Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/3/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 5/3/2009Did King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres last fall in New York?

The allegation by US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns has caused controversy and provoked an angry denial from Saudi Arabia.

In other news, two women were found dead in a hotel in the UK in what is termed a “chemical incident”.

Thanks to Archonix, Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CB, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, PatriotUSA, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Asia Establishes $120bn Crisis Fund
Milk: Spain, Producers Demonstrate Against Sector’s Crisis
Spain: One in Three Unemployed in Eurozone is Spanish
FBI’s Muslim Outreach Turns Into Spying
Europe and the EU
Austria: Suspect Arrested in Poisoning of 5 People
Environment: Wind Turbines Parisian Rooftops
Swine Flu: Paris Baggage Handlers Refuse to Unload Planes From Mexico
Tourism: Sicily; 180,000 Beds for Tourists Are Often Empty
UK: Back Gordon Brown or Boost BNP, Neil Kinnock Warns MPs
UK: It’s Boom Time for Rats: Fears of Population Explosion as the Rodents Become Resistant to Poisons
UK: Labour Peer ‘Claims £100,000 on Vacant Flat She Said Was Her Home’
UK: New Blow for Prime Minister as Clarke and Blunkett Blast His Leadership
UK: Racism Row as BNP Deputy Calls Archbishop of York an ‘Ambitious African’
UK: Riot Officers Called as 200 Pupils Brawl Outside School
UK: Two Dead in ‘Chemical Incident’
UK: The Many-Headed Serpent That Threatens Freedom of the Press
UK: Tax Google to Help the BBC, Say Ministers
Kosovo: Mitrovica; New Serb Protest, Eulex Intervention
Kosovo: School Renovated Through Italian Cooperation
Mediterranean Union
Egypt-Italy: All Set for an Italian University in Cairo
North Africa
Clashes Erupt Over Egypt Pig Cull
Italy: Muslim Women Allowed to Swim in Private
Women Remove Veils Following Govt Pressure
Israel and the Palestinians
UN Tracks Rising Violence Against Women in Gaza
Middle East
Burns: King Abdullah Met With Israeli President
Delara Derabi an Innocent Girl Hanged in Iran
Here Comes Hillary; There Goes Lebanon
Iraq: First Shia Al-Qaeda Cell ‘Uncovered’
Islamic Games Suspended Over Gulf Row
Nineveh Plain: A Ghetto for Iraqi Christians is an Illusion
Saudi Slams US Claim of King Talks With Peres
Turkey: EP; Appeal by 13 Deputies, Save Kurdish Roj TV Channel
Turkey’s New Foreign Minister and Its Foreign Policy Strategy
Why Jane Fonda is Banned in Beirut
Racism, a Growing Problem in Russian Society
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely: Azerbaijan Lifts Term Limits
South Asia
Boy Wounded in Taliban Attack Near Karachi Dies
India: Bishop Dabre: Defending “The Sacrosanct Principle of Secularism” in Order to Save the Country
India: Farmer Cuts Off 13-Year-Old Niece’s Head to Help Harvest
Indonesia: Protestant Clergyman and Wife Killed With Machetes
Pakistan Nuclear Projects Raise US Fears
Sub-Saharan Africa
France Captures 11 Suspected Somali Pirates
Tamil Asylum Seekers Allowed to Stay in Britain After Threatening to Commit Suicide if Deported
Gold May be ‘Off to the Races’ Above $950: Technical Analysis

Financial Crisis

Asia Establishes $120bn Crisis Fund

Thirteen Asian countries have agreed to set up a $120bn (£80.5bn) crisis fund to boost liquidity and overcome the economic crisis.

Finance ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), alongside China, Japan and South Korea, unveiled the deal in Indonesia, where they were attending the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The scheme is known as the Chiang Mai Initiative, or CMIM.

“We are pleased to announce that we have reached agreement on all the main components of the CMIM and decided to implement the scheme before the end of the year,” the ministers said in a joint statement.

The two largest donors will be Japan and China, with a $38.4bn contribution. Hong Kong will give $4.2bn as part of China’s share. The next largest contributor is South Korea, at $19.2bn.

Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand will each provide $4.77bn.

The ministers tried to deflect speculation that the fund’s aim was to circumvent the International Monetary Fund (IMF) so countries would not be forced to make unpopular economic reforms, as happened in the late 1990s. Rajat Nag, managing director general of the ADB, denied this was “a substitute for the IMF”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Milk: Spain, Producers Demonstrate Against Sector’s Crisis

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 16 — Thousands of producers coming from numerous regions in Spain demonstrated today in Madrid to ask the government for “extraordinary measures” for the crisis running through the dairy sector. At the protest in front of the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, called for by the agricultural organisations ASAJA, COAG and UPA, about 15,000 producers took part. The labour unions denounce dumping practices and unfair competition from foreign producers, as well as the crisis provoked by falling prices and the effects of lack in demand from businesses, together with “trade biases in large distribution networks”. The current cost of milk production in Spain, according to the labour organisations, is between 20 and 30 cents per litre, but in Galicia alone 150,000 litres of milk per day are barred from the market; while in Castilla y Leon businesses like Forlactera have cut off their request for the supply of 50,000 litres of milk per day. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: One in Three Unemployed in Eurozone is Spanish

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, APRIL 30 — Spain’s unemployment has reached 17.4% and is now double that of the EU average (8.3%) and the Eurozone average (8.9%), meaning that one in three of those without work in the Eurozone is Spanish, statistics published by the EFE agency show. More than half of the 2.8 million European people recently out of work come from Spain — a staggering 1.8 million people. Last year unemployment in Spain moved from 9.5% to 17.4% — the largest in the EU apart from Latvia and Lithuania, which both saw 10% jumps in employment. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


FBI’s Muslim Outreach Turns Into Spying

When a cordial exchange of emails with an FBI agent turned into a request to inform on other Muslims on campus, a Michigan college student was shocked.

“When I got the email, I was angry; I was upset … and I never got back to

him,” the student told AFP, requesting anonymity because of her pending immigration status.

“We were initially contacted on the basis of building bridges. No wonder the Muslim community doesn’t trust the FBI.”

In one email, a copy of which was seen by AFP, the FBI agent told the student he had contacted her because “we want to have the ability to reach out to people like you should the need arise in the future.”

The experience of the student, who has lived in the United States since the age of four, is not an isolated one.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks the Federal Bureau of Investigation reached out to Muslim leaders and institutions, promising to investigate a spate of hate crimes directed at Muslims, while community leaders vowed to warn of any suspicious activity.

Infiltrating Muslim communities

At issue are allegations that the FBI infiltrated and put several popular mosques and prominent Muslims under surveillance, and used egregious tactics to investigate possible militant activities.

Michigan immigration and civil rights lawyer Nabih Ayad said the FBI has deliberately targeted Muslim immigrants. Roughly two-thirds of Muslims, who now account for about 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, are immigrants, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“Immigrants are always an easy target for the FBI, because they know they may need them in the future. The quid pro quo, the something for something, is that they help them out and in return, they either lessen their sentence or they keep them from being deported,” he said.

The incidents have not been restricted to immigrants alone.

Zakariya Reed, a U.S. citizen who converted to Islam about 10 years ago, said when he turned to the FBI for help over trouble he was experiencing at border crossings each time he returned from visiting relatives in Canada, agents instead asked him to spy on the Muslim community.

“It was a fishing expedition on their part,” said Reed, a firefighter and first Gulf War veteran with the Ohio Air National Guard.

“This is insane, this is absolutely insane. We have nothing to tell you,” he recalled telling the agents.

FBI community outreach unit chief Brett Hovington acknowledged the approach of some agents on the ground “is causing problems, both internally and it’s resonating in the community.”

But the FBI, he said, was working on issuing guidelines to distinguish between the operational and community engagement aspects of the agency’s work.

The often intimidating tactics used by agents have fanned long-held fears by Muslims that they are being singled out because of their religion. That, community leaders warned, is also bad news for the FBI.

“When people feel alienated, when they feel under siege, when they feel anything they say will be used against them, they may be more reluctant to come forward,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the country’s biggest Muslim civil rights groups.

Last year, the FBI cut ties with CAIR over concerns it had helped provide funds to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas through a Texas-based charity.

Muslim leaders were also angered by revelations that the FBI had sent an informant to a mosque in California to obtain evidence on alleged terrorist rhetoric and acts by a man who prayed there.

“What happened in southern California was the last straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Agha Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections.

“It’s thoroughly disrespectful. It’s also a violation of human rights … Not only are we being targeted but targeting has increased.”

Hovington insisted the agency “does not have a campaign to infiltrate mosques.”

“But it’s just like any place else, if there is a reason for us to be there, which comes down to the protection of the country, we will be there,” he added.

And he noted: “Our informants and sources are not always the most outstanding members of society. That’s the nature of the beast.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Austria: Suspect Arrested in Poisoning of 5 People

VIENNA (AP) — Police in Vienna arrested a man suspected of slipping drugs into drinks at a crowded bar Sunday, causing five people to collapse. Authorities said all five victims were hospitalized in life-threatening condition.

Investigators said they were still trying to determine a motive for the attack, which happened on a sunny afternoon at a small bar packed with up to 50 people enjoying an “after hours” party.

Authorities were called to the scene when customers at a sidewalk ice cream salon across the street from the bar saw the five victims fall to the ground.

“We got an emergency call at 5 p.m.,” or 1500 GMT, said police spokeswoman Iris Seper.

She said officers later took the unidentified suspect into custody after witnesses said they had seen a man offering the victims drinks.

Investigators said it was unclear exactly what substance had been added to the drinks, but that it appeared to be some kind of narcotic. Seper said the victims drank freely, apparently unaware that anything was amiss.

The five — three men and two women, all in their 20s — were taken to several hospitals around Vienna, Seper said.

Police would not say whether the suspect was employed at the bar in Vienna’s central Alsergrund district or had any other connection to the establishment.

It also was unclear whether the five victims knew each other and whether their attacker had singled them out or targeted them.

The bar where Sunday’s attack took place is one of dozens of cafes, taverns and restaurants nestled in the Stadtbahnboegen — arched spaces beneath elevated tramway trestles.

