Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/16/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/16/2009There’s lots of chunky, nutty, bloggy richness in tonight’s news feed.

There was a bomb attack at a Red Cross reception center in Finland. Germany is launching an initiative to establish full-fledged censorship of the internet. Turkish and Greek fighter jets have engaged in dogfights over the Aegean. And autopsies on the bodies of the victims has ruled out terrorism as the cause of the crash of Air France 447.

Oh, and a man in the UK had a broken leg for 29 years.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CB, EMET, ESW, GH, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, REP, Steen, TB, The Frozen North, The Religion of Peace, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Developing World Leaders Show New Power at Summits
Fed to Get More Power
Russia, China, Others Urge Diverse Monetary System
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Obama Should Speak Truth to Islam Because Others Can’t
Guess Who’s Supporting Sotomayor?
Obama’s Sculpted Face Heads to Mt. Rushmore Park
Ezra Levant: Appetite for Censorship
Quebec Separatists Want to Silence Anglo Acts
Two Killed in Rash of Montreal Shootings
Europe and the EU
‘Brown Could be EU’s First President’
Denmark: Al-Qaeda Blasts Rasmussen the Crusader
Fayed Denied Stake in Oil Millions Below His Own Home
Finland: Bomb Attack Shocks Residents in Reception Centre in Southwestern Finland
Finland: Explosion Rocks Red Cross Reception Centre
Gaddafi: Diverse World, Mullah in Kabul, Catholics in Vatican
Gaddafi in Rome: Women Are Objects in Arab World, Revolution
Gaddafi in Rome: Rula Jebreal, Revolution to Start in Libya
Germany Discloses Data on Farm Subsidies to Avoid EU Penalty
German Students Launch Week-Long Protests Against Education Reforms
Greece: Misreading the Situation
Hungary Recalls Key 1989 Date on Road to Democracy
Italy: Right- Wing Vigilantes Cause Stir
Italy Accepts Guantanamo Prisoners
Norway: Mediators’ Conference Opens in Oslo
Silvio Berlusconi Against the Italian Press
Study Finds Half of German Immigrants Feel Like Outsiders
Sweden: Web Pioneer to be Next US Ambassador
The Dawning of Internet Censorship in Germany
Top German Jewish Leader Condemns Obama’s Middle East Policy
UK: Blind Passenger Hounded Off Bus Because of His Dog
UK: Bogus Colleges Loophole Left Open by it Delay
UK: Fear and Hatred on the Streets of Luton
UK: Man Has Broken Leg for 29 Years
UK: Minister Shahid Malik Facing New Expenses Inquiry
UK: More Than One Out of Ten Youths Not in Jobs or School
UK: NightJack Blogger Richard Horton Gave Tips on Beating the Police
UK: Ruling on Nightjack Author Richard Horton Kills Blogger Anonymity
UK: School Bans Bananas Over Teacher Allergy
EU Council — Visa-Liberalisation Possible in 2009
Some Balkan Countries May Get EU Visa-Free Travel Within Months
Israel and the Palestinians
EU Delays Changing Ties After Netanyahu Speech
EU Presidency Says Netanyahu in the Right Direction
Hamas Boasts, Then Denies Foiling Attempt on Carter’s Life
Israel: ‘U.S. Told US Don’t Take Netanyahu Seriously’
Male Palestinian Singles? Not at This Beach
Palestinian Refugees Reject Netanyahu Speech as Worthless
Time for a New Ally?
Middle East
Barry Rubin: Forty-Eight Hours of Reality
Carter’s Shameless Tears
Claims of Student Massacre in Tehran Spread
Defence: US, British Pilots Train Over Turkey
Iran ‘Ready to Recount Disputed Votes’
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Raid University in Isfahan as Protests Spread
Iran: Lebanon, Hezbollah Congratulates Iran on Epic Elections
Iran: Italian Team to Help Restore Cyrus the Great’s Tomb
Iran: Not Quite a Surprise
Netanyahu: Words Are Against Peace, Syrian Press
Outlasting the Ayatollahs
Qatar: Doha, Christians Celebrate Consecration of Marthoma Church
The Peanut Farmer and the Dictators
Turkey: Committee Begins Study on Early Marriages
Turkey Probes ‘New Anti-PM Plot’
Turkish and Greek Dogfights Cause of Concern in Aegean
Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality
Officials: GM Executive to Head Russia’s Gaz
South Asia
India: Bride Burning: Another Chapter on the Humiliation of the Indian Woman
Indo/Malaysia: Resurgence of Islam
Jonathan Kay: Pakistan, the Land of Many Talibans
Maoist ‘Rampage’ in West Bengal
Singapore: Mahathir Scoffs at Mm’s [Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew] Visit
Singapore: Senior JI Detainee Freed
Sri Lanka: Tigers ‘Reorganise’ Struggle
Thailand: Teacher Killed in Thai South
Far East
Japan: Ban on Exports to N. Korea
Koreas: Naval Chief’s Comments on Sea Battle
Koreas: The Lessons of the 2 Yeonpyeong Naval Battles
N. Korea Admits Uranium Program After 7 Years
N. Korea’s Disturbing Rationality
Australia — Pacific
New Zealand: Editorial: Army’s Role Needs to be Defined
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sarkozy Jeered at Bongo’s Funeral
Latin America
Air Crash Autopsies Rule Out Terrorism
Dominican Republic: A Demand for Government to Explain Refidomsa Sale
Bari: Letters Rogatory, No Response From Libya
Greece: Calls Grow to Curb Immigration
Italy: ‘Fascist’ Vigilante Group is Banned
Police Operation, Arrests in Italy and Europe
Spain: Immigration; Barrot, Stronger N. European Commitment
Sweden: ‘Sex Education a Must for Swedish Learners’
Culture Wars
‘Sweden Needs an Abortion Register’
Thomas Sowell: The Character of Nations

Financial Crisis

Developing World Leaders Show New Power at Summits

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) — Leaders of emerging world powers discussed reducing their reliance on the United States, as well as boosting security and trade at two summits on Tuesday hosted by Russia but excluding the West.

The range of topics on the agenda and the line-up of presidents attending showed the growing economic and political power of the world’s emerging nations, including India and China, and their desire to find new ways of co-operating.

Host president Dmitry Medvedev of Russia hailed the Urals Mountain city of Yekaterinburg as “the epicenter of world politics” in his remarks, adding that the need for major developing world nations to meet in new formats was “obvious.”

The so-called BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China called for reform of international financial institutions, sweeping changes to the United Nations to give a bigger role to Brazil and India and a “stable and predictable” currency system, according to a draft communique.

Iran’s president, re-elected in a disputed vote, fired a salvo at the United States, the leaders of India and Pakistan had their first one-to-one meeting since the Mumbai attacks and the four top emerging market economies held their first summit.

A common thread running through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, and the Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC) meeting which followed it, was discussion about a new world order less dependent on the United States.

Medvedev told a news conference that existing reserve currencies, including the U.S. dollar, had not performed their function and said it was time for change.

“We are likely to witness the creation of a supranational reserve currency…which will be used for international settlements,” Medvedev said. “The existing currency system is not ideal.” Countries should use their national currencies more for trade, he added.

The Kremlin’s top economic aide, Arkady Dvorkovich, said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should expand the basket of its Special Drawing Right (an international reserve asset) to including the Chinese yuan, the Russian rouble and gold.

The dollar fell 0.9 percent against a basket of major currencies on world markets after Medvedev’s comments. The slide “underlines the likely sensitivity of the FX market to comments emerging from today’s meeting,” analysts at Barclays wrote.

Between them, the four BRIC nations represent around 40 percent of the world’s population and 15 percent of its GDP. Russia and China lead the SCO, a security and economic co-operation forum which also includes four Central Asian states, plus Iran, Mongolia, India and Pakistan as observers.

“Such a type of coordination will allow us to better explain our positions to each other and work out a novel paths to resolving international financial problems and the reform of international financial relations,” Medvedev said in his comments to BRIC leaders.

Underlining its growing economic influence abroad, Chinese President Hu Jintao offered Central Asian states $10 billion of credit support to help counter the global economic slump, though he did not mention the proposals for diluting dollar dominance.

Beijing, with its massive holdings of U.S. dollars and bonds, has been very cautious about the these ideas.

In another snub to the West, the SCO leaders welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, making his first foreign trip to attend the summit since his disputed re-election.

Ahmedinejad arrived a day late in Yekaterinburg after mass protests against his disputed victory swept Tehran’s streets but Kremlin spokeswoman Natalia Timakova said the SCO presidents had congratulated Ahmedinejad on his victory.

“America is in the grasp of political and economic crisis,” Ahmadinejad told the SCO leaders in a speech which touched on the Palestinian issue and reform of the world order.

“The United States and its allies are unable to deal with the crisis,” he said through a translator. Medvedev listened carefully while Chinese President Hu Jintao made notes.

For the first time, presidents from the four SCO observer states were allowed to take part in a restricted meeting of the Heads of State Council and Medvedev said the organization needed to agree a procedure for admitting new members — a sign that expansion may be planned.

On the sidelines of the summits, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Pakistani leader Asif Ali Zardari for the first time since the Mumbai attacks and asked him to ensure that Islamist militants could not operate from Pakistani territory.

“The territory of Pakistan must not be used for terrorism,” Singh said. His tough words offered little hope for a breakthrough in relations between the two nuclear-armed Asian powers.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Fed to Get More Power

The White House is set to unveil its much-anticipated revamp of the financial regulatory system this Wednesday, reports WSJ. Among the big, new changes: The Federal Reserve is set to get the power to unwind and shut down large institutions as the FDIC currently has for more plain vanilla banks.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Russia, China, Others Urge Diverse Monetary System

YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Brazil, Russia, India and China say the world needs a more diversified international monetary system.

The four so-called BRIC nations are concluding their first summit with a final statement calling for the reform of global financial institutions to reflect changes in world economy.

They said Tuesday there is a strong need for a stable, predictable and more diversified global monetary system and urged support for a more democratic and just “multipolar” world order.

There was no explicit mention of the U.S. dollar or the United States in the statement.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Obama Should Speak Truth to Islam Because Others Can’t

IT was not an April Fools’ joke. When President Barack Obama met the Queen of the Commonwealth at Buckingham Palace, he gave her an iPod. Last week, I was half expecting the president to show up in the Middle East laden with Kindles.

He could have started with a special reading selection when he met Saudi King Abdullah. The day after, when the President spoke to the Muslim world at Al-Azhar University, I pictured him handing out another Kindle to Muhammed Sayyid Tantawy, the university’s grand sheik. Obama might have had a third Kindle for the ambassador of Iran to Egypt (for this man represents the ayatollah, who is the highest authority for Shia Muslims), who attended the presidential address.

Unlike the Commonwealth, the umma, or Muslim community, has no symbolic leader, let alone a formal one. The king of Saudi Arabia; the grand sheik of Al-Azhar University (the largest, and in the eyes of many Muslim scholars, most prestigious Islamic centre of learning); and the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran all make equal claims to represent the heart and soul of the umma.

They have their differences. The king is the protector of the holy shrine of Islam and a political leader. The grand sheik has no formal political power, but it is not an exaggeration to say his institution is one of the most influential in the Muslim world. And Iran not only claims spiritual power but pursues political and military dominance. The issue of who speaks for Islam is perhaps the worst nightmare for the US; this is not fully appreciated by the crafters of American foreign policy.

This makes a discussion of the relationship between Islam and the West much more problematic than the president’s speechwriters realise.

Like former US presidents, Obama denounced Islamic extremism without once associating Islam with extremism. He firmly stated that America is not at war with Islam and will never be; and he invited the Muslim world to join hands with the US to fight extremism tooth and nail.

However, Islamic extremism can be read in two ways. The first is in its foreign policy implications for the US: that is, in its expansionist or jihadi meaning. Al-Qa’ida-like attacks on American soil against Americans or American interests will be met with force, the President promised. That’s an easy position to take because for the US it’s a position of self-defence. It is not America that is at war with Islam. It is Islam that is at war with America.

The second sense of the word “extremism,” used many times by the President, is as a euphemism for the application of Islamic law, or sharia, in Muslim countries. This the President evidently hopes to counter by wooing the Muslim street.

The courtship articulated in his speech was peppered with false praise (“… it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed … our mastery of pens and printing.”), feigned common principles and made ridiculous promises to fight negative stereotyping of Islam wherever he encounters it.

This is all part of political rhetoric, but it really doesn’t lead to concrete change. This, in my view, is the wrong strategy. Instead of pretending that Muslims invented printing, the President should be confronting them with the key products of the Western printing press. And it’s here that Kindles could be of use.

I imagined him offering the king, the sheik and the ayatollah each a Kindle with Abraham Lincoln’s case against slavery and for equality. Obama reminded the Muslim world that “black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the centre of America’s founding.”

Nowhere in the world is bigotry so rampant as in Muslim countries. No difference is greater between American and Islamic principles than the founding ideals of both. It is on the basis of the founding ideals of Islam that al-Qa’ida and other Muslim puritans insist on the implementation of sharia law, jihad and the eternal subjection of women. It is on the basis of the founding ideals of America that blacks and women fought for — and gained — equal rights and gays and new immigrants continue to do so.

I would include Thomas Jefferson’s improvements on the New Testament. The king, the sheik and the ayatollah have the authority to rule that parts of the Koran no longer apply in the modern world. For instance, the edicts of sharia law that reject scientific inquiry and order all Muslims to spread Islam.

And of course, no reading selection would be complete without a copy of the US Constitution, highlighting (because you can do that in a Kindle) the Eighth Amendment banning cruel and unusual punishment.

And for good measure, I would also add John F.Kennedy’s inaugural address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty. … To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required. … To those nations who would make themselves our adversary … we dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed. … Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” Not to mention woman.

Obama promised to launch a fund to support technological development in Muslim majority countries to transfer ideas to the marketplace and create jobs. Does he realise the transfer of ideas creates opportunities for the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia to punish the practice of un-Islamic ideas?

That poor girl in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, who, after seven men raped her, was sentenced to flogging, had succumbed to the novel idea of flirting by mobile phone. In Saudi Arabia, every Friday, cruel and unusual punishment is perpetrated, far worse than anything John Adams saw in his time. The hands of those suspected of stealing — mostly poor, immigrant workers — are amputated.

The more one is dark-skinned in Saudi Arabia, the bleaker his circumstances, not to mention hers. For in Saudi Arabia, black is still considered to be inferior. Men and women convicted of adultery, apostasy, treason and other “offences” are beheaded. Thousands of women are rotting in Saudi jails, waiting to be flogged, or are flogged daily for acts such as mingling with men, improper attire, fornication and virtual relationships on the internet and mobile phones.

Promotion of literacy for girls, which the President wants to help pursue, is a noble cause. But, unless sharia laws are repealed, more girls will find themselves in flogging pens rather than rising up the career ladder.

Obama promised to host a summit of entrepreneurship in Muslim majority countries “to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the US and Muslim countries around the world.”

I wish he would host a reading summit where we truly “say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts that too often are said only behind closed doors”. For too many of us born into Islam, saying those things openly can land us in jail or in the graveyard.

           — Hat tip: The Frozen North [Return to headlines]

Guess Who’s Supporting Sotomayor?

Guess Who’S Supporting Sotomayor? O’vannity. O’vannor. Gump

Communist Party backs confirmation for Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — The way to end “right-wing” terrorism in the U.S. is to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice, boycott Fox News and support Barack Obama’s plan for nationalizing health care, the Communist Party USA said in an editorial in its newspaper, the People’s Weekly World today.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s Sculpted Face Heads to Mt. Rushmore Park

12-ton statue already touring country en route to South Dakota attraction

Mount Rushmore National Memorial’s famous stone carvings of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt are about to receive a sculpted visitor: a massive bust of Barack Obama.

According to Black Hills Today, the statue is made of steel and concrete, tops 20 feet tall and weighs roughly 12 tons.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Ezra Levant: Appetite for Censorship

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has given itself another report card. The last one didn’t quite work out as planned: Professor Richard Moon, who was paid $50,000 by the CHRC to write a short review of their conduct, surprised everybody by calling for the repeal of the commission’s censorship powers.

The CHRC immediately garbaged Moon’s report. Their press release accompanying it didn’t even mention his chief recommendation, and announced instead that a do-over review would start immediately. Needless to say, no outsider was trusted to write this one.

It’s not surprising that the CHRC gave itself a glowing review this time. But what is remarkable is that, far from being chastened by the public condemnation its bad behaviour has provoked, the CHRC has called for even more censorship in Canada.

The CHRC already has a 100% conviction rate for censorship prosecutions — no one in 32 years has ever beat the rap. That’s not hard to believe when you learn that truth, fair comment and honest belief are not legal defences in human rights hearings — the commissions operate more like kangaroo courts than real courts that way. And look at how vaguely the censorship law is written: Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act says it’s an offence to communicate anything “likely to expose a person … to hatred or contempt.” The word “likely” is amazing: The CHRC doesn’t have to prove you’ve actually done anything, just that you might in the future. And all they have to prove is that you said something that might cause one person to have hard feelings about another.

So it’s not just a speech crime. It’s an emotion crime, too.

That’s an un-Canadian law, and it’s an embarrassment that an organization with the words “human rights” as its middle name would be behind such an attack on our civil liberties.

What’s new is the CHRC’s suggestion that Canada’s Criminal Code be stripped of its free speech protections, too.

Right now, the Criminal Code has a hate speech crime in it. But, unlike the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Criminal Code has important defences built right in. Section 319(3) specifically protects anyone who was telling the truth, or believed what he was saying was true. Religious views are specifically protected, too, as are other defences.

Pesky civil rights — like the right to speak the truth — are a big reason why police don’t have a 100% hate speech conviction rate like the CHRC does. So in their new report, the CHRC suggests that the defence of truth be removed from the Criminal Code.

How perverse is that: A human rights agency is telling the police to reduce their commitment to civil liberties. Could you imagine a genuine human rights activist — say, Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King — calling for more power for the police and less for political dissidents? If a government agency like the CHRC had been around in the United States in the 1960s, or India in the 1940s, is there any doubt that it would have prosecuted King and Gandhi for saying things that “exposed” people to “contempt”?

But that’s not all. Like obscenity laws, censorship laws are necessarily vague and subject to abuse by police and prosecutors. So, as an added safety measure, Criminal Code hate speech charges cannot be laid without the personal approval of the Justice Minister. The CHRC calls this an improper “barrier” to prosecutions, and asks that it be removed.

That’s not surprising. At the CHRC, there is no oversight of their conduct — no internal affairs committee, not even a written ethics code.

It’s astounding that an organization as dysfunctional as the CHRC would have the hubris to tell Canada’s police how to do their business. It’s depressing that their advice to police forces is to strip protections for civil liberties out of our criminal code.

This report is the second PR exercise the CHRC has bought in eight months. They’re spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on damage control, including $15,000 to pollster EKOS and $10,000 to lobbyists Hill and Knowlton. Real courts don’t spend money on pollsters and spin doctors. But real courts aren’t held in as much public disrepute as the CHRC.

We’ve heard more than enough from the CHRC. It’s no longer a civil liberties organization. It’s a self-perpetuating industry full of empire-building bureaucrats, global junketeers and political bullies.

Now it’s time for Parliament to act. There is multi-partisan support for Parliamentary hearings into the CHRC’s censorship powers and their operational misconduct.

When real civil rights groups — from the B’nai Brith to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association — say the CHRC is broken, then you know it’s time to fix it.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Quebec Separatists Want to Silence Anglo Acts

It is hard to imagine anything less menacing than the acoustic bluegrass music of Montreal’s Lake of Stew. Heavy on mandolin, banjo and accordion, their songs are crafted to set toes tapping. “We’re not the bogeyman. We’re the friendly, happy-go-lucky folk band,” band member Richard Rigby said yesterday.

But because the lyrics to most of their songs are in English, Lake of Stew have spooked some hard-line Quebec nationalists. The band has been thrust into the middle of the province’s endless language debate, with French-language defenders demanding its removal from a concert next week celebrating Quebec’s Fete Nationale.

After reports on the weekend that Lake of Stew and another anglophone performer, Bloodshot Bill, had been uninvited from the June 23 show, the event’s producer said yesterday that no final decision has been made. In an admirable display of backbone, Pierre Thibault, president of C4 Productions, said he is not prepared to feed the anglos to the yapping language zealots.

“One thing is sure. If we are going to hold the event, it will be with the current lineup,” Mr. Thibault said. If Lake of Stew and Bloodshot Bill do not take the stage, neither will popular francophone performers Malajube, Vincent Vallieres, Les Dales Hawerchuk and Marie-Pierre Arthur, he said. A final decision on whether the concert goes ahead will be announced tomorrow.

The controversy began last week when organizers of L’Autre St-Jean announced plans for a show conceived as an alternative to the annual Fete Nationale blowout that attracts tens of thousands to a park beside the Olympic Stadium. One of their goals, they stated, was to “celebrate and promote Quebec culture, while underlining what other cultures have contributed to it.” Bloodshot Bill informed his fans that he was going to be “one of the first English performers playing the St. Jean celebration.”

But even though it amounted to about 40 minutes of English music over the course of a six-hour show —and even though Lake of Stew perform some songs in French — it was too much for the nationalist Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

Mario Beaulieu, the president of the Societe, said yesterday that English music has no place in Fete Nationale celebrations, except perhaps in neighbourhoods like Westmount where there are large anglophone populations. “What we want are groups that sing in French,” Mathieu Bouthillier, vice-president of a local cultural association that is connected to the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste, told La Presse. Mr. Bouthillier, whose association is sponsoring L’Autre St-Jean, said he protested as soon as he heard the producers had invited English-language bands.

Sovereigntist Internet forums quickly became inflamed over the inclusion of the anglos, claiming it was evidence that Quebecers remain colonized. “Beside the actions to put a halt to this farce, we can envision actions on the ground the day of the event,” one commenter, using the nickname D’Iberville, wrote on the web site of Le Quebecois, adding: “The event will not take place (if there are songs in English.)”

Similar veiled threats from nationalist hotheads led the National Battlegrounds Commission to cancel plans for a re-enactment this summer of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

The cancellation emboldened the opponents, who took away the message that threats of “civil disobedience” can be very effective. “A little organization succeeded in making Canada backtrack,” Patrick Bourgeois president of the Reseau told his group’s members last March.

Scrapping the English acts at next week’s concert would be the easy way out for the organizers, but it would hand Mr. Bourgeois and his followers another victory. Those opposing the English content are a fringe minor i t y. Yes terday, some prominent nationalists, including Parti Quebecois culture critic Pierre Curzi, defended the place of anglophones in Fete Nationale celebrations. Quebec’s Culture Minister, Christine Saint-Pierre, blamed an “intolerant” fringe of the sovereignty movement for stirring up the controversy.

“Anglophones have been among us for 250 years,” she told the Presse Canadienne. “They are Quebecers.” It was that sentiment that inspired the organizers of L’Autre St-Jean to invite Lake of Stew and Bloodshot Bill, and it would be wrong if an intolerant few spoiled the party. “The organizers reflect the reality, they reflect the climate here in Quebec, and that’s a climate of tolerance,” Mr.

Rigby said. “We might speak different languages, but culturally we’re the same.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Two Killed in Rash of Montreal Shootings

MONTREAL — A spree of gunfire has left two men dead and another two injured in less than 16 hours on the normally calm streets of Montreal.

There are no signs the three shootings are related, said Montreal police Const. Anie Lemieux.

Just before noon Monday, a 39-year-old man was shot after he left a gym.

“The man was heading to his car, when the suspect approached him and fired several shots in his direction,” Const. Lemieux said. The victim was helped back to the gym and taken to a hospital, where he was reported to be in critical condition.

Hours earlier, Mohamed Abokor Abdullah, 25, died after being shot on the street. Another 22-year-old man also suffered an injury that required surgery.

“It sounded like someone was shooting deer. It sounded like hunting season had just opened,” said Allison Cordner, a local resident.

Montreal police Const. Raphael Bergeron said investigators were trying to find a motive for Abdullah’s killing.

Another man was killed early Sunday night. Louino Jeune, 20, was with a group of about 15 youths, when a man approached him and shot him in the head.

Late Monday afternoon, Montreal police obtained an arrest warrant in the Jeune investigation and announced they were looking for 18-year-old Frank Antoine Joseph as a suspect.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

‘Brown Could be EU’s First President’

GORDON Brown is in line to become the EU’s first president, it emerged last night.

The job will become available later this year once the Lisbon Treaty is approved — and Mr Brown is now a front-runner according to EU diplomats.

But Tory MP Philip Davies said Mr Brown becoming the EU’s most powerful politician would be a “slap in the face” for British voters.

