengthen the Kingdom’s security and improve services to visa applicants,” he said. “The centers will not only receive visa applications but also take fingerprints and full-face digital photos of the applicants,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the prince as saying. Saudi has already begun taking fingerprints and digital photos of foreign holidaymakers and workers. Long queues are reported at airports and other entry points as foreigners wait to have their fingerprints and photos taken. The new visa process is expected to stop these queues and speed up the entire visa process, Prince Khaled said. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Leader of the Young Party Lands 3.5 Years Jail

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 17 — Cem Uzan, the leader of the Young Party, or GP, and four associates were sentenced to three and a half years in prison for trying to illegally seize and sell millions of phone cards from the Telsim Telecommunication Company, daily Hurriyet reports. Cem Uzan’s GP received 7.25% of the votes in 2002 elections. Since then, the party’s support has been dropping gradually. In the 2007 general elections, it received 3.03% of the votes. The Telsim Telecommunications Company belonged to Uzan’s family at the time of the phone card incidents. The Turkish Savings Deposit Insurance Fund, or TMSF, seized most of Uzan Holding’s assets, including Telsim, in 2002 for the debts incurred by Imar Bank, which also belonged to the group. Telsim was later sold by the TMSF to Vodafone in 2007. Uzan’s Party would not have been able to enter Parliament in 2007 since the 3.03% of votes it received was not enough to pass the legal threshold of 10%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Turkey Opens Taxation Chapter, Urges EU to Play the Game by Its Rules

ISTANBUL — Turkey on Tuesday opened negotiations on taxation reform in its long-running bid to join the European Union, and urged the 27-member bloc to drop political considerations and “play the game by its rules”. (UPDATED)

At membership talks in Brussels, senior EU and Turkish officials opened talks on taxation, one of the 35 policy negotiating areas — or chapters — all would-be members have to complete prior to joining.

Ankara has now formally opened 11 chapters. Eight other chapters have been frozen since 2006 due to a customs dispute with Greek Cypriots.

France is blocking another five chapters directly linked to EU membership.

Turkey’s European affairs minister, Egemen Bagis, told a news conference that Ankara was aware of its responsibilities in the process and urged the EU to respect its obligations.

“Turkey is prepared to play the game by its rules, but when new rules are introduced to the game while the game is going on, this creates reaction,” he was quoted by AFP as saying.

“We expect the EU to abide by its commitments for a fair and sustainable negotiation process and reaffirm its political will to help further our objectives,” he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with their Austrian colleagues, favor some kind of special relationship with Turkey which falls short of full membership.

“Turkey expects to join the EU as an equal member with all the rights and obligations this will imply,” Bagis said.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told the conference the opened chapter is “an important chapter and a significant one on Turkey’s path towards the European Union.”

But he warned: “There are several benchmarks that need to be met before chapter 16 can be provisionally closed.”

Kohout said Turkey would have to align its laws with EU standards on value-added tax and excise duties, and eliminate “discriminatory” levies on alcohol and imported tobacco.

The European Commission hopes by the end of the year to have made progress in other areas, including environment, competition policy, employment, culture and energy policy, an aim Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis said was feasible.

“All those chapters can be opened. Turkey is determined to play the game with these rules,” he said, a reference to Ankara’s insistence that the goal be membership rather than the “privileged partnership” France and Germany have proposed.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Russian Corruption Reporter Dies From Head Injury

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia — A local corruption reporter in Russia died of head injuries on Monday in what police said Tuesday was a drunken fall. Colleagues, on the other hand, are sure it was a revenge attack for muckraking journalism.

Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, 63, the editor of a Rostov-on-Don newspaper whose name translates as Corruption and Crime died Monday of a severe head injury sustained April 30.

Police say Yaroshenko was drunk and hit his head on the stairs, but colleagues claim Yaroshenko was attacked.

“I have no doubt that the attack was directly connected to Yaroshenko’s writing and is payback for his journalistic work,” said Sergei Slepzov, a close friend and colleague of Yaroshenko.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called for an investigation, suggesting that Yaroshenko was targeted because he had written about corruption in the local law enforcement agencies, government office and the prosecutor’s office.

