Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 9/17/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 9/17/2009The big news of the day confirms what everyone knew was going to happen: the United States is abandoning the proposed missile-defense shield that was planned for Eastern Europe. Needless to say, the Russians are very pleased, and the Czechs and the Poles are nervous.

In other news, a German high school student ran amok in his school with an axe and Molotov cocktails, injuring several students before being shot by police.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Diana West, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JD, JH, JP, LN, Lurker from Tulsa, REP, Sean O’Brian, TB, Tuan Jim, VH, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Exclusive — Wells Fargo’s Commercial Portfolio is a Ticking Time Bomb
Housing and Jobless Data Signal a Fragile Recovery
Ron Paul’s Fed Audit Has Majority Support
Treasury to Sell $112 Billion in Notes Next Week
Tulsa Schools Expects Cut of $8 Million for Year
USTR Kirk Sees Need to Guard Against Protectionism
75 Percent of Oklahoma High School Students Can’t Name the First President of the U.S.
Abu Dhabi Gives $150m to DC Children’s Hospital
American Airlines Parent AMR Raises $2.9b, Adds Flights at D/FW, Other Hubs
Book Review: The Real Jimmy Carter
Cass Sunstein Wants to Spread America’s Wealth
Liberal Lies About Health Care: Joe Wilson Edition!
Majority to Obama: Get Serious on Tort Reform
Millions Under Surveillance by Obama’s New Internet Spy Program
New Envion Facility Turns Plastic Waste Into $10/Barrel Fuel
Obama Inspires Islamists’ D.C. Prayer Rally — Shariah Experts to Proclaim ‘Our Day Has Come’
Obama’s Eligibility Baggage Just a Coincidence?
Pelosi Concerned Political Rhetoric Will Foster Climate for Violence
Valerie Jarrett: The Next Van Jones
Europe and the EU
A Bill UK Lawmakers Can’t Stomach: The Lunch Check
A French Video Nasty
Barack Obama Abandons European Missile Shield to Delight of Russians
Czech PM Confirms USA Withdraws From Missile Defence Plans
Dutch Police Hunt Fugitive Human Trafficker
Eastern Europe Grumbles About Downgrade in US Ties
EU Membership Has Led to Deep Constitutional Changes in the UK. But it Would be Wrong to Say That We Have Been Robbed of Our Sovereignty, Says Philip Johnston. Our Government Has Been an Accomplice All the Way.
Geert Wilders: Fine Women for Wearing Headscarves
Germany: 9 Teens Wounded After Ax-Wielding Student Launches Attack on High School
Germany: Several Students Injured in School Rampage
Hollywood Wife Lays in to Swedish Men
In Norway, The Left Can ‘Bribe’ Voters With Oil Money
Italy: Tarantini Admits to “Crimes” But Denies Mafia Link
Italy: Saudi Princess’ Jewels Recovered
Italy: Fini Sues Berlusconi Daily
Italy: Toxic Shipwreck Calls for Action
NATO Chief Hails Missile Defense “Positive Step”
Netherlands: Anger at Wilders’ Headscarf Tax’
Re-Elected Barroso Due in Ireland at Weekend to Campaign for Lisbon
UK: ‘Health Tourists’ Told to Pay for Hospital Treatment Up-Front… Or Go Home
UK: Foreign Office Chief Accused of Saying: Blow Israel Off the Face of the Earth
UK: Foreign Office Official in Court Accused of Anti-Semitic Gym Rant
UK: Posturing Without Accountability
UK: You Mustn’t Mention God… Council Bans Church From Putting Up Notices About Its Meetings
Vatican: Pope to Visit Rome Synagogue
North Africa
Algeria: 74% of Imports in Textile Sector From China
Algeria: 74% of Imports in Textile Sector From China
Egyptian Christian Girl Abducted to Force ‘Reconciliation’ In Murdered Brother’s Case
Jordan-Egypt: Joint Efforts to Crack Down Organ Trafficking
Libya: Acacus Sites Closed After Damages
UNESCO: Hosni Criticises Campaign of Lies Against Him
Israel and the Palestinians
Civil Fights: How to Perpetuate the Conflict in One Easy Move
Hevron’s Noisy War: Mosque Loudspeakers vs. Jewish Music
UN Must Hold Obama to Same Standard as Israel
Middle East
Cold War Roots of Yemen Conflict
Energy: Syria: Increase in Gas Production and Oil Demand
Jordan: Government to Sue Doctor for Abusing Domestic Helper
Oil: Syria: Reserves Estimated at 24.3 Bln Barrels (2)
Russian FM Says No New Sanctions on Iran
The Gay Sons of Allah
Turkey: Defamation, Ankara Wants to Question Duchess of York
U.S. Worried About Iran “Running Out Clock”: Gates
Kremlin Denies Missile Deal With US
Lieutenant Colonel Funding From Afar
Vatican Sees End to Tensions With Russian Orthodox
South Asia
Afghanistan: Six Italian Soldiers Killed in Kabul Blast
Afghanistan: Italy Condemns Deadly Kabul Attack
Afghanistan: Taliban Exalt Deaths of ‘Senior’ Italian Soldiers
Berlusconi: Best to Exit Afghanistan Soon
Factbox: Italy in Afghanistan
India’s Poor Healthcare a Threat to Growth — Report
Indonesia’s Top Terror Suspect Killed in Raid
Indonesia’s Most Wanted Man Killed in Police Raid
Indonesia: Police: Terrorism Mastermind Noordin Top Dead
Indonesia: NU Congratulates Police for Raid on Terrorists
Italy Vows to Stay the Course in Afghanistan
Kabul Car Bomb Kills Six
Kabul Attack Worst Since Nassiriya
Pakistan: Sialkot: Police Charges Crowd at Funeral for Young Man Killed in Prison for Blasphemy
The Man Who Saved India From Famine: Norman Borlaug
UK Inquest: He Died Delivering Goat
Far East
Arab Guns Dispatched to Muslims in China
Chinese Ban Transport of Explosives in Urumqi
Ties Between Beijing and Dili Growing Closer
Australia — Pacific
Press Group Urges Rudd to Resist Indonesia “Blackmail”
Sub-Saharan Africa
China, Russia Navies on Joint Anti-Piracy Patrols
Witness: 11 Dead in Somalia Suicide Car Bombings
Latin America
Honduran Candidates Look to Distance Themselves From San José Agreement
France: Residency Card for Investors
Italy Rejects UN Migrant Criticism
Metropolis Conference in Copenhagen
Culture Wars
EU Parliament Condemns Lithuanian Anti-Gay Law
Why the Elites Call You a Racist
A Glance at School Violence in Recent Years
Eighteen Reasons Why You Should Not Vaccinate Your Children Against the Flu This Season
Islamic Search Engine Imhalal Hailed a Success
Jewish Activists Concerned Ahead of UNESCO Vote

Financial Crisis

Exclusive — Wells Fargo’s Commercial Portfolio is a Ticking Time Bomb

By Teri Buhl

In order to sort through the disaster that is Wells Fargo’s commercial loan portfolio, the bank has hired help from outside experts to pour over the books… and they are shocked with what they are seeing. Not only do the bank’s outstanding commercial loans collectively exceed the property values to which they are attached, but derivative trades leftover from its acquisition of Wachovia are creating another set of problems for the already beleaguered San Francisco-based megabank,Wachovia, which Wells purchased last fall as it teetered on the brink of collapse, was so desperate to increase revenue in the last few years of its existence that it underwrote loans with shoddy standards and paid off traders to take them off their books.According to sources currently working out these loans at Wells Fargo and confirmed by Dan Alpert of Westwood Capital, when selling tranches of commercial mortgage-backed securities below the super senior tranche, Wachovia promised to pay the buyer’s risk premium by writing credit default swap contracts against these subordinate bonds. Should the junior tranches eventually default, then the bank is on the hook.Alpert says in reference to how he saw CMBS trades get done, “The Wachovia guys would say ‘We’ll just take back that silly credit risk you’re worried about.’ Of course that was a nice increase to earnings when they got the security sold. The bank made money at the time.”When asked if Wells Fargo was prepared to pay out those credit default swaps if these securities default, a spokeswoman told,” In keeping with our strong risk discipline, we continually monitor all of our outstanding derivative positions. We have provided extensive transparent disclosures on our derivatives in our 2008 annual report beginning on page 132.” The real question is, however, was enough disclosed to investors about this practice when Wells purchased Wachovia?One top hedge fund manager who has experience in outing accounting fraud told Bank-Implode “They needed to estimate that CDS liability upon the purchase of Wachovia. If they didn’t, they’ve committed fraud.”Since there is no way to track the amount of contracts Wachovia wrote due to the lack of a central clearinghouse for credit default swaps , the next best option for analysts is to examine how the loans that backed the mortgage securities are performing. An in-depth review by Bank-Implode shows significant weakness regardless of Wells Fargo’s recent claim to the Wall Street Journal that the merger integration is on track. [ ]According to the New York Post, Harry Markopolos, the whistleblower on Bernie Madoff, gave a speech this summer at the Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton predicting more major scandals will soon be revealed about the unregulated, $600 trillion, credit default swap market. Ouch!One senior member of Wells Fargo’s commercial loan group who deals directly with the quandary, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says, “One third of this commercial portfolio we took on from Wachovia is impaired and needs to be completely rewritten. I’ve just hired five more guys and we can’t keep up with the volume of defaults. Southeast Florida and Tampa are serious trouble spots.”Wachovia’s third quarter 2008 filings, which reflect their assets three days before Wells Fargo agreed to the acquisition, shows the bank held a whopping $230 billion in its commercial loan portfolio. Current figures show Wells’ 90-day defaults on its commercial portfolio are rapidly growing. According to data from which tracks financial numbers that Wells files with its regulators, the bank’s Construction and Development portfolio, with $38.2 billion in loans, is defaulting at a level eight times greater than the rest of the nation’s banks, as of June 30th. [Link:]. Alarming right?Wachovia commercial loan officers who spoke to Bank Implode say that the bank specialized in underwriting short-term loans up to five years during the credit boom of 2005-2007. The standard terms for such loans included interest-only payments on a floating rate with a huge balloon payment in the final year of the loan. If these loans cannot be refinanced, more waves of defaults are inevitable.According to Susan Smith, author of a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers investor survey about the state of the CMBS market, more trouble is brewing. “It’s going to be very difficult for these loans to get refinancing when the market value is going down and fundamentals are deteriorating,” says Smith. According to data from her report, problems in the South Florida region, to which Wachovia had large exposure, are amplified by an increasing overall cap rate, up 80 basis points from last year, and declining rent prices. The OCR is the perception of risk investors see. The overall cap rate goes up when the overall risk in the market is up.Given the warning signs on the horizon, it’s plausible that Wells Fargo would try to unload some of these troubled loans on the secondary market. But according to multiple private investment shops set up to invest in distressed debt, Wells isn’t selling them. If Wells were to sell the loans, not only would the bank have to book a loss, but would also have to pay out those pesky credit default swaps.Instead of selling the loans, sources inside Wells commercial group told Bank Implode that they have been instructed to modify loans for customers in default by adjusting the interest rate, but not change the maturity date. Why? According to Meredith Whitney, founder and CEO of Meredith Whiney Advisory Group, Wells is working an accounting game of “extend and pretend.”“If the bank doesn’t change a maturity date, then it does not have to take an impairment charge on its books, which would affect earnings,” says Whitney. If the loans don’t look like they are impaired, the rating agencies then do not have to downgrade the billions of CMBS that Wachovia sold to other banks and investors. Moody’s backed out of such a downgrade last month, after it previously warned downgrades were coming on $4.1 billion of Wachovia Bank commercial mortgage securities because it now expects principal and interest payments to continue [link: ].Adds Whitney “We’ve seen Wells Fargo play modification games with its own loans. Why wouldn’t they do it with the loans they took on from Wachovia?” On Tuesday on CNBC, Whitney said again “I don’t know if those commercial modifications are going to work.” [link: ]In response to analyst expressing doubts that the near $40 billion structured into the purchase of Wachovia for losses in its total portfolio will be enough CEO John Stumpf spoke out. Stumpf told investors at the Barclays conference this week, Wells Fargo has used $2.2 billion in credits for losses from Wachoiva’s commercial mortgages, or one-fifth of the $10.4 billion in total losses it expects from those loans. for investors, banks hold CDS liabilities off balance sheet and do not recognize them as a loss until they actually have to pay it. Wachovia at least disclosed in its third quarter 2008 10-K on note 15, that credit derivatives are a regular part of how they finance commercial activities, and add that such instruments ‘don’t meet the criteria for designation as an accounting hedge’.Given that a specific number for CDS exposure is not yet tenable, it’s hard to say how many billions are at risk. Yet most market players who follow this bank said when those CMBS de-lever and the derivatives come due, it will be a problem for which Wells is absolutely not adequately capitalized.To give Wells Fargo credit, it might not even know the size of the problem. Bank Implode could not find an analyst who covers the stock to say Wells actually has enough loss reserves built in for it, but regardless the analysts are very concerned about the bank’s health based on the data that they do see. Both Whitney and Paul Miller of FBR Capital Markets both have gone on-air and written in notes [] to clients that Wells’ loan loss reserves are not enough to handle coming impairments to residential loans. Miller has a recommended stock price of $15 while WFC is currently trading around $29.So how can Wells really have enough capital to handle the liability of credit derivatives that will likely come due within the year? As we watch more and more of the junior tranches of commercial mortgage back securities Wachovia sold become worthless how will Wells Fargo afford to pay for the risk premiums Wachovia promised they’d take care of if the loans blew up? From all indications, the bank cannot meet these obligations unless it raises more capital, sells good assets for a loss, or put more of that TARP money to use that CEO John Stumpf says is coming back to the taxpayer. So much for “earning our way out” of the financial crisis.[Additional reporting by Chris Gillick]Editors Note: This report holds no relevant stock positionsBy Teri Buhl for

In order to sort through the disaster that is Wells Fargo’s (quote: WFC) commercial loan portfolio, the bank has hired help from outside experts to pour over the books… and they are shocked with what they are seeing. Not only do the bank’s outstanding commercial loans collectively exceed the property values to which they are attached, but derivative trades leftover from its acquisition of Wachovia are creating another set of problems for the already beleaguered San Francisco-based megabank.

Wachovia, which Wells purchased last fall as it teetered on the brink of collapse, was so desperate to increase revenue in the last few years of its existence that it underwrote loans with extremely shoddy standards and paid traders to take them off their books.

According to sources currently working out these loans at Wells Fargo, when selling tranches of commercial mortgage-backed securities below the super senior tranche, Wachovia promised to pay the buyer’s risk premium by writing credit default swap contracts against these subordinate bonds. Dan Alpert of Westwood Capital says these were practices that he saw going on in the market at large.

Keep in mind, should the junior tranches eventually default, then the bank is on the hook…

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Housing and Jobless Data Signal a Fragile Recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) — Adding to evidence the recession has ended, housing construction rose in August and fewer laid-off workers sought jobless aid last week.

Still, the reports suggested a slow and fragile economic recovery. The rise in housing starts was due solely to a jump in the volatile apartment-building category, and unemployment claims remain far above levels associated with a healthy economy.

And even as the housing industry begins to recover from its worst downturn in decades, a glut of unsold homes and record levels of home foreclosures are weighing on the industry.

Construction of single-family homes and apartments rose 1.5 percent to an annual rate of 598,000 units, the highest level since November, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was slightly lower than the 600,000-unit pace economists had expected. And it remains more than 70 percent below the peak rate hit in 2006.

The tentative improvements in housing are most likely a rebound “from unsustainably weak results … reinforced by a temporary boost to demand” from the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit that ends Nov. 30, Joshua Shapiro, chief economist at MFR Inc., wrote in a note to clients.

“Gains from here on will probably be much more difficult to achieve,” due to high unemployment, tight credit and the large number of homes already on the market, he said.

Applications for building permits, a gauge of future activity, rose 2.7 percent in August to an annual rate of 579,000 units, slightly below the 580,000 level that had been forecast. But for single-family homes, permits dipped 0.2 percent. They rose 15.8 percent for multifamily units.

The 1.5 percent rise in overall housing starts followed a small 0.2 percent dip in July. The August strength reflected a 25.3 percent surge in construction of multifamily units, a volatile sector that had fallen 15.2 percent in July.

Single-family home construction dipped 3 percent last month to an annual rate of 479,000 units, the first setback following five straight monthly gains.

Some economists held out hope that the drop would be temporary.

“A clear uptrend is emerging” in single-family homes, Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note to clients.

New-home construction could rise further in the next few months as builders respond to greater demand from first-time buyers for smaller homes, he added.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week to a seasonally adjusted 545,000 from 557,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said. Wall Street economists had expected a small rise, according to Thomson Reuters.

The decline was the third in the past four weeks. The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped to 563,000. Despite the improvement, that’s far above the 325,000 per week that is typical in a healthy economy.

The slow decline in unemployment claims may indicate that the recovery will be a relatively jobless one, similar to the rebounds from the 1991 and 2001 recessions, said John Canally, an economist at LPL Financial.

The number of people claiming jobless benefits for more than a week rose by 129,000 to a seasonally adjusted 6.2 million. The continuing claims data lags initial claims by one week.

When federal extended benefits are included, 9.01 million people received unemployment insurance in the week ending Aug. 29. That’s down from 9.16 million the previous week. Congress has added up to 53 weeks of extended benefits on top of the 26 weeks provided by the states.

Some economists said the overall housing construction gain was an encouraging sign that the worst is over for that troubled market.

“This sector is likely to start adding to growth rather than holding back the economy,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors.

Regionally, construction rose 23.8 percent in the Northeast and 0.9 percent in the Midwest. Activity was flat in the West and fell 2.4 percent in the South.

Builders have been ramping up because buyers want to take advantage of the federal tax credit. The National Association of Home Builders said this week that its housing market index rose one point to 19 in September, reflecting growing optimism in the industry about rising home sales.

Homebuilders’ stocks jumped after the release of that report and mostly moved higher early Thursday. Shares of Beazer Homes USA Inc. jumped more than 6 percent and Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. rose more than 3 percent in mid-afternoon trading. Financial results for homebuilders also were better than expected in the latest quarter.

The Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction Total Stock Market Index has surged since bottoming in November but remains about 72 percent below the level achieved at its recent peak in 2005.

Thursday’s reports come a day after the Federal Reserve said production by the nation’s factories, mines and utilities rose for the second straight month in August, another sign the recession is ending.

But the economy isn’t improving fast enough to spur greater hiring. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday said the recession is likely over but added that the economy isn’t likely to grow fast enough to lower unemployment anytime soon.

The jobless rate is widely expected to peak next year above 10 percent, up from its current 9.7 percent. Some analysts say that claims need to drop below 400,000 before the unemployment rate will start to decline.

More job cuts were announced this week. Drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. said Monday that it will cut 5,500 jobs over the next two years, 14 percent of its work force, as it restructures the company into five business units.

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

Ron Paul’s Fed Audit Has Majority Support

‘There’s going to be a lot of hollering and screaming before this is over’

U.S. House hearings are scheduled to start a week from now on a proposal from U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to audit the Federal Reserve, which oversees U.S. monetary policy, and the congressman believes the plan actually could become law this time.

Paul, who has sponsored similar legislation on and off since the 1980s, during this Congress for the first time is seeing significant support for the idea of looking into the actions of the decision-makers who set interest rates and take myriad other actions that affect Americans’ financial well-being.

The Federal Reserve, an independent organization apart from the U.S. government, largely has operated behind a veil of secrecy for decades, but Paul told WND today that its operations could be about to face the light of day.


“To understand how unwise it is to have the Federal Reserve, one must first understand the magnitude of the privileges they have,” Paul wrote in a recent Straight Talk commentary. “They have been given the power to create money, by the trillions, and to give it to their friends, under any terms they wish, with little or no meaningful oversight or accountability.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Treasury to Sell $112 Billion in Notes Next Week

NEW YORK — The Treasury Department said Thursday it will issue $112 billion in notes next week. A record $43 billion in 2-year notes will be sold on Tuesday, followed by $40 billion in 5-year debt on Wednesday. The final offering will be $49 billion in 7-year notes on Thursday. The amounts are each $1 billion more than last month — the most ever for each security — and in line with estimates of some of Wall Street’s biggest bond dealers. The government will also sell $85 billion in shorter-term bills. After the announcement, 2-year note

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Tulsa Schools Expects Cut of $8 Million for Year

TULSA, OK — The budget crunch has made its way to Tulsa Public Schools. The district will have to make massive cuts this year after learning it will be getting less money from the state. On Thursday morning, TPS officials put out the warning that the budget is in trouble and nearly everything will get a second look.

It was the announcement heard around the district.

Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard disclosed that Tulsa Public Schools is taking a severe hit to this year’s budget to the tune of $500,000 a month. By the end of the fiscal year, the total could be close to $10 million in lost money.

“It’s very scary right now,” said parent Stephanie Beard.

“It’s not the worst right now, but if the predictions are carried out, if the predictions come about then it will absolutely be the worst,” said TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.

Dr. Ballard says the district is now forced to look at making cuts across the school system.

Among the possibilities are slashes to every department budget, continue the hiring freeze, furloughs, restrict out of district travel, and eliminate overtime. The superintendent says cuts to anything going on in the classroom or teachers will be last on the list but is not completely eliminated.

“My recommendation to the board will be that we do all we can to spare the classroom, but there’s no doubt that we will be getting into teacher cuts sometime around the first of the year. If it continues like this, I think there’s no doubt that would happen,” said Dr. Keith Ballard.

Lenore Brown is a parent and PTA leader.

“Whatever it takes to actually equip our children or be able to experience the learning as positively as possible needs to be left in place,” said parent Lenore Brown.

She says the cuts should stay clear of the classroom and encourages the school board to think of the students when making decisions.

“The children need to feel it as little as possible. The community and the administration, the parents, and the teachers are all going to have to work together to get creative,” said parent Lenore Brown.

Dr. Ballard says one way to avoid the cuts is if the legislature uses the rainy day fund to help balance the state budget. It’s important to note the figures can change each month and get better or worse.

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

USTR Kirk Sees Need to Guard Against Protectionism

SAO PAULO (Reuters) — U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Wednesday world economies need to stay on alert to prevent protectionism from hurting a nascent global recovery.

The world needs trade policies that open opportunities and markets, not shut them down, Kirk said at a speech to business leaders in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and financial hub.

A U.S. decision last week to impose higher duties on tire imports from China for three years raised tensions with the Asian country, but shouldn’t escalate into an all-out trade dispute, he added.

“We don’t believe this need or should spark a trade war,” Kirk said. “We have to have meaningful and fair enforcement of the (WTO) rules.”

Kirk also said the U.S. and Brazilian governments should work to deepen trade relations between the two countries.

“There is so much more room for growth,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


75 Percent of Oklahoma High School Students Can’t Name the First President of the U.S.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Only one in four Oklahoma public high school students can name the first President of the United States, according to a survey released today.

The survey was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in observance of Constitution Day on Thursday.

Brandon Dutcher is with the conservative think tank and said the group wanted to find out how much civic knowledge Oklahoma high school students know.

The Oklahoma City-based think tank enlisted national research firm, Strategic Vision, to access students’ basic civic knowledge.

“They’re questions taken from the actual exam that you have to take to become a U.S. citizen,” Dutcher said.

A thousand students were given 10 questions drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services item bank. Candidates for U.S. citizenship must answer six questions correctly in order to become citizens.

About 92 percent of the people who take the citizenship test pass on their first try, according to immigration service data. However, Oklahoma students did not fare as well. Only about 3 percent of the students surveyed would have passed the citizenship test.

Dutcher said this is not just a problem in Oklahoma. He said Arizona had similar results, which left him concerned for the entire country.

“Jefferson later said that a nation can’t expect to be ignorant and free,” Dutcher said. “It points to a real serious problem. We’re not going to remain ignorant and free.”

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

Abu Dhabi Gives $150m to DC Children’s Hospital

[Comment from Tuan Jim: might be worth digging to see what strings were attached to this “gift.”]

WASHINGTON — The government of Abu Dhabi is giving $150 million to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.

The donation announced Wednesday is one of the largest ever to a U.S. pediatric hospital.

It will create the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, where doctors will collaborate to improve surgeries for children.

Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, has previously given large sums to U.S. institutions including the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

This gift was arranged by Washington philanthropist Joseph E. Robert Jr., whose son underwent a 10-hour surgery at the hospital nearly a decade ago to rebuild his chest wall.

Robert approached the crown prince of Abu Dhabi after the two met on a business trip and became friends.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

American Airlines Parent AMR Raises $2.9b, Adds Flights at D/FW, Other Hubs

AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines Inc., unveiled a sweeping list of initiatives Thursday as it announced it is raising or borrowing $2.9 billion, strengthening its hubs at D/FW airport and elsewhere, reducing service in St. Louis and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and buying more regional jets.

