Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/4/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 7/4/2009First there was “suicide by cop”. Now there’s “suicide by IDF”: a Palestinian woman who suffered domestic abuse tried to commit suicide by approaching an Israeli checkpoint carrying a fake gun. The IDF guards, however, deliberately targeted her lower body, and only wounded her. She is now recovering in an Israeli hospital.

In other news, the Saudi stock market fell precipitously. Also, a Dutch pension fund which owns the rights to some of Michael Jackson’s songs stands to profit in a big way from the singer’s death as sales of his records skyrocket.

Thanks to Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JD, KGS, LP, Paul Green, Zonka, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Pope Urges G-8 Leaders to Rewrite Financial Rules, Defend World’s Poor From Economic Crisis.
Value of Saudi Shares Falls to SR780 Billion
Vatican Runs Deficit Amid Economic Crisis
Harassment of Gays by Somalis Caught on Tape
In Washington, Conservatives Are Never Really ‘In Power’
Islamic Cultural Center Opens in Boston
King of Pop Tried to Buy Octuplets
The Defenders of Liberty
Warning: American Gestapo Ahead
Europe and the EU
America’s Spirit of Freedom Was Born in Arbroath in 1320
Art: ‘I Am You’ In Rome, Wijdan’s Explosion of Colour
Australia Third Happiest Place on Earth
Cardinal Newman Closer to Sainthood
France: Singer Jailed for Forced Abortion
Hungarian Ambassador to America Says Obama Meeting Not Imminent
Hungary: Appeals Court Reaffirms Ban on Magyar Gárda
Insemination: Flamigni, Courts Must Repair Political Mistakes
Italy: Franceschini, Berlusconi Continues to Deny Crisis
Italy: Bari Magistrates Claim Access to Premier’s Residence Was Uncontrolled
Law Enforcement in Hungary
Michael Jackson’s Death Set to Boost Dutch Pension Fund
Northern Ireland: UDA Leader: Loyalists Have a Duty to Inform if They Know Racist Attackers
Sharia Law UK: Mail on Sunday Gets Exclusive Access to a British Muslim Court
Spain Police Foil Radio Control Zeppelin Jailbreak
The Hungarian Guard Demonstrates in Budapest
UK: 2 Fronts Against Islamic Extremists Opened Up Within Britain in 1 Day — Americas Independence Day
UK: Forced Marriage: ‘I Can’t Forgive or Forget What They Did to Me’
UK: F1’s Ecclestone Criticized After Hitler Comments
UK: Govt Defeated on Bill to Clean Up Parliament
UK: Hope for Blindness Cure With Laser Breakthrough
UK: Licence Rebel Prosecuted as BBC Finally Tackles TV Fee ‘Refuseniks’
UK: MI6 Chief Blows His Cover as Wife’s Facebook Account Reveals Family Holidays, Showbiz Friends and Links to David Irving
UK: Police Want Water Cannons to Beat Back City Rioters
UK: Prisoners on Run Cannot be Named ‘Due to Privacy Rights’
UK: Revealed: First Images of Poignant 7/7 Memorial
Israel and the Palestinians
Palestinian Woman Intent on Suicide Wounded by IDF Fire
Middle East
Cabinet Internal Matter, Obama’s Visit to Damascus Conditional on Non-Interference in Lebanon
Defense: Turkey, Germany to Sign Submarine Deal
From Beyond the Grave, Saddam Reveals All (Nearly)
Orthodox Leaders Give Message of Unity in Istanbul
Saudis Outraged by Chinese Dumping Probe: Al-Zamil
‘The Challenge is Not to Save Newspapers, But Journalism’
Turkey: Democracy is at Risk, Says Baykal
Turkish TV Gameshow Looks to Convert Atheists
Turks Encouraged to Vote in Bulgaria
Russia Scolds OSCE for Equating Hitler and Stalin
Gunmen Kill Nine Chechen Police in Russia’s Ingushetia
South Asia
Afghan Civilians Using Mobile Phones Acted as Lookouts for the Taliban
Australia — Pacific
Ibrahim Cops the Jail Shuffle
Sub-Saharan Africa
Crew Onboard Hijacked Ship Are “Desperate”: Report
Latin America
Honduras Coup: Exiled President to Return as Supporters March on Airport
Italy: Failure to Identify Asylum Seekers ‘Immoral’, Fini

Financial Crisis

Pope Urges G-8 Leaders to Rewrite Financial Rules, Defend World’s Poor From Economic Crisis.

[Only one line in article]

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Value of Saudi Shares Falls to SR780 Billion

JEDDAH: After falling 0.17 percent last week, the Saudi stock market continued its downward movement on Saturday.

Petrochemical and banking stocks led the Tadawul All-Share Index (TASI) to a lower close after rising over the previous three sessions.

The index closed 2.35 percent down at 5,467.81 points on Saturday, its lowest close since April 27.

Almost all the sectors across the board were negative with only Cement Sector closing with a gain of 2.36 percent and sector losses ranged from 0.24 percent by Transport to 4.58 percent by Petrochemical Industries. Market breadth was strongly negative, with 21 advancers and 101 decliners posting an AD ratio of 0.21, the Jeddah-based Financial Transaction House said yesterday in its market commentary.

“The market has reacted in line with the continuous decline for the third week of the US and European markets. Even the liquidity remained low at SR4.6 billion with investors taking sidelines before the second quarter earnings reports,” Faisal Alsayrafi, managing director and CEO of FTH, said.

Largest-listed Saudi Basic Industries Corp.(SABIC) shares ended 6.4 percent lower at SR58.5, its lowest close in two months.

Alujain Corporation shares plunged by 5.29 percent to SR18.80, Saudi Kayan Petrochemical Co. by 5.13 percent to SR12.95, Sahara Petrochemical by 5 percent to SR19 and Advanced Polypropylene Co. by 4.23 percent to SR24.90 on Saturday.

Alinma Bank shares also fell 1.14 percent to SR13.05 despite the lender announcing earlier in the day the launch of its banking services. Alinma Bank has opened its first nine branches, including three for women only.

Qassim Cement Co. was the top gainer on Saturday as its shares surged by 9.87 percent to SR128, their highest close since Sept. 3, 2008.

The company plans to offer shareholders one bonus share for each existing one in a bonus capital hike.

According to the Tadawul Statiscal Report — First Half 2009 — at the end of the first half of 2009 TASI closed at 5,596.46 points, lost 3,755.86 points or 40.16 percent over the close of the same period of the previous year.

On an YTD basis TASI registered a positive return of 793.47 points or 16.52 percent. The index closed at its highest level of 6,100.85 points on May 23.

Total equity market capitalization at the end of first half reached SR1.07 trillion ($286.49 billion), down by 39.46 percent over the end of the same period of the previous year.

The total value of shares traded dropped by 39.38 percent to reach SR780.05 billion ($208.01 billion).

However, the total number of shares traded (adjusted) increased by 11.90 percent to 38.07 billion shares for the first half of 2009 compared to 34.02 billion shares traded during the same period of the previous year. The total number of transactions executed declined by 27.59 percent to 22.63 million compared to 31.25 million trades during the first half of the previous year.

Number of trading days during first half of 2009 were 129, against 130 trading during the same period of 2008.

The Tadawul report also said total amount of traded shares in the Saudi stock market for the month of June 2009 was SR149.28 billion, down 30.2 percent from the previous month where the value of the traded shares was SR194.4 billion.

The percentage share of Saudi nationals from the market trades was 92.7 percent (SR138.45 billion) for selling and 91.7 percent (SR136.94 billion) for buying.

The percentage share of Saudi companies from the market trades was 1.87 percent for selling (SR2.79 billion) and 3.06 percent (SR4.57 billion) for buying.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Vatican Runs Deficit Amid Economic Crisis

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said Saturday it ran a deficit in 2008 as its finances and donations from across the world were hit by the global economic crisis.

The Vatican posted a budget deficit for a second straight year, though the figures improved strongly from 2007. The Holy See’s 2008 deficit was around euro0.9 million ($1.28 million), compared with a loss of euro9.06 million a year earlier.

The financial report released Saturday by the Holy See’s press office listed revenues of euro253.9 million and expenses for euro254.8 million.

Most of expenses went to support the activities of Pope Benedict XVI and the Holy See’s offices, especially Vatican Radio and other media divisions, the report said.

It said the separate administration of the Vatican City state was particularly hit by the economic crisis. High costs to restore the Vatican’s cultural treasures and ensure security left the tiny state with a euro15.3 million deficit, after closing 2007 with a euro6.7 million gain.

The Vatican said annual donations from churches worldwide, the so-called Peter’s Pence, were down to almost $75.8 million from $79.8 million in 2007. Leading donors were faithful in the United States, Italy and Germany.

The pope uses the fund to help churches in poor countries and other charitable causes.

The Vatican has published the annual report since 1981, when Pope John Paul II ordered financial disclosure as part of his efforts to debunk the idea that the Vatican is rich.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Harassment of Gays by Somalis Caught on Tape

Approximately 15 youths physically and verbally taunted a gay man as he was leaving Twin Cities Pride in Minneapolis on Saturday, in an incident captured on video.

The Somali youths asked the man if he was gay, and when he responded yes, the young people yelled “I hate gay people” and reportedly threw rocks at the man, whose name is not known.

On the video various youths can be heard saying “I hate gay people” repeatedly, along with “Gay is not the way” and “f**k gay people. They can go f**k each other.”

About one minute into the video, a police officer can be seen walking through the crowd of young people.

The man who was taunted walked away, telling the kids, “See how I’m not scared at all?”

Watch the video below: [see article for video]

           — Hat tip: Paul Green [Return to headlines]

In Washington, Conservatives Are Never Really ‘In Power’

However, Republicans (much less conservatives) are not really in control of the executive branch even when they occupy the White House, something that most people (especially conservatives outside of Washington) do not fully understand.


First, most people do not understand the sheer magnitude of the executive branch. There are almost 3 million federal employees, 99 percent of whom are career civil servants over whom the president has virtually no authority. Seventeen states have fewer citizens than the federal government has bureaucrats. There are only a few thousand positions within the federal government that are subject to “noncompetitive appointment,” i.e., positions that the president can fill through political patronage. Among these are 1,137 positions that can be filled by presidential appointment with Senate confirmation; 320 positions subject to presidential appointment without confirmation; and 701 positions in the Senior Executive Service (the top level of managers within the federal ranks) that can be filled by non-career appointments.

As these numbers illustrate, it is the career civil servants who pull the millions of levers of power, not the few political appointees at the top of every agency. It is very difficult for the appointees to even keep track of the policies being implemented by the career staff, much less change them.

This would not be a problem if the career ranks were really filled with nonpartisan individuals (as the New York Times unwaveringly claims) who impartially carried out the policies of the president. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. From the State Department, to the Central Intelligence Agency, to the Department of Justice, and every agency in between, career employees are overwhelmingly partisan liberals, just like in the media and academic worlds. As Richard Perle has eloquently said, when George Bush tried to pull the levers of government, he never realized that they were disconnected from the machinery and the exertion was largely futile. The bureaucracies of these agencies have their own policies and they largely ignored President Bush’s directives and his political appointees, a problem President Obama will not have.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Islamic Cultural Center Opens in Boston

BOSTON: “It’s a wonderful monument,” said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in his taped remarks played at the opening of a new large mosque at Roxbury Crossing here last week. “I’m so proud to stand with all of you,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

The mosque marks the 68,000 square foot Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), designed by Dr. Sami Angawi, and pioneered by Dr. Walid Fitaihi, member of the board of trustees of ICC and chairman of the board of trustees and CEO of Jeddah-based International Medi-cal Center. Dr. Osama Kandeel and the first Muslim in the US Congress, Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, besides hundreds of Muslims were among those present.

Ellison said: “This mosque shows the greatness of our country, where people of all faiths and all backgrounds can make their own little place in the sun, and it shows the rest of the world that religious tolerance is the right way to go,” he said.

Dr. Fitaihi said: “Today, what we see is the birth of the interfaith dialogue approach emphasized by the American administration and presented in the Qur’an.”

The ICC features accommodation for up to 3,000 worshippers and its first phase plan includes a library and an interfaith center, gift shops, halls for cultural and educational activities, conference and office spaces, an underground parking, a 135-ft minaret, a computer lab, and facilities for washing and burial of the dead. Its second phase will include a school with 17 classrooms.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

King of Pop Tried to Buy Octuplets

MICHAEL JACKSON tried to adopt all of Nadya Suleman’s octuplets just a few months before he died.

He offered the penniless mother cash in return for her babies and promised they “wouldn’t need for anything”.

Ms Suleman’s publicist Victor Munoz confirmed the singer had offered to take care of the children but that he had turned down the “creepy” offer on her behalf.

Michael Jackson goes viral

Videos from throughout Michael Jackson’s lengthy music career and tributes to the artist dominate this week’s Viral Video Chart.

“When the person on the end of the line said, ‘Hi, it’s Michael Jackson,’ I was a bit taken aback. Michael wanted to know how the babies were, how Nadya was coping.

“He then said he could take care of the children if Nadya couldn’t. He was basically offering to buy the children.

“Michael clearly thought Nadya was unfit and decided he wanted to help those children.”

Jackson had three kids of his own: Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11, and seven-year-old Prince Michael II, known as Blanket. According to London’s Daily Mirror, Jackson said to Mr Munoz: “Blanket would love to have more siblings. I could take care of all the babies. They could live with me and wouldn’t need for anything.”

The paper claimed Jackson had seen footage of 33-year-old Ms Suleman’s IVF octuplets — Maliyah, Jonah, Isaiah, Nariyah, Jeremiah, Makai, Josiah and Noah — and become concerned that she was going to put them up for adoption. Ms Suleman, who already had six children, had admitted on American network television that she was struggling with the octuplets.

Mr Munoz said he was initially called by Jackson’s aides. “The man asked how Nadya was holding up, how the children were, and said that his client wanted to help.”

Then he was called from a man who said he was Jackson’s attorney. “This guy was asking about the family. I realised they were trying to become friendly.”

Then Jackson called. “Afterwards I went on to YouTube to listen to Michael Jackson’s voice. I couldn’t believe he had called me directly,” he said.

“He made it clear he wanted to adopt them. He sounded genuine. He was genuinely concerned about the children. But I just blew it off. I knew Nadya would never want to get rid of her kids so it wasn’t important.”

There was a final call from an aide. “This guy was really giving me the sales pitch. He told me Michael could make Nadya happy; he said she would be compensated.”

Mr Munoz said he never told Ms Suleman about the calls.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

The Defenders of Liberty

Editor’s note: Following is the winning entry submitted in WorldNetDaily’s Independence Day tea party speech contest.

Fastened upon our ancestors by the despots of faraway lands, the Chains of Tyranny were linked by hereditary bondage, undeserved tribute and indentured servitude. By exhibiting gallant resolve and courage — in some cases against the face of certain death — our Minutemen forefathers gloriously threw off these chains just 233 short years ago.

Much has changed since that time. Yet today, we hear again the rattling and clanking of the Chains of Tyranny. The chains we hear are held not by foreign powers. Dreadfully, it is those among us, many of whom are our elected leaders, who possess the chains and toil endlessly to cast them across our backs. Now heavier and longer, the Chains of Tyranny have been wrought with new links — apathy masked by complacency, socialism fueled by internationalism, cults of undeserved celebrity and a reckless belief in the equality of results.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Warning: American Gestapo Ahead

Just as American independence was foreshadowed by a tea party in Boston, America’s new independence is foreshadowed by tea parties across the nation. There is more evidence that a new declaration is being drafted. Currently, 36 states have approved or are considering some form of state sovereignty resolution. Several states are following Montana’s example, enacting laws that defy federal intervention. More than a dozen states have enacted or are considering legislation that prohibits the federal government from imposing a mandatory National Animal Identification System. These are symptoms of a society that is dissatisfied with the long train of abuses government continues to inflict upon it.

As the modern-day freedom fighters begin to organize and strategize, the government chooses not to reform, but to entrench and expand its control over the people.

The similarity is remarkable, between the rise of the Democratic Socialist Party now in control of Washington and the rise of the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany in the 1930s.


Now here’s another similarity: nationalization of law enforcement. H.R. 675, sponsored by Democrat Rep. Bob Filner, was introduced to:

“Provide police officers, criminal investigators, and game law enforcement officers of the Department of Defense with the authority to execute warrants, make arrests, and carry firearms.”

Why do employees of the Department of Defense need the authority to execute warrants, make arrests and carry firearms? When the bill was introduced, Filner said: “We need to ensure that federal, state and local law enforcement are able to work together to apprehend criminals and to prevent and solve crimes.”

