Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/10/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/10/2009“Youths” are rioting again in Paris, throwing Molotov cocktails at police and torching vehicles. It’s practically a carbon copy of similar riots in previous years: the trouble started when a teenager was killed in a motorbike accident while escaping police at a checkpoint.

In other news, Hillary Clinton angrily told an audience in Kinshasa that she, and not her husband, is Secretary of State. “If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion, I am not going to be channeling my husband,” she said.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, CSP, Fausta, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JD, Lurker from Tulsa, Sean O’Brian, Steen, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Bahrain: UK Legal Firms to Manage Banks
Tulsa FOP Wants City to Accept Federal Grant
8 Cities in US Line Up for Swine Flu Vaccine Test
Another Trillion?
AP to Distribute Soros-Funded ‘Journalism’
Dirty Secret No. 1 in Obamacare
eBay, GM to Start Trial Program to Sell New Cars
Eight Charged in N.J.-Based Sex-Trafficking Ring
Federal Employees Should Take Unpaid Vacation
Frank Gaffney: Is ‘Islam’ At War With Us?
Globe: Obama’s Hawaiian Birth Document Fake
Lawmakers’ “Global-Warming” Trip Paid by Tax Payers
They Think We’re Stupid, So Let Us Count the Ways!
U.S. Religious Left Wades Into Healthcare Fight
Europe and the EU
Belgian Crown Prince’s New Beard Sparks Accession Talk
Belgium: Muslim Convert Involved in Prison Escape
France: Youths Riot in Paris Suburb After Teen’s Death
France: Spy Tricyles Map Paris Streets for Google
Germany’s Oldest Drug Dealer’ Arrested at Age 84
Germany: Stasi Prison Memorial Pleas for Financial Help
German Bomb Plot Suspect Confesses in Court
Gordon Brown Insists Britain is Still Christian Country
‘Hijacked’ Cargo Ship Missing at Sea
Northern League Wants Constitutional Amendment to Allow Regional Anthems and Flags
Oliviero Toscani’s Italian Faces
Remains of Missing Greek Cypriot Soldiers Found
Spain: Indra to Build Surveillance System on Portugal Coast
Sweden: Malmö Hit by Wave of Car Fires
Swiss Government Holds Special Meet Over UBS
UK: ‘We’ll Ease Up on Muslim Fanatics’
UK: A Request to Snoop on Public Every 60 Secs
UK: Government’s Green Energy Plan May Cost 17 Times More Than Its Benefits
UK: How ‘Impartiality Rules’ Allow the BBC to Sideline Conservative Opinions
UK: Huge Rise in Child Abduction From Britain: Report
UK: Public Spied on 1,500 Times a Day, Study Finds
UK: Prevent Scheme is Alienating Muslim Communities and Should be Scrapped
UK: Police Told to Ignore Human Rights Ruling Over DNA Database
Human Organ Trafficking Investigator Shunned
North Africa
Egyptian Beach Succumbs to Veil as Alexandria Loses Its Diversity
Labour: Tunisia,30% Emigrants to Gulf Countries Without Work
Israel and the Palestinians
Fatah Congress, Barghuti Behind Party Renewal
Fatah Congress’ Outcome Was Below Par: UAE Paper
Gaza: Netanyahu, Air Raid in Response to Rockets
MKs Launch New Alliance With European Parliaments
Middle East
Another Tack: (Trans) Jordan is Palestine
Bahrain: Work Begins on USD 50.3 Million Mini Disneyland
Brennan on Hizballah: They Can’t be Terrorists! They Have Lawyers!
Energy: EU’s Largest Solar Panel Factory Set for Sicily
Iran Cancels All Saudi Flights in Ramadan
Iran Protesters ‘Raped in Jail’
Netanyahu Warns Against Including Hizbullah in Lebanon Government
Nobel Winner Demands Democracy for Iran
Police Chief in Key Iraq Province Wants U.S. To Stay
Probe Urged Into Iran Jail ‘Rape’
Protesters Savagely Raped in Jail: Iran’s Karroubi
Rafsanjani Withdraws From Tehran Friday Prayers
Saudi Arabia: HRW Reports Thousands Detained Without Trial
Saudi Arabia: Kingdom Reminds Palestinians of King’s Appeal
Kremlin: Russia to Bolster Law on Using Military Abroad
Kremlin Bill on Using Army Abroad
South Asia
50 Drug Barons on US Target List in Afghanistan
India: Christian Leaders: Pakistan Must Abolish the Blasphemy Law
Pakistan: A Catholic Activist: Petition for the Abolition of Blasphemy Law
Pakistan: Gone Insane for a Son
Pakistan Says Its Civil Nuclear Technology Better Than India’s
Pakistan Seeking Civil N-Deal With US: Official
Pakistan Taliban — What if?
Plan to Attack Pakistan’s Parliament House Foiled: Minister
Western Airstrikes Kill Fewer Afghan Civilians
Far East
North Korea: A Lousy Day’s Work
Opposition and Dissidents Persecuted in Cambodia, HRW Says
Australia — Pacific
Authorities Play Down Hendra Virus Fears
Don’t Give Kids Tamiflu: Doctors
Two More Indian Students Attacked in Australia
Sub-Saharan Africa
Clinton: My Husband is Not Secretary of State, I Am
Pirates Free Italian Tugboat Crew
Somali Islamists Pull “Sinners” Gold Teeth
Latin America
Cash-Strapped Cuba Says Toilet Paper Running Short
Mexican Cartels Smuggle Oil to US
Mexico ‘Courage’ On Drugs Praised
Obama Presses for New Tone in U.S. Ties With Mexico
1 Missing in Attempted Landing on Pantelleria
Speech on ‘Immigration’ And Jihad
Culture Wars
Italy: Catholic Bishop Condemns Abortion Pill
Climate Talks Resume With New Emissions Pledges
UN Chief Calls for Global Push to Combat Climate Change

Financial Crisis

Bahrain: UK Legal Firms to Manage Banks

(ANSAmed) — MANAMA, AUGUST 10 — Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has appointed two of UK’s leading international corporate law firms to be administrators of two troubled Bahraini banks. The move is seen as suggesting that the issues faced by Awal Bank and The International Banking Corporation (TIBC), who are both facing problems related to Saudi-based Saad Group and Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Brothers are legal as well as financial. “There is no doubt that these leading corporate lawyers have the experience and ability to carry out an administration but one would have expected the appointment to have been a chartered accountancy practice with insolvency experience rather than corporate lawyers,” said an industry insider as reported by Gulf daily news. “The appointment of these leading firms suggests there are legal as well as financial implications in the administration.” Both banks were placed under administration by the CBB on July 30. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Tulsa FOP Wants City to Accept Federal Grant

TULSA, OK — Tulsa’s Fraternal of Police wants the city of Tulsa to accept stimulus money from the federal government.

Last month, city officials say pending city council approval; the city had been awarded a $3.5 million in federal stimulus money to put 18 additional police officers on the street.

In a news release Monday, the FOP says that accepting the grant money would be a good move for the city.

“Endorsing the City’s application to accept the COPS Grants is a win-win for both the citizens of Tulsa and the Tulsa Police Department,” said Phil Evans, President of Tulsa’s Fraternal Order of Police.

Evans says hiring the additional officers would address some concerns addressed by an independent workforce study of the police department.

“The City and FOP recently had an independent workforce study completed on the manpower of the Tulsa Police Department. The results of the study stated that Tulsa needed an additional 80 officers for the field,” Evans said.

The stimulus grant will pay the salary and benefits for the officers’ first three years on the force. The city is required to put up the money for the officers’ fourth year.

The final decision to accept or deny the money is the Tulsa City Council.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa [Return to headlines]


8 Cities in US Line Up for Swine Flu Vaccine Test

ST. LOUIS — Hundreds of Americans in eight cities are lining up for experimental swine flu shots in a race to get a vaccine out in case the new flu virus regains strength this fall and winter.

Sharon Frey, who is leading the government-funded testing at Saint Louis University, said scientists have been working late nights and weekends to organize the studies and recruit volunteers.

“Typically it takes a year to do this,” said Frey, an infectious diseases expert. “I can tell you we’re working at breakneck speed.”

About 2,800 people will participate in the government-led studies. Saint Louis University will test 200 adults and 200 children. Also under way are separate studies by five flu vaccine manufacturers under contract with the government.

Health officials expect to have about 160 million doses available this fall, with the first batch sometime in September. The studies will test the safety and effectiveness of vaccines developed by drug makers and help determine dosage and whether it can be given with a seasonal flu shot.

Participants will be given different combinations of two swine flu vaccines made by drug makers Sanofi Pasteur and CSL Limited and a seasonal flu vaccine.

Frey said the data will be turned around quickly for review by the Food and Drug Administration.

It’s possible the government will begin a public vaccination campaign before all of the work of the trials is complete, Dr. Anne Schuchat has said. She oversees the flu vaccination programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials are haunted by the swine flu vaccine campaign in 1976, which was stopped after unexpectedly high numbers of patients suffered a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. While it’s not clear the vaccine was to blame, the government wants to carefully monitor people who get the new vaccine for any problems.

Nicholas Sarakas, 25, of St. Peters, Mo., is among the vaccine volunteers. As a young adult, he’s among the groups targeted for the swine flu vaccine; swine flu has been harder on younger people than their elders.

“I thought, ‘I’ll end up getting a flu shot anyway,’“ he said. “Somebody has to be the first person to try it.”

The other study sites are Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Emory University, Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, University of Iowa, University of Maryland School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Another Trillion?

The biggest player in the health-care debate right now isn’t Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, or even President Obama. It’s the Congressional Budget Office, which is responsible for estimating the costs of proposed legislation. After the director of the CBO testified on July 16 that none of the health-reform bills in the House or Senate would reduce the rate of increase in federal spending on health care, congressional efforts fell into disarray. Many policymakers began searching for a way to get costs below the CBO’s frightening estimate of $1.1 trillion over ten years. Others attacked the CBO, calling its estimates irresponsible.

The CBO is actually being kind to the would-be reformers. Its analysis likely understates—by at least $1 trillion—the true costs of expanding health coverage as current Democratic legislation contemplates. Over the last few months, my colleagues and I at the consulting firm Health Systems Innovations have provided cost estimates of health-care reform to both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and we’ve posted these estimates on our website as well. We believe that the Democratic bills currently under consideration in the House and Senate would cost $2.1 trillion and $2.4 trillion, respectively—much higher than CBO’s figures.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

AP to Distribute Soros-Funded ‘Journalism’

Slammed as ‘lapdog on leash sworn in advance to left-wing causes’

The Associated Press is delivering to its subscribing 1,500 American newspapers content, it has emerged, penned by groups with financing from philanthropist George Soros and another far-leftist billionaire who not only campaigned for President Obama but also topped donor lists to groups like ACORN and

The AP announced last month it will allow its subscribers to publish free of charge work by four nonprofit groups, the Center for Public Integrity, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Dirty Secret No. 1 in Obamacare

Health care reforms are turning into health care revolts. Americans are turning up the heat on congressmen in town hall meetings across the U.S., who apparently hoped that citizens would simply swallow the hook of Obamacare.

It’s unfortunate that rather than respecting and welcoming citizens’ questions and grievances, many of our national leaders are belittling, demonizing and marginalizing them as extremists. They refuse to believe these groups represent any real grass roots resistance. Instead, they concoct conspiracy theories that they are conservatives who are secretly mobilizing these irrational marches.


While watching these political hot August nights, I decided to research the reasons why so many are so opposed to Obamacare — to separate facts from fantasy. What I discovered was that there are indeed dirty little secrets buried deep within the 1,000-plus page proposed health care bill.

Having already given “Six reasons Obamacare is bad medicine” for America in a previous column, I thought through August I’d expose the political syringes through which it will be injected into the veins of America if Obamacare passes.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

eBay, GM to Start Trial Program to Sell New Cars

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Hundreds of General Motors’ California dealers will let consumers haggle over the prices of new cars and trucks through the eBay online marketplace under a trial that begins Tuesday.

About 225 of California’s 250 GM dealers are set to take part in the program. They will be selling Buick, Chevrolet, GMC and Pontiac vehicles on cobranded Web sites through eBay Inc.’s online auto marketplace, eBay Motors, until Sept. 8. The cars will also be searchable through eBay Motors and eBay’s main site.

Although the companies previously said such a trial was in the works, details weren’t released until Monday.

The trial is part of Detroit-based General Motor Co.’s turnaround plan, making more official a practice some of its dealers had already participated in on their own. It expands an existing partnership covering GM certified used vehicles sold through eBay.

