Even though there are no cases of swine flu in Egypt, and the country’s pigs are not a vector for the disease, the Egyptian authorities have ordered that all 300,000 of the country’s pigs be slaughtered.
By coincidence, almost all the pigs in Egypt are used as food for the Coptic Christian population.
In other news, a study shows that Swedish men are not as masculine as they used to be.
Thanks to CB, El Inglés, Fjordman, heroyalwhyness, islam o’phobe, TB, Tuan Jim, VH, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Lithuanian Economy Contracts by 12 Percent
New data released by Lithuania’s statistics office on Tuesday (28 April) show the country’s economy shrunk by 12.6 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2008.
The quarterly contraction is thought to be the largest experienced by any country since the start of the financial crisis and certainly the worst in the small Baltic state since recording began in 1995.
Falling exports and industrial output and also the global credit squeeze are at the root of the problem says the statistics office.
“We hope that next year, we shall have a much lower gross domestic product decrease or even stability in GDP, and then we are forecasting that we should return back to GDP growth in 2011,” said the country’s prime minister, Andrius Kubilius.
But the news adds to the woes of the new centre-right government, which has already faced protests over austerity measures and raises the prospect of a loan application being sent to the International Monetary Fund.
Neighbouring country Latvia negotiated a deal with the international lender for £7.5 billion towards the end of last year.
The new figures mark a huge turn around in Lithuania’s fortunes in recent times.
Growth figures for 2007 were 8.9 percent, but they slowed to thre percent last year on the back of diminishing construction and the retail activity.
The statistics office now predicts a contraction of 10.5 percent for 2009 as a whole.
The World Bank says eastern Europe is likely to have been the hardest hit region by the global recession, with Estonia and Latvia also predicting double-digit contractions for their economies this year.
The three countries, members of the EU since 2004, are also keen to join the eurozone in the future and have so far opted to maintain their currencies pegs with the euro.
This has denied policymakers a powerful tool to improve the economy’s competitiveness.
The Lithuanian government has also made great efforts to keep its budget deficit below three percent of GDP this year, a requirement for both applicant and member countries of the currency union.
Despite the substantial public spending cuts made this month, the government is set to announce a new package of cuts in June as it struggles to remain below the three percent mark.
More records in Ireland
On the other side of the EU, new figures released by the Irish government’s research institute also estimate historic falls in growth.
The institute predicts the gross national product will contract 9.2 percent this year.
“Our forecasts suggest that Ireland’s economy will contract by around 14 percent over the three years 2008 to 2010. By historic and international standards this is a truly dramatic development,” says the report published on Wednesday.
Like Lithuania, the small, open economy has suffered badly from the fall in global consumption and is set to see unemployment average 292,220 people this year or 13.2 per cent.
This figure could rise to 16.8 percent in 2010, restarting a tradition amongst Irish citizens of emigrating to other countries in search of work.
Some 30,000 people are predicted to leave this year alone.
The Bear Case for Gold
The primary risk to the gold price ‘is a return of the Goldilocks economy’.
A Goldilocks economy — one that is neither too hot nor too cold, sustaining moderate economic growth, low inflation and low interest rates — would “completely remove the safe-haven investment case for gold as a form of insurance against inflation or as an alternative currency”, said the commodities and resources team at Investec Asset Management.
Real yields could once again be obtained in cash and bonds, and equities could begin discounting economic growth, the analysts added.
“Under the Goldilocks scenario the US Federal Reserve’s balance sheet will quickly adapt once economic activity begins to improve as the Fed reduces the money supply dramatically and curbs any major inflationary cycle,” Investec said.
“Furthermore, under this scenario all other central banks will do the same. Inflation would be averted, and economic growth could continue.”
The bank said the current high price of gold was driven by demand from investors putting their money into the classic safe-haven asset. But it added: “Should investment flows into gold cease or turn negative, we believe that this drying up of investor demand will have repercussions for the gold price.
“A return of risk appetite or improvements in other asset classes could result in an unwinding of investment buying and put considerable downward pressure on the gold price, particularly if global economic and financial conditions begin to show meaningful signs of improvement.”
Although Investec has identified factors that could push the gold price down, the bank’s overall stance on the precious metal remains bullish. It said: “We continue to believe that gold can perform well in either an inflationary or deflationary environment.
“This supports our positive outlook for the commodity and for gold equities. Quantitative easing programmes are also supportive for gold.”
The London afternoon gold fix was $891.00 an ounce.
UK: Blears: Why the Recession Could Lead to Rioting
THE recession could spark riots on the streets of Britain, a minister warned yesterday.
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said an economic slump had led to the rioting of the 1980s and that the current crisis could see further unrest.
She said hard times could “drive people apart” and lead to distrust in communities. But she also said they could help bring the country together and unearth new “reserves of kindness”.
As part of a drive to boost community resources, she said she may consider forcing banks to hand over some of their profits.
Last year a leaked memo from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to Gordon Brown warned the recession could increase crime.
Official figures last week showed burglaries, knifepoint robberies and pickpocketing had surged although overall crime was down.
Speaking yesterday to community service volunteers, Ms Blears said: “Recession has the power to do one of two things to a society.
“It can drive people apart, with an increase in distrust between individuals, more naked competition for jobs, and a fracturing of community spirit.
“We witnessed this in the 1980s and early 1990s, and at its most extreme, it culminated in cars and buildings burning on the streets of Brixton, Birmingham, and Liverpool. In some wards in my own city of Salford, we had 50 per cent male unemployment, and it has taken a decade to repair the damage.
“Or economic recession can be the catalyst for communities to come together, for neighbours to construct new forms of collaboration, and for citizens to discover new reserves of courage and kindness.
“Which end of this spectrum we tilt towards will depend on the role of the Government in valuing volunteering, in creating space for local action, and in promoting innovation.” Humans’ essential instinct was to work together, she said.
“My conviction is that our route through this recession must be characterised by greater devolution of power, and more opportunities for communities to take control.” Government was moving to give communities more assets such as disused buildings, markets and leisure centres and the next stage was to ensure funding for local services.
She said the US Community Investment Act which requires financial institutions to plough some of their profits into communities “might serve as an interesting starting point”.
Ms Blears had asked officials to produce a package of measures “to give communities sustainable sources of income”.
Liz Atkins, of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, praised Mrs Blears. She added: “We will work with her department to ensure that the resources she has promised can be used to best effect.”
Boeing Faces Lawsuit Over Torture Assistance
A US appeals court has ruled that a Boeing Co subsidiary could be sued for allegedly flying terrorism suspects to secret prisons around the world to be tortured as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals said that a lower court judge wrongly tossed out the lawsuit after the US government asserted the case was a “state secret” that would harm national security if allowed to go forward.
The trial court judge dismissed the case before the prisoners could present evidence allegedly showing that the company’s participation in the program was illegal.
The Bush administration and then the Obama administration argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out before the government turned over any evidence because the nature of the legal action was itself a classified matter.
The US government inserted itself into the lawsuit on the company’s side because it said feared top-secret information would be disclosed.
The appeals court, however, said the five prisoners suing San Jose-based Jeppesen Dataplan Inc can try to prove their case without using top-secret information that legitimately needs protection from disclosure.
“Only if privileged evidence is indispensable to either party should it dismiss the complaint,” Judge Michael Hawkins wrote for the appeals court.
The prisoners’ lawyer, Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling will give his clients a chance to prove their case, which was filed in 2007 and alleged torture in the months after the Sept 11 attacks.
“It is now 2009 and no torture victim has achieved justice or compensation,” Wizner said. “This finally puts us at the starting line.”
The government or the company could appeal the decision to a bigger panel of the 9th Circuit or ask the Supreme Court to review the ruling.
The company referred comment to the government. US Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller said “the United States is reviewing the court’s decision”.
The Bush administration was widely criticised for its practice of extraordinary rendition — whereby the CIA transfers suspects overseas for interrogation.
Human rights advocates said renditions were the agency’s way to outsource torture of prisoners to countries where it is permitted practice. Some of the prisoners allege they were tortured.
The Bush White House had said the US does not engage in torture.
The Obama administration says it will continue to send foreign detainees to other countries for questioning but only if US officials are confident the prisoners will not be tortured.
The White House is reviewing the entire detention and rendition program.
Czech Officer Becomes Queen of Military Festival in U.S.
Norfolk — Czech military captain Magdalena Dvorakova was on Monday crowned the Queen of the Azalea festival, an annual event celebrating the presence of NATO armies’ soldiers in Norfolk and the largest festival of this kind in the USA.
Every year the festival focuses on one member of NATO. At the 56th festival this year, the country in focus is the Czech Republic as the first state of the former Eastern bloc.
Dvorakova, a graduate from the Military Academy in Vyskov, south Moravia, previously participated in a military mission in Kosovo. At present she works at the Czech President’s Military Office.
She is only the second queen of the Azalea festival chosen from the military ranks, after last year’s crowning of a Dutch officer. Before, the title always went to civilians, including the daughters of two U.S. presidents.
Dvorakova told journalists that her duties as the Azalea Queen will take her to schools, hospitals and to public meetings where she is expected to present her homeland.
Norfolk secondary school students will hold a festival discussion forum focusing on the 1968 Prague Spring communist reform movement and its suppression by the Warsaw Pact troops.
Military and political experts from NATO countries will hold a meeting as well.
During the festival opening ceremony, Admiral Luciano Zapata, allied deputy commander for transformation based in Norfolk, praised the Czechs’ pro-democracy efforts in 1968 and their non-violent switch to democracy after 1989.
He recalled that the Czech Republic has been an active member of NATO for ten years.
Czech deputy defence minister Frantisek Padelek said that by joining NATO the Czech Republic accepted its share of responsibility for the defence of allies and democratic principles.
In this connection he mentioned Czech participation in the allied missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and last year’s signature of the Czech-U.S. treaty on a U.S. missile defence radar installation on Czech soil.
Holder Urges Allies to Take Share of Detainees
BERLIN (AP) — The United States and its allies must make sacrifices to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday in a high-profile appeal for Europe’s help.
Holder spoke to the American Academy in Berlin, not long after telling reporters that the United States had approved the release of about 30 Guantanamo detainees.
“We must all make sacrifices and we must all be willing to make unpopular choices,” said Holder.
“The United States is ready to do its part, and we hope that Europe will join us — not out of a sense of responsibility, but from a commitment to work with one of its oldest allies to confront one of the world’s most pressing challenges,” he said.
There are currently 241 inmates at the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Holder spent the past several days privately asking European leaders in London, Prague and Berlin for help relocating detainees the United States wants to set free.
Holder spoke before a select group of policy experts, academics and journalists in a crowded room of about 100.
In answer to a question about Bush administration officials’ decisions to authorize tough interrogation techniques, Holder said he believed that many of them would, privately, admit to having made some mistakes in the pressure and worry that followed the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I don’t suspect that would be true of Vice President Dick Cheney,” Holder added.
At another point, a questioner earnestly asked of those Guantanamo detainees who are believed to be innocent could be put in a hotel somewhere.
“Hotels might be a possibility, it depends on where the hotel is,” joked Holder.
Before the speech, Holder met with reporters, saying the United States has made decisions on a group of about 30 detainees, but has not yet decided where it wants to send them.
He said the United States is weeks away from asking certain countries to take detainees.
“We have about 30 or so where we’ve made the determination that they can be released. So we will, I think, relatively soon, be reaching out to specific countries with specific detainees and ask whether or not there might be a basis for the moving of those people from Guantanamo to those countries,” Holder said.
Germany’s former justice minister, Herta Daubler-Gmelin, a fierce critic of previous President George W. Bush, said Holder “made a very good impression. He’s very honest about this society in transformation in America.”
She said she expected Germany would eventually be one of the countries that accepts Guantanamo detainees.
The Bush administration had approved about 60 detainees for release, and Holder aides would not say if the 30 he was referring to were part of that group. Additionally, about 20 detainees have been ordered released by the courts, though those cases remain unresolved.
President Barack Obama has ordered the controversial detention site shuttered in the next nine months and assigned Holder to oversee that effort.
Holder said he has been telling European officials over the past week that “the problem that it created is best solved by a unified response.”
Closing Guantanamo is good for all nations, he argued, because anger over the prison has become a powerful global recruiting tool for terrorists.
Yet when it comes to the prospect of having former international terror suspects living free, the Obama administration is trying to overcome the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that exists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees. Others, like Germany, are divided on the issue.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy already has made what was billed as a symbolic gesture of agreeing to take one Guantanamo detainee.
In speaking to reporters Wednesday, Holder also said it is possible the United States could cooperate with a foreign court’s investigation of Bush administration officials.
Holder spoke before the announcement that a Spanish magistrate had opened an investigation of Bush officials on harsh interrogation methods. Holder didn’t rule out cooperating in such a probe.
“Obviously, we would look at any request that would come from a court in any country and see how and whether we should comply with it,” Holder said.
“This is an administration that is determined to conduct itself by the rule of law and to the extent that we receive lawful requests from an appropriately created court, we would obviously respond to it,” he said.
Pressed on whether that meant the United States would cooperate with a foreign court prosecuting Bush administration officials, Holder said he was talking about evidentiary requests and would review any such request to see if the U.S. would comply.
Peter Foster: Obama’s Old/New Socialism
Those sympathetic to the charismatic Barack Obama — who today celebrates 100 days as President — often suggest that we have to “give him a chance” before judging his policies. Although one may acknowledge the mountain of toxic woe he has inherited, this seems similar to suggesting that a five-year-old boy who thinks he can fly should be “given a chance” to climb up on the roof. After all, it is not as if the President is suggesting policies that have never been tried before, or that do not have consequences as predictable as the law of gravity.
Mr. Obama has denied being a socialist, but given his reflexive belief in big government both to solve social problems and guide the economy, that is hardly an inappropriate term. Nor does the financial crisis make that orientation more “pragmatic.”
Some traditional socialist conceits have fallen by the wayside in the past 50 years (except, that is, in strange places such as Venezuela, CUPE headquarters, Naomi Klein’s cranium and the political science department at York University). One is that government ownership offers superior business performance.
From the Communist Manifesto through to post-war Britain, ownership of the “commanding heights” of the economy was considered a proud goal. The British experience in the iron, coal, steel and auto industries put paid to that notion, or at least it did for anybody who studies history. A White House spokesman this week stressed that the administration had no desire to own GM.
However, socialism is a protean beast and has changed since the 1970s, not to mention since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism. The new left is focused on the environment and much more concerned with regulation and setting the “right” market prices. It has also discovered how easily the corporate sector can be co-opted or threatened into supporting “corporate social responsibility” and “sustainable development.”
Governments intervene to set prices all the time via the tax system, but internationally co-ordinated carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade systems as currently conceived are like nothing ever seen before. President Obama has linked the projected tax bounty from pricing carbon not merely to green spending, but also to funding his ambitious programs, in particular, comprehensive health care.
He is also a great believer in the ability of governments to guide R&D. On Monday he invoked the Moon Shot as a reference point for a grand new thrust to spend 3% of U.S. GDP on research, and to improve science teaching.
President Obama bemoaned the fact that government funding of the physical sciences had fallen by nearly a half over 25 years, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped U.S. private concerns from leading the world in computer, aerospace and medical technologies, among many others. “Other countries are now beginning to pull ahead in the pursuit of this generation’s great discoveries,” declared the President, but he didn’t specify what those technologies were.
He nevertheless projected government-promoted wonders: “solar cells as cheap as paint; green buildings that produce all the energy they consume; learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again.”
But why not have prosthetics that would enable you to play the piano when you had never been able to play it before? That is an achievable goal. For governments to guide energy development successfully away from the fossil fuels that have driven global economic growth is not.
Typically, Mr. Obama had tame executives on hand this week to preach the need for more government. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, said that it was important for government to focus on the “seed corn” to help research flourish. But while intuitively appealing, there is little or no support for such a role.
As British academic Terence Kealey pointed out in his book, Sex, Science & Profits, the notion that governments promote either scientific or technological advance is largely a myth. Indeed, Professor Kealey pointed out that the great expansion in U.S. science funding after the “Sputnik scare” in the 1950s — to which President Obama referred — may have put a man on the moon, but did very little for the average American taxpayer.
Another significant reference for President Obama is British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who promoted the “White Heat” of technological revolution (with the Soviet Union as its model). Whitehall subsequently boosted R&D, helping promote the development of nuclear reactors, jet and supersonic passenger aircraft and computers. All these ventures were commercial disasters.
Significantly, Mr. Wilson’s post-war predecessors had believed that nationalization would be the means by which industrial “modernization” would take place. So promoting “green” technology and boosting state-funded R&D has problematic precedents. Also, the immediate post-war Labour government of Clement Atlee neglected nationalized industries because it wanted to plough taxpayers’ funds into expanding the welfare state, in particular the National Health Service, just as Mr. Obama does.
So President Obama’s aim is social justice, white heat and green power. He claims he wants the United States to use beefed-up science to lead the world in “clean” technology. But his chief science advisor, John Holdren, is a radical environmentalist who has called for the “de-development” of the United States. That was a notion that even the British Labour party never countenanced, but President Obama may wind up bringing it about, whether he means to or not.
Swine Flu Has Many L.A. Immigrants Reconsidering Mexico Travel Plans
Many Southern California residents who have family or business interests in Mexico are canceling their trips, while others stock up on surgical masks and sanitizers before hopping on the plane.
If his future weren’t on the line, Cal State Fullerton student Carlos Reyes says, he wouldn’t be flying to Mexico. Not with swine flu loose and having killed nearly 150 people there.
Nothing short of becoming a legal resident — and eventually, an American citizen — could compel him to go right now. On Monday, Reyes went to the campus health center and asked if there were any shots he could take to protect himself. There aren’t. So tonight, Reyes, 27, will step onto a plane at LAX armed with surgical masks, sanitizers and two boxes of hand wipes that his even more anxious parents bought for him.
“I don’t want to get infected with that,” Reyes said. “I’m very concerned, to be honest with you. Tomorrow I’m going to take a few immunization shots. Even though they don’t work for what’s going on there, better stay on the safe side.”
As cases of swine flu and the number of deaths have swelled in Mexico — and begun to appear in other countries — Southern California’s vast Latino immigrant community has been increasingly on edge and questioning whether traveling there is a good idea. The U.S. government recommended that people not go to Mexico unless it is necessary.
The disease has been found in a milder form in several U.S. states including California and New York, but has been most concentrated — and deadly — in Mexico, particularly in the capital, where many L.A. residents came from and have family.
“I wouldn’t even go there as a joke,” Bertha Dominguez, a native of Mexico City, said as she took a break from shopping in Huntington Park. “I would maybe go if an emergency presented itself. Maybe.”
Dominguez said the epidemic was just the latest reason not to return her home country, on top of a flagging economy and a gruesome drug war.
“Here, poor or rich, they’ll take care of you if you get sick,” she said. “I’d rather get sick here.”
At El Mercado, a bazaar and indoor swap meet in Boyle Heights, Peruvian immigrant Armando Parodi, 50, said he canceled a trip this weekend to the state of Tlaxcala in Mexico, where swine flu has been reported. He had planned to go to a fair where vendors sell baby Jesus figures — like the ones clad in papal and Aztec outfits he peddles here — but changed his mind because of the swine flu.
“If this thing gets really bad and they close the border, you’re stuck over there,” said Parodi, who travels to Mexico once a month. “I don’t have the variety of [baby Jesus] figures I want, but why take a chance and get sick? There’s no way to protect yourself for sure against something like this.”
But Fernando Martinez, 26, owner of Antojitos Chilangos Mexican restaurant in Highland Park, said he wouldn’t hesitate to travel to his native Mexico City, or elsewhere in Mexico. “If someone gave me the money, I’d go there right now,” he said. “There’s nothing to worry about as long as you stay away from places you’re not supposed to be at.”
Reyes, the college student, said his flight would take him to Guadalajara, where he would meet with a cousin who would fly with him to Ciudad Juarez, where his legal resident interview would take place.
“This is my future. Otherwise, I swear I wouldn’t be going.”
To Close Gitmo, Holder to Make Appeal to Europe
BERLIN — After privately asking European officials to take some freed Guantanamo Bay inmates, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is making a public appeal for help in closing a detention facility for terrorism suspects that has been widely condemned abroad.
Holder arrived in Germany early Wednesday after visiting London and Prague to talk about Guantanamo, extradition agreements and international investigations.
The attorney general was to meet with reporters in Berlin before delivering a speech about Guantanamo at the private American Academy.
For years, European leaders have urged the United States to close the U.S. naval detention facility in Cuba, but they have been much cooler to appeals by the Bush and Obama administrations to take some of the detainees themselves.
Currently, about 240 inmates are still held at Guantanamo. By one measure, as many as 60 may not be sent back to their home countries because of concerns they could be mistreated.
On Tuesday, Holder received encouragement from Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer, who told The Associated Press he believes some European nations will accept Guantanamo detainees. Langer was quick to say his own country would not.
“Yes, I expect Europe will take some, and there is a strong will do so among some countries,” Langer said.
His remarks followed a private meeting with Holder and a number of European justice officials, including EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot, Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask and Czech Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil.
The Obama administration maintains that a number of the remaining Guantanamo detainees can be set free safely and hopes to send some of them to Europe.
“We need to find places for these people to go, and we have asked for assistance from our partners in the EU in that regard,” Holder said after the meeting. “No promises were made.”
When it comes to the prospect of having former international terror suspects living free, the Obama administration is trying to overcome the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that exists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Several European nations, including Portugal and Lithuania, have said they will consider taking such detainees.
Others, like Germany, are divided on the issue.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy already has made what was billed as a symbolic gesture of agreeing to take one Guantanamo detainee.
Simon Koschut, an associate fellow with the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said he was skeptical of Sarkozy’s offer and the ability of Europe to agree on a workable solution within the one-year time frame President Barack Obama has set for closing Guantanamo.
“The message coming from Europe is the familiar one of disunity, but in this case it’s essential to find a consensus,” Koschut said.
Langer, the Czech interior minister, said European leaders do need to agree on Guantanamo.
“No one can say, ‘You cannot take people,’ or ‘You have to take people,’“ he said.
National Post Editorial Board: Tamil Protesters Send the Wrong Message
Torontonians rightly celebrate the multicultural nature of their city. But such sentiments were tested this week, as an ongoing cycle of Tamil protests besieged tens of thousands of workers in the city’s downtown core, adding idle time to core-bound commutes, and subjecting the country’s most expensive labour to the constant angry thrum of folk drumming. There is a fine line between accommodating spontaneous political action on behalf of a legitimately concerned ethnic group seeking to express solidarity with brethren overseas — and letting one’s city be taken over by a mob.