He said: “It would be completely wrong for Mr Brown, who has been rejected by people here, to now decide even more things that would affect our lives.

That really would be treating voters with utter contempt. It would be a complete slap in the face.”

Mr Davies — a leading member of the Better Off Out campaign which calls for the UK to quit the EU — added: “Having said that, if he does for the European Union what he’s done for the Labour Party and drives it into complete collapse, I’d be all in favour.”

EU insiders say Mr Brown would be in pole position for the presidency if he ended his troubled premiership later this year, or is ousted in a renewed bout of blood-letting.

Tony Blair has also been named as a candidate but many in Europe resent his enthusiastic support of the invasion of Iraq.

A poll revealed last night that backing for Labour has collapsed among public-sector workers. It found 30 per cent would now vote Labour, down from 42 per cent last year.

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

Denmark: Al-Qaeda Blasts Rasmussen the Crusader

A new statement from terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda accuses former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of spilling Muslim blood

A new videotape from Al-Qaeda calls former Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen a malicious crusader heading a regime that is an enemy of the state of Palestine.

The 35 minute video tape appears to have been made in April, according to Thomas Hegghammer from Jihadica, an information blog about militant, transnational Sunni Islamism, otherwise known as jihadism.

In the video, US Muslim convert Adam Gadahn makes a concerted effort to discredit President Obama, with no less than three references to Rasmussen — a record number of Danish mentions in an Al-Qaeda statement.

In a reference to the Mohammed cartoon controversy, Rasmussen is highlighted as a ‘crusader’, defending those who insult the prophet.

The al-Qaeda statement, released through its official media wing, As-Sahab, raged against the decision that saw Rasmussen secure

Al-Qaeda’s statement, released through its official media wing, As-Sahab, also raged against the decision that saw Rasmussen chosen as the next secretary-general of the Nato military alliance in April.

‘Had the malicious Crusader Rasmussen defended insulting of the Jews — for example — or casting doubt on the statistics of what is called the Jewish Holocaust, would he be secretary-general of Nato today? Obviously not,’ said Gadahn.

Another mention of Rasmussen labeled him a tyrant in line with Obama, Bush, Brown, Blair and Netanyahu. According to Al-Qaeda, these allies threaten to ‘send more forces of the Cross [into Afghanistan and Pakistan] to increase the spilling of blood of the Muslim people.’

There has been no comment from Rasmussen, who maintains an office at the Foreign Ministry and enjoys the protection of two intelligence service (PET) bodyguards. Rasmussen is due to take up the post of Nato secretary-general in August.

Head of PET, Jakob Scharf, has previously said that the reprinting of the Mohammed cartoons last year increased the terror threat against Denmark to similar levels as those of Britain, the US and Israel.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Al-Qaeda Fingers NATO Sec-Gen

Al-Qaeda says Denmark’s former prime minister and next NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is a Western tyrant.

The global terrorist movement Al-Qaeda has begun a propaganda offensive against NATO’s next secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, calling him a tyrant of the same ilk as U.S., British and Israeli leaders.

At the same time, Fogh Rasmussen’s handling of the Mohammed crisis, in which Danish newspapers printed and reproduced cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, is brought to the fore.

“If the evil crusader Rasmussen, for example, had defended the violation of the Jews or raised doubts about the statistics of the so-called Jewish holocaust, would he now be the secretary-general of NATO? Of course not,” a video sequence from Al-Qaeda’s official media company As-Sahab (The Clouds) says.

Al-Qaeda has repeatedly presented threats against Denmark and its interests following the re-publication in some Danish media last year of some of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Obama’s falsehood

The video is particularly notable as the spokesman used is a wanted American convert, attempting to convince listeners that President Obama, through his ‘false and sugar-sweet talk’, is trying to win Muslims over.

But Al-Qaeda says that instead, Obama has given the go-ahead for bloodshed in Gaza, Pakistan and Afghanistan where ‘Obama, Rasmussen and their NATO allies have threatened to send more crusaders to further shed Muslim blood’.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Fayed Denied Stake in Oil Millions Below His Own Home

Court rules Harrods boss has no claim on oilfield profits and awards him just £1,000

In a business career spanning six decades of wheeling and dealing, Mohamed Fayed has prided himself on his ability to sniff out a profit across his eclectic entrepreneurial empire. His only blind spot, it seems, is when the income stream lies directly beneath his feet.

The multi-millionaire Harrods owner yesterday lost the latest round in his battle to secure a share in the profits made from three oil wells that operated under the fields of his sprawling estate in Surrey without his knowledge for more than a decade.

Mr Fayed, 76, was last year awarded a stake in the tiny oil reservoir discovered in the ground beneath Barrow Green Court, his baronial pile in Oxted, near Reigate.

The nine per cent share in the proceeds from the Palmers Wood Oilfield, which has pumped just over a million barrels of its stockbroker belt crude since 1990, was granted by the High Court after it was revealed the owners of the wells deliberately withheld information about the location of its pipelines.

But yesterday three judges at the Court of Appeal allowed a challenge against the award by the oil company, Star Energy, and drastically reduced Mr Fayed’s new-found oil wealth from £621,180 plus interest to just £1,000 for “technical trespass” of his land. The court heard that the compensation received by the Harrod’s owner could have been as little as £82.50.

Under English law, although the soil and rock beneath a landholding belongs to its owner, any oil belongs to the Crown, which in turn grants drilling and extraction rights. Star Energy and its predecessor acquired the right to dig beneath Barrow Green Court and the adjoining farm in 1986, and sank three wells diagonally under the estate to a depth of up to 700 metres.

Mr Fayed, whose £555m business portfolio ranges from Harrods and the Ritz Hotel in Paris to Fulham Football Club and an American mapping company, first noticed the prospecting activity in 1992 when he spotted a small oil rig on land adjacent to his farm.

When solicitors acting for Mr Fayed wrote to Star Energy asking for information, the company declined to reveal where its bore holes were sited. It said locations could not be revealed for “reasons of commercial confidentiality”.

It was not until 2006, when Mr Fayed saw records held at the British Geological Survey, that he realised the pipelines ran under his property and decided to add “oil baron” to his list of business activities by suing Star Energy for a share of its profits. Up until 2007, the total amount extracted from the little-known Surrey oil belt was 1,006,000 barrels worth about £10m.

Mr Justice Peter Smith, sitting in the High Court last year, ruled that Star Energy and its predecessor at the Palmers Wood Oilfield had deliberately withheld the information about the location of their wells from Mr Fayed and his Liechtenstein-based holding company, Bocardo, because they had expected “trouble” if he found out.

Speaking after the court ruling in his favour last July, Mr Fayed said: “I am satisfied with the decision. Justice has been done.”

But the Court of Appeal yesterday overturned the finding that Mr Fayed was due a share of the proceeds from the oil because of trespass on his land, ruling that the drilling had caused no damage and did not impinge on any of his rights. Recognising a “technical trespass”, the court said Mr Fayed was due compensation that could have been as little as £82.50 but this had been increased to £1,000 in recognition that Star Energy would have been anxious to avoid delays.

Lord Justice Aikens said the case raised “interesting issues” about the rights of landowners sitting on top of oil deposits, adding: “Bocardo neither owned the oil found beneath its land nor did it have any right to bore, search for or get that oil.”

A spokesman for Mr Fayed said: “We are very disappointed by this result and we will be seeking leave to appeal in the House of Lords”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Finland: Bomb Attack Shocks Residents in Reception Centre in Southwestern Finland

White car recorded on surveillance camera; police say explosive device was dangerously powerful

An explosion occurred in the yard of the Finnish Red Cross reception centre in Suomusjärvi in Southwestern Finland at 3.00 a.m. on Monday.

Nobody was injured in the explosion, but the blast caused some damage to the property.

Several windows were shattered and the roof of a nearby garden shelter was ripped off.

A white car, apparently rather old, was seen at the scene only a couple of minutes prior to the blast. An image of the vehicle was recorded by a surveillance camera.

Deputy Manager Päivi Nikkola reports that the residents were shocked at the attack, and they are being given crisis assistance to help them to unload their feelings about the incident.

“Such an incident is bound to upset the residents, particularly when many of them come from countries where such violent events can occur frequently”, Nikkola notes.

The Red Cross reception centre has a total of 21 asylum-seekers, coming for example from Afghanistan and Somalia.

Most of them are adults, but some teenagers are also resident in the centre.

According to the police, they cannot gauge yet whether or not the act was racist-motivated, even though it was the first assumption.

There is no information about the perpetrator or perpetrators.

All they have is a CCTV photo of a white two-door passenger saloon with black rubber trim panels.

The nature of the explosive is still unclear, but Detective Inspector Pertti Läksy regards it as highly dangerous and liable to cause death if any people had been nearby.

“The explosive may have been the size of a stick of dynamite or slightly smaller”, Läksy says.

The technical crime scene investigation group of the police were working at the scene all morning.

The police are investigating the incident as sabotage.

When the explosion occurred, the reception centre’s night duty officer was present, but from now on the security measures will be stepped up.

In the future, a guard from a security company will always be present at the reception centre.

The building housing the reception centre was previously known as Motel Syvälampi, which was notorious as a venue for large-scale prostitution. The motel was turned into a Red Cross reception centre early this year.

Threats and attacks against reception centres have so far been very rare in Finland.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finland: Explosion Rocks Red Cross Reception Centre

An explosion occurred at a Red Cross reception centre in Suomusjärvi in south-west Finland in the early morning hours on Monday.

No one was harmed in the blast that shattered windows and harmed the building structure. The centre houses a few dozen asylum seekers. The explosion occurred around 4am on Monday morning.

A two-door white passenger car with a black trim was seen driving from the scene of the explosion moments before the blast.

“We have increased security at the reception centre to safeguard the residents,” says Päivi Nikkola, deputy manager of the Suomusjärvi reception centre.

Police in Salo are investigating the incident and are urging eyewitnesses to come forward.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Gaddafi: Diverse World, Mullah in Kabul, Catholics in Vatican

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 11 — “We cannot all be the same: what’s the problem if North Korea wants to be communist, Afghanistan is in the hands of mullahs? Isn’t the Vatican a respectable theocratic state with representatives throughout the world? Iraq as a dictatorship under Saddam, was this a problem for the West? Was it a good idea to make his regime collapse only to leave the door open to ‘al Qaeda’? It is not possible to evaluate the world superficially.” This is the extract from the speech given by Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in the Zuccari room of the Giustiniani Palace, to highlight the fact that dictatorships like those of religious or fundamentalist countries are internal issues. “Why can’t the world be diversified into regimes of all types?” the Colonel asked once again, adding: “If one has a useful programme for the people, what’s the problem?” “If Libya were to become a revolutionary country, it is a fact that regards Libyans,” he concluded. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Gaddafi in Rome: Women Are Objects in Arab World, Revolution

(by Eloisa Gallinaro) (ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 12 — Some rhetoric, al little equal dignity, a brief lesson in Italian and compared family law. Gaddafi’s notion of women was met by curiosity (a lot), applause (very little), protests (many and widespread) and, in the end, a fair dose of doubts. In the Sinopoli hall of Rome’s Auditorium, in the company of four female ministers and hundreds of women, Gaddafi appeared relaxed and sometimes funny without sparing a few caustic opinions. The worst was saved for the arab and Islamic world where women are treated “like a piece of furniture that can be changed at any time without anyone asking why”, where women “cannot drive cars” and don’t even have the “right of marriage or divorce”. In short, a “terrible situation” which “calls for a revolution”. But things in Libya are different because, thanks to the Jamahiriya, the revolution has already been taken care of and women live in an ideal state. After another late arrival, and clad in gold and blue jalabiya and cap, Gaddafi sat centre-stage and avoided any comment on violence against women and the mutilation of female genitals mentioned by minister for Equal Opportunities Mara Carfagna. Ironic and mystical, the colonel also spoke of a sort of discrimination in blue, according to which the Madonna is the only woman in the “divine books” and angels are (according to a school of thought) all male. Coming back to earth, in the most religious and neglected continent, Gaddafi spoke of Africa, where conditions for women are tragic because of the lack of a structured family. The leader however also dislikes the level of equal opportunities achieved in Europe because here women “have found emancipation only in form”. There is the lack of a real “freedom” of choice because in effects women are “forced” to do the same jobs as men and not those which in some ways are more befitting. The colonel concluded “that there is the need for a female revolution around the world based on a cultural revolution”. But attending women, thought fascinated by his person, were uncomfortable listening to a somewhat pedantic and elementary speech on female characteristics: a “rose”, according to Gaddafi’s arab metaphor, which must be treated differently to man, which is the metaphor’s “barley”. Despite their doubts many women couldn’t help but ask for his autograph (two were wearing a veil and were carrying his picture). The surrounded colonel did not turn them down, and the male and female security staff looked at bit more relaxed than usual. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Gaddafi in Rome: Rula Jebreal, Revolution to Start in Libya

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 12 — “It is certain that reforms are needed, it would be nice to see them start in Libya” said Rula Jebreal, Palestinian journalist who has become an Italian citizen, commenting on the speech delivered by Libyan leader Gaddafi during his meeting in Rome with Minister for Equal Opportunities Mara Carfagna and around a thousand women active in politics, business and institutions. “If he is aware of this problem, he should appoint women ministers in his government and make family law more in favour of women” added Rula Jebreal. “I like to hear an Arab leader talk like that, but words should be followed by deeds, starting in his country. It may set off a domino effect”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Germany Discloses Data on Farm Subsidies to Avoid EU Penalty

Germany has become the last EU country to disclose the beneficiaries of the bloc’s generous farm subsidies. But the state of Bavaria is still resisting financial transparency.

The German Agricultural Ministry on Tuesday posted a list on the Internet disclosing the names of German recipients of 5.4 billion euros (7.5 billion US dollars) in annual agricultural subsidies granted by the EU.

Germany is the last country in the 27 nation EU to publish the names of beneficiaries of farm aid.

Berlin had previously refused to obey an April 30 deadline set by the EU Agricultural Commission, citing several injunctions imposed by German courts.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that some recipients in Germany are not farmers in the traditional sense, but millionaires, big corporations, or even organizations that have no links to agriculture.

Milking the EU cash cow

Reinhild Benning, an activist with the German environmental group BUND, has taken a closer look at how the EU farm aid has been spent in Germany.

She has found out that the German airline, Lufthansa, has been receiving subsidies for dairy products it serves its passengers on transcontinental flights.

“Under EU rules this constitutes an export for which the airline absurdly receives export subsidies to the tune of two-and-a-half-million euros,” she said.

Another example of questionable EU subsidies, she said, were 500,000 euros in annual subsidies received by the German energy giant RWE for measures aimed at recultivating coalmining areas in eastern Germany.

The German dairy company Muellermilch, she added, was able to milk the EU cash cow for a new creamery it built in the eastern German state of Saxony.

“While building the new plant, Muellermilch closed two of its older ones in western Germany”, she said.

“On balance, the EU spent 70 million euros to enable the company to scrap 17 jobs.”

Sour grapes

German Agriculture Minister, Ilse Aigner, was reluctant to publish the list of farm subsidies.

She believes that farmers “will not be amused” at seeing their names and income made public.

“In the villages everyone will know immediately who receives how much in subsidies. That is why I insisted on making transparent for what purposes the money is being granted,” she said.

Privacy v. transparency

The obligation to make the payments transparent dates from a bitterly contested reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2006.

At the time, notably Britain demanded greater accountability with regard to farm subsidies which eat up some 40 percent of the EU’s annual budget.

However, critics say the publication of names and amounts is a violation of privacy rules.

“I would have preferred a solution in which the names of major recipients only are disclosed”, said Peter Schaar, the German Commissioner for Data Protection.

In his view, it would have been better to determine a limit for subsidies above which recipients would be obliged to disclose full details.

Bavarian resistance

Farmers in the German state of Bavaria will be spared public scrutiny of their incomes for the time being.

They have a strong lobby in the regional government in Munich.

The Bavarian Agricultural Ministry said it would withhold data on Bavarian farmers until the European Court has ruled on the legality of the move.

But on Tuesday, Michael Mann, a spokesmann for Agricultural Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, told the German dpa newsagency that the EU would not hesitate to impose a hefty fine if Germany failed to disclose all its farm subsidy data.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

German Students Launch Week-Long Protests Against Education Reforms

In cities across Germany, university and high school students are walking out of their classes this week to protest changes to the education system.

In Hamburg and Dresden students briefly blocked streets and intersections near those cities’ universities and occupied lecture halls, while in Heidelberg and Potsdam there were sit-ins and barricaded classrooms.

Monday was the first of a five-day strike, with students protesting the introduction of tuition fees and the bachelor and master system into German universities, the shortening of college prep school programs, and what they describe as the increasing commercialization of their education.

“We need independent, publicly-funded education,” Mo Schmidt, a student leader from the University of Marburg, told Deutsche Welle. “Because that’s essential for democracy.”

[Comment from Tuan Jim: ???]

The students are planning demonstrations, blockades and sit-ins. The primary goal, said Schmidt, is to raise awareness and kick off a discussion of the role of public education in Germany.

While Monday and Tuesday are mostly “warm-up” days, with alternative seminars on education and information booths on campuses, organizers are planning demonstrations in about 100 cities on Wednesday.

On Thursday, under the motto “money for education instead of for banks,” students are planning mock bank robberies, and intend to stage sit-ins and protests at banks. They are protesting recent bank bailouts by the government, at a time when tuition fees, once unheard of in Germany, have become the norm.

The government always said there wasn’t any money left for education, Schmidt explained, “now suddenly there are billions of euros coming from somewhere” to give to the banks.

On Friday groups from across the country are planning to meet in Berlin to protest a meeting of the state education ministers and to mark the 10 year anniversary of the signing of the Bologna declaration.

Reforms transforming European education

Signed by 46 European countries, the Bologna process calls on countries to integrate their education systems and implement a credit transfer system by 2010. Continental universities have had to replace their own degree systems with the bachelor’s and master’s degrees of the Anglo-Saxon world.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: This actually looks incredibly beneficial…but then, I’m just an American who worked and paid his way (with some help — family, federal/state grants) through a public state university.]

While supporters say this will increase the competitiveness of European universities and increase mobility for European students, the student strikers argue that the changes have made study programs inflexible and have reduced universities to factories producing workers for the economy.

The Bologna process was meant to increase transparency and boost the exchange of ideas and cooperation between universities, according to Professor Barbara M. Kehm, executive secretary of the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers and director of the International Centre for Higher Education Research at the University of Kassel.

Kehm told Deutsche Welle that the Bologna process represents a “great opportunity to really modernize curricula and forms of teaching and learning.”

However, depending on how the reforms are implemented, there can be unintended consequences. National governments seeking to have world-class universities have brought competitive pressure into the process.

“Rankings and other initiatives to create world-class universities are widespread,” Kehm said, “and act as an intervening factor into the trust and cooperation agenda which underlies the Bologna reforms.”

“Ultimately,” she added, “you can’t compete with the outside and think you can keep it out of the inside.”

At the heart of their protest, said student leader Schmidt, is the worry that education is becoming less and less about seeking knowledge and more about preparing to fill a need in the economy. Whereas before these reforms took place, “you went to university for yourself, to gain knowledge … now people are studying for the labor market.”

Schmidt himself is studying sociology and economics, “not because it increases my value on the job market,” he said, but because “I want to understand society.”

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Kudos to you…that’s why most universities offer electives next to required courses for majors.]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Greece: Misreading the Situation

The European Parliament elections of June 7 showed in the clearest way that two — maybe three — parties paid the price for misreading the events of last December. You may remember the barrels of ink spilled analyzing the so-called “left turn” taken by society. Some even hastened to predict that SYRIZA would benefit the most. The exact opposite happened, as the student elections had already indicated. SYRIZA lost a great deal of its support and society appeared to take a conservative turn — which may take an equally dangerous turn if its direction is left in the hands of populist extremists.

After December, the leadership of the “renewalist” Left became embroiled in an unbelievable display of narcissism over the popular “uprising.” They became overexcited about what happened on the streets of Athens and did not realize that although Greeks may find popular unrest alluring, they also have a remarkable survival instinct. They quickly realized that the cost of the December troubles would be huge for the economy, for tourism, for the country’s image abroad.

The average Greek got a fright when he realized how little separates us from chaos, how it really is to slip into an uncontrollable situation in which teenagers get their kicks from throwing stones at police stations.

Unfortunately, PASOK too believed the nonsense regarding a Left turn. This was evident several times, such as when there was a heated intra-party debate about whether the party leader should visit a police officer who was seriously injured in a terrorist attack outside the Archaeological Museum, lest this might anger some of the “kids.” PASOK has repeatedly followed in SYRIZA’s footsteps in adopting left-wing positions, without ever realizing that people want it to be a party that can govern, rather than a party that indulges in merely protesting and expressing its sensitivity.

The government, too, was very mistaken in its reading of December’s events. It froze in fear in the face of the crisis and the tsunami of populism that overwhelmed us for some days, and it made one mistake after the other. First, for the first time, we saw a government relinquishing the fundamental role played by any state: that of enforcing law and order. Second, it continued to act guilty, as if it were a government that had inherited the sins of other eras. The seriousness of the situation became apparent when control was lost, when the police disappeared for many days and weeks and when Athens and other cities appeared to have surrendered to chaos. This image caused great pain to a segment of the middle class that belongs to the hard core, the backbone of the center right. And when, for the first time, on the extreme right there emerged a party for which they were not ashamed to vote — since it had not been tainted by contacts with the military junta, as had been the case with EPEN in the 70s — we found ourselves in a situation that led to last Sunday’s result. When New Democracy acts as though it is ashamed that it is a right-wing party and when it makes a mess of an area of policy in which the right was always more focused, namely law and order, it is only natural that voters should look elsewhere.

With the rise of LAOS, the government finally realized the problem. The question is whether decisions that had been made a long time ago will start to be enforced — from building a mosque to stricter action against illegal immigration. The desire is there, but in this government the mighty forces of inertia have an astonishing ability to play for time in the days following a great crisis and then blocking every bold proposal that may be made.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Hungary Recalls Key 1989 Date on Road to Democracy

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Twenty years ago, Hungarians were finally allowed to honor the executed leaders of their 1956 anti-Soviet revolution. On Tuesday, they commemorated that turning point on the road to freedom.

President Laszlo Solyom and Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai joined veterans of the 1956 protests and relatives of those killed in laying wreaths in Budapest amid daylong celebrations included also concerts and exhibitions.

On June 16, 1989, at least 250,000 people attended the ceremonial reburial of Prime Minister Imre Nagy and four others hanged 31 years earlier and buried face down in unmarked graves. The reburial — broadcast live on TV from Budapest’s Heroes’ Square — came as Hungary’s communist leadership and the democratic opposition were beginning to negotiate the country’s transition to democracy.

“It was not only the funeral for Imre Nagy but it was also the burial of an era and a political system,” said historian Janos Rainer M., director of the 1956 Institute. “What no one could imagine was that it would turn out to be such a cathartic day, a psychological turning point.”

While Hungary had begun dismantling the Iron Curtain on the border with Austria a few weeks earlier, for regular Hungarians the end of communism was still an uncertain prospect.

On that day in 1989, Sandor Racz, a 1956 veteran, called on the world to “help the Soviet Union” withdraw its troops from Hungary. Viktor Orban, then 26 and later to become prime minister, also urged the Russians to withdraw but blasted the country’s communist leadership for making the 1956 revolution a taboo subject.

Sound engineer Benedek Tamas, then 23, said he could not fully grasp the significance of what Racz and Orban were demanding in 1989.

“I grew up in a ‘soft dictatorship,’ but the older people in the crowd were shocked,” Tamas said. “My mother was listening to the speeches on the radio and when she heard the calls for the Soviets’ withdrawal, she quickly shut the windows so no one else could hear — an old reflex from the times when she listened to Radio Free Europe.”

Janos Kadar helped restore Soviet domination and led Hungary for over 30 years before being replaced in May 1988. He died just three weeks after the reburial ceremony, on July 6, the same day that Hungary’s Supreme Court finally rehabilitated the 1956 revolutionaries.

“The message of June 16 was that Hungarian society was recovering its past and the right to its memories,” Rainer M. concluded. “To make this experience complete, it was also necessary to bury Janos Kadar.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Italy: Right- Wing Vigilantes Cause Stir

Maroni says new security law will not permit them

(ANSA) — Rome, June 15 — The creation of self-styled vigilante groups will not be possible under Italy’s new security law, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said on Monday.

Maroni was addressing an uproar over the newly-created Italian National Guard, unveiled at the weekend in Milan by a extreme right-wing group.