It also marks a shift for San Jose, Calif.-based eBay, since most of the vehicles sold on eBay Motors — a site that sells various types of vehicles and auto parts — have traditionally been used.

Starting Tuesday, eBay visitors will be able to visit Web pages like and, where they can browse new 2008 and 2009 vehicles, ask dealers questions and figure out financing. Select 2010 models also will be available.

The cobranded sites will also include a Web tool currently on eBay Motors that helps shoppers determine if they’re qualified to trade in their old car for money toward a new one under the government’s just-refilled “cash-for-clunkers” stimulus program.

Car buyers will be able to choose between the two standard options currently offered on eBay Motors: Negotiating a price with a dealer through the site or purchasing right then at a fixed price. Cars will be picked up at the dealerships.

EBay Motors Vice President Rob Chesney said the companies decided to run the trial in California because there are many tech-savvy consumers there. EBay users who live outside California can contact dealers to see if they’re willing to sell and ship vehicles to them, he said.

The test comes a month after GM made an unusually quick exit from bankruptcy protection with ambitions of becoming profitable and building cars people are eager to buy. Once the world’s largest and most powerful automaker, new GM is now leaner, cleansed of massive debt and burdensome contracts that would have sunk it without additional federal loans.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson said in July that the company was working on an experiment that would let eBay users in California bid on vehicles or buy them at a fixed price. Dealers were to distribute the cars. At the time, no deal had been completed, though.

Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president of U.S. sales, believes that getting the auto maker directly involved in new online sales will give customers a larger sense of security about buying a car on the Web. Currently, many consumers research new cars online, but most still go down to a dealer to make the actual purchase.

He’s hoping it generates more interest in GM vehicles in California — a market he said the company needs to improve in.

For eBay, the program fits in with its strategy of growing its market for goods that are still new but not necessarily the latest models. It’s also a chance to get more people interested in making new, large purchases on a site whose past is steeped in the sale of hard-to-find collectibles. The sale of used cars on eBay is already proof that consumers are getting more and more comfortable buying higher-priced items online, Chesney said.

“New cars are like the next frontier of that,” he said.

The companies would not give financial details of the deal, but GM spokesman John McDonald said it is an arrangement that they think will be profitable for both firms.

If the companies feel the trial is successful, they want to expand it across the country. Lorrie Norrington, president of eBay marketplaces, said eBay may eventually try doing the same thing with other auto makers, too.

Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of auto Web site, does not believe too many customers will be willing to commit to a price on a car without seeing it first, but said it will be interesting to see how the trial plays out.

Inder Dosanjh, a Dublin, Calif.-based dealer who owns four GM dealerships and currently sells used cars on eBay, said the program shows GM is trying to step outside the box and find new ways to sell cars. He plans to list all his new inventory on eBay this week.

“I think they should have done this a long time ago,” he said.

           — Hat tip: Lurker from Tulsa [Return to headlines]

Eight Charged in N.J.-Based Sex-Trafficking Ring

TRENTON — From Newark to Atlantic City, he preyed on women at bus stations, train stations and night clubs. He flashed his cash, proposed dinner dates in New York City and promised them a taste of the “good life.”

He sought out women on drugs, and offered them more; those who were not yet hooked, he gave them a hit.

Allen E. BrownFor nearly two decades, Allen Brown Jr., aka “Prince,” of Jersey City, allegedly lured scores of women into a life of prostitution, first confiscating their cell phones and any form of personal identification, and then forced them to turn tricks until they made a nightly quota of up to $1,000, according to law enforcement officials who announced Brown’s indictment by a state grand jury Friday.

“This is a case about human trafficking which, put simply, is modern day slavery,” said Attorney General Anne Milgram.

Six others, including Brown’s mother and niece, were also indicted in connection with the human sex trafficking ring Friday on charges that resulted from an investigation by state and local officials, dubbed “Operation Red Light.”

Milgram described the womens’ situation as “a living hell of addiction and prostitution.”

Since 1990, officials said Brown, 47, recruited women from Camden, Atlantic City, Elizabeth, Newark and Philadelphia. He brought them to living quarters he called “stables,” in Jersey City, some which had locks that could only be opened with a key that few people held. His last known location was an upscale condominium in the Society Hill section of the city, officials said.

All of the women, ages 17 to 43, were required to make a certain amount of money each day, ranging from $500 to $1,000, or face beatings, officials said. They were forced to work to support their cocaine and heroine drug habits, some of which were started by drugs provided by Brown. If they failed to come up with the money, the women were denied drugs to satisfy their addictions and locked out until they finished their work, officials said.

“These women were forced to prostitute every single day — Thanksgiving, Christmas, there were no holidays. We believe that he had between two and 20 women,” working for him on any given day over the 19-year period, Milgram said.

Brown’s high school girlfriend, Annie Cooper, aka “China,” 40, of Jersey City, led the household, kicking and beating women who did not reach their quota, law enforcement officials said. She managed the workers who drove the women to motels and to the streets of various cities, to work, and told them to use force against them if they refused to carry out orders.

Law enforcement officials said Brown earned hundreds of thousands of dollars through the operation, using it to buy jewelry, cars, furniture and drugs.

           — Hat tip: Fausta [Return to headlines]

Federal Employees Should Take Unpaid Vacation

President Obama — and every federal employee — should take 15 unpaid furlough days for the sake of the country, Mayor Daley suggested Friday.

They need to suck it up and feel the pain Americans have endured in the economic downtown that has seen jobs and wages slashed, he said.

“I hope every federal employee from the president all the way down takes 15 days without pay to turn that money back to taxpayers’ use, because they’re getting laid off, they’re getting cut back, there are no jobs out there,” Daley said Friday.

An animated Daley offered the advice during a press conference on the Northwest Side to announce $1.7 billion in projects around the city. The projects use money that comes from bonds and federal and city coffers, including tax increment financing districts.

Daley said road, library and sewer construction projects are necessary to keep a city running and, at these times, people employed.

But as he spoke about the projects, he reflected on what’s happening in city government: layoffs and furlough days. The mayor says he’s taking 15 unpaid days this year and believes every level of government — all the way up to the president might do the same to save taxpayer dollars.

“I believe that would have an enormous impact upon America,” Daley said. “In other words you’re telling the taxpayers that everybody’s suffering and you’re suffering. And government has to start squeezing and tightening in.”

[Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney: Is ‘Islam’ At War With Us?

Last week, John Brennan, the assistant to the President for homeland security and counterterrorism approvingly recalled a key point in the speech Mr. Obama delivered in Cairo in June: “America is not and never will be at war with Islam.” Unfortunately, that statement ignores the fact that the decision as to whether the United States is at war with anybody is not entirely up to our leadership or people. The real question is: Is ‘Islam’ at war with us?…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]

Globe: Obama’s Hawaiian Birth Document Fake

Cover story in tabloid suggests Canadian connection

The supermarket tabloid the Globe features a cover story this week proclaiming Barack Obama’s “official birth document” a fake and suggesting the president may actually have been born in Canada.


The Globe also quotes Canadian broadcaster Brian Barron as saying Obama’s mother gave birth to the child in Vancouver, Canada, before transferring as a student to the University of Washington in Seattle.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Lawmakers’ “Global-Warming” Trip Paid by Tax Payers

When 10 members of Congress wanted to study climate change, they did more than just dip their toes into the subject: They went diving and snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. They also rode a cable car through the Australian rain forest, visited a penguin rookery and flew to the South Pole.

The 11-day trip — with six spouses traveling along as well — took place over New Year’s 2008. Details are only now coming to light as part of a Wall Street Journal analysis piecing together the specifics of the excursion.

It’s tough to calculate the travel bills racked up by members of Congress, but one thing’s for sure: They use a lot of airplanes. In recent days, House of Representatives members allocated $550 million to upgrade the fleet of luxury Air Force jets used for trips like these — even though the Defense Department says it doesn’t need all the planes.

The South Pole trip, led by Rep. Brian Baird (D., Wash.), ranks among the priciest. The lawmakers reported a cost to taxpayers of $103,000.

That figure, however, doesn’t include the actual flying, because the trip used the Air Force planes, not commercial carriers. Flight costs would lift the total tab to more than $500,000, based on Defense Department figures for aircraft per-hour operating costs.

Lawmakers say the trip offered them a valuable chance to learn about global warming and to monitor how federal funds are spent. “The trip we made was more valuable than 100 hearings,” said Rep. Baird, its leader…

[Return to headlines]

They Think We’re Stupid, So Let Us Count the Ways!

Exclusive: Herman Cain exposes Obamacare as government ‘Trojan horse filled with traps’

First, the president and the Democrats wanted 256 million of us to feel guilty that 50 million Americans did not have health insurance in this country. That didn’t work because a closer look at the numbers revealed that the real number is around 10 million, who could be insured with less expensive and less disruptive solutions.

Second, we were told that they had to rush the legislation through Congress to get the escalating costs of health care and the growing deficits under control. That argument was blown up by three analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO. Its findings showed that instead of the cost curve “bending downward” in the out years, it would in fact bend upward.

Third, they tried to get us to drink the health care reform Kool-Aid with an overdose of presidential speeches and orchestrated press conferences. But someone had the audacity to actually read the legislation, and we discovered that there are two versions of the Kool-Aid, namely, Obamacare and Democrat-care.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

U.S. Religious Left Wades Into Healthcare Fight

DALLAS (Reuters) — Liberal religious groups announced on Monday they are teaming up with President Barack Obama in a national campaign to counter the surprisingly vehement conservative opposition to his plan for overhaul of the U.S. healthcare industry this year.

Organized by liberal-leaning evangelicals, some mainline Protestant clergy, and some Catholic groups, it will include Obama participating in a call-in program with religious leaders streamed on the Internet on August 19, prayer meetings and nationwide television ads.

“As a pastor I believe access to healthcare is a profoundly moral issue,” Rev. Stevie Wakes of Olivet Institutional Baptist in Kansas City, said in a news teleconference announcing the “40 days for Health Reform” campaign.

Protestors have confronted members of Congress across the country in town hall meetings held to take the public pulse on the various healthcare overhaul plans being written in Congress.

What lawmakers found was anger fueled in part by Christian and conservative radio that healthcare would lead to taxpayer funded abortion and even euthanasia for the old, have incited much of the loudest and most dramatic reaction.

Conservative Catholics often side with Republican-leaning evangelicals in opposition to abortion rights but the biblical call to help the sick and the poor is also an important part of the faith. Obama’s healthcare agenda includes extending health insurance to the roughly 46 million uninsured Americans.

Some of the opposition is being fueled by leaders of the “religious right,” the conservative Christian movement that remains a key base for the opposition Republican Party.

Religion often plays a huge role in politics in America, where church attendance is high. Obama tapped into this sentiment during his White House race, often talking openly about his own Christian faith.

This counterpunch by what has been called the religious left will also feature events with members of Congress in states such as Colorado and Florida. Conservative Democratic members of Congress in several states are regarded as key by both sides to the success or failure of health reform.

Analysts say it remains to be seen if it will pay off with some political dividends at this crucial juncture for the healthcare plan. Lawmakers have said they are working to pass the legislation this year to avoid embroiling healthcare reform in next year’s congressional election politics.

“I think that the Democrats were surprised by the strength of the religious right and the insurance companies and those opposed to healthcare reform when they got their grass roots efforts going,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“So it took awhile for the Religious Left to get their national campaign going and we’ll see whether or not it has the same emotion and intensity,” he said.

The groups behind the effort include Faith in Public Life, Faithful America and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Belgian Crown Prince’s New Beard Sparks Accession Talk

Is it just a holiday look or could it be a sign that Belgium’s Crown Prince Philippe is ready to assume the throne? The local press on Monday dissected a new royal beard for clues.

Prince Philippe, 50, sported the short graying beard for the first time over the weekend, during a visit to a retirement home where nine pensioners perished in a fire last week.

He had interrupted his summer holiday in France to make the visit and set media tongues wagging, with the image change commanding many newspaper headlines.

“Some believe that it gives him a more mature appearance, more assured, others say it makes him look a bit old,” La Derniere-Heure reported.

Prince Philippe, who has not always had an easy relationship with the Belgian media, is “ready for the throne,” Figaro Pasquale, a top Italian hairdresser in Amsterdam, told one newspaper.

“His beard shows that, it suggests a depth and confidence and projects a majestic man,” he informed the Dutch-language Het Laatste Nieuws daily.

Belgium will have to wait until the prince returns from his holiday “to find out if this hirsuteness is temporary,” stressed the Derniere-Heure paper.