As part of the money-raising, Citibank Inc. is buying $1 billion in frequent-flier miles in advance, to be used in 2012 through 2016.

“Today’s announcement positions our company well to face today’s industry challenges and allows us to remain focused on the future and on returning to profitability,” said AMR chairman and chief executive officer Gerard Arpey said.

American and American Eagle “are refocusing their collective network strategy by bolstering areas of strength to best meet the needs of customers,” AMR said in its announcement.

“This strategy primarily aims to eliminate unprofitable flying and reallocate resources to hubs in Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami and New York,” it said. “These four cities, along with Los Angeles, serve as the cornerstones of the company’s network.”

At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, American will add 17 flights and American Eagle will add two in 2010, giving the two carriers 780 departures. American will reinstate its flights to San Salvador, El Salvador.

The biggest gains will come at Chicago, where AMR will add 57 flights including a new route to Beijing deferred from 2009. Miami will add 23 flights. At New York Kennedy, American will launch international service to Madrid, Spain; Manchester, England; and San Jose, Costa Rica.

At the same time, St. Louis — a sizeable hub when American bought Trans World Airlines Inc. assets in 2001 — will lose 46 American and regional flights and end service to 20 cities. AMR said after the cutbacks, St. Louis will have only 36 flights to nine destinations.

Raleigh-Durham, N.C., will keep 44 flights to eight cities, but will lose nine flights and three destinations in the cutback.

After the changes, AMR said 2010 flying capacity will be flat compared to 2009 on domestic routes and up 2.5 percent on international routes. American and American Eagle have both cut their capacity substantially this year.

The new financing should allay Wall Street worries that AMR, with only $2.8 billion on cash on June 30, might not have enough liquidity to weather the industry’s prolonged downturn.

Although fears have recently decreased as business has begun to pick up, analysts had raised concerns that some airline companies including AMR might run low on cash this winter.

The biggest source of new money is coming from Citibank Inc., American’s partner with AAdvantage-branded credit cards. The company raised $1 billion in cash from an advance sale of frequent-flier miles to Citi.

AMR said it also secured $280 million in cash from a loan from GE Capital Aviation Service (GECAS), with aircraft as collateral.

It also raised $1.6 billion in commitments from GECAS through the sale and leaseback of Boeing 737 airplanes American has ordered. In return, American has agreed to buy GE engines for its Boeing 787s due to begin arriving in four years.

AMR said that American Eagle will put a first-class section into its Bombardier CRJ-700 jets, which currently have 70 seats in a one-class cabin. Eagle also plans to buy another 22 of the jets, to be delivered beginning in mid-2010. Most of those airplanes fly out of Chicago.

[Return to headlines]

Book Review: The Real Jimmy Carter

A man who hates his own country

There’s no way a book entitled “The Real Jimmy Carter” can’t be good. We know that.

But Steven Hayward’s effort here is especially good, as he unmasks the humble peanut farmer as something other than a benevolent do-gooder. The final chapter, “The Myth of St. Jimmy” is terrific and highly revealing.

The entire book is a great investigative piece into Carter’s life, particularly the latter years, when he damaged America’s standing worldwide with his bumbling (yet, strangely malevolent) forays into the inner sanctums of dictators.

Carter, who seemingly came out of nowhere to launch a bid for the presidency on the heels of Richard Nixon’s meltdown, is quite a bit more calculating than his admirers contend.

For example, his famous smile presiding over Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat gives the impression that he was an unbiased interlocutor.

Not so.

Carter’s animus toward the Jewish state has been documented by writers like Yehuda Avner, and Hayward’s book also explores that period of time in American diplomatic history when Carter pressed tiny Israel to shrink herself dramatically in exchange for Sadat’s signature.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Cass Sunstein Wants to Spread America’s Wealth

Echoes Van Jones on using ‘environmental justice’ to redistribute money

It is “desirable” to redistribute America’s wealth to poorer nations, argued President Obama’s newly confirmed regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein.

According to Sunstein, global climate change is primarily the fault of U.S. environmental behavior and can, therefore, be used as a mechanism to redistribute the country’s wealth.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Liberal Lies About Health Care: Joe Wilson Edition!

I’m trying to get to the next installment of my Pulitzer Prize-deserving series on liberal lies about national health care, but apparently liberals have decided to torture us by neurotically fixating on one lie.

After President Barack Obama gave a speech to a joint session of Congress last week passionately defending his national health-care plan, the Democrats were agog at the brilliance of the speech. Nancy Pelosi was so thrilled, her expression almost changed.

But as Obama ticked off one demonstrably false claim after another — eliciting 37 standing ovations from the Democrats in the audience — America’s greatest living statesman, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., yelled out, “You lie!” in response to Obama’s claim that the bill will not cover illegal aliens.

There are a number of theories about why America’s greatest living statesman shouted “You lie!” at that juncture, but mine is that Wilson said it because Obama told a big, fat, stinking lie.


Wise (and pregnant) Latinas dash across the border just in time to give birth at American hospitals — medical services paid for by U.S. taxpayers — gaining instant citizenship for their children, thereby entitling them to the entire Chinese menu of American welfare programs.

In 2004, 42.6 percent of all babies born at taxpayer expense in California were born to illegal aliens, according to a state report on Medi-Cal-funded deliveries. In hospitals close to the Mexican border, the figure is closer to 80 percent. Remember: This is before health care becomes “free” to every U.S. resident.

Hospitals across the country are going bankrupt because the federal government forces them to provide free services to illegals. This situation appears to have angered some segment of the population, in particular, American citizens who pay taxes to support the hospitals, but then are forced to spend hours writhing in pain in hospital waiting rooms.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Majority to Obama: Get Serious on Tort Reform

Although most of his health care speech consisted of the same talking points he has been offering for months, President Obama last week offered up one surprise as he sought to make his increasingly unpopular health reform bill more palatable for the American public. “I don’t believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs,” Obama said. He added that he was authorizing Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to begin “demonstration projects” in various states to deal with malpractice reform. The importance of this promise should not be overstated. The “demonstration projects” will be tiny, and they will also be run by Sebelius, who served a longer term as executive director and chief lobbyist for the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association than she did as governor of Kansas. Trial lawyers are far too powerful for Obama to include any legal reforms in his health care bill — as former Democratic National Committee chairman and physician Howard Dean put it, the administration does not want to “take them on.” Still, it comes as no surprise that Obama felt the need to make some token commitment on tort reform. Even though it is not exactly a populist issue, most Americans are solidly behind the idea of dismantling the culture of malpractice lawsuit abuse. A new survey commissioned by the group Common Good and the Committee for Economic Development found that 57 percent of registered voters believe that any health care reform bill should include measures to “reduce the pressure on doctors and hospitals to practice defensive medicine *** to protect themselves from being sued.” Sixty-seven percent liked the idea of having malpractice cases decided by special medical courts, which would be staffed by experts who abide by consistent standards, rather than by non-expert juries who can be swayed by emotional arguments from slick lawyers, such as former Democratic senator and trial lawyer John Edwards. If the idea of new “medical courts” proves somehow problematic, then caps on noneconomic-damage awards are another effective idea. In Texas and Mississippi, tort reforms recently cut down on “jackpot” lawsuits and reversed a trend of doctors and insurers leaving the state, without preventing truly wronged patients from being fairly compensated. Obama is correct that malpractice tort reform is no “silver bullet.” But if his goal is to make health care and insurance more affordable for the average American, there is simply no excuse for failing to include it in his reform package.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Millions Under Surveillance by Obama’s New Internet Spy Program

The Obama White House “new media” operations Czar recently contracted a technology vendor to conduct an enormous secret program to gather personal information on millions of Americans from Internet social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, according to the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC).

The Obama minions are interested in information such as comments, tag lines, emails, audio, and video that mention — or related to — President Barack Obama.

The sites targeted for surveillance include Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr and others —- any space where the White House “maintains a presence.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New Envion Facility Turns Plastic Waste Into $10/Barrel Fuel

What if we could turn all the plastic waste we create on a daily basis into fuel to power our cars? A Washington, DC-based company called Envion claims it can do just that with a process that turns plastic into an oil-like fuel for just $10 per barrel. According to Envion, the resulting fuel can be blended with other components and used as either gasoline or diesel.

Envion makes its plastic-to-oil conversion by heating up plastic to a pre-set temperature using infra-red energy. The process removes hydrocarbons without the use of a catalyst, resulting in a net gain of captured energy—82% of all material that goes in is transformed into fuel. In the past, attempts to turn plastic into fuel have resulted in a net loss of energy.

Each Envion machine can process up to 10,000 tons of plastic waste each year (including bottle caps) and produce three to five barrels of fuel per ton with a total electricity cost of 7 to 12 cents per gallon.

We’ll find out soon whether Envion’s process works as well as the company claims — the $5 million inaugural plastic-to-fuel plant opened today in Washington, DC, and an undisclosed company has already agreed to buy Envion’s product to blend into vehicle fuel.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Obama Inspires Islamists’ D.C. Prayer Rally — Shariah Experts to Proclaim ‘Our Day Has Come’

Muslims who are working to stage the “Our Day Has Come” day of prayer at the U.S. Capitol have discussed views that include an Islamic takeover of the White House, from where they say President Barack Obama is providing their inspiration.

Building on the Islamic interest in Obama’s inauguration, when Muslims claimed in a magazine that “It’s our time,” the event planners are calling for 50,000 Muslims to attend the 4 a.m. event on the National Mall on Sept. 25.

           — Hat tip: LN[Return to headlines]

Obama’s Eligibility Baggage Just a Coincidence?

Recent revelations make it increasingly likely that the Democratic National Committee was aware of Barack Obama’s eligibility problems before certifying his nomination for president. But has anyone considered that perhaps the choice of a compromised candidate for that office was not accidental but deliberate?

“In politics there are no accidents,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said. “If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

Sorry to sound conspiratorial, but like most voters I’ve never been invited into the proverbial “smoke-filled rooms” where nominations actually take place, so I can only speculate as to what occurs behind the scenes. With so much for so many depending on four years of American foreign policy, though, I sure have trouble believing nominations actually originate in the DNC or RNC. If they did, surely another smooth-spoken, left-leaning, Islam-supporting, black Democrat could have been found to sub for the eligibility-impaired community organizer from Chicago. This should have been the obvious path for the DNC — or whatever shadow entity it is that controls nominations of the two major parties. Why wasn’t it?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Pelosi Concerned Political Rhetoric Will Foster Climate for Violence

Americans should be vigilant of politically-motivated violence spurred by harsh rhetoric, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned Thursday.

Pelosi, referencing the assassination of gay rights activist and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, said Americans must “curb our enthusiasm” in some political debates.

“I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late ‘70s in San Francisco, this kind of rhetoric was very frightening and it created a climate in which violence took place,” Pelosi said.

“And so I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made, understanding that some of the people — the ears it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume,” the speaker cautioned.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) controversially released a memo earlier this year warning of domestic terrorism from “right-wing extremists,” and a small spate of violence related to politics have popped up this year.

Pelosi said that leaders who cause any “incitement” to violence must take responsibility for their words.

“Our country is great because people can say what they think and they believe, but I also think that they have to take responsibility for any incitement that they may cause,” she said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Valerie Jarrett: The Next Van Jones

Many have wondered how ANYONE AS EXTREME AS Obama’S “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones — a self-described “Communist” obsessed with racial conspiracy theories — could have been named to head a federal agency. David Horowitz described the radicalization of the Democratic Party as the appointment’s subtext. Closer to the fore, Jones owed his elevation to another new factor: the unparalleled influence of Valerie Jarrett. To call Jarrett a presidential adviser, even a close adviser, is misleading. She is an alter ego, an inner conscience, a touchstone of clarity for both President Obama and first lady Michelle.

In the frenzy of the presidency, she reminds both Obamas of their identity and deepest-held beliefs. In exchange, the president makes no decision without her and has said she can “speak for me.” Unfortunately, she is also a racially polarizing elitist. She obtained her first foothold in Chicago politics through the patronage of a former SDS radical who regrets “nothing” about her role in the Days of Rage and ventured in 2003 that she “would probably reject violence as a useful form of revolution.” The same radical tried to persuade Rod Blagojevich to name Jarrett to Obama’s empty senate seat. Instead, Jarrett has served as a conduit of far-leftists into the administration.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Bill UK Lawmakers Can’t Stomach: The Lunch Check

LONDON — They claimed thousands in expenses, but some British lawmakers can’t find the cash to settle their lunch bills.

British legislators owe bars and restaurants inside Parliament about 140,000 pounds (US$231,600) in food and drink costs.

Figures released by the House of Commons on Thursday show that 329 lawmakers have outstanding bills — more than half of all of the house’s lawmakers.

Of those, 77 had bills more than six months old.

Voters have been outraged by legislators’ handling of expense claims.

Expense bills disclosed since May have shown that legislators charged — or attempted to charge — the public for items such a a porn movie, bathroom sinks and a floating duck house.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

A French Video Nasty

French interior minister’s comments cause a storm.

Brice Hortefeux, France’s interior minister, will be in Brussels on 21 September for a meeting of the Council of Ministers, for the first time since the eruption of a political storm over comments he made about a young party activist.

The French public was captivated last week by a video which appeared on the internet, showing Hortefeux posing for a photo with Amine Benalia-Brouch, an activist of North African descent in France’s Union for the Popular Movement party. A woman in the video describes Benalia-Brouch as “our little Arab”, following which Hortefeux says: “There always has to be one. When there is one, it’s OK. It’s when there are lots of them that there are problems.”

Hortefeux has since tried to defend himself by claiming that he was referring to Benalia-Brouch coming, like himself, from the Auvergne. He has, however, received only lukewarm support from Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president and his close personal friend, who said that Hortefeux had been too “casual”.

The episode is the most serious in a string of recent setbacks for Hortefeux. On Sunday his successor as immigration minister, Eric Besson, announced that he was dropping one of Hortefeux’s landmark reforms — the introduction of DNA tests for immigrants seeking to join family members in France. Sarkozy is reported to have told ministers this week that “everyone knows DNA tests are useless”.

In addition, Sarkozy has told Hortefeux that he will have to give up his post as minister of the interior if he decides to run for president of the Auvergne regional government when elections are held next spring.

The agenda of next week’s meeting of justice and home affairs ministers includes a discussion on establishing an EU programme to resettle refugees in new countries.

Given his domestic difficulties, perhaps Hortefeux should consider applying.

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

Barack Obama Abandons European Missile Shield to Delight of Russians

President Barack Obama has abandoned plans for a missile defence system based in Eastern Europe in a move which angered allies but delighted Russia, which vehemently opposed the move.

The White House claimed the decision was based on a new assessment that Iran’s long-range missile programme was not as advanced as previously thought, thereby lessening the threat to Europe and the United States.

In a major break with President George W. Bush’s policies, Mr Obama opted not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland.

The decision angered Czech and Polish allies but was welcomed in Moscow where leaders had publicly scoffed at the idea that Iran posed a serious threat to the US.

The Kremlin argued the proposed shield would dangerously dilute Russia’s ability to defend itself, altering the strategic nuclear balance between itself and Washington. President Dmitry Medvedev had even threatened to deploy short-range Iskander missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad if Washington went ahead with the plans.

Mr Obama’s decision was widely seen as an attempt to win greater Russian co-operation on dealing with Iran but officials insisted there had been no backroom deal with America, saying there was no quid pro quo.

The US is hoping Russia will back tough sanctions to halt the Islamic Republic’s alleged nuclear weapons programme. It also wants Moscow to sign a new arms reduction treaty before the end of the year that would see Russia making deep cuts in its ageing nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon said the new defence system was designed to intercept shorter-range Iranian missiles. This would include SM-3 missiles, initially on board ships and later in southern Europe or Turkey.

“Our new missile defence architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defences of American forces and America’s allies,” Mr Obama said in an announcement from the White House.

“It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost effective, and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the US homeland.”

He told reporters: “President Bush was right that Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat.

“This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defences against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 missile defence program.”

Moscow-based analysts said President Obama’s decision would smooth the way for a major cut in Russia’s nuclear warhead numbers but were less sure about the Iran sanctions issue.

There was consensus though that previously troubled US-Russia relations were back on track. Konstantin Kosachev, a prominent MP and foreign affairs expert, said: “The Obama administration is starting to understand us. Now we can talk about restoration of the strategic partnership between Russia and the United States.”

“This is linked to Russia’s uncompromising stance on the issue,” Mikhail Margelov, an influential senator and foreign affairs expert, told Russian news agency Interfax.

The reaction elsewhere was much cooler. Lech Walesa, the former Polish president and Solidarity leader, said: “It’s not good. I can see what kind of policy the Obama administration is pursuing towards this part of Europe. The way we are being approached needs to change.”

Mr Obama telephoned Jan Fischer, the Czech prime minister, and Donald Tusk, the Polish premier, after midnight US time when news of his plans were leaked and published by the Wall Street Journal.

In April, Mr Obama told a crowd of some 20,000 in Prague’s Hradcany Square: “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defence system that is cost-effective and proven.

“Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbours and our allies.” Aides to Mr Obama have long made clear their distaste for missile defence so Republicans greeted with cynicism the apparent discovery that the Iranian long-range weapons programme was not as much of a threat as previously assessed.

General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently suggested the U.S. may have underestimated how long it would take Iran to develop long-range missiles.

Representative Eric Cantor, a Republican leader in the House of Representatives, said he would “work to overturn this wrong-headed policy” by mobilising Congress.

“Scrapping our missile defence effort in Europe has severe consequences for our diplomatic relations and weakens our national security. Our allies, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, deserve better and our people deserve smarter and safer.”

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator, said: “It will empower the Russians and it will scare the crap out of the Poles, Czechs, Ukranians and Georgians. It is a huge mistake.”

The Czech government had backed the planned radar system despite determined opposition from the public. Czech critics said the country could be attacked by terrorists if it agreed to host the radar system, planned to be at the Brdy military base 55 miles outside Prague.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Czech PM Confirms USA Withdraws From Missile Defence Plans

[Comment from Tuan Jim: hanging allies out to dry…again.]

Prague — Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer today announced that the United States withdrew from the plans to build missile defence bases in the Czech Republic and Poland about which U.S. President Barack Obama informed him by phone shortly after midnight.

In spite of it, Obama promised that the United States would not change its approach to the framework agreements on scientific cooperation with the Czech Republic, Fischer added.

The Czech Republic has taken the U.S. decision into account.

The U.S. administration planned to install a radar base in Brdy military grounds, some 90km southwest of Prague, and a base with interceptor missiles in Poland as elements of the missile defence shield to protect the United States and its allies in Europe against missiles that states like Iran might launch.

The main Czech-U.S. radar treaty was signed by then Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg and then U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice more than a year ago.

Czech parliament has not yet ratified it.

Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said the ratification process would be halted now.

The missile defence shield was originally to be completed by 2012 and its costs were put at one billion U.S. dollars.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Dutch Police Hunt Fugitive Human Trafficker

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch police were hunting Thursday for one of the country’s most notorious human traffickers after he fled while on a temporarily release from prison to visit his wife and newborn baby.

A court’s decision last week to allow Saban Baran out of his cell for a week to visit his family has caused outrage in the Netherlands, where he was serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for human trafficking.

“We are talking here about a terrible blunder in the law,” said Fred Teeven, a former senior prosecutor who is now a lawmaker for the center-right Liberal Party.

Baran, 38, was convicted last year of leading a gang notorious for forcing more than 100 women into prostitution, tattooing some of them to mark them as the gang’s property. Prosecutors also say some women who came from Germany and eastern Europe were forced to have breast implants and illegal abortions while working in brothels in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities.

Police in the Netherlands are hunting for Baran and police forces in other countries have been alerted to be on the lookout for him, prosecution spokesman Wim de Bruin said.

Dutch authorities informed Interpol about the man’s disappearance over the weekend because he was born in Turkey and there are fears he has fled there.

Baran was appealing his conviction, but prosecutors are appealing his sentence as too light.

Facing public criticism, judges at Arnhem Appeals Court took the unusual step of explaining why they released one of the country’s most notorious criminals.

Prosecutors initially had agreed to let Baran out for two days but judges in Arnhem extended the leave to seven days.

Prosecutors later appealed for his release to be canceled, saying they had received “concrete signals” he might flee.

But appellate judges refused to order Baran back to his cell, saying it was not clear he had breached any conditions of his release. Only after he disappeared did judges revoke his release.

Teeven said he was surprised prosecutors agreed to a brief release in the first place.

“You wonder why, when police and prosecutors expended so much energy putting this man behind bars,” he told NOS radio.

He said he would recommend to the justice minister that the leeway judges have to release such criminals be restricted so that anybody sentenced to more than five years could be released only if he or she were suffering serious health problems.

“This sort of person should not be released with the permission of prosecutors,” he said. “It would have been much simpler to say ‘you don’t visit your child, your child visits you in prison.’“

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Eastern Europe Grumbles About Downgrade in US Ties

PRAGUE — Scuttling a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland helps smooth relations between the U.S. and Russia. But at what price?

Some of America’s staunchest allies are the East Europeans — and on Thursday, they expressed dismay at what many see as a slight after decades of their support for the U.S.

Among them were some famous names, including Lech Walesa, the former Solidarity leader and Polish ex-president. “I can see what kind of policy the Obama administration is pursuing toward this part of Europe,” he said ruefully, adding: “The way we are being approached needs to change.”

For most of the past decade, cozy relations with Washington were practically a given across the “new Europe.” George W. Bush famously courted the region after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and leaned on it for troops to fight alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Barack Obama took office undecided about Bush’s plan to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and sophisticated radar in the Czech Republic — a system designed to shoot down long-range missiles that might be fired from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East. Building had not started in either country.

The Czech installation was planned for the Brdy military installation 55 miles (90 kilometers) southwest of Prague. The Polish site was to be at a former military air base near the town of Redzikowo, about 115 miles from Russia’s westernmost edge.

Obama has been reaching out to Russia, which had expressed outrage at the notion of missiles being pointed in its direction from a region that was firmly in the Soviet orbit just 20 years ago.

On Thursday, Obama announced he was shifting the plan from Eastern Europe to other locations. He and other administration officials said they have concluded that Iran’s medium- and short-range missiles pose a greater threat and require more flexible technology.

Obama’s decision got a positive reception in Russia, hailed by President Dmitry Medvedev as a “responsible move.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she viewed the shift as “a hopeful signal for overcoming difficulties with Russia when it comes to a uniform strategy to combat the threat of Iran together.”

Officially, Czech leaders said they understood the rationale for abandoning the shield, and they expressed confidence that the country would remain secure.

But some expressed dismay at the reversal.

Former Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose government signed treaties with the Bush administration to build the radar system — and took a lot of heat from Czechs who feared it would make their country a terrorist target — went on Czech radio to vent his frustrations.

“The Americans are not interested in this territory as they were before,” he said. “It’s bad news for the Czech Republic.”

Obama’s decision also drew flak in Washington. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called it “shortsighted and harmful to our long-term security interests.”

“We must not turn our backs on two loyal allies in the war on terror,” he said.

Although Obama said the United States will continue to work cooperatively with “our close friends and allies,” the future implications of the move appeared mixed.

Poland’s prime minister held out hope his country might play a role in the revamped U.S. defense.

“There is a chance for strengthening Europe’s security with special attention given to Poland,” Donald Tusk told reporters, adding: “I would not describe what is going on today as a defeat for Poland.”

But a prominent Czech legislator suggested the rebuff would have consequences should Washington ask for troops — or anything else.

“If the administration approaches us in the future with any request, I would be strongly against it,” said Jan Vidim, a lawmaker with the conservative Civic Democratic Party, which had supported the missile defense plan.

Opponents of the shield, such as Jan Tamas — an activist who had organized numerous protests — hailed Obama’s decision.

“It is a big victory for the Czech Republic. We are happy that we will be able to continue to live in our beautiful country without the presence of foreign soldiers,” he said.

And Mariusz Chmiel, a top official in the northern Poland region where the missiles would have been based, proclaimed himself “the happiest man in Poland” now that the plan has been shelved.

Even so, scrapping missile defense comes as a huge setback to many Polish and Czech leaders, who viewed it as a way to strengthen military ties with the U.S. in a form of defense against a resurgent Russia.

Fears of Moscow run especially deep in Poland, highlighted by a key anniversary Thursday. Exactly 70 years ago — on Sept. 17, 1939 — Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union at the start of World War II.

Aleksander Szczyglo, head of Poland’s National Security Office, characterized the change as a “defeat primarily of American long-distance thinking about the situation in this part of Europe.”

“It’s quite unfair,” said Petr Boubin, 36, who owns a cafe in the Czech capital. “I think Obama is making too many concessions to Russia.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

EU Membership Has Led to Deep Constitutional Changes in the UK. But it Would be Wrong to Say That We Have Been Robbed of Our Sovereignty, Says Philip Johnston. Our Government Has Been an Accomplice All the Way.