The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act explicitly prohibits the Department of Defense from involvement in state and local law enforcement activities. The feds have the FBI to investigate federal crimes and the Justice Department to prosecute federal crimes. Waco and Ruby Ridge are good examples of federal law enforcement. And the land management agencies have gun-totin’ enforcement officers to prevent tourists from picking up arrowheads on federal property. Why do we need to authorize the secretary of defense to arm another domestic police force?

Take a clue from the authorities granted by the bill:

  • To execute and serve warrants;
  • To make arrests without warrants;
  • To carry firearms;
  • To enforce federal laws enacted to protect persons or property;
  • To prevent breaches of the peace and suppress affrays or unlawful assemblies. …

There are other authorities, but let’s focus on this last one: “To prevent breaches of the peace and suppress affrays or unlawful assemblies.” What is an unlawful assembly? Any assembly that is not authorized by government is unlawful. Should an irate society decide to hold a tea party even if government refused to authorize it, then there must be a reliable federal law enforcement army to “suppress” the unlawful assembly. Local police cannot be trusted to “suppress” an assembly of their neighbors.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

America’s Spirit of Freedom Was Born in Arbroath in 1320

New book reveals a direct link between Robert the Bruce and the Declaration of Independence

It’s well known to every schoolchild, and drummed in to every tourist, that the Scots invented everything worth having, from the tea-towel to television. There’s a roll-call of scientists, doctors, writers and engineers who changed the world to an extent out of kilter with Scotland’s population. But a book by an American historian, published this weekend, has made the startling claim that Scotland also invented democracy and the American dream.

Linda MacDonald-Lewis hopes that Warriors and Wordsmiths of Freedom: The Birth and Growth of Democracy will bring an understanding on both sides of the Atlantic of the true debt Americans owe to the Scots.

The daughter of a Scot who divides her time between America and Scotland, MacDonald-Lewis believes the Declaration of Independence, the charter that laid out the early principles of democracy in the United States, was not based on a model from the ancient Greeks or the Magna Carta as is widely believed, but was in fact based on the 14th-century Declaration of Arbroath.

“It’s time to highlight these links much more widely and in language people can understand,” she said. “If Americans want to understand their history, they need to look to Scotland, because that is where their ideals come from. And Scots should look across the Atlantic to see where their homegrown doctrines and ideas have been most fully embraced.”

Presented to the pope in 1320 to confirm Scotland’s status under Robert the Bruce as a state with an ancient constitution, and to reject any English claim of sovereignty, the declaration drawn up at Arbroath Abbey formalised the idea of equality for all. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 was written to reject the British rule.

MacDonald-Lewis believes the similarities between the cries of freedom in both documents are a deliberate move by America’s founding fathers — half of those who signed the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish ancestry. Robert the Bruce, meanwhile, was the first ruler in Europe to be brought to power by a system recognisable as modern democracy, by “due consent and assent of us all”.

Speaking from Oregon, she told the Observer she believed Americans should have been toasting Scotland at their 4 July celebrations yesterday.

“A lot of Scots who had to leave Scotland after the failed Jacobite rebellion ended up dying on American battlefields, fighting the same enemy on a different field.

“The research I have done tracing these stories has really joined up a lot of dots in the intertwining histories of these two great nations. I found out only recently that George Washington treasured a snuff box that he had been given made from a piece of wood cut from the tree where William Wallace hid from the English at Falkirk.

Academics have previously linked America’s founding fathers to the Scottish enlightenment that was ongoing during the drafting of the US charter. Gordon Brown’s favourite historian, US academic Gertrude Himmelfarb, had written that Thomas Jefferson and other key figures studied the enlightenment’s leaders, such as Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, who were making a worldwide impact at a time when, as Voltaire, the French defender of civil liberties, said: “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”

Spot the difference

“As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Declaration of Arbroath, 6 April 1320

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Art: ‘I Am You’ In Rome, Wijdan’s Explosion of Colour

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JUNE 1 — An explosion of colour and transparency, with a skilful use of calligraphy, in an attempt to portray the metaphysical side of love. This is the essence of ‘I am You’, princess Wijdan Al Hashemi’s one-woman show. The princess is Jordan’s ambassador in Italy. The exhibition opened in the last few days at the LipanjePuntin gallery in Rome. The theme of the exhibition, which is curated by Khalid Khreis, is love, which, as the princess herself says “represents a constant and sublime source of inspiration”. In harmony with Sufi thought (the mystic branch of Islam) and in an attempt to capture the profound essence of the relationship between human beings and their surroundings, in her second one-woman show in Rome, the artist plays with the concept of ‘you are me’, which “according to Sufism means the unity between the lover and the loved, whether it be God, a person, or nature”. While she does not belong to this branch of religion, the ambassador says that she admires its message: “I wish I was part of it. The Sufi brotherhood has managed to obtain the highest form of love through their acceptance of everything, without caring about religious differences, or differences in look, strength or weakness”. In the exhibition the Hashemite princess, who describes herself as a calligraphic artist and not a calligrapher, works on two different levels of the written word: its form and its meaning. The continuous repetition and overwriting remind us of Sema, the ecstatic dance of the Mevlevi dervishes. In all the works and in the central installation ‘Banners of faith, banners of love’, Wijdan Al Hashemi uses materials which recall the far East, such as rice and mulberry paper. Part of the world of art for more than forty years, with a doctorate in the history of Islamic art at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, the Jordanian princess says she is pleased with the attention being paid now by the West to contemporary Islamic art. “In the 1980s and 1990s nobody was interested in the artistic output of the Arab countries. Only in the last decade of last century and even more in this first part of the twenty-first century has the world begun to notice the East”, she says. In 1979 the ambassador founded the Royal Society of Fine Arts in Jordan, “a place where Arabic artists and artists from all the developing countries can exhibit their work, without prejudice or discrimination”. Profoundly convinced that Art is the right way to recover dialogue between the West and the Arab world which broke down after September 11, the princess doesn’t hide her wish to organise another show in Italy, but says that “it is still too soon”. The ambassador has worked over the years to found the opening in 1980 of the National Art Gallery of Jordan in Amman, as well as the School of Art and Design at the University of Jordan, where she is president, in 2002. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Australia Third Happiest Place on Earth

Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth, and one of the most environmentally friendly, according to a new survey by a British non-governmental group, which puts Australia in third place.

The New Economics Foundation looked at 143 countries that are home to 99 per cent of the world’s population and devised an equation that weighs life expectancy and people’s happiness against their environmental impact.

By that formula, Costa Rica is the happiest, greenest country in the world, just ahead of the Dominican Republic.

Latin American countries did well in the survey, occupying nine of the top 10 spots.

Australia scored third place, but other major Western nations did poorly, with Britain coming in at 74th place and the United States at 114th.

The New Economics Foundation’s measurements found Costa Ricans have a life expectancy of 78.5 years, and 85 per cent of the country’s residents say they are happy and satisfied with their lives.

Those figures, taken along with the fact that Costa Rica has a small “ecological footprint”, combined to push the small nation to the top of the list.

A 2006 New Economics Foundation study designated Vanuatu the world’s happiest nation, with Costa Rica at second place.

Sociologist Andrea Fonseca said Costa Rica gives its citizens the “tools” to be happy, but cautioned that happiness cannot be calculated just by looking at life expectancy and environmental practices.

She added that the country’s rise to the top of the Happy Planet Index “has a lot to do with social imagination”.

Costa Rica has a peaceful reputation because it does not have an army, and is also known for its protected ecological zones and national slogan “pure life”, she said.

           — Hat tip: LP [Return to headlines]

Cardinal Newman Closer to Sainthood

Great Anglican convert to be beatified

(ANSA) — Vatican City, July 3 — The best-known English churchman of the 19th century moved a step closer to sainthood Friday when Pope Benedict XVI approved the publication of a miracle attributed to him.

The pope’s rubberstamp means Cardinal John Henry Newman is to be beatified, one move away from becoming England’s first saint from the last four centuries.

An English deacon said he recovered from an incurable back ailment in 2001 thanks to Newman’s intercession. No date has been set for the beatification, which the Catholic Church in England has been eagerly awaiting.

English bishops recently suggested the pope could attend the beatification when he takes up British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s invitation to visit the United Kingdom.

At a February audience with Benedict, Brown invited him to make what would be the first papal visit to Britain in almost 30 years.

In 1982 Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, became the first pope to visit since Henry VII broke from Rome in 1534. Cardinal Newman, an Anglican priest and thinker who caused immense controversy in Victorian England by converting to Catholicism, was once described by John Paul as “that great man of God”.

Newman, who died in 1890, started on the long process leading to sainthood in 1958. He achieved the first stage of being declared venerable in 1991 but then things ground to a halt.

Despite his fame, and the reverence in which he was held by English-speaking Catholics, Newman’s promoters were unable to find a credible case to present to the Vatican — until a deacon in Newman’s long-time home of Birmingham, Jack Sullivan, came forward. According to Catholic doctrine, miracles happen when a prospective saint, who is in heaven, intercedes with God and asks for a special favour to be granted. Most miracles in sainthood causes are medically inexplicable cures.

Pope Benedict is believed by some to be in favour of hastening Newman on the path to sainthood.

“The cause is likely to be close to Benedict’s heart because he has been a fan of Newman since his student days,” said an author of a recent book on Newman and Benedict, Peter Jennings. Jennings cited a speech given by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1991.

In the speech the cardinal recalled starting his seminarian studies in 1946 and discussing theology and philosophy with a close friend. “Newman was always present to us,” he said.

John Henry Newman, the son of a banker, was born in 1801 in London and was ordained as a Church of England priest in 1825. He rapidly became one of the country’s leading intellectuals.

In 1833, after a trip to Sicily in which he fell gravely ill, he returned to England and started the Oxford Movement, which aimed to breathe new life into the Church of England.

His ideas caused controversy in the late 1830s and he retired from public life. In 1845 he converted to Roman Catholicism and lost many friends as a result.

After his ordination in Rome, Newman founded the Birmingham Oratory, a Catholic community and school in the English Midlands, through which he helped the poor.

He later moved to Dublin, where he founded University College. In 1879, he was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, as a tribute to his work and devotion to his faith.

Apart from a group of English Catholic martyrs, who were canonised in 1970, Cardinal Newman would be the first English saint from the time after the Reformation, the 16th century movement which resulted in the birth of Protestant churches.

Two Englishmen, Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, were declared saints in 1935 but they both lived in the 16th century.

Aside from his beatification prospects, Newman has claimed headlines lately after Birmingham religious authorities ordered his grave in a suburb of the city to be opened so he could be moved to the Oratory.

The media reported controversy about Newman being “taken away” from his long-time friend, fellow convert Ambrose St.John, who was buried with him.

But no remains were found in the decayed wooden coffin.

The Catholic church has reacted angrily to claims that Newman was gay.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France: Singer Jailed for Forced Abortion

The Algerian singer Cheb Mami has been sentenced to five years in a French prison after being found guilty of forcing an attempted abortion on his former lover. The 42-year-old star of Algeria’s popular rai music, whose real name is Mohamed Khelifati, was arrested on his arrival in France on Monday night, having fled to Algeria two years ago.

Known globally for “Desert Rose”, a duet with pop star Sting in 2000, he was charged with arranging for his then-partner, a French photographer, to be lured to Algiers in August 2005, a few days after she told him she was pregnant. She was then abducted, drugged by a tranquiliser slipped into her orange juice and taken to have an abortion. After the attack, when the victim returned to France, she realised she was still pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl in March 2006. During the trial, Mami said he had done “wrong” but did not express clear regret and did not speak to his former partner.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Hungarian Ambassador to America Says Obama Meeting Not Imminent

It may take weeks or months for the Obama administration to make a decision concerning a possible meeting between the US President and Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai in Washington, as suggested by the Hungarian side, Ferenc Somogyi, Hungary’s ambassador to the US, told MTI on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the American Hungarian Federation appealed in a letter to Barack Obama not to receive Bajnai before Hungary’s next election, lest it should be interpreted as US support for the current “interim” government and the minority ruling Socialists.

“The incumbent Hungarian government was formed in accordance with constitutional norms; there is nothing that would exclude ties between the two countries at appropriate levels,” Somogyi said.

The ambassador said that no reservations had been voiced by the US side when Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Balazs conveyed a letter from Bajnai which raised the possibility of a meeting with the US President.

Somogyi added that the mid-June meeting between Balazs and his US counterpart Hillary Clinton had been a sign of Washington’s acceptance of the Hungarian government. “I don’t assume the US has reservations; they could have refused to receive the Hungarian foreign minister after all,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Hungary: Appeals Court Reaffirms Ban on Magyar Gárda

A Budapest court of appeal on Thursday issued a legally binding ruling banning the Hungarian Guard, the uniformed arm of the radical nationalist party Jobbik.

The decision applies to the Hungarian Guard Cultural Association for the Preserving of Traditions.

The appellate court upheld a decision of December 2007, not long after the Guard’s first of a series of anti-Roma marches in Tatarszetgyorgy, a village in central Hungary, which later became known for the murder of a Roma man and his young son and other anti-Roma violence.

Today’s decision rules that the Guard’s activities overstepped its rights as an association and curtailed liberties of the Roma, both of which justify its banning.

Jobbik registered the Magyar Garda in June 2007 as a cultural organisation to “prepare youth spiritually and physically for extraordinary situations when it might be necessary to mobilise the people.” Guard members wear black uniforms and regularly hold military-style training.

Orban Kolompar, chairman of the National Gypsy Authority, welcomed the court’s decision. He told MTI that the binding ruling was good for Roma and the whole country.

“The sober mind has won, and so has democracy, the Roma and the whole country,” he said.

Kolompar said he trusted that the court had seen that the Guard’s activities had harmed the Roma and the whole of society.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Insemination: Flamigni, Courts Must Repair Political Mistakes

(AGI) — Rome, July 1 — This is not the first time that a court issues a sensible ruling. In effects for some time courts have been amending political mistakes, unless there is a terrible conspiracy against Mrs. Roccella. Gynaecologist and father of the ‘test tube’ Carlo Flamigni stated as much about an order issued by the court of Bologna which provided for the application of artificial insemination even to fertile couples that already have children, but ones born with serious illnesses, in order to select embryos and decide which will be used and which will be frozen. Flamigni added that “Courts are using a lot of common sense to what politicians are incapable of doing, i.e. use common sense”. The Bologna ruling in effects ‘rewrites’ Law no. 40, opening it up to couples that are not sterile (the law limits access to insemination techniques exclusively to sterile couples) and also to the pre-implant diagnosis which is required in order to select healthy embryos.

Flamigni emphasised that “We were expecting an order of this type: we had been requesting a review based exclusively and solely on common sense for some time now”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Franceschini, Berlusconi Continues to Deny Crisis

(AGI) — Norcia (Perugia), 3 Jul. — “This way of dealing with the crisis is intolerable.” This is how Dario Franceschini, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, has commented on Silvio Berlusconi’s description of the economic situation of Italy. He was speaking at the ‘Fourth Phase’ association meeting. “In the face of millions of families and businesses that are calling for urgent measures, the PM continues with his attitude which minimises and denies the problem. He continues to intimidate publishers and journalists, and international bodies. We can’t take this anymore. The government has a duty to act,” pointed out Franceschini, repeating the measures proposed by the Democratic Party. “Continuing to deny the crisis and look the other way is unacceptable: it’s a slap in the face of the Italians.”

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Bari Magistrates Claim Access to Premier’s Residence Was Uncontrolled

Women allegedly recruited in Milan, Padua, Bologna, Lecce and Barletta. De Nicolò’s role as “recruiter”

BARI — The women who went into Palazzo Grazioli were not subject to controls of any kind. The claim was made to Bari magistrates by the women themselves, who were paid to attend parties. Now the magistrates have said that access to Silvio Berlusconi’s residence was “uncontrolled”. The public prosecutor’s office has said that this is “very worrying” and investigators are now looking into whether other guests, apart from Patrizia D’Addario and her friends, could have taken photographs or made recordings inside the premier’s Via del Plebiscito home. Inquiries are focusing on “other episodes of prostitution” with call girls that businessman Gianpaolo Tarantini is alleged to have involved in the events. But Tarantini was not the only “recruiter”.

Magistrates ascribe a key role in supplying women to Bari-born but Milan-based Terri De Nicolò, 40, who is also under investigation for the same offences. Investigators in Lombardy will have the task of reconstructing Ms De Nicolò’s network, her contacts and the money paid to bring the women to Rome and to Mr Berlusconi’s Villa Certosa residence in Sardinia. The list of names and circumstances to be investigated is growing longer. Barbara Montereale, who went to Palazzo Grazioli for the first time on 4 November, said she also went to Sardinia in mid January and found many other women there. “Berlusconi gave me 10,000 euros”, she added. Then there was the Christmas holiday and New Year’s Party attended by Noemi Letizia with her friend Roberta with at least twenty other female guests. The women are alleged to have been recruited in Milan, Padua, Bologna, Lecce and Barletta. It is certain that one of the women who confirmed that she had been paid to go to Palazzo Grazioli asked investigating magistrates for permission to leave the country “for a while, because I fear for my safety”.

