Friday, July 17, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/17/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/17/2009Israeli warships have passed through the Suez Canal to engage in joint exercises with American forces. This is an obvious show of resolve designed to influence Iran in its evident intention to produce nuclear weapons.

In other news, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has voted in favor of gay marriage, and pagan police in the UK get official leave for the solstice.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Exile, Gaia, Insubria, islam o’phobe, PatriotUSA, TB, Tuan Jim, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
New Poll Shows 70% of Germans Are Against Bailing Out Ireland
U.S. Protectionism in Green Garb
“I Had to Get My Gun” Said Mableton Man, 83, In Shoot-Out With Home Invader
Battered Women, Si; America-Haters, No
Move Over France: Oregon Wants to Ban Teachers From Wearing Hijabs in Public Schools
Report: Industry May be Unable to Meet Military’s Needs
Social Security Administration Conference Cost $700,000.00
The High Cost of U.S. Healthcare: A 60% Tax Rate
Europe and the EU
An Open Letter to the Obama Administration From Central and Eastern Europe
Berlusconi and Karamanlis Talk of Immigration and Energy
Call for German Referendums on EU Enlargement
Central European Leaders Call Obama Not to Check Region Off
Denmark: Parliament Ready to Tackle Muslim Re-Education Abroad
France: Sarkozy Pays Back €14,000 in Personal Expenses
Greece: Dangerous Precedents
Hungarian Writer Nagy is Mortified by the Success of the Extreme-Right
Italy: Euro MP Complains About Expenses
Italy: Beppe Grillo to Stand in Pd Primaries
Italy: Terrorism: Italian Group ‘Sought Links With Oppressed Muslims’
Netherlands: Station Albert Heijns Ban Moroccan Staff
Netherlands: ‘Albert Heijn to Go’ Shops Ban Moroccan Staff
Profile: Michal Kaminski MEP
‘PvdA Only Listens to Orthodox Islam’
Sweden Democrats Close in on Back-Door Riksdag Entry: Poll
Switzerland: Retirement Homes Planned for Junkies
UK: Eco Towns Get Green Light Despite Local Opposition
UK: Former Public Schoolboy Isa Ibrahim Convicted of Planning ‘Carnage’
UK: Jail for ‘Suicide Vest’ Student
UK: Jeweller Given Police Warning for Banning Gipsies After String of Raids on His Shop
UK: Pagan Police Get Solstice Leave
UK: Riot Police Raid 30th Barbecue Because Man Used Facebook to Invite His Friends
UK: Swine Flu Mother Dies After Giving Birth, Leaving Her Premature Baby Fighting for Life
UK: We Have a Moral Duty to Our Troops: Pay Up or Pull Them Out
Serbia: EU Chief Promises Good News on Visa Liberalisation
North Africa
Egypt: Police Arrest 25 ‘Terror Suspects’ In Sinai
Islam: Morocco Launches Sufism Website
Morocco: Open Letter to King for Press Freedom
Israel and the Palestinians
Israeli Warships Pass Through Suez Canal
Israel: Incident Between Police and Ultraorthodox Jews
Israel: Angry at Swiss Over Hamas Delegation
Kids TV Praises Gaza Mom’s Suicide Bombing
Middle East
H.Clinton to Arab States, ‘Take Steps Toward Israel’
Iran Names MIT Graduate as New Nuclear Chief
Iran: Artist Gets Five Year Jail Term for Musical Koran
Israel’s Military Message to Iran
South Asia
Did We Take a Wrong Turn in Afghanistan?
Jakarta… Again
No Longer Only Buddhist Monks: Militant Islam is Penetrating Thailand
Pakistan: Swat, Christian Refugees Excluded From Government Reconstruction Fund
The Afghan Hell: For Soldiers and the Population
Far East
Al-Qaeda Against Beijing and Kadeer as China Asks for Understanding in the Muslim World
Koreas: What’s Next Now the 6-Party Talks Are Dead?
N. Korea’s No. 2 Leader Says Nuclear Talks Are Over
Philippines: Palace: All-Out War on Abu Sayyaf on
S. Korea: Behemoths Join Hands to Develop ‘Intelligent’ Car Chips
Why the Restless Chinese Are Warming to Russia’s Frozen East
Sub-Saharan Africa
Kenyan Mosque Jams Mobile Calls
Sudan Rivals Agree to Avert War
Latin America
Mexico Beefs Up ‘Drug War’ Forces
France: Welcome Mat for Illegals
Greece, Government, Measures Against Illegal Immigration
Greek-Spanish Bid to Curb Migrants
Culture Wars
Gay Marriage Approval Sounds Death Knell for Anglican Unity
UK: The Notion of a Right to a ‘Good Death’ Undermines Society
Riots in China. Protests in Iran. UN Rights Council Talks About … Israel

Financial Crisis

New Poll Shows 70% of Germans Are Against Bailing Out Ireland

Amid the ongoing recession and speculation about the extent to which EU member states can or will help each other out, Open Europe, in collaboration with the Institute for Free Enterprise in Berlin, today publishes a new poll which shows that 70% of Germans are against using public money to bail out other countries that have got into financial difficulties.

This is in spite of indications from the German government that it may be planning to offer financial help to some countries, particularly Ireland.

Voters were asked:

“In the course of the current economic and financial crisis, individual countries such as Ireland and Greece have got into financial difficulties. The German Federal Government has indicated that Germany would be prepared to financially support countries like Ireland “which have been hit quite hard by the banking crisis”. With this in mind, which of the following comes closest to your view?”

24.8% agreed with the statement “I believe that German taxpayers’ money should be spent on helping countries like Ireland or Greece.”

70.9% agreed with the statement “I believe that German taxpayers’ money should not be spent on helping countries like Ireland or Greece.”

3.4% said they don’t know.

A representative sample of 1010 people of voting age (18+) in Germany were polled between 8 and 10 June by German polling company Psyma.

Open Europe Director Lorraine Mullally said:

“As the global recession limbers on, there’s been a lot of talk about the possibility of stronger EU member states bailing out the weaker ones, but until now no-one has asked what voters think. Any plan to bail out EU countries depends on the willingness of German taxpayers to cough up — and this poll clearly shows they are not keen.”

“In particular, there have been suggestions that Ireland will somehow be offered a lifeline in this crisis, if only they show their appreciation of ‘Europe’ and vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. It’s important that Irish voters realise there is no appetite among German voters for such a rescue package, which will make it very difficult to achieve in practice.”

“To suggest otherwise is dishonest and very misleading.”

Wolfgang Muller from the Institute for Free Enterprise in Berlin, said:

“Germany is already Europe’s sugar daddy. This poll confirms that German taxpayers are not willing to accept an ever increasing fiscal burden. At a time when Germany’s financial equalisation scheme between the federal government and the states is under increasing scrutiny, there is a need to reward the achievers and not to increase redistribution. Even if economic and fiscal policy in most EU countries is just average, we must reward good economic policy rather than punishing it. Bailing Ireland out would send the wrong signals to governments in the EU.”

“Any support from the German government will lead to higher taxes, more debt and will therefore endanger Germany’s competitiveness — with higher unemployment and an even deeper economic downturn looming on the horizon.”

“Any plan to try and “buy” Ireland’s Yes vote to the Lisbon treaty with talk of a bailout must be strongly rejected.”

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

U.S. Protectionism in Green Garb

The United States Senate is now considering a sweeping climate-change bill that squeaked out of the House of Representatives by a razor thin, seven-vote margin. The mammoth 1,400-page bill passed in the House despite the fact that few members actually read it. A majority of Americans rightly fear what could be its devastating consequences.

A careful reading of the Waxman-Markey bill makes it clear that its potential damage reaches far beyond the U.S. border. If enacted in its current form, it would irrevocably harm Canada and the trade that has been the hallmark of our bilateral relationship.

A last-minute amendment inserted into the bill would tax goods that the United States imports from countries that refuse to adopt carbon-reducing measures. Congressional supporters say it was inserted to level the playing field for U.S. companies who would likely pay dearly for compliance costs under the bill’s cap-and-trade provisions. But Canada’s environment minister, Jim Prentice, has it right when he denounced the practice as “green protectionism.”

Ottawa is working with the United States on establishing similar greenhouse-gas reduction targets so that Canada would be exempt from the bill’s so-called “border adjustments.” But even if some solution is found, this amendment undercuts the spirit and strength of our trade relationship. Moreover, it forces nations such as Canada to pick up the tab for America’s great clean-up.

We’ve been down this protectionist road before. During the 1930s, the Smoot-Hawley Act raised tariffs on hundreds of thousands of imported goods to record levels. Other countries soon retaliated, slashing America’s exports and imports by more than half, worsening — and prolonging — the Great Depression.

The good news is that U.S. President Barack Obama seems to understand the provision could hurt global trade at a time when we can least afford it.

But the bad news is that some Midwestern Senators, such as Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), are pushing hard to toughen the House tariff language. And the U.S. Congress remains committed to promulgating protectionist measures.

From the “Buy American” provisions in the massive US$787-billion “stimulus” bill, to an interpretation of a 2007 energy bill that potentially targets the oil sands, Congress is aggressively pursuing a course that unnecessarily jeopardizes our strongest and most important trade relationships in favour of protectionist policies that history proves will only weaken our domestic economy.

As Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Jeffrey J.Schott with the Peterson Institute for International Economics noted in a Financial Times op-ed in May, there are “unintended consequences” attached to “Buy American” provisions embedded in a cap-and-trade system. In a bid to garner the support of the United Auto Workers’ union, the climate change legislation was altered to, in effect, ensure that future vehicles and key components will be built in the United States. While this appears superficially appealing as a means to protect domestic jobs, it also discounts U.S.-owned plants overseas and the industry’s global integration.

“Beyond North America,” they write, “the greatest danger is not that governments will retaliate against U.S. misdeeds, but that they will emulate them. Buy-national and source-local policies would create new barriers to international trade and impede global recovery. The G-20 commitments were meant to preempt such measures, but are not being honoured.”

As it stands now, the Waxman-Markey climate change bill comes up short in protecting the environment but goes a long way in promoting U.S, protectionism. The Senate has an opportunity to dramatically improve this badly-flawed legislation. For the sake of all Americans, and friends and partners such as Canada, I hope the Senate has more important priorities than scoring shallow political victories. National Post

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


“I Had to Get My Gun” Said Mableton Man, 83, In Shoot-Out With Home Invader

John Parrish saved the day Tuesday with a pair of scissors and a .22-caliber revolver, police and a grateful son-in-law said.

“John Wayne is what we call him now,” said Danny Carlson, a tennis instructor who owns the home and who was shot in the right calf Tuesday as the octogenarian and the suspect exchanged gunfire.

“I don’t know what that guy would’ve done had he [Parrish] not come up here.”

Tuesday before 1 p.m., an armed man entered the basement of Carlson’s house on Nickajack Road, and encountered Parrish’s wife, Margaret.

Parrish and his wife occupy the basement’s in-law suite.

She’d heard her puppies barking and went to the bathroom to check on them, Carson said.

“As soon as she cracked the door, he grabbed her by the hair, put the gun in her ear and said, ‘If you make a sound, I’ll blow your brains out,’“ John Parrish said Wednesday afternoon.

The intruder forced Parrish’s wife to the ground, tied her hands and feet with duct tape, and put a blanket over her head.

Parrish said he went to find his wife, and soon met the same fate — lying face down with his hands taped behind his back.

“He told me, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. I just want your money,’“ Parrish said.

He told the invader he didn’t have any.

As the intruder stalked through the house, the retired freight dockworker hustled to free himself, twisting and wriggling his arms first, then crawling to the kitchen to find scissors to cut his legs free.

“I had to get my gun,” Parrish said.

Meanwhile, the intruder found a 10-year-old girl in the first-floor living room waiting to continue her tennis lessons with Carlson.

“He grabbed her and asked if anyone else was in the house,” said Carlson’s son, Chad, who came home from North Carolina on Wednesday after the incident.

The girl led the intruder to Danny Carlson’s office on the second floor of the house.

“I thought it was the little girl coming up to get me,” Carlson said. “But when I looked up, he had his arm around her and the gun pointed at me.”

The invader told the girl to sit down, and he bound Carlson and covered his head with a blanket.

“Then I just heard shooting,” he said.

Parrish had found his gun, loaded it, and sneaked upstairs.

“I shot three times and heard him groan,” Parrish said.

The intruder fired back twice, hitting Carlson once in the back of his right calf, and just missing Parrish.

“He ran past me and down the stairs out of the house,” Parrish said. “That shot came pretty close.”

Police say the suspect, described as a 6-foot-tall, roughly 250-pound black man in his 40s or 50s, is still at large, despite a lengthy search of the woods and nearby Silver Comet Trail near Carlson’s home.

Police say the intruder may have been wounded in the shootout.

Carlson said Parrish shot three times, “but we couldn’t find the bullets, so they must be in the intruder.”

Carlson was taken to the hospital and treated for the gunshot wound and a shattered tibia.

“The worst thing in the whole scenario is that the little girl had to witness all the gunfire,” Carlson said.

While Carlson said he would increase the security in the house, Parrish noted one thing he would do different.

“My wife never did want me to keep my gun loaded,” he said. “But now she said she does.”

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Battered Women, Si; America-Haters, No

Fellow Americans: Prepare to receive the entire female population of Pakistan sometime soon. And that’s just for starters. I don’t oppose this—but I honestly don’t know if we can economically afford to do it. Given the recession/depression, I rather doubt we can. But get ready for something like this to happen anyway.

Today, the Obama administration reversed a Bush-era policy and opened the way for “foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States.” The battered women will have to meet “strict conditions for asylum” and will also have to show that “domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country…that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country.”…

[Return to headlines]

Move Over France: Oregon Wants to Ban Teachers From Wearing Hijabs in Public Schools

by J. Samia Mair

Oregon Senate Bill 786, which effectively bans Muslim women who wear a headscarf from teaching in public schools, may soon be law in Oregon, needing only Governor Ted Kulongoski’s signature.

The operable language states:

No teacher in any public school shall wear any religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher. A school district, education service district or public charter school does not commit an unlawful employment practice under ORS chapter 659A by reason of prohibiting a teacher from wearing religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher.

Ironically, the proposed legislation is entitled the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act.

An employer will violate the proposed law if:

(1) The employer does not allow an employee to use vacation leave, or other leave available to the employee, for the purpose of allowing the employee to engage in the religious observance or practices of the employee; and

(2) The employer imposes an occupational requirement that restricts the ability of an employee to wear religious clothing, to take time off for a holy day or to take time off to participate in a religious observance or practice. (emphasis supplied)

So it appears that theoretically all Oregon employees, with the notable exclusion of public school teachers, will be guaranteed the right to wear a headscarf. I’m trying to figure out how this exclusion makes any sense.

Will a student seeing her Spanish teacher wearing a headscarf suddenly feel the urge to convert? I highly doubt it. I know a hijab-wearing Muslim Spanish teacher. She never mentioned that any of her students converted.

Will a student realize that her Spanish teacher is Muslim? Maybe, but so what? Religious affiliation is not a contagious disease that needs to be masked.

Everyone’s choice of dress sends a message—isn’t that point? The whole fashion industry would crumble if that were not so. Just a hairstyle sends a message. Perhaps the bill should require all public school teachers in Oregon to wear uniforms and the same wig. Or maybe it is just the religious message that offends bill sponsors.

If I were so inclined, I might look up the legislative history or google to determine the alleged reasons behind the public school exclusion—but I’m not. Nothing could justify this absurd bill that prevents Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and others from adhering to the mandatory requirements of their religion if they want to teach in a public school.

While the Sikh community has been actively protesting this proposed legislation, other religious communities enthusiastically support it. CAIR also condemns SB 786 and in Action Alert #582, asks people to express their concern to Governor Kulongoski and other state officials.

           — Hat tip: PatriotUSA[Return to headlines]

Report: Industry May be Unable to Meet Military’s Needs

The Aerospace Industries Association issued a report Monday warning that because of consolidation and other fundamental changes in the defense industry, manufacturers may not be able to provide the technologies required to carry out the strategies the Defense Department considers necessary to meet future threats.

“Without considering industrial effects when choosing strategies, DoD might choose strategies that industry is no longer facilitized to support, or those strategic decisions could break industrial capabilities that may be required in the future,” Fred Downey, AIA’s vice president for national security policy, said at a news conference.

That could reduce strategic options “or leave the U.S. vulnerable to threats,” Downey said.

To avoid that emerging danger, AIA urged that the impact on the defense industrial base be considered during development of national security and defense strategies such as the current Quadrennial Defense Review and in defense budgeting and acquisition decisions.

In a briefing on the report, Fred Downey and J.J. Gertler — former Hill staffers who have been involved in past QDRs — said defense industrial base issues were never discussed in the four previous reviews, an indication the industry has reasons to be concerned.

In addition, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his major program cuts in April, he said explicitly that defense industry jobs were not a factor in any of his decisions.

In its report, AIA recommended reinvigorated congressional oversight and review of defense industrial base issues, and restoration of the regular meetings of the Defense secretary and industry executives. They were canceled by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

AIA President Marion Blakey noted that the United States has long depended for its military superiority on technological dominance, which was achieved by a strong Pentagon-defense industry partnership.

“We are concerned that that partnership is weakening” and that military leaders are assuming an industrial capability to meet new requirements, which may not exist, she said.

In preparing the report, titled “The Unseen Cost: Industrial Base Consequences of Defense Strategy Choices,” AIA studied the abilities of 10 aerospace industry sectors to respond to three possible future strategic scenarios. Those were a continuation of the current strategy, an increased focus on irregular warfare and a “power projection” situation, in which most military forces were U.S. based and had to be deployed quickly to meet a threat.

The study found that three key sectors were “significantly affected” by the strategic choices: tactical aviation, consisting of fighters and attack aircraft; large military aircraft, such as refueling tankers and cargo planes, and ballistic missile defense.

The two aircraft sectors could be weakened by lack of production under one situation and unable to respond to changing needs. A reduced missile defense-design workforce might be unable to respond to a demand for different systems required by a changed strategy.

Minimally affected by the different strategies were unmanned aerial systems; command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems; and strategic nuclear capabilities. Those three were required for all three scenarios.

Four sectors were assessed as “minimally affected” by the strategic choices because they already were in such a degraded condition that they would have difficulty responding to any of the scenarios.

Those were rotary-wing aviation and long-range strike, or bombers, because their research and development capabilities have eroded for lack of new programs; space power, where the industrial base is too weak to respond quickly to new demands, and science and technology, a sector that is depleted due to lack of funding and an aging work force.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Some very thoughtful and insightful comments at the bottom.]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Social Security Administration Conference Cost $700,000.00

A Social Security Administration motivational management conference held at a high-end Valley resort last week cost $700,000, the SSA told the ABC15 Investigators.

A spokesperson from the SSA’s regional office said the conference was essential, that teleconferencing was not an option, and that all 675 managers needed to meet in person.

The SSA provided ABC15 with a list of courses provided at the conference, which included “Techniques to Empower You,” “Mentoring the Generations,” and “Emotional Intelligence.”

But the information provided by the SSA did not mention an after-hours casino trip, family members staying at the hotel, or the 20-minute dance party ABC15 observed.


[There are over 300 comments on this story— D]

[Return to headlines]

The High Cost of U.S. Healthcare: A 60% Tax Rate

Americans are starting to get just a wee bit nervous about the cost of President Obama’s healthcare reform plan.

The Tax Foundation, a non-partisan Washington research organization, reported that the latest proposal on Capitol Hill would impose a surtax ranging from 1% to 5.4% on married couples in high income groups, pushing the top tax rate above 50% in more than three-quarters of the 50 states.

