Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/9/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 6/9/2009Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, was pelted with eggs today when he tried to give a press conference outside the House of Lords. But I guess that’s OK, because he’s a Nazi, and doesn’t deserve to be able to speak. The egg-throwers were simply performing a public service.

In other news, the World Health Organization is on the verge of declaring the swine flu a pandemic.

Thanks to ACT for America, C. Cantoni, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JCPA, Tuan Jim, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Berlusconi: I Am the Missionary Guiding Us Out of the Crisis
Fed Said to Retreat From Seeking Debt-Issuing Power
Turkey: Gov’t Ponders an IMF-Free Future
Barack Obama Invokes Jesus More Than George W. Bush
Political Sniping Begins to Replace Army Pick
Suspect in Soldier Shooting Says He Was Justified
PETA Portrays 2010 Olympic Mascots as Bloodthirsty Seal Hunters
The Real Scandal
Europe and the EU
EU Elections: An Anti-Slump and Anti-Immigration Vote
EU Elections: PDL and PD Fall as Lega, Italia Dei Valori Soar
EU: European Voters Know What They Don’t Want
EU: The Collected Excuses of the Decimated Left
EU: Ugly But Interesting in Strasbourg
Europe’s Cap-and-Trade Scheme a Cautionary Tale for the U.S.
Fairness Doctrine: Berlusconi, Law to Repeal Soon
Finland: Timo Soini Drew Support Evenly From Across the Country
Germany Lifts Visa Requirement for Turkish Nationals
Germany: All Four Suspects in Terrorism Trial Set to Confess
Headscarved Deputy in Local Parliament, a First in Belgium
Hungary’s Socialists in Chaos
Hungary to Outlaw Holocaust Denial
Norway: Imam Charged With the Use of Violence
Nuclear: Cyprus Applies to Join Cern
Obama in Good Intentions Land
Sweden’s Extreme Left Ups Violent Attacks
Swiss Court Rules Against American in Sheik Case
Terrorism: Milan Investigation Leads to Arrest of 5 Maghrebis
UK Hacker Asks Judges to Stop Extradition to US
UK: BNP Leader Nick Griffin Abandons Press Conference After Being Pelted With Eggs
UK: Blair’s ‘Religious Literacy’ Call
UK: Catholic Mother Launches Legal Battle After Son Placed With Gay Foster Parents
UK: Children Should be Taught Christian Values, Says New Archbishop
UK: Gordon Brown Refuses to Publish Report Into Finances of Labour MP Shahid Malik
UK: Hospital Superbug Fight ‘Hampered by NHS Targets’ Says BMA
UK: Privacy Invasion Fears Over First Mobile Phone Directory That Stores Every Number in Britain
Vaclav Klaus: 20 Years After the Fall of Communism: A View of a Non-Neutral Insider
Serbia: Italian Foreign Minister Calls for Swift EU Integration
Mediterranean Union
Algeria Signs Deal With Egypt, Italy to Set Up Gk3 Pipeline
North Africa
Terrorism: Algeria; More Attacks in Kabylia
Israel and the Palestinians
Dore Gold: U.S. Policy on Israeli Settlements
Israel-Vatican: Church Tax Flap
Obama Proposes Mideast Peace Plan Seeking Solution in Two Years
Palestinian Children in Poland for Therapy
We Stand Behind You, Obama Assures Israeli PM
Middle East
Energy: Turkey’s Demand for Nabucco Still Debated, Minister
Fr. Samir: Obama on Islam Pleases, But There Are Some Lies and Silences
Saudi Arabia: ‘Menahi’ Screening Irks Some
Turkey Challenged by EU Vote Results
Turkey Can Play Role in NATO Plan
Turkish Prosecutors Seek Annulment of President’s Trial Ruling for Fraud
Russia: Controversial Article on Reasons for WWII Not Russian Defense Ministry’s Official Position — Chief of Staff
US Envoy Urges Progress in Armenia-Turkey Reconciliation Talks
South Asia
Indonesia/Malaysia: Tensions Over Disputed Waters
Indonesia/Malaysia: Model-Wife Was Abused
Indonesia: Saudi Arabian Ambassador Officiates Project Worth Billions in Aceh
Indonesia: Afghans, Iraqis Detained in East Java
Thai Army Denies Attacking Mosque
Far East
Hong Kong Probes 3rd Acid Attack
S. Korea: Don’t Dwell on the Past When the Present Demands Attention
S. Korea: Who Threatens Democracy?
Australia — Pacific
Foreign Students Could be Forced to Leave
Indian Students Protest in Sydney Again: Report
Police Apprehend a Man as Tension Boil Over in Harris Park Last Night.
Sub-Saharan Africa
Nigerian Militants Intensify ‘Oil War’ Threat
Somalia: President Asks Italy to Stop Al-Qaeda
Latin America
‘Many Missing’ After Peru Riots
Finland: “Time Running Out on Immigrant Integration”
Human Trafficking Organization Busted in Europe
Spain: Fraudulent Work Contracts for Immigrants, 16 Arrests
UAE: New Worker-Protection Norms in Force
Diplomats: Japanese Favored in Vote to Lead IAEA
Global Arms Spending Rises Despite Economic Woes
Mark Steyn: ‘The Muslim World’
The Simple Test That Can Spot Alzheimer’s in Five Minutes
Top 10 Arms Spenders, Arms Producers in the World
Who on Verge of Declaring H1N1 Flu Pandemic

Financial Crisis

Berlusconi: I Am the Missionary Guiding Us Out of the Crisis

(AGI) — Rome, 4 June — “I am a missionary, guiding us out of this crisis; it is my duty as Head of government”, said Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, during an interview in the morning show Mattino Cinque, aired on Berlusconi-owned TV channel Canale 5. According to the Premier, “what is influencing us is also this attitude produced by fear. This is why I am saying it is a negative thing to be singing the song of pessimism, because in doing so we generate fear and change attitudes and consumptions on the citizens’ part. It is a vicious circle we need to fight”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Fed Said to Retreat From Seeking Debt-Issuing Power

June 9 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve has backed off from seeking a new tool to forestall inflation, refraining from asking Congress for the power to issue its own debt, according to a person familiar with the matter..

Putting off the issue may avoid a political clash over whether the Fed should begin winding down its emergency lending programs while unemployment remains elevated. The central bank intends to rely instead on paying interest on banks’ reserve deposits to prevent a flood of cash into the economy.

After central bankers repeatedly said Fed bills would be a useful additional tool to mop up liquidity, Chairman Ben S. Bernanke omitted mention of the idea in congressional testimony last week. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Fed hasn’t made a formal request to lawmakers.

“It’s important that we have all the tools in place” for the Fed to drain liquidity when it’s ready, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview. Still, “it would be a mistake to start dealing with that before you know when, how, how much, et cetera.”

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat, said in an interview after Bernanke testified to his panel June 3 that “if it was something that the Fed needed, he wasn’t pushing it with this committee.” Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, the panel’s ranking Republican, said “I do not like that idea at all.”

Granting Powers

Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, has indicated he’s wary of granting the Fed additional regulatory powers. “The instances in which the Fed has failed to execute its existing authority are numerous,” Dodd said at a March 19 hearing.

In testimony before the budget committee, Bernanke suggested the Fed hasn’t abandoned the idea of issuing its own debt. Beyond the Fed’s current set of tools, Bernanke said “there are still other possibilities that we’re looking at and that perhaps we can discuss with Congress at some point,” without mentioning the authority to issue debt.

“We suspect the omission from Bernanke’s litany was not a slip of the tongue,” Joseph Abate, a money-market strategist at Barclays Capital in New York, said in a research note June 4.

Abate said in an interview that lawmakers may be reluctant to allow the Fed to issue debt that’s not subject to the Treasury limit and competes with other government securities. In addition, were Fed officials to ask Congress for debt-issuing powers, they would be “opening themselves up to political interference,” he said.

Fed Assets Double

The Fed has replenished and added liquidity in credit markets over the past year through lending programs and purchases of securities, more than doubling assets on its balance sheet to $2.1 trillion.

Gaining authority to issue its own debt would allow the Fed to reduce reserves in the banking system and push up interest rates without having to shrink the balance sheet, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen said March 25.

In his congressional testimony last week, Bernanke instead highlighted the Fed’s authority to pay interest on banks’ reserve deposits as a tool that bears “very importantly” on the central bank’s ability to tighten credit.

“We can raise interest rates, and then we can tighten policy,” Bernanke said in response to a question from Representative Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat.

Lacking the power to issue its own debt separates the Fed from central banks in Japan, China, the U.K. and other countries that do have such authority.

‘Nice to Have’

New York Fed President William Dudley said last week that under such a program, Fed debt would probably be restricted to maturities of less than 30 days. “We’d like Congress to consider it,” Dudley said, according to a transcript of an interview with the Economist. “It’s nice to have — as opposed to critical.”

Yet seeking the power may lead to other legislation. The Senate in April passed a nonbinding resolution asking the Fed to identify borrowers, a move Bernanke has said would be “counterproductive” and result in “severe adverse consequences” for the economy. Another resolution called for an “evaluation of the appropriate number and the associated costs” of the Fed banks.

Bernanke gave Congress a similar opening last year when he sought, and received, immediate authority from Congress to pay banks interest on the reserves they kept at the Fed. The 27-word clause was part of the October law creating the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

New Obligations

With that legislation, Congress placed several new obligations on the central bank. The Fed was required to devise a policy to ease terms on mortgages it had acquired, and to file reports with the legislature on emergency-lending programs and bailouts.

At the House Budget hearing, a lawmaker brought up the idea of making Fed district-bank presidents subject to Senate confirmation. Currently the presidents are nominated by the banks’ boards of directors and approved by the U.S.-appointed Fed governors in Washington.

Representative Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat, asked Bernanke during the hearing whether he supported the idea. “No,” the chairman replied.

“The last thing the Fed wants is for its independence of monetary policy to be challenged,” said David M. Jones, president of DMJ Advisors LLC in Denver and a former Fed economist. “It’s very unlikely this debt thing would be pursued.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Turkey: Gov’t Ponders an IMF-Free Future

ANKARA — Deputy PM and Economy Minister Ali Babacan says for the first time that Turkey is preparing for a future ‘with or without lending’from the International Monetary Fund. These comments further lessen the possibility of a standby with the Washington-based IMF, as Babacan was the architect of the last IMFdeal. Stocks in Istanbul plummet while bond yields rise.

Economy Minister Ali Babacan said Monday that Turkey was preparing for a future “with or without lending” from the IMF.

Babacan will meet John Lipsky, deputy managing director of the fund, in Ankara in the next two weeks as the country continues its year-old talks with the IMFon a support program, the minister said in a televised interview on NTV news channel.

“What we’re working on is preparation for what will be necessary with or without the IMF,” Babacan said. Turkey has not invited an International Monetary Fund delegation to Ankara since January when talks broke down over the government’s spending plans. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan said on June 4 that he would not agree to a “damaging” lending accord and investors should not take IMF loans for granted.

Stocks, the Turkish Lira and bonds dropped in response to the comments.. The drop in lira-denominated debt raised the average yield 18 basis points to 13.09 percent at 1:30 a.m. in Istanbul on Monday, an index of securities tracked by ABN Amro showed.

Istanbul Stock Exchange’s benchmark IMKB-100 index plummeted nearly 1,100 points, or 3.15 percent, to close Monday at 33,655 points. The index has lost 6.5 percent since June 1. The U.S. dollar gained nearly 2 percent against the Turkish Lira and was trading at 1.5665 liras at 5:00 p.m. Monday evening.

“Bond yields are rising because hopes of an IMF deal materializing in the short term faded,” said Burak Ustay, head of treasury at West LB in Istanbul.

“Babacan failed to give any real insight into the state of negotiations with the IMF over a new funding arrangement,” wrote Timothy Ash, head of emerging-market economics in London at Royal Bank of Scotland Group.

Predictions to be revised

Turkey is revising its three-year economic outlook and will probably change a prediction of a 3.6 percent contraction in gross domestic product this year “for the worse,” Babacan said. That would take the official forecast closer to the fund’s prediction of 5.1 percent contraction.

Babacan also said that the government would take steps to ensure the budget posts a surplus before interest payments on debt in the coming years. The government will announce the future of temporary sales tax cuts on cars and home appliances “a few days” before they expire on June 15, he said.

Turkey’s first recession in seven years has reduced revenue from import and company taxes just as the government ups expenditure against unemployment.

In the first four months of 2009, the overall budget deficit rose to 20.1 billion Turkish liras, double the original goal for the whole of the year. It is also about 42 percent of a revised target of 48 billion liras the government announced April 13.

The IMF is pressing for steps to ensure the worsening budget is temporary, calling for better tax collection and legislation to limit future deficits and borrowing.

Lipsky will visit Turkey on June 15, business daily Referans reported Monday. The visit is designed to inspect preparations for the fund’s annual meeting, to be held in Istanbul on Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, the newspaper reported.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Barack Obama Invokes Jesus More Than George W. Bush

He’s done it while talking about abortion and the Middle East, even the economy. The references serve at once as an affirmation of his faith and a rebuke against a rumor that persists for some to this day.

As president, Barack Obama has mentioned Jesus Christ in a number of high-profile public speeches — something his predecessor George W. Bush rarely did in such settings, even though Bush’s Christian faith was at the core of his political identity.

In his speech Thursday in Cairo, Obama told the crowd that he is a Christian and mentioned the Islamic story of Isra, in which Moses, Jesus and Mohammed joined in prayer.

At the University of Notre Dame on May 17, Obama talked about the good works he’d seen done by Christian community groups in Chicago. “I found myself drawn — not just to work with the church but to be in the church,” Obama said. “It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.”

And a month before that, Obama mentioned Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount at Georgetown University to make the case for his economic policies. Obama retold the story of two men, one who built his house on a pile of sand and the other who built his on a rock: “We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand,” Obama said. “We must build our house upon a rock.”

More than four months into the Obama presidency, a picture is emerging of a chief executive who is comfortable with public displays of his religion — although he has also paid tribute to other faiths and those he called “nonbelievers” during his inaugural address.

Obama’s invocation of the Christian Messiah is more overt than Americans heard in the public rhetoric of Bush in his time in the White House — even though Bush’s victories were powered in part by evangelical voters.

“I don’t recall a single example of Bush as president ever saying, ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ,’“ said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Christian group Family Research Council. “This is different.”

To Perkins, Obama’s overtly Christian rhetoric is a welcome development from an administration that he largely disagrees with on the issues, though Perkins sees a political motive behind it, as well.

“I applaud that. It gives people a sense of comfort,” Perkins said. “But I think it’s a veneer, a facade that covers over a lot of policies that are anti-Christian.” That includes, in his view, Obama’s stance in favor of abortion rights.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, doesn’t like the trend with Obama: “I don’t need to hear politicians tell me how religious they are,” Lynn said. “Obama in a very overt way does what Bush tended to do in a more covert way.”

Obama’s public embrace of his Christianity so far has not included choosing a church in the capital, and he has attended Sunday services only once since his election, on Easter Sunday. The White House said at the time the family was still looking for a spiritual home in Washington.

But inside his White House, Obama has placed his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — run by a 26-year old Pentecostal minister named Josh DuBois — under the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. That was widely seen as an effort to involve a religious perspective in the administration’s policy decisions.

Also, religious leaders meet with White House policymakers on a regular basis — and help to shape decisions on matters large and small. A White House speechwriter working on Obama’s Egypt speech called several faith leaders to get their thoughts. After the White House unveiled its budget in April, officials convened a two-hour conference call

with religious leaders to discuss how the spending plan would help the poor..

“President Obama is a committed Christian, and he’s being true to who he is,” DuBois told POLITICO. “There’s an appropriate role for faith in public life, and his remarks reflect that. And they also reflect a spirit of inclusivity that recognizes that we are a nation with a range of different religious backgrounds and traditions.”

Still, it is ironic that Obama, who rode a wave of young, Internet-savvy and more secular voters to the White House, would more freely invoke the name of Jesus Christ than did Bush.

In his first year as president, Bush mentioned “Jesus” or “Christ” a handful of times — but only in innocuous contexts, such as his Easter proclamation, a Christmas message and a proclamation on “Salvation Army Week.”

To be sure, Bush talked openly about his faith. On the day of his second inauguration as governor of Texas, Bush reportedly told Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, “I believe that God wants me to be president.” As a Texas governor running for president, Bush declared in a presidential debate that the philosopher he most identified with was Jesus.

And in an interview for Bob Woodward’s 2004 book “Plan of Attack,” Bush was asked whether he’d talked to his father, the President George H.W. Bush, about the decision to invade Iraq.

“There is a higher father that I appeal to,” Bush said.

But there are different political imperatives driving the two presidents. Obama has every incentive to broadcast his Christianity, while Bush, for other reasons, chose to narrowcast his religious references to a targeted audience.

For Obama, Christian rhetoric offers an opportunity to connect with a broader base of supporters in a nation in which 83 percent of Americans believe in God. What’s more, regularly invoking Jesus helps Obama minimize the number of American who believe he is a Muslim — a linkage that can be politically damaging. According to a Pew Research Center study, 11 percent of Americans believe, incorrectly, that Obama is a Muslim; it’s a number that is virtually unchanged from the 2008 presidential campaign.

Yet Obama has targeted his messages, too. He used speeches in Turkey and last week in Egypt to highlight the Muslim relatives in his past as a way to draw a connection with his Muslim audiences — something he shied away from during his presidential campaign.

For Bush, invoking Jesus publicly was fraught with political risk. He was so closely politically identified with the Christian right that overt talk of Christ from the White House risked alienating mainstream and secular voters. Bush instead quoted passages from scripture or Christian hymns, as he did in his 2003 State of the Union Address when he used the phrase “wonder-working power.” That sort of oblique reference resonated deeply with evangelical Christians but sailed largely unnoticed past secular voters.

To some, the difference between the two presidents goes beyond rhetoric. David Kuo, a former official in Bush’s faith-based office who later became disillusioned with the president he served, worries that both men have exploited religious phraseology for political gain. “From a spiritual perspective, that’s a great and grave danger,” he said. “When God becomes identified with a political agenda, God gets screwed.”

And he suspects that Obama has an even larger goal: the resurrection of the largely dormant Christian Left, a tradition that encompasses Martin Luther King’s civil rights leadership and dates back as far as Dorothy Day, the liberal activist who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s.

Recast in 21st Century terms, that long-dormant stream of American political life could become a powerful political force. A Pew survey released May 21 found that even as Americans remain highly religious, there has there been a slow decline in the number of Americans with socially conservative values — especially among young voters. That creates an opening for Obama, especially at a time when some conservative evangelicals are telling pollsters they are frustrated and disillusioned with politics.

“In the long term, this could be huge,” said Stephen Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America, who is active in left-leaning political efforts. “There are swing Catholics and swing Protestants even within the evangelicals. To the extent Obama can mobilize those people as part of a new Democratic coalition, that marginalizes Republicans even further.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Political Sniping Begins to Replace Army Pick

Stage set in upstate New York for race to fill McHugh’s seat

When President Obama picked Rep. John M. McHugh last week to be Army secretary, he opened up a Republican seat in New York’s 23rd District, which Mr. Obama carried in November and Democrats are targeting to add to their growing House majority.

Mr. Obama’s nomination of the top-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee was to some extent an effort to further deliver on his campaign promise to run a bipartisan administration. However, Republican campaign strategists say they suspect political maneuvering engineered by the White House’s politically aggressive chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee when the Democrats took back control of the House in 2006.

“Make no mistake about it, John McHugh is an incredibly qualified nominee for secretary of the Army, and he deserves a swift confirmation,” the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) said in a memo to “interested parties” last week.

But, the memo added, “there is no doubt that” Mr. Emanuel “was well aware of the political ramifications surrounding the selection when this plan was hatched. The party boss in the West Wing saw a political opportunity and he seized it.”

The special election sets up a virtual rerun of the race in the nearby 20th District, which attracted national attention.

Democrats in March barely retained the seat vacated by Kirsten Gillibrand when she was appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate. Democratic newcomer Scott Murphy edged veteran Republican state lawmaker Jim Tedisco in the hotly contested race.

Asked if there is any truth to the NRCC’s charges of political chicanery in Mr. Obama’s decision, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor sidestepped the question last week.

“The president outlined the reasons he nominated Congressman McHugh in his remarks yesterday, so I’d refer you there,” Mr. Vietor said.

Republican Party strategists point to instances in which the president has nominated Republican officeholders, effectively removing them from the political arena. Earlier this year, Mr. Obama tapped New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg to be secretary of commerce at a time when Republicans were hoping Mr. Gregg would run for re-election in 2010. Mr. Gregg, after first accepting the nomination, withdrew his name but also decided not to seek a fourth Senate term.

Last month, Mr. Obama nominated Utah Republican Gov. Jon H. Huntsman Jr., a potential presidential rival in 2012, to be ambassador to China, effectively removing him from the 2012 election cycle.

Mr. Obama’s nomination of Mr. McHugh last week has only intensified partisan accusations that the White House is using the nominating process for its own political gain.

“You can imagine Rahm Emanuel looking at the congressional district map, and they see a competitive seat. You can’t ignore the fact that there are political motivations behind this,” a Republican Party strategist said Friday.

If Mr. McHugh, as expected, is confirmed and resigns his seat, New York Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson must set a date for a special election, which would be held within 30 to 40 days, or leave the seat vacant until the state’s general election date in November.

The upstate New York district has never been represented by Democrats, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Mr. McHugh, a political moderate, has held the seat since 1992. He was re-elected in November with 65 percent of the vote, and Democrats were given little, if any, chance of beating him next year.

With no incumbent in the race, it’s a very different story, Democratic strategists said last week. “With the right candidate, Democrats can win,” said June O’Neill, Democratic state chairman.

Mr. Obama carried the district last year over Republican rival Sen. John McCain with 52 percent of the vote, though President George W. Bush won the district in 2004. Democrat Eliot Spitzer carried it in his 2006 gubernatorial campaign, as did Mrs. Clinton that same year.

“This is winnable with the right candidate, but it will be tough,” said Shripal Shah, a DCCC campaign spokesman. “Right now our focus is working with local Democrats to begin the process of recruiting our candidate.”

Still, Democrats acknowledge that they do not have much of a party structure in the district because of the Republicans’ political dominance there over the decades. Party registration favors the Republican Party 167,272 to 120,887.

But Democrats recently have made inroads in the district. State Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine won his seat in 2008 and is considering a possible bid for the House vacancy.

“This is a district that has increasingly trended in favor of the Democrats, but we believe it is winnable with a candidate who can carry on John McHugh’s legacy of working across party lines,” said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the NRCC.

