News Feed 20110316

Financial Crisis
» Greece: Government’s Unpaid Bills Reach 5.3 Bln Euros
» Oil: Tension in Bahrain Drives Prices Up (USD 98.29)
» Tunisia: Hammamet: From Tourist Legend to Ghost City
» How Islamists Could Cripple U.S. Sea Power
» Jews Wearing Tefillin Cause Alarm Aboard Airplane
» Muslim Passenger Pulled From Plane Seeks Apology
» President Obama’s Trivial Pursuits
Europe and the EU
» A Referendum on Europe is Long Overdue
» ENEL Confirms Nuclear Plans
» France: If Muslims Ask for Europe’s ‘Empty’ Churches…
» Germany: Teaching Christian Morality Gets Parents Jailed
» Italy: Ruby Affair: Prosecutors: Fondling and Sexual Intercourse
» Italy: ‘33 Girls in Berlusconi Sex Case’
» Italy: Berlusconi ‘Will Defend Girls’ In Ruby Case
» Netherlands: VVD Wants Headscarf Ban in Town Hall
» UK: Does it Really Take 60 Police Officers — Many of Them Armed — Plus a Lion Vet From the Zoo Thirty Hours to Round Up Two Dogs (Even if They Are Very Dangerous)?
» UK: What Does Ed Stand for?
» Former Yugoslavia: Growing Desire to Come Back Together Again
North Africa
» Egyptian Army Consulted Islamic Clerics on Decision to Rebuild Torched Church
» Egypt: Amr Moussa to Vote No to Referendum on Constitution
» Italy Rules Out Libyan Invasion
» Paraded on Libyan TV, The Rebel ‘Al Qaeda Fighter’ From Britain
» Protest in Tunis for Visit by H. Clinton
» Tunisia: Investors Flee, UAE Group Backs Out of Project
» Tunisia: MPs: Stop Shift in Favour of Justicialist
Israel and the Palestinians
» Mahmoud Abbas Open to Talks With Hamas, May Travel to Gaza
Middle East
» Bahrain: Police Attack Protestors, 5 Killed
» Bahrain: Shia Site: Hospitals Attacked and Closed by Police
» Bahrain: Official on State TV, Gatherings Banned
» Digging Too Deep: Journalist Arrests a Blow for Press Freedom in Turkey
» Oman: Protests and Strikes Across Sultanate
» Syria: Demonstration for Political Prisoners Dispersed
» Syria: Police Clear Gathering in Damascus, Arrests
» Syria: Government Source, Calls to Protest From Israel Too
» Syria: 150 in Anti-Regime Sit-in, Broken Up in Damascus
» Turkey: Political Repression Lays Ground for Economic Liberalization
» Turkey: Dueling Narratives of News Media Freedom in Turkey
» Turkey: Iranian Cargo Flight Ordered to Land
» We in the Middle East Have Replaced With Humiliation With Dignity
» You Shall Not Kill!
South Asia
» Indonesia: Christians Protest Against the New Closure of the Yasmin Church in Bogor
» Pakistan: Karachi: Christian Jailed for Blasphemy Dies in Suspicious Circumstances, Say Activists
» Pakistani: American CIA Contractor Indicted for Double Murder
» Pakistani Christians Convert to Islam Because of Threats and Intimidations
» Pakistan Frees American Who Worked for C.I.a., Officials Say
» Pakistan: CIA Contractor Released After ‘$2.34mln in Blood is Money Paid’
Far East
» Helicopters Dump Water on Crippled Nuclear Plant Fuel Rods
» Japan: Exodus From a Nuclear Nightmare
» Japan: Fukushima Coverup, 40 Years of Spent Nuclear Rods Blown Sky High
» WikiLeaks: Cables Show Japan Was Warned About Nuclear Plant Safety
» France’s Le Pen Urges Joint Anti-Migrant Patrols in Mediterranean
» Spain: Criticism by UN Anti-Racism Committee
» UK: The Invasion of EU Nurses: Number Working in NHS Doubles Amid Language Fears After Controls Relaxed
» See What Al-Qaida Does With Children

Financial Crisis

Greece: Government’s Unpaid Bills Reach 5.3 Bln Euros

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, MARCH 16 — The Greek government owed 5.35 billion euros to private companies or residents at the end of last year, daily Kathimerini reports today quoting Finance Ministry figures.

Money owed by the general government — the combination of local councils, hospitals, pension funds and other state bodies, such as universities — reached 4.52 billion euros, the data showed. Out of this amount, hospitals owe 2.22 billion euros with another 1.58 billion euros owed by state social security funds. Finance Ministry sources point out that hospitals bills have been gathering up over the course of several years and not just in 2010. New bills accrued by hospitals last year were less than a billion euros, the sources added. Additionally, ministries and regional authorities owed 832 million euros at the end of December, up from 718 million euros in November and 612 million in October. The amounts relate to debts more than 90 days old.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Oil: Tension in Bahrain Drives Prices Up (USD 98.29)

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 16 — Oil prices are on the rise on Asian markets. Crude oil with April delivery dates are up by USD 1.11 to USD 98.29 per barrel, while the North Sea Brent with the same delivery date has risen by 40 cents to USD 108.92. The rises gain from the lowest level in two weeks in the wake of the escalation of tension in Bahrain which — according to analysts — could condition the energy policy of neighbouring countries and especially Saudi Arabia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Hammamet: From Tourist Legend to Ghost City

(ANSAmed) — HAMMAMET (TUNISIA), MARCH 14 — The Tunisian revolution has on one side led to great joy and emotion over the fall of the Ben Ali regime after more than 20 years, but on the other it has raised concerns about the country’s economy, which is recovering only slowly due to uncertainties over Tunisia’s future. Tourism, 7% of the country’s GDP, has been brought to its knees. Cautious estimates say that 10% of Tunisians make a living in tourism, directly or in allied activities. But this is an incomplete estimate, because if tourism suffers, crafts also suffer, which supply the medinas, the traditional tourist destinations. Tunisia’s cottage industry is also suffering because of the invasion of Chinese exports, which are offered at bargain prices and outcompete the local products. A good example of the problems in the tourism sector is Hammamet, until recent the heart of Tunisian tourism and today almost a ghost town. Until last year the city was the destination of thousands of tourists even in low season, particularly tourists from the north and centre of Europe who spent the winter in Hammamet, attracted by the mild climate and the very low prices. Now Hammamet is practically deserted. Many of its hotels, built in the years of the most extravagant kitsch — elephants and camels, castles, palm trees and oases, all rigorously in plastic — are closed. They are guarded by private security firms, fearing a new outbreak of popular protests. There are few cars on the wide roads that cross the centre of the tourist district. Only the port is crowded, with hundreds of beautiful yachts left there by their owners because of the low costs. For the rest, the city is deserted. Some bars are still open, but there are few clients. Also the souvenir shops are on their last legs. In the new medina, opened years ago by Ben Ali, the shopkeepers are standing outside their shops and try to get the few visitors to enter. Mohammed has a shop in leather products, he can design and make any item in one hour, he says proudly.

“But nobody is coming for three months now. It is like working by the hour, ten minutes every two hours. Soon I’ll have to close as well. How will I feed my children?”.

And the restaurants are not doing any better. They are empty even on Saturdays and Sundays, days when people had to wait in line to enter before the “revolution”. “Da Franco”, clearly an Italian restaurant, is situated in front of a beautiful villa — now impounded — of one of Ben Ali’s daughters. It is one of the few that were not damaged during the uprising, thanks to the fact that its owners have live in Hammamet for many years now and are respected by everyone. And then there is the fact that the restaurant was protected by a German shepherd and a Staffordshire terrier during the “days of anger”, giant dogs which scared away all hooligans. Today the restaurant is empty, “but we”, says Franco, “must always be ready for possible guests. So we must have fresh fish, food from Italy and a complete staff, because we haven’t sent away anyone despite the crisis, despite our fears”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


How Islamists Could Cripple U.S. Sea Power

Clouds are forming that could become a perfect storm destructive to America’s power and influence. Historically, America made decisions that led to its economic and military ascendancy. Today, America’s decisions are shifting her economic and military strengths to other nations, including potential enemies. As expected, that power flows to those countries that act logically in their own self-interest, pursuing objectives to which they are totally committed. While America appears to be non-committal to its own interests, this storm has at least seven indicators converging on the nation:

1. potential threats to the U.S. Navy’s ability to keep sea lanes open for commerce

2. Turkey’s increasing military and economic power

3. the Turkish government’s shift from secular to Islamist

4. Muslim countries’ physical proximity to strategic sea lanes

5. the naïve belief of the West that the institution of democracy will curb Islamic aggression

6. Islamists’ belief that world domination is destined by Allah, and

7. America’s huge budgetary deficits and crippling debt

Should this storm form, it imperils America’s influence in foreign relations as well as national security.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Jews Wearing Tefillin Cause Alarm Aboard Airplane

Mexican Jews flying to Los Angeles frighten Alaska Airlines flight crew, prompting them to lock down cockpit, issue security alert.

LOS ANGELES — An orthodox Jewish prayer observance by three passengers aboard an Alaska Airlines flight on Sunday alarmed flight attendants unfamiliar with the ritual, prompting them to lock down the cockpit and issue a security alert, officials said.

Alaska Flight 241 from Mexico City to Los Angeles International Airport landed safety at LAX and was met by fire crews, foam trucks, FBI agents, Transportation Security Administration personnel and police dispatched as a precaution.

The three men, all Mexican nationals, were escorted off the plane by police and questioned by the FBI before being released to make connecting flights to other countries, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. No charges were filed, she said.

The three passengers had startled members of the cabin crew with what what was interpreted as suspicious behavior shortly after takeoff, airline spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.

“The three passengers were praying aloud in Hebrew and were wearing what appeared to be leather straps on their foreheads and arms,” she said. “This appeared to be a security threat, and the pilots locked down the flight deck and followed standard security procedures.”

It turned out the passengers were engaged in the wearing of tefillin — small, black prayer boxes containing scripture that devout Jews bind to their foreheads and arms with black leather straps in a daily ritual accompanied by special prayers.

Asked about the authorities’ reaction to the alert, Eimiller said: “We’re obligated, of course, to respond when the flight calls us to clear up concerns.”

           — Hat tip: AC [Return to headlines]

Muslim Passenger Pulled From Plane Seeks Apology

U.S. citizen wants Southwest crew disciplined for refusing to let her fly

SAN DIEGO — A Muslim woman said Wednesday that she wants a Southwest Airlines crew disciplined for removing her from a flight for wearing a headscarf.

Irum Abbasi, 31, told reporters at a news conference outside San Diego’s airport that she was forced off a San Jose-bound flight in San Diego on Sunday because a flight attendant found her to be suspicious.

Abbasi said she was told that a flight attendant overheard her say on her cell phone words to the effect of: “It’s a go.”

The mother of three, who is originally from Pakistan, told reporters that she said, “I’ve got to go,” before hanging up because the flight was about to depart. She believes the flight attendant made the assumption about her comment because she was wearing an Islamic head scarf.

After patting down her head scarf and talking to her, Transportation Security Administration agents recognized the mistake and told her it was not necessary to inspect her purse or cell phone, Abbasi said.

But they refused to let her back on the plane, telling her the crew was uncomfortable with her on the flight, according to Abbasi. She was booked on the next flight.

“I was in tears,” Abbasi said. “I was just crying. I have lived in the United States for 10 years. I am a U.S. citizen.”

Woman wants written apology

Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said the airline has apologized to Abbasi twice, including the day of the incident. The airline also gave her a voucher for another flight, he said.

Abbasi said she gave the voucher to someone else and at this point does not want to fly Southwest again. She said she wants a written apology and a guarantee that the crew will be disciplined.

Abbasi, who is originally from Pakistan, said the verbal apology “doesn’t make me feel better. This time they said we weren’t comfortable with the head scarf. Next time, they won’t be comfortable with my accent or they won’t be comfortable with my South Asian heritage.”

Mainz said the airlines is looking into the matter but does not disclose internal actions.

“Southwest has a 40-year history of treating all of our customers with great respect and care,” Mainz said. “We treat all our customers the same and we think all of our employees do a very good job of that.”

Anti-Muslim sentiment

Hanif Mohebi, director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his group believes she was targeted because of her head scarf and wants to meet with the airline to ensure it does not happen again.

Abbasi attributed her removal to growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and said that it was a direct result of the congressional hearing called by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court unanimously reinstated a lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman who accused Southern California jailers in Orange County of violating her religious freedom when they ordered her to take off her head scarf in a courthouse holding cell.

The same day Abbasi was removed from a plane in San Diego, pilots on an Alaska Airlines flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles locked down the cockpit and alerted authorities when a flight crew grew alarmed at the behavior of three men who were conducting an elaborate orthodox Jewish prayer.

FBI and customs agents along with police and a full assignment of fire trucks met the plane at the gate at Los Angeles International Airport, and the men were escorted off. After questioning from the FBI, the men were released without being arrested.

           — Hat tip: AC [Return to headlines]

President Obama’s Trivial Pursuits

The Middle East is afire with rebellion, Japan is imploding from an earthquake, and the battle of the budget is on in the United States, but none of this seems to be deterring President Obama from a heavy schedule of childish distractions.

The newly installed tandem of White House Chief of Staff William Daley and Senior Adviser David Plouffe were supposed to impart a new sense of discipline and purpose to the White House. Instead, they are permitting him to showcase himself as a poorly focused leader who has his priorities backward.

This morning, as Japan’s nuclear crisis enters a potentially catastrophic phase, we are told that Obama is videotaping his NCAA tournament picks and that we’ll be able to tune into ESPN Wednesday to find out who he likes.

Saturday, he made his 61st outing to the golf course as president, and got back to the White House with just enough time for a quick shower before heading out to party with Washington’s elite journalists at the annual Gridiron Dinner.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Referendum on Europe is Long Overdue

Where’s the problem in giving the British public a say in our membership of the EU, asks Mark Seddon.

I am old enough — just — to remember Britain’s one and only referendum on whether we should remain a member of what was then called the Common Market, back in 1975. Having decided that we should, Britons watched as the Common Market became the European Economic Community, then the European Community, and finally the European Union.

A Europe-wide free trade area has become a sprawling political union, drawing huge economic and social power to its centre. Even with an elected European Parliament, there are more than 20 unelected EU Commissioners, including the foreign policy supremo, our own Baroness Ashton — who only recently was lecturing Hosni Mubarak on the need for democratic reform, while the organisation she represents dithered horribly over what to do in practical support of the popular uprisings across north Africa and the Middle East.

For good or ill, depending on your view, the trajectory of the European Union has had — and will continue to have — major constitutional implications for each member state. But the point is that unless you are at least in your mid-fifties, you have never been asked to approve any of them: there has been an extraordinary lack of accountability. From the Maastricht Treaty to the Lisbon Treaty, politicians in opposition promised referendums, but once in power reneged on those promises. The Irish were allowed a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but having had the temerity to vote against, were then obliged to vote again until they managed to get it right. In Britain today, the political class allows us referendums in order to cement political deals among themselves, such as over a new voting system. But it balks at allowing people to vote on issues of any greater constitutional import than, say, the handing of greater powers to the Welsh Assembly — a recent referendum that was remarkable only for its derisory turn-out.

