Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/14/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/14/2009Ukrainian authorities have arrested three people for attempting to sell radioactive material that could be used to make a dirty bomb. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s president has officially signed a deal that cedes control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban.

In other news, a criminal Muslim recidivist from Romania entered Britain and raped a woman with the deliberate intention of being incarcerated in the cushy British prison system — which he considered a better living environment than would have been available to him in Romania.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CSP, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, Reinhard, TB, Tuan Jim, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Recession Spurs Growth in EU ‘Shadow Economy’
Turkmenistan to Build ‘Palace of Happiness’
Anti-Gun Laws Favor Criminals
Frank Gaffney: The Cold War is Over: Threat of Nuclear Proliferation is No Longer Just About U.S., Russia
Sebelius Lowballed Donations From Abortion Doctor
Swedish Terror Suspect on Trial in US
Texas Guv: ‘Feds Have Become Oppressive’
The Big Business/Big Government Axis of Evil
Where’s the Outrage for Cybersecurity Act?
Former Cameroonian Political Operative Expelled From Canada
Healthy Vancouver Woman Wants to Die Beside Her Ailing Husband
Europe and the EU
Cooperation: Rome Council Earmarks 800,000 Euros
Denmark: Bus Driver Fired in Niqab Passenger Controversy
Denmark: Absalon Anti-Piracy Ops End
DK Aware of U.S. Prisoner Programme
EU Elections Heading for Record Low Turnout
France Seeks to Stop Forced Marriage, Mutilation
Germany: Vandals Torch Over 30 German Military Vehicles
Germany Bans Cultivation of GM Corn
Greece: Terror Link to Failed Blast
‘Honour’ Culture Common in Stockholm
Netherlands: Junkie Criminals Cost Millions Per Person
Netherlands: Transsexual Woman Pestered Into Moving
Netherlands: Foreign Minister Denies Paying Ransom to Yemenis
Norway: More and More Passports Are Lost
Quake Brings Hardship to Italy’s Immigrants
Rape Victim Who Suffered So Romanian Could be Sent to ‘Cushy’ British Prison Relives Her Ordeal
Silvio Berlusconi Defended as Gallant Over Latest Earthquake ‘Gaffe’
Sweden: ‘Let Schools Suspend Pupils’: Björklund
UK: Air Travel ‘As Bad as Stabbing Person in the Street’, Says MEP
UK: EU Tells Farmers to Tag Every Sheep in Britain
UK: Grannies Hand Al-Qaida Defeat
UK: Jailbust Rant by Fanatic
UK: Pregnant Schoolgirls to Get ‘GCSE’ in Parenting Skills
UK: Shut-Down of RAF Squadrons ‘To Go Ahead a Year Early’
UK: Student Visa Scam Allowing Terror Suspects Into Britain
UK: Urine Spray Man Gets Nine Years
UK: Visas for Terrorists
UK: Why Aaqil Ahmed Shouldn’t Run the BBC’s Religion & Ethics Department
Serbia: 1.5 Mln Euros to Rise Production Capacity for Punto
North Africa
“The Economy Has Never Revived”
Egypt: Hezbollah in Crosshairs After Arrest of 49
Israel and the Palestinians
Defensible Borders on the Golan Heights
Israel: Peres Gets New TV Talk Show Career
Mitchell’s Visit, Talks Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak
Middle East
Iran Working With Al-Qaida
Lebanon: Military Convoy Targeted in Deadly Ambush
Middle East: Hezbollah Names Successor to Dead Military Chief
Pakistan: Bodies Found in Container Sent to Kabul
Saudi Arabia: UN Director Voices Concern Over Eight Year-Old Girl’s Marriage
Turkey: Easter Among the Muslims, in the Land of Saint Paul
US May Drop Condition for Iran Talks
Ukraine Arrests 3 in Radioactive Material Sale
South Asia
Afghan Women Want West to Back Off ‘Rape Law’
Afghan Taliban Kill Young Couple for Trying to Elope
India: Catholic Body Has 10 Poll Commandments
Indonesia: Voting Underway Amid Papua Violence
Nepali Catholics Oppose Caste Influence
Pakistan: Strikes Called to Protest Killing of Baluch Nationalist Leaders
Pakistan: Taliban Asserts Itself in North and South
Pakistan: President Signs Off Islamic Law Deal
Sri Lanka: Army Says Civilians Rebelling Against Tamil Tigers in Security Zone
Sri Lanka Says Norway Out of Peace Talks After Attack
Far East
China: Prime Minister Wen Promises Severe Measures Against Corruption — Again
North Korea to Quit Talks, Reopen Nuke Plants
S. Korea: Gov’t Should Take Decisive Action Over Detainee in the North
Australia — Pacific
Australia: Is Evans Ready for More Boatpeople?
Australia: Canberra Fears New Surge in Illegal Immigrants
NZ: Bashed Taxi Driver: Insults Were Worst
Sub-Saharan Africa
Piracy: Greek Cargo Ship Seized in Gulf of Aden
Study: Illegal Immigrants Having More Kids in US
UK: Fake Colleges Enable Foreigners to Disappear Through the Loophole
Culture Wars
Germany: German Bishop: Atheism Responsible for Nazis and Mass Murder
OIC Discusses Set-Up of an Independent and Permanent Human Rights Commission

Financial Crisis

Recession Spurs Growth in EU ‘Shadow Economy’

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — While just about every part of Europe’s economy is shrinking in the current recession, one sector — the black market — has started to grow, according to fresh research in Austria.

The “shadow economy” — which includes untaxed trade in goods and services, such as cash-in-hand construction work or car repairs, but excludes serious crime such as illegal drugs and prostitution — is predicted to expand by 0.3 to 0.9 percent this year in 14 rich EU states, which are also members of the OECD.

The highest growth in the sector — of 0.8 to 0.9 percent — is to come in Ireland, the UK and Spain. Belgium, Austria and Germany meanwhile are at the lower end of the scale.

Growth in the former Communist EU states, not covered by the forecast, an analysis by economist Friedrich Schneider of the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, is likely to be “the same if not bigger.”

The turnaround comes after 15 years of decline in black market activity and occurs at a time when the legitimate EU economy is expected to contract by two percent.

The research gathers together motivating factors such as rising taxation, unemployment and mistrust in the state as well as direct indices such as demand for cash from banks and trends in the use of electricity.

“In Belgium, if you go out on the weekend, you see more construction work being done than during the week,” Mr Schneider told EUobserver, explaining that the vast majority of shadow work is carried out by people who also hold licit jobs.

The economics of serious crime is different however. Rising taxes are unlikely to have an impact on sales of illegal drugs. Theft and burglary may go up during a recession. At the same time, income from prostitution is likely to go down, as businessmen have less money to spend.

The size of the shadow economy varies from region to region. In northern Europe and Scandinavia it represents between 10 and 18 percent of official GDP. In Mediterranean countries such as Portugal and Italy, the sector makes up 20 to 25 percent.

Many former Communist EU countries have shadow sectors in the Mediterranean range. But in Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria the estimate clocks in at 36 to 39 percent.

The figures for EU neighbours can be much higher. In Belarus and Moldova, around half of economic activity bypasses the state. In Ukraine, about 57 percent. In Georgia, 68 percent.

The existence of a shadow economy up to the 25 percent mark can improve ordinary people’s quality of life, the Austrian academic believes.

“The shadow economy tends to increase people’s well-being. Extra goods are produced, extra income is generated. You don’t work in the shadow economy for the sake of your savings account, but because you want to buy a new TV or whatever,” Mr Schneider said.

A thriving black market can also be useful in other ways. In 2006, the Greek government included the size of its hefty shadow economy in the calculation of its official GDP to try to avoid EU fiscal disciplinary measures.

The EU’s stability and growth pact limits the size of government borrowing to three percent of GDP.

The European Commission rejected the Greek manoeuvre. But the commission itself in recent years has contacted experts such as Mr Schneider to see if shadow economy estimates could be used to inflate the official wealth of member states.

“The commission has also had this idea because it would enlarge the base from which they calculate contributions to the EU budget. So they are not so hostile,” the Austrian economist said.

“But there is no consensus on how to estimate the size.”

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe [Return to headlines]

Turkmenistan to Build ‘Palace of Happiness’

Finds original way to cope with global financial crisis

The Central Asian country of Turkmenistan has found an original way of coping with the global financial crisis: if your people are sad, build them a “Palace of Happiness.”

The reclusive ex-Soviet republic said Tuesday that it would build the palace as part of over $1billion (€753 million) worth of construction projects to beautify the capital Ashgabat and make it more liveable.

“President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed a series of documents under which several important community structures will be built in Ashgabat at a cost of over $1 billion,” state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan wrote.

“ President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed a series of documents under which several important community structures will be built in Ashgabat at a cost of over $1 billion “

State newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan The Palace of Happiness — to be used as a wedding hall — will cost over €100 million ($133 million), said the newspaper, a mouthpiece for the government of the energy-rich country.

Turkish construction firm Polimeks won over $200 million in contracts as part of the projects, which will also see an additional 2,000 hotel rooms built in Ashgabat.

The announcement comes one week after Turkmenistan unveiled plans to build a $1billion Olympic village, including a winter sports complex, despite the fact that the desert nation is not due to host any upcoming Winter Games.

Garish construction projects sprang up across Turkmenistan during the rule of dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006, even as much of the population remained mired in poverty.

His successor Berdymukhamedov has erased some of the more bizarre aspects of Niyazov’s personality cult but has come under fire from critics who accuse him of simply replacing it with his own.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]


Anti-Gun Laws Favor Criminals

The problem is that increasing restrictions on, and/or removing firearms from, responsible gun-owners will not keep us safe, and it sure as heck won’t stop violent gun crimes. At what point, if ever, will anti-gun zealots and the “throw the baby out with the bath water” politicians get the message? It isn’t responsible gun owners that are committing gun crimes. At what point, if ever, will they understand that an AK-47, a bazooka, or a dozen .357 magnums are no more dangerous in the hands of responsible gun owners than a Rottweiler or pit bull is in the hands of loving and responsible pet owners?

There is no greater truism than, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: The Cold War is Over: Threat of Nuclear Proliferation is No Longer Just About U.S., Russia

President Obama proposes to deal with the proliferating threat of nuclear weapons and associated ballistic missiles by savaging the nuclear deterrent force and missile defenses that keep us safe. If actually implemented, his proposals will contribute to a more dangerous planet and a less secure America.

Mr. Obama’s ideas are a throwback to a world that no longer exists — one in which there were two nuclear superpowers who believed that bilateral agreements on offensive forces and missile defenses were necessary to manage their relations and prevent Armageddon. Today, Russia is no superpower, although it is keen to parlay the vestiges of its once-vast nuclear arsenal into restored international prestige and power. The real danger is emerging from actual or incipient nuclear-armed rogue states like North Korea and Iran, an unstable Pakistan and a militaristic China.

Far from discouraging proliferation, gutting our strategic forces in a new treaty with the Kremlin will increase that phenomenon. Our severe reductions will only embolden China and other prospective foes to build-up. Meanwhile, allies who have heretofore relied on our nuclear “umbrella” will lose confidence in us and go nuclear themselves…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]

Sebelius Lowballed Donations From Abortion Doctor

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s health secretary nominee got nearly three times as much political money from a controversial abortion doctor as she told senators.

The Health and Human Services Department said Monday that the omission was an oversight that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius would correct.

In a response to questions from the Senate Finance Committee made public last week, Sebelius wrote that she received $12,450 between 1994-2001 from Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers.

But in addition to those campaign donations, records reviewed by The Associated Press show that Tiller gave at least $23,000 more from 2000-2002 to a political action committee Sebelius established while insurance commissioner to raise money for fellow Democrats.

Sebelius did not tell senators about that additional money, although Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., asked specifically about any Tiller donations to her PAC.

“There was an oversight in the initial answer provided to the committee,” HHS spokesman Nick Papas said Monday. “Obviously donations to the PAC are a matter of public record. The governor is updating the answer to this question and will resubmit it to the committee.”

It was the second time in her confirmation process that Sebelius had to explain a financial oversight to the Finance Committee. Earlier, she corrected three years’ worth of tax returns and paid more than $7,000 in back taxes to fix improper deductions.

Anti-abortion groups have sought to make an issue of Sebelius’ pro-abortion stances and her ties to Tiller, who was acquitted last month of misdemeanor charges stemming from procedures he performed but is now under investigation by the state medical board.

Opponents have criticized Republicans on the Finance Committee for not asking Sebelius about Tiller or abortion when she appeared for her confirmation hearing April 2. Senators raised the issue only in written questions submitted to Sebelius after her hearing, which were released last Thursday along with her responses.

“Can you describe your relationship with Mr. Tiller?” Kyl asked. “Has he ever contributed to your campaign or has your PAC ever received money from Mr. Tiller or a PAC related to Mr. Tiller?”

Sebelius responded: “I have been familiar with Dr. Tiller for many years because he lives and works in Kansas. Dr. Tiller, like many Kansans, contributed to my campaign for insurance commissioner. I received $12,450 over an eight-year period (1994-2001), which represented 1 percent of my total contributions during that time. Since that time, I have received no donations from Dr. Tiller or any PAC related to him.”

What Sebelius left out: Campaign finance documents show that Tiller also contributed $10,000 to Sebelius’ Bluestem Fund PAC in September 2000, and his clinic, Women’s Health Care Services, contributed $8,000 to the PAC in December 2001 and another $5,000 in March 2002.

The Finance Committee was expected to vote this month on forwarding Sebelius’ nomination to the full Senate. There was no immediate indication from committee Republicans that her omission on the Tiller contributions would upset that timing.

The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which is opposing Sebelius’ nomination, circulated the campaign finance documents showing the discrepancy in what Sebelius told senators. The records were reviewed Monday by the AP and their accuracy was verified by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Swedish Terror Suspect on Trial in US

The trial began in New York on Monday of a Swedish citizen suspected of attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in the United States.

Oussama Abdullah Kassir, 43, is charged with supporting both terrorism and Al Qaeda when he allegedly tried to establish the camp in the northwestern US state of Oregon in 1999.

Jury selection began at a New York federal court Monday and opening statements in the trial could come this week.

Kassir, a Swede of Lebanese origin, was arrested in 2005 by Czech authorities in response to a US request to Interpol while he was at an airport stopover between Stockholm and Beirut.

According to prosecutors, the camp in Bly, Oregon “was to provide a place where Muslims could receive various types of training, including military-style jihad training, in preparation for a community of Muslims to move to Afghanistan.”

However, the training facility was never put into operation.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Texas Guv: ‘Feds Have Become Oppressive’

‘I believe returning to 10th Amendment will free our state’

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has thrown his support behind a growing movement to rein in the federal government by resurrecting the 10th Amendment, which reserves to states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution.”

“I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state,” Perry said.

“That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

The Big Business/Big Government Axis of Evil

Even as Michelle Obama plants a White House garden and encourages Americans everywhere to do the same thing, her husband is creating a brand new tool for the Big Business/Big Government powerbrokers: a new “Food Safety Administration” (FSA).

At the same time, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) has introduced H.R. 875 to “protect the public health.” But it is not the public health that Ms. DeLauro wants to protect. It is the health of the demonic duo of Big Business and Big Government. Two other bills with similar machinations are S. 425, introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and H.R. 815, submitted by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado).

In a nutshell, when these bills become law, every homegrown garden in the country will be regulated, inspected, controlled, and taxed by the federal government. (No, I am not making it up.) In addition, small, independent farms would most certainly be put out of business. In effect, the great Nanny State is posturing itself to completely take over the food business in America.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Where’s the Outrage for Cybersecurity Act?

Jerry Kane warns of dangers inherent in having White House Internet ‘czar’

Under the guise of safety, the bill would grant a White House appointed cybersecurity “czar” unprecedented authority to shut down private domestic networks or limit Internet traffic in a “critical” information network during a cybersecurity emergency. What distinguishes a critical information network or constitutes a cybersecurity emergency would be determined by the president. The act would also impart authority to the Commerce Department to track cybersecurity threats and override any existing laws, regulations, rules, or policies restricting access to security data from private networks.

