Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/4/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/4/2009President Obama’s speech in Egypt is obviously one of the big stories of the day. You’ll find several articles about it below. The Egyptians loved it.

I have a full text in hand, but haven’t read it closely yet, so I have no commentary to make.

In other news, there are conflicting assertions about whether the Air France flight out of Rio de Janeiro was brought down by an explosion.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CSP, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, LN, TB, Vlad Tepes, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Italy Alone in Making Immigration an EU Vote Issue
Spain: Balearics Protect Right to Food and Shelter
AFL-CIO Official Conceals Pro-Castro Views
Chicago Law Banning Handguns in City Upheld by Court
Cover-Up: CBS Bans Eligibility Billboards
Man Charged With Making Threats Against Obama
Muslim Convert Pleads Not Guilty in Killing of Soldier
Muslim Brotherhood Members to Attend Obama’s Cairo Speech
Obama, Reagan, and the Nazi Death Camps
Speech Reviewed: Obama Minimized Terror, Distorted Issues
Stealth War: Barack Obama Sabotages Republicans
Europe and the EU
British and Dutch Vote for European Parliament
Czech-Romany Relations Worse in Decade — Poll
Danish Poll: Royal Referendum May Fall
Dutch, British Get Chance to Vent Anger in EU Vote
Dutch MPs Reject Judge’s Proposed Code of Conduct
German Court: Jewish Forced Workers Due Pensions
Germany: Labour Agency Reportedly Orders ‘Spying’ on Welfare Fraudsters
Italy Terror Suspects Targeted Denmark
Italy TV Row Sparks Hunger Strike
Left-Wing Party Defeats Greenland Government
Netherlands: ‘PVV Will Win EU Election if Turnout is High’
Sharia Law ‘Same’ as Krays’ Rule, Says Lord Tebbitby Daily Mail Reporter
Spain: Catalan Police to Stop Forced Marriages
Sweden: Reporter Fired Over Hells Angels Contacts
UK: Labour Prepares to Go to War Over Gordon Brown’s Future
What’s at Stake in the European Elections
Albania’s Parliamentary Election 2009: Is the European Dream at Risk?
North Africa
A Clear Indicator of the State of Interreligious Relations in Egypt
Algeria: Ten Killed in ‘Al-Qaeda’ Ambush
Egypt: Chinese Industrial Zone to be Set Up in Borg El-Arab
Obama Cites Quran to Reach Muslims From Egypt
Obama Seeks Common Ground, ‘New Beginning’ Between West and Muslim World
Students to Obama, ‘We Love You’, President ‘thank You’
Israel and the Palestinians
Army Removes Two Checkpoints in the West Bank
Israelis Growing Increasingly Anxious About Obama Policies
Tension High in Israel Ahead of Obama’s Speech
Why Isn’t the Palestinian Authority Moderate?
Middle East
Confusion on the Road to Damascus
Iran: Italian Team to Help Restore Cyrus the Great’s Tomb
Middle East: Lieberman Soothes Russia & US, No Bombs on Iran
Tariq Ramadan, ‘Muslims Want Respect and Humiility’
South Asia
Hindu Extremists Threaten Nepali Christians
Indonesia: Housewife Faces Jail Term for Hospital Complaint
Latin America
Air France Jet Was Flying Too Slowly: Report
Air France Jet ‘May Have Exploded Mid-Air’
Circumstances Point to Terrorism in Air France Crash, UIndy Expert Says
Nicholas Hanlon in the Americas Report: Cuba Today
Cypriots Less Poor But Migrants Still in Dire Straits
GCC Immigration Heads Propose Dual Residency
Indian Trio Jailed Over Major Visa Scam
Spain: 116 Migrants Land in Almeria
Sweden: Fury Over Ailing Man’s Botched Deportation
Tens of Czech Romanies Leave for Canada — Press
Culture Wars
Climate of Hate, World of Double Standards
Equal Rights or Special Rights?

Financial Crisis

Italy Alone in Making Immigration an EU Vote Issue

Immigration has faded as an election issue in Europe but Italy, the first port of call for boatloads of desperate Africans, wants it high on the EU agenda and has made it central to the European election campaign

Italy has warned that people living on the Mediterranean in “front-line” locations such as Sicily consider it a major problem and, if ignored by Brussels, could protest by abstaining from the weekend’s election for the European Parliament.

“The European Union must understand this, or people in these areas will not vote in the European elections,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on a recent campaign visit to Naples.

Outside a few countries including Italy, Malta and the Netherlands, immigration has fallen off voters’ radar since the last European vote in 2004, either because immigration rules have been toughened up or the focus is now on economic crisis.

One EU-wide poll suggested it is twice as important an issue for Italians as the rest of Europe, with 69 percent of Italians rating it top priority compared to an EU average of 31 percent.

In the 27-nation bloc’s largest member, Germany, the focus of European and federal elections is the economic crisis, said Klaus-Peter Schoeppner of pollsters Emnid.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s expulsions programme has led Jean-Marie Le Pen to complain that Sarkozy “has taken over the vocabulary and the doctrines of the National Front”.

Spain’s centre-left government, once the author of mass regularisation of illegal immigrants, is now encouraging them to leave by offering them Spanish welfare benefits back home.

In Britain, nationalist parties are expected to make headway in the European vote — but more because of low turnout and protest votes against sleaze in British politics.

In the Netherlands, right-winger Geert Wilders hopes his anti-Islamic rhetoric will win his Freedom Party a presence in the European assembly where it could campaign against Turkish EU membership talks like Belgium’s far-right Vlaams Belang party.

The ‘send them home’ vote

But in Italy illegal immigration is a central campaign issue for Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, even though it has taken plenty of tough action already, such as making illegal immigration a crime and turning back would-be immigrants at sea.

Italy argues that it is taking firm action on behalf of the entire EU, including countries far from the Mediterranean, which would be the ultimate destination of many illegal immigrants.

“This does not just concern Sicilians or the Maltese but the whole EU, just like security or energy policy,” said Frattini.

The government receives lots of criticism from the European Parliament, United Nations, human rights groups and Italy’s own centre-left opposition — accused by Berlusconi of operating an “open door” policy during its brief spell in power a year ago.

“What is unbearable is that they portray all immigrants as the people committing crimes in our neighbouroods,” said Dario Franceschini, lead of the opposition Democratic Party.

But he is lagging way behind in polls, while Berlusconi’s popularity appears to be surviving both the worst recession in post-war Italy and a scandal surrounding his private life.

A large deficit means Berlusconi has limited room to respond to the recession, but appeasing a public perception that illegal immigrants carry out crime is, in contrast, cheap and popular.

Pierangelo Isernia of Siena University, who coordinated an EU poll on voter priorities, said “deeper analysis shows the percentage of Italians with more radical positions, of the ‘send them all home’ type, is also higher than the EU average”.

Berlusconi competes for some of these votes with his allies in the anti-immigrant Northern League, which runs the interior ministry and takes credit for the crackdown in immigration.

The League could double its vote in the European vote to nine or 10 percent and, in regional elections this weekend, possibly take key regions like Lombardy or the Veneto from Berlusconi.

The premier, having boasted his People of Freedom party will surpass bullish opinion polls and take 45 percent, must avoid a disappointing result and cannot be seen losing to the League.


Resentment towards Roma in Italy has grown following the establishment of many illegal camps in recent years. Some camps outside Naples have even been torched by locals.

Some 160,000 Roma are estimated to live in Italy, 70,000 of whom are Italian nationals. The rest are immigrants from Eastern Europe, mainly from Romania (roughly 60,000), according to the NGO Opera Nomadi.

Silvio Berlusconi strongly built on resentment against Roma in his election campaign. Only 12 days after his government was formed, the European Commission warned the Italian government not to take “extreme measures” against Roma. The Romanian authorities also voiced concern that resentment against Roma would affect law-abiding Romanians living in Italy.

Berlusconi recently backtracked over a controversial bill that would have made illegal immigration a jailable offence following heavy criticism from the United Nations, the Vatican and from within the European Parliament.

Italy will send 72 MEPs to the EU assembly.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Spain: Balearics Protect Right to Food and Shelter

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 3 — The Parliament of the Balearic Islands has approved the Social Services Law (with just one abstention from the People’s Party — PP), which guarantees the right of each of the island’s citizens to food and shelter. The aim is to avoid the risk of social exclusion caused by the economic crisis. The Balearics are the first of Spain’s autonomous communities to approve such a law, said government sources quoted by Europa Press. The new law sets an 18-month period for the creation (by decree) of a Social Services Councillorship, which will outline then “the subjective laws” which every Balearics citizen can claim through the courts. Once it has been technically proved that a family or person is in a state of need, which does not permit them to feed themselves adequately, the administration will be obliged to deal with primary needs, establishing social canteens, food benefits and economic aid. Each and every citizen can go to court to execute their right to not be hungry. The Balearics are the first region to tie such rights to law. The 139 articles and four dispositions which make up the law also make express provision for the planning and guaranteeing of social loans. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


AFL-CIO Official Conceals Pro-Castro Views

A top official of the AFL-CIO is stonewalling questions about her participation in an illegal 1970 trip to Communist Cuba organized by Weather Underground terrorist Bernardine Dohrn.

Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, was asked about her visit to Cuba after speaking at a panel at a “progressive” public policy conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday. Nussbaum was apparently stunned by the fact that someone had uncovered an aspect of her background that has been carefully omitted from her official biography. She refused to answer and walked away. Obviously embarrassed, she also pretended that she didn’t hear the follow-up questions about her trip as a young radical to the communist-controlled island.

But according to one account of her trip, she declared that she “learned about revolution in Cuba” and praised Castro for providing “free health and educational care to every person in society…” She also declared, “I was part of the Black Panther Support Committee” and said she was a member of the “Draft resistance movement” opposing the Vietnam War.


Nussbaum was Director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor under President Clinton and is a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her trip to Cuba was sponsored by the Venceremos Brigade, a group run by the Cuban intelligence service, the DGI, which included several members of the communist terrorist Weather Underground. Young people on the trips were indoctrinated in the communist philosophy and given training in terrorism.


A panelist on the subject of “A New and Enduring Progressive Majority?,” Nussbaum talked about her efforts to get conservative union members to vote for “progressive” candidates. She indicated this is a struggle since many union members have conservative social views, own guns, and go to church often. It was after her presentation that she was asked about the Venceremos Brigades and refused to answer.

[Comments from JD: This is a classic communist tactic. Pretend to represent the worker in order to get into top union positions. Once there, promote communism. Watch the interview of ex-KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov by Griffith. Yuri talks about this technique in his interview. You can find it on youtube.]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Chicago Law Banning Handguns in City Upheld by Court

A Chicago ordinance banning handguns and automatic weapons within city limits was upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel, which rejected a challenge by the National Rifle Association.

The unanimous three-judge panel ruled today that a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, which recognized an individual right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, didn’t apply to states and municipalities.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Cover-Up: CBS Bans Eligibility Billboards

Industry signage leader rejects campaign asking simply ‘Where’s the birth certificate?’

WASHINGTON — The company touting itself as the “world’s largest out-of-home media” enterprise has banned WND’s national billboard campaign that asks one simple question: “Where’s the birth certificate?”

CBS Outdoor, a division of CBS Corp. that sells more outdoor advertising than any other billboard company in North America, refuses to accept purchases of space on any of its 550,000 displays nationwide, media buyers for WND report.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Man Charged With Making Threats Against Obama

Man charged with making threats against President Obama after he allegedly told a bank employee in Utah he was on a mission to kill the president.

SALT LAKE CITY — Federal prosecutors have charged a man with making threats against President Obama after he allegedly told a bank employee in Utah he was on a mission to kill the president.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on its Web site Thursday that Daniel James Murray allegedly made the remark to a teller at a bank in St. George on May 27 as he withdrew $13,000 from an account.

Murray’s whereabouts are unknown. A court affidavit says Murray is from New York and has recently been in California, Utah, Georgia, Oklahoma and possibly Texas.

The U.S. Secret Service says Murray has at least eight registered firearms, the Tribune reported.

Malcolm Wiley, a spokesman for the Secret Service in Washington, told The Associated Press he had no comment Thursday.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Muslim Convert Pleads Not Guilty in Killing of Soldier

The man accused of killing a soldier and wounding another outside a military recruiting office in Little Rock, Ark., pleaded not guilty Tuesday.

Prosecutors charged Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a 23-year-old Muslim convert, with capital murder and 15 counts of engaging in a terrorist act in connection with Monday’s shooting, which left Army Pvt. William Long, 23, dead, and Army Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, 18, injured.

Muhammad was ordered held without bail.

“If there had been more recruits out there at the time, he would have killed more of them, or tried to,” prosecutor Larry Jegley said. “It’s my understanding that after his conversion to Islam he decided that he had a bone to pick with the military officers because of what he perceived to be mistreatment of Muslims around the world.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Muslim Brotherhood Members to Attend Obama’s Cairo Speech

The expected attendance of the Brotherhood members is already stirring some criticism from conservatives in the U.S. who say they do not represent the kind of moderate Muslims Obama should be appealing to.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama, Reagan, and the Nazi Death Camps

By Leo Rennert

Why add a visit to a Nazi concentration camp? In part, because Obama startled many Jews for NOT adding Israel to his itinerary. After all, if you’re in Cairo, how long does it take to get to Jerusalem?