Mr Tarantini denies that the money the women were paid was a fee, claiming that it was merely to cover expenses, but the public prosecutor’s office insists that what emerges from the phone taps, and has been confirmed by the women themselves, paints a very different picture. Allegedly, several women have admitted they accepted 500 euros. The first time that Patrizia D’Addario went to Palazzo Grazioli, on 15 October 2008, she agreed on 2,000 euros but said that she actually received “only 1,000 euros because I didn’t stay”. The dossier reveals Mr Tarantini as a man who is fascinated by power and looking in particular to ensure the prosperity of his companies through relations with national and local politicians. Several phone calls involve Alessandro Frisullo of the Democratic Party (PD), the vice president of the regional authority and councillor with responsibility for industry. The two are believed to have discussed events the women were to attend. Mr Tarantini is also thought to have invited Mr Frisullo to a residence where private parties were organised.

Inquiries currently under way concern the kickbacks Mr Tarantini is alleged to have paid to secure contracts. The suspicion is that he covered up his role by financing various events. The Guardia di Finanza is checking whether he paid for a pre-election dinner in Bari at the end of March 2008, when parliamentary candidates were presented. The event is also believed to have been attended by the owners of several companies involved in pharmaceuticals, the sector in which Mr Tarantini operated with Tecnohospital. Mr Frisullo was also present, as was — briefly — Massimo D’Alema, who however has no knowledge of Gianpaolo Tarantini. Today, Patrizia D’Addario will hand over six more audiocassettes of her recordings to the Guardia di Finanza. Sources in the public prosecutor’s office say that Ms D’Addario’s version has already been corroborated.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Law Enforcement in Hungary

A local paper (Somogyi HÃrlap) asked its readers which organization they trust more, the Hungarian police force or the Hungarian Guard. Eighty percent opted for the latter. Of course, this is not a representative sample but it says a lot about the radicalization of Hungarians and the lack of respect accorded the Hungarian police. I might add that this sudden concern over the lack of security and the alleged growth of criminal activities is somewhat surprising because in reality crime hasn’t increased of late. On the contrary, in the last few years it has substantially decreased in all categories. However, the public thinks otherwise. This has been especially true in the last two years.

Perhaps it started with the brutal murder of a school teacher in Olaszliszka who inadvertently hit a child who ran in front of his car. Nothing happened to the child but the extended Roma family attacked him and in front of his two daughters beat him to death. (See “Verdict in Olaszliszka [Hungary] murder,” May 30, 2009) And the public’s perception of a “crime wave” was further reinforced in February 2009 when a well known handball player, Marian Cozma, was stabbed to death, also by Gypsies. These two terrible incidents further inflamed the intense anti-Gypsy sentiment among the population. According to several opinion polls about 80% of Hungarians have very negative opinions of Gypsies whose situation has become close to hopeless in the last twenty years, ever since the mammoth Hungarian state factories where they worked mostly as unskilled workers closed their doors. They live in villages where work is practically nonexistent and in any case they are widely discriminated against in the job market. Large families live on state assistance and some of them help themselves to the possessions of their neighbors. These are petty crimes that the police refuse to investigate. According to the rules and regulations, if the value of the loss is less than 20,000 Ft (â‚73 or $100) the police simply don’t bother. However, some old folks in a God-forsaken village somewhere in northeast Hungary don’t consider the disappearance of a few chickens or a piglet a small thing at all. They naively think that if the mayor of the village calls in the Hungarian Guard and the Guard frightens the living daylights out of the Gypsies, then the thieves will be afraid to repeat their evil deeds. Problem solved. Well, we know it is not that simple.

There used to be all sorts of cruel police jokes in Kádár’s Hungary about the inordinate stupidity of Hungarian policemen. Today the requirements for admission to the force are much higher. I wrote earlier about the woes of the Hungarian police force and gave a detailed description of the educational background necessary to become a police officer. (“The Hungarian police force,” March 1, 2009) In fact, the training program for candidates is unusually long. Two solid years. I checked a few police academies in this country and found that they demand only 15-20 weeks of training. Whether Hungarians need two years to become a police officer I don’t know. Most likely not.

There are also lots of complaints that there are not enough police, but as far as I know there are over 42,000 employees of the Hungarian police force, which is considered to be more than adequate. However, looking at the Magyar Statisztikai ZsebkÃnyv (Hungarian Statistical Handbook), I ascertained that about 10,000 of these people are not policemen but civil servants who sit at their desks all day long. Another problem is that according to rules and regulations all police, even traffic cops, must serve in pairs. This is not the case in most other countries. Thus the number of cops on the beat might actually be quite low. However, there is something called “polgárÅ’rség” (citizen guards) who are supposed to assist the police in patroling public places. I think in the United Kingdom they are called “police civilians.” These people are volunteers who receive no remuneration. Their number is high: 88,000. The police chief is now considering the option of allowing a citizen guard to replace one of the two policemen patroling the streets or checking traffic violations. There are some people who would further raise the number of citizen guards and make them salaried employees. The police leadership is also thinking of enticing retired policemen to reenter the force. A Hungarian police officer can retire at a relatively early age with a handsome pension. Most of them also work in their “retirement” at well paying jobs, and therefore my feeling is that it will be difficult to convince them to return to full time work for the Hungarian police where salaries are low.

In my earlier blog I mentioned an article written by two law professors specializing in law enforcement who argued that the centralized Hungarian police system is an impediment to good police work on the local level. A policeman should be a native of the town or village where he serves. Moreover, local authorities know the law enforcement needs of the locality better than someone sitting in Budapest. So the Hungarian police force should be completely reorganized. I can’t quite see the current top brass, the Országos RendÅ’rfÅ’kapitányság (National Police Chief Captaincy), giving up all its powers and passing them on to local—municipal and county—authorities. However, perhaps a combination of the two systems might work. Apparently the legal foundation for establishing such a system is already in place. In the 1990 law establishing local governments there is half a sentence about “keeping order in public places” as one of the duties of local governments. That provision, according to some people, including the police chief, might enable local authorities to establish their own police force with some central financial assistance. The name would be “települési Å’rség,” meaning simply municipal police, but Fidesz immediately labelled them “Red Guards” which is, of course, total nonsense. Especially since most of the localities are in Fidesz hands or in the hands of the so-called “independents” about whom I just wrote.

How do Hungarian policemen strike visitors? Their uniform is a bit casual but this seems to be the trend everywhere. I read somewhere that even in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago helmets were exchanged for baseball caps in certain localities. So it is not the baseball cap that is the problem. The uniform doesn’t look half bad on the attached picture. On the streets, however, they look shabby. I don’t know how many uniforms they get and who is in charge of their laundering but their clothes look crumpled. Moreover, the cops don’t set a good example by smoking on duty and throwing cigarette butts on the pavement. Perhaps policemen shouldn’t look like the military, with perfectly pressed uniforms and shined shoes or boots. But somehow they don’t look like professional crime fighters; their uniform looks more like that of an unkempt FedEx driver.

By the way, when I was looking at the web site of Kiskunlacháza the other day, I discovered that in that town of 9,000 there was no resident policeman prior to the murder of the fourteen-year-old local girl. The enterprising mayor immediately demanded and received a police force—eight policemen and a police car as well. Whether crime statistics warrant such a large force I have no idea. (As a point of comparison I live in a town of 4,500 last year voted “the best little town in Connecticut”; we have no local police, only one resident state trooper.)

And one more related topic. József Bencze, the national police chief, has an entirely different interpretation of yesterday’s verdict in the Hungarian Guard case from István LÃvétei who spoke yesterday on József Orosz’s program. Bencze, who has a law degree, in consultation with constitutional lawyers came to the conclusion that the police have the right to disperse members of the dissolved Hungarian Guard if they appear in uniform. Tomorrow might be the first test case. Earlier a group of extremists applied for a permit to demonstrate on July 4 in front of parliament to protest the arrest of GyÃrgy Budaházy, the alleged mastermind behind the Arrows of Hungarians. The police refused to grant permission, claiming that such a demonstration would impede the work of the legislators. However, that didn’t deter the organizers, who are still planning to demonstrate. The members of the Hungarian Guard, fuming over yesterday’s verdict, are planning to join them. In fact, they are organizing the protest on their website. The Hungarian police also made clear on their website that they will disperse any such demonstration; see .

The police chief sounded very determined. One had the feeling that yesterday’s verdict emboldened the Hungarian police who in the last few years had become completely demoralized. What will happen tomorrow? Hard to predict. I didn’t particularly like the comments accompanying the article that appeared in Népszabadság about tomorrow’s “non-demonstration.” They were belligerent and ugly. They predicted civil war. However, I’m an optimistic sort. Most likely that the police will defend the square in front of parliament with a very large force and perhaps some of the extremists will think twice before going against them. And if not, and if they are injured in any way, they will soon have their spokeswoman in Brussels in the person of Krisztina Morvai.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Michael Jackson’s Death Set to Boost Dutch Pension Fund

ABP, a Dutch pension fund, looks set to benefit from the surge in the sale of Michael Jackson music following the star’s death.

The huge boom in popularity of the King of Pop’s music has boosted pension fund ABP, which owns the rights to a number of of Michael Jackson songs.

ABP bought two music catalogues last year, including the rights to some Michael Jackson songs like You Are Not Alone, according to the website of Imagem Music Group, which manages the music assets for ABP.

“There are always certain songs that for whatever reason, in this case tragic, suddenly become very popular. The last fact is a basis for the investment,” said an ABP spokesman.

ABP total portfolio of music rights is understood to have to returned about 8pc annually, although there are no figures for Michael Jackson alone. Each time a CD is sold, or a radio station plays a song ABP owns, the fund makes money.

ABP bought its pop music portfolio for â‚140m (£120m) last year from Universal Music Group, while it paid £126m pounds for the classical music portfolio of private equity firm Hg Capital.

Jackson’s solo album sales in the United States jumped from 10,000 copies in the week before his death to 422,000 in the week ended June 28, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

In the week of his death, the best-selling track was Thriller at 167,000 copies, while the top-selling album was Number Ones at 108,000.

ABP also holds the rights to pop artists such as Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and the Kaiser Chiefs.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Northern Ireland: UDA Leader: Loyalists Have a Duty to Inform if They Know Racist Attackers

The leader of the largest loyalist terror group in Northern Ireland has urged his members and all other loyalists to inform on racists attacking migrant workers.

Jackie McDonald, head of the Ulster Defence Association, said loyalists should hand over the names of anyone they believed was behind the recent wave of racist attacks in Belfast.

In an interview with the Observer, McDonald also said that even a large terrorist outrage by dissident republicans would not halt the UDA’s progress towards disarming. Last weekend, the UDA confirmed it had started decommissioning its weapons.

Talking about racism and the recent intimidation of more than 100 Romanians who were driven out of Belfast, McDonald said: “If they [loyalists] know anything about any crime — racism, sectarianism, drug-dealing — then tell the police.” Asked if that meant the UDA was instructing its members to inform on racist gangs to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, McDonald replied: “Yes, certainly, tell the police.”

The former UDA prisoner, who has played a central role in pushing the paramilitary movement towards disarmament, said he believed many of those behind the racist attacks were teenagers seeking publicity. “It has to be understood that these are kids. I don’t see any evidence they are being directed by people in any structured way.

“If we had been asked by authorities to sort this problem out, we would have gone to these young people and explained the folly of their ways, to tell them they were doing wrong and not to do it any more.” He attributed much of the problem to the changing nature of events in Northern Ireland. “All of a sudden, these young people went from being nobodies to being world famous. So they are saying to themselves: ‘We were world-famous last week, am I nobody this week? What can I do to be world-famous next week?’ It’s the media frenzy that’s going to make them cause more problems.”

The UDA’s overall commander lives in south Belfast, which includes the epicentre of the latest racist attacks. Last weekend around 100 Roma men, women and children left Northern Ireland via Dublin airport and returned to Romania. They said they had no choice, because of repeated intimidation and attacks on their homes in south Belfast.

McDonald said he did not want to see far-right groups filling the vacuum left by paramilitaries in loyalist areas.

On the subject of decommissioning, McDonald said he wanted to see all UDA weapons put beyond use so “everybody can get to some sort of normality, and the police can get on with their job”.

Sir Hugh Orde, the former chief constable, has warned that the threat of dissident republican terror remains high within Northern Ireland. However, McDonald said he believed the UDA would continue to decommission ahead of the British government’s August deadline, even if the Real IRA and Continuity IRA intensify their terror campaign.

“The UDA has started this process with General de Chastelain [head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning] and they have honoured what they said they would do. I would hope we will see full UDA decommissioning by the end of August.

“I don’t know if it [a republican attack] would put us off our path. It would severely test attitudes in the street because there was an awful lot of effort had to go in to not reacting after the two soldiers were shot, and the policeman was shot in March.”

If we had been asked by authorities to sort this problem out, we would have gone to these young people and explained the folly of their ways, to tell them they were doing wrong and not to do it any more.” He attributed much of the problem to the changing nature of events in Northern Ireland. “All of a sudden, these young people went from being nobodies to being world famous. So they are saying to themselves: ‘We were world-famous last week, am I nobody this week? What can I do to be world-famous next week?’ It’s the media frenzy that’s going to make them cause more problems.”

The UDA’s overall commander lives in south Belfast, which includes the epicentre of the latest racist attacks. Last weekend around 100 Roma men, women and children left Northern Ireland via Dublin airport and returned to Romania. They said they had no choice, because of repeated intimidation and attacks on their homes in south Belfast.

McDonald said he did not want to see far-right groups filling the vacuum left by paramilitaries in loyalist areas.

On the subject of decommissioning, McDonald said he wanted to see all UDA weapons put beyond use so “everybody can get to some sort of normality, and the police can get on with their job”.

Sir Hugh Orde, the former chief constable, has warned that the threat of dissident republican terror remains high within Northern Ireland. However, McDonald said he believed the UDA would continue to decommission ahead of the British government’s August deadline, even if the Real IRA and Continuity IRA intensify their terror campaign.

“The UDA has started this process with General de Chastelain [head of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning] and they have honoured what they said they would do. I would hope we will see full UDA decommissioning by the end of August.

“I don’t know if it [a republican attack] would put us off our path. It would severely test attitudes in the street because there was an awful lot of effort had to go in to not reacting after the two soldiers were shot, and the policeman was shot in March.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sharia Law UK: Mail on Sunday Gets Exclusive Access to a British Muslim Court

In a shabby converted sweetshop in Leyton, East London, a group of burka-clad Muslim women sit in a waiting room. They have an appointment with Dr Suhaib Hasan at his twice-weekly surgery.

The women look worried. There is no talking in the airless reception area — the only sound is a fan purring quietly in the corner as temperatures outside exceed 80F.

Inside, the atmosphere is just as stifling. There are no magazines, television or other diversions. The beige walls are bare except for a flow-chart depicting the process of securing a Muslim divorce, and a picture of Mecca.

This is no GP’s surgery or Citizens Advice Bureau. Within these non-descript walls lies the nerve centre of sharia law in Britain, the headquarters of the Islamic Sharia Council, which oversees the growing number of Muslim courts operating in Britain.

For the first time, the Islamic Sharia Council has granted access to a newspaper to observe the entire sharia legal process in Britain. Over several weeks, I was allowed to witness the filing of complaints, individual testimony hearings and the monthly meeting of imams, or judges, where rulings are handed down.

Sharia has been operating here, in parallel to the British legal system, since 1982. Work includes issuing fatwas — religious rulings on matters ranging from why Islam considers homosexuality a sin to why two women are equivalent to one male witness in an Islamic court.

The Islamic Sharia Council also rules on individual cases, primarily in matters of Muslim personal or civil law: divorce, marriage, inheritance and settlement of dowry payments are the most common.

However, in the course of my investigation, I discovered how sharia is being used informally within the Muslim community to tackle crime such as gang fights or stabbings, bypassing police and the British court system.

A few hardline leaders would like it to be taken even further. One told me that Britain should adopt sharia punishments such as stoning and the chopping off of hands to reduce violent crime.

There are 12 councils or courts operating in Britain under Dr Hasan’s group, based in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Rotherham and Bradford. Scores more imams

dispense justice through their own mosques.

