Monday, February 15, 2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/15/2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/15/2010Severe winter storms and record low temperatures continue to afflict Europe. Rome received its first significant snowfall in many years, and other parts of Italy experienced blizzard conditions. Spain has had to endure temperatures far below freezing, and there have been snowstorms across the Iberian peninsula and in the Canary Islands.

In other news, in retaliation for the blacklisting of some of its citizens by the Swiss government, Libya has blocked entry visas for most European countries. Col. Ghadafi — perhaps influenced by the release of the Lockerbie bomber? — has made an exception for Britain.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CSP, ESW, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, ICLA, Insubria, JD, KGS, REP, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
A Media Plot Against Madrid?
Concern Grows in US Cities as Government Plans to End Housing Aid
Congress Refuses to Bring Home Millions of Jobs
Europe’s Debt Crisis
Obama’s Radicalism is Killing the Dow
What Bankrupted Greece? It Was the Olympics!
100 Lawmakers Reject Big Brother Health-Care Takeover
Chuck Norris: Ready for Feds in Your Kitchen?
Frank Gaffney: Why Not the Best?
McCain to FDA: Regulate Joe the Plumber
Obama Making Plans to Use Executive Power
Put Washington D.C. On a Diet
Retired Admiral-Senator Sees ‘Death of U.S.’
Canada Looks to China to Exploit Oil Sands Rejected by US
Europe and the EU
At Least 20 Killed in Belgian Train Crash: Report
Czech Republic: Schools for Special Needs Say Roma Kids’ Placement is Justified
France: GDF Suez to Build Photovoltaic Plant by 2011
Hitler’s Mufti: Video: Part2
Hitler’s Mufti: Video: Part1
Italian Finds Retardation Link
Italy: Snow in Rome
Italy: 2009 GDP -4.9% on 2008
Italy: Sicily Bridge ‘To Open to the Public in 2017’
Italy: Bible of Jailed Mafia Boss Appears on Internet
Italy: Pope Meets Irish Bishops on Abuse Scandal
Italy: Drop in 2009 Exports Worst Since 1970
Italy-France: Frattini to Kouchner, Focus on Iran and Balkans
Italy: Pilgrims Flood Padua for Brief Display of Saint’s Remains
Muslims Took Over British Underworld the Day Twin Towers Fell … Other Gangs Are Terrified We’re Al-Qaeda
Weather: Spain Hit by Cold Snap and Snow Again
Berisha Defends Berlusconi’s Quip on Pretty Girls
EU-Croatia: European Parliament, Talks to End in 2010
Italy Strengthens Relations With Eastern Neighbours
Serbia: NATO: Tadic Meets Head of European Forces, Stavridis
Serbia: Greek Business Delegation Visits Raska Region
North Africa
Algeria: Foundation for Remembrance of Algerian War Soon
Libya: Sentence Reduced for Swiss Businessman
Libya Suspends Issuing Visas to Europeans
Libya: Europeans Banned From Entry
Morocco: French Loans for Trams and Phosphates
Nuclear: Algeria, First French Atomic Bomb 50 Years Ago
Swiss-Libya Spat Sees Schengen Visas Blocked
Tunisia: Citrus Exports Do Well
Israel and the Palestinians
Bil’in: ‘Wall Tourism’ Between Photos and Teargas
Hamas Detains British Journalist in Gaza Strip Over ‘Security Crimes’
Settlement Freeze Ignored in Dozens of Settlements
Middle East
Africans Working in Iraq See Opportunity and Exploitation
Bahrain: Visa Restrictions for Foreigners in GCC
Cars: Turkey’s Ford Reports 2009 Profit of €181 Mln
Dear Veneziani: This is Why Boycotting Teheran is Right
Hamas Leader Murder, 11 Suspects European
Hit Squad Carrying British Passports Killed Senior Hamas Leader, Claims Dubai Police Chief
Lebanon: Commemorating Rafik Hariri’s Death, Demanding Answers From March 14 Leaders
Media: Winner of Kassir Award, Lebanon Lacks Transparency
Nuclear: Turkey; Minister, First Power Plant Ready by 2017
Qatar: Clinton Warns of Iranian ‘Military Dictatorship’
The U.S. Military Looks at the Bows to the White House But Knows Its Mission Too
UAE Government Releases Workers’ Rights Booklet
Valentine’s Day Around the Muslim World
South Asia
The King of Bhutan Claims to be “Father of the Christians,” But Does Not Build Churches
Italy: Maroni Says New Model for Integration Needed, Not Police Round-Ups
Culture Wars
Is This Former Stay-at-Home Mom Our Greatest Security Threat?
IPCC Corruption Included Ignoring Facts and Science

Financial Crisis

A Media Plot Against Madrid?

Spanish Intelligence Reportedly Probing ‘Attacks’ on Economy

Madrid is rushing to calm concerns that Spain could be the next Greece. Now, there are reports that the country’s intelligence agency is looking into whether the Anglo-Saxon media has sought to undermine confidence in the Spanish economy.

With Spain suffering the highest unemployment in the European Union and its economy expected to remain in recession for a least another year, things are looking bleak for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Now it seems the government in Madrid has found a convenient scapegoat for its travails: the Anglo-Saxon media allied with nefarious speculators looking to undermine the euro.

On Sunday the center-left El Pais newspaper reported that the Spanish intelligence agency was looking into “speculative attacks” on Spain following the Greek debt crisis. Citing unnamed sources, El Pais said the National Intelligence Center (CNI) was investigating “whether investors’ attacks and the aggressiveness of some Anglo-Saxon media are driven by market forces and challenges facing the Spanish economy, or whether there is something more behind this campaign.”


Debt ratio: 54.3 percent of GDP

Budget deficit: 11.2 percent of GDP (2009)

GDP growth: -3.7 percent (2009 forecast)

Share of the euro zone’s GDP: 11.8 percent (2008)

Source: European Commission

Europe’s fifth largest economy may have avoided the huge public debt incurred by Greece, and its banks are fairly solid, but Spain’s over-reliance on the construction industry during the boom has left its economy floundering in the recession, with a near 19 percent unemployment rate, and its difficulties in slashing public spending are causing concerns in Europe.

Investors have voiced growing anxiety over rising debt levels in the single currency area, the euro zone, and over the ability of some governments to manage public finances, giving a quintet of shaky economies, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, the unflattering moniker PIIGS.

Stressing Spain’s ‘Solidity’

Economists have questioned assertions by the government in Madrid that the economy will grow by some 3 percent by 2012. Spain’s deficit has soared to 11.4 percent of its gross domestic product, well ahead of the euro zone 3 percent limit. There are doubts that the country will manage to stick to its pledge of slashing €50 million ($70 million) off public spending, particularly because in a heavily decentralized Spain, powerful regional governments control a big slice of the budgets.

Zapatero’s Socialist government has bristled at comparisons with Greece, which saw its pubic debt burden rise to 113 percent of GDP. Last Tuesday the Spanish prime minister urged calm and stressed his country’s “solvency and solidity.” He told a meeting of Socialist lawmakers in Madrid that “there are movements that have brought a great deal of concern … on the stock market. It seems there are speculative movements.”

Infrastructure Minister Jose Blanco raised eyebrows last week when he alluded to shadowy forces ganging up on the country. “Spain is the victim of an international conspiracy to destroy the country’s economic status, and then, the euro,” he said. “Nothing that is happening, including the apocalyptical editorials in foreign media, is just chance.”

British business daily The Financial Times and the market-friendly weekly The Economist, have been particularly critical of Zapatero’s handling of the economy. On Friday The Economist rejected the accusations of an Anglo-Saxon plot as “piffle,” writing “the best retort is: grow up.”

Yet, if the El Pais report is correct, it would seem the Spanish government is taking the matter very seriously indeed. Officials at the Spanish Defense Ministry and the CNI have, however, neither confirmed not denied the report so far.

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

Concern Grows in US Cities as Government Plans to End Housing Aid

Over the next six months, the U.S. government plans to wind down many of its emergency programs for housing. Then it will become clear whether the market can function on its own.

People in Elkhart are pretty sure the answer will be no.

President Barack Obama has traveled twice to this beleaguered manufacturing city to spotlight the U.S. government’s economic stimulus program, which helped stabilize a housing market whose fall had rippled around the globe.

The employment picture here has indeed begun to improve over the past nine months.

But Elkhart also symbolizes the failure of government efforts to turn around the housing slump at the heart of the economic crisis. Housing in this community has become almost entirely dependent on a string of government support programs, which are nonetheless failing to prevent a decline in prices and a rise in mortgage delinquencies.

More than one in 10 mortgage holders in Elkhart are seriously behind on payments.

The median sales price has plunged to the level of a decade ago.

Many homeowners owe more than their home is worth, freezing them in place for years. Foreclosures recently hit a record level.

To the extent that the real estate market is functioning at all, people here say, it is doing so only because of the emergency programs, which have pushed down interest rates on mortgages and offered buyers a substantial tax credit.

Equally important is an expanded mortgage insurance program run by the Federal Housing Administration, which encourages private lenders to accept borrowers with small down payments.

The government takes the risk of default.

A few years ago, only one in 10 buyers in Elkhart used the housing agency program.

Now about half do. Across the United States, the agency has greatly expanded its reach: It now insures six million mortgages.

‘‘There has been all kinds of help for housing. I’m not unappreciative,’’ said Barb Swartley, president of the Elkhart County Board of Realtors. ‘‘But you can’t turn real estate into a government- sponsored operation forever.’’ Many inWashington agree. With worries about the deficit intensifying, the government is eager to start withdrawing some of its support programs.

The first step could happen as early as next month, when the Federal Reserve has said it will end its trillion-dollar program to buy mortgage securities. That program has driven mortgage interest rates to lows not seen since the 1950s.

Yet it is uncertain whether the government can really pull back without sending housing markets into another tailspin. ‘‘A rise in rates would kill us all by itself,’’ Ms. Swartley said.

The Obama administration has offered few ideas about reforming the housing market. Proposals for the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage holding companies taken over by the government at the height of the crisis, were supposed to be introduced with the president’s budget this month. They were not.

The government programs, however crucial, are distorting the market. The tax credit produced sales last autumn, but some lenders in Elkhart say it has troubling implications.

‘‘People are buying to get that tax credit, to get some reserve money.

They’re saying, ‘If something happens, I will have a little bit of money to fall back on,’’’ said Denny Davis of Horizon Bank in Elkhart. ‘‘That’s not healthy.’’ The programs favor first-time buyers, who have the fewest resources to bring to a deal. Heather Stevens, a 23-year-old nurse in the city, is closing soon on a three-bedroom house. Since her loan was insured by the Federal Housing Administration, she had to put down only 3.5 percent of the $74,900 purchase price.

‘‘It was a breeze to get approved,’’ she said.

The sellers are covering her closing costs, which agents say is often the case in Elkhart. That meant Ms.. Stevens had to come up with only the $2,600 down payment, which still took all her savings.

But the best part is the $7,500 tax credit.

She will use that to remodel the kitchen.

‘‘If itwasn’t for the credit,wewould have waited to buy,’’ said Ms. Stevens, who is getting married this year.

Buying houses with no money down was a feature of the latter stages of the housing bubble. It gave prices a final push into the stratosphere. But buyers with no equity were the first to abandon their properties as the market fell.

With housing prices stagnant, bolstering the market by again letting people buy with hardly any money down is viewed in some quarters as a bad bet.

Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, wrote in his most recent report to Congress that ‘‘the federal government’s concerted efforts to support’’ housing prices ‘‘risk reinflating’’ the bubble.

He noted one difference from the last bubble: Taxpayers, rather than banks, are now directly at risk in these new mortgages.

In Elkhart, the worries are less about the risks of doing too much and more about the perils of doing too little. If the Federal Reserve really ends its $1.25 trillion program of buying mortgagebacked securities, economists say, mortgage rates could rise as much as one percentage point. In recent weeks, rates on 30-year fixed mortgages have drifted below 5 percent.

The tax credit requires home buyers to make a deal by April 30, the middle of the prime spring selling season.

For now, the F.H.A. is modestly tightening the requirements on some of its programs, trying to strike a balance between stabilizing the market with qualified buyers and overwhelming it with unqualified borrowers.

John A. Katalinich, chief lending officer at the Inova Federal Credit Union in Elkhart, says there is danger in letting buyers get into properties with so little at stake, but those risks are minimal compared with the alternative.

‘‘If the government were not to continue the same level of support, it would be very detrimental, like cutting the legs off a wobbling child and expecting it to run a marathon,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s very possible we’ll still be at this level of need five years from now.’’ Elkhart, in the northeast corner of Indiana, became a symbol of distress in America after Mr. Obama chose it as the place to introduce his stimulus plan last February. The region is a hub of recreational- vehicle manufacturing, one of the first industries to falter in the recession.

In less than a year, the unemployment rate tripled, peaking at 18.9 percent last March.

Mr. Obama returned in August to promote the effectiveness of the stimulus program and of government grants for the manufacture of battery-powered electric vehicles. Several companies have announced they are hiring. Unemployment in December was down to 14.8 percent.

No such improvement is visible with housing. In the past 18 months, the F.H.A. increased its loans in Elkhart by 40 percent even as its defaults rose 174 percent.

As these troubled loans become foreclosures, the government takes over the property and tries to sell it. On Saturday, Gina Martin, an administrative assistant, examined a three-bedroom government house for sale southeast of Elkhart.

In late 2003, the house sold for $115,000, but in these depressed times the government was willing to let it go for $75,000.

Ms. Martin’s agent, Dean Slabach, thought the government would eventually have to take a much lower bid, substantially increasing its loss. Most of the F.H.A. properties on the market in Elkhart carry notations like ‘‘significant price reduction’’ and ‘‘all reasonable offers considered.’’ ‘‘They’ll end up selling this for $60,000 or less,’’ Mr. Slabach said.

But Ms. Martin, a 47-year-old renter who has approval for an F.H.A. loan, said she was not tempted at any price.

‘‘We’ll see what else is out there,’’ she said.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Congress Refuses to Bring Home Millions of Jobs

“He, therefore, who is now against domestic manufacture, must be for reducing us either to dependence on that foreign nation, or to be clothed in skins, and to live like wild beasts in dens and caverns. I am not one of these; experience has taught me that manufactures are now as necessary to our independence as to our comfort; and if those who quote me as of a different opinion, will keep pace with me in purchasing nothing foreign where an equivalent of domestic fabric can be obtained, without regard to difference of price, it will not be our fault if we do not soon have a supply at home equal to our demand, and wrest that weapon of distress from the hand which has wielded it.” The Letters of Thomas Jefferson: 1743-1826. To Benjamin Austin Monticello, January 9, 1816

I was in Denver recently. As I refuse to fly commercial, I drive. From Big Spring, Texas, where I live, to Denver and back, the number one subject of discussion is jobs. People are very afraid; you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice as they say, “I thought we were in a recovery.”