But police say there was no evidence of foul play.

“The authorities have already conducted a thorough investigation of all evidence of the crime and did not find any precedent for opening a new investigation,” said Col. Aleksei Polyaski, a local police spokesman.

Russia is considered the third-most dangerous country in the world for journalists, after Iraq and Algeria. Nearly 50 journalists have been killed in Russia since the Soviet breakup, among them Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya and U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov.

Few of the murders have been solved in a country where reporters are frequently harassed, threatened and killed for exposing facts that embarrass authorities.

The Union of Journalists of Russia said the problem was that the country’s wholly adequate laws to protect journalists are applied arbitrarily.

“Unfortunately we don’t have independent courts and that’s why all the laws to protect journalists are disregarded,” the union’s deputy chairman Mikhail Fedotov told The Associated Press.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged President Barack Obama to raise the issue of Yaroshenko’s death when he visits Russia on Monday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Western Observers Pulling Out of Abkhazia

TBILISI, Georgia — Western observers pulled out of Georgia on Tuesday after Russia blocked an extension of the mission to observe the cease-fire that ended last year’s war.

The pullout of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission came as tensions between Georgia and Russia remain high.

OSCE spokeswoman Martha Freeman said the organization’s 20 observers packed up their post in the village of Karaleti, near the region of South Ossetia, on Tuesday. The withdrawal follows Russia’s refusal last year to agree to extending the mission’s mandate because other OSCE members refused to recognize South Ossetia and another region, Abkhazia, as independent nations.

Since its war with Georgia last August, Russia has been building military bases, storage facilities for supplies, and roads in the two regions, which Moscow has recognized as independent. Around 6,000 Russian troops are based in each region. Nicaragua is the only other nation that has recognized the two regions as independent.

David Darchiashvili, the chairman of Georgia’s parliamentary committee on European integration, welcomed the OSCE pullout, saying: “It is a step in the right direction because it will practically lead to the isolation of Russia.” He said, the withdrawal of the mission “is the result of a Russian veto and the world community has seen that.”

Meanwhile, United Nations observers also were scheduled to begin withdrawing from Abkhazia on Tuesday, ending a 16-year mission there. That follows Russia’s recent veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have extended that mission.

The withdrawals leave only European Union observers remaining in Georgia, though they have been blocked from traveling to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

As the first anniversary of the war in which Russia routed Georgia’s army approaches, tensions have risen between the two countries, and some experts have warned that new fighting could break out.

On Monday, Russia began large-scale military exercises in the regions just over the border from Georgia. The Caucasus 2009 war games are being seen by many experts as a direct threat to Georgia.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

For All Malaysians: New PM Abandons Ethnic Capitalism

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia took a big step yesterday to liberalise its economy, relaxing a host of restrictions on foreign investment, including a controversial rule requiring businesses to be partly owned by ethnic Malays.

The Prime Minister, Najib Razak, announced that listed companies would no longer be required to allocate 30 per cent of their holdings to Malays as part of an affirmative action program for the country’s ethnic majority.

Mr Najib said the rule was neither benefiting poor Malays nor was it sustainable amid the global economic slowdown, which will force Malaysia into its first recession in a decade. The economy is expected to shrink by up to 5 per cent this year.

“The world is changing quickly, and we must be ready to change with it or risk being left behind,” he told a conference organised by the stock exchange.

“It is not a time for sentiment or half measures but to renew our courage and pragmatism to take the necessary bold measures to advance the national interests for the long-term benefit of all Malaysians,” he said.

Mr Najib will have to walk a political tightrope in diluting the new economic policy, which provides a host of privileges in business, education, jobs and property ownership to the Malays who make up 60 per cent of the country’s 28 million people.

Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities have long chafed against the policy, which Mr Najib has been dismantling since taking office in April. Even many Malays have protested against it, saying it mainly benefits the elite Malays.

