Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/9/2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/9/2010The euro crisis continues, amid news that traders and hedge funds have now bet $8 billion against the currency via short-selling. Facing straitened financial circumstances, European governments are trying to ease their welfare state burdens by raising the retirement age, but French and Spanish workers are resisting vigorously — their retirement is one of their quality-of-life expectations, and they’re not willing to postpone it.

In other news, the Egyptian government has raided the homes of Muslim Brotherhood leaders in the run-up to this spring’s elections.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Fjordman, Gaia, ICLA, Insubria, JD, KGS, Sean O’Brian, SS, Steen, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Spain: 8 of 10 Against Raising Pension Age
Spain Faces Crisis, Poverty and Political Divisions
Traders Make $8bn Bet Against Euro
Army Warned About Jihadist Threat in ‘08
Council of Governors Takes Shape
Michelle Obama Responds to Palin’s Pokes
Mystery KC Billboard With One Word: Marxist
New Federal Climate Change Agency Forming
The Truth About Wolves
Van Jones Was Honored by Jimmy Carter, RFK Daughter
Yes, ‘Avatar’ Is Leftist … So What?
Canadian Prime Minister Delivers Global Governance Plan
Europe and the EU
Church of England is ‘Living in the Past’, Says BBC’s Head of Religion
Denmark: Muhammad Cartoonist Defies Death Threats
Energy: ‘Maranello’, Sicilian Made Electric Car Created
Finland Mulls Slashing Alcohol Limits for Drivers
France: Sarkozy Wants to Raise Retirement Age Within Summer
French ‘Smear’ Britain’s EU Chief Baroness Ashton
French Identity No Longer Open to Debate
Germany Speaks Out in Favour of European Army
Germany: Study Finds Major Discrimination Against Turkish Job Applicants
Italy: ‘Fiat Doesn’t Want Incentives’
Italy: Florence Show Embraces ‘Toilet as Art’
Spain: Decree Ends Golden Age for Air Traffic Controllers
Sweden: ‘Only Good Foreign Soldier on Afghan Soil is a Dead One’: Myrdal
UK: Hate Preacher Abu Hamza’s £280,000 House Seized to Pay Back Legal Bill
UK: New Mosque Approved for Camberley Listed Site
UK: New Mosque Approval ‘Not Yet Finalised’
UK: Rapist Boiling Oil Jail Attack By Justin Penrose 7/02/2010
UK: The Problem Isn’t the Pope, It’s the Vatican of Political Correctness
UK: The History Man and Fatwa Girl: How Will David Cameron Take News That Think-Tank Guru Niall Ferguson Has Deserted Wife Sue Douglas for Somali Feminist?
We’re Living in Broken Britain, Say Most Voters
Who in Their Right Mind Will Bail Out the Poor Relations of Europe?
North Africa
Egyptian Security Forces Raid Muslim Brotherhood
Facebook Destroys Society, Al Azhar Cleric
Kuwait Offers Aid to Flood-Hit Sinai
Tunisia-EU: Thirty Years of Collaboration
Israel and the Palestinians
Likud Stronger But Netanyahu Popularity Slips, Poll
Middle East
Dubai: Terrifying Lift Ordeal at Burj Khalifa Tower, The World’s Tallest Building
Iran Jails Opposition Leader Behzad Nabavi
Iran: Protesters Attack Italian Embassy in Tehran
Israel-Syria: Netanyahu Counting on Spain-Italy Mediation
Italian Embassy in Iran Attacked
Italy: Transport: Emirates Airlines to Increase Flights to Italy
Italy Embassy in Iran ‘Targeted by Basij Militia’
Saudi Arabia: Condemned for Wanting to Broadcast Woman’s Lecture in Saudi Literary Club.
Saudi Arabia Upholds ‘Sex Boast’ Conviction
Turkey: Dogan Group Wins Crucial Battle in Tax Case
South Asia
Afghan Police Infiltrated Again as Two Swedish Officers Murdered by the Taliban
Thailand — Myanmar: Burmese Junta Profits at the Expense of 1.3 Million Migrant Workers in Thailand
Sub-Saharan Africa
Al Qaeda Calls on Somali Islamists to Help Control Red Sea Strait of Bab Al-Mandab
Somali Forces ‘Kill Al-Qaeda Man’
341,956 Blank EU Travel Documents in Criminal Hands
Australia Tightens Immigration Rules
Cereal Offenders: Asylum Seeker Gang Collected £24million Drug Money in Special K Boxes
Police Detain Tibetans Wanting to Illegally Enter Austria
Spain: Zapatero Prays in Washington for Unemployed, Migrants
True Finns Call for Migration Minister’s Resignation
UK: Is it Any Wonder People Are Fleeing London?
UK: Labour’s ‘Secret Plan’ To Lure Migrants
Culture Wars
“I Criticize Gay Internationalists, Not Gays”
Christian Speech Targeted as ‘Hate’
Feds Admit They Wrongly Tracked Wisconsin Abortion Groups
Planned Parenthood Pushes Intensive Sex Education for Kids as Young as 10
‘Satan’s Video Game’ Makes Super Bowl Appearance
Senate Votes to Add Sexual Orientation to Anti-Bias Policies
The Fear and Farce of Climate-Change Science

Financial Crisis

Spain: 8 of 10 Against Raising Pension Age

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 8 — In Spain, almost 8 out of every 10 people are against raising the pension age from 65 to 67, despite the fact that 66% are certain that the current system is in need of reform that will guarantee its future sustainability, according to a survey conducted between February 1 and 3 by Spanish daily Publico, close to the socialist government, on the pension reform project it previously announced. Seventy-four percent of those interviewed were against raising the pension age, independent of their political affiliations; however, almost 7 out of every 10 people in Spain agree on the need to reform the current pension system. Only 14% of those interviewed believe that increasing the retirement age is “indispensible to keep the system from failing”. Furthermore, half of those interviewed believe the unions should call a general strike against any increase to the pension age; an opinion shared by 63% of voters for the People’s Party opposition, but also 43% socialist party voters (PSOE). The majority of those interviewed, 55.5%, said that they are certain that Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero deceived the public, saying that pensions were secure. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain Faces Crisis, Poverty and Political Divisions

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 4 — A hail of criticisms over the Zapatero government following a proposal to Brussels, which was corrected in the space of a few hours, to broaden the pension calculation from 15 to 25 years. Unions called it the end of peaceful society, calling for demonstrations at the end of the month, while the opposition Popular Party, with Secretary General Maria Dolores de Cospedal, threatened a motion of no-confidence in the Government. Even inside the Psoe voices of criticism were raised: President of the Castilla-La Mancha region, José Maria Barreda, one of the big names in the Socialist movement, called for a cabinet reshuffle yesterday, while the faction led by Alfonso Guerra, former deputy president of the Felipe Gonzalez Government, maintained that a coalition Government with the PP was advisable. Today, a poll put the PP ahead by 3.8 points above the Psoe party, which however intends to support Zapatero to the end, its spokesperson said. A lack of political rigour, is the El Pais editorial headline, which acknowledges the need for cuts in benefits spending of 50 billion euros over the next 4 years and the pension reforms announced by the Government in order to reduce the serious deficit and restore the confidence of the markets and international agencies, but criticises the frivolous presumption that vague announcements are enough to put the public finances back in order. El Mundo is more severe in its editorial, describing the measure which was first announced and then withdrawn from the Stability Programme presented to the European Commission by the Government yesterday, as a mess which is damaging the image of Spain. In the document, the Economy Ministry confirmed negative forecasts, with a deficit at 11.4% of GDP for 2009, a forecast of an overall growth in the public deficit from 55.2% to 74.1% in 2012, unemployment over 4 million, and reaching 19% in 2010. A situation which the 8 million people living below the poverty line are worried about, and one and a half million people living in severe poverty and high levels of social exclusion, according to Spanish organisation Caritas. The picture led European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Joaquin Almunia, to highlight problems common to Spain, Greece and Portugal yesterday, under the eyes of Brussels. Today Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister, Elena Salgado, replied, calling Almunia’s words less than wise. She said that Spain’s situation “was nothing like that of Greece, since the government was working hard on coming out of the crisis”. The reforms put forward by the executive gained the support today of the International Monetary Fund. “I understand Zapatero’s position and the reforms to the pension system proposed by the government” — said Director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn — because the crisis is very deep in Spain and a considerable effort will be needed to overcome it. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Traders Make $8bn Bet Against Euro

Traders and hedge funds have bet nearly $8bn (€5.9bn) against the euro, amassing the biggest ever short position in the single currency on fears of a eurozone debt crisis.

Figures from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which are often used as a proxy of hedge fund activity, showed investors had increased their positions against the euro to record levels in the week to February 2.

The build-up in net short positions represents more than 40,000 contracts traded against the euro, equivalent to $7.6bn. It suggests investors are losing confidence in the single currency’s ability to withstand any contagion from Greece’s budget problems to other European countries.

Amid growing nervousness in financial markets over whether countries including Spain and Portugal can repair their public finances, Madrid on Monday launched a PR offensive to try to assuage investors’ fears.

Elena Salgado, Spanish finance minister, and José Manuel Campa, her deputy, flew to London to meet bondholders.

They sought to allay doubts about Spain’s creditworthiness by repeating promises to cut its budget deficit to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2013 from 11.4 per cent last year. “We’ll make the adjustment that’s necessary,” Mr Campa said. But their disclosure that the treasury planned to raise a net €76.8bn through debt issuance this year unsettled markets further. The projected sum to be raised was lower than the €116.7bn of 2009 but higher than many investors had expected.

The news sent yields on Spanish government bonds, which have an inverse relationship with prices, sharply higher. The premium demanded by investors to hold the country’s debt over German bunds rose to 1 percentage point.

The Spanish government is convinced it is being unfairly treated by foreign investors and the media. José Blanco, Spain’s public works minister, hit out at “financial speculators” for attacking the euro and criticised “apocalyptic commentaries” about Spain’s finances.

Appealing for patriotism, Mr Blanco said in a radio interview: “Nothing that is happening in the world, including the editorials of foreign newspapers, is casual or innocent.”

The single currency fell to an eight-month low of $1.3583 on Friday but recovered a little on Monday to $1.3683. Analysts said sentiment towards the euro had soured because of the increasing concern over Greece’s fiscal problems.

Thomas Stolper, economist at Goldman Sachs, said: “ Behind this intense focus on Greece obviously is the long-standing unresolved issue of how to enforce fiscal discipline in a currency union of sovereign states.”

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


Army Warned About Jihadist Threat in ‘08

Almost two years before the deadly Fort Hood shooting by a radicalized Muslim officer, the U.S. Army was explicitly warned that jihadism — Islamic holy war — was a serious problem and threat to personnel in the U.S., according to participants at a major Army-sponsored conference.

The annual Army anti-terrorism conference in Florida in February 2008 included presentations on the threat by counterterrorism specialists Patrick Poole, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers and Terri Wonder.

The meeting was organized by the Army’s provost marshal general and included more than 350 force protection and anti-terrorism professionals who came from major Army installations and commands from around the world, according to participants.

Mr. Poole, a counterterrorism specialist and adviser to government and law-enforcement agencies, said his presentation and that of the other two counterterrorism experts “attempted to instruct these anti-terrorism and force protection professionals not just in the indicators of Islamic jihadism, but also the strategic deficiencies in the military comprehension of the overall jihadist threat.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Council of Governors Takes Shape

What most Americans fail to realize (thanks to a national propaganda press corps that refuses to reveal the conspiratorial machinations of America’s ruling class, which, by and large, is totally disconnected from—or unaccountable to—elected officeholders: especially those in Congress) is that the subdivision of the United States into a 10-region country (thereby minimizing or even negating the sovereignty and authority of the 50 independent and autonomous states) goes all the way back to the Richard Nixon administration.

In response to pressure from the United Nations, President Richard Nixon issued Executive Order #11647 on February 10, 1972, which carved up the United States into 10 “standard Federal regions.”

For the doubters out there, Wikipedia has a rather detailed web page mentioning the federal 10-region breakdown of the United States.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Michelle Obama Responds to Palin’s Pokes

First Lady: ‘Change … Certainly Doesn’t Happen in a Year’

Michelle Obama defended her husband against some of his most vocal critics, saying President Obama did a “phenomenal” job this year and that change is a long-term process.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Mystery KC Billboard With One Word: Marxist

Reader comments on the photo: “What I think is interesting is that everyone knows WHO this sign is referring to. It’s just a single word and not apparently addressed to anyone in particular, yet everyone — not just thinkers, but even the Ds and Rs know who this is about.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

New Federal Climate Change Agency Forming

The Obama administration on Monday proposed a new agency to study and report on the changing climate.


The new agency will initially be led by Thomas Karl, director of the current National Climatic Data Center. The Climate Service will be headquartered in Washington and will have six regional directors across the country.

[Comments from JD: Note, the article is totally pro man-made global warming.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

The Truth About Wolves

This tapeworm is of a different variety. This tapeworm is a three-millimeter-long tapeworm known as Echinococcus granulosus which causes a disease called Alveolar Hydatid Disease (also known as Cystic Hydatid Disease). The disease presents in the form of cysts in vital organs such as the liver, lungs and brain. The disease can be asymptomatic, growing and spreading for years without detection. Alveolar Hydatid Disease presented a 70% mortality rate in 1980 among Alaskan Eskimos diagnosed. More recently, some success has been achieved in treating the disease without surgery.

This parasite has been found in two-thirds of wolf carcasses examined in Idaho. From the wolf, the parasite is spread to other warm blooded animals, mostly through contact with dried wolf scat in the wild.

Infection of ungulates (hoofed animals) is obviously through air currents spreading the eggs to grass and surrounding vegetation that ungulates eat. A dog, sniffing the dried scat of a wolf, as dogs do with the scat of any animal, is sufficient to cause the eggs to go airborne, infecting the dog’s nostrils, mouth and getting on the fur where they can be transmitted to anyone handling or petting the dog.


Males, on average, weigh 130 lbs, the females somewhat smaller. These animals are huge, far outweighing any dog but the mastiff breeds. Were they to stand on their hind legs, put their feet on the shoulders of most people, they would be looking down at them!

Let me be perfectly clear; the Canadian Gray Wolf is not indigenous to the lower 48 states. To claim they are a “re-introduction” is not only misleading but purposely misleading.


Another known fact about wolves that the pro-wolf advocates don’t want people to know is that wolves do not necessarily kill their prey before feeding on it! Here is a picture of a deer, still alive, her back quarters mangled beyond recovery, as the wolf walks away. That deer obviously died as slow and as torturous a death as the elk pictured here.