It is not the job of the federal government to create jobs, yet the thieves in the Outlaw Congress right now are bickering over another con job called a “jobs bill”. This is just more of the same: increasing the debt, weaning more Americans into government jobs and possibly another extension of unemployment benefits:…


Folks have been sending me their candidate of choice for Congress in the coming November elections. The only problem is — why are none of the candidates (that I’ve seen so far) addressing real solutions instead of just more pap and warmed over political rhetoric? John Dennis is running against Marxist Nancy Pelosi. He is a great constitutional candidate, except I don’t see him stepping forward with the taking the first step in bringing home MILLIONS of good paying jobs: “As a country we should welcome trade with all countries, resolve our outstanding disputes with countries considered unfriendly and have diplomatic relations with all.”

Well said, but, like so many of the other candidates for Congress, where is your pledge to introduce and fight to get passed, bills that will get America out of three unconstitutional treaties: NAFTA, CAFTA and GATT?


Agriculture, manufacturing and industrial — all crippled and dying a slow death because of destructive trade treaties signed by Bill Clinton (NAFTA & GATT) and George Bush, Jr. (CAFTA) to keep a “one world trading system” operating. George Bush, Sr., spearheaded the NAFTA treaty with Canada and Mexico; Billy was selected to continue the destruction. Obama is to cement the final stakes through the heart of this republic.


Did we have trade with other nations prior to NAFTA, CAFTA and GATT? Of course we did and we had tariffs. Fair trade is good. Free trade is financial suicide for any nation.


Those millions “displaced” by those toxic treaties began to buy “cheap” junk from China and other countries. American manufacturers struggle to compete with products coming from China — a communist country that murders their people at will. They monitor women’s menstrual cycles to force abortions on them if they get pregnant twice. A country that condones the skinning of dogs and cats alive so the fur can be illegally sold in parkas, doll clothes and sweaters sold in the US. I’d rather wear rags.

Back in 1994, a lame duck Congress voted on the hideous “free” trade treaty, GATT, whereby the United States of America totally and completely abrogated it’s sovereignty to a foreign body — the WTO. At the time of the vote, Bob Dole said, “Any way you cut it, we’re the big beneficiary.” Counterfeit U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings had just the opposite prediction, “…described the vote as ‘the gravest mistake the U.S. has ever made on economic policy.’“

Hollings’ statement turned out to be right; Dole walked from the Senate a millionaire. Our nation has been plundered as a result of GATT and We, the People, our businesses, our commerce, and our livelihoods, have been under attack ever since, losing virtually every single challenge made by some foreign country. On September 26, 2002, counterfeit U.S. Senator Max Baucus said he was deeply troubled by the WTO dispute settlement process: “Things are looking more and more… like a kangaroo court against U.S. trade laws.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe’s Debt Crisis

Five Threats to the Common Currency

By Stefan Schultz

Italy: Overlooking the Debt Mountain

The risk premium on Italian government bonds has increased significantly in recent weeks. Its 10-year bond stands a good one percentage point higher than its German equivalent — and at first glance, that is not surprising. After all, Italy’s total public debt is sky high: According to government estimates, it stands at more than 100 percent of GDP.

That, though, has been the case since 2006, long before the outbreak of the crisis. Economists are giving Italy the all-clear for now, saying it does not face the same short-term risk as Greece and others. Nor does Italy have the same crisis symptoms as the more economically fragile European countries.

Unlike Spain, Italy’s economy has not been shaken to its foundations by the bursting of a housing bubble. Unlike Greece, its government does not tinker with its own budget deficit figures. Unlike Ireland, its financial sector has not been badly affected by the crisis: The Italian banking oversight system has long been relatively strict, even before the Lehman Brothers crash.

In addition, it is seen as unlikely that Italian public spending will significantly increase in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, the government pushed an austerity package through parliament in July 2008. Nevertheless, a national debt of more than 100 percent of GDP remains a huge risk factor. And Italy’s current budget deficit of 5.3 percent of GDP may be well below that of other crisis-struck countries, but it still lies well above the stability pact limit of 3 percent. “Government spending continues to gallop,” criticized the Milan economist Tito Boeri last week. And the Italian government shows no sign of trying to change the situation any time soon.

The rating agency Fitch recently criticized Italy, saying it has indefinitely postponed almost all its measures to slim down its debt. As a result, it is no big surprise that capital markets are lumping Italy together with high-risk euro zone countries such as Greece and Portugal.

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

Obama’s Radicalism is Killing the Dow

By Michael J. Boskin

It’s hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president’s policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

What Bankrupted Greece? It Was the Olympics!

Here’s an angle on the Greek financial crisis I hadn’t considered: Victor Matheson, a member of the Sports Economist group blog, argues that one reason the Greeks wound up in such deep financial trouble is that they went deep in hock to pay for the Olympics:

Greece’s federal government had historically been a profligate spender, but in order to join the euro currency

zone, the government was forced to adopt austerity measures that reduced deficits from just over 9% of GDP in 1994 to just 3.1% of GDP in 1999, the year before Greece joined the euro.

But the Olympics broke the bank. Government deficits rose every year after 1999, peaking at 7.5% of GDP in 2004, the year of the Olympics, thanks in large part to the 9 billion euro price tag for the Games. For a relatively small country like Greece, the cost of hosting the Games equaled roughly 5% of the annual GDP of the country.

Of course, the Olympics didn’t usher in an economic boom. Indeed, in 2005 Greece suffered an Olympic-sized hangover with GDP growth falling to its lowest level in a decade.

That would certainly follow the pattern of crazy civic development projects in which stadiums and museums are supposed to somehow substitute for everything that is missing in the local economy. But the governments in question don’t usually end up in receivership.

Fun Olympic factoid of the day: the television news yesterday reported that the Whistler ski complex had essentially been developed in the hopes of the area someday scoring a winter Olympics. I have no idea if this is true, but it seems both plausible and deeply troubling.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]


100 Lawmakers Reject Big Brother Health-Care Takeover

‘American people repudiated what Obama, Democrats have put forward’

Nearly 100 lawmakers have signed a formal Declaration of Health Care Independence to reject an unconstitutional Washington takeover of American health care — and now one representative is challenging Americans to deliver it to Congress and the White House to hold them accountable to the people.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., drafted and formally unveiled the Declaration of Health Care Independence Jan. 27. The declaration is a commitment to protect the rights of the American people to make their own health decisions, reduce bureaucratic red-tape, decrease intergenerational debt and implement 10 common-sense principles for future health-care reform.

“We’ve come to somewhat of an impasse,” Bachmann told WND. “Now with Sen. Scott Brown’s election, that seems to have been able to stop the ball from rolling in the Senate. But we know the president still plans to base his plans on the health-care bill.

[Comments from JD: Take a look at the graph of of the US debt.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Chuck Norris: Ready for Feds in Your Kitchen?

And sure enough, incorporated in the first lady’s health initiative is the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act: “The Administration is requesting an historic investment of an additional $10 billion over 10 years starting in 2011 to improve the quality of the National School Lunch and Breakfast program …”

At first glance, it sounds like a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want to care for kids, especially the poor ones? But the Child Nutrition Act goes so much further than providing their meals. It has now become another cover for increasing big government and union power, with the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, being one of the biggest beneficiaries.

If the Obama administration has its way, the Child Nutrition Act will become one more tentacle of an over-reaching federal government and nanny state that now wants to control the kitchens of America. The government already controls what your children learn (and don’t learn) in public schools — why not give them more control over what they eat? (That is one more reason why my wife, Gena, and I are advocates for private education and homeschooling, where the academics and kitchens are free from government tyranny.)

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Why Not the Best?

For years, presidents of both parties have pledged to ensure that America fields a military second to none. A successful test last week of a truly transformative technology affords Barack Obama an opportunity to help make that pledge a reality. Unless Mr. Obama swiftly orders the Pentagon to change course on the remarkable Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB) program, however, his legacy on defense preparedness will be one of empty rhetoric and increased danger for our country.

The Airborne Laser program is a direct descendent of Ronald Reagan’s visionary Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), with its exploration of various means of intercepting and destroying ballistic missiles — including lasers and other “directed energy” techniques. Given the state of the art at the time, critics scoffed at the idea that these exotic, speed-of-light weapons could ever be made to work. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy exemplified this view when he dismissively dubbed the SDI program “Star Wars.”

Today, however, it is the critics who look ridiculously shortsighted. Thanks to two decades of intensive research and development and an investment of roughly $5 billion, America’s aerospace industry has achieved an extraordinary feat of science and engineering. They have successfully married a Boeing 747 airframe with three chemical lasers: a low-power system used for tracking a missile early in its flight; a second, low-energy laser that measures and calculates adjustments needed to compensate for atmospheric conditions; and a third, megawatt-class high energy laser that uses the others’ data to destroy the missile by using its heat to induce structural failure…

           — Hat tip: CSP[Return to headlines]

McCain to FDA: Regulate Joe the Plumber

If you had any doubt about whether John McCain is a limited government conservative, you may put that doubt to rest—he is not. On February 3, 2010, John McCain introduced to the United States Senate the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010. Reflecting upon this poorly written bill, I am struck by the fact that John McCain apparently sees little difference between fissile material and dietary supplements. He is intent on regulating supplements as if they were radioactive enriched uranium rather than bioactive vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and botanicals that more often than not help people.

The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 enjoys support from the most liberal members of Congress. It is an invitation for the FDA to assume broad new powers and replicate here the system now operating in Europe over dietary supplements where dietary ingredients are presumed adulterated and unlawful to sell unless pre-approved by the government. In short, good bye free enterprise, good bye limited government, and hello more heavy handed, arbitrary and punitive FDA bias against the beleaguered dietary supplement industry. Yes, this is the same John McCain who unsuccessfully tried to rally Reagan Republicans on the notion that he was the true Reagan clone. If you believed that rhetoric, let me assure you, John McCain is no Ronald Reagan. He is very wide of the mark of that great man.


Consider the provisions of the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010. Under it, every year every person or entity that manufactures, packages, holds, distributes, labels, or licenses a dietary supplement has to register with FDA and identify who they are and all of the products they sell or become a federal felon. Remember McCain’s rather pedestrian “Joe the Plumber” example during the campaign? Well I would not be surprised if Joe the Plumber keeps his large family above the poverty line during these hard economic times by selling vitamins from his house as a multi-level marketer. Well, Joe, the same McCain who promised you regulatory and tax relief is now offering you the chance to comply with a whole host of new federal regulations and, if you don’t, to learn what it is like to have three square meals given you year after year in a prison cell at the federal penitentiary.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Making Plans to Use Executive Power

By Peter Baker

With much of his legislative agenda stalled in Congress, President Obama and his team are preparing an array of actions using his executive power to advance energy, environmental, fiscal and other domestic policy priorities.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Put Washington D.C. On a Diet

With great fanfare, Michelle Obama kicked off a national anti-obesity campaign, which if it goes half as well as her toxic vegetable garden, will be forgotten in a week or two. But the problem is that we do need an anti-obesity campaign, just not against people who enjoy an extra hamburger during lunch, but against the politicians in Washington D.C. who have shown no ability to control the rate at which they consume public funds.

Anyone who tripled their weight within one year, would probably be a target of Michelle Obama’s finger wagging — but what about her hubby, who tripled the national deficit in only one year? Someone who eats more than average is only consuming his own food, by contrast Barry Hussein has thrown a party for himself and all his backers, and they’ve gorged themselves like mad on the United States Treasury.


Look at the economic chaos in the European Union, where most of the budget simply vanishes without any available explanation, and you can see what kind of bureaucratic nightmare is being modeled by Obama’s people.

Here’s a small taste. The EU budget is essentially meant to take money from member governments and then redistribute the money back. It has gone from 4 billion in 1970 to over a 140 billion today. Yet the majority of the EU budget cannot be accounted for. For a decade and a half, the European Court of Auditors, whose role is to audit the EU, has refused to sign off on the EU budget. This is the model that many Democrats would have us embrace.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Retired Admiral-Senator Sees ‘Death of U.S.’

Author Jeremiah Denton speaks at Marine Corps Museum

QUANTICO, Va. — Retired Admiral and former U.S. Sen. Jeremiah Denton had some tough words in the mess hall of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, packed with fellow servicemen, including some who spent time with him as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton.

In an emotional speech last night about his newly updated classic work, “When Hell Was in Session,” Denton said he feared the imminent death of the United States of America due to immorality, lack of patriotism and lack of appreciation for the unique form of government bestowed by the country’s founders.

“When Hell Was in Session” was first released in 1976 after Denton’s return from Vietnam where he was held as a prisoner of war for seven years and seven months — much of that time in solitary confinement and enduring torture. The book was re-released in 2009 — updated with Denton’s recollections of what happened upon his return to America, his election to the U.S. Senate and the role he played with Ronald Reagan in ending the Cold War.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Canada Looks to China to Exploit Oil Sands Rejected by US

Canada courts Chinese investment in Alberta oil projects as US firms boycott tar sands fuel

Canada, faced with growing political pressure over the extraction of oil from its highly polluting tar sands, has begun courting China and other Asian countries to exploit the resource.

The move comes as American firms are turning away from tar sands because of its heavy carbon footprint and damage to the landscape.

Whole Foods, the high-end organic grocery chain, and retailer Bed Bath & Beyond last week both signed up to a campaign by ForestEthics to stop US firms using oil from Canadian tar sands. The Pentagon is also scaling down its use of tar sands oil to meet a 2007 law requiring the US government to source fuels with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Major oil companies such as Shell are also coming under shareholder pressure to pull out of the Canadian projects. Earlier this year, Shell announced it was scaling back its expansion plans for the tar sands after a revolt by shareholders. Producing oil from the Alberta tar sands causes up to five times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude oil, according to the campaign group Greenpeace.

In the most significant deal to date, the Canadian government recently approved a C$1.9bn (£1.5bn) investment giving the Chinese state-owned oil company Petro­China a majority share in two projects. Prime minister Stephen Harper said: “Expect more Chinese investment in the resource and energy sectors … there will definitely be more.” China’s growing investment in the tar sands is seen in Canada as a useful counter to waning demand for tar sands oil from the US, its biggest customer. The moves, which have largely gone unnoticed outside north America, could add further tension to efforts to try to reach a global action plan on climate change.

