Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/15/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/15/2009Forget global warming. Hello, global cooling! If the experts are right, we’re in for a new Ice Age.

But it’s still the fault of George W. Bush, of course.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Fausta, Insubria, JD, KGS, Tuan Jim, VH, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
– – – – – – – –

‘Attempted Hit’ Put on Ramos Family
Banks in Need of Even More Bailout Money
California Risks “Insolvency” Amid Budget Woes: Government
Cartoon: Obama’s Bridge to Nowhere
Irregular Order
Is MLK’s Legacy Dead?
Newly Found Article Confirms Obama ‘Dreams’ Fraud
USDA Unable to Weed Out Unapproved Modified Foods
We No Longer Need to Kill Bin Laden, Claims Barack Obama
Europe and the EU
“There’s No Place for Sharia in Switzerland”
Austria: Possible Political Motive in Focus After Chechen Shot in Vienna
Chechen President’s Former Bodyguard Killed in Vienna
Czech PM Says Opposition CSSD Populist in Foreign Policy
Deadly Year in Italy: Exchange Student Murder Trial to Begin
Denmark: International Warrant Issued for Kurdish Singer
Gaza: D’Alema, Italian Government Biased Towards Israel
Italian Minister Concerned About Lebanese Rocket Attacks
Italy: ‘Blind’ Camorra Killer Read Pope
Italy: Andreotti Feted at 90
Portuguese Catholic Leader: ‘Think Twice About Marrying a Muslim’
Somali Pirates to Netherlands
Spain: Cardinal Bertone to Meet With King and Zapatero
Switzerland: Geneva Braces for Protest
UK: Big Brother is Not Watching You: Cash-Strapped Towns Leave CCTV Cameras Unmonitored
UK: Heathrow Airport to Get Third Runway, Geoff Hoon Announces
UK: IWF Confirms Wayback Machine Porn Blacklisting
Mediterranean Union
Cooperation: Morocco-Sicily Joint Venture Study
Morocco: Spain Recruits 16,000 Women for Fruit Harvest
Tourism: Britain Ready to Invest in Libya
Israel and the Palestinians
6 Wounded, 2 Seriously, as Two Grad Rockets Hit Beersheba
Gaza: Near US-Israeli Accord to Block Arms to Hamas
Israel Apologises to UN After ‘Phosphorous’ Strike on Relief Headquarters in Gaza Where 700 Palestinians Were Sheltering
‘Shelled UN Building Used by Hamas’
Teens: No Ceasefire Without Shalit
U.N. Agency That Runs School Hit in Gaza Employed Hamas and Islamic Jihad Members
Middle East
Baghdad Ratifies UN Treaty on Chemical Weapons
Iran Trying to Divert Israeli Forces From Gaza?
Jordan: MPs, Israel Must be Punished for Genocide
Saudis Back Hezbollah Competitor
Saudi Arabia’s Senior Muslim Cleric Says It’s OK for Girls as Young as 10 to Marry
Turkish Diplomat Allowed to Marry Greek National
Gazprom Sways as Russia Plays Hardball
Russia and Ukraine to Meet for Gas Talks
South Asia
French Muslim Soldiers Refuse Afghanistan Mission — Military
Indonesia: Padang Mayor Mandates Koran Recitation for City Employees
Singapore: Terror Suspect Admits to Airport Crash Plot
Thailand: Amnesty Report Rejected
Far East
Arrested for Spying for China
China: ‘Boycott State Media’ Call
Dog Patrol on Beijing Flights
N. K. Leader Names Third Son as Successor: Sources
Philippines: 9 Bombers Nabbed in Central Mindanao
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Retailers Back Call for Hijab Ban
Latin America
Italy to Appeal Battisti Asylum
U.S. Warns Drug War Threatens Mexico ‘Collapse’
Venezuela, Bolivia Break Diplomatic Ties With Israel
Indonesia: 18 Migrants Flee Jail
Italy-Libya to Begin Coastal Patrols ‘Soon’
New Report: US Infrastructure Overwhelmed by Influx of Immigrants
Thais ‘Leave Boat People to Die’
UK: Citizenship Plan ‘to Hit Economy’
Culture Wars
Dakota Fanning ‘Rape’ Heading to Stores
A Movie and Television Special Presents an Islamic Jesus to the Moslem World
Global Downturn Dooms Prestige Construction Projects
Report: Ice Age to Blast Earth


‘Attempted Hit’ Put on Ramos Family

‘Thank God no one turned on a light! Monica and her 3 boys would be gone!’

The family of imprisoned Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos was the victim of an attempted hit on their lives this month, as the agent’s wife says someone broke into their home and filled it with gas, trashing photographs and pummeling their dog.

Just weeks after Monica Ramos spoke with WND about the difficulty of enduring Christmas without her husband, her family returned from visiting Ignacio in prison on Jan 3. While she was away, burglars stole DVDS, a BB gun and cell phone and slashed her couch with a knife.

They even beat her dog and ripped cherished wedding pictures and family photos of their life with Ignacio off the walls, smashing them on the ground.

But the vandalism wasn’t the worst part, Monica revealed in a Jan. 12 BlogTalkRadio interview.

“It wasn’t so much that stuff was burglarized or that they actually took much,” she said. “What was really hard was that when we got here, the gas was turned on. It was very intentional in that somebody was trying to hurt us.”

Her son opened the front door and discovered the strong odor.

“Right away he alerted me,” she said. “He started yelling, ‘Mom, don’t walk in. Don’t bring my brothers.’ He said, ‘The gas is on!’ He ran in and started turning everything off.”

Her father, Joe Loya, wrote on his blog, “Thank God no one turned on a light! Monica and her three boys would be gone!”

Monica said she believes the gas was left on for two days.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Banks in Need of Even More Bailout Money

[JD: Whose said black holes don’t exist?]

WASHINGTON — Even before word came on Tuesday that Citigroup might split into pieces to shore up its finances, an unpleasant message was moving through Congress and President-elect Barack Obama?s transition team: the banks need more taxpayer money.

Mr. Obama seems to know it; a week before his swearing-in, he is lobbying Congress to release the other half of the financial industry bailout fund. Democratic leaders in Congress seem to know it, too; they are urging their rank and file to act quickly to release the rescue money. And Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, certainly knows it.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bernanke publicly made the case that one of the most unpopular and most scorned programs in Washington ? the $700 billion bailout program ? needs to pour hundreds of billions more into the very banks and financial institutions that already received federal money and caused much of the credit crisis in the first place.

The most glaring example that the banking system needs even more help is Citigroup. Though it already has received $45 billion from the Treasury, it is in such dire straits that it is breaking itself into parts.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

California Risks “Insolvency” Amid Budget Woes: Government

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) — California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Thursday the state “faces insolvency within weeks” and he will put new policies on hold until there is a deal to close the budget gap, which will top $40 billion over the current and next fiscal year.

“It doesn’t make any sense to talk about education, infrastructure, water, health care reform and all these things when we have this huge budget deficit,” Schwarzenegger said in his annual state of the state speech.

The Republican governor and Democrat-led legislature are at adds over how to fill the current year’s budget shortfall and are poised for a struggle to balance the budget for the state’s next fiscal year, which begins in July.

“The reality is that our state is incapacitated until we resolve the budget crisis,” Schwarzenegger said.

“The truth is that California is in a state of emergency,” he added. “Addressing this emergency is the first and greatest thing we must do for the people. The $42 billion deficit is a rock upon our chest and we cannot breathe until we get it off.”

[Return to headlines]

Cartoon: Obama’s Bridge to Nowhere

[JD: Picture is worth a thousand words]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Irregular Order

House Democrats did not live up to their promises to treat the minority fairly in the 110th Congress. And the 111th?

“BILLS SHOULD generally come to the floor under a procedure that allows open, full and fair debate consisting of a full amendment process that grants the minority the right to offer its alternatives, including a substitute.” So promised Nancy Pelosi, now House speaker, before her party regained control of Congress two years ago. That fairness, it turned out, was easier to preach than practice.

When they took over in 2007, Democrats set aside their pledge in order to muscle through their agenda during the first 100 hours; their promises continued to prove hollow in the ensuing months. As with the GOP takeover in 1994 and its accompanying pledges of open debate and fair treatment, Democrats’ asserted good intentions yielded to the realities of governing in the face of an opposing party more interested in making mischief than law. Democrats brought more measures to the House floor under closed rules — permitting no amendments — than any of the six previous Republican-controlled congresses.

As Sarah Binder, Thomas Mann and Molly Reynolds put it in a new report from the Brookings Institution, “Democratic leaders in 2007 quickly concluded that implacable opposition to their agenda by President Bush and the Republican congressional leadership, combined with the 60-vote hurdle in the Senate, made it virtually impossible to return to regular order in committee, on the floor or in conference and still advance their agenda. . . . Their pledge to curb the procedural abuses of the previous Republican majority would for the most part have to be set aside. The choice was not surprising. Still, it had the effect of exacerbating partisan tensions in Congress and further fouling the toxic atmosphere permeating Washington.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Is MLK’s Legacy Dead?

While America gushes over the impending coronation of the Great Equivocator and waits with bated breath over what kind of dog he and his family will acquire when they move into the White House, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as regards the upcoming observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (or “Martin Luther King Jr. Day”; his birthday actually falls on Jan. 15).

It bears mentioning here that the only national holiday we celebrate recognizing a private American citizen honors a black man. Since MLK Day 2009 occurs a day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, it will escape the notice of very few that superficial comparisons have been made vis-à-vis both being men of color. Indeed, this similarity has been capitalized upon for quite some time; I recall seeing young black kids wearing elaborate silkscreened T-shirts bearing the faces of both men during the 2008 election campaign and wanting to vomit.

I suppose there is sociological and psychological significance here, but again, only superficially. There is nothing this columnist has seen in practice that demonstrates a likeness between King and Obama. One was a groundbreaker, a reformer who gave his life in a cultural struggle; the other, a coddled opportunist who promises nothing but subversion of our culture and system of government. One was a Christian and a pastor; the other studied the racist abomination of Black Liberation Theology. One suffered arrest and FBI scrutiny, while the other had a red carpet that led directly to the presidency rolled out for him by far-left financiers and the establishment press.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Newly Found Article Confirms Obama ‘Dreams’ Fraud

The belief that moribund institutions, rather than individuals are at the root of the problem, keep SAM’s energies alive.

– Barack Obama, “Breaking The War Mentality”

The highly indicative sentence above comes from an 1,800-word article Barack Obama wrote for Columbia’s weekly news magazine, Sundial, at the height of the KGB-generated anti-nuke craze in March 1983. Obama was 21 at the time.

The sentence nicely captures Obama’s skill as a writer. The noun, “belief,” and the verb, “keep,” don’t agree — one of an appalling five such noun-verb mismatches in the essay — and the punctuation is fully random.


This essay, posted two days ago by Ben Smith on his Politico blog, represents the single best example of Obama’s native writing skills yet unearthed.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama Climate Czarina Was Member of Socialist Group’s Environmental Commission

[JD: Notice the attempts to hide the connections]

WASHINGTON — Carol Browner, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be his climate czarina, served until last summer as a member of a socialist organization whose mission is to enact progressive government policies, including toward environmental concerns like climate change.

Browner’s name and biography have been scrubbed from the Web site of Socialist International, the umbrella group for 170 “social democratic, socialist and labor parties” in 55 countries. But a photo of Browner speaking in Greece to the group’s Congress on June 30 remained in the site’s archives.

Browner, formerly the longest serving administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, having served under President Bill Clinton, worked on Socialist International’s Commission for a Sustainable World Society, which argues that the global community must work collectively to address environmental policies.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

USDA Unable to Weed Out Unapproved Modified Foods

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2009 (Reuters) — The U.S. food supply is at risk of being invaded by unapproved imports of genetically modified crops and livestock, a USDA internal audit report released Wednesday said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

We No Longer Need to Kill Bin Laden, Claims Barack Obama

Barack Obama has claimed it is no longer necessary to kill Osama Bin Laden to win the war against al-Qaeda.

In an unprecedented departure from the current wanted ‘dead or alive policy,’ the U.S. President-Elect said that simply keeping bin Laden holed up in a cave was enough to keep America safe.

‘My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him,’ he said.

‘But if we have so tightened his noose that he’s in a cave somewhere and can’t even communicate with his operatives then we will meet our goal of protecting America.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

“There’s No Place for Sharia in Switzerland”

A Swiss professor has stirred up a hornet’s nest by suggesting that certain elements of Sharia, the Muslim legal system, should be introduced in Switzerland.

Christian Giordano told swissinfo that current Swiss legislation was “too narrow” for minorities and he put a case for introducing legal pluralism.

His position echoes that of Anglican Church head, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who last year caused a storm of protest in Britain after suggesting a partial adoption of Sharia law there.

“Touching simple-mindedness” was the reaction of the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper to Giordano’s proposal, saying it wasn’t clear what problems this would solve.

“There’s no place for Sharia in Switzerland,” it said. “Special rights for people, apart from in courts of arbitration or associations, have been abolished.”

