Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/31/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/31/2009There’s industrial unrest in Britain — wildcat strikes because of jobs that are going to foreign workers.

Ugly anti-Semitic incidents have occurred in Iceland and the UK, among other places.

And the unpleasant words between Shimon Peres and Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Davos may or may not have permanent repercussions — it depends on which article you read.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Insubria, JD, KGS, RRW, VH, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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USA
ACORN to Get Big Payoff — From You
Bill — Concerning Mobile Phones Containing Digital Cameras
Can Government Repeal the Laws of Nature?
Colo. Man Accused of Threatening Obama Surrenders
Congress Sued to Remove Prez From White House
How Big is $1 Trillion, Really?
Obama: Follow FDR — in This Case, Anyway
Prison Cell in Oregon Didn’t Stop Ex-CIA Spy
Writer at Huffpo Blames FBI for Not Preventing Somali Terrorist Recruitment in US
 
Europe and the EU
Battisti: Advisor Sarkozy, No Role French Services
Cyprus to Conduct Second Search of Suspected Iran Arms Ship
Czech Republic Helping Baathist Syria; Czech Social Democratic Party Siding With Hamas, Accused of Secret Police Ties
European Elections: Ferrero, 4%? a Berlusconi-Veltroni Coup
Global Taxes and Global TV Now on the Agenda
Icelandic Anti-Semitic Protest
London: Protest Against IDF Officer
UK: Bloody Beating in Golders Green
UK: Dawn of New Age of Industrial Unrest as Wildcat Strikes Spread Across UK
 
North Africa
GSPC Founder Calls for Al-Qaeda Surrender in Algeria
Libya: USA Ambassador in Tripoli, Obama is a New Era
Mideast: Egyptian Firm Accused of Feeding Israelis During Gaza Raids
Morocco: Ex-Italian Imam Jailed for Suicide Attacks
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Cyprus and Egypt Stop Iranian Ships With Weapons for Hamas and Hezbollah
Ending the West’s Proxy War Against Israel
European Reactions to Israel’s Gaza Operation
Gaza: Peres Says Relations Unchanged After Erdogan Argument
Holy Land’s ‘Oldest Church’ Found at Armageddon
Middle East: Mitchell Postpones His Visit to Turkey
Thousands of Al-Qaeda Supporters Active in Gaza
 
Middle East
Ahmadinejad Praises Erdogan’s Words in Davos
Mideast: TV, Mahmoud Abbas (PNA) to Ankara Next Week
Turkey-Iran: Ankara Aims to Raise Trade to 20 Billion USD
Turkey Needs an Agreement With IMF, Turkish CB Governor Says
Turkey: Thousands Welcome PM After Peres Clash
 
Caucasus
The Furious Passage of Tayyip Erdogan
 
South Asia
Afghanistan: How We Lost the War We Won
Indonesia: City Mosques Reject Islamic Formalisation
Indonesia: MP Jailed for Corruption in Anti-Graft Drive
Indonesia: Senior Muslim Clerics in Jakarta Oppose Suicide Bombers and Radical Islam
Pakistan: Christian Activist’s Life in Danger After Arrest on Blasphemy Charges
Singapore Team Manager: Jordan Threatened: “Come to Jordan, You Die”
 
Far East
China: State Media Goes Global
Don’t Expect China to Get the West Out of This Mess
 
Latin America
Caracas Synagogue Vandalized
Spain: 20,000 Requests for Spanish Passports From Cuba
 
Immigration
Tunisia: Emigration Attempts Foiled
 
Culture Wars
Driver’s Licenses Let Applicants Pick Gender
 
General
Books: What Arabs Think of a Hussein in the White House
Calls for Banning Moroccan Film Deemed Offensive to Veil
Tear Down the Amazon Rainforest Idol
US-EU Trade War Looms as Barack Obama Bill Urges ‘Buy American’
WWIII: the Super Revolution — Lay-Offs Will Lead to Violence — the Communist & Far Left Hell Dream…

USA


ACORN to Get Big Payoff — From You

You know about ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — the shakedown artists currently under investigation for violations of election laws in at least 12 states.

This racketeering operation probably played a significant role in getting Barack Obama elected, not to mention Democratic members of the House and Senate, in 2008.

ACORN’s shock troops have been linked to or already convicted of perjury, forgery, identity theft and election fraud.

With a track record like that, you might think the organization would be forced to disband, or that its tax-exempt status would be revoked, or that its entire leadership would be prosecuted.

But you would be wrong.

In fact, under Democratic rule in Washington, there are plans to redistribute up to $5.2 billion of taxpayer money — that’s your money — to ACORN.

And why not? The Democrats who control the federal purse strings got a lot of bang for the buck out of ACORN. Now they hope to use the ACORN nuts to maintain permanent power — doing what they do best: registering dead people, registering illegal aliens, registering pets and other animate and inanimate objects to vote, for Democrats, of course.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Bill — Concerning Mobile Phones Containing Digital Cameras

To require mobile phones containing digital cameras to make a sound when a photograph is taken.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Can Government Repeal the Laws of Nature?

Pundits and politicians are regurgitating phrases such as: “the worst since the great depression …; highest unemployment rate since …; largest deficit since…” Few acknowledge that government is the most significant cause of the current dilemma, or that its determined efforts to solve the problem can only make the problem worse.

The underlying cause of the current crisis is government’s efforts to repeal the laws of nature.

The first law of nature is: everything changes. The second law of nature is: change forces adaptation or extinction. The third law of nature is: whenever government sets out to repeal these laws, it only makes things worse.

These three laws of nature are validated by history. All the progress made by society since the beginning of time is the result of individual effort and creativity. Government has produced nothing. Government can produce nothing. Government can only limit, restrict, redirect and generally impede the progress of individuals.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Colo. Man Accused of Threatening Obama Surrenders

DENVER — A Colorado man has been indicted on charges of threatening to kill President Barack Obama and blow up the Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis. The man said the threat against Obama was a prank.

Timothy Ryan Gutierrez, 20, surrendered Thursday at the FBI’s office in Durango and was being held without bond, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

[…]

In an interview Thursday, Gutierrez told the Cortez Journal that the threat against Obama was just a prank because the president misrepresented himself.

“I’m not mad about him becoming president, but he’s not doing what he said he was going to do,” he said. “He’s not doing anything for the lower class — just the middle and upper class. Medications are going up, not lowering, and jobs are being lost. His actions are going to get him in trouble.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Congress Sued to Remove Prez From White House

‘Defendants had to ensure the Constitution is upheld’

A new lawsuit is challenging Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president, and this one targets Congress as a defendant for its “failure” to uphold the constitutional demand to make sure Obama qualified before approving the Electoral College vote that actually designated him as the occupant of the Oval Office.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



How Big is $1 Trillion, Really?

Size of Obama ‘stimulus’ almost beyond comprehension

NEW YORK — The Obama administration is the first government in human history to propose going $1 trillion in debt for any reason, let alone on the premise that borrowing and spending that amount would be a solution rather than another problem.

To answer the question of how big a problem borrowing $1 trillion will be, we decided to examine just how large 1 trillion actually is.

* One trillion is the number “1” followed by 12 zeroes, as in: 1,000,000,000,000.

* One trillion seconds of ordinary clock time = 31,546 years.

[…]

* Craig Smith, founder and CEO of Swiss America, estimates it would take approximately four generations of Americans to pay off the interest of the U.S. Treasury bonds sold as debt to fund the $1 trillion stimulus package, factoring in a 3-percent growth rate in the economy throughout that time.

[…]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Obama: Follow FDR — in This Case, Anyway

One of Obama’s first acts as president was to fulfill his campaign pledge to shut down Guantanamo Bay prison camp for foreign terrorists who fought against, wounded or killed American soldiers. This prison camp was established in 1898 and has been under the control the U.S. since 1903. Since 2002 this base has housed the worst of the worst enemy combatants. All of the 270 men currently held there are Muslims who have waged jihad against America and the West on battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world. To date, 62 prisoners from this camp have been set free, and 100 percent of them have returned to the battlefield to continue their murderous campaign to kill as many Americans as possible. These are the irredeemable people Obama wants to set free.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Prison Cell in Oregon Didn’t Stop Ex-CIA Spy

WASHINGTON — Harold Nicholson, the highest-ranking CIA officer convicted of espionage, has been locked up in a federal prison in northwest Oregon since 1997.

But even as federal inmate No. 49535-083, Nicholson never really retired as a Russian spy, federal prosecutors say. In an indictment unsealed Thursday, Nicholson and son Nathan, 24, were charged with having used prison visits, coded letters and clandestine overseas meetings to sell more secrets to the Russians in the past three years, in a scheme Nicholson hatched from his prison cell. The two were accused of conspiring to act as agents of a foreign government and money laundering.

“You have been brave enough to step into this new unseen world that is sometimes dangerous but always fascinating,” Harold Nicholson wrote to his son in July, the indictment says, in what apparently was an allusion to the scheme.

The elder Nicholson pleaded guilty in 1997 to selling the Russians the identities of fellow CIA officers for $300,000. According to prosecutors, he “trained and tasked” his son in spycraft from his prison cell beginning in 2006 and helped his son meet with Russian handlers in Mexico, San Francisco, Peru and a T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant in Cyprus to pass on information intended to help current Russian agents evade detection, prosecutors said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Writer at Huffpo Blames FBI for Not Preventing Somali Terrorist Recruitment in US

First, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this opinion piece at the Huffington Post this morning that readily admits terrorist recruitment and indoctrination is occurring in the US Somali community. The writer, Faisal Roble (of Wardheernews) begins with a summary of the Minneapolis missing youths that I’m repeating here in case we have new readers unfamiliar with the ever-expanding story.

It is believed that as many as 20 naturalized Somali Americans have recently vanished without any prior knowledge of their parents and joined the more radical Al-Shabab, “the youth” — an Islamist firebrand aligned to al-Qaeda. Al-shabab is an extremist group whose political objective is to establish a non-secular Sharia-based government in Somalia. So far, at least one naturalized American citizen had committed suicide in this past October, killing 30 people in northern Somalia. Most available evidence points at the Al-Shabab group who either train or commit the vanished youth to suicidal acts.

Then he goes on to blame the FBI (and the Somali families) for not spotting or reporting what is going on. My first instinct is to defend the FBI, but I can’t. I have heard first hand that people have attempted since 9/11 to alert the FBI to strange things going on in the Somali community and have been rebuffed by the agency…

           — Hat tip: RRW [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU


Battisti: Frattini, Genro Speaks Demagogy and Rhetoric

(AGI) — Rome, 30 Jan. — Franco Frattini uses the words “demagogy” typical of “political rhetoric” to comment the words of Brazilian minister Tarso Genro who stated that Italy is proving that it is still “buried under the lead years of the ‘70s”. In a note issued by Italy’s foreign ministry, minister Frattini states that “I will not be unnerved and I will not comment on expressions that belong to demagogy and political rhetoric. We know what the ‘Lead Years’ (i.e. the seventies) meant for Italy, and it is us that will decide how to best end that season that is still unrepentant, arrogant and full of assassins that still finds some degree of support. We knew how to deal and do away with terrorism by using the law. It is with the same spirit that we have decided to engage in a legal battle with Brazil’s supreme justice authorities, a battle that concerns not only Italy because it runs the risk of soiling the value of a major word: refugee”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Battisti: Advisor Sarkozy, No Role French Services

(AGI) — Rome, Jan. 30 — Fabien Raynaud, the European affairs advisor of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, denies that French secret services have played a role in the escape of Cesare Battisti to Brazil, Pdl MP and president of the Schengen Committee Margherita Boniver said. Raynaud participated this morning in a meeting of the European Policies Commission in the Italian Chamber of Deputies and was asked about the Battisti case. ‘‘I’ve pointed out to the advisor of President Sarkozy’’ said Boniver ‘‘that the public opinion in Italy is upset by the Battisti case and I’ve stressed that people were even more astonished when they read about Battisti’s statements on the role of French intelligence. Battisti remains a convicted serial killer’’. Raynaud, the MP concluded, ‘‘said Battisti’s remarks are not true’’ and added that Sarkozy ‘‘has considered the ‘Mitterrand doctrine’ as no longer valid for some time’’.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Cyprus to Conduct Second Search of Suspected Iran Arms Ship

The saga of a ship suspected of carrying arms from Iran to Gaza grew more complicated Saturday as Cypriot authorities searched the ship, then backed away from previous assertions that it was violating United Nations resolutions.

Authorities will now conduct a second search, the Cypriot foreign minister said.

Suspicions that the Cypriot-flagged container ship Monchegorsk was ferrying arms from Iran to the militant Palestinian organization Hamas had been raised by the United States. The U.S. military stopped the vessel in the Red Sea last week but could not legally detain it or seize its cargo.

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The ship continued on to Port Said, Egypt, then headed for Cyprus, where it arrived Thursday. It remains anchored off the island nation’s southern port of Limassol under tight marine police security.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said Saturday that a first inspection of the Monchegorsk was complete. He said authorities were still trying to determine whether the ship’s cargo contravened United Nations resolutions.

On Friday, Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias had said without qualification that the ship had violated U.N. resolutions. […]

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



Czech Republic Helping Baathist Syria; Czech Social Democratic Party Siding With Hamas, Accused of Secret Police Ties

Now isn’t this all too uncomfortable, that the Czech Republic which is leading the European Union is siding with Baathist Syria when it comes to ignoring its support for Hamas during the recent conflict. Aside from that, the leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party-Jiri Paroubek, who is accused of having ties with the old Czech secret police is also siding with Hamas!

Unbelievable that this particular Czech party would do such a thing. Along with also, members of the Czech Social Democratic Party have often been traditional allies of the Czech Communist Party. they even merged together when most of the unapproved Czech parties left for London, and some of them were involved with dealings with Joseph Stalin that the Soviets could “liberate” the Czech Republic which explains how the Soviets made it quite easy grab to take control of the Czech Republic without a major fight.

It would then bring no major reason why these Czech Social Democrats would be engaged in supporting Hamas:

Czech Foreign Minister Stresses Syria’s Important Role in Region

Jan 30, 2009

Prague,SANA_Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg stressed Friday the importance of Syria’s role in the region due to its central location and being the cradle of civilization and the liberal movements.

Receiving a delegation of the People’s Assembly, headed by Chairman of the Arab and Foreign Relations committee Solaiman Haddad, Schwarzenberg saw that efforts should be focused now on fixing the cease-fire in Gaza and starting actual talks that lead to the achievement of peace, especially that conditions have become more appropriate under the new U.S. administration.

The importance of more effective European role in the Middle East and the necessity of an international inquiry into the crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip were discussed also by Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the current EU Presidency, and the parliamentary delegation.

Haddad stressed the necessity for the European Union to move to contribute to the formation of an international investigation committee to probe the crimes committed by Israel during the recent aggression on Gaza.

The delegation also met with Head of the People’s Social Democratic Party Jiri Paroubek, the former Prime Minister who stressed that he sensed during his recent visit to Syria her keenness on achieving peace.

Paroubek expressed his anger over Israel’s crimes in Gaza, adding that his party told the Israeli ambassador in Prague this position. He criticized the positions of some Czech parties biased to Israel.

The meeting was attended by Syrian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Mrs. Nadera Sayyaf.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



European Elections: Ferrero, 4%? a Berlusconi-Veltroni Coup

(AGI) — Rome, 28 Jan. — The 4% threshold for the European elections? “A true coup d’etat, a tailor made law where Berlusconi favours Veltroni, trying to keep the left out of the European parliament as well. We fully object to this new breach of democracy”. Rifondazione comunista’s secretary Paolo Ferrero stated as much during a press conference held in front of the Democratic party’s offices to protest against the agreement between majority and opposition on the election law for the European elections.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Global Taxes and Global TV Now on the Agenda

President Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, is being urged to lay the foundation for “global governance” by considering “international taxation” measures to loot more money from U.S. taxpayers.

The recommendation is included in the report, “The Global Agenda 2009,” which is being considered by the World Economic Forum (WEF), meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 28 — February 1. The WEF is not an official government group but does include dozens of government, corporate and labor leaders at its annual meetings.

[…]

“The Global Agenda 2009” report says that “sovereign states do not adequately address problems reaching across borders” and that “international taxation” may be needed to generate the “additional resources” for “global governance.”

Could this become a source of new bailout money here and abroad?

“As current global governance problems come from market failures, sovereign failures and intergovernmental failures that cross boundaries, sacrificing sovereignty for greater gain may become an option,” the report says.

The report says the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Treaty, which is a top priority for Senate ratification under the Obama Administration, is a measure that has “earned the acceptance and compliance” of most nations. The treaty would turn over oil, gas, and mineral resources to the U.N. and authorize access to them through payment of a global tax to a U.N. body.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Icelandic Anti-Semitic Protest

To protest against the Israeli operation in Gaza and show solidarity with Hamas, a bicycle shop in Reykjavik, capital of Iceland, shows a poster reading “Jews are not welcome”. [picture in article]

According to an Icelandic source, the word used ‘Judar’ has a negative tone in the local language whereas ‘Gyndingur’ is the correct neutral word.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



London: Protest Against IDF Officer

4 arrested during protest across from London Jewish center; protesters call for reserves colonel to be put on trial

Four people were arrested, Friday, as dozens protested in London against the visit of Israel Defense Force reservist, Col. (res) Geva Rapp, to a Jewish center in the city.

British media reported that between 80 to 100 protesters gathered in front of the Jewish London Student Center in protest of the colonel’s arrival. One, who was holding a ‘Free Palestine’ sign, attempted to scale the building and was detained after reaching a first-floor window.

According to the reports, protesters demanded that the officer be arrested. Demonstrators dispersed after a police officer announced Rapp would not be arriving. […]

Earlier this week, the cabinet endorsed a resolution meant to provide IDF soldiers and commanders with moral and legal backing in wake of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



UK: Bloody Beating in Golders Green

An Orthodox man from Golders Green yesterday spoke of his determination to continue living an openly Jewish life after he was viciously beaten and left with blood pouring from his face, in one of the most serious incidents of an unprecedented wave of anti-Semitism afflicting Britain.

Wearing a kippah and his long Shabbat coat, Michael Bookarz was walking home from La Fiesta restaurant on Golders Green Road on Saturday night when he was set upon by two hooded attackers. “I was walking towards the A406 at about 10.20pm when I noticed a guy was walking towards me,” the 31-year-old told TJ.

“He suddenly started running and punched me in the face. When I was on the ground, another person ran over and they both started kicking me and stamping on my body and head.

“One of them said this is because of what’s happened to the Palestinians in Gaza. Someone must have looked out the window because they suddenly just ran off leaving me on the floor.

“I was scared but the main thought running through my head as it was happening was self-preservation and defending myself. The second the attack finished my next thought was to get help. I took my phone out to dial 999 and I could see blood covering the screen of the phone — there was blood pouring down from my nose.”

The software developer — who suffered extensive bruising and swelling — was taken to hospital where he spent several hours undergoing X-Rays of his skull and left hand. On doctors orders, he spent the past few days recuperating before returning to work yesterday, despite still suffering pain.

“One of the things I feel very sad about is that I can’t walk around in England safely,” he said. “This morning when I was walking to shul I saw a guy across the road with a cap on and a scarf over his face. It was a cold morning but I looked twice just to make sure he wasn’t dangerous. I wouldn’t have done that a few days ago.”

But Michael is nevertheless determined to try to ensure that the attack does not affect the way he lives his life and he urged others not to shy away from wearing kippot in public. He said: “I want to continue leading my life as a Jew in this country, I want to lead it as a free person. I’m not going to let them win.”

The attack on Michael was one of three assaults in recent days, contributing to the more than 220 anti-Semitic incidents in Britain since the start of Israel’s anti-terror operation in Gaza in late December. That includes at least 12 incidents of daubings at London synagogues and in Jewish neighbourhoods on Thursday and Friday last week.

The CST’s Mark Gardner said: “It is likely that the end of the conflict in Gaza will calm the situation here in Britain, but we have seen a dreadful outpouring of anti-Semitic rage, and this will certainly not disappear overnight.”

Anyone with information on the attack on Michael should call Barnet Police on 0300 123 1212 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



UK: Dawn of New Age of Industrial Unrest as Wildcat Strikes Spread Across UK

Gordon Brown’s pledge to create “British jobs for British workers” came back to haunt him yesterday when a dispute over foreign labourers sparked a wave of industrial unrest.

Wildcat strikes flared at more than 19 sites across the country in response to claims that British tradesmen were being barred from construction jobs by contractors using cheaper foreign workers.

Mr Brown, in Davos for the World Economic Forum, was caught by surprise when a ten-day-old strike at an oil refinery in Lincolnshire sparked copy-cat action at other energy plants. Unions claim that British workers are being barred from jobs because of a European Union directive which allows companies to bring in foreign labour for less than they would have to pay to Britons.

The Prime Minister was forced to order an investigation into the claims by the Arbitration and Conciliation Service in order to contain the spreading unrest. But Labour MPs last night emphasised that the wildcat strikes were a warning of mass industrial unrest ahead as the grip of recession tightens on the economy. Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham, urged ministers to act urgently to take the race issue out of the jobs market.

Thousands of engineering, construction and maintenance staff from at least 19 sites around the country took action in support of the Lindsey oil refinery employees. Many held placards quoting Mr Brown’s soundbite. Oil refineries, power stations and chemical plants were affected as thousands of staff downed tools.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



UK: The Word Went Out on the Web: Every Skilled Man Should Strike

As the shift arrived at Aberthaw power station in South Wales yesterday morning, a crowd of workers were already shivering outside the main gates.

Fifteen minutes later, at 6.30am, 400 men began to gather outside the Wilton chemical complex on Teesside behind a banner demanding “British jobs 4 British workers”. At 8am 700 workers refused to enter the Ineos refinery in Grangemouth, Scotland.

By mid-morning the dispute had spread to a dozen power stations, oil refineries and chemical plants.

At lunchtime thousands of highly skilled engineers and construction workers at at least 19 sites had quit for the day. With the prospect of an early start to the weekend, most spent only a couple of hours on the picket line before heading home or to the pub.

The South Wales protest had marked the start of wildcat strikes not seen for 30 years and the most widespread direct action since the fuel protests in 2000. Employers, politicians and trade union leaders were left on the back foot as the apparently spontaneous action spread across the UK.

Anger had been bubbling for weeks, with websites for skilled manual workers full of resentful messages about foreigners being employed in Britain. The catalyst for the strikes was the decision to bring in hundreds of Italian and Portuguese contractors to work on the £200 million Lindsey oil refinery in North Lincolnshire. Six hundred British contractors walked out of the plant on Wednesday. Contractors at Aberthaw and other sites voted on Thursday to strike in sympathy.

In online forums used by construction and engineering workers, news of the spreading strikes was greeted with enthusiasm. Union sources said that details of the disputes were also being spread by text messages to encourage others to join in.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



UK: This is a Race to the Bottom

These strikes aren’t about xenophobia. Free markets and the large corporations have run out of control

The wave of strikes across the country should come as no surprise. Popular anger is overcoming complacency and fear. The recession is exposing the true nature of the British economy. We are a country that has been ransacked by the free flow of capital. The strikes are not about xenophobia, they’re about large corporations and free markets that are out of control.

The Lincolnshire refinery where the current dispute began is owned by the US oil company Total. It employs the giant American engineering company Jacobs which then subcontracts to an Italian firm, IREM, which cut its labour costs by using its own Italian and Portuguese workers. Big engineering contractors have been recruiting compliant and cheap foreign labour for years.

Britain has lost control of key industries and their labour procurement procedures. The Lincolnshire dispute is a small symptom of a big problem. Britain is a country that no longer owns the productive processes that create its wealth. Crucial economic sectors have been handed over to unaccountable foreign ownership. The government has abandoned workers to exploitation, more concerned with making them fit the global market than in protecting their interests. In Labour’s working-class heartlands there is a powerful feeling of being dispossessed.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

North Africa


GSPC Founder Calls for Al-Qaeda Surrender in Algeria

Hassan Hattab, founder of Algeria’s Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), issued a fresh call on Monday (January 19th) for members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to lay down their weapons.

In the written document, which was released to the Algerian press, Hattab appealed to terrorists to renounce armed struggle in order to benefit from the law on civil concord. Drawing on a verse from the Qur’an and two hadiths from the Prophet Mohammed, he condemned the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Algeria in the name of Islam.

The former GSPC leader issued his call just as radical Islamists are demanding jihad in Gaza. “What law or moral code could allow this?” he asked in the statement. “Is this really a jihad that would please God?”

Hattab simultaneously condemned and repented for acts of terrorism, “which do nothing for Islam or Muslims and against which I have already given warnings in the past”.

Advising his “brothers” to obey God and halt their activities, he implored them to “return to society and your families; society is ready to welcome you and heal the wounds”.

Monday’s appeal was not Hattab’s first. Last August, he responded to an attack on the police academy in Issers with a statement calling for terrorists to abandon their violent agenda.

Hassan Hattab left the GSPC in 2003 after a dispute with current leader Abdelmalek Droukdel over the legitimacy of targeting civilians. In September 2006 the group rallied to Osama bin Laden’s cause, changing its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Hattab surrendered to Algerian authorities in late September 2007.

Salima Tlemçani, a terrorism specialist, told El Watan that the message follows a statement by Droukdel “calling for attacks against the interests of Westerners — particularly Americans, French and Israelis — throughout the world”.

The Droukdel communiqué was no longer available, however, just hours after its release, noted Tlemçani. Previous messages about Algeria are still available online.

According to the expert, Droukdel’s organisation has suffered heavy losses in recent months, to the point where it has been unable to regain ground, except for sporadic roadblocks. This has raised questions about the future of the group.

Journalists suggest that differences at the heart of the terrorist organisation have rendered it unable to carry out attacks as visible as those of last year. This is believed to be the result of both a series of surrenders within the heart of the group and a government crackdown.

According to Nayla Berrahal of Algerian daily Echorouk, the al-Qaeda organisation “is in a really difficult position since the start of the events in Gaza… due to the reaction of the public”.

She said the people believe the terrorist organisation is attempting “to profit from the situation to clean up its image following a series of suicide attacks and crimes targeting civilians”.

Rather than garnering the support of impassioned youths, Berrahal suggests Droukdel’s group has alienated itself. “These young people have risen up against the terrorist organisation, which they accuse of executing foreigners’ plans and strategies,” she said.

For many civilians, the former GSPC can no longer fool young people about its real intentions.

Lotfi Amine, a student, said the group “has no legitimacy or credibility to support Palestine, given the crimes it has committed against the sons and daughters of its own country”.

Fellow student Djamel Alek went a step further, accusing al-Qaeda of being “mercenaries”. Speaking to Magharebia, he addressed the terrorists: “Those who live in Gaza are pure and their blood is sacred. We do not want it to be mingled with the blood of mercenaries like you.”

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



Libya: USA Ambassador in Tripoli, Obama is a New Era

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, JANUARY 30 — Gene Cretz, the American ambassador to Libya since December 27, who fills the role which had been left un-appointed for 36 years, said in an interview with ANSA that the standardisation of US-Libyan relations, a process launched during the Bush years, could be fully re-launched by Barack Obama’s new administration. Cretz has already met with the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, and said that “it is time to turn the page, and reinitiate cooperation on all levels, in economics, culture, oil, and military affairs, we need to set the right tone so that decent American goods arrive in Libya where Libya is requesting them”. The route to the reopening of diplomatic relationships between Washington and Tripoli has been eased along recently with the adoption of the ‘Compensation Claims Package’ established by the Compensation Fund, which Libya has provided for the American victims of terrorism. Cretz reported, “We have just come out of a period of complex negotiations during the Bush administration, which have led to Libya’s reintegration, and this progress is due to the fact that both sides are making great efforts to keep up the negotiations, without forgetting that Libya has compensation claims due to the Americans, just remember what happened in 1986.” The US ambassador stated that the crisis in Gaza over the past few weeks had not adversely affected the relationship between the two countries, and that the Obama administration “will certainly continue the positive trend”. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell are “all people ready to face up to these difficult issues, and keep the dialogue open”. As for the initiation of standard consular relations, at least until next summer, when the new American consul is due to arrive, visas for the United states will remain limited to only a few categories of people, who will nonetheless need to travel through Tunis. Although there are no meetings with Gaddafi scheduled in the short term, ambassador Cretz is ready to present his country’s position towards Libya to its leader as soon as president Obama has defined what it might be. Cretz added that the new embassy in Tripoli is provisional, in expectation of the definitive building which will be built on land belonging to the US government.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Mideast: Egyptian Firm Accused of Feeding Israelis During Gaza Raids

Cairo, 30 Jan. (AKI) — An Egyptian firm based in the city of al-Sadat is alleged to have supplied Israeli soldiers with provisions during the recent Gaza military offensive despite restrictions on the flow of humanitarian aid for Palestinians, according to an Egyptian magazine.

“While Egyptians were pained by what was happening in Gaza, and the imams launched appeals to God to save the innocent in the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers fed on Egyptian delicacies,” said the article published by Egyptian magazine al-Usbua.

The article, written by Egyptian journalist Akram Khamis in the magazine’s latest edition, claims that during Israel’s three-week long offensive, the firm’s trucks carried food to Israeli soldiers through the al-Awja border area, 70 kilometres south of the Gazan town of Rafah.

“Many Egyptian trucks went back and forth along the road that takes you from Sadat City to the Israeli border, on the eastern part of Egypt, to deliver the goods of the food-producing firm, to another one that works for the Israeli army,” the magazine claimed.

The journalist presented as proof certificates and permits issued by Egyptian authorities to enable to this commercial operation to be carried out.

The documents showed the name of the firm’s owner and the delivery dates which coincided with the closing of the Rafah border by Egyptian authorities.

The government of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was widely criticised in the Arab world for failing to open the border crossings with Gaza to allow in humanitarian aid.

More than 1,330 Palestinians were killed and another 5,400 were injured during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the conflict.

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



Morocco: Ex-Italian Imam Jailed for Suicide Attacks

Rabat, 30 Jan. (AKI) — The former imam of the northern Italian city of Varese, Abdelmajid Zergout, has been sentenced to five years in prison for a series of suicide bomb attacks in Casablanca in 2003.

Forty-five people were killed — including 12 suicide bombers — in several attacks which occurred in the Moroccan city in May 2003. The bombings were the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country’s history.

In April 2008, nine people were convicted over the bombings and one of them was sentenced to death, while six others received life imprisonment.

According to media reports, prosecutors had been seeking a 30-year sentence during the trial that took place in Rabat.

Among the charges, the former imam was accused of “founding a criminal gang to undermine public security”.

Zergout (photo) had already faced two trials in Italy on charges that he founded the Moroccan group and was extradited to stand trial in Morocco after facing judges in a Milan appeals court.

The former imam is married with three children.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians


Cyprus and Egypt Stop Iranian Ships With Weapons for Hamas and Hezbollah

Cypriot president Demetris Christofia confirms the detainment: the ship was “in contravention of security council resolutions.” On January 28, Egypt blocked an Iranian ship at the entrance to the Suez Canal: it was transporting weapons for Hamas. The Egyptian foreign minister accuses Iran of fomenting tension in order to escape pressure from the West on the nuclear question.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Cypriot authorities have stopped an Iranian ship loaded with weapons and traveling towards Syria. A diplomatic source for the European Union says that Cyprus acted on instructions from the United States and Israel.

The incident took place yesterday. The ship, which was Iranian but flying the Cypriot flag, was ordered to dock at Limassol for inspection. On board, Cypriot authorities found a load of weapons, including heavy artillery, rockets, and documents. According to Jerusalem, the weapons were being sent to Hezbollah in Lebanon or to Hamas, in the Gaza Strip.

Cypriot president Demetris Christofia confirmed the detainment of a ship, because the cargo seemed to be “in contravention of security council resolutions,” according to which ships leaving from Iran are not permitted to transport weapons. He did not want to provide any additional details, but he confirmed the efforts of his country to deal with the question “in a responsible manner.” He said that any other comments could “cause more problems,” but confirmed that “we are investigating to see what it is carrying.”

On January 28, another Iranian cargo ship transporting weapons to Hamas was blocked by the Egyptian authorities at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit criticized Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah of working to fostering the clashes in Gaza in order to provoke conflict all over the Middle East. According to the minister, the situation of tension in the area is to the advantage of Iran, “which is trying to use its cards to escape Western pressure . . . on the nuclear file.”

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



Ending the West’s Proxy War Against Israel

As the world decries Israel’s attempt to defend itself against the rocket attacks coming from Gaza, consider this: When Hamas routed Fatah in Gaza in 2007, it cost nearly 350 lives and 1,000 wounded. Fatah’s surrender brought only a temporary stop to the type of violence and bloodshed that are commonly seen in lands where at least 30% of the male population is in the 15-to-29 age bracket.

In such “youth bulge” countries, young men tend to eliminate each other or get killed in aggressive wars until a balance is reached between their ambitions and the number of acceptable positions available in their society. In Arab nations such as Lebanon (150,000 dead in the civil war between 1975 and 1990) or Algeria (200,000 dead in the Islamists’ war against their own people between 1999 and 2006), the slaughter abated only when the fertility rates in these countries fell from seven children per woman to fewer than two.

The warring stopped because no more warriors were being born.

In Gaza, however, there has been no such demographic disarmament. The average woman still bears six babies. For every 1,000 men aged 40-44, there are 4,300 boys aged 0-4 years. In the US the latter figure is 1,000, and in the UK it’s only 670.

And so the killing continues. In 2005, when Israel was still an occupying force, Gaza lost more young men to gang fights and crime than in its war against the “Zionist enemy.” Despite the media’s obsession with the Mideast conflict, it has cost many fewer lives than the youth bulges in West Africa, Lebanon or Algeria. In the six decades since Israel’s founding, “only” some 62,000 people (40,000 Arabs, 22,000 Jews) have been killed in all the Israeli-Arab wars and Palestinian terror attacks. During that same time, some 11 million Muslims have been killed in wars and terror attacks — mostly at the hands of other Muslims.

What accounts for the Mideast conflict’s relatively low body count? Hamas and their ilk certainly aim to kill as many Israelis as possible. To their indignation, the Israelis are quite good at protecting themselves. On the other hand, Israel, despite all the talk about its “disproportionate” use of force, is doing its utmost to spare civilian deaths. Even Hamas acknowledges that most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli air raids are from their own ranks. But about 10%-15% of Gaza’s casualties are women and minors — a tragedy impossible to prevent in a densely settled area in which nearly half the people are under 15 and the terrorists hide among them.

THE REASON for Gaza’s endless youth bulge is that a large majority of its population does not have to provide for its offspring. Most babies are fed, clothed, vaccinated and educated by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Unlike the UN High Commission for Refugees, which deals with the rest of the world’s refugees and aims to settle them in their respective host countries, UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian problem by classifying as refugees not only those who originally fled their homes, but all of their descendants as well.

UNRWA is benevolently funded by the US (31%) and the European Union (nearly 50%) — only 7% of the funds come from Muslim sources. Thanks to the West’s largesse, nearly the entire population of Gaza lives in a kind of lowly but regularly paid dependence. One result of this unlimited welfare is an endless population boom. Between 1950 and 2008, Gaza’s population has grown from 240,000 to 1.5 million. The West basically created a new Near Eastern people in Gaza that at current trends will reach three million in 2040. Within that period, Gazans may alter the justifications and directions of their aggression but are unlikely to stop the aggression itself.

The Hamas-Fatah truce of June 2007 allowed the Islamists again to direct all their energy on attacking Israel. The West pays for food, schools, medicine and housing, while Muslim nations help out with the military hardware. Unrestrained by such necessities as having to earn a living, the young have plenty of time on their hands for digging tunnels, smuggling, assembling missiles and firing 4,500 of them at Israel since 2006.

While this gruesome activity has slowed the Palestinian internecine slaughter, it forced some 250,000 Israelis into bomb shelters.

THE CURRENT situation can only get worse. Israel is being pushed into a corner. Gazan teenagers have no future other than war. One rocket master killed is immediately replaced by three young men for whom a martyr’s death is no less honorable than victory. Some 230,000 Gazan males, aged 15 to 29, who are available for the battlefield now, will be succeeded by 360,000 boys under 15 (45% of all Gazan males) who could be taking up arms within the coming 15 years.

As long as we continue to subsidize Gaza’s extreme demographic armament, young Palestinians will likely continue killing their brothers or neighbors. And yet, despite claiming that it wants to bring peace to the region, the West continues to make the population explosion in Gaza worse every year. By generously supporting UNRWA’s budget, the West assists a rate of population increase that is 10 times higher than in their own countries. Much is being said about Iran waging a proxy war against Israel by supporting Hizbullah and Hamas. One may argue that by fueling Gaza’s untenable population explosion, the West unintentionally finances a war by proxy against the Jews of Israel.

If we seriously want to avoid another generation of war in Gaza, we must have the courage to tell the Gazans that they will have to start looking after their children themselves, without UNRWA’s help. This would force Palestinians to focus on building an economy. Of course, every baby lured into the world by our money up to now would still have our assistance.

If we make this urgently needed reform, then by at least 2025 many boys in Gaza — like in Algeria — would enter puberty as only sons. They would be able to look forward to a more secure future in a less violent society.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



European Reactions to Israel’s Gaza Operation

Tamas Berzi

  • Many countries such as Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic showed understanding for Israel and described Israel’s actions as self-defense. These countries generally used strong language against Hamas and demanded that it stop the rocket attacks unconditionally.
  • At the time of the start of the Israeli airstrikes, the European presidency was held by France. On December 27, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union condemned both the Israeli air raids and the Palestinian rocket strikes on Israel from Gaza and called for an immediate end to these activities. The statement also condemned the disproportionate use of force.
  • As of January 1, 2009, the Czech Republic took over the role of the Presidency of the European Union. On January 3, the presidency described the Israeli ground operations as an act of self-defense.
  • This drew heavy criticism from many European countries, and the Czechs apologized for the “misunderstanding” and issued a new statement, but one that did not call for an “immediate” ceasefire. In diplomatic language there is a significant difference between “as soon as possible” and “immediate.”
  • France has been traditionally the main driving force behind European foreign policy. The separate Sarkozy visit to Israel and his humanitarian ceasefire proposal showed that France was not ready to relinquish its positions to the Czech Republic.
  • The Czech positions during Israel’s Gaza operation indicate that the current presidency will work toward a more favorable international environment for Israel. However, Israel should try to make the most of it, since the upcoming Swedish presidency, which starts on July 1, 2009, will most likely be a more difficult time for Israel…

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



Gaza: Peres Says Relations Unchanged After Erdogan Argument

(ANSAmed) — DAVOS (SWITZERLAND), JANUARY 30 — Israeli President Shimon Peres has today said that relations with Turkey will not be changed by his heated exchange of words with Turkish Premier Tayyip Erdogan at the Davos Forum yesterday. “We do not want tension with Turkey. We have a conflict with the Palestinians”, said Peres to journalists at the Forum after Erdogan yesterday stormed out of a debate in which both leaders were participating. Peres added that he talked with Erdogan by phone yesterday evening, following the incident. “I do not see what happened as a personal or national problem. Relations remain the same. My respect for him remains unchanged. It was an exchange of opinions, and opinions are just opinions”, clarified the Israeli president. Peres went on to add that he hoped that Turkey would continue be a force of moderation in the Middle East: “Turkey should be a response to Iran…they offer a choice to the Middle East. I hope they will continue to do so”, concluded the Israeli president. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Gaza: Radio Reports Peres Did Not Apologise to Erdogan

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JANUARY 30 — A spokesperson of Israeli President Shimon Peres has told a military radio station that the president did not apologise to Turkish Premier Tayyip Erdogan for his behaviour in the debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos during their phone conversation last night. The claims thereby contradict reports that had come out earlier in Turkey. The spokesperson said that several misunderstandings were clarified in the conversations, but Peres made no apologies. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Holy Land’s ‘Oldest Church’ Found at Armageddon

As if Megiddo, the biblical city of Armageddon — scene of three millennia of battles, the last cavalry charge of the first world war and the final showdown between good and evil — did not have enough on its plate. Archaeologists now claim to have unearthed the remains of the oldest Christian church discovered in the Holy Land.

Unfortunately for Israel’s beleaguered tourism industry, the find was made behind the walls of one of the country’s maximum security prisons.

Inmates were put to work alongside the specialists to excavate a corner of Megiddo jail for the construction of a new cell block ready for the next intake of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants.

Toiling behind the barbed wire and watchtowers, they uncovered a detailed and well-preserved mosaic, the foundations of a rectangular building, and pottery dated to the third or early fourth century. One of several inscriptions on the mosaic floor in ancient Greek said the building was dedicated to “the memory of the Lord Jesus Christ”.

Other inscriptions name a Roman army officer, Gaianus, who donated money to build the floor, and a woman called Ekoptos who “donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration”. The table is believed to have served as an altar.

“There are no crosses on the mosaic floor,” said Yotam Tepper, an archaeologist who led the dig on behalf of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. “In their place is a picture of two fish lying side by side — a very early Christian symbol.

“This is an extremely dramatic discovery, because such an old building of this type has never been found either in the land of Israel or anywhere else in the entire region. The structure and the mosaic floor date back to the period before Christianity became an officially recognised religion, before St Constantine.

“Normally we have from this period in our region historical evidence from literature, not archaeological evidence. There is no structure you can compare it to — it is a unique find.”

The Roman empire forbade Christian rituals before AD313 and Christians were forced to worship in secret. The earliest churches, until this discovery at Megiddo, include the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, said to stand on the site of Christ’s crucifixion, dating from about AD330, and the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The inscriptions at Megiddo were interpreted by Professor Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University.

“I was told these were Byzantine but they seem much earlier than anything I have seen so far from the Byzantine period. It could be from the third or the beginning of the fourth century,” she said.The use of the word “table” in one inscription instead of “altar” might advance the study of Christianity, she said, because it is widely believed that rituals based on the Last Supper were held around a table used as an altar.

The church might never have been discovered had it not been for the needs of Israel’s ever-demanding security apparatus. Megiddo prison is home to about 1,200 “security prisoners” who are held in “administrative detention” without ever being told exactly what it is they are accused of.

The prison is a series of fenced-in compounds with the bulk of inmates sleeping in long brown army tents enclosed by barbed wire and surrounded by open sewers. The prisoners nicknamed the jail “Jabaliya” after a poor and overcrowded refugee camp in the Gaza strip.

Megiddo has long been described by religious scholars and archaeologists as the most important biblical site in Israel. Over the centuries, more than 25 cities rose and fell at Megiddo. Some were powerful commercial centres on the ancient thoroughfare between Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Five of the conflicts fought in the 30-mile-wide Jezreel valley around Megiddo are recorded in the Old Testament. The New Testament names Armageddon — a Greek corruption of the Hebrew word “har”, meaning mount, and Megiddo — as the scene of the final great battle between good and evil.

Some specialists remain sceptical about the latest discovery. “I think this is a little myth to boost tourism,” said Michel Piccirillo, a respected biblical archaeologist. “The idea that it is ancient comes from the pottery and the shape of the letters on the inscriptions, but this is not definitive.”

Israel’s tourism minister, Avraham Hirchson, is not deterred. “If we nurture this properly, then there will be a large stream of tourists who could come to Israel. There is great potential … “ he told national television.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



Middle East: Mitchell Postpones His Visit to Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 30 — U.S. President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy for Middle East George Mitchell postponed his trip to Turkey which was planned earlier as part of a regional tour. Mitchell’s visit to Turkey was postponed due to technical reasons and scheduling conflicts, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara said on Friday. “The way the schedule was very tight, we have tried very hard to make a trip to Turkey fit in, and it just could not for technical reasons,” Embassy Spokesperson Kathryn Schalow told the Anatolia news agency. Schalow said it was not clear when Mitchell would visit Turkey. As part of his Mideast tour, Obama’s special envoy Mitchell visited several countries including Egypt, Israel and West Bank. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Thousands of Al-Qaeda Supporters Active in Gaza

Ynet learns that thousands of Global Jihad supporters currently active in Gaza Strip; most are Hamas, Popular Resistance Committees members who objected to lull, any kind of compromise, Gaza source says

Thousands of global Jihad supporters, mostly concentrated in southern Gaza, are currently active in the Strip according to a Ynet inquiry with various Palestinian sources.

According to Ynet’s inquiry, the overwhelming majority of Qaeda supporters are in fact Hamas or Popular Resistance Commiittees (PRC) members who were unimipressed with Hamas’ decision to join the political establishment and run in the Palestinian elections. These members claimed that this prompted Hamas to abandon the path of Jihad, which they felt is the only way to liberate Palestinian lands from Israel’s control.

A source in an Islamic group in Gaza told Ynet that “these thousands of activists were educated that the war with the Jews must continue with no comprises or shortcuts, until judgment day arrives.”

“Once Hamas chose the political path alongside the path of resistance, thousands of people sought an alternative framework,” the source said, adding that the jihadists received the blessing of Sheikhs and religious clerics.

Another source in a Gaza group told Ynet that the Qaeda activists are not necessarily Palestinians who left Hamas or the PRC, “but rather, people who chose not to blindly abide by the decision to take part in the elections and the lull, and continued the path of war.”

According to the source, joining global Jihad gave Hamas members an opportunity to carry out attacks under a different umbrella, while Hamas seemingly remained committed to the lull.

Improved relationship

Fundamentalist Islam features a sometimes deep theological and ideological disagreement between the Islamic Brotherhood’s perception, represented in Gaza by Hamas, and the Global Jihad perception, represented by al-Qaeda. While the Islamic Brotherhood espouses resistance alongside tactical moves such as lulls, Global Jihad groups believe there is no room for tactics, but rather, only for a ceaseless holy war. PRC spokesman and senior figure Abu Abir is considered to be one of the most prominent representatives of the latter camp.

Yet despite the disagreements, the two camps usually operate in Gaza in complete coordination, with the exception of a few clashes. One such prominent dispute pitted the Army of Islam against Hamas. The two groups collaborated on the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, yet later on Army of Islam members said Hamas was oppressing them because of their commitment to armed struggle and rejection of the lull. Meanwhile, Hamas said most Army of Islam members were in fact Fatah members who chose the cover of Global Jihad in order to destabilize Hamas’ Gaza rule.

However, the Gaza War improved the relationship between al-Qaeda and Hamas. During the war, senior Qaeda figures, including Osama Bin Laden himself, expressed solidarity with and support for Hamas in the wake of the group’s struggle against the Gaza siege and its decision not to renew the lull in the Strip.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Middle East


Ahmadinejad Praises Erdogan’s Words in Davos

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his statements against Operation Cast Lead at the World Economic Conference in Davos.