The state department envoy, Todd Stern, on Tuesday accused China of being “a bit ambiguous” in its commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to impose national carbon limits in the US have stalled in Congress, but a number of leading US firms are moving to reduce their carbon footprint by moving away from abandoning tar sands oil.

Canada is the biggest source of US oil imports, with 65% of tar sands production going to refineries in the midwest. “Companies have been hitting the pause button on projects,” said Simon Dyer, of the Pembina Institute oil sands watch project.

But not China. PetroChina has taken a 60% stake in two new tar sands projects due to get under way in the MacKay River and Dover areas next year, with plans to produce up to 35,000 barrels a day by 2014, and eventually up to 500,000 a day.

China made its first investment in the tar sands in 2005, with state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation spending C$150m for a 17% stake in a startup MEG Energy Corp. Another Chinese state-owned firm, Sinopec, last year increased its interest in the Northern Lights oil project to 50%. China’s National Petroleum Corp has also bought oil sands leases that it has not yet developed.

The projects, which will begin coming on line over the next decade, are seen as crucial to a long term strategy of finding new sources of energy as China’s economy continues to expand. “Right now I would characterise it as a token toehold,” said Peter Tertzakian, chief energy economist at ARC Financial Corporation, an energy-focused private equity firm in Calgary, Alberta.

But he said the move by China could also represent the beginnings of a major shift in control of the tar sands. “Hitherto we were very accustomed to have western countries coming here, particularly American companies or companies from the UK, taking an interest in oil and gas companies and we were OK with that,” he said. “From a continental energy security perspective of course, there is a little more hesitation when emerging powers come here, but the Canadian government has over the last year indicated more willingness to do business with China.”

Japanese and South Korean companies have also begun moving in, opening up potential new markets for Canada at a time when forecasts show a fall in global demand for oil. India’s Reliance Industries is also reportedly bidding on a project. The move by China has also crystalised increased concerns among conservationists and First Nation groups about a proposed 1,200 kilometre pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from northern Alberta, across British Columbia to oil tankers off the Pacific coast.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

At Least 20 Killed in Belgian Train Crash: Report

BRUSSELS, Feb. 15 (AP) — (Kyodo)—Two commuter trains collided head-on in a Brussels suburb on Monday morning, killing at least 20 people, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The trains collided in snowy conditions just outside of the station at Buizingen during the rush hour, the AP quoted Belgian officials as saying.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash that occurred in light snowfall.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Czech Republic: Schools for Special Needs Say Roma Kids’ Placement is Justified

Prague, Feb 12 (CTK) — Czech elementary schools for children with learning disorders, formerly called “special” and now “practical” schools, have rejected the view that Romany children are placed in them without proper reasons.

Some Czech NGOs say surveys show that Romany children are placed in practical schools automatically.

Practical schools are primarily for children with light mental disorders. Pupils should not be placed in them due to behavioural and learning problems or insufficient knowledge of the teaching tongue.

Representatives of practical schools from the Plzen region argue that some Romany children lack basic social or hygienic habits and need special care because they have not acquired them at home, the teachers write in a letter addressed to Education Minister Miroslava Kopicova.

Teachers need to have reserve exercise books and pencils for Romany pupils because they often do not bring them to school. The pupils also tell the teachers that they will apply for unemployment benefits after ending school.

They also write that children with special learning needs may face scorn and misunderstanding in regular schools.

Jan Stejskal, from a NGO coalition promoting integration of Romany children into regular schools, said practical schools must reject any child who is without a light mental disorder.

But Romany parents often demand that their child attend practical schools because they are not aware of the consequences for the child’s future and because they fear discrimination at regular schools.

Learning guidance offices then decide whether a child should be placed in a practical school. These offices often operate at practical schools and serve as their recruitment centres, however, Stejskal pointed out.

The Education Ministry wants to employ assistants to teachers who would help socially disadvantaged children succeed in regular schools, using EU money to cover the costs.

According to the ministry’s data, two in 100 non-Romany pupils attend practical schools in the Czech Republic, while the proportion is 30 to 100 for Romany children.

Some 2 percent of children have light mental disorders.

In 2007 the European Human Rights Court called on the Czech Republic to adopt measures to prevent discrimination against Romany children in education.

The Amnesty International organisation recently called on Czech authorities to prevent admitting first-year pupils to practical schools and to try to place children from problematic families in regular schools.

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

France: GDF Suez to Build Photovoltaic Plant by 2011

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 11 — By 2011, the largest photovoltaic plant in France will be built in the city of Curbans, in Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region (south). The energy group GDF Suez will be building the plant, which is expected to save about 120,000 tonnes of CO2. With an overall 33MW and 145,000 photovoltaic panels, the plant will be able to produce 43.5 million KW/h every year, thereby meeting the energy requirements of 14,500 families, according to GDF Suez. In order to carry out the project, the French company set up a company — with two credit institutes as its partners — which for 20 years will be managing the use and maintenance of the plant. The project is part of GDF Suez’s strategy to bring in diversified plants in France able to produce 10,000 MW by 2013. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hitler’s Mufti: Video: Part2

Clip #2: The Worldview of the Grand Mufti Amin Al Husseini and Hitler Lives on Through Radical Islam

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Hitler’s Mufti: Video: Part1

Clip #1: The Muslim Hitler That Political Correctness Will Not Talk About. The Grand Mufti Worked with Hitler and Recruited 30,000 Muslims to Fight for Hitler.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Italian Finds Retardation Link

New gene mutation uncovered by Milan researcher

(ANSA) — Rome, February 11 — An Italian expert has discovered a new gene mutation linked to mental retardation, according to a new study. The research, headed by Patrizia D’Adamo of the San Raffaele Foundation del Monte Tabor Foundation in Milan, looked at forms of mental retardation specifically associated with the X chromosome, known as X-linked retardation.

Mental retardation in general is the commonest form of developmental disability among children and young people, and in 25-50% of cases, is caused by a defect in a gene or chromosome. X-linked retardation is considered a particularly complex disability to study because there are more than 200 known defects likely to cause retardation, stemming from problems with over 80 different genes.

The Italian study, set to be published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, analyzed the DNA of various males affected by mental retardation. They then studied the DNA of the men’s relatives and discovered that, in two cases, the defect arose from a missing gene that normally contains information for a protein specific to the nerve cells, RAB39B. The absence of this protein reduced contact between the nerve cells, or synapses. RAB39B is thought to play an important role in forming and maintaining the correct number of synapses, which transmit information between neurons. As a result, neuron communications in people affected by this genetic mutation experience are diminished, thereby reducing their cognitive and linguistic capacities and creating difficulties with social interactions. The researchers also discovered that the seriousness of retardation, which was aggravated by autism and epilepsy, appeared to increase through the generations, although they are as yet unable to explain why. The protein identified by D’Adamo’s group is part of a family of over 60 proteins involved in transporting information inside the cell but it is the only one discovered so far that is specific to nerve cells. According to D’Adamo, the next step will be more detailed research into the molecular mechanisms that alter the number of synapses and inter-neuron communications, in order to try identify potential treatments.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Snow in Rome

Capital gets biggest sprinkling in 24 years

(ANSA) — Rome, February 12 — Romans on Friday morning were treated to the first significant snowfall in many years and while this was to the delight of children and wonder of tourists, it did create traffic problems and airport delays.

The snow began around 8am but initially did not stick in the center of the capital. However, around 10.30 the snow intensified and soon accumulated on the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain and other monuments and tourist attractions.

“Rome looks like Vienna,” remarked one tourist at the Spanish Steps.

After suffering delays because of the snow, flights in and out of Rome’s second airport, Ciampino, were temporarily suspended due to poor visibility.

The civil protection department issued a warning to drivers, especially motorcyclists, to use caution.

The snow stopped around 11.30 and began to melt.

Mayor Gianni Alemanno said the snow did not create any major difficulties in the capital, except for some traffic jams and minor accidents.

The mayor himself had some problems getting to city hall and his car needed help getting up the Capitoline Hill. According to experts at the National Research Council (CNR), snow is very rare in Rome and usually does not last long.

“The fact that this is the first real snowfall in 24 years shows how rare it is and also how this is a particularly severe winter,” a CNR expert observed.

The problem over the next 36 to 48 hours, the expert added, will be ice if temperatures remain low. Although it did snow in January 2005, 2004 and February 1999, the last major snowfall in the capital was on February 11, 1986, when Rome awoke under several centimeters of snow.

Snowfall was heavier outside the city and even the seaside town of Ostia received a blanket of snow. All of Italy is in the grips of a major storm system which has brought snow to both north and south while Sardinia was particularly hit hard, with Cagliari seeing its first snowfall since 1993.

Blizzard-like conditions were reported in parts of Calabria, while in other parts of the southern region heavy rain caused flooding and landslides.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: 2009 GDP -4.9% on 2008

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 12 — The gross domestic product in Italy suffered in 2009 a drop of 4.9% compared to 2008, according to data processed by the Italian National Statistics Institute (ISTAT). As regards the GDP in the fourth quarter, it fell by 0.2%, when according to analysts from the Bloomberg agency, it should have shown a +0.1%. The negative figure, according to ISTAT, “is the result of a reduction in the value added of industry, a substantial stationariness of the value added of services and an increase in the value added of agriculture”. In a joint note from Federconsumatori and Adusbef consumer associations, the data on the trend of the Italian economy were described as “dramatic” and they stated that “if the government does not decide to intervene, growth in 2010 will be zero”. The presidents of the two associations, Rosario Trefiletti and Elio Lannuti, say that “if intervention is not carried out as soon as possible, 2010 will also be a black year which will register further repercussions not only on the wellbeing of families but also on industrial output, which will increasingly feel the effects of the collapse of consumption. It is essential that action be taken urgently with structural measures’“. On the one hand on investments for research and technological innovation, and on the other hand on the front of market demand, with a tax reduction that cannot be postponed on fixed income, from work and from pensions, for at least 1,200 euros per year. Federconsumatori and Adusbef are also requesting the blocking of tariffs. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Sicily Bridge ‘To Open to the Public in 2017’

(AKI) — The suspension bridge connecting Italy’s southern island of Sicily to the mainland will open to the public in 2017, infrastructure minister Altero Matteoli announced on Friday. Work on the bridge will begin “as soon as possible,” Matteoli stated.

“The bridge must open to the public on 1 January, 2017,” he said in the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

“We should start work on the Strait of Messina Bridge as soon as possible — this year,” Matteoli said.

The bridge connecting Sicily and the southern Italian region of Reggio Calabria is slated to cost around 6 billion euros and should help kick start Italy’s sluggish economy.

However, many residents fear the money will benefit construction companies with mafia links and that the bridge will be pointless because of the lack of good road links nearby.

If and when it is completed, the bridge will be the longest suspension bridge in the world, at over 3.3 kilometres in length.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said last October that construction of the long-heralded bridge would begin between December 2009 and January 2010.

He described the bridge as “a fundamental piece of infrastructure for Sicily.”

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

Italy: Bible of Jailed Mafia Boss Appears on Internet

Palermo, 11 feb (AKI) — Pages from the bible seized from jailed mafia ‘boss of bosses’ Bernardo Provenzano, complete with his coded hand-written notes, have been posted on the Internet. Police found the bible in the remote Sicilian farmhouse where Provenzano was arrested in April 2006 after 40 years on the run.

The 20 bible pages published on the Internet include passages from Genesis and other Old Testament books marked in yellow and blue highlighter pen. A series of arrows and notes flag various passages.

Various letters, symbols and numbers are written in the margins of the bible pages.

Investigators said these were similar to the famous hand-written notes on small scraps of paper or ‘pizzini’ which Provenzano used to communicate with other mafia members during his decades in hiding.

Provenzano underlined from the book of Numbers: “May God bless you and protect you”, a phrase he is said to have used to sign every one of his hand-written messages sent to his associates.

“I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all,” is copied in capital letters in the margin above a passage from Ecclesiastes, showing an apparent mysogynist streak.

Sicilian investigative journalist and author Salvo Palazzolo posted the pages on his blog. He wrote the book ‘The missing pieces — a journey into the mysteries of the mafia’.

Top police investigators from Italy and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation have examined Provenzano’s bible.

Prosecutors in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, have also sought help from a theologian, a mathematician and a information technology expert to help them decipher the annotations.

Palazzolo invites his readers to lend investigators a hand.

“This is a small but positive attempt to re-focus attention on the tricky fight against the mafia, “ he says, explaining why he has posted the pages to his blog.

“It cannot fall to the prosecutors alone to establish the truth. The whole of civil society needs to lend a hand.”

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

Italy: Pope Meets Irish Bishops on Abuse Scandal

Benedict to issue pastoral letter after two reports

(ANSA) — Rome, February 15 — Pope Benedict XVI on Monday began two days of talks with Irish bishops on two child sex reports which have rocked the Irish Church.

The pope and 30 Irish bishops will discuss a formal response to the reports, which have traumatised the faithful in the traditionally Catholic country.

A pastoral letter to the Irish faithful will be at the centre of the talks.

It was widely expected to be made public on Ash Wednesday but sources close to the talks said Monday it “might not be published immediately”.

There will be no statement out of the talks Monday but a communique on the decisions may be issued on Tuesday afternoon.

Ahead of the discussions, the head of communications for the Irish Bishops Conference, Msgr Joseph Duffy, said the meeting would not be a “cosmetic exercise”.

“I admit in all sincerity what everyone knows,” he said, acknowledging that the Ryan and Murphy reports — which detailed some 300 cases over three decades — had inflicted “deep wounds” which put the Irish Catholic Church in “a very serious situation”.

On Monday morning, at a mass in the Vatican, Vatican No.2 Tarcisio Bertone told the bishops that Irish churchmen had committed “execrable” acts.

“Your communities are going through a great trial which has seen certain churchmen involved in particularly execrable acts,” Secretary of State Bertone told the bishops.

Four out of five Dublin bishops mentioned in November’s Murphy report have resigned.

Benedict met with the head of the Irish Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, in December.

He said the report detailed “abominable crimes” and vowed to make sure they could never happen again.

Secretary of State Bertone warned the reports risked leading more worshippers to desert the Irish Church, once a dominant institution in Ireland but undermined by a string of scandals.

“That is the more dangerous storm: the one that touches the heart of the faithful, shaking their belief,” he told Cardinal Brady and the other bishops.

“Yes, storms are frightening, (they) shake the boat of the Church because of the sins of its members,” Bertone went on. “But out of these storms can come the grace of conversion and a greater faith”.