The Canadian Gray Wolf is driving the coyotes, foxes and native wolf out of areas they take over for the simple reason that if they remain, the Canadian Gray Wolf will kill them. The same is true of the cougar, bobcat, lynx, wolverine, bear and other predatory animal populations.

Timber Wolves, indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, are now truly endangered; a fact which the pro-wolf advocates are not concerned about, making it obvious that their agenda has nothing to do with restoring an “endangered” species. Pro-wolf advocates have made it clear that implementing a radical environmental agenda is the sole goal of their efforts; that “wolf recovery” has been a fraud from the start.

[Comments from JD: These grey wolves are large. Article has lots of links to grisly pics; plus links to photos of just 3 Canadian grey wolves chasing down a fully grown grizzly bear.]

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Van Jones Was Honored by Jimmy Carter, RFK Daughter

Obama’s communist former green-jobs chief feted as ‘human rights defender’

While leading a communist revolutionary organization that opposed the U.S. government, President Obama’s controversial former “green jobs” czar, Van Jones, was honored by and maintained a working relationship with Mary Kerry Kennedy, the activist daughter of Robert F. Kennedy.

Jones also received an award during his communist leadership period from a group on which former President Jimmy Carter served as an adviser.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Yes, ‘Avatar’ Is Leftist … So What?

In an editorial bashing conservatives, U.S. Marines and businessmen on Jan. 19, the Los Angeles Times admits that James Cameron’s “Avatar” has a radical leftist agenda. But, either out of disingenuousness, deception or stupidity, they then contend, what does it matter?


Hundreds of thousands of studies have shown that the mass media of entertainment has an influence. If it didn’t, advertisers would not pay millions of dollars to advertise or place their products into movies.

That said, not everybody will be influenced in the same way. Different people are susceptible to different influences. Studies show that one part of the audience for a TV program or movie will adopt and act on the message (whether violence or sex or consumerism), one part will ignore the message and one part will abhor the message. The blog postings on “Avatar” show that this research is completely accurate.

Hitler used the mass media to galvanize a nation to buy into the Holocaust. Lenin used the media to psychologically conquer Russia.


Movies like “Avatar” are more than just “escapist fantasy,” as the Times Editorial Board puts it so disdainfully — and falsely. They are public myths that can galvanize a generation, in the same way that Hitler’s propaganda machine galvanized intellectuals and young people among what was, at the time, perhaps the most educated populace in the world, the German people.

That’s why people should care. That’s why people should be alarmed.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Canadian Prime Minister Delivers Global Governance Plan

During the January 2010 World Economic Summit in Davos Switzerland Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the current Chairman of the G-20, presented the upcoming agenda for the G-20 and G-8 meetings to be held in Ontario in June. Many were shocked to hear this Conservative leader declare that “we also know markets need governance. For the new global economy, the G-20 is what we have.” Harper went on to speak as an avowed Keynesian committed to a one world global economy, creating a world “we have been trying to build since 1945”.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Church of England is ‘Living in the Past’, Says BBC’s Head of Religion

The BBC’s head of religion has accused the Church of England of “living in the past” and said that the corporation should not give Christianity preferential treatment.

Aaqil Ahmed, a controversial executive whose appointment last year prompted more than 100 complaints, said: “I think all the faiths should be treated in the same way. I don’t believe in treating any faith differently.”

He dismissed claims that the BBC was marginalising religion as overly simplistic and argued that Christianity, in particular, was already covered well on television.

His comments come on the eve of a debate at the General Synod, the Church’s parliament, over the BBC’s treatment of Christianity.

There has been growing concern at top levels of the Church over the corporation’s approach to religion, with warnings that it must not ignore its Christian audience.

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, met last year with Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director-general, to discuss religious broadcasting.

Bishops, clergy and lay members of the General Synod will vote this week on a motion calling on the state broadcaster to explain why its television coverage of Christianity has declined so steeply in recent years.

Output has fallen from 177 hours of religious programming on BBC television in 1987/88 to 155 hours in 2007/08 — a period during which the overall volume of programming has doubled.

However, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Ahmed, an award-winning programme-maker, said that the Church’s criticisms were too simplistic.

“I don’t believe that we should be basing the debate on 20-year-old figures, the conversation is far more complicated than that,” he said.

“It’s very easy to live in the past, but we live in the present. In a few years’ time the way we’re going to view television will change radically, so the conversation will become even more redundant.

“We’ll listen to what they say, but we’re clear that we know what we’re doing and we’ll stick to that.”

Church leaders have been particularly criticial of the dearth of religious programmes shown on BBC television at Easter, with the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester, accusing the corporation of “overlooking” Good Friday.

While Mr Ahmed admitted that some mistakes had been made in the past, he said this year would see a change.

“In terms of Easter, it would be easy for me to start being critical of previous people, and I’m not going to do that. I’ll put my hand up and say the BBC wasn’t brilliant in the past, but all we can do is talk about this year going forward,” he said.

Mr Ahmed — the first Muslim to hold his post — revealed that BBC One will air two explicitly Christian documentaries during Holy Week.

In one, Nicky Campbell, the Radio 5 Live presenter, will investigate whether Christians in Britain are being persecuted for their beliefs.

In the other, called The Day That Jesus Died, Archbishop Williams and Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, will explain why Muslims are wrong to see Christ’s crucifixion as a humiliation.

Senior bishops wrote to Mr Thompson last year to question the BBC’s commitment to Britain’s Christian audience, but Mr Ahmed said that its Easter schedule showed their fears were misplaced.

“If you look at the BBC’s religious output, Christianity is at the cornerstone,” he said. “Despite what people say the vast majority is Christian-related.”

Mr Ahmed’s comment that Christianity should not receive preferential treatment comes despite nearly three-quarters of the population describing themselves as Christian in the last census.

Critics of the BBC are upset that respected religious programmes such as Everyman and Heart of the Matter have not been replaced, and that Songs of Praise and The Big Questions are the only regular religious programmes on BBC television.

Bishop McCulloch said at the time of Mr Ahmed’s appointment that it had come “at a time when the BBC’s coverage of religion has caused some disquiet”.

Asked about the future of Songs of Praise, the corporation’s flagship religious programme, Mr Ahmed praised the show and replied: “Who knows what’s going to happen in five years, ten years time? I won’t be here.

“There’s absolutely no interest right now from the current management in changing it.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Denmark: Muhammad Cartoonist Defies Death Threats

Afraid in Denmark — Westergaard’s kindergarten-teacher wife was fired, an auction house feared to sell his work, and he was assaulted at home.

COPENHAGEN — Kurt Westergaard, who has been facing death threats for four years over his cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, is trying to settle back into his home — a month after an ax attack in his living room.

The Danish cartoonist, 74, surveys the broken glass, damage to one of his artworks and ax marks on the door of his Aarhus house. He doesn’t see himself as brave, and says he’s all the more determined to campaign for freedom.

“It doesn’t fit my temper to hide under a rock somewhere,” says Westergaard, pouring coffee in the small room where the New Year’s Day incident took place. “I have defended some core Danish values which stipulate that everyone should be able to practice their religion, but it must not be at the expense of free speech. I just won’t stand for that.”

Westergaard’s 2005 cartoon of Muhammad wearing a turban that looked like a bomb produced Muslim anger around the world. He has become a symbol of the cultural clash between fundamentalist Islam and secular Denmark, whose media ranked first in press freedom among 175 countries in the 2009 Press Freedom Index by the Parisbased Reporters Without Borders.

The cartoon was meant as a satirical note of caution that religion shouldn’t be used to promote violence, he says. He urges tolerance; Muslim groups accuse him of insulting their religion.

An informal man with gray hair and trimmed beard, Westergaard is waiting to hear if he can visit Muhudiin Mohamed Geele, 28, who is now in custody.

Geele, a Somali man living in Denmark, pleaded not guilty to two charges of attempted murder of the cartoonist and a policeman who was called to the scene on January 1. The artist says he wants to understand the motivation of those who are reduced to “a state of total rage” by his actions.

Westergaard finds himself at the center of a debate over the cost of defending free speech. His hairdresser said she wouldn’t cut his hair because her immigrant family would disown her. Such acts show that Denmark is struggling to adjust to its role as a champion of press freedom, he says.

“The worst thing about being stigmatized is that I can’t do anything about it,” Westergaard says. “The more I speak out, the worse it becomes.”

His defiance has had a price beyond becoming a social pariah. In 2007, he and his wife, Gitte, lived in hiding for eight months as the police investigated two Tunisians and a Dane over allegations of a plot against his life. On January 14, two Chicago men and two Pakistanis were indicted in the United States for planning an attack on Morgenavisen Jyllandsthe paper Westergaard works for.

Gitte worked as a substitute teacher at a local kindergarten in February 2008, he says. She was fired because other staff feared that her presence would endanger children. When this emerged in local newspapers the next day, an alderman forced the kindergarten to reinstate her and the mayor invited her for tea at the city hall.

Online auction house Lauritz.com last month refused to sell one of his paintings of fabled characters as part of a national effort to raise money for earthquake victims in Haiti, fearing for its employees, the company said on its Web site.

He turned to his gallery, Galleri Draupner, for help. Soon the painting garnered three competing bids of $18,881, according to owner Erik Guldager. A similar painting sold for $467 at a show in August, Guldager says. Visitors to the gallery’s Web site soared from an average of 220 a day to 48,600, he says.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Guldager says. “People love him. He’s not an overnight phenomenon — he has durability.”

A couple of months ago, Westergaard — who has tried to carry on as normal — was working out at a local gym. As he left, he was approached by two young Middle-Eastern-looking men. They asked him: “Are you Kurt Westergaard?”

His heart pounding, replied: “Yes.”

He smiles as he recalls that they asked whether they could have their picture taken with him.

“They stood beside me and put their arms over my shoulder,” he says. “I was very happy when I returned home.”

Acts of support like these encourage Westergaard to continue his advocacy of free speech. He was accused of hate mongering by a group of Muslim students before speaking at Yale and Princeton in September and October. He has offered to debate with Islamic clerics in public while refusing to speak at a conservative lobby group in Washington last year, he says.

At home in his modest brick row house, after three weeks in hiding, Westergaard serves his wife’s sweet beer cake, which he says is a hit with the two bodyguards chatting in the next room. The man who was

he denounced by angry crowds across the world wears his trademark leather waistcoat, dark shirt and a handkerchief around his neck. His fragile sixfoot frame looks no match for an ax-wielding fanatic.

Half of the 654 Danish writers, artists and museum managers who took part in a January 14 survey said that freedom of speech is under threat in Denmark, according to the Copenhagen-based A4 weekly magazine. One in eight has refused to do projects out of concern they’ll offend religious groups, the survey showed.

Every time he surfaces in the media, people become more afraid of being with him, Westergaard says.

“I want to warn against the form of self-censorship and stigmatization we’re beginning to see signs of,” Lars Loekke Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, told reporters in Copenhagen on January 19. “If we start isolating those who need our support and protection, then we give in and give up.”

The artist is happy to be back in his house, where he plans to have his 75th birthday this summer. He has told friends and family to prepare a speech about him or their favorite topic instead of bringing a present. He has made a “fiveyear plan” that will allow him to see most of his nine grandchildren graduate from high school.

As a boy, Westergaard was sent to a religious Sunday school by his father, a shop owner in a northern Danish village, so the family wouldn’t rile the local fundamentalist Christian congregation. In high school he stumbled upon the works of Danish writer Kjeld Abell, who challenged religious and middle class conventions. Westergaard became an atheist.

“It was a revelation,” he says. “I was so happy to escape the clutches of religion. No religion or so-called truth should be held above reproach. There’s no double standard in free speech.”

During last month’s ax attack, a collage of Westergaard’s old cartoons hanging on the wall was damaged. The artist examines a hole in a cartoon of an Orthodox Jew wrapped in barbed wire and holding a gun. The cartoon was a comment on Israel’s policies in the West Bank.

In the 1990s, Westergaard riled the Danish fundamentalist Christian community by drawing Jesus wearing an Armani suit and clutching a briefcase as he left the cross to attend to business. He left a sign saying “visiting hours from 9 to 11 a.m. on Sundays.”

A couple of years later, he sketched the cartoon again and added an imam watching Jesus from the side, wondering how he could get the same deal.

His house is having extra security fitted, and a pavilion is being built in an area behind the garden where police bodyguards can stay. Looking into the small yard he has paved so he and Gitte can move about even if their legs deteriorate with age, Westergaard notices shards of glass left when his door was smashed down. “When you have to leave everyday life behind and everything becomes uncertain,” he says, “then the banalities of life all of a sudden look very attractive.”

           — Hat tip: Steen[Return to headlines]

Energy: ‘Maranello’, Sicilian Made Electric Car Created

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO FEBRUARY 9 — This morning at Palazzo d’Orleans, “Maranello”, an electric car, was presented to the President of the region of Sicily Raffaele Lombardo. Maranello, said Lombardo, “produced with entirely Sicilian capital, specialised professionals and intelligence, is part of the ‘Io zero’ programme for families residing in Sicily: zero particulate matter emissions and zero noise”. The initiative came about from an agreement between SiciliaEnergia, which installs photovoltaic plants for domestic use, and Effedi Automotive, which produces electric cars. “The car” added Lombardo, “was built without any disputes over the name, thanks to an agreement between Effedi in Carini and Ferrari for the use of the name Maranello. It is an initiative that began two years ago and which merits maximum attention because it is intended for families. In addition to environmental benefits, there are many other positive aspects of the new automobile: lower fuel costs, saving enormous quantities of water needed to produce and transport fuel, and a new source for employment. These are benefits involve individuals as well as society”. Carlo D’Angelo, the president of Effedi, while explaining the characteristics of the car, said that “the proposal is to minimise costs and environmental impact; a constructive dialogue with the regional government has begun on this topic in order to create the necessary infrastructural network to manage this type of ‘low impact’ vehicle. Consumption costs amount to just three euros per 60km (fully charged, if the batteries are completely uncharged and it is recharged at a supplier). Consumption costs nothing if the car is charged at home with a solar installation. Currently, the car costs about 12,500 euros plus VAT and will also be able to be driven by people as young as 14-years-old with a license to drive mopeds and quadricycles”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Finland Mulls Slashing Alcohol Limits for Drivers

This spring Justice Minister Tuija Brax and various government agencies are considering curbing drunken driving limits in a move to make roads safer.

National police commissioner Mikko Paatero recently proposed slashing the legal alcohol limit for drivers from the current 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 20mg per 100ml.