“This was a brave act and exactly what I expected him to do,” he said. (AFP)

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



Mideast: TV, Mahmoud Abbas (PNA) to Ankara Next Week

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 30 — The president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, will visit Ankara next week for talks with the highest leaders of the Turkish government, announced private television channel Ntv without specifying a date. Ntv said that Abbas will certainly meet President Abdullah Gul but if there will also be a meeting with Premier Tayyip Erdogan is not yet clear. According to the network, the visit of the Palestinian president to Turkey has now become more important from a political-diplomatic level after yesterday’s incident in Davos between Israeli President Shimon Peres and Erdogan. Erdogan left the stage because he was angry for not getting an opportunity to reply to Israeli leader. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Turkey-Iran: Ankara Aims to Raise Trade to 20 Billion USD

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 27 — Turkish State Minister Kursad Tuzmen on Tuesday said that Turkey aims to raise its trade volume with Iran to 20 billion USD p.a. “Our trade with Iran was around 1.3 billion USD in 2002, but it was over 10 billion USD last year,” he told journalists aboard a plane to Iranian capital of Tehran, as Anatolia agency reports. Tuzmen is visiting Iran with a delegation comprised of 160 people and is scheduled to attend a seminar on improving economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries. The minister said that Turkey also aimed to export products to Iran more easily, and import Iranian products more easily, reduce customs tariffs, and form a regional economic zone with Iranian businessmen. Tuzmen said that Turkey also wanted to remove the fuel oil price difference with Iran. The Turkish minister underlined importance of trade with nation monetary units of countries, and said that Turkey was planing to achieve it with Iran. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Turkey: Talks With IMF Suspended for 10 Days, Says Premier

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 27 — Talks between Turkey and the International Monetary Fund on a loan deal have been suspended for 10 days, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday. “We decided to suspend the talks for 10 days” Erdogan told reporters. “Sensitive issues had been overcome although some others remain to be solved”, Erdogan said. The Turkish Prime Minister also said that he would meet IMF First Deputy Managing Director John Lipsky at the World Economic Forum in Davos. An IMF team has been in Ankara since January 8 for talks on an accord to replace the previous USD 10 billion standby loan agremeent that expired in May and help Turkey weather a global financial crisis. A few hours earlier, Economy Minister Mehmet Simsek told reporters that the talks would be temporarily suspended and that some issues remained to be discussed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Turkey Needs an Agreement With IMF, Turkish CB Governor Says

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 28 — Head of Turkey’s Central Bank (CB) said Wednesday that Turkey needed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Speaking to private TV channel NTV in Davos where he will be attending the World Economic Forum annual meeting, Durmus Yilmaz said that major issues in the way of an agreement with the IMF had been resolved. When asked to comment on the timing of the agreement, Yilmaz said “the sooner the better.” He said a stand-by agreement to be signed with the IMF could ease the credit crunch and pull the interest rates down a notch noting that effects of the recent measures taken by the CB would be seen in the summer. Yilmaz said the CB took a different growth target as reference, rather than the government’s target of 4%, adding that they did not declare it as talks with IMF were still in progress. Yilmaz who signalled that further cuts in interest rates would be made with more restraint, said he did not expect fluctuations in foreign exchange rates to push the inflation rate up. CB recently pulled down short term interest rates by 2%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Turkey: Thousands Welcome PM After Peres Clash

Istanbul, 30 Jan. (AKI) — Thousands of people gathered in Turkey’s Istanbul airport to welcome prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a day after he stormed out of a debate with Israeli president Shimon Peres during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Turkish demonstrators carried banners and chanted slogans in support of Erdogan (photo), who angrily left the forum when he was denied the chance to respond to Peres’ remarks defending Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza.

“Why did they fire rockets? There was no siege against Gaza, Why did they fight us, what did they want? There was never a day of starvation in Gaza,” Peres had stated.

While attempting to respond to Peres’ statements about the war in Gaza, Erdogan responded by saying Israel had carried out “barbarous” actions in Gaza.

“I find it very sad that people applaud what you have said because you know how to kill people,” shouted Erdogan before he left. There was more applause when he left the stage.

During a media conference after the incident, Erdogan clarified he walked out because he had been given much less time to speak than Peres.

“My reaction here was towards the moderator. Such moderation will cast a shadow over peace efforts,” Erdogan told the media, adding the moderator gave each speaker around 12-15 minutes to speak but he allowed Peres to talk for 25 minutes.

During the forum discussion, Erdogan sat next to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa. The latter was criticised by an editorial in pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi.

“It did not shock us to see Turkish premier Tayyip Erdogan, abandon the Davos Forum for not having been given the chance to reply to Shimon Peres. It did shock us to see Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa remain in his seat,” said the editorial.

After he arrived in Istanbul, Erdogan addressed the crowd and held a media conference. Turkish daily Hurriyet says that the road in front of Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul was covered with carnations.

However, on Friday, Peres and Erdogan spoke by telephone and agreed not to let the incident harm Turkey-Israel relations.

“I am very sorry for what happened. Friends can sometimes have an argument. I have always had a great respect for the Republic of Turkey and you as the prime minister. I consider myself as a friend of Turkey and Premier Erdogan,” Peres said during their phone conversation, quoted by Israel Radio.

Turkey, a key regional ally that had been sponsoring informal talks between Israel and Syria, was among the countries that condemned the Jewish state for its recent offensive in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 1,330 Palestinians and injured at least 5,400 others.

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

Caucasus


The Furious Passage of Tayyip Erdogan

By Robert Ellis

This is a guest column written by Robert Ellis; he is a regular commenter on Turkish affairs in the Danish press and his columns appeared in Turkish Daily News (now Hurriyet English) regularly.

Turkey’s prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is not a man who brooks being contradicted and a panel debate on the Gaza war at the World Economic Forum was no exception. What was hoped to be a bridge-building exercise to ameliorate Erdogan’s harsh criticisms of Israel’s incursion into Gaza and support for Hamas has turned out to be a public relations disaster.

Erdogan delivered his own presentation in a forceful tone, calling for Hamas to be included in the solution and expressing Turkey’s willingness to be included in the process. However, after Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, had made his presentation, Erdogan responded with a tirade against Peres but was reminded by the moderator of a time limit. Erdogan pushed the moderator away, rose to his feet and left the stage, declaring he did not think he would be coming back to Davos, because he had not been allowed to speak.

The reaction has not been long coming. This morning AJC, the American Jewish Committee, issued a statement calling Tayyip Erdogan’s attack “a public disgrace” and “gasoline on the fire of surging anti-Semitism”. Furthermore, last week AJC and four other American Jewish organizations sent a letter to Erdogan, expressing concern over the current wave of anti-Semitism in Turkey, and Erdogan’s outburst has done nothing to allay these fears.

Unfortunately the Turkish prime mnister has a track record of shooting himself in the foot, which, if the sport became an Olympic discipline, would guarantee him a number of gold medals.

At the EU summit in Copenhagen in December, 2002, when Turkey tried to press the EU to fix a date for starting accession talks, European leaders were shocked by Turkey’s “blackmail campaign”, and one prime minister called Erdogan’s behaviour “very counter-productive”. The French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, a representative of Old Europe, told a summit dinner: “It’s not enough to respect European law, you also have to be polite and civilized”.

At the EU summit two years later, when Turkey was finally given a starting date, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, declared “We were gobsmacked”, when at the end of the summit Erdogan suddenly refused to recognize Cyprus. The summit was almost derailed, and Erdogan’s volte-face caused Asselborn to remark: “We are not carpet dealers here in Europe.”

The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also experienced the Turkish leader’s abrasive style when Erdogan paid an official visit to Denmark in November 2005. After lunch there should have been a joint press conference, but when Erdogan learned that there would be a representative of the Kurdish tv station, Roj-tv, present, he immediately left for the airport, leaving Fogh Rasmussen to stand alone on the podium like an abandoned bride at the altar.

A fortnight ago Tayyip Erdogan paid his first visit to Brussels since the EU summit in December 2004 to revive Turkey’s flagging hopes of EU membership, but he immediately started off on the wrong foot. In a thinly veiled threat he informed the European Commission that he would review his support for the Nabucco gas pipeline if Cyprus continued to block the opening of the energy chapter of its accession talks. José Manuel Barroso, the EU Commission’s president, dismissed any connection between the two issues, and Erdogan, backtracking, declared that the project had enjoyed Turkey’s full support “all the time”.

At the same time Erdogan used his Brussels visit to express his support for Hamas, and called on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and the whole world to respect the election results as the will of the people “so that democracy could win in the Palestinian Autonomy and not to satisfy Mahmoud Abbas”.

Tayyip Erdogan’s latest outburst could threaten his ambition to be the Middle East mediator, and as he outlined in his presentation at Davos, Turkey has hosted five rounds of talks in the Israel-Syria question as a prelude to direct talks. There could be other fallout too. Turkey’s efforts to block the Armenian genocide resolution in Congress are contingent on the support of the Jewish lobby, and these efforts could come unstuck if President Obama keeps his pre-election pledge to recognize

the events of 1915 as genocide.

There could be another form of backlash. If Israel compares its struggle with Hamas to Turkey’s efforts to combat the PKK, and if the Jewish lobby in the USA seconds this motion, Turkey’s efforts to maintain its territorial integrity could be undermined.

There is also the shadow side of the humanitarian concern Tayyip Erdogan emphasized in his presentation. When the Turkish prime minister visited Khartoum in 2006, he declared that no genocide had been committed in Darfur, and Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir has twice been cordially received in Ankara. This raises the question of the sincerity of Mr Erdogan’s commitment and whether this is colored by his preoccupation with Islam.

Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish press and was also a frequent contributor to Turkish Daily News.

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

South Asia


Afghanistan: How We Lost the War We Won

[Comment from JD: Note the slant and the glowing descriptions. For those who don’t know, Rolling Stone is a leftist publication. Comments below the article are interesting.]

The highway that leads south out of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, passes through a craggy range of arid, sand-colored mountains with sharp, stony peaks. Poplar trees and green fields line the road. Nomadic Kuchi women draped in colorful scarves tend to camels as small boys herd sheep. The hillsides are dotted with cemeteries: rough-hewn tombstones tilting at haphazard angles, multicolored flags flying above them. There is nothing to indicate that the terrain we are about to enter is one of the world’s deadliest war zones. On the outskirts of the capital we are stopped at a routine checkpoint manned by the Afghan National Army. The wary soldiers single me out, suspicious of my foreign accent. My companions, two Afghan men named Shafiq and Ibrahim, convince the soldiers that I am only a journalist. Ibrahim, a thin man with a wispy beard tapered beneath his chin, comes across like an Afghan version of Bob Marley, easygoing and quick to smile. He jokes with the soldiers in Dari, the Farsi dialect spoken throughout Afghanistan, assuring them that everything is OK.

As we drive away, Ibrahim laughs. The soldiers, he explains, thought I was a suicide bomber. Ibrahim did not bother to tell them that he and Shafiq are midlevel Taliban commanders, escorting me deep into Ghazni, a province largely controlled by the spreading insurgency that now dominates much of the country.

[…]

The government of Pakistan, seeking to retain influence over what it views as its back yard, began helping the Taliban regroup. With the Bush administration focused on the war in Iraq, money poured into Afghanistan from Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, who were eager to maintain a second front against the American invaders. The Taliban — once an isolated and impoverished group of religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords — are now among the best-armed and most experienced insurgents in the world, linked to a global movement of jihadists that stretches from Pakistan and Iraq to Chechnya and the Philippines.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Indonesia: City Mosques Reject Islamic Formalisation

Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim country- has a 235 million inhabitants and 90 percent of them are Muslim. Most practise a moderate form of the faith.

Jakarta, 30 Jan. (AKI/The Jakarta Post) — Most managers of mosques in the Indonesian capital Jakarta embrace a moderate brand of Islam and support the unitary state of Indonesia, a university survey reveals.

Only a few wish for Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim country — to become an Islamic state, it added.

“Some 88.8 percent of the respondents approve of ‘Pancasila’ or state ideology and view the 1945 Constitution as the best model for Indonesia. As many as 78.4 percent agree that democracy is the best system of governance for Indonesia,” Center for the Study of Religion and Culture research coordinator Ridwan Al-Makassary told the media.

“However, we found a kind of split personality among the mosque managers. As citizens they support ‘Pancasila’ as the state ideology for the country, but as Muslims they support the establishment of an Islamic country,” another CSRC senior researcher Sukron Kamil said at the same forum.

The survey reveals that 31 percent of the respondents agree that Indonesians should enforce Islamic sharia law, 56 percent reject the notion, and 13 percent did not answer.

Some 74 percent did not agree that the main purpose of jihad was to wage war, and 15 percent said it was.

The study shows 75 percent reject that suicide bombing can be considered jihad, and 9 percent said it was acceptable, the study said.

However, when asked whether the state should have the authority to regulate Muslims’ dress code, a surprising 60 percent of the respondents said they agreed and 33 percent opposed the idea.

“Generally, the majority of mosques in Jakarta embrace moderate Islamic ideas and thoughts. Nevertheless, among the total is a small number with a tendency toward increasing radical Islamic ideas,” Ridwan said.

Masdar Farid Mas’udi of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization, said mosques were often used by clerics to preach “provocative sermons”, particularly aimed against people of other beliefs.

“Mosque preachers tend to create enemies and look for friends, while failing to bridge differences among other groups,” he told a discussion at the launch of another study, which would survey mosques in other regions, and in particular those affiliated with NU, which is widely known as a moderate Islamic organization.

The survey, released on Thursday, was conducted by the CSRC at Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University between November 2008 and January 2009. It surveyed 250 takmir masjid (mosque managers) in Jakarta.

Although the country has the largest number of Muslims in the world, Indonesia has substantial Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities. The country’s constitution recognises five religions and allows all its citizens to run for public office.

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



Indonesia: MP Jailed for Corruption in Anti-Graft Drive

Jakarta, 29 Jan. (AKI)- Indonesia’s anti-corruption court has sentenced former parliamentarian Sarjan Taher to four-and-a-half years in prison for accepting bribes related to a protected forest conversion in South Sumatra. He is the latest leader to be sentenced in the country’s anti-corruption drive.

Sarjan, who is from president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, was jailed on Wednesday for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in return for allowing forest clearing on the island of Sumatra.

Taher was paid five billion rupiah (445,000 dollars) in bribes by authorities in South Sumatra province and distributed the money to fellow lawmakers, chief judge Gusrizal told the court.

After the sentence was announced, Adnan Topan Husodo from Indonesia Corruption Watch told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the verdict was “positive” but more needed to be done to overhaul corruption in Indonesia.

“The verdict is positive but the parliamentarians are the product of a corrupt system and if this is not changed, I cannot see how we can resolve the problem,” Husodo said.

Husodo said the problem is related to how candidates are selected and the fact that MPs have to pay their own parties and spend money before parliamentary elections.

“When they arrive in Parliament they are already part of a culture of corruption. The difference now is they are thinking about the moment they accept it,” he told AKI.

In a separate case, another lawmaker was handed an eight-year jail sentence, while another is still on trial.

The conviction of Sarjan could see other legislators and officials face justice.

After the verdict, deputy Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) chairman for enforcement, Bibit Samad Riyanto, said the investigation would be expanded to include several other people implicated in the case.

The panel of judges found Sarjan guilty of receiving bribes from the South Sumatra administration to smooth the House’s approval of the conversion of a 600-hectare protected mangrove forest in Pantai Air Telang, Banyuasin regency, into the Tanjung Api-api seaport.

Sarjan’s sentence was six months lighter than that sought by prosecutors. His wife, attending the hearing, burst into tears when the sentence was handed down.

Sarjan said he would decide within seven days on whether to appeal, and asked the KPK to investigate the others involved in the case.

In response, Bibit said the KPK would collect evidence to bring other implicated parties to trial.

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



Indonesia: Senior Muslim Clerics in Jakarta Oppose Suicide Bombers and Radical Islam

Religious leaders in Indonesia’s capital back national unity and view democracy as the best form of government. Almost three quarters (74 per cent) are not against the separation of state and religion; 80 per cent reject the notion that violence is necessary to spread Muslim religion.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) — An overwhelming majority of senior Muslim clerics in Jakarta reject suicide bombings, believe in national unity and consider democracy is the best form of government, this according to a report released today.

The study was conducted by the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture (CSRC) at Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University between November 2008 and January 2009. It surveyed 250 takmir masjid (mosque managers) in Jakarta.

Some 88.8 per cent of them approve of Pancasila [Indonesia’s state ideology] and consider the 1945 Constitution as the best model for Indonesia.

As many as 78.4 per cent agree that democracy is the best system of government for Indonesia.

“However, we found a kind of split personality among the mosque managers. As citizens they support Pancasila as the state ideology for the country, but as Muslims they support the establishment of an Islamic country,” CSRC senior researcher Sukron Kamil said.

Only 31 per cent support the introduction of Sharia or Islamic law, 56 per cent are against and 13 per cent did not answer.

Some 74 per cent said they would not fight a government that refuses to implement Sharia law against 14 per cent who said they would.

Significantly, some 74 per cent did not agree that the main purpose of jihad was to wage war

“On the question of whether violence is allowed to uphold amar ma’ruf nahi munkar [guiding people to the right path], 89 per cent of the respondents reject it, 9 per cent agree and the remaining 2 per cent are undecided,” CSRC research coordinator Ridwan Al Makassary said.

The survey all shows that for 75 per cent of respondents suicide bombing cannot be considered jihad compared to 9 per cent who said it was.

“Generally, the majority of mosques in Jakarta embrace moderate Islamic ideas and thoughts.

Nevertheless, among the total there is a small number with a tendency toward increasingly radical Islamic ideas,” Ridwan said.

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



Pakistan: Christian Activist’s Life in Danger After Arrest on Blasphemy Charges

Hector Aleem was arrested at night at his home after he was accused of sending a blasphemous text message. Since then he has been allowed to see his family only once. Muslim clerics want the court to hand him over to them so that they can execute him. The blasphemy law under which he was arrested also penalises members of other minorities. Five members of the Ahmadi community were in fact arrested on the same charges; four of them minors.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — The life of Hector Aleem, the Christian peace activist arrested on 22 January in the Pakistani capital on blasphemy charges, is in danger, this according to his 24-year-old daughter Mehvish who told AsiaNews that a mob of Muslim clerics went to court demanding he be handed over to them so that they can put him to death.

Aleem was first brought before Pakistan’s Anti Terrorism Court on 23 January. At this initial hearing the 55-year-old director of Peace Worldwide was remanded into custody for five days at the RA Bazaar Police Station.

“The situation is very tense”, Mehvish Aleem said. “Police didn’t even allow us to see our father when he was produced in the court on 27 January for fear of extremists. [. . .] I see every one is under pressure by Muslim clerics. That is why we are not getting justice.”

“During this sad event we could only meet our father once with the help of Joseph France”, she added. Mr France heads the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an organisation that has agreed to represent Mr Aleem in court.

Hector Aleem was arrested over night on 21-22 January. “Suddenly many people jumped in the house,” his wife said, “some were in police uniform; others were in plain clothes.”

After turning everything upside down and scaring the family half to death, agents sought “to take my 13-year-old son, David John,” Ms Aleem said.

Aleem’s accuser is a militant in an Islamic organisation, claiming that the director of Peace Worldwide sent him a blasphemous text message on his cellphone.

Such incidents are commonplace in Pakistan, involving Muslims as well.

In fact five members of the Ahmadi community, a Muslim minority considered heretical by other Muslims, were arrested today according to a news report.

They are accused of writing offensive words about Muhammad in the latrines of a mosque in the village of Chank, Punjab province. One of them is 45-year-old man and the others are one 16-year-old and three 14-year-old boys.

An Ahmadi community spokesman said that since blasphemy legislation was introduced in Pakistan in 1986, 266 members of his community were arrested (as of December 2008).

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



Singapore Team Manager: Jordan Threatened: “Come to Jordan, You Die”

Those five words are what allegedly sparked off the tunnel brawl between the Singapore Lions and their conquered Jordanian counterparts after their Asian Cup qualifier match at the National Stadium on Wednesday.

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It’s what the Singapore team are claiming in the police report made by team manager Eugene Loo after the match which the Lions won 2-1.

But who had said it?

The remark was in reference to when the Lions travel to Jordan to play the return match on 3 Mar next year, which could determine if Singapore qualifies for the first time for the Asian Cup finals in 2011.

The New Paper brought Mr Loo to the office yesterday to see if he could identify the person whom, he claimed, openly made the threat to the entire Singapore team in the dressing room tunnel.

After seeing various pictures taken of the Jordan team at the stadium and yesterday morning at Changi Airport before they left for home, Mr Loo pointed out the Jordan team official in pictures taken at both venues.

After looking at more close-ups, he was sure it was this man whom he claims had ‘started it all’. A check on the Jordan team website revealed this man’s identity. He is Mr Jamal Abu Abed, assistant coach to Jordan’s head coach Eduardo Vingada [and FIFA ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages]

‘Spat on floor’

Mr Loo, 36, recounted to The New Paper what he had said in the police report: ‘We were walking back to our dressing room, and some of the boys were happy and celebrating.

‘The Jordan players were already in their own dressing room next door, and slammed the door when they heard us. Some of our boys naturally celebrated louder.’

‘But there was this Jordan official standing outside, smoking. He said something in his language, then said to us loudly for everyone to hear, ‘Come to Jordan, you die’.

‘He then spat on the floor.’

Mr Loo said this incensed some of the Lions. He alleged: ‘The Jordan players then opened their door and came out, and threw punches and that’s how the scuffle started.’

Mr Kahar, a volunteer Singaporean liaison officer of the Jordanian team, claimed he overheard a Jordan official later talking to the police at their hotel. He told The New Paper: ‘I overheard the Jordan official saying, ‘It is very easy for us to keep them in Jordan a few more days if we want to.

‘Since they are making it difficult now for us, we can do the same too’.’

A police spokesman told The New Paper that investigations are still going on regarding ‘a dispute at the changing rooms of the National Stadium on 28 Jan at about 9.50pm’ between ‘two groups of soccer players’.

Mr Loo also clarified earlier claims in media reports that the Jordan players had attacked the Lions with ‘brooms, a metal fan and a dustbin’. He said: ‘A group of them (the Jordan team) went back into the dressing room to take these items, and they only threatened to use them. That’s all. This is what was mentioned in the police report. But water bottles were thrown.

‘By that time, security personnel and Certis Cisco officers had already come in to help break up the scuffle.’

Players like Mustafic Fahrudin, fitness trainer Aleksandar Bozenko and reserve goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma’at were allegedly punched and hit during the scuffle. Mr Loo said: ‘Everyone was fine after, as the scuffle was broken up quickly. No one went to see the doctor. We had to act in self-defence.’

Match commissioner Subramaniam Rasamanickam, who was at the stadium, will submit his own independent report to the ruling Asian Football Confederation (AFC), said Mr P Sivakumar, Football Association of Singapore’s deputy general secretary. Mr Sivakumar also added that Singapore’s trip to Jordan next year for the return fixture will likely be classified as a ‘high-risk’ game.

He said: ‘This means there must be additional measures ensured by our Jordanian hosts to keep our visit free of unnecessary distractions or actions. ‘This applies to the hotel, to the playing venue, transportation and security. Otherwise, we can call the AFC and report any complaint on the spot.’

Mr Loo said the Lions plan to take their own chef ‘to ensure their food intake is done properly’. They will also take along their own security officers to ensure their needs are met.

Mr Sivakumar added: ‘We’ll surely get a hostile reception in Jordan, but we have confidence in our Jordanian hosts to treat us fairly. ‘We must also have confidence in ourselves and stay focused in our task to win in Jordan next March.’

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Far East


China: State Media Goes Global

[Comment from JD: This differs from the West’s MSM which is fair balanced and impartial. /sarc]

Even as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is projecting hard power across the four corners of the earth, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is mapping out a multi-pronged strategy to publicize globally the apparent viability of the “China model”.

The administration of President Hu Jintao is spending around 45 billion yuan (US$6.58 billion) to boost what party insiders call “overseas propaganda” (waixuan gongzuo). Prominent state media including CCTV and Xinhua news agency will vastly enhance programs and news feeds in different languages for Western and Asian audiences, and an English news channel modeled on al-Jazeera is set to let the world get the Chinese take on issues and events ranging from politics and finance to culture and religion.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Don’t Expect China to Get the West Out of This Mess

With the markets crashing once more and the last rites being pronounced over Western capitalism, the consensus is that autumn 2008 is when global economic power will have been seen to pass to Asia in general and China in particular. This is the new economic powerhouse. Its growth may slow a little while the West flounders, but it will emerge from this recession as the world’s centre of economic and financial gravity. Goodbye, USA. Hello, the Chinese Communist party.

It is fashionable foolishness that ignores some brute realities. The first is that Asia, except Japan, remains in essence a subcontractor to the West. Two-thirds of China’s exports, for example, are made by foreign companies who essentially reprocess imports of semi-manufactured goods that are then shipped to Europe and the US. It is an economy that does not innovate — it is the great copier and counterfeiter of Western technology. This may change over the next 200 years, but not during the lifetime of most of the people reading this column.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Latin America


Caracas Synagogue Vandalized

Venezuelan Jews alarmed by increasing anti-Semitism after vandals daub ‘Jews get out’ on synagogue walls

“We don’t want Jews here” and “Jews get out” were the slogans daubed on a Caracas synagogue’s walls Saturday.

David Bitan, vice president of the Jewish community in Venezuela, told Ynet that late Friday night a number of assailants broke down the synagogue’s door and threw scripture books on the floor, then proceeded to graffiti the hateful slogans on the walls.

“We found the guard on the floor, he had been threatened with a gun,” Bitan said. “Until 3 am they destroyed the offices, opened the Ark of the Covenant, and threw the Torah books on the floor.”

He said the Jewish community had filed an official complaint with the police. “This is a very complicated situation for the Jews in Venezuela. The slogans were not against Israel but against the Jews,” he said.

Bitan added that the community has been troubled by numerous anti-Semitic acts over recent years, and a spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities in Venezuela, Daniel Ben-Naim, said the incident testified to the increasing hatred of Jews in the country…

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]



Spain: 20,000 Requests for Spanish Passports From Cuba

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 29 — The Spanish Consulate in Havana received 20,000 requests for citizenship from Cubans in the last month, says the online version of El Mundo. An additional clause to the Historic Memory law approved in Spain last December 29 allows first and second generation descendents of Spaniards exiled during the civil war to have Spanish passports. The Consulate has already approved 40 requests. Sources say that 300,000 to 400,000 requests are expected, and around 150,000 should receive a positive response and a Spanish passport by the end of 2010, when the period for application expires, although it will probably be extended for another year. An additional statement explains that any Spaniard who abandoned the country between July 18 1936 and December 31 1955 will be considered an exile. The Consulate has taken on extra personnel to guarantee the handling of 325 cases per day beginning in March. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Immigration


Tunisia: Emigration Attempts Foiled

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, JANUARY 30 — Two groups of would be illegal immigrants have been halted in Tunisia by the country’s National Guard. The first case, which resulted in the arrest of eight people, took place in Nabeul, an area on the gulf of Hammamet. This group of eight were halted on the beach just before they were to board a small fishing boat heading to Lampedusa. The second group, which comprised ten men, were stopped in a vehicle which they were using to cross the Sahara in order to pass into Libya undetected, before continuing their journey by sea. These ten, like the other eight, have been arrested and will be trialled. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars


Driver’s Licenses Let Applicants Pick Gender

State allows men to identify themselves as women

The state of Massachusetts, which has been at the forefront of normalizing homosexual relationships in law, has taken a bold new step to allow applicants for drivers licenses to select their gender on officials documents.

The decision by Rachel Kaprielian became public when an organization promoting family values obtained a copy of a letter she dispatched to a homosexual lobbying organization.

The letter to Marc Solomon of MassEquality said the state Registry of Motor Vehicles “has amended its policy to enable transgendered individuals to more easily change the gender designation on their licenses and identity cards.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

General


Books: What Arabs Think of a Hussein in the White House

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 2 — “There are many Obamas in the Arab world. There are those who portray him as a man with all the necessary qualifications for writing a new chapter in the history of relations between the USA and the Middle East, and there are those, instead, who see him as yet another puppet dangling from the fingers of the powerful. And there are many positions between these two extremes: ‘Arab thought’ is a complex thing, especially today”, thanks to the burgeoning new media. The words come from Donatella Della Ratta and Augusto Valeriani, two young researchers who have become seasoned travellers between the capital cities of the Middle East and adept at navigating the blogs of the Arab world. They are speaking about the book they have edited, ‘Un Hussein alla Casa Bianca. Cosa pensa il mondo arabo di Barack Obama’ (A Hussein in the White House: What the Arab World Thinks of Barack Obama), published by Odoya. It is the work of many hands, of a group of young scholars and with an introduction by Khaled Fouad Allam, who is careful to make it clear that this is no attempt to reduce “the extreme complexity” of the Arab World to simple schemata, but instead to open some “windows” on a variegated universe. And so the choice falls naturally on Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite TV station which has wrought a revolution in the media of the area, as on a series of other pan-Arab titles — such as the London-based dailies Al Hayat, Al Sharq Al Awsat and Al Quds al Arabi — which also address and influence the outlook of another Arab audience, this time of the Diaspora in the West. But their gaze also falls on a champion of those tens of thousands of blogs which have emerged from these countries in recent years, especially from Egypt, with the aim of gathering popular opinion. And so significant differences come to the fore between the expectations of US Arabs and the concerns and scepticism of the Palestinians, or of the visions of students in Amman. It is a panorama compiled by some exponents of what the two editors choose to refer to, sardonically, as “a self-convened and self-financed research group” which would perhaps be called a ‘think tank’ in Obama’s country, they observe acerbically, but which in today’s Italy, “which is often incapable of seeing beyond its own image” and does not invest in its own future, they can only hope to introduce “a breath of fresh air and openness to other worlds”. Supporting them in this enterprise is Bologna-based Odoya, which has decided to make the text of the book available online in collaboration with Creative Commons, which offers six different forms of copyright restrictions for those wanting to share their own works with a broad readership. It was a choice, says publisher, Marco De Simoni, which is intended to be “a first step on a work in progress which thrives on opinion, debate and public discussion” whether on the Web or via events, being also a “proposal to the world of the media and journalism”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Calls for Banning Moroccan Film Deemed Offensive to Veil

Despite international praise, the award-winning Moroccan film “Veil of Love” is facing strong criticism at home. Member of Parliament Abdelbari Zamzemi told Aujourd’hui Le Maroc on Friday (January 9th) that the movie is “spreading a clear call to abandon the veil”.

The film, directed by Aziz Salmi, opens in theatres at the end of the month.

According to Salmi, “Veil of Love” depicts the realities of five women, each with her own position towards the veil. It talks about the day-to-day lives of the women and the problems they have to endure in a traditional community.

“I presented an ordinary issue that exists in our society,” Salmi said, “which is the suffering of an average girl lost between modernity and conservatism; between observation of religious values and being lost in love.”

Zamzemi, who represents the Islamist Party of Renaissance and Virtue, said it is not as simple as that. The movie offends the Muslim community and traditions, he said. “The film shows a veiled girl having an illegitimate relationship with a young man,” Zamzemi said in his interview. “It also shows veiled girls smoking the hookah.”

Zamzemi vowed to take the argument to the parliament and maybe further. “I will work on having a decision passed by the Minister of Communications to ban the film,” he said. “I also demand that the government shoulder its responsibilities.”

Director Salmi insists there should be no opposition to his movie, saying it does not offend Muslims. He said his main character wears the veil only during the holy month of Ramadan “as most Arab women do”.

“In my work, I didn’t address religious, permanently-veiled women.”

“Through my film,” Salmi added, “I wanted to raise discussion over the contradictions in Moroccan society; between authenticity and modernity… I only dealt with the questions that can be posed today about the issue of veil, and how it is taken by some women as a means to an end. In this way, I’m not generalising the issue for all veiled women.”

Salmi said scenes that include couples kissing and other intimate moments were taken from reality. He said that in his preparations to direct the movie, he walked around in a park in Casablanca and recorded seeing women in veils walking hand-in-hand with men, and in some cases kissing.

“Therefore, I only depicted daily social practices.”

Salmi said he wanted the public to judge his product.

Cinema critic Ahmed Boughaba said that nowadays the veil does not necessarily represent religion. Some women put the veil on as a complement to what they wear, as an accessory. “The film talks about this contradiction and discusses the meaning of religious identity in relation to the veil.”

The movie was screened outside official competition at the Marrakech International Film Festival in November. In December, it won the award for best leading actress at the 10th National Film Festival in Tangier.

Student Souhaïla Berradi said it appears that the movie ventured into stigmatisation and belittlement. “I believe the director lacks inspiration,” she said, “because there are many other causes that Moroccan cinema could defend.”

Noureddine Jammali, an IT worker, defended the director’s actions. “The artist has the right and privilege to create whatever he wants without requiring approval or permission from those whose job it is to wield the arbitrary powers of censorship,” he said.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]



Tear Down the Amazon Rainforest Idol

‘Save the trees’ more political myth than environmental truth

Major media sources are finally beginning to acknowledge what WorldNetDaily has been reporting for years: The world’s rainforests aren’t the desperately endangered and depleted resources that the environmentalist mantra makes them out to be.

Eight years ago, WND reported on scientists, studies, Brazilian natives and even disillusioned environmental activists who testified that the Amazon rainforest, far from disappearing at human hands, is actually thriving and replenishing itself through the secondary growth that emerges after a section of older trees is eliminated.

This week, the New York Times reported that scientists are now recognizing that secondary growth around the world is happening much faster and much more effectively than environmentalists advertise.

“These new ‘secondary’ forests,” the Times reads, “are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rainforest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought.”

The Times continues, “By one estimate, for every acre of rainforest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



US-EU Trade War Looms as Barack Obama Bill Urges ‘Buy American’

The prospect of a trade war between the US and Europe is looming after “Buy American” provisions were added to President Barack Obama’s $820 billion (£573 billion) stimulus package.

The EU trade commissioner vowed to fight back after the bill passed in the House of Representatives late on Wednesday included a ban on most purchases of foreign steel and iron used in infrastructure projects.

The Senate’s version of the legislation, which will be debated early next week, goes even further, requiring that any projects related to the stimulus use only American-made equipment and goods.

The inclusion of protectionist measures has quickly raised hackles in Europe.

A spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU trade commissioner, said: “We are looking at the situation. The one thing we can be absolutely certain about, is if a bill is passed which prohibits the sale or purchase of European goods on American territory, that is something we will not stand idly by and ignore.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



WWIII: the Super Revolution — Lay-Offs Will Lead to Violence — the Communist & Far Left Hell Dream…

[Jeff Nyquist and I often discussed the idea that a massive financial crunch like this is the communists’ dream. They would like to use this type unrest and unhappiness to spread Marxism and create worldwide revolution including in First World countries like the USA. The idea would be to foment massive revolution as a pre-cursor to World War III. This scenario could be becoming real the way things are going. We are in for one hell of a time. I’m watching the DOW as today it edged right to the verge of 8,000, which I’ve always thought could be an important number if it dives below it.

Most interestingly, Obama wants to spend $800+ billion, but less than 6 months ago, Bush floated a $700 billion aid package. That is $1.5 trillion spent in 6 months! In many ways, US Economics has some shades of Zimbabwe in it.

But, bad news is good news, and I don’t mind if the communists want to start world wide revolutions. I just want to see how many communists we can get to KILL! Jan]

Belem — Lay-offs around the world brought on by the economic crisis will result in social upheaval and violence that could herald the death of capitalism, unions meeting at the World Social Forum in Brazil said.

Such unrest would be a painful but necessary step towards a new world order that is being delayed by efforts to save the old, crippled one, argued the labour organisations, mostly from Latin America.

“It’s obvious the effects of this crisis will be large-scale social conflicts,” Martha Martinez, the Americas director for the World Federation of Unions, told trade unionists on Thursday. […]

[…] “The crisis is something good and positive, because it has opened the way to discuss and to revise the (world economic) model,” Sonia Latge, the political science director for Brazil’s Workers’ Central of Brazil, said.

“I think the future of the planet is socialist,” she said. — AFP

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Something Under the Business Model is Drooling

Pajamas Media, the Left Coast “balanced” blog conglomerate, has slammed the door on all its associate bloggers. Roger Simon is the CEO and his charmless pink slip reads much like the nastygram we got back when they banned us for daring to be politically incorrect. Of course, since we were being banned rather than merely made redundant, we got a phone call, too, informing us of our sins.

This time, PJM is not just booting the bad little bloggers who color outside the lines, like Gates of Vienna. Now, as of April 1st, it’s shutting the doors on all those bloggers who signed on and stayed on with them through the past few years. One would think that they’d have enough courtesy to at least personalize their form letter a bit. But no, everyone got the identical heave-ho.

Roger and PJM


In case you weren’t around then, or have forgotten, our sin was in posting an essay which described possible scenarios if Europe continued in its downward spiral of lawlessness and demographic decline. We were careful to bracket the discussion as descriptive, not normative. Truth to tell, I don’t think the folks in charge out in Hollywood understand the difference between these two categories.

At the point we were canned, I realized we weren’t dealing with conservatives at all. Instead, this entity, PJM, consisted of some venture capitalists and a front man, all of them 9/11 converts – as in “Help! We gotta do something!” But their conservatism was barely skin-deep. They’ve been in Hollywood too long to even notice or care beyond whatever numbers they need to generate in order to consider themselves successful. Out there, appearance trumps everything.

Atlas Shrugs has a good description of what went wrong. She also suggests, in her inimitable way, that she could have done it better with one hand tied behind her back. I think she might be right.

Now, having one failed business plan under its fedora, PJM is turning its talents this time in the direction of a hybrid, something called PJ-TV…
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Our satellite hookup does not easily allow us to watch streaming video, so I haven’t experienced their new paradigm firsthand. But from what I’ve read – and that’s not much – their new model is a paid subscription to watch talking heads bloviate. Good heavens! Isn’t that what they do on television already, for free? Are there really enough people willing to fork over money to watch people they don’t know say predictable things on a computer screen? And just how are people who sneak their blog reading at work going to get away with having streaming video up and running during work time?

TV is easy to make fun of, but at least their front men are pretty enough and while what they say is mostly nonsense, they say it with a bit of verve.

In other words, I can’t imagine this new model succeeding. Have any of you ever had the experience of showing up to hear a beloved author talk at a book signing only to find that he or she is a bit lusterless in person? I am afraid that is the future of PJ-TV. People will wander away.

Tiger Hawk suggests some good reasons for the failure of the blogger side of PJM at this juncture. Among other points, he says:

There are probably a number of reasons, but the main one — the decline of conventional internet advertising — overwhelms the otherwise reasonable premise behind Pajamas Media.

Conventional internet advertising is generally down. Mainstream media sites have seen a huge surge in traffic in the last few years, but a decline in online revenue. Suffice it to say that this is very bad news for the big news organizations, which were hoping that online business would grow quickly enough to sustain their newsgathering operations. It is also bad news for people who want to sell ads on blogs, because it means that they are competing with a very hungry mainstream media

I’m glad we don’t have to sell ads to meet the expenses of running the blog. We never set out to try to make a living as bloggers; that would make it work and the Baron already has a job that supports us both. Yeah, I’d like to see him get paid for this, but then again, I’d love to be well enough to go to work myself. However, as we’ve all learned the hard way, man proposes…

When we first started, the expenses were few. But as we’ve grown, we’ve had to add a site to store images and an internet satellite connection, in addition to keeping our dial-up ISP for emergency use. Satellite connections don’t like bad weather.

Eventually, as Blogger becomes more restrictive and/or whimsical, we’ll have to migrate to another site. That gargantuan task will definitely be put off until it reaches the “HAVE TO” stage.

I feel sorry for all the about-to-be former PJM bloggers who have been shown the door. But at least they have two months’ notice to make other arrangements. That’s more than we outlaws got, though, as I said, being thrown into the outer darkness was indeed a liberation. Our readers was instantly generous in making up the short fall and then some. Notice we haven’t had to do a bleg since that first one. And still ad free!

Most of the bloggers who’ve been made redundant will also find this to be true. I wish them good luck in their transition back to the regular ol’ blogosphere.



Yes, it is indeed frowned upon to create your own versions of Calvin and Hobbes. Putting Calvin in Roger’s fedora and changing the title probably doesn’t make it, huh?

Sorry, Mr. Watterson. We simply couldn’t resist. Calvin is Everyman at one point or another (which is why your books continue to sell after all these years). In this episode and at this juncture, Calvin most resembles the hapless Roger Simon.

For our European readers not familiar with Calvin and Hobbes, please see Something Under the Bed is Drooling. Two generations of American children have learned to read on their own by perusing the pages of Bill Watterson’s comic strips.

If You’re Going to San Francisco…

Takuan Seiyo has posted the latest installment of “From Meccania to Atlantis” at the Brussels Journal. Below are some excerpts:

San Francisco’s actual Chief of Police now is an affirmative-action diminutive Chinese-American female from the accounting department who is the laughingstock of the police force. The rate of unresolved murder cases in San Francisco is so high that the city has tried, unsuccessfully, to solicit help by offering $100,000 rewards to people who would come forward with information.

At a loss, the city’s leaders elected what else but a transgender person, Theresa Sparks, as President of the San Francisco Police Commission. Mr./Ms. Sparks’ qualifications for the job consist in his/her managing a vibrator company which was recently running a special under the slogan, “August is Anal Sex Month; 15% off select Anal Toys.”

To bolster this team with some serious dose of law-enforcing testosterone, San Francisco got itself a female District Attorney who bestows additional glory on the city by being half Tamil-Indian and half-black. Kamala Davis Harris refuses to seek the death penalty for murder, which is the law of the land, plea-bargains murder cases, and fails to prosecute criminals arrested with firearms. San Francisco police officers take a dim view of this, what with their own being murdered by criminals that the District Attorney has failed to prosecute. But the need to keep their jobs muzzles their mouths.

- – - - – - – - -

Of late, Ms. Davis Harris has made the news due to her office’s failure to prosecute Edwin Ramos, a vicious Mara Salvatrucha gangbanger and illegal Honduran alien, who had been arrested on illegal gun possession charges, and then released instead of being at the least deported. One month later Mr. Ramos would be arrested for the murder of Tony Bologna, 48, and his sons, Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16. The murder weapon has since been linked to two other murders.

San Francisco’s metrosexual mayor is given to utterances like, “You know we’re the only city — I think we’re the only big city in America… there may be an exception or two…. that women are running the Police Department, Fire Department and our emergency services. That’s why I feel so safe.”

Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.

How Long Will This Farce Go On?

Vlaams Belang on Turkey and the EU

From the Vlaams Belang website, our Flemish correspondent VH has translated two refreshingly clear-eyed views of Turkey and its relations with the European Union.

The first article:

Turkey is sliding down further

At the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos, an unusually sharp incident occurred between the Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Islamist and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who accused Israel of “putting people to death.” On which Peres — who however can not be considered to belong to the more hard line politicians — defended himself by saying: “What would Turkey do if there are ten or a hundred rockets fired on Istanbul?” Erdogan walked away angrily.

In recent years the relationship between Israel and Turkey has deteriorated ever further, although they were loyal allies for a long time. The latter is not that strange as it may seem at first glance. The Turks and Arabs have been regular enemies for centuries. Before the fundamentalist AKP of Erdogan came to power, Turkey was a militant secular state that did not look towards the Middle East, but to the West. Relations with the United States and Israel were very good. In recent years, since the AKP came to power, not only the de facto alliance with Israel has been abandoned, but the entire pro-Western orientation of Turkey.

For more than eighty years the secular and western-minded Turkish elite has managed to maintain its power, thanks to the support of the army. For the last few years they have increasingly been losing their grip on events. The Islamists are becoming stronger year after year, and Islam is gradually, step by step, becoming a sort of state religion. Not officially, but in practice. Parallel to this, Turkey is focusing increasingly on the Middle East, on Iran and the countries in Central Asia where Turkish-related languages are spoken. The recent alliance between Turkey, Iran (!) And Syria is yet another sign on the wall. This is not only a bad sign for Israel. It is also a bad sign for Europe and throughout the Western world. The European Union remains blind and deaf to that dangerous trend and will continue negotiations as if nothing has happened.

The second article:
- – - - – - – - -

Progress Report = Decline Report

Negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the EU should have been stopped a long time ago. A clear condition was declared from the outset that accession negotiations would be suspended if Turkey did not stick to the imposed conditions.

Turkey has trampled these conditions for many years, but the EU just lets it go. The Turks realize only too well that they need not worry. A witness to this is an article on the website of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, in which the journalist in a satirical manner ridicules the lax attitude of the EU.

The journalist calls a spade a spade: “The term ‘progress report’ is a Brussels’ euphemism for a ‘decline-report’. The text… looks like that of a school report of a difficult student whose parents regularly donate money to the school.”

With the difficult student he obviously meant Turkey and the generous parents symbolize the EU, which in the meantime has already handed out €1.8 billion in grants to Turkey.

On the basis of this comparison, the journalist strikes one blow after the other. “Instead of saying that the boy was a bandit, the report says: ‘He has not yet made enough progress to change to a decent young man’…”

Another euphemism: instead of saying that the boy is obsessed by certain aspects of his religion and is intolerant towards his unbelieving fellow pupils, the report says: “He must learn to respect students from other beliefs.” The first equation relates without any doubt to the human rights in Turkey that are violated too often. The second concerns Islamism in Turkey, which is on the rise again, as shown by the present rule of AKP party of Prime Minister Erdogan.

Conclusion: The Turks are very well aware of their position in the negotiations, and scoff at the lack of decisiveness on the part of the EU. How long will this farce go on?

Fjordman: A History of Optics, Part 4

The latest installment of Fjordman’s treatise on the history of optics has been posted at Dhimmi Watch. This is part 4 of 6; see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Here are some excerpts:

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, traditional photography was gradually replaced by digital techniques. Asian and especially Japanese companies such as Sony played a major role in the digitalization of music, movies and photography, in addition to Western ones. However, with the creation of photography in early nineteenth century, advances in chemistry were crucial.

Chemistry developed out of medieval alchemy. In India, alchemy was used in serious metallurgy, medicine, leather tanning, cosmetics, dyes etc. The work of Chinese alchemists facilitated inventions such as gunpowder, which was to revolutionize warfare throughout the world. Although their views differed considerably in the details, scholars in Japan, China, Korea, India, the Middle East and Europe as late as the year 1750 would have agreed that “water” is an element, not a compound of hydrogen and oxygen as we know today. Likewise, the fact that “air” consists of a mixture of several substances was only fully grasped in the second half of the eighteenth century. The easiest way to date when chemistry was born, as distinct from alchemy, is when scholars started talking about “oxygen” instead of “water” as an element. This transition happened in Europe in the late eighteenth century, and only there.

Ibn Warraq in his books is critical of Islam but gives due credit to scholars within the Islamic world who deserves it, a sentiment I happen to share. One of them is the Persian physician al-Razi (865—925), known in the West as Rhazes, the first to describe the differences between smallpox and measles. Here is the book Why I Am Not a Muslim, page 266:

- – - - – - – - -

“Al-Razi was equally empirical in his approach to chemistry. He shunned all the occultist mumbo jumbo attached to this subject and instead confined himself to ‘the classification of the substances and processes as well as to the exact description of his experiments.’ He was perhaps the first true chemist as opposed to an alchemist.”

He considered the Koran to be an assorted mixture of “absurd and inconsistent fables” and was certainly a freethinker, but unlike Ibn Warraq, I still view Rhazes as a committed alchemist who believed in transmutation and the possibility of turning base metal into gold. Another well-known Persian scholar, Ibn Sina or Avicenna (ca. 980-1037) was more skeptical of the possibility of transmutation. After the gifted alchemist Geber in the eighth century, a number of scholars in the Middle East, among them Rhazes, made some advances in alchemy, for instance regarding the distillation of ethanol (alcohol) as a pure compound. Some of Geber’s work was later translated into Latin. Belief in the possibility of transmutation was not necessarily stupid according to the understanding of elements of the time. Here is David C. Lindberg in The Beginnings of Western Science, second edition, page 291:

“Aristotle had declared the fundamental unity of all corporal substance, portraying the four elements as products of prime matter endowed with pairs of the four elemental qualities: hot, cold, wet, dry. Alter the qualities, and you transmute one element into another… It is widely agreed by historians that alchemy had Greek origins, perhaps in Hellenistic Egypt. Greek texts were subsequently translated into Arabic and gave rise to a flourishing and varied Islamic alchemical tradition. Most of the Arabic alchemical writings are by unknown authors, many of them attributed pseudonymously to Jabir ibn Hayyan (fl. 9th-10th c., known in the West as Geber). Important, along with this Geberian (or Jabirian) corpus, was the Book of the Secret of Secrets by Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi (d. ca. 925). Beginning about the middle of the twelfth century, this mixed body of alchemical writings was translated into Latin, initiating (by the middle of the thirteenth century) a vigorous Latin alchemical tradition. Belief in the ability of alchemists to produce precious metals out of base metals was widespread but not universal; from Avicenna onward, a strong critical tradition had developed, and much ink was devoted to polemics about the possibility of transmutation.”

