Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/3/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/3/2009Some interesting tidbits have emerged from the Davos summit. One is a report that the economic crisis has already destroyed about 40% of the world’s wealth, and the destruction is not done yet. Also, the possibility was raised that a run on the dollar will be triggered when China begins exchanging its massive dollar reserves for gold, trebling or quadrupling the price of gold.

In other news, the wildcat strikes in the UK are continuing — a true grassroots phenomenon.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, Darrin Hodges, Holger Danske, Insubria, JD, kitman, Tuan Jim, VH, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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CAIR: Calif. Muslim Denied Service at Bank Over Hijab
California Crisis Deepens — Are Other States to Follow?
Google and NASA Back New School for Futurists
No Time to Cut Defense
Obama Held Secret Meetings With the Axis of Evil Prior to Elections.
Stock Up on Bug Bombs
Tax Cheat Daschle Favors “Federal Reserve for Health”
This is the Sub-Prime House That Barack Obama Built
Europe and the EU
13 Arrested in Spain for International Crime Links
Amnesty: ‘Sweden Lax on War Criminals’
Anti-Semitism Rears Head in Iceland, Too
Could Ecoterrorists Let Slip the Bugs of War?
Denmark: Biker Back in Court
EU: Toward the Creation of a European Asylum Support Office for a Stronger Practical Cooperation Between Member States
Finland: Charity Drive Draws Racist Comments
Finland: Nokia — Stronger Than Law?
Gaza: No Peacekeeping Mission With Hamas, Frattini
Italy: Attack on Homeless Indian Labourer Causes Alarm
Italy: Eluana Moved to New Clinic to Die
Poland: Ireland’s Lisbon ‘No’ Guru Launches Polish Party
Spain-Vatican: Zapatero-Bertone Meeting on Wednesday
Sweden: ‘Tap the Potential of Immigrant Entrepreneurs’
Sweden: Confession in Prosecutor Bomb Attack
Swiss Tackle Protectionism at Davos Meeting
Switzerland: Politicians Oppose Foreign Deputy Prosecutors
UK: Let Banks Fail, Says Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz
UK: Limiting Couples to Just Two Kids is Not the Way to Save the Earth
UK: Mary Ellen Synon: Why These Strikers May Tear Down the EU Empire
Wilders Asks High Court to Halt Prosecution
Kosovo: Security Forces, Belgrade Urges Serbs Not to Adhere
Kosovo Albanian Organ Harvesting Atrocity, New Testimonies
Serbia-Turkey: Plan for Military Cooperation Signed
Mediterranean Union
ENI: Frattini, Libyans Have No More Than 2%
Med Union: It’s Time for Concrete Facts, Frattini Says
Mediterranean: Italy Still Investing Little, Say Businesses
North Africa
AU: Muammar Gaddaffi Elected Head of African Union
Egyptian Christians Sent to Prison After Brutal Police Raid
Israel and the Palestinians
New PLO to Compete With U.S.-Backed Group
New Report: U.N. Accusations of “Israeli Attack on School” Were False
TV: New Frontiers for Al Jazeera; Video Archive Online
Middle East
Iraq: ‘Mum’ Had 80 Women Raped for Suicide Missions
Jordan: Israel Destroyed Environment in Gaza, NGOs Say
Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Allah Imposed Hitler on the Jews to Punish Them — ‘Allah Willing, the Next Time Will be at the Hand of the Believers’
Teheran Launches Its First Satellite
Turkey/Greece: Taking the Fight Out of Dogfights
UAE: Top Construction Bosses to Meet Amid Global Crisis
Germany/Russia: Extraditing Chechen Exiles
South Asia
India: Obama Should Not Link Kashmir With Pak’s Problems: Nsa
Indonesia: Women Prefer Divorce to Polygamy in Islamic Courts
Indonesia Detains 41 Asylum Seekers Bound for Australia
Nepalese Workers Abroad Fired En Masse Because of Economic Crisis
Far East
And What if China Starts Buying Up Gold . . .
Philippines: 10 MILF Rebels Give Up
Philippines/Spratlys: House Baselines Bill ‘Fatally Flawed’
Reports: North Korea Preparing Long-Range Missile Test
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Terror Cell Leader Jailed for 15 Years
Sub-Saharan Africa
Amnesty Demands Dutch/Danish Action
Finland: Police to Get Funding for Refugees’ Age Tests
Italy: ‘Tourism Will Collapse’
Patrols Consensus, Maroni in Libya Tomorrow
Student Illegal at UCLA Wants Your Money
Tunisia: Bodies of Illegal Immigrants Found Near Coast
Culture Wars
UK — Gay Pride Flag Flies at Police HQ
UK: Outrage as Police Station Ditches Union Jack… for a Gay Rights Flag
U.N.’s Durban II Committee Censors Filming of Bid to Enact Censorship
U.S. Oil Dependency on the Middle East and the Diminishing Wealth of Arab Oil Exporters — in Light of the Economic Crisis
WEF 2009: Global Crisis ‘Has Destroyed 40pc of World Wealth’


CAIR: Calif. Muslim Denied Service at Bank Over Hijab

DOJ asked to investigate possible civil rights violations by bank officials

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group today called on the U.S. Department of Justice to determine whether a California bank violated a Muslim woman’s civil rights when it denied her service because she was wearing a religiously-mandated head scarf, or hijab.

According to the woman, she was denied service Saturday at a Navy Federal Credit Union in San Diego, Calif., despite telling bank officials that she wears her head scarf for religious reasons.

In a statement, the bank said: “In the interest of Security and Safety for our members and employees — hats, hoods and sunglasses must be removed when entering the branch office. Special consideration for cultural and religious garments is under the discretion of the branch management. Navy Federal is making inquiries into the recent incident.”

“Under this bizarre and discriminatory policy, no Muslim woman wearing a head scarf, no Sikh man wearing a turban, no Jewish man wearing a yarmulke, no Catholic nun wearing a habit, no cancer survivor wearing a scarf, no Amish woman wearing a bonnet, and no blind person wearing sunglasses may enter a Navy Federal Credit Union branch nationwide,” said CAIR-San Diego Public Relations Director Edgar Hopida. “We call on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate this disturbing case and Navy Federal’s apparently unconstitutional policy and to ensure that the religious rights of all customers are maintained.”

Hopida said CAIR offers a booklet called “An Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices” to help corporate managers gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims.

           — Hat tip: Holger Danske [Return to headlines]

California Crisis Deepens — Are Other States to Follow?

Today is the day Californians begin to personally feel the pain of the state’s massive budget gap. As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top legislative leaders continue to meet behind closed doors to hammer out a plan covering the current $16 billion gap-projected to grow to $42 billion by June, 2010-the state controller is delaying $3.5 billion in payments to conserve cash.

A self-imposed deadline for coming up with a budget deal by this weekend came and went, with no word on how close all sides are. Democrats, who control the legislature, have proposed a package of massive cuts and massive tax hikes. Republicans, which have enough votes to torpedo any budget deal, will only agree to the tax hikes if there is a hard spending cap to prevent future crises. And the governor wants to make sure the resulting package has enough stimulus programs to spur jobs creation projects. This includes easing some environmental review requirements, which Democrats have balked at.

California is hardly alone. Wisconsin is facing its largest shortfall in history, $5.7 billion, and the Wisconsin State Journal says the state’s rainy day fund only has enough cash to run operations a day and a half.

Kentucky lawmakers have been meeting for weeks to figure out how to close a budget gap nearing half a billion dollars. Arizona just cut a deal on handling its $2 billion deficit, the worst situation the state has been in since 1929. But Alabama, Florida, Rhode Island, and Utah all have budget gaps which equal more than 10 percent of their general fund.

And New York City, which nearly went famously bankrupt in the 1970s, now is struggling to close a $4 billion gap. That’s $4 billion for New York City. Not the state.

They all pale, though, in the shadow of California’s gaping chasm of debt. The Golden State is still taking in plenty of money daily from taxes, but the controller says the state needs to keep a cash cushion of $2.5 billion, and that has dwindled to zero.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

California Pension Funds Close to Bankruptcy.

The two largest pension funds in California, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), have lost billions of dollars in value. Hundreds of thousands of retiring state employees and teachers now face the stark choice of accepting much reduced pension checks or working past their retirement age.

CalPERS is the largest pension fund in the US and the fourth largest in the world. At its height in October 2007 it had $260 billion in assets, comparable to the GDP of Poland, Indonesia or Denmark. At the end of 2008 CalPERS was worth $186 billion, one of its worst annual declines since the fund’s inception in 1932. It is one of the latest casualties of the financial collapse on Wall Street.

After years of gambling in real estate investments, the state workers pension fund has lost more than 41 percent of its value, after peaking last fall. Its real estate holdings have dropped from $9 billion to $5.8 billion, according to the Sacramento Bee.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Did You Sign Up for Socialism?

Here’s what actually happened: President Obama’s plan set aside over $4 billion in his stimulus package for controversial community groups such as ACORN. What a shock.

And that’s not the only thing this 647-page bill will fund if we let it become law. The Socialist Stimulus partisan package will take money from you, your children and grandchildren to give:

* $600 million for a new fleet of cars for federal employees;

* $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts;

* $335 million for HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention (read that: they will throw $335 million worth of condoms and “how to use them” materials by the likes of Planned Parenthood and the homosexual lobby at your innocent children);

* $200 million for the National Mall, including sod, presumably to replace what was trampled and destroyed during the inauguration (not to mention the 130 tons of litter strewn by the ever so environmentally friendly Obama supporters);

* $650 million for digital TV converter coupons;

* 2 billion to subsidize child care;

* $1.1 billion for Amtrak, which hasn’t shown a profit in four decades;

* $300 million for the AmeriCorps “volunteer” program (I guess all those “volunteer’s need great big salaries);

* $400 million for research into global warming;

* 2.4 billion more for global warming worded differently: to demonstrate how carbon greenhouse gas can be safely removed from the atmosphere;

* $1 billion for next year’s census; and

* Millions for illegal aliens since no proof of citizenship is required to get it.

Rob from the people and give to the programs. It adds up to $819 billion. But the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the interest on the debt generated will cost another $347.1 billion, making the total cost approximately $1.17 trillion. This will cripple the economy, not stimulate it.

The Heritage Foundation has estimated that this works out to over $10,000 for every family in our nation. According to Ben Stein, for the amount we’re spending for liberal pet projects, we could give $75,000 to every unemployed person in the United States. According to the New York Post, another option is we could give every person who’s been unemployed for six months or longer about $300,000.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Google and NASA Back New School for Futurists

Google and Nasa are throwing their weight behind a new school for futurists in Silicon Valley to prepare scientists for an era when machines become cleverer than people.

The new institution, known as “Singularity University”, is to be headed by Ray Kurzweil, whose predictions about the exponential pace of technological change have made him a controversial figure in technology circles.


Despite its title, the school will not be an accredited university. Instead, it will be modelled on the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, the interdisciplinary, multi-cultural school that Mr Diamandis helped establish in 1987.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

No Time to Cut Defense

Pentagon officials have leaked word that the Office of Management and Budget has ordered a 10 percent cut in defense spending for the coming fiscal year, giving Defense Secretary Robert Gates a substantially smaller budget than he requested. Here are five reasons President Obama should side with Gates over the green-eyeshade boys.

· It doesn’t make fiscal sense to cut the defense budget when everyone is scrambling for measures to stimulate the economy. Already, under the current Pentagon budget, defense contractors will begin shutting down production lines in the next couple of years — putting people out of work. Rather than cutting, the Obama administration ought to be increasing defense spending. As Harvard economist Martin Feldstein recently noted on this page, defense spending is exactly the kind of expenditure that can have an immediate impact on the economy.

· A reduction in defense spending this year would unnerve American allies and undercut efforts to gain greater cooperation. There is already a sense around the world, fed by irresponsible pundits here at home, that the United States is in terminal decline. Many fear that the economic crisis will cause the United States to pull back from overseas commitments. The announcement of a defense cutback would be taken by the world as evidence that the American retreat has begun.

This would make it harder to press allies to do more. The Obama administration rightly plans to encourage European allies to increase defense capabilities so they can more equitably share the burden of global commitments. This will be a tough sell if the United States is cutting its own defense budget. In Afghanistan, there are already concerns that the United States may be “short of breath.” In Pakistan, the military may be tempted to wait out what its members perceive as America’s flagging commitment to the region. A reduction in defense funding would feed these perceptions and make it harder for Obama’s newly appointed special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to press for necessary changes in both countries.

· What worries allies cheers and emboldens potential adversaries. The Obama administration is right to reach out and begin direct talks with leaders in Tehran. But the already-slim chances of success will grow slimmer if Iranian leaders believe that the United States may soon begin pulling back from their part of the world. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s spokesman has already declared that the United States has lost its power — just because President Obama said he is willing to talk. Imagine how that perception would be reinforced if Obama starts cutting funding for an already inadequately funded force.

Similarly, the Obama administration is right to want to begin negotiations with Russia over missile defense and arms control. But it is a poor opening gambit to announce a cut in American defense spending before negotiations even begin. If Russian leaders believe that the United States is looking for a way out of weapons systems — missile defense in particular — they will negotiate accordingly. They might ask why they should make a deal at all.

· Cuts in the defense budget would have consequences in other areas of the budget, most notably foreign aid. Some Republicans have already begun to grumble about foreign aid and development spending. If the Obama administration begins by cutting defense, it will be much harder to persuade Republicans to support foreign aid.

· Finally, everyone knows the U.S. military is stretched thin. Some may hope that Obama can begin substantially drawing down U.S. force levels in Iraq this year. No doubt he can to some extent. But this is an especially critical year in Iraq. The most recent round of elections is only one of three: District elections are in June and all-important parliamentary elections are in December. The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, is unlikely to recommend a steep cut with so much at stake.

Moreover, any reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq is going to be matched by an increase of forces in Afghanistan. The strain on U.S. ground forces, even with reductions in Iraq, won’t begin to ease until the end of next year. And that assumes that the situation in Iraq stays quiet, that there is progress in Afghanistan, that Pakistan doesn’t explode and that no other unforeseen events require American action.

At a time when people talk of trillion-dollar stimulus packages, cutting 10 percent from the defense budget is a pittance, especially given the high price we will pay in America’s global position. The United States spends about 4 percent of GDP on defense. In 1962, the figure was 9 percent. Some unreconstructed anti-Cold Warriors from the 1980s may see the Obama revolution as a return to the good old days of battling against Ronald Reagan’s defense spending. But that’s not the way Barack Obama ran for president. He didn’t promise defense cuts. On the contrary, he called for additional forces for the Army and Marines. He insisted that the American military needs to remain the strongest and best-equipped in the world. In his inaugural address, President Obama reminded Americans that the nation is still at war. That being so, this is not the time to start weakening the armed forces.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

‘Obamatons’ Shape Stimulus Plan

President looks to public opinion to form $800 billion economic strategy President Obama has been using persuasive public relations techniques to sell his economic stimulus plan to hard-core supporters, Jerome Corsi’s Red Alert reports.

The administration is attempting to influence public opinion using media-management techniques geared toward a YouTube and iPod generation.

“Obama’s television and radio addresses are designed to maintain and manipulate a hard-core group of people who can be called upon to support his policies no matter how unpopular he becomes,” Cliff Kincaid, editor of Accuracy in Media, told Red Alert.

“These are the Obamatons of the Obama nation,” Kincaid said. “Like the media, they are gripped with Obamamania, a psychological state of mind that views the new U.S. president as not only a national but a global savior.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama Held Secret Meetings With the Axis of Evil Prior to Elections.

Mmm…what happened to ‘The United States does not negotiate with terrorists’??? Janolifant

“United States President Barack Obama employed representatives and experts to hold secret high-level talks with Iran and Syria months prior to his election as president, organizers of the meetings told the AFP.

Over the past few months, Obama campaign and election officials, as well as nuclear non-proliferation experts, had several “very, very high-level” contacts with Iranian leaders, according to Jeffrey Boutwell, executive director for the U.S. branch of the Pugwash group, a Nobel Prize-winning international organization of scientists. Former defense secretary William Perry, who served in Obama’s election campaign, also participated in some of the meetings, which included discussions of Iran’s nuclear program and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Though Boutwell refused to name other participants, he said they were senior figures in the Iranian and US governments.

The United States and Iran have had no official diplomatic relationship in 30 years. The U.S. accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons.

In his first television interview as president, conducted with the Muslim Al-Arabiya television network, Obama called Iranians “a great people,” adding “the U.S. has a stake in the well being of the Muslim world..”

Syrian President Bashar Assad affirmed the reports Monday that Obama officials had repeated contact with his country for some time prior to the U.S. elections. “Dialogue started some weeks ago in a serious manner through personalities who are close to the administration and who were dispatched by the administration,” Assad said.

