Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/8/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/8/2009The latest word is that an agreement with Russia has been reached, and the flow through the gas pipeline will resume.

Also, look for the storming of the Israeli consulate in Montreal, as well as other Gaza-inspired violence around the world.

Thanks to AA, Abu Elvis, Insubria, JD, Tuan Jim, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Citigroup Backs Bankruptcy Courts Cutting Loan Rates
Congress’ Plan Would Let AG ‘Ban Guns at Will’
Florida: Video: Protester Calls for Jews to ‘Go Back to the Oven’ at Anti-Israel Demonstration
Hackers Take Down Ring of Key Progressive Blogs
Is Feb. 10 Financial Doomsday for Thousands?
Marine Unit Operating in US Learns Skills to Fight Different Enemy
Obama’s ICE Candidate Pleads for Agents’ Pardon
Radical Changes Loom for U.S. Labor Policy
Video: Watch Obama Commercial They Don’t Want You to See
Pro-Palestinian Protesters Storm Israeli Consulate in Montreal
Europe and the EU
Agents Track Money to Find Terrorists
Danish Opposition: Bring Absalon Home
Denmark: Volunteer Soldiers Fired From Civilian Jobs
Denmark: Police Name Suspected Shooter
ECB Deems Britain Unworthy of Euro
Finland: Police Giving Few Details Over Jyväskylä Shooting
French, German Leaders Call for “Moralization” of Capitalism
Gordon Brown’s Decision to Sell Half of the UK’s Gold Reserves ‘Cost UK £5billion’
Greece: Police Looking Up Old Suspects
Home-Grown Cannabis Flourishes in Sweden
Italy: Tremonti Sees Crisis as a Videogame
Prague Cacophony, Czechs Overburdened With EU Presidency — Press
Sarkozy, Merkel, Blair Call for “New Capitalism”
Sweden: Women Only Gym Zones ‘Not Discriminatory’
UK: Gaza Conflict Fuelling Anger in UK, Muslims Warn Brown
UK: Police Warn British Jews of Revenge Attacks
North Africa
TV: Turkish Serials to be Banned in Egypt
Israel and the Palestinians
2nd Front? Rockets Land in Israel’s North
‘Ask Egypt to Let You Into the Gaza Strip’
Gaza: Hamas Must be Disarmed, Frattini Says
Gaza: WFP, 50 Thousand Have Received Aid Since Crisis Began
IDF Discovers Hamas Booby-Trap Map
Israel Shakes Up Information War
Mideast: Mahmoud Abbas’ Mandate, PNA Uncertain
Middle East
Economy: Turkey Increases Import Duties on Steel Products
Energy: BTC Pipeline Carries 70 Mln Tonnes of Caspian Oil
Gaza: First Lady Summit, Zapatero’s Wife Declines Invitation
Turkey: 40 Arrested Over Ergenekon Coup Plan
Bosnia Faces Collapse Without Gas
Drugs Seen Killing 80,000 Russians Annually
EU Announces Breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine Gas Dispute
South Asia
Attack on Gaza: OIC Should Form Peacekeeping Force, Says Zahid
Indonesia: PKS Warns Election Board After Party’s Gaza Rally Called a Violation
Indonesian Protesters Storm KFC Over Israeli Raids
Malaysia: Abdullah’s Anti-Israel Posturing
Far East
Japan: Government to Bring Antipiracy Bill Before Diet
Korea: Plan to Close Arab Culture Center Backfires
Muslim Separatists Burn Christian Homes in Philippines
Sub-Saharan Africa
John Robertson: Comment on Gideon Gono’s Book, Zimbabwe’s Casino Economy
Sudan’s Vice-President Meets US Evangelical Leader
50 Million Invited to Europe
Afghan Man Stabbed to Death in Fight Between Rival Migrant Gangs Battling for Passage to UK
Denmark: Greenland Wants Own Immigration Law
Immigration: Morocco, 2 Spanish Centres for Repatriated Minors
Indonesia: 193 Foreigners Rescued After Boat Becomes Stranded
Culture Wars
Denial Ain’t a River in Egypt
Rise in US Unemployment Tipped to be Biggest for 59 Years


Citigroup Backs Bankruptcy Courts Cutting Loan Rates

Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) — Citigroup Inc. agreed to support U.S. legislation that would let bankruptcy courts reduce mortgage rates for at-risk borrowers, breaking with other U.S. lenders that had helped kill the legislation last year.

Citigroup abandoned opposition during negotiations with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, and Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Durbin of Illinois, to limit the measure to mortgages they backed prior to the legislation becoming law. Citigroup declined to comment.

“The notion here is to create the environment for negotiation so that those who are holding the mortgages will not wait until bankruptcy,” Durbin said at a Washington news conference.

Congress has passed several measures in the past year to stem home foreclosures, including a $300 billion bill passed in July aimed at helping 400,000 borrowers keep their homes. Senate Democrats were unable in April to adopt the bankruptcy proposal. Republicans, and the banking industry, said the plan would raise costs because lenders would try to recoup losses in court with higher rates on other loans.

“This provision will do exactly what we would have hoped would have happened with other ideas and we could not adopt earlier with housing legislation,” Dodd said in a press conference with reporters in Washington.

[Return to headlines]

Congress’ Plan Would Let AG ‘Ban Guns at Will’

2nd Amendment critics are ‘ready to run wild’

A perfect storm is developing for Second Amendment opponents that could allow President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for attorney general — Eric Holder — to “ban guns at will” despite the 2008 affirmation from the U.S. Supreme Court that U.S. citizens have a right to bear arms.

The situation was described with alarm by Alan Korwin, author of Gun Laws of America, in a recent commentary.

He cited Holder’s known support for gun bans — the former Clinton administration official endorsed the District of Columbia’s complete ban on functional guns in residents’ homes before it was overturned by the Supreme Court.

And Korwin pointed to overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress as well as Obama’s known support for gun restrictions and his presence in the Oval Office.

Thirdly, Korwin, one of many Second Amendment advocates raising concerns, cited a proposal already submitted to Congress at a time when its backers could not reasonably expect it to succeed.

The submission is H.R. 1022 by New York Democrat Carolyn McCarthy and 67 co-sponsors. It was introduced in February 2007 and the next month referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, where it has stayed.

But that could change in the 111th Congress, sworn in today. And Korwin said the plan would allow the U.S. Attorney General — possibly Holder — to add to the list of guns banned to the public any “semiautomatic rifle or shotgun originally designed for military or law enforcement use, or a firearm based on the design of such a firearm, that is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, as determined by the Attorney General.”

“In plain English,” Korwin said, “This means that any firearm ever obtained by federal officers or the military is not suitable for the public. That presumption can be challenged only by suing the federal government over each firearm it decides to ban, in a court it runs with a judge it pays. This virtually dismisses the principles of the Second Amendment.

“The last part is particularly clever, stating that a firearm doesn’t have a sporting purpose just because it can be used for sporting purpose — is that devious or what? And of course, ‘sporting purpose’ is a rights infringement with no constitutional or historical support whatsoever, invented by domestic enemies of the right to keep and bear arms to further their cause of disarming the innocent,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Florida: Video: Protester Calls for Jews to ‘Go Back to the Oven’ at Anti-Israel Demonstration

Like many other protests of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, this one ended badly ? police had to cool an ugly fight between supporters of Israel and Gaza, breaking up the warring sides as their screaming and chanting threatened to turn into something worse.

But some protesters at this rally in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., took their rhetoric a step further, calling for the extermination of Israel ? and of Jews.

Separated by battle lines and a stream of rush-hour traffic outside a federal courthouse last week, at least 200 pro-Palestinian demonstrators faced off against a smaller crowd of Israel supporters.

Most of the chants were run-of-the-mill; men and women waving Palestinian flags called Israel’s invasion of Gaza a “crime,” while the pro-Israel group carried signs calling the Hamas-run territory a “terror state.”

But as the protest continued and crowds grew, one woman in a hijab began to shout curses and slurs that shocked Jewish activists in the city, which has a sizable Jewish population.

“Go back to the oven,” she shouted, calling for the counter-protesters to die in the manner that the Nazis used to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.

“You need a big oven, that’s what you need,” she yelled.

Millions of Jews were gassed and burned in crematoria throughout Europe during Adolf Hitler’s rule of Germany. The protest organizers, asked to comment on the woman’s overt call for Jewish extermination, said she was “insensitive” but refused to condemn her statement .

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Hackers Take Down Ring of Key Progressive Blogs

Several major blogs were in jeopardy after a Tuesday hack of their software provider had its owner ready to throw in the towel.

According to SoapBlox owner Paul Preston, the attack on its servers—which prompted SoapBlox’s Internet service provider to shut it down—was connected to a shadowy group called Astalavista, which claimed credit for the attack in the site’s altered source code.

“Consider this the ‘We’re Out of Business’ post,” Preston wrote on Wednesday morning. “Most of the servers have been taken off line because they were being used to hack and exploit other websites. The hackers install this crap on servers after they get in. SoapBlox’s ISP then takes the servers off line… It was a good ride, but it’s over.”

The affected blogs include American Liberalism Project, BeThink, Blue Hampshire, Blue Jersey, Blue Mass. Group, Minnesota Progressive Project, My Left Wing, Never In Our Names, Pam’s House Blend, RadicalRuss, Swing State Project and West Michigan Rising and other mostly state-focused political blogs of note.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Is Feb. 10 Financial Doomsday for Thousands?

New law could force companies into ruin

A new government regulation scheduled to take effect next month has thousands of retailers, thrift stores and small businesses worried they will be forced to permanently close their doors ? and destroy their merchandise.

The law is expected to have such a devastating impact that Feb. 10 is now unofficially known as “National Bankruptcy Day.”

Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, or HR 4040, a retroactive rule mandating that all items sold for use by children under 12 must be tested by an independent party for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable.

All untested items, regardless of lead content, are to be declared “banned hazardous products.” The CPSC has already determined the law applies to every children’s item on shelves, not just to items made beginning Feb. 10.

The regulations could force thousands of businesses — especially smaller ones that cannot afford the cost of lead testing — to throw away truckloads of children’s clothing, books, toys, furniture and other children’s items and even force them to close their doors.

Children’s books

Valerie Jacobsen and her husband, Paul, support their family of 13 by selling literature at Jacobsen Books in Clinton, Wis. Her family has contracts with local libraries to buy and sell overstocked books — an arrangement that draws income for both parties.

However, Jacobsen told WND that lead testing is estimated to cost $100 to $400 for each of her used children’s books because she does not buy in bulk, and each batch of merchandise is required to be tested.


But now some thrift and consignment stores are in a panic over the new regulation because it extends to children’s clothing, shoes and other items as well.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Marine Unit Operating in US Learns Skills to Fight Different Enemy

More than 400 Marines, sailors and civilians are assigned to the specialized unit that trains around the United States to decontaminate and extract victims from a disaster site.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s ICE Candidate Pleads for Agents’ Pardon

Former federal investigator demands President Bush release Ramos, Compean

Upon hearing that he was one of Barack Obama’s candidates to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one federal investigative official’s first act was to write an urgent letter to President Bush ? insisting that he pardon former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.

Rev. Miguel Contreras, 53, has worked for ICE, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He is vice president of Christian Alliance Ministries Worldwide and department head of Christian counseling and social work at Northwestern Theological Seminary.

Last month, Contreras announced Obama’s transition team told him he was a candidate for assistant secretary of ICE.

It was then that he decided to write a letter on behalf of the imprisoned agents, the El Paso Times reported. He asked the president to pardon them or reduce their sentences.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Radical Changes Loom for U.S. Labor Policy

‘There are laws pending on the Hill … that would massively rewrite our nation’s employment laws’

The prospect of sizeable tax cuts in the Obama stimulus plan may have heartened U.S. business and Republicans alike, but a fierce battle is looming over radical changes to U.S. labour policy being vigorously pursued by the Democrats.

The fact that two Democrat-sponsored labour bills are set to be among the first legislation to hit the House floor as the 111th U.S. Congress begins this week is a clear signal the economic crisis has not derailed the new government’s pledge to advance labour’s cause.

Still, it will be a curious indeed to see the Democrats and the staunchly pro-labour Barack Obama push for a bigger voice for labour across the economy while at the same time presiding over a dissolution of the granddaddy of all unionized industries — the auto sector.


The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act seeks to allow wage-discrimination claims from the date on which the violation is discovered rather than 180 days from when the violation occurs.