Brax says she won’t take a stand on the matter until she receives a European-wide study on drunken driving next month. The study details the effects lower legal alcohol limits have had in Spain, Austria and Germany, where new drivers face a limit of 20mg/100 ml.

The government is also homing in on boaters’ blood alcohol limits.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

France: Sarkozy Wants to Raise Retirement Age Within Summer

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, FEBRUARY 8 — French president Nicholas Sarkozy would like to bring in pension reform before the summer. Quoted by Le Figaro, he said that just after the regional elections (March 14 and 21) he “intends to go forward on this sensitive dossier”. The newspaper reported that the National Assembly “might be summoned for an extraordinary session in July to adopt a bill combining an extension of the length of contributions with a rise in retirement age.” A recent survey showed that 63% of the French would like retirement age to remain at age 60, considering it a social security victory which “must not be taken away”. In France, pension reform is shaping up to be one of the major issues for 2010. A rise in retirement age is also opposed by the leftist opposition parties. Retirement age set at age 60 (introduced in 1982) was one of the most trademark reforms of France’s Socialist president Francois Mitterand. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

French ‘Smear’ Britain’s EU Chief Baroness Ashton

FRENCH politicians have been accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against Baroness Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, claiming she is “lazy”, incompetent and in the pocket of Britain.

Officials in Paris are said to be upset that Ashton is not able to speak French, has surrounded herself with British advisers in Brussels and returns to London every Friday to be briefed by the Foreign Office.

Some of the Labour peer’s French critics have even gone public with their attacks — just weeks after she was plucked from relative obscurity to become the EU’s first foreign minister, or “high representative”.

While Ashton’s supporters believe the slurs have not been directly sanctioned by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, the suspicion is that they are emanating from people around him acting on a “freelance” basis.

British sources fear the campaign threatens to undermine Ashton’s position and is, in part, a tit-for-tat move following terse exchanges between Downing Street and the Elysée Palace over the appointment of the Frenchman Michel Barnier as the EU’s internal market commissioner.

French officials are understood to be concerned that Ashton, 53, may be falling under too much UK influence, citing the fact that more than a third of her 11-member cabinet are British.

Media reports derived from French briefings have falsely claimed that Ashton failed to receive security clearance for access to confidential documents and said that she refuses to take official phone calls after 8pm.

The Brussels correspondent of Libération, the French newspaper, described the peer as “lazy” and “uninterested”.

Last month Pierre Lellouche, France’s Europe minister, publicly criticised Ashton for not travelling to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake to “wave the flag for Europe”.

Barnier and Joseph Daul, head of the centre-right group in the European parliament, have also expressed concerns about the peer, previously an EU trade commissioner.

“The French got the post of the internal market commissioner as they requested, as well as many other important positions, so it is completely irrational for them to now launch an attack on Ashton,” said an EU diplomat.

This weekend British sources expressed anger over the smears and said they could damage Ashton’s role which was created by the Lisbon treaty after years of institutional wrangling.

“Some of the criticism may be justified, but I don’t know how the French think that relentlessly criticising the EU’s first foreign minister is going to ensure the EU’s credibility on the world stage and give substance to that new role,” said one source.

“Lisbon was supposed to be about moving forward, about making the EU more coherent and influential, but why are the Chinese, Americans or Indians going to listen to the EU’s foreign minister if she’s being rubbished by Europeans themselves?”

French officials are said to be irritated by the fact that Ashton is unable to speak French or any other foreign language. She has also been criticised for travelling to Britain on weekends to spend time with her family — even though other EU commissioners do the same.

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

French Identity No Longer Open to Debate

It started with a bang and ended with a committee. Four months ago, the French government opened a grand collective discussion about national identity. It quickly evolved into a nasty quarrel over whether immigrants, and particularly Muslim immigrants, are French enough. Yesterday, Prime Minister François Fillon essentially shelved the debate, saying he would ask a committee of “intellectuals” to ruminate on the subject and report back in September. “The debate was exemplary,” he announced after a closed-door meeting of the full French cabinet. “The question of the identity of France is no longer a taboo question.” But critics across the political spectrum said the government opened a Pandora’s box in setting up a website for people to weigh in on what it means to be French and organizing more than 350 public hearings across the country. “It’s a fine subject, but the way it was handled ended up creating a monster and a lot of racist excesses,” said Patrick Loze’s, president of the Representative Council of Black Associations.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Germany Speaks Out in Favour of European Army

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has said Berlin supports the long term goal of creating a European army, which will bolster the EU’s role as a global player.

Speaking on Saturday (6 February) at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering for high-level discussions on security and defence, Mr Westerwelle said the EU’s new institutional rules, the Lisbon Treaty, are “not the end but, rather, the beginning for common security and defence policy.”

“The long term goal is the establishment of a European army under full parliamentary control,” he said, noting that the German government “wants to advance along this path.”

Mr Westerwelle, who is just a few months into the job as Germany’s top diplomat as part of a ruling Christian Democrat and liberal coalition, suggested that moving further on common security and defence will be the “motor for greater European integration.”

With a nod to Nato, the military alliance which competes with the EU in terms of overlapping members and available resources, he said: “This is not intended to replace other security structures. More Europe is not a strategy directed against anyone. No one has any reason to fear Europe, but everyone should be able to depend on Europe.”

Under EU rules, member states with certain military capacities and the political will to move in this direction can club together to move forward on common defence.

In recent years, the need for an EU army has often been floated in political discussions — politicians in France, the UK and Poland have also spoken favourably of the idea.

However, until now it is has always come up against a mix of factors, including a lack of political will, a lack of real military power — except in France and the UK — the complexities of having several neutral member states, the overlap with Nato, and a reluctance to put money into defence coffers, this last compounded by the current economic crisis.

Acknowledging the effects of the economic crisis, Mr Westerwelle said member states keen on moving towards creating a common defence policy must “pool resources, set priorities and distribute responsibility — even in times of ever scarcer means.”

Within the EU’s 27 member states, France and the UK have the greatest defence means. Their co-operation and willingness is seen as essential for any possible development of EU military defence.

In a Strategic Defence Review published last week, Britain called for enhanced military action between itself and France.

“The return of France to Nato’s integrated military structures offers an opportunity for even greater co-operation with a key partner across a range of defence activity,” said the paper.

Analysts suggest that the pressure on defence budgets caused by the economic downturn may spur further defence sharing among EU member states.

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

Germany: Study Finds Major Discrimination Against Turkish Job Applicants

Jobseekers with Turkish names are clearly discriminated against when looking for work in Germany, a study released this week has found.

Researchers at the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA) sent two applications responding to each of 528 advertisements for student internships, one application with a German-sounding name and the other with a Turkish-sounding one. Both applicants were German citizens with native German language skills.

The applications bearing the German names were 14 percent more likely receive a phone call response from the employer, and 24 percent more likely in the case of smaller firms.

“We interpret this finding as evidence for statistical discrimination,” he authors wrote.

However, the discrimination disappeared when the applications contained positive letters of reference about the candidate’s personality.

“The study shows that employers still have some things to learn when it comes to in-house human resources,” said an IZA spokesman. “Workers with immigrant backgrounds’ potential is not being fully realised.”

For the German candidates, the researchers used the names “Dennis Langer” and “Tobias Hartmann,” which were among the 30 most common first names and surnames in Germany for the years 1986 to 1988.

For the Turkish candidates, they used “Fatih Yildiz” and “Serkan Sezer” — both common for male descendants of Turkish immigrants in Germany.

Though the researchers were concerned by the results, they said the discrimination was mild compared with discrimination studies on ethnic minorities in other countries, such as Albanians in Greece, Arabs in Sweden or African Americans in the United States.

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

Italy: ‘Fiat Doesn’t Want Incentives’

‘Never received a euro from State,’ says Montezemolo

(ANSA) — Rome, February 5 — Fiat doesn’t want government incentives in exchange for keeping a loss-making Sicilian plant going, managers said as they went into a meeting at the industry ministry Friday.

“We’re not asking for anything, we’ve said that every which way,” said Fiat’s head of institutional affairs, Ernesto Auci.

The government has offered the extension of car trade-in incentives this year to keep Termini Imerese near Palermo open and reduce cuts at Fiat’s four other plants but Fiat has refused, demanding instead a broader industrial policy.

“In any case, 70% of the cash-for-clunkers scheme went on foreign cars last year,” Fiat Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo noted.

Fiat would do all it can to help ease the social impact of the closure of Termini Imerese, Auci told the meeting.

Auci stressed that there were two years to find “the best industrial alternatives” for the Termini plant and its ancillaries after it shuts next year, Montezemolo went on to counter claims the Turin giant was not doing enough to defend Italian jobs. “Let’s stop all this chatter about Fiat not being an Italian company,” he said, stressing that since he became chairman in 2004 the group had spent some 25 billion euros worldwide, of which “more than 16 billion in Italy”.

“That’s more than two thirds, and we intend to keep it that way”. Montezemolo also denied longstanding claims that Fiat had received too much government aid over the years.

“We haven’t got a euro on my watch,” he said.

Fiat workers struck for four hours across Italy Thursday against cost-cutting plans which will include two-week shut-downs at the end of February and start of March.

Fiat has repeatedly vowed to shut Termini Imerese.

Industry Minister Claudio Scajola has promised workers the plant will have a future, with or without Fiat.

photo: Montezemolo

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Florence Show Embraces ‘Toilet as Art’

Exhibit inspired by Duchamp’s iconic 1917 urinal artwork

(ANSA) — Florence, February 5 — Florence’s prestigious Palazzo Medici Riccardi building is playing host to a highly unusual exhibition exploring the concept of the toilet as art form. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s infamous 1917 urinal artwork, ‘Fountain’, the exhibition’s organizers asked 20 designers and artists to produce their own fantastical interpretations of toilets.

The finished products, which went on display in the Renaissance palace on Thursday evening, feature a range of designs.

Some of the artists have converted WCs to apparently alternative uses, while others have taken toilets “out of the bathroom” into more adventurous surroundings. Fiona Corsini offers up a faintly sinister “bucolic” vision in ‘Scatola Chiusa’ (Closed Box) in which the central toilet is enclosed by walls painted with giant artichokes and small trees, bending in the wind.

Hundreds of little mirrors adorn the ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ toilet, created by Giacomo Cuccoli, while Clet’s Daliesque ‘Bisou’ (Kiss) replaces the toilet seat with a giant pair of half-yawning, half-pouting bright red lips. Gregorio Konstantopoulos’s ‘Le Petit Prince’ features a toilet cosily ensconced within a luxurious armchair, recalling the sumptuous leather and gilt WCs enjoyed by Louis XVI.

The prettiest toilet, also used as the exhibition’s poster image, is probably Ginevra De Renzis Sonnino’s ‘outdoor toilet’, set within a pale green garden bench and surrounded by trailing ivy. Another floral-inspired creation is Giulia Leoni’s distinctly petalled daisy toilet, entitled “M’ama-Non m’ama’ (He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not).

‘Billa’ is an ironic, stand-alone, padded toilet in the colours of the Italian flag, while other interpretations include the toilet bowl as drinks cooler, complete with glasses and champagne, and a WC transformed into a brightly coloured, patterned baby cradle. The exhibition, ‘WChairs’, is the third instalment in the annual ‘Fuorilogo’ (Out of Place) project, which encourages designers and artists to let their imaginations run free on everyday items. WChairs is on show at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi until February 14.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Spain: Decree Ends Golden Age for Air Traffic Controllers

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 5 — A decree to begin the path that could put an end to what has been for Spanish air traffic controllers a true golden age, with fabulous salaries, double compared to their European colleagues. Salaries that are 350,000 euros on average per year and which for some, thanks to the mechanisms associated with overtime work, come very close to one million euros. Today, however, after failed negotiations to renew air traffic controllers’ contracts, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved a decree that transfers the responsibility of organising the work of air traffic controllers to the Infrastructure Ministry and state-run airport owner and manager AENA. Based on the decree, proposed by Minister José Blanco and published in the Official State Gazette, the government changed the conditions in the current 5-year collective labour agreement for the sector, signed in 1999 and still in effect until today due to an extension, which included an average of 1,200 hours of work annually for each controller with an average salary of 375,000 euros. Starting today AENA will organise the controllers’ work, as well as their hours and salaries, a responsibility that until now was up to the controllers themselves. In the decree, it was stressed that the measures contained therein must be applied “urgently”, due to the “serious situation in which AENA currently stands, in order to guarantee the economic and financial continuity and sustainability of an essential service such as airline transit”. In recent days Blanco made the privileged conditions of air traffic controllers public, with monthly pay more than double that of their European colleagues. In Spain there are over 2,300 air traffic controllers, of which 28 earn over 700,000 euros per year; 135 earn over 600,000, and 713 earn a salary of between 360,000 and 540,000. Some earn up to 900,000 euros per year. The decree allows the Infrastructure Ministry to sign contracts with “new suppliers” for airline navigation services, so long as they possess the required certification from a national supervisory board of an EU member state. Basically, this amounts to the liberalisation of air traffic control services, since AENA will be able to realise these services with current controllers or assign it to another business with its personnel. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Only Good Foreign Soldier on Afghan Soil is a Dead One’: Myrdal

Swedish author and anti-war activist Jan Myrdal, 82, has sparked outrage following a public lecture in which he appeared to welcome the killing of Swedish, US and other soldiers.

“My anger is so strong that I can feel the taste of blood in my mouth when I see TV pictures of US marines, Swedish mercenaries or Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, “ he told an audience at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India.

“And my deepest personal feeling then is that the only good foreign soldier on Afghan soil is a dead one.”

The comments were made on Saturday, a day before two Swedish soldiers were shot dead by an attacker disguised as a police officer, when they were patrolling in northern Afghanistan.

“This is a horrifying and shocking statement if it is correct. I don’t know what got into him,” Allan Widman, defence spokesman for the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), a member of the government coalition, told The Local.

“It’s both cruel and cynical towards Swedish troops in Afghanistan, as well as their families here.”

Myrdal, a prominent member of the anti-war pressure group Afghanistansolidaritet, was not available for comment. But the chairman of the group, Stefan Lindgren, said the author has a tough anti-war stance and is “very stubborn about using this formula”, referring to Myrdal’s comment on soldiers in Afghanistan.

“I would not express myself in those terms. Our soldiers are going over there under false presences, but I sympathize with their families and I’m personally sorry it has not been possible to get them home alive,” said Lindgren.

In recent months, the Afghanistan debate in Sweden has mainly centred on providing better support to Swedish troops, particularly in terms of equipment such as helicopters, which have been plagued with delays.

Recent opinion polls indicate that almost a half of Swedes continue to support Swedish military involvement in the Nato-led force, which began in 2002, while just over a third want to see a troop withdrawal.