And also in part, I suspect, to reassure his Jewish base in the U.S. (78 percent of American Jews voted for him — more than any other minority group, except African-Americans) As the president and his secretary of state keep pounding Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on West Bank settlements and twisting his arm to accept Obama’s vision of Palestinian statehood, the White House apparently felt that a visit to Buchenwald would be just the right ticket to allay Jewish and Israeli concerns, especially since Obama seems to put an overarching priority on getting into the good graces of the Muslim world.

The president, however, would like the world to believe that he’s going to visit Buchenwald not for any political reasons, but because his great-uncle, Charles Payne, 84, was one of the GIs who liberated the concentration camp.

Except that great-uncle Charlie has just demolished that pretense by telling the German magazine, Der Spiegel, that his great-nephew is going to Buchenwald for “political reasons.” Period.

Payne said Obama never showed interest in his wartime activities except when it suited him during last year’s campaign to establish a family link with the liberation of Buchenwald. Actually, as Payne recalled, Obama at first claimed that great-uncle Charlie helped liberate Auschwitz, but then had to correct himself when it was pointed out to him that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army.

So where’s the parallel with Ronald Reagan? As history would have it, Reagan’s need for a fall-back visit to a concentration camp also has a D-Day angle…

           — Hat tip: LN [Return to headlines]

Speech Reviewed: Obama Minimized Terror, Distorted Issues

President Obama’s much-anticipated address to the Muslim world today contained crucial, long overdue helpful messages to adherents of the Islamic faith, but Obama also grossly mischaracterized important issues in ways, I believe, that could damage U.S. policy and security.


Terror minimized

Firstly, he pointed to “violent extremism in all of its forms.” He vowed “America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security.”

“Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace,” Obama declared.

The U.S. president did not once use the word “terrorism.”

From his comments, it seems he does not understand Islamic duty is the central motivation for these unnamed “extremists.” I can attest from scores of interviews with some of the region’s most dangerous terrorists that they are not waging a jihad against the U.S. because they are poor, or angry or desperate, but because they believe it is their Islamic duty to spread their belief system around the world.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Stealth War: Barack Obama Sabotages Republicans

Tuesday’s announcement of Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) as President Barack Obama’s nominee for Army secretary makes perfect sense from a policymaking standpoint. It’s hard to find a member of Congress who’s more well-respected or more steeped in military personnel issues than McHugh, a senior House Armed Services Committee member who has wrestled with issues ranging from recruitment to base closure to the role of women in combat.

Yet it’s also hard to find a choice better calibrated to meet the Obama administration’s political imperatives. All at once, Obama has selected a nominee who burnishes his bipartisan credentials, opened up a seat prime for Democratic pickup and drained the GOP reservoir of one of the few remaining Northeastern moderates.

It’s an event that’s happening with enough frequency to suggest the presence of a design, a plan that not only sketches the outline of a reelection strategy but manages to drive a wedge into the opposition at the same time. Call it a Sherman’s March in reverse — an audacious attempt by Obama to burn down any lines of escape for Republicans from their one refuge of popularity, the deep South.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

British and Dutch Vote for European Parliament

BRUSSELS (Reuters) — Voting began in Britain and the Netherlands Thursday in a European Parliament election which is expected to punish governments that have struggled to cope with the global economic crisis.

More than 375 million people are eligible to take part in four days of voting that ends Sunday, when the majority of the 27 European Union’s member states vote.

Opinion polls point to a low turnout and voter apathy, even though the 736-member assembly will have important powers to shape pan-European laws, and predicted gains for extremists at the expense of governing parties including Britain’s Labor..

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the executive European Commission, appealed for a high turnout on the 20th anniversary of an election that ended decades of communist rule in Poland.

“The best tribute that we can pay to all those who fought with courage and determination for freedom and democracy, in Poland and elsewhere, is to make use of our democratic rights. I ask all EU citizens: raise your voice and cast your vote,” he said.

A new opinion poll showed the center-right European People’s Party was likely to remain the largest group in parliament with 262 seats — just over one third of places. It put the Socialist group in second place on 194 seats, or just over one quarter.

The survey suggested the assembly would be more fragmented than now, with smaller parties taking more seats, but it indicated there would be no threat to mainstream parties as they work on major laws such as shaking up financial regulation.

“I think it’s a good thing so I want to make it happen and if this helps, yes, I vote,” Dutch student Wieske van der Heyden said of the parliament, one of the three main EU institutions along with the Commission and the Council of EU leaders.

Another Dutchman, Cor Hofman, said he was voting but added: “Separate states must have … their own parliaments so Europe shouldn’t be too strong.”


Although a defeat in this election cannot directly force out national governments, it could increase pressure for change.

Many voters are alarmed by high unemployment — 9.2 percent in the 16 countries sharing the euro currency — and joint European efforts to tackle joblessness have had limited success. Some EU leaders fear rising poverty could trigger social crisis.

For British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who also faced local elections Thursday, the election is a test of his leadership. A bad performance by Labor would increase pressure on him to quit following a scandal over parliamentary expenses.

German leaders were watching the mood before a national election in September and French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling conservatives could lose votes to the far-right.

In Ireland, the governing Fianna Fail party was expected to suffer a setback but it was not clear how well the Libertas party which opposes the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty would fare.

The treaty, on which Ireland holds a referendum in the autumn, is intended to streamline decision-making in the EU and would give the parliament more powers in setting legislation.

The new parliament’s tasks will include helping shape — and pass — laws on anything from the environment to supervision of Europe’s financial system to try to avert another credit crunch.

It will also have the final say in appointing the next president of the European Commission — a powerful regulatory body — and its endorsement is also required for the entire Commission to take office.

First results are expected after 2000 GMT Sunday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Czech-Romany Relations Worse in Decade — Poll

Prague — The assessment of relations between Czech Romanies and the rest of the population of the Czech Republic is now the most critical since 1997, according to a poll conducted by the polling institute CVVM in April and released today.

Over one-half of those polled gave a critical assessment of the co-existence with Romanies in their place of residence.

According to the poll, Romanies have worse conditions in employment and the government has been unable to settle the Romany issue in a satisfactory way.

The co-existence of Romanies and other people was assessed as bad by 85 percent and good by only 10 percent, the poll found.

A critical assessment of co-existence with Romanies in the place of residence was given by 56 percent of those polled and a positive assessment by 41 percent.

The poll was conducted on a sample of 1056 respondents from March 30 till April 6.

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

Danish Poll: Royal Referendum May Fall

The latest opinion poll seems to show that a referendum on changes to the law on royal succession may fall.

The latest Megafon poll up to Sunday’s referendum on changes to the laws governing royal succession suggests that it is uncertain that the law will pass.

The referendum is the final part of a series of decisions designed to give gender equality in succession to a monarch’s first-born. Under current laws, a male heir to the throne is always given precedence under the system known as cognatic primogeniture.

Changes to the Royal Law of Succession require a decision by two Parliaments separated by a general election and final approval by at least 40 percent of the electorate in a referendum. Even if passed, the new law would not have any effect on the current line of succession. Crown Prince Frederik is first in line of succession and his first-born is also male.


The latest poll shows only 36 percent of the electorate willing to turn out for the vote and vote in favour in the referendum, which is being held concurrently with EU Parliamentary elections.

At the same time, the Megafon poll shows that the number of ‘No’ votes and those who will return a neutral vote has risen from 10 percent to 26 percent.

A Gallup survey in Berlingske Tidende yesterday showed the same tendency.

Paradoxically, the Megafon poll for TV2 and Politiken shows that almost 74 percent of Danes would vote for the measure were it a regular referendum.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Dutch, British Get Chance to Vent Anger in EU Vote

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A right-wing lawmaker called on Dutch voters worried about immigration to pick his party Thursday in European Parliament elections expected to bring successes for fringe and extremist groups.

Geert Wilders, creator of a short film that criticizes the Quran as a “fascist book,” urged voters to reject EU involvement in immigration policy and said Turkey should not join the 27-nation bloc.

“Turkey as (an) Islamic country should never be in the EU, not in 10 years, not in a million years,” Wilders said.

Voting was underway in Britain as well, where the far-right British National Party, which bars nonwhite members, was slated to win its first seat.. The anti-European United Kingdom Independence Party was also expected to benefit from voter anger at the economic crisis and recent revelations that lawmakers sought public reimbursement for items ranging from horse manure to swimming-pool repairs.

About 375 million voters across the 27-nation European Union are voting Thursday through Sunday, appointing candidates to 736 seats on the assembly in the second-largest election in the world after India’s.

Wilders has won support from Protestant and Catholic voters disenchanted with what’s perceived as the growing influence of the nation’s 800,000 Muslims, many of them immigrants from Morocco and Turkey.

Voting at City Hall in The Hague, Wilders said the Netherlands should not cede control over immigration to Brussels. Once ratified by all member states, the EU’s reform treaty, known as the Treaty of Lisbon, will abolish EU states’ right to veto European legislation on immigration matters.

“We want to decide who will enter Holland, not bureaucrats in Brussels,” Wilders said.

Polls show the Freedom Party has the same level of support as the Christian Democrats and Labor. All three parties are projected to claim about 14 percent of the Dutch vote.

But Dutch IT manager Olivier van der Post, 40, rejected Wilders’ vision.

“I didn’t vote for Wilders … History has shown that if you want prosperity you must open your borders, not close them,” he said after voting in Voorburg, a leafy village on the outskirts of The Hague.

Matters directly controlled by the European Parliament were taking a back seat to national politics in many countries, where the economic downturn, cynicism over the union’s eastward expansion and worries about relations between Muslims and non-Muslims were expected to fuel a voter backlash against mainstream politicians.

Record low turnout was also expected.

In Britain, few people arrived to cast early votes at polling stations in London. The country was also holding elections for about 2,300 of the country’s 18,000 seats on local councils in towns and cities.

The 736-seat European Parliament has evolved over the past 50 years from a consultative legislature to one with the right to vote on or amend two-thirds of all EU laws including on immigration, the environment, transport, consumer protection and trade.

The parliament can amend the EU budget — euro120 billion ($170 billion) this year — and has a role in appointing the European Commission, the EU administration, and the board of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.

But polls continent-wide consistently show that voters consider their MEPs to be overpaid, remote and irrelevant in their daily lives. Such voter disinterest typically fuels low turnouts and stronger-than-usual showings for protest candidates from the hard left and right of the political spectrum.

Results from the European Parliament elections will be announced starting Sunday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Dutch MPs Reject Judge’s Proposed Code of Conduct

Politicians have rejected a code of conduct by the chief justice who proposed barring politicians from commenting on court rulings.

The Hague — Dutch MPs have rejected a code of conduct barring politicians from commenting on court rulings.

The code of conduct was proposed by the chief justice Geert Corstens of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, Geert Corstens, who said criticisms from politicians have seriously undermined the administration of justice.

In the past few months, politicians have repeatedly commented on court verdicts and attempted to interfere with court rulings, said Corstens on Wednesday.

Earlier, home affairs minister Guusje ter Horst said judges are wrong to state facing violence is a part of the police job.

MPs have also criticised a number of court rulings for being too lenient and the decision to prosecute MP Geert Wilders for hate crimes.

Nearly all parties have rejected the proposed code of conduct.

The Christian Democratic CDA said most politicians are quite reserved in their comments, while the Labour Party said judges should show some understanding for reactions from society.

The VVD argued that politicians should not interfere in individual cases, but added judges need to come down from their ‘ivory towers’.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

German Court: Jewish Forced Workers Due Pensions

BERLIN — A German federal court ruled Wednesday that two Jews who were forced by the Nazis to work in ghettos have a right to a pension for their labor, setting the stage for thousands of others to receive payments.

The Federal Social Affairs Court in Kassel ruled that the two qualified for pensions because, although they did not receive financial compensation for their work, they received food and other items — meaning the German government was responsible for them.

The two plaintiffs, whose names were not released by the court, did cleaning and washing in a ghetto in Poland.

The ruling sets a precedent for some 70,000 people forced by the Nazis to work in ghettos, or their descendants, to make claims.

Most would be able to claim payments of euro150 ($213) per month, backdated to July 1, 1997. The payments could add up to more than euro1 billion, according to estimates, which would come out of Germany’s federal pension program.

The Jewish Claims Conference, which administers compensation payments, applauded the court’s decision.

“The verdict of the Federal Social Affairs Court speaks to the spirit of the law, and provides many Holocaust survivors whose claims for pensions have been refused a little justice,” said a spokesman for the conference in Germany, Georg Heuberger.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Germany: Labour Agency Reportedly Orders ‘Spying’ on Welfare Fraudsters

Welfare recipient advocats are warning of what they call “Stasi methods” at the Federal Labour Agency (BA) to catch people claiming fraudulent benefits, according to German media reports on Thursday.

Daily newspaper Bild said the BA released new instructions on May 20 to all Hartz IV welfare offices that encourage “observation” in cases of “suspicion of an especially serious benefit misuse.”