“The lowest top tax rate would be about 47% — and that’s in the nine states that don’t tax wages,” said Foundation president Scott Hodge.

That probably doesn’t upset 98% of the population who don’t qualify as high earners, but it set off alarm bells in New York, a Democrat stronghold, where taxes are already higher than average and would become more so. The New York Post says that if healthcare reform becomes law under the latest plan, city residents would face a top tax rate of almost 60%.

“The top rate in New York City, home to many of the state’s wealthiest people, would be 58.68 percent, the Washington-based Tax Foundation said in a report yesterday.

That means New York’s top earners, small-business owners and most dynamic entrepreneurs will be facing new fees and penalties.

The non-partisan think-tank calculated the average local tax rate in New York State at 1.7 percent, and combined it with the 8.97 percent that high-bracket state taxpayers will shell out in 2011, when the health care plan is set to take effect. Tack on the 39.6 percent federal tax rate, 2.9 percent for Medicare and 5.4 percent for the health care “surtax,” and the figure is 56.92 percent for the Empire State.

In New York City, the top tax rate is 3.65 percent, making the Big Apple’s top combined rate even higher.

The $544 billion tax hike would violate one of President Obama’s ironclad campaign promises: No family will pay higher tax rates than they would have paid in the 1990s.

City Journal, referring to the same report, noted the consequences in an article titled “Obama vs New York”:

“What would the consequences be? Keep in mind two basic principles of economics: incentives matter, and decisions get made on the margin. As the most productive citizens earned less for each extra hour worked, the smaller incentive to work would make them more inclined to choose leisure over labor. Top earners would work less—this is economic fact—and produce less than they otherwise would. State revenues, donations to charities, and consumption would all decline. And facing smaller incentives to expand their businesses, the most productive citizens would also employ fewer workers. Top earners might even cut their production to such an extent that federal-government revenue would fall.”

The result? “The president’s health-care plans will have a disastrous economic impact on state and city,” it said.

Note: According to my non-expert calculation, based on this Canada Revenue Agency table, the highest marginal rate on Canadian income is in Quebec, where combined federal (29%) and provincial (24%) tax add up to 53% on income over $75,000. Outside Quebec, the top rate is in New Brunswick, where combined federal and provincial tax adds up to 46.95% on income over $126,264. Nova Scotia, Manitoba and PEI aren’t far behind.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

An Open Letter to the Obama Administration From Central and Eastern Europe

by Valdas Adamkus, Martin Butora, Emil Constantinescu, Pavol Demes, Lubos Dobrovsky, Matyas Eorsi, Istvan Gyarmati, Vaclav Havel, Rastislav Kacer, Sandra Kalniete, Karel Schwarzenberg, Michal Kovac, Ivan Krastev, Alexander Kwasniewski, Mart Laar, Kadri Liik, Janos Martonyi. Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Adam Rotfeld, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Alexandr Vondra, Lech Walesa.

We have written this letter because, as Central and Eastern European (CEE) intellectuals and former policymakers, we care deeply about the future of the transatlantic relationship as well as the future quality of relations between the United States and the countries of our region. We write in our personal capacity as individuals who are friends and allies of the United States as well as committed Europeans.

Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States. Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years. U.S. engagement and support was essential for the success of our democratic transitions after the Iron Curtain fell twenty years ago. Without Washington’s vision and leadership, it is doubtful that we would be in NATO and even the EU today.

We have worked to reciprocate and make this relationship a two-way street. We are Atlanticist voices within NATO and the EU. Our nations have been engaged alongside the United States in the Balkans, Iraq, and today in Afghanistan. While our contribution may at times seem modest compared to your own, it is significant when measured as a percentage of our population and GDP. Having benefited from your support for liberal democracy and liberal values in the past, we have been among your strongest supporters when it comes to promoting democracy and human rights around the world.

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, however, we see that Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy. As the new Obama Administration sets its foreign-policy priorities, our region is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped worrying about. Indeed, at times we have the impression that U.S. policy was so successful that many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all and that they could “check the box” and move on to other more pressing strategic issues. Relations have been so close that many on both sides assume that the region’s transatlantic orientation, as well as its stability and prosperity, would last forever.

That view is premature. All is not well either in our region or in the transatlantic relationship. Central and Eastern Europe is at a political crossroads and today there is a growing sense of nervousness in the region. The global economic crisis is impacting on our region and, as elsewhere, runs the risk that our societies will look inward and be less engaged with the outside world. At the same time, storm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon. Like you, we await the results of the EU Commission’s investigation on the origins of the Russo-Georgian war. But the political impact of that war on the region has already been felt. Many countries were deeply disturbed to see the Atlantic alliance stand by as Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council -all in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders.

Despite the efforts and significant contribution of the new members, NATO today seems weaker than when we joined. In many of our countries it is perceived as less and less relevant — and we feel it. Although we are full members, people question whether NATO would be willing and able to come to our defense in some future crises. Europe’s dependence on Russian energy also creates concern about the cohesion of the Alliance. President Obama’s remark at the recent NATO summit on the need to provide credible defense plans for all Alliance members was welcome, but not sufficient to allay fears about the Alliance’s defense readiness. Our ability to continue to sustain public support at home for our contributions to Alliance missions abroad also depends on us being able to show that our own security concerns are being addressed in NATO and close cooperation with the United States

We must also recognize that America’s popularity and influence have fallen in many of our countries as well. Public opinions polls, including the German Marshall Fund’s own Transatlantic Trends survey, show that our region has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has swept Europe in recent years and which led to a collapse in sympathy and support for the United States during the Bush years. Some leaders in the region have paid a political price for their support of the unpopular war in Iraq. In the future they may be more careful in taking political risks to support the United States. We believe that the onset of a new Administration has created a new opening to reverse this trend but it will take time and work on both sides to make up for what we have lost.

In many ways the EU has become the major factor and institution in our lives. To many people it seems more relevant and important today than the link to the United States. To some degree it is a logical outcome of the integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU. Our leaders and officials spend much more time in EU meetings than in consultations with Washington, where they often struggle to attract attention or make our voices heard. The region’s deeper integration in the EU is of course welcome and should not necessarily lead to a weakening of the transatlantic relationship. The hope was that integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU would actually strengthen the strategic cooperation between Europe and America.

However, there is a danger that instead of being a pro-Atlantic voice in the EU, support for a more global partnership with Washington in the region might wane over time. The region does not have the tradition of assuming a more global role. Some items on the transatlantic agenda, such as climate change, do not resonate in the Central and Eastern European publics to the same extent as they do in Western Europe.

Leadership change is also coming in Central and Eastern Europe. Next to those, there are fewer and fewer leaders who emerged from the revolutions of 1989 who experienced Washington’s key role in securing our democratic transition and anchoring our countries in NATO and EU. A new generation of leaders is emerging who do not have these memories and follow a more “realistic” policy. At the same time, the former Communist elites, whose insistence on political and economic power significantly contributed to the crises in many CEE countries, gradually disappear from the political scene. The current political and economic turmoil and the fallout from the global economic crisis provide additional opportunities for the forces of nationalism, extremism, populism, and anti-Semitism across the continent but also in some our countries.

This means that the United States is likely to lose many of its traditional interlocutors in the region. The new elites replacing them may not share the idealism — or have the same relationship to the United States — as the generation who led the democratic transition. They may be more calculating in their support of the United States as well as more parochial in their world view. And in Washington a similar transition is taking place as many of the leaders and personalities we have worked with and relied on are also leaving politics.

And then there is the issue of how to deal with Russia. Our hopes that relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist one. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We welcome the “reset” of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for example, that the United States and the major European powers might embrace the Medvedev plan for a “Concert of Powers” to replace the continent’s existing, value-based security structure. The danger is that Russia’s creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region. There are differing views within the region when it comes to Moscow’s new policies. But there is a shared view that the full engagement of the United States is needed.

Many in the region are looking with hope to the Obama Administration to restore the Atlantic relationship as a moral compass for their domestic as well as foreign policies. A strong commitment to common liberal democratic values is essential to our countries. We know from our own historical experience the difference between when the United States stood up for its liberal democratic values and when it did not. Our region suffered when the United States succumbed to “realism” at Yalta. And it benefited when the United States used its power to fight for principle. That was critical during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. Had a “realist” view prevailed in the early 1990s, we would not be in NATO today and the idea of a Europe whole, free, and at peace would be a distant dream.

We understand the heavy demands on your Administration and on U.S. foreign policy. It is not our intent to add to the list of problems you face. Rather, we want to help by being strong Atlanticist allies in a U.S.-European partnership that is a powerful force for good around the world. But we are not certain where our region will be in five or ten years time given the domestic and foreign policy uncertainties we face. We need to take the right steps now to ensure the strong relationship between the United States and Central and Eastern Europe over the past twenty years will endure.

We believe this is a time both the United States and Europe need to reinvest in the transatlantic relationship. We also believe this is a time when the United States and Central and Eastern Europe must reconnect around a new and forward-looking agenda. While recognizing what has been achieved in the twenty years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, it is time to set a new agenda for close cooperation for the next twenty years across the Atlantic.

Therefore, we propose the following steps:

First, we are convinced that America needs Europe and that Europe needs the United States as much today as in the past. The United States should reaffirm its vocation as a European power and make clear that it plans to stay fully engaged on the continent even while it faces the pressing challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the wider Middle East, and Asia. For our part we must work at home in our own countries and in Europe more generally to convince our leaders and societies to adopt a more global perspective and be prepared to shoulder more responsibility in partnership with the United States.

Second, we need a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe. It is the only credible hard power security guarantee we have. NATO must reconfirm its core function of collective defense even while we adapt to the new threats of the 21st century. A key factor in our ability to participate in NATO’s expeditionary missions overseas is the belief that we are secure at home. We must therefore correct some self-inflicted wounds from the past. It was a mistake not to commence with proper Article 5 defense planning for new members after NATO was enlarged. NATO needs to make the Alliance’s commitments credible and provide strategic reassurance to all members. This should include contingency planning, prepositioning of forces, equipment, and supplies for reinforcement in our region in case of crisis as originally envisioned in the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

We should also re-think the working of the NATO-Russia Council and return to the practice where NATO member countries enter into dialogue with Moscow with a coordinated position. When it comes to Russia, our experience has been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West’s security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well. Furthermore, the more secure we feel inside NATO, the easier it will also be for our countries to reach out to engage Moscow on issues of common interest. That is the dual track approach we need and which should be reflected in the new NATO strategic concept.

Third, the thorniest issue may well be America’s planned missile-defense installations. Here too, there are different views in the region, including among our publics which are divided. Regardless of the military merits of this scheme and what Washington eventually decides to do, the issue has nevertheless also become — at least in some countries — a symbol of America’s credibility and commitment to the region. How it is handled could have a significant impact on their future transatlantic orientation. The small number of missiles involved cannot be a threat to Russia’s strategic capabilities, and the Kremlin knows this. We should decide the future of the program as allies and based on the strategic plusses and minuses of the different technical and political configurations. The Alliance should not allow the issue to be determined by unfounded Russian opposition. Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region.

Fourth, we know that NATO alone is not enough. We also want and need more Europe and a better and more strategic U.S.-EU relationship as well. Increasingly our foreign policies are carried out through the European Union — and we support that. We also want a common European foreign and defense policy that is open to close cooperation with the United States. We are the advocates of such a line in the EU. But we need the United States to rethink its attitude toward the EU and engage it much more seriously as a strategic partner. We need to bring NATO and the EU closer together and make them work in tandem. We need common NATO and EU strategies not only toward Russia but on a range of other new strategic challenges.

Fifth is energy security. The threat to energy supplies can exert an immediate influence on our nations’ political sovereignty also as allies contributing to common decisions in NATO. That is why it must also become a transatlantic priority. Although most of the responsibility for energy security lies within the realm of the EU, the United States also has a role to play. Absent American support, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline would never have been built. Energy security must become an integral part of U.S.-European strategic cooperation. Central and Eastern European countries should lobby harder (and with more unity) inside Europe for diversification of the energy mix, suppliers, and transit routes, as well as for tough legal scrutiny of Russia’s abuse of its monopoly and cartel-like power inside the EU. But American political support on this will play a crucial role. Similarly, the United States can play an important role in solidifying further its support for the Nabucco pipeline, particularly in using its security relationship with the main transit country, Turkey, as well as the North-South interconnector of Central Europe and LNG terminals in our region.

Sixth, we must not neglect the human factor. Our next generations need to get to know each other, too. We have to cherish and protect the multitude of educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania — arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan — have not yet been brought into the visa waiver program. It is incomprehensible that a critic like the French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove does not require a visa for the United States but former Solidarity activist and Nobel Peace prizewinner Lech Walesa does. This issue will be resolved only if it is made a political priority by the President of the United States.

The steps we made together since 1989 are not minor in history. The common successes are the proper foundation for the transatlantic renaissance we need today. This is why we believe that we should also consider the creation of a Legacy Fellowship for young leaders. Twenty years have passed since the revolutions of 1989. That is a whole generation. We need a new generation to renew the transatlantic partnership. A new program should be launched to identify those young leaders on both sides of the Atlantic who can carry forward the transatlantic project we have spent the last two decades building in Central and Eastern Europe.

In conclusion, the onset of a new Administration in the United States has raised great hopes in our countries for a transatlantic renewal. It is an opportunity we dare not miss. We, the authors of this letter, know firsthand how important the relationship with the United States has been. In the 1990s, a large part of getting Europe right was about getting Central and Eastern Europe right. The engagement of the United States was critical to locking in peace and stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Today the goal must be to keep Central and Eastern Europe right as a stable, activist, and Atlanticist part of our broader community.

That is the key to our success in bringing about the renaissance in the Alliance the Obama Administration has committed itself to work for and which we support. That will require both sides recommitting to and investing in this relationship. But if we do it right, the pay off down the road can be very real. By taking the right steps now, we can put it on new and solid footing for the future.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Berlusconi and Karamanlis Talk of Immigration and Energy

(ANSAmed) — ROME — Immigration and energy policies were the main topics dealt with today during the meeting in Rome between Greek premier Costas Karamanlis and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The meeting, which ran into a business lunch in Palazzo Chigi, was also attended by Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini and by Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis. During the joint press conference held at the end of the meeting with Karamanlis, Berlusconi expressed his position that agreements with African Countries for the readmission of immigrants should be reached at a European level, and not by individual member States. The Italian prime minister added that “The joint action that we will develop towards the European Union make the EU the centre of relations between Mediterranean Countries and Africa and that all readmission contracts should be contracts not by individual European countries, but by the European Union itself in relation with individual countries of the African coast”. Speaking of energy, Greek premier Karamanlis stated that “there is close cooperation” between Italy and Greece. “We will do all in our power to boost it. We are working for the Turkish/Greek/Italian gas pipeline and for the South Stream gas pipeline”. Karamanlis was speaking of the planned gas pipeline from the Russian shores of the Dead Sea up to Bulgaria, from where it will move on to Austria and towards Italy, passing through Greece. The last phase of the South Stream project, which is viewed as the Russian reply to Nabucco, was the signing (in Sochi, on May 15) of an agreement between the state energy companies of Russia, Italy, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Call for German Referendums on EU Enlargement

Leaders of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) have already called for greater powers for parliament in future EU affairs to be included in a new draft of a law required to get the treaty past the constitutional court.

With just two months to get the law through parliament before the general election, the CSU demands increase the pressure on Dr Merkel to get the treaty ratified in Germany before Ireland’s October referendum. At today’s CSU party conference in Nuremberg, she will try to dismiss as many as possible of the 14 amendments to the law demanded by the CSU.

After the court ruling on the Lisbon Treaty, the CSU called for a redrafting of the law in question to allow deals reached in Brussels by government ministers to be examined retrospectively by the parliamentary EU committee.

Yesterday, the CSU general secretary went further, calling for referendums to be introduced to approve the accession of Croatia and, later, Turkey. With only a limited referendum culture, partly due to traumatic experiences with the Nazis, German observers have dismissed the CSU’s referendum demand as populism.

“This is an old CSU strategy, taking a seemingly principled position — which, if you look closer, turns out to be pure populism — and then blaming others for being less principled,” said Jan Techau, director of Berlin’s Alfred von Oppenheim Centre for European Policy Studies.

The demands have generated friction with the CSU’s sister party, Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

CSU party leader Horst Seehofer has latched on to the Lisbon row, some analysts suggest, to tap anti-EU sentiment in Bavaria, boosting his own profile and that of the CSU in Bavaria ahead of September’s general election. And, with no love lost between Mr Seehofer and Dr Merkel, the issue gives him a chance to have a go at the German leader, particularly after she dismissed his call to name a date for tax cuts in their joint election manifesto.

But the position has caused friction with CSU MEPs and Berlin-based party figures, who say the campaign damages the party’s credibility in Europe.

Former German finance minister Theo Waigel, to be appointed CSU honorary chairman in Nuremberg, has said his party’s demands would turn Germany into a “lame duck” in Brussels.

“Everyone who’s ever sat at the negotiating table in Brussels knows that one needs a bit of freedom to reach compromises,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “One can’t check after every round of talks with the Bundestag committee . . . We’ll only weaken ourselves.”

But, as other officials have learned, not all criticism of the CSU line is tolerated. When CSU MEP Markus Ferber criticised the new party demands over Lisbon in a video on his website, Mr Seehofer attacked him for using tactics “only used by the Taliban”.

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

Central European Leaders Call Obama Not to Check Region Off

Outstanding politicians from Central and Eastern Europe are warning the US president that ‘storm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon.’ America must not forget about the region, has to carry out a firm and principled policy towards Russia, and the missile defence is a test of Washington’s credibility — write the signatories of an open letter to the Obama administration, among them Lech WaÅ‚Ä(tm)sa, Aleksander KwaÅ›niewski, and Vaclav Havel.

This is the first letter of this kind after 1989. A group of former heads of state, heads of government, and cabinet ministers from the former Soviet-bloc countries warn in an open letter to the US president that the region’s close alliance with America, until now treated as axiomatic, is undergoing its most severe test ever today.

‘As the new Obama Administration sets its foreign-policy priorities,’ we read in the letter, ‘our region is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped worrying about. Indeed, at times we have the impression that U.S. policy was so successful [here] that many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all and that they could “check the box” and move on to other more pressing strategic issues. Relations have been so close that many on both sides assume that the region’s transatlantic orientation, as well as its stability and prosperity, would last forever. That view is premature.’

The letter, its tone much sharper than the usual language of diplomacy, has been signed, besides the ex-presidents of Poland and Czechoslovakia, also by the former presidents of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, Romania, Emil Constantinescu, Slovakia, Michal Kovacz, and Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Among the twenty two signatories there is also the former prime minister of Estonia, Mart Laar, and from Poland, ex-foreign minister Adam Rotfeld and ex-defence minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz.

Most of the signatories are politicians known for their sympathy for the US. The letter likely comes as a reaction to the recent cooling of the region’s relations with the US. Many expert believe that Central and Eastern Europe is not a priority for the Obama administration. Also opinion polls show public support for the alliance with America falling steadily.

The letter will be presented in Washington today at a conference organised by the renowned political scientist, Ron Asmus, connected to the Democrats, co-author of the policy of Nato’s eastwards enlargement. Among those attending will be former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright.

The letter’s authors warn that ‘Central and Eastern Europe is at a political crossroads and today there is a growing sense of nervousness in the region,’ because, among other things, of the fact that the ‘Atlantic alliance stood by’ when Russia ‘violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council’ during its invasion of Georgia last year. ‘We welcome the “reset” of the American-Russian relations,’ write the letter’s signatories, because ‘nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do,’ but they warn Mr Obama against making the wrong concessions: ‘When it comes to Moscow, our experience has been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West’s security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well.’