The Scottish scientist Joseph Black (1728—1799), a friend of the engineer and inventor James Watt (1736—1819), discovered carbon dioxide. It was by now quite clear that “air” consisted of several different substances, which led to further experiments in pneumatic chemistry. The great English experimental scientist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) identified hydrogen, or what he called “inflammable air.” Another Englishman, Joseph Priestley (1733—1804), a contemporary of Cavendish who corresponded with him, is usually credited with discovering oxygen, although Scheele had in fact done so before him. The Frenchman Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (1743—1794) noted its tendency to form acids by combining with different substances and named the element oxygen (oxygène) from the Greek words for “acid former.” He worked closely with the mathematical astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749—1827) in developing new chemical equipment.

It is worth noting here that Watt, a practical man of steam engine fame, and the brilliant theoretical scientist Laplace both made contributions to the advancement of chemical science. This illustrates that theoretical science and applied technology were now gradually growing closer, a development of tremendous future importance which in my view had begun in Europe already in the eighteenth century, if not before, but whose effects would only become apparent some generations later.

Several observers noticed that water formed when a mixture of hydrogen with oxygen (or common air) was sparked, but they were cautious in their conclusions. Cobb and Harold Goldwhite, page 159-160:

“Lavoisier did not hesitate. He made the pronouncement that water was not an element as previously thought but the combination of oxygen with an inflammable principle, which he named hydrogen, from the Greek for the begetter of water. He claimed priority for this discovery, making only slight reference to the work of others. There was perhaps understandably a furor. Watt felt that Cavendish and Lavoisier had used some of his ideas, but of course all three owed some debt to Priestley. Again it may be asserted that the significance of Lavoisier’s work lies not in the timing of his experimental work but in his interpretation of the results… Lavoisier however saw it as the combination of two elements to form a compound… Laplace favored a mechanical explanation of heat as the motion of particles of matter (as it is currently understood), but Lavoisier described heat as a substance. This material he called caloric, the matter of fire… His true accomplishments however were that he broke the Aristotelian barrier of four elements, established the conservation of mass as an inviolate law, and confirmed the need for verifiable experimental results as the basis for valid chemical theory.”

Lavoisier is generally considered the “father of modern chemistry.” He had not yet fully arrived at the modern definition of a chemical element, but he was a great deal closer to it than past scholars and had given chemists a logical language for naming compounds and elements. Lavoisier and Laplace now conducted a number of studies of respiration and concluded that oxygen was the element in air necessary for life. Although himself an honest man, Lavoisier represented the hated tax collectors and found himself on the wrong side of the French Revolution which began in 1789. He was guillotined during the Reign of Terror after the revolutionary judge remarked, “The Republic has no need of scientists.”

Read the rest at Dhimmi Watch.

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/30/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/30/2009The pernicious politically motivated investigation of “war crimes” by uninvolved countries is in the news again: Spain may try Israel for its actions in Gaza. Presumably Bush and Cheney will be next.

Also, look at the news about immigration in the UK.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CB, El Ingles, Holger Danske, Insubria, JD, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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USA
Alinskyite Obama Hopes to Hush Rush
Bill Ayers: ‘Gutter-Crawling Rat’
Book: Welcome to Obamaland: I Have Seen Your Future and it Doesn’t Work
Detroit: Broadcast Angers Muslims
Expert: Voting Machines Easily Altered
Freezing Death of Mich. Man in House Sparks Anger
Headscarves and Decorum in US Courts
Obama ‘Friend’: End of Israel ‘Within Reach’
Stimulus Bill Would Give Payments to Illegal Aliens
Super Bowl, Commercial-Free, at Islamic Center
U.S. Muslims to Hold D.C. Human Rights, Media Conferences
What Critics Missed About Treasury Chief
 
Europe and the EU
Cinema: Taghmaoui, to Win Fame I Would Emigrate Again
Czech Workers’ Party Attacks Govt, Romanies in Court Statement
Denmark: Police Have Good Pictures of HA Attacker
Finnish CO Seeks Asylum in Belgium
France: Support Lower Than Expected in National Strike
Guidonia Rapists Nearly Attacked Another Woman Half an Hour Earlier
How Iceland’s Fairytale Came Crashing to Earth
Israel Foils Hizbullah Attack in Europe
Italy: Fascist Era Racial Laws ‘a Deep and Lasting Wound’ Says Berlusconi
Netherlands: Threatened Anti-Wilders Lawyer Granted Bodyguards
Spain: ETA Vows to Fight on as it Marks 50th Anniversary
Spain’s Probe of Israelis Presents Legal Quandary
Sweden: Row Breaks Out Over Rosengård Report
UK: Britain Has Survived Worse Times Than This
UK: Muslim Population ‘Rising 10 Times Faster Than Rest of Society’
UK: Taking Photos of Police Officers Could be Considered a Crime
 
Balkans
Macedonia-Croatia: Agreement on Minority Rights
Serbia-EU: Netherlands; Too Soon to Present Candidacy
 
Mediterranean Union
Fishing: Ministry Urges Respect for Libyan Fishing Area
Lebanon: 4 Mln Euro From EU for 2009 Elections
 
North Africa
Islam: Ben Achour Sees Need to Get Past Islamism “Ghosts”
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Gaza: Cast Lead, 2 Failed Attempts on Hamas Commander’s Life
Israel: Defence Minister Slams Spain War Crimes Probe
Mideast: Olmert May Clear Out 60,000 Settlers, Media
Mideast: UN Appeals for 613 Million Dollars to Help Gaza Recover
 
Middle East
Islam: Qualified Women Can Issue Fatwa, According to Experts
Kuwait: ‘Suspected Saudi Al-Qaeda Recruiter Arrested’
Lebanon: Only English Newspaper ‘The Daily Star’ Shuts Down
Nasrallah: Lift Siege Without Political Preconditions
Nepalese Immigrants Converting to Islam in Order to Work in Arab Countries
Saudi Arabia: Police Question Prisoners Over Al-Qaeda Links
Squabbling Among Arabs Need Not Paralyse the Region
Telecom: Emirates Invest in Iran Telephony
 
Russia
Who is Pulling the Trigger?
 
South Asia
Indonesia Muslims Stage Obama Protest
Indonesia: Trial for Singaporean Suspect
Indonesia: Indon Retail Islamic Bonds
 
Far East
S. Korea: No Room for Violence
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
S. African Jews to Take on Deputy FM Over Slurs
 
Immigration
Algeria: Ouyahia, Migration is a Tragedy
Bangkok Denies Refugee Status to Rohingya
Indonesia: Rohingya to be Deported
Lampedusa: 100 More Restrictive Decrees
Netherlands: Indian Workers Change Dutch Expat Demographics
UK: Deportation Delays ‘Costing £10m’
 
Culture Wars
What if Christianity’s Critics Got Serious?

USA


Alinskyite Obama Hopes to Hush Rush

[Comment from JD: …not just Rush…watch out for “Fairness Doctrine”…]

In his eight full years as the recipient of endless vile and often-delusional slander, President George W. Bush rarely grumbled, much less counterattacked his tormentors. Yet before he completed his first week in office, President Barack Obama — a dedicated disciple of Saul Alinsky, who is to left-wing radicalism and social agitation what Karl Marx is to communism — declared war on Rush Limbaugh.

This was a calculated move by a man who professes to be open to all ideas but apparently brooks no dissent. He not only does not tolerate dissent well but also really doesn’t even like to be questioned, as we saw during the campaign, when he accused the normally fawning press of grilling him for merely asking a follow-up question. We caught another glimpse of this last week, when he showed irritation at the White House press corps for daring to ask him a policy question after he had decreed that the sole purpose of his visit was to press the flesh.

But Obama’s effort to target Rush is not just his ego at work. He has begun a full-court press to advance his extreme left-wing agenda and was angling both to garner enough Republican support to insulate himself against future accountability for failure and to validate his self-styled image as a bipartisan uniter.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Bill Ayers: ‘Gutter-Crawling Rat’

I know the eyes of terrorists. I first glimpsed into the soulless eyes of terrorists when I visited the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the mastermind of 9/11 is caged. On Wednesday, as nearly 1,000 patriots stood in bitterly cold weather to protest against Bill Ayers, who was a guest of St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., I once again recognized that darkness.

In both instances, I looked through glass at the terrorists. And both times, I felt the same shiver that electrifies the spine when you recognize evil.

My nonprofit organization, Move America Forward, worked with other pro-America groups to show St. Mary’s and Ayers that they will no longer get a pass in society. For too long, Ayers — whose group, the Weather Underground, caused the death of people with crude bombs — has been received by academia and other nitwits who pooh-pooh his radical actions during the 1960s and ‘70s.

Even President Barack Obama was Ayers’ buddy, a fact that didn’t faze Americans blinded by Obama’s socialistic “change” mantra.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Book: Welcome to Obamaland: I Have Seen Your Future and it Doesn’t Work

If the election of Barack Obama fills you with dread rather than elation, you’re not alone; in fact, pull up a chair next to James Delingpole who has seen this all before and knows exactly where America is heading: into a morass of sprawling government that will slowly start suffocating our economy, our liberties, and our culture. You might as well call it socialism, he says, because that’s what it is. In Britain it came in under the smiling face of Tony Blair and has left the British bulldog castrated, whimpering, and sick; in America it’s coming under the vibrant, youthful guise of Barack Obama. But the result will be the same: the brave, independent American eagle will become the American turkey, oven-basted by the nanny state of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Detroit: Broadcast Angers Muslims

Leaders want radio station to stop airing comments by priest they say defame Muhammad.

SOUTHFIELD — Muslims and interfaith leaders in Metro Detroit are asking a local radio station owner to discontinue broadcasts in which, they say, a Coptic priest has repeatedly defamed the Prophet Muhammad over the past year.

In an Arabic-language broadcast Wednesday on WNZK 680/690 AM, the Rev. Zakariah Boutros said the Muslim prophet Muhammad had engaged in necrophilia and gay sex, according to the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Boutros has previously come under fire from area Muslims, who say he disparages Islam. The controversial, American-based priest can be heard on purchased time slots on radio stations internationally. His words have stirred controversy in Egypt and Great Britain, and are embraced by a number of bloggers and Web sites that criticize Islam.

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Amani Mostafa, who hosts the program “Questions About Faith” on which Boutros spoke Thursday, said Boutros was “reading from an Islamic text” when he said, over the air, that the Prophet Muhammad slept in the grave of a dead woman and allowed a man to kiss and caress his chest.

“I am a former Muslim,” said Mostafa, who is now Christian. “I know exactly what I am talking about. These are the things we were taught as children. We are quoting the Quran and the Hadiths, and if the Muslims have a problem with that then they have a problem with their own book.”

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Expert: Voting Machines Easily Altered

A Princeton University professor demonstrated in court today how New Jersey’s most widely used voting machines can be opened with a screwdriver and their computer chips swapped by hand.

“The machines are large and heavy. They’re left in the polling places for a few days until a trucking company can pick them up,” Andrew W. Appel, a computer-science professor, testified. “Many of the polling sites are unlocked. Anyone … can open it up and replace the software inside with fraudulent software.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Freezing Death of Mich. Man in House Sparks Anger

BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) — When neighbors went inside Marvin Schur’s house, the windows were frosted over, icicles hung from a faucet, and the 93-year-old World War II veteran lay dead on the bedroom floor in a winter jacket over four layers of clothing.

He froze to death — slowly and painfully, authorities say — days after the electric company installed a power-limiting device because of more than $1,000 in unpaid bills.

The old man’s sad end two weeks ago has led to outrage, soul-searching and a resolve never to let something like this happen again.

“There’s got to be a way in today’s computer age they can find out if someone’s over a certain age,” said Chad Sepos, 37, a copy machine installer who lives a block away in this Lake Huron city of 34,000 people, about 90 miles from Detroit. “It’s just sad.”

One of the saddest things of all was that Schur appeared to have plenty of money, and, in fact, one of the neighbors who entered the home reported seeing cash clipped to a pile of bills on the kitchen table. Schur’s nephew suggested the old man’s mind may have been slipping.

Schur, or “Mutts,” was a retired foundry worker who lived alone, his wife having died a couple of years ago. The couple had no children. He could often be seen through the big front window of his comfortably furnished home of 50 or 60 years, watching TV or keeping an eye on his neighborhood.

On Jan. 13, a worker with the city-owned utility installed a “limiter” on Schur’s electric meter after four months of unpaid bills. The device restricts power and blows like a fuse if usage rises past a set level. Electricity is not restored until the device is flipped back on by the homeowner, who must walk outside to the meter.

Bay City Electric Light & Power did not contact Schur face-to-face to notify him of the device and explain how it works, instead following its usual policy by leaving a note on the door. But neighbors said Schur rarely, if ever, left the house in the cold.

At some point, the device evidently tripped and was not reset, authorities said. Schur’s home was heated by a gas furnace, not electricity, but some gas furnaces do not work properly if the power is out.

Neighbors discovered Schur’s body on Jan. 17 in his home, a yellow house with peeling paint. The outside temperature ranged from a high of 12 degrees to a low of minus 9 on Jan. 15, the day he was believed to have died. A heating pad was on his favorite armchair by the window. The oven door was open, perhaps to heat the place.

“The body has a tremendous fighting power for survival. He died a slow, painful death,” said Dr. Kanu Virani, who found frostbite on Schur’s foot when performing the autopsy. Investigators are trying to establish how long he was without electricity.

City officials are reviewing their procedures and in the meantime have suspended shutoffs and removed all limiters from homes after using the devices for 18 years.

The medical examiner is looking into whether Schur suffered from dementia, particularly after police found enough cash lying around in the home to cover his bills. His nephew William Walworth said Schur told him two years ago he had $600,000 in savings.

“It’s definitely not a situation where money is an issue. The issue has to do with the mental faculties you have and your ability to make good decisions,” said Walworth, 67, who lives in Ormond Beach, Fla.

“I think the utility’s policies are horrible and insane,” he added. “For 50 years he paid the bill on a regular basis and never had problems. If people would know who their customers are and take concern for their customers, maybe they’d go knock on the door and see if everything is OK.”

Neighbors and others have posted messages on the Internet, complaining it was a shabby way to treat a veteran and demanding city employees be fired or prosecuted for not taking a few minutes to check on Schur, who was a medic in the South Pacific and earned a Purple Heart.

One blogger noted that even a pet owner who leaves his dog outside to freeze can face charges.

Sharon Gire, director of the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, said Schur’s death was preventable. “He was one of Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens in need,” she said. “It is a tragedy that he had to suffer such a painful death.”

Michigan’s big, state-regulated utilities are not allowed to shut off power to senior citizens in the winter and must offer payment plans to the poor. State regulators also discourage the use of limiters. But Michigan’s 41 smaller municipal utilities — Bay City’s included — are not overseen by the state.

[Return to headlines]



Headscarves and Decorum in US Courts

By by Ghazia A Sheikh and Wasim Q Malik

A few weeks ago, a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf was barred from entering a Georgia state courthouse in the US. She responded with abusive language and was subsequently held in jail briefly for contempt of court. This was not a singular incident and several other Muslim women have been disallowed from entering US courts while wearing hijabs in recent months. Their refusal to comply with the standard security procedures, insistence on entering the court on their own terms, and often violent and abusive outbursts directed at the officials, led to their arrests for brief periods (e.g. Haleema Abdullah in Nov. 2007). At other times, the women involved left quietly (Aniisa Kareem in July 2007, Sabreen Abdul Rahman in Dec. 2008).

As expected, these cases have precipitated a wave of protests from Muslims in the US and around the world, with the implicit claim that the women concerned were imprisoned purely for their choice of dress, conveniently ignoring their obnoxious behavior toward the public officials. The protest slogans sometimes decry perceived illegal discrimination on the part of the judge against a Muslim woman because of the former’s alleged religious or racial bias. Another point of view invokes liberalism, arguing that the freedom to choose one’s dress should be a fundamental right in a liberal, pluralistic society. Proponents of this view speak of the necessity to allow religiously mandated attire and the law’s protection against discrimination toward any religious sensitivities.

These charges exist on entirely different planes and therefore require different courses of action if indeed they are found to be true. The former questions the legality of the judge’s conduct while the latter is based on the constitutional provision of individual freedom within defined limits. Their advocates, however, are often guilty of muddling them together and invoking passion based on communal ties to further confound the issue. The consequence is the usual cry of helplessness and indignation from Muslims that they are oppressed and discriminated against for no fault of their own but only because of the unreasonable biases of the rest of the world colluding against them…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Obama ‘Friend’: End of Israel ‘Within Reach’

Activist boasts ‘Western support, complicity’ starting to crack

Accusing the Jewish state of “genocide,” an anti-Israel Palestinian activist once commended by President Obama has predicted the end of Israel, which, he boasted, is “within reach, in our lifetimes.”

In a piece earlier this month titled, “Why Israel won’t survive,” Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian online publication, accused Israel of war crimes and gloated, “Now, the other pillar of Israeli power — Western support and complicity — is starting to crack. We must do all we can to push it over.”

“It is Israel as a Zionist state, not Palestine or the Palestinian people, that cannot survive this attempted genocide. Its problem is legitimacy, or rather a profound and irreversible lack of it,” wrote Abunimah.

[…]

According to quotes obtained by Gulf News, Abunimah recalled a 2004 meeting in a Chicago neighborhood while Obama was running for his Senate seat. Abunimah quoted Obama telling him “warmly” he was sorry that “I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race.”

“I’m hoping when things calm down, I can be more up front,” Abunimah reportedly quoted the senator as saying.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Stimulus Bill Would Give Payments to Illegal Aliens

WASHINGTON — The $800 billion-plus economic stimulus measure making its way through Congress could steer government checks to illegal immigrants, a top Republican congressional official asserted Thursday.

The legislation, which would send tax credits of $500 per worker and $1,000 per couple, expressly disqualifies nonresident aliens, but it would allow people who don’t have Social Security numbers to be eligible for the checks.

Undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for a Social Security number can file tax returns with an alternative number. A House-passed version of the economic recovery bill and one making its way through the Senate would allow anyone with such a number, called an individual taxpayer identification number, to qualify for the tax credits.

A revolt among GOP conservatives to similar provisions of a 2008 economic stimulus bill, which sent rebate checks to most wage earners, forced Democratic congressional leaders to add stricter eligibility requirements. That legislation, enacted in February 2008, required that people have valid Social Security numbers in order to get checks.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Super Bowl, Commercial-Free, at Islamic Center

Some 250 teenage boys will pile onto the carpet of the Islamic Center of Passaic County on Sunday to catch the Super Bowl on a big screen. But when the much-buzzed-about commercials come on, they won’t be watching. A youth leader manning the projector slaps a piece of paper over the lens, blocking out images the center considers inappropriate, such as beers and bikinis.

“The purpose is to keep them away from bad influences,” said Emad Hamdeh, the youth committee director. “The beer commercials show people happy while drinking; that’s not reality.”

During the self-imposed blackouts, the boy fans don’t heckle in protest, said Hamdeh. He uses the breaks to talk about the purpose of life. As in “entertainment is OK, but shouldn’t be the purpose of life,” he said.

Not much of a football fan himself, Hamdeh said the boys have never had to stop in the middle of an exciting play to perform their obligatory daily prayers. If it did happen, however, Hamdeh is sure the imam would say “it’s OK to pray by yourself later.”

— Sachi Fujimori

Some 250 teenage boys will pile onto the carpet of the Islamic Center of Passaic County on Sunday to catch the Super Bowl on a big screen. But when the much-buzzed-about commercials come on, they won’t be watching. A youth leader manning the projector slaps a piece of paper over the lens, blocking out images the center considers inappropriate, such as beers and bikinis.

“The purpose is to keep them away from bad influences,” said Emad Hamdeh, the youth committee director. “The beer commercials show people happy while drinking; that’s not reality.”

During the self-imposed blackouts, the boy fans don’t heckle in protest, said Hamdeh. He uses the breaks to talk about the purpose of life. As in “entertainment is OK, but shouldn’t be the purpose of life,” he said.

Not much of a football fan himself, Hamdeh said the boys have never had to stop in the middle of an exciting play to perform their obligatory daily prayers. If it did happen, however, Hamdeh is sure the imam would say “it’s OK to pray by yourself later.”

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



U.S. Muslims to Hold D.C. Human Rights, Media Conferences

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — On February 6 and 7, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), a coalition of 12 major Islamic organizations, will hold back-to-back conferences focusing on human rights and the media.

SEE: http://www.americanmuslimvoter.net/

The February 6 event, “American Muslims in the Mainstream: An Exchange of Notes Between Alternate Media and Muslim Political Organizations,” will cover issues such as American Muslim political growth and development, Muslim voting patterns and historical trends in the Islamic community.

On February 7, the AMT “U.S. Human Rights Convention” will feature speakers such as Missouri State Assembly Member Jamila Nasheed, Iowa General Assembly Member Ako Abdul Sammad, Democracy Now Host Amy Goodman, Professor Ali Mazrui of state University of New York, and Cherif Bassiouni, professor of law at DePaul University.

Other speakers will include former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, peace activist Cindy Sheehan, Egyptian human rights activist Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and Aitzaz Ahsan, former president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Unthinkable Happens: U.S. Professors Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

But when you think of it, it’s organic and logical, if the barbarians have seized the helm of education and culture. 25 years ago such an idea would have seemed outside the realm of conceivable thought. It would have been cast along aside the relics of Nazi past.It’s here. For first time, U.S. professors call for academic and cultural boycott of Israel In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, a group of American university professors has for the first time launched a national campaign calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. While Israeli academics have grown used to such news from Great Britain, where anti-Israel groups several times attempted to establish academic boycotts, the formation of the United States movement marks the first time that a national academic boycott movement has come out of America.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



US Muslims Hopeful But Wary of Status Under Obama

NEW YORK — Many American Muslim leaders are eager to help President Barack Obama improve the image of the United States in the Islamic world, but they worry that their contribution might not be welcome. The broad suspicion of Muslims in the country since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks persists in keeping many U.S. groups from working with the Muslim community, they say.

“These issues are not going to go away just because we have a president now who has more understanding of the Muslim world,” said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group based in Los Angeles. “We’ll actually be under more scrutiny now that these issues are going to be raised at the top of the Obama administration.”…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



What Critics Missed About Treasury Chief

Geithner presided over Wall Street collapse as regional Fed president

NEW YORK — While the nomination of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner generated plenty of heat because of his failure to pay income taxes for five years, almost unnoticed amid the controversy is the fact that he presided over the failure of some of the largest banking institutions in the world — institutions he was charged with overseeing and regulating as head of the New York region of the Federal Reserve Bank.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU


Cinema: Taghmaoui, to Win Fame I Would Emigrate Again

(by Cristiana Missori) (ANSAmed) — AGADIR — ‘‘France is not ready to accept that an actor with Moroccan origins managed to make it big in Hollywood. Until now, the French haven’t been able to deal with the fact that I’m one of them. To succeed in the my work, I would emigrate again, even tomorrow.’’ These were the words of Said Taghmaoui, an actor who has become a symbol for the young generations in the Parisian suburbs. Taghmaoui was born in Villepinte in France, graduating from high school in 1973, and he grew up in Aulnay-sous-Bois, in La rose des vents’, one of the most isolated and deprived areas on the Parisian borders, which in 2005 became the epicentre of the demonstrations which brought the suburbs of the French capital to a complete state of chaos. The French actor was in Morocco to chair the ‘‘Cinema and Migrations’’ Festival which was held over the past few days in Agadir, in Berber territory (his family’s place of origin), and he did not mince his words towards his native country since he said his life itself was the product of migrations. ‘‘In France’’, he stated, ‘‘there are extreme conservatives and bad habits, which are difficult to shake off’’. Things have not changed much in France since his debut in Jean-Claude Flamand’s Putain de porte’ (1993), and more significantly since his writing of La Haine’ (L’odio) alongside Mathieu Kassovitz in 1995, which was filmed with Vincent Cassel and launched him onto the international scene. ‘‘You need at least one, maybe two generations, he explained, to overcome prejudices and discriminations towards us’’. It is difficult however, to argue that the fault lies solely with French institutions which must manage emigration, since from Morocco alone today there are over 1 million 131 thousand people. ‘‘Actually’’, Taghmaoui stated, ‘‘I believe that we should talk about acceptance and not integration’’. ‘‘If you feel that you are constantly being rejected’’, he went on, ‘‘you close yourself in, because you need to protect yourself. So you like for others who look like you. If there was just a bit more love, we would be able to speak about an us’’’. Immigration is also the history of personal and family dramas, the telling of terrible suffering and a great deal of violence. ‘‘You have to be very strong to not allow yourself to be devoured by the inequalities, to not fall into that spiral of hate, to keep going and to have hope and to tell yourself that you will not have one and only one walk-on role in your life’’. Said Taghmaoui has not changed. In his movements, in his gritty slang of the suburb where he comes from, and from where, obviously, he says he is happy to be out of. ‘‘My feelings towards Aulnay are great. But I am happy to have left the stupidity and segregation behind me.’’ Future outlook? In 2009 Taghmaoui will appear in The reawakening of the Cobra by Stephen Sommers, Le pain nu (The naked bread) by Rachid Benhadje, in Kandisha by Jerome Cohen-Olivar and in the highly popular American TV series Lost’, as well as appearing in a music video for U2. ‘‘I have a lot of plans in mind’’ Taghmaoui stated. The actor has managed to shake off the role of the bad arab’ which he had been saddled with. ‘‘I decided’’, he said, ‘‘to move to the other side of the cinema world and to set up my own production company’’. Returning to France? ‘‘I have no problems with France. They are the ones who have a problem with me. Our history as Moroccan-origin French citizens is very clear. They are the ones who have not got over the issue of colonialisation’’. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Czech Workers’ Party Attacks Govt, Romanies in Court Statement

Brno — The Czech extreme right Workers’ Party (DS) criticises the government and attacks Romanies from Litvinov, north Bohemia, in its statement destined for the Supreme Administrative Court (NSS) that its spokeswoman Sylva Dostalova provided to CTK today.

The party submitted the statement at the court’s request that deals with a government proposal that the party be dissolved.

The DS denies any link with neo-Nazi groups, saying that similar claims are a provocation by agents or “the secretariats of the government parties.”

NSS will discuss the government proposal in a public hearing on February 18.

The Interior Ministry justifies its proposal mainly by that the DS has allegedly roofed various extreme rightist and neo-Nazi groupings, for instance, the National Resistance.

Besides, it speaks against the democratic regime in the country, the ministry says.

DS chairman Tomas Vandas has denied this, saying “it is but a claim that, however, is eventually perceived by many as truth when repeated thousand times.”

The DS says defends its participation in last year’s action at the Janov housing estate in Litvinov that turned into a hard clash between the extremists and police.

The DS claims that people in Litvinov complain of “an intolerable situation created by Gypsies who have entirely demolished a part of the town, terrorise peaceful inhabitants and completely fail to honour not only laws, but even the minimal norms of decent behaviour,” the DS said.

The party claims that the clashes were provoked by Romanies on the order of former Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities Minister Dzamila Stehlikova.

Dostalova said the court would not comment on the statements for the time being.

Interior Minister Ivan Langer said previously the DS is an extremist party.

He cited a statement from October 17, 2008, in which the party “declared zero tolerance of the post-November (1989) political system, for whose removal it has been calling for a long time.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Denmark: Police Have Good Pictures of HA Attacker

Copenhagen police say they have good, recognisable pictures of the man who attempted to shoot a Hells Angels biker in a Copenhagen juice bar on Thursday. The shots missed the man, but he was wounded by splinters and treated in hospital. Police say it was pure luck that no-one else in the juice bar was hit.

There were ugly scenes outside the hospital as police and biker supporters faced off, with police using pepper spray on one occasion to pacify at least one supporter.

The target of the attack, who has previously been the security consultant for the bankrupt IT Factory CEO Stein Bagger, was sitting in the bar with another man, hours after helping police with their inquiries in connection with the IT Factory bankruptcy.

“We have good pictures of the attacker, but we would like him to turn himself in. Otherwise we may be publishing the pictures,” says the Copenhagen Police Central Investigation Unit spokesman.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Finnish CO Seeks Asylum in Belgium

Tuukka Masalin, a conscientious objector from Jyväskylä, who refuses to do both military service and alternative non-military service, has sought political asylum in Belgium. In August he was given a six month prison sentence, which was to take effect at the beginning of January. Masalin left Finland shortly before the sentence was to begin. He is now staying at a reception centre for asylum seekers near Brussels. On the web site of the Finnish Union of Conscientious Objectors, Masalin says that he hopes to raise public debate in Finland. He sees the conscription system as unfounded, and the system of civilian service as a mere substitute for the military.

Masalin says that he chose to refuse all types of national service because of the many problems that he sees in the current conscientious objection system. He says that the duration of alternative service is unreasonable, compared with what most conscripts have to serve in the military. He also says that the prison sentences handed down on those who refuse all service are unreasonably long, and questionable from the point of view of human rights. The Union of Conscientious Objectors has given its support to Masalin’s efforts.

Masalin is not the first Finnish CO to seek refuge in Belgium. In 2001 another Jyväskylä resident, Jussi Hermaja, sought political asylum in Belgium. He was refused, but Finland did not demand his extradition. Hermaja’s sentence expired in the autumn of 2006, and he is no longer subject to mandatory military, or civilian service.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



France: Support Lower Than Expected in National Strike

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JANUARY 29 — A lower turnout than expected today in France, even though the general strike against the policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy over the global crisis caused major disruptions in several cities. More or less half of teachers observed the strike, while a quarter of postal workers and a quarter of railway workers were absent. The underground and buses in Paris were working almost normally, while 100% of workers on the suburban RER B line observed the strike. Air traffic suffered delays with 12% of flights cancelled at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle and 35% at Orly, with serious problems for those trying to reach the capital via regional trains. At 1pm today a crowd of demonstrators gathered at Bastille square in Paris, marching towards Place de la Republique and on to place dell’Opera. Around 200 other marches were organised today throughout France to demonstrate to defend purchasing power and salaries. Initial estimates set the figure at 60,000 demonstrators in Bordeaux, 30,000 in Lyon, 300,000 in Marseille (20,000 according to the police, with no public transport operational since this morning, and several thousands of demonstrators in the western cities of Caen, Le Mans, where the strike was widely supported. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Guidonia Rapists Nearly Attacked Another Woman Half an Hour Earlier

Confession in custody to using axe during assault

ROME — “Half an hour earlier, we were going to rape another woman”. Mirel Huma, 20, the youngest of the four Romanian rapists at Guidonia, has confessed. Huma described to Carabinieri the details of the night of horror in Via della Selciatella on 23 and 24 January. He also related how a companion, the only one with his face uncovered, screamed at the terrified 21-year-old: “Keep still or I’ll kill you, damn it” in Roman dialect.

Huma’s confession chills the blood. Here it is: “Half an hour before the rape, another car with a courting couple had parked in Via della Selciatella. We broke a window with pliers and an axe, told the occupants to get out and took their cash and mobiles. Then we decided to rape the woman. But her boyfriend was too tall and heavily built to fit in the car boot. We reckoned it would be too complicated to rape the woman and keep him quiet at the same time so in the end, we didn’t bother. The couple left and we stayed hiding in the bushes because we knew that it wouldn’t be long before more victims would turn up. Sure enough, along came the Opel Corsa driven by the woman we raped”. No tears, not a single word for the person whose life they ruined forever. Huma tells his story lucidly, without emotion: “We waited for them to switch the lights off and settle down on the back seat. We broke a side window and told the man to get out. We locked him in the boot and then moved the car 200 yards to a dump where we knew no one ever goes. It’s isolated. The woman was on the back seat. We got out and then one after the other, got in again and raped her. I hesitated at first but then I did it like all the others. In fact, I raped her twice. We took the chain she was wearing as well and left on foot with both mobiles and the man’s shoes. For several days, we hid in a house in Castel Madama, waiting for the Romanian who owns the BMW to come and collect us”.

The plan failed, thanks to the huge effort mounted by the Rome-based Carabinieri investigation unit under the direction of Major Lorenzo Sabatino. Last Monday, 250 officers were deployed at every motorway tollbooths and service station from Rome to Bologna, waiting for the BMW with Romanian number plates that was carrying the fugitives. By the end of the operation, officers had arrested the four rapists, Mirel Huma, Marcel Cristinel Coada and brothers Lucian and Ciprian Trinca, aged from 20 to 23, and their two accomplices Mugurel Goia, 22, and Ionut Anton Barbu, 30. Today or tomorrow, the Tivoli investigating magistrate will decide on validation of custody. Another member of the gang also confessed yesterday. In the meantime, the justice minister, Angelino Alfano, announced that the government intends to grant legal aid to the victims of sexual violence, saying: “We will find the necessary resources through savings made by eliminating legal aid for convicted Mafia bosses”. Yesterday evening, Italy’s and Romania’s foreign ministers Franco Frattini and Cristian Diaconescu spoke at length on the telephone (Mr Diaconescu’s first words were: “I’m appalled”). Yesterday morning, Mr Frattini had harsh words to say about the Guidonia rape: “These criminals should serve their sentence in their own country and Romania should agree to this. It would be genuine European solidarity, without pointing the finger at anyone”.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



How Iceland’s Fairytale Came Crashing to Earth

Iceland is the northernmost country in the world. J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired to write “Lord of the Rings” after visiting the Land of Fire and Ice, a country of volcanic regions and glaciers. Tolkien depicts it as Mordor, dwelling place of the evil Sauron, while the French proto-science fiction writer Jules Verne describes the geysers as “gates of hell” in his novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Only 20 years ago, Iceland’s main industry was cod fishing. In a land that supports little farming or livestock breeding, fishing was the only source of significant revenue. Iceland came three times to the brink of war with the U.K. over cod fishing grounds, so vital was the industry. Until the mid-1970s, Icelandic military helicopters and British gunboats often engaged in firefights during the cod fishing season.

But in 2007, the UN named Iceland as the best country to live in. Per-capita gross national income was US$66,500, the fifth highest in the world, and the uninhabitable wastes that inspired visions of hell seemed to have been transformed into a chilly paradise. The reason was that Iceland in the early 1990s opened its financial markets and aggressively wooed foreign capital.

With a population of just 300,000, even a trickle of money would lead to price instability, so foreign investors swooped like vultures on the country in search of a quick buck as soon as Iceland’s central bank raised interest rates. That led to the rapid growth of Iceland¡¯s financial industry and transformed its industrial structure. The cod-fishing byword for gloom became the booming financial hub of Northern Europe. Armed with ample foreign currency reserves, Icelandic banks now went fishing for foreign companies, and citizens bought new homes wholly on foreign currency loans.

Now the dream is in tatters. Iceland’s external debt as of the second quarter of last year stood at $120.5 billion, seven times its gross domestic product. When financial institutions around the world began reeling in their loans all at once, Iceland immediately fell into default. A $2.1 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund in November was no use. The coalition government collapsed after consumer prices went through the roof and unemployment soared, leading to mass protests in the streets. But there is little the new government can do. There are forecasts that it could take more than 20 years for Iceland just to emerge from bankruptcy. The country is paying dearly for a lavish lifestyle founded on ground even less solid than its geyser-riddled crust of volcanic rock.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Israel Foils Hizbullah Attack in Europe

Israeli intelligence agencies recently succeeded in thwarting a major Hizbullah terror attack against an Israeli target in Europe, Channel 2 reported Wednesday, citing security officials.

The attack was reportedly thwarted by Israel in conjunction with a European intelligence agency.

Hizbullah planned the attack to avenge the February 2008 assassination of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, the report said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Italy: Fascist Era Racial Laws ‘a Deep and Lasting Wound’ Says Berlusconi

Rome, 27 Jan. (AKI) — Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s laws against Jews in Italy remain “a deep and lasting wound”, the country’s conservative prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday in a speech to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. Mussolini in 1938-1939 passed a series of discriminatory laws against Jews including a ban on their intermarriage with gentiles and employment in a range of professions. Jewish teachers and pupils were also banned from state schools.

Italy’s ‘racial laws’ followed increasingly discriminatory anti-Jewish legislation enacted by Germany’s Nazi regime , culminating in the mass killings of European Jews in concentration camps during World War II.

“On this day, 64 years ago, the gates of Auschwitz were broken down. This day and that place symbolise the extermination of a people which has left a permanent stain on the history of humanity,” said Berlusconi (photo).

He was referring to the Allied liberation of the one of the most notorious Nazi death camps at the end of World War II.

Over one million people died in Auschwitz, of whom 90 percent were Jews from all over Europe, according to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

Approximately six million European Jews died in the Nazi death camps during the World War II Holocaust or ‘Shoah’ as it is called in Hebrew.

It is believed the total number of Nazi death camp victims was between nine and eleven million people, including Roma Gypsies, homosexuals,the disabled, political and religious opponents of Nazism, Soviet civilians and prisoners of war and ethnic Poles.

“We will never forget them,” said Berlusconi.

“The government invites teachers and pupils in all Italian schools to study the Holocaust Remembrance Day to reinforce the value of peace and of peaceful coexistence between peoples,” he added.

The anti-Jewish laws as “are still felt as a deep wound inflicted not only on the Jewish community but on the whole of Italian society which lost an important part of its own history,” he continued.

“Sadly, we know how the tragic consequences of these uncivilised and inhumane laws led to what the Nazis called the ‘final solution to the Jewish problem.”

Around 8,000 Jews were deported to Nazi camps after the Nazi occupation of Italy from 1943 to 1945 , according to historians.

Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano in a separate message on Tuesday said: “Now more than ever we need greater vigilance against the virus of anti-Semitism and the emergence of new campaigns against Jews and the State of Israel.”

A clear distinction needed to be made between Israel’s right to exist and the policies of the current government, Napolitano urged.

Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza has been watched “with anguish by friends of the Israeli people and the Palestinian people alike,” he said.

Meanwhile, members of the Jewish community in Italy and Israel have expressed outrage at Pope Benedict XVI’s rehabilitation of four previously excommunicated traditionalist bishops including Holocaust denier Richard Williamson.

Williamson has in several statements denied the existence of the Nazi gas chambers at claimed that only 300,000 Jews died during World War II.

“We consider Holocaust revisionism an infamy,” said the president of Italy’s Union of Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna, quoted by La Repubblica daily on Tuesday.

“We expected a positive gesture from the Catholic Church, which cannot keep quiet on this,” Gattegna continued.

Robert Rozem, head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem on Sunday said it was “scandalous” that someone of Williamson’s status should deny the Holocaust. He described Williamson’s remarks as “unacceptable and hateful.”

Other rabbis and Jewish figures have also condemned Williamson’s rehabilitation.

Jews have also criticised moves by the Catholic Church to beatify Pope Pius II on the grounds that he did not do enough to save Jews in Italy during World War II.

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



Netherlands: Threatened Anti-Wilders Lawyer Granted Bodyguards

Gerard Spong, one of the lawyers behind the prosecution of Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders, is to be provided with bodyguards. He told Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that his request for personal protection had been granted. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has confirmed that it has had contact with Mr Spong, but has not made any further comment.

On Thursday de Volkskrant reported that, since a court ruling that the PVV leader could be prosecuted for his anti-Islamic remarks, Mr Spong has received hundreds of hate e-mails, including death threats. Populist right-wing MP Mr Wilders says he condemns any threats towards Mr Spong “in the strongest possible terms”.

Last week an Amsterdam court decided that Mr Wilders should be prosecuted for incitement to hatred and discrimination. The prosecution comes in the light of his anti-Islam film Fitna, released last year, and his comparison of the Islamic holy book the Qur’an with Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Spain: ETA Vows to Fight on as it Marks 50th Anniversary

MADRID (AFP) — The armed Basque separatist group ETA vowed Friday to keep fighting as it marked the 50th anniversary of its struggle to carve an independent state straddling northern Spain and southwestern France.

In a statement sent to pro-independence newspaper Gara just one month ahead of Basque regional elections on March 1, the group urged Basques to “join forces” to “take the road to independence by peaceful and democratic means”.

But it added: “In the meantime, we must continue to fight with all our strength and through all means because the enemy states (Spain and France) do not give the smallest sign that they have the desire to respect the word of Euskal Herria,” the Basque language name for the “larger” Basque Country.

In September, Spain’s Constitutional Court — the country’s highest tribunal — ruled that a referendum on the Basque region that was seen as a step towards self-determination could not go ahead as planned by the Basque regional president Juan Jose Ibarretxe.

Ibarretxe’s failure to secure the referendum has hurt support for his moderately nationalist Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which polls show is at risk of losing power to the Socialists in the upcoming polls.

The PNV has ruled the Basque region since 1980, largely in coalition with other parties.

ETA was formed in July 1959 by a group of left-wing nationalist students who accused the PNV of failing to resist the rule of General Francisco Franco’s right-wing dictatorship, which suppressed the Basque language.

It initially sought its goals through political means but within a decade it resorted to violence, mostly shootings and bombings.

The group’s first killing took place in August 1968 when members of the group shot dead a police officer, but more than 90 percent of its victims have been killed since Franco died in 1975 and Spain returned to Europe’s democratic fold after four decades of isolation.

One of its mostly deadly attacks took place in 1987 when it bombed a Barcelona supermarket, killing over 20 people. It has attempted to kill King Juan Carlos and former conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

“While it was born under Francoism, the goal of ETA was not to defeat Francoism but to gain the freedom of the Basque Country,” ETA said in its statement.

Last year police arrested several of its most senior leaders in Spain and in France, which is used as a rear base by the group to launch attacks on Spanish soil, but ETA boasted in the statement that it was “invincible”.

ETA “is an organisation which comes from the people and which regenerates itself in the midst of the people without stop, decade after decade. Thus its invincibility,” it said.

“Today as over the past 50 years, Spanish governments say ETA is on the brink of losing. Certain things change little in 50 years,” it added.

ETA, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, finances itself by extorting cash from businesses in the industrialised Basque region.

The group officially called off a 15-month ceasefire in June 2007, saying it had grown frustrated with the lack of progress in its tentative peace talks with the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Zapatero has since repeatedly ruled out any further talks with the group, whose name is a Basque-language acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Spain’s Probe of Israelis Presents Legal Quandary

MADRID, Spain (AP) — A Spanish judge’s decision to investigate seven Israeli officials over a deadly 2002 attack against Hamas that had nothing to do with Spain has renewed a debate about the long arm of European justice.

Critics say Madrid should mind its own business, particularly since Spain is still struggling to address its own bloody past. Supporters argue that some crimes are so heinous that all of humanity is a victim and somebody has to prosecute them.

Spain is hardly alone. A number of European countries have enacted some form of “universal jurisdiction,” a doctrine that allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes.

_ In 2001, a Belgian court brought charges against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in connection with a 1982 massacre in Lebanon.

_ French judges have opened investigations into Congolese security officials and convicted a Tunisian Interior Ministry official of torturing a fellow citizen on Tunisian soil.

_ And Spain has indicted the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden among others, including Argentine dirty war suspects.

“I think some of these judges are looking for publicity, taking on causes that have no business being tried in Spain,” said Florentino Portero, an analyst with the Strategic Studies Group, a conservative Spanish think tank. “They are practicing politics through judicial work.”

The most recent case involves a 2002 bombing in Gaza that killed Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh and 14 other people, including nine children. Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu agreed to take the case on the grounds the incident may have been a crime against humanity — prompting a furious response from Israel.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Spanish decision “makes a mockery out of international law,” and Moshe Yaalon, a former Israeli general named in the probe, termed the case “propaganda.”

Israel’s Justice Ministry said Friday it had transferred material on the case to Spanish authorities and hoped the investigation would be closed soon. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said her Spanish counterpart had assured her his government would promote legislation to limit the authority of Spanish courts.

But Deputy Spanish Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega appeared to contradict Livni’s statement Friday, saying the courts are independent of politics.

Philippe Sands, a professor of law at University College London and the author of “Torture Team,” which looks at U.S. interrogation practices during the administration of President George W. Bush, said most countries allow prosecutions in cases involving torture or war crimes, so long as they have some connection to the case.

He noted that a U.S. court recently convicted the American son of Liberian President Charles Taylor, despite the fact his crimes were committed overseas against non-American citizens. Still, Sands said the question of universal jurisdiction gets murkier when there is no connection to the country doing the prosecuting.

“I am less persuaded that you can exercise universal jurisdiction when there is no connection at all, or where there is no solid treaty basis for exercising such jurisdiction,” Sands said.

Belgium rolled back its universal jurisdiction law in 2003 after foreigners started filing a spate of genocide and war crimes complaints against foreign leaders, including Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, prompting Washington to threaten to move NATO headquarters out of Brussels. The case against Sharon did not result in conviction.

In Spain, the issue is particularly sensitive since the country has never brought charges against its own citizens for crimes committed in the name of Gen. Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator who ruled from the 1930s until his death in 1975. It was only two years ago that Spain passed a law even acknowledging victims of the 1936-1939 civil war.

Emilio Silva, who heads an organization that leads efforts to exhume the bodies of civilians killed by Franco’s forces, said he has no problem with Spanish courts looking outward.

“I think it is good that Spanish courts investigate who they have to investigate, but it is strange that they make an exception of their own country,” he said. “Spain is part of the universe too.”

Then there is the diplomatically explosive prospect that a European court could bring charges against American CIA and military operatives accused of torture anywhere in the world, or even indict former Bush administration officials for war crimes.

Former Bush administration official Susan Crawford was quoted in a Washington Post interview published this month as saying the United States tortured one inmate at Guantanamo Bay, Saudi Mohammed al-Qahtani, in 2002.

Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s designee for attorney general, has said he considers interrogation methods like waterboarding to be torture, but has not indicated he plans to bring charges against any CIA or military operatives who might have used the technique.

If European courts sense a reluctance on the part of American officials to act, analysts say, they could use that to justify bringing charges themselves.

“Without a doubt the United States is the next step,” Portero said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Spanish Judge to Investigate Israeli Raid in 2002

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 29 — A Spanish judge has accepted the remit of setting up an inquiry into possible “crimes against humanity” committed by Israeli troops and Defence Minister, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, for the bombing of Gaza in 2002 which caused the deaths of an Hamas leader and 14 civilians. According to sources within the judiciary, the Madrid-born judge, Fernando Andreu, has ruled that the condemnation deposited by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights can be admitted in the name of the principle of universal jurisdiction recognised by Spain for crimes committed against humanity and genocide. The judge has decided to send two rogatory commissions to hear Israeli and Palestinian accounts of the bombing. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Sweden: Row Breaks Out Over Rosengård Report

Three academics who demanded to see the source material behind a controversial new report on religious and poltical extremism in the Malmö suburb of Rosengård have been told that the material no longer exists.