The protesters are demanding that Canada take action against Sri Lanka’s government, which is now in the final stages of a military campaign against the Tamil Tigers, a once-successful military insurgency that often has resorted to terrorist tactics in its bid to create an independent Tamil homeland. As noted in previous editorials, we are not unsympathetic with the protesters’ professed humanitarian concerns: Tens of thousands of ethnic Tamils remain trapped — alongside several hundred apparently suicidal Tamil Tiger fighters — in a small sliver of northeast Sri Lanka. But there is a reason that most informed Canadians regard the protesters more as a slightly sinister annoyance than as noisy humanitarians: They are caring flags designed by, and glorifying, a banned terrorist organization.
Moreover, many Tamil spokesmen here in Canada seem to live in a dreamworld — ignoring the plain fact that (as the United Nations and several blue-chip NGOs have pointed out) a primary threat to Tamils in Sri Lanka is posed by the Tigers themselves, who are holding trapped civilians as human shields. Given that the protesters seem curiously unperturbed by the Tigers’ own brutality toward Tamils, one is left to wonder what their real goal is: saving Tamils, or saving the remaining leadership of the Tigers.
Moreover, whatever the manner in which Tamils are treated in Sri Lanka, they are not persecuted here in Canada. Just the opposite: They have done notably well by our refugee system, and until recently carried heavy weight in Liberal ethno-politics. Where they have failed is in establishing a dedicated political outlet that is free from links to terror — a fact that casts a dark shadow over this week’s events: While staging non-violent protest marches is well within the Canadian political tradition, convening a mob to praise an illegal terrorist organization is not.
Indeed, this month’s protests raise questions about whether Tiger-friendly Tamil-Canadian ringleaders are committed Canadians who are sincerely concerned with the fate of their hyper-extended Tamil family — or exiles who have been biding their time on Canadian soil, waiting for the Tigers to win the war and build Tamiltopia; and who are now punishing their neighbours for the imminent collapse of their dreams.
For all our impatience at being held up on the streetcar, we know the question is complicated, and we hope it is being asked in Tamil circles. In Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s report on the protests for yesterday’s Post, he quoted a youth Tamil organizer as saying: “They ask us ‘Why are you blocking the street?’ And we tell them, ‘Because we are out of choices.’ “ In a way, that’s good news: Before Stephen Harper banned the Tigers in 2006, the “choices” for Canadian Tamils have included raising money for political assassinations and suicide bombings. But in a way, it’s also bad news, because supporting peaceful change in Sri Lanka does not appear to be one of the “choices” on this perceived menu.
Tamils in Canada could have spent recent decades building alternatives to the Tigers, yet they showed little interest when force seemed to have some chance of succeeding. Now that the tables have turned, and the Sri Lankan army has the Tigers trapped, their Canadian cheerleaders suddenly are left with nothing to do but pound out a dirge on Canadian streets, as uninterested Canadians file past on their way to work. Perhaps these protesters should have preached against violence when that message would have meant something.
Body of Polish Man Beheaded in Pakistan Returned
WARSAW, Poland — The remains of a Polish geologist beheaded by Islamic militants in Pakistan were returned Wednesday to Poland in a casket draped in the two countries’ flags and covered in flowers.
Piotr Stanczak’s body was flown to Warsaw’s military airport on a Pakistani air force plane. In a short ceremony on the tarmac, a Roman Catholic priest prayed over the white casket.
Dressed in black, Stanczak’s son and girlfriend stood briefly by the casket, their heads bowed.
The geologist was one of a handful of foreigners kidnapped in Pakistan in recent months as the country witnessed a deterioration in security along with a rise in al-Qaida and Taliban-led violence.
Stanczak was kidnapped Sept. 28 close to the Afghan border while he was carrying out a project for a Krakow-based geophysics company that surveys oil and gas fields.
He was held hostage for several months before his captors beheaded him in February, a killing that they videotaped.
On Sunday, a car dropped the casket near a paramilitary camp in Razmak, Pakistan. Officials then confirmed the remains were those of Stanczak.
Britons Could be Forced to Return Properties in N Cyprus
Linda and David Orams, from Hove in Sussex, lost a long legal battle against Meletios Apostolides, who owns the land their £160,000 holiday home stands on. Thousands of Greek Cypriots were forced out of Northern Cyprus when Turkish troops intervened in 1974 to prevent the island from being united with mainland Greece.
The European judges have ruled that British courts must enforce the judicial decisions made in Cyprus which uphold the property rights of Greek Cypriots who were forced out of the northern half of the island.
The judgment, on Tuesday, gives a green light to demolition orders and compensation claims against some 4,000 British property owners in Northern Cyprus. Marian Stokes, the founder of the Northern Cyprus Homebuyers’ pressure group, described the ruling as “absolutely gutting”. She said: “It’s so sad, because people stand to lose so much money. We did not think they would rule this way. We bought our land in good faith. It was usually marketed and sold in the UK, so you presume everything is ok. The implications for land ownership and conflict claims are staggering across Europe.”
In 2005 a court on the Greek Cypriot side of the green line in Nicosia, the divided capital, ordered the Orams to tear down their holiday home and return the land to Mr Apostolides, along with damanges. His family were forced out during the war 35 years ago.
Mr Apostolides went to the Court of Appeal in London in 2006 to have the Cypriot judgment recognised in Britain. British judges then turned for guidance to the European Court of Justice.
Lawyers for Mr Apostolides successfully argued that since both Britain and Cyprus are both European Union member states, the ruling in Nicosia was enforceable in British courts.
“I think people who have got property in the occupied north, which didn’t belong to those who gave it to them, should seek solid legal independent advice,” said Constantis Candounas, the lawyer who represented Mr Apostolides. “It opens the way for the judgment of the Cyprus court to be enforced in the UK. It means that eventually my client will have a means to enforce the decision.”
The case now returns to the Court of Appeal and one legal sources confirmed that British judges must “recognise and enforce the judgment”, adding: “How they do it is up to them, it could be by compensation”. In theory, the Orams could have their home in Britain seized.
Embargoed, a Turkish Cypriot human rights group, accused the European court of a “biased” and “politically charged judgment” which could complicate the peace talks designed to reunite the island.
“The decision could be a fatal blow for unification efforts,” said Ergin Balli, the group’s legal spokesman.
Czech Rep: Duke Ready to Attend His Possible Trial in Prague — Press
Prague — David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan leader whom the Czech police last weekend expelled from the country over his denial of the Holocaust, would reportedly return to Prague if a trial were launched against him, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.
The paper cites Filip Vavra, the Czech organiser of Duke’s Prague visit, who is linked to the neo-Nazi National Resistance movement.
“On Monday I spoke with Mr Duke. He is determined to defend himself before Czech authorities if he is permitted to enter the country,” Vavra told MfD.
According to MfD’s information, Duke is staying in Italy. He came there from Austria where his Czech fans had taken him after his expulsion from the Czech Republic.
Last week the Czech police accused Duke, a U.S. citizen, of supporting and promoting movements aimed to suppress human rights.
The police arrested Duke in the centre of Prague on Friday afternoon and launched his prosecution.
Originally the police proposed that he be taken into custody but later in the night he was released as the state attorney decided that there were no reasons for his remanding in custody.
The foreigner police then said Duke is a persona no grata and has to leave the country.
His lawyers have challenged the police’s steps and lodged a complaint against his prosecution.
Nevertheless, Duke’s prosecution will continue in spite of his departure from the country, the police say.
According to the website focusing on Duke’s visit, he came to the Czech Republic to promote his book My Awakening.
The police say the book denies the Holocaust.
Denmark: Bendtsen: No Full Membership for Turkey
The former leader of the coalition Conservative Party says Turkey should not be given full membership of the European Union.
The former deputy prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party Bendt Bendtsen says that the right solution for Turkey is a privileged partnership rather than full membership of the European Union, according to a report in Jyllands-Posten.
“We have to find a middle road for Turkey,” says Bendtsen, who is his party’s top candidate in the upcoming European elections on June 7.
Bendtsen’s statements come a month after Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller (Cons) confirmed the Danish government policy that lengthy negotiations with Turkey should lead to full membership.
Liberals: Full membership The Liberal Party top candidate Jens Rohde says that it is unlikely that Turkey will qualify for full membership of the EU for between 20 and 40 years. Nonetheless he says the target of full membership should be maintained.
“If we throw in the towel at the beginning, we won’t be able to negotiate the chapters we’re interested in — for example partnership and trade,” Rohde says.
SF: Turkey as other countries The Socialist People’s Party Chairman Villy Søvndal says that Turkey should be evaluated in the same way as other countries seeking membership.
“I think that Bendtsen has felt a need to say something popular,” says Søvndal.
Social Liberals: Garden path Social Liberal EU Candidate Sofie Carsten Nielsen says Bendtsen’s new view of Turkey is ‘dangerous’.
“Honestly this is leading the Turks up the garden path. They have been given the prospect of full membership — something we have supported. We are in the process of negotiating membership. I agree with Bendt Bendtsen that there are a lot of problems in connection with membership, and that it won’t happen tomorrow as Turkey is unable to fulfill the criteria. But we must maintain the perspective and the negotiations. We must keep Turkey at the negotiating table,” Nielsen tells Ritzau.
Denmark: Shooters Target Drug Dealer
Police believe the most recent shooting in Nørrebro was a payback for two similar incidents earlier in the week
Police have identified the target of last night’s shooting in the city’s Nørrebro district as a 27-year-old Danish hash dealer, reports TV2 News.
At around 8:30 pm, witnesses claimed to have seen three young men of immigrant background riding on scooters shoot through the passage between Jægersborggade and Kronborggade streets — a known hangout for the Hell’s Angels and AK81 motorcycle gangs.
The man ran for cover and ducked behind a wall as the perpetrators opened fire and avoided injury. Police later found the weapon used in the shooting. Monday night’s shooting comes on the heels of two similar incidents in Nørrebro over the past week, where men believed to be affiliated with immigrant gangs were the targets.
Police say they are checking the gun, found not far from the scene in Nørrebro Park, for fingerprints and DNA. They are also still looking for the scooters and are asking for more witnesses to come forward with information.
Europe’s Age Crisis Bites
The EU’s working age population will peak next year before tipping into decline for half a century
This will cause a relentless rise in pension and health costs that risk asphyxiating the region’s economy.
A new report by the European Commission said this financial crisis could turn into a “permanent shock to growth” from which Europe never fully recovers unless it moves fast to bring its public debts under control.
The main danger is a “Lost Decade” akin to Japan’s deflation slump, with economies contracting by 0.9pc into the middle of the next decade, but there is also a risk of a deeper downward spiral.
Every country in the EU has a fertility rate below 2.1 births per woman, the minimum to keep the population stable. The average is 1.51, chiefly caused by women waiting late into their 20s or 30s before having children. This stretches out the generations.
While the fertility rate is expected to rise over time, demographic shifts tend to be glacial. An ageing crunch is already baked into the pie, hitting hardest from 2015 to 2035.
Britain fares relatively well, helped by immigrants and — some say — by its unwed teenage mothers, who lift the fertility rate at 1.8. The British working age cohort will be the biggest of any EU country by mid-century at 45m, followed closely by France.
If demographics is destiny, Britain and France may reclaim their mid-19th century status as the two dominant powers of Europe, but by then the Old World will be a much reduced force..
Germany’s working population will shrink by 29pc to just 39m. Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states will all see drops of over 40pc.
No country will be spared the vaulting costs of ageing, an extra tax of 5pc on GDP, leaving aside the less visible tax on cultural dynamism that comes with lost youth.
The EU “dependency ratio” will soar: there will be two workers to support each person over 65, compared to four today. It will be worse if Europe fails to attract enough immigrants, all too likely given the catch-up under way in the developing world.
Faced with this future, Britain and Europe need to slash debt and salt away investment wealth in the rising East. Instead, public debt is exploding. Brussels has laid it bare: we will need hair-shirt discipline once we emerge from this recession. It may be our last chance.
France: Gang on Trial for Torturing French Jew to Death
The trial opened today of a self-proclaimed “gang of barbarians” accused of kidnapping a young Jewish man, torturing him for 24 days and killing him, a crime that horrified France in 2006.
The death of Ilan Halimi, 23, came to symbolise violence in France’s troubled, multi-ethnic suburbs, which had just experienced a wave of riots. In particular the Jewish community denounces a rise in anti-Semitism among young people of Arab or African origin.
The leader of the “barbarians” was Youssouf Fofana, a young French man of Ivorian origin.. He has admitted all the charges against him except the accusation that he was the one who stabbed Halimi to death.
Fofana, 28, stands accused of kidnapping, sequestration, torture and assassination. The charge sheet also includes anti-Semitism, which French law considers an “aggravating circumstance” requiring the stiffest sentences.. Fofana faces life in jail.
The trial is scheduled to last two and a half months during which 162 witnesses and 50 experts will testify. It will take place behind closed doors at the request of two of the defendants who were minors at the time of the crime.
Halimi was kidnapped on 20 January, 2006 in the Paris suburb of Sceaux where he had been lured by a girl who acted as a “honey-trap”.
His kidnappers tried unsuccessfully to extort a ransom of €450,000 (£400,000) from his family.
They held Halimi in a cellar in another suburb, tortured him until he was close to death, then dumped him near a train station. He died in hospital shortly after he was found.
Jewish and anti-racist groups organised a march in Paris to honour Halimi on 26 February, 2006. It was marred by skirmishes between Jewish and Arab youths on the fringes of the march.
Many in France’s Jewish community say they have experienced a rise in anti-Semitism among disaffected youths of Arab and African origin since the second Palestinian uprising started in late 2000, because of feelings of solidarity with the Palestinians.
Those feelings have mingled in the minds of some of these youths with older anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Several members of the “barbarians gang” testified that Halimi was targeted because he was Jewish, which in their minds meant he had money and his community would pay to get him back.
After the murder, Fofana fled to Ivory Coast. From there he made death threats by telephone to Halimi’s father and girlfriend. He was extradited to France on 4 March, 2006.
During his time in detention, Fofana has bombarded the magistrates investigating the case with letters full of anti-Semitic insults.
Among the 26 other defendants, of whom 19 are also in detention, are the girl who was used as bait to capture Halimi, young men who took part in the abduction and who guarded the captive, and several people who knew but didn’t go to police.
France and Spain Set Up Joint Body to Fight Terrorism
MADRID (AFP) — France and Spain signed a deal Tuesday to set up a joint security committee to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal immigration, the two countries announced following a bilateral summit.
The deal will allow Paris and Madrid “to make a leap forward on security,” Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The heads of the security services of both countries will meet every six months to plan joint actions in the fight against terrorism and organised crime, a joint statement said.
The committee will seek to “prevent the Islamist threat,” in particular through “an alert procedure” on the use of the Internet by terrorists and on the “development of the jihadist threat in the regions at risk.”
It was also aimed at combating drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal immigration networks.
A Spanish government source said the body, led by police officials from the two countries, is an expansion of the five-year-old cooperation on security between France and Spain, which has led to the arrests of numerous members of the armed Basque separatist group ETA.
ETA is blamed for the deaths of 825 people in its 40-year campaign of bombings and shootings to carve a Basque homeland out of parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.
France is also particularly interested in the fight against drug trafficking as Spain has become the major European entry point for cocaine from South America and hashish from north Africa, the source said.
In an address to the Spanish parliament earlier, Sarkozy described the new body as “a real joint general staff headquarters on security.”
Sarkozy arrived on Monday on his first ever state visit to Spain, accompanied by his wife, the model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
The visit has also been a chance to highlight the common views of the two governments on a range of issues, in particular the future of the European Union, the planned Mediterranean Union and on ways to combat the global economic crisis.
Sarkozy reiterated his support for Spain’s push to have a permanent seat at the Group of 20 developed and developing nations.
And Zapatero announced that France and Spain would propose an international conference to seek a “wide response” to the problem of piracy off lawless Somalia.
“On all the issues, France and Spain speak with the same voice,” Sarkozy said on Monday.
But the French leader dismissed “as petty French politicking” a recent controversy sparked when he reportedly described the Spanish leader as “not very clever” at a lunch two weeks ago with French lawmakers.
The row is “a small ripple in a mediocre political debate in France,” he told Tuesday’s news conference.
On Monday, which was largely devoted to meetings with members of the Spanish royal family, it was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who grabbed the spotlight.
The Spanish press Tuesday noted a “duel of elegance” between the 41-year-old French First Lady and Princess Letizia, 36, the wife of Spanish Crown Prince Felipe.
El Pais said Bruni-Sarkozy appeared to be on a “permanent catwalk” aimed at “conquering the world with her elegance which sometimes lacks any naturalness.”
But La Razon described her as “a marvel of nature who cannot be compared to anyone” and “the only interest of this visit.”
Germany Readies for Fiery May Day Protests
BERLIN (AFP) — Germany is bracing for its biggest May Day protests in years amid fears of a rise in social unrest caused by the worst recession since World War II in Europe’s biggest economy.
An estimated 50,000 jobs are being lost every month in Germany, and the government is forecasting that output will slump by more than five percent this year, second only to Japan among major economies.
The last time that Germany’s economy suffered such a slump was in the Great Depression of the 1930s, a period that brought the Nazis to power and led to World War II.
Seventy years later, the situation is nowhere near so dramatic, with Germany spared the hyper-inflation that wiped out people’s savings overnight and the mass employment that turned desperate people to Hitler.
So far, a government scheme subsidising firms to cut working hours and the laying off of temporary workers has helped keep a lid on unemployment with the jobless rate only inching up in recent months.
But experts fear that the steady upwards creep of unemployment, which in March stood at 3.6 million, is in danger of turning into a flood as the recession here deepens.
Public disquiet is expected to grow — spicing up campaigning for general elections on September 27 — but what is uncertain is whether this will turn into massive street protests and even more militant action.
The head of Germany’s DGB federation of German trade unions, Michael Sommer, has warned that mass layoffs would be taken as a “declaration of war” by workers and unions.
“At that point, social unrest can no longer be ruled out,” Sommer said.
Gesine Schwan, the Social Democrat candidate for the largely ceremonial post of president, ruled out burning barricades but said the government “had to prevent the disappointment being felt by many turning into an explosive mood.”
“In the current crisis we should not dramatise things or fan fears, but neither should we mask the reality,” the centre-left Schwan said.
Oskar Lafontaine, the leader of Germany’s far-left Die Linke party, which is aiming to tap into public anger in September’s election, went further.
“When French workers are angry they lock up their managers. I would like to see that happen here too, so that they notice there is anger out there, that people are scared about their livelihoods,” Lafontaine said.
But for the most part, such comments have been the exception, and experts believe that the risk of unrest is low.
Heiner Ganssmann from Berlin’s Free University, for instance, thinks the rise in unemployment is more likely to be accompanied by “resignation and apathy” than militant action. He says the situation is different to France.
“The experience with unemployment is different, at least in Germany. People become more apathetic than rebellious,” Ganssmann told AFP.
“It is partly a cultural tradition. In France people are much quicker to take to the streets. Germans still trust the authorities.”
May Day will give a first taster of whether such predictions are right or if the government needs to do more to soothe public anger, with the financial crisis expected to result in an increase in numbers on the streets.
The international day of the worker has for the past two decades been accompanied in German cities by street violence and clashes between far-right skinheads, anti-fascist groups and police.
Dieter Ruch, a sociologist and expert on left-wing groups, expects more protesters this Friday because of the recession but that this will not necessarily lead to more violence.
“The crisis could simply push more people to demonstrate, but it will not mean more violence,” he told AFP.
Police in Berlin are taking no chances, and plan to deploy 5,000 officers to keep the protesters in line, who according to organisers will number 10,000 to 15,000.
Fears have been stoked further by an alarming spike in the number of arson attacks by presumed anarchists in Berlin in the run up to May 1.
According to Berlin police figures, over 70 cars — mainly upmarket models such as BMWs and Mercedes — have already been torched since the beginning of the year, compared to just over 100 for the whole of last year.
“Violence is a way of achieving our aims,” one militant giving his name just as Peter said menacingly. “We do not accept that the state has the monopoly on violence, and it is our aim for there to be social unrest.”
Hungary’s Gypsies Targeted in Deadly Attacks
TISZALOK, Hungary — Thousands of mourners headed Wednesday to the funeral of Jeno Koka, the fifth Hungarian Gypsy shot to death in a series of crimes police say may have been committed by the same group.
There have been at least seven similar attacks since July 2008 against Roma — as Gypsies often preferred to be called. All involved shotguns and firebombs and were carried out at the edge of small villages near a major highway that provides a quick escape route.
Police are offering up to 50 million forints ($225,000, euro170,000) for information about the crimes and have boosted the number of officers working to solve the attacks from 70 to 100.
“These are professional killers,” said Justice Minister Tibor Draskovics. “But neither I nor the police will rest until we catch them.”
Police say they have found DNA samples believed to belong to the culprits at some of the crime scenes and have widened the circle of suspects to include the military and other security forces.
While they do not rule out racism, police so far have been unable to pinpoint a motive behind the strikes, a fact which irks many who say the reasons are obvious.
“This is the umpteenth such assassination and so far police have been unable to catch even one offender,” said the Roma Civil Rights Foundation, stressing that personal or business matters and any kind of revenge could be eliminated as the possible causes of Koka’s murder.
Roma make up about 6 percent of Hungary’s 10 million population and many are among its poorest and least educated citizens. Poverty among Roma has increased since the end of communism and the closure or privatization of the large state companies that guaranteed work.
But with unemployment and economic problems on the rise among all Hungarians and small but vocal extreme right-wing parties like Jobbik focusing on public security, Roma could be seen as the scapegoats for Hungary’s economic woes.
Even the ombudsman for civil rights, Mate Szabo, said Hungarians needed to be warned about “Gypsy crime,” petty thefts committed by Roma as a form of subsistence. Szabo later recanted his statements and was reprimanded by President Laszlo Solyom.
The rise of Jobbik and its militant Hungarian Guard and the increased attention on crimes committed both by and against Roma are said to stem partly from a 2006 incident in the eastern town of Olaszliszka in which a 45-year-old Hungarian teacher was beaten to death in front of his two young daughters after slightly injuring a Roma girl with his car.
Several men from the town, including some of the Roma girl’s relatives, are suspected of the murder.
While there are two Hungarian Roma in the European Parliament, domestically Roma parties and organizations have been plagued by fragmentization and charges of corruption, receiving far less than 1 percent of the vote in the 2006 parliamentary election.
Although their integration is always listed as one of the country’s most pressing issues, Roma remain mostly outside the Hungarian mainstream.
