Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/23/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/23/2009Labor relations in France continue to deteriorate. Hostage taking of factory management by angry workers has been going on for weeks, and now a group of workers did substantial damage to their employer’s offices. The incident was serious enough that French prosecutors are actually considering taking legal action on this one.

In other news, voters in Iceland have elected a left-wing government to clean up the country’s fiscal mess, and university students in Croatia are demanding that their education be entirely free of charge.

Also, Japan has chalked up its first trade deficit for any fiscal year since 1980.

Thanks to Andy Bostom, Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CB, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, 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
Election Will Move Iceland to the Left
France: Prime Minister Condemns Workers’ Rampage
Obama Must Persuade Congress on IMF Funds — Pelosi
Turkey: Businessman Lashes Out Against the IMF
UK: Budget 2009: A Savage and Pointless Attack on Middle England
UK: The Avoidance Budget
Congress Knew About the Interrogations
Fiat- Chrysler, ‘Unions Say OK’
Janet Napolitano Needs to Check Her Facts
Obama’s Foreign Policy: Bambi Versus the Sharks
Obama Publication Targets Freedom-Loving Americans
The Wrenching Transformation of America
‘A Well-Mobilized, Orchestrated Campaign’
Canada: Editorial: Send DART to Sri Lanka
Number of Homegrown Suspected Terrorists Higher Than Ever: RCMP
Europe and the EU
1st Danish Veiled Politician Attends Council Meet
Absentee MEPs — Half of Twenty Worst Strasbourg Attenders Are Italians
Artist to Remove EU Mosaic After Czech Cabinet Fall
Britain May Cut Arms to Israel; Hamas to Address Lords
Czech Rep: Romany Protective Patrols to Monitor Demonstrations Without Arms
Denmark: Victim Known to Police
Denmark: Muslims Walk Out of Terrorism Conference
EU-Croatia: Membership Talks Put Back, Slovenia Veto
Far-Right Crimes Up Sharply in Germany
Finland: Fundamentalists, Immigrants Spur Higher Birth Rate
Finland: Organised Human Smuggling Across Russian Border?
France Out of Love With Champagne, Sales -30%
Germany: Judge Disciplines Accused in Terror Trial
Google Street View Wins UK Battle
Hamas Leader Fails to Address British Lawmakers
Italy: Senate Approves Anti-Rape Law
Italy: Naked Ambition: Politics in the Raw
Netherlands: Ramadan Fallout Leads to Political Crisis in Rotterdam
Netherlands: AIVD: Extreme Left More Dangerous Than Extreme Right
Netherlands: Iranian Family Gets Residence After Suicide Threat
Netherlands: Study Reveals Primary School Segregation
Netherlands: Minister Urges Public to Take Evidence Photos
Netherlands: Parliament Approves Imam as Army Chaplain
Paris and Rome Mayors in Salute Row
Slovenia: Ljubljana Street to be Renamed After Tito
Spain: Authorities Investigate Sale of Kidneys Online
Spain Approves Embryo Selection to Avoid Cancer
Spanish Princess and Family Moving to Washington
Sweden: Protesters Arrested at Malmö Anti-Iran Demo
Sweden: Prison for Prosecutor Bomb Attack
Swedish Terror Suspect Worked for Al-Qaeda: Prosecutors
Switzerland: Puzzle Over Sick Woman Abandoned in Bushes
Switzerland: Anti-Racism Meeting a “Foreseeable Disgrace”
Terrorism: Islamists Threaten Terror Attacks in Germany
UK: BNP Leader Defends Policy on Race
UK: It’s Cat Stevens at the Mike But It’s Islam Holding Court
UK: No 10’s Venezuelan ‘Workie’ Could Write Next Budget
4 Serbs Found Guilty of Kosovo Massacre
Amnesty: NATO Bombing of Serbian TV ‘War Crime’
New Appointment in Euromediterranean Assembly
Universities: Croatia, Students Demand Free Education
Mediterranean Union
Energy: French PM in Tunis to Discuss Nuclear Power
Med Union: Ambassadors in Brussels to Try Relaunch
Tomorrow Meeting in Brussels
Transport: UN, Mediterranean Development Model Worrying
North Africa
Durban 2: Libya; Ex-Colonialists Should Apologise Like Italy
ICT: Tunisia-India, Cooperation Agreement Signed
Morocco’s “Mourchidates” and Contradictions
Mubarak Evasive on Lieberman’s Egypt Visit
Israel and the Palestinians
Gaza: UN Task Force to Check Environmental Damage
Human Rights Groups Criticise Inquiry Into Gaza
Israelis Feel Chill as US Sets Out New Ground Rules
Lieberman: Arab Peace Initiative Threat to Israel
Mid-East: Survey, Israelis and Palestinians Favour Two States
Middle East
Turkey: Direct Investment Falls, But Not From Italy
Turkey Calls Back Ambassador to Canada
Turkey-Armenia Agree on Roadmap to Normalize Ties, US Welcomes Move
Turks, Italians Debate EU Issues, Renew Friendship
South Asia
Bangladesh: Islamic Fundamentalists Threaten UN Agencies and Red Crescent
India: Hindu Fanatics Attack Protestant Church in Maharashtra to Stop Conversions
Malaysian PM Dodges Questions About Missing Model
Malaysia Bans Forced Conversion of Minors to Islam
Pakistan: Taliban Militants Extend Reach in North
Sultans of Swat — Muhammad’s Angels… and More Timeless Wisdom From Lal and Burckhardt
Far East
China in Tensions Rising Over Unpaid Wages
Filipino Court Overturns US Marine Rape Conviction
First Trade Deficit for Japan Since 1980
Australia — Pacific
Coal Burning Must End, Says Scientist
NZ: Runaway Pilgrims Believed Lying Low and ‘Well Settled’
NZ: Rapist Taxi Driver Jailed for Nine Years
Sub-Saharan Africa
Japan Launches New Bid to Tackle Pirates
Latin America
Finnish Connection Found on Computer of Colombian Guerrillas
Regift, Please!
Finland: Young Afghan Asylum-Seekers Heading for Nordic Countries Through Paris
France Gets Tough Over Calais Migrants
Greece: New Prevention Measures Decided
Japan Pays Foreign Workers to Go Home
NZ: Language a Massive Barrier for New NZ Immigrants: Report
Pinar: Italian Dossier in Brussels
Tunisia: 159 Illegal Migrants Apprehended
Culture Wars
Gene Technology Threatens New Racism: Vatican
Durban II: The Outrage Continues
Row Over Anti-Racism Observer
UN Kicks Jews, Iranians Out of Racism Meeting

Financial Crisis

Election Will Move Iceland to the Left

On Saturday, Icelanders are likely to do something they haven’t done in more than two decades: Vote a left-wing government into power.

The new government will face the enormous task of cleaning up the wreckage of the country’s collapsed financial system. It will also need to resolve internal divides over a touchstone issue: whether Iceland — long proud of its go-it-alone spirit — should join the European Union.

The parliamentary elections are the North Atlantic nation’s first since the credit crunch in October felled its entire banking system, turning Iceland from a prosperous and happy Nordic country riding high on the riches of finance to a land of swelling unemployment and economic gloom.

Icelandic politics since 1991 has been dominated by the Independence Party, a right-leaning party with a free-market bent influenced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Under longtime Independence Party Prime Minister David Oddsson, Iceland privatized swathes of state-owned businesses, remaking a sclerotic economy and spurring huge growth.

The privatization spree included the state-owned banks, which under private owners grew massively by borrowing and lending overseas — delivering wealth and jobs back home. All that came apart when the credit crunch cut off funding, a fatal blow because the tiny Icelandic government didn’t have the means to bail out the banks.

The bank collapse shattered the standing of the Independence Party. Its leader, Geir Haarde, resigned as prime minister, and Mr. Oddsson, who had moved to become the head of the central bank, was forced out of that post.

Many observers — and opinion polls — predict the left-leaning Social Democratic Alliance will garner the most votes Saturday, taking about a third of the seats in parliament. The Left-Green Movement, further to the left, is polling roughly the same as the Independence Party. Party leaders have said the Social Democrats and the Left-Greens would seek to form a coalition government; the two parties have been in coalition on an interim basis since Mr. Haarde stepped down in February. The current interim prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir of the Social Democrats, is widely expected to retain that role.

“The problem of the Independence Party is that they’ve been in government since 1991,” says Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political-science professor at the University of Iceland. “To escape some kind of responsibility for the crash in October is very difficult. They’ve been there the whole time. Their policies have been followed.”

Mr. Kristinsson said the new government will likely raise taxes on the wealthy — undoing Independence Party changes — and be forced to make public-sector cutbacks, probably by lowering wages instead of laying off state workers. At 7.1% in the first quarter, unemployment is already high by Icelandic standards.

The possible coalition is split on the EU, which the Independence Party has long opposed. The Left-Greens, who tend to view the EU as a manifestation of globalization, are opposed to membership. The Social Democrats strongly favor it.

Complicating matters is the question of fish. With the collapse of banking, fishing is again rising in relative importance to Iceland’s economy. Joining the EU would mean signing up to the bloc’s common fishing policies, under which quotas are worked out in Brussels.

“We would fit very badly into that system,” says Eggert Gudmundsson, chief executive of HB Grandi hf, a major Icelandic fisher. “It is very important as a fishing nation to have full control over our fishing grounds.”

Meantime, Iceland has been trying to sweep up the remains of its banking sector. Shortly after the collapse, Iceland split each of the three big banks into a “new” bank with the small but functioning domestic operations, and an “old” bank for the moribund international operations.

Gylfi Magnússon, an academic who was appointed minister of business affairs by the interim coalition, said in the next several weeks Iceland would formalize the split, handing over equity or debt in the new banks to the old banks’ creditors — who aren’t likely to get much.

“It is quite clear that creditors of the old banks will not by a long shot be paid in full,” says Mr. Magnússon.

Iceland — as the owner of the now-nationalized banks — has also stepped in to restructure mortgages for homeowners. Many Icelanders took out loans in foreign currency to pay for houses; those deals are disasters amid the collapse of Iceland’s currency, the krona.

“A lot of people are in financial distress,” Mr. Magnússon says. “That is not going to go away anytime soon.”

Also persistent is a deep hostility toward the class of bankers and financiers who precipitated the downfall.

“You can say there’s kind of an ongoing mental civil war,” says Andri Snaer Magnason, a popular Icelandic writer. There’s a “huge anger against the people who are responsible,” and the country is amid “a huge healing process.”

Mr. Magnason’s 2006 best seller, “Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation” critiqued the government’s pro-business policies.

Mr. Magnason says Icelanders are trying to make the best of bad times. He tells of a banker friend who took regular ski trips to the Rocky Mountain peaks of Aspen, Colo. The friend called recently to talk up a great ski run he found in north Iceland — a slope with a single T-bar lift. “Small is beautiful again,” Mr. Magnason says.

In the past few months, Iceland has calmed considerably. Protests that once drew thousands of seething Icelanders to Reykjavik’s main square to pitch eggs, toilet paper and vegetables at the parliament building, and hang political figures in effigy, have dissipated.

Protesters banging on pots no longer greet central-bank officials in front of their offices each morning. “The pots-and-pans revolution,” says Mr. Kristinsson, “more or less achieved its goals.” The government was brought down, the central-bank chief ejected.

Now, says Mr. Magnússon, the business-affairs minister, “People are feeling that they can vent their frustrations at the ballot box, which is of course how things should go.”

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

France: Prime Minister Condemns Workers’ Rampage

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 22 — The destruction carried out by Continental employees is “unacceptable” and “legal action” will be taken. So said French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon commenting the sack committed by workers in the German tyre manufacturer’s administrative offices in Compiegne, eastern France after a tribunal had rejected their request to cancel or suspend the closure of the business. In an interview with a journalist from radio France Inter, Fillon said that the “sacks” were the work of “small minority of employees”. Yesterday several dozen Continental workers serious damaged the company’s offices in Compiegne, eastern France, Continental announced on March 11 that the company’s Clairoix site, where 1,120 used to work, was to close down. Several weeks ago, the director of Continental was whistled at and had eggs thrown at him during a meeting with staff. The director was forced to run out of the factory. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Obama Must Persuade Congress on IMF Funds — Pelosi

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) — President Barack Obama will have some persuading to do to get the U.S. Congress to approve more money for the International Monetary Fund, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday.

Pelosi suggested part of the challenge was uncertainty about how to count the cost of the additional resources for the IMF, at a time when U.S. bailout fatigue and concern about mounting U.S. debt are widespread on Capitol Hill.

“The president has requested from us $100 billion for the IMF and that’s going to take its level of persuasion as well,” Pelosi said during a roundtable for reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama wrote to Pelosi and other congressional leaders on Monday, urging Congress to quickly pass legislation to allow the United States to keep promises he made at the Group of 20 nations meeting in London this month.

Those promises included a U.S. pledge of $100 billion for the IMF to help it combat the global economic crisis. The funding would boost the IMF’s “New Arrangements to Borrow,” under which countries like the United States provide credit to the fund to deal with severe crises that threaten the global financial system.

Obama’s letter said the U.S. contribution would essentially be a loan to the IMF and would not cost U.S. taxpayers anything, apparently reflecting the judgment of the administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

But Pelosi said some congressional scorekeepers who weigh the cost of proposals see it differently.

“I’m certain we will be able to achieve it, but just there, for example, the OMB is saying there’s no scoring because there are no outlays and the CBO is saying it’s $105 billion,” Pelosi said, referring to the Congressional Budget Office.

“So everyone has a version of the story,” said the speaker, who like Obama is a Democrat.

The Obama administration recently sent up a “supplemental” request for more money for the Iraq and Afghan wars without including any requests for more expenditures to help the IMF.

U.S. lawmakers could still add more money for the IMF to the supplemental bill. In any case, if they want to help the IMF they will have to pass legislation authorizing the move.

More pressure on Congress to act quickly to approve the funding for the IMF could come this weekend when world finance chiefs from around the globe meet in Washington to discuss the global economic outlook.

Minority Republicans are likely to oppose more money for the IMF because of the risk to U.S. taxpayers that the cash will not be paid back, said Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican on the House International Monetary Policy and Trade subcommittee.

“You cannot extend these loans to an organization like the IMF and claim there is no cost,” Royce told Reuters in a phone interview. “These governments will not be returning these funds,” he said of those that borrow from the IMF. “They will be using them to cover the losses that exist in their countries.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Turkey: Businessman Lashes Out Against the IMF

Businessman lashes out against the IMF

BURSA — The majority of countries that have signed loan deals with the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, and obeyed their programs have not been able to get back on their feet again, according to Bülent Parlamis, chairman of Parlamis Holding.

“Since its foundation in 1946, the IMF has been launching programs for many countries and not many of them have been successful,”Parlamis said. To make his case further convincing, Parlamis counted some of the countries the IMF had deals with, including Argentina, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, Brazil, Indonesia, Romania and Pakistan.

“Research conducted among countries that have implemented the IMF’s Structural Accession Programs revealed that none of them have managed to display economic growth. On the contrary they fell into crises,” Parlamis said. In a written statement, Parlamis said the economic crisis has caused a 23.5 percent contraction in private industry investments during the last quarter of the year.

“It is hard to turn a blind eye to the changes that are taking effect in the world’s economic structure,” Parlamis said. “Even the United States, the fortress of capitalism, has been nationalizing its banks. Such an unexpected move from the U.S. sets an example of a more statist economic structure. In such a situation, efforts to revive the economy by increasing public spending should be praised.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Budget 2009: A Savage and Pointless Attack on Middle England

The idiocy, bigotry, tribalism and sheer class hatred of the Budget at least clears up a lingering doubt some seem to have had about the Labour Party. We now know for sure that it not only has no interest in what can be characterised as “middle England”, it seeks positively to persecute that constituency for its own political advantage. Our country is in the worst economic mess that anyone under the age of 80 can remember. That mess has been exacerbated by wanton and ignorant policies pursued by this Government. The tax rises announced on Wednesday on the so-called rich show that Labour has no regard for the creation of wealth, and no understanding that its creation is what makes everybody (and not just the “rich”) more prosperous. This Budget was a Budget for poverty.

Labour is not interested in improving the country it purports to govern. It is interested only in retaining power. Its policies are shaped increasingly, if not exclusively, by considerations of how it advances the cause of its own people. Those who are not in that category — such as most of you reading this column — get what is coming to them.

Labour’s client base is broad. It starts with its own MPs, to whom it only the day before the Budget offered an expenses deal that will look after most of them very well. It extends through an enormous state bureaucracy and salariat to a generous welfare state. This ever-expanding and ever more propitiated group has to be supported by a shrinking number of those in work, and a shrinking number of those who have saved to provide a decent standard of living. The Budget was inadequate because it sought to deal only with the needs of the clientele, not with the needs of the country.

An election is no more than a year away. The starting gun for its campaign was fired yesterday. At least there is — or should be — clarity in the battle lines. The middle classes are there to be bled white. Labour is now quite open about that. The question only remains of whether the Opposition will choose to defend the interests of its supporters as robustly as Labour is defending the interests of the clientele.

For be in no doubt about two things. First, the mess in this country — which Mr Darling, in keeping with Government policy, chose to depict as having happened almost by accident and as a result of global forces outside his control — has been aggravated by the practice of reckless economics. The few of us who saw this debacle coming required no genius to do so: it happened because the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, chose between about 2000 and 2007 to allow the money supply to grow by between two and three times the rate of inflation plus growth. This imitation of Alan Greenspan — who did the same in America to fulfil Bill Clinton’s desire to make as many people as possible feel well off — fed our present catastrophe. Money was there to make everyone feel good — whether bankers or first-time buyers with silly mortgages. It seemed as though prosperity no longer had to be earned. The printing presses rolled: quantitative easing was happening long before we knew it. And even the Conservative Party, to its shame, was taken in, with its ludicrous line about “sharing the proceeds of growth”.

Second, the desire to keep power means continuing to keep the clientele in the style to which it is now accustomed. This means generous benefits that do not become reined in as earnings in the private sector are. It means continuing to create jobs for the clientele in entirely socially unproductive areas. Jobs advertised in yesterday’s Guardian for, among others, a “democratic services officer” in Hackney, or a “customer experience manager” for the Department of Work and Pensions give an indication of the care, and the ease, with which public money is spent. It is the Government’s determination to continue to bribe its voters that causes not just the wealth-destroying taxes, and a further raid on pension funds, but also the insane levels of borrowing: £175 billion this year and £173 billion next. It was instructive, too, that when the Leader of the Opposition quite correctly attacked the Government for this atrocious profligacy, Mr Brown was pictured sitting on the bench opposite him laughing. It is moments like that that make some think either of strangulation, or emigration.

Wednesday’s events were definitive. They showed that Labour has reverted to being a class-based party, and like all such parties is determined to rob the class in which it is not based. Those tens of millions of Britons who work hard, save hard, take responsibility for themselves and make no claim on the state are to be targeted to provide the resources to help Labour secure re-election. The Budget was the most naked attack on the middle classes since the 1970s. By this act of bigotry, Labour has repatriated us to the land of flared trousers, British Leyland and the Bay City Rollers.

Yet it has also, as was intended, put the Conservative Party on the spot. Foolishly, Mr Cameron chose not to reject last November’s proposal to raise taxes to 45 per cent for those on more than £150,000 a year in 2011. He now finds Labour is intending to raise them to 50 per cent, and a year earlier; and the same group to be affected by this will also lose tax relief on pension contributions, in another assault on savers. So what does Mr Cameron do? Does he say that the “rich” must be punished for the failings of the Labour government that he hopes to replace? Or does he say that this partisan policy, which will raise relatively little money, is unfair and counter-productive, and will not be persisted with should he come to power after April next year?

The argument seems straightforward. The Conservative Party should not be class based, so it should not favour a tax that hits one section of society so disproportionately hard: after all, we are all supposed to be in this together. It can also argue that the revenue to be raised is minimal — indeed, it may turn out to be nothing. The Laffer Curve suggests that if you wish to get more revenue, taxes should be cut, not raised. Also, as we saw in the 1970s, high taxation of the most successful in our society drives not just them, but their businesses, abroad. Of course the books have to be balanced: but there are ways that are not merely fairer but also more effective. Labour’s way of doing it is sheer vindictiveness, and with a political purpose: it will do only harm to the country, to the stimulation of demand, to growth and to employment.

It was hard to believe a word Mr Darling said. His forecasts have proved to be worthless, and Wednesday’s smelt fictional. His growth forecasts were particularly absurd. Labour’s record should speak for itself: destroying wealth, raising unemployment, presiding over waste. Now, though, it seeks to pursue a policy to retain power that puts in the party’s sights the very productive and self-reliant people on whom the country must depend for a recovery. It represents a savage and pointless attack on those without whom Britain is sunk.

Mr Darling’s failure, like that of the Government he serves, is abject. This is Mr Cameron’s moment. And it is not just victory that awaits him if he seizes it, but success.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: The Avoidance Budget

It was, unquestionably, a terrific Budget for Switzerland. The decision to raise the top rate of tax to 50 per cent will punish some bankers, but will simply send others scurrying to Geneva.

The vast majority of the 350,000 people earning more than £150,000 will, of course, stay in the UK. They will not complain. They will call their accountants. A higher rate of tax is likely to generate much less revenue than the Treasury hopes, and much more avoidance. But Mr Darling is also guilty of tax avoidance. His Budget sidestepped the central issue of the public finances: it answered the problem of future spending with a commitment to future borrowing but no clear or plausible route map to reducing debt.

As Chancellor, Gordon Brown said that public sector net debt would not rise above 40 per cent of GDP. Now that figure is projected to be 79 per cent in 2013-14. Such an extraordinary departure from its own rules surely required from the Government a sober account of the consequences.

What were we presented with instead? First, an entirely optimistic forecast of future economic growth. In years to come the best-remembered feature of this Budget may be its reliance on implausibly hopeful assumptions about future tax revenues. When these assumptions are revised, as they will surely have to be, they will reveal the need for far more strenuous efforts to curb public spending.

Second, there was an attempt to suggest that some relatively minor efficiency savings could do a job that needs to be done by serious reform of public service provision. Indeed, many new state schemes managed to be both expensive and footling at the same time, and seemed a greater preoccupation for the Chancellor than serious measures to reduce debt. There will be an extra £260 million for training in sectors that will have strong future demand, and a £750 million fund to support emerging technologies — as if the Treasury knows what these are. These schemes alone match the £1 billion in extra revenues assumed from the closing of tax avoidance loopholes.

Mr Darling did not explain how the Government will ultimately reduce borrowing, on the ground that only when the economy is growing will the Treasury be able to see how best to expand its revenues. He felt no such compunction about telling the well-off where they will hurt.

The political centrepiece of the Budget was a series of measures that sharply increase taxes on high earners. That this had a frivolous aim — to discomfort the Conservatives — does not rob it of a serious impact. It is a declaration of economic and political war on the country’s entrepreneurial class.

In successive elections Tony Blair appeared to understand that social justice and prosperity for all were possible without penalising the better- off. Before the 1997 election he promised not to increase the top rate of tax. This solemn pledge, plastered on billboards all over the country, was renewed before the 2001 and 2005 elections.

Now it has been broken. The Chancellor has not simply increased the top rate to 50 per cent, he also moved the starting date to within this Parliament in direct breach of a central manifesto pledge. As the birth of this pledge was symbolic, so is its death. With it dies Mr Blair’s political project. Labour is once again the party of massive public debt, inadequately controlled public spending and taxes on the wealthy.

In the past year we tumbled into recession, bailed out the banks and funded a fiscal stimulus. Yesterday we looked to the Chancellor to say how it would be paid for. The orchestra assembled. The audience settled expectantly. The conductor tapped his baton on his music stand. A hush fell. And from the stage came the shrill, thin sound of a penny whistle.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Congress Knew About the Interrogations

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair got it right last week when he noted how easy it is to condemn the enhanced interrogation program “on a bright sunny day in April 2009.” Reactions to this former CIA program, which was used against senior al Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003, are demonstrating how little President Barack Obama and some Democratic members of Congress understand the dire threats to our nation.

George Tenet, who served as CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, believes the enhanced interrogations program saved lives. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in April 2007: “I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.”

Last week, Mr. Blair made a similar statement in an internal memo to his staff when he wrote that “[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country.”

Yet last week Mr. Obama overruled the advice of his CIA director, Leon Panetta, and four prior CIA directors by releasing the details of the enhanced interrogation program. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has stated clearly that declassifying the memos will make it more difficult for the CIA to defend the nation.

It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Last week, Mr. Obama argued that those who implemented this program should not be prosecuted — even though the release of the memos still places many individuals at other forms of unfair legal risk. It appeared that Mr. Obama understood it would be unfair to prosecute U.S. government employees for carrying out a policy that had been fully vetted and approved by the executive branch and Congress. The president explained this decision with these gracious words: “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” I agreed.