There was no comment on the subject of intense royal conjecture by the palace, which considered the subject purely a personal one.

When his uncle King Baudouin died in 1993, some thought that Philippe, who had been taken under the monarch’s wing, would succeed him.

But it was Philippe’s father Albert, brother to Baudouin, who mounted the throne with his son apparently deemed to be not mature enough to assume the crown in a country where the monarch can play a politically-significant role in time of governmental crisis.

Since then the Belgian press has regularly debated whether the shy prince would do better to give up his turn as king if his daughter Elisabeth, who is not eight, is old enough to take over.

King Albert II is 75-years-old.

No Belgian king has grown a beard since the resplendent version sported by King Leopold II at the start of the 20th century.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Belgium: Muslim Convert Involved in Prison Escape

Three criminals escaped last week from the Bruges prison, in a daring escape. One of the accomplices involved in the escape was caught. The second accomplice, a Muslim convert, together with the three criminals, are still at large.


The court in Bruges identified the woman who rented a helicopter under the pseudonym “Kelly Verstraeten” last Thursday and freed three criminals from the Bruges prison. The woman is Lesley D. (24) from the Hoboken suburb of Antwerp, who converted to Islam in 2004.

The court already knew the identity of the person responsible several days after the daring helicopter escape from the Bruges prison. The young woman who rented the helicopter, coerced the pilot and fled with the escaped criminals is a 24 year old woman from Hoboken. Lesley D. is known as a girlfriend of Mohamed Johri, the 23-year old criminal from Antwerp who escaped. Her voice was recognized by acquaintances. The young woman wasn’t found yet and has gone into hiding.

The revelations throws new light on the escape. Until now it was supports that it was contrived by the Mechelen criminal Ashraf Sekkaki, the most well-known of the three escapees. The suspcion was that the operation was carried out by people from his entourage. Now it appears to have been a cooperative partnership. Lahoucine El Haddouchi, the hijacker who was left behind during the rescue mission, is an old acquaintance of Sekkaki. The young woman who set up the operation did it for Johri. How the cooperative effort came to be is still a mystery. It is also still unclear what was the role of Abdelhaq Melloul-Khayari (42), the third escapee.

Lesley D. (24) from Hoboken appeared to the helicopter pilot as a ‘jovial, easy-going Flemish girl’ Thursday. Ludwig Louwagie (51) said that the black-haired girl carried out small talk. Until her accomplice Lahoucine El Haddouchi took out a pistol, put it to the pilot’s head and forced him to land inside the prison. During the hijacking the young woman took the pilot’s headphones so that he wouldn’t be able to inform anyone.

Lesley D. was exposed last weekend when acquaintances recognized her voice on the tape that a helicopter company from Wettern made on July 17th, when she tried to rent a helicopter. The owner thought her call was suspicious and had kept it. After the hijacking he made the connection. Lesley D. had also visited her friend Johri in jail.

Last week detectives served the house in Hoboken where D. lives with her mother. They fond several indications that Lesley D. was indeed involved in the planning of the helicopter escape. She appeared to have studied the plans of the prison well.

According to Het Nieuwsblad, Lesely had a childhood like other children. She played soccer, went to the Chiro youth group, went to school in Hoboken. When she was about 18, she suddenly changed direction. She converted to Islam. She began to wear a headscarf and observe the strict rules of Islam. She made no secret of her choice, which she defended openly in the papers and on TV. In interviews she appeared as a calm young woman, who wanted to keep away from violence and aggression. “Sometimes friends think that I don’t side enough with my Muslim brothers, but I don’t side for somebody who attacks Jewish youth,” she said.

It is still a mystery how she became the girlfriend of the violent young robber Mohamed Johri. The young man is the least important of the three escapees, but had already committed several robberies. Johri, also from Hoboken, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2008 for robbing a toy story and a supermarket. His family describes him as a ‘playboy’, who liked having a lot of money and lavishly scattered it. The family does not want to speak about the escape. The older brother already announced that Mohamed should give himself up as quickly as possible. The mother and father of Mohamed Johri have broken by the misery that their son had caused.

It’s unclear if Lesley had already been in touch with the police. But the daring escape doesn’t appear to be the work of experienced criminals. Leaving her voice on an answering marching was a serious beginner’s error. Moreover, it appears that the escape route was badly prepared. The escaped criminals had to land faster than planned then hastily car-jack a car. Additionally, the Bruges prosecution already announced that the criminal who was left behind, Lahoucine El Haddouchi, was quickly identified because his had his ID with him.

Lesley’s family did not want to make any comment. The Bruges prosecution also did not want to confirm or deny the news about the identification.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

France: Youths Riot in Paris Suburb After Teen’s Death

PARIS — About 40 rioters in a Paris suburb hurled Molotov cocktails at police and firefighters and torched cars in a rampage prompted by the death of a teen fleeing police. The interior minister called Monday for calm after the overnight violence.

One person fired at police with a handgun during the rioting in a housing project in Bagnolet on the eastern edge of Paris, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said in a statement. No injuries were reported.

The latest eruption of tensions in France’s suburbs broke out after an 18-year-old riding his motorcycle through the project tried to flee a document check by police, according to a police official.

The man, who worked as a pizza deliveryman, lost control of the vehicle and hit a barrier. He died en route to the hospital, the official said. The official wasn’t authorized to be named because of police policy.

Later Sunday night, about 40 young people in the neighborhood responded to the death by hurling Molotov cocktails and projectiles at police and emergency workers on the scene, Mr. Hortefeux’s office said in a statement.

The rioters set fire to 29 cars and smashed windows of a high school and store, the statement said. One person was detained and order was restored after police reinforcements arrived.

Mr. Hortefeux called for calm and insisted that “all light will be shed” on the cause of the young man’s death. An autopsy was scheduled Monday.

The internal police watchdog agency is also investigating the incident.. The police official said there was no contact between the police car and the motorcycle.

Mr. Hortefeux convened a meeting Aug. 31 with the top government officials in charge of urban and youth policies and neighborhood associations to try to “establish a peaceful dialogue” in violence-stricken suburbs.

Tensions between young people and police have long simmered in housing projects in France’s suburbs, feeding on poverty, unemployment and anger over discrimination against minorities. The suburbs erupted in 2005 in riots, largely by young Arab and black men of immigrant backgrounds, after two teens were electrocuted in a power substation while hiding from police. The riots spread nationwide.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

France: Spy Tricyles Map Paris Streets for Google

Parisians and tourists, relax. That goofy-looking tricycle equipped with loads of high-tech equipment roaming the streets is not some mad scientist’s invention on the rampage.

The three-wheeler is quite a sight with its long pole holding nine cameras, a GPS, a computer and a generator. But the contraption tooling around the French capital needs all that gear to do its job — adding three-dimensional images to Google’s Street View Maps.

The U.S. company has hired two young cyclists to ride through gardens, historical sites and other pedestrian-only areas to take thousands of digital photos.

“The idea is to be able to offer 360-degree images of places that were inaccessible before,” Google spokesperson Anne-Gabrielle Dauba-Pantanacce said in an interview.

The riders, wearing Google tee-shirts and white helmets, are visiting well-known sites such as the Chateau de Versailles, west of Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg on the city’s Left Bank and Les Halles, in the busy center of the French capital.

Google is to map Paris until Aug. 20, then head to the north of the country. In the fall, the tricycle goes south, Dauba-Pantanacce said.

The company plans to add new photos to their Street View option in all French cities with tourist areas.

Similar tricycles already combed the streets of Britain and Italy in June and July, said Dauba-Pantanacce. Google plans to make 3-D maps of streets in other European countries, but the schedule has not yet been set, she said.

Since its launch in 2007, Google’s Street View has expanded to more than 100 cities worldwide, and not everyone is happy about it.

Last month, Greek officials rejected a bid to photograph the nation’s streets until more privacy safeguards are provided. In April, residents of one English village formed a human chain to stop a camera van, and in Japan the company agreed to reshoot views taken by a camera high enough to peer over fences.

Google’s European Public Policy blog says the company is in contact with a group of representatives from all 27 European Data Protection Authorities. The group has asked, among other things, that Google set a time limit on how long unblurred copies of photos are kept, which it has not yet done.

Google did recently accede to German demands to erase the raw footage of faces, house numbers, license plates and individuals who have told authorities they do not want their information used in the service.

When the camera snaps a photo, everything — faces and license plates included — is in focus. Special software then blurs the picture.

Spotted Friday at La Defense, the tricycle looked decidedly out of place at the modern high-rise business center on Paris’ western edge.

A clunky white pole in the back holds an octagonal platform with eight cameras on the sides and one on top. Every minute, the cameras take bursts of high-definition photos to allow online users to get a virtual tour of the area.

“I rode two hours this morning,” said 25-year-old Gregory Landais, who was taking a break after cruising through La Defense, France’s touch of Manhattan. “For a site like this, it can take up to five hours.”

The photos of Paris and other major French cities to follow were expected to be available online by the end of the year.

One curious sightseer was 46-year-old Jose Mountinho of Portugal.

“I’ve already seen Google Maps but I had no idea how they did it,” Mountinho said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Germany’s Oldest Drug Dealer’ Arrested at Age 84

Police announced on Friday the arrest of an 84-year-old grandmother they believe to be the country’s oldest drug dealer. She was the senior member of a three-generation family heroin operation.

Operation Rente, or “Retirement,” had been monitoring the family’s movements since January. According to police, the woman’s 49-year-old son and 25-year-old grandson were dealing with her in Solingen. The two men face between five and 15 years in prison.

“The provided Solingen with Heroin, probably for decades,” a police spokesperson said.

Officers confiscated three kilogrammes of heroin worth €70,000, a small amount of cocaine and two firearms last Tuesday after witnessing a drug deal in Rotterdam. The suspects were apprehended on the A3 motorway near Langenfeld.

“None of them work,” the spokesperson said of the family. The 49-year-old was registered as having retired early…

[Return to headlines]

Germany: Stasi Prison Memorial Pleas for Financial Help

BERLIN — The memorial at the former prison run by Communist East Germany’s Stasi secret police is deep in debt after being flooded with nonpaying visitors this year as Germany marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an official said Monday.

Hubertus Knabe, director of the Hohenschoenhausen prison memorial, issued a plea for donations, saying this year was already euro70,000 ($100,000) over budget.

While adults must pay a nominal euro3 ($4.25) fee for tours of the facility, schoolchildren are free and this year their numbers have been overwhelming, Knabe said.

“We’re happy that so many students are coming,” he said. “But the costs associated with that are exceeding our financial capabilities.”

More than 80,000 students have visited this year, already 17,000 more than in 2008, the memorial said.

In addition to asking the public for donations, Knabe said letters were being sent to organizations, companies and celebrities to ask for funds. He also suggested that school groups could voluntarily pay euro1 ($1.50) per student to offset costs.

Otherwise, he said by the end of the year the budget deficit could double.

Already late Monday, Germany’s culture minister, Bernd Neumann, said he would make euro70,000 (about $100,000) in emergency funds available so that the memorial could keep operating.

“It would be unforgivable if this memorial did not have sufficient funds to keep operating tours, especially on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall,” he said in a statement.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

German Bomb Plot Suspect Confesses in Court

DUESSELDORF, Germany — The alleged ringleader of a radical Islamic terrorist cell whose plot to attack U.S. targets in Germany was foiled by authorities told a court Monday his group wanted to do as much damage to Americans as possible.

Fritz Gelowicz told the court he and co-defendant Adem Yilmaz had trained in a terrorist camp in Pakistan — initially planning to try and carry out attacks in the region, but then decided they could do more damage to U.S. targets in Europe at less risk to themselves.

“With less cost we could achieve much greater damage,” he said.

He said the group decided the main target would be American soldiers in Germany, but that they also considered other targets of political significance, like a consulate.

Gelowicz and Yilmaz, both 29, and co-defendants Daniel Martin Schneider, 22, and Attila Selek, 23 are suspected of operating as a German cell of the radical Islamic Jihad Union — a group the U.S. State Department says was responsible for coordinated bombings outside the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan in July 2004.

Though no pleas are entered under the German trial system, lawyers for all four men accused in plot have said they had decided to confess, hoping to mitigate their sentences. Prosecutors allege that they were plotting bombing attacks in Germany against American citizens and facilities across the country.

Gelowicz said he was the leader of the cell, and acknowledged that they were part of the IJU, though downplayed its significance.

“The people don’t come together to join a group, but to wage jihad,” or holy war, he said.