Welfare workers will also increase the number of household visits where they are to get permission from beneficiaries to search closets and cabinets “when a statement of financial affairs isn’t possible,” the paper said. Details of the apartment searches will be logged in detail by room with particular attention paid to “peculiarities.”

News magazine Der Spiegel reported on Thursday that Labour Agency offices will employ private firms to carry out some of this surveillance, questioning neighbours and children about the suspected fraudster.

According to welfare advocacy organisations Gegen Hartz IV and Erwerbslosenforum Deutschland, an “anonymous report from a bitchy neighbour” would be adequate for an agency report, Der Spiegel said.

Spokesperson for Erwerbslosenforum Deutschland Martin Behrsig said his group is exploring legal action against the new policy, which he said are similar to feared East German Stasi police methods.

“We are legally required to fight the misuse of benefits,” a BA spokesperson told news agency DPA from Nuremberg on Thursday, adding that such checks have been used for years.

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

Italy Terror Suspects Targeted Denmark

A number of men suspected of planning a terrorist attack in Italy have been linked to a possible plot against Denmark

Italian police have arrested five North African men who they say planned terror attacks in northern Italy in 2006, and also plotted an attack against Denmark.

Italian media reports that the men are charged with being part of an international terrorist organisation that had concrete plans to attack the subway system in Milan and the San Petronio church in Bologna three years ago.

It is reported that the organisation was also targeting Denmark, Spain and France, but no further information has been released about possible targets in these countries.

The five men are said to belong to a group with roots in Syria, Algeria and Morocco and are accused of recruiting and training individuals for terrorist activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Danish intelligence service PET declined to comment on the case.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Italy TV Row Sparks Hunger Strike

Members of a small political party in Italy are on hunger strike in protest at what they say is unfair television coverage of the European elections.

The liberal Radical party accuses public television broadcaster Rai of failing to obey a media watchdog ruling to give equal air time to the party.

Party leader Emma Bonino and others have occupied Rai’s studios after beginning the hunger strike on Tuesday.

Politicians have been long accused of interference over television coverage.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi currently controls 90% of mainstream television, through his ownership of private broadcaster Mediasat and indirect influence over Rai, Reuters news agency reports.

Ms Bonino, 61, a former trade minister and European commissioner, said she wanted Rai to comply with a ruling by Agcom, an official watchdog, that it rebalance its political coverage.

“In Italy nobody knows what they are voting for, what is the European parliament, who is standing or on what platform,” she told the Financial Times on Wednesday, after 36 hours without food or drink.

Italians are due to vote for the European parliament on Saturday and Sunday.

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

Left-Wing Party Defeats Greenland Government

COPENHAGEN — Greenland was preparing for a power shift Wednesday after a left-wing opposition party defeated the long-governing Social Democrats in a key vote as the ice-capped island gains more autonomy from Denmark.

The Inuit Ataqatigiit party, or IA, won 44 percent of votes Tuesday to take 14 of the 31 seats in Greenland’s Parliament, the Landsting.

It was counting on support from some of the smaller parties in the assembly to form a coalition and oust the Social Democratic Siumut party, which has been in power since Greenland gained home rule from Denmark in 1979.

Hurt by a series of corruption scandals, Siumut got 26 percent of the votes and lost the majority it held with its smaller coalition partner Atasut, official results showed.

The next government will be the first to lead Greenland under an expanded home rule agreement that takes effect on June 21.

Premier Hans Enoksen called the snap election after Greenlanders decided in a November referendum to loosen ties with Denmark, which has controlled the giant island since the 18th century.

The new arrangement will make Greenlandic, an Inuit tongue, the official language and gradually shift control over the police, courts and the coast guard to Greenland’s government.

It also sets out new rules for splitting potential oil revenue with Denmark — an important issue in a region where new natural resources could be exposed by melting sea ice and glaciers. Talks with Denmark on implementing the program are set to begin later this month.

Copenhagen will still control defense and foreign policy and Danish figurehead monarch Queen Margrethe remains the head of state.

IA leader Kuupik Kleist said he was ready for coalition talks with any party besides Enoksen’s Siumut party.

“Greenland deserves this,” Kleist told celebrating supporters in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital.

His deputy, Asii Chemnitz Narup, said IA would continue Greenland’s push toward outright independence.

“This has always been an important goal,” she told The Associated Press by phone. “We can’t say (it will happen) in five years or 10 years. It’s a process. We know we can’t change from one day to another.”

The main obstacle is financial — Greenland depends on Danish subsidies, accounting for two-thirds of the sparsely populated island’s economy.

More than 70 percent of the 40,000 eligible voters turned out for the election, which was dominated by allegations of nepotism and misuse of public funds.

Several politicians, including top Siumut members, have been found guilty of using public money for private uses. Former Housing Minister Jens Napaattooq was convicted of spending 128,366 kroner ($24,000) in taxpayer money on personal dinners, trips and alcohol, and was sentenced to four months in prison.

The Siumut party was also hurt by an internal power struggle, with Alega Hammond, a former finance minister, trying to oust Enoksen as party leader.

“The figures are, of course, thought-provoking,” Enoksen told the Greenland newspaper AG in response to the election results.

The center-right Democrats won four seats and the small Kattusseqatigiit Partiiat grabbed the final seat with 4 percent of the votes.

All parties support Greenland’s path toward increasing self-governance..

Greenland became a colony of Denmark in 1775, and was a Danish province from 1953-1979.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Netherlands: ‘PVV Will Win EU Election if Turnout is High’

THE HAGUE, 04/06/09 — The campaign for the European Parliament (EP) elections, taking place in the Netherlands today, has made it clear that euroscepticism is the favourite tactic for attracting voters. The turnout level may well determine whether the most eurosceptic party, the Party for Freedom (PVV), will be the biggest.

Only the leftwing Greens (GroenLinks) and centre-left D66 have conducted an explicitly pro-European campaign in the past few weeks. The Christian democrats (CDA) tried to express as much criticism as possible without letting go of their core idea that European unity should in principle be welcomed. Similar messages were promoted by the Labour (PvdA) and conservative (VVD) front-runners.

Nearly all polls predict that the CDA will remain the biggest party in the EP. Only one opinion poll has in recent weeks predicted that the PVV will win the elections. This is because a low turnout is forecast among PVV supporters.

The University of Amsterdam’s Center for Politics and Communication (CPC) confirmed this theory yesterday. “The turnout is decisive,” said CPC director Claes de Vreese. “A higher turnout is favourable for eurocritical parties like the PVV and SP (Socialist Party).”

Nonetheless, the CPC thinks the PVV will win. The institute held daily polls among nearly 7,000 respondents between mid-May and the beginning of June. The PVV would be the biggest party with 14 percent, followed by the CDA with 13 percent and the PvdA with 12 percent. VVD and SP both scored 10 percent.

An opinion poll by TNS Nipo for RTL Nieuws however sees a neck-and-neck race between PvdA and CDA. Both parties would win 5 seats. The PVV would win 4, followed by D66 (3) and VVD, GroenLinks, SP and small Christian party ChristenUnie with 2 seats each.

In any case, the PVV appears the most popular among those interested in the elections. The front-runner for this party, Barry Madlener, was crowned the winner of a debate between him and five other front-runners on TV programme EenVandaag on Tuesday evening.

Around 1,500 members of EenVandaag’s permanent opinion panel were asked who had won the debate. The most hotly discussed theme in the programme was Turkey.

Madlener reiterated the PVV position that Turkey must never become a member of the EU. Apart from this, only 500,000 people watched the debate, whereas a normal EenVandaag broadcast attracts 900,000 viewers.

CDA and VVD also tried to express criticisms. VVD front-runner Hans van Baalen said Turkey’s accession would not be possible in the next 15 years. In September, the VVD was saying there could be no question of Turkish accession to the EU in the next 10 years.

CDA’s Wim van de Camp suggested the possibility of a ‘privileged partnership’ for Turkey, as an alternative to full membership. Europe must also however dare to say honestly that Turkey cannot join if the country “does not fit culturally and religiously.”

According to PvdA front-runner Thijs Berman, Turkey is “in due course an asset.” GroenLinks wants to have Turkey in the EU as soon as possible.

According to the CPC, the turnout for today’s elections in the Netherlands will be 41 percent, slightly higher than in 2004. Remarkably, one-third of the Dutch saying they would vote today also said they did not yet know which party they would vote for.

The EP currently has 785 members, including 27 seats for the Netherlands. After this election, this will be 25 out of 736 seats. If the Treaty of Lisbon is adopted, the Netherlands will then get a 26th seat. Polling stations are open from 7.30 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. today.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Sharia Law ‘Same’ as Krays’ Rule, Says Lord Tebbitby Daily Mail Reporter

Tory ex-Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit today compared Sharia law to the system of arbitration run by the Kray brothers in London’s East End.

Justice Minster Lord Bach had told peers at question time that individuals have ‘the option to use religious councils or any other system of alternative dispute resolution.’

But he stressed that English law would prevail if there was any conflict.

Lord Tebbit told him: ‘A few years ago in the East End of London there was a system of arbitration of disputes that was run by the Kray brothers.

‘Are you not 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?

‘That is a difficult matter, I know, but how do you think we can help those who are put in that position?’

Lord Bach said the problem ‘undoubtedly exists’. But he added: ‘The fact is any decision made by anybody that is in fact outside English law cannot stand against English law.

‘So if consent is sought, for example, for some issue around children or to do with family assets, then the English courts decide.

‘Other councils — not courts — can, if the parties themselves want to make that agreement, make that agreement and that applies across the board.

‘But always behind that is the fact that those agreements can’t be enforced except by an English court.’

UKIP’s Lord Pearson of Rannoch had earlier called for the minister to ‘give a clear clear assurance that Sharia law will never be allowed to take precedence over British law’.

He added: ‘Will the Government take steps to ensure that resident Muslim men are no longer allowed to commit bigamy by being allowed to bring in their second, third and fourth wives and their children to enjoy the benefit of our welfare state?’

Lord Bach said that Sharia law is ‘not part of the law of the United Kingdom’ and the Government had ‘no intention’ of changing the position, but he did not address the question of bigamy.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Spain: Catalan Police to Stop Forced Marriages

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 3 — Los Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s police force, are making efforts to counter forced marriages of which at least twenty cases were unearthed last year among the immigrant populations of Catalonia alone. The announcement has come today from the law enforcement secretary of the regional councillorship for the interior, Joan Delort, reports the EFE press agency. The preventative measures aim to bring the phenomenon to light and uproot it. Forced marriages, which occur in the gitane population and among some Maghreb ethnicities, involve mainly female minors, often in their teens, who are betrothed by their parents to old, unknown or distant relatives in their countries of origin. For this reason the police action “will concentrate mainly on identifying these cases in the school environment”, through preventative measures undertaken alongside school authorities. The new preventative plan comes on the heels of one that has been in force for over a year, in which the Mossos d’Esquadra have been involved in the fight against female genital mutilation, another phenomenon ‘imported’ by some immigrant communities. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Reporter Fired Over Hells Angels Contacts

The Expressen newspaper has sacked its US correspondent following revelations that he had close contact with the former leader of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang in Sweden, Thomas Möller.

Staffan Erfors previously served as the editor-in-chief for Expressen’s south Sweden edition, Kvällsposten, and is currently based in New York.

According to wiretapping transcripts made public earlier this week, Erfors lent Möller the keys to his apartment to allow the notorious gangster to receive visitors.

The transcripts were part of an indictment brought against Torgny Jönsson, referred to in the Swedish press as “the mafia’s banker”, who is suspected of having defrauded investors of 117 million kronor ($15 million).

Erfors initially denied his connections with Möller when confronted by editors at Expressen.

“On this issue he has not exercised the good judgment that one would expect,” said Expressen’s editor-in-chief Thomas Mattsson to the TT news agency.

“Associating with one of the most prominent representatives of the Hells Angels is not good.”

Möller founded Sweden’s first Hells Angels chapter in 1993, later rising to president of the motorcycle gang’s Swedish operations before retiring in 2003.

While he was convicted of assault and threatening a civil servant, he escaped conviction on charges of more serious drugs crimes, extortion, and accounting fraud.

He has lived most of his post-Hells Angels life in South Africa, although reportedly returned to Sweden in early 2009.

Mattsson said he and Erfors both agreed that the reporter’s credibility had been damaged as a result of the incident.

However, Expressen’s top editor emphasized that there is nothing to suggest that Erfors’s contacts with Möller affected content which appeared in the newspaper, as Möller has previously alleged.

According to Mattson, the former Hells Angel president’s claims are easy to discredit due to the simple fact that so many employees are involved in publication decisions.

Erfors reportedly got to know Möller when both were active participants in Malmö’s nightlife.

Mattson refused to comment directly on whether contact between the journalist and the former gang leader was a problem in and of itself.

“It’s important to remember that we are happy to have our colleagues meet, interview, and interact both with corporate directors, outsiders, and criminals, to portray all segments of society,” he said.

“But it’s important that they know when to draw the line when it comes to how those contacts are made and how the relationship appears. There are always reasons to evaluate the contacts one has with those one is investigating.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

UK: Labour Prepares to Go to War Over Gordon Brown’s Future

Labour whips are braced for a resumption of hostilities in the battle over Gordon Brown’s future tonight after a day-long truce while voters across the UK delivered their verdict at local and European elections.