Unfortunately, on April 21, Mr. Obama backtracked and opened the door to possible prosecution of Justice Department attorneys who provided legal advice with respect to the enhanced interrogations program. The president also signaled that he may support some kind of independent inquiry into the program. It seems that he has capitulated to left-wing groups and some in Congress who are demanding show trials over this program.

Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can’t be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.

Any investigation must include this information as part of a review of those in Congress and the Bush administration who reviewed and supported this program. To get a complete picture of the enhanced interrogation program, a fair investigation will also require that the Obama administration release the memos requested by former Vice President Dick Cheney on the successes of this program.

An honest and thorough review of the enhanced interrogation program must also assess the likely damage done to U.S. national security by Mr. Obama’s decision to release the memos over the objections of Mr. Panetta and four of his predecessors. Such a review should assess what this decision communicated to our enemies, and also whether it will discourage intelligence professionals from offering their frank opinions in sensitive counterterrorist cases for fear that they will be prosecuted by a future administration.

Perhaps we need an investigation not of the enhanced interrogation program, but of what the Obama administration may be doing to endanger the security our nation has enjoyed because of interrogations and other antiterrorism measures implemented since Sept. 12, 2001.

Mr. Hoekstra, a congressman from Michigan, is ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Fiat- Chrysler, ‘Unions Say OK’

Deal ‘90% done’ says Italian union leader

(ANSA) — Rome, April 22 — American and Canadian car unions have approved a deal between Chrysler and Fiat, paving the way for the deal to go through, an Italian car union leader told ANSA Wednesday.

“The accord with the US and Canadian unions has been reached…and with the federal government which has pledged, given everyone’s readiness, to persuade the creditor banks to accept the deal,” said Bruno Vitali of Fim-CISL.

He said the deal was “90% ready” and might even be announced by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne later Wednesday.

Vitali said he had had a long talk in Detroit earlier Wednesday with United Auto Workers leader Ron Gettelfienger.

President Barack Obama has given Chrysler until May 1 to strike a deal with Fiat in order to have access to further federal bail-out funds and avoid bankruptcy.

The deal in part hinges on unions and lenders accepting stock in Chrysler in exchange for the debt owed to them.

An accord draft leaked to the press indicated that unions would take a 20% stake in Chrysler, the same as Fiat’s initial stake, as payment for half their pension fund.

Marchionne is also asking unions to accept wage cuts to bring labor costs in line with those in other plants in the US producing foreign cars, in states where the unions have less power.

The leaked draft also indicated that Marchionne would serve as CEO for both Fiat and Chrysler, while the US automaker would have an American chairman of the board.

In this case, it is not clear what would happen to Chrysler’s current CEO, Bob Nardelli.

Marchionne has been credited for what Obama has described as Fiat’s “impressive” turnaround in the last few years and the authoritative daily Financial Times last week likened him to a “superhero” in a “Chrysler cliffhanger”.

According to the draft accord, if a partnership is created then Fiat, unions and a federally appointed trust would name a future seven-man Chrysler board.

The federal trust would initially hold a significant stake in Chrysler, in exchange for the bail-out funds, including a 15% share which Fiat would receive in 5% instalments as it meets production milestones.

Fiat is offering its cutting-edge green technology and platforms for small cars in exchange for as much as 35% of Chrysler but it is likely to be also given an option to acquire up to 49% or more, once the bail-out loans have been repaid.

The Italian automaker is keen to strike a deal with Chrysler because it would have access to its plants and dealerships in order to allow it to return to the American market, initially with Alfa Romeo and the trendy Fiat 500 city car.

Chrysler, in turn, would have access to Fiat’s facilities in Europe and Latin America.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Janet Napolitano Needs to Check Her Facts

What is Bush throwback Janet Napolitano doing in Barack Obama’s cabinet? One of the promises made by the new President, who is making one liberal breakthrough after another, was to end the politics of fear. But as Homeland Security Secretary, Ms. Napolitano is acting like fear personified — it’s as if she’s in the claws of Dick Cheney.

She was still suggesting this week that the 9/11 terrorists made their way across the Canadian border, despite the contrary having been publicly acknowledged dozens of times. This has even aroused our quiet man in Washington, Ambassador Michael Wilson, to arrange a private meeting with her to set the record straight.

Mr. Wilson and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have the right to be adamant on this file. The endless U.S. angst over security has led to a ramping-up of the border, which has cut into Can-Am commerce. It has led to the introduction of passport requirements, even though we’re now almost eight years beyond 9/11. Canadians still have to take off their shoes for inspections at airports because — no telling what damage a pair of wingtips might do — there might be bombs hidden away in the leather.

Ms. Napolitano and others have repeatedly cited the case of the so-called millennium bomber, Ahmed Ressam, who had a trunkload of bomb-making materials when he tried to cross over from British Columbia. That was a decade ago. Mr. Ressam was caught — at the border. The system worked, as it has when other suspected terrorists have tried that route.

Ms. Napolitano’s words in a CBC interview have triggered a rare unanimity of opposition in Canada. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott has spoken out, as has business leader Thomas d’Aquino. Mr. Harper raised the border issue with former president George W. Bush in blunt terms, but to no avail. He raised it in more mild terminology with Mr. Obama during his visit to Ottawa two months ago. The message, it seems, hasn’t gotten through.

Ms. Napolitano, who also raised hackles in the interview by saying there should be some parity in border security measures for Mexico and Canada, was a highly regarded governor in Arizona. It may be that in being named as a woman to such a sensitive security post, she has felt an extra need to show toughness. We recall Hillary Clinton berating Mr. Obama before the presidential primaries over his idea of negotiating with enemies of the United States.

Mr. Obama has gone ahead with that policy, which has become an approach that even a Conservative such as Mr. Harper can appreciate. He lauded the President at the Summit of the Americas on the weekend for opening a new era in which confrontation is replaced by dialogue. Mr. Harper has carved out a good relationship with Mr. Obama and he should see to it that there is some very direct dialogue on the border issue. Progress has already been made with this administration on the NAFTA file. While campaigning, Mr. Obama vowed to renegotiate the trade agreement, but appears to have dropped the idea.

On the border question, Ms. Napolitano did issue a corrective to her 9/11 comments, saying she was misunderstood. But she went on to indicate that there will be no easing of restrictions, saying other terrorists have attempted to get into the United States by way of Canada.

That is probably true and there will probably always be such attempts. But where’s the statute of limitations? Instead of easing border barriers as we get further from 9/11, the opposite has taken place. To some, like Ms. Napolitano, this seems to make sense.

But if we are to extend her line of thinking, there will never be a debarricaded border because there is always a chance of a successful attempt from the Canadian side, it being impossible to track down and incarcerate every would-be terrorist in the galaxy.

The other line of thinking is that, as the President has said, you don’t let fear trump freedom. If you do, you just play into the hands, as the Prime Minister has said, of those you are trying to defeat.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Obama’s Foreign Policy: Bambi Versus the Sharks

by Barry Rubin

It is not such a big deal to disagree with a president and his policies. But it is shocking to realize that the leader of the world’s most powerful country doesn’t appear to understand the most basic principles of international relations.

This isn’t surprising since Barrack Obama has no—zero, nada—previous experience in this area. It shows. There are two distinct ways other countries respond to this combination of his ignorance at realpolitik, urgent desire to be liked, and pride in projecting U.S. weakness:

—Friends, especially in Europe, are pleased, applaud, but then add that they don’t have to give this guy anything because he is all apologies and no toughness. They like the fact that he is all carrots and not sticks. If, however, they are states more at risk—Israel, relatively moderate Arab states, perhaps Asian and Latin American allies—worry that they cannot rely on the United States to help and defend them.

—Enemies or potential rivals, a category including Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, and many—mostly Islamist—revolutionary movements, say that this guy is weak and defeated. He apologizes, offers unconditional engagements, and promises concessions because all previous U.S. policies have failed. Obama says so himself. They’ll eat the carrots and, of possible, their neighbors as well.

Obama, the supposed liberal, also offers some considerable, bizarre reversals in the meaning of that word. A couple of years ago when a brilliant conservative Middle East analyst asked me if I, too, was a conservative now, I said that I remained a liberal. In my view, the problem is not liberalism itself but the way that the far left has taken over liberalism, as Communism tried—but failed—to do in the 1930s…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Obama Publication Targets Freedom-Loving Americans

The Department of Homeland Security, headed by Also Known As (AKA) Obama appointee, Janet Napolitano, has released a report that targets every freedom-loving American. No greater indictment of the truth about the Marxist AKA Administration can be found than this just released report, following hard on the heels of the MIAC report out of Missouri that stated, emphatically, that right-wing extremists are “usually supporters of former Presidential Candidate: Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr” and display “pictures, cartoons, bumper stickers that contain anti-government rhetoric.” This report, it was determined, had connections to Morris (the Sleaze) Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that has made no bones about its pro-Marxist, anti-American stance.


A footnote on the same page contains these warnings:

“LAW ENFORCEMENT INFORMATION NOTICE: This product contains Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES) information. No portion of the LES information should be released to the media, the general public, or over non-secure Internet servers. Release of this information could adversely affect or jeopardize investigative activities.

Warning: This document is UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (U//FOUO). It contains information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552). It is to be controlled, stored, handled, transmitted, distributed, and disposed of in accordance with DHS policy relating to FOUO information and is not to be released to the public, the media, or other personnel who do not have a valid need-to-know without prior approval of an authorized DHS official. State and local homeland security officials may share this document with authorized security personnel without further approval from DHS.”

Oh, golly, gee whiz … now why would that be?

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

The Wrenching Transformation of America

[Comments from JD: All American must read this speech; the contents are that important.]

[Ed note: this speech was delivered in Kalispell, Montana and Spokane, Washington to County Republican Lincoln Day dinners in late March. The speech caused a firestorm in Spokane, resulting in a battle with the local city council over it’s partnership with ICLEI and radical environmental policy. One elected official said I had exposed too much — as he walked out on my presentation. The battle goes on today.]

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come a long way to get here and I have such a short time to be with you. So, let’s just get everything out on the table right now, shall we?

I believe the American people, and their every action, are being ruled, regulated, restricted, licensed, registered, directed, checked, inspected, measured, numbered, counted, rated, stamped, censured, authorized, admonished, refused, prevented, drilled, indoctrinated, monopolized, extorted, robbed, hoaxed, fined, harassed, disarmed, dishonored, fleeced, exploited, assessed, and taxed to the point of suffocation and desperation.

America is drowning in a sea of rules and regulations, particularly under the guise of “saving the environment.”


Sustainable Development is the process by which America is being reorganized around a central principle of state collectivism using the environment as bait.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


‘A Well-Mobilized, Orchestrated Campaign’

Ottawa • This week, Ottawa commuters were thrust into a conflict half a world away, one that’s claimed more than 70,000 lives over the past quarter century.

Starting on Tuesday, Sri Lankan Tamils, numbering in the thousands at their peak, occupied part of Wellington Street near Parliament Hill, snarling traffic in the capital’s core.

The Ottawa protest was no isolated event. Similar demonstrations have taken place this week in London, Australia, the United States and Norway. Last month, tens of thousands of Tamils formed a human chain around Toronto’s downtown. Others showed up at United Nations offices in Geneva and European Union headquarters in Brussels.

“This is a well-mobilized, orchestrated campaign,” says Fen Hampson, director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

The worldwide protests are, in part, a last-gasp effort by the Tamil diaspora to save the apparently doomed military campaign by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelem (LTTE) — better known as the Tamil Tigers — to carve out a separate homeland in Sri Lanka.

The country’s 25-year civil war between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils is almost certainly in its final weeks, says John Rogers, United States director of the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies.

With the remnants of the Tiger army pinned down by government troops, “it’s hard to see the Tigers continuing as a credible military force,” Rogers says. “Certainly they won’t control any territory.”

A low-level guerrilla war is possible, he says, but “the war as it has been for the past 20-plus years looks like it’s coming to an end.”

Hampson’s not so sure. “This is a conflict that’s ebbed and flowed before,” he points out. “The government has the upper hand for now, but the question is, how long will it last?”

He counsels caution because the Sri Lankan government has kept foreign journalists and aid workers out of the territories it has captured from the Tigers.

“Everything we’re hearing is coming from the Sinhalese government,” he says. “That’s been part of the problem. We’re just getting one side of the story.”

At the very least, guerrilla war and terrorism will continue, he says, “because there are going to be even more unhappy Tamils inside Sri Lanka and elsewhere. As we’re seeing in downtown Ottawa, there are a lot of very unhappy Tamil-Canadians.”

Canada is home to the world’s largest expatriate community of Sri Lankan Tamils. Estimates of their numbers vary. According to the 2006 census, 142,000 Canadians identified themselves as being ethnic Sri Lankans or Tamils. But unofficial estimates run as high as 400,000.

The vast majority are concentrated in and around Toronto. According to the census, fewer than 2,000 Tamils live in the national capital region.

The Tigers’ possible military defeat has come as a shock to many in the diaspora, Rogers says. “Most people did not anticipate that this could happen.”

One result has been to bring previously clandestine diaspora support for the LTTE, which has been banned as a terrorist organization in Canada and 31 other countries, out into the open.

Expatriate groups sympathetic to the Tigers are likely co-ordinating the protests. While there’s no direct evidence they’re taking direction from beleaguered Tiger leaders in Sri Lanka’s north, “it’s certainly plausible,” Rogers says.

But that doesn’t mean every protester is a hard-core Tiger sympathizer.

“There are lots of very decent and legitimate Tamil Canadians,” Hampson says. “What’s motivating some of them is that they’re worried about what’s happening to their friends and families.”

It’s a legitimate concern, he says. “We don’t know what’s happening, but there are obviously human rights violations going on.”

That concern is being registered internationally. On Thursday Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon called on Sri Lanka to halt its military offensive against Tamil rebels to allow civilians an escape.

“We’ve asked for an immediate ceasefire,” Cannon told reporters.

“We’re very worried, of course, of the hostilities that are taking place, but particularly worried for the civilians that are in the combat zone.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a similar message to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Speaking by telephone, Ban expressed concern about the 250,000 Tamil civilians trapped in the country’s war-torn northeast.

Rajapaksa reportedly assured Ban that “Sri Lanka was aware of and observes all international obligations to protect civilians,” a statement from the president’s office said.

The nations leading Sri Lanka’s peace process on Friday urged the Tamil Tigers to free 100,000 civilians they are holding and the military to stop shelling the no-fire zone where the separatists are making their last stand.

The statement from the U.S., Britain, Japan and Norway came as Sri Lanka’s military said it had begun what it called “the largest hostage rescue operation in the world” by identifying the best routes for people to get out.

The four-nation group, dubbed the Tokyo Co-Chairs, discussed on a conference call “how to best end the futile fighting without further bloodshed,” a U.S. State Department statement said.

“They call on the Tamil Tigers to permit freedom of movement for the civilians in the area,” it said. “They reaffirmed the need to stop shelling into the ‘no fire zone’ to prevent further civilian casualties.”

Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped inside a 17-square kilometre army-declared no-fire zone on the northeastern coast, held there by the LTTE and being killed in shelling, the co-chairs’ statement said.

It is on that piece of land where the final act of Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war is expected to play out, and diplomats have been working furiously to negotiate an exit for the people stuck there but have been repeatedly rebuffed by the LTTE.

The government has vowed no ceasefire, but pledged to stop fighting briefly to let people out as it has done in the past. At least 64,000 people have fled since January.

According to the UN, 100,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone. Many expatriate Tamils fear thousands will die as the Sri Lankan army tries to finish off the Tamil Tigers. Cries of “stop the genocide” erupt regularly from protesters.

There’s little doubt many civilians are dying, says Rogers. The question is, who’s to blame? Both sides appear to be putting their own military and political interests ahead of the lives of civilians, he says.

“It’s clear that the Tigers themselves are not letting civilians out, because that protects them militarily. On the other hand, it’s also clear that if these were Sinhalese civilians, government forces would be approaching the situation differently. They would be taking more care to try to avoid civilian casualties.”

Hampson echoes the point. “This is a conflict in which there is lots of blame on both sides,” he says.

The Tigers have always had support among expatriate Tamils, many of whom left their homeland to escape discrimination and violence directed against them by the Sinhalese majority.

Sinhalese make up nearly three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s population. Tamils, concentrated in the north and east of the country, make up just nine per cent.

After civil war broke out in 1983, many Tamils embraced the LTTE for standing up to the Sinhalese after the civilian leadership was seen to have failed to protect them. “So it’s not surprising that there would be sympathy for the Tigers in the diaspora,” Rogers says.

Hampson says Tamils inside and outside Sri Lanka are “pretty radicalized,” noting that many diaspora communities have a “hardened sense of identity and willingness to support revolutionary goals.”

Since declaring the Tigers a terrorist group in 2006, the federal government has been targeting Tamil Canadian financial networks that had been helping to fund the insurgency.

Canadian Tamils have chafed under those restrictions, Hampson says. “They don’t see themselves as terrorists. They see themselves as freedom fighters.”

But Rogers thinks support for the Tigers among Tamils generally has declined in the past 10 to 15 years, in part because they have systematically targeted and eliminated moderate Tamil leaders.

“The Tigers have always claimed to be the sole representative of the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka, and they’ve interpreted that to give them licence to kill other Tamil politicians,” he says.

Is there anything countries like Canada can meaningfully do to respond to the demands of the Tamil protesters filling the streets?

The scope for action is limited, experts agree. Canada could try to persuade the Sri Lankan government to handle the humanitarian situation in a “more flexible manner” to minimize civilian casualties, Rogers says.

Hampson agrees. “There’s something to be said for ratcheting up the pressure on the Sri Lankan government, and I suspect we’re doing it quietly. Whether they’re receptive to it is another matter. They haven’t been all that receptive to entreaties before.”

Hampson believes a military solution is unlikely to be a permanent answer. “At the end of the day, these kinds of wars have to end in some kind of negotiated accommodation.”

[Return to headlines]

Canada: Editorial: Send DART to Sri Lanka

This week saw the end of a large-scale demonstration by Canadian Tamils on Parliament Hill. The protest’s final days featured an interesting development: After weeks of fruitless efforts to gain the attention of MPs, many of the protesters — who were trying to raise awareness of a Sri Lankan military campaign that, they claim, is recklessly slaughtering civilians — were no longer flying the flag of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist group outlawed in this country three years ago. Instead, they flew a plain black flag, which they describe as a symbol of mourning.

This is a welcome development. For months, the National Post editorial board has been lecturing Canadian Tamils to distance themselves from the Tigers, a military insurgency that uses barbaric tactics such as suicide bombings, child abduction, and human shields: Whatever sympathy Canadians feel for the plight of Tamil civilians caught in Sri Lanka’s civil war will only be dissipated if the humanitarian campaign waged on their behalf appears to be led by terror cheerleaders. True, many of the protesters on Parliament Hill still privately sympathize with the Tigers, and indeed have said as much to reporters. But public symbols count for something in this sort of event, and the change in the protesters’ stance deserves to be applauded.

Now that Parliamentarians have the green light to engage with Tamil activists, the question is:What should they do?

As Sri Lanka’s army mops up the final remnants of the Tamil Tigers in the northeast corner of Sri Lanka, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding: Tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians, who had been held by the Tigers as human shields, are now streaming into government-controlled territory. Most are destitute, and some are suffering from wounds inflicted during weeks of bombardment by government troops.

Sri Lanka is placing these refugees in government-run camps. But reports from the fields suggest that food, water and proper medical care are scarce. The Sri Lankan government — never especially competent, even when providing services to its own Sinhalese majority in the south — appears to have badly underestimated the resources necessary to deal with this crisis.

Canada can help by providing long-term aid aimed at settling Tamil refugees in safe new homes. And in the short term, our government should deploy our military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), a quick-response, Trenton, Ont.-based medical and engineering unit that can provide life-saving health care and water purification to crisis victims.

This would not be the first time DART went to Sri Lanka: When the country was struck by tsunamis on Dec. 26, 2004, prime minister Paul Martin sent 200 DART members to the country, where they treated thousands of patients, produced millions of litres of purified water, repaired infrastructure and cleared rubble.

It is time for another deployment. Canada must pressure Sri Lanka’s government to permit a DART deployment immediately. If Stephen Harper acts now, our soldiers might be helping wounded Tamils by the end of the month.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Number of Homegrown Suspected Terrorists Higher Than Ever: RCMP

OTTAWA — Canadians should be concerned but shouldn’t overreact to news that more homegrown extremists and suspected terrorists are believed operating here than ever before, says the RCMP’s top national security officer.

In his first in-depth interview since assuming command of the nascent National Security Criminal Investigations unit, Assistant Commissioner Bob Paulson said more terrorism arrests are expected in coming months.

“The threat we’re facing today is as threatening as it’s ever been,” he said during a hour-long talk in his headquarter’s office this week. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever been and a little busier, frankly,” but he added that the sky is not falling.

“You want Canadians and people who have a role to play to be engaged and you want them to understand the nature of the threat, but you have to balance that against the Chicken Little criticism.

“Even discussing national security investigations publicly and openly runs the risk of being misunderstood of saying, ‘the sky is falling.’ The threat is a significant threat (and) we and other agencies of the government are actively managing that threat.”

He said the increase in national security criminal cases — from 848 last May to an undisclosed but larger number now — is “marginal” and “nothing that people ought to be excessively worried about. That’s what we get paid to do.”

More concerning is the evolving origin of the threat.

“Historically, it’s always been the threat from somewhere else in the world coming over here. But it’s no secret to anyone that a larger part of the threat is the so-called homegrown threat and that’s certainly the lion’s share of the threat that we’re dealing with.”

Homegrown radicalization is now at the top of the government’s national security agenda. Several of the biggest terror attacks and threats in the West in recent years, from the transit attacks in Madrid and London to the foiled “liquid bomb” airline plotters, have come from previously unremarkable, law-abiding citizens largely unknown to authorities.

The official concern is also partly a reflection of concerns about potential blowback from Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan and the terrorism prosecutions of Ottawa’s Momin Khawaja and the pending “Toronto 18” cases.

NSCI has laid charges in two other terrorism cases — the continuing trial of a Quebec man charged with supporting the Global Islamic Media Front, the propaganda arm of al-Qaida, and last year’s arrest of an Ontario man for allegedly collecting money for the outlawed Tamil Tigers, the only person ever charged with terrorist financing in Canada.

The stinging 2006 report and recommendations of the O’Connor Commission into the Maher Arar affair led to a fundamental re-organization of NSCI, with a priority on centralized oversight of national security investigations, including targeting, evidence-based decision-making, information collection and sharing and quality control.

“My desire (is) to re-establish a trust with people,” said the assistant commissioner, whose police career ranges from general patrol duties in British Columbia to senior positions fighting the Hells Angels and organized crime. Now 50, the Lachute, Que., native joined the Mounties in 1986 after a stint as a Canadian Forces pilot.

Since taking over NSCI in May, “I’m very satisfied that we have the business processes and systems that permit me to defend the criticism that we’re loosey-goosey sharing information all the time. The RCMP has pulled out all the stops in terms of implementing O’Connor’s recommendations and there were considerable costs associated to that.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

1st Danish Veiled Politician Attends Council Meet

A Danish politician of Palestinian origin on Wednesday became the first woman to attend a local council meeting wearing a hijab, the Muslim veil.

Asmaa Abdul Hamid, 27, took part in a meeting in the city of Odense as a substitute for a member of the Unity List, a left-wing grouping.

Abdul Hamid has attracted attention because of the fact that she chooses to wear the hijab and refuses to shake hands with men. She led the voting list for her party at the 2005 local elections.

“I would like to be judge on what I have in my head, not on it, for the politics that I defend, my opinions and not what I wear or how I greet (people),” she told the large media pack that had turned out for the occasion.

Abdul Hamid is also on her party’s parliamentary list and is already down as a stand-in for their existing deputy, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen.

The possibility that she might appear on his behalf in the parliament building has, since the November 2007 election, created a political stir, particularly among the far-right.

Peter Seeberg, an academic at the University of Odense, said her participation in the council meeting was a landmark event in Danish politics.

“She will influence the debate (of recent years) on Islamic veils, because we have now an example of a veiled Muslim woman taking part in an elected assembly, showing that things are evolving in Danish society,” he told the online edition of the regional daily Fyens Stifstidende.

Earlier this week, Dalia Mogahed, an Egyptian-born American who heads the Gallup American Center for Muslim Studies, became the first Muslim veiled woman to be appointed to a position in the White House. Mogahed has been appointed as an interfaith advisory in the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Absentee MEPs — Half of Twenty Worst Strasbourg Attenders Are Italians

Parliamentary assistant’s informal survey. Poor attendance extends to committees

Italy’s honour in Europe is safe, thanks to a German. Sepp Kusstatscher is his name. He’s from Alto Adige, he belongs to the Green group and he has missed only two of 270 plenary sessions. Hooray. But perhaps we should draw a discreet veil over many of the others. Let’s just say that of Strasbourg’s top 100 attenders, only three are Italian, fewer than a third of the Germans or British and a fifth of the Poles. On the other hand, ten of the 20 worst attenders are from Italy. Blush-making. The figures were compiled by Flavien Deltort, a young parliamentary assistant who, after working for Marco Pannella, set out doggedly to collate all the official documents available. His goal was to put them on line.

