Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/29/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/29/2009Russia is holding war games in the Caucasus, leading to speculation that a reprise of last year’s Georgia war is in the offing. Georgia, needless to say, is not happy about it.

In other news, Iran has certified the election, and declared the topic closed. Mad Jad stays president, and that’s that.

Thanks to Apollon Zamp, C. Cantoni, Frontinus, Furor Teutonicus, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, Lexington, TB, Tuan Jim, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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AP Interview: Snowe Seeks Bipartisan Health Bill
Our Decaying Nuclear Deterrent
Supreme Court Rules for White Firefighters
Europe and the EU
Berlusconi: Don’t Listen to Draghi-Tremonti Rumours
Berlusconi to Ghedini, Never Said That You’re Crazy
Britain Has 85 Sharia Courts: The Astonishing Spread of the Islamic Justice Behind Closed Doors
Denmark: Panic Rooms on the Rise
EU: Stephen Hawking Says ‘Disgraceful’ EU Tax Ruling Will Hit the Disabled
European Ombudsman Rules That Commission Should Interfere in Austrian National Policy
Germany: Rivals Attack Chancellor Merkel’s Tax Cut Plans
Get Ready for a Basketful of Wonky Veg as EU Ban on Odd Shapes Lifted
Greece: Anarchists Go on Arson Spree
Holocaust Meeting Wants Better Care of Survivors
Hungary: Jobbik Leader Says Party “Inevitable Third Force” In Hungarian Politics
Hungary: Jobbik Mulls Political Options Within European Parliament
Italy: Venice Hails First Female Gondolier
Italy: Female Academics Call for ‘First Wives’ Boycott of G8
Italy: Silvio Berlusconi: How Does He Do it?
Lessons for the Balkans From Belfast
No to Sharia Law in Britain
Norway: Criminal Gangs Heading for Oslo
Sweden: Three of Four Hate Crimes Racist
Sweden: Rise in Reported Hate Crimes
The EU Presidency is Too Big for Small Nations
UK: Catholic School Bans Muslim Girls From Wearing Face Veils During Official Visit
Albania: Elections, After NATO Tirana Looks to EU
Kosovo Enters Int’l Monetary Fund, World Bank
Observers Report Some Flaws in Albania Vote
Middle East
Document Links Saudi Charity to Somalian Arms
EU and Turkey: Still Talking Membership, Barely
Foreign Broadcasters Walk a Fine Line in Iran
Iran Upholds Ahmadinejad Victory, Says Matter Closed
Saudi Arabia Depends Heavily on Imports, Figures
Saudi Royal Denounces His Brother
Turkey-EU: First EU-Rated Toilet Opens in Gaziantep
Turkey/Greece: Ankara Snubs Migrant Repatriation Pact
Ukraine Wary of KGB Terror Files
Warning on Extradition to Russia
Russian Exercises Anger Georgia
Russia Holds Major War Games in Caucasus
South Asia
Banned Pakistani Groups ‘Expand’
Indonesia Arrests JI-Linked Singaporeans — Police
Mumbai: What Really Happened
Pakistan: Zardari’s Obfuscation
Plane Crashes in Indian Ocean With 150 People on Board
Singapore Superhero: Batman Bin Suparman
Far East
‘13 NK Seamen Killed in 2002 Inter-Korean Naval Battle’
China is the Main Trading Partner of the Arab World
Nuclear-Armed N. Korea Would Hurt China
Australia — Pacific
New Zealand: Immigrants Deceived, Says Support Group
Scientists Kill Cancer Cells With “Trojan Horse”
Sub-Saharan Africa
New NATO Flotilla Takes Over Anti-Piracy Patrols
Nigeria: Amnesty: More Militant Leaders in Bayelsa to Lay Down Arms
South Africa “The Great Disappointment”
Latin America
Argentina: Kirchners Lose Control of Argentine Congress
Southern Discomfort
Australia: Tougher Screening for Tamils Over Fears of an Influx of Ex-Tigers Fleeing Sri Lanka
Denmark: New EU Family Reunification Guidelines on Way
Denmark: Police Chief: Stop Supporting Rejected Iraqis
Finland: Refugee Quotas Attracting More Skilled Candidates
Germany: A Campaign to Reform Rules on Dual Citizenship Launches in Germany
Malaysia: 50 Illegal Immigrants Detained
Netherlands: Between a Rock and a Soft Place: Dealing With Troublesome Young Moroccans
Culture Wars
Finland: Atheist Bus Campaign Draws Official Complaint
Little Boy Blue Devil
Outdated Airport Security is Leaving the Door Open to Bombers
Polar Bear Expert Barred by Global Warmists


AP Interview: Snowe Seeks Bipartisan Health Bill

PORTLAND, Maine — Sen. Olympia Snowe, a key figure in shaping federal health care legislation, said Monday that a government-run plan that would take effect if the private insurance market fails to deliver affordable coverage could bridge the partisan divide that threatens to derail President Barack Obama’s efforts to reform the system.

Snowe, R-Maine, said she’s working with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to establish that kind of a framework in the bill expected to emerge next month from the Senate Finance Committee.

In an Associated Press interview in Portland, Snowe said it would be unfair to include a government-run health insurance option that would take effect immediately.

“If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market … the public option will have significant price advantages,” she said.

Responding to Snowe’s comments, Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon said the Democrat will continue to seek a consensus with Republicans but believes there must be a public option that “is available to all Americans from the first day.”

Snowe is seen as a key swing vote on health care. She was the committee’s only Republican who declined to go on record as opposing the public option.

Snowe said having a government option as a backup would be an approach “that bridges both sides” and gives private insurers a fair chance to meet the requirements of the new law.

“I don’t think we can entirely depend on the private insurance market to deliver. They haven’t delivered thus far, and that’s why we’re in the predicament we’re in today,” she said.

Snowe said it’s important to preserve what’s good about the health care system and take care not to undermine employer-based insurance as Congress moves to extend comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 47 million uninsured and the 30 million underinsured.

Characterizing health care reform as the most challenging and complex issue she has ever confronted, Snowe said she believes the Senate Finance Committee can produce a bipartisan bill in which everyone has confidence, but “everybody has to give a little.”

“It is important to get it to be a bipartisan initiative, given the dimensions of health care reform and the implications to all Americans,” she said. “Every American will be affected one way or the other under this.”

Snowe acknowledged that the majority Democrats can push through a health care bill on their own, but said a measure of such magnitude should have the broadest possible support.

Democrats have set Oct. 15 as the deadline for moving a bill forward under a process that would avoid a possible filibuster. That’s why there’s a sense of urgency to reach a compromise, Snowe said.

Snowe said cost concerns are a major issue, and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has been trying to get the estimated 10-year price tag for health care reform below $1 trillion.

She said she hasn’t yet decided whether to support elimination of the tax-exemption on employer-paid health insurance benefits but maintained that any such provision should take into account the variations in health care costs among the states.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Our Decaying Nuclear Deterrent

The less credible the U.S. deterrent, the more likely other states

A bipartisan congressional commission, headed by some of our most experienced national security practitioners, recently concluded that a nuclear deterrent is essential to our defense for the foreseeable future. It also recommended that urgent measures be taken to keep that deterrent safe and effective.

Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has adopted an agenda that runs counter to the commission’s recommendations.

Consider the president’s declaration, in a major speech this spring in Prague, of “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Will such a world be peaceful and secure? It is far from self-evident.

In the nuclear-free world that ended in 1945 there was neither peace nor security. Since then there have indeed been many wars but none has come close to the carnage that occurred regularly before the development of nuclear weapons, and none has pitted nuclear powers against each other.

Consider also that while the administration accepts the urgency of halting the spread of nuclear weapons, the policies it has embraced to reach that goal are likely to make matters worse.

Thus, in his Prague speech, Mr. Obama announced that the U.S. would “immediately and aggressively” pursue ratification of the comprehensive ban on the testing of nuclear weapons. The administration believes, without evidence, that ratification of the test-ban treaty will discourage other countries from developing nuclear weapons.

Which countries does it have in mind? Iran? North Korea? Syria? Countries alarmed by the nuclear ambitions of their enemies? Allies who may one day lose confidence in our nuclear umbrella?

There are good reasons why the test-ban treaty has not been ratified. The attempt to do so in 1999 failed in the Senate, mostly out of concerns about verification — it simply is not verifiable. It also failed because of an understandable reluctance on the part of the U.S. Senate to forgo forever a test program that could in the future be of critical importance for our defense and the defense of our allies.

Robert Gates, who is now Mr. Obama’s own secretary of defense, warned in a speech last October that in the absence of a nuclear modernization program, even the most modest of which Congress has repeatedly declined to fund, “[a]t a certain point, it will become impossible to keep extending the life of our arsenal, especially in light of our testing moratorium.” Suppose future problems in our nuclear arsenal emerge that cannot be solved without testing? Would our predicament discourage nuclear proliferation — or stimulate it?

For the foreseeable future, the U.S. and many of our allies rely on our nuclear deterrent. And as long as the U.S. possesses nuclear weapons, they must be — as Mr. Obama recognized in Prague — “safe, secure and effective.” Yet his proposed 2010 budget fails to take the necessary steps to do that.

Those steps have been studied extensively by the Perry-Schlesinger Commission (named for co-chairmen William Perry, secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, and James R. Schlesinger, secretary of defense under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford). Its consensus report, released in May, makes numerous recommendations to increase the funding for, and improve the effectiveness of, the deteriorating nuclear weapons laboratory complex (e.g., the Los Alamos facility in New Mexico, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the dangerously neglected Y-12 plant in Tennessee) that has become the soft underbelly of our deterrent force.

The commission also assessed the nuclear weapons infrastructure that is essential to a safe, secure and effective deterrent and declared it “in serious need of transformation.” It looked at our laboratory-based scientific and technical expertise and concluded that “the intellectual infrastructure” is in “serious trouble.” A major cause is woefully inadequate funding. The commission rightly argued that we must “exercise the full range of laboratory skills, including nuclear weapon design skills . . . Skills that are not exercised will atrophy.” The president and the Congress must heed these recommendations.

There are some who believe that failing to invest adequately in our nuclear deterrent will move us closer to a nuclear free world. In fact, blocking crucial modernization means unilateral disarmament by unilateral obsolescence. This unilateral disarmament will only encourage nuclear proliferation, since our allies will see the danger and our adversaries the opportunity.

By neglecting — and in some cases even opposing — essential modernization programs, arms-control proponents are actually undermining the prospect for further reductions of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. As our nuclear weapons stockpile ages and concern about its reliability increases, we will have to compensate by retaining more nuclear weapons than would otherwise be the case. This reality will necessarily influence future arms-control negotiations, beginning with the upcoming Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty follow-on.

For these negotiations, the Russians are insisting on a false linkage between nuclear weapons and missile defenses. They are demanding that we abandon defenses against North Korean or Iranian missiles as a condition for mutual reductions in American and Russian strategic forces. As the president cuts the budget for missile defense and cedes ground to the Russians on our planned defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, we may end up abandoning a needed defense of the U.S. and our European allies from the looming Iranian threat.

There is a fashionable notion that if only we and the Russians reduced our nuclear forces, other nations would reduce their existing arsenals or abandon plans to acquire nuclear weapons altogether. This idea, an article of faith of the “soft power” approach to halting nuclear proliferation, assumes that the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be curtailed or abandoned in response to reductions in the American and Russian deterrent forces — or that India, Pakistan or China would respond with reductions of their own.

This is dangerous, wishful thinking. If we were to approach zero nuclear weapons today, others would almost certainly try even harder to catapult to superpower status by acquiring a bomb or two. A robust American nuclear force is an essential discouragement to nuclear proliferators; a weak or uncertain force just the opposite.

George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have, on this page, endorsed the distant goal — about which we remain skeptical — of a nuclear-free world. But none of them argues for getting there by neglecting our present nuclear deterrent. The Perry-Schlesinger Commission has provided a path for protecting that deterrent. Congress and the president should follow it, without delay.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Supreme Court Rules for White Firefighters

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)—The U.S. Supreme Court, voting 5-4 in a case that has been a lightning rod for high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, invalidated a Connecticut city’s decision to scrap the results of a firefighter promotion exam in which the white candidates scored better than their black peers.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the court’s opinion, said the city of New Haven violated a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits employment discrimination.

“Whatever the city’s ultimate aim — however well intentioned or benevolent it might have seemed — the city made its employment decision because of race,” Kennedy wrote.

“The city rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.”

Kennedy said an employer cannot throw out an exam unless there is strong evidence that the test harmed minorities. New Haven didn’t meet this standard, he said.

The court’s four other conservative justices joined Kennedy’s opinion.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in dissent for the court’s four liberal members, said while she had sympathy for the white firefighters, the court’s decision ignored evidence that the city of New Haven’s promotion exam was flawed and that New Haven correctly responded to the biased results.

“Firefighting is a profession in which the legacy of racial discrimination casts an especially long shadow,” Ginsburg wrote. “I would hold that New Haven had ample cause to believe its selection process was flawed and not justified by business necessity.”

The case rested on the question of whether New Haven acted validly in choosing not to use the test results because the scores meant that no black candidates were eligible for promotion.

A group of white firefighters sued New Haven’s mayor and other officials, arguing that the city engaged in unconstitutional race discrimination by blocking their promotions. City officials responded that the test may have discriminated against black test-takers, which could have placed New Haven in violation of federal civil rights laws if it had made promotions based on the test results.

Sotomayor was one of three judges sitting on an appeals court panel that issued a brief one-paragraph ruling upholding the city’s decision not to certify the test results.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized the court’s decision and defended Sotomayor’s ruling as a judge on the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It is notable that four justices would have upheld the Second Circuit’s ruling,” said Leahy, who will lead Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings next month. “It is less likely now that employers will conscientiously try to fulfill their obligations under this time-honored civil rights law.”

Leading the charge against Sotomayor, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the committee’s top Republican, said the judge should expect to be challenged on her decision in the nomination hearings.

“This case will only raise more questions in the minds of the American people concerning Judge Sotomayor’s commitment to treat each individual fairly and not as a member of a group,” Sessions said in a statement.

Republican lawmakers criticized Sotomayor for the brevity of the Second Circuit’s decision.

“The Second Circuit should have recognized the serious and unique issues this case raised and given it the thorough treatment it deserved,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Conservative legal experts highlighted a footnote in Ginsburg’s dissent in which the justice said she would have preferred sending the case back to the lower court for further consideration. Ginsburg said the appeals court incorrectly focused on the city’s “intent” to not discriminate rather than focusing on New Haven’s justifications for blocking the promotions. However, she said the city still should have prevailed.

Critics of Sotomayor pounced on the footnote as evidence that every justice questioned the Second Circuit’s reasoning.

“This really was a unanimous opinion that the lower courts were in error. They just disagreed on what the error was,” said Gail Heriot, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, speaking on a conference call hosted by the conservative Federalist Society.

Democrats said the lower court’s decision illustrated Sotomayor’s commitment to judicial restraint in following legal precedents.

“The Second Circuit’s opinion was clearly in the mainstream at the time this was decided,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “Judge Sotomayor followed the rules that were in place at the time.”

The case dates back to 2003, when New Haven decided to fill 15 slots for lieutenants and captains in its fire department. The city contracted the test’s creation to a consultant company, who administered the test that fall. The exam consisted of a written, multiple-choice section, which counted for 60% of the total score, and an oral assessment, weighted 40%.

Firefighters of all races had passed the test, but not proportionally. Of the 19 firefighters who qualified for a promotion, none were black, though two were Hispanic.

Troubled by the fact that the black firefighters had passed the test at roughly one-half the rate as the white firefighters, the city’s civil service board held five public hearings and ultimately deadlocked on whether to certify the test scores, which resulted in no promotions across the board.

A trial judge ruled in favor of the city and the 2nd Circuit affirmed that decision.

Sotomayor and two other 2nd Circuit judges said New Haven, in refusing to validate the exams, “was simply trying to fulfill its obligations” under federal civil rights laws after it was confronted with test results that had a disproportionate impact on minorities.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Berlusconi: Don’t Listen to Draghi-Tremonti Rumours

(AGI) — Rome, 18 Jun. — Every one of us must do his bit. Don’t listen to rumours about Draghi and Tremonti with whom we have a good relationship. With Tremonti, it’s even an affectionate relationship. These rumours are unfounded: the stability of the government cannot be questioned. According to union and government sources, PM Silvio Bersluconi’s comments came before he left talks between the Government and Fiat at the Cabinet Office today.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Berlusconi to Ghedini, Never Said That You’re Crazy

(AGI) — Brussels, 19 June — “But Niccolo’, do you really think that of me?”. The cameras film Silvio Berlusconi during the European Council and the microphones of Sky record the Italian premier call his lawyer and PDL member Niccolo’ Ghedini, saying: “But how can you think that of me? Now I’m really offended”. The premier referred to the press articles on some remarks Berlusconi made on his lawyer. “Now” Berlusconi continued” we’ll call Bonaiuti and issue a statement. I’ve never talked about a dark plot and I never said that I feared that I am spied on or that my lawyer has gone crazy. They are all idiots…” he concluded.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Britain Has 85 Sharia Courts: The Astonishing Spread of the Islamic Justice Behind Closed Doors

At least 85 Islamic sharia courts are operating in Britain, a study claimed yesterday.

The astonishing figure is 17 times higher than previously accepted.

The tribunals, working mainly from mosques, settle financial and family disputes according to religious principles. They lay down judgments which can be given full legal status if approved in national law courts.

However, they operate behind doors that are closed to independent observers and their decisions are likely to be unfair to women and backed by intimidation, a report by independent think-tank Civitas said.

Commentators on the influence of sharia law often count only the five courts in London, Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham and Nuneaton that are run by the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, a body whose rulings are enforced through the state courts under the 1996 Arbitration Act.

But the study by academic and Islamic specialist Denis MacEoin estimates there are at least 85 working tribunals.

The spread of sharia law has become increasingly controversial since its role was backed last year by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice who stepped down last October.

Dr Williams said a recognised role for sharia law seemed ‘unavoidable’ and Lord Phillips said there was no reason why decisions made on sharia principles should not be recognised by the national courts.

But the Civitas report said the principles on which sharia courts work are indicated by the fatwas — religious decrees — set out on websites run by British mosques.

Mr MacEoin said: ‘Among the rulings we find some that advise illegal actions and others that transgress human rights standards as applied by British courts.’

Examples set out in his study include a ruling that no Muslim woman may marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam and that any children of a woman who does should be taken from her until she marries a Muslim.

Further rulings, according to the report, approve polygamous marriage and enforce a woman’s duty to have sex with her husband on his demand.

The report added: ‘The fact that so many sharia rulings in Britain relate to cases concerning divorce and custody of children is of particular concern, as women are not equal in sharia law, and sharia contains no specific commitment to the best interests of the child that is fundamental to family law in the UK.

‘Under sharia, a male child belongs to the father after the age of seven, regardless of circumstances.’

It said: ‘Sharia courts operating in Britain may be handing down rulings that are inappropriate to this country because they are linked to elements in Islamic law that are seriously out of step with trends in Western legislation.’

The study pointed out that the House of Lords ruled in a child custody case last year that the sharia rules on the matter were ‘arbitrary and discriminatory’.

And a 2003 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg said it was ‘difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverges from Convention values.’

However last year Justice Minister Bridget Prentice told MPs that ‘if, in a family dispute …the parties to a judgment in a sharia council wish to have this recognised by English authorities, they are at liberty to draft a consent order embodying the terms of the agreement and submit it to an English court.

‘This allows judges to scrutinise it to ensure it complies with English legal tenets.’

Decisions from sharia tribunals can be presented to a family court judge for approval with no more detail than is necessary to complete a two page

form. The sharia courts in the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal are recognised as courts under the Arbitration Act. This law, which covers Jewish Beth Din courts, gives legal powers to a tribunal if all parties involved accept its authority.