Researchers Leif Stenberg, Anders Ackfeldt and Dan-Erik Andersson from the Centres for Middle East Studies and Human Rights Studies at Lund University, were told by the Swedish National Defence College (SNDC) that the source material had been destroyed.

“That’s bad enough. But what’s worse is that the Rosengård district in Malmö has one again been the centrepoint of clichéd and poorly grounded assertions,” the researchers write in an article published by newspaper Sydsvenskan.

The authors of the report, Magnus Ranstorp and Josefine Dos Santos from the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, describe how “ultra-radical” Islamists attached to basement mosques “preach isolation and act as thought controllers while also maintaining a strong culture of threats, in which women in particular are subjected to physical and psychological harassment.”

The 30-page report, entitled “Threat to Democracy and Values — A Snapshot from Malmö,” is based on interviews with 30 people working in the city, including the police, secret service, social services and teachers.

Lars Nicander, the investigative head of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies, confirmed on Friday that the source material had been destroyed.

“We did it because it contained sensitive information about private individuals. Even if the names were removed it would be easy to identify them,” Nicander said.

The researchers had promised their subjects that the interviews would be destroyed since some of them had previously been exposed to threats, Nicander said.

He added that the report was not a scientific study but that the authors had used scientific methods.

“The primary aim was to work with tested scientific methods to give a view of the situation, as requested by the government,” he said.

Nicander dismissed the Lund researchers’ criticism of the report as a manifestation of “academic jealousy”.

“It’s clearly not allowed to problematise this. They’re not attacking the facts but they immediately interpret the report as an outbreak of Islamophobia.

Riots erupted in Rosengård in December following protests over the

closure of an Islamic cultural centre that housed a mosque, and spread to

become a general expression of discontent among disadvantaged youths and political extremists who flocked to the area from other parts of the city

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]



UK: Britain Has Survived Worse Times Than This

Compared with what our parents endured, this economic crisis is a picnic, says Alan Cochrane.

The worst thing about hard times is that no sooner do they begin than we worry ourselves sick about how long they’ll last. Is that light at the end of the tunnel, we ask ourselves, or is it a train? We can’t get a handle on the mess we’re in unless we can compare our current predicament — and as bleakly as possible — with one that’s gone before.

Successive news bulletins and headlines tell us that we’re well and truly ensconced in the worst recession since Black Wednesday in 1992, since the early 1980s and the start of the Thatcher revolution, since the Three-Day Week in 1974, since that horrible freezing winter of 1947, since the Blitz and rationing of the war years or even the Great Depression of the Hungry Thirties. Take your pick.

This crisis even has its own distinctive voice. Robert Peston, former City editor of The Sunday Telegraph and now the BBC’s business editor, has had more scoops in the past couple of years than most hacks get in several lifetimes. And, just as during the Falklands War Ian McDonald’s lugubrious tones often brought bad news, such as the sinking of a frigate, so Peston’s measured delivery invariably tells us of another company — or worse, a bank — going belly up. So influential has he become since he “broke” the astonishing story about the demise of Northern Rock 18 months ago that nobody will believe we’re getting out of trouble until Peston says so.

Until then, is there not room for a bit of perspective? Because while Peston tells us as it is, too many of the rest appear to have a knack for painting everything as black as possible. The truth is that Britain is not done for. We’ve shown in the past that we can survive worse scrapes than this — our native wit and ingenuity pulling us through time and again.

Thankfully, there is a bit of entertaining gallows humour around, like the banker’s wife of my acquaintance who says she’s washing out old jam jars to use for storage, rather than buying any new Kilners. And the fund manager who says things have got so bad that she’s had to cancel the Hatha yoga classes.

And surely there are pointers from history that tell us this ain’t so bad. I have lived through most of the above recessions though not — in spite of what some might claim — either the Great Depression or the Blitz. The first scarred my parents’ generation but in all probability helped toughen them to see through the dark days of war. Those were real hard times, compared to which this is a picnic.

I did come through rationing unscathed. I was there when sweets came “off the ration” in 1953. I have no recollection of that great day but my mother swears I refused a free handout from our local shopkeeper because I knew not to take sweets from strangers. I should point out that I’ve made up for that lapse ever since.

And I survived Edward Heath and Joe Gormley’s power cuts in the Three-Day Week. I did it by doing as I was told by Patrick Jenkin, the then energy minister, and brushing my teeth in the dark. I was unable to obey that government’s other stricture and share a bath with a loved one, as that was a bit too racy for those less permissive days.

Black Wednesday came and went almost unnoticed because I was detained in the basement of a Bloomsbury hotel by a dotty newspaper editor, who wanted her senior executives to concentrate to the exclusion of all else, at a “think tank” she’d convened, on whether Princess Di was anorexic or bulimic. Throughout the day special editions of the Evening Standard were smuggled into us, detailing the successive rises in interest rates as sterling fell and fell and fell. The editor’s way of dealing with that crisis was to pretend it wasn’t happening.

A budding author friend spent the entire day in a Limehouse Chinese restaurant with a police contact and emerged blinking into the daylight to discover in a phone call to his tearful wife that he couldn’t now afford to pay his mortgage. However, his book succeeded, he settled his bills and he lived to tell the tale.

We can’t all either ignore what’s going on or write a best-seller to see us through our difficulties. It is going to be horrible for those who lose their jobs and/or homes. But for most of us this won’t happen: while bonuses are falling fast, so too are mortgage repayments. House prices may be plummeting but most people have still made money over the years on what remains their biggest investment.

The biggest difference between previous recessions and this one is also perhaps the best reason for believing that we shall survive. It is that in spite of us witnessing, if not the death of capitalism, then at least its severe wounding, there are no Arthur Scargill-type militant union leaders around — not yet and not in Britain at any rate — prepared to exacerbate the problem. That breed, which was the plague of the post-war years until seen off in the Eighties, has given way to new realism. After all, can anyone imagine Red Robbo and his pals agreeing to a four-month shutdown of their BL plant at Cowley, as the Honda workers and their unions have just done at Swindon?

However, the best reason for optimism as we endure this downturn is that, now we know precisely how we got here, we’ll never, ever make the same mistakes again. Will we?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



UK: Muslim Population ‘Rising 10 Times Faster Than Rest of Society’

The Muslim population in Britain has grown by more than 500,000 to 2.4 million in just four years, according to official research collated for The Times.

The population multiplied 10 times faster than the rest of society, the research by the Office for National Statistics reveals. In the same period the number of Christians in the country fell by more than 2 million.

Experts said that the increase was attributable to immigration, a higher birthrate and conversions to Islam during the period of 2004-2008, when the data was gathered. They said that it also suggested a growing willingness among believers to describe themselves as Muslims because the western reaction to war and terrorism had strengthened their sense of identity.

Muslim leaders have welcomed the growing population of their communities as academics highlighted the implications for British society, integration and government resources.

David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford University, said: “The implications are very substantial. Some of the Muslim population, by no means all of them, are the least socially and economically integrated of any in the United Kingdom … and the one most associated with political dissatisfaction. You can’t assume that just because the numbers are increasing that all will increase, but it will be one of several reasonable suppositions that might arise.”

Professor Coleman said that Muslims would naturally reap collective benefits from the increase in population. “In the growth of any population … [its] voice is regarded as being stronger in terms of formulating policy, not least because we live in a democracy where most people in most religious groups and most racial groups have votes. That necessarily means their opinions have to be taken and attention to be paid to them

           — Hat tip: El Ingles [Return to headlines]



UK: Nail-Bomber Given Life Sentence

A Muslim convert has been jailed for life and must serve a minimum of 18 years after launching a failed suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in Devon.

Nicky Reilly, 22, was the only person injured when he accidentally set off his home-made nail-bomb in a toilet of Exeter’s Giraffe restaurant last May.

He later admitted attempted murder and preparing an act of terrorism.

Police believe the Plymouth man, who has learning difficulties, was encouraged by extremists in Pakistan.

Officers are in contact with authorities in the country via the British Embassy in a bid to trace those who contacted him, Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed.

Sentencing him at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said it was “sheer luck or chance that [the bombing] did not succeed in its objectives”.

Reilly had been preparing to detonate three bombs, created using glass bottles and containing about 500 nails, caustic soda and kerosene, when one exploded in his hands.

Dozens of customers and staff fled the restaurant in panic, but no-one else was injured.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said: “This case demonstrates that the threat to the UK from violent extremists remains real and serious.

“We need to work together to prevent people, especially young people, getting drawn into illegal activities.”

Reilly — who converted to Islam between 2002 and 2003 — had admitted the charges last October, but sentencing was delayed to allow doctors to assess his mental state.

He has learning difficulties and Asperger’s Syndrome, struggled to make friends and is thought to have a mental age of 10.

Obsessive behaviour

Friday’s hearing was briefly adjourned earlier as Reilly’s mother Kim broke down in tears in the public gallery.

The court was told she had first taken her son to see a psychiatrist at the age of nine, reporting obsessive behaviour and temper tantrums. He felt rejected by his father and later began to self-harm, taking an overdose at the age of 16.

Reilly came from a “loving and fairly normal family unit” but was “seduced” by a cause he “wrongly and almost fatally interpreted and probably never understood”, said the judge.

While accepting the attack was “unsophisticated”, he added: “There is no dispute but that this defendant currently represents a significant risk of serious harm to the public.”

But he added: “Unfortunately those who attempt to commit suicide and in doing so murder other people are almost invariably unsophisticated in many aspects.

“That lack of sophistication saved many Londoners [in a series of failed bomb attacks] on 21 July 2005.”

Devon and Cornwall Police initially said Reilly — who had changed his name to Mohammad Rashid Saeed Alim — had been “preyed on, radicalised and taken advantage of”.

However, after Friday’s hearing, the force’s Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Simpson said that while he was “encouraged” by literature and individuals via the internet, Reilly was “self-radicalised”.

“He acted alone, he clearly had vulnerabilities around Asperger’s Syndrome but we would say he was not radicalised and acted under his own steam.

“We believe there is an association in Pakistan. It remains a live investigation and we are not in a position to confirm the details,” she added.

Officers have already travelled to Pakistan in search of two unidentified people who contacted Reilly via an extremist website. The investigation has involved some 500 police staff.

Suicide note

Before sentencing, Kim Reilly told BBC News that her son was “very remorseful”.

“He’s sorry to the people of Exeter and those in the cafe that day.”

Prior to his failed suicide bombing, Reilly left a note saying: “I have not been brainwashed or indoctrinated. I am not insane.”

Reilly claimed he was simply doing “what God wants from his mujahideen”.

“Everywhere Muslims are suffering at the hands of Britain, Israel and America. We are sick of taking all the brutality from you,” he wrote.

The note attacked drunkenness and sexual immorality as “unacceptable to Allah and the true religion Islam”.

Defence barrister Kerim Fuad described his client as the least sophisticated person to have been charged with terrorism.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



UK: Taking Photos of Police Officers Could be Considered a Crime

[Comment from JD: No more revealing photos of police brutalizing MPs …]

Set to become law on 16 February, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 amends the Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer.

The new set of rules, under section 76 of the 2008 Act and section 58A of the 2000 Act, will target anyone who ‘elicits or attempts to elicit information about [members of armed forces] … which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.

A person found guilty of this offence could be liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years, and to a fine.

The law is expected to increase the anti-terrorism powers used today by police officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking pictures in public places. ‘Who is to say that police officers won’t abuse these powers,’ asks freelance photographer Justin Tallis, who was threatened by an officer last week. […]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



UK: When Did the Bobby Turn Into the Slobby?

Charles Moore hopes that Sir Paul Stephenson can transform the modern, unfit, thuggish-looking policeman back into something to be proud of.

The other day, a teenager asked me, “Do policemen ever wear those tall helmets you see in old pictures?” “Of course they do,” I replied. But then I realised that, in most cases now, they don’t. In the Houses of Parliament, say, they appear in the full rig, but when (if!) you see them on the streets, they are more likely to be in caps, or hatless.

These small, visual changes tell you something. Thinking about it, I realise that most of the police I see when in London look like slobs. They are mostly unfit, and weighed down by all sorts of equipment, electronic and protective, attached to their bodies. If they are walking more than a few yards from a car, they are almost never alone, but talking to their companions and paying little attention to the scene. Often, as they emerge from vans, in which they been sitting eating (why do policemen eat so much?), they are armed and thuggish-looking, and wearing baseball caps. You rarely come across a smart, friendly policeman, presiding over a street, seeing things as the public see them. (In the country, by the way, you see no police at all, beyond the odd passing car.)

Just as the appearance of the police has changed, so has their character. There were many bad things about the old days — a male freemasonry which could lead to corruption, an ignorance of non-white ways of life, a tendency to knock people about — but there was one, big, good thing. The job of the police force was to fight crime.

Notice that I just slipped in a word which has, in recent times, slipped away — “force”. Chief constables have taken to referring to their outfit as a “service”. On his appointment this week as the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, said that the Met is a police force. The word “force” matters, because it is what, ultimately, successful policing requires. One hopes that the return of the word marks a turning-point.

In the competition for the job, Sir Paul beat Sir Hugh Orde. Sir Hugh is Chief Constable of a body whose very name illustrates the problem. It is called the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and was deliberately so christened to mark its break with its predecessor, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Sir Hugh is a past-master of policing as a form of psychotherapy. He sees his job in Northern Ireland as providing “closure” on the era of the Troubles. In practice, this seems to mean that the only people being chased by the authorities are ex-RUC Special Branch officers, who are subject to endless inquiries. No convictions have been secured in notorious cases, such as the raid on the Northern Bank, the biggest bank robbery in British history, in which IRA terrorists were allegedly involved.

Like Sir Ian Blair, whom Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, recently pushed out of the Met job, Sir Hugh read the runes of the (Tony) Blair New Dawn, and served the spirit of the age. Thank goodness, that age is now passing; and thank goodness it is Sir Paul, described by one of those with a hand in his appointment as “bluff, gruff and tough”, who will usher in the new.

The way to cripple any institution is to undermine its self-belief. That is what has happened to the police. In Northern Ireland, Chris Patten’s report calling for the disbanding of the RUC, accepting a hostile, nationalist account of events, and largely ignoring the life-and-death struggle against terrorism.

In London, the Macpherson report into the killing of Stephen Lawrence, published almost exactly ten years ago, decided to indict not incompetent individual police officers (though some of them certainly were incompetent), but to make a much larger, wilder claim. The Met was “institutionally racist”, said Macpherson.

Macpherson was simply unfair. It kept reading bad motives into tiny actions — how a police officer scrumpled up, or folded, a piece of paper given him by Mrs Lawrence, for example. It did not obey rules of justice. It was sloppy, preachy, propagandist. It said that “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. So you only need one person to call a policeman a racist for him to be guilty.

On top of Macpherson was built an edifice. A new bureaucracy of form-filling about the most minor street encounters was imposed. Any police officer who wished to rise high realised that he had to conform to the new ideology. You became a favourite by going on courses and talking about outreach to particular “communities”, not by breaking gangs or pounding the streets. Hence the rise of Sir Ian Blair.

And hence, also, his fall. As London started to come under attack from terrorists who constantly invoked Islam, Sir Ian tried to argue that the cultural ferment of that religion had nothing to do with the attacks. As he encouraged the activities of organisations such as the Black Police Association and the Association of Muslim Police Officers, so he became embroiled in disputes with ethnic minority officers whenever they felt they were not being promoted enough. The revolution started to eat its own.

The impulse behind reform was not all nonsense. In London, new ethnic realities did indeed mean that an overwhelmingly white force was unlikely to have good links with people from other races, religions and nations. Recruitment had to change. In Ulster, the form of policing after the Belfast Agreement was bound to alter. But the crippling error, when confronted with the existence of different “communities”, has been to emphasise their difference, rather than to try impartially to police the only community which ultimately matters — the entire citizenry.

Why, for example, do we have a Black Police Association? Even if they did not spend their time urging young black people not to join the force, why should police be racially sub-setted? Who, for a moment, would tolerate a White Police Association? Why, by the same token, a Muslim grouping in the force? Are only they fitted for dealing with Muslims? Why should a policeman’s religion qualify (or disqualify) him?

And why should the police seek any group — homosexuals, blacks, Muslims, Jews, whatever — to be delivered to them by self-appointed leaders? I happen to be a Roman Catholic, but I do not want my concerns about crime to be filtered to the Met by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor.

But at least Cardinal Murphy O’Connor is the generally agreed head of Catholics in England and Wales. By contrast, most of the Muslim leaders who are treated by the police as gatekeepers to Muslims in this country are unrepresentative. Often, they are also quite extreme, noisy, political.

London should not be a colonial situation, a place where white men barter with tribes to keep an uneasy peace. London is the capital of a nation which, precisely because it is ethnically diverse, has more need than ever of unity. The public — black, white, Muslim, Christian or Jedi — needs a response to the same simple question: where’s a policeman when you need him? It is encouraging that Sir Paul seems unafraid of this simplicity.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



UK: Youtube’s Dancing Polish Street Cleaner to Quit Britain After Attack by Racist Thugs

A dancing street sweeper has left Britain fearing for his life, saying he was beaten up by racist thugs. Ziggy Dust, from Poland, told friends he was leaving because National Front members had attacked and threatened to kill him.

The London cleaner shot to public attention when YouTube clips showed him dancing as he collected rubbish in Chiswick.

Film crews descended on the borough to see the 47-year-old strut his stuff and one national newspaper used him in its advertising campaign. But after three years in Britain, Ziggy — christened Zbigniew Colbecki — is now back in Poland. Writing on a web forum, he said: ‘I’m outside of England because someone wanted to kill me before New Year.

‘I feel very sad. Not everyone was happy.

‘Someone hated me very much and my dancing. I miss Chiswick. I left England without choice.’ Ziggy, a former circus juggler had also been DJ-ing in a Chiswick bar owned by Sam Harrison.

Mr Harrison said: ‘Ziggy came to see me last week and collected his equipment. He had decided to leave for Poland the next morning.

‘He told me that he had been attacked and threatened by a faction of the National Front and felt unsafe. ‘He said that it had happened over the Christmas period and that he did not think the police could help him. ‘Somebody had scared him. I could see the fear in his eyes.’ Chiswick resident Kieran Loughran, 39, said: ‘It was extraordinary how famous Ziggy became but it didn’t change him and he was always happy to show off his moves.’ Hounslow council said it had not been aware of any threats against Ziggy.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Balkans


Macedonia-Croatia: Agreement on Minority Rights

(ANSAmed) — SKOPJE, JANUARY 28 — Macedonia-Croatia agreement on protection of minority rights should reaffirm the good practicing of these rights for the Macedonian community in Croatia and the Croatian one in Macedonia, as well as to make improvements in areas where it is required, reports Macedonian news agency MIA. The document, signed by both countries, is practically entering into effect today with the first meeting of the Macedonian-Croatian Expert Commission in charge of the Agreement’s implementation. The agreement is guaranteeing the highest level of minority rights for both communities in each of the countries. It refers to the nourishment of the national origin, alphabet, language, culture. The document urges the countries to provide means for meeting the needs of our minorities, Commission’s Co-Chairman representing Croatia Petar Baresic said at a press conference. Sasko Todorovski, Commission’s Co-Chairman representing Macedonia, said the document presented an annex to the Council of Europés Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and focused on the specifics of both countries — small minorities, which are usually a bit neglected. Macedonia and Croatia signed the agreement two years ago in Split. Last year the Parliaments of both countries ratified the document, which formally entered into force last June. Over 5,500 Macedonians live in Croatia, while 2,686 Croats live in Macedonia. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Serbia-EU: Netherlands; Too Soon to Present Candidacy

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JANUARY 29 — For the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, Maxim Verhagen, it is too early to speak of a Serb candidacy to join the European Union. In statements reported in today’s edition of Belgrade paper, Vecernje Novosti, Verhagen refers to the calendar announced by the Serb Government for integration into the European Union, which expects an application for candidate status to be presented by the end of June, when the present Czech presidency of the EU expires. “A condition for presenting an application”, the Dutch minister stressed, “is that the Association and Stabilisation Accord be applied, which in Serbiàs case can only come about following Belgradés full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal for crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. No country”, Verhagen noted, “can break this rule, not even Serbia”. Application of the ASA accord by the EU is being blocked by the Netherlands alone, which is calling for the arrest and presentation for trial of the former Serb military leader in Bosnia, Ratko Mladic, one of the two last fugitives from the Tribunal. The other is Goran Hadzic, former Serb leader in Croatia. In October, Serbia unilaterally decided to apply the ASA accord. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union


Fishing: Ministry Urges Respect for Libyan Fishing Area

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 28 — Italian fishing boats must respect Libyàs protected fishing area (ZPE) and the country’s laws regarding access to its waters, reads a note from the Fishing and Agriculture department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Woodland Policies. The note was sent to relevant associations and published on the website of the Federcoopesca-Confcooperative associations. In fact, the Libyan authorities have remarked that since 2007, Italian boats have been fishing more and more in regulated or forbidden areas, and that they have not intervened with the expected severity (such as confiscating boats and goods) so as to not sour the good relations which are being constructed between the two country’s navies and governments. Mipaaf has therefore decided to ask associations to “urge fishermen to behave with a greater sense of responsibility, bearing in mind the grave risks which Italian ships are exposed to if they violate waters under Libyàs sovereign control”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Lebanon: 4 Mln Euro From EU for 2009 Elections

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, JANUARY 28 — An agreement has been signed by the EU Commission and the Lebanese Minstry for the Interior to give 4 million euro of Community budget to help Lebanon to organise elections in June 2009, according to a statement by Brussels. This support will be used to help Lebanese authorities in the pre-election process, to make sure that the elections take place in line with international standard. It will also be used to apply the reform package adopted by the Lebanese Parliament last September. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa


Islam: Ben Achour Sees Need to Get Past Islamism “Ghosts”

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, JANUARY 28 — We need to stop always seeing “ghosts” in Islamism, whose political movements can instead act as stimulus for the countries facing onto the Mediterranean. This is the opinion held by the Tunisian Yadh Ben Achour, law professor with international experience (including his 2007 participation in the group put in charge by the UNPD of drawing up a report on human development in the Arab world). Ben Achour has taken part in a round table discussion organized by the Italian Centre for Peace in the Middle East (CIPMO) in Milan. Some parties with Islamic roots active in the region, said the professor, “such as the Tunisian Nahda or the Turkish AKP”, have an ideology which “is not in contrast with democracy”. “Nothing says that Islamic Democrats, “ he said, “cannot carry out in countries on the southern shores an analogous role that that played by Christian Democrats in some European countries.” The real problem of the southern shore, he said, “are dictatorships. And the isolation of governments can pave the way for fundamentalism.” On this subject, Ben Achour expressed the hope that the recent election of the US president will mark a turning point. “Obama,” he said, “will likely push Arab countries to bring in change for greater freedom of expression and the press, as well as more democracy and greater respect for individual rights.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians


Gaza: Cast Lead, 2 Failed Attempts on Hamas Commander’s Life

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JANUARY 29 — Daily Haaretz today reported that over the past few weeks the Israeli air force had twice tried and failed to kill the Hamas military commander in Gaza, Ahmed Jaabri. On one occasion a bomb went off in the immediate vicinity but Jaabri was not harmed, whereas in the second he was in a block of buildings that Israel opted not to attack in order to save civilian lives. According to Haaretz, during the fighting top-ranked Hamas leaders took refuge in a bunker (built by Israel) under the Shifa hospital, as well as in the diplomatic offices of Qatar and other Arab countries. Hamas reportedly also had recourse to public shelters built by Israel in the over 20 settlements evicted in July 2005. The settlers radio station Channel 7 instead reported that several Hamas leaders (Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmud a-Zahar, Halil al-Haya) are still in bunkers or hiding places. The broadcaster learned from intelligence sources that the leaders still fear they may be targeted by Israel and as a precautionary measure communicate with each other by exchanging written messages entrusted to messengers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Israel: Defence Minister Slams Spain War Crimes Probe

Jerusalem, 29 Jan. (AKI) — Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak has criticised Thursday’s probe into seven former and current Israeli officials alleged to have committed war crimes after a 2002 attack in the Gaza Strip which killed a Hamas militant and 14 civilians, including nine children.

“Whoever calls the assassination of a terrorist a ‘crime against humanity’ is living in an upside-down world,” said Barak in a statement released by the ministry of defence, quoted by Israeli daily Haaretz.

In the attack, Hamas militant Salah Shehadeh was killed by an air strike in a targeted assassination by Israeli forces.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the head of the conservative Likud party also condemned the decision by Spanish judge Fernando Andreu Merelles.

“It’s absurd; Israel is fighting against war criminals and they are charging us with crimes?” said Netanyahu, speaking on Israel’s Army Radio.

Netanyahu, who is also a frontrunner candidate in the upcoming Israeli general election, said Israel is merely protecting itself from terrorists.

“There is nothing more ridiculous and absurd than them accusing us, a democracy legitimately protecting itself against terrorists and war criminals, of these crimes; it is absurd and makes a mockery out of international law.”

The Spanish lawsuit was brought by members of the families who lost relatives in the attack — the Mattar, al-Seadi, el-Houweit and al-Sahhwa families.

Merelles is expected to investigate former Israeli minister of defence and current minister of infrastructure Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former Israel Defence Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz, Likud politician and former IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, as well as Doron Almog, Giora Eiland and Michael Herzog.

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



Mid-East: Olmert Mentions Future International Control

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JANUARY 29 — An unprecedented opening to some form of future internation control of the holy places in Jerusalem has today been attributed by newspaper Yediot Ahronot to outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The paper does not quote him directly, but maintains that Olmert mentioned it yesterday, although in a hypothetical form, during a meeting with US special envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell. Referring to the possibility of a definitive peace agreement with the Palestinians, the Premier spoke of Israel’s willingness, in exchange for peace and security, to leave certain districts and suburbs of east Jerusalem under the sovereignty of a future Palestinian State. He repeated however Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, including the old City, as the ‘eternal’ capital of Israel, but without excluding international supervision of its holy places. The newspaper writes of this supervision using two different Hebrew words, (pikuach e shlità), which both mean ‘control’, but with slightly different nuances: the first means an inspectional, almost observational role; the second has a stronger meaning, implying some authority. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Mideast: Olmert May Clear Out 60,000 Settlers, Media

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JANUARY 29 — As part of the definitive peace agreements with the Palestinian Authority, Israeli premier Ehud Olmert has spoken of a possible eviction of 60,000 settlers, about a fifth of those who live in the West Bank. The news, reported today on the front pages of daily Yediot Ahronot, has not yet been confirmed. According to the newspaper, yesterday Olmert spoke in detail to George Mitchell, US special envoy for the Middle East, about the peace proposals he had put forward to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Among the latter is the complete withdrawal from the West Bank. Olmert has proposed the annexation to Israel of a few settlements zones in exchange for the same amount of land to hand over to the Palestinian Authority, as well as a connection between Gaza and the West Bank by way of a superhighway or a tunnel. As concerns Jerusalem, according to Yediot Ahronot, Olmert suggested that the Holy Sites be put under international supervision and that the Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem be placed under Palestinian sovereignty. Olmert, according to the paper, said that he had received wide-ranging praise for these plans from former US president George W. Bush. Mahmoud Abbas, according to Olmert, instead suspended talks following the advance dissolution of the Israeli legislature and the calling of elections. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Mideast: UN Appeals for 613 Million Dollars to Help Gaza Recover

New York, 29 Jan. (AKI) — The United Nations launched an appeal for 613 million dollars to help people affected by Israel’s three-week military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which killed some 1,300 Palestinians, injured more than 5,300, 34 percent of them children, and caused widespread damage and destruction.

The appeal will cover requirements of the UN and other aid agencies for the next six to nine months and cover critical areas such as food, water, sanitation, health care and shelter, as well as support basic services, such as education.

The funds will also help to remove the debris of war, including unexploded ordnance, finance emergency repairs for basic infrastructure, and provide psychological help for the victims. An appeal for longer-term needs will be launched later.

“With the help of this $613 million appeal, the United Nations and other aid agencies can jump into action to help the 1.4 million civilians in the Gaza Strip to recover,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a news conference on the situation in Gaza, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Ban, who saw the devastation wrought by Israel’s 22-day offensive against Hamas militants first-hand when he visited the Strip earlier this month, stressed that without urgent action, Gaza could face a greater humanitarian calamity.

“People have lost their families. They have lost their homes, belongings and livelihoods. Schools, clinics, factories and businesses have been destroyed.

Many of Gaza’s inhabitants still lack clean water and electricity. Too many are living in the midst of raw sewage and the threats to their health that brings.

“By answering the call of this appeal, in the amount of 613 million dollars, the world can help overcome at least some measure of their hardship,” the Secretary-General stated.

Ban was joined by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who recently returned from a needs assessment mission to Gaza.

Holmes has repeatedly called on Israel to immediately open up crossing points into Gaza for full access for relief aid and reconstruction supplies.

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

Middle East


Islam: Qualified Women Can Issue Fatwa, According to Experts

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 27 — Islamic scholars have softened their position with regard to the topic of whether competent women scholars are qualified to issue religious edicts (Fatwas) or not. “Issuing Fatwa is not restricted to men alone. Well-qualified women scholars can also do it,” was the message given by the recently concluded Makkah International Conference on Fatwa and Its Regulations, Gulf News reports today. The Fatwa Charter, which will serve as a guideline on the issuing of Fatwas, adopted by some 170 prominent Islamic scholars from around the world, does not contain any provisions that prohibit women from issuing Fatwas. It clearly explains that the scholars, who are pronouncing Fatwas must have the following conditions: “Islam, Justice, maturity, intelligence, and deep knowledge in Islamic rules.” None of the 41 articles of the Charter prevents women from issuing Fatwas. Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdullah Al Manie, member of the Saudi Senior Scholars Commission, said that it is permissible to incorporate women as members of the Commission and allow them to take part in bodies that pronounce Fatwas as they are like men in performing their religious obligations and responsibilities. Speaking to reporters, he said that membership in the commission is not at all a monopoly of men. “Really, I see no objection for a woman becoming a scholar or mufti or involving in any consultative bodies, provided that she should be keen in protecting her dignity and no mixing with men,” he said. Naif Al Shahri, a noted Saudi preacher, told Gulf News that it is essential that no Fatwa shall be issued by any individual scholar on a public topic effecting the interests of Muslim Ummah and its future. “In such cases, the Fatwa shall be announced by a group of scholars.” The Makkah Conference highlighted the significance of Fatwa in Islam and its regulations and set the muftìs conditions and duties. The scholars also stressed moderation in Fatwa and detailed the problems facing Fatwa and its negative effects. The conference called on institutions that teach Islamic law to incorporate the basic principles and guidelines for Fatwas in their curricula, as well as to organize frequent panel discussions and meetings to familiarize scholars with the principles of the right method of issuing Fatwas and to warn against the dangers of issuing ill-prepared rulings. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Kuwait: ‘Suspected Saudi Al-Qaeda Recruiter Arrested’

Kuwait City, 29 Jan. (AKI) — The Kuwait secret services have arrested a Saudi Al-Qaeda member serving in the Kuwaiti army who is suspected of having recruited around 20 young men to the jihadist cause, Saudi daily Okaz reported on Thursday.

According to Okaz the Saudi was arrested on Wednesday and reportedly convinced the young Kuwaiti ‘recruits’ to Al-Qaeda to travel to Afghanistan and wage holy war or jihad against NATO forces fighting the Taliban.

The Saudi citizen is married and is the father of three children. He is a longtime resident in Kuwait and had reached the rank of non-commissioned officer in the Kuwaiti army (photo), the paper said.

One of the Saudi’s sons is an Al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan, while another was killed fighting US troops near the Afghan capital, Kabul, Okaz said.

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



Lebanon: Only English Newspaper ‘The Daily Star’ Shuts Down

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JANUARY 23 — Lebanon’s sole English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, has been forced to shut down due to “bankruptcy” and editors do not currently know if or when the newspaper might return to newsstands. The Daily Star has out of circulation since Monday, but the reasons for this were only released today. The newspaper’s director, Jamil Mroue told the Beirut-based Arabic newspaper, as-Safir, that: “we were told about the forced closure for bankruptcy without warning, and within an hour and a half we had to be out of the offices, which were immediately sealed off”. The Daily Star was founded in 1952, and for years was one of Lebanon’s main newspapers under the leadership of its founded, Kamel Mroue, who was assassinated in 1966. The publication has undergone several periods of forced closure in the past: from 1977-1983 due to the Lebanese civil war (1975-90); and from 1986 to 1995, when it was brought back into circulation by Kamil Mroue’s son, Jamil. The newspaper, which until last Sunday employed a total of 80 staff between editorial and printing, has had money troubles for several years and Mroue admits to having received “warnings from creditors since July”, and in particular from Standard Chartered, a British bank. “I don’t know if, or when, we might be back on newsstands” concluded Mroue. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Nasrallah: Lift Siege Without Political Preconditions

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JANUARY 29 — The “siege” by Israel on the Gaza Strip needs to be removed, “because the humanitarian tragedy is much worse than before the war”: this was the appeal launched today in Beirut by sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, leader of the Shìite Lebanese movement Hezbollah. Speaking by video link-up from an unknown location during a press conference called by Hezbollah on the “Day of Liberty and Liberation of Prisoners”, Nasrallah invited “the whole Arab and Islamic world to act on all levels to deman that all the corridors in the Gaza Strip be opened to help the Palestinians. They must not lay down political pre-conditions for the reopening of the corridors and for the entry of humanitarian aid”. He also criticised “recent declarations by European leaders who failed to speak one word of condemnation over the Israeli crimes during their visits to Gaza, but instead condemned Hamas as a terrorist organisation. “The Shìite leader then described “the Egyptian regime as Israel’s accomplice because it continues to keep the Rafah corridor closed”, on the southern border of Gaza. (ANSAmed).

2009-01-29 17:19

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Nepalese Immigrants Converting to Islam in Order to Work in Arab Countries

The charge has been made by the Nepalese workers’ union: 2,000 cases in Qatar, 4,000 in the Arab emirates and Malaysia. The foreign minister has asked his embassies to verify these cases, and stop conversions made by force or external pressure.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) — More and more Nepalese emigrants who have gone to Muslim majority countries to work — for example, on the Arabian Peninsula — are abandoning their Hindu religion and embracing Islam in order to improve their economic and social situation.

According to figures from the Nepalese workers’ union, in Qatar alone there have been about 2,000 cases of conversion, plus 4,000 in Saudi Arabia, the Arab emirates, and Malaysia.

Rita Tamang, who emigrated to Saudi Arabia two years ago from the Nepalese district of Dhulikhel, explains that “Muslims get privileges with better work and good pay. The workers from other religions are hardly trusted by private employers. So, I myself also adopted Islam, giving up Hinduism.” It’s the same story for Manoj Karki, who left Kathmandu to go to work on an oil rig in Qatar. “I was hardly managing to save money from my salary, but since I have changed my religion to Islam, I am now more safe, comfortable, and with easy access to jobs.” His wife, who works as a maid in Doha, followed her husband’s example: “My husband converted to Islam and he advised me to do the same, so I did.”

On the basis of numbers provided by the Nepalese workers’ union, and under pressure from the complaints of immigrants and their relatives in Nepal, the foreign minister in Kathmandu has decided to take measures to stop the wave of conversions. Upendra Mahato says he has “instructed our diplomatic missions to probe the cases and stop such conversions if they come through pressure or by force.”

According to estimates by the Nonresidential Nepalese Association, of the almost 7 million citizens of the Asian country who are working abroad, more than 400,000 are in the Gulf region. Of the 55 countries in which Nepalese immigrants are living, the most common destinations for those seeking work are Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, both Muslim majority countries.

By sending part of their earnings back home, emigrants represent one of the main sources of income for Nepal.

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



Saudi Arabia: Police Question Prisoners Over Al-Qaeda Links

Riyadh, 29 Jan. (AKI) — Saudi Arabian police have interrogated several former detainees released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to determine whether they support the Al-Qaeda terror network. According to reports in the Saudi daily, ‘Okaz’, security officials met many former detainees after reports that a Al-Qaeda has regrouped in the region and formed a new cell led by two former Guantanamo prisoners, Abu Basir al-Naser al-Wahshi and al-Azdi Said al-Shahri.

Abu Basir al-Naser al-Wahshi, a Yemeni citizen, is reported to have been appointed head of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula after members of the organisation in Yemen and Saudi Arabia decided to increase coordination between terror cells in the region.

He and his colleague reportedly crossed the Yemeni border illegally to join another two terrorists, who escaped from prison in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2006.

On a video released on the internet this week, they announced the formation the new Al-Qaeda cell based in Yemen and covering the Arab Peninsula.

Abu Basir also called for terror attacks against Europe and the United States to avenge Israel’s recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

“Strike the interests of the United States and European countries on the Arab Peninsula to punish them for what Israel is doing in Gaza,” the Al-Qaeda leader said

In response, the former Guantanamo detainees decided to write a letter to the Saudi monarch to reassure him of their distance from terrorism.

Saudi authorities also decided to invite Ali Jaber al-Wahshi, the father of the new Al-Qaeda leader in the region to a re-education course organised for former detainees held at Guantanamo (Photo).

“My son often accused me of being an unbeliever, because he said I followed a deviant Islam and then he suddenly left home and went to Yemen, “ said Ali Jaber al-Wahshi.

“To join Al-Qaeda he left his wife and children and I am sure he will not return home alive.”

United States president Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the notorious detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be closed within one year.

He also ordered a review of military trials and a ban of harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding (simulated drowning), which many consider to amount to torture.

The historic move fulfils a long-standing pledge by Obama who is moving quickly to try restore his country’s image abroad and distance himself from the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

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



Squabbling Among Arabs Need Not Paralyse the Region

“Arab leaders bury their differences,” proclaimed the press as an Arab League summit got under way in Kuwait last week, and presidents and kings kissed and made up in front of the cameras.

But no show of unity could erase the farce that the public had watched for three weeks as Israel pounded the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Feuds usually kept private were out in the open as rulers fought over whether the Arab League should even hold a summit on Gaza. The result was an absurd competition, with a mini-summit in Saudi Arabia the day before another in Qatar, and a third brought everyone together in Kuwait.

Television stations joined in, as the Doha-owned al-Jazeera promoted the Qatari summit and the rival Saudi-backed al-Arabiya proclaimed the futility of the Qatar meeting.

At times, the feuds provided comic relief from the depressing Gaza war. A press conference by Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister, was most entertaining: when a Japanese journalist rose to ask a question, the sheikh’s first reaction was to ask the reporter what someone from a civilised place like Japan was doing in the Middle East.

The Arab world is a strange place in which people have little faith in the Arab League or its 22 state members yet hold on to the myth of Arab unity and clamour for a league meeting every time a crisis erupts.

The league can be effective — the last memorable decision was back in 2002 when all members signed the Saudi-sponsored Arab peace initiative. But holding on to the league as the primary tool of Arab political action no longer makes sense — even the European Union cannot claim to have a common foreign policy. The less emphasis is put on political ambitions, the more useful the league can be in dealing with other pressing problems, from rampant unemployment to disastrous education systems.

The Arab world, moreover, has evolved: gone are the days when everyone falls in line just because Egypt and Saudi Arabia say so. Smaller countries are asserting their independence or losing interest altogether in Arab causes. Qatar, for one, thrives on winding up its neighbours but has also shown itself a skilful diplomatic mediator.

When it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there are two competing views of how peace should be advanced. The likes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan know that war with Israel is not an option and negotiations are. Syria, joined by Qatar at times, and backed by Iran, a non-Arab state which involves itself increasingly in Arab issues, believe that harassing Israel through militant groups such as Hamas and Lebanon’s Hizbollah is the faster route to peace.

The first group offers a reasonable, western-supported option. But one that has failed to deliver. The second panders more to a frustrated Arab public. Yet it is even less likely to deliver.

Disagreements, however, need not lead to paralysis. In the Gaza conflict, the pressure to hold a summit aggravated the rifts and, arguably, delayed the search for a ceasefire.

This is not to say that there is no need for Arabs to act together. The embraces we saw in Kuwait were followed quickly on day two of the summit by disputes over how reconstruction aid should be disbursed to Gaza. Soon, we will learn of another disagreement, this time over who should host reconciliation talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas. The PA was ousted from Gaza almost two years ago but Egypt and Saudi Arabia and much of the rest of the world want it back.

To reconcile the Palestinians, the main regional players will have to work together and convince both factions they have something to gain from a new national unity government. That calls for accelerated diplomacy among feuding parties — but certainly not for involving the whole Arab League in the complex exercise.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Telecom: Emirates Invest in Iran Telephony

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, JANUARY 26 — Telecommunications company in the United Arab Emirates Etisalat is to invest 3.85 billion euro in Iran in the next five years, announced President of Etisalat, Mohammad Hassan Omran, at a conference in Saudi Arabia. Etisalat will move into the Iranian telecoms market as a third party mobile phone operator with an initial investment of 770 million euro in the first 12 months. The spread of mobile phone use in Iran is not yet 60%, but is a market which cannot be exploited by western society because of US and UN sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear policy. The consortium created by the UAE’s Etisalat and Iran’s Tamin Telecom will have exclusive rights to third generation services and plans to exceed one. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Russia


Who is Pulling the Trigger?

The shooting of a human rights lawyer in Moscow last week is just the latest in a long list of mysterious murders of Kremlin adversaries.

A soft snow had fallen on Moscow. In the upmarket district of Kropotkinskaya, a white layer had crusted the statue of the German philosopher Friedrich Engels, settling on his shoulders. Outside the posh boulangeries and cafes, and on the giant dome of St Saviour’s cathedral, whiteness had descended. Nearby, the Kremlin’s ochre walls and towers sparkled.

Monday last week was another typically grey Moscow day. At 3pm the lawyer Stanislav Markelov set off down Prechistenka Street. Markelov was one of Russia’s most famous human rights defenders and a close colleague of the murdered opposition journalist Anna Politkovskaya. They had worked on numerous cases — travelling to Chechnya together and representing Chechens whose relatives had disappeared.

Markelov was his usual upbeat self. He had just given a press conference in connection with one of his most notorious cases — the killing in 2000 of Elza Kungayeva, an 18-year-old Chechen woman, by a drunken Russian tank commander. The tank commander, Colonel Yuri Budanov, had been freed four days earlier.

The lawyer left with Anastasia Baburova, a 25-year-old freelance journalist with the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. Markelov had worked on many occasions as the paper’s lawyer. He had defended Politkovskaya, its special correspondent, when she received death threats after reporting on another Chechen victim. The paper is well known in Russia as the main source of opposition to Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The pair set off from Moscow’s independent press centre towards the metro. They turned right. Unnoticed, a young man wearing a dark coat followed them. He put on a ski mask. Markelov reached number 1 Prechistenka, a white-painted 17th-century palace. The killer came up to them from behind. And then he shot Markelov twice in the back of the head, using a pistol fitted with a silencer.

As Markelov crumpled to the ground, Baburova tried to grab the gunman — a reflex action that may have cost her her life. The gunman stopped. He calmly shot her in the head. He then jogged off towards Kropotkinskaya metro, 100 metres away, and vanished into the crowd.

Markelov died instantly. He was 34. His body lay in front of the ancient palace; his blood staining the pale snow. Baburova, gravely wounded, died that evening in hospital. It had been the perfect hit. There were no eyewitness accounts, no video cameras to record the event, and — as ever in Russia when opponents of the regime are mysteriously gunned down — no police at the scene.

Markelov’s death has shocked and appalled human rights activists. “We don’t know who killed him. But we know he was killed for doing his job, without a shadow of a doubt,” Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch in Moscow says. “He was one of those people prepared to risk his life for the cause. He was funny, outrageous and sometimes quite obnoxious. He was a colleague and friend. We travelled to Chechnya together. He was always telling jokes, including the most obscene ones. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

The lawyer is the latest in a long list of Kremlin adversaries murdered by unknown killers. His death has a resonance that goes beyond his own country and is similar in its brazenness to the murder of Politkovskaya, another courageous critic of the Kremlin and its proxies in Chechnya. She was gunned down outside her Moscow apartment in October 2006. It also echoes the death of Alexander Litvinenko, who died from polonium poisoning in London the following month.

The murders of these Kremlin foes — journalists, lawyers and critics of Russia’s security services — all have a common theme. Nobody is ever caught and punished. The trial of four men accused of involvement in Politkovskaya’s murder is ongoing, but is regarded by human rights activists as a farce. Investigators have failed to catch her assassin and have also apparently been unable to work out who ordered her death. “We can’t even call it a trial. The people being convicted aren’t the ones who carried it out,” Natalia Estemirova of the human rights group Memorial says. After Markelov’s slaying last week, the offices of Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, and the country’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, were strangely silent. Instead, authorities sent in riot police to break up spontaneous protests in several Russian cities.

This failure to condemn looks like a sign of tacit approval to whatever dark, reactionary and well-organised forces plotted Markelov’s death, his friends believe. They say that it comes against a backdrop of officially blessed harassment and persecution in Russia against human rights organisations — against anyone, in fact, who challenges the Kremlin’s monopoly on power. State TV has largely ignored Markelov’s death. (The snub is reminiscent of Putin’s description of Politkovskaya after her murder as an “extremely insignificant figure well known only in the west”.)

So who killed Stanislav Markelov? Answering this question is tricky. There are numerous versions — Markelov and Baburova were both targeted in an attempt to close Novaya Gazeta; elements in the Russian army killed the lawyer out of solidarity and to avenge the Budanov case; neo-Nazis shot him for his defence of anti-skinheads. One of Markelov’s last clients was Mikhail Beketov, a Russian journalist beaten to a pulp after defying corrupt bureaucrats in Moscow’s Khimki suburb.

Equally plausibly, a professional hitman sent by Chechnya’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, may have killed him. The lawyer had, after all, recently exposed Kadyrov’s secret torture prisons in Chechnya. He had defended anarchists and pacifists, represented victims of police brutality and helped stage anti-Kremlin protests. There were death threats. The trail is endless. The one thing everyone agrees on is that Markelov had many enemies.

But the most compelling theory suggests a more sinister scenario: the complicity of Russia’s security services. The same shadowy officials are widely suspected of involvement in the murders of Politkovskaya and Litvinenko. The Novaya Gazeta columnist Pavel Felgenhauer points the finger at the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s post-KGB spy agency.

“In the opinion of the Novaya Gazeta staff, of which I am a member, the Russian security services or rogue elements within these services are the prime suspects,” Felgenhauer wrote last week. He added that the “boldness of the attack by a single gunman in broad daylight” could only have been carried out with “professional preliminary planning and surveillance” and with the security services “which closely control that neighbourhood” turning a blind eye.

Alexander Lebedev, the Russian billionaire who co-owns Novaya Gazeta, says the situation is so dreadful that the paper’s staff should now carry guns. Lebedev, the new proprietor of the Evening Standard, also suggested journalists should be taught how to shoot. The authorities are unlikely to grant his request, however.

Three weeks before Markelov’s death, skinheads were spotted lurking outside the previous press conference he held, at the same venue. Felgenhauer, however, is sceptical that ultra-nationalists could have pulled off such an operation. “The use of a gun with a silencer does not fit with the usual pattern of murders by nationalist neo-Nazi youths groups in Russia, which use homemade explosives, knives and group assaults to beat up and stab opponents to death,” he writes.

Markelov’s work with Novaya Gazeta seems to be another important factor. Since the economic crisis, the paper’s circulation has risen dramatically to 270,000 copies an issue, as Russians become fed up with state propaganda, which denies the Russian economy is in trouble. “Novaya Gazeta extremely irritates Putin and his cohorts,” Felgenhaur suggests, predicting that as the crisis worsens the state’s clampdown on the opposition could grow “more violent”.