The social anthropologist, who said he wanted to generate debate on the issue, claimed he had been misunderstood. “I was calling not so much for special rights for Muslims but for legal pluralism,” he told swissinfo.

The controversy was triggered by an article Giordano wrote for the December edition of Tangram, the biannual magazine of the Federal Commission against Racism.

In it Giordano said legal pluralism was a reality in almost all ethnically and culturally diverse societies but was mostly ignored or denied “because it is perceived as a danger to social cohesion”.

Legal pluralism, he added, was more a question of introducing in some areas of the law mechanisms that took into account cultural idiosyncrasies.

“Multiculturalism is not only cultural diversity — it is politically managed cultural diversity,” the Fribourg professor explained.

“It is not sufficient to accept only the agreeable aspects of diversity like food and music.”

Giordano admitted he was “inspired” by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, who in February 2008 faced calls for his resignation after suggesting the British authorities would have to make some accommodation with Sharia for the sake of social cohesion…

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

Austria: Possible Political Motive in Focus After Chechen Shot in Vienna

Vienna — After a young Chechen refugee was shot execution-style in Vienna, a prosecutor on Thursday did not rule out that the young man said to have been a critic of the Chechen regime was murdered for political reasons. According to witness reports, two unknown men were involved in the fatal shooting of Umar Israilov, 26, outside a grocery store on Monday. A third man, also a Chechen, was detained as he is suspected of having driven the getaway car.

Austrian and US media reported that Israilov was a former Chechen rebel fighter who later turned bodyguard of pro-Russian Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

In 2006, when Israilov had already fled to Austria, he had reported alleged torture and abductions ordered by Kadyrov to the European Court of Human Rights.

That the Chechen exile fell victim to a politically-motivated murder “could be true, but there is no evidence yet,” said Gerhard Jarosch, the spokesman of Vienna’s prosecution.

A refugee organization working for Israilov had informed police about this potential threat before the killing, said Walter Nevoral of Vienna’s police intelligence unit.

After the murder, “his widow said that he had felt threatened and being watched, in connection with his former political activities,” he said.

Since the Chechen conflicts in the 1990s, around 30,000 Chechens have fled to Austria.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Chechen President’s Former Bodyguard Killed in Vienna

Ramzam Kadyrov’s former bodyguard, Umar Israilov, was gunned down on January 13 as he was walking out of a grocery store in a Vienna neighborhood.

Israilov, a former rebel fighter, had been detained by the Russian security forces in Chechnya, but was amnestied and became a bodyguard for the pro-Moscow leader.

He ultimately fled to Europe where he filed a lawsuit against Russia, accusing Kadyrov of abductions and torture. He claimed that Kadyrov had personally tortured him with electric shocks.

Kadyrov’s critics have been targeted on previous occasions, a reflection of the volatile web of rivalries in Chechnya.

In November 2006, the former head of one of Chechnya’s shadowy security forces, Movladi Baisarov, was shot dead by Chechen security officers in Moscow.

Two years later, Ruslan Yamadayev, a former Russian lawmaker widely believed to be the brains of the opposition to Kadyrov in Chechnya, was assassinated in a drive-by attack as he stopped at a traffic light just outside the British Embassy in Moscow.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Czech PM Says Opposition CSSD Populist in Foreign Policy

Prague — Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, chairman of the senior ruling Civic Democrats (ODS), said the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is populist and irresponsible in foreign policy.

Topolanek said after a meeting of the ODS board the ODS is “shocked” by the CSSD’s attitude to military foreign missions’ plan this year.

CSSD head Jiri Paroubek, for his part, accused the government of being irresponsible.

“We are rather shocked by the CSSD attempt to trade an extension of foreign missions for the abolition of health care fees,” Topolanek said.

His government failed in December to push through the plan of foreign missions this year, submitted by the Defence Ministry.

The Social Democrats were critical of the planned extension of Czech military presence in Afghanistan. However, they said they would support the missions if health care fees were abolished.

Paroubek repeated the condition today, adding the CSSD insists on a compromise proposal that pensioners and children be exempted from the fees.

He repeated today that the CSSD was ready last year already to support all foreign military missions, with the exception of the Afghan one.

Topolanek said today the government can no longer wait and it must make a decision on the missions as soon as possible in order to minimise a possible danger.

The government extended late last year the soldiers’ stay abroad by two months, until end-February, the maximum it can do without parliament’s agreement.

Topolanek said the regular session of the Chamber of Deputies in February is probably the last possible opportunity to extend the missions.

“The risk of a unit without a mandate, of a crisis and of possible losses of lives is very high,” Topolanek said.

Paroubek said the ODS’s unwillingness to negotiate about the abolition of certain health care fees puts to risk many more lives.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Deadly Year in Italy: Exchange Student Murder Trial to Begin

A trial set to begin in the Italian city of Perugia revolves around a brutal murder committed in the seemingly idyllic milieu of language schools and exchange students. The case surrounding the slaying of 21-year-old Meredith Kercher has rocked Italy like few other crimes.

This Friday, what promises to be the trial of the year opens in a high court in Perugia, Italy. It’s one of the most salacious murder cases ever, and it has rocked Italy for more than a year now. It’s not the titillating circumstances — the fact that it involves attractive and upwardly mobile college students with faces that could be mistaken for Bellini’s Madonnas or that sex and drugs were part of the mix — that has upset people. Their consternation stems from the fact that this murder was beyond rational explanation….

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: International Warrant Issued for Kurdish Singer

Kurdish pop singer on the run after rape of woman in Helsingør

North Zealand Police have secured an international arrest warrant for a well-known Kurdish pop singer who is the prime suspect in a rape case.

Deputy police commissioner Gert Have said the authorities are having difficulty identifying the man as he applied for asylum in Holland under the name Soran Safir and used the name Lewar Zrar Ahmed for his Swedish asylum application.

The 30-year-old Iraqi Kurd is accused of beating and raping his ex-girlfriend in Helsingør last Friday after she broke off their relationship. The police had previously been in contact with him via his Swedish mobile phone and told him to turn himself into the police. There has been no contact with him since Monday and they have now released his name and photo.

‘We have given him a chance. Now it’s over, because he has been ringing and harassing the injured party in this case. He called her from a mobile phone with an unregistered phone card and we don’t know where he is now,’ said Have.

Police said images of the suspect could be seen at his website:

North Zealand Police can be contacted at +45 49271448 if anyone has information regarding the man’s whereabouts.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Gaza: D’Alema, Italian Government Biased Towards Israel

(AGI) — Rome, 14 Jan. — “Today I feel that the Italian position is a-critically leaning in favour of Israeli actions and this makes us less credible in the eyes of a deeply wounded Arab world”. Massimo D’Alema, interviewed by Tg3, is commenting on the foreign policy of the Berlusconi government, especially as concerns the Middle East crisis. “We owe to the wisdom of DC politicians, people such as Fanfani, Moro and Andreotti, and of the PSI, where my thoughts go to Craxi, and even of the PCI, the fact that for many years Italy was in friendly relations with both Israel and Palestinians. This allowed us to mediate between the parts”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italian Minister Concerned About Lebanese Rocket Attacks

Rome, 14 Jan. (AKI) — Italian foreign affairs minister, Franco Frattini, has expressed concern about the fresh rocket attacks launched at Israel from Lebanon on Wednesday. At least three rockets were fired at northern Israel from Lebanon provoking fears of a second front in Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Defense Forces immediately responded to the rocket attacks and fired a number of artillery shells. No injuries were reported in the exchange of fire.

“This is a further, alarming episode that demonstrates that the effective defence of Israel’s security is essential for the stabilisation of the area and an indispensable element that could also relaunch the peace process on a regional level,” Frattini said.

The rocket attacks occurred as Israel’s military offensive, Operation Cast Lead, entered its 19th day (photo).

The Lebanese government denounced the rocket attacks directed at Israel and said the incident undermined national unity.

“Whoever is behind this attack is targeting the national consensus and all parties represented within the government,” Lebanese information minister Tarek Mitri told reporters after discussing the situation with prime minister Fouad Siniora.

Palestinian officials estimate around 1,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children, have died in the Israeli assault since it began on December 27. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, ten of them Israeli soldiers.

The Italian foreign minister reaffirmed his government’s appreciation and support of the Siniora government and Lebanese armed forces.

On 8 January, militants fired at least four rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel. Israeli warplanes immediately responded with attacks against southern Lebanon.

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

Italy: ‘Blind’ Camorra Killer Read Pope

Raid confirms Mafia’s religious leanings

(ANSA) — Naples, January 13 — The Italian Mafia’s fondness for religious reading matter was confirmed this week when police found a well-thumbed copy of a book by Pope John Paul II in the hide-out of a mafioso who slipped through their fingers.

Giuseppe Setola, a Neapolitan Mafia killer who got out of jail last year on a bogus medical certificate attesting to virtual blindness, “appeared to have dropped” the pope’s 2004 autobiography Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, before he made his escape through a tunnel and sewers, police said.

Setola, 38, who is wanted for 17 murders committed for the Camorra clan exposed in Roberto Saviano’s worldwide bestseller Gomorrah, left the book behind in his third escape from police raids. A day after Setola’s flit, police in Naples on Wednesday broke into the attic lair of Camorra ‘lieutenant’ Franco Imparato, adorned with statues of the Madonna and Padre Pio and a wall sticker saying “God is like Mamma, He never abandons you”. Setola and Imparato are not the first mafiosi to have been found with spiritual succour.

Boss of bosses Bernardo Provenzano was found with a favourite Bible in his Corleone farm hideaway when police caught up with him after 43 years on the run in 2006.

Provenzano insisted on hanging onto the studiously annotated copy of the Holy Book in jail but he was given another copy instead, as code busters got to work on linking the highlighted passages to his associates.

Four years previously, in April 2002, Provenzano’s right-hand man Antonino Giuffre’ was caught in a converted sheep-pen with a clutch of religious cards with pictures of Padre Pio, Our Lady of Fatima and Jesus.

The mobsters’ apparent devotion fits a stereotypical image of the assassin and churchgoer, a combination that has come to define part of the Mafia lifestyle.

Michele Greco, the so-called Mafia ‘pope’ who died in prison last year, was a dedicated Bible student while Provenzano’s co-boss Toto’ Riina, a wearer of heavy golden crosses, kept devotional images of the patron saint of Corleone, Saint Leoluca.

But Pietro Aglieri, arrested in 1997 when he was No.2 in Cosa Nostra, probably outdid them all.

As well as having a sort of chapel built into his hide-out, he had a Carmelite monk come and confess him while he was a fugitive.

At his arrest, the Mafia boss was in the middle of reading a Russian book called The Road of a Pilgrim, which tells of a farmer who abandons his town and takes up the life of a mystic.

The relationship between Mafia figures and religion has always been strong, perhaps not surprisingly given the devout Catholic culture they live in.

The Mafia does not discourage its members from playing a part in the Sicilian church, and even encourages it. Leoluca Bagarella, Riina’s brother-in-law, used to spend Sunday morning at mass, seeking spiritual comfort after his wife committed suicide.

One of the younger generations of Mafia dons, Benedetto ‘Nitto’ Santapaola, is a former student of Salesian priests and once said he would have become a priest had he not felt the call of the Mob.

The merging of mafia and Roman Catholic cultures goes beyond the individual to some of the rites of Cosa Nostra, which borrow heavily from church ceremonies and rituals, observers say.

Over the years, films and books have made familiar the religious rituals with which budding Mafiosi seal their pacts: the figurines in the background, the blood-stained saint’s images that are burned in the hand after a finger is fatefully pricked.

Many Italians were sceptical that the film image fully matched reality, but in 1996 leading informant Leonardo Messina confirmed the initiation rite in all its detail: “The day I became a man of honour they pricked my finger. The blood was used to stain an image of the Madonna which was set alight, burning as I passed it from one hand to another. I was asked to pronounce the formula: ‘as paper I burn you, as a saint I adore you: just as this paper burns, so must my flesh burn if I betray Cosa Nostra”’.

Italy’s other mafias vie with Cosa Nostra in religiosity.

The mafia in the southeastern region of Puglia is called Sacra Corona Unita (United Sacred Crown), while the Camorra, the subject of Saviano’s 2006 book and a 2008 film vying for an Oscar next month, is famous for its lavish funerals for fallen mafiosi.

The pope’s autobiography was not Setola’s only reading matter, police said.

Officers also found a copy of a book on the Camorra by a Naples journalist, Rosaria Capacchione, who like Saviano is under 24-hour police protection.

Italian dailies noted Wednesday that Setola would probably have been disappointed if he had got to the end of Capacchione’s book, Camorra Gold.

He is mentioned only once.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Andreotti Feted at 90

Postwar symbol reaches another landmark

(ANSA) — Rome, January 14 — Seven-time Italian premier and life Senator Giulio Andreotti got a standing ovation from the Senate as he marked his 90th birthday Wednesday.