A group of experts under the auspices of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) think tank announced Thursday that they met for more than two hours in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obama transition team member and former Clinton White House adviser Ellen Laipson attended the meeting as well, they said.

The United States has accused Syria of protecting and aiding Hizbullah and Hamas terrorists, and of providing a channel for anti-U.S. Muslim militants to attack U.S. positions in Iraq.” [Malkah Fleisher;]

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Promises, Promises: No Lobbyists Except …

WASHINGTON (AP) — Barack Obama promised a “clean break from business as usual” in Washington. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

From the start, he made exceptions to his no-lobbyist rule. And now, embarrassing details about Cabinet-nominee Tom Daschle’s tax problems and big paychecks from special interest groups are raising new questions about the reach and sweep of the new president’s promised reforms.

Maybe he shouldn’t have promised so much, some open-government advocates say. They’re willing to cut him some slack — for now.

On Jan. 21, the day after his inauguration, Obama issued an executive order barring any former lobbyists who join his administration from dealing with matters or agencies related to their lobbying work. Nor could they join agencies they had lobbied in the previous two years.

However, William J. Lynn III, his choice to become the No. 2 official at the Defense Department, recently lobbied for military contractor Raytheon. And William Corr, tapped as deputy secretary at Health and Human Services, lobbied through most of last year as an anti-tobacco advocate. Corr says he will take no part in tobacco matters in the new administration.

“Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

That was a big step back from Obama’s unambiguous swipe at lobbyists in November 2007, while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. “I don’t take a dime of their money,” he said, “and when I am president, they won’t find a job in my White House.”

The waivers granted for Lynn and Corr caused some in Washington to wince. But others, including many longtime advocates of tougher ethical standards, suggest it all says as much about deeply ingrained practices — and even necessities — in Washington as about a new president.

“Sometimes you can over-promise,” said former Sen. Warren Rudman, a Republican from New Hampshire.

“This government is very complicated,” he said. “Often you’ll need people with a lot of experience in certain areas,” and current or former lobbyists sometimes fit that bill best.

“It was probably a mistake to come down so hard on lobbyists,” said Melanie Sloan, who is not shy about criticizing lobbyists or politicians as executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “I think the Obama folks’ intentions were great here,” she said. “But sometimes you realize you can’t actually govern on just what you campaigned on.”

Sloan and others said embarrassments over Daschle, one of several top Obama appointees with a history of influencing government for clients, should not detract from the president’s first-day vow to sharply limit the role of lobbyists in his administration.

Daschle, a former senator tapped to head Health and Human Services, is not technically a lobbyist. But he was paid more than $5.2 million over the past two years as he advised health insurers and hospitals and worked in other industries such as energy and telecommunications.

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy21 is one of Washington’s best-known advocates of more open and honest government. He called Obama’s executive order “unprecedented and almost revolutionary in nature” and “a direct attack on the culture of Washington and the way business is done here.”

“A few waivers will not undermine it,” he said, provided they are justified and limited.

The best way to limit the influence of wealthy special interests, Wertheimer said, is to increase public funding for presidential elections and restrict the amount that private business can pump into campaigns and politics. That could pave the way for tighter restrictions on influence-peddling in Congress, he said.

Obama declined public financing for his campaign so he could raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on his own. Some people saw that a virtual death knell for campaign public financing, but Wertheimer said he believes Obama will deliver on aides’ promises to help “repair the system.”

Daschle, the former Senate majority leader from South Dakota, strikes many in Washington as a good example of why the revolving door between government and highly paid private-sector jobs can be troubling, but also why an outright ban on such movements would be unwise.

Even Republicans praised Daschle’s cerebral, soft-spoken approach to government and politics, and his expertise on subjects including health care. He didn’t choose to leave Congress for a high-paying job, but was defeated in a close re-election bid in 2004.

Once out, he was attractive and valuable to all sorts of government-regulated industries, even if he never registered as a lobbyist who could make straightforward appeals for or against legislation affecting his clients.

He received more than $2 million over two years as a senior policy adviser for the Washington law firm Alston & Bird. He also earned more than $2 million in consulting fees from InterMedia Advisors LLC of New York, an investment firm specializing in buyouts and industry consolidation. An associate let Daschle use his car and driver, for which Daschle had to pay late taxes and interest.

Several health groups also paid Daschle $15,000 or more to speak to their gatherings.

“He welcomed every opportunity to make his case to the American public at large, and the health industry in particular, that America can’t afford to ignore the health care crisis any longer,” said his spokeswoman Jenny Backus.

Wertheimer, of Democracy21, said that rather than dwell on Daschle’s problems or the Corr and Lynn waivers, he focuses on Obama’s executive order and the hope of progress to come on public financing of campaigns.

The executive order “laid down a mark,” Wertheimer said. “More has to be done, and tough battles have to be won.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Stock Up on Bug Bombs

[Comment from JD: Rise of the nanny state…]

First they came for your analog TV.

Then they came for your incandescent light bulbs.

Now government is coming for your insect foggers.

The state of New York, which was “pro-choice” before Roe v. Wade, has decided its citizens deserve no choice when it comes to safe, handy, inexpensive bug bombs that can kill pests infesting your home or office, creating discomfort and possibly even spreading disease.

I predict here and now this will start a new trend by busybodies in other state governments and eventually in Washington.

New York has become the first state to force the removal of insect foggers from store shelves, requiring the devices be operated only by certified pesticide professionals.


The ban was instituted at the direction of a paternalistic bureaucrat in Albany who determined the devices are just not safe in the hands of ordinary rubes like me and you.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Tax Cheat Daschle Favors “Federal Reserve for Health”

Before his tax cheating came to light, former Senator Tom Daschle was expected to sail through the Senate and be confirmed as Obama’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services and director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

But while President Obama was bashing greed on Wall Street, in terms of the big bonuses paid to executives, the details of the Daschle tax scandal were starting to emerge. The scandal not only threatens to derail Daschle but undermine Obama’s national socialist health care plan.


The scandal has given critics an opportunity to examine not only Daschle’s tax cheating but his dangerous policy proposals, including the establishment of a Federal Reserve-like national health care board to supervise and influence the nation’s health care system. “I propose a Federal Health Board, modeled loosely on the Federal Reserve System,” Daschle says in his book, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.

Seen in the light of the current economic and financial crisis, brought about in part because of the easy credit and monetary policies of the Federal Reserve, Daschle’s proposal is obviously not only dumb but dangerous.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

This is the Sub-Prime House That Barack Obama Built

As a young but influential Chicago politician, the American president helped to create the housing bubble.

It is all very well for President Obama to vent his anger on all those US bankers who continued to claim billions of dollars in bonuses while expecting Washington to bail them out after the sub-prime mortgage scandal brought the banks to their knees. But conveniently overlooked has been the curious part Mr Obama himself played in the sub-prime debacle.

At the heart of it was a 1995 amendment to the Community Reinvestment Act which legally required banks to lend money to buy homes to millions of poor, mainly black Americans, guaranteed by the two biggest mortgage associations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And no one campaigned more actively for this change to the law than Mr Obama, as a young but already influential Chicago politician.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

13 Arrested in Spain for International Crime Links

[Comment from Tuan Jim: This headline is very intentionally vague.]

MADRID (AP) — Spanish police arrested 13 people Tuesday on suspicion of links to organized crime and terrorism groups.

A police statement said the detainees — 11 Pakistanis, a Nigerian and an Indian — are suspected of belonging to an international crime gang involved in passport forgery, drug trafficking and people-smuggling.

Police said they were investigating whether the group may also have supplied forged documents to international terror groups. Spanish police often use that term to refer to Islamic extremist organizations, but a police official refused to say if that applied this time.

Earlier, news reports citing police sources said 15 people had been arrested on suspicion of forging passports for use by al-Qaida members. Police in Madrid said they could not comment on that.

Eleven of the arrests took place in Barcelona and two in the eastern city of Valencia. Police agents wore masks to conceal their identities.

The statement said the group is suspected of having contacts in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Thailand.

The group allegedly stole passports in Spain and forwarded them to Thailand, where they were altered before being sent back to crime gangs in Europe.

In the operation, police seized numerous false and blank passports and material used for forging documents.

Dozens of suspected radical Islamic militants have been arrested in Spain since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, and again after the commuter train bombings in 2004 in Madrid.

On Jan. 20, six Pakistanis were arrested in Barcelona on suspicion of tax fraud and diverting funds to Islamic terror groups. They were released days later for lack of evidence.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Amnesty: ‘Sweden Lax on War Criminals’

Sweden has been strongly criticized by Amnesty International in a new report released on Tuesday. Amnesty has called on Sweden to end impunity from crimes such as torture, crimes against humanity and extrajudicial executions.

Sweden’s clear international profile in the fight against impunity from justice is not matched at home, Amnesty argues in a new report released on Tuesday.

“It is high time that Sweden, which is a leading country in fighting impunity for serious humanitarian rights breaches internationally, now amends Swedish law to adapt to the demands framed in international law,” writes Amnesty Sweden’s director-general Lisa Bergh on the organization’s homepage.

Amnesty wants Sweden to extend provisions under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which permits states to charge and prosecute for serious crimes regardless of where they were committed.

Sweden’s universal jurisdiction legislation dates back to a 1923 Penal Code. Current legislation allows courts to exercise criminal jurisdiction over genocide and war crimes.

Amnesty wants legislation to be extended to cover: “crimes against humanity, torture, extrajudicial executions or enforced disappearances”.

The report cites “a reliable report” to claim that “up to 1,500 war criminals freely roam the streets of Sweden.”

Amnesty recognizes however that that the Swedish police have taken steps to work against Sweden becoming a safe haven for war criminals by founding a special war crimes unit, in March 2008.

But their work is hindered by the “serious gaps” in current legislation, the group argues.

Lisa Bergh argues that the Swedish government can do more and points out that more than six years after a proposal was presented in 2002 for a law implementing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), no proposal has yet been presented by the government to the Parliament.

“I believe that the issue has simply been given a lower priority. It is thought that demands have been met in certain areas, but we do not agree. It is not a question of party divisions and there already exists a legislative proposal for review,” Bergh says.

“If this is not adopted then Sweden risks becoming a haven for war criminals”, Amnesty International warns.

The principle of universal jurisdiction is a controversial principle in international law. Amnesty International has long been one of its proponents arguing that certain crimes are so serious that states have a logical and moral duty to prosecute.

Opponents, such as former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, argue that universal jurisdiction is a breach on each state’s sovereignty.

Following the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague in 2002 the perceived need to create universal jurisdiction laws has declined. Although the ICC is not permitted to try crimes committed before 2002.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Anti-Semitism Rears Head in Iceland, Too

One of the popuations most severely hit by the worldwide rise in anti-Semitism that’s followed Operation Cast Lead has been one of the easiest to overlook: the minuscule Jewish community of Iceland.

“In Icelandic, ‘Zionist’ is a derogatory term,” said Dr. Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson, a Danish professor who has studied the history of Iceland’s Jews. “It’s a criminal emblem.”

Now, a bicycle repair shop owner in Reykjavik has refused to serve Jews, despite condemnation from the Icelandic government.

The shop owner’s stance may reflect a coming shift in the public face of anti-Israel feeling in the country. In the midst of a recession that has all but destroyed the Icelandic economy, a new far-left government has been carried to power.

“I am afraid because the members of the cabinet we’re going to see created today have expressed in recent weeks and in the past that they want to cut ties with Israel,” said Vilhjálmsson.

A local Jewish resident, who was reluctant to give his name due to safety concerns, agreed.

“I’m trying to see if there will be any consequences for Jews [because of the new government],” he said. “I imagine they might cut diplomatic ties with Israel.”

Originally from the United States, the Iceland resident has made his home and raised his family in Iceland, and he is candid about the challenge.

“Being Jewish in Iceland is very difficult,” he said. “Is it a contradiction for me to try to be religious and live here? Maybe.”

He cited the lack of a synagogue, rabbi, or any organized community.

Vilhjálmsson, who is also Jewish, has roots in Iceland and visits at least once or twice a year. He has been alarmed by a sudden rise in anti-Semitic activity in the past few years, especially in light of the Gaza war.

“Every time there’s a conflict between Israel and Palestine, things get inflamed,” said Vilhjálmsson. “But it’s not only a matter of the conflict — we also have a society where anti-Semitism was not criticized after [World War II], in the same way it was in a place like Germany.”

Anti-Semitism in Iceland in some ways resembles a time-capsule of the popular thought of the 1930s. Iceland never came under German occupation, and therefore did not have the same reckoning with the ugly fruits of bigotry as the Axis countries did after the war — a phenomenon that Vilhjálmsson has documented in his writing.

Now, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment have blurred in a country that, according to Vilhjálmsson, rarely receives balanced coverage of the Middle East conflict. He pointed to a Gallup poll released Sunday in which, of 2,000 Icelanders surveyed, only 3 percent had a positive attitude toward Israel, compared to 70% with positive feeling toward the Palestinians.

The poll suggests that Jews and Israelis have not gained the public trust in Iceland, despite president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson’s 2003 marriage to Dorrit Mussaieff, an Israeli citizen and at the time the only Jewish first lady outside of Israel.

“When the bankruptcy came, you could see people expressing a new view [about Mussaieff],” said Vilhjálmsson. “Even though she was very good for Iceland, people said that ‘an Icelandic person should never have married a Jewish woman. She is part of a Jewish conspiracy.’“

However, despite the popular sentiment, the local source said he did not feel that Jews in Iceland were in any imminent danger. He also dismissed the headline-making bike shop owner.

“Of the few Jews that are here, how many have bikes? How many are visiting his shop?” he asked. “It’s just a publicity stunt. And anyway, there’s 10 inches of snow on the ground.”

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Could Ecoterrorists Let Slip the Bugs of War?

Insects can spread disease and destroy crops with devastating speed. Do not underestimate their potential as weapons

The terrorists’ letter arrived at the Mayor of Los Angeles’s office on November 30, 1989. A group calling itself “the Breeders” claimed to have released the Mediterranean fruit fly in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and threatened to expand their attack to the San Joaquin Valley, an important centre of Californian agriculture.

With perverse logic, they said that unless the Government stopped using pesticides they would assure a cataclysmic infestation that would lead to the quarantining of California produce, costing 132,000 jobs and $13.4 billion in lost trade.

The infestation was real enough. It was ended by heavy spraying. It is still not known if ecoterrorists were behind it, but the panic it engendered shows that “the Breeders” were flirting with a powerful weapon.


Yet insects have shaped human history. In the 14th century, 75 million people succumbed to flea-borne bubonic plague. But few people realise that the Black Death arrived in Europe after the Mongols catapulted flea-ridden corpses into the port of Kaffa. People fled, carrying bacteria, rats and fleas throughout the Mediterranean.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Biker Back in Court

Hells Angels’ most prominent member, Jørn Jønke Nielsen, was in court today charged with gross bodily harm

The spokesman for the Hells Angels biker gang ,Jørn Jønke Nielsen, is back in court today charged with gross bodily harm. Jønke was remanded in custody in December 2007 after stabbing a man in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen.

Jønke remained in custody for months after he refused to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, before being released in October 2008.

On his return to court today he was joined by around 50 biker supporters. Jønke and a member of the Hells Angels support group, AK 81, are charged with the attack but continue to maintain that they acted in self-defence.

A third man involved in the dispute, identified only as Mr. S., also appeared in court charged with attacking Jønke and the AK 81 member. Mr. S. was brought to the courthouse wearing a bullet proof vest and surrounded by armed police guards.

All three have pleaded not guilty to charges and the case could be finished as early as Friday.

Jønke was one of the founding members of the first Danish Hells Angels chapter. He came to prominence in 1984 when he killed the head of the rival biker gang Bullshit. The 24-year-old fled the country to Canada and returned four years later to face a 16 year jail sentence.

During the height of the biker warfare between the Hells Angels and Bandidos in 1996, Bandidos members tried to assassinate Jønke while he was serving his sentence in Jyderup state prison. He was shot with a machine gun but survived the attack. Hand grenades were also thrown in front of his cell.

The biker was involved in the death of a man during a 2001 fight at an Aalborg disco, which saw him receive a four year jail term.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU: Toward the Creation of a European Asylum Support Office for a Stronger Practical Cooperation Between Member States

The news: A proposal for the creation of a European Asylum Support Office will be made. Its objective is, by 2010, to accompany EU legal harmonisation with effective practical cooperation in view of improving convergence in asylum decisions by Member States.

The background: This European Asylum Support Office will assist national administrations in order to improve the quality and convergence of their decisions. It will draw up a common training programme and exchange best practices. It will give its support to the Member States most affected by refugee flows by making group of experts available to them, especially specialised interpreters. […]

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Finland: Charity Drive Draws Racist Comments

The Lutheran Church’s Common Responsibility Campaign — which will partly benefit immigrant jobseekers — has attracted an exceptional volume of racist comments on its website.