Before Edward Heath signed the Treaty of Rome in 1972, all laws affecting the people of this country were made by their own directly elected parliament. The UK’s accession to what was then called the Common Market transferred sovereignty over a good deal of law-making from Westminster and Whitehall to Brussels.

There are many who did not realise that this was part of the deal. They thought Britain was signing up to a free trade area that would also entrench the peace that Western Europe had enjoyed in the decades after 1945. But the “ever closer union” envisaged in the treaty required greater harmonisation of laws in order that each member state should operate on the same basis as far as possible.

The constitutional upheaval caused by membership of what is now the EU was the greatest in the country’s history since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. For almost 300 years, the “old constitution” was self-contained and largely immune to outside influences.

All this changed when we joined the EEC. As Prof Anthony King observed in his book The British Constitution: “Not only did Parliament cease to be sovereign, Britain itself ceased to be an old-fashioned sovereign state. The fact of being a member of the EU permeates almost the whole of the British government — to a far greater extent than most Britons seem to realise.”

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

Geert Wilders: Fine Women for Wearing Headscarves

A controversial Dutch lawmaker has urged the country’s parliament to pass a law to fine women who wear Islamic head coverings.

Geert Wilders said women observing the Islamic dress code or Hjiab should be fined 1,000 euros (1,461 dollars) per year.

The leader of the liberal-right Freedom Party PVV made his remarks during a parliamentary debate about the government’s budget plans on Wednesday.

“Everyone who wants to wear a headscarf, should first apply for a headscarf license,” DPA quoted Wilders as saying.

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

Germany: 9 Teens Wounded After Ax-Wielding Student Launches Attack on High School

ANSBACH, Germany — An 18-year-old student armed with an ax and knives lobbed Molotov cocktails at his high school in southern Germany on Thursday, wounding nine pupils before he was shot and arrested by police.

The teenager entered the Carolinum High School in the Bavarian town of Ansbach on Thursday morning and threw one Molotov cocktail before police were alerted and arrived at the scene, said Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann.

Police smelled smoke when they arrived at the school, Hermann said. They were confronted by the ax-wielding teen, who had thrown a second Molotov cocktail that apparently failed to detonate.

“Since the attacker threatened to use his weapons against the police, the officers opened fire,” Hermann said, adding that the attacker, who was not identified, was wounded and in critical condition.

Udo Dreher, the chief police officer at the scene, said the18 year old was shot five times, but was not in life threatening condition.

Two teenage girls were seriously injured by the attacker — one suffering burns and the other head injuries, said Dreher. It was not immediately clear whether the second girl was attacked with the ax or a knife. Authorities did not say how the other seven wounded students had been attacked.

Dreher said the assailant started his rampage armed with three Molotov cocktails, the ax and two knives. He was arrested 11 minutes after police were called to the scene.

Authorities said the teen had no police record and it was not immediately clear what his motive might have been. Officials said there was no indication that he had said anything during the attack.

Fire service official Horst Settler said no major fires broke out in the school and its roughly 700 students were evacuated and taken to a nearby building.

Prosecutor Gudrun Lehnberger said the 18-year-old male student at the school was being held on suspicion of attempted murder. Lehnberger said the initial investigation would concentrate on determining a motive for the attack, which came only three days after the new school year started in Bavaria.

According to its Web site, Carolinum was founded in 1528, making it the second-oldest public high school in Bavaria. Today, the school offers curriculum based on the humanities and music for grades five through 13.

The incident was the second attack on a school in Germany this year.

In March, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer fatally shot 12 people at his former school in the southwestern town of Winnenden. He fled the building and killed three more people before turning the gun on himself.

That was the nation’s second-worst school shooting after a 2002 shooting spree in Erfurt that left 17 dead, including the gunman.

After Kretschmer’s attack in Winnenden, Germany moved to tighten checks on gun owners.

           — Hat tip: JH[Return to headlines]

Germany: Several Students Injured in School Rampage

An 18-year-old student ran through a school in Bavaria armed with several petrol bombs Thursday morning, injuring ten classmates, two seriously. The police ended the attack by shooting the boy in the legs.

The Carolinum high school in Ansbach, Bavaria, became the scene of another school rampage shortly after 8.30 Thursday morning, when 18-year-old Georg R. threw two petrol bombs into a classroom.

Two students ran to the principal’s office, from where the police were alerted. Georg R. was stopped ten minutes after the attack when police fired several shots at him. He was seriously injured and taken to hospital in a helicopter. Apart from the incendiary devices, the boy was found to be carrying an axe and several knives.

Emergency action

According to school principal Franz Stark, teachers carried the injured students out of the school and evacuated the rest. Police searched the school for any other assailants. None were found, and there is currently no reason to suspect that the student had any accomplices. He is to be charged with attempted murder.

News reports suggest that one teacher may have saved lives by barricading her classroom during the attack. After hearing screams and noticing smoke in the hallway, the teacher locked the door and pushed tables and chairs in front of it. “Then we hid in the corner,” one student told a local radio station.

No rampage alarm

The school, one of the oldest in Bavaria, was not equipped with a special alarm for violent attacks or a PA system. For this reason many of the students believed that a routine fire alarm exercise was in progress when the school was evacuated.

Some German schools have been equipped with extra alarms for rampage attacks, after public concern was heightened by the Winnenden shooting in early March, when 17-year-old Tim K. shot and killed nine students and three teachers at the Albertville school in the small town of Winnenden in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Speaking shortly after the incident, Bavaria’s minister of justice Beate Merk told reporters in Munich, “My main concern is for the injured pupils. They and their classmates and teachers need to be offered competent psychological support as soon as possible in order to avoid lasting trauma.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Hollywood Wife Lays in to Swedish Men

The Swedish-born wife of Las Vegas crooner Paul Anka has called Swedish men “tragic” for their “nappy changing” and “equality nonsense”. LA housewife Anna Anka argues that she could be a role model for Swedish women to follow.

“In Sweden it is acceptable to let yourself go, as long as you get your man. I feel sorry for Swedish men who marry beautiful women who then quickly become unattractive, dress sloppily and neglect their husband’s needs,” Anna Anka writes on opinion website Newsmill.

Anna Anka, the 38-year-old wife of 68-year-old former 60s teen idol Paul Anka, is one of the participants of TV3’s new reality TV show “Swedish Hollywood wives” (Svenska Hollywoodfruar) which premiered on Monday.

Aside from claiming a “large fee” for taking part in the programme, Anka claims to have generated “a great deal of attention” in Sweden since the show was broadcast.

“It pleases me. Maybe I can be a role model for other Swedish women to follow,” she writes.

She continues to direct criticism at Sweden in general, and Swedish men in particular, hailing her adopted home of the USA as a place were “men are men, and women are women”.

“Swedish dads are tragic with all their nappy-changing and equality. A real American man panics if he is alone with a child for more than 20 minutes. American dads do not prepare dinner and do not iron, they work and provide for their families.”

In return for economic security provided by their husbands, wives in the US always act with consummate style, Anka claims.

“As a housewife you should support in every way, you should always be attractive and well-dressed.”

Anka has courted some attention for comments in the programme in which she confirms that she dutifully performs oral sex for her husband when he wakes in the morning.

“Sexually it is the woman’s responsibility to ensure that the man is satisfied, if she does not then she only has herself to blame if he is unfaithful,” Anna Anka explains.

The Skåne-born former beauty pageant queen then goes on to defend her treatment of “the long list” of those on her payroll and praises the US service-minded society.

“If you employ someone in Sweden they would have training and qualifications. Here it is illegal Mexicans that do the work…They can’t speak English. It is like talking to a wall. It can get frustrating at times.”

Anka claims that if Swedes would follow after the US and employ help then families would be under less pressure.

“What I am getting at is that in the USA it is all about service. If the Swedish people had learned from the USA then Swedes would have more time for each other. There is no quality time. Now they come home and sulk and have to clean and iron.”

The final salvo in Anna Anka’s Newsmill diatribe is reserved for what she dubs “the internet generation.”

“They are uneducated and envious, and their lives spent on blogs and Twitter are meaningless.”

Anka concludes by reiterating her hope that she can be a role model for Swedish women and encourages them to break away from “Jante land” (referring to the unwritten Jante Law which discourages delusions of grandeur).

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

In Norway, The Left Can ‘Bribe’ Voters With Oil Money

This week Norwegians voted to defend their generous welfare state and rejected parties proposing tax cuts, privatization and a crackdown on immigration. German commentators argue that the center-left government can only maintain the current system because of the country’s massive oil wealth.

It has enjoyed unprecedented wealth for decades due to its massive oil profits and is the only big European nation not to be in the European Union. This week Norway faced a stark choice: continue ploughing oil revenues into its generous welfare system or introduce tax cuts, privatization and crack down on immigration. On Monday voters opted to defend the current system and returned the governing coalition, making Oslo the last bastion of the center-left in Scandinavia.

The coalition of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labour Party, the Socialist Left and the Center had campaigned on defending the welfare state and protecting jobs and it just about held onto its slim majority, picking up 86 out of 169 seats. It was the first time a sitting government has won re-election in 16 years in Norway.

However, the populist Progress Party which campaigned on a platform of tax cuts, privatization and restricting immigration, fared well, securing 22.9 percent of the vote and 41 seats, making it the second biggest party in the parliament. The party, led by the outspoken Siv Jensen, has seen its support grow largely at the expense of the center-right Conservative Party. Her hardline campaign, which accused immigrants of sponging off the welfare state and committing crimes, divided the traditional right. Even if the opposition parties had secured a majority, it could have proved impossible to reach a coalition agreement because of some parties’ reluctance to be associaited with the Progress Party.

In the end it seems to have been the government’s handling of the economy that tipped the scales. Norway is the world’s fifth largest oil exporter and has enjoyed immense wealth since striking oil almost four decades ago. The country emerged from the global financial crisis relatively untouched. After a brief recession, the economy is growing again and it boasts the lowest unemployment in Europe at just 3 percent. The government spent 30 billion kroner (€3.5 billion or $5.07 billion) of extra oil revenues on a stimulus package.

Successive governments have placed Norway’s oil revenues in a massive state fund to help finance the country’s generous social welfare system. However, many Norwegians are unhappy with what they consider deteriorating services despite paying some of the highest taxes in the world.

Foreign policy was largely absent from the campaign, particularly the issue of Norway’s continued refusal to join the European Union. The country has held two referenda on possible membership, the most recent in 1994. Although Stoltenberg voted yes back then, he says he has no intention to seek membership again. “I don’t seek new defeats,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m concerned with winning.”

However, there is speculation that Norway could reassess the situation if Iceland opts to join the 27-member bloc. Norway and Iceland are currently members of the European Economic Area, giving them access to EU markets.

German newspapers on Wednesday largely credit Stoltenberg’s victory with his handling of the crisis, made possible through Norway’s vast oil wealth but some question why the European Union played no role in the campaign.

The conservative Die Welt writes:

“Since the 1970s (Norway) rapidly turned from quite a poor country to a very rich one thanks to its oil supplies. And because there is so much oil the country has survived the financial crisis almost completely unscathed.”

“It is therefore not surprising that the coalition led by the Social Democrats was re-elected, even if it was close. … The big bourgeois parties had campaigned for the rather unpopular policy of budget restrictions — something that didn’t exactly make them attractive. And the only prospect for getting into government was by going into coalition with the right-wing populist Progress Party, who are now the second biggest party and campaigned above all for a tougher asylum policy and dealing more harshly with criminals. But that in itself is a signal. Almost one quarter of Norwegian voters opted for the troublemakers on the far-right populist fringes. This could be a trend — when one looks at Denmark. It is in the Scandinavian countries that are so proud of their welfare system and that are so marked by a great trust in the state that the cracks and the unease is all the greater. Everything is not half as peaceful as it seems on the surface.”

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg scored a huge success on Monday. He was the first Norwegian prime minister to be given a second term in office by the voters in 16 years. And what is most remarkable is that his three-party coalition will continue to form the government.”

“Stoltenberg’s victory shows that the political landscape in Norway has changed. Instead of basing government on a broad consensus in parliament, the parties are now opting much more for confrontation and the formation of blocks.”

“Stoltenberg’s success was based above all on the fact that he could point to a clear alternative for government — with himself as the focus. The voters knew that a vote for the Social Democrats, the Left Party or the Center Party was a vote for Jens Stoltenberg. On the bourgeois side of the spectrum, things were more difficult. Two candidates were vying for the position of prime minister, Siv Jensen and Erna Solberg. There was no clear coalition agreement because two smaller parties wanted nothing to do with Jensen’s populist Progress Party.”

“Another step has been taken toward the polarization of the political landscape. The bourgeois parties will spend the years in opposition putting aside their differences and making compromises so that they can at some point come back to power. This is good for the voters. It is easier to make a decision when there are clear alternatives.”

“However there the disadvantages of the formation of blocks was also laid bare in Norway. The parties avoided some important issues in order not to jeopardize their own camp’s unity. Norway’s relationship to the European Union, for example, played no role — this is an issue where disagreement cuts right across party lines. The question of whether to drill for oil off the Lofoten Islands hardly got a mention. The Social Democrats ended any debate by saying they would only decide after the elections. That was probably to avoid a dispute with the Left Party which rejects drilling for oil there. The future of the Norwegian troops in Afghanistan was also hardly discussed — there are also differing opinions on this issue in Stoltenberg’s alliance.”

“In the end there was just one big question: ‘Should the next prime minister be called Stoltenberg?’ The voters have now given their answer. The exact consequences of that decision remain unclear.”

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“Ever since the discovery of off-shore oil elections in Norway have been about the oil billions. Social Democrats have always dealt responsibly with this — they put the money away for a rainy day, while making sure of course that their clientele were well taken care of. Who would hold it against them if this means that even in these times full employment is a matter of course? Norway is the original of a system that has since been copied by the bourgeois parties in other Scandinavian countries: the state is the focus of a consensus-orientated welfare policy. Sweden is the only country where this has not seen entire groups of voters turning to protest parties. The People’s Party in Denmark and the Progress Party in Norway have benefited from the contradiction that the state spends a lot of money, provided by taxpayers, and yet the social infrastructure is getting worse. However, in Norway, the left has an invaluable method of bribing voters: oil.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Italy: Tarantini Admits to “Crimes” But Denies Mafia Link

Rome, 17 Sept. (AKI) — The businessman at the centre of the sex scandal that has dogged Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in recent months has admitted he “committed crimes” but stressed he has no links with the mafia. In a frank interview published in the Italian daily, La Repubblica, on Thursday, Giampaolo Tarantini said that he has made mistakes and will pay for them dearly.

Tarantini, who is under investigation for corruption and abetting prostitution, told prosecutors in the southern city of Bari that he supplied more than 30 women — many of them prostitutes — to parties organised by the premier.

“I made mistakes, I am to blame,” said Tarantini. “I committed crimes. I am already paying for it and who knows for how long I will have to pay for it.”

“I am aware that these things that I have done are not trivial. They are serious things, the escorts, the corruption, the parties,” he told the daily.

“I don’t say that I have not made mistakes and I want to again apologise to the president (of the cabinet) Silvio Berlusconi who did not know I had put him in the middle of this incident.”

Bari prosecutors are investigating more than the allegations involving Tarantini and the supply of escorts to the prime minister’s residences in Rome and on the island of Sardinia.

They are also reviewing several occasions in which four young men, Alessandro Mannarini, Nicola De Marzo, Massimiliano Verdoscia and Tarantini, supplied cocaine to parties held at Villa Certosa, Berlusconi’s luxurious Sardinian villa.

According to the newspaper, telephone taps appear to have confirmed that the men did not take drugs to the premier’s residence.

“I suggest that we are ‘clean’ when we go to the premier’s place,” Alessandro Mannarini allegedly said in one telephone call.

Late last week Tarantini said he “feared for his life” and there is concern among Bari prosecutors about his knowledge of organised crime in the area.

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

Italy: Saudi Princess’ Jewels Recovered

11- million- euro Costa Smeralda heist items found in farmland

(ANSA) — Olbia, September 15 — Italian police on Tuesday recovered most of the proceeds of a daring jewel heist that targeted a Saudi princess at a jetset hotel in Sardinia last month.

Some three-quarters of the 11-million-euro ($16-million) haul was found in open countryside not far from the Costa Smeralda resort where the burglary took place, police said.

They said the thieves must have found it “extremely” difficult to fence off the “unique” ear-rings, bracelets, necklaces and deluxe timepieces which have all been catalogued. The gang, which police said had “international links,” broke into the exclusive Hotel Colonna where the unidentified member of the House of Saud was staying on the night of August 5-6, prising a strongbox from the wall.

The snatch made headlines in Italy and abroad.

In mid-August the safe was found in a dump but only a few stray gems were found.

Police said they were getting closer to the gang but declined to to provide further details “so as not to compromise ongoing investigations”.

The Saudi embassy in Rome has been informed of developments, they said.

This summer saw a rash of break-ins at hotels and luxury villas on the Costa Smeralda and at the Ligurian Riviera resort of Portofino. photo: a Costa Smeralda hotel

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Fini Sues Berlusconi Daily

House Speaker loyalists appeal to PM as row simmers

(ANSA) — Rome, September 15 — Chamber of Deputies Speaker Giancarlo Fini on Monday sued the editor of Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s family daily while the Speaker’s supporters tried to heal an apparent rift between the long-time political allies.

Fini sued Il Giornale editor Vittorio Feltri over an apparent muck-raking threat to get him to fall back into line with the premier’s centre-right People of Freedom Party (PdL) alliance.

Monday’s editorial in Il Giornale, owned by Berlusconi’s brother, was entitled Last Call for Fini: Either He Changes Tack Or He Should Leave The PdL.

Editor Feltri apparently threatened to use a nine-year-old alleged sex dossier on Fini’s National Alliance (AN), the rightwing party which merged with Berlusconi’s party before last year’s general election.

“It would be enough to fish out a 2000 dossier on red-light affairs regarding figures in AN to raise a scandal. Better to let sleeping dogs life,” Feltri wrote.

Feltri argued that Fini was committing “slow suicide” over liberal policy stances on immigration and other issues that have put him at odds with the PdL and especially the regionalist Northern League.

The Northern League is a strong supporter of Italy’s recent immigration crackdown, including controversial sea ‘push-backs’ to Libya, while Fini has stressed the importance of respecting asylum rights and proposed citizenship for legal immigrants.

League leader Umberto Bossi has accused Fini of being “crazy”.

Fini has also proposed loosening a new restrictive bill on living wills going through parliament which has the strong support of conservatives.

Feltri has directed a series of broadsides against Fini, including one entitled Comrade Fini, suggesting that the Speaker is pandering to the centre-left opposition in a bid to become Italy’s next president.

Fini has said he has no such ambition and denied he is a “comrade in disguise”.

But government spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti had to step in last week in to defuse the row, saying Berlusconi and Fini were not “contenders in the ring”.

Premier Berlusconi says he has no influence over his brother’s daily while the editor claims complete editorial control.

Berlusconi and Fini have been close allies since 1994, when the media magnate decided to step into politics, although Fini once formed a separate election alliance that did not win over voters.

In the latest editorial, Feltri also suggested Fini might be working with Berlusconi’s enemies on a plot to “dethrone” the premier and take his place or work for early elections.


Fini said Tuesday that parliament wasn’t the right place to discuss Il Giornale’s attacks.

He said his reply would come “in another forum, political and judicial”.

In another development, more than 50 ex-AN members of the PdL on Tuesday wrote to Berlusconi proposing a “permanent consultation pact” between the two PdL co-founders to prevent the party “short-circuiting” and fling open policy debate to all sides.

But some party heavyweights including Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno and Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said the initiative “splits rather than units the PdL”.

Fini loyalists have argued government policy is being too heavily influenced by the hardline League.

As for Feltri’s editorial, some ex-AN members denounced it as “a Mafia-type threat” but one of Fini’s closest aides stressed the Speaker would never quit the PdL over policy differences.

Alessandro Campi, who heads Fini’s Farefuturo web magazine, said Monday Fini “will never abandon” Berlusconi nor “will he trip him up by setting up a new party”.

“Voters wouldn’t appreciate what, to all effects, would amount to a betrayal”.

On Tuesday Campi repeated that the idea of Fini splitting and sparking early elections was “a crazy hypothesis”.

Fini stressed last week that all “was not OK” in the governing coalition and issues should be discussed more broadly before policies were implemented.

“The political problems are there and it’s paradoxical for Berlusconi to deny it,” Fini was quoted as saying.

At a speech at the convention of the centrist opposition party UDC on the weekend, Fini refused to budge from his new stances.

Feltri has been waging what some observers have called an “autumn offensive” against Berlusconi’s critics.

Earlier this month a top Catholic newspaper editor, Dino Boffo, resigned after Feltri published a 2004 court document showing Boffo had paid a harassment fine after a woman filed suit over phonecalls about her husband, who Il Giornale said Boffo was seeing.

Boffo denied the report, saying someone else must have made the calls, and received strong support from the Catholic Bishops Conference (CEI) which owns the newspaper he edited, l’Avvenire. But CEI accepted Boffo’s resignation a week after Il Giornale broke the story and accused Boffo of hypocrisy.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Toxic Shipwreck Calls for Action

Opposition urges govt intervention off Calabrian coast

(ANSA) — Rome, September 15 — Opposition calls mounted on Tuesday for the government to provide details of a ship carrying toxic waste deliberately sunk by a criminal organization off the Calabrian coast.

MPS with the centre-left Democratic Party and the small Italy of Values (IdV) party urged Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government to report to parliament on Saturday’s discovery of the shipwrecked vessel nearly 12 miles off the Italian coastline. Deputies Nicodemo Oliviero and Sergio Piffari called on the government to discuss findings with the House and explain what steps it intended to take to deal with the matter.

MP Ermete Realacci, a leading environmentalist, lodged a written request asking the government to address the issue during parliamentary question time on Wednesday. “The problem of ships loaded with radioactive waste or dangerous boats sunk deliberately is an Italian mystery that should have been resolved years ago,” he said.

“The government should explain how it intends to deal with this critical situation, in which the health of thousands and the marine ecosystem are at stake”.

Luigi De Magistris, an IdV Euro MP, said “an immediate response from the government is vital”. “It is particularly worrying given that the pollution could have spread, involving other regions and probably the entire Mediterranean basin”.

The discovery was made during a search launched after a mafia turncoat told prosecutors about his involvement in the 1992 sinking of a ship, the Cunsky, in order to hide 120 containers of radioactive waste. Following days of exploration, hampered by poor weather, a wreck believed to be the Cunsky was identified and a robot sent down to investigate the vessel. The name of the boat was not visible but the probe sent back images of containers still on board and a blast hole in the prow from an explosion that appears to have sunk the vessel.

Francesco Fonti, a former member of the ‘Ndrangheta Calabrian mafia, also told prosecutors he had been personally involved in the sinking of two other ships.

In addition, the turncoat said he knew of at least 30 more vessels sunk by the mafia in Italian waters in order to dispose of toxic waste. The prosecutor leading the investigation, Bruno Giordano, said Monday it was vital his team be allowed to continue questioning Fonti.

He pointed to the accuracy of the information obtained so far and the fact the turncoat could reveal critical details about other ships.

Calabrian Environment Councillor Silvestro Greco, who attended an emergency meeting at the Environment Ministry in Rome on Tuesday, said the discovery should not just be considered a problem for Calabria. “There are perhaps another 30 ships still missing that were used to hide toxic, harmful and radioactive waste,” he said. “This pollution is a problem all areas, not just those along the coast, because illegal trafficking in waste knows no international boundaries”. He pointed out that “the entire Mediterranean, from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian sea and from the Strait of Sicily to the Aegean” was damaged by the sinking of toxic waste ships. “Cleaning and removing the load will be particularly complex in terms of financing, given that a vast area is involved,” Greco added.

“In our opinion, the European Union should get involved, as well as the Italian government”.

A Calabrian deputy at the European Parliament, Mario Pirillo, together with seven other MEPs, filed an official request with the European Commission on Tuesday asking for its assistance. The request pointed out that Italian investigators believed the ship was sunk by an international criminal network involved in Europe-wide illegal waste disposal.

Meanwhile, an emergency assembly of Italy’s regional environment councillors has been called to discuss the matter, Basilicata Councillor Vincenzo Santochirico said on Tuesday. Speaking after a meeting with Greco, Santochirico said the assembly would take place on September 23.

“The decision was taken because we believe this problem of sunken ships is not just an issue for the Tyrrhenian sea,” along Italy’s western coast, he said. “We are worried about the possibility that other ships with radioactive waste on board are also on the seabed”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

NATO Chief Hails Missile Defense “Positive Step”

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says a U.S. decision to shelve plans for a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland “is a positive step.”

Fogh Rasmussen says he had talks with the U.S. top envoy to the alliance on Thursday morning about the changes in the plans, adding the full alliance will be debriefed later in the day.