A study last week by the thinktank Civitas claimed that there could be as many as 85 sharia courts in Britain, although Dr Hasan says most of these are not formal courts. But it is certainly a growing network.

In his courts, support staff interview plaintiffs and compile a case study. Judgments are delivered by senior imams at closed monthly meetings and are sent in writing to the concerned parties. Up to 7,000 cases have been handled so far.

The Islamic Sharia Council is listed as a charity but people seeking a divorce, or talaq, must fill in a form and pay a fee. For a man it is £100; for women, it is £250 because the imams say it takes more work to process a woman’s application as her word has to be corroborated.

The literal meaning of sharia is ‘source of water in the desert’, meaning the source of all spiritual life for Muslims. This is not just a code of law, but a way of life.

In sharia-based societies, such as Saudi Arabia or the old Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, crimes against society are punished by beheadings, stoning to death and amputations. Women are kept in purdah and limited to child-rearing and caring for the home.

All Western influences, from alcohol, music, television and movies, are banned. It is a rigid prescription for Islamic life that seeks its guidance from the days of the Prophet in the 7th Century.

In Britain, sharia courts are permitted to rule only in civil cases, such as divorce and financial disputes. Until last year, these rulings depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims. But now, due to a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996, they are enforceable by county and high courts.

Sharia courts are classified in the same way as arbitration tribunals — with rulings binding in law provided both parties in the dispute agree to give them the power to rule on their case.

However, a Muslim couple must still be divorced in the British courts for it to recognised under British law. The same provision in the Arbitration Act applies to Jewish Beth Din courts, which resolve similar civil cases.

Dr Hasan is the man who introduced sharia courts to Britain almost 30 years ago.

The softly spoken, grey-bearded scholar was born in Pakistan, studied in Saudi Arabia and worked in East Africa before moving to Britain in the Sixties. He is the Secretary of the Islamic Sharia Council of Britain and a member of the senior panel of imams who sit once a month at Regent’s Park Mosque in London.

In Leyton, the imam calls the women into his office to begin a private session to gather evidence. The setting is modest yet its proceedings have all the gravity of a British courtroom — and most cases are conducting in English.

Under Muslim law, a man can divorce his wife simply by uttering the word ‘talaq’, yet a woman cannot be granted a divorce without the consent of her husband or winning a dissolution of the marriage from the imam. Even if the couple are divorced under British law, they remain married under Islam until divorced under the religious law, too.

Dr Hasan believes that far from trampling on women’s rights, the Islamic Sharia Council is empowering Muslim women in Britain, giving them a way out of abusive and violent marriage.

Sitting behind a plywood desk, flanked by shelves of books on Islamic law and copies of the Koran, Dr Hasan hears evidence from an Afghan woman called Ameena (her name has been changed for her protection). She claims her husband is violent towards her and their five children, and she wants a divorce.

Ameena, 35, is backed by the testimony of two social workers, one of whom is Muslim, from a women’s refuge.

‘He beats me and the children, he doesn’t give us our rights, he doesn’t love me or the children and he is not interested in me and the children,’ she says, also citing her husband’s ‘mental behaviour’.

The couple had entered an arranged marriage in the sand-blown city of Kandahar and came to Britain as refugees from war. Some years later the marriage faltered.

Dr Hasan’s sparely written notes set out the extent of the marital misery: ‘He beat her. Then he asked her to massage his shoulders and legs. When she said no, he beat her.

‘One time her nose was broken and an operation was carried out. Another day, because of the beating, there was a miscarriage.’

Ameena’s evidence is corroborated by statements from one of her daughters. The teenager said that as well as hitting her mother and the children, the father, who is in his 40s, forced her into an arranged marriage in Pakistan. She wants her marriage dissolved, too.

So far Ameena’s husband has refused to grant her a divorce, accusing her and his daughter of being ‘not mentally fit’.

Dr Hasan decides the case, which has been going on since 2008, is sufficiently serious to merit the consideration of the monthly meeting of senior judges at Regent’s Park Mosque. Now Ameena’s future lies in their hands.

Later that week, seven imams gather in a sparsely furnished committee room in the shadows of the mosque’s magnificent golden dome. Seated around a rectangular table set with mineral water, a bowl of fruit and a box of Fox’s luxury biscuits, they go through the various cases.

To the casual observer, it may appear like a rather dry committee meeting. But these men are in effect running a legal system that critics fear could fragment the legal framework in Britain. Laws that once ruled supreme in Kabul are now being enforced in cities across Britain.

It becomes clear that Ameena’s story of violence, abandonment and difficulty in securing an Islamic divorce is not isolated. Several other cases during the meeting detail claims of ‘terrifying abuse’, including one where a gun was placed against a woman’s head, and another husband who tried to strangle his wife and children.

If the husband has disputed his wife’s word, the court demands her account is corroborated by other witnesses — preferably male. If the wife refuses to agree to give the husband access to their children, even in cases of possible child abuse, the divorce is stalled until that issue is resolved.

In another case, the imams agree a husband has treated the wife badly, beating her and their children and leaving them without support once he had been granted legal status to remain in Britain.

‘He ran away and left the family, and the children began to hate the father,’ says one of the imams. The man signed a petition for a civil divorce but had so far refused to allow a divorce under Islam.

The imams discuss the division of assets between the couple, including any dowry jewellery. They also decide to contact the husband one last time — if he fails to respond, he risks a dissolution.

Ameena’s case is then raised. It is decided that her husband will be given another opportunity to respond. If all efforts to reconcile fail, then the marriage might be dissolved, but it is unclear who will care for the children. Under Islamic law, a child over seven usually goes to the father unless he agrees otherwise.

Ameena’s fate remains in limbo. The following week I accompany Dr Hasan into enemy territory: he has been asked to speak to a group of female students in East London about sharia. The audience is made up of educated, articulate feminists, both Muslim and non-Muslim.

He tells them his organisation is concerned simply with implementing sharia law in Muslim personal legal cases and that 90 per cent of the clients are women seeking a divorce. The women nod.

Then he explains that sharia is about preserving the dignity, health and honour of the individuals. The nodding continues.

Confident, Dr Hasan tells them that in every part of the world, there can be only one authority.

‘In Britain, the ultimate authority is the Prime Minister. In an army, it is the commander-in-chief. On the bus, it is the bus driver. And in the house, the smallest unit of society, sharia says authority must be with the man to maintain the house.

‘The woman’s duties are much harsher. Biologically, she differs,’ he says. Her duties lie with the cleaning and childcare.

The mood turns black as Dr Hasan continues that under Islam, the woman is seen as someone who needs the protection of a man. In matters of divorce, the right of ending a marriage lies with the man because ‘women have emotions, whereas a man thinks first before he speaks’.

At this, one white woman berates Dr Hasan. ‘If you had said these things about a Jew or a black person, it would be totally unacceptable. Yet you think it is OK to say women are inferior. I cannot listen to this without making a stand.’

Another woman, an African professor, adds: ‘In my house, my husband and I look after each other. It is an equal partnership. I don’t need anyone to protect me.’ Applause ripples through the audience.

Dr Hasan insists their work is not an attempt to bypass the British legal system and says the Islamic Sharia Council does not seek to extend its powers beyond divorce, marriage, dowry and inheritance cases.

‘Muslim personal law can be accommodated within the British legal system. In the divorce process, if the British courts recognise Muslim divorce then there would be no need for us to apply for a divorce through the UK system.’

He refuses to accept that there is an inherent conflict between sharia and British law in areas such as equality for women and human rights.

‘The problem with the feminist movement is they don’t listen to the other side,’ he observes gravely, stroking his beard.

I ask if he believes sharia is the best code of law. ‘People say it’s harsh, but we say it’s a deterrent. In Saudi Arabia very few hands are cut. People will not commit the crime as they know the punishment is so horrible, unlike the UK system where people are jailed and the prison system does not work.

‘But we cannot ask for sharia in Britain for criminal cases,’ he concludes. ‘For that to take place, the State needs to support sharia and I recognise Britain does not.’

Despite the feminists’ fury, Dr Hasan is a relative moderate on the subject. Some hardliners want Islamic law to be extended to all criminal cases, tackling problems ranging from knife crime to robbery and under-age sex.

One such figure is Sarfraz Sarwar, leader of the Basildon Islamic Centre in Essex. His views have attracted controversy — his mosque was torched three times and eventually destroyed, and his home has also been attacked.

He tells me the windows of his living room are smashed every six months but the police have never caught the perpetrators. He now leaves the windows permanently broken in defiance.

Mr Sarwar insists sharia should be adopted to address rising crime in Britain. ‘The British legal system is fair, but it’s also very sweet for criminals,’ he tells me.

‘Sharia is the ultimate deterrent. If you commit a crime and you’re punished by sharia, you won’t commit it again. But if we praise anything from Islam, people jump down our throat.’

When I suggest that many people in Britain would find some of sharia’s provisions extreme and difficult to accept, he agrees. ‘We need to adapt sharia for British law. We could use some of the more moderate measures.’

Such as? ‘Child abuse, under-age sex, teenage pregnancy, for example.’

I ask what the penalty would be for under-age sex. ‘You won’t like it. But sharia says if they’re caught doing it, you stone the woman.’

Mr Sarwar’s other suggestion is to adapt the ‘three strikes’ policy on crime. Instead of being jailed on the third conviction, a criminal could face having a hand chopped off.

‘That would fit in with the way of life here. I’m not being extreme. This has to be used in moderation, for serious crimes, not petty robbery. In this country, people get away with murder.’

He refuses to accept the notion that values of human rights are enshrined in the British way of life.

‘In Victorian days they applied sharia. They held people in stocks — there were public floggings, hangings. Why not go back to it? What’s the big beef now? Too many goody-two-shoes talking about human rights.’

Mr Sarwar adds that the violence and intimidation he has faced will not silence him. ‘I am not a sheep. I am a British Muslim. I pay my taxes, I obey the law.

‘People break my windows but I say to you, why can’t we mix and match? Take the best from both worlds. The law is like a curry. Different elements improve the flavour. Why not help improve the law of this country with elements of sharia?’

In some ways, I learned that this is happening already. The Somali community in Britain has long relied on the sharia principle of mediation and arbitration in criminal cases.

Saynab Muhamad, leader of the Somali Family Support Centre and one of the few prominent females in the Somali community, tells me how sharia law was used to resolve the case of knife attacks among teenagers a few years ago.

The family of one victim and the attacker came together under Somali elders and an informal hearing decided that the victim should be compensated by the attacker, who in turn was forgiven for the crime. The police were not involved and the matter was settled amicably.

In Somali Muslim culture, after a conflict or a crime is committed, a hearing is held. The judge, or quadis, will act as arbitrator, rectify the crime and reconcile-the two sides.

‘In Somalia, the victim would forgive and then be compensated with camels, say 100 camels,’ says Saynab.

‘Here it would be with money. Sharia is embedded in our society and it has worked well to tackle problems here, too.’

She believes this way of getting community elders involved and taking direct control is more effective than simply relying on the courts, and if the British police wished to attend the hearings, they would be welcome.

For her, this is an example of how the sharia way has been adapted successfully to the British way of life. But critics remain unconvinced and see it as the route to a two-tier legal system, pointing out that under sharia, the law is heavily rigged against women.

Last week, Keith Porteous Wood, director of campaign group One Law For All and the National Secular Society, raised the issue with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in Brussels.

Hitting out at the use of Muslim arbitration tribunals, he said: ‘Women are particularly vulnerable as they’re forced to submit to these tribunals and Islamic law treats women less favourably than men.

‘It’s essential that it is one law for all in every country and that the law is democratically established and human rights compliant. Sharia fails that test.’

The subject of sharia is personal and capable of arousing deep passions in the community — inextricably linked, as it is, with Muslim identity and sense of honour.

Despite criticism from those in the West, the extent to which many British Muslim women rely on sharia courts became clear to me. Without them they would remain trapped in abusive or violent marriages.

For these women, sharia is not an instrument of oppression, but a route to freedom.

The women I met were unwilling to talk directly about their cases. Apart from divorce being deeply personal, a failed marriage is often seen a source of shame in their communities — though the idea of bypassing sharia and seeking a divorce solely in the British courts would bring far more disgrace to a family’s social standing.

Equality before the law for all, regardless of sex, race or religion, is one of Britain’s enduring principles. Women’s and gay rights are now firmly enshrined in our law — a law that has evolved over centuries to reflect the pluralist democracy Britain has become.

But sharia is a law still rooted in the 7th Century; it sees modernity as the path to an immoral society.

While sharia gives Muslim women a chance to escape unhappy marriages, it fails to grant them equal status — they are considered inferior to men as witnesses, they have unequal status in divorce and custody of the children, and abuse by the husband is not directly tackled by the courts.

All these things go against the equality of British law.

As I prepare to leave Leyton, office staff are cheering on Andy Murray at Wimbledon, a scene being played out across the country. Meanwhile, in a back room, Sheik Haitham Al-Haddad, one of the most senior imams in Britain, is once more contemplating the fundamental split between religion and state.

‘There is a conflict between these two sets of values,’ he concedes. ‘ Muslims believe our values are best. The non-Islamic British believe theirs are better. But at the end of the day, understand this: Muslims are never going to give up certain principles, even if they are in conflict. That is a fact.’

Sharia law in Britain is here to stay and perhaps even spread. But it’s a perilous tightrope we tread — the line between multicultural tolerance and protecting the rights of the individual.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Spain Police Foil Radio Control Zeppelin Jailbreak

MADRID (Reuters) — Spanish police said on Friday they had foiled an Italian drug trafficker’s plan to break out of jail in the Canary Islands using climbing equipment and a four-metre-long zeppelin.

“The plan consisted of using a remotely controlled zeppelin to bring him night-vision goggles and climbing equipment with which to escape,” a National Police statement said.

The prisoner, named as Giulio B., 52, was in jail after being caught piloting a seaplane taking 200 kg (440 pounds) of cocaine from Mauritania to the Canaries.

Police said they had arrested three people outside the jail who were preparing the escape, and had intercepted a package sent from Italy containing the balloon, night-vision goggles and climbing gear.

House searches on Grand Canary island had also uncovered a tent and a telephoto lens the gang had used to observe security details at the jail from a hill 600 metres away, as well as plans drawn by the prisoner.

The plan was for Giulio B. to climb out of the prison and meet a driver who would smuggle him off the island, said police, who have been investigating the plot since February.

“They would then have gone abroad to lie low while waiting for forged papers and to continue arranging the shipment of narcotics into our country,” the statement added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

The Hungarian Guard Demonstrates in Budapest

Undaunted by the court ruling, uniformed members of the Hungarian Guard demonstrated today in Budapest. By now the demonstrators have more or less been mopped up by the Budapest police. I tried all afternoon to piece together the various reports, but I’m still not sure how many demonstrators we are talking about. Reporters on the scene gave different numbers at different times, and it’s hard to tell how large this demonstration actually was. The highest estimate I saw was eight hundred demonstrators, of whom three hundred were in the uniform of the Hungarian Guard. The rest were sympathizers. Another, presumably more precise number mentioned was the 127 people who were arrested and put into paddy wagons, including Gábor Vona, president of Jobbik.

It seems that both sides are learning. The guardists arrived in small groups at Erzsébet Square dressed only in white shirts and black pants. They carried the rest of their uniform, which they donned upon arrival. Several times the police asked the demonstrators to leave the square in the direction of the Astoria Hotel. Instead the guardists sat down on the grass hanging on to one another. The sympathizers chose a less peaceful way of protesting: they started throwing beer bottles at the policemen. A newspaperman working for Index, an online paper, was also attacked. So the guardists are learning from western models of civil disobedience but so are the police, who removed the guardists one by one.

An hour or so after the beginning of the demonstration the police started to press the crowd off the square, but it took another hour to get to the point that there were only about forty uniformed men left. The sympathizers were harder to deal with. Even at 7:00 p.m. they were ready to do battle with the police. There is a jazz club at Erzsébet Square and the demonstrators started removing tables and chairs to prepare some kind of barricade. Eventually the club simply closed. Meanwhile it was beastly hot and several people became ill. The encounter had interesting moments too: an older demonstrator jumped into the pool, clothes and all. See picture of the square. Gábor Vona was apparently removed from the scene around 7:30. Shortly after this the police moved in with full force, using nightsticks, gas spray, and tear gas.

According to one internet paper two people had heart attacks; medics were on the scene. By 8:00 p.m. the square was cleared. Only a few groups lingered and complained loudly on nearby streets. Others, numbering about 150, were pushed toward the Astoria and continued marching on Rákóczi Street toward the Eastern Station. I assume that they have dispersed since.