Mr Najib later told reporters the policy had failed to meet its target of raising the Malay share of corporate wealth to 30 per cent by 2010. It stands at 19 per cent now.

The Government still wanted to meet the target by reforming the system and creating a new investor-friendly economic model, he said. “We will help the best and the good in business. We want to be fair to all communities. No one must feel marginalised … It is a tricky balancing act but it is do-able.”

As part of the liberalisation, stockbrokers and trust management companies will be allowed to have 70 per cent foreign ownership, up from 49 per cent. Foreigners could also own 100 per cent of fund management companies, Mr Najib said.

The liberalisation moves take away most powers of the Foreign Investment Committee, a government body that has been the bane of foreign investors..

The Foreign Investment Committee has been derided as an impediment in Malaysia’s efforts to become competitive against regional rivals such as Singapore, Indonesia and India by imposing various restrictions on investment..

Foreigners will also no longer be required to obtain the body’s approval before buying property, either residential or commercial.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

India Says Fired at From Pakistan Side, 1 Killed

SRINAGAR (Reuters) — An Indian soldier was killed in cross-border firing in Kashmir, an Indian security official said on Monday, though Pakistan denied any violation of a six-year-old ceasefire in the disputed region.

It was not clear whether the firing on Sunday night was from separatist militants trying to sneak into the Indian side of Kashmir or from Pakistani troops.

India has in the past accused Pakistani troops of cross-border firing to help militants cross the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir between the two countries to join a nearly 20-year revolt there. Pakistan denies the accusation.

“A soldier fell to bullets fired from across the Line of Control late Sunday,” an Indian army official, who did not wish to be identified, said.

The shooting took place in the Poonch sector of south Kashmir.

A Pakistani military official denied any violation from the Pakistani side.

“It’s a wrong allegation,” said the Pakistani official, who declined to be identified.

The ceasefire in Kashmir, launched in 2003, has largely held although there have been violations in recent months.

Ties between the nuclear-armed countries have chilled since attacks in Mumbai in November blamed on Pakistan-based guerrillas.

India has resisted calls to resume peace talks demanding Pakistan act against militants accused of carrying out acts of violence in India.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met for the first time since the Mumbai attack on the sidelines of a regional conference in Russia this month.

They agreed that their top foreign ministry officials would meet soon and the countries’ political leaders would hold talks on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt in mid-July.

The neighbours have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Nepal Bans Airline Staff Pockets

Staff at Nepal’s main international airport are to be issued with trousers without pockets, in an attempt to wipe out rampant bribe-taking.

The country’s anti-corruption body said there had been growing complaints about staff at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport.

A spokesman said trousers without pockets would help the authorities “curb the irregularities”.

The move comes after the prime minister of Nepal said corruption was damaging the airport’s reputation, AFP reported.

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) said it had sent a team to the airport to “observe the growing complaints about the behaviour of airport authorities and workers towards travellers”.

“We discovered that the reports were true,” spokesman Ishwori Prasad Paudyal told the AFP news agency.

“So we decided that airport officials should be given trousers with no pockets.”

He said the Ministry of Civil Aviation had been instructed to put the measure in place as soon as possible.

“We believe this will help curb the irregularities,” he said.

The BBC’s Nepali service says almost all incidents of petty corruption have been directed at Nepalese travellers rather than tourists.

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

Far East

China and India: Deals Signed in Agricultural Sector, Open Challenge to Myanmar

The two countries have launched a cooperation project in China’s Muslim majority Ningxia region. It is the first example of a cooperation aimed at eradicating poverty. Race between Beijing and Delhi to forge agreements with the Burmese military junta.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) — The collaboration between China and India in the independent Muslim Ningxia region is a sign of improving bilateral ties among negative signs of competition and mistrust. Delhi will fund the construction of an Agricultural Training and Information Centre in region that is relatively backward. The farmers can rely on the collaboration of the Indian partners for advice on the latest farming techniques and marketing trends.