That is why, this week, a cross-party group is launching a campaign called The People’s Pledge, aimed at making politicians give us the referendum a majority of people clearly want. This new campaign breaks with tradition because it comes primarily from the Left, includes Labour MPs such as John Cryer and Kelvin Hopkins, trade unionists and Greens, such as Jenny Jones, the party’s candidate for London Mayor. Authors and writers — Fay Weldon, John King and Virginia Ironside — have come on board as well. Of course, many of our supporters want a referendum in order to vote “no” to continued EU membership, while others, such as Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, and Keith Vaz, the former Europe minister, are enthusiasts for the European Union — but agree that there should be a referendum. In the case of EU supporters such as Mr Vaz and John Stevens, the former Conservative MEP, it is a chance finally to “settle the argument”. But, given that The People’s Pledge is genuinely cross-party and non-party, Conservative MPs such as Douglas Carswell and Zac Goldsmith are involved. Goldsmith and Vaz, a somewhat unlikely pairing, are vice-chairmen of the newly formed Parliamentary “In/Out” group of MPs, who are also campaigning for a referendum on EU membership.

The People’s Pledge campaign is seeking to harness the power of the internet to target marginal constituencies and to get sitting MPs and candidates to declare they will support a referendum. Within 48 hours of our launch, some 20,000 people had logged on to make their pledge. So many, in fact, that our website crashed.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

ENEL Confirms Nuclear Plans

Programme will advance with care, govt says

(ANSA) — London, March 15 — Italy’s electricity giant ENEL on Tuesday confirmed its commitment to a new generation of nuclear power plants in Italy in the face of more strident opposition after Japan’s post-tsunami nuclear problems.

“Certainly, we will continue to be involved with Italian nuclear power,” said ENEL CEO Fulvio Conti.

“It is, of course, a long-term programme, and it is based on advanced third-generation technology,” he stressed. “We believe that people should not react in an emotional way as they have on other occasions,” Conti said, referring to the post-Chernobyl backlash that led Italy to ditch its nuclear power programme after a 1987 referendum.

“We must look to all technologies, and nuclear power cannot be excluded,” the ENEL CEO stressed.

Conti was speaking a day after the government confirmed its commitment to reviving Italy’s nuclear programme amid fierce opposition from the leftwing opposition.

On Tuesday the head of the largest opposition group, Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani, said the PD would throw its weight behind an upcoming referendum against the return to nuclear power.

Resorting to nuclear energy, Bersani said, was “wrong”. He said his party’s position was not an “emotional” reaction to the possible meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant but the result of reflection on “a technology that is still very young”.


The revived nuclear programme will advance with care in the light of what happened in Japan, Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said.

“We are neither deaf nor blind with regard to the news coming from Tokyo,” she said.

The government, the minister said, would never take decisions that might jeopardize the health or safety of citizens.

But Italy’s energy independence is “dear to the government’s heart”.

The quake-caused blasts at the Daiichi plant “will prompt us to go even deeper into safety issues, as well as the seismic conditions of the sites”.

Since Italy no longer have nuclear power plants, Prestigiacomo noted, “we are facing different problems from those countries with second-generation reactors”.

After Germany decided to shut down its two oldest reactors Monday, the minister said Italy would contribute to the European Union debate on the issue.

But she stressed that Italy’s plans involve new, safer third-generation plants.

Italian newspapers on Tuesday circulated a so-called ‘secret’ list of 22 sites which are possible locations for the four reactors Italy plans to build over the coming years.

None were in zones with significant seismic risks.

The government line was supported by Italian employers with Emma Marcegaglia, head of the industrial federation Confindustria, saying it was important that Italy did not react in an “emotional way as it has in the past”.

“We have a problem of energy costs, we import gas from countries like Algeria, Libya and Russia,” she noted, saying “the energy policy we have set needs to be maintained”.

The Italian Senate is set to establish the location and type of four new nuclear reactors to be built in the country, as well as a site for nuclear waste. Construction would begin in 2013 and be completed in 2020.

Italy struck an accord with France in 2009 for the joint construction of four nuclear plants in Italy and five in France.

This led to several other company accords signed in April of last year, including an important one between ENEL, Ansaldo Energia and the French energy giant EdF.

That agreement established the areas of potential cooperation in the development and construction of at least four reactors in Italy using the advanced third-generation European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) technology developed by EdF.

The Italian public appeared to be largely opposed to the nuclear revival according to opinion polls last year that said between 50% and 60% were against atomic energy, which was entirely phased out by 1990.

Critics of the revived plans say Italy, like Japan, is too exposed to earthquake risk for such potentially dangerous technology.

Roughly 60% of Italy is at risk of earthquakes, according to a report in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, and roughly 25% of the territory is at risk of a severe earthquake. The devastating 2009 earthquake in Aquila took place in a zone considered at moderate risk, the report said.

The government has stressed that any new plants would be built in zones with low or no seismic risk.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France: If Muslims Ask for Europe’s ‘Empty’ Churches…

In France, an Islamic organization has asked the French Church for the opportunity to pray in unused churches. And what if Christians in Egypt and Algeria request the use of mosques on Sundays? In order to avoid increasing conflicts in Europe, Islam needs to become mentally and culturally Western.

Rome (AsiaNews) — A Muslim group has asked to use the empty churches in France for Muslims to pray in, solving (at the expense of Christians) the traffic problems caused by Muslims who pray in the streets. Fr. Khalial Samir Samir, an expert scholar of Islam, reflects on the embarrassing proposal, calling for Islam in Europe to become more “European” and less “Arab”.

In a press release published Friday, March 11, 2011, the “Banlieuses Respect “ Collective asked authorities in charge of organization of the Church of France, to place at Muslims’ disposal “empty churches for Friday prayers”. Hassan M. Ben Barek, a spokesman for the Collective, said the measure would “prevent Muslims from having to pray on the streets” and being “politicians’ hostages”.

In fact, for several years now, every Friday, alongside dozens of mosques in France, Muslims have blocked the surrounding streets for an hour or two, spreading mats on the roads to pray. In many cases, local authorities close their eyes to this offense, and in some cases the police are there to ensure the safety of those who block the streets. This situation is on the rise in France (for example, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier. Montreuil, Nice, Paris, Puteaux, Strasbourg, Torcy …). A situation that is found all over the world (Athens, Brussels, Birmingham, Cordova, Moscow, New York …) and also in Italy (Albenga, Canicattì, Como, Gallarate, Milan, Modena, Moncalieri, Naples, Rome …). In the Muslim world this phenomenon is present, especially in Egypt. On 10 December, in Lyon, Marine Le Pen (National Front) denounced the Muslims “street prayers”, which led to negative reactions towards the Muslim community in France.

Three points:

first on the reason for this request, namely the lack of space in the mosques;

second on the consequences of this lack of space, namely congested streets near mosques;

third on the proposed solution to solve this problem, namely “the provision of churches empty for Friday prayers.”

Lack of space in the mosques

There are some 75 Muslim places of worship in Paris, of which you can find the details in each of the 20 arrondissements. Moahmmed Moussaoui, President of the Conseil francais du culte Muslims (CFCM), since June 2008, professor of mathematics at the University of Avignon, in a very subdued and reflective interview on December 15, 2009 on Europe 1 states that if one calculates the number of Muslims in France at five million (some say four million) and assuming that 17% of them go to the mosque on Friday, that number would be about 850 thousand people . Assuming that each person requires one by two metres, the required capacity of Muslim places of worship would be 850 thousand square meters. Currently there are around 250 thousand. Three times more space in the mosques is needed. The figures are obviously fluctuating. It is almost impossible to estimate the number of Muslims in France since French documents do not indicate religion. Moreover the proportion of those who practise their religion is even more difficult to assess. On the other hand, it is unusual for Muslim women go to the mosque to pray, those who want to pray do so more readily at home, which reduces the area required for places of worship.

A year later in another interview dated December 22, 2010, by the same Mossaoui, we read: “A study on the space for Muslim worship says that 300 thousand square meters are currently available in France. Double that is needed, according to the CFCM. Today, 150 construction projects are underway throughout the country”. Which is “an irrefutable recovery” for Massaoui.

Even if it takes twice as much space, it is up to the Muslim community to solve the problem. The State or the Church has nothing to do with it. The same Mossaoui said as much, in a television interview dated to December 2009, that the French state should not have to fund mosques, rather Muslims themselves with the help of funding from abroad. On the other hand, to avoid feeding negative reactions towards the Muslim community, then the rather generalized practise of Mayors in granting long leases of land (most often for one euro per year) for the construction of mosques needs to be reconsidered. The Ordinance of 21 April 2006 allowed for these concessions “for allocation to an association of worship for a religious building open to the public.” In many cases, the administrative court has estimated that these practices are “similar to a disguised subsidy”, which is contrary to the 1905 law.

Blocking streets near the mosques to pray

As we said, this is a common practice in Muslim countries. In fact, population growth, as well as a renewed religious fervour, have meant that the existing mosques and places of worship are not enough to contain all the faithful on Friday at noon. Given that this is the case in Muslim countries where the separation between state and religion is virtually nonexistent, the faithful have been in the habit of occupying sidewalks and streets near the mosques, and of diverting traffic.

For over a decade, this practise has also developed in Europe, although it is perfectly illegal, since the street belongs to all pedestrians as well as motorists. This situation is recognized as totally unacceptable by all reasonable people, regardless of the principle of secularism. It becomes even more so, if one takes into account that these exceptions are no longer exceptional, since it takes place every Friday. And since this exception is applied to a specific religion, Islam, the impression of many is of an “invasion” of land, a kind of “conquest” of the national territory by the “Muslims” . There are no justifications for this occupation of public territory.

On the contrary, should a group of citizens (Muslims, Christians or other religions) make an official request for an exceptional use of a public road for a limited time, for a party or ceremony, this would not pose a problem. It seems to me that the current situation does no more than reinforce and justify Islamophobic reactions. And this, in my opinion, is a fundamental point. It has become commonplace to speak, rightly and wrongly, of “Islamophobia.” Of course this may motivated by more or less racist reasons, which is totally unacceptable, even if it happens everywhere. However if people, in the name of the particular group to which they belong, behave in a manner contrary to the laws and rules of the land, or even to the traditions and customs, then, these people are responsible for the resulting negative responses. In this case, Muslims are partly to blame for the Islamophobia which is expanding throughout Europe. It is up to Muslims themselves to protest against those who cause these reactions and educate their co-religionists.

Moreover, the fact that the phenomenon of praying on the street was born and largely remains in Muslim countries, it means that it is not just the West’s problem, but of Islam. Let me explain: many justify this objectionable behaviour (the occupation of a public place by a certain group) with the fact that there is no space for this group. This tends to insinuate that the group (in this case Muslims) are mistreated or discriminated against. Not so, because in Muslim countries the situation is exactly the same, and even more widespread. The explanation is that the “system of Muslim prayer” has not been redesigned for the modern city. If you were to apply this system to Christians, for example, the roads would be completely blocked. If all Christians were required to meet Sunday at noon, be sure that no church could contain them. This was formerly a problem, and still is for the Coptic Church. There is only one church for the celebration of Mass on Sundays, which gathers the whole community.

Hence the need to construct two overlapping places of worship (in the Coptic Church) or accept having numerous Masses per church. Moreover, during the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church authorized the anticipation of Sunday Mass to Saturday evening, contrary to the whole Tradition, to allow as many faithful as possible to participate in the Eucharist. It is an internal matter for the community, which, if alive, must find ways to adapt to the world, and not ask the world to adapt to it!

Finally, in the dozens of videos that show Muslims at prayer in the street, which can be seen on Youtube, for example, I have never seen women in prayer. One of two things: either it is because it is not convenient, and then it is equally improper for a man; or, because Friday prayers in the mosque is not an obligation, and if so, then this applies to everyone. Unless it is because the public prayer is “a matter for men,” probably because, in this case, it takes on a “political” aspect.

Provision of empty churches for prayer on Friday

The March 11 proposal of the Collective, calling on the Church of France, to “provide Muslims empty churches for Friday prayers”, is astounding. These “empty churches” are consecrated places and it would never occur to a Christian to use them for anything other than the liturgical ceremonies, or sacred music — an exception that is always possible. It would be unthinkable to use them to celebrate a non-Christian cult.

On the other hand, a church that served as a mosque would have to be re-equipped for the needs of Muslim prayer. Many typically Christian elements would have to be removed and typically Muslim ones added. And above all these “empty churches” are not destined to remain empty, but on the contrary to be occupied as soon as possible by a Christian community or a monastic community, which is happening more and more throughout Europe. Now it seems unlikely that such a place, more or less once converted into a mosque, could be “repossessed” and turned back to church. It would be a great loss for the Muslim community and could lead to much bitterness and religious conflicts. The Christians would then be accused of being Islamophobic, revanchists, disrespectful of Muslim sensitivities, unbrotherly towards them, and so on.

Finally, imagine for a moment the opposite. If in a Muslim country (Egypt or Algeria, for example) the indigenous Christians (in Egypt) or immigrant Christians (in Algeria) asked Muslims to give them a mosque, since they have many, or to lend them one for Sunday, or only for important celebrations: Christmas, Epiphany, the beginning of Lent, Easter, Pentecost and the Assumption, what would the reaction of Muslims be?


In conclusion, it seems important that a new relationship between the Muslim community and the European population be established in France and Europe, a relationship based on cooperation, friendship and mutual esteem. There are extremist fringes on both sides, which we should help each other to de-fanaticise. French Muslims represent less than 10% of the population elsewhere in Europe the proportion is lower. Islam in Europe poses a problem, since it is not seen simply as a religion, but also as a culture that penetrates all areas of daily life. Consequently, there may be a conflict of cultures. Europe has worked for centuries to separate religion and society, and everything is marked by a secularized Christian culture.

I think the Muslim community must make a serious attempt to accept that the religious phenomenon remains, as far as possible, a private affair. The more Islam moves in this direction, the less opposition it will find. This does not mean being less Muslim, far from it, it means being Muslim in a different, more inner, way.

Asking the Church to provide currently unused churches at the disposition of Muslims is a major embarrassment at the very moment when the effort of believers is focused on re-evangelizing those who have strayed from Christian practice. Asking the State for public subsidies in the form of a lease, embarrasses the State and the public who will perceive it as a subterfuge. It is a far better thing to rely on one’s own strengths and the solidarity of Muslims (avoiding, however, that this foreign aid is not subject to certain conditions).

According to the president of the CFCM there are currently about 150 places of worship under construction. We must insist that the municipalities do not pose ideological obstacles to the construction of mosques, if they adhere to zoning regulations. In my opinion, in order for Muslims and Islam not to be seen as a foreign body, great effort have to be made in the formation of imams in France, imams who are perfectly integrated into French culture and mentality, (or the wider European Union context).

