Monday, July 27, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/27/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/27/2009I’ve written several times about the Islamic Saudi Academy and its attempts to expand onto a new campus in Fairfax County, Virginia. Now comes word that one of its alumni — a valedictorian, no less — has been sentenced to life in prison for training with Al Qaeda and plotting to kill President Bush.

In other news, non-Muslim female police in southern England are now required to wear veils when they enter mosques while on duty. A special hijab which includes a badge has been designed for them.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CSP, Dan Riehl, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, Islam in Action, JCPA, Nilk, Sean O’Brian, TB, The Lurker from Tulsa, TV, Zenster, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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7 NC Men Charged With Plotting ‘Violent Jihad’
A.H. Belo Reports $7.1m Second-Quarter Loss
Foundation Run by Harvard’s Gates is Revising Tax Return After Questions Raised
Frank Gaffney: Judging the Truth
Hungarian-American Protest Closure of Chicago Consulate
Look Here to See What’s in the Health Care Bill: Chilling!
Obama Seeks China’s Help on Iran, North Korea Nuclear Programs
Valedictorian of Virginia Islamic Saudi Academy Gets Life in Bush Plot
Europe and the EU
Civil Liberties Campaigners Are Strangely Reluctant to Criticise the EU
Czech President Refers Lisbon Treaty to Court
Economy Drives East Germans to Join Army
EU Booze Law is Tripe, Says Mayor
EU Supports More Anti-Terror Data Sharing With US
Germany Openly Warns of Terror Threat
Italy: Calls for Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan Causes Cabinet Rift
Italy: Defence Spending Tops 40 Bln Dollars
Swedish Donald Duck Wades Into Pirates’ Waters
The Inflation of Genocide
UK: Very PC Police Force Issues Its WPCs With Muslim Headscarves Complete With Badge for Mosque Visits
North Africa
Feltman: U.S. Wants Greater Military Cooperation With Libya
Israel and the Palestinians
Hamas Set to Compel Gaza Women to Wear Head Covering
Hamas Threatens to Derail Crucial Fatah Conference
Israel Reports First Death From Swine Flu
The U.S.-Israeli Dispute Over Building in Jerusalem: The Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon Hatzadik Neighborhood
Middle East
Ahmedinejad’s Followers Are Middle-Class
Bishop of Baghdad: “Christians, Do Not be Afraid”, But the Fear of a New Exodus Remains
Iran: Ahmadinejad Now Wants Control of Who Uses the Internet
Italy Reaffirms Afghan Pledge
Saudi Arabia: First Swine Flu Death in Kingdom
Syria: US Lifts Aviation and it Industry Sanctions
Syria: President Meets Radical Iraqi Shia Cleric
Russian Patriarch Visits Ukraine
South Asia
Afghanistan: Gen. Bertolini, “No Truce But Pull-Out of Rebels”
India: Three Convicted of 2003 Mumbai Blasts
Influential Cleric Arrested in Pakistan
Karzai: Afghans Want Rules for Troops Changed
Pakistan: Italy Signs $100 Mln Agreement for Social Sector Development
Thomas L. Friedman: Islamists Are Losing, But Their Rivals Aren’t Winning
UK: Kabul Must Reconcile With Moderate Taliban
Far East
China’s Plans Behind the Xinjiang Tragedy
Growing War Industry in Pacifist Japan
Australia — Pacific
Grieving Family Demands Justice
Sub-Saharan Africa
Nigerian Islamist Attacks Spread
Latin America
Minister Visits Latin America in Bid to Curb Iran’s Influence in Region
Cardinal Delighted: Belgium Opens the Floodgates
Ireland: Bogus Bid for Asylum by Cricket Team Gets Hit for Six
Ireland: Scamming Cricketers Foil Immigration
Lifting the Lid on Australia’s ‘Visa Factories’
UK: Immigration Staff Vote to Strike


7 NC Men Charged With Plotting ‘Violent Jihad’

RALEIGH, N.C. — A father, his two sons and four other North Carolina men are accused of military-style training at home and plotting “violent jihad” through a series of terror attacks abroad, federal authorities said Monday.

Officials said the group was led by Daniel Patrick Boyd, a married 39-year-old who lived in an unassuming lakeside home in a rural area south of Raleigh, where he and his family walked their dog and operated a drywall business. But two decades ago, Boyd, who is a U.S. citizen, trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and fought against the Soviets for three years before returning to the United States.

An indictment released Monday does not detail any specific terrorist plans or targets overseas, although it claims some of the defendants traveled to Israel in 2007 with the intent of waging “violent jihad” and returned home without success.

“These charges hammer home the point that terrorists and their supporters are not confined to the remote regions of some far away land but can grow and fester right here at home,” U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding said. He would not give details of the alleged plots beyond what was in a news release and indictment.

The seven men made their first court appearances in Raleigh on Monday, charged with providing material support to terrorism. If convicted, they could face life in prison. Court documents charged that Boyd, also known as ‘Saifullah,’ encouraged others to engage in jihad.

Boyd stopped attending worship services at a moderate mosque in the Raleigh area and instead began meeting for Friday prayers in his home, Holding said.

“These people had broken away because their local mosque did not follow their vision of being a good Muslim,” Holding said.

In 1991, Boyd and his brother were convicted of bank robbery in Pakistan — accused of carrying identification showing they belonged to the radical Afghan guerrilla group, Hezb-e-Islami, or Party of Islam. Each was sentenced to have a foot and a hand cut off for the robbery, but the decision was later overturned.

Their wives told The Associated Press in an interview at the time that the couples had U.S. roots but the United States was a country of “kafirs” — Arabic for heathens.

Jim Stephenson, a neighbor of Daniel Boyd in Willow Spring, said he saw the family walking their dog in the neighborhood and that the indictment shocked the residents.

“We never saw anything to give any clues that something like that could be going on in their family,” Stephenson said.

Two of the suspects are Boyd’s sons: Zakariya Boyd, 20 and Dylan Boyd, 22. The others are Anes Subasic, 33; Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 22; and Ziyad Yaghi, 21. Hysen Sherifi, 24, a native of Kosovo and a U.S. legal permanent was also charged in the case. He was the only person arrested who was not a U.S. citizen.

No attorneys for the men were listed in court records.

Reached at her home in Silver Spring, Md., Boyd’s mother said she had not heard of their arrests and knew nothing about the current case.

“It certainly sounds weird to me,” Pat Saddler said. “That’s news to me.”

Hassan’s father declined to comment Monday night while others did not have listed numbers or did not return calls.

It’s unclear how authorities learned of the activities, although court documents indicate that prosecutors will introduce evidence gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

After the unsuccessful attempt at jihad in Israel, the men returned home, officials said. Court papers also say Yaghi went to Jordan to engage in jihad in 2006.

Boyd was also accused of trying to raise money last year to fund others’ travel overseas to fight. One of the men, Sherifi, went to Kosovo to engage in violent jihad, according to the indictment, but it’s unclear if he did any actual fighting.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

A.H. Belo Reports $7.1m Second-Quarter Loss

A.H. Belo Corporation, the publisher of The Dallas Morning News and three other daily newspapers, lost $7.1 million between April and June, as advertising revenue fell, circulation revenue rose and the company paid down most of its debt.

Total revenue in the second quarter amounted to $127.5 million, only slightly less than revenue during the first quarter of 2009 but about 22 percent less than the level in the second quarter last year.

Advertising revenue dropped 30 percent, due to declines in retail, general and classified ad revenue in all of the company’s markets. Circulation revenue rose about 10 percent, due mainly to increased prices for single copy sales and home delivery of The News and The Providence Journal in Rhode Island.

A.H. Belo cut its borrowings to $3.5 million as of June 30, down from $12.7 million as of March 31.

Consolidated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — a measure of operating profitability known as EBITDA — was $7.8 million. That was up from negative $9.1 million in the first quarter but down from $10 million in the second quarter of 2008.

A.H. Belo’s total operating expenses in the second quarter fell to $132 million, a 21 percent decrease from the same period last year.

“We successfully managed costs in the second quarter to remain EBITDA positive and significantly pay down the Company’s credit facility,” said Robert W. Decherd, A.H. Belo’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. “A.H. Belo continues to experience success with our strategy of providing high quality newspaper subscribers to our advertisers, resulting in increased circulation revenue in 2009.”

Second quarter results included a $1.7 million write-down of a customer value management system at The News, which was partly offset by $1.1 million in insurance-claim proceeds the company received.

Shares of A.H. Belo rose 88 percent between July 6 and July 24, as newspaper companies such as Gannett Co. and The New York Times Co. posted stronger-than-expected results in the second quarter.

In addition to The News and The Providence Journal, A.H. Belo owns The Press-Enterprise, of Riverside, Calif., the Denton Record-Chronicle, and a range of specialty publications.

           — Hat tip: The Lurker from Tulsa[Return to headlines]

Foundation Run by Harvard’s Gates is Revising Tax Return After Questions Raised

A charity headed by star Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is filing an amended 2007 report to the Internal Revenue Service because $11,000 it paid to foundation officers as compensation was mischaracterized as being for research grants.

Questions about Inkwell Foundation emerged over the weekend, part of a tsunami of attention Gates has received since July 16, when he was arrested at his home by a police officer responding to a report about a possible burglary in progress. The incident ignited a national debate over racial profiling, further magnified when President Obama jumped into it.

ProPublica inquired about Inkwell after receiving an e-mail from Joseph Culligan, a private investigator who makes public on his Web site documents about prominent people, from Ann Coulter to Sonia Sotomayor. The e-mail spotlighted a $10,000 grant made to Joanne Kendall, the foundation’s treasurer, pointing out that she is also Gates’ assistant at Harvard.

Gates, a member of ProPublica’s board of directors, said Monday that the award to Kendall was actually payment for doing administrative work for Inkwell and not, as Inkwell’s IRS 990 form states, a research grant.

“It should have been listed as compensation,” he said in a telephone interview. In part, he added, the payment was designed to make sure she wasn’t doing foundation work on Harvard’s dime.

Gates also said $1,000 paid to foundation secretary Abby Wolf was for secretarial work, not research.

Inkwell was started by Gates in 2005 to support programs and research on African and African-American literature, art, history and culture.

It reported no activities until 2007, when it raised $205,543 and spent $27,600, state and federal filings show. The payments to Kendall and Wolf were among the foundation’s largest — only four of 23 Inkwell grants exceeded $500.

As the foundation’s president, Gates signed the report submitted to the IRS, but said he missed the inaccuracies it contained until ProPublica brought it to his attention. The foundation’s accountant, David Schwartz, said he was unsure how the payments ended up being misclassified.

“If I knew why, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. Schwartz said he expected the amended report to be filed in the next week or so.

As part of maintaining their tax-exempt status, foundations have to file annual reports to the IRS showing where their money goes, separating program expenses from administrative overhead.

Regulators and watchdog groups expect charities to spend more on activities that serve their core missions, but it’s not unusual for administrative costs to eat up more of the budget early on.

By reclassifying the payments to Kendall and Wolf, administrative expenses will constitute almost 40 percent of Inkwell’s 2007 spending instead of less than one percent.

Aside from Kendall and Wolf, others with close ties to the charity or to Gates also have received funds from Inkwell.

Gates volunteered that the foundation’s second-largest grant, for $6,000, went to his fiancée, Angela DeLeon, who was also on Inkwell’s board from 2005 to 2006. Gates said he recused himself from the vote on DeLeon’s grant, which was for a project translating documents from Spanish and Dutch about the slave trade to Mexico.

A grant of $500 also went to Evelyn Higginbotham, chairwoman of Inkwell’s board. Higginbotham is the chairwoman of Harvard’s Department of African and African-American studies and, with Gates, edited the 2004 book “African American Lives.” Gates said that, as per the foundation’s bylaws, she did not vote on the grant.

Inkwell has not yet filed its 990 form for 2008 and Schwartz said it has not yet been prepared.

           — Hat tip: Dan Riehl[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Judging the Truth

During confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees, Senators always try to draw out the witnesses on their judicial philosophy and views about the constitutional implications of topical issues. Lately, with few exceptions, the would-be justices have deftly deflected the questions, truthfully but opaquely responding in ways that offer little grist for critics’ mills.

Judge Sonya Sotomayor may have provided one of the exceptions. In particular, the totality of what is now known about her views concerning the role of foreign law in American courts suggest both a lack of candor before the Judiciary Committee and a judicial philosophy that is at odds with the Constitution of the United States. These issues should feature prominently as that panel meets Tuesday to vote on her nomination…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

Hungarian-American Protest Closure of Chicago Consulate

Hungarian-American organisations in the United States Midwest have protested against the closing down of Hungary’s consulate general in Chicago, in an open letter to the public, a copy of which was sent to MTI on Thursday.

