Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/30/2009

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

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

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


Alinskyite Obama Hopes to Hush Rush

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Bill Ayers: ‘Gutter-Crawling Rat’

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Detroit: Broadcast Angers Muslims

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

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

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

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


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

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

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

Expert: Voting Machines Easily Altered

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Freezing Death of Mich. Man in House Sparks Anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Return to headlines]

Headscarves and Decorum in US Courts

By by Ghazia A Sheikh and Wasim Q Malik

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

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

Activist boasts ‘Western support, complicity’ starting to crack

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

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

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


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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Stimulus Bill Would Give Payments to Illegal Aliens

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Super Bowl, Commercial-Free, at Islamic Center

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

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

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

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

— Sachi Fujimori

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

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

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


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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

US Muslims Hopeful But Wary of Status Under Obama

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

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

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

What Critics Missed About Treasury Chief

Geithner presided over Wall Street collapse as regional Fed president

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Cinema: Taghmaoui, to Win Fame I Would Emigrate Again

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Czech Workers’ Party Attacks Govt, Romanies in Court Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Police Have Good Pictures of HA Attacker

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finnish CO Seeks Asylum in Belgium

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

France: Support Lower Than Expected in National Strike

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Guidonia Rapists Nearly Attacked Another Woman Half an Hour Earlier

Confession in custody to using axe during assault

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

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

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

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

How Iceland’s Fairytale Came Crashing to Earth

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Israel Foils Hizbullah Attack in Europe

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We will never forget them,” said Berlusconi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netherlands: Threatened Anti-Wilders Lawyer Granted Bodyguards

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Spain’s Probe of Israelis Presents Legal Quandary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Spanish Judge to Investigate Israeli Raid in 2002

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Row Breaks Out Over Rosengård Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riots erupted in Rosengård in December following protests over the

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

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

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]

UK: Britain Has Survived Worse Times Than This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: El Ingles [Return to headlines]

UK: Nail-Bomber Given Life Sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obsessive behaviour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suicide note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: When Did the Bobby Turn Into the Slobby?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

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

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

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

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

‘I feel very sad. Not everyone was happy.

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Macedonia-Croatia: Agreement on Minority Rights

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Serbia-EU: Netherlands; Too Soon to Present Candidacy

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Fishing: Ministry Urges Respect for Libyan Fishing Area

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Lebanon: 4 Mln Euro From EU for 2009 Elections

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

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

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

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

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel: Defence Minister Slams Spain War Crimes Probe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-East: Olmert Mentions Future International Control

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

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

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East

Islam: Qualified Women Can Issue Fatwa, According to Experts

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Kuwait: ‘Suspected Saudi Al-Qaeda Recruiter Arrested’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Nasrallah: Lift Siege Without Political Preconditions

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

2009-01-29 17:19

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saudi Arabia: Police Question Prisoners Over Al-Qaeda Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squabbling Among Arabs Need Not Paralyse the Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Telecom: Emirates Invest in Iran Telephony

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

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Who is Pulling the Trigger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia Muslims Stage Obama Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Trial for Singaporean Suspect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Indon Retail Islamic Bonds

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

The government has appointed 13 official agents, which consist of four conventional banks, one shariah bank and eight securities.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that the government would use the income to finance its widening budget deficit.

Indonesia, which faces declining commodity exports and lower foreign investment amid the global slump, has raised its projected budget deficit to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product from one percent.

‘The launch of the retail sukuk is an effort by the government to ensure the funding for the state budget, and to diversify the state obligation instrument,’ she said.

Although Muslims form the majority in the country of 234 million people, shariah finance comprises only one to two percent of all finance, Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra said.

Mr Sukuk conform to Islamic Shariah law in which charging interest is forbidden. They create returns through profit-sharing agreements or from the lease of securitised assets owned by the seller.

Indonesia’s sukuk use the assets model, known as ijarah, and are backed by government land and buildings.

Indonesia’s shariah financing market still lags far behind nations like Malaysia in magnitude. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East

S. Korea: No Room for Violence

Without a basic sense of security, citizens cannot live in peace. If the government kneels before illegal protesters, it had better step down.

Korea has become a place where illegal violence is common and where it sways society. We have seen a sledgehammer wielded in the National Assembly, and a catastrophe kill six people in Yongsan, Seoul. Violent protest is not new to us. It has been a Korean phenomenon for a long time.