As long as Islam is culturally “Arab” as long as Muslims believe that to be a true Muslim they must be closer to the original Arab culture, there will be uneasiness. This is, to me, the vocation of the Muslims of Europe: the creation of a Western interpretation (French, European ….) of Islam, which harmonises the Muslim faith and spirituality with Western modernity, namely, secularism and human rights . I am convinced that this is possible — and is already under way — but this requires an effort by all to reach its destination, and above all the desire for an Islam thus conceived.

Finally, as suggested in point 3, greater reflection is needed on how to maintain the principle of “community of prayer” (salât al-jumu’ah), however, rethinking its modalities to account for cultural and practical realities. In other words, if there is a conflict of interest, first we must look for the desired goal in the letter of the Law (maqâsid al-shari’ah) rather than the letter of the Shari’ah.

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

Germany: Teaching Christian Morality Gets Parents Jailed

Mom, 2 fathers latest to serve 6-week terms for opposing explicit sex ed

Authorities in Paderborn, Germany, today sent two fathers to jail for refusing to allow the public school system to indoctrinate their children with a sex philosophy that “if it feels good, do it.” Another student’s mother already had been imprisoned for the same offense.

The latest developments in Germany’s campaign to make certain all children are taught the state’s permissive view of sexuality have raised questions about the basic human rights of parents to choose moral teaching for their children.

Officials with the U.S.-based Alliance Defense Fund immediately filed an emergency appeal to the European Court of Human rights on behalf of Irene Wiens, who was jailed some days ago after her husband served his six-week sentence for refusing for his children the school indoctrination regarding permissive sex.

Then today, Arthur Wiens and Edward Wiens, fathers who also objected to the state’s explicit curriculum choices for their own children, were ordered to jail. Wiens is a relatively common name in Germany.


Kiska explained to WND the issue is the four days of “sexual education” mandated by the state schools. They include the stage play called “My body is mine” as well as interactive programs that “promoted a very liberal view of sex and sexuality which strongly contradicted Mr. and Mrs. Wiens’ moral and Christian beliefs.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Italy: Ruby Affair: Prosecutors: Fondling and Sexual Intercourse

(AGI) Milan — Apparently, the so-called ‘bunga bunga’ nights broke down into three different phases, according to the prosecutors. Investigations involve Nicole Minetti, Emilio Fede and Lele Mora, all charged with aiding and abetting of underage prostitutions. The prosecutors write that the key was the “bunga bunga”, “which took place in a discotheque-style room, where the girls would dress up, strip and dance erotically, touching each other, even in their private parts”. The first phase was basically a dinner: the girls invited to the villa in Arcore “were informed about their remuneration and other fringe benefits in exchange for a sexual intercourse and they were also told how to behave, depending on the evening”. The second phase was the so-called ‘bunga bunga’ and finally, the third one was when Silvio Berlusconi chose one or more girls to spend the night with, to have sexual intercourses; these girls were given extra fringe benefits aside from the cash payment given to the other participants”.

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

Italy: ‘33 Girls in Berlusconi Sex Case’

‘Ruby 16 when affair began,’ court papers say

(ANSA) — Milan, March 15 — Milan prosecutors said Tuesday that 33 young women were involved in a just-closed probe into alleged prostitution at parties held by Premier Silvio Berlusconi between the start of 2009 and January 2011.

According to court papers filed Tuesday, 32 of them were adults but one, Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan belly dancer known as Ruby, was under age.

Ruby was allegedly first paid for sex when she was 16 in September 2009, five months earlier than the previously thought date of February 2010, according to papers released after the closure of a probe into three people for aiding and abetting prostitution.

The three are Berlusconi’s former dental hygienist, ex-showgirl and now Lombardy regional councillor Nicole Minetti; a veteran news anchor at one of Berlusconi’s TV channels and close personal friend of the premier’s, Emilio Fede; and a showbiz talent scout and self-styled ‘VIP impresario’, Lele Mora.

They are suspected of procuring young women for the premier’s parties.

Fede first met Ruby at a beauty contest at Taormina, Sicily, in September 2009, the papers said.

The start of Ruby’s alleged prostitution dates from then, according to the papers.

The closure of the probe Tuesday means that indictments are in the offing, judicial sources said. Berlusconi’s position is separate from the three because prosecutors asked for a fast-track trial for him, which opens in Milan on April 6.

Berlusconi denies the charges of allegedly paying for sex with Ruby when she was underage and alleged abuse of power to get her out of police custody after an unrelated theft allegation.

Paying for prostitutes is not illegal in Italy but paying minors for sex is and carries a jail term of up to three years.

Abuse of power spells a possible jail term of 12 years.

The premier, who says he is the victim of allegedly left-leaning prosecutors, has vowed to defend himself by attending hearings on one day a week, Monday.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi ‘Will Defend Girls’ In Ruby Case

‘I’m naughty but 33 in two months is a bit much’, PM tells daily

(ANSA) — Rome, March 16 — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday said he would go on TV and defend the young women and a teenager prosecutors claim he paid for sex.

The premier, in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica, reiterated that he had never paid for sex in his life and was “lucky” to have an unidentified girlfriend who would have “clawed his eyes out” if he had got up to the alleged sexual high jinks for which he goes on trial April 6.

On Wednesday prosecutors said the premier paid for intercourse with 33 alleged prostitutes after so-called ‘bunga bunga’ sex parties including a teen Moroccan belly dancer called Ruby they say Berlusconi slept with 13 times after she was allegedly recruited at a beauty contest at the age of 16. “I can’t fathom such a barbarous use of justice, so far from reality,” Berlusconi told La Repubblica, stressing that none of the alleged prostitutes or witnesses had confirmed what prosecutors claim went on at his villa outside Milan.

“I’m 75 years old and although I’m naughty, 33 girls in two months seems a bit much even for a 30-year-old. It’s too much for anyone.

“And then there’s an extra hurdle…I have always had next to me a girlfriend who I have luckily been able to keep out of all this sleaze. If I had done everything they say, she would have clawed my eyes out. And I assure you, she has very long nails”.

The premier said he wanted to “publicly defend” the young women who “risk spending the rest of their lives with an indelible stain” on their characters.

The prosecutors, he claimed, had exposed “33 girls who will be branded as prostitutes until the end of their days.

“And yet their only fault was to take part in dinners with the premier at which there were three musicians and six waiters”.

Denying prosecutors’ allegations that girls cavorted semi-naked before being fondled at the ‘bunga bunga’ stage and then being selected for sex, Berlusconi said: “the girls bopped around in the disco, on their own, because I’ve never liked dancing, nothing more”.

“I have never paid for a woman in my life. And another thing, how could anyone possibly pay for sex with a bank draft, 130,000 euros, for one sex act? I’m indignant”.

Asked about the second charge, of allegedly pressuring police to get Ruby released from custody on an unrelated theft allegation, Berlusconi said: “I only asked for information. The police officers themselves say so. There’s no victim and no privileged treatment. It’s all a set-up, a scandal”.

Reiterating that he wanted to defend the good name of the alleged prostitutes, Berlusconi said: “I will go on television, to explain everything, to defend myself and defend those girls, although it’s not going to be easy”.

Asked why it would not be easy, he replied: “Because it’s not at all easy to face four trials and do your job as premier”.

As well as the so-called Ruby case, Berlusconi is involved in three corruption trials, two for alleged tax fraud on film rights and one for allegedly bribing British tax lawyer David Mills to hush up incriminating evidence.

In the Ruby case, he risks maximum prison terms of three years for the sex charge and 12 years for the abuse of office charge.

After months of seeming public apathy, the case appears to have taken a slight toll on the premier’s approval rating with the latest poll, out Wednesday, showing him two points down from January at 33%.

But Berlusconi has shored up what was a month ago a wafer-thin majority in the House and has vowed to complete his term and enact a sweeping programme including federalism and a justice reform that would enable aggrieved former defendants to sue prosecutors and judges.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: VVD Wants Headscarf Ban in Town Hall

THE HAGUE, 16/03/11 — The conservatives (VVD) want town hall staff to be banned from wearing headscarves or other religious symbols. The party also considers the constitutional freedom of religion a superfluous article.

VVD MP Jeanine Hennis made her proposal yesterday in an interview met De Pers newspaper. “All religions are equal for me here.” As well as town halls, headscarves could also be banned in other public buildings, she suggests. “Universities, schools, i would also like to pursue the debate regarding these,” according to Hennis.

In the campaign for the provincial elections on 2 March, the Party for Freedom (PVV) proposed that headscarves should be banned in provincial halls. Labour (PvdA), the Christian democrats (CDA), the leftwing Greens (GroenLinks) and small Christian party ChristenUnie reacted very critically to this. The VVD stayed on the sidelines at this time.

According to the VVD MP, the debate on headscarves is hampered by the CDA. ‘That I would like to pursue: A more reflective debate on the separation of church and state.” Christian parties however “immediately regard that as an infringement of freedom of religion.”

Hennis says the fear of infringement of freedom of religion in the Netherlands is nonsense. “Because freedom of religion is enshrined in so many other articles: freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. In fact, the article in which freedom of religion is incorporated is superfluous.”

The VVD MP points out that in other countries, it is easy to discuss the matter when it comes to a headscarf ban in public places. “Look at how France deals with it, where the headscarf is banned at public schools.”

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

UK: Does it Really Take 60 Police Officers — Many of Them Armed — Plus a Lion Vet From the Zoo Thirty Hours to Round Up Two Dogs (Even if They Are Very Dangerous)?

Sixty police officers in riot gear were involved in a 30 hour stand-off with two dangerous dogs after a teenager was horrifically injured in a sustained attack by the animals.

They used Tazers to free the victim as he was being savaged and even called in armed response units to deal with the animals but eventually had to resort to calling a vet trained in using tranquillisers on lions.

The out-of-control dogs were only destroyed when they were both shot with a dart and then given a lethal injection by the vet, summoned from the local zoo.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: What Does Ed Stand for?

by Nick Cohen

In Ed Miliband, the Labour Party has its first leader from a Jewish background. “Background” is the word to remember because, as with Benjamin Disraeli, Ed Miliband’s father renounced his faith. Isaac Disraeli joined the Church of England and allowed his children to flourish in the sectarian English establishment of the day. Ralph Miliband joined a creed more mystical than Anglicanism, the now-lost religion of socialism.

Like Ed and David Miliband, I am a “red diaper baby” from an atheist home that was closer to Marx than Moses. I had no contact with Jewish religion and precious little with Jewish culture. But I was a “Cohen” and so came to know about hostility to Jews. It has taken me a while to realise that you can learn much about the characters of non-Jewish Jews by watching how we deal with soft and not-so-soft antisemitism. Writers and politicians from privileged backgrounds should be grateful. We have the opportunity to discover racism — to feel what being the target of racism means — denied to most of our contemporaries. A consistent opposition to prejudice in all its forms ought to follow.

The alternative is to emulate Sam Finkler, Howard Jacobson’s protagonist in The Finkler Question and try to divert the attention of racists and conspiracy theorists. Finkler’s manoeuvre is to form ASHamed Jews, at whose meetings, celebrities and academics cry in effect, “I’m not the one you want!” Like the Milibands and me, you did not need to believe you were truly Jewish to attend.

>From The Finkler Question: “One among them only found out he was Jewish at all in the course of making a television programme in which he was confronted on camera with who he really was. In the final frame of the film he was disclosed weeping before a memorial in Auschwitz to dead ancestors who until that moment he had never known he’d had. ‘It could explain where I get my comic genius from,’ he told an interviewer for a newspaper, though by then he had renegotiated his new allegiance. Born a Jew on Monday, he had signed up to be an ASHamed Jew by Wednesday and was seen chanting ‘We are all Hezbollah’ outside the Israeli Embassy on the following Saturday.”

In contrast to his older and better brother, Ed Miliband is a Finkler. If he argued as part of a consistent leftist philosophy that the conscience of humanity demanded that Palestinians receive their own state, I would have nothing against him. But the squalor of Finklerism lies in its lack of consistency; in what it omits rather than what it includes. In his first speech as Labour leader, Miliband announced that Israel was the only obstacle to a “just and lasting peace” in Middle East. He offered no comment on Hamas, Hizbollah and their Iranian controllers, or about the hundreds of millions suffering under secular and theocratic dictatorships.

The Arab revolutions did not merely catch him by surprise — they caught everyone by surprise — but revealed his parochialism: the selfish Little Englander hiding behind the progressive mask. The uprisings did not follow the Finkler script. They had nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with tyranny and corruption. To the visible despair of those in Labour who still believe in internationalism and comradely obligations, Miliband responded by implying that anyone who asked for a no-fly zone over Libya was a “neo-con”.

As abroad, so at home. When David Cameron —admirably, I thought — said his government would stop funding Islamist groups that opposed democracy and the emancipation of women, the Labour leadership accused him of “writing propaganda” for the far right. To anyone who’s located outside Finklerdom, it is nonsensical to cast opposition to misogyny, homophobia and anti-semitism as fascist. Inside the laager (defensive encampment), Islamism is a rational reaction to the provocation of Israeli and western conservatives, and hence it is “left-wing” to condemn critics of fascistic movements as fascists themselves.

Ed Miliband squeezed home in the Labour leadership contest by appealing to the party’s gut emotions. He was against the second Iraq War, he said, which was news to everyone who actually knew him. He would fight the cuts, although if he got into power he would be implementing many of them himself. Continuing to tell people what they want to hear may eventually take him on to Downing Street, but the record suggests that he would not know what to do if he gets there.

[JP note: Two Eds is better than one.]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]


Former Yugoslavia: Growing Desire to Come Back Together Again

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, MARCH 15 — ‘Yugo-nostalgia’ and the desire to get back together again seem to get stronger in the republics of the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, where joint initiatives are becoming more and more frequent, ranging from sport to lottery, military missions and even Big Brother. In the past days, the Belgrade daily Press reports, the formation of a joined military unit of soldiers from various counties of former Yugoslavia was started. This unit will be assigned to the multinational taskforce ISAF in Afghanistan. It includes troops from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. Some people already speak ironically about the reconstitution of the Yugoslav Army (JNA).

The same newspaper writes that last Sunday the Serbian private network Pink started a new series of Big Brother, with the participation of six Croats, five Serbs, two Bosnians and a Macedonian. The title, with a biblical reference that is highly symbolic for the countries in the region, is ‘Love your neighbour’, underlining the common desire for reconciliation and for leaving the old grudges linked to the bloody wars of the ‘90s behind. The two presenters are also from two different countries, one from Croatia and one from Serbia, but both are former participants in the reality show. Press remarks that in reality, ‘Yugo-nostalgia’ is not behind the latest edition of Big Brother nor a return to Tito’s ‘Brotherhood and Unity’, (Bratstvo i Jedinstvo). It is not a resurrection of the old Yugoslavia, the newspaper writes, but it is all linked to commercial motives. The show’s audience figures have been in continuous decline, Press observes, and the makers are trying to raise them again with a regional solution that involves viewers from various countries. Still within the framework of ‘Yugo-nostalgia’, some sports initiatives have been taken in the old Federation, with a basketball league for teams from Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia and similar leagues for water polo and ice hockey. Next spring will see the start of a joint lottery for the various countries of former Yugoslavia.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Egyptian Army Consulted Islamic Clerics on Decision to Rebuild Torched Church

by Mary Abdelmassih

(AINA) — The Muslim attack on March 5 on a church in the village of Soul, in Atfih, on the outskirts of Cairo, prompted nearly 2,000,000 angry Copts and liberal Muslims to stage a sit-in in front of the TV Building in Maspero for 9 days, demanding the return of the church from the Muslim occupiers and the return of the Copts back to their village.