Even with the 23rd District’s long-held Republican history, election trackers say the contest is impossible to forecast right now.

“The Democrats have a chance there, but it will be difficult if not virtually impossible to handicap the race without knowing who the nominees are, and we may not know that for a couple of months. Right now, our initial rating of the race is a sheer tossup,” said Nathan Gonzales, a political editor at the Rothenberg Political Report.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Suspect in Soldier Shooting Says He Was Justified

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A Muslim convert charged with fatally shooting an American soldier at a military recruiting center said Tuesday that he doesn’t consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.

“I do feel I’m not guilty,” Abdulhakim Muhammad told The Associated Press in a collect call from the Pulaski County jail. “I don’t think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason.”

Pvt. William Andrew Long, 23, of Conway had just completed basic training and was volunteering at the west Little Rock recruiting office before starting an assignment in South Korea. He was shot dead June 1 while smoking a cigarette outside the building, and a fellow soldier, Pvt. Quinton I. Ezeagwula, 18, of Jacksonville was wounded.

“Yes, I did tell the police upon my arrest that this was an act of retaliation, and not a reaction on the soldiers personally,” Muhammad said. He called it “a act, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the world, and also a retaliation on U.S. military.”

In the interview, Muhammad also disputed his lawyer’s claim that he had been “radicalized” in a Yemeni prison and said fellow prisoners that some call terrorists were actually “very good Muslim brothers.”

He also said he didn’t specifically plan the shootings that morning.

“It’s been on my mind for awhile. It wasn’t nothing planned really. It was just the heat of the moment, you know,” said Muhammad, who was arrested on a highway shortly after the attack.

Prosecutor Larry Jegley, who on Monday won a gag order in the case, declined to comment specifically on Muhammad’s remarks.

“I asked for the gag order to protect Mr. Muhammad’s right for a fair trial,” Jegley said. “I’ve never had a situation like this with a gag order and I’m sure Mr. Muhammad’s attorney will take care of it.”

Muhammad, 23, said he wanted revenge for claims that American military personnel had desecrated copies of the Quran and killed or raped Muslims. “For this reason, no Muslim, male or female, sane or insane, little, big, small, old can accept or tolerate,” he said.

He said the U.S. military would never treat Christians and their Scriptures in the same manner.

“U.S. soldiers are killing innocent Muslim men and women. We believe that we have to strike back. We believe in eye for an eye. We don’t believe in turning the other cheek,” he said.

Asked whether he considered the shootings at the recruiting center an act of war, Muhammad said “I didn’t know the soldiers personally, but yes, it was an attack of retaliation. And I feel that other attacks, not by me or people I know, but definitely Muslims in this country and others elsewhere, are going to attack for doing those things they did,” especially desecrating the Quran.

Last week, defense lawyer Jim Hensley said his client had been tortured and “radicalized” in a Yemeni prison after entering the country to teach English. He was held there for immigration violations, and Yemeni officials have denied mistreatment.

“Those claims … are all lies,” Muhammad said Tuesday. “That never happened in Yemen. The officials dealt with me in a gentle way.”

Hensley said Tuesday that any information spread by any of the parties since Monday morning would violate the gag order and declined to say whether he would advise his client to remain silent pending a trial.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


PETA Portrays 2010 Olympic Mascots as Bloodthirsty Seal Hunters

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Think I need to some Canadian maple syrup.]

Some groups really know how to hop on the bandwagon to get some press. PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — says the 2010 Olympics is tarnished as long as the seal hunt continues in Canada. The group has launched an animated video of the cute and quirky mascots for the Games, portraying them as crazed seal hunters on a rampage to club baby seals. Here’s the full story:

Canwest News Service

The mascots for the Vancouver Olympics are portrayed as club-wielding seal hunters in a new ad from the controversial animal rights group PETA.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched an animated video on its Web site Monday that depicts the three Olympic mascots — Miga, Quatchi and Sumi — chasing down a baby seal with a club, then standing over the animal’s blood-soaked body in the next scene. PETA’s spoof is the latest in its international campaign to stop the annual seal slaughter off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, the group said.

In January, PETA launched a spoof of the 2010 logo, depicting the iconic inukshuk clubbing a seal, with the Olympics rings dripping blood. Lawyers from the U.S. Olympic Committee asked PETA last month to stop using the logo on merchandise being sold online.

PETA is also urging a boycott of Canadian maple syrup.

“As long as the seal slaughter exists, Canada’s image is tainted by cruelty to animals on a massive scale,” PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman said.

“If Canada wants the Olympics to get clean press, it needs to stop the universally condemned massacre of seals.”

Organizers with the Vancouver 2010 Olympics could not be immediately reached to comment on the animation.

“While some organizations may use Vancouver 2010 and the Olympic spotlight as a vehicle to make themselves heard on issues unrelated to the Games, we simply have no jurisdiction in this area,” VANOC stated in a previous news release on a similar issue.


So anything publicly “Canadian” could be a PETA target — or ticket — to press for its organization’s voice against seal hunting. What about hockey, Beaver Tail deep-fried pastries and Anne of Green Gables?

Meanwhile, last month, Governor General Michaëlle Jean drew attention to sealing during a visit north where she sampled seal heart in a move of solidarity with the Inuit people.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

The Real Scandal

Call the corner pizza delivery place, and the clerk can tell from your phone number whether you ordered olives six months ago. Amazon knows what you read last year.

But go to a walk-in clinic, and you’ll likely be told to fill out forms with a pen and a clipboard, and to call the hospital or your old doctor’s office if you want to get your records faxed over.

The medical system stands to benefit, more than any other, from the possibilities of electronic databases. Yet it has been slow to adopt the technology. The Ontario government has been promising e-health records since the turn of the millennium, but Ontarians aren’t likely to have access to online health records until at least 2015. That’s the biggest eHealth scandal of all.

Of course, that doesn’t make it any less scandalous that eHealth Ontario spent $5 million on untendered contracts over just a few months. Or that one well-paid consultant billed for consulting herself. (It was, apparently, just a typo on the invoice. But it was paid.) Or that another consultant, while earning $2,700 a day, saw fit to bill the public agency for muffins and cups of tea.

There’s nothing wrong with billing for expenses, even small ones. Sometimes, it costs money — or muffins — to get the right expertise. But during a recession, when many Ontarians are worried about collecting a paycheque at all, it’s a lot harder to justify the consultant culture. At a time like this, every penny should be going into the development of new health-information systems — not to conferences and date squares.

The CEO of eHealth Ontario has been removed from her position (but not without $317,000 in compensation.) The government, eager to prevent any collateral political damage, is hoping the provincial auditor’s review, plus an examination from an outside agency, will restore public confidence.

In the meantime, Ontarians still don’t have electronic health records. The predecessor organization to eHealth Ontario spent six years and $647 million. In that time, Facebook and the iPhone were invented, but an online health database for Ontarians was not. Other provinces, notably Alberta, have delivered on the promise of electronic health records, so it is possible.

Canada Health Infoway estimates that as of March 31, 2010, 38 per cent of Canadians will have electronic health records, and by the end of that year, it will be close to 50 per cent.

Ontario has many of the elements in place, and there are some exciting projects here and there. Gradually, health-care institutions are getting rid of their clipboards and adopting internal electronic systems. And there are some examples of collaboration between institutions. But the day when Ontarians can log into a website to remind themselves of their cholesterol numbers — well, that day is a long way off.

That matters, because the lack of universal, accessible records puts our health at risk. E-health records make it easier for doctors to know whether a patient might react badly to a drug. They make it harder for addicts to get duplicate prescriptions. They reduce unnecessary lab tests. They make it less likely that patients will wait in emergency rooms while the staff try to figure out what’s going on.

The latest disruption to eHealth Ontario could delay this important work further. In the long run, that could cause more damage and cost more money than any consultant’s muffin habit.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

EU Elections: An Anti-Slump and Anti-Immigration Vote

(by Enrico Tibuzzi) (ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS — Europeans have given their votes to the centre-right conservative movements in a bid to get out of the economic crisis and to manage the phenomenon of immigration. But the continent has also taken new ideas of environmentalists on board. Euro-scepticism is on the rise, as is extreme-right xenophobia, taking advantage of the European Union’s shared forum to fight a democratic system based on tolerance and solidarity from within. On the day following the European elections, results are showing that there are many problems to be solved. But also foreshadowing a trend which has become more and more evident over the past ten years, since the leadership of the European Parliament shifted from the centre-left to the centre-right: the social-democratic model has reached the end of the line. Many people in the think tanks that have mushroomed these years thanks to the European project believe that the left-wing has to renew itself if it wants to be an alternative governing force — a notion confirmed by this electoral defeat. Having preached the absolute sovereignity of the free market for years, the centre-right has suddenly discovered the need for regulations, subsidies, nationalisation of banks and unemployment benefits — long considered part of left-wing culture. Not only has the social-economic model, however, entered a tail-spin. Europe itself is languishing since the EU is unable to react with adequate timeliness and force. This is the only way to explain the increasing number of abstentions in the elections for the European Parliament, the most democratic institution of the EU, and one-of-a-kind across the world. Despite the fact that today around three quarters of EU legislation is submitted for the approval of the Euro-Parliament, a proportion due to increase after the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, voter turnout has fallen from 61.99% in 1979 to 42.94% in the elections of the past days. The shift towards nationalism, for which governments are responsible, has also contributed some extend to this trend. Governments have been targeting so-called Euro-bureaucracy for decades, focusing on inter-governmental methods and the EU Council of Ministers with the European Commission as the universal joint of the EU machine. In the middle of this clash the Parliament in Strasburg has reached its seventh term, with a rich selection — 120 MPs according to one estimate — of Euro-sceptics, xenophobes and right-wing extremists from all over Europe. Still, Brussels is stressing that the broad majority has voted for pro-European political forces, the PPE most of all. Now it remains to be seen if the EU will be able to conclude the Lisbon Treaty with the second referendum in Ireland. And the reforms which must be carried out to continue the European project depend on it. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

EU Elections: PDL and PD Fall as Lega, Italia Dei Valori Soar

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 8 — Italy’s Partito della Libertà (Pdl) has not seen its popularity soar to new heights in the European elections, and nor has the Democratic Party (PD) has not fallen to pieces. In fact, both have seen their electoral popularity drop compared to 2008’s general election, though the PD did markedly worse than the PdL.

Lega Nord (Northern League) and Italia dei Valori were amongst those to gain from the voters’ shifting opinions, while neither of the two leftist parties passed the 4% threshold — thus remaining excluded from the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The European elections were characterized by a high level of abstention this year: 66.4% of Italians voted (compared to the 72.9% of 2004). Amongst the 27 EU countries, average voter turnout was at 43%, with the PPE confirmed as the most powerful group in the Europarliament, while the socialists were treading water.

Pdl: 35.26%, PD 26.13% — the Pdl received 35.6% of votes (10.8 million voters), far from the 40% symbolic threshold many though attainable and losing a little more than 2 percentage points compared to 2008, though gaining nearly 3 compared to the European elections of 2004. The PD, voted for by 8 million Italians, lost seven points when compared with 2008’s general election, and nearly 5 with respect to the elections of 2004. According to Democratic Party leader, Dario Franceschini, the vote will allow them to meet the two objectives defined at the start of the campaign: “a confirmation of the party’s platform,” as well as “stopping the Italian right”. The undersecretary Paolo Bonaiuti was quoted as saying, “Berlusconi is doing great. I can’t say he is completely satisfied, though I can say that these elections saw a high level of abstentionism, which certainly influenced the outcome”.

LEGA AND ITALIA DEI VALORI SOAR AS UDC PERFORMS WELL — Lega Nord achieved a double-digit electoral result with 10.2%, exceeding 2008’s 8.3%, while doubling those of the previous European elections (5%). The Lega’s leader, Umberto Bossi, said “I am satisfied, they’re important results”. For ‘Italia dei Valori’ numbers reached 7.99%, in decisive growth when compared to both 2008 (4.4%) and the previous elections (2.1%). The UDC achieved at 6.4% (compared with the 5.6% of 2008 and 5.9% of 2004).

LEFT AND RADICALS PUSHED OUT — There will be no room at the European Parliament for Italy’s leftist parties as they did not reach the 4% threshold. ‘Rifondazione Comunista-Sinistra europea-Comunisti Italiani’ polled 3.38%, while ‘Sinistra e Liberta’ reached 3.12%. Also missing from Strasbourg will be Emma Bonino and Marco Pannella, who pulled in just 2.4% of the vote.

The PdL came top in Marche and Umbria. For two regions which traditionally vote to the left, Marche and Umbria made an historic shift to the right in these European elections. In Marche, the Pdl reached 35.2%, while the PD went as far as 29.9%. In Umbria, the PDL-PD race finished 35.8% to 33.9%. The Lega, for its part, came close to topping the polls in Veneto with 28.4% of votes compared to 29.3% for the PdL. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

EU: European Voters Know What They Don’t Want

Was it a swing to the right — or just a return to reality? The result of the EU elections is not some terrible portent of doom. Instead, it is evidence that voters reward populists like Geert Wilders, who are not afraid to address issues that other parties don’t want to touch.

There is always a certain amount of risk associated with any election. It is a truth recognized by dictators around the world — leading them to prefer predetermined results. In the last elections for the North Korean “parliament,” for example, the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland got 100 percent of the vote and all 687 seats. It was a result that was difficult to misinterpret — and met the expectations of those involved.

The outcome of the European parliamentary elections was different. It was a disaster that became apparent as early as Thursday, when the results from the Netherlands became public. The right-wing populist Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party ended up as the second strongest party in the country behind the Christian Democrats.

Many were horrified. The correspondent for German public radio station ARD even called Wilders a “peroxide blond blowhard,” a “sleazy provocateur” and a “petty patriot.” In his commentary, the ARD correspondent went on to say that “his political program is focused entirely on demonizing Islam” and finished by saying that the Dutch should be ashamed of themselves.

Disdain for the Voting Public

But what looked on Thursday like a one-time lapse on the part of a single journalist had, by Sunday evening, become the mainstream message. The evening news wasn’t just talking about a rightward shift in European politics. Rather, one got the impression that right-wing extremists were about to take over power. The presenters seemed not only to have expected a different outcome but saw no reason to hide their disappointment — and expressed their disdain for the voting public accordingly.

On the German public television station ZDF, anchorman Claus Kleber spoke of the “renewed strength of the extreme right in Holland” as if it represented the reincarnation of the Nationaal Socialistische Beweging, the country’s pre-World War II fascist party. Another ARD reporter, speaking of the 15 percent achieved by the anti-Semitic Jobbik party in Hungary, slid effortlessly into a report on Wilders’ party in the Netherlands, as if the two results were somehow linked. Indeed, as the coverage focused on those parties that made gains, it was difficult to ignore the subtext of sympathy for the losses suffered by the center-left across the continent. How, the media seemed to be asking, could the social democrats have fallen so far?

Maybe like this. Germany, and a large part of Europe, has in recent decades incorporated vast swaths of social democratic values into their societies. The Social Democrats have lost their unique selling point. With the exception of the business-friendly Free Democrats, Germany’s parliament is full of politicians who are, in some shade or another, adherents of the social democratic worldview. The Christian Social Union (the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union) is to the left of the SPD on some issues. Merkel’s CDU is sometimes greener than the Greens and the far-left Left Party continues to cozy up to Germany’s mainstream parties.

Lidl Instead of Aldi

When almost all the parties on offer are center-left, there is no longer a compelling reason to vote SPD. On the contrary, there is nothing wrong with taking a look at those who offer something a bit different — not unlike the way loyal Aldi shoppers take an occasional look at what rival supermarket chain Lidl is offering.

The European shift to the right, which is being decried across the continent, isn’t one. Rather, it is a signal for a return to reality. The established centrist parties — in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, Austria and elsewhere — are busy with crisis management, with the nationalization of ailing banks and bankrupt companies. They are neither able nor willing to attend to other problems.

They aren’t thinking about the consequences of immigration, about the loss of cultural identity that many people with “non-immigrant backgrounds” sense — people who do not want to be labeled as xenophobes, right-wing extremists or neo-Nazis as a result. This omission benefits so-called “populists” like Geert Wilders, who are not afraid to tackle politically incorrect issues and provide answers to questions that nobody else wants to pose.

In this regard, “xenophobia” is a term which should be used only where it is really appropriate. For example, when the residents of the eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania campaign against Poles who invest in the economically weak state, open businesses, create jobs and pay taxes. Or when foreigners get chased through the eastern German town of Guben and no locals come to their rescue.

Surprisingly Good Elections

On the other hand, the word “xenophobia” should not be used when immigrants are asked to observe the customs and laws of the country in which they want to live and work. This includes, in addition to the obligation to send children to school, the renunciation of family traditions which end in bloodbaths.

And finally: The “stupid” voters have recognized that they are supporting a parliament whose primary task is not to oversee the EU’s executive arm but to take care of politicians who their parties want to reward for their loyal support. Those who, for whatever reasons, have failed at home, or who need to take a time-out from national politics, get sent to Brussels. The ex-chair of the German Greens, Angelika Beer, was disposed of by sending her to the EU capital. After the Greens failed to re-nominate her, she left the party. Now it’s the turn of another ex-chair of the Greens, Reinhard Bütikofer, who, like many of his colleagues, can not imagine a life after politics.

The Christian Democrats’ Joachim Zeller, the pleasant former mayor of Berlin’s Mitte district, did not achieve much in that position and has now been rewarded with a seat in Brussels. Sahra Wagenknecht of the Left Party’s Communist Platform can often be seen on TV shows — but few people can remember her ever making a relevant speech in Brussels. And anyone who had witnessed just a single appearance by the Social Democrat’s leading candidate in the European elections, Martin Schulz, could have predicted that not even SPD chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier could help him.

Seen from this perspective, the European elections went surprisingly well, especially in Germany. There, turnout was slightly higher than last time, the far-right were ignored and the far-left Left Party only received single-digit support. The populace does not always know what it wants. But mostly it knows what it does not want. And that’s a good thing.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU: The Collected Excuses of the Decimated Left

What has happened in the first five months of 2009?

Disgruntled French workers have kidnapped their bosses.

In Edinburgh, vandals trashed the windows of the house and car belonging to disgraced and comfortably-pensioned banker Sir Fred Goodwin, formerly the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In Germany, the designated SPD candidate for the chancellorship Frank-Walter Steinmeier thundered to the Opel car-workers that “GM made good earnings at Opel for a long time, and it is indecent to now throw away the workers at European locations like squeezed-out lemons.”

On Monday, after the appreciable clouds of dust from the European Parliament elections had settled, Steinmeier wasn’t doing much thundering. The Social Democrats got a bloody nose at the polls.

And the same thing happened to the parties of the left in France, in Britain, where Gordon Brown’s Labour Party ran a dismal third behind even the anti-EUers of the UK Independence Party, in Spain, Hungary, Portugal — and not least in Finland.

The bourgeoisie may not sleep very well, but they were certainly wide awake for the weekend’s elections across the continent.

At least when they are compared with their brothers on the European left, who were fast asleep the whole time.

Why did the traditional social democratic and labour parties lose? Where did they disappear to?

It is a good question. The conditions on the ground ought by rights to have been ideal for the propagating of the so-called “little man” ideology.

What we need are some collected explanations and excuses.

Explanation No.1: The left channeled its frustration and dissatisfaction by staying at home.

This sort of approach to the defeat was taken by the Finnish SDP leader Jutta Urpilainen, who commented that the low voter turnout correlates “traditionally” with a poor performance by the Social Democrats.

It’s an interesting enough tradition, but a lousy excuse. If in times like these one cannot get the punters behind one, then is it ever going to happen?

Explanation No.2: The Financial Times columnist Quentin Peel argued that in straitened times the insecure voters “opted for the safety of the right”.

Much the same was put forward by the Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, from the liberal-conservative Civic Platform party, during a visit to Helsinki. Sikorski argues that the European Parliament elections demonstrate that voters do not want too much state interference or protectionism.

An interesting train of thought, but it walks with a pronounced limp. Rightist leaders from Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel onwards have hardly done anything else but sticking the state’s nose into everything.

So where’s the safety?

However, out of this we can cook up a third excuse.

Explanation No.3: What if the right is the new red?

In the words of the Dutch socialist MEP Jan-Marinus Wiersman: “The conservatives won by stealing our free market-sceptic agenda.”

It has the ring of an excuse after the horse has bolted, but there is a plausibility to it all the same.

As the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung noted — what were they doing in the first place, leaving their property lying around to get it stolen?

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

EU: Ugly But Interesting in Strasbourg

Ever since the economic crisis broke I have been scanning the European horizon for signs of political turmoil: red flags being unfurled, jackboots polished. But on the evidence of the elections for the European parliament over the weekend, I should have directed my gaze closer to home. There is only one big country in the European Union that is having a national nervous breakdown — Britain.

The UK was the only one of the six biggest EU countries where the governing party did not come either first or a close second. Labour was forced into a humiliating third position with just over 15 per cent of the vote. Gordon Brown’s defeated army straggled in behind the United Kingdom Independence party (Ukip), which wants to pull Britain out of the EU. To compound the agony, the collapse in Labour’s vote meant that the openly racist British National party (BNP) has gained two seats in the parliament — and all the money and publicity that goes with it.

The picture in the five other largest EU countries is very different. Despite the fact that the German economy has shrunk by almost 7 per cent over the past year, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats will again be the largest German party in the European parliament. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP trounced the Socialist opposition — and both the extreme left and the extreme right had a bad night. Poland’s centre-right Civic Platform won easily. The governing People of Freedom party came out ahead in Italy, despite a rash of humiliating scandals involving its leader Silvio Berlusconi. Even in Spain, where unemployment has soared, the ruling Socialists only lost narrowly to the centre-right.

So what has set Britain apart? Three things, I think. First, the fact that a scandal over expenses for members of the UK parliament has allowed the public to focus the anger generated by the economic crisis on to the “political class”. The second factor is the sheer tiredness of a Labour government that has been in power since 1997, allied to the anti-charismatic non-appeal of Mr Brown. Finally, there is a deep national well of British scepticism towards the European project.

Once you move beyond the EU’s big six, however, the British results look a little less eccentric. There are several European countries in which far-right parties, anti-immigration parties and eurosceptic groups (not, incidentally, one and the same thing) have made significant gains.

Perhaps the most striking results came in the Netherlands, where a Muslim-bashing, anti-immigration party led by Geert Wilders came second in the polls. In Hungary, Jobbik — a far-right party that is the spiritual cousin of the BNP — gained three seats. Nationalist and anti-immigration parties also made gains in Denmark, Finland, Austria, Greece and Romania. Back in Italy, Mr Berlusconi’s allies, the anti-immigration Northern League, doubled their share of the vote to 10 per cent. The French and Belgian far-right will also still have a presence in the parliament.

