Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/2/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/2/2009The alarming economic news continues to pour in. The US unemployment rate has reached 9.5%, the same as the EU. This is unusual, since Europe almost always has higher unemployment than the United States.

In other news, there are rumors that Michael Jackson will receive a Muslim burial.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, islam o’phobe, JD, Roger S., TB, Vlad Tepes, Zonka, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
467k Jobs Cut in June; Jobless Rate at 9.5 Percent
Asia Leaps as Europe Lags
Euro Zone Unemployment Hits 10-Year High in May
Germany Faces Massive National Debt
How the ECB’s Fig Leaf Has Completely Withered Away
Kuwait: Half a Million Foreign Workers in Danger of Expulsion
Russian Banks Need Up to $60bn Fresh Capital, Warns Fitch
WTO Sees Global Increase in Protectionism
City Council Resolution Calls for Muslim School Holidays; Mayor Bloomberg Says No to Recommendation
Ebay Founder’s Links to Obama Unveiled
Empowerment by Manufactured Crisis
Hawaii Judge Halts Furloughs
Horror as Two-Year-Old Girl is Strangled to Death by 8ft Pet Python
James Lewis: Obama’s Biggest Character Flaw
Marine in Intel Case Cleared of Disobeying Order
Michael Jackson May Get Muslim Burial: Reports
NH City Rallies Around Refugees to Banish Bedbugs
Obama Tossing Middle Income Earners to Tax Wolves
Obama’s Climate Astrologer
Scientists to Congress: ‘Sky is Not Falling’
Sotomayor Advised Critics of Bork
What? Even Charter Schools Got “F’s”?
Barbara Kay: It is Time for the (Anti) Canadian Arab Federation to Fold Its Tents
Europe and the EU
Airbus Could be Asked to Ground All Long-Range Airliners
American Hungarian Federation Seeks to Block Obama-Bajnai Meeting
Berlusconi: Ten New Questions
‘CIA Snatch’ Wife to Ask Strasbourg
Denmark: High Court Increases Term for Sex Slave Couple
EU Court Okays Dutch, Italy to Sell “Bavaria” Beer
Eurojust Chief Embroiled in Portuguese Corruption Scandal
Eurojust, The EU Fraud Body, Fails to Fulfil Its Brief
Europe Urged to Stockpile Gas
Fashion: Burqa Unwelcome in France, Abaya on Paris Catwalk
France Imports UK Electricity as Plants Shut
Freedom House “Democracy Rating” For Hungary Declines
Ireland: Minister to Cut Proposed Fines for Blasphemy to €25,000
Italy: Left Wing: To Bertinotti and D’alema, For a New Identity
New Eurosceptic Group to Campaign Against EU Treaty in Irish Referendum
The High Cost of ‘Green Jobs’
The Most Violent Country in Europe: Britain is Also Worse Than South Africa and U.S.
UK: ‘Age Insurance’ Could Prevent Elderly in Care Having to Sell Homes
UK: ‘They Let Terrorists Stay But Send My Boy — Who’s Too Timid to Use the Tube — to a Terrible U.S. Jail’
UK: Book by Former Anti-Terror Chief Andy Hayman Banned From Shops
UK: CoE School Bans Girl From Wearing Crucifix — But Allows Sikh Pupils to Wear Bangles
UK: Go Easy on Equality Says Minister
UK: Giant Naked Goddess to be Carved Into Hillside
UK: Mystery Man Critically Ill After Acid and Knife Attack
UK: Radical Muslim Dentist Refused to Treat Patients Unless They Wore Traditional Islamic Dress
UK: Tories to Make it Harder to Teach
Vatican: Pope Rejects Ordination of New Breakaway Priests
Divisions Undermine Bosnian State
Serbia: Seventeen Kosovars Charged With War Crimes
Mediterranean Union
Council of Europe Opens Its Doors to Maghreb Countries
North Africa
Algeria: First Jewish Association Authorised
Morocco: Three Dailies Fined for Libelling Gaddafi
Israel and the Palestinians
‘Obama’ Think-Tank: Israel Should Cede Jerusalem Sovereignty
Middle East
Analysis: Syria’s Goose Lays a Golden Egg
‘Anti-Israel’ Adviser to be Ambassador to Syria?
British Calls for Diplomatic Walkout From Iran Are Rejected by EU Partners
French Premier Arrives in Baghdad
I Was No Al-Qaeda Ally, Saddam Told FBI
Iran ‘Disqualifies’ EU From Talks
Kuwait Interior Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote
Middle East: Qatar Support for Hamas Jeopardizing U.S. Stay
Saudi Arabia: EADS Wins Contract for Border Security
Saudi Arabia: English as Medium of Instruction
Saudi Arabia: Mob Attacks Taif School
Syria Amends Honour Killing Law
Clinton to Skip Obama’s Moscow Visit Next Week
Hopes for Nuclear Breakthrough on Obama Moscow Trip
Russia’s Medvedev Urges Obama to Put Aside Differences
Russians Cool Towards Obama Visit
Energy: Record Prices for Azerbaijani Gas, Blow to Nabucco
South Asia
Gay Sex Decriminalised in India
Inside a Pakistani School Where Children Are Being Brainwashed Into Terrorists
Pakistan: Hundreds of Muslims Attack About a Hundred Christian Homes in Punjab
Far East
China Opposed to Tariff Plan in US Climate Bill
China State News Agency Plans English TV Service
HK March Calls for More Democracy
WFP Says Funding Shortfall for N Korea Food Aid
Sub-Saharan Africa
Somali Jihadists Behead Two Sons of Christian Leader
Latin America
21 More Victims of Air France Crash Identified
A U.S./U.N. Plot Against Anti-Communist Honduras
Brazil Launches Bus Powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Corruption Allegations See Britain Near Control of Turks & Caicos
France Jet “Did Not Break Up in Mid-Air”: Investigators
The Ugly Mask of Liberalism
Italy Rapped Again Over Immigration
Italy Approves Anti-Immigration Bill
Passport Fix Near for US Border Midwife Deliveries
UK: Alan Johnson: ID Cards ‘Will Never be Compulsory’ For Britons
Writers Attack New Italian ‘Race Laws’
Culture Wars
Obama Says Foes of Homosexuality Hold to ‘Worn Arguments and Old Attitudes’
UK: Homosexual ‘Weddings’ Should be Celebrated in Church, Says Chris Bryant
US: News Agencies Gagging ‘Gay’ Factor in Boy’s Rape
All the World’s Books to Go Online
Canada and Japan Blocking Climate-Change Deal, Sir David King Warns
WHO Working on Formulas to Model Swine Flu Spread

Financial Crisis

467k Jobs Cut in June; Jobless Rate at 9.5 Percent

WASHINGTON — Employers cut a larger-than-expected 467,000 jobs in June, driving the unemployment rate up to a 26-year high of 9.5 percent, suggesting that the economy’s road to recovery will be bumpy.

The Labor Department report, released Thursday, showed that even as the recession flashes signs of easing, companies likely will want to keep a lid on costs and be wary of hiring until they feel certain the economy is on solid ground.

June’s payroll reductions were deeper than the 363,000 that economists expected and average weekly earnings dropped to the lowest level in nearly a year.

However, the rise in the unemployment rate from 9.4 percent in May wasn’t as sharp as the expected 9.6 percent. Still, many economists predict the jobless rate will hit 10 percent this year, and keep rising into next year, before falling back.

All told, 14.7 million people were unemployed in June.

If laid-off workers who have given up looking for new jobs or have settled for part-time work are included, the unemployment rate would have been 16.5 percent in June, the highest on records dating to 1994.

“We were on the road of things getting less bad in the jobs market, and that has been temporarily waylaid,” said economist Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics. “But this doesn’t change my view that the recession will end later this year. We’re probably two months away.”

On Wall Street, the employment news pulled stocks lower. The Dow Jones industrials lost about 170 points in morning trading, and broader indices also fell.

Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost a net total of 6.5 million jobs.

As the downturn bites into sales and profits, companies have turned to layoffs and other cost-cutting measures to survive. Those include holding down workers’ hours and freezing or cutting pay.

The average work week in June fell to 33 hours, the lowest on records dating to 1964.

Layoffs in May turned out to smaller, 322,000, versus the 345,000 first reported. But job cuts in April were a bit deeper — 519,000 versus 504,000, according to government data.

Even with higher pace of job cuts in June, the report indicates that the worst of the layoffs have passed. The deepest job cuts of the recession came in January, when 741,000 jobs vanished, the most in any month since 1949.

And there was some other encouraging job news Thursday.

In a separate report, the department said the number of newly laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to 614,000, in line with economists’ predictions. The number of people continuing to draw benefits unexpectedly dropped to 6.7 million.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said orders placed with U.S. factories rose 1.2 percent in May, the most in 11 months. The increase also was better than economists expected.

Still, job losses last month were widespread.

Professional and business services slashed 118,000 jobs, more than double the 48,000 cut in May. Manufacturers cut 136,000, down from 156,000. Construction companies got rid of 79,000 jobs, up from 48,000 the previous month. Retailers eliminated 21,000, up from 17,600. Financial activities cut 27,000, following 30,000 in May. The government cut 52,000 jobs, up from 10,000 the previous month. Leisure and hospitality cut 18,000 jobs, erasing a gain of the same size in May.

One of the few industries adding jobs: education and health services, which added 34,000 positions last month and 47,000 in May.

Mayland and other economists said a good chunk of June’s job losses likely were affected by shutdowns at General Motors Corp. and fallout from the troubled auto industry, which should let up later this summer. The government said employment at factories making autos and parts fell by 27,000 last month.

Payroll losses and the unemployment rate are derived from two separate statistical surveys. The jobless rate probably would have moved higher if not for people dropping out of the labor force.

With the weakness in the job market, workers didn’t see any wage gains in June. Average hourly earnings were flat at $18.53. Average weekly earnings fell from $613.34 in May, to $611.49 in June, the lowest level in nearly a year and the first drop since March. That raises fresh questions about consumers’ willingness to spend in the months ahead.

The worst crises in the housing, credit and financial markets since the 1930s have plunged the country into the longest recession since World War II.

Many think the jobless rate could rise as high as 10.7 percent by the second quarter of next year before it starts to make a slow descent. Some think the rate will top out at 11 percent. The post-World War II high was 10.8 percent at the end of 1982, when the country had suffered through a severe recession.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicts the recession will end this year, with many economists forecasting that the economy will start to grow again as soon as the current July-September quarter.

But recoveries after financial crises tend to be slow, which is why economists predict it will take years for the job market to return to normal. Some predict the nation’s unemployment rate won’t drop to 5 percent until 2013.

An elevated unemployment rate could become a political liability for President Barack Obama when congressional elections are held next year. The last time the unemployment rate topped 10 percent, the party of the president — then Ronald Reagan’s GOP — lost 26 House seats in midterm elections in 1982.

So far, many people are saving — rather than spending — the extra money in their paychecks from Obama’s tax cut, blunting its help in bracing the economy. Much of the economic benefit of Obama’s increased government spending on big public works projects won’t kick in until 2010, analysts say.

The White House last week said federal money was being shoveled out of Washington quickly, but states aren’t steering the cash to counties that need jobs the most.

Large job cuts have continued this week. Newspaper publisher Gannett Co. said it plans to cut 1,400 jobs in the next few weeks, about 3 percent of the work force, as it faces a prolonged slump in advertising revenue. Farm machinery company Deere & Co. said 800 salaried employees, or 3 percent of its salaried work force, took a voluntary buyout offer.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Asia Leaps as Europe Lags

The European Union used to be the major partner for African governments, but it has increasingly lost ground to China, Russia and India, which now leads the race to take advantage of the continent’s precious resources.

Europe used to be the major funder of development deals in Africa, which was an exclusive preserve for European businesses — a bit like Latin America is for the United States. However, in recent years, dialogue between Europe and Africa has ground to a halt. Europe’s policy for development and the distribution of non-recoverable grants has failed, in spite of the generosity of Brussels, which will have spent almost 10 billion euros on the continent in the period from the year 2000 to 2013.

China and India have been quick to step in to fill this vacuum. African governments like dealing with these countries, both of which have built a reputation for the efficient completion of projects and rapid responsiveness. They also provide expertise at a lower cost and easily obtainable long-term loans. But perhaps the most marked difference is in what might be termed “a business only approach:” unlike their European competitors, China and India do not make a fuss about democracy, the fight against corruption, or respect for human rights. In short, they do not tell Africans what to do. But now Europe appears to be rediscovering the importance of Africa. In view of the financial crisis, the slowdown in growth, and the quest for new sources of energy and raw materials, the EU can no longer risk losing its ties with African states.

From a business perspective, Africa is a largely untapped resource for a huge range of raw materials. The continent has: 10% of the world’s oil reserves, 90% of the its platinum, cobalt and chrome, 60% of its manganese, 40% of its gold, 30% of its uranium and bauxite, and 25% of its titanium — and this list does not even begin to detail the vast potential for development in areas like agriculture, which could have enormous impact with better management.

Awareness of the possibilities afforded by increased trade with Africa is not restricted to Europe. In recent times, a new breed of colonists led by China and India have set about securing a share of these resources which are vital to so many industries in industrialized and developing countries. Dmitri Medvedev is also keen to ensure that Russia plays an important role, and his recent tour of African capitals was rewarded with a string of contracts that include a procurement deal for uranium and a place for Gazprom in the consortium that will develop the trans-Saharan gas pipeline. The 15-billion dollar energy infrastructure project will transport natural gas for a distance of 4,300 kilometres from Nigeria to Italy and Spain. For Europe, the gas pipeline also represented an opportunity to diversify its energy supply, and make it less dependent on Russia. At least that was the intention, but given this latest development, it may no longer be the case.

Europe is finally beginning to understand that its privileged access to the African continent is now a thing of the past, and that it would do well to adopt a defensive strategy if it is to maintain its existing interests. In the light of a grim record of misunderstandings and poor communication, how can such a goal be achieved? For the most part, its a relationship that has to be rebuilt from the ground up, and the starting point will likely be the construction of transport infrastructure, the absence of which has long been the main obstacle to development. Europe could not make a better choice to re-establish ties with Africa than to weigh in heavily behind projects of this kind. At least, so it seems on paper. But will Europe’s financiers and companies, many of which appear to have given up on the continent, warm to such a strategy? According to France’s Michel Démarre, President of European International Contractors and CEO of a civil works company present in 40 countries (but no longer present in Africa), such a plan would constitute a huge challenge that would involve circumventing “political instability and interference, in a context of critical financial difficulties and a chronic shortage of local resources.”

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

Euro Zone Unemployment Hits 10-Year High in May

LONDON — Unemployment in the 16 countries that use the euro spiked to a 10-year high in May, reinforcing concerns any recovery will take time with so many people out of work.

Eurostat, the statistics office of the EU, said Thursday the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for the euro zone in May stood at 9.5 percent, up from April’s 9.3 percent.

The increase was expected in the markets in light of the ongoing fall in output across Europe — in the first quarter of 2009, the euro zone economy saw output plunge by 2.5 percent as the global recession hit the industrial sector in particular.

The unemployment rate was at its highest level since May 1999.

Spain is the euro zone’s biggest casualty. Its jobless rate rose to 18.7 percent in May from 18 percent in April.

The lowest unemployment rate in the euro zone was in the Netherlands where only 3.2 percent of the working population were without a job in May, and Austria, where only 4.3 percent were jobless.

The unemployment rate in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, was unchanged at 7.7 percent in May.

Unemployment is a lagging indicator, so the number of jobless will likely continue to rise for a while even when the recession officially ends. Recent economic releases have stoked hopes that the euro zone may start to see some sort of recovery towards the end of the year but that high unemployment levels will continue to weigh on consumption and sentiment.

The unemployment news comes just hours ahead of the European Central Bank’s latest interest rate decision. Though the rate-setting governing council is set to keep its benchmark rate unchanged at the record low of 1 percent, its president Jean-Claude Trichet is expected to note the recent improving economic signals though maintaining his view that recovery will take time.

Including the eleven countries that don’t use the euro but are in the EU, such as Britain and Sweden, the unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent in May from 8.7 percent in the previous month. May’s rate was the highest since June 2005.

The EU-wide rate has been swelled by the Baltic countries, which are in a deep recession following the collapse of debt-fueled economic boom. Latvia, whose economy slumped by a staggering 18 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, saw its unemployment rate, climb to 16.3 percent in May from 15.3 percent in April.

Thursday’s European unemployment figures will be followed by June figures for the United States.

Analysts expect June’s U.S. unemployment rate to rise around 0.3 of a percentage point to 9.7 percent and that another 400,000 jobs were lost during the month. Though still high, the job losses are way down on the numbers recorded earlier in the year. That improving trend was evident in a survey Wednesday from the ADP private payrolls firm, which showed that private sector employment fell by 473,000 in June, down on the 532,000 jobs shed in May.

Elsewhere, Eurostat said the industrial producer price index — a broad gauge of price pressures within industry — fell by 0.2 percent in the euro zone in May from the previous month and by 0.4 percent across the EU as a whole.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Germany Faces Massive National Debt

Germany is threatened with the largest debt growth in its history due to a fall in tax revenue because of the recession, newspaper Handelsblatt reported on Thursday.

The German state must borrow €507 billion more before 2013, the financial newspaper calculated, warning that this figure could have particularly serious consequences for young Germans. It will affect public spending on a federal, state and local authority level, and could raise the national debt to €2 trillion.

The new debts will be spread over the next few years, beginning with €112 billion this year and €132 billion in 2010.

The debt increase means that Germany will be violating the EU’s Maastricht Treaty for the entire coming legislation period. The Maastricht Treaty dictates that national debt be below 3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2010 Germany’s debt could rise to as much as 6 percent of the GDP.

If Germany’s national debt rose to €2 trillion, the state would end up paying €80 billion a year in interest alone — around one sixth of the current tax revenue.

According to a joint study presented on Tuesday by the Berenberg Bank and the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI), this debt would hit those born between 1980 and 2000 the hardest.

The extent of the debt is worrying, the study said, because it could lead to “inter-generational dislocation”, as different age-groups are affected differently.

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

How the ECB’s Fig Leaf Has Completely Withered Away

Now that the global recession appears to have passed its low point, panicmongers in the media and financial markets are shifting their attention from deflation to inflation — and especially to the debasement of the dollar by the money-printing operations of the US Federal Reserve. Whether printing money necessarily always leads to inflation is a long-running theoretical debate which the economics profession shows no sign of resolving, there is a factual question related to this argument that is much more important and straightforward, yet completely misunderstood. Leaving aside the question of whether it is a good or a bad idea to print money, which of the world’s leading central banks is printing money faster: the Fed or the European Central Bank?

Last Wednesday, the European Central Bank injected €442 billion (£377 billion) of new cash into the euro money markets. This was the biggest long-term lending operation in the history of central banking and was equivalent to half the Fed’s entire monetary expansion in the past 18 months. Yet most people still believe that the Fed (along with the Bank of England) is engaged in a “reckless” experiment with inflationary quantitative easing (QE), while the ECB is steadfastly honouring the deflationist traditions of the Bundesbank’s “steady hand”.

The ECB Council debated for months about QE, the modern equivalent of “printing money”, since it involves the central bank creating money out of thin air by signing computer-generated promissory notes and then distributing these around the commercial banking system by using them to buy up government bonds. In the end, the ECB decided to print only €80 billion to buy on private sector bank bonds, in contrast to the $1 trillion (£606 billion) of bond purchases undertaken by the Fed. And even this trifling monetary expansion was ferociously attacked by Angela Merkel for threatening Europe’s inflation outlook and jeopardising the credit of the ECB.

However, if we look at the facts, the transatlantic difference is less clear. In fact, the ECB is printing money even faster than the Fed is.

It is also supporting fiscal policy more explicitly through debt monetisation and taking much bigger risks with its credibility and solvency. The first point is illustrated in the chart. Since mid-2007, central banks have expanded their total liabilities (the broadest definition of what it means to print money in the modern world) by $1.2 trillion in the US and by $1.5 trilllion in euroland. Given that GDP is 12 per cent bigger in the US than in the eurozone, this means that the ECB’s printing presses have actually been running 50 per cent faster than the Fed’s. Someone should point this out to Mrs Merkel: since the ECB presses were presumably made in Germany, it would give her something else to boast about.

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

Kuwait: Half a Million Foreign Workers in Danger of Expulsion

These workers represent 15 per cent of the population in a country where foreigners constitute 75 per cent of the total. The decision is the result of the global economic crisis which is causing unemployment and poverty. The emirate’s model of economic and social integrations is in danger.

Kuwait City (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Kuwait is considering deporting about half a million foreign workers or 15 per cent of the country’s population, namely those who are unemployed, who lack skills or are in the country illegally.

With just over three million residents, the emirate is believed to be home to more than 2.35 million foreign workers, or around three out of every four people in the country.

As a result of the world’s economic crisis the government is having to consider sending foreign workers home because of rising unemployment and poverty.

Foreign workers are also victims of human traffickers who promise them jobs for money.

Just weeks ago Kuwaiti security sources leaked the news that 100,000 foreign workers could face deportation after the disclosure that bogus companies brought them into the country under the pretence of giving them jobs that did not exist.

“Corruption is at the root of these problems,” Dr Shafeeq Ghabra, founding president at American University of Kuwait, said

Some “individuals form companies whose sole purpose is bringing workers to Kuwait, not to provide the labour the country needs, but simply to make money off these workers,” he added.

When Kuwait’s economy was booming in the last decade, hundreds of thousands flocked to the country, the vast majority from Bangladesh, Philippines, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

To date, Kuwait has been seen by many in the Gulf and the Arab world as a model in its management of demographic change and absorption of immigrants. Now the global economic crisis has undermined the Kuwaiti model.

“Kuwait is a small country in which foreign expatriates make up the majority. That’s neither healthy nor stable,” said Abdul-Ridha Aseeri, a professor of political science at Kuwait University.

But Kuwait is not alone in this predicament; Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is having problems with more than 50 per cent of its construction projects because of delays if not outright cancellation. And the first to pay are foreign workers, at every level.

Those who lose their jobs automatically lose their visas as well, and have 30 days to find a new job, or leave the country.

With debts and missed payments punishable with imprisonment, many foreign workers are panicking.

Every day, dozens of people leave the camps where the construction workers in Dubai live.

It is estimated that this year at least 45 per cent of all foreign workers employed in the construction industry will lose their jobs.

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

Russian Banks Need Up to $60bn Fresh Capital, Warns Fitch

Russian banks may need to raise $60bn (£36bn) in fresh capital if the recession drags on and energy prices wilt again, according to a report by Fitch Ratings.

The agency said a tenth of all bank loans have already gone bad and the final tally would rise to 40pc before the crisis is over under its “pessimistic scenario”.

James Watson, Fitch’s Russia analyst, said the loss ratios were significantly worse that anything seen so far in Western countries, though not as bad as in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Latvia. Even under Fitch’s base case, bad loans will reach 25pc and require $22bn in fresh capital.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, this week ordered banks to step up lending as deepening social unrest increasingly rattles the Kremlin.

“I am asking the heads of financial institutions to control this situation and not to plan any summer holidays until this has been dealt with as it should,” he said.

Russia’s economy is expected to contract by 8.5pc this year despite the commodity rebound. Industrial output is still 15pc below last year’s levels. The budget deficit is ballooning towards 6pc of GDP, although the exact oil price is crucial. Each $1 rise in crude adds $10bn to state revenues.

There is little danger of a systemic banking crisis or a repeat of the 1998 default since the Kremlin still has deep pockets. It is drawing up plans to recapitalise banks by swapping state debt for preference shares.

Fitch said the nation’s four big banks have already raised $24bn in capital.

Mr Watson said it was hard to gauge the risk since data is thin, and bank disclosure “does not always capture all asset quality problems”.

Russia’s saving grace is that most debt is in roubles.

“This isn’t like other parts of Eastern Europe where people borrowed up to the hilt in euros and Swiss francs,” he said.

The banks must roll over $57bn foreign debt year, a modest figure set against Russia’s $400bn foreign reserves.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

WTO Sees Global Increase in Protectionism

Governments around the world have continued to erect trade barriers in spite of high-profile pledges at the Group of 20 summit and other forums to resist -protectionism, according to a World Trade Organisation report to be published today.

Over the past three months, the WTO recorded 83 trade-restricting measures undertaken by 24 countries and the European Union — more than double the number of trade-liberalising measures enacted during the same period. However, the report noted that the worst abuses had largely been contained. The figures do not include restrictions on pork imports implemented by 39 countries in the wake of the swine flu outbreak.

The WTO warned that a surge of anti-dumping investigations could materialise as the economic crisis dragged on. It also lowered its forecast for world trade; it is now predicting that the volume for goods and services will contract 10 per cent this year as opposed to the 9 per cent previously expected. “In the past three months there has been further slippage towards more trade restricting and distorting policies,” the report concludes.

The report, submitted by Pascal Lamy, the WTO’s director-general, offers one of the clearest barometers of the rise in protectionist pressures as governments try to shield domestic industries from the effects of the economic and financial crisis. It also confirms the myriad ways countries can raise trade barriers without violating WTO rules, such as launching anti-dumping investigations, granting export subsidies and raising tariffs within legal limits. The report is likely to be seized on by proponents of the Doha round of trade talks to restart negotiations on a broad treaty that would do away with many of these exceptions.