The bill would not only make the president more powerful, but it would also allow the Secretary of Commerce access to all information on a network, which could make the network less safe and more vulnerable to intruders or terrorists. Yet the senators remain resolute to remedy their perceived crisis. Rockefeller insists on protecting critical infrastructure at all costs” and Snowe demands swift action to avoid “a cyber-Katrina.” Their rhetoric of a looming crisis matches the rhetoric manufactured for the bailout and stimulus bills, given that the bills required drastic intervention and immediate action with little or no consideration for a downside or potential harm.

The proposed Big Brother law “would empower the government to set and enforce security standards for private industry for the first time.” The president could use the authority granted in the proposed law to suspend the effective use of the Internet to circulate information or coordinate activities outside mainstream media outlets or government-approved channels. Such a law could lead to a network police force that would levy fines and shut down private Web sites that government officials determine inappropriate or offensive. The act could also open the door for more Internet censorship legislation, and follow the path taken by Australia and China.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Former Cameroonian Political Operative Expelled From Canada

A young man from Cameroon has been expelled from Canada after a federal judge declared that his sudden marriage to a Canadian did not make amends for his crimes against humanity as a political spy or for procuring underage girls for the sexual pleasure of the president’s cousin.

Eric Francis Tchoumbou, 23, of Montreal, had fought to remain in Canada for nearly four years, alleging his former party militia colleagues in his West African homeland had tortured him despite his service as a political operative and party pimp.

He received little sympathy from the government or the courts in Canada after he was found ineligible for refugee status under all three of the United Nation’s automatic exclusion criteria.

Mr. Tchoumbou’s difficulties began at the age of 17, soon after he joined the youth wing of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), the political party of ruling president Paul Biya.

“The leader of the CPDM [youth] put me in with a group of members that had to do certain tasks for the government,” Mr. Tchoumbou told Canadian officials when first applying for asylum.

At a birthday party for another member, he met the cousin of Mr. Biya and soon found a role for himself within the party: his main job was to introduce girls to the cousin, something he did a dozen times over a period of nine months, he told Canadian officials.

“In exchange for pocket money, good restaurant meals and the company of the cousin of president Biya, [Mr. Tchoumbou] found girls, who could sometimes be minors, so this cousin could have sexual relations,” according to a ruling by the Federal Court of Canada.

He later joined the party’s militia, the “paramilitary organization serving the party or the repressive apparatus of the state that keeps that party in power,” according to an Immigration and Refugee Board decision.

Mr. Tchoumbou described his second party job to immigration officials: “I would be sent to infiltrate the political opposition parties that were demonstrating against the government in order to identify the organizers and those who incited the others to take to the street.

“I also identified those who were sounding alarms and who encouraged the demonstrators to do anything they could to disturb the peace and to defeat the current government’s actions,” he told Canadian authorities.

Those he identified as political opponents were later tortured, officials found.

In May, 2004, he said he was brought to a room where police were beating political opponents of the president. He was asked to join in the torture but refused and left the room, he said.

Not long afterwards, he said, government agents grabbed him from his home and tortured him because of his refusal.

While imprisoned, a prison guard told him that he was going to be killed and urged him to flee, he said. He escaped and hid with a friend for a year before coming to Canada in 2005, he said.

The story he told refugee officials in Canada was cause for alarm and was used as evidence of his role in crimes against humanity, serious non-political criminality, and acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations, which are three reasons a person automatically becomes ineligible for refugee status.

At a refugee hearing, however, he denied engaging in the activities, adding the issue of credibility to his shortcomings.

Immigration officials did not believe he had been tortured or imprisoned in Cameroon.

After being denied asylum, he appealed to the Federal Court of Canada, which ruled against him in 2008.

Before he was sent back to Cameroon, however, he informed the government that he had just married a Canadian woman and was submitting a sponsored application for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. That led to a second Federal Court battle.

Mr. Tchoumbou argued that if sent back to Cameroon he would suffer irreparable harm because he will be separated from his wife as well as face inhumane treatment because of his political opinion.

Justice Michel Shore recently ruled against his attempt to stay.

Justice Shore noted that Mr. Tchoumbou did not provide any evidence of his marriage and even if he had, it did not preclude his removal given his exclusion from refugee status under the UN convention.

In this case, wrote Justice Shore, “the balance of convenience favours the public interest.”

A spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency said Mr. Tchoumbou has been removed from Canada.

His lawyer did not return phone calls.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Healthy Vancouver Woman Wants to Die Beside Her Ailing Husband

The head of a controversial assisted-suicide group in Switzerland says he will seek legal permission to help a Canadian woman and other healthy people like her kill themselves, raising startling new issues in the emotional debate over euthanasia.

Betty Coumbias, an elderly Vancouver resident, has indicated she wants to die alongside her husband, George, who suffers from severe heart disease.

Involving healthy individuals would dramatically extend the boundaries of assisted suicide, usually thought of as a way for the terminally ill to avoid an otherwise painful, uncomfortable death.

If successful, the Swiss group, Dignitas, would essentially be aiding in a suicide pact, charged one Canadian critic, while a Toronto-based euthanasia advocate says people have the right to choose the time of their death, whether sick or not.

Ludwig Minelli, director of Dignitas, said in a recent e-mail to Mr. and Mrs. Coumbias that he plans to ask officials of the Canton of Zurich, the local state government, to give doctors the authority to issue lethal drugs to healthy people, after they have been counseled by his organization.

The human-rights lawyer said he is likely to be turned down at that level, but would then appeal to the Administrative Court of Zurich and, if necessary, to the Federal Court of Switzerland.

The challenge does not relate to a particular Dignitas member, “but if we will win, the result would also be decisive for your case,” he told the couple in a message copied to the National Post.

Mr. Minelli described the unusual wishes of the Canadian woman and her husband in a recent British radio interview.

“She told us, here in my living room, ‘If my husband goes with Dignitas, I would go at the same time with him,’ “ he told the BBC.

“This would constitute some problems for us, especially also for a Swiss physician (who would have to prescribe the lethal drugs) and we will now probably go to the courts to clear this question.”

Mr. Coumbias declined comment on the topic, saying by e-mail that he and his wife are refusing interviews.

But a 2007 documentary on Dignitas by John Zaritsky, an Oscar-winning Canadian filmmaker, followed the couple, both 71 at the time, in their initial attempts to arrange a joint assisted suicide.

Mrs. Coumbias explains in the documentary, The Suicide Tourist, why she would take her own life despite being generally healthy.

“From the day we got married, [my husband] was all my life,” she tells Mr. Minelli. “I love my two daughters, but I love him more, and I don’t think I can face life without him, and since we read about Dignitas, we felt what would be better than to die together, you know, to die in each other’s arms?”

The film, broadcast on CTV more than a year ago, then shows the couple meeting with a Swiss doctor, who refuses to prescribe the required drugs to either husband or wife, saying that even Mr. Coumbias’s illness was not serious enough to justify assisted suicide.

While contrary to criminal law in Canada and most other Western nations, assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. Mr. Minelli is a vocal proponent of the practice and welcomes clients from other countries at Dignitas.

Although the concept was originally advocated as an escape for the very sick, he has argued that it should be an option for anyone who feels they can no longer go on, and has the mental capacity to make the decision. Mr. Minelli says he has helped in the suicide of several people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

Assisted suicide for healthy individuals, though, is such a dramatic step it could actually backfire and turn people against the whole concept, said Margaret Somerville, an ethics professor at McGill University who opposes euthanasia generally.

“We lose the gravitas of death,” she said of such a scenario. “Death is no longer put in a moral context.”

People sometimes want to die after losing a spouse because of pure loneliness, but the condition is not irreversible, argued Prof. Somerville. She recalled a doctor telling her at a conference in the Netherlands, which has a similar liberal approach to assisted suicide as Switzerland, about how she gave a lethal injection to an elderly woman who had repeatedly asked to die after her husband had passed away. Prof. Somerville said she asked the physician if anyone had suggested simply buying the lonely woman a cat.

“She said, ‘No, but what a remarkable idea. Next time we’ll try that.’ “

Ruth Von Fuchs, head of the Right to Die Society, defended the Canadian couple’s plans, however, saying that some people do not see life as an obligation or “indentured servitude” that must be continued no matter what.

When life starts to slide inexorably downhill, people should have the right to end it if they want, she said.

As for Mr. Minelli, Ms. Von Fuchs said she has met him and finds him to be “a very altruistic and caring person, and conscientious.”

In a conference presentation last year, the lawyer said that Dignitas will talk to suicidal people about actually continuing with life and estimated that 70% of the group’s members, once they know assisted suicide is an option, never actually take advantage of the services.

But, he said, “we must be prepared to offer professionally supervised assisted suicide to those people whose problems cannot be solved, even after intense discussion with non-judgmental people free from any paternalism, whether medical, religious or governmental.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Cooperation: Rome Council Earmarks 800,000 Euros

(ANSAmed) — ROME, APRIL 2 — Rome City Council’s newly approved budget sets aside by edict the sum of 800 thousand euros for decentralised cooperation. As in 2008, says a press release issued by the council running the city, a qualified consultative commission of the International Relations Commission, with participation of the Union for Cooperation, will select the individual projects for social and economic cooperation and promotion from among the many voluntary associations among the citizens. The note continues: “In the roll for 2009, special attention will be paid to strengthening development, training and partnership strategies with countries of the Mediterranean rim and of Sub-Saharan Africa in line with re-launching the capital city’s Mediterranean orientation. “This is a much more substantial sum than in the past, which the administration is dedicating to developing countries and increasing subsidiarity. This is a strong and solid signal that Mayor Gianni Alemanno wanted to give on this important part of the role of Rome as the ‘Capital of solidarity’. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Bus Driver Fired in Niqab Passenger Controversy

Union to challenge dismissal of bus driver fired in Funen case of niqab wearing passenger

A 41-year-old bus driver who made headlines two weeks ago after refusing to let a woman wearing a niqab onto his bus was fired on Tuesday by his employer, Fynbus.

According to the bus driver, the woman showed him a monthly pass, which has a photograph of the pass holder on it. When he asked her to lower her veil so he could be certain she was the woman pictured on the pass, she refused, whereupon he told her she could not ride on the bus.

The woman attempted to re-enter the bus four times and was removed on each occasion. The driver’s labour union, 3F, indicated that they believed the firing to be a political statement and are therefore challenging the dismissal.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: No kidding — gotta be a political dhimmitude issue. I can’t believe they actually fired him after previously saying that he was following the existing rules — as they were [poorly] written.]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Absalon Anti-Piracy Ops End

The Danish warship Absalon arrives back in Copenhagen Thursday, ending its eight-month anti-piracy operations off the coast of Africa.

Until recently, the Absalon was the flagship of Task Force 150, an international naval effort to prevent pirates from hijacking commercial vessels in areas off the Horn of Africa.

Defence Minister Søren Gade says Absalon prevented between eight and 10 hijackings.

“The international community has sent a clear signal that piracy must stop. Some 15 international warships in the area have a preventive effect and Absalon has prevented some eight to 10 hijackings. If nothing else, we have saved these sailors from being taken hostage,” Gade says.

Gade says, however, that pirate attacks appear to be on the increase.

“We must admit that the number of hijackings is increasing and that we cannot solve the problem by military means alone. We must build stable governments in the pirates’ home countries — and that will take years,” Gade says.

Denmark still has staff officers in the region, and Gade would like Absalon to return to anti-piracy operations at the beginning of 2010.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

DK Aware of U.S. Prisoner Programme

A Danish national was secretly interrogated by U.S. agents in Africa.

The Danish government has been aware of at least one case of secret U.S. interrogations of a Danish national in Africa.

The interrogations, concerning a Danish national detained by Ethiopian forces in Somalia, were part of the controversial American war on terrorism prisoner programme and in contravention of international conventions.

The United States itself informed the Danish government about the prisoner, who was fighting with Islamic rebels in Somalia, and was interrogated in 2007 following his detention by Ethiopian forces, according to a report prepared by Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Politiken.

A full two months went by without Danish authorities having access to the 36-year-old prisoner.

Responsibility According to a senior foreign ministry official, Denmark was aware that the Dane, who was a convert to Islam, was being interrogated by American agents.

“The story confirms what we already know — that the United States hides prisoners and interrogates them without the rights that prisoners-of-war normally must have. In this case it was with the collaboration of the Ethiopian government, and if the Danish government was aware of the case, it also bears a moral responsibility,” says Red Cross Denmark’s Secretary-General Anders Ladekarl.

This is the first time that it has been disclosed that the Danish government had concrete knowledge of parts of the secret American prisoner programme. The government has otherwise consistently told Parliament that it had no knowledge that the United States interrogated prisoners in secret prisons.

Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller (Cons.) has not wanted to be interviewed in the case, but says in a written response that the Danish government has not done anything wrong.

“The prisoner in question has at no time told the foreign ministry that he was abused, detained or transported by the Americans. As a result I have not done anything in particular about the American issue in my domestic political contacts,” says Stig Møller.

Agents The 36-year-old Dane is a convert to Islam who went to Somalia to fight for the introduction of Sharia. In 2007, he was captured by Ethiopian security forces and was subjected to daily interrogations by American agents in an Ethiopian prison.

The location of the man was kept secret from Danish authorities for over a month, he had no access to legal aid and was unable to contact his family, who believed he had died.

“You cannot just let people disappear for months at a time. If that happens, we wreck everything that our civilisation is built upon,” says Ladekarl.

Criticism Opposition parties are indignant.

“We condemn the fact that the government has not told us everything it knew,” says Social Democratic Foreign Policy Spokesman Mogens Lykketoft.

Frank Aaen of the Unity List intends to question the government on the issue.

“The Foreign Policy Committee has never been told that the Dane in question has been interrogated by the Americans. That shines an entirely new light on the case. It means that the government has known of America’s illegal methods in the war on terror, but has kept this from Parliament,” says Aaen.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU Elections Heading for Record Low Turnout

With European Parliament elections fast approaching, EU citizens are less interested in the poll than ever before in a situation that could see the abstention rate across the bloc hit a record 66 percent.

A soon to be released survey from the European Commission’s polling service, Eurobarometer, shows that interest in the election is weak right across the union, reports France’s Liberation daily.

The newest EU citizens, from member states that joined in 2004 and 2007, are as indifferent as their “old European” cousins, who have decades of experience in EU electoral listlessness.

Only 17 percent of Poles intend to vote in the 4 to 7 June elections — the lowest figure of all member states, reports the survey, carried out between January and February this year.

Ascending the ladder, some 21 percent of Austrians intend to vote in the polls, followed by 22 percent of Britons, 24 percent of Portuguese and a quarter of Slovaks.

Just over a quarter of Czechs, Hungarians and Spaniards say they will make a detour out of their day to head to the polling station, while just under a third of Italians and Bulgarians will do likewise (30% and 31%).

Germany, the most populous of the EU states, is likely to see 43 percent of its citizens vote, according to Eurobarometer. France and the Netherlands, home to the rejectionists of the EU’s Constitutional Treaty, come close to half the voting public, with both nations on 47 percent. Some 48 percent of Cypriots and Greeks and 49 percent of Swedes plan to go to the urns.

Only in Malta (56%), Denmark (56%), Luxembourg (62%) and Belgium (70%) will a majority of citizens of voting age cast a ballot in the parliamentary elections. In the latter two countries, voting in elections is mandatory.

The sole silver lining from the survey is that the record abstinence appears to be no indication of growing euroscepticism, but rather a feeling that the vote will not make any difference. Just 20 percent of those surveyed cited rejection of the construction of a European community as their reason for not voting.

However, some 64 percent said they were not intending to vote because they had little knowledge of the role of MEPs while 62 percent said it was because voting would not change anything.

Just say No to abstinence

Meanwhile, the European Commission is hoping to convince young people to say “No” to abstinence.