Lawyers working for the ombudsman’s office were also on the scene and told reporters that “they will be investigating.” They will ask for all documentation from the police and will form their opinion only after a study of these documents. I’m a bit puzzled about this investigation. After all, the demonstration was illegal and the Hungarian Guard is no longer a legitimate organization. What is there to investigate in this case? But this ombudsman’s mind works in mysterious ways.

One thing is sure: never have the police acted so resolutely (and competently) and never have they arrested so many people. Obviously the court’s verdict strengthened their resolve and gave them courage. What will happen after this? If I have to predict: the usual mess. But at least this time the law seems to be on the side of the police. For some fantastic photographs, here is a link. No wonder that there were medical emergencies. Some of the warriors are old and in terrible physical shape. There is a priceless picture of one woman waving the red and white striped flag and a fellow with a very big belly. Click on “Képgaléria” under the first picture in the article

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: 2 Fronts Against Islamic Extremists Opened Up Within Britain in 1 Day — Americas Independence Day

[Includes videos]

A London protest against Anjem Choudry’s ‘hate filled road show’ was prevented from happening in Wood Green London, and a protest against Islamic extremists went ahead in Birmingham.

It was later learned that Choudry was allowed to set up in another London borough, and one of the protestors present on the earlier planned protest was some how run over by a bus.

More to follow…

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Forced Marriage: ‘I Can’t Forgive or Forget What They Did to Me’

Dr Humayra Abedin talks for the first time to Nina Lakhani about the international storm that began when she visited her parents in Bangladesh

An NHS doctor from east London who was held hostage and forced into marriage has spoken for the first time about her four-month ordeal, during which she feared for her life.

Dr Humayra Abedin, who was freed from her vows on the orders of a Bangladeshi court soon after The Independent on Sunday highlighted her plight, described the humiliation and pain she suffered at the hands of her parents, some members of her extended family and nurses and doctors in a private psychiatric hospital in Bangladesh last year.

In an exclusive interview with the IoS, Dr Abedin told of the moment she was abducted: “My face was covered with a piece of cloth by men who told me they were policemen, before they carried me out into an ambulance which was parked outside the house. They held my arms and legs, carried me like a prisoner, while my parents stood in the background.”

She was driven, kicking and screaming, to a private hospital, on the request of her family. During the journey, she was held down and gagged by three people as they tried to stop her shouting.

“This was the first time I thought, ‘this is it, I am dying’,” said Dr Abedin. “I begged them to stop.” And so began the nightmare.

For the next three months, every morning and every night, she was forced to swallow dangerously high doses of powerful tranquillisers used to treat people with psychoses. She was kept locked in the hospital, constantly told she was a disgrace by staff and relatives, and denied contact with the outside world. But she could make it stop, so her parents and psychiatrist told her, if she agreed to give up her life in England, marry the man her family had chosen for her and stay in Bangladesh. She refused.

Last December, Dr Abedin was dramatically freed after frantic efforts — highlighted by the IoS — by lawyers in the UK and Dhaka, together with Ask, a human rights NGO, led to her release. The majority of victims are not so lucky; hundreds of missing schoolchildren each year are feared to have been married off abroad by their families.

When you picture a victim of forced marriage, whom do you see? Probably an uneducated, young Asian girl, from a deeply traditional and authoritarian family. But research published last week suggests there could be 8,000 forced marriage cases in England each year, affecting African, European and Middle Eastern communities as well. Victims in 14 per cent of cases are male; 14 per cent are under 16. A worrying proportion involves people with learning disabilities who may not have the capacity to consent.

Sitting in her friend’s house in suburban Essex, Dr Abedin looks a million dollars. Her physical appearance has been transformed over the past six months. Gone are the puffy, blotchy skin, brittle hair, stiff joints and tremor she developed as a result of the medication. She complains that she can’t lose the last few pounds — anti-psychotics also cause an insatiable appetite — but the physical transformation is truly remarkable. As for her mental state, she denies nightmares or flashbacks, often experienced by victims of abuse and trauma; her anxiety symptoms have gone, but she does admit to dwelling on what happened in the hospital.

“It’s my time at the clinic that I think about. These people are meant to be health professionals, but what they did to me was a complete abuse. This I will never forgive or forget,” says Dr Abedin, and just for a second she doesn’t seem as relaxed or confident as she claims to be.

Born and raised in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, Humayra Abedin, 33, is not your typical victim. An only child from a well-off, middle-class Muslim family, she grew up happily surrounded by friends, cousins and extremely supportive parents who encouraged her to study medicine.

After she graduated, her mother, Sophia, 68, a housewife, and her father, Joynal, 77, a retired businessman who at that time owned a clothing factory and several shops, supported her move to England in 2002 to study for a master’s degree in public health at Leeds University. She joined several of her Bangladeshi friends in London the following year and embarked on the exams that would enable her to work in the NHS.

“I was totally focused on my career and very happy. I was also learning how to do very ordinary things for the first time, like washing clothes and shopping, which gave me a great sense of satisfaction to be independent instead of having people helping me with everything like at home. I guess I was changing, just becoming more individual and independent.”

She spoke to her parents often and there was occasional talk about marriage but she made it clear that studying was her priority.

“Actually, some of my aunties had wanted me to get married before I came to UK, so that I didn’t come alone. This would have been quite normal; in fact, most of my friends who went abroad did so after they got married. But I didn’t want that and my dad totally agreed every time it came up. I just used the same excuse and kept putting them off.”

At the end of 2007, a cousin, also a doctor, came to visit and started commenting on this new-found independence. After his return to Bangladesh, the tension started to mount.

“The family pressure was building. There were more phone calls, more talk about guys they wanted me to meet, but I told them this wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t about religion; it was a cultural thing. In their eyes I was becoming too Westernised, too focused on my career and getting too old to be alone. It was about protecting me.”

In July 2008, she flew home to visit her mother, who her dad claimed was suffering from heart problems. “Both my parents have chronic health problems so it was possible that she was sick. I did think they might want me to meet some guys but not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what would happen next.”

As soon as she arrived she was physically restrained, beaten and locked away. She was forced to take sleeping tablets and constantly bombarded with insults. Her parents never touched her; it was a trusted maid, who had worked for the family for 25 years, who took the lead in the abuse. But she still refused to consent to marriage; a week later, the ambulance arrived and took her away.

“After three months of medication, verbal abuse, emotional blackmail, my mind was weakened. I felt like a puppet. I had lost all hope and had no more energy to fight back,” she says.

But before she was carted off to this so-called hospital, she had sent texts to friends in the UK. So unbeknown to her, efforts to secure her release were under way.

A female cousin co-operated with Ask and filed a petition to the court, which served her family with an order demanding she be brought in front of the court in Bangladesh, where forced marriage is illegal.

In order to avoid the authorities, her parents discharged her from the hospital and the next couple of weeks were spent in a medication-induced haze, travelling between towns, staying with family friends, until eventually she was forcibly married to a doctor her parents had deemed a suitable match. She won’t talk about what happened with him, only that she’s waiting for the marriage to be annulled.

Eventually, left with no option, her parents brought her to the court, convinced she would choose her family over her independence. Her father broke down in court after he was told she had chosen to come back to the UK. It was the last time she saw him.

She arrived back in London to face a media storm. “I felt joy, happiness, relief; you’ve no idea how thankful I was to the media, my lawyers, everyone who had been trying to get me out of that hospital.”

There has been no contact with her parents since she was freed; she has moved and changed her phone numbers to avoid them. It is not something she will rule out for ever; she still loves them, but is nowhere near the point of being able to forgive them. She believes her aunts and uncles convinced her parents that she was out of control and needed protection. “I think my dad was made to feel guilty about encouraging me, his only child, to come to the UK, so he felt he had to sort things out. What they did was wrong, but I still think from their point of view they were trying to protect me. But that psychiatric hospital … the staff told me they knew I was normal, so what they did to me was grossly unethically and criminal.” Two other women in similar situations have since been rescued from the same clinic.

A strong, ambitious woman, she is determined not to let this horrific experience become a life-defining one. It is her friends, colleagues and employers she turns to for support; they have become her family and she cannot praise them enough. Work comes first, but she hasn’t forgotten how to have fun: listening to Bollywood music while eating home-cooked food with friends is her ideal way to relax. She will finish her GP training with the London Deanery next year and still wants the happy-ever-after ending she always dreamed about.

“The whole incident has made me realise how precious and beautiful life is and it’s made me stronger, so maybe it was my destiny. Right now my focus is my career. I love my job, and I also want to do what I can to raise awareness about forced marriage — the protection order was the turning point in my life. In the future, I definitely want to get married to the right person, have children, all those things that I always wanted.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: F1’s Ecclestone Criticized After Hitler Comments

LONDON — Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone faced criticism from politicians and Jewish groups Saturday after being quoted as saying that Adolf Hitler “got things done.”

In an interview with London’s The Times newspaper, Ecclestone expressed a preference for “strong leaders,” citing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Max Mosley, outgoing head of Formula One’s governing body, as examples.

He was quoted as saying that democracy “hasn’t done a lot of good for many countries — including this one.”

“In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done,” Ecclestone was quoted as saying.

“In the end he got lost, so he wasn’t a very good dictator.”

Ecclestone also said the West had been wrong to depose Iraq’s Sadam Hussein, saying: “He was the only one who could control that country.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews told The Times that Ecclestone’s views were “quite bizarre,” and Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard said he was “either an idiot or morally repulsive.” Labour Party lawmaker Denis MacShane told the newspaper that the remarks revealed ignorance of history and “a complete lack of judgment.”

Calls to Ecclestone’s London office were not immediately returned Saturday.

Ecclestone, who owns F1’s commercial rights, is no stranger to controversial remarks. He once said women should dress in white “like all other domestic appliances.”

In The Times interview, Ecclestone said that had been a joke, adding “I would love to have a good lady race driver and preferably black and Jewish too, but they might take maternity leave.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Govt Defeated on Bill to Clean Up Parliament

The Government has suffered a surprise defeat in the House of Commons on the Bill to clean up Parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal.

By 250 votes to 247, the Commons voted to drop the part of the legislation that would have allowed lawyers to use what MPs had said in Parliament against them in court.

Earlier, a committee of MPs put out a report warning the Justice Secretary the new law would stop them speaking freely on behalf of voters.

Jack Straw said he would “respect” the decision and take account of it in the Lords.

Mr Straw was able to say of the offending provision: “Why would I wish to carry on and pursue an unpopular clause unless it was felt to be necessary?”

The Government had already agreed to make a concession on the Parliamentary Standards Bill by dropping plans to make a new code of conduct for MPs legally enforceable.

The Bill will set up a new independent watchdog to regulate the allowances system and create criminal offences.

It is more bad news for the Government on the day it announced current economic conditions were forcing ministers to drop plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail.

On Tuesday the Home Secretary announced no British citizen would have to carry an ID card and in recent weeks Gordon Brown has conceded that the Iraq inquiry will be conducted in public.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Hope for Blindness Cure With Laser Breakthrough

Pulses of light clean key membrane to prevent the onset of macular degeneration

Millions of people could have their eyesight saved thanks to ground-breaking laser treatment that has the potential to eradicate the most common cause of blindness.

One of Britain’s leading eye experts has developed a technique to reverse the disabling effects of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which leaves many older people unable to read, drive or live independently, and eventually robs them of sight in one or both eyes.

Professor John Marshall has developed a way of “cleaning” eyes which, due to the ageing process, have accumulated tiny particles of debris which start to cloud their sight. His pioneering technique uses a painless “short pulse” laser to solve the otherwise intractable problem of how to help the eye’s waste disposal system do its job after it has been weakened by age.

Marshall, a senior ophthalmologist at King’s College London, said he hopes this “retinal regeneration therapy” could prevent and reverse the onset of AMD.

The technique works by rejuvenating a thin membrane behind the retina, called Bruch’s membrane. Over time this membrane becomes so “clogged” with the by-product of cell renewal that vital nutrients can no longer cross from the bloodstream into the retina and excess material becomes trapped, unable to pass in the other direction. This leads to the death of retinal cells and, in time, to AMD and eventual blindness.

Marshall’s technique promises to prevent and even reverse the process, allowing the eye to return to something like its youthful, uncluttered state. In a clinical trial involving more than 100 diabetics, Marshall found that focusing a laser beam on one part of the retina helps stimulate the release of enzymes, which then set about cleaning up the waste material. Participants reported this led to a marked improvement in their sight.

Marshall now plans to conduct a wider trial among those suffering the early stages of AMD. In most cases the “clogging” begins when people reach their mid-40s, but does not always lead to significant sight loss. Some are more at risk, because of a number of factors in addition to their age. These include genetics — such as a family history of AMD. Women are more likely to suffer, and environmental factors can play a part, with smokers at greater risk.

AMD is the leading cause of blindness in those aged over 60 in the western world. Initially it causes blurred or distorted central vision, but worsens over time leaving sufferers unable to do everyday tasks. About a quarter of all over-60s in the UK suffer some loss of vision as a result of the condition.

Eye specialists say Marshall’s discovery could mark a breakthrough in tackling the condition. There is currently no effective treatment for “dry” AMD — the less serious form of the disease. The drugs Lucentis and Avastin are used to treat the more disabling and aggressive “wet” version, but these usually do little more than stabilise the condition. Marshall’s use of laser technology to restore an ailing eye could therefore open up a whole new method of treatment.

Conventional lasers have been used previously, but they have damaged the eye’s light-sensitive cells in the process. Marshall said: “The laser I’ve used is a totally new soft-pulse laser which doesn’t cause any damage to any of the nearby tissues, unlike conventional lasers. All it does is stimulate the required chemical reaction. And it treats both ‘dry’ AMD and the effects of ageing.”

Marshall’s next clinical trial of the technique will be with patients who are already being treated for AMD in one eye. He hopes that it will prove that treating the patient’s other eye will delay the onset of AMD by up to seven years.

If further trials are successful, it could open many possibilities. “In the short term it could benefit anybody with a family history or with diagnostic signs that they are at high risk of AMD,” Marshall said. “In the longer term it could be that we all decide to have our retinas cleaned so that we don’t develop these problems later in life.”

Eyesight specialists say Marshall’s research could be of huge importance. Tom Pey of Guide Dogs for the Blind, which funded the work, said: “This is potentially a huge breakthrough for millions of people across the world.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Licence Rebel Prosecuted as BBC Finally Tackles TV Fee ‘Refuseniks’

The BBC is prosecuting a viewer who has refused on principle to pay his television licence for seven years, amid claims the Corporation is fearful of a growing backlash against the fee.

Retired engineer John Kelly was one of several thousand people who have refused to pay since 2002 in protest at what they regard as bias in the BBC’s news coverage of issues such as the European Union.

He and nearly all the other ‘refuseniks’, including former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, have so far escaped court — despite tens of thousands of prosecutions each year.

But now he has received a summons which he believes has been prompted by a flurry of publicity about high-profile figures, including former BBC presenter Noel Edmonds and journalist Charles Moore, who are also threatening to rebel.

Mr Kelly, 70, from Exmouth, Devon, who has been ordered to appear at Exeter magistrates’ court later this month, said: ‘Why are they picking on me now, after all this time?

‘I think the BBC wants to crackdown on some of us to discourage more people from refusing to pay.

‘There is a growing groundswell of opinion against the Corporation in the wake of the Jonathan Ross scandal and other things like expenses. My summons is not a random thing.’

Mr Kelly was one of 2,000 people who signed up to a campaign launched by Mr Bukovsky, a vice-president of the Freedom Association, eight years ago.

He initially complained to the BBC governors that the Corporation’s coverage of the EU was so biased that it was in breach of its Royal Charter obligations to provide balance, but was told it was a matter of ‘editorial judgment’.

Since then, despite threats of legal action, he has withheld his fee but until recently had never been visited by inspectors.

Mr Kelly said: ‘I have a file 2in thick. Every time they have written threatening me I have replied giving my reasons.

‘Why they have picked on me now, I suspect, is because last October Charles Moore wrote in the Spectator magazine that if the BBC was still employing Jonathan Ross he would not renew his licence.

‘I wrote to tell him of my experiences and he mentioned me. I was then quoted in other newspapers. Then it went a bit quiet until February, when two inspectors marched up the drive.

‘They wanted to come in. I said no. They said, “Have you got a TV?” I said yes. They said, “Do you watch it.” I said yes. They said, “Do you have a licence?” I said, “Have you read the file?” They said, “No.” I said go away and read it. That is the last I heard until I got the summons from Exeter magistrates.’

He said he faced a maximum fine of £1,000, about the same amount that he had refused to pay, but he would be applying for a trial by jury so he could argue his case that it was the BBC that was in breach of the law.