Statistics from the last few years indicate that 12,000 group demonstrations are staged in Korea annually, which means an average of 35 protests per day. Of these, about 80 each year are illegal violent protests. In such protests across the country we find placards with aggressive messages. Illegal occupations are not rare, and professional protesters enjoy a brisk business. We are living in a truly combative society.

Korea¡¯s law and order index is one of the lowest, along with Turkey and Mexico, among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Another statistic shows that the rate at which demands made through illegal demonstrations are granted is 29 percent, higher than the 25 percent success rate for legitimate procedures.

The social cost for illegal protests is 1.53 percent of the gross national product, about 12 trillion won ($8.76 billion) wasted every year. A pre-modern militant society has been established, where people can transcend law and order and profit by raising their voices and making unreasonable demands as a group.

The Yongsan incident is a disgraceful portrayal of Korean society. At the root of the tragedy is illegal violence. Those killed in the incident are the victims of a militant society. When the scene is lawless and smacks of terrorism, talking about ¡°excessive suppression¡± is a luxury we cannot afford. A bigger problem is that a large, illegal and violent demonstration was tolerated in a country based on a constitution.

Of course, if the investigation into the incident finds excessive acts of suppression, riot police should be reprimanded accordingly. However, it is an issue that should be handled separately from the illegal violence that caused the catastrophe.

The government is responsible for preventing even a moment of illegality and violence. Public authorities should be held accountable for letting protesters bring in 60 bottles of paint thinner that could possibly kill, throw Molotov cocktails and use slingshots for an extended period. Police reluctance to act fanned the problem.

Behind the tragedy is the National Alliance of Squatters and Evictees, which has been leading violent protest for a long time. Its members, who have been trained to resist police suppression, stirred up and initiated the violent protests by rigging up a watchtower that functioned as a command center and combat base.

They are the violent forces that encouraged those in distress to fight against the government and the police and finally drove them to their deaths. The police investigation has found that they raised tens of millions of won from poor evictees to fund the struggle.

An attack on public authority, which protects the safety of citizens, is a challenge to citizens and the state. No cause justifies such violence.

We urgently need extraordinary measures to improve the protest culture. Groups that stage illegal violence in Korea are law-abiding when they go abroad. The government needs to respond firmly to any protest illegality so demonstrators don¡¯t think they can misbehave on their home soil.

In order to establish law and order and rectify the violent protest culture, the law on assembly and demonstration should be revised and then strictly enforced. Preparing steel pipes, paint thinners and Molotov cocktails to resist public authority is not an expression of free speech and should be defined as illegal and strictly punished.

The government should not make exceptions for illegal demonstrations. Even the most trivial illegal act should be suppressed the moment it begins. And those who practice violence should be liable for civil and criminal charges.

Lastly, the government should never forget that protecting citizens and maintaining social order is its most fundamental duty. A country swayed by illegal protests has no future, and a government that allows such a catastrophe to happen is not a government at all.

If leaders cannot fully carry out this basic duty, they have no reason to be around. Without a basic sense of security, citizens cannot live in peace. If the government kneels before illegal protesters, it had better step down.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

S. African Jews to Take on Deputy FM Over Slurs

South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies has lodged a complaint of hate speech with the country’s Human Rights Commission against Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Fatima Hajaig of the ruling African National Congress.

In remarks tape-recorded during a pro-Palestinian rally outside Johannesburg at the height of the recent fighting in Gaza, Hajaig can be heard saying that “Jewish money” controls the US and other nations.

“No matter which government comes into power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush, the control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money,” she said.

“If Jewish money controls their country, you cannot expect anything else,” she said, referring to support for Israel by certain nations.

Her words were welcomed by thunderous applause.

The January 14 rally was organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Palestine Solidarity and the SA Council of Churches.

According to South African media reports, the Jewish Board of Deputies called Hajaig’s statement “an embarrassment to South Africa.” It also wanted her to “withdraw her comments, distance herself completely from sentiments of this nature, and apologize.”

In its complaint, the board said the statement demonstrated “a clear intention to be hurtful, be harmful or incite harm and especially to promote or propagate hatred against the Jewish people.”

David Saks, the board’s associate director, told the South African publication Business Day the statement was anti-Semitic because it alleged “that Jews are a scheming, manipulative, behind-the-scenes influence in their host societies, who control the affairs of the societies for their own selfish, usually evil, gains.”

Saks said the idea of “a Jew who uses his money to undermine the well-being of the human race” was “a classic anti-Semitic stereotype.”