The EU executive has hooked up with MTV to launch an EU-wide campaign similar to the music channel’s celebrated “Rock the Vote” initiative in the US to urge youngsters to take part in the June poll.

The European version, a somewhat less boisterous “Can You Hear Me, Europe?” will see a series of TV spots running regularly on the network’s various European stations as well as an interactive website and publicity stunts in EU national capitals.

Voter participation is particularly low in the EU, with only 40 percent of young people casting a ballot in the 2004 parliamentary elections and 45.5 percent of people overall.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe [Return to headlines]

France Seeks to Stop Forced Marriage, Mutilation

PARIS (AP) — France’s government launched a campaign Tuesday against forced marriages and genital mutilation, seeking to protect women from practices that quietly thrive in immigrant communities the nation is struggling to integrate.

The government is handing out 100,000 leaflets to schools, doctors and other public services explaining the health and legal risks and providing information on support services for victims.

The campaign involves two stark, red, white and black brochures. One pictures a razor — a tool often used in genital mutilation — in a circle with a slash through it. The other shows a splayed palm, a ring of barbed wire being slid over the ring finger, also circled with a slash running through it.

France is among several European countries that have sought to stamp out such customs. French law forbids forced marriages and allows prosecution of anyone who mutilates the genitals of a girl with French citizenship or resident status, even if the operation is conducted in another country.

But the practices continue to thrive in secret. The French information campaign appears aimed at getting the word out to immigrants that such acts are not acceptable here.

“A barbaric, anachronistic and unjustifiable plague,” was how the government’s junior minister for women’s and other social issues, Valerie Letard, described the practices.

Around 55,000 women and girls in France have been genitally mutilated, and about 70,000 women and girls in France are “under threat” of being forced into marriage, she said.

Families must be told “that the law will punish them severely if they take such paths,” Letard said.

“Today we must break the silence, do away with all these received ideas about customs or religion,” she said, referring to mistaken beliefs that genital mutilation is prescribed by Islam, for example.

Genital mutilation, an ancient rite in more than two dozen African countries and parts of the Middle East, usually targets the clitoris and parts of the labia, and is usually conducted on prepubescent girls.

The practice spreads across religions, and reasons for it vary from purity to tradition. Three million girls worldwide face the ordeal each year, and health risks from infection to sterility continue for life.

Immigrant families in Europe sometimes send their daughters back to their country of origin during the summer holidays to have the procedure done.

France has grappled in recent years with how best to integrate a growing number of immigrants and cultures with values that often jar against more liberal French customs.

French marriages must be validated by administrative officials, who can refuse if they suspect either of the spouses was forced into the union. Marriages of French people conducted abroad can be annulled if one of the spouses is found to have been forced into it.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany: Vandals Torch Over 30 German Military Vehicles

BERLIN — Vandals torched more than 30 army vehicles at a military training school in Dresden, causing damage worth millions of dollars.

Police said the attack on buses, trucks and cars happened late Sunday night.

The vehicles burned so furiously that all remained of them was scorched metal shells.

Someone tipped off police to the arson attack around 3 a.m. today.

No one was injured and police are investigating.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany Bans Cultivation of GM Corn

Germany has banned the cultivation of GM corn, claiming that MON 810 is dangerous for the environment. But that argument might not stand up in court and Berlin could face fines totalling millions of euros if American multinational Monsanto decides to challenge the prohibition on its seed.

The sowing season may be just around the corner, but this year German farmers will not be planting gentically modified crops: German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner announced Tuesday she was banning the cultivation of GM corn in Germany.

Under the new regulations, the cultivation of MON 810, a GM corn produced by the American biotech giant Monsanto, will be prohibited in Germany, as will the sale of its seed. Aigner told reporters Tuesday she had legitimate reasons to believe that MON 810 posed “a danger to the environment,” a position which she said the Environment Ministry also supported. In taking the step, Aigner is taking advantage of a clause in EU law which allows individual countries to impose such bans.

“Contrary to assertions stating otherwise, my decision is not politically motivated,” Aigner said, referring to reports that she had come under pressure to impose a ban from within her party, the conservative Bavaria-based Christian Social Union. She stressed that the ban should be understood as an “individual case” and not as a statement of principle regarding future policy relating to genetic engineering.

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) both welcomed the ban. Greenpeace’s genetic engineering expert, Stephanie Töwe, said the decision was long overdue, explaining that numerous scientific studies demonstrated that GM corn was a danger to the environment.

However the ban could prove costly for the German government. Experts in Aigner’s ministry recently told SPIEGEL that it will be hard to prove conclusively that MON 810 damages the environment, which could enable Monsanto to win a court case opposing the ban and potentially expose the government to €6-7 million ($7.9-9.2 million) in damages…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Greece: Terror Link to Failed Blast

An explosive device that was placed outside offices in the southern Athens neighborhood of Kallithea on Saturday but failed to detonate is likely to have been the work of the terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle, which has been particularly active in the city over the last few months.

Sources told Kathimerini that initial tests suggest that the device contained ANFO, a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil that is a common explosive used in mining and quarrying. A massive bomb that went off outside Citibank’s headquarters in Kifissia in February, and which was also claimed by Revolutionary Struggle, was found to contain ANFO too.

Police said that Saturday’s bomb was placed outside the entrance to a building that houses offices for Alpha Bank, a shipping company and, until recently, served as the headquarters of a French company. A recorded telephone warning was made to the Eleftherotypia newspaper.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

‘Honour’ Culture Common in Stockholm

More than 4,000 teenagers in Stockholm are exposed on a daily basis to cultures of honour that run counter to Swedish law, according to an estimate based on a new official study.

and suburbs, according to a study commissioned by local politicians.

Ulf Kristersson (Mod), Commissioner of Social Services, is one of a number of politicinas surprised and outraged by the findings.

“It’s not permitted for adults, not even parents, to prevent children from living full, independent lives,” he told Sverige Televsion.

The results come from a survey of a cross section of more than 2,000 pupils.

Almost a quarter of female respondents, 23 percent, said they were expected to retain their virginity until marriage and were not allowed to have a boyfriend. Sixteen percent of girls were not allowed to have male friends or decide who they would marry.

Seven percent of girls and three percent of boys said they were exposed to serious violations in the form of threats and violence.

And ten percent of girls and four percent of boys said their lives were limited to the extent that they could not live in the same way as other people their own age.

The majority of teenagers who matched the honour culture profile have parents born outside Sweden.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Junkie Criminals Cost Millions Per Person

AMSTERDAM, 11/04/09 — Locking up junkies and illegal immigrants that fill their day with theft and break-ins for two years produces savings for society of no less than 4 million euros per criminal, De Telegraaf newspaper reports based on a study by the justice ministry.

From 2004, it has been possible for courts to lock up someone who commits crimes daily — a ‘very active recidivist’ (ZAPV-er) in the jargon — for a maximum of two years via the ISD (Incarceration of Systematic Offenders) rule, as it is known. Two researchers who were commissioned by the justice ministry to make an initial exploratory cost-benefit analysis of this rule conclude it is bearing fruit, according to De Telegraaf.

When a ZAPV-er lands up in jail for two years, this saves society 1.485 million euros in damages from crimes and violations. Additionally, the government saves no less than 624,000 euros per ZAPV-er in costs that would otherwise have been made by the red tape in all offences committed.

But even greater, claims the research, is the deterrent effect of ISD on other ‘revolving-door’ criminals. For each ZAPV-er locked up, 28 others step back in terms of the intensity of their criminal activities.

As against all these benefits, there is the 150,000 euros in costs of the SDE measure. A very large proportion of recidivists are addicted to heroin, often of low intelligence and suffer from psychiatric disturbances and other health problems.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Transsexual Woman Pestered Into Moving

A transsexual woman from the Utrecht district of Zuilen has moved house as a result of bullying by a group of about 30 young Moroccans. Earlier, two lesbian couples left Zuilen because they no longer felt safe there. Utrecht Mayor Aleid Wolfsen said the situation was extremely regrettable.

Last year, the city council took a series of measures to prevent this type of incident, including CCTV supervision and so-called ‘street coaches’, Moroccan parents appointed to tackle problem youths about their conduct.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Foreign Minister Denies Paying Ransom to Yemenis

Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen says no ransom money was paid for the release of a Dutch couple in Yemen earlier on Tuesday. The minister stressed the Netherlands never pays ransoms for its nationals. The kidnappers say they received 325,000 dollars. It is not clear whether a third party paid the ransom money. Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders has invited the couple to the ministry to tell him about their experiences.

The Dutch couple, Jan Hoogendoorn and his wife Heleen Janszen, were released after being held against their will by Yemeni tribesmen for two weeks in a remote mountainous region 90 kilometres southeast of the capital Sana’a. In a telephone conversation with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Jan Hoogendoorn said they had been treated well but it was “mavellous to be free although their lives had not been in danger”.

Jan Hoogendoorn works for Dutch water company Vitens-Evides on a project with a local water company in the town of Ta’iz. The project which provides water for 800,000 residents has received 1.6 million euros from the Dutch development cooperation ministry.

Over the weekend there were conflicting reports on whether the couple were to be released. The Dutch public broadscaster NOS reported earlier that their captors had agreed a deal with the Yemeni government, but the couple knew nothing about an imminent release. They say the were told every day they would be released.

Foreigners are regularly abducted in Yemen by clans either asking for a ransom or making other demands, but the victims are seldom harmed.

Sheikh Mohammed Almilgati, a leader of the Bani Dhibyan clan some of whose members were responsible for the abduction, has apologised for the kidnapping in an interview with the Arabic service of Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The sheikh was the chief negotiator and mediator in the kidnapping. One of the conditions for the release was that the abductors would not be prosecuted later by the government.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Norway: More and More Passports Are Lost

More and more passports are lost. Last year, about 25.000 passports were reported missing. 971 of the passports were also reported stolen.

– There is good reason to fear that the passports have gotten into illegitimate hands, section chief Steinar Talgø at the Norwegian Police Directorate says.

The stolen passports could be used to travel illegally to Norway, according to Aftenposten.

Prior to Easter, the government decided to change the passport laws to allow fingerprints to be included in the passports. This will be included in 2010 at the earliest.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Quake Brings Hardship to Italy’s Immigrants

L’AQUILA, Italy (AP) — Among the thousands of people hard-hit by Italy’s earthquake last week are a large number of immigrants who have seen the lives they built for themselves in a new land destroyed in an instant.

While Italians with means have taken refuge at second homes or with family and friends, Peruvians, Filipinos and others in the growing immigrant population often have nowhere to turn, becoming a large and visible presence in the dozens of tent camps housing the quake survivors.

“We don’t have anything,” said Jimmy Ruiz, 28, a Peruvian who bought a house with several other relatives that is now severely damaged, “a nightmare,” as he puts it. Now he lives in a tent with relatives and his pregnant girlfriend and is considering returning to his impoverished homeland, at least temporarily. “We don’t have inheritances or parents with money like the Italians. We are starting from zero, and now we are destroyed.”

Paolo Brivio, a spokesman for the Catholic charity Caritas, said the earthquake that struck April 6, killing 294 people, is the “first major emergency in Italy in which there is a massive presence of immigrants.”

“Not only have they lost jobs and homes that they are paying mortgages on — like Italians — but without work or a home, many could lose the right to stay in Italy legally,” Brivio said.

There are no official figures yet on the number of foreigners among the 55,000 people dispersed by the earthquake — 33,000 of whom are living in the tent camps. But it’s clear that the number of foreigners is large. L’Aquila, the city worst hit, was home to about 4,000 legal immigrants — plus an unknown number of illegal, undocumented residents — in a population of about 70,000, Caritas said. The Caritas figures put L’Aquila right in line with the national immigrant population of 5.7 percent of Italy’s 59.6 million residents.

At the main tent camp in L’Aquila, large numbers of foreigners, mostly Peruvians, Romanians and Filipinos, are among those lining up these days for free meals, hanging laundry outside their tents or passing time with card games and soccer matches.

With many well-off Italians trickling away to homes with hot water and privacy, a large number of those left behind to live in tent cities are some of society’s most vulnerable: along with immigrants there are impoverished Italians and elderly people without family.

Julyn Macabante, a soft-spoken 26-year-old woman from the Philippines, arrived in Italy nearly four years ago and has since worked as a housekeeper for a psychiatrist and his wife. When the earthquake struck their large home filled with antiques and oil paintings, the couple fled to the home of their daughter, a lawyer living in Rome, taking along some of their earthquake-stricken friends.

“They said they were sorry but that they didn’t have room for me too,” said Macabante, who supports her family back home with what she earns in Italy. Now she lives in a large blue tent with a cousin and nine other people.

Still she considers herself among the lucky: the family stopped by the camp on Easter to check on her and have promised to help her find work with another family. She shares their sorrow as they too struggle to rebuild their own lives. “It’s a calamity. It’s understandable,” she said.

Others are more bitter, however, as the hardship of camp life has created tensions between Italians and foreigners, largely as a result of what officials say are baseless rumors that the immigrants are profiting from the quake help they are given.

There have been no major incidents reported of looting or profiteering, and the only arrests so far were of four Romanians publicly announced on national television by Premier Silvio Berlusconi. The four were acquitted in a speedy trial the same day.

Now, Peruvians say they face humiliating accusations when they line up for food or ask for clothing being brought in by rescue groups and charities.

Ruiz said when he was accused by Italian quake survivors of “taking advantage” of the situation when he asked for food for several people at mealtime. He said they didn’t realize he was getting food for relatives back in his tent.

“They don’t remember when they were immigrants in South America and the United States, now that they are doing well,” Ruiz, a bricklayer, said. “What really hurts is how hard we have worked for them and they don’t see it.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Rape Victim Who Suffered So Romanian Could be Sent to ‘Cushy’ British Prison Relives Her Ordeal

Louise took three days to tell her boyfriend what had happened.

She desperately wanted his support, but thought he’d be disgusted by her. ‘I worried he’d never be able to look at me the same way again,’ she says quietly. ‘I thought he’d think it was my fault.’

Shame stopped Louise telling her parents, too. So on the evening she was violently raped, robbed and half-strangled, this 21-year-old went home alone, cried, bathed and tried to shake off the lingering horror of the brutal attack.

It was the disgust she felt towards herself that convinced her how other people would react.

Thankfully, she couldn’t have been more wrong. When they found out, her family and friends reacted with sympathy and support. Everyone was appalled by the hideous assault.

Everyone, that is, except for the perpetrator, Ali Majlat. He was absolutely delighted. Now he would get exactly what he wanted: a lengthy custodial sentence in a British prison.

For, in a twist that cannot fail to spark shock and outrage, Majlat, 35, had travelled all the way from his native Romania with that one goal in mind.

The inspiration for this staggering act of calculated brutality? His older brother, Dominic, who had written to him from HMP Wakefield, West Yorkshire, saying how much he was enjoying his stay.

Dominic had boasted of having not only his own TV, but a wealth of computer games, food, bed and free English lessons — a sad indictment of how our jails are viewed as cushy throughout the world.

For Ali, poverty-stricken and illiterate, such a place sounded glorious. He hatched a plan to commit a jail-worthy offence and hopped on a bus to Britain.

His choice of crime was easy — after all, it was a charge of rape and attempted murder that had bestowed on his brother a lifetime of free lodgings and luxury extras.

And the obvious location was Wakefield, from where Majlat assumed he would be taken to live with Dominic.

It would be like the orphanage they grew up in together, only with perks.

           — Hat tip: Reinhard [Return to headlines]

Silvio Berlusconi Defended as Gallant Over Latest Earthquake ‘Gaffe’

A female doctor in the Abruzzo earthquake zone who was told “I wouldn’t mind being resuscitated by you” by Silvio Berlusconi said yesterday that the Prime Minister was only being “gallant” and insisted that she was not offended.