Race relations researcher Vesa Puuronen is not surprised. Puuronen, a docent at the University of Joensuu in eastern Finland, notes that attitudes toward immigrants and foreigners typically become tougher during times of economic difficulty.

Since the fund-drive was launched on Sunday, about one-tenth of comments left on its site have been removed because of slanderous content.

“We have removed racist and inappropriate comments,” says Laura Hakoköngäs, planner of this year’s Common Responsibility Campaign. “Of course critical opinions are allowed, though. After all, we hope to arouse discussion with this campaign.”

Puuronen, known for his studies of skinhead violence in Joensuu in the 1990s, points out that a handful of people — or even one person — can make an online comment forum look bad with repeated postings.

He says that the online discussion of immigration has taken on a more libellous tone since last autumn, adding that many popular chat sites have long been magnets for obscenity and slander.

Opening the campaign on Sunday, President Tarja Halonen said employment prospects for immigrants were even more difficult in the prevailing economic climate. Employment, she noted, was a fundamental element in the integration of immigrants into Finnish society. One fifth of the money raised will go to immigrant employment efforts.

The campaign will also canvass aid for Bangladesh.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finland: Espoo First-Graders Learning Keyboard Skills Before Handwriting

Principal says “Handwriting can be learned later”

Punching the keyboard has usurped the role of traditional handwriting in the Meriusva School in the Espoo suburb of Kivenlahti. The pupils are first taught to write on a computer keyboard, and only then is a pen or pencil put in their hands. Computer practice starts in pre-school, and handwriting is taught in the 2nd grade. Meriusva School is an elementary school, with pupils in pre-school and the first and second grades of comprehensive school (ages 7 to 8).

“Handwriting is technically so difficult that it inhibits the children’s expression. It is easier to write on the PC, and it is perfectly possible to learn how to write beautifully later on”, says the school’s principal, Hanna Sarakorpi. The strategy of using the computer as a learning aid has been developed by the Norwegian pedagogue Arne Trageton. “According to the findings of studies in Norway, the programme makes the pupils into better readers and writers”, says Sarakorpi.

Trageton’s programme of computer-assisted creative writing is in use in a few schools in the Greater Helsinki region. New teachers are being trained all the time, in order that the method can be applied more widely. The Meriusva School has received funding from the National Board of Education, geared to enhancing reading and writing skills in Espoo using the Trageton method. Dozens of teachers have reportedly been interested in the training.

Computer-assisted learning seems to suit particularly well to boys. Actions requiring precise hand-eye skills, for instance handwriting, are generally more problematic for them than for girls. This is in part because little boys do not as a rule draw or make things with their hands as much as girls of the same age. “Trageton enables boys to write more words, and in so doing to learn more”, says specialist teacher Nina Mansikka.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finland: Nokia — Stronger Than Law?

In April 2005 the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) received a criminal complaint — a suspicion that corporate secrets had been leaked to the Chinese Huawei company via e-mail. The complaint was made by Nokia, the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile telephones. A Nokia employee had noticed at a telecommunications fair in Cannes in February 2005 that the power unit made by its competitor Huawei had characteristics that bore an uncanny resemblance to a product that Nokia was putting on public display for the first time at the same fair. Nokia needed evidence of a leak, so it began to dig through the identification information of its employee e-mail.

Legal experts say that the company should not have done that; Nokia had technically violated its employees’ fundamental right to confidential communications. But the company felt that it was the law, and not Nokia that had got it wrong. The issue was so important for Nokia that it took out its most severe weapon. It threatened that it would leave Finland if the law was not changed, taking with it tax revenues worth EUR 1.3 billion and 16,000 jobs. This put politicians in high gear, and that is how the Lex Nokia was started.

Parliament will decide in a couple of weeks on a proposed amendment to the law on data protection in communications. The bill is known better by the name Lex Nokia. Civic groups opposed to the measure have called it a snooping law. Lex Nokia is an appropriate name, as the bill is a master stroke of lobbying. Nokia has made sure that important figures from employers’ organisations to labour unions, from civil servants to legislators, have been made to understand in good time how important the bill is for Finland’s largest corporation.

The proposed legislation also reveals Nokia’s exceptional influence in Finland. The strength of the company has made many officials turn a blind eye to the problems contained in the bill. But what does Nokia actually want with the proposed change? The bill would give employers the right to check on information contained in messages sent and received by employees in their company e-mail. The information includes the sender or receiver of the message, the size of the message, and the time that it was sent, and the type of attachment that they contain. Automated monitoring would not require suspicion of any wrongdoing, and the employer would not be required to ask anyone for permission for the surveillance…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Gaza: No Peacekeeping Mission With Hamas, Frattini

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 2 — Italy and the rest of the European Union will not send forces to guard the frontier between Egypt and Gaza while fundamentalist movement Hamas still controls the Palestinian side, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini reiterated Monday. “We can’t send our Carabinieri to guard the border if we have the legitimate Egyptian government on one side and on the other Hamas, a force on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations,” Frattini told a meeting on peace in the Mediterranean organised by the Milan Chamber of Commerce. “Egypt will not open the border if the Palestianian National Authority is not in control on the other side,” he added. Frattini said opening the border would facilitate the entrance of humanitarian aid to Gaza as well as normal commercial traffic. Frattini has stressed in the past that it is important to control arms smuggling along the border to prevent weapons reaching Hamas. Italy previously contributed 16 Carabinieri in the European Union’s EUBAM mission at Rafah on the Egypt-Gaza border which began in 2005 but was suspended in 2007 after Hamas seized control of Gaza by force. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, confirmed last week that Europe was gearing up to redeploy the mission ‘at any moment’ but also said Palestinian warring factions would need to come to an agreement first. Frattini added Monday that Italy in its role of president of the Group of Eight will be a “co-sponsor” at a meeting on rebuilding in Gaza scheduled to take place in Cairo in March. “I think that Italy’s presidency is the occasion to mobilise a coordinated intervention of G8 partners” to commit to a medium-term plan for rebuilding “not just in Gaza, but in all the Palestinian territories,” he said. Italy continues to support the idea of a Marshall Plan for Palestine — in reference to the US’s post-war investment plan for Europe — Frattini added. Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza last month following a three-week offensive but clashes in the area continue. Gaza residents are totally dependent on aid and more than half a million have no access to running water, according to the United Nations. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Attack on Homeless Indian Labourer Causes Alarm

Rome, 2 Feb. (AKI) — A vicious attack by three local youths against a homeless Indian man in a small coastal town outside Rome has shocked the Indian community, charities and politicians in Italy.

Unemployed Indian labourer Navtej Singh Sidhu is in a critical condition in a Rome hospital with burns to 40 percent of his body after the youths doused him with petrol and paint and set him alight as he slept rough on a bench in Nettuno, south of Rome. The youths kicked, punched and insulted him before they set the 35-year-old on fire.

“It’s a dangerous time for immigrants to be living in Italy, especially if you have a dark skin,” one immigrant who has been resident in Italy for 10 years told Adnkronos International on condition of anonymity.

Staff from an association representing Indian workers and the Indian Embassy in Rome visited Sidhu in hospital on Monday.

After losing his job as a labourer, Sidhu reportedly had been unable to afford accommodation and had been sleeping on a bench at Nettuno railway station for several nights, reports said.

The head of Catholic charity Caritas’ immigration office, Olivero Forte, told AKI the attack against Sidhu was “despicable”. He said he feared the current economic and social climate would provoke more incidents against immigrants.

“Intolerence is growing towards the weakest in society, including homeless people, and immigrants often fall into this category,” Forte stated.

He said that Caritas, the United Nations refugee agency and national non-governmental organisations such as ARCI are planning a major anti-racism campaign in the next few months to change attitudes towards immigrants in Italy.

“There are four million legal immigrants here. Indians have never created any problems,” said Forte.

Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno and many other Italian politicians expressed revulsion at the attack and vowed to take action to protect vulnerable people like Sidhu, who is originally from the northwestern state of Punjab.

“We will help him in every way and defend honest people,” said Alemanno. “ I await the results of the investigation, but would not exclude this from being a fresh incident of bullying by young people,” said Alemanno.

Italy’s centre-left opposition leader Walter Veltroni did not hesitate to define the attack as racist.

“Episodes of criminal intolerance such as this are the result of xenophobic propaganda and a climate of hatred and fear that has been created,” he said.

Veltroni was referring to the hardline immigration policies of the current centre-right government and a series of attacks against immigrants in recent years.

Sidhu was barely able to give his name to ambulance workers before passing out in agony from severe burns to his legs, face and neck after the attack early on Sunday.

He will require plastic surgery and unless there are complications, will have to undergo several operations, according to doctors.

It is not known who called the ambulance. Investigators believe it could have been one of the three young men arrested on suspicion of attempted murder over the attack.

Italian media reports named the three as C.G., aged 20, F.S., aged 17, and B.F., aged 30. Following hours of interrogation by police, the youths confessed to attacking Sidhu after a night spent drinking heavily and taking drugs.

The youths are “from good families” and do not have previous criminal records. police said.

They claimed they didn’t attack Sidhu because he was an immigrant but said they had sought out “a bum” to whom the could “teach a lesson” and “experience poweful emotions.”

“We were looking for a down-and-out person, someone sleeping rough. Not necessarily a Romanian or a black person, just someone we could teach a lesson to,” the youths were quoted as saying by La Stampa newspaper.

Clashes broke out on Sunday between members of the 15,000 strong local immigrant community who held a protest in Nettuno over the attack on Sidhu and a local far-right group who heckled the protesters, reportedly shouting: “Burn them all!”

January saw vigilante-style attacks against immigrants in Italy following several rapes allegedly perpetrated by immigrants. Last November, four youths beat up and set alight a homeless Italian man sleeping on a park bench in the northern city of Padova.

A 63-year-old Ghanaian immigrant sitting on a park bench in Milan was severely beaten last year by baseball-bat wielding thugs shouting: “Dirty nigger, you all have to get out of Italy!”

Earlier vigilante-style attacks have occurred in southern Italy, for example when a naval captain’s wife was allegedly raped and murdered in Rome by a Romanian drifter in 2007. Raids were carried out on encampments across Italy and dozens of Romanians judged to be a threat to public security were deported after the incident.

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

Italy: Eluana Moved to New Clinic to Die

Church continues to oppose landmark court ruling

(ANSA) — Udine, February 3 — A woman who has been in a vegetative state for 17 years has been moved to a clinic here where her feeding tube will be removed in accordance with an Italian landmark right-to-die court ruling Eluana Englaro, 38, was moved to this northeastern Italian city from a clinic in Lecco, north of Milan, during the night accompanied by her father Beppino Englaro and an anesthetist who will oversee the removal of her feeding tube.

This is expected to take place in three days’ time and some doctors say she could survive for as long as two weeks without nutrition and water.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican’s ‘health minister’, said on Tuesday that removing the feeding tube was the equivalent of ‘‘an abominable act of murder’’.

Interviewed by the Rome daily La Repubblica, the cardinal added that should she be allowed to die ‘‘this will represent a defeat for the respect of human life’’. Udine Mayor Furio Honsell, on the other hand, said ‘‘I believe and remain convinced that it is right for our city to help give a just and civil response to this human drama’’.

Eluana has been in a permanent vegetative state since she was involved in a car accident when she was 21.

Her father has fought for more than a decade for a dignified end to his daughter’s life and had great difficulties finding a clinic ready to do this despite a November supreme court ruling which was in his favor but which split Catholics and libertarians in the country.

Clinics in Lombardy, the region around Milan, were banned from allowing her feeding tube to be removed by the region’s Catholic governor, Roberto Formigoni, although a regional court last week overturned his ban. The only offers to accommodate Eluana have come from clinics in Udine, in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia region.

The city’s Citta’ Clinic was the first to come forward in December but later withdrew its offer over fear of reprisals after a last-minute guideline from Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi stated that the removal of feeding tubes from patients in a vegetative state was ‘‘illegal’’.

Observers have stressed that Sacconi’s guideline does not apply in Eluana’s case because of the definitive court ruling.

The bishop of Udine, Msgr. Pietro Brollo, has called 0n Catholics in the area to gather outside the Quiete clinic to stage a prayer vigil in favor of keeping Eluana alive.

Piedmont Governor Mercedes Bresso said last month that her region would be prepared to allow Eluana to die ‘‘if it were asked’’.

She also criticised Church pressure to block Eluana’s recognised right to die and observed that Italy was ‘‘not an ayatollah’s republic where religious law takes precedence over civil law’’.

‘‘If I were a doctor asked to carry out the ruling, I’d do it, with terror in my heart. But I think it’s equally inhumane to expect someone who is no longer ‘alive’ to be kept artificially so for an infinite period while the family suffers,’’ she added.

Last Wednesday local health officials gave the go-ahead to Udine’s Quiete Clinic to accommodate Eluana.

Constitutional Court chief Justice Giovanni Maria Flick recently added his voice to calls for a law on living wills, which allow people to stipulate what medical treatment they want in the event they later become unable to make a decision themselves.

There is currently no legislation governing living wills in Italy, where the topic is particularly controversial due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church.

The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Msgr. Rino Fisichella, also called for a law and hit out at magistrates for ‘‘intervening’’ in the absence of legislation.

Following the supreme court’s landmark decision on Eluana, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said a law on living wills could not be delayed any longer.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Poland: Ireland’s Lisbon ‘No’ Guru Launches Polish Party

(WARSAW) — A driving force behind Ireland’s June 2008 referendum rejection of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty on Monday launched a branch of his political party in Poland.

“Policies that you can expect to see from Libertas in the coming months are those that champion democracy, accountability and transparency at the heart of European government,” Declan Ganley told reporters in its Warsaw bureau.

“Libertas is a committed pro-European political party across every single member state of the European Union — that is to say all 27 of them,” he said. “Euro-scepticism, withdrawalism (and) sentiments that are anti-European will not be welcome in this organisation,” he stated.

Aside from representation at EU headquarters in Brussels, the Polish office is the first to be set up outside Ireland.

Ganley said he aims to open branches in all 27 EU member states to contest the June 4-7 European Parliament elections, but refused to say whether he would run himself.

Of the Lisbon Treaty, he added: “People have been misled, conned into believing this is a pro- or anti- European question — it’s not. This treaty is a piece of junk,” Ganley said.

“It absolutely sacrifices our sovereignty — not just the sovereignty of member states — but your ability to hold those who make laws accountable. That’s not European.

“We need a replacement formula, a replacement treaty, a fundamental agreement that should be no more than 25 pages that should be up front and honest in terms of what it sets out to achieve.”

Last week Polish lawmakers urged Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski to ratify the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty. Already endorsed by the Polish parliament, Kaczynski has refused to do so until it is approved in an Irish referendum re-run.

The treaty has to be ratified by all 27 EU member countries before it can come into force.

Ireland promised its EU partners last month to hold a new referendum on the treaty by November 2009.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Spain-Vatican: Zapatero-Bertone Meeting on Wednesday

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, FEBRUARY 2 — Premier José Luis Zapatero will receive the Vatican secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, this Wednesday to “develop institutional relations” between the Spanish government and the Holy See, say government sources quoted by Europa Press. The archbishop of Toledo and the prefect of the Congregation of the Divine Cult and Discipline of Saints, Antonio Cañizares, will be present at the meeting. Bertonés visit to Madrid will start on February 4, on the day he meets Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega and Premier Zapatero. The international crisis, Spain’s foreign policies and its impact on the fight against poverty in the world are on the agenda. A discussion on current issues such as citizenship lessons, opposed by the Spanish Bishops’ Conference and the reform of the abortion law will “not be on the agenda” according to the sources, though the plans may change during the meeting. On the same day Bertone will be received for lunch by King Juan Carlos, in the presence of crown prince Felipe, Zapatero and Moratinos. In the afternoon, according to the ‘Osservatore Romano’, the cardinal will talk with the president of the Peoplés Party and opposition leader Mariano Rajoy. The visit of the secretary of State continues on Thursday, February 5, with a day dedicated to the Spanish church, when Bertone will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. At noon the cardinal will address the Bishop’s Conference on ‘Human rights in the teachings of Benedict XVI’ after which will follow lunch with the bishops of Cee. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Tap the Potential of Immigrant Entrepreneurs’

Sweden could learn a lot from Canada and the UK when it comes to leveraging the power of entrepreneurship to help integrate immigrants, writes Nima Sanandaji of the Captus think tank.

The Swedish welfare state is far from successful when it comes to integrating immigrants into its economy.

Among first generation immigrants from non-industrialized countries, less than half of adults are active in the labour market. Welfare dependency is also nine times higher among this group compared to the rest of society.

High taxes, generous welfare benefits, strong labour unions, and labour market regulations trap people in welfare dependency. This is true even for highly educated and motivated groups of immigrants.