Enlarge The Civitas study said the Islamic courts should no longer be recognised under British law.

Its director Dr David Green said: ‘The reality is that for many Muslims, sharia courts are in practice part of an institutionalised atmosphere of intimidation, backed by the ultimate sanction of a death threat.’

The Muslim Council in Britain condemned the study for ‘ stirring up hatred’.

A spokesman said: ‘Sharia councils are perfectly legitimate. There is no evidence they are intimidating or discriminatory against women. The system is purely voluntary so if people don’t like it they can go elsewhere.’

Patrick Mercer, Tory MP for Newark and chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism sub committee, said: ‘We have an established law of the land and a judiciary. Anything that operates otside that system must be viewed with great caution.

‘If crimes are going unreported to police, this will erode the authority of those who have to enforce our law. In a sovereign state there must be one law, and one law only.’

Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, said: ‘Everyone should be deeply concerned about the extent of these courts.

‘They do entrench division in society, and do nothing to entrench integration or community cohesion. It leads to a segregated society.

‘There should be one law, and that should be British law. We can’t have a situation where people can choose which system of law they follow and which they do not.

‘We can’t have a situation where people choose the system of law which they feel gives them the best outcome. Everyone should equal under one law.’

Veteran Tory Lord Tebbit provoked anger among Muslims earlier this month by comparing Islamic sharia courts to gangsters.

He likened the tribunals to the ‘system of arbitration of disputes that was run by the Kray brothers’.

Lord Tebbit told the Lords: ‘Are you not aware that there is extreme pressure put upon vulnerable women to go through a form of arbitration that results in them being virtually precluded from access to British law?’

Warning that women could be shut out from the protection of the law, he asked Justice Minister Lord Bach: ‘That is a difficult matter, I know, but how do you think we can help those who are put in that position?’

           — Hat tip: Lexington [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Panic Rooms on the Rise

More people are purchasing specially constructed steel doors to create ‘panic-rooms’ in their homes due to fear of burglary

As domestic robberies have increased dramatically so has the number of homeowners installing panic rooms in their homes.

National Police statistics show that domestic burglaries increased from 23 in 2007 to at least 63 last year. And the trend shows no sign of slowing down, as at least 23 homes have been the target of burglaries within the first five months of this year.

Danish security companies have experienced increased orders for rooms to be converted into panic rooms over the last few years as a result, even at the cost of 20,000-30,000 kroner per room.

A panic room is a specifically designed room in the house, often behind a steel door, that a family can take refuge in if a burglary is taking place. In rare cases the panic room is located behind a hidden entrance such as a bookcase or mirror.

Security firm ProLock provides security doors to homes and businesses and told home owner magazine Bedre Hjem that sales of their products are skyrocketing.

‘We’ve had a noticeable increase in the number of enquires since 2006 and every year we’re tripling our sales of security doors to panic rooms in Denmark,’ said Bjarke Schultz of ProLock.

Company ‘Safedoors Sikkerhedsdøre’ also reported an increase in requests from customers wanting to turn bedrooms into panic rooms.

‘In my opinion it’s a bit of a sad development that you can’t feel safe in your own home,’ said Ishak Cosan of Safedoors Sikkerhedsdøre.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

EU: Stephen Hawking Says ‘Disgraceful’ EU Tax Ruling Will Hit the Disabled

Professor Stephen Hawking has urged Gordon Brown to fight the European Union over “disgraceful” plans to put mobility scooters for the disabled in the same tax bracket as Formula 1 cars.

The EU, which has the power to set import duties for all member states, intends to impose a 10 per cent import tax on the scooters, despite the fact that equipment for disabled people is exempt from tax.

Charities for the disabled say that the extra cost of buying the scooters will have an immediate impact on the number they can afford, meaning thousands of people each year could be denied a vital means of independence.

Professor Hawking, who suffers from motor neurone disease, said: “For many of us with disabilities, a mobility scooter is literally a life line — without it we are locked out further from the world around us. To tax the most disadvantaged in society in this way is simply disgraceful.”

Ever since the scooters were first invented 30 years ago they have been classed as equipment for the disabled, making them exempt from tax.

But a little-known body called the World Customs Organisation, which advises governments on import duties, recently issued a document recommending that they should be taxed, as it said they could be used by people without disabilities.

Although many countries, including the US, rejected the advice out of hand, the EU decided to accept it, and has put the scooters in the same tax classification as Formula 1 cars.

The EU’s customs code committee intends to enshrine the change in law when it meets later this week.

In the meantime, the tax is already being imposed on charities which buy 25,000 of the scooters for disabled people each year, amounting to a total annual tax bill of £6 million.

Jim Dooley, chairman of the Mobility Bureau, the UK’s largest supplier of the scooters through charitable organisations, said: “To say these scooters are not just for disabled people is ridiculous. They have more than 20 features which are specifically designed for disabled people. Does the EU really think fit and healthy people go out and buy these as a lifestyle choice?

“When the EU committee was given a demonstration of this equipment, not one person on the committee had a medical qualification and none of them asked for a formal medical opinion.

“This is a real slap in the face for the disabled. We have tried to get the UK government to fight our corner, but so far they’ve done nothing.”

Peter Gower, 57, a Falklands War veteran who broke his back in an accident while he was posted in Germany with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, said his mobility scooter — bought for him by a charity earlier this year — transformed his life after he had become virtually housebound.

“Before I had this scooter, I couldn’t really get out of the house and had to rely on my wife all the time,” he said.

“It was a very difficult, depressing and isolating time. Why anyone would want to put a tax on mobility scooters is beyond me — I mean, no-one chooses to have these things. They’re a necessity, certainly not a luxury.”

Bryan Clover, a director at the grant-giving charity Elizabeth Finn Care, said: “With the average scooter costing £2,500, and many disabled people already living in poverty, a 10 per cent tax might not seem much for the MEPs but, for many, every penny counts.”

Many of the scooters are used by military veterans, and Sue Freeth, director of welfare at the Royal British Legion, described the import duty as “inexplicable”.

She said: “This is a tax on the disabled and on the charities who try to make improvements to their lives.

“We are stretched already in meeting the needs of our beneficiaries and this EU tax only makes our job more difficult.”

Godfrey Bloom, the Ukip MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, has written the the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, urging him to vote against the tax change and seek support from other member states.

He said: “Quite why HM Revenue and Customs feels the need to discriminate against disabled people and the charities who support them is beyond me.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

European Ombudsman Rules That Commission Should Interfere in Austrian National Policy

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, has called on the European Commission to evaluate whether the Austrian ban on wild animals in circuses is proportionate. This follows a complaint from the European Circus Association alleging the Commission did not properly handle its infringement complaint against Austria. According to the Association, the ban is contrary to the free movement of services in the EU.

The Commission decided to drop the case on the grounds that national authorities are best placed to decide on matters of animal welfare. During his investigation, the Ombudsman concluded that, although national authorities are entitled to a wide margin of discretion, the Commission cannot abdicate its supervisory role as regards the free movement of services. He called on the Commission to evaluate the Austrian authorities’ position and either pursue infringement proceedings against Austria or give valid reasons for not doing so.

Circus Association: Ban on wild animals is contrary to free movement of services

In May 2005, the European Circus Association submitted a complaint to the Commission against the Austrian authorities’ decision to ban wild animals in circuses. According to the complainant, the ban is contrary to the free movement of services in the EU. Furthermore, the Association argued that the ban is discriminatory because wild animals are allowed, for example, on film sets in Austria. According to the complainant, other Member States, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, had successfully regulated the well-being of wild animals. The Austrian ban was thus, in its view, disproportionate.

At first, the Commission started infringement proceedings against Austria. It considered that a total ban is a very restrictive measure which should only be applied if there are no alternatives. Following its contacts with the Austrian authorities, the Commission changed its mind and decided to leave the issue of protection of wild animals to the national authorities. It stressed that every Member State has the right to restrict the free movement of services for overriding reasons of general interest, such as animal welfare.

As the Guardian of the Treaty, the Commission is obliged to supervise the correct application of EU law in the Member States. After his investigation, the Ombudsman concluded that the Commission had abdicated its role as Guardian of the Treaty. According to him, it should have determined whether the complete ban imposed by the Austrian law constituted a proportionate restriction of the right of free movement. If it were to conclude that this is not the case, the Commission should either continue infringement proceedings or provide the complainant with a valid reason for closing the case.

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

Germany: Rivals Attack Chancellor Merkel’s Tax Cut Plans

Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tax cuts are being criticized by her political rivals as unrealistic. Germany’s political parties are trying to win voters’ favor ahead of national elections in September.

In the election program that Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) presented in Berlin on Monday, one particular issue has caused heated discussion: tax cuts.

Merkel’s current coalition partners, the Social Democrats SPD, have sharply criticized the program. The SPD’s secretary general Hubertus Heil said the agenda “was not credible.”

He warned that “Merkel is either trying to pull the wool over the voter’s eyes, or there really is no sound concept behind the whole thing.”

He said that the CDU’s election program did not contain ideas on how to shape the country’s future. With the country’s budget set for a record deficit, any promise to lower taxes was simply “unrealistic.”

Criticism from traditional allies

Criticism also came from the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), normally a strong advocate for tax cuts. The party’s Juergen Koppelin criticized the plans as “very vague and non-binding”.

He criticized the plan as “spineless” for not including a timetable outlining when the tax cuts would kick in. The FDP are traditional allies of the Christian Democrats and would likely be Merkel’s preferred coalition partner after September’s national elections.

The opposition Greens also called the program a grab bag of policies, while the Left party called the tax cuts implausible.

Conservatives defend the program

Members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, have defended the program.

CDU secretary general Ronald Pofalla told German public television, that “the central message remains: we have to lower taxes.”

On Sunday delegates from the Christian Democrats and the Bavarian CSU agreed that tax cuts should be the cornerstone of their re-election campaign and should be introduced at some point during the next legislative term.

The two parties, however, failed to agree on a date for the cuts, to the dismay of the CSU, which wanted to see the measures introduced by 2011.

Yet there had been resistance to the plans even from within the conservatives with two of the Christian Democrat’s state premiers arguing in favor of a tax increase.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Get Ready for a Basketful of Wonky Veg as EU Ban on Odd Shapes Lifted

Curly cucumbers and knobbly carrots are to return to shop shelves in a move that promises to cut the price of some fresh produce by up to 40per cent.

An EU ban on the sale of wonky fruit and veg which did not meet the ‘beauty pageant’ standards set by Brussels is to be axed.

Stores claim the shift will allow them to sell value packs of wonky fruit and vegetables for as little as 50p each.

The change in the law comes into effect on Wednesday and will open the door to cheaper, mis-shapen fruit and vegetables that taste just as good as those that are perfectly formed.

Apart from lower prices, the new rules mean a huge advance in cutting down on food waste.

Currently as much as 20per cent of farm produce is thrown away or fed to farm livestock because it doesn’t match the size and shape rules drawn up by the EU.

For generations, Britons enjoyed the quirks of fruit and veg. Odd looking carrots and potatoes even earned their own comedy slot on popular TV programmes like That’s Life.

However, they disappeared from the shelves once EU bureaucrats brought in minimum standards across member states.

It became illegal for supermarkets to sell carrots that are forked or cucumbers that were too curly.

Specific marketing standards were set covering 36 types of fruit and vegetables products ranging from apricots and artichokes to walnuts and water melons.

Restrictions covering 26 of these are being swept away next week.

Those freed from EU dictat include apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocadoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons and chicory.

The rules will remain in place for another ten types of produce, including apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.

However, the commission said farmers will be also allowed to sell wonky versions of these providing they are sold with a label stating ‘products intended for processing’.

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

Greece: Anarchists Go on Arson Spree

Self-styled anarchists carried out a string of arson attacks in Athens and Piraeus on Saturday, targeting police and businesses and causing widespread damage but no injuries.

A group of around 100 youths attacked a riot police unit stationed near the offices of the main opposition party PASOK in the central Athens district of Exarchia early on Saturday, hurling petrol bombs and stones and damaging parked cars. At around the same time, 20 youths destroyed three buses parked at a bus depot in the Athens suburb of Aghios Dimitrios. Later on Saturday, at around 4.30 p.m., a homemade explosive device made with gas canisters detonated, damaging the entrance to the offices of a polling firm on central Patission Street. A similar bomb damaged the entrance to the Piraeus Chamber of Arts and Crafts when it went off about half an hour earlier. A device planted outside another polling firm in the Athens district of Ambelokipi at 1.30 p.m. failed to go off when a resident saw a candle burning next to two gas canisters and extinguished it.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Holocaust Meeting Wants Better Care of Survivors

PRAGUE — An international conference assessing efforts to return property and possessions stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners or heirs said Monday that caring for Holocaust survivors is a matter of the “utmost urgency.”

The five-day meeting attended by Holocaust survivors, Jewish groups and government officials was a follow-up to a 1998 meeting in Washington that led to agreements on recovering looted art.

Six million Jews died at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his followers, who seized billions of dollars of gold, art and private and communal property across Europe.

In a declaration approved by 46 countries, delegates said they were aware that Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution have reached an advanced age and that meeting their social welfare needs must be prioritized.

“It is unacceptable that those who suffered so greatly during the earlier part of their lives should live under impoverished circumstances at the end,” the declaration said.

It also urged governments to make every effort to return former Jewish communal and religious property confiscated by Nazis, fascists and their collaborators, and recommended that states implement national programs to address the issue of private buildings and land.

Before the meeting, Stuart Eizenstat, head of the U.S. delegation, had said its goal was to produce international guidelines on the recovery of such stolen possessions or compensation for their loss. But he acknowledged that such guidelines would not be compulsory for the governments involved because there is “no political will to have a binding treaty.”

But he hailed Monday’s declaration as the “the most far reaching, most comprehensive” ever issued. It “covers every single area, including many that haven’t been covered before, social needs, private property restitution, which has always been an extraordinarily sensitive issue,” Eizenstat said..

Before the Holocaust, Jews owned property in Europe that was worth between $10 billion and $15 billion at the time, according to a 2007 study by economist Sidney Zabludoff.

Most of that was never repaid, translating into a missing $115 billion to $175 billion in current prices, the study said. Many Western European governments paid restitution for only a fraction of the stolen assets, while Eastern European countries under Soviet control paid almost nothing at all, it said.

“We’re just coming to terms with the dimension of the theft,” said Eizenstat.

He said surveys conducted in New York City found that 36 percent of Holocaust survivors are at or below the poverty level. He said it was “tremendously important” for art and property recovery that the governments made verbal commitments to open archives at every level.

Eizenstat said the Vatican, which has observer status at the meeting, will open its war archives in six years and that Poland promised to introduced private property law which will deal with the Holocaust era. In 2008, the Vatican said it understood requests to see the archives, but that it would take six or seven years to catalog those 16 million documents.

Delegates also agreed to create a European Shoah Legacy Institute in the former Jewish ghetto in Terezin, north of Prague. Eizenstat said it is expected to publish a set of guidelines and principles for best practices in private property restitution in a year.

The concluding declaration also urged the states to take measures to combat anti-Semitism and encouraged participating states to support educational programs about the Holocaust, commemoration ceremonies and the preservation of memorials in concentration camps, as well cemeteries and mass graves.

Not everyone was pleased with the declaration, which is not legally binding.

“I don’t see any forward movement,” said Alex Moskovic, a 78-year-old U.S. Holocaust survivor. “Greater survivor involvement in the formulation of the conference agenda and working groups would have produced a better result.”

The European Commission and the Czech EU presidency signed a statement saying they are ready to work to improve Holocaust education and deal with social care for survivals and other issues. Eizenstat called it “the first time real engagement in this issue which has been lacking in the past.”

The five-day gathering concludes Tuesday with a commemorative ceremony in Terezin, known to the Nazis as Theresienstadt.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Hungary: Jobbik Leader Says Party “Inevitable Third Force” In Hungarian Politics

The leader of the radical nationalist Jobbik said on Saturday that the party had grown into an “inevitable third force” in Hungary’s political arena as he greeted party supporters at a congress in Budapest.

Gabor Vona said the right-left division in politics was outdated and instead he offered to identify forces as pro or contra national.

Jobbik is a non-parliamentary party which recently polled 14.77 percent in the European elections, winning 3 out of 22 seats for Hungary.

Jobbik “will make it into parliament a few months from now,” Vona said.. He added that the party would work to eliminate any laws that were “against national interests”.

Hungary’s next parliamentary elections are due in April next year, but the opposition and even some government groups have made calls for early elections.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Hungary: Jobbik Mulls Political Options Within European Parliament

Hungary’s radical nationalist party Jobbik and other nationalist parties in the European Parliament (EP) do not as yet meet criteria for forming a parliamentary group but Jobbik’s three representatives will stick together and might join the Euro-skeptic Independence/Democracy group, Krisztina Morvai, Jobbik’s leading MEP, said on Friday.

Morvai said, however, that it was still possible to form an association with other like-minded politicians within the EP. Once nationalist meet the criteria for forming their own political group — at least 25 representatives from seven member state — then Jobbik representatives will consider joining others in setting one up.

She added, however, that Independence/Democracy had initiated talks with Jobbik a few weeks ago and that she had already met the group’s leader in Brussels this week.

Morvai was responding to a report in business weekly HVG, which suggested that the three Jobbik MEPs might go their separate ways once installed in Brussels.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Italy: Venice Hails First Female Gondolier

Mother- of- two breaks nine centuries of tradition

(ANSA) — Venice, June 26 — Venice on Friday crowned its first official female gondolier when a married mother-of-two passed her test, breaking into one of Italy’s last male bastions.

Giorgia Boscolo, 23, passed a gondoliering course introduced by the city council in 2007 to become the first certified woman gondolier in the lagoon in nine centuries.

While she waits to finish her apprenticeship, Boscolo will be able to ferry passengers around as a sort of “second captain”.

“I’m immensely happy and proud but today my day starts like every other, taking the children to school,” she told ANSA.

Boscolo’s father, Dante, who is also a gondolier, said he was happy for his daughter.

“I still think being a gondolier is a man’s job,” he admitted, “but I’m sure that with experience Giorgia will be able to do it easily”.

Dante’s colleague, Roberto, said: “Giorgia deserved it because she worked really hard, coming along with us in her free time to learn the trade”.

Before the establishment of the ‘school’ for gondoliers, the profession was passed down from father to son.

Boscolo beat two other women enrolled on the course to take her title.

Neither Alessandra Taddei, a local woman who belongs to the Venetian rowing club, nor German-American Alexandra Hai, who has fought a 12-year battle for the right to become a gondolier, passed the test.

Even before the official course was launched in 2007, Hai had taken the gondoliers’ test four times, steering her boat along canals and performing tricky manoeuvres. But each time she failed, saying that examiners were “overly strict”.

She has accused the association of Venetian gondoliers of deliberately keeping her out because of her sex, but the association has refuted this claim fiercely, saying she simply isn’t good enough.

Hai, 42, did however win a small victory when a court upheld her right to ferry hotel guests about in a gondola even though she has no licence. She is employed by a Venetian hotel to offer precisely this service.

There are 40 places on the gondolier course, which lasts six months.

It includes 400 hours of instruction in using the distinctive single oar that is used to propel a gondola through the water.

Students must learn how to steer the banana-shaped boats from the back and the front. They also have to take English courses, study sailing law and demonstrate perfect knowledge of Venice’s canals and landmarks.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Female Academics Call for ‘First Wives’ Boycott of G8

Rome, 23 June (AKI) — Two hundred Italian female academics have called for the wives of world leaders to boycott next month’s Group of Eight meeting because of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s “sexist” attitude to women. “We are profoundly indignant, as women employed in the world of universities and culture, at the way in which the prime minister Silvio Berlusconi treats women both in public and in private,” the women said in a letter released on Tuesday.