Fogh Rasmussen says new U.S. plans would improve the involvement of all NATO nations.

Czech Premier Jan Fischer said Thursday that President Barack Obama told him Washington has decided to scrap the plan that had deeply angered Russia.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Anger at Wilders’ Headscarf Tax’

PVV leader Geert Wilders irritated MPs from all parties during Wednesday’s debate on the budget by calling for the introduction of a tax on Muslim headscarves, Trouw reports on Thursday.

It is time ‘to clean up our streets,’ the anti-immigration party leader said. ‘This is pollution of public spaces. Let us do something about this symbol of oppression.’

The proceeds of the €1,000 headscarf licence would go to homes for battered women, he said. ‘We have had enough of headscarves.’

Liberal democrat leader Alexander Pechtold asked himself if Wilders was serious while GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema said his speech was ‘vulgar’.

And Socialist Party leader Agnes Kant asked Wilders if he also planned to tax Jewish skull-caps or headscarves worn by Christian women in the countryside.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Re-Elected Barroso Due in Ireland at Weekend to Campaign for Lisbon

EUROPEAN COMMISSION president José Manuel Barroso will travel to Ireland this Saturday to campaign for a Yes vote in the Lisbon referendum.

He confirmed the visit yesterday following his re-election by MEPs for a second five-year term as president of the EU executive. The European Parliament voted by 382 votes to 219 to endorse Mr Barroso, who had already secured the backing of all 27 EU leaders.

“Honestly, I think now I have reinforced authority . . . After five years [that were] so difficult, so difficult politically, economically, having this clear reaffirmation of support — it’s great,” said Mr Barroso, who until recently had faced opposition from three of the big political groups in the parliament.

At a press conference following the vote in Strasbourg, he signalled that his first priority was to get the Lisbon Treaty ratified to end EU institutional debates. “I’m a very strong supporter of the Lisbon Treaty, I believe it is important because it reinforces our capacity to act and with 27 states we need it . . . Next Saturday I will be in Ireland for a discussion on the Lisbon Treaty,” he said.

Mr Barroso will travel to Limerick on Saturday and Sunday, where he will meet students at the University of Limerick, local politicians and several civil society groups. He is not expected to meet Taoiseach Brian Cowen, but will hold talks with members of the Oireachtas committee on European Affairs.

The re-election of Mr Barroso, a 53-year-old former Portuguese prime minister, was widely expected given that no rival candidate had emerged in recent months. But winning an absolute majority of MEPs’ support should provide him with a stronger mandate to lead the EU through a period of economic, social and institutional upheaval.

Mr Barroso is the first commission president to be reappointed since Jacques Delors, who spearheaded European integration from 1985 to 1994.

Responding to trenchant criticism from Socialist and Green MEPs that he had bowed to big member states during his first term, he pledged to lead an independent and stronger Europe. “As president of the commission my party is Europe — the commission will defend general European interests, and that is exactly what we are going to do in the next five years,” said Mr Barroso.

He also pledged to pursue consensus politics and to embrace political groups other than his own centre-right European People’s Party. However, most of the Socialist group abstained in the vote, while most Green MEPs voted against his re-election.

Green leader Daniel Cohn Bendit said he opposed Mr Barroso, saying “we think we deserve somebody better”.

Member states usually begin formally nominating their commissioners following the election of commission president. But Mr Barroso made clear yesterday that the formal nomination process should not begin until after the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. If the Treaty cannot enter into force, EU leaders will have to meet to decide how to reduce the size of the commission in line with the Nice Treaty’s rules. These state that the number of commissioners in the next commission must be less than the number of member states.

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

UK: ‘Health Tourists’ Told to Pay for Hospital Treatment Up-Front… Or Go Home

Foreign patients at a London hospital are being withheld treatment until they pay their bills up-front.

Doctors at West Middlesex University hospital stabilise patients, then quote them on any further treatment. If they do not produce cash or credit cards to fund the treatment they are asked to leave.

The scheme is part of a new attempt to prevent “health tourists” — who failed to pay £7million owed to the NHS in the past year — leaving Britain without paying their bills.

The patients — most of whom travelled to the UK from outside the European Union — include hundreds of pregnant women who arrived at maternity units in labour, those needing life-saving operations and some dying from cancer and HIV.

But for the past 18 months, West Middlesex University has treated patients so they are no longer in danger and then given a list of what treatment is needed for a full recovery.

Those who cannot pay immediately are refused further treatment and requested to leave the hospital.

Compared to previous years’ unpaid bills, the hospital estimates it has saved around £700,000 in the last 12 months. A hospital spokesman said: “We believe we have robust and fair procedures for establishing entitlement to NHS services.”

The London Evening Standard found that 4,111 foreign nationals without health insurance were treated at 20 hospital trusts from April 2008 to March 2009.

The bill for their care came to almost £12 million but more than half of this remains outstanding.

Hospitals identify foreign patients by asking new admissions for their NHS numbers. Those who do not have one are therefore not British. If they cannot prove they are citizens of an EU country they are not entitled to any free care, except for emergencies, and must be billed.

Payments still to be recovered include £132,554 for a man who died after spending 57 nights in intensive care at Kingston hospital and £27,193 for a woman who had a heart bypass operation at King’s College hospital.

The largest unrecovered amount in London this year is £1.6 million at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital out of a total £1.9 million spent.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

UK: Foreign Office Chief Accused of Saying: Blow Israel Off the Face of the Earth

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office civil servant told a Jew that the Israelis should be “blown off the face of the Earth” during an altercation at a gymnasium, a court was told yesterday.

Gideon Falter claimed that Rowan Laxton, 48, was also heard to shout “f***ing Israelis, f***ing Jews” while watching a television news report about Israel bombing Gaza as he worked out on an exercise bicycle.

Giving evidence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Mr Falter said he arrived at the London Business School gym shortly after 8am in January and overheard the outburst.

“I started to work out,” he said. “I heard someone shout, ‘F***ing Israelis, f***ing Jews’.

“I could hear that it came from above me. I wanted to see who shouted. I couldn’t see anyone who was particularly aggravated. Mr Laxton came downstairs to the lower part of the mezzanine and I spoke to him.”

Mr Falter claimed that Mr Laxton, head of the South Asia desk in the Foreign Office, admitted that it was him who had launched the tirade before allegedly adding: “It’s not racist. If I had my way, the international community would be sent in and if the Israelis got in the way, they would be blown off the face of the f***ing Earth.”

Giving evidence, Mr Laxton denied saying “f***ing Jews” or that Israel should be blown off the Earth. But he said he had been deeply upset about a Sky News report about an innocent farmer killed by Israeli bombs and believed that international intervention was the solution to the fighting.

He said he immediately apologised to Mr Falter.

Speaking in a quiet voice, Mr Laxton, who is charged with racially aggravated harassment, said: “I am embarrassed, to be honest with you. I offended somebody, I embarrassed the Foreign Office, I’ve caused anxiety to a number of friends and family and in particular I regret using foul language and I regret using imprecise language.

“I regret very much the way in which this case came out in the media and the suggestion that I am anti-Semitic or racist in any way. I am not.”

“I fully accept that my comments suggested I felt that everybody in Israel was somehow responsible for that action.”

The court was told that Mr Laxton had settled a “difficult” divorce with his Muslim wife on the same morning as the incident.

Nick Paul, for the prosecution, suggested that Mr Laxton was upset that the divorce settlement had been unfair to him.

“Yes I was upset, but I do believe the trigger was that I was and I remain deeply upset by seeing what had happened to this individual,” Mr Laxton said. “It was such a terrible story and it seemed to me emblematic of the human tragedy in Gaza.”

Several friends of Mr Laxton, including one whose father died in the Holocaust, told the court that the defendant was not racist or anti-Semitic.

His barrister, Julian Knowles, told the court that his client could not be guilty of inciting religious hatred or causing alarm, harassment or distress because he had no reason to believe anyone could hear him.

When interviewed by police after his arrest, Mr Laxton said: “I was horrified by what I saw and I said, ‘I’m sorry I said it’. I said ‘f***ing Israelis’.”

Mr Laxton had initially been told by police that he would be cautioned for the offence before Mr Falter tipped off the media and articles appeared in the press. It was then that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to charge him.

Mr Falter admitted to court that he had contacted the media about the altercation.

Mr Laxton, who answers to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has been suspended from his £70,000-a-year job and could be dismissed if found guilty.

The trial continues.

[Return to headlines]

UK: Foreign Office Official in Court Accused of Anti-Semitic Gym Rant

A top Foreign Office civil servant said the Israelis should be ‘blown off the face of the earth’ during an outburst at a gym, a court heard yesterday.

Rowan Laxton, 48, was allegedly heard shouting ‘f****** Israelis, f****** Jews’ at a TV news bulletin while working out.

The incident happened in January, during the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Gideon Falter, who is Jewish, said he confronted Laxton, £70,000-a-year head of the Foreign Office South Asia desk.

Mr Falter told Westminster Magistrates Court Laxton said: ‘It’s f****** despicable what they’re doing in Gaza’ and ‘It’s not racist. If I had my way, the international community would be sent in and if the Israelis got in the way, they would be blown off the face of the f****** earth.’

Laxton denies stirring up religious hatred.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Posturing Without Accountability

Proposals at the TUC for action against Israel are inflammatory and prejudiced

“The Fire Brigades Union is proud of our history of opposition to racism,” declared one of its spokesmen last month. The word “history” is the truest feature of that sententious and self-congratulatory sentence. At the TUC conference this week the union is calling for a consumer boycott of goods from Israel.

A motion condemning Israel has the support of Unison and Unite, and the TUC General Council. It calls for a ban on arms trading with Israel and on imports from settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Whether or not a consumer boycott is formally also included in the motion, the debate will serve as a rallying call for those who wish to isolate and ostracise Israel.

Apart from representing an affront to the Histadrut, Israel’s trade union federation, the proposal is a betrayal of the labour movement’s traditions of internationalism. It is a shabby, ignorant, boneheaded business that does not inform debate on an intractable conflict but inflames it.

The issue on which the union motion ostensibly hinges is Israel’s military incursion in Gaza early this year. The Times reported closely on that conflict. We exposed Israel’s use of white phosphorus artillery rounds, against official denials, and graphically described the human costs of the military action. But at no time did we overlook what, with notable and honourable exceptions such as the GMB union, is being ignored at the TUC.

Israel is a sovereign and democratic state with an obligation, and not just a right, to defend its citizens from armed aggression. Gaza has for years been used by Hamas and other groups as a base for rocket strikes on Israeli centres of population. There have been thousands of such attacks, putting hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians at risk. These are, as Human Rights Watch has put it, unlawful and unjustifiable, and they amount to war crimes.

The tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is so often stated that it may appear a mere truism. But it is still true. There is suffering on both sides. There are legitimate national claims to the same territory. Israel is not an aggressor state. It is one party to an historic dispute that can be resolved only by territorial accommodation and compromise. That resolution is almost certainly distant. It will require confidence to be built on both sides in the pacific intent of the other. It is also a matter of record that Israel has accepted the case (and several proposals in history) for an independent and sovereign Palestine, but has not found a reliable negotiating partner.

In short, the conflict is not about right and wrong. It is about right and right, and the difficulty of satisfying competing claims simultaneously. The last thing that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs is what is being proposed at the TUC: posturing without accountability. Boycotts even of illegitimate states rarely work. The only plausible recent case of successful sanctions was apartheid South Africa. Even that partial achievement depended on the recognition by the white regime of its own moral bankruptcy.

No such characteristics apply in this case. Israel is a proud nation and a fact of life. The continual calls for boycotts of Israel — its consumer goods, its agriculture, its cultural ambassadors and its academies — are mere prejudice and obscurantism, and they are shameful.

[Return to headlines]

UK: You Mustn’t Mention God… Council Bans Church From Putting Up Notices About Its Meetings

A Christian campaign group has been banned from pinning up notices about its meetings in libraries or community centres.

The activists were told their posters advertising talks about climate change could not be shown in public because they mentioned Christianity and God.

Officials declared that the flyers for a talk on ‘climate change is a Christian issue’ and and another by a spokesman for the Christian Ecology Link were in conflict with town hall policy against the promotion of religious ideas.

The ban in Camden in North London bemused campaigners from the Roman Catholic Our Lady Help of Christians parish church — not least because they were told they could display posters advertising green rallies so long as they did not refer to God.

There was also confusion among the greens that while borough officials insist they cannot lend a hand to a Christian group, it provides for inquirers details of no fewer than 13 mosques, Muslim study groups, and Islamic social groups.

It is currently advertising for a £32,714-a-year youth worker to engage with ‘especially Muslim teenagers’ and the borough’s website publishes the news that ‘Camden council raises awareness of Islam’, complete with assurances from a former leader that ‘we work hard to spread a true picture of Islam and the Muslim faith.’

The rejection of flyers by local Christian group at libraries and community centres in Camden follows a growing number of incidents of official disapproval of Christians and Christianity.

They range from the refusal by some local authorities to allow any recognition of Christmas through attempts by police forces to silence activists and authors who oppose the gay rights lobby, to disciplinary action by schools and hospitals against teachers who make their Christianity public or nurses who offer to pray with patients.

Jo Siedlecka is organising the climate change meetings for the Our Lady parish. They are part of a national push by church leaders who want to publicise their fears over the greenhouse effect which involves Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Anglican Bishop of London Dr Richard Chartres as well as Roman Catholic clergy.

‘I went to the local library with the posters,’ Miss Siedlecka said. ‘This time last year we had a green fair and lots of the councillors came, along with our local MP Frank Dobson.

‘We had a good deal of support from Camden council who had stalls promoting recycling and compost and so on. I don’t understand why they they won’t allow us to put up our posters this year.’

Miss Siedlecka said she asked her local library to use its distribution service to put up flyers throughout the borough giving notice of the talks.

‘A lady in a yashmak, a Muslim lady, told me that they could not advocate religions and that they could not promote religious ideas.

‘Then I spoke to officials at the town hall who told me again that they could not promote a religion. They said they would be very happy if it was green, but it could not be Christian.’

She added: ‘This is bizarre. This is annoying.’

Christian pressure groups called for an immediate rethink from borough leaders.

Mike Judge of the Christian Institute said: ‘This is another case of Christians being told to go to the back of the class.

‘It is prejudice against Christianily. Christians run huge numbers of community projects and they pay council taxes.

‘They are not promoting their religion at the expense of anyone else and they are entitled to put their posters up. It is time Camden got a grip.’

The London borough, where the Liberal Democrats are the biggest party and provide the council with its leader Ken Moffitt, told a Roman Catholic news agency: ‘We are happy to put up posters supporting green issues but council policy does not allow the promotion of religion.’

Officials declined to comment to the Daily Mail.

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

Vatican: Pope to Visit Rome Synagogue

Rome, 17 Sept. (AKI) — Pope Benedict XVI is expected to visit Rome’s synagogue at the end of the year or the beginning of 2010, sources from the Roman Jewish community told Adnkronos on Thursday.

“We do not have an exact date yet, but it could also be in November,” said a Vatican source.

Benedict’s predecessor John Paul II, made the first historic papal visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986.

The pontiff this week also sent a greeting to the Roman community to mark the Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah, which begins sundown of 18 September until nightfall of 20 September.

“Also this year, in light of Rosh Hashanah 5770, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, I sent my most sincere appreciation and warmest greetings to you and to the Jewish community of Rome,” said Benedict in a telegramme sent to Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni.

In May 2009, Benedict made an historic visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

During his visit to the Jewish state, the pontiff was widely criticised by commentators and politicians for failing to express sufficient remorse for the Holocaust and over his membership of the Hitler Youth as a teenager.

Rome’s Jewish community is Europe’s oldest, dating back to the 2nd century B.C.

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

North Africa

Algeria: 74% of Imports in Textile Sector From China

(ANSAmed)- ALGIERS, SEPTEMBER 15 — Around 74% of clothes and textiles present on the Algerian market are from China. Out of a turnover of more than 107 million dollar in imports in the clothing sector in 2008, more than 74 million dollars refer to China, for some 78,000 tonnes of products. China is followed by Turkey, with 9.40 million dollars and 9,500 tonnes and Syria (3.5 million and 3,400 tonnes). Amongst products imported by China and sold at Algerian markets at slashed prices: underwear and sports clothing, but also shirts, tshirts, coats, skits and trousers for the whole family and even hijabs (the Islamic veil) and kamis (the traditional male clothing). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algeria: 74% of Imports in Textile Sector From China

(ANSAmed)- ALGIERS, SEPTEMBER 15 — Around 74% of clothes and textiles present on the Algerian market are from China. Out of a turnover of more than 107 million dollar in imports in the clothing sector in 2008, more than 74 million dollars refer to China, for some 78,000 tonnes of products. China is followed by Turkey, with 9.40 million dollars and 9,500 tonnes and Syria (3.5 million and 3,400 tonnes). Amongst products imported by China and sold at Algerian markets at slashed prices: underwear and sports clothing, but also shirts, tshirts, coats, skits and trousers for the whole family and even hijabs (the Islamic veil) and kamis (the traditional male clothing). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egyptian Christian Girl Abducted to Force ‘Reconciliation’ In Murdered Brother’s Case

by Mary Abdelmassih

Egypt (AINA) — Amal Estephanos, a 19 year old Catholic Copt, was abducted in broad daylight on Saturday 12th September 2009, by a Muslim to force her father to accept reconciliation with the families of the Muslim murderers of his son Amir Stephanos.

In an interview with Osama Eid of Free Copts, Estephanos said his daughter Amal was kidnapped by the ?unemployed worker Ibrahim Ali Negm, after she was drugged and bundled into a pickup truck, with the assistance of village strangers. She was taken to Aswan City, to be forced to convert to Islam. This abduction was witnessed by several people..

Estephanos said the State Security has pressuring him to accept taking part in a “reconciliation session” with the family of the murderers, which he adamantly refuses. “With this abduction, they want to humiliate me, and force me to cave in to their reconciliation efforts,” he told Free Copts.

He appealed to President Mubarak saying “I want my daughter back. It is enough what happened to my son Amir, whose blood is not yet dry.”

Reports from Hegaza village indicate that Amal is in Aswan with one of the organizations specializing in forced Islamization of Copts, and that she may have been raped.

Free Copts reported that State Security is detaining the abductor’s family until the Amal has been released. This unusual State Security assistance is possibly due to the intervention of Abdel-Rady Araby, member of the Egyptian Shura (Advisory) Council. He told Free Copts on 16th September 2009 that Amal’s abduction was a “blow to his efforts of reconciliation” between the families. He said that he had arranged for a ‘reconciliation meeting’ to be held on Monday 14th September only to learn that the abduction took place just two days before.

Amal, who lives in the village of Hegaza, Qus, Qena Governorate, which lies 600 km south of Cairo, is the youngest sister of Amir Estephanos (22), who was murdered together with his friend Adib Hedra Soliman (22) on April 18, 2009, after attending a worship service on Easter Eve at the nearby St. Boktor’s Monastery. They were intercepted by members of a Muslim family who had a blood feud with his friend Adib’s family since 2004. Amir Stephanos was not involved in the feud but still he was executed by the firing squad. They received 70 bullets to the head and body. A third Christian who was also with them, Mina Samir was seriously injured, and subsequently lost an arm and a leg as a result of the shootings.

The four accused Muslims, including two brothers involved in the family feud, were referred to the Criminal Court of Qena, which began its hearings on June 29, 2009.

The Estephanos tragedy began again, after renewed pressure from the State Security to effect a reconciliation, following the intervention of Shura member Abdel-Rady Araby.

Coptic families of the murdered were threatened with deportation by Security.

The blood feud between the Muslim Mohamed Saeed family and the Christian Soliman family goes back to the 6th November 2004, when the two families had a brawl in the village market, leaving Mohamed Saeed (58 years) dead after receiving a blow on the head with a stick.

The events which followed that brawl and the unjust consequences for the Copts in Hegaza, is still vivid in the memory of many Copts.

“In spite of the overwhelming majority of villagers blaming the death of Mohammed Saeed on a relative of his called Abdel Qader Ibrahim, and his brother Noubi, the police decided to accuse the Copts Saleeb, Gamal, and Mounir Adeeb Soliman. Meanwhile, the accusations against the Ibrahim brothers were never investigated,” said human rights activist Hala elMasry, who is also a local inhabitant. A sentence of 3 years imprisonment was passed on each of the accused Copt for manslaughter.

In order to please the family of the murdered Muslim, the State Security together with elders of four families in Hegaza decided in a ‘reconciliation session’ to deport from the village, seventeen Coptic families who are related to the three convicted Copts. A total of 122 Copts left their village, carrying only their personal belongings, leaving behind their homes, fields, businesses and livelihood.

The displaced Coptic families of Higaza are still living away from their homes and still are banned from returning back, five years later.

What brought about the Easter Eve 2009 murders, according to researchers from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was that some members of two of the Christian families displaced in 2004, have returned to Hegaza village on the day of the murders to bury one of their relatives in the village cemeteries. One of the murdered, Adib, was the youngest brother of one of the convicted Copts in the 2004 incident.

Among the main Coptic demands, besides the ratification of a law regulating building houses of worship, is the abolition of the unofficial “reconciliation sessions,” forced by State Security, which always end up by the Coptic side giving up their right to pursue criminal charges, allowing the Muslim perpetrator to literally “get away with murder.”

[Return to headlines]

Jordan-Egypt: Joint Efforts to Crack Down Organ Trafficking

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, SEPTEMBER 15 — Jordan and Egypt agreed to join efforts to crack down on organ trade between the two countries after the discovery of organized trafficking of body parts to nationals from both sides, an official said today. It is hard to tell how many sell kidneys as such operations are done secretly, but acquainted officials and volunteers told ANSAmed the number could easily surpass 300 people a year. Jordan Prime Minister Nader Dahabi issued new regulations to crack down on the growing phenomena according to which organ surgeries, including donations and transplants, for Jordanian citizens conducted in Egyptian hospitals, should have an approval from the Jordan’s embassy in Egypt. The move comes one week after the discovery of a large network of organ trade between Jordan and Egypt. Egyptian authorities are currently investigating the involvement of Jordanians in a gang that sells body organs to clients in Egypt. With the difficult economic condition taking its toll on the poor class, more young people are forced to sell their organs, particularly kidney for JD 5000 (USD 7000). Recipients, of donation are charged by groups nearly USD 30,000, according to police officials familiar with this issue. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Acacus Sites Closed After Damages

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, SEPTEMBER 15 — The seven archaeological sites defaced halfway through last April by a Libyan vandal with spray paint in Acacus, a site known for its famous rock paintings in the Libyan desert, have been closed to the public indefinitely. Libyan antiquities and tourism officials have decided to close the area around the paintings in the zone of the Libyan Sahara known as Tadrat Acacus, located on the Algerian border. The Tourist Police and Archaeological Protection Group issued a letter to all tourist agencies, stressing that the Acacus region will remain open to tourism except for the area where the damaged rock paintings are located. Acacus, a site where the Italian-Libyan joint archaeological mission of the Sapienza University in Rome operates, headed by Professor Savino di Lernia, is a 6000-km2 area scattered with countless sites with paintings from the Neolithic era dating back 3,000-10,000 years ago. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site 20 years ago. The individual who perpetrated the acts of vandalism was identified and arrested a few days after the incident. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UNESCO: Hosni Criticises Campaign of Lies Against Him

(ANSA) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 15 — The frontrunner in the race for director general of UNESCO, Egyptian Culture Minister, Faruk Hosni, two days before a vote that he could win, continued to speak out against those who are against his candidacy to succeed current director general, Koichiro Matsuura, and criticised “a campaign based on lies” against him. Accused of having made anti-Semitic remarks last year in an interview with Le Figaro, he said that he has support “throughout the world”, without specifying exactly from whom, and called accusations against him “ridiculous” and the fact that they come from “respectable individuals as deplorable”. He was referring to his main opponents, Nobel Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy, and film director, Claude Lanzmann, who in a debate in Le Monde recently defined Hosni as “unworthy” of heading the UN Organisation for Education, Science, and Culture. “I would be flustered if these accusations were founded, but they are based on lies, this is ridiculous”, he said. “ “They are accusing me of not having accomplished cultural normalisation between Egypt and Israel, but this does not depend on a decision made by a minister. If there is going to be peace between Israel and Palestine, I will be the first to go there,” he said. “If I were against the Jews, why would I have restored all of the synagogues in Egypt for the past 10 years? Why would I have had books translated from Jewish and why would I have restored and put their religious documents on exhibit?”. Hosni, who said that he is against Islamic veils and burqas in particular, could be elected in the first round, if what he says is true, meaning that he already has 32 votes from the 58 members of the Board of Directors. His candidacy is supported by Italy, France, the Arab League, African Union, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Civil Fights: How to Perpetuate the Conflict in One Easy Move

As of this writing, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is still refusing to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. And given recent media reports about the Obama administration’s planned peace initiative, one can understand why: If they are true, he has no reason to bother negotiating with Netanyahu. All he has to do is sit and wait, and in two years, the international community will give him everything he wants on a silver platter.