The letter was signed by 15 leaders of Hungarian organisations in Chicago, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, the Hungarian American Coalition and religious communities.

In their letter, the signatories regretted that the Hungarian government had failed to respond to their earlier appeal against the consulate’s planned closure, which they consider as seriously damaging Hungary’s relations with the United States. They voiced hope that the Hungarian public would support their cause.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Balazs announced in mid-June that Hungary would close down four embassies and eight consulates-general in an effort to save cost amidst the current economic crisis.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Look Here to See What’s in the Health Care Bill: Chilling!

Take a look at what actually is in the Health Care bill. Obama makes disingenuous comments like “You’ll still keep your doctor” or “You’ll keep your existing health care.” He is either lying to us or he has no idea what is in it. Take a peek at the full report, or look at some of the highlights here:

[Return to headlines]

Obama Seeks China’s Help on Iran, North Korea Nuclear Programs

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called for China to stand with the United States on ending Iran and North Korea’s nuclear drives.

Inaugurating a two-day U.S.-China dialogue on broadening ties, Obama raised the specter of a “nuclear arms race” in East Asia if North Korea’s months of provocations go unchecked.

“Make no mistake: the more nations acquire these weapons, the more likely it is that they will be used,” said Obama, who has made the elimination of nuclear weapons a signature priority.

“Neither America nor China has an interest in a terrorist acquiring a bomb, or a nuclear arms race breaking out in East Asia,” he said.

He said that the United States and China should “make it clear to North Korea that the path to security and respect can be traveled if they meet their obligations.”

Obama said that the two nations “must also be united in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and urging the Islamic republic to live up to its international obligations.”(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Valedictorian of Virginia Islamic Saudi Academy Gets Life in Bush Plot

The same Islamic Saudi Academy that wants to EXPAND in Virginia!!

From AP: American al-Qaida sentenced to life for Bush plot

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A U.S. man who became an al-Qaida terrorist while attending college in Saudi Arabia and plotted to assassinate then-President George W. Bush was defiant Monday as he was sentenced to life in prison.

An appeals court had overturned the original 30-year sentence for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 28, who was born in Houston and grew up in the Washington suburb of Falls Church. He was convicted in 2005 of joining al-Qaida while studying in Saudi Arabia in 2002. Abu Ali met with top al-Qaida leaders in Saudi Arabia and discussed establishing a sleeper cell in the United States.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Civil Liberties Campaigners Are Strangely Reluctant to Criticise the EU

Andrew MacKinley is leaving Parliament in protest at MPs’ feebleness over the extradition of Gary McKinnon, the eccentric who hacked into Pentagon computers in search of UFOs. Good for MacKinley: the wretched saga reflects equally badly on the American and British authorities.

(For the argument in full, read Boris Johnson here.)

I’m sure l’affaire McKinnon isn’t the only reason that MacKinley is quitting. Indeed, the wonder is that anyone wants to remain an MP. Still, how heartwarming to see an elected representative making a stand on behalf of someone less powerful than himself.

Why, though, does no one make a similar stand on behalf of Andrew Symeou, a student from Enfield who, earlier this week, was extradited to Greece under the European Arrest Warrant? I have touched on Mr Symeou’s case before. He is accused of having pushed over a man who later died. Fair Trials International says that the case against Mr Symeou is built on conflicting evidence, contested witness statements, flawed procedures and, in all probability, mistaken identity (see here).

Nowadays, though, none of this matters. Under Brussels procedures, there is no need to present any prima facie evidence whatever before a British court. The EU is treated as a single jurisdiction: a warrant served by a Greek judge is as valid in Enfield as in Epirus.

I am utterly at a loss to understand why the Symeou case is not as much of a cause célèbre as the McKinnon. We were outraged at the idea of locking people up for 42 days without charge.

But Mr Symeou now faces months of confinement before his case comes to court. Alright, he has been formally charged; but, from his point of view, the fact of an accusation makes little practical difference.

Where are our civil liberties campaigners? Where are the Guardian’s crusading journalists? Where are the LibDems? Where Michael Mansfield? Where Helena Kennedy? I can’t help wondering whether some Lefties are hanging back because they are reluctant to line up alongside UKIP.

Could it be that their disdain for anything that smacks of Euroscepticism blinds them to the threat which Brussels poses to our freedoms?

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Czech President Refers Lisbon Treaty to Court

Supported by 17 Czech senators, Mr Klaus, a critic of the treaty, plans to refer the document to his country’s constitutional court at the start of August.

In seeking a ruling on whether the treaty complies with the Czech constitution, Mr Klaus would be able to delay signing the treaty into Czech law until the court had given its verdict.

That could thwart the ambitions of Sweden, current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, to see the Treaty’s provisions pushed through before the end of the year if Ireland votes to approve the treaty in its Oct 2 referendum.

Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister, said recently he wanted to see the EU “move over to the Lisbon Treaty, if possible, late in our presidency”.

He wants an EU heads of state summit in Brussels on 29-30 October to nominate candidates for two influential posts which will be created if, and when, the treaty is ratified. The posts are President of the European Council, for which Tony Blair is expected to be the UK government’s candidate, and a new High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy.

The treaty, which also envisages an EU diplomatic service, is highly controversial because its critics say it will strip member states of many of their powers.

Germany and Poland still have to ratify the treaty. While they are widely expected to do so, any further delay could hold up the appointment of the new European Commission, which is due to take office on Nov 1.

Andrew Duff, the UK Liberal MEP, accused Mr Klaus of procrastinating.

Meanwhile, one of the key figures in the pro-treaty campaign in Ireland has admitted that the “Yes” camp faces a “tough campaign” over the next two months.

The latest opinion polls suggest a “Yes” vote would be possible, but Pat Cox, campaign director of Ireland for Europe, an independent civil society group promoting ratification,

said, “Ireland is a very different place today to what it was a year ago. The financial crisis has rocked our confidence. We are reeling from a series of body blows over the last 12 months. There is no room for complacency.

“There are those on the No side who will seek to exploit our present uncertainty to encourage the Irish people to vote against our own interests and reject the Treaty.

“We do not plan to let them succeed,” Mr Cox, a former Irish MEP and president of the European Parliament, added.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Economy Drives East Germans to Join Army

Is economic adversity forcing eastern Germans to become “cannon fodder” for the military?

David Wroe reports on the growing trend to join the Bundeswehr.

In the course of a misspent youth, Stefan, 19, says things could have very nearly gone “the other way” for him.

“I could be in prison today,” he recently told The Local.

The young man, who lives in a town in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, was coy about details but indicated there was a single moment in his past when he made a choice that put him back on the right path. Had he made the alternative choice, his life might’ve been ruined.

He did admit to dabbling in petty crime and the far-right scene before managing to extricate himself from a gang of what he calls “drunken idiots.”

His own father, a factory worker in communist East Germany, died when he was young — in part from alcohol abuse — and his mother, a cleaner, struggled to keep him on track.

Stefan has, in his own words, “grown up” and has started an apprenticeship. But he finds it boring and is instead looking to what he sees as an obvious choice for a young eastern German like him. He wants to join the army.

“It makes sense to me,” he said. “It’s a good career and I want to climb to a high rank.”

If he realises the latter ambition, Stefan will be defying the odds. According to Ministry of Defence figures recently obtained by the Green party, Ossis — or Germans from the formerly communist east — are doing more than their fair share of the grunt work in the armed forces, or Bundeswehr, while enjoying considerably less than their share of promotions.

This has led critics of the government to argue that Ossis have become the military’s “cannon fodder.” Young easterners, they argue, are flooding into the armed forces because, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, they have few other job prospects.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

EU Booze Law is Tripe, Says Mayor

The mayor of Florence will launch a campaign of civil disobedience this week aimed at defending the Tuscan’s right to a enjoy a tipple with tripe.

For as long as anyone can recall, Florentines have broken off from shopping in the city’s exuberant street markets to enjoy a tripe roll, washed down with a shot of red wine known as a gottino.

But on Wednesday a new law against selling alcohol from street stalls, inspired by Brussels, comes into effect that will make the provision of this simple pleasure a criminal offence.

Almost 200 trippai (tripe-sellers) and other street vendors risk fines of up to €12,000 (about £10,400) if they are caught selling wine. The fines soar to as much as €30,000 for illegal sales after midnight.

“This law is a disgrace and absolutely has to be abolished”, said the newly appointed mayor, Matteo Renzi, 34. “If any of my councillors feel otherwise, let them drink Coca-Cola — and then leave the majority group” on the council.

The new act brought Italy into line with the rest of the European Union to clamp down on hooliganism fuelled by the easy availability of alcohol sold outside football stadiums and elsewhere.

Renzi said he would be going to a trippai to order a tripe roll on Wednesday and intended to down a gottino with it. “I am sure that when I look round I won’t find fines and censors, but lots of friends with a roll and a glass of wine,” he told the newspaper Corriere della Sera.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

EU Supports More Anti-Terror Data Sharing With US

BRUSSELS — European Union nations on Monday unanimously supported expanding the bloc’s anti-terror cooperation with the United States to stop the transfer of funds supporting terror groups.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the 27-nation bloc wants to give anti-terror investigators at the U.S. Treasury access to European operation centers run by the bank transfer consortium SWIFT, expanding an existing 2007 anti-terror banking data sharing deal with Washington. To do so, it needs to negotiate under what conditions U.S. officials would have expanded access to such sensitive banking information.

The consortium set up by member banks, is responsible for the collection and relay of more than 14 million financial transactions daily between banks and other financial institutions worldwide. It operates one of the largest financial transfer systems in the world.

U.S. and EU authorities claim that access to the data has helped stop the transfer of money around the globe that funds terror groups and track down wanted terror suspects.

Barrot hopes to reach an initial temporary accord with American authorities giving them access to SWIFT’s European data banks, which could serve as the basis for a longer lasting pact in coming months.

The U.S. Treasury already has access to SWIFT’s American database, but the banking consortium is setting up a new European office in Switzerland, which would focus on European clients. American investigators now want access to this new database as well.

SWIFT’s other two database centers, in the U.S. state of Virginia and in the Netherlands, handle all the consortium’s transfer orders, including those of European citizens.

“It would be extremely dangerous at this stage to stop the surveillance and the monitoring of information flows,” Barrot said, adding that the current pact, which only covers U.S. operations of SWIFT have been “an important and effective tool to fight terrorism financing and to prevent terrorist attacks.”

SWIFT was forced under a court subpoena after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to give the U.S. Treasury access to its American operations under a secret deal, allowing investigators to go through private financial data held by European citizens.

That arrangement was amended in 2007 after the EU, under pressure from European data protection authorities at home, said it violated European privacy laws because it did not give enough guarantees that the data collected on European citizens were properly protected.

Barrot said Monday any new deal will extend data rights and privacy protections once the U.S. gets access to SWIFT’s new Swiss operations. The EU’s foreign ministers endorsed his plans to negotiate a new agreement on Monday.

However, the existing deal has been met with heavy criticism by privacy groups and EU lawmakers who claim it erodes the rights of Europeans.

SWIFT uses its two hubs to transfer banking transactions. With the new Swiss center, which opens at the end of the year, it will avoid having to store such information in the United States.

U.S. authorities have given the EU assurances the information it collects from

the databases is properly protected and used only in anti-terror probes.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Germany Openly Warns of Terror Threat

A recent routine police operation uncovered a possible terror suspect. The development illustrates just how tense the security situation is in Germany, with the government issuing the clearest warnings yet of a possible attack by Islamist terrorists. How much do the country’s security officials know?

The officers were exceedingly polite, waiting for Ali R. to complete his Friday prayers, pack his things and leave the mosque in the western German city of Essen. Only then did they approach the imam and ask him to come with them. They took him to the Büren Prison near the northwestern city of Paderborn, where detainees are held pending deportation. The action was taken in response to a request by the German foreigners registration authority, which had been seeking Ali R., a medical student, since March, because his German residence permit had expired. The officers were not particularly enthusiastic about their mission, which was just another routine police operation. As a result, their search of Ali R., 29, was perfunctory at best.


An Islamist threatens Germany in a propaganda video for al-Qaida.

But what the officers found when they searched “Sheikh Ali,” as the imam is known, at the end of June turned a routine operation into an investigation that has captured the attention of the authorities.

The documents that Ali R., a Palestinian who grew up in the Gaza Strip, had stored on a USB storage device included information on the use of bombs and booby traps, bomb-building instructions and a propaganda video. When agents analyzed his mobile phone, they discovered ambiguous text messages in Arabic in which mention was made of a “bride” and a “groom” — terms Islamists have used in the past as code words when planning attacks.


Find out how you can reprint this DER SPIEGEL article in your publication. According to the counterterrorism files in which Germany’s federal and state governments collect information about Islamists, the student had been listed as a “relevant person” since 2005 and was considered part of the jihadist milieu. In one photo, he is shown with a full beard and wearing a white crocheted cap of the type worn by pious Muslims.

