Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/16/2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/16/2010In recent weeks the financial crisis in Greece has threatened the stability of the euro and brought the country to the verge of a general strike. Now comes word that the international financial giant Goldman Sachs was deeply involved in the shenanigans that pushed Greece into its debt crisis, helping the Greek government to obtain funds via loans that remained off the books, therefore hiding the country’s violation of EU limits on sovereign debt. Also, the offices of JP Morgan in Athens were bombed.

In other news, signs are emerging that the wave of mortgage foreclosures in the USA is not yet over, and has not even peaked. There are indications that the coming year will see a huge number of new foreclosures, putting the nascent recovery at risk.

Meanwhile, researchers have discovered that Tutankhamen, the boy-king of ancient Egypt, died from malaria, and not by murder or other suspicious causes.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, ICLA, Insubria, JD, KGS, Lurker from Tulsa, Perla, REP, Sean O’Brian, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Bank of America Forecloses on House That Couple Had Paid Cash For
Crisis-Hit Greek PM Pledges Deeper Ties With Russia
EU: Ready to Help Greece Financially if Needed
Foreclosures Seen Still Hitting Prices
Goldman Sachs: The Greek Connection
Greece: 5% Cut to Hotel Prices to Combat Crisis
Greece: 5% Hotel Price Cut to Fight Recession (2)
Serbia: Real Estate Market Hits Rock Bottom
The Coming Foreclosure and Commercial Real Estate Storms
But I Thought the ‘Science Was Settled’
Executive Power Grab
Federal Judge Rules Against ‘Muslim Mafia’
No Guns Allowed, Declares City, It’s a ‘Snow Emergency’
Oklahoma: State Lawmaker Pushes for Open Carry Law for Gun Owners
Socialist Obama-Supporting Alabama Professor Shot 3 Colleagues Dead, Shot Her Brother Dead…
The Real Reason Eric Holder is Friendly to Terrorists
Thomas Sowell: Politicians’ Goal: Get US to Hate Others
Europe and the EU
Bomb Goes Off at JP Morgan Offices in Athens
France: Two People in Burqa Rob Post Office
French Soldiers ‘Deliberately Exposed’ To Nuclear Tests
Germans Experience Tide of Xenophobia
Hitler’s Green Killing Machine
Hungary: Two Anti-Fascist Demonstrators in Budapest Allegedly Assaulted
Hungary: Conference on Xenophobia, Racism Held in Budapest
Italy: “Betrayed” Bertolaso Refuses to Step Down
Italy: New Book Exposes ‘Devastating’ Mafia Growth
Italy: Police Seize Dangerous Waste in South
Italy: Candidacies for Moneygram Award for Businesses
Italy: Berlusconi Ally Target of Corruption Inquiry
Italy: Rome Tomb Goes for ‘Crazy’ Price
Pope to Irish Bishops, ‘Heinous Crime’
Spain to Speed Up Turkey’s EU Talks, Spanish Minister Says
UK: Saudi Royal Under Police Investigation After His Servant is Found Battered to Death in London Hotel
UK: Taxpayers Face £1.8m Bill for ‘Hijab’ Arches
In Belgrade, Not Even War Can Stop the Party
Italy-Albania: Berlusconi to Berisha, Work for Tirana in EU
North Africa
A Maghreb ‘Union’ Hasn’t Brought Its Members Closer
Libya: Italians Blocked in Tripoli Airport
Libya: Entry Denied, Crisis With Switzerland Retaliation
Libya: Entry Refusal; Unilateral, Disproportionate Act
Libya: Entry Denied; Italy to Bring Issue Up in Brussels
Libya: S.Craxi in Malta: Abuse by Swiss, EU Must Intervene
Western Sahara: 1,000 Runners to Algerian Refugee Camps
Israel and the Palestinians
Catholic Tourism Goes Back Up in Holy Land
‘Fatah-Gate’: Abbas Suspends Functionary, Inquiry
Guru Accused of Induction Into Slavery, Sexual Abuse
Hamas Informs UK on Journalist’s Arrest in Gaza
Settlements’ Freeze: Netanyahu’s Orders Ignored
Middle East
‘Dubai Hit Squad Stole My Identity’: British Man’s Name Used by Assassins Who Executed Senior Hamas Leader
Iraq: Mosul: Anti-Christian Violence: Two Murders and a Kidnapping in 24 Hours
Israel Mulling a Spring or Summer War: Ahmadinejad
Spain: 5 Guantanamo Detainees Accepted by Spanish Prisons
South Asia
Bangladesh: Fighting Polygamy: Woman Castrates Husband, And Then Kills Him
India Fights Islamists, Communists and John Kerry
Indonesia: Transvestites Demand Equal Rights
Indonesia: Aerobics Contrary to Islam, Promotes Lust, Sumatra Islamic Leader Says
Pakistan: Lawyers Strike Over Zardari Judicial Control
Pakistanis See a Vast U.S. Conspiracy Against Them
Far East
China — North Korea: Fleeing From North Korea to be Sold in China as Brides or Prostitutes
China — North Korea: Beijing, Billions of Dollars to Pyongyang to End the Nuclear Issue
Filipino Bishops: Condoms and Irresponsible Sex Increases the Spread of Aids
Australia’s Controversial, Anti-Migrant MP Heading for Britain… As an Immigrant
Britain’s Immigration Boom is Stretching Schools and Hospitals to Breaking Point, Council Chiefs Warn
Italy: New Regulations Challenge Our Culture, Judge
Italy: ‘Integration Answer to Ethnic Violence’
Italy: Imam Decries Egyptian Immigrant Murder
Italy: Milan Mayor Boosts Security After Race Riots
Lebanon: Bishop of Tyre: Christians in Lebanon Have Become a Minority in Their Country
Culture Wars
Maine Considers Banning Biology-Based Restrooms
Traditional Values, Family Must be Defended
Tests Show King Tut Died From Malaria, Study Says

Financial Crisis

Bank of America Forecloses on House That Couple Had Paid Cash For

SPRING HILL — Charlie and Maria Cardoso are among the millions of Americans who have experienced the misery and embarrassment that come with home foreclosure.

Just one problem: The Massachusetts couple paid for their future retirement home in Spring Hill with cash in 2005, five years before agents for Bank of America seized the house, removed belongings and changed the locks on the doors, according to a lawsuit the couple have filed in federal court.

Early last month, Charlie Cardoso had to drive to Florida to get his home back, the complaint filed in Massachusetts on Jan. 20 states.

The bank had an incorrect address on foreclosure documents — the house it meant to seize is across the street and about 10 doors down — but the Cardosos and a Realtor employed by Bank of America were unable to convince the company that it had the wrong house, the suit states.

“Their own real estate agent told them, and nevertheless Bank of America steamrolled right ahead,” said Joseph deMello, an attorney in Taunton, Mass., who is representing the couple. “This is a nightmare for anyone, and it affected my hard-working clients a lot.”

The Cardosos are seeking unspecified damages from Bank of America. The company showed negligence, trespassed and caused the couple emotional distress and financial hardship, especially because a tenant renting the home at the time got worried and left, according to the complaint. It’s still unclear if the couple’s credit rating has been affected, deMello said.

The suit names other defendants listed as “John Doe” who could include “employees, agents, contractors or other persons, ordered, hired, or told by BOA to trespass on the plaintiffs’ property and to dispose of the plaintiff’s personal possessions.”

The suit also charges the company with defamation and libel. DeMello said the Cardosos are part of a Portuguese community in the area, and the foreclosure tarnished their reputation…

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Crisis-Hit Greek PM Pledges Deeper Ties With Russia

(MOSCOW) — Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, whose country is fighting an unprecedented debt crisis, pledged on Tuesday to deepen his country’s ties with Russia as he met Russian leaders in Moscow.

“Rest assured that our goal will be to further deepen our relations,” Papandreou said at the start of the talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Trade and economic cooperation was expected to top the meeting’s agenda, the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the talks without giving further details.

Also discussed would be Russia’s planned South Stream pipeline that would ship Russian gas to Europe through the Balkans, avoiding its neighbour Ukraine. Papandreou was also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later Tuesday.

Greece’s ballooning public deficit has seen its total debt shoot up to about 300 billion euros (408 million dollars), or 113 percent of GDP, nearly double the 60 percent eurozone limit.

It was not immediately clear whether or not Papandreou would be raising Greece’s financial situation in his talks with Medvedev or Putin.

In 2008, Russia offered a 500-million-dollar loan to Iceland to help it out of its deep economic crisis but the promise was withdrawn amid an increasingly tight budget situation in Moscow.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Greece had not asked Russia for the financial support and Russia also had no plans to raise the subject.

“But if the Greek colleagues raise the issue, we will discuss it,” Peskov told AFP.

In an interview with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS in Athens, the Greek premier said ahead of the visit his country would offer to promote the South Stream, one of Putin’s pet projects, within Europe.

“With an aim of promoting the construction of the pipeline, Greece will turn to European bodies together with other European countries through which the pipeline will run so that it becomes part of the trans-European network,” Papandreou was quoted as saying.

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

EU: Ready to Help Greece Financially if Needed

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 16 — If necessary the EU Commission is ready to take steps to assist Greece financially. The statement was made today by Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn. Rehn explained at the end of Ecofin that Brussels is ready to adopt a frame to deliver help to Greece: “If the circumstances require it, we have the resources for such support”. The EU ministers are also ready to help out Athens: “Greece will receive the necessary help, if needed, in the forms determined by the EU Commission. This is the firm commitment of all Member States”, said Spanish minister of the Economy Elena Salgado. But the president of the euro-group, Jean-Claude Juncker, believes that Greece must make a greater commitment to overcome its budget issues. As is known, Athens deficit must be cut this year by 4 percentage points. Speaking to German radio station Deutschlandfunk, Junker stated that “If Greece should not make it, the Euro-group will impose on Athens increased conditions through a majority vote”, and explained that the members of the Euro-group agree on the fact that Greece should make greater efforts. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Foreclosures Seen Still Hitting Prices

More waves of foreclosures will keep downward pressure on home prices in parts of the U.S. over the next several years, two new studies project.

The studies—by John Burns Real Estate Consulting Inc. and Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC—both conclude that most efforts to modify loans with easier terms will delay, not prevent, the loss of homes to foreclosure.

The Treasury Department is expected to give its latest update this week on government efforts to avert foreclosures.

The John Burns study estimates that five million houses and condominiums on which mortgages are now delinquent will go through foreclosure or related procedures that put them on the market over the next few years. That would represent the bulk of the estimated 7.7 million households behind on their mortgage payments.

Journal Communitydiscuss” It’s time to drop the hammer on defaulters. Just get it done quickly. It would be much better for the vast majority of Americans. “

—Matthew Vaughan This “shadow inventory” of homes expected to hit the market is enough to last about 10 months, based on the average sales rate over the past decade, the Irvine, Calif., firm says.

The problem is largely concentrated in Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada. The shadow inventory is equivalent to 27 months of sales in Orlando, 24 months in Miami and 18 months in Las Vegas, the study estimates.

Over the past nine months, home prices as measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller index have increased modestly after a three-year plunge. That is largely because efforts to avert foreclosures have slowed the flow of foreclosed homes onto the market, temporarily constricting supply…

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]

Goldman Sachs: The Greek Connection

Investment giant’s role in eurozone debt crisis falls under spotlight

Goldman Sachs, the giant investment bank, is today at the centre of the row over the Greek government’s finances, amid recriminations over complex financial deals that allowed the eurozone nation to skirt its debt limits.

With European finance ministers meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow to discuss ways to prevent a debt crisis threatening the eurozone as a whole, a spotlight has been shone on techniques used by Greece and other indebted countries to give the appearance of lower budget deficits and debt levels.

The euro membership rules place strict caps on the size of government deficits relative to a national economy, but Goldman Sachs and other banks helped Greece raise cash earlier in the decade in ways that did not appear in the official statistics. With the current recession causing even official budget deficits to balloon all across the continent, fears of further hidden liabilities have been contributing to the crisis of confidence in Greek debt and pulling down the value of the euro.

Goldman Sachs has been the most important of more than a dozen banks used by the Greek government to manage its national debt using derivatives.

The bank’s traders created a number of financial deals that allowed the country to raise money to cut its budget deficit now, in return for repayments over time or at a later date.

In one deal, Goldman channelled $1bn of funding to the government in 2002, in a transaction called a cross-currency swap. There is no suggestion of any wrong-doing by Goldman Sachs. Such deals are an expensive way of raising money, but they have the advantage of not having to be accounted for as debt.

The eurozone rules dictate that governments must keep a country’s deficit below 3 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and must take on total debt of no more than 60 per cent of GDP — rules that Greece did not keep to, even during the economic boom. Goldman Sachs, the world’s most powerful investment bank, is already under intense scrutiny in the ongoing controversy over banking practices, pay and profits. President Barack Obama last month launched an assault on Wall Street, proposing to cap the size of the biggest US banks and clamp down on their trading activities. On the same day, Goldman began distributing nearly £10bn in pay and bonuses to its staff for their 2009 performance, just a year after the financial system was bailed out by governments.

Reflecting the importance of the Greek government as a client, and the scale of the fees to be generated from derivatives deals, Goldman sent Gary Cohn, who as chief operating officer is second-in-command of the global group, to Athens last November to pitch for new business with the debt management office.

According to a report yesterday, Goldman suggested a way that Greece could push healthcare liabilities further out into the future. The bank has refused to comment. Other eurozone countries have been discovered using cross-currency swaps similar to one causing concern in Greece, including Italy, which did a controversial transaction with JP Morgan before it joined the euro.

The size and scale of the use of derivatives is not fully understood, even by Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistics body, which has complained that member nations’ finances are opaque and that the information it is given about derivatives deals is incomplete.

Gustavo Piga, an economics professor at the University of Rome, whose 2001 paper on the topic sparked furious debate within the EU, questioned the wisdom of using Wall Street banks to invent ways to skirt debt rules. “What kind of relationships start to arise between these governments and these banks once they are in this mortal embrace of reciprocal blackmail potential? How does this change the dynamics on other issues, such as the regulation of banks?

“We have no idea — maybe nothing, but certainly there is a conflict of interest here,” he told Risk magazine this week.

EU leaders promised last Thursday to make sure that Greece could meet its debt repayments, but sketched no mechanism for doing so, and pledged no specific sums of money. They reiterated their demands for Greece to redouble efforts to impose the swingeing public spending cuts that have prompted widespread labour unrest.

Finance ministers are continuing to work on contingency plans for a bailout this week, amid signs of disagreement over the scale of austerity measures to be demanded of Greece.

The European Central Bank is seeking tougher measures than the politicians are willing to demand.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Greece: 5% Cut to Hotel Prices to Combat Crisis

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS- Hotel managers in Greece, in a measure by the national hotel association, have decided to cut hotel and accommodation rates by five percent in order to combat the crisis, which has had devastating effects on Greece’s tourist accommodation sector. The goal is to attract more tourists, both residents and foreign, for longer periods of time, while maintaining the same quality of services

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Greece: 5% Hotel Price Cut to Fight Recession (2)

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, FEBRUARY 16 — Meanwhile, today the Greek agency of statistics announced that tourist flows towards Greece by non-residents in between January and September of 2009 mounted to almost 12.7 million people, 6.7% less than the same period of the previous year. More specifically arrivals from Europe, which represent 91.5% of the total, dropped by 6.6%; those from America by 12.2%, from Africa by 32.4%, and from Oceania by 1.5%; flows from Asia bucked the trend, increasing by 4.3% in the same period. Analysing tourist flows by Country of origin, Germany ranked first with 1,907,371 tourists (-7.1%), followed by the UK (1,861,262 tourists; -4.2%) and Italy (861,924), which in the first 9 months of 2009 indicated a 17.1% drop in presence. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Serbia: Real Estate Market Hits Rock Bottom

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 16 — Jovica Jakovac, the director of the international real estate agency Colliers International, has concluded that the Serbian real estate market is “currently dead,” as it has been impossible to acquire building permits in the past few months, reports BETA news agency. Jakovac said that since the new Planning and Development Act was passed on Aug. 31, 2009, not one building permit has been issued, leaving 250 construction sites in Belgrade “on hold.” “Even 2009 was good compared to January of this year,” Jakovac said. According to him, while real estate prices in the country have dropped by 20%, the construction of subsidized apartments will not lower housing costs. Jakovac claims that Belgrade has few apartments on the market, and that, to the best of his knowledge, only the Belville and the Metropoliten housing complexes have flats for sale, their prices ranging from EUR1,850 to EUR2,000 per square meter. The company head believes that demand for luxury apartments has decreased along with the number of foreign offices in the capital, while rental prices for office space have eached “their lowest in history,” ranging from a mere EUR13 to EUR15 per square meter, as much as three to four times lower than last year.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

The Coming Foreclosure and Commercial Real Estate Storms

When you read that foreclosure filings fell 10% in January from December, don’t get too excited. According to Realty Trac, foreclosures are 15% higher than they were a year ago and there’s likely to be an increase in foreclosure activity in the next few months, as the government’s crappy mortgage modification program continues to fail.