The Left Party, which is the only political party openly calling for a return of all Swedish troops, has been careful not to attempt to gain political capital from the latest military casualties, but continues to argue that Sweden should limit its involvement in Afghanistan to civilian-led development aid.

“The debate now is too much about supporting our troops in these hard times but this is not the real issue. It is not only about the troops but also about Afghan civilians who are more and more affected by the conflict,” said Left Party spokesperson, Rossana Dinamarca.

“The troops are there because the government wants them there, but after eight years of Swedish involvement things have not improved. It’s time to change the strategy.”

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

UK: Hate Preacher Abu Hamza’s £280,000 House Seized to Pay Back Legal Bill

Legal aid bosses have seized the house belonging to radical cleric Abu Hamza to pay off some of his defence costs.

The Legal Services Commission appropriated the property in Greenford, west London, despite Hamza claiming it did not belong to him.

It will now be sold in an attempt to pay off some of the £300,000 of taxpayers’ money spent on his legal bills. Officials hope to raise £280,000 from the sale.

Hook-handed Hamza, 51, is in jail as he attempts to fight extradition to the U.S. on terror charges at the European Court of Human Rights.

He is also appealing against the Home Secretary’s decision to strip him of his U.K. passport.

The Egyptian national was jailed for seven years in February 2007 for inciting murder and stirring up racial hatred.

Carolyn Regan, chief executive of the Legal Services Commission, said: ‘The LSC can confirm it has taken possession of Abu Hamza’s property, as a contribution to recovering the legal aid costs spent on his defence.

‘The LSC will not tolerate people trying to conceal their financial assets in an attempt to have their defence costs paid for by the taxpayer.

‘Legal aid is a vital public resource and we are committed to ensuring it is spent on those who most need help with their legal problems and can least afford it.

‘Since 2006, the LSC has recovered approximately £3million following Crown Court trials.’

The commission was granted a seizure order by the High Court after lawyers proved the property belonged to him.

Hamza secretly bought the four-bedroom semi as a buy-to-let investment for £220,000 cash while in prison in 2006.

His family, meanwhile, has been living in a £600,000 council house provided by the taxpayer while claiming benefits. One of their neighbours is Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport.

Former Cabinet Minister John Hutton lived next door to the cleric’s family before putting his property on the market for £1million in June 2007.

Hamza bought his investment property while a Treasury order was supposed to freeze his assets and prevent him from buying or selling houses.

But he is thought to have easily sidestepped the anti-terrorism sanction by registering the house under a relative’s name.

For years the firebrand cleric has ranted against the evils of capitalism, but has proved himself to be a shrewd wheeler-dealer in the property market. He used the right-to-buy scheme to get a council flat in Hammersmith, West London for £100,000 in 1999 and sold it in September 2004 for £228,000.

Just weeks later he paid £220,000 for the 1930s semi in Greenford, which has since risen in value to £280,000.

At the time, he was on remand in Belmarsh prison in East London awaiting trial. He claimed he could not afford to pay for his defence and was granted legal aid. In 2006, the house was being rented out for £270 per week — £1,170 per month — and was occupied by Polish labourers.

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliott hailed the LSC seizure.

He said: ‘It is great news that at long last taxpayers are starting to get some money back from Abu Hamza.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: New Mosque Approved for Camberley Listed Site

CONTROVERSIAL plans to build a traditional Islamic mosque in Camberley have been given the green light by Surrey Heath Borough Council.

Councillors overturned objections from planning officers in granting permission for the old Victorian school in London Road, currently being used as a mosque, to be pulled down to make way for the new domed building.

The application has proved controversial since it was submitted by the Bengali Welfare Association in September, as the school is a locally listed building and in an architectural conservation area.

However, at a council meeting on Monday only four of the 14 councillors on the committee voted against the mosque.

Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors all rebuffed officers’ objections that the mosque would be an incongruous development in the conservation area and would lead to the destruction of a locally listed building.

The councillors who came out in favour of the plans said the benefit to local worshippers who would be using the new mosque outweighed the objections.

Cllr Ian Bell, Conservative councillor for Lightwater, told the committee: “Our society is a cosmopolitan one, our country integrated and made to cater for all the people in our community.”

The only councillor to speak out against the mosque was Tory Colin Dougan, who represents the St Michael’s area of Camberley where it will be built.

Although he was not on the planning committee, Cllr Dougan urged the councillors with a vote on the application to save a piece of the town’s history.

“When the association bought the building they did so in the full knowledge it was in a conservation area.

“Camberley is not overrunning with conservation areas and we have a chance to trash another one.

“I would encourage you to rethink, and to go with the officers’ recommendation and refuse [the planning application].”

The Bengali Welfare Association has been using the site, which used to be St Gregory’s Roman Catholic Primary School, since 1996.

In 2002, Surrey Heath Borough Council granted permission to extend the building to cater for the increasing numbers of worshippers.

However, the association said the area’s population was overwhelmingly in favour of having a mosque with proper facilities.

The new mosque will be built in a traditional Islamic style, facing Mecca, with a large central dome and five smaller domes, as well as two 29m-high ornamental minarets.

It will also have a morgue in the basement and a new house for the Imam.

The old infant school on the site will be retained and used as classrooms and a meeting place.

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

UK: New Mosque Approval ‘Not Yet Finalised’

OBJECTORS to Camberley’s mosque have a final chance to sway a planning decision that apparently allowed the controversial plans to go ahead.

Surrey Heath Borough Council apologised for the “confusion” on Tuesday, but pointed out that the mosque plan had not yet been agreed and would need a second hearing before a decision could be reached.

The announcement will come as a major embarrassment for the council after it appeared to many people at Monday’s planning meeting that the mosque plans had already been formally agreed.

The apparent decision to allow the mosque to be built, against the recommendation of Surrey Heath’s planning experts, led to a massive public outcry from people opposing it, many of whom had assumed the plans would be blocked.

Join the debate: click here to read our story ‘New mosque approved for Camberley listed site’ and add your comments

Abdul Mojid, chairman of the the Bengali Welfare Association, had said the borough’s Islamic community were “over the moon” when it appeared the new mosque plans had been granted.

But the man overseeing the project for the association, Abdul Wasay Choudhury, said the confusion that followed was “heartbreaking” for them.

“It was crystal clear at the meeting that permission was granted, it was even on the BBC news,” he said.

“The next morning [Tuesday] the head of built environment for Surrey Heath, Brian Townley, was on BBC Radio Surrey’s breakfast show and clearly said they had given the planning permission.

“We had heard this rumour, then we find out it is not rumour. It is an absolutely heartbreaking thing.”

“Minded to approve”

The council said it would write to objectors to the two planning applications that were considered at the planning meeting on Monday, one to demolish the old school building, which is in a conservation area, and the other to allow a new mosque to be built on the same site.

It said that although the committee was “minded to approve the proposals”, planning permission could not be granted on the evening, and the applications were deferred and delegated to the council’s Head of Built Environment to finalise.

However, before any decisions can be issued, the applications will need to be referred back to the planning committee on February 8, to allow objectors the chance to voice their concerns about allowing the scheme to go ahead.

Anyone who has already lodged an objection to the application will be contacted by the council and invited to register a request to speak at the meeting.

Four minutes

One nominated objector will get four minutes to try and express the views of those against the building of the mosque, before the applicant can respond for four minutes to put its side across to councillors.

Director of customer services Chas Bradfield said: “We are sorry for any confusion caused by the planning applications committee meeting yesterday [Monday] which may have given the impression that planning permission has been granted.

“The application will need to go before the committee at its next meeting to allow completion of the process for people to have their say and comment at the applications meeting before a decision can be finalised.”

Planning committee chairman Ken Pedder said that the move was “unprecedented”, as the committee had never before voted to agree an application after council planning experts had recommended that they turn it down.

He said that due to the confusion, the fact that there would have to be another meeting to discuss the application, with the right to speak given to both sides, had not been made clear on the night.

           — Hat tip: ICLA[Return to headlines]

UK: Rapist Boiling Oil Jail Attack By Justin Penrose 7/02/2010

A jailed killer poured boiling oil over another prison inmate because he refused to convert to Islam.

Jamaile Morally, 26 — sentenced to life as part of a gang that raped, tortured and murdered 16-year-old Mary-Ann Leneghan in 2005, and left an 18-year-old girl for dead — led two other inmates in carrying out the attack.

They boiled up the oil in a kitchen at high-security Whitemoor Prison in March, Cambs, and poured it over Durwayne Martin, 26, scalding his neck, shoulders and back. Martin — jailed for rape — was ambushed in the kitchen. His injuries were so serious he had to be taken to a specialist burns unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex.

The incident was recorded on the jail’s CCTV.

A prison source said: “There has been a real problem in Whitemoor of extremist Muslims trying to convert other inmates to Islam.

“This appears to be the case here where Martin has refused to convert and as a result they have taken revenge.”

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

UK: The Problem Isn’t the Pope, It’s the Vatican of Political Correctness

Actually, I am uneasy about the Pope telling us what to do. This is part of being British, or was when I was growing up. I can still recite great chunks of Tennyson’s wonderful Ballad Of The Fleet, all about Sir Richard Grenville and the little ship Revenge, with her valiant Protestant crew, fighting her unequal battle against the great sea-castles of King Philip, ‘the Inquisition dogs and the devildoms of Spain’.

I had relatives who viewed the Vatican as Babylon. I was taught at school about Bloody Mary, 400 years later still a loathed figure.

Even now, I like to roll over my tongue the defiant 37th of the English Church’s 39 articles: ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.’

The Pope’s warning about growing intolerance of Christianity in the British State should have been issued by the Church of England, and once could have been. But its present leaders are for the most part pretty dim, and almost all liberals — whereas Benedict is a serious thinker, a major intellect and a conservative.

Those who are outraged — or claim to be — about the Pontiff’s warning from Rome are trying to use a force they don’t really sympathise with. My anti-Catholic forebears were Cromwellian Puritans, and would have loathed the sexual revolution even more than they disliked the RC Church. And if these protesters are worried about foreign intervention in British affairs, they are looking in the wrong direction.

Harriet Harman’s ‘Equality’ Bill, a monstrous piece of far-Left fanaticism, flows mainly from the ideas of continental Marxists who knew little of Britain and cared less.

And — here’s the really important bit — its planned attempt to force the Churches to hire openly homosexual employees against their will have originated in that Vatican of political correctness, the European Union.

I have the document in front of me, though our leaders have tried to keep it secret and Brussels has never officially released it. It is a ‘Reasoned Opinion’ on ‘infringement No 2006/ 2450’, signed by Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, and it orders the British Government, its subordinate, to amend the law of this country.

It declares that the United Kingdom has ‘failed to fulfil its obligation to transpose correctly Articles 2(4), 4 and 9 of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000’. It goes on to ‘invite’ this country to ‘take the necessary measures to comply’. If we don’t, we’ll end up being ordered to act by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Beside this peremptory stuff, it seems to me that a sermon from the Bishop of Rome is pretty small beer.

It’s not foreign interference the sexual revolutionaries are against. It’s any sort of opposition to their semi-secret elite plan to do away with traditional morality in these islands and everywhere else. So who is really interfering in our way of life?

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

UK: The History Man and Fatwa Girl: How Will David Cameron Take News That Think-Tank Guru Niall Ferguson Has Deserted Wife Sue Douglas for Somali Feminist?

The 45-year-old Harvard professor has left former newspaper editor Susan Douglas, with whom he has three children, for his mistress, the Somalian-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ms Hirsi Ali, 40, is a lawyer and former Dutch MP who wrote the script for a controversial film that criticised Islam and resulted in the assassination of its director. She is currently living under police protection in America.

Professor Ferguson, whose books, television programmes and work with financial hedge funds earn an estimated £5million a year, is understood to have been in a relationship with Ms Hirsi Ali since last summer.

Today, The Mail on Sunday can reveal how Ferguson’s philandering behaviour — described by one confidante as ‘more akin to a Premiership footballer’s louche ways than an esteemed professor’s’ — wrecked his marriage to Ms Douglas, one of Tory leader David Cameron’s closest friends, a leading member of the Tory ‘A-list’ of potential parliamentary candidates and a former Fleet Street editor.

Ferguson, who also has high-level links to the Tory Party, with a seat on the board of the Right-wing think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, has been seen with Ms Hirsi Ali at a number of high-profile events over recent months.

Just two weeks ago they attended the Jaipur Literary Festival in India where they were photographed kissing in the opulent surroundings of the spectacular Diggi Palace.

Ms Hirsi Ali had been flown to the event secretly. She has been the subject of threats from Muslim extremists since writing the script for the movie Submission, which was critical of Islam.

When its director, Theo Van Gogh, was shot dead in an Amsterdam street in 2004, a death threat against Ms Hirsi Ali was pinned to his chest. Since then she has lived in safe houses in Washington and New York under constant armed protection.

Previously Ms Hirsi Ali lived in seclusion and under police protection in the Netherlands. She fled from Africa to Amsterdam in 1992 where she obtained political asylum.

Ms Hirsi Ali, who became involved in politics and feminist issues including criticising the practice of female circumcision, which she underwent as a child, claimed she was fleeing Africa to escape an arranged marriage.

She works as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank.

The pair are understood to have met at Time magazine’s prestigious 100 Most Influential People In The World party in New York last May. Ferguson and Ms Hirsi Ali, who have both been on the list, were introduced by Belinda Luscombe, the magazine’s art editor.

The flamboyant Ms Hirsi Ali, who was dressed in an eye-catching cobalt-blue cocktail dress, immediately captivated Ferguson, who was photographed with his arm around her waist.

Ms Luscombe, a friend of Ms Hirsi Ali, said: ‘I think that is where they met for the first time. In all the years I have known Ayaan, she’s never had a boyfriend. She’s gorgeous, but with a fatwa, it’s tricky to find guys.’

According to sources within Ferguson’s influential circle of academic friends, he has made no secret of his relationship with Ms Hirsi Ali.

The British historian Sir Alistair Horne, with whom he is currently writing the authorised biography of Henry Kissinger, is said to know about the affair, as does Mr Kissinger. However a spokesman for the statesman declined to comment yesterday.

‘It’s rather awkward because both Sue and Niall know Henry and his wife Nancy, neither of whom can understand why Niall has been bringing women other than his wife to private dinners,’ said a source Ferguson, whose books include the bestsellers The Ascent Of Money, which was made into a Channel 4 TV series, and Empire And Colossus, for which he received a £500,000 advance, confessed his adulterous affair to Ms Douglas last summer.