To pacify the Copts and criticisms from foreign governments, the Egyptian army said it would rebuild the church at its own expense. Village Muslims were adamant that if Copts wanted their church, it had to be built outside the village. Army officials and the Governor of Helwan met with Father Balamon, pastor of the torched church, who expected the church to be returned to Copts, but after the meeting Father Balamon said “instead we found the meeting centered around the idea of Copts choosing another location for their church.” This suggestion was refused by all Coptic leaders and those at the sit-in, which has now been dubbed the “March 6 Coptic Revolution.”

Coptic activist Mark Ebeid said “this suggestion was out of the question, and it was made as a test case to see the Coptic reaction. Had we accepted it, we would have faced the prospect of all our churches taken by Muslims and other ones replaced outside the villages like outcasts.”

The torching of the church was invoked by an illicit relationship between a Coptic married man and a Muslim married woman. The church in Soul and Muslim village elders decided the Coptic man should leave the villager with his family, which he did. The story developed between the father of the Muslim woman and her cousin who wanted the family honour to be restored by killing her. Her father refused and both killed each other. The Muslims, holding the Christians responsible for their misfortune, came back from the funeral straight to the church and torched it.

To justify their act, the village Muslims circulated a rumor that the church practices sorcery, based on books with strange designs they found, besides pieces of papers at the alter with Muslim names scribbled on them, wine bottles and some women’s clothes.

A group of Muslim scholars, headed by the Salafi Shaikh Mohammad Hassan went to the village of Soul and met with the Muslim youth, most of whom are Salafis, in order to pacify them and get them to evacuate the church. Salafis believe in a strict and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. They agreed to give Hassan 48 hours to consult Sharia Law and other Muslim scholars whether it is possible according to Sharia to rebuild a church or not.

“All this taking place while the mighty army is waiting, along with thousands of Copts at the sit-in, to fulfill its promise to rebuild the Soul church,” commented activist Wagih Yacoub. “What everyone could not understand was the behavior of the army, as to why they were not forcing the Muslims who occupied the church to evacuate it, as they do with the Copts.”

Hassan went out on national TV channels confirming that he saw “with his own eyes” what the villagers were saying about the church’s witchcraft practice. A couple of priests had to appear on TV to explain that the wine is for celebrating holy communion, the books they saw were not witchcraft formulas, but liturgy books in the Coptic language which uses a Greek alphabet, the scraps of paper with names on the alter belonged to Muslims asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary whom they revere and the clothes are donations for the poor.

On Saturday March 12, after the elapse of 48 hours, Shaikh Hassan went into the overcrowded hall, sitting at a table with a Muslim Brotherhood and an army representative, among other Muslim scholars. He told his audience that he consulted with ten other Sharia scholars, the names of whom he read out, and they all agreed that “According to the general rules of Allah’s Sharia and the Fatwa (religious edict) of the scholars, the Armed Forces Supreme Council decided to rebuild the church as it was before, without any decrease or increase in its size, under the supervision of the armed forces engineering department.”

The representative of the Armed Forces Supreme Council said “In response to the tolerance shown by the village youth towards the rebuilding of the church, the Armed Forces Supreme Council shows its appreciation of the stance of the village youth, and decides to rebuild the church at its own expense, by its executive department, on the same area and to take the same look, with no decrease or increase, starting on Sunday 13 March” (video of conference in Arabic).

Hassan added the Copts should return home and the village Muslims who always “protected them” will continue to do so. “Hassan wants to make Dhimmis out of us,” said Mark Ebeid, “and besides, who said that Muslims protect Christians? I thought we were living in country with a constitution and a police force and not in Mecca or Medina, 14 centuries ago. Or maybe this is a first step to later subject Christians to Jizya for protection.”

Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub, enraged by the army having recourse to a Salafi Fatwa to give over 15,000,000 Christian in Egypt their rights, said “In this way the Supreme Council gave up in advance the rule of law which it represents, in favor of Sharia law, which is represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis.”

On March 5, Muslims in the village torched the church of St. Mena and St. George after looting its contents (AINA 3-5-2011), playing football with the saints’ relics and burning what was left. Afterwards nearly 4000 men demolished the walls of the church with sledgehammers to the sounds of “Allahu Akbar” coming out from the speakers of the nearby mosque (video).

Seven thousand Copts fled the village after being terrorized by Muslims, and those who remained were mostly men after women were threatened to be raped, were given refuge by Muslim neighbours or hid in their homes (video).

Copts of all ages, including priests and monks, gathered the next day and staged an open sit-in in front of the TV building until they get back “their church” and the return of the displaced Copts back to their homes in Soul village (AINA 3-8-2011).

After torching and demolishing the church, Muslims occupied it and vowed to turn it into a Mosque and started collecting donations. They also started praying there.

           — Hat tip: Mary Abdelmassih [Return to headlines]

Egypt: Amr Moussa to Vote No to Referendum on Constitution

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 16 — The secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, one of the frontrunners for the Egyptian Presidency, has said that he will vote against amendments to the constitution on Saturday.

Moussa believes that the best way forward would be to elect a new President according to a provisional constitution. The new head of state would appoint a committee to rewrite the new constitution, which would then be examined and approved by a constituent assembly elected by citizens. At this point, Moussa explained, parliamentary elections could be held.

The general secretary of the Arab League said that the new President should only be elected for one term, in order to “fulfil the demands of the people and the aims of the revolution”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy Rules Out Libyan Invasion

Frattini says international community must not ‘make war’

(ANSA) — Rome, March 16 — Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Wednesday that Italy would not join a ‘coalition of the willing’ to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and was against an international military campaign on the ground in Libya.

“It’s not possible to make war,” Frattini told a joint session of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees. “The international community must not undertake military action, in my opinion. It doesn’t want this and it can’t do it”.

Frattini excluded Italy’s participation in any operation staged by a coalition of willing states given that “Europe is divided, the G8 is divided and NATO is divided”.

“When the Arab League and the African Union talk about excluding any ground intervention on Libyan territory, it’s clear that a no-fly zone is the prospect at the most advanced stage,” he added.

“But there isn’t even an agreement on this”.

Frattini had previously stressed Rome has consistently supported the United Nations and European Union line in the crisis, including sanctions to encourage Gaddafi to step down.

Frattini reiterated Wednesday that “international political and economic isolation” is in store for Gaddafi even if he manages to regain control over his country, with his loyalists having gained the upper hand against rebels trying to end his 40-year rule.

He also told parliament that “none too friendly” statements towards Italy by Gaddafi were just propaganda.

Gaddafi said he feels betrayed by Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and other European leaders who have turned against him during the rebellion. He threatened to form an alliance with al Qaeda if Western governments ordered an invasion of his country.

He added that economic, financial and security ties with the West will be reviewed after the crisis. Italy, which had colonial control of Libya 1911 to 1943, has many business links with the North African country and imported a lot of oil and gas from it before supplies were suspended following the rebellion.

The two nations also put in place a controversial ‘push-back’ policy that had slashed the number of migrants to land on Italy’s shores from North Africa before the current crisis brought a wave of new arrivals.

The policy was the result of a 2008 friendship treaty with Libya in which Italy agreed to pay colonial reparations of $5 billion.

Italy has suspended the treaty but Frattini has said it will be revived for “the Libya of the future”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Paraded on Libyan TV, The Rebel ‘Al Qaeda Fighter’ From Britain

A British citizen captured in Libya has been branded an Islamic terrorist by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Salah Mohammed Ali Aboaoba was paraded in front of the world press yesterday by officials who claim he has been helping Al Qaeda fuel unrest in the country.

Flanked by officers, the father-of-four said he was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a terrorist organisation banned in Britain.

Terrorist? Mr Aboaoba claimed he raised money for his group at the Didsbury Mosque in Manchester, but last night a spokesman for the centre said they had never heard of him

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Aboaoba said he moved from Yemen to Britain in 2005 and travelled to Libya late last year.

He claimed he had been granted asylum in the UK and lives with his family in Manchester, where he raised funds for his jihadist group.

‘I do indeed have British nationality,’ he said. ‘I was not involved in any terrorist activity against Britain, apart from my funding involvement with the LIFG.’

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Protest in Tunis for Visit by H. Clinton

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 16 — Today hundreds of people organised a protest demonstration in the heart of Tunis against a visit by US secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is expected tonight. The demonstrators were waving signs against “American protection”, blaming the USA of “crimes committed in Iraq”. The demonstration, checked by a massive display of army and police forces, ended without any incidents.

Hillary Clinton has a series of meetings scheduled with the leaders of the provisional government. Accompanied by delegation of approximately 100 people, she will leave Tunis tomorrow afternoon.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Investors Flee, UAE Group Backs Out of Project

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 15 — UAE-based group Bukhatir has reportedly cancelled a huge construction project for the Tunis Sport City complex. News of the decision comes after a similar choice made by Qatari group Diar, which backed out of a construction project for a luxury tourism complex in Tozeur. Tunis Sport City is supposed to span a 160-hectare area in the area between Berges du Lac and Le Kram (northern suburbs of Tunis), with luxury residences and top-level sports complexes. News of shelving the project has not been made official, but it is certain that personnel that was already working there have been laid off.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tunisia: MPs: Stop Shift in Favour of Justicialist

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 15 — At this point it is an all-out war between the powers of state in Tunisia, with MPs calling for an end to what in their opinion is a shift in favour of the judicial branch of the government after the revolution and a stop to the inappropriate meddling of the judiciary in the legislative branch. The controversy was sparked by a decision by the Administrative Court of Tunis, which a few days ago froze benefits and privileges enjoyed by members of the two houses of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Advisors.

The decision, explained the judges, was adopted based on a request made on February 23 by a group of “taxpayers” from Djerba, which include lawyers and civil society representatives.

The choice to end the favourable treatment of the MPs was called a “conservative measure” by the court, prior to the outcome of another case which will presumably take much longer and which could conclude with the dissolution of the two houses of Parliament before the natural expiration of their term and before the new electoral law is passed. The MPs are not in agreement and have launched a judicial counteroffensive, contesting the measure and initiating a harsh attack against the judiciary. The point that has been harshly attacked by 30 members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Advisors (the group includes members of the dissolved RCD and the old opposition) pertains to observing the principle of the separation of powers of state, which they believe has been violated. In their act of impugnation, the MPs say that the separation of powers makes it impossible for the judiciary, or the administrative court in this case, to exercise “any control or authority” over the legislature. And their argument goes a step further, stating that there is nothing that allows the executive branch — the interim president — to dissolve constitutional institutions. But their attack goes even further and focuses on the widespread atmosphere in the country due to some members of the press, say the MPs, who spread a “distorted” image of the officials. Also, they added, “the witch-hunts and culture of eradication” that has spread throughout Tunisia following the revolution must be stopped. They also criticised the anti-democratic practices of many parties that “are attempting to hijack the revolution” and to present MPs as “enemies of the people”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Mahmoud Abbas Open to Talks With Hamas, May Travel to Gaza

(ANSAmed) — RAMALLAH/GAZA, MARCH 16 — The moderate President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, has today left the door open for talks with his Islamic rivals in Hamas, saying that he is ready to travel to Gaza “tomorrow if needed” to check on the prospects for reconciliation and to facilitate the calling of new elections “within six months”.

In a public speech made in Ramallah the day after a series of street protests called throughout the Palestinian Territories to demand an end to internal divisions, Mahmoud Abbas said that he was ready, if met with a favourable reaction, to postpone the process of forming a new PNA government (which is currently ongoing) to discuss a potential “national unity” government with Hamas.

The aim, the President said, remains the rapid organisation of local, legislative and presidential elections. After a number of delays, the PNA has already announced that it wants to call the elections between July and September, but in the current conditions, Hamas is refusing to call a vote in its stronghold, the Gaza Strip.

Reacting to Mahmoud Abbas’ speech, a Hamas spokesperson said that he was “satisfied” but that some reservations remained. “We will need to check this willingness to talk through our direct sources, to see if it is a real claim or just propaganda,” he said.

After yesterday’s street protests (which did not go by without incident), the head of the de facto Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, appealed to Mahmoud Abbas to revive inter-Palestinian dialogue between rival factions and to accept “an urgent face-to-face meeting”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Bahrain: Police Attack Protestors, 5 Killed

(ANSAmed) — MANAMA, MARCH 16 — This morning hundreds of policemen in riot gear have taken control of Pearl Square in Manama after having attacked the Shia protestors who had been staging a sit-in in the square since February 19 to demand reform.

After arriving in armoured tanks, troop transport vehicles and coaches, police went forward by throwing dozens of tear gas canisters. A number of tents in which protestors had been sleeping have been set fire to and thick dark smoke is rising into the air.

According to a opposition parliamentarian, 5 protestors have been killed this morning by security forces. Yesterday evening another protestor was killed in clashes with security forces in the Shia village Sitra, 15 kilometres south of the capital.

“This is a war of annihilation. This does not happen even in war times and it is unacceptable,” denounced the parliamentary leader of the Shia opposition party Wefaq, Abdel Jalil Khalil.

The member of parliament added that security forces are deployed across the entire country of Bahrain, and are closing down shops and carrying out arrests.

Over the night Shia dignitaries of Bahrain — which is governed by a Sunni dynasty despite most of the population being Shia — asked the Muslim world to intervene to prevent a “horrible massacre” in the kingdom.

Yesterday the king proclaimed martial law, the day after troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries arrived in his aid. Gulf troops deployed in Bahrain belong to the Peninsula Shield, a joint force of the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Bahrain: Shia Site: Hospitals Attacked and Closed by Police

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 16 — One of the main hospitals in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, has been attacked by police, while access to another hospital is reported to be blocked in order to deny treatment to those injured in this morning’s dawn attack by government forces on the camp of protesters in Pearl Square, in which five people are said to have died (three, according to other sources).

The latest developments have been reported by eyewitnesses quoted by the pan-Shia agency Abna, which is based in Iran and which on its multilingual site ( shows what it claims to be photos of those injured and of the square filled with smoke from tear gas fired by Manama security forces.

“Bahrain’s international hospital was attacked by riot police, who slashed the tyres of ambulances in order to prevent the injured from being rescued,” the website says, adding that the first “martyr” of today’s attack is Jaffar Sadiq from the town of Karrana, which lies west of the capital.

“Salmaniya hospital, meanwhile, has been blocked by police and there is currently no-one in the building,” the agency continues, adding that there are reports of an interruption in mobile phone and internet services in the country.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Bahrain: Official on State TV, Gatherings Banned

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 16 — The authorities in Bahrain have invited citizens not to gather in public, after police cleared the camp of anti-government protesters from Manama’s Pearl Square at dawn this morning.