James J. Saccacio, CEO of RealtyTrac noted that “if history repeats itself we will see a surge in the numbers over the next few months as lenders foreclose on delinquent loans where neither the existing loan modification programs or the new short sale and deed-in-lieu of foreclosure alternatives works.” In other words, another storm is a-brewing in the housing market.

The continued reluctance of banks to tackle the foreclosure problem is astounding. There’s near-universal agreement that principal reduction is the key, but we are left with lame programs, like this one announced yesterday by CitiMortgage. The so-called “strategic non-foreclosure” continues the “extend and pretend” policy that bank lenders have pursued over the past year.

From the banks’ point of view, the longer they keep you on the hook, the better it is for them. Avoiding the mess of foreclosure allows them to keep the fictitious valuations on their books and in this new Citi program, ensures that some of the costs of carrying the dud loan get transferred to the borrower, who in all likelihood, will end up defaulting. Some experts believe that a new round of foreclosures could trigger a double-dip in housing prices.

As if the foreclosure mess weren’t enough to keep you up at night, today we’re also digesting a new report from the Congressional Oversight Panel (that’s Elizabeth Warren & Co, the TARP watchdogs) about the looming storm in the commercial real estate market. The report predicts a wave of losses, totaling $200-$300 billion, from commercial real estate loans could “trigger economic damage that could touch the lives of nearly every American.”

Here’s how the dire analysis plays out: “when commercial properties fail, it creates a downward spiral of economic contraction: job losses; deteriorating store fronts, office buildings and apartments; and the failure of the banks serving those communities.” The report reminds us that the failure of community banks would further restrict small business access to capital, just the economic recovery is occurring.

Don’t put away those shovels just yet — two potential storms could be coming.

           — Hat tip: REP[Return to headlines]


But I Thought the ‘Science Was Settled’

About one third of the way into his State of the Union speech on Jan. 27, President Barack Obama said an astonishing thing. He said: “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future. …”

I know my head snapped upright. I can only imagine the kind of head-scratching and quizzical scowling at their neighbors that must have occurred among those who have been lining up at the trough, planning to make millions off government boondoggles justified by the “man-made global warming” scam.

“What the heck did he just say? First they dump ‘global warming’ for ‘climate change,’ which can mean anything. Now he claims it’s all about ‘clean energy’ and that you should agree even if you don’t buy into ‘man-made climate change’?”


I believe what’s going on is that, in this age of the Internet, the full-court press of the global collectivist lapdog media — I’m referring to The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN — is failing in its assigned task to keep the lid on the scandal broadly known as “Climategate.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Executive Power Grab

Now that Barack Obama sees the likelihood of losing Democratic dominance of the U.S. Congress later this year, he’s making plans to misuse presidential executive authority, violate the Constitution yet again and “legislate” from the White House.

Word of his intentions came in the form of a New York Times article, which, remarkably, did not even hint that such a strategy was improper, illegal or even controversial.

“With much of this 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,” the story began.


Nowhere in the Constitution will you find any authority given to the president or the executive branch of government to change laws, make laws, institute new regulations or otherwise “legislate.” Those powers belong to another branch of government known as the “legislative branch.”

Yet, the New York Times, previously known as “the newspaper of record,” sees nothing alarming about this plan whatsoever.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Federal Judge Rules Against ‘Muslim Mafia’

CAIR decision seen as victory over plan to ‘chill’ free speech

A federal judge has dismissed an attempt by the Council on American-Islamic Relations to re-file a lawsuit against Air Force special agent P. David Gaubatz and his son Chris, the father-and-son team that investigated and exposed the group’s terrorist ties.

Defense lawyers are hailing the decision as a victory over CAIR’s alleged plan to “chill” free speech critical of the organization through an avalanche of court cases and legal costs.

“We briefed, counter-briefed, we spent thousands of dollars on the case,” said Daniel Horowitz, one of the three lawyers for the defense. “Only then did they file this new lawsuit, which would have effectively forced us to start all over.”

“But the new lawsuit didn’t have anything substantively new,” Horowitz told WND. “And yet, that’s their whole goal. They know they can’t win the case, but they can chill the First Amendment by making it so expensive to speak against them that no one can challenge Saudi-funded CAIR. In the end, they can just keep getting more and more money from overseas and burn out opposition with lawsuits.”

Get “Muslim Mafia,” the book that exposed CAIR from the inside out, autographed, from WND’s Superstore!

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, however, “denied as moot” CAIR’s request to re-file the case. CAIR now has until March 1 to re-file “an appropriate motion for leave to amend.”

“The judge looked at papers and said, ‘Look, you don’t have a right to do this; everything was fully briefed; you had your opportunity,’“ Horowitz explained.

“In terms of the First Amendment, it’s a powerful ruling,” Horowitz continued, “because it recognizes that by chilling free speech, you undermine it, even if you lose the case in the end. CAIR was trying to exploit that to the max, and the judge said no.”…

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

No Guns Allowed, Declares City, It’s a ‘Snow Emergency’

Hidden state laws ban firearm sales, even possession, during crises

Residents of King, N.C., were startled earlier this month when a declared snow emergency triggered a law forbidding the possession of firearms in public.

Furthermore, North Carolina isn’t the only state where authorities can ban gun sales, or even possession, upon declaration of “emergency,” even though what constitutes an “emergency” might be deemed questionable.

According to North Carolina statute 14-288.7, when a municipality declares a state of emergency in which “public safety authorities are unable to … afford adequate protection for lives or property” — such as during the recent East Coast record snowfall — “it is unlawful for any person to transport or possess off his own premises any dangerous weapon.”

In other words, when the cops can’t get through on the roads, the citizens can’t take guns off their own property.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Oklahoma: State Lawmaker Pushes for Open Carry Law for Gun Owners

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma lawmaker is pushing for an open carry law for gun owners.

Representative David Derby (R- Owasso) has attached an amendment to House Bill 3239 which would allow citizens with concealed-carry licenses the right to carry a gun in public view.

Just last year, a man armed with a concealed weapon successfully and peacefully disarmed a violent man at this Oklahoma City apartment complex.

Owasso Representative David Derby said protection is exactly why citizens should arm themselves, but he wants to take it a step further.

“Gun laws are important in our country,” Derby said. “At the same time, the truly dangerous criminals are breaking laws already and ignore gun controls. They realize that good people will be unarmed and not threaten their nefarious pursuits. With my amendment, it would allow Oklahomans the freedom to carry a firearm if they already hold a concealed-carry license. This would make criminals think twice before trying to rob a bank or knock off a convenience store.”

The “Firearms Freedom Act” has been referred to the Public Safety committee for further consideration.

Read House Bill 3239 and the Firearms Freedom Act.

The Virginia-based group, OpenCarry.org, supports Representative David Derby’s push for an open-carry law.

“It’s a right. We have a right to open carry,” said the group’s co-founder John Pierce. “Open carry is the Second Amendment, and it’s the most important thing to remember.”

According to OpenCarry.org, Oklahoma is one of 7 states where open carry laws are completely restricted or banned.

Most gun owners NEWS 9 spoke to favor having an option of concealing versus open-carry, but even if the law is changed, some say they won’t.

“I like the fact that nobody really knows if I’m carrying or not. There’s an advantage to that in my mind, but this is really a decision up to the individual to try and do,” said Miles Hall, H&H Gun Range.

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

Socialist Obama-Supporting Alabama Professor Shot 3 Colleagues Dead, Shot Her Brother Dead…

…Robbed Auto Dealership With Shotgun & Was Suspect in Attempted Harvard Bombing

Amy Bishop, a socialist, also shot and killed her 18 year-old brother during an argument in 1986 at point blank range. She shot at him 3 times. Police released Bishop in 1986 after they received a call from district attorney William Delahunt, now Rep. William Delahunt.

Ken Pittman, the voice of reason from WBSM in Massachusetts, did some digging this weekend and found out more about Amy Bishop including this— She robbed an auto dealership with a shotgun after she killed her brother.

It sounds like there was a massive coverup somewhere along the line.

[Return to headlines]

The Real Reason Eric Holder is Friendly to Terrorists

For weeks, pundits have struggled to explain why Attorney General Eric Holder continually makes awful decisions — like deciding to try foreign terrorist enemy combatants, most notably confessed 9/11 mega-terror architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a New York City civilian courtroom with all the constitutional rights, privileges and protections afforded U.S. citizens. Or the decision to treat al-Qaida-trained terrorist Umar “underwear bomber” Abdulmutallab as an American criminal suspect and not a foreign enemy combatant — thus allowing him to lawyer up and avoid the very questioning that has proven in the past to yield precious intel capable of saving thousands of innocent lives.

So, the analysts put forth their various arguments: The Obama-Holder Justice Department is obsessed with proving to the world that America is fair and just, even to terrorists; they’re offering a political bone to the far left that is disappointed in Obama for his failure to “fundamentally transform” America into a socialist utopia in one year; they’re stealthily setting up Bush, Cheney and the CIA for later prosecutions; they believe capitalist America is imperialist and exploitive and that all people of color, even Islamic jihadists, are somehow quasi-”victims” of the U.S. and thus deserving of the legal presumption of innocence; and so on.

Whatever merit these observations may have, I’d like to suggest a different reason — a little more deep-seated, a little more basic and a whole lot more disturbing.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Thomas Sowell: Politicians’ Goal: Get US to Hate Others

One of the most audacious attempts to take away our freedom to live our lives as we see fit has been the so-called “health-care reform” bills that were being rushed through Congress before either the public or the members of Congress themselves had a chance to discover all that was in them.

For this, we were taught to resent doctors, insurance companies and even people with “Cadillac health insurance plans,” who were to be singled out for special taxes. Meanwhile, our freedom to make our own medical decisions — on which life and death can depend — was to be quietly taken from us and transferred to our betters in Washington. Only the recent Massachusetts election results have put that on hold.

Another dangerous power toward which we are moving, bit by bit, on the installment plan, is the power of politicians to tell people what their incomes can and cannot be. Here the resentment is being directed against “the rich.”

The distracting phrases here include “obscene” wealth and “unconscionable” profits. But, if we stop and think about it — which politicians don’t expect us to — what is obscene about wealth? Wouldn’t we consider it great if every human being on earth had a billion dollars and lived in a place that could rival the Taj Mahal?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Bomb Goes Off at JP Morgan Offices in Athens

ATHENS (Reuters) — A bomb exploded outside the JP Morgan offices in Athens on Tuesday, causing minor damage to the building, police said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. Police had cordoned off the area after a local newspaper received a warning call.

Police cars, ambulances and fire engines have blocked streets in the upmarket central district of Kolonaki, where JP Morgan’s Greek offices are situated, a Reuters witness said.

“It was a time-bomb at JP Morgan’s offices,” a police official who declined to be named said. “The explosion damaged the outside door and smashed some windows.”

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the official said.

Banks and foreign companies are a frequent target for bomb attacks in Greece, which has been rocked by a wave of urban violence since the police shooting of a teenager in December 2008.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

France: Two People in Burqa Rob Post Office

(AGI) — Evry (France), 6 Feb. — The burka ban in France made an indirect step forward today. Two robbers wearing a burka entered the Evry post office, near Paris, and stole 4,500 Euro.

The guards let the two delinquents pass though the security doors believing they were two Muslim women in their traditional clothing, until the two aimed their weapons at the guards.

Although the booty was almost meaningless, this trick might fuel controversy about burkas in France. .

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

French Soldiers ‘Deliberately Exposed’ To Nuclear Tests

French authorities deliberately exposed soldiers to nuclear testing in the Sahara, according to researchers citing a confidential French military report.

At least one test aimed to “study the physiological and psychological effects of nuclear arms on man”, they say.

Le Parisien newspaper, which carried excerpts from the document on Tuesday, quoted the defence minister as saying he had no knowledge of the report.

Some soldiers say they were made ill by French tests dating back to the 1960s.

They have complained for decades that they were given insufficient protection from radioactive fallout during testing, with some claiming they were used as “guinea pigs”.

After long denying any responsibility, the French government drew up a bill last year to compensate veterans for health problems that could be linked to the tests.

‘Foot soldiers’

Researchers at the Armaments Observatory in Lyon, a non-governmental research group that has worked closely with French veterans of the nuclear tests, said the report they cited was written in the late 1990s as an overview of French testing, and drew on secret military documents.

It describes official interest in studying “the physiological and psychological effects of nuclear arms on man” in connection with France’s fourth atmospheric test, Gerboise Verte, on 25 April 1961.

It says “foot soldiers” were deployed in “tactical exercises” during the test, in an attempt to measure the possibility of mounting a military operation in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

The men were made to approach to within a few hundred metres of the blast site shortly after the explosion.

Patrice Bouveret, a researcher at the Armaments Observatory, said the report was the most explicit indication so far that French authorities had knowingly exposed test participants to dangerous side effects.

“Up till now we had never had direct account of ‘foot soldiers’ being used in these manoeuvres,” he told the BBC.

“[The French authorities] knew that they were putting them in danger when they sent them on these manoeuvres and at the very least they should have taken measures to protect their health.”

Defence Minister Herve Morin was quoted by Le Parisien as saying he had no knowledge of the report, while stressing that the level of radiation to which participants were exposed was “very weak”.

The French parliament approved the government’s bill to compensate veterans last month.

But veterans have complained that its provisions are too restrictive and that only a fraction of those affected will be eligible for compensation.

They are lobbying for the law to include more tests, a broader geographic area, and a greater number of illnesses, when it comes into force later this year.

They also want provisions for environmental clean-ups.

The French carried out 17 nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara in the 1960s.

France later switched testing to French Polynesia, where a further 193 tests were completed before it ended the practice in 1996.

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

Germans Experience Tide of Xenophobia

It has not been easy for Germans in Switzerland of late — right wingers think there are too many of them, and furthermore, Berlin may well buy stolen Swiss bank data.

Social scientist Marc Helbling says migrants have always faced opposition, but the fact that Germans are often highly qualified means competition over jobs. Their direct manner is also not appreciated.

There are now 250,000 Germans in Switzerland, double the number eight years ago. In Zurich alone, where there are 30,000 Germans, there has been a renewed round of “German-bashing” by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party — just ahead of local elections. Their particular bugbear; the high number of German professors in the city’s universities.

Berlin’s willingness to consider buying stolen Swiss bank data to get information about possible German tax evaders is also adding to the resentment mix.

Helbling, a Swiss who works at the Social Science Research Center in Berlin, has recently completed a study entitled “Why the Swiss Germans dislike Germans”.

swissinfo.ch: You talk about “Germanophobia” in your study. Why do the Swiss feel so threatened by German immigrants?

Marc Helbling: In migration research, we often observe that migrants are seen as a threat when they immigrate in large numbers within a short period of time.

From the mid-1990s there has been a strong influx of Germans. This is because Switzerland needs a highly qualified workforce; the 2002 bilateral accords [between Switzerland and the European Union] have also made immigration easier.

Since 2005, the Germans have ranked fourth, in terms of numbers, behind Italians, Serbians/Montenegrins and Portuguese.

swissinfo.ch: The Swiss are afraid of a creeping “Germanisation”.

M.H.: Up to a certain degree, yes. You can see it in the fact that there have been complaints about the Germans in Zurich in particular. As a migration researcher you could almost speak of a Zurich phenomenon. If you ask a French-speaking Swiss or even somebody from [the Swiss capital] Bern, they would certainly not speak in such extreme terms about the Germans.

Social scientist Marc Helbling (Photo: David Ausserhofer)

swissinfo.ch: Is the big influx the only reason why emotions are so high when it comes to the Germans?

M.H.: No, there’s more to it than that. The economic dimension plays an important role. Unlike traditional immigrants of the past, who were not so highly educated, often couldn’t really speak German and took up low-wage jobs, Germans apply for highly qualified jobs.

The typical German migrant has an academic qualification and is a doctor, university researcher or IT specialist. Swiss and Germans are therefore up against each other in a very narrow, highly-competitive segment of the work market.

This explains why you find hostility towards the Germans even among well-educated Swiss. This is a phenomenon which migration researchers do not usually observe. The theory is, the more educated the person, the less xenophobic they are.

swissinfo.ch: According to your study, German are the fourth least popular migrants after those from the former Yugoslavia, and Arab and Turkish migrants. Why don’t the Swiss like the Germans?

M.H.: I was surprised that Germans were the most unpopular west Europeans. We usually assume that people are mostly hostile to migrants from different cultural groups — which, at first glance, does not apply to the Germans.

But unlike Italians or the French, Germans are seen as culturally different by the Swiss. And this is because small differences between the cultures are perceived to have great importance.

The best example is language…

Paola Carega in Berlin, swissinfo.ch (Translated from German and adapted by Isobel Leybold-Johnson)

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

Hitler’s Green Killing Machine

The shocking climax of the infamous 1940 Nazi documentary film entitled “The Eternal Jew” stunningly reveals a strong green rationalization based on animal rights for the looming destruction of the Jews. According to Nazi ideology, the so-called “eternal Jew” is the transcendent Jew who tries to live above Nature through economics and capitalism in the west, or through politics and communism in the east.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler specifically called this process the pacification of Nature. According to Hitler, the Jews try to pacify or tame Nature through international commerce and capitalism on the one hand, or by stressing universal political values like communistic equality on the other hand, both of which rebel against the stern rigid laws of Nature which cannot be overcome. German zoologist Ernst Haeckel, the racist Darwinist who coined the term ‘ecology’ in 1866, posited that the Jewish transcendent view of man over nature made them resistant to evolutionary biological change, and hence the Jews had become a lesser race. While Hitler eschewed some of Haeckel’s political views, he heartily agreed with this particular belief.