Ireland: Crime of Blasphemous Libel Proposed for Defamation Bill
[It is “impossible to say of what the offence of blasphemy consists” yet quite easy to guess on whose behalf the penalties for blasphemy will be enforced — io’p]
A NEW crime of blasphemous libel is to be proposed by the Minister for Justice in an amendment to the Defamation Bill, which will be discussed by the Oireachtas committee on justice today.
At the moment there is no crime of blasphemy on the statute books, though it is prohibited by the Constitution.
Article 40 of the Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech, qualifies it by stating: “The State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State.
“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”
Last year the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, under the chairmanship of Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ardagh, recommended amending this Article to remove all references to sedition and blasphemy, and redrafting the Article along the lines of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with freedom of expression.
The prohibition on blasphemy dates back to English law aimed at protecting the established church, the Church of England, from attack. It has been used relatively recently to prosecute satirical publications in the UK.
In the only Irish case taken under this article, Corway -v- Independent Newspapers, in 1999, the Supreme Court concluded that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists”..
It also stated that a special protection for Christianity was incompatible with the religious equality provisions of Article 44.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding £100,000.”
“Blasphemous matter” is defined as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”
Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda SÃochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them.
Labour spokesman on justice Pat Rabbitte is proposing an amendment to this section which would reduce the maximum fine to £1,000 and exclude from the definition of blasphemy any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit.
Meet the Scot That Al-Qaeda Could Not Kill
MUSLIM fanatics in Afghanistan and Iraq have twice tried to blow up Scots dad Paul Stitt.
And twice the Para turned private security guard has walked away unscathed.
Paul, 25, escaped a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in 2006, then cheated death in a terrifying roadside blast in Iraq just weeks ago.
His incrediblae gift for survival has seen him dubbed The Man al-Qaeda Couldn’t Kill.
But, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Record, Paul admitted: “It all comes down to luck.”
Paul, of Alexandria, Dunbartonshire, works as a security guard in the most deadly war zones on earth.
The skills he learned in the Parachute Regiment earn him thousands of pounds a month.
He loves his job but he knows that every time he goes out to work, he might not make it back to base.
Paul was working in Afghanistan three years ago when a suicide bomber on a motorbike drove up to his vehicle and blew himself to pieces.
The blast blew out the side of the 4×4. But although Paul ended up covered in the bomber’s blood, he and his two mates lived to tell the tale.
“Luckily, it was a poorly made device,” Paul recalled. “There was no shrapnel in the blast so it wasn’t enough to penetrate but I still got a face full of Afghan blood.
“The adrenalin was really going and we high-fived each other after surviving it.
“But the next day, what had happened actually hit us and we were definitely even more observant.”
Paul carried on working despite his narrow escape. And a few weeks ago, he stared death in the face for a second time, this time in Iraq..
He was travelling in an armoured 4×4 which drive through an infra-red beam, triggering a deadly explosion.
The terrorists had planted a sophisticated armour-piercing missile at the roadside. It slammed into the side of Paul’s truck but luckily the engine block took most of the force of the blast.
“The explosion blew the bonnet up in front of the windscreen,” Paul recalled.
“We had to keep rolling for about 500 metres until we got out of the killing area. These kind of attacks are usually followed by an ambush and, if you stop, you will get shot at straight away.
“There were three of us in the vehicle but no serious injuries. You don’t feel shock at the time — that only really kicks in the next day.
“The adrenalin keeps you going. I used to think it was rubbish when people said that but your training really does take over and you are on automatic pilot.
“I enjoy my work but it’s not something I’d want my friends or family to do because it’s so dangerous. I’ve seen some of my good friends killed.
“It all comes down to luck. You can be the best soldier in the world and still get killed.
“It’s pretty much down to chance and nothing to do ith your skills and drills.”
Paul served with the Paras in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and Northern Ireland before moving into the lucrative private security market.
He provides protection for ambassadors and other VIPs as well as escorting building materials and equipment for private firms.
“We use different pieces of kit depending on which firm we are working for,” he said.
“It could be anything from M4 assault rifles, AK47s, M16s but the most important things we have are our vehicles. They can make the difference between life and death.”
Paul, who has a three-year-old son, Josh, is in Scotland for a three-week break.
But he’ll soon be back in Iraq, where up to 40,000 private security guards are belived to be working.. And he knows his job there is more dangerous than ever before.
“The terrorists have developed their bombs,” Paul explained. “It used to be an old Pepsi bottle with wires sitting under a cardboard box which you could easily spot.
“Now they’re putting devices into the ground and they can sit on a hill, watch through binoculars and activate them using mobile phones.”
Despite the dangers he faces, Paul is looking forward to returning to the war zone.
He said: “I’m ready to get back. I’ve been out and about to pubs constantly since I got home and I feel totally knackered!
“We do 12 weeks at a time over there but you can get a lot of the comforts of home in places like Iraq nowadays.
“You don’t miss the food and stuff so much as you can get it all in stores in American bases.
“They even have Burger King now. Things have defintiely got better since 2003.
“But when I’m out there, I do miss the chance to go out socialising with my mates — and to meet women!”
MPs Vote to Give Gurkhas Right to Live in Britain
PM suffers a humiliating Commons defeat over his refusal to allow Gurkha veterans to live in Britain.
MPs have voted for a parliamentary motion condemning the Government’s treatment of the Gurkhas and the Daily Telegraph has campaigned for the veterans to be admitted.
With the backing of Labour rebels and the Conservative Party, a Liberal Democrat motion criticising the Government was passed by 267 votes to 246.
The vote is not legally binding, but opposition leaders insisted that ministers must now abandon new rules on admitting Gurkhas and their families introduced last week.
Under the new rules, only Gurkhas with at least 10 years’ service are eligible to come to Britain. Other foreign nationals serving with the British Armed Forces can apply after only four years.
The High Court last year declared that preventing Gurkhas who had served in the British Army before 1997 from living in this country was unlawful.
In response, the Home Office last week issued fresh criteria for allowing Gurkhas into the UK, but set the bar for entry so high that campaigners say that only a few hundred veterans will ever qualify.
At an impromptu press conference outside the Commons after the vote, both Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, and David Cameron, the Tory leader, said the Prime Minister must now change his policy.
Mr Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader said: “This is the kind of thing that I think people want this country to do, that we pay back our obligations and our debt of gratitude to generations of Gurkhas who laid down their lives for this country.
“This was a cross-party effort and a great, great day for everyone who believes in fairness and decency in this country.”
Mr Cameron said: “Today is a historic day where Parliament took the right decision. The basic presumption that people who fight for our country should have a right to live in our country has been set out very clearly.
Gurkhas have served the British crown since 1815 and have amassed battle honours including 26 Victoria Crosses.
Deepening the embarrassment for the Government, the vote came despite 11th hour sweeteners to Labour rebels.
Hours before the vote, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, had promised that 1,300 Gurkhas who had been threatened with deportation will be allowed to stay, and promised to review the rules on admitting other veterans.
Netherlands: ‘Political Movements Should be Subsidised’
Political movements such as Geert Wilders’ one-man party PVV and Rita Verdonk’s TON should be eligible for state subsidies, a government advisory body said on Tuesday.
The public management council (ROB) said in its report that parties without members like the PVV and TON should qualify for subsidies based on the number of people donating cash — so long as the list of donations is made public.
In addition, donors would have to be able to exert influence on the party, the council said.
At the moment political parties are subsidised according to the size of their membership and how many seats they have in parliament.
Lack of funding
Wilders has always made a point of the party’s lack of funding. ‘The PVV is the only party in parliament to refuse subsidies and is thus entirely dependent on donations,’ Wilders’ own website states. According to the NRC, the party does get over €1m a year to fund its parliamentary operations.
Home affairs minister Guusje ter Horst has rejected the recommendation that parties without members also be entitled to extra subsidies, the Telegraaf reports. ‘I do not see what it would achieve,’ the paper quoted her as saying.
She is also opposed to removing the limit on financial donations to political parties. The minister is curently working on draft legislation which would impose a €25,000 ceiling for individual donations and €700 for anonymous gifts.
Political parties are currently required to make all donations over €4,500 public but as both TON and the PVV are not official parties, they do not have to comply.
Currently just 2.5% of the population is a member of a political party.
Netherlands: Public Prosecutions Chief Says Country Safer
The head of the Public Prosecutions Department, Harm Brower, says the figures show the Netherlands is becoming safer. He was speaking during the presentation of the annual report of the Board for the Procurators-General.
Last year, just over 233,000 cases were referred to his department, four percent fewer than in 2007. Mr Brouwer says one of the reasons for this is the targetted method of dealing with repeat offenders.
The figures also show the number of community service orders are up, with more than 90,000 people being handed down such punishments in 2008.
Whether this sort of sentence actually works has been the subject of much discussion recently. Mr Brouwer does not want to see community service orders go, but has undertaken to find out whether there is sufficient support for them.
NZ: Qualified Nurse Refused Residency Because of Weight
A British nurse who weighed 134kg has been refused New Zealand residency because of her morbid obesity, despite the need for skilled nursing staff.
The 51-year-old, who was offered a job in a home and hospital for the elderly in a provincial city, met the qualifications for immigration under the skilled migrant category.
But her body mass index of 55.2 was considered unacceptable by the immigration service who declined her application, despite nursing being on a long-term skill shortage list.
Now the Residence Review Board has dismissed her appeal.
For a New Zealand European, a BMI score of 25 is considered overweight, 30 obese and 40 morbidly obese.
The woman, whose waist measured 131cm, wanted to emigrate with her crane driver husband and daughter, who has a degree, after holidaying in New Zealand in 2007.
Medical assessors said that the woman would probably cost the country $25,000 over four years in health treatment.
She argued that she was physically fit, there was no history of cancer or chronic diseases in her family, and her weight did not stop her working more than 60 hours a week.
A medical assessor said that apart from her morbid obesity, she was an otherwise “well lady” and could be reconsidered for immigration if she reduced her BMI to under 40.
The appeal board said that the woman scored relatively highly in the skilled migrant category.
It concluded: “While the appellant is currently healthy, the severity of her obesity meant that two medical assessors found her to be of too great a potential risk to the New Zealand health system to determine that she had an acceptable standard of health.”
Though the family would make a “sound” contribution to New Zealand, that did not weigh sufficiently for the board to decide that there were special circumstances in this case.
Robbery in First Class Train Thief Threatens Businessman and Escapes With Laptop and Cash
A businessman is robbed of his laptop, BlackBerry, cash and credit cards as he works in the first-class carriage of a train.
The 41-year-old was working on his laptop when he was threatened by the thief who sat opposite him on a Waterloo to Reading commuter train.
The suspect, pictured here, claimed he had a knife before calmly packing the items into the businessman’s suitcase and walking off.
The robbery took place on 12 January as the train was travelling between Staines and Egham. The thief left the train at Staines.
The suspect is 5ft 11in, aged 20-26 and wearing a dark jacket with a hood and dark trousers.
Anyone who recognises the man should call British Transport Police on 0800 405040.
Sarkozy Unveils Sweeping New Vision for Paris
PARIS — French President Nicolas Sarkozy has unveiled an ambitious, costly new plan to rethink the structure of Paris and its troubled suburbs.
Sarkozy says a key focus of the plan should be expanding the French capital’s links to the English Channel via more trade along the Seine River and a new high-speed rail line to Le Havre.
Sarkozy announced the plan Wednesday after several renowned architects presented blueprints aimed at adapting the Paris metropolitan area to modern needs.
A key aim is to better link layers of scattered suburbs around Paris, including isolated housing projects that exploded in riots in 2005 by largely minority youth frustrated over discrimination and unemployment.
Sweden: Court Climax Premature for Madonna of Orgasm Church
The Madonna of Orgasm Church (Orgasmens Madonnas kyrka) has suffered a disappointing reversal following a Swedish court ruling that the church’s name is unacceptable and offensive.
The church’s founder, artist Carlos Bebeacua who resides in Lövestad in southern Sweden, has been fighting a lengthy legal battle in his bid to have the Madonna of Orgasm Church registered as a faith community in Sweden.
Founded by Bebeacua in the early 1990s, the Madonna of Orgasm Church is centered on a similarly named painting by Bebeacua which sparked protests during the 1992 World’s Fair in Seville, Spain.
“The orgasm is God, the orgasm should be worshiped,” Bebeacua once told the Kvällsposten newspaper.
“The orgasm is the ultimate feeling of lust, it shouldn’t be limited to ejaculation. You can reach it through art or by looking at a landscape and thinking ‘Wow!’“
Bebeacua hoped that registering the Madonna of Orgasm Church as a faith community in Sweden would encourage more people to consider the orgasm as God.
In November 2008, he achieved an important victory when the county administrative court overruled Sweden’s Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet), which had refused to register the Madonna of Orgasm Church because its name was offensive.
But Kammarkollegiet appealed the ruling to the Administrative Court of Appeal, which on Tuesday overturned the lower court’s decision.
According to the appeals court, the name of Bebeacua’s Madonna of Orgasm Church “violates what is considered acceptable praxis” and therefore can be denied registration as a faith community.
Specifically, the court took issue with juxtaposition of the words “Madonna”, “orgasm”, and “church”.
“In the opinion of the administrative court of appeal, the intention of such a combination of words, even in relation to the registration of a community for religious activities, must be to offend, not only for those within the wider circles of the general public who have Christian leanings, but also in society in general,” wrote the court.
Sweden: Charges Unlikely for Admitted Panty Pic Snapper
[Comment from Tuan Jim: Following the story about rapes going unprosecuted and charges being dropped on other criminals (like the rapist whose victim committed suicide and [obviously] didn’t testify against him) — I’m starting to wonder about a general competence issue across law and order agencies in Sweden.]
A 46-year-old Swedish man who used a hidden camera to take pictures beneath the skirts of several young girls may escape prosecution because none of his victims can be positively identified.
The man was arrested was arrested last Friday after being caught photographing women using a camera hidden in a shoulder-bag.
While he has since admitted to taking panty pics of a number of young women, the 46-year-old may nevertheless escape punishment.
“The case is tricky because we can’t identify any plaintiffs,” Bengt Svensson of the Kristianstad police told the Metro newspaper.
Prosecutor Johan Eriksson, however, refused to tell the paper one way or the other whether he will pursue the case.
When police arrested the 46-year-old they confiscated several cameras, as well as digital memory cards filled with pictures taken from underneath young women’s skirts.
But the images aren’t enough to positively identify any of the man’s victims.
In one case, the man is alleged to have attempted to take pictures of girl who was six or seven-years-old.
“The man’s behaviour is sick, but it’s doubtful as to whether he actually harassed the girls. They weren’t aware they were being photographed,” Svensson told Metro.
Sweden: ‘Allow Foreign Police in Sweden’: Minister
[TJ:…”it’s the only way we can effectively address crime” — she unfortunately failed to add.]
Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask wants foreign police to be able to operate in Sweden. A committee of inquiry will be set up to look into ways in which this might work.
Speaking at the Moderate party local government conference in Örebro, the minister yesterday aired her thoughts on how the inquiry should proceed. The committee will have until the end of next year to complete its assignment, which will include assessing situations in which foreign police officers would be permitted to act, i.e. exercise their official authority, vis-à-vis Swedish citizens. Operations could involve arrests or other police measures.
According to TT’s sources, the Government feels there is a need to allow foreign police operations in Sweden as a complement to the work of the Swedish police in areas such as human trafficking/smuggling or other forms of cross-border crime. Cooperation could also include support during major public events, such as international summit meetings, sporting events where crowd violence is likely, major accidents or other crises.
Ask noted that the opposition, including the chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and her predecessor in office, Thomas Bodström, are opposed to the idea of foreign police operating on Swedish soil.
“We will now draw up a background document and discuss it. I believe that with a good basis to build on we will reach an agreement acceptable to everyone. That’s how it usually works. I can’t imagine anyone opposing our proposal if we show that greater collaboration, subject to certain conditions and in certain contexts, would be good for crime prevention and our security,” the minister said at a press conference during the Moderate party local government conference in Örebro.
Ask maintained that citizens living in areas bordering on Norway, Finland and Denmark find it difficult to understand the current obstacles to cooperation and would regard it as unreasonable not to take advantage of the opportunity to move forward.
The inquiry will be chaired by the head of Ekobrottsmydigheten (Swedish Economic Crime Authority) Gudrun Antemar.
The head of Rikskriminalpolisen (Swedish National Criminal Police), Therese Mattsson, welcomed the minister’s decision to look into the feasibility of allowing foreign police to operate in Sweden.
“An excellent initiative. We have wanted this for a long time,” Mattsson said to TT. She referred to the need for clearly defined rules on issues such as how and when foreign police officers would be allowed to carry weapons and under what circumstances they would be permitted to intervene. She emphasised that overall responsibility lay with the Swedish police and that foreign contingents would ultimately be under Swedish command should joint operations become a reality.
As an example of the kind of cooperation that could be further developed, Therese Mattsson and Beatrice Ask cited the joint exercises held by the Swedish and Norwegian special task forces. However, they point out that it would be a major advantage if they could also collaborate in critical situations, especially as this would better enable them to endure protracted operations.
Swedish Men ‘Not as Masculine as They Used to be’: Study
Swedish men have become more metrosexual and less masculine in recent times, according to a new survey polling both sexes on their opinion of the Swedish male.
51 percent of respondents said Swedish men were more masculine in previous times, with men in particular (58 percent) agreeing with the statement. Only 13 percent of men and women felt today’s men were more masculine than their predecessors.
Asked whether Swedish men were more masculine than their counterparts in other countries only 9 percent of Swedish women felt this to be the case. 19 percent said Swedish chaps were less masculine, though the overwhelming majority (65 percent) said they were neither more nor less masculine than foreign fellows.
Swedish women also like their mates to stand up straight and be counted. Asked to choose between five alternatives, 33 percent of women found slouched shoulders and poor posture to be the least attractive physical qualities in a potential partner.
28 percent said overweight partners were a no-no, while 18 percent ruled out partners with feminine features, 8 percent disliked scrawniness and 0 percent found masculine features to be a turn-off. The ‘None of the above’ and ‘don’t know’ options made up the numbers.
For men (36 percent), the weight issue topped the list of least attractive physical features, followed by posture (18 percent), masculine features (18 percent), scrawniness (10 percent) and feminine features (3 percent).
Moving away from the physical side of things, both men (44 percent) and women (43 percent) listed ‘a good sense of humour’ as by far the most attractive quality in a partner.
Very few respondents considered job success to be the top draw in a partner: 2 percent of women and 1 percent of men.
Both women and men were also asked which type of man they found most attractive. A lot of men chose to skip this question but on the whole those who did answer agreed with the replies of their female compatriots, who responded as follows:
- The normal “boy next door type, like TV show host Fredrik Wikingsson”: 26 percent.
- The James Bond type in a tailored suit: 18 percent.
- The metrosexual type, “like football player Fredrik Ljungberg”: 13 percent.
- The slightly chilled out type, “like actor Rolf Lassgård”: 6 percent.
- The tough muscle mountain, “like Sylvester Stallone in the Rambo movies”: 3 percent.
- The lanky, musician type, “like musician Andreas Kleerup”: 3 percent.
7 percent of respondents had somebody else entirely in mind, while a further 7 percent couldn’t make up their minds.
The internet-based study was carried out by YouGov on behalf of MBT Shoes. The polling agency received responses from 1,003 people aged 15-64 and spread across the country.
Turkey Video Blocked!
17.04.2009 — The left-wing and the United States are allies when it comes to the Turkish entry into the European Union. Obama recently became president, but this does not cover up the fact that the left-wing blindly serves the American geo-political interests. A Turkish entry can be the end of the European Union. Vlaams Belang recently made a video in which the most important arguments against a Turkish EU entry are put together. YouTube reported us that this video has been blocked in several countries! You can watch it here and send it to your friends and relatives.
UK Govt. ‘Committed’ to Expanding UN Security Council: Minister
LONDON (AFP) — Britain said Tuesday it was “committed” to expanding the 15-member United Nations Security Council to make it more representative, ahead of talks on reform at the UN General Assembly.
“Britain is very, very clear indeed. We want to see the council enlarged, made more relevant to today’s world and made more representative and more authoritative as a result of that,” Foreign Office minister Lord Mark Malloch-Brown said during a parliamentary debate.
“We have pressed hard, most recently in partnership with France, to try to move this forward. We are very committed to it.”
He said it was up to the General Assembly to decide whether to agree to an immediate expansion to include countries such as Japan, “or some intermediate solution,” in a second round of negotiations due to begin next month.
The council’s make-up has remained largely unchanged since the UN was set up in 1945. Only China, the United States, France, Britain and Russia have permanent seats, but Germany, Brazil, India and Japan are pushing to join them.
UK: ‘Asylum’ Killer Wins Fight
A FAILED asylum seeker who left a 12-year-old girl dying under the wheels of his car after a hit-and-run accident has sparked fury by walking free from a deportation centre while he fights being kicked out of the country.
Iraqi Kurd Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, 30, was due to be deported after applications for asylum were kicked out.
Now he has won a court appeal against him being detained while his case is processed.
Ibrahim, who knocked down and killed Amy Houston while already on bail for driving while disqualified, was jailed for four months for driving while banned and failing to stop after the accident in November 2003 in Blackburn, Lancashire. He had never held a driving licence and had two previous driving bans.
Amy’s family have fought for his deportation and campaigned for an Amy’s Law that would introduce stiffer penalties for causing death while banned from driving.
Her father Paul Houston, 39, reacted with disgust to this latest court decision. He said: “I’m very disappointed. It’s very frustrating. Why should he walk free after what he has done? He’s just laughing at the justice system. It’s so wrong. Where’s the justice for my Amy?
“The immigration officials have an impossible job when judges knock them back.
“The politicians talk big but I see no action. This man has used up so many resources. How many appeals does he get?” Engineer Paul, from Darwen, who had shed tears of relief in October when Ibrahim was taken into the custody of the UK Border Agency, said: “This just makes me more determined.
“If I didn’t fight, then another person would find themselves in this position and I don’t want anybody else’s kid to get killed. It’s my duty as a father to see this through to the end.”
A spokeswoman for the UK Border Agency said: “We are extremely disappointed at the court’s decision. We vigorously opposed bail for this man. This is by no means an acceptance of his right to stay in the country.”
Since Amy’s death, Ibrahim has married a British woman and fathered two children in Blackburn. He claims it is too unsafe for him to return to Iraq.
His deportation had been ordered in November, 2002.
Blackburn MP and Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, said he would be taking up the issue of Ibrahim’s release from custody. He said: “I will speak to the family and also with the Home Secretary.”
UK: 7/7 Bombers’ Friends Jailed Over Terror Training Camp Plans
Waheed Ali and Mohammed Shakil innocent of London bomb attacks but convicted of conspiracy to attend Pakistan training camp
Mohammed Shakil and Waheed Ali: jailed for seven years for planning to attend a terrorist training camp.