Mr Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph and a Spectator columnist, has said that he will not pay his licence if Ross remains on the BBC payroll after leaving obscene messages for Andrew Sachs during a Radio 2 show.

Mr Bukovsky, 66, said he and others planned to turn up to support Mr Kelly at his hearing.

The BBC claimed that TV Licensing, which oversees the collection of the £142.50 annual licence fee, had in the past prosecuted people who refused to pay out of principle.

A spokesman for TV Licensing said yesterday: ‘Anyone caught watching or recording TV programmes without a licence risks prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: MI6 Chief Blows His Cover as Wife’s Facebook Account Reveals Family Holidays, Showbiz Friends and Links to David Irving

The new head of MI6 has been left exposed by a major personal security breach after his wife published intimate photographs and family details on the Facebook website.

Sir John Sawers is due to take over as chief of the Secret Intelligence Service in November, putting him in charge of all Britain’s spying operations abroad.

But his wife’s entries on the social networking site have exposed potentially compromising details about where they live and work, who their friends are and where they spend their holidays.

Amazingly, she had put virtually no privacy protection on her account, making it visible to any of the site’s 200million users who chose to be in the open-access ‘London’ network — regardless of where in the world they actually were.

There are fears that the hugely embarrassing blunder may have compromised the safety of Sir John’s family and friends.

Lady Shelley Sawers’ extraordinary lapse exposed the couple’s friendships with senior diplomats and well-known actors, including Moir Leslie, who plays a leading character in The Archers. And it revealed that the intelligence chief’s brother-in-law — who holidayed with him last month — is an associate of the controversial Right-wing historian David Irving.Immediately after The Mail on Sunday alerted the Foreign Office to the astonishing misjudgment, all trace of the material — which could potentially be useful to hostile foreign powers or terrorists — was removed from the internet.

The move suggests that MI6 or the Foreign Office, which is also responsible for the GCHQ electronic eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham, had had not vetted what sort of information Sir John and his family were distributing over the internet.

Nor does it appear that the new intelligence chief — who will be codenamed ‘C’ once he takes up his post — had considered the potential risks of what his family was revealing to the world.

Foreign Office staff are warned about their use of social networking sites when they join the department but MI6 expects its agents to maintain an even tighter secrecy, telling them not to reveal their true role to all but their closest family.

Sir John Sawers, currently Britain’s Ambassador to the United Nations, where he sits on the highly sensitive Security Council, began his working life in MI6 but has spent the past 20 years building a career as a diplomat rather than a spy.

Senior politicians said the security lapse raised serious doubts about Sir John’s suitability to head the intelligence service — and raised questions over whether an outsider should have been appointed to such a sensitive role.

Despite the security implications, Lady Sawers revealed on Facebook the location of the London flat used by the couple and the whereabouts of their three children and of Sir John’s parents.

On June 16, the very day Sir John’s MI6 appointment was announced, she posted 19 pictures of the couple on holiday with their friends in the West Country earlier that month.

The following day, she added a further 26 pictures, including one of Sir John playing on the beach in his swimming trucks, posing with his wife and children and chatting with friends and his mother.

Among those who joined the Sawers on the break were actors Moir Leslie, who plays both Sophie Barlow and vicar Janet Fisher in Radio 4 soap opera The Archers, and Alister Cameron, a character actor who has appeared on The Bill and Footballers’ Wives.

Lady Sawers’ Facebook ‘friends’ have also used the account to send messages of congratulations to Sir John on his new job, with one relative joking that he will now be known as ‘Uncle C’.

On the day his appointment was announced, she wrote: ‘Congrats on the new job, already dubbed Sir Uncle “C” by nephews in the know!’

Over the past year, Lady Sawers has been regularly updating anyone who cared to read her page — which could be found via internet search engines — on everything from family parties and holidays to the health of their pets and her views on the crisis in the Congo.

She also posted 22 photographs from Sir John’s mother’s 80th birthday party, showing the future spy chief with his closest friends and extended family, including his 86-year-old father, his two sons, aged 25 and 24, their girlfriends, and the couple’s daughter Corinne, 22, a recent Oxford University graduate who is now an aspiring actress.

Corinne recently began touring with Jenny Seagrove in the play Pack Of Lies, coincidentally about a middle-class household suddenly at the centre of an espionage drama when an MI5 spy turns up at their house.

Among those featured in family photographs on the website is Lady Sawers’ half-brother Hugo Haig-Thomas, a former diplomat.

Lady Sawers met her husband after visiting her brother when he was posted to Yemen in the late Seventies. She liked the country and decided to stay, landing a secretarial job at the Embassy, where Sir John later succeeded Mr Haig-Thomas.

Mr Haig-Thomas is an associate and researcher for revisionist historian David Irving, who was jailed for three years in Austria in 2006 for ‘glorifying the Nazi Party’ because he questioned whether the Holocaust took place.

The historian describes Haig-Thomas as ‘a researcher who has done fine work for me’. His work includes examining the papers relating to the capture of Heinrich Himmler, the man behind Hitler’s plan to exterminate the European Jews.

A recent post by Mr Haig-Thomas on Irving’s website includes a translation of the testimony of a German officer who claimed to have built fake gas chambers at Sachsenhausen concentration camp on Soviet orders.

But Mr Haig-Thomas said he had never considered his views controversial, nor did he regret his connection with Irving.

He said: ‘We are not close friends. I am interested in history, particularly German history, and I was engaged to carry out research for Irving. I have also attended several of his talks, but I do not necessarily share his views.

‘In my experience, the Foreign Office are very sensible about these things and will see that our connection does not amount to much.’

Edward Davy, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman, called on Gordon Brown to launch an inquiry into whether the Facebook disclosures had compromised Sir John’s ability to take up his MI6 post.

He said: ‘Normally, I would welcome greater openness in Government for officials or politicians but this type of exposure verges on the reckless.

‘The Prime Minister should immediately commission an internal inquiry as to whether this has breached the security of the incoming head of MI6 too seriously to allow him to take up the post.’

And Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, an adviser to Government Security Minister Lord West, said the MI6 chief had left himself open to blackmail.

He said: ‘Sir John Sawers is in a very sensitive position and by revealing this sort of material his family have left him open to criticism and blackmail.

‘As a long-serving diplomat and ambassador, his whole family have been involved in his line of business for decades. I would have hoped they would have been much more sensitive to potential security compromises like this.’

The Foreign Office refused to discuss the affair and declined to answer questions, including whether the department warned Ambassadors and other staff about social networking sites; whether the details Sir John’s family published on the internet had come up in security checks before he was appointed as head of MI6; and whether he had made officials aware of his brother-in-law’s links to David Irving.

A spokeswoman said: ‘We have nothing to add.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Police Want Water Cannons to Beat Back City Rioters

Metropolitan and Greater Manchester forces are looking at continental-style crowd-control tactics in the wake of the G20 demonstrations

British mainland police want water cannons to use against demonstrators in the face of criticism that conventional crowd-control tactics, such as those used during the G20 demonstrations, are failing to prevent violence.

The Metropolitan and Greater Manchester forces are set to request permission to use cannons, according to internal documents seen by The Independent on Sunday.

MPs on the Home Affairs Committee last week condemned the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the G20 protests in London in April, particularly the behaviour of untrained officers when confronted with large crowds and the controversial technique of “kettling” — the compulsory containment of demonstrators.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, admitted Scotland Yard was looking at more robust tactics — including water cannons — in the wake of the G20 disturbances. But the IoS has learnt that Scotland Yard first began training officers to use the weapons in May 2008, a year before G20. The same month senior Met officers considered a plan to buy six water cannons for “quelling or moderating violent disorder” at a cost of £5m. They are seeking financial help from the Home Office.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has spent two years investigating the use of water cannons. A GMP source said damage caused by rampaging Rangers fans during the Uefa Cup final last summer had given the issue urgency.

Only the Northern Ireland Police Service has used water cannon in the UK, but they are more commonly used in continental Europe. In the US they are no longer widely used because of their association with the brutal repression of the civil rights movement.

Politicians from both cities were last night dismayed at the prospect of continental-style riot-control operations on British streets. Tony Lloyd, MP for Central Manchester, said he hoped he would never see the day when they were used, but added: “Is it the worst thing the police could do? I genuinely think the answer is no. You would sooner have water cannons used rather than plastic bullets or other techniques available to them deployed on the streets of my city.”

However, Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the London Assembly who sits on the Metropolitan Police Authority, said: “There are other, more peaceful ways, to restrain the rare violent protest in London. The police currently seem to confuse the word ‘protester’ with the word ‘criminal’ and go to police public order events in the wrong frame of mind — aggressive and confrontational.”

At least two Met officers have already been trained to use cannon, while in March the GMP agreed 12 senior officers would train in Northern Ireland. The GMP is now considering whether to buy two vehicles for £1.2m or hire ones from the six-strong Northern Irish fleet.

Home Office experts said the vehicles, produced by the Belgian firm Somati, are suitable for use in the UK. Guidelines drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers state water cannons “provide a graduated and flexible application of force” to deter people from staying in an area, or “physical water jets that can physically push people to disperse them”.

Internal GMP documents reveal the force is anxious to avoid giving the impression of “being heavy-handed”.

Chief Superintendent Phil Hollowood, head of the GMP’s Specialist Operations Branch, said: “When disorder occurs, it is our job to protect people, property and police officers and we have a responsibility to sensibly and carefully consider all the options available to us to best do that.

“We have had early dialogue with our colleagues in the PSNI to look at the feasibility [of water cannon], but it is at a very early stage of discussions and no decisions are going to be taken any time soon.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Prisoners on Run Cannot be Named ‘Due to Privacy Rights’

Prisoners on the run from Holleseley Bay prison cannot be identified because it would breach their rights to privacy, the Ministry of Justice has said.

Civil servants have refused to name inmates who have fled prison even though individual police forces will often identify them if they pose a risk to the public.

They say releasing their names would breach obligations under the Data Protection Act.

It echoes a row in 2007 when Derbyshire Police refused to release pictures of two escaped murderers.

The latest development emerged in response to Freedom Of Information requests to name inmates on the run rom the prison near Woodbridge, Suffolk.

The open prison which has sea views and once held Tory peer Jeffrey Archer is known as Holiday Bay because of its easy-going regime.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed 39 prisoners had absconded from Hollesley Bay between January 1, 2007, to March 31, 2009.

It also provided a general list of crimes they were sentenced for and confirmed that 16 involved violence.

The offenders included nine robbers, two serving sentences for attempted robbery, one for wounding and four others for grievous bodily harm.

But the ministry refused to say how many — if any — had been recaptured, saying their identities had to be protected from third parties.

John Gummer, the Suffolk Coastal MP, said he was aghast at the decision and promised to raise the matter in parliament with Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary.

He said: “It’s intolerable and entirely unacceptable. There is no sense in which a prisoner’s identity is a private matter. In my view he sacrifices that when he becomes a prisoner.

“This annoys me very much indeed. We have gone mad if this is what we are doing.

“What I will be doing is putting down a question to the Justice Minister on Monday to ask for the information. I shall insist this is information that should be in the public domain.

“I think this will prove Hollesley Bay has ceased to be treated as an open prison in the historic way, but is now receiving prisoners who would not have been sent to it 10 years ago.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Whilst it is in the public interest to be aware of offenders who have escaped from custody as they may help in identifying the absconders thereby enabling the police to detain them; it is not in the public interest to prejudice any enquiries or operations the police may be conducting into apprehending the absconder.

“It is the general policy of the Ministry of Justice not to disclose, to a third party, personal information about another person.

“This is because the Ministry of Justice has obligations under the Data Protection Act and in law generally to protect this information.”

In January 2007 Derbyshire Police refused to release pictures of two convicted murderers on the run from jail. Chief Constable David Coleman said Jason Croft and Michael Nixon posed “no risk” and the force had to consider the Human Rights Act and data protection laws when asked to publish photographs. The force later denied human rights had been a factor.

           — Hat tip: Zonka [Return to headlines]

UK: Revealed: First Images of Poignant 7/7 Memorial

These are the first images of the striking memorial in Hyde Park to the victims of the July 7 bombings.

The £1?million London Bombing Memorial is due to be officially unveiled by the Prince of Wales on Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of the attacks.

It has been designed as a “dignified and tranquil space” by two London-based architects, Kevin Carmody and Andrew Groarke, who have been working in close collaboration with the families of the 52 victims over the past two years.

The architects, whose practice is only four years old, won the commission in an open competition.

They have described the process of working with the families as “very intense” and said they were “enablers” of the memorial, as much as designers.

The tribute, in the south-east corner of the park, near Lovers’ Walk and Park Lane, consists of 52 roughly textured stainless steel pillars, each 3.5 metres high and representing one of the victims. They are grouped together in four interlinking clusters, of six, seven, 13 and 26, reflecting the number of lives lost in each of the four bombing incidents, at Russell Square, Aldgate and Edgware Road underground stations and at Tavistock Square.

Each column— called a stele, from the Greek word for an inscribed memorial stone — carries a simple inscription recording the date, the location and time of the bombing written in a special font, also called stele.

The names of the dead are inscribed in alphabetical order on a plinth which is set into an embankment nearby.

Groarke was recently quoted as saying that the memorial needed to convey “a very complex” message: “That there are 52 individual lives being remembered and that there is also the sense of radiating collective loss across London and beyond.”

Angel of the North sculptor Anthony Gormley — who the two architects met when working on his King’s Cross studio — was also involved in the design.

It was overseen by a committee of families and officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Royal Parks.

Tuesday’s ceremony will be attended by many survivors of the bombing, relatives of the victims and representatives of the emergency services and government ministers.

In an initial response to the wishes of the victim’s families, the memorial was originally due to be sited in Tavistock Square, where the last of the four bombs exploded. However, two years ago, after further consultation, the location was changed because of the Park’s “prominence, history and central location”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Palestinian Woman Intent on Suicide Wounded by IDF Fire

A Palestinian woman carrying a suspicious object was moderately wounded by IDF fire on Friday morning near the Bekaot checkpoint in the Jordan Valley, north of Jericho.

The soldiers shot at the woman’s lower body after shooting in the air and after she did not heed their calls to stop advancing towards them, the military said.

After the woman was shot, the soldiers discovered she was carrying a toy gun. She was evacuated to Haemek Hospital in Afula in moderate condition.

An officer of the Civil Administration who interrogated the wounded woman asked her why she acted in this manner. She showed him bruise marks on her hands and said she wanted to kill herself after having been abused at home. The woman is an 18 years old, married with a child.

The IDF said troops at the checkpoint acted according to protocol.

Three years ago, a gunman shot and killed an IDF soldier at the same checkpoint. IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Ro’i Farjun was killed at there in August 2006, after a Palestinian opened fire at him. Troops returned fire, killing the gunman.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Cabinet Internal Matter, Obama’s Visit to Damascus Conditional on Non-Interference in Lebanon

Washington has stressed that cabinet formation in Lebanon was an internal matter and U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Damascus is conditional on ending interference in Lebanon.

“They elected their MPs on their own and named their prime minister. That’s why they have to take the next step of government formation,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman said about the Lebanese people.

“Cabinet formation is an internal matter and we are sure that the Lebanese are able to do that for themselves and they don’t need our assistance or interference,” he added.

On the decision to return the U.S. ambassador to Damascus, Feltman said that the move came as Obama seeks to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region.

Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said Friday in the first official comment on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s announcement that he would be willing to meet Obama in Syria, that such a visit will not take place any time soon.

Steinberg, who made his comment during the Aspen Ideas Festival 2009, wondered how Obama would visit Damascus if Syria continues to provide Hizbullah with arms, supports Hamas and allows fighters to cross the border into Iraq.

He urged Syrians to stop interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs although he admitted that meddling has lately decreased.

Asked by An Nahar daily’s correspondent about the new U.S. ambassador to Syria, Steinberg said that the decision to send the head of mission was taken by the White House and things now depend on his confirmation by the Senate.

Steinberg didn’t expect the ambassador to return before September.