Speaking on a morning radio talk show, Maroni said the government security bill, which has yet to definitively clear parliament, “does not allow do-it-yourself civilian patrols”. “It states clearly that these volunteer associations must first be invited to patrol the streets by the mayor. Furthermore, the names of association members must be listed in a specific register and the association must be reviewed and approved by a provincial law and order committee”.

“Anything else is either folklore or political exploitation,” he added.

The Italian National Guard was set up with the support of a revived neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) and has been dubbed by critics as the ‘black vigilantes’, in reference to the standard color associated with Fascism.

The Guard caused outrage this past weekend when it presented its uniform which recalled those of the Fascist era and included similar symbols, like the Imperial eagle.

Milan prosecutors have opened a probe on the group on suspicion that they are attempting to re-establish the Fascist Party, in violation of a 1952 law.

MSI Chairman Maria Antonietta Cannizzaro called the initiative “absurd” and denied her group was trying to revive Fascism, which she said “belongs to history”.

“The Imperial eagle is part of our history since the time of Caesar. If it’s illegal, then all the historic buildings which have this symbol need to be torn down,” Cannizzaro said.

Milan Deputy Mayor Riccardo De Corato welcomed the judicial probe, saying that the “so-called black vigilantes cannot be put in the same category as support groups like the City Angels and the Blue Berets, who for two years have been pitching in to ensure law and order in our city”.

The creation of the civilian patrols is the fulfillment of a campaign promise by the center-right government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi. It is strongly opposed by the center-left, which claims that security should be in the hands of the police and not private citizens.

Aside from the expected outrage from the left, the setting up of the ‘black vigilantes’ drew protests from Italy’s right wing, which was also upset over the use of the name and symbol of the MSI by a group which has no direct connection with the postwar party.

The MSI was founded by members of the Italian Social Republic (RSI), created in northern Italy by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after he was rescued by Nazi forces following his fall from power in Rome.

The MSI later evolved into the ‘post-fascist’ National Alliance and this year joined the People of Freedom (PdL) party with Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa, a figure in both the MSI and National Alliance, said on Monday said that the promoters of the ‘black vigilantes’ should be sued for using the MSI name and symbol.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, another key figure in the MSI-National Alliance, said the creation of the ‘black vigilantes’ was both “shameful and disgraceful” and appeared designed to cast discredit on the government’s desire to all volunteer civilian security initiatives. The ‘new’ MSI is also calling itself the ‘Italian National Party’ and models itself after the far right, anti-immigration British National Party.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy Accepts Guantanamo Prisoners

Obama says Berlusconi is a ‘true friend’ of the US

(ANSA) — Washington, June 16 — Italy will accept three ‘enemy combatants’ who have been held prisoner at the American base in Guantanamo, Cuba, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi told US President Barack Obama on Monday.

Berlusconi flew to Washington officially to brief Obama on the agenda for the upcoming Group of Eight summit in Italy, but their meeting at the White House stretched out to two hours, one more than expected, as the two leaders reviewed a host of international and bilateral topics.

In a joint press conference after their meeting, Obama praised Italy for its “crucial contribution” in the international coalition seeking to stabilize Afghanistan and said that Berlusconi “has proven to be a true friend of the United States”.

There are unconfirmed reports that Berlusconi promised to send an additional 500 police and soldiers to Afghanistan to further boost its contingent there of some 2,800. The three detainees Italy has agreed to accept, in order to allow Washington to closed down the Guantanamo prison facility, are believed to be Tunisian nationals and are among the ten which the European Union has agreed to take. Berlusconi said that the G8 agenda he illustrated to the US president included ways to boost the world economy, food security and cutting greenhouse gasses. “We want the G8 summit to achieve concrete solutions,” the Italian premier said at the press conference.

He added that while it will not be possible to draw up definitive new rules to govern financial markets, in order to avoid a repeat of the current economic downturn, the G8 meeting “will take steps towards drafting these rules”.

Obama and Berlusconi were said to have also discussed the situation in the Middle East, with special attention paid to the Palestinian question and the aftermath of presidential elections in Iran Italy’s is hosting the July 8-10 summit, in its role as the rotating G8 president, in the quake struck central city of L’Aquila.

At the end of the press conference Berlusconi said that “it is extremely comforting and a pleasure to see that the destiny of the biggest democracy in the world is in very good hands”.

Obama replied saying “We’ve gotten off to a good start. I will always expect to hear Premier Berlusconi’s frank and honest opinions”.

Following his visit to the White House, Berlusconi went to Congress to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who recently visited Italy.

Speaking at the Congress, Berlusconi explained that Italy agreed to take the Guantanamo detainees because “we want to be on the front line, better yet we want to be the first country to help the United States to close the Guantanamo prison”.

“We are among the best friends the United States has,” he added.

Berlusconi also said that President Obama “told me that he wanted to see the art work in L’Aquila that was damaged in the earthquake when he takes part in the G8 summit”.

Pelosi recalled how the Congress “approved a resolution expressing the full support of the American people for the population in Abruzzo struck by the earthquake”.

The Italian premier replied that “this vote is further evidence of the strong ties which unite our peoples and I wish to express our gratitude for everything America has down in the past and continues to do for our country”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Norway: Mediators’ Conference Opens in Oslo

The Oslo Forum 09 opens on Tuesday. The Forum seeks to provide diverse, frank and discreet discussions between top mediators and other key actors from around the world on major issues affecting peace and conflict today. The Forum, the seventh of its kind, will be hosted by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere. Co-host will be former UN’s mediator Martin Griffiths, now head of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) in Geneva.

Among the topics on the agenda will be Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the Middle East.

Foreign Minister Stoere will have separate meetings with among others Liberia’s Foreign Minister Olubanke King-Akerele, President of the Palestinian Council on Foreign Relations Ziad Abu Amr and Secretary General of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan. The Oslo forum features an annual global event in Oslo and is complemented by regional retreats in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Participation is by invitation-only.

The Norwegian work for peace and reconciliation is characterised by long-term contributions and commitments, flexible resources and close cooperation with national and international NGOs. A central element in Norwegian peace efforts is to support and strengthen the UN’s capability of responding to armed conflicts.

The HD Centre is an independent Swiss Foundation dedicated to helping improve the global response to armed conflict. It attempts to achieve this by mediating between warring parties and providing support to the broader mediation community.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Silvio Berlusconi Against the Italian Press

Berlusconi flies to meet Obama, the anti-newspaper crusade continues

ROMA — “Do you have anything to say to Obama? I’m going, handsome and tanned…”. Berlusconi leaves the Paraggi villa for the Genoa airport from where he flew to Washington. Not even when he is about to face the hardest diplomatic mission does he refrain from recalling the wisecrack on the American President (“He’s tall, handsome and tanned”) which went round the world. Just a few hours before his departure — at the young entrepreneurs’ meeting, and then later that night in Portofino, during the dinner with Tronchetti and Afef — he had launched a heavy attack against La Repubblica, accusing it of “carrying on with determination a subversive plan”.

In front of the industrialists, he had suggested an alleged plot to overthrow him and replace him with a “non elected person”. He even went so far as to urge the industrialists “not to give advertisement to catastrophists”, i.e. to the media who talk about the crisis and to the left. And during the night, he had denied a statement made by Palazzo Chigi. “I meant what I said, I didn’t change anything, — enunciated the premier referring to the correction ascribed to him by the press office — I don’t know who spoke with me, I didn’t speak with anyone. What I said is what I said in public: it’s what I meant and what I think.”

Berlusconi feels he is under fire and reacts, on the one hand, by relaunching the activity of his government, that will meet before the G8 in Santa Margherita Ligure to adjust the programme for the coming months, and on the other by warning that, if faced with a “subversive plan”, the people who elected him would take action to prevent it. A “political fantasy” plan which, nevertheless, it taken seriously by the Cavaliere’s most faithful followers who feed the artillery fire against Repubblica and the opposition. So, according to Cicchitto, the group leader of the Chamber of Deputies “we are up against an attempt to destabilize the political and government balance resulting from the 2008 elections. An attempt to destroy the author of the political victory is under way”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Study Finds Half of German Immigrants Feel Like Outsiders

Half of all immigrants feel like outsiders in German society and say their achievements find less acknowledgement than those of Germans, according to a survey released Monday.

The Bertelsmann Foundation surveyed 1,581 immigrants and found that those from Turkey and Russia were most likely to feel like an outsider in their adopted country: 61 percent of Turkish immigrants and 55 percent of Russian immigrants said they lacked the recognition of native German citizens.

But of those interviewed, 69 percent of German immigrants were happy in their new country. Eighty percent said they had confidence in the German government, compared to 58 percent of the general German population.

“That most immigrants are happy with their lives here is a positive signal for Germany as a place to immigrate to,” said Dr. Jörg Dräger, a board member of the Bertelsmann Foundation. “However, integration isn’t a one-sided process. If more Turkish and Russian immigrants are to make themselves at home in Germany, they need more recognition and chances to redesign the future.”

While 58 percent of survey respondents said they felt like an integral part of German society, another five percent felt as though they had no part in it at all. A further 41 percent of respondents said they were equally connected with their homeland as they were with Germany, with three quarters of those adding that they hoped to keep their native traditions as well as adopt German traditions.

When it comes to opportunities immigrants have in Germany, 79 percent said they were happy with their jobs and 77 percent were content with their current living situation. However, when it comes to their families, 42 percent of immigrants said their children have fewer educational opportunities than their native German classmates. In the third generation of immigrant families, that number even jumps to 52 percent.

“Without fair opportunities at education, neither integration nor participation can succeed,” said Dräger.

Maria Böhmer, the head of the German government’s integration efforts acknowledged more needed to be done to recognise achievements made in an immigrant’s native country, such as education.

“Everyone in Germany should get a chance, regardless of where they come from,” said Böhmer. “It’s scandalous that 500,000 educated immigrants cannot use their university training in Germany.”

Most immigrant’s degrees are not recognised by German employers, and many then have to go through retraining programme.

The study was conducted across Germany, surveying immigrants aged 16 and older from Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Italy, Croatia, Spain and Greece.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Web Pioneer to be Next US Ambassador

A 38-year-old internet entrepreneur who went on to become one of Barack Obama’s top fundraisers will soon be nominated to become the United States’ next ambassador to Sweden.

Matthew Barzun, a Louisville, Kentucky-based internet publishing executive, is expected to be named soon as President Obama’s pick as US ambassador to Sweden, The Local has learned.

Barzun, who began his career as one of the first employees of the CNET media company, joined the Obama campaign’s National Finance Committee for the 2008 presidential election and helped pioneer events which catered to small donors.

According to statistics from the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research organization that tracks money in politics, Barzun helped bring in more than $500,000 to the Obama campaign for the 2008 election cycle.

Part of the total raised by Barzun included more than $290,000 in overall contributions from Barzun and his family to various Democratic candidates, party organizations and political action committees (PACs).

The nearly $300,000 given by Barzun and his family put him as the sixth highest contributor to Obama’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“We’ve heard nothing but positive things about him,” Eva Engdahl, secretary to the chief of protocol within the Government Offices of Sweden told The Local.

“While it’s hard to say for sure, we hope that he arrives sometime in late summer or early autumn.”

Engdahl confirmed that Barzun’s name had passed through her office recently as part of a process known in the diplomatic world as agrément.

In early June government officials in Stockholm sent word to Washington through the US embassy that Sweden had no reservations over Barzun’s appointment, paving the way for an official announcement from the White House.

Neither the US Embassy nor the White House would confirm Barzun’s pending appointment, however.

“I can’t confirm anything,” said US embassy spokesperson Robert Hilton.

“An announcement of the new ambassador will be made by the White House and the embassy has no information to share.”

According to the White House, it has a policy “not [to] confirm, deny, or speculate on appointments”, and as a result no information will be made available “until it is officially announced by the White House”.

The White House also refused to confirm when Barzun’s appointment would be announced, but sources told The Local an announcement could come as early as this week.

Before taking up residence in the posh mansion reserved for US ambassadors serving in Stockholm, Barzun must still be confirmed by the US Senate, a hurdle which has been known to trip up presidential political appointments in the past.

Speculation around a possible ambassadorship for Barzun has been buzzing for months in Kentucky, where Barzun has made his home since 2001.

Back in early November, within days of Obama’s victory in the 2008 race for the White House, a Louisville, Kentucky television station reported that Barzun’s fundraising prowess would likely result in an ambassadorial appointment.

And in early March,, a website dedicated to Kentucky politics, reported that Barzun had recently turned down a job in the West Wing, but was “poised to land a top appointment” from Obama, likely a “prominent ambassadorship” in a “major European country”.

Born in New York, Barzun was raised in Massachusetts and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College before joining CNET in 1993, helping the company to capitalize on the internet’s rising popularity.

Moving with the company to San Francisco, Barzun was an early advocate of purchasing domain names which CNET could use to launch new, content-specific sites. Barzun later launched and managed a number of sites, including

With its 1996 initial public offering, CNET became the first publisher of content on the world wide web to go public, according to the New York Times.

In 2008, the company was purchased by US broadcasting giant CBS for $1.8 billion, by which time Barzun had risen to the position of executive vice president.

Currently, Barzun is head of BrickPath, an internet media company “devoted to lifelong learning” according to his biography on the Louisville Free Public Library Foundation, where Barzun sits on the Board of Directors.

Barzun is married to Brooke Brown Barzun and the couple has three children.

His wife is the daughter of Owsley Brown II, the retired chairman and CEO of Brown-Forman, a Louisville-based producer of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Fetzer Wines, and Finlandia Vodka.

When contacted by The Local, Barzun was otherwise occupied and unable to comment on his pending appointment.

The last US ambassador to Sweden, Michael Wood, left his post in January following the conclusion of the George W. Bush presidency.

Wood’s tenure in Stockholm was marked by his efforts to promote enhanced cooperation between the United States and Sweden on the promotion of renewable energy technology.

The initiative, coined the “One Big Thing”, won Wood accolades on both sides of the Atlantic.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

The Dawning of Internet Censorship in Germany

Germany is on the verge of censoring its Internet: The government — a grand coalition between the German social democrats and conservative party — seems united in its decision: On Thursday the parliament is to vote on the erection of an internet censorship architecture.

The Minister for Family Affairs Ursula von der Leyen kicked off and lead the discussions within the German Federal Government to block Internet sites in order to fight child pornography. The general idea is to build a censorship architecture enabling the government to block content containing child pornography. The Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) is to administer the lists of sites to be blocked and the internet providers obliged to erect the secret censorship architecture for the government.

A strong and still growing network opposing these ideas quickly formed within the German internet community. The protest has not been limited to hackers and digital activist but rather a mainstreamed effort widely supported by bloggers and twitter-users. The HashTag used by the protesters is #zensursula — a German mesh up of the Ministers name and the word censorship equivalent to #censursula.

As part of the public’s protest an official e-Petition directed at the German parliament was launched. Within three days 50,000 persons signed the petition — — the number required for the petition titled “No indexing and blocking of Internet sites” to be heard by the parliament. The running time of an e-Petition in Germany is 6 weeks — within this time over 130,000 people signed making this e-Petition the most signed and most successful ever.

During the past weeks, protests became more and more creative — countless blogs and twitter-users followed and commented the discussions within governments and opposing arguments. Many mainstream media picked up on this and reported about the protest taking place on-line. A working group on censorship was founded and the protest coordinated with a wiki, mailing lists, chats and of course employing twitter and blogs. One website “” created a landing page explaining the complicated petitioning system and making signing the petition easier and more accessible for non net-experts.

Over 500 people attended the governments official press conference on the planed internet censorship — a number of whom used this occasion to demonstrate and voice their concerns. In fact, demonstrators began attending some of the Minister von der Leyens public appearances, carrying banners and signs to raise attention to the stifling of information freedom in Germany.

The net community did not only oppose the governments plans, but also made constructive suggestions how to deal with the problem of child pornography without introducing a censorship architecture and circumcising constitutional freedoms. The working group on censorship demonstrated the alternatives for instance by actually removing over 60 websites containing child pornographic content in 12 hours, simply by emailing the international providers who then removed this content from the net. The sites were identified through the black lists of other countries documented on Wikileaks. This demonstration underlines the protesters main arguments: instead of effectively investing time and efforts to have illegal content removed from the internet, the German government is choosing censorship and blocking — an easy and dangerous way out. The greatest fear of the protesters is that once in place, the infrastructure will be used to censor other forms of unwanted content, not only child pornography. German politicians already seem to be lining up with their wish-list of content to be censored in future — the suggestions ranging form gambling sites, islamist web pages, first person shooters, and the music industry cheering up with the thought of finally banning pirate bay and p2p.

           — Hat tip: ESW [Return to headlines]

Top German Jewish Leader Condemns Obama’s Middle East Policy

A leading member of Germany’s Jewish community has condemned Barack Obama’s approach to the Middle East conflict, saying the US President has a “skewed emotional take” on the situation.

Stephan Kramer, the general secretary of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, says Obama risks exacerbating tensions in the Middle East with his policies on the region.

Barack Obama recently held a keynote speech in Cairo, in which he attempted to reach out to the Muslim world. In that speech, Obama said the Israelis and the Palestinians were “two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history.”

But in a column in Tuesday’s edition of Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily, Kramer says that Obama had equated the Jewish people’s fate, including the Holocaust, with the situation of the Palestinians, showing the president has a “skewed emotional take” on the conflict.

Kramer also accused Washington of consciously trying to push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s back against the wall “to score points with the Muslim world.”

During a televised address on Sunday night, Netanyahu endorsed the establishment of a Palestinian state for the first time, but with certain conditions: the demilitarization of any future Palestinian state and Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. Barack Obama has repeatedly said he supports a two-state solution.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Blind Passenger Hounded Off Bus Because of His Dog

A driver told a blind cancer sufferer to get off his bus when a woman and her children became hysterical at the sight of his guide dog.

George Herridge, 71, told how the mum flew into a rage and shouted at him in a foreign language. A passenger explained she wanted him to get off the bus during the incident on May 20.

Mr Herridge, from Tern Close, Tilehurst, said: “Her child was kicking and screaming and someone off the bus told me her child was frightened of my dog. The driver said, ‘Look mate, can’t you get off?’

“I stood my ground. I had not done anything, my dog had not done anything and I was getting off the bus for no one.”

The retired NHS worker claimed he was forced off a bus by a driver after a similar encounter last summer.

And a day after the latest bus incident an lady began screaming “I don’t like dirty dogs” at Mr Herridge at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

A week earlier he faced further animosity from a couple at Asda in The Meadway, he said.

He is unsure what has provoked outbursts but said he thinks some have come from Asian people and that it may be due to religious or cultural differences.

If the people who were upset were Muslim, they consider dogs to be ritually unclean.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

UK: Bogus Colleges Loophole Left Open by it Delay

Mandatory checks on whether students from outside the EU are arriving at colleges or attending courses will not be operating until the end of the year, it emerged today.

The Government is unable to introduce one of the key elements in tackling bogus students because a new IT system is not yet in place.

Under the points-based system educational institutions taking students from outside the EU will be expected to tell the Home Office if a student has any unauthorised absences, fails to enrol on their course or stops their studies.

Kevin Brennan, the Further Eucation Minister, disclosed the delay to MPs today when he dismissed concerns that some college staff might boycott the checks.

Mr Brennan said: “The [checks] are not yet mandatory until a new IT system is in place which will enable the Home Office to check and link up with universities.”

The minister was giving evidence to a Home Affairs select committee inquiry prompted by an investigation by The Times which revealed a network of sham colleges in London, Manchester and Bradford.

The Times has made its evidence available to the committee and has co-operated with the Home Office.

Mr Brennan said: “The Times performed a useful public service by exposing some of the abuse outlined in the articles.”

He told MPs that he had asked officials to look at tightening registration of colleges and restricting the use of the word college in an effort to further clamp down on fake educational institutions.

Mr Brennan said he was looking at introducing a registration system covering every educational institution in Britain as a way of tackling the problem of people setting up “colleges” in back rooms above shops.

Another proposal would make the term “college” a registered education establishment, as is the case with the terms “university” and “institute”.

He told the committee: “It doesn’t seem logical that the term university should be protected but the term college should not be protected.

“[Bogus colleges] do have the potential to have a negative impact on the country’s reputation for education which is very high. I’m considering what steps we might be able to take to deal with that residual issue of bogus colleges which are bringing in students from within the EU.”

Mr Brennan said the move could be made in regulations under the 2006 Companies Act though it would not be retrospective and will not tackle existing sham colleges. An offence under the Act makes it a crime to carry on a business with a seriously misleading name.

The minister admitted that despite moves to tighten up on colleges offering courses to students from outside the EU, he was concerned about bogus colleges still being able to offer courses to youngsters from within the EU.

“I’m considering what steps we might be able to take to deal with that residual issue of bogus colleges which are bringing in students from within the EU,” he said.

The Government introduced a tougher regime this year for students wishing to come to Britain. Applicants from outside the EU must prove that they have enough money in the bank to support themselves for the duration of their course, prove their previous educational credentials and be vouched for by a recognised educational establishment.

The committee, which has been investigating the issue, will publish its report next month.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Fear and Hatred on the Streets of Luton

When troops returning from Iraq marched through Luton, all hell broke loose. Muslims protested, white residents rioted and the Sikh mayor was viciously attacked. Can this multicultural community ever find peace — or is this eruption of long-simmering tensions a sign of even worse to come?

Later that day, after the soldiers’ parade had dispersed, Kier was walking across St George’s Square in his England shirt — “Eng-er-land! Eng-er-land! Eng-er-land!” the crowd had been chanting at the protesters. Kier was still feeling wound up by what he had just witnessed back by the Arndale. He had a cousin in the army, a family friend who had been killed in action. Bloody Muslim extremists, Kier was thinking to himself. How dare they!

Then he saw the mayor crossing the square, walking high and proud in his robe and chains. He was Asian. So far as Kier was concerned, he was a Muslim too, and it was all his fault. He was the head of the council; the council had given permission for the extremists to make their protest. F*** it, Kier thought. Kier ran up to him and fly-kicked him in the back. Councillor Lakhbir Singh, the mayor of Luton, a Sikh by faith, not in fact a Muslim at all, stumbled and fell forward, putting out his hands to stop himself falling. Kier turned around and, before the police could do anything, he ran through them and was away.

It would be farcical if it were not so sad and unpleasant, that brief moment in the life of modern, multicultural Britain. A Sikh in a turban had been mistaken for a Muslim by a white youth too ignorant to know any better, and apparently too angry to express himself other than with a kick.

The incident had been caught on camera, but it took the police a while to catch up with Kier. He was finally arrested six weeks later, outside Luton Town Football Club, which is slap bang in the middle of Bury Park, the predominantly Muslim area of the town. Kier McElroy, a white youth aged 18, had been attending a reserves match against Peterborough United.

In the weeks preceding Kier’s arrest, for some unexplained reason, the assault on the mayor was kept a secret and the mayor himself kept under wraps. He would not talk to me for this article, and I only found out about the attack through a contact in the town after Kier had been charged.

“It’s political correctness, innit,” Kier told me, after being released from custody. “We feel we’re being treated differently. They won’t nick the Asian lads, will they?” “We”, of course, were the white lads. Luton has been sharply divided along racial lines by recent events. Many of the town’s white youth are restless and incensed, and those other extremists, of the far right — the National Front (NF) and the British National Party (BNP) — are circling like vultures. Not for the first time, many of the town’s 30,000 or more Muslims are fearful of the backlash provoked, as they would see it, by the actions of the few Islamic extremists, or “troublemakers”, as I often heard them called.

Rumour and suspicion are increasing the unease. I heard of a white mob getting ready to storm the town hall, believing it had been taken over by councillors who might be sympathetic to Al-Qaeda; there was supposedly a campaign by Muslim extremists to intimidate black and white people out of their homes in Bury Park (this, in fact, turned out to be a succession of stone-throwing incidents by a lone Pakistani youth with a psychiatric illness). A series of protest marches were planned and abandoned, or fizzled out amid claims some organisers were running scared.

Among the would-be march organisers was a white man called Paul Ray who didn’t even live in Luton. He runs Lionheart, a blog in which he appears to believe he is re-fighting the medieval crusades, the good Christian against the Muslim hordes. He’s currently bailed on suspicion of inciting racial hatred. A man who had no shame about giving his name and address wrote to the local paper, The Luton News, asking, rhetorically, what he was going to do about Muslims demonstrating and attacking “our troops”. His donation to the BNP, he told readers, was in the post. Meanwhile, the NF and the BNP had added images of the Luton extremists to their websites. “Those pictures will add 2% to our vote in the next election,” I was told by the BNP spokesman Simon Darby.