The board’s national chairman, Zev Krengel, told The Jerusalem Post that apart from the apology, the board wanted Hajaig to “educate herself” about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, possibly with visits to Cape Town’s Holocaust Museum or even Israel’s Yad Vashem.

The board said Hajaig had crossed the line between being pro-Palestinian, which was legitimate, to being anti-Semitic, which was not.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said the department was “not [familiar] with the contents of the alleged statement made by the deputy minister,” and that Hajaig was in Japan on official business. She was scheduled to return to South Africa on Friday.

The Jewish governing body said it would give the cabinet a limited period of time to convene and decide what to do.

The spokesman for South Africa’s Human Rights Commission, Vincent Moaga, told the Post his group would address the complaint in the coming days. He said it first would have to decide whether it was the right body to handle the complaint, after which it would assess whether there was an opportunity to mediate between the parties or take the matter to court.

The commission was also waiting to see how Hajaig responded before making a decision.

The commission has dealt with previous cases of hate speech, including one in which the minister of labor made unfavorable comments about people of Chinese origin. Moaga said that following a complaint, the minister had been cooperative and, at a meeting between the sides, a solution had been found.

Should Hajaig fail to respond to the Jewish Board of Deputies’s satisfaction, or should mediation efforts fail, there is a good chance the Human Rights Commission will take the minister to court on charges of hate speech.

South Africa says it has a zero-tolerance policy on racism and xenophobia.Should the commission not take Hajaig to court, the board of deputies would do so itself, Krengel said. If this were the case, the board would petition the country’s Equality Court, which was set up to hear charges of racism and bigotry.

On December 29, just two days after the start of Operation Cast Lead, Hajaig summoned Israeli ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg to explain the IDF’s push into Gaza.

Segev-Steinberg later said he was “bashed very, very badly” by Hajaig.

There are an estimated 70,000 to 75,000 Jews in South Africa. Over the past 18 months, four percent of the community is said to have left, mostly for Israel, Australia and Canada.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Algeria: Ouyahia, Migration is a Tragedy

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JANUARY 28 — “The phenomenon of the ‘harraga’, as the young people trying to reach Europe — mainly Italy and Spain — via sea are called, is a serious problem for Algeria, it’s a crisis, a national tragedy” said Ahmed Ouyahia, secretary general of the National Democratic Group (RCD) and present premier, quoted by APS. Ouyahia said he is “shattered” to see “these young people throwing themselves into the sea to find a miserable job, almost like a slave, if they manage to survive the crossing”. “We should give our youth a glimmer of hope and a reason to believe in their country” he added. “The young are the life of Algeria”. According to the navy, 1335 persons, among whom 1327 Algerians, were arrested off the coast in 2008. Ninety-eight bodies have been retrieved from the sea. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Bangkok Denies Refugee Status to Rohingya

According to the Thai government, they are “illegal immigrants” who have no right to political asylum, and it is ordering that they be repatriated. Over the past two months, more than 550 refugees are believed to have drowned after being abandoned in international waters. On January 24, Indonesia refused entry visas for 193 refugees.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The ethnic Rohingya refugees picked up in the territorial waters of Thailand are “illegal immigrants,” not “refugees,” and they will not be granted visas to enter the country. The Thai government today clarified the situation of the Burmese Rohingya refugees, fleeing the country because they have been persecuted by the dictatorship and refused asylum by Thailand and Indonesia.

“There is no reasonable ground to believe that these migrants fled from their country of origin for well-founded fear of being persecuted,” Bangkok stressed in a statement defending the government’s policy toward these refugees. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh; most of them live in the state of Rakhine — formerly called Arakan — in western Burma, and they are victims of persecution and abuse perpetrated by the Burmese military dictatorship.

It is estimated that over the past two months, more than 550 of the 1,000 refugees have drowned after being abandoned by the Thai army in international waters, on board improvised canoes without motors or sails. The military and the government insist on the official version, according to which the men “were provided with necessary food, water and medicines,” and reject the accusation of mistreatment.

Today, the Thai court charged 62 refugees with “irregular immigration,” increasing the fears that they will be sent back to Myanmar. If they are sent back to their country of origin, they will again suffer persecution, torture, and killing. The Ranong court also charged them with an administrative fine of 1,000 bath, equal to 30 U.S. dollars, a sum that none of them can pay. For this reason, the judge commuted their sentence to five days in jail. The men arrested are part of a group of 78 refugees picked up on January 26 in the Andaman sea, off the southwestern coast of Thailand, many of whom had burns and injuries that they attribute to torture by Burmese soldiers.