Meanwhile, An Nahar quoted U.S. officials as saying that Assad was upset by Obama’s decision to renew economic sanctions on Syria.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Defense: Turkey, Germany to Sign Submarine Deal

(ANSAmed) — ANKARA, JULY 2 — Turkey signed today an agreement with Germany to build six submarines for the Turkish Naval Forces, Anatolia news agency reports quoting a statement issued by the German Embassy in Ankara. The deal covers six Class-214 air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH (HDW), a part of the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems shipbuilding group. The submarines would be co-produced at Golcuk Naval Shipyard in Kocaeli, Turkey. Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul has also stated that Turkish industrial participation in the project would be worth around 80% of the total value of the deal. As the Turkish Type 214 will have a significant amount of Turkish indigenous systems on board, this variant of the Type 214 will be known as the Type 214TN (Turkish Navy). HDW will preassemble structural and mechanical parts of the submarine in Germany, or classified elements such as the fuel cells and propulsion system and will then ship them to Turkey. All electronic and weapon systems, including sensors, communications, and data processing systems, will be of Turkish design and production. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

From Beyond the Grave, Saddam Reveals All (Nearly)

FBI releases details of 20 sensational interviews with deposed Iraqi President after arrest

Some of the last, frank thoughts and confessions of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq have been revealed in transcripts of a remarkable series of interviews with the former dictator’s interrogators.

Under questioning by the FBI during 20 formal interviews and at least five “casual conversations” over a four-month period from February to May 2004 after his capture by US troops in December 2003, Saddam said he had made a mistake in destroying Baghdad’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) without independent verification from UN inspectors. He also told FBI interrogators that claims he had links with Osama bin Laden were incorrect.

On WMD, Saddam said Iraq’s stockpile had been “eliminated” by UN sanctions. But such was his concern about neighbouring Iran that he did not allow inspectors into Iraq for fear of appearing weak. He felt Iraq was vulnerable and he would have sought a “security agreement with the US to protect [Iraq] from threats in the region”.

Saddam remained defiant on military action against civilian Kurds, at one point dismissing reports of such an assault as “a lie”. He also dismissed claims he had used body doubles to avoid assassination, and laughed: “This is movie magic, not reality.”

The documents suggest that an extraordinary rapport developed over time between Saddam and his interrogator, George L Piro, one of the very few FBI agents who spoke Arabic.

Apparently more co-operative and willing to provide information to the FBI than at his subsequent trial, the former despot was questioned at the Baghdad airport military detention facility between 7 February — six weeks after he was discovered in an underground spider hole at a farmhouse — and 28 June 2004. He was later turned over to the Iraqi authorities, tried and executed by hanging on 30 December 2006.

Transcripts of the interviews were released last week in response to US Freedom of Information requests. Despite the sensitive nature of some of the material, only the last interview — on 1 May — is redacted, though one background document is heavily edited. The secret FBI files were seen by senior officials throughout the US government including, it is believed, the former US president George Bush.

Codenamed “High Value Detainee #1”, Saddam was interviewed at length on subjects ranging from WMD to the bloody history of the Iraqi Ba’athist regime.

During a series of conversations, he claimed North Korea was the only country likely to rush to his aid and said he shared President Bush’s hostility towards the “fanatic” Iranian mullahs.

Despite claiming he would never admit to his enemies that he had made mistakes, Saddam said he had erred in destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMDs without independent UN verification, and claimed he allowed weapons inspectors back into Iraq in a desperate attempt to avert war, after British intelligence issued an “inaccurate” report claiming Baghdad was still pursuing its WMD strategy.

He refused to talk about Iraq’s use of chemical weapons during the war with Iran, and the FBI records show he was also questioned about the use of chemical and biological weapons against the Kurds in Northern Iraq, although his answers are not revealed.

When asked about his greatest achievements, the former Iraqi leader cited social progress for ordinary Iraqis, a temporary ceasefire with the Kurds in the early 1970s, the nationalisation of Iraq’s oil in 1972, and support for the Arab side during the 1973 Middle East war with Israel. He insisted he would be remembered for standing up against oppression, as well as surviving the brutal Iran-Iraq War and the UN sanctions. He said he believed Iraqis would look kindly on him after his death.

In the first interview, Saddam acknowledged that his interviewer was smart, adding: “Perhaps a conversation between two such educated people will not be useful or successful.” In one of their last conversations, Saddam, clearly relaxed, joked with Mr Piro about his two half-brothers. Mr Piro then asked Saddam about Abid Hamid Mahmoud, Saddam’s presidential secretary. Saddam said Abid was a good and loyal employee and asked Piro what he thought. Piro described to Saddam the meaning of a “used car salesman”. Saddam laughed and said Piro was correct.

Throughout, Saddam sought to paint himself in a positive light, denying responsibility for political assassinations, stressing that he was used to living simply and insisting he did not live in palaces. He even claimed an interest in American culture and movies.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Orthodox Leaders Give Message of Unity in Istanbul

ISTANBUL — Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill gave the message of solidarity and unity in their meeting in Istanbul on Saturday.

Patriarch Kirill arrived in Turkey on Saturday for a three-day visit and met with Barholomew. Kirill also attended a religious service before the meeting, the state-run Anatolian Agency reported.

They were expected to discuss the sensitive issue of the churches in Ukraine and Estonia during the visit of Krill who enthroned in February to lead the Russian Orthodox Church.

Priests kissed Kirill’s hands and children gave him flowers when he arrived to the sound of bells ringing at the Patriarchal Church of Saint George, where he blessed parishioners and prayed at icons, Reuters reported.

“I hope my visit will be the start of a renewal in our relationship,” Kirill told reporters before his talks with Patriarch Bartholomew.

He said he agrees with the message of Bartholomew that the two institutions find themselves as members of a joint church.

Bartholomew, an ethnic Greek but a Turkish citizen, said Kirill’s presence in Istanbul is a message of unity. “Your visit to the patriarchate and the mother church is a source of great joy and deep emotion. Your presence here carries the message of unity, togetherness and fraternity with the Holy Russian Church,” Bartholomew was quoted as saying by the news agencies.

Relations between the Churches have been strained in the past because Churches in some former Soviet states, such as Estonia, have broken away from the Russian Orthodox Church and tried to pledge allegiance to Bartholomew instead.

A spokesman for Bartholomew said the Churches of Estonia and Ukraine were expected to be on the agenda during the talks, Reuters also reported.

Ukraine and Russia have long been in dispute over the ex-Soviet state’s right to its own independent church. The global Orthodox Church does not recognize the Ukrainian Church.

Kirill will attend a joint mass with Bartholomew on Sunday and is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul when he then visits Ankara.

Kirill, leader of 160 million Russian Orthodox believers, is seen as an outspoken modernizer who may thaw ties with the Catholic Church. He was de facto “foreign minister” of the Moscow patriarchate for two decades before succeeding Alexiy II.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Saudis Outraged by Chinese Dumping Probe: Al-Zamil

RIYADH: Saudi petrochemicals producers said yesterday they would seek duties on imports from China after Beijing began a dumping probe on petrochemical products from Saudi Arabia and three other countries.

Abdul Rahman Al-Zamil, chairman of the executive council of Saudi Export Development Center (SEDC), said China had no grounds to pursue the dumping investigation on imports of methanol and butanediol (BDO) it launched in late June.

“We do not subsidize our exporters” of petrochemicals, he told a news conference in Riyadh. He said China’s protection policy against petrochemical imports was unacceptable and demanded the Saudi government adopt a clear and frank stand on the issue.

“This is not fair for two major trading partners,” he said, referring to China and Saudi Arabia’s mostly duty-free bilateral trade, which surpassed $40 billion in 2008, according to SABB bank.

He described the Chinese measure as a direct threat to the Saudi economy as it ignored the agreements signed by the two countries. He also urged the Saudi private sector to work for protecting their rights.

Al-Zamil said Saudi exporters feared China would levy punitive tariffs on the two products from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand while a lengthy investigation goes on at the request of several Chinese producers. “The damage will be done while they study it for one, two, or even 100 years,” he said.

Methanol and BDO make up between 10 and 15 percent of the Kingdom’s $2 billion annual petrochemicals exports to China, according to Al-Zamil. He said the group was asking the Saudi government to impose tariffs on industrial imports from China in return.

“The Chinese are dumping on our market,” he said. “We want our government … to apply the same principles, the same customs duties” that the Chinese are placing on Saudi goods, he added.

Al-Zamil said Saudi Arabia had reduced customs tariff on foreign imports to zero on medicine and foodstuff and five percent for all other products, especially after its accession to the World Trade Organization.

He estimated total Saudi imports at $150 billion. “From China alone we import goods worth SR47 billion ($13 billion), which represents 11 percent of our total imports,” he told reporters.

He put Saudi Arabia’s nonoil exports at SR125 billion ($33 billion) in 2008 in which China’s share is SR7.5 billion ($2 billion).

Al-Zamil called for a working team comprising representatives from the ministries of foreign, commerce and finance and petrochemical industries to confront the Chinese action.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

‘The Challenge is Not to Save Newspapers, But Journalism’

Citizen hacks using Twitter and camera phones go where reporters can’t.

More than three weeks after Iran’s disputed presidential election, at least 33 journalists are behind bars this weekend. Iran now has more journalists in prison than any country in the world, says the charity Reporters Sans Frontiers. Dozens of foreign journalists were booted out of the country or arrested following the election, and the entire editorial staff of one Iranian newspaper was incarcerated.

But if the Iranian government had hoped to block the spread of information, it was hopelessly thwarted by Twitter and mobile phone cameras in the hands of ordinary Iranians, who transmitted nuggets of information and images to the internet as the violence began. By clamping down on recognised journalists, Iran unwittingly unleashed a multi-headed hydra of citizen journalists chronicling events at the frontline.

So it was timely of Google to launch a site last week promoting amateur journalism. YouTube Reporters aims to “help citizens learn more about how to report the news, straight from the experts”. Videos have been posted by professionals such as Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter who co-broke the Watergate scandal and Nick Kristof of The New York Times.

Newspapers have long been accused of hastening their own demise by giving content away free online, so it’s perhaps even odder for professional journalists to be queuing up to give away their trade tips. But this is a pivotal moment in the democratisation of the media. The Daily Mail and General Trust launched its Local People network last week, unveiling the first of 50 community websites. The aim is to build a network of sites in which readers contribute content by uploading stories and images. It is yet another example of the growth of collaborative journalism already exploited by US sites such as The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.

What emerges from many of the tutorials posted on YouTube Reporters so far is, ironically, the case against it. Stories need verification, say the old hands. The first principle of journalism may be to gather information but, as Bob Woodward stresses, more important still is the checking for accuracy. While the Tehran riots highlighted the value of eyewitness accounts, credibility remains a problem. One tweet reported a massacre that never happened. Yet with few journalists on the ground, news agencies were forced to compose a picture of unfolding events from the evidence available. Even the US government became dependent on the stream of live tweets, asking Twitter to postpone maintenance work on their server until the riots were over.

It was, says Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huff Po, a “defining moment for new media”. Huffington is among those who have contributed to YouTube Reporters. Her site, which boasts 13,000 citizen journalists, ran a live blog during the riots, reporting events within minutes of them happening. This has prompted fears the site is lending credibility to potentially false information, although Huffington denies this, pointing out that she employs a news editor who “curates” reports as they come in, “adding value” by filtering and weaving them with wire copy. “It was the only way to circumvent what the Iranian regime was trying to do, which was to control all information,” she says.

Huffington says the challenge ahead is not how to save newspapers but how to preserve journalism. To that end, she has established, with other donors, a £1.2m fund for investigative reporting which will fund 10 staff reporters. Saving journalism is also what prompted Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair, to launch a right-wing equivalent to Huff Po, the Daily Beast, which also makes use of unpaid contributors. She says the tipping point for internet journalism has been reached, and believes advertising will begin to follow. “The internet was founded by geeks so visually it wasn’t a good place to advertise,” she says, “But as websites become more attractive they become more attractive to advertisers. Big ticket advertisers have yet to come aboard. We’re breaking through in that area by creating a brand that is so attractive that advertisers want to be a part of it.”

While newspapers wait to see whether Brown is proven right, many are concentrating on clawing back free content from the net, with at least three national newspapers looking into re-erecting pay barriers. The way in which the story of Michael Jackson’s death was broken, via free-to-view gossip website TMZ, is a timely reminder of the threat to traditional media. Meanwhile in Iran, as the 33 journalists ponder their fates, the threat to journalism must seem rather more immediate.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Turkey: Democracy is at Risk, Says Baykal

ANKARA — CHP leader Deniz Baykal says the incidents at the critical National Security Council meeting are not part of the path to democracy. He says the AKP is trying to create its own ‘deep state’ and its coup rhetoric only conceals the AKP’s own ongoing civilian coup

Turkey’s main opposition leader, Deniz Baykal, has described Tuesday’s critical National Security Council, or MGK, meeting as “a scary move.”

“That night, with deep concern we all watched dramatic scenes of a tense atmosphere and bore witness to the conflict between institutions. These incidents are not steps taken on the path to democracy,” said the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Baykal, speaking to daily AkÅŸam on Friday.

The National Security Council, or MGK, convened Tuesday amid growing tension between the Prime Ministry and the General Staff over an alleged military plan to dismantle the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government and moves in Parliament to allow civilian courts to prosecute military personnel. Chief of General Staff Gen. Ä°lker BaÅŸbuÄŸ earlier described the document as a psychological smear campaign against the military, saying that he would bring the document in question onto the MGK’s agenda. Navy Col. Dursun Çiçek, who is alleged to have prepared the document, was arrested as part of the controversial Ergenekon investigation as the MGK meeting continued. After the MGK gathering, which lasted an unprecedented eight hours, President Abdullah Gül held a 90-minute meeting with BaÅŸbuÄŸ and ErdoÄŸan, with no statement released afterward.

‘Coup rhetoric mask for AKP’

“There is a big struggle between the state institutions. They are conflicting with each other. These are not the struggles that are required to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Rather, this is an attempt by a political majority to impose their own hegemony by violating the essence of democracy and law,” Baykal said. “It is also an attempt to impose this hegemony on the media, the business world, the judiciary and now the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK.”

Turkey is undergoing a harsh and stressful period and there is a chaotic Turkey ahead for its people, according to Baykal. “Today, what is happening is not a result of a democratic period. The AKP is trying to create it’s own ‘deep state.’ The coup rhetoric serves to conceal the AKP’s its own civilian coup.”

Baykal also reiteriated that the statement made after the MGK meeting was unsatisfactory.

“Nothing was said, nothing was explained. I have examined the text; I don’t know what to say. In the statement, there is an expression: ‘Attacks leveled at the institutions’ have no use. It doesn’t even say ‘it is dangerous’ and the MGK doesn’t take a stance against the developments.”

“If I were prime minister, I wouldn’t let all this happen. I would both protect the institutions and weed out those on the wrong track.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Turkish TV Gameshow Looks to Convert Atheists

ISTANBUL (Reuters) — What happens when you put a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk in a room with 10 atheists?

Turkish television station Kanal T hopes the answer is a ratings success as it prepares to launch a gameshow where spiritual guides from the four faiths will seek to convert a group of non-believers.

The prize for converts will be a pilgrimage to a holy site of their chosen religion — Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists.

But religious authorities in Muslim but secular Turkey are not amused by the twist on the popular reality game show format and the Religious Affairs Directorate is refusing to provide an imam for the show.

“Doing something like this for the sake of ratings is disrespectful to all religions. Religion should not be a subject for entertainment programs,” High Board of Religious Affairs Chairman Hamza Aktan told state news agency Anatolian after news of the planned program emerged.

The makers of “Penitents Compete” are unrepentant and reject claims that the show, scheduled to begin broadcasting in September, will cheapen religion.

“We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God,” Kanal T chief executive Seyhan Soylu told Reuters.

“We don’t approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn’t matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe,” Soylu said.

The project focuses attention on the issue of religious identity in European Union-candidate Turkey, where rights groups have raised concerns over freedom of religion for non-Muslim minorities.

Detractors of the ruling AK Party government, which is rooted in political Islam but officially secular, accuse it of having a hidden Islamist agenda, a charge it denies.

Some 200 people have so far applied to take part in the show and the 10 contestants will be chosen next month.

A team of theologians will ensure that the atheists are truly non-believers and are not just seeking fame or a free holiday.

           — Hat tip: KGS [Return to headlines]

Turks Encouraged to Vote in Bulgaria

ISTANBUL — Amid concerns over a right-wing victory in Bulgarian elections, Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin are encouraged to cast their votes for the Turkish minority Rights and Freedoms Party, or MRF. The elections’ outcome may become more critical this year, says a MRF official in Turkey

The center-right opposition is poised to defeat the ruling Socialist Party in Bulgaria’s general elections on Sunday. But the Rights and Freedoms Party, or MRF, which is largely supported by ethnic Turks, has stepped up its campaign in Turkey to encourage Turks with dual nationality to participate in the elections.

Billboards calling Bulgarian citizens of Turkish origin to go to the ballot boxes on Sunday in big cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa and Ä°zmir, has brought Bulgaria’s election atmosphere to Turkey. The billboards were prepared in both Bulgarian and Turkish by MRF’s representation in Turkey. It is the first time that the party launched a billboard campaign in Turkey for Bulgarian polls.