Dr Fabiola Carrieri, a specialist in intensive care from Milan who is working in a field hospital in Abruzzo, became an instant celebrity after Mr Berlusconi’s remark during his latest walkabout in the tent cities set up to house the tens of thousands of homeless. Italian reports focused on her “long red hair and big blue eyes”.

Dr Carrieri said that Mr Berlusconi had paid her a “gallant” compliment to “take the drama out of the situation”. She said she had told the Prime Minister in reply that she hoped she would never have to resuscitate him. He had been “trying to raise a smile in the middle of all the sorrow we have all around us”, she added.

She said that Mr Berlusconi had shown similar gallantry in approaching a woman patient whose husband was sitting at her bedside, saying that he hoped she would be better soon “so I can ask you to dance with me”. Last week Mr Berlusconi, who has toured the earthquake zone daily, caused controversy by suggesting that those living in the tent cities should think of themselves as being on a camping holiday. He later said he had been trying to cheer them up.

Central Italy was shaken by a powerful 4.9 aftershock last night, which was felt in Rome, 44 miles (70km) away. Scientists have detected 10,000 aftershocks since the earthquake a week ago.

Rescue workers in L’Aquila have retrieved valuable 500 treasures from the badly damaged cathedral, including a 20in (50cm) cross by the 15th-century artist Nicola da Guardiagrele. A team from the Culture Ministry has begun to carry out an inventory of churches, historic buildings and their contents.

The earthquake left 294 dead and thousands homeless. Technicians said that of the thousand or so structures surveyed so far, only a third wer usable or habitable. The local prosecutor has opened an inquiry into whether building regulations were violated in L’Aquila and surrounding towns and villages where modern as well as medieval structures collapsed.

Pietro Grasso, the chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, warned that money earmarked for reconstruction could end up in the hands of the Mafia, as happened after the 1980 earthquake in the Irpinia region near Naples, which killed 3,000 people and left 300,000 homeless. Some of those affected by the 1997 earthquake in Umbria are still in temporary prefabricated housing 12 years on because money for reconstruction was allegedly misappropriated by the Mafia.

           — Hat tip: islam o’phobe [Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Let Schools Suspend Pupils’: Björklund

Sweden’s government is preparing a new law that will enable schools to suspend pupils for up to a week, Education Minister Jan Björklund has revealed.

Björklund said he was disappointed with the results of a law enacted immediately after the Alliance government came into power in 2006, a law which enable teachers to confiscate items that distract other pupils. The legislation also made it possible to move troublesome pupils to different schools.

“The current rules are partly too unclear and partly too tame,” the minister told Svenska Dagbladet.

The government has agreed that all schools should be able to issue pupils with a written warning, a measure that is currently only available to upper secondary schools (gymnasieskolor).

Principals will also be permitted to suspend particularly difficult pupils for a week, with a limit of two week-long suspensions per calendar year.

The government is also proposing a new form of detention, which will allow schools to require pupils to serve their punishment for an hour before school rather than after.

The head of the National Union of Teachers in Sweden (Lärarnas riksförbund), Mette Fjelkner said the law would enable teachers to take necessary action in difficult cases. But she added that the law should not be applied to children in the younger age groups.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Air Travel ‘As Bad as Stabbing Person in the Street’, Says MEP

A leading politician has sparked outrage by comparing people who fly to Spain on holiday with knife-wielding criminals.

Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, suggested that travellers who regularly jet off to the Costas are threatening the lives of others — and do as much damage as thugs who stab people in the street. Ms Lucas, who is also a Member of the European Parliament, made the controversial comment during a televised ITV debate about plans for a proposed third runway at Heathrow. She also hit out ‘binge flying’ and people who have second homes abroad.

When asked if flying to Spain was as bad as knifing a person in the street, Ms Lucas said: ‘Yes — because they are dying from climate change.’

Ms Lucas, who is also a Member of the European Parliament, made the controversial comment during a televised ITV debate about plans for a proposed third runway at Heathrow. She also hit out ‘binge flying’ and people who have second homes abroad. When asked if flying to Spain was as bad as knifing a person in the street, Ms Lucas said: ‘Yes — because they are dying from climate change.’ Ms Lucas also claimed that poor air quality makes Britain ‘the dirty old man of Europe’, saying that London’s air quality levels are so low they breach European safety standards. After the exchange David Campbell-Bannerman a prospective MEP candidate for the UK Independence Party, who also attended the debate, said: ‘I was shocked. ‘There’s no excuse for using extremist language to describe ordinary people going by plane to a well-earned holiday. Calling it “binge flying” is absurd.’ Ms Lucas began her career as an activist in the anti-nuclear movement with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and went on to become one of the Green Party’s first MEP’s.

She has been a staunch critic of the proposed third runway at Heathrow and has fiercely opposed the government’s aviation policy.

A Green Party spokesman said the comments have been taken out of context.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: EU Tells Farmers to Tag Every Sheep in Britain

From January 1 next year Britain’s 30 million sheep will be required to wear a hi-tech tag which can monitor their movements.

European commissioners claim the electronic ID (EID) tags will help contain an outbreak of disease such as the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001.

Farmers will have to burden 92 per cent of the cost themselves at a cost of £5,000 for an electronic tag reader and up to £1.50 per tag.

They have criticised the proposals as “crazy” and “unnecessary” and say the extra costs could force them out of business.

John Hore, a farmer from Pilning, near Bristol, said: “We are prepared to fight this to the bitter end.

“The strength of feeling is such that it is quite possible we will see farmers taking to the streets. We are just not being listened to. And we need our government firmly behind us.

“We have 30 million sheep in this country — probably more than the rest of Europe put together.

“They want each one of those sheep to be individually identified. And farmers are saying ‘No, it’s just not possible’. This could do to the sheep industry what TB is doing to the cattle industry.”

John Mercer, chief livestock adviser to the National Farmers’ Union, said: “It’s a crazy rule. It’s not wanted. It’s not needed. And it could, potentially, devastate the sheep industry. We really need political pressure now.”

Farmers also claim the technology is flawed and will be dogged with technical faults in field conditions, particularly on hill farms where flocks are several thousands strong.

The regulation to tag every sheep in Europe at a cost of £109million was adopted by the EU in 2003.

The original start date was January 1 2008 but this was delayed by two years after objections from farmers.

In Britain, farmers will be expected to carry out 92 per cent of the expected £65 million costs, markets and collection centres five per cent and abattoirs three per cent.

Farmers are still lobbying for the scheme to be made voluntary before the scheme is introduced.

The UK is home to Europe’s largest flock and, in a report complied by the Joint Research Centre — which advises the government on technical issues — they have warned farmers here will be hardest hit.

Farmers Union of Wales’ hill farming committee chairman Derek Morgan said: “I dread to think what the full costs to the EU sheep industry will be.

“This report simply adds to the already overwhelming evidence that shows that costs of EID are completely disproportionate, while the benefits are negligible, and could actually be negative in the case of a disease outbreak.

“We are committed to fighting this ridiculous legislation to the bitter end and this is yet more evidence which totally undermines the basis on which the Council of Ministers has made their decisions.

“However, the industry must also brace itself and start planning on the assumption that it will come in next year, because the majority of member states are hell-bent on ignoring the evidence.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Grannies Hand Al-Qaida Defeat

Terror plot unraveled with new resources

The British Intelligence agency MI5 used a range of astonishing new weapons in its all-out war against al-Qaida in the north of England, a campaign that succeeded in defusing an alleged terror plot, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Some women as old as 70 reportedly wore cameras in their hair, and young mothers with babies had recording equipment in prams.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Jailbust Rant by Fanatic

HATE preacher Anjem Choudary has called on fellow fanatics to free Muslim prisoners held in British and foreign jails.

On a secret recording obtained by The Sun, he rants that it is “only a matter of time” before the flag of Islam flies over Downing Street, the White House and the Kremlin in Moscow.

But he warns that in the struggle: “Some of our brothers will become martyred, some will become injured, others will be captured and tortured.”

Former lawyer Choudary, 47, who lives on state benefits, tells his followers they have “a fahad” — an obligation — to free Muslims from jail. He cites the “sisters” held in London’s Belmarsh and Holloway prisons.

Then, during a speech to a conference entitled Innocent Until Proven Muslim, he names the blind sheik Abdullah Rahman, jailed for life in the United States for plotting a terrorist bombing campaign in New York.

Conservative MP Patrick Mercer urged the Home Office to investigate “another outrage from this hideous man”.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

UK: Pregnant Schoolgirls to Get ‘GCSE’ in Parenting Skills

One of Britain’s biggest exam boards has become the first in the country to offer a course specifically for teenagers having children before they leave school. Older students will also be allowed to get the qualification.

It will give them tuition in the basics of English and maths as well as how to look after their children.

The course by Edexcel could be equivalent of a GCSE graded D to G.

Jerry Jarvis, the board’s managing director, said it would ensure they continued with their education despite the disruption of giving birth at such a young age.

But family campaigners warned that it sent out a bad message.

Recent figures showed pregnancy among girls under 16 was at its highest rate in a decade, despite a 10-year strategy and more than £280 million spent on contraception services and sex education.

In 2007, there were 42,918 conceptions among under-18s, up from 41,800 in 2006.

Two courses, one called “Young Mums To Be” and another dubbed “Parents With Prospects”, will be offered at venues such as charities, pupil referral units and community centres from September. Billed as the first qualification of its kind, it will take around 16 hours a week for 12 to 19 weeks.

One schoolgirl taking an early version of the course said: “Doing this course has improved my parenting skills and my knowledge of being a parent. It has taught me ways to deal with sticky situations like illness or behaviour problems. From this course I hope to go on to college and get further training to become a nursery assistant or primary school teacher.”

But Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: “Awarding a qualification to pregnant teenagers and young parents sends out the message that having a baby while still at school is an achievement. And the idea that parenting courses could be made available to schoolgirls who are considering becoming pregnant is as ridiculous as offering driving lessons to children who are considering driving a car.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Shut-Down of RAF Squadrons ‘To Go Ahead a Year Early’

The shut-down of two RAF Tornado squadrons is to go ahead a year early in order to save money, leaving Britain with just eight aircraft kept ready to protect its skies, it has been reported.

The 43 and 111 squadrons, which were due to stand down in late 2010, will instead be axed in September, according to The Sun.

The move will reportedly cut the number of fighter jets on standby to protect Britain from 25 to 12. However, it is said that at all times, four of these will be undergoing maintenance, leaving only eight on standby at any one time…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Student Visa Scam Allowing Terror Suspects Into Britain

A suspected terrorist linked to an alleged al-Qaeda plot to attack Manchester was a student at a bogus college that sold places on fake courses to hundreds of Pakistanis seeking entry to Britain.

Manchester College of Professional Studies acted as a gateway to Britain for foreigners willing to pay £50 for the letter of admission that earned them a student visa.

Abdul Wahab Khan, 26, one of ten Pakistani nationals still in detention after terror raids last week in the North West, was registered at the college as an English-language student.

A former employee has told The Times that more than a hundred young Pakistani men, most from the country’s troubled North West Frontier Province, came to Britain after being enrolled as students at the college…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Urine Spray Man Gets Nine Years

A chemist who contaminated food and wine in Gloucestershire supermarkets with his own urine and faeces has been sent to prison for nine years.

Sahnoun Daifallah, 42, of Bibury Road, Gloucester, was found guilty of four counts of contaminating goods at four businesses in May 2008.

Judge Carol Hagen said at the hearing in March that she found him to be “a potentially very dangerous man”.

Daifallah, who defended himself, had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Bristol Crown Court had heard the Algerian-born chemist sprayed the mixture in the Air Balloon Pub, in Birdlip, near Cheltenham on 14 and 16 May.

Deportation proceedings

He then moved on to the Waterstones bookstore in Cirencester, Tesco in Quedgley and Morrisons in Abbeydale.

Your actions showed a callous disregard for public safety

Judge Carol Hagen

The court heard shoppers and staff in both stores saw Daifallah with a black laptop computer with a vapour coming from the bag being sprayed on the shelves.

The cost of damaged products and lost business due to resulting store closures was estimated at £700,000.

When police searched his house they found stockpiles of the mixture and plans to spread it in other cities including Bristol and Birmingham.

Daifallah, who had fantasies about biological weapons to cause public alarm, was also found guilty of having an offensive weapon, namely a catapult with marbles.

Judge Carol Hagen sentenced him to concurrent sentences of three years, five years and two of nine years for the contamination offences and 12 months for possession of a weapon.

She added she had wanted to jail him indefinitely but the law would not allow her to.

“Your actions showed a callous disregard for public safety and you caused considerable alarm and anxiety,” she said.

Proceedings to deport him are underway.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

UK: Visas for Terrorists

Britain’s consulates are overwhelmed with applicants trying to cheat their way into Britain. The real scandal is the bogus colleges that enable them to do so

The scam was all but irresistible. To bring Pakistanis illegally into Britain, the unscrupulous needed only to set up a fictitious college, register the name, furnish themselves — largely through a straight payment — with accreditation documents from an approved agency and apply to a government website. Once registered, the fictional college then issued acceptance forms to backstreet educational “consultants” in Pakistan to arm putative students with evidence to back their visa applications. And it has become alarmingly clear that through this loophole came not only thousands of Pakistanis seeking work, not education, but also potential terrorists seeking to sow violence and death.

Last week’s arrests of 12 people alleged to be plotting a terrorist spectacular in Manchester has uncovered extraordinary lapses in Britain’s security. It is not just the carelessness of Bob Quick, the Metropolitan Assistant Commissioner who paid a swift price for his bungling; the real scandal lies in the ease with which extremists can circumvent Britain’s visa checks. Whether or not evidence can be found linking those arrested to terrorism, the loopholes have exploded claims by the security services to be monitoring the influx of potential terrorists from Pakistan.

The immediate question is whether Britain’s consulates are doing their job properly. A visa suggests that documents have been verified, background checks have been made, names compared with computerised records and applicants called for interview. Sadly, this is not the case. Many British consulates are understaffed and overwhelmed. So vast are the numbers jostling for entry to Britain that in most countries the formalities are farmed out to contract agencies. And as long as the right pieces of paper can be produced, would-be entrants are not called for interview with a British consular official…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Why Aaqil Ahmed Shouldn’t Run the BBC’s Religion & Ethics Department

We’ll soon know whether the BBC takes religion seriously, when it appoints a new head of commissioning for its re-structured Religion & Ethics Department. Director-general Mark Thompson, a Roman Catholic, claims that religion is important to him and to the corporation, but it’s difficult to guess in what state of mind he left his meeting with Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace last month. Evidently, Dr Williams had expressed concern that the BBC, our state broadcaster, should not downplay or marginalise Christianity, our state religion.

Mr Thompson is a thoughtful man, so one hopes he took the Archbishop’s admonitions to heart. Or he may have taken the view that no prelate was going to dictate the BBC’s religious policy to him and the silly old fool needed to be taught a lesson.

If his state of mind tended towards the latter, then what better way to achieve that objective than to make sure that a Muslim was appointed, in the name of “diversity”, to the new role? The post may not directly be within his gift, but the director-general could surely pull a few strings.

Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim and commissioning editor for religion at Channel 4, is apparently telling friends that the BBC job is his for the taking. He is tipped as a favourite, though whether the tipping is coming from him or other people is unclear. The appointment should have been wrapped up by now, but the interviews have been delayed a couple of weeks, such perhaps are the sensitivities attached to this issue.

I suppose a case can be constructed that the person in charge of our national broadcaster’s religious coverage doesn’t need to be a member of our national faith, or that the 72 per cent of the British population who describe themselves as Christian, most of whom are presumably licence-payers, are best served by someone from a faith of little more than two per cent of the population.

Indeed, we could argue that an agnostic or atheist might bring an interesting objectivity to religious broadcasting. And so might a Muslim to Christianity. You don’t have to be a footballer to be a football commentator. The Guardian has a talented Muslim religious affairs correspondent. Why not?