It will be Sunday night before it is clear whether the party has received the drubbing suggested by opinion polls. With 72 seats up for grabs in the European Parliament, it has been trailing even the UK Independence Party and battling the Liberal Democrats for fourth place.

In the local council elections, where 2,138 seats were up for grabs, Labour was facing another rout and the loss of some of its last remaining strongholds in the Midlands and North.

But the party ceasefire will not hold until the results are in. Many were predicting today that normal politics — if such a thing still exists — will resume as soon as the polling booths shut at 10pm, when many MPs will no longer fear accusations of disloyalty if they question the Prime Minister’s future.

Both sides know that the window of opportunity will be brief. After four ministerial resignations this week, Mr Brown is widely expected to bring forward a reshuffle originally planned for next Monday to reassert his authority and get his premiership back on track.

The rebels — and especially the small and as-yet unidentified group behind the so-called “Hotmail plot” — will also be busy. They are expected to send an e-mail across the Parliamentary Labour Party by tomorrow morning canvassing support for a no-confidence motion against Mr Brown.

The Prime Minister continued last night with plans to shake up his Government and was preparing to bring Ed Balls into the Treasury despite indications from friends of Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, that he was reluctant to move.

In a sign of the febrile atmosphere, Downing Street was forced to deny claims that Mr Brown had asked John Reid, the former Home Secretary, whether he wanted the job back.

Meanwhile party whips are braced for ministers to unleash fierce attacks on Mr Brown after the polls close tonight. They have been warned that a fifth minister may walk out over the coming days.

The message to Mr Brown, which MPs are being asked by e-mail to sign, reads: “Dear Gordon, over the last 12 years in Government, and before, you have made an enormous contribution to this country and the Labour Party and this is very widely acknowledged.

“However we are writing now because we believe that in the current political situation you can best serve the interests of the Labour Party by stepping down as Party Leader and Prime Minister, so allowing the Party to choose a new Leader to take us into the next General Election.”

The MPs are assured that the names of signatories will not be published unless a target of 50 is reached.

Nick Brown, the Labour Chief Whip, said that he believed that those behind the e-mail were Blairites such as Stephen Byers and Alan Milburn. He said that they had been joined by “eccentric individualists” such as the backbenchers Graham Stringer, Graham Allen and Paul Farrelly. The latter categorically denied the claim on the BBC2 Newsnight programme.

Ms Blears’ resignation yesterday, on the eve of the elections, was a godsend to the Opposition. David Cameron said that the fourth ministerial resignation in two days showed that the Government was “collapsing before our eyes”. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, told MPs: “Labour is finished.”

One former minister said that there was huge desire within the party for a change of leadership, but MPs were waiting to see whether a heavyweight challenger would come forward. Alan Johnson remains favourite.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

What’s at Stake in the European Elections

Critics of Labour’s greed ask voters to carefully consider their own greed/need of EU handouts as they mark their ‘crosses’ on the ballot….

It may be European election day but, as Political Editor Tomos Livingstone argues, the results will have as much impact in Westminster as in Brussels

VOTERS go to the polls today to elect a new group of MEPs, but it’s unlikely many people will have Brussels on their mind when they place their cross on the ballot paper.

Perhaps appropriately given the UK’s always ambiguous relationship with the EU, this year’s European election campaigns have had almost nothing to do with European affairs.

Some politicians have made valiant efforts to remind us that Wales in particular is heavily dependent on what goes on in the European Parliament and at the European Commission — not least the billions of pounds that have come our way in an attempt to stimulate the economy in West Wales and the Valleys.

But for the most part, this is an election about Westminster, and more specifically about sleaze and the future of the Prime Minister. These are rare UK-wide elections (local councils don’t all hold ballots at the same time), and a handy opportunity for people to vent their anger at MPs’ abuse of their expenses.

So bad has that souping-up second-homes scandal become, and so ineffectual have been Gordon Brown’s attempts to move beyond it, that a serious kicking from the voters today could catapult the Prime Minister out of Number 10 altogether.

Of which more later. In the interests of public service, I should outline why it does matter which MEPs we elect today.

Wales is getting £1.9bn from the EU under the current round of economic development spending, which runs from 2007 to 2013. With the EU expanding to 27 states, and countries joining being poorer than Wales, we’re unlikely to get such a generous handout again.

You could argue that the way that money is actually being spent is largely decided in Cardiff Bay, not Brussels. But decisions will soon be made about what, if anything, Wales will get after 2013, and the newly-elected MEPs will be right at the heart of that debate.

Then there are the other issues where MEPs hold great sway over our lives — should Britain retain its opt-out from the European Working Time Directive? Should we give up more of our annual rebate — and should that be tied to reform of the controversial Common Agricultural Policy?

And let’s not forget mobile phone charges, airline regulation, environmental targets and contentious plans to retain details of e-mail traffic, ostensibly to aid the fight against terrorism.

All these issues will be in the in-trays of Wales’ four new MEPs. Last time around Labour won two seats — Glenys Kinnock and Eluned Morgan, and were joined by Plaid Cymru’s Jill Evans and the Conservative, Jonathan Evans. Only Ms Evans is standing again this time.

The seats are allocated on an all-Wales basis, using a proportional system. This time around Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid are certain to win one each, but the fourth remains up for grabs.

The party that tops the poll will win it if they get more than twice the votes of the party that comes fourth. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll have to get the calculators out to work out who gets seat number four — it could even be the Liberal Democrats or Ukip.

A poor performance for Labour — they haven’t been out-polled in Wales since 1918 — would make Mr Brown’s agonies all the worse.

Voters are already angry about the recession — hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and those still in work are facing negative equity on their properties and the prospect of public spending cuts and higher taxes in years to come.

Add to that weeks of revelations about MPs filling their boots at the public’s expense, and it’s likely that minor parties, along with the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, will benefit.

Plan A for Mr Brown was to come into the office on Monday morning — the Euro results will be announced on Sunday night — with a bold reshuffle aimed at making the Government look fresh once more.

That’s been blown out of the water by the Cabinet’s attempts to reshuffle itself, with Hazel Blears and Jacqui Smith leaving of their own volition.

All eyes are now on those that are left — will Alistair Darling refuse the offer of another Cabinet job? Will Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson decide that enough is enough and tell Mr Brown he has to go?

Will there really be a letter in the post from Labour MPs (from more than 20 of them, at least) saying much the same thing?

If one or more of those events does occur, allied with a horrible election result, Mr Brown may decide that the game is up and call in the removal vans.

The situation is finely balanced, and the power to resolve doesn’t lie entirely with the politicians — today’s a day when voters can make a big difference in Brussels and closer to home.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Albania’s Parliamentary Election 2009: Is the European Dream at Risk?

The European Union emerged from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s as a force that seemed capable of guaranteeing stability and peace in a part of the European continent perceived as a fracture-zone, an area of Europe known for its clashes.

Since 1991, Albania has radically changed, undergoing a complex transition period and a controversial process of institution-building. In contrast with countries like Serbia, Montenegro or Croatia, in Albania the power structures inherited from the Communist period were destroyed or swept away during the 1990s, especially during the explosion of violent conflict in 1997. These old and disintegrated structures were replaced during a long period of transition characterized by lawlessness, with a growing gap between the southern part of the country and the northern, and what the historian Ian Jeffries describes as a kind of ‚”gangster land anarchy.”

Ever since the end of Communism, Albania has looked to the west. Hopeful and optimistic, the country has dreamed for almost twenty years of EU accession. At the beginning of this year, however, came the cold shower: Brussels denied the submission of EU candidature before the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 28.

Why are these elections so important for the young republic? Many analysts perceive them as a sort of watershed moment between the past and the future. These two dimensions might actually be two side of the same coin. Since 1991, the country has experienced five parliamentary electoral rounds; in 1991, 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2005. Albania’s first-ever free parliamentary election witnessed a 97 per cent turn-out in the first round on 31 March. This electoral round was strongly contested because the opposition parties were disadvantaged by their recent formation and by the lack of political experience. The ruling Party of Labour of Albania (PLA) won 56 per cent of the votes cast in the first round, mainly thanks to its continuing hold on the Southern Tosk part of the country, and on the political behavior of the agriculture population, many of whom feared that the Democratic Party (DP) would help the big private landowners regain possession of most of the country’s agricultural land.

The new People’s assembly first met on 10 April. On 29 April, the parliament passed an interim constitutional law to modify the 1976 Constitution: Albania became ‚ÄúThe Republic of Albania‚Äù in place of ‚ÄúThe People‚Äô Socialist Republic of Albania‚Äù, and the leading role of the PLA was abolished. Although this party was of leftist persuasion, the government program presented by the premier, Fatos Nano envisaged an extensive privatization and a rapid shift to a market economy. These measures were violently contested with strikes and protest movements that caused the resignation of Nano as Prime Minister, followed by the Interim ‚ÄúGovernment of National Stability‚Äù headed by Vilson Ahmeti, until March 1992.

Macro-economic measures, price liberalization, privatization of large state enterprises and the collapse of the agricultural system exemplify the larger context surrounding the Presidential Elections of March 1992. The response to this electoral round represents one of the focal element of the recent history of the country.

The election of the ex-Communist and DP leader Sali Berisha started off the post-communist new deal of the Albania. Since 1992 Berisha has been one the most controversial political representatives in Albanian political life. His political profile coincides with the recent history of his country. From Communism to radical anti-Communism, from the age of 16 Berisha has tried all political approaches, from nationalistic authoritarianism to liberalism.

At the beginning of his mandate, Berisha was charged with being authoritarian and, in November 1994, called a referendum on a new constitution which, if approved, would have granted powers to himself as president, including the right to nominate the prime minister, dismiss ministers at the suggestion of the premier, as well as to dismiss or arrest the chairman and the members of the constitutional court and the supreme court with the approval of Parliament. The referendum failed, however, and several ministers were replaced.

The hard-line view of Berisha was demonstrated by the “Law on Communist genocide,” passed in September 1995 with the aim of prohibiting to anyone who had been a member of the old PLA central committee or the Communist Parliament from participating in national or local elections and holding jobs in the media or judiciary.

The first victim of this law was Fatos Nano, the leader of the Socialist Party.

Several analysts and international organizations monitored the Parliamentary elections of May 1996. Opposition parties accused the DP of practicing intimidation and electoral manipulation. These elements were confirmed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which spoke out against the presence of armed individuals and unidentified persons inside polling stations who had an intimidating effect on voters and polling commission officials. The Democratic Party won the electoral round, however, despite the protests of the opposition and the OSCE. Behind this second waltz, several analysts saw the personal triumph of Sali Berisha.

In the first period of his mandate, Sali Berisha received strong support from Western countries, especially the USA. In 1993, Albania signed an accord on military cooperation with the USA and introduced the International Monetary Fund’s economic reforms. Foreign trade liberalization, flotation of the Lek, price liberalization and a wild expansion of the private sector contributed to creating the peculiar socio-political context of the pyramid schemes crisis and resulting popular insurgency of 1997.

The international press paid great attention to these fraudulent investment schemes, which paid out artificially high returns to early investors, using money paid in by subsequent investors. In this way, during the 1990s many Albanian companies became wholesome pyramid schemes, with no real assets. Unlike in many other countries, these schemes had direct political implications. Two-thirds of the Albanian population had invested in the pyramid schemes, through companies which were engaged in criminal activities.

At the beginning of 1997, about one-third of all Albanian family lost their savings as a result of the pyramid schemes’ collapse. Violent protests, strikes, and spontaneous movements upset Tirana and Vlore. Troops authorized by the Parliament guarded roads and government buildings. Berisha chose to respond with an iron hand, and the opposition answered with the Forum of Democracy, an alliance created to persuade the government to set up a technical executive and then hold elections.

The increasing of political tension caused in Albania a radical change of the political and social discourse. Violence became prominent. Larger anti-government protests shattered Vlore. Berisha accused the opposition of fomenting the anarchy and the insurgency, ordering the arrests of opposition politicians and declaring a state of emergency. This phase marked the acme of Berisha’s regime and his point of no return, in the eyes of the international community. The European Union and Italy played the fundamental role in persuading the Albanian premier to accept a government of national reconciliation representing all political parties.

The fundamental year to remember for understanding the political transition of modern Albania is 1997. In March of that year, Bashkim Fino, leader of the Socialist Party, replaced Berisha as interim Prime Minister. The inflows of Albanian refugees to Italy made clear the multi-dimensionality of the crisis and the necessity of new elections. Under the monitoring of OSCE observers and the international peacekeeping force, the elections were carried out fairly successfully. Voters voted without intimidation, but OSCE observers also pointed out problems with the vote-counting process. The DP, with only 25 per cent of the votes and twenty-four seats, lost the elections yielding the government leadership to Fatos Nano.