Initially detained for the purpose of deportation, Ali R. had suddenly become a terrorism suspect. The federal prosecutor’s office has now taken charge of the case and is now investigating R. on suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization. But the key question remains unanswered: Is the medical student merely a windbag who has seen one too many Osama videos, who looked at some pertinent Internet sites and was also thinking about an upcoming wedding? Or did the investigators interrupt the early stages of plans for a terror attack? In other words, did they prevent the kind of event about which Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat (CDU), and his top official, August Hanning, have issued repeated warnings in recent weeks?

The arrest of the sheikh from Essen shows how the situation has become more strained and incalculable than ever before. German security authorities, especially the Interior Ministry, have rarely spoken as often and openly about a supposedly imminent attack as they have this summer. They have both a preventive plan — what the authorities intend to do prevent this attack — and an emergency plan that would be implemented if an attack actually does take place.

The government is fluctuating between alarmism and reassurance. It is a double-sided policy that no one can combine in one sentence as skillfully as Hanning: “We must be prepared for the possibility of an attack, but it is my feeling that law enforcement authorities are quite well prepared.”…

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Italy: Calls for Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan Causes Cabinet Rift

Rome, 27 July (AKI) — Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini has rejected calls by minister without portfolio Roberto Calderoli to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, saying they are working for Italy and its security and would therefore remain there.

“In Afghanistan, we are working for Italy’s security including that of Calderoli… we are staying,” Frattini stated.

He made the remarks on Monday at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels.

Calderoli is from the conservative Italian government’s junior coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League party. The Northern League’s leader, Umberto Bossi, also called for the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan following a recent spate of attacks against Italian soldiers.

A roadside bomb attack earlier this month killed a 25-year-old Italian soldier Alessandro Di Lisio while on patrol near the western Afghan city of Farah. Two attacks in Afghanistan at the weekend wounded three Italian soldiers and three Italian paratroopers were also injured in the bombing that killed Di Lisio.

Twelve Italian soliders have died in Afghanistan since 2004.

Italy’s deputy minister of infrastructure Roberto Castelli — also from the Northern League — also said he agreed with Bossi and Calderoli that Italy should withdraw its soliders.

Italian defence minister Ignazio La Russa echoed Frattini’s comments and reiterated that the troops would stay until the conclusion of the mission.

“We will not give up the mission in Afghanistan,” said La Russa. Last week, he visited the troops in the western Afghan city of Herat and the southwestern town of Farah, after the attack that killed Di Lisio.

La Russa also said signalled on Monday that Italy’s troop contingent in Italy will be reduced and that the government is considering reducing Italy’s contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

“The mission in Afghanistan will remain. With regard to Kosovo, a considerable reduction of our presence is already expected, and we are also thinking of reducing our presence in Lebanon in light of the transfer of command from Italy to another country,” said La Russa on Monday.

In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica over the weekend, Calderoli said Italian troops in Lebanon and the Balkans should also be withdrawn.

Italy has around 3,250 troops in Afghanistan, the sixth largest deployment after the United States, Britain, Canada and Germany. It recently deployed 500 troops ahead of Afghanistan’s presidential election due in August.

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

Italy: Defence Spending Tops 40 Bln Dollars

Stockholm, 8 June (AKI) — Italy spent more than 40 billion dollars on defence in 2008 as global military spending rose 4 percent to a record 1,500 billion dollars, according to the Swedish peace institute Sipri. Unlike civilian aerospace and airlines, the defence industry appears to have so far escaped the impact of the global economic downturn.

“The global financial crisis has yet to have an impact on major arms companies’ revenues, profits and order backlogs,” the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said.

Peace-keeping operations rose 11 percent as missions were launched in troublespots including Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Another record was set, with the total of international peace operation personnel reaching 187,586,” said Sipri.

American producer Boeing, the UK’s BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin were the three top global arms producers in 2008 with sales totalling close to 90 billion dollars between the three of them, while Italy’s Finmeccanica reported sales of 9.9 billion dollars.

As the world’s aerospace and defence industry prepare for next week’s Paris air show, commercial airlines are expecting massive losses in 2009 due to the global economic downturn.

In total, the 100 leading defence manufacturers sold arms worth 347 billion dollars during 2007, the most recent year for which reliable data are available.

The US aerospace and defence giant Boeing remains the world’s largest defence manufacturer, with arms sales of 30.5 billion during 2007. The UK’s BAE Systems ranked a close second, with arms sales of 29.9 billion, while Lockheed Martin was third with 29.4 billion dollars in sales.

The US remains the biggest spender, accounting for 58 percent of the total global spending increase during the decade, though China and Russia have reduced the difference.

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

Swedish Donald Duck Wades Into Pirates’ Waters

The Swedish publishers of Kalle & Anka & Co, a comic featuring the Disney character Donald Duck, have expressed regret over an edition featuring the loveable children’s character engaging in internet ‘piracy’.

“We regret that we did not react to the fact that the Swedish political climate is so heated just at the moment,” Marika Bark for publishers Egmont Kärnan, told news website

The edition in question is entitled “Kalle Anka — en laddad affär” (Donald Duck — a loaded business) and features an enterprising Kalle’s plan to burn a hundred copies of Åke Skrål’s latest record and earn a quick buck.

Kalle gets the idea from his nephews — Knatte, Fnatte and Tjatte (Huey, Dewey and Louie) — who have downloaded their idol’s record, but only to listen to it while they save up enough money to pay for an original.

The trio are outraged at their devious uncle’s plan and argue in chorus that it would be dishonest, underlining the importance of copyright legislation and the right of artists to earn a crust.

Big music, in the shape of billionaire tycoon Joakim von Anka (Scrooge McDuck), catches the hapless Kalle red-handed and collars him for royalties owed to his record company.

Kalle Anka’s remorseful plea that he bought the record in the first place narrowly saves his bacon and that of the younger generation of his family who thus escape prosecution for breach of copyright.

The comic has been published in a series of countries but has created intense debate in Sweden after apparently pointing out that original CDs are the only real deal and that music has to be bought, as well as the portrayal of record company benevolence.

Egmont Kärnan now regrets the controversy it has caused and the impression that they had taken a stand on the issue.

Marika Bark denied to that the comic had been published as a deliberate contribution to the debate around file-sharing, integrity and internet piracy.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

The Inflation of Genocide

A Lithuanian philosopher rejects political calls for the Soviet Union’s slaughter of Lithuanians to be labelled an act of genocide.

Editor’s note: Was the slaughter of Lithuanians by the Soviet Union an act of genocide? If so, should denial of the term ‘genocide’ be considered criminal? The Lithuanian parliament is set, in the coming months, to consider precisely those questions. In this essay, without downplaying the horrors of Soviet rule, the Lithuanian philosopher Leonidas Donskis argues against application of the term. It would, he contends, be wrong historically, wrong legally, wrong conceptually. It is, rather, an example of our age’s inflation of concepts — one that risks marginalising genocide. The essay also comes against the backdrop of the formulation of a law in Russia that would criminalise those who equate Stalin and Hitler or deny that the Red Army “liberated” eastern Europe from fascism.

We are living in an era of not only monetary inflation, but also of the inflation — hence devaluation — of concepts and values.

Sworn oaths are being debased before our very eyes. It used to be that by breaking an oath a person lost the right to participate in the public square and to be a spokesman for truth and values. He would be stripped of everything except his personal and private life, and would be unable to speak on behalf of his group, his people or his society.

Pledges have also suffered a devaluation. Once upon a time, if you went back on your word you were divested of even the tiniest measure of trust.

Concepts are also being devalued; they are no longer reserved for the explicit task of describing precise instances of human experience. Everything is becoming uniformly important and unimportant. My very existence places me at the centre of the world.

Genocide and its inflation

In my experience, the pinnacle of concept inflation was reached ten years ago, when I came across articles in the American press describing the “holocaust” of turkeys in the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday. This was probably not a simple case of a word being used unthinkingly or irresponsibly.

Disrespect for concepts and language only temporarily masks disrespect for others; and this disrespect eventually bubbles to the surface.

In recent decades, the concept of genocide has undergone a perilous devaluation. Here, I would like to stress that the devaluation of this concept has not been underpinned by a concern for humanity as whole or for the condition of contemporary humaneness; just the opposite — it is a symptom of the history of the revaluation of the self as the world’s navel and, concurrently, of an insensitivity towards humanity.

Moreover, the immoderate use of this word threatens to stifle dialogue.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

UK: Very PC Police Force Issues Its WPCs With Muslim Headscarves Complete With Badge for Mosque Visits

Women police officers are being issued with headscarves to wear when they visit a mosque. They are expected to put the scarfs on shortly before they enter the mosque, in keeping with Islamic custom.

There are two versions — one matches the black of a police officer’s uniform, while another goes with the blue uniforms worn by community support officers.

The headscarves are being given out by Avon and Somerset Police, and have the force’s emblem sewn on.

They have already been given to seven officers, including Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Roberts, and eight community support officers who work with Muslim groups in the area.

Mrs Roberts said: ‘It recognises and respects the cultural and religious practices of our communities. This is a very positive addition to the uniform and one which I’m sure will be a welcome item for many of our officers.’

The force said the scarves, which cost £13, can be used in other religious settings as a mark of respect — for instance to cover the shoulders of a non-uniformed officer in a church.

Islamic custom expects women to cover their head inside a place of worship. During an official visit last year, the Queen wore a headscarf to tour the crypt and caverns of an historic Islamic shrine in Turkey.

Rashad Azami, Imam and director of the Bath Islamic Society, said: ‘It is highly pleasing to see that Avon and Somerset Constabulary is introducing specially designed head coverings for female officers.

‘This will go a long way in encouraging a trustful relationship between the police and the Muslim community. The police have been working closely with the Muslim community for the last few years.

‘We hope this step will further strengthen the mutual relationship.’

Avon and Somerset Police caused a race row two years ago when it rejected 186 white job applicants at the first stage of selection. The force received 800 applications for 180 jobs and ‘deselected’ white males to increase ethnic diversity. Chief Constable Colin Port apologised.

This year, the fire service unveiled full-length skirts, hijab headscarves and long- sleeved shirts for Muslim women recruits to wear in fire stations and for events such as school trips.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Feltman: U.S. Wants Greater Military Cooperation With Libya

The United States would like greater military cooperation with Libya especially in the fight against terrorism, a senior American official said on Sunday.

“We want a strengthened cooperation in the military,” Jeffrey Feltman, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said at a news conference.

“Libya and the United States are aware of the danger posed by Al-Qaida in the Maghreb,” he said, adding that Washington and Tripoli have agreed to cooperate with the aim of preventing possible terror attacks in North Africa.

Feltman welcomed the improvement in relations between the United States and Libya after decades of hostility and said he held talks with Libyan leaders on Sunday about ways of developing trade and investment flows.

More than 1,000 visas have been issued to Libyan citizens since the United States started accepting Libyan applications again in April, 29 years after it suspended the service, he said.

In return, he would like a greater number of Americans to be able to visit Libya.

Feltman said his talks with Libya leaders also covered relations between Sudan and Chad and the development of the Arab Maghreb Union, bringing together Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.

The United States suspended diplomatic ties with Libya in 1981 because of the country’s alleged links with terrorism. Links did not resume until 2004 after Libya vowed to abandon weapons of mass destruction.

But relations remained limited until the settlement late last year of a dispute between Washington and Tripoli over compensation for victims of terrorism during the 1980s.(AP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Hamas Set to Compel Gaza Women to Wear Head Covering

Senior Hamas officials had claimed, in the wake of Hamas’ June 2007 Gaza takeover, that the organization did not have any intention to turn the Sharia, Islamic religious law into official state regulations. Two years later, however, it seems that the Hamas government is slowly introducing more and more regulations in the spirit of the Islamic decrees.

The London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that the organization’s Gaza government had recently approved a series of laws, a Muslim code of conduct of sorts, meant to guard Muslim religion and morals. These guidelines join an increasing amount of reports from Gaza residents saying that modesty patrols were forcing women to wear head coverings, especially at Gaza’s beaches, and that they were inspecting isolated cars in order to prevent unmarried couples being alone together.

Gaza’s judicial authority, which runs the strip’s courts on behalf of Hamas, had even recently ruled that all female attorneys must wear the traditional Muslim head covering, the hijab, and wear dresses during court appearances. The ruling was condemned by the independent lawyers association.


Supreme Court chief justice Abdul-Raouf Halabi said Sunday that female lawyers will be required to wear a headscarf and a long, dark colored cloak under their billowing black robes when the court returns from its summer recess in September.

Halabi said his order was designed to ensure that women dress in accordance with Islamic law, which requires women to cover up in public, wearing loose garments and only showing their hands and faces.