But I don’t say that Mr Ahmed shouldn’t have the job because he’s a Muslim. I say that he shouldn’t have the job because I doubt he is up to it.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m sure Mr Ahmed is a good and devout man, kind to old ladies and small animals. And I don’t say that he has an aggressive attitude to Christianity, though some do. I’m just saying that his work to date seems lightweight and he should be judged accordingly on it.

Channel 4’s recent series Christianity: A History, for which Mr Ahmed was responsible, was a showcase of dumbed-down religion, a History of Platitudes. We had Howard Jacobson with the scoop that Jesus was a Jew. Michael Portillo reading off an autocue that it was a shame Constantine adopted Christianity. Ann Widdecombe saying it was a pity the Reformation was bloody. And, God help us, Cherie Blair assessing contemporary Christianity. Some see a pattern here, a mild ridicule of Christianity, but the overall theme seems banal.

The BBC has just announced its own six-part History of Christianity with Diarmaid MacCulloch. Mr Ahmed would possibly be punching above his weight if he’d commissioned it.

This brings me to Rod Liddle, writing in the current edition of The Spectator that more Church of England bishops should be “socking it to the Mozzies”. He should know better. It’s precisely “New Right” language like that which could encourage his former employers at the BBC to appoint a Muslim out of spite.

But perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about the BBC undermining the Church of England. My bet is that the Church will still be here long after the BBC has disappeared.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Serbia: 1.5 Mln Euros to Rise Production Capacity for Punto

(ANSAmed) — BELGRADE, APRIL 10 — As of the next week the Fiat Company and Serbia Government shall invest in the Kragujevac-based car factory 1.5 million euros in order to increase production capacity for Punto car model, reports daily Blic. As said by Giovanni de Filippis, director of the Fiat Cars Serbia, about 600 Punto cars shall be manufactured in Kragujevac in April and their market sale in Serbia is to begin as of the middle of April within ‘Old for New’ program. Presently 500 workers are engaged in the production and according to Filippis the plan is that their number is increased to 1,000 until September. A high delegation of Serbia Government led by the Minister of economy Mladjan Dinkic came to Kragujevac yesterday. Dinkic’s main task was to settle the issue of the factory’s communal debts arising to RSD1.7 billion (about 18 million euro) over the last 19 years. Today Punto is being made in Kragujevac exclusively from components and parts manufactured in Italy, but, as Minister Dinkic said, in the second half of the year about 15 domestic contractors shall be included in production of parts for that car model.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

“The Economy Has Never Revived”

A conversation with Benjamin Stora

“Peace has never been completely restored, one cannot however deny that we are no longer experiencing the dark days of the Nineties. As far modernisation of the economy is concerned, I believe that the objective has also not been achieved.” Benjamin Stora, Professor of History at the INALCO in Paris and a great expert on the history of the Maghreb, takes stock of contemporary Algeria. He is the author of numerous essays on the war in Algeria, among them Histoire de la guerre d’Algérie…

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Egypt: Hezbollah in Crosshairs After Arrest of 49

(by Remigio Benni) (ANSAmed) — CAIRO, APRIL 14 — The investigation into the 49 Arabs of various nationalities arrested under suspicion of plotting attacks against Egypt under orders of the leader of Lebanese Shiite movement Hamas, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, has been stepped up. The Egyptian Attorney-General has added espionage to a charge list which already includes plotting against the state, disruption of public order, and the collection of funds and arms for Gaza-based Palestinians. An inevitable knock-on effect of the inquiry has been the harsh words of both newspaper headlines and politicians in Egypt, who have called the Lebanese movement and Nasrallah “a street gang”, “a robber”, “agent of Iran” and “a monkey sheikh”. In the background run accusations that the Shiite leader is looking to rise to prominent regional political roles and facilitate the expansion of Tehran’s influence in the Arab world. In January, during the Israeli operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, Nasrallah had urged the Egyptian people to protest against their government to convince them to open crossing points with the Gaza Strip and allow Palestinians to flee Israel’s air-raids and artillery strikes. Tension in Cairo has been on the increase since a week ago, when Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera first reported the arrests. Following this time, the Egyptian Attorney-General, Abdel Meguid Mahmud, has issued a statement clarifying the details of the investigation begun by state security forces concerning elements sent to Egypt by Nasrallah to recruit people to train, and then carry out attacks to destabilise the country, as well as gather money and weapons to take to Gaza for the resistance against Israel. Amongst the details published by Egyptian papers — in what looks like a real anti-Hezbollah campaign — are aspects of the confession that the leader of the arrested group, Samy Hani Shehab (aka Mohamed Yusuf Ahmed Mansour) is thought to have made, and which mostly match with Nasrallah’s recent declarations from Beirut that Shehab-Mansour settled here in 2005 with another leader of the Shiite movement (who is thought to have operated in Sudan as well), Mohammed Qablan, to gather money and weapons to take to the Gaza Palestinians. He did not in any way confirm that there were plans for attacks against Egypt — the most openly derided crime commented upon by the Egyptian newspapers and politicians. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Defensible Borders on the Golan Heights

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland

Israeli-Syrian negotiations in 1999-2000 discussed security arrangements to compensate Israel for the loss of the Golan Heights. The idea was to guarantee that in case of war, IDF forces could quickly return to the place where they are currently stationed. This analysis demonstrates that Israel does not possess a plausible solution to its security needs without the Golan Heights. Not only was the “solution” proposed in the year 2000 implausible at the time, but changing circumstances have rendered Israel’s forfeiture of the Golan today an even more reckless act.

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

Israel: Peres Gets New TV Talk Show Career

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 14 — Having filled almost all the top state positions over his 86 years, Israeli President Shimon Peres now seems keen to embark on a new career: presenter on the national television network. According to his spokesperson, Ayelet Frisch, Peres has reached an agreement with the broadcaster to make bi-monthly programmes in which he will preside over debates on social issues, hosting experts from various sectors in his official residence. The first programme in the series — dedicated to relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel — was recorded in December and will be on air within days, following a delay due to operation ‘Cast Lead’ in Gaza. The second programme will look at the future social and political character of Israel, from the perspective of young leaders. Television industry sources say that Peres immediately flaunted great knowledge of the technical aspects of broadcasting. High audience ratings were recorded months ago when Peres held a televised conference for young people. The head of state’s initiative has divided public opinion: some that that Peres could stimulate domestic debate through the programmes, but others think that it is inappropriate that the president is getting into initiatives that are not within his sphere of competence. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mitchell’s Visit, Talks Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 14 — The new Israeli government is defining its strategy regarding the Palestinian question as George Mitchell, the personal envoy of US President Barack Obama, will soon return to the region. Yesterday Premier Benyamin Netanyahu (Likud) summoned Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beitenu) and Defence Minister Ehud Barak (Labour) for the first talks on the issue. In a recent speech to the Knesset (parliament) Netanyahu guaranteed that Israel “doesn’t want to dominate another people” but on the other hand he did not back the two-State solution which remains the basis of Obama’s Middle East policies. Lieberman has said that Israel does not feel bound by the “Annapolis process”, the conference called by George Bush in 2007 aimed at reaching the two-State solution. Netanyahu apparently wants to develop new ideas in the talks with the two ministers in an attempt to resolve the current differences in opinion between Jerusalem and Washington. Mitchell is expected to arrive in Jerusalem on Thursday. He will also visit Cairo and Ramallah. Netanyahu is expecting to meet Obama in Washington at the beginning of May. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Iran Working With Al-Qaida

Agents seek to destabilize Egypt, plotting attacks on tourist sites

Iranian agents and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia are working with cells of al-Qaida to carry out attacks in Egypt, according to a top Egyptian security official speaking to WND.

Last week, Egypt’s public prosecutor, Abdel-Magid Mohammed, announced the country had arrested 49 alleged Hezbollah agents on suspicion of planning attacks aimed at destabilizing the U.S.-backed Egyptian regime. The agents are suspected of establishing a vast terrorist network inside Egypt focusing on targets inside the country as well as aiding Hamas in the neighboring Gaza Strip.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Lebanon: Military Convoy Targeted in Deadly Ambush

Bekaa Valley, 13 April (AKI) — Five soldiers were killed and 11 others were wounded on Monday in an attack on a Lebanese military convoy in the eastern area of Riyaq, near the Syrian border.

The convoy was attacked by a group of men carrying machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, and was reportedly linked to a stand-off between local drug lords and the country’s armed forces.

The Bekaa Valley, a stronghold of the Shia Islamist militant movement Hezbollah, is known for its billion-dollar production of illegal drugs, mainly hashish and marijuana.

Tension has increased between the armed forces and local drug lords in recent weeks since the army arrested several drug dealers in areas surrounding the city of Baalbeck.

The army did not comment on the attack on Monday. The area has seen sectarian violence in recent years.

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

Middle East: Hezbollah Names Successor to Dead Military Chief

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, APRIL 14 — Hezbollah has named the successor to Imad Mughniyeh, the military commander of the Lebanese Shiite movement killed approximately a year ago in Damascus in an attack attributed to Israel. The new was broken today by the Arab daily newspaper, Al Ahram. According to the paper, the appointment of his successor, Talal Hamiyeh, was made by the Deputy Secretary General of Hezbollah, Naim Kassem. Mughniyeh, whose battle name was Hajj Radwan and to whom western secret services attributed numerous terrorist attacks carried out in the 1980s, was killed in February 2008. Israel has always denied any involvement in the attack, whilst Hezbollah leaders have sworn “revenge”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Bodies Found in Container Sent to Kabul

Quetta, 6 April (AKI/DAWN) — The bodies of victims of a human smuggling racket found in a container truck near Quetta on Saturday were due to be taken to Kabul on Monday by an Afghan cargo plane. Over 60 migrants were found suffocated in the container and some were believed to have been dead for days.

‘A special plane will arrive here from Kabul tomorrow morning for taking the bodies to Afghanistan,’ Afghan consul general Mohammad Daud Mohsani said on Sunday. The bodies would be transported by road if the plane could not be arranged, he added.

After completing legal formalities, the local administration handed over the bodies of the Afghan nationals to the humanitarian aid group, Edhi Foundation. ‘We will hand over the coffins to the Afghan authorities at Quetta airport,’ Edhi sources said.

Security personnel were deployed at the hospital where survivors were undergoing treatment. Over 110 people were inside the container, most of of whom were unconscious when police unlocked it.

‘Cases have been registered against the survivors under the Foreigners Act and around a dozen of them have been taken into custody,’ sources told Pakistani daily Dawn, adding that they would be interrogated in order to trace the culprits involved in the human smuggling case in both countries.

A team of the Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrived here from Islamabad to investigate the case.

An investigation team of FIA and other agencies also visited Chaman and met several people. Five suspects are reported to have been detained.

Sources told Dawn four suspects named as Gul Agha, Wazir Mohammad, Mullah Gul Mohammad and Wali Mohammad were involved in arranging the container to smuggle the migrants to Iran.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also ordered an investigation.

The Afghan consul general in Quetta said the Afghans found involved in the “inhuman” act would be brought to justice and he would also appeal to the Pakistan government to punish those responsible for the tragedy.

He said both countries should work jointly to deal with the elements running the human smuggling racket.

“As (Afghans) are badly treated at checkpoints, arrested and taken away by the FIA and sent to prison to be sent back after one month, they are compelled to adopt ways which can put their lives at risk,” the Afghan diplomat said.

He was speaking at Quetta’s Civil Hospital where he had gone to meet the survivors.

“If both the countries agree to provide travel facilities to refugees, such incidents can be reduced,” he added.

The consul general thanked the government for providing medical and other facilities to the survivors.

Most survivors were in a state of shock. They included a dozen teenagers most of whom came from Kapisa province near Kabul and speak Farsi.

According to the sources; the smugglers had brought 64 Afghan nationals from Kabul and another 37 from the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak opposite the oil and gas rich southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

‘They put all of us in the container on Friday afternoon and locked it,’ 20-year-old Shamsur Rehman said from hospital.

When the air-conditioner stopped working, he said, they started screaming, but the driver did not listen and he and the other people fell unconscious.

Gul Zameen, who was discharged from hospital, said he and other people in the container had paid 4,000 to 8,000 US dollars to the Afghan agents who had arranged the truck in Spin Buldak.

“We are all poor and wanted to find jobs in Quetta and Iran,” said Zameen.

The FIA and other investigating agencies were conducting raids in the border town of Chaman and in Quetta for the human smugglers and the truck’s driver and cleaner who had escaped after parking the container at Hazar Gangi stand.

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

Saudi Arabia: UN Director Voices Concern Over Eight Year-Old Girl’s Marriage

New York, 14 April (AKI) — The head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) expressed her deep concern over reports that a Saudi Arabian court has ruled that the marriage of an eight-year-old girl is legally binding.

“Irrespective of circumstances or the legal framework, the marriage of a child is a violation of that child’s rights,” UNICEF Executive Director Anne M. Veneman stressed in a statement.

“UNICEF joins many in voicing concern that child marriage contravenes accepted international standards of human rights,” she added.

She noted that the right to free and full consent to marriage is recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that “consent cannot be free and full when either party to a marriage is too young to make an informed decision.”

Veneman warned that marriage at too young an age could have long-term harmful effects on a child’s emotional, physical and psychological welfare.

Last Saturday, Saudi press reported that a judge refused to grant an eight year-old girl a divorce from her 47 year-old husband.

Judge Habib al-Habib of the Unaizah Court, located in central Saudi Arabia, ruled that the girl cannot file for divorce until she reaches puberty, upholding his initial ruling refusing to annul the marriage, said Dubai-based TV network Al-Arabiya.

Five months ago, the girl’s mother found out by coincidence that her husband had married off their young daughter to a man without informing the wife or the daughter.

The marriage contract was part of a loan repayment agreement totalling 30,000 Saudi Riyals or 8,000 US dollars. The mother tried to annul the marriage, but the judge dismissed the petition because she was not the girl’s legal guardian and thus could not represent her, said Al-Arabiya.

The 47 year-old has promised not to consummate the marriage until his bride reaches puberty.

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

Turkey: Easter Among the Muslims, in the Land of Saint Paul

The apostolic vicar of Anatolia recounts the meaning of Easter in the year dedicated to St. Paul. The Christian community in Turkey finds itself facing a situation like the one at the beginning of the country’s evangelization. The foreign pilgrims, the fraternity between Catholics and Orthodox, amazement over the fascination with Jesus among the Muslims. A request to the Turkish government, for a church in Tarsus.

Antakya (AsiaNews) — Easter is uniquely special in Turkey this year, because the Pauline Year is being celebrated, and St. Paul is the one who brought the proclamation of Jesus dead and risen to our land.

In an environment steeped in religion, as the ancient world was, the apostle of Tarsus concentrated his proclamation on faith in God, mediated by the concrete reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

No religion has more startling features than this faith, which believes in the birth of God amid poverty, and his death by crucifixion. This proclamation, which calls us back to the concreteness of the Christian faith, is a message for the poor and the suffering, as it is for victims of injustice. This has become the leitmotif of the catechesis of our Christians, ever since my first pastoral letter.

As in the times of the apostle, we live in the same land, in a non-Christian society. We are a minority group that runs the risk of losing our own identity through a generic concept of faith in God. For this reason, the events of the Easter that we celebrate are important: they make us contemplate again the founding event of our faith.

A request to the government for the church of Tarsus

One fact that comforts us is seeing that precisely in these days, there is a constant flow of pilgrims, including foreign pilgrims, to Antioch and to the places of St. Paul. This area used to be outside of the pilgrimage tours; this year, it has been swamped with thousands of pilgrims. They are not tourists, but believers is seeking contact with the places in which the apostle lived. Paul was born in Tarsus, but he was part of the Christian community of Antioch, and he always returned to Antioch for his ministry. He traveled at least 16,000 kilometers in Turkey!