For example, those who made up the early waves of Iraqi immigrants to Sweden were five to ten times more likely to hold a PhD degree than native Swedes. Even so, among Iraqis who gained permanent residency between 1987 and 1991, only 13 percent of the women and 23 percent of the men were employed in 1995.

By comparison, the unemployment rate among the foreign born UK and Canada is half of that in Sweden. Part of the explanation lies in more flexible labour markets and a system which offers greater rewards for working than for relying on government handouts.

Another important factor is that immigrant entrepreneurs are far more successful in the UK and Canada compared to in Sweden. Successful immigrant entrepreneurs can in turn create jobs and opportunities for social mobility for members of their surrounding communities.

Many immigrants in Sweden come from cultures that emphasize entrepreneurship and thus often have a greater desire to start up and expand businesses than native Swedes. But while it is more common for immigrants to start up businesses and they often spend more time on average developing their business ideas, the life span of immigrant businesses is shorter than that of businesses run by Swedes and their incomes are often considerably lower.

As a result immigrant-run small businesses are somewhat less common than those run by Swedes and many immigrants who run their own business do so since the only alternative is unemployment. For example, half of the female immigrants from Iran who start up businesses in Sweden would otherwise be unemployed.

In the UK, the situation is quite different. Minorities from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were early in establishing businesses in retailing and food-services. Over time, immigrant businesses have established themselves in many different fields, ranging from technology to manufacturing and services. Basically, all ethnic minorities in the UK are more likely than the average Brit to run a business.

The share of minorities running businesses is two thirds higher than that of white Brits. Among Indian and Pakistani immigrants, the likelihood of running a business is twice as high compared to white Brits; among black African immigrants the liklihood is three times as high. Studies also show that minority businesses in the UK play an important role in vitalizing inner city areas otherwise characterized by unemployment and stagnation.

The argument is not that integration works perfectly in the UK, or that the nation is totally free of the welfare dependency so predominant in Sweden. Integration remains a challenge in the UK as well. However, a greater share of immigrants can support themselves and their families through occupation because the country provides more open, unfettered opportunities for entrepreneurial activity.

Canada provides yet another example of successful immigrant entrapreneurship. Almost a fifth of the Canadian population is foreign-born, with a majority hailing from Asia. Integration in Canada is often successful in part due to selectivity on the part of Canadian officials when it comes to whom is allowed to enter the country, but also because immigrant businesses are prosperous.

The share of immigrants active in starting or running a company is some 60 percent higher compared to native Canadians. Historically immigrants to Canada have not just caught up to the income levels of native Canadians — they have often times surpassed them.

Business opportunities and entrepreneurial activity in general are greater in the UK and in Canada compared to in Sweden. Both countries put a greater emphasis on fostering a healthy business climate.

Fewer regulations stand in the way of those starting up businesses and successful businesspeople are subjected to lower taxes. It is perhaps not surprising then, that a greater share of the population of the UK and of Canada start up businesses compared to Sweden.

What is worth noting is that immigrants in the UK and Canada are more likely to run businesses even when compared to the native born in respective country. In Sweden the percentage of immigrants running a business is even lower that the already low figures for native Swedes.

Clearly, immigrant businesses are particularly sensitive to the differences in business climate in Sweden compared to the UK and Canada. But why?

International studies show that immigrant entrepreneurs find it more difficult to adjust to regulations and red tape compared to native entrepreneurs. In Sweden, four out of ten foreign-born businesspeople claim that regulations and bureaucracy have impaired the growth of their businesses.

The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth (Nutek) says that, “It is likely that actions [aimed at simplifying laws and regulations] are particularly important for individuals born in foreign countries and for recently-arrived immigrants when it comes to simplifying entrepreneurship.”

Research from the UK shows that deregulation implemented during the Thatcher era did much to stimulate the development of immigrant businesses, whereas programmes which simply spent public money on helping immigrant businesses had a very limited effect, if any.

Unfortunately, not only in Sweden but in many, if not all western societies, there is a tendency to turn to government intervention, regulation, and public spending to help marginalized groups.

A widespread belief seems to be that only some groups can take care of themselves, whilst others must rely on government aid. Often these measures have a long-lasting, negative impact, leading to welfare dependency, diminished work ethic, and the creation of social tensions between various groups.

A far better way of helping marginalized groups — in this case immigrants — is to open up rigid systems so that it becomes more accessible to reach social mobility through hard work and entrepreneurship. Such a policy does not weigh on taxpayers but rather leads to improved finances. It does not create dependency on the public but rather promotes self reliance.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Confession in Prosecutor Bomb Attack

A 25-year-old Malmö resident, who together with a 24-year-old childhood friend stands accused of planting a bomb at the front of prosecutor Barbro Jönsson’s house, has confessed that he was involved.

But he won’t say who gave him the order to carry out the attack, writes the Sydsvenskan newspaper.

“His security would be as good as gone if he did,” said the man’s attorney, Rune Johansson.

The attorney confirmed that there is DNA evidence linking his client to the crime. The 25-year-old is said to have given an explanation for the evidence, confessed his involvement, but denied the criminal charges against him.

“He says he played a minor roll and didn’t have any idea of what was going to happen. He could have possibly understood that it wasn’t totally legal, but he knew nothing about whether someone would be injured or scared and who that person was,” said Johansson.

Prosecutors allege that the 25-year-old’s friend was set to become a member in a criminal gang if he helped scare Jönsson into silence through the bomb attack, which took place in November 2007.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Swiss Tackle Protectionism at Davos Meeting

“We missed the warning signs”

Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard is calling on governments to keep markets open and avoid protectionist measures despite the financial crisis.

Leuthard was speaking to swissinfo in Davos, where she has been attending the World Economic Forum’s annual summit. On Saturday she meets representatives of more than 20 countries on the sidelines of the WEF to convince them that free trade is one solution to the economic downturn.

The meeting will focus on this year’s agenda for the World Trade Organization’s latest — and spluttering — round of negotiations, the Doha Cycle, which is aimed at guaranteeing better access to markets worldwide.

swissinfo: Here in Davos, most participants at the WEF meeting are very pessimistic about the economic crisis. Do you share this outlook?

Doris Leuthard: Many countries are suffering from a strong recession. Nobody knows how long it will last nor how severe it will be. The outlook is changing all the time. But it isn’t worth scaring ourselves all the time.

The [Swiss] government is doing its best to handle the situation. We are concerned. I get updates every week on the trade position with our partners. The most important thing is that we boost our economy — especially the export sector — and work towards closer ties with our partners.

There are still some obstacles, but a lot of countries want to cooperate with us and reduce the number of technical trade hurdles.

swissinfo: According to the head of the WEF, there isn’t a single company CEO who understands the crisis. Isn’t this the case for you too?

D.L.: Yes, because in September the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank really changed the situation. This bankruptcy had consequences and altered the nature of the crisis in unforeseen ways.

For the first time, it wasn’t just a few markets that were affected, but the global market. This is why the measures taken by the United States, China and Europe are very important. If these economic stimulus plans work fairly quickly, we could get out of this crisis situation quite soon. But nobody can guarantee it.

The current situation shows that globalisation has made huge strides. We are all vulnerable to a crisis emerging elsewhere. There needs to be transparency and surveillance of the financial markets and the economy.

We need multilateral organisations that can carry out these tasks. Otherwise we will not be able to react to the first signals [next time round].

swissinfo: You have been criticised inside Switzerland by some politicians who say you aren’t doing enough to help the economy. Do you understand this criticism?

D.L.: I’ve heard this criticism, which is coming mostly from the left. Other politicians seem satisfied by the planned measures we plan, which will be gradually put into practice.

I listen to the criticism, but the government believes that Switzerland’s situation is somewhat particular. The effects of the crisis on our markets have an impact at a later time than in Germany or France. We don’t have a housing crisis and we don’t have a credit crunch. Small and medium-sized companies have access to credit. That is why we are taking action step by step.

We could of course announce a stimulus package equivalent to one per cent of our Gross Domestic Product simply by adding cantonal measures, tax breaks and changes to unemployment benefit. Overall, we are close to what our neighbours are doing.

swissinfo: There is a fear that protectionism will make a comeback because of the crisis. Is this a concern for you?

D.L.: It’s a risk. Bigger markets can sustain themselves to a certain extent. We are worried that technical hurdles will reappear or that customs duties will be increased. So far concrete measures decided by a number of countries do not represent any kind of risk and are rational.

But we must discuss this and pay attention to the evolution of the situation. Switzerland’s needs access to foreign markets, which is why we are talking to countries with even more markets than ours to help the World Trade Organization’s latest round of negotiations on opening markets move forward.

swissinfo: In Davos, Switzerland will present a document calling on signatories to refuse to resort to protectionism. What is it demanding exactly?

D.L.: It is a Swiss initiative. In Davos, there are discussions about protectionism. We want to give a concrete signal, something more than just words.

We want countries or entrepreneurs to say that it would be totally wrong to close access to markets and to implement protectionist measures. We want them to say that they want open markets, access to products and services for all. That would provide a stimulus and an important sign of openness in this time of crisis.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Politicians Oppose Foreign Deputy Prosecutors

Politicians on both the left and the right have criticised the appointment of foreign nationals as deputy prosecutors in Switzerland.

An Italian, a Dutch and a German hold the posts, justice ministry spokesman Philippe Piatti confirmed to Sunday’s NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

Green Party parliamentarian Daniel Vischer said the practice was “sickening” and Christa Markwalder of the centre-right Radical Party called it “problematic”.

Deputy prosecutors hold virtually the same powers as federal prosecutors, including ordering detentions and house searches, and seizing assets.

The Italian and Dutch deputy prosecutors already served under the tenure of Chrstoph Blocher, the former justice minister from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

The German national previously held a position in canton St Gallen after Blocher’s replacement, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, issued an exemption permit. He will take up a post in canton Zurich this month.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK: Let Banks Fail, Says Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz

The Government should allow every distressed bank to go bankrupt and set up a fresh banking system under temporary state control rather than cripple the country by propping up a corrupt edifice, according to Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist.

Professor Stiglitz, the former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told The Daily Telegraph that Britain should let the banks default on their vast foreign operations and start afresh with new set of healthy banks.

“The UK has been hit hard because the banks took on enormously large liabilities in foreign currencies. Should the British taxpayers have to lower their standard of living for 20 years to pay off mistakes that benefited a small elite?” he said.

“There is an argument for letting the banks go bust. It may cause turmoil but it will be a cheaper way to deal with this in the end. The British Parliament never offered a blanket guarantee for all liabilities and derivative positions of these banks,” he said.

Mr Stiglitz said the Government should underwrite all deposits to protect the UK’s domestic credit system and safeguard money markets that lubricate lending. It should use the skeletons of the old banks to build a healthier structure.

“The new banks will be more credible once they no longer have these liabilities on their back.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Limiting Couples to Just Two Kids is Not the Way to Save the Earth

Yesterday, the chairman of Britain’s Sustainable Development Commision, Sir Jonathon Porritt, ventured into new frontiers of Green movement nuttiness.

Mr. Porritt gave the press a preview of the main conclusions of his commission’s proposals for England’s environmental policy, to be released next month. He says curbing population growth, through federal investment in contraception and abortion, and encouraging citizens to recognize their moral responsibility by limiting their procreation to a maximum of two children per couple, must be at the heart of Britain’s global warming policies.

Keep in mind as you read this that Mr. Porritt is not an irrelevant mad scientist on the fringes of society. He is employed by the British government to draft policy.

Here are a few of his most salient quotes, as reported by The Sunday Times:

“I am unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate.”

“I think we will work our way towards a position that says that having more than two children is irresponsible. It is the ghost at the table. We have all these big issues that everybody is looking at and then you don’t really hear anyone say the “p” [procreation] word.”

His deduction is almost logical if you support two arguments:

1) you believe all the catastrophic global warming predictions, including who is to blame (humans) and

2) if you share the world view that humans exist to be at the service of a sacred earth, and not the other way around.

The internal, twisted logic goes like this: The environment is sacred; we know with certainty global warming will be devastating for the environment; it is undisputable fact that global warming is mostly caused by humans; reversing human behavior may save us from our imminent demise; therefore, the best solution is to get rid of some humans, beginning with the undesirables.

Yes, beginning with the undesirables, as defined by Mr. Porritt. Apparently oblivious to the declining birthrate among Britons (currently 1.7 children per family) and appalled by teenagers who choose to carry their pregnancies to term, Mr. Porritt complains: “We still have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in Europe and we still have relatively high levels of pregnancies going to birth, often among women who are not convinced they want to become mothers.”

Did I hear that right? We should make sure teenage mothers abort their children, for the sake of the environment?

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Mary Ellen Synon: Why These Strikers May Tear Down the EU Empire

Looks like today the British workers outside the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire have been twinned with the striking workers at the shipyards at Gdansk in 1980: and for any worker, there could be no greater honour..

Gdansk was the moment when Polish workers stood against the Soviet empire and said there would be no more submission: ‘On our knees before God, but on our own two feet before all men.’

Their strike spread across Poland, and cracked the power of the quislings in Warsaw who did Moscow’s work. The strike was the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.

Today the strike in Lincolnshire has spread across Britain to contractors at the nuclear power plants Sellafield and Heysham, to Grangemough oil refinery and power stations at Longanet, Warrington and Staythorpe, to contractors at the South Hook LNG terminal in Milford Haven, and to Croyton oil refinery in Essex.

Thousands have gone out. The strikes have gone wild cat.

And all of it is right. For what else can British workers do when their own parliament has turned over the power to control Britains’ borders and Britain’s labour laws to the Brussels empire?

There is no point in saying, ‘The workers must obey the laws that govern employment.’ The laws which now govern employment in this country are no longer legitimate. They are no longer the laws drawn up by British democracy.

They are the laws drawn up by the European Commission. They are laws to which a generation of Britain’s politicians have signed up, giving away powers they had no right to give away.

Britain’s politicians signed up to these laws in Treaties most of them have never read, and if they did read them, they didn’t believe every ‘Europe without frontiers’ clause would be enforced.

Well, surprise: the rootless cosmopolitan euro-zealots all over the Continent (though mostly in France) and the career eurocrats in Brussels (mostly led by the French) who wrote the European treaties put this stuff in because they meant to see it enforced.

But just listen to the whining of Peter Hain, the former work and pensions secretary who was part of Tony Blair’s EU-pandering government, at the weekend. He told one paper that he thought something had gone ‘badly wrong’ with the way EU legislation was being enforced.

What he means is it is actually being enforced. The only thing that is ‘badly wrong’ is that Britain should ever have agreed to it in the first place.

This is a strike like no other. What the strikers are demanding is the fundamental repudiation of the ‘European Project.’ Clearly they are doing it only through intuition, not through any grasp of the 80,000 pages of European law, but no matter.

What they have grasped is that now the EU can indeed force a shipload of Italian and Portuguese workers onto any site in the United Kingdom and the democratically-elected parliament at Westminster which is supposed to be representing British workers (and British everyone else) will do, can do nothing about it.

The Government has been exposed as quislings for the Brussels empire.

What is most satisfying about watching the Government’s twisting in all this — beyond the fear and paralysis of Gordon Brown in the face of the strikers, and the way Peter Mandelson has been exposed as utterly out of touch with true British Labour gut instinct — is that the Government may have created for itself what could blow up into a crisis to match the liquidity crisis in the banks.

This time it is not the bankers and the investors who have gone on strike, it is the workers. And there are lots more of them, and they know how to tear down a Government — and rip up some treaties.

‘On one knee before The Queen, but on our own two feet before Brussels.’

It doesn’t quite have the same ring, but it’s a start that could break an empire.


More on the Wildcat strikes here


           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

UK: Wildcat Oil Strikes: Europeans Are Finally Waking Up to the Demise of Democracy

Angry people across the EU are discovering the fine print in all the treaties signed by their leaders, says Janet Daley.

The peoples of Europe have finally discovered what they signed up to. I do mean “peoples” (plural) because however much political elites may deceive themselves, the populations of the member states of the EU are culturally, historically and economically separate and distinct. And a significant proportion of them are getting very, very angry.

What the strikers at the Lindsey oil refinery (and their brother supporters in Nottinghamshire and Kent) have discovered is the real meaning of the fine print in those treaties, and the significance of those European court judgments whose interpretation they left to EU obsessives: it is now illegal — illegal — for the government of an EU country to put the needs and concerns of its own population first. It would, for example, be against European law to do what Frank Field has sensibly suggested and reintroduce a system of “work permits” for EU nationals who wished to apply for jobs here.