“Trials that come from within the Church are naturally harder and more humiliating…but any sort of test may become a cause for purification…as long as the sinner recognises his guilt”. After his talks with the bishops, Benedict will meet with the heads of the Vatican doctrinal watchdog on Tuesday.


In May the Ryan report into the abuse of children in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages denounced cover-ups over some 50 years.

The Murphy report, released November 26, found that four bishops failed to report child sex abuse to the police from the 1960s to the 1980s.

After his meeting with Brady on December 11, the pope noted that the the leaders of the Irish church, “(bore) the ultimate responsibility for the pastoral care of children”.

He said he was “shocked and anguished” and vowed “to find the best way to develop effective and sure strategies to prevent (such events) from recurring”.

In the wake of the report, the head of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse group urged Benedict to go to Ireland and apologise for his clergy’s behaviour.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Drop in 2009 Exports Worst Since 1970

Significant improvement recorded in December

(ANSA) — Rome, February 15 — Italian exports fell by 20.7% in 2009, the worst drop since records began in 1970, but rose in December over the previous month, national statistics bureau Istat reported on Monday.

Imports last year tumbled by a record 22% over 2008.

Despite the record drop in trade, Italy reduced its trade deficit in 2009 to 4.109 billion euros, compared to a deficit of 11.478 billion euros in 2008.

The decline, however, was for the most part due to lower crude oil and natural gas prices after record highs in 2008.

Excluding these imports, Italy in 2009 would have had a trade surplus of 36.7 billion euros, down from 49.9 billion euros in 2008 Compared to December 2008, exports fell 1.9% and imports sank 3% resulting in a trade deficit of 123 million euros as opposed to 415 million euros in December 2008 However, exports climbed 4.4% over November and imports rose 1.9%, allowing exports for the last three months of the year to decline by only 0.2% while imports rose 2.4% from the previous quarter.

According to Foreign Trade Undersecretary Junior Minister Adolfo Urso, the improvement in December was evidence that “a recovery has begun and we could see exports climb by 4% in 2010”.

The record drop in exports last year, Urso added, was to blame on the global economic downturn. This was evident, he pointed out, from the drop in exports recorded last year in Germany and France, 19.4% and 22.2% respectively.

“I think we can say that the crisis in exports has bottomed out and a recovery will consolidate this year, even for our exports towards the European Union,” the junior minister observed.

Exports to the EU last year fell by 22.5% and imports slipped by 17.8%, the worst declines since 1993.

However, in December exports to the EU rose for the first time in 14 months, by 1.4% and imports jumped 9.1% over the same month in 2008.

Compared to November exports were up 3.3% and imports by 3%, while for the last three month fo 2009 exports rose 0.3% and imports climbed 3% over the previous quarter.

Italy posted a trade deficit towards the EU in 2009 of 1.791 billion euros, compared to a surplus of 9.942 billion euros in 2008.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy-France: Frattini to Kouchner, Focus on Iran and Balkans

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 15 — Iran, Afghanistan, the integration of the Balkans into the European Union, as well as bilateral relations in strategic sectors such as nuclear energy. These are the basic themes which will be discussed during tomorrow0’s bilateral meeting in Paris between Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. The visit will also tackle the response which the international community must give to Iran, said spokesman at the Quai d’Orsay, Bernard Valero, who added that Italy is hoping for a firm response from the international community on the nuclear dossier. Italy and Frances Foreign Ministers will also talk about the process of integrating the western Balkans into the EU. “Above all we want to reflect on the future role of the EU in Bosnia-Herzegovina”, said Valero. The meeting will also be a chance to focus on Italian-French cooperation ahead of the next bilateral summit in April. “Italy is France’s second-largest economic partner, pointed out Valro. We have major cooperations in the nuclear energy sector, where Italy is currently relaunching its programme, in terms of transportation (the Lyon-Turin railway line), as well as the aerospace and nautical sectors”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Pilgrims Flood Padua for Brief Display of Saint’s Remains

(ANSA) — Padua, February 15 — Thousands of pilgrims gathered in this northern Italian city before dawn on Monday, hoping for a rare glimpse of the bones of Padua’s hugely popular patron, Saint Anthony. The remains of Anthony, the unofficial saint of lost causes, have gone on show for the first time in 29 years, generating a frenzy of excitement among the Catholic faithful. By the time dawn broke, over 2,000 people were already waiting outside the Basilica of St Anthony, with coaches, trains and cars ferrying hundreds more to the city throughout the day. By late morning, the initial rush had settled down to a steady flow of around 1,000 visitors each hour, said church authorities. More than 100,000 pilgrims are forecast to visit the city during the six days the saint’s bones remain on display. Padua Deputy Mayor Ivo Rossi was among those outside the beautiful 13th-century church when it opened its doors at 8am. “Padua is celebrating this event and is ready to welcome the faithful with great joy,” he said.

Rossi explained that the city had been preparing for weeks, with special traffic schemes, parking plans and additional shuttle buses laid on to cope with the influx. “We expect the peak of arrivals to be on Saturday, and kindly ask Paduans and pilgrims to use public transport wherever possible on that day,” he added.

The streets around the site were lined with police and civil protection officers, while volunteers from the Red Cross and religious organizations provided visitors with directions and information. The display of the saint’s bones, last shown in 1981, has been timed to coincide with their transfer from one side of the basilica to the other. The remains, encased in a crystal display case, have been temporarily housed in the San Giacomo Chapel during a restoration but are now returning to their permanent home in the Cappella dell’Arca. St Anthony, who died in 1231, was a Franciscan preacher credited with the power to perform miracles.

He is known as the “quickest” saint in the history of the Catholic Church because he was canonized less than a year after his death and he remains one of the most popular saints worldwide today. Officially the saint of lost and stolen things, over the centuries he has also become the unofficial patron of ‘lost causes’, making him the focus of thousands of desperate prayers.

According to Catholic tradition, people who have prayed to St Anthony for miraculous cures to their ailments and had their wishes granted thank him for the service by taking votive offerings to his tomb.

These are usually made in tin or silver and represent the part of the body healed. Padua monks have been collecting and cataloguing these tokens since 1466.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Muslims Took Over British Underworld the Day Twin Towers Fell … Other Gangs Are Terrified We’re Al-Qaeda

IN traditional Islamic headgear, Asian ex-gang member Amir poses with his sword and issues the stark warning: “Britain’s underworld belongs to the Muslims.”

The 21-year-old, whose organisation turned over thousands of pounds a day from drug-dealing and credit card scams, claims a post-9/11 fear of terrorism has allowed Muslims to develop a stranglehold on our criminal community.

Through Islam, he says, they have numbers which cannot be matched, and rival gangs are being forced out by ruthless Islamic criminals who only deal with each other.

They recruit black and white members in Britain’s jails, tempting them to convert to Islam in exchange for a cushier life inside.

Once released, the converted cons have access to an entirely new network of Muslim criminal contacts — and are trusted because they pray to Allah.

Amir claims that Britain’s underworld will soon be completely dominated by Islamic gangs — and he says the West’s paranoia over terrorism is to blame. “People don’t f*** with us because they think we’re all in al-Qaeda,” he explains.

“Our status in the criminal hierarchy changed literally the day the Twin Towers went down.

“From then, Asians have been associated with terrorism. People, including other criminals, think if you’re Asian you’ll blow up a Tube train or bomb an aeroplane.

“In the past 20 years we’ve capitalised on that. If we’re going to be thought of as extremists, why not use that fear?

“The reality is that Asian gangs don’t give much of toss about religion, but with Islam comes fear, and with fear comes power.

Strangehold … Amir poses with sword as he tells of power of Asian gangs on British underworld

“Religion is important to us only as a way of defining who we can trust and who we can work with.”

Amir adds: “Young Muslim gangs aren’t worried about what Allah makes of their criminal ways — they don’t believe in it to that extent.

“Through religion we speak the same language, live in the same areas, go to the same schools and can even use mosques as a safe place away from the police or other gangs. If you f*** with a Muslim gang you’d better be able to run fast or hide well, because they will come back at you in numbers.”

You do not have to look far to find an example of this.

In 2007 white schoolboy Henry Webster was beaten with a hammer by a huge gang of Asian pupils calling themselves the Asian Invasion. The 15-year-old pupil at the Ridgeway School in Wroughton, Wilts, was left brain-damaged.

Since then, it has been said in court that the school was the scene of numerous violent incidents involving Asian youths who were “radicalised and hostile” since the 2005 London bombings.

And in March last year, Judge Giles Forrester warned that London’s streets are becoming “increasingly dangerous places” as he jailed an Asian gang for stabbing to death rival black gang member Jevon Henry, 18, in north London.

Jevon Henry and a pal had been trying to extort money from drug dealer Muhid Abdul, 25.

The pair were ambushed on the Lisson Green estate by Abdul and four accomplices. Abdul stabbed Henry, while pal Toufajul Miah, 19, hit him with a hammer.

Amir claims another motive for his own choice of weapon. He says: “We carry swords for protection. I’ve had to use mine more than once.

“Problem is, these days nobody fights on their own. You’ll get attacked by a whole gang, so you have to have something like this to stop people messing.

“Some people do carry guns, but very rarely. The police constantly stop and search young Asians in London and I’d rather get caught with this than a gun because the punishment is less.”

The Sun discovered that most of Britain’s prisons are dominated by Muslim gangs.

We spoke to a former prisoner we will refer to only as Steven, who was repeatedly approached by prison imams — Muslim priests — and asked to convert. Steven, who is British-born and white, rejected the approaches.

He says: “When I went inside the Muslims offered me help from top lawyers on the outside who would fight to get my sentence changed, if I joined them.

“I always resisted, but you have to understand how tempting it is to convert. First, you have their protection. You’re totally alone in prison when you get there, and if you can’t look after yourself life is hell. You’re beaten, robbed and bullied.

“Second, every Friday Muslims are allowed prayer meetings. This is free time away from the guards, so they can plot, make new contacts and often discuss anti-West ideology.

“Muslims also get better food. They have money sent in for their kitchens from the Muslim community outside, and they get special Halal dishes stipulated by Islam.

“Then, when a converted prisoner finishes his time, he leaves as an even bigger criminal with an entirely new contact book of Muslim criminals to do business with.”

‘To avoid a life of hell you join a gang’ … Amir says recruitment to Asian criminal groups starts early

Steven, who has spent time in eight prisons, adds: “Where the Muslim gangs come into their own is shifting drugs. If a white gang from London buys a kilo of coke, they then have to sell it.

“You can only sell your gear if you have contacts. The white gang will only know a few people in their area and won’t trust or be trusted by other gangs. They won’t deal with Eastern European, black or Asian gangs.

“But the Muslim network is vast and stretches up and down the UK, so they can shift drugs extremely quickly. That makes the money-making potential of a Muslim gang a hundred times that of a British or European gang.”

Drug-dealing and credit card fraud are the areas in which London-based Asian gangs are most active. In fact, some dealers get so busy that even their mobile phone SIM cards become a commodity.

Steven says: “A drug gang’s number can be worth hundreds of thousands. Say they have 100 punters phoning that number every day asking for a fix — that means thousands of pounds of business.

“The SIM card of that phone can be sold to another gang because the junkies who phone don’t give a s**t who is dropping off their crack or smack, they’ll just keep calling.

“I’ve heard of SIM cards selling for up to £250,000.”

According to Amir, Asian gangs start early. He says: “If you go to school in an ethnic area you either join a gang or end up bullied, in some cases to the point of being killed.

“So to avoid a life of hell a kid joins a gang. Once you’re in, life is easy — no more beatings, people to talk to, stuff to do.

“After school you graduate into more serious gang activity. You’ve got no qualifications because you’ve spent your school years resisting authority, and suddenly you need to make money.

“A boss can make up to £8,000 a day running a gang of 40 workers drug-dealing or scamming credit cards, and a worker can make £1,000.

“With the police getting more intelligent and busting people more, money is getting harder to make.

“Ten years ago, Asian gangs would go to war with Yardies and white gangs. But now, we’ve got London all sewn up, so the only people we end up warring with is each other.

“We have no one to compete with other than our own people, so Muslim gangs are starting to fight.

“Muslims have this country under control. Nobody can touch us.”

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

Weather: Spain Hit by Cold Snap and Snow Again

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 15 — Spain has been hit again by a cold snap and snowstorms, with temperatures in some regions at -10 degrees Celsius and heavy snowfall throughout almost the entire peninsula, including the Canary Islands. The state weather agency has issued an “orange” alert for an “important risk” in the Navarra and Aragon Pyrenees, Castilla La Mancha, and in Castilla and Leon, where in numerous provinces snowfall has already exceeded 20 centimetres as well as in the communities of Valencia, Estremadura and Madrid (snow was seen this morning on the rooftops in the capital). Due to snow, rain and wind gusts of up to 100km/h, the civil protection agency has issued a “yellow” alert, which represents a medium level of risk in the other Spanish regions and provinces, including the extreme south of Andalusia and the area of the Gibraltar Strait. Snowfall in the north is taking place between 100 and 600 metres of elevation, while in the central regions snow is falling between 400 and 700 metres. The new cold front is creating problems, although currently travel has not been interrupted on any of the major roads. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Berisha Defends Berlusconi’s Quip on Pretty Girls

(AGI) — Tirana, 15 Feb. — Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has defended Silvio Berlusconi, criticised by the Albanian media for a “misunderstood” on the boats transporting illegal immigrants and on ‘beautiful Albanaian girls.” “There were three very pretty Albanian journalists present”, he said, “and if Berlusconi paid them a compliment it is because the audience was male and no one can say they had not noticed them.” ..