The plan in question was first broached publicly by the European Union’s foreign policy czar, Javier Solana, at a speech in London in July. The international community should set a deadline for negotiations, Solana said, and if no agreement is reached by this deadline, the world should immediately recognize a Palestinian state, admit it to the UN and announce its own solution to all outstanding issues (borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements), along with a binding timetable for implementation.

Washington never publicly endorsed this idea. But this week, it was reported that Solana floated his trial balloon with backing from “the highest levels of the US administration,” and that the US indeed plans to adopt it — with some twists that make it even worse.

Specifically, Washington will announce a two-year deadline for talks that will focus mainly on borders. If no agreement is reached by then, the US and EU — and presumably the rest of the world, too — will recognize a Palestinian state with borders “based on” the June 4, 1967 lines.

IN OTHER words, Abbas will receive international recognition of the borders he has consistently demanded, the 1967 lines — and by implication, also east Jerusalem, which was not Israeli pre-1967. The announcement will say the parties “may” alter the border via territorial exchanges, but that is up to them: The world will not insist.

And in exchange, he will have to concede absolutely nothing — not the settlement blocs, not Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, not the Western Wall, not security arrangements, not the “right of return,” not recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Some of these will be awarded him outright; others, like the refugees and recognition, will be left to future negotiations. But he would obviously have no incentive to compromise in these future negotiations, since the only thing Israel has to trade is land, and the international community will already have awarded him every inch of that.

In contrast, even an EU diktat would have mandated Palestinian concessions on some issues, like the “right of return.” Moreover, Solana’s original plan stipulated that implementation of the international diktat would constitute a definitive, internationally recognized end to all Palestinian claims. This version does nothing of the sort, since it leaves major issues like the refugees up in the air.

Thus from Abbas’s perspective, this is a dream come true: He receives international recognition of a state in his preferred borders without having to make any concessions in exchange. Even Hamas could this embrace this deal. They could simply pocket their gains and move on to their next demands.

But if merely doing nothing for two years would produce such a bonanza, why would any sane Palestinian leader bother negotiating? Granted, the fact that this plan was reported in the media does not mean it is true. First, journalists’ sources always have their own agendas, and the European sources behind this report could easily have presented an idea that is merely being considered as settled policy — either with Washington’s consent, as a trial balloon, or without such consent, in an effort to pressure the US to adopt it. Second, even if Obama does favor this plan, wiser heads within his administration might yet prevail.

NEVERTHELESS, THERE are reasons to fear it might be true. First, Washington has not denied it. Second, it accords with Obama’s known desire to create a Palestinian state within two years, thus assuring him of one foreign policy success in what otherwise looks likely to be an unbroken string of failures. Third, it would appease his left-wing base, which is currently furious at him over issues ranging from the “surge” in Afghanistan to his apparent willingness to make concessions to moderates on health care reform. Fourth, it would please the EU and the Muslim world, and Obama has made better relations with both a major goal of his foreign policy.

Finally, he has even found a way to avoid alienating his big-ticket Jewish donors: The media reports market the plan as being based, inter alia, on ideas presented by Israel’s very own president, Shimon Peres. What Jewish donor could possibly object to that? That Peres’s proposal actually called for a Palestinian state in temporary borders — which, until a deal was finalized, would comprise only part of the West Bank and would exclude east Jerusalem — is a mere bagatelle.

Indeed, the plan has only one drawback: Far from bringing peace, it would perpetuate the conflict for all eternity. If 16 years of deadly terror combined with refusing to budge an inch on any of their demands could produce such stellar results, why would any Palestinian want to abandon these successful tactics?

Thus they will continue the terror, and Israel will continue its counterterrorism operations. They will continue refusing to make concessions on the settlement blocs, Jerusalem and the refugees, and Israel will continue refusing to evacuate tens of thousands of settlers with no quid pro quo. They will continue teaching their children that the Jewish state has no right to exist, and Israeli attitudes toward the Palestinians and the “peace process” will continue to harden.

It would require massive self-centeredness, and massive short-sightedness, to sacrifice any chance of lasting peace for the sake of a momentary foreign policy “achievement.” But that is exactly what this plan would do.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Hevron’s Noisy War: Mosque Loudspeakers vs. Jewish Music

( Hevron resident Baruch Marzel is sick of being disturbed by Muslim prayers, which are broadcast through loudspeakers atop the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Maarat Hamachpelah) and other local mosques five times a day. So the veteran Land of Israel activist has rented his own sound system and says he will play chassidic music 24 hours a day until his Muslim neighbors agree to turn down the volume while praying.

“They got money from Saudi Arabia to get a loudspeaker system just to make us miserable. I rented a powerful system and put on Carlebach every hour of the day. The [IDF] Civil Administration asked me to stop, I told them that when they stop I’ll stop — and believe me, they’ll stop,” Marzel explained.

Local Arabs have filed a complaint over Marzel’s music, with help from the pro-Arab organization Yesh Din.

Marzel said he welcomed the complaint. “I’m waiting for them to bring this complaint forward, to bring this up for public debate.” However, he criticized Yesh Din for taking up the cause, calling members of the group “anti-Semites and traitors.”

Loud chassidic music is an appropriate response to the Muslim muezzin, said Marzel, who said he was acting “measure for measure,” a synomyn to the concept of an “eye for an eye.” Marzel also complained about Muslim weddings in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which he said often continue until 3 a.m., while Jews are asked to end their ceremonies by 11 p.m.

“This is the only way to put an end to Arab abuse of Jews. And it isn’t just here — the muezzin bothers residents of Ramat Shlomo as well,” Marzel said. Even residents of Tel Aviv hear the call to prayer blasting from the Hassan Bek mosque, he added, “but in Tel Aviv they don’t want to impinge on the sanctity of Islam. So let them keep suffering.”

“We will not suffer. We will fight back,” he concluded.

A similar battle took place earlier in the year in the town of Kfar Veradim in the Galilee. Residents of the town took to playing loud classical music in response to noisy weddings in the nearby Arab village of Tarshiha.

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

UN Must Hold Obama to Same Standard as Israel

Some two weeks ago American airplanes fired on two oil tankers in northern Afghanistan. It was a German officer who’d asked the U.S. air force to attack the tankers in the middle of the night, in a populated area. The attack was successful — the two tankers were hit, went up in flames and were destroyed. But the overwhelming American-German air attack killed some 70 people. Some of those brought to hospitals were severely injured — with mutilated faces, burned hands and charred bodies.

It is not clear to this day if most of those who burned to death were Taliban warriors, as NATO first claimed, or innocent civilians who wanted to bring home a bit of oil. One way or another, it’s clear that the United States and Germany are responsible for an extremely brutal attack. Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway also bear responsibility for the massacre as NATO members.

If the international community is committed to international law and universal ethics — which do not discriminate between one sort of killing and another — then it should investigate this villainous assault. If the United States, Germany and NATO refuse to cooperate with investigators, the UN should consider transferring the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. It is possible that at the end of the process it would be necessary to put U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway on trial for their role in committing a severe war crime that did not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Obama would probably be the principal defendant in this case. He was the one who believed in the war in Afghanistan and intensified it. As U.S. commander-in-chief, he bears direct responsibility not only for the deaths of those who were burned with the tankers, but the death of many hundreds of innocent Afghan civilians.

If there are is such a thing as an international community, international law and universal ethics, they must seriously consider putting Obama on trial for his responsibility for severe war crimes.

Absurd? Yes, it’s absurd. No sane person in the world believes that the United States, Russia or China could be subjected to purist international law. The United States has killed thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the last few months encouraged Pakistan to make an extremely brutal military move in its Swat Valley. The United States was not required to account for it because everyone understands that this is the price of the terrible War on Terror. Russia committed blood-curdling war crimes in Chechnya, while China deprives its citizens of basic rights and is conducting a wicked occupation in Tibet. They are not asked to pay for this because everyone understands that you don’t mess with superpowers.

But not only superpowers are immune. Saudi Arabia practices an open, declared policy of discrimination against women and the international community does not see. Sri Lanka is crushing the Tamil national movement, causing a ghastly humanitarian disaster, and the international community does not hear. Turkey is brutally oppressing the Kurdish minority, and the international community does not speak.

Only in matters involving Israel, do international law and justice suddenly discover that they have teeth. Only when Israel is involved is the judgment administered out of context. Only Israel is required to uphold a moral standard no superpower or Middle Eastern state is required to uphold.

Over the course of the military offensive in Gaza, Israel used excessive firepower and this must not recur. Severe incidents took place during the operation which must be investigated. But the inquiry must be carried out by us, and among ourselves. As long as Judge Richard Goldstone doesn’t probe the United States, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka or Turkey, just as he probed Israel, he is not a moral figure. A law is a law only when it applies to everyone and does not discriminate, as Goldstone did.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Cold War Roots of Yemen Conflict

The roots of Yemen’s current civil conflict, in which the government is trying to put down a Shia rebellion, lie in the Cold War regional politics of the 1960s.

Then, Egyptian-backed army officers brought an end to Yemen’s 1,000-year Shia Imamate and established the modern Yemeni republic.

Republican troops seized control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 1962, while the imam fled to the northern mountains, where he mounted a spirited counter-offensive from the same territory where the fighting is happening today.

Then, as now, a well-equipped army in Sanaa deployed air power and superior military hardware against the rebels in the Saada region but for five years republican forces failed to defeat the mountain guerrillas.

Thursday’s reported aerial bombardments of civilians, reports that the Saada rebels are holding Yemeni soldiers as prisoners of war and preparations by aid agencies to deliver humanitarian relief across the border from Saudi Arabia echo familiar patterns of conflict from the 1960s.

Then, as now, regional dynamics inflamed local tensions inside Yemen, with Saudi Arabia and Jordan backing Yemen’s imam against thousands of Egyptian troops barracked in Sanaa.

War ‘over’

The 21st Century geopolitical context has undeniably changed, but regional tensions continue to stoke the conflict in Yemen.

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia is nervous about a Shia uprising on its southern borders.

Shia Iran stands accused of supporting the Saada rebels, despite the fact that Yemen’s Zaydi Shias — who take their name from the fifth imam, Zayd Ibn Ali — are doctrinally distinct from Iran’s Twelver Shias.

At times, the insurgents in Saada have also been accused of accepting support from Libya, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, as well as Yemen’s local Jewish minority.

Such inconsistent allegations are certainly exploited for shifting and expedient political reasons.

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

Energy: Syria: Increase in Gas Production and Oil Demand

(ANSAmed) — ROME, SEPTEMBER 14 — Daily production of gas in Syria was 20.7 cubic metres in 2008, and was up in the first quarter of 2009 to 21.6 million cubic metres. In the same year, says the Italian Trade Commission, crude production stood at 390,000 barrels per day. As part of a policy of strategic expansion in the energy sector, an agreement was reached in January 2009 by the Syrian government and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) for three loans worth 257.4 million dollars, 36.3 million of which will go towards financing the third phase of the Arab Gas Pipeline. Syria’s energy sector has been shrinking over the past ten years due to the fall in the production of crude. At the same time annual growth in demand of 4-5% is predicted in the next two years, with a consequent increase in the country’s dependence on oil derivatives. According to analysts from Oil and Gas Journal, the country’s oil reserves, which have been shrinking for some time, stood at 2.5 billion barrels in January 2009, half that of Oman and 3% of that of Kuwait. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Government to Sue Doctor for Abusing Domestic Helper

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, SEPTEMBER 15 — The government is planning to take legal action against a Jordanian doctor who abandoned his Indonesian domestic helper in the street suffering from sever health complications, an official said today. Officials said the 28 year old woman, named Aminah, was bleeding when her former boss left her near health ministry offices suffering from tuberculosis and weighing 20 kilogrammes. Minister of Labour Ghazi Shbeikat said the ministry is “taking this issue seriously,” Aminah told police her employer used to abuse her and did not pay her salary since more than a year. Diplomats at the Indonesian embassy vowed to file a lawsuit against the doctor in light of increased cases of abuse against their nationals in Jordan. Aminah needs three to six months to recover, according to doctors. Domestic helpers from South East Asia often complain of rampant abuse while working in the kingdom. The government of Philippines had suspended sending domestic helpers to Jordan following increased number of abuse cases, which included long working hours, beating and lack of payment. Official figures show there are between 20,000 and 30,000 Indonesian domestic helpers working in the Kingdom.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Oil: Syria: Reserves Estimated at 24.3 Bln Barrels (2)

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, SEPTEMBER 15 — In spite of the enormous potential for production, Syria has been a large oil importer for the last two years. According to the US Energy Information Administration, Syria consumed 256,000 barrels per day of oil last year. On the basis of information from the Syrian Central Bank, reported by the Italian Trade Commission in Damascus, oil and gas imports for 2008 equalled 5,656 million dollars, while exports totalled 5,608 million, with proceeds representing just 5% of total turnover. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Russian FM Says No New Sanctions on Iran

Moscow — Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow firmly opposes any new sanctions against Iran.

Sergey Lavrov says new tougher sanctions would ruin hopes for solving the Iranian nuclear program through talks.

Lavrov’s statement Thursday came shortly before President Barack Obama announced shelving a plan for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Russia has strongly opposed the plan.

Obama’s move comes as Washington badly needs Moscow’s support to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

But Lavrov’s comments signal that Moscow won’t back tougher sanctions against Iran, whom the U.S. and other Western nations suspect of developing nuclear weapons.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

The Gay Sons of Allah

Wave of Homophobia Sweeps the Muslim World

In most Islamic countries, gay men and women are ostracized, persecuted and in some cases even murdered. Repressive regimes are often fanning the flames of hatred in a bid to outdo Islamists when it comes to spreading “moral panic.”

Bearded men kidnapped him in the center of Baghdad, threw him into a dark hole, chained him down, urinated on him, and beat him with an iron pipe. But the worst moment for Hisham, 40, came on the fourth day of his ordeal when the kidnappers called his family. He was terrified they would tell his mother that he is gay and that this was the reason they had kidnapped him. If they did he would never be able to see his family again. The shame would be unbearable for them.

“Do what you want to me, but don’t tell them,” he screamed.

Instead of humiliating him in the eyes of his family, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $50,000 (€33,000), a huge sum for the average Iraqi family. His parents had to go into debt and sell off all of their son’s possessions in order to raise the money required to secure his freedom. Shortly after they received the ransom the kidnappers threw Hisham out of their car somewhere in the northern part of Baghdad. They decided not to shoot him and let him go. But they sent him on his way with a warning: “This is your last chance. If we ever see you again, we’ll kill you.”

That was four months ago. Hisham has since moved to Lebanon. He told his family that he had decided to flee the violence and terror in Baghdad and that he had found work in Beirut. Needless to say he didn’t disclose the fact that he is unable to live in Iraq because of the death squads who are out hunting for “effeminate-looking” men.

In Baghdad a new series of murders began early this year, perpetrated against men suspected of being gay. Often they are raped, their genitals cut off, and their anuses sealed with glue. Their bodies are left at landfills or dumped in the streets. The non-profit organization Human Rights Watch, which has documented many of these crimes, has spoken of a systematic campaign of violence involving hundreds of murders.

Restoring ‘Religious Morals’

A video clip showing men dancing with each other at a party in Baghdad in the summer of 2008 is thought to have triggered this string of kidnappings, rapes, and murders. Thousands of people have seen it on the Internet and on their cell phones. Islamic religious leaders began ranting about the growing presence of a “third sex” which American soldiers were said to have brought in with them. The followers of radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, in particular, felt the need to take action aimed at restoring “religious morals.”

In their stronghold, the part of Baghdad known as Sadr City, black-clad militiamen patrol the streets, on the lookout for anyone whose “unmanly appearance” or behavior would make it possible to identify them as being homosexual. Often enough long hair, tight-fitting t-shirts and trousers, or a certain way of walking were a death sentence for the persons in question. But it’s not just the Mahdi army who has been hunting down and killing gay men. Other groups such as Sunni militias close to al-Qaida and the Iraqi security services are also known to be involved.

Homosexuals in Iraq may be faced with an exceptionally dangerous situation but they are ostracized almost everywhere in the Muslim world. Gay rights organizations estimate that more than 100,000 gay men and women are currently being discriminated against and threatened in Muslim countries. Thousands of them commit suicide, end up in prison, or go into hiding.

Egypts Starts to Clamp Down

More than 30 Islamic countries have laws on the books that prohibit homosexuality and make it a criminal offense. In most cases punishment ranges from floggings to life imprisonment. In Mauritania, Bangladesh, Yemen, parts of Nigeria and Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Iran convicted homosexuals can also be sentenced to death.

In those Muslim countries where homosexuality is not against the law gay men and women are nonetheless persecuted, arrested, and in some cases murdered. Although long known for its open gay scene, Egypt has recently started to clamp down hard. The lives of homosexuals are monitored by a kind of vice squad who tap telephones and recruit informants. As soon as the police have accumulated the kind of evidence they need they charge their victims with “debauchery.”

In Malaysia homosexuality has been used as a political weapon. In 2000 opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly committing “sodomy” with his wife’s chauffeur as well as with a former speechwriter. In 2004 the conviction was overturned on appeal and he was acquitted. In the summer of 2008 charges were filed against him in a similar case when a male aide accused him of sodomy. The case is still ongoing.

For a while Anwar was the favorite of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and was being groomed to succeed him in that office until they had a falling out in 1998. Ten years and some prison time later, on August 28, 2008, Anwar managed to be sworn in again as a member of the Malaysian parliament. But that’s as far as he has got with his political comeback.

Even in liberal Lebanon homosexuals run the risk of being sentenced to a year in prison. On the other hand, Beirut has the only gay and lesbian organization in the Arab world (Helem, which means ‘dream’ in Arabic). There are posters on the walls of the Helem office in downtown Beirut providing information on AIDS and tips on how to deal with homophobia. The existence of Helem is being tolerated for the time being but the Interior Ministry has yet to grant it an official permit. “And it’s hard to imagine that we ever will be given one,” says Georges Azzi, the organization’s managing director.

Islamists Are the Dominant Cultural Force

In Istanbul there is a free gay scene, a Christopher Street Day, and even religious Muslims are among the fans of transsexual pop diva Bülent Ersoy and the late gay singer Zeki Müren. But outside the world of show business it is considered both a disgrace and an illness to be a götveren or “queen.” In the Turkish army homosexuality is cause for failing a medical test. To identify anyone trying to use homosexuality as an excuse to get out of military service, army doctors ask to see photos or videos showing the recruits engaging in sex with a man. And they have to be in the “passive” role. In Turkey being in the active role is considered manly enough not to be proof of homosexuality.

It looks as if a wave of homophobia has swept over the Islamic world, a place that was once widely known for its openmindedness, where homoerotic literature was written and widely read, where gender roles were not so narrowly defined, and, as in the days of ancient Greece, where men often sought the companionship of youths.

Islamists are now a dominant cultural force in many of these countries. They include figures such as popular Egyptian television preacher Yussuf al-Qaradawi who demonizes gays as perverse. Four years ago Shiite grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa saying that gays are to be murdered in the most brutal way possible. These religious opinion leaders base their hatred for gays on the story of Lot in the Koran: “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.” Lot’s people suffered the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins. The Prophet Muhammad has a number of dicta in which he condemns these acts by Lot’s people and in one of them he even goes as far as to call for punishment by death.

European Prudery Exported to the Colonies

The story of Lot and related verses in the Koran were not interpreted as unambiguous references to homosexual sex until the 20th century, says Everett Rowson, professor of Islamic Studies at New York University. This reinterpretation was the result of Western influences — its source was the prudery of European colonialists who introduced their conception of sexual morality to the newly conquered countries.

The fact of the matter is that half of the laws across the world that prohibit homosexuality today are derived from a single law that the British enacted in India in 1860. “Many attitudes with regard to sexual morality that are thought to be identical to Islam owe a lot more to Queen Victoria than to the Koran,” Rowson says.

More than anything, it is the politicization of Islam that has led to the persecution of gays today. Sexual morals are no longer a private matter. They are regulated and instrumentalized by governments.

“The most repressive are secular regimes such as those in Egypt or Morocco which are under pressure from Islamists and so try to outdo them with regard to morals,” says Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. “In addition the persecution of homosexuals shows that a regime has control over the private lives of its citizens — a sign of power and authority.” For several years now a sense of “moral panic” has been systematically fomented in many Muslim countries.

Iran is a case in point, where homosexuals have been persecuted on a more or less regular basis since the Islamic revolution. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been in office there has definitely been an increase in this persecution despite the fact that Ahmadinejad never grows tired of emphasizing that there are no homosexuals in his country.

The mere suspicion that someone may have committed “unnatural acts” is enough for that person to be sentenced to a flogging in Iran. If caught more than once, the person in question can be sentenced to death. According to official statistics, 148 homosexuals have been given a death sentence and executed thus far. The true figure is doubtless much larger than this. The last case of this kind to attract public attention was that of 21-year-old Makwan Moludsade, who was hanged in December 2007. He was accused of having raped three boys several years earlier. Homosexuals are almost always charged with other crimes such as rape, fraud, or robbery in order to be better able to justify their execution.

‘If I Had Stayed, They Would Have Killed Me’

As a result of this situation thousands of gays and lesbians have fled Iran. For most of them the first port of call is Turkey. “I had no choice but to flee,” says Ali, a 32-year-old physician. “If I had stayed, they would have killed me.”

Ali was careful. He rarely went to parties, he used different Internet cafe’s for online chat sessions, and he didn’t let anyone in on his secret, not even the members of his family knew. Everything went well until one day his friend’s father caught them kissing. Two days later Ali lost his job at the hospital and then he was hit by a car, in what seemed to be a deliberate attack. Shortly after that he received a telephone call telling him: “We want to see you hang.”

What he hadn’t known was that his friend’s father was a high-ranking member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Ali went to the bank, withdrew his savings, and took a train to Turkey, where he applied for asylum. Since then he has lived in a tiny apartment in Kayseri, Central Anatolia, one of 35 gay Iranian exiles in that city.

Arsham Parsi, 29, from Shiraz, fled Iran four years ago. A slight man with a fluffy beard and glasses, he was one of the most wanted men in Iran for several years after creating the country’s first gay network in 2001. Its members only communicated with each other by e-mail and very few people knew his real name. But in the end his identity was still revealed. Parsi managed to get away but it was a close call. He got a visa for Canada, where he founded the “Iranian Queer Organization”, which now has 6,000 members in Iran. They include numerous transsexuals or persons who consider themselves to be transsexuals. Parsi estimates that “Nearly half of all sex-change operations are requested by homosexuals.”

Sex-Change Operations Booming in Iran

The persecution of gays has led to a boom in demand for sex-change operations in Iran. More operations of this kind are carried out in the Islamic Republic than anywhere else in the world apart from Thailand. These procedures were approved by Ayatollah Khomeini himself in 1983. Khomeini defined transsexuality as a disease that can be healed by means of an operation. Since then thousands of people have requested this kind of treatment and the Iranian government even covers part of the costs.

“Family members and physicians urge homosexuals to have operations to normalize their sexual orientation,” Parsi says. This way it was possible for a high-ranking Shiite religious scholar to finance his secretary’s physical transformation into a woman and then to marry him.

The archconservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country where sharia law is the sole legal code, under which homosexuals are flogged and executed. “homosexuals are freer here than they are in Iran,” says Afdhere Jama, who traveled through the Islamic world for seven years doing research for his book “Illegal Citizens.”

Gay men and women have a surprising amount of space in Saudi society. Newspapers print stories about lesbian sex in school lavatories, while it is an open secret that certain shopping centers, restaurants, and bars in Jeddah and Riyadh are gay meeting points.

“There are numerous Saudi men who have sexual relationships with youths before they are married or when their wives are pregnant,” Jama says. In these cases having sex with another male is often the only way of having sex at all. Extramarital affairs with women are nearly impossible. “In the West the men in question would be considered gay, but in countries like Saudi Arabia it is harder to categorize them,” Jama notes. Most Muslims have trouble understanding the Western concept of “gay identity.” In their countries there is no such thing as a gay lifestyle or a gay movement.

Cultural and Political Factors

Daayiee Abdullah, 55, is an imam. He wears a prayer cap, has a beard — and is gay. He is one of only two imams in the world who are openly gay. He voluntarily chose to follow the path of Islam. Raised as a Baptist in Detroit, he made friends with Chinese Muslims while studying in Beijing and then converted to Islam. “They told me it would be no problem for me as a gay man to be a good Muslim.”