‘He eventually told Sue and said how wonderful Ayaan was and how much he loved her,’ said a friend. ‘Sue tried to save the marriage and flew to Manhattan to be with Niall in November.’

Ms Douglas, who is seven years older than her husband, has met Ms Hirsi Ali on a number of occasions.

Sources close to Ferguson, who was a professor at Oxford before moving to Harvard, say that he has consulted lawyers in the States, while Ms Douglas plans to file for divorce and has consulted a London-based law firm.

It is not the first time that Ferguson has been unfaithful. He has cheated on his wife eight times over the past five years, according to one family friend, and five of these affairs have apparently taken place over the past 18 months.

‘Sue is incredibly strong and resilient,’ says a friend. ‘She has always met life’s challenges head-on and with a sense of humour and perspective.

Inevitably she manages to discover an upside to even the toughest situations. She has been prepared to forgive Niall’s infidelities over the past two or three years because she so passionately believes in keeping the family together.’

The couple have two sons aged 14 and nine, and a 13-year-old daughter. In addition to their properties in Boston and Oxfordshire, they also have a holiday home in Wales.

According to members of his circle in Boston, Ferguson has said that his marriage has run its course and is insisting the split is mutual. Ms Douglas however, has made it clear that she wanted to fight for her marriage.

Now it is over, she may claim she is entitled to half of her husband’s fortune, having financed much of his early career and raised their three children.

While he is keen to advise others how to spend their fortunes, Ferguson isn’t enthusiastic when it comes to parting with his own cash. In a recent interview he admitted: ‘I intensely dislike spending money, which means that I love big conferences where somebody else pays for everything… I am definitely a saver. Staying in cash seems like quite a good idea at the moment.’

Ferguson, who used to shop at Oxfam in the Eighties when he was a struggling junior academic, has also admitted: ‘I am in debt overall but that is because I am married to a spender. And all our debts are set against assets, in other words, our three houses.’

Given Ferguson’s high profile and the couple’s connections in the media, political and academic worlds, the divorce will be one of the most spectacular of the coming year.

The separation is likely to affect both of their political careers, as each enjoys close links with the Conservative party, which has been focusing heavily on the promotion of marriage.

Ferguson is on the board of the Centre for Policy Studies, the leading Right-wing think-tank, and works as an unofficial adviser to Mr Cameron, in particular on how to promote ‘Britishness’.

He also worked as an adviser to John McCain at the beginning of his election campaign before quitting to support his rival, Barack Obama. He is considered a leading expert on foreign affairs and once described himself as an ‘ardent Thatcherite’ but now calls himself a ‘liberal fundamentalist’.

He is seen as a contentious figure in literary circles, prompting one rival historian to declare: ‘He has the kind of face you want to punch.’

Meanwhile, Ms Douglas is seen as one of the Tory Party’s rising stars, and is on the A-list of aspiring Parliamentary candidates. She is said to be in the running to contest the Tory stronghold of Stratford-upon-Avon at the next General Election. It is understood that Henry Kissinger wrote an endorsement to Mr Cameron which helped secure her place on the prestigious list.

A friend who has known Ms Douglas for many years said last night: ‘It just seems sad that, despite all the lessons of history, Niall has set himself off in pursuit of some liberal idea of individual freedom and appears hellbent on breaking up his family. God knows how Ayaan thinks her feminist views square with her current conduct with Niall.

‘For Sue’s part, I think she is stunned at how a man who is possessed of one of the world’s foremost intellects can suddenly, in his 40s, start conducting a private life in a manner more akin to that of a Premiership footballer than a professor. Her main concern is to make sure that the children are fully supported and protected through all this.’

Although Ferguson is now the famous name in the marriage, Ms Douglas was the breadwinner during the early years of their relationship. Ferguson comes from a modest background. His father was an NHS doctor and his mother a teacher, and the family lived in a high-rise apartment in Glasgow. As a student at Magdalen College, Oxford, he was once so penniless he bought a wedding ring on his credit card and sold it to a pawn shop to raise some cash.

When he moved to London he started a career as a journalist, and wrote for the Daily Mail under Ms Douglas, who was an executive editor at the time. At The Sunday Times and as editor of the Sunday Express, she later became one of the most powerful women in Fleet Street.

In 1992, Ferguson returned to Oxford to write a history of the Rothschild dynasty and two years later he and Ms Douglas were married.

In 1995, a year after their wedding, Ms Douglas reached the apex of her career when she edited the Sunday Express. In 2002, she was appointed president of new business at magazine publishers Condé Nast before moving to PFD talent agency where she worked as a consultant.

Then in 2006 she suffered a serious riding accident at the couple’s holiday home in Wales. She fell from her horse and was airlifted to hospital where tests showed serious brain damage and internal bleeding.

Ferguson cut short a book tour of America to be with his wife and helped her on the road to recovery.

‘I couldn’t bear being away,’ he said at the time. He also dedicated his book Ascent Of Money to his wife, saying: ‘In the time that this book was written, my wife Susan fought her way back from a severe accident and other reverses. To her and to our children, I owe the biggest debt.’

By this stage he had moved to America, having accepted a chair in history at Harvard. It was then that he also started advising some of the world’s leading hedge-fund managers and forged a close friendship with the banking heir Nat Rothschild.

‘There was a point when it was not impossible for me to get $100,000 for a one-hour speech at some extravagant hedge-fund manager conference in an exotic location,’ Ferguson recalled. While he lived a jet-set lifestyle, his wife stayed at home with the children. Ferguson travelled home every three weeks, but the marriage suffered.

Says a friend: ‘Niall has a fair few enemies who feel he has got above his station, but Sue always stood by him. The marriage was fine for 13 years, then when Niall went to America, it all started to go wrong.’

Last night Ms Douglas, who was at the couple’s Oxfordshire home, declined to comment.

And when asked about her affair with Ferguson, Ms Hirsi Ali said: ‘I’m sorry, I am really not going to comment about that.’

Ferguson also declined to comment.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

We’re Living in Broken Britain, Say Most Voters

Voters are deeply pessimistic about the state of Britain today, believing that society is broken and heading in the wrong direction, a Populus poll for The Times has found. Nearly three fifths of voters say that they hardly recognise the country they are living in, while 42 per cent say they would emigrate if they could.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Who in Their Right Mind Will Bail Out the Poor Relations of Europe?

The news yesterday that currency traders have taken an $8 billion (£5 billion) bet on the euro falling was surprising in only two regards: that they hadn’t taken it sooner, and that it was so small.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egyptian Security Forces Raid Muslim Brotherhood

(CNN) — Egyptian security forces have raided the houses of Muslim Brotherhood members and arrested more than 90 people from the banned political group, the Muslim Brotherhood said Wednesday on its Web site.

The Islamic group said the raids happened in six provinces including Cairo and Giza and took place ahead of April’s parliamentary elections.

The Web site posted some of the names of members who were arrested in each province, and they included businessmen and senior members of the officially banned yet tolerated popular group.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the main opposition group in parliament and has been subject to government crackdowns before.

Banned by the government, the group supports the creation of an Islamic state. It holds a significant number of seats in parliament and remains the most powerful rival to the government, despite a flurry of wide-sweeping arrests of its members in recent years.

A year ago, the group said Egyptian security forces arrested 73 of its members as a “pre-emptive step” before last April’s parliamentary elections.

Muslim Brotherhood members, running as independents, swept to power in elections in 2005 despite the group being banned from political activity

[Return to headlines]

Facebook Destroys Society, Al Azhar Cleric

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT — Facebook is a “time bomb” that can “lead to the complete collapse of Arab and Islamic society” and is the cause of one out of five divorces in Muslim couples: for this reason, a sheikh at the Al Azhar University in Cairo has issued a fatwa against the popular social networking site. “Going on this website have very dangerous effects on public opinion in general, and in particular on Arab and Islamic people, which have strongly distinctive qualities,” said Sheikh Abdel Hamid al Atrash, the former president of the fatwa commission of the most important Sunni religious institution, cited by international daily al Quds al Arabi. According to Atrash, Facebook “incites illegal reactions to Sharia,” or Islamic law. “If one spouse is at work and the other, without moral restraint, has free time and does not know what to do with it, illegal relationships are formed.” Supporting the assertions of the Egyptian cleric, in the article a study conducted by the Centre for Social and Criminal Research was cited, which stated that “one out of five divorces was caused by an extramarital relationship established through the Internet website Facebook”. “You should absolutely not be accessing this website” thundered the sheikh, who called Facebook “a time bomb in the houses of families that will explode, devastating their homes.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kuwait Offers Aid to Flood-Hit Sinai

(ANSAmed) — ARISH, (EGYPT), FEBRUARY 5 — The Kuwaiti Joint Committee for Relief Aid offered in-kind aid to people badly affected by the floods in North Sinai Governorate. In statements today, the committee’s relief supervisor, Badr Abdullah al-Shamrookh, said the aid includes 600 stoves and 100 water reserviors as well as water pumping tools. The contribution was distributed among the people in the governorate, he said. “The assistance represents a speedy response from the Kuwaiti people to aid their brothers in Egypt”, he said. Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti committee also provided aid to Al-Arish general hospital; two trucks carrying medical supplies worth 200,000 pounds. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia-EU: Thirty Years of Collaboration

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 5 — Tunisia and the European Union have been collaborating at a financial level for thirty years, thanks to the protocol signed in 1980, opening an era of cooperation and partnership which today involves diverse sectors such as the economy and trade, training and employment, agriculture, energy and environment. After thirty years, cooperation between Tunisia and the European Union has become further strengthened with the support supplied by the latter in the sectors of the economy and trade, professional training and employment, agriculture, energy and environment. Thus, starting this year, the partnership also provides for a programme of sustainable management of water resources in the agricultural sector and a support programme for the development of a long-term strategy for the environment and energy control. Programmes aimed at dealing with the negative consequences of climate change. All of this is strengthened and promoted by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Likud Stronger But Netanyahu Popularity Slips, Poll

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 5 — According to an opinion poll carried out by Haaretz daily, a year after the political elections in Israel, the Likud party is considerably stronger, while the personal popularity of its leader, Benyamin Netanyahu, is dropping. The newspaper specifies that if elections were to take place today, Likud would receive 35 of 120 seats at the Knesset, eight more than they won a year ago and 23 seats more than in the 2006 elections. From this survey, it also emerges that Ehud Baraks Labour party would today be Israel’s fifth party (with 9 seats) after Kadima (26 seats in the poll), Israel Beitenu (14) and Shas (10). Haaretz calculates on the basis of the survey that overall the centre-right parties would today obtain 72 out of the 120 seats in the parliament. The newspaper however found that the personal popularity of Netanyahu has fallen and the percentage of people not satisfied with his conduct (46%) is greater than the number of people who have a positive opinion of him (42%). An analyst explains that it is a matter of the combined effect of his decision to freeze settlement building in the West Bank — which alienated many of his supporters in the nationalist right — and criticism made by the press in recent weeks of his wife, Sara. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Dubai: Terrifying Lift Ordeal at Burj Khalifa Tower, The World’s Tallest Building

Terrified passengers were left stranded between floors in the world’s tallest building after a lift broke as they were descending in the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai.

Visitors queueing to descend from the observation deck on the 124th floor of the recently opened 828-metre (2717ft) tower heard a crash and the sound of breaking glass from the lift shaft. Dust then billowed back into the room through the small gaps in the lift shaft doors.

The 15 passengers inside the lift were left stranded for 45 minutes before they were rescued by staff who dropped a ladder into the shaft and helped them to climb out to the observation deck. About 60 tourists who had heard the incident were left on the deck without explanation as security guards said that nothing was wrong. They were eventually joined by hysterical and dazed passengers from a second lift, who had been descending the tower when the incident occurred in the adjacent shaft. Their lift also stopped but was later safely returned to the observation deck, which was eventually evacuated via a service lift.

One visitor said that the initial lift failure sounded like “a small explosion”. It is still not clear whether anyone was injured. The Burj, which opened on January 4 with an extravagant firework display, was closed on Sunday after the incident.

Public access to the observation deck has been halted indefinitely, leaving hundreds of disgruntled tourists queueing for refunds for what should have been a highlight of their visit to the Gulf state. Emaar, the building’s developer, declined to comment on the incident but initially blamed its closure on “unexpectedly high traffic” in the tower. It later added that unspecified electrical problems could be to blame.

The lifts were promoted as one of the highlights of the tower. The fastest public lifts in the world, they reach more than 25mph (40k/ph), climbing to the top in about a minute. The observation deck was the only part of the tower to be opened so far. Saturday’s incident throws fresh doubt on the opening of other parts of the building.

The launch of the world’s tallest building was intended to be the crowning achievement of this small city-state, drawing a line under its financial difficulties. Instead it highlighted the emirate’s dependence on its neighbour’s support. It was renamed the Burj Khalifa instead of the Burj Dubai, in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi

[Return to headlines]

Iran Jails Opposition Leader Behzad Nabavi

An Iranian appeals court has upheld the sentence of a senior reformist figure convicted for his role in unrest after elections last year.

Former industry minister Behzad Nabavi was given a five-year sentence by the court, the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency reported.

Another unidentified man was given a death sentence for protests during December 2009.

Mr Nabavi is the second opposition leader jailed this week.

Eight other protesters were also sentenced to various prison terms on Tuesday, the news agency reported.


On Monday, opposition leader Mohsen Aminzadeh was convicted of organising protests, disturbing security and spreading propaganda against the system, his lawyer said.

Last month Iran hanged two activists it said were guilty of “war against god”, a charge levelled at those who protested against the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June.

Aminzadeh was a prominent supporter of the defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Correspondents say the authorities are tense ahead of the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Thursday.

Opposition supporters have called for widespread anti-government protests to coincide with official rallies. The police have meanwhile warned that opposition demonstrations will be firmly confronted.

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

Iran: Protesters Attack Italian Embassy in Tehran

Rome, Feb. 9 (AKI) — Dozens of demonstrators including pro-government militias called for the death of prime minister Silvio Berlusoni when they attacked the Italian embassy in Tehran on Tuesday. Foreign minister Franco Frattini said the embassy was besieged by protesters in an attack only a week after Berlusconi called for tougher sanctions against the country.

Speaking at an Italian Senate committee hearing, Frattini said the French and Dutch embassies also came under attack.

“About 100 Basiji militiamen, who are the main instigators behind the attacks on civilians, have tried to attack the embassy with stones, while shouting ‘Death to Italy and to Berlusconi’, and the same is happening to the embassies of France and the Netherlands,” Frattini said.

Berlusconi last week travelled to Jerusalem for an official visit where he met Israeli leaders including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In an address to the Israeli parliament, Berlusconi reaffirmed his opposition to the potential development of nuclear weapons in Iran and any aggression towards Israel.