In total, extreme-right and extreme-left parties could now account for about 12 per cent of the new European parliament. Hardline eurosceptic parties such as Ukip will be another noisy and visible grouping. The British Conservatives aim to form another, milder eurosceptic bloc.

Oddly enough, the rise of the political extremes could achieve one of the long-held ambitions of ardent pro-Europeans — by generating some interest in the doings of the European parliament. Fans of the parliament have had two long-standing complaints. First, they lament the fact that mainstream political parties concentrate on national issues during the European election. Second, they worry that the parliament is ignored by the public.

Both complaints could be partially remedied by these elections — although not in a way that pro-Europeans will find particularly comforting. The success of Ukip rewarded a rare party that puts the EU at the centre of its campaigns — but which also despises the union and all its works.

Voter turnout fell to a new low of 43 per cent in these elections. Members of the parliament often blame the media for public indifference to their work. If only journalists could get across parliament’s crucial role in regulating chemicals, or “unbundling the local loop”, surely a fascinated public would flock to the polls?

The trouble is that the parliament’s doings — although important — are often numbingly consensual. The great mass of parliamentarians agree that theirs is a splendid institution doing valuable work. But self-congratulation, mixed in with a little committee work, does not make for compelling viewing.

The rare moments of drama in the Strasbourg hemicycle have come when genuinely famous national politicians have turned up — and blown a raspberry. Mr Berlusconi once suggested that a respected German member of parliament audition for a film role as a Nazi concentration camp guard. Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, likened the EU to the Soviet Union.

Parliamentarians were outraged by both incidents. But at least it got them on television. Now, with the arrival of a larger group of eccentrics, extremists and thugs, the decorous and complacent proceedings of the European parliament could be disrupted on a more regular basis.

The new parliament threatens to be uglier, more uncouth and more representative of Europe — in all its unsettling diversity.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Europe’s Cap-and-Trade Scheme a Cautionary Tale for the U.S.

The major cap-and-trade bill now working its way through Congress is not without precedent. The European Union has had a cap-and- trade regime in place for years. It just hasn’t worked so far.

Begun in 2005, the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme has raised energy prices with “uncertain” effects on greenhouse gas emissions, according to numerous studies.

Even green groups have been critical. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, has called ETS “an example of what not to do.”

This failure has not daunted fans of Congress’ cap-and-trade bill. They claim to have learned from the earlier mistakes.

“Those lessons have resulted in a pretty significant change in the way the U.S. system is being designed,” said Sierra Club lobbyist John Coequyt, who calls Europe’s program “ineffectual.”

Carbon Copy?

Critics like Myron Ebell, a climate policy analyst for the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, see no reason to be that optimistic. He notes that the main problem with ETS was the giving away of the program’s carbon allowances.

“Congressman Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) said we’re not going to make the same mistake here,” Ebell noted. “But as soon as it became apparent they didn’t have the votes without big-business support, they started giving away all of the credits.”

Indeed, the current bill began as a 100% auction of permits to emit greenhouse gases. It now would give away 85% of the permits to businesses, utilities and the like.

Those allocation policies will be the subject of a hearing Tuesday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

There will be more opportunities to tinker with the bill before it can get a vote on the House floor and move on to the Senate.

Cap-and-trade programs seek to reduce greenhouse gases by requiring businesses, utilities and others that emit the gases to have permits from the government. Essentially, they pay to pollute.

Under the programs, carbon permits are either given away or auctioned off, with the government making fewer available each year.

A business with more permits than it needs can sell them to others, creating a market in carbon. As the permits become scarcer, firms therefore have financial incentives to reduce their emissions.

Euro Trash

That is how it works in theory. But it hasn’t worked out that way in Europe, according to a study last year by the Government Accounting Office. The GAO is the nonpartisan fact-finding arm of Congress.

“The (ETS) program’s effects on emissions are uncertain and its impact on sustainable development has been limited,” the GAO said.

Individual EU nations tried to protect their local industries and ended up issuing more permits than there was total carbon output. In short, the permits never became scarce.

“In 2006, a release of emissions data revealed that the supply of allowances — the cap — exceeded the demand, and the allowance price collapsed,” the GAO found. The EU told the GAO that it could not be certain ETS resulted in any reduction of emissions.

The price of permits fell from about 30 euros per ton of carbon dioxide in April 2006 to 0.1 euro in September 2007.

The collapse in carbon permit prices gave the EU industries little reason to innovate. The GAO found that there had been “no serious degree of private sector investment in cleaner technologies.”

The EU has tried to address those concerns and tighten the allocation of permits.

Emissions did fall 3% in 2008, but experts on both sides agree that that was largely due to the recession, which has reduced industrial output and energy usage.

Meanwhile, energy prices for end users have risen sharply. From 2004 to 2007, household energy costs rose by 16% on average in the 25 EU countries and industrial rates rose by 32%, according to the European Commission.

Those prices have meant windfalls for some companies. CEI’s Ebell cites as an example how the German utilities used their influence to wrangle more allowances than the automakers.

“One utility immediately raised their rate 70%” after ETS was implemented, Ebell said. “But they had more credits than they needed to cover their emissions for that year, so they sold them to automakers. So the (utility’s) shareholders got two windfalls: one from raising the rates and one from selling the excess credits.”

Cap-and-trade fans argue that Congress’ bill would avoid such situations. Besides, they argue, cap-and-trade is the only politically possible way to enact a carbon reduction plan, since Big Business supports it.

A key backer is the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of green groups like the NRDC and businesses like General Electric , General Motors, Alcoa , Shell and Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK — News).

“There were two things that were learned (from Europe) that were important lessons,” the Sierra Club’s Coequyt said. “One is that you have to get the number of (carbon) credits right. If you set the cap too high, it becomes completely ineffectual. And that can be harder than people thought.”

He added: “The other thing that people learned was that if you give away credits to private companies, they will raise their price and pocket the value of the credits.”

Perverse Incentive?

Steve Corneli, senior vice president of NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG — News), part of the USCAP coalition, says that while Congress may give away 85% of the credits, that doesn’t mean the recipients can pocket them as windfalls.

“Thirty percent of the allowances go to regulated electric distribution companies who are required both by the bill and under their state regulatory regimes to pass through those benefits to their customers as a reduction in rates or energy efficiency programs.” Corneli said. “None of the money gets to be kept by the regulated distribution companies.”

But making energy prices cheaper would encourage more consumption, thus undermining the goal of cap-and-trade legislation.

Anne Smith, a climate policy analyst with the consulting firm CRA International, says there are differences between the EU’s cap-and-trade program and the House bill. But they are trade-offs more than improvements.

The EU excluded its transportation sector — the source of more than half of emissions — from its carbon cap. That made it unlikely the EU cap would comply with the goals set by the Kyoto Protocol.

The U.S. version does cap the transportation sector. That will ensure emissions reductions but raise transportation costs. “You’ll see larger carbon costs,” Smith said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Fairness Doctrine: Berlusconi, Law to Repeal Soon

(AGI) — Rome, 5 Jun. — “The Fairness Doctrine is a law that should be repealed soon,” said Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi during the taping of TV show Matrix.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Finland: Timo Soini Drew Support Evenly From Across the Country

Only a few of the new members of the European Parliament drew their support in Sunday’s poll from all parts of the country, in spite of the fact that Finland was treated as one large constituency.

Many gained the lion’s share of their votes from specific areas, often (unsurprisingly) close to their home, where they had stood previously in Parliamentary elections. The singular exception was Timo Soini of the True Finns, who gathered his massive haul from all parts of the country, according to Statistics Finland.

The only area of Finland where Soini did not pick up thousands of votes was the Swedish-speaking bastion of the Åland Islands.

Across the entire country, Soini swept up more than 130,000 votes, putting himself into 5th place on the all-time lists and becoming only the ninth candidate to break the 100,000 votes barrier.

He collected 12,300 votes from Helsinki, and nearly 6,000 from his home town of Espoo, which is not traditionally a True Finns stronghold.

Others who managed to get a relatively even spread of votes around Finland included former Centre Party Prime Minister Anneli Jäätteenmäki, the only successful “celebrity” candidate Mitro Repo (SDP), and the Christian Democrats’ Sari Essayah, who benefited both from tactical voting by her party supporters and the election alliance that the CD forged with the True Finns.

Among those whose support was strongly localised was the surprise winner of the bunch, the Centre Party’s Riikka Manner.

She became an MEP in great measure through votes gathered in Eastern Finland, and also gained the greatest share of rural votes of any of the candidates, around 40% of her total.

Nearly one in five of those relatively few members of the electorate who bothered to vote in the constituencies of North and South Savo went for Manner, while in many other areas her share fell below 1%. For example, in Helsinki Manner got just 0.3% of the total votes cast.

Hannu Takkula (Centre) and Liisa Jaakonsaari (SDP) took their votes particularly from the north, from the electoral areas of Lapland and Oulu respectively.

Those who made it on the National Coalition Party or Greens tickets gathered their votes predominantly from the cities.

The re-elected MEP Ville Itälä (Nat. Coal.) was as expected the main vote-catcher in the south-west. He gained more than 10,000 votes from his home city of Turku.

Itälä’s colleagues Eija-Riitta Korhola and Sirpa Pietikäinen both saw their strongest support coming from the cities of the south.

The Greens’ Heidi Hautala and Satu Hassi plucked their votes almost exclusively from the big cities.

Hautala was the biggest vote-winner in the capital Helsinki, collecting more than 18,000 of her 59,000 votes here.

Such was the dominance of Helsinki in Hautala’s total that she was in fact running second behind Hassi until the very end of the count, and then surged past her to win relatively comfortably. Satu Hassi took nearly 8,500 votes in Tampere, more than 11% of the votes cast in the city.

Carl Haglund (Swedish People’s Party) was equally dependent on a strong home base, collecting no less than 80% of his votes from Helsinki and surrounding Uusimaa.

The highest voter turnout in the country (68.4%) was recorded in Kauniainen, and among the strong Swedish-speaking areas of the west coast and Uusimaa.

Helsinki and Espoo also bucked the trend of election apathy with more than 50% turning out to vote.

At the other end of the scale came Northern Karelia, North and South Savo, and the Kymi election constituency.

In Hyrynsalmi in Eastern Finland, only 25.5% bothered to get up from their armchair to go and vote.

The low turnout hurt the Centre Party in particular. Those municipalities where voter participation did not reach 30% are all traditional Centre Party strongholds in the east and in Kainuu.

The problems of the Centre Party were compounded by the fact that some of those who did bother to cast a vote chose to give it to the True Finns in a spirit of protest.

The True Finns’ additional votes (they moved from less than 1% in 2004 to nearly 10% at this election) would appear to have been taken fairly evenly from the centre and the left, and thus contributed in their own way to the wiping out of the Left Alliance’s representation in the European Parliament.

While Timo Soini’s name on the ballot obviously caught the eye, it is hard to say as yet that the True Finns actually brought out “new” voters: it might be fairer to suggest they prevented a larger number from staying at home. Subsequent analysis of voting patterns may shed more light on this.

In the country as a whole, voter turnout reached 40.3%, down from 41.1% in 2004.

The figures are both well below the initial European Parliament election of 1996, but on that occasion the total (60.3%) was swelled by the holding of the municipal and European elections at the same time.

One analyst has noted that the low turnout actually benefited one party in particular: had the percentage been closer to 50%, the Swedish People’s Party, which enjoyed higher-than-average participation among its supporters, would have had a much harder time getting a mandate and a sitting MEP.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Germany Lifts Visa Requirement for Turkish Nationals

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 5 — German Embassy in Ankara said today Turkish artists, scientists, sports people and drivers would no longer need a travel visa to enter Germany, as Anatolia news agency reports. The partial lifting of the visa requirement by Germany came after a ruling by a top European court that cleared the way for Turkish nationals providing services in European Union member states to enter the EU without having to obtain visas. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in February that two Turkish truck drivers working for a Turkish company engaged in the international transport of goods had the right to enter Germany without a visa under a past agreement signed between Turkey and the European Union. The German Embassy said Turkish artists, academicians, sports people and drivers can enter Germany for providing services of artistic, scientific and sportive value, on the condition that they maintain their place of residence in Turkey and their stay in Germany does not exceed two months. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Germany: All Four Suspects in Terrorism Trial Set to Confess

Four suspected Islamist militants on trial for plotting to kill Americans in Germany have told a Duesseldorf court that they are prepared to confess.

Police arrested three of the men in Germany in 2007. The fourth man was seized in Turkey.

Prosecutors say the group intended to carry out attacks on a range of military installations and civilian targets in Germany on behalf of the Islamic Jihad Union, a group, which originated in Uzbekistan and is said to have close ties to the al-Qaeda terror network.

Initially, during Tuesday’s hearing, one of the defendants, a Turkish national who grew up in Germany, got the ball rolling by telling the presiding judge that he was ready to make a confession.

“I don’t care whether you give me 20 or 30 years,” Adem Y. said on the 15th day of the trial. “I just want this to be over, it’s boring.”

The accused then requested and was given permission to hold a meeting with the other three members of what’s being called the “Sauerland” group, who are being held at separate correctional facilities. The name comes from the region of western Germany where three of the four were arrested

The other defendants are Fritz G. and Daniel S., who are German converts to Islam, and Attila S., a German national of Turkish origin. After the meeting, the other three agreed to join Adem Y. in pleading guilty and confessing.

The judge emphasized that he was only interested in full confessions and wanted “all the cards on the table, open, and none of them marked.”

“Evidence overwhelming”

The evidence against the men, prosecutors say, is overwhelming.

Testifying last week, the chief police investigator, Ralf K., said the four men were overheard by police discussing September 11, 2007 as a possible date for an attack and they were issued orders, e-mailed to them from Pakistan, “to finish the job.”

When police arrested them, on September 4, 2007, they had in their possession enough equipment to make explosives 100 times more powerful than those used in the 2005 London bombings. The authorities seized 26 detonators and 12 drums of hydrogen peroxide.

If convicted, the suspects could receive up to 15 years in prison.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Headscarved Deputy in Local Parliament, a First in Belgium

According to unofficial snap results, six ethnic Turkish deputies are among those deputies who will enter regional parliaments in Belgium after elections which were held on Sunday, including the country’s first ever headscarved deputy.

In regional elections, the deputies for four separate parliaments — the Brussels-Capital region, 89 deputies; Walloon, 75 deputies; the Flemish region, 124 deputies; and the German-speaking Community, 25 deputies — were elected, with 30 Turkish candidates running in Sunday’s elections.

Before Sunday’s elections, only two Turkish deputies had seats in the Brussels-Capital regional parliament. According to the snap results, now the parliaments in Brussels and the Flemish region have three Turkish deputies each.

After Sunday’s election, Mahinur Özdemir, 28, also entered the regional parliament. Before becoming a deputy, Özdemir had been serving as a councilor at municipal council of Schaerbeek since 2006. Schaerbeek has a considerable Turkish population.

Özdemir, who is a graduate of the human resources department at the Free University of Brussels and has a masters’ degree in public administration, was a target for extremist right-wing parties during the election campaign.

The fact that during the election campaign her party used a photograph of Özdemir displayed in a way to conceal her headscarf led to debates, with her party denying that it tried to hide her headscarf, saying that the image was prepared by outside sources.

However, Belgian broadcaster RTBF said this is not the first time such a thing had happened and that the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party (CD&V) also tried to hide Özdemir’s headscarf during the municipal elections of 2006.

Meanwhile, Emir Kir —who became the first Turkish minister abroad after being appointed as the minister of the Brussels-Capital Region responsible for historical monuments, cleaning, family and sports in 2004 — increased his votes in Sunday’s elections.

Getting 11,546 preferential votes, Kir received the second highest number of votes for his Socialist Party, after Charles Piqué, the minister-president of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, who received the most number of preferential votes.

Those who are elected to the local parliaments will officially take office next week.

In addition to the local elections, seven Turkish candidates ran in Belgium’s European Parliament elections. Selahattin Koçak, who was considered mostly likely candidate to become a member of the European Parliament (MEP), got 35,000 votes; however, it was not enough to become a MEP.

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

Hungary’s Socialists in Chaos

“The situation within Hungary’s Socialist Party (MSZP) is chaotic and anarchic, political analyst Gábor Török, head of Vision Consulting said. He believes that a catastrophic defeat of the party at the European Parliamentary elections might lead to early elections in Hungary.

“MSZP is in a status that is unprecedented since the early 1990s: there is no politician among the Socialists that would be making efforts for the party’s election victory,” Török told InfoRádió.

He believes individual and group interests have been put forward in the party and every Socialist MP is gearing up for the period after EP elections. “In the current situation it might even lead to early elections if the MSZP shows a disastrous performance at the 7 June poll,” the political analyst said.

A devastating defeat at the EP election would not break up the MSZP, but crack the shell of the party, he believes. Török added that the situation within the party is already “anarchic and chaotic”.

Source: Portfolio Online Financial Journal

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Hungary to Outlaw Holocaust Denial

BUDAPEST (JTA) — Holocaust denial and public incitement of racial hatred will be illegal under constitutional changes proposed by Hungary’s Socialist minority administration.

The proposed legislation is being drafted for publication within weeks..

The government, preoccupied with the recession that has hit Eastern Europe hard and made Hungary the host of some of the worst neo-Nazi rabble in Europe, has planned the legal reform in response to public outrage at recent provocations.

Education Minister István Hiller has called for legislation to make Holocaust denial a punishable offense. Interior Minister Tibor Draskovics has proposed constitutional amendments to outlaw racist agitation promoting hatred against any ethnic or religious minority. The amendments would bypass the Constitutional Court that has blocked several previous legislative attempts.

The amendments come on the heels of a demonstration provocatively staged to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day by several neo-Nazi organizations in the Castle district of Buda, the last foothold of the German-Hungarian defenders of this city against the Soviet invasion at the close of World War II.

The participants at the meeting included a 60-member uniformed “battalion” of the banned Hungarian Guard organization. The paramilitary movement is modeled on the murderous wartime Nazi Arrow Cross. Speakers addressing the demonstration stated that the Holocaust was a myth.

Hungary as well as its post-Communist Eastern European neighbors has witnessed since the onset of the global recession an intensification of right-wing violence described by Draskovics as “political terrorism.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Norway: Imam Charged With the Use of Violence

The police in Drammen have charged an imam from a local mosque of having used violence against children. He has allegedly hit children with a stick if they came late or failed to learn their assignment. Three mosques in Drammen have been investigated by the police after a Drammen public school informed them that children were afraid to be spanked when they attended the Koran school.

– The children have reportedly been hit over the fingers or the back with a stick, says police inspector Nina Bjoerlo to Drammens Tidende. She says the police have received reports about children having been exposed to violence from as far back as 2002.

The reports have been received from anonymous sources, as parents have been afraid to come forward, fearing reprisals.

The imam in question this time has denied the charges, according to the police.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Nuclear: Cyprus Applies to Join Cern

(ANSAmed) — NICOSIA, JUNE 5 — The Republic of Cyprus submitted an application 3 to become a full member of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, an official announcement says as CNA reports. It adds that the examination/evaluation of Cyprus’ application will be done by a working group which will be set up to this effect and it will last around six months. Afterwards, if the recommendation of the working group is positive, then Cyprus will obtain the status of a candidate country for membership for a period of time between 1-5 years, during which it must meet specific criteria, it notes. CERN, it explains, is the largest experimental centre of nuclear research and especially particle physics, in the world. It is located in the Switzerland-France border. CERN was founded in 1954 by 12 European countries and currently has 20 member-states. It currently employs some 2.000 permanent employees, while around 6.500 scientists and engineers (representing 500 universities and 80 different nationalities), about half of the particle physics community in the world, are dealing with experiments made by CERN. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Obama in Good Intentions Land

Il Giornale, 5 June 2009

It would be wonderful to live in the world that Obama painted yesterday in Cairo, but a sense of reality suggests that it is impossible. We can leave aside obvious words of appreciation for the US President’s desire for peace and his political courage: both are undeniable. In Cairo, Obama used all the force of his magic to try to create a turning point for our era, where the conflict between Islam and the West would cease to exist. What came out was a rather predictable portrait of this young, good president. Obama’s image of the world starts from his own autobiography: it is no accident that he never even mentioned the word terrorism. The American President exhibited himself as living proof that the conflict of civilizations is inexistent, a young man who grew up without conflict between Islam and Christianity, with a Muslim father and grandfather, a white, Christian mother, and the United States as his destination, a US where Islam is also an essential component. Obama spoke for an entire hour, but the world only really heard a few points. The first was his apologetic tone: in essence, we have similar principles, those of human rights. But that is not the way it is.

First of all: the history of human rights is solidly anchored to Europe and the United States; it does not lie in some gorge of Middle-Eastern satrapy, waiting to jump out. Second, the two cultures have always had a history of conflictual relations. But while our own masses have forgotten that, the Muslim masses keep the flag flying daily, in schools and public squares. These are not marginal phenomena: proof lies in the enormous mass demonstrations of Hamas and Hezbollah, the determination of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and Iran’s painstaking atomic and terrorist strategy. Iran has been threatening moderate Arab leaders first of all ever since 2005 (Mubarak was almost deposed recently by an attempted uprising). The biggest problem of the Muslims is their intra-Islamic war, not the one with the US. The United States, like Israel, is not at war with Islam; it is being attacked by Islam. Ever since 1979 with the attack on the American Embassy in Teheran, then Nairobi in 1998, then Tanzania and on to 9/11, radical Islam has attacked, while creating mass consensus around these attacks.

Obama measures the balance of the components he carries inside him and projects them onto a pacified universe. He does the same thing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he mentioned even before the Iranian question, staggering Israel. He reiterated the strength of US relations with Israel, but he put the two people’s behavior on the same level, whereas one has made numerous offers to clear out of the occupied territories to make room for a Palestinian state, and the other carries the standard of refusal. It is hard to image that Obama’s proposal of two states sounds realistic to Hamas, which has made the destruction of Israel its very reason for being. It was not realistic earlier when Arafat refused all the offers, nor was it not long ago when Abu Mazen said no to Olmert. What’s new today? As for Iran, Obama dedicated far too few words to the most dangerous country in the world today, with the most aggressive, ferocious form of Islam. Perhaps it was incompatibility with Obama-centric Islam that induced the President to state that the country of the ayatollah can develop atomic energy for domestic use. The hypothesis is ludicrous. The background pieces are missing. When Obama speaks of Islamic tolerance, he is using worn-out cliche’s. He was wronge in his quote about Spain: Cordova and Granada were witnesses to Muslim massacres of Jews, as did Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, and Egypt.