The Chamber argues the bill would essentially eliminate statutes of limitations in wage-discrimination claims, leading to a barrage of old and expensive lawsuits being brought against employees.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, meanwhile, seeks to allow unlimited punitive and compensatory damage awards under the Equal Pay Act, even when the wage disparity is unintentional. Provisions of the bill would also make it difficult for an employer to defend wage disparities.

“[It is] really going to turn over questions about the worth of jobs and how employees determine the worth of jobs to the courts,” Mr. Johnson said.

An even more daunting change is waiting in the wings — the Employee Free Choice Act. The Chamber calls it the Card-Check Act, seeing nothing free about it.

The bill, which has already passed the House in previous sessions — once co-sponsored by Mr. Obama and vice-president-elect Joe Biden — would allow a union to be certified once a simple majority have signed union cards.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Video: Watch Obama Commercial They Don’t Want You to See

Fox, CNN, MSNBC refuse ads questioning Barack’s eligibility

Barack Obama’s campaign officials and transition office repeatedly have rejected reporters’ requests for comment on questions raised over his lack of documentation regarding his birth and the resulting concerns over his eligibility to be president. Now a number of media organizations apparently don’t want questions raised either.

WND columnist Janet Porter told WND she found that out when her organization,, tried to purchase airtime to publicize information about the eligibility concerns.

She told WND that national networks that refused to sell her time for a 60-second commercial included CNBC, MSNBC, Headline News, CNN and Fox. Washington, D.C., outlets for the same organizations did the same.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Pro-Palestinian Protesters Storm Israeli Consulate in Montreal

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators stormed the lobby of the Israeli consulate in Montreal on Thursday, in protests of the 13-day long IDF operation in Gaza.

“Canada should immediately end diplomatic ties with the Israeli apartheid regime, starting with the expulsion of Israeli representatives from Canada,” one of the demonstrators was quoted as saying.

The protesters blocked access to the consulate, calling for the expulsion of its staff, until they were physically removed by police.

Slogans such as “fight the power,” “turn the tide,” and “end Israeli apartheid” were reportedly chanted during the demonstration.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Agents Track Money to Find Terrorists

Investigators watch activity on 3,000 Internet gambling sites

LONDON — Staffers for Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency have formed a new version of Gambler’s Anonymous — assembling a team of spies trained to track Islamic terrorists who are using gambling websites to launder large sums of money that ends up funding al-Qaida groups around the world, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Danish Opposition: Bring Absalon Home

The Danish vessel Absalon, which currently heads Task Force 150 in the Gulf of Aden, has been good at catching pirates — but the overall mission is a failure if the pirates cannot be brought to justice, according to the Social Democrats and the Socialist People’s Party.

Social Democratic Defence Spokesman John Dyrby Paulsen says that as a result, the Absalon should be brought home when its current mandate ends on April 1.

“Absalon’s preventive effect just dissipates as pirates become aware that Absalon is unable to do anything other than put them ashore so they can resume their piracy the next day. Its absurd,” says Paulsen.

Socialist People’s Party Defence Spokesman Holger Nielsen also says his party will consider not renewing Absalon’s mandate.

The opposition statements come following yet another incident in which the Absalon detained five pirates who had unsuccessfully attempted to board a Netherlands-flagged vessel. Denmark’s Defence Minister Søren Gade has said that Denmark is unable to try the five pirates on board and cannot continue to detain them.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Volunteer Soldiers Fired From Civilian Jobs

Home Guard soliders who served in Afghanistan for three months returned home to find they had been fired from their private jobs

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Guess it doesn’t just happen in the US. Pretty sad that these guys actually volunteered to help out their fellow soldiers — and they were only gone for 3 months — and they’d still get screwed over like this.]

A number of recruits in the Home Guard lost their civilian jobs when they accepted a voluntary three-month posting to Afghanistan. The Army Private and Corporal Association (HKKF) is now seeking to take a compensation case to court on behalf of one of the soldiers.

Flemming Vinther, president of HKKF, told public broadcaster DR said that the dismissals violated the law that secures the right to leave during military service.

‘The “national service leave and leave for UN duty” law is largely forgotten today because Denmark usually only dispatches professional soldiers that were already employed by the defence forces,’ said Vinther.

This was the case, until the armed forces recruited a team of volunteer Home Guard members to travel to Afghanistan last autumn to guard the military camps for three months.

The arrival of the 27 members from the Copenhagen District unit was the first time an entire unit of volunteers had been dispatched, many of them covering tasks vacated by soldiers on leave.

HKKF took on the case of the men as they are employed by the defence forces will deployed abroad.

Vinther said that the object of the possible case was to highlight focus on the laws governing military leave.

Three of the recruits who lost their civilian jobs have now taken up an offer of fulltime employment with the defence forces. One of the three — Mads — said that he is looking forward to being deployed again as a professional soldier.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Police Name Suspected Shooter

[Comment from Tuan Jim: I’ve seen a few articles today about an increase in SE Asian crime activity in Scandinavia as well — this and Vietnamese pot growers in Sweden, etc]

Police have released the identity and picture of a man they are seeking in connection with a shooting incident two days ago at the Bali restaurant in central Copenhagen.

The owner of the restaurant was wounded when the attacker walked over to a table where the owner and a Singaporean guest were in conversation and began shooting. Both men are still in hospital, with the condition of the guest being described as critical.

Police have named the man they are seeking as Phi Hung Nguyen, 47, who is of Vietnamese descent and who has a previous heroin-related conviction.

The motive for the attack remains unkown.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

ECB Deems Britain Unworthy of Euro

The European Central Bank has deemed Britain unfit for monetary union even if it wants to join following the dramatic slide in sterling and the explosion in the UK budget deficit.

“Great Britain does not meet the entry criteria for the euro,” said Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, the ECB’s board member in charge of international affairs.

“The public deficit will rise to around 6pc (of GDP) in 2009 and even higher in 2010. Sterling’s exchange rate is not yet sufficiently stable,” he told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Finland: Police Giving Few Details Over Jyväskylä Shooting

Police surrounded an apartment building in the Pupuhuhta district of town after being alerted of gunfire at 8 a.m. All of the victims were adults. When the police raided the apartment they found three people dead.

A total of eight people, including one woman and two children were in the flat at the time of the shooting.

Residents of the building were evacuated.

No Police Comment on Motives

The police are not commenting on possible motives for the shooting. Personal information on the victims is being withheld until all of the next of kin are informed.

The police said that at least two weapons were used in the shooting, which apparently involved a dispute among Roma living in the building.

Police say that they had sufficient manpower resources for the operation, and cooperation with the rescue services proceeded well. The actual entry into the apartment by police was delayed as members of the specially trained SWAT team had to be brought in from their day off.

Apartments adjacent to the stairway were cleared of residents, pending completion of the forensic investigation.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

French, German Leaders Call for “Moralization” of Capitalism

The leaders of France and Germany both called Thursday for the “moralization” of the global capitalist system, which they said needed to be re-examined by governments before the Group of 20 summit in London in April.

The destruction of capitalism would be catastrophic, but the system had to undergo an overhaul to stay viable, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris at the opening of the economic symposium “New World, New Capitalism,” which he established as a response to the economic crisis.

He said modern-day capitalism based on speculation had been “perverted” and was “an immoral system”. He said a new role should be created for governments and moral values.

“Either we re-found capitalism or we destroy it,” Sarkozy said as he called for an economic system based on the value of work rather than finance.

“Purely financial capitalism has perverted the logic of capitalism,” the French president said. “Financial capitalism is a system of irresponsibility and … is amoral. It is a system where the logic of the market excuses everything.”

The French leader said the structure of a new system of regulation should be agreed on before April’s G20 summit in London…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Gordon Brown’s Decision to Sell Half of the UK’s Gold Reserves ‘Cost UK £5billion’

Gordon Brown’s decision to sell off part of the country’s gold reserves 10 years ago cost the public purse nearly £5billion, official figures show.

[Comments from JD: Rule#1: Follow the money. Who bought the gold at this firesale price? Was it possibly the same bunch of firms that are now getting bailout money?]

In 17 auctions, Mr Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer sanctioned the sale of 395 tonnes of gold.

Figures released by the Treasury show that the total proceeds from the sales was around $3.5billion. According to a Parliamentary answer, if the gold was sold last month, on December 15, it would have raised $10.5billion.

The difference — $7billion — would be worth £4.7billion if the proceeds were converted into pounds yesterday.


Philip Hammond, shadow secretary to the Treasury, said: “Gold traders confirm that it was because the Government announced in advance that it was planning to sell such a large quantity of gold that the markets became depressed.

“The low price Gordon Brown got for selling our gold wasn’t caused by bad luck. It was a staggering display of economic incompetence that has landed taxpayers with a £7 billion black hole.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Greece: Police Looking Up Old Suspects

Police are focusing their attention on questioning previous suspects and working out the whereabouts of a possible hideout as they try to trace the people behind the shooting of a police officer in Athens on Monday.

Sources said that police are going through the lists of suspects who have been linked to terrorist activity in the past, as well as those that have been added to the lists more recently.

A high-ranking officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told Kathimerini that the tactic is based on the belief that the members of Revolutionary Struggle, the group thought to be behind Monday’s attack, were once members of other groups.

“A group with the organization and operational capability of Revolutionary Struggle does not come together out of nothing,” he said.

One theory being examined is that Monday’s attack and the shots fired at a riot police bus on December 23 were the work of members of the group who decided not to follow the instructions of the organization’s leaders.

Officers have also been searching the area of Exarchia, where the attack took place on Monday, in a bid to locate a possible hideout used by Revolutionary Struggle. The police seem to think it quite likely that the gunmen will have fled to somewhere near the scene of the attack.

Eight people have been detained so far following searches in Exarchia but sources said yesterday that they are suspected of involvement in anarchist or anti-establishment activity but not of being terrorists. One of the eight was released yesterday after a court ruled that a sword found in his possession was a family heirloom. Another five were released on bail pending their trial, while two people were remanded in custody until their cases are heard.

Meanwhile, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at a police station in Patissia early yesterday. Two assailants sped off on a motorbike. A cafe in Holargos belonging to the Starbucks chain and an ATM in Menidi were also attacked with firebombs.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Home-Grown Cannabis Flourishes in Sweden

Marijuana in Sweden is increasingly being grown domestically rather than smuggled into the country, and police suspect Vietnamese crime networks are behind the proliferation in cannabis growing operations.

Around ten “greenhouses” were uncovered in Skåne in southern Sweden in 2008, reports the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Police say that the operations begin when a house, usually in a rural location, is bought or purchased by one or two people from Vietnam.

The property is than transformed into a sophisticated marijuana growing operation, complete with remote-controlled growing lights.

“They manage the cultivation themselves, but I’m convinced there is someone above them who is earning money from the operation. These types of investments have become so expensive that the growers can’t afford them by themselves,” said prosecutor Pär Andersson to SvD.

The marijuana growing operations aren’t limited to Skåne, as police have discovered similar greenhouses in Ljusnarsberg near Örebro in central Sweden, as well as the villages of Agunnaryd and Örsjö in the Småland region of south central Sweden.

In the Småland raids, police confiscated nearly 80 kilogrammes of cannabis and two men were sentenced to prison for six and seven years, respectively.

But the most advanced and far reaching operations are concentrated in Skåne, where a dozen people have been given long prison sentences for illegal drug cultivation.

The increase in local cannabis cultivation in Sweden is in line with a larger trend in Europe.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), marijuana traditionally supplied through smuggling is increasingly being replaced by local production, which in turn has resulted in higher profit margins for drug dealers and their associated criminal gangs.

Police say the influx of Vietnamese gangs to Sweden isn’t surprising, but follows a pattern seen in England and Canada.

Since the early part of the decade, criminal elements among the Vietnamese diaspora in both countries have increasingly devoted themselves to growing marijuana.

“Now it is thought that the expertise has also spread to the Vietnamese population in the Nordic countries,” said Johnny Gyllensjö, a member of the police cannabis task force, to SvD.

Gyllensjö explained that dozens of growing operations have been uncovered in both Norway and Denmark. Frequent visits by Swedish growers to their counterparts in both countries indicate that there may be links between all the operations.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italy: Tremonti Sees Crisis as a Videogame

Monsters keep popping, economy minister says

(ANSA) — Paris, January 8 — Dealing with the financial crisis of the past months has been like playing a videogame, Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti said on Thursday.