Imam Abdullah and many others along with him have a somewhat different interpretation of the story of Lot. According to them, those whom God condemned were not homosexuals but rapists and robbers. It is not homosexuality that the Koran prohibits but rather rape. “The rejection of gays is a result of cultural and political factors,” he says. “Just like honor killings and arranged marriages. They’re not in the Koran either.”

Abdullah lives in the US capital, Washington D.C., and says prayers at the funerals of gay persons, particularly if they died of AIDS, something no other imam is willing to do. He officiates at same-sex marriages and, for the past 11 years, has provided religious advice in an on-line forum entitled “Muslim Gay Men.”

He regularly receives death threats but now laughs them off, saying: “How can two loving men pose a threat to the foundations God has laid?”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Defamation, Ankara Wants to Question Duchess of York

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, SEPTEMBER 17 — The Turkish Minister of Justice intends to bring legal action against Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and ex-wife of Prince Andrew, for violation of privacy and defamation, and for this reason have asked British authorities to interrogate her and convey her statements to Turkish investigators. Reports were in today’s daily paper Vatan, which said that Turkish magistrates intend to sue the former member of the British royal family and request a sentence of up to four and a half years in jail for having secretly filmed a documentary on the conditions of handicapped children and disabled adults in two Turkish institutes which was subsequently broadcast on UK television. Turkey has accused the duchess of discrediting Turkey’s image at a very delicate moment, with the country trying to gain EU membership. The documentary — broadcast on November 6, 2008 — had been shot in September with a secret video camera by Chris Rogers along with Sarah Ferguson who, in order to prevent recognition wore a dark wig and a headscarf.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

U.S. Worried About Iran “Running Out Clock”: Gates

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States is concerned about Iran stalling the West while it develops its nuclear program, but there is still time for diplomacy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.

“We are all concerned about Iran running out the clock on us on their nuclear program,” Gates said.

“And our view is there is still time for diplomacy and, I might say, sanctions to persuade the Iranians that their security will be diminished by going down the track of nuclear weapons.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


Kremlin Denies Missile Deal With US

Russia’s foreign ministry has denied that there was a quid pro quo behind the US rejection of the eastern European missile shield.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Translation: Obama rolled over for them.]

Andrei Nesterenko, spokesman for the ministry, said on Thursday such a reversal would be welcomed by Moscow but any sort of grand bargain with the US “was not consistent with our policy, nor our approach to solving problems with any nations, no matter how sensitive or complex they are”.

The Russian government had not been given any formal notification of the decision, he said.

Observers have noted, however, that, in spite of Russian and US denials, there was a powerful logic for a geopolitical deal to trade the missile shield for Russian help elsewhere, given Russia’s interest in demilitarising eastern Europe, and the US desire to put pressure on Iran, which enjoys good relations with Moscow.

Russia’s position on sanctions against Iran seems to have undergone a subtle shift recently. On Tuesday, Dmitry Medvedev, president, told a group of visiting academics and journalists he did not rule out additional sanctions against Tehran.

“Sanctions are not very effective on the whole, but sometimes you have to embark on sanctions and it is the right thing to do,” he said.

This contrasted with what he said July 5, before meeting Barack Obama, US president, in Moscow: “As for additional sanctions, it seems to me they are never very effective. They would only complicate the situation.”

Press reports have periodically alluded to attempts by Russia and the US to reach a deal. In March, the Kommersant newspaper published a report of a proposal from Mr Obama to Mr Medvedev apparently linking the missile shield with Iran, though US and Russian officials denied at the time that such a proposal had been agreed or offered.

Vladimir Shtol, a professor and expert on Nato at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, said he thought any US rethink of the system would probably be the result of economic pressures connected with the global crisis, and not a political deal with Russia. “I don’t believe the US would ever fully back out of the missile shield, because it is in their long-term interests and closely connected to their strategy in Europe.”

Russia’s government has long opposed American plans to build the missile shield, consisting of a radar system in the Czech Republic and anti-missile weaponry in Poland. Moscow has charged that the real purpose of the system was to target Russian missiles, rather than Iranian ones as per the declared US objective.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Lieutenant Colonel Funding From Afar

[Comment from Tuan Jim: google translation]

Chavez needed a war — and he is preparing for it, relying on Russia’s tanks and credits

Last week, Moscow blocked a UN Security Council resolution on Iran and gave the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez arms on $ 2 billion in credit. Chavez argues that the weapons it needs for defense, but the list of purchases at the same time appear on 100 tanks T-90 and T-72M1M.

By giving Chavez a small tank army, Moscow raised the wick to the future Colombia-Venezuela war — a war that needed Chavez to distract people from internal problems, and Putin — to raise the price of oil.

In Russia, Hugo Chavez is seen as an exotic Third World dictator. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chavez — a politician who wants to become for South America the same than Putin in the former CIS. Chavez does not regret for that neither the time nor the money — and, interestingly, the success did not exceed the success of Putin.

Three years ago, Chavez has spent enormous effort on provenesuelskogo candidate for president of Peru. As a result, “Comandante Humala” flew in the elections in Peru, just as Yanukovych in Ukraine.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya of the crisis has received a loan from Chavez’s $ 100 million Mr. Zelaya would get help and the United States, but there should have been for the help accountable. For the money Chavez’s report was not necessary. President Zelaya joined the “Bolivarian initiative” — the Latin American equivalent of the CSTO, has lost popularity, and after an unsuccessful attempt to change the constitution was passed out of the country.

In the Republic of Cuba there is no toilet paper, the rate of chicken allocated on cards for one person is 110 grams, and Raul Castro recently announced a move from tractors to a new progressive method of plowing — on the piers. In the province of Santa Clara has taught plowing 6 thousand bulls. The Cuban regime exists only for the money Chavez.

In Bolivia, Chavez’s money on his ally President Evo Morales pays for 200 bolivianov every pensioner and a teenager, is huge money in a country where average salary is 500 bolivianov (around $ 70) per month. In Bolivia, there are no other sources of money, but Chavez and cocaine.

But the unprecedented history occurred last spring, when Colombian special forces who toppled the FARC base in Ecuador and seized rocket launchers, the army raised by Sweden Venezuela, and documents confirming the receipt of narco $ 300 million from Chavez. After Interpol confirmed the authenticity of documents, Chavez, preferring the protection of all types of attack, immediately accused the president of Interpol, Arturo Herrera of violations of human rights and cooperation with Pinochet.

With all this, President Chavez has positioned himself not as an aggressor, as well as the creator of the Axis of Good, opposed to U.S. machinations. Here’s how he explains the Chilean newspaper La Tercera reasons for the greatness of Venezuela and the need for military procurement: “In Venezuela — the largest oil reserves in the world. <…And its geographical position makes it vulnerable to global forces. Some accuse Chavez of expansionism and militarism, but on the contrary, it is the U.S. is expansionist and militarist. With the growth of our economy, we are forced to increase defense capability. We have no plans to attack, only protection plans.

Like Putin, President Chávez calls his political enemies (eg, Manuel Rosales) criminals, like Putin, he was expelled from the country’s NGOs, calling them agents of foreign intelligence, it creates a “Bolivarian initiative,” Putin CSTO, it declares the terrorist FARC “ rebel forces. And, as he seamlessly accuses the United States — in the financing terrorrizma in subversive activities abroad, fascism, militarism, etc., — he makes himself.

In short, Chavez, like Putin, considers himself a politician of world scale and about the same real result. Customers Hugo Chavez has always become the most bastard regimes can not survive without Venezuelan oxygen mask, but in any decent country in South America, its activity has no more impact than an attempt by Moscow to prevent the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia.

Actually the reasons for the failure of Chavez are the same as that of the Kremlin. This — an exaggerated self-esteem, the roof, had slipped from the petrodollars, and thinking of dictator-conspirator, vainly trying to resist the greatness based on the open market economy with the help of small plots.

Just like Putin, Chavez is not, in fact, no ideology — neither communist nor religious — no, except for pure ideology petrodollara. In attempts to maintain the FARC, Hamas, South Ossetia and other intolerant regimes is quite rational desire to increase the price of oil and completely insane belief that with the help of intrigue can be achieved political supremacy over the open world economy which is the sole source of petrodollars.

While in Russia, political life is the simulacrum and runs exclusively on the screen of ORT, the seething life in Venezuela: Hugo Chavez has already visited two military coups (in 1992 he was a conspirator in the 2002-meters — the target), and after the failed referendum on the extension his powers, he will be forced to resign in 2013 unless something happens, for example, the war with Colombia.

Moreover, unlike Putin, who has ruled the country with a certain basic standard of living, Chavez came to power in the country, the majority of voters who lived in conditions of poverty otherworldly. At the nationalized oil windfall he managed quite cheap to buy the favor poor people, giving the Indians in the Orinoco Delta boat engines and opening a hospital for people who have not seen even aspirin.

The economic crisis has finished off this policy, as falling oil prices dobilo Soviet Union. Chavez has not been able to finance both the Colombian terrorists, Bolivian unemployed and the poor own, the only way to replenish the state granary in these conditions was a new nationalization (the next wave rushed her to Venezuela in May) and after exhaustion of this resource — the only war.

Intrigues and populist rhetoric can lead to success in the economy, but they can ensure success in the war. Skill with which Chavez is pushing for war with Colombia, Venezuela, War, during which Venezuela would be “defending” party, as the aggressor — the U.S. is admirable and reminds Russia’s tactics in the war with Georgia.

The main force opposing the United States in Colombia, are the drug lords. Their fighting force of the shock are radical left terrorists of FARC. Chavez supports the FARC — in response to a weak, short-tempered, and stymied the President of Colombia Alvaro Urribe prepared with U.S. agreement on the use of Colombian military bases to fight against drug traffickers. This gave Chavez the opportunity to encourage South America to rally against the gringos, to stop trade with Colombia and accused the Americans in the preparation of aggression against Venezuela.

In 1939, Hitler began World War II, attacking German soldiers, dressed in Polish uniforms, a German radio station in the same Gleyvitse. Since then, the dictators of all stripes have become smarter and instead of their own undercover troops in such cases, use the friendly kvazirezhimy like FARC, Hamas, or South Ossetia. 100 tanks are not buying for Ponte; it comes to war, which is much more likely than war between Iran and Israel, and which will begin with a premeditated and carefully furnished provocation.

The incident with the Arctic Sea, the blocking of UN Security Council resolution on Iran and supplying weapons to Chávez 2.2 billion dollars leads me to believe that the main foreign policy goal of the Kremlin at the moment is provoking two armed conflicts: between Iran and Israel and between Colombia and Venezuela.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Vatican Sees End to Tensions With Russian Orthodox

VATICAN CITY — Relations with the Russian Orthodox church have vastly improved, possibly paving the way for a papal visit to Moscow or a historic meeting between the pope and the Orthodox patriarch outside of Russia or the Vatican, a senior Vatican cardinal said Thursday.

Cardinal Walter Kasper told Vatican Radio “we have overcome all the tensions in recent years.”

He spoke after meeting with Archbishop Hilarion, head of external relations for the Moscow patriarch’s office. Hilarion is scheduled to meet Friday with Pope Benedict XVI.

Kasper said “yes” when asked if a trip to Moscow was a “little bit closer” but said that was not on the agenda for the moment.

More likely was a meeting between Benedict and Patriarch Kirill in another country.

“They are not refusing a meeting with pope: this will probably not take place in Moscow or Rome but in a third location,” Kasper said.

The previous pontiff, John Paul II, was frustrated in his efforts to visit Moscow, a trip that would be seen as an important sign that differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity were being narrowed.

The Moscow church blocked any visit, accusing the Vatican of poaching for converts in Russia and other traditionally Orthodox lands of the former Soviet Union. The Vatican always denied the charge.

Kasper said the two churches plan to resume theological talks soon in Cyprus.

As part of signs of an improving climate, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Italian reporters in July that Moscow wants to improve its ties with the Vatican.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Six Italian Soldiers Killed in Kabul Blast

Kabul, 17 Sept. (AKI) — At least six Italian soldiers were killed and three others were seriously injured in a massive suicide attack in the centre of the Afghani capital, Kabul, on Thursday. The Italian defence ministry confirmed the casualties in the bomb blast which has reportedly been claimed by the Taliban.

It is the worst terrorist attack on Italian troops since Al-Qaeda killed 19 people in an attack on an Italian military base in Nassiriya, southern Iraq in 2003.

“The explosion took place near the US embassy. It was so loud it could be heard 2.5 kilometres away,” unnamed sources in Kabul told Adnkronos International (AKI).

A dense plume of black smoke could be seen above the central diplomatic district the city where a fire raged after attack.

The blast destroyed houses and shops, according to eyewitnesses, and helicopters could be seen flying over the area.

The Italian soldiers were travelling in two armoured vehicles that were escorting personnel to the airport, the Italian defence ministry said.

Italy’s lower house of parliament suspended its session “in a sign of mourning and of respect” for the soldiers killed in the Kabul bombing and their colleagues serving in Afghanistan.

Afghan civilians were said to be among the casualties and the numbers were expected to rise.

The 19 Italian victims of the 2003 Nassiriya attack included 12 Carabinieri police, five army soldiers and two civilians.

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

Afghanistan: Italy Condemns Deadly Kabul Attack

Rome, 17 Sept. (AKI) — The Italian government has condemned the massive suicide car bombing that killed six Italian soldiers and wounded three others in the heart of Kabul on Thursday.”The infamous, cowardly aggressors who have struck once again in the most insidious manner, does not alter the fact that international organisations have decided (to conduct) this mission and want to continue with it,” defence minister Ignazio La Russa (photo) told the Italian Senate.

“We remain unshaken in our conviction that all our assessments have been made in full accordance with the international community and that they will continue to be,” La Russa said.

He cancelled all his engagements on Thursday, except for a longstanding one to visit the new US ambassador to Italy, David H. Thorne.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, expressed his “deep personal condolences and those of the entire government to the army chief of staff General Vincenzo Camporini and (Afghanistan’s Regional Command West commander) Brigadier General Rosario Castellano.”

Berlusconi also reinforced the government’s commitment in Afghanistan.

“We express our full solidarity to all those who form part of Italy’s mission in Afghanistan, which is committed to supporting democracy and freedom in that unlucky country,” the statement concluded.

Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini said he profoundly commiserated with the Italian and Afghan victims and condemned the “vile” attack.

“I solidly condemn this savage terrorism that seeks through suicide to deny the will of the Afghan people who are on their way to strengthening democracy, a will clearly expressed in their significant and courageous participation in the recent presidential elections,” Frattini said in a statement.

“It is precisely in such difficult moments that we must stand by the Afghan people and not forget that our presence in that country is essential to its and our own security,” Frattini added.

But a politician from the Italian government’s junior coalition partner, the Northern League, urged Italy to consider “an exit strategy” from Afghanistan.

“I think it is premature to withdraw from Afghanistan, but we need to start thinking about how to get out,” the head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Stefano Stefani, told Adnkronos.

He described Thursday’s attack against two Italian armoured vehicles as “terrible”.

“However, the international community and NATO need to study an exit strategy together that determines how and when,” Stefani stressed.

Dario Franceschini, the leader of the Italian opposition, joined in condemnation of the attack.

“I am deeply shocked by the news from Kabul of the killing of six Italian soldiers and the wounding of others carrying out a peace mission in Afghanistan,” he said.

“I express my solidarity and that of the Democratic Party to the victims’ families and all soldiers and personnel serving with Italy’s mission in Afghanistan.”

Thursday’s attacks was the deadliest against Italian military personnel since Al-Qaeda’s assault on an Italian military base in Nassiriya, southern Iraq in 2003, which killed 19 people.

The 19 Italian victims of the 2003 Nassiriya attack included 12 Carabinieri police, five army soldiers and two civilians.

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

Afghanistan: Taliban Exalt Deaths of ‘Senior’ Italian Soldiers

Kabul, 17 Sept. (AKI) — The Taliban have exalted the killing on Thursday of senior members of the Italian military in the deadly suicide blast in central Kabul, which they claimed killed 10 soldiers. Italy’s defence ministry said the car bombing killed six Italian soldiers and wounded three others. It was the worst attack against Italian troops since Al-Qaeda killed 19 people in an assault on a military base in Nassiriya, southern Iraq, in 2003.

“The victims of today’s attack included senior figures that the soldiers were accompanying to the airport,” the Taliban said in a statement posted to their official website.

“The suicide attack was a carried out today at 12.30 am and caused the deaths of 10 Crusader soldiers and gravely injured others,” the statement added.

The Italian defence ministry has confirmed that four senior soldiers — all corporal majors — were among the six soldiers killed in the attack on Kabul on Thursday.

All those killed were from Italy’s 186th Lightning Brigade and were travelling in two armoured vehicles, one of which was completely destroyed.

The five soldiers inside the vehicle were killed when the suicide bomber positioned his car between the two vehicles.

The three soldiers who were wounded do not have life-threatening injuries, Italy’s defence minister Ignazio La Russa said on Thursday.

The latest deaths bring the total number of Italian soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 20.

Italy has around 3,000 soldiers serving in the country, mainly in the western provinces of Herat and Farah.

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

Berlusconi: Best to Exit Afghanistan Soon

ROME — Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday it would be best for international troops to leave Afghanistan soon, after a bomb blast in Kabul killed six Italian soldiers in Italy’s deadliest day yet in the conflict.

Berlusconi insisted there was no timetable for withdrawal, and said any decision would be made together with Italy’s allies. The explosion also wounded four Italian soldiers.

“We are all convinced it’s best for everybody to get out soon,” Berlusconi told reporters in Brussels. His comments were carried on Italian state TV.

But he quickly added that Italy is “dealing with an international problem. It’s not a problem that that a country that’s present (in Afghanistan) can take on by itself, irrevocably. That would betray the agreement and trust with the other countries” in the mission.

The premier said Italy had already planned on bringing home some 400-500 soldiers, referring to extra troops who had beefed up Italy’s contingent for the recent Afghan elections.

“We’re obviously anxious to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” he said.

He reiterated that Italy’s mission, which involves building democracy in the country, aimed to help ensure that Afghanistan’s military and police can combat terrorism by themselves.

Italy has about 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan. Thursday’s victims, part of a contingent deployed in Kabul, bring to 20 the number of Italian troops who have died in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Ministry.

Comments from the conservative premier and some of his allies in government appeared to show some political confusion over what effect the attack will have on Italy’s staunch commitment to helping the United States militarily in Afghanistan.

Italy’s defense minister, Ignazio La Russa, said early in the day that the “cowardly” attack in the Afghan capital would not affect Italy’s commitment. But later Thursday he indicated the role of Italy’s mission would be reviewed.

And a key coalition partner in Berlusconi’s government said he hoped Italy’s troops could leave within three months.

“I hope that at Christmas all can return home,” Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi told reporters in northern Italy.

The White House has been counting on allies to stand firm to their troop commitments to Afghanistan.

Initially, La Russa, the defense minister, restated Italy’s firm commitment to staying the course. But his position appeared to become more nuanced as the day wore on.

“This is the moment for condolences and for unity,” he told lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies. “Later we’ll have the time and space to study the significance of the mission and discuss how to be closer to our soldiers.”

He said Italy would continue to assess the mission with its international allies.

Shortly after the attack, La Russa said in the Senate that a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into two military vehicles. He said the lives of the four injured soldiers did not appear to be in immediate danger.

In an early evening briefing to the lower chamber of Parliament, La Russa said the 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of explosives might have been set off at a distance, without a suicide bomber in the car.

He appeared to be raising the possibility the blast was triggered by a remote device, but didn’t elaborate.

Pope Benedict XVI was praying for the victims and expressed his closeness to their relatives, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

The U.S. ambassador to Italy expressed his “deepest sympathy” on behalf of President Barack Obama. “Together, we are dedicated to helping the Afghan people as they struggle for freedom, and above all for safety from the barbaric terrorism that we witnessed once again today,” Ambassador David H. Thorne said in a statement.

Violence in Afghanistan has soared to record levels — and skepticism over the war has grown with it. More U.S. troops — 51 — died in Afghanistan in August than in any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Thursday’s attack would not discourage his country.

“It is precisely in these moments of difficulty that we must remain close to the Afghans and not forget that our presence there serves both their and our security,” said Frattini.

The attack caused the highest death toll suffered by Italian forces since a bombing in Iraq killed 19 personnel in November 2003.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Factbox: Italy in Afghanistan

Fourth largest presence after summer reinforcements

(ANSA) — Rome, September 17 — Italy has 3,300 soldiers in Afghanistan, the fourth largest contingent in the country.

Around 500 were sent to help oversee the country’s elections in August.

There are just under 1,000 Italian troops in Kabul including NATO command staff and a special task force training local police. The majority of Italian troops in Afghanistan are deployed in the western region of Herat, an area the size of northern Italy, where an Italian command heads up forces from twelve other countries. Italy also runs a provincial reconstruction team in Herat tasked with coordinating public works projects.

With a budget of around 5 million euros last year, the team was able to complete 50 projects.


Military operations in Afghanistan divide into two missions, United States Operation Enduring Freedom and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). As of June, US Army General Stanley McChrystal is in command of both. There are a total of 64,500 troops in Afghanistan from 42 different countries in an area spanning 650,000 square kilometers. The country is divided into five regional commands and 26 provincial reconstruction teams.

France is presently responsible for the command of the 6,200 soldiers stationed in Kabul.

The western region of Herat is under Italian command. Command of the southern region of Kandahar, where 24,900 soldiers are stationed, rotates between Canada, the Netherlands and Britain. In the nothern Mazar-i-Sharif region, Germany leads a force of 5,600 troops.

The US controls the eastern area of Bagram where 19,900 soldiers are stationed. With 29,950 troops under ISAF and and 9,000 from Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States has by far the largest number of troops in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama recently announced the deployment of an additional 21,000 soldiers to the area for a total of 59,000 US troops.

Britain has the second largest presence with 9,000 troops followed by Germany (4,050), Italy (3,300), Canada (2,830), France (2,780), Poland (2,000), the Netherlands (1,770), Australia (1,090), Romania (875) and Turkey (730).

Afghanistan’s armed forces number some 91,900 soldiers who take part in 90% of ISAF missions in the country. Since the NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the US has lost 836 soldiers, Britain 216 and Canada 130.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

India’s Poor Healthcare a Threat to Growth — Report

NEW DELHI (Reuters) — India urgently needs to spend more on healthcare and save its poor population from poverty and hunger or face the risk of slower economic growth, leading health experts said in a report released on Tuesday.

India is home to more than 230 million undernourished people, more than any other country. While the proportion of malnourished has fallen, the absolute numbers are rising with the population.

“A sick and vulnerable population cannot contribute to growth and India will continue to see a pattern of growth that is leading to growing inequalities and low rates of poverty reduction,” Nisha Agrawal, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam told Reuters.

Experts say widespread malnutrition impacts dramatically on economic growth, with the World Bank saying that in the poorest countries it slashes 3 percent from annual economic growth.

More than 27 percent of the undernourished population globally live in India.

The Indian government spends only 1 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare facilities, forcing millions of people to struggle to get medicines, Oxfam and 62 other agencies said in a report called: “Your Money or Your Life”.

Indian authorities acknowledge there is corruption and inefficiency in the government system, especially in villages where many health centres do not have medicines or doctors.

India’s economic growth has been forecast to hover around 6.3 percent for 2009/10, and growth could fall to 5.5 percent if farm output was badly hit by the worst dry spell in nearly four decades.

Aid agencies say if India wanted to reduce poverty by 2015, the year marked by the United Nations as the deadline to attain the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to development it needs to spend at least 3 percent of GDP on health.

“Poor people will continue to be denied their right to basic

healthcare, leading to very high rates of infant and child mortality… indicators of welfare,” Agrawal said, if New Delhi continued to ignore basic healthcare.

India’s maternal mortality rate (MMR) stands at 450 per 100,000 live births — against 540 in the 1998-99 period — and way behind the MDGs which call for a reduction to 109 by 2015.

To improve on the dismal record, aid agencies say India needs to increase public expenditure and ensure better healthcare facilities.

“Without that, India will continue to be off track in attaining the MDGs, especially in the health care area and will continue to lag behind its peers in these basic indicators of welfare,” Agrawal added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Indonesia’s Top Terror Suspect Killed in Raid

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) — Indonesian forces killed the country’s most-wanted terror suspect in an overnight raid, dealing a major blow to Noordin Top’s terror network. “The fingerprint has been verified by the police hospital,” said Indonesian police chief, Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri. “It’s a blessing from God in this holy month (of Ramadan).”

The overnight raid in central Java comes two months to the day after suicide bombs ripped through two hotels in Jakarta, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others. Noordin Top claimed responsibility for the July 17 attacks.

His terror network is blamed for nearly every major terror attack in the southeast Asian nation over the past decade, which have claimed the lives of more than 200 people.

“This is a huge advance in Indonesia’s fight against terror,” said Sidney Jones, a senior Asia adviser for the International Crisis Group, a global nonpartisan advisory organization.