World leaders pledged to resist protectionism and support free trade in order to speed the economic recovery and avoid the mistakes of the 1930s as the centrepiece of the London G20 summit in April.

Yet trade tensions have repeatedly been on display since then, including a decision by the US and EU last week jointly to take WTO action against China for allegedly hoarding natural resources. Trade lawyers say they are braced for a surge in anti-dumping complaints as crisis-stricken companies call for action against foreign competitors they might have tolerated in better times. Anti-dumping investigations increased 28 per cent last year compared with 2007.

The WTO found that the goods most affected have been agricultural products — particularly dairy — iron and steel, vehicles, chemicals and plastics, and textiles and clothing.

The report noted a slew of sector-specific programmes introduced by governments to support carmakers, pulp and paper producers and others. A total of 19 gov-ernments reported moves designed to support financial institutions.

Such programmes were generally smaller than those undertaken during the fourth quarter of 2008 and first quarter of 2009, according to the WTO. But it warned that they risked distorting trade the longer they remained in place.

“There is no general indication yet of governments unwinding or removing the measures that were taken early on in the crisis, contrary to the pledge by the G20 group of countries,” the report states.

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


City Council Resolution Calls for Muslim School Holidays; Mayor Bloomberg Says No to Recommendation

After a three-year lobbying effort, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution Tuesday calling for school to be closed on the two holiest Muslim holidays.

But Mayor Bloomberg said he would not make the change called for in the resolution, which is nonbinding.

“One of the problems you have with a diverse city,” he said, “is that if you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Ebay Founder’s Links to Obama Unveiled

Endorsement, appointment included in billionaire’s connections

Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar’s politics have become the subject of blog commentary because the web auction site over the last week repeatedly scrubbed an offering of an allegedly genuine copy of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate — from Mombasa, Kenya.

But the company said it wouldn’t get involved in any discussion of Omidyar’s activities or political statements.


Omidyar, a billionaire, former CEO and current chairman of eBay, earlier this month was appointed by Barack Obama to serve on the 28-member President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.


Omidyar further serves as a trustee of the Punahou School in Hawaii, the elite private high school that Obama graduated from in 1979, and endorsed Obama’s candidacy for president on his blog in March 2008.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Empowerment by Manufactured Crisis

Back in January 1973, National Lampoon sported a brilliant cover — probably the satirical magazine’s most famous.

A cute black and white dog was the visual element, staring ominously at a revolver pointing at his head. The headline read: “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

People bought the magazine in droves, not because they believed the editors of National Lampoon were really going to kill the dog, but because it was so funny.

It strikes me that Barack Obama and the Democrat-dominated Congress are governing along the same lines. The only difference? They’re not joking.

Instead of putting guns to the heads of dogs, they are manufacturing crises they claim will result in the imminent destruction of the world as we know it and demanding we buy their solution or else.

It’s an old trick really. If not invented a few years before that National Lampoon cover, it was actually codified by a Marxist Columbia University professor and his research assistant in an article in The Nation May 2, 1966. The professor of social work was Richard A. Cloward, and his research assistant was Frances Fox Piven. What they authored became known as “the Cloward-Piven Strategy of Orchestrated Crisis.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Hawaii Judge Halts Furloughs

HONOLULU (AP) — A state judge has blocked Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle from forcing public employees to take three unpaid days off per month.

First Circuit Court Judge Karl K. Sakamoto issued a preliminary injunction Thursday. He ruled that the governor’s failure to bargain with unions denied them their constitutional rights.

The monthly furloughs were to start this month.

Three state employee unions said the plan would cut the salaries of more than 15,000 employees by about 14 percent.

Attorney General Mark Bennett told the court that Lingle has the right to furlough employees to relieve the state’s more than $730 million budget deficit over the next two years.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Horror as Two-Year-Old Girl is Strangled to Death by 8ft Pet Python

A two-year-old girl has been strangled to death in her bed by a pet python which escaped from its cage in the middle of the night.

The eight-foot Burmese python broke out of a terrarium and killed toddler Shaiunna Hare in her bedroom in Florida.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

James Lewis: Obama’s Biggest Character Flaw

The President of these United States recently expressed his love for “the Urdu poets,” a piece of inspired BS that nobody in their right minds believed for a second. But then the P was narrowcasting to Pakistan, he thought, and Americans weren’t supposed to be listening. Yet character is revealed in those little snippets of Obama’s mind — his glorious fantasy life, his everlasting hope that somebody will fall for another piece of schtick, and his essential fraudulence as a human being.

Obama’s biggest audience is himself, and no doubt he preened and pranced in his mind’s eye when he told the nation of Pakistan about his deep love and understanding of Urdu. Love ya, baby! all those sixty million Pakis were shouting, marveling at our polyglot president. Waddaguy! At least in Obi’s fantasy life, that is. Because that Zeppelin-sized ego of his needs to be pumped up a little bit more every single day.

Would you like to ride/

on my beautiful balloon?

Well, yes. For his next showboating performance our P will parade his beautiful ballooning ego in front of Vladimir Putin, whose own hands are dripping with the blood of Chechen Muslims, not to mention those brave (and now dead) Moscow journalists who dared to criticize the new Czar in the media.

When it comes to czars Vladimir Putin is almost the real thing, whipping and murdering the peasants and the boyars — not those phony styrofoam Red Commissars Obama keeps in the White House, to lord it over Federal cabinet departments. For the privilege of parading his beautiful ego in Moscow, Obama has no doubt paid a steep price: Say, stopping US anti-missile defense construction for Poland and the Czech Republic.

They’ve got his number, all the political con artists around the world. For a little balloon-pumping flattery Obama will sell out American national security interests — not to mention those of our allies. Obama’s “historic” Epistle to the Muslims, delivered last month at Cairo’s Al Azhar University (an international center for Islamist propaganda) was not really intended to make a billion Muslims fall down at his feet. No, the main goal of all those grand gestures is to make Obama feel better about himself. That’s the key to his character.

You could call it ego porn…

           — Hat tip: Zonka [Return to headlines]

Marine in Intel Case Cleared of Disobeying Order

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) — A court-martialed Marine who gave a newspaper interview about his role in the theft of government files has been acquitted of disobeying orders.

Pvt. Gary Maziarz (MAY’-zarz) and several other Marines were accused of passing classified intelligence to members of a civilian anti-terrorism group. He pleaded guilty in 2007, spent time in the brig, and after his release gave an interview to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Maziarz was then charged with willfully disobeying an order against publicly discussing the security breach, but a Camp Pendleton jury acquitted him late Tuesday afternoon.

Maziarz denied he was specifically ordered to stay away from the media and said his former lawyer approved the interview.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Michael Jackson May Get Muslim Burial: Reports

[Don’t miss the photoshop of Michael in a burnoose in this one]

Michael Jackson’s funeral will be held next Tuesday at the Los Angeles Staples Center is to be the biggest funeral in history, and the pop icon family will reportedly have a traditional Muslim burial for him, media reports said Thursday.

A source said to be “close” to the Jackson family told an entertainment gossip website that the family is considering a traditional Muslim burial for the King of Pop, who reportedly converted to Islam in 2008 following his travels to the Gulf.

“The family is considering following the Muslim burial traditions because they believe Michael would have wanted to be laid to rest in keeping with his new-found religious beliefs,” the source told X17 Online “Michael’s brother Jermaine is educating the family as to the special rites because he feels it’s important to bury his brother according to the Muslim way.”

The anonymous report came as news that there would be a public funeral service on July 7 at 10 a.m. at the Staples Center in downtown L.A., a source with the concert organizer AEG Live told the Hollywood Reporter.

AEG was behind Jackson’s 50 concert comeback tour “This Is It” that was to have taken place in London this summer.

The King of Pop, who died last week of uncertain causes, spent his last night at the venue rehearsing for his upcoming tour.

AEG, which owns the 20,000-seat Staples Center and the Nokia theater next door, will reportedly put giant screens outside the venues for the thousands of additional fans expected to attend the public service. Neither AEG nor the Staples Center could be reached by Al Arabiya for comment.

There has been no official confirmation as the where Jackson, who was rumored to have changed his name after converting to “Mikaeel” in a reference to the name of one of Allah’s angels, will be laid to rest.

According to sharia or Islamic law, a Muslim’s body should be cleaned and wrapped in a white sheet before being buried on his right side with his face facing the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.Those present say a special prayer called “Salat al-Mayyit” — prayer for the dead — and family members and friends traditionally observe a mourning period.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

NH City Rallies Around Refugees to Banish Bedbugs

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — After all the officials took turns explaining a plan to end a bedbug infestation in an apartment building where mostly refugees live, Michel Ndayavugwi simply pointed to the young boy dozing in a chair in the back of the room..

“He’s sleeping because last night, he didn’t sleep,” Ndayavugwi said through an interpreter. “What can we do? Please, find for us good apartments and good housing … so that our children will not sleep in the classroom.”

Ndayavugwi lives at Langdon Mill, a four-story brick building that’s home to 16 families, most of them refugees from Somalia, Sudan and other African nations.

The building’s owner, tenants and various city agencies have spent years trying to tackle infestations. But ultimately it was two children who inspired a more aggressive plan to not only eliminate the infestation there but also to create a model for other landlords, tenants and communities around the state.

Honore Murenzi was visiting Langdon Mill in April as part of his work with New American Africans, a nonprofit group that helps the city’s refugees. He noticed a boy who was covered in bites, and met the boy’s 17-year-old sister, who was about to give birth and worried about bringing a newborn home to their infested apartment.

Murenzi contacted a Quaker-affiliated group that promotes service and social justice and a coalition of religious, community and labor organizations. Both the American Friends Service Committee and the Granite State Organizing Project agreed to oversee a plan to temporarily relocate the tenants, exterminate the building and replace discarded furniture and belongings — all with donated space, services and goods.

Volunteers culled from local businesses, churches, colleges and the community will work with the tenants as they prepare for their temporary move and will continue to visit them weekly after their return to ensure compliance with any rules aimed at preventing future infestations.

“This campaign is a testament to a vital community spirit in Manchester,” said Maggie Fogarty, the project’s co-coordinator. “It is a collaboration with room for everyone, and a need for an enormous variety of gifts and perspectives, expertise and talents.”

The relocation is scheduled for late July or early August, though organizers still haven’t figured out where the tenants will live while the building is being exterminated. For now, the organizations are collecting donations of new mattresses, vacuum cleaners, furniture, cleaning supplies and other items.

The bedbug infestation is an additional burden for refugees already struggling to learn English, raise children and make ends meet in a foreign world, said Dan Forbes of St. Anselm College’s Meelia Center for Community Service.

“For any of us, it would be a complex problem, but without the language or resources to attack it on all fronts, it is that much more challenging,” he said. “It’s very upsetting if you have so little, to see that a lot of your stuff you now have to throw out.”

Ndayavugwi, who is from Burundi, said he noticed the bugs as soon as he moved into his furnished apartment.

“They said we would be in very, very good housing. What can we do?” he said.

Bedbugs — tiny flat insects that emerge from mattresses, sofas and sheets to feed on human blood at night — have made a comeback in recent years, invading hospitals, college dorms, hotels and apartment buildings around the country. The insects are not known to transmit any diseases, but their bites can cause infections and allergic reactions.

Females lay eggs every day, said Chris Penn of Bain Pest Control Services. Pesticides don’t penetrate the eggs, so repeated treatments are essential, he said.

“Everything needs to be treated,” he said. “It’s not just flipping over a mattress. It’s getting into everything.”

Harerimana Jeneroza, 27, also from Burundi, said her furniture was taken into a hallway and sprayed, but the bugs were biting again the next day. She stays up at night to try to protect her children.

“It’s a very bad situation,” she said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Obama Tossing Middle Income Earners to Tax Wolves

Dropping pledge to impose no new levies on those making $250,000 or less

President Obama apparently is trashing his oft-repeated campaign promise that middle income Americans with annual pay of $250,000 or less would see no tax increases under his administration.

There are the new energy taxes under cap-and-trade that would hit every American resident, plans for taxes on health benefits and a wide range of other proposals being developed. The results are that even mainstream reporters have begun grilling Obama’s chief spokesman, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, on the issue.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s Climate Astrologer

President Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu is at it again. Fresh off his declarations in May claiming computer model predictions as evidence of a certain climate catastrophe, (see: Climate Depot Exclusive: Sec. Chu’s assertions ‘quite simply being proven wrong by the latest climate data’ — April 19, 2009), he has now gotten more bold, confidently predicting a certain climate catastrophe by the year 2109. (When he and everyone who hears his warning today will be unable to verify his predictions because they will be conveniently DEAD!)

Chu told a conference in California his latest prognostication. “At no other time in the history of science have we been able to say what the future will be 100 years from now,” Chu, the soothsayer, declared according to a June 28, 2009 article in Palo Alto Online News.


Japanese scientist Kanya Kusano, a Program Director and Group Leader for the Earth Simulator at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology, has publicly declared that man-made climate fear promotion is now akin to “ancient astrology.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Scientists to Congress: ‘Sky is Not Falling’

Say global warming alarmism unproven, energy taxes crippling

A team of scientists with years of expertise in climate issues has written an open letter to Congress, warning members that, “The sky is not falling,” and global warming alarmism is unproven.

The letter was signed by physics professors Robert H. Austin and William Happer of Princeton, environmental sciences professor S. Fred Singer of the University of Virginia, retired manager for strategic planning at ExxonMobil Roger Cohen, physics professor (emeritus) Harold W. Lewis at UC-Santa Barbara and others.

Their names trail long lists of initials including APS or the American Physical Society, AAAS or the American Association for the Advancement of Science and AGU or the American Geophysical Union.

At issue is the pending “cap-and-trade” tax increase in Congress that would impose not only restrictions on the use of energy, but also taxes on that use. It narrowly was passed in the U.S. House but faces some hurdles in the Senate.


The new letter said the facts are simple: “The sky is not falling; the Earth has been cooling for 10 years, without help. The present cooling was NOT predicted by the alarmists’ computer models, and has come as an embarrassment to them.

“The finest meteorologists in the world cannot predict the weather two weeks in advance, let alone the climate for the rest of the century. Can Al Gore? Can John Holdren? We are flooded with claims that the evidence is clear, that the debate is closed, that we must act immediately, etc, but in fact THERE IS NO SUCH EVIDENCE; IT DOESN’T EXIST.”

The legislation would, however, “cripple the U.S. economy, putting us at a disadvantage compared to our competitors,” the scientists warned.

“For such drastic action, it is only prudent to demand genuine proof that it is needed, not guesswork, and not false claims about the state of the science,” they wrote.

Finally, the wrote, “climate alarmism pays well.”

“Many alarmists are profiting from their activism. There are billions of dollars floating around for the taking, and being taken,” the letter said.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Sotomayor Advised Critics of Bork

Legal fund tied to Supreme Court nominee

A legal advocacy group advised by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor in the 1980s actively opposed conservative Robert H. Bork’s nomination to the high court calling him a “threat” to the “civil rights of the Latino community.”

The Senate went on to reject President Reagan’s nominee in 1987.

The revelation is included in 350 pages of documents the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund delivered to the senators late Tuesday evening.

Judge Sotomayor worked for PRLDEF in various capacities from 1980 until she became a federal judge in 1992, spending most of her time as a board member.

The documents, which the group’s lawyers have said include relevant information about Judge Sotomayor’s time there, also show the fund did legal work for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN. During the 2008 presidential election, ACORN came under fire after allegations of voter registration fraud.

Now called LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the group also has supported legalized abortion and called the death penalty racist in previously released documents.

“A cursory look at the limited material now in our possession raises several red flags, including a link between PRLDEF and ACORN, as well as information indicating Judge Sotomayor’s deeper-than-previously thought involvement in developing the legal positions of the organization,” said Stephen Boyd, spokesman for the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Sessions.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

What? Even Charter Schools Got “F’s”?

Many “poor” families, plus parents who are simply dissatisfied with their children’s education but cannot afford increasingly expensive alternatives, have been sending their children to what they thought were higher-performing charter schools. The parents aren’t aware that the same constraints that are placed on public-school learning are placed on charter schools. They aren’t aware that any sort of federal funding — passed through to the states and on to local education agencies — adversely affects the school environment and curriculum.

It is the rules that must be followed if a school accepts federal funding (incentives and disincentives) that guides a school’s curriculum. That is why schools are awash in political correctness masquerading as history (“social studies”), junk science as scientific method, and sex education as health. Tests are called “assessments,” meaning they are not really tests at all, but rather opinion research with large doses of mental-health screening interspersed among self-reports and how-do-feel-when queries.


Some readers may have seen a version of the following test — this one an eighth-grade final exam, circa 1895, from Salina, Kansas. The original document is on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina and was reprinted by the Salina Journal. A similar test served as the entrance exam for New Jersey public high schools. If a student couldn’t pass these, they failed a grade, or were channeled into low-paying, menial jobs. The message was two-fold: (1) success at academics matters; and (2) education is a privilege, not a “right.” Thus, the school environment was infused with strict discipline — “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Sir” — and appropriate dress and decorum.

[Comment from JD: See URL above for the grade 8 exam from 1895]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Barbara Kay: It is Time for the (Anti) Canadian Arab Federation to Fold Its Tents

As Canada Day 2009, our 142nd birthday, draws to a close here in Montreal, I suppose it’s just as well I didn’t plan to attend any fireworks display, because — surprise! — it’s starting to rain. Of course, one needn’t attend fireworks displays, or march in parades or hang huge flags out one’s window in Canada to prove one’s patriotism. Indeed, our lowkey attitudes — even phlegmatism — with regard to outward signs of patriotism distinguish us from our more flamboyant neighbours to the south.

Nevertheless, like so many of my fellow citizens, no Canada Day passes without my spending a good deal of it in reflection on how blessed I and my family are to live in this great, peaceful country, as benign and well-meaning a nation as one is able to find on this troubled globe. No country is perfect, but what unmolested Canadian could fail to feel blessed in his or her good fortune?

Well, one springs to mind. Vancouver-based Omar Shaban is the Vice President for western Canada of the Canadian Arab Federation, and he is definitely not feeling the gratitude vibe. Quite the opposite. Shaban has labelled Canada a “genocidal state” and described our national holiday on Facebook as “F*** Canada Day,” adding, to be sure he had made his point, “It’s finally Canada Day…Couldn’t be more ashamed to be Canadian.” Shaban is no aberration in the CAF. As staunchly anti-Islamist Tarek Fatah reported here: “While one VP of the Canadian Arab Federation was throwing insults at Canada, another Vice President of CAF was on cable TV showering praise on the discredited leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Appearing on a Muslim cable TV show, Ali Mallah endorsed the election of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as valid, and echoed the official line of the Tehran regime, claiming Western governments and Western Media were to blame for the current unrest in Iran. “

You will recall that in February of this year Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced he would slash federal funding to the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) after its president, Khaled Mouammar, called him a “professional whore” for supporting Israel. This was not a one-off. During the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign, the CAF initiated a smear campaign against Bob Rae solely on the grounds that his Jewish wife was active in her community. The CAF are also 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and last year sponsored an essay contest on “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” in which it urged high school students to channel the group’s own fervid hatred of Israel for prizes.

As Jonathan Kay noted February 17 here, “Last year, the National Post editorial board hosted Mouammar and a CAF colleague for an editorial board meeting. To our collective shock, they laid blame for virtually every problem the world faces on Israel — including the alienation of Arab-Canadian children in Canada’s public school system. (One explained that he had sent his daughter for education overseas — because the inclusion of Israel in Canadian textbooks was too traumatic for her to endure.)”

Many liberals reflexively rose up to challenge Jason Kenney’s announcement that the government would no longer fund the CAF. The wonder to any objective observer of this hateful group is how they ever came to get a red cent from the government in the first place. Nobody in this country is forced to celebrate Canada Day, but it’s a bit much, even for us phlegmatic types, to witness the alleged spokesman of a cultural community spewing hatred against a democracy they had no part in making, and whose freedoms and security, so unlike the countries they come from, they apparently take for granted. To bite the hands of one’s benefactor on the most symbolic day of the benefactor’s year is a provocation that must not go unchallenged. There is tolerance and there is masochism. We too often confuse them in this naive and well-meaning nation. It is past time that this intolerant and subversive organization folded its tents and retreated from the public forum. It is a disgrace to all Arabs, and it is, by the way, past time that we heard the same from a sizable number of Arab-Canadians. Loud and clear.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Airbus Could be Asked to Ground All Long-Range Airliners

Airbus is expected to face calls to ground its worldwide fleet of long-range airliners tomorrow when French accident investigators issue their first account of what caused Air France Flight 447 to crash off Brazil on June 1.

It is believed that the accident bureau will report that stormy weather was a factor but faulty speed data and electronics were the main problem in the disaster that killed 228 people.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is likely to be asked why it had never taken action to remedy trouble that was well known with the Airbus 330 and 340 series. Nearly 1,000 of the aircraft are flying and until AF447, no passenger had been killed in one.

“EASA has a legal and moral obligation to get to the bottom of this problem now. If there is a defective system and the aircraft is unsafe then it should be grounded,” said James Healy-Pratt of Stewarts Law in London. The firm, which specialises in aviation, is representing the families of 20 of the victims of flight 447.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

American Hungarian Federation Seeks to Block Obama-Bajnai Meeting

The American Hungarian Federation (AHF) has appealed to US President Barack Obama not to officially receive Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai in Washington.

The body, which was established in 1906, said in the letter it “believes that an invitation to Mr. Bajnai at this time would be ill-advised and would not serve the best interests of either country.”

The AHF adds that “such a visit would also be in sharp contrast to the US position taken in 2002, when President Bush declined to invite then-Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (even though he was in the US to receive an award) so as to eschew the appearance of bias,” before concluding that “an invitation could reinforce the perception that the US favours the Socialists (legal successors to the Communists) over the democratic opposition.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Berlusconi: Ten New Questions

Sex and politics. Politics and sex. “Private” that becomes “public.” “Public” that must suffer the abuses of power by a private individual. The practices of the Cavaliere speak to us of this mixture, immediately referring back to his way of governing, and therefore to public affairs and not just to the private behaviour of a man. The “scandal” of the affair lies in these improper relations compensated by promises of public offices and in the certified lies that discredit the individual who governs the country and the country governed by him. The Premier would have to answer for this publicly if he really understood that accountability is the exact opposite of abuse and falsehood.

The head of government lives in an altered psychic state. This is his wife’s third accusation: “[Silvio] isn’t well” (Repubblica, May 3rd). Berlusconi’s pathological sexual addiction is vented in depraved informal parties. He gives life to “little shows” crowded with twenty, thirty or forty girls: “little butterflies” cuddled while the “sultan” wears a blinding white bathrobe; “little turtles” dressed as Santa Claus; “little dolls” that mime, amid the flowers of the villa, a wedding with “Papi” (Repubblica, June 13th). The presence of “call girls,” “escorts,” and “image girls” accustomed to meeting sheikhs on the shores of the Persian Gulf is frequent.

The scene, explicitly mentioned by Veronica Lario, still vague in its contours with Noemi, comes into sharp focus when Patrizia D’Addario begins to speak, who is described as a “deluxe escort” — a way of saying expensive prostitute. The stage, probed including acoustically, is lit up bright as day. The gestures can be seen clearly, the words are audible and voices can be heard even in the most intimate and sheltered rooms (the bathroom, the bedroom) of the presidential palace. The language becomes explicit, crude.

The same is true, unmistakably, of the behaviour, the logic of events and the outcome.

Patrizia is engaged (for 2000 euros) by a friend of the Cavaliere who fattens his business deals and cranks up his influence by paying “call girls” to take to the Premier’s parties in Rome, in Sardinia. Patrizia crosses the threshold of Palazzo Grazioli for the first time on October 15, 2008. “Once having entered a frescoed room inside the Premier’s residence, Patrizia finds herself faced with twenty girls and her first thought is: ‘Why, this is a harem!” (Sunday Times, June 21st).

Patrizia observes curiously: “While most of us wore short black dresses and light makeup as we had been told, two girls, who always stayed close to each other, had long pants…. They were two lesbian escorts who always work as a couple” (Repubblica, June 25th).

That evening Patrizia did not stay at the Palazzo. She would return there on the fourth of November. “I went back after a couple of weeks, the very evening of Barack Obama’s election” (Corriere, June 17th).

Patrizia records what she hears. She photographs — as soon as she can — what she sees. She has always done this with everybody. This time, her second time with Berlusconi, Patrizia remains at the Palazzo for a night of sex with the head of government.

The Cavaliere — after dinner, the screening of films showing him together with the powerful of the Earth, the usual songs and cheers — asks the woman to wait for him in the “king-size bed” (Repubblica, June 20th). “Berlusconi phoned me that very evening, as soon as I arrived in Bari. And a few days later Gianpaolo invited me to go back. But I refused … Gianpaolo wanted my curriculum because he said that they wanted present my candidature for election to the European Parliament…. When the polemics over the TV assistants broke out, Gianpaolo’s secretary called to tell me that it was no longer possible … [then I was offered] a spot on the “Puglia First” list [for the town council election]. I accepted immediately” (Corriere, June 17th).