“For your own safety, we invite you not to gather together,” a senior Bahraini official in uniform announced on state television. The official also said that security forces had cleared Pearl Square and the nearby Salmaniya hospital, where protesters had been camping out.

Early this morning, hundreds of riot police attacked protesters who had been camping in Pearl Square for around a month. Opposition deputies say that five protesters died in the clashes.

Further clashes were reported in other areas of the capital.

The most serious were in the eastern suburbs of Buri and Aali, where some of the people injured this morning told the Lebanese newspaper As Safir that Saudi soldiers deployed in Bahrain two days ago opened fire on the protesters.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Digging Too Deep: Journalist Arrests a Blow for Press Freedom in Turkey

The dubious arrests of 10 journalists in Turkey for what the authorities claim is involvement in an anti-government conspiracy has thrown further doubt on the extent of press freedoms in the EU candidate country.

In the early morning hours of March 3, Istanbul-based journalist and university lecturer Ahmet Sik awoke to the sound of his doorbell. Fifteen men in dark blue bulletproof vests and black wool caps were standing in front of his apartment — agents from Turkey’s TEM anti-terror unit. “You have half an hour,” one of them snapped at Sik, who was still half asleep. “No telephone calls.” Then the unit led him away, right through a tight knot of reporters.

Nine other journalists received visits from the anti-terror unit on the same day. One of them was Nedim Sener, a reporter with the liberal daily paper Milliyet and one of the country’s best-known investigative reporters. A critic of the Turkish government, Sener had been expecting to be arrested for weeks. He had received threats: “You’re next, brother. Do you have your bags packed?”

Sik and Sener are currently the most prominent victims in a wave of arrests that began four weeks ago, when TEM turned up at the Istanbul offices of Oda-TV, a Web portal. There, too, employees were arrested and the website was temporarily shut down. The message sent was that journalists too eager to take on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), the conservative party with Islamist roots currently in power in Turkey, would soon find themselves leading dangerous lives.

Calling to Mind McCarthy Witch-Hunts

What is going on in Turkey, a country that strives to set an example for the Arab world in terms of democracy and freedom of the press? Why has the country now put 68 journalists behind bars and why do Turkey’s press associations describe an atmosphere that calls to mind the era of Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunts? What crimes are these journalists actually being accused of by the government?

In Sik and Sener’s case, prosecutor Zekeriya Öz himself commented on the case. The journalists’ arrests, according to Öz, had nothing to do with articles they wrote, but rather with findings in connection with the so-called Ergenekon case. This case, which a court in Silivri, west of Istanbul, has been hearing for the past two and a half years, concerns a supposed group of conspirators accused of plotting a coup against Erdogan’s government.

The most spectacular criminal case in Turkey’s recent history, it has seen the arrest of more than 200 suspects, including army officers, politicians and professors. Many of these alleged Ergenekon members are considered to be ultranationalists, said to have been waiting for a chance to strike in tandem with like-minded forces within the army, but then caught by the police in the nick of time.

The existence of this ominous secret society, though, remains unproven. All three indictments contain gaping holes. And “due to the need for confidentiality,” says Öz, the chief prosecutor for the case, it isn’t currently possible for him to make the evidence public. That’s a statement that doesn’t bode well for journalists Sik and Sener.

Strategies for Toppling Erdogan

The pool of suspects seems to widen inexorably, casting serious doubts on the legitimacy of the Ergenekon case. Many in Turkey wonder if the prime minister might be misusing the investigations as a way to intimidate his opponents.

In the case of Sik and Sener, that suspicion seems likely. Sik is one of several journalists who helped expose mafia-like structures within the country’s military and political elite. Sik also published “coup diaries” allegedly written by Admiral Özden Örnek, containing reflections on strategies for toppling Erdogan, in the magazine Nokta in 2007.

Sener, too, investigated the morass of Turkey’s so-called “deep state,” an alleged network of politics, justice and organized crime. It was Sener who exposed Turkish security forces’ role in the murder of Turkish-Armenian author Hrant Dink.

Sik and Sener have both proved themselves opponents of the AKP government, which they accuse of undemocratic activities. “They both took on the Islamists,” says Ertugrul Kürkcü, a colleague at an independent Web news portal called Bianet. “They were looking to prove that Erdogan and his people had started using the deep state for their own purposes.”

Freer than in the US?

The AKP may have been especially upset about Sik’s research into the Fethullah Gülen movement, an Islamic network he believes has penetrated the country’s security apparatus, which in turn further strengthened the conviction on the part of the AKP’s opponents that the party has remained truer to its Islamist roots than it pretends. “Journalists who dig too deep always have problems in Turkey,” Kürkcü says.

Erdogan’s critics aren’t the only ones affected. Kurdish journalists in particular often run into problems with the Turkish justice system and are threatened with hefty prison sentences if they spread “propaganda” about the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — even if the crime consists of no more than using the expressions “Kurdistan” or “guerilla.”

Where does Erdogan stand on the matter? “Our press is far freer than in the US,” the prime minister claimed in a 2009 speech in the United States. “It has never been as free as it is today.”

Just one year later, the European Union accession candidate Turkey slipped in the press freedom list published annually by the group Reporters without Borders — to number 138 out of 178 countries.

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

Oman: Protests and Strikes Across Sultanate

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, MARCH 16 — Oman has today experienced a day of demonstrations and strikes, with workers in the Rusayl industrial zone, security staff employed by the SSS security services, the workforce at several oil plants and harbour workers coming out to voice their demands for greater wage increases.

Security staff working for the SSS security service, a subsidiary of the pension fund run by Oman’s Royal Police Force, blocked the Sultan Qabus motorway near the international airport, causing major disruption as well as some moments of tension with motorists.

Production was halted in the Rusayl industrial zone, which comprises 150 manufacturing units, 45 km north of the capital Muscat, when around one thousand protesters calling for a wage increase of 300 Omani reals (560 euros), and benefits to equal those of public sector workers.

Protests also took place in the Faus, Marmul and Ibal oil production facilities with sub-contracting staff working for national oil concern PDO came out on strike. Crude production was not affected. There was, however, serious disruption to work in the ports, with Port Services workers striking, despite an increase in the minimum wage paid to employees of between 7.5 and 20% brought in recently.

The country’s Sultan Qabus, who has been in power since 1970, recently agreed to various political and economic concession in an attempt to curb the spreading wave of protests, introducing a doubling of all minimum wage levels and the setting up of an unemployment fund for those out of work.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Syria: Demonstration for Political Prisoners Dispersed

(AGI) Damascus — Syrian security forces dispersed a demonstration demanding the release of political prisoners.

According to eyewitness accounts, the soldiers armed with truncheons scattered hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Interior Ministry, injuring at least one and arresting five others.

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

Syria: Police Clear Gathering in Damascus, Arrests

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 16 — Syrian security forces this morning cleared a gathering of around a hundred people outside the Interior Ministry in Damascus. So reported pan-Arab broadcaster, Al Arabiyya.

The television says that at least five of the people were arrested by Syrian police. The protesters had gathered peacefully this morning outside the Interior Ministry, which is close to the old city, the Four Seasons hotel and the Syrian national museum.

There were unprecedented scenes yesterday as dozens of Syrians took to the streets of Damascus chanting “freedom” and protesting against repression by the regime, which has ruled the country for almost half a century. An amateur video uploaded on Facebook and Youtube appeared to show the protest in a street in the centre of the city, close to the Great Umayyad Mosque.

“God, Syria and freedom!” was the slogan repeated by the protesters, who were mostly male though some women were seen in the crowds.

Last month, dozens of young Syrians gathered in the same area to protest against the abuse suffered by a citizen at the hands of the police. The protest turned into a spontaneous protest, which was only cooled upon the arrival on the scene of the Interior Minister himself.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Syria: Government Source, Calls to Protest From Israel Too

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 16 — Israel is responsible for the text messages sent to Syrian citizens, in which they were invited to take to the streets and protest against the regime in Damascus. This is according to the “independent” Syrian daily, Al Watan, which quoted an anonymous “government source” on its website today.

The newspaper writes that “after careful study by a technical team, it appears clear” that the messages were sent to Syrian mobile phones “from the Tel Hashomer military base north of Tel Aviv”.

According to the government source quoted by the newspaper, “the text messages sent to the mobile phones invited people to disrupt the order and the security of the nation, with calls to protest and demonstrate. The messages caused great irritation to citizens”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Syria: 150 in Anti-Regime Sit-in, Broken Up in Damascus

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, MARCH 16 — For the second day in a row, an unprecedented anti-regime demonstration has been held in Damascus, staged this time by around 150 people near the country’s Interior Ministry, the symbol of repression under the Baathist regime which has ruled the country ofr almost half a century now.

For its part, the Syrian government has blamed the protest on “infiltrators” who exploited a gathering of relatives of detainees in front of the Ministry headquarters in order to “convene a demonstration” with the objective of “spreading anarchy” and launching an “attack on national security”.

Eye-witnesses and representatives of local human-rights organisations have, for their part, stated that 25 people were arrested and that these included both activists and relatives of detainees who gathered in Merge Square, just outside the walls of the Old City and the Hamidiye covered market this morning, to present a written appeal for the release of their loved ones. Eye-witnesses also stated that the gathering was a peaceful one and that participants held up photos of their imprisoned relatives, but that it was broken up after less than one hour by security force officers in plain clothes and armed with batons.

After the start of the sit-in demonstration, dozens of people appeared from the other side of the square, chanting slogans in support of Syria’s President Bashar al Assad. Among those arrested are the names of activists and lawyers who have for years been engaged in defending human rights: names such as Anwar al Bunni, Muhannad al Hasani, Suhayr Atassi, as well as the Kurd writer and blogger Kamal Sheikho, who was released from prison just three days ago.

Yesterday, Damascus also saw another unprecedented demonstration against the authorities: dozens of people marched through the lanes of Hariqa Market, in the old city centre, shouting “Syrian, Syrian, where are you?!” and “God, Syria and Freedom will do!”. On the social networks and on Facebook and Youtube in particular, thousands (in some cases, tens of thousands) of users are joining groups with anti-regime titles.

The video of yesterday’s mini-march in Damascus has also been shown repeatedly on the satellite TV channels al Arabiya and al Jazeera. Syria’s “independent” media, those not openly tied to the regime, but whose columns featured the official version of what happens in the country, were today pointing their fingers at Israel as the mastermind behind these movements. According to a source inside the Syrian government quoted by al Watan, SMS are being sent from an Israeli military base north of Tel Aviv to “unsuspecting” Syrian citizens, inviting them to join protest marches. This evening, Facebook carried news of the release of one of the activists arrested in the square: Mazen Darwish. The group’s ‘wall’ bears the slogan: “We are calling for the release of all the prisoners of the Syrian revolution’.

The name of the group: “March 15 Intifada — The revolution goes on”; it has over 46,000 subscribers.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey: Political Repression Lays Ground for Economic Liberalization

A key claim of neo-liberal economy supporters is that economic liberalism comes hand in hand with political liberalism — thus necessitates democracy. But what occurred in coup-prone countries like Chile and Turkey does not exactly validate these claims. In Turkey, market reforms accepted on paper on Jan. 24, 1980, were only made possible in practice in the aftermath of the coup on Sept. 12, 1980, when the labor movement was crushed mercilessly

It was less than one year before the Sept. 12, 1980, military coup, an intervention that deeply affected Turkey’s social and economic route, when Süleyman Demirel, the center-right political leader, founded the 43rd Turkish government, although his Justice Party, or AP, finished second in the Oct. 14, 1979, elections.

Turgut Özal, a former advisor to Demirel, became the Prime Ministry undersecretary after the foundation of the new government. These two political figures, who marked Turkish politics for several decades, were the architects of what are known as the Jan. 24 decisions, before they became two strong rivals.

Özal was the author of the decisions, which were launched upon Demirel’s order.

“The essence of some decisions cannot be understood when they are first implemented. Only some years later, it is revealed that they marked an alteration of a period, claiming philosophical changes,” said Erdal Saglam, a Hürriyet columnist, in a 2005 article on the 25th anniversary of the decision that directed the “mixed economy” in Turkey to a neo-liberal one.

The program, announced on Jan. 24, 1980, consisted of devaluing the Turkish Lira by 32.7 percent, shrinking the state’s role in the economy, lifting or reducing support for agriculture, promoting foreign investment and providing major tax relief for importers.

“These measures included a lift in limitations on domestic and foreign capital, profit and principal capital transfers, permissions for employment of foreign technicians and executive staff and authorization for partnered enterprises under the ‘build-operate-transfer’ model or as joint-ventures in infrastructure projects and public investments,” said Sadik Ridvan Karluk of Anadolu University in a 2000 document.

Turkey took a huge step into neo-liberal economic policies with the Jan. 24 decision, according to Özgür Müftüoglu from Marmara University, who spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a recent interview.

Both the political and economic developments in Turkey were in pace with what was happening in similar countries across the world in an era that covers the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“Typically, the crisis of import substitution industrialization manifests itself in chronic balance of payments deficits, poor export performance, increasing indebtedness, inflation and a slowing of the growth rate,” said Henri J. Barkey, in an article titled “State Autonomy and the Crisis of Import Substitution.”

Coups in the backyard

In the political field, meanwhile, several developing countries, including Argentina, Chile and Portugal, were experiencing military coups during the 1970s.

Back in Turkey, it was initially the coup that shook international players’ trust in political stability. In 1980, annual FDI hit bottom with $18 million, the lowest in five years at the time.

Still, it was the same military coup that paved the way for the implementation of the changes brought by the Jan. 24 decisions.

“It was not easy to make the decisions before the 1980 [coup,] as most of the labor unions were much more powerful than they are today,” said Müftüoglu. “The government was struggling to implement the decisions due to opposition from strong labor unions. But with the Turkish army’s intervention on Sept. 12, 1980, the unions lost their power and the decisions finally took effect.”

“The 1960-1980 interval, the heyday of import substitution, is defined by two military interventions,” said Barkey, commenting on Turkey. “While import substitution was launched as a serious endeavor with the earlier coup, the 1980 military intervention spelled its end.”

In 1983, Özal, the vanguard of an “open economy,” became the prime minister in a post-coup government. The banned Demirel needed four more years to return to politics and another four years to become prime minister, before he became president in 1993 after Özal’s sudden death.

Turkey’s foreign trade volume was $7.33 billion in 1979, according to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute, or TurkStat, while the proportion of imports covered by exports was 44.6 percent. The foreign investment into the country stood at $75 million in the same year, according to World Bank figures when adjusted to current value of the U.S. dollar.

Columnist Saglam said the Jan. 24 decision was “a structural change.” And infrastructure changes require time to be reflected in the world. It took the country six years to raise the foreign direct investments to over $100 million, a moderate rise when compared with the 2008 volume exceeding $28 billion, according to World Bank data.

A strengthening middle class

In 1985, global carmaker Ford cooperated with local Otosan to produce its Taurus model in the country, where it was already selling mechanical parts for the production of the domestic-made Anadol car, the first — and the last — mass-marketed domestic automobile. Renault added its Renault 9 model to Renault 12s, one of the two most widespread models in the country for decades. Two years later, the company started producing Renault 11 in Turkey, as an emerging middle class broadened its options.