Last Wednesday’s edition of Novaya Gazeta was bordered in black. Its front page showed a gruesome photo of Markelov lying dead in the street. Inside, Estemirova from Memorial described his killing as an “act of war”. She asked: “On which side is the state?” Four Novaya Gazeta reporters have now been murdered since 2000. Many of its star writers work under constant threat of assassination.

Friends of Markelov say the question of who shot him is both unanswerable and more or less irrelevant. What matters is that Russia is now a gangster state — formally a democracy but in reality nothing of the kind — where the murder of Kremlin critics can take place with impunity. Either the state is directly responsible for killing its enemies, or it condones the actions of shadowy external forces, they say.

“Such a murder reflects the criminalised situation we have here. The Kremlin encourages extremist groups, and different reactionary forces see in its rhetoric a kind of support,” Alexey Gaskarov, 23, an anti-fascist friend of Markelov, says. Gaskarov adds: “In any European country when someone important is killed the authorities immediately try and do something about it. Here they are silent.”

“These things are done by those who want fear and nervosity in society,” Andrei Stolbunov, a fellow human rights lawyer, adds. He goes on: “There are both external and internal forces interested in this. It’s a kind of political terror. You can explode a bomb and kill a lot of people or you can kill just one. But it has to be a public figure. Lawyers are good candidates.”

While civic society groups have expressed outrage at Markelov’s death, most of Russia’s population has been indifferent. Moscow’s two brutal Chechen wars have left Russian society hardened to high levels of violence, says Alexander Sokolov, another human rights activist with Memorial. “The country has become so aggressive it’s hard to know who fired the first shot,” he points out, adding that violence from the Caucasus is now spilling out across Russia.

And not just across Russia, apparently. Markelov’s assassination is similar to other suspicious recent murders with links to Chechnya. Earlier this month a 29-year-old Chechen exile, Umar Israilov, was gunned down in Vienna. Israilov, a former Chechen fighter, had claimed asylum in Austria after alleging that Kadyrov had personally tortured him in a secret prison. In 2006 he filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

According to Chechen sources, emissaries from Kadyrov arrived in Vienna pressuring Israilov to withdraw his complaint. He refused — and instead aired his grievances in an interview with the New York Times. Several weeks before his murder, Israilov complained to Austrian police that he was being followed. They ignored him.

Then, on 13 January, two Chechens dressed in military fatigues ambushed him outside a supermarket. He was shot twice in the head — a professional-style execution similar to Markelov’s. Could the two murders be related? Chechen exile groups believe that only Kadyrov — already accused of involvement in Politkovskaya’s death — can authorise such assassinations in Europe. Kadyrov denies the claim, with officials dismissing Israilov as a fantasist.

But intriguingly, Markelov had begun work on Israilov’s case. He also represented another Chechen, Mokhmadsalakh Masaev, who disappeared last August. Masaev claimed he had been tortured for four months in 2006 at another secret prison near Kadyrov’s home village. Soon after giving an interview to Novaya Gazeta, he went back to Chechnya. Nobody has seen him since.

Stanislav Markelov arrived at Moscow’s Ostankino cemetery last Friday in a coffin. Funeral workers wheeled him in on a gurney; a hole had already been dug; crows clattered among the silver birch trees overlooking the snowy grave. The lid was taken off. His relatives — he leaves a young widow Galina and two small children — kissed him goodbye on the forehead. They threw red carnations into his coffin. Nobody from the Kremlin attended.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Asia


Indonesia Muslims Stage Obama Protest

JAKARTA (Reuters) — About a hundred Indonesians from a hardline Muslim group rallied outside the U.S. embassy in Jakarta on Friday, some criticising U.S. President Barack Obama over suspected U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan.

“Obama has promised maintaining a mutual respect with the Muslim world but the position that the U.S. shows when it attacks Pakistan and Afghanistan means it has not changed,” said Heru Binawan, head of the Jakarta branch of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.

While there is a radical fringe, most Indonesian Muslims follow a moderate form of Islam. There is also a lot of pride in Indonesia over the four years Obama spent in Jakarta as child.

The suspected U.S. missiles were fired into Pakistan last week, killing at least 14 people. It was the first strike since Obama took office.

Some of the protesters from the Muslim group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia also held banners saying “Obama is similar to Bush”.

Indonesia has been a key ally in the U.S.-led “war on terror” and looks to America for trade and investment. But many of President George W. Bush’s policies, especially in the Middle East, have been unpopular in the predominantly Muslim nation.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Indonesia: Trial for Singaporean Suspect

IN A setback for Singaporean terrorist suspect Mohammad Hassan Saynudin, an Indonesian court decided yesterday to proceed with his trial under terrorism charges. Hassan, better known as Fajar Taslim in Indonesia, and his two Indonesian accomplices had applied through their lawyers to be charged under the less harsh criminal code for alleged acts that range from planning bombings to murdering a Christian.

Although the request was turned down, lawyers for the defendants may continue to press — as the trial proceeds — that their offences were more criminal in nature rather than terrorism-related, presiding judge Haswandi told a courtroom yesterday.

The three men face charges under a harsh anti-terrorism law, which can lead to the death penalty if they are convicted.

But if tried under the criminal code, the severest punishment they face is a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.

‘They didn’t create an atmosphere of massive fear in the country,’ the trio’s lawyer Asludin Hatjadi told The Straits Times yesterday after the court’s decision. ‘We will prove this in court.’

The three were among 10 men nabbed in a security sweep in South Sumatra last year. The other seven also face charges of abetting and committing terrorism.

The date of the next court hearing for Fajar Taslim has been set for Feb 5, when a three-judge panel will hear testimonies from witnesses brought in at the request of the prosecutors.

The court will also give equal rights to the defendant’s lawyers when they bring in their witnesses.

Fajar Taslim, 35, is a senior member of the Singapore branch of the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah.

He and the two Indonesians — Ali Masyhudi, 26, and Wahyudi, 35 — have been charged with killing a Christian school teacher, attempting to murder a Christian priest as well as planning to murder two more Christian priests.

Other charges include plotting to attack a cafe in West Sumatra and possessing firearms and explosives.

Their trial is expected to last for years, as Indonesia’s judicial system allows a defendant to file one appeal to a High Court and two more to the Supreme Court before any sentence is carried out.

Three Indonesian men who blew up nightclubs in Bali in 2002, for instance, were convicted and sentenced to death in 2003, but their executions took place only late last year after a series of appeals failed.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Indonesia: Indon Retail Islamic Bonds

JAKARTA- THE retail Islamic bonds offered by the Indonesian government for the first time were on sale on Friday in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim country. The SR-001 sukuk, which have a yield of 12 per cent, will mature in three years effective from February 25 this year.

The government has appointed 13 official agents, which consist of four conventional banks, one shariah bank and eight securities.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that the government would use the income to finance its widening budget deficit.

Indonesia, which faces declining commodity exports and lower foreign investment amid the global slump, has raised its projected budget deficit to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product from one percent.

‘The launch of the retail sukuk is an effort by the government to ensure the funding for the state budget, and to diversify the state obligation instrument,’ she said.

Although Muslims form the majority in the country of 234 million people, shariah finance comprises only one to two percent of all finance, Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra said.

Mr Sukuk conform to Islamic Shariah law in which charging interest is forbidden. They create returns through profit-sharing agreements or from the lease of securitised assets owned by the seller.

Indonesia’s sukuk use the assets model, known as ijarah, and are backed by government land and buildings.

Indonesia’s shariah financing market still lags far behind nations like Malaysia in magnitude. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East


S. Korea: No Room for Violence

Without a basic sense of security, citizens cannot live in peace. If the government kneels before illegal protesters, it had better step down.

Korea has become a place where illegal violence is common and where it sways society. We have seen a sledgehammer wielded in the National Assembly, and a catastrophe kill six people in Yongsan, Seoul. Violent protest is not new to us. It has been a Korean phenomenon for a long time.

Statistics from the last few years indicate that 12,000 group demonstrations are staged in Korea annually, which means an average of 35 protests per day. Of these, about 80 each year are illegal violent protests. In such protests across the country we find placards with aggressive messages. Illegal occupations are not rare, and professional protesters enjoy a brisk business. We are living in a truly combative society.

Korea¡¯s law and order index is one of the lowest, along with Turkey and Mexico, among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Another statistic shows that the rate at which demands made through illegal demonstrations are granted is 29 percent, higher than the 25 percent success rate for legitimate procedures.

The social cost for illegal protests is 1.53 percent of the gross national product, about 12 trillion won ($8.76 billion) wasted every year. A pre-modern militant society has been established, where people can transcend law and order and profit by raising their voices and making unreasonable demands as a group.

The Yongsan incident is a disgraceful portrayal of Korean society. At the root of the tragedy is illegal violence. Those killed in the incident are the victims of a militant society. When the scene is lawless and smacks of terrorism, talking about ¡°excessive suppression¡± is a luxury we cannot afford. A bigger problem is that a large, illegal and violent demonstration was tolerated in a country based on a constitution.

Of course, if the investigation into the incident finds excessive acts of suppression, riot police should be reprimanded accordingly. However, it is an issue that should be handled separately from the illegal violence that caused the catastrophe.

The government is responsible for preventing even a moment of illegality and violence. Public authorities should be held accountable for letting protesters bring in 60 bottles of paint thinner that could possibly kill, throw Molotov cocktails and use slingshots for an extended period. Police reluctance to act fanned the problem.

Behind the tragedy is the National Alliance of Squatters and Evictees, which has been leading violent protest for a long time. Its members, who have been trained to resist police suppression, stirred up and initiated the violent protests by rigging up a watchtower that functioned as a command center and combat base.

They are the violent forces that encouraged those in distress to fight against the government and the police and finally drove them to their deaths. The police investigation has found that they raised tens of millions of won from poor evictees to fund the struggle.

An attack on public authority, which protects the safety of citizens, is a challenge to citizens and the state. No cause justifies such violence.

We urgently need extraordinary measures to improve the protest culture. Groups that stage illegal violence in Korea are law-abiding when they go abroad. The government needs to respond firmly to any protest illegality so demonstrators don¡¯t think they can misbehave on their home soil.

In order to establish law and order and rectify the violent protest culture, the law on assembly and demonstration should be revised and then strictly enforced. Preparing steel pipes, paint thinners and Molotov cocktails to resist public authority is not an expression of free speech and should be defined as illegal and strictly punished.

The government should not make exceptions for illegal demonstrations. Even the most trivial illegal act should be suppressed the moment it begins. And those who practice violence should be liable for civil and criminal charges.

Lastly, the government should never forget that protecting citizens and maintaining social order is its most fundamental duty. A country swayed by illegal protests has no future, and a government that allows such a catastrophe to happen is not a government at all.

If leaders cannot fully carry out this basic duty, they have no reason to be around. Without a basic sense of security, citizens cannot live in peace. If the government kneels before illegal protesters, it had better step down.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa


S. African Jews to Take on Deputy FM Over Slurs

South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies has lodged a complaint of hate speech with the country’s Human Rights Commission against Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Fatima Hajaig of the ruling African National Congress.

In remarks tape-recorded during a pro-Palestinian rally outside Johannesburg at the height of the recent fighting in Gaza, Hajaig can be heard saying that “Jewish money” controls the US and other nations.

“No matter which government comes into power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush, the control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money,” she said.

“If Jewish money controls their country, you cannot expect anything else,” she said, referring to support for Israel by certain nations.

Her words were welcomed by thunderous applause.

The January 14 rally was organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Palestine Solidarity and the SA Council of Churches.

According to South African media reports, the Jewish Board of Deputies called Hajaig’s statement “an embarrassment to South Africa.” It also wanted her to “withdraw her comments, distance herself completely from sentiments of this nature, and apologize.”

In its complaint, the board said the statement demonstrated “a clear intention to be hurtful, be harmful or incite harm and especially to promote or propagate hatred against the Jewish people.”

David Saks, the board’s associate director, told the South African publication Business Day the statement was anti-Semitic because it alleged “that Jews are a scheming, manipulative, behind-the-scenes influence in their host societies, who control the affairs of the societies for their own selfish, usually evil, gains.”

Saks said the idea of “a Jew who uses his money to undermine the well-being of the human race” was “a classic anti-Semitic stereotype.”

The board’s national chairman, Zev Krengel, told The Jerusalem Post that apart from the apology, the board wanted Hajaig to “educate herself” about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, possibly with visits to Cape Town’s Holocaust Museum or even Israel’s Yad Vashem.

The board said Hajaig had crossed the line between being pro-Palestinian, which was legitimate, to being anti-Semitic, which was not.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said the department was “not [familiar] with the contents of the alleged statement made by the deputy minister,” and that Hajaig was in Japan on official business. She was scheduled to return to South Africa on Friday.

The Jewish governing body said it would give the cabinet a limited period of time to convene and decide what to do.

The spokesman for South Africa’s Human Rights Commission, Vincent Moaga, told the Post his group would address the complaint in the coming days. He said it first would have to decide whether it was the right body to handle the complaint, after which it would assess whether there was an opportunity to mediate between the parties or take the matter to court.

The commission was also waiting to see how Hajaig responded before making a decision.

The commission has dealt with previous cases of hate speech, including one in which the minister of labor made unfavorable comments about people of Chinese origin. Moaga said that following a complaint, the minister had been cooperative and, at a meeting between the sides, a solution had been found.

Should Hajaig fail to respond to the Jewish Board of Deputies’s satisfaction, or should mediation efforts fail, there is a good chance the Human Rights Commission will take the minister to court on charges of hate speech.

South Africa says it has a zero-tolerance policy on racism and xenophobia.Should the commission not take Hajaig to court, the board of deputies would do so itself, Krengel said. If this were the case, the board would petition the country’s Equality Court, which was set up to hear charges of racism and bigotry.

On December 29, just two days after the start of Operation Cast Lead, Hajaig summoned Israeli ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg to explain the IDF’s push into Gaza.

Segev-Steinberg later said he was “bashed very, very badly” by Hajaig.

There are an estimated 70,000 to 75,000 Jews in South Africa. Over the past 18 months, four percent of the community is said to have left, mostly for Israel, Australia and Canada.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Immigration


Algeria: Ouyahia, Migration is a Tragedy

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 28 — “The phenomenon of the ‘harraga’, as the young people trying to reach Europe — mainly Italy and Spain — via sea are called, is a serious problem for Algeria, it’s a crisis, a national tragedy” said Ahmed Ouyahia, secretary general of the National Democratic Group (RCD) and present premier, quoted by APS. Ouyahia said he is “shattered” to see “these young people throwing themselves into the sea to find a miserable job, almost like a slave, if they manage to survive the crossing”. “We should give our youth a glimmer of hope and a reason to believe in their country” he added. “The young are the life of Algeria”. According to the navy, 1335 persons, among whom 1327 Algerians, were arrested off the coast in 2008. Ninety-eight bodies have been retrieved from the sea. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Bangkok Denies Refugee Status to Rohingya

According to the Thai government, they are “illegal immigrants” who have no right to political asylum, and it is ordering that they be repatriated. Over the past two months, more than 550 refugees are believed to have drowned after being abandoned in international waters. On January 24, Indonesia refused entry visas for 193 refugees.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The ethnic Rohingya refugees picked up in the territorial waters of Thailand are “illegal immigrants,” not “refugees,” and they will not be granted visas to enter the country. The Thai government today clarified the situation of the Burmese Rohingya refugees, fleeing the country because they have been persecuted by the dictatorship and refused asylum by Thailand and Indonesia.

“There is no reasonable ground to believe that these migrants fled from their country of origin for well-founded fear of being persecuted,” Bangkok stressed in a statement defending the government’s policy toward these refugees. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh; most of them live in the state of Rakhine — formerly called Arakan — in western Burma, and they are victims of persecution and abuse perpetrated by the Burmese military dictatorship.

It is estimated that over the past two months, more than 550 of the 1,000 refugees have drowned after being abandoned by the Thai army in international waters, on board improvised canoes without motors or sails. The military and the government insist on the official version, according to which the men “were provided with necessary food, water and medicines,” and reject the accusation of mistreatment.

Today, the Thai court charged 62 refugees with “irregular immigration,” increasing the fears that they will be sent back to Myanmar. If they are sent back to their country of origin, they will again suffer persecution, torture, and killing. The Ranong court also charged them with an administrative fine of 1,000 bath, equal to 30 U.S. dollars, a sum that none of them can pay. For this reason, the judge commuted their sentence to five days in jail. The men arrested are part of a group of 78 refugees picked up on January 26 in the Andaman sea, off the southwestern coast of Thailand, many of whom had burns and injuries that they attribute to torture by Burmese soldiers.

Last January 24, Indonesia also denied asylum to 193 Rohingya migrants who landed on its coast on January 27, coming from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda explained the decision by saying that they were “economic migrants with no right to political asylum.”

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



Indonesia: Rohingya to be Deported

INDONESIA said on Friday it will repatriate 174 ‘economic migrants’ who fled Myanmar claiming persecution, as new accounts emerged of their harrowing sea journey and alleged abuse by the Thai navy. The ethnic Rohingya Muslims, who rights groups say fled Myanmar only to be beaten and abandoned at sea by the Thai military, would be repatriated to Myanmar despite the concerns of rights groups, the foreign ministry said.

One of the migrants who spoke to AFP on Friday at a hospital in Sabang, northern Sumatra, begged not to be sent back to Myanmar or Thailand.

‘For three days and three nights we were beaten by Thai navy with big guns and wooden sticks. They hit us all over our bodies,’ said Mr Mohammad Hasan, 22, who has tuberculosis.

‘We were put into four boats with no engines, no rice, no food, no water’ and towed out to sea by a Thai navy ship for one day and night, he added, confirming accounts by other Rohingya migrants in Indonesia and India.

‘In the morning they cut the rope and shot in the air randomly. I was very afraid. The people on the boats were crying and screaming. The Thai navy left us after that.’

He said he faced jail and his family would be punished if he was sent back to mainly Buddhist Myanmar, where the ruling junta denies the existence of the Rohingya minority.

‘I pray to Allah that the Indonesian government will not send me back to Myanmar. If I go back I’ll be put in jail and later they’ll shoot me and my family,’ he said.

The 174 Rohingya and 19 Bangladeshis being kept at an Indonesian naval base landed in Weh Island off northern Sumatra on January 7.

They are believed to be survivors from a group of about 1,000 mainly Rohingya asylum seekers who were set adrift by the Thai military after landing on Thai territory. Thailand denies the allegations.

Nearly 650 have been rescued off India and Indonesia but hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the migrants had ‘economic motives’ for leaving Myanmar and refused to comment on their alleged abuse by Thai security forces.

‘We’ve read about the ill-treatment by Thailand in the media. But what we seek is the result of our own investigations. Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions and say there are human rights violations,’ he told reporters.

Indonesia has barred journalists and the UN refugee agency from interviewing the migrants inside the naval base, where they could be seen Friday conducting prayers and relaxing.

Mr Faizasyah dismissed suggestions Jakarta was sidestepping the human rights question to avoid having to take care of the migrants as refugees under international law.

‘We are not covering up for anybody,’ he said.

The International Organisation for Migration has been given access to the migrants but the inter-governmental agency has refused to comment to the media.

The Red Cross has also had access to the base at Sabang.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has been denied access, said that given the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the migrants were probably in need of international protection and should not be repatriated.

Amnesty International called Friday for Thailand to ‘stop forcibly expelling Rohingyas and provide them with immediate humanitarian assistance’.

In an open letter to regional governments, it said ‘hundreds of Rohingyas are missing or have died after the Thai security forces set them adrift in unseaworthy boats with little or no food and water’.

‘Amnesty International urges the governments of India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand… to ensure that no one who would face serious human rights violations in any country be returned there,’ it said. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Lampedusa: 100 More Restrictive Decrees

(ANSAmed) — LAMPEDUSA (AGRIGENTO), JANUARY 29 — There have been about 220 restrictive decrees submitted to some of the Tunisians currently being held at the immigration centre for identification and expulsion in Lampedusa, who therefore are to be deported in line with the agreement made yesterday in Tunis by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni. This morning the police communicated the measures to about 100 migrants, while yesterday the first 120 notifications were served. Meanwhile, three justices of the peace in Agrigento have begun talks with the non-European migrants who will be repatriated, a necessary step for the validation of the decrees which must be made by the judicial authorities within 48 hours of the notification. There are no transfers scheduled today to Tunisia from the immigration centre, which currently is holding 1,050 Tunisians. In the former naval base Loran, which had initially been indicated by the Interior Ministry as the site for the immigration centre for the identification and expulsion to be opened on the island, there are over 100 migrants, most of whom originally from sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past few days asylum seekers have been transferred to the temporary detention centre in Crotone.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Netherlands: Indian Workers Change Dutch Expat Demographics

Counter to previous trends, the largest group settling in the Netherlands the last three years from outside of Europe is now highly educated people from India.

Almost 3,000 Indian ICT professionals and engineers moved to the Netherlands in 2006 and 2007.

Asmita Dixit, an electronics engineer, commutes every day from the central Dutch city Utrecht to Voorburg, almost 60 kilometres west. Her mother looks after Dixit’s 11-month old daughter while she manages an ICT team from the services company Sogeti, working on-site with a customer. This may seem normal, however Dixit has only lived in the Netherlands for three weeks. She’s from Mumbai, India — as are all the 20 Indian IT specialists who have come to work for Sogeti in the past year. She has a work permit for one year. Her mother is here on a tourist visa for three months to look after the baby. Her father will replace his wife after three months.

Asmita Dixit (31) is flexibility personified. She says she doesn’t feel displaced at all and is already eating “bread and peanut butter” like the locals. She does, however, travel by train, because she is used to driving on the left side of the road in India and she doesn’t yet trust herself on the Dutch roads.

Under pressure from the business community, the Netherlands relaxed its rules for the admission of ‘knowledge workers’ from outside the European Union in 2006. Since then employers have increasingly been recruiting highly-skilled personnel, especially from India. The Netherlands welcomed 3,000 Indian workers in 2006 and 2007, according to immigration figures from the Dutch national statistics office CBS, making it the largest group. In the same period, for instance, the Netherlands attracted 1,850 workers from the US and 1,170 from China. In the three years since the ‘knowledge worker’ admissions criteria was introduced, 16,000 requests have been processed and 95 percent of the applications accepted, according to the immigration office IND. In the years before the new policy, only 300 Indians came to the Netherlands to work annually.

Most Indians live in the country’s larger cities — where the majority of the technology businesses are located — particularly in Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam. Indian businesses have also sprung up. Already there are 33 in and around Amsterdam, mainly front offices of large Indian companies.

Arshad Khan can confirm the trend. In residential Amstelveen he opened up an Indian grocery store three years ago. His small shop is crammed with rice, Indian spices, spicy chips and various vegetables. “The vegetables are flown in straight from India,” he says. The other products are imported from England, which has a considerable Indian community. The expats come to him from all over the Netherlands to buy typical Indian products, says Khan. “Particularly after 6 o’clock in the evening it gets busy with expats who want to come pick up a kabob after work.”

The municipalities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen rolled out the red carpet for new expats last year, by setting up a special ‘expat centre’ where these knowledge workers can take care of all of their paperwork in only one visit. They can immediately obtain a residence permit from the immigration department, register themselves with their new city council and receive a tax and citizen registration number within three days.

To recruit a knowledge worker, the employer must offer a work contract for a minimum salary of 49,000 euros per year to those above 30 years of age (36,000 euros for those under 30). An employer must vouch for the employee with immigration services. The procedure only takes four weeks as opposed to the months it would have taken in the past. Should the employee be laid off, then the company is held responsible for any financial risks incurred. If the knowledge worker acquires a new job within three months, offering the same salary, the new boss can then vouch for the worker and they can stay in the country. Employers apply for a residence permit while the employees are still in their home country.

In Rotterdam an employer recently went bankrupt just as he had taken on two Indian knowledge workers. Lilian van der Steen, who runs the Rotterdam expat centre all by herself, is convinced that they will find new work. Van der Steen mostly deals with questions regarding Dutch regulations, such as: “What is the difference between a marriage and living together?”and “Can my Mexican wife join me?” Recently she even accompanied an expat who needed to get tested for tuberculosis.

The Netherlands could have “a multitude” of these workers, says Erik ter Pelle, who runs a company geared towards helping foreign businesses move their foreign staff to the Netherlands. Ter Pelle thinks the requirement of a paper birth certificate for registration is the main obstacle. German city councils, for instance, do not demand a birth certificate. “A trustworthy birth certificate is difficult to get hold of in India. Therefore, many companies have their knowledge workers register in Germany — even though they are working here.”

The employers’ union VNO-NCW says it is “very satisfied” with the policy. Yet it too regrets that German employers are able to hire Indian talent for a lower price than the Dutch because the Dutch government is planning to request a larger fee per knowledge worker than its neighbours.

Still, the local councils are doing their best for the expats. Amstelveen organises a cricket match every year, especially for the 900 Indians who work there. Soon it will set up an Indian Society to hold debates or cultural activities. The expat centre in Amsterdam wants to extend the range of its services: expats in the future will be guided as to how to navigate the multitudes of service companies who prey on them: including housing intermediaries, childcare organisations and agencies that sift through the various fiscal regulations.

These service providers have witnessed the market changing. Until recently they mainly catered to European, American or Japanese expats. Yet as they weather the first wave of the credit crisis, some foreign headquarters are pulling out their personnel from the Netherlands and sending them home. According to Irene Bunt, director of Settle Services, the damage isn’t bad yet. Her company takes care of everything for incoming expats. “But we do notice that all contracts are becoming shorter-term. Luckily though, the new group of Indians is continuing to grow.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



UK: Deportation Delays ‘Costing £10m’

Holding criminals awaiting deportation in immigration centres is costing the taxpayer £10m a year, says Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green.

Nearly 1,200 ex-prisoners are being held in detention centres — at a cost of about £47,500 each a year, he says.

He said ministers had failed in their promise to automatically deport foreign criminals, at great expense.

Last month ministers said a target to remove at least 5,000 foreign convicts in the past year had been met.

Mr Green said answers to Parliamentary questions by the Conservatives showed tens of millions of pounds was being wasted on holding foreign criminals in unsuitable centres.

Holding people in detention centres costs nearly £10,000 more per person than the cost of keeping people in prison, the Conservatives say.

“The taxpayer is being fleeced yet again to pay for failures in the government’s immigration policy.

“Gordon Brown promised ‘automatic deportation’ of foreign criminals, but we have nearly 1,200 of them locked up very expensively in centres not designed to hold hardened criminals.”

“This is not only a waste of our money, it is dangerous. The riots and fires we have seen at detention centres in recent years often come about because criminals become the dominant group inside the centre.”

‘Public safety’

The Home Office said the higher cost per inmate of detention centres was due to a range of factors including the fact they were much smaller than prisons and were close to airports, making land prices and rents higher.

It said the government’s first priority was “protecting the public” and the record number of deportations of foreign criminals last year showed its “continued commitment to removing the most harmful people first”.

The foreign criminals issue cost Charles Clarke his job as home secretary in 2006, when it emerged more than 1,000 had been released from prison, without being considered for deportation.

It prompted his successor, John Reid, to declare parts of the system “not fit for purpose” and led to an overhaul of procedures.

In December the UK Border Agency said it had met the “tough target” set to remove at least 5,000 foreign criminals a year — including 50 convicted of either murder or attempted murder — and had staff working in prisons to speed up deportations.

Ministers say all non-EU prisoners convicted of serious drug or gun crimes are now considered for deportation, irrespective of the length of their sentence.

But strict rules govern which foreign criminals can be removed from the UK — those who have their family life in the UK, and in particular those from EU countries, are among the hardest to remove on human rights grounds.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars


What if Christianity’s Critics Got Serious?

I’m not one to jump on the “Christianity is under attack” bandwagon. However, there’s no question that Christianity is the target of far more legal action in this country that any other religion and people are far more sensitive to mentioning “Jesus” than Buddha, Mohammed, or other religious figures. (Which is a significant reason in my thinking that there’s actually something to this Christianity business). But in looking through the media recently and noticing that the voices against Christianity seem to be growing — and getting more hostile — I spent part of the holidays wondering what would happen if the pendulum swung just enough to shift the majority’s thinking? What if the majority decided that Christians are the problem in this country and we need to do something about it?

And it’s not just my wild imagination. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League at the end of last year indicates 64 percent of Americans say religion in America is under attack.

“This has become more than a seasonal witch hunt by the ACLU,” said World Net Daily Editor and founder Joseph Farah. “The attacks on Christianity in America are alarming. We are witnessing more than religious bigotry now. We are entering the early stages of what could become persecution and outright criminalization of Christianity if it is not exposed and fought vigorously by all freedom-loving people.”

Farah’s word “criminalization” is interesting. I spoke at a conference a few years back and met the leader of one of the country’s largest Christian ministries to the gay community. He mentioned even then his organization was already preparing for a time in the near future when offering a gay or transgender person an alternative to that lifestyle will actually be illegal. Just offering it — will be illegal. Far fetched? In Madison, Wisconsin, David Ott, a former homosexual, was arrested for a “hate crime” for sharing his testimony with a gay man at a gas station. He faced a $10,000 fine and one year behind bars. Seven thousand dollars in legal fees later, [he] was ordered to attend re-education classes at the University of Wisconsin. Regardless of what you believe about homosexuality, it appears that even discussion about it may be illegal soon.

The thought police are indeed out there. […]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

The Threat of Islam in Austria

I reported last night on a survey of Flemish voters that showed how many people in Flanders consider Islam a threat, despite all the decades of multicultural indoctrination.

Now comes a mirror-image survey from Austria, showing the intolerant and non-integrative attitudes of Austria’s Muslims. And remember: teachers were the ones being surveyed. These weren’t ignorant denizens of the “Muslim street”; they were the people officially charged by the Austrian state with Islamic education.

Our Austrian correspondent ESW has compiled a report based on German-language sources. First, her prefatory note:

Muslims in Austria, especially those of official Islam, are highly nervous about the study that was made public two days ago.

Mouhanad Khorchide is a fairly well-known scientist, often invited to discussions. He was also on the panel at the recent discussion at the political academy of the ÖVP, where he filled in for Tariq Ramadan. He can certainly be considered a liberal Muslim, but a Muslim nonetheless.

I am wary of him, but he is helpful, because Muslims cannot complain about the study having been written by infidels; it was written by one of their own. This is the main reason for their nervousness. Even the political left is nervous about the results of the study. Some even consider revoking Islam’s status as a religious group if changes are not made.

However, I am looking forward to watching these changes unfold. How can the Quran and its contents be changed? People need to realize that it is not the teachers who are the problem, but rather Islam.

Will there be a special Quran for Austria? An Austrian Islam? What will Saudi Arabia say?

Interesting times. The truth will prevail. The lie of Islam will hopefully be exposed. Thank you, Mr. Khorchide. You have helped the Counterjihad more than you will ever know!

Here is the translation of an article from Wednesday’s Die Presse:

Islamic Teachers A Problem

One in five teachers of Islam (21.9%) has a problem with democracy. And he or she even says so openly. This is the result of a written survey meticulously conducted by the sociologist and scientist Mouhanad Khorchide. Apart from the above assertion, there is additional explosive data: 14.7% distance themselves from the Austrian constitution, 13.9% are of the opinion that elections are not compatible with Islam, and 28.4% believe that it is not possible to be a European and Muslim at the same time.

Austrian Survey


Even more, there are those among the polled Islamic teachers (18.2%) who advocate the death penalty in case of apostasy. And 8.5% sympathize with those using violence to spread Islam.

- – - - – - – - -

Anas Shakfeh, the head of the Islamic Faith Community in Austria, also concludes that beliefs and attitudes such as the above are highly problematic. However, direct consequences cannot be drawn from this study because the questionnaires were made anonymous. “I cannot react to a private opinion,” Shakfeh says. If a teacher does make these statements, there would be consequences.

But the hiring of Islamic teachers is the responsibility of Islamic Faith Community, not that of the state. This resulted in the hiring of teachers who were inadequately trained or not trained at all. 37% of those teaching right now have no theological training, 41% are not trained as teachers — all this can also be found in the study.

The Faith Community blames these numbers on “relics”: when Islamic religious teaching was first introduced in 1982, there were no qualified teachers in Austria, which meant they had to be “imported” from Turkey. Only in 1998 was the Islamic Religious Academy (IRPA) founded in Vienna [as part of the University of Vienna].

Things have since changed somewhat, says Khorchide. “Second-generation religious teachers identify more strongly with Austria. They do not have deficits [such as those found in the study].” On the other hand, these younger teachers do not emphasize critical reflection, but rather convey rituals and laws. There remains much to do.

The title of the study was: Mouhanad Khorchide, “Islamic Religious Education between Integration and Parallel Societies: Attitudes and Beliefs of Islamic Religious Teachers in Public Schools”

The survey questions were:

1.   “I oppose democracy because it cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Islam.”
2.   “I believe it is not possible to be a European and a Muslim.”
3.   “Islam forbids taking part in elections (i.e. voting).”
4.   “I oppose the Austrian constitution because it is in contradiction with Islam.”
5.   “Islam dies not allow participation in Austrian cultural activities (theater, art, etc.).”
6.   “I oppose the Human Rights Convention because it is not compatible with Islamic teachings.”

Who is Mouhanad Khorchide?

The 37-year old Lebanese native considers himself a liberal Muslim who does not read the Quran as the literal word of God, and who applies scientific methods when he trains religious teachers and works as an imam.

What makes his Ph.D. thesis so exceptional is its exclusive approach in matters of Islam, school and integration. The higher echelons in the Faith Community saw potential in Khorchide and in 2007 gave him permission to hand out his questionnaires at a conference for religious teachers. 210 teachers (out of 330) teachers returned the questionnaires. Experts say that results are particularly representative for Vienna and Lower Austria [two states in the eastern part of Austria]. The best and most highly trained teachers can be found in these two states.

The study finds a quarter of teachers who answer questions regarding democracy, rule of law, and integration precisely the way right-wing populists allege and liberals fear. The older the teacher, the greater the rejection of the rule of law and democratic principles. What is especially disconcerting is that 44% of the teachers believe that students primarily need to learn about feelings of superiority.

One in three teachers does not hold Austrian citizenship. Teachers hail from Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, first-generation immigrants who were not exposed to democratic values and freedom in their home countries. How can they now convey these values to their students?

The Faith Community is represented by Anas Shakfeh. He has been president for ten years and worked as a teacher. Official Austria holds him in high regard on integration matters. He was even given a prestigious award for his efforts. Shakfeh is the head of the Islamic education authority and taught without formal training for 20 years. He also works for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Vienna. Is one who works for an inhuman theocracy and who knows little about education science and teaching skills the right man to establish an open and modern Islamic religious education?

A couple of weeks ago he subtly denied Israel’s right to exist. As a result, our interview starts with a discussion about the war in Gaza. Khorchide’s study? He has read parts of it. “They’re not catastrophic, but also not OK”, Shakfeh says. “Since Khorchide also teaches at university, it is also up to him to make improvements.”

Here are some of the first political reactions, as summarized by ESW from ORF:

Both the minister of education and the mayor of Vienna are publicly demanding consequences. Interestingly enough, both the minister and the mayor are members of the socialist parties.

Says mayor Michael Häupl: “The fact that a fifth of the Islamic religious teachers oppose democracy causes me sleepless nights. If I had a study like this about indigenous teachers, I would faint.” He warns that any changes in the way teachers are trained would also mean consequences for Catholic teachers, because according to the law on religious education of 1949, it is the religious groups who are in charge of religious education; the state only acts as a supervisor.

Minister Claudia Schmied said in an interview with Austrian television that this survey calls for consequences and that she will seek a meeting with Anas Shakfeh.

All other Austrian political parties have already reacted to the controversial survey well before the socialists did: Sirvan Ekici (ÖVP, conservative party), in charge of integration matters, wants the Faith Community to make sure its teachers conform to Austrian laws and values.

Socialists demand a “comprehensive explanation from the Faith Community. It is necessary to make sure that nothing that goes against democratic values is taught. There is no room for fundamentalist tendencies.”

The Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Jörg Haider’s spin-off, BZÖ, are in agreement that mosques and schools need to be monitored closely. This should be done by the Federal Agency for State Protection and Counterterrorism, since the Faith Community is unwilling or unable to take care of this.

Even the Green Party finds the results of the study troubling: “Whoever opposes human rights or demands the death penalty for apostasy is not fit to teach in Austrian schools,” says Harald Walser, who also warns of the existence of parallel societies.

Some more background from ORF:

Islamic religious teaching has been taking place at Austrian public schools for 27 years. There are 350 teachers for 32,000 students. Khorchide adds that there has never been a scientific evaluation of Islamic religious classes. Until 1998, when the university institute IRPA was founded, teachers were recruited among the Arab population in Austria. Some of those have radical tendencies and continue teaching to this day.



See ESW’s Counterjihad Brussels report on Islam in Austria (pdf) for further background on the religious status of Austria.

The Moral Equivocation of Bert the Weeper

Earlier this week I reported on Bert Anciaux, the Flemish Minister for Culture, Youth and Sport, who equated the Israel operation in Gaza with the nursery-killer of Dendermonde.

The habitual detractors of Vlaams Belang must be surprised by the fact that Mr. Anciaux is a Socialist, and not a “neo-Nazi” like Filip Dewinter.

And now Vlaams Belang has issued a response to Bert Anciaux’s nasty little jibe at the Jews.

Why does Filip Dewinter do such a bad job of being a neo-Nazi? All this support for Israel, speaking out on behalf of the beleaguered Jews of Flanders, condemning anti-Semites day after day — what in the world is he thinking of?

Huh. Some Nazi.

Our Flemish correspondent VH has translated the latest on Anciaux from Vlaams Belang, and has compiled a batch of additional material on “Bert the Weeper”:

Anciaux flies off the curve*

A few days ago Bert Anciaux called on everyone to wear an arafatsjaal [keffiyeh] to proclaim the message of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Well, Bert more often lets himself be carried away and tempted by foolish actions and statements. But a little later the blow really hit home and the notorious crash-lander [brokkenpiloot, a pilot who crashes more than he flies] flew completely off the curve. Anciaux compared the tragedy in Dendermonde to the fate of Palestinian children in Gaza…

“Here are about 15 victims, of whom 14 tiny little children. It shocks us all. I had to think as well of the hundreds of dead children in the Gaza Strip, also deliberately killed by an aggressor, and without that aggressor having been arrested for it,” Anciaux wrote on his blog.

As has often has been said and written, legitimate questions may be asked about the military action by Israel and the high number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. But to claim that Israel deliberately targeted and killed Palestinian children is something completely different. This is a gratuitous accusation. The comparison with the horrific tragedy in the nursery in Dendermonde is completely berserk and smells like the behavior of a scavenger.

The Flemish Government has been embarrassed by yet another Anciaux-incident. Little Bert now hurries to say that he did not mean it, and that he also condemns the violence by Hamas. That explanation is pretty late, and we never heard a sharp condemnation of Hamas by Anciaux before now. Whatever one may think of the war in the Middle East, the comparison with the tragedy in Dendermonde is very unfortunate and inappropriate.

VH gives us a little background on Bert Anciaux:

“Bert the Weeper,” as Bert Anciaux is called by many (because of his pretended emotions, preferably on TV), is quite open in his anti-Israel and anti-USA (pre-Obama) stands, and in his closet racism.

The one-time Flemish Nationalist (until his Nationalist Party “Volksunie” collapsed in 2001) Bert Anciaux is a slippery left-wing political opportunist (digested parties, from Flemish Nationalist to Socialist: VU — ID21 — SPIRIT — VL.PRO — SP.a) and full-blooded populist.

A quote from Vlaams Belang:

- – - - – - – - -

In old fairy tales one could sell one’s soul to the devil in return for seven years of prosperity. Bert Anciaux adds a whole new interpretation to this tale: He does not sell his soul for seven years. He sells his soul seven times successively. In late November of 2008 Bert Anciaux [then Minister for the Social Liberal party “Spirit”] declared firmly on TV: “I am not a Socialist.” Yesterday, when he switched to the SP.a [Flemish Socialists], the same Anciaux said without blinking an eye: “I am absolutely a SP.a man. And a real Social Democrat.”

Children are an excellent propaganda tool he has learned to use, and Bert Anciaux makes an art out of utilizing them to write one tear-jerk line after another in his daily thoughts about the world around him. At least, he tries hard to do it, since for many Leftists, anything goes as long as it gains votes.

Last year, when then still Minister of Culture, Anciaux opened the state-funded Expertise Center for Islamic Culture in Flanders (Expertisecentrum voor Islamitische Culturen in Vlaanderen, ECICV): “From a study that I conducted through Ghent University it appears that the demand for knowledge about Islam is huge,” according to Bert Anciaux. “Our principal source of information is after all not contact with Muslims, but the media, which all too often present a distorted picture.” Anciaux said that the people, the media and those in the middle like schools have a great need for objective information about Muslim culture. “After all, it contains more than religion alone,” according to Anciaux. “It is also a culture and a civilization.” Abdelhay Ben Abdellah, head of the center, said: “Additionally we want to take the initiative for the academic study of Islam culture in Flanders. In this way we will build a bridge between the academic world and the public.”

After his latest smear of Israel and Jews, Anciaux defended himself:

I will condemn every attack on innocent civilians, especially on children, wherever it occurs in the world. My expressions are not aimed at the Jewish community, but more so towards illegitimate violence by the Jewish state,” and added: “Also the violence of Hamas against innocent Jewish civilians is unacceptable and inhuman.” Anciaux points out that the people in the Gaza strip didn’t get the chance to flee from the violence: “The massive murder of innocent children can never be justified and is a deliberate act of violence and aggression. When one wants to fight out a war with Hamas, then at least give innocent civilians, amongst whom which a huge amount of children, the chance to bring themselves to safety. This they did not do,” stresses Anciaux.

And here’s what Joods Actueel had to say:

Consciously is not deliberate

Bert Anciaux sees a difference between the “consciously murdering children” and “deliberately aiming for children”.

Jewish News [Joods Actueel] had a conversation with Minister Anciaux. The Israeli embassy reacted strongly to the statements by Anciaux.

Anciaux: This is in a personal comment on my blog. Each child that is murdered or killed, is inhumane and unacceptable [sic]. Wherever in the world. Nobody has the right to put innocent children in danger or to kill them.

Jewish News: You stay with your choice of words that Israel deliberately killed children.

Anciaux: When Israel starts a war against Hamas in Gaza, then they know there is no doubt that children will die. You therefore cannot say otherwise than Israel was conscious of the possibility that children would die.

Jewish News: If Israel wanted to deliberately murder children, why didn’t they use “carpet bombing” then, and kill many more children? You would have thought that the most powerful army in the Middle East in two weeks time with thousands of bombs could have killed many more children if it was intended.

Anciaux: I also have never said that Israel deliberately goes after children.

Jewish News: That is clearly the way it appears.

Anciaux: That’s scandalous talk. Anyone with malicious intentions can turn my words around, but I have not said that.

Jewish News: But that is clearly the way it appears. And if you continue the reasoning further, then the war of NATO (and Belgian fighter aircraft) in Afghanistan is also a war where we “consciously” murder children.

Anciaux: Everyone knows that I am resolutely against the NATO operation. But even then, you cannot compare the two. In Gaza there were people who were trapped and there was nowhere to go to.

Jewish News: Where should the children of Afghanistan be going to, if they often don’t even have shoes?

- – - -

Afterthought: The question is just whether the Minister will “consciously” minimize his expressions.

More notes from VH:

Asked for their stands on the election of President George Bush, these were the various responses:

Jean-Marie Dedecker (VLD): “If I say that Bush’s IQ is lower than my blood pressure, then Mr. Bush shouldn’t complain at this moment, because my doctor has found yesterday that my blood pressure is way too high.”

Gerolf Annemans (Vlaams Belang): “I warmly welcome president Bush. You won’t hear me say that I agree on everything with the man, but his policies have given the US an advantage of ten years compared to Europe.”

Bert Anciaux (at that time Minister for the party Spirit): “I would like to demonstrate against him. I have asked the Flemish government if I could, but they made clear it would be better not to. As a government minister, I’m not as free as I would be as an MP or a party president, in which case I certainly would have demonstrated on the streets. So now I keep my legs still, but my heart will beat for the demonstrators.”

On his own blog there is more to find about the world of the anti-Semite Socialist Bert Anciaux. Just a few examples [the dates of publishing in brackets to find the original on his blog]:

Politically correct racism:

“To see him busy. It does one good. Damn it, what is doable in America should be possible here too. One man manages to wipe all the negativism off the table. One man manages to unite a nation. And above all a man who had his skin color against him. Never before was a black man was taken seriously as president candidate. Never before did white America want to know of a black advocate.” […] Each of us must pick up one’s responsibility. Unite what can be united. Come on, we are not going to accept that 80 percent of the people are going to vote Right and Conservative, are we!? We are not going to accept that the false prophets are going to set us by the ears?” [dinsdag 20 jan 2009]

“Obama has bought back hope to a people that suffered during last 8 years under a Rightist and Conservative government.” [maandag 19 jan 2009]

On the keffiyeh:

“While his father resided in Palestine, his 10-year old son slept with his fathers’ arafatsjaal [keffiyeh]. That image alone says more than many thousand words. The attachment between a father and his son, of a son who looks up to his father. The connection between the present and the future, the continuation of an ideal, the purpose of a life, the pride on the truth. […] The driver could just prevent his resignation. The wearing of an arafatsjaal was not appreciated. Is seemingly not done, unacceptable! As if it is an unforgivable posture, as if it is a forbidden practice, a serious mistake. An arafatsjaal will be for some people another symbol out of many that have to be kept out of our society. But what is so dangerous about it? Does the wearing of it lead to violence and intolerance? Or is it just a sign of alliance with a suppressed and terrorized people?

Today every righteous Fleming, every righteous human being should wear the arafatsjaal. Out of solidarity with all the suppressed, out of solidarity with all those whose life is endangered, for all those who risk their lives every day.”

[…]

He brought a shawl [keffiyeh] for me from Gaza. I will wear it with dignity. Like once I received a keppel form a Jewish friend. It was from his deceased father. I still cherish it.” [donderdag 22 jan 2009]

On integration (Erdogan):

“The connection between the Turkish community here in Flanders and Turkey is very tight. And that is good. If only because of our ties with millions of Turks within the European Community, the accession of Turkey to the EU is a good thing. […] Erdogan seems like a charismatic leader. In his government years he absolutely moved Turkey in a new direction. He reconciles Islam with the absolute secular state that Turkey is.

Turkey is a powerful state, with which the Flemish community is going to enter a Cultural Agreement. Cooperation between Flanders and Turkey is necessary. They both are countries in which many cultures reside. […] The call by Erdogan on the one hand to integrate in the country of arrival and on the other hand never to give up one’s own identity, is a message in which I firmly believe. […] The Turkish community is an important partner to the building of an intercultural Flanders. Assimilation is thereby indeed mortal. It destroys all identity and gets caught up in diversity.” [zondag 18 jan 2009]

On Gaza:

…The world is on fire and our parliament debates on the Government Statement of another Government. Thanks to our own Parliamentarians the war in Gaza entered the agenda. Jan had prepared a resolution. This atrocity deserves more attention and a lot less political deliberation. There are hundreds of dead children and thousands of wounded and our politicians are discussing the dots and commas. —All opinions must be in it. — It may not be of too much to the benefit of the Palestinians. — The Jewish community must be full-fledged taken into it.It sounds all strange at a moment when slaughter is underway. At a moment when protected UN schools full of fled Palestine children are shot at and being bombed. It is inhuman.