Subhiya Juma, a female lawyer, said the judge’s decision would affect only 10 or so lawyers — since the vast majority of the 150 registered female lawyers already cover their hair.

Juma, who does not wear a headscarf, said the point wasn’t the number of

women, but that freedoms were being eroded.

“This is dangerous — it’s a clear violation of the law, it is taking away our personal freedoms — and by whom? The very person who is meant to defend our freedoms,” Juma said.

According to Al-Quds al-Arabi, representatives from several Hamas government ministries, such as the Interior Ministry, Ministry of Religion, Military Advocate’s Office as well as the Police have convened in special workshops and formulated the “General Moral List,” which most likely will be authorized piecemeal.

The list is expected to be published in the strip’s media outlets in the near future. The workshop, which also discussed the preliminary stages of the list’s implementation, was run by Hamas justice minister Mohammed al-Ghoul. Al-Ghoul had said in the introduction to the workshop that the Palestinian society was considered “conservative” and that the Arab and Muslim peoples must protect “religion and morals.”

Sheikh Yusef Farhat, a senior official in Hamas’ Ministry of Religion, told the London newspaper that the list includes clauses meant to protect society’s general moral fiber. Items include the forbidding “improper driving near women,” most likely pertaining to honking and whistling at women, “the prevention of lust-inducing sights in the streets,” which will ban mannequins in storefronts, and “prohibiting crowded events in order to prevent men and women from touching each other.” The Sheikh explained that the implementation of these laws will be based on “instruction and understanding.”

A Hamas official said that the items on the list already exist in the Palestinian legal system, but have only now been collected into one directory. The workshop’s participants emphasized that the regulations were to be introduced in an agreeable and gradual fashion and that a special department will be founded which will make sure that security officials fully understand the different clauses.

Religious decrees calling for women to wear loose clothing have also been accepted in Gaza recently in order to prevent the female form from being exposed in public.

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Hamas Threatens to Derail Crucial Fatah Conference

Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah on Monday were locked in a new dispute that threatens to derail next week’s Fatah convention, seen as key to rehabilitating the corruption-stained party that has led peace talks with Israel.

Officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza said Monday they would only allow Fatah delegates to leave the territory and travel to the conference if Fatah’s leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, releases hundreds of Hamas detainees in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is based.

The convention, Fatah’s first in 20 years, is to convene in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. More than 1,500 delegates, nearly one-third of them from Gaza and the rest from the West Bank and the Palestinian Diaspora, are to choose dozens of new leaders and vote for a fresh political program.

Abbas aides were not immediately available for comment on the standoff with Hamas, but a senior Palestinian official said Abbas had asked Syria, Russia and Turkey to intervene and help soften Hamas’ demands. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Nabil Shaath, a Fatah leader, said Monday it appeared unlikely the convention would be held without the Gaza contingent. “There would be a massive boycott of the conference” in such a case, he said in an interview.

Shaath, who has been involved in Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, said his own movement had mishandled the prisoner issue and that its attempt to get foreign mediators to pressure Hamas on the subject was doomed to failure from the start.

“It won’t work, and I told everyone that,” he said.

Shaath estimated that around 900 Hamas activists are jailed in the West Bank, while more than 200 Fatah supporters in Gaza have to report daily to Hamas offices and spend long hours there in an improvised form of detention, for lack of prison space.

Shaath said he believes many of the West Bank arrests were made without due legal process. He said Hamas in the past had been willing to accept a partial prisoner release, but that as the convention drew closer it upped the ante and now demands freedom for all the detainees.

In Gaza, Hamas lawmaker Ismail Ashqar confirmed the organization’s position.

“If Fatah wants its Gaza members to leave to the West Bank to attend the conference, they must release the leaders and supporters of Hamas in the West Bank,” he said.

The senior Palestinian official involved in the negotiations said Abbas has signaled he is ready to free 200 Hamas prisoners once the Fatah delegates leave Gaza.

At the same time, Abbas’ aides are threatening to detain more Hamas activists, including political leaders, if the standoff is not resolved, said Mahmoud Ramahi, a Hamas legislator in the West Bank.

“We received a clear threat from the Palestinian Authority that if Hamas does not allow Fatah members to leave Gaza, they will take harsh action against Hamas supporters, including the lawmakers,” Ramahi said.(AP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Israel Reports First Death From Swine Flu

Israel has confirmed its first death from swine flu, with a 35-year-old man dying at the weekend in the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, the health ministry said.

The man was hospitalized on Friday and died the following day, local media reported.

Autopsy results released on Monday confirmed that he had been infected with the (A)H1N1 virus and health ministry officials said he had likely died from complications, it said.

Army radio reported claims by the man’s family that he had gone to the Yoseftal hospital in Eilat several times but was turned away without treatment.

Hospital managers told the radio station that an external committee would be appointed to investigate the incident.

Last week a senior health ministry official said that one-quarter of the Israeli population, or about 1.85 million people, could catch swine flu in the next few months.

At least 890 people have so far contracted the (A)H1N1 virus in Israel, according to the ministry.

More than 800 deaths have been linked to the virus, according to the World Health Organization.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

The U.S.-Israeli Dispute Over Building in Jerusalem: The Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon Hatzadik Neighborhood

by Nadav Shragai

  • The Sheikh Jarrah-Mt. Scopus area — the focus of a dispute between the Obama administration and Israel over building housing units in the Shepherd Hotel compound — has been a mixed Jewish-Arab area for many years. The Jewish population is currently centered in three places: around the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik (a fourth century BCE high priest), the Israeli government compound in Sheikh Jarrah, and Hadassah Hospital-Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus.
  • During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, 78 doctors, nurses and other Jews were murdered on their way to Hadassah Hospital when their convoy was attacked by Arabs as it passed through Sheikh Jarrah. Mt. Scopus was cut off from western Jerusalem and remained a demilitarized Israeli enclave under UN aegis until it was returned to Israel in 1967. The area discussed here has for decades been a vital corridor to Mt. Scopus.
  • To ensure the continued unity of Jerusalem and to prevent Mt. Scopus from being cut off again, a chain of Israeli neighborhoods were built to link western Jerusalem with Mt. Scopus, and Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital were repaired and enlarged. Today both institutions serve hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Arab residents of the city.
  • Many observers incorrectly assume that Jerusalem is comprised of two ethnically homogenous halves: Jewish western Jerusalem and Arab eastern Jerusalem. Yet in some areas such as Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon HaTzadik, Jerusalem is a mosaic of peoples who are mixed and cannot be separated or divided according to the old 1949 armistice line.
  • In the eastern part of Jerusalem, i.e., north, south and east of the city’s 1967 borders, there are today some 200,000 Jews and 270,000 Arabs living in intertwined neighborhoods. In short, as certain parts of eastern Jerusalem have become ethnically diverse, it has become impossible to characterize it as a wholly Palestinian area that can easily be split off from the rest of Jerusalem.
  • Private Jewish groups are operating in Sheikh Jarrah seeking to regain possession of property once held by Jews, and to purchase new property. Their objective is to facilitate private Jewish residence in the area in addition to the presence of Israeli governmental institutions. The main points of such activity include the Shepherd Hotel compound, the Mufti’s Vineyard, the building of the el-Ma’amuniya school, the Shimon HaTzadik compound, and the Nahlat Shimon neighborhood. In the meantime, foreign investors from Arab states, particularly in the Persian Gulf, are actively seeking to purchase Jerusalem properties on behalf of Palestinian interests…

           — Hat tip: JCPA[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Ahmedinejad’s Followers Are Middle-Class

Al Ahram Weekly 02.07.2009 (Egypt)

The New York literature professor Hamid Dabashi energetically rejects the theory that the demonstrators in Iran were all from the middle classes and Ahmedinejad’s supporters from the poor: “In 1997, some three million high school graduates participated in the Iranian national university entrance examination, of which only 240,000 managed to pass through the Seven Tasks of Rostam and enter a university. So the full capacity of the entire Iranian university system is less than 10 per cent of the total applicants. What happened to that more than 90 per cent? Where did they go? What job, what opportunity, and what education? The answer is frightful. A significant portion of this remaining 90 per cent is absorbed into various layers of the militarised security apparatus, including the Basij and the Pasdaran. If in fact anyone qualified for that dreaded ‘middle class’ status it is precisely this component of the 15-29 year olds who have not made it to the university system and have joined the security apparatus of the regime, for they have a steady job, can marry, form a family, and have a solid investment in the status quo and be considered ‘middle class’.”

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

Bishop of Baghdad: “Christians, Do Not be Afraid”, But the Fear of a New Exodus Remains

Bishop Shlemon Warduni emphasizes the “high participation of the faithful” in Sunday services, which took place without incident, but does not hide the risk of a “new exodus from the country.” The prelate asks the central government for “guarantees of safety” and the Christian community “to pursue the value of unity”.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) — The Iraqi Christian community “attended Sunday mass regularly”, despite a “climate of fear for possible new attacks”. “I asked the faithful to have courage”, but the “fear” of a possible “new exodus of Christians from Iraq” remains. Mgr. Shlemon Warduni, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, speaks to AsiaNews one week from attacks — July 12 last — that targeted several churches in the country, in Baghdad and Mosul.

“It went well”, commented Msgr. Warduni. “There was a high level of participation among the faithful, both in the morning and evening masses, which recorded only a slight decline” The prelate urged the Christian community “to come to mass” and the faithful “responded with courage. “

In recent days a feeling of “powerlessness and despair” is spreading among Christians, which could lead to a new mass exodus. To everyday problems, such as unemployment, concerns over restarting businesses after years of war, fear over the recent wave of violence is added. Msgr. Warduni does not hide the danger of “a new exodus of Christians from Iraq” and says that “this feeling of fear, fuelled by deaths, injuries and destruction is normal”. “I asked the faithful to stay — he said — but we must also give them security guarantees, job opportunities, a future. Without these basic prerequisites, what can we say to them?”.

In Mosul, the Christian community condemns the lack of a strong position after the attack on the church of Our Lady of Fatima, 13 July. Maroan Bhnam, a Christian in Mosul approached by the Arabic website, wonders why “neither of the two Christian representatives in the Council” issued a statement of condemnation. He added that the representatives of other communities in the event of attacks, have “raised their voice: from the Christians nothing”. Aiub Ibrail says he is “surprised” at the absence of the “local tv Moussalia, the first to film the scene of attacks. “ Amer Petros wants “representatives who can be relied on”.

Sources for AsiaNews in Mosul confirmed the deployment of forces around churches; the police has set up several check points to ensure regular Sunday celebrations.

The climate of distrust and general insecurity has led to the re-emergence of the project related to the plain of Nineveh, the establishment of a Christian enclave in the north. It would become a buffer zone between Kurds and Arabs and is opposed, with some distinction, by the majority of Christian leaders. Based on humanitarian grounds and security, it actually hides beneath the surface economic interests and a series of attractive business deals for the construction of housing.

“We must pursue the supreme value of Christian unity — concludes Msgr. Warduni — because it is the only guarantee of salvation for the community in the country”. The prelate calls for the creation of a “strong” Christian leadership, which defends the interests of the people “working in conjunction with the Iraqi central government”.

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

Iran: Ahmadinejad Now Wants Control of Who Uses the Internet

In the power struggle within the Iranian leadership, the President shall implement a law requiring the storage of all that people send or receive on the net. But Khatami calls for a referendum and Mousavi wants the release of all those who have been imprisoned for taking part in demonstrations.

Beirut (AsiaNews) — The Iranian government is trying to put a stop to the internet, monitoring users and the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei has warned against those who cooperate with the plans of “enemies of the homeland”, but the “reformists” respond: Former President Khatami and his Association of Combatant Clerics want a referendum to restore peoples confidence shaken by the presidential elections and the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has called for the release of those who have been arrested. In a further sign of deepening contrast, the Vice-President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie — whose appointment by Ahmadinejad was criticised by the hardest Conservative wing — has denied that he had given his resignation, which had been announced Sunday.

“The exchanges between the opposition on one side and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his core of hard-line supporters on the other — notes Arab News, a Saudi daily particularly attentive to what happens in Tehran -appeared to be heating up, reflecting how the month-long conflict over Iran’s disputed presidential election is entering a new level — a struggle within the leadership itself”. “The opposition — it continues — has been energized by a show of support last week from former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a key figure within the ruling hierarchy. On Monday, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi made some of his harshest comments yet at hard-liners and, implicitly, Khamenei himself”.

Who is certainly not slow to respond. The announcement by the Government Press TV that the President has ordered Ahmadinajad to “execute” the recently approved law to fight cyber-crime and offer navigators “greater security” appears aimed at the opposition. Taking into account that in the post election period the opposition and demonstrators were able to exchange news and make known what was happening in the country abroad only through the net, the requirements of Article 24 of the Act, for which Internet providers must retain for three months, “all data sent or received by each of their customers”, is particularly significant. For the Attorney General, Qorban-Ali-Najafabad Dorr, quoted by Al Jazeera, the law is to protect the rights of people and help to attack pornography and other “prohibited content”.