From 1997 to 2005, the centre-left coalition had various government leaderships. The resignation of Nano as prime minister caused by his coalition’s division was followed by the centre-left coalition government headed by Pandeli Majko, until the parliamentary elections of June and July 2001. In those the Socialist Party won, obtaining 73 of 140 seats, and the second socialist government headed by Ilir Meta started. However, his was a short-term mandate: after a six-month dispute with Fatos Nano, Meta resigned. The national reform period came to a halt and a near total dependence on international and EU aid began.

Why, then, did the centre-left coalition implode? The primary cause of that alliance’s collapse was internal divisions. From 2002 to the parliamentary elections of 2005, Nano and Majko ‚Äì who returned to the premiership in February 2002 ‚Äì had personified the factional conflict within the Socialist Party of Albania. This barren political debate gave the dimension of a cultural and political gap between the parliamentary politics and the Albanian society. Political feuding between Nano, Meta and Berisha impeded Albania’s progress in social, political and economic reforms, stopping the country’s progress in negotiations with the EU.

After the first EU openings in March 2004, the European Commission accused Albania’s leaders of stopping the political reforms, also accusing opposition leader Sali Berisha of paralyzing parliament’s activities. The EU also criticized the country’s incapability to elaborate a strategy against organized crime and political and economic corruption.

Economic crisis, institutional transition, international relations and institutional reforms were the main themes of the parliamentary elections of July and August 2005. Thanks to an election campaign based on the promise to fight poverty, stimulate business and lower taxes, Berisha won the elections, becoming premier of the centre-right government. In 2005 thus began Berisha’s ‚ÄúNew Deal,‚Äù a different political phase grounded on a collective dream: entrance into the EU.

This objective has represented an element of cohesion by which the entire country has agreed to move forward, especially regarding the reduction of illegal migratory flows to Italy and Greece. The European dream was fomented also by the EU decision of 2006 to sign off on a Stabilization and Association Agreement between Albania and EU. The condition to obtain the Accord were clear: functioning rule of law, protection of minority rights, harmonization of Albanian rule with EU legislation, a functioning market economy and the increasing of cooperation with the other Western Balkans countries.

Two years after these EU conditions were presented, what has happened to Albania? For his part, Sali Berisha seems to have chosen the 1990s revival theme, raising the rhetoric against the opposition, rather than addressing European Reformism. During the election campaign, he has accused the opposition of being tied to the Communist past.

On December 22, the parliament passed a controversial “lustration” law, which is expected to allow for the dismissal from public office of a wide range of officials who participated in “political processes” while serving in higher-level government positions under the communist regime, including judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers. The vague wording of the law gives the government free discretion in determining what “political processes” means, thereby allowing it considerable freedom in determining if an official should be dismissed from duty.

International observers, including the OSCE and COE, stridently criticized the law and expressed concern that the law would allow the government to assert undue political control over the judiciary, undermine due process, and circumvent constitutional protections provided to judges, members of parliament, and prosecutors. Furthermore, the law states that persons subject to the law cannot participate in its judicial examination. This places the court in direct conflict with the executive, as several members of the court were reported to fall within the scope of the law.

The European Union does not seem to appreciate this sort of political performance. Also, shadows enshroud these recent governmental acts. At the beginning of 2009, the US State Department declared in its 2008 Human Rights Report that ‚”there were problems in some areas. During 2008 the government attempted to assert greater control over independent institutions such as the judiciary, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the media. The government interfered in the ongoing investigation into the March 15 Gerdec arms depot explosion. Security forces abused prisoners and detainees and prison and pretrial detention conditions remained poor. Police corruption and impunity continued, as did discrimination against women, children, and minorities. While some progress was made toward combating human trafficking, it remained a problem.”

More than being on the road to implementation, EU standards seem to be further and further away. The Albanian Helsinki Committee and the Albanian Human Rights Group reported that police sometimes use excessive force or inhuman treatment. As reporting in the Human Right Report, police have frequently mistreated suspects at the time of arrest or initial detention. Roma, Balkan Egyptians, and homosexuals were particularly vulnerable to police abuse. The overall performance of law enforcement remained weak. Unprofessional behavior and corruption remained major impediments to the development of an effective civilian police force.

At the same time, the Ministry of Interior has started a new recruiting system with standardized procedures. In combination with the new system of police ranks, authorities expect this to improve the overall performance of the police. However, low salaries and widespread corruption throughout society made police corruption difficult to combat. However, the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption and, despite several arrests of high-level local and central government officials, corruption remained a major obstacle to meaningful reform and a serious problem.

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

North Africa

A Clear Indicator of the State of Interreligious Relations in Egypt

French-Tunesian author Abdelwahab Meddeb protests against the systematic slaughter of pigs in Egypt, which has had a devastating impact on the country’s large Christian Coptic minority — that constitutes one eighth of the population. Egypt would never have reacted so violently to bird flu: “The pigs have not been slaughtered out of concern for public health, after all there has not been a single case of type-A flu in the country. The disproportionate severity of the handling of pigs, compared with that of poultry, is the symptom of a phobia, a delusion. The resurgence of the pig hallucination is a clear indicator of the state of relations between Muslim society and the Christian minority.”

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

Algeria: Ten Killed in ‘Al-Qaeda’ Ambush

Algiers, 3 June (AKI) — Al-Qaeda militants have been linked to an attack which killed two teachers and eight police escorts as they carried copies of exams from a centre near the Algerian capital, Algiers, late Tuesday. Algerian media said Wednesday that the militants triggered a roadside bomb as the teachers were returning from a high school exam in Timezrit, 80 kilometres east of the capital, Algiers.

The teachers’ car was hit by the bomb, which also seriously injured the vehicle’s driver and the manager of Timezrit’s exam centre, said Ali Hadjeres, the town’s deputy mayor.

The militants then opened fire on the two police cars escorting them.

The attack was one of the first in recent months that appeared to deliberately target civilians.

Militants in the north African country often target government officials in attacks because they accuse the government of being untruthful to Islam.

There was no immediate comment from Algerian security services on Wednesday.

But the El-Watan and Liberte daily newspapers reported that a large army sweep was under way Wednesday in the suspected militant strongholds around Boumerdes, a larger town near Timezrit.

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

Egypt: Chinese Industrial Zone to be Set Up in Borg El-Arab

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JUNE 3 — Egypt and China have reached an agreement on setting up a new Chinese industrial zone in the northern Egyptian Borg el-Arab city, said today Alexandria Governor Adel Labib. At a meeting with a Chinese trade delegation, now visiting here, Labib added that China is a major trade partner with Egypt. Labib urged studying the market needs in both Egypt and China in a bid to increase trade exchange between both sides. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Obama Cites Quran to Reach Muslims From Egypt

President’s speech touches on Islam, Israel and Iran

American President Barack Hussein Obama ended his Middle East tour and headed to Germany Thursday after he addressed the Muslim world from a tightly secured Cairo where he quoted from Islam’s Holy Book and stressed the United States was not in competition with Islam in a bid to heal the rift that has developed between the two.

Obama was in Cairo following a brief stop in Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with King Abdullah, and arrived at Cairo University to give a landmark speech that was a fulfillment of his inaugural speech promise to reach out to Muslims.

The president spent the day in Egypt where he toured the Sultan Hassan Mosque, one of the world’s oldest, and visited Egypt’s main attraction the Pyramids of Giza.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition,” Obama told the packed university hall.

Before continuing Obama bid the room “assalaamu alaykum,” or peace be upon you, to the delight of the crowd, which cheered and applauded.

Obama addressed several issues from women’s rights to economic development but not before he talked about his personal links with Islam and the role of Islam in American history and stressed that America was not at war with Islam.

“Islam is a part of America,” he said as he called on Muslims to help the United States fight extremism because “we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan” but we need to be confident that there were no more violent extremists determined to kill Americans.

The president said that he felt it his duty to negate the negative stereotype of Islam in the West and said just as “Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Moving on to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the president began by describing his nation’s bond with Israel as “unshakeable” and speaking about the years of suffering and persecution of the Jewish people.

Obama went on to decry anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, the denial of which he said was “baseless, ignorant and hateful.”

Speaking of the dislocation and suffering of the Palestinian people over the past 60 years, Obama said “let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.”

“America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own,” he said, as he called on Palestinians to abandon violence.

Obama said the only resolution was for both sides to accept a two-state solution and said that is “in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest.”

He then reiterated his stance on Jewish settlements and went on to say: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

The president said that although he believed the Iraqi people were better off without the “tyranny of [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein” the events that took place in Iraq affirmed that diplomacy was the best way.

Obama said the United States did not want to claim Iraqi territory or resources and promised to withdraw combat brigades by August 2010 and remove all troops from Iraq by 2012.

The president went on to say that he had ordered the closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison by early 2010 and that the U.S. prohibited the use of torture.

After describing the tumultuous history between Iran and the U.S., Obama said “it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve.”

Obama said the issue of nuclear weapons was not about American interests but about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could “lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

“I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that all nations, including Iran, have the right to peaceful nuclear power as long as they comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The president made no mention of Israel at this point.

Obama went on to say that the promotion of democracy did not include imposing one nation’s system on another.

Obama said he welcomed all democratically elected governments, making no mention of the Islamist group Hamas, which was elected in 2006, but added as long as they are peaceful.

“Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them,” he said.

The leader went on to discuss freedom of religion and called on Muslims to embrace their religions tradition of tolerance and to close fault lines amongst themselves and put an end to the violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

He also said it was equally important for Western nations to avoid “impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism,” Obama said, possibly a reference to the ongoing headscarf debate and the cartoons issue in Denmark.

Obama gave his speech following a tour of the Sultan Hassan mosque, one of the world’s oldest, and he expressed his deep respect for the history of Islam.

Likely to stir the emotions of Muslims everywhere, the president started his speech by greeting the room the Islamic way and went on to repeatedly quote from the Quran much to the delight of his audience who constantly interupted him with appaulse.

“There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Quran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth,” he said.

After making a couple of references to Islam’s Holy Book, the president went on to quote the Ayat, or verse, and said the “Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.”

Bringing an end to his speech Obama sought inspiration from all three holy books of the Abrahamic faiths and said: “We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.”

“The Holy Quran tells us, “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another,” he said, adding “the Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”

And ending with “the Holy Bible tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Obama’s speech was aimed at targeting the distrust in the Muslim world towards the United States, which saw its image sullied by the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, Guantanamo Bay, the stalled peace process and the Iraq war.

But many Arabs are still withholding judgment on Obama’s administration, and he has a chance to win greater approval in a speech to mend ties with world Muslims, said Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

Arab approval ratings of U.S. leadership remained low—at a median of about 25 percent—in a survey across 11 Arab countries conducted after Obama took office, higher than in the last months of the prior administration in all but two countries.

Gallup, in a summary of the poll results, reported the rise may reflect Obama’s pledge to pull U.S. troops from Iraq and close its detention centre at Guantanamo.

The success of the U.S. leader’s diplomatic initiatives in the region—like advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and halting Iran’s nuclear program—may depend on how well Obama is able to improve U.S.-Islamic ties.

Some of his first moves as president were calling Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, giving an interview to the pan-Arab Al Arabiya TV, made an unprecedented video address to Iranians and, in Turkey, reassured Muslims the United States was not at war with them.

Obama arrived in the Middle East after sparring publicly with new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over West Bank settlements, an issue he sees as an impediment to resumed peace talks.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Obama Seeks Common Ground, ‘New Beginning’ Between West and Muslim World

Obama delivers speech he had promised during the presidential campaign, aimed at reaching out to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.

Highlighting his own Muslim roots and embracing Islamic culture, President Obama on Thursday defined himself as the linchpin in a “new beginning” between the West and Islamic world.

The U.S. president delivered a sweeping, hour-long address in Cairo, Egypt, aimed at reaching out to the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims, an address he promised during the presidential campaign.

Obama’s speech cycled through the most contentious of issues between and among Western and Islamic societies — from Iraq to Afghanistan to democracy and religious freedom.

“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world — one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition,” Obama said.

The president sought to highlight Muslim contributions to the modern world and stress common ground between his country and Muslim states, drawing heavy focus to his early life in Muslim Indonesia as well as his Muslim family members. He noted that while he is a Christian, his father came from a Kenyan family that “includes generations of Muslims.”

Obama quoted the Koran and greeted the Cairo University audience with the Arabic, “assalaamu alaykum,” or “peace be upon you.” He used his full name, Barack Hussein Obama. The audience applauded thunderously when the president cited lessons from the Koran and at one point someone shouted, “We love you.”

Obama declared he has experienced Islam on three continents, which has shaped an attitude of tolerance toward its religion and culture.

“That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” Obama said to applause. He said neither Muslims nor Americans, though, can fit the “crude stereotype” they are sometimes assigned.

He closed his speech by citing passages endorsing peace from Christian, Jewish and Islamic scripture.

“There is one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples,” he said.

Obama expressed regret for the U.S.-led war in Iraq — a war he opposed when he was a state legislator — and called it a reminder of the need to use diplomacy over force when possible. But he attempted to convince Muslims that the current conflict against extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a worthy one, and their fight as well, though he said the U.S. does not seek a permanent presence in the region.

“In Ankara, I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” he said, referencing his speech to the Turkish parliament on his last overseas tour. “We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject — the killing of innocent men, women and children. And it is my first duty as president to protect the American people.”