Last January 24, Indonesia also denied asylum to 193 Rohingya migrants who landed on its coast on January 27, coming from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda explained the decision by saying that they were “economic migrants with no right to political asylum.”

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

Indonesia: Rohingya to be Deported

INDONESIA said on Friday it will repatriate 174 ‘economic migrants’ who fled Myanmar claiming persecution, as new accounts emerged of their harrowing sea journey and alleged abuse by the Thai navy. The ethnic Rohingya Muslims, who rights groups say fled Myanmar only to be beaten and abandoned at sea by the Thai military, would be repatriated to Myanmar despite the concerns of rights groups, the foreign ministry said.

One of the migrants who spoke to AFP on Friday at a hospital in Sabang, northern Sumatra, begged not to be sent back to Myanmar or Thailand.

‘For three days and three nights we were beaten by Thai navy with big guns and wooden sticks. They hit us all over our bodies,’ said Mr Mohammad Hasan, 22, who has tuberculosis.

‘We were put into four boats with no engines, no rice, no food, no water’ and towed out to sea by a Thai navy ship for one day and night, he added, confirming accounts by other Rohingya migrants in Indonesia and India.

‘In the morning they cut the rope and shot in the air randomly. I was very afraid. The people on the boats were crying and screaming. The Thai navy left us after that.’

He said he faced jail and his family would be punished if he was sent back to mainly Buddhist Myanmar, where the ruling junta denies the existence of the Rohingya minority.

‘I pray to Allah that the Indonesian government will not send me back to Myanmar. If I go back I’ll be put in jail and later they’ll shoot me and my family,’ he said.

The 174 Rohingya and 19 Bangladeshis being kept at an Indonesian naval base landed in Weh Island off northern Sumatra on January 7.

They are believed to be survivors from a group of about 1,000 mainly Rohingya asylum seekers who were set adrift by the Thai military after landing on Thai territory. Thailand denies the allegations.

Nearly 650 have been rescued off India and Indonesia but hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the migrants had ‘economic motives’ for leaving Myanmar and refused to comment on their alleged abuse by Thai security forces.

‘We’ve read about the ill-treatment by Thailand in the media. But what we seek is the result of our own investigations. Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions and say there are human rights violations,’ he told reporters.

Indonesia has barred journalists and the UN refugee agency from interviewing the migrants inside the naval base, where they could be seen Friday conducting prayers and relaxing.

Mr Faizasyah dismissed suggestions Jakarta was sidestepping the human rights question to avoid having to take care of the migrants as refugees under international law.

‘We are not covering up for anybody,’ he said.

The International Organisation for Migration has been given access to the migrants but the inter-governmental agency has refused to comment to the media.

The Red Cross has also had access to the base at Sabang.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has been denied access, said that given the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the migrants were probably in need of international protection and should not be repatriated.

Amnesty International called Friday for Thailand to ‘stop forcibly expelling Rohingyas and provide them with immediate humanitarian assistance’.

In an open letter to regional governments, it said ‘hundreds of Rohingyas are missing or have died after the Thai security forces set them adrift in unseaworthy boats with little or no food and water’.

‘Amnesty International urges the governments of India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand… to ensure that no one who would face serious human rights violations in any country be returned there,’ it said. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Lampedusa: 100 More Restrictive Decrees

(ANSAmed) — LAMPEDUSA (AGRIGENTO), JANUARY 29 — There have been about 220 restrictive decrees submitted to some of the Tunisians currently being held at the immigration centre for identification and expulsion in Lampedusa, who therefore are to be deported in line with the agreement made yesterday in Tunis by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni. This morning the police communicated the measures to about 100 migrants, while yesterday the first 120 notifications were served. Meanwhile, three justices of the peace in Agrigento have begun talks with the non-European migrants who will be repatriated, a necessary step for the validation of the decrees which must be made by the judicial authorities within 48 hours of the notification. There are no transfers scheduled today to Tunisia from the immigration centre, which currently is holding 1,050 Tunisians. In the former naval base Loran, which had initially been indicated by the Interior Ministry as the site for the immigration centre for the identification and expulsion to be opened on the island, there are over 100 migrants, most of whom originally from sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past few days asylum seekers have been transferred to the temporary detention centre in Crotone.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Indian Workers Change Dutch Expat Demographics

Counter to previous trends, the largest group settling in the Netherlands the last three years from outside of Europe is now highly educated people from India.