The neighborhood is situated on the Guertel, a main thoroughfare ringing the Austrian capital.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Environment: Wind Turbines Parisian Rooftops

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, APRIL 23 — Wind turbines hanging from the bridges of the Seine and sprouting on the Parisian roofline: that is the start of the wind energy revolution in the French capital. After London also la Ville Lumiere — France has the biggest potential for wind energy after the UK — will have installations for the production of wind energy. A survey carried out by the regional energy and environment agency has indicated four locations in the city with strong winds: Montmartre, le Buttes-Chaumont and Belleville in the north and Avenue de France in the XIII arrondissement in the south. Besides wind energy also the water of the Seine will be used to produce energy using . The first tests will start in 2011 or 2012. We must be open for new ideas” said Denis Baupin, sustainable development councillor of the Municipality of Paris, “we will build wind farms to make use of these winds. The turbines will not be as big as the ones in the countryside: this is still Paris and we can’t create blots in the landscape. There are smaller rotors which can be mounted on flat roofs. This type of turbines will be integrated in the local urban plan we are changing at the moment”. The energy produced by the wind turbines will be sold to EDF, France’s main electricity utility, or it will be used in the buildings on which the rotors are installed. Paris is also being equipped with solar panels: 200,000 square metres will be installed by 2014. Besides that, the city will produce energy from a well of 57 degrees found at a depth of 1,850 metres in the north-east of Paris. The warm water will be used to heat 12,000 houses in the area.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Swine Flu: Paris Baggage Handlers Refuse to Unload Planes From Mexico

Baggage handlers in Paris refused to unload planes arriving from Mexico and Spain over swine flu fears, causing delays for hundreds of passengers.

Some 1,000 travellers were caught up in the protest on Saturday at Paris’s second international airport, Orly, staged by an unspecified number of workers at a private airport contractor, Alyzia.

The protest action targeted a flight from the Mexican resort of Cancun, and around a dozen subsequent services arriving from Spain. The handlers returned to work at around midnight.

Under French law employees may refuse to stay on their job if they have “a reasonable motive” to believe that their health or life is at risk.

“They exercised their right to stay off the job, because of fears of swine flu,” an airport official said.

An Air France crew and several individual flight attendants have refused to board flights to Mexico since the outbreak of the swine flu crisis.

French health authorities on Saturday announced they would supply face masks to all border police, customs and airport workers whose job brings them into direct contact with passengers from Mexico.

France has confirmed two cases of swine flu, which the World Health Organisation is now calling A(H1N1) influenza virus.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Tourism: Sicily; 180,000 Beds for Tourists Are Often Empty

(ANSAmed) — PALERMO, APRIL 22 — With 1171 hotels and 2532 other types of tourist accommodation (B&B, vacation homes), Sicily is ranked second among European islands for its number of hotel facilities. However, 78% are so-called “cold beds”, meaning that they are not occupied by tourists for most of the year. Number one in the rankings is Malta (79%), followed by Spain (78%), and Portugal (64%), according to data provided today during the Primo Focus presentation on tourism in the Mediterranean islands, by the Observatory of European Island Tourism (OTIE). According to the observatory, in 2007, Sicily reported 180,159 beds. Of these, 113,749 belonged to the hotel sector and 66,410 belonged to other types of tourist accommodation. The study examined data regarding 24 European islands provided by Chambers of Commerce, ministries, tourism offices, and statistical research centres. “Today the island,” said OTIE President Giovanni Ruggeri,” has certainly recovered its structural gap, thanks to the use of European funds, but must now ask itself how it will fill these beds, looking to the example provided by the Balearic Islands, which is the most efficient model in Europe”. “In 2007,” added Ruggieri,” Sicily attracted 4.6 million tourists, ranking third behind the Balearic Islands with 13 million and the Canaries with over 6 million. This data demonstrates the distance between Sicily and other tourist destinations. A paradox, since an island rich like no other in Europe in art and nature, has not been able to hold visitors for over three days”. “In planning Spanish tourism,” continued Francisco Calderon of the University of Malaga,” begun in the 50s, Spain aimed at diversifying its tourism offer, promoting nature oriented tourism as well as beach tourism in the islands. This allows them to occupy their tourism structures all year long.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK: Back Gordon Brown or Boost BNP, Neil Kinnock Warns MPs

The former leader of the Labour party Neil Kinnock has warned Labour MPs that further undermining of Gordon Brown’s leadership would boost the British National party (BNP) in the European elections.

After a weekend in which senior Labour figures struggled to end speculation about whether Brown should continue to lead the party, Kinnock called on MPs to “get behind Gordon” and denounced talk of a leadership challenge as “ludicrous and damaging”. He said tearoom plotting would “hand victories” to the BNP in the elections on 4 June. Under proportional representation, the BNP needs 9%-12% of the vote to gain seats.

Labour MPs are restless after the government failed to realise the extent of unhappiness over a decision to limit settlement rights for Gurkhas and avert Brown’s first Common’s defeat as prime minister. Senior Labour figures were also dismayed at the government performing a second climbdown over MPs’ expenses.

The secretary of state for communities, Hazel Blears, was forced to clarify an article written for the Observer in which she questioned the PM’s decision to use YouTube to announce policy on MPs’ expenses. She said the government had to be more “human” and produce fewer “documents and big speeches”.

Blears said her description of a “lamentable” failure by the government to get its message across had been an attack on all of her colleagues, not just Brown. The prime minister, she said, had her “100% support”. Backbenchers interpreted the piece as a declaration of interest in the position of Labour leader.

The health secretary, Alan Johnson, surprised colleagues by deviating from his usual categorical denial of interest and suitability for the top job, saying in an interview on BBC1’s the Andrew Marr Show: “I am not saying there’s no circumstances.” However, the thrust of his interview was supportive: “I have no aspiration for the leadership, my aspiration was for the deputy leadership and I couldn’t even get that. I am not driven by this ambition. I want to be part of a good government and I want it to be led by Gordon Brown. I actually admire Gordon Brown tremendously.”

Former education secretary Ruth Kelly also demanded greater focus on domestic reform, saying the party’s “strong message” had “got lost in the fog”.

But in an interview with the Guardian, Kinnock called for an end to such interventions. “In order to maintain Labour advances like Surestart and investment in health and education we have all got to get behind Gordon,” he said. “We need to present a united front and not keep in-fighting which will hand victories to the BNP. Discussions of leadership challenges are ludicrous and damaging.”

Kinnock’s call for discipline is in part a ticking off of Charles Clarke, who was his chief of staff in the early 90s. In the last week, Clarke has repeatedly attacked Brown’s leadership, criticising his handling of the expenses issue, and saying he felt “ashamed” to be a Labour MP. In the Mail on Sunday, Clarke called for all those close to the former spin doctor Damian McBride to be sacked.

One Labour MP often to be found voting against the government warned against dismissing the move against Brown. The MP said: “Last summer there was a 5% chance of moving Brown, now I’d say this is actually slightly higher. You have a coalition of people opposed to Brown that you didn’t have back then — people who could crudely be described as ex-Blairite ministers mixed with normally loyal Labour MPs sitting on seats of 6-7,000 majority who had expected to be safe even if Labour lost the general election, who thought this was their last job before retiring, who now think it might be worth a roll of the dice.”

Barry Gardiner, who was sacked as government forestry envoy for calling on Brown to go, said: “People are a lot more angry this time around and have come up to me saying ‘what a pity we didn’t do it last year’. But they had their chance. The party now has to unite.”

There is fear that Labour’s performance in the coming local elections will be worse than last year, when they only received 24% share of the national vote and lost 300 seats with the Tories 20 points ahead.

Brown’s attempt to bring in the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail in June might become a flashpoint. More than 120 Labour MPs have signed an early day motion for the plans to be dropped.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: It’s Boom Time for Rats: Fears of Population Explosion as the Rodents Become Resistant to Poisons

Britain is heading for a ‘rat explosion’ because the rodents are growing resistant to poisons, pest controllers say.

In parts of the UK the vermin have become almost immune to conventional pesticides.

The warning follows fears that the warming climate and fortnightly rubbish collections — which can mean bins overflowing with rotting food — are fuelling a boom in the rat population.

‘Rat explosion’: The rodents have become almost completely immune to conventional pesticides in some parts of the UK

The fashion for compost heaps and failures by water companies to routinely bait sewers are also contributing to the problem.

In the past year, local councils were called out to deal with 700,000 infestations, compared with 650,000 in the previous 12 months, according to the National Pest Technicians Association.

Some estimate that the UK rat population has risen 13 per cent in that time, with numbers now as high as 50million.

The British Pest Control Association said that in two towns in Berkshire, most rats have become resistant to the most widely used poisons.

The association is due to meet with Department of Health experts this week to call for changes to the law on pesticides.

Richard Moseley, of the BPCA, said: ‘In certain areas we believe there is resistance to rodenticides that we have been using.

‘Just as rats built up resistance to the first generation of poisons, such as warfarin, they are now developing resistance to the current generation.’

The BPCA wants powerful poisons that are currently banned outdoors to be used in gardens and public spaces.

It says fears that brodifacoum and flocoumafen are a threat to pets, birds and wild animals are unfounded, and that animals are more at risk from the increasingly larges doses of existing poisons needed to kill rates.

The chemicals are allowed to be used outside in parts of Europe. Although they are more toxic than existing poisons, they would be used in much smaller doses.

Parts of the UK have recorded alarming rises in rat infestations in the past year, with Exeter reporting a 66 per cent increase.

In York the number of call-outs doubled, while Salford reported a 40 per cent rise.

Earlier this year the East Yorkshire coastal village of Flamborough was nicknamed ‘Ratville’ after an infestation of thousands of vermin..

In other parts of the country, the scale of the problem may be hidden.

Many town halls have introduced charges of up to £80 for killing rats, meaning hundreds of infestations could be going untreated.

Some experts believe shuttered, abandoned shops and building sites left half finished due to the credit crunch are providing new, safe homes for vermin.

Most problems are caused by the brown or common rat.. They are able to breed by the time they reach six weeks old, typically have litters of four to six young and a pair can produce a family of 200 in that time.

Common rats are brownish grey, although some black common rats have been spotted. They spread diseases including Weil’s disease and salmonella, and can contaminate food with urine, droppings and fur.

Estimates of the number of rats in Britain vary, with some claiming there are as many as 60million. A Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers study concluded there were usually 12 to 15 million at any one time.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Labour Peer ‘Claims £100,000 on Vacant Flat She Said Was Her Home’

A Labour peer is facing a possible police investigation for fraud after she claimed £100,000 in expenses for a flat she appears not to have lived in.

Baroness Uddin, who is Britain’s first female Muslim peer, received the money by claiming that the deserted flat in Maidstone, Kent was her ‘main home’.

Doing so meant the mother-of-five was able to claim nearly £30,000 a year towards the cost of staying London whilst she attended the House of Lords.

However, residents in all the building’s other flats say that in the four years since the flat was bought, they have never seen the sari-wearing Baroness there.

And a plumber who entered the flat just nine days ago described it as being ‘uninhabitable’ — covered in dust with just an old mattress on the floor to sleep on.

In contrast, neighbours at the Baroness’ other property — a three-storey family house in Wapping, east London — said she is regularly seen coming and going.