Fouad [Fouad Ahidar who followed Anciaux to the SP.a] has had enough of all the talking. He goes in a little boat from Cyprus to Gaza to deliver food and medicine and watch the situation there himself. That is real politics. Putting one’s own life in danger and getting down to work. I hope enough foreign politicians are going with him. I hope Foreign Affairs will do all they can to guarantee their safety.

Today there are big worries that there are those who do need a voice: the thousands of people who are unified with the victims of the blind aggression of Israel. But also the thousands of Jews who in their turn are feeling threatened and look for comfort.

Give us thousand Fouads and the world will instantly look cleaner. Maybe not more quiet, certainly not more calm, also not more serious, no, but much more peaceful. So much more honest. [woensdag 07 jan 2009]

On Progressiveness:

“Being progressive takes courage. It overrides the cheap gain. It must be so much more than only to score for one’s own rank and file. To open the club to others. Just looking a bit further than fast and cheap success. Being Conservative is wanting to close the borders. To hunt down all the people without papers [illegals]. To give out to ‘the stranger who comes minding our business’.” [donderdag 15 jan 2009]

Flashback concerning Anciaux — from late last year, on the Vlaams Belang website:

Flemish Minister Bert Anciaux sent greeting cards for the Islamic feast of Sacrifice.

Filip Dewinter: “Islamophile Bert Anciaux sucks up to Muslims out of pure electoralism. Will Bert Anciaux do the same in reference to the Christmas feast for the Catholics and the Passover feast for the Jewish community?”

Flemish Minister Bert Anciaux, in connection to the Islamic feast of sacrifice [Eid al Adha], on Monday last week sent out greeting cards to all Islamic organizations and mosque associations in the Brussels region to wish them a “nice sacrifice feast”. He also invited — in connection with the sacrifice feast — on Tuesday, December 9, at 12 noon all interested leaders of the associations of Islamic organizations to his Ministry for a snack and a drink.

Filip Dewinter is amazed at the initiative of Bert Anciaux. Not only does Bert Anciaux bend backwards for the Islamization tsunami but he also campaigns for it himself at the expense of the taxpayer. This initiative by Anciaux fits in the strategy of the Left because it pushes the Muslim voters to the front for their electoral benefit.

Filip Dewinter wonders to what extent Bert Anciaux is also sending greeting cards to all Catholic organizations and churches following Christmas? Are Jewish organizations and rabbis from the Brussels region invited to the Ministry following the Passover feast? Of course not! Only the electorally interesting Muslim community receives extra attention from Bert Anciaux. Filip Dewinter before long will question** the Flemish Minister Bert Anciaux about this remarkable initiative.



Notes:

* The Dutch idiom “flying off the curve” (vliegt uit de bocht), means to lose control by being exaggerating too much, as if the speaker were speeding off the road from a curve.

** The Belgian Cabinet resigned shortly after this article by Filip Dewinter was published.

The Green Vests Are the New Brown Shirts

Pro-Palestinian protesters held a rally in front of an AIPAC event in New York City last night. A reader in New York just sent us this report:

The NYPD goes the way of the UK police — not protecting a New York Post photographer.

This is important. The NYPD allowed the “greenshirts” at a rally protesting AIPAC to bully and physically assault a NY Post photographer. This video was captured by an alert colleague. It’s another reason always to have a video camera with you at all times.



Our correspondent notes that a particularly negligent police captain should be readily identifiable from this video:
- – - - – - – - -
There’s one police captain who shows up throughout here. If he can be identified, I think it’s worth asking why he took the side of the protestors and not that of the press.

The buddy system is important at events like this — two cameras, so if one person with a videocam is assaulted like this, a partner can record it.

A brief report on the event (including the arrest of some of the demonstrators) has been posted at the New York Post site.

Fjordman: Why Was There No Chinese Newton?

Fjordman’s latest essay has been posted at the Brussels Journal:

The comet we know as Halley’s Comet had been spotted many times before the great English astronomer Edmond Halley (1656—1742), but it was not recognized as a periodic comet until eighteenth century Europe, which is significant. The Chinese had apparently never calculated the orbits of either Halley’s Comet or other comets which they had observed. They had a large mass of observational data, yet never used it to deduct mathematical theories about the movement of planets and comets similar to what Kepler, Newton and others did in Europe. Newton’s Principia was written a few generations after the introduction of the telescope, which makes it seductively simple to believe that the theory of universal gravity was somehow the logical conclusion of telescopic astronomy. Yet this is not at all the case.What would have happened if the telescope had been invented in China? Would we then have had a Chinese Newton? This is impossible to say for certain, of course, but I doubt it. Chinese culture never placed much emphasis on law, either in human form, as in secular Roman law, natural law or divine law. If the Chinese had invented the telescope, I suspect they would have used it to study comets, craters on the Moon etc., which would clearly have been valuable, no doubt. Any culture that used telescopes would have generated new knowledge with the device, but not necessarily a law of universal gravity.

From the fourteenth until the twentieth century, almost all important global advances in mathematics were European. I would be tempted to say that European leadership was stronger in mathematics than in almost any other scholarly discipline. Perhaps the simplest explanation for why the Scientific Revolution happened in Europe is because the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics, as Galileo once famously stated, and Europeans did more than any other civilization to develop or discover the vocabulary of this language.

- – - - – - – - -

The introduction of the telescope was a major watershed in the history of astronomy, but we should remember that it alone did not create modern astronomy. The birth of astrophysics in the late nineteenth century came through the combination of the telescope with photography and spectroscopy, all inventions that were exclusively made in Europe. Spectroscopy could not be developed until chemistry as a scientific discipline had been formed, which only happened in Europe. New fuels, engines and materials later made space travel possible. Asian rockets were powered by gunpowder and weighed a couple of kilograms at most. They could not have challenged the Earth’s gravity and explored the Solar System. The Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 on its journey to the Moon in 1969 used liquid hydrogen and oxygen, elements which had been discovered in Europe. The very concept of gravity, too, was developed only in Europe. The exploration of the Solar System and the universe at large was to an overwhelming degree made possible by a single civilization alone, the Western one.

Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/29/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/29/2009There are lot of news stories sprinkled throughout tonight’s feed that refer to problems with immigrants in Europe and their failure to integrate. If you add those to our recent posts on the same topic, it looks like we may be seeing a trend.

Also take note of the news stories about Russia and the Russian military.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Gaia, Holger Danske, Insubria, Islam in Action, JD, KGS, Reinhard, The Lurker from Tulsa, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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USA
Al Qaeda Suspect, Held in U.S. for 7 Years, Became Recruitment Tool for Terror Group — Officials
All Hail the New God-King!
Arsonist Intended Murder at Palin’s Church
FBI Cuts Off CAIR
Great Bright Hope to End Battle of the Light Bulbs
Is Jimmy Carter Guilty of Treason?
Legislation Drafted to Keep Gitmo Detainees Out of Oklahoma
Liberal Victimhood: a Game You Can Play at Home
Muslim ‘Honor Killing’ American Style
New Theories, Still No Suspect in Deadly Mall Attacks
Obama Team Drafting Letter to Iranian People
The Collapse of the Left-Wing Media
 
Europe and the EU
Another Traditionalist Denies Shoah
Child Pornography in Swedish National Library
Danish “Tunisian Act” Not Working
Europe Retreats From Socialism
Finland: Neighbours Not Panicked by Prospect of Refugee Reception Centre
French Crowds March for Job Security, Pay Rises
Lucca Bans Kebabs
Madoff: Santander, 2008 Profits -2%; 350 Mln Loss
Netherlands: Parents to Sign Contract Against Genital Mutilation
Netherlands: Friesland Pupils Get Lessons on Manners
Norway: Police Officers Out on Nationwide Political Strike
Police in Iceland Arrest NATO Flag Burners
Spain: No Conscious Objection Against Citizenship Education
UK: ‘They Say We’re Too Old to Care for Our Grandchildren’…
UK: BNP Police Officer Back on the Beat After Being Cleared in Met Probe
 
Balkans
German Files Lawsuit Over CIA Rendition Flights
Kosovo: Serbia; Jeremic Goes to UN, Letter to 80 Countries
 
Mediterranean Union
Greece-Iraq: Economic and Cultural Cooperation Begins
 
North Africa
CIA Algeria Station Chief Faces Sex Assault Probe
Terrorism: Algeria; Belkahdem,Thousands of Weapons Handed in
Why President Obama Should Speak in Morocco
 
Israel and the Palestinians
Gaza: Mitchell Insists on Truce, Help PNA Open Crossings
Israel Expels Venezuela Envoy
Transplants: Cagliari Hospital to Host Ramallah Doctors
 
Middle East
Bahrain: Three Terror Suspects Held
Emirates: Pre-Marriage Courses to Lower Divorce Rate
Gaza: Jordanian NGO to Help Clear Mines in Gaza
Human Rights:Turkey;Two Teenagers Sentenced to 10 Years Jail
Iran: Ahmadinejad Urges End to US ‘Expansionism’
Italy-Yemen: Stefania Craxi Opens New Embassy HQ in Sanaa
Jordan: Anti-Human Trafficking Law Passed
Kuwait: No Gaza Donations for Palestinian Authority, Says Emir
Mid-East: Cost of Conflicts, 12,000 Bln Dollars in 20 Years
Revealed: the Letter Obama Team Hope Will Heal Iran Rift
Turkey to Buy 10 Spy Aircraft From Israel
UAE: Dubai; Almost 3,000 People Turn to Islam, +71% in 2008
 
Russia
Europe, Beware: Obama Speaks With Two Tongues
Recruits Deserting the Russian Army
Russian Military a ‘Paper Tiger’ Despite Symbolic Comeback, Says IISS
Russia Poses Biggest Security Threat — Czechs in Poll
Russia Unveils Aggressive Arctic Plans
 
South Asia
Abdul the Taliban, on the Hunt for American ‘Infidels’
Bangladesh on Alert for Japanese Red Army Fugitives — Police
Japan: Tokyo Rethinks Alliance With United States in Multipolar World
Malaysia Proposes OIC Film Festival
Pakistan: Militants Blow Up Boys’ School and Homes in Northwest
President Obama! Muslims Don’t Consider Americans as Enemy
Singapore: Mosques Using English More
 
Far East
North Korea Scraps Military Accords With South Korea
Philippines: NPA to Step Up Attacks vs RP-US Exercises in Panay
S. Korea: Labor Party Leader Indicted for Violence in Parliament
 
Australia — Pacific
Aussie Charges Swedish Women’s Group in Sons’ Abduction
 
Sub-Saharan Africa
S. Africa: Two Women ‘Rescued’ From Envoy’s Home
Somali Pirates Hijack German Gas Tanker, 13 Crew
 
Immigration
Finland: Arajärvi: Speedier Language Training for Immigrants
Frattini, Ready to Reeavaluate Tunisian Permits
Italy: Agreement Reached With Tunisia Over Illegal Immigration
Lampedusa: Fresh General Strike
S.Craxi in Yemen, Support for Coastal Security
Tunisians Repatriated From Lampedusa in 2 Month
 
Culture Wars
Toned-Down Atheist Bus Ad OK’d
 
General
Economic Meltdown Excuse for ‘New World’
Tremonti’s ‘Legal Standard’ Plan

USA


Al Qaeda Suspect, Held in U.S. for 7 Years, Became Recruitment Tool for Terror Group — Officials

WASHINGTON — A group of intelligence experts argued today that holding an Al Qaeda suspect for seven years on U.S. soil without charge has been a recruiting bonanza for Osama Bin Laden’s thugs.

The 16 highly-respected intelligence and counterterror officials signed a brief filed with the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri — a top priority of Team Obama.

Eyed as an Al Qaeda “sleeper” agent, Al-Marri was arrested at his home in Illinois three months after the 9/11 attacks and charged with terrorism. But in 2003, ex-President Bush turned him over to the U.S. military, which holds him without charge in a South Carolina Navy brig.

As a legal U.S. resident, Al-Marri’s treatment is “far outside the traditions of this nation” and “undermines” U.S. credibility on the rule of law, the experts wrote.

“The result is a powerful recruitment tool for violent extremists … and greater risk to the security of the Nation,” argued experts from the top ranks of the CIA, FBI, NSA, National Security Council, Pentagon, Treasury and Justice Departments.

The ex-officials include Iraq WMD hunter David Kay, Bush’s terror adviser Frank Cilluffo, CIA counterterror chief Paul Pillar, and CIA and FBI adviser John MacGaffin…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



All Hail the New God-King!

It didn’t take long. On his second full day in office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that will close the United States’ detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within one year. He also set the wheels in motion to suspend the war crimes trials of Gitmo detainees, outraging the families of 9/11 victims. Further, Obama’s order will limit methods available to the CIA and military personnel as regards interrogation of prisoners, and will cease the operations of clandestine foreign prisons.

[…]

Through his Jan. 26 interview on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya network, our new god-king smooched the buttocks of the radical Muslim world, declaring that “all too often the United States starts by dictating” in matters affecting the Middle East. Arguably, this was one of the most unintelligent things an American president could do pertaining to foreign policy. As if in response — and perhaps it was — Iran’s president and resident proto-human Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for “profound changes” in U.S. foreign policy, including giving up support for Israel.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Arsonist Intended Murder at Palin’s Church

A new report from a leader in Wasilla Bible Church in Alaska says the arsonist who started fires that left $1 million in damages intended murder, and possibly targeted the church because of the attendance there of Gov. Sarah Palin, whose Christian faith confounded critics during her 2008 campaign with Sen. John McCain.

The information comes through blogger Kevin “Coach” Collins, who writes the Collins Report.

[…]

Collins said he discussed the situation with a church elder, Tom Ryan, who confirmed the case isn’t a simple arson, but an attempted murder situation.

“There were five adult women and a 17-year-old girl in the church during the arson,” Collins wrote.

He also reported the telephone wires and those controlling the fire alarm and water sprinkler were cut before the fire was set from within the building, because footprints were found inside the control room.

“Clearly the arson[ist] knew the victims were present,” he wrote.

“The facts speak clearly. This attempted murder was perpetrated by someone from outside of the Wasilla area, a hired assassin who went there to kill people because of what they believe,” Collins reported.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



FBI Cuts Off CAIR

Finally we get some good news, as the FBI has decided to cut off all ties with The Council on American Islamic Relations. This was due to ties between CAIR and Hamas. In the past CAIR was actually allowed to train our FBI agents in regards on how to deal with Muslim “sensitivities”…

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



Great Bright Hope to End Battle of the Light Bulbs

[Comment from JD: Far superior to toxic compact flourescents.]

A lighting revolution is on the way that could end at the flick of a switch the battle between supporters of conventional bulbs and the eco-friendly variety.

Cambridge University researchers have developed cheap, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that produce brilliant light but use very little electricity. They will cost £2 and last up to 60 years.

Despite being smaller than a penny, they are 12 times more efficient than conventional tungsten bulbs and three times more efficient than the unpopular fluorescent low-energy versions.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Is Jimmy Carter Guilty of Treason?

On Jan. 20, 2009, Jimmy Carter announced a new plan for peace in the Middle East and appealed to President Barack Obama to implement that plan. He met with Obama just days before the inauguration to attempt to sway him about what the former president called an “unnecessary war” in Gaza. Carter has long been a vocal proponent of establishing an ongoing relationship with Hamas’ terrorist leaders. It appears his influence has already made inroads in Obama’s Middle East policy plans.

Today’s society is replete with makeovers, everything from extreme home makeovers to extreme people makeovers — everything from plastic surgery, to botox, to liposuction and other cosmetic enhancements. However, one of the most extreme makeovers took place in France in the late 1970s when the dour Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was transformed almost overnight into a VIP, the darling of the liberal Western media.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Legislation Drafted to Keep Gitmo Detainees Out of Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s congressional delegation thinks there’s a good chance those prisoners could move from Guantanamo Bay, to Oklahoma. They’re drafting legislation to make sure that doesn’t happen.

OKLAHOMA CITY — President Obama said he’ll close the prison camp in Cuba and now the question is, ‘What do you do with the 250 terror suspects staying there?’

Oklahoma’s congressional delegation thinks there’s a good chance those prisoners could move from Guantanamo Bay, to Oklahoma. They’re drafting legislation to make sure that doesn’t happen. It is a bipartisan bill to keep those detainees out of Oklahoma.

The proposal by President Obama to close Guantanamo Bay was enough for members on both sides of the aisle to close ranks. Republican Congresswoman Mary Fallin was first to oppose the measure last week.

“I’m going to file separate legislation that they cannot come on U.S. soil and they cannot come onto the Federal Transfer Center right here in Oklahoma,” Fallin said…

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



Liberal Victimhood: a Game You Can Play at Home

I notice that liberals have not challenged the overall thesis of my rocketing best-seller, “Guilty: Liberal ‘Victims’ and Their Assault on America,” which is that liberals always play the victim in order to advance, win advantages and oppress others.

I guess that would be hard to do when the corrupt Democratic governor of Illinois is running around comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

Indeed, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing some liberal playing victim to score the game-winning point.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Muslim ‘Honor Killing’ American Style

The place is Atlanta, Georgia.

Twenty-five year old woman is slain by Islamic father who seeks to regain the clan’s honor.

Now Islamic ‘honor killing’ has come full circle to the land of the free. It is here. It is going to continue. Muslims carry their sharia insanity wherever they go. Some may not. Others do. Those who do maim our culture and increase the angst of freedom lovers throughout the Republic.

When a Muslim male within a clan concludes that a female has spoiled the clan’s honor, that female is to have a bullet put through her head or her neck slit. In some way, a male must do away with the dishonoring female in order to please Allah. This is an evil practice worldwide throughout Muslim environs and now threatening civil countries.

The Pakistani woman did not want to remain in an arranged marriage. She thereby was slamming the marriage planners. Therefore, she had to be done away. Dad did it.

In America alone, there are 5,000 so-called ‘honor killing’ deaths every year. Five thousand!…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



New Theories, Still No Suspect in Deadly Mall Attacks

Thousands of people swarm to the vast and luxurious Town Center Mall every day. But one man who went to the Boca Raton, Fla., shopping center in August 2007 was shopping only for a victim.

The man abducted a woman and her 2-year-old son in their black sport utility vehicle from the mall parking lot. Although the woman and son survived uninjured, she remains terrorized to this day. The woman, who asked to be identified as Jane Doe, worries that the man will hunt her down and kill her to protect his identity.

And the worry does not end there. A few months before Jane Doe’s abduction, a woman named Randi Gorenberg who, once again, was driving a black SUV and shopping at the same mall, was found killed a few miles away.

Jane Doe’s lawyer, Skip Cummings, believes that the same man is responsible for the attack, and that he’s on the loose in the area of Florida known as the Gold Coast.

“I believe that this gentleman is a serial killer,” he said. “I believe very strongly that he is involved in at least three of these murders — and who knows how many other ones?”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Obama Team Drafting Letter to Iranian People

Officials in U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration are drafting a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing relations and opening the way for direct talks, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday. The U.S. State Department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected last November.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Obama’s Bill Hands ACORN $5.2 Billion Bailout

A rising chorus of GOP leaders are protesting that the blockbuster Democratic stimulus package would provide up to a whopping $5.2 billion for ACORN, the left-leaning nonprofit group under federal investigation for massive voter fraud.

Most of the money is secreted away under an item in the now $836 billion package titled “Neighborhood Stabilization Programs.”

Ordinarily, neighborhood stabilization funds are distributed to local governments. But revised language in the stimulus bill would make the funds available directly to non-profit entities such as ACORN, the low-income housing organization whose pro-Democrat voter-registration activities have been blasted by Republicans. ACORN is cited by some for tipping the scales in the Democrats’ favor in November.

According to Fox news, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., could appear to be a “payoff” for community groups’ partisan political activities in the last election cycle.

“It is of great concern to me,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., tells Newsmax. “I think our government has stayed strong because we’ve had a two-party system, we have had robust debate, people have felt that it was one man-one vote. They are privileged and grateful that they have that ability to cast that vote. And when something is done to belittle or diminish that, it is of great concern to me.”

Regarding ACORN, Blackburn added, “Additional funds going to these organizations that have tried to skew that system, it causes me great concern and I believe that it causes many of my colleagues great concern.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



The Collapse of the Left-Wing Media

The Minneapolis paper, dubbed the Red Star by some in Minnesota, filed for bankruptcy after its earnings dropped more than 50 percent in one year. That despite the presidential vote and a vicious election between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken.

As for The New York Times: It is Twilight Zone time. The paper was already trying to use equity in its Manhattan office building to pay debts, and now has borrowed $250 million from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu. And get this: The Times is paying old Carlos an astounding 14 percent interest. What, was Tony Soprano not available? Does the description “loan shark” mean anything to the ideologues running the Times? The prime lending rate in America is 3.25 percent, and these guys are paying Carlos Slim 14 percent. Wow.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU


Another Traditionalist Denies Shoah

Ultra-Conservative priest disputes use of gas chambers

(ANSA) — Treviso, January 29 — Another leading member of the traditionalist Catholic Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has denied that gas chambers were used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews during the Second World War.

‘‘I know that gas chambers existed as a means to disinfect, but I cannot say for sure if they killed anyone because I really haven’t looked into it,’’ Father Floriano Abrahamowicz, the head of SSPX in northeast Italy, told the Tribuna di Treviso daily on Thursday.

The ultraconservative priest’s statements came a day after Israeli’s highest religious authority, the Chief Rabbinate, threatened to sever ties with the Vatican after Pope Benedict XVI lifted an excommunication on four SSPX bishops, including one who has repeatedly denied that the Shoah took place.

The pope immediately responded by reiterating his strong stand against denying the Holocaust, saying that it was important to never forget the Shoah. This to appeared avert an official break, although the Rabbinate has yet to make a formal statement.

The Rabbinate, as well as Jewish leaders in Italy and around the world, were particularly upset over the reinstatement of Bishop Richard Williamson. The British-born bishop recently told Swedish TV that he did not believe in the existence of gas chambers. In his view not six million but only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps ‘‘and not one of them in a gas chamber’’.

The current SSPX head, Bishop Bernard Fellay, stated firmly that Williamson’s views did not reflect those of the order and he apologised to the pope for any problems his views may have created.

He has also ordered Williamson not to voice his political opinions in public.

However, according to Father Abrahamowicz, ‘‘all this fuss over Msgr Williamson’s statements is being exploited against the Vatican. Williamson simply expressed his doubts. He did not deny the Holocaust, as the press has mistakenly said he did; he only gave a technical opinion on the gas chambers’’.

‘‘The question of denying the Holocaust is a false problem because it focuses on numbers and methods and does not address the real problem,’’ he added.

‘‘Had Msgr. Williamson denied on TV the (1915) genocide of 1.2 million Armenians by the Turks I don’t think the press would have acted the same way ,’’ Father Abrahamowicz said.

The Vatican has yet to reply to the ultra-conservative priest, but when Milan Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi was asked for his view he observed that ‘‘the Holy Father has been clear and explicit’’ on the church’s relations with both the SSPX and Jews.

Lifting the excommunication on the four bishops, he added, ‘‘was an act of mercy which in no way represented a compromise,’’ he said.

In order to truly return to the fold, the archbishop added, they must renew ‘‘their loyalty to the Church and its teachings,’’ including the changes made by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s.

The archbishop of Treviso, Msgr, Andrea Bruno Mazzoccato, adopted a similar position and told the members of his diocese that any stance on the Holocaust which differed from the one expressed by the pope ‘‘has no foundation and is unconnected to Christian thought and an elementary sense of humanity’’.

He then repeated the pope’s warning to be on guard against ‘‘the unexpected power which evil can exert on the hearts of man’’.

The SSPX was created in 1970 by late dissident French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre who broke with Rome over the changes made at the Vatican Council.

Among the changes the group opposed was the decision to celebrate Mass in local languages rather than in Latin and to adopt the view that Jews today should not be blamed for the death of Christ. Lefebvre, who died in 1991, was excommunicated in 1998 for ordaining four bishops, including Williamson, in defiance of a direct order from John Paul II. The four bishops were also excommunicated.

Abrahamowicz’s views have come under heavy fire from the governor of the Veneto region, where the headquarters of his SSPX branch is located.

‘‘I don’t know if we’re dealing with plain ignorance, madness or some horrifying political choice, but if any priest denies the Holocaust, denies the existence of gas chambers, then he’d best change jobs,’’ said Giancarlo Galan, of the center-right People of Freedom party, ‘‘And if any of these priests happen to live in the Veneto region, as is the case with Father Abrahamowicz, then they’d best move out and, who knows, even take refuge in one of those concentration camps they know so much about,’’ he added.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Child Pornography in Swedish National Library

The relaxed and tolerant policies of the Swedish government towards pornography occasionally create embarrassments for the nation, as in the latest discovery that its national library has a large collection of child pornography in its archives. The revelation was brought to light by an ex-porn shop employee who told The Local newspaper that Sweden’s national library contained thousands of porn magazines, including several that feature children.

In the 1970s, child pornography was legal in Sweden, and apparently some of the titles remain within the archives of the library. The informant noted to The Local the irony that the “Royal Library” contains a huge amount of pornography, which is something Sweden’s Queen Silvia has fought passionately against for years.

He told the newspaper, “It was so easy to gain access. All I did was sign up to check out books and send a letter explaining my reasons for wanting to view the material. Anyone could have done the same thing.”

In the national library’s defence, their goal is to collect everything that is printed in Swedish, with no exceptions. Although child pornography has been banned for decades, old, at-the-time legal, materials still exist in the vaults of the library.

Sara Bengtzon, a national library spokesperson, admitted the library has “a lot of sensitive material” because of its obligation to archive. However, she claims access to the material is restricted to journalists, researchers, and those who are judged to have a “highly credible” reason for wanting to access certain material.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Danish “Tunisian Act” Not Working

A requirement that some 20 foreigners encompassed by the so-called Tunisian Act must report in every day is not being enforced.

None of the 20 foreigners, who are in Denmark on tolerated stay permits because they cannot be expelled to their home countries, have been ordered to report daily at the Sandholm asylum centre since the Act was adopted by Parliament six weeks ago, according to Information.

Not even the person the law was named after — a Tunisian that the Security Service claimed had plans to kill the Mohammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard — has had to change his life as a result of the Act.

Lives with his family in Århus SC only has to visit Sandholm once every Tuesday and every second Thursday. Apart from that he spends his time with his Danish-born wife and their two children at a housing estate in Århus.

“I just arrived from Århus and I am going back again this afternoon,” said SC when Information visited Sandholm last Tuesday.

Two other foreigners — Turkmen of Iraqi origin — whom the Security and Intelligence Service say endanger the safety of the country, told Information that they do not have report to Sandholm more frequently than previously.

DPP demands explanation The Danish People’s Party, which helped secure a parliamentary majority for the Act, has demanded an immediate explanation from the integration minister.

“I am very surprised that nothing has happened despite such a swift passage of the bill. Out of consideration for the safety of Kurt Westergaard and the efforts of the Security Service, this is extremely unsatisfactory,” says the DPP Integration Spokesman Peter Skaarup who has demanded an explanation as to why the requirement for daily reporting has not been applied.

Morten Østergaard of the Social Liberals does not entirely agree. “The Tunisian Act was mainly aimed at the public. If the safety of the nation was at risk, the authorities would probably have acted more rapidly,” he says.

Integration Minister Birthe Rønn Hornbech declined to comment on the issue as did the National Police Foreigners Department.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Denmark: Concern Over Infants’ Lack of Danish Skills

Parents could face financial sanctions from the local authorities if it is deemed that their children need help with Danish and they as parents are not taking the responsibility to help them

A recent proposal from the Conservative Party could see parents’ child welfare payments being docked if they don’t actively encourage their children to learn Danish from an early age.

Conservative education spokeswoman, Charlotte Dyremose, has proposed that the current parental order that the council can enforce on parents of truant children also be applied to the parents of pre-schoolers.

‘If they can’t speak proper Danish when they start school they are going to have big problems. We must do everything possible to teach them and that’s why we think it should be possible to impose sanctions on the child support payments of parents who don’t encourage the necessary language stimulation,’ said Dyremose to Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

The language development of all three year olds is checked by a state examiner while the child is in kindergarten and if it is not up to standard, then parents can receive help to stimulate their child’s language either at home or in the preschool.

Both the Liberal and Danish People’s Party education spokespeople said they supported the proposal, which is likely to apply to families where one of the parents is not a native Danish speaker.

‘I’m fairly certain that this concerns a particular group and we have to get to the root of the problem. Even though cooperation is preferred, I believe that in extreme circumstances you should be able to take the child welfare payments away from the family,’ said Liberal spokeswoman Anne-Mette Winther Christiansen.

Parents in Denmark receive a quarterly state support stipend of between 2,500 and 4,100 kroner for their child’s welfare until the child turns 18.

Around 57 percent of young bilingual children receive language stimulation in Denmark and both the local authorities and parents have an obligation to ensure the child receives help if it is needed. However, the local councils currently have no sanctions in place against parents who deny help for their children.

In a study taken by the Danish Evaluation Institute last year, 17 percent of the language consultant respondents said that they knew of parents refusing language help for their children.

The most common reasons given for children not attending language stimulation classes included problems with transport or the stigma associated with receiving aid. The welfare minister, Karen Jespersen, said that if there were gaps in the language stimulation of kindergarten children then her ministry, together with the Education Ministry, wants to get to the root of the problem.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Europe Retreats From Socialism

How ironic is it that the U.S. is embracing socialism at the very moment Europe and many other parts of the world are running away from it?

Somebody needs to ask Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi about this.

In the past five years, 33 countries, including 20 in socialist Europe, always held up as the example for a new American economic model by Democrats, have cut their personal income taxes, according to a study by KPMG, the giant accounting firm.

In the past four years, 60 countries have cut their corporate income tax rates.

Why have they done it?

Simple.

They want to compete more effectively for capital and human resources.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Finland: Neighbours Not Panicked by Prospect of Refugee Reception Centre

Some concern voiced by Uudenmaankatu residents

Irene Kristiansen steps out of the doorway of Uudenmaankatu 26. Her building is next door to Marttahotelli, a disused hotel that could be converted into a refugee reception centre. “I am afraid that the asylum seekers will cause problems and unrest here, because they have no money”, says Kristiansen, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 30 years. “In other respects, I am a warm defender of immigrants, but do refugees have to be placed right here in the centre?” Kristiansen asks.

In the same building, Teija Jones says that friends had told her about the city’s plans to open up a refugee centre nearby. “They asked me if I was not worried that asylum seekers were to be housed next door. I don’t see things that way. If they make some noise, it probably will not be any more than from remodelling taking place on the other side of the wall.” “And they have to live someplace”, Jones notes.

Upstairs neighbour Hannes Tuomi is more reticent. “My attitude is perhaps negative. Maybe they will bring unrest to the area”, he says, through a crack in his door. Esko Kettunen from nearby Tarkkampujankatu, is exercising to help his knee recover after recent surgery. He is not worried about the prospect of asylum seekers in his neighbourhood. “I think that Marttahotelli is a good option. We can’t send people who don’t speak the language into some snowbank in Kajaani”, says Kettunen.

At a shop selling military clothing and sportswear, Henri Eerola does not expect that the reception centre will affect his business in any way. “We have all kinds of extreme types as customers, and I don’t think that the people there would be any worse.” “But why do they have to be placed in the centre? Many local people here are losing sleep because of it”, Eerola adds. Timo Mehtonen, who works at the nearby Finnish Customs Administration, takes a positive view of the reception centre. “The centre is a good place. Services and officials are nearby. We simply need to accept the fact that there are people on the streets of Helsinki of different backgrounds.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



French Crowds March for Job Security, Pay Rises

PARIS (Reuters) — Hundreds of thousands of strikers marched through French cities Thursday to demand pay rises and protection for jobs, challenging President Nicolas Sarkozy to do more for ordinary workers.

While the streets thronged with flag-waving protesters, the one-day strike failed to paralyze the country and there was little evidence of huge support from private-sector employees.

However, labor leaders hailed the strike, which marked the first time France’s eight union federations had joined forces against the government since Sarkozy took office in 2007.

“This is one of the biggest days of worker action in the past 20 years,” said Francois Chereque, head of the large, moderate CFDT group.

Unions said 2.5 million people took part in dozens of rallies across France, including 300,000 in Paris. Police put the figure at just over a million.

“The government has taken measures for banks but today it is the workers who are suffering,” said striker Charles Foulard, a technician at a refinery run by energy giant Total.

“This crisis comes from the United States, it’s the financial bubble that is bursting. It’s not for the workers to pay for that,” he said as crowds gathered at the Place de la Bastille in Paris, birthplace of the French Revolution.

In a rare show of unity, the unions drew up a joint list of demands for the government and companies, demanding that Sarkozy drop reforms that they see as a threat to public services and aim stimulus measures at consumers rather than companies.

GOVERNMENT STANDS FIRM

Specific demands included better pay and conditions for public transport workers as well as dropping plans to reform hospitals, to cut 13,500 jobs in education this year and to change the status of the state-owned post office.

Unlike in 1995 and 2006, when mass strikes forced the governments of the day to back down on reform plans, public transport continued to run Thursday, albeit on a reduced and erratic schedule, and many schools stayed open.

Perhaps encouraged by that fact, ministers indicated they were not ready to review their 26 billion euro ($34 billion) economic stimulus plan, which is aimed at encouraging industrial investment rather than boosting consumer spending.

“I don’t think one can constantly zap and change policy,” said Budget Minister Eric Woerth. “We have to keep our cool during this very major storm,” he told RMC radio.

France’s economic woes are less severe than Spain’s or Britain’s but its jobless rate is rising, hitting 2.07 million in November, up 8.5 percent on the year, and unions say Sarkozy’s policies are not helping ordinary people.

“I am protesting against wages that are stagnating, demands on workers that are constantly increasing, and understaffing. It’s my first strike in the 20 years I’ve been on the job,” said Malika Youcef, who works at a school canteen in Paris.

At the Paris march, hospital workers in white coats mingled with Air France staff carrying model planes, chemical factory workers, teachers and plumbers, among other professions.

The powerful CGT union was out in force with its red balloons filling the horizon and loudspeakers blasting the revolutionary chant “The Internationale.” Other unions favored the hippy anthem “California Dreamin.’“

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Lucca Bans Kebabs

Regional councillor denounces “gastronomic racism”

LUCCA — Goodbye to North African couscous, Indian chicken curries and papaya salads from Togo. It’s Italian food only from now on. Or rather, strictly Luccan fare, such as spelt soup, chestnut flour cake, torta co’ becchi cake and other Tuscan delights. Should any restaurateurs be so adventurous as to present a menu based on non-Italian cuisine, they are warmly invited to include “at least one typical Luccan dish, prepared exclusively from products generally acknowledged as being typical of the province”. Challenging globalisation, and perhaps also the freedom of the kitchen, Lucca’s executive council, led by the People of Freedom with the backing of a civic list, approved a new by-law for clubs, bars and restaurants that is unlikely to go unobserved. The new regulations, from which the Democratic Party (PD) and Communist Refoundation (PRC) opposition parties distanced themselves, draws a very firm line to stop ethnic restaurants from opening in the Lucca’s historic centre.

The area concerned lies within the city’s splendid, four-kilometre long walls, which are still intact today. The regulation is hard to misinterpret: “It is not permitted to open commercial premises serving food and drink whose business is related to other ethnic groups”. PD councillor Alessandro Tambellini immediately denounced the ban as “discriminatory”, accusing the executive council of “opting to slam the door on other cultures, replacing the logic of dialogue with that of refusal”. He went on: “The reference to ethnic groups is ill-chosen, to say the least. What does it mean? Are French and German cooking OK, because they have the same roots as ours, but not Indian, Chinese or Arab food? The regional authority agrees: Councillor Paolo Cocchi said: “We are against veiled forms of gastronomic racism”. “What racism? Our sole aim is to safeguard the historic heritage of the city centre”, countered Lucca’s astonished executive councillors angrily.

Councillor Filippo Candelise explained: “The by-law dates from a resolution passed in 2000, which we have updated”. He added: “The ban also includes shops selling pizzas by the slice, McDonald’s, other fast food outlets and sex shops. It will not affect existing commercial premises”. But there’s still that reference to ethnic groups. “I realise it might give rise to misunderstanding but you have to bear in mind that 8,000 people live within the city walls and there are already five kebab shops”. Benedetto Stefani, president of restaurateurs belonging to the ASCOM retailers’ association, takes the council’s side: “It’s not a crusade, just a desire to safeguard the specific nature of our cuisine, which is threatened by recent liberalisations in the sector”. Regulations also lay down that waiters “should have a knowledge of the English language”. What’s the English for “bruschetta”?

Francesco Alberti

27 gennaio 2009

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Madoff: Santander, 2008 Profits -2%; 350 Mln Loss

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 28 — Banco Santander is expecting to have closed 2008 with a fall in profits of 2%, following a loss of 350 million euro over the fraud engineered by Madoff. The net profit for last year fell to 8.88 billion euro, from 9.06 billion in 2007. The result is lower than predicted in June by the President of the Spanish group himself, Emilio Botin, who had expected to close the year with profits of 10 billion. Santander also communicated that the 2008 dividends will be 25.7 euro per share. Yesterday the Spanish bank announced that it will compensate its own private customers who were hit by the Madoff crash, by issuing 1.38 billion privileged shares (without voting rights). The full figures for the 2008 financial year will be published on February 5. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Madoff: Spain, Santander to Compensate Private Clients

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 28- Santander Bank has decided to compensate part of the losses from the 50 million dollar scam attributed to American financier Bernard Madoff for its private clients in Spain and Latin America. According to a source from the bank reported by the Spanish media, the decision was made to safeguard the commercial image of the credit institute. Santander Bank will compensate the initial sum invested in Madoff funds without accounting for earnings up until the collapse, which was the largest financial scam in history. The cost of the compensations was estimated by Santander to be 500 million euro gross, which will be transferred to the bank’s clients in the form of 1,380 million euro in shares of the financial institute. The bank will not compensate institutional clients or earnings that were gained by investors on paper. According to sources, the biggest investors including investment funds, pension funds, and insurance companies were conscious of the risks that they assumed in placing money in hedge funds like Madoff. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Netherlands: Parents to Sign Contract Against Genital Mutilation

Dutch deputy health minister Jet Bussemaker is trying to clamp down on female genital mutilation for daughters of African immigrants. She has proposed that all parents need to sign a contract before they take their daughters traveling to ‘high-risk’ countries, stating that they will not allow their daughter to be circumcised. Traditional surgeon holds razor blades before carrying out female genital mutilation on teenage girls from the Sebei tribe in Uganda.

These countries include Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan — where genital mutilation is considered a rite of passage. It is unclear how many girls in the Netherlands have undergone the ritual.

The contract must be presented before families can travel to their country of origin, the justice ministry explained on Wednesday. The contract is intended to prevent parents and foreign family members from undertaking the procedure. Genital mutilation is currently against the law in the Netherlands.

French experience

The idea came during a working visit to France, said a justice ministry spokesman. There, a medical contract exists “with stamps and signatures and a translation. Thereby the parents can make it clear to the family: if you circumcise our child, you are hurting not only her, but also us.” The French experience could indicate that many parents approve of such a contract. “The pressure from the extended family can be huge. It can happen that foreign parents living here will not undertake the circumcision themselves, but let an aunt undertake it,” the spokesperson said.

In the Netherlands there are about 16,000 girls and around 34,000 women from these high-risk countries, according to the ministry. A national child abuse reporting organisation counted a total of 44 cases between July 2007 and March 2008. Bussemaker said the government will set up an electronic registry, whereby all daughters from these high-risk groups will be registered. The parents should sign the contract, with assistance from social welfare organisations.

The spokesman said that checking on compliance is “difficult.” “It is really about supervision by those involved. For instance, a girl at school can say to her teacher that ‘I am going on vacation back to my land of origin and there will be a big party.’ The teacher would then think: ‘is it only about a party or is there something else involved?’ She can then move to report the incident. Physical checks of girls is not planned. “Especially when girls are 12 and above, this is difficult to imagine.”

The health minister is currently discussing the proposal with justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin regarding the content of the contract. A letter with further explanation to parliament was announced for later this week.

Psychological pressure tool

Yet, according to Dirk Engberts, professor of law and the ethics of healthcare at Leiden University, no legal ‘contract’ can exist in this context. “What are the penalties if you break it? Female circumcision is punishable in the Netherlands. Such a contract seems to me to be a psychological pressure tool — an instrument to rub the noses of the parents on the potential penalties for offending it.” Egberts compares the contract with that of a suicide pact. “Suicidal people agree not to, in the coming days, commit suicide. It can work well as a pressure tool, but you can’t call it a real contract.”

The justice ministry could not say what eventual sanctions might be attached to the breaking of the contract, according to the spokesman. “We’ve researched it and concluded there are a number of reports of circumcision, but little or no prosecution thereof. How is that possible, we asked ourselves, and how can we solve that? In principle the maximum sentence for circumcision as a form of severe child abuse is up to 15 years.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Netherlands: Lawyer Requests Protection After Threats

One of the lawyers behind the prosecution of Freedom Party (PVV) leader Geert Wilders has asked for bodyguards because of threats from Mr Wilders’ supporters. Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reports that the lawyer, Gerard Spong, has received hundreds of hate e-mails since a court in Amsterdam decided that the PVV leader could be prosecuted for his anti-Islamic remarks. Mr Spong is one of a number of people who openly support the prosecution of the controversial MP. The lawyer expects the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the matter.

In response to the report, Geert Wilders has said he condemns “in the strongest possible terms” any threats towards Mr Spong. Since the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the MP has lived in a series of safe houses and enjoys round-the-clock protection.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Netherlands: Friesland Pupils Get Lessons on Manners

Starting tomorrow, etiquette books will be handed out in primary schools in the Fries municipality of Lemsterland. Teachers at one school in the municipality were shocked and surprised by children’s appalling manners and called on the authorities to start issuing etiquette books. According to a schools inspector, most of the pupils have absolutely no idea how to behave properly and were appallingly rude to their teachers.

The pupils will be given a book called Children Know How to Behave by etiquette expert Reinildis van Ditzhuyzen. One of the golden rules in the book is, “do not behave towards others in a way that you would not like to be treated”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Norway: Police Officers Out on Nationwide Political Strike

Most of Norway’s police officers walked out on a nationwide political strike between 11:30 and 13:00 on Thursday. — Minimum emergency services will of course be maintained, union leader Arne Johannessen says.

The strike was in protest against what the Policemen’s Union (Politiets Fellesforbund) claim to be the Government’s forcing the police to accept an excemption to the Health and Safety at Work Act (Arbeidsmiljoeloven), dealing with rest periods, as well as denying the staff representatives their negotiating rights.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Police in Iceland Arrest NATO Flag Burners

Police resorted to pepper spray during protests outside Hilton Reykjavík Nordica yesterday where participants in a NATO seminar had arrived to attend a reception. Some protestors burned the NATO flag and were arrested.

Originally the reception was supposed to take place in the Culture House on Hverfisgata in the city center but was relocated in the last minute. The seminar begins today and will be attended by around 300 representatives of NATO member countries.

The duty officer told Fréttabladid that the flag burners had also crossed the police line. Although it is not illegal to burn all flags, it is certainly illegal to burn national flags and the NATO flag, the duty officer explained, adding that police are not keen on people lighting fires at such occasions.

Ragnar Adalsteinsson, advocate to the Supreme Court, was uncertain whether burning the flag of an international organization is a punishable act, although people have been arrested for flag-burning in Iceland before.

In the 1930s, famous Icelandic authors and poets Thórbergur Thórdarson and Steinn Steinarr were convicted in the Supreme Court for burning a Nazi flag that had been raised in Siglufjördur, north Iceland.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Spain: No Conscious Objection Against Citizenship Education

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 28 — Conscientious objection against Citizenship education is not allowed. The obligatory course was introduced by the Zapatero government but the Church and associations for Catholic parents are against it. The Supreme Court took this decision today by broad majority and after three days in council chamber. The Court had to decide on the appeal presented by the public prosecutor’s office against the verdict of the Court of Andalusia which recognised the right of conscientious objection against Citizenship education. At the same time the Court had to pronounce itself on the appeals presented by parents against the decision of the Court of Asturias, which did not recognise this right. The Supreme Court finds that the subject is not in violation with the fundamental right of parents to choose the kind of religious and moral education for their children. The verdict unifies the jurisprudence on the issue, which has given rise to hundreds of different verdicts. Many parents who had opted for conscientious objection have already announced they will lodge an appeal at the Court of Human Rights in Strasburg.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



UK: ‘They Say We’re Too Old to Care for Our Grandchildren’…

Social workers hand brother and sister to gay men for adoption

Two young children are to be adopted by a gay couple, despite the protests of their grandparents.

The devastated grandparents were told they would never see the youngsters again unless they dropped their opposition.

The couple, who cannot be named, wanted to give the five-year-old boy and his four-year-old sister a loving home themselves. But they were ruled to be too old — at 46 and 59.

For two years they fought for their rights to care for the children, whose 26-year-old mother is a recovering heroin addict.

They agreed to an adoption only after they faced being financially crippled by legal bills.

The final blow came when they were told the children were going to a gay household, even though several heterosexual couples wanted them.

When the grandfather protested, he was told: ‘You can either accept it, and there’s a chance you’ll see the children twice a year, or you can take that stance and never see them again.’

The man said last night: ‘It breaks my heart to think that our grandchildren are being forced to grow up in an environment without a mother figure. We are not prejudiced, but I defy anyone to explain to us how this can be in their best interests.’

Social workers themselves have admitted that the little girl is ‘more wary’ of men than women…

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]



UK: BNP Police Officer Back on the Beat After Being Cleared in Met Probe

A police officer who was named on a leaked list of BNP members is returning to work.

PC Joe Cutting was suspended in November after he featured on a list of 12,000 members published on the internet.

He is now being allowed to return after an internal Metropolitan police investigation found there was no evidence to justify sacking him.

The force said PC Cutting, who was due back on the beat this week, had been ‘exonerated’ by the inquiry, but declined to explain how his name had come to appear on the BNP membership list.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



UK: Jail Violence a ‘Growing Concern’

The risk of violence and disturbances in jails in England and Wales is a “growing concern”, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned.

In her annual report, Dame Anne Owers said the system was still under “sustained and chronic” pressure.

She said the tension was often caused by inmates on longer sentences who may feel they have “little to lose”.

The Prison Service said the total incidents remained “fairly constant” and most were resolved quickly.

In her annual report, Dame Anne said disturbances had been contained “so far” but identified “real risks” of a loss of control.

Learn lessons

One in seven prisoners is on either a life or indeterminate sentence, creating a “huge strain” on jails.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: What is an “indeterminate sentence”? That sounds like an unclear, police-state style violation of human rights to me.]

Dame Anne said the strategy for the next decade needed to learn the lessons of riots in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Otherwise there are real risks of destabilising safety and control, and of reducing opportunities for change and rehabilitation,” she said.

“There have been more disturbances than last year, so far able to be contained. This year, too many of the most volatile of our prisons… were not judged to be sufficiently safe.

“Violence reduction procedures, in increasingly fractious prisons, are underdeveloped, and there are particular challenges in large establishments holding young people, where the use of restraint is too often a response to the need to manage behaviour safely and consistently.”

She said force should only be used as a “last resort” but noted that it was increasing in larger, more crowded prisons.