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

EU-Croatia: European Parliament, Talks to End in 2010

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 10 — Croatia believes that completing the EU accession negotiations in 2010 is possible. The government will need to continue its battle against corruption and organised crime to reach this target, and has to “fully” cooperate with the Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and close an agreement on its border dispute with Slovenia. This is the message of the resolution that was approved today by the European Parliament, with 582 against 24 votes and 37 abstentions. Regarding the country’s collaboration with the ICTY, sponsor of the resolution Hannes Swoboda, Vice President of the Social Democrats, stressed the need to give the Tribunal access to the required court documents. “We don’t know if these documents are still there or if they have been destroyed” said Swoboda. “I hope the question will be tackled soon”. One of the speakers in today’s debate, Luigi Berlinguer (S&D), asked for more incisive measures to reform the justice system. “The independence of the magistrates, that is, the absence of conditioning of judges by the government, has become crucial” he said. Mario Mauro (PPE) made a more specific appeal to the Croatian authorities ahead of their accession: “the nationalised goods of Italian citizens at the end of the Second World War, still owned by local institutions or municipalities, must be given back to their legitimate owners”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Strengthens Relations With Eastern Neighbours

(ANSAmed) — VERONA — The Balkans have called and Italy has answered: first and foremost with around 50 thousand companies from small to medium-sized, spread from Romania, which hosts 30 thousand of them alone, and Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldavia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia and Kosovo. And the second answer has come with an organisation capable of monitoring the trade transfers with the great area of the Western Balkans. This machine came into service today, at Veron’s trade fair, Veronafiere, where two days of “Italy & South Eastern Europe Investment” has got underway: a forum dedicated to relationships between Italy and the Balkan countries, promoted by Italy’s Ministry of Economic Development alongside Customs Agencies, Finest, the Italian Foreign Trade Commission and Verona’s trade fair management. The meeting was opened by Minister Claudio Scajola, who noted how Italy can look optimistically in the direction of the Balkan area. “We are divided by the straits of the Adriatic, but we are close to them culturally and exercise a great ‘appeal’ over these countries, who look to us with admiration. Which is why there is a natural empathy between us. We have developed significant trade relations with these states and our volume of trade is almost the same as that with Germany”. In the view of the minister, who was flanked in Verona by Albania’s Premier, Sali Berisha, the Balkan Plan, launched in September 2008 “has been of crucial importance for Italy’s internationalisation policy. The Balkan’s were our first taste of growth of Italy abroad and the results are there to be seen”. Having kicked off in 2009 with decreases of between 20% and 15% in trade with the Balkans, Italy is hoping that this year will see a 20% comeback to pass the 10-billion-euro mark. The meeting in Verona may help this to happen, as there are around 500 enterprises taking part, offering their projects to countries such as Albania, which are prepared to cut the barriers of red tape to let in fresh economic impetus. As Scajola pointed out, Italy has a further objective in the Mediterranean area: “We are aiming to become a hub in the energy sector are working to make our country an ‘energy-lab’. Links with the Balkans help them, because without power there is no development and they help to keep our electricity bills down”. The meeting in Verona may turn out to be the first in a long series: “We are planning to set up an annual meeting to monitor development in partnerships in the key sectors of the economy: from infrastructure to logistics, from energy to transport and collaboration in trade fairs”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: NATO: Tadic Meets Head of European Forces, Stavridis

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 11 — Talks between Serb President Boris Tadic and the Commander in Chief of NATO Forces Europe, James Stavidris in Belgrade today have centred on Serbia’s activities as part of the Partnership for Peace programme and cooperation with Kfor, targeted at maintaining peace and security in Kosovo. According to a report by Tanjug, Tadic pointed out how Kosovo Serbs are still the population most at risk across the whole of Europe, which is why Kfor has to continue to protect them, their monasteries and churches, independently of any decision to cut back on troop strengths. At the same time, the Serb president criticised the plan for the North of Kosovo drawn up by the international representative, Pieter Feith and the Pristina government. Tadic stated that it would constitute a threat to the stability of the entire region. This plan envisages the integration of the north of Kosovo, which has a Serb majority population, into the institutional framework of the rest of the country, dismantling the parallel governmental structures created by the Serb population with political and financial backing from Belgrade. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Greek Business Delegation Visits Raska Region

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 11 — The Greek delegation expressed great interest in the economic potentials of Novi Pazar and of Raska, Tutin and Sjenica municipalities, the mayor’s information advisor Ivana Milic said, reports Emportal. The talks also focused on tourism potentials of the region and on prospects for economic cooperation and privatization, she said. The Ambassador of Greece to Belgrade Dimostenis Stoidis expressed hope that Serbia might join the European Union by 2014 if it meets the necessary conditions. After meeting Novi Pazar Mayor Meho Mahmutovic, Stoidis commended the economic potentials of Novi Pazar and of Raska, Tutin and Sjenica municipalities. He was visiting Novi Pazar with a delegation of the Hellenic Business Association in order to foster Greek investments and Greek-Serbian economic cooperation. Pointing to great Greek-Serbian friendship, Mahmutovic said that now is an ideal opportunity for Greek investments in Serbia. He told the press that he offered to Vero supermarket Manager Vassilios Kakagiotis to include products made in Novi Pazar in its range.(ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Foundation for Remembrance of Algerian War Soon

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 11 — A Foundation for the remembrance of the Algerian War and the fighting in Morocco and Tunisia should be established in June, said Defence and Veterans Secretary of State Hubert Falco, indicating that the statutes, approved by the president of the council, must still be validated by the Interior Ministry and then by the Council of State. Paris hopes that the creation of a Foundation will serve to smooth its troubled relations with Algiers, which have deteriorated recently after 125 Algerian MPs signed a draft law criminalising the French colonial period (1830-1962). Algiers continues to call for Paris to officially acknowledge the horrors of the war and colonisation. According to Falco, the presidency could be given to former Axa President Claude Bebear, who fought in the Algerian War. Desired by Jacques Chirac, the idea for the Foundation was brought back by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, with hopes that it can assist in the reconciliation of historical memory, former combatants, repatriations, harkis (Northern Africans who fought for the French), Algerians and historians. The Foundation, with state funding of 7.2 million euros, will be headquartered in Les Invalides. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Sentence Reduced for Swiss Businessman

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, FEBRUARY 11 — Swiss businessman, Max Goeldi, who has been found guilty of breaking immigration regulations by a Libyan court, has been granted a reduction of his sentence from 16 to four months in prison. The sentence is to be served out before the man is allowed to settle his affairs in the country. The news of the reduction in sentence was broken today by Libyan court and the Swiss man’s lawyer, Salah Zahaf. Accused of having broken trade laws, the man closed this case against him by agreeing to pay a fine of around 500 euros on Saturday. But today’s sentence would seem to have lengthened the time that Goeldi has to wait before being able to return to Switzerland, while his fellow Swiss, Rashid Hamdani, who was found guilty in the first-instance on November 30, may, according to the lawyer “consider himself free to leave the country”. However, it is still unclear today whether or not his passport has been returned. The lawyer Zahaf has also stated that Goeldi may appeal to Libya’s High Court against today’s sentence. The two Swiss businessmen were arrested on July 19 2008 soon after the arrest in Switzerland of the son of the Libyan leader, Hannibal Gaddafi, who was accused of mistreating two of his domestic servants. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya Suspends Issuing Visas to Europeans

By Ali Shuaib

TRIPOLI, Feb 15 (Reuters) — Libya has stopped issuing entry visas to citizens of most European countries, officials said on Monday, in an apparent escalation of its diplomatic row with Switzerland.

The visa suspension emerged a day after a Libyan newspaper reported that the North African country would take “severe measures” in response to Switzerland drawing up a visa blacklist that included Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family.

A notice on France’s foreign ministry website said Libya had suspended visas for the Schengen area — 25 European countries, including some which, like Switzerland, are not in the European Union. EU members Britain, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus are not in Schengen.

Italy’s Foreign Ministry also confirmed that Libya, which has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, had suspended visas. “Contacts are under way between the countries of the zone to coordinate over this measure,” a ministry spokesman said.

The visa suspension risks damaging Libya’s reputation as a reliable business partner. Foreign investment has grown since United Nations sanctions were lifted in 2003, but some investors say arbitrary decisions by officials hinder business.

Asked by Reuters to confirm reports of the suspension, an official at Libya’s main international airport, who did not want to be identified, said: “This is right. This decision has been taken. No visas for Europeans, except Britain.”

No explanation was given for the suspension, and there was no official confirmation from the Libyan government. The French ministry said the measure took effect on Sunday without warning.


Libya has been locked for months in a row with Switzerland over the brief 2008 arrest of one of Gaddafi’s sons in Geneva, and the subsequent prosecution of two Swiss businessmen who had been working in Libya.

Libya’s Oea newspaper reported on Sunday that Libya would retaliate against what it said was Switzerland’s decision to deny entry visas to a list of 188 Libyans, including Gaddafi, members of his family and other senior officials

“Severe measures, based on the principle of reciprocity, will be taken if it (Switzerland) does not renounce its decision before it is too late,” the newspaper cited an unnamed senior Libyan official as saying.

In July 2008, Swiss police arrested Gaddafi’s son Hannibal at a luxury lakeside hotel in Geneva on charges — which were later dropped — of mistreating two domestic employees.

After the arrest, Libya halted oil exports to Switzerland and withdrew more than $5 billion assets from Swiss banks.

Tripoli also barred two Libya-based Swiss businessmen, Max Goeldi and Rachid Hamdani, from leaving the country and later charged them with visa violations and other offences. Libyan officials say their case is not linked to the Geneva arrest.

Switzerland has not publicly acknowledged the existence of a visa black-list for Libyan officials, but Swiss media has said the list is designed to target Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle.

Swiss officials have said that other states in the Schengen zone have backed Switzerland’s line on issuing visas to Libyans.

According to media reports, Libyan officials last year complained that since the dispute with Switzerland broke out, some Libyans have experienced difficulty receiving entry visas from several other Schengen zone countries.

           — Hat tip: ESW[Return to headlines]

Libya: Europeans Banned From Entry

Tripoli, 15 Feb.(AKI) — Libya on Monday started to turn away Europeans who arrive in the country as retaliation for a recent decision by Switzerland to publish a blacklist of 180 Libyans banned from entering the country.

The North African country led by Muammar Gaddafi has suspended the issuing of entry visas to European citizens apart from British nationals, an official at the country’s main international airport was reported as saying.

“The decision by the Libyan authorities doesn’t help improve what is already a delicate relationship with Europe,” said Francesco Tempestini, a member of the Italian foreign affairs parliamentary committee.

Libya’s Oea newspaper, which has close ties to one of Gaddafi’s sons, on Sunday reported that Libya would stop issuing visas to citizens of countries in the Schengen area, which includes non-EU member Switzerland.

The Schengen agreement provides for the removal of systematic border controls between the participating countries in the European Union, as well as other European countries like Switzerland.

The Italian foreign ministry confirmed the measure and said it was in retaliation for Switzerland’s recent decision to publish the blacklist of 180 Libyans banned from entering the country. The ministry said the issue will be discussed when the EU foreign affairs committee meets on 22 February.

Libya for months has been engaged in a diplomatic dispute with Switzerland over the prosecution of two Swiss businessmen who had been working in the North African country.

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

Morocco: French Loans for Trams and Phosphates

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — Today in Rabat French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Anne-Marie Idrac signed two accords related to two loans for a total of 585 million euros, granted by France to Morocco for the future tram-line of Casablanca, and a project for the development of phosphates. The first loan of 225 million euro concerns the acquisition of rolling stock for the tram line in Casablanca, and is clearly related to a contract won in November by French group Alstom to supply 37 convoys of 65 meters each, as well as maintenance for 15 years: the contract is worth 225 million euros. Construction work on the first line began in May and the consignment of the first convoy is expected by November 2011, while service is expected to begin in December 2012. The 30km-long tram line will connect the main neighbourhoods in Casablanca and will include 49 stations. The second loan of 360 million, guaranteed by the French state, was granted by Credit Agricole for the realization of a project to be carried out by the Moroccan office of phosphates. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nuclear: Algeria, First French Atomic Bomb 50 Years Ago

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 12 — At 7:04AM of February 13, 1960, France joined the club of atomic powers by detonating its first atomic bomb in Algeria. In the Reggane oasis “that day many men cried without even understanding that that earthquake which would forever change that area of the Sahara, 1000 km south of Algiers. Sid Ammar El Hammel, a citizen of Reggane and president of the association ‘13 February 1960’, told ANSA that 50 years later nothing has changed in the region. The radioactive remains are everywhere. There are people who built their homes with pieces of iron collected in ground zero. Our plants are born different, our animals keep on dying and the people keep on falling ill”. After ‘Gerboise Bleu’ (Blue Gerboa), the first test with a 70 kiloton explosion (four times greater than that of Hiroshima), in under a year Paris carried out another three tests in the atmosphere (white, red and green Gerboa). Another 13 tests were instead carried out up to 1966 in underground tunnels in In Ekker, 150 km from Tamanrasset, mostly after Algerias independence (1962). Certain secret clauses of the Evian Agreements allegedly allowed the colonial power to keep secret bases in the Sahara for another five years to carry out nuclear, chemical and ballistic tests. Some claim that the chemical experiments continued up to 1978. The man who works in the school of Reggane and still collects witness accounts from survivors pressed on calling it “A crime, a massacre. The colonist is responsible for the victims and the environmental disaster he provoked. No research has ever been carried out to asses the consequences of the French experiments and it is impossible to have a precise number of contaminated people. Some 16 to 20 thousand people lived in the region, without counting the nomad tribes. Today Sid Ammar wants to hear nothing of the damage payment provided by the French law dated December 22, 2009. “What can we do with a little money. We want experts, we request the decontamination of the area and a centre specialised in the treatment of this type of diseases”. There is no oncological centre in the area and the closest hospital is located some 200km away in Adrar. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Swiss-Libya Spat Sees Schengen Visas Blocked

Libya has stopped issuing visas to citizens of Schengen zone states, a day after claims emerged that Switzerland wants to bar entry to 188 top Libyans.

An unnamed official at Tripoli international airport told Reuters news agency on Monday: “This is right. This decision has been taken. No visas for Europeans, except Britain.”

Reuters said no explanation was given for the suspension, and there was no immediate confirmation from the Libyan government.

A spokesman for the Council of the European Union told that ambassadors in Tripoli had been informed of the development and the Spanish EU presidency was carrying out consultations on the issue and was expected to be in touch with the Libyan authorities.

He said it was “premature to forecast any further development”.

The Italian foreign ministry described the decision as a reprisal against an alleged Swiss visa blacklist of high-ranking Libyan officials.

“The Libyan response to the Swiss decision affects all countries in the Schengen zone,” a ministry spokesman told Reuters. “Contacts are underway between the countries in the Schengen zone to bring out a coordinated response to this measure.”

Oea, a Libyan newspaper with links to the Gaddafi family, reported on Sunday that Switzerland had drawn up a list of officials who would be barred from the country. Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and his family, along with members of government, parliamentarians and military and security chiefs are said to feature on the alleged list.

According to Oea, a senior Libyan source threatened reciprocal action against Switzerland if an alleged decision to establish a blacklist was not reversed. Bern refused to comment on the newspaper report but the Swiss foreign ministry did say that a continuing restrictive visa policy was in place against Libya and not Libyans in general.