“As soon as you slay one monster, and think you can catch your breath, another one pops up and challenges you. In this crisis I think I’ve battled at least seven monsters,” the minister explained.

Tremonti made his remarks at a round-table discussion organised by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Nicolas Sarkozy dedicated to the topic “New World, New Capitalism”.

Looking at the financial crisis which exploded in the latter half of 2008, Tremonti observed that this was the product of a “debt society” created over the past few years by an “access to debt produced by a finance technology which has degenerated the structure of capitalism”. Speaking on the need for the free market to be governed by effective rules, Tremonti made a reference to Adam Smith, considered the father of capitalism, and said “the market’s invisible hand over the past ten years has been a little too visible”.

The ‘invisible hand’ was the metaphor which Smith used to explain his theory that an individual pursuing his own self-interest will tend to promote the good of the community.

During the round-table discussion Tremonti suggested that along with Smith, students of economics should perhaps also read Goethe’s Faust and remember that “borrowing credit is much like making a pact with the devil”.

Returning to the metaphor of the invisible hand, Tremonti added his own take and concluded: “God made us with two hands, so maybe we should use them both”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Prague Cacophony, Czechs Overburdened With EU Presidency — Press

Vienna — The Czechs are overburdened with the EU presidency they assumed on January 1, Austrian daily Der Standard writes today, adding that even the big countries´ best prepared diplomatic teams would be overburdened if they were to coordinate the EU in a situation like the current one.

It points to the problem with Russian gas supplies, to the armed conflict in the Gaza Strip and the financial crisis as the troubles the Czech Republic is faced with.

In addition, French President Nicolas Sarkozy continues behaving as a kind of natural EU head though the French EU presidency is already over.

Besides, there are problems such as the blockage of Croatia´s EU accession by Slovenia and the uncertain future of the EU´s Lisbon treaty, Der Standard writes.

The European cacophony in Gaza, including two-track diplomatic missions, are the result of the overburdening of the Czechs.

The European unity over the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute that Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and EC President Jose Barroso presented in Prague on Wednesday sounded rather like “whistling in a deep forest” that Moscow need not fear at all, the paper writes.

The united-Europe idea seems to face problems as well. Earlier this week, Topolanek presented “the three E” (energy, economy and Europe in the world) as the Czech presidency´s main pillars. One day later, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said in a press interview that relation to Russia is the Czech presidency´s´biggest challenge.

In terms of strategic thinking, Schwarzenberg is probably right. It would probably be the best for the Czechs, with their historical experiences, to fully concentrate on this topic. The rift over gas supplies provides optimal arguments for it, Der Standard continues.

However, apart from Schwarzenberg, there are the Civic Democrats (ODS), the Czech senior ruling party with a right-wing liberal orientation, whose officials are divided in their position on the EU, Der Standard writes.

Second, there is Czech President Vaclav Klaus, with his unchanging [sceptical] approach to the EU, it adds.

Klaus´s advocacy of decentralist Europe is not hostile to the EU alone. However, his conviction that national states can cope with world problems better separately rather than within a community of values and norms, is quite absurd in the face to the current crisis, the daily writes.

Perhaps the right purpose of the Czech EU presidency, with all its antagonisms, which actually mirror the joint European situation, is to generate absurd developments. After all, this would be honour for the country of [Jaroslav Hasek´s novel] Schweik and [Franz] Kafka, Der Standard concludes, alluding to absurdity as a common denominator of the two authors´ works.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sarkozy, Merkel, Blair Call for “New Capitalism”

PARIS — The leaders of France and Germany appeared to put disagreements over economic policy behind them Thursday, calling on the U.S. to join global efforts to address the financial crisis.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, leading a two-day conference with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the future of capitalism, said the crisis has shown that no country can go it alone on economic policy.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the system “cannot continue as it is” and called for better-regulated financial markets.


Sarkozy: “In capitalism of the 21st century, there is room for the state,” he said.


Blair called for a new financial order based on “values other than the maximum short-term profit.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Women Only Gym Zones ‘Not Discriminatory’

[Comment from Tuan Jim: I don’t have a problem with private gyms with women-only membership (got plenty of those in the US) — but mixing co-ed and women-only in the same gym seems pretty dumb — and more importantly, the ombudsman’s reasoning is patently ridiculous. I feel self-conscious occasionally when I’m at the gym in a t-shirt and shorts around many “beautiful people” — but I’m not going to ask for a private room — I just get over it and completely forget about it once I start running/working out, etc]

Sweden’s Equal Opportunies Ombudsman (Jämställdhetsombudsmannen — JämO) has ruled against a man from Malmö who disputed the right of a local gym to reserve a section for women only.

Mats Mellerup said he reported the Fitness24Seven gym in Malmö because, in his view, women were receiving a much better service for their money than the gym’s male members.

Mellerup said he became irritated on a number of occasions when the area set aside for women was empty while he had to stand around waiting for machines to become free in the main section of the gym, where both women and men were free to train.

In its response to the report, Fitness24Seven told the ombudsman it had reserved an area solely for women in order to provide a refuge from the preconceived notions of beauty and sexual overtones to which women were commonly exposed in the media and advertising sectors.

The gym argued that its initiative to create special zones for women, which mitigated “the negative effects of the gender power structure and the sexualization of the public arena”, ought to be viewed as a positive move.

In its ruling, the ombudsman’s office agreed that the gym’s policy constituted a justifiable exception to prevailing discrimination laws.

“JämO is of the opinion that enabling woman to have a protected zone when training is a legitimate goal, and Fitness24Seven has done so in a way that is necessary in the current case.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Gaza Conflict Fuelling Anger in UK, Muslims Warn Brown

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Nothing like a little blackmail to make your point.]

Anger within Britain’s Muslim communities over the Gaza conflict has reached “acute levels of intensity” that could have repercussions for national security, leading Muslims will warn Gordon Brown today.

In a letter to the prime minister, representatives of Muslim organisations will say the Israeli government’s use of “disproportionate force” to combat threats to its security has “revived extremist groups” and “empowered their message of violence and perennial conflict”.

The letter, a copy of which can be read on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, also says that the “current, partisan and simplified narrative” emanating from the White House is of “serious and direct harm” to relations between the UK, North America and Arab countries.

Among the signatories are Dr Usama Hasan, imam of Al-Tawhid mosque, London, Dilwar Hussain, head of the policy research centre at the Islamic Foundation, Zareen Roohi Ahmed from the British Muslim Forum and Ed Husain, co-director of the anti-extremism thinktank the Quilliam Foundation. All are active in tackling extremism in the UK and overseas.

They say it is imperative for the UK to distance itself from the Bush government. The letter goes on: “We urge you to make concerted and successful efforts to convince the US administration of the dangers of its approach and to ensure the incoming Obama administration forges a more enlightened direction. We also believe the UK — bilaterally and as part of the EU — has an important role to demonstrate to Israel that the threshold of acceptable behaviour has been perilously transgressed.”

The letter adds: “As you are aware, the anger within UK Muslim communities has reached acute levels of intensity. The Israeli government’s use of disproportionate force … has revived extremist groups and empowered their message of violence and perennial conflict. For Muslims in the UK and abroad, we run the risk of potentially creating a loss of faith in the political process.”

Their intervention follows a meeting on Tuesday between Bill Rammell, foreign and commonwealth affairs minister, and 30 people drawn from Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Society of Britain.

In what was said to be a testy meeting, representatives told Rammell the government’s position on Gaza could provoke UK terrorist attacks. One of those present was Dr Hany el-Banna, youth worker and co-founder and president of the charity Islamic Relief.

He told the Guardian: “We are all working tirelessly to try and cool them down. I am telling them to change and bring something positive, but they see these images and they trigger extremist thoughts in the simplest individuals. Many millions of people will see these images in the media, what do you think the effect will be?

“The government is responsible for the country and its foreign policy. I don’t want something to happen here.”

Another participant in the discussion, Khurshid Drabu, said there was widespread concern about radicalisation. “What we are looking for is equality of treatment when international law is breached. When a Muslim country does that the weight of the world is on them, why does Israel have such impunity?”

A perceived double standard has alarmed the Young Muslims Advisory Group (YMAG), which the government launched last October to help prevent violent extremism. The group sent a letter to Brown this week saying government failure to condemn Israeli action against Palestinians was undermining efforts to reduce homegrown radicalisation.

The letter, first published in Muslim Youth, said: “We are in grave danger of sending a message to youth today that the mass murder of civilians can be justified if the right grievances are cited. In the current climate there is a real danger young people who witness the impotence of institutions that are supposed to be protecting innocent life will turn to other organisations in an effort to make their voices heard and the violence stop.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Extremists Hijack Radio Station’s Website ‘Because They Hate Cliff Richard’

The shocked owner of a radio station whose website has been hijacked by Muslim extremists believes it was targeted because they played a song by Cliff Richard.

Hackers removed the station’s home page and replaced it with haunting images and a message said to be on behalf of Ahmed Al-Qahtani — a suspect in the 9/11 attacks.

Radio Basingstoke owner and DJ Astrid Haigh-Smith was horrified to find her website pictured a spooky pair of green eyes above a woman on an altar.

The message, which was written in green on a black background, called on God to bless Muslim fighters, or Moujahidines, and warned the West not to insult Islam.

But Ms Haigh-Smith, 53, says she will not allow the fanatics to intimidate her and insists she will not change the station’s playlist.

The station, whose website had 140,000 hits last month, expressed their support for British troops over Christmas and played Cliff Richard’s version of Hallelujah.

The ageing popstar is famous for being a Christian and the Leonard Cohen song was Christmas number one for X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke.

           — Hat tip: Abu Elvis [Return to headlines]

UK: Police Warn British Jews of Revenge Attacks

Prominent British Jews have been advised to review their security arrangements after several were identified on Islamist websites as “financial supporters of Israel”.

As the Gaza death toll rises, police are increasingly concerned about the possibility of “reprisal” attacks on Jewish people and buildings. One post on an Islamic discussion forum, referring to an anti-Israel demonstration this weekend, said: “We need to take some weapons with us, preferably sub-machineguns.”

More than 300 police officers were on duty outside the Israeli Embassy in London last night because of fears of clashes between rival demonstrators.

Anti-Semitic incidents have increased in recent weeks with a synagogue firebombed in northwest London and anti-Israeli graffiti appearing in many Jewish areas.

In France yesterday a 15-year-old girl was attacked by ten youths as she left her school in Villiers-le-Bel, north of Paris. Three of her alleged attackers — aged between 13 and 15 and all from her own school — were arrested on suspicion of “aggravated violence and anti-Semitic insults”.

Scotland Yard’s protection command has been in contact with Jewish community groups to consult on security arrangements. A senior police source said: “The situation in Gaza has heightened concern for the whole Jewish community — not just high-profile people, but everyone.”

Last night Jewish groups arranged a solidarity march at the Israeli Embassy in London that was due to start after an anti-Israeli protest had finished. About 2,000 people were expected to attend the pro-Israel march and Scotland Yard said that it had been liaising with both sides to prevent trouble.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

North Africa

TV: Turkish Serials to be Banned in Egypt

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 5 — With Turkish Tv serials becoming widely popular in Egypt, many Islamist MPs are pushing for banning them on official Egyptian Tv, claiming that these shows are sex-inspired and immoral, Turkish dailies reported. “Banning these serials is a must because they deprave our young people and increase divorce rates in this country”, Mohssen Radi, an Islamist member of the Egyptian parliament, said. “These shows promote secular values and present sexy girls and handsome men leading a life of luxury unavailable to the majority of Egyptians”, Radi declared. Due to the immense success of the Turkish Tv serial Nour, shown in Egypt and other Arab countries, many Egyptians have named their newborn girls Nour (Light) like the heroin of the romance show. The music has also become a popular ringtone. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

2nd Front? Rockets Land in Israel’s North

NAHARIYA, Israel: Residents of this northern Israeli town awoke Thursday to one of their country’s worst nightmares: Rockets from Lebanon, and a possible second front in a battle that has raged for two weeks in the Gaza Strip.

No armed group claimed responsibility for the two Katyusha rockets that landed in Israel, and quiet returned to the border after a brief retaliation by Israeli artillery. But the point had been made: Israel may be tied up in an offensive aimed at halting rocket fire from Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but millions more Israelis are vulnerable to rockets from the north.

Israel now faces threats on two of its borders not from rival states but from Arab militant groups that answer to no recognized government.