She went on: “It is of concern that extreme forms of restraint are being used on some of the most vulnerable prisoners.”

The 5,000 prisoners on indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) were creating a “huge strain” on prisons,” she added.

Ministers had failed to anticipate the impact on the system of such sentences and introduced laws which were poorly resourced and not properly planned.

“It is astonishing that more than one in every seven prisoners is now serving a life or other indeterminate sentence,” she said.

Alcohol abuse

She said larger prisons were generally worse than smaller jails, and raised concerns over plans for giant “Titan” jails — which would house 2,500 inmates each — to ease overcrowding.

Surveys revealed alcohol abuse in some prisons had quadrupled, and prisons were responding “inadequately” to the problem, the report found.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: How is it that alcohol is even being served in prisons?]

Dame Anne said: “It is remarkable that there has been so little investment in alcohol services, either in prisons or in the community.”

However, she did not paint a completely bleak picture, and the report recognised progress over the past year, particularly when preparing inmates for release.

She said: “It is a credit to those running and working in prisons that, in spite of the pressure, many were able to sustain or even improve performance.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said Justice Secretary Jack Straw needed to “break the vicious cycle of a rising prison population, ineffective rehabilitation in overcrowded prisons and sky high re-offending”.

She added: “We should be helping people break free from addictions, diverting the mentally ill into proper healthcare and making sure that petty offenders do community service to pay back for the harm they have done, not building super-sized prisons.

She said plans to spend £2.3bn on building giant US-style prisons “can only ever be a temporary solution if the root causes of the rising prison population continue to be ignored”.

Prisons Minister David Hanson said the report acknowledged that prisons have become “better-run, more effective and more humane places”.

He said: “That is something that has not been easily achieved, and should be unequivocally welcomed.

“It is not only right, but it has made prisons safer, more secure and more likely to rehabilitate those within them.”

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the report was a “damning indictment of the government’s reckless prison policy”.

“The failure to provide enough prison capacity has created internal turmoil in prisons, prevented proper rehabilitation of offenders and is putting the public at risk,” he said.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth said: “Ministers must realise that building more prisons is throwing good money after bad. They should take immediate action to stabilise and reduce the long-term prison population.

“That means fewer short-term sentences, less posturing on punishments in the press and treating drug addicts and the mentally ill more appropriately.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



UK: Protest Over Use of Foreign Labour

Hundreds of demonstrators have protested outside an oil refinery against the use of foreign workers on a £200 million construction project.

Humberside Police said around 800 people took part in the demonstration outside the giant Lindsey Oil Refinery at North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire.

The action followed a walkout by hundreds of construction workers on Wednesday. The dispute centres on a decision to bring in hundreds of Italian and Portuguese contractors to work on a new £200 million plant on the site.

Protesters said the foreign workers will be housed on barges in docks off the nearby River Humber.

Unite union regional officer Bernard McAuley said workers at the refinery were joined by hundreds of trade unionists and other supporters from around the UK.

He said: “They’ve come from all over the country. We reckon there were almost 1,000 people here today. We’ve also had huge numbers of messages of support from people who are incensed by this decision. It’s a total mockery.”

Mr McAuley added: “There are men here whose fathers and uncles have worked at this refinery, built this refinery from scratch. It’s outrageous.”

Derek Simpson, joint leader of Unite, called for urgent meetings with the Government and employers to discuss the “exclusion” of UK workers from some of Britain’s major engineering and construction projects.

He said: “It is outrageous that during a recession British workers are not even getting the chance to apply for well-paid work. The Government must intervene to level the playing field as a matter of urgency.”

Superintendent Steve Graham, of Humberside Police, said the demonstration passed off peacefully and refinery owner Total said operations continued at the site despite the protest.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Balkans


German Files Lawsuit Over CIA Rendition Flights

German citizen Khaled el-Masri was arrested by the CIA in Skopje, Macedonia in 2003 and taken to Afghanistan where he claims he was tortured. He is now suing Macedonia for the part it played in his abduction.

A German citizen of Lebanese descent is suing the eastern European nation of Macedonia for 50,000 euros ($65,000) in damages after being abducted there by the CIA and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation on terrorism charges, his lawyer said Monday, Jan. 26.

According to his lawyer, Khaled el-Masri was arrested by the American intelligence agency in Skopje in December, 2003 and held in a hotel near the American embassy for three weeks before being flown on one of the CIA’s infamous rendition flights to Afghanistan and tortured.

This is just the latest in a succession of lawsuits by el-Masri, who has tried suing both the United States and Spain. The US Supreme Court upheld a decision to reject his case on national security grounds in 2007.

Masri, who worked as a car salesman, was traveling to Macedonia in late December 2003 to celebrate the new year. He was held in a hotel near the US embassy in the capital Skopje and questioned. He was asked in English, a language he does not speak well, about ties to al Qaeda and Islamic extremists.

The lawsuit said Macedonia violated provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, including on torture, liberty and respect for human rights.

Traumatic experience

El-Masri’s lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, told the AFP news agency that his client was beaten and bullied for five months without explanation in Afghanistan before being freed in Albania.

Gnjidic has argued that the detention and interrogation of his client by the CIA left him traumatized and his mental distress led to him setting fire to a supermarket in Germany in 2007.

“He is undergoing therapy because still nowadays he cannot get his psyche under control,” said Gnjidic. “He doesn’t know who is responsible for what happened to him.”

The CIA rendition flights took suspected terrorists captured in one country to another or a US-run detention center for questioning and, as many allege, torture. The program began after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Kosovo: Serbia; Jeremic Goes to UN, Letter to 80 Countries

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, JANUARY 28 — Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic will go to the United Nations in New York today to continue a diplomatic offensive against Kosovo’s unilaterally proclaimed independence almost one year ago. In October on Belgrade’s request, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice to rule on the legitimacy of Kosovo’s proclamation of independence. The Court should make a ruling this year. According to Tanjug press agency, before the meetings at the UN, Jeremic sent a letter to about 80 countries proposing to make the Court aware of their position on Kosovo’s secession. The letters were sent to UN member countries who have not yet recognised Kosovo’s independence and have remained neutral until now. In his letter, Jeremic underlined how the Court was consulted for the first time about the legitimacy of secession of a region in one of the UN member countries. For this reason, the Court’s decision will be a very important precedent for the future of international relations. In the past days, Serbian President Boris Tadic sent a letter of protest to the Secretary Generals of the UN and NATO, Ban Ki-moon and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, to denounce the creation of a new security force in Kosovo which Belgrade considers illegal and contrary to UN Resolution 1244. Until now 54 countries have recognised Kosovo’s independence proclaimed on February 17 2008. These include the United States and most of the EU countries including Italy, but not Spain. Disagreeing with Kosovo’s independence is Russia and obviously Serbia, which continues to consider Kosovo a southern province. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union


Greece-Iraq: Economic and Cultural Cooperation Begins

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, JANUARY 28 — Greece is set to open an office for economic and business affairs in Iraq and will contribute to the reconstruction of museums looted and destroyed during the war with financial aid and the necessary technical capabilities. The news comes from the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis following a meeting with his Iraqi colleague Hoshyar Zebari. Bakoyannis said that Greece wanted to increase cultural cooperation with Iraq, where thousands of precious antiquities had been plundered following the invasion in 2003. Bakoyannis and Zebari also decided to erect a monument to Alexander the Great in the former Gaugamela (Northern Iraq), where the legendary Macedonian leader defeated the Persian emperor Darius III in 331 a.d. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa


CIA Algeria Station Chief Faces Sex Assault Probe

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Federal investigators have launched a probe of the CIA’s former station chief in Algeria, the State Department said after US media reported allegations that he drugged and raped two women.

The station chief, a 41-year-old convert to Islam who was in his post since September 2007, was ordered home in October after two women came forward last year with separate allegations they were raped in the official’s residence in Algiers, ABC News reported.

It said both women had provided sworn statements to federal prosecutors in preparation for a possible criminal case against the officer, with a grand jury likely to consider an indictment on sexual assault charges as early as next month.

“The US takes very seriously any accusations of misconduct involving any US personnel abroad,” State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

“The individual in question has returned to Washington and the US government is looking into the matter,” Wood said, referring further media inquiries to the Justice Department.

A Central Intelligence Agency spokesperson would not name the agent, and refused to confirm to AFP that a Justice Department investigation of the station chief had been launched. Both the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Terrorism: Algeria; Belkahdem,Thousands of Weapons Handed in

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 28 — Since the Chart for peace and national reconciliation has come into force in Algeria “at least 6,000 weapons have been handed in” writes Aps quoting the secretary general of the National Liberation Front (Fln), Abdelaziz Belkahdem, during a meeting on “national reconciliation” organised by the three parties that back President Abdelaziz Bouteflika: Fln, Rnd and Msp, former Hamas. The balance of the Chart, according to the former premier, “is positive because it has allowed the return of elements (members of armed Muslim groups, editor’s note) to society”. “National reconciliation” he added “is a political process and no procedure that is limited in time”. The Chart for peace and reconciliation, a key project in an attempt to turn the tragic page of Muslim terrorism, which has continued to rage in Algeria since 1992, was adopted after a referendum in 2005. The terms for terrorists to surrender and take advantage of the amnesty as decided in the Chart expired a long time ago, but the authorities are still willing to welcome those who hand in their weapons. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Why President Obama Should Speak in Morocco

Our story on the possibility of President Obama speaking in Morocco drew a very strong response from Hassan Samrhouni, the Founder of Obama to Speak in Morocco. Here is why Mr Samrhouni says Obama should speak in Morocco.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians


Gaza: Mitchell Insists on Truce, Help PNA Open Crossings

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH, JANUARY 29 — The US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, insisted today, at the end of a meeting with the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Abu Mazen, in Ramallah (the West Bank), that it was vital to “strengthen” the truce in the Gaza Strip. He also asked that the PNA were involved in the border controls so as to make the full opening of the crossing points a more likely possibility. “It is important to strengthen the ceasefire and to make it last, and we encourage all efforts being taken in this direction”, Mitchell stressed. He went on to renew the new US administration’s support for Egypt’s attempted mediation, despite the fragility of the truce called after three weeks of Israeli war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the steady trickle of its violations in recent hours with Palestinian rockets and retaliatory raids. The envoy from Washington, speaking alongside Abu Mazen, also added that the truce must guarantee the safety of all involved, stressing that in order to permit the full reopening of the border crossings (which the Palestinians consider to be an essential condition of the truce), it was important that “the illegal transport of arms should be prevented” (as Israel had protested) and that “only legal goods” should be allowed through. A result which Mitchell believed could be reached through the “PNA’s participation in the border controls”, despite the fierce conflict between Abu Mazen’s party and the radical Islamist party Hamas which holds power in the Gaza Strip. The envoy is expected to return to Israel once again today, after two days of meetings with top Egyptian and Israeli leaders and a step to Ramallah earlier today, to then proceed with his visits to other capitals in the region tomorrow. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Israel Expels Venezuela Envoy

Israel says it has ordered Venezuela’s diplomats to leave the country, following the decision by Venezuela to sever diplomatic relations.

Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador and his staff from Caracas on 6 January in protest at Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.

A week later, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez broke off ties.

Israel has now given its response, setting a deadline of Friday for the Venezuelans to leave.

Israeli foreign ministry official Lior Hayat said the Venezuelan head of mission in Tel Aviv, Roland Betancourt, and two colleagues are now “persona non grata in Israel”.

President Chavez has been a strong critic of Israel’s actions against Hamas militants in Gaza, and has called on Israelis to stand up against their government.

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry has said Caracas plans to denounce Israel’s military actions at the International Criminal Court, according to the Associated Press news agency.

‘Not anti-semitic’

Relations between Israel and Venezuela were already tense because of President Chavez’s friendly relations with Iran, which backs Hamas and has called for Israel’s destruction.

In an interview with Venezuelan state television channel VTV, the country’s foreign minister Nicolas Maduro denied that the Venezuelan government was anti-Semitic.

Mr Maduro also denied that his government has relations with Hamas and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the French news agency AFP reports.

Israel declared an end to its three-week operation in Gaza on 17 January. Hamas followed with its own suspension of hostilities a day later.

More than 1,300 Palestinians, including 400 children, have been killed since Israel began its land, sea and air operations in Gaza. Fourteen Israelis have died.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Transplants: Cagliari Hospital to Host Ramallah Doctors

(ANSAmed) — CAGLIARI, JANUARY 28 — The hospital company Brotzu is to host a delegation of Palestinian doctors from the West Bank until February 4. The project was born from the Palestinian public health sector’s need to open a kidney transplant centre in Ramallah. The hospital health director Rashid Bakeer is to lead the delegation, accompanied by four doctors from the cities of Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah and Jericho. During a press conference held to present the twinning of the hospital with Brotzu to the media, Bakeer explained the difficulties in the Palestinian situation. “There are around 500 patients in Palestine that are suffering from chronic renal insufficiency: the majority are not able to get to dialysis centres due to the Israeli control points. This is why we need to open a transplant centre directly in Ramallah. Until now”, Bakeer said, “14 kidney transplants have been carried out in Palestine, but all of these were in a private clinic in Nablus”. Doctors were accompanied by the Brotzùs Department for renal pathology, directed by Mauro Frongia; this is to be the first step forwards within a larger twinning project between the hospital company and the Palestinian Health Ministry. During the meeting with journalists, the regional Health council, Nerina Dirindin, expressed “Sardiniàs availability to share technologies and the island’s health system above all at this time when the Palestinian people are in need of everyonés combined support” to the assembled Palestinian doctors. The regional councillor for General Affairs, Massimo Dadea, was also present at the welcoming ceremony, as was the company’s general director, Giorgio Sorrentino, the health director, Roberto Sequi, and the director of the transplant centre, Ugo Storelli. The doctor in charge of organising the initiative, who is also playing the role of cultural mediator, is Mohammed Ayyoub. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East


Bahrain: Three Terror Suspects Held

MANAMA: Three more terror suspects were arrested in Bahrain yesterday.

The General Prosecution ordered their arrests after the three suspects, wanted in connection with a National Day bombing plot, ignored summons to appear before the authorities by 5pm on Sunday.

This follows the arrests of 14 Bahrainis on similar charges in December.

“My client was arrested at dawn today along with two others,” said lawyer Jalila Al Sayed, who is defending Hassan Mushaima, the head of the opposition group Haq.

She said that the other two suspects were Mohammed Al Moqdad and Abduljalil Al Singace.

General Prosecution’s questioning of the suspects continued until late last night in the terror plot, also known as Al Hujaira. Six lawyers and MP Jalal Fayrooz were present.

General prosecution has charged the suspects with three main crimes:

l Unlawfully joining groups with the purpose of hampering the implementation of the constitution, law and violating citizens’ personal freedoms with the intention to spread terror.

l Promoting and instigating to topple and change the political system by using violent means.

l Inciting people to spread hatred against the ruling system and mocking it.

Al Moqdad was charged with a fourth felony: Financing and supporting a terrorist group. Al Moqdad’s lawyers Ahmed Al Arrayed and Isa Ibrahim said he denied the charges and refused to answer questions, adding that his speeches had called for change via peaceful means.

The prosecution presented him with some of the suspects’ televised confessions, which pointed to his role in financing these groups. Al Moqdad denied the charges and said that he does not know the people. The prosecution displayed four speeches of Al Moqdad, in which he instigated the public to resort to violence.

Defence lawyer Al Arrayed praised the general prosecution’s co-operation throughout the investigations.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard [Return to headlines]



Emirates: Pre-Marriage Courses to Lower Divorce Rate

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, JANUARY 27 — Pre-marriage courses in an attempt to lower the divorce rate among young couples: the General Women’s Union (Gwu) of the United Arab Emirates has come with this initiative in collaboration with the Justice Department. At present there are no official estimates available of the number of divorces in the Emirates, reports daily The National, but a survey carried out by the UN registered a 13pct increase between 2002 and 2004, with around 13,000 cases tried in court. Social workers and judges say that this trend continues its alarming growth, and that it must be tackled through an adequate preparation for marriage. The main reasons for divorce would be the often young age of the bride and bridegroom, problems in balancing social traditions and a Western lifestyle and excessive costs. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Gaza: Jordanian NGO to Help Clear Mines in Gaza

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, JANUARY 26 — An Amman based NGO has deployed a team of experts to assess the threat of unexploded devices of war in Gaza, an official statement from the group said today. “The disposal of the unexploded mines is a pre-requisite for any reconstruction effort in Gaza as well as a primary safety measure for the people on the ground” says Stephen Bryant, Programme Manager of the Norway Peoplés Aid (NPA) in Jordan, the organization overlooking massive de-mining project in the kingdom. The dangers imposed by unexploded ordnance are exemplified even more clearly in Gaza by the deaths of two children by UXO on January 20, added the statement. “Gazàs being one of the most densely populated parts of the world makes the problem even more acute. Apart from posing a threat to the population, UXO contamination will hold back rescue teams as well as reconstruction and humanitarian work on the ground,” said the statement. A team from Norwegian Peoplés Aid, led by Secretary General Petter Eide, travelled to Jerusalem and Gaza on 22nd January to find out how the group can best make further contributions — both in the short and the long term — in relation to reconstruction work and supporting the population of Gaza following the war. “Based on the findings of this mission, NPA will look into launching and seek funding for an emergency Explosive Ordnance Disposal Response programme in Gaza”, said Per Nergaard, NPA Head International Mine Action Department. The war on Gaza has left at least 1300 dead and thousands injured. Ten Israeli soldiers were also killed in the offensive. The organization has launched similar Emergency EOD response programmes in Lebanon and Georgia following the end of conflicts in 2006 and 2008 respectively. NPA has been working in Jordan since 2006 and has so far cleared around 14 million square meters of suspected hazardous areas in Wadi Araba and Aqaba, removing over 51,000 landmines in the process. It is currently clearing the last known minefields in Jordan along the northern borders with Syria. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Human Rights:Turkey;Two Teenagers Sentenced to 10 Years Jail

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 27 — Two 17-year-old boys were sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for participating in the violent Nevruz (Coming of spring) demonstrations in the South eastern town of Gazinantep, Hurriyet Daily wrote. The court in the southern province of Adana sentenced each boy to 10 years and eight months in prison for propaganda of a terrorist group, carrying Molotov cocktails, throwing explosive materials, wounding a person and being members of the illegal terrorist group Pkk. The boys were found not guilty due to a lack of evidence against the charge of torching five cars. The Human Rights Association (IHD) has reacted to the the boys’ sentence. “Such sentences were taken under the mentality that severe prison terms would prevent others from committing similar crimes”, Adana IHD representative, Ethem Acikalin, said, adding that “we believe protecting children is everyonés duty”. “All individuals are children until they turn 18, but courts believe they have no other option than handing out heavy sentences to set a deterrent”, Acikalin declared, stressing that “efforts to rehabilitate children in Turkey were made through punishment”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Iran: Ahmadinejad Urges End to US ‘Expansionism’

Kermanshah, 28 Jan. (AKI) — During Barack Obama’s presidency, the United States must respect other nations, understand the true causes of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks and end its military intervention in the world if it wants to change, Iran’s hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday. He said he expected two kinds of change which were “deep and fundamental”.

“Meet people, talk to them with respect and put an end to the expansionist policies. If you talk about change it must put an end to the US military presence in the world, withdraw your troops and take them back inside your borders,” he said.

“We welcome change if it is fundamental and in the right direction. Real change is change in the tone of talks with people, to enter from the door of respect and not to pursue expansion and imperialism.”

Ahmadinejad (photo) was addressing a large gathering in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which was broadcast on state television.

Former US president George W. Bush had been consigned to the “historical scrapheap for his dark page full of crimes against humanity and betrayals,” Ahmadinejad said.

He drew parallels between attitudes to the Nazis’ World War II extermination of Jews in the Holocaust and Al-Qaeda’s deadly attacks against US cities on 11 September 2001.

“Just as with the Holocaust, they have left no chance of understanding what actually caused the 9/11 attacks and the wars that killed a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“If they really want to change, this has to start with understanding what really happened on 9/11, he said.

He called on the US to withdraw its support from Israel, “which kills Palestinians”.

Obama’s policy of change means recognising the Palestinians’ rights, Ahmadinejad said.

He also accused the US of meddling in Iran’s affairs for 60 years and said Obama must apologise for “crimes” against Iran, including American support for the 1953 coup in the country and the backing of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988.

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



Italy-Yemen: Stefania Craxi Opens New Embassy HQ in Sanaa

(ANSAmed) — SANAA, JANUARY 28 — The new headquarters for the Italian Embassy in Yemen was opened today in Sanaa. The ceremony, with flag-raising and the national anthem, was preceded by a speech from Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Stefania Craxi, with Italian Ambassador Mario Boffo and in the presence of Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abubakr Abdallah Al-Qirby, Culture Minister Mohammed Abubakr Ismail Al-Arhabi, Ambassadors from several other countries and numerous Italians who work or study in the country. “Italy wishes to give its support to the Yemeni Government and its population, especially at a time when Yemen is forced to confront major challenges tied to security and the economy” said Stefania Craxi, pointing out that Italian cooperation is already involved in projects “in vital sectors such as naval security, biodiversity, sustainable development, health and the exploitation of cultural heritage”. Italy was the first European country to recognise Yemen and establish diplomatic relations in 1926. The new Embassy headquarters is a three storey building in the residential district of Haddah, in south-west Sanaa, where other embassies are situated. The transfer was made for security reasons: the old headquarters, which held the Embassy since 1986, were in the central district of Safiah, which over time became too densely populated and busy, and therefore dangerous. The old headquarters was no longer big enough for the needs of the Embassy. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Jordan: Anti-Human Trafficking Law Passed

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, JORDAN, JANUARY 26 — Jordan’s parliament endorsed an anti-human trafficking law following international complaints of persistent trade in foreign workers in the kingdom, an MP said today. The law imposes a penalty of three years behind bars on violators and hefty fines, said deputy Mubarak Abu Yameen, head of the parliament’s legal committee. “The law will be a deterrent to companies that seek to exploit foreign workers and assure Jordan’s commitment to international laws on this issue,” he told ANSAmed. The law was rubber stamped by parliament on a session held late Sunday. Two local companies were recently the subject of a legal action in American courts after several Nepalese nationals said they facilitated sending them to Iraq against their wish. A Nepalese national and relatives of 12 who were killed in Iraq filled a law suit against the Jordanian firms, saying they were sent to Iraq by force. The men were told they will be working in Jordan, but later sent to work in American base in Iraq. But 12 were kidnapped by the insurgency and killed. Also local factories that employ Asian workers and exports to the US market have drawn fire from human rights groups who say workers are abused and placed in slavery like conditions. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Kuwait: No Gaza Donations for Palestinian Authority, Says Emir

Kuwait City, 27 Jan. (AKI) — The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, says no donations destined for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip should go to the Palestinian National Authority led by president Mahmoud Abbas.

Al-Sabah made the remarks after Muslim parliamentarians asked the emir about the destination of funds to help the people of Gaza.

“We will announce the precise figure that we will donate only at the donor countries conference due to take place in Cairo,” said the emir, cited by Arab TV network Al-Jazeera.

“Our government will, however, put conditions on the deposit of the funds which will be made to the Arab fund for development and one of these conditions is that they cannot be managed by the PNA.”

According to local media, Islamic MPs are thought to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement which is banned in Egypt, and active in Kuwait, Jordan and Algeria.

The MPs and other organisations are concerned that donations collected in Kuwait could end up in the coffers of the PNA.

Last week the leader of the Islamist Hamas movement, Khaled Meshal, asked donor countries to donate funds to the Hamas government led by deposed prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, and not the PNA government led by caretaker prime minister Salaam Fayyad in the West Bank.

The oil-rich emirate last Monday hosted a two-day Arab economic summit. However, talks about the crisis in the Gaza Strip dominated the agenda.

Sheikh Sabah appealed to Palestinian politicians to seek unity and condemned the divisions between the rival Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas.

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



Mid-East: Cost of Conflicts, 12,000 Bln Dollars in 20 Years

(ANSAmed) — GENEVA, JANUARY 23 — Middle Eastern countries hit by conflicts have ‘burned’ 12,000 billion dollars in the last two decades in terms of economic losses and missed opportunities. According to research by the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) presented in Geneva by the Security Policy Centre (SPC), the region has paid an extremely elevated price due to wars and the absence of peace over the last two decades. The price was calculated taking into consideration all of the countries in the region, including Iraq. It is a detailed evaluation of the costs in economic, military, environmental, social, but also in psychological terms since 1991, following hundreds of parameters. The study carried out by the Strategic Foresight Group, an Indian based think-tank, includes the valuation of missed opportunities. Researchers — quoted by the Swiss agency ATS — calculated for example that if Iraq had not suffered from sanctions or the war, the GDP of the country could have reached 2,262 billion dollars compared to the current 58.6 billion. Israel has lost about 15 billion dollars in earnings in the tourism sector from 2000 to 2006. According to the authors of the study, Israeli and Palestinian income are equal to half of what they would be today if a peace agreement had been reached in the Madrid Conference in 1991. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Revealed: the Letter Obama Team Hope Will Heal Iran Rift

Symbolic gesture gives assurances that US does not want to topple Islamic regime

Officials of Barack Obama’s administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Turkey to Buy 10 Spy Aircraft From Israel

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 28 — Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul, asked if procurement of Heron spy aircraft would be delayed after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s harsh criticism against Israel regarding the Gaza issue, said to daily Vatan that “our agreement to jointly produce Herons is still in force. They (Israel) sent two of the aircraft late December. There is a little bit delay but I think they will send remaining eight aircraft until the end of April.” Each Heron unmanned surveillance aircraft costs 18 million USD. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



UAE: Dubai; Almost 3,000 People Turn to Islam, +71% in 2008

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, JANUARY 29 — Almost 3,000 people, the majority of them women, from dozens of nationalities became Muslims in Dubai last year, it was announced as reported by Arabian Business online. A total of 2,763 individuals — 1,869 of them women — from 72 countries embraced Islam in 2008, an increase of 71% over 2007, according to figures released by the Islamic affairs and charitable activities department. Announcing the data, Hamad bin Al Sheikh Al Shaibani, director general of the department, said: “We are delivering our message properly by spreading Islamic culture and instilling national identity through giving greater attention to mosques, holy Quran sciences, Islamic heritage, research fatwa and charity works.” The Islamic message was being delivered through a moderate school of Islam by highly qualified and conversant individuals using the most advanced methodologies, he added. “We are lending special care to new Muslims, providing them with all they need from audio-visual materials, books, lectures and training programmes in all languages so as to become true Muslims,” Al Shaibani said. However, some other factors could have influenced the choice to turn to Islam. In the country, in fact, in case of the husband’s death and without a will, the wives who do not convert may risk to be excluded in the division of assets. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

Russia


Europe, Beware: Obama Speaks With Two Tongues

Obama is holding out an olive branch to Islam: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” Obama is quoted as saying, adding “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect.” Coincidentally, across the board US-muslim relations are quite good. Most Middle Eastern regimes are somehow or other supported by the US. Saudi Arabia is a close ally and so are the Gulf States. Egypt’s regime can only survive thanks to regular wheat shipments from the US. Arab (Muslim) bankers and businessmen have invested heavily in the US economy and have been buying plenty of bonds over the past decades.

On the other hand, Obama has announced he will step up military efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the recently inaugurated US embassy in Iraq indicates the US is planning to stay indefinitely and continue to run the country like a colony or protectorate.

In line with Samuel Huntington’s concept of a struggle between civilizations, at least since 9/11 2001, the US has been engaged in a widely publicized war on Muslim fundamentalism. It has been trying with reasonable success to draw its European client states into the fight as well, but the Europeans seem reluctant to go whole hog. After all, there are sizeable Muslim minorities in most of Western Europe. North African Muslims, especially young male Moroccans who tend to be woefully undereducated, constitute a serious social problem in countries like France, the Netherlands and Belgium. These kids tend to be violent, volatile and aggressive, engaging in periodic bouts of rioting with often devastating results. There are efforts under way by imams in Britain and elsewhere to introduce Muslim law (sharia) in neighborhoods with a Muslim majority. With segregation rampant-most Western European inner cities are in the process of being islamicized or are already muslim-it is understandable native Western Europeans are worried about the future. Most are now afraid of terrorism…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Recruits Deserting the Russian Army

PETER CAVE: The Russian military may have delivered a crushing blow to neighbouring Georgia six months ago in the conflict over South Ossetia, but right now it’s having to battle bad publicity over a deserter.

A Russian soldier based in the disputed region has fled, citing terrible living conditions as his main reason.

In what’s shaping up to be a propaganda skirmish Russia has countered that the soldier was kidnapped by Georgian authorities.

Moscow correspondent Scott Bevan reports.

SCOTT BEVAN: Russian army sergeant Alexander Glukhov says that early this week he walked away from his unit in the disputed region of South Ossetia bound for the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

But it wasn’t the destination that was driving the soldier to desert. Rather, he says, it was what he was leaving behind, claiming the living conditions were terrible.

(Alexander Glukhov speaking)

“They haven’t even brought a good bath point there where you would just wash yourself once a week,” Alexander Glukhov has told the Echo of Moscow radio station.

The soldier has also complained of harsh treatment from a commander and has added that his desertion is not politically motivated nor, in his eyes, an act of treachery.

But the Russian Defence Ministry sees politics in it, telling media that Sergeant Glukhov had been kidnapped by Georgian special services officers. Alexander Glukhov refutes that.

(Alexander Glukhov speaking)

“I left by myself,” he said. “Nobody made me do it”.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: It was not a secret that all these soldiers that are deployed now in Southern Ossetia live in unbelievably bad conditions. Even in compare with others of Russian armed forces.

SCOTT BEVAN: Alexander Golts is a military analyst in Moscow. He says this case is just another indication of the conditions those serving in the Russian forces have to endure.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: More than 50 per cent of barrack rooms in this country have no warm water, hot water.

SCOTT BEVAN: Valentina Melnikova is the head of the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee, which fights for better conditions and rights for those in the services.

She says Sergeant Glukhov’s story of desertion is hardly unique.

VALENTINA MELNIKOVA (translated): He is just one of 50,000 who leave their military unit. Thank God he’s safe and sound, and it seems, with no injuries. He left in time I suppose.

SCOTT BEVAN: Not all leave the Russian military safe and sound. A government commission has been meeting to discuss the controversial issue of non-combat deaths in Russia’s armed forces.

The commission has been told that last year 604 servicemen died in ways other than in combat; 292 of those deaths were listed as suicide.

Russia’s armed forces are heavily reliant on conscription to fill the ranks and the commission’s chairman has said there has to be greater research into the psychological readiness of conscripts for service.

While the Russian Government has repeatedly outlined how it’s increasing funding and introducing reforms to improve the servicemen’s lot, Valentina Melnikova says the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee has one recommendation to make things better and to even save lives.

VALENTINA MELNIKOVA (translated): It is necessary to stop compulsory service.

SCOTT BEVAN: Military analyst Alexander Golts agrees.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: What we badly need is to refuse as soon as possible of conscription, and have a modern, rather small army which is ready to solve problems in local and regional conflicts.

SCOTT BEVAN: But in a country where military service is seen as a national duty by its political leaders, Alexander Golts doesn’t expect that reform to be embraced in a great hurry.

This is Scott Bevan in Moscow for AM.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Russian Military a ‘Paper Tiger’ Despite Symbolic Comeback, Says IISS

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Not a bad article, but as one commenter correctly points out — despite defense spending % GDP dropping from 1998 to 2007, overall GDP in 2007 was over 12x larger.]

Russia may be flexing its military muscle once again, sending warships into international waters and dispatching long-range bombers on reconnaissance trips, but the former superpower remains a paper tiger, according to a respected London think-tank.

The recent naval manoeuvres in the Mediterranean and Latin America were symbolic gestures — the former maritime giant was able to deploy only a small number of ships, while the rest of the fleet was anchored at home without enough money to keep it at sea, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says.

In February last year a naval force led by the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov completed a two-month deployment, including a period in the Mediterranean — one of the longest of its kind since the Cold War, the IISS said in The Military Balance, its annual assessment which was published yesterday.

An exercise with the Venezuelan Navy took place in October and a Russian warship joined the antipiracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

However, Oksana Antonenko, a senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the institute, said: “In military terms it was all very modest. This is not a major military comeback, it was just a symbolic deployment.”

She cast doubt on the ability of Russia to project force and said that the victory of Russian troops in Georgia in August merely exposed the Army’s shortcomings. She predicted that the Russian defence budget next year would suffer from an even greater deficit.

The Navy plans to build six carrier battle groups, but the publication said: “The Russian military has a long way to go to recover from 20 years of mismanagement and neglect.

“Only 12 nuclear-powered submarines, 20 major surface warships and one aircraft carrier remain in service with the Russian Navy, the last of which is routinely followed by two tugs in case of breakdown,” it added.

According to the institute’s estimate of Russian defence expenditure, the percentage of GDP devoted to military spending dropped from 5.25 per cent in 1998 to 3.9 per cent in 2007.

The assessment is contrary to the high-profile foreign policy approach adopted by Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister.

There was not enough money for Russia to achieve what it wanted in military terms, Ms Antonenko said. There was also a lack of consensus in the Russian armed forces. Some sections of the Army want to remain focused on territorial defence and the nuclear establishment insists on training for work beyond Russia’s borders.

The Military Balance said that national pride in Russia’s military forces was being restored, however.

Russia remained sensitive to the enlargement programme of Nato, particularly since Georgia and Ukraine had been put on the list of potential new members of the alliance, Ms Antonenko said.

She added that there was no clear understanding in Moscow of what Nato was trying to do with its enlargement programme and she called for a different dialogue between Russia and the alliance.

Ms Antonenko said there were signs of a better working arrangement, with the announcement that Russia was willing to consider allowing Nato to use a northern corridor through its territory for delivering supplies to alliance troops in Afghanistan.

John Chipman, the director-general and chief executive of the IISS, said that since the conflict in Georgia the Russians had announced plans for radical reforms, including turning the Army into a fully professional force.

“This restructuring could make Russian armed forces more capable to operate against modern threats and potentially better interoperable with Western forces,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Russia Poses Biggest Security Threat — Czechs in Poll

Prague — Russia poses the biggest threat to the Czech Republic, Czechs said in the December poll conducted by the CVVM polling agency and released today.

Two years ago, it was Iran. At present, Iraq and Afghanistan, too, are reasons to worry.

The smallest fear is felt of Palestine and Germany.

Russia is strongly opposed to the planned installation of some elements of the U.S. radar anti-missile project in the Czech Republic. It has said it might retaliate.

Last December, Russia was considered the biggest threat by 17 percent of Czechs, 7 percent more than in December 2006.

At the end of 2006, Iraq was considered the biggest threat, at the end of last year Iran. Germany and Palestine were considered a threat by a mere one percent of Czechs.

Three-fifths of Czechs believe that international organised crime poses a big threat to peace and security of the Czech Republic.

About one-fifth considers ethnic minorities (largely Romanies) a threat. In this sphere, there are big discrepancies along regional lines. In the North Bohemian Usti region, 39 percent of those polled consider them a threat.

One-third of Czechs are afraid of a natural disaster or epidemic. One-fifth is afraid of war.

The poll was conducted on a sample of 1152 Czechs over 15 on December 1-8, 2008.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Russia Unveils Aggressive Arctic Plans

In a new national directive, Russia has asserted claims on large sections of the Arctic Ocean. The tone of the document is openly aggressive, prompting fears of increasing international tension over who has the right to exploit the mineral-rich territory.

Cold temperatures and boredom are normally the order of the day at Russia’s northernmost border post on the Arctic Ocean island of Alexandra Land. Icebergs as big as houses drift past, while old diesel drums stand silent in the dry air.

Gone are the days when the engines of bombers carrying nuclear warheads droned over Nagurskoye military station. Nowadays, there is only one flight a month to the station, which is home to 30 soldiers, 16 scientists and six meteorologists who report to the FSB, Russia’s powerful domestic intelligence service. They live in austere wooden huts, braving the indifference of the Arctic.

In September of last year, this ghost station of the Cold War was suddenly returned to the center of geopolitical events, when two dozen government representatives were flown there, including Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. They quickly agreed that “the Arctic must become Russia’s main strategic base for raw materials.” Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council of Russia, was quick to point out: “If we do not become active now, we will simply be forced out.”

The group of powerful men decided to have a comprehensive strategy prepared for development of the Arctic by 2020. The document will be released this week.

Some of the content has already been leaked, revealing an uncompromising tone. “It cannot be ruled out that the battle for raw materials will be waged with military means,” the explosive document reads.

It seems that Russia, with almost one-third of its territory lying north of the Arctic Circle, is about to prove that the fears of Western nations bordering the Arctic are not unjustified. The nuclear power will soon begin flexing its muscles along the icy shores of its giant realm.

The interest of nations bordering the Arctic is growing as polar ice recedes. One week before leaving office, outgoing US President George W. Bush unveiled a strategic plan for the Arctic region. Canada, Denmark and Norway have launched their own initiatives. Even the European Union announced a new polar policy in November.

Meanwhile, the government-controlled newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta is preparing Russians for the notion that “the fight for the Arctic will be the initial spark for a new division of the world.” Artur Chilingarov, a member of the Russia parliament and Moscow’s chief ideologue when it comes to conquering the Arctic, puts it this way: “We are not prepared to give our Arctic to anyone.”

Chilingarov — who in August 2007 used a remote-controlled submarine arm to plant a Russian flag made of titanium on the ocean floor at the North Pole at a depth of 4,261 meters (13,976 feet) — wants to “present evidence to the United Nations within one year” that the North Pole belongs to the Russians. His threat to those in the West who disagree is simple: “If these rights are not recognized, Russia will withdraw from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Alexander Dugin, a political scientist and well-known intellectual backer of Moscow’s neo-imperial claims to a Greater Russia, becomes so caught up in nationalist fervor that he loses his grasp on biological realities: “The purpose of our being lies in the expansion of our space. The shelf belongs to us. Polar bears live there, Russian polar bears. And penguins live there, Russian penguins.”

Although the Arctic may be somewhat lacking in penguins, Russia’s frozen north does contain vast mineral resources. Arctic Russia is already responsible for 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 22 percent of its export earnings.

The intended expansion of Russia’s northern border by at least 150 miles (241 kilometers) and 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles), an area three times the size of Germany, promises to yield immense natural resource earnings.

It was precisely these riches that Russian Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Sergei Donskoy discussed at the Arctic Frontiers conference in the northern Norwegian city of Tromsø, where several hundred scientists, politicians and economic experts came together last week.

“We hope to find reserves of oil and gas corresponding to about 20 percent of Russian reserves,” Donskoy said, outlining Russia’s plans for the Arctic.

Under that plan, geologists will first study the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea. They expect to find at least two to four large oil or gas fields beneath the ocean floor in each of these two seas. According to Russia’s environment minister, a petroleum engineer by trade, the fields contain an estimated 3.3 billion tons of oil and up to 5 billion cubic meters of gas.

If all goes according to plan, the first gas from the Arctic should begin flowing in 2013 or 2014, says Hervé Madeo, the deputy director of an energy consortium led by Russia’s Gazprom that is developing the Shtokman field in the Barents Sea. Of the field, he says: “It is one of the largest in the world and unique in Russia.”

Despite the financial crisis, preparations for drilling are moving forward at a fast pace. The project “has too much potential” for the global economic downturn to affect it much, Madeo claims.

The gas field could become the first major milestone in the development of the energy reserves of the north. This prompted Norwegian Rear Admiral Trond Grytting to comment sarcastically in his presentation at the Tromsø conference (entitled “From the Cold War to the Hot Arctic”): “We have lots of natural resources, military personnel and disputed borders in the Arctic. This has never been a recipe for peace.”

Grytting showed slides of his fleet commander exchanging gestures of friendship with his Russian counterpart. But he also showed the flight paths of Russian reconnaissance planes off the Norwegian coast.

The Norwegians are worried about three unresolved territorial disputes with their eastern neighbor, and all it takes is a glance at their radar screens to witness the extent to which the former Red Army is already amplifying its presence in the Arctic Ocean. “The Russian doctrine is unmistakable,” warns Grytting. “The army is supposed to advance the state’s goals in the surrounding region.”

These goals openly call for expansion. As far back as 2001, Russia submitted claims to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a panel of scientists at the United Nations that will be called upon to make decisions about expanded territorial rights in the Arctic Ocean in the coming years.

To support its claims, Russia will have to compile evidence to prove that its own continental shelf extends beyond the 200-nautical-mile zone known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Russian request was denied the first time around, with the CLCS demanding additional geologic evidence.

Even many of Chilingarov’s fellow Russians doubt whether he will be able to fulfill his ambitious promises to have compiled all the necessary documents and samples before the end of the year. “A little bucket of sediment won’t be enough,” Leopold Lobkovsky of St. Petersburg’s Institute of Oceanology said caustically in Tromsø.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Asia


Abdul the Taliban, on the Hunt for American ‘Infidels’

KABUL (AFP) — Abdul Shafiq is around 30 years old and has sacrificed his family life for two things: reading the Koran and fighting.

After years in exile following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, this Taliban commander is back in the mountains of his birth, having left behind his old life with his family for one mission: chasing out the “infidel” Americans.

It takes several cups of tea in a house next to a snowy hill, somewhere in southern Kabul, before the fighter with a thin face and the features of a Pashtun from southern Afghanistan, agrees to tell his story.

Abdul Shafiq — an assumed name — looks like any other Afghan, except that he has never been as unhappy as in times of peace.

He wears a long cream shirt and leather jacket; his hair and beard are thick and black, his clear brown eyes sparkle as brightly as his silver Pashtun cap dotted with shiny plastic beads.

In hiding in Kabul, he rarely spends two nights in the same place, taking a break before returning to the fight.

In the mountains, he heard of new US President Barack Obama “who will change nothing” and of Palestine “where something is happening”.

His future seems set: “As long as the Americans are here, we will fight them,” says the Taliban militant, whom AFP could only meet through local intermediaries.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Bangladesh on Alert for Japanese Red Army Fugitives — Police

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AFP)—Police in Bangladesh are on alert after Interpol warned that seven members of the banned Japanese Red Army militant group could be hiding in the South Asian nation, police said Thursday. A police official in the capital said the alert concerned seven members of the group, confirming a report by the state-run BSS news agency that quoted a provincial police officer. “So far we haven’t arrested anyone linked to the group,” said the Dhaka police official, who asked not to be named. A spokesman with the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka and officials in Tokyo refused to comment. The Red Army is now considered defunct, but some of its members are still on the run and wanted in connection with global militant activities in the 1970s. The Japanese Red Army first made the world stage in May 1972 when three members dressed in business suits sprayed gunfire at Tel Aviv’s airport after stepping off an Air France flight. Twenty-six people were killed in the attack, most of them Puerto Rican pilgrims. Two of the Japanese assailants also died. In September 1977, the Japanese Red Army hijacked a Japan Airlines flight over India and landed it in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. They forced the Japanese government to free six imprisoned members of the group. According to the BSS report, one of the militants named in the alert is Kozo Okamoto, wanted in connection with the Tel Aviv airport attack and last known to be living in Lebanon.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Japan: Tokyo Rethinks Alliance With United States in Multipolar World

The global economic crisis and the presidency of Barack Obama are prompting Japan to rethink policy and international prospects. The 21st century will be that of Asia, and Japan, with its “soft power,” can take the lead even in front of China and India.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) — The Japanese find themselves facing an historic challenge not unlike those of the second half of the 19th century, when they shook off feudalism, and of 1945, when, with the rejection of militarist nationalism, they chose democracy. This time, the spur to choose radical change is coming from the global economic crisis and from the new American president, or better, from the America that he represents.

Prime Minister Taro Aso, at the nation’s helm since last September, has lost no time in establishing contact with the new president, in order to plan a meeting in Washington by March. In a statement released to the press, Aso said that he intends “to work hand in hand with President Obama in order to reinforce further the alliance between Japan and the United States.”

The motivation for this desire is not so much national prestige as the awareness that Japan has long required political initiative in worldwide governance, and not only the diplomacy of economic aid. In this context, the Aso government, in addition to its efforts to confront the worldwide economic emergency, is proposing three areas of collaboration with the United States: climate change, the reduction of nuclear weapons, and support for Africa.

For Washington’s part, Hillary Clinton, the new American secretary of state, has stated that “the alliance between the United States and Japan is the cornerstone of American policy in Asia.”

From hegemonic power to a multipolar world

But the true interpreters of the position that Japan must take in the new international situation are the intellectuals. Professor Yasuaki Onuma, who teaches international law at the University of Tokyo, has spoken out with particular clarity on this topic, in an article entitled “Japan can prosper in a multipolar world,” published in Asahi. The study is of particular value because it summarizes the convictions of historians and essayists, and is based on a cultural analysis of reality beyond petty nationalistic prejudices.

For Onuma, the severe economic crisis, which is unprecedented because it is globalized, is not a whirlpool into which the world has fallen, but a dark and perhaps a long tunnel, beyond which a brilliant future shines. The enormous global crisis is not in itself a factor of change, but something that brings to light the process of epochal change now underway.

Reflecting from the point of view of Asia, he distinguishes three centuries in the historical perspective: the first two (nineteenth and twentieth) concern the past, and the third (twenty-first) the future.

The nineteenth century was the century of Europe. So, he writes, “the leading European powers built a global colonial system, they spread modern science to the world, and guided ‘civilization’. The twentieth century was that of the United States. We enjoyed the benefits of motorization, we cultivated the sensibility spread by Hollywood movies and rock music, and we were brought to the threshold of a civilization characterized by information technology.”

The historiographical outline sketched by the Japanese professor is useful from an educational point of view, although it is incomplete and its contents. He does not underestimate the benefits that the world has received from these two civilizations, but he also highlights their hegemonic aspects: the world has been governed first by Europe, and then by America.

And how will the twenty-first century be? It is a widespread conviction that it will be the century of Asia. China is expected to become an economic superpower surpassing America, and India will also join the ranks of economic superpowers. When this happens, some predict, Asia’s power will exceed that of Europe and the United States before the end of the century.

Onuma hesitates to claim that the twenty-first century will be the century of Asia. He expects that “the world will be more multipolar, with different civilizations than those of the twentieth century, dominated by the values of Europe and America.” The prediction of Asia’s dominance in world governance is based on the ‘understanding’ of the past, while the vision of a multipolar world is based on the ‘imagination’ of the future. It is an imagination that is not fantasy, but an attentive reading of the ‘signs of the times’.”

Japan’s role in epochal change

The second half of the twentieth century has seen the enormous and positive economic influence of Japan all over the world. But now, because of the decline of the Japanese economy, which has been pulled into the vortex of the worldwide crisis, some are afraid that there is no more room for Japan in the multipolar world. Those who base the influence of the nation on material power — meaning military and economic — fall into this pessimism. Much more important is the influence that the Anglo-Saxons call “soft power,” that of a civilization that puts man at the center, and not things. In the West, there are three elements of this power: democracy, human rights, and, we would add, Christianity, which constitutes its foundation. But Asia also has its own spiritual values that have forged very ancient civilizations.