Two British Muslims cleared of helping the 7 July bombers choose their targets were today sentenced to seven years in jail each for planning to attend a terrorist training camp.
Waheed Ali, 25, and Mohammed Shakil, 32, were yesterday found not guilty at Kingston crown court of conspiring to cause explosions with the four men who carried out the attacks that killed 52 people in 2005.
The pair, who were arrested as they were about to board a flight to Pakistan in 2007, were found guilty of conspiracy to attend a terrorist training camp. They have already spent two years in jail on remand.
The judge, Mr Justice Gross, told Ali and Shakil they had committed an offence “at a serious level”.
“Your intention, but for your apprehension, was to attend a real camp and to use real guns in training at that camp,” he said. “This was not play acting and you were determined players, not naive dupes.”
He told the pair they had a “very real prospect of reoffending”.
Gross said the most important factor in his sentencing decision was to deter others attending such camps.
The trial heard that an estimated 1,000 young Muslims from the UK visited training camps in Pakistan between 1998 and 2003.
The judge said: “It must be made entirely clear, if necessary through sentences of an appropriate length, that such conduct is unacceptable.”
Referring to the acquittal of Ali, Shakil and co-accused Sadeer Saleem, 28, on the separate charge of conspiracy to cause explosions, Mr Justice Gross said the jury’s decision must be respected.
“Defendants must receive a fair trial and must not be convicted unless the jury has been made sure of their guilt,” he said. “That is a strength of our system. By its verdict, the jury in this case indicated the crown had not made it sure the defendants were party to the conspiracy to cause explosions that ended in the July 7 bombings. That verdict is to be respected.”
The head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, Deputy Assistant Commissioner John McDowall, said Ali and Shakil shared the same extremist beliefs as the London bombers, with whom they had grown up in Beeston, Leeds.
They were acquitted of carrying out a reconnaissance mission in London with two of the men, Hasib Hussain and Jermaine Lindsay, seven months before the explosions. They insisted the trip had been an innocent social outing for sightseeing and visiting family, and had nothing to do with the attacks. During their two-day trip to London in 2004 the three visited the London Eye, the Natural History Museum and the London Aquarium.
The men were retried after an earlier jury failed to reach verdicts. After eight days of deliberations the jury cleared them unanimously, along with Saleem.
The total cost of the two trials is likely to exceed £5m and the families of the 7 July victims say the verdicts mean no one is likely to ever be brought to justice for the attacks. They are demanding a full independent inquiry into the atrocity.
Bereaved families and survivors have called on the government to publish a second Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report into the bombings without delay.
UK: Asylum Seeker Who Killed Girl, 12, in Hit and Run Walks Free Despite Judge Recommending Deportation
A failed asylum seeker who left a young girl dying under the wheels of his car after a horrific hit and run accident was freed today. Aso Mohammed Ibrahim was due to be deported after his applications for asylum and citizenship were kicked out. But the 31-year-old Iraqi Kurd has been released from custody while he makes yet another bid to stay in the UK. The family of Amy Houston, 12, who was mowed down by Ibrahim’s Rover car as she went to the shops have spoken of their outrage. Her father, Paul Houston, 39, an engineer, said: ‘The politicians talk big but I see no action. He’s used up so many resources. How many more appeals does he get? ‘This makes me more determined. If I didn’t fight then another person would find themselves in this position and I don’t want anybody else’s kid to get killed. He’s just laughing at the British justice system. It is so wrong.’ Just weeks before killing Amy, Ibrahim had been banned for nine months for driving while disqualified, without insurance and without a licence. Schoolgirl Amy, was outside her home in November 2003 when she was knocked down after running into the path of Ibrahim’s car. Amy, who lived with her mum Joanne Cocker, was trapped beneath the car but Ibrahim got out of the car and ran off. A police officer drove the ambulance to hospital so both paramedics could treat Amy but despite their efforts she died in hospital later that day. The Iraqi Kurd, who has never held a driving licence, was jailed for four months for driving while disqualified and failing to stop after an accident.
But while in the UK, Ibrahim of Blackburn married a British woman, Christina, and they have two young children. He exhausted all his applications to stay in the UK and was seized by the UK Borders Agency who said he would be deported ‘at the earliest opportunity’. Now the failed asylum seeker has won a court appeal against him being detained while his deportation case is being processed. He was freed by an immigration judge this week to the outrage of the family, Justice Secretary Jack Straw MP and the UK Border Agency. Mr Houston said: ‘I’m very disappointed that the court has let him go. It’s frustrating and the immigration officials have an impossible job when the judges do not back them.
‘I need some closure on this. It’s an insult to my daughter. I walk around the street and I’m looking over my shoulder every two minutes thinking: Am I going to see this bloke? It is my duty as a father to see this through to the end.’ Mr Straw, MP for Blackburn, said: ‘I am very concerned. I’m making arrangements to speak to Amy’s family and also with the Home Secretary.’ A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said: ‘We are extremely disappointed at the court’s decision — the UK Border Agency vigorously opposed bail for this man. ‘Individuals with no rights to remain in the UK will sometimes attempt to frustrate the removal process, but the public can be rest assured we will continue to work towards their removal as quickly as possible.’ The UK Border Agency said it could not estimate how long it would take before a decision was made on Ibrahim’s case. Ibrahim, who claims it is still too dangerous for him to return to his homeland, will have to report to a police station as part of his bail conditions. Road safety groups campaigned for years for stiffer penalties for killer drivers to be introduced. In 2007, the Government introduced longer prison sentences for people causing a death while driving a car while disqualified or without valid insurance.
UK: Boris Wants Voters to Have Power Over Police and Buses
Mayor Boris Johnson today backed an extraordinary attempt by London councils to grab power for the people.
A new City Charter would give them the right to choose local police commanders and have a crucial say on health and transport policies.
Every borough leader has signed the charter to demand the powers, which would dramatically alter the role of Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. Under the proposals, the councils would be able to:
- Appoint borough commanders instead of the Met chief doing so.
- Spend NHS money currently under the control of primary care trusts.
- Decide on GPs’ opening hours.
- Change bus routes and timetables, taking control of local services from Transport for London.
- Take charge of the trunk roads run by TfL.
The charter gives a glimpse of the ‘devolution’ of powers to local authorities which could become Conservative policy.
It also propels Mr Johnson on to the national policy stage again, as the changes would require legislation which is only likely after a general election, and opens a rift between London local authorities and Whitehall, which has increasingly centralised power.
Scotland Yard is likely to oppose the charter’s proposal on the 32 borough commanders, who are directly responsible for day-to-day policing. The scheme echoes previous Tory suggestions of directly-elected chief constables, which were ditched as impracticable.
Primary care trusts are also likely to fight to prevent councils taking control of their budgets.
Council leaders and the Mayor today said the charter would be a major step forward for local democracy.
Merrick Cockell, chairman of London Councils, said: “As a world city, London faces many challenges alongside its many opportunities. With the City Charter, London Councils and the Mayor have committed to work closer together to meet those challenges, made all the tougher by the recession.
Mr Johnson said: “For far too long relations between City Hall and the boroughs have been confrontational rather than constructive, hindering the development of our great city.
“Today we have agreed the first ever City Charter which will lead to a far more productive relationship which will benefit millions of Londoners. The charter will address the most pressing issues for the capital, ensuring we emerge stronger from the economic downturn, cut crime and violence and improve our transport system.”
Professor Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the LSE, said: gIf the City Charter makes it possible to transfer power from Whitehall to London government that would be a good thing
UK: Expert Who Stole Pages of Rare Texts Has Prison Term Halved
An internationally-renowned scholar who was jailed for cutting out and stealing pages from rare and ancient literary texts had his sentence halved today.
Wealthy book collector Farhad Hakimzadeh, 61, of Knightsbridge, took pages from 10 books worth £71,000 at the British Library and carried out four raids on Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.
Hakimzadeh pleaded guilty to 14 counts of theft in May last year at Wood Green crown court and was jailed for two years in January, but today
London’s Criminal Appeal Court ruled that he should serve 12 months.
Sentencing judge Mr Justice Blake also overturned a deportation order after hearing that Hakimzadeh was a dedicated philanthropist and could have been suffering from an “acquisitive personality disorder”.
Hakimzadeh, an Iranian who has lived in Britain for more than 30 years, is an expert on cultural relations between Europe and Persia in the 15th and 16th centuries and is a former director of the Iran Heritage Foundation, which promotes Iran’s culture.
He was caught when a reader in the British Library noticed that one text had a page missing. The library examined all 842 books which Hakimzadeh, among others, looked at between 1997 and 2005. The texts were mainly from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
When police visited Hakimzadeh’s home they found matching copies of the British Library texts.
Experts inspected the gilt edging of pages, water stains and even worm holes to reveal that Hakimzadeh had taken pages.. Thefts from the Bodleian Library, Oxford University’s main research library, were found dating from 2003.
Mr Justice Blake said in his ruling: “Hakimzadeh has suffered a considerable humiliation and loss of reputation. This is a case in which there is exceptional mitigation.”
UK: Family Courts System Accused of Hiding Evidence From Parents
Parents fighting in the family courts for contact with their children are being denied access to their personal files by a corrupt system, a leading parental rights campaigner has said.
Alison Stevens, head of Parents Against Injustice, has called for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to force social services and individual courts to comply with the Data Protection Act.
She said: “Local authorities have to send the requested files within 40 days . . . but they are often not following public law guidelines. It’s corruption within the system. They are playing God, and there must be some reason why — perhaps to hide things they have got wrong in the cases.”
Evidence is gathered from a variety of sources before children are taken from their parents in family courts. Tracking down and obtaining these documents can be very difficult because they are held by various bodies and must be applied for in different ways.
Ms Stevens said: “Parents should be entitled to their files — not just social services files but all files: from health visitors, GPs, different hospitals, the ambulance trust, psychologist reports, paediatrician notes and so on.”
The Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has written to all MPs calling for a parliamentary review into the operation of the family courts. He said: “One of the ways legal practitioners prevent parents from fighting cases is by not giving them the paperwork. Often the paperwork doesn’t add up, so if parents got hold of it they would see what was going on.”
Many parents have welcomed the call for greater accountability. Roland Simpkin (not his real name) received his social services files seven years after his children were taken into care in 2001 amid allegations of abuse.
When the allegations were shown to be unfounded, he sought to obtain the evidence held on him by social services to find out why he was still not allowed to see his children.
He was sent his files last year, after pursuing his case through a series of letters, complaints and court orders, but he found that parts of the notes had been crossed through with black pen, words had been deleted and sections of paragraphs had been removed during photocopying.
Mr Simpkin said: “Despite being repeatedly found not to have harmed or posed a risk of harm to \ children or anybody else’s, the sheer amount of delay introduced by the sluggishness of the social services department to share information is likely to be a serious negative factor in any potential repeated contact \.”
In another case, Marc Tufano, an actor who has appeared in EastEnders and The Bill, has not seen his two sons for seven years because he cannot obtain the documents that he needs to bring his case to appeal.
His children were given residence with his partner in 2003 after their relationship broke down. Though he immediately tried to launch an appeal, he said that he had found it impossible to obtain transcripts of the original court hearings because the court authorities had been slow to reply to his requests and had since claimed to have destroyed the documents.
Mr Tufano said: “I have begged these government agents to leave me alone so as I can see my sons without being harassed by endless arguments over the paperwork they require. It is made impossible for parents to get hold of the documents they need.”
Case study: I fired six sets of solicitors
Sezgi Kapur’s two daughters were taken from her in 2003 amid allegations that her violent attitude towards care professionals could be harmful to her children, allegations she denies.
Before the hearings in the family court, her requests for her social services files were ignored or denied, and she was forced to apply for court orders to disclose the documents. Without them, Ms Kapur was unable to respond to the evidence gathered against her by social services and care workers, and so was unable to fight her case effectively.
After the files were provided, she discovered that the minutes from high-level social services meetings about her case had been withheld and that memos had been circulated to those who attended asking them to “destroy all previous copies” of notes from the meeting.
Ms Kapur said: “These meetings painted a picture of me as a volatile, aggressive, threatening individual who was alienating professionals, who might one day emotionally harm my children through this purported alienation. It was incredible to read this.
“I fired six sets of solicitors because they failed to get disclosure of all my documents. If the parents do not get a fair trial, the children do not either.”
Shaun O’Connell, a lay adviser working on behalf of Environmental Law Centre, said: “If you’re not familiar with the Data Protection Act and you don’t know the format and structure, it’s impossible.”
UK: Fuel Price ‘Bombshell’ as Budget 2009 Offers Motorists ‘Generous’ Scrappage Scheme
Motorists will face further rises in petrol prices after the Budget despite recent increases in the cost of fuel but a “cash for bangers” car-scrappage scheme was introduced to try to kick-start the motor industry.
Chancellor Alistair Darling said in his Budget statement that fuel duty would increase by 2p a litre in September and there would be further rises of 1p a litre for the next four Aprils.
The AA described the rises as “an unexpected bombshell”, while the RAC said the announcement was “a brutal blow for motorists” and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) said the increases “could be the death knell for parts of the logistics sector”.
Having slipped below 90p a litre at the pumps, petrol prices are now around 95p, with this month’s planned Government fuel duty rise adding 2.12p a litre on prices.
AA president Edmund King said: “No-one was expecting another rise in September. This is a bombshell. More money will be raised from this than will be paid out in the car-scrappage scheme.
“What this means is that the scrappage scheme will be paid for in a year by motorists at the pumps.”
Under the scrappage scheme anyone with a car registered before July 31 1999 will get a cash incentive of £2,000 to trade in their old vehicle for a brand new one.
A total of £1,000 will come from the Government and the remaining £1,000 from car companies, with participants being able to buy any new vehicle, including small vans, rather than just low-pollution models.
About £300 million has been put aside by the Government to fund the scheme, which is expected to come into effect as early as mid-May and will last until the grant runs out, thus enabling 300,000 consumers to benefit.
The AA immediately hailed the announcement, saying drivers would be pleased with a “generous scheme”.
But car companies had been hoping that the Government would foot the entire £2,000-per-vehicle bill, while environmental groups had reckoned that those participating would be limited to choosing only “green” cars.
Only too aware of plunging new car sales and car plant shutdowns in recent months, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon had been pushing for the scheme to go ahead in the face of some opposition from the Treasury.
The announcement smacks of compromise between the warring factions within Whitehall, with the scheme only costing the Government £300 million rather than the £580 million first envisaged.
AA president Edmund King said: “Drivers will be delighted that a generous scrappage scheme has been given the green light. The AA first raised this issue with Downing Street last September so are pleased that a scheme has finally been given the go-ahead.”
UK: MPs Call for Inquiry as Three Acquitted Over Tube Bombs
A FOUR-YEAR investigation, two trials and £100 million ($207 million) have failed to convict anyone of the mass murder of 52 people in London’s 2005 Tube bombings, sparking calls from family and survivors for an urgent, independent review.
Security sources conceded the failure as three men, friends of the lead suicide bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan, were acquitted of being part of a terrorist support cell by a jury.
The first man, Sadeer Saleem, 28, was allowed to leave the court a free man yesterday while two others, Waheed Ali, 25 and Mohamed Shakil, 32 were to be sentenced overnight for attending terrorist training camps.
Writing in The Times, Andy Hayman, then head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism arm, has conceded that this trial was “probably the last throw of the dice” for the investigations into the July 7, 2005, bombings. “It is extremely frustrating to reach this milestone knowing that people who aided and abetted the murders of 52 innocent people remain at large,” he wrote.
The Deputy Assistant Commissioner, John McDowell, issued another call for witnesses to come forward. Relatives of victims and survivors demanded the immediate publication of an Intelligence and Security Committee report, which is widely believed to reveal the details of MI5 surveillance of Khan in 2004, including a request to West Yorkshire police that he be monitored.
However, police failed to place him under surveillance and Khan was able to fly to Pakistan where he was trained to become a suicide bomber by al-Qaeda leaders. This led to claims that the West Yorkshire police either did not receive the MI5 fax or did not act on it.
The report’s release had been delayed in case it prejudiced the three men’s trial as it is also tipped to contain detail of what security and intelligence agencies knew about the training camps in Pakistan, the people connected to the so-called 7/7 bombers, who they visited and how many times.
The Guardian reported that the ISC report also contains forensic detail of four meetings between Khan and his fellow ringleader, Shehzad Tanweer, with Omar Khyam, who masterminded a plot to blow up shopping centres and nightclubs and who was jailed for life in 2007.
Survivors and relatives of victims have warned that if the ISC report fails to answer key questions, including whether M15 and Scotland Yard informed West Yorkshire police of everything they knew, they will push for a judicial review. So far, the British Government has refused to consider any independent investigation of the process.
“We want an inquiry which can get to the bottom of what went wrong and why Khan wasn’t stopped. We don’t want a witch-hunt, we just want the truth,” said Rachel North, who was injured in the blast at King’s Cross.
Robert Webb, the brother of Laura, 29, who died in the Edgware Road bombing said: “The trial … raises again the awful question of whether the bombings could have been prevented.”
Scotland Yard said the trials and investigations yielded more than 37,000 exhibits; 4700 telephones were seized, producing more than 90,000 numbers that required analysis; and about 24,000 people were traced and interviewed. “This investigation was conducted by counter-terrorism units that were stretched to their limit and ran alongside inquiries into 11 other high-profile terrorist cases. But at the end of that inquiry the evidence that could be put before the court was circumstantial,” Mr Hayman wrote.
“Perhaps that is the only evidence there was to be found … [and] a brave choice was made to put it before a jury and let justice take its course.”
Detectives believe the bombers were protected by their communities in Leeds who closed ranks and refused to co-operate with police. Police sources said several potential witnesses had been actively dissuaded from helping the investigation. The investigative failures occurred despite the finding of at least 10 sets of unidentified fingerprints in bomb factories used by Khan, 30, and three others who died.
UK: MPs Demand to See Report Into ‘Failure’ of MI5 to Stop 7/7 Bombers
Senior MPs today demanded the immediate publication of a secret report into possible MI5 failures linked to the 7/7 bombings.
The Intelligence and Security Committee has conducted a highly sensitive study into the security services’ handling of the run-up to the 2005 London terror strikes.
No publication date has been set for the report, but the ISC’s chairman, Kim Howells, today told the Evening Standard he was “very keen” to release it.
“We would publish it tomorrow if we felt we were absolutely certain it was not going to impact on any other legal action that may be taken,” said Mr Howells.
Senior figures today called for the release of the report, which was expected to be published next month but was held back until the completion of the trial of three men accused of helping the 7/7 suicide bombers.
One security expert today claimed that the ISC could publish within a few weeks once the “dust has settled” from the court case.
Waheed Ali, 25, Sadeer Saleem, 28, and Mohammed Shakil, 32, were acquitted at Kingston crown court yesterday of plotting the London bombings following a four-year investigation and two trials costing more than £100million.
The verdict is a huge setback for anti-terrorism officers, who have conceded that no one will be prosecuted for the 52 deaths. Families of those who died in the attack and survivors called for a public inquiry into perceived failings by the security forces.
The verdict opens the way for potentially damaging disclosures by the ISC about how MI5 and West Yorkshire police missed opportunities to follow two of the bombers.
The report, which is understood to describe in detail MI5 and West Yorkshire police’s failure to intercept the attackers, was withheld in case it prejudiced the trial. Campaigners said it had been described as “devastating”.
More details are believed to have emerged about what the security and intelligence agencies knew of training camps in Pakistan, the number of people connected with the 7/7 bombers, who visited them and how many times.
It was claimed today that the ISC report has details of MI5 officers monitoring four meetings in early 2004 between Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer — the 7/7 ringleaders — and Omar Khyam, who plotted to blow up shopping centres and nightclubs and was jailed for life in 2007. Ali was also at some meetings.
Andrew Mackinlay, a senior member of the foreign affairs select committee and long-standing critic of the ISC’s lack of Parliamentary accountability, said there was “no excuse for delay” of the report’s publication.
“This is a safe committee, whose chairman is chosen by the Prime Minister, not a parliamentary committee. Clearly there are some people in the security and intelligence services who are seriously embarrassed, but we need to debate this report,” he said.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said there was a strong case for a public inquiry: “The best course now would be to publish the report as soon as possible so we can understand what happened. There’s no point in any delay. The families deserve to know the full truth.”
Peter Clarke, former head of the Met Police’s anti-terrorism branch who led the inquiry until his resignation last year, said “every possible line” in the 7/7 investigation was exhausted — even though detectives found up to 10 sets of unidentified fingerprints in bomb factories used by Sidique Khan.
Andy Hayman, Scotland Yard’s head of terrorism in July 2005, said the trial was the “last throw of the dice”, which will intensify calls for an inquiry from survivors and victims’ families.
UK: Waltham Forest Pioneers Random Weapon Checks in All Schools
Every pupil will be screened for weapons as part of a scheme to eradicate knife crime in one London borough.
Police will use metal detector arches at every secondary school in Waltham Forest, making it the first council to introduce the random checks throughout the authority area.
Chris Robbins, councillor for children and young people, said the scheme was to reassure youngsters who said they did not feel safe at school. “There’s no doubt that there is an issue of knife and weapon crime in London and it would be foolish to ignore that,” he said.
The initiative is part of a larger educational programme which involves the police talking to students in schools, Mr Robbins added.
Shona Ramsay, headteacher at Lammas School in Waltham Forest, said that she thought the programme was a good idea.
“It’s a preventative measure to deter our young people from carrying knives,” she said.
“We don’t have a problem here and I want to keep it that way. We’re really pressing home the message that schools are safe.”
From today, the arches will be used about once a term in each of the borough’s 22 secondary schools. Some schools in Britain are hiring bouncers in order to improve discipline, teachers’ unions said earlier this month.
Mike Hamer, head of the borough’s safer schools programme, said that about 12,000 pupils had been screened so far and no weapons had been found.
“We think that’s a success. What it means is that there have been no knives in schools and the students should feel safe.”
He said there had been an “overwhelmingly positive” response and denied that the arches would criminalise all young people.
Mischa Haynes, 12, said: “It makes you feel safe in school and it’s a place where you should feel safe.”
Some children go as far as wearing stab-vests to school for security, research by teachers’ unions has found.
The Government launched its “Tackling Knives” action programme last summer, which targeted ten knife-crime hotspots with searches, knife arches and increases in police patrols.
At the time, Frances Lawrence, widow of headteacher Philip Lawrence who was stabbed outside St George’s School in Maida Vale, North London, in 1995, called for more action to prevent stabbings but said knife arches amounted to “criminalisation of all young people”.
Egypt Orders Slaughter of All Pigs Over Swine Flu
[Comment from Tuan Jim: Any excuse for a haram cull.]