Gelowicz said he and Yilmaz learned how to use assault rifles, and received instruction in hand-to-hand combat and explosives training in their three months at the training camp in 2006.

The four face charges of membership in a terrorist organization, preparing bombing attacks and conspiracy to commit murder and a bombing attack — which together carry a 10-year maximum sentence.

Schneider faces an additional charge of attempted murder, which carries a possible life sentence, because he is alleged to have fired a police officer’s gun in a tussle during his arrest in 2007. No one was injured.

They all have given statements to federal police confessing to some of the charges against them, according to their lawyers, but their official statements to the court began Monday.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my career as a judge,” Presiding Judge Ottmar Breidling said during the session. He underlined that their confessions would influence their sentences.

Gelowicz, Schneider — both German converts to Islam — and Yilmaz, a Turkish citizen living in the country, all were arrested in Germany on Sept. 4, 2007. They have been held in custody ever since. Selek, also a Turkish citizen, was arrested a month later in Turkey.

The group had stockpiled 1,600 pounds (730 kilograms) of highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, purchased from a chemical supplier, and could have mixed the peroxide with other substances to make explosives equivalent to 1,200 pounds (550 kilograms) of dynamite, German officials have said.

But German authorities — acting partly on intelligence from the U.S. — had been watching them and covertly replaced all of the hydrogen peroxide with a diluted substitute that could not have been used to produce a bomb.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Gordon Brown Insists Britain is Still Christian Country

Gordon Brown has insisted that Britain remains a Christian country and defended the right of worshippers to express their faith in public.

The Prime Minister claimed the country’s values are still based on traditional religious teachings, and said it would be wrong if the devout were forced to keep their beliefs private.

His comments, made in an interview with a Christian radio station, come amid growing concern that public sector employees are being punished for acting according to their faith.

A community nurse was suspended without pay for two months after she offered to pray for an elderly woman, while two registrars claim they were forced out of their jobs for refusing to perform civil partnership ceremonies involving same-sex couples.

All NHS staff have been warned they face disciplinary action if they are accused of “preaching” to colleagues or patients, while a proposed EU equality directive has raised fears that religious groups could be sued by anyone who declares themselves offended by their practices.

But Mr Brown, whose father was a Church of Scotland minister, told Premier Christian Radio: “I think the role of religion and faith in what people sometimes call the public square is incredibly important.

“In Britain we are not a secular state as France is, or some other countries. It’s true that the role of official institutions changes from time to time, but I would submit that the values that all of us think important — if you held a survey around the country of what people thought was important, what it is they really believed in, these would come back to Judeo-Christian values, and the values that underpin all the faiths that diverse groups in our society feel part of.”

Asked if he thought it would be better if Christianity were “privatised”, he replied: “I think it’s impossible because when we talk about faith, we are talking about what people believe in, we are talking about the values that underpin what they do, we are talking about the convictions that they have about how you can make for a better society.

“So I don’t accept this idea of privatisation — I think what people want to do is to make their views current.

“There is a moral sense that people have, perhaps 50 years ago the rules were more detailed and intrusive, perhaps now what we’re talking about is boundaries, beyond which people should not go.

“And I think that’s where it’s important that we have the views of all religions and all faiths, and it’s important particularly that we’re clear about what kind of society we want to be.

“So I think the idea that you can say: ‘What I do in my own life is privatised and I’m not going to try to suggest that these are values that can bind your society together’, would be wrong.”

Asked whether he believed the Government gave preferential treatment to Muslims ahead of other faith groups, the Prime Minister said: “When you’ve got a society that is diverse, what happens is for a time, the issue is integrating your minorities into that society. And so people want to make sure that people who may feel discriminated against have the chance to get jobs, or get education, or get chances that otherwise they might not have. Then people — rightly, I think — say: ‘But what about the integration of your society as a whole — how can people work together, how can you have a more cohesive society’?”

Although Mr Brown often describes himself as a “son of the manse” and said the MPs’ expenses scandal offended his “Presbyterian conscience”, his new comments are his strongest in recent years on the expression of faith by others.

His predecessor, Tony Blair, famously did not “do God” while in Downing Street but soon after stepping down converted to Roman Catholicism and set up a faith foundation in the hope of promoting religion as a “powerful force for good”.

:: The full interview can be heard on Premier Christian Radio, available on DAB sets, Freeview and online, at 8am on Sunday 9 August.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

‘Hijacked’ Cargo Ship Missing at Sea

The Finnish ship hijacked in Swedish waters in July has disappeared along with its valuable cargo of timber.

The vessel was reportedly hijacked by black-clad masked men claiming to be narcotics police as it passed through Swedish waters between Gotland and Öland in the Baltic Sea in the early hours of July 24th.

The vessel’s 15-man Russian crew claimed to have been bound during their 12 hour ordeal as the masked men searched the ship.

The mysterious hijackers then allegedly left the vessel in a high-speed inflatable boat and the Maltese-registered ship continued its journey towards its scheduled destination of Algeria.

The vessel was last seen in the English Channel on July 29th and Stora Enso, the Swedish-Finnish forestry concern which owns the cargo, has no idea of its whereabouts.

The owner of the Arctic Sea and the company managing the voyage, Solchart Management, have been unforthcoming with any details regarding the ship, its hijacking and the valuable cargo.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Northern League Wants Constitutional Amendment to Allow Regional Anthems and Flags

Constitutional bill presented to “recognise constitutional significance of identity symbols”

MILAN — The element of surprise has all but gone. After songs in dialect at the Sanremo festival and dialect exams for schoolteachers, the wave of popular — or populist — regionalism sweeps on. Each day, there is some new, and frequently bizarre, proposal. Leading the charge are, of course, the members of the Northern League. Today, it is the turn of Federico Bricolo and his associates. Mr Bricolo is the Northern League’s group leader in the Senate and the first signatory of a constitutional bill, in other words, an amendment to the Italian constitution. What’s behind the move? The aim is “to insert a second paragraph into article 12 of the constitution to recognise the constitutional significance of the identity symbols of each region, as represented by its flag and anthem”.

THE TEXT — It is not known how many Italians actually feel the need for this blazon of local identity, which would go to join the numberless municipal and provincial standards, or 20 new anthems to sing. The existing national anthem is the regular target of proposals to replace it with anything from the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Verdi’s Nabucco to Adriano Celentano’s “Azzurro”. Nevertheless, the Northern League wants to fill the gap left by the absence of an anthem for Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli or Venezia Giulia and has presented the following text: “Article 12 paragraph 1 of the constitution recognises the Tricolore as the symbol of the Italian Republic. However, the fundamental principles of the constitution do not include any official recognition of the identity symbols that characterise the regions”. According to the Northern League senators who presented the bill, the deficiency is inadmissible “in the light of the substantive enhancement of the regions’ political and institutional role effected by recent constitutional reforms. The extension of the material scope of regional regulatory competence has transformed regional authorities into territorial agencies with full political autonomy, promoting in the last analysis a direct relationship with citizens”. The senators point out that “in this historical phase of re-examining the territorial structure of the state in the internal context and at supranational level, it is more than ever necessary to recover the identity symbols that distinguish each region and contribute to strengthening citizens’ bond with the territory, which is an indispensable premise for any federal reform of the system”. This awareness is recognised institutionally in the reforms of the regional statutes approved since 1999. In the bill, we read that “in their first articles, they officially recognise the symbols which, by tradition, history and culture, contribute to the region’s identity”.

REACTIONS — Early reactions ranged from “they’ve been out in the sun” (Italy of Values) to “a silly season stunt” (Autonomy Movement). “It’s not an attack on the constitution by the League; just a silly season proposal to which you can reply ‘Long Live the Tricolore’“, said the minister for the implementation of the government’s programme, Gianfranco Rotondi (Christian Democrats for Autonomies). “Yesterday, they dreamed up regional wage differentials; today they’ve done a U-turn. Now, just to waste a bit more time, the Northern League senators are dragging out regional flags to fly alongside the Tricolore. I ask myself if they’ve any got time to waste”, said a critical Dario Franceschini of the Democratic Party (PD). PD senator Roberto Di Giovan Paolo added: “As Bricolo knows, even in the most federal states and systems, only one flag is flown and only one anthem is sung”. From the majority, the Autonomy Movement’s Carmelo Lo Monte was more receptive: “Highlighting the specific nature of northern and southern regions in the constitution is a very positive idea”. The People of Freedom’s (PDL) Maurizio Gasparre also said he saw no problems: “At this moment, I’m in Sicily and for years the Sicilian flag has been flying on the beach I go to. Is this a problem? Not for me. It doesn’t bother me at all, nor do I think it offends the dignity of the Tricolore. I repeat that I would invite everyone to calm down. It’s common practice nowadays at any civic event for regional flags and municipal standards to be flown with the Tricolore”. For Daniele Capezzone (PDL), the bill is an “out-of-season April Fool”. Predictably, the Northern League stands by the initiative. The minister for agriculture, Luca Zaia, goes so far as to associate it with “modernity”. Mr Zaia said: “I want to remind all those sanctimonious souls who think that the nation should be kept in a museum and stay the same forever that people and cultures change. You can’t be in the modern age part time, depending on whatever is convenient and what your ideological roots are”. Federico Bricolo himself thinks that “those who are critical of our initiative are wrong because flags, like anthems, are values for everyone. They are an asset for the country, symbols often more than a thousand years old, and it is right to recognise them. The argument is as valid for Veneto as it is for Sicily. These objections are unfounded and tendentious”. But the most tongue-in-cheek response came from one of Mr Bricolo’s majority colleagues, Osvaldo Napoli (PDL): “I would like to extend my congratulations to my friend, Senator Federico Bricolo, about whose journalistic flair I was uninformed. His brainwave of flags for the regions and, I presume, for provinces, municipalities and districts as well, has given the papers something with which to fill an entire page tomorrow, Thursday 6 August, when half the country will be relaxing on the sand or under a beach umbrella”.

English translation by Giles Watson

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Oliviero Toscani’s Italian Faces

Photographer devoted a year to latest project

(ANSA) — Livorno, August 10 — An exhibition of the ‘faces of Italy’ by controversial photographer Oliviero Toscani are on show in the unusual surroundings of a Tuscan winery.

Around 180 photos of normal Italians taken by Toscani for his Human Race/Italy project are on display at the Petra winery in Suvereto, near Livorno, where entry to the show is free.

Toscani and a team of collaborators spent a year travelling throughout Italy in a camper van to document the differences and similarities in the faces of both Italians and foreigners.

“Are the eyes of someone from Alto Adige any different from those of a Sicilian? The cheek bones of a Roman from those of a Lombard?” the project’s manifesto asks.

“(Is) the posture of someone from Lecce… (different from) that of a Neapolitan? The mouth of a Sardinian (from) that of a Tuscan? What is an Italian type of face? And what about the new Italians?” Galleries of faces snapped by Toscani’s team in 27 different places can also be seen online at the project’s website,

Francesca Moretti of the Petra winery said they had wanted to host the show since “the vineyards, like the faces of Human Race/Italy, speak to us in their… differences, of a strong territorial identity”.

Milan-born Toscani has shot to fame on the back of hard-hitting and often shocking adverts.

In February last year he outraged many by unveiling an image showing naked children as part of a publicity campaing to combat violence against women — a dark-haired boy and a blonde girl, completely nude and labelled “tormentor” and “victim” respectively. He also hit the headlines in 2007 after the advertising industry watchdog blocked a publicity campaign using his photos of a naked anorexia sufferer.

The pictures of Isabelle Caro, a young French woman weighing only 31 kilos and resembling a concentration camp victim, appeared on billboards all over Italy and also in several newspapers.

During an 18-year-long collaboration with Benetton clothing multinational, the photographer was repeatedly accused of cynicism in using images portraying suffering and affliction for commercial ends.

The campaigns featured a dying AIDS victim, handicapped children, flood victims in Asia, a man slain by the Mafia lying in a pool of blood and a bullet-riddled shirt of a Bosnia combatant.

The photographer has also offended Catholics in the past with pictures of a nun kissing a priest.

Other controversial images showed horses copulating, hundreds of coloured condoms and two gay men fondling each other on a black leather sofa.

Human Race/Italy will be on show at the Petra winery in Suvereto until December 31.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Remains of Missing Greek Cypriot Soldiers Found

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The remains of five Greek Cypriot soldiers who appear in an iconic 1974 photo surrendering to invading Turkish troops were found in an abandoned well in the Turkish Cypriot north, officials said Monday.