For this reason, Easter here among us must necessarily have a Pauline character. In this regard, we are hoping for a great Easter gift: the return of the church of Tarsus to the Christians. The Turkish and German bishops conferences, the German government authorities and the Vatican secretariat of state have asked to have a church in Tarsus where the pilgrims of any Christian confession can gather to pray. There is an ancient Christian church in Tarsus, but it has been turned into a museum. For this year, the Turkish authorities have allowed this to be used, without the need to buy an admission ticket. But this is a measure that is about to expire. What we want is a place in Tarsus where Christians can always commemorate the apostle, not in a museum, but in a church. And we are waiting for a response from the authorities. I hope that this positive response will be given to us no later than the end of the Pauline Year (June 29, 2009). The gift of the church will also be a sort of litmus test to measure how much the Turkish authorities want to do to guarantee religious freedom. We need concrete actions in order to believe that something is really changing in this country.

No jealousy between Catholics and Orthodox

Here in Turkey, the celebrations for Easter also have an ecumenical character. We Latins are a small community. This year, the date of our Easter comes one week before that of the Orthodox. It is wonderful to see how there is no opposition among the different Christian communities, but sharing: there are Orthodox who come to our services, and Catholics who go to the services of the Orthodox. On the part of the Orthodox, especially the young people, there is a desire to savor our liturgy, in part because the Latin liturgy is in the Turkish language, while the Orthodox one is in Arabic, and this creates problems of comprehension. There is absolutely no jealousy between the two communities. Instead, there is mutual support. Many Orthodox children go to our parishes for catechesis, which is also conducted by Orthodox teachers. There is no intention of proselytism, but a desire to help one another according to the means and possibilities available to each one. Everything is connected to the common situation of being a religious minority, and this permits us to overcome many obstacles and hostilities.

The fact that we are a minority makes our situation very similar to that of the beginning of Christianity, in which Paul’s proclamation took place. The apostle, who was born in an atmosphere of religious imperialism, teaches us to have an attitude of respect toward the “others,” and we feel that we must apply this this positive attitude to the Islamic world. Here I find many people of good will, conscientious. And St. Paul has truly taught me this new awareness as the depths where the person encounters God.

Martyrs and conversions

I must add, however, that for some of my Christians the Via Crucis is a living reality, it is not something from the past. There are truly difficult situations within the vicariate of Anatolia. The experience of the martyrdom of Fr. Andrea Santoro and other events have left their marks. There are still Christians who are close to the suffering of Jesus.

But there are also Muslims who draw near to Christianity precisely through the sufferings of Jesus. A small number of them have become Christian. Theirs has been an anguished decision, carefully considered according to the consequences, risks, the struggles that it brings to their lives. And yet they become Christian beginning precisely from their fascination with Jesus, who suffered [editor’s note: in the Qur’an, Jesus escapes death and has a replacement die instead]. In addition to this, even in the past the humanity of Jesus has been exalted by certain Muslim figures, like the poet Mevlana and other Sufi mystics.

* apostolic vicar of Anatolia

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

US May Drop Condition for Iran Talks

The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions.

The proposals, exchanged in confidential strategy sessions with European allies, would press Tehran to open up its nuclear program gradually to wide-ranging inspection. But the proposals would also allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during the talks. That would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly to initiate negotiations.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Ukraine Arrests 3 in Radioactive Material Sale

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian security agents have arrested a regional lawmaker and two companions for trying to sell a radioactive substance that could be used in making a dirty bomb, officials said Tuesday.

The legislator in the western Ternopyl region and two local businessmen were detained last week for trying to sell 8.2 pounds (3.7 kilograms) of radioactive material to an undercover agent of the security service, said Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the service.

The suspects tried to peddle the substance as plutonium-239, a highly radioactive material that can be used to build nuclear weapons, and demanded $10 million, Ostapenko said.

But security experts later determined that the material was likely americium, a widely used radioactive material. Ostapenko said it could be used in a dirty bomb, but not nuclear weapons.

The service said in a statement it believes the material was produced in Russia during the Soviet era and smuggled into Ukraine through a neighboring country.

Ukraine renounced nuclear weapons after the Soviet Union’s collapse. However, concerns remain over the existence of unsecured radioactive materials here and in other ex-Soviet republics, where safety rules are often neglected and corruption is rampant.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Women Want West to Back Off ‘Rape Law’

KABUL — As Afghanistan’s Parliament debated ways Monday to protect female politicians from assassination, young women attending Kabul University expressed surprise and bewilderment at the debate raging in Canada and Europe over a proposed law that seems to allow men from the Shiite Hazara minority to sexually enslave their wives and imprison them in their homes.

The nearly unanimous view on the campus — arguably the most progressive institution in Afghanistan — was that the West should not involve itself in the country’s cultural and religious affairs.

“This is not a good law. Women should be allowed to do what they want,” said Hamida Hasani, 18, a Hazara architecture student at Kabul University. She said she was familiar with the controversial legislation, which President Hamid Karzai has pledged to urgently review in the face of strong complaints from western governments.

“But we do not want total freedom. We wanted it to be limited and to be within Islam.”

Told of the furor the proposed law has caused in Canada and elsewhere, and about the murder of women’s activist and Kandahar provincial council member Sitara Achakzai on Sunday, Hasani said the problem of women’s rights in Afghanistan belongs to Afghan woman — no one else.

“They don’t know anything about us and our problems,” she said. “If they faced what we have faced with hunger and war, they’d realize what is most important to fight for here. Before they come here they should . . . experience our difficulties.”

No female or male students at Kabul University except Hasani were aware of the pending Shia family legislation or of Achakzai’s murder by Taliban gunmen in Kandahar City.

It’s not surprising that few Afghans know about the Shia legislation “because public awareness of any legislation before Parliament is very low,” said Fauzia Kofi, 32, a wife and mother of two and a women’s rights campaigner who represents the Badakhshan constituency.

“This new Shia law got very little attention anywhere until it appeared in the Guardian and became a big international story. It is still not a big domestic story. Shia women do not understand the implications of this law because they regard this as a cultural issue that is linked to religion, whereas I believe there is a difference between culture and religion.”

Hasani and two Hazara girlfriends, Laila Saberi and Keshwar Haidary, who were walking together across from the main entrance to the university after class, were emphatic that the sole role in Afghanistan of NATO nations was “to provide better security. Nothing else.”

This opinion frustrated Kofi, who had her personal bodyguard doubled from four to eight by the government Monday because of Achakzai’s murder and recent threats by insurgents to kidnap her.

“NATO is here to fight terror but if you do not protect democracy and human rights we may not end up with terrorism but with extremism, which is just as bad,” she said, minutes after condemning Achakzai’s murder in Parliament. “If you speak of human rights or women rights in Afghanistan you get accused of having converted to Christianity.”

Nevertheless, the consensus among the students at a coffee shop popular with the university crowd was that, bad as the proposed law might be, it’s none of NATO’s business.

“This law is not something that Karzai should sign because there must be mutual agreement within a marriage, but what westerners have to realize is that it is much better for us than it was before when the Taliban behaved so badly towards us,” said Shapera Azzizulah, 41, a married Tajik Sunni pharmacist who had dropped by for a cup of coffee after picking up a copy of her university degree.

“Under the Taliban I was forced to wear a burka and my sister was beaten once on her feet for only showing her eyes. Now I don’t wear a burka, so that is progress.

“That does not mean that I am happy with everything at all. I am very concerned about men here who have sexual intercourse with very young girls. These men should be sentenced to die. If a couple of them were executed it were executed it would be a lesson to all the bad men.”

Picking at a plate of french fries, Fahima Riosi, an 18 year old Tajik Sunni student of Russian literature, complained in Afghanistan’s singsong Farsi dialect of “night letters” being received at the hostel for female students that she lived in that threatened to destroy the building and harm its residents if it was not closed.

“I am so scared that when I go to bed I can’t sleep,” she confided as her roommate, Andesha Sadeet, nodded in agreement.

Like Azzizulah and the three young Hazara students, Riosi and Sadeet said their fathers had initially opposed them going to university, but finally relented when they insisted.

“There is change in Afghanistan today,” Riosi said. “There is respect for us if we are educated or if we work.

“But westerners want to change Afghanistan for their benefit, not for ours. They have a bad view of our culture. Some of our women imitate their clothes and their ways. Our freedom must come within Islam.”

Sadeet added: “I don’t want to see the faces of the Taliban again, but I do not want our culture to change. It is right that we should not go out without our families’ permission. I would not want it to be any other way.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Afghan Taliban Kill Young Couple for Trying to Elope

KABUL — Taliban gunmen used a firing squad to kill a young couple in southern Afghanistan for trying to elope, shooting them with rifles in front of a crowd in a lawless, militant-controlled region, officials said Tuesday.

The woman, 19, and the man, 21, were accused by the militants of immoral acts, and a council of conservative clerics decided that the two should be killed, said Ghulam Dastagir Azad, the governor of the southwestern province of Nimroz.

The two had fled their homes and hoped to travel to Iran, but their parents sent villagers to bring them home, said Sadiq Chakhansori, the chief of Nimroz’ provincial council. Once back home, the pair was either turned over to the Taliban by their parents or the militants came and took them by force, the officials said, providing slightly varying accounts.

Riflemen in the remote district of Khash Rod shot the man and woman with AK-47s Monday, said Chakhansori.

In remote and dangerous regions of Afghanistan, Taliban fighters operate what are sometimes referred to as shadow governments, where militant leaders serve as government officials and run their own police units and pseudo court systems.

The Afghan government has no access to the remote region where the two were shot, said Jabar Pardeli, the provincial police chief of Nimroz.

The conservative Taliban movement ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and put in place harsh social rules that forbade unmarried men and women to talk or meet in public. Women were not allowed out of their homes without a male relative, and girls couldn’t go to school.

Taliban fighters have widened their influence the last three years and now control many remote districts in Afghanistan where there are not enough U.S., NATO or Afghan forces to establish a permanent presence.

Responding to commanders’ requests for more troops, President Barack Obama recently announced that the U.S. would send 21,000 more troops to the country this summer to bolster the 38,000 U.S. forces already in the country.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

India: Catholic Body Has 10 Poll Commandments

Panaji, 9 April (AKI/Asian Age) — A new set of “Ten Commandments”, created by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India aims to make the polling process for Indian voters easier.

The CBCI’s Commission for Justice, Peace and Development has put out a call which, it believes, would help make the gargantuan Indian electoral system a bit more voter-friendly.

“You shall ensure that your name is on the Electoral Roll and that you have an updated Electors Photo Identity Card,” says the first commandment. None play the role of naming parties, or taking sides.

But some could be interpreted to hit out at the questionable policies of certain parties.

In the few Christian pockets in India, church leaders often have an influential political role, influencing voting and sometimes even accused of directly taking sides.

Other modern-day commandments urge voters to “help the poor, marginalised, underprivileged” to get their names on the electoral role; and to carefully scrutinise election manifestos of various parties and “ascertain” their stand in favour of “vulnerable groups like tribals, dalits, children, women and minorities” before deciding whom to support.

Voters are urged to “vote neither for parties or candidates that are communal, casteist, criminal, corrupt and fascist nor for those that have not kept their previous electoral promises.”

Likewise, they are asked not to “accept any bribe” while casting their franchise.

“You shall cast your vote early …. you shall insist on a tendered vote … if someone else has already voted in your name…. You shall exercise your ‘electoral right’ by declining to cast your vote (under Rule 49-O… ) if you are not satisfied with any of the candidates,” says the directives.

It calls on voters to “report immediately” cases of bribery, booth-capturing and bogus voting.

India is officially secular but most of its one billion-plus citizens are Hindu. Christians make up about 2.5 percent of the population and Muslims, 13.4 percent ..

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

Indonesia: Voting Underway Amid Papua Violence

Jakarta, 9 April (AKI/The Jakarta Post) — Violence in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua erupted only hours before parliamentary elections were due to begin on Thursday, killing at least six people.

Police in Papua searched residential houses in Waena and Abepura following an attack to a police post in the provincial capital Jayapur, which prompted a clash that killed one attacker, early on Wednesday morning.

Local residents decided not to leave their homes after the incident. In the search, police found 10 bombs and arrested 14 people for questioning.

Papua Police chief Insp. Gen. Bagus Ekodanto said the attack, which involved 80 suspected separatists, was aimed at boycotting the election.

“A group of the National Committee of West Papua was involved,” he said.

Elsewhere, he said, rebels who want Papua to break from Indonesia stabbed several motorcycle taxi drivers, burned an oil depot and property at Cendrawasih State University, leaving five others dead.

The outcome of the parliamentary elections will decide who can run for president in July’s elections, as parties or coalitions must hold 20 percent of seats in the 560-seat lower house or 25 percent of the popular vote to nominate a candidate. Thirty-eight parties are contesting the poll.

Indonesia — also the world’s third largest democracy — has a population of 235 million people and 90 percent of them are Muslim. Most practise a moderate form of the faith

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

Nepali Catholics Oppose Caste Influence

In a three-day seminar held in Godavari, Mgr Menamparampil, archbishop of Guwahati in India, slams the growth of Brahmanism’s caste-centred culture. He tells Nepali Catholics to help minorities “preserve their egalitarian ethos.”

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) — Nepal’s Catholic community went on a mission in the western part of the country. At the St Vinney Pastoral Centre in Godavari, 15 kilometres south-west of Kathmandu, it organised a three-day seminar on evangelisation. Several priests, religious and lay people came on the invitation of Mgr Anthony Sharma, apostolic vicar for Nepal. The event took place on 1-3 April.

“The emphasis of our missionary thrust is in western Nepal because we have already made progress in eastern Nepal,” Bishop Sharma.

Mgr Thomas Menamparampil, archbishop of Guwahati in India, was among the main speakers. He heads the Evangelisation Office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

Benedict XVI chose him to write the Mediations for this year’s Via Crucis in the Coliseum.

In his address at the three-day event he stressed the growing problem of saffronisation in South Asia, based on support for caste divisions in Brahmin culture.

Unfortunately, this process is also starting to affect the region’s religious minorities, the archbishop noted.

In spite of this “Buddhists, Jains and Asoka faithful as well as Tribal people living in the sub-Himalayan region are determined to preserve their egalitarian ethos against the pressures of Brahmanism,” Monsignor Menamparampil.

“In order to save their culture and traditions, weak communities and rural populations are looking for a Moses figure who can help them define their identity in a new situation,” he said.

Even if they are a small minority in this mountain nation, it is incumbent upon Christians to lead these communities in “a new exodus across the Red Sea”, he said.

The Catholic community is indeed small with only 8,000 members in a country of 27 million, 86 per cent of whom are Hindu, 7 per cent Buddhist and 3.5 per cent Muslim.

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

Pakistan: Strikes Called to Protest Killing of Baluch Nationalist Leaders

Quetta, 10 April (AKI) — Local political groups and lawyers’ associations called for a general strike in all Baloch-populated areas on Friday and over the weekend to condemn the recent killings of three nationalist leaders in Pakistan’s restive western province of Baluchistan.

Political workers, students and supporters of nationalist parties took to the streets early in the Baluch provincial capital and a general strike was observed in ten other towns.

Lawyers will boycott local courts till Saturday. Nationalist parties also announced seven-day mourning period in Balochistan and other parts of the country. The Balochistan University and all other educational institutions were closed till Sunday.

The United Nations on Thursday voiced “serious concern” at the Baluch nationalists’ killings. The discovery of their decomposing bodies late on Wednesday sparked riots in the province on Thursday in which a policeman died and at least 12 people were injured in gunfights.

A police official was quoted by Dawn as saying Baloch National Movement chairman Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Baloch Republican Party members Lala Muneer Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch had been killed four or five days before their bodies were discovered.

Baluchi nationalists also rioted in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karchi in neighbouring Sindh province.

Baloch National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal alleged at a press conference that intelligence agencies were responsible for the killing.

Ghulam and Sher Mohammad were buried in their native town and and Lala Muneer in Chitkan village, near Panjgur. Thousands of people attended the funerals.

The bodies had been handed over to their relatives after legal formalities. According to sources, they bore torture marks and bullet wounds.

Baluchistan’s chief minister Aslam Raisani has formed a three-member tribunal made up provincial High Court judges to probe the killings. Raisani has called for calm in the province.