Finally, the clash with Christianity has been so long and deep that Obama’s contrite, decisive face is hardly enough to bring about peace. At the time of the Oslo Agreement, we saw Shimon Peres proclaim that the New Middle East had arrived. But the attraction of the advantages of stability is no obstacle to Islamic aspirations to come out on top. Obama made a mistake in not making promises to Egypt. It might be that only concrete support against Iranian extremism could unite Islam in a dream of peace.

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

Sweden’s Extreme Left Ups Violent Attacks

Violent threats to democracy from groups on the far left escalated in the run-up to the European Parliament elections, according to the Swedish Security Police (Säpo).

The far right Sweden Democrats were one of the main targets of the so-called “autonomous” movement. But parties in Sweden’s coalition government also found themselves in the firing line.

“We noted around twenty incidents of violence against people or property. The Sweden Democrats were not the only ones affected; the Liberal and Moderate parties were also hit,” said Johan Olsson, chief analyst for Säpo’s constitutional protection division.

The chief perpetrators came from groups on the extreme left such as Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) and Revolutionära Fronten.

“It’s part of what they call their anti-fascist agenda. They don’t believe that parties they consider critical of immigrants or opposed to workers’ rights should be permitted to operate undisturbed,” Olsson told news agency TT.

One of the more serious incidents recorded in the period leading up to the EU parliament elections was the assault on Saturday night of Sweden Democrat party secretary Martin Kinnunen and his girlfriend.

The pair were set upon by an estimated ten assailants, according to the public prosecutor. The attack occurred at Gullmarsplan in south Stockholm while the couple were making their way home from a visit to a restaurant.

Both were taken to hospital after a security guard intervened to halt the attack. Kinnunen’s girlfriend suffered concussion and is believed to have been struck across the head with knuckle dusters.

Two young women, 20 and 25, were remanded in custody on Tuesday in connection with the attack.

The prosecutor in the case believes at least five more people may be arrested for involvement in the brutal assault.

Sweden Democrat politicians have also come under attack at public meetings and have had their property destroyed to the extent that the party eventually stopped advertising when it was planning to hold rallies in town squares.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Swiss Court Rules Against American in Sheik Case

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — An American has lost his court battle in Switzerland with a member of the ruling United Arab Emirates’ family who whipped him in the face with a belt in a Geneva hotel bar.

The Swiss supreme court upheld a lower court’s quashing of the criminal conviction of Sheik Falah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, 38, according to a copy of the ruling seen Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Al Nahyan, brother of the UAE ruler, was convicted in July of hitting Silvano Orsi, 40, of Rochester, New York, with a belt after the American declined a bottle of champagne the sheik offered him in a luxury Geneva hotel bar in 2003. Al Nahyan was fined 10,000 Swiss francs ($9,820).

But in March a Geneva appeals court quashed the conviction of inflicting bodily harm with a dangerous object on the grounds that the belt wasn’t dangerous.

Orsi appealed to the Federal Tribunal to reinstate the conviction.

In rejecting the appeal on procedural grounds, the Federal Tribunal ordered Orsi to pay 2,000 Swiss francs ($1,834) in court costs. The high court’s ruling, dated May 26, held that as a civil party Orsi didn’t have the legal standing to contest the acquittal.

“We will take this to the next level, to the European Court of Human Rights, because my human rights have been openly violated by Switzerland and the UAE royal sheik who attacked me,” Orsi told The Associated Press.

He said the ruling shows that Switzerland discriminates against victims.

“They do not allow a victim or common citizen to appeal his case to the federal level, especially when a lower court directly violates Swiss federal law, and rules that a belt is not a dangerous instrument when used to whip a man in the face and head,” Orsi said.

Orsi claims that after refusing the champagne, the sheik, whom he had never met, came up behind him, jostled his glasses, sat on his lap and tried to kiss and fondle him. When Orsi protested, the assault began, he says.

The sheik told investigators that he got into a heated argument with Orsi after he overheard someone call him gay. Al Nahyan acknowledged that he pulled his belt from his trousers but denied striking Orsi.

Geneva’s chief prosecutor, Daniel Zappelli, has said Orsi’s injuries and post-traumatic shock from the beating in August 2003 left him incapable of working.

The defendant is a brother of Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was appointed president of the United Arab Emirates in 2004 after the death of their father, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Terrorism: Milan Investigation Leads to Arrest of 5 Maghrebis

(ANSAmed) — MILAN, JUNE 4 — In Spring of 2006 they were planning attacks against Bologna’s San Petronio church and Milan’s subway. Five Maghrebis were charged with and arrested as a result of a precautionary court order issued by Milan’s preliminary investigation judge following a request by Milan’s prosecution office. The order was issued against two Tunisians (one arrested in Sicily, the other already jailed in Morocco), two Moroccans (one is on the run, the under is under arrest in Morocco), and an Algerian (who is already in jail in his country). The alleged group, which is also active in Algeria, Morocco and Syria, has been charged with terrorist association both in Italy and abroad, with financing international terrorism, with recruiting and training numerous individuals sent to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to carry out attacks on civil and military targets. The sprawling international organisation was also apparently aiming, aside from Italy, at France, Spain and Denmark. The threat, which had been uncovered by the Carabinieri at the time of investigation, was deemed so serious and imminent that it prompted the Ministry of the Interior to issue an order for the immediate expulsion of a number of flankers. Investigators believe there may be a link between GSPC, the fighting and preaching Salafist group, and al Qaeda. Public prosecutor Nicola Piacente and deputy ROS commander colonel Mario Parenti held a press conference today to speak of the attacks commissioned by GSPC exponents that joined in al Qaeda. Colonel Parenti explained that “One of the new aspects is given by a change in the Salafist group’s strategy which apparently merged into the al Qaeda organisation in Maghreb”. The investigators believe that this also involves strategies which aim at targets which are no longer restricted to Afghanistan or Iraq, since they also concern European objectives in countries such as Italy, Denmark, Spain and France, where the group was aiming for institutional targets linked to police authorities. Furthermore, the investigation also mentioned a planned attack on the US embassy in Rabat. In any event these were plans that were not followed up and which, as emphasised by assistant prosecutor Armando Spataro, were “very vague and still had not reached the preparation stage”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK Hacker Asks Judges to Stop Extradition to US

LONDON — A British man accused of hacking into U.S. military computers is asking a court to halt his extradition to the United States.

Prosecutors allege that Gary McKinnon broke into 97 computers belonging to NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense and the military soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. McKinnon says he was looking for evidence of UFOs.

Lawyers for 42-year-old McKinnon say he has been diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome and could be at risk of psychosis or suicide if sent to the United States to face trial for computer fraud.

McKinnon has lost several previous legal battles. But earlier this year, two judges said new evidence about his health merited reconsideration.

Two High Court judges are considering the evidence at a hearing Tuesday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: BNP Leader Nick Griffin Abandons Press Conference After Being Pelted With Eggs

Leader of the British National Party Nick Griffin was today forced to abandon a press conference after being pelted with eggs by furious protesters.

Mr Griffin, elected to the European Parliament on Sunday night, had only been speaking outside the House of Lords for a few minutes when they struck.

A crowd of angry demonstrators rounded on his car as he arrived, shouting: ‘Off our streets, Nazi scum’ and then hurled eggs at him when he started talking.

The leader had to be guided back to his vehicle by his bodyguards and quickly driven away, as protesters chased him down the street.

Smashed eggs were clearly visible on his suit and he appeared distressed as he was manhandled by security back towards the car.

Police say two people were taken to hospital after the protest and officers have received an allegation of common assault after his bodyguards clashed with some of the protesters.

The leader had arrived for the press conference on College Green in front of Parliament with fellow newly-elected BNP MEP Andrew Brons just after 2.30pm.

He began speaking with an attack on the media for criticising him and his party after their shock victories in the Euro elections on Sunday night.

The party clinched their first ever seats in a national poll, in Yorkshire and the North West, thanks to the catastrophic collapse of Labour support.

A jubilant Mr Griffin, 49, had only been speaking for a few minutes today when the protesters started chanting and waving banners declaring: ‘Stop the fascist BNP.’

When they began throwing eggs, the leader’s burly security guards bundled him away through the crowd.

The demonstrators kicked and hit at his car with their placards then cheered as the father of four was driven off.

Protest organiser Weyman Bennett, national secretary of Unite Against Fascism, said people had to stand up to the neo-fascist party.

He said: ‘The majority of people did not vote for the BNP, they did not vote at all. The BNP was able to dupe them into saying that they had an answer to people’s problems.

‘They presented themselves as a mainstream party. The reality was because the turnout was so low, they actually got elected.’

Mr Bennett compared the BNP leader to serial killer Harold Shipman, claiming he might appear friendly on the surface but was in fact a neo-Nazi.

‘I think you have to look beneath the mask, you have to look beneath the surface,’ he said.

‘We cannot allow the politics of scapegoating to become the common currency of this country.’

Another protester, Sarah Kavanagh, added: ‘Britain in two places has sent the far right to be with Europe. They clearly don’t speak on behalf of the community and their views are abhorrent.’

After he was rushed to safety, Mr Griffin accused the political establishment of helping stage the protest which he branded ‘disgusting’.

‘It’s a very, very sad day for British democracy. People should be entitled to hear what we have to say and to hear journalists question us robustly,’ he said.

The protesters were an ‘organised mob that’s backed by all three main parties to stop us getting our message across to the public’, the leader claimed.

He added: ‘It does not represent ordinary people.’

Another press conference is planned in Manchester tomorrow. Mr Griffin said he hopes police will take action against any violence there.

It is the second time in days that he has been targeted by angry demonstrators.

As he arrived at Manchester Town Hall for the vote count on Sunday night, his car was attacked by anti-BNP protesters and he had to be escorted inside by police.

The party’s shock win of two seats on the European Parliament has sparked fears they could now build up a strong political network.

The victories give it access to millions of pounds to spread its message of hate — with allowances, the two men will be able to pocket a million pounds a year for five years.

Mr Griffin has come under fire in recent weeks for plans to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace with a BNP colleague on the London Assembly.

The family of Winston Churchill also angrily condemned him after he used the wartime leader’s words in the party’s election broadcast.

After his election two days ago, he gave the V-sign in the style of the Sir Winston as he guided Britain to victory in the Second World War.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Blair’s ‘Religious Literacy’ Call

A global education programme designed to foster understanding between religions has been launched by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

The project, launched by the former prime minister, is intended to promote dialogue between young people from different faiths and backgrounds.

It argues that “religious literacy” is a “vital skill” in a globalised and multicultural society.

The project is running in schools in Asia, North America and Europe.

The Faith Foundation, created by Mr Blair after stepping down as prime minister, has the aim of fostering better relations and understanding between world religions.


The launch of the education arm was marked by an international video link-up between pupils from Bolton, Delhi and Bethlehem.

Pupils in the Middle East will be among those taking part — in an area where Mr Blair is now a peace envoy.

“If you look round the different parts of the world and you look at conflicts, I would say a very large percentage of them have a religious dimension or a faith dimension to them,” said Mr Blair at the launch in London.

“So to get young people at an early age to be comfortable with people of a different faith is extremely important.”

The Face to Faith scheme will use online forums and video conferencing to run discussions and debates between groups of 11 to 16-year-olds from different religions.

In England, Westhoughton Technology College in Bolton is taking part in the project — which will have a local as well as international relevance.

“The kids will come up with phrases which generalise about all Muslims.. Islamophobia exists at our school but it exists at loads of schools at a low level,” said religious education teacher, Jo Malone.

In Pakistan’s Sindh Province, the City’s School in Bhit Shah is participating. The school has Muslim, Hindu and Sikh students but its head teacher says the “real problem is not fanaticism”, but the need for communities to get to know each other.

Schools are also taking part in India, Singapore, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Thailand, Indonesia, the United States and Canada.

The project, which has its own syllabus, has been accredited for an International GCSE.

“By encouraging young people to enter into genuine dialogue with each other, Face to Faith leads students to a deeper understanding of their own beliefs and worldviews as well as those of others,” says Annika Small, the foundation’s education director.

The British Humanist Association expressed its “disappointment” at the project.

“It does seem that this programme may be exclusively for religious people, which would be a missed opportunity for real education about people from all different backgrounds, including non-religious young people throughout the world,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Catholic Mother Launches Legal Battle After Son Placed With Gay Foster Parents

The mother of a 10-year-old Catholic boy has launched a legal battle after a council placed him with homosexual foster carers.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has told friends she is worried about the environment in which her son will grow up in, and would rather see him fostered by a man and a woman.

The child, who attends a faith school and is due to take his First Communion soon, is due to arrive tomorrow at his new foster home, a hotel in Brighton run by a middle-aged male couple.

Described as “bright and lively”, he was placed in care a year ago by Brighton and Hove Council after his mother had a mental breakdown, suffering from an abusive marriage.

The Thomas More Legal Centre, a Catholic legal charity, are representing the mother, who wants to see him placed with a family that reflects traditional Catholic values.

Neil Addison, director of the centre, said: “We are advising her on her legal options and seeking to resolve the matter with the council by agreement.”

The woman’s parish priest said: “This isn’t about a gay couple in a private home, this is about a gay couple running a hotel where they also live, where they cannot restrict who the child is going to meet. That’s my anxiety.”

Although the mother would not talk directly, a fellow parishioner said: “She knows she is unwell and cannot cope with looking after him. All she wants is for him to be raised in a regular family atmosphere, by a man and a woman.

“She would prefer a Catholic couple, but if that is not possible, at least a heterosexual one. But social services have given her no choice. She cannot understand how he can be looked after by two men she’s never met.

“Her belief is that they could encourage him into a lifestyle that is against her religious beliefs.”

The council, which has one of the highest rates of gay adopting and fostering in Britain, has told the mother the new foster parents are experienced and fully qualified.

A spokesman however declined to comment, saying: “We will not comment on any issue relating to the welfare of a child in the care of the council.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Children Should be Taught Christian Values, Says New Archbishop

Children should be taught Christian values, according to the new Archbishop of Westminster, who has called for religion to be allowed to flourish in schools.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols warned that treating students as “consumers” and neglecting their “innate spirituality” would damage society.

In comments that are set to provoke secularists who have campaigned for less religion in schools, he said that faith is a crucial dimension in education. The new head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales stressed that schools play a key role in developing virtues and a sense of civic responsibility.

He said that a tendency to view children in terms of their ability in exams rather than as people risks “polluting” their education.

His comments follow a growing call for acts of worship to be abolished in schools and accusations that faith schools are being selective in choosing children from affluent backgrounds.

In his first public address since taking office, the archbishop countered the criticisms of Catholic schools, arguing that faith schools benefit wider society and that religion must be freely expressed in schools.

He responded to claims that Catholic schools had been indoctrinating their students, by stating that education can not be free of values.

“Schools of a religious character are upfront, overt and very reasoned about the values that shape the education,” he said.

“Whereas I think often those that would claim to be neutral are covert in the values that they present to the children.

“Schools are the places where such virtue is generated or where it is neglected.”

Archbishop Nichols told an audience at Heythrop college, University of London, that schools need to concentrate on developing children’s character rather than just focusing on results.

“Today we live in a society which tends to instrumentalise everything.

“In other words, everything is broken down to clear objectives and attainments and each is given its price.”

He continued: “Once this really takes hold, then education has truly entered the market place and its entire ecological system is threatened with pollution.

“In effect what is happening is that the patterns of the market are flooding over all aspects of life and we are finding ourselves considered as nothing more than consumers and suppliers.”

The archbishop said that Catholic schools have a crucial role to play in creating a society founded on values such as honesty, justice, compassion and courage.

“There are plenty of indicators in our society today that we need such civic virtues in addition to regulation,” he said.

However, he argued that all schools would produce more rounded children and a healthier “human ecology” — or environment — if they were more open in allowing religion to flourish.

“There can be no genuine human ecology that fails to recognise the faith and religious experience which is innate in human beings and central to many people in our schools today.

“An important part of the construction of a healthy human ecology is therefore that expressions of faith and the practices of religion are given their space within a school, both according to the school’s own tradition and mandate and according to the variety of faith and religion which are in that school.”

He has led the Catholic Church’s battle to maintain the freedom of faith schools.

In 2006, as chairman of the Catholic Education Service, he provoked anger among ministers when he won his campaign against quotas for faith schools, forcing Alan Johnson, then Education Secretary, to back down over proposals to require them to accept more pupils from non-faith backgrounds.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, claimed that children are not interested in religion and should be allowed to be free of it in school.

“Religion already has a disproportionate amount of time and resources in British schools. The idea we need more of it flies in the face of all the facts that show it’s over-represented and that children are not responding to it.”

A spokesman for the Department of Children Schools and Families said: “Good religious education encourages pupils to develop their sense of identity, belonging and self-worth. It enables them to flourish individually within their communities and as citizens in a diverse society and global community.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Gordon Brown Refuses to Publish Report Into Finances of Labour MP Shahid Malik

Gordon Brown is refusing to publish the independent report which Downing Street says clears Labour MP Shahid Malik over his housing arrangements.

Mr Malik stepped down as Justice Minister from the Government last month amid suspicions that his rental arrangements over his designated main home may have breached the ministerial code of conduct.

The Daily Telegraph reported last month that Mr Malik’s landord said he was paying well below the market rate for his constituency home in West Yorkshire.

Dewsbury MP Mr Malik announced that Gordon Brown had restored him to the frontbench, in a new role as a junior minister at the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Downing Street said he was reappointed because Sir Philip Mawer, Mr Brown’s adviser on ministerial behaviour, had investigated and found nothing wrong with Mr Malik’s arrangements.

A spokesman said that Sir Philip had reached his judgment on “on the basis of an independent valuation of the properties”.

Asked when the report would be published, spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “It is not our intention to publish the report. It goes into quite a lot of detail about Mr Malik’s personal affairs.”

Asked whether Downing Street would publish a redacted version of the report, removing personal details, the spokesman said: “No.”

But he admitted that Mr Malik had agreed to put his tenancy arrangements on a more formal footing.

Mr Malik had stepped down as justice minister last month while Sir Philip investigated his financial arrangements.

The Prime Minister ordered Sir Philip’s inquiry after The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Malik’s landlord had claimed he was benefiting from a secret cut-price rental deal on his constituency home, which he has designated as his “main home”.

He claimed tens of thousands of pounds in parliamentary expenses to cover his designated second home in London while allegedly renting his constituency home for less than £100 a week.

Mr Malik’s landlord, local businessman Tahir Zaman, had claimed that Mr Malik was paying well below the market rent for his designated main home in Dewsbury.

Meanwhile, he had claimed more than £66,000 in expenses — the maximum allowable amount — on his designated “second home” in London since he became an MP in 2005.

Mr Malik had to step down after the Prime Minister ordered Sir Philip’s inquiry into the rental agreement on the home in Dewsbury, where his landlord claimed he paid well below the market rate.

The ministerial code of conduct states that members of the Government must not accept any “gift or hospitality” which risks putting them under an “obligation”. The arrangement had not been formally declared to officials at the Justice Ministry.

Mr Malik claimed that Sir Philip had found no breach of the ministerial code.

Sir Philip was not required to investigate Mr Malik’s expenses claims.

“I always welcomed Sir Philip’s inquiry as an opportunity to clear my name and I am delighted that this has now been achieved,” he said.

The MP, who was Britain’s first Muslim minister, claimed the inquiry concluded that he was “paying the market rate” after receiving evidence from The Daily Telegraph, the MP and commissioning independent valuations.

He said he would now focus on serving his constituents.

The No 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister “would support whatever Mr Malik believed was the right thing to do” in relation to repaying the expenses money.

Mr Malik was the first Government minister to step down in the wake of The Telegraph’s investigation into MPs’ expenses.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Hospital Superbug Fight ‘Hampered by NHS Targets’ Says BMA

The fight against hospital superbugs is being hampered by NHS targets, the British Medical Association has warned.

The BMA said that measures designed to speed patients through casualty departments or off waiting lists were limiting the amount of time hospitals had to clean.

Much trumpeted “short -term” moves, such as the deep clean of every hospital and “bare below the elbow” staff uniforms would work only as part of a long-term “culture change” within the NHS, the BMA’s science committee warned.

The organisation also called for alcohol hand rub gels to be placed everywhere “where it is sensible and feasible” in hospitals and for greater numbers of “hands free” taps to help limit the spread of infection.

Official figures show that one in 18 hospital trusts is still failing to meet infection control standards and have been threatened with fines and closures by the new super regulator, the Care Quality Commission, if they do not improve.

The BMA singled out two NHS targets, the four-hour waiting limit in Accident and Emergency units and the 18-week maximum waiting time for treatment.

They warned that some hospitals were not spending enough time cleaning a ward or a bed because of the pressure the targets created to move patients.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s Consultants’ Committee and a consultant in intensive care, said: “The pressure to turn around patients too quickly and the lack of adequate isolation facilities create critical challenges to maintaining high quality patient care. We want safe, timely care and treatment, not just fast care.”

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA’s head of science and ethics, warned that hospitals had seen bed numbers cut in recent years and those where bed occupancy rates topped 90 per cent had greater numbers of infections.

If they knew of the link “I think most patients would say that they would rather wait, especially for elective procedures,” she said.

However, the organisation insisted that it did not want to return to the days of 18-month waiting lists for treatment and said that the health service should plan ahead for high density periods, such as winter.

Although rates are falling there are still around 1,000 cases of hospital-acquired MRSA every year, and almost 3,000 cases of C. diff every month.

A new report by the committee also calls for adequate numbers of disposable aprons and gloves for all hospital staff and more isolation units for infected patients.

Hospitals contracts should also clearly state standards for cleanliness, as some areas that pose the greatest risk to patients are not always included, such as door handles, bed rails, bedside lockers and switches, the report warns.

Dr Fielden said saving a few thousand pounds on a cleaning contract could cost “hundreds of thousands of pounds” in caring for patients with an infection.

But the Government insisted that its policies were working.

Ann Keen, the health minister, said: “Latest figures clearly show that MRSA infections have fallen by more than 65 per cent and C. diff infections are down by more than 35 per cent — so it is difficult to understand the BMA’s suggestion that our broad integrated strategy to reduce healthcare associated infection has been anything other than a success.”

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “The Government’s obsession with targets is putting patient safety at risk.

“Ministers need to stop micromanaging the NHS and trust doctors and nurses to decide the best way to care for their patients.

“While some progress has been made against MRSA there is still a lot more to be done to get hospital infections under control.”