The ‘thorniest issue,’ though, may be the planned US missile defence installations in Central and Eastern Europe. The agreements with Warsaw and Prague were signed by the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration has still not decided whether to pursue the plans. The issue has become ‘a symbol of America’s credibility and commitment to the region. ( ) Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region.’

Karel Schwarzenberg, ex-foreign minister, Czech Republic, one of the letter’s signatories, for Gazeta:

I don’t know whether Barack Obama doesn’t understand Moscow’s ambitions in our part of the world or simply underestimates them. Perhaps, with China, Iran, and the whole of Middle East on his mind, Mr Obama has crossed us off his priorities list. If this is the case, then our role is to make him aware of that mistake. And this is not about saving the missile defence at all cost. Still, our consent to it was a confirmation of our friendship with the US. That’s why we should have a say in the debate about it.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Parliament Ready to Tackle Muslim Re-Education Abroad

Taking away a young person’s passport will prevent the practice of them being sent back to their parents’ native countries for schooling in religious and cultural matters

Muslim children sent by family members to the parents’ native countries for the purpose of ‘re-education’ may soon face having their passports confiscated, according to Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

A majority in parliament — represented by all government opposition parties and the usual government ally Danish People’s Party — reportedly supports the idea of revoking passports for those would-be travellers suspected of being returned for re-education in an effort to curb the phenomenon.

The practice of sending children back to their parents’ homeland for long periods, often with their mothers, is common among the more conservative Muslim populations in Europe. It is supposedly aimed at instilling proper values and respect into the young people, but often results in them developing more fundamentalist and anti-Western attitudes. According to the Foreign Ministry, 14 cases of re-education have been documented so far this year, but experts believe the true figure is far greater.

The proposal to take away passports in these instances was put forth by the Social Liberals, who believe the move is not punishment but protection for the young people.

Government parties the Liberals and Conservatives say that while the idea seems reasonable on paper, it would be too difficult to carry out in reality.

But Henrik Dam Kristensen, the opposition Social Democrats’ integration spokesman, said the move would prevent not only re-education but also forced marriages.

‘I think it’s strange for these people to have chosen to come to Denmark and then, when their child becomes too Danish, they send them back to be re-educated in the parents’ culture, religion and traditions.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

France: Sarkozy Pays Back €14,000 in Personal Expenses

First audit of Elysee Palace accounts in over 200 years praises French president’s openness but calls for cutbacks

Nicolas Sarkozy has paid back more than €14,000 to the state after it emerged that personal and family bills were put through the Elysée accounts. The expenses came to light in the first state audit of a French leader’s spending since Louis XVI just before the French revolution.

The report, published today by France’s national auditor, acknowledged Sarkozy had paid back €14,123 in personal bills from 2008. The nature of the costs was not revealed and Sarkozy had asked for the receipts to be returned to him. The auditors said he had not known the expenses went through palace accounts. He paid the money back just before the report was made public.

On official spending, Philippe Séguin, the national auditor, commended Sarkozy for opening the head of state’s accounts to scrutiny for the first time in more than 200 years. But he highlighted areas where Elysée spending needed to be reined in, including the president’s official and private trips and the costly maintenance of rural presidential retreats that were barely used.

The auditor questioned €400,000 worth of opinion polls commissioned by the palace, some of which ended up in the press or on TV. More attention needed to be paid to making different food suppliers bid for contracts to secure better deals — most of the Elysée’s meat has been supplied by the same butcher since 1969.

The company that regularly supplies marquees for the presidential Bastille day garden party was hired again last year despite charging 50% more than another bidder. The Elysée’s annual flower bill of €275,809 could also be reduced, the auditor found, and the presidential palace had spent around €3,000 on fines for late payment of electricity and gas bills.

After a row over a 140% salary increase at the start of his presidency, Sarkozy set an annual Elysée budget, of around €110m, for the first time last year in a bid to distance himself from the opaque spending habits of previous presidents who had no fixed rules. Sarkozy promised to cut the Elysée’s famously lavish spending: senior staff must now pay for their own lunchtime meals and journalists on the presidential plane are no longer served the most expensive champagne.

Seguin said that for over 200 years French heads of state had “hidden their accounts from any checks”. He said the new regime of annual audits was a “culture shock” at the Elysée — efforts had been made to make spending transparent and cut costs but more needed to be done.

The spending habits of French politicians have always intrigued the nation and the Socialist party opposition in recent years had expressed frustration at the lack of transparency of the Elysée’s costs.

Jacques Chirac was notorious for his food bills before arriving at the Elysée. As mayor of Paris he and his wife spent £170,000 on food in one year, including wholemeal bread, bio yoghurt and Corona beers for the fridge of their private apartment. Their total personal food bill over eight years at Paris town hall was £1.4m, including £40 a day spent on herbal tea.

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

Greece: Dangerous Precedents

With the benefit of past experience which tells them that Athens will not react, Ankara is sending fighter jets over Agathonisi, Farmakonisi and Fournoi in a bid to set precedents that essentially challenge Greek sovereignty over these populated islands.

Turkish provocations are not circumstantial but rather reflect long-term strategic plans. On 29 January, 1996, Turkey included the above three islands (as well as Pserimos) in the same category as the Imia islets. A few days later, then Prime Minister Tansu Ciller said that she would raise the issue of some 1,000 islets. “So far, Turkey subconsciously accepted that these islands practically belong to Greece. We are going to change that,” she told Hurriyet at the time.

Turkey does not argue that violations were committed because of the confined international air space. Rather, they claim that the aforesaid islands are Turkish territory taken over by Greece. So, Turkish warships anchor near these islands. When Greece asks them to leave, the Turks respond that the Greek vessels or helicopters must leave because they are supposedly violating Turkish sovereignty.

Although in theory Turkey questions Greek sovereignty over all islets that are not named in past treaties, it has so far avoided challenging sovereignty en masse. In 1996, Ankara staged a crisis that successfully set a precedent, as the Imia islets are now considered a gray area. It is currently trying to do the same with other islets, the ultimate goal being to turn the Aegean Sea into a gray area. All these years, Turkey has tried to create the impression internationally that the Aegean is a problem region.

Proof of Ankara’s success is that a few months ago the government and the military tried to sabotage President Karolos Papoulias’s visit to Agathonisi. They went as far as to suggest that they could not guarantee his safety. It was yet another example of Greece compromising its sovereign rights, a result of its phobia.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Hungarian Writer Nagy is Mortified by the Success of the Extreme-Right

Nepszabadsag 20.06.2009 (Hungary)

After the defacement of Budapest’s Holocaust memorial, Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy, is mortified by the success of the extreme-right party “Jobbik” in the European elections. “I feel increasingly uncomfortable in this country which is my home. A year-and-a-half after the founding of the Hungarian Guard 427,213 adult citizens of child-bearing age believe it is right to send a representative of an openly and hysterically anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi political formation the into European Parliament. […] As I write this, I am observing whether I am distraught or outraged. I am not. You can’t walk around in a permanent state of outrage, any more than you can be permanently angry or frightened. Sometimes I am frightened, sometimes not, sometimes I ignore it, sometimes I am seized by icy horror. If ‘Hungary belongs to the Hungarians’, I don’t want to be Hungarian. Whether I want this or not is completely irrelevant. But then this slogan is irrelevant. Hungary belongs to us all, as does ignominy.”

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

Italy: Euro MP Complains About Expenses

Strasbourg, 15 July (AKI) — An Italian member of the European Parliament has complained about his daily expenses and said he earns more money in Italy instead. He made the remarks as the European parliament moved to standardise the salaries of its members

“A per diem of 290 euros! This is a misery. It is not enough. If these people only knew what we get in the Italian parliament,” said Clemente Mastella, MEP representing the centre-right People of Freedom Party (PdL) led by scandal-prone prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

“We get less money than in Italy,” said Mastella, while screaming in an elevator expressing his displeasure at the new ‘rules’ that have been imposed on the 736 Euro MPs.

For a hotel and board, the EU gives an MP a per diem of 295 euro, plus a figure in accordance to the length of distance between the house and the airport (three euro per kilometre) and the length of the trip, as well as numerous other perks.

Starting this year, all MPs will earn the same amount of money, or roughly 7,666 euro per month. Previously, they were paid almost the same as what they earned in their home country.

For decades, Italian politicians have been Europe’s best-paid lawmakers. Now they have to make less money. Figures say there is one parliamentarian for every 60,371 inhabitants, compared to one for 91,824 in the United Kingdom, 112,502 in Germany and 560,747 in the United States.

The basic salary of an Italian MEP is 149,215 euro annually, which is double the salaries of the British and Germans and three times the salary of the Portuguese, and four times that of the Spanish.

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

Italy: Beppe Grillo to Stand in Pd Primaries

Announcement on blog: “Since Berlinguer’s death, there’s been a vacuum on the Left. Alliance possible only with Serracchiani”

MILAN — Beppe Grillo is to stand in the Democratic Party (PD) primaries on 25 October. The comic himself made the announcement on his blog. Grillo will be the fourth candidate after party secretary Dario Franceschini, former minister Pierluigi Bersani, the surgeon and senator Ignazio Marino and outsider Mario Adinolfi. “I’m taking part to refound a movement that has deprived the country of all hope of opposition, to offer some alternative to Nothing”, writes Grillo. The announcement was immediately picked up on Facebook and is attracting many comments from supporters and opponents.

“VACUUM IN THE LEFT AFTER BERLINGUER” — “On 25 October, there are going to be the primaries of the PD-without-the-L [The “PDL” is Silvio Berlusconi’s Centre-right People of Freedom — Trans.]”, writes the Genoa-born comedian. “Every potential elector will vote. The candidate who obtains most votes will become the successor of people of the calibre of Franceschini, Fassino and Veltroni. I’m going to stand. Since the death of Enrico Berlinguer, there’s been a vacuum on the Left. A vacuum of ideas, proposals, courage and people. A Left without a programme, cosying up to the Right, and rooted only in the exploitation of local government. It’s done U-turns on the militarisation of Vicenza and the introduction of nuclear power stations. It champions waste incinerators and the privatisation of water. A political monster, born on the Left and berthed in the Vatican. A prop for conflicts of interest of all kinds. An ambiguous creature that has generated Consorte, Violante and D’Alema, faithful mirror images of the P2 freemasons who throng the court of the psychodwarf. It’s no longer a political entity; it’s a syndicate, business-oriented and in thrall to its Berlusconi-led doppelganger. A collection of membership cards and badges. A gallery of dead souls, worrying about staying in power. A party that gifted broadcasting to Berlusconi and gave Italy the prison amnesty”.

CLEAN PARLIAMENT, FREE INFORMATION — Here is Beppe Grillo’s programme: “It will be the same as the national programme for ‘Five-star Municipalities’, restoring dignity to Italy by enforcing the popular laws of the Clean Parliament and freedom of information by withdrawing state television concessions from all political actors, starting with Silvio Berlusconi. Issues that are too tough for the delicate ears of a Rutelli or a Chiamparino. There are millions of PD-without-the-L voters who want a Five Star PD. But they have no hope with this party of deal-mongering sell-outs. The PD-without-the-L is Berlusconi’s life insurance. The time has come not to renew the policy”.

“I’LL JOIN AND GET 2,000 SIGNATURES” — When Mario Adinolfi invited Grillo to “act seriously”, the comic replied: “I’ll join the party and collect 2,000 signatures to take part in the PD congress, and then we’ll see”. Grillo explains that it’s not just a stunt: “It’s deadly serious. We’ll create a bad PD and a good PD, like the bad company and good company they made out of Alitalia. We need about that number of signatures and we’ve already collected nearly all of them. I’m taking the plunge because there are so many young people who go along with the things I do, the proposals and ideas that I am pressing ahead with. Debora Serracchiani also stated that she agreed with me on a whole raft of things, even if she has said nothing more about it. I want to go to the congress to speak to the young people of the PD, explain our proposals to them and see whether they agree. They’re the ideas on renewable energy sources, eco-compatible mobility, open and free Wi-Fi access and separate refuse collection door to door. These are ideas, not ideologies”. Grillo admits that he has no experience: “I’m ready for a new adventure but obviously being party secretary would be completely new. I’ve never been a secretary, let alone a party secretary”. But he wouldn’t make alliances with the current candidates: “Apart from Debora Serracchiani, I don’t see anyone else. I like Debora a lot. She represents millions of young members of the party who believed in dreams that have never come to anything. We need to go forward with these people, 30-year-olds, whom we have analysed and who are part of this culture, of social networks”.

CANDIDACY PROCEDURE — The PD website explains that candidacies with programmes for the party secretaryship should be presented to the national committee by 8 pm on 23 July. Candidacies must be subscribed by at least ten percent of the members of the outgoing national assembly, or by a minimum of 1,500 and a maximum of 2,000 party members distributed over at least five regions and belonging to at least three of the five electoral constituencies for the European parliament.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Terrorism: Italian Group ‘Sought Links With Oppressed Muslims’

Rome, 16 July (AKI) — An Italian terrorist group alleged to have been planning an attack on the G8 summit sought to link its actions with oppressed Muslims in the Palestinian territories, according to a secret document to be published on Friday.

The document, to be released in the Italian weekly Panorama, says the left-wing New Red Brigades wanted to “speak” to “proletarians” who they claimed were waging a class struggle in the occupied Palestinian territories and other Muslim lands.

“They are fighting against oppression that is always imperialist and class-based, even if they are not conscious of this,” the document said.

It said the New Red Brigades, an offshoot of the notorious group that terrorised Italy in the 1970s and 1980s, also wanted to contact “proletarians” in Spain’s separatist Basque region and in Northern Island, in an apparent bid to revolt and conduct international acts of terrorism.

Police reportedly found the document at the home of a former member of the original 1970s Red Brigades, 57-year-old Luigi Fallico.

He was among at least five people arrested on 10 June over an alleged plot to carry out a major attack at the G8 summit when it was to have been held at its original location in Sardinia.

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to move the summit to the central Italian city of L’Aquila, to renew international attention on the devastation caused by the 6 April earthquake.

Members of the group face several charges including criminal association, terrorism and arms possession after the nationwide arrests which ended a two-year investigation.

The New Red Brigades are an offshoot of the Leninist-Marxist Red Brigades, a group responsible for bank robberies and political assassinations in the 1970s and 1980s.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Station Albert Heijns Ban Moroccan Staff

A number of railway station branches of the Albert Heijn supermarket chain have been told not to employ staff of Moroccan origin, the AD reports on Thursday.

The paper says several branches of AH To Go in Amsterdam and at the Hague’s main station include the words ‘No Moroccans’ in bold letters on a list of times and days when extra staff are needed.

The list was emailed to 31 AH To Go shops on June 4, the paper says. Branch managers who asked if this was correct were sent another email the same day with the text ‘urgent, No Moroccans’, the paper says.

AH To Go shops are small supermarkets where people can buy a sandwich or salad as well as essential supplies. Albert Heijn is part of the bourse-listed Ahold supermarket group.


A spokesman for Albert Heijn’s headquarters said the company was ‘extremely shocked’ by the news. The AH To Go branches are operated by a company called Servex, which is part of Dutch Rail (NS).

A spokesman for the NS apologied to ‘everyone affected’ and said measures are being taken at Servex. But he did not say what would happen to the staff responsible for the emails.

‘Servex is responsible for personnel policy but must meet our guidelines,’ he said.

The Telegraaf quotes an anonymous AH To Go worker as saying ‘there are already enough young Moroccans working here’. ‘It could be threatening for customers,’ he told the paper.


The Dutch anti-discrimination bureau said it had written to Albert Heijn asking for an explanation and was considering further action.

The bureau is also concerned about the different age limits set for various branches. For example, the Alkmaar and Rotterdam Alexander AH To Go stores only want staff aged 16 and 17 while in Utrecht they must be older than 19.

This too is against Albert Heijn policy, the spokesman said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: ‘Albert Heijn to Go’ Shops Ban Moroccan Staff

A number of minimarkets at Dutch railway stations have blacklisted staff of Moroccan origin during peak hours, the Rotterdam daily AD reports.

According to the paper, several branches of Albert Heijn’s ‘AH to go’ chain have issued orders not to hire ethnic Moroccans. “No Moroccans”, it says in bold letters on a list of times and days when extra staff is required.

A spokesperson for the Dutch supermarket chain expressed “extreme shock” at the news on Thursday. He emphasized that the AH To Go branches are operated by a company called Servex, which is part of Dutch Rail (NS). “Servex is responsible for its personnel policy but must meet our guidelines.”

A spokesperson for Dutch Rail apologised to “everyone affected” and said measures are being taken against Servex. It was not said what would happen to the staff responsible for the emails.

An anonymous ‘AH to go’ worker is quoted as saying that: “There are already enough young Moroccans working here. Customers might find it threatening.”

The Dutch anti-discrimination bureau thinks it a “serious matter”. It says it has written to Albert Heijn asking for an explanation and is “considering further action”. The bureau is also concerned about the different age limits set for various branches. According to Albert Heijn this is also against its policy.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Profile: Michal Kaminski MEP

British Conservatives in the European Parliament are now in a new group led by a Polish MEP, Michal Kaminski, who has had a very public row with veteran Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott.

The BBC’s Adam Easton in Warsaw examines where Mr Kaminski stands politically.

The first thing that should probably be said about Michal Kaminski is that in his homeland he is not considered controversial.

In Poland he is widely known as a “spin doctor” — media-savvy, smartly dressed with fashionable spectacles, one of the masterminds of conservative President Lech Kaczynski’s successful election campaign in 2005.

Once in office President Kaczynski gave him the job of bolstering his public image — a task Mr Kaminski found much harder. The president’s poll ratings soon plummeted and have stayed there.

In Poland the new leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group is seen as a slick and ambitious political operator, a man who even has an endorsement from the author Frederick Forsyth on his personal website.

Gay rights dispute

Although he is certainly not among the small minority of Polish politicians who regularly make racist or homophobic remarks in public, Mr Kaminski is not above using discriminatory language about homosexuals.

There is a short video clip available online dated July 2000, in which the then MP uses the term “fags” to refer to gays and lesbians. When asked by the reporter if such a term is offensive, he replied, “that’s how people speak, what should I say? They are fags”.

Unsurprisingly, gay rights groups here are damning in their appraisal of him.

“Michal Kaminski has become a symbol of homophobia in Poland. As an MEP he consistently voted against resolutions that fight homophobia in Europe,” Robert Biedron, a board member of Poland’s Campaign Against Homophobia, told me.

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

‘PvdA Only Listens to Orthodox Islam’

THE HAGUE, 17/07/09 — Labour (PvdA) only listens to orthodox Muslims and ignores Moroccans who are moderates or non-believers, said three Moroccan local council members yesterday in De Pers newspaper. They predict that their followers will leave the PvdA and switch to centre-left D66.

“Atheistic Moroccans and secular Muslims say: why does the PvdA get so involved with religion?” says Mohammed Mohandis. He is a Gouda local council member for the PvdA and was recently elected chairman of the Young Socialists, the youth movement of the PvdA. “They are joining D66, because they find it a more liberal party.”

The PvdA speaks about Muslims in the Netherlands “as if they are all strict believers,” agrees Rotterday city council member Fouad el Haji. But “most Moroccan Muslims in the Netherlands are secular. There is no podium for them in the political landscape.”

As a result, it can happen that a Moroccan Dutch person who puts a glass of beer to his lips is warned by a white Dutch person that this is not Halal. In this way, you as a Moroccan are Islamised by non-Muslims, declares Mohandis. And that, he says, also happens in his own PvdA.