Reporters Sans Frontieres said that the Iranian government “recognizing the growing influence of blogs is trying to reduce their space, filtering and trapping sites that host them”.

In this context, Khatami called for the referendum in these terms: “As millions of Iranians have lost confidence in the electoral process, the Association of Combatant Clerics insist on the organisation of a referendum … by independent bodies”. The last sentence is an attack on Khamenei, seen that, according to Iranian law, a referendum can be called only by the Supreme Guide. Khatami added that the Rafsanjani proposal for an agreement between reformists and conservatives to solve the crisis is “the minimum required to exit the current situation.” For his part, Mousavi yesterday asked for the “immediate release” of those who were imprisoned for taking part in the demonstrations in protest against the results of the vote”. (PD)

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

Italy Reaffirms Afghan Pledge

Troops will remain despite dissent from govt ally

(ANSA) — Brussels, July 27 — Italy on Monday said it would stick to its international peace-keeping commitments in Afghanistan despite mutterings from a junior government partner that it was “time to bring everyone home”.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said peace missions were “Italy’s calling card to the world” and that he intended to reiterate the country’s commitment in Afghanistan when he meets the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, at a private dinner in Brussels on Monday. “I will confirm Italy’s desire to always be a protagonist in the stabilisation of Afghanistan, to work for credible elections there and to contribute to the security strategy for the country,” Frattini said.

The foreign minister said a review of Italy’s mission in Afghanistan would be possible only after the August 20 presidential elections. Until then, Frattini explained, it was “absolutely necessary” for Italian forces to remain to combat “the escalation of violence by the enemies of democracy”. “We want these elections to be credible and to represent the will of the Afghan people, which can only happen if they go to the polls,” he added.

Frattini’s remarks came after several members of a government coalition party, the devolutionist Northern League, said Italy should pull its troops out of Afghanistan, the Balkans and Lebanon. Among them was Northern League leader and Reform Minister Umberto Bossi, who later recognised that the presence of Italian troops abroad was a decision which would have to be made by the government as a whole and that he would respect this decision. However, another Northern League minister, Roberto Calderoli who has a portfolio to simplify and streamline Italian laws, said in a newspaper interview on Monday that it was time “to bring everyone home”. Calderoli told Rome’s La Repubblica that “the vast majority of Italians agree with Bossi” and that “sooner or later the West is going to have to admit that you can’t export or impose democracy”. “I used to be an interventionist myself but I’ve repented. We need to ask ourselves whether our intervention has made things better. Europe and the West need to rethink their strategy because I don’t think we’re going to get the results we wanted,” Calderoli said. Nevertheless, the Northern League House and Senate whips, Roberto Cota and Federico Bricolo, stressed that there was “no disagreement within the majority” and that the League would continue to support the commitments made by the government.

Asked to comment on Calderoli’s observations, Frattini said “we are working in Afghanistan also for Italy’s security and thus Calderoli’s as well”. “Public opinion should be helped and directed, not excited by saying that since being there is dangerous we need to go away. Of course it’s dangerous, but it’s necessary to defend Italy’s security,” he said. Italy has 2,795 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, most in the western area of Herat and in the capital Kabul. An additional contingent of 500 men was recently sent to Afghanistan to help bolster security for the August elections, bringing the total to some 3,200. This meant that Italy now has the fourth-largest contingent there after the United States (28,850 men), Britain (8,300) and Germany (3,380). Fourteen Italian soldiers have been killed since Italy’s mission in Afghanistan began in 2004, the most recent victim a 25-year-old paratrooper who died in a roadside bomb two weeks ago. The ISAF mission is made up of over 61,000 men from 42 countries. It is divided into five theatres of action: Kabul, operated by France; Kandahar in the south, the command of which is rotated between Canada, the Netherlands and Britain; Herat in the west, which Italy commands; Mazari-Sharif in the north, the responsibility of Germany; and Bagram in the east, run by the US.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: First Swine Flu Death in Kingdom

RIYADH: The Ministry of Health announced Monday the first swine flu death in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is now the third country in the region after Egypt and Israel to report a swine flu fatality.

“The victim, a Saudi male, 30, was admitted to Al-Mouwasat Private Hospital in Dammam at 6 p.m. Wednesday with complaints of high fever, continuous coughing and severe throat pain due to advanced bronchitis,” Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Khalid Al-Mirghalani said.

He added that on admission, the man was treated with tamiflu and intravenous antibiotics. “Eight hours after admission, the doctors found the patient’s condition worsening and he was moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital where he was placed in a ventilator.” The patient died Saturday at 5:55 a.m. in the ICU.

His name is being withheld in deference to his family’s wishes..

Al-Mirghalani said that the dead man had contracted the disease from frequently visiting an infected individual. Besides the immediate reasons for admitting the flu victim to the hospital, he said the patient was obese and had severe breathing difficulties. Clinical tests by the ministry confirmed that the deceased was suffering from H1N1, Al-Mirghalani added.

On behalf of ministry officials, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, who is also the chairman of the National Committee to Combat Swine Flu, sent a message of condolence on Monday to the bereaved family.

Al-Mirghalani said the ministry had alerted all health departments in the Kingdom to take extra precautions. He said the people should follow Health Ministry guidelines, which are in line with those of the World Health Organization. Washing one’s hands before touching one’s eyes and nose and covering the nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing are necessary precautions against the infection.

The ministry called on the public not to panic because of the death. The rate of death from swine flu is still well below that from common flu.

Since May 27, more than 300 patients have been affected by the flu in Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah. More than 95 percent of the flu victims have recovered, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health..

Considering the arrival of pilgrims during Ramadan, the national committee is currently implementing a separate program for Umrah and Haj pilgrims who will visit the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

A quarantine facility has been set up at airport arrival lounges to separate Haj and Umrah pilgrims, who show swine flu symptoms. The Ministry of Health has stockpiled adequate quantities of tablets and vaccines to treat swine flu patients.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Syria: US Lifts Aviation and it Industry Sanctions

Damascus, 27 July (AKI) — The United States has lifted sanctions imposed on Syria for exporting goods to the Syrian aviation industry, ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa said on national television, quoted by Syria’s state news agency Sana on Monday.

Mustafa also revealed that the US lifted the ban on exporting Information Technology products such as computer software and hardware and that US president Barack Obama was considering lifting more sanctions in the future.

Mustafa was also present at a meeting between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell on Sunday in which Syria welcomed the new US steps toward developing bilateral relations.

The US imposed a series of economic sanctions on Syria in the mid-1980s, accusing Syria of supporting international terrorism, an accusation denied by Damascus.

In 2004, the former US administration led by George W. Bush imposed more sanctions on Syria for allegedly supporting the Lebanese party and militant Shia movement Hezbollah, Gaza’s ruling Islamist Hamas movement, and insurgents in Iraq.

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

Syria: President Meets Radical Iraqi Shia Cleric

Damascus, 20 July (AKI) — Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad on Monday met radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Damascus, Syrian news agency Sana reported. The two men discussed the situation in Iraq since the pullback of US troops from urban areas last month, according to the head of al-Sadr’s delegation to Damascus, Sheikh Raiid al-Kazami.

The pressing need for reconciliation among Iraqis and Syria’s support for this goal as well as the poverty of most Iraqi Shias were also on the agenda during al-Assad and al-Sadr’s meeting, according to Sana.

The meeting “strengthened the ties of brotherhood and friendship binding the Iraqi and Syrian peoples,” said a statement issued after the meeting.

Al-Sadr said he appreciated the support promised by Syria to the Iraqi people and efforts to bring about national reconciliation.

The Baath rhetoric of pan-Arabism has remained highly influential in Syria since the 1960s. Iraq had a Baathist government until former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was ousted from power in 2003 after the US-led invasion and occupation.

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


Russian Patriarch Visits Ukraine

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has begun a visit to neighbouring Ukraine.

He will meet the country’s President, Viktor Yushchenko, in Kiev, before travelling to the east of the country.

Like Russia, Ukraine is a predominantly Orthodox country, but the Orthodox Church itself in Ukraine is split.

Some Ukrainian Orthodox believers think Patriarch Kirill’s visit is aimed primarily at boosting political Russian influence in their country.

Patriarch Kirill was greeted by hundreds of supporters on arrival at Kiev’s airport. A small number of demonstrators waved placards opposing his presence and scuffled with police.

He will later visit the holiest sites in the capital before travelling to the industrial heartlands of eastern Ukraine.


What makes this trip so controversial is Patriarch Kirill’s vision.

He is a relative newcomer to the post, having been elected in February.

He has articulated a vision of Orthodoxy’s future, in which the Russian Orthodox Church holds the dominant, first position among the scattered branches of Orthodoxy. This makes the visit highly sensitive.

It raises questions of spheres of religious and political influence, which often cross what are the region’s relatively new state borders.

After 1991, when Ukraine gained its independence, the Orthodox church there split, with the Moscow patriarchate controlling the larger branch of Ukrainian Orthodoxy.

Meanwhile, believers from the smaller Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate think the Russian-backed church does not support Ukrainian independence, culture or language.

Furthermore, there are political divisions inside Ukraine.

In Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, Patriarch Kirill will be seen as the head of one big family. But in western Ukraine, nationalist groups have protested against what they say is his treatment of Ukraine as his own country.

President Yushchenko says he wants unity of the Orthodox churches. Moscow arguably wants Church unity on its terms.

The Russian Orthodox Church, after all, has a powerful role at the heart of Russia, aimed both at strengthening the state, and restoring its influence abroad.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Gen. Bertolini, “No Truce But Pull-Out of Rebels”

(AGI) — Kabul, 27 July — The agreement reached by the Afghan government and the Taliban in Bala Murghab, the north-western Afghan province of Badghis, is the product of “a showdown of the Afghan army, carried out with the support of Italian units” which has led to the “withdrawal of the rebels”, said Marco Bertolini, division general and chief of ISAF staff.

“It’s no cease-fire nor a compromise” he continued “but a success for the Afghan government with the withdrawal of the rebels from these areas, which is good for the coming elections”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

India: Three Convicted of 2003 Mumbai Blasts

MUMBAI: A special anti-terrorism court on Monday held three people guilty of planting bombs in two cabs and triggering blasts at the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazar in Mumbai in 2003 that left 53 people dead and over 100 injured.

Describing the blasts as the “rarest of rare cases,” the court of M.R. Purnaik said it would announce sentences on Aug. 4 after hearing arguments from the defense and prosecution on the quantum of punishment. The three — Asharaf Ansari, Hanif Syed Anees and his wife Fahmida Syed — were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the trial was conducted in the court especially created to try the accused.

The court said the involvement of Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the blasts was clearly established by the prosecution. The convicts remained silent and listened to the judge as he pronounced the verdict.

Two other defendants — Mohammed Ladoowala and Mohammed Hassan Batterywala — were earlier released from detention after a POTA review committee cleared them of any wrongdoing. The main conspirator in the case, Nasir Ahmed, was killed in a police encounter at Shivaji Park in Dadar suburb.

Speaking to the media after the verdict, special public prosecutor Ujwal Nikam said the prosecution will demand the death sentence for the convicts. Defense lawyer Sushan Kunjuramaran said he was shocked at the ruling and would consider an appeal.

Nikam said Zahid Yusuf Patni, who turned state witness, said in his confession that the LeT hatched the conspiracy in Dubai to trigger the blasts.. The objective behind the blasts, Patni said, was to avenge the deaths of Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots that broke out in the wake of the Godhra train burning in February that year. At least 2,000 Muslims were hacked, beaten, shot or burned to death in the attacks, which erupted after 59 Hindus died in the train fire that was at first blamed on a Muslim mob. A subsequent inquiry concluded the fire was accidental.

“This is the first case in (Indian) legal history in which a husband and wife were involved in a criminal conspiracy to explode bombs,” Nikam said.

The prosecutor said he had cross-examined 103 witnesses, one of whom was a taxi driver in whose cab the accused kept a bomb near the Gateway of India.

Ladoowala and Batterywala, he said, were arrested in Mumbra and Kurla suburbs of Mumbai.

Nikam claimed police seized 750 grams of RDX in Batterywala’s shop, while two hand grenades were seized at the residence of Ladoowala. However, the POTA review committee did not accept these pieces of evidence and recommended the release of the two. The Supreme Court concurred with the committee’s report, Nikam added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Influential Cleric Arrested in Pakistan

Police arrested an influential pro-Taleban cleric yesterday who had brokered a failed peace deal in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, an indication the Government will no longer negotiate with militants.