“Swiss solidarity”

It is the latest development in an ongoing diplomatic row between the two countries that was sparked in July 2008 after the detention in Geneva of one of Gaddafi’s sons and his wife over allegedly assaulting two of their domestic staff.

Last November Bern asked members of the Schengen zone to implement a restricted visa policy for applications from Libya. This followed Tripoli’s refusal to allow two Swiss businessmen to leave the country following the arrest of Gaddafi’s son.

That month Schengen visas were refused to the Libyan prime minister and other top officials. Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaïm denounced a “systematic and programmed solidarity with Switzerland”.

Holders of a Schengen visa in principle have the right to travel freely between member countries. However individual members can bar entry to specific people, as Switzerland has done in the case of Libya.

Member states also have a right of consultation and veto over the allocation of Schengen visas, and therefore certain Libyans can be prevented from travelling anywhere in the Schengen area, which covers 25 countries in mainland Europe.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Citrus Exports Do Well

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 12 — 7,453 tonnes of citrus fruits were exported from Tunisia between the start of January and February 2. France was the main customer, importing 84% of Maltese oranges; the remaining 16% went to various markets, including Libya. The export potential of the sector is estimated at 25,000 tonnes, with 23,000 made up of highly-valued Maltese oranges. Tunisia has activated a series of programmes over the last decade aimed at developing its agricultural production. In particular plantations of Maltese oranges have increased considerably (from 40 to 60,000 new plants every year). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Bil’in: ‘Wall Tourism’ Between Photos and Teargas

(report by Alessandro Logroscino and Laura Conti) (ANSAmed) — BIL’IN (WEST BANK), FEBRUARY 15 — The “occupation tourists” take pictures of the demonstrators who have come together at the barrier that separates the Palestinian West Bank from Israel. The protesters are dressed up as Nàvi, the blue protagonists from the blockbuster movie “Avatar”. Occupation tourists, somewhat more adventurous than the average tourist and motivated by political solidarity, curiosity and a need to be there where things are happening, have become a regular sight at the weekly “anti-barrier” protest on Friday. They come from all over the world to take pictures, to be photographed and to make videos. There are real tourists and people who want to gather information about the controversial barrier, tens of kilometers of fencing and reinforced concrete wall. The former Ariel Sharon government took the initiative for the wall, in an attempt to stop suicide attacks on Israel. Israel justifies the construction of the barrier by pointing at the fact that the number of terrorist attacks on the country has decreased. The United Nations international tribunal on the other hand has called the wall ‘illegal’, and the Palestinians see it as an unacceptable form of collective punishment, or even a “symbol of apartheid”. To get an idea of the barrier, most Western tourists choose to visit the West Bank villages of Nabi Selech, Naalin, al-Maasara and most of all Bil’in: a village that has been cut in two by the wall. On February 19, the village will ‘celebrate’ its 5th anniversary of protests. These protests are the result of the “peaceful resistance” of thousands of Palestinians and Israeli and international pacifists, according to the organisation of local people’s committees. These committees claim to support a non-violent approach. However, there have been frequent clashes in Bil’in in recent years, with people getting injured and even killed. Protesters throw stones, Israeli security forces use rubber bullets and teargas. But still the visitors keep coming. The Israeli troops also seem to be more cautious when there are many foreigners among the protesters. The man who invented the ‘anti-colonial Avatar protest’, Mohammad al-Khatib, has been arrested and released several times by the Israeli military. He describes his initiative as a “creative” effort to ask the world for attention. And to reach that goal, he told ANSA, every little bit helps, including the ‘marketing strategies’ that draw reporters, activists, tourists and even pilgrims to the Friday protests in Bil’in. According to Khatib, International participation is important to tell the world about the fate of the farmers who have lost their land and work due to the barrier. The recent verdict of Israel’s High Court in favour of a group of Palestinians might change this situation for some people. The authorities have announced that the route the barrier will follow through Bil’in will be partially changed. Despite this verdict, the situation of many others remains difficult and without prospect. Despite the incidents, more and more visitors come to the area. Samer Kokali of the non-profit travel agency Alternative Tourism Group Bethlehem, which has organised stays in the West Bank since 1996, told ANSA that these are people who are “tired of the usual travels”. This unique travel agency organises visits to religious and artistic sites, organises meetings with Palestinian and Israeli politicians or with settlers, but also lessons in the Arabic language, culture and kitchen. The agency also helps those who want to visit the ‘hot spots’. Wére not interested in business, said Kokali, we want “the people to come here and see the situation with their own eyes”, beyond the usual thrill-seeking.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hamas Detains British Journalist in Gaza Strip Over ‘Security Crimes’

A British journalist arrested by Hamas police in Gaza over suspected security offences could be held for up to 15 days, a spokesman for the Islamic group said today.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, announced that freelance journalist Paul Martin had been arrested on Sunday, saying it had received ‘confessions’ about security crimes.

A spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry said Martin was being held under a 15-day detention order issued by the attorney general. It gave no details about the allegations.

‘He may be released or the 15 days may be extended, pending the results of the investigation,’ spokesman Ehab al-Ghsain said.

A spokesman for the British consul general in Jerusalem, who oversees affairs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said British diplomats were helping Mr Martin in Gaza and were in touch with his family.

She said: ‘We are very concerned about the situation.’

Mr al-Ghsain said that a Palestinian acting on behalf of the British consulate visited the journalist yesterday and he chose a Palestinian lawyer to represent him.

Britain has long rejected official dealings with Hamas over the Islamic group’s refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

London does not recognise the government Hamas established in Gaza in 2007 after it broke violently with the Palestinian Authority of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the West Bank.

But Western diplomats are regular visitors to the Gaza Strip, where much of the 1.5 million population is dependent on aid from the UN and other bodies.

Journalists accredited by the Israeli government are among the few foreigners allowed to enter Gaza. Britain, like other Western nations, advises citizens not to go there.

Human rights groups have criticised both Hamas and Mr Abbas’s Palestinian Authority for detaining journalists and placing other curbs on media freedoms.

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

Settlement Freeze Ignored in Dozens of Settlements

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 15 — Dozens of Jewish settlement in the West Bank have ignored the settlement freeze announced three months ago by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, admitted Defense Vice Minister Matan Vilnay to the Knesset (parliament). Vilnay stated that in at least 29 settlements (roughly a quarter of the total) construction work contrary to the government’s provisions had been discovered. Punitive measures are to be taken against those held responsible. The settlement freeze was decided by Netanyahu in an attempt — so far in vain — to revive peace negotiations with the Palestinian National Authority. The organisation Peace Now asserted that the statistics released by Vilnay are misleading. In order to circumvent the freeze of construction work, claim Peace Now, settlers also work by night and ignore the Sabbatical rest. A leader of the colonist movement, Dany Dayan, countered by claiming that Peace Now’s criticisms are unworthy of comment, “also because it is an organisation financed from abroad”. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Africans Working in Iraq See Opportunity and Exploitation

Approximately 15,000 Ugandans have been deployed to Iraq since the US led invasion. Some call it lucrative work. Others call it slavery.

Rich Twinamatsiko looked contently at his herd of 15 cows grazing on the rolling highlands of south-western Uganda. Twinamatsiko (29) bought the cows with money he made working as a security guard in Iraq. He also purchased a plot of land where he cultivates corn, grain and matooke, a green banana that is the cornerstone of Ugandan diet. “I sell the food on the market,” Twinamatsiko said. Currently, he still lived on his parents’ farm — but not for long now. “I am using the profits to build my own house.”

An estimated 15,000 Ugandans have been deployed to Iraq by private security and recruitment agencies. The Ugandans protect military bases, airports and oil drills there. Ask any Ugandan: chances are he will have a family member, a friend or an acquaintance serving in Iraq.

War is business

The driving force behind the massive recruitment of Ugandans is the creeping privatisation of war. A trend catalysed by the British-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The incessant search for affordable cleaners, mechanics and security guards has led the Americans to Africa, which has a surplus of labour and a weak job market. Here, Ugandans are scrambling to get jobs in Iraq, even though the salaries are constantly being reduced and the work environment is anything but pleasant, some claim.

“I earned 800 US dollars [555 euros] a month working in Iraq,” Twinamatsiko said. “Far more than most Ugandans do.” Twinamatsiko did his first tour in 2007, working for Dreshak, the company that has deployed the most Ugandans to Iraq so far, 8,000 in all. This time, he will be earning only 500 dollars a month. “Which is still a lot of money in Uganda,” Twinamatsiko said. Shortly after the interview, Twinamatsiko left for Baghdad to do a third tour as a contract worker there.

Twinamatsiko used to be a soldier in his own country. Uganda is home to many veterans from the 20 year conflict with the sectarian, militant Christian group Lord’s Resistance Army and the ‘African World War’ waged in the Congo between 1998 and 2003. Widespread military experience makes Uganda all the more suitable as a recruitment area. Moreover, many inhabitants of the former British colony speak decent English and Uganda is a military ally of the US.

The life of a king

In Ntungamo, a village near his farm, Twinamatsiko is a celebrated man. His baggy jeans, baseball cap and Manchester United football club necklace make him look like an American hip hop star compared to his peers. Most here earn only dollars a day driving around on the Ugandan version of the motorised rickshaw, known locally as the boda boda. Anybody who has been on kyeyo, an Ugandan term for leaving the country to earn money abroad, enjoys respect here.

Twinamatsiko may be doing fine, but not all Ugandans deployed to Iraq are. Some former security guards have accused their past employers of taking advantage of young Ugandan men.

“Ugandans are exploited in Iraq. This is modern day slavery,” said Gideon Tusigye (40), himself deployed to Iraq in 2006 and 2007 as an army physician. Like Twinamatsiko, he was under contract with Dreshak.

Deplorable conditions

Speaking in a union office in the Ugandan capital Kampala, Tusigye deplored the working conditions his compatriots were exposed to in Iraq. “Ugandans have to purchase their own equipment in Baghdad. They stand guard for ten hours straight in the burning sun and are packed into tents like sardines in a can,” he said

Sam Lyomoki, a member of parliament who has long been a champion of employees’ rights, called for an inquiry into the maltreatment of Ugandans in Iraq in April of 2008. His motion has yet to make it to the parliament floor.

Dreshak’s managing director, the Pakistani Zain Ul Arfin Ahmed, said his company was only responsible for recruitment in Uganda. “We are not responsible for what happens in Iraq,” he added.

The Ugandan contract workers shouldn’t count on the Ugandan government for support. The ministry of employment has approved numerous pay cuts by recruitment agencies. The average salary has decreased from 1,200 dollars in 2005 to less than 500 dollars today. The ministry has said it hopes to prevent the Americans from seeking workers elsewhere in Africa.

“They lie,” said Lyomoki. “These companies, which are often politically connected, are looking to turn a profit at the expense of Ugandans.” Mwesigwa Rukutana, who was minister of employment until last year, owned a company that recruited Ugandans for work in Iraq himself. Rukutana is now minister of higher education.

Askar Security Services, which has deployed 5,000 soldiers, is run by the sister-in-law of general Salim Saleh, who is the brother and military advisor of the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. Critics have accused Askar of tribal nepotism. The company recruits many of its workers from the ranks of the Banyankole people who live in the Museveni region. A spokesperson defending the policy, said employees “tend to feel at home with people from their own region” .

Recruitment agencies currently have their eye on Afghanistan, which they hope will provide them with new business once Americans withdraw from Iraq.

“Dear Lord, we pray to thee for Rich’s healthy return,” a local Anglican preacher said, as he led Twinamatsiko and his family into prayer after dinner at their home. Below the weak glow of a single light bulb, a laptop screened a slideshow of pictures of his last deployment to Baghdad. The laptop drew power from a small generator. Electricity on an African hill, sponsored by the Iraq war.

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

Bahrain: Visa Restrictions for Foreigners in GCC

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, FEBRUARY 11 — Bahrain has announced further visa restrictions for foreigners in the other member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The new system provides for foreign professionals from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman to retain the privilege of being granted a visa on their entrance to the small oil-rich emirate, while other categories of workers will have to request visas from Bahraini embassies in their countries of residence. The measure affects engineers, doctors, bankers, entrepreneurs and trade representatives from 36 countries including Italy and the Vatican City.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Cars: Turkey’s Ford Reports 2009 Profit of €181 Mln

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 15 — Turkey’s carmaker Ford Otosan announced today that its net profit in 2009 was 375.6 million TL (181 million euro). In a statement, as reported by Anatolia news agency, Ford Otosan said its net sales revenues stood at 5.61 billion TL (2.7 billion euro). Ford Otosan, Turkey’s leading commercial vehicle manufacturer and exporter, is a joint venture of Turkish conglomerate Koc Holding and Ford.Company’s net profit in 2008 was 436 million TL (210 million euro). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Dear Veneziani: This is Why Boycotting Teheran is Right

Opposing Teheran’s candidature to host the next World Philosophy Day does not mean inflicting “philosophical sanctions” on Iran, nor does it mean “boycotting” a UNESCO initiative in the name of an assumed “priority of democracy over philosophy.” Marcello Veneziani is mistaken when in Il Giornale he attributes such ideas to those who, like Giuliano Amato and the members of Resedoc’s scientific committe, emphasise it would be grotesque to make a place “in which one can risk one’s life in the name of one’s ideas” the capital of doubt and critical debate. Veneziani is wrong, because if it is true that philosophy is exalted wherever humankind needs saving, it is equally true that it is certainly not the executioner who concedes a philosopher’s right to citizenship. What is at stake is understanding who or what could guarantee a free exchange of ideas between participants, should they meet in November 2010 in the capital of Ahmedinejad’s regime. Veneziani himself perhaps?

This article was originally published on February 3rd by Farefuturo webmagazine

Opposing Teheran’s candidature for the next World Philosophy Day does not mean inflicting “philosophical sanctions” on Iran, nor does it mean “boycotting” UNESCO’s initiative in the name of an assumed “priority of democracy over philosophy.” Marcello Veneziani is wrong in attributing such concepts in Il Giornale to those like Giuliano Amato and the members of Resetdoc’s scientific committee, who emphasise that it would be grotesque to make a place in which “one can risk one’s life for one’s ideas” the world capital of doubt and critical reflection. He is wrong because if it is true that philosophy is exalted wherever humankind needs saving, it is equally true that it is certainly not the executioner who concedes a philosopher’s right to citizenship. In other words, it is not very helpful to mention that philosophers are also persecuted in democracies, also quoting Florenskij to remind one of how philosophy blossomed under the totalitarianisms of Stalin and Hitler. Acute and shareable observations, but not relevant ones.