Iconic McDonalds, meanwhile, opened its first Turkish store in 1985. The local branch of the food chain, owned by the Anadolu Group, today has nearly 160 restaurants across the country.

International lenders in the Turkish banking sector also achieved noteworthy growth starting from the 1980s, according to Mete Bumin, economist and editor of the official magazine of the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency, or BRSA.

“With the process of financial liberalization, the obstacles to foreign capital inflows were lifted and some regulations to encourage foreign capital were implemented,” he said, in a book titled “Foreign Banks in the Turkish Banking Sector.”

Ertug Yasar, an economist and business professional, agreed with Bumin, telling the Daily News that the Jan. 24 decisions can be considered a turning point. “They accelerated the competitiveness of the country and formed a proper finance and banking sector,” he said.

The Istanbul Stock Exchange, or ISE, was founded in 1986 and would become a lucrative destination for foreign capital, although until late 2010 no foreign companies traded on the ISE. DO&CO, a Vienna-based food chain became the first. The owner of the company was Atilla Dogudan, a businessman of Turkish origin.

Structural measures taken between 1980 and 1988, the period when the June 24 program was implemented, included “real interest rates practice, regulation of banking activities, increase in foreign banks, launch of the Capital Markets Code, the gradual liberalization of capital movements, the creation of new financial bodies and tools, the shift of responsibility in sourcing public spending needs from the Central Bank to the Treasury and via domestic debt, narrowing the definition of the basic goods and services, the launch of Value-Added Tax, monetary support for exports, lifting import quotas, liberalization of imports and easing the penetration of foreign capital,” Salih Köse, a general manager at the State Planning Department, or DPT, wrote in an article titled “A Comparison of Jan. 24, 1980 and April 5, 1994 Stability Programs.”

FDI in Turkey preferred manufacturing industries between 1980 and 1999, at a rate of 57.5 percent, said Karluk. “The service sector followed it by 39.9 percent. Mining — with 1.4 percent — and agriculture — with 1.5 percent — did not attract much attention. The service sector led the total foreign capital with a 52.54 percent share in the total volume. The share of manufacturing stood at 46.11 percent. Banking and other financial services were the two other fields that foreign capital was attracted to, with 15 percent.”

The main elements backing the rise in foreign investment in Turkey were an outward policy, economic stability and the trust felt by foreign capital due to support policies, Kavruk said.

The 1980s and 1990s constituted a period when all the rules were changing, Haluk Levent of Sabanci University told the Daily News. “The economy was unstable because this transformation was not managed well. Still, this period might well be considered as a learning process for Turkey to become an actor in the international markets. The ground for the internationalization in 2000s was laid in this period. Foreign investment and joint ventures played a key role in this transformation.”

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

Turkey: Dueling Narratives of News Media Freedom in Turkey

Tensions rose further this week over whether Turkey’s press is free or not as a major international watchdog issued a stern warning while the prime minister accused the country’s media of intentionally smearing his government.

The detention of journalists in Turkey is an “alarming threat to press freedom” and contradicts the country’s image as a democratic role model in the Middle East, the U.S.-based human-rights organization Freedom House said in a press statement released Monday.

“This escalating war against media independence is seriously at odds with Turkey’s self-proclaimed image as a model Muslim democracy,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index.

The group criticized the “ongoing harassment” and detention of journalists in Turkey, including a number who have been held for two years without trial, and called on Turkish leaders to reverse the trend by instituting policies to protect media independence and releasing journalists held in cases where charges have not been brought or serious evidence not produced.

On Tuesday, a day after he accused the foreign press of contributing to a “defamation campaign” against Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the domestic media for “backing” that effort.

Speaking to his party group in Parliament, Erdogan criticized journalists for complaining about “the lack of press freedom when journalists are using their status as journalists to carry out a conspiracy.”

He called on the international press to look closer at the events in Turkey, accusing Turkish journalists of assisting terrorist organizations in the country, and warning that the situation in Turkey is being reflected incorrectly by the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP.

“Journalists in Turkey are free to write what they want without limits. Such an international campaign to destroy Turkey’s image internationally, backed by a national campaign, is hurtful,” he said.

“We are a party that believes democracy cannot exist without freedom of press,” Erdogan said, defending his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, stance on press freedom. He added, however, that the AKP came to power “despite the media. No one should doubt that the people determined our course, not the media.”

High number of journalists in prison

In its statement, Freedom House singled out for particular attention the cases of Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik, describing them as the country’s leading investigative reporters. The two journalists were among a group recently arrested for alleged links to an illegal organization plotting to topple the AKP government. The arrests triggered widespread protests and received strongly worded criticism from the United States and the European Union as well as human rights organizations in Turkey.

“In all, some 50 journalists are currently in prison, one of the highest numbers of imprisoned journalists in the world,” Freedom House said.

“The harassment of media outlets and journalists who oppose government policies is a clear attempt to silence critical voices and to restrict media diversity,” said Karlekar.

“Other journalists targeted as part of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation — such as Mustafa Balbay — have been detained for more than two years without charge. These continuing detentions are a clear violation of the journalists’ rights and those detained should either be charged and tried, or released,” she added.

The entire Ergenekon prosecution, “with its open-endedness and absence of transparency” raises serious questions about the state of Turkish democracy, Karlekar said. “Furthermore, this escalating war against media independence is seriously at odds with Turkey’s self-proclaimed image as a model Muslim democracy.”

In addition to the mounting number of arrests, Freedom House noted with concern that over 4,000 lawsuits are pending against journalists in Turkey.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül expressed concern in recent remarks about the situation and said the arrests cast a shadow over the level of progress Turkey has reached, an image he said is lauded by everyone. Erdogan said, however, that nobody was in prison in Turkey because of journalism but because of other charges, including membership in an armed terrorist organization.

Turkey is ranked as Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.

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

Turkey: Iranian Cargo Flight Ordered to Land

(AGI) Istanbul — An Iranian cargo aircraft heading to Syria has been forced to land in Turkey for an inspection. Security sources report that the order was given by the Foreign Ministry responding to suspicions about what it was transporting. The aircraft left Tehran on Tuesday evening and was headed for Aleppo when it received the order to land at Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey, where it still remains.

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

We in the Middle East Have Replaced With Humiliation With Dignity

From Libya to Turkey the will of the people has revived a sense of common destiny. This is now our region

The wave of revolutions in the Arab world was spontaneous. But it also had to happen. They were necessary in order to restore the natural flow of history. In our region — west Asia and the south Mediterranean — there were two abnormalities in the last century: first, colonialism in the 1930s, 40s and 50s that divided the region into colonial entities, and severed the natural links between peoples and communities. For example, Syria was a French colony and Iraq a British one, so the historical and economic links between Damascus and Baghdad were cut.

The second abnormality was the cold war, which added a further division: countries that had lived together for centuries became enemies, like Turkey and Syria. We were in Nato; Syria was pro-Soviet. Our border became not a border between two nation states, but the border between two blocs. Yemen was likewise divided. Now it is time to naturalise the flow of history.. I see all these revolutions as a delayed process that should have happened in the late 80s and 90s as in eastern Europe.. It did not because some argued that Arab societies didn’t deserve democracy, and needed authoritarian regimes to preserve the status quo and prevent Islamist radicalism. Some countries and leaders who were proud of their own democracy, insisted that democracy in the Middle East would threaten security in our region.

Now we are saying all together: no. An ordinary Turk, an ordinary Arab, an ordinary Tunisian can change history. We believe that democracy is good, and that our people deserve it. This is a natural flow of history. Everybody must respect this will of the people. If we fail to understand that there is a need to reconnect societies, communities, tribes and ethnicities in our region, we will lose the momentum of history. Our future is our sense of common destiny. All of us in the region have a common destiny.

Now, if this transformation is a natural flow of the history, then how should we respond? First, we need an emergency plan to save people’s lives, to prevent disaster. Second, we need to normalise life. And finally, we need to reconstruct and restore the political systems in our region, just as we would rebuild our houses after a tsunami. But in order to undertake that restoration, we need a plan, a vision. And we need the self-confidence to do it — the self-confidence to say: this region is ours, and we will be the rebuilders of it. But for all this to happen, we must be clear about the basic principles that we have to follow.

First, we need to trust the masses in our region, who want respect and dignity. This is the critical concept today: dignity. For decades we have been insulted. For decades we have been humiliated. Now we want dignity. That is what the young people in Tahrir Square demanded. After listening to them, I became much more optimistic for the future. That generation is the future of Egypt. They know what they want. This is a new momentum in our region, and it should be respected. The second principle is that change and transformation are a necessity, not a choice. If history flows and you try to resist it, you will lose. No leader, however charismatic, can stop the flow of history. Now it is time for change. Nobody should cling to the old cold war logic. Nobody should argue that only a particular regime or person can guarantee a country’s stability. The only guarantee of stability is the people.

Third, this change must be peaceful — security and freedom are not alternatives; we need both. In this region we are fed up with civil wars, and tension. All of us have to act wisely without creating violence or civil strife between brothers and sisters. We have to make this change possible with the same spirit of common destiny.

Fourth, we need transparency, accountability, human rights and the rule of law, and to protect our social and state institutions. Revolution does not mean destruction. The Egyptian case is a good example: the army acted very wisely not to confront the people. But if there is no clear separation between the military and civilian roles of the political institutions, you may face problems. I am impressed by Field Marshal Tantawi’s decision to deliver power to the civilian authority as soon as possible.

Finally, the territorial integrity of our countries and the region must be protected. The legal status and territorial integrity of states including Libya and Yemen should be protected. During colonialism and cold war we had enough divisions, enough separations. This process must be led by the people of each country, but there should be regional ownership. This is our region. Intellectuals, opinion-makers, politicians of this region should come together more frequently in order to decide what should happen in our region in the future. We are linked to each other for centuries to come. Whatever happens in Egypt, in Libya, in Yemen, in Iraq or in Lebanon affects us all. Therefore we should show solidarity with the people of these countries. There should be more regional forums, for politicians and leaders, for intellectuals, for the media.

Usually the “Middle East” — an orientalist term — is regarded as synonymous with tensions, conflicts and underdevelopment. But our region has been the centre of civilisation for millennia, leading to strong traditions of political order in which multicultural environments flourish. In addition to this civilisational and political heritage, we have sufficient economic resources today to make our region a global centre of gravity. Now it is time to make historic reassessments in order to transform our region into one of stability, freedom, prosperity, cultural revival and co-existence. In this new regional order there should be less violence and fewer barriers between countries, societies and sects. But there should be more economic interdependency, more political dialogue and more cultural interaction.

Today the search for a new global order is under way. After the international financial crisis, we need to develop an economic order based on justice, and a social order based on respect and dignity. And this region — our region — can contribute to the formation of this emerging new order: a global, political, economic and cultural new order.

Our responsibility is to open the way for this new generation, and to build a new region over the coming decade that will be specified by the will of its people.

• This is an edited extract of a speech Ahmet Davutoglu delivered this week at the sixth Al-Jazeera forum in Doha

[JP note: Mr Davutoglu’s dignity is looking a bit threadbare. By new global order, Davutoglu probably means a neo-Ottoman Pax Islamica — after the Arab Spring, a Caliphate Summer … and God help the rest of the world when we get to the wintry stage: what Islamic polities require above all else is dhimmis to humiliate so that Muslims may assuage their wounded honour unimpeded, that is until there are no more dhimmis left.]

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

You Shall Not Kill!

It was 2010, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoðan was speaking, as tempered as always, to a crowd as tempered as the prime minister could be.

“These [people] even see babies in their cradles as a threat. They have killed babies in their mothers’ arms,” he boomed.

“These people,” naturally, were the Israelis.

Addressing Israel’s leaders from a public rally in Turkey, Mr. Erdoðan said in both Turkish and English: “You shall not kill.” Then he showed his linguistic capabilities and went on: “You still don’t get it? Then I shall speak to you in your own language: Lo tir’tsach!” He was referring to the sixth of the 10 commandments in the Old Testament.

In various other speeches, Mr. Erdoðan claimed that his fits of anger toward the death of children were “indiscriminative” of race and religion. “Wherever, whenever,” he often said, “a child has been killed,” he would fiercely stand against the murderers. All the same, he has been mute since Saturday.

In the early hours of Saturday, a Palestinian broke into a house in the settlement of Itamar and stabbed to death a couple and their three children, aged 3 months, 4 years and 10 years old. The slain bodies were discovered by the couple’s 12-year-old daughter who was not at home when the murder was committed.

The “Imad Mughniyeh” cell, with alleged links to the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack. The terrorist group is named after the “phantom” terrorist Imad Mughniyeh who was killed in a car bomb attack in Damascus which Hezbollah blamed on Israeli agents. Mr. Mughniyeh, or the “Shia bin-Laden,” was one of the world’s most wanted men (wanted in 42 countries) while he was enjoying a safe haven in the Syrian capital prior to his assassination.

Most predictably, we have not heard Mr. Erdoðan saying “You shall not kill” in Arabic, and we probably never will. That’s hardly surprising since we have never heard Mr. Erdoðan speaking “indiscriminately” in the past against the killing of children and defenseless people in Itamar, or elsewhere in Israel — for Saturday’s attack in Itamar was not the first of its kind. In May 2002, a Palestinian killed a 14-year-old boy and wounded another teenager in the same settlement. A month later, another Palestinian killed a woman and her three children. In July the same year another Palestinian stabbed and wounded a couple. And in August 2004, a Palestinian killed a resident of Itamar.

The killing of a 3-month old baby reminded me, inevitably, of what a “Palestinian warrior” told me in Ramallah in 2006. When he praised his suicide bomber sister who had injured a 95-year-old woman (and killed herself) in an attack, I asked him what was the point of injuring or killing elderly women or toddlers when young Palestinians also died in these attacks. He smiled and explained as simply as he could: “For us, even a 1-year-old Israeli baby is a soldier. And that [95-year-old] woman was also an Israeli soldier!” I thought it might not be safe to ask him any further questions.

But in 2008, this time in London and speaking to another Palestinian, I felt more comfortable and dared question the logic of the act that “indiscriminately angers our prime minister.” I reminded him of a verse in the Quran (4:93): “Whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment.”

My Palestinian friend counter-attacked with another verse (17:33): “And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right.” Then came his loud and tempered explanation: “The verse 4:93 forbids killing a believer. Israelis are not believers.” I looked out from the window of the pub where his orange juice vs. my wine stood on the table like two objects silently telling us why we could never agree.

For a moment, I thought about reminding him that Jews, too, are believers, like other non-Muslim believers, or ask him if the Quran (in verse 4:93) permitted the killing of atheists. But he loudly went back to verse 17:33, with radiating eyes satisfied with the near victory in our little intellectual duel. “You see, that verse forbids killing ‘except by right.’ And it is evident that some killings fall into the category of ‘exception by right.’“

I sipped my wine and got lost in thought, wondering how a doctoral candidate of engineering from a decent British university could defend the murder of innocent people only because they belonged to a faith other than his. How could he twist his own (and my) holy book so as to find holy justifications for the killing of innocent people?