Mohandis gives an example: “If someone wants to leave their faith, this causes much resistance. Then you as PvdA should always stand behind the individual. And not behind the group. (…) There are still too many PvdA members that think in groups. Even our minister for integration, Eberhard van der Laan.”

El Haji says he has unsuccessfully asked the PvdA leadership to spur emancipation. “I told (party leader) Wouter Bos once that I find it a pity that secularism is not a political theme. (…) Bos said: Take it up with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the PvdA integration spokesman in the Lower House. And Dijsselbloem said: Put it down on paper first. I then sent him an extensive email. He answered that he would have his secretary make an appointment. That was in March. I have never heard any more about it.”

El Haji also believes that many Moroccans are leaving the PvdA. “I heard from youngsters that they went to other parties because the party did not pay them any attention. They go to D66, even though they naturally belong with the PvdA. To a lesser extent, they also go to GroenLinks and SP.”

Mostapha el Madkouri, a local council member in Almere, shares Mohandis and El Haji’s worries. He referred to Utrecht city council, dominated by the PvdA, which recently opened an information desk in a mosque with separate counters for men and women. “Not a single white Dutch person is positive about that, and that is totally understandable,” said el Madkouri in De Pers.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Sweden Democrats Close in on Back-Door Riksdag Entry: Poll

The far-right Sweden Democrats need just 8,000 more votes to gain a spot in the Riksdag, according to a new poll.

The additional votes would give the party more than 12 percent of the votes in a single voting district, crossing another threshold allowing them to send a representative to Sweden’s parliament.

The figures come from a semi-annual study carried out by the Synovate polling firm and published in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

The most widely watched threshold a party must cross in order to gain representation in the Riksdag is one which requires a political party to achieve at least 4 percent of the vote nationally.

But a party can also gain a spot in parliament of it receives more than 12 percent in a single district.

No party has yet to achieve parliamentary representation through the single district threshold.

However, the Sweden Democrats currently have support of 8.1 percent of the voters in the lower Skåne voting district, in Sweden’s far south, which includes the communities of Burlöv, Kävlinge, Lund, Sjöbo, Trelleborg and Vellinge.

According to Synnovate’s calculations, support from an addition 8,000 voters would be sufficient to allow the Sweden Democrats to send a representative to the Riksdag by crossing the single district threshold.

The study is based on 12,000 interviews from Synovate polls taken in recent months.

A look at 2006 election results, however, shows that the Sweden Democrats received 5.3 percent of the vote in the district, or 11,272 votes.

Assuming the same voter participation rate of 84.5 percent for 2010, the party would need 25,000 votes — or 14,000 more votes than it received in 2006, to reach the 12 percent threshold.

“It’s true they need to increase by 14,096 votes, but that assumes that nothing has happened. But the party has increased to 8.1 percent in the voting district, which is a statistically significant increase since 2006, of from the 14,000 votes they need, they’ve already got 6,000,” said Synovate’s Nicklas Källebring.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Retirement Homes Planned for Junkies

Junkies are living longer in Switzerland thanks to the government’s drugs policy, leading to a demand for residential care for elderly drug users. Emergency shelters have identified a need for such long-term accommodation and the Obdach shelter in Lucerne has taken on the task of providing a new home for drug-dependent clients. Similar projects already exist in Zurich and Basel.

Rooms in the Lucerne night shelter are functional and sparsely furnished, intended for people in need who are just passing through.

However, the average stay per person has increased sharply, from 10 nights on average in 2004 to 15.5 nights on average last year.

Ageing addicts One significant change in the profile of clients in recent years is an increase in older drug addicts in need of care, Urs Schwab, head of Obdach told

“Thanks to the state’s four-pillar drugs policy [state-sanctioned distribution of heroin or substitute drugs on prescription since 1994, among other measures], drug addicts are living longer,” he explained.

But the years weigh more heavily on drug addicts. The physical and mental condition of a 50-year-old drugs consumer is comparable to a 70 year old in the general population.

“These people are absolutely not in the right place; we have neither the infrastructure nor the training to care for them adequately,” Schwab said.

“It is not humane that people in need of care have to stay in an emergency shelter,” he added.

Taking action However, housing long-term drug addicts in regular retirement homes has led to massive problems, in particular in preventing the residents from having unauthorised access to medication.

These problems led the association that runs Obdach to take action. The Jobdach Association is currently drawing up a living concept for drug, alcohol and medication dependent individuals.

Social services in Lucerne estimate there are 80 affected people living locally.

Zurich has had a residence, with in-house doctor, catering for long-term drug users since 2007. Many of the residents were previously homeless and most are being treated with methadone or similar heroin substitute.

This is no ordinary home — the consumption of illegal drugs is allowed on the premises.

“The concept has proved worthwhile,” Marianne Spieler, head of the Zurich home BeWo City said. “The demand is high, more facilities like this are needed,” she added.

A similar residential pilot project for elderly addicts began in Basel earlier this month, an initiative of Sternenhof, an association that provides sheltered housing for the elderly.

Contradiction Establishing old folks homes for drug addicts which perpetuate their addiction could seem at odds with the stated goal of the national drugs policy, which is abstinence.

But Mona Neidhart of the Federal Health office doesn’t see a conflict.

“Drug addiction is, according to the most recent brain research, a chronic illness,” she told”It cannot be expected of every addicted person to become clean.”

Substitution programmes may therefore carry on into advanced age and even until death.

“It is often a case of palliative medical treatment,” Neidhart said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Eco Towns Get Green Light Despite Local Opposition

Eco towns get green light despite local opposition (Doug Marke/PAGE ONE) Homes will come with gadgets including electronic bus timetables

Ministers gave approval yesterday for the building of four “pioneer” eco-towns and insisted that at least 10,000 homes would be in place by 2016 in the face of local opposition.

Despite the depth of the recession and fierce local protests, John Healey, the Housing Minister, approved sites in Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Cornwall and Hampshire. The chosen developers for Gordon Brown’s flagship programme will each be able to bid for part of a £60 million pot of extra cash.

Rural campaigners warned that the zero-carbon developments would threaten greenfield sites and local wildlife. There were also concerns that without more public transport, the extra traffic would increase rather than reduce pollution.

The successful bids, all backed by Conservative local authorities, are: Rackheath, Norfolk; Whitehill Bordon, East Hampshire; North West Bicester and the China Clay Community near St Austell, Cornwall. The Government has dropped plans to develop more controversial sites such as Western Otmoor, near Oxford — opposed by Tim Henman’s father, Tony — Ford, West Sussex, and Pennbury, Leicstershire.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England cautiously welcomed the Government’s decision to scale back its orginal shortlist of 15 sites. “From a list of deeply worrying and unsustainable locations the Government has chosen to go with the least damaging, which is enouraging,” said Kate Gordon, the organisation’s senior planning officer.

The Conservatives accused the Government of presiding over an “eco-con” that was mired in controversy. “All the low-flush toilets in the world can’t make dumping a housing estate on green fields somehow eco-friendly,” said Grant Shapps, the Shadow Housing Minister.

Marliyn Metcalfe, head of Bordon Area Action Group, which opposes the scheme in Whitehill Bordon, said: “It beggars belief that another 15,000 people would not damage the surrounding wildlife, that we could all survive on the same amount of water used now, and that doubling the population would produce no more carbon omissions than Bordon today,” Ms Metcalfe said.

All four in the first wave will be expected to have a zero-carbon school by 2013, and parks, playgrounds and gardens will make up 40 per cent of the towns. At least 30 per cent of affordable housing will be required, with one member of each working couple expected to work in the town.

Biomass fuel, solar panels, insulation, water recycling and double glazing are expected to save a typical home £200 to £500 a year. The homes will also have gadgets such as electronic bus timetables on the walls.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Former Public Schoolboy Isa Ibrahim Convicted of Planning ‘Carnage’

A former public schoolboy who converted to an extremist strand of Islam and built a viable suicide bomb vest was convicted today of planning “carnage” at a crowded shopping centre.

Andrew Ibrahim, 20, who changed his name to Isa in 2007 after his religious conversion, was arrested after members of the Muslim community in Bristol became concerned about his behaviour and contacted police.

Ibrahim, the son of a hospital consultant, was convicted of making an explosive with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the UK in April 2008.

He was also found guilty of a charge of preparing terrorist acts by purchasing material to make an explosive, making that explosive, buying material to detonate the explosive, carrying out “reconnaissance” before the act and “making an improvised suicide vest in which to then detonate an explosive substance”.

Ibrahim was given an indeterminate sentence at Winchester Crown Court and told that he should serve a minimum of 10 years.

Flanked by four prison officers, Ibrahim showed no emotion as the jury delivered its majority verdict.

His mother fled the court in tears as the sentence was passed.

Ibrahim’s conviction, after a month-long trial, has been hailed as the first visible success for the Prevent element of the national counter-terrorism strategy which tries to enlist the help of British Muslims in the fight against radicalisation.

The alert was raised when an imam contacted a Special Branch officer, who was on a canal boat holiday at the time, and said that he was worried about the young convert’s demeanour and language. He also mentioned seeing burn marks on his hands.

Initially all police had was the first name “Isa” and the fact that he was a convert.

Detectives found Ibrahim — who was homeless for a period after becoming a heroin addict and estranged from his family — within 36 hours at the GP’s surgery where he collected his methadone prescription.

Officers were making inquiries of the staff when Ibrahim walked in and was promptly arrested.

After he was held, police discovered his flat on Comb Paddock, a cul-de-sac in the suburb of Westbury on Trym where he had been manufacturing explosives, wiring detonators and stitching a suicide vest.

A search of the flat in April 2008 revealed a quantity of the high explosive Hexamethylene Triperoxide Diamine (HMTD) in a biscuit tin in the fridge, a crude detonator circuit under the kitchen sink and the vest, with pockets to carry the explosives, hanging on the bedroom door.

Further inquiries revealed that Ibrahim had filmed a test-firing of his explosive mixture and stored the footage on his computer. CCTV footage from the Broadmead shopping centre showed him making a reconnaissance trip during which he made notes in his mobile phone. One piece of text read: “Food Court dense area”.

Detective Chief Inspector Kevin Hazell of Avon and Somerset police told The Times that without help from Bristol’s Muslim communities Ibrahim might not have been caught.

“Without that information I’m not sure we would have ever found him because he was operating alone,” said Mr Hazell.

“If he had done what he was planning we would have had carnage in the centre of Bristol.

“The community convinced me. If the community is uncomfortable, if they have a gut feeling, then I’ve got to go with that.”

The city has a diverse Muslim population — with communities originating in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Iraq, Algeria and Afghanistan — and 11 mosques or meeting houses. Representatives of a number of communities expressed concern about Ibrahim.

Mr Hazell said: “They didn’t like his view of Islam, particularly his praise for suicide bombers and were especially alarmed when he had a heated row with a visiting imam.

“The calls to us came in when he showed some people the injuries on his hands, including marks from shards of glass, which he said were caused when a bottle blew up when he was mixing chemicals”.

Mr Justice Butterfield told Ibrahim that, even though he had not made a detonation device or completed the suicide vest, “your preparation to inflict an atrocity on the innocent civilians of Bristol were advanced”.

“You are a dangerous young man, well capable of acting on the views you held in the spring of 2008.”

He added that he considered Ibrahim to be a “continuing danger” to the public but gave a substantial discount on the minimum term imposed due to the fact that he had acted alone and because of his age.

“You were, in my judgment, a lonely and angry young person at the time of these events, with a craving for attention,” said the judge.

Ibrahim was born Andrew Michael Philip, the younger of two sons of an Egyptian father and an English mother who, although separated, both attended sections of his trial.

Nassif Ibrahim, a Coptic Christian, is a consultant pathologist at Frenchay Hospital who, the court heard, collects antique pottery, stamps, coins and Nazi memorabilia. Ibrahim’s mother, Valerie, works as an administrator at Bristol University Medical School.

The would-be bomber was educated for a period as a boarder at Downside School, near Bath, where Auberon Waugh was a pupil. His elder brother Peter is an Oxford University graduate who is now studying to become a barrister.

But Ibrahim drifted into casual drug use at the age of 12 and by his late teens was a heavy user of heroin and crack cocaine. He told the jury that his mother had asked him to leave the family home after discovering his drug use. At the time of his arrest he was selling the Big Issue to help pay for a £60-per-day drug habit.

In court, Ibrahim denied making a bomb with intent to endanger life. He said that he was making explosives to occupy his time while he struggled to come off heroin.

David Spens, QC, for the defence, asked the jury if his client was “an Islamic extremist intent on carnage and mass murder in the heart of Bristol?” or “a weak, lonely figure living much of his life in a fantasy world” and “a prat”?

The jury’s verdict was that Ibrahim was a would-be terrorist.

Mr Hazell added: “This is the first time that Prevent has led to the thwarting of a suspected terrorist incident and shows the importance of building trust with communities.”

           — Hat tip: Exile[Return to headlines]

UK: Jail for ‘Suicide Vest’ Student

[Note: There is a video at the link of Isa Ibrahim experimenting with explosives at his home. — io’p]

A student has been jailed for a minimum of 10 years for plotting to blow himself up using his own “suicide vest” and home-made explosives.

Isa Ibrahim, from Bristol, was convicted at Winchester Crown Court of making explosives with intent and preparing terrorist acts in April 2008.

He had denied both charges but pleaded guilty to a third charge of making an explosive substance.

Prosecutors said Ibrahim had planned to set off the blast in a shopping centre.

Police said the case was a landmark one because it was the first time a tip-off from the Muslim community had led to a major anti-terrorism arrest.

He was given an indeterminate sentence, with the judge saying he should serve a minimum of 10 years.

Mr Justice Butterfield told Ibrahim that, even though he had not made a detonation device or completed the suicide vest, “your preparation to inflict an atrocity on the innocent civilians of Bristol were advanced”.

“You are a dangerous young man, well capable of acting on the views you held in the spring of 2008,” he said.

He said he considered Ibrahim to be a “continuing danger” to the public but gave a substantial discount on the minimum term imposed because he had acted alone and because of his age.

“You were, in my judgment, a lonely and angry young person at the time of these events, with a craving for attention,” said the judge.

Police found a quantity of home-made high explosive HMTD, the same substance used in the 7 July attacks, in a container in the fridge of Ibrahim’s home when he was arrested.

They also discovered an electrical circuit capable of detonating the explosive at short range and a half-made “suicide vest”.

The prosecution said the Muslim convert was preparing to carry out a terrorist attack on the Broadmead shopping centre in Bristol, where he had been seen doing reconnaissance.

Prosecutors said he became increasingly radicalised after converting to Islam, developing a “mindset of martyrdom” and changing his name from Andrew to Isa.

He also researched fundamentalism on the internet and searched online for techniques to manufacture explosives from household products.

Ibrahim had told the trial that he made explosives and “suicide vests” because it was “fun” and he was trying to “occupy time” while he struggled to beat an addiction to drugs.

He said he was “planning to set off an explosion but not hurt people”.

Det Supt Nigel Rock of Avon and Somerset Police, said it was a landmark case as the initial information came from the Muslim community.

“We will never know what the consequences would have been had the community not had the courage to contact the police.

“But what we do know is that Ibrahim had all the components for a credible explosive device, he had increased the destructive power of that device the night before his arrest by obtaining shrapnel to add to it.

“He had made a suicide vest and built the means of detonation. Finally he had identified a busy shopping centre in Bristol as his target.

“The jury found he meant to detonate that bomb, intending to cause serious harm. There is no doubt people would have been killed.”

In a statement following the verdict the Council of Bristol Mosques said its members condemned “in the strongest terms any act of facet of terrorism or extremism”.

“We stress that at all times we must behave honourably and as law-abiding citizens. We believe strongly in community ties and community cohesion. Anything falling below these standards is morally and socially unacceptable,” it said.

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

UK: Jeweller Given Police Warning for Banning Gipsies After String of Raids on His Shop

A respected jeweller has been given a police warning for ‘racially offensive’ conduct after banning gipsies from his shop in the wake of a series of raids by an Eastern European crime gang.

Michael Plant, 62, repeatedly called in officers after the foreign thieves — believed to be Romanian travellers — stole pieces from his jewellery shop in Altrincham, Cheshire.

Mr Plant reacted to the string of thefts with a sign in his shop window reading: ‘Sorry, we do not serve Eastern Europeans or Gypsies.’

Shortly after posting the sign, he was served with a warning from a senior police officer demanding he take it down, or face prosecution for possible race hate charges.

Despite inquiries police have been unable to trace the thieves.

Mr Plant has run the M&M Plant shop with his Austrian wife Monika, 62, for the past 22 years. Today, he said: ‘I’m not racist, but the fact is I have been targeted repeatedly by Eastern European criminals and I should have a right to say which people come into my shop and not face allegations of racial discrimination.

‘I should be able to choose who I serve. That’s not just Eastern Europeans — if someone comes in drunk they will not be served either.

‘All I want is some common sense approach to what we have. The police are reactive rather than proactive to crime, they wait for it to happen before they solve it rather than the other way round.

‘I think these Romanians and Eastern European criminals are letting their fellow countrymen down. Obviously I don’t think all of them are bad, but how can I distinguish who is good and who is bad? ‘I’ve got a foreign wife and we have foreign friends. But some people coming in to this country illegally seem to have more rights than me.’ The series of thefts at Mr Plant’s store started 18 months ago, with the most recent last Saturday when a man’s gold wedding ring was stolen.

‘They always say they’re Spanish, but they aren’t. I speak more Spanish than them,’ he added.

‘They use distraction techniques like a child running around, and they get away with your stock. One morning I lost nine bracelets, worth well into four figures.

‘I think they must pass our name around because about every five to six weeks I get another group of people, two or three to four, sometimes with or without children. Their English is very poor. They always have gold teeth.

‘The men always dress very flamboyant with suits, they look as if they are trying to fit in with pointy shoes on, but unfortunately they go over the top and fail.

‘They come in and ask for something and we usually haven’t got it. Last Saturday we got a visit from another ‘disadvantaged’ pair from a ‘disadvantaged’ group and the result was that we lost some jewellery to them.

‘They’re quicker than Paul Daniels. It’s a couple of hundred pounds and that’s under my insurance excess.’ Officers were alerted to Mr Plant’s sign, posted on Monday morning, after a tip-off. He then got a warning from senior officers shortly afterwards offering him ‘words of advice’ about the message.

He said: ‘This sign was written in anger after the robbery. I feared we would get more in that afternoon. I just put it straight up on the door. One Saturday we got some in in the morning and some in the afternoon.

‘I emailed the local Inspector to say what I had put up on the sign and I was told to take it down immediately.

‘I put up another sign which actually said Romanian and East European Gypsies. It’s actually saying nothing, but the police are now taking offence to the word “gypsies”.

‘I’ve reported incidents to the police in the past. I’ve had several robberies over the years and the capture of criminals is very low.

‘I’m sick and tired of a country where if I put a sign on the door, I’m told I’m in flagrant disregard of the discrimination act, which would result in me going to high court being given a fine and a slap on the wrist and end up with a criminal record.

‘I bet if these people are caught for stealing, they probably wouldn’t even go into a magistrates court. They would just get a fixed penalty fine and that would be paid by one of the human rights organisations. The tax-payer pays for it all.

‘I’ve spoken to various people, including foreign friends of mine, and they seem to agree that the whole country is belly-up.’

Police said the Mr Plant had fallen foul of the Race Relations Act which recognises gypsies and travellers as ethnic groups.

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said: ‘Police received a report that a shop was displaying a sign which contained writing that was deemed to be offensive.