Hamas rockets threaten about 1 million Israelis out of a population of 7 million, and Israel’s military believes that the rockets in the arsenal of the Lebanese group Hezbollah can hit most of the remaining 6 million.

“We’re all a bit traumatized at the moment,” said Sarit Arieli, 44, who awoke to the sound of the rocket’s impact in Nahariya and was standing outside the nursing home it hit several hours later. But she added, “I think we’re stronger than them.”

Thursday’s rockets were fired from territory under Hezbollah’s de facto control. But Hezbollah — which ignited a devastating 2006 war that left swaths of Lebanon in ruins — has said it does not want to drag the country into another conflict. The most likely suspects are thought to be small Palestinian factions operating in south Lebanon, who are known to possess Katyusha rockets.

The Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, for example, had warned it might open other fronts against Israel if the Gaza offensive continues.

Its officials refused to deny or confirm they were behind the rocket attack, but spokesman Anwar Raja in Syria seemed to voice support, telling the AP it was “a natural outcome … of the Israeli aggression.”

[Return to headlines]

‘Ask Egypt to Let You Into the Gaza Strip’

While world media coverage of the fighting in Gaza is generally deemed by Israeli officials to be fair, the Foreign Ministry expressed anger on Wednesday at the media’s focus on foreign journalists’ demands to be allowed into the Strip to witness the fighting firsthand.

“News reports from Gaza haven’t stopped flowing for a minute, both in print and in visuals, so the claim that we’re trying to hide something is contradicted by the evidence on every television screen,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Foreign journalists have been blocked from entering Gaza since November. The Foreign Press Association filed a complaint last week to the High Court of Justice, which ruled that the government had to allow journalists to enter if conditions permitted. Foreign journalists understood the ruling as a court order to allow them into Gaza, while the IDF has argued that the escalation of fighting in the form of a ground offensive has created a new, more dangerous situation near the border crossings that gives the army the discretion not to open them.

“Why isn’t the international media trying its luck with Egypt?” Palmor wondered. Egypt shares a border with Gaza on the Strip’s southern side. “Instead they report on the Israeli cordon and not the Egyptian one. Both countries have the same interest in the same policy — Hamas is equally dangerous to Israel, to Egypt and to the Palestinian Authority.”

(The IDF Spokesman’s Unit released a statement on Wednesday saying that the army had permitted the entry of a limited embed press pool into the Gaza Strip and would be distributing footage from this pool.)

Foreign correspondents have taken issue with Israel’s reasons for closing the Strip to them, saying the IDF was being untruthful when it claimed conditions were too dangerous to open the crossings.

“If conditions permitted opening [the crossings] for five hours last Friday to let out 300 foreign nationals, what was the problem with stamping our passports and letting us in?” asked New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner.

The reality, say many journalists, is that Israel does not trust foreign journalists to report objectively. Several journalists who spoke to The Jerusalem Post mentioned last week’s statement by Government Press Office director Danny Seaman that foreign correspondents would use their time in Gaza to report Hamas propaganda unchallenged, conferring on it the respectability of a foreign news report.

According to the correspondents, Israel’s behavior is self-defeating, because their reporting could balance the images now coming out of Gaza by reporting more information than Hamas is releasing.

“My last visit in Gaza was on November 2 and 3. I’m not saying the place is a Jeffersonian democracy, but it’s not true that foreign journalists are not free to function, that they are somehow slaves of Hamas ideology. It’s simply false,” said Bronner.

Yet, regardless of the justice of the IDF’s blockade on foreign media entry, it was not appropriate for the media to turn the issue into such a major part of its coverage of the crisis, said analyst and former Middle East correspondent for the British Sunday Telegraph Tom Gross.

Major international outlets such as the BBC, CNN and Sky News have started most reports on Gaza in recent days by stating that Israel has not given their correspondents access to Gaza, he noted.

According to Gross, “the media are protesting too much. One British TV correspondent even compared Israel to the Burmese junta. They might ask themselves why they are not complaining, for example, about the difficulties of reporting from Afghanistan, where there are tens of thousands of American, British, French and other troops, and a very high civilian death toll.”

There is more coverage just of Israel’s cordon than of entire international crises elsewhere, Gross added.

“Viewers might wonder why the media are so obsessed with everything and anything to do with Israel but don’t seem interested in covering other conflicts, like the assault by the Sri Lankan military on the Tamil minority in recent days, or the massacre of 500 villagers, including aid workers, some of whom were set on fire in Congo last week,” he said.

Journalists should expect “some limits imposed in wartime. This isn’t a reality TV show or an episode of Big Brother. In any case, this hasn’t stopped international networks showing near round-the-clock reports and footage by their local Palestinian correspondents in Gaza,” said Gross.

The closure has led to real anger on the part of the foreign media.

“If Israel is the leading democracy in the region and has a system of justice to which its military and political authorities are responsible, why on earth aren’t they allowing journalists to do their job?” asked Aidan White, secretary-general of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists. “It’s clear the political and military leadership is seeking to control the media message coming out of the conflict.”

According to White, “there’s strong criticism in Israel of the Arab reports coming out of Gaza, which are dismissed as propagandistic. But you only get out of that trap by ensuring as much information coming out as possible. More information will always be closer to the truth than less.”

Not so, said Prof. Richard Landes, who researches media narratives. Already, he charged, the Western media are showing they are “complying with the image [coming out of Gaza], which is governed by Hamas.”

As examples, Landes cited the reports of a humanitarian crisis in Gazan hospitals.

“The Egyptian border right now is packed with doctors and tons of medical supplies that Hamas is refusing to let in. This is mentioned briefly, but then the report switches to a Hamas representative saying they don’t have medical supplies,” he said.

According to Landes, “the framing story is that the Israeli Goliath is pummeling the poor Palestinian David. Anything that doesn’t fit this story, like the medical supplies on the Egyptian border or the shooting of Fatah [activists] by Hamas [gunmen], isn’t getting out. It’s inexcusable for the media to repeat Palestinian claims as fact.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Gaza: Hamas Must be Disarmed, Frattini Says

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 7 — In order for any ceasefire to succeed in Gaza it is essential that the Islamist Hamas movement be disarmed, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told parliament today. Israel, the minister explained, “cannot accept any truce as long as Hamas continues to build its military arsenal”. Since Israel launched its operation Hamas after Christmas, in response to repeated missile attacks on Israeli border towns, “there has been a dramatic rise in the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, many of these were not Hamas militants but innocent Palestinian victims,” Frattini told the MPs. According to the foreign minister, “limiting the number of civilian victims is an important challenge for Israel”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Gaza: WFP, 50 Thousand Have Received Aid Since Crisis Began

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 7 — The United Nations World Food Programme has managed to supply food aid to more than 50,000 people in Gaza since the start of the hostilities “despite the persistence of unsafe conditions”. Under normal conditions, reads a note from the WFP, the UN agency “supplies food aid to 265,000 non-refugee Palestinians. A further 15,000 people have received bread whilst tinned meat and high-energy biscuits have been delivered to 13 hospitals in Gaza — enough to feed 6,000 patients and medical staff for a month”. The WFP therefore “appeals to all parties” that a “humanitarian action” which “will allow a check on the needs of the most vulnerable in Gaza can be carried out and fully restore food distribution”. In this context, the WFP considers “the Israeli announcement of a daily 3-hour ceasefire starting today as a first positive step”. To guarantee the ability of the Programme to “continue to supply food aid to Gaza over the coming weeks and months, the opening of all thoroughfares along the border as soon as possible is vital, particularly in the Karni area, so as to avoid any interruption in restocking”. Currently, the WFP in Gaza has enough food stocks for the next few days (3,700 tonnes compared to a potential capacity of 7,500 tonnes) but, “due to the dangerous conditions it has serious difficulties in the preparation and distribution of this food to the people that need it”. The food available to the Programme is located partly in Ministry of Social Affairs storerooms, currently not being used for security reasons, and partly in the WFP warehouse in Gaza, which is inaccessible due to the fighting. WFP stock in Gaza should have been used for the distribution planned in October-December 2008. However, “it was only possible to bring them to Gaza in December due to closed thoroughfares. More food stocks are needed, not only for the period from January onwards but also to satisfy the needs resulting from the current conflict, once they have been verified”. (ANSAmed).

2009-01-07 18:06

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

IDF Discovers Hamas Booby-Trap Map

A map depicting Hamas’ best-laid plans on how to hurt IDF soldiers in Gaza was discovered by paratroopers in al-Atatra neighborhood Thursday. The map was translated on the scene and helped the troops in subsequent operations.

Chief IDF Intelligence Officer Brigadier-General Yuval Halamish explained that Hamas had divided the neighborhood into a number of areas distinguished by landmarks such as mosques, gas stations, and fuel depots.

“You can see that the neighborhood was divided into three areas of fighting, according to color, and inside the terrorists spread out a number of posts, planted explosive devices, and posted sharpshooters,” he said.

“Hamas makes cynical use of civilian homes, the entrances of which were booby-trapped in order to hurt IDF soldiers.” Explosive devices were also planted near gas stations despite the immediate danger to civilians, Halamish added. He said the layout had been thoroughly planned in preparation for a ground operation.

The map consists of precise drawings of all homes in the neighborhood as well as a color-coded key drawn in the top left-hand corner, which describes the type of explosive device planted at each site. Sharpshooters’ stations were also marked.

Halamish also described Hamas’ use of dolls in order to attract the attention of soldiers, and presented a picture of a doll placed at the entrance to a home. He said the doll was intended to draw soldiers to it so that an attack could be executed, following which the terrorists could kidnap their victims.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Israel Shakes Up Information War

Israel is shaking up the information war, signaling the end of legacy media’s influence. The big Internet story this week is Israel’s magnificent end run around the mainstream media. The IDF’s new weapons of war: YouTube and Twitter. According to the head of the IDF’s press team: “The blogosphere and new media are another war zone, we have to be relevant there.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Mideast: Mahmoud Abbas’ Mandate, PNA Uncertain

(ANSAmed) — GAZA/TEL AVIV, JANUARY 8 — Starting tomorrow the Palestinian National Authority will enter into an acute phase of institutional uncertainty with the end of Mahmoud Abbas’ (Abu Mazen) fourth year as president. The leader’s entourage is showing signs of security. “The conditions”, said Premier Salam Fayad today, “do not exist in order to vacate the presidency”. Furthermore, he added, electoral law, “ clearly establishes that presidential and legislative elections must be simultaneous”, and therefore in January 2010. This analysis has been passionately rejected for months by Hamas according to whom, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) does not have the right to serve as president for a fifth year. “January 9”, stated Osama Hamdan from Beirut, a Hamas leader, “will be the final day of the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)”. According to Hamas, starting tomorrow, Abu Mazen must be substituted by the President of the Palestinian Legislative Council Abdel Aziz Dweik, who has been in prison in Israel for the past two years and is in poor physical condition. From Madrid, where he met with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) confirmed that he was ready to call legislative and presidential elections. “We are ready, according to the Constitution to call, as we have on several occasions in the past, legislative and presidential elections”, he said in a joint press conference with Zapatero at Moncloa Palace. Internally in Hamas there seem to be varying positions. A spokesperson of the Premier of the Hamas government, Ismail Haniyeh, Taher a-Nunu, stated today from Gaza that “for the moment, the main priority remains to face Israeli assaults and search for national Palestinian unity”. “This is not the right moment to question the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)”, stated Hamas leaders in Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas’ authority remains to be an evident problem for Hamas. His truce initiatives, negotiated with Egypt, were decidedly rejected by Hamas leaders who do not feel obligated to obey them. In particular, Hamas rejected the plan to hand over the Rafah zone, the crossing point between Egypt and Gaza to the Pna, or Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Report: Hamas Stealing Aid Supplies to Sell to Residents

Grim picture of Gazans’ lives painted by reports emerging from Strip, claiming gunmen hiding in civilian homes, using residents as human shields, and hijacking trucks of humanitarian aid

A government or a gang? As the Israeli operation in Gaza wears on it appears Hamas has relinquished any visage of a socio-political party, abandoning its claim to govern the residents of Gaza in favor of engaging in open war at their expense.

A number of reports from the Strip paint a picture of very difficult humanitarian conditions, not least because of Hamas itself. The suspicion is that the group’s operatives have seized control of any supplies passing through the crossings — including those sent by Israel and international organizations.