“Never mind,” he interrupted my thoughts, “You are not Muslim anyway. It is normal that you don’t understand.” “Wait a minute,” I protested, “What does it mean ‘you are not Muslim anyway?’“ “I see that you are drinking wine,” he replied. “I hope you don’t mind if I leave you alone now. I have an appointment,” he smiled and left the pub.

I didn’t mind because he left. But one does mind when someone tells him that he does not belong to the religion to which he thinks he belongs. I cursed the missed opportunity of reminding him of the verses and hadiths that forbid Muslims from judging other people’s faith by a man-made faith-meter. But then I thought my cute friend would find a way to twist them, too.

The hypocrisy over the killing of innocent people is not coincidental in any way. Last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted, in Tehran, a delegation from the disastrous Turkish flotilla Mavi Marmara, comprising the “Mavi Marmara mujahedeen, ghazis and families of the shahids.”

The delegates participated in Iran’s Revolution Day ceremonies, and the head of the Turkish delegation noted that: “We are here today with the longing and the determination to build a Middle East without Israel and America, and to refresh our pledge to continue on the path of the Mavi Marmara shahids.”

On Feb. 12, the same Mavi Marmara activist reiterated “the promising words of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran… that ‘only a short time is left for the building of a Middle East without Israel or America in it, and we are praying for the quick arrival of that bright day, when all of us will meet in a free al-Quds [Jerusalem].’“

With five “Jooos” having disappeared from earth after the Itamar attack, that bright day must be arriving sooner.

I am still curious, however, about what rank the 3-month old Israeli “soldier” held. Captain? Lieutenant colonel? Certainly too young to be a general.

           — Hat tip: DL [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia: Christians Protest Against the New Closure of the Yasmin Church in Bogor

The authorities order the church building sealed under pressure from Muslim fundamentalists The Synod of Churches slams the government’s helplessness and local officials’ stubbornness. Fundamentalist pressures are stronger than court decisions. Three bombs are sent to activists and moderate Muslim leaders.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — The Christian community is protesting against the failure of the central government to “guarantee religious freedom” as well as the stubbornness of officials in Bogor, a municipality in West Java, who ordered the sealing of the Yasmin Church. Pressures from Muslim fundamentalists have once more undermined the principle of the rule of law and highlighted the weakness of a country increasingly victim of extremism. Meanwhile, the three packages containing bombs were delivered yesterday to activists and moderate Muslim leaders. The bomb squad defused two of them; a third exploded, slightly wounding a number of people.

Following demonstrations by some 150 Muslim fundamentalists, Bogor authorities closed down the Yasmin Church, which is at the core of a legal battle between the local government and the local Christian community. The Synod of Indonesian Churches (PGI) called the decision an “unfriendly act”. For Rev Gomar Gultom, moving the church to another location is not a better solution because it “favours divisions among the faithful” in a society that should be “pluralistic”.

Bogor officials revoked the building permit it had issued alleging that the required signatures by local residents were “false”. A local Muslim leader added that the “Muslim community has always been opposed to the construction of the church”.

The PGI blames the stubbornness of Bogor authorities, and has called on the central government to enforce a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Yasmin Church’s legality.

Building a church in Indonesia, whether Catholic or Protestant, or any other building requires a permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan or IMB in Indonesian) as well as the signature of 60 residents in the area where it is supposed to be erected. Despite having all the right papers, the building of churches is often prevented and permits revoked by local governments under pressures from Muslim fundamentalists.

Calvin Lambe, head of the PGI chapter in West Java, blames Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto, for failing to uphold the law. For the Christian activist, the lawyers representing the Yasmin Church won in court four times. He asks then, “Why should the church’s doors stay shut?”

Human rights groups have pointed out that the case is but one in a series of violations of religious freedom, a sign of the government’s weakness and inability to cope with extremist pressures. “The government is afraid of fundamentalist movements,” Febry Yoneska, of the Jakarta Aid Foundation, said.

The three bomb packages against activists and moderate Muslim leaders are signs that fear is also well founded. One of the bombs, concealed in a book, was sent to the office of Ulil Abshar Abdalla, head of the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL), injuring three people. Another was delivered to General Gories Mere, a former chief of the anti-terrorism branch and currently in charge of the anti-narcotics agency, and a third bomb was sent to Yapto S. Soerjosoemarno, a lawyer who heads the Pancasila Youth Group. The bomb squad was able to defuse the bombs sent to the general and the lawyer.

The head of the police said members of a local terror network must have sent the bombs because only “some people know how to make a bomb”.

At present, no one knows whether the triple attack is connected in any way with the trial currently underway in Jakarta against controversial Muslim leader Abu Bakar Baasyir.

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

Pakistan: Karachi: Christian Jailed for Blasphemy Dies in Suspicious Circumstances, Say Activists

Qamar David, painter originally from Punjab, had been accused by a business rival with insulting the Prophet Muhammad. In jail since 2006, he was harassed by both guards and inmates. The man died of a heart attack, but human rights groups call for an investigation. Bishop of Islamabad: the accusations are false, it is time to abolish the “black law”.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Qamar David, a Christian originally from Lahore Pakistan, but living in Karachi died in prison while serving a life sentence for blasphemy. Official sources confirm that the man died last night in his cell, after a heart attack. in the past he had suffered several episodes of violence within the prison walls. Human rights activists are calling for an investigation to ascertain the “true causes” of death. Interviewed by AsiaNews, the bishop of Islamabad speaks of “false accusations” against David fabricated to convict him and asks “how much Christian blood will still flow,” before the infamous blasphemy laws are “abolished.”

Qamar David was a native of Hamza, near Lahore (Punjab), but was a self employed painter in Karachi in the south of the country. On 8 June 2006 he was reported by a business rival on false charges of blasphemy in accordance with Articles 295 and C of the Pakistan Penal Code. According to the plaintiff, he sent telephone messages with insulting words against Muhammad.

Under the controversial blasphemy rules, introduced in 1986 by Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq, anyone who uses derogatory phrases to refer to the prophet or desecrates the Koran is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Typically, capital cases are switched to life imprisonment. On 25 February 2010, the Karachi court adjunct Judge Jangu Khan, found him guilty of “outrageous” words against Muhammad, and exclusively based on the “black law” and the testimony of his accuser, David Qamar was sentenced to prison for life.

The man died overnight in prison and prison authorities have tried to pass his death off as a heart attack. The Police Commissioner said that the body is being held in the Civil Hospital, Karachi, available to health authorities for an autopsy, which should shed light on the real cause of death.

Groups of Christian human rights activists are calling for the formation of a committee of inquiry to ascertain the reasons for the man’s death. In the meantime the family has set out for Karachi, to retrieve his body. David was in prison since the summer of 2006, and in these years in prison, had regularly suffered threats and beatings both from prison guards and fellow prisoners.

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Mgr. Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad / Rawalpindi, expresses his “personal” pain and that of “the whole Catholic Church” for several days in mourning for the murder of Catholic Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated last March 2. “We have not yet recovered from the loss — says the prelate — and this new information increases our concern for the future of Christians in Pakistan.” The bishop speaks explicitly of “false accusations of blasphemy against Qamar David and asks” how much blood is still to be spilt “before the” black law “is abolished. He points his finger at the government, whose hands were “bloodied” and concludes: “This is another sad day for the minorities in Pakistan.”

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

Pakistani: American CIA Contractor Indicted for Double Murder

Lahore, 16 March (AKI) — A Pakistani court on Wednesday formally charged American CIA contractor Raymond Davis with to of counts of murder stemming from a shooting around two months ago.

The hearing took place at a prison in Lahore where Davis is being held after the 27 January shooting. Davis has said he acted in self-defense during an attempted armed robbery.

A third Pakistani died when struck by a US diplomatic vehicle that came to Davis’ assistance.

According to English-language Pakistani television channel Express 24/7, in the hearing that took place at Kot Lakhpat jail, Davis’ counsel Zahid Hussain Bokhari tried to stall the ruling saying he did not trust the investigation process. However, the judge ignored his statement and formally indicted the accused.

Davis, 36, could face the death penalty if convicted.

The case has caused a huge diplomatic row and is testing the often-fraught ties between the allies. US officials insist Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released immediately.

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

Pakistani Christians Convert to Islam Because of Threats and Intimidations

This is the rate is 60 per month. In one madrassa in Lahore alone, 678 Christians embraced Islam in 2009. Last year they were almost 700. These are “dangerous days” minorities, activists say as the blasphemy law is used to force them to change religion.

Lahore (AsiaNews/TNS) — On a sunny afternoon in the second week of February 2011, 45-year-old Azra Bibi, clad in black shawl, entered the reception of Jamia Naeemia with her ten year old son, a leading Sunni-Barelvi madrassa situated in a congested area of Lahore. Accompanied by a 45-year-old Muslim witness Chaudhry Muhammad Islam, Azra a recent convert to Islam along with her six children asked for the imam of the Jamia. She has come here to get proper documents to prove in the court that she was no longer a Christian.

The young receptionist at Jamia Naeemia talks to the principal on telephone opens the side drawer of his dented metal table and pulls out a two-inch-thick book wrapped in a blue cover. He finds a blank page and starts writing her details.

The book is a registry used to keep record of religious conversions to Islam. One book is enough to record 100 cases of conversions. A newly built wooden cabinet brimming with many such books is used to store the record. Officials at the Madrassa say the number of people converting from other religions, especially Christianity, to Islam is on the rise here. At least 50 to 60 Christians embrace Islam each month by signing a white and green paper on the book declaring that they accept Islam without any greed or pressure and promise to ‘remain in the religion of Islam for the rest of the life’, and will try to spend life according to the principles of Islam.

Raghib Naeemi, Principal Jamia Naeemia, says that his institute has no department for preaching. “All those who convert to Islam come to Jamia on their own, accompanied by some Muslims of their locality as witnesses. We have made it a prerequisite for the aspirant converts to submit an affidavit declaring that they are embracing Islam without greed or force.” He says that all Christians who convert to Islam do not do so because they like this religion. “Some of them convert to Islam because they want to end their marriage which is not easy in Christianity, or they want to marry a cousin or a Muslim girl or boy. Over 90 per cent of the converts are illiterate.”

The record at Jamia Naeemia reveals that 678 Christians converted to Islam in 2009, the number reached 693 in 2010 while 95 Christians have so far embraced Islam this year.

Badshahi Mosque is another institution that issues certificate to those who convert to Islam. Muhammad Yousuf, assistant protocol officer at the mosque, says rarely a day goes without some cases of conversion. “Sometimes dozens of people convert to Islam during a day. Overwhelming, majority of them come from Christian minority,” he tells TNS.

Peter Jacob, Executive Director of National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), an advocacy organisation funded by the Catholic Church, says it is no surprise some of Pakistan’s three millions Christians are adopting Islam nowadays. “These are troublesome and dangerous days for the country’s religious minorities. People have no faith in the police or the justice system and the kind of fear that exists now was never there before,” he says.

Legally, there is no bar on religious conversion. “But in Pakistan only one-way conversion to Islam is allowed that can be very fatal to religious diversity in the country. It is not only Christians in Pakistan who are scared. All minorities are under pressure.”

Jacob thinks that security has become a major reason for marginalised and discriminated Christian community to convert to Islam. “Blasphemy laws are also being misused to pressurise Christians to convert to Islam.”

Last month Shahbaz Bhatti, the only minister in federal cabinet belonging to a minority religion, was assassinated in Islamabad. Taliban reportedly claimed responsibility for the killing, saying the minister had been “punished” for being a blasphemer.

Azra Bibi—whose husband remains Christian and lives separately from his wife and children—says that she has converted to Islam only because she feels it is the most beautiful religion. “Now, it feels great and I have moved to a Muslim neighbourhood. I feel safer.” A woman from the neighbourhood comes to them daily after dinner to teach her and her children Islam and its practices.

That day at the Madrassa, as Azra Bibi collected her certificate declaring her a Muslim and prepared to leave, a young couple entered the reception. Parvaiz Masih, a 23-year-old auto rickshaw driver and his 22-year-old cousin Nasreen seemed in a hurry to convert to Islam. But the officials at Jamia were hesitant, as they did not have two Muslim witnesses accompanying them. “I like Islam and want to embrace it. I want to be known as Muhammad Parvaiz. I will be secure now and will take decisions of my choice after converting to Islam”.

Masih’s reference was her marriage to his cousin, Nasreen—who had slipped away from her home to come to Jamia with him. She was hesitant to elaborate why she wanted to convert to Islam. “I like Islam,” was all she said.

Joseph Francis, National Director, Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), believes that all these conversions are forced. “Jamia Naeemia or Badshahi Mosque officials do not look into the reasons why people have been converting to Islam. We have also found that in many cases young Christian girls are abducted and married off to Muslim men. They are also forced to change their religion and there is no process available to get them released as once they are declared Muslims, they cannot come back to Christianity.” He says his organisation had received seven such cases in 2008, four in 2009 and six in 2010.

The preamble to the constitution of Pakistan guarantees that adequate provision shall be made for minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their culture. The Enforcement of Shariah Act 1991 was promulgated on June 18, 1991 whereby the Islamic Shariah was enforced as the supreme law of the land. But under clause 4 of Section 1, it was provided that “Nothing contained in this Act shall affect the personal laws, religious freedom, traditions, customs and way of life of the non-Muslims.”

But the situation on ground is altogether different. For instance, Tahir Iqbal, a Muslim who converted to Christianity was accused of committing blasphemy in 1990 in Lahore. Then additional session judge of Lahore dismissed his bail application on July 7, 1991, and passed the following order:

“Learned counsel for the petitioner has conceded before me that the petitioner has converted to Christianity. With this admission on the part of the petitioner’s counsel there is no need to probe further into allegations. Since conversion is in itself a cognizable offence involving serious implications, I do not consider the petitioner is entitled to bail at this stage”. Interestingly, there is no law in Pakistan that makes conversion from Islam to any other religion an offence.

Human Right activists say there is no mechanism to gauge whether the Christians converting to Islam have been doing it under their own free will or duress. “We receive many cases every year in which Christian girls are abducted and forced to marry Muslim men,” I.A. Rehman, Director Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, tells TNS. “Security is a major reason these days for minorities to convert to Islam. We have registered cases in which people are deprived of their jobs on the basis of their faith, admissions to colleges and schools are denied and then there are social taboos that result in discrimination. All these factors can lead to religious conversion.”

* Aoun Sahi is a Pakistani Muslim journalist with The News International.

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

Pakistan Frees American Who Worked for C.I.a., Officials Say

American officials on Wednesday won the release of a C.I.A. contractor under investigation for two counts of murder, after spending more than six hours at the jail with the families of the victims, the lawyer for the families told reporters.

The families accepted payment of blood money, the lawyer said. He said he thought the C.I.A. contractor, Raymond Davis, 36, had already left the jail.

The Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed on television that the blood money payment has been paid and that Mr. Davis has been handed over to the U.S. Consul General.

[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: CIA Contractor Released After ‘$2.34mln in Blood is Money Paid’

Lahore, 16 March (AKI) — A Pakistani court on Wednesday freed an American CIA contractor hours after he was formally charged with two counts of murder, officials said.