Authorities accused Sufi Muhammad, the father-in-law of Swat’s notorious Taleban leader Maulana Fazlullah, of encouraging violence and terrorism.

The peace deal in February imposed sharia law in the valley. But it was seen as handing control of the area to the Taleban.

The deal collapsed in April when the Taleban advanced south out of Swat, triggering a military offensive.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Karzai: Afghans Want Rules for Troops Changed

KABUL — A confident President Hamid Karzai on Monday offered peace talks to Taliban militants if they renounce violence and called for a new relationship with the West if he wins a second term in next month’s presidential election.

Karzai is considered the favorite in the Aug. 20 vote. But his chances could hinge on his fellow Pashtuns in the turbulent south and east, where U.S. and British forces this month have suffered some of their highest casualties of the eight-year war.

His only serious competition in the 39-candidate field is believed to be former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who could force a runoff if a low turnout among the Pashtuns, the country’s biggest ethnic group and the heart of the Taliban ranks, prevents Karzai from claiming a majority of the votes.

In an interview with The Associated Press in his modest office, Karzai reached out to disaffected Pashtuns, calling for a dialogue with Taliban members who are not affiliated with al-Qaida and who are willing to repudiate violence “and announce that publicly.”

But the president said he was not yet prepared to discuss the key Taliban demand — a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops — because he contends their continued presence is in the national interest.

“The Afghan people still want a fundamentally strong relation with the United States,” Karzai said. “I also know and the Afghan people also know that the presence of international troops in Afghanistan is bringing stability to Afghanistan.”

Nevertheless, Karzai said the U.S. and NATO presence must be based on a partnership where “the partners are not losing their lives, their property, their dignity as a consequence of that partnership.”

During the half-hour interview, Karzai appeared relaxed and confident, even joking about his sometimes shaky relationship with the U.S. and its allies. Karzai was once hailed as the salvation of Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, but over the years his government has been increasingly criticized as weak and corrupt.

“When Hamid Karzai was quiet and there was no trouble between us, Hamid Karzai was a good man,” he quipped. “And now that there is a little trouble, he’s a bad man.”

Karzai’s offer of talks with the Taliban was echoed Monday by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose country has lost 22 soldiers this month in Afghanistan. Miliband said in a speech at NATO headquarters that rank-and-file Taliban fighters should be given the opportunity “to leave the path of confrontation with the government.”

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, rejected such talks, saying the militants would not discuss a cease-fire with any government that was a “servant of the foreigners.” He urged Afghans not to take part in next month’s election.

Afghan authorities have long complained that the Taliban exploit public discontent over the issues of civilian casualties and searches of private homes. Discontent runs highest in Pashtun areas that have seen most of the fighting since the hardline Islamic movement rebounded from its ouster from power in the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

The Interior Ministry acknowledges that 10 of the country’s 360 districts are not under government control. One-third of the 360 districts are considered high-risk areas, according to the ministry.

U.S. and NATO authorities have recognized the risk of alienating the civilian population.

Soon after assuming command of NATO and U.S. forces last month, Gen. Stanley McChrystal ordered troops to limit the use of airstrikes to prevent civilian casualties. He also ordered that international troops must be accompanied by Afghan forces before entering homes.

During the interview, Karzai also said he wants operations at the U.S.-run prison at Bagram Air Base, where about 600 Afghans are held, re-evaluated and inmates released unless there is evidence linking them to terrorism. He said arrests are turning ordinary Afghans against U.S. and NATO forces.

Instead, both sides should work toward a relationship in which foreign troops show greater sensitivity to Afghan culture and the Afghans display “better management of governmental affairs,” Karzai said.

Karzai also the Afghan government was “completely against the mushrooming of private security firms” which played a major role in the Iraq war. U.S. military authorities in Afghanistan are considering hiring a private contractor to provide around-the-clock security at dozens of bases and protect vehicle convoys moving throughout the country.

But Karzai said reliance on private contractors “runs counter to the growth and development of our own institutions” and that the money would be better spent training and equipping Afghanistan’s own army and police force.

Karzai has come under criticism for embracing some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords, including his vice presidential running mate Mohammad Qasim Fahim, and his defense adviser, Gen. Rashid Dostum, who has been accused of killing hundreds of Taliban prisoners in 2001 by suffocating them in sealed cargo containers.

Karzai defended those ties, saying many of those now branded as warlords had received “millions and millions of dollars” from the United States for their help in fighting the Taliban in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

           — Hat tip: Islam in Action[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Italy Signs $100 Mln Agreement for Social Sector Development

Islamabad, 24 July (AKI) — Italy and Pakistan on Friday signed a 100 million dollar agreement to finance projects that fall within the framework of the Pakistan Italian Debt for Development Swap Agreement.

Under the debt swap, the 100 million dollars will be used to finance development projects in Pakistan, mainly in the social sector like health, education and sanitation, Pakistan’s official news agency Associated Press of Pakistan said.

“The Italian government has offered to convert part of their loans into debt swap which could be converted into rupees and utilized in various social sector development projects,” said Farrakh Qayyum, Pakistan’s secretary of economic affairs.

The agreement was signed by Italy’s ambassador to Pakistan Vincenzo Prati, who also said Italy would provide all possible support for the development of social sector projects in the country.

Projects are already underway in northern areas of the country, Prati added.

Italy will also launch a project to preserve the Swat valley’s archaeological heritage on sustainable basis, Prati said.

Qayyum praised Italy, saying the country has been proactive in helping Pakistan develop its social sector.

“In this extremely crucial moment for Pakistan, the Development Swap Agreement is an essential initiative undertaken by the Italian government, which erases debt through the execution of development projects,” he added.

Also, the Italian Government is in the process of finalising a 40 million euro microfinance project and a 20 million euro vocational training project for the regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

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

Thomas L. Friedman: Islamists Are Losing, But Their Rivals Aren’t Winning

By Thomas L. Friedman

JALOZAI CAMP, Pakistan — After spending a week traveling the front line of the “war on terrorism” — from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the seas off Iran, to northern Iraq, to Afghanistan and into northwest Pakistan — I can comfortably report the following: The bad guys are losing.

Yes, the dominoes you see falling in the Muslim world today are the extremist Islamist groups and governments. They have failed to convince people by either their arguments or their performances in power that their puritanical versions of Islam are the answer. Having lost the argument, though, the radicals still hang on, thanks to gun barrels and oil barrels — and they can for a while.

Because, while the radicals have failed miserably, our allies — the pro-Americans, the Muslim modernists, the Arab moderates — have not really filled the void with reform and good government of their own. They are winning by default…

           — Hat tip: Zenster[Return to headlines]

UK: Kabul Must Reconcile With Moderate Taliban

BRUSSELS — The Afghan government must exploit the opportunity presented by the allied military surge to reconcile with moderate Taliban guerrillas willing to take part in the political process, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Monday.

In a wide-ranging speech at NATO headquarters outlining the allied strategy in the war, Miliband also called for greater burden-sharing among nations contributing troops to the war effort.

Miliband said that while hard-line fundamentalist commanders committed to a global jihad must be pursued relentlessly, ordinary rank-and-file Taliban should be given the opportunity “to leave the path of confrontation with the government.”

He said Afghanistan’s government must develop “a political strategy for dealing with the insurgency through reintegration and reconciliation” and an “effective grass-roots initiatives to offer an alternative to fight or flight to the foot soldiers of the insurgency.”

Miliband cited Taliban members who have returned to the fold.

“Former Taliban sit in parliament. And Mullah Salam left the Taliban in late 2007 to become district governor of Musa Qala,” said Miliband. “So there is no reason why members of the current insurgency cannot follow — if they are prepared to be part of a peaceful future and accept the Afghan constitution.”

Twenty British soldiers have died in Afghanistan in July, igniting a debate in Britain about its role in the war and the quality of its military equipment.

The Conservative opposition has lashed out at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labor government for allegedly underfunding Britain’s 9,000-strong contingent and not providing sufficient helicopters or armored vehicles. The government has dismissed those accusations, saying its forces are properly equipped.

Since the start of the war in 2001, 189 British service personnel have died in the conflict. Last week the head of the armed forces warned that British troops faced more combat and more casualties in coming days.

NATO has nearly 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, about half of them American. The United States maintains a separate command numbering about 10,000 soldiers, and nearly 20,000 more are on their way to the war.

The Afghan security forces, which number about 160,000 members, also are being expanded.

In contrast, Taliban guerrillas are said to number just 10,000 to 15,000 fighters.

Theo Farrell, professor of war studies at King’s College, London, said Miliband is urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to used the reconciliation model with former insurgents that worked for U.S. forces in some areas of Iraq.

But Farrell questioned Karzai’s willingness to do that, saying he would probably demand former militants surrender unconditionally to be readmitted to “society” and bar them from his government.

“The major obstacle to any real reconciliation is Karzai himself,” the analyst said in a telephone interview.

During this speech, Miliband reiterated a call for greater burden-sharing between the allies, some of whose contingents — including those from Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey — are based in the relatively safe north and west of the country. Their governments have refused to allow the troops to be deployed to the much more dangerous southern and eastern provinces.

“People in Britain … want to know that all the members of our alliance are ready to give it the priority it deserves,” Miliband said. “Burden sharing is a founding principal of NATO, and it needs to be honored in practice as well as in theory.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Far East

China’s Plans Behind the Xinjiang Tragedy

As Beijing launches a ‘Xinjiang’s charm’ campaign to draw tourists back to the region and its old ‘Silk Road’, the father of China’s pro-democracy movement, currently living in exile, says the killing in Xinjiang earlier this month was planned to turn public opinion away from infighting in the Communist Party and China’s campaign to extend its control over petroleum-producing nations in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Washington (AsiaNews/WJSF) — They all say it is a season of great events in China. Indeed, it is. What has happened in Shaoguan (Guangdong) and Urumqi (Xinjiang) has already resulted in continued condemnation from the international community.

Meanwhile, there is news that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has quarrelled with the Australian government and arrested the China chief of a big Australian company. The Chinese government has neither put him on trial or sentenced him, nor provided detailed information to the Australian government even when the Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister made inquiries. This kind of conduct that violates international conventions will surely generate anger in Australia, and will surely make foreign business people in China more nervous. Who knows whether China’s secrecy laws will apply to them as well? Since the Yan’an period in Mao Zedong’s rule, these secrecy laws have been 100 per cent effective. However, since the Xinjiang issue is more important for the average Chinese, and has had new developments, let us put aside the matter of Australian business involvement with the corrupt CCP.

There are two issues that did not receive enough attention lately. According to a report by BoXun, the most reputable overseas Chinese website, an old party official who retired from the party during the CCP’s 17th Congress revealed that the reason for the explosive situation in Xinjiang was a struggle within the CCP.

From the jailing of Shanghai Mayor Chen LiangYu to last month’s detention of Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zongheng, Hu Jintao joined forces with Wen Jiabao to beat the leading members of the Jiang Zemin faction. Thus the Jiang faction had to find an opportunity to fight back. They did so by fuelling tensions which led to the Shaoguan incident, and by demobilising police during the Urumqi riots, thus enabling Uyghur terrorists to use a peaceful demonstration to murder Han Chinese to the extent that Hu Jintao lost face at the G8 meeting in Italy. Hu had to return to China to secure his own backyard and prevent the situation from getting out of control at his expense.

A lot of information has been recently leaked that proves that the CCP government is guilty of doing nothing, thus allowing thugs to cause large scale murder. This tragedy had nothing to do with the World Uyghur Congress which supported the peaceful demonstration. The CCP Xinjiang government had reliable intelligence and enough power to start police action. But since the Jiang faction controls China’s legal system and courts, they chose the strategy of doing nothing before and during the tragedy. They enabled Uyghur terrorists to do whatever they wanted and allowed the situation to get out of control. Indeed, through skilful cooperation the CCP’s Xinjiang government and Uyghur terrorist group are responsible for such a horrifying tragedy.

Some friends are still not willing to believe that it was the CCP that took the initiative in this tragedy. They do not believe that the CCP was trying to cause hateful ethnic killing in an effort to shift political attention.

If anyone thinks this way, they might want to consider the second piece of news. During a review of the Sino-Russian joint military exercise, the CCP military Chief of General Staff, Admiral Chen Bingde, talked a lot about “anti-terrorism”, pointing the finger at Uyghurs. He claimed that China would cooperate with the four Central Asian members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and send troops outside of China to attack Uyghur terrorist organisations. He skilfully played on ordinary people’s desire for security whilst increasing their sense of hostility. At the same time he was able to extend China’s military forces to the edges of the Mideast petroleum-producing region in order to thwart Western goal of controlling it. Trying to kill two birds with two stones is no coincidence but a long term strategy.