Reports say Hamas takes a cut out of all aid that arrives, including flour and medicine. Supplies intended to be distributed without gain among the population is seized by the group and sold to the residents, at a profit to the Hamas government.

One such incident was recorded Monday, when a convoy of trucks carrying supplies through the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened fire upon and seized by Hamas gunmen. Similar incidents occurred with trucks carrying fuel.

In other cases, civilians are simply used as cannon fodder or human shields. Reports out of Gaza say residents who attempted to flee their homes in the northern area of the Strip were forced to go back at gunpoint, by Hamas men.

The organization is presumably interested in increasing civilian casualties in order to give rise to international pressure against Israel. Arab media reported that in an IDF strike on a UN school 30 civilians were killed, but there is no legitimate way to prove gunmen were among those killed as Hamas tends to bury these bodies quickly, thus eliminating evidence in Israel’s favor.

Other civilian complaints state that Hamas gunmen pull children along with them “by the ears” from place to place, fearing that if they don’t have a child with them they will be fair game to the IDF. Others hide in civilian homes and stairwells, UNRWA ambulances, and mosques.

In other reported cases Hamas gunmen hold civilians hostage in alleyways in order to provide themselves with a living barricade to ward off IDF forces. Reports somewhat more difficult to verify say the group’s men shot Fatah operatives in the feet to make sure the latter would not attempt a coup.

No one to turn to

These reports lead to the assumption that Hamas is attempting to exacerbate the atmosphere of a humanitarian crisis in the Strip, as this may promote an international ceasefire initiative. In any case the reports clearly show that the residents of Gaza have fallen prey to Hamas as well as the IDF.

Reports of alarming shortages are also forthcoming, as residents appear to lack water, flour, electricity, and any sign of a capable government. Chaos reigns as no one appears to know when electricity will be available, how to obtain water or food, or whom to address in order to evacuate the injured.

The “emergency numbers” given to residents have ceased to function, and citizens in need of assistance have only international organizations, the Red Crescent, and the hospitals themselves to turn to.

The Hamas leaders, aside from two addresses, have not been heard from. Their speeches were broadcast a number of times, but in any case many in the Strip can no longer access televisions, radios, or internet without electricity.

Despite this, no authoritative anti-Hamas sentiments have been heard from the Gazans. However Palestinian sources claim that grievances against the group are voiced in secret. The animosity towards Israel has not disappeared, say the sources, but it is now accompanied by bitterness towards the organization many are dubbing Iranian in its extremism.

           — Hat tip: AA [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Economy: Turkey Increases Import Duties on Steel Products

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 5 — In a sign of creeping protectionism, Turkey has recently announced that it has increased import duties on a number of steel products by as much as 8%, daily Today’s Zaman reported, quoting the Steel Business Briefing (Sbb) website. The move comes as steel consumption levels and prices around the world slump as a result of floundering construction and growth rates. The duty on hot-rolled coil (HRC), a semi-finished steel product that can be refined into a vast number of products for construction, has risen from 5% to 13%, while cold-rolled coil was said to have risen from 6 to 14%. SBB was reported as saying that HRC import duty for re-rollers is 5%, up from the previous 3%. Many are likely to point to such a decision on the part of the Turkish government as an attempt to protect domestic producers as well as a number of regional countries that have signed free trade agreements with Turkey such as Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Turkey is presently ranked the 11th largest steel producer in the world and imports approximately 7 million tons of strip products annually. Russia and Ukraine are amongst the largest suppliers of scrap and semi-finished products. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Energy: BTC Pipeline Carries 70 Mln Tonnes of Caspian Oil

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JANUARY 7 — Nearly 70 million tonnes of crude oil has been transported via Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline from June 2006 till the end of 2008, officials from BOTAS International Limited (BIL), operator of BTC’s Turkey section, said. According to Anatolia news agency the BTC Pipeline project, which is described as the “energy project of the century”, successfully carried the Caspian oil to the world markets through Turkey and nearly 70 million tonnes of crude oil has been transported with 650 tankers from the Haydar Aliyev Sea Terminal to Ceyhan town of Turkey’s southern Adana province since 2 June 2006. “We showed the world that a Turkish company can carry out such an important project at world standards. We have improved Turkey’s prestige in the world energy markets”, Salih Pasaoglu, BIL’s Director General, said. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is a crude oil pipeline that covers 1,768 kilometres from the Azeri-Chirag-Gunesli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It connects Baku to Tbilisi and then Ceyhan, a port on the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. BTC is the second longest oil pipeline in the world after the Druzhba pipeline. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Gaza: First Lady Summit, Zapatero’s Wife Declines Invitation

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 8 — Sonsoles Espinosa, Spanish Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapateròs wife, has declined an invitation to participate in a summit of first ladies on Saturday in Istanbul, called by Emine Erdogan, wife of current Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan in order to make an appeal for peace in Gaza and to denounce the dramatic humanitarian situation in which 1.4 million Palestinians live. Zapatero with Erdogan “ introduced an Alliance of Civilizations initiative, but his wife”, wrote El Pais, “does not seem to be willing to follow in his footsteps”. Sonsoles Espinosa has declined the invitation because she had made prior commitments outside of Spain, assured diplomatic sources cited by the newspaper. Between Christmas and New Year’s, the Spanish “primera dama” was with the Capilla Real of Madrid at the Donnaregina Nuova Church in Naples for a series of baroque music concerts. Among those invited by Ermine Erdogan to Saturday’s meeting are the first ladies of Muslim majority countries like Queen Rania (Jordan); Princess Lalla Salma (Morocco); Sheikha Mozah (Qatar); Liri Berisha (Albania); Mihriban Aliyeva (Azerbayan), Sheikha Sabika Bint Inrahim al Khalifa (Bahrein), but also Carla Bruni, wife of French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey: 40 Arrested Over Ergenekon Coup Plan

(ANSAmed) — ISTANBUL, JANUARY 7 — Turkish police have arrested about 40 people, including retired generals, as part of an enquiry into a plan by the extreme right-wing underground lay group Ergenekon to overthrow the pro-Europe government of the moderate AKP party, led by Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan. The operation, according to the Anadolu news agency, was launched in six Turkish provinces, including Ankara and Istanbul. Apart from retired generals Kemal Yavuz, Erdal Senel and Tuncer Kilinc, the latter the former President of the National Security Council, among those arrested today are also a former police chief and Kemal Guruz, former president of the high commission for education, a strictly secular body which controls the universities. Some 86 people are already on trial over the Ergenekon case, including former military, judges, police, accused of trying to destabilise the country in various degrees with a precise strategy of tension, with unauthorised anti-Government demonstrations, political assassinations and attacks on the forces of law and order. The aim, according to the accusations, was to hit the Government of the Islam-based Justice and Development party (AKP), in power since 2002, and to force military intervention to defend the secular nature of the State. In the AKP Government the most secular political wing sees a dangerous drift toward religion by the State, a deviation from the secular constitutional principles established by the founder of modern Turkey, “Ataturk” Mustafà Kemal, which the military traditionally safeguard. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Bosnia Faces Collapse Without Gas

Severed gas supplies threaten Bosnia with humanitarian and economic disaster as two smelters have closed down production and some 100,000 households have been left without heating and hot water in subzero temperatures.

Some heating companies were able to transfer to other heating sources such as heating oil, but supplies will last for 5 days and fuel distributors are scampering to purchase new amounts. Power companies have urged citizens to limit the use of electricity for heating and cooking in order to avoid power cuts and collapse of the entire power grid.

“We are unprepared for any crisis which we cannot influence,” said Rubina Cengic, columnist in Nezavisne Novine daily on Thursday, lamenting the fact that Bosnia had no alternative sources of gas, or any gas stockpiles. She added that it is an irony that it was this crisis that proved Bosnia to be a part of Europe. “We have been left without the gas like the rest of the EU.”

The gas supply to Bosnia was cut off entirely on Tuesday due to the Russia-Ukraine dispute that has affected gas flows to most of Europe. Bosnians on Thursday scrambled to find substitutes for heating and cooking in the middle of a cold snap around the country.

In the first 24 hours alone, people in the capital Sarajevo — which lies in the middle of the snow-capped Dinaric Alps — bought off all the stockpiles of electric heaters in the city’s shops.

Some travelled as far as to the town of Mostar in the south to buy heaters. Those who were too late had to resort to buying wood stoves and wood supplies.

Severed gas supplies on Tuesday afternoon forced Birac alumina smelter in the eastern town of Zvornik and ArcelorMittal smelter in Zenica to almost completely shut down production. Company officials said the haphazard shutdown could have devastating effects for the firms.

“Dramatic situation in the Birac factory,” was a headline in Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz on Thursday.

The population in Zvornik and Zenica depend almost solely on the two smelters for heating. Together with the Bosnian capital, in these three cities some 100,000 households or an estimated 300,000 people have been left without heating and hot water.

This has also affected many premises such as kindergartens, schools, hospitals, businesses and others, which depended on gas for heating or production. Local authorities said they will have to close most of them down unless gas supplies are reopened as soon as possible.

Meteorologists forecast a further drop in temperatures, expected to fall to -13 Celsius in the capital on Thursday night.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Drugs Seen Killing 80,000 Russians Annually

[Comment from Tuan Jim: The original article I read said more Russians die annually from heroin than in the Afghan war]

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Drug addiction kills 80,000 Russians each year, a senior Russian anti-drugs official was quoted as saying on Friday, while a human rights watchdog issued a report warning Russia’s drug treatment strategy needed reform.

About 70,000 Russians die annually from diseases linked to drug addiction, and another 10,000 are killed by overdoses, said Alexander Yanevsky, a department chief at the Drugs Control Service.

“Russia is situated in a drugs belt. There is heroin in the south, synthetic drugs coming in from the West and rising internal production of drugs,” Yanevsky said at a conference on drug control, reported RIA Novosti news agency.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) hit out at Russia’s failure to modernise or incorporate the best international practises in its addict treatment schemes and said the failures put drug users at increased risk of catching diseases.

“Patients in detoxification treatment are heavily sedated, making counselling efforts difficult or even pointless,” HRW said in a statement.

Detoxification centres are widespread, but since they don’t combine with rehabilitation programmes, their effectiveness is “negligible”, the report said.

Russian law also bans the opiate substitute methadone from being prescribed to heroin users, despite its successful use in many countries, HRW said.

“The lack of effective drug addiction treatment in Russia means that drug users who want to break their addiction cannot, and are condemned to a life of continued drug use,” said Diederik Lohman, from HRW’s HIV/AIDS programme.

“This leaves them vulnerable to HIV infection, other drug-related health conditions, and death by overdose.”

Last month the United Nations urged Russia and ex-Soviet Central Asia to stem drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Europe, saying the proceeds from a record opium crop were funding global terrorism.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU Announces Breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine Gas Dispute

[Comment from Tuan Jim: This is the most recent of my gas stories — the original link actually led to a story saying that there had been no agreements on monitors. Any other gas stories on this message are from earlier in the day.]

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed Thursday on the terms for the deployment of gas monitors in Ukraine, paving the way for an end to a Europe-wide energy crisis, the EU presidency said.

In a surprising turnaround hours after EU-sponsored talks in Brussels broke down over the monitor issue, the EU presidency in Prague said Putin and his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek had achieved the long-awaited breakthrough.

Topolanek and Putin agreed during a telephone conversation “on the conditions of deployment of the monitoring commission at all locations that are relevant for the flow of gas,” the presidency statement said.

“This deployment should lead to the Russian supplies of gas to EU member states being restored,” it said, adding that details of the mission would be finalised Friday when EU monitors travel to Ukraine.

Topolanek had consulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the negotiations, the EU presidency said.

Earlier Thursday Putin said Moscow backed a proposal launched by Merkel to send EU experts to monitor flows of Russian gas through Ukraine, saying he thought “it should be done as quickly as possible.”

Despite the announcement of the deal, there was no immediate confirmation from either Moscow or Kiev and it remained unclear when Russia would resume energy supplies, which it cut on Monday because of a price dispute.

The knock-on effect of supply cuts to much of eastern Europe mean thousands of people have been left without gas at a time when many are facing temperatures below the freezing point.

The announcement of the deal with Putin was all the more surprising given the acrimonious remarks by both sides following the break down of talks in Brussels.

Czech Industry Minister Martin Riman told reporters in the Belgian capital earlier that Russian energy monopoly Gazprom had refused a proposal for independent monitors to check the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine.