‘Officers have spoken with the owner of the shop. He has been advised that the notice is offensive and he has since removed it. We take all complaints of this nature extremely seriously.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Pagan Police Get Solstice Leave

Pagan police officers in some areas are being allowed to take as many as eight days leave a year for events such as the summer solstice and Halloween.

It comes after the Pagan Police Association was set up following discussions with Home Office officials.

Policy on police leave varies between forces in England and Wales.

Hertfordshire Police lets Pagan staff re-allocate the traditional bank holidays to meet their beliefs — it has also appointed two Pagan chaplains.

Pc Andy Pardy, a Pagan neighbourhood beat officer in Hemel Hempstead, Herts, was one of the officers involved in setting up the association.


He told Police Review: “Paganism is not the new age, tree-hugging fad that some people think it is.

“It is not the clandestine, horrible, evil thing that people think it is. A lot of people think it is about dancing naked around a fire.

“But the rituals involve chanting, music and meditation. For Pagans, the practices are seen to have the same power as prayer does for Christians.”

PC Pardy is allowed to take eight days per year for Pagan events — which form part of his annual leave.

Pagans worship nature and believe in many gods and their practices include witchcraft and druidism.

According to the Office of National Statistics there were 31,000 people practising Paganism in England and Wales in 2001.

Another officer, Pc Andy Hill, of Staffordshire Police, is a practising Wiccan — a kind of Pagan witch.

Healing spells

He has offered to use spells to give fellow officers a helping hand with promotion exams or to heal ill colleagues and is the founder of the Pagan Police Group UK, a website for Pagan police officers and their families.

He told Police Review: “Wiccan has always been a bit of a taboo religion, there are lots of misconceptions about it.

“This is nothing to do with black magic or devil worshipping. Witchcraft is not the hocus pocus, puff of smoke, turning people into frogs stuff you see on television. It is working with nature for good.”

Superintendent Simon Hawkins, of Hertfordshire Police, said: “While balancing operational needs, the force’s religion and belief’s policy gives all staff the choice of re-allocating the traditional Christian bank holiday festivals to suit their personal faith beliefs and this has been very well-received from a number of faith groups including Muslim and Jewish.

No public funding

“The force strives to provide a receptive environment for all its staff and our faith work stream is a positive example of our commitment to meet the diverse needs of all who work for us and the public we serve.”

A Home Office spokesman said: the Pagan Police Association did not receive any funding from the Home Office.

He added: “The government wants a police service that reflects the diverse communities it serves.

“It is down to individual forces to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the religion or beliefs of individual officers, as far as operational requirements permit.”

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

UK: Riot Police Raid 30th Barbecue Because Man Used Facebook to Invite His Friends

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Great use of taxpayer money here…every time I think the British police can’t outdo themselves…they blow me away.]

Riot police raided a 30th birthday barbecue because they thought the organiser, who had invited his friends via Facebook, was staging a rave. Four police cars, a riot van and a helicopter moved in on Andrew Poole’s gathering which was taking place in a field owned by a friend. The coach driver had invited 17 guests to an ‘event’ on his social networking page by private invitation and was about to light the barbecue when the gazebo suddenly started flapping wildly and the sound of chopper blades filled the air.

A police helicopter circled the field several times before four police cars and a riot van stormed into the field in a small village near Sowton, Devon. Eight officers wearing camouflage trousers and body armour then jumped out and ordered the party to be shut down or everyone would be arrested. Andrew, of Exeter, Devon, said: ‘It had started to rain so we had gone in under the gazebo. All of a sudden there was this noise in the sky — I honestly couldn’t believe it. ‘The thing then hovered over us for about 25 minutes, watching 15 people eat. They told us to take down the sound system and said everybody’s got to leave. ‘It was 4pm and we hadn’t even plugged the music in yet. We tried to reason with them, and even offered for them to take the power lead for the sound system, but they were having none of it. ‘It was on private land. We were nowhere near anyone. We weren’t even playing any music. What effectively the police did was come in and stop fifteen people eating burgers.’ Andrew had spent £800 for the hire of the generator, marquee and food. The guests arrived at 3pm but soon after a police helicopter generated a huge dust cloud which covered his BBQ in debris. Andrew said: ‘The police had full-on camouflage trousers on and body-armour, it was ridiculous. There was also several plain-clothes officers as well. ‘I told them it was my 30th birthday. I said “this is a once in a lifetime event for me, please don’t ruin it”. But they kept on insisting I had been advertising it as an all-night rave on the internet. ‘But I’d created an event, and 17 people had confirmed as guests, I did put the times on it as “overnight” in case people wanted to sleep-over. ‘They were still banging on saying it was advertised on the internet. They wouldn’t accept it wasn’t a rave. It was in a completely isolated field. ‘We’d actually faced the speakers away from the village just in case nosy-neighbour types complained. But someone must have seen us putting up the marquee and phoned the police.’ A spokeswoman for Devon and Cornwall police said the helicopter was deployed for less that 20 minutes at a cost of around £200. She said local residents were concerned due to previous raves having reportedly taken place in the area with loud music and traffic disruption into the early hours. She said: ‘The decision to close down a rave or illegal music festival is not taken lightly. ‘On this occasion, we were extremely concerned how the event had been advertised on the internet as an all-night party and it was therefore necessary to take the appropriate steps. ‘Had it gone ahead, it is likely that far more of our resources would have been used to police the event and there would have been considerable disruption to neighbouring properties. ‘It was fortunate that the force helicopter was able to fly over the site as they were returning from another task.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: Swine Flu Mother Dies After Giving Birth, Leaving Her Premature Baby Fighting for Life

A baby is fighting for its life in hospital today after its mother gave birth prematurely before dying from swine flu.

The 39-year-old woman gave birth in London before dying on Monday and her child — born very early — has been in intensive care ever since.

Its battle for survival emerged as the deaths of another baby under the age of six months and a seven-year-old boy from Kent were revealed.

England’s most senior doctor has warned 65,000 people in the UK could die from the deadly virus or 350 a day at its peak.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson has ordered the NHS to plan for this worst case scenario, although he stressed he was making assumptions not predictions.

The death toll has already more than doubled in the past week, with London and the West Midlands the worst affected.

West is accused by World Health Organisation of grabbing all the swine flu vaccines

The pregnant woman died at Whipps Cross Hospital in the capital. She is thought to have been a paraplegic after a car crash several years ago.

Relatives of the victim, who lived in London but is originally thought to be from Bangladesh, are said to be caring for her five other children.

A hospital spokesman said: ‘Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust can confirm that a 39-year-old woman passed away on July 13, 2009 and that she was infected with Pandemic H1N1. The trust can confirm that she had underlying health conditions.’

The youngest victim in Britain so far — a baby of six months — died at the Royal Free Hospital in London last week.

The seven-year-old boy who died was a pupil at English Martyrs school in Strood, Kent.

Medway Council confirmed his death was being investigated as a possible swine flu casualty and that tests were taking place.

An NHS South East Coast spokesmana added: ‘We are currently investigating the death of a seven year old who died on Tuesday.

Tragic: Whipp’s Cross Hospital in east London where a mother died from swine flu after giving birth prematurely. Her baby is fighting for life

‘The child was admitted to hospital with a range of complications which were not related to swine flu. The cause of death has not been confirmed and we are awaiting test results.’

Other newly confirmed deaths include a 70-year-old man and another adult. All had serious underlying health conditions but tested positive for the virus.

Dr Simon Tanner, regional director of public health at NHS London, said: ‘We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to each of the families affected. It is also important that these deaths be kept in perspective.’

He told London’s Evening Standard: ‘All four had underlying health conditions and these upsetting cases should be kept in context with the many people who have had swine flu and recovered just a few days after experiencing a mild illness.’

The six-year-old who died in Kent on Wednesday was said not to have any existing health problems.

If true, this will intensify fears among parents already concerned after the death of Chloe Buckley, six, in London last week.

Other victims include American tourist has become the latest to die from swine flu in the UK after falling ill during a holiday in Scotland with her husband.

She had been in intensive care at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for three weeks but died yesterday. It is understood she had ‘significant’ underlying health problems.

Health officials have warned the outbreak could mean schools staying closed after the summer holidays to avoid it spreading further.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families admitted it ‘cannot be certain what the situation will be’ in the autumn.

The latest person to die from swine flu is an American woman. She had been in intensive care at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for three weeks

A message will be sent out to schools at the end of August telling them what to do at the start of the new term which could come as the outbreak peaks.

Campaigners say schools should have been closed early for the summer and said they should stay shut until pupils can be vaccinated.

Margaret Morrissey, of lobby group Parents Outloud, said: ‘We might have to, in some schools, keep them closed until the vaccine is in place/

‘There could be a decision that schools have got to say to parents “If your finances can be supported, do you agree with having the school closed until the children are vaccinated?”‘

However, HPA guidance says school closures and the distribution of Tamiflu is no longer recommended because swine flu is already so widespread.

It says: ‘People are likely to be repeatedly exposed to the virus in their everyday lives. Closing a school will no longer be effective in slowing the spread of the virus as people could still be exposed outside the school.

‘In some special circumstances — for example, a school with children who are particularly vulnerable to infection — then school closures might still be recommended.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: We Have a Moral Duty to Our Troops: Pay Up or Pull Them Out

On the day that Gordon Brown swept into Downing Street as Prime Minister, June 27 2007, he addressed the country: “This will be a new Government with new priorities.” So much has happened since then that it is often difficult to recall precisely which of the old priorities he found so inappropriate.

Posing outside Number 10, Mr Brown talked about listening to the British people and governing in a new way. And, to be fair, in just two years, many things have changed: banks have been nationalised, unemployment has soared, so too immigration, and the regard in which MPs are held by the electorate has been buried under an avalanche of dodgy expenses.

What has not changed, however, is the low priority given to defence spending by an administration that cannot walk past an official statistic without twisting it for tomorrow’s headlines. The art of management is about choice, and the Prime Minister and his sinister cabal have made theirs clear.

When it comes to the nation’s budget, the slice allocated to our Armed Forces, compared with the overall size of the cake, is less today than it was in 2001, when the military campaign in Afghanistan began. Despite the chronic over-stretch being endured by our troops in far-off hell-holes, the bill for which is being paid in the blood of teenage squaddies, defence continues to be treated as an unwelcome distraction that buys few votes.

This assertion will, of course, be rejected by ministers panicked by the public’s growing revulsion over British deaths in Helmand, but here are the facts. In his 2001 Budget, Mr Brown set aside £24 billion for defence from total public spending that year of £394 billion. Thus defence accounted for 6.09 per cent of the state’s annual outlay. This year, Alistair Darling pencilled in £38 billion for defence from total public spending of £671 billion, or 5.66 per cent. In the nine Budgets, 2001 to 2009, the average was 5.5 per cent.

Never mind fine words peddled in Parliament to give an impression of a greater priority for kitting out those in the front line, the Government’s spending patterns tell a different story. In 2001, total social security (welfare) payments were 4.6 times bigger than defence spending. This year’s social security payments (rebranded “social protection” in 2003), will be £189 billion, or almost five times more than the entire defence allocation. Whom would you rather fund, the Karen Matthews set or British soldiers?

Yes, defence spending has increased in money terms under Mr Brown. But its place in Whitehall’s food chain has, at best, gone sideways. The Prime Minister can flip the figures hither and thither, but his “new priorities” do not include a meaningful promotion for Tommy Atkins. He’s stuck in the second rank: way behind welfare, health, education; and only marginally ahead of what the Treasury defines as “personal social services” (£31 billion).

As if a lack of sufficient funding to fight foreign wars were not injury enough, Mr Brown has added considerable insult by appointing Bob Ainsworth as Defence Secretary. He ranks 21 on a list of 23 ministers. Those below him could be forgiven for having a crisis of self-esteem, because this is a politician who, even on a fine day with a fair wind, fails to achieve mediocrity. Since taking office, his public performances have been little short of hopeless. Our generals, admirals and air marshals must be weeping into their pink gins.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron scolded Mr Brown for having four defence secretaries in four years. Such has been the speed of the revolving door, the Conservative leader missed one. Since 2005, there have, in fact, been five: Geoff Hoon, John Reid, Des Browne, John Hutton and now Bob-a-Jobsworth. None, I’m afraid, graced the office with distinction.

Not that the prospect of a Tory victory at the next election holds out much hope for a significant reallocation of resources towards defence. Behind the scenes, Mr Cameron and his aides are briefing opinion-formers to expect the worst. More money will be found for the Army, but only at the expense of the RAF and Navy. Writing in the Financial Times, Malcolm Rifkind, a former Conservative defence secretary, stated boldly: “The defence budget of over £34 billion [sic] is simply too big to be exempt from cuts.”

This is nonsense. Strip out the defence costs from Mr Darling’s shopping list and there is still £633 billion with which to juggle. The issue, as Mr Brown made clear, is about priorities. If the United Kingdom can afford to spend £119 billion protecting the health of its citizens, it can afford to spend a lot more than £38 billion protecting the lives of its soldiers. But is there the will?

I reject Mr Brown’s claim that the war in Afghanistan is being waged “to prevent terror coming to the streets of Britain”. If that distant country were cleared of al- Qaeda and Taleban fighters tomorrow, Britain would still harbour many home-grown threats. Three of the London Underground bombers came from Leeds; one of the Glasgow Airport attackers was born in Aylesbury. What’s more, al-Qaeda has plenty of options beyond Afghanistan, including Somalia and Yemen. Are they next for the Welsh Guards?

But even if I am wrong, and the bloody grind in Helmand is worth the terrible price we are paying, it is unthinkable for the mission to be run on the economics of Aldi. Defence is not like transport or housing. In a theatre of war, pinched pennies cost lives. If British forces are to be deployed as global policemen, they must not be undermined by Treasury bean counters, determined to put the brake on the state’s runaway debts. The death of even one British soldier through lack of proper funding is a cause of national disgrace. Ministers responsible should be ashamed of themselves.

How Mr Brown can tell the Commons that recent losses had nothing to do with a lack of helicopters — and still sleep at night — is a mystery. The moral compass he was given at Kirkcaldy High School has gone with the spin.

Yesterday’s report from the Defence Select Committee exploded the Prime Minister’s self-justifying twaddle. Referring to the Army’s capacity to protect troops while carrying out operations with current equipment, it concluded: “We are troubled by the forecast reduction in numbers of medium and heavy lift battlefield helicopters, which will make this worse.”

Jack Welch, the legendary boss of General Electric, believed: “Insecure managers create complexity.” This applies equally to political weaklings. Mr Brown would have us believe that the challenges defining our military presence in Afghanistan are devilishly difficult to understand. Actually, they could hardly be simpler. We must either pay up or pull out.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Serbia: EU Chief Promises Good News on Visa Liberalisation

Belgrade, 13 July (AKI) — The European Union chief for security and foreign policy Javier Solana arrived in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Monday for the first leg of his Balkans tour, promising good news for Serbia in regard to membership in the EU as well as visa-free travel for Serbian passport holders.

After meeting with Serbia’s foreign minister Vuk Jeremic, Solana told journalists he could not go into details, but expected good news in a few days.

“It will be good news for the citizens of Serbia,” Solana said.

EU commissioner for enlargement Ollie Rehn is expected to announce a decision of the European Commission in Luxembourg on Tuesday to liberalise visas for citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro beginning 1 January 2010.

In an interview with Serbian news agency Beta, Solana said that the Netherlands still oppose concessions to Serbia until it hands over to the United Nations war crimes tribunal former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, a wartime leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia.

“You know that problems exist, but I can guarantee you that we will do everything possible to overcome difficulties,” Solana said.

Serbia has handed over to the Hague tribunal 45 people indicted for war crimes, including two presidents and several generals, but the arrest of Mladic and Hadzic remain a precondition for its further advances towards EU membership.

Solana said that Serbia “must retain a high level of cooperation” with the Hague tribunal, but pointed out that the country was “irreversibly advancing” towards the European Union.

Solana, who leaves his post in October, was scheduled to meet later today Serbian president Boris Tadic, prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic and other Serbian officials.

He will then visit Macedonia and Kosovo on Tuesday and Montenegro on Wednesday.

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

North Africa

Egypt: Police Arrest 25 ‘Terror Suspects’ In Sinai

Cairo, 16 July (AKI) — Egyptian security forces on Thursday arrested 25 terror suspects in the north of the Sinai peninsula. The group is alleged to have been planning violent attacks in the country.

According to local security sources, cited by Arab TV network al-Arabiya, 10 of the suspects were detained on Wednesday, while the others were arrested previously.

The suspects are believed to have been involved in the robbery of a jewellery store in Cairo last May in which five people, including the owner, were killed.

The group members are believed to come from the city of Arish on the border of the Gaza Strip and are also accused of planning terror attacks abroad.

One of those arrested is a Palestinian suspected of having direct links with the Al-Qaeda terror network and of having planned attacks on foreign ships as they travelled through the Suez Canal and gas pipelines.

Investigators suspect that several of the accused are also part of the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.

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

Islam: Morocco Launches Sufism Website

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, JULY 15 — The online newspaper Pointinfo has announced its launch of a website for texts and documents relating to the history of Islam and Sufism, as reported by the MAP press agency. The site,, contains access to information of a religious nature, videos, and an online library with special attention given to Sufism, the Islamic movement which began in the seventh century. Initially in Arabic, the Aktab site will eventually include a French and English version “in order to spread the fundamental value of Islam which is tolerance”. The site’s launch occurred on the same days in Marrakech and Sidi Chiker in which international conferences were held on Sufism. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Morocco: Open Letter to King for Press Freedom

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, JULY 16 — “The situation has become intolerable, we are appealing to you to stop the oppression and persecution of the independent press”, was the central theme of an open letter written to Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, by Khaled Al Jamai, journalist and former member of Istiqlal, the party of Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi. “We are not asking you for special treatment, but for a right which only you can guarantee to the press, as we await an independent judicial system. When politics becomes involved in the courts, justice is thrown out”. Al Jamai is not expecting a response. “I wrote to the king because there are many things which are not right, and which I hope will change, and because I fear that there is nobody who has the courage to explain the actual situation to him”. Recently the high court in Casablanca sentenced three Moroccan journalists to a fine of 1 million dirham (90,000 euros) for criticising Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Israeli Warships Pass Through Suez Canal

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JULY 14 — Two Israeli warships passed through the Suez Canal today en route to the Red Sea where they will participate in combined manoeuvres with American forces about 60 km off the Egyptian-Sudanese border, port sources reported. The ships are the Hanit, which already passed through the canal at the beginning of July escorted by a submarine, and the Eilat which carries the name of an Israeli torpedo-boat destroyer that was attacked in 1967 by an Egyptian unit during the Arab-Israeli War. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel: Incident Between Police and Ultraorthodox Jews

(ANSAmed)- JERUSALEM, JULY 15 — New incidents occurred between Israeli police and ultraorthodox Jews yesterday evening in Jerusalem during a demonstration against the opening of a parking lot and the arrest of one member of their religious group. According to a police spokesman, the demonstrators — said to number in the hundreds — set trash bins on fire and threw stones at police vehicles. The spokesman added that no one had been arrested or injured. For several weeks, ultraorthodox Jews have been taking to the streets to protest against mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to authorise the opening of a large parking lot in the Old City even during the “Shabbat”, the Jewish day of rest which, according to one interpretation of the Holy Text, should be given over entirely to prayer. The woman arrested (also an Orthodox Jew) did not end up in jail as a result of any sort of protest but because she was accused of not taking care of her three-year-old son. The demonstrators claim that the charges are “baseless”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel: Angry at Swiss Over Hamas Delegation

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JULY 15 — Israel has voiced its “anger” to the Swiss government, after its diplomats met a delegation from the Palestinian movement Hamas. Yigal Palmor, spokesman of the foreign ministry, said that Israel is “angry, since Hamas is still considered as a terrorist organisation by the European Union, even if Switzerland is not an EU member.” Hamas, he continued, is not only at war with Israel, but also with the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. By officially receiving a Hamas delegation, Switzerland is not placing itself among those who support moderation,” Palmor said. According to a well-informed Israeli source, several Arab States, including Morocco, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, refuse to give out entry visas to Hamas members since this Muslim movement took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, the Hamas delegation, led by Mahmud Al-Zahar, entered Switzerland two weeks ago. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kids TV Praises Gaza Mom’s Suicide Bombing

GAZA CITY (CNN) — It’s meant to be a children’s program, but “Young Pioneers” on Hamas-run television is well-known for pushing the boundaries of what most people would deem suitable content for children.