Some people wonder whether the Xinjiang tragedy was meant to make trouble for Hu Jintao. Why does he have to swallow this bitter fruit? Why did he not try to stop it or even counterattack? They are too anxious. Counterattacking does not have to happen today. “For a gentleman to take his revenge, ten years is not too late” says an old Chinese saying. Not counterattacking today does not mean never counterattacking.

What is more, the plan to cause the tragedy was perfectly executed. The underlying reasons were sufficient; the choice of timing was just right. So Zhou Yongkang, the CCP’s official in charge of security, could say that without the order from Hu Jintao, he could not order his troops to open fire to stop the escalation, which gave the thugs several hours to murder. As for why not letting the military police move into Urumqi, there is the simplest excuse of underestimating the problem which is not enough to condemn anyone to death.

The most important thing is that there is sufficient reason to do something after the tragedy. These conspirators did not just shift people’s attention away from opposition [to the regime], they also might have obtained a frontier base to move west into the petroleum producing areas. What reason could Hu Jintao use to go against this? This is exactly what he wanted to do, but did not dare to do. He had no reason to oppose this even if he has to carry a knife in his back.

This situation is similar to when Hu Jintao murdered the 10th Panchen Lama, something which scared Deng Xiao Ping[2] even though it was one of his goals. In fact Deng wanted to do this but did not dare to do it.

In addition, they dealt with the aftermath skilfully by not allowing Western media to find something to protest against. So Deng happily welcomed this unexpected surprise and saw Hu in a new light.

This time, dealing of the aftermath was more difficult but the outcome was good as well. Even some anti-CCP patriotic youths turned around to help the CCP attack Uyghur opposition forces.

Some Western media, who can’t see the forest for the trees, unwittingly became accomplices in this evil. This goes to show that the CCP conspiracy was successful, something that is bound to increase.

By contrast, we must try instead to clearly distinguish between good from evil so as not to fall for the conspiracy of the Chinese Communist Party.

[1] The author here refers to the arrest of four employees of the British-Australian company Rio Tinto on charges of corrupting Chinese officials in charge of a steel mill before a contract involving an iron mine was signed. One of the four employees holds Australian passport. All four are accused of stealing a “state secret”.

[2] The 10th Panchen Lama died unexpectedly in 1989 after criticising China’s Tibet policy in a speech. For years Beijing had tried to subjugate him by different means, including prison, house arrests and forcing him to marry a Han Chinese woman.

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

Growing War Industry in Pacifist Japan

The Japanese Constitution excludes the possibility that the country enters war or even has an army. For more than 62 years no Japanese has killed or been killed in military actions. But the ban has been overturned and now factories are producing sophisticated weapons technology.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) — The Japanese Constitution states that the country can not have an army or military potential and, by law, the passage of nuclear weapons is even not allowed. But its industry produces, and sells highly technological weapons. And while the country has begun a debate on possible constitutional reform on this issue, one wonders if the Land of the Rising Sun is still “pacifist”.

It all dates back to July 26 1945. when U.S. President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President of the Republic of China Chiang Kai-shek met in the castle in Potsdam, not far from Berlin, to determine the terms of the surrender of Japan. The ultimatum stated that if Japan had not surrendered unconditionally it would meet with “rapid and complete destruction.” The “Potsdam Declaration”, which did not involve the annihilation of the Japanese nation or its government, only its democratization, gave birth to modern Japan.

From 15 August 1945, the day of unconditional surrender to General Douglas Mc Arthur, the “American shogun”, broad powers were given to make this effective. The goal was achieved with a two part program: punishment and renewal. The program punitive had its climax in the so-called “international tribunal in Tokyo”, echoing that of Nuremberg. The program for renewal, which was far more important, had its best expression in the new constitution, proclaimed May 3 1947.

Democracy and peace are it’s pillars, but the latter characterizes it in a highly unique way, so much so it is referred to as the “Peace Constitution”, thanks, especially to Article 9, considered the gem of the entire document. Here is the text: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized”. In simple terms: Japan forfeit its right to declare war and to have an army! No nation in the world has such a constitution. But there’s more. 62 years after its proclamation, the fundamental charter of the Japanese nation presents itself as a model constitution, because today it seems one can no longer speak of “just war”

Japanese a pacifist people?

However, the illumination of the pacifist Constitution is not without shadows, at least regarding its origin. The text was prepared by American lawyers. Many people do not genuinely believe it to be Japanese. The movement for its replacement or reform is strong and legitimate. But in order not to weaken esteem for it nor its force of law, these three facts should be taken into account: first, it was approved by the Diet (Parliament), with only six abstentions, and secondly, with regards “real pacifism” its effectiveness has been enormous: in the last 62 years no Japanese has been killed or have killed in war; finally, if we limit ourselves to Article 9, popular polls shows that the number of citizens who wish to keep it as it is exceeds the number of those who believe it requires some modifications.

But that said, Japanese pacifism is not transparent, because in Japan there are three powers: one democratic and two more occult; the first is represented by the people, the voters; and hence the guarantee of freedom and openness is good; the other two are in the hands of industry and bureaucracy, where the logic of profit or that of the international balance of power prevails over the ethics of democracy.

The production of arms nourishes the Japanese industry.

Today, wars are not waged with armies but with sophisticated weapons. Responding to this fact and together with the logic of profit, Japan, 60 years after the promulgation of a pacifist constitution, is the fifth largest producer of military weapons for a market value of nearly 5 billion dollars. The industrial facilities that produce them are among the biggest in the nation, such as Mitsubishi, NEC and Kawsaki Heavy Industries.

The United States Government that, through Mc Arthur, presented Japan in 1947 with a constitution that excluded the possession of an army, allowing only for a national police body, just five years later called on the nation to institute a national defense body (Jieitai). The Reason: the beginning of the Cold War. Japan did not hesitate at the request to establish a “National Defense Body” which, in order maintain juridical appearances, it never called an “army”, but which is currently equipped with the most sophisticated modern weapons, with the exception of nuclear weapons.

In 1953, only a year after regaining full power, Japan begun to sell weapons despite export bans. The opening up of the Japanese Government to the international war market became increasingly extensive, to the point of establishing research alliances with the United States on ultra-modern weapons such as BMD missiles (Ballistic Missile Defense), and granting the export of sophisticated technology of that type to the U.S. and Europe. Nippon Keidanren (the Japanese Confederation of Industries) has hailed the government decision as a great step forward .

For the near future Japanese prospects for international cooperation in the military industry are brilliant. Especially in nanotechnology. In the areas of miniaturization, mixers and digital optics Japan offers an excellent service that is highly sought after. We know that the United States in Iraq are using some 12,000 robots that can be equipped with missiles and machine guns. Can still define as “pacifist” a nation involved in the production of ultra-modern weapons only because its fundamental charter prevents it from owning them?

Covert diplomacy of Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ officials

Saku Eisaku (1901-75) was perhaps the most astute and the most brilliant post war prime minister in the mid 60s. In 1967, Japan introduced the legislation of the three anti-nuclear principles: “not to manufacture, possess or introduce (in to Japan) nuclear bombs”. For this and for his activities in favor of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in 1974 he received the Nobel Peace Prize. But a few years ago some U.S. declassified documents revealed that Sato, in the’60s, during a visit to the White House had tacitly agreed that in case of need, the U.S. ships with nuclear warheads could transit in Japanese ports.

Moreover in 2001, after the Law on freedom of information was approved, a former top official of the Japanese Ministry for Foreign Affairs, revealed to the newspaper Asahi that a written document on this secret nuclear pact actually existed in the archives of the ministry but recently had been destroyed by bureaucratic order.

The result is that while the department ministers change with relative frequency, senior bureaucrats remain as the real, trusted and of course secret, authority in the field for the Prime Minister.

In terms of international politics that they must be especially competent in judging the balance of power, not in the principles of the pacifist constitution.

But the reasons of the State can not betray democratic trust when it comes to principles as basic as that of world peace. Intellectuals and the population, especially in the big cities, are becoming aware of this.

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

Australia — Pacific

Grieving Family Demands Justice

The doctor at the centre of an investigation into the death of a four-year-old in remote Queensland has had his medical evidence not accepted in two tribunal hearings.

Dr Zulfikar Ali Hudda, who is registered in Queensland and NSW as a doctor based at Tweed Heads, was flown out of Doomadgee on police orders after the death of four-year-old Naylor Walden.

Dr Hudda was relieving for the resident doctor in the community.

Naylor died in her grandmother’s arms on Thursday night after finally being admitted to the Doomadgee Hospital on Wednesday and diagnosed with pneumonia.

Her grandparents say she was turned away from the northwest Queensland hospital several times during the previous week, despite having a temperature and breathing problems.

They claim the girl was not admitted because she was Aboriginal and because of swine flu concerns.

Test results returned on Saturday were negative for both swine flu and normal flu. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

A search of tribunal records by AAP showed that in two hearings in which Dr Hudda has been involved his evidence has not been accepted.

In a 2001 hearing involving a World War II veteran, Dr Hudda said he did not believe the patient, whom he had treated since 1990, had hypertension.

But the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) found it was “difficult to deny” that the patient, who died from a heart attack in March 1995, suffered from that disease when he had above-normal blood pressure readings over “a lengthy period”.

In another AAT case in 1993 the doctor said a WWII veteran’s constant need to take medication and his heavy drinking brought about renal failure and pancreatitis.

But the AAT found: “There is no material before the tribunal to suggest any connection between alcohol and medication intake and renal failure … the tribunal finds (the patient) … did not have chronic pancreatitis and that any pancreatitis he may have had was caused by gallstones blocking the bile duct and not by alcoholism.”

Calls to Dr Hudda’s surgery went unanswered on Monday.

A Medical Board of Queensland spokesman and Queensland Health declined to comment.

Queensland Health declined to comment on the tribunal evidence but Mount Isa health district chief executive Suzanne Sandral said the doctor was well experienced.

“The doctor at Doomadgee was a locum supplied to Queensland Health through Australian Medical Placements, as a senior medical officer,” she said.

“He was born in East Africa and has extensive medical experience in Australia — including in indigenous communities — for more than 20 years.”

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Mason Stevenson said doctors should not be made scapegoats.

“The AMA has major concerns whenever a doctor is hastily put up as a scapegoat for deficiencies within the Queensland Health hospital system,” Dr Stevenson told AAP.

“This case along with most other cases are complex, with multiple factors involved, and usually involve more than one treating health professional working in an underfunded, under-resourced system.”

The girl’s death has been referred to the coroner and Queensland’s Health Quality and Complaints Commission.

Queensland Health is also conducting a review of the girl’s treatment known as a root cause analysis.

Naylor’s grandmother Katrina Walden said she was angry and wanted justice over Naylor’s death.

“The doctor and the nurses that were on call need to be brought to justice,” she told ABC radio.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said Health Minister Paul Lucas would visit the community in coming weeks, at the invitation of the family.

“I would caution against jumping to conclusions, we have yet to see the matter fully investigated and it is currently before the coroner,” Ms Bligh told reporters.

           — Hat tip: Nilk[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigerian Islamist Attacks Spread

Dozens of people have been killed after Islamist militants staged three attacks in northern Nigeria, taking the total killed in two days of violence to 150.

A BBC reporter has counted 100 bodies, mostly of militants, near the police headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State, where hundreds are fleeing their homes.

Witnesses told the BBC a gun battle raged for hours in Potiskum, Yobe State and a police station was set on fire.

Some of the militants follow a preacher who campaigns against Western schools.

The preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, says Western education is against Islamic teaching.

There has also been an attack in Wudil, some 20km (12 miles) from Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria.

A curfew is in force in Bauchi, the scene of Sunday’s violence.

Sharia law is in place across northern Nigeria, but there is no history of al-Qaeda-linked violence in the country.

Nigeria’s 150 million people are split almost equally between Muslims and Christians and the two groups generally live peacefully side by side, despite occasional outbreaks of communal violence.

Militants chanting “God is great” attacked the Potiskum police station at about 0215 local time (0115 GMT) — the same time as the raid was launched in Maiduguri.

The police station and neighbouring buildings in Potiskum have been razed to the ground, eyewitnesses say.

Two people have been confirmed dead and the police have made 23 arrests.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Minister Visits Latin America in Bid to Curb Iran’s Influence in Region

Tel Aviv, 24 July (AKI) — Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman is in Argentina on the second part of his tour of Latin America in a bid to thwart Iran’s influence in the region. It is the first trip by any Israeli official to Argentina, which is home to the largest Jewish community in South America.

The first leg of the trip was in Brazil, where Lieberman met his Brazilian counterpart to seek his support for moves to pressure Iran to stop its controversial nuclear programme.

However, during Lieberman’s visit to Argentina, its foreign minister, Jorge Taiana, expressed concern about Israel’s operation in the Gaza strip in December 2008 and January 2009 that killed over 1,400 Palestinians.

Lieberman is also due to visit Peru and Colombia before the end of his South American tour.