Patrizia’s recollections are confirmed by two “image girls” (whatever the euphemism means) who were with her: Lucia Rossini (Repubblica, June 21st) and Barbara Montereale, the latter of whom states, “Everybody at the dinner knew that she [Patrizia] was an escort. I presume including the Premier” (Repubblica, June 20th). The two girls laugh, joke and cheerfully photograph one another in the Premier’s bathroom, like ladies of the house.

The words, the testimony of different parties, the pictures and the sound documents leave no further room for doubt about what is plain to see. What wife Lario calls “illness,” the destructive effect of narcissism frightened by old age, self-esteem forever demanding on every occasion the admiration reserved to youth, fame and charm, make the head of government and the authority of his office vulnerable and defenceless. There are overtones of omnipotence in his behaviour, as if he were allowed to do just as he pleases. He is surrounded by toadies who gain personal advantage by ferreting out for him all over Italy girls who are always new, always younger, always more rapacious and unscrupulous…

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

‘CIA Snatch’ Wife to Ask Strasbourg

Muslim cleric’s wife to appeal to human rights court

(ANSA) — Milan, July 1 — The wife of a Muslim cleric allegedly snatched by the CIA from Italy to Egypt in 2003 is to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against state secrecy rules which have muzzled prosecutors here.

Nabila Ghali, the second wife of Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr, will appeal against norms which have clamped a lid on the Milan trial, attorney Luca Bauccio said Wednesday.

Speaking after the trial judge rejected a reiterated appeal against the secrecy norms, Bauccio said he was “certain” that the Strasbourg-based court would condemn Italy “for this de facto immunity that the Italian premier’s office has given to persons who have probably (committed) atrocious crimes”.

The European Court of Human Rights handles cases for the 47 members of the Council of Europe, Europe’s human rights body.

Bauccio said Ghali, who has given graphic testimony of her husband’s alleged torture, would ask the Strasbourg court to decide whether the secrecy norms violate international law.

“In Italy, one can no longer be certain that due process applies to the most serious crimes,” the lawyer said.

Ghali, who is an Italian citizen, is standing as civil plaintiff in the criminal case against several former top Italian spies and 26 CIA agents.

Nasr, who is also known as Abu Omar, is not attending the trial because he has been unable to leave Egypt. The trial, which began two years ago, was highly anticipated as the first judicial examination of the controversial practice of extraordinary rendition.

The CIA has refused to comment on the trial and its officers, who are being tried in absentia, were silent until Tuesday when ex-Rome station chief Robert Seldon Lady told the Il Giornale daily that he was only following orders.

Lady, who has now retired, said from an undisclosed location that he was “a soldier…in a war against terrorism”.

Il Giornale is owned by the brother of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who along with his predecessor Romano Prodi obtained a Constitutional Court ruling in March that has forced prosecutors to do without swathes of evidence. The ruling, delivered on March 12, also exempted Berlusconi and Prodi from testifying on the alleged abduction.

It said questions that might break state secrecy were not permissible.

The prosecution had argued that state secrecy norms were not violated and the alleged abduction was a “subversive” act that breached the Constitution.

Italian governments have denied any role in Nasr’s disappearance and argued that the prosecutors’ probe compromised relations with foreign security agencies.

The top Italian defendant is Niccolo’ Pollari, the former head of military intelligence agency SISMI, which recently changed its name to AISE.

Eight Italians including Pollari and his former deputy Marco Mancini are on trial with the 26 CIA agents.

As well as Lady, the US agents include ex-Milan station chief Jeff Castelli.


The trial of Nasr has claimed headlines worldwide and stoked discussion of rendition, which was recently extended by President Barack Obama under the proviso that detainees’ rights should be respected.

The Council of Europe has called Nasr’s case a “perfect example of rendition”.

The imam, the former head of Milan’s main mosque, disappeared from the northern Italian city on February 17, 2003.

Prosecutors say he was snatched by a team of CIA operatives with SISMI’s help and taken to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany.

From there, they say he was taken to Egypt to be interrogated.

Nasr, who was under investigation in Italy on suspicion of helping terrorists, was released early in 2007 from an Egyptian jail where he says he was beaten, given electric shocks and threatened with rape.

He has demanded millions of euros in compensation from the Italian government.

Berlusconi was in power at the time of the abduction.

Prodi succeeded him in 2006 but was defeated by him two years later.

The CIA was first granted permission to use rendition in a presidential directive signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and the practice grew sharply after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Denmark: High Court Increases Term for Sex Slave Couple

A Jutland couple who made money from allowing men to have sex with two foreign teens living with them had their sentence extended

The Western High Court in Århus today upheld the guilty sentence of a man and woman sentenced to prison for keeping two teenage Slovakian girls in their house as sex slaves. Both sentences were increased from two and a half to three years and the male defendant is to be deported.

The case began in March 2008, when a 17-year-old Slovakian girl went to the police and accused the couple — Said Fraira and his then girlfriend Iveta Andersen — of keeping her in their apartment where men paid the couple to have sex with her.

When police raided the address in Viby, near Århus, they found another Slovakian girl aged 19 in similar circumstances. The two teens had been promised a good job and better life in Denmark when they willingly came here with the couple.

Instead they were subjected to having sex with up to eight men a day and earned at least 200,000 kroner for the Århus couple, reports B.T. newspaper. The 17-year-old became pregnant as a result.

The couple pleaded guilty to human trafficking during the district court case and were sentenced accordingly.

On hearing of his increased sentence and deportation today, 40-year-old Fraira verbally lashed out at the judge. Fraira has two children aged seven and 14, and accused the court of destroying all their lives.

‘What right have you to separate me from my children — are they animals? You’re destroying not just my life, but my children’s. What will I tell them when they are grown up? I have lived in Denmark for 18 years, my life stops here,’ shouted Fraira, who also said he feared his ex-girlfriend as she had practised ‘voodoo’ on him.

It was not clear at the time of going to print to which country Fraira will be deported.

Public prosecutor Michael Møller Hansen said there was no doubt the two had committed a serious crime, especially due to the age of one of the girls.

‘Technically this was not a case of rape, but it really is. The girls were forced to go with men to please the accused, who were only thinking of maximising profits,’ said Hansen.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

EU Court Okays Dutch, Italy to Sell “Bavaria” Beer

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) — Europe’s highest court on Thursday upheld the right of Dutch and Italian brewers to sell their ‘Bavaria’ beer in Italy, rejecting a bid by a company making a rival beer with the equivalent name in German to stop them.

Bayerischer Brauerbund, a German association of brewers in Bavaria, makes Bayerisches Bier, a name that has been granted EU protection. It has been making the beer since 1968.

Dutch brewer Bavaria NV, which operates internationally, is the owner of several trademarks that contain the word ‘Bavaria’ registered from 1947. Bavaria Italia belongs to the Bavaria group of companies.

In 2004, the German association filed a case in an Italian court to stop the Italian and Dutch brewers from marketing beers under the ‘Bavaria’ name in Italy. The lawsuit was successful, prompting an appeal.

The Italian court then referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify if similar brandnames that were in use before the EU protection came into force.

The EU has awarded protected-name status to hundreds of regional food and drink products, insisting that only producers in the relevant region can use the names. Several thousand wine names, for example, are protected.

But the ECJ ruled that the regulation registering ‘Bayerisches Bier’ as a protected name “has no adverse effects on the validity and the possibility of using … pre-existing trademarks of third parties in which the word ‘Bavaria’ appears.”

But national courts still had to verify that a pre-existing trademark “was registered in good faith before the date on which the application for registration was lodged and that there are no grounds for invalidity or revocation of the trademark.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Eurojust Chief Embroiled in Portuguese Corruption Scandal

EUOBSERVER/BRUSSELS — The EU’s judicial co-operation body, Eurojust, on Wednesday tried to distance itself from a scandal involving its head, Jose da Mota, who allegedly put pressure on prosecutors in order to stop a corruption probe involving Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates.

“For the time being, Eurojust does not want to comment on this case. It is a national case in Portugal and Eurojust is not involved in this case,” Johannes Thuy, a spokesman for the Hague-based EU body told this website.

Portugal’s general prosecutor on Tuesday launched a disciplinary procedure against Mr Mota following an internal investigation “of alleged pressures” on magistrates.

The accusations were made in connection with a case pointing at Mr Socrates at a time when he was minister of enviroment and allowed the construction of an outlet shopping mall on protected land allegedly in exchange for kickbacks.

Two magistrates dealing with the so-called Freeport affair last month accused Mr Mota of having tried to persuade them to side-line the investigation at the request of the premier and the minister of justice.

The premier and Mr Mota’s relationship goes back to the late nineties, when they worked in the same government as state secretaries for environment and justice respectively. In 2002, when the new EU body was formed, Mr Mota was transferred to Hague as Portugal’s representative to Eurojust.

He was elected head of the judicial co-operation body in 2007, at a time when the so-called Freeport case had already started.

As head of Eurojust, Mr Mota not only represents the EU body in public events, but also chairs the internal meetings, such as the one last year when Portuguese prosecutors asked their British counterparts to hand them over the evidence collected in the Freeport case.

If formally indicted after the disciplinary procedure which might last around 10 days, Mr Mota would most probably be replaced by someone else as Portugal’s representative to Eurojust.

“These allegations are incredibly serious and, if proved, call into question the political independence and credibility of Eurojust,” Stephen Booth from Open Europe, a London-based eurosceptic think-tank told this website.

Socrates to survive in elections

The Socialist Prime Minister, who currently holds an absolute majority in the Parliament, is set to be re-elected in September, despite some losses in the opinion polls due to the Freeport affair, pundits say.

“Mr Socrates is starting to fall in the polls and he will not manage an absolute majority like in 2005, but he will still win,” Tiago Luz Pedro, political editor at Publico, one of Portugal’s main newspapers, told EUObserver.

British fraud investigators pointed at Prime Minister due to unexplained missing sums in the company’s books, related to the period Freeport was bidding for a construction licence in Portugal in 2002, when Mr Socrates was minister of enviroment.

The Socialist politician has constantly denied these accusations and claimed the scandal was politically motivated.

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

Eurojust, The EU Fraud Body, Fails to Fulfil Its Brief

The Serious Fraud Office is embroiled in a fiasco that may inadvertently have settled the fate of José Sócrates, the Portuguese Prime Minister, and determined the outcome of that country’s elections in September.

Beyond Portuguese domestic politics, though, it could also lead to the decapitation of Eurojust, the European Union body designed to help to fight cross-border crime, and have wide implications for UK citizens who face prosecution under the proposed overseas bribery law.

Early this year the SFO wrote to the Portuguese authorities naming Sócrates as a suspect in a corruption investigation. The letter was leaked and sent shockwaves through Portugal. Sócrates was accused of bribery in 2002, when Minister for the Environment, over the building of the largest shopping complex in Europe. It was built by Freeport, a British company, on the Tagus estuary nature reserve, and opened by Prince Edward in 2004.

At about the same time the Portuguese police received an anonymous letter alleging bribes had been channelled to Sócrates by Freeport. Portuguese police wrote to the SFO in August 2005 requesting various pieces of evidence. There was little or no response. The Portuguese investigation apparently petered out, with no one arrested or formally classified a suspect.

Simultaneously, the SFO was investigating BAe and other allegations of overseas corruption pre-dating the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2002 (where there was no jurisdiction to prosecute). Meanwhile, it apparently sat on the police request from Portugal, despite the implications for Portuguese democracy and its potential for the prosecution of UK citizens abroad accused of bribery.

When Freeport was taken over by the Carlyle Group in 2007, the SFO returned to the subject and that July, nearly two years after the request for information by the Portuguese authorities, Charles Smith, Freeport’s consultant in Lisbon, was interviewed under caution by the City of London Police. He denied the bribery allegation in spite of having been secretly filmed by Freeport in 2006 admitting the offence.

Even by the usual standards of crossborder fraud investigations, matters proceeded at a glacial pace. Portuguese sources suggest that there was little or no exchange of information until late last year when Portuguese and British authorities met in the Hague under Eurojust

The SFO proposed a joint investigation. The Portuguese authorities rejected this, saying that any admissions made by Smith in 2006 to Freeport were inadmissible in Portugal. The Portuguese Attorney-General issued a thinly veiled attack on the SFO lamenting its tardiness and stating that there was no admissible evidence of corruption by a government minister.

The SFO began its own investigation into the UK end of the scandal and launched an appeal for assistance from Portugal, requesting the collection of evidence about UK nationals. Unfortunately, the request named the Portuguese Prime Minister as a suspect in the UK investigation and the letter was entirely predictably leaked to the Portuguese press.

The Portuguese Attorney-General retaliated with a press release emphasising that the SFO had produced no relevant evidence and that a foreign police force could not make a suspect of a Portuguese citizen in this way.

Relations between the SFO and its Portuguese counterpart have become acrimonious and Eurojust has proved incapable of resolving matters. Meanwhile, Sócrates’ socialist Government took a hammering in last month’s European elections and is likely to lose the general elections — in no small part owing to the speculation and scandal surrounding the investigation.

With the SFO being seen as careless in labelling the Portuguese Prime Minister as a suspect, the president of Eurojust facing disciplinary proceedings, the grinding delay in cross-border investigations and constant leaking, international efforts have been gravely set back.

There are, nevertheless, encouraging steps both at home and abroad. Legislation introducing a standardised European evidence warrant will come into force by January 2011. This requires investigative authorities to provide other states with documentary evidence within 60 days of request.

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, has made it clear that he sees no reason why the Corruption Bill cannot be enacted before a general election. This will not only simplify and clarify the patchwork of offences on bribery and corruption, it will also create a specific offence of corrupting a foreign official and make it an offence for a company negligently to allow bribery by an employee or agent. This will help to settle issues of jurisdiction and facilitate the prevention of corruption as well as its prosecution.

The devastating consequences of white collar crime, as highlighted by the Bernard Madoff case, make it essential that lessons are learnt to develop and strengthen the proper channels of communication so that authorities may provide each other with admissible evidence when required.

Meanwhile, UK companies and citizens suspected of international bribery and corruption should expect more prompt and focused investigations — and ones less often derailed by the politics that have surrounded recent highly publicised requests for mutual international assistance.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Europe Urged to Stockpile Gas

European countries were urged to start stockpiling gas reserves for the winter as another gas crisis involving Russia and Ukraine is looming.

The European Commission said a repeat of January’s energy shortfall was likely if Ukraine failed to raise £3.6 million needed to pay for Russian gas supplies required to fill its storage facilities.

Millions of European consumers were left without gas for the first two weeks of this year, threatening a blackout across several countries, after Moscow cut pipelines following an alleged non-payment by Naftogaz to Gazprom.

The commission is currently locked in talks with Ukraine on a possible loan to allow the nation to buy 20 billion cubic metres of gas from Gazprom needed to fuel Europe.

Ukraine is also in negotiations with other international lenders, including the IMF, which has already given the country £11 billion in financial assistance this year.

It said in a statement yesterday: “In the light of the uncertain gas storage situation in Ukraine, the commission in particular recommended the member states to be better prepared for the coming winter period and to fill their gas storage facilities from all possible available sources.”

The European Commission’s Gas Co-ordination Group (GCG) gave warning yesterday that a number of states in the 27-member bloc were still “overwhelmingly dependent on one single gas supplier and one single supply route”.

“The January 2009 crisis highlighted the vulnerability of the EU to supply disruptions,” it said.

It suggested that EU countries had not done enough to increase their preparedness for a potential supply disruption since January’s crisis. Slovakia had to ration gas, close factories and schools, and lost nearly £100 million a day during the crisis.

A quarter of Europe’s gas consumption is supplied by Russia — eighty per cent of which travels through pipelines that cross Ukraine.

Countries most at threat from a cut in the gas supply include Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Balkan states such as Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Britain is Gazprom’s third largest customer in the EU, with Russian gas comprising 16 per cent of the country’s annual consumption. Germany and Italy are its largest customers.

The GCG called for member states to focus on regional co-operation to mitigate the risks created by the “uncertain gas storage situation in Ukraine”.

Ukraine’s GDP contracted by 20 per cent in the first quarter of this year and was close to collapse until the IMF bailed it out.

The GCG was set up in 2006 to improve gas security in the European Union and consists of representatives from member states, as well as industry and consumer groups.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Fashion: Burqa Unwelcome in France, Abaya on Paris Catwalk

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, JUNE 29 — A show featuring the ‘abaya’ — the long black gown Muslim women wear over their clothing, has not passed unnoticed in the long list of fashion shows scheduled in Paris during the summer of 2010. The show arrives in a France entangled in hot debate over the full veil, burqa or niqab, following president Sarkozy’s announcement that “it is not welcome in France”. Attempting a reinvention of the garb, which covers all but the eyes, hands and feet — noted in western culture as a symbol of female repression — about twenty fashion stylists representing western fashion houses have been using their creative powers. Among the designers is John Galliano who is responsible for the attire of, among others, first lady Carla Bruni. Other companies working with the abaya include Loris Azzaro, Blumarine, Alberta Ferretti, Nina Ricci, Martin Grant, Jean Claude Jitrois, Caroline Harrera, Jil Sander, Adam Jones. The unusual designs come at the behest of Dania Tarhini, managing director of Saks Fifth Avenue in Saudi Arabia. Provocation? Subversion of overly rigid codes? “It is possible to respect religion and culture while being fashionable”. The quote is from Tarhini, who has worked on this project for the last seven years. “To start with, the designers were not very enthusiastic. I explained that the idea was to tie fashion to culture, that women who love wearing designer evening wear would also wear their abaya”. According to the managing director of Saks Fifth Avenue, uniformity of design for the religious garb is frowned upon by wealthy women from Saudi Arabia of the United Arab Emirates — just as “fashion-conscious” as Western women. “Creating designer abaya would allow these women to wear the garb for pleasure and not merely out of dutifulness”. Accordingly, in a store in the five-star George V hotel on the Champs-Elysees, abaya are sold adorned with crystals, fringes and flowers. There are even models that are partially see-through, allowing the arms and legs to be seen, so as to imbue the traditional costume with “a touch of liberty,” or, “a bit of design”. The new abaya seek to take the garb “beyond any religious or political context”. The collection, composed of entirely original articles, will be gifted to the royal Saudi family. Beginning in September Tarhini is hoping to increase production of their abaya, selling them at nearly 1,800 euros each in large department stores. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France Imports UK Electricity as Plants Shut

France is being forced to import electricity from Britain to cope with a summer heatwave that has helped to put a third of its nuclear power stations out of action.

With temperatures across much of France surging above 30C this week, EDF’s reactors are generating the lowest level of electricity in six years, forcing the state-owned utility to turn to Britain for additional capacity.

Fourteen of France’s 19 nuclear power stations are located inland and use river water rather than seawater for cooling. When water temperatures rise, EDF is forced to shut down the reactors to prevent their casings from exceeding 50C.

A spokesman for National Grid said that electricity flows from Britain to France during the peak demand yesterday morning were as high as 1,000MW — roughly equivalent to the output of Dungeness nuclear power station on the Kent coast.

Nick Campbell, an energy trader at Inenco, the consultancy, said: “We have been exporting continuously from this morning and the picture won’t change through peak hours, right up until 4pm.”

EDF warned last month that France might need to import up to 8,000MW of electricity from other countries by mid-July — enough to power Paris — because of the combined impact of hot weather, a ten-week strike by power workers and ongoing repairs.

EDF must also observe strict rules governing the heat of the water it discharges into waterways so that wildlife is not harmed. The maximum permitted temperature is 24C. Lower electricity output from riverside reactors during hot weather usually coincides with surging demand as French consumers turn up their air conditioners.

One power industry insider said yesterday that about 20GW (gigawatts) of France’s total nuclear generating capacity of 63GW was out of service.

Much of the shortfall this summer is likely to be met by Britain, which, since 1986, has been linked to the French power grid by a 45km sub-sea power cable that runs from Sellindge in Kent to Les Mandarins.

A statement from EDF played down the heat problems, saying that the French system continued to meet customer demands — but similar heatwaves have caused serious problems in France in the past.

In 2003, the situation grew so severe that the French nuclear safety regulator granted special exemptions to three plants, allowing them temporarily to discharge water into rivers at temperatures as high as 30C. France has five plants located by the sea and EDF tries to avoid carrying out any repairs to them during the summer because they do not suffer from cooling problems.

France’s first nuclear power station was built at Chinon, on the Loire, in 1964. Other riverside plants include Bugey (on the Rhône), Tricastin (Drôme), Golfech (Garonne) and Blayais (Garonne). Britain’s ten nuclear power plants, which supply 16 per cent of the country’s electricity, are all built on coastal sites so they do not suffer the same problem with overheating. But long periods of hot weather do still add to stress to the network. Gas-fired plants, which form a big part of Britain’s generating fleet, also need to reduce output during hot weather.

However, the recession has led to a 6 per cent fall in the UK’s electricity requirements because of weaker industrial demand, so the margin of spare generating capacity in Britain has grown. EDF earns about â‚3 billion a year exporting electricity to countries including Britain..

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Freedom House “Democracy Rating” For Hungary Declines

Hungary was graded down in a democracy rating by the independent US-based Freedom House in a report published on Tuesday.

The report warns of radicalisation tendencies in Hungarian politics.

“Democratic institutions are robust and likely to hold despite reckless party politics, illiberal rhetoric, high-profile corruption, and radicalization on the political Right aimed at the minority Roma population,” the Nations in Transit 2009 country report said.

It added that societal tensions stem from a lack of fundamental reforms, the government providing beyond its capacity, the public’s overreliance on the state’s services as well as an “unresolved Communist legacy, including the role of the secret services.”

Hungary’s overall democracy rating slipped from 2.14 last year to 2.29 (with 1 being the best and 7 the worst score given). Its ratings also worsened for civil society, national and local governance and corruption from last year. Scores for the electoral process, the media and the judicial framework were unchanged.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Ireland: Minister to Cut Proposed Fines for Blasphemy to €25,000

MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern is to cut proposed fines for blasphemy from €100,000 to €25,000, under changes to be made to the Defamation Act next week.

Mr Ahern said the legislation, which passed its committee stage in the Dáil yesterday, has been drafted to “make it virtually impossible to get a successful prosecution [for blasphemy] out of it”.

A blasphemy prosecution has not been won for a century, while powers already in force under the 1961 Defamation Act have never been used.

The Government is currently modernising Ireland’s defamation laws, which passed its committee stage in the Dáil last evening.

Under Article 40 of the Constitution, “the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter” is a criminal offence.

Mr Ahern insists blasphemy must remain a crime, unless the reference to it in the Constitution is removed. “It is already there in the 1961 Act, and it is in the Constitution and we have to comply with the Constitution. You are in derogation of your duty if you ignore the Constitution,” he told Opposition TDs.

The inclusion of the blasphemy clause was accepted by Government TDs and passed by nine votes to six during yesterday’s committee stage debate.

The offence, published as amendment to the original Defamation Act, “is a little bit more modern” than the one contained in the 1961 Act “which could potentially put people in prison”, he said.

The change in the €100,000 fine to just €25,000 will be made during next week’s report stage debate.

Mr Ahern, who opposes a constitutional amendment, said he could proceed with his plans; abandon the legislation, or else hold a referendum.

Fine Gael TDs, Charlie Flanagan, Denis Naughten and Jim O’Keeffe, and Labour’s Pat Rabbitte criticised the Minister, suggesting he abandon the blasphemy clause, or that he hold a referendum to remove the reference to it in the Constitution.

Mr Naughten said the legislation will be impossible to enforce because it is entirely subjective, and it could threaten Ireland’s future economic interests.

Islamic countries could retaliate if the DPP did not prosecute some future alleged insult against Islam, he warned.

Describing the Church of Scientology as “a dangerous, crack-pot cult”, Mr O’Keeffe said he could be prosecuted in future if he described it as such outside of Dáil privilege.

Mr Naughten said a former Jehovah’s Witness who denounced that religion’s deeply-held belief about blood could be prosecuted if the amendments were accepted.

The fact that the legislation will “be unworkable” is “the classic Irish solution to an Irish solution,” said Mr Flanagan.

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

Italy: Left Wing: To Bertinotti and D’alema, For a New Identity

(AGI) — Rome, 29 June — The present global crisis of capitalism may be the right occasion for all left wing forces to meet and face their own identity crisis, and thus give life to a new political course which will return primacy to the State, to democracy and to politics. It is with this spirit that historian and President of the ‘Pietro Nenni’ Foundation, Giuseppe Tamburrano, organized a meeting, on July 1, with Fausto Bertinotti, Massimo D’Alema, Fiorella Kostoris and Hans Juergen Sherrer on the topic of “The crisis of Capitalism and the prospects of Socialism”. The meeting has been sponsored by the Eber Foundation and the Socialism Association 2000. “The defeat of socialists during this global crisis of capitalism, which could have instead been a reason for their victory, is due to their position within the dominant system and therefore the influence of the market failure, which affected socialists just as well as capitalists”, Tamburrano explained. Tamburrano said that inviting Bertinotti and D’Alema, Kostoris and Sherrer (from the SPD) has a precise purpose: “the crisis of capitalism may be the chance for the left wing to overcome its own crisis and recreate its identity”. For instance, one must look at what Obama is doing in the US: health care for all, public intervention, State’s intervention, his actions in the US economy, and those aimed at protecting the environment. “He is concentrating on those that have been the foundations of left wing’s cultural heritage: today, the socialism-capitalism juxtaposition is not State or Market, but State and Market: the State guides the economy and the Market is a necessary tool in this guidance; while the present crisis shows the failure of absolute ‘Marketism”, the ideology of Market supremacy”. In other words, is there still room for Socialism in the 21st century? “I’d definitely say so”, Tamburrano concluded.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

New Eurosceptic Group to Campaign Against EU Treaty in Irish Referendum

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — The Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group — the new eurosceptic party formerly known as the Independence-Democracy Group — announced its party name and political programme on Wednesday (1 July).