A number of wives, including Sarah Brown, wife of British prime minister Gordon Brown, and Michelle Obama, wife of US president Barack Obama, are expected to accompany their husbands at the G8 summit in the quake-devastated town of L’Aquila in early July.

The petition, entitled ‘An Appeal to the First Ladies’, follows reports that many young women were paid to attended parties thrown by the 72 year-old prime minister. At least one of the women, Patrizia D’Addario, a former model and escort, claims she spent the night with Berlusconi at his private residence in Rome last November.

D’Addario stood as a candidate for Berlusconi’s conservative People of Freedom party at European and municipal elections earlier this month.

“We are not referring only to personal relations of the premier which transcend the personal sphere and assume a public significance,” the academics said.

“But more than that, it’s the way that political personnel are recruited and the behaviour and sexist conversations which perversely delegitimise women’s presence on the social and institutional scene.”

Prosecutors in Bari, southern Italy, are investigating allegations that a local businessman, Gianpaolo Tarantini, paid young women to attend parties hosted by Berlusconi in Rome and on the island of Sardinia.

Tarantini, 35, is accused of abetting prostitution by recruiting models and call girls for private parties at Berlusconi’s Rome residence,Palazzo Grazioli, and Villa Certosa, his residence on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.

“In only four days the appeal has been signed by around 200 women in the university sphere,” the academics said.

“Hundreds of others of women and men have added their names — also beyond the academic world.

“This behaviour, serious on a moral, civil and cultural level, undermines the dignity of women and impacts negatively on women’s independence and achievements.”

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

Italy: Silvio Berlusconi: How Does He Do it?

With every breaking scandal, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi wins over more of his countrymen’s hearts and votes.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: This editorial brings to mind an excellent essay I read last week by Theodore Dalrymple comparing Italy and England on the subject of “good” and “bad” corruption. “Good corruption” with an incompetent state can potentially lead to a more prosperous nation than no corruption with an incompetent state (ie. the UK).]

To most of us it seems extraordinary that Silvio Berlusconi is still prime minister of Italy. There can’t be many politicians who could survive the sort of scandals he’s been through: accusations of perjury, perverting the course of justice, proximity to the Mafia, accusations of membership of a sinister masonic lodge, of tax evasion and of corrupting public officials. And now, on top of all that, it has been discovered that he’s been enjoying Dionysian parties with dozens of young girls at both of his Sardinian and Roman villas.

This time he doesn’t even deny the central allegations. Not surprisingly, perhaps, since there’s overwhelming evidence of what went on: there are photographs of topless girls in G-strings lounging around his villa, there are wiretaps of businessmen lining up escort girls for Silvio’s parties. One escort has revealed she was given only half her “appearance fee” because she didn’t stay the night (she didn’t make that mistake again). The question isn’t did he or didn’t he, but simply: how on earth does he get away with it? How is it that a country we think of as a close neighbour, which we all think we know so well, has such a different morality to ours?

The answer lies largely in the fact that Italians suffer from scandal-fatigue. Ever since the First Republic was swept away under a tsunami of corruption allegations in the early Nineties, the country has been awash with scandal. It’s as if there’s no normality left against which to judge wrongdoing.

Open any Italian newspaper and you’re likely to see pages and pages of breathtaking allegations and furious denials. On any day you choose you’ll be able to read the leaked details of an ongoing investigation, astonishing wiretap intercepts and interviews with “key witnesses”. It might be about the implosion of Parmalat, the dairy company, or about Luciano Moggi’s machinations with Serie A referees, or about the murky security sector within Telecom Italia. There are so many scandals that public discourse is often little more than mud-slinging, and after a while people don’t notice the real dirt anymore. As my Venetian uncle-in-law memorably told me years ago: “It’s not that mud doesn’t stick; it’s that there’s so much of it that it doesn’t matter if it does.”

There’s also the fact that some Italians have a slightly different attitude towards fidelity. It may be because Catholicism is so voluptuous and forgiving compared with our austere puritanism; or else because the women, and men, seem so irresistibly attractive; or maybe it’s because so many television shows have men of retirement age surrounded by showgirls in bikinis … Whatever the reason, there’s little outrage about an old, married man flirting with teenage wenches.

If anything there’s envy of, and admiration for, his harem. It’s telling that Berlusconi’s line of defence last week wasn’t Bill Clinton’s outright denial: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Instead, using a defence that would only work in a country where the male conqueror is more admired than the faithful husband, he simply said he hadn’t paid for the sex because that would detract from the thrill of the conquest.

If anything, Berlusconi’s libidinous exploits appear to enable the electorate to identify with him more closely. They make him appear a man of the people. Before Berlusconi’s entry into Italian politics, the country’s parliament was largely dominated by elderly grey men who were measured and refined, but also distant, aloof and superior. Berlusconi, by contrast, has always presented himself as a uomo qualunque, an Ordinary Joe. People seem to admire him for his refusal to watch his step, for the fact that he can never be anything other than a bull in a china shop. We foreigners find his show-boating and back-slapping and gestures and jokes rather cringey, but in Italy they all make him seem somehow normal, part not of a snooty elite but of the people, part of the sacred popolo. He is, says the propaganda, a man just like you, a simple man who loves money and sex.

The difference is, of course, that he has a lot more of both. But even the fact that he’s a billionaire doesn’t seem to alienate the voters. Paradoxically, many people believe that his vast wealth means that he can’t be bought or corrupted. Indeed, whenever he’s been accused of corruption, the accusation hasn’t been that he’s had his fingers in the till but precisely the opposite, that he was buying people rather than being bought. It’s a subtle difference and it enables him to present himself as a man making financial sacrifices for the good of the country. You might not believe it, and I certainly don’t, but millions of voting Italians clearly do.

And even if they didn’t, there’s the vexed question of whom else they would vote for. With Berlusconi you know, for better or for worse, what you’re getting. If you vote for the Left, you’ve no idea what or whom you’ll end up with. In the 10 years since I first moved to Italy, the Left has been led by, off the top of my head, Prodi, D’Alema, Amato, Rutelli, Fassino, Prodi again, Veltroni, Franceschini … and now they’re about to start the electoral process for a new leader. There’s something about the Left that is still reminiscent of the old-fashioned trasformismo, of the musical chairs of politics where everyone swaps places but no chair is ever taken away. It’s the same merry-go-round of familiar faces, most of them decent enough but shockingly dull and very uninspiring. Next to Berlusconi, they seem short of red blood cells, short of chutzpah and charisma and cunning.

And it’s cunning, of course, for which Berlusconi is truly admired. Being furbo — cunning or sly — isn’t a slur in Italy; it’s a sign that you can outsmart the rest, that you’re clever enough to get away with it. Every time Berlusconi survives a scandal, his stock rises yet higher because people are in awe of how he does it. He’s like Houdini, calmly shrugging off the shackles that magistrates and journalists and opposition politicians keep trying to put him in.

That admiration for his escapism suggests there’s something about the moral geography in Italy that is simply different to our own. It’s summed up in one of the adjectives most often applied to Berlusconi: spregiudicato. It’s one of those words that is almost impossible to translate because it seems to have two contradictory meanings: both unconventional and unscrupulous. It implies someone who’s without prejudice, a person who thinks for himself, a daring maverick. But it also means someone who disregards the rules, someone who rides roughshod over manners and etiquette and the accepted way of doing things. It sounds more of a criticism put like that, but in Italy the word is usually a compliment, especially when applied to the prime minister.

Funnily enough, that moral chasm between Italy and the rest of the world also helps Berlusconi maintain his grip on power. The more he’s criticised abroad (and, let’s be fair, barely a day goes by without some foreign publication putting the boot into the Italian electorate and their chosen leader), the more he plays the patriotic card. While the opposition quotes eagerly from the “authoritative” publication, Berlusconi accuses them of betrayal and portrays himself — another role with which so many identify — as the down-trodden victim, the hard-done-by Italian of old whom all foreigners love to hate. A lot of Italians are fed up of finger-wagging moralists from northern Europe telling them whom they should elect and, I suspect, vote Berlusconi almost as a declaration of independence. After centuries of being ruled by foreign powers — the papal states, the Habsburgs, the Bourbons and so on — they’re determined that foreigners should keep out of their affairs. Especially the many affairs of their Prime Minister.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Lessons for the Balkans From Belfast

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Good article, but requires registration to pull the rest of it.]

The expulsion of Roma families from their homes in Northern Ireland shows how wrong the application of multi-culturalism can go when it is half-hearted…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

No to Sharia Law in Britain

Sharia has no place in a civilised society. Ban Islamic tribunals and let everyone in this country abide by a single code of laws

by Denis MacEoin

There are many reasons to find problems with sharia law. In its full form, it contains numerous provisions that are barbaric and irreconcilable with any advanced society: stoning married adulterers, flogging the unmarried, throwing homosexuals from roofs or steep hills, amputating limbs for theft, and much more.

But sharia is much wider than that. It moves seamlessly from the public to the private realm, and it is in the latter that we find demands that a measure of sharia be introduced to this country. Such demands have been made, not just by Muslims, but even by an astonishingly naïve Archbishop of Canterbury. Sharia is only marginally about how a believer prays, fasts, pays the alms tax, or performs the pilgrimage. For the individual it carries obligations and penalties that cut deep into personal life. Here is a very simple example. If a Muslim man in a fit of temper uses the triple divorce formula, even if his wife is not present, the law considers the couple divorced. But if he comes to his senses, he cannot simply resume relations with his wife. In order to remarry, she must wait three months to determine that she is not pregnant. Thereupon, she is obliged to marry another man and to have sex with him, and this man must then divorce her (or not, if he decides to keep her). She must then wait another three months, after which her first husband may remarry her — see also Ask Imam). This revolting practice, known as halala, demeans the woman. In British law, it would be considered a form of coercion into unwanted sexual relations. Is this what the archbishop wants?

But sharia has already entered the UK through a back door. In October 2008 Bridget Prentice, parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Ministry of Justice, stated that the government does not “accommodate” any religious legal systems, but confirmed two developments. First that sharia courts are operating under the 1996 Arbitration Act, which allows private disputes to be settled by an independent arbitrator. And second that sharia rulings on family matters (that are not covered by arbitration) could be given the authority of a British court by seeking “a consent order embodying the terms” of the sharia court ruling. There is now a Muslim Arbitration Tribunal which claims that the lord chief justice endorses alternative dispute resolution under sharia law.

The idea that Muslim tribunals arbitrating in matters of family law can take place without introducing contradictions to UK law, mainly through severe discrimination against Muslim women, is not well thought through. We have already seen one way that sharia law may have repercussions for wives in certain instances of divorce. Giving tribunals semi-official status will, assuming they work according to sharia, introduce similar anomalies.

I have not been able to get reports of live rulings from tribunals, but there are a large number of online sites which offer fatwas in answer to questions posed by believers and these seem likely to represent the kind of answers which tribunals in Britain must produce.

If couples do not marry according to UK civil law (and I have seen a fatwa ruling that they need not register their marriage with the British authorities, there may be serious consequences in the event of divorce; in the custody of children (which always goes against the woman; with respect to alimony (a man does not have to pay any, except for the children and ; and with regard to rights to a share in the family home (which a woman does not have). During the marriage, a man may coerce his wife to have sex, though wives do not have that right); a husband may confine his wife to their home; if one or the other partner abandons Islam, the marriage is declared null and void). It is considered wrong to reject polygamy. If a woman wishes to divorce her husband, it is made dependent on obtaining her husband’s permission and the agreement of a sharia court. A woman may not marry a non-Muslim and a man may marry only a Jewish or Christian woman. Legal adoption is prohibited, but if a child has been adopted, he or she may not inherit from the adoptive parents. The Leyton-based Islamic Shariah Council has issued rulings including one that forbids a woman of any age to marry without a male “guardian”; another that says a man only has to intend to divorce for it to be valid; one that insists that a polygamous marriage must be maintained even in the UK (Islamic Shariah Council); and another that excuses a man from making alimony payments after divorce.

If Islamic tribunals are to arbitrate according to such antiquated and discriminatory rulings, they condemn British Muslim women to a life as second-class citizens with barely any rights. And if they claim to advise only within the framework of British law, then what are they doing in the first place? The only solution to this scandalous situation is to ban such tribunals entirely and let Muslims, like everybody else in this country, abide by a single code of laws. Sharia courts must be excluded from recognition under the 1996 Arbitration Act if justice for all does not become a farce.

           — Hat tip: Furor Teutonicus [Return to headlines]

Norway: Criminal Gangs Heading for Oslo

Criminals from Romania are expected to be a problem in Oslo this summer. The Oslo police have been warned by European colleagues that the criminals are heading for Oslo in numbers.

The police are warning the public to be on the alert and keep close watch on purses and bags in crowded streets and shops.

The police report that this year the number of East European criminals is higher than before, and that although many have been arrested and expelled from Norway, they disregard the expulsion and return after a short time.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Three of Four Hate Crimes Racist

Three of four reported hate crimes are xenophobic or racially motivated, according to a new report from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet).

Almost 72 percent (4,225) were judged to have racial or xenophobic motives, 18 percent (1,055) were related to sexual orientation and 10 percent (around 600) had anti-religious motives.

The most common crimes are illegal threats and harassment, which occur twice as often as violent hate crimes.

“That remains unchanged, which previous years’ reports have also shown. These are crimes that occur in people’s daily lives, a neighbour or a total stranger who might yell something about ethnic origin,” said Anna Molarin, one of the report’s authors.

Compared to 2007, the number of hate crimes reported in 2008 increased by 2,350 incidents. The number has increased every year since 1999, when around 2,000 hate crimes were reported.

But several changes in the criteria for the crime mean that the figures aren’t comparable. Last year, the definition of “hate crime” was changed. For example, hate crimes between minority groups, biphobia, heterophobia and transphobia now all fall under the hate crime rubric.

The council is also now tracking xenophobic hate crimes between minority groups and against Afro-Swedes and Roma people.

“We have seen in the police reports that these groups are particularly vulnerable,” said Molarin.

An increased inclination to report crimes and improved police routines also explain the increase.

“Police are working more and more with these crimes. In Stockholm, for instance, there is a hate crimes division with 4-5 specially trained officers who work with these crimes full-time,” explained Molarin.

But hate crimes are hard to resolve. Of all hate crimes reported in 2007, in only 8 percent of the cases was someone prosecuted, sentenced or formally cautioned.

The most difficult cases to resolve were Islamophobic hate crimes where an individual could be tied to the crime in only 5 percent of incidents.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Rise in Reported Hate Crimes

More hate crimes are being reported in Sweden. Last year, there were 66 per cent more than the year before, amounting to almost 5900 reported hate crimes, according to statistics from the National Council for Crime Prevention.

The rise is largely due to the fact that the definition of hate crimes has been extended to also include, among others, racially motivated hate crime between minority groups and hate crimes against trans people. Work has also been done to create more awareness around these issues, and for example homosexuals are more inclined to report these crimes than they were before.

The most common type of hate crime is verbal threat, which are double as many as those involving physical violence. Three our of four out of the reported hate crimes are racially motivated, according to the report.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Interestingly, it doesn’t say which way the “racial” comments are going. And I’m guessing most of the “anti-Trans/Homosexual comments” aren’t coming from “typical” Swedes.]

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

The EU Presidency is Too Big for Small Nations

The Czech Republic proved that small EU states are not up to running the EU Council Presidency. Leadership on such a scale is simply beyond their means. Nevertheless, Sweden hopes to see the Lisbon Treaty ratified. Then it wants to lay the foundations for a real European foreign policy.

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Wow!…just wow! Patronize much?]

In times such as these, with no end to the financial crisis in sight, the rotation of the EU Presidency makes one thing patently clear: The European Union needs clearer structures, more integration, and better foreign representation. Moreover, the Czech tenure has revealed that smaller EU countries are not up to the daunting coordination and leadership tasks that a crisis of this magnitude requires.

It is of course unfortunate when a government collapses in the middle of a Council Presidency. But Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s influence had long been waning; from the beginning he was ineffective at leading the European Union. It is also sheer bad luck to have a president like Vaclav Klaus who makes no secret of his fundamental distaste for the Maastricht Treaty and for European integration as such. Yet, in order to save face, the Czech Senate approved the Lisbon Treaty on May 6, 2009 —clearing one of the last hurdles to Lisbon’s ratification.

But even if domestic conditions had been different: Would the Czech Republic have been able to conduct a convincing EU presidency? Would it have been able to deal firmly with the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute? If the Irish had not rediscovered the value of the euro — and thus their European convictions — would the Czech Republic have been able to significantly influence and apply pressure to the Lisbon Treaty discourse in Ireland? Would it have been able to assume decisive European leadership during the financial crisis? The honest answer is probably no.

Small countries are hindered by the fact that the demands on the European Union, and thus on the Council Presidency, have increased. Beyond the ongoing technical agenda (energy policy, climate protection, growth, modernization of national European economies), an agenda that is constantly under revision and impossible to overlook in its abundance, every EU nation occupying the presidency assumes leadership on a global scale: This goes for the war in Georgia as well as for the financial crisis. Adequate human resources are no less important than acceptance and clout in the international arena. In these terms small EU countries simply have less to offer…

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Catholic School Bans Muslim Girls From Wearing Face Veils During Official Visit

Two Muslim pupils and their teacher were told to remove their facial veils before they could make an official visit to a Catholic school.

The party were from an Islamic school in Great Harwood and were visiting St Mary’s School in nearby Blackburn, Lancashire for its annual open day.

The town is the constituency of Justice Secretary Jack Straw who has previously been involved in rows over the wearing of the traditional Muslim veils by females.

The veil the ‘niqab’, which is worn with a headscarf or hijab, only allows slits for the wearer’s eyes.

A spokesman for St Mary’s said the request was made because the veils were against school policy.

The two pupils agreed to the removal but their teacher refused.

She was taken to an office at St Mary’s and told she would not be allowed on the premises.

Abdul Quereshi from the Lancashire Council of Mosques spoke out against the ban.

‘I thought St Mary’s had a good reputation and am very disappointed,’ he said.

‘The information I have is that this was the action of one individual and now this will once again will become a big issue.’

‘The wearing of the veil is to protect the nature of the Muslim family and avoid the temptation facing Muslim males.’

Niqabs, also known as burqas, are most commonly worn by Muslim women in the Arab countries of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Iraq.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]


Albania: Elections, After NATO Tirana Looks to EU

(ANSAmed) — TIRANA — After NATO, Albania is looking at the European Union, which has played a key role in the electoral campaign for Sunday’s general election. The election are to be held amidst tension generated by the fact that police authorities prevented the socialist opposition led by Tirana’s current mayor, Edi Rama, from holding a rally in the capital city’s main street in front of the government offices of premier Sali Berisha, the traditional right wing leader. Europe was the focus of political rallies and Berisha repeatedly stated that in his four years of government he has signed the Stabilisation and Association agreement with the EU and then requested admission in April, when the country joined NATO. The premier’s new promise is that “In 2013 the country will be ready to become a member” of the EU. His rival did not mention any timeframes. Rama, age 44, believes that “it is time to open a new chapter, give way to a new era that will allow Albanians to crown the dream they had in 1992”, when the people toppled the old communist regime. Albanians see joining Europe as a means to travel without the need for visas. Brussels has already started this process with a few west Balkan countries, but Albania failed to complete this process immediately, unlike Macedonia and probably Serbia and Montenegro as well, who could benefit from a visa-less regime from the end of this year. But determination is not enough. Brussels is clear: the June 28 political elections will be “the test of the country’s democratic maturity and its aspirations to join the EU”. Sunday’s elections will be monitored by more that 400 international observers working with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), in addition to approximately 2,500 local observers. To date, in 18 years of pluralism, Albania has never managed to meet the required international standards. Berisha predicted that “This time we will set up the best elections our country have ever seen”. Rama, the socialist leader, is more sceptical: “We shall see what happens on Sunday, but we have every reason to claim that this is not the process that the Albanian people deserve”. The left wing opposition reported irregularities in voting lists and pointed out that 256,000 of the more than 3 million-strong Albanian electorate will not be able to vote because of the lack of one of two necessary documents: passport and ID. Albania is using a new election system, a proportional regional system that will apportion the 140 seats of the Albanian parliament. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Kosovo Enters Int’l Monetary Fund, World Bank

WASHINGTON — Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, has become the 186th member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Documents were signed and speeches made at the State Department on Monday to make Kosovo’s accession official 16 months after the province’s ethnic Albanian majority declared independence from Serbia. The ceremony was held in Washington, because the U.S. government is the repository for the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement that created the post-World War II international financial system.