“We are disappointed by Russia’s position because we believe that the Russian side has no reason to refuse this proposal and not to allow the resumption of supplies into Ukraine and European countries,” he said.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs also said Moscow had refused to sign a deal to restore supplies to around a dozen EU nations at least in part because it wanted its own observers stationed in Ukraine.

But the head of Gazprom pointed the finger at Kiev, saying it “ruined the signing of such a document” on the sending of a group of independent observers to monitor gas flows.

“We had the opportunity today to resume gas supplies (to Europe via Ukraine) but this has not happened today,” Alexei Miller said, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia is the world’s biggest natural gas producer and provides about one-quarter of the gas used in the European Union, or about 40 percent of the gas the bloc imports. About 80 percent of those imports pass though Ukraine.

Ukraine agreed to the monitors on Thursday and 10 to 12, drawn from the European gas industry and the European Commission, are due on the ground as early as Friday.

The monitors are to be tasked with checking how much gas is being piped from Russia to Ukraine, which is the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe.

Russia, which cut supplies for Ukraine’s domestic market on January 1 due to a payments dispute, has accused Ukraine of stealing gas intended for Europe.

While he conceded the crisis had hurt Russia’s image as a reliable gas supplier, Putin has insisted Moscow is not to blame and lashed out at Western media who he accused of taking Kiev’s side.

“Of course this is creating problems for us. But, forgive me for saying so, but I have not seen an objective evaluation of the situation.

“Foreign media, Western media are painting a completely unobjective picture of ‘Russia Shuts Gas to Europe’,” he said earlier Thursday at his residence outside Moscow.

With EU countries suffering gas cuts, the bloc’s leaders are growing increasingly impatient to see Moscow and Kiev resume the flow of gas critical for heating homes, schools and factories in bitter winter weather.

In Bulgaria the government begun rationing gas supplies to industries and temperatures in buildings plummeted. Seventy-five schools across the country closed until Friday for lack of adequate heating.

Serbia has switched 90 percent of its heating plants to crude oil after Russian gas deliveries were completely halted at midnight on Tuesday.

While in the snow-blanketed Bosnian capital Sarajevo, about 72,000 households remained without heating for a third day due to a total halt in Russian gas supplies.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Gas Totters Towards Bulgaria

Russia and Ukraine bowed to pressure from the European Commission and hammered out a partial ceasefire on the gas war paving the way for a quick restart of shipments to Europe.

If deliveries resume on January 9 2009, gas will reach Bulgaria on the evening of January 11 as filling up Ukrainian pipes will take 36 hours and a further six to 12 hours for it to get to the Bulgargaz network from the Ukrainian-Romanian border.

Naftogaz head Oleh Dubyna promised MEP Vladko Panayotov of Bulgaria’s predominantly ethnic Turkish party the Movement for Rights and Freedoms that the Orlovka gas compression station, which pumps gas to the Balkans, will be the first to reopen, Bulgarian news outfit Mediapool reported.

Tensions between Moscow and Kiev eased after both countries agreed to accept international monitors to keep an eye on the gas being pumped to Europe.

Negotiations between the two countries will continue, though, to work out a new agreement on Ukrainian supplies.

As an extra precaution against future gas supply disruptions, an international committee of independent EU experts and Brussels, Moscow and Kiev representatives will be set up to monitor the transfer of Russian gas via Ukraine to Europe.

Meantime, things got worse in Bulgaria where gas fed to industrial consumers was three quarters less. Bulgartransgaz cut off 72 businesses and lowered supplies to 153 other industrial customers, said Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, adding that firms’ daily losses have spiraled off to 8.3 million leva.

However, experts said companies injured by the gas crisis had hardly any legal tools to demand compensation from state-run gas company Bulgargaz.

On the other hand, Evgenii Ivanov, executive director of the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria, said that big industrial gas users could seek damages if supplies are cut even for half a day.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Gas: Croatia E Slovenia Cut Off, Stocks Sufficient for Now

(ANSAmed) — ZAGREB, JANUARY 7 — Russian gas supply to Croatia and Slovenia stopped at midnight. The two countries depend for around 50% from Russian import of natural gas, mainly for heating. “Russia has left Europe without gas, I have no words for it”, said one of the leaders of Plinacro, the biggest gas distributor of Croatia. The company and the government have calmed the population explaining that regular supply to houses, schools and hospitals will not be compromised thanks to the presence of sufficient stocks, at least for some weeks. People have been asked to save on gas though. “If necessary the biggest industrial consumers will be taken off-line, while State company Hep which supplies hot water to centralised heating systems con switch to the use of oil”. Croatia can cover 60% of its own needs from its own resources, for the rest it depends entirely on Russian import. A similar situation in Slovenia, where national distributor Geoplin estimates that “the blockade will last at least 24 hours” according to information supplied by Gazprom. Sloveniàs reserves are enough for one and a half month of normal consumption, also at low temperatures, and part of the country’s requirement is imported from Algeria. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Attack on Gaza: OIC Should Form Peacekeeping Force, Says Zahid

KUALA LUMPUR: The Organisation of the Islamic Conference may need to think about forming its own peacekeeping force in the wake of the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he had received requests to the effect from Muslim non-governmental organisations which felt the United Nations was unable to protect Muslims.

“I will take the matter before the cabinet on Wednesday. I will also talk to Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim about it as he attends OIC meetings,” he said after launching an Ade Nasution centre.

The centre is being used by Parti Amanat Nasional candidate Ade Daud Iswandi Nasution of Indonesia to garner votes among Indonesian workers here for the general election in Indonesia on April 9.

There are 950,000 registered Indonesian voters in Malaysia, equal to the number of voters in central Jakarta. Indonesians here can check their eligibility to vote by going online at the centre at Baazar UO in Jalan Chow Kit here.

Zahid agreed with former pri-me minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s suggestion to boycott goods from the United States, which supports Israel.

“In my opinion, the OIC should not be influenced by the US. Not all OIC nations will be favourable to a boycott of American goods but if we have the majority, then why not do it?”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: PKS Warns Election Board After Party’s Gaza Rally Called a Violation

Calling last week’s large demonstration in Central Jakarta by the Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS, against the Israeli offensive in Gaza a violation of election law, the Elections Supervisory Board said they would report the Islamic party to the police — a move the party says it won’t take lying down, warning the board to “be careful.”

The board, known as Bawaslu, said on Wednesday that the demonstration breached Election Law No.10/2008, which states that election campaigning can only be conducted during a 21-day period that ends three days before the legislative elections on April 9. “We will report the party to the National Police for breaking the law,” said Wirdyaningsih, a Bawaslu board member.

Adding to the party’s potential woes, the General Elections Supervisory Committee, or Panwaslu, said on Wednesday that it was also considering reporting the party to Jakarta Police.

Ramdansyah, the head of the committee, said it was meeting on Wednesday night to determine whether or not it would lodge a complaint with the city’s police today.

“However, it is highly likely the committee will report the case to police as it believes that the early campaigning is a violation of the law.”

The PKS have been criticized by a number of analysts for using the demonstration, which attracted as many as 10,000 protesters, for political purposes. Members of the party sported clothing branded with party slogans and a number carried signs advertising the party and the number eight, the party’s official number for the upcoming elections.

PKS chairman Tifatul Sembiring said on Wednesday that Bawaslu had failed to see the bigger picture.

“It has nothing to do with our campaign; it is a demonstration against Israeli Zionism that has violated human rights. We did not promote our party — we want to stop the Israeli attack.”

Tifatul said Bawaslu was exaggerating its claims that the demonstration was a campaign. “Peace is a universal issue, not the party’s issue. Bawaslu has to be careful. If it decides to go forward with its complaint, who knows? Maybe there could be a demonstration against Bawaslu.”

Wirdyaningsih said that there were clear campaigning elements contained in the demonstration.

“The PKS is a political party that will be contesting this year’s legislative elections. A number of people wore the party’s uniform. And when the head of the party gave a speech, it contained the party’s vision and mission.”

Jeirry Sumampow, the national coordinator for the People’s Voter Education Network, agreed that the PKS had violated the law. “It is clearly campaigning … The party’s logo was everywhere.” Jeirry said that sanctions for this kind of breach of the law was clear. “The party’s Jakarta branch could be disqualified from the election.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Surabaya Activists Block Synagogue, Burn Israeli Flags

Surabaya. At least 100 activists from Muslim organizations in East Java Province blockaded a synagogue and burned Jewish symbols in Surabaya on Wednesday to demonstrate support for Palestinians.

The protesters, led by Abdusshomad Buchori, the East Java head of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, marched through central Surabya from Jalan Gubernur to Jalan Kayun where they tried to enter the Jewish assembly building.

The protestors burned Israeli flags and shouted slogans supporting Palestinians. They also raised a Palestinian flag in front of the building.

At least 10 demonstrators entered the property but were forced back by police before they were able to cause any damage.

The protesters then blockaded the gate to the building, which was established in the 1930s. Surabaya has been home to a small community of Jewish Indonesians who emigrated several generations ago.

About 200 police stood guard in front of the synagogue.

Rally participants demanded the Indonesian government take action over the Israeli attacks on Gaza and condemn Israel for causing the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians. The rally started at 10 p.m., but broke up after about 90 minutes.

State-run Antara news agency reported on Wednesday that hundreds of students staged a march in Serang, Banten Province, to protest against Israel’s offensive.

Protestors from organizations such as Al-Irsyad and hardline Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia took part.

They also staged a street performance depicting violent attacks by Israelis on Palestinians. “We demand the Indonesian government give significant help to Palestine, like deploying a peace force, in addition to sending food and medical supplies,” said Muhtar Anam, a field coordinator for the group.

The protestors also condemned US support of Israel and urged Muslims to express discontent by boycotting American products. “It’s not only a religion-related war, but also a humanitarian problem that should be everyone’s concern,” Muhtar said.

Antara also reported that at least 200 activists of the group Among Muslim Corps, or Kaum, protested in Bandung, urging the government to quit the UN because they believed it had become ineffective in its efforts to promote world peace.

“Whatever Israel and the US do, there’s nothing the UN can do, they only maintain peace after the chaos caused by the two countries is over,” said KAUM coordinator Suryana Nurfatwa.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesian Protesters Storm KFC Over Israeli Raids

PALU, Indonesia (AFP) — Angry Indonesian demonstrators stormed a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant Thursday in protest against Israel’s military strikes on the Gaza Strip.

About 300 protesters gathered outside the US fast food outlet in Palu, Central Sulawesi, waving Palestinian flags, burning US and Israeli emblems and carrying banners condemning Israel as a “terrorist and criminal” state.

A handful of demonstrators then stormed the restaurant, overturning tables and chairs.

“KFC’s licence is from America, an important Israeli ally. In consuming US products it means that we give financial contributions to Israel’s military strikes on the Palestinian people,” protest coordinator Maful Haruna said.

The restaurant, which was closed following the protest, was set to reopen on Friday, management said.

In the Central Java city of Semarang, a small crowd of demonstrating students were foiled by police after they tried to go on a “sweeping” raid to round up Western nationals, local media reported.

A heavy police presence blocked the gates of the city’s Ciputra Hotel as student speakers called for a boycott of “Jewish” products, news website said.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and does not recognise Israel.

The Israeli offensive against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which began on December 27, has so far killed 702 Palestinians and wounded 3,100, Gaza medics say.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Malaysia: Abdullah’s Anti-Israel Posturing

It’s not surprising that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has called on the United Nations to convene an emergency meeting of the general assembly to discuss Israel’s so-called invasion of the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Malaysia: Students in Mass Movement Against Israeli Atrocities

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 8 (Bernama) — School students nationwide will be galvanised into a mass movement aimed at instilling hatred against Israeli atrocities on Palestinians, said Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

Hishammuddin said the mass movement would involve those in the teaching profession and education ministry staff.

“Through the mass movement, the students will be exposed and reminded that the peace, justice and comfortable living environment can be easily robbed by people with greed,” he told reporters after presenting the ministry’s new year address here today.

The movement to be launched soon would involve all quarters including non-governmental organisations (NGO) and ministries to make the voice of young Malaysians heard globally.

Hishammuddin said the mass movement was approved at the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East

Japan: Government to Bring Antipiracy Bill Before Diet

The government plans to submit to the current Diet session a bill to provide a legal basis for missions to fight piracy, with attacks by pirates off Somalia increasing, sources said Tuesday.