The new party of 30 MEPs also intends to campaign against the Lisbon Treaty in the second Irish referendum likely to be held this October, with the party’s co-president, Nigel Farage of UKIP, laying down a strong marker at the party’s first meeting in the European parliament.

“We will do our damndest in the second referendum to make sure that the people of Ireland understand that these so-called ‘guarantees’ that they were given at the recent European summit, frankly are not worth the paper that they were written on,” he said.

Irish prime minister Brian Cowen successfully secured legal guarantees in the areas of taxation, social issues and neutrality from EU leaders who met in Brussels last month, in the hope they will persuade Irish voters to back the EU’s reforming treaty a second time round.

However Mr Farage said Irish voters had already rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum last June, just as French and Dutch voters rejected the similar Constitutional Treaty in 2005, but politicians were not willing to listen to their responses.

“Mr Barroso and his cronies don’t understand what the word ‘no’ means,” he said.

Whether the new party will actively campaign in Ireland during the second referendum has yet to be decided Mr Farage told EUobserver, but the party is currently seeking expert advice on the legality of the three ‘guarantees’ and will distribute information in Ireland during the campaign.

“I’m hoping by the time we pack up in Strasbourg for the summer [in two weeks time], that we will have a more advanced plan of action,” he said.

Party make-up and political programme

The new party will be dominated by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) with 13 MEPs and the Lega Nord party from Italy with nine MEPs.

Francesco Speroni from the Lega Nord will be the second co-president of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, along with Mr Farage.

The Laic Orthodox Party (LAOS) from Greece will contribute two MEPs to the new eurosceptic party, as will the Danish People’s Party.

The Mouvement pour la France, the Reformed Political Party from the Netherlands, the True Finns and the Slovak National Party will all contribute one MEP, bringing the current total to 30 MEPs from eight countries.

Mr Farage said the party was still in negotiations with several other parties around Europe and hoped to bring more deputies on board before the first plenary session in Strasbourg on 14 July.

Mr Farage also outlined the new party’s four-point political programme on Wednesday, with the document placing strong emphasis on the principles of democracy and the sovereignty of nation states.

“The group favours an open, transparent, democratic and accountable co-operation among sovereign European states and rejects the bureaucratisation of Europe and the creation of a single centralised European superstate,” reads the programme.

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

The High Cost of ‘Green Jobs’

Spain learns the hard way — more employment lost than gained

But Washington might want to examine an ominous warning from Spain, an early pioneer in pursuing the theory of “green jobs.”

According to economics professor Gabriel Calzada of King Juan Carlos University in Madrid, the Spanish government’s renewable energy initiatives have destroyed 2.2 jobs for every new “green” job created.

Calzada even projects, for the benefit of Americans, that the same formula will apply in the United States if it pursues renewable energy at the expense of conventional energy sources

“As President Obama correctly remarked, Spain provides a reference for the establishment of government aid to renewable energy,” Calzaza wrote in “Study of the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources.” “No other country has given such broad support to the construction and production of electricity through renewable sources. The arguments for Spain’s and Europe’s ‘green jobs’ schemes are the same arguments now made in the U.S., principally that massive public support would produce large numbers of green jobs. The question that this paper answers is ‘at what price?’“

That turned out to be a faulty premise, continues Calzada. In fact, he writes nine jobs have been lost for every four created under such initiatives.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

The Most Violent Country in Europe: Britain is Also Worse Than South Africa and U.S.

Britain’s violent crime record is worse than any other country in the European union, it is revealed today.

Official crime figures show the UK also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa — widely considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries.

The figures comes on the day new Home Secretary Alan Johnson makes his first major speech on crime, promising to be tough on loutish behaviour.

The Tories said Labour had presided over a decade of spiralling violence.

In the decade following the party’s election in 1997, the number of recorded violent attacks soared by 77 per cent to 1.158million — or more than two every minute.

The figures, compiled from reports released by the European Commission and United Nations, also show:

The UK has the second highest overall crime rate in the EU.

It has a higher homicide rate than most of our western European neighbours, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The UK has the fifth highest robbery rate in the EU.

It has the fourth highest burglary rate and the highest absolute number of burglaries in the EU, with double the number of offences than recorded in Germany and France.

But it is the naming of Britain as the most violent country in the EU that is most shocking. The analysis is based on the number of crimes per 100,000 residents.

In the UK, there are 2,034 offences per 100,000 people, way ahead of second-placed Austria with a rate of 1,677.

The U.S. has a violence rate of 466 crimes per 100,000 residents, Canada 935, Australia 92 and South Africa 1,609.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘This is a damning indictment of this government’s comprehensive failure over more than a decade to tackle the deep rooted social problems in our society, and the knock on effect on crime and anti-social behaviour.

‘We’re now on our fourth Home Secretary this parliament, and all we are getting is a rehash of old initiatives that didn’t work the first time round. More than ever Britain needs a change of direction.’

The figures, compiled by the Tories, are considered the most accurate and up-to-date available.

But criminologists say crime figures can be affected by many factors, including different criminal justice systems and differences in how crime is reported and measured.

In Britain, an affray is considered a violent crime, while in other countries it will only be logged if a person is physically injured.

There are also degrees of violence. While the UK ranks above South Africa for all violent crime, South Africans suffer more than 20,000 murders each year — compared with Britain’s 921 in 2007.

Experts say there are a number of reasons why violence is soaring in the UK. These include Labour’s decision to relax the licensing laws to allow round-the-clock opening, which has led to a rise in the number of serious assaults taking place in the early hours of the morning.

But Police Minister David Hanson said: ‘These figures are misleading.

Levels of police recorded crime statistics from different countries are simply not comparable since they are affected by many factors, for example the recording of violent crime in other countries may not include behaviour that we would categorise as violent crime.

‘Violent crime in England and Wales has fallen by almost a half a peak in 1995 but we are not complacent and know there is still work to do. That is why last year we published ‘Saving lives. Reducing harm. Protecting the public. An Action Plan for Tackling Violence 2008-11’.’

The timing of the Europe-wide violence figures is a blow for Mr Johnson, who will today seek to reassert Labour’s law and order credentials.

In his first major speech on crime since becoming Home Secretary, Mr Johnson is expected to promise a concerted crack down on antisocial behaviour.

He wants to set up a website to allow the public to see what is taking place in their neighbourhood, such as the number of louts who have been served with Asbos.

Mr Johnson is also known to support early intervention to stop children going off the rails.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘Age Insurance’ Could Prevent Elderly in Care Having to Sell Homes

An “age insurance” scheme to stop pensioners from having to sell their homes to pay for long-term care will be proposed by ministers next week in a radical shake-up of the care system.

The current means-tested system forces thousands of pensioners each year to sell their homes or run down their savings, which the Government will say is unfair and unsustainable given the rapidly ageing population.

Under the proposals, those who want to protect their homes or savings would pay into a scheme that would then foot the bill for all members who require long-term residential care.

A range of payment options for “age insurance” will be set out in a government Green Paper.

One option suggests that a prearranged sum is deducted from a member’s estate after death — a form of inheritance tax. Another will propose that a payment is made out of the pension pot on retirement. Other models propose that payments are made during the years of employment.

Whitehall officials say that at this stage there is no preferred model of payment and no decision will be made until all the options have been debated by the public.

However, the proposals are likely to be criticised, and Labour does not want to be accused of drawing up plans for what looks like a new tax on ageing so close to a general election.

An option for a fully privatised insurance system, similar to health insurance, to pay for old-age care will also appear in the Green Paper. However, ministers will make clear that this is not a favoured option and a system that “pools risk” is the most likely.

The poorest pensioners will continue to have their care paid for by their local authority.

Whitehall officials said that during the course of lengthy public consultation it was clear that being forced to sell a home was widely considered the biggest injustice of the current system.

Under the rules, everyone who has savings or a home worth more than £23,000 — which effectively means all homeowners — must pay for his or her own residential care.

“The greatest unfairness of the current system is for the people who have played by the rules — put a bit aside, saved for a house — having to fund their own care when they want to pass most of that on to their children,” one official said.

“The Green Paper has several options that address that particular issue. The hope is that a consensus is reached at the end of this where the bulk of their inheritance can be passed on to their children.”

Ministers will say that there is no point pretending that the current system is durable. One in four adults will be over the age of 65 within 20 years, doubling the cost of care to £24 billion. It is also clear that the public wants a higher quality of care, with staff properly trained to deal with dementia patients in particular.

The new payment system would be some years off. There is unlikely to be enough time even for a White Paper to set out detailed proposals to MPs before the next election, although both main parties will be under pressure to include a commitment in their manifestos.

In addition to the payment options, in future local authorities will no longer be able to refuse to advise so-called self-funders on how to find good residential care. The Green Paper will end the division between self-funders and those paid for by their local authorities.

Everyone will be entitled to an assessment of their needs and some basic level of support under a new system.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘They Let Terrorists Stay But Send My Boy — Who’s Too Timid to Use the Tube — to a Terrible U.S. Jail’

Let’s get one thing straight. No one encountering Gary McKinnon for the first time is going to think: ‘Oooh, here’s an evil terrorist.’

The 43-year-old computer geek I met at his parents’ Hertfordshire home is the kind of pale, dreamy eccentric who would struggle to pose a threat to his own kettle. Yet, unbelievably, Gary faces extradition to the U.S. after he admitted hacking into Pentagon and Nasa computers while trying to find evidence about UFOs.

The U.S. authorities claim he caused $700,000 worth of damage and shut down 2,000 Army computers for 24 hours. As a result, they are threatening him with 60 years in jail.

Can you believe that Gary McKinnon, a pacifist vegetarian musician, enjoys the same official ‘enemy combatant’ status in the U.S. as Osama bin Laden? The Americans have not had much luck tracking down the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in his cave. But, boy, can they turn the big guns on a gentle sci-fi nut who embarrassed them from his North London bedroom.

The whole Gary McKinnon story is utterly bizarre. So surreal it could be a Peter Sellers comedy. But I stopped seeing the funny side when I met Janis Sharp, Gary’s mother. Exhaustion and fear are etched on her trusting face. For seven years, this gentle, artistic Scotswoman

Ever since the day in March 2002, when she got a call from Gary telling her he had been arrested by the UK’s High-Tech Crime Unit and confessed to everything. The self-taught computer nerd had infiltrated U.S. Department of Defense systems looking for proof that extra-terrestrial activity had been hidden.

As he had tapped away on his computer through the night, breaking into those top-secret sites turned out to be absurdly easy. In many cases, there wasn’t even the most basic of passwords. It transpired that your average teenager’s Facebook page is harder to get into than the confidential workings of the Earle Naval Weapons Station. An indignant Gary even left helpful messages on screen like: ‘Your security is cr*p!’

Not terribly tactful of him. Nor was it exactly clever, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to write on an encrypted military website that ‘U.S. foreign policy is akin to state-sponsored terrorism’ and sign it SOLO, Gary’s online pen-name.

As a sufferer of Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism), Gary is as literal-minded and arrogantly naive as the ten-year-old star of the school chess club. He simply doesn’t see the point of lying or understand why it might be better to conceal his wacky views.

‘People with Asperger’s tell the truth, even to their own detriment,’ sighs Janis. ‘I screamed at Gary down the phone when he rang to tell me he’d been arrested and had confessed to what he’d done.

‘I said: “How could you be so stupid? You should have asked for a solicitor and not told the police everything.” But Gary kept saying it was fine.. The guys who arrested him were all high-tech computer types, and they told him there was no evidence he’d caused any damage and he would get six months’ community service.’

We are talking in the lounge of the Sharps’ neat semi in the commuter village of Brookmans Park, Herts. Outside is a glorious English summer’s day. But here, behind the drawn blinds, we are in the perpetual twilight zone of a family that has given up on normal life while it fights what Janis believes is an effective death sentence for her son.

In the corner, next to the window, is the computer where Janis spends up to 12 hours a day contacting potential supporters and swotting up on any extradition cases she can find.

Now 60, though blessed with incredibly youthful genes, Janis gave birth to Gary in Glasgow when she was 17. She split up from his father when Gary was six, but she has been happily married for more than 30 years to musician Wilson Sharp.

A twinkly, silver-bearded presence, Wilson potters about, bringing tea and snacks, like Santa Claus sent by social services.

After Gary’s arrest, the couple sold their family home in North London and downsized to this place. They get by on the proceeds of their house sale. ‘Making a living got difficult,’ says Janis.

What she means is that saving Gary from extradition has become her fulltime job, her heart’s cause and her quest. If Janis’s boy is obsessed with little green men then his mother is fixated with keeping him away from big bullies.

Like the U.S. prosecutor who promised Gary would ‘fry’ if he didn’t stop fighting extradition.

Janis is the first to admit her son has done wrong. ‘I think he was incredibly stupid and he should be tried in a British court for his crimes,’ she says.

She also believes that Gary unwittingly did the Americans a good turn. ‘What if a real terrorist had got into those military systems? What if Gary hadn’t alerted them? To be honest, I think the people who were in charge of security should be arrested, not Gary.’

What no one could have foreseen was that Gary would become a casualty of the controversial 2005 UK-U.S. extradition treaty. Signed by David Blunkett, the treaty was, quite outrageously, never debated in Parliament.

Under the terms, American prosecutors do not have to show any evidence to get the UK to hand over one of its people. Americans who Britain wants to extradite get far more protection from their government. All I can say is that if this is how the Special Relationship works, then God help us if the Americans decide they don’t like us.

Janis Sharp is a painfully shy person. She admits she never much liked answering her own front door. Over the past seven years, though, her soft Scottish burr has become a roar of righteous anger.

‘This treaty was meant to be for terrorists,’ she cries. ‘Where are they? They haven’t extradited any terrorists. You’ve got Rwandans accused of war crimes and the Government says we can’t sent them back to their own country where they committed those horrible crimes.

‘But we can send someone like Gary, who’s never been to America, who’s scared even to go on the Tube, for heaven’s sake, to some terrible prison in New Jersey where he’ll be treated as a foreign terrorist and have no rights. Why did our Government sign such a treaty? Why can’t they protect their own people?’

This mother’s passionate distress has persuaded an impressive host of celebrities to lend their support to Gary’s campaign, as the Mail will reveal tomorrow.

He wasn’t tactful or clever — but surely there are bigger threats to the U.S. than Gary?

‘I am so grateful to them all,’ says Janis. ‘I just hope and pray that with their continued support, common sense will prevail and the Government will take charge of Gary’s prosecution here, rather than force his extradition which, I know, would have consequences for us that would be impossible to bear.’

I ask Janis what has been her lowest moment. She laughs and says there was a day when the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear Gary’s appeal against extradition, which was based on his Asperger’s. The same day, that court allowed Abu Hamza, the hook-handed hate preacher, to stay in Britain.

‘Says it all really, doesn’t it?’ she observes drily.

Gary, who has come in and taken a chair opposite his mum, joins in the bitter laughter.

Amazingly, mother and son can see the funny side of their nightmarish predicament, although both have been on medication for anxiety. Gary jokes that he’s worried his red hair will clash with the orange jumpsuit if he ends up in Guantanamo Bay.

Britain, he says, is the 51st state of America. ‘I think Britain has fallen down badly in defending its citizens. What I did was illegal and wrong, but the U.S. reaction is aggressive and out of all proportion. I’m even mentioned in an official U.S. Army manual that says I’m a cyber-terrorist.’

Why does he think the Americans are hell-bent on coming after him?

Gary shrugs helplessly: ‘Because they’re the biggest boy in the playground. Because they can get me and it’s hard for them to get their hands on Al Qaeda.’

With his wide-apart green eyes and rubbery elfin face, there is a little bit of the alien about Gary McKinnon himself. He reminds me of the new actor chosen to play Dr Who. He certainly has the Doctor’s zany brain.

Gary tells me he wishes he could go back through time to undo the actions that have caused his mum so much pain and worry. Then he starts banging on about his belief that planes didn’t really fly into the World Trade Centre on September 11 and make it collapse.

Honestly, it makes you want to slap him and tell him to shut up with all the conspiracy nonsense, because that kind of stuff got him into this mess in the first place.

Then I remember that Gary’s condition makes him irrationally obsessive.. He is his own worst enemy; or he was, until the American military got him in their sights.

Curiously, Gary’s Asperger’s Syndrome wasn’t even diagnosed until last August. After he appeared on the London ITV news, several viewers rang in to point out that the man they had seen on screen was displaying classic symptoms of the disorder.

He has since had sessions with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an international expert in autism at Cambridge University, who confirmed the diagnosis and who says that putting Gary in an American jail would not only be detrimental to his mental health, it would be like sending a lamb to the slaughter.

‘I just hope and pray that with their continued support, common sense will prevail’

Janis says she always knew Gary was different. He was talking by ten months. Aged two, he liked to have conversations about the stars and the planets. When he was eight, Janis came home to find Gary playing the Moonlight Sonata. He had taught himself the piano while she was out.

Gary was always fanatical about order and being logical. If there were mushrooms for tea, he would cut each one into 12 (he still does). But he was expelled from junior school because he would wander home whenever he felt like it.

In a normal household, Gary’s behaviour would have rung alarm bells. In the Sharps’ easy-going setup, he was just accepted.

‘He had so many good qualities — gentle, kind and sort of innocent,’ Janis says. ‘Neighbours thought he was wonderful because he’d carry old ladies’ shopping.’

(In case you think his mother’s faith in his innocence is misplaced, the police who took away Gary’s computer said it was the only one they had ever confiscated that didn’t contain pornography.)

Only a week before Gary’s arrest, Janis recalls that she and Wilson were saying Gary had never been in trouble with the police, he wasn’t into drugs, he had a good job in computer support and a nice girlfriend, Tamsin.

‘We were congratulating ourselves on how great he was doing compared with some people’s kids. Then it was like: “Boom! Oh, you think you haven’t had any problems with your son — well, take this!”‘

For three years after his arrest and release without charge in 2002, Gary was still able to work. Extradition proceedings might have been delayed for political reasons, to spare the blushes of the Bush administration.

In 2005 — once Britain had signed the new extradition treaty and America no longer had to prove he had caused damage — Gary was cynically re-arrested and denied access to the internet. It was like cutting off his oxygen supply and he became suicidal.

‘I would have topped myself if it wasn’t for my parents,’ he says. ‘I see the pressure it’s put on Mum. I used to drink a lot because I found it helped. I drank so much I blacked out. One morning, I woke up in my bath with the shower running, and there was a knife on the side of the bath.’

Janis gasps: ‘Oh, Gary, no! That’s awful.’

‘It does your head in,’ he says. ‘I’m facing charges which I can’t even contest because they don’t have to prove I did anything. It’s mad.’

It can’t have helped that Gary split up with Tamsin during that bleak period when he was living in his pyjamas and obsessively hacking into 97 U.S. military computers. Tamsin wanted him to seek help, but Gary refused. ‘I felt that she had the problems and I was offended that she was being this controlling woman.’ He pauses and shoots Janis an anxious grin.. ‘That probably comes from having such a strong mother.’

‘Just as well you had a strong mother!’ snaps Janis.

And so it is. America might think it can make Britain hand over Gary McKinnon. If it was up to our spineless government, this mild-mannered UFO nut would be on the next plane to spend years in jail, with rapists and murderers for cellmates. But I’m glad to say America has reckoned without Janis Sharp.

Will our own government have the political will and wherewithal to halt this abomination of justice?

Only last week, the Prime Minister suggested that computer hackers could be enlisted by the authorities to be used in the UK’s fight against cyber-terrorists. Brilliant idea.

Perhaps instead of allowing Gary McKinnon to be extradited, Mr Brown could put him on the payroll. Knowing Gary, he’d do it for free.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Book by Former Anti-Terror Chief Andy Hayman Banned From Shops

Copies of a book by Scotland Yard’s former anti-terrorism chief were hastily removed from bookstore shelves yesterday after the Attorney-General obtained a last-minute injunction.

The decision to prevent sales of The Terrorist Hunters, by Andy Hayman, was issued by a High Court judge just before midnight on Wednesday after a hearing conducted by telephone conference call.

Although bookstores were alerted, internet bookshops were still promoting the book as a special offer and about 2,500 copies of the hardback edition had been pre-sold.

The hearing was requested by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on Wednesday, even though the book, extracts of which appeared in The Times last week, had been submitted for vetting to a number of government agencies two months ago.

The intelligence services, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Cabinet Office are all believed to have seen copies of the manuscript before its publication — though the book was not shown to the Metropolitan Police.

The legal reasons for seeking the temporary injunction cannot be disclosed, but a full High Court hearing on the matter is expected next week.

The book concentrates on Mr Hayman’s years as Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations at Scotland Yard. During that time, he dealt with the London bomb attacks of July 2005 and called for a public inquiry into the events leading up to Britain’s first suicide bombings.

Mr Hayman was also highly critical of the workings of Cobra, the Government’s emergency committee, claiming that it spent too much time discussing politics and not enough time on urgent operational matters.

His book also examines the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian dissident, and gives a glimpse of the interaction between politicians and senior security personnel.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, complained last week that he had not been given a preview of the book’s contents.

He questioned whether senior officers should be allowed to publish books of this kind about their period in service. Sir Paul said: “I find it surprising as commissioner that I have no right on this occasion to have access to the book before it is published. That surprises me. It is troublesome and it does not help good conduct.”

Mr Hayman, who writes for The Times on policing matters, said that he was unable to comment on the injunction for legal reasons. Random House, the publishers of The Terrorist Hunters, also declined to comment.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: CoE School Bans Girl From Wearing Crucifix — But Allows Sikh Pupils to Wear Bangles

A school told a child to remove a Christian cross she was wearing even though it lets Sikh children wear bangles as part of their religion.

Lauren Grimshaw-Brown was told to take off a necklace with a cross on it because of health and safety fears.

But the eight-year-old’s furious mother has accused the school of double standards because they allow children following other faiths to wear jewellery on religious grounds.

The mother-of-two says Lauren and brother Callan, five, have always worn crosses at St Peter’s CE School in Chorley, Lancashire.

‘We’re a Christian family and my children wear the necklaces underneath their tops,’ she said.

‘On Thursday Lauren was told by a teacher to take it off because apparently they’re not allowed to wear jewellery.

‘I could understand it if it was a fashion accessory or a High School Musical necklace, but it’s part of our faith.’

Mrs Grimshaw-Brown complained directly to the headteacher, Helen Wright, who referred the matter to the school’s chairman of governors, Father Atherton. He upheld the ban.

Mrs Grimshaw-Brown added: ‘I received a letter in my child’s reading folder. It said that if she had been a Sikh child she would be allowed to wear bangles because it’s part of their religion.

‘I’ve got absolutely no problem with any other religion wearing bangles or another item of jewellery, but why can’t my daughter wear a necklace with a cross? It’s a church-led school.

‘The necklace is designed to come apart if it snags. The school has suggested she wear a brooch but surely that’s more dangerous because of the pin.

‘Lauren was really upset by this and I feel very let down.’

The letter to Mrs Grimshaw-Brown said: ‘The prospectus makes clear that jewellery may not be worn except for earrings and watches.

‘This is because there have been incidents in schools where hooped earrings, bracelets and necklaces have caused injuries to children when caught in outdoor play or physical activity.

‘The prospectus makes it clear that school will allow jewellery where it is a necessary part of the religious faith of the child, i.e. Sikh families must wear bangles as one of the “five Ks”, the religious rules for dress.’

Mrs Wright denied there was any discrimination against people following a Christian faith.

‘We do want children to be proud of their Christian faith, therefore we would like to encourage them to wear crosses,’ she added.

‘The best solution in this case for children to be kept safe would be for pupils to wear a brooch — in fact some children already do.’

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Go Easy on Equality Says Minister

The political left must stop “holding up egalitarianism as the ideal”, Communities Secretary John Denham has told the Fabian Society think tank.

Basing fairness purely on “society’s response to those in greatest need” risked being unpopular, he said.

He called for a “different, more nuanced view of fairness and equality”.

His comments come as an Equality Bill is going through Parliament which would make public bodies consider social class gaps when forming policies.

Mr Denham said that the numbers within society who signed up to the traditional egalitarian view were “simply too small to construct a strong, viable and inclusive electoral coalition”.

He told the Fabian Society: “We must confront the difficult truth: that this form of egalitarianism, the one that defines fairness solely in terms of society’s response to those in greatest need, is badly out of step with popular sentiment.