“This is the new history of Kosovo,” Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said after the signing.

The United States was an early supporter of the Kosovars after the province declared independence on Feb. 18, 2008.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Observers Report Some Flaws in Albania Vote

By LLAZAR SEMINI and NEBI QENA, Associated Press Writers Llazar Semini And Nebi Qena, Associated Press Writers Mon Jun 29, 5:07 pm ET

TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s governing party was in a close race with the Socialist opposition on Monday as the votes were slowly counted in the country’s parliamentary election.

The conduct of the ballot is seen as a crucial test of the Balkan country’s hopes of EU membership, and a preliminary report by international election observers found signs of both improvement and violations.

Exit polls from Sunday’s vote indicated that Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party had won another term in office.

But official results from 57 percent of the ballot boxes counted by 9 p.m. (1900 GMT, 3 p.m. EDT) Monday showed Albania’s 12 electoral districts equally split between the Democrats and the Socialist Party, led by Tirana Mayor Edi Rama.

Berisha was narrowly ahead in the largest district, Tirana, which elects 32 of Albania’s 140 lawmakers.

But officials said the counting process was delayed as ballots were being counted electronically for the first time in Albania, and it was unclear when the first nationwide results would be announced.

Central Election Commission spokesman Leonard Olli said the counting was expected to end Tuesday morning, after which central authorities would have 48 hours to calculate the final results.

Olli said the voting and counting process were “free of incidents.”

But monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted that, despite improvements from previous elections, violations had persisted.

And opposition leader Rama called on police to intervene in what he claimed was an effort by the Democrats to influence the vote-counting process..

“I am speaking about a plan for verbal aggression with the illegal presence of persons at the counting centers where the Socialist Party is ahead,” Rama told a news conference late Monday.

Berisha rejected Rama’s allegations as “absurdities.”

An OSCE statement said observers “noted procedural violations related in particular to inking procedures and widespread family voting.”

“The country has matured, it has made progress, and many of the fears we had only some months ago have not materialized,” said Wolfgang Grossruck, a top official among the 500 international election observers. “I’m certainly happy about the progress we saw, but there is also a considerable number of issues that need to be tackled, in particular the polarized political climate.”

U.S. Ambassador John Withers said he agreed with the monitors’ findings.

“I … urge the Albanian authorities to build on (Sunday’s) success to meet higher, more demanding international standards on future occasions,” he said.

Berisha and Rama’s parties campaigned on similar platforms, pledging to fight poverty and take Albania closer to the European Union.

In its seventh parliamentary election since the fall of communism in 1990, Albania came under intense international pressure to make sure the vote was fair and free of the reports of fraud that have marred previous polls.. Albania became a NATO member on April 1 and is seeking to join the 27-nation European Union.

Some 4,300 candidates representing 34 political parties were vying for the 140 seats in Parliament.

Three people have been killed in recent weeks in what local media said were politically motivated attacks, although that remains unclear.

A regional leader for the small Christian Democratic Party was driving when his car exploded earlier this month. A man was shot dead during an argument over a campaign poster, also in June, and an opposition lawmaker was gunned down in May.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Document Links Saudi Charity to Somalian Arms

A Defense Department intelligence document on weapons trafficking in Somalia suggests a prominent Saudi government charity supplied arms and other aid to a Mogadishu warlord whose forces killed 18 U.S. soldiers in the notorious Black Hawk Down battle in 1993.

The heavily redacted memo said that the Saudi High Commission, a Saudi government agency, had been a conduit for arms shipments to forces allied with Mohamed Farah Hassan Aideed, and that the arms had come from both Iraq and Sudan.

Fighters allied with Aideed engaged in a fierce street battle on Oct. 3-4, 1993, with U.S. troops on a mission to capture top Aideed lieutenants believed to be blocking efforts to stabilize the country.

The document was provided to The Inquirer by lawyers for plaintiffs in a huge lawsuit that alleges the government of Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because, over a period of a decade or more, it financed Islamic charities that in turn helped fund al-Qaeda. The lawsuit alleges the Saudi government knew it was funding charities that supported terrorism. Saudi Arabia denies the allegation.

“The Saudi Arabian High Commission has received humanitarian supplies from Sudan and Iraq; however the crates from the Sudan and Iraq have also contained military weapons, ammunition and supplies, usually hidden in false bottom containers,” the intelligence report said.

The intelligence document does not make clear when the arms shipments took place or whether the weapons were employed in the Mogadishu battle. It also warned that its findings were raw, “not finally evaluated intelligence.”

A U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan ruled in 2005 that the Saudi government and members of the Saudi royal family could not be sued for promoting terrorism under U.S. law; that decision was upheld last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide shortly whether to hear arguments in the case.

The Defense Intelligence Agency memo was obtained as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Federation of American Scientists in the mid-1990s, when researchers had been examining the impact of an international arms embargo on Somalia. The Defense Department forwarded the records to FAS in 1997, and they went largely unnoticed until they were discovered by plaintiffs’ lawyers on an FAS blog.

“Based on evidence we have gathered through our own investigation into the Saudi High Commission’s links to al-Qaeda, including testimony provided to us by an admitted al-Qaeda member, we are hardly surprised to see an intelligence report linking it to the arming of Gen. Aideed,” said Sean Carter of the Cozen O’Connor law firm in Center City, which has sued Saudi Arabia on behalf of dozens of insurers seeking to recover billions in losses at ground zero.

“Unfortunately, this report only serves to underscore that the American public has been deprived of access to evidence relating to Saudi Arabia’s support for al-Qaeda for far too long.”

The Saudi government denies that any of its agencies knowingly provided funds to al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group.

A lawyer for the Saudi High Commission did not respond to a request for comment by The Inquirer.

According to the affidavits of Saudi officials filed in the litigation, the Saudi High Commission was formed in 1993 to assist refugees displaced in the Balkans war among indigenous Muslims, Croats, and Serbs, and has distributed about $448 million for relief efforts.

The agency’s executive director, Saud Bin Mohammad al-Roshood, said that the commission was the primary instrument of Saudi government policy in the Balkans, but that it also had undertaken relief efforts in Egypt and Somalia. Elsewhere in the litigation, the agency is described by a senior Saudi official as a branch of the Saudi government.

Two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by rocket-propelled grenades during the 1993 battle in Mogadishu; hundreds of Somalian civilians and fighters were killed in the battle, which was reported in a 1997 series in The Inquirer by reporter Mark Bowden. The series was made into a book in 1999 and a movie in 2001.

Seventy-three U.S. soldiers were wounded in addition to the 18 who were killed.

“Given [Osama] bin Laden’s affirmation of al-Qaeda involvement in killing American troops in Somalia in 1993, and the accumulated evidence of the Saudi High Commission’s support for al-Qaeda, this report certainly raises to the forefront the issue of whether the bullets that killed the 18 American troops in the battle of Mogadishu were Saudi sponsored,” said Robert Haefele, a lawyer with the South Carolina plaintiffs’ firm of Motley Rice, which is representing thousands of individual victims of the 9/11 attacks and family members in the litigation.

The Saudi High Commission is not the only Islamic charity that has been accused of promoting terrorism, but it is a particularly sensitive issue for the Saudis because it is a government agency and is headed by a senior member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Three weeks after the 9/11 attacks, NATO forces hunting for terrorists raided the commission’s office in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to congressional testimony. They seized before-and-after pictures of the twin towers, pictures of bombed U.S. embassies in East Africa, photos of the U.S.S. Cole after a bomb had ripped a gash in the destroyer’s side, killing 17 U.S. sailors, and materials for forging State Department identification badges.

In addition, a former al-Qaeda commander during the Balkans war testified during a U.N. war-crimes trial that his unit was funded by the Saudi High Commission. Ali Hamad, the al-Qaeda commander, said the commission had poured tens of millions of dollars into mujaheddin units led by al-Qaeda operatives who had fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Hamad also was deposed by a lawyer for Cozen O’Connor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Hamad gave much the same account.

The arrival of U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping troops in Somalia in 1992 was deemed a provocation by bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, and according to the July 2004 report of the 9/11 Commission, al-Qaeda leaders sent weapons and trainers to help Somalian warlords battling U.S. forces. The operation was directly supervised by al-Qaeda’s military leader, the commission said.

Al-Qaeda trainers later were heard boasting that their assistance had led to the downing of the two Black Hawk helicopters and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia in 1994, the 9/11 Commission report said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU and Turkey: Still Talking Membership, Barely

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Early in the last century, after an empire’s fall, the founder of Turkey set his new nation on a westward course. For Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Europe was worthy of a pedestal, a model of how to be modern.

The vision of the former army officer leaped forward in 2005, when reform-minded Turkey began accession talks with the European Union. But the mood soured. While neither side says the process is dead, few question that Turkey’s goal of joining Europe’s club is in deep trouble.

On Tuesday, EU and Turkish envoys restart talks in a process that sometimes seems hollow and adrift. The dry give-and-take in conference halls in Brussels masks bigger issues about Europe and diversity, Islam and democracy, and ties between modern and developing nations.

Turkey’s enthusiasm for European Union membership has eroded under internal tension, European skepticism and a dispute over divided Cyprus, an EU member. Key European leaders, in turn, fear an influx of migrants, worry about human rights and wonder about admitting a huge Muslim nation into a 27-nation bloc that has struggled to integrate its own Muslim minorities.

“We need to aim to achieve more progress this year in our relations,” Ollie Rehn, the EU commissioner handling Turkey’s bid, told visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“We know our responsibilities,” Davutoglu said, though he insisted that the EU at least help find a “comprehensive settlement” for Cyprus, where Turkish troops are based in the Turkish Cypriot north, a legacy of a 1974 invasion after a coup attempt by backers of union with Greece.

Turkey still fumes over the EU’s 2004 decision to bring Greek Cypriots into the EU, leaving Turkish Cypriots outside even though they — unlike the ethnic Greek side — voted for reunification.

In all, the accession talks cover 35 different areas, or “chapters.” Of these, only 10 have been opened in the last four years. Of the 25 that have yet to be opened, eight face a veto from EU member Greece because of the Turkish troops in north Cyprus.

“Turkey and the European Union have to stop wasting time on the path to membership to the Union and use this time in a much more productive way,” Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Friday in Brussels.

Erdogan dismissed a vaguely defined idea, now circulating in some European circles, of a “privileged partnership” that would give Turkey some rights, but deny it full EU status. Turkey, a NATO member, is already involved in many European institutions.

“We expect Europe to keep its promises,” said Erdogan, whose Islamic-oriented government has done as much or more than many of its predecessors to move Turkey, once a chaotic place prone to military coups, closer to Western-style norms.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country assumes the EU presidency this year, has said Turkey’s membership negotiations are strategically vital for Europe. Still, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among the powerful players who oppose full accession.

Their opposition has contributed to distraction and anger toward the EU among the Turkish public, though the delicate political balance within the country has also stalled progress.

Turkey’s government, locked in a power struggle with military-backed secular elites, seeks to avoid a nationalist backlash if it pushes EU reforms too quickly. Early progress was made, and most recently, parliament passed an amendment Friday that allows the prosecution of military personnel in civilian courts, not military ones, during peacetime.

This year, Turkey launched a Kurdish-language TV station on behalf of the long-suffering minority. This weekend, Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said Turkey would likely meet a key EU demand by opening Halki, a Greek Orthodox seminary near Istanbul.

But obstacles abound.

Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast remains largely a no-go area for investors, and Kurdish rebels operate there. Turkey has yet to reform its constitution — crafted after a 1980 military coup — in line with EU demands for stronger civilian institutions. A law that bars insults to Turkish identity and has been used to prosecute intellectuals still exists.. Turkey has refused to trade with Greek-run southern Cyprus.

Erdogan has faced accusations that he is interested in imposing religious values as well as Western-style ones, forcing him to fend off political and legal threats to his mandate.

But in dealing with Europe, Turkey has a newfound sense of leverage in an emerging role as a regional player, and a transit point for energy supplies heading west. It has improved ties with Greece, Syria, Russia and Black Sea and Arab neighbors, and mediated between Israel and Syria.

Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel during its war in Gaza heightened Turkey’s stature at a time when the West’s reaction seemed tepid to many people around the world.

Hugh Pope, Turkey/Cyprus project director for the International Crisis Group, said the impact of politics in Europe, notably right-wing gains in recent elections, has tainted debate over Turkey’s EU bid.

“Politicians and commentators present the accession talks as if a poorer, over-populated Turkey was about to join tomorrow,” Pope wrote in an analysis. “In fact, the process will take a decade or even two, by which time the relative positions of fast-growing Turkey and a more stagnant Europe will doubtless be much changed.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Foreign Broadcasters Walk a Fine Line in Iran

LONDON (AP) — Inside the studios of BBC Persian television, dozens of journalists have been working around the clock at their computers and telephones, trying to report the news to Iran — or, according to the government in Tehran, stirring up trouble.

Since Iran’s disputed election on June 12, the BBC and a handful of other Farsi-language broadcasters around the world, from Amsterdam to Jerusalem, have supplied millions of Iranians with independent reports in their own language about the country’s most serious turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A 24-year-old student in Tehran said channels like BBC Persian and Voice of America “are the only true sources for the news for us inside Iran.”

“During the demonstrations that happened on Saturday, which everybody in Iran knows what happened on the streets of Tehran and some other major cities, the state TV channels were showing comedy classic movies,” said the student, who didn’t want his name used for fear of reprisals.

Iran’s religious government has accused foreign broadcasters — the BBC in particular — of fueling unrest during and after the contested election that returned hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. The BBC, VOA and other broadcasters say Iran has been jamming their television signals and have added new satellite paths to get around the blockage. The BBC and VOA also broadcast to Iran on short- and medium-wave radio and through Web sites that are sometimes blocked.

“We provide independent news,” said the BBC’s Iranian affairs analyst, Sadeq Saba. “That is why we are so popular in Iran. And that is why the Iranian government doesn’t like us.”

Foreign-based Farsi radio and TV broadcasters have gained increased importance for millions of Iranians since the election, as the country’s Islamic authorities have moved to deprive people of independent sources of news. Facebook, Twitter and other Web sites have been blocked, text messaging has been cut off and cell phone service in Tehran is frequently down.

“I don’t fully trust VOA or BBC Persian, but at least they are much better than the state TV channels,” said a 57 -year-old shopkeeper in the northeastern city of Mashhad. “At least they don’t hide the news.”

Inside BBC Persian’s offices overlooking the stone buildings and red double-decker buses of central London, the station’s young Iranian staffers interview Iranians over the telephone, try to check elusive facts and edit footage from international broadcasters and Iranian “citizen journalists” whose videos of protests and street clashes have provided some of the most powerful images of the conflict.

BBC Persian television began broadcasting in January and before the election produced eight hours of programing a day — since increased to 11. The station is getting more than 6,000 e-mails a day, along with a flood of calls and text messages.

“It’s been an intense couple of weeks,” said the station’s special correspondent, Kasra Naji. “I’m working 10, 12, 13 hours a day.”

Like other broadcasters, BBC Persian says it’s hard to know how many people inside Iran are watching, but it believes its audience is in the millions.

Youth-oriented Dutch station Radio Zameneh has also seen its profile rise since it switched its focus from underground music and alternative literature to politics in the days since the election. The station’s 90-minute daily broadcast by shortwave and satellite appears to have developed a significant following — an Iranian diplomat accused the Dutch government, which funds the station, of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs and financing propaganda.

In Los Angeles, home to a large Iranian community, Farsi-language radio station KIRN has opened up its phone lines to let Iranians in the U.S. share news gleaned from friends and family back home.

There also is an appreciative audience for Menashe Amir’s Farsi-language broadcasts on state-run Israel Radio. From a spartan radio studio off a narrow Jerusalem alleyway, broadcasts a mix of popular Persian music, interviews with exiled Iranian intellectuals and chats with Iranians themselves — via a switchboard in Germany to get around a ban on calls from Iran to the Jewish state.

Amir, 69, has hosted Israel Radio’s only Farsi-language broadcast for the past 50 years, but says the last two weeks have been the most memorable in his career.

“Every human being in the world should be concerned with what is happening there,” said Amir, who left Iran in 1959 and has not visited since the 1979 revolution.

It’s difficult to know the size of Amir’s audience, but his daily hour-and-a-half long broadcast reaches well beyond Iran’s 25,000-strong Jewish community. It’s enough of a presence that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has name-checked the “Zionist broadcast” as among those behind the unrest.

The job of journalists in Iran has got a lot harder since Ahmadinejad’s opponents began protesting against an election they claim was rigged. Hundreds of people have been detained, and at least 17 have been killed.

Foreign journalists in Iran have been prevented from moving around freely and told to stick to their offices. On Sunday — days after Khamenei singled out Britain as the most treacherous of the Western powers meddling in Iran’s affairs — the BBC’s full-time correspondent in Tehran was ordered to leave the country.

Iranian authorities refused BBC Persian permission to have journalists in Tehran, although BBC’s English-language service has an office there.

Like the BBC, VOA says its TV signal has been jammed and has added three new satellite paths to allow transmission. It also is using YouTube, radio, Twitter and Facebook to help provide Iranians with information.

“We’re coming up with a lot of different ways to get in there,” said VOA’s director of public relations, Joan Mower.

All the foreign broadcasters deny interfering in Iran’s affairs. The BBC says it goes to great lengths to maintain standards of fairness and impartiality, even though many staff members are worried about close friends and family in Iran.

“It’s not easy,” said the BBC’s Saba. “They are not covering a conflict in Russia or Ecuador. They are covering a conflict in their own country.”

The BBC has been careful never to claim the election was rigged, and tries to verify images it gets from Iran by comparing different footage of the same event and interviewing eyewitnesses over the phone.

At Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — a U.S.-backed broadcaster which also is not allowed to have an office in Tehran — journalist Golnaz Esfandiari said it was “getting increasingly difficult to get information from Iran.”

“People are facing pressure,” she said, adding that despite that, “lots of them are willing to speak to us, because it’s one of the only platforms where they can express themselves freely and where they can inform others about what’s going on in their city, how they feel about this crisis.”

           — Hat tip: Frontinus [Return to headlines]

Iran Upholds Ahmadinejad Victory, Says Matter Closed

TEHRAN (Reuters) — Iran confirmed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president and said a row over his June 12 re-election was over, leaving opponents who cried foul with few options.

Iran’s top legislative body, the Guardian Council, said a partial recount on Monday had disproved complaints of irregularities by pro-reform opponents, who said the count was inadequate and that only annulling the election would do.

Riot police beefed up their presence in the capital Tehran but there were no signs of major unrest late on Monday, in contrast to protests that erupted when Ahmadinejad was first declared victor of the June 12 vote.

State media say 20 people died in that violence which the government and opposition blamed on one another. Pro-government Basij militia and riot police broke up the protests.

“The secretary of the Guardian Council, in a letter to the interior minister, announced the final decision of the Council … and declares the approval of the accuracy of the results of … the presidential election,” state broadcaster IRIB said.