According to the sources, the bill stipulates that piracy is a crime, a reference that is not included in existing Japanese law. Under the envisaged new law, the Japan Coast Guard and the Maritime Self-Defense Force will be authorized to participate in antipiracy missions. The law will allow JCG and MSDF vessels to escort not only Japanese-registered ships but also foreign ships, as well as empowering them to fire on pirate vessels in the course of carrying out their missions.

The government plans to work out the details with the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, with the intention of submitting the bill to the ordinary Diet session by March and having it passed during the session, according to the sources.

Until the new antipiracy law is enacted, the government is eyeing the dispatch of MSDF vessels to waters off Somalia in accordance with the SDF Law as a stopgap measure, they said.

The law is expected to consist of about six articles. In line with the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, it will define piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends” by a private ship or a private aircraft.

Under the law, the JCG and the MSDF will be allowed to take part in antipiracy operations. The operations will be carried out principally by the JCG. But depending on how well armed the pirates in question are, the law will call for the dispatch of MSDF vessels when the operational requirements exceed the capacity of the JCG, the sources said.

Only acts of piracy that occur on the high seas, over which no state has jurisdiction, will be targeted by Japan’s antipiracy missions.

Unlike conventional Japanese policing action on the seas, under the envisaged law JCG and MSDF vessels will be allowed to escort foreign ships to prevent their missions from interfering with other countries’ antipiracy operations.

The law also will call for a crackdown on any act of “inciting or intentionally facilitating” an act of piracy. This is aimed at reinforcing antipiracy operations by authorizing the arrest of the captain and all other crew members of a pirate ship.

Meanwhile, the government does not intend to include any provision that would seek Diet approval for the dispatch of MSDF vessels on antipiracy missions, the sources said. It also plans to discuss the use of weapons in antipiracy missions and work out the details with the ruling parties.

Under current Japanese law, the use of force in seaborne policing activities is governed by the same principles that govern the use of force by police officers in the line of duty. This means JCG and MSDF members are not allowed to inflict physical harm on perpetrators except in self-defense or in the course of an emergency evacuation. But the new law will ease the restrictions on the use of arms, enabling them to fire on pirate ships during operations.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Korea: Plan to Close Arab Culture Center Backfires

Incheon local government’s decision to shut down an Arab cultural center has drawn a backlash from Arabian ambassadors in South Korea, according to government sources and lawmakers here Sunday.

If the situations remains unresolved, the issue is expected to damage the Lee Myung-bak administration’s push to establish closer ties with Arab and other nations rich in energy resources, they said.

Ambassadors from Arab states are criticizing the government for taking advantage of construction of the center to woo support from Arab states in its bid to host the Asian Games in 2014 and subsequently changing its position after winning the bid, they said. Incheon won the right to host the Games.

South Korea is the world’s fifth biggest oil importer, with annual purchases reaching around 900 million barrels, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Arab nations also make up 12 percent of Seoul’s total trade, ranking them fourth. Sixty-three percent of South Korea’s plant and construction orders are from the Middle East.

A group of ambassadors from Arab states held meetings last Thursday with a vice foreign minister and Incheon Mayor Ahn Sang-soo to protest the shutdown plan, the sources said.

During the meetings, the group led by ambassadors from Saudi Arabia and Oman argued that the closure would not only seriously tarnish South Korea’s image in the Arab world but also deal a blow to Seoul’s economic cooperation with Arab states, they added.

“Arab ambassadors expressed their strong discontent about the decision. They seemed to feel it was an insult to the whole Arab world,” Rep. Song Young-ghil of the main opposition Democratic Party, who attended a ceremony in Seoul to mark the National Day of the United Arab Emirates last Monday. “I’m very worried that this issue could escalate into a diplomatic dispute and even compromise our national interests.”

In an e-mail sent to Song Wednesday, Saudi Arabian Ambassador Abdullah A. Al-Aifan said any shutdown of a pure Arab culture center was tantamount to giving in to extremists opposing Muslim culture, the lawmaker said.

The ambassador pledged to take the issue to the Arab world unless the plan is reversed, he added.

Incheon officials had said the city would modify the center to one for various cultures, not just for Arabian culture.

But some Arab envoys claim the shutdown was decided following complaints by some local Christian groups that the center was serving as a tool to expand the religion of Islam here.

In June, South Korea and 22 Arab nations launched the Korea-Arab Society aimed at enhancing public understanding of Islamic culture and foster human networks. The society also aims to explore joint business and investment opportunities in South Korea and the Middle East.

The Arab world refers to 22 states in North Africa and the Middle East, which are home to 325 million people who speak Arabic and mostly practice Islam.

Currently, 13 Arab states have embassies in South Korea.

The 22 Arab member states of the society possess about 55 percent of the world’s oil reserves and some 30 percent of liquefied natural gas reserves, according to the foreign ministry. They account for 71 percent of Seoul’s crude oil imports and 48 percent of its natural gas imports, it said.

Sixty-three percent of South Korea’s plant and construction orders are from the Middle East.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Muslim Separatists Burn Christian Homes in Philippines

Muslim separatists have torched the houses of 30 Christian families in an attack on a southern Philippines village.

The military says rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are still occupying the farming hamlet of Sangay after raiding it on Wednesday.

Military spokesman Julieto Ando says there were no casualties and said the raid related to a land conflict.

The government suspended peace talks with the MILF last year after the rebels attacked Christian villages across the island of Mindanao.

The rebels were protesting the Supreme Court’s decision to block a proposed peace settlement that would have given them control over large tracts of land in Mindanao.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Philippines: No Peace Process Possible in Gaza

SOMETHING about the Gaza Strip situation should scare us Filipinos. It’s not the risks our OFWs in Palestine and Israel are exposed to. I mean the possibility that the Mindanao situation could end up being like the Israel-Palestine disaster.

I happen to agree with the very few analysts who don’t see the Israel-Palestine situation as a “disrupted” or “broken” peace process. Quite the opposite, every time there is a peaceful interregnum it is the “war process” that is broken or disrupted.

As Anne Applebaum has written:

“For the trouble with all of these peace efforts, peace conferences, peace initiatives and peace proposals is that none of them recognizes the most obvious fact about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: It’s not a peace process; it’s a war. At the moment, at least, both parties are still convinced that their central aims will be better obtained through weapons and military tactics than through negotiations of any kind. To be more explicit, Hamas and its followers believe that the continuing firing of rockets into southern Israel will, sooner or later, result in the dissolution of the Jewish state. The Israelis-both on the “peacenik” left and the more bellicose right-believe that the only way to prevent Hamas from firing rockets is to fight back. Intervention-whether by well-meaning Europeans, U.N. delegations, Russian envoys [or even Condoleezza Rice, who has wisely stayed home, so far]-can postpone the conflict but cannot halt the violence, at least not until one side or the other surrenders.”

So, I find the solemn calls from world leaders for a ceasefire nothing more than obligatory noises that they must make.

I share the pain and love for humanity of the diplomats, columnists and commentators who, in their hearts of hearts, write about the need for peace to reign in the Middle East. This peace, first of all means peace between Hamas and other militantly anti-Israel groups on one side and the heirs of Yashir Arafat (namely Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his companions) and the Israelis on the other side. You can even include on the Israel side the “mainstream” Arab countries.

Who the two sides in this Gaza Strip war has been blurred by the need for all Muslim leaders to make ministerial noises condemning Israel and protesting the deaths of Palestinians civilians in Gaza.

I am afraid that peace can only come when one side has won over the other.

For the Hamas Palestinians and their supporters, as well as the other Hamas-like militantly anti-Israel organizations and armies, will not rest until its goal of making Israel disappear as a state is achieved. Hamas and its brethren mean it when they say they want the annihilation of Israel.

Hamas does not care for the diplomatic posture of the rulers (and perhaps the majority of the peoples) of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait and the Emirates. These Arab countries have assimilated the United Nations’ doctrines. They want them to become a reality in the Middle East.

That is why they supported the now disintegrated Road Map to Peace in the Middle East and President Bush’s Annapolis Initiative. The “mainstream” Arab countries are willing to see a Middle East flourish with Israel as another state that is a major partner in making that region and its people more prosperous.

Hamas and its brethren, just like Iran (which the “mainstream” Arab states’ rulers fear), will be happier if Israel disappears.

The Israelis-except those whose thinking has come to accept the United Nations’ formulations as reality-know that malevolent design of Hamas. That is why the leaders of Israel decided on going after Hamas with full military might. They know the they must destroy Hamas and its brethren. For Hamas will not rest until Israel is destroyed.

An Israeli commentator said it right about the offensive in the Gaza Strip: They have to kill Hamas which has been killing Israel eight, 10, 12, 20 persons at a time-with rockets and earlier with suicide bombers.

Hamas is not a guerrilla outfit

Apart from having won the last Palestinian election and becoming the elected government of the Palestine Authority territory, Hamas has managed to develop its armed forces into a sort of proper and professional army.

It divided Gaza into five regions, each under a commander. Very much as Saddam Hussein did, it positioned its rocket launching equipment in population centers so that when Israel bombs them innocent civilians would be killed and international disgust would build up against Israel.

Now that Israeli ground troops are in Gaza, they are finding it hard to chase Hamas soldiers who can lose themselves among the people crowded in winding streets and then hide in apartment buildings.

One solution mentioned is for Egypt to be given control of Gaza. Will Israel accept that unless Egypt will agree to work for the destruction of Hamas?


Israel is being condemned by the world as it was condemned in 2006 for the war in southern Lebanon. There, Israel was also seen as the cause of a humanitarian crisis. It also lost the war.

In 2006 Israel was also reacting to cross-border provocation-from the Iran supported Hizbol-lah. There were air strikes and then a land offensive. As now in Gaza, Israel’s army fought in southern Lebanon in territories it had once occupied and withdrawn from, hoping for peace from that Lebanon-based enemy.

Israel failed to accomplish its political and safety-from-Hizbol-lah-attack goals.

All these years, Hamas has imitated Hizbollah. And Israel has had to make its history repeat itself.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

John Robertson: Comment on Gideon Gono’s Book, Zimbabwe’s Casino Economy

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Very interesting (and long) book review explaining a number of the issues in Zimbabwe over the years]

To close off this very difficult year I gave myself the very difficult task of reading Gideon Gono’s book and writing some comments for you. My effort is attached and my only hope is that reading it will not be as painful for you as reading the book itself.

We have to hope for an early breakthrough, especially now that the Zimbabwe dollar has become virtually worthless. Immediate challenges for government are to get Parliament sitting again so that a Budget can be passed and the whole revenue and expenditure process can be put back onto a legal footing. For at least this reason, we should see some strenuous efforts being made in January, but the points in my summing up paragraphs on the last page of the attached will still need urgent attention. Whether they get the right kind of attention, from locals as well as foreigners, might well determine our future!

My most sincere thanks to you for all your support during the year and my warmest good wishes go out to you for a better 2009.


Five Curious Years result in a curious book — John Robertson

If you could start a sincere discourse in which you could honestly declare –

  • that you have received the President’s personal guidance at least twice a week for five years
  • that you proudly hold a conviction that every one of the President’s policy pronouncements met the highest possible moral, academic, philosophical and practical standards of excellence
  • that you hold a firm belief that the only reason for their failures has been the imposition of sanctions, and
  • that Zimbabwe’s survival of the international sanctions onslaught has led directly to your having achieved major breakthroughs in economic theory

– you too could write a book that would put an extraordinarily up-beat spin on Zimbabwe’s recent history. You might also be able to persuade yourself that, now that many banks in developed nations are having to be rescued, the brilliance of Zimbabwe’s monetary policies is no longer in doubt.

But first you would have to successfully impose a few new definitions on certain English words that would completely destroy your claims if their original meanings were to be used…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sudan’s Vice-President Meets US Evangelical Leader

A prominent U.S. evangelical Christian leader, Franklin Graham, received a visit from the President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, on Wednesday in Boone, North Carolina.

Graham is the president of the charity Samaritan’s Purse, which said it has spent more than $60 million in the South Sudan in support of four hospitals, new schools and food aid. He is also the son of the charismatic preacher Billy Graham, who gained a large following and was a friend to every living U.S. president.

President Kiir thanked Samaritan’s Purse for assistance during Sudan’s second civil war and for rebuilding 227 churches that were destroyed during the conflict.

During the war (1983-2005), the northern government of Sudan declared jihad against the partly Christian south, prompting some sympathy from Christians in the United States.