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precaution against swine flu even though no cases have been reported here, infuriating farmers who resisted the move and demanded compensation.
The measure was a stark expression of the panic the outbreak is spreading around the world, especially in poor countries with weak public health systems. Egypt responded similarly in recent years to an outbreak of bird flu, which is endemic to the country and has killed two dozen people.
At one large pig farming center just north of Cairo, farmers refused to cooperate with Health Ministry workers who came to slaughter the animals and the workers left without carrying out the government order.
“We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?” said Gergis Faris, a 46-year-old pig farmer in another part of Cairo who collects garbage to feed his animals. “We are uneducated people, just living day by day and trying to make a living, and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?”
Most in the Muslim world consider pigs unclean animals and do not eat pork because of religious restrictions. They are banned entirely in some Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.
However in other parts of the Muslim world, pigs are often raised by religious minorities who can eat pork.
In Jordan, the government decided Wednesday to shut down the country’s five pig farms, involving 800 animals, for violating public health safety regulations. Half the pigs will be killed and the rest will be relocated to areas away from the population, officials said.
In Egypt, pigs are raised and consumed mainly by the Christian minority, which some estimates put at 10 percent of the population. Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shaheen estimated there are between 300,000-350,000 pigs in Egypt.
“It has been decided to immediately start slaughtering all the pigs in Egypt using the full capacity of the country’s slaughterhouses,” Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told reporters after a Cabinet meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt was among the countries hardest hit by bird flu. According to the World Health Organization, it has the world’s fourth highest death toll — after Indonesia, Vietnam and China — and the largest outside of Asia. WHO has confirmed 23 deaths in Egypt and Egyptian authorities have reported three more deaths in recent weeks.
Bird flu started sweeping through poultry populations across Asia in 2003 and then jumped to humans, killing more than 250 worldwide.
Chickens used to roam every dusty street in every village across Egypt, and many of its city alleys too. But when the disease first appeared here in February 2006, 25 million birds were killed within weeks, devastating the poultry sector and particularly the family farmers. Chickens nearly all vanished from sight, slaughtered, abandoned or locked away by a population increasingly aware of, and frightened by, the disease’s stubborn grip.
The latest measure appeared designed to avert a similar panic.
In the northern suburbs of Cairo Wednesday, health authorities killed 250 pigs and buried them. Angry farmers demanded compensation and provincial governors paid them around 1,000 Egyptian pounds (about $180) per head. The farmers asked for an official government decision to set a price for each pig slaughtered.
Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza told reporters that farmers would be allowed to sell the pork meat so there would be no need for compensation.
[Comment from Tuan Jim: Ah yes, how could anyone not be able to make a profit if the market is flooded?]
Mujahedeen Veteran Among Men Released for Diplomats: Sources
UNITED NATIONS — An Algerian terror suspect, who has fought in Afghanistan, was among four jailed “mujahedeen” fighters released to al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch in exchange for two Canadian diplomats and two European women, Canwest News has been told.
Two of the other three terror suspects were Mauritanian, while the remaining one was either Jordanian or Syrian, sources in North Africa with some knowledge of the largely secret deal say.
The diplomats, former Canadian ambassador to the UN Robert Fowler, and Foreign Affairs Department official Louis Guay, arrived back in Canada Tuesday after spending several days undergoing medical check-ups and debriefing in Germany since al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released them in Mali last week.
A faction of the group held the pair hostage in the land-locked Sahel state following their kidnapping Dec. 14 in neighbouring Niger, where they had been on a UN mission.
Fowler declined comment on his ordeal when reached at his Ottawa home Tuesday.
The released Algerian al-Qaida member, Oussama Alboumerdassi, fought with the then U.S.-backed mujahedeen resistance to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, staying on until 1992, according to a North African al-Qaida observer with close links to people involved in the effort to free the Canadians.
The information is backed by a report published Tuesday in Ennahar, a daily newspaper based in the Algerian capital of Algiers. The paper promotes itself as being independent of government.
Regional security sources provided the nationalities of the other three, according to the al-Qaeda expert, while Ennahar says all four had been jailed in Mali since February 2008.
At the heart of the negotiations seeking the release of the hostages were Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and a relative of Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, identified as Mauritanian businessman Abdallah Chaffei, the newspaper reported.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper specifically thanked both Mali and Burkina Faso during a press conference last Wednesday in which he announced the Canadians’ release
Indeed, al-Qaida initially said it would release the pair and the European women — two of four tourists snatched in Mali by the terrorist group in January — in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou, a Western source close to the talks told Canwest News Service.
Insisting the Conservative government had stuck to its policy of neither paying a ransom nor freeing prisoners for hostages, Harper left open the possibility other countries had fronted a deal.
Saif al-Islam, who heads the Gaddafi Foundation charity, mediated last year in the case of two Austrians held by AQIM in Mali.
But insiders say Mr. Guay himself was also personally known to Libyan officials, having visited the country several times as he sought to get Canada invited to peace talks focused on the border between Chad and the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan.
A ransom of $2 million was paid for the Austrians’ freedom, a source close to those talks told Canwest.
In talks seeking freedom for the Canadians and Europeans, Ennahar says Chaffei joined Saif al-Islam after Burkina Faso had “taken the initiative” to manage delivery of a cash ransom that had emerged as a demand.
Their presence would have enabled Canadian and UN investigators, who had been dispatched to the region, to maintain arm’s length from the talks, analysts believe.
A former U.S. ambassador to the region told Canwest News Service that the Burkina Faso president has, in recent years, gained a reputation for being “very helpful” to the West. But he has in the past been linked to diamond smuggling that benefited regional terrorists — hence his “likely connections” to AQIM, according to one regional source.
But the real sticking block was the al-Qaeda demand for a prisoner exchange, which Canwest News revealed several weeks after the Canadians had been kidnapped, basing the report on Western sources.
Helping solve that fell to Mali President Amadou Toure, according to Ennahar.
“AQIM declared in an unofficial manner that four of its members . . . have been delivered to the north of Mali as a result of a major transaction led by the Malian president,” it said.
An unnamed European country paid a ransom of five million Euros, the Algerian daily El Khabar reported last week, and Ennahar, citing its own sources, asserted the same Tuesday.
The women freed alongside Messrs. Fowler and Guay are a Swiss and a German.
The Swiss woman’s husband and a British man remain hostage. Al-Qaeda said in a statement Sunday it would give Britain 20 days to free a prominent al-Qaeda member currently held in a British jail, or it will kill the Briton.
UK, Libya Ratify Prisoner Transfer Deal
LONDON — Britain’s government ratified a prisoner transfer deal with Libya Wednesday that could allow the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing to serve out the remainder of his sentence in the North African country.
The deal, signed in November, would allow Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, to apply to be transferred to Libya, the Foreign Office said.
But al-Megrahi would have to agree to drop the appeal against his conviction before being eligible for transfer. Scottish government officials would also have to approve the move.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether al-Megrahi, who has repeatedly vowed to clear his name, would seek to take up the opportunity. The former Libyan secret agent is terminally ill with prostate cancer and has only just begun appealing his conviction in the Lockerbie case, a process expected to last a year.
A message left with al-Megrahi’s Edinburgh-based lawyer, Margaret Scott, was not immediately returned.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said ministers there would not comment on al-Megrahi’s case unless the Libyan applied to be sent home, which, so far, he had not.
“It’s a hypothetical situation,” the spokeswoman said, speaking anonymously in line with government policy. “We haven’t received anything yet.”
A court in The Hague, Netherlands found al-Megrahi guilty in 2001 of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. The Dec. 21, 1988 attack killed all 259 people aboard the London to New York flight and 11 people on the ground.
But al-Megrahi’s lawyers claim he was convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence and have fought to overturn the conviction. Scottish judges turned down an appeal in 2002, but al-Megrahi was granted another chance two years ago following a major legal review. His appeal began Tuesday at the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh.
Relatives of the victims of Pan Am 103 are divided over al-Megrahi’s conviction. Some British families have said they think he is innocent, but relatives of U.S. victims have said he is guilty and should remain in jail.
Israel: the World According to Lieberman
He’s only been in the job for a month, but already the foreign minister is fed up with the ‘slogans’ he keeps hearing from his international counterparts: occupation, settlements, land-for-peace, two-state solutions… His favored key words? Security (for Israel). A stronger economy (for the Palestinians). And stability (for all). Bringing peace to our region is more complex than sloganeering would allow, he tells The Jerusalem Post in this interview, his first with an Israeli newspaper. And it’s time we all faced up to the inconvenient reality.
Last Thursday, just a few hours after The Jerusalem Post completed this interview with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, his American counterpart, Hillary Clinton, gave testimony on Capitol Hill that forcefully underlines the different emphases placed by the two allied governments on Middle East problem-solving.
If Israel wants the backing of moderate Arab nations in countering the profound threat posed by Iran, said the American secretary of state, then it needs to get deeply engaged in peace efforts with the Palestinians.
“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can’t stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand,” she told the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. Moderate Arab countries, she elaborated, “believe that Israel’s willingness to re-enter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran.”
As Lieberman made crystal-clear in our interview, Israel has no desire to stall peace-making efforts with the Palestinians. Quite the contrary. The new government, he said, “intends to take the initiative.”
But rather than progress with the Palestinians holding the key to combating Iran, Lieberman emphatically sees combating Iran as the key to progress with the Palestinians.
As he put it, “It’s impossible to resolve any problem in our region without resolving the Iranian problem. This relates to Lebanon, to their influence in Syria, their deep involvement within Egypt, in the Gaza Strip, in Iraq. If the international community wants to resolve its Middle East problems, it’s impossible because the biggest obstacle to this solution is the Iranians.”
The new foreign minister, who insisted on conducting the conversation in his reasonable and improving English, was reluctant to go into the specifics of the new foreign policy strategy the coalition will be following. This is in part because it is still a work in progress, and in part because it is to be formally unveiled only on May 18, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House.
And despite several attempts to draw him out, he wouldn’t rule in, or rule out, Palestinian statehood.
He did, however, sketch out some parameters. Among them: the contention that progress depends on improved security for Israel, a bolstered economy for the Palestinians, and stability for both; the refusal to so much as discuss a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees; the clarification that Palestinian recognition of the “Jewish state” is critical to “real peace” but is not a precondition for substantive talks, and the goal of “suffocating” Hamas.
He also all-but ridiculed the idea of further indirect negotiations with Syria for the time being, added some nuances to his position on the hugely controversial issue of a loyalty oath for Israeli citizenship, insisted he would not be forced out of his job by the corruption investigations surrounding him, but stressed that his own personal situation would not affect Israel Beiteinu’s presence in the coalition anyway.
Characteristically soft-spoken, puffing somewhat half-heartedly at a cigar along the way, Lieberman was carefully setting out what amounts to a call for his international colleagues to remake their thinking on Israel and the region — to “drop the slogans,” face up to a reality that is far more complex than it is convenient to acknowledge, and give this new Israeli government some credit and some time as it tries to formulate proposals that will succeed where past peace-making efforts have failed.
He said his impression, to date, was that his foreign counterparts were taking the new government seriously, and respected him for his straight-talking. Clinton’s remarks on Capitol Hill, however, make plain that it will be an uphill battle for Lieberman and the Netanyahu government, once they overhaul Israel’s approach to peace-making, to persuade the international community to do anything similar.
Can we start with the issue of two states for two peoples. Wasn’t the international basis for the establishment of Israel that there be a Jewish entity alongside an Arab entity? Is your government now departing from this paradigm or is the principle of two states still the applicable one?
First of all, we must understand why the Palestinian issue is deadlocked, because since 1993 we really made every effort. We had very dovish governments. We can start with Ehud Barak at Camp David, who made a very generous offer to [Yasser] Arafat and he rejected it. As for the Ariel Sharon government, we undertook an insane process called disengagement. We transferred thousands of Jews from the Gaza Strip. We evacuated tens of flowering settlements and we received in return Hamas and Kassam rockets. The last government of Ehud Olmert is the same. From what I saw in the papers, he really made a very very generous offer to Abu Mazen. And the same thing happened: Abu Mazen rejected it.
Were there elements that Olmert offered that were surprising to you?
Of course. I was shocked, as was everybody.
But more than this offer, more important at the end of the day: what was the final result? This was a very dovish government — without Lieberman, without Netanyahu. It was Olmert, Barak and Tzipi Livni. And the result? The Second Lebanon War, the operation in Gaza, severed diplomatic relations with Mauritania and Qatar, our soldier Gilad Schalit still in captivity…
[Comment from Tuan Jim: 6 pages long]
100,000 Nepalis Get Working Visas for Saudi Arabia
KATHMANDU, April 29: At a time when other labor destinations are downsizing foreign workforce due to deepening financial meltdown, Saudi Arabia has approved 100,000 new visas for Nepali workers for the year 2009.
“Saudi officials assured us that there would not be any lay-offs of migrant workers including Nepalis this year as the financial downturn has nominal effect in the Saudi economy,” Sthaneswore Devkota, the executive director of Foreign Employment Promotion Board, told myrepublica.com on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia had approved 80,000 visas for Nepali blue-collar workers for 2008.
Devkota is one of the members of Nepali delegation that visited three Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. The six-member team led by Labor Minister Lekh Raj Bhatta spent 10 days in the countries and assessed the effects of global financial storm on Nepali laborers.
Qatar, which is battling worse effects of the global financial crisis, has lately approved new 112,000 visas and 164,000 visas for Nepali youths for the year 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Saudi Arabia has offered jobs to Nepali workers in construction, manufacturing, service and dairy sectors.
“They (Saudi officials) have also asked us to re-open work permit for house maids to Saudi Arabia. But we are not in position to send Nepali women there, given the growing cases of sexual abuse, financial exploitation and other misbehaviors against women migrant workers, said Devkota. Nepali embassies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing shelter to 14 and 2 Nepali women respectively at safe houses set up inside the embassies.
About 500 Nepalis are languishing in different jails in the conservative Muslim nation for over-staying, breaching employment contracts and violating local laws among other things.
According to the Department of Foreign Employment, a total 38,064 Nepali jobseekers left for Saudi Arabia, the second most popular destination for Nepali youths, after Qatar — during first nine months of the fiscal year 2008/09. The number was 27,215 during the same period last year.
The Nepali delegation had held discussions with Saudi junior labor minister, office bearers of Saudi Arabia’s Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Nepali workers and embassy officials, among others.
According to Saudi government figures, altogether 207,500 Nepalis are working in the Saudi Arabia, which has the population of 23.9 million. However, Nepali embassy claims that over 500,000 Nepalis are working there.
80 Are Killed in 3 Suicide Bombings in Iraq
BAGHDAD — At least 80 people died and 120 others were injured Thursday in three bombings, one by a female suicide bomber in Baghdad who, Iraqi officials said, held a young child’s hand as she set off her explosives among a group of women and children receiving emergency food aid.
The second suicide bombing struck a restaurant filled with Iranian tourists in a restive city north of the capital.
The number of people killed in the attacks is the largest single-day total since February 2008.
The overall level of violence in Iraq is at its lowest since the American invasion in 2003, and Iraqis have been venturing out to parks, restaurants and nightclubs. But a string of recent attacks, highly organized and carried out under tight security, has raised worries that Baathist and jihadi militants are regrouping into a smaller but still lethal insurgency seeking to reassert itself as the American troop presence on the ground is reduced before a full withdrawal in 2011.
“The government was treating the situation like they’d won a victory,” said Sheik Jalal al-Din Saghir, a member of Parliament from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite political party. “They relaxed. We can’t ignore that there were security successes, but that doesn’t mean the story is finished.”
Abu Dhabi Torture Tape Elicits Global Shrug
Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a regular dose of international punditry at its finest. Today: One of the most shocking things about the Abu Dhabi torture tape has been the lack of official reaction. Imagine the furor if pictures of a British Royal, or American senator, had been filmed viciously attacking a bound, half-naked victim, and the images had been beamed round the world. But the images Sheik Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, half-brother of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, have done just that, and resulted in nary a peep of outrage.
The videotape was smuggled out of Abu Dhabi, one of the kingdomlets that make up the United Arab Emirates. Bassam Nabulsi, a Texan businessman and former partner of Sheik Issa, says he was falsely arrested and tortured because he refused to hand over the tape after they fell out.
ABC News screened excerpts from the tape last week but deemed several portions too revolting to be aired.
The UAE is a key U.S. ally and anxious to present itself as a modern nation. It is also keen to keep up the flow of foreign investment and the tourists needed to fill the glittering playgrounds of Dubai. But all this is window-dressing. It remains a collection of feudal states ruled by royal families.
Its official response underlines this uncomfortable fact: The interior ministry, which is headed by another of Sheik Issa’s brothers, does not deny the incident took place but says the matter has now been sorted out “privately” between the sheik and the victim, identified as Mohammed Shah Poor, an Afghan grain dealer.
The ministry also maintains “all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the police department” and “the incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behaviour.”
“This is plainly not good enough,” writes Brian Whitaker in The Guardian, but argues it’s par for the course in the Middle East, where many rulers believe their countries are family businesses. Local newspapers, even supposedly independent ones, have remained mute.
“Silence in the UAE itself is only to be expected, especially with a new media law set to impose fines of more than $1.3-million for articles that ‘disparage’ members of the royal family or government officials. With penalties like that, there is no real hope for the kind of soul-searching seen in the U.S. over Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo — and consequently there is nothing to stop it happening again.
But whatever the interior ministry may say, there is a pattern of behaviour here — and it’s not just about torture or one sheik’s alleged fondness for making and watching sadistic videos. It’s about the abuse of state power for private purposes.”
One of the few Middle Eastern voices to be raised in condemnation has come from Iran, which has its own axe to grind. Writing for Press TV, Kian Mokhtari says the sheik’s barbarity “leaves one shaking with nausea and disbelief … We wonder what should be done to the Sheikdom princes who have been shortchanging their entire Arab populations for decades to pay for weapons they cannot even operate let alone service and maintain.
It has since transpired that the U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi has been fully aware of the torture tapes but has failed to take action. UAE is another one of the U.S.’s critical allies in its so-called ‘war on terror.’
The collection of Western-backed royalties on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf or UAE, has been awash with allegations of cruelty to foreign workers for years. Tales of physical and sexual abuse committed against migrant workers have been rife But just as the U.S. chose to do nothing about images of Saddam Hussein’s generals kicking political prisoners to the ground and shooting them in the head — because the Baghdad regime at the time served as a strategic convenience — [it] has chosen to turn a blind eye about the on-going abuse in UAE.”
In the U.S. itself — where there has also been little comment — some lawmakers are expressing doubts about dealing with the Emiratis. Representative James McGovern, co-chairman of the House human rights commission, has called for a freeze on government aid to the UAE and wants “Mr. Nahyan” to be refused a U.S. visa, The Daily Telegraph reported.
In a letter to Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, he wrote, “I cannot describe the horror and revulsion I felt when witnessing what is on this video … I could not watch it without constantly flinching.” He also urged her to “express the outrage of our nation regarding these acts … After viewing that tape I’m uncomfortable doing any business with them quite frankly, never mind entering into some sort of nuclear cooperative agreement.”
He’s referring to a pending nuclear agreement between the U.S. and the UAE under which Washington agreed to transfer nuclear items to Abu Dhabi. Although the agreement was signed by the Bush administration, the new U.S. government under President Barack Obama should decide on whether to move the deal forward.
Hariri Court Orders Generals’ Release
LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands — A U.N.-backed tribunal on Wednesday ordered the immediate release of four pro-Syrian generals being held in a Beirut prison for the 2005 truck-bomb assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
Judge Daniel Fransen ordered the Lebanese generals freed after prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to justify their continued detention. They have been in custody in Lebanon since August 2005, six months after Hariri and 22 others were killed in a suicide bombing.
But prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said the generals could be arrested again if more evidence against them is uncovered.
Fireworks and scattered gunfire erupted across Beirut after the decision was beamed live to local television networks from the court’s headquarters in the Netherlands.
Fransen also demanded that Lebanese authorities protect the generals after their unconditional release and said they should no longer be considered suspects.
Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said Lebanese authorities were taking “immediate measures” to free the generals, taking into consideration measures for their security.
The four generals were the only suspects being held in the case. Three other suspects jailed for more than three years were set free on bail in Beirut in February, a few days before the tribunal began its work and jurisdiction of the case was transferred to the court.
The release could have an immediate political impact. Lebanon is heading into a crucial parliamentary election that pits a pro-Western faction headed by Hariri’s son Saad against an opposition dominated by the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah.
Saad Hariri’s faction is struggling to hold onto its legislative majority while the opposition has taken up the cause of the four generals.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has opposed the continued detention of the four, saying they should be charged and put on trial if they were suspected of involvement or otherwise released.
Fransen said a key witnesses had retracted a statement that initially incriminated the generals, undermining the case against them.
Bellemare said in court he would not appeal. He said in a written submission this week that the “evidence available to him currently is not sufficiently credible” to keep detaining the four generals.
So far, Bellemare has not indicted anyone and has not identified any other suspects in the suicide bombing. But he vowed to continue his investigation.
“Not only should people understand that the investigation is bigger than the case of the four officers, they should also understand that should any of the investigative leads direct us back to them with sufficient credible evidence I will seek their detention and indictment,” he said in a statement.
Hariri’s assassination and accusations by his supporters of Syrian involvement sparked massive protests in Lebanon and together with international pressure forced Syria to withdraw its army from the country, ending 29 years of domination.
The four ordered freed were former General Security chief Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed; Maj. Gen. Ali Hajj, the ex-Internal Security Forces director general; Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar, the former military intelligence chief; and the former Presidential Guards commander, Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan.
At Jamil Sayyed’s home in Beirut, relatives burst into tears of joy, hugging and kissing each other. Women relatives ululated in a traditional sign of jubilation.
His son, Malek al-Sayyed, said he had been confident that his father would be freed.
“The important thing is that they be released as soon as possible so that this continued unjustified detention comes to an end,” he said.
At the suburban Roumieh prison where the four generals are imprisoned, an unknown relative fell to his knees and kissed the ground.
Samar Hajj, wife of Ali Hajj, said from outside the prison that she was told they would be released within 24 hours.
“I’m too numb and too happy,” she said.
Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah offered his “congratulations for the officers on their freedom.”
“It is a joyful day for the Lebanese people and a day of mourning for Lebanese judiciary,” the lawmaker said, adding the decision discredited the Lebanese judiciary.
Jonathan Kay: Mommy Blows Up With Toddler — This Has Got to be a New Low for Militant Islam
Having spent this morning catching up on my weekend reading, I came across this Page 4 article from Friday’s New York Times. Here’s the lead paragraph: “BAGHDAD — At least 80 people died and 120 others were injured Thursday in three bombings, one by a female suicide bomber in Baghdad who, Iraqi officials said, held a young child’s hand as she set off her explosives among a group of women and children receiving emergency food aid.”