The poll and its turbulent aftermath have exposed splits in Iran’s political establishment and plunged the country into its deepest crisis since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But options for the opposition look limited now the election result has been officially upheld, after the recount of what the Council said was a random 10 percent of the vote.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei signaled on June 19 that mass protests would no longer be tolerated. There is little scope for more legal fights, and hundreds of opposition supporters have been detained, leaving protesters leaderless.

After dark, some people are still chanting “Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)” from their rooftops, mimicking tactics used during the 1979 revolution, but the nightly cries are weakening.

There has been talk of other forms of civil disobedience, including strike action, but these have yet to materialize.


“The Guardian Council statement was issued when it became convinced about the accuracy of the election,” a Council spokesman said, adding that no irregularities were found.

“The dossier of the … election has been closed today.”

The recount system was not immediately clear, but state media said it had been spread over at least several provinces.

Opposition supporters say the vote was rigged to favor the hardline president over reformist rivals including Mirhossein Mousavi, who came second.. Mousavi had rejected the idea of a recount and sent no representatives to watch it.

“The Guardian Council approval of the vote negates the possibility of an election re-run,” Iran’s English-language Press TV television station said,


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran’s rulers were still likely to face internal opposition.

“They have a huge credibility gap with their own people as to the election process. And I don’t think that’s going to disappear by any finding of a limited review of a relatively small number of ballots,” she said.

Asked if Washington would recognize Ahmadinejad as president of the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, she said:

“We’re going to take this a day at a time.”

Iran’s rulers, locked in a row with the West over nuclear ambitions, have blamed the post-vote trouble on foreign powers rather than popular anger.

The protests strained relations with Britain in particular, which rejected accusations its embassy encouraged the unrest.

Iran had detained nine local embassy staff but freed five of them on Monday, saying the others would be kept for questioning.

“Iran’s action, first the expulsion of two diplomats and now the arrest of a number of our locally engaged staff, is unacceptable, unjustified and without foundation,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters in London..

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia Depends Heavily on Imports, Figures

(ANSAmed) — RIYADH, JUNE 24 — In the ten years between 1996 and 2007, Saudi Arabia depended heavily on imports and especially on food products, according to the Central Department of Statistics as reported by the Italian Trade Commission (ICE). Food products, on average, comprised 57% of total imports, followed by electrical and mechanical equipment (21%), metals and products made from metals (5%) and plastic products (4%). The ever-growing food products market attracts ever greater attention, though Italian exports in this sector are still relatively small, which — according to a statement released by the ICE office in Riyadh — is above all due to “the difficulty of direct access for medium-small Italian companies within the large, local retail system, monopolised by multinationals and large trading companies.” According to 2008 figures from the Italian National Statistics Institute (ISTAT), the main agro-food products Italy exports to Saud Arabia are, in monetary terms and descending order: mineral water, sweets, produce, vegetable juices and preserves, food pastes and, to a much lesser extent, mature cheeses, coffee and olive oil. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Saudi Royal Denounces His Brother

A member of the Saudi royal family has called for the assets of his brother to be frozen.

Prince Khaled bin Talal denounced his brother’s media empire in an unprecedented public attack from within the ruling family.

Prince Khaled accused Prince Walid bin Talal of disseminating vice and violating the rules of Islamic Sharia in the conservative kingdom.

Prince Walid is one of the richest businessmen in the world.

It has long been known that there is a split within the ranks of Saud family between liberals and conservatives.

But, until now, they have always managed to keep a lid on the problem.

Prince Khaled said he had been forced to speak out after quiet efforts to advise his brother to mend his ways had fallen on deaf ears.

Prince Walid, known for his liberal lifestyle, owns a media empire which features entertainment channels that have long angered conservative Saudis.

Prince Khaled, told an Arabic website that his brother’s plan to introduce cinema into Saudi society was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

This was a reference to a Saudi film financed by Prince Walid, and shown in Saudi Arabia late last year despite fierce opposition from Islamist activists.

Nearly all forms of modern entertainment — particularly those that bring men and women together — are regarded by conservative Saudis as morally corrosive and can, in their eyes, undermine the religious foundation of the Saudi society and state.

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

Turkey-EU: First EU-Rated Toilet Opens in Gaziantep

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 22 — The southeastern Anatolian city of Gaziantep has become the first in the country to have a public toilet that meets European Union standards, daily Hurriyet reports. The toilet facility was built in the city’s Turktepe neighborhood, along Culture Road, and cost 80,000 euros. Built with EU funds, the public toilet has a special section for the disabled, a music system, water taps with sensors, a section for changing baby diapers and air conditioning and took one year to build. The man responsible for running the toilet, Sih Mehmet Agir, said people are surprised on their first visit. “They are surprised to see such a clean toilet; they show a lot of interest; they don’t just come to meet their needs, they also come to look”, Agir noted. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Turkey/Greece: Ankara Snubs Migrant Repatriation Pact

While Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and her Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu yesterday pledged to work together on bilateral issues in their first meeting on the sidelines of an international summit on Corfu, Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs revealed, in an interview published in yesterday’s Kathimerini, that Ankara would not be honoring a bilateral repatriation pact with Greece.

“We refuse to become the world’s biggest refugee camp,” Egemin Bagis said, noting that bilateral pacts such as the one signed by Athens and Ankara should only be honored if similar pacts are agreed between so-called transit countries for would-be migrants, such as Turkey, and countries of origin, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bagis also reiterated Ankara’s opposition to the idea of a special partnership for Turkey with the EU. “We will accept nothing less than full membership. There is no alternative.”

Asked about Greek calls for the reopening of the Orthodox Seminary on the island of Halki near Istanbul, Bagis said he backed it in principle but linked it to the thorny issue of the Muslim minority in Thrace. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay indicated, in an interview with the Turkish mass-circulation daily Milliyet, that Ankara was leaning toward reopening the seminary. “Both my personal and the general inclination is that the school will be opened,” Gunay was quoted as saying.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Ukraine Wary of KGB Terror Files

KGB archives in Kiev Ukraine’s SBU is declassifying the files selectively

Ukraine is opening up part of its old KGB archive, declassifying hundreds of thousands of documents spanning the entire Soviet period.

But the move to expose Soviet-era abuses is dividing Ukrainians, the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse reports from Kiev.

Deep in the bowels of Ukraine’s former KGB headquarters there is a deathly silence. Thousands of boxes, piled floor to ceiling, line the walls. Each box is carefully numbered and each one contains hundreds of documents: case notes on enemies of the former Soviet state.

Behind each number, there is a story of personal tragedy.

Volodymyr Viatrovych, the chief archivist, pulled out a brown cardboard folder stuffed full of documents: case number 4076. At the centre of the case is a letter, dated 1940 and addressed to “Comrade Stalin, the Kremlin, Moscow”.

A photo of Ivan Severin shot in the head (right) and the words: Liquidated. 3 April 1947 Ivan Severin was “liquidated” in 1947, his case notes state

“Dear Iosif Vissarionovich,” the letter starts. Nikolai Reva wanted Stalin to know the facts about the great famine of 1932-33, when millions died as a result of the Soviet policy of forced collectivisation.

Like many at the time, Mr Reva believed that Stalin was being kept in the dark, and that if only he knew what was happening, he would surely put a stop to it.

But his letter landed him in the Gulag. He was eventually rehabilitated — 25 years later.

Many met a harsher fate.

Leafing through one of many macabre photo albums, Mr Viatrovych pointed to a picture of Ivan Severin, shot in the head by the Soviet security services. Under the picture, in very neat handwriting, is written: “Liquidated, 3 April 1947”.


“As soon as Russia starts to open and uncover its archives, there will be more and more truth about the real history,” he said. At the moment, he added, Russia is not being especially co-operative.

But there is another obstacle to complete disclosure, and that is the Ukrainian Security Service itself. They are the ones deciding which files to declassify.

I put it to Mr Nalyvaichenko that the SBU is, after all, a successor to the KGB. He came out on the defensive.

“First and most important for me — we are not a successor to the KGB. That’s according to the law,” he said.

Could he state categorically that no-one working for the SBU today had formerly worked for the KGB?

He could not, admitting that 20% of his employees were former KGB officers. Some analysts in Ukraine believe that is a conservative figure.

It seems unlikely that SBU officers who worked for the Soviet KGB in the 1970s and 80s will be enthusiastic about declassifying documents that could incriminate them.. Even if, as Mr Nalyvaichenko pointed out, the SBU is trying to recruit younger staff.

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

Warning on Extradition to Russia

The Council of Europe has issued a highly critical report of the Russian courts, writes Philip Pan in Moscow

A STINGING report from a Council of Europe investigator, published last week, alleges widespread political abuse of the Russian courts and urges countries not to extradite people to Russia if there are concerns they might be denied a fair trial.

The conclusions by Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German minister of justice, are likely to further strain Russia’s relations with the Council of Europe, which commissioned the probe and is already locked in a standoff with Moscow over the future of the European Court of Human Rights.

Russia joined the 47-member council and agreed to be bound by the court’s rulings in the 1990s, but it has recently attacked the court’s impartiality and is the lone council member blocking a plan to streamline its operations.

The number of cases filed in the Strasbourg court each year against Russia has climbed sharply, from 8 per cent of all cases in 2000 to nearly 30 per cent last year, and the Kremlin has bristled at recent rulings that highlight torture and judicial corruption in Russia.

Asked to examine “politically motivated abuses” of court systems across Europe, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger studied Britain, France and Germany but focused on Russia in part because it accounts for more cases at the court than any other country.

She says she found a legal system “still struggling with the legacy of its Soviet past”, characterised by prosecutors with “almost unchecked” power to put people behind bars and subservient judges “subject to an increasing level of pressure aimed at ensuring convictions in almost all cases.”

The practice of what is known as “telephone justice” — an official calling and telling a judge how to rule — has evolved for the worse, she wrote. Russian judges are now so worried about making a mistake and being disciplined or dismissed that they pick up the phone themselves to ask for instructions.

Defence lawyers, meanwhile, are “frequently subjected to searches and seizures and other forms of pressure,” she said, adding: “I am shocked that the authorities are either unwilling or incapable to protect these courageous lawyers and their relatives.”

Bill Browder, chief executive of Hermitage Capital, an investment fund that says it has been targeted by corrupt officials, said the report could have “huge legal consequences” for Russia’s efforts to extradite people from Europe. While some countries already deny Russian extradition requests, many do not, he said.

“She has condemned Russia by saying the criminal justice system is being used for political and often criminal purposes,” said Browder, who is on the government’s wanted list. “And she is proposing to declaw their ability to misuse their criminal justice system outside of Russia.”

The report acknowledges some progress, including pay raises for judges that reduce the temptation for corruption and the establishment, at least on paper, of a judges’ council responsible for career and disciplinary matters.

But it says a plan to give extra credit to convicts for time spent in notoriously crowded pre-trial detention facilities has been derailed, apparently because it might have resulted in the release of the jailed former oil tycoon and Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky. — (LA Times/Washington Post Service)

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


Russian Exercises Anger Georgia

Russian forces have begun their biggest military exercise in the Caucasus since the war with Georgia last year.

More than 8,000 troops are taking part in the manoeuvres near the Georgian border, which Georgia has called “a pure provocation from Russia”.

Last month Nato angered Russia by staging exercises in Georgia itself.

Although Nato and Russia have just agreed to resume military ties, analysts say the latest exercises are a clear warning from Moscow to the West.

Military experts in Moscow say the message is that the Caucasus is still part of Russia’s sphere of influence, says the BBC’s correspondent in Moscow, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.

The war games are due to end on the day US President Barack Obama arrives in Moscow for a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Military sources are also quoted as saying the exercises would help to “cool down the fantasies of some warmongers”, in a clear reference to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, whom Moscow blames for starting last year’s war, says our correspondent.

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

Russia Holds Major War Games in Caucasus

MOSCOW — Thousands of troops, backed by hundreds of tanks, artillery and other heavy weaponry, began rumbling through the North Caucasus on Monday, as Russia began its largest military exercises since last year’s war with Georgia.

The Caucasus 2009 war games are being seen by many experts as a direct threat to nearby Georgia, where the government says it has rearmed armed forces and where NATO recently wrapped up its own exercises.

Experts say the exercises may also be a signal to the United States that Russia will give no ground in its efforts to maintain its sphere of influence in Georgia and other former Soviet republics. The exercise runs through July 6 — the day that President Barack Obama arrives in Moscow for a highly anticipated summit with Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev.

Defense Ministry officials say more than 8,500 troops will take part, along with nearly 200 tanks, armored vehicles, 100 artillery units and several units from Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet.

The exercises, which are being personally overseen by Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of Russia’s General Staff, are structured around a theoretical crisis situation that spirals out of control into open fighting, the ministry said.

Tensions remain high between Russia and Georgia, which lost authority over the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia during the war last year. Russia has been building military bases, storage facilities for supplies, and roads in the two regions, which Moscow recognized as independent. Around 6,000 Russian troops are based in each region.

Moscow has been openly hostile to Georgia’s ambitions to join NATO and has signaled that it would not tolerate any other ex-Soviet republics joining the alliance.

Still, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has not backed down on his drive for NATO membership and his efforts to draw closer to the United States.

Former Kremlin adviser Andrei Illarionov predicted that if Russia were to take military action against Georgia, it would take place directly after Obama’s visit and that Moscow would portray its decision as having been made with Washington’s approval. He also said Russia doesn’t want to occupy Georgia.

“The main goal is to turn Georgia into something like porridge, from a political, military and ethnic point of view,” he said.

“Most important is the destruction of the political stability of Georgia,” he told reporters.

Further unnerving Georgia is the fact that Russia held major war games in the North Caucasus last year in the weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion on Aug. 8.

In Tbilisi, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Nalbandov called the exercises a “dangerous provocation.”

Last month, NATO wrapped up a month of its own training exercises in Georgia, though just a few hundreds troops participated. Despite the small size, Russia was irked.

Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Alexander Kolmakov was quoted by Russian media on Monday as saying that the Caucasus 2009 exercises were adjusted as a result of the NATO exercise and would be “quite major.”

NATO and Russia over the weekend agreed to resume military ties that had been frozen after the Georgian war.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Banned Pakistani Groups ‘Expand’

Militant groups banned in Pakistan are expanding operations and recruitment in Pakistani-run Kashmir, according to a government report seen by the BBC.

The observations are from a detailed secret report submitted to the region’s government on the groups’ activities in the city of Muzaffarabad and elsewhere.

Pakistan banned the groups in 2002 after an attack on India’s parliament brought the two states close to war.

There was no immediate comment on the revelations from Pakistan’s government.

Pakistan’s allies, including the US, have expressed fears regarding the groups’ proliferation and their close links to al-Qaeda.

‘Cover for militancy’

A copy of the report, which was submitted by regional police to Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s cabinet on 25 March, was obtained by the BBC in Islamabad.

“These people are being protected here”

Raja Faisal Majeed lawyer living near suspected militant camps in Pakistani-run Kashmir

It finds that three banned groups — Harkatul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba — are active in Muzaffarabad.

Harkatul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad are said to be planning to open madrassas, or Islamic schools, in the city where Lashkar-e-Taiba is already operating a madrassa.

“No officials are allowed to enter these premises to gather any sort of information,” the report says.

“We fear these madrassas maybe a cover for furthering militant activities.”

The report also elaborates how the militant groups are growing in size and number across Kashmir.

It especially mentions the Neelum district, where they are said to be at their most powerful.

The report says the militants are involved in the logging of trees, one of the most lucrative trades in the region.

They have also set up offices in the Kandal Shahi market in Neelum, where they have become a major law and order headache, the report says.

The report mentions an incident which led to the killing of some locals and a resulting stand-off with the militants.

“The situation was only resolved by the intervention of the local administrator and senior army officials,” the report says.

It then goes on to say that the authorities should take up the matter with the intelligence agency responsible for the militants.

The report says officials from that agency should relocate the militants to some area near the border, otherwise clashes with locals could take place.

Deadly groups

The report comes as Pakistan’s security forces are involved in a fully fledged operation against the Taliban.

The militants are said to be backed up by the jihadi organisations, especially the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Harkatul Mujahideen.

Jaish-e-Mohammad has been involved in several assassination attempts on top Pakistani officials, including former President Pervez Musharraf.

Its members were also responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl, and are said to have carried out the attack on the Indian parliament.

Harkatul Mujahideen is the Jaish’s parent organisation and one of the largest militant groups in the world.

Lashkar-e-Taiba remains the prime suspect in the Mumbai attacks and is India’s enemy number one.

Local people have confirmed to the BBC that there has been a great increase in militant activity in the regions mentioned.

“These people are being protected here,” said Raja Faisal Majeed, a lawyer living in a village near where some of the militant groups have set up base.

“Sometimes they operate under the guise of a charity, sometimes as a school. We have protested against them to no avail.”

Despite the fact that the groups mentioned are banned under Pakistan’s terrorism act, the report does not advocate any action against them other than to keep an eye on their activities.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Indonesia Arrests JI-Linked Singaporeans — Police

JAKARTA (AFP)—Five Singaporeans and an Indonesian allegedly linked to key militants of the Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, regional jihadi network have been arrested in Indonesia, police said Monday.

The suspects, five of whom are related, were arrested in a series of raids across Indonesia in the space of a week, national police criminal investigations chief Susno Duadji told reporters.

“One Indonesian was arrested in (the Central Javanese town of) Cilacap on suspicion of terrorist acts. He’s linked to the Palembang group,” Duadji said, referring to a JI cell on Sumatra island behind the murder of a Christian teacher and a plot to blow up a tourist cafe.

Two of the arrested Singaporeans were connected to the cell’s leader, Singaporean Mohammad Hasan bin Saynudin, and top militant Mas Selamat bin Kastari, Duadji said.

Kastari, the alleged head of JI’s Singapore wing, was captured in Malaysia in May more than a year after dramatically escaping from a detention center in the city state.

He is alleged to have plotted to hijack an airliner in Bangkok and crash it into Singapore’s Changi airport — one of Asia’s busiest — in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

“The Singaporeans were arrested on suspicion of forging identification documents, breaking immigration rules and giving false information. They made identity cards as Indonesians when they were not. That’s forgery,” Duadji said.

Duadji said Indonesian and Singaporean police had worked together in the arrests.

“It is the foreign ministry’s responsibility whether to deport or extradite ( the Singaporeans),” he said.

JI has been blamed for a series of attacks on non-Muslims and Westerners in Indonesia, including 2002 and 2005 bombings on the Hindu holiday island of Bali that killed over 200 people.

There have been no major bombings in Indonesia since 2005 due to a police crackdown and internal divisions within JI.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Mumbai: What Really Happened

An accurate picture of the terrosist attacks in Mumbai could prevent al-Qaeda carring out similar atrocities here, says BBC Newsnight correspondent Richard Watson.

As the last light ebbed from the sky, ten heavily armed men coaxed their dinghy towards the fishing shacks at Badhwar Park. Cutting the Yamaha outboard engine they drifted into shore. The jetty was silent except for the roll of the waves washing the city’s flotsam ashore. It was 26th November: the men who would terrorise Mumbai over the next 59 hours had arrived.

A local fisherman watched as they unloaded their bags. Their well groomed, youthful appearance and neat western clothes stood out, as did their modern inflatable dinghy and heavy bags.

Two men stayed with the dingy, pushing back out to sea. Their targets were the five star Trident and Oberoi hotels at Nariman Point, a short journey by boat. The remaining eight split into pairs. Walking up the jetty they shoved an inquisitive fisherman out of the way, ignoring his challenge, and fanned out across the city.

Each man carried a large rucksack containing an AK47 assault rifle, 500 rounds of ammunition, a pistol, eight hand grenades and improvised explosive devices — enough firepower to outgun the police for three days.

They attacked the main railway station, five star hotels and a popular café, killing 166 people and injuring hundreds more. With guests cowering in hotels some of the horror was played out live on television. For those planning the assault, the propaganda value could not be surpassed.