The project was inaugurated by Nirupama Rao, Indian ambassador to China, and Wang Zhengwei, chairman of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR), in Liangtian township. The NHAR is jointly funding the project with the Indian Government. India has finally stepped into what has long been the preserve of western countries that want to understand grassroots China and forge ties with its provincial leaders.

Among the competitive signs are the different cooperative projects in Myanmar. Both nations are trying to sway the military government of Myanmar. China will begin laying a gigantic 1,100 km gas and oil pipeline through Myanmar in September. The pipeline will cut transportation cost by shortening the journey for crude from the Middle East and Africa that is now shipped along the Indian Ocean and through the dangerous Malacca Straits.

This move that will vastly enhance China fuel security, has strategic and political implications for both Delhi and Beijing. The latter has vetoed every UN resolution against Myanmar. China is also making roads in the Kengtung area and launching the construction of hydroelectric dams in Myanmar. The section of the pipelines in Myanmar will be built under the name of CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation).

China, very shrewdly, is using the financial crisis as a golden business opportunity. China was watching as prices of sources of oil, gas and minerals began sliding and came up with a range of impressive acquisitions across the globe. In two weeks China, beside the pipeline in Myanmar, scored other three successes. PetroChina bought 45.5% stake in Singapore Petroleum from the Singapore based Keppel Corp. China Minmetal’s Non-ferrous metals Co invested $1.39bn to buy some of the cash-strapped Australian miners assets. The Australian Board has approved the deal. The Nigerian Petroleum Development Company has announced it has found oil from Niger Delta region with SIPEC, a subsidiary of China Petroleum Corporation. Once the production begins, the site will generate between 1,300 and 3,000 barrels per day. China has built up huge industrial capacities that need massive amounts of oil and metals to operate at full momentum.

Another notable initiative in cooperation with India is the funding of an Indian-style Buddhist temple near the historic White Horse temple in Luoyang in Henan province. But the Ningxia project represents the first joint experience in the eradication of poverty.

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

China Halts Metals Stockpiling for Now: Report

SHANGHAI (AFP) — Beijing has suspended buying non-ferrous metals for state reserves after government stockpiling led to a surge in prices, Chinese media has reported.

China has been building its inventories of metals, including 235,000 tonnes of copper, over recent months, Caijing magazine reported on its website over the weekend, citing Yu Dongming, an official with the state economic planner.

China also bought 590,000 tonnes of aluminium, 159,000 tonnes of zinc, 30 tonnes of indium and 5,000 tonnes of titanium, said Yu, who works in the National Development and Reform Commission’s industry department.

“In the current market situation, aluminium firms have already started to make profits and non-ferrous metals prices have rebounded,” he was quoted as saying.

“It’s had the expected effect and, given these circumstances, we don’t expect the state will continue to build its reserves.”

Yu added that middlemen, rather than domestic companies that the government intended to support, had unexpectedly become “the biggest beneficiary” of Beijing’s buying spree.

China has been buying up crude oil, copper, coal and a host of other key raw materials despite the financial slump having slashed demand for the exports responsible for the Asian giant’s once ravenous appetite.

The State Reserve Bureau has been stockpiling, but so too have producers, distributors and other speculators hoping to profit from an expected rise in prices once the world economy starts to recover, analysts say.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

North Korean Ship Retreats, Headed Back North

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials said Tuesday that a North Korean ship has turned around and is headed back toward the north where it came from, after being tracked for more than a week by American Navy vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.

The move keeps the U.S. and the rest of the international community guessing: Where is the Kang Nam going? Does its cargo include materials banned by a new U.N. anti-proliferation resolution?

The ship left a North Korean port of Nampo on June 17 and is the first vessel monitored under U.N. sanctions that ban the regime from selling arms and nuclear-related material.