Even putting aside our baseline revulsion at terrorism, there are three especially hideous things that jump out from this:
1) A mother deliberately taking her (presumed) child with her as she immolates herself. For all the hundreds of suicide bombings that Iraq has already witnessed, this has got to be a first.
2) This was a line for food aid. Islamists have gone from attacking U.S. soldiers, to attacking Iraqi soldiers, to attacking police stations, to attacking the religious ceremonies of rival sects — on down the line of nihilism until, now, they are reduced to blowing up hungry people seeking sustenance.
3) This hideous crime was played on page four of The New York Times. And a quick scan of other media suggests it got similar B-rate treatment elsewhere. This sort of act would have been worth a worldwide banner headline a decade ago. But now, it’s just another demented Islamist senselessly slaughtering fellow Muslims. With her kid. Yawn.
Says a lot about the world we live in, doesn’t it?
‘Turkey Not Worried by Israeli Reaction’
Turkish military chief Gen. Ilker Basbug said Wednesday that he is not concerned about Israel’s reaction to a joint drill involving Turkish and Syrian soldiers.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called this week’s exercise a worrisome development.
Basbug told reporters Wednesday he was “not concerned by Israel’s reaction,” and Turkey was not seeking any other country’s consent.
The drill, the first-ever between Turkey and Syria, ends Wednesday and marks improvement in once strained ties between both countries.
On Monday, however, a senior Israeli strategic analyst told The Jerusalem Post that the Turkish military was “not happy” about the drill.
“It does not like Syria, and views it as a problematic state,” said Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
Inbar added that he was in touch with a number of Turkish army officers.
Tensions between the secular Turkish military and the ruling Islamist AKP party are high following the arrests of more than 200 people, including dozens of senior army officers, over an alleged coup plot to overthrow the government.
Last week, four additional army officers were arrested and an arms cache was seized by the Turkish authorities.
Turkey ‘The Perfect Example, ‘ Says Albright
ISTANBUL — Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — one of the authors of a recent report by the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Project — has praised President Barack Obama’s efforts to engage the Muslim world, reported Voice of America. Albright said Turkey is a perfect example of both a Muslim and a democratic country.
At a meeting with ambassadors from the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, Albright said that “There is no doubt in my mind that Muslim countries can be democracies,” Albright said. “Turkey is a perfect example of that. It is very evident, and, actually, in my study of religions, in many ways Islam is maybe the most democratic religion, because there is nobody between you and God. So I do not think that is something that can be used as a reason to not have Muslim democracies.”
Indonesia: Singapore Terrorist Jailed
The defiant Jemaah Palembang founder has no plans for an appeal
JAKARTA — AN Indonesian court on Tuesday jailed Singaporean Mohammad Hassan Saynudin for 18 years for killing a Christian school teacher and planning terrorist attacks against Westerners in Indonesia.
His two Indonesian accomplices, Wahyudi and Ali Masyhudi, were sentenced to 12 years’ and 10 years’ jail respectively by the South Jakarta District Court.
Indonesian prosecutors had demanded that Hassan, 36, who also plotted to crash a plane into Changi airport in 2001, spend 20 years in prison.
Despite the shorter sentence, the terrorist was enraged and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ — Arabic for ‘God is great’ — three times in the packed courtroom.
‘You can throw me in jail,’ he said as he was whisked out of the courtroom. ‘But my son will just follow in my path.’
The Singaporean has two sons from his marriage to an Indonesian woman from Central Java, and three other sons in Singapore from an earlier marriage.
He told The Straits Times that he preferred not to appeal against the sentence.
‘We don’t believe in the judicial system and we don’t recognise it because it is not according to the Quran and the Prophet’s teachings,’ he said.
The defiant Hassan appeared to have no remorse for his crimes.
‘Frankly, I have prepared myself for the verdict,’ he said. ‘This is the risk we have to take as mujahideen in fighting in the way of Allah.’
Indonesia: Yudhoyono Wins Backing
JAKARTA: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party has secured the support of 14 minor parties which won a combined 12.5 per cent of votes in the legislative elections, The Jakarta Globe said on Tuesday.
This could strengthen the party’s lead for the July presidential election by reducing the possibility of a second round of voting.
The Democratic Party is leading with 20.6 per cent of the votes tallied so far in the April 7 legislative elections. Counting continues, with full results to be announced on May 9.
The Democratic Party’s secretary-general, Mr Marzuki Ali, said the coalition it is building aims to limit the number of candidates competing in the first round of voting to just two, The Jakarta Globe said.
‘The political costs are too high if the presidential election is conducted over two rounds. Voters could get tired of heading to polling stations to vote,’ he said.
In the July 8 presidential elections, a candidate must get at least 50 per cent of the valid votes to be declared the winner. There are 171 million registered voters in Indonesia.
If there are three or more presidential candidates, and none of them secures the minimum 50 per cent, a second round of voting will be held involving the top two.
Dr Yudhoyono is expected to retain his presidency after his party’s strong showing in the legislative elections. Parties that have agreed to support the Democratic Party include the Crescent Star Party [Islamic], Prosperous Peace Party [Islamic], Concern for the Nation Functional Party and Reform Star Party, the Jakarta newspaper said.
Combined with expected support from the Prosperous Justice Party [Islamic] and the National Awakening Party, the Democratic coalition could represent about 46.5 per cent of the popular vote.
Indonesia: Soldiers Mutiny in Jayapura
SENTANI (Indonesia) — ABOUT 200 Indonesian soldiers mutinied and fired shots into the air Indonesia’s politically sensitive eastern Papua region on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent witnessed. Soldiers from an army battalion based near Papua provincial capital Jayapura’s main airport stormed their commander’s office compound, smashing windows and stealing rifles in an apparent dispute over the costs transporting a dead comrade’s body.
Soldiers wielding sticks and rifles guarded the edges of the compound, firing into the air and turning away residents and journalists who tried to approach.
An adjutant to Papua military commander Armin Yusri Nasution refused to comment on the incident when contacted by AFP.
It was unclear if the battalion commander was being held by the soldiers or was somewhere else when the mutiny happened.
Papua police commander Bagus Eko Danto said police had not intervened to defuse the mutiny.
‘This is inside 751 Battalion, so if there is no invitation to handle this then I can’t go there,’ Danto said.
Papua, a vast, resource-rich region, sits on the western end of New Guinea island and has seen a low-level insurgency by armed rebels since its incorporation into Indonesia in the 1960s.
The region is off-limits to foreign journalists without rare government permission. — AFP
Malaysia: Arab Investors to Build ‘Arab Cities’
Arab tourists seek “halal tourism” instead of US, Europe
Arab investors will spend $303 million on building two “Arab Cities” to lure Arab tourists to the historic Malaysian town of Malacca, the Star daily said Wednesday.
The $1.1 billion ringgit project includes an Arabian bazaar, Middle Eastern restaurants, shopping complex, five-star hotel, water theme park, and a unisex Arabic health and beauty spa.
One of the “Arab Cities” will be built on a small island lying south of Malacca town, while the other will be located at a beachside resort just west of the historic port.
Malacca chief minister Mohamad Ali Rustam reportedly said the project, due for completion by 2012, will attract more Middle Eastern tourists and give locals a chance to experience Arabic culture.
Arab tourists spend on average 10 times more than other tourists, according to recent reports on Malaysian tourism that showed an increasing number of Muslim Middle Eastern tourists are seeking “halal tourism” in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei while avoiding the U.S. and Europe because of post Sept. 11, 2001 stereotyping and racial profiling.
The country’s tourism industry has seen a sharp rise in the number of big-spending tourists from the Middle East in recent years, attracted by the tropical country’s Islamic image.
Muslim friendly services
Arab Muslim travelers prefer Muslim destinations where Muslim-friendly food ,halal, and hotel facilities with a copy of the Holy Qur’an and Makkah-prayer direction in each room are easily available.
Some 264,338 visitors from the region made their way to Malaysia last year, almost double the figure recorded in 2005.
The capital Kuala Lumpur has already seen the introduction of an “Arab
Street” to make tourists from the Middle East feel at home, while hotel and restaurants serve West Asian food and bring Arab cooks to work in the country.
Tourism was Malaysia’s second highest foreign exchange earner in 2007, raking in $14 billion in revenue from 21 million tourists arrivals.
The government however said it expected tourist numbers to fall 9 percent to 20 million this year as the global economic slowdown hits.
Malaysia: ‘Arab Cities’ in Malacca
KUALA LUMPUR — ARAB investors will spend US$303 million (S$452 million) on building two ‘Arab Cities’ to lure Middle Eastern tourists to the historic Malaysian town of Malacca, a report said on Wednesday. The 1.1 billion ringgit project includes an Arabian bazaar, Middle Eastern restaurants, shopping complex, five-star hotel, water theme park, and a unisex Arabic health and beauty spa, the Star daily said on Wednesday.
One of the ‘Arab Cities’ will be built on a small island lying south of Malacca town, while the other will be located at a beachside resort just west of the historic port, it said.
Malacca chief minister Mohamad Ali Rustam reportedly said the project, due for completion by 2012, will attract more Middle Eastern tourists and give locals a chance to experience Arabic culture.
Malaysia’s tourism industry has seen a sharp rise in the number of big-spending tourists from the Middle East in recent years, attracted by the tropical country’s Islamic image.
Some 264,338 visitors from the region made their way to Malaysia last year, almost double the figure recorded in 2005.
The capital Kuala Lumpur has already seen the introduction of an ‘Arab Street’ to make tourists from the Middle East feel at home, while hotel and restaurants serve West Asian food and bring Arab cooks to work in the country.
Tourism was Malaysia’s second highest foreign exchange earner in 2007, raking in US$14 billion in revenue from 21 million tourists arrivals.
The government however expects tourist numbers to fall 9.3 per cent to 20 million this year as the global economic slowdown hits. — AFP
Sri Lanka: Diplomatic Row Boils With Push for Sri Lanka Truce
COLOMBO (AFP) — The foreign ministers of Britain and France, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, have arrived in Sri Lanka, officials said, looking to negotiate a humanitarian ceasefire in the island’s civil war.
But Miliband and Kouchner are expected to get a frosty reception from the island’s hawkish leadership, which says it is on the cusp of victory and has so far brushed off global alarm over the humanitarian crisis.
Sri Lankan authorities on Tuesday denied Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt a visa to join the peace mission — prompting a major diplomatic row with the European Union.
A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official indicated that Colombo felt it had already done enough by letting in Miliband and Kouchner, who also want to see the government lift a ban on foreign aid staff working in the war-torn north.
“The Swedish minister also wanted to jump on that bandwagon and we said no,” the official said. “Some think they can land up at our airport and expect a red carpet treatment. We are not a colony.”
Bildt described the snub as “exceedingly strange behaviour” and said he had recalled the top Swedish diplomat to Colombo.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said Sri Lanka’s government had made a “grave mistake.”
The row is a symptom of Sri Lanka’s growing antipathy towards the West, with officials here regularly accusing the United Nations and aid groups of supporting or colluding with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
After months of heavy fighting, the Tamil Tigers have now been confined to a tiny strip of coastal jungle in the northeast and are said by the military to be down to their last few hundred fighters.
With Colombo sensing victory after three decades of battling the guerrillas and numerous failed peace efforts, a European diplomat admitted Miliband and Kouchner’s appeals for a truce will fall on deaf ears.
“There certainly won’t be a very good atmosphere in their meetings,” the Colombo-based diplomat told AFP.
According to the French foreign ministry, the two will also urge “respect for international humanitarian law and protection of civilians” — although here too the Sri Lankan government says it has done nothing wrong.
At the centre of international concern are tens of thousands of Tamil civilians caught up in the fighting.
A UN document circulated among diplomats in Colombo last week said as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed and another 14,000 wounded in the government’s offensive so far this year.
The island’s government has for months blocked most aid agencies from working in the war-torn north, and has herded escaping civilians into overcrowded camps which are guarded by the military.
Aid workers who have visited the camps have testified to food shortages, woeful sanitation, a desperate medical situation and chronic overcrowding.
The UN also estimates that a further 50,000 non-combatants are still trapped in the conflict area.
Although the LTTE has been widely condemned for holding the civilians as human shields, the UN’s rights chief has said both sides in the long-running ethnic war may be guilty of war crimes.
Earlier this week the UN’s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, left the island empty handed after he tried to secure greater humanitarian access.
Although President Mahinda Rajapakse pledged Monday that air strikes and attacks using heavy-calibre weapons would stop, ground attacks have continued.
Sri Lanka: Colombo’s Task
Bowing to international pressure, Colombo has agreed to suspend combat operations with heavy weapons in the no-fire zone (NFZ) in the Wanni region. For thousands of Tamils who are yet to move out of the NFZ, this is a welcome breather. UN agencies estimate that over 50,000 people are held up in the 10 sq km area, which according to the Sri Lankan army is also the hideout of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) including its leader Prabhakaran. The pursuit of Prabhakaran can’t be at the cost of the lives of civilians who want to flee the war zone.
Over a lakh people have already fled the NFZ. Most of them are in detention centres waiting to be screened by the armed forces before they are allowed to shift to refugee camps. Reports indicate that there is a shortage of food, medicines and other relief material. India has announced aid worth Rs 100 crore. Colombo must allow UN agencies to provide relief to refugees and involve them in rehabilitating the displaced Tamils.
However, the rehabilitation efforts must be matched by a political package that addresses the core concerns of the Tamils. Since Colombo is convinced that the three-decade-old war is coming to a close, it must not wait any longer to announce devolution of political powers and other steps that could begin a process of reconciliation between Sinhala and Tamil communities. The Tamil issue predates the LTTE and is unlikely to end with it unless the core issues that created the insurgency are settled. Colombo must convince Tamils that their political and cultural rights would be protected after the defeat of the LTTE. The LTTE, in any case, was hardly an upholder of democratic norms and was intolerant of Tamil politicians and intellectuals who disagreed with its militaristic vision of a Tamil homeland. Colombo now has the opportunity to dispel the notion that the LTTE alone can meet the aspirations of the Tamils.
Politicians in Tamil Nadu must now stop endorsing the LTTE’s claim to be the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils. The political goals of the LTTE and the concerns of Tamils must be separated. The former is a terrorist organisation that has used unbridled violence to promote its vision of a Tamil homeland. From recruiting children as soldiers to building a cult of suicide bombers, the LTTE has revealed itself as a ruthless military outfit with scant respect for democratic values. The world would be better off without it.
Sri Lanka: Tamil Plight in Lanka
It serves no purpose for New Delhi to put a spin on Colombo’s decision to ‘conclude’ combat operations in the north and interpret it, as has been done by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, as “cessation of hostilities” by Sri Lanka under Indian pressure. Apart from the fact that the Sri Lankan President’s office, in a lengthy statement, has debunked any such claim, triumphalist assertions by the Congress and its southern ally, the DMK, can only raise hackles in Colombo and make life that much more difficult for the ethnic Tamil civilians who are trapped in the war zone and are being used as a human shield by what remains of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s bruised and battered leadership. It may not be entirely inconsequential that the Sri Lankan Army has been prompt in pointing out that “conclusion of combat operations” does not mean that it has declared a ceasefire with the LTTE. What it means is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has instructed the defence forces “to end the use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties”. That, of course, is a step in the right direction, not least because Mr Rajapaksa cannot disown responsibility for the safety and security of the Tamil civilians. They are citizens of Sri Lanka and Colombo cannot abandon them at this crucial hour. In fact, the Government’s response will be indicative of how serious Mr Rajapaksa is of ensuring equal economic, social and political rights for his country’s ethnic Tamil minority population, and thus disprove the virulent propaganda that has sustained the LTTE’s murderous campaign for a quarter of a century. Seen in this context, it is encouraging to note that Mr Rajapaksa’s Government has declared that it will continue to rescue thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the last five sq km held by the Tigers.
This should silence critics who have been more focussed on the inevitable collateral damage of the amazing military campaign that has destroyed a dreaded terrorist organisation; no other country can boast of a similar successful assault on terrorism. Given the fact that India has not remained untouched by LTTE terror — V Pirabhakaran plotted the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi — New Delhi should have been more circumspect in pleading for a ceasefire. That the Congress and its spokesmen have been rather unrestrained in their comments reflects the party’s inability to look ahead and factor in the repercussions of perceived interference by India in what is clearly Sri Lanka’s internal affair. In the past we have paid a terrible price for episodic responses, including the disastrous peace-keeping mission, dictated by domestic political ‘compulsions’. We seem to be on the verge of committing the same mistake all over again. Competitive chauvinism in Tamil Nadu, where the main contenders in the general election are tripping over each other to use the plight of Tamil civilians caught in Sri Lanka’s war on terror for electoral gains, should not impinge on India’s foreign policy. The DMK has never made an effort to hide its sympathies for Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka. Its bluster is in keeping with its identity politics. Nor is it surprising that the Congress, which is desperate to pick up seats and keep the DMK in good humour, should play the ‘Tamil card’. What is surprising is that Ms J Jayalalithaa should join the pro-Eelam chorus. She, among all, would understand that this is best avoided.
Why the Mumbai Attacks Are Not a Poll Issue
The view from Delhi is often blinkered. Pundits in India’s capital smugly pontificate on the country’s politics and the direction it is taking. Delhi is a bully pulpit for its politicians, journalists, NGOs and commentators alike; they tell us what is good and bad for the rest of the country. Very often, it makes for dodgy perception. Delhi’s take on India also leads to a lot of myth making, not unusual in a complex society like India.
I am reminded of this again when I go visiting Kumar Ketkar, Mumbai’s most respected journalist. Mr Ketkar edits a mass circulation Marathi newspaper and is a scholar. He sits in a small office in the shadow of the looming Oberoi hotel towers on the seafront. The hotel was one of the places targeted during last November’s attacks.
It is early evening and Mr Ketkar’s newsroom is buzzing with activity. Polls are a little more than a day away, and the editor is bemused by some of the reports emanating from Delhi. Maharashtra — of which Mumbai is the capital — is a politically important state; it sends 48 MPs to parliament.
Still, as Mr Ketkar says, the national (that is, Delhi) media is obsessed by Mumbai. It is speculating that a Maharashtra leader who also runs India’s cricket is a dark horse prime ministerial candidate. It is overflowing with stories on how the young in Mumbai are “rocking the vote” because they feel insecure after last November’s attacks.
“Sometimes it feels like Maharashtra doesn’t exist beyond Mumbai,” says Mr Ketkar, grinning. “Mumbai just dominates the perceptions about Maharashtra, it overshadows Maharashtra.”
It’s a compelling thought. No other city in India, I agree, dominates a state so much. It is the country’s financial capital and home to one of the world’s busiest film industries, its best-known, best-selling English pulp writer and many such “beautiful people”, as India’s media lovingly call them. The only city which comes close is Delhi. But the self-obsessed capital is only a boring city state.
It’s time for Mr Ketkar to burst some myths. We begin with last November’s attacks and how it will affect polling on Thursday.
“Not a soul is bothered about the November attacks outside Mumbai. Even in parts of Mumbai it is not an issue. I’d even say that outside south Mumbai (the posh part of the city where the attacks took place) it is not much of an election issue at all,” the genial editor says.
Mr Ketkar says that if the governing Congress party loses the vote in Maharashtra, it will be despite the November attacks. A few years ago, floods killed more than 600 people in Mumbai. People drowned in the filthy rising waters, and suffocated inside their stranded cars. Relatively rich farmers have taken their lives by the hundred — battered by debt, failed crops and low prices.. But in the dystopic world of breaking news, only the last big story matters.
Ordinary people I talk to here bemoan the “complete non-performance” of the lacklustre Congress party here for the past 10 years. “It is a lost decade for Maharashtra,” Mr Ketkar says. “Nothing much happened here. So the Mumbai attacks will not be a deciding factor.”
The killings, suggests Mr Ketkar, may be only a factor in upscale south Mumbai where the rich and “beautiful people” live. But the problem is that it is also the most politically alienated constituency in the country — not so long ago, it recorded a lowly 29% turnout in a general election. South Mumbai long ago seceded from the republic of India, in a manner of speaking. The rich here don’t really need the government. “They live,” as Mr Ketkar, says “with one foot in Mumbai, and the other in New York.” The poor need the government more, and Mumbai is overflowing with them.
So what does Mumbai’s 26/11 stand for then? I ask Mr Ketkar. Surely, it cannot but leave some imprint on the people and their lives?
“The attacks stand for the rejuvenation of Mumbai’s middle class. The city has always had an indifferent middle class. The attacks will possibly prod more middle class Mumbai residents to go out and vote this time. But that will not have any bearing on the final result. No way.”
Today’s morning papers echo Mr Ketkar’s sentiments. “Will Mumbai come out and vote?” asks a front page headline.. Last election, less than half of the registered voters cast their ballots.. “The Mumbai voter is in an aggressive mood, desperate for change. One hopes it translates into a record turnout on the 30th. I have my doubts,” a prominent citizen tells the newspaper.
Mr Ketkar says there is no use being obsessed with the Mumbai votes. And there is more to Mumbai than the attacks, he says, which will be engaging the voters. People are disillusioned with the Congress government, he says, because it is seen as lackadaisical and disinterested. After the siege of the Taj hotel ended last November, the former chief minister took his film actor son and a filmmaker friend to see the devastation at the hotel. The filmmaker was apparently scouring for ideas for his next film. The press dubbed it “disaster tourism”. The chief minister lost his job.
Then there is an anti-migrant workers movement whipped up by a local xenophobic party which wants jobs for locals — a “lot of political nuisance really”, Mr Ketkar says. The perceived marginalisation of the local Marathi people — who comprise more than 40% of the city’s population — is a real issue. The city is bursting at its seams, and constant mention of its fabled “resilience” by the national media irritates the locals no end.
So is Mumbai a curse for Maharashtra, in a sense? “In a sense, yes,” Mr Ketkar says, before rushing off to a meeting. “It is a curse.” I would say Mumbai is both a blessing and a curse.
John Tkacik on Taiwan : an Obama TPR: Too Little, Too Late?
While reports of an imminent Taiwan Policy Review (TPR) are premature, it would be a useful exercise as part of a global strategic review of China’s emerging pre-eminence.
China is now the second-most powerful nation on earth. Its economy has already surpassed Japan and Germany in terms of industrial output. It has massive financial clout with which it has bought incredible political patronage across the map. It has a rapidly modernizing military — as the celebrations last week of the Chinese navy’s 60th anniversary demonstrated.