I travelled to Mumbai to investigate the background to these attacks and to re-trace the gunmen’s steps across the city. I was also following in the footsteps of western intelligence agents and counter terrorism police officers who have been in Mumbai to learn the lessons from 26/11 so they can assess the vulnerabilities of their own cities. There is acute concern that similar deadly attacks could be launched by Al Qaeda in western capitals including London….

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Zardari’s Obfuscation

Days of countries attached to armies are over

ON June 22 President Asif Ali Zardari made a very persuasive appeal through The Washington Post to the international community to support Pakistan in its war against the Taliban. He pointed out that “If the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are allowed to triumph in our region their destabilising alliance will spread across the continents. In Pakistan today democracy must succeed. The force of extremism must be vanquished. Failure is not an option, not for us, not for the world.”

Irrefutable logic indeed. If President Zardari believes in it how he would explain Pakistan not banning Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation seven years after it was declared to be so by the United Nations. That Al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organisation as per Pakistani laws has been disclosed by the Lahore High Court in its judgement in the Hafiz Saeed case on June 2. Even after that, till today no notification declaring Al-Qaeda a terrorist organisation and banning it has been issued in Pakistan.

Even as he talks of vanquishing the Taliban the Afghan Taliban leadership headed by Mullah Omar is reported to be functioning from Quetta and there are very recent reports in the Wall Street Journal of Mullah Omar assuming an active leadership of the Afghan Taliban now fighting the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Today the Pakistan Army is fighting only against the Pakistani Taliban and President Zardari portrays it as a war against all Taliban and Al-Qaeda which is clearly not the case.

President Zardari has reiterated in the article the widely disseminated myth, unfortunately even accepted by many Americans, that Pakistan was made use of as a blunt instrument in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and then abandoned by the US. He writes, “Once the Soviets were defeated, the Americans took the next bus out of town, leaving behind a political vacuum that ultimately led to the Talibanisation and radicalisation of Afghanistan, the birth of Al-Qaeda and the current jihadi insurrection in Pakistan.”

This is very convenient rewriting of history. While it is true Pakistan was used as an instrument against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, it is not true that the Americans took the next bus out of town. Surely, President Zardari could not have forgotten that they played a major role in installing his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, as Prime Minister in December, 1988.

The Americans were compelled to invoke the Pressler Amendment in 1990 when Pakistan defied the US and conducted a nuclear test at the Lop Nor test site in China on May 26, 1990, when his late wife was still the Prime Minister. The US did not abandon Pakistan. The latter with Chinese support decided to defy the US. The Taliban was installed in Kabul in the early nineties by General Nasrullah Babar, the Interior Minister in the Cabinet of Benazir Bhutto.

The Talibanisation, radicalisation and jihadisation of Pakistan were the results of deliberate policies pursued by the Pakistan Army and the ISI. While Mr Zardari is eloquent in denouncing the US support to military dictatorships, he has nothing to say about the Pakistani Army’s role in dominating the civilian elected governments and compelling the Prime Ministers to collaborate with the Army in nuclear proliferation as it happenned to Benazir Bhutto during her visit to North Korea in 1994 when Pakistan bartered its uranium enrichment technology for North Korean missiles. Mr Zardari portrays the present situation in Pakistan as one of normal healthy democracy in which the civilian government lays down the policy and the Army will carry it out.

In Pakistan the Army has continuously been in power since 1958 except for a short period of five years under Z.A. Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif functioned within the limits of autonomy given to them by the Army. When Nawaz Sharif tried to assert his authority he was overthrown. The same officer corps are in charge of the Army. A former ISI chief is now the Army Chief and the same policies and strategy of the Army are being continued. Therefore, Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan, and various jihadi groups are considered assets and instrumentalities by the Army. The civilian government today is functioning with the same degree of autonomy which Benazir and Nawaz Sharif had.

The Pakistan Army was over-confident and committed blunders in 1947-48, in 1965, in 1971 and 1999. Now it feels it has outsmarted the Americans for the last three decades and acquired the nuclear arsenal with which it is able to deter them and at the same time milk them of billions of dollars. But they have committed a grave blunder in assuming that they can control the jihadis they nurtured. The Pakistani Taliban are showing them that they cannot be controlled. As the Americans and NATO step up their operations in Afghanistan and as the Pakistan Army devastates the Pathan territory with their bombings and artillery fire, their ability to control the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda is going to be severely challenged.

As war devastation increases and internally displaced people multiply, their dependence on US and other aid will increase. It is difficult to predict what strategy the Pakistani jihadis will adopt. Some observers believe that the most serious threat to Pakistan may come from the Lashkar-e-Toiba spreading its influence in Punjab. Others have concerns about the ethnic divide between Punjabis and Pathans.

The international community would not allow Pakistan to fail but Pakistan must know it will not be allowed to fight some selected terrorists and patronise others to be used as convenient instrumentalities. Jihadism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region has to be eliminated root and branch as it happened to Nazism and Japanese militarism. This cannot happen without a radical change of the mindset among the Pakistani officer corps and the ISI. Without that change democracy cannot have a future in Pakistan either.

Pakistan is known as a country attached to an army. The present predicament of Pakistan is not entirely due to US policies towards Islamabad as Mr Zardari would have us believe. Though the US has a lot to answer for the Pakistan Army, the latter is mostly responsible for the Talibanisation and jihadisation. Of the country, Mr Zardari has not admitted Pakistani obligations to de-Talibanise and de-jihadise.

It is perhaps beyond the capacity of the Pakistani civilian government alone to achieve it. It needs combined international pressure which should be exerted through a calibrated aid programme and making it clear to the Pakistan Army that its expansionist dreams towards Afghanistan and Central Asia will be contained by the international community. The days of armies with countries attached to them are over.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Plane Crashes in Indian Ocean With 150 People on Board

An airliner belonging to Yemeni state carrier Yemenia Air has reportedly crashed in the Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean with 150 people on board.

“We don’t know if there are any survivors among the 150 people on the plane,” a senior Comoros government official told Reuters.

The location of the crash was not immediately known, but a medical worker in the town of Mitsamiouli, on the main island Grande Comore, said he had been called to the hospital.

“They have just called me to come to the hospital. They said a plane had crashed,” he told The Guardian.

CNN reported the Airbus A310 was en route from Yemen’s capital Sanaa to Moroni, the capital of Comoros.

Moroni is about 2900 kilometres south of Yemen, off the east coast of Africa.

Most of the passengers were Comoran, an official at Sanaa’s international airport told CNN.

The three islands of Comoros are about 300km northwest of Madagascar in the Mozambique channel.

Vice-president Idi Nadhoim, speaking from the airport at the main island’s capital Moroni, told the BBC the accident happened early today.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Singapore Superhero: Batman Bin Suparman

You should never judge a book by its cover, but what if that book turned out to be a comic? Batman Bin Suparman might not be a joke, but his name sure is.

In Singapore, English is the most widely used language and all names are translated or converted to English when their Birth Certificate is issued.

On May 13, 1990, this young man was blessed with being named after two superheroes: Batman and Superman.

Unfortunately we were unable to find the boy for comment, as no one seems to know his alter egos…

           — Hat tip: Apollon Zamp [Return to headlines]

Far East

‘13 NK Seamen Killed in 2002 Inter-Korean Naval Battle’

An inter-Korean naval battle around Yeonpyeong Island on June 29, 2002, resulted in North Korean casualties of 13 men killed and 25 injured, a former high-ranking South Korean military officer said yesterday.

Retired Brig. Gen. Kwon Young-dal, 59, said a North Korea patrol boat had its navigational platform and gun almost completely destroyed due to massive gunfire from South Korean warships. As a result, the North’s military suffered larger than expected damage.

Kwon led the military intelligence unit of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong seven years ago. Retiring in 2004 as a general after serving as chief of the military intelligence and eavesdropping units of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he later worked as ambassador to Sri Lanka from 2006 to April last year.

The following is excerpts of The Dong-A Ilbo’s interview with Kwon a day ahead of the seventh anniversary of the battle.

“There is a misunderstanding that our military suffered unilateral damage in the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong because no specific information on the North Korean military’s damage has been accurately detailed thus far.

The battle was not a “lost war” for the South Korean military at all. Rather, it was a precious victory for our military, as our soldiers preserved the Northern Limit Line and inflicted huge damage on our adversary.

Our analysis of North Korean intelligence gathered through various channels following the battle showed that 13 North Korean seamen were killed and 25 others were injured, and this was accordingly reported to the higher chain of command. Notably, though North Korea launched a preemptive attack a South Korean speedboat, most soldiers on the North Korean speedboat were killed in the battle due to the courageous counterattack of our soldiers.

Additionally, intelligence we gathered following the battle also confirmed that a North Korean patrol boat that had returned to Sagok military base in Hwanghae Province was completely destroyed. North Korea’s higher chain of command also reported an emergency situation after being embarrassed by the massive damage its military suffered.

Everyone who attended a military intelligence meeting the day after the battle concurred that the attack was thoroughly intentional based on the special intelligence gathered and presented by South Korean and U.S. eavesdropping units.

As a person who has long dealt with North Korean intelligence, including the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, I agonized over whether to give an interview. But the battle was an apparent victory for the South Korean military, and I only wish that our soldiers’ sacrifice and achievements are recognized accurately and properly.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

China is the Main Trading Partner of the Arab World

Chinese products are increasingly appreciated, primarily in the fields of electronic and industrial equipment. In return, China buys energy and attracts investment. Experts: this growing market, however, will not resolve widespread unemployment in the region, nor help acquire technological knowledge.

Dubai (AsiaNews / Agencies) — In the Arab world there is a real boom for Chinese goods and experts believe that Beijing for the first time has surpassed the United States for exports to the region. In the United Arab Emirates, made-in-China is in fashion from fireworks to snacks made of puffed rice. The traditional China Sourcing Fair in Dubai was attended by more than 1,100 Chinese entrepreneurs who took over 6 halls with all kinds of products. Across the Middle East traders are interested replacing western brands with Chinese products. This market has been less affected by economic crisis and the Chinese goods allow them greater profits. The most popular are the electronic products, but industrial equipment is also doing well. Experts consider this a perfectly normal rotation and note that the industrialized countries like U.S., Europe and Japan, aim their products at many post-industrial societies, while traditional industries are better treated by emerging countries such as China, South Korea, India and Brazil. Moreover, the Chinese penetration in the Arab economy is first and foremost the work of the State, keen to sell its products to offset the heavy purchases of oil and energy. Between 2004 and 2008 trade between China and Arab countries came to about 100 billion dollars. Among other things, Jordan has signed an agreement with China on nuclear cooperation to meet about one third of its energy needs by 2030; Iraq’s North Oil Company has signed a cooperation contract for $ 3.5 billion with the state-run China National Petroleum Company; while the state China State Construction Engineering Corporation is building skyscrapers in Dubai for a total value of 409 million. Beijing also is studying the possibility of creating a free trade area between China and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain). Instead the UAE exports to China were around 1.28 billion dollars in 2007. But the Gulf countries have also invested billions of petrol-dollars in China: such as the South American company Aramco that wants to build a second refinery in Qingdao, within Fujian for a total of 3.6 billion (see photo). Some analysts argue that this trade is acceptable to the elite of the rich Arab countries but does not lead to actual benefits for the local population. The number of jobs does not increase, in an area where there are countries like Egypt and Tunisia with endemic high unemployment, which is also widespread throughout the Middle East. Neither is there any transfer of technology or know-how. That is why John Lance, executive vice president of the American Business Council in Dubai, launches the proposal: “bring world-class technology and world-class know-how to the [Arab] region”.

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

Nuclear-Armed N. Korea Would Hurt China

Chinaese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang in a press briefing on Thursday said measures taken over North Korea’s nuclear test “should not affect the [North Korean] people’s well-being, its normal trade and economic activities.” “UN Security Council Resolution 1874 explicitly prescribes that actions taken by the Security Council should not affect people’s well-being and development in [North Korea], should not affect the country’s normal trade and should not affect humanitarian assistance there.” He pointed out that Article 19 of the resolution stipulates that UN member countries, international financial institutions and credit ratings agencies will demand that no additional financial assistance and privileged loans be made, unless they involve “instances pertaining directly to humanitarian and developmental projects that have a direct relationship with the needs of North Koreans or stimulate denuclearization.” China has interpreted that clause as meaning that the UN resolution guarantees the well-being of North Koreans and normal trade and economic activities.

But in a society as closed as North Korea’s, it is difficult to distinguish between what should be considered “normal trade” and which “instances pertaining directly to humanitarian and developmental projects” have a direct relationship with the needs of North Koreans. North Korea is a country that diverts to the military humanitarian food assistance provided by the international community. For China to suggest it is fine to engage in “normal trade” with North Korea without offering any standards to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable trade could create unnecessary misunderstandings and be interpreted as reluctance to participate in the sanctions agreed by the UN Security Council.

Every year, China supplies 90 percent of North Korea’s oil, 45 percent of its food and 80 percent of its everyday goods. If China takes a passive stance in international efforts to pressure North Korea, then no sanction imposed by the UN Security Council can be effective.

Over North Korea’s brinkmanship, including its nuclear and missile tests, China is always saying that its influence is “limited.” Some are reading China’s passivity as a sign that Beijing has decided to accept a nuclear-armed North Korea for the sake of preventing regime collapse in the North. If China’s policy toward North Korea continues in that direction, then the day will come when it will have to deal with the side effects and repercussions. Once South Korea and Japan start to feel that North Korea’s nuclear status is a threat to their national security, their alliance with Washington and international accords will not be enough to prevent them from taking measures to protect themselves.

The five-country dialogue framework President Lee Myung-bak proposed in a recent interview with foreign media has fallen flat due to China’s opposition. There was a lack of strategic coordination beforehand, and there are rumors that China was unhappy with what it perceives as the Lee Myung-bak administration’s focus on relations between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. Our government must be ready to go all out diplomatically to win China’s cooperation in suppressing North Korea’s nuclear program.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

New Zealand: Immigrants Deceived, Says Support Group

A migrant support group has accused the Government of “taking migrants’ money, using their skills and then telling them to bugger off”.

Mike Bell, a spokesman for the Move 2 New Zealand Trust, representing mainly migrants from Britain, Europe and South Africa, says migrants not only bring skills and experience to New Zealand, but contribute $8 billion annually to the economy.

He said thousands of migrants who had moved to New Zealand on the promise of permanent work and residency visas were being told to “bugger off”.

The Government appeared to be “working hard to sabotage this lucrative source of income by effectively kicking [out] staff that employers badly need”, said Mr Bell.

“Worse, this over-reaction to rising unemployment, which is based on poor data, is likely to destroy many more Kiwi jobs than it saves.

“It is totally unethical for this Government to not only turn their backs on a group of people who have made such a strong contribution to the country, but also add to their hardship.”

The Christchurch-based group said it was struggling to get anyone from the Government to attend a meeting it was organising on July 8 to try to find a solution.

“We have had interest from local politicians and Labour MPs, and the only reply we have received from National was fromthe Associate Minister for Immigration, which was less than favourable,” said MrBell.

“We just want to understand the extent of the problem and discuss possible solutions, but it seems the Government is not interested.”

The meeting follows the release of a report last week by the Skilled Migrant Information and Resource Centre that warned of “an emerging situation affecting potentially thousands of law-abiding and productive skilled workers”.

The report said Immigration New Zealand last year issued 130,462 temporary work permits and 46,077 permanent residents permits.

“The current national situation is extremely serious but not yet widely understood .. This position will quickly become unmanageable, with significant costs for this country and huge negative national and international press coverage.”

Meanwhile, the Migrant Action Trust says it is disappointed that it could not get to meet Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman before July 9.

Trust spokeswoman Agnes Granada said: “If the Immigration Bill, which is now before Parliament, is passed before the meeting, then it defeats the whole purpose of the meeting.”

The global recession has seen a lot of Kiwis returning to New Zealand but Employment Minister Paula Bennett said more than one in nine, or 3000 of the 26,000 who returned last year, had ended up on the unemployment benefit.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Scientists Kill Cancer Cells With “Trojan Horse”

SYDNEY (Reuters) — Australian scientists have developed a “trojan horse” therapy to combat cancer, using a bacterially-derived nano cell to penetrate and disarm the cancer cell before a second nano cell kills it with chemotherapy drugs.

The “trojan horse” therapy has the potential to directly target cancer cells with chemotherapy, rather than the current treatment that sees chemotherapy drugs injected into a cancer patient and attacking both cancer and healthy cells.

Sydney scientists Dr Jennifer MacDiarmid and Dr Himanshu Brahmbhatt, who formed EnGenelC Pty Ltd in 2001, said they had achieved 100 percent survival in mice with human cancer cells by using the “trojan horse” therapy in the past two years.

The scientists plan to start human clinical trials in the coming months. Human trials of the cell delivery system will start next week at the Peter MacCullum Cancer Center at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and The Austin at the University of Melbourne.

The therapy, published in the latest Nature Biotechnology journal, sees mini-cells called EDVs (EnGenelC Delivery Vehicle) attach and enter the cancer cell.

The first wave of mini-cells release ribonucleic acid molecules, called siRNA, which switch off the production of proteins that make the cancer cell resistant to chemotherapy.

A second wave of EDV cells is then accepted by the cancer cell and releases chemotherapy drugs, killing the cancer cell.

“The beauty is that our EDVs operate like ‘Trojan Horses’ They arrive at the gates of the affected cells and are always allowed in,” said MacDiarmid.

“We are playing the rogue cells at their own game. They switch-on the gene to produce the protein to resist drugs, and we are switching-off the gene which, in turn, enables the drugs to enter.”


RNA interference, or RNAi, is designed to silence genes responsible for producing disease-causing proteins and is one of the hottest areas of biotechnology research. RNA was the basis of the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine.

Dozens of biotechnology companies are looking for ways to manipulate RNA to block genes that produce disease-causing proteins involved in cancer, blindness or AIDS.

Brahmbhatt said that after treatment with conventional drug therapy, a large number of cancer cells die but a small percentage of the cells can produce proteins that make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs.

“Consequently, follow-up drug treatments can fail. The tumors thus become untreatable and continue to flourish, ultimately killing the patient,” said Brahmbhatt.

“We want to be part of moving toward a time when cancers can be managed as a chronic disease rather than being regarded as a death sentence,” he said.

The Nature report said the mini-cells were “well tolerated with no adverse side effects or deaths in any of the actively treated animals, despite repeated dosing.”

“Significantly, our methodology does not damage the normal cells and is applicable to a wide spectrum of solid cancer types,” said MacDiarmid.

“The hope is that the benign nature of this EDV technology should enable cancer sufferers to get on with their lives and operate normally using out-patient therapy.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

New NATO Flotilla Takes Over Anti-Piracy Patrols

CORFU, Greece — NATO has replaced the flotilla conducting anti-piracy patrols off Somalia for the past three months with a new force that will continue the operation “indefinitely,” a spokesman said Monday.

Last month, NATO defense ministers met in Brussels to consider ways of tackling the problem of combatting piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. They ordered the long-term deployment of a naval squadron — known as Standing Naval Maritime Group 2 — to the region.

The new force will continue to operate in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, where international patrols involving warships from NATO, the European Union and other nations have been working to reduce attacks on merchant ships by Somali pirates.

“The transition was seamless and clearly demonstrates NATO’s resolve to combat the evils of 21st-century piracy,” said Chris Davis, spokesman for NATO’s anti-piracy effort.

The new task force will consist of five warships from Britain, the United States, Greece, Italy and Turkey. It will be commanded by a British officer, Commodore Steve Chick, from his flagship, HMS Cornwall.

“By rotating the (naval forces) through the region, a powerful NATO presence can be maintained in the Gulf of Aden and around the Horn of Africa indefinitely,” Davis said in a telephone interview from NATO’s anti-piracy headquarters in Northwood, near London.