“Samaritan’s Purse did not run away from us,” President Kiir said. “They did not abandon us. We will never forget about you.”

Graham told Kiir’s ministers and reporters, “He has been a great friend to us. It is a great privilege.”

The Sudanese leader arrived to the town of Boone after spending Sunday through Tuesday in Washington, meeting with President Bush, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other officials. Kiir, who is himself a Catholic, thanked Franklin Graham and the ministry “for working to strengthen the faith of believers who endured horrible persecution,” said a statement from Samaritan’s Purse.

“Faith is important to the people to determine their destiny,” he said, then describing forced conversions to Islam during the war, in which some Christians renounced their faith.

“Those who resisted are the real Christians,” he said. “And they will have to be supported to become stronger.”

Kiir became the leader of the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan after a 2005 helicopter accident took the life of Dr. John Garang, the founder of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which is now the ruling party of Southern Sudan and a partner in the national government. SPLM has relied on foreign aid money to boost revenues from oil exports in its efforts to govern the vast southern region while contesting for power at the national level.

Samaritan’s Purse plans to rebuild another 110 churches in Sudan during 2009.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


50 Million Invited to Europe

AN EU job centre for migrants seeking work in Europe has been opened secretly in the West African state of Cape Verde.

The project is the second phase of a Brussels tax-funded plan to invite more than 50 million African workers into Britain and other members of the 27-nation EU bloc.

The advice centre, based in the island nation’s poverty-stricken capital Praia, follows a similar job centre opened in the desert African state of Mali in October.

The project is part of the EU’s controversial plan to help Africans find work legally in Europe.

The centre will provide details of job opportunities in EU states, including Britain, and provide training and support for potential migrants. It is being heralded as a “pilot scheme” by EU officials for other job centres across Africa and Eastern Europe.

But last night the timing of the scheme to invite a new wave of migrant workers to Europe was called into question as tens of thousands fear for their jobs across Britain and other EU states in the gloomy economic climate.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage asked: “What the devil are we doing opening up job centres in Africa when we have 400,000 projected to lose their jobs in the UK in the next six months?”

Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “As people all over Britain and Europe face redundancy and unemployment as the recession bites, it is ludicrous that the EU is frittering away taxpayers’ money on such inappropriate schemes.”

The project is part of EU Commissioner Louis Michel’s master plan for the “mobility” of workers between African states and Europe.

           — Hat tip: AA [Return to headlines]

Afghan Man Stabbed to Death in Fight Between Rival Migrant Gangs Battling for Passage to UK

A 30-year-old Afghan has been stabbed to death during a fight between rival gangs of illegal migrants heading for Britain. The brutal murder took place in ‘The Jungle’, a notorious stretch of wasteland in Calais where a journalism student from London was raped last summer.

More than 30 migrants were involved in a fight among the cardboard shelters which make up the camp on Wednesday night.

‘It was a battle among young men all trying to get aboard ferries heading for Dover,’ said a Calais ambulance service spokesman.

‘Numbers have increased dramatically in recent weeks, and there has been a great deal of tension as all try to use the same route into Britain.

‘Around 100 men claiming to be Afghans are living in the Jungle at the moment, and the victim was one of them.

‘Clubs, metal bars and knives were all used in the fight. The victim was stabbed a number of times and died at the scene. There was nothing we could do for him when we arrived.

‘The fight was between different ethnic groups trying to get aboard slow-moving lorries as they approach the ferry port.

‘Only a few migrants at a time can get past security checks, and that’s why there is so much rivalry.’

People smugglers charge the equivalent of up to £1000 a time for places aboard lorries, with many of the migrants offering their life savings for a route to the UK.

Armed riot police have been smashing up illegal camps like The Jungle in what was meant to be a crackdown aimed at keeping migrants out of Calais.

But local charities have increasingly been opening temporary shelters for them, as winter temperatures plummet below -5 C.

There are currently an estimated 2000 migrants sleeping rough in the Calais area, with most claiming to come from countries like war-torn Afghanistan and Eritrea.

Many others are economic migrants looking to take advantage of Britain’s generous welfare system after claiming asylum, or else to disappear into jobs in the black economy.

French immigration minister Brice Hortefeux has continually ruled out ‘any possibility’ of the building of any kind of permanent centre for Britain-bound migrants.

In 2002 an Anglo-French agreement led to the bulldozing of the notorious Red Cross Centre at Sangatte, near Calais, which had become a magnate for thousands of them.

While violence has been on the increase between difference groups, murders have been rare.

In September 2006 a young Eritraen was killed and six seriously wounded during a similar fight between rival groups.

A Calais police spokesman said a criminal enquiry had been opened into the latest murder, adding: ‘There’s no doubt that violence is on the increase as numerous different groups come to Calais to try and get to Britain.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Greenland Wants Own Immigration Law

In November 2008, Greenland voted in favour of greater autonomy and the ability to gradually take over authority from Denmark over various aspects of life on the world’s largest island.

In his New Year’s speech to Greenlanders, Prime Minister Hans Enoksen, Siumut (Social Democrats), said that one area that the government will be working hard to bring about, is a speedy takeover of responsibility for foreigners and immigration. The reason is shortage of labour.

“We would like to work for quick takeover of the responsibility for immigration and for immigration legislation. We want to do this because we expect a major labour shortage,” Enoksen said.

“For this reason we will welcome foreigners who want to work in this country,” he said.

Rigid Danish rules

Head of the Greenland Representation in Copenhagen Tove Søvndahl Pedersen stresses that the aim is to ease the strict Danish rules.

“It can be awfully difficult to arrange residence and work permits. There is not always the necessary flexibility in the Danish Immigration Service. One aspect is that the casework is lengthy; another is that the rules don’t always agree with our reality. It could be, for instance, requirements for learning Danish,” Tove Søvndahl told Politiken.

The ability to take over immigration was part of the act that was adopted in a referendum in Greenland last November and which will be presented to the Danish Parliament in February. Under the act, Greenland will be able to determine its own immigration policy and take over border controls.

DPP: Unacceptable

Danish People’s Party Immigration Spokesman Søren Espersen says Enoksen’s statement is “entirely unacceptable”.

“It seems that we may be forced to introduce border controls from Greenland,” he says.

Although Greenland will not be able to issue residence or work permits for Denmark, Espersen predicts a chaotic situation:

“The people who live in Greenland are Danish citizens with Danish passports. In principle this means that a person who cannot get his or her spouse into Denmark travels to Godthåb (Nuuk) and obtains the permit there. I don’t think anybody will accept that.”

Air Greenland:pilot problem On the other hand, Michael Binzer, CEO of one of Greenland’s largest companies , Air Greenland, says it would be a good idea for Greenland to have its own immigration laws.

“We have experienced major problems in obtaining work permits for both pilots and mechanics from countries outside the EU. It would be sensible for Greenland to take over that particular area,” he says.

It was not possible to get a comment from Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen who is meeting Enoksen today.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Immigration: Morocco, 2 Spanish Centres for Repatriated Minors

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 8 — The Municipal government in Madrid has realised two centres for minors, 14 years old and under, who have illegally immigrated in the region, and will be repatriated to their country of origin. Speaking about this were sources in the city government, stating that the project, realised by the regional councillor’s office for immigration and cooperation for family and social affairs, cost a total of 2.4 million euro. The two centres are located in Teghramdt (Tangiers) and in Marrakesh. The first, already completed, was built on a three hectare surface and holds 40 people, the same size as the centre that will be completed by the end of the year in Marrakesh. The complex is made up of four buildings, and includes a kitchen, dining-hall, residencies, schoolrooms, and areas for sports and free time, as well as two warehouses where seminars and professional training courses will take place. The City of Madrid realised the initiative, the first in Spain, in collaboration with the Paideia Association, and with Moroccan public institution, L’Entraide Nationale. It has the support of the European Commission, which funded the project through the Aeneas program of the European International Aid Agency. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: 193 Foreigners Rescued After Boat Becomes Stranded

Banda Aceh. Almost 200 foreigners were rescued after the wooden boat they were in was found stranded near Weh island, off the northern tip of Aceh Province, on Wednesday, local residents and officials said.

The boat, beached on a small island 38 kilometers north of Sabang, the main town on Weh island, was discovered by a local fisherman, said Emka Munthadir, a local youth leader.

“A traditional fishermen organization then arranged to have the boat and its passengers towed to the Sabang navy base,” Emka said. A navy officer in Sabang said one of their vessels had provided an escort.

Once the boat arrived at the base, it was found that the passengers were made up of 177 Burmese and 16 Bangladeshis, all of them adult males, except for two teenagers, Emka said.

“They were in a pretty sad and weak condition. According to the information I heard, they had been drifting at sea for seven days after they had been hit by a storm,” he said, adding that many could no longer stand and appeared very weak.

“After they reached ground, some of them appeared absent minded. There was even one who appeared to have a fit,” Emka said, adding that the sick were rushed to the local hospital.

Emka said that questioning by police, immigration and navy officials established that the boat had been on its way to Malaysia when it was hit by a storm while in Thai waters. The boat had no name, no registration number and carried no flag.

The director of the Sabang general hospital, Sugono, said that 43 of the boat people were being treated at the hospital.

“They were suffering from dehydration, lack of food, and one even had a broken bone,” Sugono said.

Col. Yanuar Handwiono, the commander of the Sabang Naval Base, said that a further 36 boat people were being treated at the base’s hospital.

“The procedures say they should be put in quarantine, but because many of them are in such a weak condition, we’re providing them with humanitarian assistance and medical care first,” Yanuar said.

Those not hospitalized were currently being sheltered at the naval base, he added.

“We’re facing some difficulties because we can’t speak Bangladeshi or Burmese, nor they Indonesian,” the commander said. “A few understand a little English, but basic communication is difficult, possibly because they’re still traumatized.”

He said it was not yet known where they had set sail from nor what exactly their planned destination had been. The navy has reported the case to Jakarta and was coordinating with the local immigration office and Sabang municipal administration in handling the case.

Sabang Deputy Mayor Islamuddin said that the municipal authorities would provide the logistics needed to help the stranded foreigners. The local chapter of the Indonesian Red Cross was now helping take care of them.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Denial Ain’t a River in Egypt

… There is little doubt that Israel’s refusal to allow the press into the combat zone is a direct result of the coverage American troops have enjoyed in Iraq. The Israelis saw from the first day that they were being portrayed as the aggressor; news was slanted toward reporting Palestinian casualties over Hamas’ yearlong bombing campaign and a “disproportionate” response on the part of Israel. It seems only prudent that Israel would seek to curtail the media’s ability to damage worldwide perception of their nation in this manner.

In Europe, thousands of Arab Muslims have begun protests against the Gaza invasion; assaults against Jews and firebombings of synagogues in France, Sweden and Britain have been reported. In the U.S., Palestinians and Hamas supporters protested in San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale. At the latter venue, protesters were heard to shout for Jews to “go back to the oven.” A scant few years ago, pro-Islamists would not have dared such action in America for fear of being fired upon — or at least severely beaten — by irate Americans still stinging from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

What happened?

The establishment press happened. As this columnist has asserted (and will continue to do), this entity has effectively become our nation’s Ministry of Propaganda, and a frighteningly effective one. Poor leadership on the part of President Bush was wildly spun, transforming him into the most unpopular president since Herbert Hoover, despite his achievements in the War on Terror. Victories in Afghanistan and Iraq were themselves counted as defeats, creating self-fulfilling prophecies as public opinion turned against the actions and America’s enemies were emboldened. On the flip side, the story of the global economic crisis being directly traceable to ultra-liberal American lawmakers has not been reported at all…

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Rise in US Unemployment Tipped to be Biggest for 59 Years

Wall Street is expecting the biggest rise in America’s unemployment for almost 60 years when Washington publishes official data tomorrow, indicating that the world’s biggest economy is plunging into a deep and protracted recession.

Shares on Wall Street and the US dollar both sank yesterday amid grim evidence that the economy is deteriorating far more quickly than forecast previously. Traders also took fright after Intel, the world’s biggest maker of microchips, and Time Warner, the cable-television group, issued drastic profit warnings.

According to the ADP Employers’ Services survey, 693,000 workers lost their jobs in the private sector last month, well above expectations of 495,000. Yesterday’s private sector jobs data points to an overall increase in unemployment across America of about 700,000. That would represent the sharpest rise for 59 years.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]