The Wapping house is where the Baroness brought up her children; where she is registered to vote; where she is fondly known by neighbours as ‘auntie’; where she is registered as a company director and in an area the peer calls ‘her backyard’.

It is also just four miles from the Palace of Westminster.

However, the 49-year-old former deputy leader of London’s Tower Hamlets council has told the Lords’ expenses authorities that it is merely her ‘second address’.

By doing so she was, during the financial year to March 2008, able to claim £29,600 in overnight accommodation allowance, the Sunday Times revealed.

Assuming the peer claimed the same amount every year since buying the Maidstone flat in 2005, she would have earned over £100,000.

The scandal is just the latest to involve a politician who appears to have manipulated Parliamentary expenses for financial gain.

A series of recent exposes have revealed how MPs have pocketed millions of pounds by falsely claiming to live in homes outside London.

Today opposition politicians called for the Baroness’ claims to be investigated by both the police and Parliament.

Scottish Nationalist MP Angus Robertson, who has campaigned for stricter expenses controls, said: ‘I will be writing to the police and the House of Lords authorities asking them to investigate.’

And Liberal Democrat frontbencher Lord Oakeshott said: ‘An empty property can’t be a peer’s main residence. The Lords authorities must check the facts of this case and investigate.’…

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: New Blow for Prime Minister as Clarke and Blunkett Blast His Leadership

LABOUR chiefs last night issued a plea for unity after two former home secretaries launched outspoken attacks on Gordon Brown’s leadership.

David Blunkett said there was a “void” at the heart of the Government, while Charles Clarke said he was “ashamed” to be a Labour MP.

The criticism came at the end of a torrid week for the Prime Minister.

He suffered a humiliating defeat on the Government’s plans for the resettlement of Gurkha veterans.

Plank And he was forced to ditch a key plank of his bid to reform MPs’ expenses after being warned it would be voted down.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman last night used a speech in Lanark to call for party unity.

She said: “Our future as a Government, and as a party, depends on Labour’s team — the whole team — in the trade unions, the party members, our MSPs, MEPs, councillors, MPs and ministers.

“We must all work together to map out our way forward and ensure that we keep Labour in government and keep the Tories out. And unity is vital.” Blunkett said Labour’s recent woes — which began with the Damian McBride email scandal — had increased the pressure on the Prime Minister to raise his game.

He said: “Gordon Brown needs to draw a line in the sand now, not after the European elections in five weeks’ time.

“Labour has lost its political antennae.

“We have no underlying domestic social policy.” Clarke, an outspoken critic of Brown, warned the party were heading for defeat.

He claimed: “There have been things that have been done recently which have made me feel ashamed to be a Labour member of parliament.

“I worked over my whole political life to get Labour into a position where it could be a good Government and I do see that fading away and it feels absolutely appalling.” Former Scotland Office minister David Cairns slated the decision to increase the taxes on the rich. He said the new 50 per cent tax rate was an attack on”aspiration”.

But Scots Labour leader Iain Gray called on the party to rally round the PM, adding: “We will never forget that unity is the price of victory.” A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister will continue to focus on the issues facing the country.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Racism Row as BNP Deputy Calls Archbishop of York an ‘Ambitious African’

The deputy leader of the British National Party was today branded a racist after calling the Archbishop of York an ‘ambitious African’ and made ‘spear thrower’ comments about Ugandans.

Simon Darby criticised Uganda-born Dr John Sentamu after the cleric hit out against the BNP’s call for black and Asian Britons to be described as ‘racial foreigners’ in future.

Darby, who is bidding to become a Midlands Euro MP, said: ‘Dr Sentamu should not interfere in the political process.

‘He’s not in any position to tell me or anyone else who is, or isn’t, English.

‘If I went to Uganda and told them that they were all genetic mongrels and that anyone could be Ugandan I’d still be picking spears out of myself now.’

He also described Dr Sentamu as an ‘anti-British zealot’ and warned that he should ‘have thought about the consequences’ of speaking out against the far-Right party.

In his online blog, in an entry dated April 23 and headed “And the Lord said, arise thou art all English”, Darby wrote: ‘As if the responsibilities of being the Archbishop of York were not enough, the ambitious African has apparently used his power and influence to kindly bestow upon the world the right to be English.’

His comments are the latest shots to be fired in a war of words between Dr Sentamu and the BNP which broke out after the cleric branded suggestions by Griffin that a ‘bloodless genocide’ is taking place in Britain as ‘beyond belief’.

Speaking to the BBC on St George’s day to defend a party leaflet that said black and Asian Britons ‘do not exist’, Griffin said that calling such people British denied indigenous people their own identity.

He added: ‘In civic terms they are British, British also has a meaning as an ethnic description.

‘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.’

Griffin added: ‘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.

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

But Dr Sentamu, a vocal supporter of making St George’s Day public holiday to promote English unity, said it was not up to the BNP to define Englishness.

He said: ‘You don’t have to be a member of the BNP to be clearly English, and it is quite a mistake to suggest that everybody who wants to affirm Englishness affirms that narrow thinking.

‘This “bloodless genocide”? I think that is just language which is beyond belief.’

Darby’s comments have been called ‘poisonous’ by anti-racism campaigners.

A spokesman for anti-fascism group Searchlight, said: ‘These disgusting threats and thinly veiled racism from its senior leadership exposes the real face of the BNP.

‘Even someone as internationally respected as Dr Sentamu is not immune from their poisonous slurs.

‘The European election campaign has not even officially started, and already the BNP’s mask of moderation has melted away’.

But Darby said: ‘I stand by my quotes. I don’t see how that is offensive or racist.

‘It can be twisted and distorted to look that way but what I am saying is factual.

‘What I am saying is, if I went to Uganda and I went to a Ugandan village and said that the people there were genetic mongrels and that they had no right to their Ugandan identity I would be picking out spears for days.

‘And rightly so. I wouldn’t say that but if I did I would be attacked and I would deserve to be attacked. I certainly wouldn’t need a return ticket.

‘There are lots of indigenous people there and in the bush they have spears, that is their lifestyle.

‘I am not implying that all Ugandan people use spears at all, I was speaking specifically about the indigenous people.

‘I have respect for their identity, I wouldn’t dream of denying Ugandan tribes people their identity but the contrast is that that is what he is doing.

‘If I went there and preached down to those indigenous people in the same way that Sentamu does to us then I’d be attacked.

‘If I was derogatory, condescending and arrogant — because that’s what John Sentamu is — I would be attacked. And rightly so.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Riot Officers Called as 200 Pupils Brawl Outside School

Six teenagers were arrested and two taken to hospital following a mass brawl involving 200 pupils outside a south London school.

Police with riot shields were called to Ashburton Community School in Croydon to deal with teenagers armed with chair legs, bottles and a knife. The fight was said to have started during a row over a mobile telephone.

Residents in a street near the school, which is to become an academy run by a Christian education group, said the children were “like wild animals”.

John Stretton, who lives nearby, said: “My neighbour saw one of the pupils take glass bottles from someone’s recycling bins and a length of timber. I saw a young fellow being chased by police, blood streaming from his head..

“It really was frightening to see the vast numbers of people involved. Unfortunately police were completely overwhelmed.”

The after-school fight disrupted traffic as pupils ran across roads.

Peter Merkell, owner of Shirley Road garage, said: “The kids were throwing punches and police blocked Shirley Road off by the school. The children have got no respect for anyone. You say something to them and they spit at you.”

Teachers gave chase and caught some youths. Headteacher Richard Warne said: “My staff were very supportive and did a lot to calm the situation.”

A nurse who lives opposite the school said she saw pupils at Croydon’s Mayday hospital, although London Ambulance Service say only two were taken there by ambulance.

Four boys were arrested for violent disorder, three were bailed. Two girls were arrested. One, 15, was released and the other, 16, was charged with a public order offence and two counts of assaulting a police officer. She was bailed to attend Croydon youth court on 8 May.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Two Dead in ‘Chemical Incident’

Two women have been found dead in a hotel in what fire officials described as a “chemical incident”.

They were discovered in a room at the Costello Hotel in Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park, north London, at about 1200 BST, police said.

The bodies remain at the hotel, which has been evacuated. One of the women was in her 30s, the other in her 50s.

A police spokeswoman said: “Two woman are believed to have committed suicide by taking a noxious substance.”

Breathing equipment

A London Fire Brigade spokeswoman said: “We are treating this as a confirmed chemical incident.

“The hotel has been evacuated and a cordon implemented.”

Fire crews said they did not know what substance was involved.

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: “Police were called to Costello Palace Hotel, Seven Sisters Road, N4, after two people were found deceased.

“The bodies remain at the scene.”

A number of fire service staff dressed with specialist breathing equipment could be seen from outside the hotel.

A police spokeswoman said officers were working to make the area safe.

A resident at the hotel, Perry Williamson, 48, from Halstead in Essex, said: “We went for a walk after breakfast and we only realised that something was badly wrong when we came back to get the car at lunchtime.

“The place was all taped off and there were police and fire brigade everywhere.

“We’ve got no idea when we’ll be able to pick up the car and go home.”

           — Hat tip: Archonix [Return to headlines]

UK: The Many-Headed Serpent That Threatens Freedom of the Press

Greedy lawyers, ‘authoritarian’ ministers and hostile police officers are strangling a free press, hears Ian Burrell

The British news media has never been so restricted, beset by the laws of an “authoritarian” government, greedy lawyers and dwindling editorial budgets, according to one of the industry’s most important representative bodies..

The Society of Editors has submitted a dossier of evidence to Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, claiming that “meritorious” articles by local newspapers are increasingly being suppressed because of the danger that legal action would bring ruinous costs. The dossier also contains examples of published stories exposing the behaviour of MPs, local authority leaders, owners of professional football and rugby clubs, business leaders and television personalities, which have been settled out of court for financial and not legal reasons, in order to avoid the danger of being bankrupted by the fees of the claimant’s solicitors.

Speaking to The Independent on the Society’s tenth anniversary, Robin Esser, executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, calls for a concerted effort to ensure that the concept of freedom of expression comes to be regarded as a constitutional right in Britain, as it is in America. He says the current threats to a free press are comparable to a many-headed serpent. “It’s a bit like the hydra, every time you cut off one head two more appear … we’ve got enormous issues at the moment.”

Esser, a former editor of The Sunday Express who is chairman of the society’s parliamentary and legal committee, criticises the police for abusing the Protection against Harassment Act 1997 (originally introduced to deter stalkers) and anti-terrorist legislation, in order to hamper the work of journalists. “Situations occur on a fairly regular basis of photographers being prevented from taking pictures in public places, being arrested and having their film taken away or inspected.” He complains of “the increasing authoritarianism of the present government which sometimes without realising it, and sometimes realising it, introduces measures which impinge further on the media’s rights and duty to ensure open democracy and open justice”.