Despite the presence of about two dozen foreign warships backed up by maritime patrol planes off Somalia, the number of hijackings has not dropped noticeably in recent months. Experts say the seagoing gangs have evolved new tactics to beat the patrols, including expanding their area of operations and targeting slow-sailing vessels riding very low in the water.

On Sunday, the pirates released the crew of a Belgian ship seized 10 weeks ago after a ransom was paid.

The 10-member crew of the Pompei dredger was in good health and sailing the ship to an unidentified harbor where it will arrive in a few days, the Belgian government said.

Defense Minister Pieter De Crem told a news conference in Brussels that the ship’s owners paid a ransom to release the ship and crew. He declined to say how much, but said pirates had demanded $8 million.

A plane dropped the money into the sea near the Belgian vessel Saturday, De Crem said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Nigeria: Amnesty: More Militant Leaders in Bayelsa to Lay Down Arms

Yenagoa-The rank of militant commanders who have agreed to drop their arms in agreement to President Umaru Yar’Adua’s amnesty has continued to swell in Bayelsa State with Gen Ogunboss, a commander from the Niger Delta Vigilante Force in the upper senate of MEND joining the fray of militants prepared to abandon life in the mangrove jungle.

So far, four recognized militant commanders and other splinter groups have agreed to lay down their arms in the interest of peace but warned that failure on the part of the Federal Government to massively invest in infrastructural development of the region could trigger violence.

Bayelsa State has the highest number of militant camps in the Niger Delta with several splinter armed groups operating in the deep mangrove concentrated around the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and East senatorial district of the state.

Gen. Ogunboss, who operates in the Bomo axis of Southern Ijaw council area in an interview in the creek reiterated his readiness to embrace the Federal Government peace deal but called on the government to abide by its promise to develop the blighted region.

He lamented that for long the elders and leaders of the region have been dialoguing with the Nigerian state for fair deal with nothing to show for their peaceful approach, citing the deplorable state of Oloibiri where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity.

….Leader of Deadly Underdogs accepts too

WARRI-LEADER of the Deadly Underdogs, a potent militant group in Egbema kingdom, Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State, Ezekiel A., has accepted amnesty and promised to surrender his arms in due course to the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan.

He said his decision to lay down arms was due to the proclamation of amnesty for militants last Thursday by President Umaru Yar’Adua but pointed out that the reason for his carrying arms against the government has not been met.

His words: “The very reason why my men and I went into the venture of handling arms was to seek redress to the aching problems of the Egbema indigenes and the entire Niger Deltans in the hand of government and the oil multinational companies. Since we began this endeavour, we have been called all kinds of ugly names but we were not bothered because we know our goal and are determined to get there some day, very soon.

“The problems that took us to the creeks have not been addressed in any bit until this offer of amnesty by Mr. President. Although we see a lot of dimensions in this offer, but in all, we view it from the point of a reasonable step by Mr. President towards creating peace in the Niger Delta and in the nation at large”.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

South Africa “The Great Disappointment”

Le Nouvel Observateur 11.06.2009 (France)

Under the title “The Great Disappointment” South African writer and comrade of Nelson Mandela Breyten Breytenbach takes stock of the situation in his country since the end of apartheid. His recently published collection of essays “Le Monde du milieu” (Actes Sud) includes a letter to Mandela on his 90th birthday last year, and complains bitterly about what Breytenbach describes as the “obscene” conditions in the country: violence, robbery, rape, racism and a absence of public morals. In his analysis of the reasons he explains: “This is the main question which all of us here are asking ourselves: Were we wrong about the moral quality of the freedom movement? Our liberation was the result of a long and painful process which also ensured the continuation of the same state. This throws up numerous problems because a certain percentage of old functionaries and notorious war criminals are still protected by the state. (…) So did the ANC fail? Many factors play a role here. During the changeover and restructuring of the South African authorities, old civil servants had to be replaced by new ones. This happened at the loss of enormous competence. Today 60 percent of all municipalities are bankrupt, primarily due to the negligence of the civil servants. You can say what you like about the old executive cadres, but they did create a mandarin caste which managed the country relatively efficiently.”

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

Latin America

Argentina: Kirchners Lose Control of Argentine Congress

The ruling centre left coalition of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner lost control of the country’s Congress in key mid-term elections.

Even the president’s husband Nestor Kirchner, a former head of state, lost his race in Buenos Aires province , where he was seeking a seat in the Chamber of Deputies in Sunday’s election.

“Argentine society has sent the government a message,” commented political analyst Rosendo Fraga. “It has to change course.”

With results from more than three quarters of the ballots counted, a coalition supported by the president and her husband lost four seats in the Senate and control of the 72-member upper house.

For with the 36 Senate seats still under their control, the pro-government Front for Victory is one short of a controlling majority.

“We have now become the main opposition force,” boasted centre-right opposition leader Ricardo Alfoncin, who won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, which also went to the opposition.

Nestor Kirchner, who suffered a double blow with his personal defeat, conceded: “We have lost by one and a half or two points and we have no problem recognizing it.”

An alliance of dissident Peronists including wealthy entrepreneur Francisco de Narvaez and Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri thwarted Nestor Kirchner’s bid.

De Narvaez represents the return within the Peronist Party of neoliberal ideas of former president Carlos Menem.

“We have turned a page in Argentine history,” he boasted after his victory over Kirchner. “A new history will dawn in the life of every Argentine.”

The governing coalition also suffered heavy losses in the capital as well as the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Cordoba and Mendoza, the returns showed.

Presidential allies lost even in the southern province of Santa Cruz, where the Kirchners began their political careers.

Often sporting masks to protect against the influenza A(H1N1) flu virus that has killed 26 people in the country, Argentines voted for half of the 247 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a third of 72 Senate seats.

The opposition represents about 70 percent of the electorate, with some 30 percent for the Peronist Party.

But the opposition is split between right-leaning Peronists who have distanced themselves from the Kirchners, Social Democrats, Socialists and minority and leftist parties.

It was Nestor Kirchner, as the head of the ruling Peronist Party, who shepherded the nation through its recovery from the 2001 financial crisis.

He became renowned for overturning amnesty laws for military officers accused of torture and assassinations during the country’s 1976-1983 “dirty war.”

But the team now led by his wife, Cristina, has failed to live up to promises to reduce poverty and is losing steam.

Argentina, a nation of 40 million, once prided itself on having more in common with Europe than many of its troubled Latin American neighbours.

But now its problems include drug use in the slums, millions living in poverty and growing insecurity.

Agricultural workers have been angered by the government’s decision to hike export taxes by 25 percent on soy beans, a top export.

In recent months, the president’s popularity has dropped from 55 percent to less than 30 percent.

Nestor Kirchner governed Argentina from 2003 to 2007, with high world prices for Argentine exports leading the economy to nine percent annual growth and boosting his popularity and that of his wife, who took over in 2007.

Kirchner’s husband recently warned skeptical voters of the risk of a return to the economic crisis of 2001. “It’s a choice between a return to the past and the consolidation of a national project,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Southern Discomfort

Obama to Colombia: Military base now, free trade later

President Obama gets an opportunity to show genuine foreign-policy leadership Monday when he meets with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Between them will sit the unratified Colombia-U.S. free trade agreement. The U.S. failure to get this deal done is a long-running travesty, but that now offers Mr. Obama a chance to show how adept he is at international politics.

The free-trade issue has become complicated by another urgent matter: Will Colombia grant a U.S. request to use the Palanquero military installation north of Bogotá as a U.S. air base, or “cooperative security location”? Mr. Uribe is still asking for ratification of the trade deal (FTA) negotiated in good faith and signed more than 30 months ago. Beyond this display of patience, America’s most important South American partner has gone to great lenths to satisfy Democrats who’ve made charges of violence against labor leaders in the country. The undisputable fact is that under Mr. Uribe’s leadership Colombians are safer than they have been in years.

Democrats nonetheless continue to prevent a vote on the FTA. Big Labor has simply drawn a line in the sand against any new trade agreements, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is complying. Colombia gets whacked.

The irony is protectionists don’t gain anything by blocking the FTA. U.S. markets are already open to Colombian goods under the Andean trade preferences act. This new agreement would open Colombian markets to U.S. exports. Colombia may also soon have FTAs with Canada and the European Union, which would make U.S. producers even less competitive than they are now even as U.S. unemployment heads toward 10%.

We hear the White House will tell Mr. Uribe that the political needs of the Democrats’ health-care agenda are too important to be disrupted by a trade vote. So Mr. Uribe will be told to tread more water, even as Mr. Obama asks Mr. Uribe for a favor.

Ecuador has revoked the license for a U.S. military air base at Manta, which the Pentagon has been using for narcotrafficking surveillance. Organized crime networks are flourishing in South America and mixing with Mexican cartels. These aren’t mere thugs. Key operators like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) seek to destabilize democracies and undermine U.S. interests. Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is sympathetic to these efforts. A U.S. military presence in the region is important, and the Palanquero option in Colombia is about the only one open to the U.S.

This won’t be an easy call for Mr. Uribe. Any South American leader who allows a foreign military presence will use up a lot of political capital. Most won’t do it. Mr. Uribe is enormously popular at home, but with limits. He has already paid a price for putting his trust in the good faith of U.S. trade negotiators, only to find those commitments thrown aside by Congress.

The U.S. needs the Palanquero base. Mr. Uribe needs that FTA. Mr. Obama needs to show he can thread this needle, in the interests of both nations.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Australia: Tougher Screening for Tamils Over Fears of an Influx of Ex-Tigers Fleeing Sri Lanka

FEARS that ex-Tamil fighters may be passing themselves off as refugees will lead to the latest boatload of unauthorised arrivals — believed to be Tamils — being subjected to a particularly rigorous security screening process.

The Australian has been told the recent defeat of the Tamil Tigers in their stronghold in northeastern Sri Lanka has led to concerns Tamil fighters may seek to flee the island amid fears of government retribution.

Tamils are understood to comprise most of the 194 asylum-seekers who arrived at Christmas Island on Sunday, the largest single group since the current influx began last year.

As the latest arrivals push the Christmas Island detention centre closer to capacity, the federal government yesterday formalised a five-year contract with Serco Australia, the local arm of British company Serco Group, to operate Australia’s seven detention centres.

The five-year, $370 million contract will take effect next month, with the transition from existing operator Global Solutions Limited expected to be complete by November.

In announcing the decision to award the contract to Serco, a spokesman for the Immigration Department said there would be a “stronger focus on the rights and wellbeing of people in detention”.

GSL was subject to criticism over its treatment of detainees after incidents such as the death of an Aboriginal man while being transported in extreme heat in a prison van without a functioning airconditioning system.

In 2005, GSL was fined almost $500,000 over mistreatment of immigration detainees.

One senior government source told The Australian authorities were “conscious” of the potential security risk the situation in Sri Lanka presented.

“That’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind,” the source told The Australian.

“We’re certainly conscious of the issue.”

Almost 300 Sri Lankans have so far arrived by boat in the current wave of arrivals, including those on Sunday’s boat.

While some are understood to be ethnic Tamils, as opposed to Sinhalese, none has so far qualified as a refugee.

There is no specific suggestion that ex-Tamil Tigers were among the 194 intercepted on Sunday.

The government’s concerns echo those expressed by the Howard government in the aftermath of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that defeated Taliban fighters might employ people-smugglers as a means of making their escape.

Yesterday, an Immigration Department spokesman denied the influx of boats threatened to overwhelm the detention facilities on Christmas Island.

The main centre can hold 800, while the island’s total detention capacity is 1200.

The latest boat took the total number of asylum-seekers on the island to about 730, while most of the 194 who arrived on Sunday will join the 356 asylum-seekers already in the detention centre.

“We have contingency arrangements in place,” the spokesman said. “We are quite confident we will be able to manage the latest arrivals.”

Sunday’s boat, easily the biggest to arrive as part of this latest spate of arrivals, appears to have travelled from Sri Lanka to northern Malaysia.

The boat, the 16th this year, contained mostly men, although some women and children are thought to have been on board.

Yesterday, Immigration Minister Chris Evans blamed the surge in boats on instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, rejecting opposition claims a softening in policy had given the green light to people-smugglers.

“And of course the developments in Sri Lanka mean that there’s a lot of people seeking safe haven throughout South East Asia, and many of them hoping to come to Australia,” Senator Evans told the ABC.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: New EU Family Reunification Guidelines on Way

The European Commission will advise member countries on how they should view its residence directive, with special consideration given to family reunification procedures

Denmark is likely to come into the firing line when the European Commission decide on Thursday how the residence directive and subsequent EU rulings should be interpreted by member countries.

In its weekly newsletter, think tank Monday Morning reports that it has seen the upcoming report that appears to invalidate some of the terms of the immigration deal reached between the government and the Danish People’s Party (DF) during budget negotiations last year.

The deal with DF meant that it became tougher for a foreigner to become a citizen and eased restrictions on deporting foreign criminals. The agreement also resulted in the decision that 25 percent of all family reunification applications should be subject to extra checks. According to the upcoming Commission report, the use of systematic controls is against EU regulations and rejections should only be appealed on the grounds of reunification residency requirements and the issue of self-support requirements.

The Commission has also tightened its requirements on what kind of service national authorities should offer EU citizens that are applying for family reunification.

In addition, authorities should require no more than a passport and necessary reunification documentation from a person from a developing country seeking to join their family in an EU country.

Politicians have come out against the Commission proposals, with newly elected MEP Morten Messerschmidt, DF, calling the interpretation unacceptable and recommending that the government ignore the new Commission report.

The Liberal Party EU spokesman Michal Aastrup Jensen referred to the Commission’s recommendation as ‘absurd’ and told public broadcaster DR that it had been written by people ‘living a long way from reality down in Brussels’.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Denmark: Police Chief: Stop Supporting Rejected Iraqis

Activists, politicians and organisations are escalating the situation by supporting asylum-seekers, says deputy chief of police.

Giving support to rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers gives them false hopes and makes them hostages, according to Deputy Chief of Police Hans-Viggo Jensen who is calling for politicians, organisations and civilians who support the Iraqis, to stop their campaigns.

“I actually think they should stop it and refrain from making the rejected asylum-seekers believe that they have a future in Denmark. They are selling a product they cannot deliver and are thus contributing to an escalation of the situation,” says Hans-Viggo Jensen who is responsible for the repatriation of 244 Iraqis whose asylum requests have been rejected.

Support The first six Iraqis were flown quietly out of the country on Thursday of this week. Among them was 35-year old Mufsal al-Alji whose father, mother and siblings have residence permits and live in the city of Vejle.

Sixty other rejected Iraqis have sought refuge in Brorson’s Church in Copenhagen, with help flooding in to them from well-meaning Danes offering all kinds of assistance from dental care and massage to psychological support. But the Danes should be careful, says Hans-Viggo Jensen. The support makes repatriation more unpleasant for the individual refugee.

“When you fight the decision, you take away their opportunity to help prepare their repatriation. Instead of knowing their departure date and packing their cases, everything will now be taking place on police terms,” says the deputy police chief adding that “a political majority in Parliament” supports the repatriations.

Politics Jensen’s warning has caused organisations and politicians to accuse police management of choosing sides.

Save the Children Secretary-General Mimi Jacobsen says police interference in the debate is “a new variety of democracy”.

“I can say for sure that the deputy chief of police cannot gag us. It is great that he cares about these people, but if the NGOs did not raise their voices when Denmark is doing something wrong, then I don’t know what we are here for,” she says.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Finland: Refugee Quotas Attracting More Skilled Candidates

The level of education among refugees admitted to Finland as part of its refugee quota has been increasing in recent years.

Officials working with asylum seekers say that official criteria for meeting the quota have not changed, but they point to heightened humanitarian efforts as a possible reason for the change.

Of those entering Finland as part of the refugee quota last year, nearly 10 percent had either already started tertiary level education or completed it in their home countries.

A comparison of previous years has shown the percentage to be steadily creeping up over time. In 2007, the proportion of refugees with tertiary level education was about eight percent, while the figure for 2006 was just over four percent.

Country of Origin a Factor

Susanne Tengman of the Finnish Immigration Services sees nothing unusual in the trend.

“The educational background always depends on where we select the refugees from. Last year we admitted Iranians from Syria and they were clearly better educated than refugees admitted the same year from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” she pointed out.

Tengman said, however that recent statements by Finnish politicians about the need to address the current labour shortage with foreign workers has not influenced the choice of refugee candidates. Finland continues to base its decisions on Finnish legal requirements and proposals from the UNHCR.

“Those criteria have not changed. The reception of refugee quotas is clearly part of Finland’s humanitarian policy. It has to be distinguished from work-based immigration,” Tengman explained.

Municipalities Ponder Trained Refugees

Many municipalities have been considering how best to help refugee professionals find work and integrate into Finnish life. Experience has shown that highly trained and educated refugees have not settled into working life as easily as those with only basic education.

Kati Turtiainen, Director of Immigrant Services in Jyväskylä says this is not a problem, however acknowledges that well-educated refugees pose certain challenges. For example, they may become quickly de-motivated if they don’t find work in the field in which they’ve been trained.

“They may have to begin their working careers in Finland in training positions, and very often in professions that are not familiar to them,” Turtiainen explained.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany: A Campaign to Reform Rules on Dual Citizenship Launches in Germany

A fresh campaign to reform dual citizenship laws has been launched in Berlin. Currently, children who are born in Germany to foreign parents must choose between nationalities by age 23.

The campaign was launched last week by a coalition of politicians, churches, social groups, lawyers, and academics who say it is unfair to force children of migrants to choose between Germany, where they were raised, and the birthplace of their parents, whose culture and traditions they often share.

Since 2000, children born in Germany automatically become German citizens when at least one parent has permanent residency status. Up until adulthood those children can also retain citizenship of their parents’ country of origin. Sometime between their 18th and 23rd birthday, however, they must renounce their foreign citizenship in order to maintain their status in Germany.

The only exception is for children born in Germany after 1990 to parents from EU member states. Germany’s large Turkish community is the group most affected by the current system.

Dual citizenship a loyalty problem?

Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish community, is a supporter of the campaign. “The government now has the opportunity to win over young people, if they forgo this law,” he says.

The campaigners have set-up a website to argue their case that, until now, has found little public support. Their main message is that dual citizenship does not equate to a loyalty problem. Marieluise Beck of the Green Party says that forcing foreigners’ children to choose a nationality creates a sense of mistrust between the state and children of migrants.

It is also a very emotional decision for many people. Dieter Wiefel-Spütz, the Social Democratic Party’s domestic policy expert, told the “Frankfurter Rundschau” newspaper that, “the so-called ‘options model’ is a bureaucratic monster which tortures people.”

This year around 3,900 young people with dual nationality in Germany will have to make their decision on whether to remain German or to become a foreigner.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Malaysia: 50 Illegal Immigrants Detained

KUALA LUMPUR — MALAYSIAN authorities have intercepted five boats and detained more than 50 people, mostly Afghans and Pakistanis, as they tried to sneak out of the country and sail to neighbouring Indonesia, an official said Monday.

An increasing number of people from those impoverished countries pay human smugglers to transport them to Australia via Indonesia, using Malaysia as a starting point for the sea journey.

On Saturday, authorities stopped four small boats, ferrying 15 Afghans, six Pakistanis and 11 Indonesians, on a river in central Selangor state, said Marzuki Ismail, the state’s marine police chief.

They were apparently planning to transfer to a bigger boat, which was caught with 21 Afghans already on board, said Mr Marzuki.

It appears the ship was bound for Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and the Pakistani and Afghan passengers had paid US$1,300 (S$1890) each to agents in Malaysia for the trip. Authorities also arrested three Indonesian boatmen, but two others managed to escape.

Mr Marzuki said the Afghans and Pakistanis had flown into Malaysia with valid travel documents about a week ago. They are now being detained for allegedly trying to leave Malaysia illegally, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. The Indonesians were arrested for also not having valid visas.

