Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/11/2008

The GoV newsboy

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Insubria, Natalie, TB, VH, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Details are below the fold.
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Europe and the EU

Gibraltar: Tunnel Under the Strait, Project Launched

(by Paola Del Vecchio) (ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 5 — The great project of the tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar, which will connect Morocco and Spain, will be presented by the two countries to the European Union on October 13. The announcement was made by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, at the end of a meeting held yesterday in Tangier with his Moroccan counterpart, Tayeb Fasi Fihri. The project presentation, the media reported today, will take place during a Morocco-EU meeting, scheduled to take place in Luxembourg. Moratinos said that this was ‘‘a very ambitious project which will allow to unite Africa and Europe through two solid links on the two continents, Morocco and Spain’’. The direct railway link through the tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar is an old project of historical proportions, whose first studies started with an agreement signed by King Hassan II and King Juan Carlos of Spain in 1978, but which only now has received the needed impulse for its execution. In March 2007, Spanish Prime Minister Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou confirmed the willingness of the two countries to begin the construction of the 40 km-long underwater tunnel, indicated in the feasibility study under a technical and economical point of view, to be built by the two specially set up companies, Spanish Seceg and Moroccan Sned. ‘‘It will represent for the XXI century what the Suez Channel represented for the XIX century and the Panama Channel for the XX century’’, the Infrastructure Minister at the time, Francisco Alvarez Cascos, had said while signing, in December 2003, the agreements with the Moroccan government to study the feasibility of the project. This is a work of impressive proportions: 40 km of double tunnel, which will require at least 15 years work. The underwater itinerary through the Strait runs from Cape Malabata, near Tangier, to Punta Paloma, in Tarifa, at some 30 km from Gibraltar, at a depth of between 300 m and 600 m. The economical estimates speak of 5.0 billion euro, even if nobody is able to define the final cost of the work, because of the construction difficulties. As Giovanni Lombardi, the Swiss specialist in tunnels, to who Morocco and Spain entrusted the exploration of the technical solutions to be tackled, explained, the work presents more difficulties from a geological point of view than the tunnel under the English Channel, apart from being much deeper. The work will be dedicated exclusively to railway mobility, but the unknown technical factors are many. It is enough to mention that in the Strait’s sea bed the water pressure is very strong, some 500 tonnes per cu m, a fact which requires the arrangement of an adequate pumping installation. On top of this, there are geological problems, because it is a seismic area: in 1755 an earthquake devastated this region south of the Iberian peninsula. If the geological studies, the preparation of the funds and the problem of the strong sea currents in the Strait are solved in time, the construction works might start by the end of 2008, and, according to the most optimistic forecasts, the first railway carriages might pass under the Strait by 2025. As soon as the project is approved by the EU, it is expected to be funded by the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Fund, along with several Arab investment funds.

           — Hat tip: Insubria

Germany: Security Services Warn of Possible Hezbollah Attacks

Berlin, 11 August (AKI) — Militant Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah could launch damaging terrorist attacks in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, according to a report by the country’s security services.

Around 900 Hezbollah militants have moved to Europe and have formed in ‘sleeper cells’. Such Hezbollah-linked cells could be present in Italy, France and The Netherlands as well as in Germany, said the report.

Unlike European countries such as Spain or Britain, Germany has not suffered a major recent attack on its own soil.

But Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA) chief Joerg Ziercke said on Sunday that investigators had foiled seven plots, including attacks planned by three men arrested in the western Sauerland region last year who authorities believe were targeting US installations in Germany.

Ziercke made the remarks in an interview German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel on Sunday.

Altogether, there are currently 200 investigations linked to Islamic terrorism being conducted by the BKA, Ziercke told the Tagesspiegel, saying that the danger has therefore in no way diminished.

He said a “a single-digit number of militants” had returned to Germany from training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and were among around 100 suspects considered a threat,” he said.

More than 50 militants had travelled from Germany to training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan run by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Uzbek splinter group the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), Ziercke stated.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni

Swedish Pharmacies’ Sex Toys ‘Discriminate Against Men’

Swedish state-run pharmacy Apoteket has been reported to the Swedish Equal Opportunities Ombudsman agency JämO for only selling sex toys suitable for women, thus apparently discriminating against men.