Meanwhile, demonstrators in Paris and the recalcitrant electorate in Germany are waking up to the consequences of what two generations of European ideologues have thrust upon them: the burden not just of their own economic problems but also the obligation to accept the consequences of their neighbours’ debts and failures. Each country is true to its own history in the way it expresses its rage: in France, they take to the streets and throw things at the police, in Germany they threaten the stability of the coalition government, and here, we revive the tradition of wildcat strikes.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Wilders Asks High Court to Halt Prosecution

Populist politician Geert Wilders is taking his case to the high court, asking the country’s highest judicial body to quash the order to prosecute him “in the interest of the law”.

The member of parliament has enlisted one of the Netherlands’ best known lawyers, Bram Moszkowicz, to fight his prosecution over inciting hatred and discrimination. The lawyer has confirmed he is taking the case to the country’s high court, requesting an immediate end to the proceedings.

The Amsterdam appeals court in January ordered that Wilders must be prosecuted for insulting Muslims and describing the Koran as “the Islamic Mein Kampf”. Wilders, leader of the opposition Party for Freedom (PVV), claims he is doing nothing other than exercising his right to free speech, both inside and outside parliament. Following formal objections by individual citizens and interest groups, the Amsterdam court order reversed a decision by the public prosecutor’s office to refrain from opening a case against Wilders.

Wilders on his website says: “I’ve hired the best lawyer of the Netherlands for a ruthless fight against the charges that I’m facing.” In an earlier case Moszkowicz profited from a state’s request to quash a case in the interest of the law, achieving almost by accident his desired result of halting the prosecution in the Netherlands of Surinam’s former strongman Desi Bouterse for his involvement in a series of political murders in 1982. The court declared in 2001 that the Netherlands had no jurisdiction in that case.

Dozens of citizens, companies and authorities plead for the cassation of irrevocable verdicts against them every year in the Netherlands, mostly to no avail. The independent representative of the prosecution at the high court almost never accepts such requests. The procedure is mainly used to correct obvious mistakes, clarify jurisprudence, affirm or rephrase the court’s position. The criteria for quashing a verdict “in the interest of the law” is that a greater public interest is at stake.

According to Ybo Buruma, professor of criminal law at the Radboud University, Wilders’s request to have his case put before the high court has a minimal chance of success. Buruma thinks that public relations are more involved here than the law. Yet he understands why Moszkowicz is exploring this avenue, given the practical consequences of the verdict in the Bouterse case.

Buruma thinks Moszkovicz could argue that the prosecutor has no jurisdiction in this case. Wilders’ film Fitna and his remarks made in parliament should have been labelled as malfeasance. In that case parliament should have instigated its own proceeding if it feels Wilders has abused the special nature of his position. “And that won’t stand a chance either,” says Buruma.

Asking for the annulment of the ruling by the appeals court is like asking a favour, according to Buruma.

His Tilburg University colleague, professor Theo de Roos, however, says that it is “not senseless” for Wilders to try to involve the high court. De Roos points to a Dutch case involving nuclear waste disposal. The case was similar in that the public prosecutor refrained from prosecution, but the appeals court took up the case, until the high court ordered the proceedings to be broken off. However, “if no obvious failure was made here, I don’t see why the prosecution should accept Wilders’ request,” De Roos says.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Security Forces, Belgrade Urges Serbs Not to Adhere

(ANSAmed) — PRISTINA, FEBRUARY 2 — The Serbian Minster in charge of Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, has again protested over the creation of the new Kosovo Security Force (KSF), considered the nucleus of what could develop into a Kosovo Army in the future, and has launched the appeal to Serbs not to participate in what has been defined as a “paramilitary organisation” in that it is contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Speaking during a press conference in Kosovska Mitrovica, the northern city that is divided into Serbian and an Albanian parts, Bogdanovic said that the activities of the KFOR and other international organisations in Kosovo directed at the recruitment of Serbs into the KSF are “unacceptable”. The new Kosovo Security Force — comprised of 2,500 men and 800 reservists, trained by NATO and equipped with light arms — is multi-ethnic in nature, in the sense that both Serbs and Albanians, as well as representatives from other countries can enrol. But the Serbs, who don’t recognise Kosovo’s independence, are not eager to enter the force. Bogdanovic added that his ministry aims at obtaining loans worth 200 million dinars to favour the economic development of Kosovo in order to create new jobs, and to improve living standards for Serbs in Kosovo. The Minister specified that the state budget for 2009 allocates 39 billion dinars for Kosovo, funds whose disbursement will be intensely monitored. Bogdanovic met with the president s of the cities of Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Kosovska Mitrovica, with whom he examined the current situation in Kosovo in both in terms of politics and security. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Kosovo Albanian Organ Harvesting Atrocity, New Testimonies

In its latest edition, Belgrade weekly NIN carries statement of a mercenary and former member of the KLA (UCK, Kosovo Albanian terrorist formation) with initials I.T, who testified about transporting one group of captured Kosovo Serbs to Tirana and Durres in Albania where, with the help of “common” human traffickers, he transferred them to a ship which sailed out to international waters of Adriatic Sea.According to the witness, that is where surgeons, mainly from Western countries, “dismantled them to their constituent parts”, as the operation of extracting vital organs for sale was referred to by the KLA….

The old Byzantinian blog (now has a full summary in English.

           — Hat tip: kitman [Return to headlines]

Serbia-Turkey: Plan for Military Cooperation Signed

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, FEBRUARY 2 — Under the plan for bilateral military cooperation between Serbia and Turkey in 2009, a joint exercise of special forces will be held, the Serbian Defense Ministry stated, reports BETA news agency. The plan was signed during a visit of the Serbian Defense Ministry delegation to Turkey’s Armed Forces General Staff, while education and training were underlined as the main areas of cooperation. It was mutually concluded that the accord has been very good so far, which was also confirmed with a high degree of realized activities in 2008. “Possibilities of expanding the cooperation to other areas, especially within the exchange of visits by high-ranking officers and cooperation between defense industries, were also discussed,” a statement reads. The Serbian Defense Ministry delegation was headed by Chief of International Military Cooperation Administration Milorad Peric, who signed the plan on bilateral cooperation together with Turkey’s Head of Foreign Relations and International Security Affairs Major-General Mehmet Chetin.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

ENI: Frattini, Libyans Have No More Than 2%

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 2 — Libya has still not acquired more than 2% of Eni’s shares, despite having announced a desire some time ago to take a 10% stake in the Italian energy company. When asked whether their current holding had risen above 2%, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini responded “no”. Speaking about the sovereign funds, the minister explained that “there are dedicated meetings” with the fund managers, mainly from the United Arab Emirates, and that Italy is asking for “the respect of the Santiago del Cile rule: transparency and an indicative limit of 5%”. However this does not directly affect the Libyan investment in Eni, because the Libyans “made a deal on the open market and we cannot obstruct it”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Med Union: It’s Time for Concrete Facts, Frattini Says

(by Salvatore Lussu) (ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 2 — ‘‘The Mediterranean Union has reached the moment of substance’’. So said Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. After months spent discussing questions of organisation, it is now time to look at the facts, and develop ‘‘concrete projects’’. His comments were made today during a summit on ‘‘Commercial Peace in the Mediterranean’, organised by the Milanese Chamber of Commerce in the Lombard capital. Frattini said that ‘‘the plan which took off at the summit in Marseilles, has evolved through various stages of organising and planning, but enough time has been spent on this phase: we cannot only talk about how the leadership will be arranged, we need to talk about concrete plans’’. Plans such as the one presented during today’s summit, relating to the arbitration procedures designed to deal with controversies between businesses more quickly. Carlo Sangalli, the President of the Milanese Chamber of Commerce, said: ‘‘we intend to contribute to the creation of an institution which will promote arbitration in the Mediterranean, to be based in Milan’’. The initiative is to lead on from twenty-years’ worth of experience which the Arbitration Chamber has accumulated as a special unit within the Chamber of Commerce. Its main objective will be to create a network of arbitration institutions in the Mediterranean region, which will develop shared principles and working methods, thereby leading to a fair and efficient management of arbitration and conciliation procedures. It emerged during the meeting that one of the first steps in the plan for developing the network will be the establishment of a work group made up of representatives of the many centres in the area, as well as courses of ‘‘reciprocal training’’ aimed at executives and open to entrepreneurs and jurists. This will be a ‘‘flexible’’ initiative which met with Franco Frattini’s approval; he said that ‘‘the more arbitration procedures can help decongest the judiciary sector, the better it will be for the parties involved in the trial, and for justice itself’’. But Frattini said that this should be just the first of many initiatives to encourage Euro-Mediterranean economic development, which, according to the Minister and the Commerce of Chamber, will be decisively drawn up in Milan. In fact, at the beginning of the summer, the Lombard capital will host the first economic forum of the Med Union, which will take place during the Euromediterranean conference which the Chamber of Commerce organises every year. ‘‘We will need to be able to propose real, solid, ‘ready to go’ ideas’’, Frattini explained, ‘‘which countries on the southern shores and economic brokers will be able to embrace and develop’’. In the meantime, there is ‘‘an unavoidable prerequisite’’ for the Mediterranean Union to function, and that is, according to the minister, ‘‘a unity of aims amongst the Arab countries’’ which until now has not been seen. The first aspect to be worked on, Frattini concluded, is the promotion of ‘‘a more effective participation between partner countries.’’ (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean: Italy Still Investing Little, Say Businesses

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, FEBRUARY 2 — Despite its high levels of international trade, Italy still does not invest enough in other Mediterranean countries. So said various business and institutional players during a conference in Milan on ‘trading peace’ in the region. “Italy accounts for more than a quarter of European Union trade with wider Mediterranean countries, with a share of more than 55 billion euro”, explained Bruno Ermolli, president of Promos, the Milan Chamber of Commercés special branch for internationalisation. Ermolli added that “what we are weak on and what we are trying to work on is direct Italian investment in the Med area. In fact we are at just 14th place among European countries in terms of the volume of resources laid out”. “In effect, Italy is not investing much in the countries of the region” echoed Fadi Abboud, the president of the Lebanese industrialists’ association, “but other European countries are not committing enough capital. What would be needed is to step up reciprocal investments” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

AU: Muammar Gaddaffi Elected Head of African Union

(ANSAmed) — ADDIS ABABA, FEBRUARY 2 — Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been elected head of the African Union by a meeting of heads of state and government of the organisation which is meeting in Addis Ababa. The office lasts for one year and Gaddafi will replace Tanzanian Head of State, Jakaya Kikwete. ‘‘The Libyan leader was elected in a closed-door meeting by African heads of state to lead the African Union for a year’’, declared a spokesperson for the Habiba Mejri-Sheikh organisation. Gaddafi, who at length tried to favour a larger union between the 53 members of the organisation, received warm applause at the moment of his nomination. Gaddafi’s request to construct ‘‘a Union government’’ did not make any forward progress in that the African leaders are not eager to pass over a portion of their power. The heads of state simply met to change the name of the Commission, the executive branch of the UA, to the ‘‘African Authority’’. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Egyptian Christians Sent to Prison After Brutal Police Raid

ISTANBUL (Compass Direct News) — Following a brutal raid on six Christian brothers and their cafÃ(c) because they had opened for business during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, a judge on Jan. 22 sentenced them to three years in prison with hard labor for resisting arrest and assaulting authorities.

Last September, 13 police officers raided the cafÃ(c) in Port Sa’id, a city in Egypt’s Nile delta, overturning tables, breaking chairs and smashing glasses and hookah pipes, according to the Coptic Christians’ lawyer. They beat the brothers with sticks, leaving two with broken arms and a third needing 11 stitches for a head wound.

“The police attacked these people and assaulted them unjustifiably,” said Ramses el-Nagar, the Christians’ lawyer. “Police did not want to see people eating during Ramadan. This is unfair, because whatever people’s beliefs are, the law is something else and they should not be mixed.”

There is no law in Egypt under which the brothers could be prosecuted for opening their cafÃ(c) during Ramadan. When they tried to defend their cafÃ(c), the brothers, all in their 30s, were arrested on Sept. 8 and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting authorities. They were held for 30 days before being released on bail, set at 12,000 Egyptian pounds (US$2,173).

At the trial last week, defense counsel showed a video of the incident shot by an onlooker as evidence of police brutality. The footage did not sway Judge Mohammed Hassan El-Mahmody, prompting some Coptic activists to claim religious zeal and prejudice as the true motives behind the convictions.

“The police very often pressure the Copts to accept unfair situations,” said El-Nagar. “Unfortunately, with the power of the police and Egypt being a police state, we don’t have the inclination to take the police to court.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

New PLO to Compete With U.S.-Backed Group

Move by Hamas could render Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace deals’ meaningless

JERUSALEM — The chief of Hamas has advocated creating a new umbrella body to represent all Palestinians and to compete with the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, the group headed by the successor to Yasser Arafat, U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

As WND reported exclusively in December, sources in Hamas stated the group would propose creating a new PLO-like organization as part of a larger campaign to de-legitimize Abbas.

The move could have enormous consequences, since the PLO — as the main representative body of the Palestinians — is the signatory of all peace agreements with Israel. Any new group purporting to represent all Palestinians could declare past agreements null and void.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

New Report: U.N. Accusations of “Israeli Attack on School” Were False

At last month’s emergency session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, ambassadors from the world’s dictatorships — and even some democracies — lined up to attack Israel for “targeting a U.N. school.” Canada alone voted in opposition to the grossly one-sided text. (To join the thousands who thanked Canadian Prime Minister Harper for defending basic principles, click here.)

Now a new report by Patrick Martin of Canada’s Globe and Mail reveals that, contrary to what was reported worldwide, (1) No Israeli shells landed in the UNRWA school compound; (2) No one taking refuge in the U.N. schoolyard was killed; and (3) None of these facts prevented a U.N.. agency from falsely reporting that “Israeli shelling directly hit two UNRWA schools …” For the full story, see the article below.

Will the Human Rights Council now apologize for having falsely condemned Israel for the “targeting of facilities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in Gaza, including schools”?

As usual when it comes to Israel, the Council was little concerned with actual facts. Egyptian representative Hisham Badr, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that “Israel did not distinguish between combatants and civilians, targeting United Nations schools.” According to Yemen, “The attacks against schools. . . were grave crimes against humanity.” Sudan spoke of the “the mad attacks by Israel in Gaza, including against United Nations schools.” Syria said “UN schools have turned into mass graves.” Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Djibouti joined the fray — as did even several Western countries. Argentina demanded an “independent international investigation” on “the attacks on UNRWA schools.” Slovenia condemned “Israeli attacks on schools.” Switzerland said that “at least 46 civilians seeking shelter in UNRWA school were killed.”

Will any of these countries issue an apology, or seek to correct the resolution’s false assertions and faulty premises? Don’t bet on it. […]

[Follows: article “Account of Israeli attack doesn’t hold up to scrutiny”; PATRICK MARTIN, The Globe and Mail, January 29, 2009]

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

TV: New Frontiers for Al Jazeera; Video Archive Online

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 30 — Not just footage shot in Gaza during Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ military operation, but the archive goes online, there to see for whoever wishes to draw on it. This the latest avant-garde step taken into the new media by al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite TV station, known for having revolutionised the media scene in the Arab world since it first appeared. Over recent days, in fact, al Jazeera, which put its ‘Cast Lead’ footage online via Creative Commons, has created,, the first free-view online video archive, also with commercial aim. Open to individual surfers of the Web, to bloggers, journalists and its TV competitors, who are free to re-edit the material, the only obligation is to credit the source. This is on the basis of one, the most liberal of the six copyright licences structured by the non-profit organisation, Creative Commons — in other words, the six different ways of re-structuring the overall copyright cover which usually protects such material. By thus opening a new frontier in the global-level circulation of information, with a choice that clearly has an eye to long-term paybacks in terms of brand awareness, the Qatar TV station is setting the pace for the sector once again. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iraq: ‘Mum’ Had 80 Women Raped for Suicide Missions

A WOMAN suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organising their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

Samira Jassam, 51, was arrested by Iraqi police and confessed to recruiting the women and orchestrating dozens of attacks.

In a video confession, she explained how she had mentally prepared the women for martyrdom operations, passed them on to terrorists who provided explosives, and then took the bombers to their targets.

“We arrested Samira Jassim, known as ‘Um al-Mumenin’, the mother of the believers, who was responsible for recruiting 80 women’’, Major General Qassim Atta said.

“She confessed her responsibility for these actions, and she confirmed that 28 attempts had been made in one of the terrorists’ strongholds,’’ he said.

Samira Jassim was arrested on January 21. She is allegedly linked to the Ansar al-Sunnah insurgent group.

Two of the attacks for which Samira Jassim admitted responsibility in the video confession took place in Diyala province, in central Iraq, which is considered one of the most dangerous areas of the country.

The Associated Press reports US military figures indicate at least 36 female suicide bombers attempted or carried out 32 attacks last year. Women are often allowed through military checkpoints without being searched, making it easier for them to hide explosives under their traditional robes.