But she warned that Indonesia’s terrorism fight does not end with Noordin’s death.

“We still don’t know the extent of the network and the funding source of Noordin’s network,” Jones said.

Noordin, 41, was reportedly an officer, recruiter, bomb-maker and trainer for a small splinter group of the militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah, which has ties to al Qaeda. The FBI in the United States added Noordin in February 2006 to its list of 10 suspected terrorists who have not been charged in the United States, but are wanted for questioning.

There were reports last month that the Malaysian-born terror leader was killed in a raid, but it turned out to be one of his associates. This time, Indonesian authorities say they are certain that they got their man.

“We matched the fingerprints on the victim, on Noordin, with the fingerprints we have from Malaysian police,” presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal told CNN. “So by that alone we are able to establish with certainty that the body that we have is indeed of Noordin Top.”

Video: Listen to the full interview with Djalal.

Police learned of Noordin’s whereabouts after apprehending and interrogating two terror suspects on Wednesday. Anti-terror forces launched their raid in the Kepoksari neighborhood of Surakarta in central Java around midnight. It ended after a five-hour standoff capped by a firefight.

Also killed in the raid were Urwa and Aryo Sudarso, two of Noordin’s key associates.

Urwa was convicted in the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy, but was later released on probation.

Aryo Sudarso was an apprentice of Azahari bin Husin, believed to be one of the masterminds behind the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005. Husin died in a shootout with security forces four years ago in East Java.

The owner of the home where the standoff took place was also killed, and three others were arrested. Authorities found weapons and eight bags of explosive materials inside the home following the operation, according to a police spokesman.

Authorities have hunted for Noordin for years, accusing him of involvement in July’s twin suicide bombings at the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing and attacks on the same Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003, as well as the Australian embassy in 2004.


A handful of suspects that authorities have linked to Noordin’s network have been on the run since the July bombings.

“It’s a great day for Indonesians and a great day for the international fight against terrorism worldwide,” Djalal said.

           — Hat tip: VH[Return to headlines]

Indonesia’s Most Wanted Man Killed in Police Raid

JAKARTA (Reuters) — Indonesia’s most wanted Islamist militant was killed in a police shoot-out in Central Java, police said on Thursday, lifting a major security threat ahead of a planned visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Malaysian-born Noordin Mohammad Top, who set up a violent splinter group of regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah, was widely considered the mastermind of the bomb attacks on two luxury hotels in Jakarta in July, as well as other attacks in Bali and in Jakarta which killed scores of Westerners and Indonesians.

National police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri announced Top’s death at a news conference, triumphantly holding up photos to show the match between Top’s fingerprints and those on police file, as reporters and police in the room cheered.

He said police had also seized documents, laptops and weapons in the raid.

Local media, quoting police sources, had trumpeted Top’s death last month during a police raid in Central Java, only to have forensic tests prove that wrong days later.

But Danuri said that there 14 points of match between the fingerprints, while only 11 were required for a confirmation.

He said the militant was carrying a loaded Beretta pistol when found. Metro TV later showed the bearded and bloated face of Top emerging out a partly unzipped orange body bag.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy and the world’s most populous Muslim country, has been under intense pressure to capture or kill Top ahead of Obama’s visit in November.

“It’s a huge blow for the extremist organizations in Indonesia and the region,” said Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic militants with the International Crisis Group.

“It’s a major success for the police but it doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that the problem of terrorism is over. It’s still unclear how many people were in Noordin’s group and there are a number of fugitives still at large who have at least the potential to replace him as the leader of an al Qaeda-like organization.”

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said three people had been captured in the overnight raid on a house near Solo, including the wife of the man renting the house and two others, who were detained earlier.

“We also confiscated explosives, weapons and a grenade from the house,” Soekarna said, adding later that eight sacks of explosives had been found.

Three other people killed in the raid included members of Top’s inner circle, police and analysts said.

Police have been searching for several people believed to be behind the near-simultaneous attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels on July 17 in which nine people, including two suicide bombers, were killed and 53 wounded.

The July bomb attacks in Jakarta ended a four-year lull in militant attacks in Indonesia. Subsequent police investigations showed that Top’s group of militants had planned to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at his home using a suicide truck bomb.

The president said Top’s death was a big boost for security.

“With the death of Noordin Mohammad Top and of Doctor Azahari, I believe we could reduce the seriousness of the terror threat to Indonesia,” Yudhoyono told reporters at a fast-breaking event during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Azahari Husin, a Malaysian bomb maker and close ally of Top, was killed during a police raid in East Java in 2005.

Top, a key recruiter, strategist and financier for Jemaah Islamiah, has been on the run for nine years, eluding capture on several occasions.

He and his associates often used safe houses in Central Java as hideouts, helped by a network of sympathizers in the area, and relied on couriers, rather than easily tracked mobile phones, to communicate with his cells.

Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa, an analyst at the Danareksa Institute, said Top’s death would help improve investment sentiment.

“This is plus-plus news for the economy,” said Sadewa, who said he expected Indonesian financial markets to see more gains.

Moody’s Investors Service also raised Indonesia’s sovereign rating on Wednesday by one notch to Ba2 on improving economic prospects.

Helped by improved economic and political stability under Yudhoyono, the rupiah is the best performing currency in Asia so far this year, while Jakarta stocks are up more than 80 percent this year and bond prices have also rallied.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Police: Terrorism Mastermind Noordin Top Dead

SOLO, Indonesia — Noordin Muhammed Top, a militant mastermind who eluded capture for seven years and terrorized Indonesia with a string of deadly al-Qaida-funded bombings, was killed during a raid Thursday, the Indonesian police chief said.

Police hunting for suspects in bombings of two luxury Jakarta hotels raided a hide-out in central Indonesia, sparking an hours-long gunfight that ended at dawn with an explosion. Four suspected militants died, including Noordin, national police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri said. Three suspects also were captured.

The operation left behind a charred house with no roof and blown-out walls. Noordin’s remains were found inside the house on the outskirts of the town of Solo in central Java, the main Indonesian island, Danuri said.

Fingerprints of Noordin’s obtained from authorities in his native Malaysia and stored on a police database matched those of the body, Danuri said. DNA tests have not yet been conducted. The bodies were flown to Jakarta for autopsies.

“It is Noordin M. Top,” Danuri told a nationally televised news conference to loud cheers from the audience of reporters, photographers and TV crews. Documents and laptop computers confiscated from the house prove that Noordin “is the leader of al-Qaida in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of explosives, M-16 assault rifles, grenades and bombs were removed from the house as ambulances shuttled away the dead and injured.

“We asked Noordin M. Top to surrender, but they kept firing,” Danuri said. “That is how he died. … He even had bullets in his pockets.”

Noordin fled to Indonesia in 2002 amid a crackdown on Muslim extremists in Malaysia in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. He is accused of heading a splinter group of the al-Qaida-funded regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and has been implicated in every major attack in Indonesia since 2002, including two separate bombings on the resort island of Bali that together killed 222 people, mostly foreigners.

He has also been blamed for a pair of suicide bombings at Jakarta’s J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in July, an earlier attack on the Marriott in 2003 and a bombing at the Australian Embassy in 2004.

“The most dangerous terrorist in Southeast Asia has been put out of commission,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group think tank.

“It would have been better if police had managed to arrest him alive, but it appears that this was not an option,” he said. “Unfortunately, Noordin’s death does not mean an end to terrorism in Indonesia, though it has been dealt a significant blow.”

In the Philippines, where authorities are fighting an Islamist insurgency in the south, Noordin’s death was welcomed by authorities as a sign that terrorists cannot hide from the law forever.

“It’s a major accomplishment, it’s a big blow to their leadership, to their capability to train new bombers,” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, who leads assaults against al-Qaida-linked militants. “There are gains being made in the anti-terrrorism campaign in the region.”

A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was aware of reports of Noordin’s death. “We are awaiting official confirmation from the Indonesian government,” he said. Dozens of Australians were killed in the 2002 bombing of Bali nightclubs.

An Indonesian counterterrorism official said the militants killed Thursday included alleged bomb-maker Bagus Budi Pranato. The captured militants included a pregnant woman who is being treated at a hospital, national police spokesman Nanan Sukarna said. She was in stable condition.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: NU Congratulates Police for Raid on Terrorists

The country’s largest Muslim group, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), gave two thumbs-up to the National Police Thursday for its crackdown on terrorists which killed top fugitive Noordin M. Top earlier in the day.

In a statement signed by deputy chairman Masdar Mas’udi, the NU warned the nation to remain vigilant, however, as extremism had not been completely rooted out of the country.

“The NU takes its hat off to the police’s success in bringing to a close the history of terrorism in Indonesia, which has been orchestrated by Noordin M. Top and company. But there are extremist groups who are ready to continue the horrible story,” Masdar said.

He suggested all Islam moderate groups in the country join forces to consolidate to prevent the spread of the extremism virus.

“The NU, as the main moderate power, must take advantage of the momentum of the police’s success to promote moderation over militancy. A half-hearted attitude will harm the NU and the nation,” Masdar said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]

Italy Vows to Stay the Course in Afghanistan

ROME — Italy said Thursday that its troops will remain in Afghanistan, despite suffering its deadliest attack to date in the country, a suicide car bombing that killed six soldiers and wounded four.

Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said that Thursday’s “cowardly” attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, would not deter Italy’s commitment.

In a brief address to parliament, La Russa said a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into two military vehicles. He said six of those aboard were killed and four wounded. The lives of the four injured did not appear to be in immediate danger, he said.

La Russa said Italy’s conviction remained firm in the face of “villainous and cowardly aggressors who have once again hit in the most vicious way.” He said Italy would keep assessing the mission with its international allies.

Italy has about 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan. Thursday’s victims, part of a contingent deployed in Kabul, bring to 20 the number of Italian troops who have died in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Ministry.

Pope Benedict XVI was praying for the victims and expressed his closeness to their relatives, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

The U.S. ambassador to Italy expressed his “deepest sympathy” on behalf of President Barack Obama. “Together, we are dedicated to helping the Afghan people as they struggle for freedom, and above all for safety from the barbaric terrorism that we witnessed once again today,” Ambassador David H. Thorne said in a statement.

Violence in Afghanistan has soared to record levels — and skepticism over the war has grown with it. More U.S. troops — 51 — died in Afghanistan in August than in any other month since the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001.

Still, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Thursday’s attack would not discourage his country.

“It is precisely in these moments of difficulty that we must remain close to the Afghans and not forget that our presence there serves both their and our security,” said Frattini.

The attack was the deadliest for the Italian contingent in Afghanistan, the Defense Ministry said. It also was the highest toll suffered by Italian forces since a bombing in Iraq killed 19 personnel in November 2003.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Kabul Car Bomb Kills Six

‘Cowardly assasins will not stop us, ‘ minister says

(ANSA) — Kabul, September 17 — Six Italian soldiers were killed by a suicide car bomber in central Kabul Thursday, the Italian defence ministry said.

It was the single biggest loss of Italian life in Italy’s five-year presence in Afghanistan. The bomb, which was claimed by the Taliban, hit two armoured cars on a road between the Western diplomatic compound and the city’s airport, the ministry said.

It killed all five occupants of the first Lince car, which took the brunt of the blast.

A sixth soldier died in the second Lince, where four soldiers were wounded.

The condition of the four is not said to be life-threatening.

The four dead were not immediately named.

They were said to be four corporals, one sergeant major and the lieutenant commanding the two cars, all from the crack Folgore paratroop regiment.

Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa told the Senate “sadly I have to confirm the deaths of six Italian soldiers stationed in Kabul”.

“These cowardly assassins will not stop us”.

Twenty Italian soldiers in the the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) have now been killed since Italy’s mission in Afghanistan began in 2004.

Before Thursday’s attack the most recent victim was a 25-year-old paratrooper who died in a roadside bomb in July.

No previous attack has killed more than two Italians.

The attack came two weeks after a NATO air strike that killed 69 Taliban fighters also killed 30 civilians.

The incident in the northern Kunduz province sparked fears it would re-ignite Afghan outrage against foreign troops two months after the new United States and NATO commander, General Stanely McChrystal, pledged to cut civilian deaths undercutting the war effort.

Italy has recently stressed it will stay the course in Afghanistan despite opposition calls to withdraw, reiterated after Thursday’s loss of life.

Italy bolstered its forces in Afghanistan by 500 men to help police last month’s elections and has set no time frame for pulling them out.

Until the recent elections, Italy had 2,795 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, most in the western area of Herat and in the capital Kabul.

The additional contingent of 500 brought the total to some 3,200.

This means that Italy now has the fourth-largest contingent after the United States (28,850 men), Britain (8,300) and Germany (3,380).

ISAF is made up of over 61,000 men from 42 countries.

ISAF 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]

Kabul Attack Worst Since Nassiriya

Heaviest loss of life by Italian forces in Afghanistan

(ANSA) — Rome, September 17 — Thursday’s suicide attack in Kabul killing six Italian soldiers was the single heaviest loss of life to be suffered by Italy since a car bomb in Iraq killed 19 Italians in 2003.

Twelve Carabinieri military police, five army soldiers and two civilians were killed on November 12, 2003 when two vehicles loaded with explosives drove into the Italian base in Nassiriya and exploded.

Eight Iraqis were also killed in the attack.

A total of 21 Italians have now died in Afghanistan, 16 in combat and six from other causes.

Before Thursday, the most serious attacks were a pair of roadside bombs in 2006, which killed two soldiers each. The last Italian to die in Afghanistan, on 14 July, was also the victim of a roadside bomb.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Sialkot: Police Charges Crowd at Funeral for Young Man Killed in Prison for Blasphemy

Police attack mourners during the burial ceremony. Witnesses say police used tear gas against the crowd, injuring some and arresting others. Police claims it had to move in to prevent “further disturbances”. Catholic leaders renew call for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — Police used tear gas and charged mourners who had gathered for the funeral of Fanish Masih, the 20-year-old Christian man who was killed in prison during the night of 14 and 15 September. Police justified their action by saying that they wanted to prevent further disturbances during the burial of the young man who died in jail from injuries caused by his jailers.

Nadeem Anthony, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told AsiaNews that Fanish was buried today in a Catholic cemetery in Sialkot. Hundreds of mourners took part in the ceremony.

Using tear gas, police attacked people present and arrested a number of Christians, the activist said. Many were injured and that the situation went from bad to worse. After news channels began reporting what was happening, several civil society groups staged protests in Lahore.

Tensions remained high throughout yesterday. The young man’s family protested; they placed his body in a central street of the town, and demanded that the police officers responsible for his death be arrested.

Local sources report that 13 stores and a number of cars were damaged during the protest, which ended only when senior police officers assured the demonstrators that justice would be done.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church of Pakistan has firmly condemned the “killing of Fanish in custody.”

In a tough statement, Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha and Peter Jacob, respectively chairman and executive secretary of the NCJP, said they “refuse to accept the version of local authorities that he committed suicide spontaneously after he was shifted to jail from police lock up.”

Sialkot’s District Police Officer Waqar Ahmad Chohan had earlier stated that the deceased, who had been accused of insulting the Qur’an, had committed suicide in jail.

In reality, local Muslims did not like the idea that the young man could have a relationship with Hina Asghar, a young Muslim woman, whose mother is said to have witnessed the act of blasphemy.

Catholic leaders have called for “a credible investigation” into what they consider a, evident case of “murder”. Those “responsible for the death of [an] innocent youth, directly or indirectly, should be brought to justice”, Mgrs Saldanha and Jacob said.

Yesterday, the Punjab Minority Affairs Minister Kamran Michael said that the police did not handle the case properly. “I have seen the body and there were torture marks on it,” he said.

A number of people have publicly slammed the brutal murder of the young Christian man, who is the latest victim of religious persecution under the banner of the blasphemy law.

“This is death in custody and the police authorities are responsible,” said HRCP Chairwoman Asma Jahangir.

In their statement, Catholic leaders have called on all sections of Pakistani society to realise how dangerous the blasphemy laws are. “For religious minorities these laws have proven to be a catastrophe which can surface anytime, anywhere,” Mgr Saldanha and Peter Jacob noted.

“We consider this a failure on the part of the provincial government of Punjab and the federal government,” they said. Instead of focusing on “prevention”, the two levels of government opted for an “administration and rehabilitation approach” to the problem.

For the NCJP, the government should simply repeal the blasphemy sections in the Pakistan Penal Code.

The Catholic community is holding two days of mourning for the young man killed in prison.

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

The Man Who Saved India From Famine: Norman Borlaug

He saved almost 245 million people from dying of hunger with his discovery-invention of a “semi-dwarf” wheat plant variety with a shorter, compact stalk. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian Indian award.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) — On the 12th of September, Norman Borlaug, died at 95in Dallas, USA, the scientist-pacifist, the father of the green revolution that, when it was brought to India, removed for ever the danger of starvation and famine. Around the time Borlaug arrived in India in the mid-1960s, the specter of famine, shortages, and starvation hung over the sub-continent, the latest one was in 1964. India was importing huge quantities of food grains from the US — much of it dole — to feed its growing millions.

Then came Borlaug, a strapping, self-made, sun burnt American from the farmland of Iowa, who did his studies in plant pathology and genetics from the university of Minnesota in the early forties. Then he spent more than a decade in Mexico applying his research and Mexico became a net wheat exporter in 1963.

The miracle he had worked out in Mexico was replicated in India with the result that its granaries began to overflow and more and more people in India, accustomed to eat rice, only rice and always rice, started eating more chapatti, nan, roti, pau and sliced bread. In Pakistan too wheat yields doubled.

By cranking up a wheat strain containing an unusual gene, Borlaug created the so-called “semi-dwarf” plant variety with a shorter, compact stalk that supported an enormous head of grain without falling over from the weight. This curious principle of shrinking the plant to increase the output from the acreage, resulted in Indian farmers eventually quadrupling their wheat and later, rice production. This was the secret of the Green Revolution.

Borlaug disdained all awards and honors even making light of the Nobel Peace Prize when his Swedish forbears, in 1970, recognized his enormous contribution to mankind: the whole world benefited from his pioneering work in Mexico.

“More than any other person of this age,” the Nobel citation read, “he helped provide bread for a hungry world. We also made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace”. According to some estimates Borlaug’s invention saved around 245 million people from dying of hunger.

He was also recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian Indian award.

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

UK Inquest: He Died Delivering Goat

by Diana West

Royal Marine Corp. Liam Elms’ “proudest achievement was receiving his beloved green beret,” said his family, but he died delivering goat — a hearts- and-minds mission ordered in execution of a politically correct, See-No-Islam policy to make them like us. The fatal incident took place on New Year’s Eve of this year in Helmand Province. That’s where US Marines recently deployed in a “surge” to, yup, win hearts and minds some more by, in the words of Marine commander Gen. Larry Nicholson, setting out to “eat lots of goat, drink lots of tea, get to know these people.”

Yesterday, it was an American Sergeant killed while manning a food convoy; today it’s a British Marine killed while delivering goat. Last week, it was four US Marines in Gujngal killed, apparently, when commanders refused artillery support near a “village.” I just want to know when heads are going to start to roll for this ultimate crime of wasting our best young men to serve some crazed multicultural vision of Utopia. These are not voodoo priests slaking the gods with human sacrifices; these are our military leaders killing off our best young people for political correctness. They need to be fired.

From the Manchester Evening News…

           — Hat tip: Diana West[Return to headlines]

Far East

Arab Guns Dispatched to Muslims in China

Shipment intercepted as provincial rebellion continues

There are growing indications that Arabs in the Middle East may be offering help to the Muslim Chinese Uighurs, who are in a virtual state of rebellion against the Beijing government, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

For the first time, there are reports that the United Arab Emirates recently attempted to ship arms, ammunition and explosives to the Uighurs in western China, but the shipment was detained in India.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Chinese Ban Transport of Explosives in Urumqi

BEIJING — Chinese police on Tuesday banned explosives from being transported in the western region of Xinjiang, the scene of deadly ethnic rioting this summer, while more suspects were being investigated for a spate of mysterious syringe attacks.

The Xinjiang Public Security Ministry said transport of weapons, ammunition, explosives and radioactive goods into or within Xinjiang would be suspended from Sept. 25 to Oct. 8.

The ministry did not give a reason, but the dates cover the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China on Oct. 1 and the holiday period afterward. The ruling party has launched a nationwide security clampdown aimed at making the anniversary pass smoothly.

The notice comes amid ongoing police investigations into reported needle attacks in the regional capital of Urumqi that began Aug. 20 and apparently ended earlier this month. News of the attacks triggered massive street protests by frightened residents demanding better security.

Police had detained 75 suspects allegedly involved in the hypodermic stabbings as of Tuesday, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday, citing a senior police officer.

Huang Yabo, a senior officer with the regional public security department, said police also cracked seven criminal rings and 36 needle attack cases in Urumqi and other cities in Xinjiang including Hotan, Turpan, Kashgar, Changji, Aksu and Altay, according to Xinhua.

Urumqi has been on edge since riots in July left nearly 200 dead in violence between Han Chinese and Uighurs, a minority Muslim ethnic group that is native to Xinjiang. The violence started when a group of Uighurs gathered in Urumqi to protest the deaths of two Uighurs at a factory in southern China.

Authorities blame the July violence and the needle attacks on people trying to split Xinjiang from China, but have not publicized evidence to support that allegation.

On Saturday, the Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi sentenced three people — all ethnic Uighurs — to up to 15 years in prison in the first trials over the attacks. One person was sentenced for stabbing a woman and the other two for using a syringe to rob a taxi driver.

More than 500 people complained of being randomly stabbed by hypodermic needles, but only 171 people showed evidence of being pricked, and tests of samples from victims found no evidence of transmitted infections, Xinhua said.

Uighurs are culturally distinct from China’s majority Han group who dominate life in Urumqi and positions of power, despite the fact that Uighurs make up the majority of the population in the wider region of Xinjiang.

Authorities are also looking for dozens of people allegedly involved in the July riot. The China Daily newspaper said Tuesday 825 suspects have been detained and 196 have formally been arrested for their alleged role in the riots.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Ties Between Beijing and Dili Growing Closer

Dili has rich oil and mining opportunities to offer. China can help the small nation’s urban and economic development and provide food aid as part of a strategy to strengthen ties between the two nations.

Dili (AsiaNews/Agencies) — In its search for oil and other energy sources to sustain its economic growth Beijing is showing greater interest in Timor Leste (East Timor). Ten years after the small country gained its freedom from Indonesia in 1999, Beijing has given Dili more than US$ 53 million in aid. A small drop in the bucket compared to Australia’s US$ 760 million, but aid that goes beyond humanitarian assistance to include funds for urban development and food aid like a donation of 8,000 tonnes of rice during a recent food crisis. Over the years, the Chinese have always shown generosity to the tiny south-east Asian country.

China and Timor Leste’s links date back centuries. Hakka Chinese traders sailed there more than 500 years ago, looking for precious woods. Many stayed on, forming an overseas Chinese community as in other parts of Asia. Since independence, relations between Dili and Beijing have grown with renewed vigour.

Dili’s gleaming new Presidential Palace and Foreign Ministry, gifts from Beijing, stand in stark contrast to nearby burnt-out buildings.

Today, Dili’s main street is dotted with buildings displaying Chinese script; families can be seen praying at a Confucian temple in downtown Dili, whilst Chinese traders run appliance stores on busy streets.

Now China is calling in East Timor’s IOUs but its ambassador has dismissed speculation that its interest is being driven by a desire to gain economic and trade advantages.

“All this assistance from China to East Timor is full of sincerity and without any selfishness,” Ambassador Fu Yuancong said. Beijing has offered the government of President José Ramos-Horta pledges of full “co-operation”.

A number of issues are on the table, first and foremost, Timor Leste’s oil fields. The Bayu Undan gas field is expected to reap US$12-15 billion by 2023. Another oil field, Kitan, has an estimated 40 million barrels of recoverable light oil, and the Greater Sunrise field contains around 300 million barrels of condensate and 9.5 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Beijing is also eyeing lucrative opportunities in the minerals sector, including copper, gold, silver and marble

However, a major hurdle for the Chinese is the high level of corruption in the East Timorese government, a situation that has frustrated the international community.

Since independence, US$ 8.8 billion in aid have disappeared. That works out at US$ 8,000 for each of Timor Leste’s 1.1 million people. In fact, foreign aid has not much contributed to the country’s economic development.

High-level East Timorese political leaders and government officials have acknowledged the problem, saying that millions of dollars have been wasted on overlapping or incomplete projects or gone missing because of donor rivalry, mismanagement and corruption.

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

Australia — Pacific

Press Group Urges Rudd to Resist Indonesia “Blackmail”

SYDNEY (AFP) — A leading press freedom group has urged Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to resist Indonesian “blackmail” over a war crimes probe into the 1975 deaths of five Australia-based journalists.

Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) wrote an open letter to Rudd late Wednesday warning that the world was watching Australia’s investigation of the “Balibo Five”, who were killed during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor.