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

Pakistan: Taliban Asserts Itself in North and South

Karachi, 13 April (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — The Taliban reasserted its power in the north and south of Pakistan on Monday, seizing control of a new district of Buner in the country’s North West Frontier Province, torching NATO supplies in Peshawar and positioning militants for terror attacks in the southern port city of Karachi.

Pakistani police arrested a close associate of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in Karachi, police said on Monday.

Badshah din Mehsud, an associate of Baitullah Mehsud, was arrested in the Sachal Goth area of the city and linked to a new plot for targeting the financial capital of the country.

Police declined to comment on the arrest in regard to the new wave of terror that has struck Pakistan but at the same time showed the aggressive designs of the militants especially as they flooded the district of Buner.

The local union council elected administrator confirmed on Monday that despite an agreement between the tribal council and the Taliban, armed members of the Taliban have flooded the district and practically seized control.

Three guards were wounded on Sunday in an attack on a supply depot serving US and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, police said.

The depot in Peshawar was attacked by more than 150 militants using rocket launchers and gasoline bombs, a police spokesman Warid Khan told the media.

The attack occurred in the capital of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, where militants armed with rockets and automatic weapons attacked the transport terminal along a key supply route used by US and NATO troops. Eight trucks were also torched in the attack.

On Monday private schools in Islamabad were reopened after security agencies gave them a safety clearance. The schools in Islamabad were closed for three days after militants warned the local administration that they would carry out attacks.

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

Pakistan: President Signs Off Islamic Law Deal

Islamabad, 14 April (AKI/DAWN) — Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari approved a controversial regulation that puts a district in the volatile North West Frontier Province under Islamic Sharia law as part of peace concessions to the Taliban.

The Sharia regulation was signed on Monday for the Malakand division, located in the country’s NWFP after the country’s National Assembly or lower house urged Zardari to honour a promise made to the Taliban.

The implementation of Islamic justice was agreed in February in return for an end to Taliban militancy.

Zardari put his signature on the document soon after the Lower House made its unprecedented recommendation in a resolution adopted at the end of a heated debate that saw the so-called left-wing, right-wing, progressive and Islamic parties uphold the two-month-old deal that had caused unease within the country and to Pakistan’s western allies.

Zardari had previously resisted signing the deal.

“Yes, the president signed the regulation after the National Assembly adopted the resolution,” presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Pakistani daily Dawn. Later the president left for Dubai on a short visit.

A parliamentary resolution was not needed to enforce the Sharia regulation as Pakistan’s constitution empowers the president to give the required approval to such laws for what is known as Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, such as Malakand and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which too have been gripped by terrorist militancy for the past several years.

Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani told the house that while the Pakistan People’s Party had already supported the 16 February peace deal between the provincial coalition, of which it is a partner, and the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi on behalf of the Taliban, the government came to the National Assembly only to gain a wider ‘moral force’ for the move.

Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-N called the peace deal ‘no ideal pact,’ but said ‘there could be no better pact than this in the present situation.

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

Sri Lanka: Army Says Civilians Rebelling Against Tamil Tigers in Security Zone

The army of Colombo says there have been “serious disturbances . . . with loud explosions and machine gun fire” in the area of Ampalawanpokkanai.The population is believed to have risen up against the rebels after the latest appeal from the army, which asked the LTTE to allow the civilians to leave the no-fire zone. According to the Defense Ministry, the leaders of the Tigers have also taken shelter in the area.

Colombo (AsiaNews) — Civilian revolt in the security zone. The Defense Ministry of Colombo says that on Wednesday afternoon, there was fighting between the population taking refuge in the so-called “no fire zone” (NFZ) and the Tamil rebels present in the area.

The army of Colombo says there have been “serious disturbances” with “loud explosions and machine gun fire” from the area of Ampalawanpokkanai. The revolt is been believed to have erupted after the military, through loudspeakers on the border of the NFZ, told the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to release the civilians they were keeping hostage, and put down their weapons.

According to the Defense Ministry, the heads of the LTTE, and even their leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, have taken shelter in the security zone. In confirmation of this hypothesis, the army reports the statement by a group of 118 civilians, made up of 51 children, 36 women, and 31 men, who were brought to safety on April 8. They say that the Tamil rebels have built bunkers inside the NFZ to house the commanders of the LTTE, and barriers to keep the civilians from leaving the area.

The population trapped in the conflict zone and in the NFZ is the object of constant violence, and at the center of ongoing controversy. The regular forces of Colombo accuse the Tamil Tigers of using civilians as human shields, and of keeping them hostage in order to obstruct the army’s advance; the rebels respond by accusing the military of bombing the area without making any distinction between civilians and guerrillas.

The international community has repeatedly appealed to the two forces in conflict to spare the civilian population and permit the refugees to leave the war zone. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has repeated these requests to the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during a telephone conversation yesterday. The United Nations says that there is a serious humanitarian crisis afflicting the populations in the northern part of the island, confirming the alarm raised some time ago by the Churches and civil society in the country.

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

Sri Lanka Says Norway Out of Peace Talks After Attack

COLOMBO (Reuters) — Sri Lanka said on Monday Norway could no longer serve as a mediator between it and the Tamil Tigers, a day after pro-rebel demonstrators trashed the Sri Lankan embassy in the Norwegian capital.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador on Monday, to make a formal protest after the demonstration turned violent and the demonstrators — who videotaped themselves and posted the attack on the Internet — escaped arrest.

“In these circumstances, the government of Sri Lanka perceives that it is no longer feasible for Norway to act as facilitator in the peace process,” a statement from the foreign ministry said.

That means Norway can no longer effectively play a role as one of four mediators, alongside the United States, Britain and Japan, in Sri Lanka’s all-but-dead peace talks.

The ministry said Norway had shown “sheer neglect” of its obligations by failing to protect the embassy despite repeated requests for better security since protests have been on the rise in numerous world cities where there are large Tamil populations.

The Norwegian ambassador in Sri Lanka, Tore Hattrem, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters and said the foreign ministry in Oslo was expected to make a statement.

Sri Lanka’s military has encircled the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a 17 square km (7 sq mile) strip of northeastern coast along with tens of thousands of civilians, and is aiming to crush the separatists and end a 25-year war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday ordered the military to pause fighting and act only defensively during the two-day Sinhala and Tamil New Year period on Monday and Tuesday, and urged the Tigers to let people out.


The United Nations says the Tigers are holding those people as human shields, and has urged the government to keep its promise not to fire artillery into the densely packed area to avoid killing civilians. Sri Lanka denies firing at civilians.

The nations leading Sri Lanka’s peace process welcomed the two-day halt to military operations and said they wanted the civilians released and fighting to end without more bloodshed, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

The group — including the United States, European Union, Japan and Norway — repeated their call for the Tigers to allow civilians to leave and called on both sides to facilitate the delivery of food and medicine and the evacuation of the sick and wounded.

The State Department said officials from the group spoke by telephone on Monday, their second conference call in a week.

Norway brokered a 2002 ceasefire between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, but the truce was shattered by renewed violence in 2006. Colombo pulled out in January 2008, with Rajapaksa vowing to destroy the LTTE.

In diplomatic circles, Norway’s role is valued because it has the best direct links to the Tiger leadership, and is usually the channel through which the mediators and international community make their positions or requests known.

That, however, has infuriated Colombo, which says Norway has no business contacting leaders of a group that the European Union lists as a terrorist organisation, along with the United States, Canada and India.

Colombo expressed anger last month after Norway’s ambassador brokered a meeting between U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes and S. Pathmanathan, who is the LTTE’s chief weapons procurer and now its diplomatic pointman despite being wanted by Interpol.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East

China: Prime Minister Wen Promises Severe Measures Against Corruption — Again

Wen pledges careful supervision to prevent dishonest officials from growing rich through the economic stimulus provided by the government. But Beijing appears unable to stop corruption, which often takes place openly. Bribes are even being deposited into bank accounts, and given in the form of million-yuan villas.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Prime minister Wen Jiabao reiterated yesterday in the pages of Xinhua that fighting widespread corruption is a priority for government, with “efforts to increase efficiency and transparency, step up power controls and supervision . . . and try to prevent the opportunity of increased public investment from being abused by departments, units and individuals.” But experts and public opinion are very skeptical and critical about Beijing’s ability to put an end to the phenomenon.

According to official data, 41,179 public officials were investigated for corruption in 2008. There is widespread fear that the highly touted stimulus of 4 trillion yuan, said to be essential to revive the struggling Chinese economy, is going to enrich dishonest officials. For this reason, Wen has reminded the local governments of the need for the highest transparency in the use of the funds, and has pledged that there will be tight supervision. He has also reiterated the commitment to cut unnecessary spending on meetings and conferences, and the freeze — in effect since the end of 2008 — on constructing new public buildings. Analysts observe that no current spending figures have been released, making it impossible to verify the announced cuts, while unofficial sources say that at least 600 billion yuan were spent on entertainment on business trips in 2006.

Public opinion has been demoralized by the constant corruption scandals, in spite of the fact that the government has proclaimed zero tolerance for years. Recently, Kang Huijun, the former deputy head of the government in the wealthy Shanghai financial district, has been sentenced to life in prison for corruption: among other things, he bought more than 20 apartments at prices much lower than those of the market, and resold them at an immense profit.

Now the Chinese Communist Party Disciplinary Committee has ordered about 2,000 high-level officials and managers of public projects in Shanghai to disclose any property they own, including that of their family. But many people comment that it is well known that city officials benefit from such favorable prices, and are waiting to see if the government will take any measures on property holdings.

Corruption is so widespread that Chinese television has broadcast a documentary on Zhou Liangluo, former head of the CP in the district of Haidian in Beijing, who in 2008 was sentenced to death (but with a suspended sentence) for having appropriated more than 16 million yuan. The documentary reveals that the bribes were paid in a very open and easily disclosed way: one builder, who was given preference in the construction of a luxury hotel, deposited 400,000 yuan (40,000 euros) into Zhou’s bank account every day for three weeks in 2003. Another company even gave him a villa valued at 2 million yuan, after being chosen to construct a commercial building in 2005.

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

North Korea to Quit Talks, Reopen Nuke Plants

Program restart in protest of UN condemnation of rocket launch

The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea’s rocket launch (File)

North Korea announced Tuesday it would quit six-nation disarmament talks and restart its nuclear weapons program in protest at the United Nation’s condemnation of its rocket launch earlier this month.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday unanimously condemned North Korea’s long-range rocket launch nearly two weeks ago as contravening a U.N. ban, and demanded enforcement of existing sanctions against Pyongyang.

The communist state said the Security Council’s discussion of a peaceful satellite launch was “an unbearable insult” to its people.

It said it “sternly rejects” the council’s action and would strengthen its nuclear deterrent in response.

“ We will take steps to restore disabled nuclear facilities… and reprocess used fuel rods that came from experimental nuclear reactors “

North Korean statement”There is no need for the six-party (nuclear disarmament) talks anymore,” said a foreign ministry statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “We will never again take part in such talks and will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks.”

The North “will strengthen its nuclear deterrent for its defence by all means,” it said.

“We will take steps to restore disabled nuclear facilities… and reprocess used fuel rods that came from experimental nuclear reactors.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Seoul Fears for Man Held Incommunicado in N.Korea

The government is trying to deal with the detention of a 44-year-old employee of Hyundai Asan in North Korea from a human rights perspective. The man, identified as Yoo, has been detained by North Korea since Mar. 30. “Just as the United States interviewed the two journalists detained by North Korea through the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, we are considering working out an interview with Yoo through the permanent mission of a country that’s on friendly terms with North Korea,” a government official here said Monday.

Yoo has been held incommunicado since his arrest for allegedly trying to criticize the North Korean regime and persuade a North Korean woman to defect.

The Unification Ministry on Monday called North Korea¡¯s refusal to grant Yoo his basic rights “unjust and inhumane.” The ministry had so far tried to persuade the North to give Yoo access to a lawyer by citing an inter-Korean agreement.

North Korea has made no mention of Yoo for the last 15 days, and Seoul has been even unable to confirm whether he is safe. Some South Korean officials are concerned that Yoo, who worked at the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, might be taken to Pyongyang and indicted like two U.S. journalists who were earlier arrested for spying.

Under North Korean criminal law, a person can be held for investigation for 10 days. But there is a prejudication system that decides whether someone is guilty or not, which can prolong the detention period for up to six months. Also, people who are accused of activities against the state are investigated by the secret service.

“We are concerned that North Korea might ignore the inter-Korean agreement and indict Yoo as they did with the U.S. journalists,” a government official here said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Gov’t Should Take Decisive Action Over Detainee in the North

More than 15 days have passed since North Korea unilaterally detained a South Korean stationed at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North. The communist country informed South Korea on Mar. 30 that a man surnamed Yoo who works for Hyundai Asan was being investigated for criticizing the North Korean regime and scheming to get a North Korean woman to defect. Other than that, North Korea has not made a single notification to South Korea. Imagine the fear of being suddenly captured by North Korean authorities and denied the right to meet a family member or government official for more than two weeks.

And there is no guarantee that the same will not happen again in the future, considering that hundreds of South Korean workers are stationed at the Kaesong industrial park. No matter how many benefits the joint inter-Korean project can produce, how is it possible to trust such a country and work there without fear?

During the early stages of detention, the unofficial response of North Korean authorities was that Yoo was being fed and given a place to sleep while his safety would be guaranteed. Those, however, were not official notifications from North Korea. Even now, there is no substantive information on whether Yoo is in good health and whether he is in Kaesong or has been moved elsewhere.

Through comments delivered by the vice-spokesman for the Ministry of Unification, South Korea pointed out on Monday that North Korea¡¯s denial of the detainee¡¯s basic rights, including Miranda rights, was inhumane and violated a South-North agreement, as well as standard international practices.

The South Korean government appears to be evaluating alternatives to break the inter-Korean deadlock, and even considering the help of a third country or international organization. Whatever it chooses to do, it must take decisive action immediately. The Kaesong Industrial Complex actually benefits the North more than it does the South. North Korea must quickly adopt a logical mode of thinking.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia: Is Evans Ready for More Boatpeople?

THE arrival of a well-equipped boat carrying 63 unauthorised arrivals last week has hoisted Immigration Minister Chris Evans on his own policy petard. And given the way he and Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus are respectively tardy and terse with information on the 207 boatpeople who have arrived this year, more than the total for last year, it appears Senator Evans knows it. Before the last election, Labor promised everything to everybody on border protection. For people worried about illegal immigrants, there were promises the tough tradition established by the Keating government would continue. For the vocal opponents of John Howard’s policy of mandatory detention in offshore camps, there were assurances of a kinder, gentler toughness. Last year, Senator Evans demonstrated whose support he valued most, ending 20 years of bipartisan policy on illegal immigration. First detention camps on Nauru and Christmas Island were closed, then the Howard government policy of granting refugees temporary visas rather than permanent residence was abolished. Finally, Senator Evans ended the practice of incarcerating everybody who arrived illegally until their right to refugee status was decided.

Inevitably, rights industry activists argued that this was not good enough. Labor left in place the fiction that atolls and islands off the northwest coast, where most boats make landfall, are not actually Australia — thus denying boatpeople the protection of laws on refugees and access to the courts. But overall, Senator Evans’s reforms were a big win for advocates of easy access for people who arrive without approval seeking asylum. Regrettably, they were also a victory for the people-smugglers. Certainly we are still a long way short of the situation that led the Howard government to consign all unauthorised arrivals to what were euphemistically called camps but were pure and simple prisons. Between 1999 and 2001, people-smugglers transported 8000 individuals from Indonesia to Australia. Some drowned, and 360 people perished in one disaster off the Java coast in October 2001. Many were locked up on arrival and remained in detention for years. And yet people kept taking the risk until Mr Howard’s tough policies deterred them. From 2002-03 until last year, only eight boats carrying 134 people arrived.