           — Hat tip: Darrin Hodges [Return to headlines]

Jordan: Israel Destroyed Environment in Gaza, NGOs Say

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, JANUARY 29 — Environmentalists in Jordan urged today an international inquiry into Israel alleged use of banned chemicals, which lead to the destruction environmental resources including water and agriculture. “We call upon the United Nations and the UNEP to carry out an immediate assessment of effects resulting from the use of such chemical weapons and explosives, in addition to the future impact on the environment and health,” said the Jordan Environment Action Coordination Commission, an umbrella organisation for the Kingdom’s environmental societies in a statement addressed to the United Nations Environment Programme. UN groups are currently collecting soil and water samples from Gaza to test for pollution and environmental damage caused by the conflict, not specifically for white phosphorus, according to UN officials. Israel is widely accused of using white phosphorus, a chemical weapon of colourless to yellow translucent wax-like substance with a pungent garlic smell. Environmentalists in Jordan said the weapon is used to carry out “total annihilation”, describing the substance as a lethal pesticide that destroys environmental ecosystems. Amnesty International (AI) said this week it uncovered evidence that Israel used white phosphorus in densely populated civilian residential areas of Gaza City. Last Tuesday human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an impartial international investigation into allegations of serious violations of the laws of war by Israel and Hamas during the recent fighting in Gaza. “White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at HRW in the statement. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Allah Imposed Hitler on the Jews to Punish Them — ‘Allah Willing, the Next Time Will be at the Hand of the Believers’

[From the the spiritual and political leader of the Dutch PvdA (Socialists, Labour) hot-shot Ahmed Marcouch]

January 30, 2009: Hitler “Put The Jews In Their Place”

Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them — even though they exaggerated this issue — he managed to put them in their place.

“This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.” […]

January 28, 2009: I Will Die As A Martyr Shooting Jews

Al-Qaradhawi: “To conclude my speech, I’d like to say that the only thing I hope for is that as my life approaches its end, Allah will give me an opportunity to go to the land of Jihad and resistance, even if in a wheelchair.

“I will shoot Allah’s enemies, the Jews, and they will throw a bomb at me, and thus, I will seal my life with martyrdom. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. Allah’s mercy and blessings upon you.”

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

Teheran Launches Its First Satellite

Media underline it was built in Iran by Iranian scientists. Fears over the possibility of its use also for long range missiles.

Teheran (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Iranian sate television and media are reporting that yesterday evening Iran launched into orbit its first satellite. The satellite named Omid (“hope”) was launched using a Safir-2 type rocket. The launch took place only hours after celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the Khomeini revolution (1st February 1979).

The launch has been celebrated as a giant step for Iran. The Iranian news agency enthusiastically explains that the space satellite was “entirely built in Iran” and that “every individual part of the Safir-2 and Omid were designed and produced by Iranian scientists”.

According to IRNA, Omid “orbits the earth 15 times in 24 hours and at every orbit is controlled twice by a station from earth”. In theory was designed for gathering information and testing equipment and was carrying experimental satellite control devices and power supply systems.

Iran has long been subjected to international sanctions because of suspicions that it is attempting to build nuclear warheads. Tehran denies having military ambitions and defends it’s nuclear program claiming it is for civilian use.

President Ahmadinejad greeted Iran’s presence in space claiming it aims to expand monotheism, peace and justice.

It is highly probable that the launch will increase the international community’s concerns, in particular Israel, that the satellite can be used to guide long range missiles, maybe even nuclear warheads.

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

Turkey/Greece: Taking the Fight Out of Dogfights

ANKARA — In the wake of Greece finding a Turkish pilot responsible for the death of his Greek counterpart in an aerial ‘dogfight,’ Turkey is looking to establish rules of engagement for such skirmishes while clear geographic lines of control are still to be agreed upon

In the absence of means to fully end periodic and deadly “dogfight” games over the Aegean between Greek and Turkish pilots, the Turkish side is trying, at least, to make the skirmishes less lethal. NATO’s brass have also been summoned to help the two allies more clearly define the lines between civilian and military airspace but have so far chosen to sit outside the aerial ring.

A movement of this conflict from the skies to the negotiation table is being sought after an Athens court’s recent judgment against a Turkish F-16 pilot. In the case the court ruled the Turkish pilot had caused the wrongful death of a Greek pilot in a dogfight in international airspace over the Mediterranean in May 2006. The incident happened when a Greek F-16 aircraft crashed into a Turkish F-16 aircraft from the rear approximately 35 nautical miles south of the island of Rhodes, causing the loss of both aircraft and the death of the Greek pilot, while the Turkish pilot managed to eject safely.

Ankara is now proposing to negotiate a comprehensive code of conduct to prevent similar dangerous interception and harassment maneuvers by both sides that endanger safety in international airspace. If a compromise is reached then Turkey may give consent for the May 2006 incident and other cases to be taken to international arbitration or even to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Although the incident report prepared by Turkey clearly evidenced Greece’s responsibility, both Greek authorities and NATO disregarded the document, the Hürrriyet Daily News & Economic Review has learned. Although NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in previous messages, signaled interest in the facilitation of Turkish-Greek disputes in the Aegean, Turkey’s invitation for an international oversight of the incident was not taken into consideration. Likewise, Ankara’s proposal to Athens to hold a meeting with the participation of civilian and military experts from both countries was left unanswered.

The Athens court’s decision convicting the Turkish pilot that took no notice of Turkish efforts since 2006 caused reactions and concern in Ankara. “This judgment has no basis or any legal value whatsoever. It also shows how easily the law can be conveniently manipulated and the principle of fair trial can be violated with unilateral claims. It is only natural that all the required demarches be made and the necessary measures taken in this regard,” said the foreign ministry in a written statement issued last Saturday.

Greece not only presents the Athens Flight Information Region, or FIR, which solely entails technical responsibilities for civilian aircraft, as if it was Greek sovereign airspace in contravention of established international rules and procedures, but also conducts dangerous maneuvers against Turkish military aircraft lawfully using international airspace, the ministry also noted. Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Yorgos Kumuchakos denied Turkey’s claims of Greek violation of international aviation rules yesterday.

According to Turkish sources, although Ankara notifies NATO, thus indirectly NATO-ally Greece, of flight plans, the Greek military considers Turkish aircraft as “unidentified hostile aircraft,” which causes dangerous interceptions over the Aegean Sea on a daily basis. Another main reason for Greek interception derives from the unilateral decision by Greece to consider its airspace as 10 miles, adding another four miles to its territorial waters, an implementation rejected by Turkey.

Four such challenges

At least four such high altitude challenges between pilots both flying NATO craft are recorded on a daily basis according to information published by the Turkish General Staff, or TSK. According to the latest information posted on the TSK Web site, Turkish military aircrafts were intercepted by the Greek counterparts in international airspace over the Aegean sea 52 times in October, 58 times in November and 36 times in December.

According to Turkish side, the only way to eradicate danger over both the Aegean and the Mediterranean caused by daily interceptions is to agree on a code of conduct with Greece.

[Note from Tuan Jim: I probably could have tried harder to find an article strictly from the Greek POV (which I’d probably be more likely to agree with) — but I still find this to be an interesting point of contention — for NATO allies — I wonder what would happen if they were also EU allies?

There was a Greek story recently about ongoing tensions over the Aegean by both air forces, but I don’t think there was an English version available at all.]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UAE: Top Construction Bosses to Meet Amid Global Crisis

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, JANUARY 30 — Top officials from the Middle East’s construction industry will meet to discuss the dramatic downturn in the sector, caused by the global economic crisis, Arabian Business online reports. More than 500 delegates and 60 industry experts will attend the Arabian World Construction Summit (AWCS) 2009 to be held in Abu Dhabi on February to discuss the changing face of the region’s industry. Richard Thompson, editor for organisers MEED, said: “The construction industry in the region has enjoyed dynamic growth over the past few years but we have witnessed demand stagnating for the first time in a decade following the global economic situation. “This is compounded by master developers placing projects on hold to focus more on riding out the current conditions and meeting tight deadlines for developments already underway.” Key industry leaders who will lead panel discussions at AWCS will include Abdul Majeed Al Fahim, chairman of Pearl Dubai, Ali H. Kolaghassi, vice-president — Corporate Business Development with Saudi Oger, Sami Asad, COO of Aldar Properties, and Mounir D. Haider, CEO of Sorouh Real Estate. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Germany/Russia: Extraditing Chechen Exiles

Germany Has Doubts About Russia’s Intentions

Russia wants Germany to extradite three Chechen exiles who it says have committed serious crimes. Now the German government has to assess whether the requests are justified. The recent murder of a Chechen in Vienna, however, has reinforced doubts about Moscow’s intentions.

On July 2, 2008, the odyssey of Chechen Magomed Debirov seemed to have come to a happy end. An administrative court in the eastern city of Magdeburg ruled that Debirov, a physician, was to be recognized as a refugee in Germany. Between 1999 and 2001, he had worked as a medical aide to Chechen rebels fighting for independence from Russia. Debirov testified that he had been tortured while in Russian captivity, and the judges were convinced that his claims were true.

But Debirov’s elation over the verdict was short-lived. A resident of Magdeburg, he was arrested on Oct. 23 when a regional appeals court in the central German town of Naumburg enforced/upheld an arrest warrant issued by the Staropromislovsk District Court in the Chechen capital Grozny on Aug. 15, 2008. Under criminal case number 54,859 Debirov, 27, was charged with “severe robbery.” According to the indictment, he and a group of accomplices, all of them armed, broke into a property owned by the energy company Grosneftegas in October 2002 and made off with diesel oil worth 1,815 rubles (€58, or $75).

The expatriate has now been in German custody for the past three months. The Federal Office of Justice, the central authority for the German judiciary, have the final say in whether to extradite Debirov. But officials at the agency have their doubts about Russia’s motives and have submitted the case to the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry for review. Debirov’s case has thus been turned into an affair of state.

The most fundamental of questions are raised in such cases, and they have often led to tensions between Germany and Russia in the past. From a legal point of view, German courts must ask themselves whether they can trust arrest warrants from Russia, a country in which, according to the human rights commissioner of the European Council, “torture and abuse” are practiced and, according to the European Court of Human Rights, authorities are responsible for torture. Moreover, it is still a fundamental matter of debate as to whether persecuted Chechens can be seen as resistance and freedom fighters or must be classified as terrorists.

Similar cases have led to heated exchanges and harsh, rather undiplomatic, words. In 2002, then President Vladimir Putin asked Berlin — in vain, as it turned out — to extradite a Chechen author living in Germany who had written a book about her struggle against the Russians. And in 2007, Moscow issued a verbal note seeking to dissuade German authorities from granting asylum to a prominent Chechen exile, author Apti Bisultanov. But Germany granted him asylum nonetheless. He lives in the Austrian capital Vienna today…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: Obama Should Not Link Kashmir With Pak’s Problems: Nsa

New Delhi, Feb 2 (PTI) Coming out strongly against any attempt to link Kashmir issue with turmoil in Pakistan’s tribal areas, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan has said that US President Barack Obama would be “barking up the wrong tree” if he holds such views. Narayanan said India had made it known to the Obama team at the outset that it would not like Indo-Pak relations to be on the agenda of Richard Holbrooke, special envoy of the US for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“References made by President Obama did seem to suggest that there is some kind of a link between the settlement on Pakistan’s western border and the Kashmir issue. Certainly that had caused concern,” he told Karan Thapar’s ‘India Tonight’ programme.

He was responding to reported suggestions by Obama during his campaign that Pakistan’s fight against Taliban on the western front is linked to resolution of Kashmir issue.

The NSA pointed out that such references were made by Obama when he was in the campaign mode or when he was president-elect.

“We tend to sort of say lets wait and see what he does when he come into office,” Narayanan said, adding “I don’t think we had any major exchanges with members of the Obama administration later on” though the US President had made courtesy call and discussed bilateral ties.

“I do think that we could make President Obama understand, if he does have any such views then he is barking up the wrong tree,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Women Prefer Divorce to Polygamy in Islamic Courts

Jakarta, 2 Feb. (AKI) — A growing number of Muslim women are choosing to file for divorce rather than continue in a polygamous marriage, according to data from Islamic courts in Indonesia.

The number of women who cited polygamy as a reason for seeking divorce rose from 813 in 2004 to over 1,000 in 2006, according to Nasaruddin Umar, senior representative of Indonesia’s religious affairs ministry.

“There has been a significant increase in divorce because women have been rejecting polygamy in recent years,” he said, quoted by the Indonesian daily, The Jakarta Post.

Umar said he believed the number of divorce cases linked to disputes over polygamous marriages increased again in 2008 and would continue to rise throughout 2009.

These statistics have prompted the ministry to consider organising marital guidance courses in Indonesia, Umar said.

Siti Musdah Mulia, a leading female Indonesian Muslim scholar, believed the figures indicate that Muslim women were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and also more economically independent.

“The data shows women are now daring to fight for their rights and reject male domination. They are now saying: ‘What is the point in continuing a marriage when I am miserable’“, she said.

Mulia, a lecturer at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, said women were becoming more independent and educated, two factors leading to a greater sense of worth and place.

She said Muslim women were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and potential, thanks to the efforts of non-governmental organisations and women activists who have launched campaigns against polygamy.

“This is a good sign. Efforts by organizations to raise awareness surrounding women’s rights has begun to pay off, even with discussions surrounding polygamy seeing a revival among Muslims with the release of the movie Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love),” said Legislator Nursyahbani Katjasungkana of the conservative leaning National Awakening Party (PKB).

Verses of Love, a film about the conditions experienced by women in polygamous relationships, was one of Indonesia’s blockbuster films last year. Along with millions who flocked to see it, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, also made prominent appearances at cinemas to see the movie.

Many high-ranking officials praised the film while activists accused it of acting as propaganda encouraging polygamy.

Meanwhile, polygamy is legal and on the rise across Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim country.

The Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (LBH APIK) received 87 reports of polygamy last year, up from 16 in 2007.

These statistics are only the tip of the iceberg and in rural areas of the country, men often take multiple ‘wives’ to a religious ceremony, to whom they are not legally wed.

Current Indonesian law allows a man to marry up to three wives, either if the other wives consent or if they are unable to have children.

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

Indonesians Rescue 198 Burmese Forced to Sea

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s navy yesterday picked up 198 boat people from Burma who were in critical condition after they were forced to sea by authorities in Thailand.

They had been drifting for three weeks.

Twenty-two others had died on the crossing from Thailand, naval officer Tedi Sutardi said, citing witness accounts. The group had fled the military dictatorship in Burma.

Their small wooden boat was discovered by fisherman on Monday off Aceh’s coast, in northern Sumatra, and towed to shore.

The 12m vessel had no engine and the passengers had run out of food and water. “They were standing on the boat for 21 days because there was no space to sit,” Mr Sutardi said. “It is a miracle they survived.”

It was the second load of Rohingyas, a stateless Muslim group that has faced decades of persecution in Burma, to arrive in Indonesia in a month.

The survivors recounted being beaten and set adrift by Thai authorities.

“They were drifting for about 21 days. Most of them are in critical condition and are receiving treatment at a local state hospital in East Aceh district,” Mr Sutardi said.

At least 56, including a 13-year-old boy, were admitted to the Idirayeuk General Hospital with severe dehydration.

A witness told investigators the group was among 1000 Rohingyas working in Thailand as migrant labourers.

They spoke of being forced to leave Thailand on nine motorless boats in December after being detained as illegal workers.

They showed scars from beatings they said they had received at the hands of the Thais, matching similar allegations from another group of 174 Rohingyas who were found off Sumatra on January 7.

Some of them were beaten and “we could see they had black and blue marks on their backs”, Mr Sutardi said.

Using limited Malay, the Bengali-speaking migrants said they had left their homes in Burma’s western Arakan state because they were being forced to embrace Buddhism, according to the navy officer.

They said the military authorities in the mainly Buddhist country chopped their fingers off if they tried to pray.

The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognised by Burma’s military regime, number about 800,000 in that country.

Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.

Media reports and a local human rights group have said nearly 1000 of the Rohingyas landed on Thai shores late last year, before being towed out to sea and left with few supplies in separate groups in December.

About 650 Rohingyas migrants were found drifting in Indonesian and Indian waters in January, telling the same stories of abuse by the Burmese and Thai authorities. Scores may still be at sea.

Bangkok denies the charges, saying all migrants were processed humanely.

Buddhist Thailand is facing a Muslim rebellion in its southern provinces, while its western border is already dotted with refugee camps full of people from persecuted Burmese ethnic minorities.

Indonesia and Thailand treat the Rohingyas as economic migrants despite pressure from the UN refugee agency and independent rights groups to grant them fair and transparent asylum hearings.

Indonesia has denied the UN refugee agency access to those who arrived on January 7 and has tried to prevent journalists from interviewing them.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia Lawmaker Dies After Mob Beating

MEDAN (Indonesia) — AN INDONESIAN provincial speaker died after he was beaten by a mob on Tuesday which stormed the local parliament building carrying a coffin, officials and witnesses said.