Almost 3,000 Indian ICT professionals and engineers moved to the Netherlands in 2006 and 2007.

Asmita Dixit, an electronics engineer, commutes every day from the central Dutch city Utrecht to Voorburg, almost 60 kilometres west. Her mother looks after Dixit’s 11-month old daughter while she manages an ICT team from the services company Sogeti, working on-site with a customer. This may seem normal, however Dixit has only lived in the Netherlands for three weeks. She’s from Mumbai, India — as are all the 20 Indian IT specialists who have come to work for Sogeti in the past year. She has a work permit for one year. Her mother is here on a tourist visa for three months to look after the baby. Her father will replace his wife after three months.

Asmita Dixit (31) is flexibility personified. She says she doesn’t feel displaced at all and is already eating “bread and peanut butter” like the locals. She does, however, travel by train, because she is used to driving on the left side of the road in India and she doesn’t yet trust herself on the Dutch roads.

Under pressure from the business community, the Netherlands relaxed its rules for the admission of ‘knowledge workers’ from outside the European Union in 2006. Since then employers have increasingly been recruiting highly-skilled personnel, especially from India. The Netherlands welcomed 3,000 Indian workers in 2006 and 2007, according to immigration figures from the Dutch national statistics office CBS, making it the largest group. In the same period, for instance, the Netherlands attracted 1,850 workers from the US and 1,170 from China. In the three years since the ‘knowledge worker’ admissions criteria was introduced, 16,000 requests have been processed and 95 percent of the applications accepted, according to the immigration office IND. In the years before the new policy, only 300 Indians came to the Netherlands to work annually.

Most Indians live in the country’s larger cities — where the majority of the technology businesses are located — particularly in Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam. Indian businesses have also sprung up. Already there are 33 in and around Amsterdam, mainly front offices of large Indian companies.

Arshad Khan can confirm the trend. In residential Amstelveen he opened up an Indian grocery store three years ago. His small shop is crammed with rice, Indian spices, spicy chips and various vegetables. “The vegetables are flown in straight from India,” he says. The other products are imported from England, which has a considerable Indian community. The expats come to him from all over the Netherlands to buy typical Indian products, says Khan. “Particularly after 6 o’clock in the evening it gets busy with expats who want to come pick up a kabob after work.”

The municipalities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen rolled out the red carpet for new expats last year, by setting up a special ‘expat centre’ where these knowledge workers can take care of all of their paperwork in only one visit. They can immediately obtain a residence permit from the immigration department, register themselves with their new city council and receive a tax and citizen registration number within three days.

To recruit a knowledge worker, the employer must offer a work contract for a minimum salary of 49,000 euros per year to those above 30 years of age (36,000 euros for those under 30). An employer must vouch for the employee with immigration services. The procedure only takes four weeks as opposed to the months it would have taken in the past. Should the employee be laid off, then the company is held responsible for any financial risks incurred. If the knowledge worker acquires a new job within three months, offering the same salary, the new boss can then vouch for the worker and they can stay in the country. Employers apply for a residence permit while the employees are still in their home country.

In Rotterdam an employer recently went bankrupt just as he had taken on two Indian knowledge workers. Lilian van der Steen, who runs the Rotterdam expat centre all by herself, is convinced that they will find new work. Van der Steen mostly deals with questions regarding Dutch regulations, such as: “What is the difference between a marriage and living together?”and “Can my Mexican wife join me?” Recently she even accompanied an expat who needed to get tested for tuberculosis.

The Netherlands could have “a multitude” of these workers, says Erik ter Pelle, who runs a company geared towards helping foreign businesses move their foreign staff to the Netherlands. Ter Pelle thinks the requirement of a paper birth certificate for registration is the main obstacle. German city councils, for instance, do not demand a birth certificate. “A trustworthy birth certificate is difficult to get hold of in India. Therefore, many companies have their knowledge workers register in Germany — even though they are working here.”

The employers’ union VNO-NCW says it is “very satisfied” with the policy. Yet it too regrets that German employers are able to hire Indian talent for a lower price than the Dutch because the Dutch government is planning to request a larger fee per knowledge worker than its neighbours.

Still, the local councils are doing their best for the expats. Amstelveen organises a cricket match every year, especially for the 900 Indians who work there. Soon it will set up an Indian Society to hold debates or cultural activities. The expat centre in Amsterdam wants to extend the range of its services: expats in the future will be guided as to how to navigate the multitudes of service companies who prey on them: including housing intermediaries, childcare organisations and agencies that sift through the various fiscal regulations.