One episode raised eyebrows when it first aired two years ago on al Aqsa TV, featuring two young Palestinian children being shown a re-enactment of their mother’s preparations for and execution of a suicide bombing.

The show was recently aired for the children of the bomber and other youths in a studio audience.

The young anchor sounds a defiant note: “And here we say to the occupier that we will follow her doctrine, the doctrine of the martyr mujahida Reem Riyashi, until we liberate our homeland from your illegitimate hands.”

Riyashi killed four Israelis in a 2004 attack at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel.

In the video, an actress playing her prepares explosives for her mission, ignoring her children’s questions about what she is doing.

“Mummy, what are you holding in your arms — a toy or a present for me?” her daughter asks.

Her daughter then sees a news report about the suicide bombing and sings, “Only now I understand what was more important than us.”

The camera cuts back to the faces of her two children watching the re-enactment.

The Israeli monitoring group Palestinian Media Watch publicized and condemned the program when it first appeared.

The group told CNN, “These young children are tragic victims of horrific child abuse.”

Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a leading Palestinian psychiatrist in Gaza, worries about how glorifying suicide bombers affects children.

“Three years ago, we did a study on children in Gaza between the ages of 12 and 14, and we asked them, what would you like to be when you are 18?” Sarraj said. “At that time, 36 percent of boys said, ‘I would like to be a martyr,’ and 17 percent of the girls said the same.”

He said children in Gaza had been so traumatized by Israeli-Palestinian violence over the years that their perceptions of life and death were damaged.

It’s possible for most people in the region to watch al Aqsa television if they have the right satellite dish, though it’s not possible to tell how many have seen the footage.

It is Hamas-run and its audience probably is restricted to those with that political affiliation.

Al Aqsa did not return CNN’s calls for comment on the program.

Two years ago, the station created a Mickey Mouse-style character that encouraged “violent resistance” against Israel and simulated the use of an AK-47 and grenades

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Middle East

H.Clinton to Arab States, ‘Take Steps Toward Israel’

(ANSAmed) — WASHINGTON, JULY 16 — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Arab countries to take “significant” initiatives now to normalise relations with Israel. “Arab countries have a responsibility to support the Palestinian Authority with words and with facts,” Clinton said yesterday, “to adopt measures to improve relations with Israel and to prepare their peoples to accept peace and the presence of Israel in the region.” Clinton called on Arab states “to accept our invitation to adopt significant measures starting now” to reach a normalisation of relations with the Jewish state. On Syria, the U.S. Secretary of State said that the United States remains committed to seeking a dialogue with Syria but that “there must be an attitude of reciprocity.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Iran Names MIT Graduate as New Nuclear Chief

U.S.-educated physicist is well-known to Western diplomats, U.N. officials

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has appointed a new chief for the country’s nuclear program, following the abrupt resignation of its veteran head, the official IRNA news agency reported Friday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, a U.S.-educated physicist who was Iran’s former envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, is replacing Gholam Reza Aghazadeh as the new vice president and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, IRNA said.

[Return to headlines]

Iran: Artist Gets Five Year Jail Term for Musical Koran

Tehran, 13 July (AKI) — An Iranian artist has been sentenced to five years in prison for having put the Koran to music. According to ‘Fardanews’, the Iranian authorities considered the move “offensive to Islamic morality”.

Mohsen Namju is accused of having ridiculed the Koran, “reciting it in a western and anti-Islamic style”.

One of the major experts on recitation of the the Koran in Iran, Abbas Salimi, reported the musician to the Islamic court in Tehran.

The court found the artist guilty for having breached “Islamic morality”.

After the sentence, Abbas Salimi was reportedly “very satisfied” and underlined the importance of “defending the sacredness of god’s book”.

“No-one should be able to ridicule it,” he said.

Under Islamic law, music is allowed if it does not result in provoking the faithful.

Combining the recitation of the Koran and popular songs, like the Iranian artist, is not tolerated under Islamic Sharia law.

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

Israel’s Military Message to Iran

Earlier this week, two Israeli Sa’ar Five class warships — the corvettes Hanit and the Eilat, two of the most sophisticated vessels in Israel’s small navy — passed through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea.

Late last month, an Israeli Dolphin class submarine, possibly also accompanied by other vessels, passed through the canal for a brief deployment in the Red Sea before returning the way it had come.

These are all very public deployments and for good reason.

These Israeli naval movements are intended as a clear warning to Iran that Israel retains military options should Tehran fail to halt its uranium enrichment programme.

Future attack

An Israeli official is quoted in The Times newspaper as saying that the movement of the two missile boats should be seen as being linked to a future attack on Iran.

“Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack on Iran,” says the official. “These manoeuvres are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats.”

Clearly any attack on Iran would in large part be carried out by the Israeli air force.

But the navy could play a part too. Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines were designed to fire relatively short-range Harpoon missiles.

But they also have a number of larger-diameter torpedo tubes from which a much longer-range weapon might be fired.

There has been considerable speculation that Israel has designed a long-range cruise missile capable of being fired from the Dolphin boats, and that this might even have the option of being equipped with a nuclear warhead.

Tactical options

Israel’s growing interest in Red Sea operations is not solely linked to the perceived threat from Iran’s nuclear programme.

Israel is also increasingly concerned about arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

Analysts believe that much of the weaponry travels by sea from Iran to Sudan and then on to Egypt.

Last March there were unconfirmed reports that Israeli warplanes had attacked an arms convoy in Sudan.

All in all the Red Sea is fast becoming a more important area of operations for Israel’s armed forces.

Nonetheless, Tehran remains Israel’s central strategic concern.

A huge variety of preparations are underway for a potential attack against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

There have been long-range large-scale air exercises over the Mediterranean. There are the recent naval deployments.

And the revelations concerning Syria’s alleged nuclear reactor — with pictures of the installation taken on site — gave a tantalising hint of Israel’s intelligence capabilities.

Academic and military experts have produced a torrent of reports about just how such an operation might be carried out.

But it is clear that Israel may have some surprises up its sleeve, and that its commanders intend to maximise their tactical options whether an attack comes from the air or from the sea.

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

South Asia

Did We Take a Wrong Turn in Afghanistan?

Absolutely. But it’s far too early for despair.

Policymakers perceive Afghanistan through the categories of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, state-building and economic development. These categories are so closely linked that you can put them in almost any sequence or combination. You need to defeat the Taliban to build a state and you need to build a state to defeat the Taliban. There cannot be security without development, or development without security. If you have the Taliban you have terrorists, if you don’t have development you have terrorists, and as Obama informed the New Yorker, “If you have ungoverned spaces, they become havens for terrorists.”

I haven’t been in Afghanistan for some little time, but it is getting harder to avoid the impression that some kind of wrong turn was made quite a long way back on the road. Or perhaps a series of wrong turns—at any rate, some combination of losing the “drug war”; over-relying on airstrikes that frightened and harmed the civilian population; ceding many border zones to the Taliban and their Pakistani backers; and failing to check corruption, jobbery, and apathy in the ministries of the Hamid Karzai government, which is now slouching toward a re-election that seems to inspire nobody in particular.

Stewart points out the improbability of a “surge” being able to reverse this situation. There are no mass-based political groups in Afghanistan, and Kabul does not possess the relative strength and legitimacy of Baghdad. Afghan tribal groups are not approachable in the same way as Sunni Iraqi ones were, and they often do not exhibit the same level of coherence and legitimacy. It is in these circumstances that the Taliban have been able to emulate at least some of the success of the anti-Soviet mujahidin, successfully posing as the defenders of the Islamic faith and the enemies of foreign intervention and becoming a virtual government in some provinces and towns.

However, the picture is not as absolutely dark as one might be led to expect. On my own ventures into the Afghan hinterland, I found that the Taliban also labored under one giant disadvantage from which the earlier mujahidin had not suffered: They had already been the government of Afghanistan and had not been loved for it. Countless people, especially women and city dwellers, had ugly memories of their cruel and stupid rule. Many Afghans fled the country to get away from it and only came back when the Taliban were thrown out. Several religious and ethnic minority populations, who also suffered grossly, are unlikely to submit to another round of Taliban control. Rory Stewart makes a point of noticing this:

The Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek populations are wealthier, more established and more powerful than they were in 1996 and would strongly resist any attempt by the Taliban to occupy their areas. The Afghan national army is reasonably effective. Pakistan is not in a position to support the Taliban as it did before. It would require far fewer international troops and planes than we have today to make it very difficult for the Taliban to gather a conventional army as they did in 1996 and drive tanks and artillery up the main road to Kabul.

If I am reading Stewart and other analysts correctly, they are warning that in Afghanistan we may be making the best the enemy of the good. It reminds me of what great Welsh radical Aneurin Bevan said to the British Tories during the Cyprus crisis of the late 1950s. The government did not seem to know, he pointed out, whether it wanted to keep a base in Cyprus or to have the whole island as a base. Extending the analogy, might we not be able to shape events in Afghanistan nearer to our heart’s desire without making ourselves responsible for the running of the whole nation and society?

Stewart again: “A reduction in troop numbers and a turn away from state-building should not mean total withdrawal: good projects could continue to be undertaken in electricity, water, irrigation, health, education, agriculture, rural development. …” On the military front, al-Qaida can be kept out of Afghanistan—even if at the cost of being pushed into Pakistan—in the same way as it is now: by the use of special forces and aerial surveillance. If another safe haven is granted to it by any provincial Taliban warlord, we are not inhibited from striking this with “over the horizon” forces based in neighboring countries.

The problem could be that, in his anxiety to deflect any charges of weakness over Iraq (and starting at a time when the Afghan-Pakistan picture was a good deal brighter than it is now), Obama may have promised in Afghanistan more than he can hope to deliver. As it is, we are now committed to a huge new Afghan security apparatus at a cost that continues to grow every day, while NATO allies become increasingly edgy. Even the British are expressing restiveness about the casualty rates and the ever-receding horizon of political stability. Finally, and unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has no economy (except the “informal” one that we have so foolishly committed ourselves to uprooting). But there are many options short of despair, let alone capitulation, and it ought to be possible to mention them as well as to think about them. Stewart’s essay provides a good place to start.

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

Jakarta… Again

Islamist militants have been at war with Indonesian authorities for six decades. yesterday they struck once more.

A CLOUD of smoke billowed over the city. Great shards of plate glass littered the smashed foyer of a five-star hotel. Blood-smeared survivors lay stunned on the footpath, comforted by strangers, as ambulance sirens wailed.

The scene in central Jakarta was chillingly familiar after yesterday’s bombing of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels, which left at least nine people dead and dozens wounded.

The carnage revived memories of the October 2002 Bali bombings, when terrorists destroyed the Sari Club and Paddy’s bar in Kuta Beach, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians, and the subsequent string of attacks: the Marriott hotel in Jakarta in August 2003, the Australian embassy in September 2004 and the crowded restaurants in Kuta Beach and Jimbaran Bay in October 2005.

The modus operandi, too, was eerily similar: synchronised strikes using high-powered explosives at locations frequented by foreigners.

“I was having breakfast on level 16, I heard an explosion and went down to the first floor and it was a mess,” a hotel guest told Indonesia’s TV One. “I saw foreigners all bloody, about three to five of them, badly wounded. I saw some people being carried into a Mercedes, there was a lot of them, they were having trouble closing the doors.”

After a lull of almost four years in the campaign of terror waged by the militant group Jemaah Islamiah, these attacks seemed to come out of the blue. Only a few weeks ago veteran Jakarta-based JI-watcher Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group observed, “It’s as though JI has become a non-story here now.”

The Indonesian authorities seemed to have the terrorists mostly beaten, or at least on the run, with more than 400 arrests of JI members and operatives since 2002, the dismantling of the organisatsion’s leadership, infrastructure and training programs, and no serious attacks since 2005.

But it’s clear the terrorists were simply biding their time. And yesterday’s bold strikes on two well-secured, high-profile targets — one of which, the Marriott, had been struck previously — serve as a pointed message to the Indonesian authorities that the militants are back in business.

“The first thing that strikes me, in terroristic terms, is the success of this operation,” says Greg Fealy, senior lecturer in Indonesian politics at the Australian National University. “That two of the most secure hotels in Jakarta can be penetrated, bombs set off at about the same time, and they’ve killed people.” At a time when analysts were questioning the capacity of JI and its affiliates to continue their campaign of terror, Fealy says: “This is a pretty emphatic answer — they still have a quite lethal capacity to carry out elaborate operations.”

The choice of the American-owned Marriott which, since it was last bombed in 2003, has sold itself on the strength of its elaborate security, only underscores the point, a consideration no doubt uppermost in the perpetrators’ minds, Fealy says. “This is a sophisticated attack and it reinforces the point a lot of people have made: that you can’t write these guys off.”

While the attacks were unexpected, the revival of the Islamists’ violent struggle should come as no surprise. The Indonesian authorities have been battling Islamic militants for 60 years. Time and time again the authorities have claimed to have crushed them, only to see them rise again.

For Australians, the terrorist threat in Indonesia first emerged in October 2002, when JI operatives destroyed the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar, causing Australia’s largest peace-time loss of life. But for Indonesians the reality of Islamist terror erupted more than 50 years before when JI’s forerunner, Darul Islam (“the abode of Islam”), launched its push for an Islamic state in Indonesia. A rebel army commander named Kartosuwiryo declared his own Islamic state in West Java in 1949, with an army of 12,000 men and its own police and civil administration. The rebellion spread throughout the 1950s. The rebels bombed cinemas and markets and poisoned water supplies. The armed forces, under then president Sukarno, responded with brutal force. The conflict left 20,000 people dead and half a million homes destroyed.

The uprising was finally crushed in 1962, when Kartosuwiryo was captured and executed.

Ever since then, the flag-bearers for the Darul Islam movement have fought to re-create the short-lived and much vaunted “Islamic state of Indonesia”. In the 90s two of its stalwarts, the Solo-based clerics Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir, formed a new organisation, Jemaah Islamiah. Since then a host of other splinter groups have sprung up, all of them inspired by the old Darul Islam movement.

Many of today’s JI militants are the sons and grandsons of Darul Islam veterans, who believe they are carrying on the sacred cause of their forebears. They see it as an intergenerational struggle.

One pointer to the remarkable resilience and long-term dedication of JI and the wider militant movement is a document found in 2003, when police raided a bomb factory in Semarang, Central Java. Alongside a huge stash of weapons and explosives, they located a 25-year plan for recruitment and training devised by JI.

JI and its affiliates, which are characterised by analysts as a “network of networks”, have long been divided over strategy and tactics. A long-running debate over whether terrorism was a valid and useful tactic erupted in a bitter split after the 2002 Bali bombings, which many militants viewed as counterproductive and damaging to their cause. Today’s mainstream JI leadership opposes the use of terrorist attacks against civilians. However, there are many within JI and the broader movement who continue to support the terror campaign.

Most conspicuous among these is a former science masters student at the University of Technology in Malaysia, Noordin Mohammed Top, one of the original JI brains trust who has emerged in recent years as the leader of its militant faction, which he refashioned as “al-Qa’ida for the Malay Peninsula”.

Top was a key architect of the 2003 attack on the Marriott, the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy and the 2005 restaurant bombings in Bali. He is also the obvious suspect in these latest attacks. The choice of well known symbolic Western targets, synchronised explosions and the possible use of backpack bombs and suicide bombers all point towards Top’s involvement.

On the run for seven years, Top has repeatedly eluded the Indonesian and Australian Federal Police, thanks to a strong grassroots support base that provides shelter, finance and new recruits. He is believed to still enjoy the protection of the mainstream JI group, even though the latter disapproves of his tactics.

Top is a ruthless professional, obsessed with his cause. A former protege told police that Top once told him, “We are surrounded by enemies. We have to destroy our enemies before they destroy us.”

After the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy, a statement in Arabic claiming responsibility was posted on a public web forum, most likely written by Top: “The columns of booby-trapped cars and the lists of martyrs will not end. Our raids will not stop and our jihad will go on until the liberation of the lands of Islam.”

There is little doubt that Top spends every day that he remains on the run planning new attacks. Last year Indonesian police said they had uncovered a plot to set off a string of bombs in a popular backpacker cafe in the resort town of Bukittinggi in Sumatra. They said the plan had been aborted for fear it would kill too many Indonesian Muslims.

Reverting to the hotel and embassy district of Jakarta was more in keeping with Top’s goal of killing foreigners, although, as with previous bombings, Indonesians feature heavily in the latest casualty toll.

Along with Top, numerous other hardline JI veterans remain at large, such as the organisation’s long-time military chief Zulkarnaen, who trained and fought for eight years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The 400 or so JI operatives who have been arrested are a small fraction of the organisation’s numerical strength, estimated by JI itself in the late 90s at 2000 members and 5000 trainees. The majority of these have not been detained. And more than 100 JI detainees have served their time and been released.

Indonesia has made much of its program of de-radicalising JI prisoners, using reformed militants such as the former Philippines branch leader Mohammed Nasir bin Abas to persuade their comrades that using violence in the name of Islam is forbidden. However, the latest evidence suggests this program has enjoyed limited success.

A new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, based on interviews with former JI members, suggests that some JI supporters who have been released from prison are gravitating towards hardline groups that continue to advocate al-Qa’ida style attacks against Western targets.

“These hardline groups continue to believe that the use of violence against the ‘enemies of Islam’ is justified under any circumstances,” the ASPI report says. The young radicals refer dismissively to many senior JI members as “NATO” — No Action, Talk Only — and remain convinced that armed struggle is the primary means to achieve an Islamic caliphate. The report warns that these firebrands, who pride themselves on resisting the authorities’ efforts to reform them, “might now seek to re-energise the movement through violent attacks”.

Although few Indonesians support terrorism, there is widespread tacit endorsement of the extremism that allows the terrorists to survive. Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid wrote recently that Islamic extremists have infiltrated deep into the Indonesian government, businesses, schools and religious bodies, and are transforming the country’s traditionally moderate style of Islam into one that is “aggressive, furious, intolerant and full of hate”.

The explosion of jihadist material on the internet has fuelled the trend. The number of radical and extremist websites publishing in the Indonesian and Malaysian languages rose from 15 in 2007 to 117 in 2008, according to a recent survey by ASPI and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. The internet is identified as a key tool in the militants’ inter-generational struggle in The al-Qa’ida Strategy to the Year 2020, a document downloaded by would-be jihadists worldwide, which applauds “the general cleverness and brilliance of the electronic war being waged by the organisation”.

Authorities in Indonesia have been on high alert since the execution of the Bali bombers — Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra — in November last year. Their deaths prompted a warning by Bashir’s son that executing the bombers would only spur 1001 new recruits to take their places.