Everyone was blaming everyone else. The whites blamed the authorities for letting it happen and the police for not doing anything about it — why didn’t they arrest them? The moderate Muslims blamed the extremists, the extremists blamed the moderate Muslims for not having the courage of their convictions; the authorities blamed the media for its inflammatory coverage of the parade and the intemperate language it tended to use when writing about Muslims.

Many people, especially outsiders, believed the trouble had started with the soldiers’ parade on March 10, and it was true that the events of that day had been widely reported across the world and drawn a new round of negative attention to a town that had long struggled with its public image. Whoever went to Luton unless they lived or worked there or were flying out from the airport?

But, of course, the rest of the world knew little of the long, slow-simmering tensions in the town and its struggle for harmony — community cohesion, in the jargon of the age — over many years, during which its mix of race and culture has become increasingly diverse. It’s a story of our times — the struggle for all of us, with our varieties of races and religions, to accept our differences and live peacefully together, and the tricky balance of competing freedoms of expression: the freedom to march, the freedom to protest, the right to be free from religious or racial hatred or harassment. “I’m not a racist, but…” one middle- aged white man in Luton told me, “…if they don’t like it here, why don’t they piss off home?”

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

UK: Man Has Broken Leg for 29 Years

‘I was repeatedly told the bone had healed so I carried on walking on it’

Steve Webb, 49, broke his left leg in a motorbike crash when he was 20-years-old. But after suffering decades of pain he found it had never actually healed.

Mr Webb, from Dagenham, Essex, said he only realised he still had the injury after it showed up on a hospital scan.

He had feared the leg might have to be amputated under the knee but instead he is about to have an operation to stretch the broken bone back together.

“I think it’s extraordinary. Everyone tells me that having a broken leg for nearly 30 years is unheard of.

“I’ve had trouble with my leg ever since the accident but I was repeatedly told the bone had healed so I carried on walking on it.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Minister Shahid Malik Facing New Expenses Inquiry

Shahid Malik, the Communities Minister, is facing a fresh investigation into his financial affairs only a week after he was cleared of breaching the ministerial code.

John Lyon, the Parliamentary standards commissioner, announced today that he was going to investigate Mr Malik after receiving a complaint from a group that campaigns for open government.

Mr Malik has already spent more than a week suspended from government after reports that he rented a three-bedroomed home in his Yorkshire constituency at a below-market rate of less than £100 a week. The arrangement risked a conflict of interest, it was claimed.

Sir Philip Mawer, the Prime Minister’s adviser on breaches of the ministerial code, investigated the reports. Last week he concluded that while it was ‘unfortunate’ that Mr Malik could produce no receipts for payments he had made, nor any written rental agreement with his landlord, he had not broken the rules.

The rent was not preferential and was reasonable in the light of market conditions, Sir Philip concluded. His report gave the green light for Mr Malik to return to the ranks of the Government.

The following day, however, fresh allegations appeared in The Daily Telegraph that in addition to claiming the maximum second home allowance of around £23,000pa on his London property, the Dewsbury MP was also claiming £6,500 for maintaining an office in his constituency home.

Mr Malik already has a taxpayer-funded constituency office in Dewsbury.

Mr Lyon, who acts as Parliament’s anti-sleaze watchdog, said that he had decided to investigate Mr Malik after a complaint from the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics.

News of Mr Malik’s fresh political woes came as Ian Taylor, the Conservative MP for Esher and Walton, became the latest member to announce he was standing down at the next election as a result of the expense scandal.

Mr Taylor, 64, became embroiled in the expenses controversy when the Daily Telegraph revealed he had a second home in London even though his main home is within the capital’s commuter belt.

In his resignation letter, the MP defended his decision not to live in Esher and Walton. “It is clear … that many constituents have little concept of what an MP does or where his attention should be focused,” he wrote.

He said that he commuted most weeks, spending Friday, Saturday and Sunday in and around his constituency.

Mr Taylor was an opponent of the Iraq war and a pro-European who found himself at loggerheads with his own party when it hardened its stance on the EU.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: More Than One Out of Ten Youths Not in Jobs or School

The proportion of young people in England not in education, employment or training has increased to more than one in 10, government figures show.

At the end of 2007, 9.7% of 16 to 18 year olds were considered to be such “Neets”, but by the end of 2008, this had risen to 10.3%.

The increase is being driven by reduced job opportunities for 18 year olds.

But the government says a record number of this age group — 1.61 million — were in education or training.

The statistics, released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, show that the proportion of so-called “Neets” has fallen for 16 and 17 year olds — who are increasingly likely to stay in education and training during the recession.

At the end of 2008, 92.7% of 16-year-olds and 83.5% of 17-year-olds were in full-time education or training.

However the overall Neets figure has been pushed up by a substantial increase in 18 year olds not in jobs, training or places in education.

There are now 16.6% of 18 year olds who are classified as Neets — up from 14.2% in the previous year. This age group also faces problems with a pressure on university places this autumn.

The drive to reduce the number of youngsters not in jobs or education is part of the government’s efforts to create a better-qualified and higher-skilled workforce.

But in the present economic climate, the Children’s Secretary Ed Balls said it was important to prevent the “economic and social scarring” caused by previous recessions — saying that people could not be left to “languish on the dole”.

He said that there had been “devastating” consequences for families affected by long-term unemployment and for those lacking in skills to get jobs.

Iain Wright, the minister for 14 to 19 reform and apprenticeships, said that he had memories of people of his own age in the early 1990s who had been “sitting on the dole” — and there needed to be a “different mindset” in this recession.


Children’s charity Barnardo’s said the situation for young people leaving school at 16 and wanting to work or train in the workplace was “desperate”.

Chief executive Martin Narey said the proportion of Neet young people had hovered around 9-10% of the age group for the past decade.

He added: “But beneath this, there are two clear trends: a steady rise in the number of young people staying on in full-time education, and the steady decline in employment and work-based learning opportunities for young people aged 16-18.

“We urgently need a more relevant education system — with more vocational options for young people who are not suited to narrow, academic learning — and more opportunity to learn in the workplace, to gain the skills and experience that employers demand.”

Shadow Universities and Skills Secretary, David Willetts, said: “This is more evidence that young people are bearing the brunt of the recession.

“But this problem has been getting worse for more than ten years, long before the recession began. Now that times are harder, the problems are becoming more acute.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: NightJack Blogger Richard Horton Gave Tips on Beating the Police

The policeman who failed to secure an injunction to prevent The Times revealing his identity had used his anonymous blog to offer advice on how to undermine police investigations as well as revealing confidential information about his cases.

Richard Horton, a detective constable with Lancashire Constabulary, began the NightJack blog in February last year.

At one stage he attracted nearly 500,000 readers a week with his pithy observations of life on the front line of policing. He was awarded an Orwell Prize for political writing in April this year.

The award judges were not aware that he was revealing confidential details about cases, some involving sex offences against children, that could be traced back to genuine prosecutions.

The detective has now deleted the website and received a written warning for misconduct for the fact that he was writing a blog, the success of which has led him to receive numerous offers to publish a book. His superiors are aware of the allegations that he was also revealing confidential information.

Some of the best-read sections of the blog were anecdotes about cases on which Mr Horton has worked. The people and the locations in the cases were anonymised, and some details subtly changed, but could easily traced back to real-life prosecutions.

One entry described the author investigating the rape of “Melissa”, a 14-year-old girl who was plied with alcohol and then raped in a hotel room. Mr Horton wrote that the offender had an Asian name, had hepatitis, and assaulted the girl at a seaside hotel, while filming it on his mobile phone.

A month earlier Ajmal Mohammad received an indefinite sentence at Preston Crown Court for raping a drunk teenager in a Blackpool hotel room. The court heard that he was infected with hepatitis C, and had filmed the attack on his phone.

Writing on the blog, Mr Horton revealed information that could have influenced the case, such as his suspicions that a key witness had misled police about her knowledge of the sex attack.

Another entry described an investigation against “David” a “local politician . . . with a seat on the council” who was found to have child abuse pictures on his computer. The blog said that “David” received a non-custodial sentence after a guilty plea.

In 2003 Bill Chadwick, a Preston councillor, pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and was fined £1,000. But on the blog Mr Horton also revealed confidential details of other serious allegations against Mr Chadwick, which the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue.

Other cases described on the blog can also be traced back to genuine prosecutions. In another entry entitled “A Survival Guide For Decent Folk”, Mr Horton offered advice to people who found themselves the subject of a police investigation.

His advice was to “complain about every officer… [and] show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it”. Other observations included: “All you are trying to do by trying to explain is digging yourself further in. We call that a significant statement and we love it.”

When first confronted by The Times, Mr Horton refused to confirm or deny that he was the blog’s author, before trying to gain an injunction in the High Court preventing his name from being made public.

Lancashire Constabulary launched an investigation after being told that Mr Horton was the author.

A spokesman said: “The commentary in the blog is indeed the work of a serving Lancashire detective and clearly the views and opinions expressed are those of the author himself and not those of the wider Constabulary.

“We have conducted a full internal investigation and the officer accepts that parts of his public commentary have fallen short of the standards of professional behaviour we expect of our police officers.

“He has been spoken to regarding his professional behaviour and, in line with disciplinary procedures, has been issued with a written warning.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Ruling on Nightjack Author Richard Horton Kills Blogger Anonymity

Thousands of bloggers who operate behind the cloak of anonymity have no right to keep their identities secret, the High Court ruled today

In a landmark decision, Mr Justice Eady refused to grant an order to protect the anonymity of a police officer who is the author of a blog called NightJack.

The officer, Richard Horton, 45, a detective constable with Lancashire Constabulary, had sought an injunction to stop The Times from revealing his name.

In April Mr Horton was awarded the Orwell Prize for political writing, but the judges were not aware that he was revealing confidential details about cases, some involving sex offences against children, that could be traced back to genuine prosecutions.

His blog, which gave a behind-the-scenes insight into frontline policing, included strong views on social and political issues, including matters of “public controversy,” the judge said.

The officer also criticised and ridiculed “a number of senior politicians” and advised members of the public under police investigation to “complain about every officer . . . show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it.”

Mr Horton has now deleted his website and received a written warning from his force.

He has received several offers to publish a book after using the success of the blog to attract a literary agent.

Some of the blog’s best-read sections, which on occasion attracted nearly half a million readers a week, were anecdotes about the cases on which Mr Horton had worked.

The people and places were anonymised and some details changed but they could be traced back to the prosecutions.

In the first case dealing with the privacy of internet bloggers, the judge ruled that Mr Horton had no “reasonable expectation” to anonymity because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity”.

Coming down in favour of freedom of expression, the judge also said that even if the blogger could have claimed he had a right to anonymity, the judge would have ruled against him on public interest grounds.

The police officer, the judge said, had argued that he should not be exposed because it could put him at risk of disciplinary action for breaching regulations with his disclosures.

But Mr Justice Eady criticised that argument as “unattractive to say the least”.

He added: “I do not accept that it is part of the court’s function to protect police officers who are, or think they may be, acting in breach of police discipline regulations from coming to the attention of their superiors.”

The judge added that there was “much force in the argument that any wrongdoing by a public servant, save perhaps in trivial circumstances, is a matter which can legitimately be drawn to the attention of the public by journalists. There is a growing trend towards openness and transparency in such matters.”

He added: “It would seem to be quite legitimate for the public to be told who it was who was choosing to make, in some instances, quite serious criticisms of police activities and, if it be the case, that frequent infringements of police discipline regulations were taking place.”

The action arose after a Times journalist, Patrick Foster, worked out the identity of the NightJack blogger “by a process of deduction and detective work, mainly using information on the internet,” the judge said.

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, for the blogger, had argued that “thousands of regular bloggers who communicate nowadays via the internet under a cloak of anonymity would be horrified to think that the law would do nothing to protect their anonymity of someone carried out the necessary detective work and sought to unmask them”.

The judge said: “That may be true. I suspect that some would be very concerned and others less so.”

But “be that as it may”, he added, the blogger needed to show that he had a legally enforceable right to maintain anonymity in the absence of a genuine breach of confidence, by suppressing the fruits of detective work such as that carried out by Mr Foster.

Mr Tomlinson had argued that the blogger wished to remain anonymous and had taken steps to preserve his anonymity..

He said that The Times was aware of his wish; and that there was no justification for “unmasking” him, as he was entitled to keep his identity as the author of the blog private and confidential..

But Mr Justice Eady said that the mere fact that the blogger wanted to remain anonymous did not mean that he had a “reasonable expectation” of doing so; or that The Times was under an enforceable obligation to him to maintain that anonymity.

Antony White, QC, for The Times, argued that there was a public interest in non-compliance by a police officer with his obligations under the statutory code governing police behaviour; and also with general public law duty on police officers not to reveal information obtained in the course of a police investigation, other than for performing his public duties.

When first confronted by The Times, Mr Horton refused to confirm or deny that he was the blog’s author.

Lancashire Constabulary began an investigation after being told of his identity and issued him with a written warning.

A police spokesman said: “The commentary in the blog is indeed the work of a serving Lancashire detective and clearly the views and opinions expressed are those of the author himself and not those of the wider constabulary.

“We have conducted a full internal investigation and the officer accepts that parts of his public commentary have fallen short of the standards of professional behaviour we expect of our police officers.

“He has been spoken to regarding his professional behaviour and, in line with disciplinary procedures, has been issued with a written warning.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: School Bans Bananas Over Teacher Allergy

Children unable to include fruit in packed lunches since 2007

A primary school has banned bananas for two years because one of its staff members has a life threatening allergy to the fruit.

Children at Stoke Damerel Primary School, in Plymouth, have been unable to include the fruit in their packed lunches since 2007.

But after learning of the banana boycott, Vivien Pengelly, leader of Plymouth City Council, said she would ask officers to investigate.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


EU Council — Visa-Liberalisation Possible in 2009

(ANSAmed) — LUXEMBOURG, JUNE 15 — The EU Council on Foreign Relations, “is encouraging the European Commission to present” a legislative proposal, “as soon as possible, in order to create a liberalised visa system, ideally before the end of 2009.” The Council met today in Luxembourg, and the Western Balkan countries concerned are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, all of whom will have had to fulfil the EU Schengen criteria. Following a report by the Commission on the progress made in each country, the Council called on the 5 states involved to push ahead and carry out the reforms necessary, emphasising that “it is important that all countries concerned reach the objective of visa liberalisation on their own merits.” (ANSAmed)

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Some Balkan Countries May Get EU Visa-Free Travel Within Months

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The citizens of Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro could be allowed visa-free travel to the European Union as early as the end of this year, EU foreign ministers said on Monday (15 June).

“The [EU foreign] ministers encouraged the European Commission to start dismantling the visa requirement for all countries that have met all benchmarks with a view of achieving a visa-free regime with them ideally by the end of this year,” Czech foreign minister Jan Kohout, whose country presides over the EU until the end of this month, said at a press conference after the ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg.

EU candidate Macedonia is said to be the most advanced and to have met all necessary conditions — including “document security, public order and security, external relations and fundamental rights” — for its citizens to be allowed to travel visa-free into the European Union.

Montenegro and Serbia have met the majority of the conditions and are expected to make further progress on the remaining ones by the end of the year.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn welcomed the foreign ministers’ decision.

“Today’s council meeting brings some good news for the people of the western Balkans… The commission has for long been committed to visa-free travel for the peoples of the western Balkans. We know how important it is for them, especially for the younger generations, to be able to travel and study freely in the EU,” he said.

“That’s why the commission will press on with the aim to present a proposal for visa-free travel to the council [the member states] still before the summer break,” he added.

After the commission makes its proposals, the European Parliament is to be consulted and then EU member states are expected to give a final green light to visa liberalisation for the most advanced countries before the end of the year.

Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have made the least progress in this area and their citizens are not expected to get visa-free travel at this stage.

For its part, Kosovo which last year proclaimed its independence from Serbia, is not yet included in the visa liberalisation dialogue.

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

Israel and the Palestinians

EU Delays Changing Ties After Netanyahu Speech

Brussels, 15 June (AKI) — The European Union on Monday decided to delay upgrading ties with Israel, following a key speech by Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlining conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Although EU foreign ministers reacted positively to the speech Netanyahu delivered on Sunday, some said it was not enough to raise the level of talks.

“We must say quite clearly today there can only be talk of an upgrade when the peace process is on its way, and for that we need a few steps more,” said Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn.

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said it was “not sufficient”, while Finland’s foreign minister Alexander Stubb said Israel’s move was not enough to upgrade ties with the Jewish state.

Italy’s foreign minister Franco Frattini praised Netanyahu’s comments about peace with the Palestinians but criticised his comments in which he described Jerusalem as the “united capital of Israel”.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

“It is a positive step to want to negotiate with the Palestinians. However the preconditions are worrying in regard to Jerusalem, something that is subject to negotiations,” said Frattini, who was due to meet hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman in Luxembourg late Monday.

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak echoed the European ministers’ concerns in a speech to army commandos saying that Netanyahu’s speech “scuttles the chances for peace,” state news agency MENA reported.

Mubarak said Netanyahu’s demand for Palestinians to recognise Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people as a precondition for the establishment of their state, “will not be answered.”

“You won’t find anyone to answer that call in Egypt, or in any other place,” Mubarak was quoted as telling the troops.

Since last June, the EU and Israel have been exploring ways to grant Israel better access to the vast European market and give it a role on a range of European advisory panels.

But strengthening political and security exchanges need the unanimous backing of all 27 EU governments.

In January, the EU decided to freeze moves to upgrade relations following the Gaza offensive that killed 1,330 Palestinians, injured 5,400 others and caused massive destruction in the coastal strip.

The Palestinian Authority opposes the EU plan to expand relations with Israel in the political, economic, scientific, security, health and other spheres.

It wants Israel to do more to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories and halt the spread of illegal Jewish settlements.

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

EU Presidency Says Netanyahu in the Right Direction

(ANSAmed) — LUXEMBOURG, JUNE 15 — In the view of the EU presidency, the speech made yesterday by Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu “is a step in the right direction,” said Jan Kohut, Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic (which currently holds the EU presidency) while entering a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg. “There are certainly elements that must be analysed,” added Kohut, “but he has accepted a Palestinian state. The fact that the word ‘state’ was used is a small step in the right direction.” Also, EU High Representative for Common and Security Policy Javier Solana believes that Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech should be considered “an important step that will be useful” to encourage resuming peace negotiations. “It is the first time that Israel has mentioned a two-state solution,” said Solana upon his arrival in Luxembourg, underlining that this is a step forward. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Hamas Boasts, Then Denies Foiling Attempt on Carter’s Life

( Israeli and Palestinian Authority media presented conflicting reports regarding an attempted assassination of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter during his visit to Gaza Tuesday morning. Under threat or not, Carter claimed that Arabs in the

Hamas-controlled region were “literally starving”.

Carter arrived in Gaza early on Tuesday for meetings with leaders of the jihadist Hamas organization, which controls the Gazan half of the Palestinian Authority. Ahead of his trip, Carter said he would try to persuade Hamas to do what is necessary to lift the international community’s boycott of the Islamist regime.

The Israeli Maariv newspaper quoted an unnamed “Palestinian security source” as saying that Hamas militiamen neutralized two explosive devices placed along the route Carter’s motorcade was to travel in northern Gaza. The bombs were reportedly placed near the Erez Crossing after Carter had already passed through, indicating an intention to strike at the former U.S. president on his way out of Gaza. The newspaper claimed that Hamas sappers and other security forces responded to the scene and eliminated the threat.

Contradicting the Maariv report, however, a spokesman for the Hamas police force in Gaza said that his forces found no bombs along the route to Erez Crossing. Islam Shahwan confirmed that there was a brief suspicion of explosive devices placed along Carter’s travel route, but insisted that a sweep of the area turned up no security breaches.

Maariv quoted sources among Carter’s associates as saying that Hamas updated them about the explosives and offered guidance to the American delegation. The newspaper added that an al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Gaza was responsible for the attempted assassination. Jihadist websites initially seemed to confirm the Ma’ariv story, including supposed “eyewitness” accounts of the discovery and neutralization of two bombs.

Treated Like Savages

Jimmy Carter claimed he had to hold back tears during his visit to Gaza when he saw the rubble of buildings bombed by Israel during its counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead, which ended in January 2009. Carter added that he was also disturbed by the rocket attacks on the Negev city of Sderot.

However, in an interview with Haaretz newspaper Carter was less even-handed. “To me, the most grievous circumstance is the maltreatment of the people in Gaza, who are literally starving and have no hope at this time,” he declared. The “most important” step Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must take, Carter said, was “alleviation of their plight.”

In Carter’s view, Israel is responsible for the suffering he allegedly witnessed in Gaza. “They’re being treated like savages,” Carter declared.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority’s Maan news agency, operated out of Bethlehem, reported that Israel was opening two Gaza access crossings on Tuesday. More than 130 truckloads of supplies, including tankers of cooking gas and industrial diesel, are slated to pass through to supply the Gazan agricultural and commercial sectors.

Carter Carrying Letter for Shalit

In addition to dialoguing with Hamas, the former president agreed to deliver a letter from the parents of Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit to his Hamas interlocutors. The jihadist Hamas regime has been holding IDF Corporal Shalit captive since June 25, 2006. Carter will meet with Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, upon his return from Gaza.

A senior leader in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, reacted to the letter by saying that Hamas would “consider” passing along the Shalit family letter.

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]

Israel: ‘U.S. Told US Don’t Take Netanyahu Seriously’

Senior Palestinian official declares Obama’s promises are ‘what counts’

JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Authority has received signs from the U..S. that it should not take seriously Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent major address, according to a top PA official speaking to WND.

Nimer Hamad, senior political adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, also said the PA is not concerned about Netanyahu’s policies since Abbas relies on American support for key Palestinian demands.

During Netanyahu’s speech Sunday, the Israeli leader called for a demilitarized Palestinian state and said Jerusalem would always be united under Jewish sovereignty.

Hamad countered: “No matter what is the position of the Israeli government and no matter what are the statements of Netanyahu, what counts is what was promised to us by Obama, which is totally the opposite [of Netanyahu’s positions].”

“We received encouraging signs from the Americans that we should not take seriously into consideration Netanyahu’s speech,” Hamad said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Male Palestinian Singles? Not at This Beach

Dead Sea resort beach says will not allow entry to groups of single Palestinian men without families due to frequent complaints of harassment by women. Beach director defends decision: Last weekend several Palestinian youths snuck in and started masturbating in front of tourists

Men from the Palestinian Authority looking to enter the ‘New Kaliya’ beach on the Dead Sea are not allowed entry if they are alone. Ynet has learned that the beach directorate has decided to allow the men in only if they are with their families, citing repeated complaints of sexual harassment by female patrons.

Danny, a 35-year-old from Tel Aviv, visited the beach on Friday and said he was shocked by the policy being enacted at Kaliya. “I went with two friends and in line behind us were two Arabs. The girl at the register just wouldn’t let them in,” he recalls.

As the day progressed Danny said he realized the scene he had witnessed was not an isolated incident. “It kept repeating itself. At one point I asked the people at the register if they really weren’t letting Arabs in and they answered straight out that they were not. One of the workers told me that the men just aren’t let in alone, but families are. I asked why and she said that they bothered the female tourists… she said there’s nothing that can be done, it’s just the way it is. What, Israeli hooligans don’t bother girls — just Arabs?”

The Kaliya administration confirmed the policy, but stressed that entry is only denied to Palestinian Arabs who come to the beach in groups. Manager Itay Rahm told Ynet in response: “This is a very serious problem, not just here but for all the Dead Sea beaches. Based on our experience, we don’t let young Palestinian men in because of numerous harassment complaints.

“They’re not allowed to hit on girls in their villages so they come here to harass them. Just to make a point, the day that man talked about a couple of Palestinian youths managed to sneak in and then started masturbating in front of female tourists.”

He added that Israeli Arabs are able to enter the beach without any problems. “It’s important to stress that we’re talking about Palestinians here, not Israeli Arabs. And this isn’t about racism, we let entire families in because I know that when there are women around they won’t do anything.”