After listening to a roll of tributes, the famously wry Andreotti replied: “I’ve attended a lot of commemorations, but a commemoration of someone who’s still alive is a bit different”. The tributes to the postwar political monument came from across the political spectrum, but mostly from the centre-right. The opposition Italy of Values party, which is led by former Bribesville prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro, boycotted the session.

However, Senate Deputy Speaker Vannino Chiti of the Democratic Party, the largest centre-left party, praised Andreotti for his “constant service to our country”.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano sent Andreotti a message of congratulations recalling long years of collaboration, especially on foreign affairs and the construction of the European Union.

Andreotti, a one-time protege’ of postwar statesman Alcide De Gasperi who became a linchpin of De Gasperi’s long-dominant Christian Democrats (DC), was visibly moved by the Senate tribute, reporters said.

Italian media have been celebrating Andreotti this week, recalling his key role in keeping the DC and its allies in power until the Bribesville scandals toppled them in the early 1990s.

But they have also touched on darker moments such as his trials for alleged Mafia dealings and the murder of a muckraking journalist, which both ended in acquittals.

Andreotti is also remembered for leading a firm line against negotiating with Red Brigade terrorists who kidnapped and killed Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978.

On the world stage, he was widely respected but sometimes criticised for Italy’s pro-Arab stance.

Tripoli was warned about impending US air strikes in 1986, during one of Andreotti’s stints as foreign minister. Andreotti has served in parliament since 1946 and was a minister for a record 21 times.

His political skills and mastery of the stage earned him the nicknames ‘the Italian Richelieu’, ‘the Divine Giulio’ — but his opponents called him less flattering things like ‘the Black Pope’ and even Beelzebub, a name for Satan.

Journalists also said that he was “made of stainless steel” — and certainly none of the allegations against him ever stuck.

However, his final Mafia sentence left a lingering doubt in the minds of some critics because it said the case for links before 1980 was still “an hypothesis”.

A devout Catholic with longstanding links to the Vatican, Andreotti is also known for his love of hometown soccer club AS Roma, ice cream and Sicilian ‘cannoli’ pastries.

Some of his quips are legendary, such as his oft-quoted remarks that “power grinds down those who don’t have it” and “they’ve blamed me for everything, except the Punic Wars”.

On Wednesday he told Italian radio he hoped to “walk and think” for many years to come.

photo: Andreotti on a talk show this week

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Thyssenkrupp Manager Trial Begins

CEO faces landmark murder charge over steelworks fire

(ANSA) — Turin, January 5 — A landmark trial of managers from Turin’s ThyssenKrupp steelworks over the deaths of seven workers in a fire in 2007 got under way on Thursday.

For the first time in Italy in a workplace death trial, one of the six managers, managing director Harald Espenhahn, is charged with murder.

The five other managers are charged with manslaughter, while the ThyssenKrupp company is also a defendant.

Public prosecutor Raffaele Guarinello said his aim was “not to make an example (out of the managers) but to have a fair trial”.

Although relatives of the seven workers reached a compensation agreement with the German multinational in June for a reported total pay-out of 12.97 million euros, many were in court on Thursday wearing t-shirts with pictures of the victims’ faces.

“(The managers) killed them and they must go to prison,” said Rosina De Masi, the mother of one of the men who died in the fire. “I’m just sorry that they will probably not get a life sentence”.

The trial stems from an investigation into emergency training and anti-fire equipment at the steelworks.

One worker died immediately in the fire, which broke out at the plant’s thermal treatment department during the night shift on December 6 2007. The others died of severe burns over the following days and weeks.

Survivors at the time told how the fire swept through the steelworks.

“There had been a small fire where some oil was burning. We thought we could put it out and we got out the fire extinguishers, but the flames spread and got bigger, and then there were some explosions,” said one.

“I tried to help (the men in the flames), I was pulling burnt hair off them, pieces of clothes”.

Another survivor claimed that three of the five extinguishers were empty or broken.

The industrial conglomerate has denied charges of failing to keep adequate fire-fighting systems in place at the plant.

Judges on Thursday agreed to requests from television channels to be allowed to film proceedings on the grounds that the trial had significant public interest.

The trial was adjourned until January 22.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Portuguese Catholic Leader: ‘Think Twice About Marrying a Muslim’

A cardinal once in contention to be pope has said Portuguese women should avoid marrying Muslims — because “even Allah can’t say” what might happen if they move to an Islamic nation. But Muslims make up a tiny minority in Portugal.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Portugal has warned young women not to marry Muslims. Cardinal Jose Policarpo of Lisbon said Christians should learn more about Islam, and respect Muslims, but “think twice” about a marriage across religious lines.

“The advice that I give to young Portuguese girls is: Be careful with love, think twice about marrying a Muslim,” said Cardinal Jose Policarpo of Lisbon on Tuesday evening. “Think seriously because it brings loads of hassle, and even Allah can’t say where all that will end.”

It’s Vatican policy to discourage Catholic women from marrying Muslims. But Policarpo’s comments, made in a public forum on Tueday and later aired on Portuguese TV, have caused a ruffle of controversy in his small nation, which has about 40,000 Muslims, according to Muslim leaders in Lisbon. Many are from neighboring countries in north Africa.

“I know that if a young European of Christian background marries a Muslim,” Policarpo said, “as soon as they go to his country, they’ll be subject to the regime of Muslim women. Just imagine it.”

Portugal is an 85-percent Catholic nation of about 10 million people. As a rule there is no friction with its small Muslim minority. But Policarpo — a cardinal tipped as a contender in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict — seems to have followed the Vatican’s example of saying provocative or impolitic things about Islam. In a speech in 2005 Pope Benedict quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, who suggested that Islam was “spread by the sword.”

On Tuesday Policarpo said dialogue with Muslims was “difficult.”

“It is only possible to dialogue with those who want to have dialogue, for example with our Muslim brothers dialogue is very difficult,” he said. “We have taken the first steps, but it’s extremely difficult — because for them, their truth is the only way.”

Islamic leaders in Portugal so far have not responded, but a spokesman for Portugal’s episcopal community, Manuel Marujao, said the cardinal was offering “realistic advice” rather than “discrimination” or “contempt for another culture or religion,” according to the Catholic news agency Ecclesia.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Somali Pirates to Netherlands

The Netherlands is ready to receive the five pirates currently being held on board the Danish vessel Absalon.

The Netherlands has decided to prosecute five captured pirates who were detained after a failed attempt to hijack a Netherlands-flagged vessel in the Gulf of Aden. The five pirates are currently being held on board the Danish support vessel Absalon.

“The precise details about the court case and how the pirates will be moved to Holland is currently being determined by the Netherlands prosecutors,” Netherlands Foreign Office Spokesman Robert Dekker tells

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Spain: Cardinal Bertone to Meet With King and Zapatero

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 14 — The Vatican Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, will meet in Madrid on February 4 with King Juan Carlos and Spanish Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, according to Spanish diplomats speaking to El Pais today. Bertone will be in the capital for a private visit, invited by the president of the Spanish Episcopal conference, Antonio Maria Ruoco Varela. He will be received by King Juan Carlos followed by a lunch, to be also attended by Zapatero. The Vatican Secretary of State will speak at a conference on human rights in Madrid, and it is still uncertain if he will meet privately with Zapatero. “Even if it is a private visit, surely Bertone will have political meetings”, stated diplomatic sources, who are working to prepare for the meeting. Bertonés trip to Madrid is, according to the newspaper, “a sign of the thawing of political relations between the Holy See and the socialist government undertaken in the past months”. The “great importance” given to the visit by both sides “culminating in a process of approach” between the Catholic church and the Spanish government, which “has taken the place of strong tension in past legislatures” was underlined. Last week, the socialist premier received Cardinal Antonio Canizares the evening before his departure for Rome to direct the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. According to diplomatic sources, Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos has cancelled a visit to Rome where he was invited by his colleague Franco Frattini, so he can receive the Vatican Secretary of State in Madrid. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Geneva Braces for Protest

SWISS authorities are bracing for a protest rally in Geneva against the World Economic Forum later this month, calling off police leave in the city and asking for reinforcements amid fears of violence.

The demonstration on Jan 31 has been authorised by local authorities and some of the organisers are calling for peaceful protests.

But elected officials are now being stirred by memories of protests against a meeting of G8 industrialised countries in nearby France in 2003, which turned ugly with running battles between rioters and German police reinforcements in the streets of Geneva.

This week, a Swiss group of ‘anarchist and communist political forces’ put out posters depicting fiery images of masked protestors, calling for people to join the ‘revolutionary block’ or to ‘smash WEF’ and take part in the demonstration.

The canton of Geneva’s minister in charge of home affairs, Laurent Moutinot, said in remarks published on Wednesday that the regional government would not hesitate to prohibit the gathering ‘if the risks become too great.’

‘We’ll weigh up the interests between the freedom to demonstrate and the risks to public order,’ said Mr Moutinot, a Socialist.

The WEF’s annual meeting of global business and political leaders from Jan 28 to Feb 1 takes place on the other side of the country in the Alpine resort of Davos.

But the elite business club’s administrative headquarters are just outside Geneva.

With Davos cordoned off for the Forum’s meeting, some anti-globalisation groups regard Geneva as a symbol of capitalism thanks to its cluster of private banks, financial services industry and commodity traders.

‘To demonstrate there peacefully … means putting forward our demands in the heart of the capitalist system,’ a group linked to ATTAC Switzerland said.

An added complication for Geneva authorities is their disgruntled small police force.

They have been locked in a dispute about overtime compensation for police officers following the Euro 2008 football tournament last summer.

Now one of the local police personnel unions is threatening a work-to-rule on Jan 31 unless its demands are met. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Big Brother is Not Watching You: Cash-Strapped Towns Leave CCTV Cameras Unmonitored

Once, Britain was the most watched nation in the world, with more than 4 million CCTV cameras monitoring our every move.

But now in these difficult economic times, it seems that Big Brother isn’t actually watching, in fact no one is.

As cash-strapped police forces and councils around the UK are forced to tighten their belts in the recession, CCTV cameras around town centres are being left unmanned as they can’t afford to pay anyone to watch out for crime as it happens.

Instead, entire networks of surveillance cameras are being effectively put on auto-pilot, with police reviewing tapes only after a reported incident.

While in some areas, members of the public and police community support officers are being drafted in fill the breach.

Now critics have called for a review of the future of CCTV surveillance which has cost taxpayers £500 million over the last decade, saying there is little point in having the cameras if no one is watching.

Worcester City Council is the latest to announce plans to cut CCTV operatives monitoring the town’s 63 cameras in a bid to plug a £4.3million hole in its budget.

Council leaders claim that paying staff to carry out surveillance which costs the council £140,000 a year, is a burden it can no longer afford.


Surveillance expert, Professor Nigel Gilbert, who last year produced a report for the Royal Academy of Engineers calling for a halt to CCTV cameras until their need was proven, said today that the situation had become farcical.

He said: ‘The evidence suggests surveillance cameras are completely useless as a way of reducing crime, their only use is as a way of collecting evidence a crime has been committed — it doesn’t stop it happening in the first place.

‘The public has been misled into believing that it’s a silver bullet for crime reduction and actually it is not.

‘I suspect that councils are realising this and therefore it is not a very high priority to look out for crime on CCTV systems.

‘It is not an efficient or cost-effective use of resources.

‘With no one to watch, I would question the value of having them turned on at all.’

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Heathrow Airport to Get Third Runway, Geoff Hoon Announces

Heathrow airport, in London, will be expanded with the building of a third runway, Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary has confirmed.

Mr Hoon told MPs that the Government believes the new runway is justified on economic grounds, despite a chorus of environmental objections.

Green groups and dozens of Labour MPs are strongly opposed to the decision, but Mr Hoon said it was vital to “ensuring that this country remains an attractive place to do business.”

Business leaders support a new runway but environmentalists say it would encourage more flights and increase Britain’s carbon emissions. Some residents in west London and Berkshire also worry that expansion will mean more aircraft noise.

David Cameron’s Conservatives oppose a new runway and have pledged to halt the expansion if they win the next election. A high-speed rail link from London to the north of England should be built instead, the Tories say.

Gordon Brown, speaking on a visit to Berlin, insisted that the decision is in the best long-term interests of the UK economy.

“It is always our desire to make sure that we protect the economic future of the country while at the same time meeting the very tough environmental conditions that we have set ourselves for noise and pollution and for climate change,” he said.

Despite the Prime Minister’s strong support, the decision faced significant opposition in the Cabinet.

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, and Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, all spoke against the expansion at a Cabinet meeting earlier this week.

As a result of that pressure and a rebellion by more than 50 Labour backbenchers, Mr Hoon agreed to a series of environmental safeguards and sweeteners.

There will be a new high-speed rail link from central London to Heathrow, and ministers will look at a new high-speed rail network from the capital to northern England and Scotland.

Flights from the new runway will also have to meet stricter standards on carbon emissions and noise.

Labour opponents also said that the number of take-off slots on the new runway would be much lower than BAA, Heathrow’s ower, and the airline companies had wanted.