To the Nazis, the Jews had become a wandering and threatening invasive species because of their steadfastness to universal transcendent values in opposition to the Social Darwinian evolutionary laws of Nature. They were ‘eternal’ vagabonds, uprooted from Nature and destructive to local national populations with alien economic practices and politics. Hence, Nazi ideologues complained both about the “un-German spirit of commerce” and the “liberal-Marxist rationalism” that alienated German culture from Nature-all as a crisis instigated by the Jews. In fact, the Nazis actually believed that the sick modern world of both international capitalism and communism, led by Jews and spread by Christianity, was entirely disobedient to Nature.

While the west largely became Judaized through Capitalism, it did not go unnoticed by the Nazis that its twin sister, the liberal social gospel, coincided with the rise of Jewish Marxism. Both of these corrupting influences had since become an epidemic that was threatening the very survival of the German Aryan blood, the true original natives of Europe. Hitler actually dreaded the Jewish forces of anti-Nature. In his own mind, he was defending German Aryan culture against the weakness of western civilization brought on by the autonomous Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices over the natural world.

Thus, what later became known as the Final Solution was in fact an eco-imperial plan rooted in racist biology with ecological predilections. That this eco-imperial plan would far exceed the evils of the western powers in their drive to colonial expansionism has of course gone on largely unnoticed. However, the Final Solution was specifically contemplated by Hitler to resolve this Jewish “existential” threat. In short, the revenge of Nature against the Jews was to be carried out by the Nazis, who thought themselves to be the Master Race precisely because they deemed themselves the most ‘natural’ or ‘authentic,’ i.e., the most in tune with Nature’s pantheistic ways-all of which was largely defined by Ernst Haeckel’s evolutionary Social Darwinism called Monism.

The Green Nazis

Many Nazis, including the Fuhrer himself, believed that the industrial age along with its emphasis upon commercialism, city life, international trade and finance were corrupting the biological substance of the German people. The Nazis thus had an extreme literal reading of Nature which would spell absolute disaster for the Jews in particular precisely because they allegedly lived by a false, “eternal,” or transcendent ethos, far above the natural world and her “scientific” evolutionary natural laws of racism.


Historians have either overlooked or forgotten that sweeping Nazi environmental laws, all signed by Hitler and considered to be his pet projects, preceded the racially charged Nuremberg Laws, reflecting the fact that Nazi racism was rooted in ecology. By the summer of 1935, right before the Nuremberg laws were set up, Nazi Germany was by far the greenest regime on the planet. The Animal Protection laws were followed up by a strong hunting law for Hermann Goering in 1934. In 1935, Hitler also signed the Reich Nature Protection Act, the high water mark for Nazi environmentalism. Here is seen the birth of environmental permits, environmental impact statements and environmental totalitarianism.


While Adolf Hitler’s personal commitment to green ideas was somewhat inconsistent and sporadic with regard to environmental preservation practices and the rural agrarian SS “blood and soil” radicalism of Heinrich Himmler and Richard Walther Darre, something which many environmental historians have waxed long and hard on to historically disassociate the Fuhrer from their movement as much as possible, he was much more green with regard to vegetarianism, but especially green with regard to animal rights, both of which he adopted into his life because of the great influence that Richard Wagner had over him.

Richard Wagner of course was the famous opera composer who provided the musical background to the Nazis. His anti-Semitism is specifically quoted in “The Eternal Jew.” Less known however is that Wagner was also a strong vegan who preached a racist socialism based on vegetarianism that would cleanse Germany from the corrupting influence of the Jews. Along these radical green lines is that both Hitler and Himmler apparently had plans to make Germany vegan after the war.

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

Hungary: Two Anti-Fascist Demonstrators in Budapest Allegedly Assaulted

Two participants of an anti-fascist demonstration in central Budapest were allegedly assaulted at a tram stop after they left a peaceful protest, a Hungarian Jewish organisation told MTI on Sunday.

An ambulance was called to the scene and the suspects were taken into custody, the Memorial Committee for Hungarian Jewish Freedom Fighters said in a statement.

Spokesperson for Budapest police Eszter Toth confirmed that two groups of young people got in a fight on Jaszai Mari square, near the site of the anti-fascist protest, around 7.30 pm on Saturday. There was a verbal exchange, then a young man allegedly hit and kicked one of the members of the other group. Toth declined to say whether the victims were connected to the demonstration and said police were investigating the incident.

Speakers at the demonstration attended by about 300 people, including senior Socialist party officials, on Saturday afternoon warned against rising “verbal fascism” in Hungary.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Hungary: Conference on Xenophobia, Racism Held in Budapest

An international conference began in Budapest with participants discussing xenophobia, racism and the rise of the far right in central and eastern Europe on Friday.

Hungarian-born academic Paul Lendvai said Muslim-directed xenophobia is prevalent in Austria, which ranks as the 4th wealthiest nation in Europe. High living standards alone are not enough “to prevent a nation from becoming dulled” by racism, the Vienna-based academic said.

He noted xenophobic attitudes as prevalent even in Switzerland and a rise of the far right in Finland, Denmark and Bulgaria.

Professor at the Budapest Corvinus University and an expert on Roma issues Janos Ladanyi said that people with low qualifications were hard-hit by the loss of about one and a half million jobs since the transition to democracy.

“As a result, poor people from the cities tended to move out to villages, many of which now have a high Roma population” Ladanyi said. “The problem here is not just unemployment, but an absolute exclusion from the labour market for certain groups,” he added.

Speaking about the possible motivations of radical nationalists in Hungary, sociologist Andras Toth referred to studies indicating that supporters of these groups can be found in all strata of society. He said that at a time of an economic crisis messages of the right wing radicals may well resonate among supporters of centre-left and centre-right parties, too.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Italy: “Betrayed” Bertolaso Refuses to Step Down

Head of civil protection agency rejects charges and offers to stay provided he is wanted. No “prostitutes”, just stress-relieving massages

ROME — “Let’s start with the money. It’s quite humiliating that anyone might think they could influence, or even buy for 10,000 euros, someone like me, who has managed projects worth hundreds of millions”.

The Carabinieri believe that the supposition has ‘a certain validity’, Dr Bertolaso, and they clearly aren’t referring to 10,000 euros. “

I think I have enough evidence to prove that they are mistaken. Then there’s the business of the women, which irritates me no end. It’s embarrassing”. On the first floor of the civil protection’s Via Flaminia offices, the agency’s head, Guido Bertolaso, lowers his voice, coughs and selects his words with care. “I’m very unhappy because the Francesca everyone talks about is a fine physiotherapist and a respectable, very conscientious woman whom I consulted to combat the stress and backache that I often get”.

According to the magistrate, there are “sometimes explicit and extremely eloquent” phone taps that hint at “services of a sexual nature”.

“I’ll clear all that up with the magistrates. As far as I’m concerned, the facts are what I have just told you. Look, the Salaria Sport Village is a club with 6,000 members and I am one of them. I avoid clubs on the banks of the Tiber, which are used by Rome’s high society, because I like to be among ordinary people”.

According to the investigators, the massage centre was apparently closed to ensure your privacy.

“We’ll see about that, too. I hope to be able to make a statement as early as next week”.

Do you think you may have fallen foul of individuals wanting to construct around you what has become known as a “Tarantini system” of prostitutes in exchange for favours and contracts?

“If anyone is trying that on, it’s a mistake because the system won’t wash with me. I can’t speak for others. Besides, I have an escort. My bodyguards are always within earshot”.

Don’t you think your relations with business people who obtain contracts without tender are inappropriate if you don’t want to give rise to suspicion?

“I didn’t allocate the contracts for the G8 at La Maddalena. I didn’t oversee them directly or in person. Angelo Balducci [who was arrested yesterday — Ed.] took care of everything. He’s a man who rose to chair the superior council for public works, Italy’s supreme authority. I don’t think I gave the job to someone who walked in off the street. I’ve worked with Balducci for years and have never had any reason to doubt him. It’s the magistrates who have to find out whether he has anything to answer for”.

What about businessman Diego Anemone, who was also arrested? The magistrates claim he met and spoke to you frequently.

“I must have seen him three or four times. I had contact with him, as I do with many other people I know, but that can’t be grounds for suspicion if everything is done with the utmost transparency, which I have always observed. I am sorry that this story is being treated as a scandal when we carried out major modifications of the island environment at La Maddalena”.

Costs were a bit high if it’s true that a hotel cost almost 4,000 euros a square metre.

“Obviously it’s going to cost more than elsewhere. La Maddalena isn’t Ostia! And we did it all in ten months when it would normally have taken ten years”.

Is that why you told Balducci that you had to get move on with the call for tenders, to take advantage of fact that the regional president Soru was busy with the election campaign?

“No! We did it all in full agreement with Soru and we’ve got the documents to prove it. We had to get the specifications drafted quickly, otherwise we wouldn’t have got the furniture and staff sorted out. But we did it. When the season starts, the hotels will be ready and we’ll see whether they are cathedrals in the desert, as some people say, or an asset for the island, as I think they are”.

Berlusconi is attacking the magistracy again today. Do you also feel the victim of a judicial plot?

“Prime minister Berlusconi speaks out of respect for me, which I reciprocate because no one else would have allowed me to achieve what I did in Campania and Abruzzo. And it’s understandable that someone who has so many criminal proceedings pending should harbour a certain animosity towards the judiciary. I have great faith in the magistrates in Florence and in Naples”.

But if the magistrates are on the ball, and you have done nothing wrong, what can have happened to land you with a notice of investigation for corruption?

“I have no idea. In my job, there are two risks. One is making a mistake, and getting into trouble over some law you’ve broken, and the other is the envy that goes with a high profile and popularity. When they asked me what it felt like to be just behind President Napolitano in the popularity rankings, and ahead of the Pope, I said that in that situation, my main worry was that someone would get me arrested with a bag of cocaine in my pocket. That could be what is going on”.

Who do you think planted the bag?

“I don’t know. I’ll wait and see what comes out of the investigation”.

Don’t you think you’ve been a little too friendly in your relations with one or two businessmen?

“But I’ve haven’t been seeing them! And if you ask me whether someone could have betrayed my trust, I’d say that it could be true but I have no way of proving it. Not least because everyone knows how I work. I’m severe with myself above all, and also with my collaborators”.

You don’t think that you have betrayed the trust of the Italians who gave you such popularity?

“That is my greatest regret. One reason I am staying on is to show that I have not betrayed anyone’s trust. But I didn’t withdraw my resignation. The government refused to accept it and I have a duty to carry on. If they do accept it, I’ll leave without making a fuss”.

Why in Italy does every public work turn into an event to be managed with extraordinary measures, even when it’s only celebrating anniversaries, which are about as easy to plan for as it gets?

“What do I know? It’s not up to me. All I know is that if the director of a Rome district says she need to call me in to build a nursery school, I’m not going to duck my responsibilities. I don’t go out of my way to find things to do. People call me. Should I just sit around watching my country fail to do things? No. If there’s some way I can lend a hand, I lend it willingly”.

Giovanni Bianconi

15 febbraio 2010

English translation by Giles Watson


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

Italy: New Book Exposes ‘Devastating’ Mafia Growth

Pietro Belziti was 78 years old when he was gunned down in the southern Italian region of Calabria in July last year. He was strolling along a busy street in the town of Piana di Gioia Tauro on a hot summer’s night when he was shot in the back six times by a killer who has never been found.

A new book entitled, ‘MalItalia’ (The Evil Within Italy) says this kind of crime is common in the south of the country where the mafia known as ‘Ndrangheta is becoming more powerful than ever before.

…’MalItalia’, compiled by Italian journalists Enrico Fierro and Laura Aprati, not only looks at the spread of ‘Ndrangheta but presents a snapshot of the mafia elsewhere in the country, from the Cosa Nostra in the Sicilian city of Trapani to the powerful Camorra in Caserta, outside Naples.

           — Hat tip: Perla[Return to headlines]

Italy: Police Seize Dangerous Waste in South

Italian police on Tuesday seized over 600 tonnes of untreated dangerous waste materials believed to be destined for China in the southern port city of Taranto. Police made formal complaints against two people in connection with the materials, which they said were falsely labelled and concealed inside 24 containers lacked the necessary export permits.

           — Hat tip: Perla[Return to headlines]

Italy: Candidacies for Moneygram Award for Businesses

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 16 — Discovering pre-eminent entrepreneurs who immigrated to Italy, putting them in the spotlight and rewarding them is the objective of the “MoneyGram Award 2010”, which will be handed out on May 20 in Rome to the immigrant entrepreneur of the year and to another five foreigners who demonstrated an ability to encourage economic growth, innovation, employment, social commitment and entrepreneurship among youngsters with their business. The initiative was presented today in Rome by Katia Romano of MoneyGram International, a company that handles international money transfers. Candidacies for the award begin today and will be accepted until April 23: the sign-up form is available on www.themoneygramaward.com. “The jury,” explained Romano, “will be chaired by Vincenzo Boccia, the President of Small Enterprise Central Board, and is made up of representatives from the economic, academic, and social world, as well as Radwan Khawatmi, a Syrian national and founder of Hirux International and winner of the 2009 award.” In addition to the award for businesses, the MoneyGram award this year includes six scholarships for immigrant students who can participate in a master for “Human Development and Food Security”, promoted by the Roma Tre University. “Candidacies will begin in early March,” concluded Roman, “and the distribution of the scholarships will be evaluated based on a business project in developing countries, which the students must present.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Ally Target of Corruption Inquiry

Florence, 16 Feb. (AKI) — A key ally of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is the latest target of a widening corruption inquiry related to last year’s Group of Eight summit and other events. Denis Verdini, national co-ordinator of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party (PdL), was questioned for almost two hours by Florence prosecutors late on Monday and his name is included on a list of close to 30 people under investigation for corruption.

Verdini released a statement late on Monday to confirm that he was the subject of investigation.

“After seeing my name on the fringes of the inquiry conducted by Florence prosecutors in relation to contracts managed by the civil protection authority, and since the newspapers let me know that my telephone had recorded a series of conversations with others under investigation, my dear friend for many years, Riccardo Fusi, asked my lawyer to check the facts with the prosecutors,” Verdini said.

“This is how I learned that I had been recorded in relation to the corruption investigation.”

Prosecutors, Giuseppina Mione and Giulio Monferini, met Verdini in relation to allegations that he was involved in allocating contracts to friends.

Four people have been arrested and 28 others are under investigation, including the head of the civil protection authority, Guido Bertolaso, in the corruption inquiry.

Verdini said he had requested the meeting with the Florence prosecutors.

“I calmly gave them the information they requested with total transparency,” he said. “So I have demonstrated that I having nothing to do with the accusations.”

Verdini’s name showed up in several telephone taps, in particular those implicating businessman Riccardo Fusi, president of the Baldassini-Tognozzi-Pontello constuction firm which built the Marescialli school for the paramilitary Carabinieri police in Florence.

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

Italy: Rome Tomb Goes for ‘Crazy’ Price

Neoclassical plot at Verano fetches 900,000 euros

(ANSA) — Rome, February 16 — A neoclassical tomb in Rome’s monumental Verano cemetery fetched the price of a super luxury apartment in the city’s first online auction of otherworldly assets. The tomb, described as “classical style with decorative elements in white travertine and Carrara marble, able to house ten,” drew a flood of buyers to the www.amaroma.it site, boosting its value from an asking price of 150,000 euros ($206,000) to a winning bid of 940,000 euros ($1.3 million).

“It’s a crazy price, you could get prime real estate in the real world for that,” said a delighted head of the Rome graveyard body Ama, Vittorio Borghini.

The successful bidder, who was not identified, can look forward to rubbing shoulders with literary luminaries like Alberto Moravia, Eduardo De Filippo, Grazia Deledda and Giuseppe Ungaretti; cinema legends Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Isa Miranda; composer Pietro Mascagni; and American philosopher George Santayana, famous for saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno hoped to raise some 2.5 million euros from the sell-off of 34 plots at Verano and two other historical graveyards, but the final take was 3.8 million.

The scheme has been such a hit that a repeat will be staged over the next six months, with 20 Verano tombs and ten others at Flaminio and Maccarese on offer.

The tombs were empty, no longer used, or belonged to people Ama was unable to trace.

Bidders were able to view their desired resting places on Google Earth.

“Most of the money will be going to the upkeep of Ama properties but some of the leftovers will be used on other municipal assets,” Alemanno said.

Unlike most Italian graves, which have a relatively short sell-by date, the newly available tombs have a 75-year lease.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Pope to Irish Bishops, ‘Heinous Crime’

Irish Church must act swiftly to stem crisis, Benedict says

(ANSA) — Vatican City, February 16 — Sex abuse of children by priests is a “heinous crime” that requires resolute action, Pope Benedict XVI told Irish bishops during two days of crisis talks in the Vatican Tuesday.