The protesters blamed North Sumatra provincial speaker Azis Angkat for delays in the creation of a new province as approved recently by five local districts.

‘If it isn’t signed we’ll put Azis in this coffin,’ one of protesters shouted before the mob broke into the provincial parliament, where the speaker was meeting with other lawmakers.

They smashed the entrance and windows of the building and rushed to the first-floor meeting room carrying the wooden coffin, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

Mr Angkat, from the Golkar party, tried to flee but he was caught and severely beaten before police could intervene.

He died later in hospital of a heart attack, according to doctors. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia Detains 41 Asylum Seekers Bound for Australia

Indonesian police say they have detained 41 Afghan asylum seekers who were on a boat bound for Australia.

They say yesterday’s 10-hour operation was supported by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Brigadier General Badrodin Haiti, the director of National Security and Transnational Crimes for Indonesia’s National Police, says the asylum seekers were detained yesterday at a port in Bau Bau Bay in South East Sulawesi.

Six Indonesians were also arrested including three crew members as well as the boat’s captain — thought to be from Kupang in West Timor — a middle-man named HM Tahir, and another man named Safrudin who is accused of organising the men’s passports and other documents.

The boat was found full of food and life vests.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Nepalese Workers Abroad Fired En Masse Because of Economic Crisis

The Gulf countries and Malaysia are closing their borders to foreign workers. Many companies are sending their foreign labor force back home. The finances of the Kathmandu government are also at risk, relying on remittances from emigrants for 40% of its income.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) — At least 150,000 Nepalese workers are victim of the economic recession that is affecting many Asian countries. Many industries in the Gulf countries in Malaysia are confronting the problem by firing foreign workers, while their governments are revoking work visas already granted.

The government of Kuala Lumpur had already withdrawn all of its visas for Nepalese workers. It was only after talks with the government of Kathmandu that Malaysia agreed to honor the visas already granted, but will not issue any more, because of the “economic depression.”

Shreeram Chaudhari, from the district of Bara, went to Malaysia two months ago but has had to return. “I was working at a garment factory when company closed down I am sent back. I lost my job, dream to earn money as well as some amount I invested for going there.”

The United Arab Emirates have also decided to cut their foreign workforce by at least 45%, sending tens of thousands of Nepalese back home. Many airplanes are arriving in Kathmandu full of workers coming back from the Gulf. Ramkrishna Mainali, Originally from Jhapa, tells AsiaNews: “The global economic depression has caused heavy impact at my company in Qatar, as a result company cut workers by 30 percent workers, and I was also a victim among them. All the expelled workers are given just a little compensation, and a ticket back home.”

The Nepalese Workers Associations is pressuring the government of Kathmandu to do something. “If the government remains indifferent,” says Tilak Ranabhat, president of the group, “the country which is depending on foreign remittance by more than 40 percent will go bankrupt.”

Government spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara has provided assurances that Kathmandu is in contact with the relevant state authorities, to ask them to reconsider the decision to send back Nepalese workers.

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

Far East

And What if China Starts Buying Up Gold . . .

Buying gold is one way of weathering paper money devaluation, especially the US dollar’s. Economists voice their concerns at Davos as the gold goes up and up.

Davos (AsiaNews/ Agencies) — The price of gold is likely to rise three, four-folds if China starts to buy gold and dump US dollars, said Peter Munk, chairman and founder of Barrick Gold, a leading gold-mining company. He made the prediction at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, an annual event that draws leading figures from the worlds of politics, finance and industry to discuss the main economic issues of the moment.

Despite the drop in commodity prices, the value of gold has jump by more than 20 per cent since last October. This according to Munk is due to investors buying heavily into physical bullion in the form of coins and bars, and physically backed assets, such as exchange-traded funds, as a safe store of value at a time of increased volatility in other asset prices.

The downward pressure on the dollar, partly due to massive US spending and printing money to stimulate the economy, is likely to further increase gold’s attractiveness as an investment.

There is also a possibility that central banks, including that of China, a major dollar asset holder, might start buying gold.

“If they [the Chinese] decide to diversify [their investments in US dollars], we assume into gold, then we start to talk about a trebling or quadrupling of the gold price,” he said. “It could be followed by Russia or Kuwait.”

Although still not very likely, such a scenario for Munk is more likely now than two years ago.

In Europe gold traded at US$ 930 an ounce, not too far from the record high of US$ 1,030.80 achieved in March last year.

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

Philippines: 10 MILF Rebels Give Up

MANILA, Philippines — Ten fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have surrendered in Lanao del Norte, partly over unfulfilled promises by their commander, the military said Tuesday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, Jr. said the 10 surrendered rebels claimed the failure of MILF 102nd Base Commander Abdullah Macapaar, alias Bravo, to pay his men a monthly allowance of P30,000 each was among the reasons they turned themselves in.

Colonel Benito De Leon, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, said one of the surrender rebels is a former sub-commander of Macapaar.

The rebels surrendered at around 3 p.m. Monday to the 43rd Infantry Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Juvymax Uy in the hinterlands of Lanao del Norte, Torres said.

They also turned over a grenade launcher, two B40 anti-tank rockets, an M16 rifle, eight M1 Garand rifles and ammunition.

“They claim that there is no future for the fight that [Macapaar] and the other lawless MILF groups [are] waging against the government,” Torres said.

The military refers to MILF units accused of attacking civilian communities in central Mindanao last August, and which are the target of continuing operations, as “lawless.”

De Leon said the rebels who surrendered have volunteered to pinpoint the hideouts of Macapaar.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Philippines/Spratlys: House Baselines Bill ‘Fatally Flawed’

MANILA, Philippines — The baselines bill approved by the House of Representatives, which seeks to set the national territory, is “fatally flawed” and a “potential diplomatic disaster,” Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Tuesday.

Santiago, who chairs the Senate committee on foreign affairs, said it is “futile” to include disputed islands in the South China Sea within the country’s archipelagic baseline because many of these are already occupied by several Southeast Asian countries and China that also lay claim to the territory.

“It defies reality when a state claims sovereignty over islands, which are in the physical possession of other states,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

House Bill 3216, or An Act Defining the Archipelagic Baselines of the Philippine Archipelago, was approved on third reading Tuesday by a vote of 177 in favor and three against, with no abstentions.

The House version of the proposed measure includes in the national territory Scarborough Shoal and Kalayaan group of islands, part of the Spratlys chain, which is being claimed wholly or in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

In contrast, the approved Senate version of the bill classifies the disputed territory as a “regime of islands.”

Santiago said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile should head the chamber’s delegation to the bicameral committee, which will reconcile both versions of the bill, since the House panel will be led by Speaker Prospero Nograles.

She said she had the “fullest confidence in the analytical judgments” of both Nograles and Enrile.

The country has to come up with a baselines law that will define the national territory by May 13 this year, the deadline set by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“It is really a very simple choice,” Santiago said. “We have to scale down without surrendering our territorial claims. The unacceptable choice is to claim as much territory as we want, alienate the rest of the international community, and operate as a pariah [under] international law.”

Enrile agreed that the Senate version of the bill was the “more realistic approach to the problem.”

“We all agreed that we consider Kalayaan as ours. All Filipinos agree on that. But it is a question of legal engineering. How do you approach the problem in relation to the claims of other countries?” he asked.

Designating Scarborough and the Kalayaan group as a regime of islands would ensure that the country’s claim to the territory remains, Enrile said.

“But there are also other claimants, and we have to deal with that problem, both from the viewpoint of the [country’s] internal law, which is disputed by other countries, and from the viewpoint of the international law, [under] which they will recognize our claim based on a regime of islands,” he said.

Enrile also noted that the country lacked the military capability to enforce its claim.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Reports: North Korea Preparing Long-Range Missile Test

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s apparent preparations for a ballistic missile test, reportedly detected by South Korean officials monitoring a train headed to a launch site, appear to be the country’s latest attempt to get President Barack Obama’s attention.

A South Korean official on Tuesday confirmed the preparations, first reported by Japanese and South Korean media citing sources as saying the missile had the potential to reach the western United States.

“There are signs North Korea is preparing for a missile launch,” the intelligence official told The Associated Press. He declined to give further details and spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

South Korean intelligence has spotted a train carrying a long, cylinder-shaped object — believed to be a long-range missile — heading to a new launch site on North Korea’s west coast, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

North Korea’s clandestine missile program has been a key regional concern, along with its nuclear weapons program.

However, North Korea is not believed to have acquired the technology to develop a nuclear warhead light enough to be mounted on a missile, another South Korean intelligence official said. He would not give his name, citing department policy.

The move comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula, with the North declaring last week that it was abandoning pacts designed to prevent hostilities with the South. Relations between the Koreas have been tense since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office a year ago with a tough new policy on Pyongyang.

Obama has told Lee that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Seoul in mid-February.

Intelligence indicates the object spotted in North Korea is likely a long-range Taepodong-2 model, Yonhap said. The North could complete preparations for a missile launch within one or two months, the report said, citing unidentified officials.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: I wouldn’t be too concerned.]

South Korea’s Defense Ministry declined to comment on Yonhap’s report.

Any missile launch would be aimed at drawing Washington’s attention, as well as pressuring Seoul into softening its policy on Pyongyang, said Park Jung-chul, a North Korea expert at the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification.

“It’s designed to draw U.S. interest at a time when the North’s nuclear program is being sidelined by the global financial crisis and the conflict in the Gaza Strip,” Park said.

North Korea appears to be “reminding” Obama it has long-rang missiles and nuclear capability, said Paik Hak-soon, an analyst with the private Sejong Institute security think tank.

“North Korea is taking political action,” he said.

The Taepodong-2 — considered the North’s most advanced rocket — has a range of more than 4,160 miles (6,700 kilometers), putting Alaska in range.

However, the missile being readied may be an upgrade of the Taepodong-2, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University. The North reportedly has been trying to develop an advanced version of Taepodong-2 capable of striking the west coast of the mainland United States.

Japanese government officials also cited preparations for the launch of an upgraded Taepodong-2, the Sankei newspaper reported in Tokyo. Officials at Japan’s Defense and Foreign ministries could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In 2006, the North launched a Taepodong-2 missile from its east coast site in Musudan-ni. The rocket plunged into the ocean shortly after liftoff.

Last year, North Korea tested the engine of a long-range missile, indicating progress in developing a new missile, U.S. and South Korean officials said.

Koh said he doubted Pyongyang would fire a missile any time soon because a test could derail its goal of establishing relations with the Obama administration.

“North Korea has nothing to gain” from a missile launch right now — but could fire off a missile if negotiations with Washington do not go well, Koh said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Terror Cell Leader Jailed for 15 Years

SEVEN Muslim men convicted of terrorism offences needed to be punished severely even though they had never managed to carry out an attack, a Supreme Court judge said yesterday.

Justice Bernard Bongiorno said he had seen no reliable evidence that any of the men felt any remorse or had renounced their commitment to violent jihad in the name of Islam.

He sentenced leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika to a minimum of 12 years’ jail and a maximum of 15, and his colleague Aimen Joud to a minimum of 71/2 years. Five other men received sentences ranging between 41/2 and 71/2 years for offences including fostering or preparing terrorism.

The judge said: “The existence of the (group) as a terrorist organisation constituted a significant threat that a terrorist act would be or would have, by now, been committed here in Melbourne. The absence of an imminent, let alone an actual, terrorist attack does not mean that (severe) punishment is not warranted in this case.”

Justice Bongiorno said Benbrika taught his young followers that “the destruction of the ‘kuffar’ (Arabic for ‘unbelievers’) was an essential aspect of the Islamic religion”.

“‘There is no evidence before the court that Benbrika has, in any way, renounced his commitment to violent jihad and hence to terrorism,” he said.

The prosecution had alleged that the men, all Muslims from Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs, planned violent jihad and that Benbrika was their leader.

Several of the men were involved in stripping stolen cars and selling parts to raise money for the group.

The men’s activities, which included religious classes in which terrorists were lionised as martyrs, were monitored in a massive police operation between July 2004 and November 2005, when most of them were arrested.

The seven men were convicted last September after a seven-month trial involving more than 482 conversations secretly taped by police. Another four men were acquitted and the jury could not reach a verdict about a 12th man, Shane Kent, 33, of Meadow Heights…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Amnesty Demands Dutch/Danish Action

Amnesty International is urging quick action to address the legal position of five pirates on board a Danish vessel.

Five Somali pirates have been on board the Danish warship Absalon for more than a month without being brought before a judge, despite agreement from the Netherlands several weeks ago that they could be tried under Dutch jurisdiction.

Under Danish law, the five should have been presented before a judge under habeas corpus rules within 24 hours. The pirates were detained on December 31 after attempting to hijack a Dutch Antilles-flaged vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

Although Denmark and the Netherlands have agreed that the five could be tried in the Netherlands, the two countries have been haggling since the detention on the international legal ramifications of where and how to hand the five over to Dutch authorities.

Amnesty demands solution “Insecurity as to what is to happen to them is difficult for the five,” says Amnesty Press Chief Ole Hoff Lund.

Amnesty International is demanding a solution to the issue within a few days.

The Absalon is currently in Bahrain, and was to have continued its operations guarding shipping off Somalia against pirate attacks.

The vessel is, however, unlikely to leave port with the five Somalis still on board.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Finland: Police to Get Funding for Refugees’ Age Tests

Many “juvenile” asylum-seekers found to be older than reported

Finnish police are to be given extra funding for medical tests to ascertain the true ages of asylum seekers who claim to be under-aged. Police precincts have so far had to pay the costs of age tests out of their own budgets, which has curbed their enthusiasm for conducting such tests. The number of underage asylum seekers who come to Finland on their own has skyrocketed in recent years. Last year 647 of them arrived in Finland, whereas in 2007 there were 98 and in 2006 there were just 108. Most of the arrivals are from Somalia and Iraq.

The surge in underage asylum seekers has added to suspicions of the use of “anchor children”, who can provide easier access to Finland for entire families. Children are granted asylum more easily than adults, and once allowed to stay in Finland, they can apply for residence permits for family members under the principle of family reunification. Last year 555 family members of approved refugees arrived in Finland. It is increasingly suspected that some asylum seekers understate their ages in hopes to get easier approval for their applications.

The Finnish Immigration Service hopes that the correct ages of asylum seekers claiming to be under the age of 18 could be ascertained through tests involving the teeth and the bones of the wrists. Last year a few age tests were conducted. Esko Repo, the head of the asylum unit of the immigration service says that “dozens” of tests revealed that an asylum seeker claiming to be underage, was actually an adult. The Ministry of the Interior has taken the view that age tests would be paid out of the EUR 2.5 million that has been budgeted for expenses including deportation of rejected asylum seekers. In principle, there is enough money to test all asylum seekers who claim to be underage, as the cost of one test is about EUR 400.

Asylum seekers who have lied about their ages are often allowed to stay in Finland anyway: under current policy, would-be refugees are not sent back to countries considered dangerous, such as Iraq or Somalia. Esko Repo says that those who have misstated their ages are treated like any adult who asks for asylum.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Tourism Will Collapse’

Plans to Intern Illegal Africans Outrage Lampedusans

Residents of the Italian island of Lampedusa are rebelling against Rome. Thousands of refugees who have arrived there by boat could soon be interned on the small island — to prevent them from disappearing into the European Union.

When drama becomes commonplace, even idealists can sound callous at times. Antonino Maggiore says that he wants to build “a better world” — for Italians, even more so for persecuted foreigners and, in fact, for everyone. Maggiore is 25, an age at which idealistic pronouncements like that are to be expected. He manages an organization called Alternative Youth and works for a station called Radio Delta on the island of Lampedusa off the North African coast, a forward post of fortress Europe.

His friends at Radio Delta broadcast feel-good music touting a better world, while Maggiore reports the news from the real world. There is only one type of report, however, that he never reads, namely that Lampedusa’s two gray customs cruisers have towed yet another dilapidated wooden rowboat into the harbor. Some of the passengers — men, women and children from Africa — are invariably dead or half-dead by the time they arrive in Lampedusa. “If I had to report these stories again and again,” says Maggiore, “I would be reporting the same news every day.”

Last year, 36,952 boat refugees arrived on Italy’s shores. About 31,000 of them landed on Lampedusa. No one knows how many died in the attempt to reach Europe. Aid organizations estimate that for every three refugees that make it, one is left behind at sea.

The African continent itself is like the sea over which the migrants travel across — it sends wave after wave of refugees crashing towards the cliffs of Europe’s shores each year. The waves are unstoppable, and the only way to fend them off is to build new breakwaters. The Spaniards began the process by first sealing off the Straits of Gibraltar, and then their North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Today the 130-kilometer (81-mile) passage from Tunisia to Lampedusa, a 10-hour journey by fishing boat, is the easiest route for refugees from Africa.