The son, Abdul Rohim, is himself a veteran of the jihadist movement. He is a protege of al-Qa’ida mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the September 11 attacks on the US, who is awaiting trial in Guantanamo Bay. Abdul Rohim is a leading figure in Bashir’s new organisation, Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid, formed in 2008, which preaches the same virulently anti-Western message.

When the Bali bombers went before the firing squad, Abdul Rohim warned: “The government thinks that by executing them it can stop the jihad. But the point is that this will not extinguish the jihad. The jihad will always continue.”

Books authored by the Bali bombers, known as the “martyr trilogy”, are being sold in Indonesia despite the government’s efforts to ban them, according to the ICG analyst Jones.

The latest bombings underscore the enormous difficulties of wiping out Islamic militancy in a country where fighting — and killing — in the name of Islam remains a time-honoured tradition.

The re-election of reformist President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is proof yet again of the enthusiastic embrace of democracy by a large majority of the country’s population. But yesterday’s events reinforce the fact that a small but equally enthusiastic minority remains committed to the philosophy of militant jihad and lethally capable of carrying it out.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

No Longer Only Buddhist Monks: Militant Islam is Penetrating Thailand

The Muslims dream is to return to the Malay sultanate. Irredentism has grown since September 11th. The Thai government is trying to assimilate Islam and in official ceremonies, places Muslim dignitaries and Buddhist monks alongside on another. But not Catholics.

Milan (AsiaNews) — Thailand it is fighting one of the many “forgotten wars” of which little is known. Thailand is a country with a large Buddhist majority of 65 million inhabitants and a small percentage of Muslims (4.5%), concentrated in the three southern provinces, bordering Malaysia. The demands of Islamic people to become part of Malaysia stretch back many years, because in the past those territories belonged to the Islamic Malay sultanate under the protection of England, such as Malaysia, the Malaysian Borneo and Brunei. After the last world war, the sultanate was occupied by Thailand.

Already in the 1970’s there was a strong campaign for regional autonomy on the part of Muslims, with bombings, violence and brief periods of warfare. Then a period of calm followed, only for the problem to be rekindled in the wake of the collapse of the twin towers in New York on September 11th 2001, which was seen a sign by the followers of Islam in countries where they are a minority to assert themselves: for example, on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines and the region of Xinjiang in China.

The current situation in southern Thailand is very serious. The Muslim separatists recruit new fighters in the Islamic schools, in an attempt to raise the level of confrontation with the Thai government and the army. According to a study prepared by Thai Army experts, Thai Muslim separatists guerrillas are playing on Malay nationalism and pride as well as the sense of belonging to the old sultanate. “They tell the students of the [Muslim] schools that it is the duty of every Muslim to take their land back from the Buddhist infidels.”

I speak to PIME missionary, Father Claudio Corti di Lecco, who has worked in northern Thailand for 11 years and is on holiday in Italy. He says: “Every day, newspapers report on the attacks, fires in schools, increasingly Buddhist monks will not leave the monastery unless under police escort as they have been killed too; several inhabitants of the three provinces of the south have fled and are in the north because the situation is untenable. To entice people to go to work in the South, the government gives much higher wages and many people take up the offer. There is a large industry in rubber there and it pays very well. Our tribal people in order to earn more money or because they are unaware of the situation go there and then some come back when they realize the dangers. There is a real guerrilla war against the government, the military, Thailand. With accusations that the government has never helped to develop the south, because the South is a fairly depressed area of Thailand. And even the parliamentary minority accuses the majority of this”.

“But in the end — continues the missionary — it has become a clash between Islam and Buddhism. In fact the government, to try to overcome this moment of crisis, gives a lot of support to the Islamic schools and Islam. What Muslims want they get. The most striking example is that Muslims have been recognized as Thai, before being Thai meant you were Buddhist, for over two years now, Muslims are recognized as Thai. It is a concrete example. Every day, at eight o’clock in the morning and every evening at six the national anthem is broadcast. The country stops, radio and television stations broadcast the national anthem and everyone sings. The television show images of Thailand. There is the king, there are the Buddhist monks, and now there are also Muslims with their distinctive dress, there are the Buddhist pagodas and Muslim mosques”.

“This is not the case for our tribes. Christianity is considered a foreign religion, even if now there are few foreigners: our priests and nuns are almost all local. In Thailand, there are about 300,000 Catholics nearly one million Christians all together out of a population of 65 million, Muslims are about three million. In the diocese of the South, founded by the Salesians, Catholics number about 6,000, while in our Diocese of Chiang Mai in the north there are 50,000 baptized and 25,000 catechumens. Chang Mai is the second biggest diocese in Thailand after Bangkok”.

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

Pakistan: Swat, Christian Refugees Excluded From Government Reconstruction Fund

Christian activists denounce disparity in treatment for victims of the war between the army and the Taliban. Only Muslim families, registered in government centres, receive funding. Christians helped by relatives and friends, because chased from refugee camps and deprived of aid.

Peshawar (AsiaNews) — The Christian refugees in the Swat valley and Malakand Division are not receiving refugee aid promised by the government to, reports the Pakistan Christian Post, which calls for equal treatment for the three million displaced persons, without any confessional discrimination.

On July 13 Islamabad initiated proceedings for the return of internally displaced persons. Premier Yousaf Raza Gilan said that the army operations have successfully removed the Taliban from Bonier, Dir, Swat valley and many other parts of Malakand division. Several areas of the north-west of the country — near the border with Afghanistan — are now safe and refugees can return to their homes.

To encourage a return to normalcy, the government decided to allocate 25 thousand rupees (about 230 euros) compensation for families affected by the war between the army and the Taliban. The first operation for the repatriation of refugees started with the refugees in camps in Mardan, with the delivery of the sum of money as an incentive for the reconstruction of homes.

The Pakistan Christian Post points out that there are no significant records of Christians in refugee government camps. Only 60 families obtained refugee status from the government: they are registered at the Christian relief centre in Mardan, set up by the Church in Pakistan. But “thousands of Christians” who have been adopted by relatives and friends in the North West Frontier Province and Punjab, risk receiving no compensation.

In recent weeks, AsiaNews reported on the unequal treatment of Christian victims of the war, driven from the camps for their faith and the victims of multiple discrimination. For this reason, Caritas, the Catholic Church of Pakistan and other Christian organizations have begun fundraising and distribution of food and basic necessities for displaced persons, benefiting both Christians and Muslims.

Nazir S Bhatti, President of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), expresses “concern” about the disparity of treatment and has asked the government to “ensure compensation to the refugees of Christian faith”, who have found accommodation with relatives.

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

The Afghan Hell: For Soldiers and the Population

AsiaNews asks local sources about the situation in Afghanistan, 8 years after the arrival of Western forces. What emerges is a picture of a country where the military presence is not supported by adequate aid for civil reconstruction and where large sums of money are wasted without helping the people.

Kabul (AsiaNews) — “An inefficient reconstruction program, an inability to manage relationships with the local population”: these are also the reasons behind the infinite deaths of western soldiers killed in Afghanistan, where they went only to help the country emerge from the Taliban dictatorship. Local sources speaking to AsiaNews have described the plight of Afghanistan. They also explain how, perhaps, many deaths could be avoided.

The paratrooper Alessandro Di Lisio is the 14th Italian soldier to die, while the casualties among Western troops are hundreds. But the local population is more concerned about daily problems rather than the resumption of the Taliban who recently have increased their attacks.

In many parts of Kabul lacks drinking water. And ‘perhaps the only world capital where electricity is rationed, in many quarters comes only a few hours a day. Many main roads are paved, but only if we turn to a secondary road ends in the mud and among the open-air sewers.

AsiaNews sources, requesting anonymity, explain that “the inefficiency of the reconstruction program is tragic. Schools, health care, social assistance: the country is still devoid of adequate facilities in all areas crucial to a democracy. These are not military problems. “

According to the BBC in November 2008, the health care system is among the worst in the world. People are even dying of dysentery. The average life expectancy is 43, one child in every 5 dies before their 5th birthday. Maternal mortality is about one of every 50 births. But the figure is worse in some provinces: in Badahashan there is a death every 16 births.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the State has failed to give workers a pension, accident insurance, often there are no regular employment contracts.

Over 4.2 million children have returned to school, more than 35% of the pupils are girls. This is an important number given that the Taliban had forbidden women to go to school and that two thirds of those over 15 years of age cannot read nor write. But the situation is less impressive when one considers that the state has built few new schools.

Private groups are very active and have created many new schools and essential health care. But not the State. And even these groups are concentrated mainly in large cities, but for obvious security reasons.

“It seems that everything is stationary, that there is no real progress to bring improvements and real hope,” explains our source. “And yet the money has arrived. But it has been wasted. Now, perhaps, even the Western governments are beginning to understand. In the last G8 they said that reconstruction must be carried out with the direct collaboration of Western countries, and not limited to a distribution of funds”.

One example of waste and corruption: the Italian government has provided tens of millions of Euros to build a road from Bamiyan to Wardak. But Bamiyan was controlled by the Taliban and the road was “stopped” after only 2 kilometres. It is not known where the money went. “If only — suggests our source — they had started instead from Wardak working their way down to Bamiyan.”

Corruption is widespread and frequent accusations are also made against the government of Karzai. The population is living on the edge: in 2007 the price of wheat alone increased by 70% and inflation 17%. The prices of oil and wood for heat in the cold winter are constantly on the rise. “But — adds the source — the people see the United Nations officials go around in expensive cars with many employees. Kabul sees luxury villas growing like mushrooms, a sign that someone is getting rich”.

A further problem is the relationship with the local population. Afghans are a proud people, who reluctantly accept others telling them what to do or how to govern their affairs. Effective control of territory is not possible without the support of the population.

“The hope — our sources claim — is that Western governments understand, finally, that a military presence is not enough to help the population embrace democracy.”

Just yesterday the U.S. president Barack Obama, who is visiting the Netherlands, said he was optimistic because “more and more the Afghan army, the Afghan police, the courts of Afghanistan and the Government of Afghanistan are taking on increasing responsibilities for the protection of their defence.”

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

Far East

Al-Qaeda Against Beijing and Kadeer as China Asks for Understanding in the Muslim World

China seeks alliances in Muslim world to stop possible terror attacks against overseas Chinese diplomatic and civilian interest. Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer rejects al-Qaeda’s violence. Beijing calls on Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to apologise for saying that last week’s anti-Uyghur repression was akin to genocide.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — China is trying to stem a wave of sympathy in favour of the Uyghur cause whilst taking steps to deal with threats by Islamic groups against overseas Chinese. Meanwhile exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, whom Beijing accuses of being in league with terror groups, condemns al-Qaeda threats against China.

Yesterday Algerian-based offshoot al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb issued a threat to target Chinese nationals working in North Africa as revenge against the oppression and killing of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

In response “we will keep a close eye on developments and make joint efforts with relevant countries to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of overseas Chinese institutions and people,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, adding that the “Chinese government opposes terrorism in any form and we’d like to increase our co-operation with related countries to fight terrorism, offering safety” to Chinese nationals.

As part of their diplomatic offensive, Chinese authorities appealed to the Muslim world to understand its policies and actions in Xinjiang.

In Washington Rebiya Kadeer, head of the US-based World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement released on the organisation’s website that she did “not believe violence is a solution to any problem”.

Responding to threats made by the Algerian offshoot of al-Qaeda, she noted that “global terrorists should not take advantage of the Uyghur people’s legitimate aspirations and the current tragedy in East Turkistan to commit acts of terrorism targeting Chinese diplomatic missions or civilians.”

In spite of this statement Chinese authorities continue to accuse Ms Kadeer of being behind last week’s unrest in league with “three forces”, i.e. separatists, extremists and terrorists.

In general governments in the Muslim world have remained silent over the Xinjiang massacre, choosing to safeguard their good trading relations with mainland China, concerned they too might be criticised for suppressing domestic opposition.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the only discordant voice. Commenting the situation in Xinjiang he said that Chinese action was akin to genocide.

Turks and Uyghurs are related in terms of language, culture and religion.

Yesterday China’s English-language newspaper China Daily urged Mr Erdogan to “take back his remarks . . . which constitute interference in China’s internal affairs”, describing his comments as “irresponsible and groundless.”

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

Koreas: What’s Next Now the 6-Party Talks Are Dead?

Kim Yong-nam, the president of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium, told 15th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt that six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program are over for good. “There can be no dialogue or negotiations where the principles of respect for sovereign rights and equality are denied,” the North’s no.2 leader said. “The six-party nuclear talks are over for good, because the U.S. and its many supporters participating in the talks have given those principles up.”

Already on April 14, North Korea declared it would “never participate in the six-party talks again.”

That declaration was given weight by the statement at the NAM meeting, which brought together 118 member states and was attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It “crushed the possibility of resuming the talks,” said Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University.

Nam Sung-wook, director of the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, “We should pay attention to his remarks about arms reduction talks. He means the North will engage only in nuclear arms reduction talks with the U.S., instead of the six-party talks that envisage the North abandoning nuclear weapons.”

North Korea was only developing a nuclear program when the six-party talks started in 2003, but it has now become a nuclear state after two nuclear tests. Pyongyang is apparently after a new dialogue framework that will replace the six-party talks.

“The North has delivered a message to the international community that there is no other choice but to hold bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea,” said Prof. Yoon Duk-min of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Security.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

N. Korea’s No. 2 Leader Says Nuclear Talks Are Over

North Korea’s Kim Yong-nam says the six-party nuclear talks are over for good. The reclusive regime’s second-highest official told delegates at the Non-Aligned Meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that there can be no dialogue or negotiations “where the principles of respect for sovereign rights and equality are denied.”

Kim claimed Pyongyang had no choice but to take “decisive measures” to further strengthen its nuclear deterrence.

The six-party nuclear dismantlement talks were suspended late last year and Pyongyang declared this April it was not returning to the talks after the UN Security Council condemned its rocket launch.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Philippines: Palace: All-Out War on Abu Sayyaf on

MANILA, Philippines — On with the all-out war.

After a barrage of criticisms, Malacañang Thursday ruled out amnesty for the Abu Sayyaf and issued the go-signal for a fresh military offensive against the bandit group.

“I have been authorized by the executive secretary to advise you that there will be no amnesty granted to the Abu Sayyaf group,” deputy presidential spokesperson Anthony Golez said in a briefing.

This, Golez said, was consistent with the government’s position that “such leniency” should be extended only to individuals accused of political offenses, “not common criminals especially as brutal as the Abu Sayyaf.”

“These bandits are involved in kidnappings, bombings, beheadings, pillaging of villages, killing of innocent civilians, including women and civilians, rape, ambushes, looting and holdups, illegal taxation, sowing fear in investors,” he said.

When asked how the government should then deal with the bandit group, Golez said: “Just like how we are dealing with the Abu Sayyaf now and Thursday: all-out war against terrorist groups.”

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. ordered an offensive against the kidnappers after Sunday’s release of Italian Eugenio Vagni, 62, the last of three volunteers of the International Committee of the Red Cross abducted in January to gain freedom.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Philippine National Red Cross, proposed granting amnesty to the elderly Abu Sayyaf commanders, drawing flak.

Certain conditions

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita had said this would be studied, but Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on Mindanao, fiercely opposed it, along with Teodoro.

More than an hour before Golez’s announcement, Secretary Avelino Razon, presidential adviser on the peace process, said the amnesty proposal under certain conditions was still under “careful study.”

“They should manifest their desire to be given amnesty, turn over their firearms and surrender, and be responsible for the crimes committed before we even start talking amnesty,” Razon said in a phone interview.

Clamor for retribution

The guiding principle behind any amnesty, he stressed, should be justice for all parties.

Golez said the decision not to grant amnesty was arrived at “after giving due consideration to popular calls for justice and retribution, on one hand, and to the equally pressing imperatives of peace and development in Mindanao, on the other.”

“The decision also reflects our confidence that the peace process will not be affected by the denial of amnesty to a fringe gang of bandits and terrorists,” he added.

The peace process, Golez said, should proceed “on the basis of good faith discussions” between the government and mainstream political rebel groups under the UN principles of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

Golez dismissed speculations that the decision was influenced by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s July 30 meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House. The United States has branded the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group.

Military solution nixed

“It’s clear in our law that amnesty is only given to a specific population of people who are fighting for their political ideologies, and clearly the Abu Sayyaf does not belong to any of the criteria,” he said.

Golez said Ermita met with the Cabinet security cluster, which studied the proposal, before the announcement on the amnesty was made.

Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, a Muslim convert who is set to take command of government forces in Southwestern Mindanao, said the Muslim problem called for “a paradigm shift in the way that we are conducting our internal security operations.”

Combat operations should be just 20 percent while the rest would be “civil-military operations” that would see military units getting more involved in efforts by local governments to improve the lives of the country’s Muslim minority.

Navy spokesperson Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said a “military solution alone may not bring about a lasting solution to the menace that (the) bandit Abu Sayyaf group brings.”

Arevalo said government agencies would have to work as a team to bring to the Abu Sayyaf and “those who may yet be convinced into joining them” some form of “hope that there is a future from modest but respectable means of livelihood.”

Better roads, health services and tap water supplies were needed along with a “paradigm shift that would give a premium to education that shall reorient values and the education of the young Muslims,” he added.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Behemoths Join Hands to Develop ‘Intelligent’ Car Chips

Hyundai Motor and Samsung Electronics will develop technology for an “intelligent” car after signing a memorandum of understanding on joint development of semiconductors on Thursday.

The two will develop semiconductors that enable automatic parking and image recognition, together with a smart key and a battery sensor.

Hyundai is to provide the specifications, and chip makers like Samsung Electronics and C&S Technology will develop semiconductors based on them. They are to be ready for installation in cars in 2012.

The collaboration between Korea’s two biggest conglomerates could put the country in prime position in the auto-semiconductor market, whose future value is estimated at US$20 billion.

Korea currently depends on the U.S., Japan and Europe for the import of nearly all its car chips, but the Samsung-Hyundai pact could replace imports worth W1.9 trillion (US$1=W1,268) and increase facility investment to W440 billion by 2013, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said.

Hyundai Motor and Samsung Electronics agreed to invest a total of W20 billion, including a W10 billion government subsidy, in joint research and development.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Why the Restless Chinese Are Warming to Russia’s Frozen East

The endless silver birch forests of the Russian Far East might appear so desolate and windswept that no one could possibly be interested in them. Yet the vast swath of territory between Lake Baikal and Vladivostok may become a new theatre of confrontation between Russia and China in the decades ahead.

For now, the two giant neighbours have been thrust together by their shared suspicion of America and they cooperate as tactical allies, working in the United Nations Security Council to contain Washington’s power. But this affinity is based on little more than having the same rival. The empty lands of the Russian Far East, far closer to Beijing than Moscow, contain major sources of tension between the two powers.

This is where the headlong decline of Russia’s population is having its most dramatic impact. Year by year, a region that was always largely devoid of human beings is remorselessly losing its last inhabitants.

Only 6.7 million people live in the Far East region, far less than the population of Greater London, and 14 per cent fewer than in the late 1980s. They are scattered across a homeland so vast that it almost defies comprehension. Add together Britain, France and Germany and then multiply their combined areas by five and they would still be smaller than the Russian Far East.

Moreover, more than a third of the area’s last inhabitants are concentrated in only nine towns. The vast tracts between these isolated population centres are empty. And even in the towns, the population is falling: the Russian Far East is forecast to have only 4.5 million people by 2015.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, the picture could scarcely be more different. Of China’s total population of 1.3 billion, at least 100 million inhabit the three provinces of Manchuria, directly adjacent to Russia. This means that Manchuria already has a population density 62 times greater than the Russian Far East. This vast disparity between the neighbours, unmatched anywhere else in the world, can only grow in the years ahead. This would probably create tension even without another crucial factor.