The pope urged the bishops to act “swiftly, with determination, honesty and courage” to resolve the “painful situation” caused by revelations of hundreds of sex abuse cases covered up over decades, the Vatican said.

He called on the Irish Church, once one of the most domestically influential in Europe, to “renew its faith and rediscover its spiritual and moral credibility”.

Benedict will issue a keenly awaited pastoral letter to Irish Catholics during Lent, it said. The Irish Church is “committed to cooperating with civil authorities” to shed full light on the scandal, a Vatican statement said.

The pope met the 24 bishops to discuss the Murphy report, which in November found that four bishops failed to report some 300 cases of child sex abuse to the police from the 1960s to the 1980s.

All four have since tendered their resignations, one of which has been accepted.

No further resignations are expected this week.

Earlier, 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 pope met top Irish bishop Sean Brady on December 11 and said 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 Murphy 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]

Spain to Speed Up Turkey’s EU Talks, Spanish Minister Says

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 15 — Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has said that Spain would speed up Turkey’s EU accession process during its rotating EU presidency. Delivering a speech at a meeting organized by a Spanish think-tank — as reported by Anatolia news agency from the Spanish capital -, Moratinos said that enlargement had strengthened the EU. Spanish minister said Turkey was a big country which had a strategic importance in the region. Turkey was the best mediator for peaceful steps in the Middle East, Moratinos said. Spain assumed the EU presidency in January 2010 and it will end in June. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

UK: Saudi Royal Under Police Investigation After His Servant is Found Battered to Death in London Hotel

A member of the Saudi royal family is being quizzed by police on suspicion of murder tonight after one of his servants was found battered to death at a top London hotel.

Police were called to the five-star Landmark Hotel in Marylebone after a 32-year-old man was battered to death in one of the hotel’s luxury suites.

The victim, a Saudi Arabian man believed to be part of the royal’s entourage, suffered severe head injuries in the attack.

Tonight detectives were quizzing a wealthy man in his 30s who told them he was a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.

It is thought that the unnamed royal had not claimed diplomatic immunity following his arrest on Monday evening.

Paramedics were called to a third floor room of the hotel at 4.45pm on Monday, but they found the man was already dead.

Police were awaiting the results of a postmortem examination held earlier today before releasing further details.

Tonight a section of the hotel’s third floor was screened off from view of guests as police photographed the scene.

The death has shocked staff and guests at the prestigious hotel which is popular with celebrities.

Rooms at the grade two listed Landmark hotel, built in 1899, cost from £400 a night, whilst the presidential suite commands up to £2,400 a night.

Oasis star Liam Gallagher and his wife Nicole Appleton held their wedding reception there after a civil ceremony at Westminster Register Office on Valentine’s Day in 2008.

Guests included Nicole’s sister Natalie, both former members of the group All Saints, and her husband Liam Howlett, of The Prodigy.

Among the most popular attractions at the Landmark are its beauty salon, pool and jacuzzi where Justin Timberlake, TV presenter Myleene Klass, Formula One former world champion Lewis Hamilton, his Pussycat Doll partner Nicole Scherzinger and Lady GaGa have all been pampered.

In 2007 Michelle Obama held a fundraising event at the hotel to boost her husband’s chances of getting in the White House, charging guests up to £1,150 for the privilege of meeting the future First Lady.

Today the hotel’s general manager Francis Green issued a statement offering his condolences over the death.

He said: ‘Unfortunately, the Landmark Hotel can confirm the death of a guest on Monday who was staying at the hotel.

‘Police were informed immediately and have launched an investigation surrounding this incident and we are co-operating fully with them and are therefore unable to comment further.

‘This is an isolated incident and our thoughts are with the relatives of the deceased.’

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said:’The death is being treated as suspicious and is being investigated by officers from the Met Police’s Homicide and Serious Crime Command.

‘Officers believe they know the identity of the deceased, who is from Saudi Arabia, but await formal identification before releasing his name.

‘Inquiries to trace his next of kin are under way.

‘It is believed the victim had suffered head injuries and officers await the results of a post mortem.’

The Saudi Arabian Ambassador to London was unavailable for comment tonight.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: Taxpayers Face £1.8m Bill for ‘Hijab’ Arches

A CONTROVERSIAL scheme to build arches in the shape of Muslim headscarves has been labelled as a “waste of money” by angry residents.

As part of a cultural trail along Brick Lane, famous for its door-to-door curry houses, bars, nightclubs and art galleries, several gates in the shape of hijabs could be built at entrances to the street, in London’s East End.

However, the £1.8 million scheme has been branded as offensive to Muslim women and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

And the local authority, Tower Hamlets, has been accused of inflaming racial tensions by trying to force the plans through without a proper consultation.

One Muslim woman told the council the stainless steel, illuminated arches “create a stereotypical image of Islam”.

Another hijab wearer said the project was a “huge waste of money” and a “tool of aggravation”.

Brick Lane lent its name to Monica Ali’s best-selling novel, which was later adapted to the big screen.

And the area now has many celebrity residents, including artist Tracy Emin, who has objected to the plans.

In a letter to the council, she wrote: “I am shocked to learn that the scheme is budgeted at £2million and I strongly feel that rubbish collections, vermin control, education and improved policing are more important to resolve.”

Following the outcry, the council pushed back the deadline for comments to February 22.

A council spokeswoman said the idea of the arch was “loosely based on the sculptural form of a headscarf, reflecting the many cultural backgrounds that have occupied and sought refuge in and around Brick Lane over the centuries”.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]


In Belgrade, Not Even War Can Stop the Party

Throughout all of Serbia’s hardships, the capitals’ already renowned club scene has only improved. Part three in a series on nightlife in European cities.

By Marloes de Koning

Bottles of cheap white wine, water and half litres of beer were strewn across staircases and car hoods in an alleyway in Belgrade’s downtown on a recent Saturday evening. A bracing wind played with the thin plastic bags that contained tonight’s supply.

A group of friends that was meeting there to get an early start on the night’s drinking seemed immune to the cold. As their laughter grew louder, so did the echo bouncing of the facade of a nearby flat.

Curbside drinking

Between gulps, Irena Mirkovic and her friend ‘Sreda’ (Serbian for ‘Wednesday,’ after the Addams Family daughter of the same name) helped each other fold their small scarves into bandanas. Sreda, whose large pupils were framed by a skinny face, crowned with tall peaks of brown hair, pulled a fur-rimmed hood over her head. The girls were drinking on the street in part out of necessity. “We don’t have any money. This is Serbia,” one explained. Again, laughter resounded throughout the street. Again the glasses were raised in toast. The girls had smoked some marijuana taken care to get before leaving their homes.

By midnight, the time had come to leave the streets for a rave party at Ex Lagum nightclub, situated in a former bunker in a nearby residential area. The earth and thick metal shielding covering the onetime shelter provided some insulation for the clubs’ neighbours, but the music’ beat could still be felt outside.

The owner of a different nightclub, Pero di Reda, aka DJ Peppe, explained that he regularly fielded complaints from neighbours, who also took their grievances to the police. The Tube, his popular venue, is located in a basement right in the middle of Belgrade’s upscale Dorcol neighbourhood. “The club is well isolated,” he said. “But sometimes cabs coming and going or people yelling out on the street can be a nuisance.” The police deal with it appropriately, the popular businessman said. “They are flexible. They tell my neighbours: ‘This is part of the deal when you live downtown.’ They understand I am running a business here.” If he were to throw a party without a permit, the police would be quick to respond however, he said.

River bank revelry

Noise is more of a problem in summer. Most clubs then close their doors as revellers move on to the so-called splavovi: large boats moored on the banks of the Sava and Danube rivers that meet in Belgrade. The boats do not lie adjacent to housing, but sound can reach even further over water. Di Reda himself lives two kilometres from most riverside nightclubs and said he could hear the thumping bass emanating from the boats every night in summertime. “Nobody complains,” he said. “I am not just saying that because I am part of the industry. People like to go out here. Whether they are 18 or 70, they you stay out late with friends.” The law does not prescribe closing hours in Serbia, and smoking is still legal in many public places.

Serbians cherish their reputation as the most primitive and barbaric, but also the most humorous, relaxed and party-hardy people of former Yugoslavia. The massive number of young Slovenians, Bosnians and Croats pouring into the capital every weekend looking for a party seem to prove that reputation is well deserved. Some groups even reserve tables months in advance on floating nightclubs that play turbofolk music.

Adam Sulica, one of the curbside drinkers outside of Ex Lagum, talked about his family in Slovenia. His cousins could not get enough of his stories about Belgrade, he bragged. “Belgrade gives them a hard on. Over there, the streets are deserted by ten o’ clock in the evening.”

A dash of recklessness

Many nightlife connoisseurs feel Belgrade offers the perfect blend of East and West. In the 1980s, when Yugoslavia was falling apart, the underground club scene of the city was already internationally renowned. “We have Eastern charm, but Western musical know-how,” Di Reda said. The wars and international economic sanctions of the 1990s added a dash of recklessness to the town’s nightlife. Daily life may have returned to normal, but when going out, people “still live every day like it might be there last,” Branko Nesic, the owner of the city’s three so-called Rakia Bars explained.

Nesic opened the first Rakia Bar in 2006. The venues serve a traditional fruit brandy which is distilled in small towns across Serbia’s countryside, but in a stylish, hip setting. The concept has proven a great success. A liquor considered a geriatric concoction only a few years ago has found new popularity among the city’s youth. Clubs today sell as much rakia as they do whisky and vodka.

Eastern and Western influences also play their part in the city’s drinking habits, Nesic said. Western style drinking entails getting extremely drunk on weekends, which can cause a nuisance out on the streets. Eastern style drinking means imbibing leisurely all day, every day, with some snacks to go with it. People generally start out young. Every family has at least one member who distills his own liquor. It is not uncommon to see elderly men taking shots with a neighbour at 11 am, or mothers taking care of sick children by giving them a handkerchief soaked in rakia.

Those traditions might soon be gone, Nesic said, with some regret in his voice. Serbia’s laidback rural lifestyle is slowly being replaced by the fast-paced rhythm of urbanity. Young Serbians work hard in the daytime and are less and less likely to go on weekday drinking binges. Drinking during working hours — as was common in the Communist era, some say — is also no longer an option.

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

Italy-Albania: Berlusconi to Berisha, Work for Tirana in EU

(ANSAmed) — ROMA, FEBRUARY 12 — “We spoke about it last night at the European Council; everyone wants to turn the Balkans into EU Countries”. Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, at the end of the meeting in Rome with Albanian premier Sali Berisha, offered his personal guarantee to give Albania the state of EU candidate Country” and for the “liberalisation of visas by October 2010”. The Italian premier pointed out that he dealt with the issue with the leaders of Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. He added that “It is in Europe that the Balkans can find the definitive solution to the ethnical and political contrasts which made the Balkans into an effervescent area”. Albanias premier expressed his deep gratitude to Italy for the extraordinarily important assistance it gave in January on occasion of the floods that hit Albania. “Mr. prime minister, it is my duty to thank once again from the heart your good, great pilots who worked in terrible atmospheric conditions and saved many lives”, added Berisha, who wanted to emphasise the major contribution of Roberto Guercio, Berlusconi’s envoy for the emergency in Albania. Berisha then invited the Italian premier to Albania where, he stated, Silvio Berlusconi is “a celebrity loved by all Albanians who had many occasions to show his feelings towards my Country and my fellow citizens”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

A Maghreb ‘Union’ Hasn’t Brought Its Members Closer

Tomorrow is the 21st anniversary of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), founded in the Moroccan city of Marrakech in 1989. The union is a grouping five North African countries — Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania — in response to “our peoples’ aspirations in unity and economic integration”, as its inaugural official statement stated.

However, more than 20 years later there is less economic integration, and far less unity, among the AMU members than at the outset. In fact, outright enmity between two of the founding states, Algeria and Morocco, has made the news far more often than their promised unity.

The AMU’s last summit took place in Tunisia in 1994, and since then the presidency transferred to Libya after Algeria declined to take its turn as president. In his capacity as head of the AMU, Colonel Muammer Qadafi, in his frank and sometimes embarrassing style, has said “the AMU should be put in the freezer”, citing its failure to make any progress on any level. But Col Qadafi was only expressing his frustration openly while everyone else whispered their own.

Citizens of the five AMU member states are supposed to be able to travel freely within the union. But the borders between Algeria and Morocco have been closed for 15 years. The only occasion the border was opened was last year when the British humanitarian convoy Gaza Lifeline passed through it. People on both sides of the crossing point were disappointed in their hopes that the crossing would remain open. Families a few kilometres inside Algeria cannot see their loved ones in Morocco, and vice versa.

What has plagued relations between Algeria and Morocco for decades still freezes the workings of the AMU: border and land disputes between the two major AMU members. The two neighbours fought what is known as the Sands War in 1963 because of Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over two pieces of land in the Tindouf and Bechar areas, which France integrated into Algeria during the colonial era.

Then came the Western Sahara issue to further poison relations between the two countries, dealing what many observers saw as a deadly blow to any hopes for a North Africa union. Morocco claims sovereignty over the Western Sahara, while an independence movement known as the Polisario Front has declared its own state in the region, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, with strong Algerian support.

Many analysts view the 1960s war as the main reason behind Algeria’s financial and political support of the Polisario state declared in 1976. The Sahrawi Republic is recognised by more than 70 countries in the world, but it’s not an AMU member.

Regardless of the bilateral claims and counterclaims between the two major North African countries, the result is that the AMU is completely paralysed, clinically dead and just awaiting a formal burial. None of its many projects or joint initiatives have taken root and some of them did not even get off the ground. The latest of these projects is the Bank of Investment and Foreign Trade set up in 1991. The bank is still not operational eight years after the 2002 launch date.

The idea of a unified Maghreb dates back to pre-independence years when, in April 1956, representatives of political parties from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco met in Tangier to call for the integration of their respective countries into one common market with a unified foreign policy.

The AMU’s closest model is the newly established framework of the European Union, with its presidency and united position on foreign policy issues, at least on major issues such as immigration, and the free movement of people and goods. For years the EU has been negotiating with each AMU member individually over shared problems such as illegal immigration, fishing quotas, energy supplies, and border control.

Expectations for a common policy — which would enable the region to negotiate as a bloc — have long since faded away, although the EU would prefer to deal with the AMU as well. One of the last diminished hopes is that the AMU can simply help to prevent another war between Morocco and Algeria.

The aspiration was to forge a common identity in North Africa in addition to closer economic integration and the freedom of movement across borders. But of the numerous accords and agreements signed over the years, the AMU’s website now lists only four that have supposedly been enacted. None of them has any real life consequences for the majority of the people in whose name the AMU is founded. The only effect on people’s daily lives has happened within the limited relations between Tunisia, Libya and Algeria, relations that are founded on traditional ties rather than the union.

The trilateral relationship does offer some promise of a union of sorts. The loose border control between the three countries has taken their integration to unprecedented levels in terms of trade, tourism and cultural exchanges. Millions of Libyans flock to Tunisia every year for medical treatment, economic activities, tourism and family visits. The same goes for the flow of people and goods between Algeria and Tunisia. Those relations have made a difference for millions of lives, but it’s a limited model of union that is outside the larger scope of a united North Africa, whether its called the AMU or anything else.

If the AMU is ever to work and real economic, social and cultural benefits realised for the millions of people in its member states, it requires a much stronger statement of political will. The belief in a unified, strong Europe gave birth to the European Union. By the same token, strong political will and a renewed belief in the mission of the AMU are required before any progress can be made towards a union. Even if the Western Sahara dispute is solved, the goal of a unified North Africa will remain frozen in time if nobody believes in the AMU.

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

Libya: Italians Blocked in Tripoli Airport

Entry to Libya denied to all Schengen area citizens

(supersedes previous) (ANSA) — Tripoli, February 15 — A total of 22 Italians are currently blocked at the international airport in Tripoli following Libya’s decision to suspend all entry visas issued in the Schengen area, the Italian consul general told ANSA by phone Monday evening.

Francesca Tardioli said that 40 Italians arrived Sunday night, when Libya began denying entry, and while some were finally allowed to enter the country before the ban took effect, three Italians were repatriated to Italy.

“We are giving our assistance and trying to resolve individual situations on a case-by-case basis,” Tardioli added.

The consul general has been at the airport since Sunday night.

The Italian foreign ministry on Monday advised Italians not to travel to Libya until the situation has been resolved.

Aside from the there Italians, Libya sent back nine Portuguese nationals, a Frenchman and a European citizen who arrived from Cairo.

Libyan authorities officially confirmed Monday afternoon that no further entry visas would be issued to citizens from countries which are part of the Schengen open border accord and those who arrived with a Schengen visa would not be allowed into Libya.

Libya’s initiative was also confirmed on Monday to ANSA by the Italian ambassador to Libya, Francesco Paolo Trupiano.

The ambassador added that he had been in contact with Libyan Foreign Minister Mousa Kousa but would not give any details on their discussion.

There are reports of chaos at the Libyan capital’s international airport.

According to the Alitalia country manager in Libya, Gianluca Della Torre, “everything began Sunday around 8pm when 40 passengers from Tunis and Malta we stopped on their arrival.