           — Hat tip: The Religion of Peace [Return to headlines]

Palestinian Refugees Reject Netanyahu Speech as Worthless

(by Mohammad Ben Hussein) (ANSAmed) — BAQAA CAMP, JUNE 15 — Residents of Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan poured cold water today over policy speech by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisting no peace will be achieved without return of refugees and establishing a sustainable Palestinian state. Reacting to Netanyahu statement, in which he said Israel would allow a demilitarized Palestinian state in return for recognition that Israel is a Jewish state, refugees said they never expected much from the right wing Israeli leader. They said Israel will take concessions from the Arabs but will not give up anything. In the bustling Baqaa vegetable market, where tens of thousands flock for daily needs, Abu Imam, a street vendor, urged Arab regimes to refrain from responding to Netanyahu speech, which he said offers nothing. “Israel is a country that only knows language of violence,” said the 65 year old man, who arrived with his family in Jordan in the aftermath of 1948 war with Israel. Abu Imam echoed sentiments of tens of refugees in this squalid camp, where poverty and unemployment are rampant. In his much anticipated speech, Netanyahu also ruled out the possibility of allowing millions of Palestinian refugees to return, saying this problem should be solved outside Israel. But for the Palestinian refugees in Jordan, the right to return is sacred and vowed to fight until they go back to villages they were uprooted from. “We have been left here to rot. We will never accept to live in any other country than Palestine. Now we are forced to accept to live in Jordan, but this will not be forever. We want Palestine and no peace will be achieved without that,” said Ahmed Ali, a school teacher. Jordan is home to nearly 3.5 Palestinian refugees, the majority of them have been neutralized as Jordanians citizens, enjoying the freedom to travel and own business, but they are deprived of political rights that Jordanian counterparts enjoy. On the leadership level, the response to Netanyahu speech was “expected,” according to Mohammed Akel, an MP in the Jordanian parliament representing Baqaa camp. Akel, who is also a senior member of the Islamist movement, said peaceful solution with Israel does not work. “They occupied our lands 60 years ago and never gave us back anything. Each year we hear about a new initiative but we never see progress. The answer to Israel is resistance,” said Akel, calling on feuding Palestinian factions to form a unity government to face challenges. The Islamist movement in Jordan refuses to recognize peace treaties with Israel, including that between Amman and Tel Aviv in 1994. Palestinian refugees in Jordan are strongly attached to their homeland, despite the fact that the majority of them were born outside the Palestinian areas and never visited homes of their ancestors. The issue of refugees and future settlement has been one of the sticking points of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel on way to reach a comprehensive peace in the region. The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has explicitly said it was ready to forfeit right of return to most refugees outside the Palestinian territories, but it remains unable to receive open support from host countries for this decision. With nearly 5 million Palestinians scattered in the region, the future of refugees look uncertain by the day. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Time for a New Ally?


US President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech was a historic event in many aspects. First of all it was remarkable that a Western leader felt legitimized to talk about Islamic truths, as if he were a Muslim theologian. Secondly, he approached the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even-handedly, as if the Jewish right to Israel and the Arab resistance to it have the same moral weight.

“For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

Within this historic speech, Obama couldn’t find words to describe the attack by various Arab armies on Israel the day it was created. He couldn’t describe the terrorist attacks that followed the 1949 armistice. He omitted the growing anti-Semitism in the Arab media, the Arab schoolbooks, Arab radio and TV, in the preaching in the mosques. Twice Obama mentioned the anti-Semitic and anti-Christian Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas: “Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

Obama didn’t mention the core message of Hamas: the worldwide destruction of the Jews. Ayatollah Khomeini, the instigator of the present Islamist revolution, defined world history, the course of human events, as follows: “From the beginning, the Islamic movement has been obstructed by the Jews. They were the first who developed anti-Islamic propaganda and conspiracies. And this is still the case.”

In other words, opposing Israel, the nation of the Jews, is the driving force of the Islamist revolution, both Sunni and Shi’ite. It is its core. It cannot exist if it would give up its ambition to erase Israel. The destruction of Israel is its ultimate goal, its fuel, its body, its nature, its direction and its destination. Only through the destruction of the cunning, conspiring, obstructing Jews the Islamist revolution can reach its goal: the resurrection of the caliphate.

OBAMA EXPLICITLY decided to ignore this threat, and decided to leave Israel in the cold, or better in the heat of a nuclear explosion. This is what he said: “No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons.” The president meant: Israel, a single nation, doesn’t have the right to deny Iran nuclear armament. Iran, an existential threat to Israel, cannot be stopped by Israel on its own — this should be matter of the international community, according to the president.

Through his Cairo address Obama made an end to America’s alliance with Israel that has lasted over 40 years. Israel’s strategic early allies were Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and especially France, which delivered its famous delta-winged Mirage jets that gave Israel its 1967 victory in the Six Day War. In that year, America, although with a public that was sympathetic to Israel, replaced the tanks Jordan lost. The French refused to deliver new Mirage jets and America hesitated for some time to sell F-4 Phantoms to Israel.

AMERICA WILL now act as even-handedly to Israel as the European Union. This approach hasn’t created any progress in the years since the 1993 Oslo Accords. Corrupt Palestinian leaders have transferred billions to their Swiss bank accounts and the international community wishes to look the other way. Gaza could have been a better place by now if Hamas had tried to peacefully build civil institutions. Hamas did not. Without any necessity it fired thousands of rockets at Israel. The problem is — it is Hamas’s core business to oppose the Jews.

The EU wishes to ignore all these events and clings to the idea of a “viable Palestinian state,” which is an oxymoron. The Palestinians have tribal communities and only fake having a modern civil society. No civil institutions have been built because they are not in the interest of the leading Palestinian families.

The famous Jewish lobby has not been able to prevent Obama’s change of direction. The truth is the lobby has always been a myth, and American Jewry, which is in majority an affluent, liberal, assimilated and only vaguely religious group, has been distancing itself more and more from Israel, which it considers right-wing, militaristic, chauvinistic, belligerent.

For liberal American Jews, Israel is a confusing phenomenon. They feel connected to Israel through the remembrance and legacy of the Holocaust, but they are highly politically correct and feel solidly at home on the campuses where generations of students have been brainwashed by the works written by the holy spirit of Arab studies, Edward Said. American Jewry was aware of the president’s spiritual mentor in Chicago, Jeremiah Wright, a black racist and anti-Semite, and of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian intellectual and anti-Zionist with whom he had a strong personal relation. The Jews preferred to side with him instead of worrying about his opinions about Israel.

And now, after the Cairo address, they will keep standing by him and distance themselves from an Israel that produces awful pictures of bombed buildings and mutilated bodies of women and children — American Jews, at cocktail parties in the Village or the Upper West Side, prefer Israel to act proportionately and to behave as decent, civilized, upper-class Jews, not as Middle Eastern warriors. Since the 1982 massacres in Sabra and Shatila, committed by Lebanese Maronites but attributed to Israel and Ariel Sharon, liberal American Jewry went on a long journey and arrived at a historic point: just like Obama, it gave up on Israel.

A SMALL NATION like Israel, a single and lonely modern democracy in a part of the world in which autocracies and tyrannies are the norm, cannot survive without a strategic partnership with a major international power that is forced, by the sheer size of its interests, to play the complex fields of the Middle East. It is too soon to create a lasting bond with India, a natural ally for Israel. India will emerge during this century as a major international power, both militarily as economically and scientifically, but it cannot give Israel yet the diplomatic and military backup it needs.

But there is another strategic player in the field who would welcome a partnership with Israel, especially with its cutting-edge electronic industries. Of Israel’s 5.7 million Jews, more than 1 million have Russian roots. Despite the old anti-Semitism in Russia, there has been a strong melancholic bond between the two populations. In Russia, Jews have excelled in sciences and the arts.

Because of its continuous counterbalancing act with America, Russia has been maintaining ties to Iran and Syria, but it needs to diversify and update its economy and reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas income. It could use scientific and commercial ingenuity, qualities Iran and Syria are not able to deliver — Israel is. And Israel could use Russia’s vast resources and the determination of its leader Vladimir Putin, a smart and ruthless leader who understands the cruel rules of the international power game.

Obama’s loyalties, and those of the majority of liberal American Jewry, don’t lie with Israel. So Israel needs to shop for another ally. In his offices in the Kremlin, Putin will receive its leaders with open arms, dark bread, marinated herring and some bottles of Stoli.

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Barry Rubin: Forty-Eight Hours of Reality

In the Middle East the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry because reality steps in.

President Barack Obama based his policy of engaging with Iran on the idea that while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a wild man, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei was a closet moderate, or at least a pragmatist.

Now all can see that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei are wedded, together at last. Khamenei is so set on Ahmadinejad’s character and policy that he risked the regime’s internal and external credibility and stability in order to reassure his reelection.

Pro-Ahmadinejad forces are now talking about this event as a “third revolution,” following on the 1979 Islamist takeover and then seizure of the U.S. embassy and the holding of all their as hostages. In other words, this is an even more radical rebirth of the movement, but this time with nuclear weapons.

Reality: 1, Obama policy: 0

Then comes the Palestinian reaction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech which accepts immediate negotiations and a Palestinian state at the end of the process, if an agreement can be made.

What did Obama say in Cairo? First, he said that the Palestinians, have “suffered in pursuit of a homeland” for more than 60 years. Second, he insisted that “the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.”

As I pointed out at the time, the first statement was a misrepresentation of history, the second a false picture of the present.

Now if Obama was right, the Palestinians should be eager for a state. So if Netanyahu calls on them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state—what do they care if they are accepting to live alongside it permanently?—and have their own state. Yes, that state would be “demilitarized,” I prefer the word “unmilitarized,” but all that means is that they would have the same security forces that they do now. And in proportional terms, the Palestinian Authority (PA) already has more men in uniform compared to the overall population, than any state on the planet.

So here’s Obama’s solution: an independent Palestinian state, Muslim and Arab, according to the PA’s constitution for that country, next to a Jewish state.

But how does the PA’s leader—who is always referred to as “moderate” in the Western media and is more moderate than any other Palestinian leader (it’s all relative)—react?

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Carter’s Shameless Tears

Mideast residents have shed many tears because of ex-president’s Iran policy

During his visit to the Gaza Strip Tuesday, Jimmy Carter stated that he had to “hold back his tears” in the face of the destruction suffered by Palestinian residents. It is indeed an irony of fate that his comments coincides with the post-election unrest in Iran, as brave civilians in Tehran and elsewhere are being shot on the streets while protesting the vote debacle. Is Carter crying for them too?

After all, the Iranian revolution that brought the Ayatollahs to power occurred on Carter’s watch. Moreover, the Islamic revolt in Tehran, attributed at least in part to the former president’s actions and misdeeds, epitomizes the grave implications that policies adopted by leaders of Carter’s ilk may bring to the region.

It was then-President Carter, who in the name of “human rights” and similarly noble notions in essence encouraged the revolution, while forbidding Iran’s Shah from forcefully dispersing protests against his regime. Carter conveniently ignored the fact that these rallies were being orchestrated by radical clerics who were not quite human rights champions themselves.

For the past 30 years, not only Iranians have been paying the price for Carter’s folly, but rather, residents of the region and indeed of the entire world. Some of the events that followed the Islamic revolution include the American embassy hostage-taking, the bloody Iran-Iraq war, and the emergence of the Iran-backed Hizbullah in Lebanon.

For the past decades, Iran has been the main terror-sponsor worldwide, ranging from the support it offers the likes of Hamas and Hizbullah to the assassination of dissidents in Europe. Tehran also played a key role in devastating attacks such as the bombings of Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina in the 1990s.

At this time, under the leadership of a Holocaust-denying lunatic, Tehran is making steady progress towards acquiring nuclear weapons, while threatening to wipe another state off the map.

Endorsing extremist Muslim entity

Carter has indeed good reason to cry for Gaza residents, who are suffering under the tyranny of yet another radical Muslim regime. As he did 30 years ago, he ignores the fact that for all intents and purposes he is endorsing an extremist Muslim entity.

Again, the former president conveniently “forgets” that Hamas took power in Gaza through a violent coup that featured the cold-blooded execution of rivals. Once in power, Hamas used its newly acquired territory for the purpose of firing thousands of missiles at Israeli communities, with the declared aim of hurting civilians. Israel’s response and the destruction in Gaza are a direct result of Hamas’ actions, yet Carter is apparently busy looking elsewhere and shedding his shameless tears for the benefit of a ruthless terror organization.

While he has already shown indifference to Israeli casualties, the former president may be forgetting that Hamas is responsible for the killing of US citizens as well.

Mr. Carter, you have caused enough damage already while in office. Please, spare us your tears and go back to Georgia; residents of the Middle East have been shedding tears for many years now as result of your foolishness.

           — Hat tip: CB [Return to headlines]

Claims of Student Massacre in Tehran Spread

Two students hold up a blood-stained shirt at the gates of Tehran University

Tehran University looked as calm as any summer campus. So much for the latest rumours of a bloodbath. Another piece of Iranian fiction, served up on YouTube. Scarved female students were moving through the university’s great black iron gates. I asked my driver, Ali, to drop me off at the corner so I could prowl the college bookshops on Engelob Street, I was looking for a volume of modern Persian poetry for a friend. I did not at first hear the man at the cash desk, motioning out the door.

I peered out. The gates of the university were now shut. Behind them was a crowd of hundreds of young men and women, many wearing scarves over their mouths. I crossed the road. And the banners behind those forbidding gates told a frightening story. “Today is a day of mourning,” one of them read. “Dignified students are mourners today.” “Police, shame on you, shame on you.” “Tell my mother — she doesn’t have a son any more.”

I walked up to the gate. Young female students were crying. So were some of the young men. “We don’t want a government by coup,” another poster read. “Tehran University dormitory has been coloured with students’ blood,” another said.

It was difficult to hear over the cries and screaming. But a student began shouting at me in English through those grim black gates. “There was a massacre,” he bellowed. “The Basiji and the police came into our student dorms.. It all started after the violence last Saturday. The people in the street had been throwing stones, so many of us fled from the campus to our homes. We came back yesterday and it seemed quiet. Then all these armed men burst into the dorms, shooting.”

One girl spoke of five dead, another of seven. A student suggested the dead men were not students. Were they hiding on campus? It wasn’t clear. Within hours, photographs of blood appeared on the internet. Who were these mysterious victims — for dead men there surely were. The crowds began to run in panic and behind them I spotted the familiar glint of steel helmets. I’ve now learned how to deal with these gentlemen. You never, ever run. You saunter towards them and if a single one moves his baton towards you, you click your finger so that he thinks that you have a right to be there. Then you stand just behind them, nodding in a friendly way when they look at you.

One of the cops turned round with a cynical smile. “Welcome to our country,” he said. A couple of officers waved me away but I waved back my press card and they lost interest.

Did these cops know what had happened here? Did they have any idea how much these students hated them? A big plain-clothes man walked up and pointed his finger across the road. More of the same kind were waiting on the other pavement. “Papers?” one asked. He spent five minutes staring at my press card. Behind him I could see the cops had climbed into the campus.

Two had seized a young man, struggling between them, terrified, before the first baton came down on his head. I didn’t hear the crack as the stick hit the student.

My driver was petrified. He has no journalistic papers. He had to be protected. So we left. As usual, the SMS system was down, the mobile phones were cut, the internet took half an hour to send a single message. No calls to London or New York or Paris… Whenever the communications collapse here, you know that something is afoot. Could it be that the police know when they are doing something wrong?

Campus power: Student demonstrations hold key

By Adrian Hamilton

*A co-ordinated series of demonstrations by students in all the major cities of Iran throughout 1978 were instrumental in bringing down the Shah in early 1979.

It is difficult to know whether they will be able to keep up their resistance this time, but their position could prove pivotal. Iran is a young country with half its population under 25. It is also unique in its proportion of women in higher education, at 60 per cent.

For the last four years, it has been Iran’s campuses that have raised the standard of rebellion, demanding freedom of expression and relief from conservative rules on dress and behaviour, only to be put down with increasing severity and considerable bloodshed. Demonstrations were held in 20 centres last summer, while Tehran students held a series of protests directly attacking President Ahmadinejad as a “tyrant” last autumn in which there were several deaths.

The protests have already started again in Tehran’s huge campus, but the authorities will be especially concerned if this starts spreading — as it seemed to be doing last summer — at which time Isfahan and Ahwaz were particular hotspots.

If rumours of student deaths and violent suppression start spreading, an uprising could be difficult to control.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Defence: US, British Pilots Train Over Turkey

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 15 — Dozens of U.S., British and Turkish pilots are engaged in mock aerial battles over central Turkey indicating deepening cooperation between the allies, as daily Today’s Zaman reports. The military says pilots from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are also participating in the Anatolian Eagle exercises, near the central Turkish city of Konya on Monday. A total of 83 jets, most from Turkey, are engaging in live bombing and strafing in a realistic training environment with simulated surface-to-air missiles confronting aggressors. The exercises are similar to the Red Flag training at the Nellis Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Nevada. The aerial battles are recorded on tape so pilots can study errors that could have killed them in real combat. The drill will continue through Friday. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Iran ‘Ready to Recount Disputed Votes’

Iran’s top legislative body ruled out annulling the disputed presidential poll but said it was prepared for a partial recount.

In what appeared to be a first concession by authorities to the protest movement, the 12-man Guardian Council said it was ready to re-tally votes in the poll in which hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the runaway winner — a result that has prompted the biggest street protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution

But the powerful Council rejected reformist calls to annul Friday’s election that set off fast-moving political turmoil, riveting attention on the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter which is locked in a nuclear dispute with the West.

Iranians outraged by Mirhossein Mousavi’s defeat in what they viewed as a stolen election plan another rally on Tuesday, even though seven people were killed on Monday on the fringes of a huge march through the streets of Tehran.

Mousavi, however, urged his supporters not to attend the rally “to protect lives”, saying it was cancelled. Ahmadinejad’s supporters called for a counter-rally at the same Tehran square, possibly setting the scene for more confrontation.

Further protests, especially if they are maintained on the same scale, would be a direct challenge to the authorities who have kept a tight grip on dissent since the 1979 overthrow of the U.S.-backed shah after months of demonstrations.

Iranian state television said today the “main agents” in post-election unrest had been arrested with explosives and guns. It gave no further details in a breaking news headline.

The United States and its European allies have been trying to persuade Iran to halt nuclear work that could be used to make an atomic bomb. Iran says it wants nuclear energy only to generate electricity.

US President Barack Obama, who has sought to reach out to Iran asking its leadership to “unclench its fist”, said he was deeply troubled by the post-election violence and that protesters who had taken to the streets had inspired the world.

A spokesman for the Guardian Council said only that it was “ready to recount the disputed ballot boxes claimed by some candidates, in the presence of their representatives”.

“It is possible that there may be some changes in the tally after the recount,” spokesman Abbasali Kadkhodai was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

“Based on the law, the demand of those candidates for the cancellation of the vote, this cannot be considered,” Kadkhodai told state television.

Mousavi had asked the Guardian Council to annul the vote, but has said he was not optimistic about its verdict.

Despite the protests and upheaval, Ahmadinejad was in Russia for SCO talks today on his first foreign trip since official results showed he secured a second term.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes Russia and China, congratulated Ahmadinejad on his win.

Iran’s English-language Press TV said seven people were killed and several wounded at the end of Monday’s rally — a mainly peaceful gathering attended by many tens of thousands — when “thugs” tried to attack a military post in central Tehran.

It gave no details of how the seven deaths occurred.

An Iranian photographer at the scene had said Islamic militiamen opened fire when people in the crowd attacked a post of the Basij religious militia. He said one person was killed and many wounded in the shooting.

The Basij militia is a volunteer paramilitary force fiercely loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has the final say on all matters of state and who replaced revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he died 20 years ago.

Tehran has already seen three days of the biggest and most violent anti-government protests in three decades and Mousavi supporters have pledged to keep up the pressure.

“Tomorrow at 5pm (1230 GMT) at Vali-ye Asr Square,” some of the crowd chanted at Monday’s march, referring to a major road junction in the sprawling city of 12 million.

“Mousavi … urged his supporters not to attend today’s rally to protect their lives,” his spokesman said today. “The moderates’ rally has been cancelled.”

Ahmadinejad supporters planned a rally at the same square just an hour earlier, the semi-official Fars News said.

Leading Iranian reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former vice-president who backed pro-reform candidate Mehdi Karoubi in the election, was arrested early today, his office said.

There have been widespread arrests across the country since the election protests broke out. The ISNA news agency said today around 100 people were arrested in unrest near a university in the southern city of Shiraz.

Demonstrators filled a broad avenue in central Tehran for several kilometres on Monday, chanting “We fight, we die, we will not accept this vote rigging”, in support of Mousavi.

“Tanks and guns have no use any longer,” chanted the protesters in a deliberate echo of slogans used leading up to the 1979 revolution.

Members of Iran’s security forces have at times fired into the air during the unrest and used batons to beat protesters who have pelted police with stones.

Gunfire was heard in three districts of wealthy northern Tehran late on Monday and residents said there had been peaceful pro-Mousavi demonstrations in the cities of Rasht, Orumiyeh, Zahedan, and Tabriz on Monday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Raid University in Isfahan as Protests Spread

My post yesterday detailed raids conducted by Iranian revolutionary guards over the weekend against Tehran University.

Further reports indicate that a number of students may have even been killed in that raid, as detailed in today’s Independent by Robert Fisk who is on the streets of Tehran as I write this now.

A source of mine in Isfahan has forwarded me details of another raid that took place at the city’s main University which paints a wider picture of sustained attacks by Iran’s security forces against students.


Students are saying two people were killed in this raid, however, I stress that figure is unconfirmed. What this video does clearly show is that a number of students were clearly beaten by the basij.

The Iranian government has made it all but impossible for foreign journalists to get outsude of Tehran but it is clear that protests have been taking place in a number of other cities.

The image on the left shows students at Zahedan University protesting against the recent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a second term in office.

Iran’s Guardian Council has agreed to hold a recount of the disputed vote — it will be intersting to see whether such a move will be able to head off further protests.

Although dissident groups — particularly those based abroad — are keen to portray these protests as some sort of Iranian Revolution Mark II, most of the Mousavi supporters I’ve spoken to over the past couple of days are staunch supporters of Iran’s Islamic Republic.

What they desperately want is effective governmental reform that keeps Iran as an Islamic country but loosens up its dogmatic social conservatism and begins to provide jobs for the millions of young, unemployed youths in a country where 60% of the population is under the age of 25.

Iran’s leaders may decide to brutally surpess this revolt as it has done in the past but whatever happens these sort of protests — such as this one in Mazandran — will become increasingly common unless the grievances of pro-reform Iranians is addressed.

The sign held by the protestor at the front of this image says “Death to the Dictator”. Usually those sort of signs are used in anti-Western marches. Now it is being used by Iranians against their own government.

No-one wants any more bloodshed but Iran’s people have faced the guns of both the despotic shah and its mullahs before. They are incredibly brave people and will no doubt risk life and limb once more.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Iran: Lebanon, Hezbollah Congratulates Iran on Epic Elections

(ANSAmed) — BEIRUT, JUNE 15 — Lebanese pro-Iranian Shiite movement Hezbollah congratulated Iran today on the “epic” elections that have awarded Mahmud Ahmadinejad another 4-year presidential term. In an open letter addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wrote: “I would like to congratulate you on this magnificent epic event that the distinguished people of Iran have carried out, renewing their faith in this blessed regime and in the values and principles of the Islamic revolution”. “This magnificent, epic event,” added Nasrallah, “has given joy to all of the oppressed and fighters (mujaheddin), restoring hope in the strength, determination, and solidity of this dear Republic, which provides strong support to our people defending their rights against aggressors and usurpers”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Iran: Italian Team to Help Restore Cyrus the Great’s Tomb

Rome, 27 May (AKI) — A team of Italian archaelogists will help restore the tomb of the ancient Persian Empire’s founder Cyrus the Great under an agreement recently signed in the country’s capital Tehran between Italy’s culture ministry and Iran’s cultural heritage body.

“I am most satisfied by this agreement. A team of highly competent Italian restorers armed with with highly sophisticated equipment will restore Cyrus the Great’s tomb to its former spendour,” said Italy’s culture minister Sandro Bondi.

“Once again, Italy’s excellence in restoration work will contribute to preserving an extraordinary ancient monument which is an asset that belongs to humanity,” Bondi added.

Under the agreement, signed on Monday, a team of Italian architects, geologists, microbiologists and restorers will work alongside Iranian counterparts in southwest Iran over the next three years, Italian archaeologist and project leader Giuseppe Proietti told Adnkronos International (AKI).

“They will study the condition of the tomb and its micro-climate, scan it and produce the documentation for the project to restore it,” Proietti said.

A team of Italian technicians has for the past year been restoring a tower on the ancient Iranian citadel of Bam’s walls, Proietti noted. Located in southern Iran, Bam is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

The tomb of Cyrus the Great is located in the ancient city of Pasargadae, the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC.

It is also close to the ancient palace complex of Persepolis, founded by Darius I in 518 BC. Both cities are UNESCO world heritage sites.

“Cyrus the Great was a giant figure in ancient Persian history. While there are important Islamic sites, his tomb symbolises Iran’s identity and its national spirit,” said Proietti.

The famous ancient Greek warrior Alexander the Great visited Cyrus the Great’s tomb in the 4th century BC as a sign of respect.