The soldiers’ families and Greek Cypriot officials called the photographs proof that they were murdered in the custody of Turkish troops.

“It’s a cold-blooded execution,” Andreas Hadjikyriakos, a brother of one of the soldiers told state TV. “I can never accept this.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

Turkey invaded 35 years ago and split Cyprus into an internationally recognized Greek south and a breakaway Turkish north in response to a coup by Athens-backed supporters of union with Greece. Around 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots vanished during the invasion and in interethnic clashes in the early 1960s.

The photographs became a symbol of the decades-long bids by relatives of the missing to trace the fates of their loved ones.

The remains of the soldiers and 14 other people were exhumed from an abandoned well in late 2006 near the northern village of Tziaos, Elias Georgiades, an official with the United Nations-led Committee on Missing Persons, said. He said the soldiers’ families were informed Friday that the remains had been identified.

Government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou urged Turkey to open military archives to shed more light on the disappearances of Greek Cypriot civilians and soldiers.

“And for them (the soldiers) to be discovered the way they were, in a well, proves they were murdered,” he added.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry on Monday also said the latest discovery “confirms … crimes committed during the invasion.”

Since starting exhumations three years ago, a U.N.-sponsored program has unearthed 537 sets of remains from 269 burial sites on both sides of the divide. Some 162 identified missing individuals, 119 Greek Cypriots and 44 Turkish Cypriots, have so far been returned to their families.

Relatives of missing Greek Cypriots have said the program does not go far enough and have a long-standing demand for a formal investigation to account for the fates of the missing.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Spain: Indra to Build Surveillance System on Portugal Coast

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, AUGUST 10 — Spanish company Indra has won the contract to set up surveillance systems along the Portuguese coast, at a cost of 25.5 million euros, says sources from the multinational company in a statement. The project, which was awarded by Portugal’s Interior Ministry, will provide Portugal with an advanced security system along the coast, with a network which will intercept movements of boats, conveying the information to two control centres. The adjudication of the award will allow the Spanish company which specialises in information technology to consolidate its leadership position in planning and building coastal surveillance systems in Europe. Indra has previously created security systems in Portugal in the transport and railway sectors, in telecommunications, the civil service and the fishing fleet. The new contract, which will cover the 900 km of Portuguese coastline, should be completed in 22 months. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Sweden: Malmö Hit by Wave of Car Fires

More than ten cars were set alight in a series of arson attacks across Malmö on Sunday night. Police were unable to confirm on Monday whether the attacks were linked.

The first reports came in shortly before 2am on Monday that two cars were alight on Emilstorpsgatan in the outskirts of Malmö, according to a report in the local newspaper Sydsvenskan. A third car was damaged in the fires.

Emergency services were kept busy as a further report came in about 40 minutes later that a car was alight on Oxievångsvägen in the southern suburb of Oxie.

A further two cars were set alight on Agneslundsvägen and at 3am reports came in that three cars were burning on Jörgen Kocksgatan, just behind the central station.

A further two cars, all owned by a local car rental firm, were damaged in the fire.

Police have cordoned off the area and will conduct a forensic examination of the scene on Monday. CCTV pictures secured from a nearby restaurant will be examined for clues.

A tenth car was gutted by a fire in the early hours of Monday on Bronsyxegatan near Jägersro on the outskirts of the city.

The final report came in shortly after 9am on Monday that an eleventh vehicle was involved in a fire on Ramels väg in the Rosengård area of the city.

According to senior officers at Malmö police there is nothing that currently indicates that Sunday night’s fires were linked.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Swiss Government Holds Special Meet Over UBS

ZURICH (AFP) — The Swiss government interrupted its summer vacation Monday to hold a special meeting over banking giant UBS, which is embroiled in a tax evasion lawsuit in the United States.

“I can confirm that the meeting has been held and it has just ended,” said a government spokesman, who declined to give further details on the meeting amid ongoing negotiations between Switzerland and the United States.

The seven members of the Swiss Federal Council or cabinet were meant to return from vacation only on August 19.

In a bid to ferret out Americans holding offshore bank accounts to evade taxes, US authorities have filed a lawsuit against UBS for details of some 52,000 of its clients.

A US federal judge on Friday gave UBS more time to try to reach an out-of-court settlement in the diplomatically sensitive tax secrecy case, marking the third time the judge has delayed the trial.

A telephone conference is to be held Wednesday between the judge and the parties to find a solution.

Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz told Swiss television SF1 on Sunday that the delay was not a problem with UBS, rather, it is due to the procedures involved.

According to regular procedure, such banking data should be passed on through the so-called administrative assistance process.

The process allows bank clients affected to file appeals, therefore, some time could be required before the data is actually transmitted.

However, US tax authorities want guarantees that they will receive the names sought rapidly, Swiss Sunday press reported.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: ‘We’ll Ease Up on Muslim Fanatics’

Labour slammed the brakes on its war against violent extremism yesterday — amid fears it had upset Muslim voters. Millions spent preventing Asian kids becoming terrorists will now be used to tackle right-wing racists in WHITE areas. Community cohesion minister Shahid Malik admitted he was softening his stance because Muslims felt stigmatised.

More than £45million a year has been spent on measures to prevent Al-Qaeda recruiting young Muslims in the UK. It included action to break up Islamic ghettos and stop university hate preachers.

Mr Malik, the first British-born Muslim MP, yesterday unveiled plans to broaden the scope of the campaign. He announced: “We shall be putting a renewed focus on resisting right-wing racist extremism. We cannot dismiss or underestimate the threat.”

Mr Malik told Sky News: “You speak to any Muslim in this country and they are as opposed as you and I are to extremism and terrorism. The frustration is they are constantly linked with terrorism as a community as a whole.”

His action contrasts with the tough stance of ex-minister Hazel Blears. She broke links with Muslim groups that failed to denounce extremists. Her adviser Paul Richards said: “The good work by Hazel is being undone in the name of political correctness.”

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said: “This has been watered down for purely political reasons. Labour has always seen Muslim voters as its own property.”

Richards goes on to warn that there is “also now a chance that ministers could invite the Muslim Council of Britain back into Whitehall after relations were frozen with the organisation earlier this year”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: A Request to Snoop on Public Every 60 Secs

Councils, police and other public bodies are seeking access to people’s private telephone and email records almost 1,400 times a day, new figures have disclosed.

The authorities made more than 500,000 requests for confidential communications data last year, equivalent to spying on one in every 78 adults, leading to claims that Britain had “sleepwalked into a surveillance society”.

An official report also disclosed that hundreds of errors had been made in these “interception” operations, with the wrong phone numbers or emails being monitored.

The figures will fuel concerns over the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act by public bodies.

The Act gives authorities — including councils, the police and intelligence agencies — the power to request access to confidential communications data, including lists of telephone numbers dialled and email addresses to which messages have been sent.

Councils have been accused of using the powers, which were originally intended to tackle terrorism and organised crime, for trivial matters such as littering and dog fouling. Only last month, it emerged that councils and other official bodies had used hidden tracking devices to spy on members of the public.

The latest figures were compiled by Sir Paul Kennedy, the interception of communications commissioner, who reviews requests made under the Act. They relate to monitoring communication “traffic” — such as who is contacting whom, when and where and which websites are visited, but not the content of conversations or messages themselves.

Sir Paul found that last year a total of 504,073 such requests were made. The vast majority were made by the police and security services but 123 local councils made a total of 1,553 requests for communications data. Some councils sought lists of the telephone numbers that people had dialled.

Amid growing unease about surveillance powers, ministers issued new guidelines last year about their use. Despite the promised crackdown, the 2008 figure is only slightly lower than 2007’s 519,260 requests.

In April, the Home Office said it would go ahead with plans to track every phone call, email, text message and website visit made by the public, in order to combat terrorists and other criminals.

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “It cannot be a justified response to the problems we face in this country that the state is spying on half a million people a year.

“We have sleepwalked into a surveillance state but without adequate safeguards.”

Sir Paul found 595 errors in interception requests last year, including mistakes by MI5 and MI6, the intelligence agencies.

However, he defended councils over their use of the Act, concluding: “It is evident that good use is being made of communications data to investigate the types of offences that cause harm to the public.”

His report even encourages councils to acquire more communications data, saying that “local authorities could often make more use of this powerful tool to investigate crimes”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “It’s vital that we strike the right balance between individual privacy and collective security and that is why the Home Office is clear these powers should only be used when they are proportionate.”

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

UK: Government’s Green Energy Plan May Cost 17 Times More Than Its Benefits

The figures are buried deep in the Government’s Renewable Energy Strategy paper produced last month.

The Government’s plans to increase the proportion of Britain’s energy generated by “green” sources is set to cost between 11 and 17 times what the change brings in economic benefits.

The figures are buried deep in the Government’s Renewable Energy Strategy paper produced last month.

According to the document, while the expected cost will total around £4bn a year over the next 20 years, amounting to £57bn to £70bn, the eventual benefit in terms of the reduced carbon dioxide emissions will be only £4bn to £5bn over that entire period.

The figures make up part of the Government’s impact assessment of the policies, which include plans to raise the proportion of British electricity produced by renewable sources from 5.5pc today to 30pc.

It is the Government’s assessment that the non-monetary benefits of the policies will compensate for the possible £65bn shortfall, but economists are sceptical as to how much of this sum such factors can make up.

The White Paper has also calculated that household gas and electricity bills will have to rise by up to £249 a year, although Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband has insisted that new measures to improve consumers’ energy efficiency would reduce the extra cost to an average of £92 a year per home.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

UK: How ‘Impartiality Rules’ Allow the BBC to Sideline Conservative Opinions

by Ed West

George Galloway’s discussion of the subject of Gaza on Press TV has landed him in trouble with Ofcom. Apparently he wasn’t entirely even-handed.

Ofcom said the “overwhelming majority” of the programmes’ content was pro-Palestinian and highly critical of Israeli policy, and Mr Galloway spoke “from an entirely pro-Palestinian point of view”.

I didn’t realise he worked for the BBC. But, seriously, so what if he was biased? Press TV is the mouthpiece of the Tehran government and no one switches it on expecting to hear anything but anti-Israeli propaganda. Let them. So what if a few thousand people watch or listen to programmes with an obvious anti-Israeli slant? It’s more creepy that millions ingest the subtle anti-Israeli slant of the state broadcaster.

What’s at fault here are the British rules governing impartiality, which are established to ensure that there is only one opinion allowed in broadcasting — the official centre-Left one. In the United States, Right-wing radio and television hosts provide an alternative to the centre-Left dominated media, indeed, an important factor in American conservatism’s survival was the repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s fairness doctrine in 1987, which allowed for the growth of conservative radio hosts who took on Clinton’s Democrats. In Britain we have the Today programme, and the rules make it impossible to set up an alternative. That is why the blogosphere is so dominated by conservatives.

Because the American media is more free, the culture wars in the United States were a prolonged and evenly matched battle between two political schools of thought, modern liberalism and conservatism. The British equivalent, meanwhile, was the most one-sided war since the sixth Sultan of Zanzibar took on a Royal Navy squadron with only a couple of hundred palace slaves wielding curly swords.

And while the British culture war might have lasted slightly longer than the Anglo-Zanzibar War (36 minutes), conservatives were utterly routed in British life in the Eighties and Nineties. Way before New Labour came to power, all the leading figures in the civil service, education, the police, health service and the mainstream churches were 68er Marxism-lite liberals. And, most importantly, that was the only narrative presented by the BBC, which has far more power than any newspaper.

And as long as there are “impartiality” rules, the conservatives have only bloggers, the modern equivalent of house slaves with curly swords, to fight this media colossus.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Huge Rise in Child Abduction From Britain: Report

LONDON (AFP) — Almost 500 children were abducted from Britain and taken abroad last year, the Guardian said on Monday, highlighting Pakistan as a hotspot.

An estimated 470 youngsters were abducted in 336 separate cases reported to authorities last year, according to data obtained by the newspaper under freedom of information laws.

The figure showed a 20 percent increase on the number of reported abductions in 2005.

More children were taken illegally to Pakistan than anywhere else, with 30 cases, while 23 were taken to the United States, 22 to Ireland and 21 to Spain.

Other abduction hotspots included Australia, France and Egypt, the Guardian said.

Abductions usually occur when marriages break down between couples of different nationalities, and the parent not awarded legal custody kidnaps their children and flees abroad, it said.

The cases are not normally publicised because they are dealt with in the family courts where reporting restrictions apply to any cases involving the welfare of minors.

The government has little power to intervene in around 40 percent of all abduction cases as they involve children being taken to countries not a signatory to the Hague convention.