Basij militia dressed as civilians hurled stones and shouted “Death to Italy” and “Death to Berlusconi”, he told the Senate hearing.

Tensions have been high in Tehran since the disputed re-election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s last year.

There is speculation that there will be renewed opposition protests this week to coincide with the anniversary of the Iranian revolution on 11 February.

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

Israel-Syria: Netanyahu Counting on Spain-Italy Mediation

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM — Israel’s willingness to resume negotiations with Syria and the precise indication of Italy and Spain as possible mediators were contained in a message to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, entrusted confidentially by Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu to Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos. So reported Israeli daily Maariv today, citing sources in Netanyahu’s staff. In the message, whose existence was confirmed by diplomatic sources to ANSA, “the seriousness of the intentions” of the current Israeli government regarding Damascus, so long as the start of negotiations takes place “without preconditions” was underlined. Their willingness to give rise in an initial phase also to “indirect” negotiations and to explore “creative solutions” was stated, with Netanyahu indentifying new players such as Italy and Spain as new mediators, after fruitless past attempts by Turkey. According to Maariv, the initiative is the result also of Berlusconi’s visit to Jerusalem. Moreover, the daily attributes an attempt to sabotage these attempts to Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the radical right-wing in the Israeli coalition government. Yesterday Lieberman effectively launched a strong warning to Assad, stating that if a war were to break out with Israel, his regime is destined to fall, and ruled out any possibility of giving back the Golan Heights, occupied by the Jewish state since 1967. Remarks that forced Netanyahu to intervene: initially with a statement signed by both Netanyahu and Lieberman, reiterating Israel’s willingness to negotiate with Damascus, and then — according to the media — with pre-emptive order to his ministers say nothing more on the issue for now on. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italian Embassy in Iran Attacked

Pro-government protestors held back by police

(ANSA) — Rome, February 9 — Around a hundred members of an Iranian pro-government volunteer militia attempted to attack the Italian embassy in Tehran on Tuesday but ere held back by police, according to Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Frattini said in the Senate that activists of the Basiji had organised a “hostile” demonstration outside the diplomatic mission and then tried to force their way inside, shouting “death to Italy, death to Berlusconi,” the Italian premier.

Iranian police intervened and stopped the action, which Frattini said had avoided any serious damage to the embassy which remained open.

Similar demonstrations were organised outside the French, German and Dutch embassies, ANSA’s correspondent from Tehran reported.

Frattini made his remarks while addressing a joint session of the Senate and House foreign affairs committee on the situation in Iran.

The Basiji are a paramilitary volunteer militia made up mostly of young people and while subordinate to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are totally loyal to Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khameni.

Observers believe Tuesday’s demonstration may have been in response to Berlusconi’s statements in Israel last week that Iran “is a state which is led by someone (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) who recalls evil figures from the past”.

The Italian premier also voiced the hope that the international community would approve “strong sanctions” capable of dissuading the Iranian leadership from developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran replied by accusing Berlusconi of interfering in Iran’s domestic affairs and pandering to Israel.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Transport: Emirates Airlines to Increase Flights to Italy

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 4 — The Dubai-based airline Emirates has decided to increase the number of flights its offers to three Italian destinations: Rome, Milan and Venice. Beginning this month, reported the French site Econostrum.info, the company is offering two daily flights between Dubai and Rome, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, thereby increasing the number of weekly connections between the two cities to 14. Emirates is offering the same frequency for flights to and from Milan, while one flight daily is on offer between Dubai and Venice.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy Embassy in Iran ‘Targeted by Basij Militia’

Dozens of people including pro-government militia have tried to attack Italy’s embassy in Iran, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini says.

Basij militia dressed as civilians hurled stones and shouted “Death to Italy” and “Death to Berlusconi”, he told a senate hearing.

Iranian media said a protest took place but made no mention of violence.

Tensions have been high in Tehran since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed poll win last year.

Correspondents say the protest could be linked to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s pledge of support for Israel and his call for sanctions against Iran to be tightened, during a visit to Jerusalem last week.

Italian energy company ENI has already said it will pull out of Iran.

Italy is Iran’s biggest trading partner in the European Union.

Western powers have stepped up pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme, but Tehran says it has started the process of enriching uranium to 20%.

Attendance cancelled

Speaking at a senate committee hearing on Iran, Mr Frattini said about 100 “hostile” protesters threw eggs and stones at the Tehran embassy but were prevented by police from getting inside.

There was “no significant damage”, he said.

Iran’s privately-owned Fars news agency said the protesters “condemned the actions of the [Italian] government in supporting seditionists and interfering in Iran’s internal affairs”.

Protests also took place outside the French and Dutch embassies.

Mr Frattini said Italy had cancelled its attendance on Thursday at events marking the anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

“Contacts are under way at the European level” aimed at sending a “signal of strong concern” over the incidents, he added.

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

Saudi Arabia: Condemned for Wanting to Broadcast Woman’s Lecture in Saudi Literary Club.

The chairman of Al-Khansa Hall speaks of the “satanic” plan to broadcast live a scholar’s lecture. Culture minister announces an investigation and possible action. In his defence the failed broadcast of the scholar and her husband.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) — Dennounced for having attempted to broadcast live in the men’s section of a cultural club of lecture of a woman. The story, into which the Saudi minister of Culture and Information, Abdul Aziz Khoja has opened an investigation, involves the president and a member of the literary circle of Al Baha, a city southwest of the kingdom, home to a university and academy.

According to the Saudi Gazette, the President of the Circle, Ahmad Hamid Al-Mass, accused Ali Muhammad Al-Rubai, of a “satanic” proposal in attempting to arrange the live broadcast the conference of Mona Al-Mattrafi, a woman, in the space reserved for the men of Al-Khansa Hall.

The lecturer, her husband and some members of the circle, have rushed to the defence of the accused who has defended himself saying that his intention never was to exhibit “feminine charms”, but the thought of a person culturally qualified. In defence of Al-Rubaie, Al-Mattrafi reported that the matter should be viewed in the light of what happened two weeks ago, when the transmission of her speech was proposed. Al-Rubai spoke out in favour of the initiative, but the coordinator of women’s activities of the club decided against it.

The accuser, now seems to have backtracked, claiming that he was misinterpreted and did not made any complaint, of which, however, Al-Rubai says he has a copy.

All this was enough, however, to move the minister, who has announced an investigation, after which he will take “eventual measures”.

In Saudi Arabia, the presence of women on television, once completely banned, is increasing. This resulted, in March last year, in a statement signed by 35 religious, according to whom which “no Saudi woman to appear on television, for whatever reason” and “no newspaper should publish their images.” The question, to be read in the framework of the cautious reforms wanted by King Abdullah, continues to arouse conflicting reactions.

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

Saudi Arabia Upholds ‘Sex Boast’ Conviction

A Saudi Arabian appeals court has upheld a sentence of five years in jail and 1,000 lashes for a man who boasted on TV of his sex life, reports say.

Mazen Abdul Jawad was convicted in October of immoral behaviour under the country’s strict Islamic law code.

Sentences of two years in jail and 300 lashes were upheld for three friends of his who were also on the programme.

They appeared on a programme aired last July on the Beirut-based Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC).

The men can appeal again to a higher court.

The Saudi offices of LBC were shut in August last year, ahead of Abdul Jawad’s conviction.

On the show, called Red Lines, Abdul Jawad spoke about picking up women before he was married and displayed sex toys on camera.

The 32-year-old father-of-four’s interview prompted around 200 complaints from Saudi viewers and calls for him to be punished.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative societies in the Arab world.

Abdul Jawad later apologised, saying producers at the TV station had tricked him into airing some of his stories.

His lawyer, Sulaiman Jumaie, objected that LBC’s owners and managers were not charged over the incident.

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is a majority shareholder in LBC.

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

Turkey: Dogan Group Wins Crucial Battle in Tax Case

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, FEBRUARY 5 — The Turkey’s Council of State ordered the government to unfreeze the assets of the Dogan Media Group, or DMG, which were sequestered for allegedly unpaid taxes and fines of 915 million Turkish Liras ($602 million), as daily Hurriyet reports. The decision, a crucial victory for Turkeys biggest media group, strengthens the hand of the DMG against the tax office, after talks between parties aimed at reconciliation broke down late last year. In a statement to the Istanbul Stock Exchange on Friday, DMG said the groups appeal to the Council of State to halt the sequestering of assets about the alleged unpaid taxes and fines for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006 yielded a positive result. The levy totaled 862 million liras, but with interest since the fine was imposed, it had grown to nearly 915 million liras. On February 1, DMG won a court appeal against a tax claim related to the sale of shares in unit Dogan TV Holding to Axel Springer of Germany. The court canceled 772.5 million liras ($518 million) of the 862.4 million liras tax claim for the years 2002 to 2006. The tax office had demanded 149.1 million liras in back taxes and 713.3 million liras in fines. Many suspect the fines are politically motivated, as they came after DMG outlets reported extensively on alleged links between the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and an Islamic charity in Germany that was convicted of fraud. The European Union had said the issue raises concern for press freedom in Turkey. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Police Infiltrated Again as Two Swedish Officers Murdered by the Taliban

Reinhard sends the Tundra Tabloids the following story. Two Swedish officers died in an attack involving policeman who were Taliban infiltrators. Really, think about it, how can anyone tell a Muslim from someone who is planning the worst possible atrocities imaginable?This only serves to underline the importance of works, acts and deeds of the Muslim communities around the West to prove their sincerity. It means their active role in condeming any violence against any person (not the disingenuous “Islam condemns violence against the innocent” meme) regardless of race and religion, and denouncing the Islamic concept of violent jihad, as well as insisting that sharia is no longer an option for the modern age.If they, Muslim leaders and their followers, pick up on those themes, and consistently hammer hard on them, in a real, honest and convincing way, then the non-Muslim will begin to look on them a bit more differently. The standards for the Muslim community has been raised to the very same level that the rest of society has to meet, it’s up to them to prove themselves, and that means forgoing all the whining and the playing of the victim card.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Thailand — Myanmar: Burmese Junta Profits at the Expense of 1.3 Million Migrant Workers in Thailand

The two governments agree to clarify the procedures for registration of Burmese people in Thailand. The Burmese junta has so far claimed the withdrawal of the documentation at home to monitor illegal departures from the country. Threats to the families of workers who must pay bribes of up to 2 thousand dollars for the issuance of a certificate. By 28 February, the migrants must prove their citizenship, under penalty of expulsion from the country.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) — Negotiations between the Thai government and the Burmese junta are underway to allow more than 1.3 million migrant workers from Myanmar to prove their citizenship to Thai authorities by the 28th February. This is to avoid deportation and abuses by the Burmese junta, which to date has profited from the situation forcing migrants to pay up to 2 thousand dollars in bribes for issuing a certificate.

“It is up to the employer to register staff at district offices,” said Jirasak Sukhonchart, Director General of the Thai Department of Employment during his recent meeting with the Burmese consul in Bangkok. “According to our sources — he continues — the Burmese authorities are threatening the families of migrants and forcing them to pay large sums of money for issuing certificates.” He says he contacted the government offices in person, explaining the facts as reported by migrants in order to avoid further abuse.

In July 2009, Thailand asked all foreign workers to certify their citizenship before 28 February 2010. This is to monitor the situation inside the country, where in addition to the Burmese approximately 780 thousand Laotian and 620 thousand Cambodians work.

For citizens of Myanmar the certification process has never been clear. To date, only 20 thousand workers have proven their citizenship. The agreements between the two countries so far have planned the issuing of a certificate of citizenship for migrant workers in Thailand by the Burmese government. But officials of the junta are demanding the documents be withdrawn at home instead of delegating the procedure to the embassy. This is to be able to verify the number of people who fled the country illegally and force them to pay an additional fee. Another problem is the granting of citizenship to children of foreign workers born in Thailand. Their registration depends on that of their parents and neither the Thai government nor Myanmar want to recognize their status as citizens.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Al Qaeda Calls on Somali Islamists to Help Control Red Sea Strait of Bab Al-Mandab

MOGADISHU, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) — An Al Qaeda faction in the Arabian Peninsula on Tuesday called on Somalia’s radical Islamist group of Al Shabaab to help it gain control of Strait of Bab Al Mandab south of the Red Sea, an audio tape attributed to the group said.

The Islamist movement, which recently pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda last month vowed to send forces to the terror group’s affiliates in Yemen.

Said Ali al-Shihri, second man in the Al Qaeda faction in Yemen, said in an audiotape posted on the internet that the control of the important Strait by al Qaeda and the Somali Islamists marks “a great victory and global influence” for the groups.

Al Shihiri, a Saudi-born former Guantanamo detainee, said that the goal for the control of the Bab Al Mandab Strait is to prevent “U.S. shipments bound for Israel”.

The Strait on the southern entrance to the Red Sea is an important international shipping route that links to the Mediterranean Sea, a short detour to Europe from Asia’s oil-rich states.

The Al Qaeda commander also called on people in the Arabian Peninsula to take part in what he termed the holy war “against the Crusaders.” The authenticity of the 12-minute audio recording could not be immediately verified.

Al-Qaida last month claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas Day attempt to explode the Detroit-bound flight.

Since Al Shabaab announced it was sending fighters across the Red Sea to take part in the rebellion in Yemen, the Yemeni government have stepped up security checks on the hundreds of illegal immigrants to the Gulf State.

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

Somali Forces ‘Kill Al-Qaeda Man’

Somali government forces have killed a senior Jordanian al-Qaeda fighter, national security minister Abdullahi Mohamed Ali has told the BBC.

State media named the suspect as Amar Ibrahim and said he was also a member of the al-Shabab group, which recently vowed to join al-Qaeda’s global jihad.

Officials said he had replaced a militant in the al-Qaeda hierarchy who had been killed by the US in September.

Al-Shabab, which controls much of southern Somalia, denied the claims.

Mr Ali confirmed to the BBC that an al-Qaeda fighter had been killed, but did not name him and said the government “would provide evidence later”.

State media said Ibrahim had replaced Kenyan-born terrorism suspect Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan as al-Qaeda’s man in Somalia.

US agents had hunted Nabhan for years over attacks on a hotel and an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002, before killing him in a helicopter raid last September.

The US long accused al-Shabab of being al-Qaeda’s proxy in the region, but al-Shabab had denied the links until last month when it released a statement promising to “combine” its local jihad with al-Qaeda’s global fight.

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


341,956 Blank EU Travel Documents in Criminal Hands

A classified Dutch government report has revealed that criminals stole 341,956 passports, identity cards, visa stickers and drivers’ licences from European government facilities since 2000.