The Navy has been watching it — at times following it from a distance. It traveled south and southwest for more than a week; then, on Sunday, it turned around and headed back north, two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

Nearly two weeks after the ship left North Korea, officials said Tuesday they still don’t know where it is going. But it was some 250 miles south of Hong Kong on Tuesday, one official said.[…]


Center for Security Policy on Obama’s “Global Zero” Campaign

“President Obama — taking cues from the dangerously misguided “Global Zero” campaign he has embraced — is by all indications going to Moscow with the intent of drastically reducing the number of deployed U.S. nuclear weapons and making related concessions. To date, he appears to have failed to consider the potentially dire ramifications of such actions, let alone to have taken any steps to redress the woeful state of America’s nuclear arsenal or supporting infrastructure.

“At a time when so many actual or potential adversaries are improving their existing nuclear capabilities or acquiring such capabilities, the United States cannot afford to labor under the illusion that unilateral American disarmament and a lack of U.S. nuclear modernization will make the world safer, when it is clear that the opposite is true.”[…]

[Return to headlines]

Source: N. Korean Ship Now Going the Other Way.

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials said Tuesday that a North Korean ship has turned around and is headed back toward the north where it came from, after being tracked for more than a week by American Navy vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.

The move keeps the U.S. and the rest of the international community guessing: Where is the Kang Nam going? Does its cargo include materials banned by a new U.N. anti-proliferation resolution?

The ship left a North Korean port of Nampo on June 17 and is the first vessel monitored under U.N. sanctions that ban the regime from selling arms and nuclear-related material.

The Navy has been watching it — at times following it from a distance. It traveled south and southwest for more than a week; then, on Sunday, it turned around and headed back north, two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.

Nearly two weeks after the ship left North Korea, officials said Tuesday they still don’t know where it is going. But it was some 250 miles south of Hong Kong on Tuesday, one official said.

Though acknowledging all along that the Kang Nam’s destination was unclear, some officials said last week that it could be going to Myanmar and that it was unclear whether it could reach there without stopping in another port to refuel.

The U.N. resolution allows the international community to ask for permission to board and search any suspect ship on the seas. If permission for inspection is refused, authorities can ask for an inspection in whichever nation where the ship pulls into port.

North Korea has said it would consider any interception of its ships a declaration of war.

Two officials had said earlier in the day Tuesday that the Kang Nam had been moving very slowly in recent days, something that could signal it was trying to conserve fuel.

They said they didn’t know what the turnaround of the ship means, nor what prompted it.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Sunday that Washington was “following the progress of that ship very closely,” but she would not say whether the U.S. would confront the Kang Nam.

The sailing of the vessel — and efforts to track it — set up the first test of a new U.N. Security Council resolution that authorizes member states to inspect North Korean vessels. The sanctions are punishment for an underground nuclear test the North carried out in May in defiance of past resolutions.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Obama administration imposed financial sanctions on a company in Iran that is accused of involvement in North Korea’s missile proliferation network.

In the latest move to keep pressure on Pyongyang and its nuclear ambitions, the Treasury Department moved against Hong Kong Electronics, a company located in Kish Island, Iran. The action means that any bank accounts or other financial assets found in the United States belonging to the company must be frozen. Americans also are prohibited from doing business with the firm.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Obama Sides With Marxists Over Honduras

The so-called “military coup” in Honduras was a successful effort by Honduran patriots to preserve their constitutional system of government from an international alliance of communists and socialists backed by Iran. Not surprisingly, America’s Marxist President has come down on the anti-American side. If all of this is news to you, consider yourself a victim of the “state-run media,” as Rush Limbaugh calls it. We are being bombarded with liberal media propaganda that a “military coup” took place in Honduras, and that the U.S. should therefore oppose it…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


NGO: Italian Repatriations Violate Asylum Right

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 22 — “The repeated forced returns to Libya by Italian ships of immigrants found in waters near Lampedusa are grave violations of the right of exile and of the fundamental human rights envisaged under National, European community and International regulations.” This is what a pool of Italian and foreign non-governmental organisations say in complaints sent to the European Commission and the Commissioner of the Council of Europe for human rights regarding the “grave violations of national, EU and international norms perpetrated by sending migrants back to Libya.” The associations (including the Jesuit Refugee Service, Sant’Egidio, Cir, Arci, Asgi, Libera, the Federation of Evangelical Churches, the Democratic Jurists and the Abele Group) appeal to international and European institutions “to condemn Italy and to ask the authorities in our country not to proceed with further refusals.” The appeal also urges the European Commission to undertake a “procedure of sanctions against Italy for the violation of community norms regarding international protection.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


. said...