As of June this year Swedes have been able to buy sex toys from their local pharmacy, but now the state-run pharmacy chain has been reported by two men who apparently feel insulted and excluded by the wide selection of clitoris vibrators, vagina balls and dildos that are marketed mainly to women.

One of the men complaining wrote that he thought the pharmacy’s selection clearly showed that the pharmacy chain “had a misguided and untrue view on sexuality where a woman with a dildo is seen as liberated, strong and independent, whereas a man with a blow up plastic vagina is viewed as disgusting and perverted.”

           — Hat tip: TB

Islam: OIC Asks Europe to Oppose Anti Islamization Congress

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, AUGUST 11 — “The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hopes that all segments of the society in Germany and in Europe will come out strongly against the holding of such a conference,” thus OIC which represents 57 Islamic states answered the imminent Anti Islamization Congress, to be held in Cologne on September 19-21, urging from the pages of its website to “reject the proponents of hatred and racism.” A spokesman of the OIC Islamophobia Observatory based in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, expressed “serious concern” that the event was intended “to arouse anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe” and that it “would pose a threat to inter communal peace and harmony in the society.” Some 1,000 participants are expected to take part in the conference, promoted by an extremist group named “pro Koln” (Civil Movement of Cologne), representing movements and European extreme right-wing political powers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria

‘Sweden Needs More Military Conscripts’

The Social Democrats have called for Sweden to treble the number of young people called up for military service.

Writing in Monday’s Göteborgs-Posten, parliamentary defence committee chairman Anders Karlsson argues that the country should have around 15,000 people performing military service on an annual basis. Last year saw the enlistment of just 4,700 conscripts.

Karlosson lists a number of reasons for trebling the number of conscripts.

It is important for more people to gain first hand experience of the military, he argues.

An increase in numbers would also make it easier to find the candidates who are best suited for a future with the Armed Forces.

A wider pool of conscripts would also strengthen the Swedish National Home Guard, said Karlsson.

           — Hat tip: TB

Terror Bombing Plot Trial Begins in Denmark

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Two alleged Islamic militants have gone on trial in Denmark on charges of preparing bomb attacks.

The prosecution says the two men conducted a test blast with the same explosive that was used by suicide bombers who killed 52 commuters in London in 2005.

Denmark’s intelligence service earlier said the suspects had links to leading al-Qaida figures but the charges read out on Monday in a Copenhagen court did not mention such links.

The 22-year-old men, who were not named, were arrested during an anti-terror sweep in September in the Danish capital.

           — Hat tip: TB

Italy: Five Suspected Jihadist Terrorists to be Questioned in Bologna

Bologna, 11 August (AKI) — Five suspected jihadist terrorists accused of sending fighters to Afghanistan and Iraq will on Tuesday be questioned by a judge in the northern Italian city of Bologna.

The five North Africans were arrested on Saturday in a police operation that broke up an alleged international terror cell.

Police say they arrested four African nationals from Tunisia and a Moroccan during raids in Bologna and the nearby towns of Imola and Faenza.

A sixth suspect is still at large. He avoided arrest because he had returned to his home country for personal reasons.

The five suspected terrorists were led by Tunisian Khalil Jarraya, 38, known as the ‘colonel’ due to his experience in fighting in the Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995.

He is alleged to have received Bosnian citizenship through his wife, a Bosnian national. His citizenship was later revoked.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni

North Africa

Egypt: Killed Lebanese Singer, Newspaper Disappears

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, AUGUST 11 — There was a mystery in Cairo yesterday over the disappearance from the news stands and the distribution chain of the al-Dustour weekly which had published an article in which, quoting an Internet website, it reported that an “influential” Egyptian personality in the politics and business was involved in the murder of Lebanese signer Suzanne Tamim. Interviewed by journalists, the editors of the weekly said that they had not received any information about the seizure and official sources confirmed that no judicial authority has ordered the seizure of the copies of the weekly. Quoting the El Aph website, the weekly, whose article is also published on its Internet site, reported the news that two security agents in an Egyptian hotel were arrested for having killed the singer in Dubai at the beginning of July. One of the two also admitted to having received two million dollars from a “very important” Egyptian personality to commit the murder. Again according to El Aph, the two affirmed they went to Dubai, spent there two days, killed the woman, disfiguring her face and then fled to Egypt. The Egyptian security services have neither confirmed nor denied the information but, according to al-Dustour website, various websites and various Arab newspapers have reported the affair. The website also says that the businessman accused, interviewed by journalists, denied being involved in the affair in any way. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria

Lebanese Singer Killed: Newspaper Editors to Stand Trial

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, AUGUST 11 — Editors-in-chief of independent daily El Tarik (The Way), Gamal el Assi, and weekly Al Dostur, Ibrahim Eissa, have been sent for trial for having violated the order of Egyptian public prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmud, who had prohibited the publication of any news regarding the assassination of Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamin, police sources told ANSA. The public prosecutor had issued a statement on Saturday in which he prohibited the spreading of any news regarding the death of Suzanne Tamin. Yesterday, Al Dostur, which published an extensive article on the affair, disappeared from Egyptian newsstands, but the official sources stated that no confiscation measure was issued. It was only confirmed that an investigation to ascertain if the order of the public prosecutor was violated was underway. Meanwhile, daily al Masry al Youm, quoting a statement of the Dubai police, specified today that the arrest of the alleged assassin of the singer was carried out by the Dubai police “in an Arab state” (in Egypt). The statement specifies that the assassination was committed “in 12 minutes” and that the woman’s body “was not mutilated”, as some newspapers wrote, but that the singer had her throat cut. Head of the Dubai police, Khamiss Mattar el Mazina, said the assassin had arrived in Dubai just two days before the crime, the newspaper writes. He then entered the building in the luxury El Sufuh neighbourhood, in which the singer lived, and knocked on her door. The police think that the assassin was an acquaintance of the victim, who opened the door for him readily. The man then repeatedly stabbed the singer and cut her throat, escaping right afterwards, leaving the country an hour and a half later. According to the Dubai police, it was a case of “revenge”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria

Middle East

Syria: Dalila, Symbol of Damascus Spring, Freed After 7 Years

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, AUGUST 7 — After seven years in prison and three years before the end of his sentence, the Syrian authorities freed today Aref Dalila, a known economist and former dean of the Faculty of Economy at the University of Damascus, one of the symbols of the ‘Damascus Spring’, the movement of the civil society which between 2000 and 2001 called publicly for the granting of civil and political freedoms in Syria, pan-Arab Qatar-based TV al-Jazeera reported. The broadcaster specified that Dalila, elderly and suffering diabetes and heart disease, was released from the prison of the security services and and is now with his family in Latakia, a main port 348 km northwest of Damascus. Most of the members of the ‘Damascus Spring’, intellectuals and renowned professionals, ended up behind the bars in the months following the coming to power, in June 2000, of incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, son and political heir of the historic leader of modern Syria, Hafez al-Assad. The United States and the European Union have called for the release of Dalila and other Syrian political prisoners many times. On July 12, on the sidelines of the conference for the Union for the Mediterranean called in Paris by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bashar al-Assad received personally from Sarkozy the request to free Dalila and the other dissidents. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria

Saudi Arabia: Mother Moves to Block Child Marriage

Riyadh, 11 August (AKI) — The Saudi Arabian mother of an eight-year-old girl is trying to stop her marrying a middle-aged man who made a marriage contract with the girl’s father in the province of al-Qasim, in the centre of the country.

The father’s consent is needed to validate the marriage contract between the man, who is in his fifties and the child. He reportedly agreed to the union in exchange for an undis closed sum of money.

According to the Saudi newspaper, Okaz, the news emerged after the mother of the child reported her husband and took him to court to prevent the marriage from going ahead.

Referring to another case where a man in his seventies was charged for marrying a ten-year-old girl in the area of Asir, south of Mecca, the woman also sought the help of local human rights groups.