China has an insatiable appetite for the world’s natural resources to sustain an economic boom that powers ahead despite the global downturn. Official figures released yesterday showed that China’s economy managed an annual growth rate of 7.9 per cent in the second quarter of this year.

The quest for raw materials is the central goal of the country’s foreign policy. And virtually every natural resource imaginable is found just over the border. Here, beneath steppe and tundra, are large reserves of natural gas, oil, diamonds and gold, while millions of square miles of birch and pine provide immense supplies of timber. All this amounts to an astonishing combination: a densely packed country trying to keep its economy roaring ahead by laying its hands on natural resources, living alongside a largely empty region with huge mineral wealth and fewer inhabitants year on year. Russia and China might operate a tactical alliance, but there is already tension between them over the Far East. Moscow is wary of large numbers of Chinese settlers moving into this region, bringing timber and mining companies in their wake.

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Moscow lost much of its control over Russia’s most remote regions. The great achievement of Vladimir Putin, now the prime minister, was to assert the Kremlin’s authority once again by rebuilding the power of the state.

But will this be sustainable in the Far East? There is no serious prospect of China invading the empty lands to the north or formally seeking to annex them. Instead, a steady flow of Chinese migrants and investment into the region might achieve this outcome by stealth. Russia faces the prospect of losing control by inches over the eastern third of the country.

Tension between the two powers in this part of the world is not new. Territorial wrangles in the Far East ranked among the prime causes of the Sino-Soviet split during the Cold War. In the late 1960s, frontier disputes spilled over into military clashes that claimed hundreds of lives. At one point, the confrontation became so heated that Leonid Brezhnev considered a pre-emptive nuclear strike against China and sounded out President Nixon’s administration in Washington to see whether this option would be tolerated. America replied with an emphatic “no” and the Nixon administration skilfully exploited the opportunity created by Sino-Soviet rivalry.

America’s opening to China and the restoration of diplomatic ties in 1972, combined with détente with the Soviet Union and the first arms control treaty, were the outcomes. Because they were at loggerheads with each other, China and the Soviet Union each calculated that they needed better relations with America.

Something similar could happen in the decades ahead. If Russia begins losing control over the Far East to a resurgent China, the Kremlin will have to seek America’s help. While Mr Putin’s driving purpose is to show that Russia has the strength to stand alone, in the end America may be an indispensable ally to contain a rising China. Those steadily emptying forests in the Far East explain why.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenyan Mosque Jams Mobile Calls

A device which blocks mobile phone signals has answered the prayers of some Kenyan Muslims.

Imams in Kenya have long complained that mobile phones constantly rang during prayers, disrupting services.

Imam Hassan Kithiye says he bought the machine in Dubai and it has been well received by his congregation.

A BBC correspondent in north-eastern Kenya says other mosques around Garissa town are now trying to raise enough funds to buy their own device.

One mosque has resorted to fining congregants $3 if their phones ring during a prayer service.

But this failed to solve the problem, imam Sheik Abbi-Azziz Mohamed told the BBC.

“We used to use that tyrant approach but it didn’t work. Some people are so poor that they cannot even afford to buy airtime. We couldn’t expect them to pay,” he said.

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

Sudan Rivals Agree to Avert War

Rival parties from north and south Sudan have agreed new plans to prevent conflict ahead of next week’s ruling on their disputed border.

The two sides ended 22 years of conflict in 2005 but tension remains high, especially in the oil-rich region of Abyei, claimed by both sides.

A court in The Hague is due to rule on the border next Thursday and both sides have promised to abide by its ruling.

The agreement in Khartoum was overseen by US envoy Scott Gration.

Last year, clashes in Abyei forced some 50,000 people to flee their homes and reportedly left 100 dead.

Tensions are rising ahead of national elections put back until April 2010 and a referendum on whether the south should secede, due in 2011.

Senior negotiator Malik Aggar, from the south’s former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), told the BBC there was bound to be disappointment from one side or another with the decision from the Permanent Court for Arbitration.

“We expected some violence may be there but both parties are prepared to quell any violence,” he said.

He said that the presence of UN peacekeepers would be increased, while both sides would send officials to explain the ruling and try to avert bloodshed.

However, he also said there were up to 14 unresolved issues between the two sides.

Ghazi Salahaldin from President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party also said the two sides were working together to prevent renewed conflict.

The long civil war — separate from the Darfur conflict — between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south ended in 2005, after claiming 1.5 million lives.

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

Latin America

Mexico Beefs Up ‘Drug War’ Forces

Mexico’s government is sending 5,500 police and military personnel to Michoacan state, which has seen a surge in violence linked to drug cartels.

Twenty police officers and troops have been killed in the state in suspected revenge attacks for the arrest of an alleged cartel boss last weekend.

Since 2006, more than 45,000 troops and tens of thousands of police have been deployed to tackle Mexican drug gangs.

The government said earlier that it would never negotiate with the gangs.

The statement came after a man man purporting to be a leader of La Familia cartel — the group that was blamed for the reprisal attacks against security forces in Michoacan — called a TV station to suggest a deal.

Late on Thursday Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont said the government was sending 1,500 police, 2,500 soldiers, and 1,500 navy personnel to the western state.

They will provide extra support for several hundred federal police officers already deployed in the state.

“For the members of these criminal groups, there is no alternative… but to obey the law,” Mr Gomez Mont said.

In the worst recent incident in Michoacan and neighbouring states 12 officers were tortured and killed before their bodies were dumped in a heap by the side of a remote road.

Six police officers and two soldiers were killed in other attacks.

Authorities believe the violence is in retaliation for recent arrests, including that of La Familia’s operations chief Arnoldo Rueda last weekend.

La Familia has extensive power in Michoacan, where it has infiltrated the police and the local political system, correspondents say.

President Felipe Calderon has vowed to continue his war against Mexico’s drugs cartels.

More than 11,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since he took office in December 2006.

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


France: Welcome Mat for Illegals

A story that recently made headlines concerns the arrival in France of a group of ninety-two immigrants from Malta. This is the briefest summary I have found of the event, from the blog of Yves Daoudal:

They are illegals from the Horn of Africa, who arrived in Malta.

France welcomed them, in a resettling operation, something that is a first.

Minister of Immigration Eric Besson met them at the airport, and gave a speech in English, since they do not speak French.

And they are all Muslims.

Besides one-year visas, renewable, they will benefit from free housing and from the RSA — Active Solidarity Revenue.

Note: The RSA is a subsidy granted to those with limited income. There is no time limit: the beneficiary receives the same amount so long as his income does not change.

Two comments from Daoudal’s readers:

- We have become doormats, with the word “Welcome” written on top.

- I can’t believe it. It’s terrifying and surreal. What is the plan behind all of this.

Here is a two-minute video posted at François Desouche of the arrival and welcoming ceremonies in France. The man who wishes them well (in English) is Eric Besson. As I write, I do not have time to translate the video, but it speaks for itself: the refugees express their happiness and relief that their long journey has ended. They have their future ahead of them. They want to find work, but first they have to learn French. They come from Somalia and Eritrea. The narrator closes by saying that France hopes other European countries will do their share.

Two other videos posted at François Desouche show boatloads of Africans from West Africa, the Ivory Coast in particular arriving from Malta. Having landed first in Libya, which is teeming with immigrants (according to one video), they were then redirected by Libya to Europe via Malta. And so they eventually found their way into France. This would seem to indicate that Libya takes the role of “middleman”, sheltering these people until they can get into Europe. Does Libya keep any of these Africans, or are they all redirected to Europe?

Malta is one of several stopping-off places for refugees from Africa, who often arrive by the boatloads from war-torn lands. African countries do not have political or economic systems that are adequate to deal with the needs of the people who then seek a better life elsewhere. They become, ironically, “white man’s burden”, a situation that was supposed to end when colonization ended. Africa will only grow up if and when it learns to cope with its own problems through mutual assistance and healthier governments, organized around the goal of improving the lot of the country. For now, so many African leaders are nothing more than tribal chiefs, subject to systemic corruption. Europe will have to learn to say no to these refugees, no matter how cruel it may seem, or Europe will simply become another Africa — impoverished, violent and corrupt, with no hope for a return to normalcy.

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

Greece, Government, Measures Against Illegal Immigration

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, JULY 14 — Evangelos Antonaros, a spokesman for the Greek Government said that, “The current government has undertaken specific measures to deal with the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who arrive in Greece.” Antonaros was replying to a question regarding the demolition of a camp of illegal immigrants in the port city of Patrasso. He added, “They cannot live lawlessly, in areas which are not their own, creating worry, confusion and upheaval for the local population. People who have arrived illegally in Greece cannot try to impose their own way of life on people here.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greek-Spanish Bid to Curb Migrants

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Zapatero yesterday issued a joint appeal for tighter border controls and closer cooperation between the European Union and African and Asian states to curb a relentless influx of illegal immigrants that has placed a particularly heavy burden on Mediterranean countries.

“Tackling illegal immigration demands solidarity and common action from within the EU,” Karamanlis said following his talks with Zapatero in Madrid before boarding a flight to Rome, where he is due to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today for talks on the same subject.

Yesterday both Karamanlis and Zapatero stressed the importance of boosting the EU border control agency Frontex to stem the tide of undocumented visitors. “The need to strengthen border controls is clear and for that Frontex is essential,” Zapatero said. Karamanlis grasped the opportunity to reiterate Greece’s desire for the creation of a joint European coast guard and to prod EU candidate state Turkey to cooperate by honoring a bilateral pact for the repatriation of migrants signed by Athens and Ankara in 2001. “Turkey must realize that it has to cooperate more closely, more constructively and more effectively with the EU and with Greece,” Karamanlis said. He and Zapatero stressed the need for closer ties to be forged between the EU and the migrants’ countries of origin, chiefly in Africa and Asia.

Meanwhile in Athens Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis stressed that any crackdown on illegal immigration should not be prejudicial to migrants fleeing war zones. “The need for policing our national borders must be balanced against the need to provide asylum to refugees who have been uprooted from their homes,” Bakoyannis told a conference organized by the Greek office of the United Nations refugee agency.

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

Culture Wars

Gay Marriage Approval Sounds Death Knell for Anglican Unity

Bishops in the US dealt a death blow to hopes for unity in the worldwide Anglican Church when they approved in principle services for same-sex partnerships. The decision will finally split the Communion between Bible-based conservative evangelicals and liberal modernisers.

The bishops at the Episcopal General Convention voted by 104 to 30 to “collect and develop theological resources and liturgies” for blessing same-sex relationships, to be considered at the next convention in 2012.

The resolution notes the growing number of states that allow gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships, and gives bishops in those regions discretion to provide a “generous pastoral response” to couples in local parishes. It was passed on Wednesday, hours after the Episcopal Church voted on Tuesday to allow the consecration of gay bishops. The motion passed by 99 to 45 among the bishops and by 72 per cent to 28 per cent among church deputies, made up of clergy and laity.

The decisions on gay consecrations and same-sex blessings end the uneasy truce agreed after the consecration of the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

The General Convention in 2006 agreed a resolution that pledged the Episcopal Church to abide by two moratoriums on same-sex blessings and gay consecrations as requested by Dr Williams and the other 38 Primates. The resolutions now passed bring that truce to an end, and will be seen in the conservative-dominated evangelical churches of the “Global South” as an open declaration of war.

It ends years of tense and costly ecclesiastical polity, and finally nails the hopes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who has sacrificed his own liberal principles on the altar of church unity, to no avail. Dozens of meetings of bishops, archbishops, canon lawyers, clergy and lay theologians in Britain, Ireland, Jamaica and elsewhere, pages of dense reports and hours of prayer have been rendered redundant by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the US in Anaheim, California.

Church leaders led by Dr Williams must now manage the disintegration of a 70-million strong Communion of 38 provinces that can no longer maintain the facade of unity.

Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas, who warned that “sometimes it takes very little” to “move us from agreement to division”, asked the bishops at the convention to practise a “generous orthodoxy” to conservatives who opposed same-sex blessings.

But many conservatives are not at the convention, which ends today, because they have left to form a new parallel “province”, the Anglican Church in North America, which is seeking recognition from Dr Williams. A private member’s motion to be debated at the General Synod next February could confer this recognition, which will give Dr Williams his one hope of retaining a semblance of unity by letting two provinces, one liberal and one conservative, exist side by side in the US…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

UK: The Notion of a Right to a ‘Good Death’ Undermines Society

We have seen a significant defeat in Parliament for proposals to legalise assisted suicides, and learnt of the joint suicides at the Dignitas apartment in Switzerland of the eminent conductor Sir Edward Downes, and his wife, Lady Downes. While there are many ethical, medical and legal issues surrounding assisted suicide, at its heart lies the notion that we have an absolute moral entitlement to have whatever kind of death we choose. This is surely the triumph of the philosophy that proclaims individual rights above all other considerations and the relativist insistence that what is good is a matter of personal judgment.

The consequences of this attitude lie at the root of the weakening of social structures, including the decline of the family as the core unit, the rise of anti-social behaviour, the pursuit of profit at all cost and the increasing intolerance of non-materialist, philosophical or ethical views. It can be summarised as the age of convenience; the pursuit of what we want despite its cost and impact on others.

It is, perhaps, in matters of life and death that these issues stand out most starkly. Are we really masters of our destiny? Is human life just something we produce, whether by sexual intercourse or in a laboratory, and ultimately to be created, aborted or disposed of at will? Are the senses of wonder at new-born life, or of duty towards the weak in sickness and old age, misguiding instincts that we must overcome if they conflict with our own convenience? Consequently, are we losing the capacity and skills to care for others, especially the vulnerable elderly?

Once life is reduced to the status of a product, the logical step is to see its creation and disposal in terms of quality control. This raises important questions: Who is to decide? What value is to be put on suffering that is borne with patience, or on enduring love and care for those in distress and pain?

If my life has no objective value, then why should anyone else care for it? The notion of an absolute right to choose “a good death” may sound libertarian but it undermines society’s commitment to support fellow members in adversity. And it encourages the abandonment of the ailing.

Once life is entirely subject to human decision in its beginnings and endings, then the horizon of hope is dramatically reduced. I may hope to be the agent of that decision. But the likelihood is that someone else will either take it for me, or guide me towards taking it. Once the coin of sovereignty over death has been minted, then it will be claimed by not a few.

Better by far to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of every human being; the capacity to go beyond the present, to search for and to cherish self-giving in love and to recognise that our better selves are formed and nurtured in a community, and not always one of our own choosing. This spiritual dimension enables us to recognise, in a way not visible to technological eyes, every human life as a gift to be cherished from its beginnings to its natural end. When we do this, we grow in our humanity, rather than lose it.

Dying is the most important step a person takes, for it is a step towards the ultimate fulfilment of our innate spiritual nature, our capacity to know God, to know the fullness of the mystery of all things. We have been created with this capacity and our best guide for living is to do nothing to dent, pervert or deaden it. The poet Lucretius said that “life is given to no one as freehold, we all hold it on leasehold”. Accepting that life is a gift is a good start. Sadly these centuries-old truths about the nature of humanity are no longer common currency. But we can surely all of us recognise, whether we approach our lives with or without a transcendental faith, the serious ethical and social dangers to which the doctrine of unfettered personal autonomy is leading us.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


Riots in China. Protests in Iran. UN Rights Council Talks About … Israel

Last week, not for the first time, the world witnessed state-sanctioned violence against protesters in Iran and China. Yet the United Nations was instead focused on Israel, due to unprecedented hearings held by a UN inquiry into the Gaza conflict of six months ago. This was precisely the goal of the body that organized the inquiry, the discredited UN Human Rights Council.

The inquiry’s lead investigator is former international prosecutor Justice Richard Goldstone. From the beginning, the terms of his mandate have been unclear. The original council resolution in January began by finding Israel guilty of “massive violations,” and then created a “fact-finding mission” to support its pre-determined conclusion. At the Human Rights Council, where tyrannies are the majority, such upside-down justice is the norm.

Goldstone, however, claims that he accepted the task — which had been rejected by former UN rights chief Mary Robinson — only after the council president expanded the examination to include both sides. In contrast to the original mandate, Goldstone speaks only of “alleged” violations. In other words, he is trying to conduct a genuine inquiry despite having been appointed to a farcical one. It’s a tricky feat.

When the inquiry last week invited not only Palestinians to speak, but Israeli victims as well, Goldstone introduced something new to the UN. He deserves particular credit for inviting Noam Shalit, father of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held incommunicado by Hamas since 2006, and denied access to the Red Cross.

Yet whatever balance Goldstone may bring, the inherent problem with his mission is that it plays into the collective strategy of the council’s repressive regimes, which is to cover up abuses in places such as Iran, China, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, and Zimbabwe — all ignored this year — and instead shine a permanent spotlight on Israel.

Consider the council’s sense of “proportionality”: More than three-quarters of all its condemnatory resolutions have been against one country — Israel — as well as five out of its nine emergency sessions on country situations. As a permanent feature of every regular session, it has one agenda item for violations around the world, and another specifically on Israel. Except for a handful of censures of North Korea and Myanmar, the world body has virtually ignored the UN’s 191 other member states. But didn’t the council in May hold a session on Sri Lanka? Yes, but one that actually praised the government, instead of holding it accountable. Comparing the UN session on Sri Lanka with the January session against Israel, the one that created Goldstone’s mission, is illustrative of the double standards the plague the 47-nation council.

At first glance, the conflicts this year in Israel and Sri Lanka appear similar. In the backdrop of territorial disputes, both countries fought terrorist groups that target civilians and use them as human shields, and in both cases, innocent civilians became casualties.

But if one examines their actual conduct, the two cases are different.

First, according to the Times of London, the death toll of civilians in Sri Lanka is more than 20,000. By contrast, even according to Palestinian figures, the toll in Gaza was approximately 1,000 — meaning that Sri Lanka killed over 20 times more civilians.

Second, Israel undertook extensive measures to prevent harming civilians while fighting in a densely-populated region, using leaflets and personal telephone calls to warn civilians to seek shelter. According to British Colonel Richard Kemp, no military in history had ever taken greater precautions. Sri Lanka, by contrast, never claimed to do any of this. And while Israel made humanitarian pauses every day, Sri Lanka failed to do so, and shelled civilians trapped in its self-proclaimed “no-fire zones.”

Third, while Sri Lanka cracked down on journalists and doctors who dared to publicize the government’s actions against civilians, Israel tolerated vehement criticism every day in newspapers, the Knesset, and from pro-Palestinian NGOs. In sum, the war-time actions by Sri Lanka were far worse than Israel’s. Yet at the council, it was Israel that got slammed, and Sri Lanka praised.

Though a minority of well-intended democracies forced the council to debate Sri Lanka, the repressive majority determined the outcome. With no shame, they adopted a resolution written by Sri Lanka itself, lauding “the continued commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of all human rights.” Despite calls for an inquiry into violations by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Sri Lanka was completely left off the hook.

The lesson from the Sri Lanka session should not go ignored by Justice Goldstone: The road to harmful council resolutions is paved with good intentions.

Even if his mission presents a somewhat balanced report — and that does not mean equating a terrorist group that deliberately targets civilians with a democracy that seeks to defend itself while avoiding such casualties — it is unclear what the council would do with it. Nothing will prevent the majority of Islamic states and their allies from endorsing the inevitable sections on Israeli criminality while ignoring the rest.

One thing is certain: Justice Goldstone’s mission has already served the council’s rulers by keeping the spotlight where they want it, and by lending the wayward institution, and particularly its handling of Israel, a credibility it most assuredly does not deserve.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]