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

UK: Privacy Invasion Fears Over First Mobile Phone Directory That Stores Every Number in Britain

The upcoming launch of the first mobile phone directory was yesterday attacked as a ‘clear invasion of privacy’.

Connectivity, the company behind the service, has bought details of 16million phone numbers — around 40 per cent of those in regular use in the UK.

It says it will not give out mobile numbers, but instead act as an intermediary to put users in touch with whoever they are searching for.

But Nigel Evans MP, the Conservative chairman of the All Party Group on ID Fraud, described the emergence of the new service as ‘shocking’ and ‘depressing’.

He said: ‘People feel that their mobile phone number is very private to them and should not be traded for profit.

‘People will be infuriated if they find they are bombarded with calls from people they don’t want or expect to hear from. It is a clear invasion of privacy.’

Connectivity has bought its list of mobile numbers from brokers — who themselves have purchased personal details from market research firms and online stores.

Individuals will also be able to volunteer to place their numbers with the mobile directory inquiry service, which launches on June 16.

Connectivity insists it is ‘privacy friendly’ because it does not hand over mobile phone numbers to users of the service.

Instead, operators will find and dial the target’s number and ask whether they are prepared to receive the call.

However, Simon Davies of Privacy International — who left the project after working on it as a paid consultant during its early phase — is worried about how the numbers have been collected.

‘There are fundamental privacy issues,’ he said. ‘The company needs to be far more specific about where it acquired the numbers on its directory.’

Connectivity claims it has been given approval for its service by the Office of the Information Commission.

But an ICO spokesman said: ‘We made it absolutely clear to Connectivity that they should not use numbers where there was any doubt about whether the consumer was happy for their information to be used in this way.’

The chief executive of 118800, Raj Raithatha, yesterday insisted that personal privacy will be protected.

He said: ‘All searches on are via our secure application that doesn’t show mobile numbers or names and addresses of individuals. Neither do we give prompts that could disclose personal information.’

It is possible to become ex-directory by texting the letter ‘E’ to 118 800 from your mobile phone.

However, this will carry a charge and the change could take several weeks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Vaclav Klaus: 20 Years After the Fall of Communism: A View of a Non-Neutral Insider

President Kaczynski, Governor Skrzypek, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Thank you for the invitation and for giving me the opportunity to address this important gathering which is taking place at the moment, when Poland — together with Polish friends abroad — celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first free elections after more than forty years of communism. The historic year 1989 will be commemorated in all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, but at different moments. In my country in November.

I remember I was here also 10 years ago at a similar conference organized on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.[1] It is good and reassuring to find out that some of today’s participants were here 10 years ago as well. It means that we — who remember — are still alive.

Many interesting and thought-provoking ideas, partly reflecting the implicit competition among the well-known reformers, were expressed here then but I will never forget one of them, made by our friend, former Prime Minister of Russia, Yegor Gaidar. When being attacked — in a rather unfriendly manner by one very self-assured, but the post-communist transformation only from a distance observing expert — for not succeeding — in Russia — to arrange a rapid institution building and an almost immediate formation of perfect rules and legislation, he came up with a brilliant answer: “I was only the prime minister of Russia, not the Czar of Russia.” I have been quoting it repeatedly ever since.

His remark fully coincides with my deep conviction — both then and now — that the whole transformation process from communism to a free society was a very fragile mixture (or melange) of an inevitably imperfect and fragmentary constructivism of rules and institutions by the politicians and of a spontaneous emergence of markets which was — luckily — an unorganized, unplanned, uncoordinated outcome of activities of millions of finally free people in our countries. This is something we have to insist on and only on this basis this whole process and the role of politicians in it can be rationally evaluated.

Some of us knew that it would have been a tragic mistake and a complete misunderstanding of the meaning and nature of the market economy to aim at constructing markets as many of our “contemporaries” — both friends and adversaries — wanted. The markets can’t be constructed, they must evolve.

At the beginning, in the first years after the fall of communism, the dispute between those who wanted more constructivism and less spontaneity and those who knew that this ambition was nothing else than an attempt to legitimize the continuation of a slightly reformed status quo of the perestroika years was misinterpreted and mislabeled as a dispute between “gradualism” and “a shock therapy”. These terms have already been almost forgotten but I am repeatedly frustrated when I see them reemerging again and again.

Some people still do not know that the inevitably complicated and for many very unpleasant and painful transformation process was not a laboratory exercise in applied economics. It was all very “real” and the citizens of our countries had to bear its non-zero costs (measured in the fall of real income and employment). We were not able to organize any experiments and did not intend to because we already lived in a highly democratic political setting. We were not Czars, kings or authoritative rulers of any kind. Our task was to minimize these costs. I have many times emphasized that there are not only no free lunches but no free systemic changes either.

Most of the politicians who were in charge of the reforming countries at this very moment were well aware of this. They had, however, a mixed mandate. They felt a very strong support for rejecting, abandoning and dismantling the oppresive communist political regime as well as its irrational and unproductive economic system, but there was no clear idea (or vision) where to go. Most of the people were afraid to openly say that they wanted capitalism and free markets. There were not many of us who were ready to openly say that. This is almost forgotten now but the reluctance in this respect was at that time enormous.

I will never forget what happened to me in this country. I came to Poland for the first time as a politician (as minister of finance) in the first days of January 1990, three weeks after the formation of the first Czechoslovak non-communist government. I unwillingly shocked several of my Polish colleagues when — at a press conference — I rather unexpectedly suggested the dissolution of COMECON. It sounds like an almost irrelevant issue now partly because many people don’t even know what this acronym means, but at that time it was an important topic and a radical statement.

The second issue was how to get there. Immediately after the fall of communism, it was necessary to open the markets — both internally and externally, to liberalize and deregulate them, to desubsidize the economy in order to reveal the true costs and prices of all kinds of economic activities, to denationalize and privatize the whole economy. The quick disappearance of the institutions of the old system led, however, to an institutional vacuum which had to be filled with alternative institutions as soon as possible — to avoid huge costs of anarchy or semi-anarchy.

Waiting for Godot, waiting for the existence of a perfectly prepared box of rules and institutions of a market economy before the starting of the whole liberalization and deregulation process would have been a tragic mistake. The scholastic dispute of what should come first — markets or market supporting institutions — reminds me of the eternal chicken-egg sequencing question. We had to go ahead and work on chickens and eggs simultaneously.

Most of us argued along these lines already 10 years ago. Where are we now? On the one hand, the economies of the post-communist countries are stronger, more mature, more stable, more robust, less vulnerable now. The institutions and rules are more solid and comprehensive, learning by doing brought about positive results, new generations with a different approach to life and society are taking the lead.

I believe that the first post-communist decade can be characterized as an “uphill” movement — more freedom, more democracy, more market economy, less state intervention, less regulation. In the equation citizen-state, we had been moving towards the free citizen, away from the state and its masterminding of society. Socialism (or social democratism) was in retreat, new collectivistic “isms”, such as environmentalism, had been — no doubt — gradually gaining strength and some of us were aware of that but their role was not yet dominant.

This has, however, dramatically changed. The second post-communist decade is quite different from the first one. We have been moving into the opposite direction: downhill. We experience less freedom, more regulation, more manipulation of people in the name of all kinds of politically correct ambitions, post-democracy instead of democracy, growing disbelief in markets. Social democratism and environmentalism are on the winning side. The “market economy” disappeared, we got a “social and ecological market economy” instead.

This shift was evident during the whole second decade of the post-communist era but the current financial and economic crisis made it even more profound. It weakened the achievements of the era of the radical dismantling of communism 20 years ago even further.

We did not come here to discuss the current crisis. We know it will sooner or later be over. The real damage caused by the crisis will, I am afraid, stay with us much longer. The adversaries of the market have again managed to spread a far-reaching distrust in the existing economic system, but this time it is not the mistrust in the free market capitalism, in the laissez-faire system, in the capitalism of Adam Smith, Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, as it was the case 70 — 80 years ago. It is now the mistrust in the highly regulated capitalism of the last decades. I am not sure whether capitalism can survive such a massive attack. The market either is, or is not. There are no third ways[2]

We should consider our duty to fight against the newly rediscovered belief in the state, against the “second-generation” Keynesianism we see around us these days. We must not allow the repetition of the 1930s and the decades that followed.

As I said, this crisis is an unavoidable consequence of the long-term playing with the market by the politicians (and their regulators). Their attempts to blame the market, instead of blaming themselves, should be resolutely rejected. I am getting more afraid of the reforms bringing in more rules and increased international regulation than of the crisis itself.

The current crisis has not been caused by capitalism and definitely not by too much capitalism. It was caused by the lack of capitalism, by suppressing its normal functioning, by introduction of policies that are not compatible with capitalism, of policies that undermine it. In a standard economic terminology, we witness a government failure, not a market failure as some politicians and their fellow-travellers in the media and academia keep telling us.

The democrats and liberals (in the European sense) in the 1930s have failed both intellectually and politically to avert the growing mistrust in the market. What is at stake today is not to end up even worse.

Václav Klaus, Speech at a conference “1989-2009, 20 years after the collapse of the socialist economy”, Warsaw, National Bank of Poland, June 5, 2009.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


Serbia: Italian Foreign Minister Calls for Swift EU Integration

Belgrade, 8 June (AKI) — Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini and his Romanian colleague Cristian Diaconescu on Monday called for Serbia’s speedy integration into the European Union and for the abolition of visas to Serbian citizens.

After talks with president Boris Tadic and foreign minister Vuk Jeremic in Belgrade, Frattini and Diaconescu said in a statement that the EU should grant Serbia a status of a candidate for EU membership as soon as possible and visa abolition by the end of this year.

Frattini said it was “unacceptable that Serbia remained outside European integration”.

He told the local Tanjug news agency “Serbia has fulfilled all European commission conditions for visa abolition”.

“The time has come to knock down the barrier between the people of the Balkans and the EU,” Frattini said. “I strongly believe that the EU must recognise positive signals which have been coming from Serbia in recent months and to crown these efforts with the status of candidate for EU membership.”

Tadic vowed Serbia would complete cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal and arrest the remaining two fugitives, former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and a wartime leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia. The arrest of the two fugitives is a precondition for Serbia’s joining the EU.

Tadic said that it was hard to explain to Serbian citizens that they could not travel to EU countries without visas, nine years after democratic changes that toppled former strongman president Slobodan Milosevic.

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

Mediterranean Union

Algeria Signs Deal With Egypt, Italy to Set Up Gk3 Pipeline

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO — Algeria’s state energy firm Sonatrach has signed a deal with Italy’s oilfield services company Saipem and Egypt’s Petrojet to set up GK3 gas pipeline in Algeria. Algerian Energy and Mines Minister Chakib Khelil stressed the importance of the deal, worth about $1.5 billion, saying it is one of the important achievements that would promote the activities of Sonatrach company at the national and international levels. Under the deal, the two companies will set up the pipeline in 26 months, to be up and running by 2012 and 2013, Sonatrach said in a statement. The pipeline will transport nearly 15 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, Sonatrach added. Algeria has already two pipelines, GK1 and GK2 from Hassi R’Mel to Skikda. The GK3 pipeline will link the Hassi R’Mel oil and gas distribution hub in central Algeria to sites in the north of the country. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Terrorism: Algeria; More Attacks in Kabylia

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JUNE 8 — Two homemade bombs exploded yesterday afternoon in the Algerian Kabylia region, around 100km east of Algiers, reported the Algerian press today. A policeman was killed in the first explosion near Dellys and three soldiers of the national army were reportedly injured when a second bomb exploded in the forest of Mizrana, near to the capital of Kabylia, Tizi Ouzou. According to other sources, two soldiers have died from their injuries. The double attack has not been officially confirmed yet. On June 2, 10 people, including two teachers and eight policemen, were killed in an ambush in the same region, near Boumerdes, 50 km east of Algiers. A convoy carrying copies of the final exams was hit by a remote-controlled bomb and then assaulted. The Berber region is still one of the areas of Algeria worst-hit by attacks from armed groups tied to the Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Dore Gold: U.S. Policy on Israeli Settlements

  • Many observers are surprised to learn that settlement activity was not defined as a violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords or their subsequent implementation agreements. If the U.S. is now seeking to constrain Israeli settlement activity, it is essentially trying to obtain additional Israeli concessions that were not formally required according to Israel’s legal obligations under the Oslo Accords.
  • President Bush’s deputy national security advisor, Elliot Abrams, wrote in the Washington Post on April 8, 2009, that the U.S. and Israel negotiated specific guidelines for settlement activity, whereby “settlement activity is not diminishing the territory of a future Palestinian entity.” If the U.S. is concerned that Israel might diminish the territory that the Palestinians will receive in the future, then the Obama team could continue with the quiet guidelines followed by the Bush administration and the Sharon government.
  • Given the fact that the amount of territory taken up by the built-up areas of all the settlements in the West Bank is estimated to be 1.7 percent of the territory, the marginal increase in territory that might be affected by natural growth is infinitesimal. Moreover, since Israel unilaterally withdrew 9,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the argument that a settler presence will undermine a future territorial compromise has lost much of its previous force.
  • The U.S. and Israel need to reach a new understanding on the settlements question. Legally and diplomatically, settlements do not represent a problem that can possibly justify putting at risk the U.S.-Israel relationship. It might be that the present tension in U.S.-Israeli relations is not over settlements, but rather over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank that the Obama administration envisions.
  • Disturbingly, on June 1, 2009, the State Department spokesman, Robert Wood, refused to answer repeated questions about whether the Obama administration viewed itself as legally bound by the April 2004 Bush letter to Sharon on defensible borders and settlement blocs. It would be better to obtain earlier clarification of that point, rather than having both countries expend their energies over an issue that may not be the real underlying source of their dispute…

           — Hat tip: JCPA [Return to headlines]

Israel-Vatican: Church Tax Flap

(ANSAmed) — VATICAN CITY, JUNE 8 — Talks on regulating Catholic Church property in Israel appeared to hit a bump Monday when Church sources said a major institution’s funds had been frozen in a tax dispute. But fears of a diplomatic incident proved unfounded hours later when the Israeli foreign ministry said the confiscation had been revoked. It said the seizure was the result of a “technical mistake” made by a functionary without political approval. “It was a misunderstanding linked to lack of knowledge of the list of Catholic institutions on which Israel and the Holy See are negotiating,” a foreign ministry spokesman said. The two states have been seeking agreement on Catholic Church property since they established relations in 1993 and there was widespread hope that last month visit’s to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict XVI would lend fresh impetus to the talks. The key issues regard the taxation of Church property — for which the Holy See wants an exemption — and the custody of certain symbolic sites in Israel such as the room of the Last Supper and an ancient church in Caesaria connected to St Peter. The talks have stuttered in recent years but a joint commission issued a statement ahead of the pope’s visit saying that “important progress” had been made. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Obama Proposes Mideast Peace Plan Seeking Solution in Two Years

ISTANBUL — U.S. President Barack Obama has presented to Israel and Egypt a plan for a two-state solution in the Palestine conflict aiming to be finalized within two years, according to reports on Tuesday.

Obama raised the proposed plan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the premier’s visit to Washington last month, Haaretz daily quoted a source in Cairo as telling the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.

According to the report, the plan envisions a Middle East peace deal by 2011 and would encompass an agreement for a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu is expected to respond to the proposal within six weeks, a deadline set after Obama’s address in Cairo, the report added.

The Egyptian source told A-Sharq al-Awsat that Obama elaborated on the plan during his visit to Egypt last week in talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omer Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. The Egyptian officials were implored to respond as soon as possible, the report said.

Netanyahu is at odds with Obama over the president’s demand to halt Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and has not endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy.


Obama spoke to Netanyahu by phone on Monday and used last week’s Cairo address to the Muslim world to press Israel for a freeze on new settlements.

The White House said the president also “reiterated the principal elements of his Cairo speech, including his commitment to Israel’s security.”

Netanyahu is to make a major policy speech on Sunday in which a senior official said the Israeli leader would “articulate his vision on how to move forward in the peace process with the Palestinians and with the larger Arab world.”

Obama told Netanyahu he looked forward to hearing his views on peace and security in the speech, the White House said.


The phone talks came as U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell was due in Tel Aviv late Monday at the start of a new Middle East tour aimed at kick-starting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Mitchell met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak early on Tuesday and is expected to hold talks in Jerusalem with Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman later in the day.

On Wednesday, Mitchell is due in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank for meetings with Palestinian officials, including president Mahmud Abbas.

During a stopover in Norway on Tuesday, Mitchell told reporters that he had been instructed by Obama to try to broker peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Palestinian Children in Poland for Therapy

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JUNE 8 — A group of 73 Palestinian children left Cairo for Poland today to undergo psychiatric treatment made necessary after the trauma of bombing raids and fighting which occurred during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip from December 28 to January 18. The children left Gaza’s Al Arish airport, where a delegation from the Polish embassy in Cairo was waiting for them. They were then escorted to Cairo, and from there flew to Warsaw. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

We Stand Behind You, Obama Assures Israeli PM

THE US President, Barack Obama, has assured Israel of America’s commitment to Israel’s security in a phone call to its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

There has been widespread public concern in Israel about the country’s relationship with Washington since Mr Obama demanded that Mr Netanyahu publicly endorse the creation of a Palestinian state and freeze all construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Mr Netanyahu has refused to accept either demand and will unveil his plan to restart the peace process with the Palestinians in a speech to be delivered on Sunday.

Mr Netanyahu was scheduled last night to meet Mr Obama’s special envoy to the region, George Mitchell, to try to mediate a way forward.

Israeli media reported that Monday’s phone conversation between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu was conciliatory.

Israel’s biggest selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, quoted an unnamed aide to Mr Netanyahu who said the “conciliatory tone stemmed from the fact that the Americans realise they went too far and that, ultimately, Netanyahu is the partner that they have, and they must embrace him, not topple him”.

The London Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat carried an unconfirmed report yesterday that the US had formulated a two-year plan for cementing a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and was now waiting for Mr Netanyahu to convey Israel’s reply to the plan. According to the report, the new plan was presented to Mr Netanyahu during his visit to Washington last month, when he was reportedly given six weeks to provide his response to the initiative.

Israel and the US have categorically denied similar reports that have emerged in the Arab media since Mr Obama’s and Mr Netanyahu’s meeting in Washington.

After a meeting with the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, yesterday, Mr Mitchell said that he wanted to state clearly and emphatically that US commitment to the security of Israel remained unshakeable.

“We are working hard to achieve the objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East … including a Palestinian state side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel,” he said.

“Let me be clear. These are not disagreements among adversaries. The United States and Israel are, and will remain, close allies and friends.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Energy: Turkey’s Demand for Nabucco Still Debated, Minister

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JUNE 5 — Turkey’s demand to obtain Nabucco pipeline natural gas at a 15% discount is still debated, Anatolia agency reported. Turkish Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, met in Ankara with Ambassador Richard Morningstar, U.S. special envoy for Eurasian energy. Speaking after the meeting, Yildiz said negotiations were underway over Turkey’s reported demand for natural gas at a 15% discount from the Nabucco pipeline, a 3,300 km pipeline project which would transit natural gas from mainly Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz fields to European markets. “Any agreement on this issue would be the one that would be debated between Turkey and the European Union”, Yildiz said. Responding to a question over a planned participation of Iran in the Nabucco pipeline, Morningstar said the United States had been imposing a number of sanctions on Iran. “At present we do not support Iran’s participation in the project”, Morningstar said. (ANSAmed).

2009-06-05 16:12

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Fr. Samir: Obama on Islam Pleases, But There Are Some Lies and Silences

An analysis of the US President’s speech by an expert on Islam and the Arab world. In general there is a lot of honesty and justified mea culpa. But there is also too much rhetoric on Islam’s contributions; historical falsehoods on the Cordoba Caliphate and the birth of Israel; ambiguity on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; religious freedom is more than tolerance; forgetfulness on the everyday rights of women. The Pope said more in the Middle East.

Beirut (AsiaNews) —The wide ranging discourse delivered by Barack Obama yesterday in the University of Cairo is a proposal to move on from a conflict of civilisations to a new and prosperous era in relations between the West and Islam, or rather, the United States and Islam.

In the first part he seeks to placate Muslims, speaking in first person of his experience and the American experience. He is also briefly critical of the American conduct in Iraq. All of this serves to create an atmosphere of dialogue and openness. It is a normal tactic to ensure that your public is listening. In the second part he lists six points on which the United States and Muslim world must collaborate.

The speech is essentially the speech of a man of politics, who belongs to the most powerful nation on earth and the issues are addressed on a political level by a man who knows his responsibilities.

In many aspects, Obama’s speech is very honest. For example, in dealing with violent extremism, he insists on it not being identified with Islam, even if he says there are Muslims who use violence. We know that the extremists are a minority, but they are not acceptable.

On Afghanistan and Iraq he speaks in a very balanced way, responding to the Islamic world’s criticism of America. He even quotes Thomas Jefferson when he says: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be”. He even confesses that the event sin Iraq have forced America to understand that diplomatic solutions are always better than war.

His reading of the history of the conflict between the West and Islam is somewhat manipulated, perhaps to make it acceptable to Muslims. When for example, he speaks of the Islam of Al Azhar, in relation to its supposed contribution to the European Renaissance and Enlightenment; he seems to go a little too far for me, even if it is likeable.

He also lists the contributions made by Islamic culture to the civilisations of the world: algebra, philosophy etc… And I approve of this: it is perhaps exaggerated, but it aims to tell Muslims to be proud of this contribution to world culture. Obama also insists on not remaining fixed on the past but to move on, beyond the conflicts, to collaboration, urging optimism and courage.

He quotes twice from the Koran in his speech, as well as the Talmud and the Gospel. But he ends with a quote from St Paul (“the peace of God be with you”). This shows the courage of the man who does not hide his identity: he says he is a Christian and that he had a Muslim father, well aware of the many controversies in the Muslim world regarding conversions. He underlines the need for honesty in dialogue and what is said in private must also be said in public, adding that his speech aims to find common foundations in truth.

The last part is full of strong language: don not be held back by the past; move on towards the future; his invitation to young people of all faiths: this is very American, putting the responsibility of this duty to all, young and old, looking at our efforts with optimism.

Even when he proposes American collaboration in investments in culture, development, and student exchanges, he reveals that he is aware of the United States power, but he is asking for the partnership of the Muslim world anyway.

The atmosphere of the speech therefore, is one of global collaboration, where everyone has to make an effort, with respect for each other and without arrogance.

Ambiguity on Israel, Palestine and the settlements

Obama lists 6 themes on which collaboration is urgently needed: violent extremism; Israel, Palestine and the Arab World; nuclear arms (in which he targets Iran); democracy; religious freedom; and women’s’ rights.