But the fever of rapid economic and industrial development is playing havoc with these values in the two nations that were the cradle of Asian civilization: India and China. It is at this level that there emerges the “soft power” of Japan. The various threads of Asian culture over several centuries have arrived in the country of the rising sun as if coming to their last shore, and here they have undergone a process of elaboration that has continued even over the past 150 years, in spite of the grim tragedy of imperialist militarism. “The Japanese were among the first peoples of Asia to learn modern Western civilization, and use it extensively,” Onuma observes. “But at the same time, they have maintained their identity as part of Eastern civilization.” Now they are in a position to assist the nations of Asia to accomplish this synthesis. The power of Japanese culture elaborated by these experiences is the “soft power” of Japan, which Onuma does not hesitate to describe as “colossal.”

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



Malaysia Proposes OIC Film Festival

RABAT (Morocco), Jan 27 (Bernama) — Malaysia has proposed that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) countries hold a film festival like that in Cannes or Berlin to promote the works of their producers and directors and provide a marketplace for people in their creative industries.

Malaysian Information Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, speaking at the opening of 8th Islamic Conference of Information Ministers (ICIM) here, said such a festival should be held back-to-back with the next ICIM meeting in 2011.

“The meeting may be known as the ‘OIC Film Festival’ or by any other name. But, the important thing is to allow our creative industry players to think beyond their shores and have a better grasp of the untold commercial benefits once they work together,” he said.

Ahmad Shabery said television channels and cinemas in OIC countries should promote movies, documentaries, entertainment shows and animations produced by their own creative industries.

As ministers responsible for information, he said, they must work to ensure that “we should have more visuals, more images, more sound-bites so that we can really feel the bonds of our brotherhood among us”.

Ahmad Shabery also called on OIC member states to take a more aggressive stance towards news and information from the international media, which may be sometimes distorted.

“As such, our media organisations must be prepared to print and broadcast more news, images and visuals provided by our own media players. This sharing of information will certainly enable us to mobilise world opinion on various matters affecting the Ummah,” he said.

In this regard, he proposed that OIC member states work on the establishment of an OIC TV news channel.

“Maybe we can begin with a selected few member states to jump-start the project. I propose that this item be discussed in the agenda of the next OIC Summit.”

Ahmad Shabery said this year’s ICIM meeting came at a crucial time after the Israeli aggression in Gaza.

He told the meeting that the Malaysian parliament at its recent special session had called on the United Nations to immediately form an international war crimes tribunal to investigate Israeli atrocities and violence on the Palestinian people.

“I believe that we must mobilise efforts in the OIC to galvanise support to bring the Israeli perpetrators to the World Court, to be tried for atrocities against humanity. We cannot allow these criminals to go scot-free and we must mobilise worldwide opinion against such crimes,” he said.

To help mobilise world opinion, Ahmad Shabery said, the Palestinians should be equipped with know-how and the resources to become “citizen journalists”.

“We want them to relay real-time information and pictures via the New Media directly to all of us. We in the Islamic world should be able to tell about ourselves better rather than being overly dependent on other people’s media,” he said.

At the meeting, Ahmad Shabery also welcomed efforts to restructure the International Islamic News Agency (IINA) and the International Islamic Broadcasting Union (IBU) to make them more dynamic and effective entities in the OIC.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Pakistan: Militants Blow Up Boys’ School and Homes in Northwest

Khar, 28 Jan. (AKI) -Taliban militants have blown up a boys’ school and the homes of six pro-government tribal elders in Pakistan’s troubled northwest Bajaur tribal region, a local official said on Wednesday, quoted by media.

The incidents took place late on Tuesday in the restive tribal region of Bajaur, where government troops have been battling militants in a major operation launched last August.

None of the six tribal elders were at home during the attacks and there were no reports of casualties. The elders were all members of a ‘lashkar’ or local force that was set up in the Mamoun area of Bajaur to counter the Taliban, the official said.

Over the past year, the Taliban has ordered most of the private schools to close in North West Frontier Province’s Swat district and has destroyed nearly 150 schools as part of their campaign to ban education for girls.

Although 400 private girls’ schools complied with a Taliban edict to close by mid-January, Taliban militants continued their campaign of violence and blew up another five schools in Mingora, the largest town in Swat.

The closure of the private schools will deprive more than 40,000 students of their basic right to education. In addition, 84,248 girls students in state-run schools are unlikely to attend class because of fear of attacks by militants.

Hundreds of female teachers, most of them lone breadwinners face economic hardship as a result of the ban.

Over 350 privately-owned schools in Swat have separate sections for boys and girls, according to data available from a local association of schools

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



President Obama! Muslims Don’t Consider Americans as Enemy

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney

The new US President Barack Hussein Obama, in his recent interview to Al Arabiya Satellite Television, said that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world. He vowed to improve US relations with the Muslim world. He said that he would travel to Muslim capitals and address the nations in order to create a better understanding. He pointed out that he had lived in Indonesia for several years and travelled to many Muslim countries and found that regardless of faith, people had certain common hopes and dreams. He said his administration is initiating a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest…

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]



Singapore: Offensive Booklet Reported

A MUSLIM administrative manager said she felt offended and angry after reading a small anti-Islamic booklet sent to her by post. Madam Farhati Ahmad, 36, said she received the comic book called The Little Bride through the mail at her Woodlands home on March 6, 2007.

After reading the contents of the booklet, published by Chick Publications, an American Protestant publisher, she made a police report the same day.

She did not know who sent it but suspected that a Christian organisation had done it. She said she felt very insulted by the booklet whose objective was to insult and confuse Muslims.

‘I also feel that its intention was to instigate feelings of anger or hatred for Islam as a religion,’ she said.

She was testifying at the third day of the trial of technical officer Ong Kian Cheong, 50, and his wife, Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, 45, an associate director with a bank, on charges under the Sedition Act and Undesirable Publications Act.

The Christian couple are alleged to have distributed a seditious publication each to two men, and the objectionable publication to Madam Farhati between March and December 2007.

The charges say the publications had the tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between Christians and Muslims in Singapore.

When Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala asked why she made a report instead of throwing the booklet away, Madam Farhati said if the publication which she described as dangerous were to fall into wrong hands, it might disrupt racial harmony in Singapore. She also said people could use it to cause harm and chaos.

The other two Muslims who made police reports after receiving The Little Bride and Who Is Allah? are Mr Irwan Ariffin, 32, and Mr Isa Raffee, 35.

The hearing continues.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Singapore: Mosques Using English More

ALTHOUGH Malay is still the dominant language of instruction in Singapore’s mosques, English is increasingly being used in Friday prayer sermons and religious classes at some mosques. According to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), about 30 per cent of the 69 mosques in Singapore are currently giving sermons in English.

Although the number of mosques using English dropped from 28 in 2007 to 22 last year, there has been a 10 per cent increase in the frequency of English sermons delivered at the 22 mosques.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East


North Korea Scraps Military Accords With South Korea

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) — North Korea said it is scrapping all military and political agreements with South Korea, accusing the government in Seoul of pursuing confrontational policies that are pushing the two nations to “the brink of war.”

“All the agreed points concerning the issue of putting an end to the political and military confrontation between the north and south will be nullified,” the reunification committee in Pyongyang said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency today.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry “will discuss the matter and how we will respond” at a meeting today, spokesman Kim Ho Nyoun said in a telephone interview.

North Korea’s announcement comes less than two weeks after it threatened “strong military steps” in response to South Korea’s confrontational policies and about two months after North Korea imposed border restrictions with South Korea.

Kim Jong Il’s regime has repeatedly called South Korean President Lee Myung Bak a “traitor” and a “sycophant to the U.S.” It has demanded South Korea stop civic groups from launching balloons loaded with so-called propaganda leaflets criticizing Kim.

North Korea also announced today it is canceling an Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Cooperation and Exchange with South Korea and nullified the military boundary in the West Sea, according to KCNA’s statement.

Peaceful Resolution

North Korea’s move comes two days after South Korea welcomed comments from Kim that he is committed to scrapping his nation’s nuclear program and will continue efforts toward a peaceful resolution.

Kim told a Chinese Communist Party official at a Jan. 23 meeting in Pyongyang that North Korea “is committed to making the Korean peninsula a nuclear-free zone and wishes to live in peace with all the parties concerned,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported at the time.

North Korea, which tested a nuclear weapon in 2006, has rejected international demands that inspectors be allowed to remove samples from its Yongbyon reactor, the source of the regime’s weapons-grade plutonium. The refusal has stalled six- nation disarmament talks that also involve the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

North Korea and South Korea are still technically at war as their 1950-1953 conflict ended in a truce and not a peace treaty. The two nations are separated by one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders, with 1.7 million soldiers facing off each day.

South Korea placed its military on alert after North Korea’s threat of military steps on Jan. 17.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Philippines: NPA to Step Up Attacks vs RP-US Exercises in Panay

MANILA, Philippines — As joint RP-US military exercises in Panay started Monday, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered the New People’s Army (NPA) to heighten offensives there, as well as in Bicol.

In a statement on its website, the CPP called on residents to “expose and oppose” the Balance Piston 09-1 in Panay and the Balikatan exercises in Bicol.

“The CPP directs NPA units, particularly those in Bicol and Panay, to intensify tactical offensives in their respective areas of operation in mockery of the US-RP joint military exercises and to prevent US troops from strengthening their foothold in these areas,” it said.

CPP scored the scheduled 25-day US-Philippine joint military exercises starting Monday at Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz in Panay island.

It said the military exercise is an instrument of the US in violating Philippine sovereignty and keeping a tight leash on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The CPP said the US training of “puppet troops” for inter-operability and providing war materiél to it paves the way for increased intervention in the local armed conflict.

“Through its military doctrines, advisers, trainers, intelligence and arms support, the US has been directing and buttressing the local counterrevolutionary war and campaigns, hand-in-hand with its policy to dissuade and put an end to formal peace negotiations between its puppet regime and the local armed revolutionary forces,” it said.

Also, it said the US-designed “counter-insurgency” Oplan Bantay Laya has become the principal tool of the Arroyo regime in waging a “brutal, antipeople campaign of suppression and repression not only in areas of the armed revolutionary movement in the countryside but also in the open, legal and parliamentary arena of the patriotic and democratic mass struggles.”

The CPP also said the exercises are being carried out in outright contempt of the Tumanduk people, saying the exercises will take place in their ancestral land.

“Since the time of Gloria Arroyo’s father, the puppet government and its armed forces have been violating the Tumanduks’ ancestral rights over more than 33,000 hectares grabbed from them by the AFP to put up the second largest military camp in the country, and the largest on indigenous land. Diosdado Macapagal’s Presidential Decree No.. 67 in 1962 declared the area as a military reservation,” it said.

“By holding the joint military exercises in Camp Peralta, the US military is rubbing salt on the collective wounds of the Tumanduk people who have been continually subjected to fascist terror and abuses by the puppet army,” it added.

It also said the upcoming war exercises in Capiz as well as the planned Balikatan exercises in Bicol this April signal stepped-up US military intervention and direct involvement of US troops in the AFP’s counterrevolutionary war against the NPA.

Current joint military exercises are being conducted in these areas to pave the way for the US to gain more access to the NPA’s areas of operation, it added.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



S. Korea: Labor Party Leader Indicted for Violence in Parliament

SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) — Rep. Kang Ki-kab, leader of the progressive Democratic Labor Party (DLP), was indicted without detention Thursday on charges of obstructing official parliamentary duties and will soon face court trial, prosecutors said.

Kang is accused of throwing furniture in the office of National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o, assaulting parliamentary security guards and using foul language in protesting against the forced breakup of a sit-in staged by DLP lawmakers and officials on Jan. 5.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific


Aussie Charges Swedish Women’s Group in Sons’ Abduction

An Australian man searching for his two sons, whom he suspects have been abducted by his estranged Swedish ex-wife, alleges that a publicly funded women’s rights group in Sweden may be helping the woman elude police.

George Pésor has been searching for his sons, Frank, 11, and Andre, 9, since they failed to return to Australia with their mother, Ann-Louise Valette, following a visit to Sweden last October.

An international arrest warrant for Valette was issued shortly thereafter, but neither Pésor nor authorities in Sweden have been able to locate the boys or their mother, who lost custody of her sons following a bitter divorce battle with Pésor in 2003.

Swedish authorities, who have long suspected that Valette was receiving assistance in order to avoid detection, now say they are investigating Föreningen Kobra (‘The Cobra Association’), according to a report in the Brisbane Times newspaper of Australia.

Pésor suspects the group, which aims to support mothers trying to protect their children from abuse, has offered its network of 30 safe houses around Sweden to keep Valette in hiding.

“I am really worried for the children, the mother is capable of anything,” he told the newspaper, adding he thought Kobra was involved in the kidnapping.

According to Pésor, a number of people he’s contacted in the course of his search for the two boys have pointed to Kobra as a likely collaborator in the alleged abduction.

The organization also receives government funding, having recently been awarded 77,000 kronor ($9,500) to support projects to spread information about children’s rights and the group’s legal advice hotline.

The Brisbane Times also reports that Kobra members who support Valette have used blogs to spread claims that the two boys were abused by their father.

Other websites have also appeared defending Pésor, who gained custody of his sons after Valette was declared unfit to parent by a Swedish court in 2004.

Swedish police had no direct comment on the investigation, but Pésor said they had informed him Kobra members were being questioned in the case.

Pésor and Valette lived in Sweden together for 12 years before the marriage ended.

Their two boys were both born in Sweden, but have Australian citizenship.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa


S. Africa: Two Women ‘Rescued’ From Envoy’s Home

A diplomatic row is brewing following the “rescue” of two Filipino women who fled from a Saudi Arabian diplomat’s home in Pretoria during an apparent late night escape.

The women, who allegedly escaped on Monday night, had been working for the diplomat at his Monument Park home since late last year as an au pair and a cook.

The two, aged 23 and 25, are alleged to have been brought to South Africa on tourist visas after they worked for the diplomat while he was in Saudi Arabia.

Allegations of labour exploitation, including the withholding of salaries, have been levelled against the diplomat by the women who are now in a safe haven.

Reacting to the allegations Saudi Arabia second secretary, K Al Salloom, said they were false.

“These women are being manipulated so that they can make more money. We have documents to prove that these allegations are false and an exaggeration,” he said, adding that the embassy’s lawyer had assured the embassy that this was not a problem because they could not prove the allegations.

In an apparent threat, Al Salloom, said the Pretoria News would be in a “critical” position if the allegations and an article on the alleged rescue and escape went to print.

Asked if the documents which apparently proved the allegations were false could be seen, Al Salloom said the Pretoria News could view them today (Thursday).

He said additional proof that the allegations were false were indications from the women that they wanted to return to work for their employer.

Allegations that the women “escaped and were rescued” from the diplomat’s home emerged after they were helped to flee by the diplomat’s neighbours on Monday night.

One of the residents, who helped the women escape from the upmarket complex, said she became aware of their situation after his gardener told him about two notes which the women had slipped to her.

Asking not to be named for fear of victimisation she said: “In the notes the women said they needed help and that they were trying to get in contact with the Philippine embassy.

“When I got the second note I became really worried. I thought they might be victims of trafficking and may be in serious danger,” she said, adding that it was then that he decided with other residents to rescue the women.

In a note smuggled back to the women by the resident was a detailed plan of how and when they would be helped, including the exit code for the security complex and the time police from the Diplomatic Unit would be waiting for them outside the complex.

At 9.45pm on Monday the women slipped out of the house and fled to a neighbouring house in the complex. From there they were helped by the homeowner to the entrance where they were handed over to police who took them to a place of safety.

The resident said when he met the women shortly after their escape they looked scared.

“They were crying. They were afraid that they would be found before they reached the police and that something would happen to them,” she said.

She claimed on the few occasions she had had contact with the women they had told her that they were not allowed to leave the house and that their salaries were being withheld.

Confirming that officers from the Diplomatic Unit had helped the women and had put them into a place of safety, police spokesperson Captain Dennis Adriao said they had responded after they received a call for assistance.

“We placed the two women in a place of safety shortly after they fled from the diplomat’s home and informed the foreign affairs department of what had taken place.”

Adriao said after interviewing the two women police established that there had not been any form of physical abuse which could warrant a criminal investigation.

“There, however, appears to be some sort of labour dispute resulting in the women fleeing the diplomat’s house,” he said.

Commenting on the plight of the two women and charges by Al Salloom that the women wanted to return to work, Philippines embassy vice-consular, Eric Aquino, said the women wanted to be paid their outstanding salaries and return home.

“We have been informed by the women that they want to go back home,” he said.

He said following discussions with representatives from the Saudi Arabian embassy, the department of foreign affairs and the police yesterday, the women would meet face-to-face with their employer on Monday to tell him exactly why they had left.

“We are investigating this matter,” he said, adding that the embassy was concerned about the women’s welfare.

He said the women had expressed a number of concerns over the conditions of their employment including that they had not been paid their salaries for several months.

“We are going to be interviewing the women again so that we can clarify several other issues which have been raised,” he said, adding that the diplomat had on Wednesday surrendered the women’s passports to police who had returned them to the women.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Somali Pirates Hijack German Gas Tanker, 13 Crew

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Somali pirates hijacked a German tanker loaded with liquefied petroleum gas Thursday off the Horn of Africa. The ship’s 13-man crew was reported safe even though gunshots were heard over the ship’s radio.

The MV Longchamp is the third ship captured this month in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The Longchamp, registered in the Bahamas, is managed by the German firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which said in a statement that seven pirates boarded the tanker early Thursday.

Spokesman Andre Delau said the ship’s master had been briefly allowed to communicate with the firm and had said the crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian were safe.

“We think that everything is in order, nobody is injured,” he told The Associated Press.

No ransom demands have been made yet, the company said.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the ship was seized off the southern coast of Yemen, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the town of al-Mukalla, the capital of the Hadramaut region.

Robin Phillips, deputy director of the Bahamas maritime authority in London, said the Longchamp had been traveling in a corridor secured by EU military forces when it sent a distress signal before dawn.

“Ships and helicopters were dispatched, but they arrived too late,” said Phillips, adding that gunshots could be heard over the radio. He said the ship later set a course for Somalia, to the south.

Liquefied petroleum gas is a mixture of gases used to fuel heating appliances and vehicles.

Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal with the Indian Ocean. Pirates made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom last year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia’s 1,900-mile (3,000-kilometer) coastline.

Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. China and South Korea have also ordered warships sent to the region to protect their vessels and crews from pirates.

The warships have helped many cargo ships fight off the pirates, but Christensen said they were not near the Longchamp when it was taken.

He also said 21 ships since Dec. 1 have taken “aggressive, evasive maneuvers” and successfully evaded pirate attacks.

The German military reported two more suspected attempts by pirates to attack ships in the Gulf of Aden early Thursday.

A German navy frigate received an emergency call from a cargo ship, the European Champion, which reported that it was being followed by a skiff. A military statement said the skiff backed off after the German ship sent its on-board helicopter to the scene.

A second cargo ship, the Eleni G., radioed that it was being pestered by several skiffs. A German frigate sailed toward the ship, which shook off the suspected pirates.

Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. Its lawless coastline is a haven for pirates.

Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau said 166 crew on nine ships were still being held off the coast of Somalia, not including the Longchamp. Six other hijacked ships have been released this month, including an oil tanker freed for a reported $3 million ransom.

Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center, said Thursday’s hijacking was the first attack since Jan. 14. For the past two weeks, strong winds have made it difficult for pirates to launch their small boats, but the weather has now improved, Choong said.

There have been 15 attacks so far this year, and three ships seized, he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Immigration


Finland: Arajärvi: Speedier Language Training for Immigrants

Finnish language courses should be more readily available for immigrants, outlines Pentti Arajärvi in his report on immigrant employment, which he handed over to Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors on Thursday.

Arajärvi underscores that employment, even short-term work, is key to integration. He also calls for increasing apprenticeship programmes as a tool for upping immigrant employment.

Practical language skills key

“Native-level Finnish language skills shouldn’t be the primary goal. Once basic Finnish is mastered, the next step should be taking Finnish language courses geared towards specific professional fields,” adds Arajärvi.

Arajärvi also wants to see public offices dealing with immigrant affairs streamlined.

“The main responsibility for immigrants should lie with the Ministry of the Interior, whereas immigrant affairs at the regional level could be handled by regional employment and economic development offices,” adds Arajärvi.

“Immigrant services are in need of more funding,” concludes Arajärvi.

Dr. Pentti Arajärvi is a professor of social and education law at the University of Joensuu — and the husband of President Tarja Halonen.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Frattini, Ready to Reeavaluate Tunisian Permits

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 28 — Italy is ready to look into the possibility of increasing the number of work permits granted to Tunisian citizens, as well as to promptly re-opening negotiations on the agreement regarding work-orientated immigration. The Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, made the declaration earlier today, after holding talks in Rome with his Tunisian counterpart Abdelwahab Abdallah, following the Tunisian authorities announcement of an increased commitment to tackling illegal immigration. The Foreign Office reported that in their shared will to continue the process of consolidating the political dialogue between Italy and Tunisia, and strengthening existing cooperation in all sectors, Frattini and Abdallah looked closely at the major bilateral themes and the most significant regional dossiers. The two ministers also agreed to go ahead with the amendment to the Exchange Agreement of 1998 on the subject of readmission and the fight against clandestine immigration. Frattini revealed that Tunisia is one of the Mediterranean countries where Italy’s commitment to cooperation is most significant, and went on to stress to his Tunisian colleague that Italy still intended to honour the 2008-2010 intervention plan, signed during the “Great Mixed Commission” in 2007, and that it would evaluate the possibility for further aid in those sectors of the Tunisian economy most hit by the economic crisis, particularly in those regions where migration was most likely. The meeting also served as the occasion for a joint analysis of the more recent developments in the Middle East, with particular reference to the situation in Gaza and to the international efforts underway and planned for the future, including those forming part of the Italian presidency of the G8. A visit from Minister Frattini to Tunisia was agreed for the near future. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Italy: Agreement Reached With Tunisia Over Illegal Immigration

Rome, 28 Jan. (AKI) — Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni and his Tunisian counterpart Rafik Belhaj have agreed to step up the fight against illegal immigration and human trafficking and all criminal organisations behind these phenomena.

They also agreed to simplify and speed up procedures to identify Tunisian illegal immigrants currently held in Italian detention centres.

Those currently held in the overcrowded detention centre on the southern island of Lampedusa who have already been identified, will be repatriated “gradually and constantly” over the next two months, Maroni (photo) and Belhaj agreed.

The deportation of illegal Tunisian immigrants will be assisted by European Union funds and international organisations operating in the region.

The accords follow a visit to the Tunisian capital on Tuesday by Maroni, the head of Italy’s police, Antonio Manganelli and a team of senior officials from the Italian interior ministry.

Maroni’s visit to Tunisia came after protests by illegal immigrants held in Lampedusa’s overcrowded detention centre — included a reported 1,000 Tunisians — and residents on the island, who fear it is being turned into a ‘Mediterranean Alcatraz’.

The United Nations refugee agency, the Red Cross and other organisations have expressed grave concern at the conditions in Lampedusa’s detention centre.

Maroni has announced plans to build a new detention centre on the island, where 31,000 illegal immigrants landed last year out of 36,900 who reached Italy by sea.

The government no longer intends illegal immigrants to be transferred elsewhere in Italy but wants them to be detained on Lampedusa, identified and deported, unless they are eligible for asylum or refugee status.

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



Lampedusa: Fresh General Strike

(ANSAmed) — LAMPEDUSA (AGRIGENTO), JANUARY 28 — For the fourth day in less than a week, the inhabitants of Lampedusa have been striking to protest against the opening on the island of an centre for the identification and deportation of immigrants announced by the Interior Ministry. Shops are closed and a large number of citizens are taking part in an open town council meeting, in which also the regional president Raffaele Lombard is participating. The latter visited the centre on the island and, on leaving the structure, said that the conditions of the centre “are certainly not bad. UNHCR spokesman Laura Boldrini said that it is considered a model of efficiency at the European level. I would tend to agree since, when observing the maximum holding capacity, offers the best of conditions.” Lombardo also visited the former naval base Loran, which is to be used as a new centre for the identification and deportation of immigrants, but which has been strongly opposed by the island’s inhabitants. “For the moment there are mostly women in Loran,” said the regional president of Sicily, “I was told that it will at some point likely be fully equipped, but for the moment it is a temporary holding centre.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



S.Craxi in Yemen, Support for Coastal Security

(ANSAmed) — SANAA, JANUARY 27 — Italy will continue to support Yemen in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and in managing the massive immigration by sea of refugees fleeing Somalia. The promise has come from Italy’s Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, Stefania Craxi, during a meeting today in Sanaa with the President of the Yemeni Republic, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The undersecretary also invited Yemen to take part in a coast guards’ conference of the ‘enlarged Mediterranean’’ which is being held in Genoa on May 6 and 7. ‘The Italian Government greatly appreciates the efforts Yemen is making on the road to strengthening its democratic institutions’’, Craxi said, ‘We are aware of the difficulties which it has to face in any case, above all in terms of security, given the closeness of the Somali coast’’. Italy’s coast guard completed a first mission to Yemen last week ahead of technological training of their Yemeni colleagues, for using the coastal control system VTS (Vessel traffic System), created by Italy’s Selex Sistema Integrati, which will be in operation over 450 kilometres of the Red Sea coast and the Gulf of Aden by 2009. President Saleh, in recalling ancient ties of friendship between the two countries, express his confidence that ‘Italy will also finance the second phase of the VTS project’’, which should make it possible to monitor the nearly 2,500 kilometres of the entire Yemeni coastline. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]



Tunisians Repatriated From Lampedusa in 2 Month

(ANSAmed) — ROME — The Tunisians identified and held in the immigration centre on Lampedusa will be repatriated within the ‘‘maximum time’’ of two months, according to an agreement signed by Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni and his Tunisian counterpart Rafik Belhaj Kacem. Maroni, along with Police Chief Antonio Manganelli and a delegation of other officers from the Ministry of the Interior, met Minister Kacem yesterday in Tunis, to discuss the state of bilateral cooperation over immigration between Italy and Tunisia. The meeting led to an agreement on several specific points: an intensification in the fight against human trafficking and all forms of organised crime which exploit illegal immigration; the definition of a plan to simplify and speed up the procedures for identifying Tunisian immigrants in Italy’s identification and expulsion centres, and the gradual and consistent repatriation of those who have already been identified and are currently in the institutions on Lampedusa, within a maximum of two months; the commencement of support actions for Tunisia, as already laid out in the agreements which were signed since 1998, to prevent and fight illegal immigration. At the same time a project will be launched to provide incentives in assisted repatriation, using European funds and the support of international organisations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars


Toned-Down Atheist Bus Ad OK’d

Original message canned after religious protests

(ANSA) — Genoa, January 29 — Italian atheists have succeeded in getting an OK for a toned-down No God advert to be carried on Genoa buses next month.

The original message, canned after protests from Catholics and Muslims, was The Bad News Is God Doesn’t Exist, The Good News Is You Don’t Need Him.

The new message, OK’d by advertising licensing agency IGP Decaux, is: The Good News Is There Are Millions of Atheists In Italy; The Excellent News Is They Believe In Freedom Of Expression.

IGP Decaux said the message would be carried by a single bus in the northwestern Italian city, ‘‘probably’’ from the middle of February to the end of the month.

The secretary of the Italian Union of Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists (UAAR), Raffale Carcano, said the UAAR was working to get the original message approved in cities where IGP doesn’t control advertising.

‘‘We aren’t offended if someone writes that God exists,’’ Carcano said.

‘‘But the (Genoa) Curia demanded a halt to our bus and hailed its banning’’.

‘‘It would be nice to be able to run the campaign all over Italy,’’ he said, adding that a Facebook group in favour of the UAAR’s drive had drawn 4,000 members.

The Italian campaign follows similar ads in London, Barcelona and Washington where the slogan was: There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life’’.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

General


Economy: Trust Me — The Experts Here at Davos Don’t Know Either

Steer clear of economic forecasts — but remember that things are unlikely to be as bad as the doom-mongers say

According to a survey that greeted the 2,000 captains of industry, Nobel laureate economists and heads of government arriving in Davos for the World Economic Forum, confidence among them has “plummeted” and hopes of an economic recovery have “evaporated” in the past four months. Only 21 per cent of corporate leaders now expect their businesses will improve significantly (down from 50 per cent a year ago) and most of them hope for nothing better than a slow and feeble recovery over the next three years.

The good news is that captains of industry, Nobel laureate economists and heads of government are usually wrong about the future. Like the cover stories of Time or Business Week, “the view from Davos” is one of the more reliable “contrary indicators” of what will happen.

The reason why magazine covers and surveys of elite opinion are so often wrong is not because magazine editors and business leaders are stupid or irresponsible. On the contrary, these people are intelligent and responsible enough not to put a story on their covers or to express a strong opinion until they are sure it is right. And by the time all these distinguished people are sure enough about a trend to create an almost unanimous elite consensus, the chances are that almost everybody in the world has also recognised and acted on this trend — and therefore the trend does not have much farther to run.

It is a cliché of financial markets that the four most expensive words in the English language are “this time it’s different”. In every speculative mania, optimistic investors convince themselves that they have discovered some new magic ingredient that will make the current boom more durable than previous boom-bust cycles. And every time they turn out to be wrong.

But cynics who ridicule the gullibility of bullish investors forget that exactly same thing happens on the way down. Just as in every boom the bulls proclaim that “this time it’s different” so in every slump the pessimists insist that the world faces unprecedented disaster and that this time the recession will not be followed by recovery, as it always has before.

And in a sense the pessimists are right — every recession and financial crisis really are different. This time, the driving force is an unprecedented credit crunch. In the 1990s it was the hangover from German reunification and the expulsion of Britain, Italy and Sweden from the European Monetary System; in the 1980s it was 20 per cent interest rates and a one-day fall in share prices which, according to statistical models, should only have occurred once in a billion years; in the 1970s it was the break-up of the Bretton Woods currency system, closely followed by an oil shock and inflation that nobody imagined possible.

After each of these unthinkable disasters, the prophets of doom declared that capitalism was finished, that markets would never recover and this was the biggest crisis since the Great Depression. Yet every time the world economy recovered and capitalism survived. A lovely illustration of this syndrome was brought to my attention this week.

Denis Gartmann, a prominent US investment adviser, quoted an academic friend who had studied media reports of the US recession of the 1990s. This was a selection of comments from the US press in early 1991: “There is no question that this is the worst economic time since the Great Depression”; “Forecasts for a weak recovery in 1992 suggest the period since 1990 will be the worst for the economy since the Great Depression”; “This recession is hitting white-collar workers more heavily than any since the Great Depression of the 1930s.” And so on.

Most of these comments were published near the low point of the 1990-91 recession — a recession that, far from being the deepest and longest since the 1930s, turned out to be the shallowest and shortest to date.

This is not to deny that many features of the present crisis really are worse than ever before. The collapse of global finance triggered by the Lehman bankruptcy really was the greatest banking crisis in history and the fall in output triggered by this financial panic really has been the steepest since 1981.

The upshot is that world economy does now face the greatest deflationary pressures since the 1930s. But against these deflationary forces some equally unprecedented expansionary forces are arrayed: the lowest interest rates in history; the fastest fall in oil and commodity prices; the biggest peacetime public works programmes; and, most importantly, a willingness and ability by governments to print money and support their financial systems with open-ended guarantees.

So what can we say about the outcome of this tug-of-war between the forces of expansion or deflation? Only one thing for certain: no economic forecaster will predict what happens in the next year correctly, except by chance. This is not because economists are stupid, but because computer models they use are based on past experience — and at a time of unprecedented upheavals, computer forecasts are of no use.

Does this mean that all economics is useless? Not at all. But it does mean that we should not trust any quantitative forecasts produced by computers and return instead to qualitative reasoning about society and human nature. This is how the word economics was understood by Adam Smith, Joseph Schumpeter and Maynard Keynes and why the subject was called “political economy”. These great economists never claimed to be able to predict the future. What they tried to do instead was to shed light on the social processes and political and psychological pressures that lead to the creation or destruction of wealth.

These qualitative economic theories tell us that the creative force of the profit motive, backed by the expansionary power of ultra-low interest rates and government deficit spending, will eventually prevail.

But political economy cannot tell us exactly when or how. It cannot tell us, for example, whether Britain and America will suffer more than continental Europe, as several of the spurious computer forecasts are suggesting — or whether the Anglo-Saxon economies will, as I believe, recover sooner because of their more flexible markets and policies. Neither can it predict what new industries and jobs will be created by market forces to fill the vacuum left behind by the demise of leveraged finance in the City of London and New York.

The masters of political economy should, however, leave us confident that in a capitalist system “something will turn up”, as Mr Micawber put it — a much more reasonable expectation, in a market economy, than most people realise. And pretty soon what will turn up will be the world economy. Followed, a year or so too late, by the “view from Davos”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]



Economic Meltdown Excuse for ‘New World’

Leaders at global forum see money crisis as chance to expand government control

NEW YORK — A call to utilize the current global economic crisis as a panic in which governments worldwide can move to nationalize banks is emerging from the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, told CNN yesterday the current global economic slowdown is a “transformational crisis” that should be utilized to shape a “new world.”

“Above all else this is a crisis of confidence,” Schwab said. “To restore confidence you have to establish signposts that the world after the crisis will be different. We have to create a new world and that is what Davos 2009 will be all about — serving society.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]



Tremonti’s ‘Legal Standard’ Plan

As G8 president, Italy proposes plan for tighter rules

(ANSA) — Davos, January 29 — Italy’s priority for its Group of Eight presidency will be tackling the global market turmoil through a set of international standards, Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti said on Thursday.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tremonti returned to the idea of a ‘legal standard’, which he launched at the start of the year when Rome became G8 president. ‘‘More regulation, rather than more capital, is the only way out of this financial anarchy,’’ said the minister.

‘‘We need more rules and more coordination’’. The minister has discussed his idea of a new ‘‘legal standard’’ on several occasions. It would comprise a series of rules and guidelines, mainly based on existing agreements under the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The minister has suggested that voluntary and binding codes would be monitored through tools such as peer review, naming and shaming, and black listing.

According to Italy’s website for the G8 presidency, Rome ‘‘plans to put forward a proposal for the establishment of an international ethical legal standard with which all countries will be bound to comply. ‘‘Such a method will make it possible to establish as convergent a network as possible of legal systems governing financial affairs, in order to safeguard savers and citizens’’. But Tremonti also stressed Italy’s commitment to liaising between the world’s eight richest nations and the Group of 20, which includes leading developing nations. ‘‘The G8 is honestly too small, although the G20 is still too unbalanced, for example between Africa and Latin America,’’ Tremonti said. ‘‘Our plan is to cooperate with the G20’’.

The G20 comprises the G8 plus Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey and the European Union. The minister made his remarks two weeks ahead of a Rome meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s seven richest economies.

Britain will host the second G20 summit in spring, while the G8 meeting will take place on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena in July.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

The Threat of Islam in Flanders

According to the researchers, the so-called “negative” picture of the Flemish people about Islam is due to a lack of knowledge about Islam. But the reverse is true! The Fleming knows more than enough about the nature and practice of Islam to judge it with common sense. — Filip Dewinter

Multicultural indoctrination is not working, at least in Flanders.

Despite forty years of non-stop propaganda in the media, the schools, and the universities, despite the best efforts of all the cultural enrichers and diversity consultants, the residents of Flanders remain remarkably — dare I say atavistically? — racist and Islamophobic.

It really is time to abolish the Flemish people and elect a new one.

Our Flemish correspondent VH has compiled and translated a series of articles concerning a recent survey that reveals just how Islamophobic the Flemings are. Make sure you scroll down and read the eminently sensible quotes from Filip Dewinter. At the end of this series VH includes his own commentary.

First, from Het Laaste Nieuws:

Almost half of the Flemings consider Islam a threat

Almost half of the Flemish electorate has a very negative view of Islam and Muslims. No less than 46 percent of the Flemish electorate believes that Islam is not a contribution to the European culture. Barely 18 percent think that on the contrary it is a contribution.

Even more voters (48 percent) believe that Islamic values are a threat to Europe, and 37 percent are of the opinion that most Muslims have no respect for European culture and lifestyle.

Research

This is apparent from a research conducted by the Institute for Social and Political Opinion Research [Instituut voor Sociaal en Politiek Opinieonderzoek, ISPO] of the Catholic University (KU) in Leuven, Flanders [pdf can be downloaded here]. The ISPO team, led by Jaak Billiet and Marc Swyngedouw, asked 1,084 Flemish voters between September 2007 and January 2008 for their voting behavior. In the margins of this study they also measured the concept of “Islamophobia”, or the negative attitude towards Islam.

Flemish survey

- – - - – - – - -
From De Standaard:

The strongest statement — Islamic history and culture are more violent than other cultures — is accepted by nearly 42 percent of the respondents, while only 21 percent do not agree with this argument.

When it comes to family life, is 81 per cent of the Flemish voters are of the opinion that Muslim men dominate their women too much. Just 3.5 percent of the respondents do not agree with that and 15 percent hold an intermediate position. On questions with a focus on school performance and authoritarian upbringing, only half state they have no idea.

The researchers also investigated the attitude of the voters opposed to the wearing of head scarves in public functions. This debate evolved in the run-up to the elections of 2007 after intense discussions. Among other things, the headscarf was banned in Antwerp, for officials with a visible public role.. A majority (53 percent) support the measure and apparently believe that Muslim women in public positions should not wear the headscarf. 35 percent have no problem with that.

The attitude of the Flemish voters towards Islam is more negative then the attitude towards ethnic minorities. The ISPO examined the attitude towards these minorities or migrants since 1991. The feelings of economic rivalry have continuously declined since then.

The investigation of 2007 shows that half of the voters are of the opinion that immigrants do not threaten the employment situation. At the same time, 40 percent of respondents do believe that ethnic minorities do not contribute to the prosperity of our country.

New immigration is not enthusiastically welcomed: 38 percent of the voters are for, but 47 percent are opposed to this, even if it would help to solve labor shortages. Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters (CD&V, Christian Democrats) announced last week that Flanders should by 2020 become one of the wealthiest regions [he does not say “countries”]. “There will, however, be a need for foreign workers to achieve that,” Swyngedouw continues, “If you see how negative the attitude is against foreigners, you’re stuck with a big problem.” According to Swyngedouw, the Flemings fear a new type of immigrants: the highly skilled: “The immigrants who are already are here are not wanted by the Flemings, and the new immigrants are seen as a competition on the labor market. “

The feelings of cultural threat decreased since 1991, as did the feelings of economic competition. But since the turn of the millennium, they began to rise again. The attacks of September 11, 2001 in the U.S. were clearly a turning point.

Today, 43 percent of Flemish voters are of the opinion that migrants are a threat to our culture and customs. A third of the electorate does not agree with that. The lifestyle of ethnic minorities is seen as incompatible with the Western European way of life by 41%.

Young people from 18 to 34 years are the most positive towards immigrants, the elderly the most negative. Especially those older than 55 show a rise of a strongly negative attitude. It is noteworthy that education has only a small effect on the feelings towards ethnic minorities. When it comes to Islamophobia, education still plays a role. Voters with tertiary education have a much less negative view of Islam than voters who only have a primary education. [emphasis added]

Finally, the researchers tried to assess the attitude of Flemish voters towards racist remarks. Only a tiny majority believes that a speaker at a public meeting or on television should be stopped when he utters racist speech. 45 percent believe that such a speaker must be able to say what he or she wants.

An article by Vlaams Belang concerning this report:

“Negative attitude of the Flemish towards Islam has nothing to do with Islamophobia but everything with common sense”

“Stirring up opinions of the Flemish on Islamophobia lead to politically-correct thinking and revisionism”

A few days ago, the results of a survey by the Institute for Social and Political survey of the KU Leuven were published. In the period between September 2007 and January 2008, 1084 voters were questioned about their voting behavior and their attitude towards Islam. The survey shows that about half of the Flemish voters have a “negative” view of Islam. 45% of the Flemings see Islam as a threat, 42% think their culture is violent and more than 80% find that Muslim men dominate their women.

Filip Dewinter believes that “the Muslim-critical attitude of majority of Flemings in respect to Islam is immediately branded by researchers and the media as ‘Islamophobia’. The fact that half of the Flemish consider the Islam as a threat has nothing to do with the so-called Islamophobic attitude of the Flemish and everything to do with Islam itself.” Islam is rightly regarded by the average Fleming as a totalitarian political ideology that stands at odds with our Western freedoms, standards, and values. The demonizing of a majority of the Flemings for their views on Islam will lead to politically-correct thinking and censorship. That any form of criticism of Islam is dismissed as Islamophobia means yet another victory for radical Islam.

According to the researchers, the so-called “negative” picture of the Flemish people about Islam is due to a lack of knowledge about Islam. But the reverse is true! The Fleming knows more than enough about the nature and practice of Islam to judge it with common sense. Filip Dewinter is satisfied. Though, and pleasantly surprised by the Islam-critical attitude of the Flemish population. Filip Dewinter: “Congratulations to everyone who despite the political-correct dictatorship dares to freely express his views about Islam. The stigmatization of all those who hold a critical view on Islam is yet another attempt to enforce politically-correct group-think on the man in the street. If Islamophobia means that one is critical of Islam, then I think it is the duty of every person to be Islamophobic. If Islamophobia means that one sees the Islam as a threat, than it is the duty of every person to be Islamophobic. The political ideology of Islam and radical Islam are indeed a threat to our Flemish and European cultural identity and identity. May Europe never be Eurabia!”

During the Question Hour today in the Flemish parliament, Filip Dewinter will interrogate the Flemish Minister of Integration, Marino Keulen [Open VLD, Flemish Liberals] about this study.

An interview with Filip Dewinter about the report:

Almost half of the Flemish are of the opinion that Islam does not contribute to European culture. Almost half of the Flemings consider Islamic values to be a threat to our society and finds Islamic culture violent. A research of the KU Leuven [Catholic University Leuven] pointed out earlier this week that we do not have a high esteem for Islam. Politicians reacted with shock to this “Islamophobia”.

Filip Dewinter (Flemish Interest) on the contrary expresses delight “My congratulations to everyone who, despite the politically-correct group-think, the intimidation and the brainwashing is yet resilient enough to continue not only to understand the violent nature of Islam but also to express that. The figures show that the population has not yet been fully affected by the multicultural virus.”

A number of politicians want to take action, you will find that not necessary?

“Absolutely not. We should just take into account the conviction of the Flemings. Politicians always give the same answer: indoctrination and re-education. They believe that the Fleming has insufficient knowledge on Islam. The opposite is true. The population is simply right.

“Politicians are profiling themselves too much as do-gooders. They immediately want to make the man in the street feel guilty. The adaptation of the law is the next step. Instantly, Islamophobia is a crime. It is surely impossible to label every form of criticism of Islam as Islamophobia. That way they kill any debate.”

Flemings are especially critical towards extreme manifestations of this religion.

“That is a misconception. Islam simply is unable to adapt to Western values: then it would not be Islam anymore. Look, cultural Muslims constitute the overwhelming majority here. For them the Islam is no more than a perception the passed on through family traditions.. They are not consistent experience religion consistently. Immediately they are not real Muslims. The radical Muslims, about 10 to 20 percent, are in charge. They bring the political ideology into practice. We have nothing against Muslims, but do so against their political ideology. This ideology is at odds with Western freedoms, standards and values. The Flemish government is by taking its stance, protecting radical Muslims.”

To you, Islamophobia is a form of good citizenship.

“Definitely. At least as long as Islamophobia means that one sees the Islam as a threat. It is about time that Flemish minister Marino Keulen [Open VLD, Flemish Liberals] understands this. Unfortunately, he persists in anger. With the recognition of Islam as a religion in Flanders he cooperates with the building of a social grouping, a Muslim pillar.”

Quote from an article by Yves Weinberger in Joods Actueel:

…If there is Islamophobia today in our Western world, then that is primarily because of the impotence of the Muslim world in adapting to modernity. A part of the Muslim world is dropping back into fundamentalism in which all blame is shifted onto Israel and the West. Although hundreds of millions of people are having a hard time on our planet, it is quite striking that Muslim militias are responsible for the bulk of the terror. And what do the moderate Muslims and the theologians say? They remain silent! Still no reason to be somewhat Islamophobic? Anyone who has seen the demonstrations of the AEL [Arab European League] and their ilk is aware of how the hatred against Jews in general, the West, and the US is being orchestrated. It was significant to see the clerico-fascist Islamists and atheist communists hand in hand and to hear slogans like “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.

VH offers his own opinion:

A serious point of criticism of the report might be that the hosts, the Flemings are being researched for their attitude to colonizers they never asked for, and without researching the colonizers first. Just a thought: half your neighborhood is suddenly (within a few decades) flooded with Muslims who are in no way planning to join in or respect you or your culture and country, and then a research group comes to your house to see what is wrong with you and to count your books: “The participation in voluntary work — to have a socially wide life-style — and a broad knowledge (expressed in book ownership) have mitigating effects on both the negative attitudes towards minorities and the negative attitude towards Islam.” [p.20]

The immigrants should apologize to the Flemings for this harassment, pay back the damage and promise to behave from now on or leave, and take all those appeasing big mouth dhimmi politicians with them.

The Radicalization of Rosengård

A culture of Islamist extremism has grown up in the immigrant neighborhood of Rosengård in the southern Swedish city of Malmö. The situation has is so out of control that the version of Islam that is forced upon new arrivals in Rosengård is more severe and uncompromising than that which prevails in their home countries.

An article on the subject appeared in yesterday’s Svenska Dagbladet, and a Swedish reader has translated some excerpts for Gates of Vienna:

Municipalities must halt extremism

Malmö riotsSegregation can create a spiral of alienation and distrust in a society. This is clear from a study which is currently being delivered to the Government. Municipalities have a key role in countering subcultures that provide fertile ground for violence and terrorism, the researchers Magnus Ranstorp and Josefine Dos Santos said.

[…]

Rosengård is a neighborhood in Malmö with blocks of flats from the so-called “million-program” which house about 22,000 inhabitants, of whom 60 percent were born abroad and another 26 percent have parents who were born abroad. Unemployment is widespread; in the Manor area it is as high as 85 percent.

[…]

Among other things there are groups of ultra-radical Islamists resident in any of the many basement mosques (as opposed to the official Islamic Assembly) which can be found in the area. They preach isolation and act as controllers, and maintain a strong culture of threats, which mainly involves harassing women mentally and physically.

- – - - – - – - -

[…]

Newly arrived families may get visits at their home by the representatives of radical groups, who tell them which rules apply to Rosengård.

New conduct rules include a demand that women who had never worn the veil are now forced to wear it, that girls and boys should not play together, and that a patriarchal power structure is cemented.

[…]

Newly arrived families who have never been particularly religious or traditional report that they were living much more freely in their home country than in Rosengård.

Mayor Bloomberg Supports Wilders

Below is an article from today’s De Telegraaf as translated by our Flemish correspondent VH. I have no English-language news item yet on this story:

Bloomberg supports Wilders

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York yesterday came to the aid of PVV leader Geert Wilders by making a strong stand for freedom of expression.

In the presence of State Secretary Frans Timmermans [PvdA, Socialist, Labour], the Dutch ambassador to the U.S. Renée Jones-Bos and Mayor Cohen of Amsterdam [PvdA, Socialist, Labour], Bloomberg said he was absolutely against any form of restriction on freedom of expression.

“Of course I do not appreciate everything I hear. But when you start restricting that, you step on a slippery slope. Before you know it, you can no longer say what you want,” Bloomberg said at the kickoff of NY400, a year of celebrations in which a central theme is the arrival of the ship “Halve Maen” (Half Moon, of the Dutch East India Company) with the explorer Henry Hudson, who founded a settlement on Manhattan.

Cross-posted at The International Free Press Society.

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