In other news:


Morocco becoming habitable - perhaps that means fewer Moroccans in Europe, which is right up Gates of Vienna's alley.

But so is irrational Muslim-hatred, so I see a contradiction forming here ...

laine said...

"Irrational" Muslim-hatred? The shoe's on the other foot. Nodrog's defense of Muslims and their totalitarian ideology is irrational, completely impervious to evidence.

He has no evidence that Muslims have brought net good to Western nations (or their own for that matter) while ignoring mountainous evidence of the net harm they bring wherever they emigrate. He cannot point to a single Muslim regime out of 57 in the world that holds a candle to any western democracy when it comes to humane treatment of all their citizens.

Nodrog would not ignore the slaughter of 500 000 black Africans, rape and displacement of millions more from their burned out homes in Darfur if the perpetrators were Christian instead of Muslim militias. He would not excuse their coreligionists elsewhere lighting brush fires around the world.

He would insist that hatred of "Christians" was
well justified by their hostile actions toward non-Christians ranging from inequality under the law to murder.

Nodrog patently loves totalitarians and excuses their crimes. He won't criticize the rotten belief system that inspires the racist killing of civilians nor the killers. He doesn't call Muslim killers or their supportive coreligionists "haters" but labels their critics that way instead.

Nodrog is not morally blind. He actively supports evil by trying to hinder criticism of evil in his lame way. He deserves the strongest of contempt instead of being treated just as a resident pest.

Baron Bodissey said...

Laine --

"Being the resident pest" and "deserving the strongest contempt" are not inherently incompatible.

I think Nodrog can handle both tasks at the same time, no problem.

. said...

Well, Laine, I will acknowledge that the record of Islam since 632 has been a sorry one, on the whole sorrier than that of Christianity (if only because of the events of the past two centuries - before that the records of the two "great" religions in world affairs were equally infamous - it's only when some Christians began to actually read the Gospels and understand them that Christianity discarded, at least partially, its bloody record).

I don't ignore the slaughter in Darfur, Laine, although the term "jihad" probably doesn't encompass the slaughter of one group of Sunni Muslims by another group of Sunni Muslims. Or did you not realize that?

I was merely pointing out, dear Laine, that things are apparently looking up in Morocco. I know you don't like to hear such inconvenient information, because it interferes with your IRRATIONAL MUSLIM-HATRED, as opposed to my more balanced, healthy suspicion of Islam. But you are not alone with this problem, certainly not on this site! As has been evidenced by the frothing reaction to my pointing out of inconvenient facts in the former Yugoslavia - are you one of those people who insists Srbrenicza was a hoax, Laine?

And, my dear Laine, you have mischaracterized my viewpoint. When I don't comment on an article here on Gates of Vienna, you can assume that I either agree with its contents or are indifferent to them. I save most of my posting for the more egregious stupidities emanating from the Baron and Dymphna, so as to point them out for all to see. This gives uninformed fools like you, Laine, the idea that I am an Islamo-lover. I am most definitely not.

LOL said...

Nordog doesn´t read all the news about Morocco let alone know everything about Morocco.

But I´ll give a bit of information to Nordog so Nordog can know islam a little better.

That genocide of muslims killing muslims was about the muslims who are genetically closer to Arabs killing the others who genetically less closer to Arabs because islam is ultimately about the supremacism of Arabs.

laine said...

Nodrog is simply wrong characterizing Darfur as Muslims killing Muslims which would be quite ordinary (the biggest killers of Muslims around the world are other Muslims).