The international treaty obliges nations to promptly return children wrongfully detained in their jurisdiction.

Cases involving non-treaty countries include Bangladesh, Iraq, Nigeria and Russia, it said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Public Spied on 1,500 Times a Day, Study Finds

LONDON (Reuters) — Police, councils and the intelligence services made more than 500,000 requests to access private emails and telephone records in the UK last year, according to an annual surveillance report.

The figures, compiled by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Paul Kennedy, found that about 1,500 surveillance requests were made every day in Britain.

That is the annual equivalent to one in every 78 people being targeted. It included 1,500 approved applications from local councils.

Each request allows public bodies to access data — which includes telephone records, email and text message traffic — but not the actual content of conversations or messages.

“It doesn’t allow you to see the content of the message or conversation. It’s about the who, where and when — the time element essentially in directed surveillance,” a Home Office spokesman said.

Although slightly down on last year, the total is up more than 40 percent on two years ago.

The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne seized on the figures, saying they “beggared belief,” warning that the UK appeared to have “sleepwalked into a surveillance state.”

“Many of these operations carried out by the police and security services are necessary, but the sheer numbers are daunting,” he said.

“It cannot be a justified response to the problems we face in this country that the state is spying on half a million people a year,” Huhne said.

“The government forgets that George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning and not a blueprint,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats say only a magistrate should be able to approve a request for surveillance, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The act was introduced in 2000, to take account of technological change. It was extended in 2003 by the home secretary at the time, David Blunkett, to tackle serious crimes including terrorism.

In his report, Kennedy also found 595 errors in interception requests last year, including mistakes made by the domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6.

The vast majority of requests to snoop on people’s records were made by the police and security services.

But the report found that some were granted to council officials investigating trivial offences like dog fouling, fuelling concern that the act is being misused.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Prevent Scheme is Alienating Muslim Communities and Should be Scrapped

The Government’s flagship scheme on tackling extremism is alienating Muslim communities and should be scrapped according to a new report. The New Local Government Network (NLGN) think tank is calling for the £45million scheme to focus on tackling all extremism — including far-right extremists — rather than just focusing on Islamic extremism.

The Government set up the Prevent scheme in 2006 to help local councils to tackle violent extremism at a local level. Currently 94 local authorities receive funding from the scheme. NLGN’s independent report argues that whilst the scheme has helped in some areas, overall it risks alienating some local communities and particularly Muslim communities.

The report calls for the Government to allocate resources to tackle all extremist ideologies, arguing that the recent increase in far-right extremism is as much of as a challenge for local communities as Islamic extremism. In July this year Scotland Yard warned that far-right extremists are planning a “spectacular” terrorist attack in Britain to try to stoke racial tensions and that more resources need to be targeted to tackle this form of extremism.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Police Told to Ignore Human Rights Ruling Over DNA Database

Chief constables across England and Wales have been told to ignore a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights and carry on adding the DNA profiles of tens of thousands of innocent people to a national DNA database.

Senior police officers have also been “strongly advised” that it is “vitally important” that they resist individual requests based on the Strasbourg ruling to remove DNA profiles from the national database in cases such as wrongful arrest, mistaken identity, or where no crime has been committed.

European human rights judges ruled last December in the S and Marper case that the blanket and indiscriminate retention of the DNA profiles and fingerprints of 850,000 people arrested but never convicted of any offence amounts to an unlawful breach of their rights.

Britain already has the largest police national DNA database in the world, with 5.8m profiles, including one in three of all young black males. Thousands more are being added each week.

So far the Home Office has responded to the judgment by proposing a controversial package to keep DNA profiles of the innocent for six to 12 years, depending on the seriousness of the offence. The official consultation period ended today.

The advice to senior officers comes in a letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers criminal records office. The letter, seen by the Guardian, tells chief constables that new Home Office guidelines following the ruling in the case of S and Marper are not expected to take effect until 2010.

“Until that time, the current retention policy on fingerprints and DNA remains unchanged,” it says. “Individuals who consider they fall within the ruling in the S and Marper case should await the full response to the ruling by the government prior to seeking advice and/or action from the police service in order to address their personal issue on the matter.

“Acpo strongly advise that decisions to remove records should not be based on [the government’s] proposed changes. It is therefore vitally important that any applications for removals of records should be considered against current legislation.”

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats’ shadow home secretary, said it was clear from the letter that the government intends to string out its response to the European court ruling that they should not keep the DNA of innocent people.

“It is unacceptable that new guidance won’t be provided to police until 2010. In that time thousands more innocent people will have been added to the database, where they will remain for years.

“It is not up to police forces to ignore court judgments because they or their masters do not like them.”

The tone of the letter is in sharp contrast to what the Home Office told the House of Lords in June when peers sharply criticised the government’s intention to push through their plan to keep innocent people’s DNA for up to 12 years by using “back door” secondary legislation to get it through parliament. The Home Office told peers that they could not afford the delay that would be involved in making the changes in primary legislation that would allow MPs and peers to fully debate the changes.

Home Office officials said they face a possible “surge of pressure” from individuals seeking deletion of their data from the relevant databases. Ministers have already received some legal challenges.

But the Lords committee on delegated powers and regulatory reform has told ministers that provision “about this important and complex subject should be in primary legislation”.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]


Human Organ Trafficking Investigator Shunned

Pristina, 7 August (AKI) — Albanian and Kosovan officials have refused to cooperate with a European official visiting the region this week to probe allegations of human organ trafficking, local media said on Friday. Swiss lawyer Dick Marty, an investigator from the human rights watchdog The Council of Europe, was in the region to investigate claims that guerrillas from the Kosovo Liberation Army sold organs on the black market.

The organs were allegedly removed from abducted Serb and Roma civilians during the ethnic Albanian rebellion in 1998-1999 and sold.

Former chief prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte said in her book, The Hunt, published in April last year that she received information that about 300 people, mainly Serbs and Roma, were abducted and transferred to northern Albania where their organs were extracted and trafficked during 1999.

The Hague tribunal stated that no substantial evidence supporting the allegations had been supplied to the court.

But del Ponte’s book sparked controversy with Kosovan and Albanian officials who denied the allegations and Russian and Serbian officials who demanded a full investigation.

Hundreds of people who disappeared at time of the KLA rebellion are still listed as missing.

Marty was told by officials in the Albanian capital, Tirana, that only the Albanian authorities were entitled to carry out an investigation. The officials dismissed the claims as “Serbian propaganda.”

“Only Albanian prosecutors have the right to carry out an investigation on Albanian territory,” justice minister Enkelejd Alibeaj was quoted by Kosovo television RTV21 as telling Marty.

He dismissed the allegations as “false claims” without any proof.

“I refuse to believe that it is true (organs trafficking), but we would like this matter to be investigated,” Marty reportedly replied.

Meanwhile, the Kosovo Committee for the protection of human rights and freedoms said in a statement that the investigation about alleged organs trafficking was “shameful, negative, and politically motivated”.

Wanda Trosinska from Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday the group had information that “at least 400 people were transferred from Kosovo to Albania where all traces of them were lost”.

“We demand from Kosovo and Albanian authorities, as well as from most important international institutions, to determine the fate of these people and what happened to them,” Trosinska said in Brussels.

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

North Africa

Egyptian Beach Succumbs to Veil as Alexandria Loses Its Diversity

By Daniel Williams

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) — Along miles and miles of crowded beachfront in Egypt’s second city, women in bathing suits are nowhere in sight.

On Alexandria’s breeze-blown shores, they all wear long- sleeve shirts and ankle-length black caftans topped by head scarves. Awkwardly afloat in the rough seas, the bathers look like wads of kelp loosened from the sandy bottom.

The scene would be unremarkable in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where hiding the feminine body is mandated by Islamic-based strictures. In Alexandria — a storied town of sensuality and openness — the veiled beachgoers, coupled with sectarian conflicts, represent the loss to some residents of a valued, diverse identity in favor of religious uniformity.

“Here is the front line of a battle between secularists and Islamic fundamentalism,” said Mohamed Awad, director of the Alexandria and Mediterranean Research Center, part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, itself an evocation of the ancient library whose reputation for scholarship helped give the city its pluralistic credentials.

If the issue were only bathing attire — or the gradual disappearance of alcohol from open-air seaside cafes to avoid insults from passing pedestrians — the phenomenon might be just a curiosity. But there are sharper signs of intolerance: increasing Christian-Muslim clashes unfamiliar to old Alexandrine eyes.

‘They Will Die’

On April 4, a Muslim man was allegedly stabbed by his Coptic Christian landlords in a dispute over garbage collection, according to a July 30 report by the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human-rights watchdog. When the man died the next day, Muslims praying at a mosque in the city’s Karmouz district chanted “they will die” and then trashed Christian-owned stores, the report said.

Similar events in the past three years include Muslims storming homes they said were Coptic churches functioning without government permit. Copts, about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, are an indigenous denomination founded in Alexandria around 61 A.D.

The violence is particularly striking in a city whose skyline is dotted by minarets and church steeples and where, at least in the memory of Alexandrian novelistIbrahim Abdel Meguid, religion hasn’t always triggered public disputes. He has written two novels of Alexandria’s 20th-century past, with longing for a kind of golden age of diversity.

“I wish we could go back to being the city of Cleopatra,” said another author,Haggag Oddoul, in an interview.

Cosmopolitan Paradise

The Alexandria of lore emerged as a major 19th century transshipment port with Europe, celebrated by Arab, Egyptian and Western writers as a cosmopolitan paradise where sailors mingled at cafes with exiles from Syria and Greece, businessmen from Italy, and, eventually, women in sundresses.

In 1956, Great Britain and France, with the help of Israel, invaded Egypt to recover control of the recently nationalized Suez Canal, through which nearly one-tenth of world trade now passes. The attempt failed, and communities of Greeks, Armenians, Italians, French and Jews fled as the definition of Egypt narrowed to an Arab nation in a homogenous Arab world.

Since then, Alexandria has become home to oil refineries that have helped swell its population to more than 5 million. The immigrants, many from Egypt’s overcrowded countryside, submerged the scene in a tidal wave of poverty and ideology.

Now, Arab nationalism and Alexandria’s cosmopolitanism have a new rival: the push for an Islamic Egypt. Abdel Meguid attributes this to influence from conservative Persian Gulf nations — in particular Saudi Arabia, a destination for thousands of Egyptians seeking work.

Dance, Culture

“We are no longer a universal city of song, dance, culture and art,” he said.

Awad’s center at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina strives to reverse that trend, spreading “internationalism” and promoting “a healthy spirit of diversity, pluralism and interaction among civilizations,” according to its Web site. And yet “the library is an island,” he said.

The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition force, has its major base of support in the city, according to national press accounts. There, as in other Egyptian urban centers, the Brotherhood provides health care, subsidized food and social services for the poor.

The group is the prototype for Islamic political parties across the Middle East — and nostalgia for a legendary multicultural past doesn’t guide its agenda.

“At the end of the day, that’s all history,” said Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood member of parliament.

Proper Attire

A leaflet advising women on proper Islamic coverings is posted in the lobby leading to Saleh’s office. Caftan and long head scarf are correct. A skimpy head scarf accompanied by jeans is wrong.

Christian-Muslim tensions aren’t a symptom of intolerance but of “insults” to Islam by Copts, he said. “Sometimes, secular activists try to raise the pressure on us by saying Muslims are against Christians.”

Alexandria needs “stable” community values, he insisted. Sensuality, if it means sexuality, is not part of the social equation. Even the library — with itsmuseum that includes pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic relics — is misguided, Saleh said.

“There, Islam is just one topic among many. We don’t like those naked Greek statues. Anyway, that’s over. Islam should have a special status at the library,” he said. “This is a Muslim city in a Muslim country; that is our identity.”