This, as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reasons, is precisely why the Mediterranean tourist island must become Europe’s most effective breakwater. His center-right coalition wants to build a large new detention center there. During last April’s elections, the country’s right-wing parties campaigned on a promise to eject illegal immigrants as quickly as possible. And now they are about to make good on that promise — on Lampedusa.

Under Rome’s proposed new policy, refugees will no longer be transported directly to the mainland, but will be held in camps on the island instead. Lampedusa is ideal for this purpose. No one can leave without a boat, and a stranger would have trouble hiding for more than a few minutes in the single town on the island. The Africans shall be deported to some other country, eventually — but it will be difficult, and it will take time.

The 6,000 Italians living on Lampedusa have spent the last two weeks rioting and striking to protest the government’s plans for their island. They are worried that the detention center could harm tourism, one of the mainstays of the local economy. After all, who books a vacation in Guantanamo? Some fear that thousands of refugees will converge on Lampedusa, and that the entire operation will be bigger than the Americans’ notorious detainee camp.

Despite such fears, there is no racist or xenophobic graffiti here. Residents do not chant hostile slogans, and the Italians have even built a memorial to drowned refugees. Many wish the Africans a good life — just not on their island. In this respect, they agree with the roughly 1,300 refugees who are now locked up in the old transitional camp, which was built to accommodate 380 people.

The residents of Lampedusa reserve their loathing for Berlusconi and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of the right-wing Northern League. They are particularly incensed over Berlusconi’s recent claim that he was unaware of any poor conditions on Lampedusa, and that he believed that the refugees were free to “go out as they wish and drink a beer.” Island residents now fear that tourists will think that they will encounter drinking Africans on the island. The refugees, for their part, know firsthand that the prime minister’s words are nonsense.

Two Fridays ago, the Italians, led by their mayor, marched to the camp. When the refugees saw them, they jumped the fences, shouted “freedom, freedom” and joined the protest march.

Then the islanders staged a general strike, essentially shutting down Lampedusa. There is already little activity there in the winter, but it was a signal nevertheless.

“We still want a future,” says Antonino Maggiore, but he doesn’t envision spending it working as a prison guard. The boat people want to go to Europe, not Lampedusa. Why, Maggiore asks, should this small island have to solve a problem that has all of Europe stumped?

No refugee has ever stayed on Lampedusa. Many go underground, picking oranges in Spain, cleaning toilets in France or washing dishes in the restaurants of Hamburg or Munich — as illegal workers or “clandestini” (the secret ones), as they are called on Lampedusa. They don’t want to return to Ethiopia or Mali, where they have paid human traffickers anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 for a one-way journey away from home. Whether they perish or survive, their fates are often decided on the last step to Europe, the step to Lampedusa.

The traffickers drop anchor at coastal villages in Tunisia or Libya. Pointing north with their fingers, they tell the refugees that once they see land, they should destroy the rudders or rickety motors on their boats. After that, all they can do is wait.

If a drifting boat is not discovered, the people on board will die. But if they are spotted, by patrol planes operated by the European border control agency Frontex, for example, they are protected by Article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which stipulates the duty to render assistance to a ship in distress. When that happens, the speedboats from Lampedusa will reliably head out to the refugee boat and tow the illegal immigrants into the port.

The islanders have become accustomed to these temporary guests. This is not difficult, because no one sees them. Lampedusa is nine kilometers (5.6 miles) long and three kilometers (1.9 miles) wide, and there is only one small town. Years ago, the government built the old camp in a ravine. Fences and guards stationed around the camp ensure that the refugees stay out of the town. It is as if they were still in Africa.

Mauro Buccarello fears that all of this will change when the new camp is built. The practice of looking away, cultivated over the years, could come back to roost. “The problem is the psychology of the tourist,” says Buccarello. He is 32 and very well dressed. He wears thick silver rings on his thumbs and little fingers, together with expensive clothes, and he has a lot to lose. He earns a handsome living taking scuba divers to the most beautiful spots along the jagged coast in his boat.

But tourists can be sensitive creatures. They don’t want to see squalor or feel anxiety. Many tourists will stay away from the island if they know that thousands of Africans without prospects are being housed on Lampedusa. The fact that the government in faraway Rome plans to build the camp at the end of the island, on the grounds of a former military station, doesn’t help.

In other words, nothing will change for tourists, and yet everything will be different, Bernardino de Rubeis, the mayor, fears. Everyone on the island calls him by his nickname, “Dino.” He is more than two meters (6’6”) tall. “If people think that this will be an open-air prison for 5,000 immigrants, tourism on Lampedusa will collapse.”

Berlusconi’s people would not be able to deport the refugees quickly enough, if at all, says de Rubeis, noting that Italy only has a functioning treaty with Egypt, but that few boat people come from there. No one wants to accept the rest.

“If we want everything to remain as it is, everything will have to change,” Alain Delon says to Burt Lancaster in the film “The Leopard.” Giuseppe Tomasi wrote the novel on which the screenplay was based. When a big wave comes, he wrote, it is impossible to swim against it. There was no talk of African refugees at the time.

But many on the island are familiar with his book, published in 1958. Tomasi was the Duke of Palma, Baron of Montechiaro and Prince of Lampedusa.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Patrols Consensus, Maroni in Libya Tomorrow

(ANSAmed) — ROME, FEBRUARY 2 — Italy’s Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, will be in Tripoli from tomorrow until Thursday, to define the details of the agreement which will see the go ahead to joint patrols of the Libyan coast to prevent the embarkation of ships of illegal immigrants. Maroni is expected to sign an agreement with his Libyan counterpart, so that the patrols of Libyan, Italian and International territorial waters, which will be made up of mixed crews, can start immediately. Italy in particular, according to the agreement which was signed in December 2007, as part of the Friendship Treaty from last August and recently integrated, will hand over six Customs office patrol boats to Libya to patrol the sea. The creation of a satellite control for southern Libyan borders is also being planned, and the contract will probably be awarded to Italy’s Finmeccanica. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Student Illegal at UCLA Wants Your Money

Alien distraught by inability to collect state, federal financial aid

An admitted illegal alien who has been accepted to UCLA is said to be distraught by her inability to collect state and federal financial aid.

The Los Angeles Times glamorized Karina De La Cruz’ story in a lengthy article today. The newspaper identifies her by father’s surname to protect her from repercussions of leaking her mother’s family name.


“UCLA officials acknowledge that some freshmen are admitted for reasons other than their grades and test scores, that some students come from dramatically different backgrounds than many of their peers but show academic promise,” the Times reports.


According to the report, the average freshman student at UCLA has a 4.22 GPA. De La Cruz had a 3.365 when she applied — and she scored 380 out of a possible 800 on an SAT subject test.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Bodies of Illegal Immigrants Found Near Coast

Tunis, 2 Feb. (AKI) — Tunisian police have recovered the bodies of seven illegal immigrants who are believed to have died in an ill-fated voyage to Italy in search of a new life. According to a report in the Arab daily, ‘al-Quds al-Arabi’, three of the bodies were found on the beach near Nabel, north of Tunis, while another four were found on the coast of La Marsa, also north of the capital.

Police believe that the victims were travelling on a boat that capsized off the coast of Tunisia as it was making its way to the southern island of Lampedusa two weeks ago

Officials said the boat was carrying up to 35 Tunisians and it capsized on 19 January near Tunis after hitting a rock.

Most of the passengers were not found, but Tunisian officials said that seven of the passengers had managed to swim ashore to La Marsa, some 20 kilometres north of Tunis.

A military helicopter, army boats and the Tunisian National Guard joined divers to search for the missing, but by nightfall none had been recovered.

The 1,300-kilometer coast of the small North African country is often used as a departure point for many migrants seeking a new life in Europe.

They often head for Italy’s southern Lampedusa island, a major destination for illegal immigrants.

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

Culture Wars

UK — Gay Pride Flag Flies at Police HQ

A gay pride flag has been flying above a police headquarters.

The flag to be hoisted to mark “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual History Month” at North Wales Police, where Richard Brunstrom, the controversial chief constable is in charge.

However anger is growing about flying the flag, and whether special interest groups should be perceived to be favoured by the police.

David Jones, Tory MP for Clwyd West, called it “political tokenism”.

He added : “I can’t see any reason why any flag other than the Union Flag and the Red Dragon of Wales should fly outside our police headquarters.

“This is tokenism and posturing. People want to see their police force focus on fighting crime, not getting involved in political tokenism and gestures.”

Darren Millar, who is Conservative Welsh Assembly Member for the constituency, commented : “It’s very strange for this sort of flag to be flying from a public building.

“Whilst I recognise North Wales Police have done a great deal to make sure they are open and behave equally to everyone this seems to be political correctness gone mad. I don’t think it’s going to enhance their ability to catch criminals.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Outrage as Police Station Ditches Union Jack… for a Gay Rights Flag

A police station has come under fire after officers replaced its Union Jack with a gay rights flag.

New Met police chief Sir Paul Stephenson was said to be outraged when he was told the gay emblem was raised outside Limehouse Station in east London.

It replaced the Union Jack and was put up by officers in recognition of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Month celebrated in February.

But Sir Paul ordered it be hauled down immediately after Met rules state only the Union Jack and the force’s own flag can fly from police buildings. One officer said: ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it. The police are playing politics again.

‘I can understand the need to show acceptance to people of all sexualities — but the Union Jack should never be taken down.’ A senior source added: ‘Sir Paul was livid when he found out someone had out up the rainbow flag. ‘He is anxious the Met does not stray into political territory and focuses on policing.

‘The vast majority of the police and public will be fully supportive.’ Sir Paul has already spoken about how he has no intention of being a ‘celebrity’ commissioner and how his main focus is to fight crime and not bow down to the PC agenda.

After taking office last week, Sir Paul insisted he would focus on efficient management of the force and its core job of fighting crime.

‘It is not my aim to be boring and neither is it my aim to be a celebrity,’ Sir Paul said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


U.N.’s Durban II Committee Censors Filming of Bid to Enact Censorship

The Russian-chaired U.N. committee in Geneva that is drafting the Durban II declaration today barred noted French author Caroline Fourest and her Arte news crew from filming a debate where Pakistan, Iran, and other countries urged the enactment of international curbs on free speech in the name of Islamic sensitivities. Germany protested and the matter will be further considered.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

U.S. Oil Dependency on the Middle East and the Diminishing Wealth of Arab Oil Exporters — in Light of the Economic Crisis

By: Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli

Since the Arab oil embargo on the United States in 1973, political campaigns in the United States at all levels, and particularly at the presidential level, have called for a national oil policy that would reduce the dependency on Middle East oil.

While reducing the dependency on oil imports from anywhere should be a high national priority, much of the rhetoric about dependency on oil imports from the Middle East by the U.S. bear little relationship to the reality.

The Reality of Oil Import by the United States [see table in article]

Most recent data released by the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy show that two countries exported more than 1.40 million barrels of crude per day (b/d) to the U.S., while four other countries exported over 1 million b/d of crude oil (see Table 1). The top five exporting countries accounted for 68%.of U.S. crude oil imports in October 2008, while the top 10 sources accounted for approximately 86% of all U.S. crude oil imports.

The top sources of U.S. crude oil imports for October 2008 were Canada (2.066 million b/d), Saudi Arabia (1.435 million b/d), Mexico (1.256 million b/d), Venezuela (1.027 million b/d), and Nigeria (0.935 million b/d). Total crude oil imports averaged 10.111 million barrels per day in October, which is an increase of 1.704 million barrels per day from September 2008, because of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, but actually about 2 million b/d less than the level of import in 2006.

The analysis of the data in Table 1 yields interesting results: The total 2008 import of crude from the five largest exporters through October was 6,594 million b/d. Of these, the share of Saudi Arabia was 1,918 million b/d or 23%. The total import from the 15 largest exporters of crude to the U..S. for the same period was 9,098 million b/d of which the share of four Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Algeria and Kuwait was 2,683 million b/d or 29.29%.

However, if we look into the share of Arab oil as of the total oil import by the U.S. for the month of October 2008, the figures will be lower. For that month, import from Saudi Arabia of 1,435 million b/d accounted for 14.2% of the total U.S. crude import, and the share of the four Arab countries was 2,247 million b/d, or 22.2%, of total U.S. crude import.

These numbers are significant but would not be crippling for the U.S. economy if they were to be sharply reduced for whatever reason. Energy saving resulting from the current economic recession and the development of alternative sources of energy, which is a key objective of the new Obama administration, will no doubt lessen the dependency of the U.S. on crude imports in general, and on Gulf oil in particular.

While the U.S. has been the largest oil importer in the world, whose imports in 2006 averaged 12.3 million b/d, this figure is trending downward as consumption began to decline in 2008, when U.S. petroleum deliveries — a measure of demand — fell by 6%, with a decline of all major products made of crude. [1] The U.S. also remains the third largest oil producer in the world: it averaged 8.3 million b/d in 2006, behind Saudi Arabia with 10.66 million b/d and Russia with 9.67 million b/d.

The Diminishing Wealth of the Arab Oil Exporters

The question of U.S. dependency on Middle East oil must also be considered in the light of the rapidly diminishing wealth of the oil producers. After hitting a high of $147 a barrel in July 2008, world oil prices have crashed to their lowest level since 2004. Commenting on the impact of declining prices on oil-producing nations, Didier Houssin — a senior official of the International Energy Agency (which represents the interests of the Western oil consumers) — noted: “The brutality and speed of the price decline is a huge shock economically and politically for some of these countries.” [2]

While oil prices were spiking and petrodollars accumulating through July of 2008, speculations were rampant about the size of the wealth of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.) As the price of oil increased from $27.69 per barrel on average in 2003 to as much as $100 per barrel in 2008, the U.S. and Western countries became preoccupied by what was seen at the time as a threat to the “Commanding Heights” of Western capitalism. According to the Saudi economic newspaper Al-Iqtisadiya, the assets managed by the GCC members were equal to one-fifth of the total assets of the central banks of countries with sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), an amount estimated at $5.3 trillion. [3] The global total of sovereign funds was forecast to rise to $12 trillion by 2015 as a result of further oil revenues and capital appreciation. [4] As a result the political influence of these countries increased too.

However, due to the global financial crisis, GCC countries saw their holdings shrink by $826 billion to $1.2 trillion in 2008, and the trend could continue as the price of crude continues to decline. In 2008, GCC countries pulled some $300 billion in oil profits, $70 billion more than 2007. Tumbling oil prices have meant budget deficits and have limited a critical source of foreign investments in other Arab countries. Up to last year, the government-run real estate and IT companies of the Gulf had emerged as major powers in boosting the economies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and other peripheral Arab states [e.g., Morocco and Tunisia]. [5] In Egypt alone, foreign direct investment is scheduled to decline by half to $7 billion from $1.2 billion in 2008. Moreover, the declining of assets will defer indefinitely or cancel major acquisitions by sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) of American or European major assets.

Budget Deficits

The decline of oil revenues has meant budget deficits in oil exporting countries. Available figures suggest that Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter in the world, will post a deficit in 2009 of $17 billion, the first since 2002; Oman, $2.1 billion; and Dubai, the second largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates, $1.1 billion.


This brief analysis sought to underscore two critical issues of major significance for U.S. strategic and economic policies: First, the alleged dependency on Middle East oil is greatly exaggerated. With the help of its oil strategic reserves, its national production of oil and the availability of oil from two friendly neighbors, Canada and Mexico, coupled with the drive for developing alternative energy sources, the U.S. could muddle through with reduced Middle East oil for a long while. Second, the sharp decline in oil revenues will lessen the threats of applying pressures on U.S. foreign policy by wealthy country or even the threat of acquiring vital U.S. assets by sovereign wealth funds.

Of course, speculating on the price of oil in the long term is foolhardy. A buyer’s market today could quickly become a seller’s market tomorrow and crushing oil prices could turn into spiking oil prices in no time. To avoid future shocks, the U.S. should simultaneously conserve existing sources of energy and develop alternative sources. The question of reducing dependency on oil imports should cease to be a political rhetoric and turn into a national plan of action. […]

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

WEF 2009: Global Crisis ‘Has Destroyed 40pc of World Wealth’

The past five quarters have seen 40pc of the world’s wealth destroyed and business leaders expect the global economic crisis can only get worse.

Steve Schwarzman, chairman of private equity giant Blackstone, said an “almost incomprehensible” amount of cash had evaporated since the financial crisis took hold.

“Business will be very different,” he added.

His comments came on a day of the World Economic Forum characterised by the gloom of its participants and warnings that the crisis will endure for some time. News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch kicked off the meetings by warning that the atmosphere was worsening — despite global economic confidence plumbing the lowest depths on record.

“The crisis is getting worse,” he said. “It’s going to take drastic action to turn it around, if it can be turned around, quickly. I believe it will take a long time.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]