Then the same thing happened when the 12:45am Alitalia flight arrived. The last passengers to be questioned were allowed to leave at 4.45am,” before the entry ban went into full effect.

The decision by Libya to suspend visa for citizens from Schengen countries is believed to be the result of a dispute between the North African country and Switzerland.

The dispute began when Switzerland, which joined Schengen in December 2008, issued a ‘black list’ of 188 ‘undesirable’ Libyans who should be denied entry into the Schengen area, including one of the sons of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi and other family members.

Hannibal Gaddafi was placed on the list because he and his wife were detained by Swiss authorities in July 2008 for allegedly mistreating their domestic help.

The Schengen area includes all European Union countries with the exception of Britain and Ireland, plus Iceland, Cyprus and Switzerland. photo: Libyan leader Gaddafi

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Entry Denied, Crisis With Switzerland Retaliation

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 15 — Libya’s decision to close its borders to citizens from the Schengen area is part of the “diplomatic war” which has been waged by Berne and Tripoli for almost two years, and now risks affecting the whole of Europe. It reached a climax yesterday, when Tripoli decided to react to the publication by the Swiss Government of a sort of “blacklist” of around 188 Libyans, which includes Colonel Gaddafi himself. The crisis dates back to July 15, 2008, when Hannibal Gaddafi, the Colonel’s son, and his wife were stopped in a Geneva hotel after claims by two domestic staff that the couple had mistreated them. The couple were released after two days, following the payment of a substantial bail. Gaddafi, offended by the “disrespect” they were subjected to, reacted by introducing severe measures, including the temporary suspension of oil supplies to Switzerland, the blocking of flights, and the withdrawal of Libyan deposits from Swiss banks (around 5 billion euros). Two Swiss businessmen — in another clear act of retaliation — have been held in Libya since July 19, 2008, accused of violating the conditions of their visas. Despite the official apology by President of the Swiss Confederation Hans-Rudolf Merz one year after the episode during a visit to Tripoli, tensions between the two countries are still high. Switzerland has advised its citizens not to travel to Libya and is following a restrictive policy over visas. Tripoli has also accused the EU of giving “systematic and programmatic solidarity” to Berne, by limiting Schengen visas to Libyan citizens. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Entry Refusal; Unilateral, Disproportionate Act

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 15 — The EU Commission “deplores the unilateral and disproportionate decision by the Libyan authorities to suspend the granting of visas to citizens of the countries of the Schengen area”, stated EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, in a statement. The Commission, she continues, regrets that travellers who legally obtained visas before the suspension measure have been denied entry on arrival in Libya. The Commission, the EU countries and the countries which make up the Schengen area will discuss the decision by the Libyan authorities as part of their Visas group this week, and will evaluate an appropriate reaction. Meanwhile, the number of Italians sent home from Libya has risen to six, while the number of Italians still blocked at the airport is down to 7. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Entry Denied; Italy to Bring Issue Up in Brussels

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 15 — Italy is to ask that Libya’s decision to suspend the issuing of new entry visas to citizens from Schengen countries, along with the validity of entry visas which have already been issued, be a topic for discussion at the next meeting of EU Foreign Ministers on February 22. Italy is lobbying all the countries of the European Union and the Schengen countries, says the Foreign Office, and is also checking the correctness of the decision by Switzerland which led Libya to close its borders to Schengen citizens. Switzerland, according to daily Libyan paper Oea, recently drew up a blacklist of 188 Libyan personalities, including the countrys leader, Muammar Gaddafi and his family, who have been denied entry into Switzerland. A spokesperson from the Swiss Foreign Ministry neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the list. Since yesterday evening the international airport in Tripoli has been in chaos: all passengers coming from European countries have been subjected to strict controls. Several were held for hours before being allowed to continue their journey, others have been sent back home. Three Italians of manager status with business visas were among those turned back: one is a resident with a work permit, one has a six-month multiple entry business visa, and one has a single business visa. Another 37 Italians were held all night at the airport, accompanied by Italian Consul Francesca Tardioli, and were later allowed to enter the country at around 4.30 in the morning. They were mainly employees of oil companies operating in Libya. Nine Portuguese citizens who had been invited by the Libyan government were stopped and repatriated, they were to attend the Libya-Portugal trade fair Lipo. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: S.Craxi in Malta: Abuse by Swiss, EU Must Intervene

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 16 — “Italy and Malta are of the opinion that this use of the Schengen treaty by Switzerland was an abuse and they hope that within a few days a diplomatic solution can be reached” over the visa crisis between Libya and the European countries, said Italys Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Stefania Craxi, after a meeting today in Valletta with Foreign Minister, Tonio Borg, who will be in Rome tomorrow to meet his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini, and Libyan Foreign Minister, Mousa Kousa. “We agreed on the need for the EU to stop beating about the bush and take firm action over Berne and Tripoli”, added Craxi, who expressed her hope that “on Thursday in Brussels during the meeting of officials from the visa commission” a solution will be reached. Otherwise, she pointed out, “Frattini has already said that he will bring the matter to the Foreign Ministers round table meeting on Monday 27”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Western Sahara: 1,000 Runners to Algerian Refugee Camps

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, FEBRUARY 16 — Roughly 1,000 athletes, including over 400 foreigners in arrival from 30 countries from all over the world, will participate in the 10th edition of the Marathon of Western Sahara, to be held February 22 in the Saharawi refugee camps in the south of Algeria. The event is organised each year on the occasion of the anniversary of the creation of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). A press release from the organisers informs that the marathon will be held among the refugee camps near Tindouf (800 km south of Algiers), El Ayoun, Ousserd and Smara, with stages of 42, 20, 10 and 5 kilometres. The earnings from the race will go to projects for the youth of these camps, which since 1975 have welcomed roughly 150,000 refugees from the ex-Spanish colony, occupied in that year by Morocco. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Catholic Tourism Goes Back Up in Holy Land

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, FEBRUARY 15 — Signs of recovery in the number of tourists to Israel and the Holy Land were seen during the first month of 2010 and coinciding with Christmas and the New Year. Catholic pilgrims were the main driving force behind this phenomenon, with a significant rise in tourists from Brazil and Italy. A document which was sent today to ANSA by the Israeli Tourism Ministry shows that the number of visitors from predominantly Catholic countries was significantly higher than average. In absolute terms France is in first place, with 11,500 visitors in January 2010 alone, followed by Italy (6,700), Poland (6,000) and Brazil (3,700). Poland is top however in terms of proportion of the population. The document concentrates on the percentage increase in the number of visitors. In fact the percentage rose by 171% for Brazil, 81% for Italy and 60% for Poland compared with January 2009 (a month which was affected by the military offensive launched by Israel during those weeks in the Palestinian Gaza Strip). The percentage growth compared to 2008 was 46%, 40% and 22% respectively. According to Minister Stas Misezhnikov, who has been hit by recent criticism at home over his behaviour and the eccentric tones (according to several papers) of his many promotional trips, this success is tied to his “marketing” operations. As well as the 10 million shekels (two million euros) invested by the Ministry in an ad hoc marketing campaign aimed specifically at Catholic countries. “Catholic tourism still has a great potential for growth, and the Ministry will continue to invest in it, by playing on the religious, historical and archaeological heritage of Israel,” stated Misezhnikov, who also stressed the importance of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, not only as an added attraction, but also as a contributory factor in creating an atmosphere of greater “understanding and closeness”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

‘Fatah-Gate’: Abbas Suspends Functionary, Inquiry

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH, FEBRUARY 15 — Following press leaks on alleged corruption within the upper levels of the Palestinian Authority (‘Fatah-Gate’), yesterday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended a close collaborator for three weeks and put a historical leader of Al-Fatah, Abu Maher Ghneim, under investigation. Reports were from the Palestinian press agency MAAN. The functionary suspended is Rafic al-Husseini, the head of Mahmoud Abbas’s office. A few days ago the Israeli private television broadcaster Channel 10 showed a video — obtained from a former Palestinian secret services agent, Fahmi Shabane — which reportedly shows Al-Husseini in a compromising situation with two women: his secretary and a woman hoping to receive a government post from him. In the footage, Al Husseini also spoke offensively about Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. Initially, the Palestinian Authority had accused Channel 10 of spreading baseless allegations and had threatened to sue the broadcaster. However, in the meantime the issue has had a sharp impact on the Palestinian population in the West Bank and therefore, according to MAAN, yesterday the decision was made to shed light on the documents gathered by Shabane in his years at the central Palestinian intelligence agency.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Guru Accused of Induction Into Slavery, Sexual Abuse

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 15 — Induction into slavery, sexual abuse and rape are what Goel Ratzon — the head of a sect in whose ‘harem’ Israeli police found 21 concubines and about 50 children a month ago — has been charged with by the Israeli district court of Tel Aviv. Included on the list of charges are that Ratzon, 59, “induced into slavery” the women living with him and sexually abused at least two of his daughters, “even when the latter were under the legal age of consent”. Ratzon has rejected the charges and spoken out against what he calls the “intrusion” by the Israeli police and secret services into his family life. According to the charges, Ratzon’s “family” had grown steadily since 1991. The secret services had been aware of its existence for some time but, given the total code of silence the man had managed to impose on his ‘wives’, they had not found sufficient grounds on which to request police intervention. Only recently did they manage to get the collaboration of some of the women in the sect. According to the charges, Ratzon “willfully instilled a highly distorted perception of reality in the women, inducing them to believe that their personality and very self, as well as physical and mental well-being, depended on him.” In this way he pushed them to engage in a sort of worship of him, and to aspire to “give him children”, all of whom were given variants of the name ‘Goel’ (‘saviour’ in Hebrew). Ratzon has also been charged with holding “absolute power” over the women, to the point of segregating them “into a condition of slavery”. Following Ratzon’s arrest last month, police feared that a number of women living with him might have tried to commit suicide. However, in the meantime some of the latter have said that they are willing to testify against him in court and, according to the press, have already had the showy tattoos removed from their skin which had been chosen to exalt the ‘guru’. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Hamas Informs UK on Journalist’s Arrest in Gaza

(ANSAmed) — GAZA, FEBRUARY 15 — The circumstances in which yesterday’s arrest in Gaza of the British freelance journalist Paul Martin occurred have been described in detail by Hamas’s Foreign Ministry to a representative of the consulate of Great Britain. This was stated today by Ihab al-Ghusein, spokesman for Hamas’s Interior Ministry in Gaza. Al-Ghusein added that Martin is still under investigation — which is expected to last for two weeks — and that he has access to a lawyer in Gaza. According to al-Ghusein, Martin (who has worked with the BBC, the Times and the Daily Mirror in the course of his career) is suspected of having “violated Palestinian laws” and of putting national security at risk. Martin was arrested yesterday during a closed-door debate in which he testified on behalf of a Palestinian suspected of collaborating with Israel. According to journalistic sources, elements contained in his testimony allegedly raised the prosecution’s suspicions to the point of requesting his arrest. The journalist is thought to be held in a police station in Gaza.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Settlements’ Freeze: Netanyahu’s Orders Ignored

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 15 — The moratorium on new Jewish construction projects in the West Bank, announced three months ago by Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu to relaunch negotiations with the Palestinians, has been broken in 29 settlements: about one out of every four. A highly reliable source, the Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence, Matan Vilnai, provided the data. “We will be able to make people respect the law where our instructions have been broken” he said in response to a question from a left-wing MP. In an initial reaction, the Peace Now movement said that Vilnai’s data suffers from a defect. In 33 of the settlements, said the pacifist group, work is continuing briskly, even at night and during the Sabbath. Netanyahu’s announcement was accepted with scepticism by PNA officials. In their eyes, it is impossible to discuss a real settlement freeze, because the freeze did not include the construction of thousands of residential units that had already begun, nor did it include Jewish building projects in East Jerusalem. In retrospect, it seems that the Netanyahu government is able only to partially impose the 10-month settlement freeze on the 300,000 West Bank settlers. Negative developments for U.S. diplomacy. Yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a meeting with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, tried to rekindle the weak flames of negotiations. Next week, according to the press, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will undertake a mission to the Middle East. Meanwhile, spirits in Jerusalem are marked by a sombre scepticism: this was confirmed today in Knesset (Parliament) by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In this phase, he asserted, “the conflict cannot be resolved anymore through a territorial compromise,” since at the beginning of the year 2000, it became a dispute with a religious component. Those who talk about a “territorial compromise” he added, “are spreading illusions”. Several politicians asked him in vain how his statements reconcile with Netanyahu’s policy, which is in favour of “an Israeli state recognised as a Jewish state, alongside a demilitarised Palestinian state”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

‘Dubai Hit Squad Stole My Identity’: British Man’s Name Used by Assassins Who Executed Senior Hamas Leader

A British man in Israel with the same name as an alleged member of a hit squad that assassinated a top Hamas militant in Dubai said his identity had been stolen.

Melvyn Adam Mildiner said he was ‘angry, upset and scared’ over what he called a misidentification.

He spoke as the Foreign Office confirmed the British passports used in the killing were fraudulent. The FCO has launched an investigation, it said in a statement.

Last night Dubai police said they were working on the premise that the passports were genuine.

It is not clear if they contacted the Foreign Office to say they believed people carrying British passports were involved in the killing before releasing the information yesterday.

‘This is an ongoing Emirati investigation to which we have offered our assistance and support.

We are aware that the holders of six British passports have been named in this case. We believe the passports used were fraudulent and have begun our own investigation.

‘We are not aware of the process they went through in making the decision to release the information,’ an FCO spokesman said.

He would not comment when asked if the British Government had been contacted by the Dubai police prior to yesterday’s announcement.

Dubai police listed Mr Mildiner as one of six men carrying British passports suspected of being part of an 11-man hit squad that killed Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury hotel in the Gulf emirate last month.

But the British national, a resident of a town near Jerusalem, today insisted he had nothing to do with the assassination and had never been to Dubai.

‘I woke up this morning to a world of fun,’ he said, after newspapers around the world splashed names and photos of the suspects distributed by Dubai.

‘I am obviously angry, upset and scared — any number of things. And I’m looking into what I can do to try to sort things out and clear my name,’ he said in a telephone interview.

‘I don’t know how this happened or who chose my name or why, but hopefully we’ll find out soon.’

‘It’s not me. Which is one silver lining on this entire story because at least I can point to it and say, ‘Look, that’s not me. It’s not the picture that I have in my passport, and it’s not the picture that I have on my face that I walk around with every day’,’ Mr Mildiner said.

‘I have my passport. It is in my house, along with the passports of everybody else in my family, and there’s no Dubai stamps in it because I’ve never been to Dubai,’ he said.

Acknowledging that his name was uncommon, Mr Mildiner said: ‘There’s probably not many of us.’

Mr Mildiner does appear to have a Twitter account, though his tweets are now being protected.

He was however tweeting on the day of the assassination, seeming about IT-related things. His tweet, sent from a SPB Mobile Shell phone at 2.33 p.m., reads: ‘Is it possible to install something like #Swype on an #iPhone and set it as the default input device?’

He spoke out as Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that none of the alleged Irish citizens named as being part of the hit squad exist.

‘We’ve been unable to find any record of Irish passports having been issued with details corresponding to the details published today in a number of UAE newspapers,’ the Deparment said today.

‘We are in ongoing contact with UAE authorities to try and ascertain the exact facts of the case.

‘To date we’ve received no evidence that any Irish people were involved.’

The British Home Office declined to comment, saying it was an ongoing investigation.

There was no comment from Dubai-based diplomats from the countries linked to passports.

January 19, 2010: Victim Mahmoud al-Mabhouh arrives in Dubai — mysteriously without his bodyguards. It is still not clear what he was doing in the country.

January 20: Shortly after midnight, the suspects are spotted on airport and hotel CCTV cameras arriving in Dubai.

They split into five teams — four surveillance, and one execution squad.

During the day several of the suspects are seen in the hotel disguised as tourists.

Like something out of a spy caper novel, they wear false beards and glasses and even dress up in sports gear with tennis racquets to fool any suspicious onlookers.

CCTV shows one entering a bathroom and emerging again in his disguise.

At one point they even get in to the same lift as Mabhouh to confirm the room he is in — room 230.

Peter Elvinger books the room down the hall — room 237. Some of the assassins take up position.

4.25p.m.: One of the suspects arrives at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel, where Mabhouh is staying.

8.24p.m. Mabhouh arrives back at the hotel.

8.27 p.m.: Gail and Kevin can be seen monitoring the hallway outside his room.

The killing, believed to have taken only ten minutes, takes place.

8.46p.m.: The alleged execution team are caught on CCTV apparently leaving the victim’s room and walking out of the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel after the hit is believed to have taken place.

Within two hours, the entire team has fled the country to destinations in Europe and Asia.

Dubai police said last night they are working on the premise the passports are genuine — though that premise is false, according to the Foreign Office statement.

Last night the Daily Mail confirmed that people with the same names and birthdates as those on the passports were all born in Britain. Mr Mildiner is the only one to have spoken out so far.

The 11-strong gang — some wearing fake beards and wigs — who disguised themselves as tourists with tennis clothes and rackets in a highly orchestrated murder.