“A rejection of inequality — both absolute, relative and of opportunity — is absolutely core to who we are. But we will be more successful — not just electorally but in challenging unacceptable inequality — if we adopt and own a different, more nuanced view of fairness and equality.”

Mr Denham said Labour had to relate to the aspirations of people on middle incomes, adding that this group felt excluded by policies and language aimed at ‘the poor’.

He said this group were in fact more concerned about those in higher social classes.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Giant Naked Goddess to be Carved Into Hillside

A 400-yard naked “Green Goddess” is to be carved into the Northumberland landscape, under a new plan revealed by a mining company.

Dubbed the “Goddess of the North”, Northumberlandia will be made from two million tonnes of earth dug out from an open cast mine in Cramlington, and tower 112ft into the northern sky.

The Goddess, designed by artist Charles Jencks, will recline over the Shotton open-cast mine and form the centre piece of a new public park at the site.

[Return to headlines]

UK: Mystery Man Critically Ill After Acid and Knife Attack

A man is critically ill in hospital after a gang of men wearing gloves and masks threw acid over his face and then stabbed him as he walked along the street early this morning.

The victim, who is described as Asian and is possibly from Denmark, was attacked at 2am in Leytonstone, east London.

After being left for dead the man, who lives in the area, managed to raise the alarm and he was taken to a London hospital.

He had been stabbed twice in the back.

Woman, 82, ‘caked in blood’ after random attack

If he survives it is feared he may lose his sight and detectives are desperately trying to trace any relatives here or abroad.

Police are running checks to see if he is known to them.

A police source said: “It looks like this gang set out to deliberately target this man. They were dressed in masks and gloves so none of the acid would get on them.”

CCTV in the area is being gathered by police.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

UK: Radical Muslim Dentist Refused to Treat Patients Unless They Wore Traditional Islamic Dress

A dentist faces being struck off after refusing to treat Muslim patients unless they wore Islamic dress.

Dr Omer Butt ordered female patients to wear headscarves and forced men to take off gold jewellery before allowing them into the dentists’ chair..

He even kept a box full of hijabs at his practice so he could lend them to women before checking their teeth.

Butt enforced his religious dress code despite previously being warned by the General Dental Council for the same offence.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Tories to Make it Harder to Teach

A Conservative government would make it harder for people to train as school teachers in England.

The minimum entry qualifications for primary teachers would rise from grade C GCSE in English and maths to grade B.

A degree at 2:2 level or above would become the minimum for all teachers, including those in secondary schools, with Thirds no longer good enough.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said he would also allow only one resit of basic literacy and numeracy tests.

In a speech at the Institute of Physics in London, Mr Gove said 13% of applicants — which is about 5,000 — had had to sit the on-screen numeracy test three or more times before passing.

There is currently no limit on resits.

“We want a new generation of maths and science teachers in primary and secondary school,” Mr Gove said.

“Good as our teachers are, they must be better.”

Raising the bar

It was important to ensure that those entering the profession, particularly in primary schools, had the level of knowledge required to really stretch all pupils, he said.

“The current hurdle of C grades in English and maths is too low and this is particularly problematic for maths,” Mr Gove said.

“Today I can announce that under a Conservative government, we will raise the bar for primary teachers, so they will need to have B grades at GCSE (or iGCSE) in English and maths.

“The taxpayer will only fund teacher training for those who meet this level.”

A spokesman said there would be similar requirements for secondary school subject trainees but this needed further work because the Tories did not want to bar a brilliant history teacher because their maths was not up to grade B.

‘Essential skills’

Mr Gove said that about 1,200 postgraduate trainees each year had degrees below 2:2, which should become the minimum acceptable for a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate of Education).

“Taxpayers should not be funding trainee teachers who have only got a third class degree or worse.”

He would also insist that every publicly-funded institution for training primary teachers should teach them specialist courses in phonics and in maths.

“It is essential that primary teachers have up-to-date skills in these two fields,” Mr Gove said.

“This will encourage the growth of specialist primary teachers in English, maths and science which is exactly what we need to happen and what already happens in expensive prep schools.”

As education is largely devolved his proposals are for England only at this stage but the party says more work is needed on this.

Teachers’ pay and conditions is a responsibility retained by the Westminster government for both England and Wales.

There is an anomaly already in that the literacy and numeracy skills tests are not a requirement for trainee teachers in Wales — so someone can qualify in Wales then work in an English school.

The Conservative move follows an announcement by the government that it would introduce a licence for teachers that would need to be renewed every five years.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Vatican: Pope Rejects Ordination of New Breakaway Priests

Vatican City, 17 June (AKI) — The Vatican says the ordination of any priests by a hardline Catholic fraternity would be illegitimate even though Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the group’s leaders, including Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson this year. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Vatican reiterated that the traditionalist Fraternity of Saint Pius X had no status within the Catholic church.

The group announced earlier this month it planned to ordain three priests and three deacons on 27 June at a seminary in southern Germany.

The Vatican’s media office on Wednesday responded to questions about the ordinations with a statement referring to comments that Benedict made on 10 March.

“As long as the society (of St. Pius X) does not have a canonical status in the church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the church,” he said.

“Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the society has no canonical status in the church, and its ministers …. do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the church”.

In January, Benedict provoked outrage from Jews and Catholics worldwide by lifting the excommunication of the society’s four bishops, including Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied the Holocaust.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed concern about the move because Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany.

Benedict’s predecessor Pope John Paul II excommunicated Williamson and three other bishops. The move came after traditionalist leader and Fraternity of Saint Pius X founder Marcel Lefebvre ordained them as bishops of his separatist church in 1988.

Their fraternity rejected reforms passed by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, including a declaration which ended a church doctrine under which the Jews were held responsible for killing Jesus Christ.

Williamson, who claims that no Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers, has apologised to anyone offended by his remarks but has refused to retract his claims.

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


Divisions Undermine Bosnian State

On a training field on the outskirts of Sarajevo, an armed unit from Bosnia’s national police force were practising how to storm a building.

Clad in black outfits, they set off stun-grenades and fired their guns, successfully capturing the “war criminal” inside.

But despite this display of commando-style tactics, the force’s director was in a gloomy mood.

Mirko Lujic says his country remains unable to tackle its very serious crime problems.

“There are 14 agencies dealing with money laundering and drug trafficking,” he said.

“None of these is able to bring people to courts to prosecute them.”

Mr Lujic blames the problem on the fragmentation in Bosnia’s government.

The country is divided into two halves — one for Serbs, and the other for Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), with the latter further sub-divided into 10 separate cantons.

And according to Mr Lujic, it is hard to get them to co-operate, and take on the major-league criminals.

“Organised crime is always connected with the government,” he claimed. “That’s the problem.”

Outside pressure

It was not supposed to be this way.

When the Bosnian War ended in 1995, the country was placed under the rule of a High Representative, an internationally-appointed figure, with executive powers.

The idea was that Bosnia would eventually be able to run its own affairs, and the post would be closed.

But 14 years on, the representative’s office is still in place, and this week, the incumbent gave his own damning verdict on Bosnia’s ruling class, and their failure to work together.

“Politicians are not interested in doing what is necessary,” said Valentin Inzko, a career diplomat from Austria.

“The undermining of state institutions has continued despite clear international condemnation.”

Mr Inzko was speaking after a meeting of the Peace Implementation Council, the international body which will make the final decision on when to close the High Representative’s post, and leave Bosnia to run its own affairs.

In normal circumstances, Mr Inzko’s pessimistic view would have ruled out the post’s closure, Bosnia apparently still requiring outside authority to maintain law and order.

But these are not normal times.

Several European countries have hinted that they want the Office of the High Representative closed very soon, and Bosnia forced to take responsibility for its own affairs.

They have been joined by the Obama administration, which sent US Vice-President Joe Biden to Bosnia in May, effectively to read the riot act to recalcitrant local leaders.

“You need to work together across ethnic lines,” he ordered them, in a fairly hectoring tone, “so that your country functions like a real country.”

Tension remains

But talk like this leaves many Bosnians worried, convinced that theirs is not yet a “real” country that would hold together if the High Representative were to leave.

“The country is still full of arms,” warned Haris Pasovic, one of Bosnia’s leading theatre directors.

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

Serbia: Seventeen Kosovars Charged With War Crimes

Belgrade, June 26 (AKI) — A special Serbian war crimes prosecutor on Friday charged 17 former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army with crimes against civilians committed in 1999 during the ethnic Albanian rebellion against Serbian rule in Kosovo. The group was charged with the murder of at least 52 “non loyal” Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanians and the rape of a large number of women in the town of Gnjilane in eastern Kosovo.

Nine members of the so-called Gnjilane group are in custody in the Serbian capital Belgrade, while the rest remain at large.

The group was headed by a former KLA member named as Fazlija Ajdari.

The group is alleged to have committed numerous atrocities against many civilians, including tying a Serbian woman to two cars and ripping her apart by driving in opposite directions, according to the special war crimes prosecutor.

The crimes included illegal detention, rape, inhuman treatment, torture, mutilation and murder of civilians.

The indictment says that Ajdari, two other suspects named as Redzep Aliji and Sacir Saciri and other KLA members who are currently on the run ordered the atrocities, while others carried them out in three locations in Gnjilane.

The nine ‘Gnjilane group’ members currently in custody will be detained until their trial, while the eight fugitives will be tried in absentia, the prosecution said in a statement.

The nine were arrested last December in southern Serbia’s predominantly Albanian-populated Presevo Valley.

The Hague-based United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is planning to close by the end of 2012, and has gradually been handing new cases to local courts.

A special Belgrade war crimes court on Tuesday sentenced a former member of a Serb paramilitary unit, Damir Sireta, to a maximum of 20 years in jail for taking part in the killing of 200 Croatian prisoners in the eastern town of Vukovar in November 1991.

Last week, a special Belgrade court for war crimes sentenced four members of a Serbian paramilitary group to a total of 75 years in jail for killing 48 ethnic Albanian civilians in the Kosovo town of Podujevo in March 1999.

NATO airstrikes in 1999 drove out Serbian troops from Kosovo amid ethnic fighting and gross human rights abuses during a two-year war with KLA guerrillas.

Around 90 percent of Kosovo’s two million people are Kosovars of Albanian descent, while Serbs, Roma and other minorities make up the remaining 10 percent.

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

Mediterranean Union

Council of Europe Opens Its Doors to Maghreb Countries

(ANSAmed) — STRASBOURG, JUNE 29 — The parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has officially opened its doors to Maghreb countries. With the creation of a new “partners for democracy” statute, the Assembly’s members will institutionalise and strengthen the ongoing relationship between the Council of Europe and the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This opening-up to Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria was set as a priority by the President of the Assembly, Lluis Maria de Puig, at the beginning of his term of office in January 2008. But de Puig himself stressed that the decision taken over the last few days is also a response to an explicit request made by these countries to have a closer relationship with the pan-European institution. In order for Maghreb countries to become “partners for democracy”, said the President of the Assembly, they will have to observe certain conditions laid out in the resolution with which the statute has been created. It mostly involves “planning reforms and elaborating a new political vision”. As part of the request to enter the “partnership for democracy” the Prime Minister of each country will have to commit to embracing the values of the Council of Europe: pluralist and representative democracy, the supremacy of law and respect towards human rights and basic freedom. Prospective members will also have to commit to introducing a moratorium on death penalty and a law to abolish it. A formal agreement to guarantee free elections, in line with international standards, will also be necessary and an equal participation by men and women in public and political life will have to be encouraged. Lastly, authorities will have to pledge a serious effort to ratify conventions with the Council of Europe that will be open to other countries. Once the parliament has obtained the status of “partner for democracy”, a delegation will be fully entitled to take part in all the workings of the parliamentary Assmbly of the Council of Europe, but will not have the right to vote, as is already the case for observer countries. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: First Jewish Association Authorised

(by Laura De Santi) (ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, JULY 1 — For the first time Algeria has authorised an association which represents the Jewish religion in the country. According to the newspaper El Khabar which carries the news today, this decision could “provoke violent reactions” from the more extremist fringes of the community. The spokesman from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Mohamed Fellahi, announced that the new association will be led by Roger Siad, who is not a rabbi but a “religious and cultural person who will participate in many events in Algeria”. Authorised as part of the 2006 law on non-Muslim religion in Algeria, the association will work together with the ministry on the restoration of the Jewish tombs in Constantine (east), Blida and Tlemcen (west). The authorities have registered 25 synagogues in several regions, though most of them are not in use due to “fears of celebrating religious ceremonies given the current situation in the country”. The Jewish issue in Algeria, the most important Arabic-language Algerian daily continues, is still a taboo both on a political and social level: there are no figures on the number of Algerian Jews nor are there Jewish public figures. The Jewish community, which continues to hide away, was reduced first by the great exodus to France when Algeria became independent in 1962 — with the Crimeaux decree in 1870 around 40,000 Algerian Jews obtained French citizenship — and then in the late 1980s with Muslim fundamentalism on the rise. Good examples of this are the protests heard each time the Jewish Algerian singer Enrico Macias announces a visit to the country, and the continuous attacks against the Lions Club or Rotary club, accused of funding Israel, or the reactions when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika shook hands with Ehud Barak during the funeral service of Hassan II in 1999, El Khabar points out. The creation of an association for people practicing a non-Muslim religion is however obligatory in Algeria according to a law from February 28 2006 which obligates those who “practice a religion other than the Islam to form an association to freely practice this religion and to ask permission for the celebration of ceremonies which must take place on authorised locations”. People who “try to convert Muslims to another religion” risk prison sentences of two to five years and fines of up to 10,000 euros. The law, according to observers, was created ad hoc to slow conversions carried out by the evangelical communities that have often fallen into the authorities’ line of fire. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Morocco: Three Dailies Fined for Libelling Gaddafi

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, JUNE 29 — Casablanca’s court of first instance has imposed fines of one million dirham each (90,000 euros) on three Moroccan dailies for libel against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the Moroccan press agency MAP wrote. The newspapers involved are the Arab language Al Jarida Al Oula, Al Ahdat Al Maghribia and Al Massae. They had criticised Gaddafi and the lack of democracy in Libya. The three editors of the newspapers, as well as two journalists, have been charged fines of 100,000 dirham (around 9,000 euros). The trade union of the Moroccan press has criticised the verdict in a demonstration in front of the court. Gaddafi had asked the three dailies to pay 90 million dirham (eight million euros) for “offending the dignity of a State leader”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

‘Obama’ Think-Tank: Israel Should Cede Jerusalem Sovereignty

( A think tank which is arguably the most influential in Washington is proposing an “interim” neutral administration to govern Jerusalem instead of Israel.

The Center for American Progress (CAP), headquartered just three blocks from the White House in Washington, is regarded as one of the most influential think tanks in the city, if not the most influential. “CAP has been an incubator for liberal thought and helped build the [Democratic party] platform that triumphed in the 2008 campaign,” according to a report, which noted that some of the group’s recommendations were adopted by Obama while he was still president-elect.

Four weeks ago, CAP held a panel discussion based on the premise that the Old City of Jerusalem is the main impediment in finding a solution to the Israel-Arab problem in the Holy Land. Michael Bell, a former Canadian Ambassador to Jordan, Egypt and Israel, presented a plan entitled the Jerusalem Old City Initiative. The plan does not call for the internationalization of Jerusalem — but is not far off from that. It recommends that both Israel and a future state of Palestine appoint a third-party administrator that would run and police the city.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Analysis: Syria’s Goose Lays a Golden Egg

by Jonathan Spyer

Washington’s decision to return its ambassador to Syria is the latest stage in the present administration’s policy of engagement with Damascus. It relates most importantly to the US desire to secure Syrian cooperation in the build-up to the departure of American combat troops from urban areas in Iraq.

The decision is related to the broader American ambition of drawing Damascus away from Iran. Hopes for a revival of talks between Israel and Syria, and the desire to enlist Syria in the ongoing effort to bring about a rapprochement between the Palestinian Fatah movement and the Damascus-domiciled Hamas may also have played a role.

Regarding Iraq, the US is aware that Sunni insurgents will have an interest in ratcheting up the level of violence as the US prepares to draw down its combat forces — to give the impression that it is they who are bringing about the American redeployment. Syria has served as a key ally of the Sunni insurgency since its beginnings. For a period, the route between Damascus airport and the Syrian-Iraqi border was a favorite one for Sunni jihadis seeking to enter Iraq to take part in the insurgency.

In recent months, US officials have reported an improvement in Syrian control on the border, and a reduction in the number of insurgents crossing over. In the familiar Syrian fashion, Damascus’s promotion of violence against Americans, and its subsequent willingness to partially reduce this promotion, is used as a tool to reap diplomatic rewards…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

‘Anti-Israel’ Adviser to be Ambassador to Syria?

Long identified as one of Jewish state’s greatest foes in Washington

President Obama is strongly considering appointing his former Middle East adviser, Daniel Kurtzer, as U.S. ambassador to Syria, according to Syrian diplomatic sources speaking to WND.

Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, long has been seen in Jerusalem as one of the Jewish state’s greatest foes in Washington. He has been identified by Jewish and Israeli leaders, including prime ministers speaking on the record, as biased against Israel, and is notorious for urging extreme concessions from the Jewish state.


“With Jews like Kurtzer, it is impossible to build a healthy relationship between Israel and the United States,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu was quoted saying in 2001 by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Kurtzer “frequently pressured Israel to make one-sided concessions to the Arabs; he constantly blamed Israel for the absence of Mideast peace, and paid little or no attention to the fact that the Palestinians were carrying out terrorist attacks and openly calling for the destruction of Israel.”

Morris Amitay, former executive director of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2001: “Kurtzer … will use his Jewishness as a protective cover for his anti-Israel views.”

Israel’s leading daily, Yediot Ahronot, editorialized on Kurtzer’s negative influence against Israel:

“Possibly more than any other U.S. State Department official, Kurtzer has been instrumental in promoting the goals of the Palestinians and in raising their afflictions to the center of the U.S. policymakers’ agenda,” the paper stated.

Kurtzer first rose to prominence in 1988 when, as a State Department adviser, he counseled the Reagan administration to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat. The PLO had carried out scores of anti-Western attacks, but in the late ‘80s Arafat claimed to have renounced violence.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

British Calls for Diplomatic Walkout From Iran Are Rejected by EU Partners

British calls for a mass walkout of European Union ambassadors from Tehran were shot down by more cautious nations led by Germany and Italy yesterday as the carefully constructed European consensus on responding to Iran came under intense strain.

Britain, backed by the outgoing Czech presidency of the EU, had pushed for the dramatic step of a temporary withdrawal of ambassadors to pile pressure on Tehran to free local British Embassy staff from custody.

With the release of all but two of the nine staff by yesterday afternoon, the incoming Swedish presidency of the EU, which took the reins on Wednesday, struck a less aggressive diplomatic note, more in tune with Berlin and a number of other EU capitals.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, said last night that the EU had called on Iran to release all the British Embassy employees, but added that the EU was still awaiting a response from Tehran. Suggesting that it was too early to recall the ambassadors, Mr Bildt said: “We are taking this step by step.”

Speaking after the first day of a two-day meeting of EU foreign policy officials in Stockholm, Mr Bildt said that the ball was in Iran’s court and that tough action could still be taken, although the EU wanted good relations with Tehran so that it could negotiate with it over its nuclear ambitions.

It was a marked change in tone from the Czech EU presidency, which has issued two strongly worded statements since the disputed Iranian elections nearly two weeks ago. In one, it called the Iranian claims of EU interference “baseless and unacceptable”. Confirming a split among the EU powers, Cecilia Malmstrom, the Swedish Europe Minister, told The Times: “We are listening, there are different views.”

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said that instead of the British plan, a “strong signal” should be sent to the Iranian regime by next week’s G8 summit in Italy. “I hope the meeting sends a strong message of unity, a united message that the right to demonstrate and human rights cannot be separated and that they apply to Iran,” Mrs Merkel said in a speech to the Bundestag.

“I strongly support President Obama’s offer to Iran of direct talks. We will accompany this in a united way. We cannot drop the issue of a nuclear-armed Iran just because of the current situation. That would be completely wrong.”

Her measured approach represented a rebuff to British calls for more immediate action. British diplomats put a brave face on the reversal by insisting that the rapidly changing and confusing situation over the detentions meant that it was better to take a wait-and-see approach rather than rush into action.

“There is a changing situation on the ground in Iran so it is right to have a gradual approach with a number of options on the table,” said one British diplomat, who added that the main focus had to be the release of the remaining embassy staff.

There was confusion over how many remained in custody after an Iranian statement said that all but one was released, while British diplomats said that two were still being held.

The behind-the-scenes dispute over the EU response came after an Iranian announcement on Wednesday that the EU had disqualified itself from talks over Tehran’s nuclear programme because of its “interference” in the post-election demonstrations.

The EU “has totally lost the competence and qualifications needed for holding any kind of talks with Iran”, Iran’s chief of staff, General Hasan Firouzabadi, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars News Agency.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

French Premier Arrives in Baghdad

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon arrived in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Thursday with a delegation of officials and business leaders, an AFP journalist reported.

He was expected to meet his Iraqi counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki, before traveling to Sulaimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan to meet President Jalal Talabani.

Several agreements are expected to be signed during the visit, Fillon’s office said.

The delegation includes Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and the heads of the Total oil company, Lafarge building materials group and European aerospace giant EADS among others.

Maliki visited Paris in May, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Iraq in February.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

I Was No Al-Qaeda Ally, Saddam Told FBI

SADDAM HUSSEIN told an FBI interviewer before he was hanged that he allowed the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he was worried about appearing weak to Iran, according to declassified accounts of the interviews just released. The former Iraqi president also denounced Osama bin Laden as “a zealot” and said he had no dealings with al-Qaeda.

Saddam, in fact, said he felt so vulnerable to the “fanatic” leaders in Tehran that he would have been prepared to seek a “security agreement with the United States to protect it [Iraq] from threats in the region”.

The then US president George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq six years ago on the grounds that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to international security. At the time Bush administration officials strongly suggested Iraq had significant links to al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001.

Saddam, who during the interviews was often defiant and boastful, at one point wistfully acknowledged he should have permitted the United Nations to witness the destruction of Iraq’s weapons stockpile after the 1990-91 Gulf War.

The FBI summaries of the interviews — 20 formal interrogations and five “casual conversations” in 2004 — were obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive, a non-government research institute, and posted on its website this week. The detailed accounts of the interviews were released with few deletions, though one, a last formal interview on May 1, 2004, was blacked out.

The director of the archive, Thomas Blanton, said he could conceive of no possible national security reason to keep Saddam’s conversations with the FBI secret. An FBI spokesman, Paul Bresson, said he could not immediately explain the reason for the redactions.

The 20 formal interviews took place in 2004, between February 7 and May 1, followed by the casual conversations between May 10 and June 28.

Saddam was later transferred to Iraqi custody, and hanged in December 2006.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Iran ‘Disqualifies’ EU From Talks

The EU is no longer qualified to take part in talks on Iran’s nuclear programme, Iran’s military chief says.

Maj-Gen Hassan Firouzabadi, Iran’s chief of staff, accused the EU of “interference” in riots which followed June’s disputed presidential elections.

EU states, meanwhile, are considering withdrawing their ambassadors from Iran in a growing diplomatic row.

Britain proposed the step after Iran detained nine of its embassy staff last week. Eight have since been released.

The BBC’s European affairs correspondent Oana Lungescu says senior officials from EU capitals will discuss the request in Stockholm on Thursday.

But diplomats say that Germany and Italy — Iran’s biggest trading partners in the EU — oppose it, arguing that channels of dialogue with Iran should be kept open.

‘Nine offences’

In the wake of mass street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election, meanwhile, Iran’s Basij militia has called for the defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi to be prosecuted.

The semi-official Fars news agency said the militia — a volunteer force of Islamic government loyalists — had accused Mr Mousavi of nine offences, including propaganda against the state, and complicity in disrupting national security.

“ It is our historic responsibility to continue our complaint and make efforts not to give up the rights of the people “

Mir Hossein Mousavi Iranian presidential candidate

In a letter to the chief prosecutor, the militia said Mr Mousavi had been involved in the street protests, in which about 17 protesters and a number of militia members were killed.

The Iranian presidential elections, held on 12 June, returned President Ahmadinejad to power for a second term in office.

But the opposition disputed the result, saying the vote had been rigged.

Both Mr Mousavi, and another defeated opposition candidate Mehdi Karoubi, have issued statements on their websites describing any government led by President Ahmadinejad as “illegitimate”.

Mr Mousavi wrote: “It is our historic responsibility to continue our complaint, and make efforts not to give up the rights of the people.”

And he called for the release of the “children of the revolution” — a reference to the hundreds of reformist figures detained during the unrest.


In his statement, reported by Fars, army chief of staff Gen Firouzabadi accused some EU members of supporting the riots, and demonstrating their hostility to the Iranian people.

The EU has yet to comment, but earlier urged Iran to avoid conflict with the international community.

Previously, Iran had aimed its allegations at Britain in particular and at the weekend detained the local employees of its embassy. Five were released on Monday, and a further three on Wednesday.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for power plants, but some Western countries suspect it plans to build nuclear weapons.

Three EU countries — Britain, France and Germany — have led negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme, along with the United States, Russia and China.