He continued: “Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.”

As he addressed a series of sensitive topics, Obama handled one in a way sure to stir added controversy.

The speech included a message to Hamas, which the U.S. Department of State labels a terrorist organization, calling on the network to join the mainstream Palestinian coalition.

“Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities, to play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist,” Obama said.

Obama also waded deeper into the debate over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The president, while calling the United States’ bond with Israel “unbreakable” and shaming those who deny the Holocaust, continued to step up pressure on Israel’s leadership to follow U.S. terms for a roadmap to peace. He called on Israel to stop constructing settlements in Palestinian territory and declared that Palestinian statehood is the only resolution to the conflict in the region.

“The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace,” he said. “It is time for these settlements to stop.”

In the days leading up to his address, the president’s prior call for Israel to abandon all settlement construction drew criticism in the Jewish state, and had been rebuffed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israelis note that “natural growth” like doctors’ offices and schools will continue to occur in settlements.

Obama also called on Palestinians to abandon violence, comparing their struggle to that of blacks in South Africa and slavery-era America and suggesting only peaceful resistance would be productive.

And he condemned Holocaust denial as “ignorant” and “hateful,” as well as other anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“Threatening Israel with destruction or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews is deeply wrong and only serves to evoke in the minds of the Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve,” he said.

Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He first traveled Wednesday to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, where he met with King Abdullah.

From Egypt, Obama will head to Germany and France.

To all those nations, a continuing hot topic is Iran, which is believed to be developing nuclear weapons. Obama did not call on the United Nations to sanction the Islamic Republic, instead suggesting that to stop proliferation all nations must get rid of their nuclear weapons.

“I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons,” he said.

But he said, “any nation, including Iran, should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Students to Obama, ‘We Love You’, President ‘thank You’

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JUNE 4 — A chorus of “we love you”, shouted towards the podium by students from the university of Cairo on the mezzanine of the auditorium, after already having chanted his name several times, interrupted the President of the United States, Barack Obama, while he spoke of the principles of democracy. He turned quickly towards the direction of the shouting to respond “thank you”. The same signs of kindness were repeated at the end of the speech, from the same students, some of whom even whistled their approval. Expressions like “we love you” have been numerous over the last few days on Egyptian chat-rooms and blogs showing enormous support for the guest upon his arrival. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Army Removes Two Checkpoints in the West Bank

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JUNE 3 — The Israeli army has dismantled today two military checkpoints in Rimonim and Bir Zeit, near Ramallah in the West Bank. According to a military spokesman, the decision to remove the two checkpoints (out of a current total of 600) was made at the end of a meeting between the commander of Israeli troops in the West Bank, General Gadi Shamni, with the Palestinian Authority director of civil affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh. The spokesman also said that the army had decided to keep open the transit post in Assira al-Shamalia, north of Nablus, in order to facilitate movement for the Palestinian populace. Al Sheik called the Israeli gesture “a step in the right direction, but not enough since there are still hundreds of checkpoints in the West Bank.” The decision was instead criticised by representatives of Israeli settlements in the area, who have accused Defence Minister Ehud Barack of putting the lives of Israeli settlers at risk. The army has also dismantled a number of shacks in an outpost of the Maoz Ester settlement, which had already been cleared out a few days ago, after finding out that a group of settlers intended to settle once more on the site. Israel has promised US president Barack Obama that it would remove about two dozen Israeli outposts built without prior authorisation in the West Bank. However, Obama wants a complete freeze on building in all Israeli settlements, including those authorised by Israel. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israelis Growing Increasingly Anxious About Obama Policies

JERUSALEM — Sirens blared across Israel on Tuesday as the nation carried out its biggest-ever “doomsday” drill meant to simulate a catastrophic attack.

The faux fears, however, were overshadowed by deepening anxiety in Jerusalem that Israel is heading for an unavoidable political showdown with President Barack Obama over the center-right government’s refusal to stop building Jewish homes in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, carried a front-page story Tuesday bluntly titled: “The American Threat.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Tension High in Israel Ahead of Obama’s Speech

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, JUNE 4 — Tension is running on high in Israel, with much riding on the speech to the Arab and Muslim world USA President Barack Obama is scheduled to make today in Cairo. Local media have expressed this general mood, which at times almost seems to verge on a state of panic. “Tension in Israel ahead of Obama’s speech” headlines the English-language daily Jerusalem Post. The country’s newspaper with the highest circulation, Yedioth Aharonoth, claims that “Obama embraces the Arab world, Israel is concerned”. In one of the many articles in which the news is commented on, the well-known commentator Amnon Abramovich writes that “in the end we will bend” to the will of the United States, as all previous Israeli governments have. Maariv, instead, quotes the US envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, George Mitchell: “The Israelis have been lying to us for years. Enough is enough”, while Haaretz reported that “Obama will tell Israel and the Arab world that the time has come for a fresh start”. Israeli Premier Benyamin Netanyahu, according to the newspaper, “is concerned about the relationship with the United States”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Why Isn’t the Palestinian Authority Moderate?

by Barry Rubin

So dreadful was the performance of Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas during his meeting with President Barack Obama that even the New York Times took notice. Usually, the Palestinians are exempt from any hint of the real world criteria applied to others.

But according to the May 30, Times editorial, the meeting was “a reminder of how much the Palestinians and leading Arab states, starting with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, must do to help revive foundering peace negotiations.”

The peace negotiations, of course, foundered almost a decade ago when then PA leader Yasir Arafat rejected a two-state solution, an historical fact that the Times and much of the Western political elite seems not yet to have absorbed. Indeed, it was that very fact that has led to the failure of any peace process and all the bloodshed since.

Naturally, given its peculiar view of the world, the Times cannot quite blame anyone but Israel and George W. Bush for this failure:

“We have sympathy for Mr. Abbas, the moderate-but-weak leader of the Fatah party. Israel, the Bush administration and far too many Arab leaders have failed to give him the support that he needs to make the difficult compromises necessary for any peace deal.”

This is the kind of paragraph by the way that should lead to reflection by anyone who was actually serious and not blinded by the strange brew that passes for the dominant ideology in Western intellectual circles nowadays. It is after all a set of beliefs which insists that Abbas-who wrote a doctoral dissertation denying that the Holocaust happened and prefers demanding all Palestinians can go live in Israel even if this stance prevents them from getting their own independent state-is better than Netanyahu. Abbas is branded “moderate” while Netanyahu is always called hardline.

Exactly what has Abbas done as the PA leader to be considered moderate, or at least moderate except in comparison to Hamas? If he had his way, he would make a deal with Hamas which would make him behave a lot more like Hamas rather than having Hamas become moderate.

At least, the Times added on this occasion: “That’s no excuse, however, for the depressing passivity that Mr. Abbas displayed” in calling for the United States to wait until Hamas joined his government or Netanyahu made concessions for nothing in return.

It is somewhat humorous that while Netanyahu has been unfairly and inaccurately blasted for supposedly refusing to talk with the Palestinians it is the Palestinians who openly refuse to talk to Israel…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Confusion on the Road to Damascus

By Sakhr Al-Makhadhi

LONDON — It was supposed to be a satire about Western-Arab cultural misunderstandings. But when the play Damascus visited Syria recently, it caused more controversy and misunderstandings than it solved.

The award-winning drama, written by Scottish playwright David Greig for the Traverse’s Edinburgh Festival program of 2007, was meant to poke fun at the disorientation of the Brit abroad. But some Damascenes in the audience saw it as mocking their culture. During the post-performance discussion, one of the participants walked out — and the rest of the audience was scathing.

“It was a painful experience. I felt hurt and dispirited,” Greig said. He knew it was going to be controversial, and for a long time avoided putting pen to paper, for fear of being labeled a “cultural tourist”.

“I had written the play with great love for Damascus and Damascenes and, more broadly, for Arab culture. I understood that it was clumsy and full of mistakes — how could it not be, I am a foreigner — but I did hope that people would understand its spirit of questing honesty and goodwill.”

The play has been touring the Arab world, supported by the British Council. The UK’s cultural organization insists it is promoting healthy dialogue between Britain and the Middle East.

Elizabeth White, the British Council’s Director in Syria is delighted the audience’s passions were fired up by the performance: “We realized it was going to be sensitive,” she said.

“What we didn’t want was for people to come to the theater and then go home and have a cup of tea and watch television; we wanted to provoke discussion and make people think and get people talking.”

And talk they did. Talk, shout and eventually storm out of the theater in disgust. Some accused Greig of crude Orientalism.

Damascus is set in a Syrian hotel lobby. English-language textbook author Paul has to stay longer than planned after a bomb in Beirut. He is angry at the prospect of spending Valentine’s Day away from his wife in what he calls a “war zone”.

Paul befriends the hotel receptionist Zakaria, who is desperate to find a foreign girl. We also meet academic Wassim — we are told he has sold out on his political beliefs to become dean of the university.

The play gets even closer to the bone. In one scene, the translator, Muna has a blazing row with Paul about democracy.

Greig uses Paul’s interactions with the Syrians to represent the often heavy-handed way the West deals with the Arab world:

I tried to be utterly honest with Paul. That honesty means he is sometimes arrogant, callous and unfeeling. But Paul does try very hard. He wants to understand. He wants to make a connection. I think this reflects a broader current in Western society. Not the West as a whole, but a liberal metropolitan European West.

But this is no clumsy culture-clash play. Muna is a secular feminist who challenges many of Paul’s stereotypes and misunderstandings of the Arab world. In the end, it is Paul who is forced to question his assumptions. The central character’s name is a clever reference to Saint Paul — the biblical figure who also has a “Damascene conversion”.

Greig’s portrayal of the city shows a deep knowledge of the place that he has clearly spent a lot of time in. He references little-known landmarks and steers clear of cliche in the picture he paints. The smells of Damascus are vivid, as is the feeling of walking through the Old City streets at night.

Greig may have a deep affection for the city he has written about — but for the audience, the feeling was not mutual.

Comedy character Zakaria seems to have been the target of their fury. Trapped in a dead-end job and desperate to move to America, he spends his days running after foreign girls who he is convinced will sleep with him.

On the surface, it looks like a damning indictment. But half-British, half-Syrian student Neshwa Boukhari, who saw the play in London and then Damascus, accused the Syrian audience of getting it all wrong.

“They confused the title with their own preconceptions of course, missing the point that the narrative was commenting on a foreigner’s experience, rather than as a representation of Damascus,” she said. For Boukhari, Zakaria symbolizes a Western cliche of young Arab men — rather than being a stereotypical Syrian himself.

And Greig is perfectly placed to talk about the misconception of the foreigner. The play is the result of a series of writing workshops which he set up in Syria. Much like his character Paul, Greig travelled to Syria to help educate young Arabs but ended up learning more about himself.

The play actually breaks down more stereotypes than it appears to reinforce. Muna’s character is key to this. In one of her most powerful scenes, she berates Paul for the way he portrays women in his textbook:

“In this story, the aggressive, difficult woman is uncovered and the moderate, tolerant woman is covered … this is very old-fashioned you know. Maybe in England you want to throw away equality. Here we are trying to educate girls that they are equal.”

There are also impassioned exchanges between Paul and Muna about the war in Iraq and the occupation of Palestine which should have been crowd-pleasers.

And even if some people who saw it were outraged, Elizabeth White believes that can only be a good thing.

“It’s always interesting to see ourselves as others see us … it makes you think twice about how your face is to the outside world, one of the results of the discussion was that the audiences agreed that there isn’t enough representation of the realities of the Arab world in the West.”

The play got a better reception in Egypt and some of the other countries it visited. And David Greig hopes that the Syrian audience will eventually be persuaded that Damascus can have a positive impact.

“I hope that in time people will see the play is a love song to Damascus and that — when it played in London — its effect was to transform English views of the region and country from cliche into a slightly more nuanced view.”