Ten percent of the Bulgarian population is ethnically Turkish, and there are approximately 120,000 Turks in Turkey who are potential voters in Bulgarian elections. Enver HatipoÄŸlu, a MRF representative in Turkey, told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that they are trying to reach all the Turks who have the right to vote in Bulgarian elections through the billboards.

“We are using these billboards in Bursa and Istanbul, because people live in very separate places and we want all of them to go to the polls, as this year the election outcome may become more critical,” HatipoÄŸlu said.

‘Rise of racism’

Opinion polls suggest three out of four Bulgarians want Sergei Stanishev’s corruption-tainted government out, in which the MRF is part of the coalition. His main opponent, Sofia Mayor Boiko Borisov is expected to win 28 to 32 percent of the votes, ahead of PM’s with 17 to 22 percent. According to GÃzde KılıçyaÅŸün, a Balkan expert from the Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis, or Türksam, the elections are critical both for Europe and for the Turkish minority living in Bulgaria.

“The rise of racism will be reflected in this election,” KılıçyaÅŸün said. “ATAKA, with a racist propaganda, won 8 percent of the votes in the last elections and probably will get that many votes in this election. Also, center-right and nationalist party GERB will probably win the elections, which will not be a good outcome for the Turkish minority,” she said. According to KılıçyaÅŸün, the Turkish minority party MRF calls people to vote in order to increase its seats in parliament.

The MRF had 34 seats in the 2005 general elections and six of those deputies were not ethnic Turks. The party avoids trying to portray itself as a minority party. Although the MRF is criticized in Bulgaria by the Turkish minority for not working enough for them, experts believe that the party will still get the votes of ethnic Turks.

Ä°smet TopaloÄŸlu, a columnist of Web-based newspaper, said that even the party leader, Ahmet DoÄŸan, has become unreachable to ordinary people. He said the votes of ethnic Turks should not be taken for granted as the gap between the politicians and the Turks in Bulgaria is getting bigger. However, since the support for nationalistic parties increases in Bulgaria, Turks living in Turkey and Europe are more likely to participate in this election, said TopaloÄŸlu, who is in Ä°zmir.

In Turkey, 44,498 people voted in the Bulgarian general election in 2005 and 41,809 of those voted for MRF. In this election there will be 123 ballot boxes in 12 cities in Turkey.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Russia Scolds OSCE for Equating Hitler and Stalin

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Russian lawmakers threatened the OSCE with “harsh” consequences on Saturday after the European security body’s parliamentary arm condemned both Stalinism and fascism for starting World War Two.

Russia’s delegates stormed out of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s annual parliamentary meeting after members passed the resolution, drafted by a delegate from the host nation Lithuania, a former Soviet satellite.

“This is nothing but an attempt to re-write the history of World War Two,” Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the foreign relations committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament, told Interfax news agency.

“The reaction of the parliament to this document will be immediate and it will be harsh.”

The resolution called for a day of remembrance for victims of both Stalinism and Nazism to be marked every August 23, the date in 1939 when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact dividing Eastern Europe between their spheres of influence.

Of the 213 delegates present, eight voted against the resolution and four abstained.

An OSCE spokesman noted that unlike its parliamentary branch, the Vienna-headquartered OSCE itself does not pass resolutions and takes decisions by consensus, giving each of its 56 member countries veto power.

Such parliamentary resolutions have little to no effect on OSCE policy, though Friday’s was enough to draw Moscow’s ire.

Since its brief war with neighboring Georgia last year, Russia has had a strained relationship with the OSCE, which led a post-war monitoring mission in the conflict zone.

The legacy of Josef Stalin often touches off emotional public debates in Russia, and in May, the Kremlin set up a commission to counter claims from other countries that Russia had not defeated fascism in Europe in the war.

Alexander Kozlovsky, the head of Moscow’s delegation to the OSCE, called the resolution an “insulting anti-Russian attack,” state-owned RT television reported. The head of the Russian Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, told Ekho Moskvy radio that the document was “disgusting” and “shameful.”

Millions of Russians, especially of the older generation, revere Stalin for fashioning the Soviet Union into a superpower and defeating Nazi Germany during the Great Patriotic War, as it is known to most Russians.

Last year, Stalin was voted the third greatest Russian in history in a national survey.

President Dmitry Medvedev has launched an official drive to fight versions of history that question Russia’s role in defeating fascism.

Russian histories of World War Two still give little attention to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which carved up Poland and the three Baltic States at the outbreak of war.

The Soviet Union joined the allied side in 1941 after it was attacked by Germany.

Kosachyov, a parliamentarian from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, offered his own history lesson to the Baltic states that supported the resolution. “A large portion of their populations fought alongside the SS with weapons in hand,” he said, Interfax reported.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Gunmen Kill Nine Chechen Police in Russia’s Ingushetia

Nine Chechen police officers were killed today in the Russian republic of Ingushetia after gunmen opened fire on their convoy, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing the republic’s interior ministry.

The attackers, who fired automatic weapons at the police convoy from a forest at the roadside, also left nine policemen badly wounded, the news agency reported.

The Kremlin-appointed leader of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, is fighting for his life in hospital after a suicide bomb blast struck his armoured car on June 22 in the city of Nazran, where today’s attack also took place.

After the attack on Yevkurov, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the head of the neighbouring republic of Chechnya to fight insurgents across the regional border in Ingushetia.

Both regions are in the volatile and mainly Muslim Caucusus region in southern Russia, where the Kremlin is facing an insurgency that has intensified in recent months, striking at local officials and security personnel.

The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov vowed to respond to the assassination attempt against Yevkurov by sending in his own troops to quell the insurgency there.

“We will take no captives, we will destroy them. As long as they exist there will be blood,” he told Reuters.

Kadyrov’s harsh tactics have brought relative stability to Chechnya since he took power in 2007 after more than a decade of war. But fellow Kremlin appointees have failed to stem spikes in violence in neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghan Civilians Using Mobile Phones Acted as Lookouts for the Taliban

before the convoy led by the most senior British officer to be killed in Afghanistan was attacked by a roadside bomb.

Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe and 18-year-old Trooper Joshua Hammond died when their Viking armoured vehicle was blown up by the device last Wednesday during a major offensive in Helmand province.

Senior defence sources last night said that the convoy headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Thorneloe, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, had been ‘dicked’, or identified, as targets by Afghans who tipped off Taliban insurgents. It is a technique now being regularly employed.

Under threats of violence, the civilians had little choice but to act as lookouts. It enabled militants to activate the improvised explosive device, which also injured six soldiers.

Sources said the Afghans, who left the area before the attack, had formed a screen to view military vehicles driving towards a canal crossing near the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

The term ‘dicking’ was first used during the Northern Ireland Troubles by British soldiers when they were being watched by terrorists.

A source said last night: ‘The Army is holding a detailed investigation into the deaths as it does in every case, but the early signs are this was a classic dicking operation that allowed the Taliban time to set their roadside bombs.’

Undeterred by the deaths of Trooper Hammond and 39-year-old Lieut-Col Thorneloe, who was known well by Prince Charles, Colonel-in-Chief of the Welsh Guards, troops fought close-quarter battles with the Taliban yesterday.

In sweltering heat, hundreds of British soldiers taking part in Operation Panther’s Claw engaged in firefights lasting several hours against the Taliban, who were often just 15ft away.

Using machine guns, shoulder-launched missiles and SA80 rifles with fixed bayonets, men from the Welsh Guards, the Black Watch, the Light Dragoons and the 3 Scots battlegroups threw hand grenades to flush the enemy out of ditches and canals.

They were supported by Apache attack helicopters and Harrier and Tornado fighter jets.

Major Martyn Miles, of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, revealed last night how Lieut-Col Thorneloe’s death had ‘devastated’ his men.

‘All of the soldiers on the ground here in Afghanistan have been devastated by Col Rupert’s death,’ he said. ‘He died leading his men from the front.

‘We will never forget how much he thought about us; he loved the battalion and all those who served with him. He was a true leader of men.’

Lieut-Col Thorneloe is the most senior British officer to die in combat since Lieut-Col ‘H’ Jones of 2 Para was killed by an Argentine bullet during the Falklands War in 1982.

He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. It is possible Lieut-Col Thorneloe could also receive a VC.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Ibrahim Cops the Jail Shuffle

FORMER Sydney bikie Hassan “Sam” Ibrahim is being bounced around the state’s prisons in an apparent attempt by NSW Corrective Services to punish him for speaking out.

It comes after a series of moves by the State Government and Corrective Services to punish high-profile, “high-risk” prisoners.

The Government legislated recently to stop two prisoners, Bassam Hamzy and Emad Sleiman, from suing the state over their incarceration in Goulburn jail’s High Risk Management Unit, known as Supermax.

Ibrahim, the former president of the Parramatta chapter of the Nomads bikie gang, has been a prominent player in Sydney’s criminal milieu for two decades. He says he is now “retired”.

He is on remand over the alleged kidnapping of a 16-year-old boy who was mistaken for a person who tried to break into Ibrahim’s Greystanes home in April. Ibrahim has yet to be tried on the charges and police have since admitted in court that he was not the person who initially took the child, nor the person who punched him in the face.

After spending two months at Silverwater jail, Ibrahim was moved to the state’s most punitive and secure jail section, Supermax, shortly after the June 5 attempt on the life of his younger brother, Fadi.

After he complained about the move to his lawyer, Brett Galloway, Ibrahim was transferred again, this time to segregation in Goulburn jail’s multipurpose unit.

Multipurpose units are used in maximum-security jails for high-risk inmates on segregation orders.

The transfers have been criticised by the NSW Greens and prisoner advocacy group Justice Action as lacking in due legal process and further evidence of a culture of extrajudicial punishment in NSW prisons.

The incidence of remand prisoners, inmates not yet tried over their alleged offences, residing in Supermax is very rare. Only high-profile prisoners facing the most severe charges, such as murder or terrorism, are sent there. “[Ibrahim’s charges] do not justify his being placed in the extremely punitive conditions of the Goulburn Supermax while still awaiting trial,” said Greens’ prison spokeswoman Sylvia Hale.

While acknowledging that “with the current violence between bikie gang members, it may well be appropriate for someone like Sam Ibrahim to be segregated”, Ms Hale said that should be done by way of a formal segregation order that can be subject to judicial review.

Justice Action spokesman Brett Collins said the transfers are ultimately in the hands of Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham who is regarded as having almost autocratic control over NSW jails.

Moving prisoners around high-security, segregated units or from jail to jail is being used as a form of punishment for prisoners, Mr Collins said.

“[Being moved is] totally up to the discretion of the manager and the manager, of course, at the end of it is Woodham. It means any prison officer who doesn’t particularly like a prisoner, for whatever reason … any prisoner can be put inside the High Risk Management Unit.”

Mr Galloway complained about the move in a series of letters to Corrective Services.

During a phone call with his client on Wednesday, Mr Galloway discussed going public with complaints about the transfer. Several hours later Ibrahim was allegedly told by Corrective Services, not to co-operate with the media.

Mr Galloway said Ibrahim was told “things would only get worse for him”. The lawyer and his client decided to speak to The Sun-Herald and by Friday morning Ibrahim had been transferred a second time. A Corrective Services spokesman would not respond to the alleged “not to co-operate” statement.


Opened in 2001 by then premier Bob Carr, Supermax follows a North American trend of creating “prisons within prisons” for the most violent and dangerous prisoners.

The 1000-square-metre concrete and steel structure is divided into three areas — units 7, 8 and 9 — and has 78 cells, three of which are “dry cells” used for inmates at risk of self-harm.

Unit 7 is the most notorious of the three and is used for the initial “assessment phase”.

Locked in 1.5-metre by 4.2-metre concrete cells for at least 19 hours every day, inmates have access to one six-minute shower a day. Food is provided through a hole in the door.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Crew Onboard Hijacked Ship Are “Desperate”: Report

BERLIN (Reuters) — The 24 hostages on board a German ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates in April have no more water, food or medicine, a German weekly reported, citing comments emailed by the captain of the ship.

The 20,000-tonne container vessel, Hansa Stavanger, was captured about 400 miles off the southern Somali port of Kismayu on April 4.

“We just cannot carry on,” the captain wrote in an email to his wife Friday, the first sign of life in over three weeks, Der Spiegel magazine reported.

“We have no water, no food and no medicine,” he wrote.

The Hamburg shipping company Leonhardt & Blumberg that owns the Hansa Stavanger was not available to comment on the authenticity of the emails.

Piracy has flourished in recent months off the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes and seaborne gangs have seized several cargo ships and collected tens of millions of dollars in ransom for the safe release of crews and cargoes.

The captain of the Hansa Stavanger wrote in one email that the pirates had become impatient when the negotiations with the Hamburg shipping company that owns the vessel stalled at the end of April. The pirates threatened to kill the crew held hostage.

“They put tape over my eyes and dragged me onto the deck … They shouted and sent bullets flying close next to my head.”

Five Germans, three Russians, two Ukrainians, and 14 Filippinos are believed to be on board on the ship.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said a crisis management team was working in close cooperation with the shipping company that owned Hansa Stavanger to find a solution.

Der Spiegel reported that the captain also sent an email to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking her for help.

“We are all desperate, and some of us are even ill,” the captain wrote. “We ask you politely, but with determination, to help us.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Honduras Coup: Exiled President to Return as Supporters March on Airport

Manuel Zelaya, the exiled president of Honduras, has declared that he will fly back into the country with foreign leaders on Sunday, a week after he was deposed in a widely-denounced coup.

Thousands of Zelaya supporters marched towards the airport on Saturday, saying they would camp out to await his return. The new administration, which has said it will arrest Mr Zelaya if he returns, sent troops to the site as tensions mounted.

Amid rising fears of bloodshed, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez read out a message on Honduran television urging Mr Zelaya to stay away to avoid violence. “We think that a return to the country at the moment could provoke a bloodbath,” he said.

Mr Zelaya outlined his plans to the Telesur TV station based in Venezuela, where his close ally Hugo Chavez is president.

“I am planning my return to Honduras… we will arrive at the international airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with several presidents, (and) members of international organisations,” he said. “This Sunday we will be in Tegucigalpa.”

Presidents Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, all fellow Latin American leftists, have previously offered to accompany him.

Mr Zelaya asked his followers to join him “without arms” on his arrival in the Honduran capital.

He also demanded the step down of the current government that took his place, describing the new administration of interim leader Roberto Micheletti as a “criminal cult”.

Thousands of Zelaya’s supporters and opponents have demonstrated daily since the president was flown to Costa Rica, and sporadic clashes have broken out between the army and protesters. An unidentified number of people have been injured and detained.

Mr Correa admitted Saturday that Mr Zelaya’s return to Honduras involved “risks,” but insisted he would be willing to accompany the ousted president.

Mr Zelaya was due to address an emergency session of the Organisation of American States in Washington on Saturday night. The groups is expected to suspend Honduras at the meeting, although the administration of Mr Micheletti, the Congressional speaker sworn in to replace Mr Zelaya, has tried to pre-empt the move by announcing plans to quit the body.

The Supreme Court has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Zelaya on charges of treason, abuse of office and corruption.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Italy: Failure to Identify Asylum Seekers ‘Immoral’, Fini

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JUNE 30 — House Speaker Gianfranco Fini today said repatriating illegal immigrants without distinguishing asylum seekers was “immoral”. Fini’s comments at a forum organised by Spanish daily El Mundo appeared to put the speaker, who belongs to Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, at odds with the government’s controversial policy of immediately returning immigrants rescued in the Mediterranean to Libya. “It’s absolutely indispensable to distinguish those who are asking for political asylum, “ Fini said. “Refugees cannot automatically be equated with illegal immigrants… (which) would deny human dignity”. Fini said “rigorous national controls” were necessary to assess immigrant status. “It would be immoral to immediately say, yoùre an illegal immigrant, I’m sending you back to your country. In some cases it would be like condemning that person to death. “The basic principle of western society stands: they are first people and then immigrants”. Fini also underlined the role played by immigrants in Italy, saying it was “unthinkable” that an Italian woman would work as a waitress or an old person’s help. He said immigration policy should focus on helping immigrants’ countries of origin to progress but also to ensure equal rights and integration for foreigners. Italy has “dramatic need” of people who have left their countries for Italy, Fini said, and so the policy focus would be “in our interests”. Despite heavy criticism from the United Nations, the Catholic Church and humanitarian organisations, Italy has sent back some 600 would-be migrants since the launch of the policy on May 6 as part of a historic friendship deal with Libya, the main stepping-off point for immigrants. Human rights organisations have criticised Libya for not providing adequate facilities to process pleas from asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Africa.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]