These service providers have witnessed the market changing. Until recently they mainly catered to European, American or Japanese expats. Yet as they weather the first wave of the credit crisis, some foreign headquarters are pulling out their personnel from the Netherlands and sending them home. According to Irene Bunt, director of Settle Services, the damage isn’t bad yet. Her company takes care of everything for incoming expats. “But we do notice that all contracts are becoming shorter-term. Luckily though, the new group of Indians is continuing to grow.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Deportation Delays ‘Costing £10m’

Holding criminals awaiting deportation in immigration centres is costing the taxpayer £10m a year, says Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green.

Nearly 1,200 ex-prisoners are being held in detention centres — at a cost of about £47,500 each a year, he says.

He said ministers had failed in their promise to automatically deport foreign criminals, at great expense.

Last month ministers said a target to remove at least 5,000 foreign convicts in the past year had been met.

Mr Green said answers to Parliamentary questions by the Conservatives showed tens of millions of pounds was being wasted on holding foreign criminals in unsuitable centres.

Holding people in detention centres costs nearly £10,000 more per person than the cost of keeping people in prison, the Conservatives say.

“The taxpayer is being fleeced yet again to pay for failures in the government’s immigration policy.

“Gordon Brown promised ‘automatic deportation’ of foreign criminals, but we have nearly 1,200 of them locked up very expensively in centres not designed to hold hardened criminals.”

“This is not only a waste of our money, it is dangerous. The riots and fires we have seen at detention centres in recent years often come about because criminals become the dominant group inside the centre.”

‘Public safety’

The Home Office said the higher cost per inmate of detention centres was due to a range of factors including the fact they were much smaller than prisons and were close to airports, making land prices and rents higher.

It said the government’s first priority was “protecting the public” and the record number of deportations of foreign criminals last year showed its “continued commitment to removing the most harmful people first”.

The foreign criminals issue cost Charles Clarke his job as home secretary in 2006, when it emerged more than 1,000 had been released from prison, without being considered for deportation.

It prompted his successor, John Reid, to declare parts of the system “not fit for purpose” and led to an overhaul of procedures.

In December the UK Border Agency said it had met the “tough target” set to remove at least 5,000 foreign criminals a year — including 50 convicted of either murder or attempted murder — and had staff working in prisons to speed up deportations.

Ministers say all non-EU prisoners convicted of serious drug or gun crimes are now considered for deportation, irrespective of the length of their sentence.

But strict rules govern which foreign criminals can be removed from the UK — those who have their family life in the UK, and in particular those from EU countries, are among the hardest to remove on human rights grounds.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

What if Christianity’s Critics Got Serious?

I’m not one to jump on the “Christianity is under attack” bandwagon. However, there’s no question that Christianity is the target of far more legal action in this country that any other religion and people are far more sensitive to mentioning “Jesus” than Buddha, Mohammed, or other religious figures. (Which is a significant reason in my thinking that there’s actually something to this Christianity business). But in looking through the media recently and noticing that the voices against Christianity seem to be growing — and getting more hostile — I spent part of the holidays wondering what would happen if the pendulum swung just enough to shift the majority’s thinking? What if the majority decided that Christians are the problem in this country and we need to do something about it?

And it’s not just my wild imagination. A poll by the Anti-Defamation League at the end of last year indicates 64 percent of Americans say religion in America is under attack.

“This has become more than a seasonal witch hunt by the ACLU,” said World Net Daily Editor and founder Joseph Farah. “The attacks on Christianity in America are alarming. We are witnessing more than religious bigotry now. We are entering the early stages of what could become persecution and outright criminalization of Christianity if it is not exposed and fought vigorously by all freedom-loving people.”

Farah’s word “criminalization” is interesting. I spoke at a conference a few years back and met the leader of one of the country’s largest Christian ministries to the gay community. He mentioned even then his organization was already preparing for a time in the near future when offering a gay or transgender person an alternative to that lifestyle will actually be illegal. Just offering it — will be illegal. Far fetched? In Madison, Wisconsin, David Ott, a former homosexual, was arrested for a “hate crime” for sharing his testimony with a gay man at a gas station. He faced a $10,000 fine and one year behind bars. Seven thousand dollars in legal fees later, [he] was ordered to attend re-education classes at the University of Wisconsin. Regardless of what you believe about homosexuality, it appears that even discussion about it may be illegal soon.

The thought police are indeed out there. […]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

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