Sakhr Al-Makhadhi is a London-based British-Arab freelance journalist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle East: Lieberman Soothes Russia & US, No Bombs on Iran

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JUNE 3 — Israel “has no intention of bombing Iran”. Thus the reassurance of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrives to soothe ears in Moscow on the day of the much-awaited Middle-East debut of President Barack Obama. The reassurance seems tailor-made to ease the initiative of dialogue with the Moslem world announced by the US president but which fails to assuage Israeli misgivings about many of the steps which may be taken in the ensuing climate. In fact, Lieberman’s words contain a dual message. Speaking during a trip to Russia which climaxed in a meeting with president Dmitri Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin, as well as with his counterpart Serghei Lavrov, he said: “We have no intention of bombing Iran and nobody is going to solve their problems through our actions”. It is a coded way of saying that despite its concerns about the nuclear programme and the Iranian threats, Israel has not yet placed its finger on the trigger and is not underestimating White House warnings against any “surprise” raids. But it is also a way of warning that the problems linked to the proliferation of non-conventional arms in Iran also concern the great powers, and not just the state of Israel. That should diplomacy fail, everyone will have to look out for themselves, including the USA, Europe, and Russia herself, who are presently collaborating with Russia in the area of civil nuclear technology. As for the Middle East peace conference Moscow is planning to organize, Lieberman confirmed that Israel “will not be attending if Hezbollah or Hamas are present”. Furthermore, Benyamin Netanyahu’s government is willing to re-start negotiations with the Palestinians “at any time,” Lieberman repeated, but not at the cost of giving up plans to enlarge settlement building on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel’s government is defending on the grounds of so-called “natural growth” of the settlement populations (at least 500,000 strong). And on the topic of settlements, moderate voices such as those of Deputy Premier Silvan Shalom and Defence Minister Ehud Barak are attempting to pour oil on the troubled waters with the USA, which wants to see a halt to settlement building , while others are now openly seeking to rock the boat. One of these is Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, the ‘colonel’ of the hard line of Likud (Netanyahu’s party). “President Obama has every right to try and pacify the Moslem world and to offer an alternative to al Qaeda or Iran to win their hearts, but we have to ensure that this does not lead to our interests being damaged”, he stated. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tariq Ramadan, ‘Muslims Want Respect and Humiility’

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 3 — According to the controversial Swiss intellectual and Islam scholar, Tariq Ramadan, a “change in attitude” and “effective and necessary action”, a “real and profound message of respect” but above all “humility” are what the Muslim world expects in the keynote speech that USA President Barack Obama will be making tomorrow in Cairo. In a statement sent to the press via email, Ramadan underlines how Obama has found himself having to “reverse the legacy” left by George W. Bush and his administration, who did not show “respect or fairness towards Muslims”. Ramadan points out that, during his election campaign, Obama “often had to repeat that he was not a Muslim, as if that would have posed a problem for the American people”. Thus, “the first thing that can be expected” is that, by talking to the Muslim world, he will also be talking to the “US and the West”. Ramadan confirmed that during the first few months of his presidency Obama “has shown respect for Islam, announced the closure of Guantanamo and an end to torture, and adopted a firm stance against the Israeli government with regard to the building of settlements”. These are “positive steps”, but speeches “are not enough”. The USA “does not have a monopoly on good and evil”. Islam “is a great civilisation” and Obama “must announce that we all have something to learn from each other.” In stressing “ideal values” and calling for “human rights”, Obama must also “admit American mistakes, failures and contradictions” in pursuing these aims, and he must show “humility” in acknowledging that the USA “can and will do more in order to respect the values that they are calling for.” It is only in this way that he can say to Muslims that “they must fight against corruption, fundamentalism, dictatorships, discrimination against women and poor people”, and in order to be “listened to with a minimum of trust”. Ramadan concluded that Obama must make it understood that “after many years of deafness in Washington, he has finally listened”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Hindu Extremists Threaten Nepali Christians

Hindu-dominated Nepal Defence Army on Republic Day announces new attacks. Nepali Catholic spokesperson says Nepali Catholics will not be intimidated, will continue their work.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) — The Nepal Defence Army (NDA), a Hindu fundamentalist organisation, is again threatening Christians. In a press release sent to newspapers on Saturday it accuses Christians of “polluting” the nation, ordering them to stop their activities and leave Nepal “within a month.”

The fundamentalist group calls for a Hindu-only Nepal and warns Christians that they should expect serious consequences, “far worse than that attack against the Church of the Assumption.”

Last 23 May the NDA attacked the capital’s Catholic cathedral. An unidentified woman threw a home-made explosive device inside the church killing two young women and wounding another 14.

Chirendra Satyal, a representative of Nepal’s Catholic community, said that Nepal’s Catholics “will not let themselves be intimidated by threats; they will continue their service in favour of the people of Nepal.”

Raghuji Panta, personal adviser to the prime minister, said that the government “will take action against such threats.”

The new message of intimidation came at the same time as the country celebrated the first anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic, which marked the nation’s transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular state.

Panta reiterated the government’s commitment to “upholding the principle of the separation of state and religion achieved by the country through the Republic.”

“We are sure we will bring the culprits to justice,” said Kumar Singh Rana, head of the government task force investigating the attack against Kathmandu cathedral. Speaking to AsiaNews he explained that “we have some evidence but need more to make any arrest.”

Nepal has a population of 27 million people. Hindus represent 86 per cent of the total. Buddhists and Muslims represent 7 and 3.5 per cent respectively. About 8,000 Nepalis are Catholic.

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

Indonesia: Housewife Faces Jail Term for Hospital Complaint

Jakarta, 3 June (AKI) — An Indonesian housewife risks six years in jail for allegedly writing a defamatory e-mail in which she complained to her friends about the service she received at a Jakarta hospital. Prita Mulyasari, 32, has been charged with violating the country’s electronic information law and her trial starts in Jakarta on Thursday.

Prita, a mother of two young children including a 15-month-old, was arrested on 13 May after losing a civil case brought by the Omni International Hospital, the institution that claiming it had been defamed by her email.

Her plight has created uproar throughout Indonesia and her case has generated widespread support from human rights groups and individuals.

According to experts, her case has also highlighted the hidden risks to press freedom carried by certain articles of the Law on Electronic Information and Transaction, which was approved by parliament in March 2008.

The law, intended to combat on-line crime, pornography, gambling, blackmail, and racism, also prohibits citizens from distributing in any electronic format information which is defamatory.

Shonifah Albani, from the Indonesian Human Rights and Legal Aid Association told AdnKronos International (AKI) that the law’s article 27 is of particular concern.

“The article has a very loose definition and we are afraid that it could be misused,” she said.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) last month submitted a petition for a judicial review seeking the removal of article 27.3 before the Constitutional Court. But the court rejected the alliance demand.

This article stipulates that anyone found guilty of publishing defamatory or insulting information on the Internet face six years’ imprisonment and a penalty of RP 1 billion (or 97,000 dollars).

Prita spent three weeks at Tangerang women’s prison after being accused of defamation by Omni International Hospital in Serpong, Tangerang.

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

Latin America

Air France Jet Was Flying Too Slowly: Report

witness — 6 seconds — intense flash of white light…

PARIS (Reuters) — The Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on Monday was flying too slowly ahead of the disaster, Le Monde newspaper said on Thursday, citing sources close to the inquiry.

The paper said the manufacturer of the doomed plane, Airbus, was set to issue a recommendation advising companies using the A330 aircraft of optimal speeds during poor weather conditions.

Airbus declined to comment on the report and the French air accident investigation agency, which has to validate any such recommendations, known as an Aircraft Information Telex, was not immediately available for comment..

The Air France A330-200 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it plunged into the Atlantic four hours into its flight. All 228 people on board died.

The plane sent no mayday signals before crashing, only a stream of automatic messages over a three minute period after it entered a zone of stormy weather, showing a rapid succession of electrical faults followed by a loss of cabin pressure.

It was not clear if slow air speed alone could trigger such a cataclysmic breakdown of aircraft systems, but any recommendations from Airbus about its A330s would fuel speculation over the causes of the crash.


Experts have questioned whether extreme turbulence or decompression during stormy weather might have caused the disaster — the worst in Air France’s 75-year history.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo said a transatlantic airline pilot reported seeing a bright flash of white light at the same time the Air France flight disappeared.

“Suddenly we saw in the distance a strong, intense flash of white light that took a downward, vertical trajectory and disappeared in six seconds,” the pilot of an Air Comet flight from Lima to Madrid told his company, the newspaper reported.

A spokesman for Madrid-based airline Air Comet was not immediately available to confirm the El Mundo article.

Asked about whether there could have been an explosion or bomb on the plane, an armed forces spokesman in Paris said they were not ruling anything out at the moment.

“Everyone has doubts about everything at the moment and we do not have the slightest beginnings of an answer yet,” said armed forces spokesman Christophe Prazuck.

Search crews flying over the Atlantic have found debris from the jet spread over more than 55 miles of ocean, about 685 miles northeast of Brazil’s coast.

Prazuck said the priority was to localize debris and retrieve it as soon as possible before it sank. He added that sea currents were dispersing the wreckage.

Brazilian naval vessels are heading to the crash zone and a French frigate is due to arrive in the area on June 7. A boat carrying a mini submarine capable of hunting the plane’s black boxes is expected to arrive there on June 12.

One French and two Dutch cargo ships that are nearby the crash site have been asked to help find debris, Prazuck said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Air France Jet ‘May Have Exploded Mid-Air’

More debris from an Air France jet that came down in the Atlantic has been spotted, but investigators are pessimistic about finding the black boxes that could explain the tragedy.

The vast area over which the new debris was found has led some experts to suggest the plane exploded before it hit the water.

According to a report in French newspaper Le Monde, the “wide dispersion of wreckage discovered suggests that the Airbus (A330-200) exploded at high altitude”.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Circumstances Point to Terrorism in Air France Crash, UIndy Expert Says

As speculation continues over the crash of an Air France jetliner on a transatlantic flight, a University of Indianapolis expert says recent events point to the possibility of terrorism.

Although there have been no claims of responsibility or specific indications of sabotage, the disappearance of a large airliner without warning is extremely rare, and investigators say no potential causes have been ruled out. Today, aviation authorities said another Air France flight from Buenos Aires to Paris was grounded temporarily May 27 because of a telephoned bomb threat.

The circumstantial evidence for terrorism includes a history of Islamic extremism in and around Brazil, where the flight originated, as well as the recent opening of a French military base on the Arabian Peninsula, according to Douglas Woodwell, assistant professor of international relations at UIndy.

“During the past week, the French government announced the landmark opening of a military base in Abu Dhabi, the first permanent overseas military base the French have opened since they decolonized in the early 1960s,” Woodwell says. “The fact that the United States had stationed troops on the Arabian Peninsula during and after the Gulf War was probably the most important concrete factor motivating Al Qaeda in its subsequent attacks on the United States, including 9/11. The French basing agreement was announced on January 15, which is sufficient time for Al Qaeda sympathizers to organize a response.”

Who are the Al Qaeda sympathizers in South America? According to Woodwell, the so-called Tri-border region where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet is home to a large Muslim population with a history of militancy.

“Terrorists from this area are believed to have launched attacks against the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina in the early ‘90s, killing hundreds of people,” he says. “Radical groups recruiting amid this often-alienated Muslim diaspora would have no problem finding young men or women willing to bring down an airliner.”

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

Nicholas Hanlon in the Americas Report: Cuba Today

Any discussion of engagement with Cuba needs to take into account that Cuba is the last country in the hemisphere that represses nearly every form of political dissent. Those who lament Cuba’s absence from the summit should remember that the Cuban government systematically denies its people even the most basic freedoms. —José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch

The dawn of the new Obama Administration promised to bring change. To many Cuba watchers the hope is that it will come in the form of a new policy towards the Castro regime. Opponents and supporters of the embargo agree that it has not fulfilled its primary function of regime change. The question remains what to do. Some argue that restrictions on trade and travel only serve to hurt and isolate the public while strengthening and legitimizing the regime. Yet, relaxing restrictions without reform could have the same effect.

Whatever form the new policy takes, it should be based on increased freedoms for the Cuban people. Ideally, any new policy would bring about the release of all political prisoners and lead the Cuban government to observe the human rights treaties to which it is a signatory…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]


Cypriots Less Poor But Migrants Still in Dire Straits

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, MAY 25 — A foreign family with a two-year-old child have been living in a container outside a factory in Nicosia. The shocking revelation — as daily Cyprus Mail reported — was made Friday in Cyprus by the European Anti-poverty Network (EAPN), which announced that there had been a 0.2% reduction in Cypriots living on the verge of poverty, in contrast to most other European countries where the levels are rising. Speaking on behalf of one of the Network’s member organisations, the Cyprus Coordinating Committee for the Protection and Welfare of Children, Ninetta Kazantzi explained that these figures did not include foreigners living on the island, such as refugees, political asylum seekers and financial migrants. These people, said Kazantzi, have a number of other problems to deal with, on top of poverty, such as racism, isolation and exclusion — a matter that was recently raised at a European level in a meeting between anti-poverty organisations in Brussels. According to Kazantzi, the gathering was shown a clip of photos of a foreign family in Cyprus, with a child under the age of two, living in a container outside a factory in Nicosia, with a water tank on top of it but no water taps. There was also an electrical generator installed by the father, though this provided no heating or cooling system. But generally, Kazantzi said unemployment and poverty levels in Cyprus are relatively good compared to other European countries. She explained that Cyprus had managed to reduce the percentage of its population that was living on the verge of poverty by 0.2% — from 16% to 15.8%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

GCC Immigration Heads Propose Dual Residency

(ANSAmed) — ABU DHABI, JUNE 3 — Professional expatriates would be able to hold dual residency in GCC countries under a move recommended by the Gulf nations’ immigration heads at a meeting in Abu Dhabi yesterday. At the 24th meeting of GCC directors-general of naturalisation and residency departments, the immigration officials said they would submit the recommendation to their respective government. Brigadier Nassir Al Awadi Al Menhali, the Acting Director-General of the UAE’s Ministry of Interior Naturalization and Residency Department, told Khaleej Times that the UAE was studying how to implement the system. “The UAE supports all the ways to facilitate the expatriates and nationals movement among the GCC countries,” Al Menhali said. The dual residency applies to ‘first-degree’ professionals, such as doctors, engineers, accountants, PR agents and businessmen. The new system would make it easier for companies with branches in any GCC country to deploy their professionals. “We allow the GCC residents to enter the country on visit visa(s) in accordance to the naturalisation and residency law and in case of finding a job they can apply to get the residency,” he said. “The GCC Directors-General agreed that the GCC residents can enter as usual under the current laws, while each country has the right to approve the mutual residency with the other countries according to the naturalisation and residency laws and regulations.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Indian Trio Jailed Over Major Visa Scam

LONDON (AFP) — A court jailed an Indian man and two women Wednesday for providing fake degrees and identities to hundreds of immigrants, in what prosecutors said was the biggest visa scam ever seen in Britain.