Now there is an increase. Last week’s arrival is especially ominous: the boat was so well-equipped and commanded it was able to escape Australian surveillance and dock at Christmas Island. It is easy to assume its well-dressed, well-resourced passengers were taking an informed risk that Australia is now easier to enter. Senator Evans will be hoping this is not the case, that these arrivals are an aberration. Because if they are not, he will have little option but to admit that his relaxed policy on unauthorised arrivals has come at a price. He has already been forced to reopen an immigration prison on Christmas Island, which Labor railed against in Opposition. Perhaps a conference in Bali later this week will lead to the Indonesian authorities increasing activity against people-smugglers. If not, Senator Evans will have to abandon the fiction that there is no problem he need address. The more boats that arrive, the harder it will be to argue that it is possible to have a relaxed attitude to unauthorised arrivals without ever-increasing numbers of people taking advantage of it.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia: Canberra Fears New Surge in Illegal Immigrants

AUSTRALIA is urging Indonesia to do more to crack down on people-smugglers as the Rudd Government braces for a new wave of more sophisticated illegal boat arrivals.

Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus yesterday attributed a spike in unauthorised arrivals in recent months to deteriorating security in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and warned Australians to prepare for more boats in coming weeks.

His warning came as immigration law specialist Simon Jeans said men in their 20s were posing as teenage boys to avoid immigration detention after they landed unlawfully in the country.

Twelve boatloads of asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters since September, prompting the Opposition to accuse the Government of giving the green light to people-smugglers.

The Rudd Government abandoned John Howard’s Pacific Solution in February last year as it sought to soften Australia’s treatment of refugees.

Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said yesterday the Government must stop “squeezing” border security funding.

“In the last 10 days, we have seen the appalling results of this resource squeeze and lack of focus of Australia’s border security,” Dr Stone said.

Mr Debus, backed by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Immigration Minister Chris Evans, is attending a two-day summit in Bali this week. The three ministers will call on Indonesian officials to make a greater effort to intercept asylum seekers before they make the dangerous voyage to Australia.

“You must expect that there will be, within a relatively short amount of time, attempts to reach a country of preferred destination like Australia,” Mr Debus said yesterday.

Senator Evans said lobbying efforts would focus on convincing Indonesia to improve its domestic legal arrangements.

“They currently don’t have, in our view, enough capacity to prosecute people-smugglers in Indonesia,” Senator Evans said.

He described as first-rate the level of co-operation Australia had received from Indonesia in trying to break up people-smuggling rings.

The ministers’ comments came less than a week after a boat carrying 38 Middle Eastern asylum seekers slipped past Australian border protection authorities and docked at Christmas Island.

Mr Debus yesterday defended the breach, saying there was more surveillance now than when the Howard government was in power. “Our surveillance is informed by intelligence,” hesaid.

“You can’t expect that every boat and every kilometre of the sea will be covered.” He emphasised that despite the upsurge, the number of people coming to Australia remained modest by global standards.

Senator Evans said people-smugglers were changing tactics, often using sophisticated positioning systems to chart their course to Australia.

“One of the things we’ve found is some of these boats being of better quality and having larger numbers than those that arrived last year, particularly one of the departures from Sri Lanka last year (which) had quite sophisticated positioning systems,” the Immigration Minister said.

Mr Jeans, a Sydney-based immigration law specialist with 20 years’ experience, yesterday told The Australian he encountered young men claiming to be 10 years younger than they were to get an easier ride through immigration.

“Many young adults, aged between 18 and 24, arrive unlawfully claiming to be “unaccompanied minors’,” Mr Jeans said. “They know they will receive a much easier time at an interview by immigration officials if they claim to be 14 or 15 years old and (coming from countries) with nutrient levels lower than Australia they can appear much younger than their real age.” The scam is the latest to be adopted by illegal people-smugglers and exploits government policy against putting children into immigration detention.

Asylum-seekers destroy identity papers before entering the pipeline with the “snakeheads” who run the people smuggling trade.

Frustrated Immigration officials say they are forced to give the young men, who routinely claim to be travelling alone, the benefit of the doubt if they are picked up in Australia.

Sources say it is a catch-22 for officials. While aware of the scam, they must “err on the side of caution” and accept at face value the age provided to avoid locking up children.

Formerly, X-rays were used to check the bone density of those making what were considered to be questionable claims about their age, but this practice has since ceased.

Pamela Curr, of the Asylum-Seeker Resource Centre, expressed scepticism at the claims of age fraud.

“What’s the advantage? It doesn’t make any difference to the assessment of their claim,” Ms Curr said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

NZ: Bashed Taxi Driver: Insults Were Worst

An Indian taxi driver beaten and humiliated by Herne Bay party-goers says attacks on his community are not given enough attention until someone loses their life.

Jarnil Sandhu, who works for Auckland Co-op Taxis, was attacked by four men he drove on Saturday night from Herne Bay to Emily Place in the city centre.

When he asked for his fare, the men punched him to the ground and removed his turban, which is humiliating for a Sikh.

The Indian Society of Auckland said members of the Indian community were often more vulnerable to attacks because of their lines of business, such as working in dairies and liquor stores and as taxi drivers.

Mr Sandhu, 53, spent Sunday in hospital for treatment to bruising and swelling around his face and jaw, but said he was most hurt by the passengers’ insults about his turban and the way they tried to steal it.

His wife, Manmeet Sandhu, said members of the Indian community faced far too much abuse. She was was seeking greater awareness of what she felts was racism.

Jagdish Natali, of the Indian Society of Auckland, said he knew of two violent attacks on Indian small-business owners in Blockhouse Bay in the past 10 days.

“Indians are hard-working people, they don’t mind working long hours. It’s unfortunate that they are being victimised by thugs.”

Mrs Sandhu said she was surprised that her husband’s passengers, who were in their mid- to late-20s, could be so immature.

The Sandhus, who have two daughters, moved to New Zealand 15 years ago to be safe.

“It was not our dream to live like this,” Mrs Sandhu said.

Mr Sandhu will return to taxi driving because he has to support the family. In India he worked as a veterinarian, but found it too difficult to find work in that field here.

Inspector Barry Smalley of the police northern communications centre said assaults on taxi drivers were not common.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Piracy: Greek Cargo Ship Seized in Gulf of Aden

(ANSAmed) — NAIROBI, APRIL 14 — A Greek ship, the MV Irene E.M., was seized today by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, brining the total of captured ships to nine since the start of this month, reported naval sources in Kenya. According to these sources, the pirates have taken possession of the cargo ship which sails under the flag of St. Vincent. This new attack was carried out while the tow-boat Buccaneer — seized the day before yesterday with 16 persons on board including 10 Italians — is still in the hands of the pirates. Tensions are rising in the area after last Sunday’s blitz carried out by the US Navy, in which the American captain Richard Phillips was set free and three kidnappers were killed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Study: Illegal Immigrants Having More Kids in US

WASHINGTON (AP) — Growing numbers of children of illegal immigrants are being born in this country, and they are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty than those with American-born parents, a report says.

The study released Tuesday by the Pew Hispanic Center highlights a growing dilemma in the immigration debate: Illegal immigrants’ children born in the United States are American citizens, yet they struggle in poverty and uncertainty along with parents who fear deportation, toil largely in low-wage jobs and face layoffs in an ailing economy.

The analysis by Pew, a nonpartisan research organization, estimated that 11.9 million illegal immigrants lived in the U.S. Of those, 8.3 million were in the labor force as of March 2008, making up 5.4 percent of the U.S. work force, primarily in lower-paying farming, construction or janitorial work.

Roughly three out of four of their children — or 4 million — were born in the U.S. In 2003, 2.7 million children of illegal immigrants, or 63 percent, were born in this country.

Overall, illegal immigrants’ children account for one of every 15 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Illegal immigrants also have become more geographically dispersed, increasingly passing up typical destinations like California in favor of jobs in newly emerging Hispanic areas in Southeastern states like Georgia and North Carolina.

In 2008, California had the most illegal immigrants at 2.7 million, double its 1990 number, followed by Texas, Florida, New York and New Jersey. Still, California’s 22 percent share of the nation’s illegal immigrant population was a marked drop-off from its 42 percent share in 1990.

The latest demographic snapshot comes as President Barack Obama is preparing to address the politically sensitive issue of immigration reform later this year, including a proposal to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

Though their numbers have soared over the past two decades, the total number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. has declined or remained flat in the last few years. Demographers attribute that to slower rates of migration into the U.S. caused in part by the recession, as well as to deportations and stepped-up immigration enforcement during the Bush administration.

Among the findings:

  • One-third of the children of illegal immigrants live in poverty, nearly double the rate for children of U.S.-born parents.
  • Illegal immigrants’ share of low-wage jobs has grown in recent years, from 10 percent of construction jobs in 2003 to 17 percent in 2008. They also make up 25 percent of workers in farming and 19 percent in building maintenance.
  • The 2007 median household income of illegal immigrants was $36,000, compared with $50,000 for U.S.-born residents. In contrast to other immigrants, illegal immigrants do not earn markedly higher incomes the longer they live in the United States.
  • About 47 percent of illegal immigrant households have children, compared with 21 percent for U.S.-born residents and 35 percent for legal immigrants.
  • About three-quarters, or 76 percent, of illegal immigrants in the U.S. are Hispanic. The majority came from Mexico (59 percent), numbering 7 million. Other regions included Asia (11 percent), Central America (11 percent), South America (7 percent), the Caribbean (4 percent) and the Middle East (2 percent).

Children of illegal immigrants hold a delicate place in the U.S. On the one hand, the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that these children — whether they were U.S. citizens or not — were entitled to a public school education. California and a few other states also provide some college tuition breaks to illegal immigrants.

At the same time, the immigrants and their families are among the poorest people in the U.S., easily exploited by employers and subject to arrest at any time. Children who are U.S. citizens cannot petition for their parents to become legal U.S. residents until they are at least 21.

Earlier this year, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general found that more than 100,000 parents of U.S. citizens were deported over the decade ending in 2007, prompting the department to say it would gather more information about families before deporting immigrants.

The Pew analysis is based on census data through March 2008. Because the Census Bureau does not ask people about their immigration status, the estimate on illegal immigrants is derived largely by subtracting the estimated legal immigrant population from the total foreign-born population.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Fake Colleges Enable Foreigners to Disappear Through the Loophole

Bogus colleges set up to help foreign workers to enter Britain illegally have long been considered the biggest loophole in British immigration controls.

Often little more than two rooms over a takeaway restaurant or newsagents, the colleges have been enrolling hundreds of “overseas students” each year to enable them to obtain visas.

Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, described the bogus colleges last month as the Achilles’ heel in the immigration system. The Government announced a crackdown on them in 2003 but regulations did not come into force until the end of last month.

Under the new rules, all universities, colleges and schools must be approved by the UK Border Agency before they can issue visa letters to foreign students. Of the 2,100 institutions that applied for a sponsor licence, 467 have failed the vetting. More than 3,000 other colleges estimated to have been accepting foreign students have not applied for a licence.

For a few thousand pounds, students could enrol on a course that they never intended to take before beginning to work illegally and later applying for indefinite leave to remain in Britain on the basis of the amount of time that they have been in the country.

Many of the colleges advertised courses in English and citizenship to help students to pass Home Office immigration tests or work-related courses such as “door supervision” and IT.

The Home Office has not published the names of the colleges that have failed the vetting or the identities of the institutions that failed to apply.

The new rules make colleges responsible for their overseas students. They must keep a copy of students’ passports, report them if they fail to enrol, or drop out of a course, and raise any concerns if they are working or suspected of being involved in terrorism.

At present there are 240,000 non-EU students in Britain. Government figures show that more than 43,120 Pakistani citizens were granted student visas between 2004 and 2007.

Three years ago the British High Commission in Pakistan told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that it believed that about half the students to whom it granted visas disappeared after reaching Britain.

The Pakistani High Commissioner in London criticised the Government last week for doing too little to run checks on foreign students. Wajid Shamsul Hasan said that Pakistan had not been allowed to carry out background checks for possible links to extremists on people applying to study in Britain

Asked if there was a problem with the British system for issuing visas, he said: “The thing is they have their own regime — the regime that vets these people. But unfortunately in every system certain mistakes are made.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Germany: German Bishop: Atheism Responsible for Nazis and Mass Murder

A German bishop has told his Easter congregation that mass murder and other crimes committed by the Nazis are evidence that atheism is inhumane. His comments have caused outraged among German atheist organizations.

“Without God, everything is permitted.”

With this famous quote from Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the bishop of the southern Bavarian town of Augsburg wanted to warn his congregation of what he sees as the dangers of atheism.

Bishop Mixa told churchgoers that a society without God was “hell on earth” and could result in bloody regimes such as those led by Adolf Hitler or the Soviet Union.

“Decades past have proven the inhumanity of atheism through the godless regimes of National Socialism and communism, with their penal camps, secret police and mass murder,” he said.

“Wherever God is denied or fought against, there, humans and their dignity will also be denied and violated,” he added.

Falsification of history

Rudolf Ladwig, the head of German atheist organization IBKA, said Bishop Mixa’s comments were completely “untenable.”

Ladwig told German news magazine Spiegel that Mixa’s comments were part of a long-running strategy by the church to incorrectly rewrite its own historical dealings with fascism.

“Resistance from the church [to National Socialism] only came from individuals,” he said.

Bishop Mixa was also criticized by Michael Schmidt-Salomon from the Giordano Bruno Foundation, a German organization in support of evolutionary humanism.

Schmidt-Salomon told Spiegel the argument that National Socialism was godless was a “grand falsification.”

“Evidence shows that the majority of the Nazi elite considered themselves Christian,” Schmidt-Salomon said.

A history of controversial comments

Bishop Mixa is known in Germany as being outspoken and has ruffled feathers on more than one occasion.

In just one example in February, Mixa compared the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis to the number of abortions over the past few decades.

He also upset politicians two years ago when he criticized government plans to expand childcare facilities in Germany.

Mixa said the plans used federal aid to entice women to entrust their children to state care shortly after birth, degrading women to “birthing machines.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


OIC Discusses Set-Up of an Independent and Permanent Human Rights Commission

The Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, presided, on Sunday 12th April 2009, over the meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts for the Establishment of an OIC Independent Human Rights Commission held at the headquarters of the OIC General Secretariat in Jeddah.

The meeting was devoted to discussing a document prepared by the OIC General Secretariat that lays out an initial vision for the projected commission. The General Secretariat has conducted extensive studies and contacts with relevant international bodies in connection with the endeavor. Contacts included in particular the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR), the Geneva Institute for Human Rights (GIHR), and the OIC Group at the UN Geneva Office. The document examined by the participants in the meeting contains a broad overview of the components of the planned commission, a description of the nature of its work, its appellation, its principles, its objectives and functions, its members and experts, its recommendations and the quorum, besides other aspects bearing on the activities and responsibilities to be entrusted with the commission.

The Secretary General underscored in a speech he delivered before the meeting that human rights and man’s dignity are an integral part of Islam and core components of Islamic culture and heritage. He pointed out that international interest in the issue of human rights has spawned exponentially over the past two decades, adding that the complexity of the fields of human rights inevitably call for the need to refine the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in keeping with the current global human rights discourse. Such an approach, Ihsanoglu emphasized, would opens up new horizons and avenues for human rights in the Muslim world.

He also indicated that establishing an OIC human rights commission would pave the way to broad intellectual and political reform across the OIC Member States and deeper cooperation that would contribute to a larger promotion of the values of tolerance and fundamental freedoms, good governance, the rule of law, accountability, openness, dialogue with other religions and civilizations, the rejection extremism and fanaticism, and the strengthening of the sense of pride in the Islamic identity.

The Secretary General underlined that the establishment of an independent and permanent human rights commission falls within the dual framework of implementing Article 5 of the new OIC Charter, which was unanimously approved and enacted in March 2008, and the OIC Ten-year Program of Action (TYPOA) that was adopted by the 3rd Extraordinary Islamic Summit held in Makkah in December 2005.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]