Last week the prominent barrister Ken Macdonald, QC, suggested that the recent growth of privacy legislation was strangling the freedom of the press. “We would pay a very high price indeed for underscoring the marketability of film stars and footballers,” he said.

According to Esser, who has worked in Fleet Street for more than 40 years and reported on the first landings on the moon, “I think we are more restricted now than we’ve ever been before”. The Society of Editors, which represents both newspapers and broadcasters, is concerned that the media, already weakened by the impact on editorial resources of falling advertising revenues, is being further cowed by the danger of incurring huge costs from libel actions brought by solicitors under “no win, no fee” conditional fee agreements (CFAs), which allow successful lawyers to double their charges. The issue is being investigated under a Litigation Costs Review being conducted for Mr Straw by Lord Justice Jackson.

The society has submitted to both the judge and Mr Straw a dossier which indicates that the local and regional media, in particular, has become terrified of the prospect of finding itself in court. Cases cited include a light-hearted piece on a local MP’s views on expenses, which he complained about, leading to an out-of-court payment of £10,000 plus a bill for £26,000 in costs. Another local paper piece containing comments from a contestant on the BBC show Dragons’ Den, who complained he had not been given the financial support promised by the dragons on screen, led to a settlement of £13,000 plus a further £7,000 paid in costs, despite the editor being advised that the piece was probably protected by the libel defence of “fair comment”. A daily paper in the North of England paid out £10,000 (plus £7,000 costs) and made a full apology to a professional rugby league player for the local team who it had criticised after he was suspended for foul play by the league disciplinary committee. The settlement was in spite of legal advice that a defence of fair comment had “a high prospect of success”.

A Welsh paper which featured a report by a conservation trust criticising plans to develop a building and land once occupied by the poet Dylan Thomas, provoked a writ from the property developer. On being advised of the potential costs under a CFA — where London solicitors can charge £390 an hour and then double the sum with a 100 per cent uplift or “success fee” if they win — the paper caved in, paying £10,000 in damages to the property developer and still incurring £16,000 in costs. The threat of a case brought under a CFA is often enough to ensure a story is withheld altogether. The dossier cites an investigation by a regional Sunday newspaper into a money-making cult, which was not published after the editor was warned that an action would be brought using CFA.

“In the light of this threat, the editor felt obliged to give the undertaking demanded, not because of any concerns about the quality of the journalism, the accuracy of the story, or the public interest, but purely because he feared that an adverse costs order may cause the newspaper to cease publishing,” said the dossier. The report also cites the suppression of a story about an offshore company bidding to take control of the local football club. The paper had sought to expose the fact that the company had a subsidiary which had been criticised by business regulators in several EU countries but the article was dropped following a threat of an injunction and libel action.

Tony Jaffa, of Exeter-based solicitors Foot Anstey, who compiled the dossier, says large London law firms have become adept at exploiting the use of CFAs, which were originally introduced to increase public access to justice. He confirms: “The issue of CFAs has become an important tactical weapon in the litigation process.”

Esser is adamant there has been a “chilling effect” on local papers and their willingness to investigate. “They will settle or they won’t print a story which exposes hypocrisy or double dealing or disgraceful behaviour on the part of public servants, and that is a terrible loss.”

The society continues to lobby ministers and their shadow counterparts to remove what it sees as unnecessary shackles on the media. It was exasperated by a backlash against new plans to allow journalists into Family Courts, with judges and officials seeking to maintain a ban on reporting. “It’s madness,” says Esser. “What newspaper has got people to send along to sit in court and not be able to write a story?”

He is hopeful, though, that progress is finally being made in introducing television cameras into courtrooms. “We feel that will help open justice and bring instant pictures to the public, just as the people in the public gallery can see what goes on. The judges fear some sort of OJ Simpson effect but that really isn’t going to happen.”

Though proud of the society’s achievements over the difficult past decade, Esser knows that the hydra that threatens freedom of the press is far from slain. “There will be two more heads tomorrow,” he says.. “We have to remain vigilant.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Tax Google to Help the BBC, Say Ministers

Google could be be hit with an online advertising tax to boost the coffers of the BBC, under proposals being discussed by the Government.

Ministers are considering taxing search engines, download websites and broadband providers to fund public service TV and the roll-out of broadband.

It could mean tax bills of more than £ 100million, which in turn may force firms to start charging for emailing, internet searches and social networking, which are used by millions of Britons every day.

Conservative MP Philip Davies, who sits on the Commons culture, media and sport select committees, criticised the proposals, saying the money to fund the future of ‘Digital Britain’ was lying unused in the BBC’s coffers.

‘They are looking at everything apart from the thing which is shooting them in the eye, which is the BBC,’ he said.

‘There’s piles of money sat glaring them in the eye. But they are trying everything to avoid doing the most obvious thing of all.’

Chancellor Alistair Darling has already outlined plans in his budget which give the broadband industry money from the BBC’s underspend on digital switchover.

An estimated £250million which it is unlikely to have spent by 2012 will go towards installing universal broadband.

But ministers are discussing options to raise more cash from successful internet companies.

They believe millions of pounds could be made from a ‘per click’ tax on companies like Google. It is thought, however, that the money, supposedly earmarked for broadband services, would also go to boost public service broadcasters.

Another, less favoured, option being discussed would see a tax levied on broadband providers, according to the level of megabytes used by their customers.

Critics say the extra costs would be passed on to the customers.

Alternatively, a charge could be issued for downloading files from the likes of iTunes, but insiders say it is not politically ‘tenable’, since it would mean a direct hit on consumers pockets.

Sources say the proposed taxes have been discussed by officials at the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

They would also have to be approved by the Treasury before they could be introduced.

The chair of the culture, media and sport committee, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, dismissed what he called a ‘windfall tax’ on search engines.

He said: ‘I have never been in favour of levies. I just don’t like the idea of extra tax anyway.

‘If you charge Google it would be the equivalent of a windfall tax. Here is a company making lots of money so let’s slap a tax on them.’

A spokesman for Google said: ‘It seems strange to come up with a new tax proposal a week after the budget. Especially an idea that was rejected in France because it would have penalised a growth industry in the middle of a recession.

‘The Government should be encouraging companies who are creating jobs not punishing them with higher costs. What’s more, this proposal would hit commercial broadcasters and newspapers who also make money from online advertising.’

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform said: ‘There are no plans to impose new taxes.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Kosovo: Mitrovica; New Serb Protest, Eulex Intervention

(ANSAmed) — PRISTINA, APRIL 29 — European police authority Eulex intervened again in Kosovska Mitrovica today by shooting tear gas and rubber bullets against dozens of Serb protesters who were trying to prevent the reconstruction of Albanian homes. For a fifth consecutive day in the Brdjani neighbourhood (Kroi i Vitakut in Albanian) Serbs protested against the power granted to Albanians (who are a minority in that area of Kosovska Mitrovica) of rebuilding their homes which were destroyed during the 1998-1999 war. The Serbs (who represent the majority in the northern area of the city) reported discrimination and stated that they would keep on staging demonstrations until Serb refugees are also allowed to return to their homes. Despite lingering tension there were no casualties during today’s anti-Albanian demonstrations. Besim Hoti, the spokesperson for Kosovo police forces, said that the “situation is fully controlled by Kosovo police, Eulex and KFOR”. Burim Mehmeti, a resident of Kroi i Vitakut, said that “I’m happy that my home has been rebuilt ten years after work started”. He added that in all these years his family of nine lived in a collective accomodation centre in southern Mitrovica. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Kosovo: School Renovated Through Italian Cooperation

(ANSAmed) — NAPLES, APRIL 29 — The ‘Ramiz Sadiku’ school in Peja (Kosovo) is now ready to function and better equipped for lessons. The school, which has about 1,300 students, was renovated thanks to the intervention of Italian military and civilian cooperation under the supervision of Lieutenant-Colonel Gaetano Catalano. The operation, which took 2 months and cost 9 thousand euros, was necessary due to the dilapidated and degraded state of the structure. The commander of the Multinational Task Force West, Giovanni Armentani, and the Councillor for Culture of the city of Pec-Peja participated in the inauguration ceremony. In the nearby village of Siga, work also began on the installation of an electric pump to gain access to drinkable water. Once finished, it will allow for maintaining the constant pressure needed in the aqueduct to guarantee the water supply to the over 200 people who inhabit the village, who until now have been using some wells found in the area. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Mediterranean Union

Egypt-Italy: All Set for an Italian University in Cairo

(ANSAmed) — ROME — Everything is almost set for the launch of the first Italian university in Cairo, a scientific and technology institute, where Italian teachers will be employed. The signing of the institutional agreement will take place on May 12, during the bilateral summit in Sharm el-Sheikh which will see the involvement of major representatives of the two governments. The Egyptian ambassador to Italy, Ashraf Rashed, was the first to talk about this new phase of cultural cooperation between Rome and Cairo. Rashed pointed out that just before the launch of the Association for cooperation and friendship with Egypt and two weeks before the country’s participation in the International Book Fair in Turin as guest of honour, “the cultural links uniting Egypt and Italy come from a common legacy and shared values.” To further tighten these links, Cairo is also aiming to promote learning Italian in Egyptian schools and universities, since, the diplomat explained, “human interaction and language are fundamental to overcoming misunderstanding.” Cooperation between the two states may however go beyond the creation of new universities and the celebrations planned for the 2009 Italian-Egyptian year of science and technology, through measure to facilitate, for example, access to education for the most marginalised social groups. Whilst Egypt is undoubtedly one of the main players in the cultural scene of the Arab and international world, after the Book Fair in Turin, Egypt will in fact go on to be guest of honour at the Book Fairs in New York and Tokyo, the country will nevertheless continue in its struggle against illiteracy which is particularly common amongst women and children. “Italy is our top trade partner and a fundamental political and diplomatic partner in the Mediterranean and in the world,” Rashed said. “We owe our invitation to take part in G8 to Rome,” he added, “and so we are asking Italy for concrete help in opening new schools and helping us to promote education throughout the country, not only in the cities but also in the countryside and in the underdeveloped areas of Upper-Egypt.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Clashes Erupt Over Egypt Pig Cull

Egyptian pig farmers have clashed with police in Cairo, as they tried to stop their animals being slaughtered.

Hundreds of people at the Manshiyat Nasr slum threw stones and bottles at police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The government wants to cull all the nation’s pigs, a move UN experts say is not necessary to prevent swine flu.

Egypt’s pigs mostly belong to the Coptic Christian minority who say the cull has reignited religious tensions.

The authorities initially said the pig cull was a precaution against swine flu but now describe as a general public health measure.

There have been no cases of swine flu reported in Egypt.

In Mexico, where the global swine flu outbreak started, the authorities said it could be stabilising.

Overreaction charge

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the country was seeing fewer cases every day.