The tour comes amid a worldwide public relations campaign to improve Israel’s image abroad. Israel is seeking to shore up support for illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, which the US administration opposes.

Also on Friday, reports surfaced that Israeli students have created an application designed to work on the social networking site Facebook in order to improve the image of Israel.

Once installed on a Facebook user’s personal page, Israpedia will add positive facts about Israel to the page on a daily basis. So far around 3,000 Facebook users have downloaded the application, according to Israpedia’s designers.

In addition, Lieberman ordered earlier this week that all Israeli embassies and consulates around the world should circulate a photograph of a Palestinian religious leader meeting with Adolf Hitler.

The photo was taken in 1941 in Berlin with the Nazi leader seated next to the then top Muslim religious leader or Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Israel has used the photo, to attempt to sway world opinion in favour of building and development in East Jerusalem, the city Palestinians want as the capital of their future independent state.

“It is not reasonable for us to discriminate against Jews in Jerusalem. Just like no-one thinks of making any remarks about Jerusalem Arabs who buy apartments in Jewish neighbourhoods,” Lieberman commented following the photo’s distribution.

Palestinians believe that Israel’s intention to continue building in East Jerusalem undermines the peace process.

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


Cardinal Delighted: Belgium Opens the Floodgates

Last week, the government of Belgium, a small European country of 10 million inhabitants, decided to grant official papers to illegal aliens who can demonstrate that they have “sufficiently integrated” into the country. The illegal immigrants must fulfill a number of conditions, such as having lived in the country for the past five years or having worked in Belgium for at least two-and-a-half years, having learned one of Belgium’s three official languages or having children at school.

The official papers will allow the illegal aliens to stay and work in the country. The Belgian authorities think the measure will apply to a maximum of 25,000 people. Previous estimates say the number of beneficiaries may range from 50,000 to 100,000 people. Belgian government officials, however, insist that the government’s decision is by no means a “mass regularization.”

The Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels welcomed the decision. The Belgian Catholic Church has been actively pushing for a new round of regularizations since the 2000 regularization which allowed 50,000 illegal aliens to become permanent residents of Belgium. By allowing, and sometimes actively encouraging illegal immigrants, who by Belgian law should have been expelled, to settle in churches, Catholic organizations tried to put pressure on the government. Even the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican representative to Belgium, expressed support for the church squatters.

On 20 July, the government of Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, a Christian-Democrat, gave in to the pressure…

           — Hat tip: TV[Return to headlines]

Ireland: Bogus Bid for Asylum by Cricket Team Gets Hit for Six

HOWZAT. Bogus asylum seekers posing as cricketers in an attempt to gain entry to the country have been bowled out by the Garda national immigration bureau.

After several successful innings, the bogus batsmen have been hit for six by the immigration officers and left on a sticky wicket.

The authorities have uncovered a trend where members of cricket teams based in the Middle East were being trafficked into the State.

In the past year, several cricket teams have applied to come here from the Middle East, with the majority of the sides comprised of Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals.

According to officials, one or two members of each party on a visit have a good travel history and do not arouse suspicion.

However, after entering the State, many of them later claim asylum or disappear. In one case, 10 team members were caught attempting to use the common travel area to gain entry to the UK and subsequently claimed asylum.

The cricket matches they were due to play went ahead and gardai say they suspect that the cricketers participating in those matches are already resident here. Immigration bureau inquiries are currently focusing on a group based in the United Arab Emirates.

Most of the Pakistani nationals involved in the scam try to get into the country by flying from Lahore to Abu Dhabi and then into Dublin.

The “bogus cricketer” is one of a series of asylum scams discovered by the immigration authorities, in liaison with officials in other countries, in the past year.

A case before the High Court in Dublin heard that a female Nigerian national had arrived here in 2000 and claimed asylum on the grounds that she was being persecuted in her home country. She said she had no passport. The next month she gave birth, withdrew her asylum claim and applied for permission to remain as the mother of an Irish citizen infant.

Her application was accompanied by a passport.

In August 2001, she was granted conditional permission to stay and care for her child.

In August 2006 she was interviewed by a British immigration officer as she tried to travel by sea to the UK from Ireland. She produced two Nigerian passports, which contained a number of visas and were valid for the same period.


A search of her handbag produced another passport, her fourth, which overlapped with the first document. Both were valid for the time when she claimed she had no passport.

She told the UK officer she spent only a few weeks of every year visiting Ireland and lived mainly in Nigeria, where she ran a hotel with her husband. She was returned by ship to Ireland where she was refused leave to land and then detained.

The lawfulness of her detention was subsequently challenged in the High Court, which found it was lawful. Other scams included:

  • A Nigerian woman living in Kerry with five children was found to be claiming €760 a week in benefits. Her husband was detected in Belfast on his way to visit her and admitted owning a business in Lagos.
  • Last March, immigration officials discovered visa applications had been made by a number of Pakistani nationals with fraudulent documentation.
  • An investigation is under way into a racket where non EU nationals, legally living here, are claiming benefit for a child residing outside the State. Most of the cases uncovered by officials involve Chinese nationals. Between October and April, about 130 cases of benefit abuse, totalling €230,000, were uncovered.

[Return to headlines]

Ireland: Scamming Cricketers Foil Immigration

Immigration officials have been stumped by scamming cricket teams from the Middle East who arrange matches but go on the run rather than play, it emerged today.

The Department of Justice said in the last year two teams, with players mainly from Pakistan and Bangladesh, caught out border control after they came to compete but never turned up for the innings.

Justice chiefs warned it has become a growing trafficking trend.

“They were genuine cricket teams and it was a genuine cricket competition they were

travelling over to Ireland for,” a spokesman for the Department said.

“There was a legitimate competition and the teams were let in.

“But when they got into the State they never turned up for the matches … and some of them were then located subsequently in Britain.”

Immigration officials said they believed a trend was developing after several teams applied to enter the State from the Middle East with one or two members of each party having a good travel history.

Once here legally, some players claimed asylum or disappeared.

The Department said on one occasion 10 team members were stopped as they tried to travel on to the UK without having to use a passport as Ireland and Britain share a common travel area.

They later claimed asylum.

Immigration chiefs believe a Pakistani showjumping team also duped border control.

The Department could not give the precise details of the competitions but claimed the teams had been registered to play.

However, Cricket Ireland, the body overseeing the sport across the island, said they had never heard of such attempted immigration scams or vanishing cricket teams.

Spokesman Barry Chambers said: “This is the first I’ve heard of this.”

Mr Chambers said cricketers coming over to Ireland to play for Irish clubs have to go through a strict process.

“The only cricketers that come in are from Pakistan and India and they have to go through a pretty rigorous application process.

“They just can’t roll up and start playing cricket.”

Meanwhile, the Department also said there were growing numbers of foreign nationals legally in the State claiming child benefit for kids living outside the country.

The majority of cases involve Chinese people.

Between October 2008 and April 2009 there were 130 incidences costing the taxpayer €230,000.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]

Lifting the Lid on Australia’s ‘Visa Factories’

The numbers are boggling — nearly half a million international students pumping $15 billion a year into the Australian economy.

A decade ago not many people would have predicted that education would morph into an industry and knock off tourism as our third biggest export earner.

They say that in India the slightest thing causes a riot, but earlier this year Australians were shocked to see thousands of Indian students on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney protesting about street violence, racism and slum housing.

The students held their hastily scribbled banners and posters in front of the lenses of TV cameras which beamed the pictures back to India.

It fed sensational media coverage like one memorable report called India Fights Back, which featured Prime Minister Kevin Rudd thanking India for rescuing Australia from a century of British food juxtaposed with a split screen of the protesters at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.

The tone was Bollywood meets The Insiders and I briefly wondered whether the cricket season had kicked off early.

Reports had been circulating for the best part of a year about dodgy private colleges and the visa factories of Sydney and Melbourne.

In one year alone the vocational education sector had grown by over 50 per cent, fuelled by over 70,000 Indian students coming to buy an education.

Egged on by immigration and education agents, many were told that if they enrolled in cooking and hairdressing they could not only get a diploma but they could qualify for permanent residency in Australia.

And indeed they could.

The Government had instituted a deliberate immigration pathway through education, but the trouble was many of the training schools were supplying qualifications that were worthless, and the policing of standards in the colleges was woefully inept.

Four Corners discovered that not only were many of the courses bogus, but other illegal scams were keeping the system afloat.

If a student wants to apply for permanent residency they must pass an English language test. Four Corners has clear evidence that unscrupulous education agents are offering the tests for thousands of dollars.

Similarly with the work experience certificates that students need to acquire as part of their training. These too can be procured through networks of corrupt businesspeople for thousands of dollars.

The question is — how is this being allowed to happen?

Four Corners discovered evidence that students and some education agents have made serious allegations to the relevant government authorities and their complaints have been ignored or worse, they have found themselves under investigation.

For some time, the Government has boasted about the growth in the foreign education sector. But some experts believe the time has come for the Government to stop the corruption.

The question is, does it have the will?

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Immigration Staff Vote to Strike

Holidaymakers are facing disruption after the PCS union said immigration officials working for the UK Border Agency have voted for strike action.

Members voted by a large majority to take action over plans to merge the duties of immigration and customs staff, the PCS’s Alex Flynn said. It gives the go-ahead for a possible two-day walkout beginning 5 August. A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said contingency plans would be put into place to minimise disruption.

‘Little effect’

The dispute centres around changes to working practices and shift patterns following the merger of immigration and customs staff after the creation of the UK Border Agency. According to the PCS, the merger means immigration staff would have to carry out custom officers’ duties for which they have not been trained, such as strip searches.

The union also says proposed changes to shift patterns would mean a reduction in take-home pay.

Mr Flynn said the union had been holding talks with management which were due to be discussed by the executive committee of the PCS’s immigration section.

“Obviously we want to avoid inconveniencing the public,” Mr Flynn added.

“But our members want to continue doing the jobs they signed up for.

“Management were trying to introduce changes so that you would have immigration officers doing jobs for which they were not trained.”

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency insisted disruption would be minimal. He added: “If industrial action does take place border controls will be maintained and there will be little effect on the work of the UK Border Agency. “Contingency staffing plans would be in place to ensure the public receive business as usual service.”

The results of the PCS ballot come after unions representing 14,000 cabin crew at British Airways have warned of strikes over management plans for job losses and a wage freeze.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian[Return to headlines]


Zenster said...

UK: Kabul Must Reconcile With Moderate Taliban

The Afghan government must exploit the opportunity presented by the allied military surge to reconcile with moderate Taliban [emphasis added]

"Moderate Taliban"? Few oxymorons can compete with this statement. Even my own suggestions of "Pro-Israel Nazis" and a favorite, "Muslim integrity", can barely hold a candle to such profound intellectual insults.

Zenster said...

Ireland: Scamming Cricketers Foil Immigration

Immigration officials have been stumped by scamming cricket teams from the Middle East who arrange matches but go on the run rather than play, it emerged today.

Not quite cricket, now is it? [rimshot]


Zenster said...

Iran: Ahmadinejad Now Wants Control of Who Uses the Internet

Why is this even any sort of news?

Solkhar said...

The British giving in to the radicals regarding policewomen putting on the viel in a mosque is just another list of pathetic moves. I would accept their covering their hair but then they have headgear on.

It is rather like how the laws let a Pakistani policeman who had a very long beard and a face rather like Bin Laden (and who insisted that his pants be tucked into his socks) win a court case and seek damages for being riduculed by other police. I think he did look like Bin Laden, I know that most police in the world have dress and aesthetic rules about appearances and that he would not be a policeman just about anywhere. Most Muslim countries would make him cut his beard if not trim it down to short, socks certainly out and told to be part of the "service" or get out. I have a retired police commissioner who is a freind and works for me sometimes, I showed him that article about the police and he laughed out loud and made a scene in our café. If I told him about the viel - which Moroccan female police are NOT ALLOWED to wear then he would certainly now do the same shout of suprise.

Solkhar said...

Zenster, for once I agree with you, Taliban is an oxymoron of the first ilk.

I am presuming (and hoping) that what they are saying is that they want to drive away from the Taliban the conservatives and get their complicity in peace and that by doing so they are also acknowledging that no matter what, Afghanistan will be a strong religiously conservative state.

Better to be strong conservative than dangerous and rediculous radical.

I certainly would not hold my breath and I still support the military effort to simply wipe the extremists out altogether - a cancer is a cancer.

Zenster said...

Solkhar: Zenster, for once I agree with you, [moderate] Taliban is an oxymoron of the first ilk.

... I certainly would not hold my breath and I still support the military effort to simply wipe the extremists out altogether - a cancer is a cancer

While it would be pleasant if we could agree on even just one thing, I am regretfully confident that our individual definitions of "extremists" probably differ rather wildly.