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

Iran: Not Quite a Surprise

The presidential election in Iran is over, and yet, not over. To the utter dismay and disappointment of western governments, the western media, and his political adversaries in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, 62, has been re-elected.

He got 62.6 per cent and his nearest rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, 68, got 33.8 per cent, as per official announcement by the ministry of the interior. Mousavi has not yet accepted defeat and sent the customary congratulations to Ahmedinejad. Instead, he requested the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini to cancel the election and have a re-poll. The Ayatollah has rejected the idea of a re-poll and advised Mousavi and his agitating supporters to put an end to their “provocative behaviour”. The protests might continue for some more time, but there is no reason as of now to expect a re-poll. There have been allegations of rigging. In fact, Persian language media outside Iran has carried two days after the election the text of a letter from Mousavi to the supreme leader, written the day before the election, urging strong action to prevent rigging by the supporters of Ahmedinejad. It would appear that if Mousavi had won, the letter might not have been publicised, assuming it ever was written. It is possible that there was rigging, but it is doubtful whether rigging alone can account for the 10 million difference in votes between the winning and the losing candidate. At the last election in 2004 too the Western media had predicted the victory of Rasfanjani who lost out to Ahmedinejad. The BBC has suggested that the ongoing protest is directed not only against Ahmedinejad, but also the entire establishment presided over by the supreme leader. The protest shows the anger and frustration of the youth, especially the 8 million under-30s born after the 1979 revolution. Perhaps such an assessment is rather far-fetched and misses out the point that a good many of the protesters are from the rich northern part of the capital. The portrayal of Mousavi as a “reformer” in the western media is to be taken with a pinch of salt. As prime minister (1980-1988) Mousavi did not show much zeal for reforms. He carried out a secret order from Khomeini, the supreme leader, and thousands, ranging between 30,000 and 80,000 were executed in the summer of 1988. The victims were members of Peoples’ Mujahedin of Iran and of the Tudeh Party of Iran (Communists). It is rather ironic to see Mousavi projected as a champion of women’s rights when earlier he apparently went along with the authorities’ persecution of leftist women on whom they applied to start praying according to the tenets of Islam. There are accounts of the time which talk about how women were considered not “responsible for their actions” and hence should be punished less severely than men but punished nonetheless. There were also allegations that several leftist women were punished drastically — lashes, if they did not pray and some, who were on hunger strikes in protest, even died as a result. Now that he has been re-elected, one might expect Ahmedinejad to reform himself, to put it mildly. There is no need to deny that the Holocaust occurred. In any case, it is utterly indefensible to do that. As regards the nuclear question, while Iran has the right to enrich uranium to the industrial grade, and Ahmedinejad is right in asserting that right, a less confrontational style vis-a-vis the West is advisable in Iran’s own interest. Washington has reacted in ambivalent manner. Vice-president Joe Biden has an “awful lot of doubt” about the way the election was conducted. But, so far there is no clear indication of any plan to reject the result. President Obama knows or should know that without Iran’s support or benevolent neutrality his plans for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and stabilisation in Afghanistan will not work out. He should also know that the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear-weapon capability is to concede to Iran’s legitimate right to enrich uranium to the industrial grade and to flood Iran with safeguards inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The CIA had concluded in 2007 that Iran had stopped pursuing any bomb-making project. If Obama wants reconciliation with Iran he has to reject Israel’s advice and make some practical gestures by lifting the embargo on export of civilian aircraft parts to Iran, or, better still, defreeze Iran’s money in US banks. For India, it is a good time to review its policy towards Iran. The vote against Iran at the IAEA was unnecessary and an abstention, if suitably explained, might have taken care of US sensibilities. There is no good reason for not to go ahead with the much delayed Iran-Pakistan-India Gas pipe line. Those who argue against it based on political instability in Pakistan are rather confused. Mani Shankar Aiyer as oil minister had devised the wise formula that India pays only for the delivered gas.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netanyahu: Words Are Against Peace, Syrian Press

(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, JUNE 15 — The words of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, are “against the peace efforts” and “add nothing new”, according to editorials in Syria’s state-run newspapers today, reacting to yesterday’s speech by Netanyahu. “If Netanyahu’s response is Israel’s answer to the latest American discussions, the USA and the whole world is further away from peace today”, writes Assaad Abbud, leader-writer for al Thawra. “The long-awaited speech (by Netanyahu) says nothing new at all, not even slightly” continues Abbud, who says that the Israeli premier “spoke about the Palestinians as a humanitarian problem to be found in the home of the Zionist terrorist body. After this speech, the USA could choose to take a step back and abandon the region to its tensions, or it could assume its responsibility and say out loud that peace is not a choice which is a product of the imagination, but a practical necessity for stability”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Outlasting the Ayatollahs

The Obama policy of extending an open hand to Iran is working and ought not be abandoned because of the grim events in Tehran.

For the Iranian theocracy has just administered a body blow to its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people and the world.

Before Saturday, the regime could credibly posture as defender of the nation, defiant in the face of the threats from Israel, faithful to the cause of the Palestinians, standing firm for Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power.

Today, the regime, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is under a cloud of suspicion that they are but another gang of corrupt politicians who brazenly stole a presidential election to keep themselves and their clerical cronies in power.

What should we do now? Wait for the dust to settle.

No U.S. denunciation of what took place in Iran is as credible as the reports and pictures coming out of Iran. Those reports, those pictures are stripping the mullahs of the only asset they seemed to possess—that, even if fanatics, they were principled, honest men.

Like Hamas, it was said of them that at least they were not corrupt, that at least they did not cheat the people.

No more. Today, in the streets of Tehran and other cities, they call to mind “Comrade Bob” Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will never recapture that revolutionary purity he once seemed to possess as the man of the people who was elected president in the upset of 2005. Today, he appears, as the New York Times puts it, “as the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution.”

There are other reasons Obama should not heed the war hawks howling for confrontation now.

When your adversary is making a fool of himself, get out of the way. That is a rule of politics Lyndon Johnson once put into the most pungent of terms. U..S. fulminations will change nothing in Tehran. But they would enable the regime to divert attention to U.S. meddling in Iran’s affairs and portray the candidate robbed in this election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, as a poodle of the Americans.

When Nikita Khrushchev bathed the Hungarian revolution in blood, Ike did not break relations. Khrushchev was at Camp David three years later. When Deng Xiaoping and Co. ordered the tanks into Tiananmen Square, George Bush I did not break relations. When Moscow ordered Warsaw to crush Solidarity, Ronald Reagan did not let that act of repression deter him from seeking direct talks to reduce nuclear weapons.

Again, let us wait for the dust to settle.

By now, even Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei must recognize that the Iranian revolution is losing the Iranian people. This is the third of four straight presidential elections where the turnout has been huge and the candidate who promised reconciliation with the West and an easing of social strictures won a landslide among the student young. Those are the future leaders of Iran.

Which way the regime will now go is difficult to predict.

After Tienanmen Square, the Chinese rulers who ordered in the tanks sought to reconnect with the disillusioned young by opening up to the West and building a neo-capitalist economy.

Iran, in economic straits with U.S. sanctions biting, its oil and gas reserves dwindling, could try the same route. Seize the opposition’s best issues by seeking accommodation with America.

More likely, the regime, backed by the hard-line military, will try to reconnect with the masses and regain its reputation as defender of Islam and the nation, by defying the Americans, denouncing Israel and pressing forward with Iran’s nuclear program.

The dilemma for America is that the theocracy defines itself and grounds its claim to leadership through its unyielding resistance to the Great Satan—the United States—and to Israel.

Nevertheless, Obama, with his outstretched hand, his message to Iran on its national day, his admission that the United States had a hand in the 1953 coup in Tehran, his assurances that we recognize Iran’s right to nuclear power, succeeded. He stripped the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad of their clinching argument—that America is out to destroy Iran and they are indispensable to Iran’s defense.

With the mask of patriotism and the legacy of true revolution lost through this election fraud, Iran’s regime stands exposed as just another dictatorship covering up a refusal to yield power and privilege with a pack of lies about protecting the nation.

Saturday’s election not only revealed the character of the Iranian regime. It also revealed that time is on our side. If the people of Iran can defy this regime, it is no threat to us.

As with the other revolutionary and totalitarian regimes, from the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, to the People’s Republic of Mao, to the revolutionary Cuba of Fidel, America outlasts them all.

And the ayatollahs, too.

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

Qatar: Doha, Christians Celebrate Consecration of Marthoma Church

The ceremony presided over by Metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma. He thanks Qatar’s politicians for having “concede space” and invites the faithful to remember “all those who made the buildings construction possible”. May saw the inauguration of the Syro-Malabar Church of St Thomas.

Doha (AsiaNews/Agencies) —The Christian community of Qatar is celebrating the opening of a new Church. The ceremony of consecration took place June 11th last and was presided over by Metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma, leader of the Marthoma church. Vice Metropolitan Zacharias Mar Theophilos, five pastors and more than one thousand faithful also took part in the ceremony.

The place of worship is the latest addition to the Inter-Denominational Church Complex, (Idcc) in Mesaimeer, in the southern suburbs of Doha. Marthoma Church belongs to a Christian Protestant denomination, based in Kerala, India, and in communion with the Anglican and Independent Syro-Malabar Churches. 2500 faithful attended the ceremony.

Thanking the Qatari authorities for having “concede the space” for the place of worship, metropolitan Joseph Mar Thoma noted that the Arab emirate is the “is the fifth country in the Gulf to have this community’s church, after Kuwait, Bahrain, Sultanate of Oman and the UAE”. He also invited the faithful to “to remember the contributions and sacrifices of those who worked hard to make the worship place a reality”.

On May 22 a Syro-Malabar Church was consecrated in Doha. The inauguration of St Thomas’ Church was attended by Card. Varkey Vithayathil and Msgr. Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Arabia, who is based in Abu Dhabi, capital of ten United Arab Emirates and who has jurisdiction over all resident Catholics in the Arabian peninsula.

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

The Peanut Farmer and the Dictators

By: Farid Ghadry, Reform Party of Syria

From Damascus, President Jimmy Carter announced yesterday that the US could lift sanctions against the Assad regime and re-instates the US Ambassador to Damascus thus rolling back the clock on human rights in Syria. In doing so, Carter is unraveling another era under Assad that we, old enough to remember, saw it in 1979 in Iran.

In 1979, Carter, as president of the United States, helped usher an Iranian regime that to this day still haunts the Middle East. He presided over and contributed to an Iranian revolution that facilitated a power grab by a mysterious Iranian figure in exile named Ayatollah Khomeini. That revolution gave rise to religious extremism in Iran to collide with religious extremism in Saudi Arabia; the Middle East, since that era under Carter, has never been the same as we see clashes of extremism between Sunnis and Shiia with Arab moderates, minorities, and Israel paying the dearest price. It is easy to blame Iraq for today’s violent Middle East when the blame squarely falls on Carter’s shoulders and the seeds he planted some 30 years ago…

           — Hat tip: EMET [Return to headlines]

Turkey: Committee Begins Study on Early Marriages

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA — A parliamentary committee initiates a study on early marriages in Turkey. “Thirty percent of marriages take place in the age group of 12-19s” says the head of the committee, who claims this is a reality in Turkey. The study is a first despite numerous research on women. A parliamentary commission is planning to conduct research on early marriages in Turkey. The committee will prepare a report describing the problem and offering solutions. Recalling that 30% of marriages in Turkey are in the 12- to 19-year-old age group, Oznur Calik, president of the committee, told the Anatolia news agency that marriages at an early age is a reality in Turkey and that there is a general consensus in society on this issue. “In order to ensure the well being of individuals and society, we need to proceed without provoking this consensus and avoid creating unease,” Calik said. There is a need to understand why marriages are taking place at such early ages and the moral and material reasons behind them, said Calik. “We need to see the serious complications that come out of these marriages, physical problems that lead to difficulties later in life.”According to Calik, one of the arguments against early marriages is health problems, both physical and psychological. Another serious consequence of early marriage is the high death toll among those who give birth at an early age, according to Calik. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey Probes ‘New Anti-PM Plot’

Turkey’s prime minister has had a special meeting with the country’s military chief to discuss an alleged plot to discredit the ruling AK Party.

PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged civilian and military investigators to find out who was behind the alleged plan. It was reported by the Taraf daily on Friday.

According to Taraf, officers plotted to “break popular support” for the AKP, which has its roots in Islam.

A separate probe into an alleged anti-AKP plot has led to dozens of arrests.

Gen Ilker Basbug did not comment on his talks with Mr Erdogan on Tuesday. But earlier he said the military was investigating whether the reported anti-AKP plan was authentic.

Along with the AKP, it also allegedly targeted a Muslim brotherhood led by a cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet says a senior naval officer, Dursun Cicek, is accused of having drawn up the anti-AKP document in April.

The plan reportedly set out ways to combat fundamentalist Islam and curb religious movements.

The military is seen as a bastion of Turkish secularism and there are long-running tensions between officers and members of the ruling AKP.

In the so-called Ergenekon investigation, several retired generals have been arrested, along with politicians, journalists and academics. They are suspected of belonging to an ultra-nationalist network that sought to trigger a military coup against Mr Erdogan’s government.

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

Turkish and Greek Dogfights Cause of Concern in Aegean

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 15 — Turkish and Greek fighter jets have been involved in a record number of dogfights in the first six months of the year as they have encountered each other more than 180 times, daily Today’s Zaman reported quoting information from the Turkish General Staff. The recent encounters between Turkish and Greek jets — Zaman writes — recalls the collision of the two NATO members’ jets in 2006 in which a Greek pilot died when his F-16 collided with a Turkish jet in an area of disputed airspace where mock dogfights take place. The Turkish pilot was able to eject and was rescued by a passing freighter. Turkey and Greece, which have brandished the threat of war three times over territorial and airspace disputes in the Aegean since 1974, blamed each other for the collision. Greece asserts that its airspace extends 10 miles out to sea, but Turkey recognizes only six miles, the same distance as territorial waters. Athens often scrambles fighter jets to intercept Turkish aircraft that it says are invading its airspace. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality

From Stratfor

In 1979, when we were still young and starry-eyed, a revolution took place in Iran. When I asked experts what would happen, they divided into two camps.

The first group of Iran experts argued that the Shah of Iran would certainly survive, that the unrest was simply a cyclical event readily manageable by his security, and that the Iranian people were united behind the Iranian monarch’s modernization program. These experts developed this view by talking to the same Iranian officials and businessmen they had been talking to for years — Iranians who had grown wealthy and powerful under the shah and who spoke English, since Iran experts frequently didn’t speak Farsi all that well.

The second group of Iran experts regarded the shah as a repressive brute, and saw the revolution as aimed at liberalizing the country. Their sources were the professionals and academics who supported the uprising — Iranians who knew what former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini believed, but didn’t think he had much popular support. They thought the revolution would result in an increase in human rights and liberty. The experts in this group spoke even less Farsi than the those in the first group.

Misreading Sentiment in Iran

Limited to information on Iran from English-speaking opponents of the regime, both groups of Iran experts got a very misleading vision of where the revolution was heading — because the Iranian revolution was not brought about by the people who spoke English. It was made by merchants in city bazaars, by rural peasants, by the clergy — people Americans didn’t speak to because they couldn’t. This demographic was unsure of the virtues of modernization and not at all clear on the virtues of liberalism. From the time they were born, its members knew the virtue of Islam, and that the Iranian state must be an Islamic state.

Americans and Europeans have been misreading Iran for 30 years. Even after the shah fell, the myth has survived that a mass movement of people exists demanding liberalization — a movement that if encouraged by the West eventually would form a majority and rule the country. We call this outlook “iPod liberalism,” the idea that anyone who listens to rock ‘n’ roll on an iPod, writes blogs and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Even more significantly, this outlook fails to recognize that iPod owners represent a small minority in Iran — a country that is poor, pious and content on the whole with the revolution forged 30 years ago.

There are undoubtedly people who want to liberalize the Iranian regime. They are to be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to the touring journalists, diplomats and intelligence people who pass through. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and they are the ones willing to speak to Westerners. And these people give Westerners a wildly distorted view of Iran. They can create the impression that a fantastic liberalization is at hand — but not when you realize that iPod-owning Anglophones are not exactly the majority in Iran.

Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected with about two-thirds of the vote. Supporters of his opponent, both inside and outside Iran, were stunned. A poll revealed that former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was beating Ahmadinejad. It is, of course, interesting to meditate on how you could conduct a poll in a country where phones are not universal, and making a call once you have found a phone can be a trial. A poll therefore would probably reach people who had phones and lived in Tehran and other urban areas. Among those, Mousavi probably did win. But outside Tehran, and beyond persons easy to poll, the numbers turned out quite different.

Some still charge that Ahmadinejad cheated. That is certainly a possibility, but it is difficult to see how he could have stolen the election by such a large margin. Doing so would have required the involvement of an incredible number of people, and would have risked creating numbers that quite plainly did not jibe with sentiment in each precinct. Widespread fraud would mean that Ahmadinejad manufactured numbers in Tehran without any regard for the vote. But he has many powerful enemies who would quickly have spotted this and would have called him on it. Mousavi still insists he was robbed, and we must remain open to the possibility that he was, although it is hard to see the mechanics of this.

Ahmadinejad’s Popularity

It also misses a crucial point: Ahmadinejad enjoys widespread popularity. He doesn’t speak to the issues that matter to the urban professionals, namely, the economy and liberalization. But Ahmadinejad speaks to three fundamental issues that accord with the rest of the country.

First, Ahmadinejad speaks of piety. Among vast swathes of Iranian society, the willingness to speak unaffectedly about religion is crucial. Though it may be difficult for Americans and Europeans to believe, there are people in the world to whom economic progress is not of the essence; people who want to maintain their communities as they are and live the way their grandparents lived. These are people who see modernization — whether from the shah or Mousavi — as unattractive. They forgive Ahmadinejad his economic failures.

Second, Ahmadinejad speaks of corruption. There is a sense in the countryside that the ayatollahs — who enjoy enormous wealth and power, and often have lifestyles that reflect this — have corrupted the Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad is disliked by many of the religious elite precisely because he has systematically raised the corruption issue, which resonates in the countryside.

Third, Ahmadinejad is a spokesman for Iranian national security, a tremendously popular stance. It must always be remembered that Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that lasted eight years, cost untold lives and suffering, and effectively ended in its defeat. Iranians, particularly the poor, experienced this war on an intimate level. They fought in the war, and lost husbands and sons in it. As in other countries, memories of a lost war don’t necessarily delegitimize the regime. Rather, they can generate hopes for a resurgent Iran, thus validating the sacrifices made in that war — something Ahmadinejad taps into. By arguing that Iran should not back down but become a major power, he speaks to the veterans and their families, who want something positive to emerge from all their sacrifices in the war.

Perhaps the greatest factor in Ahmadinejad’s favor is that Mousavi spoke for the better districts of Tehran — something akin to running a U.S. presidential election as a spokesman for Georgetown and the Upper East Side. Such a base will get you hammered, and Mousavi got hammered. Fraud or not, Ahmadinejad won and he won significantly. That he won is not the mystery; the mystery is why others thought he wouldn’t win.

For a time on Friday, it seemed that Mousavi might be able to call for an uprising in Tehran. But the moment passed when Ahmadinejad’s security forces on motorcycles intervened. And that leaves the West with its worst-case scenario: a democratically elected anti-liberal.

Western democracies assume that publics will elect liberals who will protect their rights. In reality, it’s a more complicated world. Hitler is the classic example of someone who came to power constitutionally, and then proceeded to gut the constitution. Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s victory is a triumph of both democracy and repression…

           — Hat tip: GH [Return to headlines]


Officials: GM Executive to Head Russia’s Gaz

MOSCOW — A senior General Motors Corp. executive who abruptly stepped down from the U.S. automaker last week has agreed to head the board of Russian automobile company GAZ, Russian officials said Monday.

Bo Andersson, group vice president of global purchasing, was responsible for maintaining the flow of parts to GM plants through the company’s financial difficulties.

The struggling U.S. automaker gave no reasons for Andersson’s departure, which was announced Friday.

On Monday, GM named former employee Bob Socia, currently executive vice president of Shanghai General Motors, to replace Andersson effective July 1. Socia, 55, began work at GM in 1975 at the Cadillac Division in Detroit. Before his current assignment, he was president and managing director of GM South Africa from 2004 to 2007.

GAZ announced Monday that Andersson had agreed to head the company’s board of directors. A spokeswoman said his nomination would be considered at the board meeting following the next scheduled one, on June 27.

No further details were released.

GAZ, which once turned out the sober black sedans favored by Soviet bureaucrats, is a sprawling industrial giant that is now in a battered financial state with nearly $1.4 billion in debt. It is positioned to emerge as a key beneficiary in the takeover of General Motors’ Opel subsidiary by Canada’s Magna International and the Russian government-owned bank, Sberbank.

While at GM, Andersson had extensive dealings with Magna, which is one of GM’s largest parts suppliers

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Asia

India: Bride Burning: Another Chapter on the Humiliation of the Indian Woman

Almost 5 thousand women are burnt every year. Even domestic violence and torture are on a rise with more than 75 thousand cases. Inability to pay dowry, revenge, betrayal are some of the reasons for this violence. These problems exist even amongst the Christians.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — Only a few weeks back the nation was rejoicing for the election of its first female speaker in the Parliament. But it also has to face an ever rising phenomenon: bride burning. In the last few days the Supreme Court, in a rare pronouncement, took the opportunity to vent its ire against those resorting to bride burning.

The case at hand is related to the burning of a woman by her husband because of her protest against his alleged illicit relationship. The accused, sentenced to life imprisonment asked for the case to be revised. The vacation bench comprising Justice Markandey Katju and Deepak Verma, angered by the plea of the convict challenging his life sentence, was of the firm opinion that persons like him (the husband)deserved no leniency and should be awarded the death penalty.

This sharp reaction was caused by the spiraling crimes against women in matrimonial homes. The National Crime Records Bureau had reported a whopping 75,930 incidents of torture and cruelty against women within the family last year. More than 5,000 wives are burnt to death every year. But statistics precise that the incidence is increasing: 6.787 in the year 2005, 7,618 in 2006 and 8,093 in 2007.

The case taken up by the Supreme Court is related to the death of Rajni who in her dying declaration alleged that her husband Mahender Gulati, his elder brother Prem Kumar and the latter’s wife Vimla poured kerosene on her on December 9,2003 and set her on fire. She had also accused Mahender of having an illicit relationship with imla and alleged that the motive behind the crime was her protest against the affair.

The Supreme Court has always been of the idea that violence in matrimonial homes should be dealt with sternly and Justice Katju is known for his radical views in such cases.

Such cases do not take place only in villages or slums but is very much present in the urban middle class too. For example, even in the cities the age old costume of demanding dowry from the family of the proposed wife is very much alive. The families who cannot provide everything immediately may agree to a delayed payment of rates of dowry, but when the promises are not kept, the wife’s in-laws start harassing her to recover the promised items or sums. When finally they feel cheated (because they did not receive the entire amount of dowry) they try to get rid of the woman simulating kitchen accidents or suicide.

Awareness campaigns had been started by governments and private organizations to discourage and outlaw the system of dowry, but the age old system supported by tradition and greed is difficult to stop. Also in some traditional Christian communities, like in Kerala, it is considered an honor and a duty to give and to demand dowry.

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

Indo/Malaysia: Resurgence of Islam

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Disappointingly, only part of the story is available on the website — it’s a very good piece for anyone who has access to the hard copy.]

MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew yesterday related an encounter with women clad in black from head to toe in the swimming pool of his hotel in Kelantan to show how a society’s culture changed with rising religiosity. He said the Singapore Government had seen the change in its two closest neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, where more Muslims were now praying five times a day and covering themselves.

The Government’s concern is not with specific developments in either of these countries, but with the broader and longer-term trend of Islamic resurgence, he said.

He traced the resurgence to the influence of the oil states, in particular Saudi Arabia for the Sunnis and Iran for the Shi’ites, which have set their more austere versions of Islam as the ‘gold standard’ for other Muslim countries to follow.

Mr Lee visited the Kelantan state capital, Kota Baru, on Sunday. The north-eastern state has been governed by the Islamic-based opposition party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia or PAS, since 1990.

While there, he went swimming in the hotel pool and saw some women clad in black.

‘So I stopped at the pillar and went back, but Dr Ng was bolder. He swam into their midst and they waved at him and said: ‘Oh, you’re from Singapore.’

‘They were clad, I suppose, in specially made swimsuits, showing only their faces, wrapped up to their wrists and ankles,’ he said.

Education Minister Ng Eng Hen accompanied Mr Lee to Kota Baru.