Brazilian football star Leonardo Santiago was caught red-handed in 2000 when his Portuguese passport proved to be a fake. The 17-year-old darling of Rotterdam’s Feyenoord team had thus been able to circumvent the strict regulations that apply to all non EU-citizens playing for European football clubs.

The story is by no means unique in European football. In recent years, law enforcement officials in France, Italy and Spain have caught dozens of ‘Leonardos’, playing for clubs like Inter Milan, Lazio Roma, AS Monaco and Saint-Etienne. Teams and players alike benefited from the fraudulent documents. In France and Italy, regulations only allow clubs to field a limited number of non-EU players. In the Netherlands, the same foreign nationals can only be signed if they are paid at least 503,000 euros annually

Fake passports: the source

The question remains how players get a hold of fake passports. Leonardo got his Portuguese passport from his agent in 1999. A police investigation showed the document was part of a batch of 200 blank passports stolen from the Portuguese consulate in Zurich earlier that same year.

The burglary of the Portuguese consulate is just one of many mentioned in a confidential Dutch government report published in 2000. The report, entitled Report on Security norms for Diplomatic Posts, lists numerous European embassies and consulates that were robbed around the turn of the century by Eastern and Central European “crime syndicates”, bagging large numbers of passports and visa stickers in the process.

The gangs “occasionally used extreme violence” to gain access to the “poorly secured” diplomatic posts, the report states. The gangster were privy to “know-how and techniques used by former intelligence agencies”.

According to another overview provided by the Dutch foreign ministry in Luxembourg alone, hundreds of blank passports and visa stickers were stolen from the embassies of the Netherlands, Spain, Austria and Portugal between December 1998 and the spring of 2000. The same happened in Vienna, Geneva, Lausanne, Brussels and other locations. The crime spree was kept under wraps at the time, but the thefts were recently confirmed by the foreign ministry at NRC Handelsblad’s request.

Sought after by terrorists

Football players aren’t the only people interested in blank travel documents. Stolen Belgian passports were used by Abdessatar Dahmane and an accomplice in September 2001 to pose as journalists and gain access to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, and kill him in a suicide bombing.

The confidential foreign ministry report states stolen passports are also used to open bank accounts, conduct (real estate) deals or travel. For human traffickers, illegal immigrants and criminals, a blank EU passport can give unfettered access not only to the issuing country, but to the Schengen Area, a group of currently 25 EU-countries that make up the European customs union treaty of the same name. While its outer borders are tightly guarded, passports are rarely checked after holders enter the Schengen area since the treaty went into effect in 1995. Visa stickers are used by human traffickers who sell them to people seeking asylum in the EU or looking to stay there illegally.

To combat the abuse of stolen documents, customs offices protecting the Schengen area’s outer borders have the so called Schengen Information System (SIS) at their disposal. The SIS lists not only all persons and vehicles wanted by law enforcement in countries party to the Schengen treaty, but also contains data on all blank travel documents that were stolen or went missing from government facilities there. According to the Dutch police, the database contains 341,956 documents in all. However the SIS is not consulted with every entry into the EU.

Money to be made

Trade in blank documents is big business. “Criminals, human traffickers and illegal asylum seekers are willing to pay increasingly high prices for travel documents and passports,” the report states. Depending on the country and the type of document sought, prices are said to vary from 500 to 11,000 euros. “The damages incurred can amount to at least a hundred times the prices paid for these documents.” A couple of years ago, Dutch customs officials estimated that in the Netherlands alone, fraud committed using forged proof of identity cost three billion euros annually.

Since the break ins a decade ago, embassies and consulates have stopped carrying large stocks of blank travel documents.

Dutch municipal offices have also stopped stocking large numbers of blank travel documents, forcing passport thieves to look for new targets. In Manchester a white van was robbed by unknown assailants in July, 2008. The unsecured vehicle was transporting to an airport 3,000 blank passports and visa stickers destined for British diplomatic posts.

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

Australia Tightens Immigration Rules

(RTTNews) — Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced Monday several reforms to his country’s immigration policy, including several policy changes aimed at attracting more highly-skilled immigrants to the country.

Criticizing the ongoing trend for new immigrants to enroll for vocational courses for gaining residency, Evans said that Australia would change the current list of 106 skills in demand and review a points test based on qualifications, skills and proficiency in English currently used to assess migrants. He said that the present list will now be replaced by a “more targeted” Skilled Occupations List.

“We had tens of thousands of students studying cookery and accounting and hairdressing because that was on the list and that got them through to permanent residency,” Evans told Australian radio, adding that such courses will no longer be an assured path to permanent residence.

“The current points test puts an overseas student with a short-term vocational qualification gained in Australia ahead of a Harvard-educated environmental scientist,” Evans said.

“We want to make sure we’re getting the high-end applicants,” Evans said, stressing that the changes brought about by the new immigration policies would try to attract more health workers, including more doctors and nurses, as well more qualified professionals in the fields of engineering and mining.

“The new arrangements will give first priority to skilled migrants who have a job to go to with an Australian employer. For those who don’t have an Australian employer willing to sponsor them, the bar is being raised,” Evans said.

“If hospitals are crying out for and willing to sponsor nurses, then of course they should have priority over the 12,000 un-sponsored cooks who have applied and who, if they were all granted visas, would flood the domestic market,” he added.

Evans also pointed out that some 170,000 people applied for living and working permanently in Australia last year alone, when there were just 108,000 vacancies available. He added that all lower-skilled applications lodged before 1st September 2007 would be withdrawn and application fees worth A$14 million ($12.15 million) refunded.

The reforms in Australia’s immigration policy comes in wake of reports that thousands of students from overseas, mainly from Asia, were manipulating the existing system by providing fraud documents to enroll for vocational courses at private Australian colleges, purely to gain residency permits.

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

Cereal Offenders: Asylum Seeker Gang Collected £24million Drug Money in Special K Boxes

A team of money launderers collected £24million of ‘dirty’ drug deal money in shopping trollies and Special K cereal boxes in just eight months on behalf of gangland bosses.

The 13-strong gang included 10 Iraqi Kurd asylum seekers, all of whom came to the country illegally in the backs of lorries ten years ago.

But incredibly only one of the ten Kurds now faces deportation.

The story of the lucrative scam can now be told as reporting restrictions have only just been lifted on the case — one of the biggest to ever come to court.

Brothers Aravin Ali, 35, and Ali Rawand, 36, operated a seemingly legitimate foreign exchange bureau, Ravin, on London’s Edgware Road.

Covert surveillance watching the brothers and their team of couriers saw them exchange parcels of pounds Sterling for euros, minus a commission.

But they swapped the ‘dirty’ proceeds of drug deals for ‘clean’ euros off the premises — at motorway service stations and at the homes of their criminal operatives.

The only female member of the gang, Rawand’s ex-girlfriend Eftychiou Symiondioy, 50, used her flat in Paddington, west London as a storage area for the cash.

She was videoed by customs officers taking a Kellogg’s Special K cereal box loaded with £200,000 drug money to a waiting car — before going straight back inside as the car went off.

David Hewitt, prosecuting added: ‘This is clearly not the way that business is normally carried out in the legitimate money services world, it was illicit cash that was being dealt with’.

The brothers invested the proceeds of the scam in property outside of Britain including Russia, Ukraine, Iraq and Dubai.

Mr Hewitt, prosecuting, said: ‘This was a multi-million pound money laundering operation conducted by these defendants and others over a number of months’.

Explaining why the gang’s services were in such demand he said: ‘Cash is relatively heavy in the context of the amounts that were being dealt with in this case, hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the higher the denomination of note the lighter that cash will be.’

He said criminals were keen to swap Sterling where the largest note is the £50 for 500 euro notes, as they are far easier to conceal.

‘If a criminal wants to hide money or to move it around then it easier to do it in euros.’

‘If a person wanted to take £100,000 to the continent they would have to carry 2,000 sterling notes but a mere 250 Euro notes.

‘They will often use the services of professional money launderers, they will offer a service to those criminal gangs saying ‘bring your dirty money to us and we well exchange it for clean money. A likely source of much of this cash was drugs.’

Describing a typical swap he said: ‘A courier service would arrive with trolleys full of dirty sterling. There would be someone to meet them, there would be an exchange and then off they would go’.

After the swap, team members would take the cash to various legal Bureaux de Change to exchange for further euros, and the process would start again.

Couriers used by the company said they were working for a company called ‘Kurdistan Ltd’, to disguise the amount of illegal cash passing through their hands.

One gang member, Michael O’Leary, 66, ran a ‘counting house’ for the gang at a council flat in Covent Garden.

Mr Hewitt said: ‘When officers went into O’Leary’s address there was a TV screen which was showing the exchange rate from the euro to the pound, at least one money counting machine which was on operation at the time and there was a large amount of cash dotted about the property’.

In just two raids customs officers netted £813,211.25, and euro notes worth £460,000.

Seven members of the gang admitted between one and three money laundering offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Rawand of Kilburn was jailed for six years, and Ali, of no fixed abode was jailed for five years. Eftychia of Paddington was jailed for 20 months.

Mohamed Buanani, 37, of Harlesden, was jailed for 20 months, Keith Penny, 39 of Kilburn was jailed for two and a half years. O’Leary, of Covent Garden was jailed for 20 months. Andrew Dickson, 41, of Bournemouth, Dorset was jailed for 20 months.

The remaining six members of the gang were convicted after a trial for money laundering offences.

Ali Mahmood Sardar, 37, of Southall, the only member of the gang who faces deportation, was sentenced to 30 months.

Nawzad Ahmed, 36, of St John’s Wood, was jailed for two and a half years, Darsim Abdullah, 39, of Barnes, was jailed for one year.

Sadiq Altalibi, 33, of Hammersmith, a courier on benefits who also worked as a taxi driver was jailed for six months.

Yesterday Rawand and Ali’s father Hasiv Rashid, 70, who occasionally stood in for the brothers while away was jailed for 12 months, while his disabled son-in-law Anwar Hardi, 36, who lost use of a hand after a bomb blast in Iraq, was jailed for three years.

Judge Michael Addison, sentencing, told Rashid and Hardi: ‘Your offences are so serious only a custodial sentence will do. The reason for that is the large scale of the enterprise.’

Heidi Foggon, HMRC Assistant Director of Criminal Investigation, said: ‘This crime group were providing the facility for other criminals to conceal the origin of their illicit cash.

‘They set up a complex system including registering their own money service bureau that provided the appearance of legitimacy required to undertake this crime. But they hadn’t reckoned on the skill of our specialist criminal investigators who focus on money laundering, asset tracing and confiscation, both here and abroad.

‘We are determined to use the Proceeds of Crime Act to send a clear message to criminals and fraudsters.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Police Detain Tibetans Wanting to Illegally Enter Austria

Mikulov, South Moravia, Feb 8 (CTK) — The Czech police detained three women from Tibet who wanted to illegally travel from Poland via the Czech Republic to Austria last week, foreigner police spokesman Roman Pittner told CTK Monday.

They claimed they want to join their relatives in the celebrations of the forthcoming Buddhist New Year falling on Sunday, Pittner said.

He added the Tibetans have been the first foreigners detained in south Moravia this year.

The women were transported by two Polish citizens in their car. The Tibetans with Indian documents had a residence permit in Poland which, however, does not allow them to travel all over the European Union.

The foreigners were detained in a random check. The investigation showed that the three Tibetan women had return tickets to India.

Each of them was fined with 500 crowns for an illegal stay in the Czech Republic and returned to Poland.

Pittner said the women may have been refugees.

“We registered in the past cases where illegal immigrants had return air tickets to their homeland even though they were not going to return to it,” he added.

Last year the police detained in south Moravia one third more refugees than in 2008, or 575 people. The biggest numbers of them were Chechens and Georgians who illegally left refugee centres in Poland and attempted to travel to Austria, Germany and Italy via the Czech Republic.

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

Spain: Zapatero Prays in Washington for Unemployed, Migrants

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 4 — A prayer dedicated to immigrants, the unemployed and those who suffer from lack of understanding or those persecuted for their diversity. This is what was pronounced today by Spanish Premier, José Luis Rodrigruez Zapatero, from Washington, in the presence of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, as the guest of honour for the ‘breakfast prayer’, organised by the conservative Christian foundation known as the Family, which has traditionally inaugurated its political course every first day of February since 1953. In his speech, forwarded by the Moncloa Palace in a communiqué, Zapatero referred to his proposal of an Alliance of Civilisations, created by the UN; he made an appeal to solidarity with the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and defended freedom and tolerance. Speaking in Castilian Spanish, the first language used to pray to the God of the Gospel in this city, the socialist Premier emphasised the admirable achievements of the United States in both freedom and pluralism. He then went on to stress that our countries owe a lot to those who come from abroad, without whom we would not be the same. With a veiled reference to gay couples, the Spanish Premier called for the right of all in their own moral autonomy to live with the person they love, connecting it with tolerance and liberty. This liberty, he stressed, which renders people and citizens, allowing them to look toward the future and know freedom, to build harmony and peace, instead of the hatred that come out of ignorance. In the end, he quoted Don Quixote: one can and one must risk their life for liberty. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

True Finns Call for Migration Minister’s Resignation

The populist True Finns party is demanding that Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors resign from her post. The party alleges she has handled her job poorly by promoting a liberal migration policy that has attracted more asylum seekers.

The True Finns point out that the Finnish Immigration Service is struggling to process a backlog of 6,000 family reunification applications. The party is particularly concerned over family reunification because it fears the policy will open the door to more incoming refugees from Somalia and Iraq.

The party says Finland’s liberal migration policy is to blame for the recent large influx of family reunification requests. They’re now calling on the government to scale back migration and refugee policies to prevent Finland from appearing more lucrative than other countries.

Culture Minister Stefan Wallin, Thors’ fellow Swedish People’s Party politician, reacted to the comments by saying that the Migration Minister enjoys the full support of government.

“The True Finns are starting to sound like a broken record,” he added.

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

UK: Is it Any Wonder People Are Fleeing London?

In a north London suburb last week, a schoolgirl was beaten, gang-raped and then had drain-cleaning fluid poured on her body apparently to destroy DNA evidence. In the eternal cesspit of senseless urban crime, I feel that a dreadful nadir of sorts has been reached, a benchmark of slaked lust and casual, sadistic cruelty.

Police sources say the 16-year-old will never fully recover from the injuries caused by the caustic soda and, at the time of writing, she remains under heavy sedation in a burns unit, fighting for her life.