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

Labour: Tunisia,30% Emigrants to Gulf Countries Without Work

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, AUGUST 10 — According to unconfirmed figures, 30% of Tunisian workers emigrated to the Gulf countries, to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in particular, have lost their jobs. According to the Tunisian website Business News, most people who lost their job had fixed-term contracts or no contract at all. Workers who emigrated on the basis of the existing agreement between the Gulf countries and the ‘Agence Tunisienne de Cooperation Technique’ suffered less from the economic downturn. According to the figures derived from the consular registries, by the end of last year there were 153,256 Tunisian emigrants in the region. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

Fatah Congress, Barghuti Behind Party Renewal

(by Alessandro Logroscino) (ANSAmed) — BETHLEHEM (WEST BANK), AUGUST 10 — The most concrete prospect for the reorganisation of Al Fatah has the profile of an absentee like Marwan Barghuti, tribune of the second intifada held in a prison in Israel. Many people made this suggestion in Bethlehem on the final day of the congress of the historical party for the Palestinian cause — founded by the late Yasser Arafat and now led by the president of the moderate PNA, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) — which will replace its party leadership after 20 years. The results of the vote in the party are expected to be announced late this evening or tomorrow. But many think that the balance will shift, at least partially, in favour of the generation of colonels, to which Barghuti belongs. The vote regards the renewal of the Central Committee (CC, 18 elected members and four co-opted members) and of the Revolutionary Council (parliament with 120 seats). All eyes are focused on the level of change the vote will be able to bring about in a party that has been undermined in recent years by political sclerosis, clear signs of corruption and by the aggressive competition of the Hamas Muslim fundamentalists. For the CC the games is played between the old guard of Arafat’s ‘orphans’ (like former Premier Abu Ala) and the varied group of 50-year-olds, which includes several candidates for the hypothetical role of Abu Mazen’s successor: the former head of West Bank security services Jibril Rajub for example (who has even predicted “a revolution” in the movement’s leadership), or the controversial former strongman of Fatah in Gaza, Mohammad Dahlan or Washington’s favourite diplomat Saeb Erekat. But Barghuti, in spite of speculations on his possible release, is high on the list of candidates: the only member with sufficient charisma to resist Hamas, in the eyes of many of the 2,300 delegates. The congress, in which Abu Mazen was elected by acclamation as party leader at the age of 74, has approved a platform for the unity of the Palestinian people and against its Hamas rivals, who took charge of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a violent conflict in which the break with the West Bank controlled by Abu Mazen was sealed. The congress renewed its commitment to negotiations on a Palestinian State on Israel’s side, under the condition of the immediate freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (which the international community and the USA have also asked for). The congress also demands “a fair solution” for the refugees and the right on “the capital of Jerusalem”, and called for “resistance” in the absence of a diplomatic solution. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak called these claims declamatory, though he confirmed the need for negotiations. Some of the members of Netanyahu’s (rightwing) Likud party called these claims “a declaration of war.” In the eyes of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (far-right), they create “a gap that can’t be closed.” “Those who believed that Fatah could adhere to the Zionist movement will be disappointed” commented Yariv Oppenheimer of the Israeli pacifist association ‘Peace Now’, “but the realists who are willing to carry out a honest analysis of the congress in Bethlehem will see unprecedented positive signs, based on the Palestinian will to make peace with Israel.” (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Fatah Congress’ Outcome Was Below Par: UAE Paper

Dubai, Aug 10 : The Fatah movement, which is holding its first congress in two decades, has failed to resolve differences within in the party and reconnect with Palestinians, a major UAE newspaper said Monday.

‘With the Fatah party congress being extended until tomorrow (Tuesday), there are a few obvious observations: Nothing positive has come out of this meeting,’ commented Dubai-based Gulf News in its editorial.

Expressing dismay over the outcome of the meeting, the newspaper noted that Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides failed to address Fatah’s internal disputes, WAM news agency reported.

‘Abbas, who unsurprisingly was re-elected as leader of the Fatah movement, could have pushed his party members to try to resolve political infighting. Instead, we saw more of the same: flare-ups between members who were concerned with old and new party disputes and sorting out their problems with Hamas or even highlighting Israeli occupation and injustice,’ said the paper.

There was no mention of financial accountability. In that sense, Fatah did not succeed in reconnecting with Palestinians and offering change as originally intended, added the paper.

The congress meeting also failed to reach out to Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, and send a strong and effective message of reconciliation. In fact, it further alienated the Islamist movement and deepened existing divisions, the daily observed.

The editorial also urged both the movements to stop quarrelling with each other and focus on the bigger problem — the illegal constructions and eviction of Palsestinas by Isreal in its occupied territories.

More than 2,000 delegates have been attending the party’s first congress in two decades in the West Banck city of Bethlehem.

However, the congress that began Tuesday has been marked by bitter rows, with numerous delegates blaming the current leadership for the party’s failures.

The last Fatah congress was held in Tunis in 1989.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Gaza: Netanyahu, Air Raid in Response to Rockets

(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, AUGUST 10 — Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has explained that the air raid carried out last night in Rafah was a response to the two mortar salvos fired on Israeli territory from Gaza. The Israeli Air Force has targeted a tunnel below the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, using missiles as well, for the first time after almost two months. Nobody was hurt in the attack. Netanyahu added that Israel will no longer passively accept the firing of rockets and mortar salvos on its territory. “Our enemies” he said “should know that this is our policy. We are no longer willing to accept rockets being fired on our settlements” in Israel. According to an Israeli spokesman, the targeted tunnel was apparently used to smuggle explosives into the Gaza Strip. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

MKs Launch New Alliance With European Parliaments

by Carrie Sheffield

Seeking to combat a perceived growing anti-Israel trend in Europe, Knesset leaders have joined a new alliance intended to strengthen ties with European parliaments.

Funded by wealthy patrons within European Jewish circles, the alliance is seeking to lower the rhetorical temperature on the Palestinian issue and heighten awareness of a potential Iranian nuclear threat, which has been downplayed by many European leaders.

Last week, the lobbying group European Friends of Israel (EFI) launched the European Forum of the Knesset, a coalition spearheaded by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) with the blessing of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud).

“I welcome you from the bottom of my heart,” Rivlin told European diplomats and ambassadors gathered at the Knesset for the inaugural meeting of the alliance. Rivlin acknowledged Israel’s somewhat troublesome relationship with Europe, but asserted, “The right not to agree between two friends is very important, so long as everyone understands the opinion.”

The Knesset alliance is the next step in EFI’s growing relationship with Europe. The organization is headquartered in Finland and maintains offices in Spain, Germany and Belgium. EFI sponsored a policy conference in Paris last year, and a spokeswoman said the new Knesset alliance would help deepen the growing outreach.

MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima), former foreign minister and head of the opposition coalition in the Knesset, was also on hand to welcome the European guests.

“There is a huge gap between Israel’s image in Europe and vice versa,” Livni told them. “I could say that this is less important, but unfortunately there is a connection between public opinion and decision makers. Therefore, we need to work together in order to make the Israeli values be more familiar to the public in Europe.”

Livni said Israel’s was located in a “difficult neighborhood,” that required a stringent approach.

“Any sign of weakness or lack of determination in order to stop Iran, this can lead to kind of a domino effect of states trying to appease Iran in the understanding that Iran is going to be a regional power in the future,” Livni said. “Let’s understand together that time works against us, that there is a very small window in terms of time and the determination of the international community in stopping Iran or avoiding a nuclear Iran. It’s not an Israeli problem, this is a problem of the entire region and the world.”

Fiamma Nirenstein, a Jewish member of the Italian parliament, also addressed the diplomats, who represented a range of countries including Sweden, Lithuania, Germany and Austria.

“What we’re in front of is a wave of ant-Semitism,” Nirenstein said. “We need very much to establish this relationship now, and quickly.”

Nirenstein condemned European financing of pro-Palestinian organizations that she said sowed “seeds of war and not of peace.” Uzi Rabi, a Middle East lecturer at Tel Aviv University, condemned European investment in Iran, saying it encouraged Iran to maintain the status quo in its uranium enrichment program.

Rabi singled out Russia, Germany, Switzerland and Austria — to which an Austrian diplomat objected, saying a 22-billion-euro deal between Iran and Austrian energy giant OMV was nixed amid pressure in 2007 — as problematic players in refusing to divest from Iran.

“If somebody is going to have that kind of a huge deal with Iran in terms of energy, gas, whatever, this gives [Iran] the feeling that they can go on doing whatever,” Rabi said. “If Europe could reduce the amount or the volume of financial transactions with Iran, that could be kind of a sign that Europe is giving some kind of momentum for declarations from Washington.”

MK Majallie Whbee (Kadima), deputy speaker of the Knesset, told the gathered diplomats that he understood they were facing troubling demographic trends in maintaining traditional ethnic majorities due to what he called the “Islamization of Europe.”

“It’s not easy to come to any organization, especially the European parliament, to feel that you are in the minority,” said Whbee, who is Druse. “I am one of the minorities in the parliament so I know how you are feeling. Please, be balanced when you are dealing with the issues of Israel and the Israelis.”

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

Middle East

Another Tack: (Trans) Jordan is Palestine

If anyone can lay claim to consummate mastery of the thriving art of history-forging, it’s the Jordanians. Their entire state, nationhood and very identity are counterfeit. Had the international community not been sympathetically predisposed to lap up the lie, Jordan obviously couldn’t pull it off. Its wholesale fabrication hinges on a world that contentedly collaborates in hoodwinking itself.

Faisal I ibn al-Hussein, Abdullah Iâ€(tm)s brother and Hussein ibn Aliâ€(tm)s son, was ruler of Greater Syria in 1920 and King of Iraq from 1921 to 1933.

So deceit blithely marches on.

Its latest installment is the artificially concocted kingdom’s decision to strip untold numbers of Palestinians of Jordanian citizenship. Those who were Jordanian for decades suddenly aren’t. It’s like the infamous Soviet encyclopedias’ loose-leaf pages, which were removed and replaced with the latest authoritative versions of what once was.

The past is ever-malleable in the service of current agendas.

According to Jordanian Interior Minister Nayef al-Kadi, the aim is to preempt the possibility of anyone resurrecting reminders that Jordan is part and parcel of what’s called Palestine. It’s indeed the largest chunk thereof. That being the case, Palestinians — whether born east or west of the Jordan River — are Jordan’s natural citizens (regardless of whatever name it or they adopt). Kadi, under his monarch’s orders, is now out to underscore the falsehood that “Jordan is not Palestine just as Palestine is not Jordan.”

Thereby no future peace deal could rubber-stamp Jordanian domicile for so-called Palestinians. Instead they’d be driven to overrun Israel and turn it into the third Arab state in the original jurisdiction of the post-World War I British Mandate over Palestine.

Otherwise Jordan would forfeit all proceeds from the gargantuan deception it labored so hard to market to a world eager to be deceived — i.e., the synthetic Jordanian and Palestinian ethnicities, along with the notion that these recent-vintage nationalities are dissimilar from each other and deserve self-determination in separate homelands: Jordan and Palestine.

This cock-and-bull contention begat the image of the stateless Palestinians — aggrieved indigenous inhabitants striving desperately to throw off the yoke of foreign (Jewish) occupation.

Until 1948 Palestine was synonymous with the Hebrew Eretz Yisrael. The “Palestinian” epithet was largely reserved for Jews and used by them. Local Arabs preferred allegiance to Greater Syria or Iraq.

Golda Meir used to quip: “I am a Palestinian, but don’t like the name. Palestine is a name the Romans gave Eretz Yisrael with the express purpose of infuriating defeated Jews… Why should we use a spiteful name meant to humiliate us?… Christendom inherited the name from Rome and the British chose to call the land they mandated Palestine. Local Arabs picked it up as their nation’s supposed ancient name, though they couldn’t even pronounce it correctly, and turned it into Filastin, a fictional entity.”

Palestine/Filastin never had an independent existence, cultural uniqueness, linguistic distinctiveness or religious idiosyncrasy to differentiate it from the surrounding Arab milieu.

Moreover, the British Mandate in Palestine extended over both banks of the Jordan. In 1921, 78 percent of what the League of Nations designated as “the national home of the Jewish people” was ripped off and presented as a gift to Abdullah, son of Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, Mecca’s Hashemite emir (also self-proclaimed caliph of all Muslims). Hussein later (1924) lost control of Islam’s holiest city and surrounding Hejaz to a rival clan, the Saudis. Had he won, we’d be speaking today of Hashemite Arabia. As is, we’re saddled with Hashemite Jordan.

Out to recompense their Hashemite lackeys, the Brits enthroned Abdullah’s younger brother Faisal as king of Greater Syria. After the French expelled Faisal, London manufactured for him a make-believe realm called Iraq. His grandson Faisal II was deposed, executed and his corpse dragged through Baghdad’s streets in 1958, but England’s unnatural Iraqi fusion remains and continues to disturb the world.

Abdullah sought the title of emir of Palestine. Britain made him settle for Transjordan. No Transjordanian nation appears in human chronicles. It was conceived on Palestinian soil by Perfidious Albion. That was the first division of Palestine.