The mother of the girl said her husband has two other wives, and considering the age of the child, asked for the contract to be withdrawn to allow her to have a normal childhood.

According to human rights lawyers, there are many cases of this kind before the Saudi courts.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni


We Will Push Georgians Out of Kodori Gorge — Abkhazian President

Intense military activity was evident in the Kodori Gorge in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia on Sunday. The upper Kodori gorge is the only part of Abkhazia still controlled by Georgia. According to the breakaway republic’s president Sergey Bagapsh “the pushing-out operation will be carried out in full.”

On Sunday Russian peacekeepers deployed in the disputed Kodori Gorge on the Georgian-Abkhazian border received an order to leave the area. Abkhazia’s army launched a military operation to try to force Georgian troops out of the upper part of the Kodori Gorge on Saturday. It started with the use of artillery and air strikes against Georgian forces.

Like South Ossetia, Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in the early 90’s and has been seeking independence. In the war that followed, the region managed to defeat the invading Georgian army. With fears of another invasion, Abkhazia’s President Sergey Bagapsh has issued a decree putting the troops on high alert.

Meanwhile, Abkhaz residents in the upper Kodori Gorge, an area bordering Georgia, are preparing to evacuate. Two Abkhasian soldiers are reported to have been injured, with one in a serious condition. The cause of their injuries is not yet clear.

The Russian Navy reported on Sunday that four Georgian ships violated the safety zone of the Abkhasian coast. In the ensuing exchange of fire with the Russian navy, one of the vessels was sunk. The remaining Georgian boats returned to their naval base in Poti. […]

           — Hat tip: VH

‘Oil, Israel and Iran’ Among Factors That Led to Georgia War

Analysis of the war in Georgia points to a fight over a major oil route as the main reason for hostilities, but also to an Israeli connection. Channel 2’s expert on the Muslim world, Ehud Ya’ari, told viewers of the central evening newscast that Russia and neighboring countries were vying for control of a strategic oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

This relatively new pipeline passes through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey and is the only pipeline between Asia and Europe that does not pass through Russia or Iran. Israel is expecting to receive oil and gas through the pipeline. By using the ethnic Russian population in South Ossetia to destabilize Georgia, Russia was making a play for the pipeline, he said.


Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gregory Karasin said Sunday that international and western press coverage of events in Georgia were biased in favor of the Georgians. “The West behaved strangely in the first hours of the attack on South Ossetia,” Karasin said, and added that “the U.S.A.’s negative attitude” would be “taken into consideration in the future in contacts about other global questions.”

           — Hat tip: VH

State Department Evacuates 170 Americans From Georgia

The US state department today evacuated more than 170 Americans from Georgia as the Caucasus country sinks deeper into war with Russia.

Two convoys bound for neighbouring Armenia today carried 170 private US citizens and family members of American diplomats away from the escalating violence in Georgia, the state department said.

More convoys may leave in the coming days if other Americans seek to escape the conflict over Russia’s claim to defence of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

However, as the Russian military crossed out of the disputed Ossetian area into uncontested Georgian territory, the democratically elected Tbilisi government pleaded for help from the US.

Georgia’s ambassador in Washington, Vasil Sikharulidze, appeared on Fox News and implored America “to prevent a major humanitarian catastrophe and a takeover of an independent, sovereign government”.

When asked whether he wanted the White House to send US troops into the region, Sikharulidze stopped just short of an affirmative: “it’s not up to me. I mean, I can’t make the decision, so — [it is] for Americans.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov defended the invasion of Georgian territory by charging the government with perpetrating “ethnic cleansing” in South Ossetia.

“Their political goal was to eliminate the population, a tiny population of Southern Ossetia, because without it, it’s impossible to integrate back Southern Ossetia into Georgia,” Ivanov told CNN.

“But as a result of what happened, now I’m totally sure that political settlement — I mean between Georgia and South Ossetia — will never be a reality in the coming decades.”