“They’ve only got half a runway,” said a Cabinet critic of expansion. “That is a big concession to our side. This package has been significantly changed in the last week because people spoke out.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: IWF Confirms Wayback Machine Porn Blacklisting

Following complaints that its child-porn blacklist has led multiple British ISPs to censor innocuous content on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the Internet Watch Foundation has confirmed the blacklist contains images housed by the 85-billion-page web history database.

But this fails to explain why Demon Internet and other ISPs are preventing some users from accessing the entire archive.

“The IWF can confirm it has taken action in relation to content on involving indecent images of children which contravenes UK law (Protection of Children Act 1978). The URL(s) in question were added to our URL list according to IWF procedures,” an IWF spokeswoman told The Reg.

“Details of every URL on the IWF list are shared with international law enforcement agencies, partner INHOPE Hotlines and some IWF member companies to enable the investigation of those involved in the production and distribution of indecent images of children as well as to help protect the public from inadvertent exposure to this content.”

According to IWF guidelines, blacklisted URLs “are precise web pages” chosen so that “the risk of over blocking or collateral damage is minimised.” But multiple Demon Internet customers say they’re unable to view any sites stored by the Wayback Machine. And in response to our original story on this blacklist snafu, customers of additional ISPs — including Be Unlimited and Virgin — say they’re experiencing much the same thing.

That said, other customers say they’re not experiencing problems. And still others say that access is blocked only intermittently.

The telco that owns Demon Internet, Thus, has not responded to requests for comment. Nor have Be Unlimited and Virgin Media.

[Return to headlines]

UK: School League Tables 2009: Ed Balls Attacks ‘Excuses Culture’ in English Schools

Ed Balls attacked the “excuses culture” in English schools as figures revealed 400,000 children were taught in failing comprehensives.

They were languishing in 472 schools named on a Government hit-list for failing to hit basic GCSE targets.

Thirty-one of the schools — where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils get five good grades, including English and maths — have already closed.

A total of 1.6m were also taught in secondaries where fewer than half of children got good GCSEs last summer.

The Schools Secretary admitted that headteachers and governors of schools in some deprived areas were “badly letting children down”.

School-by-school results also show:

  • 32 of the Government’s flagship academies are among the bottom 440 schools, which may be closed unless they improve
  • 132 of those on the hit-list saw results decline
  • Hundreds of secondaries are still shunning the three-Rs by promoting “soft” subjects
  • A quarter of pupils in the toughest schools are classed as habitual truants after skipping the equivalent of one day a week
  • Grammar schools are outstripping the private sector by a record margin in corresponding A-level rankings

Mr Balls said: “An excuses culture is still there in some communities and that’s unacceptable.

“In a school where you have a head teacher or governing body that says ‘It can’t be done, leave us alone, this is the best kids can do’ that attitude is totally unacceptable and if it requires change we can step in.”

The tables chart standards in around 4,000 state and independent schools.

In the past, they were ranked by the number of pupils passing five GCSEs — or equivalent vocational courses — in any subject.

Critics claimed they could boost scores by focusing on “easier” courses such as computing, media studies and dance.

Now pupils have to gain at least a C in the core subjects of English and maths to be counted.

An analysis shows how the results of many state schools have collapsed under the new-style rankings.

Joseph Ruston Technology College in Lincolnshire — which closed last summer — saw its results plummet from 99 per cent to just 35 per cent.

At Stockland Green School in Birmingham, 77 per cent of pupils gained five good grades, but it fell to 15 per cent when English and maths was added.

In all, more than 900 schools — almost one in three — dropped by 20 per cent between the two marks.

It underlined the extent to which schools were failing to promote the basics.

Meanwhile, A-level results — which are included alongside GCSEs in official rankings — show the average grammar pupil achieved higher results than those in fee-paying schools.

Each pupil gained 73 points more than their privately-educated peers — equivalent to a third of an A grade.

Teenagers accrue A-level points in a system operated by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to govern entry to higher education. The higher marks could be enough to propel some students onto the most sought-after courses.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Woman, 91, Dies ‘After Becoming Stressed Over £16,000 Council Bill to Make Her Home Eco-Friendly’

A family have expressed their fury after the death of their disabled 91-year-old mother who ‘was forced to take out a second mortgage to foot an unnecessary £16,000 council bill’ .

The family of bed-ridden grandmother Dorothy Hacking blame Thanet Council for ‘disgusting treatment’ after the pensioner became overstretched trying to pay for work to meet government regulations to reduce CO2 emissions.

They say she was beset by stress and health problems after being left with no option but to take out a second mortgage for the stone-cladding repairs to make her home compliant with the Home Energy Conservation Act in Ramsgate, Kent.

The law requires councils to reduce their CO2 emissions by almost a third within the next decade.

Her local paper took up Mrs Hacking’s case but sadly she died last Friday — the day the story was published.

Daughter Rosemary, 53, said: ‘I think it is disgusting that a disabled 91-year-old should be faced with the fear of negative equity when the council insists on doing work over which she has no control.

‘She was financially stretched to the limit, worried about putting the heating on in case she couldn’t pay the bills and had no idea what to do if another big bill arrived from the council.

‘The council maintained the work was essential to comply with the Home Energy Conservation Act which requires it to reduce its CO2 emission by 30 per cent within 10 years.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Cooperation: Morocco-Sicily Joint Venture Study

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, NOVEMBER 6 — “Sicilian creativity and Moroccan competitively together can conquer the world”, said Hamid Belafdil, director of the investment centre of the Casablanca region, during a conference called “Opportunities for investment and economic reform in Morocco” for “Le giornate dell’economia del Mezzogiorno”, an economic conference on southern Italy which is taking place in Palermo. “Sicily, in our collective imagination — added Tajeddine Baddou, Moroccan ambassador to Rome — is northern Andalusia: a world of dreams where sun is combined with creativity, artistic, historical, and cultural richness. For Ambassador Baddou, “these are the best bases to build real lasting relationships of growth and development. Surely there is great interest and curiosity from our point of view to deepen this knowledge. From this perspective, efforts must be doubled and I can assure that the Consulate General in the Kingdom of Morocco is working in this direction”. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Morocco: Spain Recruits 16,000 Women for Fruit Harvest

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, JANUARY 14 — The recruitment in Morocco of 16,000 seasonal workers for the harvest in Spain of strawberries and citrus fruit has started, so reported the national agency Anapec. The recruitment centres are in Marrakech, Mohammedia, Fez, Agadir and Dakla. Only women can apply — explained Anapec manager Abdelhalim Fatichi — between the age of 18 and 45, provider they are in good health, married or divorced with children. They must also have some experience in farm labour. Contracts will be for three months with a daily salary of 34-37 euro for 6.30 hours, six days per week. These are the same conditions that apply to European workers. Accommodation and transport from Tangier to the place of work are included in the contract. Anapec will make a pre-selection, but Spanish officials will make the final choice. Knowledge of Spanish is not indispensable because Moroccans will be present in Spain to intermediate if necessary. The first departure to Andalusia is expected halfway February. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tourism: Britain Ready to Invest in Libya

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, JANUARY 13 — One hundred and twenty British tourist companies are readying to invest in Libya’s tourism sector and to provide their know-how in the area of safeguarding prominent sites of natural or archaeological interest. The statement comes from members of a numerous delegation of experts and consultants from various tourist-sector organisations, bodies and companies from the United Kingdom on a visit to Tripoli. The development plan for Libya’s tourist sector presented to the British visitors by the Chair of the general body for craftsmanship and tourism involves fifty thousand new units of overnight accommodation over the coming three years, the opening of new hotels, including a ‘luxury boutique hotel” based on the plans of the historic Al Waddan of Tripoli, a hotel built by the Italians in 1930, and of a 500-room Intercontinental hotel, as well as investment in up-grading archaeological sites and training qualified personnel. The two sides went on to discuss bilateral tourism cooperation, joint investments in tourism projects, the safeguarding of archaeological finds and how to go about opening new museums and keeping traditional crafts alive. The British delegation confirmed, before leaving the Libyan capital, that its bodies and companies are ready to embark on joint venture projects in Libya and to provide their expertise to the archaeological tourism sector. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

6 Wounded, 2 Seriously, as Two Grad Rockets Hit Beersheba

A boy and a woman were seriously wounded and four others sustained lighter injuries in Beersheba Thursday afternoon when two Grad rockets fired by Gaza terrorists hit the city. One of the rockets scored a direct hit on a car.

Two people were moderately wounded and two were lightly hurt in the attack, and several people were treated for shock.

Even as an Egyptian cease-fire initiative was being discussed in Cairo, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired at least 25 rockets at southern Israel on Thursday.

Earlier, a Kassam rocket landed near Ofakim, causing no casualties or damage.

In a morning volley, a Grad-type rocket also landed in the Gedera region, causing neither casualties nor damage.

Hours earlier, a Kassam rocket hit a house in Sderot, causing extensive damage to the structure and to cars parked nearby. Another rocket landed near an educational institution in the city. No casualties were reported in the attacks.

Rocket warning sirens sounded in the city seconds before impact. Sirens also sounded in Beersheba, though there were no reports of rockets landing in the city.

On Wednesday, at least 15 rockets were fired at Israel.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

Gaza: Near US-Israeli Accord to Block Arms to Hamas

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JANUARY 15 — Israel and the United States are preparing a memorandum of understanding to block the smuggling of arms from Iran destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. According to today’s edition of Haaretz, Israel has asked the United States for a series of guarantees: — A declaration by the USA, exhorting the international community to tackle the problem of arms smuggling from Iran to armed groups in Gaza. — Cooperation between the secret services of the two countries to identify the sources of the armaments, focussing on the networks linking with Iran, the Persian Gulf and Sudan. — An international maritime effort, with possible NATO participation, along the contraband routes to spot ships taking weapons to Gaza. Israeli radio has this morning referred to France’s and Germany’s willingness to act in this regard. — A US and European commitment to supply Egypt with technology to aid its authorities to find tunnels used for smuggling arms. — An economic development plan for the Rafah area, on the frontier between Egypt and Gaza, to offer the Bedouin in Sinai sufficient financial incentives not to collaborate with arms trafficking and to cease their construction and management of tunnels. According to Haaretz, the director general of the Foreign Ministry, Aharon Abramowitz, is in Washington for talks intended to finalise this memorandum. If they are crowned with success, Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, may head for Washington to sign the document. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel Apologises to UN After ‘Phosphorous’ Strike on Relief Headquarters in Gaza Where 700 Palestinians Were Sheltering

Israel has apologised to the United Nations today after ‘mistakenly’ shelling the organisation’s relief headquarters in Gaza where 700 Palestinians were praying for safety.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters in the Gaza Strip was ablaze today after Israel dropped what reports claimed were three phosphorous bombs on the site.

Witnesses and officials said the entire compound, which is a shelter for hundreds of refugees fleeing the 20-day offensive in Gaza, was engulfed in smoke.

UN spokesman Chris Gunness claimed the building had been hit by what appeared to be three white phosphorous shells and at least three people were wounded..

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Livni: Red Cross Must Pressure Hamas on Shalit

Foreign minister meets with head of international relief group, wonders aloud why Hamas keeps denying them access to kidnapped IDF soldier

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Thursday with Red Cross President Jacob Kellenberger and demanded he urge his people in the region to visit kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

“I know this is not to your liking, but you must pressure Hamas on the matter,” she said.

Kellenberger is visiting Israel as part of the Red Cross’ monitoring of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

Shalit’s case, said Livni, “is a pivotal part of the Gaza (campaign). The Red Cross has access to every prisoner around the world, but here there is a terror organization which is denying this access.

Kellenberger agreed that Shalit’s case was of great importance to the Red Cross, but said his group encountered “legal difficulties” in Hamas’ definition as a terror group.

The two also discussed the humanitarian situation in the Strip. Livni stressed that Israel is and has been facilitating in the transfer of aid to Gaza, adding that Israel “is aware of the situation in Gaza and is working with the Red Cross to alleviate it.

“Nevertheless, we also expect the Red Cross to understand the plight of Israeli citizens living under the threat of terror… Many Israelis have been living under intolerable fire for eight years. This situation must change and that is why we have launched this operation.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

‘Shelled UN Building Used by Hamas’

Gunshots and an anti-tank missile were fired at IDF troops near the UN compound that was attacked by the IDF on Thursday, senior defense official told The Jerusalem Post.

Accordng to the officials, the IDF responded by firing artillery shells at the location of the gunmen and that the shells caused damage to the UN installations. At least three people were wounded and the building was set on fire.

The IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration coordinated the arrival of five fire trucks to the compound to help put out the flames.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Israel Thursday to promote a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, expressed “strong protest and outrage” at the reported shelling of the UN compound.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

Teens: No Ceasefire Without Shalit

Hundreds of teenagers rally in Tel Aviv, demand any agreement ending Israeli offensive in Gaza will secure release of soldier held by Hamas

Hundreds of teenagers rallied in the Tel Aviv Museum Plaza on Wednesday, demanding that any ceasefire agreement ending the Israeli offensive in Gaza must secure the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Guy Elyasif, a childhood friend of Shalit’s, told Ynet that “we are fighting in the south and Gilad is probably hearing the explosions and thinking the moment (of his release) is near. Once that stops, he is sure to think we’ve given up on him, that the government has decided not to bring him home.