The first 3 points are aspects of International politics; the remaining 3 are on human rights issues. It is clear that he focuses on the most important issues.

1. Regarding extremism, Obama sought to avoid identifying violence with Islam. He even discreetly admits faults in the American errors in Iraq, to indicate in the end that extremist violence is a “common enemy”.

2. The Israeli-Palestinian problem presents some limitations. When he explained that the bonds between the USA and Israel are “indestructible”, he pronounced harsh words for the Muslim Wold. Barack did so to reassure Israel, demonstrating that these bonds are based on historical and cultural ties and on the “aspiration for a Jewish homeland…rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied”. All of this is true. But when he compares the Jews and Palestinians who have suffered for a “homeland”, he commits an error: the Jews did not suffer because of the Palestinians or Muslims, but in Europe because of the West. Instead the Palestinians suffer because of the Israelis and the Western World. Another ambiguous element concerns his placing on the same scale the legitimate desire of Palestinians and Jews to have a homeland in the Middle East. The legitimate desire of Jews in Europe was to live in peace where they were, not to have a homeland in the Middle East at all costs. This ambiguity is present in many in the West. But it also has to be said that now, Israel is in the Middle East and that we must live together, what remains important is that history is not manipulated.

Another ambiguous element is the issue of settlements which Barak Obama says “must be stopped”. But it is not clear whether their will be more settlements in the future of if existing settlements will be dismantled, and the lands sequestered by the Israeli colonies from the Palestinian people returned. The United States has to go beyond generic statements and carry forward the policy of the “two States”, with specific reference to “being within the borders assigned by the United Nations”. If this does not happen, then there will be no peace. I think that this is the weak point of Obama’s speech. But at the same time it is true that he really could not add anything more, considering he American politics of the last 60 years! The fact he says two states are necessary is already a small step forward.

3. The 3rd emergency alludes to Iran and its nuclear program. It’s nice to hear him say that we must work so that no state has nuclear arms. Only in this way will his criticisms of Iran and North Korea have meaning. This is how he really differs from his predecessor, who condemned these countries while he claimed the right and need for the US to posses nuclear weapons.

Religious freedom is more than mere tolerance

The second part deals with various aspects of human rights

4. Regarding democracy, he is conscious of the inequality between various nations, but he lists the needs that are the basis of democracy: the freedom to express one’s own ideas, trust in the administration of justice; etc… And here he even criticises the American policy in Iraq that wanted to impose democracy by force. Instead Obama says: “no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other”.

5. The fifth point is religious freedom. Here Obama goes a little beyond historic truth and uses mythical concepts to justify his position. He maintains that Islam has always been a tolerant religion. But this is ambiguous: religious freedom is not only a question of tolerance. Tolerance means allowing others to exist, it does not mean freedom of speech, freedom to preach or convert. Then he falls into the trap of myths when he uses the Caliphate of Andalusia and Cordoba a san example of this tolerance, placing it in direct contrast to the Inquisition. This is completely exaggerated myth. First of all the Inquisition was historically after the caliphate, but the affirmation is also wrong in its contents. There was a lot of persecution under the Andalusia Caliphate, of Christians, Jews and even Muslims: Averroè was forced to flee from Cordoba; the same fate for the Hebrew Philosopher Maimonide. He then points to Indonesia where he lived during his childhood. And here there is little to argue about. However the Indonesia of today is less tolerant than it was in the past. Despite this he seems conscious of the fact that steps need to be taken to ensure reciprocal respect. Among situations of difficulty he lists (a little out of place) the Maronites in Lebanon and (with no small measure of courage given that he is in Egypt) the Copts in Egypt. Finally he also cites conflicts between Sunni and Shiites to show that tolerance is needed also among Muslims themselves and not only with Christians.

He then gives some examples of tolerance “American” style. He speaks for example of the zakat, the juridical religious tax in support of other Muslims. But this is a private fact that no-one can impede, and yet he points to it as an important sign of tolerance. Twice or three times he calls in cause the issue of the veil and women’s’ clothing, to say that they have the right to dress as they desire, but this argument seems more aimed at satisfying Muslims, because it is not real issue of religious freedom. Instead the right to believe or not to believe, to be homosexual or not, to convert to another religion, are not addressed. He points to Saudi Arabia as an example of collaboration between religions, but says nothing of the lack of religious freedom in that country.

6. The last point made is on women’s rights. An here he also cites blindingly obvious examples such as Turkey, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, where some women have been political leaders, but without ever touching on the everyday problems in the life of women in these countries, full of humiliation and marginalisation.

Obama’s journey and that of the Pope

In conclusion, Obama insists on human progress, education and integration of progress and tradition. In fact one of the main reasons of the conflict between the West and the Islamic world is this idea of progress and so he invites the creation of a new world, quoting the examples he has made: no more extremism; US soldiers at home; Israelis and Palestinians living in peace; without the threat of nuclear war, etc….

In a very American way he pusher everyone to be courageous and to take a step towards something new.

The speech is a good one; here and there one too many concessions to the Muslim world, but for a man of politics it is, in my opinion, positive. He is trying to make it known that America wants to change its attitude to the world of Islam.

Comparing his message to that of the Pope during his trip to the Holy Land, it seems to me, that with regards the Palestinians, the pope was far less ambiguous. Both defended the right of Israel to exist, both condemned the violence, but Benedict XVI spoke in precise terms of the Two States; he even said that the security barrier is unacceptable and that Jerusalem has to be the capital of both States. Obama instead only spoke of Jerusalem as the “spiritual capital” of the three Abrahamic religions.

The pope also spoke of the “indestructible bonds” between Jews and Christians, but did not justify these bonds with a weak historic motivation.

It must also be said that the pope’s situation was far more delicate, because Benedict XVI went into the eye of the storm, among the Israelis and Palestinians. Instead this speech by Obama only served to please Islam.

In some way this speech aimed to extend American peace. Which is no bad thing, as long as we take into account Obama’s own reservations: everything must proceed in partnership and not under dominion. In any case, the change compared to Bush is clear: both are conscious of the role of the USA in the world, but what Obama says seems more correct.

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

Saudi Arabia: ‘Menahi’ Screening Irks Some

RIYADH: After 30 years, the first movie show to be screened here triggered a minor incident with some Saudis using the platform to voice their disapproval of cinemas.

“Menahi,” the second Saudi film produced by Rotana, was screened on Saturday night at the King Fahd Cultural Center (KFCC) theater. This was the fourth screening of the movie after it was shown in Jeddah, Taif and Jazan.

The film was shown in Riyadh following approval from the municipality, the Ministry of Culture and Information, and the Ministry of Social Affairs; income generated was to be donated to support cancer patients.

While young activists on Facebook started a campaign calling for opening of cinemas in the Kingdom, 15 people aged 30 to 40 attempted to disrupt the film’s showing at KFCC, by trying to persuade moviegoers to leave in order to close down the show.

Their attempts created a brief flutter as the 15 zealots scolded the audience in loud voices and cursed Fayz Al-Malki, the main actor, while accusing him of spreading vice.

“They do not represent Islam, have no official standing and cannot be considered guardians of virtue. Therefore, they have no real influence,” Al-Malki told Arab News, adding that it was a historical evening and a boost for Rotana and Saudi filmmaking.

“This form of interference, although we did obtain prior official approval to show the film, is not the essence of Islam. It is more of an individual act and is not a proper way to project righteous things,” said Al-Malki while commending the authority’s interference in arresting the intruders.

Hours before screening the film, Al-Maliki received several phone calls and SMS messages, saying he would get cancer as well as God’s wrath for playing the lead role in the film. The messages also called for immediate action to stop the screening.

A statement from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice said the intruders were not commission members and the commission did not have any role in the disruption.

Meanwhile, Hassan Al-Asiri, a Saudi actor and producer who co-starred with Al-Malki, said it is essential to have a dialogue with those who reject movie-making and its screening.

“The initiative to show a Saudi film is a great one and historical. Filmmaking is not a luxury anymore, but rather a necessity that can be exploited to spread virtue and principles, and it should be well organized,” Al-Asiri said, adding that people should understand that the group’s rejection of films comes from its belief that they are guarding society’s scruples.

“They are afraid of the unknown, their beliefs are genuine as ours are, therefore we should open channels of communication with them, understand their fears and give them assurances,” Al-Asiri said, adding that the Ministry of Culture and Information should take the initiative to open cinemas according to a plan.

Al-Asiri recommends a 20-year-plan, which includes opening theaters that only show for the first 10 years Saudi films. He added that the following seven years should be for films from the Gulf countries and the last three years for other Arab films.

Al-Asiri believes that cinemas would help improve and enhance Saudi filmmaking, reflect real Saudi society and help in providing solutions to problems.

“The theater will also give the young a media that is easier to control than the TV, where 18 million Saudis are watching with no control or censorship,” Al-Asiri argued.

Al-Malki said the night was a success for Saudi films, adding he is looking forward to more shows. As for his next film, Al-Malki told Arab News that although the script is ready, there is a small conflict between himself and Rotana. He did not elaborate but said he hopes it will be settled soon.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Turkey Challenged by EU Vote Results

ANKARA — A decisive victory for the right wing in the European Parliament creates concern about the future of Turkey’s bid for EU membership and the path Europe is likely to take in the next five years.

Turkey’s European Union path seems slightly rockier after the right wing made clear gains in the weekend’s European Parliament elections, spurring fears that Europe is becoming more conservative, less pro-enlargement and less pro-Turkey.

Diplomatic sources said Turkey was still evaluating the results but made it clear that the outcome would not cause Ankara to lose its appetite for full membership in the EU. “We are resolutely proceeding on our road,” said a Turkish diplomat who requested anonymity. Speaking to reporters before departing for Afghanistan yesterday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a change in the balance of the European Parliament would not affect Turkish-EU relations.

Conservatives won a decisive victory over socialists in the European Parliament elections, leading to questions about Europe’s direction in the upcoming five-year period. “I am absolutely happy that we did win the elections,” Ria Oomen-Ruijten, Turkey rapporteur of the European Parliament, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review yesterday. Dutch Christian Democrat Oomen-Ruijten will continue drawing up reports on Turkey in the next term: her re-election after the vote will be officially announced Thursday.

She highlighted that the result should not be a source of concern for Turkey. “No way,” she said. “We are still the largest group in the European Parliament. What’s wrong? Nothing.”

The center-right European People’s Party secured 267 seats, making it the biggest group in the 736-member parliament, ahead of the socialists on 159 seats, down from 215, according to estimates.

“The fact that Social Democrats have lost seats in the European Parliament is not good news for Turkey,” Jan Marinus Wiersma of the Socialist Group in parliament told the Daily News. “We have consistent support for Turkey’s ambitions to become a member of the EU.. We know it is a difficult track and long process, but we are always in contact with [Turkey’s] government and the main opposition party.” He said there were many reasons for the socialists’ defeat including low turnout in the polls as well as Europe’s enlargement fatigue, but he emphasized that Turkey played a role in many debates, including in his home country the Netherlands.

“I think Turkey played a role, but it was not the dominant factor,” said Wiersma. Analysts told the Daily News that the shift to the right was more due to domestic concerns, including the global financial downturn, rather than an aversion to further EU expansion.

“The result should not be exaggerated. Turkey is the symptom and not the cause of the problem,” said Hugh Pope, senior analyst of the International Crisis Group.

“This is not a debate about Turkey; this is a debate about domestic politics in Europe. I think Turkey should be aware that the victory of the right wing has much less to do with anything real about Turkey, which is a kind of proxy for Europe’s domestic concerns,” he said. “And when the economic situation becomes better in three or four years time, the EU will turn back to enlargement, and Turkey has to wait for that moment.”

Sinan Ülgen, an EU expert at the Istanbul-based Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, said the outcome illustrated the European public’s protest of the ongoing economic policies pursued by national governments as well as the gap between European people and European institutions.

“When we look at it from Turkey’s perspective, obviously that is a worrisome trend because with such composure the European Parliament’s political instincts are likely to be less pro-enlargement, less pro-Turkey,” he said. Ülgen, however, expressed the belief that political willingness and momentum in Turkish-EU ties would change the current situation to some extent.

“There is opposition to Turkey’s membership in some member states but it is supported by a large majority of countries. We should always be aware of this fact. We don’t have a monolithic Europe refusing Turkey.”

While commenting on the election results, German Ambassador to Turkey Eckart

z said the parliament has nothing to do with membership negotiations, which are decided by the EU Council made up of heads of state and government leaders.

“The negotiations will continue based on the council decisions. As Germany, our support [for Turkey’s EU bid] will continue,” he said.

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

Turkey Can Play Role in NATO Plan

ANKARA — NATO’s outgoing secretary-general hinted yesterday that Turkey could play an important role in the transatlantic alliance’s new strategy plan, reported the Anatolia news agency.

His remarks came during a meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan in Ankara, where he paid a farewell visit as Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen will take over the chief post in August.

“NATO has prepared a new strategy plan. We hope that Turkey can play an important role in NATO’s new strategy plan,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, according to the news agency. “We plan to establish a ‘Group of Wise Men,’ composed of 12 people, and wish to include Turkey in this group.”

Sources said that while talking with ErdoÄŸan, Scheffer expressed appreciation over Turkey’s contributions in many regions, primarily in Afghanistan. Scheffer also met with President Abdullah Gül and Chief of General Staff Gen. Ä°lker BaÅŸbuÄŸ. ¤Scheffer, from the Netherlands, became NATO secretary-general on Jan. 5, 2004. He was the minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands before he was appointed to this position.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Turkish Prosecutors Seek Annulment of President’s Trial Ruling for Fraud

ISTANBUL — A Public Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara applied to the Justice Ministry on Tuesday requesting the annulment of a court ruling that Turkish President Abdullah Gul should stand trial for his part in a fraud case dating from the 1990s. (UPDATED)

An Ankara court ruled last month that Gul should stand trial in a case involving members of the banned Welfare Party, or RP, convicted of embezzling money from the public Treasury in the 1990s.

In overturning the earlier ruling, the Ankara court cited “a loophole” in the Turkish Constitution regarding crimes one could have committed before being elected as the president.

The Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office had earlier ruled for the dismissal of legal proceedings against Gul over the case publicly known as “the missing trillions.” As president, Gul enjoys immunity.

On Tuesday, the Public Prosecutor’s Office said it completed an examination of the Ankara court’s ruling and found it violated legal procedures and state laws, the state-run Anatolian Agency reported.

The Turkish Justice Ministry will now bring the issue before the Supreme Court of Appeals if it favors the findings and recommendations of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The Supreme Court of Appeals will have the final say on the case, as legal experts are divided over whether Gul can stand trial.

Gul, a co-founder of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was elected president in 2007. The fraud case dates back to the late 1990s, when the RP, a predecessor to the AKP, was accused of misappropriating funds from the Treasury.

Several executives of the banned Islamic-rooted RP, of which Gul was the deputy chairman at the time, were convicted of falsifying party records and hiding millions of dollars in cash reserves ordered seized after the party was shut down in 1998.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Russia: Controversial Article on Reasons for WWII Not Russian Defense Ministry’s Official Position — Chief of Staff

[Comment from Tuan Jim: I’m actually inclined to believe this explanation. I’ve read a number of Russian media/gov’t criticisms recently of other Russian “academics”.]

MOSCOW. June 5 (Interfax) — A controversial article by military historian Sergei Kovalyov regarding the reasons for the beginning of WWII, which was recently posted on the Russian Defense Ministry website, is not the ministry’s official position, Army Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, told journalists in Moscow on Friday.

“This article is of a debatable nature and reflects the author’s point of view, but it is absolutely not the Russian Defense Ministry’s official position,” Makarov said.

“No farfetched secondary pretexts could have changed the reasons for the beginning of the Second World War,” Makarov said.

“The Russian Defense Ministry holds a firm and principled position that there should be no place for opportunistic fabrications, scientific incompetence, and careless and dubious interpretation of well-known facts and official documents in history issues,” he said.

Media reported earlier that Kovalyov, a researcher from the Defense Ministry’s Military History Institute, had written in an article ‘Fabrications and falsifications in evaluating the USSR’s role in the run-up to and at the beginning of WWII’ and posted on the ‘Military Encyclopedia’ section on the Defense Ministry website that it was Poland’s refusal to meet Germany’s demands that in fact spurred WWII.

“All those who have impartially studied the WWII history know that it started after Poland’s refusal to satisfy Germany’s demands. However, it is less commonly known what exactly Hitler wanted from Warsaw. In fact, Germany’s demands were quite moderate. These are the inclusion of the Free City of Danzig into the Third Reich and the permission to build an exterritorial motorway and a railway linking East Prussia and Germany proper. These two demands can hardly be called groundless,” Kovalyov said.

The article was later taken off the Defense Ministry’s website.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]


US Envoy Urges Progress in Armenia-Turkey Reconciliation Talks

YEREVAN — A senior U.S. envoy on Tuesday urged Armenia and Turkey to make progress in reconciliation talks aimed at mending relations and re-opening their border.

Philip Gordon, the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said talks should be concluded within “a reasonable time frame.”

“The process can’t be on forever. But I think the parties understand that, both sides appreciated this, they need to go forward and they will,” he said at a press conference during a visit to the Armenian capital Yerevan..

“There should be no preconditions” in the talks, he said, adding that the normalization of diplomatic ties between the two neighbors “would benefit Turkey, Armenia and the entire region.”

Turkey and Armenia said in April that they had agreed to a road map for normalizing relations, but there have been few signs of progress since the announcement.

Washington has backed the reconciliation effort, with President Barack Obama calling on Armenia and Turkey to build on fence-mending efforts during a visit to Turkey in April.

Gordon, who took office last month, was due to visit the two other ex-Soviet republics of the South Caucasus, Georgia and Azerbaijan, on Wednesday and Thursday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Indonesia/Malaysia: Tensions Over Disputed Waters

KUALA LUMPUR — MALAYSIA sent its armed forces chief to Indonesia on Tuesday to soothe tensions over disputed waters, saying the two countries must temporarily stop maritime patrols there to reduce the risk of a confrontation. The navies of both countries have faced off several times in recent weeks, with Jakarta saying that it nearly opened fire on May 25 on a Malaysian patrol vessel that it said had strayed into territorial waters that it claims.

Malaysian Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid said military chief General Abdul Aziz Zainal would suggest to his Indonesian counterpart that both countries temporarily stop maritime patrols at the Ambalat oil concession block situated in waters off the island of Borneo.

The dispute over the territory and access to undersea oil and natural gas originated from a map which Malaysia published in 1979 which placed the area in its territory and which Indonesia protested. Both countries have since handed out contracts to major foreign firms in the area.

Indonesia awarded Italy’s major oil group ENI in a production sharing contract in 1999, while Malaysia in 2005 struck an exploration deal with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Malaysian state firm Petronas.

Indonesia’s government said it had issued 36 protest notes to Kuala Lumpur over what it sees as incursions by Malaysian forces over several years.

Mr Ahmad Zahid said a heightened political climate ahead of Indonesia’s presidential election next month could be one reason why the longstanding dispute has drawn such anger in the country.

‘This would not have been as heated if not for parties which have certain interests…the political climate now is reflective of the (Indonesian) presidential elections,’ said Mr Ahmad Zahid.

Indonesian Foreign ministry spokesman, Mr Teuku Faizasyah, told Reuters that military force was not a solution.

‘The negotiation process is ongoing, so we hope Malaysia does not cloud the situation on the field. Our stance on Ambalat is that Ambalat block is within our sovereign rights. The Ambalat block is 80 miles from our continental shelf.’ — REUTERS

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia/Malaysia: Model-Wife Was Abused

JAKARTA — A MEDICAL examination of a teenage US-Indonesian model who claimed she was raped and tortured by her Malaysian prince husband confirmed that she had been physically abused, a forensic expert said on Tuesday. Ms Manohara Odelia Pinot, 17, last week told reporters she was treated like a sex slave after her marriage last year to Tengku Temenggong Mohammad Fakhry, the prince of Malaysia’s Kelantan state.

She escaped the prince’s guards at a Singapore hotel and returned to her family in Indonesia with tales of abuse, rape and torture at the hands of the 31-year-old prince.

‘There are slash wounds on many parts of her body, especially on her chest. Some are still fresh,’ forensic doctor Mun’im Idries told AFP. ‘We are still examining her blood and urine samples because she said she had been given jabs,’ he said adding that he also found an injection mark on her back.

Ms Manohara — a well-known socialite in Jakarta — claimed to have been cut with a razor and injected with drugs which made her vomit blood while being held under guard in her bedroom at the palace.

She said after the examination on Tuesday that the prince would have sexual intercourse after injecting her with an unidentified substance.

With the help of Singapore police, the former model escaped home to Jakarta while visiting her father-in-law, Sultan Ismail Petra Shah II who was being treated at a Singapore hospital.

‘The medical examination has been completed and the result confirmed that there is physical abuse all over her body. Her story has proven to be true,’ one of her lawyers Farhat Abbas told AFP.

He said his client on Tuesday formally lodged a written report on the alleged abuse with the Indonesian police. Besides the prince, she had named six other people including the sultan and his wife as accomplices.

‘We have received the report today,’ national police spokesman Abubakar Nataprawira told AFP. ‘Indonesian police is not able to investigate the case as the alleged abuse took place in Malaysia which is out of our jurisdiction. But we will assist in reporting the case to Malaysian police,’ he added. — AFP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Saudi Arabian Ambassador Officiates Project Worth Billions in Aceh

[Comment from Tuan Jim: Aceh + SA is NOT a good combo. (not that I’d want to see the Saudis anywhere in Indo.)]

Banda Aceh: The Saudi Arabian Ambassador for Indonesia, Abdulrahman Al Khayyath, officially opened a Saudi Arabian project in Aceh, on Thursday (4/6).

The project was constructed by the Saudi Charity Campaign (SCC) and is worth Rp129 billion.

It is part of Saudi Arabian assistance for rehabilitation after the tsunami in Aceh.

The project includes an orphanage center and educational institution located in Banda Aceh.

Abdurrahman said that the assistance was a form of attention from Saudi Arabia to victims of the tsunami in Aceh.

“I hope that people will be able to gain maximum benefit from it,” he said.

Aceh Governor, Irwandi Yusuf, said that Acehnesse children have been studying at the educational institution built by Saudi Arabia.

“We hope Saudi Arabia keeps helping the center until it is ready to be independent,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: Afghans, Iraqis Detained in East Java

TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta: East Java police detained 14 immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq in Kaliagung Village, in Pasuruan Regency on Sunday evening. Nine of the refugees were from Afghanistan and five from Iraq. Three among the Iraqi refugees are children.