Globally more than 700 people are known to be infected.

Person-to-person transmission has been confirmed in six countries.

But in cases outside Mexico, the effects of the virus do not appear to be severe.

There are estimated to be more than 300,000 pigs in Egypt, but the World Health Organisation says there is no evidence there of the animals transmitting swine flu to humans.

Pig-farming and consumption is concentrated in Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, estimated at 10% of the population.

Many are reared in slum areas by rubbish collectors who use the pigs to dispose of organic waste. They say the cull will harm their businesses and has renewed tensions with Egypt’s Muslim majority.

On Saturday, health officials began the slaughter in earnest, moving in on a Cairo slum where rubbish collectors are said to keep around 60,000 pigs.

The slaughter is expected to take around a month.

Officials now say the cull is aimed at bringing order to the country’s pig-rearing industry, so that in future animals are not reared on rubbish tips but on proper farms.

The government has been criticised for overreacting to the threat, but it was also criticised for responding too slowly to the bird flu crisis two years ago.

When bird flu appeared in the country in 2006 mass culls were carried out but at least 22 humans died from the disease.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Italy: Muslim Women Allowed to Swim in Private

Bergamo, 30 April (AKI) — Muslim women in the northern Italian province of Bergamo now have private access to a local swimming pool where they can swim freely without traditional clothing. Men are not permitted to swim at the Siloe pool when the women remove their veils, or burquas, at designated times each week, according to the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera.

Maida Ziaradi, an Iranian who has lived in Italy for 17 years spearheaded the move and said many Muslim women from Tunisia, Morocco, Iran and Egypt as well as Italians can take advantage of it.

The pool is owned by the diocese of Bergamo and the arrangement with the Muslim women is seen as a form of ecumenical respect for the Koran.

“At the beginning several (women) were hesitant and fearful,” Ziaradi said.

“One had never swum before, others made a remarkable effort exposing their legs, one was terrified of the water and now doesn’t miss a lesson.”

Italy is not the first country to introduce designated swimming for Muslim women. In Germany the burqua can be worn in some public swimming pools, while in Australia some public pools have specific timetables for Muslim women.

Mecca Laalaa, a 22 year-old Australian is the first Muslim woman to become a volunteer surf life saver, wearing a specially designed costume or ‘burkini’.

The burkini that completely covers the body and head, leaving the face exposed.

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

Women Remove Veils Following Govt Pressure

Egyptian officials suggest the niqab is custom, not obligation

Three female employees in the Egyptian government have removed their face veils, also known as niqab, in the first sign a state-sponsored program aimed at eradicating the full-face veil is accomplishing its objectives.

Last month the Ministery of Religious Endowments started a campaign based around a series of seminars to convince its female employees that the niqab is not obligatory in Islam and urge them to remove it.

Three of the 16 female employees have apparently been convinced because they removed the face veil shortly after the program began, according to Dr. Salem Abdel-Gelil, Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments for Preaching

Behind the veil

“In the seminars, we focused on the fact that niqab is not obligatory in Islam and that a woman is not required to cover her face,” he told “One woman took off her niqab after the first seminar and the other two following the second seminar.”…

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

UN Tracks Rising Violence Against Women in Gaza

Gaza City, 24 April (AKI) — Source IRIN — The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Gaza, local Palestinian NGOs and mental health professionals are reporting increased incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault against women in Gaza since the beginning of 2009.

An unpublished UNIFEM survey of male and female heads of 1,100 Gaza households conducted between 28 February and 3 March indicates there was an increase in violence against women during and after the 23-day war which ended on 18 January.

“According to our staff, and through clinical observation, there was increased violence against women and children during and after the war,” said public relations coordinator for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), Husam al-Nounou.

“We can attribute this to the fact that most people were exposed to traumatic incidents during the war, and one way people react to stress is to become violent.”

GCMHP, which runs six clinics and treats an estimated 2,000 mental health patients a year, carried out a post-war assessment, interviewing about 3,500 Gaza residents, said al-Nounou.

“This war was extremely harsh, people felt insecure, vulnerable and unable to protect themselves, their children and their families; when people were trapped at home this increased the stress and anxiety,” said al-Nounou.

The Director of the women’s unit at the leading Palestinian human rights organisation, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Muna As-Shawa, said the centre had received reports of increased domestic violence and sexual assault during and after the hostilities. The unit had counselled over 600 women.

“During and after the war women struggled to fulfil their roles as mothers, and care for their children without electricity and water, while under attack,” said As-Shawa, “and if the husband died, sometimes the father-in-law took the inheritance and tried to take custody of the children.”

PCHR is providing legal advice to widows.

The Women’s Affairs Centre (WAC) in Gaza said it had organised meetings with 200 women across Gaza after the war.

“Many women who never experienced violence at home, were beaten during the war,” WAC director Amal Siam told IRIN.

Scores of women who lost their husbands came to WAC seeking assistance after their fathers-in-law tried to take custody of their children, said Siam, adding that there had been an increased number of divorce cases during the hostilities.

According to UNIFEM, the results of the first UN inter-agency gender needs assessment are due in May.

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

Middle East

Burns: King Abdullah Met With Israeli President

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs gives no details of meeting between Peres, Saudi King.

A meeting between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Israeli president Shimon Peres that took place on the margins of a UN Interfaith Dialogue Conference organised last November in New York, has been revealed by William Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, overseeing the Middle East.

“The king spoke with Israeli President (Shimon) Peres, the first such exchange between Saudi and Israeli leaders,” said Burns during a meeting on Saudi-American relations in Washington that began on Monday.

Israel, who holds no official diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, had been invited on King Abdullah’s initiative to participate in the Conference running from 12-13th November.

The Saudi sovereign also sponsored an international conference in July 2008 where key leaders from the three monotheist religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) assembled in Madrid.

Burns gave no details on the circumstances of the meeting between the Saudi monarch and the head of the Jewish state.

Earlier on Tuesday a Washington-based Saudi journalist, Ali Al-Ahmad, highlighted on his website “Saudi Information Agency — Independent Saudi News” that the official Israeli delegation had stayed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, one of the places of residence frequented by members of the Saudi royal family.

The UN Interfaith conference of last November had denounced the use of religion in justifying the murder of innocent people and acts of terrorism.

Prior to the conference, the Saudi daily Al Watan revealed that the Israeli president had been “informed by some UN leaders that he should not try to shake the hand of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, neither before, nor after the [royal] speech.”

After the conference, the official Saudi press bragged about the fact that no handshakes had been exchanged between King Abdullah and the Israeli president.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Delara Derabi an Innocent Girl Hanged in Iran


Delara Derabi an Innocent Girl, 20 yearold murdered in cold blood by the Islamic Repubic of IRAN for a crime she never committed. Arrested at the age of 17, as a child prisoner she went through HELL in Iranian prison to survive again to be killed by a cruel and heart regime, under the famous Islamic sharia law, where women have half the respect of men.

Delara was not put in solitary confinement for 24 hours before execution, as required by Iranian law. The “jailer” is to contact the lawyer of the condemned 48 hours before the sentence was carried out. The family of the condemned are required to attend as is the family of the injured party. Till now the second cousin calling for Delara’s death had refused to attend. The condemned is given tranquilizers (unless they refuse them).

           — Hat tip: PatriotUSA [Return to headlines]

Here Comes Hillary; There Goes Lebanon

by Barry Rubin

Suddenly, the United States has awoken to the fact that in one month Lebanon is likely to be taken over by a radical government and hijacked into the Iran-Syria alliance. Unfortunately, this apparently doesn’t mean it—or European states—are going to do anything about it.

In early June, the odds are—though one can still hope otherwise—that the parliamentary majority will be held by a coalition backed by Tehran and Damascus. Hizballah is not going to “take over” the country politically and that is a point no doubt which will be used by governments and media to prove that there’s no problem.

Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, not generally identified as an alarmist and activist, has just started sounding the alarm, “The threat that armed groups and militias pose to the sovereignty and stability of the Lebanese state cannot be overstated,” he said.

The new government is likely to consist of traditional Syrian-backed politicians, the Christian forces of Michel Aoun, Hizballah, and Amal, along with various independent figures. It will take power thanks to the money and guns paid for by Iran and smuggled in by Syria. It will be anti-American and anti-Western, though it won’t go out of the way to advertise that fact in English. And, most important of all, it will be a new base for the spread of Iranian influence as well as a signal as to who’s winning in the Middle East.

President Michel Sulayman who was, people seem to forget, the Syrian candidate for that post, will go along with this new situation, though in Western eyes he will still appear to be moderate. The Lebanese army is not a reliable guard against it, though it is likely to continue receiving Western military aid.

The Obama Administration’s words may be formally proper but what was and is needed is a massive effort by the United States in coordination with Europe and moderate Arab states, including covert assistance to the Lebanese independence forces, the May 14 coalition. That group is, of course, daily accused of receiving such help by Hizballah and company— Sometimes with the help of the New York Times—but has received little help…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Iraq: First Shia Al-Qaeda Cell ‘Uncovered’

Baghdad, 29 April (AKI) — Iraqi police claim for the first time to have uncovered an Al-Qaeda cell containing three Shia members, Iraq’s interior ministry said, quoted by pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat. The ministry said the cell operated in the area around the city of Diwaniya, 180 kilometres south of Baghdad, and carried out numerous attacks and targeted killings.

One of the cell’s alleged Shia members was a police officer employed by the interior ministry, it said.

“The investigations began on 9 April, just days after the series of bombings in Baghdad,” interior ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Raghif said.

“We received information that a policeman from al-Doura helped the terrorists drive through numerous police and Iraqi army checkpoints in Baghdad to carry out the car bombings.”

The policeman was arrested and confessed to the crime, Raghif was quoted as saying.

Iraqi authorities believe the cell carried out a series of bombings in Baghdad on 6 April that killed 32 people.

Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday confirmed in a statement that Abu Omer al-Baghdadi, one of the most wanted Al-Qaida leaders, had been detained in custody.

The Iraqi government announced last week that its troops had captured a suspect who was believed to be al-Baghdadi and they were still carrying out their investigations.

Al-Baghdadi is believed to be the head of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq. The group is an Al-Qaeda-led umbrella organisation of extremist Sunni militant groups.

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

Islamic Games Suspended Over Gulf Row

For millennia Iran has guarded the strategic waterway dividing it from its Arab neighbours as a symbol of national greatness that should be defended in name and deed.

But now its insistence that it be known only as the Persian Gulf threatens to torpedo ambitious plans for a sporting extravaganza intended to promote Islamic harmony.

Iran announced it was cancelling the Islamic Solidarity Games planned for October rather than bow to Arab demands that the Persian tag be dropped from the competition’s medals and promotional material. Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, refused to compete unless the waterway was called the Arabian Gulf or simply the Gulf.