“Saying that getting Gilad Shalit back is not one of the operational objectives is easy, but we will not allow the government to not bring him home.”

Getting Shalit back, he added, “has to be a clear-cut goal. We will not let the government agree on a ceasefire with Hamas otherwise. Olmert, Barak, Livni — we will not let you do this. There can be no agreement without Gilad.”

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, thanked those in attendance: “We thank these youths, who are two-three years away from enlisting in the army, for choosing not to stand idly by and not to wait for the leaders’ endless promises to come true.

“They are presenting a clear stand — that today’s youth will not accept an entire nation and its leaders’ failing to release Gilad.”

Shalit ended his speech by offering the operation’s bereaved families his condolences and wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

The rally was also attended by several public figures, such as Ephraim Sneh and Uzi Dayan, who said in was inconceivable for Operation Cast Lead to end before Shalit’s release is secured.

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann was quoted Tuesday as saying Shalit’s release must be a part of any ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas; but Israel has made no clear statement as to whether his release would be a prerequisite for any future ceasefire.

Meanwhile, senior military sources dismissed the latest rumors suggesting a “pivotal breakthrough” has been made in Shalit’s case.

Gilad Shalit has been in Hamas captivity for 934 days

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

U.N. Agency That Runs School Hit in Gaza Employed Hamas and Islamic Jihad Members

The United Nations agency that administers a school in Gaza where dozens of civilians were killed by Israeli mortar fire last week has admitted to employing terrorists to work at its Palestinian schools in the past, has no system in place to keep members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad off its payroll, and provides textbooks to children that contain hate speech and other incendiary information.

A growing chorus of critics has taken aim at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in recent years, although momentum on Capitol Hill has been slow. But last week’s incident, which Israel maintains was prompted by Hamas operatives firing mortars at Israelis from a location near the school, has prompted some lawmakers to scrutinize the U.N. agency. […]

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Baghdad Ratifies UN Treaty on Chemical Weapons

For the Iraqi ambassador at the United Nations, this demonstrates the willingness to “cooperate with the international community” for “peace and stability in the Middle East.” The possession of chemical weapons was at the origin of the war launched by the United States in 2003 against Saddam Hussein. The former rais had used chemical weapons to annihilate Kurdish resistance in the northern part of the country.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Iraq yesterday submitted its ratification of the treaty banning chemical weapons at the United Nations, joining the list of countries — 186 with the addition of Iraq — that adhere to the chemical weapons convention promulgated by the UN in 1997.

According to Hamid al-Bayati, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, this reflects “the Iraqi government’s will to cooperate with the international community,” the determination to “remove the remnants and effects of the former regime and to work towards the stability of the Middle East.” The decision has been hailed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, according to whom it “demonstrates [Iraq’s] commitment to disarmament and non-proliferation” of unconventional weapons.

Al-Bayati stresses that the ratification is in accord with the Iraqi constitution, which requires respect for the convention on the non-proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons. The Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations says that his country is determined “to participate in maintaining international peace and security.”

The possession and production of chemical weapons was given as the main reason for the war launched by the United States against the former dictator Saddam Hussein, in 2003. In the past, the rais had often resorted to unconventional weapons to wipe out rebel groups or minorities contrary to the regime. In 1988, Saddam had ordered a massive campaign against Kurdish rebels in the north east of the country, blamed for supporting Iran at a time when Iraq was at war with the country. The use of chemical weapons during the offensive against the Kurds — nicknamed “al-Anfal,” “the spoils of war” — killed tens of thousands of people. The most glaring case concerned the attack on the city of Halabja, during which it is estimated that more than 5,000 people were killed by gas.

Saddam’s closest collaborators included his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed (in the photo), better known as “Chemical Ali,” twice condemned to death for his role in the offensive against the Kurds. His execution has been delayed repeatedly because of conflicts inside the Iraqi government, and has yet to be carried out.

In April of 2003, the American military campaign led to the fall of the former rais and his capture a few months later. Investigations on the part of international observers did not find any evidence of chemical weapons production.

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

Iran Trying to Divert Israeli Forces From Gaza?

Rocket-fire from Lebanon seen as ploy by Tehran-backed Hezbollah

TEL AVIV — The Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization is allowing rocket-fire into the Jewish state’s northern communities in a move to divert Israeli forces away from fighting Hamas in Gaza, according to senior defense officials here.

Earlier today, at least three Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon at northern Israel, prompting the Israel Defense Forces to fire eight shells back at the source near the village of Kfar Hamam in southern Lebanon.

The IDF immediately sent warplanes and gunships to fly reconnaissance missions into southern Lebanon in a clear warning signal to Hezbollah, which largely controls the territory. Also, according to local reports, the U.N., which maintains a 12,000-strong force in south Lebanon, sent out patrols to seek out the source of fire.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Jordan: MPs, Israel Must be Punished for Genocide

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN JANUARY 15 — Jordanian lawmakers are considering filing a law suit against Israel for “committing war crimes in Gaza,” a member of the parliament said today. The legal committee at the House is currently looking at options to pursue the act amid growing public pressure to hold Israel responsible for the death of hundreds of Palestinian civilians since the war started on December 27th. At least 37 MPs signed a letter calling for a legal action against Israel, forcing the Parliament to start looking into options to hold Israelis liable, said Mubarak Abu Yameen, head of the Parliament’s legal committee. “What happened in Gaza is a genocide” we must punish Israel for that, he said. More consultations are expected to take place before the parliament goes further, but observers believe little results they expect from this as Israel is non-member of the World Criminal Court and thus its soldiers cannot be held responsible in front of this body. Jordan is the second Arab country to make peace with Israel after Egypt. Public pressure has been mounting on authorities to end diplomatic ties with Israel in light of the attacks on Gaza that left more than 1000 dead. The pro-west Jordanian government condemned the attack, but fill short of kicking the Israeli ambassador. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Saudis Back Hezbollah Competitor

Goal remains to fight Israel, ‘enemies of Arabs’

A new Shiite resistance group back by Saudi Arabia is emerging in Lebanon, and its leader promises to provide competition to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in their mutual goal of fighting Israel, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Arab Islamic Resistance founder Sayyed Mohamed Ali al-Husseini said his group will fight enemies of Arabs and intends to lead the movement in Lebanon.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia’s Senior Muslim Cleric Says It’s OK for Girls as Young as 10 to Marry

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric was quoted Wednesday as saying it is permissible for 10-year-old girls to marry and those who think they’re too young are doing the girls an injustice.

The mufti’s comments showed the conservative clergy’s opposition to a drive by Saudi rights groups, including government ones, to define the age of marriage and put an end to the phenomenon of child marriages.

“It is wrong to say it’s not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger,” Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh, the country’s grand mufti, was quoted as saying.


Responding to a question about parents who force their underage daughters to marry, the mufti said: “We hear a lot about the marriage of underage girls in the media, and we should know that Islamic law has not brought injustice to women.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Turkish Diplomat Allowed to Marry Greek National

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 13 — While Turkey’s problems with Greece and Greek Cyprus are on the European Union’s agenda, a decision by the Turkish Foreign Ministry has paved the way for Turkish diplomats to marry Greek nationals, daily Hürriyet reported. Cengiz Firat, a diplomat who also worked on the European Council, met Viki, a Greek citizen working at the Greek embassy in Paris. When Firat was transferred to the EU department of the Foreign Ministry in Ankara last summer, Viki followed him and left her career. A Turkish diplomat has to pass a strict assessment, including an investigation by the National Intelligence Organization (Mit) to marry a foreigner. Although there have been diplomats who have married foreigners before, Firat would be the first Turkish diplomat to apply to marry a foreigner of Greek nationality, a country high on the list of those threatening Turkey’s national interests. Moreover, the marriage could negatively affect Firat’s diplomatic career. Despite this, he officially applied to the Foreign Ministry last fall to marry Viki and permission arrived three months after the necessary inquiries were made. This is the first time in Turkish history, a country where 25 years ago a diplomat who had a Greek girlfriend was not even promoted. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Gazprom Sways as Russia Plays Hardball

MOSCOW (AP) — Gazprom, which just a year ago was vowing to become the world’s biggest company, is sinking fast as the global meltdown hits hard and the Kremlin uses it as a pawn in its geopolitical battles — most recently in the gas dispute with Ukraine.

The state-backed gas export monopoly is bleeding an estimated $140 million a day in the energy war with Kiev. Experts say the company is being forced to sacrifice its interests to the government’s political aims, threatening its profitability as it teeters under huge debt.

As the spat between Russia and Ukraine moves into its third week, Gazprom’s ambition to become the world’s largest company by market capitalization by 2014 seems a mirage. The company’s share price has plunged 70 percent since last January, sending it tumbling from the No. 3 spot among the world’s biggest companies to 35th.

Since Russia shut off gas supplies to Ukraine on Jan. 1 and to Europe six days later, Gazprom has lost $1.1 billion in export revenue, Gazprom chief Alexei Miller said Wednesday.

Losing foreign income is catastrophic for Gazprom: It exports a third of its production and reaps much higher profits abroad than at home, where prices are capped.

Saddled with net debt of roughly $45 billion, the protracted dispute with Ukraine is one Gazprom can ill afford. And considering the company’s central importance to Russia’s prosperity, its mounting woes may hold the key out of the deadlock with Ukraine — which is also losing millions a day in the pipeline freeze.

Analysts estimate that the gas giant, which is Russia’s biggest debtor, will have to repay $7 billion this year — easy enough when gas is flowing and prices remain at record highs. But since oil prices have plummeted, gas prices will follow suit — with a lag of six to nine months.

Gazprom’s changing fortunes coincide with Russia’s bleakest economic period in a decade. The country is facing recession, industry has been ravaged by falling demand for metals, and investors suspect the government will turn to state-controlled giants such as Gazprom to prop up the ailing economy.

“The company is spending like crazy to do the state’s bidding, to keep growth up,” said James Fenkner, director at Moscow-based Red Star Asset Management. “They are completely unprepared for low oil prices.”

The Kremlin has often used Gazprom as a tool to implement its own, sometimes controversial policies.

Seeking a bigger slice of Russia’s energy industry, the Kremlin embarked on a renationalization program under Vladimir Putin’s presidency that saw Yukos oil company’s assets controversially fall into the hands of Gazprom and state oil major Rosneft.

Gazprom paid $13 billion to buy Sibneft oil company from billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2005, and a year later forced Shell to cede its controlling stake in the Sakhalin II project in Russia’s Far East for $7.5 billion.

Gazprom also plans to exercise an option to buy 20 percent of Gazprom Neft, formerly Sibneft, from Italy’s Eni for $4.5 billion by April.

Now Russia’s energy giants are facing a mountain of debt, raising questions over their ability to boost spending and invest in new and existing fields.

Gazprom has earmarked capital expenditure of 700 billion rubles ($22.4 billion) for 2009, some of which will go toward new pipelines and costly exploration in remote Arctic regions.

But Gazprom has also taken on extravagant vanity projects.

It is building gargantuan headquarters in St. Petersburg and is one of the key investors in the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi — already besieged by cost overruns and delays.

It also faces costly commitments to upgrade power generating assets it snapped up during the state electricity monopoly’s privatization, while banking arm Gazprombank has been burdened by the government’s recent efforts to aid a troubled banking sector.

Fenkner claims Gazprom is spending eight times more than the last time oil languished at $40 a barrel. “They are still spending money,” said Fenkner. “They are doing all this stupid, stupid stuff.”

And it is Gazprom that seems destined to suffer most as Moscow and Kiev pursue a game of political brinkmanship over gas supplies to Europe.

While new projects such as Nord Stream will provide additional capacity for Russian gas, experts expect Europe to redouble efforts to back bypass routes from Central Asia, build more pipelines from North Africa and seek to expand more costly LNG imports.

“Gazprom has shown itself an unreliable partner to Europe,” said Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“I don’t think the European Union will distance itself from Russia … we need Russian gas, but I don’t think (Europe) will enhance imports from Russia … Russia is more dependent on us than we are on Russia.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Russia and Ukraine to Meet for Gas Talks

MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) — The Russian and Ukrainian prime ministers will meet in Moscow on Saturday to try to resolve a gas row that has cut back supplies to a freezing Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated European calls for a quick end to the two countries’ arguments over gas debts and prices, saying trust in Russia could be lost in the long term.

Despite little enthusiasm in Brussels for a separate Moscow meeting with European importers proposed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the European Union’s executive arm said it and the Czech Republic, holder of the EU presidency, would attend as long as Russian and Ukrainian leaders were there too.

An EU-brokered deal had been supposed to get supplies of Russian gas moving to Europe via Ukraine on Tuesday despite the pricing impasse, with EU monitors in place to ensure Ukraine was not siphoning off gas, as Moscow has alleged.