Pasuruan police said the refugees were detained as they arrived in two cars in the village on Sunday evening (8/6), before heading to East Nusa Tenggara. Head of the Intelligence Unit of Pasuruan Ressort Police First Inspector Harsono said two immigrants escaped police detention before being handed to Malang Immigration office’s custody.

Police said the driver of the travel service vehicles told police they took the immigrant from Jakarta which were staying at different hotels.

In another arrest in Malang Regency on Sunday, also in East Java, Malang Ressort Police said three afghan immigrants were arrested in Lawang subregency.

Twelve immigrant arrested in Pasuruan and the three in Malang are now under the custody of Malang Immigration Office.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Thai Army Denies Attacking Mosque

NARATHIWAT: Thailand’s army chief has denied claims that security forces are behind a bloody attack on a mosque that killed 11 in the troubled south of the country.

The government ordered General Anupong Paojinda to fly to the region, where Muslims are in the majority, a day after masked gunmen stormed the mosque in Narathiwat province during evening prayers.

Villagers blamed Thai forces for the attack, one of the worst incidents in a five-year insurgency in the south, but General Anupong said separatist militants were responsible for the “barbaric act”.

“After the attack, militants made false claims against the authorities. They want to terrify villagers by creating a climate of fear,” he said yesterday in Bangkok before leaving for Narathiwat.

“On the contrary, the authorities are building a better understanding with villagers and everything is being implemented under the law and in accordance with human rights.”

About 1000 villagers gathered near the mosque in Cho-ai-rong district yesterday to see the scene of the attack and attend a religious ceremony for the dead, witnesses said.

Locals collected the bodies of eight of the dead, including the local imam, and took them to makeshift tents to clean them for burial.

Villagers claimed security forces had carried out the raid, saying the gunmen had attacked the mosque from several sides and that insurgents would not strike at a place of worship.

Suthep Thaugsuban, deputy prime minister in charge of national security, said he was seeking justice.

“I have instructed Anupong to go down south to monitor the situation and find the perpetrators. I will not say anything until I have received the official report as it’s a very sensitive issue,” he said.

Human rights groups have accused Thai authorities of major abuses in the south, including the use of unnecessary force in the 2004 siege of a mosque in which 32 suspected insurgents were killed.

Monday’s attack came amid a flare-up in the insurgency that has left 3700 people dead since 2004 and just hours after the Thai and Malaysian prime ministers agreed to step up co-operation over the region’s troubles.

General Anupong said the militants were trying to “internationalise” the situation in the south.

“They absolutely want to raise this issue to a level of international concern, by making it seem like state authorities are violently cracking down on villagers,” he said.

Violence has increased in the south recently, with 27 people dying and 68 injured in the past week. Many of the dead were security forces or teachers.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Far East

Hong Kong Probes 3rd Acid Attack

HONG KONG — A BOTTLE of acid thrown into a crowd in one of Hong Kong’s most densely populated shopping districts injured 24 pedestrians, police said on Tuesday, the third in a series of attacks that have injured nearly 100 people. The latest attack on Monday night dominated the headlines in Hong Kong, with several newspapers showing photos of victims washing off the acid on the roadside.

Police said a bottle filled with a corrosive liquid was hurled onto a crowd in the busy Mong Kok district on Monday, injuring 24 people. None of the victims, ages 4 to 49, were seriously burned.

It is the third such attack in six months in the neighborhood. On the same street last month, 30 people suffered burns when two plastic bottles filled with acid were thrown down into a crowd. Another 46 were injured in a similar attack in the same neighborhood in December.

Mong Kok, which means ‘busy corner’ in Chinese, is a shopping hot spot that attracts thousands of locals and tourists, but the latest attacks have scared some shoppers away.

‘I thought the attack would be stopped, but it happened again,’ one of the victims surnamed Leung was quoted as saying in Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily News. ‘I always go to Mong Kok, but from now on I’ll never go to that area again.’

She suffered burns on her neck and back, according to Ming Pao.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang also condemned the attacks, saying it was ‘cold blooded and evil’ and that the assailant was ‘scum of the society.’ Police superintendent Edward Leung was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post Tuesday that it was possible the same person had carried out all three attacks.

He said in a radio interview Tuesday that officers are reviewing footage taken by recently installed surveillance cameras to monitor the area where the attacks took place. But he said it wasn’t immediately clear whether the assailant would be identified in the footage because some of the images were too dark.

Investigators have also posted a HK$900,000 (S$169,500) reward for information leading to an arrest. If caught, the assailant could be charged with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment upon conviction, Supt Leung said earlier. — AP

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Don’t Dwell on the Past When the Present Demands Attention

Let us hope that the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun will not cast a long shadow. However sad his death may be, he belongs to the past. Before us lie the terrible problems of today and tomorrow, and they demand all our attention. I would like to believe that in this lies the deeper meaning of Roh’s suicide note, “Don’t be sorry. Don’t blame anyone.”

Korea faces a crisis. Externally, international debate is underway over North Korea’s nuclear threats and possible military provocations, while the global economic crisis is still threatening us. Internally, there are divisions and political strife stemming from Roh’s death. These problems of today could decide our future. It can only harm the nation to deepen enmity and attempt to make political gains by dwelling on the former president.

The responsibility to carry us through lies primarily with the Lee Myung-bak administration and secondly with the opposition Democratic Party. Lee is opposed to reform demands from the ruling party, suggesting he will not make any gestures just to turn things around. But that is nothing more than stubbornness when there is a need for change in the government. So long as the Lee administration governs based on the outdated belief that railroading through of one’s own ideas without listening to others is heroism, it will certainly fail to lead the country effectively.

The lethargy and frailty of the Lee administration in the face of Roh’s death are embarrassing. That the opposition parties and the Left can frankly demand an apology and even his resignation shows the esteem Lee is held in. Even from the perspective of the Right, recent reports and press photos of Lee make people doubt if he is the president of this country. His calls for economic recovery sound like a stuck record. Perhaps he is deliberately trying to look unconcerned, but he just comes across as missing the seriousness of the country’s situation.

Lee must act immediately to turn things around. He should extend a hand toward all political factions except pro-North Korea parties and propose reforms of the political arena. He needs to make every effort he can to embrace even his rivals within his party. And he must show that he is determined to do anything for national unity. Otherwise, he will be punished in next year’s local elections and become a lame duck. And in that case, his effectual presidency would end in about a year.

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, must understand the severity of adverse winds, as we have witnessed their impact in history. Famous people, be they athletes, entertainers or others, are often blown away when they become arrogant and proud. That happened to former presidents Park Chung-hee, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung. Now President Lee Myung-bak is facing an adverse wind while still glowing from the record 5 million votes that won him the election. And that was the fall of Roh Moo-hyun, who after his impeachment failed felt nothing could hurt him.

People now grieve over Roh’s death. But the main opposition party should know that many do not want their grief to be used for the unearned benefit of the DP. It is a grave misjudgment if they think that the millions of citizens who have visited Bongha Village, Roh’s hometown, to pay their last respects and flocked to 300 memorial altars set up in his honor across the country are all the DP sympathizers. It is unprecedented worldwide to demand the resignation of the incumbent head of state on account of wholly circumstantial accountability for his predecessor. And the DP must remember that Roh did not die in the service of country and people.

The DP must think hard whether it should continue blocking parliament and demanding Lee’s resignation, and whether that is the proper way to respect Roh’s death and carrying out the public’s wishes. If it really cannot work with Lee at all, the DP should take action and seek an impeachment through the proper channels instead of shouting and clamoring and hoping Lee will go of his own accord. Such flabby opportunism cannot last.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

S. Korea: Who Threatens Democracy?

Korea University professor Im Hyug-baeg spoke yesterday at the discussion “What Is Democracy?” hosted by the Shidaejungshin (Zeitgeist) Foundation, “In democratic elements such as political freedom, equality, participation, competition and rule of law, Korean democracy is regressing under the Lee Myung-bak administration,” he said. Korea National University of Education professor Kim Joo-sung disagreed, however, saying, “There are no grounds to say democracy is retreating. When people don’t abide by the Constitution and the government controls them, then people can say democracy has retreated.”

Certain professors have ideas similar to Im’s, which is considered liberal. What they mentioned as grounds for a democratic crisis is the blockade of Seoul Plaza, the revision of media law, and the investigation into the late former President Roh Moo-hyun. But are these really reasonable grounds to declare a crisis in Korean democracy?

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea and other left-wing groups claim that blocking Seoul Plaza is a serious violation of freedom of assembly. Yet the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations banned large-scale demonstrations that were expected to erupt into violence. All protests ranging from the launch of the Korea Federation of University Students in May 1999; a demonstration in downtown Seoul held by four major carmakers in April 2000; a gathering at Bupyeong Station organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in 2001; a Seoul Plaza protest hosted by the Korean Alliance against the Korea-U.S. FTA in November 2006; and a demonstration in downtown Seoul in March 2007 failed as police blocked and deterred them.

Seoul Plaza, Cheonggye Plaza and the pedestrian walk in front of Daehan Gate do not belong to a certain group. If an individual’s freedom is precious, so is that of others. Freedom of assembly needs to be guaranteed as much as possible, but the Constitution does not guarantee the right to violence that threatens public well-being and order and infringes on other people’s right to happiness. Last year’s candlelight protests paralyzed Seoul for three months with a group of masked protestors armed with steel pipes. This is not democracy Korea should pursue.

Protecting the privileged rights of leftist media that opposes revision of media law is also not protecting democracy. Korea’s media system carries the legacy of the authoritarian Chun Doo-hwan administration, which integrated the media in 1980. How does changing the broadcast system to meet the needs of expanding opportunities for new start-up broadcasters and increase competitiveness put democracy in danger? Reforming the media could help the industry flourish. In addition, both the ruling and opposition parties agreed in March to put the media law to a vote at the National Assembly this month.

When former President Roh Moo-hyun was investigated on bribery charges, leftist media urged for a rigorous investigation, expressing disappointment. It makes no sense to argue now that the probe was “political revenge” or “political murder.” They can complain of problems in the investigation but if they claim a former president is immune from prosecution for bribery charges, this is a denial of rule of law.

The majority of the professors who joined the declaration are members of left-leaning civic groups or the National Association of Professors for a Democratic Society. The recent series of declarations appears to have started from a political movement by professors sympathetic to a left-leaning government to suppress the conservative administration in the wake of Roh’s death and increase their power. As intellectuals, however, they failed to produce an objective, reasonable and balanced view in judging the situation. Ironically the self-righteousness, violent protests and denial of parliamentary democracy by such left-leaning groups are the factors threatening the country’s democracy.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Foreign Students Could be Forced to Leave

SCORES of foreign students, suspected of using bogus documents to support permanent residency applications, have been discovered by Federal Government migration fraud investigators.

More than 60 students, whose documents were initially accepted as genuine by the Government, will be forced to leave Australia if they are unable to prove their documents are authentic.

It is the latest indication that rorting in the lucrative $15.5 billion international education industry — the nation’s third-biggest export earner — is a serious problem, which could undermine the integrity of Australia’s education and immigration systems.

The students are suspected of using fake references from employers, which claim to show they have 900 hours’ work experience in a job related to their area of study.

Foreign students are required to provide evidence of 900 hours’ work experience to support their applications for permanent residency.

Sources in the international education industry have told The Age some students pay up to $20,000 to rogue college operators or middlemen, such as unscrupulous migration agents or education agents, to obtain fake paperwork.

Trades Recognition Australia (TRA) is the body nominated by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to assess skills, including those of foreign students. Under the Australian migration system, a successful skills assessment by TRA can be used by foreign students to support their permanent residency applications.

In the last financial year, TRA received 34,180 applications for skills assessment, about 10,000 of which were from foreign students. TRA initially accepted the documents of the students in question as genuine. But after the Federal Government received information suggesting their paperwork could be bogus, it sent letters to the students threatening to revoke their successful skills assessments if they did not prove their documents were authentic within 28 days.

More than 60 such letters have been sent to foreign students since the start of the year, with 48 sent last month alone.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, which investigates matters relating to international education refuses to say how many students have already had successful skills assessments revoked.

“Disclosing departmental actions as part of quality control and fraud measure could adversely impact on the administration of the program,” the department said in a statement to The Age.

The students are believed to be either close to the expiry of their student visas or on bridging visas. Either way, they will be expected to leave the country within 28 days if they are unable to prove their documents are genuine.

The identification of students suspected of using bogus documents follows the discovery of an alleged racket uncovered by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in March.

Three migration agents were allegedly providing fake documentation to support permanent residency applications for foreign students based on their claimed skills in a number of occupations, including cooking, hairdressing, horticulture work and car mechanics.

Investigations are continuing into possible offences relating to forgery and migration fraud, which carry penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Indian Students Protest in Sydney Again: Report

Tensions mount between Lebanese and Indians at Harris Park.

SYDNEY (AFP) — Indian students protested in Australia’s biggest city overnight for a second straight day against alleged racial attacks after earlier demonstrations turned violent, a report said.

Police made two arrests as about 70 people gathered to again demonstrate against what they say have been a series of racially motivated assaults and robberies in Sydney and Melbourne, the Australian Associated Press reported.

The report did not say what the two men were arrested for.

On Monday night, a protest in the city involving hundreds of Indian students turned into a “vigilante” attack, police said earlier, adding they were forced to call in the dog squad to control the rowdy crowd in Sydney’s west.

Police said a group wielding sticks and baseball bats attacked men of “Middle Eastern appearance” in apparent retaliation for an earlier assault on an Indian man.

It was believed to be the first time Indian students had reacted violently to a series of attacks on them in Australia which has caused outrage on the subcontinent and strained diplomatic ties between Canberra and New Delhi.

Police superintendent Robert Redfern denied reports members of the crowd, which finally dispersed at about 2:00 am Tuesday, were armed with knives.

But he said: “There were certainly suggestions people had either baseball bats or hockey sticks and the like.”

Assistant Police Commissioner Dave Owens said Monday night’s violence escalated rapidly and warned students not to take the law into their own hands.

“It started with eggs being thrown from a motor vehicle progressively into a group of people with baseball bats, and a brick was thrown and then what I would classify as a vigilante group of protesters coming out on the street and taking out a reprisal,” Owens said.

“I do not encourage reprisal attacks in any way. Leave the detection of offenders and their arrest to us.”

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krisha made a similar plea to students in Australia.

“I would like our Indian students to be patient… restrained. They have gone there to pursue higher studies, they should concentrate on that,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was appalled by the attacks on Indian students.

“I have been appalled by the senseless violence and crime, some of which are racist in nature,” he said, adding he was willing to “engage in a high-level dialogue” with Australian leaders to deal with the problem.

Police have consistently said that the attacks on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne are “opportunistic” and not related to race.

But Elie Nassif, spokesman for the Lebanese Community Council of New South Wales, said there had been tension between small sections of the Lebanese and Indian communities in Sydney.

“Whether we like it or not, it is happening, but as community leaders we should work together to wipe all this (out),” he told ABC radio.

Recent assaults on Indian students have been dubbed “curry bashings” in the Indian media and prompted frantic diplomatic efforts in Canberra to ease New Delhi’s concerns about the issue.

Late last month Indian student Sravan Kumar Theerthala was left comatose after being stabbed with a screwdriver by gatecrashers at a party he was attending in Melbourne.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Police Apprehend a Man as Tension Boil Over in Harris Park Last Night.

AS THE anger of a crowd of 200 Indian men reached fever pitch in Harris Park last night, a man approached police with a story of being kidnapped that seemed to validate the text messages that had been agitating the community for two days.

On Monday night a text message claiming an Indian student had been kidnapped angered a mob already upset about an assault earlier that evening.

Last night another text message claimed that the supposedly kidnapped man had been killed. It followed a serious assault in the afternoon on an Indian cleaner in Warwick Farm.

Tensions mounted between Lebanese and Indians in Harris Park as stories circulated that the man who had appeared had been taken by four men to Fairfield before he escaped.

The issue of race had been simmering all night but as police put the man — red-eyed and distraught — in a police car he said he could not determine the ethnicity of his alleged attackers.

“They were wearing balaclavas,” he said.

The crowd chanted slogans calling police racist, but when the man was taken to Parramatta police station to make a statement the tension eased and the crowd dropped to about 100.

Police could not confirm his story last night.

Late in the evening a group broke away and clashed with a group of Lebanese men who then fled in a white car that hit at least one of the protesters in its path.

After the violence escalated, waves of Indian men raced up the street followed by police cars. Two men were arrested about 9pm as police tried to move the crowd on.

One of the men was charged with carrying a pole that could have been used as a weapon, police said.

Plans were made among the mob to travel to Granville to confront Lebanese youths, but they could not rally enough support. Later members of the mob said they could not go home as they feared carloads of men were waiting to meet them beyond the police cordon.

“Someone could die tonight,” one said.

The crowd dispersed about midnight, a police spokeswoman said.

Indian leaders met police in Parramatta in the afternoon to discuss the previous night’s violence. Up to 200 men of Indian background had rallied in the main street of Harris Park after reports that a group of men of Middle Eastern appearance had assaulted an Indian man.

Police said the attacks were not racially motivated. Community leaders more or less agreed, but the mood was very different on the streets.

“Our people don’t say nothing until water goes up over the top,” said Jindi Singh, a taxi driver from Harris Park. “Police won’t do anything, but we’ve got to do something.”

Leaders of the Indian community gathered at Billu’s Indian Eatery and Sweet House on Monday night. They were there to discuss the previous month’s fire bomb attack on Indian students a few blocks away.

The group did not want it to become a racial issue, but said the attacks had no other motivation. “I’m a bit worried, of course, because of last night,” said Avtar Singh, who owns the restaurant and was part of the delegation.

“I want to stop this.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigerian Militants Intensify ‘Oil War’ Threat

LAGOS (AFP) — Nigeria’s main armed group on Sunday intensified its threat to attack the oil industry in the coming days, warning that it will stand firm on a 72-hour ultimatum issued over the weekend.

“The ultimatum (to local and foreign oil workers) expires about midnight (Monday) … Our focus will be the oil industry as this is an oil war,” the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said in an emailed statement.

Although it did not give full details on the exact nature of the attack it planned to carry out on the oil industry in the Niger Delta in the country’s south, it clarified that the fight will be restricted to oil facilities.

“Hurricanes are never predictable by nature. So, we cannot predict what it will entail,” said MEND in an earlier statement to AFP.

“An oil war simply means that the focus will be on oil politics and the fight will be restricted to oil infrastructure,” the group explained in another email.

MEND on Saturday warned Niger Delta oil workers to leave within 72 hours to avoid an “imminent attack,” a threat dismissed by the military as an “empty boast by a toothless gang.”

The militants said the attack “will not discriminate on tribe, nationality or race when it sweeps across the region.

“The warning also applies to greedy individuals from oil communities tempted to carry out repair contracts on pipelines already destroyed,” MEND said in its statement on Saturday.

Several of the group’s warnings in the past have failed to materialise, however, and it was unclear if MEND would make good on its threat this time.

Colonel Rabe Abubakar, a spokesman for the special military unit deployed to the volatile region, dismissed the statement.

“It is nonsense and (an) empty boast by a toothless gang. We are fully prepared for them,” said Abubakar, spokesman for the Joint Task Force (JTF).

“MEND is only seeking relevance. It cannot do anything. We will checkmate them if they try anything unlawful.”

MEND says it is fighting for impoverished local communities in the Niger Delta region.

It has been accused of being behind a spate of kidnappings of oil workers and previous attacks against the oil industry, the theft of crude oil, extortion and the vandalism of oil installations and facilities.

MEND has several times acknowledged holding local and foreign oil workers as well as vandalising the oil facilities.

Unrest in the Niger Delta has reduced the country’s daily oil output to 1.76 million barrels compared with 2.6 million barrels in January 2006.

Most of Nigeria’s crude is derived from the volatile region.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Somalia: President Asks Italy to Stop Al-Qaeda

Mogadishu, 8 June (AKI) — Somalia’s president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has appealed to Italy and other European countries to stop his country from becoming the “new Afghanistan” in Africa.

In an interview in the Italian financial daily, Il Sole 24 Ore, the president, a moderate Islamist, said there was a genuine risk that Al-Qaeda would use his country to set up a “strategic zone” to extend its network in Somalia.

Sheikh Ahmed Sharif, due to attend a conference on Somalia in Italy on Tuesday, said he wanted Italy to provide a “bridge” to Europe and do everything it could to help his country.

“Italy is a country with which we have a long and good relationship,” Sharif said. “The Italian government has a duty to do everything it can to help us.

“Europe is doing something; it is committed to helping us but we want Italy to become our ‘bridge’ to Europe. Today there is an opportunity for peace, Italy’s intervention is vital.

“We are grateful for everything Italy has done in forming the transition government.”

Sheikh Ahmed Sharif is the leader of the moderate Djibouti-based wing of the Islamist ARS.

In the interview published on Sunday, he said Al-Qaeda had been eyeing the Horn of Africa nation with its long coastline and cells of the extremist group are already established there.

“Al-Qaeda sees Somalia as a strategic zone like Afghanistan to establish its network. We have become their priority,” said Sharif. “It is a real risk.

“We’re not talking about the Somalia of the 1990s. Today, there are Al-Qaeda cells in the country. It is no longer just Somalia’s problem, it’s the world’s problem.”

“The international community has a duty to protect Somalis and the government from Al-Qaeda. It must do it for the good of everyone.”

Stressing the “long and good relations” between Somalia and Italy, he urged Rome to take the lead in getting the rest of the European Union to support his fledgling government under siege from a hardline Islamist insurgency.

He said he wanted reconciliation with the coalition of Islamist fighters from Al-Shabab movement and Hizbu Islam (Islamic Party) which he claimed were being backed by neighbouring Eritrea.

Sharif’s government, which has been confined to parts of the capital Mogadishu, took up power in January after a UN-sponsored reconciliation process.

Four days of fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist groups left more than 50 people dead in Somalia in May.

Even Sharif’s introduction of Islamic Sharia law to the strongly Muslim country has not appeased the radical guerrillas who battle pro-government forces and African Union troops in the capital Mogadishu.

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

Latin America

‘Many Missing’ After Peru Riots

Dozens of people are missing feared dead in northern Peru after some of the country’s worst violence for 10 years.

At least 30 indigenous protesters and 24 police officers are reported to have been killed in two days of clashes.

Local people say a military curfew is preventing them from hunting for those still unaccounted for. Witnesses report seeing bodies dumped in a river.

President Alan Garcia has accused the protesters of “barbarity” and said “foreign forces” were also involved.