This never-ending, painstaking task was undertaken get round the Europarliament’s reluctance to provide EU voters with an opportunity to see how hard their representatives work in Brussels and Strasbourg. There was confirmation of that reluctance last October, when radical Europarliamentarian Marco Cappato officially requested the attendance figures for all MEPs. The application was rejected by the secretary general, Harald Rømer, who explained that, as an MEP, Cappato could ask to see only his own figures, not other people’s. The secretary general revealed that there was no consolidated document with the total number of attendances by each MEP at the various official meetings, nor did the institutions have any duty to create documents to reply to requests. This response was greeted with protests on all sides and three months later, it was corrected by the vote on a resolution presented by Cappato himself, which was approved by a large majority: 355 in favour, 18 abstentions and 195 against, including almost all the MEPs from the People of Freedom. It was only a declaration of intent but it was explicit. It committed the European parliament to launching “an extraordinary action plan, for instance within the framework of the e-Parliament initiative, to ensure that more and easily accessible information is made available on its website”.

Will this happen? It’s unlikely, or rather with the legislature nearing its end, it looks practically impossible…

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Artist to Remove EU Mosaic After Czech Cabinet Fall

PRAGUE (Reuters) — The artist of the “Entropa” piece mocking EU member states will take the huge mosaic off an EU council building in Brussels in protest against the fall of the Czech government, he said Thursday.

The 16-meter (52 feet) puzzle won front-page coverage in newspapers around the world in January for poking fun at all 27 EU member states. It portrays Bulgaria as a squat toilet, Italy as a football ground with players making gestures that resemble masturbation, and the Netherlands as a flooded country with only a few minarets sticking out. The piece, in line with an EU custom, was due to hang over the entrance of the main EU Council building until the Czech Republic’s EU presidency ends in June, despite protests from some countries at their image.

However, artist David Cerny said he no longer wanted to be publicly associated with the Czech Republic after the leftist opposition and defectors from the government camp toppled the cabinet of Mirek Topolanek in late March, undermining its EU presidency.

“We look like a bunch of idiots,” Cerny told Reuters.

“We will be taking it down from May 10. I do not agree with the way the old government was thrown out,” he said.

Cerny added he did not back a new interim cabinet being formed because it involved former communists, including the incoming Prime Minister Jan Fischer.

“The old government was my partner, not an autopilot cabinet or a government of former communists,” Cerny said.

Cerny originally deceived the government by pretending

individual pieces of the mosaic were created by artists from each of the 27 EU member states, but later admitted he and two friends had created the entire installation.

Entropa — with Romania as a Dracula theme park, France on strike and Britain, perceived as one of the bloc’s most eurosceptic members, missing altogether — is expected to be displayed in a Prague gallery and later offered for sale.

The installation has lured thousands of visitors to the Brussels EU building, normally ignored on the tourist circuit.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Britain May Cut Arms to Israel; Hamas to Address Lords

Britain is warming up to Hamas and blowing chilly winds towards Israel. Its government is considering a ban on arms exports to the Jewish state after legislators had demanded that British weapons parts not be used against Arab terrorists.

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is to address the House of Lords via video despite objections by the British government. In a separate development, the Bloomsbury theatre acceded to demands from pro-Arab groups that it cancel an appearance by an IDF choir scheduled for Israeli Independence Day celebrations next week.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Parliament Tuesday that it will review weapons export licenses “in light of recent events in Gaza,” meaning the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign three months ago.

The statement came a day before Hamas’s top leader Khaled Mashaal was to address members of the House of Lords and Members of Parliament via video from Damascus. The address comes shortly after four British parliamentarians, led by British Labor party member Roger Godsiff, met with Mashaal in Damascus.

Independent MP Clare Short invited dozens of colleagues to attend a video conference in a Parliament office despite objections by both the British Foreign Office and Israeli ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor. He pointed out that the Hamas charter calls for jihad, but “Clare Short and Lord Alderdice offer no attempt to persuade Hamas to change its policies of missiles and murder.”

The Foreign office comments, “We are aware that some MPs are planning to talk to members of Hamas in a private capacity on Wednesday…. Hamas is a terrorist organization. We believe that to talk to Hamas directly at this time would simply undermine those Palestinians who are committed to peace.”

The European Union officially has defined Hamas as a terrorist organization, but Hamas has succeeded in breaking the boycott, working through constant international pressure on a country-by-country basis.

Short has promoted the idea that Hamas must be included in a Middle East peace agreement. She previously has been harshly critical of Israel, writing two years ago that Israel carried out a “bloody, brutal and systematic annexation of land, destruction of homes and the deliberate creation of an apartheid system.”

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]

Czech Rep: Romany Protective Patrols to Monitor Demonstrations Without Arms

Prague — The Romany protective patrols which signatures of the call Enough! call for in reaction to the growing activities of rightist radicals should only monitor demonstrations and other actions of extremists, Cyril Koky, member of the Government Romany Affairs Council, said today.

“In no way do we want that Romany patrols to be armed,” said Koky, who is also Romany coordinator for Central Bohemia.

He said the patrols’members should be visibily marked and they should only be equipped with mobile telephones and digital photographic cameras.

The patrols should cooperate with the municipal and state police and possibly with the anti-conflict team and help calm down tension.

The creation of Romany protective patrols has been prompted by mounting activities of exrtremists, and mainly the weekend arson attack on a house in Vitkov, north Moravia, inhabted by a Romany family.

The fire that broke out when unkonwn perpetrators threw Molotov cocktails at the house burnt three people. A two-year-old girl suffered severe burns to more than 85 percent of the body surface and is in a critical condition.

“We do not want the situation to escalate,” Koky said.

He mentioned as an example worth following the behaviour of political tops in Hungary and Slovakia where prime ministes and government members arrive on the spot of conflicts.

“We have police manoevres here and it seems as if politicians of the this country were not here. Where are the Interior Minister, deputies, legislators form the regions,” Koky asked.

“I think that they should have the moral authority to denounce this and say: Not this way,” Koky said.

Outgoing Human Rights and Minorities Minister Kichael Kocab (for the Greens) will arrive in Vitkov today to meet the afflicted family members and the town’s representatives, his spolesowman Lejla Abbasova has told CTK.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Victim Known to Police

The victim of the shooting episode in Nørrebro was known to the police.

The man who was shot in the Nørrebro disctrict of Copenhagen yesterday was known to the police but the Head of the Copenhagen Police Anti-Gang Squad Henrik Svindt, while confirming the fact that he was known, has declined to elaborate.

“I cannot comment on how we know him,” Svindt told, but said further information would be available later in the day.

Police spokesmen previously said that the man who was shot was not part of the gang environment, but that he knew people in criminal circles.

Out of danger

The 29-year old man was shot on the corner of Baggesensgade and Blågårdsgade streets in the inner part of Nørrebro early yesterday afternoon. He was hit in his hip, leg and arm. He is said to be of Egyptian origin but was born and raised in Denmark. He works as a teacher and has previously been a teaching assistant at Copenhagen Business School.

According to eye witnesses, the shots were fired from a passing red Yamaha motorbike. The gunman fired a salvo of 10-14 shots, hitting his victim in the hip and legs. The man is said to be in a stable condition.

Commotion at crime scene

Immediately after the shooting episode violent erupted as the victim’s brother began quarrelling with the police. This prompted a group of local residents to break the police cordon and video recordings show how several of them attacked the police who drew their batons and used dogs to keep people at bay.

Svindt says that several witnesses have photos of policemen being hit.

“We have witnesses who are willing to tell about it so that is really positive. But that is an entirely different case,” he says.

Six people were arrested in connection with the commotion. They have been released again.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Muslims Walk Out of Terrorism Conference

Comments from a member of the Danish People’s Party resulted in Muslim guests walking out in protest from an intelligence agency conference

A number of Muslim attendees walked out of a ‘Terrorism and Communication’ conference hosted by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) today.

Public broadcaster DR reports that the Muslim guests, including an imam, decided to leave the event after Søren Espersen from the Danish People’s Party stood up and said that Islam is one of the world’s problems.

Espersen’s comments came after the head of PET, Jakob Scharf, opened the conference by maintaining that Islam cannot be equated with terrorism. Scharf argued that doing so is almost like running errands for al-Qaeda, because the terror organisation justifies its actions by saying Islam is under attack.

Speakers at the two-day conference include the counterterrorism coordinator from the Egyptian foreign ministry, Ashraf Mohsen; senior advisor from the US Department of Homeland Security, Irfan A. Saeed and former Danish foreign minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

EU-Croatia: Membership Talks Put Back, Slovenia Veto

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 23 — The EU presidency has decided to put back Croatia’s membership conference (the meeting where the membership talks take place), which was due to take place tomorrow, since Slovenia is maintaining its right to veto Zagreb’s entry, due to border disputes between the two countries. A statement from the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union reports that, “the dispute over the border between Slovenia and Croatia has not yet been resolved and the EU will set a new date for the accession conference as soon as progress has been made on this front.” The government in Ljubljana has used its right to veto the progress for Croatia’s membership negotiations, since it is worried that Zagreb’s possible entry into the EU could affect the resolution of the border conflict which has been unresolved since 1991, when the two countries gained independence. The EU presidency announced that “the three presidencies, the Czech Republic, France and Switzerland, alongside the Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, met with the Slovenian and Croatian authorities yesterday.” The EU went on to renew its support for Rehn’s mediation, and said that it is convinced that “a solution is close at hand.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Far-Right Crimes Up Sharply in Germany

Political crime is on the rise in Germany, and far-right crimes in particular rose 16 percent in 2008, according to new government figures. Part of the increase is a result of new statistical standards, but the numbers on the right include two murders.

The number of far-right crimes recorded in Germany increased by around 16 percent last year to 20,422, with violent crimes up 5.6 percent at 1,113 cases, including two killings, according to figures released by the German government this week.

Far-right crimes accounted for two thirds of all “politically motivated” crimes last year, which reached 31,801 — an increase of 11.4 percent and the highest level since 2001.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said the rise in politically motivated crime was disturbing and swore the government would counter it with a variety of measures against extremism, racism and intolerance.

The two deaths were in eastern Germany — the murder of a 55-year-old homeless man by two men from the far-right scene, and the murder of a 20-year-old art student who was kicked to death after a political argument in a disco.

Part of the increase in far-right crimes is explained by a statistical change that took effect on Jan 1, 2008 when all police forces adopted common standards for recording so-called “propaganda offenses” which include displaying banned symbols such as the Nazi swastika.

But the rise was also driven by a growing far-right youth scene whose members dress like left-wing anarchists, in black-hooded jackets. “They are attracting young people to a greater extent than the conventional far-right scene has been able to so far,” Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in a statement.

Left-wing politically motivated crimes rose 14.6 percent to 6,724.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Finland: Fundamentalists, Immigrants Spur Higher Birth Rate

The number of births in Finland increased last year, reaching a 15-year high. The birth rate has been slowly rising in Finland over the past few years.

In 2008, nearly 60,000 children were born, which is an increase of 800 births over the previous year, reports Statistics Finland.

Statistics data revealed women are having 1.85 children on average-a figure last seen in 1994. In order for the population to renew itself in the long term, the total fertility rate should be approximately 2.1, according to the agency.

Figures also show that mothers are choosing to have children later in life. On average, the women who gave birth in 2008 were little older than in the previous year. The mean age of all women giving birth rose by one tenth to 30.1 years. The average age of first-time mothers was 28.2 years in 2008.

Finland’s highest birth rate is among members of the Laestadian Lutheran religious sect in Ostrobothnia, western Finland, where one tenth of all the country’s children are born. Immigrant families also tend to have higher birth rates — at least until they fully integrate into Finnish society, reports YLE Radio News.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finland: Organised Human Smuggling Across Russian Border?

Illegal entry into Finland across the Russian border has increased dramatically in the south-east of the country this year.

At least 18 people have crossed into Finland so far this year, up from 16 unauthorised crossings during all of last year. In addition, the Russian border guard service has reportedly stopped at least 40 attempts to enter Finland from Russia.

“This is a new phenomenon that began this year. Especially men with an Afghan background have tried to get into Finland from Russia. On the basis of interrogations, organised smuggling of people into Finland seems to be involved,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Erkki Matilainen of the Finnish Border Guard.

Those being interrogated have suggested that there are helpers on the other side of the border who take care of matters related to crossing the border — even the equipment.

The Finnish Border Guard has intensified its surveillance of the border in response to the surge.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

France Out of Love With Champagne, Sales -30%

(ANSAmed) — PARIS — Champagne sales crashed by 30% in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008. A sizeable reduction in stocks and a fall in consumption in Europe explain the decline, unequalled in the last 15 years. According to Daniel Lorson, spokesperson for the inter-professional committee for champagne, “there is a double phenomenon of reduced stocks, together with a fall in consumption in France and abroad”. In fact, sales fell in January and February by 23% in France, 47% in the European Union, and 42% in the rest of the world. Patrick Lebrun, president of the union of wine-growers, put the fall in sales of champagne into context: “These results appear to be very negative because they are being compared with the extremely high levels of 2008. Of course I am concerned, but for the moment, sales are equivalent to those of 2005-2006”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Germany: Judge Disciplines Suspect for Contempt of Court in Trial of 4 Over German Terror Plot

DUESSELDORF, Germany — A judge ordered disciplinary measures for contempt of court against an Islamic terrorist suspect who went on trial Thursday with three co-defendants on charges of plotting attacks on American targets in Germany.

Adem Yilmaz, 30, refused to stand up during the swearing-in of a translator as the trial opened Wednesday, telling the court: “I only stand up for Allah.” He also refused to stand when the judges entered the courtroom on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Judge Ottmar Breidling ordered two weeks’ detention for Yilmaz that will be added to any possible sentence, calling his actions “provocative disrespect” of the court.

Yilmaz, a Turkish citizen, is being tried along with another Turk and two Germans on charges of plotting to attack U.S. and other targets in Germany ahead of an October 2007 vote by the German parliament on extending German troops’ stay in Afghanistan.

German authorities arrested Yilmaz, 30, along with alleged ringleader Fritz Gelowicz, 29, and Daniel Schneider, 23, at a rented cottage in central Germany on Sept. 4, 2007.

The fourth suspect, 24-year-old Attila Selek, was picked up in Turkey in November 2007 and later extradited to Germany. Selek is a Turkish citizen, while Gelowicz and Schneider are both Germans who converted to Islam.

Prosecutors allege that the group planned car bomb attacks on sites such as pubs, discos and airports, and considered targets in cities including Frankfurt, Dortmund, Duesseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich and Ramstein — where the U.S. military has a large air base — with the aim of killing “as many people as possible.”

All the suspects are accused of being members of the radical Islamic Jihad Union, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They face charges including membership in a terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder.

The charges together carry a 10-year maximum.

Seventeen of the suspects’ relatives were asked to serve as character witnesses, but all declined in protest at the proceedings.

The trial, being held in a high-security courtroom, is scheduled to last at least until the end of August.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany: Judge Disciplines Accused in Terror Trial

DUESSELDORF, Germany — A judge ordered disciplinary measures for contempt of court against an Islamic terrorist suspect who went on trial Thursday with three co-defendants on charges of plotting attacks on American targets in Germany.

Adem Yilmaz, 30, refused to stand up during the swearing-in of a translator as the trial opened Wednesday, telling the court: “I only stand up for Allah.” He also refused to stand when the judges entered the courtroom on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Judge Ottmar Breidling ordered two weeks’ detention for Yilmaz that will be added to any possible sentence, calling his actions “provocative disrespect” of the court.

Yilmaz, a Turkish citizen, is being tried along with another Turk and two Germans on charges of plotting to attack U.S. and other targets in Germany ahead of an October 2007 vote by the German parliament on extending German troops’ stay in Afghanistan.

German authorities arrested Yilmaz, 30, along with alleged ringleader Fritz Gelowicz, 29, and Daniel Schneider, 23, at a rented cottage in central Germany on Sept. 4, 2007.

The fourth suspect, 24-year-old Attila Selek, was picked up in Turkey in November 2007 and later extradited to Germany. Selek is a Turkish citizen, while Gelowicz and Schneider are both Germans who converted to Islam.

Prosecutors allege that the group planned car bomb attacks on sites such as pubs, discos and airports, and considered targets in cities including Frankfurt, Dortmund, Duesseldorf, Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich and Ramstein — where the U.S. military has a large air base — with the aim of killing “as many people as possible.”

All the suspects are accused of being members of the radical Islamic Jihad Union, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. They face charges including membership in a terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder.

The charges together carry a 10-year maximum.

Seventeen of the suspects’ relatives were asked to serve as character witnesses, but all declined in protest at the proceedings.

The trial, being held in a high-security courtroom, is scheduled to last at least until the end of August.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Google Street View Wins UK Battle

Britain’s privacy watchdog says Google Street View should not be removed or shut down.

The Information Commissioner’s Office on Thursday rejected a complaint by London-based human rights group Privacy International which had argued that Google’s high-quality photos of houses and streets breached people’s privacy.

The ICO says it would not be in the public interest to remove the service in a world “where many people Tweet, Facebook and blog”.

The agency says it received 74 complaints and inquiries about Street View but argued it caused little privacy intrusion.

Google obscures individuals’ faces and car licence plates by pixilation and removes images on request

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Hamas Leader Fails to Address British Lawmakers

LONDON — An attempt by the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas to make an unprecedented video link address to British lawmakers failed Wednesday following a technical glitch.

Khaled Mashaal, who is living in exile in Syria, had hoped to address a group of parliamentarians as part of a campaign to persuade the West to talk to his party as it seeks peace in the Middle East.

Event organizers had hoped the session could help persuade the U.S. and European governments to review their policy toward Hamas, but were unable to speak to Mashaal when a video link failed.

Claire Short, an independent lawmaker and former Labour Cabinet minister who had tried to arrange the feed, said she would invite Mashaal to address a future meeting in the same way.

About 25 members of the House of Commons and House of Lords had gathered for the session, which was criticized by Britain’s Foreign Office and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Britain, along with the United States and the European Union, regards Hamas as a terrorist organization and refuses to hold talks with the group. Hamas has held power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, when it violently seized control and expelled forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who still governs the West Bank.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization. They fire rockets at innocent civilians. They put ordinary Palestinians in harm’s way,” Britain’s Middle East minister, Bill Rammell, said in a statement. “We believe that to talk to Hamas directly at this time would simply undermine those Palestinians who are committed to peace.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it was “regrettably ironic that a man who could never receive an entry visa to Britain because he is considered a terrorist would have the privilege to address MPs in Parliament, thanks to new technologies.”

British officials said Mashaal would almost certainly be refused entry if he attempted to visit in person.

Responding to Mashaal’s plan to appeal for a new dialogue, several European governments said Tuesday they had no plans to open contacts with Hamas. The U.K., Germany and Italy said there would be no change in policy until Hamas renounced violence and recognized Israel’s right to exist.

But a group of six British lawmakers who met with Mashaal last month in Syria said talks with Hamas could be crucial to winning a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Anyone who genuinely wants to see peace in the Middle East ought to listen to what he has to say, and engage with him — he is a powerful figure” said Lynne Jones, a lawmaker with Britain’s governing Labour Party who traveled to Syria.

British lawmakers have stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government after it opted last month to reach out to the political wing of the militant group Hezbollah.

London cut contact with the group in 2005 and listed its military arm as a terrorist organization. But British officials have begun meetings with Hezbollah lawmakers aimed at encouraging the group to shun violence.

A channel of the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite channel that is reserved for live satellite broadcasts from various countries carried a broadcast that appeared to be the one Mashaal had intended to give British lawmakers. Addressing his comments to British parliamentarians, Mashaal thanked Short and asked for Europe to play a key role in the peace process.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Italy: Senate Approves Anti-Rape Law

Rome, 22 April (AKI) — The Italian Senate on Wednesday approved a law that introduces tough penalties for rape and makes stalking a crime. A total of 262 senators from the ruling conservative coalition and from opposition parties backed the law, while one senator voted against it and three senators from the libertarian Radical party abstained.

The new law makes murder committed after sexual violence, sexual assault and lewd sexual acts against minors, gang rape and stalking all punishable with life in jail.

Stalking is categorised as a ‘persecutory act’ under the law. It imposes a jailterm of between six and 36 months when the stalking occurred repeatedly and caused the victim anxiety or to fear for their personal safety, or forced them to change their usual habits.

If the stalker’s victim is a child, a pregnant women or is disabled, the penalty is a jailterm of one to six years.

The law also imposes mandatory prison sentences for the crime of reducing individuals to slavery, abducting individuals, prostituting minors, child pornography and paedophile tourism.

Individuals convicted of sexual crimes will also find it harder to get work outside prison or prison leave and be sentenced to community service as an alternative to a jailterm.

Local authorities are also authorised by the law to introduce video-surveillance of public places.

The law gained the backing of senators from the anti-immigrant Northern League party after the government pledged to include several controversial security measures in a separate security bill currently being debated in the lower house of parliament.

These measures include local security patrols in Italian towns and cities by ‘concerned citizens’ and the detention of illegal immigrants in identification centres for up to six months.

Another controversial measure seeks to make illegal immigration a crime, and to oblige doctors and other national health service staff to report to police illegal immigrants who seek medical treatment.

The bill has already been approved by the Senate but ran into difficulty in the lower house of parliament after over 100 MPs from the ruling conservative People of Freedom party opposed the move to oblige health service workers to report illegal immigrants. They claimed it breached basic human rights.

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

Italy: Naked Ambition: Politics in the Raw

[Video report]

A new work of art is causing a sensation in Italy — not least because it features the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi as he’s never been painted before. Sky’s Enda Brady explains..

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Ramadan Fallout Leads to Political Crisis in Rotterdam

The right-wing liberal party VVD has quit the Rotterdam local authority over its refusal to sack theologist Tariq Ramadan as adviser.

Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan (46) was hired by Rotterdam in 2007 to help bridge the divide between the city’s Muslim and non-Muslim communities. He is also a guest lecturer at Rotterdam’s Erasmus university.

Last month, the Gay Krant, a newspaper for the homosexual community, accused Ramadan of making homophobic and mysogynistic statements in taped speeches. The VVD promptly demanded that Ramadan be dismissed as city adviser, but it backed down after consultations with coalition party GroenLinks (the Green party). The local authority meanwhile carried out its own investigation of Ramadan’s past statements and concluded that the Gay Krant’s accusations were baseless.

Now, the VVD has decided to quit the Rotterdam city authority over the Ramadan affair. Its two aldermen, Mark Harbers (economy) and Jeannette Baljeu (transportation) gave their resignations on Wednesday evening. Harbers said Ramandan’s views are at odds with “the freedom of its individual to choose his or her own lifestyle”.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: AIVD: Extreme Left More Dangerous Than Extreme Right

THE HAGUE, 23/04/09 — The AIVD secret service is concerned about far left and Islamic extremism. Conversely, there is scarcely any threat from the extreme right, according to the AIVD annual report on 2008.

The AIVD warns that radical Muslims often wear a mask. The service “has observed in the past year that the well-known Salafist centres (…) express themselves more moderately in public than in closed circles. Outwardly, they try to create the impression of fostering integration of Muslims into Dutch society, while behind closed doors, polarising statements are made that could have a negative effect on society in the longer term.”

In 2008, it also “emerged that Moroccan Muslim youths are radicalising further,” though this is happening “only on a limited scale,” according to AIVD. This is mainly a matter of youngsters who, in a “radical Islamic youth culture,” see a way “of finding a connection with a group that gives them their own identity in Dutch society and a way of acquiring recognition and a positive self-image.”

In the Turkish community as well, “the number of individuals that (…) radicalise to Jihadism is growing.” But “the resistance within the Turkish community to radical Islamic ideologies in general remains great.” All in all, “no danger exists in the short and medium term of large-scale susceptibility to radical religious ideas” within the Turkish community, partly due to “a number of traditional resistance factors (such as Turkish nationalism)” and because of “a lack of a coherent ideology, inadequate organisational capacity and a shortage of leadership” among Turkish Muslim radicals.

For the Somali, Iraqi and Afghan communities in the Netherlands, the discordant situation in their country of origin is “no primary reason for radicalisation in the Diaspora.” In the Iraqi and Afghan communities, “there is practically no question of a breeding-ground for radicalisation,” and they appear to “avoid mutual controversies and confrontations with Dutch society.” Within the Somali community on the other hand, a greater breeding-ground for radicalisation appears to be present. “Noteworthy is that along with this, their marginalised position in Dutch society is of greater importance than the unstable situation in Somalia.”

The AIVD is also concerned about extreme left activism. The service sees an increase in intimidation by animal rights activists in ‘home visits’ to scientists and staff of companies directly or indirectly involved with animal testing. This trend will continue in 2009. AIVD also sees an increase in violent actions against deportations of illegal migrants, increasingly operating in small cells.