One could weep an ocean for this young woman, her life ruined by these savages, who hunted in a pack like animals and dragged her to an empty house, caring nothing for her wellbeing or future.

Drain cleaner? The callous premeditation is shocking, and underlines the fact that some of the rootless delinquents who roam the London streets are now scraping the bottom of the barrel of humanity.

I’m almost embarrassed to say that the attackers have been described as “five black youths”, in case you think I’m being racist in highlighting this crime.

Yes, these are the peculiar times we live in, particularly in a week when Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has pointed out that “white flight is accelerating” as Britain becomes increasingly polarised along ethnic lines.

Following the controversy started by the Bishop of Rochester, who said that some Muslim enclaves were “no-go areas” for Christians, it all seems to suggest a country that is becoming increasingly fragmented; a patchwork of rigidly delineated little pockets of race and religion, knots of unyielding humanity who just can’t rub along with each other.

This is not a Britain many of us would care to recognise, or even want to live in, although it is true that certain sectors of the middle class are fleeing from inner London like pashmina-wrapped lemmings, desperate to escape the creeping spread of urban decay.

Last year, nearly a quarter of a million decent, law-abiding citizens packed their bags and left the capital for good, seeking what they hope will be a better life elsewhere. They moved to outer boroughs, other city suburbs, rural areas, abroad, the back end of beyond, anywhere but here.

While their fairytale, roses-around-the-door belief in the safety of the countryside and the romantic ideal of a thatched cottage for two is touching, it does point to an underlying urban unease.

I would rather take my chances in the city than the country, but one can hardly blame them for wanting to move.

Elsewhere in London this week, a medical student was stabbed to death in a row over an orange in a Brixton fruit shop. A pupil who was expelled for allegedly having a knife took his school to the High Court. And about the time most of us were sitting down to dinner, watching The Bill on television or putting the children to bed, a teenage girl underwent an unimaginable ordeal in an ordinary suburban street.

What is going to happen to those of us left to live here if youths across the city continue to feel quite comfortable and confident in running amok? That’s before you even factor in the older, more professional criminal gangs from more than 25 countries, who operate prosperous drug trafficking, people smuggling, prostitution, money laundering and fraud rackets on the capital’s streets.

London is a welcoming city, where home-grown and particularly international criminal networks are flourishing nicely. Somewhere in the city, a great termite nest of law-breaking and corruption grows by the day, nourished by immigrants, some of them illegal, from Algeria, Nigeria, Jamaica and Pakistan, among others.

Is it racist to point that out, too? I don’t know any more. All I know is that London has room to absorb them all, particularly as so many of its citizens have recently left in a hurry. And while cosy family evenings by the fire remain one of the few benefits of a wet British winter, how alarming that fewer and fewer people feel safe doing this inside their own homes.

[Return to headlines]

UK: Labour’s ‘Secret Plan’ To Lure Migrants

The Government has been accused of pursuing a secret policy of encouraging mass immigration for its own political ends.

The release of a previously unseen document suggested that Labour’s migration policy over the past decade had been aimed not just at meeting the country’s economic needs, but also the Government’s “social objectives”.

The paper said migration would “enhance economic growth” and made clear that trying to halt or reverse it could be “economically damaging”. But it also stated that immigration had general “benefits” and that a new policy framework was needed to “maximise” the contribution of migration to the Government’s wider social aims.

The Government has always denied that social engineering played a part in its migration policy.

However, the paper, which was written in 2000 at a time when immigration began to increase dramatically, said controls were contrary to its policy objectives and could lead to “social exclusion”.

Last night, the Conservatives demanded an independent inquiry into the issue. It was alleged that the document showed that Labour had overseen a deliberate open-door ­policy on immigration to boost multi-culturalism.

Voting trends indicate that migrants and their descendants are much more likely to vote Labour.

The existence of the draft policy paper, which was drawn up by a Cabinet Office think tank and a Home Office research unit, was disclosed last year by Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett.

He alleged at the time that the sharp increase in immigration over the past 10 years was partly due to a “driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multi-cultural”.

However, the full document was made public only yesterday following a Freedom of Information request by Migrationwatch, a pressure group. A version of the paper was published in 2001, but most of the references to “social objectives” had been removed. In the executive summary alone, six out of eight uses of the phrase were deleted.

Labour has overseen an unprecedented rise in immigration, which has led to a rise of about three million in the UK population since 1997. Until recently, it accused opponents who called for tougher controls of playing the “race card”. Labour was forced to change its rhetoric amid concerns that the economic and social reality of immigration had alienated voters in its heartlands.

Gordon Brown pledged to secure “British jobs for British workers” as the recession led to a rise in unemployment and, just four months ago, he was accused of a U-turn when he insisted that it was “not racist” to discuss the issue.

The document released yesterday suggested that Labour originally pursued a different direction. It was published under the title “Migration: an economic and social analysis” but the removal of significant extracts suggested that officials or ministers were nervous over references to “social objectives”.

The original paper called for the need of a new framework for thinking about migration policy but the concluding phrase — “if we are to maximise the contribution of migration to the Government’s economic and social objectives” — was edited out.

Another deleted phrase suggested that it was “correct that the Government has both economic and social objectives for migration policy”.

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch, said the document showed that Mr Neather, who claimed ministers wanted to radically change the country and “rub the Right’s nose in diversity”, had been correct in his account of Labour’s immigration policy.

“Labour had a political agenda which they sought to conceal for initiating mass immigration to Britain,” he said. “Why else would they be so anxious to remove any mention of social aspects?

“Only now that their working-class supporters are deserting them in droves have they started to talk about restricting immigration.”

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, accused the Government of having a secret policy. “This shows that Labour’s open-door immigration policy was deliberate, and ministers should apologise,” he said. “This makes it all the more important that there is a proper independent inquiry in the origins of this policy and whether ministers have been deceiving people.”

Jack Straw, who was home secretary when the paper was drawn up, has adamantly denied any secret plot and insisted that he had been tough on immigration.

Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, said the policy changes introduced in the 1997-2001 Parliament toughened immigration rules. “The reports confirm there is no evidence to back the idea there was an open-door policy,” he said. “The Government was criticised at the time for tightening the policy.”

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, will announce today moves to make it harder to earn citizenship.

           — Hat tip: SS[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

“I Criticize Gay Internationalists, Not Gays”

Joseph Massad counter-replies to Ghassan Makarem

Like many Zionist propagandists who often conflate Jews and Zionists and often want to claim that any attack on Zionists is an attack on Jews, Mr. Makarem thinks that any criticisms of Gay Internationalists is an attack on gays, or on homosexuals, or on people who have same-sex contact. But this is not borne out by anything I say in my interview with Reset Doc or in my scholarship. I am clear in the interview that the object of my criticisms is Gay Internationalists and Gay Internationalism and not gays in the West or those who follow them in the Arab world, any more than it is an attack on homosexuality or same-sex contact. What I say (which is hardly even controversial in academic scholarship) is that homosexuality and heterosexuality were both produced in Western Europe and the United States in the nineteenth century.

Dear Reset Doc,

How can one begin to answer the litany of unfounded accusations and the ill-mannered ad hominem attacks that Mr. Makarem has leveled against me in response to my interview with Reset Doc? The sheer cumulative effect of his long letter and charges constitute a diatribe that is characteristic of those whose institutionally funded positions might be endangered by the kinds of criticisms and analysis I offer in my scholarship, some of which I summarized in the interview. I will respond to the most outrageous false quotations and imputations in order to clear the ground for a conversation.

Mr. Makarem claims that I “managed to squeeze in a number of lies and distortions [about Helem] that [I] ha[ve] been spreading for the past several years.” As this is the first time I have mentioned Helem in any forum or publication, I challenge Mr. Makarem to produce a single reference in my work to Helem before the Reset Doc interview. He further adds and puts in quotation marks words that I never uttered like “the ‘true’ Arab” or that I have investments in some “authentic” identities or desires. I have never used words like “true” or “authentic” in any reference to desire or sex or anything else for that matter. However, Western Gay Internationalists, from whom Mr. Makarem may be borrowing these misquotations, have leveled such accusations against me to delegitimize my position and legitimize theirs. Again, I challenge Mr. Makarem to produce a single quote in my work in which I argue for a “true” or “authentic” Arab desires, or sexuality. Then Mr. Makarem gears up to his most astounding charge: “The real problem with Massad’s interview is the lies, fabrications, and insinuations of being agents of the West against the people in Helem.”

This is an outright falsehood, as I never made such accusations against Helem or any of its members…

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Christian Speech Targeted as ‘Hate’

‘Gays’ pledge to ‘pursue every method’ of protesting flyers for school students

A campaign has been launched in Montgomery County, Md., to classify the speech of advocates for people who choose to leave the homosexual lifestyle as “hate speech,” which then could be banned under a new law signed last year by President Obama.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Feds Admit They Wrongly Tracked Wisconsin Abortion Groups

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security improperly conducted a threat assessment of Wisconsin pro- and anti-abortion rights groups before an expected rally last year.

The department said in a memo released last year that it destroyed or deleted all of the copies of the assessment after an internal review found it violated intelligence gathering guidelines about “protest groups which posed no threat to homeland security.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Planned Parenthood Pushes Intensive Sex Education for Kids as Young as 10

A new report by the International Planned Parenthood Federation is advocating that children as young as 10 be given extensive sex education, including an awareness of sex’s pleasures.


Ed Mechmann, spokesman for New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, charged that Planned Parenthood was “trying to teach children sex without values and that sex is a matter of pleasure and done without consequences.”


Michelle Turner, president of the Maryland-based Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said Planned Parenthood was simply trying to eliminate parental say.

“What are they trying to do? They are trying to eliminate the role of mom and dad in the family,” Turner said. “For Planned Parenthood to decide that governments, private organizations and religious organizations should make decisions about kids’ sexuality is just going too far.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

‘Satan’s Video Game’ Makes Super Bowl Appearance

The anticipated new release from video game maker Electronic Arts is only one of several console games to recently make a list of eight devilish titles compiled by Lance Christian of Alton, Ill., and reported by Susan Brinkmann of the Catholic group Living His Life Abundantly in a blog post titled “Gaming for Satan.”


The other video games on Christian’s list are cited below along with the descriptions Christian provided:

1. Tecmo’s Deception: Invitation to Darkness — Players “make an unholy pact and sell their soul to Satan in exchange for power” with the object of the game being to ensure the resurrection of Satan and obtain his power (This game is rated “T” for teen). 2. Nocturne — A game in which the hero (a demon) destroys the three archangels St. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, then goes on to destroy God. 3. Devil Summoner — Involves communicating with and recruiting demons. One demon tells the player the Catholic Church “is such an eyesore” and in the end of the game, blows up the church. 4. Shadow Hearts — The hero uses his power to intercept and destroy God and “save the world.” 5. Assassin’s Creed — The main character is a Muslim assassin assigned to kill Christians.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Senate Votes to Add Sexual Orientation to Anti-Bias Policies

The Virginia Senate yesterday passed a bill that would add sexual orientation to existing anti-discrimination policies in state hiring.

The vote for Senate Bill 66, sponsored by Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, was 23-17, with each of the chamber’s 22 Democratic senators supporting the legislation, and every Republican but one — Sen. Frederick M. Quayle of Chesapeake — voting against it.

The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, where it is likely to be defeated.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


The Fear and Farce of Climate-Change Science

One embattled scientist admits suicidal thoughts as another pens sex-laden novel

Tragedy and comedy have entered the climate change stage hand in hand.

The tragic figure is Professor Phil Jones, the 57-year-old scientist at the heart of the climate change e-mail scandal. In an interview with London’s Sunday Times newspaper, he said he contemplated suicide just before the start of December’s Copenhagen climate change summit, when skeptics were emboldened by the publication of hacked e-mails from the influential climatic research unit he led. “There were death threats,” he said. “People said I should go and kill myself. They said they knew where I lived. I did think about it, yes. About suicide.”

The comic figure is Rajendra Pachauri, the 69-year-old chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His fight to save his career over a faulty IPCC report about melting glaciers did not prevent him from publishing a novel — his first — that drips with sex and romance.

With climate change science already under fire, neither of these developments will help shore up credibility…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]


Anonymous said...

Concerning the article "Traders Make $8bn Bet Against Euro"

Many journalists, especially the "experts" at the Financial Times, have no clue about the futures markets.

For each contract that a market participant SELLS, somebody has to BUY at the same price!

Arbitrarily singling out a specific group of traders (like Hedge Funds) does not mean a thing. Hedge Fund traders are not specifically known to be generally right or wrong in their market decisions in a statistically significant way.

This is not only idiotic but politically highly charged. If in fact the Euro would decline over the next few days or weeks, this kind of article would AGAIN pave the way for blaming "speculators" for the demise of a market.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

The Euro is effed! But the causes for that are to be found in politics. The market is only the reflection of politics in this case.

VERY interesting article from Stratfor HERE

Zenster said...

Afghan Police Infiltrated Again as Two Swedish Officers Murdered by the Taliban.

Inflitrated? The correct word is "permeated".

Fortress said...

Ah, the reporter concerning the Super Bowl Video Games Appearance is obviously not a gamer, and the Christian Group...well, certainly not, heh.

The Deception game series (which includes a game called Trapt if you see it in the bargain bin for PS2 games) does, in fact, make use of the selling your soul to the devil (or a Devil) for the power to create traps to attack and destroy your opponents...more of a passive type of game play really. Each of the games has several endings, some good, some bad, and some REALLY bad, depending on how you play and the choices you make during gameplay. Each game has certain variations on this theme, but it is not exclusively a set of games whereby you try to resurrect the devil or take his power (though there are a couple of endings that explore this possibility).

The second two come from the Shin Megami Tensai series of games; all of which tend to have a theme of raging at the heavens. A lot of times there's raging at Hell too. Both sides of the equation are often treated as being total jerks, and the humans in the middle as being not much better in some respects. Nocturne in specific was an interesting exploration of what one could expect to occur if you were to 'solve' some of the problems we have…the worlds we create without some of the issues we have being not quite what we're expecting. And yes, there's more than one ending in all these games; going back to Nocturne, there's an ending where you can affirm the world God created…or actually beat Lucifer himself and then lead the forces of Hell against the legions of Heaven. The latter is after the utter uncreation of the Earth and its people in any form.

That last one, yes, technically he IS a Muslim. However, he's not out there just killing infidels or Christians. The game is actually a piece of historic fiction. I'm not entirely sure about the accuracy of this wikipedia article, but this is how the character is portrayed and what he is part of. In the second game, the main character is an Italian in an old fashioned mystery/revenge plot.

If they wanted something to complain about in that regard, they should have used what happened to Little Big Planet.