At their last talks, they offered Iran a package of incentives if it would stop its nuclear activities.

But Iran insists that its right to enrich uranium is non-negotiable.

In a separate development, officials in Tehran said President Ahmadinejad had cancelled his trip to an African Union summit in Libya.

Mr Ahmadinejad’s office did not give any reason for the decision.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Kuwait Interior Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote

Kuwait’s interior minister on Wednesday survived a no-confidence vote in parliament submitted by MPs who accused him of squandering public funds and spying on lawmakers.

Thirty MPs voted in favor of Sheikh Jaber Khaled al-Sabah, a member of the ruling family in the oil-rich Gulf emirate, and 16 against, while two abstained.

The motion required 25 votes to pass in the 50-member house.

The minister would have automatically been dismissed if the motion was approved, something that has never happened in the 47 years Kuwait has had a parliament.

During a six-hour grilling in parliament last week, Sheikh Jaber was accused of ordering the installation of a sophisticated camera just outside parliament in an attempt to spy on lawmakers and monitor public rallies.

In addition, he was accused of squandering public funds by awarding a 19-million-dollar contract to a local private company in violation of local laws and at a highly-exaggerated cost.

The minister denied any wrongdoing, saying he referred the controversial contract to the public prosecutor for a probe even before the grilling request was filed last month. He said the cameras were installed for public security.

It was the first questioning of a minister by the new parliament elected only in May.

OPEC member Kuwait has been rocked by a series of political crises in the past three years that forced five governments to resign and saw three parliaments dissolved.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Middle East: Qatar Support for Hamas Jeopardizing U.S. Stay

Home to U.S. Central Command, major American army post, air base

The United States is growing increasingly weary of the Arab Gulf state of Qatar due to its support of Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, despite the fact that the country is home to the U.S. Central Command with authority from the Gulf Arab region to Central Asia, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: EADS Wins Contract for Border Security

JEDDAH: European aerospace and defense contractor EADS has signed a contract with Saudi Arabia to build a high-tech security fence on 9,000 km of the country’s border, the company said yesterday.

In a long-awaited deal, EADS Defense and Security, a subsidiary of the French-German conglomerate, is expected to create a system of security posts and surface and aerial monitoring of the Kingdom’s land and sea borders over the next five years, the company announced.

The project “will ensure border coverage is visible and managed at the sector level, while simultaneously providing situational awareness at the regional and national level,” the company said.

EADS said it is the prime contractor for the project, which comes in addition to an ongoing border security project for the Kingdom’s northern border with Iraq in which EADS is a participant.

EADS’ partner in both projects is the Saudi contractor Al Rashid Trading and Contracting Co.

The contract was signed here Tuesday with top EADS and Saudi officials present, sources said. EADS put no value to the deal, but French weekly magazine Le Point reported yesterday that it was worth about two billion euros ($2.8 billion).

In a previous statement, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said work on the 900-km desert border with Iraq would be completed by the end of this year.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: English as Medium of Instruction

The English of Saudi university graduates is very poor. Since the labor market in the Kingdom largely depends on foreign manpower, English has necessarily become the language of business. Anyone who does not master English will be in a weak position when competing for a job. His or her chances for progressing in terms of career will be severely compromised.

Faced by this situation, some Saudi universities that could not improve their preparatory year for teaching English have thought of a more radical step to confront the problem: To make English the medium of instruction for specializations that are in huge demand in the labor market. If this proposal is implemented, we could face a cultural catastrophe. This proposal is not the solution to the problem for the following reasons:

* Such a drive shows a lack of understanding of the real problems undermining our education system. The question is not only the weakness in comprehending English but complete deterioration of all other subjects. The fact that students do not know good English is only a symptom, not the core problem. Therefore, solutions to the problem should be deeper and more comprehensive than just making English the medium of instruction for courses in humanities. Whoever believes this to be the correct remedy will be like the one who tries to treat chronic diseases using painkillers.

* Technical colleges where subjects such as engineering and computer science are taught have not ensured that their students have a good grasp of the language before making English the medium of instruction. Most graduates of these colleges will be placed in the lower levels of English learning institutes when sent abroad for higher studies. This is clear evidence that their English vocabulary is limited despite it being the medium of instruction. Even demonstrators who are sent abroad by our universities are put in the lower levels of English teaching institutes. This is further proof that there is a bigger and deeper problem in our education system. It also proves that making English the medium of instruction in our universities will not resolve the weaknesses and problems of our education system.

* Making English the medium of instruction might be necessary in specializations such as medicine, engineering and computing because it would be difficult for anyone who does not know English to cope with new developments. With regard to other subjects, there are plenty of textbooks in Arabic. Translating new books in these subjects would cost less than teaching them in English. This would also enrich our Arabic language.

* Assuming faculty members who studied in the US or other English-speaking countries are capable of teaching in English is totally wrong. They may, on the contrary, cause a negative effect on their students.

* Knowing or mastering the English language is of paramount importance but not to the extent of submerging our cultural identity. By making English the medium of instruction, we will be making dead our own language. Japan and South Korea have not achieved progress by phasing out or marginalizing their national languages. They have, instead, adopted an ambitious translation program that enriched their languages. The deficiency of English has not deterred the Japanese and Koreans from excelling in all spheres of knowledge while at the same time preserving their cultural identity.

The catastrophic situation of our education system requires a comprehensive analysis to diagnose the shortcomings and find solutions. The search for solutions through a trial-and-error method will not take us anywhere.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Mob Attacks Taif School

TAIF: A crowd of 40 people armed with stones attacked the Ashira Secondary School in the town of Turba near Taif and broke the school’s windows on Tuesday. The group also smashed cars parked at the school’s gates, Al-Madinah newspaper reported yesterday.

After the group left the school, two groups of people sitting in two cars parked on a nearby road exchanged gunfire. Three police teams pursued the gunmen.

“The assault on the school, including the exchange of gunfire on Tuesday, was the culmination of a fight on Saturday. My brother suffered head injuries and is currently being treated at the Ashira Health Center in Turba,” said Muhammad Al-Maqati, whose brother is a student at the school.

Al-Maqati said police did not arrest his brother’s attackers, even though he provided them with their names.

Aed Mutlaq, a witness, blamed the police for not arresting the troublemakers. “A large group of people attacked the school and two of my brothers were beaten up. The incident was witnessed by many teachers and mentioned in a statement submitted by the school principal. But the police have not done anything to arrest the culprits,” he said.

The spokesman for Taif police was unavailable for comment.

In another development, a teacher’s car at Erqain School in Turba was vandalized and its windows smashed on Tuesday. Police are investigating the incident. The teacher believes students may have vented their frustration on his car after finding their exam papers difficult.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Syria Amends Honour Killing Law

Syria has scrapped a law limiting the length of sentences handed down to men convicted of killing female relatives they suspect of having illicit sex.

Women’s groups had long demanded that Article 548 be scrapped, arguing it decriminalised “honour” killings.

Activists say some 200 women are killed each year in honour cases by men who expect lenient treatment under the law.

The new law replaces the existing maximum sentence of one year in jail with a minimum jail term of two years.

Justice Minister Ahmad Hamoud Younis said the change was made by the decree of President Bashar al-Assad, following a recent increase in “wife-killings… on the pretext of adultery”.

The new law says a man can still benefit from attenuating circumstances in crimes of passion or honour “provided he serves a prison term of no less than two years in the case of killing”.

The legislation covers any man who “unintentionally” kills his wife, sister, daughter or mother after catching her committing adultery or having unlawful sex. It also covers cases where the woman’s lover is killed.

Reports say women’s rights activists have given a cautious welcome to the change, with one group calling it a “small contribution to solving the problem”.

Their objection remains, however, that the new law still apparently invites men to murder women if they catch them having sex or suspect them of doing so.

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


Clinton to Skip Obama’s Moscow Visit Next Week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who broke her right elbow two weeks ago, will not accompany President Barack Obama to Moscow next week, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

“Secretary Clinton is not going to go to Moscow,” the official told reporters, saying Clinton would name a State Department official to replace her on the Monday-to-Wednesday trip.

The official declined to explain why she would not travel and it was not immediately clear whether it was because of her injury. Clinton tripped and fell in the State Department on June 17 and had surgery two days later on her right elbow.

The official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said Clinton planned to travel to Asia later in the month, when she is expected to visit India and possibly Thailand.

Arms control is likely to top the agenda in Moscow and diplomats believe Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would agree on the outline of a deal to reduce the stocks of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 on each side.

On Monday, Clinton held a news conference with her arm in a sling and said that the injury was still painful. “I’m engaged in a different form of arms control,” she joked.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Hopes for Nuclear Breakthrough on Obama Moscow Trip

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Hopes are rising on both sides that President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow next week will produce a breakthrough in talks on cutting U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and on helping Washington in Afghanistan.

Officially, neither side has made an announcement but diplomats believe Obama will agree with President Dmitry Medvedev on the outline of a deal to reduce the stocks of deployed nuclear warheads to below 1,700 on each side.

“We are confident that we will secure an agreement committing both sides to cutting warheads to fewer than 1,700,” one person close to the talks said.

Obama and Medvedev gave the go-ahead to talks on a new strategic arms treaty to replace START-1, which expires on December 5, when they met for the first time in London in April.

Sergei Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, said on Tuesday that progress in the arms talks had been “beyond what was expected when we started.”

By December, Ryabkov told the state-run RIA news agency, he expected a “solid document with a range of measures for testing and exchange of information…and real reductions in strategic offensive weapons.”

Estimates of current nuclear stockpiles differ but according to the U.S.-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the start of 2009 the United States had around 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads and Russia around 2,790.

Washington is also optimistic of securing Moscow’s agreement to ship lethal military supplies to its troops in Afghanistan across Russian territory — an urgent priority as existing supply lines across Pakistan become less safe.

Diplomats say the two agreements are likely to be the main fruits of Obama’s July 6-8 trip to Russia and will be touted as evidence that both sides want to “press the reset button” — to use Washington’s phrase — on their rocky relations of recent years.

Relations between Russia and the United States hit their lowest point since the end of the Cold War last summer over a war in U.S. ally and former Soviet republic Georgia.

Russia’s decision to send troops and amour deep into neighboring Georgia in response to Tbilisi’s attack on a Russian-supported rebel region angered Washington and led to a suspension of NATO cooperation with Moscow — now lifted.

Both sides are now trying to put that behind them to make progress on nuclear disarmament and other areas — such as strengthening efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons — where they see a chance of relatively quick agreement.


But analysts warn that any prospective deals could yet be torpedoed by a host of differences between Moscow and Washington.

The two sides are far apart on U.S. plans to station an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, something Russia says threatens its security.

In Washington, Michael McFaul, Obama’s adviser on Russia, said the president would make clear that Washington sees enhanced missile defense as protection against “real threats” like Iran, not against Russia, and he would seek Moscow’s cooperation in the program.

Moscow also dislikes U.S. aspirations to bring more former Soviet republics into NATO, an alliance Russia views as a hostile Cold War relic.

Russia’s ruling elite still smarts at what it sees as U.S. moves to take advantage of its weakness in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and is determined to bargain hard, despite a deep economic recession and continued problems in equipping and training its military.

“The biggest deliverable from the summit will be an agreement on the parameters of a START treaty,” said Dmitry Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center think-tank, during an online conference ahead of Obama’s visit.

“But START is not a big achievement. It will regulate adversarial relations but on its own it will not bring U.S.-Russia relations to a new level.”

Moscow and Washington have already agreed in a 2002 treaty to cut their nuclear arsenals to 1,700-2,200 deployed nuclear warheads by 2012, so any further reduction agreed in principle next week is likely to be relatively small.

Asked if leaders would agree at the Moscow summit to cuts to as low as 1,500 warheads each, McFaul said it would be “way too early” to announce specific levels.

“My guess is we’ll get around to concrete numbers right toward the end of negotiating a treaty,” he told reporters in Washington.

Underlying all the talking next week will also be a gulf in expectations and attitudes between a popular U.S. administration with a big electoral mandate and a fearful, insular Kremlin leadership who see threats all around them.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Russia’s Medvedev Urges Obama to Put Aside Differences

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday Washington and Moscow must set aside the power politics of the past and use a forthcoming summit to unite in tackling global economic and political problems.

President Barack Obama’s first visit to Moscow next week is expected to demonstrate the first fruits of his and Medvedev’s attempts to “reset” thorny relations, which reached post-Cold War lows under the previous U.S. administration.

At their first brief meeting in London on April 1, Medvedev and Obama committed themselves to cooperating on further nuclear arms cuts and on solving the conflict in Afghanistan where a U.S.-led international force is fighting the resurgent Taliban.

“The new U.S. administration headed by President Obama is now demonstrating readiness to change the situation, and build more effective … relations,” Medvedev said in a video blog entry posted on his Kremlin website (

“We are ready for this,” he added.

The two leaders are expected to pin down in Moscow the outline of a new arms control treaty, due to replace the START-1 pact expiring in December, and to finalize arrangements for the transit of lethal NATO supplies to Afghanistan through Russia.

“Now is not the time to discover who is in a more difficult position or who is tougher,” Medvedev said in his video blog. “It is time to join efforts.”

“We must improve our relations to solve multiple global problems through joint efforts,” he added.

But analysts say that despite goodwill from both sides, the “resetting” of relations is unlikely to be an easy process with both sides having their own priorities and goals.


“The Kremlin looks to the summit to help re-establish Russia’s image as a great power and legitimize the political elite’s status quo,” analysts from the Carnegie Moscow center think-tank said in a discussion forum on Wednesday.

“For the United States, the summit is part of a broader attempt to engage more positively with Russia and gain greater co-operation on Iran and Afghanistan,” it added.

Analysts say that hurdles, amplified by persistent mutual distrust, could overshadow work on a priority project like the new arms cuts pact.

Medvedev said last month Russia is ready for big cuts in strategic weapons if Washington reverses its plans to create a national anti-missile system and deploy parts of it in eastern Europe.

Russia views the U.S. anti-missile plans in Europe as a threat to national security, while Washington insists they are aimed solely at averting a potential attack from Iran.

Good personal relations between Medvedev’s predecessor, Vladimir Putin, and Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, persisted despite strains in U.S.-Russian ties. Medvedev made clear he wants a more solid basis for relations.

“It is absolutely unimportant who is the Russian or the U.S. president,” he said.

“They will always carry a special responsibility for the decisions which they make, a responsibility to their nations and to the whole world,” Medvedev said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Russians Cool Towards Obama Visit

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Adoring fans have flocked to see him on visits around the world, but Barack Obama should expect a far cooler reception in Russia next week.

An outpouring of hope in the U.S. president — dubbed “Obamamania” — swept much of the world in January after Obama moved into the White House and George W. Bush, unpopular in many countries, moved out.

But the phenomenon largely passed Russians by.

“We didn’t even know he was coming,” said a young woman employee at an upmarket Moscow clothing boutique, dragging on a cigarette as she spent her break chatting with colleagues in matching beige suits.

Rows over United States’ plans to position elements of a missile shield system in eastern Europe, and a war last year between Russia and NATO-aspirant Georgia, have strained Moscow-Washington ties.

After Obama’s January inauguration, Russian newspapers did not plaster their front pages with photos of the event like other publications around the world. Advance coverage of his July 6-8 trip in state-controlled media has been muted.

A global economic crisis has hit Russia hard and unemployment has shot up to around a nine-year high. Most ordinary Russians have more pressing issues to consider than Obama’s first visit to their country as U.S. president.

“It’s good that he’s the president after Bush but we’re far more worried about money than his trip,” said Yevgeny Mesnikov, 26, before taking another slug from his bottle of beer.

He had just finished a 12-hour overnight shift renovating the nearby Bolshoi Theater, work that he said paid $500 a month.

“Things have become much harder here in the crisis,” he said leaning on a dirty table outside a street kiosk.

But if Obama’s visit has not triggered adulation, his forthcoming meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have aroused some interest.

“It’s important that Obama comes here and builds a personal relationship with Medvedev,” said Anastasia Usova, 24, who works in a newly opened Starbucks coffee shop.

Mutual pledges to “hit the reset button” on relations and work toward a new deal on cutting nuclear weapons have encouraged hopes of warmer ties. A survey by independent pollster the Levada Center showed 28 percent of Russians thought Obama would improve relations against 57 percent who said nothing would change.

“It shows how democratic the United States is that they have elected their first non-white president,” said Olga Kuznetsova, a middle-aged architect strolling through the capital. “It’s good that he’s visiting Moscow. We’ll see what happens.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Energy: Record Prices for Azerbaijani Gas, Blow to Nabucco

(ANSAmed) — MOSCOW, JUNE 30 — Moscow is ready to pay record prices for Azerbaijani gas supplies, according to agreements made yesterday at Baku during Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to the country. A source from the Russian delegation, quoted in daily newspaper Kommersant, said that Russia would pay up to 350 dollars per thousand cubic metres of gas. “Russia is ready to buy enormous volumes of Azerbaijani gas, including from the Shakh-Deniz-2 gas field. This is quite a hard blow to the Nabucco gas project,” explained the source, referring to the EU-sponsored project for a gas pipeline which would bypass Russia, reducing European dependency on Russia for power. “Azerbaijani President, Ilkham Aliev also left something for the West however, because he wants to make sure that all his eggs are not in one basket,” he added. According to Kommersant, the price offered for the Azerbaijani gas was higher than that offered for any other Asian gas (300 dollars per thousand cubic metres to both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Gay Sex Decriminalised in India

A court in the Indian capital, Delhi, has ruled that homosexual intercourse between consenting adults is not a criminal act.

The ruling overturns a 148-year-old colonial law which describes a same-sex relationship as an “unnatural offence”.

Homosexual acts were punishable by a 10-year prison sentence.

Many people in India regard same-sex relationships as illegitimate. Rights groups have long argued that the law contravened human rights.

Have Your Say

A R Shams, Pakistan

Delhi’s High Court ruled that the law outlawing homosexual acts was discriminatory and a “violation of fundamental rights”.

The court said that a statute in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines homosexual acts as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and made them illegal, was an “antithesis of the right to equality”.

‘India’s Stonewall’

The ruling is historic in a country where homosexuals face discrimination and persecution on a daily basis but it is likely to be challenged, says the BBC’s Soutik Biswas in Delhi.

It also promises to change the discourse on sexuality in a largely conservative country, where even talking about sex is largely taboo, our correspondent says.

Gay rights activists all over the country welcomed the ruling and said it was “India’s Stonewall”.

New York’s Stonewall riot in 1969 is credited with launching the gay rights movement.

“It [the ruling] is India’s Stonewall. We are elated. I think what now happens is that a lot of our fundamental rights and civic rights which were denied to us can now be reclaimed by us,” activist and lawyer Aditya Bandopadhyay told the BBC.

“It is a fabulously written judgement, and it restores our faith in the judiciary,” he said.

Leading gay rights activist and the editor of India’s first gay magazine Ashok Row Kavi welcomed the judgement but said the stigma against homosexuals will persist.

“The social stigma will remain. It is [still] a long struggle. But the ruling will help in HIV prevention. Gay men can now visit doctors and talk about their problems. It will help in preventing harassment at police stations,” Mr Kavi told the BBC.

But the decision was greeted with unease by other groups.

Father Dominic Emanuel of India’s Catholic Bishop Council said the church did not “approve” of homosexual behaviour.

“Our stand has always been very clear. The church has no serious objection to decriminalising homosexuality between consenting adults, the church has never considered homosexuals as criminals,” said Father Emanuel.

“But the church does not approve of this behaviour. It doesn’t consider it natural, ethical, or moral,” he said.

The head cleric of Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque, criticised the ruling.

“This is absolutely wrong. We will not accept any such law,” Ahmed Bukhari told the AFP news agency.

In 2004, the Indian government opposed a legal petition that sought to legalise homosexuality — a petition the high court in Delhi dismissed.

But rights groups and the Indian government’s HIV/Aids control body have demanded that homosexuality be legalised.

The National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) has said that infected people were being driven underground and efforts to curb the virus were being hampered.

According to one estimate, more than 8% of homosexual men in India were infected with HIV, compared to fewer than 1% in the general population.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Inside a Pakistani School Where Children Are Being Brainwashed Into Terrorists

By John Humphrys

The Imam in charge of the madrassa could not have been more welcoming.

I sat on the carpeted floor of his office enjoying the cool of the air conditioning, thankful for this temporary refuge from the broiling streets of Karachi — perhaps the most overcrowded and dangerous city on the continent of Asia.

On the other side of the madrassa’s high gates, 18million people were struggling to survive in the heat: the vast majority of them out of work with no hope of a job; millions living in slums as foul as anything I have seen anywhere in the world; small children dodging the lethal traffic, banging on the windows of cars stopped momentarily at a junction to beg for a few rupees, competing with old men and women doing the same.

And amongst them an unknown number of mostly young men playing an infinitely more dangerous game.

These are the men who threaten not only this city and the state of Pakistan, but who threaten us, too.

These are the men who are capable of walking into a mosque run by a moderate Muslim leader and blowing him to bits — as they did while I was here — or of driving a car loaded with high explosives into a hotel and reducing it to rubble, murdering dozens in the process.

Or strapping on a suicide belt and blowing themselves up on a London train.

It was because of men like them that I was here in the Jamia Binoria International Madrassa, the biggest in Karachi, pretending to enjoy the thick tea sweetened with condensed milk and several spoonfuls of sugar pressed upon me by the friendly imam, Mohammed Naeem.

I wanted to know whether his madrassa was one of those that gave shelter to these men or — even worse — brainwashed naive young people into believing that the best way to serve Allah was to murder those of us who do not share their views.

Unsurprisingly, he said that was an outrageous suggestion. He was a man of peace, he told me, and Islam is a religion of peace.

Through the prophet Mohammed, God had made it abundantly clear that killing the innocent was a sin and, far from being received in heaven as a reward for jihad, the killers were to be condemned.

As he spoke, he flicked between the big television screens fed by closed circuit cameras that lined one wall, oddly incongruous in this setting.

‘Look!’ he said, pointing at the different images. ‘You see all these children? What are they doing? They are learning. That is why they are here; 5,000 of them, including 1,000 girls!

‘They are not being trained to kill people. They are learning the holy book. They come from all over the world to study here — from the West as well as this country.

‘You may go anywhere you want, talk to anyone, we have nothing to hide here.’

I spent the rest of the morning in the madrassa, wandering in and out of classrooms, half impressed and half horrified at the sight of so many children, some as young as six, sitting on the floor of their classrooms and swaying rhythmically to and fro, each with a copy of the Koran before them, reciting its words.

I asked a 15-year-old boy from California how long he had been here. ‘Two years,’ he said. And how long will he stay? ‘Until I have memorised the Koran from cover to cover.’

Is this really what he wanted to do with his teenage years, I wondered. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I want to be a good Muslim.’

And how did he have fun? ‘When I finish my studies every day I am allowed to play computer games in my room,’ he said.

I thought of what my own children were doing when they were 15 and felt sorry for him, but why should I? At his age I too knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and, if this was indeed what he wanted, who was I to question it?

As for the thousands of other children in this vast madrassa, many far too young to make up their own minds, aren’t they better off in the calm and safety of these tranquil courtyards and classrooms, getting three decent meals a day, mixing with Islamic scholars, rather than out there on the filthy, violent streets where, for millions, survival is all that matters?

Yes, they are being indoctrinated — you might even say brainwashed — into accepting that the Koran is the one and only guide to living a decent life; but I remembered the Jesuits and their boast: ‘Give me the child and I will give you the man’ and wondered if there is really such a difference between a Catholic seminary and a Muslim madrassa like this.

The answer to that, of course, depends on whether you take the imam at face value when he flatly denies harbouring potential terrorists. The only time he appeared evasive in our long conversation was when I asked him where the money comes from to pay for his hugely expensive operation.

At first, he just grinned and said: ‘That’s a very good question!’ Then he told me most of it comes from ‘zakat’ — the charitable donations all Muslims are meant to pay if their income is above a certain level — a minimum of 2.5per cent.

I raised that with two senior security officials in Karachi. They were perfectly happy to talk to me at their headquarters, but they asked me not to identify them: men like Imam Naeem wield a great deal of influence in this society.

Did they believe zakat paid for the madrassa? They did not. Did they believe the madrassa gave no succour to extremists? They did not. Could they prove it? They could not.

I asked why they did not simply raid madrassas in the way they would raid any other premises they suspected of harbouring terrorists. They merely smiled.

The question of where the money comes from is a crucial one. When I first reported from Pakistan in the early Seventies the number of madrassas could be counted in the dozens. Today, there are about 20,000.

And many — probably the majority — are funded by the most extreme Muslim denomination, the Wahhabis. There are relatively few Wahhabis compared to the Sunnis and Shias but their influence is out of all proportion to their size.

Wahhabis arose in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century and when the oil started flowing from beneath the Saudi deserts they became vastly rich. They have used billions of pounds of that wealth to fund madrassas around the world.

What makes their more extreme followers so frightening is that they believe God gives them the right to kill people they deem to be ‘infidels’.

It was Wahhabis who flew the planes into the World Trade Centre and it is they who count Osama Bin Laden among their adherents.