Remarkable is the AIVD’s assessment of the Anti-Fascist and Capitalist Archive Collective (KAFKA). KAFKA is regularly cited by Dutch ‘quality media’ as a research institute into rightwing extremism, but its Antifascist Action (AFA) arm is in reality a movement that uses violence to achieve its goals.

“The picture is often evoked of antifascists defending themselves against aggressive rightwing extremists, while the roles are generally reversed.” Especially at extreme-right Netherlands People’s Union (NVU) demonstrations, AFA organises violent counter-demonstrations. They have these “carried out by third parties, such as local antifascists, riot-loving youths and football hooligans.”

AFA has branches throughout the country and the support of a national secretariat. As well as through violence, AFA tries to combat rightwing extremism “by influencing local authorities”. AFA has contacts with foreign kindred spirits, particularly in Germany.

The extreme right remains a pretty powerless movement. “As in previous years, the extreme right environment in the Netherlands remains characterised by fragmentation and splits” and “there is no question of a trend towards extreme right terrorism”.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Iranian Family Gets Residence After Suicide Threat

An Iranian man who climbed onto the bridge over the River Waal in Nijmegen last year in protest at his possible deportation has been granted a residence permit after all. His wife and children have also been given permission to stay in the Netherlands.

The man threatened to throw himself off the bridge unless Deputy Justice Minister Nebahat Albayrak was prepared to talk to him about his rejected asylum application. Eventually the man was persuaded to climb down.

The Immigration and Naturalisation Service has now ruled the family can stay in the Netherlands after an investigation into whether they have really converted to Christianity. In Iran, Muslims who convert to another religion can face the death penalty. The man fled Iran with his wife two years ago.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Study Reveals Primary School Segregation

The Knowledge Centre for Mixed Schools says one third of primary schools do not reflect the ethnic backgrounds of their local communities. The observation is based on a survey of over 2,000 primary schools in nearly 40 municipal districts. The centre will present its report to Deputy Education Minister Sharon Dijksma on Wednesday.

The centre, which promotes desegregation in education and is subsidised by the education ministry, believes that schools should reflect the ethnic and social make-up of their areas. It says research shows that this is not the case in one third of all primary schools. They have mostly either immigrant or Dutch-background pupils, while their local areas are much more diverse.

The centre describes the results of its research as shocking, pointing out that the children are not learning to get along with people from other nationalities and religions. The cities with the worst results according to the survey were Lelystad, Leiden and Almelo.

The study reflects ongoing concerns about the degree of ethnic segregation in Dutch schools, caused by ethnically Dutch parent’s opting to send their children to schools where the pupils have a similar background to their own, even if the school is outside their neighbourhood. This has led to the intake at schools in some neighbourhoods becoming dominated by pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds. Such schools are officially termed “black schools”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Minister Urges Public to Take Evidence Photos

Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst is calling on people who witness violence against public employees to take photos of the incident on their mobile phones. She hopes the pictures could serve as prosecution evidence. Research shows that at least 20 percent of the public have witnessed aggression or violence against police officers, ambulance staff or other public servants.

The minister made the appeal during a debate in parliament on the issue on Tuesday. She stressed that public employees, such as social benefits staff, were within their rights to refuse to deal with members of the public who behave aggressively towards them.

Ms ter Horst says it is important that people do something if they witness incidents of violence. She was echoing comments made by Amsterdam police chief Bernard Welten, who said that members of the public could do more to protect officers doing their duty.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Parliament Approves Imam as Army Chaplain

The Dutch parliament has approved the appointment of a controversial imam as a chaplain to the armed forces. A motion calling for his appointment to be cancelled was defeated by 70 votes to 69. Voting in favour of the motion were the Christian Democrats, the conservative VVD, the small rightwing SGP, Geert Wilders’ PVV and Rita Verdonk’s party.

Imam Ali Eddaoudi is regarded as controversial because of his remark about Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende being “less worthy than a doormat” and his claim that Christians are still at war with Islam. Many MPs argued that someone with views like this should not be working for the armed forces. Mr Eddaoudi, who has now distanced himself from his earlier remarks, has in the past also been critical of Muslims.

The position of the Christian Democrats MPs was unusual, since they were opposing the stance taken by their own deputy defence minister Jack de Vries, who has consistently backed the imam. Questioned about his disagreement with his own party, Mr De Vries said that, “after a double check,” he still considered Mr Eddaoudi the right man for the job.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Paris and Rome Mayors in Salute Row

Italy demands immediate apology for Fascism accusation

(ANSA) — Rome, April 23 — Italy on Thursday demanded an immediate apology from Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe after he accused Rome’s right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno of taking part in a Fascist salute.

The spat between the two mayors, whose cities have been twinned since 1957, broke when socialist Delanoe addressed an audience of young members of Italy’s opposition Democratic Party (PD) in Paris.

“It will be difficult for me to have the same relationship I used to have with (Rome’s former left-wing mayors Francesco) Rutelli and (Walter) Veltroni with a mayor who made his debut… with a Fascist salute,” Delanoe told an audience that included PD leader Dario Franceschini.

Delanoe was apparently referring to an incident last April when extremists hailed Alemanno as ‘Duce’ and gave him the Roman Fascist salute of Benito Mussolini following his election as mayor.

Alemanno, who was quick to distance himself from the extremists at the time, hit back at Delanoe’s remarks, describing them as “false, offensive and intolerable”.

“He offends not only me but also the city of Rome,” said the mayor, who came to power last year in a surprise victory over PD candidate and former mayor Rutelli.

Alemanno called on the Italian ambassador in France to clarify the matter, and said he hoped “the entire Italian political world” would condemn Delanoe’s comments.


Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and European Union Affairs Minister Andrea Ronchi responded to Alemanno’s appeal in a joint note calling for an immediate apology.

“The mayor of Rome has never made a Roman salute or other gestures or acts that celebrate Fascism. The mayor of Paris has spoken falsely,” they said.

Alemanno was formerly a leader of the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) youth federation, which later became the more moderate National Alliance and moved into the political mainstream.

The party disbanded in March to merge with Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party.

House Speaker and former National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini, who was responsible for steering the party away from its neofascist roots, described Delanoe’s remarks as an “outrageous mistake deriving either from bad information or, worse still, political exploitation”.

While the Paris mayor’s press office said the twinning of the two capitals would remain in place, Delanoe in January said he was “in no hurry” to organise his first meeting with Rome’s mayor.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Slovenia: Ljubljana Street to be Renamed After Tito

(ANSAmed) — LJUBLJANA, APRIL 21 — Local authorities in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, have decided to rename one of the main streets in the city after Tito, the former leader of communist Yugoslavia who is still popular in Slovenia and other countries of the former Federation. The decision to rename the road was made last night with 24 votes in favour and four against, with the Democratic Party (SDS — centre-right) abstaining out of protest against the ballot. The leader of the SDS, Dimitri Kovacic, emphasised that such a decision ignores the views of many Slovenians who are against the measure and say that it is an affront to the memory of the victims of the communist regime. The mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Jankovic, has defended the decision saying that in a recent survey, 60% of the capital’s population said they are in favour of the commemoration. “Historical facts can be interpreted in different ways, but that should not stand in the way of naming streets after historically significant people”, he noted. The centre-right opposition has, however, presented the mayor with a list of 5,094 signatures from citizens who say that neither Ljubljana nor Slovenia need a street named after Tito. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Authorities Investigate Sale of Kidneys Online

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 20 — The public prosecutor’s office in Seville has opened an investigation into a man who put one of his kidneys on sale on the Internet for 100,000 euros to verify if the ad is hiding possible organ trafficking, reported legal sources cited today by Europa Press. In the ad, published on an online sales site, the alleged seller identifies himself as a 40-year old man, living in Seville, 1.62 metres tall, 65kg, non-smoker, and also posted his blood type. He announced that he was selling one of his kidneys for 100,000 euros, although he did not specify if he was planning to sell his organ for a transplant. Although the ad does not constitute a crime, legal authorities have opened an investigation to verify if organ trafficking could somehow be linked to the ad. For new Health Minister, Trinidad Jimenez, this is an “isolated case” of a practice that is “absolutely prohibited” in Spain, which he confirmed in statements to a national radio station. But there are many Internet sites in various Spanish cities, which, according to Spanish daily, Publico, announce kidneys for sale, due mostly to people who need to collect money to pay mortgages. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain Approves Embryo Selection to Avoid Cancer

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 22 — The National Commission for Assisted Reproduction has, for the first time in Spain, approved genetic selection in embryos to avoid cancer. Specifically, sources in the Healthcare Ministry told Ansamed that the genetic selection for embryos that do not have genes that are linked to two types of cancer (breast and thyroid) has been authorised. Until now, this technique was only authorised for hereditary illnesses with a 100% certainty of developing, or in the recent case of little Javier, a child born after a genetic selection to cure his 7-year old brother Andres, who had thalassemia major, with a bone marrow transplant. Now genetic selection is being extended to diseases like cancer, which may or may not be inherited. The only previous cases until now, have taken place in the United Kingdom. Embryonic selection was authorised for a Catalonian couple so they could have a child without the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which can lead to a very aggressive form of breast cancer, which affects 16,000 in Spain every year, with 10% of the cases being inherited, and 90% occurring by chance. The decision of the commission also regards a couple that wants to prevent their child from developing genetically-induced thyroid cancer. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spanish Princess and Family Moving to Washington

MADRID — Spain’s Royal Palace says Princess Cristina and her family are moving to Washington, D.C., because her husband has accepted a job there with telecommunications company Telefonica.

The 43-year-old princess is the second of King Juan Carlos’ and Queen Sofia’s three children.

Telefonica said Thursday that her husband 41-year-old Inaki Urdangarin has been a board member at its Telefonica Internacional unit since 2006 and accepted a job with the company in Washington.

The couple have three sons and a daughter ranging in age from 3 to 9 and live in Barcelona.

Telefonica says they are expected to move to Washington this summer and stay for at least two years.

Princess Cristina is third in line to the throne after her younger brother Crown Prince Felipe and elder sister Princess Elena.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Protesters Arrested at Malmö Anti-Iran Demo

Several people were arrested by police at a demonstration against the Iranian regime held in Malmö on Thursday morning.

A group of demonstrators began to gather outside Katrinelunds Folkets Hus in Malmö at around 8am this morning and around 20 police officers were deployed to monitor the situation.

The protest was directed against the Iranian regime and against embassy staff visiting the city to give “consular assistance” to an Iranian citizen.

The demonstrators argued however that the embassy staff were in Malmö to spy on Iranian refugees and their families in Sweden and to develop an “Iranian spy network” in the country.

The demonstrators called on Sweden to take a tougher official stance on Iran and the alleged activities of the embassy staff.

When the embassy personnel arrived at the address chaos broke out, according to news agency TT. Several demonstrators attempted to prevent the staff from entering the building.

When several of the demonstrators broke through the police cordon they were arrested.

The visit from the Iranian embassy is planned to continue into Friday. A similar visit in Gothenburg last month was met with similar, although somewhat calmer, demonstrations.

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Prison for Prosecutor Bomb Attack

Two men suspected of planting a bomb which exploded on the front steps of prosecutor Barbro Jönsson’s home were found guilty on Wednesday and each sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The two men from Malmö, Arabzadeh Mohammad Abadi, 25, and Moayed Abedi, 24, were convicted of devastation endangering the public as well as threatening a public servant.

The two men were also ordered to pay 158,000 kronor ($18,800) in damages and interest to Jönsson, who has since moved and transferred to a new job that also involves prosecuting gang crime.

Prosecutor Urban Svenkvist argued that the two placed the bomb on orders from the Brödraskapet Wolfpack (‘Wolfpack Brotherhood’) criminal gang.

Jönsson had been involved in several cases tied to the gang prior to the bombing.

When the bomb ripped apart her front door if her home in Trollhättan in western Sweden in November 2007, she was set to charge six men, all of whom had ties to Brödraskapet Wolfpack.

On her way to work at the time of the blast, Jönsson was not injured in the attack.

The charges were being filed in connection with a shooting at the apartment of a witness who had dared to testify against the gang.

The primary suspect in the witness shooting was eventually sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

The bombing of Jönsson’s home received a great deal of media attention in Sweden, where it is seen as an attack against democratic values and a sign of the rise in organized crime in the country.

The prosecutor in the case withdrew the charge of attemped murder after it was proven that Ahad and Ashkan had ensured that Jönsson had left her home before they set off the bomb.

He had called for eight years in prison for the accused.

Defence lawyers for the two men said they planned to appeal the verdict.

Gang crimes are on the rise in southern Sweden and neighbouring Denmark.

According to media, there are around 1,000 active gang members in Sweden.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Swedish Terror Suspect Worked for Al-Qaeda: Prosecutors

As the trial of a Swedish citizen facing terror charges began in New York on Tuesday, prosecutors argued that the man planned to set up an Al-Qaeda terrorist training camp in the United States.

Ousama Kassir was extradited to the United States in September 2007 from Prague, where he was jailed after his arrest in 2005 during a stopover while flying from Sweden to Lebanon.

“This case concerns a global conspiracy that takes place down here in the United States,” assistant US attorney Michael Farbiarz told judge John Keenan in the US district court in Manhattan.

Kassir, 43, is charged with conspiring with others to set up a “jihad” (holy war) camp in Oregon, in the northwest United States, that would offer military weapons training for Muslims interested in fighting in Afghanistan.

Kassir declared his innocence when he was charged last year, and his lawyer on Tuesday said his client had “a big mouth,” but was not a criminal.

Kassir arrived in the United States in 1999 and spent a year at an Oregon ranch, imparting religious teachings at a Seattle mosque before returning to Europe, according to the prosecution.

“You are going to see a knife that he used for training at the ranch,” Farbiarz told the jury as Kassir, in a red tunic, listened through an interpreter.

“You will see the bomb making manuals and the poison making manuals,” he added.

Farbiarz said next week he would call James Ujaama, a former activist from Seattle who has admitted supporting the Al-Qaeda network and is now a witness for the prosecution.

Kassir allegedly admitted before witnesses he supported Al-Qaeda and its boss Osama bin Laden.

The US government also accused Kassir of being a follower of Egyptian Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, currently jailed in Britain for inciting to violence.

“He did it for Abu Hamza, he did it for Al-Qaeda, he did it for Jihad,” Farbiarz said.

Defense lawyer Mark DeMarco denied the charges, and said his client was not a terrorist.

“He is certainly not a terrorist, he is certainly not a member of Al-Qaeda,” said DeMarco.

He asked the jury for “a fair trial.”

The trial is expected to last at least four weeks. Kassir could face life in prison if found guilty.

Kassir was born in Lebanon and has Swedish citizenship.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Puzzle Over Sick Woman Abandoned in Bushes

A seriously ill woman is being cared for after being found abandoned in bushes outside a hospital in northeastern Switzerland. The identity of the woman is unknown and police have launched an appeal for information.

Münsterlingen hospital said the woman, who is aged between 40 and 55, is believed to have been left in its car park on Monday night.

The hospital’s personnel manager discovered the woman rolled up inside a blanket, with a bag of women’s clothes beside her.

It is believed she could be suffering from cancer or a chronic infection and would have been incapable of making it to the hospital on her own.

The emaciated woman has been too weak to communicate with the authorities and her identity and nationality are not known.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Switzerland: Anti-Racism Meeting a “Foreseeable Disgrace”

The Swiss press has condemned anti-Israel comments by Iran’s president at a meeting in Geneva, while showing little patience with Switzerland’s position. On Monday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasted Israel as “a totally racist” regime on the opening day of the contentious United Nations racism summit in Geneva, prompting a walkout. The Swiss representative stayed seated.

The incident brought the Geneva conference closer to repeating the controversy of the UN’s first anti-racism meeting in Durban, South Africa, eight years ago.

Several European states, as well as Canada, Israel and New Zealand, had pulled out of the conference before it began.

“The anti-Semitic speech of Iranian President Ahmadinejad is an open appeal to racial hatred, a mockery of the values as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, wrote Jürg Müller in the Bern paper, Der Bund.

“He is the most prominent representative of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes… The Geneva conference will provide representatives of those countries with a platform to fight for rights that they themselves oppress.”

The Blick tabloid, Switzerland’s largest circulation daily, lambasted what it called “the foreseeable disgrace of Geneva”.

“Picture of hatred” was its caption to a picture of Ahmadinejad. “The agitator of Tehran rages against Israel. The anti-racism conference was over before it started.”

Ahmadinejad’s speech had sparked protests from pro-Israeli students in the audience, who donned coloured wigs and red noses, prompting diplomats from several European governments to walk out. Switzerland’s representative, Dante Martinelli, stayed.

“Martinelli could have actually stood up,” the Blick wrote. “Or should have.”

The Berner Zeitung ran a headline reading “Hate speech: Swiss delegates stay in the hall”.

“He did not move” La Tribune de Genève also had critical words for the Swiss ambassador over his decision to hear out Ahmadinejad’s address.

“Last night, the disillusionment was clear on diplomats’ faces,” commented the newspaper.

“What can be retained from the day is the blow by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the powerlessness of the European Union in finding a common position on human rights and Switzerland’s indecision.”

Other newspapers found the entire affair regrettable, including the days leading up to the conference.

“Again, official Switzerland stands in the rain,” wrote the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in reference to a meeting on Sunday evening between Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and Ahmadinejad.

“The unabated unspeakable comments by the Iranian president at the conference seem to have proven its critics right,” it added, but said the Swiss government had “quite a few good arguments” for hosting the conference. It said it was better for “sinners” to be represented in Geneva, so that they could be addressed.

“No choirboy” Berner Zeitung commentator Stefan Geissbühler argued, albeit with a lengthy caveat, that the meeting was justified.

“Of course Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no choirboy. Of course it is absolutely unacceptable that he denies the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist,” he wrote.

Switzerland has been representing Washington’s interests in Tehran since 1980 and plays a diplomatic role, Geissbühler reminded readers. “Only with dialogue can hardened conflicts like the one between Iran and the US be solved. This also applies for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The French-language daily, Le Temps, agreed that despite the conference’s rough start, channels of dialogue needed to remain open.

“By pulling out, these various western states have mistaken the mission of multilateral organisations. As imperfect as they are, the UN remains a necessary multilateral fortress for dialogue. That was the place to respond to Ahmadinejad,” ran its editorial.

But commentator Luciano Ferrari in the Tages-Anzeiger wrote that the invitation granted for Ahmadinejad to speak was a mistake. His headline read: “Naïve and preposterous”.

“Will be remembered” “Two scenes from the Geneva UN conference against racism will be remembered,” Ferrari wrote. “The welcome of the Iranian president by the frivolous friendly smiling Swiss president, Hans-Rudolf Merz, and on the other hand, the appearance of Tehran at the UN lectern not 24 hours later, in which he unleashed hate speech against Israel and Zionism.”

“Swiss diplomacy has learned nothing from the last disgrace,” Ferrari wrote, referring to the last high profile encounter between the two countries. In 2008, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey donned a headscarf for a meeting with Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The Fribourg-based La Liberté was not ready to write off the conference just yet. It asked: “How will the rest of the Geneva conference evolve?”

“Western countries have succeeded in erasing all references to Israel from the final declaration. Last Friday, some of them were even saying that Iran had lost the battle. After Monday, nothing is certain anymore.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Terrorism: Islamists Threaten Terror Attacks in Germany

Berlin, 22 April (AKI) — The Al-Qaeda linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan on Wednesday released a video threatening the “criminal” German government and citizens of the Jewish faith, according to German media.

In the video, the third released this year, shows a man identified as “Commander Mohammad”, who criticises the presence of German troops in Afghanistan.

The man accuses “the sons of Germany of being in the service of the Jews” unlike “Granddad Hitler”.

Investigators believe the video’s release may be linked to a major Islamist terrorism trial which opened on Wednesday at a high-security court in the northwestern German city of Duesseldorf .

In the trial, three Germans and one Turkish national are accused of planning a series of simultaneous bomb attacks against discos and pubs and the United States airbase in Ramstein and against Germany’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office.

Two of the German suspects are converts to Islam while the third is a German citizen of Turkish descent. They face charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, plotting murder, and conspiracy to conduct a bomb attack.

The trial is expected to last one to two years. If the defendants are found guilty, they could face prison terms of up to 15 years.

Prosecutors claimed the men were planning to use about 10 times as much explosives as were used in the deadly July 2005 attacks on London transport that killed 56 people and injured thousands.

The plot was at an advanced stage and the attacks could have killed over 50 people, according to police.

Around 300 German federal agents were involved in monitoring the cell for several months, before police swooped in on the group in what was one of Germany’s biggest anti-terror operations to date.

Three of the defendants were arrested in the Germany’s western Sauerland region and the fourth was arrested in Turkey and extradited to Germany in November last year.

Prosecutors say the four men belong to a little-known group called the Islamic Jihad Union with roots in Uzbekistan and ties to Al-Qaeda.

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

UK: BNP Leader Defends Policy on Race

British National Party (BNP) chairman Nick Griffin has defended a party leaflet which says that black Britons and Asian Britons “do not exist”.

The BNP’s “Language and Concepts Discipline Manual” says the term used should be “racial foreigners”.

In a BBC interview, Mr Griffin said to call such people British was a sort of “bloodless genocide” because it denied indigenous people their own identity.

Mr Griffin is standing in the European Parliament elections in June.

‘Politically correct fiction’

The BNP manual, leaked to the anti-fascist group Searchlight and seen by the BBC, says that “BNP activists and writers should never refer to ‘black Britons’ or ‘Asian Britons’ etc, for the simple reason that such persons do not exist”.

“These people are ‘black residents’ of the UK etc, and are no more British than an Englishman living in Hong Kong is Chinese.

“Collectively, foreign residents of other races should be referred to as ‘racial foreigners’, a non-pejorative term… The key in such matters is above all to maintain necessary distinctions while avoiding provocation and insult.”

The manual describes the BNP’s “ultimate aim” as the “lawful, humane and voluntary repatriation of the resident foreigners of the UK”.

Commenting on the leaflet’s content, Mr Griffin told The Report on Radio 4 that although “in civic terms they are British, British also has a meaning as an ethnic description”.

“We don’t subscribe to the politically correct fiction that just because they happen to be born in Britain, a Pakistani is a Briton. They’re not; they remain of Pakistani stock.

“You can’t say that especially large numbers of people can come from the rest of the world and assume an English identity without denying the English their own identity, and I would say that’s wrong,” he added.

“In a very subtle way, it’s a sort of bloodless genocide.”


Mr Griffin was also candid about the significance the BNP places on the slogan “British jobs for British workers”.

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown famously used the phrase in a speech about skills training.

Mr Griffin claimed the prime minister borrowed the rhetoric from his party.

“When I heard Gordon Brown use our slogan — British jobs for British workers — I was delighted,” he said.

“What Mr Brown actually meant when he said British jobs for British workers is of course down to Mr Brown.

“But there’s no doubt that it was perceived — and was intended to be perceived — by millions of ordinary Brits as meaning that they would be at the front of the queue in front of economic migrants from anywhere else in the world.”

“So having raised our slogan, promised it, we feel that he’s legitimised our message.”


Hazel Blears, secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, said she rejected Mr Griffin’s charge that the prime minister’s use of the phrase represents an endorsement of BNP policy.

“I certainly regret the fact that the BNP could be using language we’ve used in order to legitimise what I regard as divisive, pernicious policies which will actually do working class people no good at all,” she said.

“What I don’t regret is the fact that we need to have a proper discussion in this country about making sure that British people have a chance to get the skills, the education, to be able to get the jobs of the future.”

The “British jobs for British workers” slogan was widely repeated during the BNP’s recent council by-election campaign in Moston in Manchester, where the party’s candidate, local publican Derek Adams, came second.

Moston is in the North West region, where the BNP hopes its supporters will elect Mr Griffin as the party’s first MEP in the European Parliamentary elections on 4 June. Nominations close on 7 May.

Under the proportional representation system used in European elections, the BNP would need around 9% of the vote; in the last elections the party won 6.4%.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: It’s Cat Stevens at the Mike But It’s Islam Holding Court

Yusuf Islam jokingly complains that the building he grew up in, on Shaftesbury Avenue in Soho, has not yet been awarded a distinctive blue plaque by English Heritage — unlike the former homes of hundreds of other British luminaries.

“I think they’re trying to decide what name it should go under. They’re waiting for me to change it again,” he says. It’s a fair point: should a plaque celebrate the life of Yusuf Islam? Or Cat Stevens? Should it also include Steven Demetre Georgiou, as this singer and songwriter was named at birth?

Fortunately for Islam, the plaques are commemorative; the figure in question must have been dead 20 years. But his music did die — for 28 years until the release of An Other Cup in 2006. That was his first album as Yusuf Islam, the name he assumed in 1977 when he converted to Islam and turned his back on his music career — auctioning off his guitars and mostly devoting himself to Islamic philanthropy. But An Other Cup was not a one-off: next month, Islam will release Roadsinger (To Warm You Through The Night). In this the acoustic guitar plays a much greater role and while many of the lyrics belie the sensitivities of a religious man wary of public judgment, Cat Stevens is definitely sharing the microphone.