The condition was too much for Iranian officials, who said they were abandoning the games after only 28 nations agreed to take part — compared with 55 who participated in the 2005 event in Saudi Arabia.

“We must insist on our correct stance even if it leads to the cancellation of the games,” Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told a conference marking national Persian Gulf day last week.

The state-run English language satellite channel, Press TV, said the event had been cancelled but added negotiations were taking place in an effort to salvage it.

Iran has already spent £6.7m preparing for the games, which were to feature an array of sports — including football, fencing, archery, basketball and weightlifting. The powerful speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, said the name change demand risked harming regional stability.

“Arabs pose themselves useless tests by changing the name of this large Gulf,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Nineveh Plain: A Ghetto for Iraqi Christians is an Illusion

The Archbishop of Kirkuk comes out against a plan promoted by Iraqi political and religious leaders living abroad to set up a Christian enclave in the Nineveh Plain. The idea is meant to “save Christians” from attacks and violence, but it runs against Iraqi history and Christians’ mission and could accentuate the ongoing ethnic and religious confrontation in the country.

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) — Some political, intellectual and religious leaders from outside of Iraq have recently called for an autonomous zone, a “safe heaven”, for Christians.1 Now that the idea of an autonomous region in southern Iraq is no longer being discussed this interference will create serious problems. I express here my concerns as a pastor, not a politician.

Those who back the plan for Nineveh Plain live in relative security whilst we Iraqi Christians are exposed to terrorist attacks and death. Perhaps their noble intent is to help us but in fact they are acting without consulting us to determine our fate and future. Thus they pretend to decide on our behalf without any mandate.

The future of Iraqi Christians must be examined first and foremost by Christians who live in Iraq—Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs and Armenians—through the mediation of competent and disinterested political leaders called to take a clear position on the future of Christians.

Diaspora Christians can help us by maintaining awareness about our fate in world public opinion, but they should not take our place. We need to be helped so our right to determine our destiny can be recognised. Anyone who acts as our guardian in the end helps those who want to keep in a minority state.

In today’s Iraqi context the demand for a Christian enclave is a dangerous political game. It will be exploited by others and will be used against us. We must be objective, realistic and prudent. A Christian ghetto can inevitably lead to endless sectarian, religious and political clashes. Our freedom will be reduced.

We Christians are a fundamental component of the history and culture of Iraq. We are a significant presence in the social and religious life of the country and we feel Iraqi. We have resisted threats and persecution and have found ways to continue to live and bear witness to the Gospel in our land without ceasing being loyal citizens even at the cost of the lives of our fathers, brothers and sons.

Today we want to continue to be present and bear witness in all of our land, in the whole of Iraq. Demanding the creation of a ghetto is especially against the Christian message which sees us as the salt and yeast in the dough of humanity.

A good thing for the Christian community of this country is to encourage national unity, democracy, peaceful coexistence, a pluralistic culture, mutual recognition as humans with dignity, as well as cooperation with everyone to build a better society based on the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as guaranteed by the nation’s constitution and international law.

*Archbishop of Kirkuk

1. The plan to set up an “Assyrian ghetto” in the Nineveh Plains is strongly backed by the Christian Diaspora in the United States, which is exercising great influence on the Patriarchate of Baghdad, by Evangelical Christians, and by Kurdistan’s Finance Minister Sarkis Aghajan, who in the last few years has provided large funds for the reconstruction of many villages and churches in the north. The Vatican has never taken an explicit position on the issue but its Secretariat of State has been against the idea. Last January Benedict XVI, during the ad limina visit by Chaldean bishops, insisted that Christians must build ties of understanding “between Christians and Muslims’ and offer a “disinterested witness of charity [. . .] without distinction of origin and religion.”

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

Saudi Slams US Claim of King Talks With Peres

Riyadh demands clarifications from Washington about Burns’ claim Saudi King met with Israeli President.

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia on Thursday denied a US claim that King Abdullah met with Israeli President Shimon Peres late last year and demanded clarifications from Washington.

An unnamed Saudi official, quoted by the state-run SPA news agency, said that the claim made by US Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns is “completely false and fabricated.”

The US State Department must “deny the claim and provide clarification for the reasons behind such fabrication that does not serve the relations between the two friendly countries.”

The official said that the allegations were carried by some media which quoted Burns as saying that King Abdullah spoke with Peres on the sidelines of an inter-faith dialogue conference hosted in November by the United Nations.

An online video posted on a Saudi opposition website showed Burns praising King Abdullah’s drive to promote inter-faith dialogue, during a meeting on US-Saudi relations earlier this week in Washington.

“King Abdullah has advanced an inter-faith dialogue initiative focused on promoting tolerance and understanding among world religions,” Burns said.

“On the margins of an inter-faith dialogue session last fall, the king spoke with Israeli President Shimon Peres — the first such exchange between Saudi and Israeli leaders,” he said.

“King Abdullah is also the first Saudi leader to meet the Pope,” he added.

Middle East heavyweight Saudi Arabia does not have ties with Israel, but since 2002 it has been promoting an Arab peace initiative which offers Israel full diplomatic ties in return for a total withdrawal from occupied Arab land.

Last November’s conference was held at the initiative of Saudi Arabia as a follow-up to efforts at promoting inter-faith dialogue in the “World Conference on Dialogue” held last July in Madrid.

At the time UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had invited both King Abdullah and Peres to attend a dinner of heads of state and government from more than a dozen countries.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Turkey: EP; Appeal by 13 Deputies, Save Kurdish Roj TV Channel

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, APRIL 29 — “Hands off of Roj-tv” is the appeal made today in Brussels by 13 Euro MPs from all political groups to say “no” to Turkish pressure to shut down the only Kurdish channel visible on European satellite television thanks to a Norwegian licence. Ankara is mounting increasing pressure to approve the nomination of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Danish prime minister, as Nato’s next general secretary. Vahdettin Tayfur of Roj Tv said that “This tv channel is the only voice of the Kurdish people, and the Turkish government is trying to silence it. We hope that EU countries will object to Turkey’s policy and express their solidarity to our tv station. We do not want our tv to be manipulated for political reasons, we want to be answerable only to the law”. Soren Bo Sondergaard, Danish Euro MP, said that “this is not an ideological matter, but one that regards freedom of speech. Danish authorities investigated twice in the search of evidence of potential support to terrorist activities offered by the tv station, but without result”. Ahmet Gulabi Dere, member of the Kurdish Congress, claimed that “thousands of signatures have already been collected on the internet to save Roj Tv and we estimate that there are millions who watch this channel, which is the eyes and ears of the Kurdish diaspora”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey’s New Foreign Minister and Its Foreign Policy Strategy

Ahmet Davutoglu became Turkey’s foreign minister, May 1, after having served as foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since 2002. He’s the architect of Turkey’s current foreign policy. And that’s not good.

While the 50-year-old Davutoglu played a key role in running the Israel-Syria talks, he also has been central in such policies as: close cooperation with Iran and Syria alongside meeting leaders of Hamas, Hizballah, and the most important anti-American Iraqi militia.

For Davutoglu, this represents a balanced policy between Turkey’s European and Middle Eastern interests. “Our foreign policy regarding the EU is compatible with and in the same systematic framework as our relations with the Middle East,” he said in a June 2008 lecture. But isn’t there a conflict between the way he defines these two policies? After all, Turkey isn’t courting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, but rather the regional radicals?

The issue is not that Davutoglu is a radical or an Islamist. He is quite thoughtful about balancing Turkish interests and in some ways he seems like a Turkish version of the kind of thinking that typifies the EU. But here’s where the problem lies. By the way, people who have met him say that he is very unfriendly, even contemptuous, toward the United States.

Davutoglu’s belief is that Turkey should have the best possible relations with all its neighbors and especially with those forces that are most threatening. It is the equivalent of the neutralist paradigm during the Cold War. Or, in his words,

“You have to ensure that there are minimum risks around you. Turkey is surrounded by international risks….Throughout the 1990s we had certain problems with almost all of our neighbors. Now we have excellent relations with all of our neighbors.”

It tells a lot about Davutoglu and contemporary Turkey, that he neglected to interpose the ideal quote from Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, here: “Peace at home, peace abroad.” There are also parallels with U.S. President Barack Obama’s world view.

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]

Why Jane Fonda is Banned in Beirut

A professor at the American University here recently ordered copies of “The Diary of Anne Frank” for his classes, only to learn that the book is banned. Inquiring further, he discovered a long list of prohibited books, films and music.

This is perplexing — and deeply ironic — because Beirut has been named UNESCO’s 2009 “World Book Capital City.” Just last week “World Book and Copyright Day” was kicked off with a variety of readings and exhibits that honor “conformity to the principles of freedom of expression [and] freedom to publish,” as stated by the UNESCO Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the UNESCO’s “Florence Agreement.” The catch is that Lebanon has not signed the Florence Agreement, which focuses on the free circulation of print and audio-visual material.

Even a partial list of books banned in Lebanon gives pause: William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice”; Thomas Keneally’s “Schindler’s List”; Thomas Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem”; books by Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Isaac Bashevis Singer. In fact, all books that portray Jews, Israel or Zionism favorably are banned.

Writers in Arabic are not exempt. Abdo Wazen’s “The Garden of the Senses” and Layla Baalbaki’s “Hana’s Voyage to the Moon” were taken to court. Syria’s Sadiq Jalal al-Azm was prosecuted for his “Critique of Religious Thinking.”

Censorship is carried out by the Sûreté General, which combines the functions of the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security. It does not post a list of banned works, much less answer questions. However a major book importer, in an email, provided a list of banned films and the reasons given by the Sûreté. Here are some: “A Voice From Heaven” (verses of Koran recited during dance scenes); “Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (homosexuality); “Barfly” ( blacklisted company Canon); and “Daniel Deronda” (shot in Israel).

All of Jane Fonda’s films are banned, since she visited Israel in 1982 to court votes for Tom Hayden’s Senate run. “Torn Curtain” is banned: Paul Newman starred in “Exodus.” And the television series “The Nanny” is banned because of Fran Drescher.

According to Beirut newspaper L’Orient, any one of the recognized religions (a system known as “confessionalism”) can ask the Sûreté to ban any book unilaterally. The Muslim Dar al-Fatwa and the Catholic Information Center are the most active and effective. (The latter got Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” banned.) Even works by self-proclaimed Islamists such as Assadeq al-Nayhoum’s “Islam Held Hostage,” have been banned, and issued only when re-edited in sympathetic editions (in Syria).

Censorship is a problem throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Though a signatory of the Florence Agreement, the Academy of Islamic Research in Egypt, through its censorship board al-Azhar, decides what may not be printed: Nobel Prize winner Naghib Mahfouz’s “Awlad Haratina” (The Sons of the Medina) was found sacrilegious and only printed in bowdlerized form in Egypt in 2006. Saudi Arabia sponsors international book fairs in Riyadh, but Katia Ghosn reported in L’Orient that it sends undercover agents into book stores regularly.