Australian police last week announced they had launched a war crimes probe into the deaths, nearly two years after a Sydney coroner ruled they had been deliberately murdered by Indonesian forces to keep the invasion secret.

The surprise move prompted Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to warn that such an “inaccurate mindset” could damage relations with Jakarta, which considered the case to be closed.

Rudd has dismissed the comments as “bumps in the road” in Australia’s sometimes fraught relationship with neighbouring Indonesia.

Jean-Francois Julliard, RSF secretary-general, said Yudhoyono’s “hostility” was contrary to international justice and called on Rudd to take a strong stance.

“We urge you to find the political, diplomatic and judicial means to bring the perpetrators and instigators of this multiple murder to justice,” Julliard wrote.

“We urge you, prime minister, not to yield to Indonesian diplomatic blackmail, which for too long has resulted in your country remaining silent on this matter.”

Coroner Dorelle Pinch in 2007 said Indonesia’s military had murdered the five — Britons Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie, Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham.

RSF said Pinch’s inquiry “clearly showed Indonesian army officers committed war crimes”, including Yunus Yosfiah, who rose to become the country’s information minister in the late 1990s.

The journalists were killed in the East Timor border town of Balibo as they covered the Indonesian invasion that led to a brutal 24-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

Jakarta has always maintained the reporters died in crossfire as Indonesian troops fought East Timorese Fretilin rebels, a version of events accepted by successive Australian governments.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

China, Russia Navies on Joint Anti-Piracy Patrols

BEIJING — The Russian and Chinese navies have joined forces in anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast and will stage joint exercises this week, Chinese state media said Thursday.

China’s three-ship flotilla began running joint patrols with Russian ships on Sept. 10, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a dispatch from the Gulf of Aden.

It said the exercises, titled “Blue Peace Shield 2009,” will take place Friday and include tests of communications links, simulated missions to identify ships from helicopters, coordinated resupply efforts, and live firing of deck guns.

Cooperation with the Russian navy marks a further step toward greater openness by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which sent ships to the gulf last December in its first overseas combat deployment.

The exercise would help the Chinese navy “further develop its ability to coordinate a range of activities with foreign militaries far out at sea,” deputy commander of the Chinese flotilla, Wen Xinchao, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Vessels from the U.S., Denmark, Italy, Russia, China and other countries have been patrolling waters off lawless Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden to ward off pirates hijacking merchant ships and holding crew members for ransom.

The International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur says there have been 156 attacks so far this year.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Witness: 11 Dead in Somalia Suicide Car Bombings

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Islamist insurgents drove two stolen U.N. cars loaded with explosives onto the main base of African Union peacekeepers Thursday and triggered massive blasts that a witness said killed at least 11 people. Islamist insurgents said the attack was in revenge for a U.S. commando raid that killed an al-Qaida operative.

An hour later, an Associated Press reporter saw missiles fired from the AU base strike rebel-controlled areas of the capital, hitting several civilians. A young woman and a girl lay dead on the street, blood streaming from their wounds. Ali Muse of the Mogadishu ambulance service said the missiles killed seven people and wounded 16.

The bloodshed underscores the level of lawlessness and violence to which Somalia has fallen. After two decades of chaos, many fear this impoverished African nation is becoming a haven for al-Qaida, offering a place for terrorists to train and gather strength much like Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Al-Shabab, a powerful local Islamist insurgent group, claimed responsibility for the car bombings. The group had vowed to attack Western interests after a raid Monday by helicopter-borne U.S. special forces that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, an al-Qaida operative, in southern Somalia.

The U.S. and the U.N. both support Somalia’s government and the African peacekeeping force. Al-Qaida and al-Shabab allegedly have links, though the local group denies this.

“I have counted the bodies of 11 people,” one witness said after the car bombings, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal. The AU, however, said nine people were killed: four suicide bombers and five officials from the government and AMISOM, the AU peacekeeping force, including the Burundian deputy commander of the force.

The African Medical and Research Foundation, which operates a flying doctors service, said the U.N. asked for help evacuating 15 critically injured people from the attacked base. Bob Kioko, a foundation spokesman, said it was sending four planes.

An airport security officer said the explosions were caused by two white Land Cruisers with United Nations logos.

“The soldiers at the gate assumed they were U.N. cars and opened the gate for them,” the security official said, asking that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak to the media. “When the cars entered one of them sped toward a petrol depot and exploded. The other one exploded in a nearby area.”

Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke confirmed the bombers used stolen U.N. cars.

France condemned the attack and said it is considering using military means to reach and help the wounded, according to a statement from the French Foreign Ministry. Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero would not elaborate.

Suicide attacks — virtually unheard of in Somalia before 2007 — have increased in Somalia in recent years. Still, far more casualties are caused from gunbattles and mortar fire. There have been about a dozen suicide attacks since Islamic insurgents stepped up their attacks against the Western-backed backed government in 2007.

In a statement, the AU said it would remain “resolute in its commitment to support the Somali people.” The peacekeeping force has long lamented that it is undermanned. Out of a planned 8,000 troops, there are about 5,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi.

Earlier Thursday, al-Shabab issued conditions for the release of a French security agent being held hostage, demanding that France stop supporting Somalia’s government and withdraw its warships from anti-piracy patrols.

The French government immediately rejected the conditions.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Info radio that Paris’ support for the embattled Somali government remains firm, noting he has twice met with Somali President Sheik Sharif and his ministers, who “represent Somalia.”

Al-Shabab also demanded that France exert pressure to force African Union peacekeepers out of the country and “release all the prisoners of the holy warriors held in many areas, which we will reveal later.”

The Frenchman, whose identity has not been released, was seized along with another agent July 14 in the capital, Mogadishu. The pair were in the country to train Somali government forces, which are fighting Islamist militiamen.

The kidnappers separated the two men. The other agent escaped in August while his captors slept.

Al-Shabab vowed on Tuesday to retaliate against Western interests for Monday’s U.S.-led commando raid in rural southern Somalia that left six dead, including Nabhan, one of the most-wanted al-Qaida operatives in the region.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Honduran Candidates Look to Distance Themselves From San José Agreement

Four of the five leading presidential candidates in Honduras are unwilling to accept the San José Agreement to restore their deposed president to power.

In a meeting with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias on Wednesday, they refused to support Manuel Zelaya’s return to carry out his term, which ends in January.

Zelaya, who was ejected from his country by the military on June 28 after allegations that he violated the constitution, has been passing time in Nicaragua, waiting for an opportune time to return home.

But support for him is absent on the campaign trail, as the candidates — even that of his own Liberal Party — look to distance themselves from him and the San José agreement.

“We ask that our election process be independent from what happened on June 28,” said Elvin Ernesto Santos, who represents the Liberal Party. “We’d like to maintain our separation from the agreement, but we’d like to indicate our respect for it.”

Arias, who mediated between the feuding parties during an intensive four-day process in July, invited the five politicians to San José with a warning.

If Zelaya were not reinstated as president, the elections on Nov. 29 would not be recognized by the international community and Honduras would remain cut off from the rest of the world, he said.

Since the coup at the end of June, the Central American Integration System suspended Honduras’ participation, the United States cut off $30 million in aid and the European Union is withholding another $95 million.

With a full understanding of how isolation could tear at their country, the candidates came to Costa Rica on Wednesday in the hopes of negotiating with international players.

“We are in an economically precarious position, which will directly affect our people,” said Santos. “We want a harmonious exit to this situation and that is why we are here.”

Though they could not come to an agreement over Arias’ draft accord, they did sign a statement indicating their support for some of the ideas behind the document.

César Ham, candidate with the Democratic Unification Party, was the lone voice in support of the agreement, which was drafted in July as a proposed solution to the conflict.

Identifying himself as a representative of a “leftist party,” he said “We think we need to reinstate the democratically elected President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The rest of the candidates do not agree … They say the San José Agreement is insufficient … Yet, if there is no resolution on the San José Agreement, the election will not be recognized.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim[Return to headlines]


France: Residency Card for Investors

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 15 — Foreign investors who provide investments of at least 10 million euros or create and maintain at least 50 jobs in France will be given a privileged status thanks to a decree published today in the Official Gazette, which allows for a stay permit to be granted for “exceptional economic contributions”. The text of the decree, which is part of the entrance and stay code and asylum rights for foreigners, states that “foreigners who personally or through a business owned or by them in which they have at least a 30% stake, can be considered providers of an exceptional economic contribution, if they satisfy one of the following two conditions: they must create or protect, or at least commit to do so, at least 50 jobs in France, or invest or commit to investing at least 10 million euros in France”. The residency card will be valid for 10 years, specified the Immigration Ministry, and 1,000 individuals could benefit from this new decree. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Rejects UN Migrant Criticism

Minister and ambassador defend Italy’s human rights record

(ANSA) — Rome, September 15 — Italian officials on Tuesday rejected claims that Rome wasn’t doing enough for migrants following criticism of hardline immigration policies by the United Nations human rights chief.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said UN Commissioner Navi Pillay’s remarks did not apply to Italy, while Italy’s ambassador at the UN Human Rights Council defended the country’s record of helping migrants and refugees. In an address to mark the opening of this year’s council session, Pillay criticized the practice of forcibly escorting migrants at sea back to their point of departure and referred to a recent incident in which over 70 people died after their boat ran out of fuel.

Although she did not specifically refer to Rome’s controversial new ‘push-back’ policy, under which migrants and asylum seekers approaching Italian shores are forcibly escorted back to Libya, Pillay’s remarks were interpreted as a rebuke to Italy and drew angry government reactions. But Frattini implied the commissioner’s remarks had been misconstrued, saying “Italy respects all of the international regulations so such criticism shouldn’t be aimed at us”.

Meanwhile, Italian Ambassador Laura Mirachian told the council that Italy had rescued more than 52,000 boat migrants since the start of 2007.

She said Italy fully respected the human rights of all foreigners, regardless of their legal status on arriving in the country. But she said Rome was up dealing with “an unprecedented challenge”, stressing that Italy and other frontline Mediterranean states were “facing a massive influx of immigrants, which, occasionally, also weighs on its internal security.

“Nevertheless, thousands of people have been and are saved by Italian authorities: 52,580 migrants were rescued from January 2007 to August 2009,” she added.

In her speech, delivered a day late on Tuesday but published on Monday, Pillay referred to “the hardship of those who are left stranded near the shores of Libya, Malta, and Italy”.

“In many cases, authorities reject these migrants and leave them to face hardship and peril, if not death, as though they were turning away ships laden with dangerous waste,” she said. Italy, along with Spain and Malta, has become a gateway for migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe from North Africa. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees more than 67,000 people attempted the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Italy in 2008.

Italy has long called on the European Union to provide more assistance in stemming the tide.

The EU recently unveiled plans to distribute refugees more evenly around member states but an MEP with Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party said more needed to be done. Commenting on an immigration debate at the European Parliament on Tuesday, Alfredo Pallone said: “We reiterate the need for the EU to create policies and actions that support Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta”. He also defended the centre-right government’s immigration policies from criticism that emerged during the debate following Pillay’s remarks. “The Italian government has so far acted and continues to act in respect for international rules, working daily to save human lives and defend fundamental rights,” he said. Before this year Italy rescued and brought ashore thousands of people who got into difficulty while making the sea crossing from the North African coast.

But since May, when the centre-right government launched its ‘push-back policy’, more than 1,000 people intercepted in international waters have been sent back to Libya.

Under the agreement with Libya, which is the main departure point in North Africa for migrants heading for Italy, asylum seekers can present their claims from there. However, the policy has been heavily criticized by the centre-left opposition in Italy, the Catholic Church, humanitarian organizations and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

The UNHCR has complained that Libya does not recognize the agency and does not allow its representatives to visit migrant holding centres in the country.

Critics have also pointed out that Libya does not have a law on asylum, is not a party to 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a system to process pleas from refugees fleeing conflicts in Africa.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Metropolis Conference in Copenhagen

Globalization has made international migration easier in many respects. The cost of travel has dropped; information about opportunities in destination countries has increased; the incentives to migrate are high, partly as a result of such increased information flows. These incentives are shared by those with the skills that are sought by destination countries as well as by those who do not possess them, or who migrate for other reasons, for instance as refugees, asylum-seekers, or family dependents. As a result of such different push-pull dynamics between sending and receiving countries, we see both “legal” and “illegal” migration flows throughout the world. The Living in Harmony program aims to address issues arising from cultural diversity through community partnership and outreach. One of the initiatives funded under this program brings together long-time local residents and owners of ethnic shops and restaurants, most of whom are newcomers. As a result, newcomers gain an appreciation for the history and tradition of the neighbourhood in which they live, and the locals become more comfortable with the people, ethnic restaurants and food that have become part of the new landscape of their community.

Broad consultations : Maintaining (or building) a network of known and easy to reach partners enables governments to respond to critical issues in a timely and effective manner. Formal and informal structures of communication are essential in finding solutions to issues arising from integration. Results of these consultations often form part of the basis of new policies and programs such as the integration exam and the newly introduced Imam training program in the Netherlands.

           — Hat tip: LN[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

EU Parliament Condemns Lithuanian Anti-Gay Law

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — A Lithuanian law banning discussion of homosexuality from schools and that could restrict publication of gay and lesbian magazines and proscribe pride marches has been condemned by the European Parliament.

A firm but not overwhelming cross-party majority adopted a resolution criticising the Baltic country’s new “Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information” that suppresses the publication any information related to homosexuality and bisexuality.

The bill, which goes into force in March next year, covers all manner of outlets such as websites, exhibitions, demonstrations and other public events if they can be accessed by children.

A European Commission legal analysis of the bill says that its wording is sufficiently broad that it effectively outlaws gay literature as well as barring mention of homosexuality in schools.

In recent months, the Lithuanian parliament has been considering amendments to the bill that further would further undermine the fundamental rights of gays and lesbians.

In July, in a first reading of the bill, Lithuanian MPs from all parties managed to approve an amendment that would criminalise the “promotion of homosexual relations in public places.”

Evelyn Paradis, of the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), told EUobserver that her organisation welcomes the resolution.

“We’re happy that it was proposed by a cross-party group of MEPs, even if many conservatives opposed the motion, and that it calls for concrete measures to be taken against the law by the European institutions,” she said.

A total of 349 deputies voted in favour of the resolution, with 218 against and 46 abstaining.

UK Green MEP Jean Lambert, a co-signatory to the resolution said: “The European Parliament has sent a clear message to the Lithuanian government that homophobia has no place in the European Union — not in its society and certainly not enshrined in any of its legislation.

“This law contravenes the EU Treaties, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, and should be urgently repealed on these grounds.”

On Tuesday in the parliament, EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot told MEPs that the European Commission had issued its concerns about the bill to the Lithuanian government.

In July, Lithuania’s newly elected president and former European commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite said that human rights were an issue close to her heart, but that she had no choice but to follow Lithuania’s constitution and sign the law.

“But I will make use of the right I have to propose changes to the law to make it compatible with basic human rights,” she added.

A working group was set up by Ms Grybauskaite to review the law.

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

Why the Elites Call You a Racist

Many Americans right now are wondering how on earth former President Jimmy Carter could be so utterly deluded as to accuse millions of regular Americans, from soccer moms and Wal-Mart greeters to military vets and grandmothers, who oppose the attempted socialist transformation of their country, of being racists. How could he be so out of touch with reality?

Actually, there’s a method to the madness of America’s ruling elite when they accuse everyday Americans of being racists, bigots and Nazis. (Remember Nancy Pelosi’s recent condemnation of townhall attendees as swastika-carrying “angry mobs” out to “destroy Obama”)? Although the White House strategically feigns disagreement with Carter’s racism comment, during last year’s presidential election season, Obama was fond of accusing the McCain campaign of appealing to voters’ racism.


It just so happens that in the realm of personal and political manipulation, few things can be more effectively exploited than guilt. As I explained last October in “Yes, Barack Obama really is a Manchurian candidate”: “Manipulative and unprincipled humans soon discover how to use our guilt to get their way. They can even make us feel guilty when we haven’t done anything wrong — for instance, by way of false accusation, a tactic the left has perfected.”

Since past mistreatment of blacks is our one major national guilt, and therefore an entry point into our culture, it has become the template for many movements attempting to foment cultural and political transformation of society: The “gay rights” movement, for example, has been largely successful in mainstreaming behavior that was once widely considered morally a sin, psychiatrically aberrant and legally a crime by superimposing its agenda directly on top of that of the 1960s civil rights movement. Instead of “racists,” those who don’t like you are “homophobes” (a made-up word). Instead of people with deviant, immoral behavior, they recast themselves as a persecuted minority and pushed, successfully, to get “sexual orientation” added to the list of characteristics good Americans couldn’t “discriminate” against, like race and gender.

Since then, Islamic pressure groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, have modeled their PR approach after the civil rights movement and its homosexual rights clone, complaining endlessly about “Islamophobia” and wildly exaggerated “anti-Muslim hate crimes.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


A Glance at School Violence in Recent Years

A student armed with an ax and Molotov cocktails attacked his high school in southern Germany on Thursday. Here is a glance at some of the worst school violence worldwide in recent years:


April 30: Farda Gadyrov, 29, enters the prestigious Azerbaijan State Oil Academy in the capital, Baku, armed with an automatic pistol and clips. He kills 12 people before killing himself as police close in.

March 11: Tim Kretschmer, 17, kills nine students and three teachers at his former high school in Winnenden, Germany, and three others after he flees the building. As police closed in, he turned the gun on himself.

Sept. 23, 2008: Matti Saari, 22, kills nine fellow students and a teacher before shooting himself at a vocational school in Kauhajoki, Finland.

Feb. 14, 2008: Former student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opens fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, fatally shooting five students and wounding 18 others before committing suicide.

Nov. 7, 2007: Pekka-Eric Auvinen, 18, shoots and kills eight people and himself at a high school in Tuusula, Finland.

April 16, 2007: Cho Seung-Hui, 23, fatally shoots 32 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, then kills himself in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Nov. 20, 2006: Sebastian Bosse, 18, goes on a rampage at his former high school in Emsdetten, Germany, near the Dutch border, shooting and injuring four students and the school janitor. Police commandos later find Bosse dead.

April 26, 2002: Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, previously expelled from a school in Erfurt, Germany, kills 13 teachers, two former classmates and a policeman before committing suicide.

April 20, 1999: Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold open fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before committing suicide in the school’s library.

March 13, 1996: Thomas Hamilton, 43, kills 16 kindergarten children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, and then kills himself.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Eighteen Reasons Why You Should Not Vaccinate Your Children Against the Flu This Season

This year it is more important that you protect your children and loved ones from the flu vaccines than influenza itself. Here are the reasons:

1. This flu is simply another flu. It is not unusually deadly. In fact, the H1N1 swine flu in circulation is less deadly than many other influenza outbreaks. The first 1000 confirmed swine flu cases in Japan and China produced zero deaths. The Centers for Disease Control alleges 36,000 Americans succumb to the flu each year, but so far, since March through August of 2009 (6 months), the swine flu has been attributed to ~500—600 deaths in the US. The swine flu of 2009 has already swept through the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season without alarm. Only exaggerated reports have been issued by the World Health Organization regarding hospitalizations required during the flu season in South American countries. Getting exposed to influenza and developing natural antibodies confers resistance for future flu outbreaks. Artificially boosting antibodies by exposure to flu viruses in vaccines is more problematic than natural exposure. Americans have been exposed to the H1N1 swine flu throughout the summer of 2009 with far fewer deaths and hospitalizations than commonly attributed to the seasonal flu.

2. Health authorities tacitly admit prior flu vaccination programs were of worthless value. This is the first time both season and pandemic flu vaccines will be administered. Both seasonal flu and swine flu vaccines will require two inoculations. This is because single inoculations have failed to produce sufficient antibodies. Very young children and older frail adults, the high-risk groups in the population, may not produce sufficient antibodies in response to the flu vaccine. This is an admission that prior flu vaccines were virtually useless. The same people who brought you the ineffective vaccines in past years are bringing you this year’s new vaccines. Can you trust them this time?…

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Islamic Search Engine Imhalal Hailed a Success

The world’s first “Islamic orientated” internet search engine, which flags content that might be considered “haraam” — or forbidden — by Muslims, has been hailed a success by its creators after it attracted more than 500,000 users in its first two weeks on the web. has been designed to “help Muslims explore the internet in a safe and clean environment”, according to Reza Sardeha, the 20-year-old business management student who runs it.

Mr Sardeha, who is based in Amsterdam, told The Times: “We already have received quite a number of positive feedback from Non-Muslims saying they have set as their homepage so that their children can explore the internet without coming across ‘filth’ as well.”

The site works by assigning the search terms that are plugged in by users a “haraam level”, which indicates the likelihood of the results they bring up touching upon things forbidden under Islam.

If a term is deemed completely safe, the results pop up immediately.

By contrast, tapping in the search term “pig”, an animal that Muslims are not allowed to eat, prompts a warning that the word has been assigned a “haraam level” of “1”, and the user is alerted that the results may be offensive. The user is then given the choice of viewing the results regardless, or of abandoning his search.

The Satanic Verses, the Salman Rushdie novel that led to a fatwa being put on the author’s head, gets a haraam rating of two — suggesting there is a higher chance of running into dangerous content.

“Pornography” triggers a haraam rating of three — the highest score, which indicates the highest likelihood of finding forbidden material.

Mr Sardeha said: “We hope that in about one year time our search engine will be the most used search engine in the Middle East to start with and in the top three most used search engine in the world.”

He added: “While our main product will always remain search we will roll out additional services in the near future like Islamic Widgets.”

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Jewish Activists Concerned Ahead of UNESCO Vote

PARIS — He’s an Egyptian culture minister who once threatened to burn Israeli books — and he might soon become the face of the United Nations’ arm for learning and culture.

Paris-based UNESCO began voting for its new secretary-general on Thursday in secret balloting that could take days and go up to five rounds. There was no clear-cut winner, and a new vote was due on Friday.

Farouk Hosni, a painter and Egyptian culture minister for over two decades, is considered a leading candidate, despite the concerns of activists who question whether he would deal fairly with Israel and whether a man who oversees censorship at home should be entrusted with high international office.

There are eight others running for the four-year term, including European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Many UNESCO members, including the United States and France, have not officially stated their favorites.

Hosni is often cited as the front-runner because he has support from the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity and the Organization of the Islamic Conference — though countries belonging to those groups aren’t bound by those endorsements. The winner needs 30 votes from the agency’s 58-seat executive board.

Whoever wins, UNESCO’s newly restored reputation is at stake. The organization was troubled by cronyism and mismanagement until the current leader, Koichiro Matsuura of Japan, was elected in 1999. His work helped lure back the United States, which had quit UNESCO in 1984, calling it corrupt and anti-Western.

UNESCO, or the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has never had a leader from the Arab world since its founding in 1945. Egypt has been pushing Hosni’s candidacy hard, and when Israel dropped its objection, it seemingly cleared a path for him.

Yet Hosni has for months been fighting accusations of anti-Semitism. He has apologized for his famous book-burning threat last year, saying it was off-the-cuff and should be viewed in the context of his anger at the suffering of the Palestinian people. In 2008, speaking before Egyptian lawmakers and trying to defend himself against charges of being soft on Israel, he vowed to burn any Israeli books in Egypt’s famed Library of Alexandria.

Asked Wednesday by France 24 television if he was anti-Semitic, Hosni responded, “Of course not.” As one example of his open-mindedness, he said he had restored the country’s synagogues.

The theme of his candidacy is reconciliation, Hosni said, “between religions, between mankind and nature, and of course reconciliation between all those who are divided.”

It can be hard to pin Hosni down — to survive so long in an authoritarian nation like Egypt, he has had to please both liberals and conservatives. Last year, he criticized the prevalence of the Muslim headscarf as a sign of “backwardness.” But for the benefit of Egyptian Islamic hard-liners, he has implemented censorship of some books and movies.

Hosni’s critics say that when he decided to seek the UNESCO post he changed his tune for the international community. In April, for example, Hosni dropped his steadfast opposition to cultural normalization with Israel and backed the invitation of Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim to Cairo.

“It’s not on the eve of an election that one can change one’s whole personality and one’s whole approach to life,” said Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris, who says Hosni’s election would “sink” UNESCO.

Many Jewish activists, including Samuels, say the book-burning comment was far from Hosni’s only transgression. Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and filmmaker Claude Lanzmann wrote a protest letter listing comments they took issue with, including Hosni’s 2001 description of Israeli culture as “inhumane” and “racist.”

Yet Hosni has convinced at least one influential Jewish activist of his sincerity — Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld.

“Mr. Hosni has shown his repentance for comments that were unacceptable,” Klarsfeld said, adding that Hosni, at his request, wrote a statement decrying Holocaust denial. Klarsfeld said he would welcome a leader from Egypt, “a country that played an important role in civilization, and today.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]