A source familiar with the work of the monitors said Russia was providing gas on Thursday, but in a way that made its successful delivery to Europe difficult. Ukraine refused to let the gas through what it said was the wrong route.

“EU monitors are clearly seeing Russia is not supplying enough gas into the pipeline and clearly choosing the most difficult route and not using multiple routes as is necessary,” the source told Reuters in Brussels.

The monitors confirmed no gas was flowing from Russia to Europe via Ukraine. Supplies to 18 countries are affected, forcing factories to close and leaving householders shivering in bitter winter cold.

The European Commission said all conditions had been met for Russia to resume gas supplies and for Ukraine to begin transporting it to Europe again, but did not apportion blame.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the Russian prime minister would meet his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko on January 17, after returning from talks with Merkel in Berlin scheduled for Friday.

Frustration is growing in the EU at the failure of Russia and its former Soviet vassal Ukraine to resolve the row over how much Kiev should pay Moscow for gas or at least allow gas to flow to Europe while they argue it out.

“I think there is a risk that confidence in Russia could be lost in the long run,” Merkel told a news conference in Berlin with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The International Energy Agency said Russia had lost its status as a reliable gas supplier to Europe.


Brussels is concerned the meeting proposed by Medvedev in Moscow could be an attempt to divide the bloc, which has so far been relatively unified on this issue.

The European Commission said, however, that it proposed that EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Czech Industry and Trade Minister Martin Riman go to Moscow to represent the EU.

Turkey became the latest affected country to return from Moscow saying it did not know when the gas would start flowing.

The European Union imports a fifth of its gas from Russia via Ukraine. The crisis has highlighted its vulnerability to disruption and sparked a new debate about diversifying supplies.

The row takes place against a backdrop of strained political ties between Moscow and Kiev. Russia is angered by the ambition of Ukraine’s leaders to join the NATO alliance, and by their support of Tbilisi during the Russian-Georgian war in August.

Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko flew to London where he was due to hold talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown later on Thursday, a spokesman for Brown’s office said.

Paolo Scaroni, CEO of Italy’s ENI — one of dozens of energy firms worried by the supply disruptions and anxious for a quick resolution — was to meet with officials of Russia’s Gazprom gas export monopoly in Moscow on Thursday.

Gazprom said it had again asked Ukraine to transit some 99 mcm of gas to Europe on Thursday, as it did on the previous two days. It said Kiev again denied access.

Ukraine says Russia is deliberately seeking to ship gas through Ukraine via a route that is being used to send Ukrainian reserves of gas the other way — to the east of the country.

Gazprom has been using routes through other countries to raise exports to Europe but its total supplies are still half the usual export volumes in winter months.

Ukraine itself has yet to agree on prices for its own supplies.

Moscow is seeking a sharp rise despite a drop in global prices and a severe economic downturn in Ukraine, where output in the key steel sector fell almost 43 percent in December compared with December 2007.

Medvedev proposed that a consortium of European energy importers could provide Ukraine with the “technical gas” needed to ensure the right pressure to resume deliveries to Europe, the Kremlin said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Asia

French Muslim Soldiers Refuse Afghanistan Mission — Military

French Muslim soldiers have refused to serve in Afghanistan, saying their faith forbids them from fighting fellow Muslims, a military spokesman confirmed to AFP. “The refusal to be assigned to a mission for religious reasons is a micro-phenomenon concerning fewer than five cases per year,” said Colonel Benoit Royal, confirming a report on the Web site of left-wing daily Liberation. Liberation’s respected “Defense Secret” blog reported Wednesday that an infantry soldier in eastern France had in October refused to be stationed in Afghanistan but later agreed, after meeting a Muslim chaplain. Soldiers who refuse a mission face disciplinary action and in most cases are discharged from the army, Royal said. The army spokesman said the refusal by some soldiers showed a “lack of understanding of their commitment which is to bear arms for France to defend its interests and values at all times and everywhere.” France has 2,600 troops serving in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Afghan mission to shore up the government of President Hamid Karzai and fight the Taliban, who were driven out of Kabul in late 2001. France’s force is one of the largest there, after the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Germany. In all, 25 French soldiers have died on the mission, with casualties increasing since they were reinforced last year.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: PKS Says Rally Was Pure Solidarity Act for Palestine

The chairman of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) Tifatul Sembiring has said the mass rally against Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip which the organization held Jan. 2 was not an election event.

In an interview session with city police Thursday, Tifatul said his party had not violated the political campaign regulation because the rally was purely an act to express solidarity with Palestinian civilians for their suffering. Such activism also took place in other countries, notably Australia, Greece, Spain the United Kingdom and the United States.

Jakarta Police named Tifatul and two other PKS leaders suspects for allegedly campaigning illegally. The political campaign seasons begins one month before the general elections scheduled for April 9.

The Election Supervisory Committee said party members were promoting one of its platform planks — support for the Palestinian cause — by shouting “Save Palestine” during the rally.

Tifatul denied the allegation, but acknowledged members of the party did show their support for Palestine through shouting and carrying banners bearing slogans such as “Save Palestine”, “Zionism destroys humanity, act now” and “One man one dollar to save Palestine”.

“No banner said anything about the party’s political campaign,” he said, adding that considering most rally participants were members of the party, it was natural for them to display the party’s symbol.

He said further other organizations at the rally had also displayed their own symbols and flags as identifiers.

“If I must be penalized for committing an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine, in the name of humanity, I am ready to be imprisoned,” Tifatul said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Padang Mayor Mandates Koran Recitation for City Employees

A West Sumatra mayor issued Thursday a new policy requiring regional employees to recite the Koran prior to work in an effort to curb corruption.

“Exterminating corrupt practices among civil servants in Padang is necessary and this disease needs to be eliminated by all means,” Bahar said, as quoted by

Under the new policy, Padang regional office employees who are Muslim are required to recite passages from the Koran for 10 minutes at the start of their workday.

“This program is inspired by a similar policy among Muslim members of the National Police,” he said, adding that the initiative is aimed at purifying the soul.

Corrupt practices stem from a diseased heart and greed, Bahar said, and the Koran is a remedy for that.

Bahar said he was confident the new initiative could help pave the way for change in the bureacracy. .. .. .. .. Comment at bottom of article by reader: “Hahaha, sorry I find this amusing. The individuals most corrupt in the government administration and government employees on any levels are usually the most pious muslims. I think it isn’t that a majority of these people want to be corrupt, it’s that they have to just to feed thier children. The key method to decrease corruption would be to change just two things.

1) Increase Wages. This can be done in certain ways, which is to lower budgets for “entertainment”, useless seminars, and other useless budgets. (If I’m not mistaken there are 29 points where budgets can be decreased across the board to increase government employees wages)

2) Increase and maintain the anti corrpution laws for government employees, creating harsh penalties of fines AND prison terms, with a revolving internal investigation team, or incentive to rat eachother out (with proof of course).

But maybe this will work, who knows, I may not be as smart as the West Sumatra mayor.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Singapore: Terror Suspect Admits to Airport Crash Plot

Singapore, 14 Jan. (AKI) — A Singaporean terror suspect admitted that he and an Islamist militant fugitive planned to hijack an airplane in Thailand and crash it into Singapore’s Changi Airport.

“We wanted to do it out of anger with Singapore for being an ally of the United States for what it did in Afghanistan,” said Mohammed Hassan Saynudin, quoted by Singaporean daily, The Straits Times.

Saynudin and alleged member of the militant Jemaah Islamiyah, Mas Selamat Kastari failed to carry out the attack six years ago after Thai authorities found out about it.

“What I was trying to do was to defend Islam and Muslims,” he said.

Saynudin, 35, appeared in the South Jakarta District Court in the Indonesian capital to face terrorism charges. If convicted, he may be executed.

Kastari is accused of being a leader of the JI terror organisation. He was being held without trial in a detention centre in Singapore and escaped last February after asking for a toilet break during a family visit.

Kastari fled Singapore in 2001 after the authorities cracked down on JI and arrested dozens of its members.

JI is widely considered south-east Asia’s most dangerous terror organisation and is responsible for several attacks including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, in Indonesia’s worst terror attack.

It is widely regarded as a regional affiliate of the al-Qaeda network.

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

Thailand: Amnesty Report Rejected

THAI Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Wednesday rejected accusations by Amnesty International that security forces had engaged in ‘systematic’ torture in the country’s insurgency-hit south. The rights group said in a report released on Tuesday that four people had died during torture by the army and police in the Muslim-majority south, where separatist violence has raged since 2004.

‘I want to reassure you that it’s not government policy and it was not carried out systematically. The Thai government does not support extra-judicial power,’ he told reporters.

The Amnesty report said it had identified 34 cases of torture, adding that while Thai authorities officially condemned torture, the number of incidents meant they could not be dismissed as the work of a ‘few errant subordinates’.

Mr Abhisit said he would investigate whether there were any extrajudicial practices by security forces combating the insurgency, but he also questioned the accuracy of the Amnesty report.

He cited the case of an inquest last month — which ruled that a Muslim leader died after beatings by soldiers during interrogation — as being an example of how Thai authorities do not tolerate or cover up torture.

Mr bhisit is due on Saturday to make his first visit to the south since coming to power in December, and he has already called for an increase in economic and cultural solutions to the unrest.

More than 3,500 people have been killed since separatist unrest erupted in early 2004 in southern Thailand. Tensions have simmered since Thailand annexed the mainly Malay sultanate in 1902.

‘We must win the hearts and the cooperation of the locals, otherwise we will merely stay with the same situation,’ he said.

The army commander for the southern region, Lieutenant General Pichet Visaichorn, also rejected the report, saying that the army wanted to solve the unrest peacefully and by respecting human rights.

‘Since October 1, 2008 there has been no report of irregular practice by the authorities,’ he said in statement released Wednesday.

‘If anyone is found guilty, they would be prosecuted both under army discipline and civilian law,’ he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East

Arrested for Spying for China

A TAIWANESE government official and a legislator’s aide were arrested Thursday for allegedly leaking state secrets to China, officials and reports said.

Wang Ren-bing, a specialist in the presidential office, and Chen Ping-ren, aide to a ruling Kuomintang lawmaker, were taken into custody early Thursday on suspicion of violating national security laws, said a spokesman at Taipei district court.

The spokesman declined to comment on reports that Chen allegedly passed information on the May 20, 2008 inauguration of President Ma Ying-jeou he obtained from Wang to Chinese intelligence.

The United Daily News, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday that Wang photocopied documents pertaining to the handover of power to Ma from his predecessor Chen Shui-bian as well as the presidential office organisational charts and division phone numbers.

The arrests came after prosecutors searched Wang’s office and residence on Wednesday and confiscated a box of documents, prosecutors said.

The paper said Wang joined the presidential staff in 2001 while Chen was in office under the recommendation of his then right-hand man Chen Che-nan.

Chen Shui-bian, who frequently irked China with his pro-independence rhetoric, left office in May after serving the maximum two four-year terms.

Tensions have eased since the Beijing-friendly Ma swept to power last year on a platform to boost trade and tourism links with China.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

China: ‘Boycott State Media’ Call

A GROUP of Chinese intellectuals — many of whom are signatories of the Charter 08 campaign demanding democratic reforms — has called for a boycott of China’s state television news programmes, which they termed ‘low-grade propaganda’. An open letter the group issued this week said China Central Television (CCTV) has turned its news bulletins and historical drama series into propaganda to brainwash viewers.

Signed by 22 academics and lawyers, the letter also criticised the state TV monopoly for ignoring stories of social unrest, and whitewashing major events like the recent tainted milk scandal.

‘We hereby declare a ‘four noes’ policy: We will not watch it, appear on it, listen to it, or talk about it,’ said the group.

The letter highlighted six broad categories of alleged bias and brainwashing by the state broadcaster.

Topping the list was what the group decried as CCTV’s attempt to put a positive spin on the melamine-laced milk scandal, which had sparked a global food scare.

It accused CCTV of misleading the public by publicising claims by the bankrupt Sanlu Group — which was at the centre of the controversy — that its dairy products had gone through ‘1,100 quality checks’.

The group also alleged that CCTV’s news bulletins give ‘only the good news’ when it comes to domestic coverage, but focus on ‘only the bad news’ when reporting on foreign developments.

The letter was published on a United States-based website, but it has been picked up by Chinese websites.

‘It is ridiculous that nearly all the channels are showing the same evening news bulletins at the same time,’ said Beijing-based Mr Ling Cangzhou, who initiated the boycott call.

‘Many viewers are already turned off by the state media. By spearheading this move, we hope that public dissatisfaction over the tightly controlled media can be put across more forcefully.’

Mr Ling, a senior editor of a financial publication, admitted that it was unrealistic to expect immediate reforms, but he was optimistic that the move could ‘sow the seeds for gradual change’.

In a swift rebuke yesterday, CCTV defended its record, saying it had done ‘timely and sufficient reports’, including on last year’s Sichuan earthquake, the Tibetan riots and the tainted milk scandal.