While in Kota Baru, Mr Lee met PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Jonathan Kay: Pakistan, the Land of Many Talibans

I’ve spent the last two days at a conference in Freeport, Bahamas, sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, listening to dozens of specialists discuss the best way to pacify the Taliban-infested border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s been a humbling experience, as well as an educational one: I seemed to have been the only person on the speaking roster who hadn’t spent a good chunk of his or her life in south Asia. (Emphasis on “or her”: It surprised me how many women have adopted this remote, misogynistic corner of the globe as their focus of study.) Alongside the various ambassadors — current and former — there was a former police chief from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, a former CIA operative, and a variety of brand-name global terrorism experts. Other speakers had done in-depth reporting from the region for Western publications, or run grass-roots NGOs. Most of the attendees agreed that the Taliban was strong, and getting stronger — and not one offered a simple solution.

A basic problem, it emerged, is the sheer complexity of the military dynamic in eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. While journalists often talk about the Taliban as if it were a single, unified force, there are in fact many Talibans.

On the highest level are the hard-core, mass-murdering jihadis — men whose cause is inseparable from that of al-Qaeda; who are intermarried into al-Qaeda, and have even adopted Arabic as their primary language. Everyone in the room agreed that ordinary politics means little to these men: Holy War is in their blood.

In the middle tier are the tribal militias, village-defense forces, drug gangs and other Taliban-of-convenience. These groups shift their allegiance around opportunistically depending on who seems to be winning at any given moment.

Finally comes the hapless foot soldiers — illiterate peasants paid by the month to tote a gun and go where they’re told.

Each group calls out for a different strategy. In the case of the dedicated jihadis, the only thing to be done is kill them — which means boots on the ground, special forces, and drones. The militias, by contrast, respond quickly to shifts in popular opinion, propaganda and outreach. And the low-level foot-soldiers can be lured away by jobs — which means economic projects and nation-building. In many cases, the various objectives contradict one another: Drone-launched missile attacks have been effective at wiping out Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, but they sometimes kill civilians and thereby risk turning popular opinion against NATO. This is one of the main reasons why fighting the Taliban has been such a difficult and maddening military project.

(A sidebar on the drone attacks: One senior diplomat told the room that not a single civilian in his country had been killed by such attacks since September, 2008 — and claimed that reports to the contrary were the product of Taliban lies. By way of example, he described one attack in which a senior Taliban leader was killed. The footage sent back from the Predator camera clearly showed that the man had died as he stood alone in a field, talking on a cell phone. Yet in its report on the incident, the BBC repeated a Taliban propaganda claim that nine civilians had died in the attack as well.)

Another complicating factor is the enormous demographic diversity packed into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the essentially stateless outback country that serves as a base of operations for Taliban operating on both sides of the formal border. As is typical of poor, socially traditional communities in mountainous regions, every FATA valley is a world unto itself, with its own idiosyncratic clan politics, smuggling routes and socio-religious quirks. This fact not only complicates outreach efforts, it also undermines any coherent sense of national Pakistani identity. “Ask someone in these parts to identify themselves, and they will talk about language, ethnicity, tribe, caste, class and village,” said one expert. “Their nationality — Pakistani — will be way down the list.”

The sentiment is reciprocated elsewhere in the country. “Urban Pakistanis see everything west of the Indus River as one big jungle-stan,” one expert told me. “The national attitude has been, ‘just give those Taliban maniacs whatever they want so we can keep wearing our saris and drink tea in Lahore coffee shops.’ “ In recent years, the result of this appeasement-oriented attitude has been a series of disastrous ‘peace’ agreements that left the Taliban in charge of large swathes of FATA, and even parts of the adjoining North-West Frontier Province.

From the moment the conference began, it became clear that the dysfunctional, artificial nature of the Pakistani state would be the underlying leitmotif. Created just six decades ago, it is a hodgepodge of different ethnic groups and languages — their only commonality being the fact that they don’t happen to be Hindu. Its northern border with Afghanistan, the British-drawn Durand line, is essentially a random squiggle that divides the Pashtun people in half. Adding cleavage upon cleavage, the most ungovernable mountain Pashtuns on the Pakistan side were hived off into quasi-autonomous “tribal areas.” There they would live and die in obscurity, until the world came to their doorstep in the form of the U.S.-sponsored jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan — the first of several dominoes that would lead us to the current mess.

In any normal part of the world, the existence of a violent, uncontrolled country-within-a-country would be a cause for major concern. But in Pakistan, where anti-Indian paranoia has served as a semi-official state creed since the country’s founding, this weird state of affairs has long been considered a strategic asset. FATA and surrounding areas has served as a sort of giant arm’s-length staging area and training camp for irregulars and terrorists going off to liberate Kashmir and extend Pakistan’s strategic interests in Afghanistan. During the Soviet campaign, when Moscow decried Pakistan for abetting the insurgency against Soviet troops, President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq could throw up his hands and say it was all the fault of those nasty go-it-alone tribals (much as Arabs now find it convenient to harass Israel from the no-man’s lands of Gaza and southern Lebanon). After 9/11, Pervez Musharraf played essentially the same trick with the United States.

The Pakistani intelligence service — the ISI — is particularly beholden to the old anti-Indian mindset. To this day, the ISI blocks local police from arresting well-known jihadi murderers if they have reputations as useful assets against India. The Taliban leadership council — known as the Quetta Shura — operates openly only a few miles away from a Pakistani army base. As one diplomat from a neighbouring country disclosed at my conference, a foreign intelligence service even has provided its Pakistani counterparts with the GPS locations of all the relevant Quetta Shura structures, as well as the cell phone numbers of the principals. But nothing’s come of it. (Well, almost nothing: As soon as the Pakistanis were provided with this information, the diplomat noted, many of the Shura members hastily decamped to Karachi.)

Much of the discussion at the conference revolved around narrow technical arguments about the best way to defeat the Taliban and pacify the FATA. But that seems to be somewhat beside the point compared to the larger, underlying problem: Pakistan’s lack of a binding national identity as something besides a paranoid 1940s-era Muslim bulwark against India’s Hindus.

Such an identity will take generations to evolve, even given the apparently enlightened attitude of President Asif Ali Zardari (who last month made the important admission that India is no longer a “threat” to his country). In the short term, the best hope is that the Taliban themselves will repulse Pakistanis so thoroughly — through overreach and brutality — that the anti-jiahdi backlash becomes the dominant force in the country’s politics. “The Pakistanis are going to have to get really mad,” the former CIA officer told me. “When your women and children are killed, you tend to get things done.”

And there is some evidence that this is happening. In 2008, the Taliban crossed a line when they moved into the Swat valley, an idyllic enclave north of Islamabad that is well outside the FATA. As well, the Taliban have embarked on a widespread campaign of bombings throughout northern Pakistan — most recently killing a moderate Muslim cleric who’d preached against suicide attacks from his mosque in Lahore, and destroying the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, amid other grotesqueries.

Ordinary Pakistanis also have been outraged by a two-minute video clip, released earlier this spring, showing a man with a long beard flogging a crying woman in front of a crowd. While the provenance of the footage is unknown, many Pakistanis see the vignette as a window into what their country will look like if the Taliban take over. “The footage is increasingly seen here as a turning point,” Paul Alexander of the Associated Press reported last week. “There are no scientific polls, but in informal interviews by The Associated Press with more than three dozen Pakistanis across the country Wednesday and Thursday, not a single person expressed sympathy or allegiance toward the Taliban. The most common answer was the militants should be hunted down and killed.”

More than most post-colonial creations, Pakistan is a land of unintended consequences. In 1947, British aristocrats molded its contours to provide South Asian Muslims with a secure homeland — yet in so doing, also divided Pashtunistan and Kashmir in a manner that sowed the seeds for multiple wars with India (not to mention a bloody civil war leading to the creation of Bangladesh), and an endless guerrilla campaign on the Afghan border. Decades later, the CIA used Pakistan’s northwestern badlands to support an Afghan insurgency that eventually would help bring down the Soviet empire — yet also indirectly lay the foundation for al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, and the Taliban jihad now threatening to turn both Pakistan and Afghanistan into South Asian Somalias — one of them nuclear. It would be a welcome, final twist if the rising backlash against those same Taliban jihadis might provide the bonding agent required for Pakistan finally to turn itself into a normal country.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Maoist ‘Rampage’ in West Bengal

Hundreds of Maoists backed by thousands of villagers have seized the ruling party’s last stronghold in a troubled part of India’s West Bengal state.

Armed rebels are reportedly patrolling roads around the village of Dharampur in the Lalgarh area after police fled. Three people were killed, reports say.

Rebels have been entrenching themselves in Lalgarh since last November and now have almost total control of the area.

Maoist-linked violence has killed 6,000 people in India over the past 20 years.

The rebels operate in more than 180 districts across east and central India and are seen as a major threat to national security. Last week more than 20 police were killed in the eastern state of Jharkand.

The Maoists say they represent the rights of landless farmhands and tribal communities.


The BBC’s Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta said that as hundreds of workers from the state’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), fled the Lalgarh area, Maoists claimed it as their first “liberated” zone in West Bengal.

One of the police posts was later set ablaze and the Maoists were reported to have demolished the house of a local communist leader.

“The Maoists went on a rampage yesterday in Dharampur village and ransacked our zonal secretary’s home and party office before setting it on fire. Three of our men are dead and six more still missing,” a CPI(M) official said.

The village of Dharampur was the last bastion for the ruling communist party in Lalgarh. Other villages in the area had been under Maoist control since November.

Our correspondent says that taking control of Lalgarh is part of a long-term plan for the Maoists.

The area encompasses vast tracts of the forests of West Midnapur, Purulia and Bankura districts of West Bengal and adjoins parts of the states of Jharkhand and Orissa.

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

Singapore: Mahathir Scoffs at Mm’s [Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew] Visit

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad yesterday poured fresh vitriol on Singapore, calling Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew a ‘little Emperor’ and describing the republic as a ‘new Middle Kingdom’. In a no-holds-barred tirade on his blog Che Det that coincided with the tail-end of an official visit by Mr Lee to Malaysia, he slammed Singapore for putting itself in the centre of the region, and also took issue with other topics such as the Iskandar development in Johor and the supply of water.

Mr Lee, he charged, had in his ‘triumphant visit to Malaysia’ made it known to ‘Malaysian supplicants’ that Singapore regarded the lands within a 6,000-mile radius as its hinterland.

‘This includes Beijing and Tokyo and of course Malaysia,’ he wrote.

‘Of course this self-deluding perception places Singapore at the centre of a vast region. It is therefore the latter day Middle Kingdom,’ he added, using the Chinese name for China. ‘The rest are peripheral and are there to serve the interests of this somewhat tiny Middle Kingdom.’

He again insinuated that Malays would lose out in the development of the Iskandar region in Johor.

Mr Lee and Tun Dr Mahathir had crossed swords over several national issues when they were both prime ministers and Malaysian newsmen have noted that Mr Lee did not meet his erstwhile adversary on his current trip.

When asked about this last week, the former Malaysian premier had replied tersely: ‘I don’t see why he would request to see me; I am a nobody.’

Mr Mahathir has used his widely read blog to comment on all and sundry and also to launch attacks on political opponents, including his successor, former prime minister Abdullah Badawi.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Singapore: Senior JI Detainee Freed

Another Singaporean who was an MILF member in the Philippines arrested

SINGAPORE has released a 48-year-old man who was a senior member of the JI terror network here headed by Mas Selamat Kastari.

Arifin Ali, also known as John Wong Ah Hung, was freed and placed on a Restriction Order on Monday, said the Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday.

Such an order means his activities are limited. For instance, he has to attend counselling sessions, and needs approval before changing jobs or going abroad.

Arifin was arrested and detained in 2003, two years after he had fled the country during a security crackdown on the JI group here.

‘Since his detention in June 2003, Arifin had cooperated in investigations and shown considerable progress in his rehabilitation,’ the ministry said.

‘He is assessed to no longer pose a security threat that requires further preventive detention,’ it added in a statement.

Arifin was arrested in Bangkok by the Thai authorities in May 2003, following information given by the Internal Security Department (ISD), and deported to Singapore.

While hiding in Thailand, he was involved with a group of like-minded individuals in plotting terrorist attacks against targets in Thailand.

The MHA also said that it had arrested another Singaporean in April this year.

He is Ahmad Jalaluddin Sanawi, 53, who has been issued with a two-year Restriction Order on May 6.

Ahmad was a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines and had undergone military training at the group’s camp there.

He had also contributed to its fund-raising efforts.

Ahmad left Singapore in December 2001 and had remained in hiding overseas since then to evade the Singapore authorities. He surrendered to the ISD in April.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sri Lanka: Tigers ‘Reorganise’ Struggle

COLOMBO — THE few surviving leaders of Sri Lanka’s defeated Tamil Tigers announced Tuesday they were reorganising the rebel movement and forming a ‘transnational government’. The rebel group’s international relations chief, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said in a recorded message that the organisation would continue to pursue its aim of a separate Tamil state despite the rout of its army and death of its leadership.

‘The struggle of people of Tamil Eelam (the separate state the Tigers fought for) has reached a new state,’ he said. ‘It is time now for us to move forward with our political vision towards our freedom.’

Pathmanathan, who is better known as K.P and worked as the group’s main international arms smuggler, said they were setting up what he called a ‘Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’. He said their overseas-based legal advisor, Rudrakumaran Vishwanathan, would head a committee to decide a course of action that would be ‘within democratic principles’.

It is not clear from where Pathmanathan, who is wanted by Interpol for his arms smuggling operations, issued the voice message.

It comes nearly a month after the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Velupillai Prabhakaran and most of his deputies were killed by government forces.

The pro-rebel Tamilnet website meanwhile called for a ‘democratic and inclusive’ organisation to keep up the separatist drive.

‘The need of the time now is the metamorphosis of the existing infrastructure into a democratic and inclusive transnational government of Eelam Tamils,’ Tamilnet said.

‘While the government in exile is a conventional phenomenon that needs a host country, the transnational government is a novel experiment that has no precedence,’ it added, while characterising the new set-up as a ‘symbolic’ new start for the LTTE. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Thailand: Teacher Killed in Thai South

YALA (Thailand) — SUSPECTED Islamic militants shot dead a female Buddhist teacher in Thailand’s troubled south Tuesday in a spiralling uprising against central government authority, police said. The 56-year-old elementary school teacher was shot in a drive-by attack in restive Yala province as she rode to work on her motorcycle, in the latest attack on education authorities in the region, they said.

Shortly afterwards a bomb hidden in a motorcycle exploded outside a police station in neighbouring Pattani province, killing one policeman and wounding three others, one of them seriously, said police.

The attacks comes amid a recent upsurge in violence in the Muslim-majority region bordering Malaysia, where more than 3,700 people have been killed during a bitter five-year insurgency.

The victim was the 117th teacher shot dead since the unrest began in the volatile provinces of Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani in January 2004, said Boonsom Thongsriplai, head of a southern teachers’ confederation.

Schools and teachers are frequent targets of attacks in the south because militants see the education system as an effort by Bangkok to impose Buddhist Thai culture on the mainly ethnic Malay region.

The insurgents also target other civilians — Buddhist and Muslim alike — and security forces.

Thailand’s government is struggling to curb the recent spike in violence, which included a bloody attack on a mosque in which gunmen shot dead 11 people during evening prayers last week.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday raised the possibility of making the south a special administrative zone as a political solution to the unrest but he ruled out granting any form of autonomy.

The southern region was an autonomous Malay Muslim sultanate until Thailand annexed it in 1902, provoking decades of tension. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East

Japan: Ban on Exports to N. Korea

TOKYO — JAPAN on Tuesday banned all remaining trade with North Korea to punish the isolated communist regime for its latest nuclear and missile tests, officials said. Prime Minister Taro Aso’s cabinet agreed on ‘a total ban on exports’ to the impoverished state on top of an import freeze imposed after the North’s first atomic test in 2006, a trade ministry official said.

Tokyo’s latest move comes amid worries Pyongyang may soon conduct a third nuclear test after the UN Security Council voted on Friday on tougher sanctions in response to the regime’s May 25 test. Japan’s exports to the North last year totalled just 792.6 million yen (S$12 million), mainly machinery and transport equipment such as trains and vehicles, food, electronics and industrial goods, the finance ministry says.

‘The ban will be effective until April 13 next year. We have expanded the ban to cover all goods,’ said the trade ministry official, Masaru Yamazumi.

Analysts see Japan’s new sanctions as largely symbolic because North Korea conducts the bulk of its trade with its large communist neighbour and closest ally China, also its biggest source of aid.

‘Japan’s additional sanctions won’t have a substantial impact on North Korea,’ said Lee Young Hwa, a Korean affairs expert at Kansai University. ‘The only thing left for Japan to do now is to persuade China to fully comply with the UN sanctions,’ he told AFP.

The UN Security Council resolution adopted on Friday, which does not authorise the use of force, calls on member states to impose expanded sanctions on the regime of Kim Jong-Il over its latest provocations.

For Japan, a total export ban is among the last economic measures it had left to use against North Korea. It stopped all imports in 2006 when it also banned most visits by its citizens and port calls by its ships. To target the regime’s leaders, Japan has also enforced UN rules and banned exports of 24 luxury products — including caviar, fatty tuna, beef and several high-end consumer electronics.

Last month Japan also tightened a watch on money flows to North Korea, requiring that all remittances over 10 million yen be reported, lowering the limit to a third of the previous threshold. Under the latest changes, foreigners living in Japan will be banned from re-entering the country if they violate any of the restrictions on trade, monetary flows and travel to North Korea, media reports said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said on Monday Japan was also mulling law changes to allow it to conduct UN-authorised ship inspections of North Korean vessels suspected to be carrying missile or nuclear materials. Mr Kawamura said the government would propose details about the plan to the ruling coalition this week. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Koreas: Naval Chief’s Comments on Sea Battle

The First Battle of Yeonpyeong (Island) erupted between the South and North Korean navies on June 15, 1999, with the South claiming a decisive victory. Six of the North’s vessels were sunk or destroyed and dozens of its seamen were killed in the clash. The South Korean Navy had 11 soldiers injured and two vessels damaged. At a meeting of generals from the North and the United Nations Command held at the truce village of Panmunjom immediately after the battle, Pyongyang’s representative said at 10 a.m., “A battle broke out after the South Korean Navy launched a preemptive strike at 9:15 a.m.” The sea clash, however, started at 9:28 a.m. and lasted 14 minutes. The North’s representative gave the wrong time of his country’s naval operation.

A North Korean naval commander led his forces into the battle at a base right across the sea from Yeonpyeong Island in the South. In the first regular inter-Korean battle since the Korean War, the South Korean Navy overwhelmed the North. Nevertheless, then commander of the 2nd Naval Command Park Jung-sung was forced to resign as a major general after failing to get a promotion under the progressive government in Seoul. In contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sent as encouragement beef to a unit in the North’s naval command in the Yellow Sea despite his military losing the battle. The unit later started the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong on June 29, 2002, killing six South Korean sailors, injuring 19 others, and sinking one speedboat.

Both battles erupted under the Kim Dae-jung administration of South Korea. After the first, the South Korean Navy’s battle guidelines were replaced by a “strict ban on a preemptive strike and escalation of a battle, strict observation of the Northern Limit Line, and wise counteraction.” The new guidelines robbed South Korean frontline commanders of their operational authority. As a result, the South Korean Navy suffered heavy losses in the second battle. Park yesterday criticized the guidelines, saying “They were tantamount to instructions for revenge only after being hit by a cannonball.” The former president disrupted the main energy of his country’s defense forces yet went on to win the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize. He got the award by paying 3.5 trillion won (2.87 billion U.S. dollars) to Pyongyang in “peace costs.”

A monument was erected at the 2nd Naval Command last year nine years after the first battle. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jung Ok-keun in a commemorative speech at yesterday’s ceremony said, “Our soldiers must commit themselves to a harsher revenge (if they cut our finger, we cut their hand) if North Korea attacks us, and we must inherit the legacy of our perfect victory over the North 10 years ago.” His comments add to the South’s confidence. People who consider the 2000 inter-Korean joint declaration as a bible and blame the North’s nuclear weapons development and military threat to the South’s scrapping of the “sunshine policy” must realize that these strong troops defend national security.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Koreas: The Lessons of the 2 Yeonpyeong Naval Battles

The Korean Navy in a ceremony at the Second Fleet in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the first Yeonpyeong Naval Battle. Until last year, the Second Fleet had been in charge of organizing this ceremony, but it was elevated in status this year and Navy Headquarters took control.

The battle took place on June 15, 1999 after North Korean gunships crossed the Northern Limit Line, prompting a South Korean high-speed boat to ram into a North Korean torpedo boat, causing it to sink. South Korean ships also sank five North Korean patrol boats. South Korean losses totaled nine injuries and minimal damage to the hulls of a patrol ship and high-speed boat. But the battle was the first clash between conventional forces of the two Koreas since the end of the Korean War, and the South Korean soldiers involved have not been given proper credit until now. Rear Admiral Park Jung-sung of the Naval Reserve Forces, who was the commander of the Second Fleet at the time of the battle, said, “The victory was source of great pride for the Navy, but ended up being perceived as a crime due to the Sunshine Policy” of rapprochement with North Korea. In 2004, the Navy tried to build a monument at a park in Incheon to mark the victory, but had to cancel the plan due to resistance from civic groups.

Moreover, following the battle, the South Korean military created a new rule of engagement requiring naval vessels to block North Korean ships crossing over the NLL, then broadcast warning messages, demand them to return to their side of the maritime border and fire warning shots before being authorized to fire at the North’s ships. During the second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle on June 29, 2002, six South Korean sailors perished after the South’s high-speed boat Chamsuri 357 was sunk by a North Korean patrol boat.

The deaths of the South Korean sailors were due largely to the impractical rules of engagement. At that time, six heavily-armed South Korean naval high-speed boats and two patrol ships had been present at the scene of the battle, but were unable to deal aggressively with the North Korean vessels. The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the National Assembly his troops could not fire on the North Korean ships due to fears of the battle escalating into a war. The rule of engagement, which was devised to minimize military tension, ended up costing lives.

Now military tension is rising once again on the West Sea, with North Korea announcing that the armistice is no longer valid and that the safety of vessels in the area could no longer be guaranteed. Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee ordered his field commanders last Monday to use the combined resources of the Navy to swiftly deal with North Korean provocations. The first Yeongpyeong Naval Battle lasted 14 minutes and the second one 18. A lack of decisiveness by field commanders could spell defeat. The only way to stop North Korea from resorting to reckless provocation is to make sure we are fully prepared to deal with them by learning the lessons from the two previous battles.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

N. Korea Admits Uranium Program After 7 Years

North Korea consistently denied that it was pursuing a uranium enrichment program since the U.S. first made the allegation in 2002. Yet on Saturday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced that it had already begun testing its uranium enrichment technology.

The allegation surfaced in October of 2002, during a visit to Pyongyang by James Kelly, then Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs. Kelly said there were suspicions that North Korea was trying to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, citing evidence gathered by U.S. sources. The U.S. then halted the supply of heavy oil to the Stalinist country.

North Korea retaliated by withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nullifying the Geneva Agreement that had been in effect for more than eight years. Since then, North Korea had insisted it had never had a uranium enrichment program. This triggered a tedious process of accusations and counter-accusations between the two sides. During the six-country talks, which began in 2003, the U.S. government pressured North Korea by producing evidence that the communist country imported equipment to produce highly enriched uranium from Pakistan, but the North simply denied everything.

With the Sept. 19, 2005 statement of principles in which North Korea pledged to scrap its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, the uranium program slipped beneath the surface for a while, resurfacing last year when the North declared its nuclear inventory. North Korea again denied it needed to declare the uranium program under the agreement, saying it could not declare something it did not have.

In the end, the U.S. and North Korea swept the issue under the carpet, with the chief negotiators to the six-party talks for the two countries agreeing that it would be solved in a separate, secret agreement between the two sides. The U.S. believed further verification attempts would shed light on suspicions over the program, but Washington ended up being played like a fiddle by North Korea.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

N. Korea’s Disturbing Rationality

Americans largely understand North Korea as a proliferation problem, far on the distant side of the planet, with a slightly strange dictator. But in recent days, the American media and public have come face-to-face with a reality about the country that South Koreans have long understood: the disrespect for human rights and for the rule of law that exists north of the 38th parallel.

The sentencing of two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, by the North Korean high court to 12 years of hard labor in prison, however, has shocked many average Americans. This is the first such fate for any American civilians in North Korea. Charged with “illegal entry and hostile acts,” the two journalists have been the top news story on NBC, CNN, Fox and other major news networks for the past week. The average disinterested American has now become intensely interested in learning about the inhuman conditions of North Korean gulags and labor camps, and the fate of these two young women.