The explosive growth of the madrassas scares not only intelligence agencies in the west — including our own MI6 — but the government of Pakistan, too.

More than 5,000 Pakistanis have died over the past few years in bombings and shootings carried out by Islamic militants, most of whom either have direct links with the more extreme madrassas or are influenced by the ideology they peddle.

The fanatics who manipulate the suicide bombers and persuade them to sacrifice their own young lives are not short of human material.

There are millions of people in this one city alone who have no education, who live in the slums and who have seen any hope of decent, democratic government betrayed time after time.

It is hardly surprising that they are easily seduced by the promises and lies from the lips of plausible men who are happy to shed the blood of others in pursuit of their own perverted beliefs.

What is surprising on the face of it is that successive governments of Pakistan have done nothing to stop them.

More than five years ago, the army general who was then president, Pervez Musharraf, came under great pressure from the West, and promised to crack down on the madrassas and extreme religious teaching. Nothing happened.

The madrassas remain either unregistered or registered under laws that are totally ineffectual. There is no single government agency with the authority to regulate them and most have refused to co-operate with even modest reforms when it comes to their curriculum.

I spoke to one of Pakistan’s most respected academics, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy of Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, who is appalled at what has been happening to education in Pakistan.

He told me about a primer distributed in private religious schools aimed at children in their first year.

Here’s part of the ‘alphabet’:

A is for Allah.

B is for bandook (gun).

T is for thakrau (collision). The picture illustrating ‘collision’ was a jet airliner crashing into the side of the World Trade Centre.

Z is for zenmoub (sin). It is illustrated by pictures of alcohol, guitars, a television and a chess set.

Professor Hoodbhoy is a brave man. To speak out in the way he does against extremism and the imposition of Sharia law is seen by the militants as being hostile to Islam itself. The appropriate punishment for that, in their eyes, is death.

So why have Pakistani governments over recent years allowed this sort of thing to continue? Even more importantly, why did it take them so long to begin to crack down on the Taliban who pose such a threat to the security and stability of this country and its 170million people?

The simple answer is that the militant Taliban are a monster largely of Pakistan’s own creation.

Cast your mind back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s neighbour, in the Eighties. You may recall mujahideen who crossed the border to fight with their Muslim brothers, the Afghanis, against the might of the Soviet army and how we in the West cheered them on. They were brave, resourceful and ruthless.

The Soviets, our Cold War enemy, were eventually forced to pull out of Afghanistan, licking their wounds, in 1987.

But the mujahideen, who had been funded and encouraged by the Pakistan army, did not return to their villages and settle down to a quiet life. They turned their guns on to different targets, and they did so with the approval of the Pakistan army.

Hamid Gul is a former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. He told the writer William Dalrymple recently that for more than 20 years the ISI has, for its own purposes, ‘deliberately and consistently funded and incubated’ a variety of Islamist groups including militant Taliban organisations. They saw them as an ‘ingenious and cost-effective means of both dominating Afghanistan and bogging down the Indian army in Kashmir.’

The problem is that once you have trained and unleashed an attack dog you cannot be absolutely sure that it will not turn and bite you or your children — which is what has happened with the militant Taliban in Pakistan.

Nor can you negotiate with fundamentalists. The Pakistani government has tried that — giving way to them in the North West Frontier province, even allowing Sharia law to be introduced in parts of it. But the Taliban took what they were given, brutalised the people under their control, and demanded more.

Finally, the Pakistani army went in with their tanks, heavy artillery and helicopter gunships. While I was in Karachi the defence minister claimed victory — but many I spoke to in Pakistan were sceptical.

‘Where are the bodies of the Taliban?’ they asked me. ‘Why have they not produced them for the cameras?’

The first time I came to Pakistan I was a fresh-faced young reporter and this country was barely 25 years old. It was fighting to survive as the state born from the partition of India in 1947. It lost. The eastern half of the country wanted independence and, when India went to war on its behalf, it got it. Pakistan surrendered and Bangladesh was born.

Now, nearly 40 years later, it feels as though Pakistan is, once again, fighting for its survival. I found no one who believes the Islamic extremists can take over the country — but what they can do is create fear. They have been very successful.

Pakistan is now regarded as a dangerous place to visit. British Airways no longer flies here.

The manager of the hotel where I stayed told me a big British bank had cancelled a conference of senior executives who were due to arrive the next day. They were afraid to come.

This is a fractured country, divided by obscene extremes of wealth, by language, by class and by ethnicity. Secessionist movements with their own military wings fight for independence just as East Pakistan fought in the Seventies. In some areas the military have effectively ceded control to them.

When a state is threatened by a foreign power its people rally behind the flag. But when the threat comes from within, they have to feel they have a real stake in the defeat of the enemy — and it’s easy to see why many people in this country feel the state has not done enough for them to justify their unconditional support.

When you talk to some of the poorest as I did, you wonder what they have to lose when they already have nothing.

The risk — however remote — of this becoming a failed state prey to extremists should send a chill down the spines not just of the people of Pakistan, but of us in the West, too. When the nation split in half in 1971 it was a devastating blow to those who still called themselves Pakistanis.

But two things have changed since then. One is the rise of Islamic extremism. The other is that Pakistan now has nuclear weapons.

We must all hope that Pakistan can overcome what its own president has called the present threat to its survival.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Hundreds of Muslims Attack About a Hundred Christian Homes in Punjab

Mob sets fire to a number of houses, burns cars and destroys electrical installations. The incident is caused by a quarrel between a Muslim and a Christian which degenerated into a riot with petrol bombs, beatings and acid throwing.

Kasur (AsiaNews) — A mob of some 600 people attacked about a hundred Christian homes in Bahmani, a village in Kasur district in Punjab. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church in Pakistan reported the incident, saying that the violence caused major damages to a number of homes. The attackers also stole valuables (gold jewellery and cash).

The incident occurred on Tuesday. A cleric in a local mosque accused the Christians of blasphemy inciting his fellow Muslims to attack the Christians. However, according to the NCJP the real reason for the attack lies elsewhere, in events that occurred a day earlier.

Speaking to AsiaNews NCJP member Irfan Barkat said the trouble began on Monday when two men, one Christian, the other Muslim, quarrelled. The Muslim, Muhammad Riaz, was riding his bicycle and found himself on the path of Sardar Mashi, a 38-year-old Christian who was driving his tractor. When Mashi asked Riaz to move to let him pass, the latter refused and this turned into a quarrel between the two men. Later the Muslim turned to his local Muslim religious leader, saying the Christian had blasphemed. .

The following night Muslims stormed the Christian section of the village, targeting about a hundred houses, setting some on fire with petrol bombs. A mob of about 600 Muslims attacked Christians with sticks and acid, torching cars and motorcycles parked in the streets as well as electricity meters.

Yesterday, a committee made up of six Christians and Muslims met to deal with the issue and find a way to pacify relations between the two communities. They set themselves a four-day deadline for a solution, Irfan Barkat said.

Incidents like the one in Bahmani are frequent in Punjab province. Usually violence by Muslims is justified by blaming would-be victims of blasphemy.

According to the NCJP, a total of 892 people have been charged with blasphemy since 1986.

Under Section 295 B of Pakistan’s Criminal Code, insulting Muhammad or Islam, or desecrating the Qur’an, is punishable by life in prison or death.

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

Far East

China Opposed to Tariff Plan in US Climate Bill

BEIJING — China said Thursday it opposed part of a landmark U.S. bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions, saying tariffs should not be imposed on countries that do not cut emissions.

“We are firmly against such attempts to advance trade protectionism under the pretext of climate change,” Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told reporters in Beijing.

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed sweeping legislation Friday that calls for the nation’s first limits on pollution linked to global warming. One provision could impose tariffs on imports from countries that do not make similar cuts.

“It is not conducive to world economic recovery and it serves nobody’s interest,” He said of that proposal.

The U.S. bill must still pass the Senate, and President Barack Obama has expressed reservations about the tariff measure. The Obama administration wants the bill passed by the end of the year, when negotiations for a new international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases get under way in Copenhagen.

Both the U.S. and China next week will attend the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy in Italy, a gathering of 19 nations and the European Union that together produce 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

The forum is on the sidelines of a Group of Eight meeting. China attends the G-8 meeting as a member of the five large developing countries.

The meeting will likely be devoted to combating the world economic crisis, with attention on China as one of the key economies driving global growth during the slump.

He said China hopes the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar remains stable, but denied reports that China wants to put proposals for a new global reserve currency on the agenda. He said China would be willing to discuss the issue if it comes up.

The governor of the People’s Bank of China called in March for a new global reserve currency to replace the dominant dollar. On Friday, the central bank repeated that call in an annual report on China’s financial system but gave no new details about how or when Beijing wants the change to take place.

China’s fortunes are deeply intertwined with the dollar. Beijing is the world’s largest holder of U.S. debt, which it buys with its vast foreign currency reserves.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

China State News Agency Plans English TV Service

BEIJING — The main media arm of the Chinese government said Wednesday it had launched a trial run for an international English-language television news service as part of a drive to boost the country’s image and global media influence.

The Xinhua News Agency said its reporters across China and in more than 110 countries will produce domestic and international news that will be delivered to customers around the world at TV stations, Web sites, outdoor screens and to mobile users.

The move comes as the People’s Daily, the staid daily that chronicles the activities of the Communist Party leadership and publishes editorials praising official policies, also expands its international coverage.

Xinhua would “interpret global events objectively and impartially from a Chinese angle and bring novel perspectives to foreign audiences,” the agency quoted its president, Li Congjun, as telling an inauguration ceremony.

He said Xinhua would strive to become “an important TV news supplier for the world’s users.” That would potentially make it a competitor to news agencies such as The Associated Press and ThomsonReuters which already provide television footage along with text stories and photographs to worldwide customers.

The service will be formally launched on Dec. 31. It will be transmitted through satellite to Chinese users, and over the Internet to users in other countries.

Despite its rapid economic growth and rising global influence, China has retained its authoritarian one-party political system with strict limits on freedom of speech and civil and political life. The new TV service could be an attempt to provide an alternative to Western media coverage of the country.

Chinese authorities makes little secret of its disapproval of much of the international coverage of events inside China, sometimes, for example, blacking out TV news broadcasts on sensitive topics such as the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananamen Square.

Also Wednesday, the People’s Daily said in a front-page announcement that it was expanding from 16 pages to 20 pages, adding three pages on domestic and international news and one page of articles of theoretical studies, or arts and literature reviews.

It said the expansion, on the 88th anniversary of the establishment of the Communist Party, was “an important step toward strengthening the capacity for publicity at home and abroad … and also a birthday present that the People’s Daily dedicates to the party.”

The telephone for the spokesperson of the newspaper, which has 72 foreign and domestic bureaus, rang unanswered Wednesday.

The People’s Daily was launched one year before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Its daily circulation surpassed 2 million in 2007, and it now has more than 20 subsidiary publications, including an English-language newspaper launched earlier this year.

The moves are believed to be part of a 45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion) government plan to fund a major expansion of Xinhua, the People’s Daily and state broadcaster CCTV, as reported earlier this year by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper.

All three state media organizations enjoy top-level party support and funding, along with virtual monopolies in certain sectors of their domestic markets.

Officials have not confirmed the plan’s details, but the Post said it calls for Xinhua to add a 24-hour satellite news channel. CCTV would add Arabic and Russian-language channels to its international Chinese, English, French and Spanish services, the newspaper said.

Xinhua has previously announced that it planned to provide English-language news for broadcast on screens in supermarkets in Europe in partnership with about a dozen European broadcast partners. But it has not given details on where this would happen or if it is linked to the television news service launch.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

HK March Calls for More Democracy

Tens of thousands of people have marched in Hong Kong to push for more democracy on the 12th anniversary of the city’s transfer to Chinese rule.

Hong Kong residents cannot directly elect the territory’s chief executive or half of the legislative members.

Earlier, Chief Executive Donald Tsang led celebrations to mark the resumption of Chinese rule after 156 years of British colonial control.

He said that Hong Kong had come through a “challenging year”.

In sweltering heat, a column of people marched from Victoria Park to the government’s headquarters.

Numbers fell short of the 100,000 anticipated by the organisers.

Police estimated the crowd at about 26,000 people as the march began, although organisers said the crowd had swelled later to 76,000.

Beijing influence?

The rally has become an annual event at the 1 July handover anniversary, organised by pro-democracy legislators and activists.

The protesters included many young people demanding “one person, one vote” and others supporting a variety of causes.

“ With perseverance and determination, and most importantly with the all-out support of our country, I am sure we will again prove our resilience and mettle “

Donald Tsang Hong Kong Chief Executive

The biggest contingent was calling for universal suffrage in the selection of the chief executive and legislature by 2012, says the BBC’s Vaudine England in Hong Kong.

Beijing has said this will not happen before 2017 at the earliest.

A 796-member Beijing-backed election committee currently chooses the chief executive.

Half of the legislature is popularly elected, while the rest is chosen by interest groups.

Some of the protesters were worried that Beijing’s representatives in Hong Kong may be exerting undue influence over the territory at the expense of its government.

Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, China agreed to give Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and to preserve its economic and social systems for 50 years from the date of the handover.


Among the demonstrators were investors hurt in the global financial crisis who feel the government has let them down with inadequate financial regulation.

Environmental activists carried “wanted” posters, describing Mr Tsang as a “climate fugitive”.

Some marchers held banners calling for action to protect the local public broadcaster, RTHK, from government reforms.

Mr Tsang presided over official celebrations in the morning that featured the flags of Hong Kong and China being simultaneously hoisted.

“Whilst the financial tsunami has impacted heavily on economies around the world, the threat of a new strain of influenza has also kept every government on high alert,” he said.

“During this current set of challenges, we are confident we will be able to revitalise our economy, take good care of our people, and fight against the flu pandemic.”

A parade featuring acrobats and children dressed in Chinese imperial-era costumes then walked through the streets of eastern Hong Kong.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

WFP Says Funding Shortfall for N Korea Food Aid

BEIJING — The U.N.’s food agency cannot feed millions of hungry women and children in impoverished North Korea because international donations have dried up and the communist regime has restricted its operations, an official said Wednesday.

The World Food Program has received only 15 percent of the $504 million it needs to feed 6.2 million vulnerable North Koreans as the food situation worsens during a lean growing season before the November harvest, according to Torben Due, the WFP’s representative for North Korea.

Due would not give a reason for the funding shortfall but said he understood that donors may be responding to the political situation in North Korea.

The WFP has received no contributions after North Korea carried out a nuclear test in May, he said. That test drew international condemnation and garnered U.N. sanctions.

The North Korean government has also told the agency to scale back its operations, Due said, and to get rid of its Korean-speaking staff, which reduced the number of workers to 16 last month from the 59 agreed upon last year.

The agency launched its humanitarian food program in October 2008, but the lack of funds meant it was reaching only 1.7 million people, down from 4 million last September, he said.

“It is amongst the lowest (number) we’ve ever had in the DPRK,” Due told a news conference in Beijing, using the official name for North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In the mid-1990s the agency fed up to 7 million people, he said. The U.N. estimates that overall 8.7 million people need food in North Korea.

He said they were not given a reason by the North Korean government for the staff cut, but said he suspected it had to do with the fact the WFP is the only U.N. agency in Pyongyang to have Korean-speaking staff.

And starting from last month the agency has also been allowed to operate in only 57 counties in the country, rather than the previous 131 counties.

Still, the agency has noticed an increased number of children referred to hospitals in the country for malnutrition, Due said, but he did not have specific figures.

“For children it is critical, and it means they do not have the nutrition required for growth,” he said.

Communist North Korea has relied on foreign assistance to feed its 23 million people since the mid-1990s when its economy was hit by natural disasters coupled with the loss of the regime’s Soviet benefactor.

Due said according to the WFP’s information, there have been no changes to China’s food and oil assistance to North Korea. China is Pyongyang’s closest ally and largest source of fuel and food aid.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somali Jihadists Behead Two Sons of Christian Leader

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 1 (Compass Direct News) — Islamic extremists have beheaded two young boys in Somalia because their Christian father refused to divulge information about a church leader, and the killers are searching Kenya’s refugee camps to do the same to the boys’ father.

Before taking his Somali family to a Kenyan refugee camp in April, 55-year-old Musa Mohammed Yusuf himself was the leader of an underground church in Yonday village, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Kismayo in Somalia. He had received instruction in the Christian faith from Salat Mberwa.

Militants from the Islamic extremist group al Shabaab entered Yonday village on Feb. 20, went to Yusuf’s house and interrogated him on his relationship with Mberwa, leader of a fellowship of 66 Somali Christians who meet at his home at an undisclosed city. Yusuf told them he knew nothing of Mberwa and had no connection with him. The Islamic extremists left but said they would return the next day.

“Immediately when they left, I decided to flee my house for Kismayo, for I knew for sure they were determined to come back,” Yusuf said.

At noon the next day, as his wife was making lunch for their children in Yonday, the al Shabaab militants showed up. Batula Ali Arbow, Yusuf’s wife, recalled that their youngest son, Innocent, told the group that their father had left the house the previous day.

The Islamic extremists ordered her to stop what she was doing and took hold of three of her sons — 11-year-old Abdi Rahaman Musa Yusuf, 12-year-old Hussein Musa Yusuf and Abdulahi Musa Yusuf, 7. Some neighbors came and pleaded with the militants not to harm the three boys. Their pleas landed on deaf ears.

“I watched my three boys dragged away helplessly as my youngest boy was crying,” Arbow said. “I knew they were going to be slaughtered. Just after some few minutes I heard a wailing cry from Abdulahi running towards the house. I could not hold my breath. I only woke up with all my clothes wet. I knew I had fainted due to the shock.”

With the help of neighbors, Arbow said, she buried the bodies of her two children the following day.

In Kismayo, Yusuf received the news that two of his sons had been killed and that the Islamic militants were looking for him, and he left on foot for Mberwa’s home. It took him a month and three days to reach him, and the Christian fellowship there raised travel funds for him to reach a refugee camp in Kenya.

Later that month his family met up with him at the refugee camp. When the family fled Somalia, they were compelled to leave their 80-year-old grandmother behind and her whereabouts are unknown. Since arriving at the Kenyan refugee camp, the family still has no shelter, though fellow Christians are erecting one for them. Yusuf’s family lives each day without shoes, a mattress or shelter….

           — Hat tip: Roger S. [Return to headlines]

Latin America

21 More Victims of Air France Crash Identified

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian officials say they’ve identified the remains of 21 more people who were aboard an Air France jet when it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean last month.

Authorities say 17 newly identified victims were foreign and four were Brazilian. They did not give more specific nationalities.

The Public Safety Department in Brazil’s northeastern Pernambuco state is identifying the victims. It says fingerprints, DNA and dental records were used.

The remains of 51 people have been recovered, and 35 have been identified. Their names have not been released at their families’ request.

Air France flight 447 crashed early June 1 with 228 people on board. The cause of the crash hasn’t been determined.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

A U.S./U.N. Plot Against Anti-Communist Honduras

The people of Honduras are pleading for media fairness and understanding of how they saved their democratic system of government from an international conspiracy based in Venezuela and Cuba. In desperate messages to the outside world, Hondurans want America to know they do not want former President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya returned to power through the intervention of the United States and the United Nations.

On Tuesday the leftist governments of Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez sponsored a United Nations resolution that condemned the people of Honduras for resisting the spread of communism by evicting a would-be dictator. Many people in Honduras view “Mel” as a puppet of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who is destroying the democratic system and the opposition in that country.

In Honduras, demonstrators have appealed to the media to tell the truth. One sign said in Spanish: “CNN: That the entire world opens its eyes…Honduras wants peace not a dictatorship.”

Our media are content to report on the turnout of a couple hundred pro-Zelaya protesters in Honduras, ignoring the many thousands that have demonstrated in support of what their government has done. Some of the demonstrators carried signs saying, “Peace and democracy. Out with Mel and Chavez.” Others said, “Democracy yes; communism no.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Brazil Launches Bus Powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells

SAO PAULO — Sao Paulo state officials have launched what they say is Latin America’s first passenger bus with an electric engine powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Gov. Jose Serra says the bus will start test runs on the streets of South America’s biggest city in August and will be joined by three similarly powered vehicles next year.

In a fuel cell, hydrogen reacts with oxygen to produce electricity and water.

“Brazil is one of five countries in the world that have mastered this technology and that has developed a hydrogen-powered bus,” Serra said at Wednesday’s launching ceremony. Among the others are the U.S. and China.

The state government has not provided information regarding investment or future production plans.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Corruption Allegations See Britain Near Control of Turks & Caicos

Britain took the first step towards seizing control of a number of Caribbean islands yesterday despite international criticism of a “return to colonialism”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that the Governor of the Turks & Caicos Islands was appointing a series of experts to help him to run the territory and to prosecute its corrupt politicians.

The Governor Gordon Wetherell was expected to seize control of the islands last month after the planned publication of a final report into allegations of corruption. A navy frigate on patrol in the Caribbean, HMS Iron Duke, would have been on stand-by to offer support as British investigators, lawyers and administrators arrived to replace the elected Parliament.

However, although the takeover plan has been approved formally by the Queen it has now been delayed until at least October because of legal challenges from some of those facing criticism after an investigation into corruption. After weeks of limbo the Government announced yesterday that it was determined to push forward with some of the recommendations in the still unpublished corruption report by Sir Robin Auld, a former Lord Justice of Appeal.

Chris Bryant, a Foreign Office minister, revealed that the report recommends criminal investigations into the islands’ former Premier, Michael Misick, and four former Cabinet members. Mr Bryant said that the Governor has selected a special prosecutor and senior investigating officer to begin the criminal inquiry into the corruption.

He is also appointing advisers to oversee the reform of the islands’ public services, financial management, economy and the management of Crown land at the centre of the corruption investigation. In a written statement Mr Bryant said the British Government “was determined to do everything in our power, as swiftly as possible, to tackle systematic corruption and to restore good governance in the TCI”. In an interim report Sir Robin had said that he had found “clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence”.

Mr Misick, who is alleged to have built up a multimillion-dollar fortune between his election in 2003 and resignation in March, was at the centre of the corruption allegations. The lawyer, who trained in Britain, had overseen the economic transformation of the islands but his ability to fund a celebrity lifestyle with his now estranged wife, LisaRaye McCoy Misick, the American actress, was to become a focus of the investigation.

During a stormy debate in the islands’ Parliament last month Mr Misick condemned the Governor as a “racist dictator” and called for national unity “to fight the British common enemy”. There has been fierce resistance from leading figures in the Caribbean to Britain’s plans to suspend partially the islands’ constitution and to end the right of jury trials for those accused of political corruption. There are also fears that the controversy will drive away investors in its economically crucial tourism and offshore financial sectors.

Galmo Williams, the current Premier, has described the British proposals as a “return to imperialism”. He has called a general election for October, even though it was not due until 2011, to demonstrate the public opposition to the plans.

The Caribbean Community, an influential regional body, has already criticised the planned takeover and the issue is likely to be raised again at its Heads of Government conference which started in Guyana yesterday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

France Jet “Did Not Break Up in Mid-Air”: Investigators

French crash investigators have revealed that the Air France flight which killed 228 people en route between Brazil and Paris on July 10 did not break up mid air but fell vertically into the Atlantic.

At a press conference in Le Bourget to make public their initial findings, investigators said Flight 447 dropped out of the sky in a remote area outside radar coverage but without the black boxes, the cause may remain a mystery.

Alain Bouillard, from the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA accident investigation body said: “The plane was not destroyed while in flight. The plane appears to have hit the surface of the water in flying position with a strong vertical acceleration.”

According to the initial report, life vests found with the wreckage around 930 miles from the Brazilian mainland were not inflated, suggesting there was no time to implement emergency measures for a sea ditch.

They stated that a flurry of automatic messages sent out by the aircraft’s compters before it fell provided little detail on position and that now, as the black box signals will start to fade, a full diagnosis may not be possible.

There has been widespread speculation that the automatic messages emitted by the Air France plane indicated it was receiving incorrect speed information from its external monitoring instruments, which could destabilize control systems.

Some experts raised the possibility — and examples of past incidents — in which these external monitors, known as pitot tubes, may have iced over.

Air France has now replaced the monitors on all its Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft.

The investigators said that French submarines and research vessels would continue the search for the black boxes until July 10. However without the evidence they contain, the BEA can only provide initial findings are based on the automated messages sent by the plane minutes before it lost contact, and clues from the wreckage and the remains of 51 people that have been recovered by investigators.

Beacons attached to data recorders are built to emit signals for 30 days after a crash but can continue to do so for up to 45 days, it is reported.

They are believed to have gone down somewhere over an underwater territory full of crevases and this, combined with the mysterious end of the plane which occurred in silence as the pilots appeared to have no time to make contact on radio or make may day calls, has made it one of the most difficult inquiries, they said.

Debris and clues left by the crash of a Yemenia Air Airbus 310 with 153 people on board — with just one survivor — on Tuesday is likely to provide more accessible evidence.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

The Ugly Mask of Liberalism

It has been interesting watching the response to the Honduran military’s recent ousting of its nation’s president, Manuel Zelaya. Barack Obama called the action “not legal” and Hillary Clinton said that the arrest of Zelaya should be condemned. Most interesting, perhaps, is that taking this position places them shoulder to shoulder with Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan’s roaring mouse, Hugo Chavez, who is threatening military action against Honduras. Now, some would say this is an eclectic group — others would say, not so much — regardless, what has gotten them so upset?