There is no wisdom in confronting China head-on in Asia, and a TPR by the administration of US President Barack Obama must take this into account. But if the US is to balance China’s looming rise with a coalition of Asian democracies, Taiwan must be a key policy element.
With Kurt Campbell’s nomination as Obama’s — and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s — assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Obama’s national security appointments offer a prospect that his administration might actually salvage some of the Asia policy wreckage of the administration under former president George W. Bush. Campbell understands the looming crisis in Asia policy — the challenge of China’s rise — as does his fellow nominee at the Pentagon, retired Marine Lieutenant General Wallace “Chip” Gregson, for assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, and his deputy, Derek Mitchell.
Unfortunately, “geostrategic considerations,” when it comes to Taiwan (or China, for that matter) have long been absent in Washington policy circles. Former intelligence officer and White House Asia expert Robert Suettinger, in his book Beyond Tiananmen, admits that “the notion that American policy [toward China] is directly driven by strategic considerations … is grossly inaccurate.” It had been driven instead by business pressures — if not by sheer intellectual inertia — long after the US’ strategic imperatives with proudly authoritarian China evaporated in the 1992 collapse of the Soviet Union and the 1989 reversal of China’s political reforms at Tiananmen.
Former president Bill Clinton’s China policy quietly changed in August 1999 after spectacular increases in Chinese missile deployments and jet fighter sorties in the Taiwan Strait. Clinton’s defense department secretly began to build up military cooperation with Taiwan — a momentum that continued without publicity through the Bush years — and Campbell was at the center of that initiative. He was an advocate of strong alliances with Japan and Australia — alliances that Bush minimized in an unhealthy reliance on Beijing’s influence in Asia.
The cascade of Asia policy disasters in the last four Bush years stemmed from the president’s preoccupation with Iraq and Afghanistan and his chronic inattention to geopolitics or strategy anywhere else. The erosion of the US-Japan alliance; permitting North Korea to drive the US’ Asia policy; complete neglect of Southeast Asia; inattention to a strategic partnership with India; abandoning democratic Taiwan in the face of war threats from undemocratic Beijing — that was the Bush Asia policy.
All of these failures sprang from the miscalculation that China was an active, responsible stakeholder in East Asian security, trade, humanitarian relief, the environment and so on. The Bush administration also persuaded itself that Taiwan was of such existential urgency to Beijing that China’s viciousness was excusable. Beijing therefore was permitted to alter the “status quo” with its missile deployments and its 2005 “Anti-Secession Law,” but Taiwan could never react.
When it came to Japan’s security and its panic over China’s vast military buildup, Bush rebuffed Tokyo’s appeal for F-22s, fearing (it is said) it would “alter the strategic balance.” The default mode for Bush’s Asia policy was China-centric to the exclusion of all other considerations. It was a common affliction in Washington, one that author Jim Mann famously dubbed “the China Fantasy.”
“Fantasy” indeed. As my friend Yuan Peng, a think tank researcher for China’s intelligence services, has written: “In the world today, virtually all of America’s adversaries are China’s friends.” You name them: North Korea, Burma, Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Syria, Hamas (through Syria) and Hezbollah, have I missed any? China gives them both weapons they use in the field and diplomatic cover they need in the UN. Why? As China’s foremost US expert, professor Wang Jisi (ç‹ç·æ€), has said: “Facts prove that it is beneficial for [China’s] international environment to have the United States — both militarily and diplomatically — deeply and inextricably sunk in the Middle East.” This has nothing to do with Taiwan, and everything to do with China’s freedom of action in Asia.
Even today, China’s poor record on issues of greatest concern to the US — nonproliferation, territorial pressures on US friends and allies (Japan, India and Taiwan, to name a few), supplying arms (via Iran and Syria) to insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Levant, consumer product safety, global warming, environmental despoliation, intellectual property, currency manipulation, locking up oil and mineral resources, dumping and cybersecurity, not to mention human rights and political freedoms — is embraced with a “what-me-worry” insouciance among Washington’s foreign policy, business and financial elites.
Taiwan’s significance in Asia is eclipsed in this China fantasy. Taiwanese now feel they have nowhere left to go but China. The rest of Asia watches US-Taiwan trends to see if the US might draw some line with China. All Asian governments understand Taiwan’s strategic importance to the US. I say this despite the comments of my good friend and former Chinese-language classmate, American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Ray Burghardt, who said on March 19 that “a geostrategic character to American policy toward Taiwan … isn’t really there.”
Taiwan’s strategic value was not discussed in the Condoleezza Rice State Department or in the Bush White House. However, Taiwan’s significance to US security is not dismissed by defense and intelligence officials who observe China’s expanding military power: They must plan for weapons systems 20 years into the future and China’s military, naval, missile and cyberspace modernization keeps them awake. Taiwan’s geographic location in Asia and its geopolitical disposition are essential to monitoring these developments.
Whether State Department or White House Asia policy aides often think of these things is beside the point. They are facts: Taiwan is positioned astride sea lanes plied by vast fleets of Asian shipping; Taiwan’s lofty mountains provide phased-array radar coverage of missile and aerospace activity 1,930km into continental East Asia; submarines moving from the East Asian coast into the Western Pacific go through Taiwan’s waters to avoid Japan’s extensive anti-submarine acoustic detection; Taiwan occupies the two largest islands in the South China Sea, Taiping and Pratas.
More important, Taiwan is the US’ poster-child for democracy in Asia; the US’ 10th-largest export market; and the world’s fourth-largest foreign exchange reserves holder. Taiwan’s GDP is bigger than any in Southeast Asia. Taiwan’s population is bigger than Australia’s. In short, US equanimity at the prospect of democratic Taiwan’s absorption by communist China is a clear signal to the rest of Asia that the US has bought on to the “Beijing Consensus” — Asia may as well go along, too.
Sooner or later there will be an Obama “Taiwan Policy Review.” But it won’t amount to much. An Obama TPR will judge that the powerful momentum in cross-strait dynamics is pushing Taiwan rapidly into full economic dependence on China. It will conclude that Taiwan’s inextricable economic dependence on China — absent counterbalancing action — will quickly drive the country beyond its “tipping point” toward political and, ultimately, security dependence on Beijing. At that point, Obama can dust off his hands and say: “Oh well, I really wanted to help Taiwan, but it was too late.” Some will say, “It’s not so bad, look at Hong Kong.” Others will say, “Oh well, it was Bush’s fault.”
It may already be too late. For, despite China’s resolute disruption of US “hegemonistic” human rights and nonproliferation goals in Asia (and Africa, too, for that matter), key Bush White House aides believed China was one of “Washington’s New Comrades” and foresaw (in the words of former White House Asia expert Victor Cha) a new Northeast Asian “regional architecture” in which “Washington looks forward to China assuming a major role as a real problem solver in the region.”
Obama is unlikely to be confrontational with China or anyone else. But democratic Asia needs US leadership if it is to balance China, and the test of the Obama administration’s Asia policy will be to provide that leadership. A Taiwan Policy Review will only be a small subset of that calculation. Now that Campbell has been nominated, Obama has an outline of an “Asia Team” that can begin to reassess the US’ erosion in the Western Pacific. If Campbell can’t stop the collapse of the US’ Asian interests in Taiwan, it’s hard to see where he can do it.
Philippines: 3 NPAs Killed in N. Samar Encounter
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines—Three alleged New People’s Army rebels were killed while five others were wounded in an encounter with government troops in a village in Palapag, Northern Samar, on Tuesday.
The bodies of the three slain suspected NPA members were immediately turned over to the Palapag police, according to Maj. Armand Rico, information officer of the Samar-based Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division, in a text message on Wednesday.
No soldier was wounded in the clash.
Rico said the firefight between soldiers and the suspected rebels took place at around 9 a.m. in Barangay (Village) Magsaysay, a hinterland village about four kilometers from the Palapag town proper.
Rico said government troops from the 63rd Infantry Battalion based in Northern Samar’s Catubig town under Lt. Col. Raul Cestona went to the area after receiving information from villagers about the presence of rebels in Magsaysay village.
Government troops led by Sgt. Emilio Medelo were immediately engaged in a firefight by a group of suspected NPAs numbering about 40 the moment the soldiers entered the village, Rico said.
The retreating rebels left behind their fallen comrades and brought with them their wounded, Rico said.
An M-16 and a carbine were recovered from the slain rebels, he said.
Military officials in the region led by Maj. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero earlier declared that most of Eastern Visayas, except for Northern Samar and Eastern Samar provinces, were already “insurgency-free.”
The military has vowed to crush the insurgency in the region to an “insignificant level” by 2010.
S. Korea is Powerless to Ensure Safety of Its Own People
It has been more than a month since a Hyundai Asan employee has been detained by North Korea authorities in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek in a press conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondent’s Club on Tuesday said North Korean officials have yet to inform the South of the reasons why the man, identified only by his surname Yoo, had been detained and why he was being investigated.
There has been no instance where the government has been unable to establish either direct or even indirect channels of contact with a detainee for more than a month, even in situations where citizens were abducted by terrorists or pirates who demanded a ransom. But our minister in charge of dealing with North Korea is only able to make such a defeatist confession while a South Korean national is held captive clearly shows the status of the Republic of Korea in the present state of inter-Korean relations.
This is also evidence of the fact that the government is unable to exercise its right under international law to protect its own citizens and is unable to fulfill that duty even while it engages in economic cooperation projects with North Korea. Just picture Yoo’s situation, confined for more than a month in a North Korean prison, reputed as being the harshest in the world, unable to meet an official with the South Korean government, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, or his family. For Yoo, what good is his own nation?
North Korea signed an agreement with South Korea in January of 2004 involving entry and visits to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Kumgang tourist resort. Under Article 10, clauses 2 and 4 of that agreement, if Yoo’s violations are deemed “grave” by North Korea, it must consult with South Korea over the handling of that issue or issue a warning or fine or deport him. North Korea simply tore up this agreement.
The Republic of Korea is the only country in the world that has left 1,000 to 1,500 of its citizens and around a hundred of its businesses to work and operate in a lawless region where the government has absolutely no way of guaranteeing their safety.
A council of South Korean businesses operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex issued a statement on Tuesday saying the guarantee of personal safety for the South’s workers stationed in the factory complex is a basic prerequisite for the development of the zone. It said a failure to abide by this guarantee poses a serious obstacle to the continued development of the complex.
The government should pursue its next move based on the firm resolve that it is willing to shut down the business project if it is taking place, no matter how important it is deemed to be, in a place that offers no guarantee of the safety of its people. Inter-Korean cooperation is an oxymoron if it continues with the sacrifice of South Korean lives.
S. Korea: Anti-US Beef Protests: One Year Later
A year ago today, the MBC investigative program “PD Notebook” called a downer cow a mad cow in an episode titled, “Breaking Coverage — Are U.S. Beef Imports Really Safe from Mad Cow Disease?” The program said Koreans are 94 percent more likely to contract a human form of mad cow disease amid scary background music. The next day, posts on the program flooded Internet sites related to mad cow disease and the Web portal site Daum. Girls and people scared by the program’s unfounded claims and from online posts flocked to Seoul’s downtown Cheonggye Plaza to hold candlelight vigils.
Some 1,000 anti-American and pro-North Korea groups formed the People’s Association for Measures against Mad Cow Disease. Led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, and the Federation to Implement the Inter-Korean Summit, a group ruled as illegal, led the oftentimes violent protests for about 100 days and demanded the resignation of the Lee Myung-bak administration.
This shows that if a group takes advantage of media, a common asset of the people, a nation can slip into chaos and its very foundation can be shaken. MBC reluctantly aired an apology under orders from the Korea Communications Commission, but seems unremorseful over what it did. On the probe into PD Notebook’s mad cow disease episode, the network said in a statement, “This was a program that criticized government policy in the interest of the public’s right to health. The criminal investigation is unprecedented oppression of the media in a civilized nation of the 21st century and the killing of democracy.”
U.S. beef imports were resumed in June last year and are second only to those from Australia in the country. Forty-eight million Koreans, 300 million Americans, one million Korean Americans, and people in 89 countries eat American beef with no problems. Korea suffered direct and indirect losses of 3.7 trillion won (2.7 billion dollars) due to the protests trigged by MBC’s “falsehood and fanaticism,” according to Korea Economic Research Institute.
The Lee administration was plagued by social instability and delayed reform of the public sector early in its term, and the global financial crisis has hit the country. Law enforcement authorities were overwhelmed by illegal protests and a lawless condition was left unattended for almost three months in Seoul. Malicious Internet users blackmailed companies advertising in newspapers that criticized the protests, including The Dong-A Ilbo, threatening free speech and the market economy.
Certain people who joined the candlelight protests were truly worried about public health and were disappointed by the government’s poor negotiations over U.S. beef. The instigators, however, disguised themselves as protesters holding candles to protect public health and took advantage of innocent citizens.
Dr. Ahn Se-yeong, a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at Sogang University in Seoul, told a panel discussion on the protests last week, “We cannot make the same mistake again only when we find the truth.” Serious discussion and reflection on what happened a year ago are needed to prevent lying broadcasters and certain groups from instigating the public and fueling chaos.
Australia: Ministers Split Over Antarctic Ice Shelf Claims
A SPLIT over global warming has emerged in Kevin Rudd’s cabinet after it was revealed that a 13-month-old photograph was published this month to support the view that a catastrophic melting of Antarctic ice was imminent.
Federal government sources said Climate Change Minister Penny Wong was disappointed with the way her ministerial colleague, Peter Garrett, weighed into the debate about global warming, claiming sea levels could rise by 6m as a result of melting in Antarctica. Senator Wong yesterday pointedly refused to indicate whether she supported Mr Garrett’s view.
“The impacts of climate change are being seen in many ways, from sea level rise through to extreme weather events,” Senator Wong said yesterday.
“Climate change is a clear and present danger to our world that demands immediate attention.”
Senator Wong declined to nominate potential levels to which seas could rise.
At a time when the Rudd Government is battling to salvage its emissions trading scheme, some of Mr Garrett’s Labor colleagues were annoyed the Environment Minister used his responsibility for Australia’s Antarctic territory to weigh into the climate change debate with exaggerated claims.
Mr Garrett claimed the break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica indicated sea level rises of 6m were possible by the end of the century, and that ice was melting across the continent.
The Environment Minister later sought to distance himself from his comments.
A study released last week by the British Antarctic Survey concluded that sea ice around Antarctica had been increasing at a rate of 100,000sqkm a decade since the 1970s. While the Antarctic Peninsula, which includes the Wilkins ice shelf and other parts of West Antarctica were experiencing warmer temperatures, ice had expanded in East Antarctica, which is four times the size of West Antarctica.
[Comment from Tuan Jim: Read about this a few weeks ago…somehow ignored by most media outlets.]
British newspaper The Observer this month published prominently a story with a photograph of breaks in the Wilkins shelf.
“A huge ice shelf in the Antarctic is in the last stages of collapse and could break up within days in the latest sign of how global warming is thought to be changing the face of the planet,” the story began.
In March last year, US news agency msn published the same photograph with a similar story that began: “A vast ice shelf hanging on by a thin strip looks to be the next chunk to break off from the Antarctic Peninsula, the latest sign of global warming’s impact on Earth’s southernmost continent.” The photograph was published by numerous other outlets, including The Australian.
A spokeswoman for the British Antarctic Survey said the photograph in both stories was taken in March last year.
Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said the misuse of the photograph and the similar story lines 13 months apart reflected how the Wilkins ice shelf break-up was being recycled annually to fuel global warming concerns.
Senator Joyce said Mr Garrett’s entry into the debate demonstrated how it was being hijacked by misinformation.
“We are on the edge of a possible pandemic that could cause untold misery and people are running around tilting at windmills,” he said.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said Senator Wong should distance herself from Mr Garrett’s comments.
Mr Garrett was defended by Australian Conservation Foundation director Don Henry.
“The minister is right to raise concerns that melting of our ice caps could lead to that kind of sea level rise,” he said.
NZ: Nursing Student Alleges Discrimination
A Chinese nursing student is taking her tutors and university to the Human Rights Commission, accusing them of failing her in her final year of her bachelor of nursing course because of her accent.
“My tutors failed me because they said the way that I speak meant people couldn’t understand me, and they said it meant I will not be able to provide proper care to patients,” said Linda Tang, 42, who last week decided to drop out of her course at Unitec because she believed the tutors were making it impossible for her to pass.
“To say my English is not good enough is just an excuse. I feel that what they have done is discriminatory, especially to the Chinese, because we are penalised not for our lack of knowledge or ability, but simply because of how we talk.”
Ms Tang, who holds a bachelor of english degree and is a former English lecturer at a university in China, said she was confident of her written English ability. Before enrolling at Unitec, Ms Tang said she was a bilingual teacher at Kingsland Institute and taught English to other immigrants.
Ms Tang, who moved to New Zealand as a skilled migrant in 2002, said she scored 6.5 on the International English Language Testing System to qualify, and that was also the level required for admission to Unitec’s nursing degree course.
“Maybe I can’t speak English like a Kiwi, but I am bilingual and also speak Mandarin and surely that must be seen as a plus in nursing rather than something negative,” Ms Tang said.
“If Unitec fails Chinese students for not being able to communicate properly in English, Kiwi students should also not pass because they cannot communicate with hospital patients who speak other languages.”
A Unitec spokesman said its representatives will be co-operating with the commission and attending a meeting organised for Friday.
“Unitec has established internal policies and procedures to deal with student complaints, including those pertaining to racial discrimination,” he said.
Unitec has 180 nursing students, of which 31 per cent Asian and 12.7 per cent Chinese in the first year of its course.
Chinese students make up 17 per cent of second-year nursing students, and 19 per cent in the final year.
Penalty Strike on Jobs
WHAT madness would make it more expensive to hire those Australians traditionally hit twice as hard during recessions? Answer: that provided by the Industrial Relations Commission under instruction from Julia Gillard..
An extra 34,000 teenagers have become unemployed over the past year, lifting teenage joblessness to 141,400 or 16.4 per cent. The prospect it will rise well over 20 per cent underlines last week’s warning from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that rolling back John Howard’s Work Choices will make it harder for young Australians to get a foothold in the job market. This, warns the OECD, risks a “build up of a large pool of youth at risk of becoming long-term unemployed”.
But the danger is greater than the OECD’s Paris-based analysts recognise because they haven’t got their heads around the IRC’s award “modernisation” process ordered by Gillard. The OECD’s review of Australia’s school-to-work policies assumes that “modernising” the “tangled web of binding rules” known as the award system will unwind the red tape strangling the job market.
The OECD clearly hasn’t looked at the Fast Food Industry Award that the IRC will impose from the start of 2010.. It hasn’t picked up the threat to the youth-employment business model of the fast food industry, from franchise chains such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Domino’s, Subway and Eagle Boys Pizza to thousands of small business takeaway food outlets.
Since the 1970s this sector has evolved on the edges of the federal award system, based on casual employment and minimal or no evening or weekend penalty rates. But the IRC’s award “modernisation” would force it to pay part-time student workers the sort of high casual loadings and penalty rates that it seeks to standardise across the workforce.
This would reverse the labour market liberalisation that allowed the jobless rate for those aged under 25 to fall to three-decade lows of 8.7percent by the end of the latest boom. As the OECD notes, Howard’s individual work contracts — or Australian Workplace Agreements — are “likely to have increased the labour market competitiveness of low-skilled youth”.
But these individual contracts are being abolished just as the recession hits young Australians the hardest. Many will be seeking work for the first time just as business decides that the new unfair dismissal rules make it riskier to hire young people with no employment history. And those young people with jobs are likely to be the first to be laid off during the downturn. Firms typically have invested less in training juniors than their more senior staff, who are more expensive to retrench as redundancy pay standards have become more generous.
Such dynamics explain the OECD’s quantification of how young workers have been hit hardest in previous recessions. For every one percentage point softening of annual economic growth, the jobless rate for those aged 25 to 54 years has risen 0.87 percentage points. But at the same time, the jobless rate for those aged 15 to 24 years has increased 2.03 percentage points. That means the youth jobless rate rises 2.3 percentage points for every one percentage point increase in the adult rate.
The priority should be to retain the flexibility that allows young people to get a foothold in the job market. Most young Australians get their first job while at high school or university, often through the sort of evening and weekend casual work provided by fast food businesses. Some disparage such jobs as dead-end hamburger-flipping. Yet the OECD says casual and part-time work in Australia is typically a “stepping stone” to better-paid careers. Moreover, the frequent resort to part-time work does not mean that Australian uni students graduate any later.
Until now the fast food business has grown up under less onerous state awards or tailored enterprise deals for franchise chains, which even facilitate the direct payment of union dues. These are based on flexible rostering of a casual workforce mostly aged in its teens or early 20s with no, or minimal, penalty rates.
But the IRC’s new Fast Food Industry Award imposes a national 25 per cent penalty rate for casuals plus an extra 25 per cent for work on weekday evenings and Saturdays. An extra 75percent applies on Sundays. Casuals working public holidays will have to be paid a 275percent loading on their normal hourly rate.
And the IRC ropes store managers into the award penalty rates and work rules on the basis that managerial classifications are included in other “retail” awards. The IRC offers no reason why penalty rates should apply at all for student workers during the very times they are most available to work: in the evenings and on weekends.
Amid the argy-bargy, the increased costs may be phased in. But this merely concedes the breaking of Gillard’s undertaking that award modernisation would not impose extra costs on employing labour. It will still stifle the business model that is one of the biggest employers of young Australians.
Against the howls of the shop assistants’ union, Gillard has allowed franchise chains such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC scope to have their own enterprise awards “modernised”. But not until Fair Work Australia — as the IRC is to be rebadged — determines whether such awards would “lessen the competitiveness” of rival fast food operators. So Fair Work Australia will consult with “other businesses in the same industry” to make sure one franchise doesn’t get a supposedly unfair competitive edge from the way it organises its workforce. Regrettably, some business lobbies even support such levelling of the playing field, as they term it, against competition.
Gillard is not deaf to the fast food sector’s complaints over its new award, but is limited by the IRC process she has unleashed. She retorts that no business person has ever told her that “this nation’s economic prosperity should be based on ripping off young Australians”.
That class warfare rhetoric would be more digestible if she allowed genuine scrutiny — say by the Productivity Commission — to ensure that Labor’s job market “modernisation” does not deny young Australians a work choice.
Universal Vaccine in Nasal Spray
AUSTRALIAN scientists have developed a way to make a universal influenza vaccine that can be delivered via nasal spray.
While not yet ready to be used to counter swine flu, the new approach could provide protection against future pandemics.
An Australian National University immunologist, Mohammed Alsharifi, said yesterday that the current way of making flu vaccines was “not good enough”.