The Arab janjaweed Muslim militia with the collusion of the Muslim government are killing African blacks in the south who are mainly Christian or animist, although even Muslims are not exempted from the slaughter if they are black. It is a racist attack by Muslim Arabs against blacks of any religion.

Nodrog's purposeful misinformation tries to whitewash the racist component from the Islamists he says he has no truck for.

Nodrog's smug unjustified sense of moral superiority calling critics not perpetrators of a totalitarian ideology of death "haters" brings to life the phrase "banality of evil".

. said...

Laine, you are truly:
a) (the charitable explanation) MISINFORMED, OR

b) (the more probable explanation) A LYING SACK OF SLIME.

The perps and the victims in Darfur are ALL MUSLIMS. They have all been Muslims for hundreds of years.

You are conveniently conflating the civil war in the South of Sudan between the Muslim government and the Christian/Animist rebels, which has been ongoing for 40 years but which has died down and will result in the creation of a new nation of South Sudan within a couple years, with the Darfur genocide. They are in two different parts of the country, which in Sudan's case (almost a million square miles) is a very big country. It would be like someone "mixing up" a war in Spain with a war in Poland, geographically speaking.

If you're going to be an Islamo-hater, Laine, you should at least get your facts straight before spouting.

X said...

Hey gordon, did you miss the part where he pointed out that arab muslims around there ar ekiling black muslims because they're black?

. said...

Actually, Archonix, I had noted that and was going to get back to that point.

The claim is that Islam is nothing more than an Arab supremacist organization. The Darfur genocide seems to back up this analysis.

In which case, we should concentrate our animus toward the Middle East version of Islam and stop making stuff up about Balkan Muslims, Indonesian Muslims, Indian Subcontintent Muslims, Turkish Muslims, Persian Muslims, and American Black Muslims. They aren't a danger.

I'm glad to see you agree with this analysis, Archonix.

X said...

I don't agree with your analysis. It's nonsensical. The statements "Islam is the vehicle of arab supremacism" and "islam presents a threat" are not mutually exclusive. The mere fact that some muslims are not arab does not suddenly turn them into happy shiny love bunnies that only want to shower us with rose petals and sugar muffins.

The problems are two-fold: first that Islam is a dangerous ideology in and of itself, one that threatens our very way of life; second that behind that threat comes the further threat of arab supremacists who will not be satisfied until the whole world is not merely muslim, but enslaved to the arabs as the "best of people".

laine said...

Let's see, according to Nodrog's bizarre priorities it is critical for an "Islamo hater" (i.e. Nodrogese for a non-naif about Islam whom he can't mislead) to distinguish between two strongly related genocides in Sudan segueing one into the other, both perpetrated by a Muslim Arab government and their Muslim Arabic militias against victims sharing one common characteristic.

Perhaps Nodrog the hater of critics of Islam can now muster a tenth of the venom he directs at me toward the Muslims conducting back to back racist genocides against Sudanese blacks whatever their religion. That's the underlying X variable. The victims are black.

Yet Nodrog's beloved "peaceful" Muslims around the world whatever their skin color have made no noises of disapproval of their coreligionists' murderous barbarism in Sudan though they have no trouble mobilizing to protest "gross" insults to Islam like teddy bears named Mohammed or lame Danish cartoons. Apparently murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians including women and children even of your own religion and sect are not comparable insults to Islam worthy of a single demonstrator in Morocco, Indonesia and all those other "civilized" Muslim enclaves Nodrog adores.

That logically connotes...approval by the Muslim umma.

Even most rabid anti-christians would admit that if Christians were conducting the same slaughter in Sudan whether against their fellows or non-Christians, other Christians around the world would be condemning them. But the "Religion of Peace" does not condemn the happenings in Sudan.

There's a pattern here. Muslim perpetrators, and even racist genocide is fine whatever the religion of the victim. Non-Muslim perpetrator, and even a mis-named teddy bear is worthy of fatal rioting. Hmmmm.

It's a pattern that makes Nodrog look like a useful idiot for Islam or choice number one, knowingly evil as an Islam apologist.