           — Hat tip: Natalie

South Asia

Malaysia Warns Christian Paper to Avoid Politics

Malaysia’s government has accused a Christian newspaper (the Herald) of breaking publication rules by running articles deemed political and insulting to Islam, and warned it of stern action, officials said on Monday. The reprimand underscores the tenuous position of minority religions in multiethnic Malaysia amid a growing number of interfaith disputes.

Christians, Buddhists and Hindus complain that their rights are being undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, the country’s official religion. The Home Ministry sent a letter to the Herald’s publishers warning that its editions in June had ‘committed offences’ by highlighting Malaysian politics and current affairs instead of Christian issues for which it has been given a license.

All publications and other media outlets in Malaysia are required to possess government licences that must be renewed every year. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, accused the Herald of carrying an article that ‘could threaten public peace and national security’ because it allegedly ‘denigrated Islamic teachings’.

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, the Roman Catholic Church’s main publication in Malaysia, denied the newspaper had overstepped its boundaries. ‘We comment on issues. The Pope comments on issues. It’s normal for us to have an ethical interpretation’ of current events and politics, Andrew said. ‘I don’t think we were in any way going against the type of content we have chosen.’

He also denied that an article titled ‘America and Jihad — Where do they stand?’ had mocked Islam, saying it was an analysis of circumstances following the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The ministry’s letter warned it ‘would not hesitate to take sterner action’ if the Herald repeats its alleged offences. It did not provide details, but a ministry official said the Herald must satisfactorily explain why it ran the articles and pledge to stick by the rules.

If the newspaper refuses, the ministry will likely suspend its publication, the official said on condition of anonymity. A representative of another Malaysian publication, the Catholic Asian News, said it also recently received a warning letter about raising political issues, but declined to elaborate.

It is the second time in a year that the Herald has faced trouble with authorities. The publication is currently embroiled in a court dispute with the government over a ban on the use of the word ‘Allah’ as a Malay-language translation for ‘God’.

The government has said the use of the word could confuse Muslims, while the Herald insists ‘Allah’ has been used for centuries to mean ‘God’ in Malay.

Dissatisfaction with court rulings over the right to leave Islam, along with religious spats such as the demolition of Hindu temples by state authorities, contributed to the government’s poor performance in March elections. — AP

——- Adding:

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia released in 2006 a document called

The Legal Implications of Conversion to islam

Freedom of religion is ‘guaranteed’ for all Malaysians in Article 11 of its Constitution: 1) Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

BUT: (4) State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Lubuan, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

Still, the Conference thought in necessary to isue a sheet (transcript of the published letter) with some remarks for those who convert to Islam (through marriage with a Muslim):

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,

If you convert to Islam, there are important changes in your legal status and what you can or cannot do. Your conversion to Islam will be registered with the Religious Department and the National Registration Department, both of which are computerised so access to this information is available throughout the country.

Under Syariah enactments of most of the 13 States of Malaysia:

• Conversion back to your former religion is either

a. not allowed under law, or

b. a criminal offence which means that you may be fined, whipped, detained or imprisoned under most State Islamic laws.

• If you are under 18 years of age, you require your parent’s permission to convert to Islam

• Your identity card will record your conversion to Islam. Therefore, even if you are no longer practising Islam, you may be fined, whipped detained or imprisoned for violation of Syariah laws such as praying in Church, eating in public during fasting month, “khalwat” etc

• You cannot marry a non-Muslim. If you decide to divorce and attempt to convert out of Islam, you will lose custody of your children because they are Muslims.

• Upon death, your non-Muslim relatives will lose their rights to any property, money etc. that you want to leave to them. The corpse of a convert to Islam will be taken away from his or her non-Muslim family for Islamic rites and burial even if you have not been a practising Muslim for many years.

• In the event that your spouse converts to Islam, you may have no right to either your children or your spouse’s property..

We know that certain Christians who convert to Islam for whatever reasons, are not aware of or do not consider seriously the implications of such conversion. Hence, the need to inform you.

By this, we are neither against Islam nor freedom of religion, which is guaranteed for all Malaysian in Article 11 of our Constitution which gives the right to an individual to choose freely his or her religion. But to choose correctly, you need to know clearly what you choose and the consequences of your choice.