They are believed to have fled the emirate after the killing and are now on the run. Dubai’s attorney general, Essam al-Hemaydan, said international arrest warrants have been issued.

They arrived on separate flights and spent less than a day in the emirate, tracking their victim to his five-star residence, the al-Bustan Rotana, near the airport before ambushing and suffocating him.

It was earlier alleged he was electrocuted before being murdered.

Dubai’s chief of police, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, last night released the names of six people claiming to be British and three claiming to be Irish among the killers.

‘We have no doubts that it was 11 people holding these passports, and we regret that they used the travel documents of friendly countries,’ he said.

The other members of the gang were carrying French and German passports.

Within two hours of the attack on Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on January 20, the assassins fled Dubai, heading to airports in Europe and Asia.

It is believed that they were in the country for only 19 hours in all.

It is believed a request has been placed with Interpol for arrest warrants for the gang.

Al-Mabhouh was found dead in his hotel room without any injuries to his body, according to initial reports from Palestinian sources.

He had barricaded the door of his room with chairs, a standard precaution by a man who felt that Israeli intelligence had been after his life for 20 years.

But Lt Gen Tamim did not go as far as blaming Israel directly, saying it was possible that ‘leaders of certain countries gave orders to their intelligence agents to kill’ the Hamas man.

Outlining how he believed the assassination was carried out, he said it was a highly organised operation, carried out with advance knowledge of the victim’s movements.

Forensic tests indicated al-Mabhouh died of suffocation, but examinations are continuing to establish other possible factors in his death — including the possibility of electrocution and torture.

Airport surveillance video of the alleged killers arriving on separate flights to Dubai the day before al-Mabhouh was found dead, were shown at a news conference yesterday.

The members of the hit-squad divided into teams — four surveillance teams and the execution squad who would actually carry out the assassination. Three of the execution squad were carrying British passports, one was carrying an Irish passport.

They used ‘coded communication tools’ to keep in contact.

CCTV footage shows the female member of the gang apparently wearing a dark wig, big hat and sunglasses to blend in with tourists.

Others in the hit squad were also seen on the film dressed as holidaymakers, wearing tennis clothes and carrying rackets and athletic bags.

The footage also showed the gang gathering in groups at the Al-Bustan Rotana Hotel.

All of the gang paid for their expenses in cash to avoid being traced.

Investigators saying that several members of the hit squad followed Al-Mabhouh to his room, even riding in the elevator with him to confirm his room number.

Then some of the team checked in to a room across the hall.

Four assassins then entered his room while he was out, using an electronic device to open the door, waiting to pounce when he returned.

The killing took just ten minutes.

The gang were careful not to disturb anything in the room and left the door locked from the inside to try to hide their actions, said Dubai police.

All of the suspects left the country within 19 hours of their arrival. Police said some went to Europe, some to Asia.

But there were clues, police said — the alleged assassins hired cars, and even apparently left fingerprints.

And the CCTV footage used to map the suspects’ movements from their arrival in Dubai up until the murder was the most damning of all, police said.

The elaborate plan to kill Mabhouh reads like something out of a Frederick Forsyth-style spy caper — which, in fact, it is.

Forsyth wrote ‘The Day of the Jackal’, in which an assassin uses false passports in a plot to kill French President Charles de Gaulle, in 1971.

It was turned into a film in1973, with a remake loosely based on the original and starring Bruce Willis made in 1997.

Israeli hit squads have used non-Israeli passports in the past, notably in 1997 when agents who bungled an attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Jordan entered the country on Canadian passports.

One of the agents had a passport bearing the name of a Canadian living in Israel, who later said he was the victim of identity theft.

In 2005, Israel apologised to New Zealand after two suspected Mossad agents were sentenced to six months in jail by a court in Auckland that found they had sought to obtain a New Zealand passport illegally.

‘We have identified the suspects and will issue arrest warrants against them and will take legal action against anyone or any party which will prove to stand behind the murder,’ Lt Gen Tamim said.

‘Currently we do not have clear evidence that a specific apparatus has carried out the act,’ he added.

‘We are dealing with the passports as original unless it is proven otherwise. We are asking for the co-operation of the respective countries.’

Police said the ringleader is Peter Elvinger, 49, who holds a French passport.

They accused him of being the squad’s logistical coordinator and the one who booked room 237 in Al Bustan Rotana, down the corridor from the victim’s room — 230.

Yesterday police said 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.

Other reports suggested he was in Dubai to buy weapons for Hamas.

It is understood he entered Dubai on a false passport the day before his murder.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, denied al-Mabhouh — one of the founders of the group’s military wing — was en route to Iran, one of the group’s major backers.

Top Hamas figures have accused Israeli agents of killing him.

Lt Gen Tamin said Israeli involvement could not be ruled out.

‘We do not rule out Mossad, but when we arrest those suspects we will know who masterminded it,’ he said.

‘If the law of the jungle is the system for some countries, in the UAE it is rule of law that governs us, and if leaders of some countries give orders to their intelligence services to kill, this practice is rejected and is a crime in our laws, religion and Islamic traditions,’ Gen Tamin said.

He added that the UAE would follow the proper legal procedures and work with Interpol to track down the perpetrators — “even if it’s some countries’ leaders’.

In a statement released last month, Hamas acknowledged that al-Mabhouh was involved in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989.

The organisation said that until his death, he had played a ‘continuous role in supporting his brothers in the resistance inside the occupied homeland’.

The Al Bustan Rotana in Dubai is a luxury 275 room 5 star hotel, catering for business and leisure travellers. It has seven restaurants and cafes, a health club, two swimming pools, tennis courts and beach access.

It is located just minutes from Dubai International airport and close to the city’s main shopping areas.

The British suspects are Melvyn Mildiner, Stephen Hodes, Paul Keeley, Jonathan Graham, James Clarke and Michael Barney.

Folliard, Evan Dennings and Kevin Daveron are the alleged Irish assassins.

Two Palestinian nationals, who are UAE residents, are also currently being detained by Dubai Police in connection to al Mabhouh’s murder. One of them has confessed that he provided logistic help, said Lt Gen Tamin.

He did not say whether any of the suspects have been formally charged by prosecutors in Dubai, one of seven semiautonomous emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

But local charges would be needed before the suspects could be added to the Interpol database or to begin any possible extradition efforts in the future.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Iraq: Mosul: Anti-Christian Violence: Two Murders and a Kidnapping in 24 Hours

The Christian community is once again under attack from armed gangs, while the government does nothing to stop the attacks. In two raids two traders killed, a third man injured. “A large sum of money” demanded for the kidnapped Christians. Christian leader in Erbil: political ties between the expulsion of Christians from Iraq and the recent carnage in Baghdad.

Mosul (AsiaNews) — In just over 24 hours two Christian businessmen have been killed, one wounded and a fourth kidnapped, for whose release the kidnappers have asked for a “large sum of money.” The streak of blood and violence against the Christian community in Mosul in northern Iraq shows no sign of abating as it comes under attack from armed gangs and abandoned by local authorities once again, as a local source told AsiaNews, “they do nothing to defend us.”

Yesterday a Christian fruit vendor was killed in the district 17 Tammouz. The man, Najim Abdullah Fatoukhi of 42 years, was shot to death in front of his shop. The attackers fired from a car, and got away undisturbed.

The previous day, Sunday, February 14, Rayan Bashir Salem was killed. An armed commando entered the man’s house in the neighbourhood of Al Mishraq, and shot him at point blank range. In the ambush his brother, Thair was wounded. The victim, also a merchant, owned a frozen goods store.

Finally, on

Sources for AsiaNews in Mosul, asking for anonymity for security reasons, said the “persecution continues in complete indifference” and added that “Christians are living in a state of panic and are trying to leave the city.

Christians are convinced that “these are not normal criminals” behind the attacks and that there are “specific political plans”: the creation of a Christian enclave in the plain of Nineveh and the government “does nothing to counter it.”

A high-profile Christian political figure in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, explains that “even the attacks in Baghdad” in the recent past — which caused hundreds of dead or injured — are related to “project for an area to pen up the Christian community” .

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

Israel Mulling a Spring or Summer War: Ahmadinejad

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday that Iran’s arch-foe Israel was mulling starting a war “next spring or summer” but has yet to make a final decision. Skip related content

Without specifying whom would be targeted, Ahmadinejad said: “According to information we have they (Israel) are seeking to start a war next spring or summer, although their decision is not final yet.”

“But the resistance and regional states will finish them if this fake regime does anything again,” the hardliner said at a press conference when asked about ongoing efforts to reconcile ties between Arabs and Israel.

The already deep-seated enmity between Iran and Israel have deteriorated since Ahmadinejad became the president, with the latter not ruling out a military strike against Tehran’s nuclear sites in a bid to stop the Islamic republic’s galloping atomic programme.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Ahmadinejad’s claim of a war during a visit Tuesday to Russia.

“We are not planning any war,” Netanyahu said in Moscow following talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“They are doing different manipulations,” Netanyahu said.

“I would not be surprised if these things we are hearing now are… (the) result of the Iranian feelings ahead of the impending United Nations Security Council discussions on sanctions,” he added.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Spain: 5 Guantanamo Detainees Accepted by Spanish Prisons

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 15 — Five, not two as initially planned, will be the number of Guantanamo detainees who will be taken in by Spanish prisons, if to legal and security conditions are guaranteed, confirmed Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, speaking today at an encounter in Madrid. Moratinos, cited by Europa Press, explained that another three prisoners could be added to the two detainees, a Palestinian and a Yemenite, whose transfer was negotiated by the Spanish government and the U.S. However, the definitive number has not yet been decided upon. “We will try to negotiate for the arrival of five detainees, still when legal and security guarantees are sufficient to be able to accept them,” said the head of Spanish diplomacy. There are about 200 prisoners currently being held at the U.S. facility on the island of Cuba, where at the end of 2001 the American administration sent suspects with connections with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban terrorist networks. The closing of Guantanamo was one of current U.S. President Barak Obama’s campaign promises. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Fighting Polygamy: Woman Castrates Husband, And Then Kills Him

With a kitchen knife, the woman cuts off her husband’s penis, then stabs him to death. His physical abuse and his decision to take a new wife drove her to such action. Polygamy is legal in Bangladesh but is a rapidly waning social practice. Only 10 per cent of men have more than one wife.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — Her husband’s extreme physical abuse and his decision to take a fourth wife drove a woman in Bangladesh to cut off his penis with a kitchen knife and then repeatedly stabbed him to death. The incident occurred last 10 February in the village of Bogra, Gazipur District (Dhaka Division). The woman is currently being held on murder charges.

Chad Sultana, 28, and her husband Mohammed Nazrul Islam, 45, are the main actors in this drama. He had two more wives and was planning to take a fourth one in accordance with Islamic law, even if the practice is not widespread in Bangladesh.

The couple lived in a flat. The owner of the building where the couple lived, Halim, spoke to AsiaNews about the tragedy.

“On 10 February around 3 pm, the woman cut off his penis to avenge a life of misery he had forced upon her,” he said. “She then stabbed him to death. She used a bothi, a sharp cooking knife.”

Chad Sultana was Mohammed Nazrul Islam’s third wife. She grew tired of his unfaithfulness and was opposed to his decision to marry a fourth time. The two often quarrelled and he mistreated and beat her on several occasions. He would often bate her, saying that “it was legal to marry up to four times under Islam” and that she had no right to oppose his plans.

The landlord said that the couple had a 13-year-old daughter, Mim. “Now that her father is dead and her mother is in prison, she could become destitute.”

Joydevpur police chief said that Chad Sultana is being held on charges of first-degree murder.

Polygamy is legal in Bangladesh, but is a rapidly waning social practice. It touches only 10 per cent of all adult males, much less than in other countries where it is legal.

In some cities, hefty taxes have been imposed on polygamy, with the tax increasing for each new wife a man takes.

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

India Fights Islamists, Communists and John Kerry

This is an amazing time to be in India. Last week, tensions here heated white hot when Pakistan refused to hold long overdue talks with India about the former’s role in the Mumbai terror attacks. At the same time, the government continued its offensive against communist rebels who have been terrorizing this country for decades; and the Maoists for the first time cried “Uncle.” Shortly after the Indo-Pak talks were on again (albeit with the two countries disagreeing on their content), terror struck.

Indians awoke Sunday morning to read about a major Islamist terror attack in the West Indian city of Pune, and industrial hub of more than five million people, that killed nine and injured scores. Security here went on high alert —something I can testify to having taken a domestic flight here later that day. More importantly, security forces were able to foil two impending attacks; one communist, one Islamist. Then on Monday, terror struck again. Lashkar e Taibe, the Islamic terror group responsible for the Mumbai and other terror attacks here, carried out another operation, this time in the disputed region of Kashmir. Then, later that day, the communists, known here as Naxalites and perhaps desperate after being knocked back on their heels by the governments offensive, attacked an army camp in the state of West Bengal, where I am located at the moment. The last was a particularly gruesome surprise attack while the soldiers were at rest, and which saw several burned alive, many gunned down, and the wounded carted off as hostages.

[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Transvestites Demand Equal Rights

Jakarta, 15 Feb. (AKI/Jakarta Post) — Indonesian transvestites in the staunchly Muslim province of Aceh are demanding equal rights. They made the claim at a transvestite pageant in Banda Aceh where homosexuality is banned under the province’s strict Sharia law.

Participants were greeted with applause, but also taunts when they stepped on the catwalk during a Miss Transvestite Aceh pageant on Saturday.

The pageant was organised by transgender rights organisation Putro Sejati Aceh to select a representative for the national contest and to campaign on transgender issues.

“Transvestites are marginalised. We demand equal rights,” said Sherly, who chairs Putro Sejati Aceh.

She said people in Aceh despised them and discriminated against them for their gender identity.

“Many people are antagonistic and call us ‘sissies’. We are afraid to go to school or university to study,” Sherly said.

She said the implementation of Islam Sharia law in Aceh placed them in a difficult position.

The pageant provoked a strong local reaction from provincial and religious leaders.

“We condemn the pageant. It has tainted Sharia in Aceh,” Tengku Faisal Ali, the secretary-general of Aceh Ulema Association (HUDA), said.

Criticism also came from provincial leaders, with legislator Darmuda saying:”We can’t tolerate transvestite pageants. This violates the values of the majority of Acehnese who are Muslims.”

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

Indonesia: Aerobics Contrary to Islam, Promotes Lust, Sumatra Islamic Leader Says

Ulema chief in Palembang says exercises and garments worn by women are haram. Clothing is too provocative and leads men astray. Women respond saying the Ulema organisation lacks arguments when it tries to address the “problems raised in modern society.”

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — “Sexy attire” used by women during aerobics class is “against the spirit of Islam,” said the Indonesian Islamic Ulemas Council (MUI) in Palembang, South Sumatra province. The statement comes only a few weeks after the agency in charge of public morality and the defence of Islamic values had issued a similar fatwa concerning hairdos and pre-marital photos. In its recent pronouncement, it targeted sexy outfits that “provoke lust in men.”

For the MUI, it is wrong especially for young women to wear “improper” garments during aerobic exercises in gyms or in the open air, because of their effect on men.

Aerobic exercises early in the morning, especially during weekends, have become a regular activity for thousands of women of all ages.

Kiai Hajj Sodikun, MUI leader in Palembang, said women should wear more chaste clothing so as not to arouse men. Because of this, unduly sexy gym suits or physical exercises and movements that excite men “should be considered haram (morally illicit)”.

Mr Kiai does acknowledge the importance of physical exercises for human health, but insists that they must be practiced with the appropriate clothing.

The main problem is that no one knows with any certainty what garment or exercise is illicit and what is not. In many Indonesian provinces, there are many traditional dances and body movements, different from one to the other.

“Such views are a very poor argument,” gym teacher Herlina told AsiaNews. “What about women wearing bikini at the beach or whilst swimming?” Jakarta resident Maria asks. “The MUI seems to be short of arguments to address problems raised in modern society,” she added.

Founded in1975 by then President Suharto, the MUI has grown powerful over the years in the areas of morality and behaviour; it has been able to issue guidelines on its own on what constitute licit or illicit attitudes, customs and habits.

Its members act as if they and they alone held the power to define how Islam must be respected and its principles upheld. Over the years, its fatwas over clothing, smoking, fashion and traditions deeply rooted in the archipelago’s history and culture have been controversial.

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

Pakistan: Lawyers Strike Over Zardari Judicial Control

Islamabad, 15 Feb. (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — Pakistan has been plunged into fresh political turmoil over a decision by president Asif Ali Zardari to appoint judges without the consent of the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry. Lawyers and opposition parties took to the streets across the country on Monday to protest against the decision and to show their support for the judiciary.

“President Asif Zardari tried to divide the judiciary but the conspiracy has failed,” prominent constitutional lawyer Nihal Hashmi told Adnkronos International (AKI).

There was heavy security on the streets as lawyers boycotted court proceedings and gathered in several cities, including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore, shouting slogans against the government and burning the flags of the ruling party.

At least 66 bar associations across Pakistan also passed a unanimous resolution on Monday declaring the

Both judges, Saquib Nisar, a judge at the Lahore High Court, who was promoted as chief justice of that court and Khawaja Sharif, currently Lahore’s chief justice, promoted to be a judge of the Supreme Court, refused to accept their promotions without Chaudry’s consent.