In recent months, more than 100 Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis who had entered Malaysia legally have been caught embarking on rickety and overcrowded boats for Indonesia en route to Australia.

Several boats have sunk, killing more than a dozen people.

All those caught have been imprisoned for several months for immigration offences before being deported.

Malaysia has stepped up sea patrols but authorities say it is difficult to control the long coastline. — AP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Between a Rock and a Soft Place: Dealing With Troublesome Young Moroccans

As politicians from the left and right call for a tougher approach towards young Dutch-Moroccans causing nuisance, the town of Dordrecht shows there is another way.

Mustafa Margoum never goes straight home from the mosque. Instead he makes a detour to the places in his Dordrecht neighbourhood where he knows the local kids like to hang out: the bench on the square, the park, the sports court. When he sees them, he stops to chat.

Just the other day a woman called him from one of the tenement buildings, he says. “They’re here again,” she whispered over the phone. “Are they causing trouble?” Margoum asked. Well, not really, but they’re making a lot of noise.

Neighbourhood dad

Ten minutes later Margoum walked up to the kids. He didn’t mention the woman; he just chatted about school and the upcoming football competition. Then he asked if the guys would mind moving down the road a bit. They did.

Mustafa Margoum is a “neighbourhood dad” in the Wielwijk area of Dordrecht, a city of 120,000 just south of Rotterdam. Three years ago, 20 to 25 fathers from the neighbourhood decided to form a network of “neighbourhood dads”. Complaints about Moroccan kids have since gone down considerably. Three years ago there were on average 34 complaints at the bi-weekly neighbourhood meeting; now there are almost none.

Young Moroccan boys routinely make the news in the Netherlands, where problems with immigrants and their children seem to dominate public and political debate. Last week, home affairs minister Guusje Ter Horst announced that the government is putting a team of experts at the disposal of local authorities to help them deal with nuisances caused by young Dutch-Moroccans.

In Gouda, the chief of police has said he would like to see children under twelve who have caused trouble prosecuted.

‘Send in the army’

Gouda made international headlines last year when bus drivers refused to enter the Oosterwei neighbourhood after Dutch-Moroccan boys were said to have thrown rocks and apples at their buses and a driver was the victim of a violent robbery. Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam party PVV even proposed to “send in the army”. That didn’t happen, but politicians on the left and the right have been calling for a tougher approach ever since, and local authorities have proposed plans accordingly. But is the tough approach working?

No, says Lahousinne Ait Chitt, an adviser at a research centre for societal developments. “You have to involve the community. People are always asking when the Moroccan community is going to take its responsibility. But that’s not going to happen on its own. We have to ask key figures in the community for help, people who enjoy respect in the community.”

Driss Tabghi, a 59-year-old community organiser in Wielwijk, is such a man. When Tabghi — potbelly, gold watch — walks through the neighbourhood, Dutch women greet him with a big smile. “The neighbourhood has improved so much,” says one woman who is pulling weeds in her garden. “I was going to move away but now I’m staying put. Of course, it’s not perfect yet.” She shoots a disapproving look at the neighbour’s front yard where the weeds are knee-high. “We’re going to something about that too,” says Tabghi.

Cultural differences

Moroccan parents are not used to having to watch their children when they’re outside, says Tabghi. “In Morocco, there is always somebody watching them on the streets. Parents know by now that this is not the case here. But they don’t know what they should do differently. The kids take advantage of this vacuum of parental authority.”

In the Wielwijk neighbourhood centre, where Moroccan mothers are cooking up a couscous, Driss Tabghi talks about how he started as a community organiser three years ago, together with Ait Chitt. Tabghi says he contacted the parents of the kids who were hanging out on the street, gained their trust and asked for their help. He also paid a visit to key community figures like the local imam. He set up a separate meeting for the mothers; knowing that otherwise only the dads would have shown up. It didn’t take him long to find out who the people were who enjoyed respect in the community. When trouble is brewing, they’re the ones Tabghi contacts — not the police.

Ait Chitt: “Nuisance we can handle ourselves. There are lots of decent Moroccan parents who are deeply ashamed when they have lost control over a son. Of course, it is up to them to ask ‘Where did you get those new shoes?’ when their kid does not earn money to afford them. But is much better if a Moroccan neighbour points it out to them than if the police have to come knocking. At the local swimming pool, all it takes is the presence of one Moroccan dad to stop the boys from behaving badly. I swear. And if it still gets out of hand, he can phone ten other dads for assistance right away. You would be amazed how quickly things calm down.”

Success story

One pre-condition, Taghbi says, is that there has to be some contact between the community and the police before there are problems. “It has a preventive affect. Of course, when we’re talking about real criminal behaviour, it becomes a matter for the police and no longer for the Moroccan community.”

The network model was introduced in Dordrecht eighteen years ago. Nico den Toom arrived there in 1998, as a police adviser on ethnic minorities. Now he is chief of the neighbourhood police. Even when he is wearing civilian clothes, there is no mistaking Den Toom for anything other than a policeman. Dressed in yellow pants and a checked shirt, he gives the impression of being friendly but not to be messed with. If a Moroccan boy gives him the finger, Den Toom will always confront him. “We just don’t do that here.”

Den Toom regularly puts his list of prominent Moroccan community members to use. Like that time in 1998, when riots in Amsterdam risked sparking trouble in Dordrecht too. Den Toom enlisted the help of a few prominent Moroccans who in turn contacted the fathers who the promised to keep their sons away from the city centre that night. The police was prepared for trouble, but things stayed quiet in Dordrecht that night.

Ait Chitt has since introduced the same method in Gorinchem, Utrecht, Amersfoort and Leeuwarden, and he has written two manuals for local authorities. It is crucial that the municipality believes in the approach, and that a small budget is put at the disposal of the community. “Small amounts, like money for a training day or a workshop in social skills for the neighbourhood dads, a meeting place or a couple of cell phones for the network. It’s a lot cheaper than all those expensive studies of the ‘Moroccan problem’.”

‘We are watching you’

It also takes one person who enjoys the trust of everybody involved — someone like Taghbi. “There has to be a leader, otherwise it will fall apart.” That’s what happened in Gorinchem, where the nuisance increased, and in Dordrecht before Taghbi took charge.

So are the authorities in Gouda, where the police is calling for a tougher approach, involving the Moroccan community? Rachid Tighadouni organises activities for Dutch-Moroccans on the east side of Gouda. “The municipality has invested quite a bit in community organising, but the problems haven’t gone away.”

Why? “The neighbourhood centre closes at five, which is when most of the youngsters are just waking up. They live in the evenings and at night. It would be much better to involve the mothers and fathers because they’re on call around the clock.”

Tighadouni has serious doubts about the tough approach the Gouda municipality is now advocating. “These kids are bored, and they enjoy playing cat and mouse with the police. Now they have come up with the idea to send troublesome kids a postcard from the police with the words: ‘We are watching you’. Well, if you really want things to escalate, that’s exactly what you should be doing.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Finland: Atheist Bus Campaign Draws Official Complaint

A private citizen has filed a complaint with the Council of Ethics in Advertising over the atheist bus campaign, which has plastered buses in some cities with atheist slogans.

According to the petition, the cheery ad campaign for atheism is slanderous and breaches UN human rights treaties.

The chair of the Union of Freethinkers, Jussi Niemelä, denies the allegations.

“Our intention is in fact to promote human rights as an organisation advocating the equality of different belief systems,” says Niemelä.

The buses bearing controversial slogans, such as There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life or Enjoy your life as if it’s the only one you’ve got, will continue to stir discusson this week in the capital city region, Tampere and Turku.

The Council of Ethics in Advertising has acknowledged the complaint and says it will assess the matter at its August 19 meeting.

The Atheist Bus Campaign was launched across the UK on January 6, 2009, and now similarly-minded organisations in countries around the world have adopted the idea as well. Comedy writer/journalist Ariane Sherine initially started the campaign in response to evangelical Christian ads on London’s public transport, which sought to remind the public about Judgement Day.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Little Boy Blue Devil

by Mike Adams

It looks like Duke University has another rape case on its hands. This one may hurt the university nearly as much as the one that rocked its campus back in 2006. Unlike the previous case, this one appears to involve a credible confession of sexual abuse. Like the previous case, crucial facts are already being filtered through the prism of identity politics.

Frank Lombard is the associate director of Duke’s Center for Health Policy. The university administrator was recently arrested by the FBI and charged with offering up his adopted 5-year-old son for sex. I tried to contact Frank Lombard over the weekend to probe his expertise regarding the health benefits of raping small children. So far, he’s declined to comment.

University administrator Lombard is accused of logging on to a chat room online and describing himself as a “perv dad for fun.” The detective who wisely looked into the suspicious screen name says that Lombard admitted to molesting his own adopted son. All this was before allegedly inviting a stranger to travel to North Carolina from another state to statutorily rape his already-molested adopted son.

If Lombard is convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. His arrest comes about a year after the Court decided that child rapists cannot be executed because “society” has “evolved” to the point where such executions would be “indecent.”

If this case goes to trial, it could be an interesting one to watch. But it will be just as interesting to watch the Duke faculty respond to these allegations. It didn’t take them long to respond when several white Duke Lacrosse players were accused of raping a black stripper. A whopping 88 professors signed a statement accusing the players of both racism and rape. Such was their regard for the presumption of innocence.

Perhaps even more stunning was the response of some professors after it became apparent that the white lacrosse players were innocent. After that became so obvious the school had to readmit the students, Professor Kate Holloway resigned her committee assignments in protest. By the way, the most common form of faculty protest these days is to refuse to work. Most people think this kind of protest is caused by arrogance. But the actual cause is a thing called “tenure.”

So it will be interesting to see how Duke faculty members respond to Frank Lombard. Because he is white, Lombard is fair game at Duke, isn’t he? But Lombard is also gay, so will that complicate things?

Unfortunately for Frank Lombard, the affidavit in support of his arrest warrant shows that this second Duke rape case will also have a strong racial component. According to a confidential source (CS) a man using the user name “cooper2” or “cooperse” logged onto an internet-based video chat room. CS saw him perform oral sex on an African-American child under the age of ten. He also performed other acts on the child, which are too obscene to be described in this column.

The user name “cooper2” has now been linked to Frank Lombard, the associate director Duke University’s Center for Health Policy. A second source has now alleged that “cooper2” has confessed to being “into incest” and that he has adopted two African American children.

The only good news coming out of this story is about Frank Lombard’s live-in homosexual partner. The affidavit in support of Lombard’s arrest warrant shows that he made special arrangements when molesting the child — sometimes even by drugging the child — to make sure his partner did not find out.

Records also indicate that Frank Lombard made a contribution to the Genesis Home in 2003. The Genesis Home is an organization that assists needy families in making a transition out of homelessness, in part by maintaining a child care center. The organization’s website features numerous photographs of African-American children under the age of ten.

The Associate Press (AP) did not mention the fact that the five-year old offered up for molestation was black. Bringing that fact to light might be damaging to the political coalition that exists between blacks and gays. Nor did the AP mention that the adopted child is being raised by a homosexual couple. Bringing that fact to light might harm the gay adoption movement.

I wrote this column because I believe that certain coalitions must be broken. And certain movements must be harmed. Let the political fallout begin.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]


Outdated Airport Security is Leaving the Door Open to Bombers

If we want to stay safe, we need to be smarter. The first step is to put aside our qualms about passenger profiling

The terror threat has changed greatly but airport security is still stuck in the past, combating the terrorism of the 1960s and 1970s. Worse still, the antiquated approach to security is aiding and abetting terrorists. The huge queues caused at checkpoints as staff check that mummy’s make-up is put into a plastic bag create an ideal target for suicide bombers: why try to board a flight when you can blow up thousands in the terminal?

The security checkpoints we know today first became widely deployed in the late 1960s and early 70s. They proved their effectiveness in the United States in tackling hijackings of flights to Cuba. Then the hijackers were armed with handguns, knives or grenades. The archway metal detector and the X-ray machine were perfect for detecting dense, metallic objects carried on the person or in baggage. More than 40 years later, the same technologies are the workhorse of the airline passenger screening process.

But the archway metal detector cannot find explosives — plastic or liquid in form — or any weapons made out of ceramic, wood, glass or polycarbonate. And while significant improvements have been made to X-ray machines they have yet to prove effective in detecting improvised explosive devices.

Nonetheless, we take a bizarre degree of satisfaction that we now screen all luggage using an unproven technology. The best that can be said is that these archaic tools act as a deterrent. But if we are serious about security, we need to think more boldly and look elsewhere to learn some useful lessons.

In 1968 an El Al aircraft was hijacked from Rome to Algiers by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Following that incident, the Israelis introduced two measures: they deployed sky marshals on every flight and profiled passengers before they boarded, with the aim of identifying passengers with malign intent. No El Al aircraft has since been successfully hijacked.

We need to introduce profiling. But whenever it is proposed, it is shot down as racist: “Doesn’t it mean we’ll be picking on young Middle Eastern or Asian men?”

But one only needs to look to the Israeli experience to appreciate that, if that were the case, the system would have failed. When Japanese Red Army terrorists attacked Lod Airport in 1972, the Israelis realised that the system had to be modified to identify “intent” through behavioural analysis, rather than focus on target groups. And it worked. In 1986 Israeli security agents identified a pregnant Irish woman as a potential threat to an El Al flight bound from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv.

She was far from being the stereotypical threat, yet she was unwittingly carrying an improvised explosive device that her lover had infiltrated into her bag. The bag, by the way, had been X-rayed without the bomb being detected. That incident heralded the introduction of the “Who packed your bags?” question.

In 2001 Richard Reid, the shoebomber, was prevented from boarding a flight from Paris to Miami because security agents had suspicions about him, providing further proof of the benefits of profiling; he returned the next day and managed to board his flight. Luckily, he failed to detonate his device.

Profiling already takes place at airports all the time. Customs and immigration agents intercept people on a daily basis — but at the end of a flight. They know the signs to look for. So why, when our lives are at stake, do we not screen people using this proven, common-sense methodology before people board a flight?

The answer is that the regulators want to treat everybody the same. In doing so, they are making security predictable and easier to penetrate. The regulators want a system that they can test, but gut feeling can’t be tested.

So what would a profiler see as “cause for concern”: it’s not simply the nervous passenger biting his fingernails or young Muslim men travelling solo. It is a summary of a host of factors — everything from clothing, behaviour, baggage, accompanying persons, ticket and passport data, confidence and to what extent the suspect is typical of passengers flying on a given airline, on a given route, on a given day. From these clues, an experienced profiler can build up a picture of a passenger.

If we were serious about profiling, it would allow security staff to use new technology, such as body scanners based on X-ray or millimetre wave imaging, that would be impractical to use on everyone in terms of cost and time. We could also start screening people at the boarding gate. This would allow security staff to better profile passengers. At present the screeners are viewing passengers bound for a host of destinations in the same light, even though passengers bound for Sydney differ from those going to Reykjavik, and those heading to Bangkok are different from those flying to Lagos.

Drug traffickers, especially “body packers” (who swallow or vaginally or anally insert their illicit loads) manage to circumvent airport security daily with quantities of narcotics that far exceed the minimum weight for an explosive charge — only to be picked up by customs professionals. These traffickers want to live. What will we do when a terrorist, who wants to die, carries his or her device internally on to an aircraft? Start deploying gynaecologists at checkpoints?

No, but we need to wake up. Our current screening process is fundamentally flawed because it is concerned with what people are carrying rather than what their intent is. There is no reason for every typical family going on a package holiday or business traveller heading for a meeting, who act and look the part, to be asked to remove their shoes and belts for inspection. And the expanding list of prohibited items diverts the attention of screeners from the real objective: finding metal and liquid-free terrorists.

I don’t advocate the Israeli approach. It’s unworkable for most international airports. But unless we start injecting a dose of common sense into the security process, we’ll do what we’ve always done — be reactive rather than proactive, allowing the terrorists and misguided civil libertarians to set the timetable.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Polar Bear Expert Barred by Global Warmists

Mitchell Taylor, who has studied the animals for 30 years, was told his views ‘are extremely unhelpful’, reveals Christopher Booker.

Over the coming days a curiously revealing event will be taking place in Copenhagen. Top of the agenda at a meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (set up under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission) will be the need to produce a suitably scary report on how polar bears are being threatened with extinction by man-made global warming.

This is one of a steady drizzle of events planned to stoke up alarm in the run-up to the UN’s major conference on climate change in Copenhagen next December. But one of the world’s leading experts on polar bears has been told to stay away from this week’s meeting, specifically because his views on global warming do not accord with those of the rest of the group.

Dr Mitchell Taylor has been researching the status and management of polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle for 30 years, as both an academic and a government employee. More than once since 2006 he has made headlines by insisting that polar bear numbers, far from decreasing, are much higher than they were 30 years ago. Of the 19 different bear populations, almost all are increasing or at optimum levels, only two have for local reasons modestly declined.

Dr Taylor agrees that the Arctic has been warming over the last 30 years. But he ascribes this not to rising levels of CO2 — as is dictated by the computer models of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and believed by his PBSG colleagues — but to currents bringing warm water into the Arctic from the Pacific and the effect of winds blowing in from the Bering Sea.

He has also observed, however, how the melting of Arctic ice, supposedly threatening the survival of the bears, has rocketed to the top of the warmists’ agenda as their most iconic single cause. The famous photograph of two bears standing forlornly on a melting iceberg was produced thousands of times by Al Gore, the WWF and others as an emblem of how the bears faced extinction — until last year the photographer, Amanda Byrd, revealed that the bears, just off the Alaska coast, were in no danger. Her picture had nothing to do with global warming and was only taken because the wind-sculpted ice they were standing on made such a striking image.

Dr Taylor had obtained funding to attend this week’s meeting of the PBSG, but this was voted down by its members because of his views on global warming. The chairman, Dr Andy Derocher, a former university pupil of Dr Taylor’s, frankly explained in an email (which I was not sent by Dr Taylor) that his rejection had nothing to do with his undoubted expertise on polar bears: “it was the position you’ve taken on global warming that brought opposition”.

Dr Taylor was told that his views running “counter to human-induced climate change are extremely unhelpful”. His signing of the Manhattan Declaration — a statement by 500 scientists that the causes of climate change are not CO2 but natural, such as changes in the radiation of the sun and ocean currents — was “inconsistent with the position taken by the PBSG”.

So, as the great Copenhagen bandwagon rolls on, stand by this week for reports along the lines of “scientists say polar bears are threatened with extinction by vanishing Arctic ice”. But also check out Anthony Watt’s Watts Up With That website for the latest news of what is actually happening in the Arctic. The average temperature at midsummer is still below zero, the latest date that this has happened in 50 years of record-keeping. After last year’s recovery from its September 2007 low, this year’s ice melt is likely to be substantially less than for some time. The bears are doing fine.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

2 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/29/2009

  1. “Indeed, whenever he’s been accused of corruption, the accusation hasn’t been that he’s had his fingers in the till but precisely the opposite, that he was buying people rather than being bought. It’s a subtle difference and it enables him to present himself as a man making financial sacrifices for the good of the country. You might not believe it, and I certainly don’t, but millions of voting Italians clearly do.”

    Hello! You don’t have to believe!
    The more one person is rich, the more difficult it will be to buy him. Especially if he’s a man of conviction.

    There’s a big difference between a governor who buys people and a governor who sells his position to people.

  2. The Iranian dictators decided to bull ahead after weighing Obama’s secret love letter to them before the election farce and his delayed and tepid minimal response after their thug tactics.

    Weren’t reps of the Iranian government that just brutally repressed civilian demonstrations invited to the White House’s July 4th festivities?

    Obama was pulling for the dictators, not the Iranian people. Can’t have the Bush domino theory start to work. Obama’s never met a dictator (Chavez, the Saudi king) he doesn’t like. He especially loves it when they trash the United States and who better at it than the Mullahs of Iran?

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