In a faxed response to the Associated Press, Mr Wang Jianhong, deputy director of the CCTV general editing department, said: ‘Speaking of propaganda, I’m afraid no country can avoid it. Even the United States used propaganda about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and invaded the country.’

Some Chinese viewers also pointed to China’s coverage of the Sichuan quake as a sign of a more open and transparent state media.

Said a Sichuan resident in an Internet posting: ‘Updates and information were readily available on the state media. That helped to dispel rumours and restore order.’

While there have long been calls for more press freedom in China, the latest move has garnered greater attention, coming after a high-profile campaign for sweeping political change. Last month, 303 intellectuals caused a stir when they posted an online political manifesto known as Charter 08, which has since garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

Incidentally, 14 of the intellectuals behind the CCTV boycott also backed the call for political change, said Mr Ling, one of the early signatories of Charter 08.

These calls for reforms have reportedly caused nervousness among the Chinese leadership, which is grappling with rising popular disgruntlement as unemployment grows amid the global recession.

They come ahead of several politically sensitive anniversaries this year, like the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests on June 4.

In a sign that China recognises the need to remake its staid state media, the government may invest up to 32 billion yuan (S$7 billion) to transform CCTV and the official Xinhua news agency into a globally respected voice that will match its economic clout, Reuters reported yesterday.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Dog Patrol on Beijing Flights

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Most curious that the first flight they used dogs on was coming from the UAE — I wonder how many folks are going to sue China?]

BEIJING — TWO golden labradors sporting uniforms and leather shoes launched China’s first drug-sniffing dog patrol on flights to Beijing this week, state media said on Wednesday.

The dogs are trained to hunt down passengers with drugs in their luggage or bodies by a ‘distinct smell on their seats that is detectable for up to two hours”, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted a smuggling official as saying.

‘The dogs have the ability to detect the the smell with 100 percent accuracy,’ Yan Haiqun, vice head of Beijing Customs Anti-Smuggling Bureau, was quoted as saying.

‘Labrador retrievers are meek and friendly to people. Their noses are enormously accurate.’

The dogs, named Weite and Haige and bathed before boarding, manned a flight from the United Arab Emirates on Monday ‘to sniff every corner where passengers might have passed’ after they left the cabin in Beijing, the report said.

It did not explain why they the dogs had to wear shoes.

Sniffing dogs have helped Beijing customs seize 31kg of drugs since 1996, and more than 200 dogs, wearing uniforms emblazoned with ‘Quarantine Detective Dog’, helped with security during the Beijing Olympics last summer sniffing for explosives. — REUTERS

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

N. K. Leader Names Third Son as Successor: Sources

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has recently designated his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor and delivered a directive on the nomination to the Workers’ Party leadership, sources well-informed on North Korea said Thursday, according to Yonhap News. The decision by the elder Kim comes earlier than expected and was likely driven by his poor health condition after suffering a stroke last August, multiple intelligence sources said. Kim’s 68th birthday is next month.

If actualized, the junior Kim’s succession would be the second father-to-son power transfer in the communist country, unprecedented in modern history.

“(Kim) delivered a directive around Jan. 8 that he has named Jong-un as his successor to the leadership of the Workers’ Party,”

one of the sources told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Philippines: 9 Bombers Nabbed in Central Mindanao

CAMP PANACAN, Davao City, Jan. 14 (PNA) — Nine alleged bombers were arrested by government security forces in Central Mindanao.

A flash report to the area command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMincom) based in Davao Gulf on Wednesday stated that the arrest of the suspected bombers was based on information from the Philippine National Police (PNP)-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) regional headquarters.

Field reports said that combined forces of the Army’s 6th Infantry (Kampilan) Division and police raided the safe house of the suspects in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Shariff Kabunsuan Province.

The raid started on Monday at around 7 p.m., then followed the next day, it said.

The raid yielded materials commonly used in making improvised explosive devices (IED).

The suspects’ identities were temporarily withheld as tactical interrogation was still going on.

The suspects might have some connection to the spate of explosions that hit Central Mindanao the past few days, initial report also said.

The PNP and AFP tagged a suspect as one of the Jemaah Islamiyah’s local recruits undergoing training inside the camp of the Lawless Moro Islamic Liberation Front Group (LMG).

As this developed, EastMincom chief Maj. Gen. Armando L. Cunanan ordered field unit commanders in Central Mindanao to closely coordinate with the PNP in filing criminal charges against the suspects.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Retailers Back Call for Hijab Ban

A RADIO announcer’s call for a ban on Islamic hijabs has been backed by the Retailers Association.

The body has called for all hijabs, helmets and hoodies to be banned in shops and banks for security purposes.

Brisbane radio presenter Michael Smith angered listeners after calling for Muslim women who wear a hijab to be fined.

The 4BC drive presenter said yesterday that wearing the hijab or burka posed a security risk because it obscured the face, making it difficult to identify the wearer in the instance of a crime.

Smith said it should be made an offence.

Retailers association executive director Scott Driscoll said it had been a long accepted practice to require customers to remove helmets and other identity obscuring headwear when entering a shop or bank.

“Retailers should not have to fear any form of retribution or backlash for requiring the removal of any obscuring headwear, including hijabs, as a condition of entry,” Mr Driscoll said.

“This is about ensuring a more safe and secure retail environment for all and being able to readily identify any and all perpetrators of armed hold-ups or shop theft.”

Islamic Council of Queensland president Suliman Sabdia said he was disappointed by Smith’s remarks.

“He has every right to say it but we do say he displays intolerance, and a complete lack of understanding of the Muslim code of conduct,” Mr Sabdia said.

He said he did not think Mr Smith should be fired, instead inviting him to a meeting to discuss the issues.

“Does revenge really, at the end of the day, solve anything? No,” he said.

“We forgive him for his lack of understanding, we pray that God almighty gives him the wisdom and the understanding to respect every other individual.”

A poll on the station’s website today asking, “Should we impose restrictions on the wearing of burkas in Australia?” had a yes result of 76 per cent, and 23 per cent no, at 10am (AEST).

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Italy to Appeal Battisti Asylum

Justice minister will ask Brazil to reconsider decision

(ANSA) — Rome, January 15 — Italy is considering asking Brazil’s justice minister to reconsider his decision to grant political asylum to a convicted Italian terrorist, Italian Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said on Thursday.

“We also intend to lodge an appeal with Brazil’s supreme court,” he added.

Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro decided Wednesday to grant asylum to leftist terrorist Cesare Battisti on the grounds that he risked political persecution were he to be extradited to Italy.

Battisti, 54, was convicted in absentia for four murders committed in the late 1970s and sentenced to life after he fled Italy in 1981.

Genro’s decision was in contrast with the position of Brazil’s National Committee for Refugees, which two months ago voted against granting Battisti asylum. Speaking on a morning radio talk show, Alfano said he would personally contact his Brazilian counterpart “to explain to him the outrage of Battisti’s victims and those of terrorism in general given that Battisti was convicted by a court of law which fully guaranteed his civil rights and he would serve his prison term in accordance with the principles of a democratic country”.

Alfano added that he was “dismayed, surprised and embittered” by the fact that Brazil gave political refugee status to “to a man who is a murderer and a criminal”.

On Wednesday the Italian foreign ministry said it was “very surprised and disappointed over the decision by the Brazilian justice minister who, ignoring the position of the National Committee for Refugees, granted the appeal by Battisti, a convicted terrorist responsible for serious crimes which have nothing to do with the status of a political refugee”.

On Thursday, the ministry said that “together with our ambassador in Brazil we are examining all the technical and political alternatives we have to get the decision reviewed”.


Speaking to the press in Brazil, Genro defended his decision and said “I am absolutely convinced we have adopted the right position” after determining that Battisti risked persecution in Italy.

In regard to Italy’s declared intention to seek a reversal of his decision, the Brazilian justice minister recalled that neither President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or the courts had the power to do so.

There have also been protests in Brazil over the decision to grant Battisti asylum, mostly in the conservative press and among opposition MPs. Battisti was arrested in Brazil last March, some four years after he had fled to that country to avoid extradition to Italy from France, where he had lived for 15 years and become a successful writer of crime novels.

The Brazilian justice ministry explained that the decision to grant asylum was based on a 1951 Brazilian statute and a subsequent 1997 law which defined the guidelines for granting asylum that included “the real threat of persecution due to race… or political opinion”.

According to the Brazilian ministry, Battisti had been condemned in Italy only after he had fled to France in 1981 and on evidence not based on fact but on testimony given by a former terrorist turned state’s witness, Pietro Mutti. In a recent interview published by the Brazilian magazine Epoca, Battisti said he was convinced that he would be the “victim of a vendetta” and a “dead man” if he ever returned to Italy.

He also claimed that in 2004 in Brazil he had been the target of an attempted kidnapping “by a special, secret branch of the Italian intelligence service”.

Battisti is an ex-leader of the 1970s leftist terrorist group Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC).

Italy’s request five years ago for his extradition made front-page headlines in France, with French left-wing parties and libertarian newspapers rallying to support the former terrorist’s battle to remain in Paris.

Battisti went missing in France in August 2004 while awaiting the outcome of his appeal against extradition and later turned up in Brazil.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy’s Foreign Min Blasts Brazilian Decision on Fugitive

ROME (AFP)—Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini Thursday condemned Brazil’s decision to grant political refugee status to a former Italian radical seen as a “terrorist” by Rome. “We believe this is a politically erroneous decision because it considers Italian legislation in a manner we deem unacceptable,” Frattini said in an interview, referring to Brazil’s decision to give protection to ex-radical Cesare Battisti. The minister reiterated Rome’s stance that Battisti’s crimes have nothing to do with political refugee status and denied Brasilia’s claim the 54-year-old fugitive could face “torture” if returned to Italian soil. This is “contrary to basic good sense when it comes to Italy, a deeply democratic country,” he said. Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro Tuesday decided to give protection to Battisti, sentenced in absentia to life in prison by Italy for four murders committed in the 1970s when he was part of an armed leftist movement. “This decision seriously hurts judicial cooperation between Italy and Brazil,” Frattini said, adding however that bilateral relations between the two countries were generally “excellent.” Italy’s government Wednesday called on Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to overturn the decision — something Genro said wouldn’t happen. Battisti, who has denied any wrongdoing, has long been a fugitive from Italian justice. He lived in France for nearly 14 years, fleeing in 2004 to Brazil, where he was arrested in 2007 and held for possible extradition to Italy.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

U.S. Warns Drug War Threatens Mexico ‘Collapse’

‘Under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels’

Mexico is one of two countries marked for “a rapid and sudden collapse,” according to a Joint Operating Environment 2008 report on worldwide security threats prepared by the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.

The report states “the Mexican government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels.”

The report is yet another indication the Bush administration sees the escalation of drug war violence in Mexico as a serious threat. Washington fears the war not only could spill over into the U.S., but also threaten the political stability of the government of President Felipe Calderon.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Venezuela, Bolivia Break Diplomatic Ties With Israel

CARACAS (AFP) — Venezuela and Bolivia broke diplomatic ties with Israel over its deadly military offensive in the Gaza Strip and refusal to comply with international calls for a ceasefire, their leftist governments said.

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in accordance with its vision of world peace, in solidarity and respect for human rights, has decided to definitively break diplomatic ties with Israel,” a government statement said.

Caracas said it made its decision due to the “cruel persecution of the Palestinian people directed by Israeli authorities.”

“Israel has systematically ignored United Nations (ceasefire) calls, repeatedly and unashamedly violating approved resolutions … and placing itself increasingly outside international law,” the statement added.

Israel’s “repugnant attack on the civilian population (in Gaza) is a perfect example of Israel’s repeated used of state terrorism … (against) the weak and innocent: children, women and the elderly.”

On January 5, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expelled Israel’s ambassador from Caracas, winning him hero status among Palestinians.

Venezuela’s decision to cut ties with Israel came just hours after Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his government was breaking diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Morales, a socialist like Chavez, said his government was responding to Israel’s “grave attacks on human life and humanity.”

Morales told a group of diplomats in the administrative capital of La Paz that he planned to ask the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, to bring human rights abuse charges against Israel.

           — Hat tip: Fausta [Return to headlines]


Indonesia: 18 Migrants Flee Jail

EIGHTEEN nationals from Afghanistan and Myanmar detained while trying to illegally enter Australia escaped from a detention centre on Wednesday in eastern Indonesia, an official said.

Justice ministry official Rochmadi said 13 Afghans and five people from Myanmar fled the immigration detention centre in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara province, thanks to the negligence of wardens.

‘They ran away as their cells weren’t locked. After attacking three wardens they left the prison in a car that was apparently waiting for them outside,’ he said, adding the escape occurred around 2.30am.’

The migrants were arrested in December as they were about to rent a boat in Rote island, eastern Indonesian, with a plan to sail to north-western Australia, the official said.

Police and immigration authorities were searching for the escapees.