Signed by Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur; Bishop Anthony Selvanayagam, Bishop of Penang; Bishop Paul Tan, Bishop of Melaka-Johor”

           — Hat tip: VH

Setia Incident (in Jakarta)

The incident at Arastamar Theological College (Setia) in East Jakarta last week was described by The Jakarta Post as a clash. This is inaccurate. It was an attack against unarmed boys and girls.

In your report on July 29, you wrote that youth culture was the problem, “not faiths”, and on July 31, you wrote: “Business interests may be behind the clash.” These statements are also inaccurate. This attack did not begin with an accusation of theft. The police let Junius Koly go because it was obvious he was innocent.

In fact, there have been massive demonstrations on a regular basis for many months now, with locals calling for all-out war against Setia. In fact, on this occasion, large numbers of people were seen entering Kampung Pulo before the accusation of theft was even made against Junius, who was on his way home from a worship service when he was seized by locals.

The students of Setia are not angels. However, even if Junius was guilty — which he manifestly wasn’t — it is the government’s job to punish theft, not the locals’. It is Setia’s job to control and discipline their students, and Setia does.

The Jakarta Post reports students were hanging around at midnight playing loud music. This is inaccurate too. First, Setia students are almost all from the provinces, with traditional, provincial ethics. They are not typical “city kids”.

Second, they do not own radios or CD players of any kind. They are dirt poor. Setia does have a few wooden guitars, which students often use to play praise songs within the confines of their campus or dormitory.

The songs are soft and beautiful, and they would never play them outside the campus because, as they are all well aware, that would be suicide. Finally, Setia enforces strict rules. All students are to be in bed by 10 p.m., except during special supervised trips. Beds are checked during the night, and whenever Setia has a problem with any of its students, they are quickly sent back to the province from where they came.

I doubt any locals were injured, unless it was by other locals. No student would go looking for a fight in a neighborhood where they were outnumbered ten to one. Again, suicide.

Furthermore, unlike the locals, the students were unarmed. The locals threw stones and molotov cocktails. They threw corrosive chemicals at the students. They had swords, knives, meat hooks and bamboo spears.

           — Hat tip: VH

Far East

Disruption Continues in Far-Flung Regions of China

Soldiers with machine guns guarded the sidewalks and police yelled at residents who tried to leave their homes today, hours after officers battled bomb-tossing assailants in the second daring attack in a week in China’s violence-torn Muslim territory.

The violence, which police say killed 10 assailants and one security guard, also came just days after a militant Islamic group linked to al-Qaida issued a new warning it would strike during the Olympics.

No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack in Kuqa county, and police have not released any evidence that a terrorist organization was involved. But tensions in Xinjiang have been simmering for decades between the Muslim minority Uighur people and the Han Chinese who are about 90 per cent of the nation’s population.

Many Uighurs yearn for independence for Xinjiang, a sprawling region rich in minerals and oil. Critics say the millions of Han Chinese who have settled here in recent years are gradually squeezing the Turkic people out of their homeland. But many Chinese believe the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) are backward and ungrateful for the economic development the Chinese have brought to the poor region, which borders eight Central Asian nations.

After Sunday’s bombings, the authorities declared virtual martial law in Kuqa, about 1,740 miles (2,800 kilometers) west of Beijing with a population of 400,000. Outside the Kuqa Hotel, about five soldiers were on their stomachs in sniper positions, aiming Kalashnikov assault rifles toward the road.

An Associated Press reporter and photographer were detained while they were reporting Sunday near the scene. Police took them to a hotel next to the bombed police station, and they were told not to leave until downtown reopened in the mid-afternoon.

           — Hat tip: VH


Algeria: Young Graduates Fleeing to Italy and Spain

Algiers, 11 August (AKI) — They are young, ambitious university graduates, aged between 15 and 35. This is the profile of many Algerians who are stopped every week as they try to reach the Italian coast aboard boats and rubber dinghies.

The young graduates are among the immigrants who regularly depart from cities on the Algerian coast such as Annaba and Mostaganem in a bid to escape high unemployment in the North African country.

Algerian security sources presented the profile of the young immigrants to local daily al-Khabar.