Raymond Davis, 36, shot dead two men in the eastern city of Lahore on 27 January. He said he defended himself during an armed robbery.

Davis was acquitted after family members of the victims received “blood money” as compensation in accordance with sharia law, Pakistani English-language daily Dawn cited Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah as saying.

A lawyer for the families of two Pakistani men killed by an American CIA contractor says the United States paid $2.34 million in “blood money” to secure the man’s release, according to an Associated Press report.

Lawyer Raja Irshad said 19 relatives appeared in court Wednesday to accept the money, the report said.

Dawn said Davis, 36, was flown out of the country following his acquittal.

United States ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter on the release of Davis said :”I wish to express my respect for Pakistan and its people, and my thanks for their commitment to building our relationship.”

The shooting strained the bonds between the United States and Pakistan after Washington tried to defend Davis by saying he was a diplomat and protected from prosecution by international law. The US later admitted that he was doing contract work for the CIA.

The US is depending on Pakistan to fight Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents residing within its borders.

Davis could have faced the death penalty if convicted.

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

Far East

Helicopters Dump Water on Crippled Nuclear Plant Fuel Rods

March 17 (Bloomberg) — Military helicopters are dumping water on a pool storing spent fuel at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station No. 3 reactor in an attempt to cool uranium and plutonium rods that two nuclear regulators overseas said were exposed and could be spewing radiation.

All water in the No. 4 reactor’s spent-fuel cooling pools has drained, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a congressional panel in Washington. Fuel stored in units 4, 5 and 6 at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant are exposed and releasing radiation, Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna before departing for Tokyo. The Dai- Ichi complex has six reactors, three of which have been damaged by explosions following the March 11 earthquake.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said there is a possibility of no water in the No. 4 reactor spent fuel cooling pool. The agency has detected no smoke or steam rising from the reactor, spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama told reporters today. He said the

Helicopters are also being used to determine the water levels in the pool, damage to the reactors and radiation, Tepco spokesman Kaoru Yoshida told reporters in Tokyo today. Technicians were unable to inspect the facilties because of high levels of radiation. Water may also be sprayed from a water cannon used by the National Police to control rioters.

“The situation of the No. 3 reactor is more severe than No. 4,” Yoshida said, without elaborating.

The United Nations’ nuclear agency plans an emergency meeting on the crisis. Japan faces a “serious situation,” Amano said before departing for talks with authorities in Tokyo today.


“Radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures,” Jaczko told lawmakers.

Tokyo Electric workers are struggling to prevent a nuclear meltdown at the complex, 135 miles (217 kilometers) north of Tokyo. The No. 2 reactor’s containment vessel may have been breached, Tepco official Masahisa Otsuku said yesterday.

“We haven’t been able to get any of the latest data at any spent fuel pools. We don’t have the latest water levels, temperatures, none of the latest information for any of the four reactors,” Otsuki said.

Power Line

Tepco said it’s building a power line to the Dai-Ichi plant’s cooling systems, which were knocked out by the quake, but was unable to say when the cable would be completed.

The failure of backup generators used to pump cooling water caused explosions in at least three of structures surrounding the station’s reactors, as well as a fire in a pond containing spent fuel rods.

Temperatures in the spent-fuel-rod cooling pools of the shuttered No. 5 and No. 6 reactors were rising to as high as 63 degrees Celsius (145 degrees Fahrenheit) at 2 p.m. yesterday, said Tsuyoshi Makigami, head of nuclear maintenance at Tepco. Water levels at spent fuel pools at the three inactive reactors, Nos. 4, 5 and 6, dropped by about 2 meters, exposing the fuel rods, Amano said.

Exposed to air, the fuel bundles could chemically react with moisture, catch fire and spread radiation into the atmosphere, said Edwin Lyman, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts…

[Return to headlines]

Japan: Exodus From a Nuclear Nightmare

Thousands flee as they question whether Japan’s government is telling them truth about reactors

Hundreds of vehicles sped out of the shadow of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant yesterday.

Those inside the cars and trucks were fleeing for their lives, terrified about what might happen next and reluctant to believe anything their government was telling them.

‘We knew it was close by, but they told us over and over again that it was safe, safe, safe,’ said 70-year-old evacuee Fumiko Watanabe.

‘People are worried that we aren’t being told how dangerous this stuff is and what really happened.’

Meanwhile scores of terrified residents began to flee Tokyo as the power plant threatened to send a cloud of radioactive dust across Japan.

Even in Yamagata city itself, some 60 miles from the plant, residents were fearful of contamination.

As smoke billowed from the nuclear facility, 56-year-old shopkeeper Takeo Obata said: ‘When the winds blow from the south-east you can smell the sea air.

‘So if we can smell the sea, don’t you think we will be able to smell that poisonous air? What are these people doing to us?’

Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan was also furious. He was not told immediately about the latest explosion yesterday in one of the reactors, and is reported to have asked the plant’s operators, Tokyo Electric, ‘What the hell is going on?’

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Japan: Fukushima Coverup, 40 Years of Spent Nuclear Rods Blown Sky High

In addition to under reporting the fires at Fukushima, the Japanese government has not told the people about the ominous fact that the nuclear plant site is a hellish repository where a staggering number of spent fuel rods have accumulated for 40 years.

A contributor to the Occupational and Environmental Medicine list who once worked on nuclear waste issues provided additional information about Fukushima’s spent fuel rod assemblies, according to a post on the FDL website.

“NIRS has a Nov 2010 powerpoint from Tokyo Electric Power Company (in english) detailing the modes and quantities of spent fuel stored at the Fukushima Daiichi plant where containment buildings #1 and #3 have exploded,” he wrote on March 14.

The Powerpoint is entitled Integrity Inspection of Dry Storage Casks and Spent Fuels at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and can be read in full here. The document adds a new and frightening dimension to the unfolding disaster.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant has seven pools dedicated to spent fuel rods. These are located at the top of six reactor buildings — or were until explosions and fires ravaged the plant. On the ground level there is a common pool in a separate building that was critical damaged by the tsunami. Each reactor building pool holds 3,450 fuel rod assemblies and the common pool holds 6,291 fuel rod assemblies. Each assembly holds sixty-three fuel rods. In short, the Fukushima Daiichi plant contains over 600,000 spent fuel rods — a massive amount of radiation that will soon be released into the atmosphere.

It should be obvious by now that the authorities in Japan are lying about the effort to contain the situation in order to mollify the public. It is highly likely there are no workers on the site attempting to contain the disaster.

Earlier today, a report was issued indicating that over 70% of these spent fuel rods are now damaged — in other words, they are emitting radiation or will soon. The disclosure reveals that authorities in Japan — who have consistently played down the danger and issued conflicting information — are guilty of criminal behavior and endangering the lives of countless people.

On Tuesday, it was finally admitted that meltdowns of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor cores are responsible for the release of a massive amount of radiation.

After reporting that a fire at the No. 4 reactor was contained, the media is reporting this evening that it has resumed. The media predictably does not bother to point out why the fire is uncontainable — the fuel rods are no longer submerged in water and are exposed to the atmosphere and that is why they are burning and cannot be extinguished.


As ABC News reports today, “Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at General Electric resigned from their jobs after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing — the Mark 1 — was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

WikiLeaks: Cables Show Japan Was Warned About Nuclear Plant Safety

The Japanese government has said it is doing all it can to contain the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which was critically damaged in last week’s earthquake. But according to U.S. diplomatic papers released by WikiLeaks, that atomic disaster might have been avoided if only the government had acted on earlier safety warnings.

An unnamed official from the International Atomic Energy Agency is quoted in a 2008 cable from the American embassy in Tokyo as saying that a strong earthquake would pose a “serious problem” for Japan’s nuclear power stations. The official added that the country’s nuclear safety guidelines were dangerously out of date, as they had only been “revised three times in the last 35 years.”

Following that warning, Japan’s government pledged to raise security at all of its nuclear facilities, reports The Daily Telegraph, which published the cable. But questions are now being asked about whether authorities really took the nuclear watchdog’s worries seriously.

A new emergency response center was built at the Fukushima power plant. However, that facility was only designed to withstand 7.0-magnitude tremors. Friday’s seismic activity measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, and the plant has been rocked by three explosions in the past five days. It is now believed that the containment system around one of Fukushima’s reactors has cracked, allowing radioactive steam to escape into the atmosphere.

Other documents published by WikiLeaks also shine a light on Japan’s seemingly relaxed approach to nuclear safety. A 2006 cable from the Tokyo embassy detailed how a district court ordered a nuclear plant shut down in western Japan “due to safety concerns over its ability to withstand powerful earthquakes.”

The judge argued that local people might suffer radiation poisoning if there was a quake-caused accident at the Shika plant. That power station was only built to survive a 6.5-magnitude earthquake, in line with outdated regulations written two decades earlier.

However, the country’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency didn’t share those concerns, the cable reports. It argued that “the reactor is safe and that all safety analyses were appropriately conducted.” And in 2009, the high court overturned the closure order and declared that the reactor’s safety measures satisfied “the government’s quake resistance guidelines.”

Another cable sent from Tokyo to Washington in October 2008 alleged that the government had hidden past nuclear accidents. In 2008, Taro Kono — a senior member of Japan’s lower house of parliament — told U.S. diplomats that the ministry of economy, trade and industry was “covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry.”

Kono also raised the issue of earthquakes and nuclear safety in the meeting. Citing “Japan’s extensive seismic activity” and “abundant groundwater,” he doubted government assurances that “a safe place to store nuclear waste” could be found in the “land of volcanoes.”

The overall picture that emerges from the cables is of a government afraid of interfering with the powerful nuclear industry, which supplies about one-third of Japan’s electricity. In his discussion with U.S. diplomats, Kono suggested that Japan’s culture of deference to authority and corporate power prevented officials from changing the country’s soft-touch regulation. He argued that industry ministers were “trapped” as they “inherited policies from people more senior to them, which they could then not challenge.”

Japanese officials who went on to work for the IAEA apparently shared this fear of confrontation. In 2009, the U.S. embassy in Vienna, Austria, labeled the IAEA’s outgoing safety director “a disappointment,” in part because of his failure to boost safety at home.

“[Tomihiro] Taniguchi has been a weak manager and advocate, particularly with respect to confronting Japan’s own safety practices, and he is a particular disappointment to the United States for his unloved-step-child treatment of the Office of Nuclear Security,” said the cable. “This … position requires a good manager and leader who is technically qualified in both safety and security.”

Taniguchi served as the executive director of Japan’s Nuclear Power Engineering Corp. — which is charged with addressing nuclear plant security in the aftermath of earthquakes — before becoming the deputy director general for the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security in 2001. Taniguchi left his job with the nuclear watchdog in September 2009, when another Japanese official, Yukiya Amano, was appointed director general of the IAEA.

Before leaving office, Taniguchi told a meeting of nuclear officials in 2008 that the international community needed to push for more nuclear power safeguards, according to a separate Vienna cable. “We should avoid another Chernobyl or nuclear 9/11,” he said. Unfortunately, such a disaster is now unfolding in Fukushima.

           — Hat tip: Zenster [Return to headlines]


France’s Le Pen Urges Joint Anti-Migrant Patrols in Mediterranean

Rome, 15 March (AkI) — Far-right French politician Marine Le Pen has called on Italy to form joint patrols with her country to turn back people-smuggling boats in the Mediterranean amid a “dramatic” influx of migrants fleeing unrest in North Africa.

During a visit to Rome on Tuesday, Le Pen also urged controls to be resumed at the border between Italy and France, doubting that the European Union and its borders agency Frontex would be able to stop the migrant influx.

“It’s a mistake to think that an anonymous and distant body can be effective. We need to denounce the inefficiency of the European Union and strike bilateral accords,” Le Pen told a press conference.

Le Pen in January took the helm of France’s xenophobic National Front party from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. She could poll as much as 21 percent of French electors’ votes according to a recent survey.

“Individual countries need to face up to their responsibilities, which should not be left to Frontex,” Le Pen said, urging severe penalties for people smugglers.

Border controls can be re-established between Schengen area countries under Article 2.2 of the Schengen agreement.

On Monday, Le Pen was heckled by protesters when she visited the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, where some 10,000 migrants, mainly from Tunisia, have landed in the past two months since the popular uprisings that ousted Tunisia and Egypt’s rulers after decades in power.

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

Spain: Criticism by UN Anti-Racism Committee

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 15 — The UN’s Committee for the elimination of racial discrimination asked Spain to end ID checks on immigrants based on “ethnic or racial profiling”, which in practice translate into “indiscriminate arrests” and “fewer rights” for foreigners.

A Committee document dated March 10 quoted today by El Mundo’s website advises the Spanish government to revise circular 1/2010 of the General precinct for foreigners of the national police, which regulates the behaviour of the police towards foreign citizens without papers. A regulation which, according to associations working for immigrants and refugees, fuels “xenophobia and racism”, violating the Spanish Constitution.

The UN Committee also exhorted Spain to review the current law on foreigners which it views as “discriminating” for female illegal aliens who fall victim to male violence. The document also criticised the situation of the foreigner holding centres and recommended the adoption of a regulation capable of unifying the internal operation of such centres and guarantee legal and medical assistance to those held therein, in addition to granting access to NGOs.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK: The Invasion of EU Nurses: Number Working in NHS Doubles Amid Language Fears After Controls Relaxed

The number of European nurses registering to work in Britain has almost doubled since strict checks on their competence — including language skills — were scrapped.

Officials were forced to abandon compulsory tests on medical knowledge and skills for some foreign applicants in October, because they breached EU rules.

In the five months since they were stopped, 1,436 nurses from European countries have signed up to work in hospitals and care homes in Britain, compared with just 857 in the preceding five months.

Campaigners have raised concerns that the changes could cost lives.

Previously, all nurses from EU member states wanting to work in Britain had to prove they had carried out at least 450 hours of work in their own country in the last three years.

Those who couldn’t were required to enrol on a ‘return to practice’ course at a university, usually lasting at least three months and involving regular theory and practical tests.

Although nurses were not directly tested on their language skills, they were unlikely to pass the course if their English was poor.

But it is now far easier for a nurse from the EU to work in an NHS hospital or care home than a British-trained one who may have stopped working for a few years to have children.

Nurses trained in this country who haven’t worked for three years still have to pass the course, which can cost up to £1,000.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


See What Al-Qaida Does With Children

Defense documents reveal terror group’s shocking plans for youth

Al-Qaida actively recruits children to be suicide bombers by having its loyalists hang out at mosques and Islamic schools and offering books, flyers and magazines and occasionally money, but they have found that Islam is the biggest incentive to convince youth to blow up themselves and kill others, according to a federal document.

“Juveniles as young as 14 years of age are used for martyrdom operations,” the document, obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request, stated. “Juveniles are more willing to martyr themselves due to their lack of reasoning on taking innocent lives.”

The documents come from the Department of Defense’s Defense Intelligence Agency and were in response to a request for records relating to children as intended targets of terrorism and the terror threat against children.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]