Indonesia and Australia agreed to step up the fight against people smuggling during top-level talks in December after a spate of illegal arrivals in Australia blamed on trafficking networks.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Fishing Boat Carrying Escaping Illegal Immigrants Capsizes at Sea

Kupang, (ANTARA News) — Some 18 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Myanmar escaped from East Nusa Tenggara Immigration detention center here and rented a fishing boat to carry them to Australia but then capsized at Pukuafu strait on Wednesday.

The fishing boat carrying them to Australia was hit by big waves at Pukuafu strait between Rote and Semau islands at 7 local time on Wednesday evening.

East Nusa Tenggara Police spokesman Commissioner Octo Riwu said here on Thursday that the illegal immigrants escaped from detention center early Wednesday morning and managed to go to Australia on a fishing boat but it capsized later in the evening.

He said three of them were found drowned, nine were rescued and six others remained missing.

“Six of the illegal immigrants remain missing,” Octo Riwu said, adding that two of the ill-fated boat crew members were also missing.

He said the survivors had yet to be investigated to find out why they escaped from the immigration detention center because they were still weak.

“It seems that there is a mafia behind the incident because the process since they escaped until they rented the fishing boat to sail to Australia was well-organized,” Octo Riwu said.(*)

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italy-Libya to Begin Coastal Patrols ‘Soon’

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 14 — Italy and Libya will begin joint patrols to halt illegal immigration “very soon”, the Libyan ambassador to Rome, Hafed Gaddur, confirmed on Wednesday. Following talks with Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, Gaddur said they had agreed to send an Italian technical team to Libya “in the next few days” to discuss the activation of patrols with Libyan colleagues. Maroni will then visit Libya to approve the joint plans, according to a note from the Libyan embassy. “The patrol of Libyan, Italian and international waters with mixed crews will then begin immediately,” it said. Interior Minister Franco Frattini said Tuesday that a friendship treaty with Libya, which includes the measures aimed at cutting migrant flows from the north African country, will be ratified by the end of the month by both countries. Migrant facilities on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa have been strained to bursting point lately

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

New Report: US Infrastructure Overwhelmed by Influx of Immigrants

On January 13, 2009, at the National Press Club, Washington, DC, the true costs of unending illegal and legal migration into the United States scorch the pocketbooks of all American citizens.

A new report by famed researcher Edwin Rubenstein exposed the costs of unending migration into the U.S. at: “$1.6 Trillion Needed to Repair and Maintain Nation’s Hospitals, Schools, Parks, Water Supply, Bridges, and Basic Infrastructures.”

“Immigration policies need to go hand-in-hand with decisions to repair the deteriorating U.S. infrastructure, according to a unique new report released on January 13, 2009,” a spokesperson said.

The Twin Crises: Immigration and Infrastructure,” by researcher Edwin S. Rubenstein, was released by the Social Contract Press on January 13 at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Thais ‘Leave Boat People to Die’

Thai soldiers are detaining illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Burma and forcing them back out to sea in boats without engines, survivors say.

Survivors say their hands were tied and they were towed out to sea with little or no food or water.

About 500 migrants are now recovering from acute dehydration in India’s Andaman islands and the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Thai officials were not immediately available for comment.

But sources in the police and army confirmed to the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok that asylum seekers are being pushed out to sea. They did not provide further details about the practice.

Thousands of poor Burmese and Bangladeshis try to reach south-east Asian nations in search of work.

‘Without food’

Survivors rescued by Indian coast guards say hundreds of other asylum-seekers are still missing after leaving Bangladesh and Burma since the end of November.

They told the BBC that they paid agents to take them to Thailand by boat so that they could have a better life.

They said that the Thai authorities detained many of them in Koh Sai Daeng island.

“Thai soldiers tied up our hands and then put us in boats without engines. These were towed into the high sea by motorised boats and left to drift,” said Zaw Win, a survivor rescued by Indian coast guards off the coast of Little Andamans after drifting for 12 days.

“We were without food and water. The Thai soldiers clearly wanted us to die on the boats,” Win told the BBC by telephone from a camp where survivors are being cared for.

Other survivors said that about 400 migrants were put on a huge boat by soldiers. It was equipped with only two bags of rice and two drums of drinking water.

“The food and water ran out in two days. After that we were starving for nearly 15 days before we saw a lighthouse and jumped into the sea and tried swimming ashore,” Mohammed Said told the BBC.

This group of migrants was also rescued by the Indian coast guards and put into relief camps.

“They have all suffered huge dehydration. We are taking care of them the best we can,” said Ratan Kar, deputy director of health services in the Andamans.

‘Dehydration and starvation’

Nearly all of those rescued have equally harrowing stories.

One Rohingya villager from Burma said that his son and seven friends had left together on the same boat.

He said that after they were arrested by the Thai authorities, they were forced onto the same large boat without an engine:

“Four of them, including my son, survived but four died,” he said.

“My son told me that many died because of dehydration and starvation but many also jumped into the sea.

“When the boat finally drifted close to an Andaman island, there were only just over 100 still onboard.”

The refugees say that hardly any of them escaped the Thai military guarding the country’s coastal islands.

Human rights activists have condemned Thailand’s “inhuman and brutal response” to this new wave of illegal migration.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Citizenship Plan ‘to Hit Economy’

Ministers have been warned that making it tougher for migrants to become citizens may slow an economic recovery.

New rules governing how migrants must “earn” citizenship could deter workers needed to fill vacancies, says the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The warning came as ministers prepare to introduce legislation on immigration and border security into the Commons.

They say it will make immigration procedures more effective but opponents say it will be costly and inefficient.

‘Easy target’

Proposals contained in the Borders and Immigration Bill, to be published on Thursday, include making migrants who refuse to integrate or commit crimes wait longer to obtain citizenship.

But the left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said such restrictions might create uncertainty at a time when the UK economy desperately needed skilled workers.

“Migrants become easy targets at times of economic difficulty but introducing yet more tough measures to exclude people could damage our prospects for economic recovery,” said the body’s head of migration research, Tim Finch.

Greater clarity was needed about what migrants must do in terms of contribution to British life to earn the right to citizenship, he said.

Concerns about migrants’ access to benefits and housing while on so-called “citizenship probation” must also be addressed in a fair and open manner, the IPPR says.

“Not all migrants will want to settle in the UK but some will and so it is important that the over-complicated process of earned citizenship is made more clear and fair,” Mr Finch added.

Migration trends

The IPPR said there was already clear evidence that the downturn was depressing immigration levels and this trend was likely to continue.

There was a real risk that vacancies in areas such as construction, teaching and social care, which may not be filled by British workers, would go unfilled if tougher curbs on immigration were introduced, it claimed.

Ministers argue that the new proposals, on top of the points-based migration scheme for non-EU nationals introduced last year, will simplify and improve immigration procedures.

But opposition parties say the government has still failed to reassure the public it has immigration levels under control.

The Conservatives say the new citizenship process is likely to be cumbersome and bureaucratic.

The Lib Dems argue the new proposals are an admission of past failures to control British borders.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Dakota Fanning ‘Rape’ Heading to Stores

‘We have to ask if our society is ready to accept sexualizing 4th-graders’

A campaign is asking parents to urge local retailers to halt the widespread sales of “Hounddog,” the Dakota Fanning flop that generated only a few thousand dollars in theaters nationwide because of its controversial rape scene with her fourth-grade character.

The announcement today comes from Concerned Women for America, an organization that has been active in monitoring the progress of the project since it was in production in North Carolina.


Added Eric Parkinson, Empire’s CEO of distribution, “This is the proverbial ‘wait until DVD’ title. ? Now that it’s being released to DVD and Blu-Ray, the film is finally positioned to reach the large audience it deserves.”

The film, however, has drawn opposition from family groups who cite a teasing child who promises a kiss to a boy if he exposes himself then later gyrates to the tune of “Hounddog” and is sexually assaulted by a man.

“That’s pretty much the storyline of ‘Hounddog,’“ CWA said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


A Movie and Television Special Presents an Islamic Jesus to the Moslem World

A film producer, who shares the ideas of Iran’s hard-line president, has produced what he says is the first film giving an Islamic view of Jesus Christ in a bid to show the common ground, he says, between Moslems and Christians.

The film, Jesus the spirit of Allah, and its television version which will further explore the links between Jesus and the Immam Mahdi, the Moslem Messiah, who will usher in, with Jesus, a new era of peace and harmony.

The film and TV version of the Islamic Jesus says that Jesus was not crucified but was taken by Allah directly into heaven to await His return with the Islamic Messiah.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Global Downturn Dooms Prestige Construction Projects

[Comment from Tuan Jim: What a crying shame.]

The financial crisis has led to the cancellation of spectacular construction projects in the previously booming metropolises of Dubai, Moscow and Abu Dhabi. Does the demise of overblown architecture spell an opportunity for sustainable building?

They were certainly heady years. In cities like Shanghai, Moscow and Dubai, the urban landscape was re-invented at breakneck speed. Revolving construction cranes dominated skylines and economic growth was measured in the number of stories a building had. It was a high-stakes gamble involving money, steel and glass.

In the new urbanism, nothing could happen quickly enough, nor could anything be praised loudly enough. Numerous entities had their fingers in the pie of each major deal, from banks to investors to brokers. There were no limits to the business savvy and the flows of capital involved…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Report: Ice Age to Blast Earth

Glacial era predicted to freeze planet for next 100,000 years

Earth is “on the brink of entering another Ice Age,” according to one report.

Pravda, Russia’s online newspaper, claims evidence shows the warm, 12,000-year Holocene period will soon end, and the planet will experience a glacial age for the next 100,000 years.

“Ice cores, ocean sediment cores, the geologic record, and studies of ancient plant and animal populations all demonstrate a regular cyclic pattern of Ice Age glacial maximums which each last about 100,000 years, separated by intervening warm interglacials, each lasting about 12,000 years,” according to the report.

Pravda cites three astronomical “Milankovich cycles” as further proof of cooling:

The tilt of the Earth, which varies over a 41,000-year period.

The shape of the Earth’s orbit, which changes over a period of 100,000 years, “separated by intervening warm interglacials, each lasting about 12,000 years.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

5 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/15/2009

  1. Correction, it’s climate change! That way the experts can tie everything together the moment the temperature goes in either direction.

    It’s because of global warming; it’s because of global cooling, caused by global warming! See, it’s all connected!

    (By the way, I’m trying to make a joke here.)

  2. About Portugal.

    I was SHOCKED!!!
    I was shocked with the media reaction! I was shocked to hear what some people say despite the fact that I do not know anyone who did not understand the Cardinal’s poisition or thought he was not polite / politically abusive…
    … and I mean, even deranged anti Catholic leftist people.

    So, I got shocked because only now I realised how the tentacles of PC have penetrated Portuguese Society. Women, especially women… they are so “viperine”… you see, I believe most of the women that appeared in the TV (even regular women) say one thing for the cameras and another thing behinde them… (except the ones who are very Catholic).

    But the words of the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon showed me how deranged the Catholic Church currently is.


    So, was he warning about, say, race mixing? No he wasn’t, the Catholic Church is very pro race mixing.
    Was he warning about, say, the loose Catholicism that is practiced by more than half of the 85% self proclaimed Catholics? (…) that literally consists of getting baptized, getting married and recieving the extreme-unction before you die? Is it?
    No, they do not care. They simply do not care at all! Most people – like myself – do not even do the First comunion despite being baptized!

    What they do care is their little religeous empire… I bet if we had no muslims, no Jews and no foreign traditions, he would warn “against the dangers of marrying a Protestant”.

    Besides, the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon said that in Lisbon alone, the number of muslims is one hundred thousand (3-4% of the Lisbon region?) and are concentrated in three big mosques. Yes, the mosques are way too big and are three. Yes, they are offered to the muslims almost for free. However, I don’t think there are all those muslims in the whole of Portugal, maybe 50 thousand or so, but with the illegals one never knows… and the mosques ARE ALWAYS FULL, I have never walked at the side of a Mosque without seeing hundreds (or tens) of muslims (besides one time where I went really there to learn something about islam but it was empty, open to the public… the muslim lady was very nice, of a strange sect, Salafist I think, they have a prince who has a great life in France chasing French girls… muslims…)!

    Well, Baron, I thought I was emailing you this because I thought this would make a good post. But I am still translating…

    As one local National-Catholic (Fascist/Salazarist) says:

    “If the Cardinal Patriarch had had the audacity to remind the Catholics and their legitimous wives and brides of their political amd moral obligations and precepts they must follow, maybe the declaration would be somehow usefull. But from what I understood, (… from hearing the Patriarch…), there is no difference in costumes between those who profess The Faith and those who have surrendered to the modern and fashionable post-religeous culture of the Socialist little Churches (Yes, there are Catholic Priests here who teach that communism was the religeon of Jesus).

    Oddly enough, the Sir Cardinal did not mentioned the dangers that a Catholic girl is subjected to if she marries a Communist, a Nihilist, an Abortionist… An error that he will emend in time (irony).”

Comments are closed.