A judge sentenced Jatinder Kumar Sharma to seven years behind bars and Rakhi Shahi to eight years for orchestrating the fraud factory that allowed Indian and Pakistani nationals to study and work in Britain.

Another woman, Neelam Sharma, was given a four-year jail term after being convicted of handling some of the hundreds of thousands of pounds that poured into the business in Southall, west London.

Jatinda Sharma has been married to Neelam Sharma for nearly 20 years, although a marriage certificate appeared to show he also recently wed Shahi. All three lived together in Southall.

Police suspect the business secured visas for almost 1,000 immigrants over two years, Isleworth Crown Court west of London heard, providing them with fake degree certificates, tax and wage receipts, bank statements and references.

During the month-long trial, prosecutors also alleged that the trio used fake documents to secure themselves visas in Britain, under a scheme designed to allow well-qualified individuals with useful skills to work here.

Prosecutor Francis Sheridan said the case “represents the largest single prosecution of dishonest records ever submitted to the Home Office by an individual business.”

He described it as a “a huge attack” on Britain’s immigration system.

“We believe we have cracked a major international conspiracy to facilitate the entry of illegal immigrants into the UK,” said Tony Smith, regional director of Britain’s Border Agency which manages migration, after the trial.

Police and border agency officials discovered 90,000 documents during a raid on the business last February, as well as passports, 50 different types of headed notepaper and 150 ink stamps used to create fake documents.

Prosecutors said the business, named Univisas, charged clients up to 4,000 pounds and was so confident of its success that it offered a money-back guarantee.

Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson criticised Home Office and immigration officials for failing to check that documents submitted to support student, skilled migration and other visa applications were bogus.

“The checks were woefully inadequate and frequently non-existent,” he said.

The court had heard that Home Office employees had failed to spot that employment certificates from across India were almost identical and that wage slips did not add up.

In some cases students appeared to have attended two full-time courses simultaneously, many people gave an identical address on their application and one appeared to change sex midway through the process.

Shahi was convicted of conspiracy to defraud, handling criminal property and immigration offences. Sharma pleaded guilty to his role in the business before the trial started.

All three face deportation at the end of their sentences.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Spain: 116 Migrants Land in Almeria

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 3 — As many as 116 illegal immigrants, most of them adult Algerians, have landed during the last 12 hours in Almeria after being intercepted aboard six small vessels, the Spanish Maritime rescue service said. All of them were described as in good health and were cared for by the Red Cross and transferred to temporary detention centres to await repatriation. Two boats with 35 migrants aboard were intercepted yesterday afternoon nine nautical miles from Cabo de Gata in Almeria province by the motorboat Salvemar Denebola and a Helimer maritime rescue helicopter. Two other vessels with 14 people on each were spotted and stopped at Cabo del Agua, at Murcia, at dawn today. Among the immigrants were two pregnant women who were transferred to the Navy Hospital in Cartagena. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Fury Over Ailing Man’s Botched Deportation

Swedish migration authorities have come in for scathing criticism following a decision to deport a man so ill with Parkinson’s disease that his home country of Nigeria refused to grant him entry.

“This has become a case of pure torture for this man, plain and simple, and now we need to take care of him in Sweden,” said Christian Democrat politician Alf Svensson to TV4.

John Olasupo, now 28-years-old, came to Sweden from Nigeria four years ago.

Within two years of his arrival, he started exhibiting signs of Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disease which impairs motor skills and generally occurs much later in life.

Now Olasupo’s condition has worsened to the point where he can no longer take care of himself, and is dependent on others to feed and take care of him.

“He’s too weak to open a medicine bottle, he’s too weak to take in water, he can’t drink if he doesn’t have help,” Tina Hennel, Olasupo’s legal representative, told TV4.

He is also taking drugs to help slow down the advancement of the disease — drugs which would be unavailable to Olasupo in Nigeria, according to Sveriges Radio.

“He can no longer move by himself or change his clothes and when he no longer has access to his medicine, he probably won’t be able to talk, eat, or swallow,” said Bo Fråst, a doctor who has treated Olasupo at an asylum seeker reception centre in Sundsvall in northern Sweden.

“In unfavourable conditions, John Olasupo risks dying from starvation or dehydration,” Fråst told Sveriges Radio.

Concerned that Olasupo wouldn’t survive deportation to Nigeria, Fråst wrote a letter to the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), urging it to allow Olasupo to remain in Sweden.

“According to Swedish law, it would probably be seen as a serious violent crime to leave someone to their fate when that person can’t take care of himself, but is instead left to die,” wrote Fråst.

The Migration Board was unmoved by the doctor’s plea, however, arguing that deportation rulings can’t be overturned simply because someone is dying, despite there being a clause that allows for exceptions on “extraordinary compassionate grounds”, such as a life-threatening illness.

According to Migration Board head Dan Eliasson, the mere presence of the right medicines in the home country is sufficient to carry out a deportation.

“We don’t need to be certain [that the patient will receive appropriate medication], rather it’s sufficient if there is healthcare available in the home country. If there is care available, then responsibility for the person is given to the home country,” he told TV4.

But Eilasson’s explanation failed to resonate with Svensson, who called the decision to deport Olasupo “scandalous”.

“If they interpret the law — and this is all about interpretation — such that a person in this condition can’t be allowed to stay in Sweden, then it’s high time to rewrite the law,” he told TV4.

Despite pleas to allow him to stay in Sweden, Olasupo was nevertheless put on a flight from Stockholm to Nigeria early on Wednesday morning.

But the 28-year-old’s time in his home country was short-lived.

Upon arriving in Nigerian, local authorities demanded that Olasupo pay to be let in the country and that Sweden provide funds to cover the costs of his healthcare needs — demands with which Swedish authorities refused to comply.

As a result, Olasupo was put back on a plane and found himself once again on Swedish soil by late Wednesday afternoon.

The Migration Board’s Annette Backlund placed responsibility for the botched deportation with the police, who are tasked with actually carrying out expulsions.

“This trip was planned and carried out by the police, and it’s the police’s job to have the necessary contacts to ensure that the trip can take place. We had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be accepted by Nigeria,” she told TV4.

“The police have surely done, ought to have done, all that they can do to carry this out. Now something happened during the trip which we still don’t know about and when we have more information about what happened, we’ll reassess the matter again.”

Upon hearing the news, Svensson condemned Nigeria’s reaction, but added Swedish officials also bear some of the blame.

“Nigeria was wrong — a country should accept its citizens. But that doesn’t cut it as an excuse for Sweden,” he said.

“It’s inexcusable to use a simple explanation that they didn’t know how the Nigerians would react when they got there.”

Birgitta Krona, head of the Sundsvall asylum seekers’ committee, was also upset by her client’s unexpected day-trip to Nigera.

“It’s a waste of money, and a waste of a human being’s last bit of strength,” she told TV4.

Upon landing again in Sweden, Olasupo was taken to a Migration Board facility in Märsta where he remains pending a new decision from migration officials about his future.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Tens of Czech Romanies Leave for Canada — Press

Vysoke Myto — Tens of Romanies from eastern Bohemia have recently left for Canada to apply for asylum, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes in its regional issue today.

On Thursday, 35 Romanies from Vysoke Myto left for Canada, local social workers told the paper.

“They were families with children. They believe life will be better there for them. Some recently lost their jobs, others ended their work. They returned the municipal flats and left,” said Zdenek Marek, from the Nadeje (Hope) association that assists the poor.

The Romany community in the town of Vysoke Myto has some 200 members.

Czech Romanies claim that they have good reasons to apply for asylum abroad.

“Ou people have been considering their departure since the racist Molotov cocktail attack on a Romany household. They are scared,” Jan Mueller, head of the Romany association Darjav, told the daily.

Mueller said two families from a Romany ghetto in Pardubice, east Bohemia, moved to Canada two months ago. Apart from discrimination, loss of employment and debts were their main reasons to leave the Czech Republic.

Danuse Fomiczewova, from the social department of the Pardubice regional office, said the regional authorities do not plan to adopt any special measures because the emigration of Romanies is not considered massive.

But Mueller fears that the Romanies who left might inspire others from the community to leave for Canada. He said those who left write their relatives that life is good in Canada.

One of the biggest Romany communities in eastern Bohemia is in the town of Ceska Trebova, yet no Romanies from Ceska Trebova have left the Czech Republic, MfD writes.

Viktor Pesek who heads the Nadeje centre in the town said he believes this is the result of long-term cooperation between the town and its Romany community.

Over 650 Czech citizens applied for asylum in Canada during the first three months of the year. In 2008, Canada registered some 861 asylum applicants from the Czech Republic.

Though Canada never states the information in the official reports, most of the asylum applicants are Romanies.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated in early May that if the problem of Czech asylum claimants is not resolved, Canada will have to reimpose visas on the Czech Republic.

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

Culture Wars

Climate of Hate, World of Double Standards

When a right-wing Christian vigilante kills, millions of fingers pull the trigger. When a left-wing Muslim vigilante kills, he kills alone. These are the instantly ossifying narratives in the Sunday shooting death of late-term abortion provider George Tiller of Kansas versus the Monday shootings of two Arkansas military recruiters.

Tiller’s suspected murderer, Scott Roeder, is white, Christian, anti-government and anti-abortion. The gunman in the military recruitment center attack, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, is black, a Muslim convert, anti-military and anti-American.

Both crimes are despicable, cowardly acts of domestic terrorism. But the disparate treatment of the two brutal cases by both the White House and the media is striking.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Equal Rights or Special Rights?

The code word for the new racism is “diversity.”

As the mainstream media circles the wagons around Judge Sonia Sotomayor to protect her from the consequences of her own words and deeds, its main arguments are distractions from the issue at hand. A CNN reporter, for example, got all worked up because Rush Limbaugh had used the word “racist” to describe the judge’s words.

Since it has been repeated like a mantra that Judge Sotomayor’s words have been “taken out of context,” let us look at Rush Limbaugh in context. The cold fact is that Rush Limbaugh has not been nominated to sit on the highest court in the land, with a lifetime appointment, to have the lives and liberties of 300 million Americans in his hands.

Whatever you may think about his choice of words, those words and the ideas behind them do not change the law of the land. The words and actions of Supreme Court justices do. Anyone who doesn’t like what Rush Limbaugh says can simply turn off the radio or change the station. But you cannot escape the consequences of Supreme Court decisions. Nor will your children or grandchildren.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

3 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/4/2009

  1. The story about the Italian Radicali not having enough coverage is very biased and misleading when it alleges that Berlusconi “controls 90% of mainstream television”.

    This is the kind of absurd statements that sound believable only to foreigner who don’t have first-hand knowledge of Italian television. Anybody who sees any program coming from RAI3 will immediately realize how extremely Leftist state television really is. In fact, state juggernauts such as TG3 and Ballarò have an explicitly Leftist editorial line.

    The fact that Berlusconi is the premier doesn’t give him full control over the state broadcasters. His control is extremely limited. Does the BBC turn coats every time the British government changes? In fact, it seems that Berlusconi doesn’t even fully control *his* own televisions, or rather that he’s too honest and fair for his own good, given that he gets routinely and preferentially mocked by Leftist satyrical shows (such as Le Iene) on his own channels.

    As I have stated recently in a comment on one of these news feeds, I’m tired of seeing this kind of distortions.

    Also the Radicali aren’t a “liberal” party in the American sense. They are a libertarian party, pro-free market and left wing only when it comes to ethical issues such as “gay rights” or euthanasia/abortion. I suspect the reason the Radicali are having problems with RAI is that RAI is too Leftist for the Radicali (who are a thorn in the side of the PD).

  2. Hello, Baron. I’d be interested to read your opinion on Obama’s speech in Cairo.

    Before Obama was elected, any remark to the effect that he was called Hussein, that he had been raised as a Muslim when a child or that he might still be a closet Muslim was met with howls of “racism!”.

    Now, it’s Obama himself who boasts about the first two facts during official visits abroad, quotes the Koran, salutes his hosts with “asalam aleikum” and pretends that the United States is one of the biggest Muslim countries in the world (this being obviously a lie).

    Also note the way he says “my country”. I’m not American, but I don’t think U.S. presidents, when they visit foreign countries, use to speak this way. It seems to me they’d rather say “the United States”.

    The phrase “my country”, used in such a situation, tends to emphasise the fact that, on the contrary, America has been “his country” only very recently and in a very superficial way ; that this man does not really feel American.

    Why, otherwise, should he feel the need to assert the blindingly obvious : that the president of the United States’ country is the United States ?

  3. I’d recommend reading Robert Spencer’s annotated edition of Obama’s speech (should still be on the front page).

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