Let’s start with what they say. They are calling the ouster a “coup” and claim that Zelaya is still Honduras’ rightful president. Some of them say we must support democracy. But they have said little, if anything, about the rule of law. And most of what they have said is wrong.

First, it doesn’t appear that Sunday’s ouster was a military coup but a law enforcement action. It is not a military strongman who sought extra-legal control, but Zelaya himself. Here is the story. Zelaya is a leftist, a less precocious version of Chavez, sort of like the Venezuelan’s Mini-me.. And, like Chavez, it’s seems that Zelaya was bent on perpetuating his rule and increasing his power in defiance of the rule of law. That is to say, the Honduran Constitution limits presidents to one four-year term, and this wasn’t quite enough to satisfy Zelaya’s ambitions. So he sought to amend the constitution, which may sound okay, except for one minor detail. Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal explains:

While Honduran law allows for a constitutional rewrite, the power to open that door does not lie with the president. A constituent assembly can only be called through a national referendum approved by its Congress.

But Mr. Zelaya declared the vote on his own and had Mr. Chávez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela. The Supreme Court ruled his referendum unconstitutional, and it instructed the military not to carry out the logistics of the vote as it normally would do.

The top military commander, Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, told the president that he would have to comply. Mr. Zelaya promptly fired him. The Supreme Court ordered him reinstated. Mr. Zelaya refused.

. . . the president decided he would run the referendum himself. So on Thursday he led a mob that broke into the military installation where the ballots from Venezuela were being stored and then had his supporters distribute them in defiance of the Supreme Court’s order.

However, like so many apparent megalomaniacs, Zelaya greatly overestimated his popularity. The groundswell of citizen support he had counted on didn’t materialize; thus, his law breaking could not be sanitized by consensus making. The military then arrested him, acting under orders from legitimate civilian authorities and in defense of the rule of law. The good guys won . . . at least for now.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Italy Rapped Again Over Immigration

Another boatload of migrants is returned to Libya

(ANSA) — Rome, July 1 — Italy came under fire for its controversial immigration policy again on Wednesday as it returned another boatload of would-be migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean back to Libya.

On Tuesday night 89 migrants, including nine women and three children, were rescued from a dinghy 30 miles off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa and taken back to Libya, the main stepping-off point for most immigrants. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg reiterated his criticism of the policy Wednesday, saying it made political asylum request “practically impossible”.

The commissioner said that while Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni were “absolutely right” that not everyone who arrives in Italy has the right to asylum, “they certainly have the right to ask for it”. “With (their immediate return to Libya), this is denied to them, as is the possibility that their claims are evaluated according to the principles of human rights,” he told Internet news show KlausCondicio.

Hammarberg said that the European Union institutions had begun discussing ways to ease the burden of the migrant influx on southern Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Cyprus, Malta and Greece.

He stressed that if Italy’s policy continued in the meantime the institutions would have to intervene. “It’s a problem that concerns not just Italy and there is a risk that other countries (will start doing the same thing) if the Council of Europe and the European institutions don’t express a firm opinion,” he said. Hammarberg has repeatedly criticised Italy for its migration policy although the human rights body issued a statement stressing that the commissioner’s stance was personal and did not reflect the Council’s position.


Italy’s Chamber of Deputies Speaker Gianfranco Fini meanwhile called for a global approach to solving the immigration emergency and appealed for concrete efforts to be made by world leaders at the Group of Eight summit in L’Aquila in July to deal with the issue.

“You can’t try to deal with the issue of immigration only with domestic policies on security. It would be like pasting postage stamps on a kilometre-long wall,” Fini said.

“The multilateral approach is the only approach in a global era,” he said.

“If we had understood earlier what the battle against world hunger meant we wouldn’t be in this situation now,” he added.

According to Fini, to avoid “biblical migrations” would require “greater distribution of wealth between the north and the south” of the world.

On Wednesday Fini, who belongs to Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, warned that repatriating illegal immigrants without distinguishing them from asylum seekers was “immoral”.

The standpoint appeared to put the Speaker at odds with the government policy of returning migrants to Libya. “It would be immoral to immediately say, you’re an illegal immigrant, I’m sending you back to your country. In some cases it would be like condemning that person to death,” he said. “The basic principle of western society stands: they are people first and then immigrants”. Fini also acknowledged that Italy had a “dramatic need” for immigrants, who perform jobs that many Italians shun such as working as a waitress or an old person’s help.

Despite heavy criticism from the United Nations, the Catholic Church and humanitarian organisations, Italy has sent back hundreds of would-be migrants since the launch of the policy on May 6 as part of a historic friendship deal with Libya. Human rights organisations have criticised Libya for not providing adequate facilities to process pleas from asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Africa. At an EU summit last month leaders agreed to consider an emergency plan on immigration in the southern Mediterranean. Italian Interior Minister Franco Frattini said he expected the plan to be drafted “in a matter of months”, reiterating that Italy expects cost-sharing as well as joint EU patrols. Italy has long been pushing for greater EU aid with immigration. Interior Minister Maroni has said other EU countries should take on a share of immigrants while EU border agency Frontex should be given a larger role to carry out repatriation flights and “deal with the holding and identification of illegal immigrants via a European structure”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy Approves Anti-Immigration Bill

ROME (Reuters) — Tough new measures to fight illegal immigration and crime became law in Italy Thursday after the Senate gave the green light to a bill contested by the center-left opposition and the Catholic Church.

The law makes illegal immigration a crime punishable with a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($14,000) and raises to six months the amount of time that illegal migrants can be detained in holding centers before repatriation.

It also allows the creation of unarmed citizen patrols to help police and soldiers fight crime on the streets, makes it a jail offence to force children to beg, a measure viewed as targeting gypsies and Roma people.

The law was put forward by Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League which is a crucial ally for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government, elected last year on a law-and-order ticket.

“We want to tell citizens that the government is acting to guarantee their security,” he said Thursday, after the government won three confidence votes on the bill.

In a heated debate at the Senate, center-left lawmakers accused the government of violating the rights of immigrants and said the citizen patrols risked becoming vigilante groups taking the law into their hands.

The Catholic Church has also repeatedly criticized the measures, which civil rights groups say could deter illegal immigrants from seeking hospital treatment or enrolling their children in school for fear of being reported to police.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Passport Fix Near for US Border Midwife Deliveries

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — Citizens delivered by midwives along the U.S.-Mexico border will get to reapply for passports for free under a tentative settlement with the State Department over stalled applications.

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane gave preliminary agreement Wednesday to the settlement. He also gave the lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and an immigration attorney preliminary class action status.

Hundreds of citizens along the U.S.-Mexico border were not able to get passports because some Texas midwives registered Mexican births in the United States. The government has agreed under the settlement to no longer leave cases in limbo without an approval or a denial.

Crane scheduled a hearing to allow public objections to the settlement for Aug. 14.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Alan Johnson: ID Cards ‘Will Never be Compulsory’ For Britons

Alan Johnson signalled a significant reversal over the Government’s identity card policy yesterday when he ruled out making them compulsory for British citizens.

The Home Secretary also abandoned plans for trials at two airports that would have required some staff and pilots to carry the cards and longer-term plans to make them compulsory for some railway station workers.

The announcement means that the only people for whom it will be compulsory to have an identity card will be foreign citizens. However, the Government is to press ahead with creating a national identity register that, from 2011-12, will include the details of everyone who applies for a passport.

Legislation to be debated next week will make it an offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 not to inform the Government of a name or change of address as it appears on the register.

Mr Johnson said: “Holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens — just as it is now to obtain a passport. Accordingly, I want the introduction of identity cards for all British citizens to be voluntary and I have therefore decided that identity cards issued to airside workers should also be voluntary.” He said that he still believed that the cards would help to improve security at airports.

The Government’s climbdown on one of its most controversial policies comes 24 hours after Gordon Brown announced a fresh legislative programme. The Tories have vowed that if elected they would abolish ID cards — at an estimated saving of £2 billion — while many Labour backbenchers are sympathetic to the arguments about the cost to civil liberties, as well to the Exchequer.

One of Mr Johnson’s first acts on becoming Home Secretary last month was to announce a fundamental rethink of the identity card scheme.

The Government had previously said that once about 80 per cent of the population had the card, it would bring forward legislation to require every citizen to have one. Asked whether that was still government policy, Mr Johnson said yesterday: “It is not the position now.”

He added that British citizens would never be forced to have a card and admitted that the Government had allowed the perception to grow that the cards would be a “panacea” that would stop terrorism. Legislation to require some workers at Manchester and London City airports to have an identity card will be withdrawn, less than two months after it was put before Parliament. The schemes for new workers wishing to go airside at the airports will now be voluntary.

Rather than being a “panacea” that would stop terrorism, the Home Office is now presenting identity cards as a way of tackling identity theft, trafficking and illegal working, and as providing a universal proof of identity.

The Home Secretary added yesterday that he was an “instinctive” supporter of ID cards and that he wanted to “accelerate” their delivery. Mr Johnson also announced plans to extend the voluntary ID card scheme that is due to start in Greater Manchester this year.

Residents in other locations in the North West will be able to apply from early 2010, while the Government’s intention is to introduce the scheme in London in the same year — 12 months early. About 3,500 British citizens have already applied for the cards.

Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), said: “This is a sensible change of approach and one that we welcome. Balpa has always had aviation security high on its agenda and has a number of ideas on how we can improve airport security which we will be pursuing with the Secretary of State for Transport.”

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This decision is symbolic of a government in chaos. They have spent millions on the scheme so far — the Home Secretary thinks it has been a waste and wants to scrap it, but the Prime Minister won’t let him. So we end up with an absurd fudge instead. This is no way to run the country.”

Identity crisis

2001 David Blunkett proposes ID cards to combat terrorism, immigration and identity fraud

2004 Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, tells The Times he fears the country is “sleepwalking into a surveillance society” 2005 MPs pass legislation. House of Lords warn that it “fundamentally alters the relationship between the citizen and the State”

2008 ID cards for foreign citizens become compulsory

2009 Alan Johnson drops compulsory element and says trial schemes for Manchester and London City airports will be voluntary

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Writers Attack New Italian ‘Race Laws’

Italy’s parliament yesterday gave final approval to a controversial law which criminalises illegal immigration and legalises unarmed vigilante patrols by citizens. The law was assured an easy final passage by being tied to a confidence vote, so that MPs in the ruling coalition were virtually obliged to vote for it.

The new law represents the fulfilment of several key policies of the Northern League, the anti-immigration party which has been the clear winner in Italy’s two most recent elections. The Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, the author of the bill, is a senior member of the League.

This week some of the country’s most famous writers signed an open letter condemning the legislation as the “reintroduction of race laws”, comparing the measure to the infamous Race Laws introduced by Mussolini in 1938, which banned Jews from work and education.

The letter, signed by Andrea Camilleri, the Sicilian writer, and the Nobel prize-winning dramatist Dario Fo among others, said: “The Berlusconi government, using security as a pretext, has imposed… laws the like of which we have not seen in this country since the passing of the Fascist Race Law.” The letter claimed that “irregular” immigrants could be barred from marrying Italians and from registering the birth of their children, “so the children… shall for their entire lives be the children of unknown parents… Not even Fascism went that far.”

Amnesty International also criticised the legislation, under which it said “irregular migrants will… be prevented from accessing school, medical (including emergency) care and being protected by security forces against crime”. The law will also oblige doctors, teachers and civil servants to report immigrants who they discover are illegal to the authorities.

Fear over “security”, frequently directed at immigrants, was an important factor in helping Mr Berlusconi’s coalition to victory in the general election last year.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Obama Says Foes of Homosexuality Hold to ‘Worn Arguments and Old Attitudes’

‘Worn Arguments, Old Attitudes’: That’s how President Obama describes the thinking of millions upon millions of Americans who oppose homosexual behavior [watch his elitist “gay pride” speech HERE.] At a recent Oval Office ceremony, President Obama shakes the hand of Frank Kameny — a hero to homosexual activists but a bigoted extremist to pro-family activists on the receiving end of his intemperate letters. Kameny smears Christian conservatives as “Christianofascists” and says “gay is godly,” even though he’s an atheist. (Kameny also wrote AFTAH that bestiality is OK “as long as the animal doesn’t mind.”) Christians, Jews, Muslims, and all moral-minded Americans must resist Obama’s use of the bully pulpit to undermine timeless truths by advancing the “gay” agenda of turning aberrant and unhealthy sex and gender confusion into “civil rights.”

So (President) Barack Obama is going to teach us (and by extension, God) a few things about the supposed morality of homosexual relationships? “Audacity” suddenly seems like too small a word for Mr. Obama. A few years ago this fellow was a back-bencher in Springfield, Illinois, unable to summon up the strength of character to vote for a bill designed to protect babies “born alive” through botched abortions. Now he’s President of the greatest and most blessed nation on earth and is so sure of his moral rectitude (or, conversely, cynical of divine absolutes) that he dismisses those “worn arguments and old attitudes” against homosexual behavior — you know, the ones rooted in Genesis in the Old Testament and Romans in the New.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

UK: Homosexual ‘Weddings’ Should be Celebrated in Church, Says Chris Bryant

Homosexual “weddings” should be celebrated in churches, a Government minister has said in defiance of religious teaching.

Chris Bryant, who once posed in his underpants on a gay dating website, said he wanted clergy to be “much more open” to the idea of treating civil partnership ceremonies like traditional marriages.

However, his suggestion goes directly against the rules of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, which state that only the union of a man and a woman can be celebrated by a priest in church.

It comes as the Government is pushing through an Equality Bill that religious groups fear will force them to give jobs to homosexual youth workers or secretaries, even if their faith maintains that same-sex relationships are sinful.

Mr Bryant, a former deputy leader of the Commons who is now a junior Foreign Office minister, trained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate before becoming the MP for the Rhondda.

He was questioned by the magazine Time Out this week on whether he believed civil partnerships, introduced to England and Wales in 2005, should be scrapped in favour of same-sex marriage.

The minister replied: “All my friends who have entered into a civil partnership refer to it as their ‘marriage’ or their ‘wedding’ so the most important issue is that nobody should be discriminated against because of their sexuality.

“I would like to see churches be much more open to the idea of gay relationships or partnerships being celebrated in church.”

Nick Herbert, a Conservative MP who is in a civil partnership, and Stephen Williams, who was the first openly homosexual Liberal Democrat MP, both told the magazine that they would support the legal introduction of same-sex marriages.

Church of England rules state that civil partnerships are not equivalent to marriage and cannot be celebrated in church, and the battle between conservatives and liberals over homosexuality has driven the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Last summer a rector was strongly criticised by the Church of England’s two archbishops after he conducted a “wedding” service, including traditional liturgy and the exchange of rings for two homosexual priests, at his 12th century church in the City of London.

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, said: “Of course all citizens must have equal rights without discrimination. But marriage is the basis of the family, and the stability of the family is grounded in the sameness in difference between men and women.

“Those who make public law have to realise that people of faith have consciences that need to be respected.”

A spokesman for the Church of England said: “The Church of England’s approach has always been clear: marriage is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, and that is what the liturgy of the C of E Marriage Service is exclusively intended for.

“On civil partnerships the Church continues to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships between people of the same sex and, at the same time, to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently.

“Some who register civil partnerships seek recognition of their new situation and pastoral support by asking members of the clergy to provide a blessing for them in the context of an act of worship. The Church expresses what it believes through the liturgy of its worship. As there is no theological consensus about same sex unions, no such liturgy is authorised.”

Mike Judge, a spokesman for The Christian Institute, a campaign group, said: “Churches are open and welcoming to all people, but that is not the same thing as forcing churches to celebrate behaviour which conflicts with their religious ethos. It would be like forcing the Labour Party to celebrate a Conservative election victory. Surely the world is big enough to allow people to be free to disagree.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

US: News Agencies Gagging ‘Gay’ Factor in Boy’s Rape

But coverage beyond bonkers for fake Duke lacrosse assault

Editor’s note: The content of this story is graphic in nature and may be objectionable to some readers.

News coverage of a Duke University official accused of raping his adopted 5-year-old son and offering the child to someone else is apparently lacking what some say is a key piece of information: the fact the alleged perpetrator is a homosexual who lives with another “gay” man.

Frank Lombard, associate director of the Health Inequalities Program at the university’s Center for Health Policy, was arrested last Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C., for attempting to induce someone to cross state lines to engage in sex with the child, who is black.

The arrest affidavit goes into graphic detail of Lombard’s alleged actions, including alleged performance of oral sex with the child in front of a webcam, and sodomizing the boy with his finger and tongue. It also prominently cites the fact that Lombard is a homosexual living with another “gay” man.


An online comment in reaction to the ABC News story mentioned media hypocrisy with the high-profile case of Duke lacrosse players who were wrongly accused of a rape that never happened:

“The Duke lacrosse case was front page news everywhere, professors were signing statements of protest, another professor threatened to resign in protest when the students were readmitted to Duke when found innocent. Could it be the liberal media and professors are as afraid of the gay lobby as Obama is, since this could harm the gay adoption activists?”

Radio host Rush Limbaugh commented today on the apparent double standard, stating, “Did you hear there has been an actual rape at Duke University? An actual rape in Durham, North Carolina. It’s not a phony one. Not a false charge. An actual rape. A guy sold his adopted 5-year-old son to a sex practitioner. A 5-year-old kid, yeah. There’s a problem with this, too, because the guy is gay, a gay adoption.

“This is why you haven’t heard about it. This does not fit the template. A false charge of rape at Duke when you had the poor, black, down-on-her-luck dancer and the rich, white, lacrosse players, oh, that fit the template. They were guilty before any evidence. This you haven’t heard about because this doesn’t fit the template here of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


All the World’s Books to Go Online

The Open Library, a new information-sharing project, aims to create a single web page for every book that has ever been written.

The San-Francisco-based scheme to create a huge searchable catalogue of information about every book in the world already has more than 23 million books in its system and draws information from 19 major libraries.

It also currently links to the text of more than 1 million out-of-copyright titles, and the list is growing.

The Open Library is an arm of the Internet Archive, which aims to keep a historical record of the web for posterity, and currently has just a handful of staff working on its development.

The resource works like a Wikipedia for printed material, allowing anyone to add their own notes to different books or editions.

George Oates, the project leader, told The Guardian it will breathe new life into old books by fetching information from all over the internet and allowing users to engage with the material.

“It’s a locus for the information about a book that’s on the wider web,” she said.

“It’s about sharing information as openly as possible — and that’s really liberating… We’re almost a non-threat to the rest of the web, because we’re not keeping the property.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Canada and Japan Blocking Climate-Change Deal, Sir David King Warns

London Canada and Japan were blocking a possible deal on climate change at the Copenhagen summit, Sir David King, the former Chief Scientific Adviser, warned yesterday.

Speaking at the World Conference of Science Journalists, Sir David said that the two countries had stepped into the breach left by the Bush Administration, which had strongly resisted cutting CO2 emissions.

“Copenhagen is faltering at the moment,” said Sir David. “The Americans are now fully engaged. But several countries are blocking the process.”

Governments previously were able to hide behind the US’s intransigence on climate change, he said, but the pro-climate policies being launched by the Obama administration means this is no longer possible. “The time has come for people to reveal their cards,” he told delegates.

Gordon Brown has said he will be pushing for an agreement at Copenhagen in December which pegs global warming to 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, a widely agreed target among climate scientists. He has committed to cut emissions in the UK by 80 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050.

Canada’s position is widely believed to be driven by its powerful industry lobby, which is keen to exploit oil reserves in the country’s tar sands. “These people are very outspoken, aggressive lobbyists,” said Dr Robert Falkner, a specialist in international relations at the London School of Economics. “They are gung-ho about rising oil prices and want to exploit that.”

The low profile of science in the Canadian and Japanese governments — both countries have recently scrapped the role of chief scientist — is also contributing to their stances, according to Sir David.

A weak agreement at Copenhagen, which committed countries to unambitious cuts, would be worse than no agreement, Sir David said. He argued that in this case, a better alternative would be an ambitious bilateral agreement between China and the US. “If you had the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and Obama on the same stage, together with the EU’s position, this would be a strong move in the right direction,” he said.

In his plenary address, Sir David also announced the World Summit on Enterprise and Environment, which will be held in Oxford from 5-7 July, and is jointly hosted by The Times and the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment. The summit will be attended by several heads of state, Al Gore and Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London.

Canada and Japan were also singled out yesterday in the “Climate Scorecard” assessment of the Group of Eight nations prepared for the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, next week. Canada was ranked worst, both in terms of its emissions and on planned measures to reduce them, according to the study compiled by the environmental group WWF and the German insurance group Allianz.

Canada agreed under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce CO2 emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. But 2007 figures, the latest available, show its emissions were 26.2 per cent higher than in 1990. “They have increasing emissions and absolutely no policies in place,” said Nicholai Tewes, a spokesman for Allianz and one of the report’s authors.

Japan, ranked fifth, has relatively low emissions per capita. But it was faulted for reneging on targets that it had previously set itself.

The US, which was placed last in the 2008 rankings, moves up a place. Although it still accounts for half the total emissions of G8 countries, it was praised for the rapid turnaround in policy. “Obama has done more for climate change in the last six months than the US did in the last three decades,” said Mr Tewes.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

WHO Working on Formulas to Model Swine Flu Spread

GENEVA — The World Health Organization said Wednesday it is working to mathematically model the spread of swine flu in an attempt to better understand how the outbreak developed from a handful of cases to a global epidemic in less than two months.

WHO brought together over 20 independent experts beginning Wednesday for the three-day meeting in Geneva.

“They will be working together to describe and predict the behavior and impact of the pandemic, and demonstrate potential outcomes of proposed intervention efforts,” spokeswoman Aphaluck Bhatiasevi told The Associated Press.

The meeting comes as it becomes clearer that actual case numbers may be far higher than the agency’s tally of officially diagnosed infections.

According to WHO’s latest update Wednesday, a total of 77,201 confirmed cases and 332 deaths have been reported in over 110 countries.

But U.S. health officials said last week the number of Americans infected with the new A(H1N1) virus may be as high as 1 million. The estimate by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention was based on mathematical modeling and surveys by health officials.

“We’re now probably off by orders of magnitude in terms of the real number of cases versus the number of diagnosed cases,” said Andrew Pekosz, a flu expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

In countries where the virus has firmly established, counting individual cases doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the disease anymore, he said.

Still, information about confirmed infections can be fed into mathematical models to predict future developments and detect anomalies.

“A jump from one patient to 60 patients isn’t a concern, but a jump from one to 300 shows you there’s something going on that needs to be looked at carefully,” said Pekosz.

On the other hand, “if you’ve got 100 cases and then week later you’ve got 150, most mathematical models would indicate that either the infection in your country isn’t behaving normally, or you’re not diagnosing all the cases that are occurring.”

WHO’s Bhatiasevi said the experts would be looking not just at case numbers, but also at how many severe infections have occurred and which measures have helped stem the spread of the disease.

This will help WHO advise countries on how to respond to the pandemic and target their supply of anti-viral medication and later vaccines, when those become available.

During the outbreak of SARS in Asia and foot and mouth disease in Britain mathematical models were applied after the event, said Pekosz.

Swine flu may offer the first opportunity to apply the formulas as a pandemic is occurring, he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

3 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/2/2009

  1. More on UK: Book by Former Anti-Terror Chief Andy Hayman Banned From Shops

    Amazon listing

    ITV1 Report, The Terrorist Hunter Monday, 22 June
    Until early 2008 Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman was the most senior policeman in charge of the UK’s counter terrorism policy and operations. He worked directly to the Cabinet and Prime Minister.

    Just five months after taking up his role, suicide bombers struck in the Britain for the first time– leaving 52 dead in the capital. Just two weeks, later he was leading the hunt for 4 more would-be bombers and dealing with the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube.

    In an exclusive interview Sir Trevor McDonald talks to Andy Hayman about his three turbulent years at the Metropolitan Police, the controversies that dogged his tenure and his resignation and fears about future terrorist attacks.

    Andy Hayman’s book The Terrorist Hunter will be an insider’s account of how the police and MI5 are tackling one of the biggest issues facing our society – from the events of July 7 2005 to how the threat needs to be handled in the future.

    7/7: Boulton Speaks To Former Police Chief
    Andy Hayman led Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism operations from 2005 to 2007, including during the July 7th suicide bombings. In his new book ‘The Terrorist Hunters’ he calls for an independent public inquiry into 7/7. He speaks to Sky’s Adam Boulton.

    Sky News video Interview w/ Andy Hayman, June 28, 2009

    ITNnews video report

  2. “It shows how democratic the United States is that they have elected their first non-white president”

    To many, if not most, of the people in “the West”, democracy is measure on the quantity of non whites elected.

    I just never figure why the same people always say that Africa has a lot to improve democratically.

  3. If Jackson were to get a Muslim burial, he should already be buried. Don’t they have a very quick interment, no doubt because their religion and its edicts were invented under the hot desert sun?

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