Americans are struggling to understand why the North Koreans have chosen to take a hard line with Lee and Ling. Some naively ask if there is an appeals process in the North Korean legal system [there isn’t], or if the two women lacked fair legal representation [they did]. Others reach the conclusion that the two have become pawns in a high-stakes poker game as tensions ratchet up between Washington and Pyongyang over the nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles tests.

In the end however, there is a disturbing rationality to everything the North has done. At the core of it all is the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. This is inherently an uncertain and potentially destabilizing process when it is done in the best of times, as a slow, gradual process. It is infinitely more dangerous when the transition must take place more quickly, spurred by Kim Jong-il’s health problems.

Weak and paranoid dictatorships will look to secure their external and internal environment as they brace for a leadership transition. In this regard, for Pyongyang, the nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles tests over the past two months represent an effort to secure themselves against external threats as they undergo the transition. Using the tests to demonstrate they are a nuclear weapons state sends a message to the world that they will not be threatened.

But external security is not all Pyongyang is concerned with as it makes the transition to the post-Kim Jong-il era. The rule of his son rests on the internal stability of the regime. In addition to potential factional infighting, the next greatest threat to the regime is from the people. This is not revolution, because as the French philosopher Montesquieu once wrote, people in societies as decrepit as North Korea’s seek only to find their next meal; they do not entertain grand ideas of revolution. Instead, the threat from the people is the threat of refugees and asylum-seekers, people who choose to vote with their feet and try to escape North Korea to China.

There has been a slow but steadily increasing stream of defectors into China and ultimately to South Korea through third countries. According to the Unification Ministry, the number of refugees was a little over 1,000 from 1995 to 2001, and then jumped to average around 1,400 to 1,500 per year from 2002 to 2006. In 2007, this number increased to approximately 2,750. From 2006, China began building fences along the border to deter refuges and instituted the practice of refoulment, performing neighborhood sweeps in the Korean-speaking province of Jilin to return North Koreans to certain torture and punishment.

Lee and Ling have been caught, both literally and figuratively, in this unfortunate confluence of circumstances. In terms of the North’s internal security dilemma, the harsh sentence against the two journalists is probably meant to send a message on the refugee issue. Pyongyang is effectively telling the world news media to stay away from the Sino-North Korean border and to stop encouraging defections from the North. Sadly, this is probably an effective strategy. What journalist would entertain thoughts of meandering along the border today?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

New Zealand: Editorial: Army’s Role Needs to be Defined

Questions abounded when Army light armoured vehicles arrived outside the Napier house where gunman Jan Molenaar was the subject of a police siege. Some wondered whether they should be there. Others assumed they would be used to smash into Molenaar’s house, thereby bringing a quick end to matters. Not the least of those asking questions were the police. They pondered how far they could go in using the armoured vehicles. In the end, they erred on the side of caution, using them only as protected transport.

The police’s uncertainty has prompted the Defence Minister to ask for a report to clarify the law. This is wholly appropriate, but Wayne Mapp has followed that up by suggesting there should be no such limitations on the use of Army assets in future. The police, in other words, would be in no doubt they could use the armoured vehicles as offensive weapons. There, the minister goes too far. The review should, in fact, lead to the enshrining in law of the approach used by the police in the Napier siege.

In what seems to amount to an oversight, the 1990 Defence Act fails to specify this. It merely defines the use of the armed forces to provide public service or assist civil power. These encompass emergencies in which one or more persons are threatening or trying to kill or seriously injure, or to destroy or seriously damage property. Pertinently, however, these emergencies must be events that cannot be dealt with by the police without the help of the armed forces. That is a strong pointer to the legislation’s intent, even if there is no precise reference to the use of the armed forces’ weapons. Presumably their employment for relatively straightforward police work, as now touted by Mr Mapp, was not envisaged as an issue.

It is customary, of course, for the police to use the Air Force’s helicopters for transport, and for the two to work closely together in anti-terrorism activities. The armed forces also provide manpower and support when summoned under the 2002 Civil Defence Act by local bodies whose own emergency services have been overwhelmed by a disaster. But it would be a significant step for them to be involved in future Molenaar-type scenarios.

There are good reasons why this should not happen. The use of a country’s armed forces against its own citizenry is not a matter to be considered lightly. It raises the spectre of times when armies were employed routinely to put down political dissent. There is a line here that need not be crossed. The police understood this when they declined to use the armoured cars’ offensive power. They grasped that, indeed, the establishment of forces such as their own, starting in Britain in the mid-19th century, was part of a process that redefined the role of the Army and its arsenal.

The Defence Minister might have more of a case if it could be shown the police would have benefited from the armoured cars being used as assault weapons during the Napier siege. But their response was copybook, so much so that no one else was injured after Molenaar’s initial onslaught, despite his impressive array of guns and his training as an Army territorial. The police operation was restrained, responsible and successful.

Mr Mapp has also pointed to the convenience of the Army’s overstocked armoured-vehicle depot. But that is a commentary on an absurd purchase by the previous Government, not a justification for a new and inappropriate use for the cars. The minister is on firmer ground in suggesting the police may need their own armoured transport. That would represent a far more reasoned response than any loosening of the law governing the police’s conscripting of the armed forces’ weaponry.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sarkozy Jeered at Bongo’s Funeral

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was jeered as he joined heads of state in the capital of Gabon, Libreville, for the funeral of President Omar Bongo.

A crowd booed the French leader as he visited the presidential palace to lay a wreath at Mr Bongo’s coffin.

Oil-rich Gabon kept close ties to Paris under Mr Bongo, but he was the subject of a French corruption inquiry in May.

After more than four decades in office, he died last week in a Spanish clinic following a long illness.

Africa’s longest-serving leader, he will be buried in Franceville, his hometown in the south-east on Thursday.

‘No to France’

As Mr Sarkozy emerged from a stretch limousine outside the presidential palace in the ocean-side capital, cheers turned to jeers.

Joining him, the French president’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was also booed, according to AP news agency.

Dozens of onlookers yelled: “We don’t want you — leave” and “No to France”.

But the two men were reportedly applauded inside the palace as they laid wreaths at the foot of Mr Bongo’s coffin, which was draped in Gabon’s national flag.

The former colonial power has close economic and political links to Gabon, with around 1,000 troops stationed in Libreville, where French energy firm Total is an investor.

In his last months, Mr Bongo’s relations with Paris were soured by a French investigation into allegations of embezzlement.

Two other African leaders who are the focus of the same inquiry, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, were due to attend Tuesday’s funeral in Libreville.

Gabonese reporter Linel Kwatsi, in the capital, told the BBC there had been anger among Mr Bongo’s supporters in Gabon at the time over the Paris corruption inquiry and French media coverage.

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

Latin America

Air Crash Autopsies Rule Out Terrorism

Autopsies on the bodies recovered after the Airbus disaster in the south Atlantic suggest there was no explosion or fire and therefore no terrorist attack.

But two weeks after Air France’s AF447 fell from the sky between the Brazilian and West African coasts, the mystery of what happened to the plane and the 228 people on board remains largely impenetrable.

The automatic messages sent from the aircraft in its dying minutes suggest problems with speed sensors, and also with the rudder in the tail. However, French investigators are still uncertain whether these were symptoms, or the principal causes, of the difficulties which overwhelmed the Airbus 330-200 flying from Rio to Paris on the night of 31 May and 1 June.

Autopsy reports on the first 16 bodies recovered from the ocean seem finally to have put to rest the theory that the aircraft was the victim of a terrorist attack. Details of the autopsies leaked to the Brazilian press at the weekend indicate that the bodies showed no sign of burning or damage from an explosion. The bodies were recovered whole, which is also said to be unusual after a mid-air explosion. Examination by X-ray revealed no evidence that the bodies had been penetrated by shards of metal.

The 50 corpses discovered so far were recovered in two groups over 50 miles apart. This suggests to some aviation experts that the aircraft may have disintegrated, fully or partially, in mid-air.

An aviation website, EuroCockpit, has also published the full details of the 24 automatic messages transmitted by the airbus to Air France headquarters in the minutes before it crashed. Much of this information — including the fact that the aircraft was transmitting erratic and conflicting speed recordings — had already been revealed.

The full details of the messages also show, however, that the aircraft may have had a problem with its “rudder limiter”, which prevents the main rudder, or steering device, in the tail from moving beyond its safe range. Aviation experts said that, in theory, if the rudder moved too far at speed, it could break off and take the “vertical stabiliser” — or main part of the tailplane — with it. The tailplane is the largest piece of wreckage from the A330-200 to have been recovered so far. However, the experts also point out that there was nothing in the automatic message which proved that the “rudder limiter” had failed, causing the crash.

The device might have simply locked itself into place because of the conflicting speed readings. “The message tells us that the rudder limiter was inoperative,” Jack Casey, an aviation safety expert in Washington told the Associated Press.

“It does not give you any reason why it is not working or what caused it, or what came afterward.”

It is believed that the erratic speed readings may have been caused by malfunctioning speed sensors — or pitot tubes — but it still remains unclear how this problem alone could have destroyed, or brought down, a modern aircraft so rapidly. No Mayday call or emergency radio message was sent by the pilot and co-pilot, suggesting that the aircraft fell apart or crashed while they were still going through their first, emergency response procedures.

A French nuclear submarine is searching the ocean depths up to 15,000ft below the crash site in the hope of picking up a message from the beacons fitted to the aircraft’s flight recorders. Senior French air crash investigation officials have warned that it may never be possible to explain the crash unless the recorders or “black boxes” are found. The location “pings” sent out by the boxes will cease in about two weeks’ time.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Dominican Republic: A Demand for Government to Explain Refidomsa Sale

SANTO DOMINGO.- After demanding that the government offer an explanation regarding the sale of 49% of the shares of the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (Refidomsa) to Venezuela, the two principle political opposition parties said that they are against the negotiations because they give President Hugo Chavez the power to direct the fuel policy in the country.

To this opposition can be added the position of the business community, that cautiously refers to the issue as something that needs to be studied and which they hope will be aired out in the National Congress.

The claims and worries have been brought up by the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC) that have openly said that they reject the transaction.

Orlando Jorge Mera, the secretary general of the PRD, said that he felt that in an exercise in transparency, the authorities should report on the aspects involved in the transaction, since the official policy on fuels could be in play here. “The issue of fuels worries us a lot, since it is an issue that affects the national security, since we do not produce any petroleum we have a high dependency, and handing over 40% to one of our principle suppliers then has to be the subject of a greater consideration and the offering of more details so that we Dominicans can be sure as to what is going to happen,” he emphasized.

For Rafaela Alburquerque, one of the PRSC vice-presidents, this negotiation hurts the nation’s sovereignty and will place in the hands of Venezuela the control of the sale of fuels.

“There will be gasoline, there will be diesel if Chavez wants it, he is very temperamental, I do not like this project,” she said at the same time demanding that the sales process be widely clarified.

She warned that this situation could put the supply of fuels to the Dominican Republic in danger, and she asked what would happen when a government that is not agreeable to Chavez is installed.

Business leader Maribel Gasso, the secretary of the National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP), makes a point of saying that since she did not know the basis of the negotiations, it is not possible to give a well based opinion.

The Conep president, Lisandro Macarrulla, announced that this week they would evaluate the decision and make their position known.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Bari: Letters Rogatory, No Response From Libya

(ANSAmed) — BARI, JUNE 11 — The Libyan authorities have still not responded to an international letters rogatory sent on December 2, 2008 by the district anti-mafia office in Bari regarding investigations into human trafficking of prostitutes (including minors) who arrive in Italy from Nigeria via Libya, report various sources. Once in Italy, the victims are sold to organisations which then exploit the individuals as prostitutes. The investigations into the trafficking route by prosecutor Giuseppe Scelsi and local police since March 2009 directly followed comments by Nigerian traffickers who organised a ‘journey of hope’, which ended with two wooden boats sinking in the Mediterranean, killing over 600 immigrants. The Bari public prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the incident, accusing a Nigerian man of mass murder. Scelsi’s letters of request seek contact with the Libyan legal authorities and investigative collaboration. Despite continued and insistent requests, said the same sources, Scelsi’s appeals have gone unanswered and no elements relevant to the investigation have been obtained. The letters rogatory were sent to combat human trafficking routes between Libya and Italy (a transnational crime) that begins with the recruitment of women in Nigerian villages. The request is based on the Convention against transnational organised crime, adopted by the United Nations in New York on November 15, 2000 and ratified by Libya on June 18, 2004 and the additional protocol that punishes human trafficking (including women and children) by the United Nations from November 15, 2000, ratified by Libya on September 24, 2004. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Greece: Calls Grow to Curb Immigration

PM to push issue at EU summit this week, as opposition ups the ante and coast guard struggles

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday telephoned his counterpart in the Czech Republic, which currently holds the European Union presidency, to press for greater EU support in curbing a seemingly relentless influx of illegal immigrants.

According to government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros, Karamanlis told his counterpart Jan Fischer that Greece cannot shoulder the burden of protecting the EU’s southeastern border. The PM is due to broach the issue at a summit in Brussels later this week.

Meanwhile, Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis called for municipal council members to forge a united front to tackle the capital’s burgeoning migrant population which is being blamed by some for spiraling crime that has led to a spike in far-right sentiment. Kaklamanis said swift consensus on this issue was crucial, “even if we must all compromise on some of our convictions.”

The leader of the main opposition PASOK party, George Papandreou, seemed less compromising in an article published in Sunday’s Kathimerini, in which he outlines an eight-point plan for “zero illegal immigration.” Papandreou condemns the government for having a “nonexistent policy” for immigration which has marginalized second generation migrants and failed to make a distinction between economic migrants and refugees.

Responding to criticism from other opposition parties, describing the military facilities slated for use as migrant reception centers as “concentration camps,” Antonaros said the ruling conservatives were being treated unfairly. “Two-and-a-half years ago we were being condemned by international bodies for having too few reception centers,” he said.

Meanwhile, the coast guard on Lesvos, where a reception center is full to bursting, detained a total of 126 illegal immigrants this weekend. The migrants were intercepted in four boats that had been heading toward the island from neighboring Turkey.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Fascist’ Vigilante Group is Banned

A new vigilante group has been banned from walking the streets because of the similarity between its uniforms and those worn by Mussolini’s Fascists in the 1930s.

The Italian National Guard was launched at a news conference over the weekend, sparking outcry from the centre-left opposition, Jewish groups, police unions and others that it evoked Italy’s fascist-era paramilitary Black Shirts.

Benito Mussolini’s Black Shirts violently attacked communists, socialists and other progressive groups, breaking up strikes and attacking trade union headquarters. Their 1922 march on Rome brought the fascist dictator to power.

The Italian National Guard uniforms feature an imperial eagle, a symbol often associated with Fascism. In addition, on the armband is a black-rayed sun, or Sonnenrad, an image found in a castle used by the Nazi’s paramilitary SS.

The guard was introduced by the right-wing fringe Italian Social Movement at a Milan party conference during which at least two speakers gave the straight-armed Fascist salute.

Yesterday, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said the group had essentially disqualified itself by staging its weekend launch, calling the stunt “ridiculous and dangerous.”

However, government officials said they would go ahead with legislation allowing unarmed citizen patrols to help beef up security in Italian cities and towns. The plan is part of a crackdown by the conservative administration on illegal immigration, which Italians increasingly link to crime.

Leaders of the Italian Social Movement said the guard’s creation was made possible by the bill, which must still to be approved by the Senate, leading the center-left opposition to say the case highlighted the danger posed by the plan.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government has made the fight against illegal immigration a priority, recently signing a controversial new accord with Libya to send back migrants intercepted at sea in a bid to stem the flow of thousands of would-be migrants who set sail for Italian shores from Libya each year.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, of the anti-immigrant Northern League, defended the planned legislation Monday but insisted that such “do-it-yourself” groups wouldn’t be permitted once the bill becomes law.

“There is a clear and precise process” for citizen patrols to be registered with local government prefects, he told private Radio 24. “All the rest is either folklore or political maneuvering.”

Maroni, however, has long been a fan of such local citizen patrols. In 1996, he inaugurated a regional security force backed by the Northern League, the Padania National Guard. Those so-called “green shirts” are the model for the new Italian National Guard, organizers said.

The Italian National Guard says it is a nonprofit, apolitical organization of volunteers. However, its president is Gaetano Saya, who also is leader of the Italian Socialist Movement, and the guard was introduced at the party’s general conference, complete with a uniformed officer.

In a video message on the guard’s Web site, Saya says he is just a patriotic Italian — not a Fascist. He lambasted a reported investigation by Milan prosecutors into alleged violations of a law that makes it a crime to apologize for fascism.

“We aren’t Black Shirts, we aren’t Fascists, we aren’t Nazis,” he said. “We are Italian patriots and we want freedom.”

Organizers also have defended the use of the eagle on the uniforms, saying it stems from Rome’s imperial, ancient past — not its Fascist one.

The opposition, which has denounced the citizen patrols as paving the way for vigilante justice, said the new guard clearly evoked fascist and Nazi paramilitary groups..

“The idea that security could be granted to militant groups that are identified with a political group is a strike to the heart of the principles of every free democracy,” the ANSA news agency quoted Marco Minniti, head of security matters for the main opposition Democratic Party, as saying.

The police union Sil-Cigl said such patrols not only wouldn’t help improve security but also would increase problems by creating confusion, Apcom news agency said. And Jewish groups said they were prepared to create “counter-patrols” to ensure such security forces don’t commit any crimes themselves.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Police Operation, Arrests in Italy and Europe

(ANSAmed) — ROME — A large police operation against the phenomenon of illegal immigration was launched today in 16 Italian cities and 7 European countries. Dozens of arrests have been carried out by State Police agents from Venice and the Central Operational Service (SCO) to the damage of a transnational criminal organisation based in Iraqi Kurdistan, but with different operating groups in Italy, that in the last three years has allowed thousands of Kurdish illegals to enter the EU. As a part of the operation in Italy, called ‘Ticket to Ride’, coordinated by Venice’s public prosecutor’s office, arrests have also been reported in France, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece and Sweden in response to European warrants. Suspects will have to answer to the charges of criminal association and favouring illegal immigration. “That which came to an end today has been one of the most important operations in recent years and confirms, once again, the effectiveness of actions against illegal immigrant and human trafficking that the government has implemented,” commented Italy’s Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni. The investigation began in 2006 after checking out groups of illegal immigrants stopped in Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi, who were in this case hidden inside lorries. In some cases they had departed directly from Turkey and in this case they reached Italy by sea. Once in Italy, they were transferred by the organisation to their countries of destination, above all Germany and Sweden, but also France, Switzerland, Great Britain and Norway. The organisation, the investigators highlighted, was “stable, efficient and well structured”, with branches throughout Europe and representatives in all of the key countries who were able to present themselves as a “point of reference” for the other organisations involved in human trafficking.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Immigration; Barrot, Stronger N. European Commitment

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 15 — “Financial solidarity” and a “stronger” commitment by the north European countries which don’t “see the problem from up close” is needed. Also the work of Frontex, the border control agency, must be supported and a distribution plan for illegal immigrants must be developed to lighten the load of receiving countries, said the Vice President of the European Commission for Justice, Freedom & Security, Jaques Barrot, today during a summit on immigration on the Canary Islands. Quoted by the press agency EFE, Barrot stated that he is confident that the European Council will this week consolidate “solidarity between member states” and that the council will increase its aid to the countries on the EU’s borders with the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, to lighten the migrant load on these countries. The EU commissioner promised to work in this direction, announcing that, under Spain’s EU presidency, an action plan for young immigrants must be approved in the first half year of 2010 in order to develop the Stockholm programme. This programme, which will be passed by the European Council before the end of this year, will, according to Barrot, constitute “the new European strategy on immigration”. And for the first time it will include unaccompanied immigrating minors as a phenomenon to be dealt with in a specific way. The regional government of the Canary Islands have more than 1,500 immigrant minors in its care. The Islands want all Spanish communities to partake in their reception. The European Commission approves of the policy of the Spanish government to cooperate with the countries of origin of immigration, such as Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal, underlining that the work of the EU “is done through this coordination” and policies agreed with the African territories of provenance.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sweden: ‘Sex Education a Must for Swedish Learners’

Sex education should form part of the curriculum for all adults attending Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) classes, a new government report has proposed.

Writing in Dagens Nyheter, the author of the report, Anders Milton, says SFI classes “should include tuition on sexual and reproductive health, relationships, gender equality, values, and different ways of viewing sexuality.”

Milton argues this will give immigrants “better knowledge about their own sexual and reproductive health, and also knowledge that is valuable for them in their role as parents”.

Speaking to The Local after the report had been handed over to Minister for Health and Social Affairs Göran Hägglund, Milton said the SFI proposal was directed primarily at refugees.

“Most refugees in Sweden come from countries that are not democracies and are often quite authoritarian and have a conservative cultural outlook.

“They have never had information about sexual and reproductive health and I think this is something people need,” he said.

Milton added that he believed people from democratic societies were very much in the minority in SFI classes.

“Honestly, how many people are we talking about? 200? 500 maybe? But the lion’s share are refugees.”

Milton said he thought it would be unnecessary for people from functioning democracies to sit through classes on sex education. He added however that finding a practical solution did not fall under his remit.

“Clearly people from the UK, US or Canada, for example, know these things already. But it can be sorted out on a case by case basis. It’s something that can be worked out locally,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

‘Sweden Needs an Abortion Register’

A report presented to the government on Monday has proposed that Sweden establish a national abortion registry and distribute free contraceptives to students over fifteen in a bid to lower the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

The author of the government report, Anders Milton, writes in an article in Dagens Nyheter, that “for whatever reasons, we in Sweden have more abortions than other countries in western Europe”.

Milton notes that a woman’s medical journal reveals whether or not she has undergone an an abortion. He proposes compiling abortion data from journals in a central register that can only be accessed for research purposes.

“In Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as other countries, it is known that abortion figures for women born outside Western Europe are twice as high or many times as high as those for Danish or Dutch-born women,” he writes.

The lack of a cohesive register in Sweden means it is impossible to say whether “abortions are more common in certain socioeconomic or cultural groups.”

“We simply don’t know if we are reaching everybody with public information campaigns or whether we need more targeted campaigns,” writes Milton.

He also discusses a variety of reasons behind abortions in Sweden such as partner incompatibility, inconvenient timing and, in some cases, sexual violence.

Along with free contraceptives he proposes that “education in sex and relationships in the broadest sense should be written into the curriculum in a clearer way, and the teaching of these subjects should recur throughout the school year.”

But Lena Marions, senior physician at Karolinska University Hospital, is critical of the proposal for schools to distribute free condoms and contraceptive pills to all students over the age of fifteen.

“It should be each individual’s, especially young people’s, own responsibility to be safe when having sexual relations, and since contraceptives are readily available in youth centres (‘ungdomsmottagningar’) further distribution of them to students will be insignificant,” she told The Local.

The government did not task the inquiry with reexamining the country’s abortion legislation; instead the report is geared toward helping to educate young people and confer them with strong values and self-esteem.

Society should strive for young people to be able to say yes when they want a sexual relationship and no if they do not, says Milton.

“A no must always be respected regardless of when it is said,” he write, and recommends that all contraceptives be subsidized for young people and adults up to 25 years of age, with a cap of 200 kronor per year.

“We also suggest that ‘morning after’ pills, which are available without cost at youth centers, should be subsidized if purchased at a pharmacy when the buyer is up to 25 years of age.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Thomas Sowell: The Character of Nations

In an age that values cleverness over wisdom, it is not surprising that many superficial but clever books get more attention than a wise book like “The Character of Nations” by Angelo Codevilla, even though the latter has far more serious implications for the changing character of our own nation.

The recently published second edition of Professor Codevilla’s book is remarkable just for its subject, quite aside from the impressive breadth of its scope and the depth of its insights. But clever people among today’s intelligentsia disdain the very idea that there is such a thing as “national character.”

Everything from punctuality to alcohol consumption may vary greatly from one country to another, but the “one world” ideology and the “multicultural” dogma make it obligatory for many among the intelligentsia to act as if none of this has anything to do with the poverty, corruption and violence of much of the Third World or with the low standard of living in the Soviet Union, one of the most richly endowed nations on earth, when it came to natural resources.

“The Character of Nations” is about far more than the fact that there are different behavior patterns in different countries— that, for example, “it is unimaginable to do business in China without paying bribes” but “to offer one in Japan is the greatest of faux pas.”

The real point is to show what kinds of behaviors produce what kinds of consequences— in the economy, in the family, in the government and in other aspects of human life. Nor do the repercussions stop there. Government policies are not only affected by the culture of the country but can in turn have a major impact on that culture, for good or ill…

           — Hat tip: REP [Return to headlines]

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