Algeria’s unemployment rate hovers between 13 and 15 percent.But illegal Algerian migrants also make their way to Spain. On 3 August, the Spanish navy stopped a boat with 16 Algerians who were attempting to reach the Spanish coast.

During the summer months, the number of illegal migrants crossing to southern Europe from North Africa rises, due to favourable weather conditions. Since June, the number of illegal immigrants attempting to cross to Italy from Algeria has doubled.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni

Italy: Immigrants Rescued by Coast Guard After Emergency Call

Lampedusa, 11 August (AKI) — A group of 88 illegal immigrants, including 34 women, were rescued by the Italian coast guard near the southern island of Lampedusa on Monday after they made an emergency call for help.

The migrants were 77 nautical miles from the island and used a satellite phone to call for help so they could be easily located by Italian authorities.

After their rescue they will be transferred to a temporary reception centre on the island.

It is believed more than 13,000 would-be migrants have landed in southern Italy since January 2008 in more than 300 landings.

Italy recently approved a controversial new law targeting illegal immigrants with harsher penalties and swifter deportation procedures, following an election pledge by the new government to stop illegal immigration.

Illegal immigration is now treated as an “aggravating circumstance” punishable with a custodial sentence of between six months and four years in prison.

The new Italian law extends the period of time for which illegal immigrants may be detained from two to 18 months.

However, the new measures have not deterred immigrants from making the perilous crossing from North Africa.

Lampedusa is a tiny island that is closer to Africa than the European continent and a favourite drop off point for immigrant smugglers.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni


Qaeda No 2 Zawahiri Releases English Video

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command to al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, has released his first English-language video call for jihad in Pakistan, the U.S.-based IntelCenter said Sunday.

The message was aired on Pakistan’s ARY television network, IntelCenter said in a statement, adding that it marked “the first official message ever … in which he speaks English.”

Zawahiri “calls for the people to support jihad in Pakistan and lists a litany of grievances against the Pakistani government and U.S. involvement there,” said Intel Center, which monitors extremist websites and communications.

“He also relates his own personal experiences having lived in Pakistan in an apparent attempt to build a stronger connection with the Pakistani people,” it said in a statement.

The Egyptian-born Zawahiri says he picked English because he “wants to speak directly to the Pakistani people and chose English because he cannot speak Urdu.”

Zawahiri was briefly rumored to have died in a July 28 missile strike in Pakistan, but U.S. intelligence and Pakistan’s Taliban movement subsequently denied the reports.

Al-Qaeda in a statement posted on an Islamist website acknowledged that the strike did kill an Al-Qaeda weapons expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, also known as Abu al-Khabab al-Masri.

Zawahiri has been indicted for his alleged role in the August 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya.

The FBI has offered a reward of up to 25 million dollars for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

           — Hat tip: TB

Veiled Athletes Challenge Stereotypes in Beijing

The women in Roqaya Al Ghasara’s home town in Bahrain are so proud of their pioneering Olympic sprinter that some of them got together to design and sew a set of tailor-made aerodynamic veils for her to run in.

Egyptian fencer Shaimaa El Gammal, a third-timer at the Olympics, will don Islamic headgear in Beijing for the first time. She says it is a sign she is come of age and she feels more empowered than ever.

This year’s Games will see a sizable sprinkling of veiled athletes who are determined to avoid offending devout Muslims back home while showing skimpily dressed rivals there is nothing constricting about wearing a hijab.

Two of them, Bahrain’s Al Ghasara and veiled Iranian rower Homa Hosseini, won the honor of being flag bearers for their countries at the opening ceremony’s parade of athletes.

“The hijab has never been a problem for me. In Bahrain you grow up with it,” said Al Ghasara, wearing a white baseball cap over a black veil that covers her hair and neck. Her baggy running gear exposes only her face and hands.

“There are more women in sport all the time from countries like Qatar and Kuwait. You can choose to wear the hijab or not. For me it’s liberating,” added Al Ghasara, whose close-fitting running veils come in red or white, the Bahraini colors.

           — Hat tip: TB

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