Islam is holding sway in the “Red Room” in his offices in West London. A quilted canopy is strung from the ceiling and the walls are painted cherry red in a nod to the room in the flat in Soho, where he wrote many of his biggest hits — Father And Son, Wild World and Lady D’Arbanville among them. Islam carries his 61 years well — 30 years of clean living compare him favourably with haggard contemporaries such as Ronnie Wood.

Islam is a living dichotomy: the beard is long and grey and the suit is comfy-looking brown corduroy but the hairstyle, with a Liam Gallagher-esque short fringe, is too funky not to hail from an expensive salon. He is deeply religious, talking humbly of the power of God, but there are traces of the ego that comes with selling 60 million records.

While he looks like a spiritual teacher, he is still an old hippie who mangles his metaphors and has a tendency to waffle — much better as singer than orator.

Islam’s 23-year-old son, Mohammed, triggered his return to music. He had had no urge to play until he picked up a guitar brought home by Islam junior, an aspiring musician.

“He’s been a great source of inspiration and support,” Islam says. “It was his great creative idea [behind] the [track] listing. I couldn’t put the songs together; I was driving myself mad. He’s amazing, he really advises me.”

Islam was so encouraged by the response to An Other Cup that he decided to do another album. “It was really fantastic to return to doing what I do best: communication and writing and speaking from my heart, rather than having people interpret or misread or dilute what I’m saying. I can go straight through the record to reach people, which is what I wanted to do.”

How his words are interpreted is a sore point, evident in the lyrics of at least two songs on Roadsong. He has twice successfully sued for libel — once last year for an accusation that he did not speak to unveiled women, and once relating to claims that he supported terrorism. There was the storm in 1989 that followed his alleged support for the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. He has since alternated between admitting that he made comments in “bad taste” relating to putting Rushdie to death, and claiming innocence in the affair. But the ultimate indignity, which at least “gives me something to write about”, was his highly publicised deportation from the US in 2004. He says he was never given a reason.

The album’s title track, Roadsong, brings together the best of Islam’s whimsical lyricism, with rich acoustic guitar and orchestral layers. It speaks of isolation. In Everytime I Dream, the music is soulful and bluesy, with a thwanging double bass, and the theme of truth-seeking creeps in; he depicts himself as “running from a wild pack of lies”. Islam’s attempt at worldly depth falls flat, however, in one of his self-described favourites, All Kinds Of Roses. It starts: “All kinds of roses grown in my garden/All kinds of creatures run on my land/All kinds of children run in my yard” and continues thus without let-up. It is a grating and surprisingly amateur-sounding anomaly from this master.

Three of the tracks came out of the development for Islam’s other upcoming project: a musical of his work, titled Moonshadow. Though the gentle, earnest voice is still there — perhaps a semitone lower with age — they tackle dark issues. The Rain, which Islam wrote in 1968 but never recorded, is based on Noah and the great flood. Was he thinking of modern events when he decided to include it? “The flood can be the overwhelming material view of existence which you’ve got to drown. You’ve got to survive this and the only way is through a divine vehicle.”

He is a little nervous about performing again, but hopes to tour internationally. “It’s my dream to go back to Australia and to New Zealand [where] I’ve never visited. I want that to happen.”

So Islam is back, talking of his great loves: a benevolent God, family and, most importantly, his music. If he sticks to these messages, a blue plaque may be just one of many positive legacies.

Yusuf Islam’s album Roadsinger will be released on May 8 by Universal.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: No 10’s Venezuelan ‘Workie’ Could Write Next Budget

Start tightening your belts. The woman Gordon Brown has lined up to write the next Budget is not at all happy about projected public sector borrowing.

Daniela Oliveros, a 23-year-old from Venezuela, was one of a number of young people called to question the Prime Minister about his £1.2 billion youth jobs package when he kicked off his post-Budget roadshow at the Prince’s Trust London offices this morning.

Still holding the microphone after Mr Brown’s reply, Ms Oliveros decided to sneak in an extra question. She explained to the Prime Minister that she had a real interest in British politics and needed to arrange a two-week work placement. “I was wondering if your office would be willing to offer me the opportunity?”

“How can I refuse!” replied Mr Brown. “Let’s sort it out.”

After a series of earnest questions to the Prime Minister and James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, the cheekiness of the request prompted a round of laughter. As Ms Oliveros sat down in her front-row seat, Mr Brown leant towards her and added: “I look forward to that. You can write the next Budget.”

After the meeting, Ms Oliveros told The Times that she came to Britain four years ago to learn English and stayed after getting married to a UK citizen. This month she started a 12-week personal development course in Newham, East London, run for the Prince’s Trust, a charity which tries to develop young people’s confidence.

Without it, she admitted, she might never have had the confidence in her heavily-accented English to ask the Prime Minister for a job. “I would have let the opportunity pass,” she said.

Ms Oliveros said the Prime Minister approached her after this morning’s Q&A and promised to set her placement up, although she has been warned that she might not be able to work at No 10.

But Mr Brown might want to reconsider his offer to let her write the next Budget speech after the Chancellor’s announcement yesterday that public sector borrowing would balloon to £175 billion in the current financial year and national debt hit £1.4 trillion over the next five years — as long as growth forecasts are realised.

Ms Oliveros said she did not see how Mr Brown was going to be able to restore confidence in the economy and was worried that the levels of government borrowing over the next few years would leave Britain facing the kind of problems Japan faced during its “Lost Decade” in the 1990s.

“If you keep borrowing, you’re giving the wrong example to people. You’ve got to come out with alternatives. Some people might have to suffer but it will actually benefit our future grandchildren,” she said.

“I’m very worried about the national debt. I’m worried that the Government is being over-optimistic when we really are in trouble.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


4 Serbs Found Guilty of Kosovo Massacre

By DUSAN STOJANOVIC, Associated Press Writer Dusan Stojanovic, Associated Press Writer — Thu Apr 23, 12:10 pm ET

BELGRADE, Serbia — A war crimes court on Thursday found four Serbian former policemen guilty of the massacre of 48 Kosovo Albanians and sentenced them to up to 20 years in prison.

The Serbian court’s judges said the victims of the worst single massacre of civilians during the 1998-99 Kosovo war included 14 children, two infants, a pregnant woman and a 100-year-old woman.

After a three-year trial, two of the men were sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in jail, one to 15 years and another to 13 years. All the defendants had denied the charges. Three other men also charged with the killings were found not guilty.

In Serbia, the very fact that the trial was held marked a shift in public policy, as Serbs who fought separatist ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are still revered by many here as war heroes.

The Serb war crimes prosecutors, however, said they would appeal the verdicts, especially because the prime suspect — the commander of the special police unit that carried out the massacre — was acquitted Thursday.

“We cannot be satisfied with the verdict,” said Bruno Vekaric, the spokesman for the prosecution. “Justice has not been carried out.”

The verdict said the defendants rounded up members of one Kosovo Albanian family in their village of Suva Reka in March 1999, killing several men with machine-gun fire before forcing the rest into a pizza restaurant and throwing hand-grenades at them.

Those showing any signs of life were shot in the head and the bodies were transported to a mass grave in Kosovo, where they were initially dumped. One woman lived to tell the story as she played dead before jumping from a truck packed with corpses.

The victims were later reburied in mass graves near a high security police facility outside Belgrade, the Serbian capital, as former President Slobodan Milosevic apparently tried to hide atrocities committed by his troops in Kosovo. Autopsies showed the victims were executed.

Pressure from human rights groups prompted Belgrade to launch an investigation to determine who was to blame for the Suva Reka massacre. More than 100 witnesses, including Kosovo Albanians, were questioned during the trial.

War crimes trials became possible in Serbia after Milosevic was ousted in 2000. The ex-president died in 2006 while on trial for genocide at a U.N. war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Kosovo declared independence last year, something Serbia refuses to recognize.

Kosovo’s government welcomed the verdict, but urged Serbia’s authorities to pursue justice in other cases of crimes committed against ethnic Albanians during the Kosovo war.

“We welcome every court and justice decision that will shed light to the atrocities committed in Kosovo during the war,” said Memli Krasniqi, spokesman for Kosovo’s government. “Nevertheless, we feel that this should not cease with one case. We believe that justice need to be done in more than a dozen other cases that remain.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Amnesty: NATO Bombing of Serbian TV ‘War Crime’

BELGRADE, Serbia — An international human rights group demanded Thursday that NATO be held accountable for civilian casualties in the bombing of Serbia’s state television headquarters a decade ago, calling the attack a “war crime.”

Sixteen civilians were killed and 16 others injured during the attack on April 23, 1999, on the headquarters and studios of Radio Television Serbia in central Belgrade.

Amnesty International called on NATO and its member states to ensure independent investigations, full accountability and redress for victims and their families.

A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with standing regulations, said the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had already assessed those allegations and found the alliance had no case to answer.

“The ICTY has looked into this. They did not accept Amnesty’s arguments at the time,” the official said. “The accusations have been dealt with.”

At the time of the bombing, NATO officials said the TV headquarters was a legitimate target because of the station’s relentless war propaganda that contributed to the ethnically-inspired bloodshed in the Balkans.

The bombing was a part of a 78-day air-raid campaign against then-President Slobodan Milosevic to halt his onslaught against Kosovo Albanian separatists in the former Serbian province.

“The bombing of the headquarters of Serbian state radio and television was a deliberate attack on a civilian object and as such constitutes a war crime,” Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s Balkans expert, said in a statement.

“Even if NATO genuinely believed RTS was a legitimate target, the attack was disproportionate and hence a war crime,” Jones said.

The families of the victims gathered in front of the bombed TV headquarters early Thursday to demand why there was no advance warning that the attack would occur.

They believe top Serbian TV officials deliberately sacrificed their staff for propaganda purposes, even though they knew the building would be attacked.

Amnesty International said in the statement that NATO officials confirmed that no specific warning of the attack was given, even though they knew many civilians would be in the RTS building.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

New Appointment in Euromediterranean Assembly

(ANSAmed) — ANCONA, APRIL 22 — President of the Marches Region, Gian Mario Spacca, was appointed a member of ARLEM, the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly, last night during a meeting of the EU Regional Committee. The appointment will be made official tomorrow during an ambassador’s meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean. Spacca’s appointment follows that of Marialuisa Coppola, councilwoman for international relations and cooperation for development of the Veneto, chosen last week as a member of the group that will hold its inaugural session on May 14 at the EU Regional Committee headquarters in Brussels. With the addition of ARLEM, explained a statement from the Marches, a particularly large macro-region, which goes from Morocco to Turkey, passing through the Balkans and the UE countries has been created. “This is another tangible step in the direction of the Mediterranean, which we have requested for some time,” said Spacca, “a changing awareness of European policy that cannot have its centre of gravity in the Baltic, considering the current composition of the EU.” The president underlined the interest that the Marches has always demonstrated regarding these issues, especially the development of relations between the two coasts facing the Adriatic Sea. The secretary of the Adriatic-Ionic initiative, not by chance, is located in the Marches in Ancona. “A role,” he added, “that is destined to become a priority since starting in June the presidency of the Adriatic-Ionic initiative will be handed over from Greece to Italy.” Created on the request of the Regional Committee as a permanent platform for dialogue, exchange, and cooperation, ARLEM, the official agency of the Union for the Mediterranean, was strongly desired by Nicholas Sarkozy during the French presidency of the EU. In July of 2008 in Paris, the heads of state and government set the objective of re-founding the Barcelona Process, aiming at roles for regional and local groups, and not only on a purely intergovernmental model of cooperation. The countries are now committed to identifying concrete cooperation projects in the Mediterranean on diverse issues, to build a shared space for peace, stability, prosperity, and human rights. Therefore, regional projects can embrace all fields, from the economy to culture. ARELM consists of 30 members of the Regional Committee, from the 17 partner countries of the Mediterranean: Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, the PNA, Monaco, and Montenegro. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Universities: Croatia, Students Demand Free Education

(ANSAmed) — ZAGREB, APRIL 22 — For the third day in a row, around a thousand students are occupying the Literature and Philosophy faculty buildings at the university in Zagreb. The students are demanding that university education in the country be completely free of charge. The occupation of the faculties, carried out by a group of students calling themselves the ‘Initiative for the Right to Free Education’, has become a subject of great interest to the public, since it is the first example of student activism ever in the country. Unions, many lecturers and student associations have backed the peaceful protest. Another occupation was organised yesterday in Zara, Dalmatia. In Croatia around half of the c. 150,000 students pay university fees which range between 500 and 1200 euros. A request for the abolition of the fees has been forwarded to the Education Ministry, which has so far not made a comment on the issue. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Energy: French PM in Tunis to Discuss Nuclear Power

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 23 — “France is helping Tunisia to build an electro-nuclear power plant,” which should be active by between 2020 and 2025, said French ambassador to Tunisia, Serge De Gallaix, during a press conference called to mark the visit from the French Prime Minister, François Fillon, which began today and will come to an end tomorrow. The diplomat announced that a 40-million-euro credit line would be made available to Tunisia’s small and medium-sized businesses, as part of an economic and financial partnership between the two countries. De Gallaix went on to remark that, despite the financial crisis, trade between Tunisia and France was continually growing (+2%). In 2008, trade between the two countries was worth 7.2 billion euros. (ANSAMed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Med Union: Ambassadors in Brussels to Try Relaunch

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 23 — There has been an attempt to relaunch the Mediterranean Union (UPM) in Brussels, whose work was blocked by the outbreak of the war in Gaza. Today was the first informal meeting by ambassadors from the 43 member states, invited by the EU High representative for foreign policy and security, Javier Solana. “We are concerned about this stall situation” he said today at the opening meeting. Solana believes that the Euro-Mediterranean partnership is an essential policy for the Middle East and the European Union’s foreign policy. Today’s meeting represents ‘ a positive sign” for Benita Ferrero Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, and is an opportunity for the ambassadors to speak one-to-one ‘frankly” . “I always said that we could not avoid the impact of political crises, but we created this Union because we wanted to get beyond the difficulties with concrete projects which all the countries can benefit from”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tomorrow Meeting in Brussels

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 22 — An informal meeting between the ambassadors of the Mediterranean Union (UPM) has been scheduled tomorrow in Brussels in an attempt to reanimate a process which essentially stopped the moment the war in Gaza broke out. According to sources in Brussels, the initiative was taken by Javier Solana, European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Tomorrow’s informal meeting will be the first of UPM diplomats after the work was stopped. Since January it had been unsuccessfully attempted to establish a date for a formal meeting of the representatives of the 43 member States. If tomorrow’s meeting turns out to be a success, a first official meeting could be scheduled in May, so the Euro-Mediterranean partnership can start taking some of its concrete projects off ice. Without secretariat and funds, the UPM found itself in a position of stalemate due to the refusal of the Arab countries to sit around the table with Israel after the war.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Transport: UN, Mediterranean Development Model Worrying

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 17 — Transport in the Mediterranean area remains a worrying question, linked to the type of development involved. The alarm was raised by Philippe Vallouis, head of transport division at the United Nations Environment and Development in the Mediterranean research centre, the Blue Plan, in an article in the organisation’s monthly report. According to Vallouis, the rise in traffic levels is due to strong growth in individual motorization, often unregulated growth in urban centres and the lack of competent authorities in various countries “rules out any hope of progress in terms of cargo and passenger transport, in particular where fuel subsidies continue or where people are encouraged to buy cars”. Vallouis maintains that another factor to consider is the high cost of public services that block initiatives in countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. According to data from the Blue Plan, between 1990 and 2007 air transport increased 70% in the countries on the northern shore of the Mediterranean and 103% in those on the southern and eastern shores. Road transport still dominates and railway travel is decreasing. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Durban 2: Libya; Ex-Colonialists Should Apologise Like Italy

(ANSAmed) — TRIPOLI, APRIL 22 — Libya’s representative in Geneva for the UN conference on racism and xenophobia has urged former colonial powers to “do as the Italians did, follow Silvio Berlusconi and apologise for your colonial past and the racist marks that it has left”, reports Jana. “The courage shown by the Italian people and their government represented by the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is an example to follow”, said the general secretary of the Libyan people for European affairs and cooperation. “We would like to request that the final declaration of this conference include a paragraph on this important recognition of guilt”. Libya then underlined the necessity that the Durban 2 Final Declaration contain a paragraph on slavery and the slave trade between the two sides of the Atlantic, as well as sufficient compensation for what he called a “human tragedy”. Furthermore, he asked for the condemnation of religious defamation and the role of some of the media in propagating racist and xenophobic practices. Above all, however, Tripoli asked that the document contain a clear passage on the “condemnation of Israeli practices in occupied Palestine and particularly in the Gaza Strip”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

ICT: Tunisia-India, Cooperation Agreement Signed

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 20 — A cooperation agreement has been signed in Tunis by the Tunisian technology centre in El Ghazala and Indian technology society STPI (Software Technology Park of India). The agreement aims to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the information and communications technology sector (ICT) with the adoption of a common programme as well as a training programme. A training cycle in the field of computer and network security will be organised in Tunisia. Technical and developmental meetings have also been scheduled between Tunisian and Indian businesses in order to share experience. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Morocco’s “Mourchidates” and Contradictions

Souad Eddouada

Within the new context of the Family Code reform and the State’s position on the compatibility between the universal truth of women’s rights and Islam, women have been given a symbolic role in the religious sphere so as to promote Islamic arguments for gender equality. In the aftermath of the Casablanca terrorist attacks and under the supervision of the King, the Ministry of Islamic affairs embarked upon a widespread project for reforming the religious field, in which women were involved in the State’s attempt to lay foundations and revive a “Moroccan Islam.” However, this new responsibility in no case establishes that access for men and women to holy places, such as mosques, should take place on a totally equal basis.

To react to the rise of radical Islam, the King of Morocco proposes to support women’s greater involvement within the religious sphere. “We wish to see women who are experts in the religious studies participate in these Councils (of ulemas or theologians), because we hope to achieve greater equality for them as well as equality between men and women.” In 2003 King Mohammed VI invited Rajae Najji Mekaoui, a university law professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat, to be the first woman to give a lecture in Dorous Hassania (a series of lectures) at the Royal Palace mosque. The Hassania lectures are a series of lectures presided over by the King every Ramadan, and attended by the highest civil and military officials and religious authorities from all over the Muslim world. Since then, other women have been giving lectures in the same series.

Within the new context of the Family Code reform and the State position on the compatibility between universal truths of women’s right and Islam, women are given a symbolic role to play (1) in religious affairs to promote Islamic arguments for gender equality. In his role of the Amir al moumimine (Commander of the Faithful) the king is involving female religious scholars and directing their interest to women’s issues. In the aftermath of the Casablanca terrorist attacks, under the supervision of the King, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs embarked upon a widespread project for the reform of the religious sphere, in which women were involved in the State’s attempt to lay the foundations for and the revival a “Moroccan Islam.”

After the terrorist attacks, Morocco implemented a religious reorganisation programme. According to observers this reorganisation is a reaction to the rise of “radical” Islam promoted in particular by Middle Eastern satellite channels as well as those broadcasting from the Gulf area, which promote a form of Islam considered to be extremist. This propaganda appears to have been one of the main causes of the development of religious fundamentalism. The Kingdom of Morocco believes that its own religious integrity, guaranteed by unity and the nation’s adherence to the Malikite rite, a “tolerant and moderate Moroccan Islam,” is threatened to the extent of being in great danger. The national project for reorganisation of the religious sphere is also a reform following the same egalitarian spirit of Family Law that was changed in 1993, and attributes new civil and religious responsibilities to Moroccan women.

These new responsibilities, however, do not provide men and women with totally equal rights to access holy places such as mosques. The annual training of fifty mourchidates (female preachers) is only addressed at preparing them to play a role in religious organisation, information and sensitisation. In fact, when the training programme for mourchidates was presented, the High Council of Ulemas (theologians of Islam) pronounced a fatwa (a legal opinion) forbidding women from leading prayers. According to the Council, these appointments appear to go against general religious rules, according to which women must pray in silence, while Imams preach out loud. The fatwa was pronounced following a request from the Ministry for Islamic Affairs, which specified how the role of a mourchidate is restricted to the organisation of debates and readings addressed at teaching believers the values of Islam and providing them with information capable of answering some of their questions…

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

Mubarak Evasive on Lieberman’s Egypt Visit

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, APRIL 23 — It is not thought that the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, will be taking part in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Egypt. This was the sense of a statement made by the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today, following the news announced in recent days that the head of the Egyptian Security Services, Omar Suleiman, had invited the Israeli leaders to Cairo. Speaking at a military ceremony in Ismailiya, Mubarak said “the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Egypt will take place in May. To those who say that he will bring his Foreign Minister with him, I say that it is normal for the heads of Israeli governments to come alone or to travel with the directors of their cabinet, as has always happened when heads of the Israeli government have come to Egypt in the past.” Mubarak went on, “but first of all, the Palestinians must find some cohesion, because their internal division will never bring about the creation of two states. If the Palestinians are happy with their current situation, then they must present themselves to the international community and say that they want two Palestinian states, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza, and Israel will certainly be happier with this outcome.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza: UN Task Force to Check Environmental Damage

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 22 — Following the war in Gaza, the damage must be assessed, including harm caused to the environment. It is to this end that the executive director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), Achim Steiner, who is currently visiting the Gaza Strip, has announced that specialists in disaster and post-conflict situation management will be sent into the field in mid-May. “I await to receive rapid and clear advice in mid-May,” Steiner said, “which can be used for local planning and the reconstruction projects planned by the international community.” The conclusions reached by the UN task force “will be based on systematic field research, independent laboratory analysis and scientific rigour,” the UNEP director went on. Those chosen for the mission, he added, “are greatly experienced in evaluating the environmental impact in conflicts in the Balkans, Sudan and in the Middle East, and in formulating useful strategic advice.” The task force will look at areas such as water and waste management, asbestos and hazardous waste disposal and issues related to marine and coastal environments. The report produced, following a ten-day site visit in May, is expected to be released at the beginning of July. Once the physical damage has been assessed and the requested measures for reconstruction decided upon, an assessment of economic damage suffered in Gaza will be put together. The environmental effects of the war could create a public health risk to the Palestinians, but potentially also to the Israelis. In fact, according to the UN, the heavy bombing and fighting at the end of 2008 have left buildings and other infrastructure in ruins. During his visit to Palestinian workers and UN staff, Steiner expressed concerns over the environmental challenges posed and the priorities for the reconstruction works, beginning with the removal of sewage from the same land where water is drawn from, as well as its removal from the Mediterranean sea. The work of the experts from the task force follows a series of controls which have already taken place as part of the reconstruction plans from the UN Development Program, as well as other assessments made by other UN and international agencies following the conflict, which have already established the areas in which further investigation is necessary. This is the framework for the investigation: — REFUSE: One of the problems raised relates to the presence of hazardous waste, such as asbestos, in the ruins of buildings that were destroyed. Furthermore, even before the conflict, Gaza did not have an adequate system to manage and dispose of waste. The accumulation of a large quantity of solid waste in a short period of time has overburdened the inadequate extant structures. — SEWAGE WATER: The Gaza strip is lacking a sufficient drainage system and the damage caused by the conflict has led to further deterioration of an already precarious public health conditions. The impact on under-ground waterways must be assessed. — CONTAMINATED LAND: small industries, such as factories, cement works and garages were hit during the conflict, creating various potential contaminated sites within the urban environment. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Human Rights Groups Criticise Inquiry Into Gaza

A COALITION of Jewish and Arab human rights groups have criticised as inadequate an Israel Defence Forces investigation into its activities during the battle in Gaza in January.

The IDF’s internal investigation found that no Palestinian civilians were harmed intentionally by its soldiers during the 23-day invasion that killed more than 1300 Palestinians and wounded more than 4000.

Israel’s Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, hailed the report as proof once again “that the IDF is one of the most moral armies in the world”. Mr Barak said: “The IDF is not afraid to investigate itself and in that, proves that its operations are ethical.”

When civilians were killed by IDF fire, the report found that the deaths were regrettable, but had resulted from operational mistakes that were “bound to happen during intensive fighting”.

But a coalition of Israeli human rights groups, which includes B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Yesh Din, The Public Committee Against Torture and Rabbis for Human Rights, described the IDF report as problematic and said the only way to truly investigate alleged war crimes was through an independent external inquiry.

“Military investigation results published today refer to tens of innocent Palestinian civilians killed by ‘rare mishaps’ in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“However, data collected by Israeli human rights organisations shows that many civilians were killed in Gaza not due to ‘mishaps’ but as a direct result of the military’s chosen policy implemented throughout the fighting.

“If the military claims that there were no major deficiencies in its conduct in Gaza, it is not clear why Israel refuses to co-operate with the UN investigation team, led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone, which requests an investigation of alleged violations of international law by both Israel and Hamas.”

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza also called on Israel to co-operate with the UN investigation team.

The IDF inquiry was conducted by five senior officers who were not involved in Operation Cast Lead and focused on reports of civilians who been targeted intentionally, and also attacks on civilian infrastructure, UN facilities and the use of white phosphorous.