What is at stake is understanding who or what could guarantee a free exchange of ideas between participants should they in November meet in the capital of Ahmedinejad’s regime…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hamas Leader Murder, 11 Suspects European

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, FEBRUARY 15 — Eleven European passport-holders, including one woman, have been implicated in the murder of Mahmud Al Mabhuh, the Hamas supporter killed on January 20 in Dubai, said Chief of Police of the Emirate, Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who added that warrants for their arrest will shortly be sent to Interpol. During a press conference, Tamim today said that involvement by Israel has not been excluded. Israel has meanwhile denied any involvement. Six of the eleven suspects hold British passports; three, including the woman, are Irish — as already announced in recent days — one French and one German. Mahmud Al Mabhuh, the founder of the Ezzedin al Qassam brigade, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, was found dead in a hotel room in Dubai, just hours after his arrival, in circumstances which led investigators to make comparisons with killings carried out in the past by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hit Squad Carrying British Passports Killed Senior Hamas Leader, Claims Dubai Police Chief

An 11-member hit squad carrying European passports was responsible for killing a Hamas commander in his hotel room last month in a slaying that has brought vows of revenge from the Palestinian militant group, Dubai’s police chief has said.

The details given by Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim are the most comprehensive accusations by Dubai authorities since the body of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found on January 20 in his luxury hotel room near Dubai’s international airport.

Tamim told reporters the alleged assassination team was made up of six British passport holders, three Irish and one each from France and Germany.

But he did not directly implicate Israel — as Hamas has done. The group has accused Israel’s Mossad secret service of carrying out the killing and has pledged to strike back.

Tamim said it was possible that ‘leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents to kill’ al-Mabhouh, one of the founders of Hamas’ military wing. Israeli officials have accused him of helping smuggle rockets into Gaza.

He said forensic tests indicate al-Mabhouh died of suffocation, but lab analyses are still under way to pinpoint possible other factors in his death.

Top Hamas figures have denied reports that al-Mabhouh was en route to Iran, which is a major Hamas backer. But the group has not given clear reasons for his presence in Dubai.

Tamim sketched out a highly organized operation in the hours before the killing.

He showed a news conference surveillance video of the alleged assassination team arriving on separate flights to Dubai the day before al-Mabhouh was found dead. The suspects checked into separate hotels.

They paid for all expenses in cash and used different mobile phone cards to avoid traces, he added.

At least two suspected members of the hit squad watched al-Mabhouh check in at his hotel and later booked a room across from the Hamas commander, Tamim said.

He added that there was ‘serious penetration into al-Mabhouh’s security prior to his arrival’ in Dubai, but that it appeared al-Mabhouh was travelling alone.

‘Hamas did not tell us who he was. He was walking around alone,’ said Tamim. ‘If he was such an important leader, why didn’t he have people escorting him?’

Tamim said there was at least one unsuccessful attempt to break into al-Mabhouh’s hotel room. It was unclear whether he opened the door to his killers or if the room was forcibly entered.

The killing took place about five hours after al-Mabhouh arrived at the hotel and all 11 suspects were out of the United Arab Emirates within 19 hours of their arrivals, he added.

Tamim said the suspects left some evidence, but he declined to elaborate. He urged the countries linked to the alleged killers to co- operate with the investigation.

Earlier this month, Hamas said it launched floating explosives into the Mediterranean Sea to drift toward Israeli beaches to avenge al-Mabhouh’s death.

Israeli authorities discovered at least two explosives-rigged barrels and carried out an intensive search for other bombs, closing miles of beaches and deploying robotic bomb squads.

A Hamas statement last month acknowledged al-Mabhouh was involved in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and said he was still playing a ‘continuous role in supporting his brothers in the resistance inside the occupied homeland’ at the time of his death.

More than 2,000 mourners attended al-Mabhouh’s funeral and burial at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, near Damascus, Syria.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Commemorating Rafik Hariri’s Death, Demanding Answers From March 14 Leaders

More than 100,000 people gather to commemorate the death of former PM Hariri. Speaking to the crowds, leaders reiterate in measured tones the alliance’s goals. However, banners appear, asking, “What have you with my vote?”

Beirut (AsiaNews) — Each year since 2006, the ‘March 14 alliance’ commemorates the terrorist that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. This way, it can assert its presence in a show of force designed to counterbalance the huge power Hizbollah and its armed militias wield in Lebanese politics.

This was achieved as more than 100,000 demonstrations gathered in Martyrs Square. However, the success of the rally did not stop many in the alliance from feeling letdown, disappointed by the impression that their recent electoral victory was snatched away by the imposition of a national unity government at the Doha summit, which gave Hizbollah and its Christian ally, General Michel Aoun, the power to impose their will.

Likewise, the large crowds that came to the rally could not hide the absence of some political leaders, most notably those of the Druze community.

Indeed, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt is playing the neutrality card. Even as he grooms his son Taymour to succeed him, he is jockeying for positions, trying to re-establish ties with Syria “for reasons that are internal to the community”, whilst remaining loyal to Saad Hariri as he was to his slain father. In fact, Jumblatt did visit Rafik Hariri’s tomb to pay his respect but did not attend the public rally that commemorated the attack in which the former prime minister was killed.

The rally saw nevertheless, four of Lebanon’s major leaders address the crowds, namely former President Amin Gemayel, former Prime Minister and Future Party leader Fuad Siniora, Lebanese Forces (Kataeb) leader Samir Geagea, and Saad Hariri himself.

In all four’s speeches, realism and continuity prevailed in both content and tone. Having accepted a national unity government, Hariri and his allies could not do otherwise, but stick to their decision. At the same time, they had to reassert their own fundamental options. In the end, they took a measured approach, reiterating their “Lebanon first” orientation, as Saad Hariri put it repeatedly.

Hariri signalled his support for the new regional balance, which is marked by a rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia. However, the latter is pursuing a (dangerous) strategy designed to separate Syria from Iran. Yet, Tehran’s influence in Lebanon is best exemplified by the current national unity government.

For the alliance, Hizbollah’s weapons remain a thorny issue, but it is no longer demanding its total disarmament; instead, it wants to see them placed under Lebanese, not Islamist command.

As for Hizbollah, it continues to align itself to the current Iranian regime as the public statements by its leaders on regional issues indicate.

Invariably, Syria remains the other major factor in Lebanon’s political life. The Syrian regime continues to interfere in its neighbour’s domestic politics through local proxies, clearly bent on swaying which ways it goes.

But will ‘March 14 alliance’ supporters continue to support the movement’s leaders? When the attack took place in 2005, they had spontaneously taken to the streets in a mass demonstration. Today they still claim ownership to movement. But are they still willing to follow? Nothing is less sure.

Some of the banners seen at yesterday’s ceremony read: “What have you done with my vote?” The message was loud and clear and was meant for the alliance, not the opposition. It is a clarion call for the March 14 leaders to explain themselves, to say what they have done to the Cedar Revolution.

The Syrian army might have left Lebanon, Beirut and Damascus might have established formal diplomatic relations, a new parliament might be in place, but many people are still waiting for Lebanon’s institutions to work from within and not play to the tune of outside forces.

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

Media: Winner of Kassir Award, Lebanon Lacks Transparency

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, FEBRUARY 11 — To enter the brothels of Beirut without being either a client or a prostitute was not easy for Carole Kerbage, a very young Lebanese freelance journalist, winner of the latest edition of the ‘Samir Kassir’ award for the freedom of press, sponsored by the European Union, for her reportage dedicated to the underground world of sex for money in Lebanon. “After having been refused by bouncers, also because I dressed in a way that is too simple, I changed strategy and wore high heels and pretended to be a wealthy film director in search of locations for a television advertisement,” recounts 23-year-old Kerbage, speaking to ANSAmed just a few steps away from the Saint-Joseph Jesuit University of Beirut, where she is attending the second year of a masters course in Political Sciences. “Once I got in,” she continued, “if I managed to get served a drink, I’d made it: because then I could be calm and look around and watch.” During one of those nights she spent in the Beirut of exploitation — her family keft in the dark about it — (“I come from a conservative family”), Kerbage managed to get close to a brothel-keeper, a so-called “mummy”, and to witness scenes that she however decided not include in her long article. The result of three years of work and published last year by the supplement for young people in the Lebanese daily newspaper, An Nahar, Kerbage’s article was chosen by the Samir Kassir award jury, named after the journalist and intellectual from Beirut who was assassinated in 2005, ahead of numerous other articles written by Arab journalists on human rights issues. “With the prize money (12,500 euros), I have improved my life. I’ve become more independent economically and I have gained more confidence in my abilities,” says Kerbage, who, after finishing her masters degree in Beirut, plans to attend another masters course in London which is dedicated to investigative journalism, or to do the exclusive and expensive training course offered by the pan-Arab satellite broadcaster, Al Jazeera, in Qatar. “In both cases I will be moving country and I will have to spend a great deal of money. I will use part of the prize money to continue to study and to educate myself in an independent way,” the young freelance journalist says with pride. Without a fixed contract, she cannot obtain any press accreditation from the Ministry of Information of her own country. Job insecurity and the “humiliating” conditions to which TV, radio and newspaper contributors are subject in Lebanon is for Kerbage one of the main obstacles to the independence of local journalism. “For reporting,” she says, “the daily newspapers mainly use freelancers, whilst anyone with a fixed contract is forced to stay behind their desk all day long, without ever having the time to examine things closely.” (ANSAMED). According to her brief but already rich experience, added to these difficulties is “the absence of transparency from the institutions and the self-censorship imposed by the chief editors, who must also answer to their publishers”. Carole Kerbage is not however giving up and she has already prepared an investigation on immigrants, for the most part Egyptian, who are working in exploitation at petrol stations in Lebanon: “I’ve finished the piece. Now I just have to find someone who will publish it.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Nuclear: Turkey; Minister, First Power Plant Ready by 2017

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 11 — Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz has stated that talks between Russia and Turkey are continuing regarding the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, which he hopes will produce electricity for consumer use by 2017. Speaking on Channel 24, Yildiz stated that Turkey and Russia were still working together to hammer out the technical details of the power plant. Even though the call for a tender was cancelled in 2008 and a bid from a consortium comprising Russian companies Atomstroyexport and Inter RAO UES and the Ciner Group’s Park Teknik was rejected, Yildiz said that a memorandum of understanding had been signed between the two nations to cooperate on the technical research needed to accomplish the project. “We will be meeting this month in Istanbul, and if a consensus with reasonable conditions is reached, then we hope to produce another intergovernmental agreement with Russia in line with Turkey’s laws. Before Parliament takes its winter recess we want to present a possible nuclear power plant project to them. It takes approximately seven years to build a nuclear power plant, so we hope to be close to consuming the electricity produced by the plant in 2017,” Yildiz said. In addition, Yildiz revealed that a German firm had committed itself to 625 megawatts of energy investment in Turkey, adding that Germany is one of the most important investors in Turkeys energy sector.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Qatar: Clinton Warns of Iranian ‘Military Dictatorship’

Doha, 15 Feb.(AKI) — US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Monday said that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had gained so much power they were turning Iran into a “military dictatorship.” “Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship,” she told students at Qatar University on a tour of the region. “That is our view.”

The US Treasury department last week announced it would freeze the assets of a Revolutionary Guard general, held in the US as well as four subsidiaries of a construction firm he runs because of their alleged involvement in producing and weapons of mass destruction.

Clinton was in the Qatari capital of Doha, across the Persian Gulf from Iran’s southern coast, for a conference on relations between the US and the Islamic world.

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. That is our view,” Clinton said.

She also said the US would “not stand idly by” and allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

The US and its allies oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which Tehran insists are meant solely for civilian use.

The Revolutionary Guards were established shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country’s Islamic system and to provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

They have since become a major military, political and economic force in Iran, with close ties to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself a former member.

The Guard is active in military, social and economic affairs of state, including in the oil-rich country’s fossil fuel industry.

It has also absorbed the paramilitary Basij in its command structure, giving the militia greater funding and a stronger presence in Iran’s internal politics.

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

The U.S. Military Looks at the Bows to the White House But Knows Its Mission Too

by Barry Rubin

The Department of Defense has just released its new Quadrennial Defense Review Report for 2010. What does it say about the Middle East? Far less than you’d expect in terms of space but still some extremely important points about what might involve the United States in future wars there.

Aside from some scattered references on the need for more civilian nation-building experts, funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and energy conservation efforts (that’s an area, no doubt, where money could be saved), that region takes up less than two pages, about two percent, of the 97-page report.

In comparison, about one-quarter of the four-page note from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, attached to the report, spends 25 percent on the region and sounds far more sensible.

I read this gap as suggesting that the uniformed military (which prepared the admiral’s note) is concerned about Iran and terrorist groups but that the text’s main body, by the secretary of defense and designed to please the White House, puts more emphasis on climate change, green energy, and the use of the military as a community-organizing type force to make civilians in places like Afghanistan more friendly to the United States.

But there are significant points of interests in both sections. Let’s start with the report itself which basically makes three points…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin[Return to headlines]

UAE Government Releases Workers’ Rights Booklet

Titled ‘The Worker: Rights and Duties’, the booklet is available in six languages. This is first time that the UAE recognises rights for foreign workers, at least if they are legal residents of the country.

Dubai (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior of the United Arab Emirates have issued a booklet titled ‘The Worker: Rights and Duties’, available in Arabic, English, Filipino (Tagalog), Persian, Chinese and Urdu, to be distributed in all federal government departments, concerned NGOs, labour accommodations, and media outlets.

It explains the rights and responsibilities of workers based on the principles of justice and freedom. It will make UAE nationals and foreign workers aware of their rights and duties as well as explain how they can get legal redress in case of abuse, harassment and mistreatment.

First and foremost, the booklet seeks to foster and enhance a culture of respect for the law and public order, describing the rights and duties workers have in conformity with the UAE constitution.

Approximately 17 million expatriate workers live in the Gulf region. In Dubai alone, they constitute 80 per cent of the resident population.

Human Rights Watch has regularly documented abuses, including physical violence, harassment, unpaid wages and human rights violations at the expense of migrant workers.

“I think it’s nice to have things clear and written down,” said Abdulla, professor of political science at the United Arab Emirates University. Outlining “the rights and responsibilities of both parties, the workers and the companies, is a step forward,” he said.

Inspired by articles 20 and 34 of the UAE constitution, the booklet states that “Society shall esteem work” and “endeavour to ensure that employment is available [. . .]. Legislation must uphold the rights of workers and employers consistent with advanced international standards. [. . .] No person may be subjected to forced labour except in exceptional circumstances provided by the law and in return for compensation.”