Works that could stimulate dialogue in Lebanon are perfunctorily banned. “Waltz with Bashir,” an Israeli film of 2008, is banned — even though it alleges that Ariel Sharon was complicit in the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. According to the Web site Monstersandcritics, however, “Waltz with Bashir” became an instant classic in the very Palestinian camps it depicts, because it is the only history the younger generation has. But how did those copies get there?

The answer is also embarrassing. Just as it ignores freedom of circulation, Lebanon also ignores international copyright laws. Books of all types are routinely photocopied for use in high schools and universities. As for DVDs, you have only to mention a title and a pirated copy appears. “Slumdog Millionaire” was available in video shops before it opened in the U.S.

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


Racism, a Growing Problem in Russian Society

Hostilities against foreigners, especially those from the neighbouring Caucasus and Central Asia, are rising. Faced with attacks and discrimination, some foreign migrants are organising themselves and getting involved in virtual private fights, especially in southern Russia.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Some 20 people stormed a Moscow construction site where they brutally beat 15 Tajik workers in an early morning attack. In Russia today that is an almost everyday occurrence. Increasingly, xenophobia is a Russian problem; so is the growing number of migrant workers from former Soviet republics and Asia.

Attacks of this type are not unusual, especially in Moscow. Research by the Centre for Eastern Studies shows that ethnically-motivated violence and xenophobia are way up.

According to official data, 267 people were attacked in 2004 in racist incidents with 49 deaths. In 2006 that number rose to 552 (56 dead) and in 2007 the figure was 634 (68 dead).

Big cities like Moscow and St Petersburg are especially affected.

The main victims are people from the Caucasus and Central Asia, followed by migrants from the rest of Asia (in particular Chinese and Vietnamese).

However, the figures are thought to be much higher because many attacks are not reported if the victim does not end up in hospital.

A survey by the Levada Center, a private public opinion institute, showed that in 1995 a majority of the Russians (nearly 57 per cent) were opposed to the slogan of ‘Russia for the Russians’.

Since 2000 the trend has changed with a majority of Russians backing that idea. Less than 30 per cent were firmly opposed to it.

In 2006 the idea of Russia for Russians was particularly appealing among the 16-28 year old (53 per cent), lower-income respondents (53 per cent) and people living in small towns and villages (53 per cent). In big cities 47 per cent agreed with the idea; in Moscow, only 43 per cent did.

Another survey by Levada found that the military, police and Interior Ministry personnel are the professional group with the highest level of negative attitudes towards immigrants.

People from Russia’s closest neighbours, migrants from former Soviet republics, especially those from the Caucasus, are the most disliked even if they have Russian citizenship. As a group they are referred to as ‘Kavkaztsy’ in everyday language, or derisively called ‘blacks’, despite their diverse ethnic and national background.

At the start of the millennium less than half of the Russian population favoured restrictions on Caucasians. In 2005 more than 70 per cent of the Russian public did. In 2006, nearly one Russian in four was in favour of prohibiting access to some restaurants for members of these groups.

Why these trends? Recent national conflicts in the Caucasus are an important reason. Few in Russian have forgotten terrorism by Chechen groups.

The rise of ultranationalist movements inside the country and the ambiguities of Russia’s leadership are other factors. Leaders in the Kremlin have in fact not shied away from playing the nationalist card.

At the same time foreign migrants are increasingly present in some parts of the country. In Moscow for example one newly born child in 15 had foreign parents in 2008.

It is also estimated that every year about 4.6 million people come to Russia to work illegally; nearly 80 per cent of them from former Soviet republics countries.

Foreign migrants, who have come to Russia to flee hunger and build a future for themselves, are usually underpaid but they are no longer passively putting with intolerance.

In some regions, especially in southern Russia, ethnic Russian youth and gangs made of young people from other countries, especially from the Caucasus, have become embroiled in street fights.

In May 2007 for example a young Chechen was killed in a fight; several days later, two Russian students were killed.

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


Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely: Azerbaijan Lifts Term Limits

by Farid Guliyev

In the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan a referendum (March 18) lifted term limits on the presidency granting approval to President Ilham Aliyev to serve as many times as he wishes after his second term finishes in 2013. To the surprise of democracy optimists, the breakup of Communist rule saw the emergence of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. These regimes have all adopted Western-style institutional and legal setups but the state was typically exploited for private gain.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This famous dictum of Baron Acton sounds so true today in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. Here a referendum (March 18) lifted term limits on the presidency granting approval to President Ilham Aliyev to serve as many times as he wishes after his second term finishes in 2013. The poll approved more than 40 amendments to the constitution removing some of the restraints on the presidency. Ilham Aliyev, 47, succeeded his ailing father Heydar Aliyev in the presidential election in 2003 and voted to continue in office for the second five-year term in October 2008.

Nowhere in the post-communist area is power so much personalized as in Azerbaijan. Even in Turkmenistan, notorious for its megalomaniacal ruler Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, the presidential office was not, after the death of Turkmenbashi, inherited by a family member but conferred on an elite insider. In Belarus, where President Lukashenko has been in power for more than 14 years, there is no comparable nepotism either. Perhaps, it would be more insightful to draw parallels (and learn lessons from) with Sub-Saharan Africa where the nascent state institutions were largely “privatized” serving the interests of the post-colonial elites. For example, Pesident Omar Bongo of Gabon has been in power since 1967.

To the surprise of democracy optimists, the breakup of Communist rule saw the emergence of authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. These regimes have all adopted Western-style institutional and legal setups but the state was typically exploited for private gain. Keeping this in mind, it makes little sense to continue to frame events in the region as steps towards or away from democratization or consolidation of democracy. It is not that the removal of term limits would be a setback to consolidating an Azerbaijani democracy as the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission opinioned about the constitutional amendments in Azerbaijan. Rather, it is a move towards the consolidation of an authoritarian regime.

The Aliyevs have run the country by employing both carrots and sticks…

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Boy Wounded in Taliban Attack Near Karachi Dies

Irfan Masih, 11, succumbed to gunshot wounds he suffered to the head. Five other people were also injured in the attack during which Islamists set fire on Christian homes and Bibles. Activists complain about police inaction.

Karachi (AsiaNews) —Irfan Masih, the 11-year-old boy wounded on 22 April during a Taliban attack against Christians in Tiasar Town near Karachi, has died. In critical conditions from the start, the boy slipped away after five, agonisingly long days.

Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, the director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), led a delegation to the site of the attack. The group, made up of clergymen and lay people, visited the wounded in hospital and then met leaders of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), the only Pakistani party that is opposed to the introduction of Sharia in the Swat Valley.

On 22 April a gang of armed extremists attacked a group of Christians in Tiasar Town, a Karachi suburb, setting six homes on fire and seriously injuring three Christians. One of them was Irfan Masih, whose conditions were serious from the beginning.

Father Mani urged the local Christian community to “remain united”, reassuring them that the NCJP would provide them with free legal aid when matters reach the courts.

According to NCJP activists, the Taliban attacked the Christians because they were wiping off insulting graffiti from the walls of local homes and the local church. The Taliban had scribbled words that incited hatred and violence, like ‘Taliban are coming’, ‘Long live Taliban’ and ‘Be prepared to pay Jizia (Tax for non-Muslims) or embrace Islam’.

The Taliban in question are ethnic Pathan who live opposite the Christian settlement.

The attack took place in two stages. In the second one, around 3.30 pm, Irfan Masih was hit to the head by a gunshot.

The Muslim attackers also stormed several Christian homes and destroyed many copies of the Bible.

Only when Pakistani paramilitary forces moved in a few hours later did things get back to normal.

Christian activists have complained that police from the nearby Surjani station stood idly by when the attack took place.

As an explanation of their inaction, the agents said that both Christians and Muslims opened fire.

However, only Christians were hurt or killed. Five Muslims were arrested, caught brandishing weapons used during the attack.

Taiser Town is home to some 700 Christian families; 300 of them are Catholic from the St Jude Parish Church (Karachi Archdiocese). Their parish priest is Richard D’Souza.

The families used to live in a more central area of Karachi but were evicted and forced to move to the outskirts of the city.

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

India: Bishop Dabre: Defending “The Sacrosanct Principle of Secularism” in Order to Save the Country

Bishop Thomas Dabre talks about the elections that are underway, and about the task of the next government. Religious and cultural minorities represent one sixth of India’s population. “You cannot have progress and development” when entire segments of the population are “languishing in underdevelopment.” India’s moral authority on the international level is tarnished by persecution and discrimination toward minorities.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — Defense of secularism, recognition of the rights of minorities, and the fight against poverty. These are the three requests that Bishop Thomas Dabre, bishop elect of Pune and apostolic administrator of Vasai, is making to the future government of India.

While the country faces the long electoral marathon for the renewal of the Lok Sahba, the lower chamber of the national parliament, the bishop tells AsiaNews about his expectations for the result of the vote. “Minorities should be given just and fair treatment in our beloved mother India,” Bishop Dabre asserts. Referring to the limitations and privations inflicted on the Christian communities and on the religious minorities in the country, he recalls that article 25 of the Constitution guarantees all believers of every religion “the freedom to practise and propagate their religion.”For this reason, he hopes that the next government will work to affirm “the sacrosanct principle of secularism.”

About 200 million of India’s inhabitants, almost one sixth of the population, belong to cultural and religious minorities, “and these cannot be neglected or marginalised in a nation.” For Bishop Dabre, this is a heritage that must not be lost. The contribution that minorities can make in the construction of Indian society “is not a favor that is granted to them, but a right to be respected,” in order to guarantee “the unity and integrity of India” and “contribute to the strengthening of the bonds and cooperation among the peoples of the states.”

For the bishop elect of Pune, the future government must secure the foundation for the development of an inclusive society. And if secularism is the basic principle in affirming this process, the fight against poverty is a necessary duty for democracy and the respect of rights to be extended to all components of society. “You cannot have the progress and development of a country,” Bishop Dabre asserts, “with minorities languishing in underdevelopment.”

India’s influence on the global stage is itself connected to its ability to promote coexistence and integration for minorities, and the differences that they bring to society. Bishop Dabre says that the country’s reputation as “the world’s largest democracy” can be defended and upheld only through the safeguarding of secularism and the inclusion of the minorities. “Our moral authority on the international platform,” the bishop explains, “will be weakened, if our minorities are persecuted and marginalised in the country. And our image will be tarnished.”

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

India: Farmer Cuts Off 13-Year-Old Niece’s Head to Help Harvest

A FARMER hacked off his niece’s head after a holy man told him her blood would increase his harvest.