The chemical is used to create a smoke screen but can cause serious burns and death.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Israelis Feel Chill as US Sets Out New Ground Rules

CAN Israel still call the United States its best friend? Not if you believe the media in Israel.

The increasingly tense dialogue between the US President, Barack Obama, and the new Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has taken on all the trappings of a duel here.

Almost every day brings news of another sore point, blighting the once warm relationship between the two countries.

Anyone could be forgiven for thinking the most immediate threat to national security in Israel lay across the Atlantic. That Mr Obama uses almost every opportunity he gets to set the parameters of a final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine is bad enough.

But now officials in his administration are openly using Israeli anxiety at Iran’s nuclear program as a bargaining chip to force its hand on giving up control of the West Bank Palestinian territory.

No less a figure than the White House chief-of-staff, Rahm Emanuel, was quoted this week laying down the law: if Israel wants US help to defuse the Iranian threat, then get ready to start evacuating settlements in the West Bank, he was reported to have told Jewish leaders in Washington.

This from a man whose father fought with a militant Zionist group, the Irgun, and whose appointment had provided such reassurance to Israeli officials.

Talkback radio blazed with fury across the country the same day as Israelis protested that no American official had the right to tell them where they could live. Then on Thursday came the news that Mr Netanyahu’s planned first meeting with Mr Obama in Washington next month had been called off.

Mr Netanyahu had hoped to capitalise on his attendance at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington to visit the White House, but Administration officials informed his office that the President would not be “in town”.

Sources in Washington added that the Administration would not be continuing the tradition that had developed during the Bush years of hosting Israeli prime ministers whenever they showed up in town, sometimes with just a phone call’s notice.

Contrary to initial expectations, Mr Obama has wasted no time becoming fully engaged in the Middle East peace process, despite the magnitude of his domestic political agenda.

While Mr Netanyahu has refused to endorse the principle of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict agreed to by his predecessor, Mr Obama has made it abundantly clear that the US will accept nothing less than Israel living side by side with a sovereign Palestinian state.

Mr Obama is also demanding a freeze on all Jewish settlement expansion in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has dropped the Bush administration’s opposition to Hamas serving in a future Palestinian Authority government.

A prominent Israeli political commentator, Maya Bengal, who writes for the country’s second largest selling newspaper Maariv, believes the holiday is over.

“As Passover comes to an end, so comes to an end, it seems, the days of grace granted to the Netanyahu Government by the American Administration,” Bengal said.

A Tel Aviv barman, Meir Avraham, 30, recently returned after a trip to Australia, said he could feel the tensions being played out between the US and Israel on the street.

“If we lose America, then we are alone. So we must listen to what America wants,” he said. “But really I think this is more about the little brother testing the limits of the big brother than a real conflict between Israel and the US.”

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “We know Obama wants to change the relationship, make it seem less cosy but they also want to protect its special nature. We’ll all still be friends.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Lieberman: Arab Peace Initiative Threat to Israel

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 22 — The Arab Peace Initiative, which includes a total withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories in exchange for recognition of the Jewish state from Arab countries, represents a danger to the future of Israel. According to the newspaper Maariv, these were the words of the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beitenu, far right). This would mean that the Israeli government is in opposition to the US President Barack Obama’s favourable opinion of the initiative. Sources close to Lieberman explained that in particular the Minister is opposed to the so-called Right to Return for Palestinian refugees, which he argues represents a threat to Israel. In an interview given two weeks ago to the Russian newspaper Moskowsky Komsomoltz, quoted today by the newspaper Haaretz, Lieberman also confirmed that it would be necessary to give Russia more involvement in research into a future recipe for peace in the Middle East. Israel’s task, he added, will be to represent the bridge between Russia and the United States. Two weeks ago, Lieberman caused a stir when he said that he no longer felt constrained by the Annapolis agreement, which was the result of a conference held in the US city in November 2007, and led to the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) committing to the “Two states for two peoples” formula in the presence of the then head of the White House, George W. Bush.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mid-East: Survey, Israelis and Palestinians Favour Two States

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, APRIL 22 — A large majority of Israelis and Palestinians are in favour of the ‘two states for two peoples “solution, and are against two-nation state. These were the results that came out of an opinion poll conducted by an Irish researcher, Collin Irwin, together with two local public opinion institutes: Israel’s Dahaf and the Palestinian Award. The survey, organised by the ‘One Voice” organisation to favour dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, was conducted simultaneously in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Israel last February after Operation Cast Lead. Strong divergences also emerged on the future of Jerusalem’s political bent and on the question of Palestinian refugees. According to ‘One Voice”, the research work represents a significant base for the political leaders of the two peoples. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Turkey: Direct Investment Falls, But Not From Italy

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 20 — In the first two months of the year, direct foreign investments in Turkey fell 18.6% compared to the same period in 2008. The figure emerged from a study carried out by the Undersecretary to the Turkish Treasury (Foreign Investments Department), and the results were put together by the Italian Trade Commission (ICE) office in Istanbul. Figures also showed that the total amount of foreign investment was 1.48 billion dollars, against the 1.82 billion dollars of the previous year. >From the total of 1.48 billion dollars, 400 million dollars derived from real estate acquisition, whilst more than one billion came in the form of shareholder investment. Despite the current serious crisis, Italy acted against the trend, as it has been doing in recent months, investing 23 million dollars compared to the 15 million dollars invested in January-February 2008, thereby representing 1.53% of the total overall investment in Turkey in the first two months of the year. Holland is the largest foreign investor with 126 million dollars, although it should be remembered that investments that are made from Holland are often from other countries. Germany is in second place with 89 million dollars, whilst the UK has invested 30 million dollars and the US represents 17 million dollars. The current role of the Gulf countries has decreased significantly, representing only four million dollars of investment compared to 194 in the same period in 2008.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey Calls Back Ambassador to Canada

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey recalled its ambassador to Canada, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday, after government ministers there reportedly took part in an event that labeled the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians as genocide.

Ambassador Rafet Akgunay was called back for “thorough evaluations and consultations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Burak Ozugergin said, without saying why Akgunay was recalled or for how long.

Another government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said the ambassador was being withdrawn temporarily to protest an event earlier this week in Canada commemorating the deaths of Armenians at the end of World War I as genocide.

The official said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a message to the ceremony, which angered Turkey. Turkish news reports said Canadian government officials took part in the event.

A spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon defended the country’s position.

“Canada’s position on the Armenian genocide is not an indictment of modern Turkey, nor is Turkish Ambassador Rafet Akgunay’s temporary return to Ankara for consultations, a break in our diplomatic relations,” Natalie Sarafian said in an e-mailed statement.

It is the second time that Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Canada over the genocide dispute. In 2006, Turkey criticized Harper for remarks he made in support of recognizing the mass killings as genocide and briefly withdrew its ambassador. It also pulled out of a military exercise in Canada in protest.

Historians estimate that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks — an event widely viewed by genocide scholars as the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey denies that the deaths constituted genocide, contending the toll has been inflated and the casualties were victims of civil war and unrest.

Lawmakers in the United States have also introduced a resolution that would call the death genocide. If passed, the resolution could undermine efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to win NATO ally Turkey’s help on key foreign policy goals.

U.S. legislators almost passed a similar resolution two years ago, but congressional leaders did not bring it up for a vote after intense pressure from the Bush administration.

Obama avoided the term “genocide” when he addressed Turkish lawmakers during his visit a month ago. But he said, in response to a question, that he had not changed his views. As a presidential candidate, Obama said the killings amounted to genocide..

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Turkey-Armenia Agree on Roadmap to Normalize Ties, US Welcomes Move

ISTANBUL — Turkey and Armenia under Switzerland’s mediation have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations, a move welcomed by the Washington administration.

“the two parties have achieved tangible progress and mutual understanding in this process and they have agreed on a comprehensive framework for the normalization of their bilateral relations in a mutually satisfactory manner. In this context, a road-map has been identified,” the statement posted on the foreign ministry’s Web site late on Wednesday.

This agreed basis provides a positive prospect for the on-going process, the statement added.

The announcement of the agreement on a road map comes just a day before the Armenian commemoration day of the 1915 incidents.

Turkey and Armenia, together with Switzerland as mediator, have been working intensively with a view to normalizing their bilateral relations and “developing them in a spirit of good-neighborliness, and mutual respect, and thus to promoting peace, security and stability in the whole region,” according to the statement.

Ankara and Yerevan have no diplomatic relations. Their border was closed in 1993 over Armenia’s invasion of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory and over pressure exerted on the international community, with the backing of the diaspora, to recognize their claims regarding the 1915 incidents instead of accepting Turkey’s call to investigate the allegations.

The Washington administration welcomed the move in a statement and urged the normalization should take place without preconditions as well as within a reasonable timeframe.

“We urge Armenia and Turkey to proceed according to the agreed framework and roadmap. We look forward to working with both governments in support of normalization, and thus promote peace, security and stability in the whole region,” Robert Wood, the spokesman of the U.S.. State Department said in statement.

Wood also said that it has long been and remains the position of the United States that normalization should take place without preconditions and within a reasonable timeframe.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Turks, Italians Debate EU Issues, Renew Friendship

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, APRIL 20 — Turkish and Italian businesspeople, politicians and media representatives came together in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday to discuss Turkey’s accession to the European Union, giving the Italian side an opportunity to renew its commitment to Turkey’s EU membership and allowing both sides to highlight problems and opportunities. Carlo Marsili, who has been Italy’s ambassador to Turkey for the last six years, said the expansion of the European Union aimed at rewarding the formerly communist states of Europe, but that the EU was ignoring Turkey. “The European Union punished Turkey for not being a communist state. Turkey’s role as a NATO member has been ignored,” Marsili said on Friday afternoon at a media forum titled “Turkey: A Strategic Crossroads,” as daily Zaman reported. Giorgio Zappa, president of the Turkey-Italy Friendship Association, said they are optimistic about Turkey’s prospects for entering the EU, but that this is not enough. “We want to overcome all obstacles in that regard. We want to open our arms to people who cannot get rid of their skepticism. They act that way sometimes because they don’t have enough knowledge about the issue. We want to open their eyes,” Zappa said, adding that they work both to improve Turkish-Italian bilateral relations and to spread this relationship throughout the EU. Speakers at the forum emphasized that Italy is Turkey’s number-three trading partner after Russia and Germany and that, in the Mediterranean basin, Turkey is Italy’s top market. Trading volume between the two countries has increased by 118% over the last four years to $11 billion. Turkish exports to Italy rose to $7.8 billion in 2008 from $3.1 billion 2003. For Italian exports to Turkey, the figure rose to $11 billion from $5.4 billion over the same period. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Bangladesh: Islamic Fundamentalists Threaten UN Agencies and Red Crescent

Three intimidating letters have been sent to UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross. Some observers see this as a response to the UN’s promise to help the government set up a court to try Islamic fundamentalists for war crimes.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) -The Islamic extremists of the group Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMP) are threatening attacks against UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the Red Crescent, telling the three organizations to leave the district of Barisal in southern Bangladesh.

Three letters signed by the Islamic organization, which is prohibited by the government of Dhaka, were sent to the local headquarters of the international humanitarian agencies. The militants of the JMP are announcing reprisals if the recipients of their threats do not leave the area.

Mohammed Mahabur Rahman, a police official in Barisal, confirms the report for AsiaNews and says that the threats are to be taken seriously. Security has already been stepped up for the three humanitarian organizations, but Rahman explains that “the police by itself is not capable of combating Islamic terrorism,” and says that for this reason he is convinced that “the police and the population must work together against Muslim fundamentalism.”

For Rashid Khan Menon, a member of parliament from the Workers’ Party, the threats against the three organizations “are connected to the UN’s recent promise to help Bangladesh in proceedings against war crimes perpetrated in the country.”

Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka, sees the intimidating letters as the sign of “a special agenda” on the part of fundamentalists against the presence of international organizations.

Recent security operations by the Rapid Action Battalion have led to the arrest of a number of militants of the JMP, and about a hundred people suspected of connections to the fundamentalist group. For professor Ahmed, the threats against the UN agencies have a twofold purpose: on the one hand, they send a signal to the authorities who want to take Islamic extremists to court for war crimes, on the other hand they seek to internationalize domestic affairs.

During the arrests of the mujahideen of the JMP, weapons, materials for making bombs, and computers were found, in addition to propaganda documents supporting jihad. In one flyer, the fundamentalists charge that “the media controlled by the Christians are making a false representation of the noble campaign of the mujahideen to liberate the country from the infidels”; they promise “to destroy all of the enemies of Allah,” and “corrupt political leaders,” and to “establish an Islamic state.”

Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise in Bangladesh for years, and has included coordinated violent actions in multiple places in the country. Islamic extremist groups also have significant political influence.

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

India: Hindu Fanatics Attack Protestant Church in Maharashtra to Stop Conversions

The group destroyed prayer books, bibles, furniture and the altar. Some members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal arrested. Police accused of delayed intervention.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — A group of Hindu fanatics have attacked and damaged a Church in Saoner village, 40 km from Nagpur, in Maharashtra. The attack on Douglas Memorial Church took place Sunday morning while a religious service was being conducted. Two women were injured in their attempts to stop the gang vandalizing the church.

The two main Hidu groups, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Bajrang Dal denied any role in the attack, claiming instead that it was done by “Hindus angry over religious conversions” in the area. The police however arrested three persons on Sunday: Uddhav Choudhary, an office porter from VHP, Vinod Bagde and Umesh Athavankar. Four other persons had been arrested on Monday belonging to VHP and Bajrang Dal. The vandals tore up several holy books including the Bible, ransacked furniture, broke musical instruments and damaged the altar.

Ten minutes before the attack, some persons claiming to belong to the VHP, had gone to the police station handing over a letter demanding action against conversion in Saoner. They threatened “vigorous action” against the church for allegedly targeting poorer sections of society for conversion. According to the records available with Nagpur police’s special branch, there have been100 conversions to Christianity at a church in Dattawadi since 2005. According to Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman state Minority Commission, there should have been prompt action by the police: “It was the duty of the police to ensure that the group did not reach the church”.

The Christians of Mumbai have joined their voices to the protest on hearing of the attack. The Catholic Archbishop of Nagpur, Msgr. V. Abraham, who was in Mumbai on Monday, said: “There was peace between all communities in Nagpur for years. This feeling of amity is being eroded by acts of violence. The attacks display a total disregard for the rule of law.”

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

Malaysian PM Dodges Questions About Missing Model

JAKARTA, April 23, 2009 (AFP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak dodged questions about the alleged abduction of a young model by a Malaysian prince as he met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta on Thursday.

Reporters covering the press conference after the leaders met at the presidential palace were refused permission to ask about the case of 17-year-old Indonesian-American model Manohara Odelia Pinot.

As they fielded approved questions about closer bilateral relations and economic cooperation, Manohara’s mother held an emotional press conference of her own to plead with Najib for help in finding her socialite daughter.

Manohara last year married Tengku Temenggong Mohammad Fakhry, the prince of Malaysia’s Kelantan state.

Her mother, Daisy Fajarina, said Manohara had suffered “emotional and physical abuse” at the hands of her husband, who was holding her against her will in Malaysia.

“As the new prime minister of Malaysia I urge Najib to investigate to defend our rights and the truth,” Fajarina told reporters at the offices of the national human rights commission.

“I just want my daughter to be set free… As a mother I have a right to see my daughter.”

She said she had been refused entry to Malaysia to see Manohara, who was crying and distraught when she last spoke to her Indonesian family by phone on March 21.

“I was already in the airport but immigration officials told me that I was strictly forbidden to enter Malaysian territory,” she said, referring to an incident on March 19.

Fajarina said the last time she saw Manohara was when she accompanied the couple on a pilgrimage to Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia in late February. The teen bride was already unhappy with her new husband and the trip was supposed to be a fence-mending exercise for the family, she said.

But it ended in anger and confusion when the prince abandoned Fajarina at an airport in Jeddah and whisked her daughter away in his private jet.

“My daughter was taken away forcibly in a private jet from Jeddah … I was on the passenger list and my personal stuff was already in the plane, but the jet took off without me and left me on the runaway,” she said.

She also accused the royal family of trying to bribe her to forget about Manohara with a million-dollar apartment in Malaysia.

“I cannot accept that. Even if they give me the world, I cannot sell my beloved daughter,” she said.

Fajarina fainted when she was mobbed by journalists from Indonesia’s celebrity press, who have written extensively about Manohara’s plight.

Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, Da’i Bachtiar, said he had spoken to the royal household in Kelantan and received word that Manohara was fine.

But they refuse to allow her mother to visit and the Malaysian foreign ministry has not replied to further inquiries, he told AFP.

“I have communicated with the Kelantan sultanate. They said Manohara is healthy and fine. We asked about the wishes of her mother but there was a rejection of her visit to Malaysia,” Bachtiar said.

“We’ve addressed questions officially to the Malaysian foreign affairs ministry, but there’s been no answer yet. We’ve addressed the questions in order to give protection to an Indonesian citizen.”

Najib was sworn in earlier this month after his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was forced to stand down.

He has repeatedly denied involvement in the gruesome murder in 2006 of 28-year-old Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu, the lover of his close aide.

The aide was acquitted of abetting her murder but two police officers have been sentenced to hang for the slaying of the young woman, whose remains were blown up with military-grade explosives in a jungle clearing.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Malaysia Bans Forced Conversion of Minors to Islam

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) — Malaysia has banned the forced conversion of children to Islam to quell unease among religious minorities in the mainly Muslim nation, the country’s Legal Affairs Minister said on Thursday.

The decision follows the highly publicized case of Indira Gandhi, a 34-year-old ethnic Indian Hindu woman whose estranged husband embraced Islam and then converted their children to the religion as well.

Minister Nazri Aziz said minors were to be bound by the common religion of their parents while they were married even if one parent later becomes a Muslim.

Islamic law will also apply only from the point of a person’s conversion to the religion and is not retrospective, he told a press conference.

“We have to resolve this once and for all. I don’t think we should be deciding on a piecemeal basis every time a conversion issue crops up,” Nazri said.

“We have decided on a long-term solution because we expect more cases will occur, being a multiracial country,” he added.

Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, but non-Muslims are allowed to practice their faiths.

Muslims, who make up around 65 percent of the Southeast country’s 27 million population, are bound by Islamic family laws, while civil laws apply to non-Muslims.

Nazri said the Attorney-General had been instructed to look at the relevant legislation that would need to be amended to effect the decision.

The Attorney-General would also be asked approach the Malay rulers — titular heads in nine of Malaysia’s 13 states who are in charge of Islamic affairs in their respective states — to seek consent for amendments to related state Islamic laws, added Nazri.

There has been growing unease among Malaysia’s mainly Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities who are mostly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus over numerous complaints of discrimination and unfair treatment by the authorities when seeking legal redress following cases of divorce and religious conversions.

The disquiet built up during the case of Lina Joy, a Malay Muslim who converted to Christianity at the age of 26 but was forced to endure a long legal battle to have her conversion legally recognized by the Malaysian courts.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Taliban Militants Extend Reach in North

Buner, 22 April (AKI/Dawn) — Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Swat region who endorsed a peace deal with the government have extended their control of the nearby Buner district. Dozens of militants moved into Buner in North West Frontier Province on Tuesday and began patrolling bazaars, villages and towns in the district.

Buner is part of the Malakand region, which has just seen the implementation of Sharia law under the peace deal.

The militants, who moved into the Gokand valley of Buner two weeks ago, were reported to have been on a looting spree for the past five days.

Pakistani daily Dawn reported that they have stolen vehicles, computers, printers, generators, edible oil containers, and food and nutrition packets from government offices and NGOs.

Sources said that leading political figures, businessmen, aid officials and others who sought to stop the Taliban from entering Buner, had been forced to move to other areas.

The Taliban have extended their control to almost all areas of the district and law enforcement personnel were confined to police stations and camps.

The Taliban, equipped with advanced weapons, were reported to be advancing towards border areas of Swabi, Malakand and Mardan, where NWFP chief minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti is based.

According to reports reaching Dawn, the militants have set up checkposts and camp bases in Kangar Gali village, along the Malakand border, and other locations.

The militants have started digging trenches and setting up bunkers on heights in strategic towns of Gadezi, Salarzai, Osherai and others.

Led by Fateh Mohammad, the militants were asking local people, particularly young people, to join them in their campaign to enforce Sharia law.

Meanwhile the United Nations refugee agency has begun a registration drive for thousands of Pakistanis who are seeking shelter in the capital, Islamabad, and other cities after fleeing in the South Asian nation’s rugged north.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has begun a registration drive at the request of the Pakistani Government and seeks to ascertain the number of people who have moved to urban areas after escaping clashes between the army and militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Swat district.

According to a preliminary survey last month, over 82,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in key cities, with nearly 8,000 in Islamabad.

Most of the uprooted live in rented accommodation or with host families, while some are sheltering in camps.

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

Sultans of Swat — Muhammad’s Angels… and More Timeless Wisdom From Lal and Burckhardt

by Andrew Bostom

Pakistan’s much ballyhooed moderate Muslim President Zadari, as recently as December 8. 2008, in the wake of the Mumbai massacre [2], wrote a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too [3].” Zardari acknowledged the significant presence of Al Qaeda/Taliban in his country, but claimed, piously, to be committed to the fight against these jihad terrorists—perhaps even more so than NATO—and sought worldwide support for his efforts. He stated:

The challenge of confronting terrorists who have a vast support network is huge; Pakistan’s fledgling democracy needs help from the rest of the world. We are on the frontlines of the war on terrorism. We have 150,000 soldiers fighting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their extremist allies along the border with Afghanistan — far more troops than NATO has in Afghanistan.

But as I suggested on December 14, 2008 [4]:

Ignoring serious concerns about the dubious use of some $5 billion in US military aid [5] to Pakistan (via Coalition Support Funds) since 2002 — ostensibly to combat Al Qaeda and its allies in the tribal areas—I maintain that Zardari’s plaintive appeal for assistance—military and financial—be heeded exclusively by Muslim nations from the now 57 member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). …the OIC — currently headed by its Turkish representative Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu — is uniquely suited to marshall the military and economic might to “enact the utmost severe punishment” for Al Qaeda and Taliban “perpetrators” of “anti-Islamic” acts of terrorism. Turkey and Egypt — key OIC member states — have large, modern, well-equipped armed forces (here [6]; here [7]; here [8]), including air forces (here [9]; here [10]), and both nations are believed to have been victimized by Al Qaeda attacks (here [11]; here [12]; here [13]; and here [14]). These Muslim nations — with formal, enthusiastic sanctioning by the OIC-should send large military contingents to reinforce the “150,000? of their Pakistani Muslim brethren under President Zadari [15] already doggedly engaged in combating the “anti-Islamic” terrorists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Despite Zadari’s bravado (duplicity/taqiya?), he has in fact now capitulated to the Talibanization of Pakistan’s own SWAT valley—with all its accompanying traditional Islamic brutality…

           — Hat tip: Andy Bostom [Return to headlines]

Far East

China in Tensions Rising Over Unpaid Wages

Thousands of plants are closing down without paying workers. At least 30 million migrant workers are now jobless. The danger of social unrest is high because of the lack of respect for workers’ rights.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The number of labour disputes over unpaid wages has gone up by 59 per cent over last year. In the first quarter of this year they were 98,568. The increase follows a 93 per cent surge in such cases last year. Plants that close often fail to pay salaries and severance pay to their now out-of-work employees.

As a result of the global crisis “the number of businesses going into the red or going bankrupt continues to grow, leading to more disputes over salary claims,” Du Wanhua, a top official with the court, said.

Unemployment is also rising. Cheng Guoqiang, deputy head of the Chinese State Council’s Development and Research Center, said that “earlier reports put the estimate at 20 million people. According to our estimate, about 30 million farmers have lost their jobs.”

With a migrant population of some 225 million people, or 28 percent of China’s rural population according to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics in March, the country’s growth rate must be at least 8 per cent if it wants to avoid unemployment and social unrest, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao said last Saturday. This rate has not been met in the last six months.

The China Labour Bulletin, a well-known Hong Kong- based workers’ rights advocacy journal, has warned China’s local governments that workers are not going to lose their job after decades of work without putting up a fight for their rights.

For example 5,000 workers at the Golden Emperor Group textile plant in Chongqing’s Fuling district went on strike on 13 and 14 April, after management announced its reorganisation and the start of bankruptcy proceedings; their demands: three-month back pay and a fair severance pay.

Also this month thousands of workers demonstrated for three days in Baoding (Hebei) in front of the Yimian textile factory for wage arrears and their pensions. The workers threatened to block the railway line to Beijing, and were only stopped after the mayor said he would mediate the dispute.

According to the China Labour Bulletin, more than 30 million people lost their job in the early 1990s when state-owned plants were privatised. After that the lack of specific rules led to countless labour disputes, some not yet solved.

Now the situation is worse because migrant workers will “not simply lie down and accept their fate without a fight,” the journal wrote.

If the authorities really want to avoid social unrest they must not sweep under the carpet the rights and interests of workers.