Former prime minister and head of the Pakistan Muslim League -Nawaz, Nawaz Sharif, held a media conference in Islamabad on Sunday.

He described Zardari as “the biggest threat to democracy at the present time”.

Workers loyal to the president’s Pakistan Peoples Party’s promptly reacted to Sharif’s controversial comments and held rallies throughout the country in protest and burnt Sharif effigies.

This new wave of protests across the country has once again provoked a serious political quagmire and there is speculation it may cause military intervention.

Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, rejected speculation about a potential military coup when he faced the media in Lahore on Sunday.

He stressed that Washington supported democracy in Pakistan and stressed that the passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill (an economic package for Pakistan) was linked to a democratic government in Pakistan.

Analyst Shahnawaz Farooqui said there was no threat to democracy in Pakistan.

“There is no question of derailing democracy in Pakistan,” Farooqui said.

“There is only one irritant which is disturbing the system and that is Asif Zardari. If he steps down and is replaced by any respectable citizen of the country to be next head of state, the country shall be cruising normally,” he said.

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

Pakistanis See a Vast U.S. Conspiracy Against Them

From the Pakistani army barracks to the roadside chai stands along the Indus River where truckers gulp down cups of muddy tea, anti-Americanism is roiling across the country. It is whipped up by the often sensationalist, ratings-hungry Pakistani TV news talk shows — think of Fox News cranked up to full volume, in Urdu. It resounds from the mosques, in virulent anti-U.S. sermons during Friday prayers. But most ominously, according to Islamabad observers, this deep suspicion of America’s intentions in the region seems to be shared by elements within Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services.

Here’s a sample of a few conspiracy theories making the rounds: the U.S. military has a secret plan to seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal; more than 9,000 agents of Blackwater, the U.S. security company, now called Xe Services, are roaming the country like bogeymen, at the CIA’s behest, kidnapping people and setting off bombs that are later blamed on Pakistani Taliban militants; B-52 bombers are constantly circling the skies over Pakistan, waiting to strike when the signal is given (to strike what is never exactly clear from the rumors).

Even as the wild speculation circulates, U.S. diplomats are harassed in real life by Pakistani authorities. Their vehicles are seized and their visas tangled in bureaucratic red tape for months, crippling aid projects and counterinsurgency efforts. Sometimes photos of their residences are published in newspapers and labeled as CIA dens. American journalists, too, are singled out. Last October, an English-language Lahore newspaper, The Nation, accused a Wall Street Journal correspondent of working simultaneously for the CIA, the Israeli spy agency Mossad and, to top it off, Blackwater. A Pakistani daily also ran a photo of two British and Australian journalists at the site of a suicide bombing and insinuated that they were foreign spies.

This anti-U.S. resentment strikes many in Washington as a tad ungrateful — not to mention misplaced — given that last fall, Congress enacted the Kerry-Lugar bill granting Pakistan over $7.5 billion in economic aid over the next five years. In addition, Pakistan receives military hardware and training to combat Pakistani Taliban — whose wrath is focused on Islamabad — in the mountainous borderlands with Afghanistan.

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

Far East

China — North Korea: Fleeing From North Korea to be Sold in China as Brides or Prostitutes

Thousands of young women, driven by hunger, are sold into marriage with Chinese or to work in brothels in the South. The new slave trade involving Chinese and North Korean border guards, ethnic Koreans and managers of hotels and the entertainment industry.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) — A flourishing trade in women, for use as wives or as prostitutes, is growing on the border between North Korea and China. This trade intensifies because of chronic poverty and hunger of the population dominated by Kim Jong-il.

According to data from the Chinese authorities in 2009 about 25 — 30 thousand North Koreans entered into China fled into North Korea. Of the 40% who remain the majority are women. From a ‘survey conducted by the Japanese Daisuke Nishimura, an ‘Asahi journalist, their conditions are often humiliating.

Famine Brides

In April last year, the Pyongyang government launched a campaign of farm work for 150 days. A peasant woman of about 30 years, alone and weakened by malnutrition, worked tirelessly on her unproductive land, in fear of being reprimanded by the village leaders in weekend rallies. The order was to work to maximum capacity to increase productivity.

In early July, by now at the limit of her strength, she met a 40 year-old foreign woman at the market who has said: “China is wonderful. There you will marry a nice man”. The woman was an intermediary (broker) in human trafficking which has recently become a thriving industry because of North Koreans who flee to China to escape the chronic food shortages and unrest in the country.

A week after the meeting, the woman, crossing the mountains by night, reached the River Tumen, the boundary line between the two nations, she swum trembling not because of the cold, but for fear of being seen by North Korean guards. Beyond the river waiting for her were other brokers who sold her as a bride to an ethnic-Korean farmer from Chinese province of Jilin, near the border with North Korea, for a price of 6 Yuan (878 U.S. dollars).

“My husband has been good to me,” she told the Japanese reporter. “I’m happy because I can eat what I want every day.”

The young peasant is in a certain sense lucky. She is married, lives like a good housewife and helps her husband working the land. But her odyssey has not ended. “Although I am no longer obsessed by hunger,” writes the Japanese journalist, “she has always afraid of being arrested by Chinese police. China does not recognize North Korean ‘deserters’ as refugees and, if discovered, they will send her back. So, legally it means that she can not formally marry the man she calls her husband”.

From North Korean poverty to Chinese prostitution

Other women are not so fortunate. Many fugitives are sent to southern China, where they work as prostitutes in bathhouses.

The border between China and North Korea is the preferred route for those who attempt to escape from North Korea because, given the friendly relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, the police checks here are quite lax. It is estimated that currently in China, there are from 300 to 400 thousand North Koreans living illegally. Among them many young women, are subject ignoble human trafficking ring which while not vast is very well organised. The ring is comprised of about 150 ethnic Koreans with Chinese broker “cells” in North Korea. Their mastery of the language easily wins the confidence of the fugitive. Managers of hotels and bathhouses in the south send orders to be filled by the brokers with the collusion of the Chinese border guards

One of them, in an interview, said that each year he helps 40 to 50 North Koreans to cross the border. Reluctantly, he also said that in the month of November saw a group of young women cross the river in the north. They wore ragged clothes and were shivering with cold. They were welcomed by an ethnic-Korean broker on the Chinese side and offered a simple dish of meat which they devoured. The women, some not yet in their twenties, were then given clean clothes that the broker had prepared for them and were transported to a bathhouse in southern China, where they worked as prostitutes.

A month earlier, the same broker had sought cooperation from the guard to respond to the request of a client to send “several women aged 18 to 25 years.” The young women were quickly recruited in the North.

The slave trade

If the broker in the country of departure are zealous in recruiting young women, the ethnic Koreans waiting for them at the Chinese border are just as good at getting them false ID cards and sending them off to their fixed destination: the south.

According to sources, the “customer” pays the broker who is in China from 6 to 7 thousand Yuan for every young North Korean; 4 thousand are pocketed by the Chinese guards (at the border) and a thousand by the Korean guards.

The brokers, concludes the Asahi analyst, see no sign of their business slowing. One of them says: “The poorer and more miserable North Korea becomes, the more money we earn”.

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

China — North Korea: Beijing, Billions of Dollars to Pyongyang to End the Nuclear Issue

North Korea has reached an agreement with Chinese banks and multinational companies for an investment plan of 10 billion dollars. The signature by mid-March. The money will support the economy of a starving country and convince the North Korean leadership to abandon their nuclear ambitions.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) — Beijing will invest billions of dollars in North Korea as an incentive to bring the communist leadership to the table of six-party nuclear negotiations. This was revealed by a source inside North Korea, the decision is linked to the meeting last week between Kim Jong-il and a high profile Chinese diplomat.

The day after the face to face with Wang Jiarui — Head of International Department of the Chinese Communist Party — and the “Dear Leader”, took place the chief North Korean nuclear negotiator visited Beijing. Pyongyang claims that before the resumption of six-party talks — involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States -, international sanctions are removed and a peace agreement is signed with Seoul. It would replace the armistice that ended the Korean War of 1950/53.

Many Chinese state-owned banks and other multinational companies have entered into an investment plan in North Korea amounting to 10 billion dollars to build roads, ports and houses. Over 60% of the sum, reports the South Korean Yonhap News Agency, comes from the Bank of China and the agreement should be signed in mid-March.

Beijing is Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner and a major supplier of food and basic necessities, critical to sustaining the economy of a starving nation. According to data from the U.S. State Department, in 2008 the gross domestic product (GDP) of North Korea was estimated at 26.2 billion dollars, a figure much lower than South Korea, whose GDP is about 1300 billion dollars.

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

Filipino Bishops: Condoms and Irresponsible Sex Increases the Spread of Aids

To combat the spread of AIDS the Philippine government started the free distribution of condoms in the districts of Manila and other areas of the country. The Church condemns the initiative and indicates marital fidelity and education of young people as the only solution to the problem.

Manila (AsiaNews) — The Filipino bishops condemn the government for its free distribution of condoms in the poorest parts of Manila and other regions of the country in the name of the fight against AIDS. The bishops call on the authorities to promote marital fidelity, abstinence and responsible sexuality among the population. Archbishop Theodore Bacon, Bishop Emeritus of Novaliches, says: “Is this a way to prevent transmission of HIV or is it only a way to encourage irresponsible sex which instead increases the spread of HIV?”. For the prelate abstinence from sexual intercourse to prevent infection is required, rather than sponsoring condoms or other short-term solution.

The distribution of condoms started on

“The government has not spent anything for this initiative — said Eric Tayag — everything has been funded by private companies and pharmaceutical companies.” He emphasizes that the program does not intend to promote contraception, but wants to encourage couples to have safe sex.

For the Church, the growth in infections can not be resolved only with the distribution of condoms, which rather tends to increase sexual activity among the young. “This campaign undermines the significance of human sexuality and love — said Fr Melvin Castro, secretary of the Commission for family life of the Filipino bishops’ conference — and deserves the condemnation of the entire population. “ The figures for 2006 of the Philippines Population Institute show that 49% of the sexual activity among the young between 15 and 24 years is unplanned, and particularly affects young people with no access to schools. According to the study promiscuous relationships are more common among students of institutions participating in sex education programs.

The archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales said that condoms and free sex is not the way to prepare for the future, for looking for a partner and building a family. “We must go back to rediscover the purity of loving relationships — says the prelate — living relationships with loyalty and fidelity.”

For years, churches and pro-life organizations have been sponsoring the Natural Family Program in schools, which aims to disseminate information on risks of free sex and the use of contraceptives, promoting a conscious and responsible sexual life based on the values of Christianity. In 2009 629 new cases of AIDS out of 88 million inhabitants were registered in the Philippines. Despite the trend being an increase compared to 2008, the country has one of the lowest infection rates in Asia. In Thailand, where state and international associations have carried out a massive campaign to promote use of condoms, in 2008, there were 610 thousand patients (1% of the population) and 31 thousand deaths. In the same year the Philippines registered about 9 thousand infected (0.1% of the population) and 308 deaths.

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


Australia’s Controversial, Anti-Migrant MP Heading for Britain… As an Immigrant

She was at the centre of a racist storm when she warned that Australia was in danger of becoming swamped by Asians.

But controversial MP Pauline Hanson is about to become a migrant herself — by moving to Britain.

The 55-year-old former leader of the One Nation Party said she wanted ‘peace’ and ‘contentment’, and that Australia held no more appeal as it was no longer the land of opportunity.

‘I’m going to be away indefinitely. It’s pretty much goodbye for ever,’ she said.

‘I’ve really had enough. I want peace in my life. I want contentment and that’s what I’m aiming for.’

The mother of four’s father was an English migrant, which has led her to believe she can hold dual citizenship. Her mother’s family is Irish.

She made headlines with her maiden speech to the Australian parliament in 1996, when she said too many Asians were entering the country and questioned multiculturalism.

And in November 2007 she recorded a video to be screened to One Nation members and supporters in the event of her assassination. It followed claims that she and her daughter had received death threats.

She will now put her property in Queensland on the market, she said yesterday.

Just last week Miss Hanson, who launched a political career on an anti-immigration platform, announced that she would not be standing for parliament again.

It had been thought that the debate raging over large numbers of asylum seekers sailing in leaky boats towards the north-west coast of Australia would give her the impetus to stand in this year’s federal election.

She lost her seat in 1998 following a redistribution of electoral seats and later attempts to return to parliament failed.

She has always been a controversial figure since the time she entered Parliament 14 years ago.

In 2003 she was convicted of electoral fraud and sentenced to three years in prison after claiming that members of a Pauline Hanson support group were actually members of One Nation, in order to register that organisation as a political party and apply for electoral funding

The convictions were quashed three months later, and in January 2004 she announced that was the end of politics for her. A U-turn was to follow though, as she stood again but failed to win enough votes.

Yesterday she said she planned to sell her property south west of Brisbane and take a cruise, after which she would spend a few months in the South Island of New Zealand before relocating to Britain.

‘Sadly, the land of opportunity is no more applicable,’ she added.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Britain’s Immigration Boom is Stretching Schools and Hospitals to Breaking Point, Council Chiefs Warn

They said Labour’s line that young migrants from Poland and Eastern Europe came to Britain only for the short term is wrong.

Instead they reported evidence that Eastern European couples are settling down to stay and their children are taking up places in schools.

A string of councils and their umbrella body, the Local Government Association, also condemned the Government’s immigration figures and warned that high and uncounted numbers of new residents are putting too much strain on services from schools to libraries, waste collection and policing.

The row over European immigration follows evidence from Poland that there has been no large-scale return of the migrants who arrived in Britain after eight Eastern European countries joined the EU six years ago.

Today four local authorities which have seen high levels of immigration said they believed that few of the 1.5 million Poles and other Eastern Europeans who came after 2004 have gone home. Ministers say that more than 700,000 of those who came to Britain have now left.

Ruth Bagley, chief executive of Slough, said: ‘They may not be arriving as quickly, but the anecdotal evidence is that more people are still coming, and staying.

‘The typical image is of young men who come for two or three years and then go home, but our experience is that people establish themselves and build their families here.’

In Peterborough Peter Hiller, councillor with responsibility for social services and policing, said: ‘We have coped thus far but as immigration continues the cracks are beginning to show.’

He added: ‘We have no evidence of a decline in numbers.’

City officials believe their population went up by between 5,000 and 7,000 last year, and could now be as high as 185,000, more than 20,000 over estimates published by the Government’s Office for National Statistics.

Boston in Lincolnshire also confirmed yesterday that its leaders do not accept that Poles and Eastern Europeans have gone home.

In Westminster in London, where leaders have been in dispute with the ONS over population estimates for eight years, borough leader Colin Barrow said: ‘The handling of migrant figures to date has been highly ineffective and at huge cost to local authorities, such as Westminster, which have borne the brunt of a significant and unaccounted influx of immigration.

‘We estimate that thousands of migrants are not being counted because of the flawed population methodology used by the Office of National Statistics. These figures are not just an academic exercise — this equates to £18million in grant funding over three years for key areas such as social services, housing, education and community protection or a £50 increase on council tax bills for the average Band D property.’

The Local Government Association added to calls for new ways of counting population and complained that grants paid by Whitehall to councils do not cover the services they have to provide.

A spokesman said: ‘We still need a fundamental overhaul of the population statistics system.’

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said that Eastern Europeans are going home.

‘The latest ONS statistics and other independent research show that the number of Eastern Europeans leaving the UK is increasing and the number coming here to work is falling. This shows that majority of migrants come to the UK for a short period of time to work, contribute to the economy and then return home.’

He added: ‘Workers from those countries have benefited the UK economy filling skills and labour supply gaps in sectors such as health and care, hospitality and agriculture.

‘We have listened to the British people and have made huge changes to the immigration system including banning low skilled workers from outside Europe and tightening the criteria for highly skilled migrants. As a result we expect to see reductions in the numbers coming here.’

Migration into Britain continues to run at a higher level than emigration out of the country. There were 163,000 more immigrants than emigrants in 2008, and ONS projections say that the British population will hit the sensitive 70 million level in 2029.