The violence erupted on Friday after 2,500 Indians — many of them carrying spears and machetes — protested over government plans to drill for gas and oil in what they consider their ancestral lands.

Riots ensued after about 400 riot police tried to clear the roadblock, near the town of Bagua Grande, 1,400km (870 miles) north of the capital Lima.

Dozens of police officers were taken hostage, and nine were reportedly killed by protesters as the army moved in on Saturday to restore order.

The main indigenous leader, Alberto Pizango, is in hiding following an order for his arrest.

Foreign mining

There is now an uneasy peace in the area, the BBC’s Dan Collyns in northern Peru says.

The country’s security forces now have a firm grip on the area and are enforcing a curfew in the three main towns, he says.

But local people say the measures are preventing them from looking for the dead.

Eyewitnesses reported having seen bodies burnt or dumped in a river.

“The police were shooting to kill, but that’s not all, because they hid the dead,” one man told the BBC.

“They took them to the ravine and threw them from the helicopter in plastic bags. There are also dead on the river banks. Up there beyond the hill, there are more, as if it were a common grave.”

President Garcia has roundly rejected the allegations. He accused the protesters of disarming, tying up and slitting the throats of the officers taken hostage.

President Garcia has blamed foreign forces — widely understood to mean Bolivia and Venezuela — for inciting the unrest, saying on Sunday they did not want Peru to use its “natural resources for the good, growth and quality of life of our people”.

Fuel and transport blockades have disrupted Peru’s Amazon region for almost two months.

The indigenous tribes want to force Congress to repeal laws that encourage foreign mining in the rainforest.

They have vowed to keep up pressure until their demands are met.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Finland: “Time Running Out on Immigrant Integration”

Heads of Security Police and Immigration Service warn that failure of assimilation into Finnish society lays the groundwork for radicalisation of immigrants

By Ilkka Salmi and Jorma Vuorio

In Finland several ethnic minority groups are growing rapidly. In 2008, 4,035 people sought asylum or other protection in Finland. This is 2,500 more than in the previous year. The growth has continued this year, and the Finnish Immigration Service estimates that by the end of December there will have been about 6,000 applicants.

As a result, the number of immigrants coming into Finland will increase many times over on the basis of family unification. This especially applies to asylum-seekers from Iraq and Somalia. They are being driven to Finland especially by the tighter immigration policies of our neighbouring countries, and by the good level of Finnish social welfare.

From the point of view of security officials, there are risks inherent to a strong increase in immigration, which could lead to serious problems for security.

Risk factors include increases in crime, gang formation, violence, and disturbances of the peace.

Such events have been seen in Europe — in Sweden and France, for instance.

To prevent the risks from coming to pass, the integration of immigrants requires significantly more input from Finland.

According to the prevailing opinion of European security officials, another danger in immigration is the infiltration of terrorists into the flows of immigrants.

This threat ties down a significant amount of resources of security services.

An additional challenge stems from the fact that asylum-seekers who constitute a threat cannot always be sent back to their countries of origin; their security situations can be so bad that sending them back is impossible for humanitarian reasons.

In certain suburbs of Helsinki and Turku, the proportion of foreigners in the population has risen as high as 30 per cent. According to some studies, such a large concentration of immigrants can lead to uncontrolled ethnic isolation of the communities.

To prevent such problems there have even been proposals of enacting a partial curfew, which would be truly exceptional in the Nordic countries. These suggestions underscore the seriousness of the problem. The unrest caused by an atmosphere of marginalisation, rootlessness and anger are compounded, and spread to other similar suburbs.

The risk of radicalisation of immigrants is increased by the rootlessness that they experience in their new home countries. This, in turn, is fed by the problems of integration. Second-generation immigrants often find it hard to identify with their parents’ culture and home country. They lack the kinds of anchor points of life that normally create security and balance.

Failures in integration establish a foundation for radicalisation, and in extreme cases, for terrorism. At the same time, concern increases over confrontations between the native population and immigrants, and over the disappearance of the values that are a part of democracy.

This can result in increased racism, and an increase in the number of mutually hostile groups. For that reason, the importance of the ability of officials to react quickly is underscored.

The Security Police (SUPO) is not currently aware of any individuals in Finland who would be actively involved in terrorist activities. On the other hand, there are strong indications that groups and networks involved in conflicts in Muslim countries get support from Finland.

Practical responsibility for integration efforts is with local authorities. Contrary to what is claimed on the basis of isolated cases, local authorities have succeeded well in their task so far.

The illiteracy, ignorance of Finnish society, and large families of many immigrants pose challenges to local authorities.

Language skills and adapting to Finnish society and its rules are central factors in successful integration. Only in that way can immigrants eventually get work.

The challenges of integration will increase in the coming years as numbers of immigrants grow. For that reason, language teaching for immigrants should be increased significantly. If immigrants are to have a realistic and correct image of Finland, assimilation should start already in the country of origin, by coaching them in advance on the rules and mores of Finnish society.

Increasing the efficiency of assimilation requires considerably more personnel in the social affairs and health sector, in interpreter services, and in education, especially in language teaching. The availability of rental housing also needs to be increased significantly.

There are also positive sides to the increase in immigration. Work-based immigration is an important additional resource for Finland and its future.

Finland also has to take care of its international humanitarian obligations, and to offer protection for the persecuted.

If integration is successful, the native Finnish majority of our population will accept a growing foreign minority.

However, there is no time to wait in increasing the efficiency of how immigrants can become “new Finns”: the window of opportunity will only remain open for a few years.

Ilkka Salmi is the chief of the Security Police (SUPO) and Jorma Vuorio is the director-general of the Finnish Immigration Service.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Human Trafficking Organization Busted in Europe

ROME (AP) — Police rounded up suspects in eight European countries on Tuesday as they cracked down on a human trafficking organization that had smuggled thousands of Iraqi Kurds into Europe aboard trucks, sometimes stuffing them into cages or hiding them in vending machines, authorities said.

Beginning in 2006, the Kurds traveled from war-torn Iraq through Turkey to Greece, where smugglers hid them in trucks that crossed the Adriatic on ferries and docked in Italy, said Venice police official Alessandro Giuliano, who coordinated “Ticket to ride,” the police operation that busted the human traffickers.

Some of the illegal immigrants were hidden inside empty drink vending machines and cages loaded on the trucks, police said.

At least three Iraqi Kurds being smuggled into Europe died of suffocation because of how they were hidden. Their bodies were found in 2007 in a truck loaded with watermelons on its way to Venice from Greece, Giuliano said.

“They treated these people like merchandise. They pushed them into every sort of container, among the watermelons, among pieces of steel,” he said.

The illegal immigrants allegedly paid from $4,000 (euro2,884) to $8,000 (euro5,770) each for their journey.

The smugglers had bases in Iraq and Turkey, police said.

In the coordinated police operation, authorities issued 46 arrest warrants. Most of the suspects were picked up in 16 Italian cities, but 14 were detained abroad, mainly in Germany, but also in France, England, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece and Sweden, police said.

Hundreds of Italian police worked on the “Ticket to ride” investigation, which began when 36 illegal immigrants were found hiding in a truck traveling to Italy from Greece in 2006.

Italy has long been battling waves of illegal immigration, with most of the media attention focusing on the hundreds of people who arrive in overcrowded boats from Africa. But illegal immigrants also try to slip into Italy at ports in cargo trucks, arriving from Greece and other countries. They either stay in Italy clandestinely or travel elsewhere in Europe to search for jobs or relatives.

In a separate operation, anti-fraud police said Tuesday that 24 Kurds, including five children and two women, were found hiding in a truck headed to Switzerland from northern Italy. Authorities said the truck’s driver, a 53-year-old German man, was arrested on charges of aiding illegal immigration.

           — Hat tip: Tuan Jim [Return to headlines]

Spain: Fraudulent Work Contracts for Immigrants, 16 Arrests

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 8 — Sixteen people were arrested today, in connection with a scheme which offered fraudulent work contracts to immigrants, in exchange for sums of money — promising settlements which would never arrive. With the accusation of criminal association for fraud and crime against the rights of workers and foreign citizens, the sixteen were arrested in police operations conducted in Murcia, Alicante, Gijon and Madrid. During the operation — reported by police sources cited on the El Mundo website — police confirmed the fraudulent activity of 9 companies who were offering immigrants contracts necessary to the regularization of their positions in Spain in exchange for sums ranging from 1000 to 1500 euros. From the investigation, which began with a report filed by a Colombian citizen seeking work in Spain, police discovered a network of fictitious companies located in the provinces of Avila, Alicante, Murcia and Almeria. These companies would solicit the government for residence permits for immigrants, based on non existent work contracts. In total, the fraudulent organization had presented 660 work permit requests for foreign citizens, of which 548 were refused, based partially on the fictitious company’s 272,000 euros in social security debt. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UAE: New Worker-Protection Norms in Force

(ANSAmed) — DUBAI, JUNE 8 — Stricter regulations affecting employers have been introduced by the federal government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), imposing new standards for accommodation and employment procedures. This is a further reply on the part of the UAE to criticisms levelled at the country in a Human Rights Watch report about shortcomings in the conditions of foreign workers, which often verged on maltreatment and abuse. From September onwards employees will be given five years in which to bring workers’ accommodation up to scratch, which means a minimum of three square metres per worker with a maximum of ten workers sharing a room, clear regulations on toilets, air conditioning, drains, construction materials, green spaces, leisure-time activities, sales of company produce and sanitary facilities. Having already come under fire from human rights groups over past years, the UAE launched a series of initiatives in 2006 aimed at providing better care of foreign workers, most of whom are of Asian origin and active in the construction sector. Two weeks ago the government clamped down on companies evading the Wage Protection System, which is collectively controlled by the country’s central bank and the Ministry of Labour to guarantee prompt payments and adequate wage levels. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Diplomats: Japanese Favored in Vote to Lead IAEA

VIENNA — A veteran Japanese diplomat emerged Tuesday as the favorite to succeed Mohamed ElBaradei as head of the U.N nuclear agency, after most agency board member nations backed him against four other candidates in an informal poll.

Yukiya Amano received 20 votes from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board, diplomats inside the closed meeting said.

South Africa’s Abdul Sabad Minty was second with 11 votes in the nonbinding poll, while Spain’s Luis Echavarri was third with four ballots, the diplomats said.

There was no support for Belgian candidate Jean-Pol Poncelet or for Ernest Petric of Slovenia. The diplomats demanded anonymity for divulging the confidential results.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei steps down in November, and agency members participated in Tuesday’s “straw poll” to narrow the field of possible replacements before they hold a formal vote, likely on July 2.

A previous vote in March failed to produce the needed two-thirds consensus on appointing either Amano or Minty. Echavarri, Poncelet and Petric then joined the race.

Amano is generally endorsed by Western nations, while Minty has backing from developing countries — a split that led to the deadlock in March.

The Slovene candidate Petric warned agency members that keeping Minty and Amano as front-runners could lead to a repeat of the stalemate in July.

“We are probably once again exactly where we were — two groups,” Petric told reporters as he left the closed meeting.

Petric indicated he would probably drop out of the race. The four other candidates did not comment on whether they would stay in the running.

Amano led throughout six rounds of March voting over two days, in one instance falling short of the 24-vote threshold by only a single ballot.

But he failed to win support from developing nations, most of whom endorsed Minty.

Diplomats said Tuesday’s informal ballot reflected continued North-South divisions, indicating those who voted for Echavarri would back Minty in a two-way race against the Japanese candidate. That result would still give Amano the needed majority for the post.

The split vote reflects the deep divide between Western nations, including the United States, and developing countries that accuse the West of being indifferent to the problems of poorer countries.

The two sides have also faced off over the issue of Iran’s refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

Representatives of some developing nations have privately said they share Western fears that Iran may seek to use enrichment to develop weapons. But as a bloc, they tend to support Iran’s argument that it has a right to an enrichment program for generating energy.

The U.N. agency’s board will again discuss Iran when it meets on Monday.

Washington has said it wants the agency’s new chief to be sympathetic to U.S. concerns, though the Obama administration has said it is ready to break with its predecessor and talk directly to Iran over the nuclear impasse.

The West had viewed Elbaradei as sometimes challenging its arguments and concerns. In 2005, Washington tried unsuccessfully to block the Egyptian’s appointment to another four-year term.

Without publicly saying so, the U.S. and its allies had made clear before Tuesday’s voting that they favored Amano and saw him as someone who would manage the IAEA without thrusting himself into the political fray.

Minty, by contrast, has been seen as more likely to be critical of Western policies if he felt it was the right thing to do.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Global Arms Spending Rises Despite Economic Woes

STOCKHOLM — World governments spent a record $1.46 trillion on upgrading their armed forces last year despite the economic downturn, with China climbing to second place behind top military spender the United States, a Swedish research group said Monday.

Global military spending was 4 percent higher than in 2007 and up 45 percent from a decade ago, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said in its annual report.

“So far the global arms industry, booming from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from spending increases by many developing countries, has shown few signs of suffering from the crisis,” SIPRI said.

However, the report added that arms companies may face reduced demand if governments cut future military spending in response to rising budget deficits. It also noted U.S. arms purchases — by far the highest in the world — were expected to rise less rapidly under President Barack Obama after sharp growth during the Bush administration.

U.S. military spending increased nearly 10 percent in 2008 to $607 billion and accounted for about 42 percent of global arms spending, SIPRI said.

The U.S. was followed for the first time by China, which increased its military spending by 10 percent to an estimated $84.9 billion, SIPRI said. The report noted that China’s military spending is hard to pinpoint because the official defense budget is deemed considerably lower than actual spending by Western defense analysts.

SIPRI researcher Sam Perlo-Freeman said China’s increased spending doesn’t make it the world’s second strongest military power “because a lot of other countries have been at this game for a lot longer than China.”

“While they are certainly seeking to increase their regional and global influence … there is very little evidence of any hostile intent in terms of the region,” he added.

The report said China was seeking to equip its armed forces for modern warfare involving the use of precision weapons and high-tech information and communications technology.

France narrowly overtook Britain — last year’s No. 2 — for third place and Russia climbed to fifth place from seventh in 2007, according to the report.

SIPRI said U.S. arms spending increased by 71 percent during George W. Bush’s presidency, and “clearly made a significant contribution” to increasing the U.S. budget deficit.

It said the election of Obama gave hope for a sound exit from Iraq, stabilization in Afghanistan, and changes in the way that the U.S. engages with the international community. However, it warned expectations on Obama may be too high, especially when it comes to Afghanistan.

“Regrettably, Afghanistan’s fate over the next few years still looks to be finely balanced. Progress will continue to be slow, flawed and fragile,” the report said.

SIPRI estimated that there are 8,400 operational nuclear warheads in the world, 2,000 of which are kept on high alert and capable of being launched in minutes. The total number was down from 10,200 a year earlier, primarily due the quick withdrawal of warheads by Russia and the U.S. under limits set by bilateral treaties, the report said.

Counting spare warheads, those in storage and those due for dismantlement, there are about 23,300 nuclear weapons held by eight countries — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan and Israel — SIPRI said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Mark Steyn: ‘The Muslim World’

One-way multiculturalism.

As recently as last summer, General Motors filing for bankruptcy would have been the biggest news story of the week. But it’s not such a very great step from the unthinkable to the inevitable, and by the time it actually happened the market barely noticed and the media were focused on the president’s “address to the Muslim world.” As it happens, these two stories are the same story: snapshots, at home and abroad, of the hyperpower in eclipse. It’s a long time since anyone touted GM as the emblematic brand of America — What’s good for GM is good for America, etc. In fact, it’s more emblematic than ever: Like General Motors, the U.S. government spends more than it makes, and has airily committed itself to ever more unsustainable levels of benefits. GM has about 95,000 workers but provides health benefits to a million people: It’s not a business enterprise, but a vast welfare plan with a tiny loss-making commercial sector. As GM goes, so goes America?

But who cares? Overseas, the coolest president in history was giving a speech. Or, as the official press release headlined it on the State Department website, “President Obama Speaks to the Muslim World from Cairo.”

Let’s pause right there: It’s interesting how easily the words “the Muslim world” roll off the tongues of liberal secular progressives who’d choke on any equivalent reference to “the Christian world.” When such hyper-alert policemen of the perimeter between church and state endorse the former but not the latter, they’re implicitly acknowledging that Islam is not merely a faith but a political project, too. There is an “Organization of the Islamic Conference,” which is already the largest single voting bloc at the U.N. and is still adding new members. Imagine if someone proposed an “Organization of the Christian Conference” that would hold summits attended by prime ministers and presidents, and vote as a bloc in transnational bodies. But, of course, there is no “Christian world”: Europe is largely post-Christian and, as President Obama bizarrely asserted to a European interviewer last week, America is “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” Perhaps we’re eligible for membership in the OIC…

           — Hat tip: ACT for America [Return to headlines]

The Simple Test That Can Spot Alzheimer’s in Five Minutes

Doctors have devised a memory test which doubles the chances of detecting early dementia.

The Test Your Memory (TYM) method is so simple that patients could be taught to do it themselves.

It takes just five minutes to carry out and detects 93 per cent of cases of Alzheimer’s, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal online.

This makes it almost twice as effective as the existing test — which is also more complex and takes longer to do — at detecting which people need further investigation.

The TYM test assesses those with memory problems on ten measures, including copying a sentence, calculations, verbal fluency and recall of a copied sentence. The researchers looked at 540 people aged 18 to 95 without memory problems, and 139 patients attending a memory clinic for dementia or mild cognitive impairment.

Healthy volunteers gained an average score of 47 out of 50 on the TYM test. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease had consistently lower marks, with an average score of 33 out of 50.

Patients with mild cognitive impairment scored an average of 45 out of 50.

In the same study, a widely used test called the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) detected just 52 per cent of Alzheimer’s patients. Consultant neurologist Jeremy Brown, who led the research team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, said the MMSE had been around for 30 years and was used to decide whether dementia sufferers qualified for drugs on the NHS.

But it takes at least eight minutes to administer — when most GPs only get ten minutes with each patient — and is poor at picking up the early signs of Alzheimer’s.

Dr Brown said another advantage of the TYM was that non-specialists could accurately compile scores after just ten minutes of training.

He added: ‘You can’t do the existing test yourself, which takes up a lot of time for doctors and other staff.

‘The TYM can be done in a few minutes and it’s a good way of identifying people who need further-assessment. If people have a low score it’s possible there are other reasons, such as dyslexia, poor eyesight or nerves — but a doctor who knows them can pick that up.’

Healthcare staff will soon be able to access the test via a website the team is planning to set up.

It should also be simple to translate it into different languages.

Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘A test that helps detect dementia sooner in local healthcare facilities could help more people access vital care and support earlier.

‘However, more research is needed to see if this test works in different settings with different groups of people and establish whether it is more effective than the most sensitive existing tests.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Top 10 Arms Spenders, Arms Producers in the World

A look at the top 10 arms spenders and top 10 arms producers in the world, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:

Top 10 military spenders 2008 (US$, billions)

1. United States — 607

2. China — 84.9

3. France — 65.7

4. United Kingdom — 65.3

5. Russia — 58.6

6. Germany — 46.8

7. Japan — 46.3

8. Italy — 40.6

9. Saudi Arabia — 38.2

10. India — 30.0

Top 10 arms producers 2007, according to sales (US$, billions)

1. Boeing (US)_ 30.5

2. BAE Systems (UK) — 29.9

3. Lockheed Martin (US) — 29.4

4. Northrop Grumman (US) — 24.6

5. General Dynamics (US) — 21.5

6. Raytheon (US) — 19.5

7. EADS (West Europe) — 13.1

8. L-3 Communications (US) — 11.2

9. Finmeccanica (Italy) — 9.9

10. Thales (France) — 9.4

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Who on Verge of Declaring H1N1 Flu Pandemic

GENEVA (Reuters) — The World Health Organization (WHO) is on the verge of declaring the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years, but wants to ensure countries are well prepared to prevent a panic, its top flu expert said on Tuesday.

Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO assistant director-general, voiced concern at the sustained spread of the new H1N1 strain — including more than 1,000 cases in Australia — following major outbreaks in North America, where it emerged in April.

Confirmed community spread in a second region beyond North America would trigger moving to phase 6 — signifying a full-blown pandemic — from the current phase 5 on the WHO’s 6-level pandemic alert scale.

“The situation has really evolved a lot over the past several days. We are getting really very close to knowing that we are in a pandemic situation, or I think, declaring that we are in a pandemic situation,” Fukuda told a teleconference.

Fukuda said a move to phase 6 would reflect the geographic spread of the new disease.

“It does not mean that the severity of the situation has increased or that people are getting seriously sick at higher numbers or higher rates than they are right now,” he said.

A decision to declare a pandemic involved more than simply making an announcement, he said. The United Nations agency had to ensure that countries were able to deal with the new situation and also handle any public reaction.

“One of the critical issues is that we do not want people to ‘over-panic’ if they hear that we are in a pandemic situation. That they understand, for example, that the current assessment of the situation is that this is a moderate level,” Fukuda said.

The WHO and its 193 member states are working hard to prepare for a pandemic, for instance developing vaccines and building up supplies of anti-viral drugs, he said.

The disease, which has infected over 26,500 people in 73 countries, with 140 deaths, has been most severe in Mexico, which has reported the highest number of fatalities, more than 100. These include infections in otherwise healthy young people.


A very real danger after declaring a pandemic was that hospitals could be overwhelmed by people seeking help when they did not really need it, while other patients requiring emergency treatment risked being neglected, according to Fukuda.

“In earlier pandemics, in earlier outbreaks, we have often seen that people who are in the category of being worried but who are not particularly sick, have overrun hospitals,” he said.

Since the new flu strain first appeared, many people have stopped eating pork, pigs have been culled in some countries, trade bans on meat imposed, travelers quarantined, and some countries have discussed closing borders..

“These are the kinds of potential adverse effects that you can have if you go out without making sure people understand the situation as well as possible,” Fukuda said.

Combining human, avian and swine viruses, the new strain has been dubbed ‘swine flu’, although scientists say this is misleading and stress there is no risk from eating pig meat.

The world is better prepared but also more vulnerable to the adverse effects of a flu pandemic since the last one occurred in 1968, due to the speed and volume of international travel.

An H3N2 virus caused an estimated 1-4 million deaths at the time, and became known as Hong Kong flu. But Fukuda said the WHO would not name the new disease after a country or animal to avoid misleading stigmas.

He voiced concern that Canadian Inuits had suffered disproportionately in the current outbreak, often needing hospitalization. It was not clear if this was due to higher levels of underlying chronic disease, genetics or poverty.

“Inuit populations were very severely hit in some of the earlier pandemics. This is why these reports raise such concerns to us,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]