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

Filipino Court Overturns US Marine Rape Conviction

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine appeals court overturned the 2006 rape conviction of a U.S. Marine and ordered his immediate release Thursday, setting off protests from activists.

A suburban Manila court convicted Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith of raping a Filipino woman in the company of fellow Marines at the former U.S. Subic Bay Naval base three years ago and sentenced him to life in prison. The case has become a rallying point for anti-American protests in the country.

The Philippine Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, indicating the sexual act was consensual.

“No evidence was introduced to show force, threat and intimidation applied by the accused,” the court said in its 71-page decision, which is final.

It ordered the immediate release of Smith, 23, of St. Louis, Missouri, from his detention at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

Interior Undersecretary Marius Corpus said Smith could be released within days, as soon as the process of notifying him and the embassy of the court’s decision is complete.

After Smith was convicted, he was initially taken to a Philippine jail, but the U.S. argued he should be kept in American custody, citing the Visiting Forces Agreement, a 1999 accord that allows U.S. forces to conduct war exercises in the Philippines.

Washington said the accord entitles any accused U.S. service member to remain in American hands until all judicial proceedings are exhausted.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo backed the U.S. position, but the Philippine Supreme Court ruled in February he should be serving his sentence in a Philippine prison and asked the government to negotiate his transfer with Washington. The negotiations were under way when the appeals court ruled Thursday.

Smith’s lawyer Jose Justiniano said his client “got the justice that he deserved,” but leftist groups condemned it, saying it was proof of Arroyo’s subservience to America.

“We are outraged,” said Renato Reyes of the prominent group Bayan.

“This denial of justice can only be blamed on Mrs. Arroyo, whose subservience to the U.S. and veneration of the VFA knows no bounds,” Reyes said.

About 30 activists marched to the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy late Thursday but were stopped nearby by riot police. They held up posters that read, “Smith’s acquittal, a Philippine-U.S. government connivance,” then peacefully dispersed after an hour.

In March, the woman who accused Smith of rape altered her testimony and emigrated to the United States in a dramatic twist in the case, saying she was no longer certain that a crime took place.

But the court said its decision was not influenced by her action.

The woman initially said she and Smith were drinking, kissing and dancing at a Subic bar before moving to a van, where she originally told the court she was raped while she fell in and out of consciousness. Smith had insisted the sex was consensual.

The court said what happened “was the unfolding of a spontaneous, unplanned romantic episode with both parties carried away by their passions.”

The woman’s turnabout shocked her supporters. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said she could be charged with perjury.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

First Trade Deficit for Japan Since 1980

Tokyo reports a deficit of 725.3 billion yen. Exports towards US and EU drop significantly; those towards in Asia decline as well. Central bank expects economy to shrink by 3 to 5 per cent. Recovery is tied to government stimulus package.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Japan reported its first annual trade deficit in 28 years. The deficit for the fiscal year that ended in March was 725.3 billion yen (US$ 7.4 billion), the Finance Ministry said. Total exports fell by 16.4 per cent, whilst imports dipped 4.1 per cent.

Japan’s exports fell 45.6 per cent in March, producing an 11.0 billion yen (US$ 110 million) trade surplus in March. But analysts remain cautious. They observe that the trend is largely due to a drop in imports which fell by 36.7 per cent, a sign that output and consumption are both down.

The result was worse than the surplus of 82.1 billion yen in February, but better than previous four months which were in the red, posting a deficit of 952.6 billion yen (US$ 9.7 billion) in January.

The Bank of Japan will likely lower its projections and say it expects the economy to shrink by between 3 and 5 per cent in the fiscal year ending in March next year.

Plunging demand has saddled companies with too many employees, with unemployment likely to rise from 4.4 per cent.

Manufacturing remains in a difficult situation as well because of its dependency on exports.

Exports to the United States have dropped in fact by 51.4 per cent in March from a year earlier; those to the European Union were down 56.1 per cent.

Exports to Asia, which had previously offset falling exports to the United States and Europe, fell 39.5 per cent. But a slowing pace of decline in shipments to mainland China is a sign that China’s huge stimulus package is starting to benefit Japanese exports.

The better-than-expected export figures are raising optimism that markets and output have at least stabilised.

According to economist Richard Jerram, the stage is set for a strong rebound in industrial production and exports in the second quarter of 2009.

Many are also waiting for the government stimulus plan to kick in. Announced this month by Prime Minister Taro Aso, it is worth 15.4 trillion yen (US$ 156 billion).

However, since it will be done by issuing government bonds for 10.8 trillion yen (US$ 110 billion) this fiscal year, some are concerned that it will push up the national debt with dangerous consequences on the long run.

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

Australia — Pacific

Coal Burning Must End, Says Scientist

A CSIRO scientist has told a Senate inquiry it is imperative to begin phasing out coal burning in order to avoid dangerous climate change.

No coal-fired power plants should be built, and existing plants must shut within 20 years, if the world is to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide at a less dangerous level, the climatologist James Risbey said.

Yesterday Dr Risbey joined other CSIRO scientists who have spoken out personally to the Senate committee on climate policy’s inquiry after the CSIRO decided against making a submission.

He said the Rudd Government’s targets of reducing carbon dioxide levels by at least 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020 and 60 per cent by 2050 were not tough enough to avoid dangerous climate change.

“In fact, they yield a high likelihood of triggering irreversible changes in the climate system,” he said at the committee’s hearings in Hobart. “Such likelihoods can be greatly reduced with far more stringent emissions reductions. However, further delay makes safer concentration targets unattainable and begins to lock in dangerous climate change.”

The committee was told that at current levels of greenhouse gas growth, the world risked an irreversible collapse in the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, contributing roughly seven and five metres each to global sea level rise.

Acidification of the oceans, release of stored methane and breakdown of snowmelt would also affect food webs and the global population.

“While we cannot give a precise temperature at which each of these processes would occur, the threshold is thought to be in the vicinity of about two degrees in each case,” Dr Risbey said.

But Australia’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, if applied by all countries, would mean a 50 to 90 per cent chance of exceeding the threshold. “In other words, this is Russian roulette with the climate system, with most of the chambers loaded,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

NZ: Runaway Pilgrims Believed Lying Low and ‘Well Settled’

A third of a group of Indian pilgrims who vanished in New Zealand on their way to see the Pope in Sydney last year are still at large, and believed to have become “well-settled overstayers”.

New Zealand Sikh Society spokesman Daljit Singh, who was in contact with some of the missing men last year, says they have gone to ground in the Nelson and Bay of Plenty areas, have probably found work and have no intention of coming out from hiding.

“When they came here it was with the intention to stay in New Zealand forever, and that is what they will try to do,” said Mr Singh.

The men were with a group of 40 pilgrims who said they had paid up to $17,000 each for visas that would allow them to stay in New Zealand forever.

They were issued one-month visitor visas. When these expired in August, some tried to apply for students’ permits but were rejected by Immigration New Zealand.

“At the start, we worked closely with the immigration department to help track the men down, but we are volunteers and there is only so much we can do,” Mr Singh said.

The Labour Department, which oversees Immigration NZ, says it does not know the whereabouts of 14 of the 33 Indians. A spokeswoman said it was working with the Indian High Commission to find them.

The other 19 have been expelled.

She said about two people a month travelled to New Zealand by air and arrived without travel documents.

“These people will have checked in for the flight using a passport which allows visa-free travel for New Zealand, but they do not have the passport when they arrive.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

NZ: Rapist Taxi Driver Jailed for Nine Years

A HIV-positive taxi driver twice found guilty of raping a teenaged female passenger was jailed for nine years today.

Abdirazak Yussuf Mussa, 56, was originally found guilty in November 2007 of rape and abduction with intent to sexually violate and jailed for seven years.

The Court of Appeal last year quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial.

Last month he was again found guilty of raping the woman but not guilty of abduction.

Passing sentence in Wellington District Court today, Judge Bruce Davidson commented on the long-term effects of the rape, saying the victim still suffered depression, low self-esteem and was uncomfortable in the presence of men.

He said the breach of trust was significant, as people relied on taxis, especially when they had been drinking or otherwise vulnerable.

“Her guard was down, and undoubtedly she was under the influence of alcohol.”

In last month’s retrial, crown prosecutor Kristy McDonald QC said Mussa after picking up the 18-year-old woman, took her to his house and raped her twice.

Ms McDonald said Mussa restrained the woman with one hand while he removed both their clothes and put on condoms with the other.

Ms McDonald said the incident represented a huge breach of trust — many in the community relied on taxi drivers, especially women and people who have been drinking.

“There was premeditation in this case. The offender picked up the victim and took her to his house with this in mind,” she said, requesting Mussa be jailed for 12 years.

Mussa’s lawyer, Donald Stevens QC, asked for a starting point of eight years.

Disputing the Crown’s allegations of premeditation, he said the woman could have left the situation many times before the rape took place.

He said Mussa already had a shorter life-span than other people, so the jail sentence represented more of his life than those not infected.

Mussa did not know how he contracted the HIV virus, but suspected he picked it up from an infected needle while undergoing a medical procedure overseas, Dr Stevens said.

Throughout both trials, Mussa has denied the charges, saying the teenager willingly went to his house and the sex was consensual. He cried throughout the sentencing.

Since coming to New Zealand from Somalia, he had been hard-working, honest and had no previous convictions, Dr Stevens said.

As well as starting his own business, he contributed greatly to the Somali community, finding jobs for people, helping with shopping, bills, welfare, arranging prison visits, as well as looking after war-widows and their families who had come to New Zealand.

He also had a daughter with Down Syndrome, who was so close to her father “she was like his shadow”.

Judge Davidson set a sentencing starting point of 11 years but took off two years for mitigating circumstances.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Japan Launches New Bid to Tackle Pirates

Japan is hoping to get an anti-piracy bill passed into law to allow the country’s two destroyers off Somalia wider scope to use force.

Families wave goodbye to sailors aboard a Japanese destroyer bound for Somalia

The Japanese government last month joined the US, China and other countries in the maritime operation against pirates who have attacked ships in the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping route leading to the Suez Canal.

Because of limits on Japan’s military — imposed under the post-World War II pacifist constitution — the destroyers cannot use force, except in self-defence or to protect the country’s interests.

The new government-sponsored bill widens the destroyers’ rules of engagement to allow them to fire at the hulls of pirate vessels — but not at the pirates themselves — as a last resort after issuing repeated warnings.

If passed, the new bill will also allow the Maritime Self-Defence Force to protect any commercial ships, not just those under a Japanese flag or carrying Japanese nationals or cargo.

The opposition-controlled upper house may reject the bill after politicians voiced concern about expanding Japan’s military reach — but the lower house could then override the veto and turn the bill into law.

Conservative Prime Minister Taro Aso, who faces an election this year, is strongly in favour of the bill.

“Public safety and maintaining security and order are very important for Japan,” he told a parliamentary committee. “The world expects Japan to make a further contribution and we have a duty to respond.

“Japan is an island nation surrounded by sea, a resource-poor trading nation which relies on imports of resources from abroad. Consequently, security of marine transport is one of our high priorities,” he said.

Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said earlier the destroyers had on three occasions helped foreign ships by scaring off suspicious vessels with the use of loudspeakers and by deploying their helicopters.

He urged MPs to “pass the bill as soon as possible, because I think allowing the navy also to protect foreign vessels is desirable for continuing our mission in an appropriate manner.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Finnish Connection Found on Computer of Colombian Guerrillas

Colombian police say FARC recruiter visited Finland in 2001

A computer found in the jungle in Ecuador, which once belonged to the leader of Colombia’s leftist guerrillas has indicated that the FARC rebels have had a contact with Finland. According to the documents on the computer’s hard disc, a contact person in Finland has apparently offered a hiding place in Finland for FARC guerrillas who might need one.

A Finnish person is also believed to have taken part in a meeting in Panama in which monetary assistance for the guerrillas was discussed. FARC recruiter Ovidio Salinas Pérez is believed to have visited Finland in 2001. According to Colombian police, the visit suggests that Finland and the other Nordic countries were seen as an important area in FARC’s search for political and financial support.

The computer which revealed the Finnish connections, was found in a FARC jungle camp just over a year ago, in connection with a raid in which FARC leader Raul Reyes was killed. Colombian police are still going through tens of thousands of pages of documents and e-mails. Helsingin Sanomat has learned that the computer holds information about a person who lives, or has lived in Finland, who would have offered to arrange safe accommodation for guerrillas in flight, or their family members. One of the fighters referred to the person as “our friend in Finland” in an e-mail to Reyes, says a journalistic source familiar with the e-mail correspondence. It is unclear exactly when these messages were written, and if any of the plans were ever implemented.

Colombian police are not confirming or denying the information. “So far we have not confirmed the names of the people, or the offer of a hiding place”, says Colombia’s top police official, General Oscar Naranjo in an e-mail message to Helsingin Sanomat from the capital Bogota. Reyes was considered the ideological leader of FARC. His goal was to oersyade the international community to recognise the organisation as a “warring party” in the eyes of international law, which is in a legitimate state of war with Colombia. The United States and the European Union see FARC as a terrorist organisation. Reyes sought to establish an international support and lobbying network for FARC. His representatives in Europe and Latin America solicited support for “the struggle of the people of Colombia” by establishing relations with leftist parties, student organisations, and radical groups.

One person close to Reyes was Ovidio Salinas Pérez, alias Juan Antonio Rojas, who had visited Finland. This former labour union activist is known within the organisation as El Embajador, or “The Ambassador”. He sought funding from abroad, mapped out places of exile, and sought help in the establishment of pro-FARC websites abroad. The United States froze his assets in 2008 and considers him a drug trafficker and terrorist on the basis of the information gleaned from the computer. Naranjo says that soon after the death of Reyes, FARC was in a hurry to send its leaders abroad and to make use of its network of partners.

“A large number of social and human rights organisations operate in the northern part of Europe. With their clandestine political work they make it easier to get asylum for leaders of the terrorist organisation, appealing to the lack of security in Colombia”, he says. Certain European organisations with ties to FARC have said that they work on behalf of peace in Colombia, and against human rights abuses committed by the country’s right-wing government. The hard disc on Reyes’ computer also contained information on a Finnish NGO worker who is believed to have met Salinas-Pérez in Panama in 2004. Also taking part in the secret meeting were activists from Sweden, Denmark, and Italy. They say that they collected 500,000 US dollars for the guerrillas. Helsingin Sanomat has learned that at least two NGOs were involved, one of which also operates in Finland.

The meeting had been arranged by a Swedish woman. According to an article appearing in the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa in October last year, Salinas Péres said in a message to Reyes that the Swede had worked extensively to bring European groups together to support the goals of FARC.

Colombian police have given contradictory assessments of the event. Luis Gilberto Ramirez Calle, the head of intelligence at the police, confirmed to Helsingin Sanomat that Salinas Pérez had met with various organisations in Panama. Meanwhile, General Naranjo says that there were no indications on the hard disk of any meeting in Panama.

Neither the Finnish Security Police nor the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) have received requests from Colombia for investigative assistance, nor have they taken part in the investigations by Colombian officials.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Regift, Please!

WASHINGTON—Hugo Chavez’s gift to President Obama at the recent Summit of the Americas—a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America”—has many people wondering what the fuss is about.

A decade ago, I and the other two co-authors of the “Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot” devoted a chapter to refuting the historical and ideological fallacies contained in Galeano’s tract, which we called the “idiot’s bible.” Everything that has happened in the Western Hemisphere since the book appeared in 1971 has belied Galeano’s arguments and predictions. But I guess Chavez has given it the kiss of life and, since people are asking, here I go again.

The author claims that relations between Latin America and rich countries have been so pernicious that “everything … has always been transmuted into European—and later United States—capital.” Actually, for years that relationship has transmuted into the exact opposite: Latin American capital. In the last seven years alone, Latin America has benefited from $300 billion in net capital flows. In other words, a lot more capital came in than went out.

The book rails against the international division of labor, in which “some countries specialize in winning and others in losing.” That division of labor in the Western Hemisphere has not changed—Latin American countries still export commodities—and yet in the last six years, poverty in the region has been reduced to about one-third of the population, from just under half. This means that 40 million were lifted out of that hideous condition. Not to mention the 400 million pulled out of poverty in other “losing” nations worldwide in the last couple of decades.

The author pontificates that “raw materials and food are destined for rich countries that benefit more from consuming them more than Latin America does from producing them.” Sorry, amigo, but the story of this decade is that Latin America has made a killing sending exports abroad—the region has had a current account surplus for many years. Rich countries are so annoyed with all the things poor countries are exporting to them that they are asking their governments to “protect” them in the name of fair trade. The “buy American” clause in the fiscal stimulus package approved by Congress a few weeks ago is a case in point.. The U.S. had a trade deficit of more than $800 billion last year. The poor, if I may echo Galeano’s hemophilic language, are sucking the veins of the rich.

The book claims that for years “the endless chain of dependency has been endlessly extended.” The story now is that the rich depend on the poor. That is why the Chinese have $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds! The book’s jeremiad goes on to say that “the well-being of our dominant classes … is the curse of our multitudes condemned to exist as beasts of burden.” One of the few countries that exemplifies that curse is the author’s beloved Cuba, where a worker cannot be paid directly by a foreign company employing him or her; the money goes to the government, which in turn pays the worker one-tenth of the salary—in nonconvertible local currency.

Galeano’s mathematics are hugely entertaining. He states that the average income of U.S. citizens is “seven times that of a Latin American and grows 10 times faster.” The gap has actually shrank, dear comrade. Many “poor” countries in modern times have seen their income gap with the Unites States narrow dramatically. Thailand and Indonesia have seen theirs cut almost by half in three decades.

The book’s Malthusian predictions invite no less compassion than its economic forecasts. Overpopulation, Galeano maintains, will mean that “in the year 2000 there will be 650 million Latin Americans,” the implication being that the region will starve. In 2000, the region’s population was 30 percent smaller than the author predicted.

To top it all, Chavez’s literary muse states that “the more freedom is extended to business, the more prisons have to be built for those who suffer from business.” Actually, the greater (though still insufficient)

freedom given to business in the era of globalization has resulted in increasing prosperity in developing nations. This decade, the pace of economic growth per person has been four times higher in developing nations than in rich nations.

I would pay anything to be a fly on the wall when President Obama opens the first page of the idiot’s bible.

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


Finland: Young Afghan Asylum-Seekers Heading for Nordic Countries Through Paris

Afghan boys line up to get a roof over their heads for the night

Afghani teenager Asif, aged 15, intends to travel to Norway, Britain, or Finland. The plan is no adolescent’s daydreaming, as the boy has already made his way from Pakistan to Paris through Turkey, Greece, and Italy. A year on the road has not managed to snuff out his persistence. “In Afghanistan, our future means war. I would like to learn and work”, the boy says. Nazrullah, 26, next to him, intends to travel to Finland. “I have heard from my relatives that Finland is better than France. That once I am granted asylum, I can get my family there, too”, he says. In Afghanistan, Nazrullah supported his wife and three-and-a-half-year-old daughter by importing chocolate and biscuits, but he had to leave the country, as his support for the now-exiled Abdul Rahman, a converted Christian, made his life dangerous.

The war in Afghanistan has continued for seven yearsand more, continuously pushing refugees to neighbouring countries and even to Europe. In Paris, unaccompanied adolescent asylum-seekers gather in the parks and squares in the north of the city. People have began to call the district “Little Kabul”. According to the 2007 statistics, the 3.1 million Afghans are the largest refugee group in the world. Only a fraction of them are officially seeking asylum status. However, the fact that the worldwide number of Afghan asylum-seekers increased in 2008 by 85 % from the previous year — rising to 18,500 — tells its own tale. Pierre Henry, the director general of France Terre D’Asile, an organisation promoting asylum and migrants’ rights in France and Europe, says that Europeans have abandoned Afghans. “The war in Afghanistan and the European soldiers who have been sent there to fight have certain repercussions. They are bound to increase immigrants flowing in. Europe should acknowledge this fact”, Henry says.

Around 40 fellow Afghans are standing around Asif and Nazrulla on the banks of the Saint-Martin Canal. At sunset, buses pick up those who need accommodation for the night, taking them to dormitories. Blankets and sleeping bags given by aid organisations are carried along in worn-out plastic bags. 16-year-old Ali does not catch the bus tonight. The adolescent, who intends to end up in Norway, takes it coolly. “I will sleep in the park — again. It is not dangerous there — just cold”, he says.

The number of illegal asylum-seekers in Paris has increased, particularly after France closed down the Sangatte refugee camp in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of Northern France in 2002. Allegedly, the camp was used as a base for the flow of immigrants crossing the English Channel into the UK. The aid organisations in Paris have noticed that increasing numbers of unaccompanied minor boys are arriving from Afghanistan. At present the organisations are facing an overwhelming task. “The state does not assume any responsibility for the boys. According to French legislation, minors should be provided with education, food, and health care”, says Jean-Michel Centres, an active member of the neighbourhood organisation. “Offering them harsh conditions, the state wants to encourage the Afghans to leave France, to continue their journey”, Centres notes.

It is true that finding help for some Afghans is not easy, as they tend to avoid the authorities like the plague, hoping that they could continue their journey from Paris northwards. The most popular destination is Norway, and Finland comes second, when young Afghans wandering in Paris are asked about their plans. Only few of them speak good English, and most of them do not have any exact information about the immigration policy of European states — just rumours and hearsay. The Finnish journalist’s questions are soon replaced by the curiosity expressed by the interviewees. Are the circumstances in Finland good? Is it easier to find a job in Finland than in Sweden? Is an asylum-seeker allowed to bring his wife and children to Finland?

According to the Dublin Convention, the member-state through which an asylum-seeker first entered the EU is responsible for his or her application. Most of the Afghans have entered the EU through Greece, and for example the human rights organisation Amnesty International has reprimanded Greece for deficient procedures relating to refugee applications. According to Pierre Henry, the number of asylum applications approved in Greece is negligible. “In any case, the Dublin Convention is unreasonable, as it puts the burden of responsibility for refugees or asylum-seekers squarely on the member-state through which they first enter the EU”, Henry adds.

When it comes to Finland, many Afghans have heard that the country does not send minors back to Greece. The fact is confirmed by manager Juha Similä from the Finnish Immigration Service. According to Similä, the conditions for receiving underage asylum-seekers in Greece are inadequate. Nazrullah says that the Greek police are chasing illegal immigrants with truncheons. In Greece and Italy refugees have to stay overnight in the street. “In Finland we could sleep in a house, couldn’t we?” he asks. “I myself can manage in the street, but my wife and daughter cannot sleep there”, Nazrullah adds.

According to Finnish statistics, the number of asylum-seekers of Afghan origin increased sharply in 2008 and at the beginning of 2009. Last year, a total of 254 Afghans applied for asylum in Finland, while in the course of the first three months of the current year a total of 105 Afghan-born asylum-seekers filed their applications in the country. In 2006 and 2007, the number of asylum-seekers was just below 100 for the entire year. In 2008, the Afghans were the third-largest group of asylum-seekers in Finland, right after the Iraqis and Somalis. A total of 72 Afghans were granted asylum in 2008, while 19 applicants received a negative decision.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

France: 150 Migrants Stopped at Calais

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 21 — Around 150 illegal immigrants were stopped this morning in Calais, in northern France, during a police-led operation. The news comes from the local prefecture. The operation involved 300 police and military police officers and took place two days before the Immigration Minister Eric Besson’s visit to Calais, where for some years hundreds of illegal immigrants, mainly from the Middle East, have gathered to try and reach Great Britain. Besson previously visited Calais on January 27. On that occasion he committed himself to finding concrete solutions by May. On Thursday, the Immigration Minister will deliver his proposals. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France to Send Army in as Mayor of Calais Demands UK Open Its Doors to Migrants

The French government today vowed to clear Calais of the shanty town of illegal immigrants waiting to cross to the UK. Immigration minister Eric Besson told the town’s business leaders he would order the removal of a squatter camp which evolved after the closure of a French Red Cross reception centre at nearby Sangatte more than six years ago. And he challenged the UK authorities to share responsibility for solving the problem. Mr Besson urged the UK to sign up to an agreement making Calais a passport free zone — so they can get rid of thousands of illegal migrants.

It would mean that all could get straight across the Channel without official papers to the welfare benefits available in their British ‘Eldorado’.

Exasperated by the sight of the migrants sleeping rough as they try and board Dover-bound trains and lorries illegally, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchard outlined the scheme to Immigration Minister Eric Besson. ‘It’s necessary to speed up negotiations with the British because at the moment we’re ready to charter a boat to dump them over there,’ said Mrs Bouchard.

She said all that Britain had to do was sign up to the Schengen agreement, which allows anybody to travel between designated European Union states — including France — without passports or visas.

Mrs Bouchard also welcomed a scheme to bring in the Army to destroy a notorious shanty town next to Calais port called ‘The Jungle’ where a London journalism student was raped last year. Both politicians — who are tough talking members of the ruling UMP party — were taking part in a crunch meeting aimed at ‘cleaning up’ a problem firmly blamed on Britain’s benefits culture.