The BBC Radio Four Today Programme reported last month that Polish labour and benefit office records show only 22,000 workers who had been abroad returned to the country in 2008.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Italy: New Regulations Challenge Our Culture, Judge

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 5 — The “security package”? This is nothing other than an “offensive semantic challenge”. Judge Giancarlo Ferrero does not beat about the bush and comes to the point. In his book, ‘Against the illegal immigration crime’ (‘Contro il reato di immigrazione clandestina), edited by Ediesse proposes not only a deep reflection, but also a harsh accusation against the government and majority’s choice to make illegal immigration a punishable crime, and no longer only punishable with financial sanctions, as it was up until yesterday. This means that today if an individual enters Italy illegally, they risk being arrested, while beforehand an administrative fine would be issued. A change, underlined the author, which has highly negative aspects in practice, which may become devastating in an ethical, social and legal sense, thereby opening a wound in the overall tradition and culture of Italy, which has built a large part of its recent history on the principles of solidarity and opening up to that which is “different”. Ferrero is a government lawyer and therefore has dealt with disputes between the public and private machinery for many years. One of the points that the author insists on is the issue of disputes, which inevitably will be created when those who must respond to illegal immigration crimes will be called to appear in front of a judge. Individuals-defendants who could sustain — with good reason — that today, in our judicial system, penal responsibility is personal, founded on a specific event, and therefore cannot be linked to the status of an individual. The uncertainty that still reigns on the practical application of the new crime, says Ferrero, is having repercussions in the actions of those — such as ship and fishing boat captains — who until yesterday rescued migrants at sea, and now fear that helping a person whose life is at stake could be a punishable crime. Ferrero’s opinion on the content of the “security package” in the part that defines illegal immigration as a crime is extremely harsh: “only individuals who do not have any knowledge of the Italian legal system and its structures, pushed by feelings and reasons that are anything other than noble, can create a legal monster under the shell of public safety”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Integration Answer to Ethnic Violence’

Government says ‘no immigrant crackdown’ after Milan incidents

(ANSA) — Milan, February 15 — Government ministers on Monday blamed ethnic rioting on the outskirts of Milan over the weekend on years of lax immigration policies, but said the way forward was through integration and not an anti-immigrant crackdown.

“Illegal immigrants still have to be deported, but that alone won’t solve problems like the one we saw in Milan,” said Interior Minister Roberto Maroni.

The murder of a 19-year-old Egyptian immigrant by a gang of Latinos on Saturday night sparked a violent demonstration among North Africans who broke store windows and turned over cars in one of Milan’s most multiethnic neighbourhoods.

The violence met with cries of alarm from some members of the center-right majority who called for a zero-tolerance crackdown in the area.

Matteo Salvini, an MEP with the devolutionist Northern League called for door-to-door deportations of illegal immigrants and suggested a year-long freeze on housing sales to foreigners from outside the European Union.

But Maroni argued that “reprisals at this point aren’t going to get us anywhere. This is a social problem”.

“We need to make it easier for immigrants to integrate into Italian society, to keep ghettos from forming and stem ethnic tensions,” he said.

Northern League founder Umberto Bossi later agreed that the problem arose from the “masses of immigrants” who had come to Italy over the past twenty years, but told the party rank and file “to forget about reprisals”.

He acknowledged that immigrants “need jobs and homes” and said that “people don’t leave their homes and families behind without a reason”.

Anna Finocchiaro, the Senate whip for Italy’s largest opposition group, the Democratic Party, applauded the interior minister’s “good sense” while chastising the government for its hard-line immigration policy.

“Until now, the government hasn’t shown much sense at all, preferring to manipulate the public’s fear over immigration to win consensus”.

“Lets hope they follow up on what they’re saying now with measures to protect immigrants from being exploited and foster their integration into Italian society”. Center-right politicians, however, remained firm in demanding that the men involved with Saturday night’s disturbance and those responsible for the murder of Ahmed Aziz El Saied answer for their crimes.

Milan Mayor Letizia Moratti responded that police would be beefing up their presence in Via Padova, where four Egyptian men were arrested during the rampage triggered by the murder Ahmed Aziz El Saied on Saturday night.

Witnesses said Saied was knifed by a gang of Latinos after an exchange on a city bus involving “unwelcome remarks” directed at his Italian girlfriend.

Once off the bus, he was allegedly pursued by his attackers who stabbed him near a bar, which is popular among North Africans living in the area.

Saied’s cousin claimed the assailants belonged to the Latin Kings, a Latin American street gang suspected of involvement in the local drug trade.

Many Italian residents blame the area’s dense immigrant population on a rise of street crime, drugs and violence in particular.

“I’m not at all surprised by what happened. There are brawls here every day,” said a man who lives in the same building as the apartment Saied shared with several other Egyptians.

But a cousin of the victim insisted Saied was a “normal” young man who had found a job as a house painter and worked hard to send money back to his mother and two sisters in Egypt.

The head of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, traced the ethnic strife in Milan to “economic and educational” factors he said could both be addressed with a “healthy approach to integration”.

“Poverty and misery are hostile conditions for tolerance, but it’s equally fundamental to teach new arrivals the values that make it possible for us all to live together,” he said. According to a study published last month by Italian think tank Eurispex, six in ten Italians believe immigration has increased crime rates in their area.

However, 89% said that immigrants perform jobs Italians don’t want and 59% thought they represented a source of cultural enrichment for the country.

National statistics bureau Istat estimates that there are currently over 4.8 million immigrants living in Italy, nearly twice as many as there were in 2001.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Imam Decries Egyptian Immigrant Murder

Milan, 15 Feb. (AKI) — A Muslim leader in the northern Italian city of Milan on Monday deplored the murder of a young Egyptian immigrant, allegedly by a South American gang at the weekend. Nineteen-year-old Aziz El Saied is believed to have been stabbed to death after an argument on a bus and his murder sparked violent race riots in a multiracial area of Via Padova in the city’s northeast where the death occurred.

“The Islamic House of Culture hopes Via Padova won’t be isolated after this deplorable incident and we ask for more support, not just in terms of more police,” the Via Padova mosque’s imam, Mahmoud Asfa, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

The Via Padova mosque, which El Saied attended, is also known as The Islamic House of Culture.

“Besides more police, we need effective social policies to be implemented. We need places for immigrants to meet and initiatives to help them integrate,” Asfa said.

After El Saied’s murder, dozens of angry North Africans, most of them Egyptian, went on a five-hour rampage in the area, attacking shops and businesses owned by immigrants from Peru, Ecuador and other South American countries.

“We utterly condemn what happened and the unpleasant disturbances afterwards which caused so much damage to our neighbourhood,” said Asfa.

The incident triggered controversial calls from politicians from the conservative government’s anti-immigrant Northern League party for all illegal immigrants in the area to be hunted down and deported.

Police detained close to 40 Egyptians after the riots, and arrested six of them.

“We are working to re-establish calm in Via Padova’s Egyptian community and are leaving the Italian authorities to carrying out their investigations,” Asfa said.

“Via Padova is an integral part of Milan and cannot be quarantined and isolated by politicians who are using this isolated incident to further their own aims”

Milan’s deputy mayor, Riccardo De Corato, said officials would conduct door to door searches in areas where immigrants live.

Around half of the immigrants picked up by police late on Saturday had been found to be in Italy illegally, he said.

Angry residents in the tense, high-immigrant neighbourhood heckled De Corato when he visited the area on Sunday after the riots.

The residents accused the ruling conservative city council of “forcing us Italians to live barricaded in our homes amid continuous drug-dealing.”

One Northern League member of the European Parliament, Matteo Salvini, called for “expulsions house by house, floor by floor”.

But Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni, also from the Northern League, played down the murder and ensuing riots.

He rejected charges by Italian centre-left opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani on Sunday that the Via Padova violence showed the government’s hardline immigration policies had failed.

Maroni called for “a new model of integration” in Italy to help immigrants with employment and housing.

The outbreak of violence between the two immigrant groups shocked Italians, many of whom have struggled to come to terms with Italy having become a destination for mass immigration in recent years.

Just hours after the riots in Milan, Tunisian immigrants were reported to have rioted in the central Italian city of Pisa.

In a separate incident, the southern city of Anagni, 20 Romanian and Albanian immigrants wrecked a motorway service station, reportedly in a quarrel over a woman.

In early January, riots broke out in the town of Rosarno in Italy’s southern Calabria region when African immigrants burned cars and broke store windows to protest against an attack on African farm workers.

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

Italy: Milan Mayor Boosts Security After Race Riots

Milan, 15 Feb. (AKI) — Police patrols will be increased on the streets of Milan this week following the race riots that broke out after the murder of an Egyptian immigrant, the city’s mayor, Letizia Moratti, announced on Monday.

“We have agreed with (prime minister) Silvio Berlusconi these reinforcements will be in place in the next few days…some of them from Tuesday, probably,” she said.

“I called the prime minister personally and he immediately took action by talking straight away with (Italy’s interior minister Roberto) Maroni,” said Moratti.

Speaking at a poverty conference in Milan, she defended the “extremely concrete” security measures taken to date by the conservative government.

The Italian government last year approved tough legislation making it a crime to be an illegal immigrant or to help one. Immigrants without the appropriate legal documents risk expulsion to their country of origin.

Centre-left opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani said on Sunday the stabbing to death of 19-year-old Egyptian immigrant Aziz El Saied and the ensuing riots in a multiracial area of Milan showed the government’s hardline immigration laws had “failed utterly”.

El Saied was allegedly murdered by members of a South American gang after an argument on a bus in Milan’s northeastern Via Padova neighbourhood.

North Africans went on a five-hour rampage late on Saturday after El Saied’s killing, attacking cars, shops and businesses in the neighbourhood owned by immigrants from Peru, Ecuador and other South American countries.

Police detained close to 40 Egyptians after the riots, and arrested six of them. Many of those picked up were said to be illegal immigrants.

The president of the Lombardy region surrounding Milan, Roberto Formigoni, from Berlusconi’s ruling People of Freedom party said illegal immigrants would be repatriated.

“The law is clear on this — illegal immigrants must be escorted back to their homeland and this is what we’ll do,” he said.

Maroni has played down the weekend’s events in Milan but has said Italy needed “a new model of integration” to help immigrants with employment and housing.

Italy’s labour and welfare minister Maurizio Sacconi said on Monday the government would “within the next two or three weeks” unveil a plan for the more effective integration of immigrants in Italy, calling this “the reverse side of the security coin”. He gave no further details.

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

Lebanon: Bishop of Tyre: Christians in Lebanon Have Become a Minority in Their Country

Mgr Georges Bacouni, Greek-catholic archbishop of Tyre recounts the difficulties of the Christian community marked by a demographic reduction and political nausea. The pending Synod for the Middle East next October.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) — Mgr Georges Bacouni, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tyre is on visit to Rome. He has led his diocese since 22 June 2005. Its territory includes the city of Tyre, and is divided into 9 parishes. While the Church prepares for the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, the bishop answers some questions on current issues related to his diocese.

What is the general situation of Christians in Lebanon?

Christians are facing major challenges and various problems due to the many changes that affect not only Lebanon, but the entire Middle East. Particularly from the point of view of Catholics, we are faced with a decline in the number of believers, a time of crisis that creates negative consequences on the process of integration for Christians in a land they feel increasingly distant and in which their presence is diminishing over time. What is even more surprising, compared to the last century, is the reduction of the Christian presence within the political institutions in social sectors, in education, as well as within the ranks of the military.

What issues are preventing or slowing the process of integration?

Christians — who in my diocese are 10% — are finding it increasingly difficult to integrate, unlike the Muslims who already from the demographic point of view are the majority population in southern Lebanon. The problem of integration is that we find ourselves situated in a hotbed of unrest, something that produces a climate of widespread fear among the local population. We are also seeing a general weakening of religion, so that the faithful are increasingly reluctant to decide on marriage, and as a result on having children, thus reducing the growth rates. Unlike their Muslim counterparts who opt for polygamy, so as to increase their numbers.

What is your opinion regarding this climate of distrust?

This strong distrust has also expanded towards the ecclesiastical world, taking away from the original message of love, faith and Christian hope. The biggest challenge for Catholics faced with these issues rests within the efficacy of action that comes from the ability to rely on personal credibility, through the concreteness and consistency of commitment that harmonizes well with the choices and the gospel message of Christ.

On the issue of the emigration of Christians, what are the remedies?

I do not want to be pessimistic, it is a social problem which we are trying to remedy through proper funding. In particular, the Catholic Church in Tyre strives to help the faithful through the creation and donation of homes, but despite this, distrust is so strong that after a few years Christians leave their homes in search of a better life and prefer to move to the capital Beirut, where they can enjoy better organized structures, such as for those for education. Many students flock to the city for this very reason. This increases the prosperity gap between the south of Lebanon (mainly inhabited by Shi’ite Muslims) and the most developed areas like Beirut which is mainly composed of Druze, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and a Christian minority .. The religious geography of the capital.

What kind of relationship is there with the majority Muslim population?

Among Christians, Druze, Sunnis, Shiites, at least in southern Lebanon and in the diocese of Tyre, we have good neighbourly relations both between the representatives of religion and among the population. For example, during the liturgical feasts is customary to exchange greetings among the religious leaders of Muslims and Christians. I think the conflicts that are created are of a political-economic nature and relate to the highest levels of power, so the Catholic Church alone can do little in this area. Conversely, even if Christians, Druze, Shiites, Sunnis live neighbours, everyone live looks out for themselves. At the same time there are both Muslim extremists who consider Christians as “crusaders” or cases of Christians who do bear proper witness before the Muslims.

How are the preparations for the upcoming Synod of the Middle East? What are the expectations and hopes?

After 15 years, when the Special Assembly of Bishops for Lebanon was held in 1995, convened by Pope John Paul II in Rome, we are preparing to host the next meeting to be held in the Vatican, October 10-24 ‘s later this year, on “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: communion and witness. ‘The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul’ (Acts 4, 32).

The Diocese of Tyre is ready to respond to questions posed by the document prepared by the Special Assembly for the Middle East, the text of the Lineamenta, with the intent to illustrate the local situation of the diocese. The hope of the Bishop is that the dialogue at the base of the Synod will be the starting point for joint and concrete action of all forces, religious, economic, political towards the Middle Eastern context that is our common patrimony. Just as the faith in order to a living faith must be accompanied and supported by action”.

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

Culture Wars

Maine Considers Banning Biology-Based Restrooms

‘Transgender ID’ in schools under scrutiny by human-rights commission

A proposal by the Maine Human Rights Commission to establish a broad right for “transgender” boys to use girls restrooms in all Maine schools will be the subject of a public hearing scheduled by the commission March 1.

The plan, if given ultimate approval by the commission, will establish mandatory transgender restroom access rules for all Maine schools. The proposal was prompted by a decision last year that found a school in Orono, Asa Adams School, discriminated against a boy by denying him access to the girls’ restroom.

Christian Civic League of Maine Administrator Mike Hein said it’s worrying because he believes the draft of the proposed regulations was developed in a December closed-door session.

“The Maine Human Rights Commission had a secret, closed-door session in December and the public wasn’t notified. But Mary Bonauto (director of the Gay and Lesbian Activist and Defenders) was invited to the meeting and she was allowed to present a legal brief at that meeting,” Hein said.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Traditional Values, Family Must be Defended

In his brilliant exposition, “The End of Marriage in Scandinavia — The ‘conservative case’ for same-sex marriage collapses” (Weekly Standard, Feb. 2, 2004), Stanley Kurtz, in frighteningly graphic factuality, writes that marriage and the American family as it now exists will soon be no more. He presents in clear terms that the United States is in the second of the four-stage death process of marriage, family and child rearing.

Homosexual activists try to posit the same-sex marriage movement as similar to the civil-rights movements. But per my comments in an Associated Press article not long ago, “the whole thing bespeaks of something much deeper and more insidious than ‘we just want to get married.’ They want to change the entire social order.”

As Kurtz puts it, “Americans take it for granted that, despite recent troubles, marriage will always exist. This is a mistake. Marriage is disappearing in Scandinavia, and the forces undermining it there are active throughout the West.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Tests Show King Tut Died From Malaria, Study Says

CHICAGO (Reuters) — King Tutankhamen, the teen-aged pharaoh whose Egyptian tomb yielded dazzling treasures, limped around on tender bones and a club foot and probably died from malaria, researchers said on Tuesday.

There has been speculation about the fate of the boy king, who died sometime around 1324 BC probably at age 19, since the 1922 discovery of his intact tomb in Egypt’s Valley of Kings.

Tests performed on 16 royal mummies found four, including Tut, had contracted a severe form of malaria that likely cut short Tut’s reign — ruling out murder or some other sickness.

Scientists from Egypt, Germany and elsewhere, including Zahi Hawass of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, compiled results from genetic and radiological testing performed on the mummies between 2007 and 2009. The results clarify details about the 155-year-long 18th Dynasty that included Tutankhamen, who inherited the throne at age 11.

The scientists speculated Tut was weakened by a broken leg possibly from a fall. That and a malaria infection led to his death, they believe.

Tut was afflicted with a cleft palate, mild clubfoot in his left foot and other bone ailments. He and some family members had a form of Kohler disease, which can cause foot bones to collapse from lack of blood but would not have been fatal.

“Tutankhamen had multiple disorders, and some of them might have reached the cumulative character of an inflammatory, immune-suppressive — and thus weakening — syndrome. He might be envisioned as a young but frail king who needed canes to walk,” Hawass wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Besides the priceless gold artifacts found in Tut’s tomb, he was also equipped for the afterlife with some 130 canes and staves — some with signs of wear — and a veritable pharmacy.

The scientists were also fairly certain they identified the mummies belonging to Tut’s father, Akhenaten, and his grandmother, Tiye, based on shared blood groups.

They shot down speculation that Tut and his forebears had severe abnormalities, ruling out Marfan syndrome and another condition that could have led to enlarged breasts.

“It is unlikely that either Tutankhamen or Akhenaten actually displayed a significantly bizarre or feminine physique. It is important to note that ancient Egyptian kings typically had themselves and their families represented in an idealized fashion,” Hawass wrote.

[Return to headlines]


Anonymous said...

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