New batches to boost immunity against seasonal flu have to be made each year, because flu viruses mutate so rapidly. It also takes months to develop a new vaccine if a new strain, such as the swine flu, suddenly emerges.
Dr Alsharifi said conventional vaccines also had the disadvantage of stimulating only one of the body’s two immune reactions — the production of antibodies that prevent a specific virus from infecting a cell.
They do not stimulate T-cells, which can fight many different strains of influenza by clearing cells of infection.
“We need a vaccine that induces both types of immune responses, otherwise we will not be able to cope well with new arriving strains of influenza,” he said.
His team’s universal vaccine, based on a human influenza A virus that has been inactivated using gamma radiation, can stimulate both types.
Tests in mice showed that a single dose, given as a nasal spray, protected the rodents against a different flu virus — the deadly strain of bird flu, H5N1.
This type of universal vaccine could buy time until more specific vaccines specific could be developed, said Dr Alsharifi, whose team’s study was published yesterday in the journal PLoS ONE. A nasal spray would also make its easier to distribute in developing countries.
Darfur Protest: 5 Congressmen Arrested Outside Sudanese Embassy in Washington
WASHINGTON — Five members of Congress and three humanitarian activists were arrested Monday on civil disobedience charges in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington for protesting “crimes against humanity.”
In attempting to draw attention to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s handling of the Darfur region, the protesters called on Bashir to reinstate 16 aid organizations he expelled or shut down last month in response to the International Criminal Court issuing a warrant for his arrest.
Several also called on President Barack Obama to pressure the international community, including China, a major trading partner with Sudan, for a solution to the violence in Darfur.
After reading their statements, the representatives crossed a yellow police tape line and refused to leave.
The lawmakers — Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) — were then handcuffed by Secret Service officers and taken to jail by local police officers. Each paid a $100 fine and was released within several hours.
“We implore all countries to demand that the government of Sudan respect and protect human rights and put an end to the acts of atrocities and crimes against humanity in Darfur,” Ellison said in a statement. “The crisis in Darfur remains dire and the humanitarian situation has worsened since the March 4 expulsion of aid agencies.”
Last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said in a report to the UN Security Council that the expulsion of aid groups has put the lives of 1 million people at risk.
Kenyan Women Begin Week-Long Sex Strike
Thousands of Kenyan women vowed on Wednesday to begin a week-long sex strike to try to protest their country’s bickering leadership, which they say threatens to revive the bloody chaos that convulsed the African country last year.
Leaders from Kenya’s largest and oldest group dedicated to women’s rights, the Women’s Development Organisation, said they hope the boycott will persuade men to pressure the government to make peace.
Eleven women’s groups are participating in the strike..
The groups have also called on the wives of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to abstain. It was not clear how either wife responded to the request.
“We have looked at all issues which can bring people to talk and we have seen that sex is the answer,” said Rukia Subow, chairman of the Women’s Development Organisation.
“It does not know tribe, it does not have a (political) party and it happens in the lowest households.”
Many men in Kenya are polygamous, as is allowed by law.
Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said he was unaware of the strike.
The disputed election between Kibaki and then-challenger Odinga led to violence that killed more than 1000 people and left more than 600,000 homeless.
The two were installed after a month of mediation, but infighting has threatened to break apart the fragile coalition.
Nigerians Can Vote in EU Poll — Christian Party
[Comment from Tuan Jim: Found this story interesting on several different levels — not to mention a little ironic in parts.]
Nigerians with British passport can vote by proxy in the European Union parliamentary election due on June 4, the Christian Party said on Monday.
The disclosure came amid calls on the prospective voters to support the party as part of efforts at righting some of the perceived wrongs in the British society.
The Christian Party, also called “Scottish Christian Party” and “Welsh Christian Party”, is a minor Christian Rights political organisation in Great Britain, headed by the Reverend George Hargreaves, who claimed to be one of the first Afro-Caribbean leaders of a British political party.
Hargreaves told a press conference in Lagos that his party plans to build a voting bloc among British Nigerians and other Africans, who he lamented are the targets of bad policies by the country’s far right politicians, especially the British National Party (BNP).
He addressed the media alongside Abraham Usikaro, a one-time Nigerian journalist and the party’s International Campaign Manager.
Hargreaves said any Nigerian who had lived (legally) in Britain for 10 years are eligible to vote, provided he registers with the Electoral Commission before May 10, when registration closes. The party says it is fielding 70 candidates in London, Scotland, and Whales for the EU poll.
The party has, therefore, set up a registration centre each in Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, where voters can fill all necessary forms and have them mailed free of charge to the electoral commission in the United Kingdom.
Hargreaves said it was time Africans vote in the country’s election for better bargaining power in its politics, saying “registration form can also be downloaded from the electoral commission’s website”.
He said the party is ready to open another registration centre elsewhere, on request from interested persons or communities, arguing that whatever votes is given the party is for Jesus and uprightness of the society.
According to him, the party, if elected, would fight against the British culture that denies parents the right to discipline their wards, and empowers the social service workers to take possession of such children.
Insisting that this practice is a racist policy targeted at Africans, Hargreaves identified it as major cause of delinquency among the adolescent and ungodly behaviours in British society.
Norwegian Tanker Received Assistance
The Norwegian-owned tanker “Stolt Strength”, which has been adrift off the coast of Somalia without fuel and with little food, after it was released by pirates, has now been given assistance.
The tanker has now received supplies and fuel from a US naval vessel, according to a spokesman for the ship’s owners.
The tanker was captured by pirates off the Horn of Africa on November 10th last year, and released on April 21st.
The vessel is owned by the Norwegian company Stolt-Nielsen and has a Philippine crew of 23.
The tanker is now on its way to Salalah in Oman, escorted by a Chinese frigate.
Russian Navy Seizes 29 Pirates Off Somalia: Report
MOSCOW (Reuters) — A Russian warship captured a suspected pirate vessel with 29 people on board off the coast of Somalia, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday, citing defense ministry sources.
Russia’s Admiral Panteleyev anti-submarine ship seized the vessel 15 miles off the coast of Somalia at 1212 GMT on Tuesday, the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies reported.
“Seven Kalashnikov rifles, various pistols and an aluminum ladder were discovered during a search of the ship,” RIA Novosti quoted the source as saying. Satellite navigation equipment and a large amount of ammunition was also seized.
“This allows us to assume that this group of pirates undertook two unsuccessful attempts to seize the TF Commander tanker with a Russian crew that was traveling through this region yesterday,” RIA quoted the source as saying.
Russia is among several naval powers with warships in the area to protect one of the world’s busiest sea lanes from spate of hijackings by Somali pirates.
(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Matthew Jones)
Australia: Surge Continues With Two More Boatloads of Asylum Seekers
TWO boats carrying almost 80 suspected asylum seekers have been intercepted by Border Protection Command, bringing to 17 the number of vessels detected since August.
The interceptions occurred less than 24 hours after the mysterious discovery by Customs of four suspected asylum seekers on Deliverance Island, 30 nautical miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
As more of the injured from the fatal boat explosion of two weeks ago left hospital — for immigration detention — Afghanistan’s ambassador to Australia backed the Rudd Government’s argument that global instability was behind the surge in arrivals.
One of the boats stopped yesterday was carrying seven people and was intercepted one nautical mile north of Ashmore Reef.
Sources said the passengers, who included at least one child, appeared to be Indonesian. The second boat was carrying about 72 people and was stopped 27 nautical miles west of Bathurst Island, just north of Darwin.
Several women and three or four children were believed to be aboard.
The interceptions occurred hundreds of kilometres apart, suggesting the boats were not travelling together.
They came less than a day after four people, understood to be two Afghans, a Sri Lankan and an Indian, were detected by a surveillance flight by a Customs helicopter.
No boat was found with the men.
Yesterday, a government source speculated the find could be a new trend, with people-smugglers preferring to drop their cargo and go home rather than stay with their passengers and risk arrest and prosecution.
Afghanistan’s ambassador, Amanullah Jayhoon, told The Australian yesterday a recent crackdown by Pakistani and Iranian authorities on Afghan refugees was a major factor behind the spike in boat arrivals.
He stressed that the numbers coming to Australia were low compared with those of Afghan refugees opting for asylum in Greece, Turkey or Cyprus.
Two main “push factors” were driving Afghan asylum seekers, he said — continuing insecurity, particularly in the south of the country, and little or no economic opportunities at home.
Many of the Afghan asylum seekers had been long-term residents in camps in Iran and Pakistan, he said.
“The third factor is that Iran and Pakistan are trying to push the refugees back to Afghanistan, so when they are being pushed back to Afghanistan, they consider themselves refugees again,” Mr Jayhoon said.
“These are people (criminals) who thrive on the tragedy ofothers. But most of those (refugees) coming are not coming directly from Afghanistan, because most of these people (in Afghanistan) cannot afford to pay this $10,000 or $15,000.”
Two Afghan asylum seekers who were burnt in the boat blast off Ashmore Reef were taken to a secure immigration facility in a Perth suburb yesterday after being discharged from Royal Perth Hospital. The men are expected to be interviewed this morning by Northern Territory police who are investigating the cause of the explosion.
They will join four men who were placed in one of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s home detention facilities in Perth’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday.
The men will be under 24-hour supervision by guards.
They will have access to members of the Afghan community who have offered support by cooking meals and providing spiritual guidance.
A department spokeswoman said the men would have access to computers, television and a phone to contact their families.
She said hospital staff had already visited the men to provide medical assistance. Department officials were yet to interview the men to establish their identities, she said.
Seventeen other asylum seekers who were badly burnt in the blast remain at Royal Perth, with one of the men in intensive care, three in the trauma unit and 13 in the burns unit.
Four other victims from the blast remain at Royal Darwin Hospital and seven in Brisbane.
Switzerland: Migration Drives Population Increase
Small Switzerland — current population 7.7 million — could see the number of its inhabitants rise to 8.35 million by 2030, according to the latest figures. The population density will increase, but the country wouldn’t become as crowded as the Netherlands or Britain.
Immigrants will make up the bulk of the population increase, believes the Federal Statistics Office, which released the information. “We expect there to be more arrivals than departures,” the federal office’s Raymond Kohli told swissinfo.
Foreigners, especially Germans encouraged by a healthy economy and a labour accord with the European Union, already helped account for a rise in population to 7.7 million people in 2008, an increase of 1.7 per cent against 2007 and the largest since 1963.
“However, a flux in the other direction cannot be excluded due to the change in the economic situation,” noted the federal office in its recent statistics update.
Births should make up the rest. Last year the birth rate had risen in Switzerland contrary to predictions.
Nevertheless, at 1.48 children per woman, the rate is still insufficient to maintain the population at its current level. For this a rate of 2.1 would be needed.
More older people By 2050, however, the population will drop again to 8.33 million. Life expectancy is growing and the high numbers of baby boomers — born between 1945-1965 — will be dying out.
“The number of older people is going to rise but the number of younger people is going to stay the same or even get smaller, so that means we’ll have an ageing population with a higher proportion of older people,” Kohli said.
In 2008 there were almost 27 people of retirement age per 100 people of working age. By 2030 this could average at 40 workers per 100 retired people, and by 2050 it could be half and half.
But a larger population won’t make the country too crowded, experts say.
At the moment population density in Switzerland is still far below that of its more crowded European neighbours, the Netherlands and Britain, which have 393 inhabitants per square kilometre and 248 inhabitants per square kilometre respectively, according to United Nations data for 2005.
“In Switzerland it’s currently around 186 people per square kilometre and in 2050 it will be around 201 people per square kilometre, so only 15 people per square kilometre more,” said Kohli.
Populous middle plains Its mountainous nature means that certain parts of Switzerland are uninhabitable, and that the population is mainly concentrated on the middle plains.
Martin Schuler, professor at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, told swissinfo that in this part the population density is close to that of the Netherlands. But there are big differences.
“Geneva is a very densely populated agglomeration, Lausanne too, but Zurich is less so and Winterthur not at all, and the acceptance of density is very different,” said Schuler, who also heads Urban Regional Planning Community.
“People in Winterthur are astonished that it is possible to live in Geneva. For people in Geneva it’s no problem, and they even accept moves to intensify this density.”
Migrant urbanites New migrants are likely to head for the cities. This differs from the past, when Switzerland opened its doors to lower skilled, more rural people from countries like Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“These new, more highly skilled migrants, people from Germany, the United States or even from Asia, are already urban and used to being in urban contexts,” explained Schuler.
There are no real social problems in Swiss cities, he adds. However, over the past 30 years young Swiss families have been moving out of the towns.
“This means that immigrants in suburban areas are becoming more homogenous, not by origin, but by status, and this is probably part of social injustice,” he said.
Education opportunities and social conditions are not the same, although the labour market still works because of low unemployment.
“This is probably something to take into account in such projects. It is not only a question of how many there are, but how they will live together,” said Schuler.
UK: Number of Jobs Open to Skilled Migrants Cut by a Third
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said 270,000 fewer posts should be on the so-called “shortage list” of jobs, which allows employers to bring in foreign workers without trying to fill them with British staff first.
In the review, construction workers and quantity surveyors were suspended from the list because unemployment among workers in those professions has risen by 500 per cent as a result of the downturn.
Social workers dealing with adults have also been taken off and it will be made harder to bring in care assistants and chefs.
However, orchestral musicians, computer animation specialists and contemporary dancers were added to the list because Britain is not producing enough talented candidates, the report revealed.
The ability to bring in foreign talent is needed to maintain Britain’s “global leadership”, MAC chairman Professor David Metcalf said.
The number of jobs shortage list was cut by a third from 800,000 on the last list and means the total has now dropped by almost half from one million just six months ago.
The figures do not breakdown how many non-EU migrants are employed in such jobs but the cut could affect up to 25,000 foreign workers if the national average is mirrored across the professions.
Prof Metcalf said: “We had to respond to the troubled times and the turmoil in the labour market.
“The main issue that we want to get across is we have responded to the downturn and we have immediately suspended two major occupations.”
There were 4,795 unemployed construction managers in January, compared to 835 a year earlier.
Unemployment among quantity surveyors went from 130 to 730 in the same period.
Prof Metcalf said not all labour market shortages would be eliminated by the recession, which last month pushed unemployment to 2.1 million.
The expert committee, which first reported last year, will complete a full review of all the occupations on its list by September.
It will look closely at seasonal workers such as chefs and engineers.
Maths and science teachers, currently on the list, are also likely to face scrutiny, to see if laid-off financial workers are taking those jobs.
Ministers will look at the list and announce their decision by the middle of next month.
They are likely to accept most, if not all, of the recommendations.
UK: Slash Jobs for Immigrants: Curb Work Permits Say Aides
GORDON BROWN was last night warned by his own advisers to cut the number of jobs available to workers from outside Europe by 270,000.
In another blow to Labour’s open-door border controls, Ministers were told to curb the number of work permits available to those from outside the EU because of the recession.
The Migration Advisory Committee demanded that construction workers and quantity surveyors be struck off the list of so-called “shortage occupations” available to newcomers.
Its chairman David Metcalf said unemployment of workers in those occupations was up by 500 per cent.
Professor Metcalf said: “The main issue that we want to get across is we have responded to the downturn and we have immediately suspended two major occupations.” The revised list will still leave open 530,000 posts, down from 800,000 now.
Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “Fiddling with the immigration numbers at this degree of detail will only create more uncertainty. A better overall way of controlling immigration is to set an annual limit on the number of work permits issued.”
According to the advisory committee, there were 4,795 unemployed construction managers in January compared with 835 a year earlier. Unemployment among quantity surveyors rose from 130 to 730.
Prof Metcalf said not all labour shortages would be eliminated by the recession, which last month pushed unemployment to 2.1 million. Specific skills shortages will remain, he said.
Immigration Minister Phil Woolas welcomed the stricter skills shortage list. He said: “Only where there are shortages of local workers can employers recruit migrants to fill jobs through this route. The Government will now consider the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee before publishing the final list.”
The expert committee will complete a full review of the list by September.
Maths and science teachers, currently on the list, are likely to face scrutiny, to see if laid-off financial workers are taking those jobs, Prof Metcalf said.
UK: We’ve Only Two Days to Stop a Cruel Deportation
The case of Anselme Noumbiwa illustrates a moral crisis in Britain
It’s 4.45 in the morning. Something is happening out on the street. Flashing blue lights, a car door, a woman’s voice, a child crying. The door slams, the car speeds off. “They” have picked someone up.
East Germany in the 1960s? No. England in 2009. From the people who brought you “extraordinary rendition”; from the Home Office that has produced more new laws in a decade than in the previous century: welcome to the brave new world of post-civilisation Britain. This is how we treat frightened people who have lost almost everything and now stand to lose the rest.
The treatment of refugees is about the obligation — which civilisations much older than ours have known in their bones — to care for the stranger in need. What’s the point of “human rights” becoming a mantra for every special-interest fad if we ignore the most basic human rights of deeply vulnerable people?
Anselme Noumbiwa is 32, and comes from Cameroon. His father was chief of the Bamileke. When he died, Anselme was chosen as chief, and taken away for initiation ceremonies. These involved having sex with several of his father’s wives, and taking further wives. Anselme, a devout Christian, refused. He was thereupon degraded and tortured. The Bamileke need a chief to embody their wellbeing; but, if Anselme will not comply with their traditions, another chief cannot be named until he is dead. There is no chance of him being safe in Cameroon.
Anselme escaped to England in 2006, and has been trying to make a new life. But in October he was seized for deportation via Paris. Fortunately, the other aircraft passengers, seeing his appalling treatment, refused to sit down, so he was returned to England. I and others appealed to Gordon Brown to halt the deportation of this gentle, wise soul. Mr Brown wrote to me promising that his case would be reviewed.
Now, the authorities are making another sudden attempt to send him back. He was “picked up” last week and is to be deported this Friday. It would be too cynical for a bishop to suggest that Anselme is simply the victim of bureaucrats determined to generate “favourable” statistics.
But all the signs are that the Home Office is simply waving away the piles of evidence and forcing through an injustice. A local immigration official has admitted that “the system” does not want a successful appeal. So an innocent, vulnerable man is being sacrificed to prevent a precedent being set. This is just one case among many, but if it’s a sign of where society is going then the economic crisis is matched by a moral crisis of similar proportions.
UK: Now Even Top Gear Could Fall Foul of Harman Sexism Law
The BBC and Channel 4 could be forced to use more female and ethnic characters and presenters in TV shows under controversial reforms of equality laws. The change could hit programmes such as Top Gear, which has an all-male presenting team, and EastEnders, which has screened episodes featuring all-black, all-Asian and all-female casts. State-funded organisations are being ordered to boost the proportion of female, black and gay staff to reflect the make-up of the UK population under plans unveiled by Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman.
But there are fears that the decision not to exempt broadcasters from the proposals in the Government’s Equality Bill will compromise their editorial independence. Critics fear programmes will be forced to hire actors, presenters and producers on grounds of gender, ethnic background or sexuality, rather than suitability for the show.
Now Tory culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt has written to Miss Harman and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham highlighting the ‘very serious implications’ of the shake-up. Mr Hunt said: ‘Allowing broadcasters creative and intellectual freedom over the content of their programmes is vital in a free society. ‘Both the BBC and Channel 4 have an important role in focusing attention on important social issues, but editorial independence must be sacrosanct.’ He added: ‘In terms of their public functions, such as their employment and procurement practices, they should act as any other public authority. However, for the sake of editorial independence their content is another matter.’ The Equality Bill, which was unveiled on Monday, encourages employers to take ‘positive action’ to widen diversity in the public-sector workforce. Earlier this month a leading academic said the BBC should employ more women to help make shows such as Top Gear ‘female-friendly’. Dr Louise Livesey, tutor in sociology and women’s studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, accused the BBC2 motoring programme of ‘entrenched, institutional sexism’. As well as being hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, the Sunday night show has a ‘boys’ club’ production team and fewer female than male guests. But executive producer Andy Wilman claimed it was ‘utter drivel’ to suggest that Top Gear excluded women, saying: ‘If the show is allegedly female-unfriendly, why is almost half the audience female? ‘Secondly, if we are to have a female presenter just to represent the sexes, then by that logic Loose Women needs a bloke in the line-up pretty sharpish. ‘I actually believe these sorts of mandates are patronising to women viewers, because they assume that women can’t enjoy a show’s presenters on merit, but can only appreciate a programme if spoken to by one of their own sex.’ During the Government’s consultation on the ‘gender and class’ Bill in July last year, the BBC ‘made clear’ that new laws should not ‘compromise their journalistic, programme and broadcasting activities’. A BBC Trust spokesman said: ‘We agree it would be helpful to have clarification of the Government’s intentions and we are discussing that with them.’
Researchers Find First Common Autism Gene
Researchers have found the first common genetic link to autism and said yesterday it could potentially account for 15 per cent of the disease’s cases.
Three studies, two in the journal Nature and one in Molecular Psychiatry, suggest changes in brain connections could underlie some cases.
While the findings do not immediately offer hope for a treatment, they do help explain the underlying causes of the condition, which affects as many as one in 150 children, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
“These findings establish that genetic factors play a strong role in autism spectrum disorder,” National Institutes of Health acting director Dr Raynard Kington said in a statement.
“Detailed analysis of the genes and how they affect brain development is likely to yield better strategies for diagnosing and treating children with autism.”
Autism refers to a spectrum of diseases, from severe and profound inability to communicate and mental retardation, to relatively mild symptoms called Asperger’s syndrome.
Doctors have been at a loss to explain it, although it has been clear autism can often run in families, suggesting a genetic cause.
“Previous studies have suggested that autism is a developmental disorder resulting from abnormal connections in the brain. These three studies suggest some of the genetic factors which might lead to abnormal connectivity,” Dr Thomas Insel, director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, said in a statement.
The international team of researchers looked at DNA from more than 12,000 people, some from families affected by autism, and unaffected volunteers.
“We estimate that the variants we discovered may contribute to as many as 15 per cent of autism spectrum disorder cases in a population,” Dr Hakon Hakonarson of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who worked on the study, said in a statement.
“Most of the genes that have been identified in these studies are involved in the connections between neurons called synapses,’ said Tony Monaco of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Britain’s University of Oxford, who worked on the study, said in a statement.
“This does seem to fit with what we know from brain scans — that people with autism may show different or reduced connectivity between different parts of the brain.”
The mutations are not unique to people with autism.
“While this gene variant is common in the general population, we discovered that it occurs about 20 per cent more often in children with autism,” said Dr. Daniel Geschwind of the University of California Los Angeles, who worked on the study.
“Until now, no common genetic variant has been identified with such overwhelming evidence to support its role in autism spectrum disorders,” added Dr.. Margaret Pericak-Vance of the University of Miami.