The Office of Culture of Respect for Law said that to “enjoy all rights enshrined in international legislations and conventions on human rights in general and labour rights in particular,” workers must be legal residents in the country.

Equally, it noted that workers have the right to profess their faith (Islam and other monotheistic religions) and the right to an interpreter during legal disputes.

In return, workers must respect “the traditions, customs and heritage” of the UAE. Therefore, they shall “not consume drugs, intoxicating drinks or any other unknown substances”, which are illegal.

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

Valentine’s Day Around the Muslim World

As Rome police seized 2,000 heart-shaped Ecstasy tablets designed for Valentine’s Day lovers and Nigerian churches announced that they could connect would-be lovers for $13 dollars, the Muslim world took a more conservative approach to the holiday, sometimes embracing it and sometimes banning it.

Iraq, Lebanon and Syria

In Baghdad Valentines is a welcome respite from the city’s frequent bomb attacks. On Sunday, Iraqis shopped for heart shaped gifts and cuddly toys with joy.

“I love all Iraqis,” Ali Tariq told a reporter.

The holiday was also welcomed in Lebanon and Syria where couples took romantic strolls, bought roses from street vendors and gave each other teddy bears.


Love is all around in the streets of Tehran on Valentine’s Day this year with young men and women openly holding hands and exchanging red roses, and shops decked with red ribbons, candles and heart-shaped red balloons.

Forget political turmoil, violent protests, the nuclear row with the West and soaring prices. Today romance rules.

“I am fed up with politics. This year I asked my girlfriend to celebrate Valentine’s Day more gloriously than any year before,” said 28-year-old Shahrokh Sedaghati, an architect, looking for a perfume as a gift in a central Tehran shop.

Valentine’s Day is not officially banned in the Islamic state, but hardliners have repeatedly warned about a Western cultural invasion and under Iran’s Islamic Shariah law, unmarried couples are banned from mingling.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia warnings were directed at individuals by the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice against celebrating the holiday of love. Flower and gift shops are not allowed to sell any items related to Valentine’s Day and restaurants and cafes are banned from showing any signs of celebration.

This society is haunted by the fear of anything new and untraditional, Saudi writer Yusuf al-Muhaimed told Al Arabiya.

“Now we are even afraid of love,” he said.

However, the day never goes by unnoticed. Young people still buy flowers a couple of days before the 14th. More than 50% of Saudis celebrate Valentine’s in their houses, especially in big cities like Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.


Hip young romantics in Pakistan’s most dangerous city are splashing out on text messages and teddy bears, defying Taliban bombers and conservative parents to find love this Valentine’s Day.

It’s taken four years and the prospect of never seeing her again, for Mohammad Asif to pluck up the courage to approach the object of his affections, a fellow engineering student in northwest city Peshawar.

Destined to graduate and look for a job in a city where bomb attacks have closed businesses and emptied markets, Asif realises it’s now or never.

“After four years of studies, my classmates are dispersing and I finally want to express my love for a girl I’ve liked for the past four years, but never said anything,” gushes the 21-year-old.

“I’ve bought a card and chocolates to give her, so she knows that I love her. This is the day to disclose your hidden feelings,” he said.

Peshawar is a conservative Muslim city, where many disapprove of Valentine’s Day as a Western import. Women are veiled and few girls go out alone.

Valentine’s Day is the preserve of the young, educated and wealthy. Secret trysts are a dream, even more difficult on Sundays, when schools are closed.

“There will be a lot of problems and difficulties for boys to take girls out as it will be a holiday… so please celebrate Valentine’s Day on Monday,” said the “Love Guru” in a text message pinged through Peshawar and other cities.


Muslim leaders in Indonesia on Friday told the faithful not to celebrate Valentine’s Day because it is sinful and leads to “free sex.”

“We forbid Muslims to celebrate Valentine’s Day,” said Abdullah Cholil, an East Java leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the mainly Muslim country’s biggest Islamic organisation.

“The day is often celebrated by young, unmarried people. They celebrate Valentine’s Day by holding hands or having free sex, which they are not supposed to be doing,” he said.

           — Hat tip: TB[Return to headlines]

South Asia

The King of Bhutan Claims to be “Father of the Christians,” But Does Not Build Churches

These days the Christian organization Open Doors has classified the small Himalayan kingdom 12th out of 50 countries where religious freedom is violated. Despite the marriage of the king’s sister with the nephew of a Jesuit priest and the guarantee of religious freedom around 6 thousand Christians are still forbidden to pray in public. Former member of the government: “There is still a fear that Christianity will divide society and create tension.”

Timphu (AsiaNews) — The king of Bhutan Jigme Khesar author of democratic reform in the country for years has claimed to be the “father of Christians.” In 2005 he married his fifth sister with the nephew of Fr Kinley, a Canadian Jesuit who helped the government to realign the education system. Nevertheless the construction of religious buildings other than Buddhists ones is still prohibited in the country remains. Recently the Christian organization Open Doors has in fact classified Bhutan 12th in a list of 50 countries in the world where religious freedom is violated.

Karma Dupto exiled leader of the Druk National Congress, speaking from India said: “In Bhutan, the transition to democracy has been done on paper and the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. According to the Religious organizations Acts of 2007, no one can force a person to change their faith. “ But the leader stresses that authorities and the population have not yet learned the meaning of democracy. That is why religions and cultures other than Buddhism are still looked upon with suspicion.

The monarchy of Bhutan is a small one, 680 thousand people caught between the two giants India and China. Until 2006 it was ruled by a theocratic regime of Buddhist religion. In 1979 the then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck forbade the practice of religions other than Buddhism and Hinduism. This prevented the 6 thousand Christians living in the country, mostly Protestant, from building churches and worship, leading to the creation of an underground community. In 2008, the ascent to the throne of 28-year old King Jigme Khesar brought new hopes of opening in the country, with the creation of a new constitution providing for freedom of faith for all Bhutanese, after reporting to authorities. But proselytism, the publication of Bibles, the building of Christian schools and the entrance of religious remain prohibited. To date, the Jesuit Father Kinley is the only resident priest in the country.

“There’s a reason why Christians are not tolerated in the country — says a former member of the government — there is indeed a fear that Christianity will divide society and create tension.” Thus, while the country opens up to modern building, pubs and discos, it still hampers the building of churches.

The former politician cites two cases of forced conversions which occurred in 2009, but were condemned by representatives of the local Christian community. “This — he adds — has led to various misunderstandings and people think that Christians attract the faithful with money and the government always looks with suspicion on those who convert.”

According to the pastor of an underground community, most of the Bhutanese faithful have no access to education and live in desperate economic conditions. “ Christians — he says — are only allowed to pray in case of illness and only in their homes. This mutual mistrust between Buddhists and Christians, derives from lack of religious freedom. “

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


Italy: Maroni Says New Model for Integration Needed, Not Police Round-Ups

Interior minister rejects ethnic concentrations in the same district

MILAN — “No I don’t see any banlieue-style risk in Via Padova”, says Italy’s interior minister, Roberto Maroni. The outburst of violence on Saturday evening in the multi-ethnic district of Milan may not have been avoidable, or even predictable. An argument on the bus, a knifing and a retaliatory attack are crimes, not national emergencies. But there is a warning to society in the incident that triggered disturbances involving immigrants from different ethnic groups and paralysed part of the city for five hours. Fears have been expressed that the violence could spread to other parts of Milan, Turin, Bologna, Naples, Palermo or other cities with districts where social tensions, anger and apprehension run high as mushrooming immigration moves in without ever integrating fully. Politics is in ferment as the opposition accuses the Centre-right of doing nothing while the government attacks the Left’s goody-goody liberalism. Strong words such as “round-ups” and “deportation” are being bandied about Milan but Mr Maroni avoids adding fuel to the flames. “We have to cool things down in Via Padova, not trigger a civil war”. Some, particularly in the minister’s own Northern League, have called for immediate action, with enforced clear-outs and bulldozers, but Mr Maroni has other ideas. “What we have in Via Padova is an illegal travellers’ camp. There’s no need for force and I don’t even want to hear the word round-up. It’s a social issue that has to be managed. My job is to be minister of the interior and I want to set to one side extreme suggestions born in the heat of the moment”.

Minister, when they were overturning cars in the street on Saturday evening and the police were out in riot gear, did you think about Rosarno, a rebellion out of control?

“We took action straight away to get the situation under control. I spoke to the prefect. I am well aware of Via Padova and its problems, and of Milan’s immense ability to integrate non-Italians. Saturday’s incidents had trivial origins and degenerated into collective violence. But it wasn’t a revolt against the state. I noticed some Rosarno-type symptoms two years ago in the same area, when the murder of a coloured youth by Italians brought thousands of immigrants out onto the streets. On that occasion, I really did think about the French banlieues”.

Aren’t you worried it could happen again?

“That concern is very real and could prompt us to shift gear regarding immigrant reception and integration policies. I say that illegals should be deported but you don’t solve a problem like Via Padova with raids and police vans. A police state is not the solution”.

Is it a case of keeping excessive concentrations of immigrants in the same district under control?

“The tinderbox in Via Padova was created over the years by a social model that refused to confront an ethnic settlement cluster. It’s important to stop any zone of the city becoming alien to the people who live there, a sort of separate territory or law-free area. In future, we have to prevent ethnic concentrations in the same neighbourhood”.

Is that a proposal or a plan?

“It’s a new integration plan. Now we have to manage, implement policies to bring people together again and maintain the unity of the city. And intervene when necessary. I prefer to talk about restructuring but without repressive actions. There’s no point in inflaming people in the street”.

Is there anything concrete yet? Is there a response from residents in Via Padova and other parts of the city where residents feel strangers in their own home?

“I’ll be asking Rome right away to set up a meeting with the welfare ministry, the regions, the municipalities and voluntary associations to discuss the issue of how to ensure legislation-driven integration in the cities. We have to stop these outlying areas from becoming sources of violence but to do that, we also need to modify the reception model that has been used up to now”.

What’s the new model?

“We have to create it and define the conditions that will enable a legal non-EU immigrant to integrate properly. On Saturday evening, there were large numbers of legal immigrants. In Milan, many of them have got their own businesses yet still live in a state of alienation. We need to see to it that they have the other conditions, which are lacking today, for their integration to be successful, not just residence permits, jobs and accommodation”.

What about the anti-illegal measures and the absence of officers in the streets that people who live in at-risk areas complain about?

“We’ll be beefing up the police presence in Milan, partly in connection with the new police station at Monza. Funds have been allocated in the Budget. We’ll bring forward the assignment of officers to Milan, 170 in all, to prevent incidents like the one last night. Let me make it clear that this is not militarisation”.

You are talking about prevention, actions to stop second-generation immigrants from ending up in gangs, and to promote specific reception policies with support from public authorities to prevent urban decay. Does this signal a change of direction?

“What’s needed is a change of pace. The model of society isn’t working and needs to be reconstructed. We’re working with the Catholic University to create a permanent urban monitoring network to draft improved intervention policies. One of these is in fact prudent management of territorial immigrant settlement clusters.”

But in some case, this is coming a little too late.

“This is the situation we’re facing today. The prefect of Milan has pointed out that in 1980 there were 3,000 foreigners and now there are 400,000. That’s quite a difference. The parish priest in Via Padova says that the area has been overwhelmed by the uncontrolled inflow. Saturday’s lesson is that you have to programme and manage intervention without criminalising anyone”.

Is that an invitation to municipal administrators to shoulder their responsibilities?

“We all have to work together, striving to prevent concentrations of ethnic groups in the same area, which could turn into ghettos. But we also have to find new integration opportunities for legal immigrants”.

Many mayors feel alone and abandoned by the state when they are faced with emergencies like these.

“That must not happen. I am very much aware that mayors are in the front line, the way the mayor of Padua, Zaninato, has been for years. I’m talking about a man who is light years away from me politically but has done his duty well. When he had to, he moved 270 non-Italian families into another district to break up a concentration of ethnic groups that could have become dangerous”.

The Democratic Party (PD) secretary Pierluigi Bersani claims that the Centre-right’s policy is bankrupt. You’re in charge of everything but there are no results to show for it.

“It would be easy to reply to Bersani that 7,000 people landed on Lampedusa in 2008 and we reduced that to 3,000 in 2009. I could also repeat what the education minister, Mariastella Gelmini. said: ‘We got into that state because of the anything-goes, feel-good liberalism of the Left’. But I don’t want to play ping-pong blame games. Politicians shouldn’t be using these issues for squalid electoral ends”.

Giangiacomo Schiavi

15 febbraio 2010

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Is This Former Stay-at-Home Mom Our Greatest Security Threat?

The Department of Homeland Security has a clear, if difficult, mission. It includes securing 7,500 miles of border and 9,500 miles of shoreline, and protecting 300 million Americans from the threats posed by a bold and determined jihadist enemy.

But its greatest menace is a former stay at home mother of 11 and grandmother of eight from Brookfield, Wisconsin. Or so it would seem.

Peggy Hamill, state director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, is among a group of pro-life activists upon whom a DHS “threat assessment” was performed last year. The assessment targeted the free speech rights of peaceful pro-life activists in Madison, Wisconsin, who oppose the state university’s plans to force medical professionals to perform late-term abortions

But don’t expect to hear any apologies from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose agency worked with local police to collect intelligence that it now steadfastly refuses to release. The “threat assessment” reflects the views of an administration that regards those willing to stand up for the constitutional right to life as a national security threat. News of the assessment also likely has many Americans wondering whether this administration knows who the real enemy is.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


IPCC Corruption Included Ignoring Facts and Science

Phil Jones, disgraced and dismissed Director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), granted BBC reporter Roger Harrabin an interview. Why Harrabin? His reporting has shown bias on all the IPCC and CRU activities. Leaked emails showed the CRU gang used friends in the BBC and that apparently continues. Prevarication, evasion, half-truths continue in Phil Jones’ answers. Despite this there are stunning admissions from Jones. “There is a tendency in the IPCC reports to leave out inconvenient findings, especially in the part(s) most likely to be read by policy makers.”

It’s a deliberate strategy not just a tendency and not only in the Summary for Policymakers (SPM).


Key to understanding IPCC claims are what they leave out. Leaked emails talk about the selective process they employed. For example, until recently all textbooks showed the Earth’s orbit around the Sun as a fixed ellipse. Actually we have known for over 150 years that the orbit is constantly changing from almost circular as it is now to more extreme ellipse as it was 22,000 years ago. (Figure1)

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]