Arun Ghosal lured the 13- year-old to a barn in Orissa, India, and lopped off her head with a machete blow.

Then he held her bleeding neck over a sack of corn. A cop said: “He thought he’d be blessed by the gods.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Protestant Clergyman and Wife Killed With Machetes

Local police find the bodies of Rev Frans Koagow and his wife, slaughtered in their home in Manado, capital of the province of North Sulawesi. Investigators exclude theft as possible motive. Two men who came to the clergyman’s home early in the morning are the main suspects.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Police found Rev Frans Koagow, 64, and his wife Femy Kumendong, 73, at their home, dead, killed with machetes. The couple lived in Manado, capital of North Sulawesi province, where a majority of Sulawesi Island Christians live. Most local Christians are Protestant.

Malalayang Police Chief Anthony Wenno said the murderers had not yet been identified but that they were looking for two men who came to Reverend Koagow’s home on a motorbike around 7 am.

Police also said that nothing was stolen from the two murder victims so theft or extortion can be ruled as possible motives.

Some witnesses said that when the suspects came to Rev Frans Koagow’s home, they were told that he was not there but in a nearby kiosk.

The two men met their victim there and after eating together they accompanied him home where they killed him.

Tensions between Christians and majority Muslims on Sulawesi Island have been high and over the past few years clashes and violence have become commonplace.

In several of the island’s provinces Christians have been murdered.

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

Pakistan Nuclear Projects Raise US Fears

Pakistan is continuing to expand its nuclear bomb-making facilities despite growing international concern that advancing Islamist extremists could overrun one or more of its atomic weapons plants or seize sufficient radioactive material to make a dirty bomb, US nuclear experts and former officials say.

David Albright, previously a senior weapons inspector for the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency in Iraq, said commercial satellite photos showed two plutonium-producing reactors were nearing completion at Khushab, about 160 miles south-west of the capital, Islamabad.

“In the current climate, with Pakistan’s leadership under duress from daily acts of violence by insurgent Taliban forces and organised political opposition, the security of any nuclear material produced in these reactors is in question,” Albright said in a report (pdf) issued by the independent Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

Albright warned that the continuing development of Pakistan’s atomic weapons programme could trigger a renewed nuclear arms race with India. But he suggested a more immediate threat to nuclear security arose from recent territorial advances in north-west Pakistan by indigenous Taliban and foreign jihadi forces opposed to the Pakistani government and its American and British allies.

“Current US policy, focused primarily on shoring up Pakistan’s resources for fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida, has had the unfortunate effect of turning the US into more of a concerned bystander of Pakistan’s expansion of its ability to produce nuclear weapons,” Albright said in the report, co-authored with Paul Brannan.

The Khushab reactors are situated on the border of Punjab and North-West Frontier province, the scene of heavy fighting between Taliban and government forces. Another allegedly vulnerable facility is the Gadwal uranium enrichment plant, less than 60 miles south of Buner district, where some of the fiercest clashes have taken place in recent days.

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Kamra air weapons complex near Gadwal in December 2007, injuring several people.

Uncertainty has long surrounded Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile. The country is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or the comprehensive test ban treaty. Nor has it submitted its nuclear facilities to international inspection since joining the nuclear club in 1998, when it detonated five nuclear devices. Pakistan is currently estimated to have about 200 atomic bombs.

Although Pakistan maintains a special 10,000-strong army force to guard its nuclear warheads and facilities, western officials are also said to be increasingly concerned that military insiders with Islamist sympathies may obtain radioactive material that could be used to make a so-called dirty bomb, for possible use in terrorist attacks on western cities.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, told Congress recently that Pakistan had dispersed its nuclear warheads to different locations across the country in order to improve their security. But John Bolton, a hawkish former senior official in the Bush administration, said this weekend that this move could have the opposite effect to that intended.

“There is a tangible risk that several weapons could slip out of military control. Such weapons could then find their way to al-Qaida or other terrorists, with obvious global implications,” Bolton said.

Bolton threw doubt on President Barack Obama’s assurance last week that while he was “gravely concerned” about the stability of Pakistan’s government, he was “confident that the nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands”. Since there was a real risk of governmental collapse, Bolton said the US must be prepared for direct military intervention inside Pakistan to seize control of its nuclear stockpile and safeguard western interests.

“To prevent catastrophe will require considerable American effort … We must strengthen pro-American elements in Pakistan’s military, roll back Taliban advances and, together with our increased efforts in Afghanistan, decisively defeat the militants on either side of the border,” Bolton wrote in an article published in the Wall Street Journal.

“At the same time, we should contemplate whether and how to extract as many nuclear weapons as possible from Pakistan, thus somewhat mitigating the consequences of regime collapse.”

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, has dismissed such warnings as hyperbolic and accused US officials and analysts of being guilty of a “panic reaction”.

“The spectre of extremist Taliban taking over a nuclear-armed Pakistan is not only a gross exaggeration, it could also lead to misguided policy prescriptions from Pakistan’s allies, including our friends in Washington,” Haqqani said last week.

Senior British officials have also poured cold water on some of the more sensational statements emanating from Washington. “There is obvious concern but it is not at the same level as the state department. We are not concerned Pakistan is about to collapse. The Taliban are not going to take Islamabad. There is a lot of resilience in the Pakistani state,” one official said.

The warnings about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons come ahead of a summit meeting in Washington this week between Obama, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. The three leaders are expected to discuss implementation of the US’s new integrated strategy for the Afghan-Pakistan region, which includes a “surge” of 17,000 US troops plus additional Nato forces in Afghanistan and further non-military development aid and assistance for Pakistan.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

France Captures 11 Suspected Somali Pirates

PARIS (Reuters) — France intercepted 11 suspected Somali pirates on Sunday after they mistook a French naval ship for a commercial vessel and started heading toward it in preparation for an attack, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Heavily-armed Somali pirates have stepped up their attacks on vessels in Indian Ocean shipping lanes and the Gulf of Aden, capturing dozens of vessels, kidnapping hundreds of hostages and raking in millions of dollars in ransoms.

The French navy seized the suspected pirates, who were in three small boats, 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean.

“They confused the Nivose with a commercial ship and rushed toward it, to intercept it,” the spokesman said.

“The Nivose then put its own craft in the water with its commandos and sent out a helicopter and stopped these 11 pirates who were on these three boats.”

Two were small boats which the pirates use for attacks and the third was the mother ship which is used to transport supplies such as petrol, water and food.

The commandos also found guns and rockets on the boats.

“The pirates are currently on the Nivose,” he said.

“For the moment we don’t have any indication of what the European Union forces want to do with these pirates.”

A French naval patrol seized three more pirates in Seychelles’ waters on Saturday and handed them over to the coastguard, the islands’ president’s office said.

The attacks have disrupted U.N. aid supplies, driven up insurance costs and forced some firms to consider routing cargo between Europe and Asia around South Africa instead.

Naval forces from the United States, Europe and Asia have been deployed to protect merchant ships.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Tamil Asylum Seekers Allowed to Stay in Britain After Threatening to Commit Suicide if Deported

Two Tamil asylum seekers have won the right to stay in Britain after they threatened to commit suicide if they are deported to their home country.

Three senior Appeal Court judges took pity on the brother and sister and ruled that sending them back to Sri Lanka to kill themselves would breach their human rights.

Home Office ministers are furious at the ruling which they fear will become a precedent, opening the floodgates for any would-be refugee or illegal immigration to stay in Britain if they threaten suicide, and making a nonsense of Britain’s asylum system and border controls.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas claimed the judgement ‘defied common sense’ and signalled that he would take an appeal to the House of Lords to try to safeguard deportation powers.

The Tamil brother and sister, who have not been named, arrived in Britain in 2003 claiming they had both been raped and tortured in prison in Sri Lanka as a result of the country’s decades-long civil war between Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese majority.

Their claim for refugee status was rejected by the Home Office but they have been battling against deportation ever since, and won a ground-breaking victory in the Appeal Court last week.

The Home Office maintains that the siblings could safely travel back to Sri Lanka, and that their threat of suicide is based on a ‘subjective fear’ of mistreatment.

But three Appeal Court judges accepted that if the man and woman were deported then their ‘only perceived means of escape’ from their situation would be to take their own lives — meaning that sending them home would breach their right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Justice Sedley, sitting with Lady Justice Arden and Lord Justice Moses, said: ‘Hope can alleviate intolerable stress. Take away hope and stress may become unbearable.

Britain’s courts have until now considered similar deportation legal battles on the facts relating to conditions in the country in question, and the likelihood of torture or mistreatment — rather than a deportee’s own fears and state of mind.

By taking the threat of suicide into account the Appeal Court has apparently torn up that principle, attaching far greater legal weight to the deportee’s belief about the danger they might face in their homeland.

Phil Woolas said: ‘We will appeal and consider our legal options.

‘The judgement goes well beyond the intention of Parliament and defies common sense.’

Britain already struggles to enforce deportations in many cases due to human rights laws, with removals often delayed for years by challenges grinding through the courts.

Abu Qatada, the man described as Osama bin Laden’s ambassador to Europe, is fighting against his deportation to Jordan by claiming that he faces torture or death.

Details of the latest case emerged as the Government came under further pressure to allow an amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants living in Britain.

Thousands of people are expected to attend a rally in Trafalgar Square today supporting the ‘Strangers into Citizens’ campaign, calling for an ‘earned amnesty’ for illegal foreign workers in the UK — whose number are estimated at between 500,000 and 950,000.

They claim ‘regularising’ the status of illegal immigrants would increase tax revenues by £1billion a year and prevent exploitation.

Buy opponents claim similar amnesties in other countries have simply attracted even greater numbers of illegal immigrants who arrive in expectation of another amnesty in future.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Gold May be ‘Off to the Races’ Above $950: Technical Analysis

May 3 (Bloomberg) — Gold may be “off to the races” if prices break resistance levels at $950 to $960 an ounce, according to Jeffrey Rhodes, a Dubai-based trader with International Assets Holding Corp.

Prices may surpass $1,200 an ounce this year, more than the record $1,032.70 reached in March 2008, Rhodes said. Gold peaked at $1,006.29 this year on Feb. 20. Gold’s support level is at about $850 an ounce, he said. Support is where buy orders may be clustered and resistance is where there may be sell orders.

“A number that would get everyone very excited would be $1,005 an ounce,” Rhodes said in an interview April 27.

Gold for immediate delivery has advanced for eight consecutive years, the longest winning streak since at least 1948. Investment in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest exchange- traded fund backed by gold, almost doubled in 12 months and overtook Switzerland as the world’s sixth-largest gold holding. Gold has gained 0.5 percent this year to $886.55 an ounce at the close of trading May 1.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony DiPaola in Dubai at

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]