The French believe it encourages foreigners from all over the world to use their country as a base to get to the UK, where they will receive generous welfare payments as asylum seekers or else disappear into the black economy.

While Mr Besson favours the use of military force to tear down the squatter camps, he knows that removing passport controls from Calais would cause outrage on the other side of the Channel.

Instead he would prefer to see a series of ‘mini’ welcome centres set up along the French coast, offering food, showers, and information about how to claim asylum.

The Minister denies emphatically that they will be like the Red Cross Centre at Sangatte which acted as a magnet to thousands of migrants to the UK before being shut down as part of an Anglo-French agreement in 2002.

If the UK did sign up to Schengen, then all of the Calais migrants could flock to Dover unchallenged — meaning France’s problem would immediately become a British one.

Earlier this week Mrs Bouchard said: ‘Today, with some 800 migrants in the town, the situation is becoming unmanageable. Calais is hostage to Britain, which refuses to ratify Schengen.’

There are some 2000 migrants sleeping rough in the entire Pas de Calais area, with most playing a nightly game of cat and mouse with frontier police as they try to board lorries and trains to Britain.

Referring to ‘The Jungle’, Mrs Bouchart said: ‘It’s not a camp, it’s a village. The municipal workers cannot clean it up, they’re not up to it.

‘I’ve told the Prefect and I’ve asked him to look at a measure to wipe out this organised village. It needs an intervention by the Army.

‘There are more than 80 shelters, with a transport stop, a mosque, and a shop.

‘Migrants know exactly how to go about taking water, electricity, and stolen building material from local businesses.’ She said thousands of pounds worth of equipment had been stolen to build makeshift homes, with some of it recovered during a series of police raids on Tuesday.

Almost 200 men were arrested at the same time, in an attempt to break up people smuggling gangs who charge up to £1000-a-time for illegal passages to the south coast of England.

While almost all have since been released, Mr Besson said the operation was a success, and that his ‘target’ was the people smugglers.

On the new welcome centres Mr Besson insisted they will not become ‘a new, or a mini Sangatte.’

British Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: ‘The UK policy is to not sign up to the Schengen Agreement.

‘Free movement is only rightly available to legal entrants. Weakening our controls will only play into the hands of the traffickers who profit from human misery and suffering.’

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

France Gets Tough Over Calais Migrants

France’s Immigration Minister Eric Besson is being urged to remove passport controls at Calais and to bring in the Army to destroy shanty towns full of UK-bound migrants.

The radical measures will be put to him by the port’s mayor Natacha Bouchart at a crunch meeting aimed at “cleaning up” a problem she blames exclusively on Britain.

Both politicians are tough-talking members of the ruling UMP party who have pledged to make the Calais area ‘watertight’ to illegal migrants.

While Mr Besson favours the use of military force to tear down the squatter camps, he knows that making Calais a passport free zone would cause outrage on the other side of the Channel.

Instead he would prefer to see a series of ‘mini’ welcome centres set up along the French coast, offering food, showers, and information about how to claim asylum.

The Minister denies emphatically that they will be like the Red Cross Centre at Sangatte which acted as a magnet to thousands of migrants to the UK before being shut down as part of an Anglo-French agreement in 2002.

Unlike France, Britain has never signed up to the Schengen agreement, which allows anybody to travel between designated European Union states without papers.

If the UK did sign up, then all of the Calais migrants could flock to Dover unchallenged — meaning France’s problem would immediately become a British one.

“Today, with some 800 migrants in the town, the situation is becoming unmanageable. Calais is hostage to Britain, which refuses to ratify Schengen,” Mrs Bouchart said.

“On Thursday I will ask the Minister to restart negotiations with Great Britain over international agreements.”

Mrs Bouchart said that if Britain signed up to Schengen, then the migrants could make their way direct to the UK to claim asylum, rather than using France as a platform to get there illegally.

There are some 2000 migrants sleeping rough in the entire Pas de Calais area, with most playing a nightly game of cat and mouse with frontier police as they try to board lorries and trains to Britain.

Many have been staying in a notorious Calais squat called “The Jungle”, where a London journalism student was raped last summer.

“It’s not a camp, it’s a village. The municipal workers cannot clean it up, they’re not up to it,” Mrs Bouchart said.

“I’ve told the Prefect and I’ve asked him to look at a measure to wipe out this organised village. It needs an intervention by the army.

“There are more than 80 shelters, with a transport stop, a mosque, and a shop. Migrants know exactly how to go about taking water, electricity, and stolen building material from local businesses.”

Thousands of pounds worth of equipment had been stolen to build makeshift homes, with some of it recovered during a series of police raids on Tuesday, she said.

Almost 200 men were arrested at the same time, in an attempt to break up people smuggling gangs who charge up to £1000-a-time for illegal passages to the south coast of England.

While almost all have since been released, Mr Besson said the operation was a success, and that his “target” was the people smugglers.

“The migrants themselves will not be abandoned as humanitarian measures will be put in place,” Mr Besson explained.

Mr Besson will meet local charities to discuss the new welcome centres, insisting they will not become “a new, or a mini Sangatte”.

Responding to French calls to make Calais a passport free zone, British Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: “The UK policy is to not sign up to the Schengen Agreement.

“Free movement is only rightly available to legal entrants. Weakening our controls will only play into the hands of the traffickers who profit from human misery and suffering.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Greece: New Prevention Measures Decided

(ANSAmed) — ATHENS, APRIL 22 — “Illegal immigration is one of the major problems affecting Greece,” said Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis after a meeting held in the Foreign Ministry with Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Vice-Minister of the Interior for Public Safety, Christos Markoyannakis, and Healthcare Undersecretary, Marios Malmas, called in order to discuss the illegal immigration problem and its consequences in view of the upcoming summer season. “Basically,” added Bakoyannis, “the decisions that were made in today’s meeting call for a greater presence of Greece in the EU regarding the immigration problem, which will be discussed shortly by the ministers and EU member state leaders, to intensify Frontex activity.” The minister added that the repatriation of immigrants to their countries of origin was also discussed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Japan Pays Foreign Workers to Go Home

By HIROKO TABUCHI Published: April 22, 2009 HAMAMATSU, Japan — Rita Yamaoka, a mother of three who immigrated from Brazil, recently lost her factory job here. Now, Japan has made her an offer she might not be able to refuse.

The government will pay thousands of dollars to fly Mrs. Yamaoka; her husband, who is a Brazilian citizen of Japanese descent; and their family back to Brazil. But in exchange, Mrs. Yamaoka and her husband must agree never to seek to work in Japan again.

“I feel immense stress. I’ve been crying very often,” Mrs. Yamaoka, 38, said after a meeting where local officials detailed the offer in this industrial town in central Japan.

“I tell my husband that we should take the money and go back,” she said, her eyes teary. “We can’t afford to stay here much longer.”

Japan’s offer, extended to hundreds of thousands of blue-collar Latin American immigrants, is part of a new drive to encourage them to leave this recession-racked country. So far, at least 100 workers and their families have agreed to leave, Japanese officials said.

But critics denounce the program as shortsighted, inhumane and a threat to what little progress Japan has made in opening its economy to foreign workers.

“It’s a disgrace. It’s cold-hearted,” said Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, an independent research organization.

“And Japan is kicking itself in the foot,” he added. “We might be in a recession now, but it’s clear it doesn’t have a future without workers from overseas.”

The program is limited to the country’s Latin American guest workers, whose Japanese parents and grandparents emigrated to Brazil and neighboring countries a century ago to work on coffee plantations.

In 1990, Japan — facing a growing industrial labor shortage — started issuing thousands of special work visas to descendants of these emigrants. An estimated 366,000 Brazilians and Peruvians now live in Japan.

The guest workers quickly became the largest group of foreign blue-collar workers in an otherwise immigration-averse country, filling the so-called three-K jobs (kitsui, kitanai, kiken — hard, dirty and dangerous).

But the nation’s manufacturing sector has slumped as demand for Japanese goods evaporated, pushing unemployment to a three-year high of 4.4 percent. Japan’s exports plunged 45.6 percent in March from a year earlier, and industrial production is at its lowest level in 25 years.

New data from the Japanese trade ministry suggested manufacturing output could rise in March and April, as manufacturers start to ease production cuts. But the numbers could have more to do with inventories falling so low that they need to be replenished than with any increase in demand.

While Japan waits for that to happen, it has been keen to help foreign workers leave, which could ease pressure on domestic labor markets and the unemployment rolls.

“There won’t be good employment opportunities for a while, so that’s why we’re suggesting that the Nikkei Brazilians go home,” said Jiro Kawasaki, a former health minister and senior lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

“Nikkei” visas are special visas granted because of Japanese ancestry or association.

Mr. Kawasaki led the ruling party task force that devised the repatriation plan, part of a wider emergency strategy to combat rising unemployment.

Under the emergency program, introduced this month, the country’s Brazilian and other Latin American guest workers are offered $3,000 toward air fare, plus $2,000 for each dependent — attractive lump sums for many immigrants here. Workers who leave have been told they can pocket any amount left over.

But those who travel home on Japan’s dime will not be allowed to reapply for a work visa. Stripped of that status, most would find it all but impossible to return. They could come back on three-month tourist visas. Or, if they became doctors or bankers or held certain other positions, and had a company sponsor, they could apply for professional visas.

Spain, with a unemployment rate of 15.5 percent, has adopted a similar program, but immigrants are allowed to reclaim their residency and work visas after three years.

Japan is under pressure to allow returns. Officials have said they will consider such a modification, but have not committed to it.

“Naturally, we don’t want those same people back in Japan after a couple of months,” Mr. Kawasaki said. “Japanese taxpayers would ask, ‘What kind of ridiculous policy is this?’ “

The plan came as a shock to many, especially after the government introduced a number of measures in recent months to help jobless foreigners, including free Japanese-language courses, vocational training and job counseling. Guest workers are eligible for limited cash unemployment benefits, provided they have paid monthly premiums.

“It’s baffling,” said Angelo Ishi, an associate professor in sociology at Musashi University in Tokyo. “The Japanese government has previously made it clear that they welcome Japanese-Brazilians, but this is an insult to the community.”

It could also hurt Japan in the long run. The aging country faces an impending labor shortage. The population has been falling since 2005, and its working-age population could fall by a third by 2050. Though manufacturers have been laying off workers, sectors like farming and care for the elderly still face shortages.

But Mr. Kawasaki said the economic slump was a good opportunity to overhaul Japan’s immigration policy as a whole.

“We should stop letting unskilled laborers into Japan. We should make sure that even the three-K jobs are paid well, and that they are filled by Japanese,” he said. “I do not think that Japan should ever become a multiethnic society.”

He said the United States had been “a failure on the immigration front,” and cited extreme income inequalities between rich Americans and poor immigrants.

At the packed town hall meeting in Hamamatsu, immigrants voiced disbelief that they would be barred from returning. Angry members of the audience converged on officials. Others walked out of the meeting room.

“Are you saying even our children will not be able to come back?” one man shouted.

“That is correct, they will not be able to come back,” a local labor official, Masahiro Watai, answered calmly.

Claudio Nishimori, 30, said he was considering returning to Brazil because his shifts at a electronics parts factory were recently reduced. But he felt anxious about going back to a country he had left so long ago.

“I’ve lived in Japan for 13 years. I’m not sure what job I can find when I return to Brazil,” he said. But his wife has been unemployed since being laid off last year and he can no longer afford to support his family.

Mrs. Yamaoka and her husband, Sergio, who settled here three years ago at the height of the export boom, are undecided. But they have both lost jobs at auto factories. Others have made up their minds to leave. About 1,000 of Hamamatsu’s Brazilian inhabitants left the city before the aid was even announced. The city’s Brazilian elementary school closed last month.

“They put up with us as long as they needed the labor,” said Wellington Shibuya, who came six years ago and lost his job at a stove factory in October. “But now that the economy is bad, they throw us a bit of cash and say goodbye.”

He recently applied for the government repatriation aid and is set to leave in June.

“We worked hard; we tried to fit in. Yet they’re so quick to kick us out,” he said. “I’m happy to leave a country like this.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

NZ: Language a Massive Barrier for New NZ Immigrants: Report

Language difficulties have been identified as one of the main issues preventing non-Western families adjusting to culture and getting ahead in New Zealand.

Research released today by the Families Commission, in collaboration with the NZ Federation of Ethnic Councils , found many conflicts identified among the 39 immigrant parents and children interviewed were about trust and differing opinions.

Findings suggested inter-generational conflicts which occurred when young people reached adolescence could be worsened by the process of cultural transition.

However, outside the family it was found that personal wellbeing in New Zealand was improved and the increased opportunities were noted.

On the negative side, language barriers were found to be a one of the biggest challenges, and some talked about cultural discrimination and a lack of work opportunities.

Many said they were struggling to find work, despite qualifications, and that the situation led to income issues and distress.

“I came here thinking that my life would change for the better, I will get a job, but this hasn’t happened,” an African father said.

An African mother said she found it difficult having to do shift work to pay the bills, and at the same time the situation was keeping her separated from her son.

A young Muslim woman said she felt alienated because people couldn’t get used to her veil, while a young man talked about his family being treated like “terrorists” in their neighbourhood.

“We have not been accepted by the people here, so I have nothing else but to stay the same … if the way they talk and treat us is the New Zealand way then I don’t want to be part of it”.

Despite the comments, the report said most participants didn’t discuss discrimination and ignorance, but a lack of acceptance was seen as barrier for integration into New Zealand society.

While many participants saw themselves as actively trying to fit in to New Zealand society, maintaining ethnic traditions was also important.

The report said despite some difficulties, relationships between parents and children were generally healthy, and members felt well adjusted and supported.

Families coming to New Zealand generally had a grounding foundation for their home culture’s beliefs, values and language, and that needed to be maintained.

The report said policy should be directed towards supporting pre-existing strengths of immigrant families, while seeking to address problems in acculturation.

Findings suggested there was possibility for a greater role for local government to facilitate the enhancement of the strengths in migrant families.

That included providing information in migrant communities for social services, groups and organisations.

“Strengths-based family training programmes as well as interventions would be well placed at this level,” it said.

Encouragement for participation in the wider society also needed to be facilitated.

Policy changes permitting the entry of overseas family members to New Zealand with temporary or long-term visas would also be welcomed by families here, the report said.

It said a more comprehensive survey was needed to identify how families could be further assisted once here.

The research involved families from African, Middle Eastern and Asian backgrounds.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Pinar: Italian Dossier in Brussels

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — More funds to monitor foreign borders outside the EU, greater support from all European partners and the definition, on an EU level too, of responsibility for search and rescue missions in international waters. As understood in Brussels, these are three requests put forward by Italy in the Pinar dossier regarding the cargo ship that rescued a boat of African migrants off the south coast of Sicily, and delivered today to European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Jacques Barrot. The dossier states that Italy cannot be left alone to face the influx of illegal immigration from the African coasts and sailing towards Sicily in search of a foothold in Europe. According to the document, the EU cannot put all the weight of managing the phenomenon on the bordering countries. A circumstance that in the case of Sicily translates into a burden taken on almost entirely by Italy. The dossier also makes reference to rescue activities undertaken by Italy in international waters under Malta’s responsibility. In two years there have been 670 operations. The document states that the Pinar, when it gave the first alarm was in Maltese search and rescue waters, which is why Italy invited authorities in Valletta to intervene after giving the first assistance for humanitarian reasons. Malta rejects the arguments in the Italian dossier and maintains that it coordinated the rescue and directed the Pinar where it had been directed initially, Lampedusa, being “the nearest safe port”. An attempt to mediate the dispute between Italy and Malta will take place on Thursday in Brussels when a meeting is scheduled between Barrot and the Italian and Maltese Foreign Ministers, Roberto Maroni, and Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sicily Region, Pinar Immigrants Not Assisted

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, APRIL 20 — “I want to ask that the unfortunate people who have reached the coast of Sicily be guaranteed treatment which respects the basic parameters of humanity and civilisation.” The governor of the Sicily Region, Raffaele Lombardo, made his plea upon learning of “the 84 immigrants who were moved from the vessel, Pinamar, and taken to Porto Empedocle by the Italian naval ship, Danaide, had not stopped in tent set up in the port area by the regional Civil Defence department where immigrants receive initial assistance”. A statement from the Region’s presidency specified that “when the Danaide arrived, for some inexplicable reason, the State Police authorities, despite the availability of men and equipment from the Region, decided to send the immigrants directly to the reception centres set up by the Ministry of the Interior”. The first group of 20 immigrants, who arrived during the morning in a Financial Police patrol boat, had stopped at the tent. “There, thanks to Civil Defence operators and volunteers,” the statement continued, “it was possible to give the immigrants food and drink, allow them to put on clean clothes, to use the bathroom and to wash, after their terrible experience along the Maltese coast. It was only after they had been seen by doctors and the police had made their first investigations that the immigrants were taken to the centre set up by the Ministry of the Interior”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tunisia: 159 Illegal Migrants Apprehended

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, APRIL 21 — One hundred and fifty-nine Tunisian youths have been halted by police in their attempt to illegally cross the border with Libya to head to Italy by boat. The would-be immigrants, who are mostly from Tunis, were apprehended in several dwellings around Medenine (southern Tunisia), where they were staying before heading to the Libyan coast to catch a boat. (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Gene Technology Threatens New Racism: Vatican

GENEVA (Reuters) — Technology allowing parents to choose the genetic characteristics of their babies threatens to breed new forms of racism, the Vatican told a United Nations race conference on Wednesday.

Pope Benedict earlier this week said the heated U.N. forum, which several Western powers are boycotting to avoid giving legitimacy to criticism of Israel, was an important initiative to confront all forms of modern discrimination.

“The Holy See is also alarmed by the still latent temptation of eugenics that can be fueled by techniques of artificial procreation and the use of ‘superfluous embryos’,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican observer to the U.N. in Geneva said.

“The possibility of choosing the color of the eyes or other physical characteristic of a child could lead to the creation of a ‘subcategory of human beings’ or the elimination of human beings that do not fulfill the characteristics predetermined by a given society.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has cast a long shadow over the Geneva meeting that formally wraps up on Friday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made international headlines on its opening day on Monday when he denounced Israel as a racist state, prompting dozens of delegates to stream out.

Pro-Israeli and Jewish groups had urged the Vatican to boycott the meeting alongside Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Canada, and Israel.

But Tomasi said it was important for religious voices to be heard at such forums.

“In the fight against racism, faith communities play a major part,” he said.

He also cited concerns that “an increased fragmentation of social relations in our multicultural societies” and the world’s economic crisis has made vulnerable people even more so.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Durban II: The Outrage Continues

By Anne Bayefsky

The UN’s racist anti-racism conference “Durban II” rammed through a final declaration three days before its scheduled conclusion. On Monday Iranian President Ahamadinejad had opened the substantive program by denying the Holocaust and spewing antisemitism. A day later UN members rewarded Iran by electing it one of three Vice-Chairs of the committee which adopted the final declaration.

The committee meeting was chaired by Libya and lasted fifteen minutes. No discussion of the merits of the Durban II declaration was tolerated.

The document reaffirms the 2001 Durban Declaration which alleges Palestinians are victims of Israeli racism and mentions only Israel among all 192 UN member states. It also multiplies the anti-Israel provisions, using the usual UN code, by adding yet another rant about racist foreign occupation.

Not surprisingly, such a manifesto encouraged the racists and antisemites which had pressed for its adoption. Speaking on Tuesday the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Faysal Mekdad, alleged “the right of return” of Jews to Israel — Jewish self-determination — was “a form of racial discrimination”. He also objected to the “Judaization of Israel” and to the “ethnic cleansing…of 1948.”

Palestinian Riyad Al-Maliki claimed that “for over 60 years the Palestinian people has been suffering under…the ugliest face of racism and racial discrimination…” and said an Israeli government “declaration…regarding the Jewish nature of the state is a form of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Al-Maliki was delighted with the result of the conference and gloated by reading excerpts from the 2001 Durban Declaration that he was pleased to see had been reaffirmed.

The remnants of the European Union which remained inside the conference — in particular France and the United Kingdom — entirely ignored their many promises not to accept anything which singled out the Jewish state. Though these Europeans undoubtedly enabled the hatemongering, their excuses in the coming days are predictable.

The rest of the week has been set aside for speechifying. Europeans can be expected to point to the miniscule mentions of antisemitism and the Holocaust and pretend antisemitism is unrelated to the demonization of Israel in the very same text.

Their behavior is as chilling as the behavior of the UN itself.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Row Over Anti-Racism Observer

THE Australian Human Rights Commission has defended its decision to send the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, to take part in a Geneva conference where delegates walked out after the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attacked Israel as a racist regime.

Mr Calma had attended the Durban Review Conference as observer even though the Rudd Government had boycotted the conference, fearing it would become an anti-Israel talkfest.

Australian Jewish leaders were reportedly critical of Mr Calma’s decision to go to Geneva to attend the United Nations conference which was reviewing a world code for what constitutes racism.

But the commission issued a statement reiterating it was an independent body with a legislative mandate, under the Racial Discrimination Act, to combat racial discrimination and prejudices that lead to racial discrimination.

“The decision of the commission for the Race Discrimination Commissioner to attend the Durban Review Conference 2009 in Geneva was taken in consideration of the commission’s functions under the Racial Discrimination Act,” the statement said.

“The commission was satisfied that the conference would provide a valuable opportunity for common experiences of racism to be shared.”

The Rudd Government boycotted the conference after it, the US, Israel and other nations were unsuccessful in having the words changed of a draft document upholding anti-Semitic remarks in the 2001 Durban Declaration. The conference ends today.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UN Kicks Jews, Iranians Out of Racism Meeting

GENEVA — The United Nations expelled three groups from its conference on global racism Thursday for unacceptable behavior related to the opening speech that Iran’s president gave denouncing Israel.

The disciplinary action was the latest sign of the rancor at the weeklong conference caused by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad’s claim that the West used the Holocaust as a “pretext” to harm the Palestinians. But it did not prevent officials from around the world from achieving their main goal on Tuesday: a consensus document calling for action against racism and xenophobia.

The groups whose passes were withdrawn are the French Union of Jewish Students; Coexist, a related French-based organization that fights racism and anti-Semitism; and the Tehran-based Neda Institute for Political and Scientific Research, said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He told reporters that members of the first group had been involved Monday in disrupting Ahmadinejad’s speech.

He did not elaborate, but a pair of rainbow-wigged protesters threw clown noses at Ahmadinajad, while others shouted, “You are a racist!” and “Shame! shame!” from the gallery. Iranian spectators also cheered loudly. Later about 100 members of pro-Israel and Jewish groups tried to block Ahmadinejad’s entrance to a news conference.

The Neda Institute from Iran distributed inflammatory material to meeting participants, Colville said.

Altogether, 64 badges of representatives of the three non-governmental organizations were revoked, he said.

On Tuesday, U.N. officials announced that the badges of some members of these groups were withdrawn. But “After examining the types of conduct, and patterns of conduct, as well as the risk of possible disruptive behavior during the remainder of the conference, the High Commissioner has issued an instruction that the badges of all the participants of three NGOs be removed,” Colville said. That ends the groups participation in the conference.

Meanwhile, the controversy of the opening speech, which caused many European officials to walk out of the conference room, continued.

On Wednesday, Iran sent a letter of protest to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for criticizing Ahmadinejad’s speech. The Iranian president “was subjected to unfair and unwarranted harsh criticism,” Iran’s ambassador to the U.N. in New York, Mohammad Khazaee, said in the letter.

The U.N. Office in Geneva was unable to comment on the letter early Thursday because it had not received it.

Ban said Monday he deplored “the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve.”

“It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian president,” Ban said in a statement, adding that he met with Ahmadinejad before the U.N. conference stressing the importance of uniting in the fight against racism.

Ban’s comment was a response to Ahmadinejad’s denunciation of Israel on the first day of the conference in Geneva, calling it the most “cruel, and repressive, racist regime.” That sparked and strong condemnations from the U.N.; the U.S., which had boycotted the conference; and several other Western countries.

Iran’s ambassador noted that tolerance and freedom of expression were among the basic principles of the world racism conference..

“It is unacceptable, and indeed regrettable, that these very principles were utterly disregarded in the same conference where we witnessed a manifestation of intolerance by some,” he said.

Khazaee said the U.N. secretary general should be impartial and fair, adding that the majority of U.N. member states were concerned about the plight of the Palestinians caused by Israel’s policies and practices.

Some campaigners say the conference’s focus on the Middle East occurred at the expense of other urgent cases of racism, such as plight of “untouchables,” the social outcasts at the bottom of India’s complex caste system.

“Caste discrimination is one of the most important issues being left out of this conference and because of the predominant attention to one specific issue, all other concerns within the field of racism, discrimination, xenophobia and racial intolerance, are being excluded,” said Peter Prove of the Lutheran World Federation.

The International Dalit Solidarity Network, which campaigns on behalf of untouchables in India and elsewhere, says some 260 million people in Asia and Africa suffer discrimination because they are deemed to belong to inferior castes.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]