In 1950, Transjordan annexed the “West Bank” (the name they gave the territory occupied after the Arab invasion of new-born Israel in 1948) and became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Its leaders, including the late King Hussein, stressed over and over in numerous pronouncements that “Jordan and Palestine are one and the same.” So did Palestinian leaders, including Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian Covenant, in fact, covets all of Jordan — precisely because it’s Palestine.

Yet eventually it became expedient, PR-wise, to claim that Palestine exists exclusively west of the mini-river, justifying the campaign for a second Palestinian Arab state.

Fearing that his Palestinian subjects would topple their imported Hashemite rulers, Hussein kicked out the PLO in Black September 1970. Too bad. Had he failed, Arafat would have taken Amman over and nobody could today deny that Palestine is divided among Jews and Arabs, with the Arabs owning nearly four-fifths thereof.

Now Hussein’s son Abdullah II seeks to rewrite history once more in the well-trodden Jordanian tradition. His father dropped the claim to what he branded the West Bank but didn’t revive the ludicrous moniker of Transjordan. After 17 years of annexation (1950-67), the Jordan trademark gained global acceptance. It rang authentic. Why then return to the obvious fake?

Jordan’s population, though, is overwhelmingly Palestinian. The only exceptions are the Beduin who accompanied Abdullah I from Hejaz. Like the Hashemites, they’re foreigners. Now these outsiders design to delegitimize the natives. Expectedly, governments and human rights NGOs worldwide are silent.

Jordan was born of fraud, which it’s fated thereafter to prop up via unremitting retroactive repairs to the past — even the distant past. Not too many years back Jordan TV aired a documentary on Jerusalem portraying ancient Jebusites as Arabs.

Of course, were the Hebrews not the People of the Book, those Jerusalem-area Canaanites known as Jebusites would have never made their exceedingly fleeting appearance on the pages of history, or on JTV.

Faisal I ibn al-Hussein, Abdullah Iâ€(tm)s brother and Hussein ibn Aliâ€(tm)s son, was ruler of Greater Syria in 1920 and King of Iraq from 1921 to 1933.

For anyone who forgot the brief biblical references, the Jebusites were the folks from whom King David conquered a wee hamlet he later turned into his capital. The books of Judges and Ezra indicate they intermarried and assimilated among the Israelites.

Posthumously Arabizing these Jebusites presumably establishes an Arab claim to Zion. JTV concomitantly magnified the Jebusites’ contribution to mankind to proportions that would have doubtlessly astounded them. JTV outrightly expunged Jews from Jerusalem’s annals, save for one abrupt but indispensable appearance in the Judenrein city. Villainous Jews arrived suddenly out of nowhere and stayed just long enough to crucify Jesus, described as “a Palestinian Arab prophet.”

JTV even treated us to recipes from the Jebusite kitchen. These would have altogether floored the long-lost Jebusites, as it appears that their favorite ingredients were tomatoes and chili peppers, which, alas, only reached the Old World 2,500 years later, when Spaniards brought them back from America.

Perhaps, however, the enterprising Jebusites beat Columbus there, thus establishing an Arab claim to the Western Hemisphere. Any claim that Jordan isn’t Palestine is just as unimpeachable.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Bahrain: Work Begins on USD 50.3 Million Mini Disneyland

(ANSAmed) — MANAMA, AUGUST 10 — Construction work on a BD19m ($50.3m) theme park described as a ‘miniature Disneyland’ in Bahrain has started. The project in Muharraq, which will feature rides, a miniature train, and the country’s longest walkway, has been delayed by six months. According to a report in the Gulf Daily News, the Kuwaiti company Salah Al Rumaih Group began construction after Muharraq Municipal Council officials gave out an ultimatum last month — start work or lose the contract. The development is set to create 200 jobs, council chairman Mohammed Hamada said. “We gave him (the investor) two choices — either do the project as agreed in the contract or leave,” he said. “The GCC investor was wise enough to choose to stick with the original plans, because if not, we were ready to terminate his contract, take legal action and open the project for new bids.” Designs also include the biggest bowling alley in the Middle East, with 45 lanes. Other facilities include a ladies health club, medical centre, restaurants and coffee shops, hotel with a multi-purpose hall and a three-storey car park. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Brennan on Hizballah: They Can’t be Terrorists! They Have Lawyers!

by Barry Rubin

It wasn’t enough that President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan gave a speech which—possibly for the first time in U.S. history—gave a government definition of a religious practice, endorsing Jihad as a noble pursuit. No, he also gave a basic endorsement to a terrorist group which has murdered several hundred Americans.

Please understand, Brennan is not engaging in appeasement. It’s much worse. He thinks he’s a brilliant strategist who is going to manipulate Hizballah into being pro-American without knowing very much about the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Islamism, or even his supposed subject of expertise, terrorism.

Sound like an exaggeration? Keep reading.

Brennan made clear his views on Hizballah before being appointed by the president, which means he shouldn’t have been appointed. The problem isn’t just that his view is politically unpalatable and strategically disastrous, it is also enormously ignorant.

Here’s what Brennan wrote in an article for ANNALS, AAPSS, 618, July 2008. What it says on Iran is equally bad. But let’s focus today on Hizballah:

“It would not be foolhardy, however, for the United States to tolerate, and even to encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system, a process that is subject to Iranian influence. Hezbollah is already represented in the Lebanese parliament and its members have previously served in the

Lebanese cabinet, reflections of Hezbollah’s interest in shaping Lebanon’s political future from within government institutions. This political involvement is a far cry from Hezbollah’s genesis as solely a terrorist organization dedicated to murder, kidnapping, and violence. Not coincidentally, the evolution of Hezballah into a fully vested player in the Lebanese political system has been accompanied by a marked reduction in terrorist attacks carried out by the organization. The best hope for maintaining this trend and for reducing the influence of violent extremists within the organization—as well as the influence of extremist Iranian officials who view Hezbollah primarily as a pawn of Tehran—is to increase Hezbollah’s stake in Lebanon’s struggling democratic processes”

This kind of thinking would do far more than bury Lebanon. It would bury U.S. interests and influence in the Middle East. And so it is only appropriate to quote William Shakespeare’s lines for another funeral oration: “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now!”

Yes, it would be foolhardy for the United States to encourage growing influence and power for a radical Islamist terrorist group that is a client of Syria and reasonably close to being an agent of Iran. Brennan seems to give no evidence of any serious knowledge about the Middle East.

Hizballah isn’t being “assimilated” into Lebanon’s political system, it is trying to take over Lebanon to the greatest extent possible…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Energy: EU’s Largest Solar Panel Factory Set for Sicily

(ANSAmed) — ROME, AUGUST 10 — The largest solar panel factory in the European Union will be built in Sicily. The agreement between the government, the president of the region of Sicily, Raffaele Lombardo, and Lombardy, Roberto Formigoni, and STMicrolectronics (ST), with the participation of ENEL and Sharp was signed to bring to the island to distinct lines of activity characterised by a high level of technological innovation. The agreement, signed by the company with the Minister of Economic Development, Claudio Scajola, the Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini and the presidents of Sicily and Lombardy, provides for an investment plan worth 1.676 billion euros and the granting of an industrial site worth 50 million euros. The plan will serve to preserve jobs and the expertise of the French-Italian company ST, subject to the agreement, which closed the second quarter of 2009 with a 318 million dollar and a drop in sales of 17%. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Iran Cancels All Saudi Flights in Ramadan

JEDDAH: Iran has canceled all flights to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan to minimize the spread of swine flu, an aviation official was quoted as saying by Jumhuri Eslami newspaper on Monday.

“In order to prevent the spread of swine flu, there will be no flights from Iran to Saudi Arabia during the holy month of Ramadan,” Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian civil aviation organization, said.

Iran will bring back all its citizens currently in Saudi Arabia before the start of Ramadan, he said.

Iran has banned Umrah during Ramadan to control swine flu. The country has so far reported over 130 cases of the H1N1 flu strain, the majority of them among returning pilgrims.

A senior Saudi Haj official said the Iranian decision would not have an impact on the Ramadan Umrah season, which begins in about 10 days.

“The financial losses expected to result from the absence of Iranians during Ramadan Umrah may not exceed 5 percent on the sectors providing services to visitors and pilgrims in Makkah,” Chairman of the National Haj Committee Saad Al-Qurashi said.

Qurashi, who is also the chairman of the Umrah and Haj Committee in the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, does not believe the decision will have any impact on the number of Iranians coming for Haj in November. “The Iranian Haj missions have already signed contracts with a number of hotels in Makkah to accommodate Iranians during the coming pilgrimage season,” he told Arab News. “The Iranians do not usually come for Umrah during Ramadan. They come for Umrah during the months of Rajab and Shabaan,” Qurashi explained.

Minister of Haj Fouad Al-Farsy earlier said it was for individual countries to decide whether their citizens come to Saudi Arabia for Umrah or Haj.

“Saudi Arabia will not interfere with any decision taken by any country, for it is that country’s internal affair,” he said.

On Monday, Palestinian Health Minister Fathi Abu Moghli called on Palestinians to postpone Umrah this year.

Abu Moghli’s statement came after his ministry confirmed Sunday that five new cases of swine flu were discovered among people returning from Saudi Arabia after performing Umrah.

On Friday, senior Health Ministry official As’ad Al-Ramlawi confirmed that a 34-year-old man known to be carrying the virus died in a hospital in Ramallah after returning from Umrah. At least 85 cases of the virus have been detected in the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, a study published Monday quoted British doctors as saying Tamiflu should not be given to children suffering from flu because it does little good and causes vomiting and other side effects.

The report in the medical journal BMJ says Tamiflu can reduce the course of flu in children by up to a day and a half. But it says the drug has little or no effect on complications including asthma attacks, ear infections or bacterial infections.

The researchers from Oxford University say they aren’t sure how relevant their results are to the current swine flu pandemic. The World Health Organization recommends that Tamiflu should be reserved for flu sufferers who also are dealing with other medical conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes or respiratory problems.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Iran Protesters ‘Raped in Jail’

One of Iran’s main opposition leaders has called for an investigation into allegations that women and boys arrested during the recent protests were raped in custody.

Mehdi Karroubi was one of the two main opposition candidates defeated in the June presidential poll.

Thousands of people protested against the result in the weeks after the election, and hundreds were arrested and detained.

Now Mr Karroubi alleges women and boys were savagely raped in detention, and that many are suffering from depression and serious physical and mental damage.

In a letter to the pro-reform ex-president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, he has urged the matter be taken up with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Some protesters have died in custody, but authorities claim they died of disease.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Netanyahu Warns Against Including Hizbullah in Lebanon Government

Israel warned on Monday that the Lebanese government as a whole would be blamed for any attack from its territory if Hizbullah is part of the new government.

“If Hizbullah joins the government it will be clear that the Lebanese government will be held responsible for any attack coming from its territory against Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“The moment they are part of the government, the sovereign Lebanese government is responsible. I hope we will not need such responses,” he told journalists during a visit to southern Israel.

There has been an escalating war of words in recent days between Israel and Hizbullah, which fought a 34-day war in 2006 that killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Lebanon and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

Lebanese prime-minister designate Saad Hariri has yet to form a government two months after a parliamentary election won by the Western-backed coalition that defeated a Hizbullah-led alliance.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Nobel Winner Demands Democracy for Iran

Iranian Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi called Monday for intensified international pressure to help her country democratize and denounced the crackdown on opposition protesters.

“I oppose military and economic sanctions against Iran as they will aggravate the situation,” Ebadi was quoted as saying in an interview with South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Shirin Ebadi”However, intensified international public opinion will contribute to Iran’s democratization.”

Ebadi, a lawyer and human rights defender who won the Nobel prize in 2003, arrived in Seoul Saturday for a six-day trip to receive this year’s Manhae Peace Prize named after a 20th century Korean Buddhist reformer.

“I want to let all the people know what’s going on in Iran and make it a free country,” she said.

Eradicating violence

EbadiEbadi denounced Iran for jailing citizens who protested at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in a June 12 poll that sparked weeks of unrest.

“I don’t take a political stance but I oppose the government’s violent oppression,” she told Dong-A Ilbo in a separate interview. “Violence must be eradicated and all those who were arrested after the election must be freed.”

At least 20 people have died in clashes with security forces and hundreds of opposition protesters have been detained. Iran has also jailed dozens of journalists, political activists and reformist leaders.

Ebadi said the government had misinterpreted the spirit of Islam to discriminate against women.

She told Dong-A that Islam can “develop into a direction in which the religion stays in harmony with human rights. The problem is that undemocratic governments abuse the term “Islam” for an oppressive policy that defies human rights.”

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Police Chief in Key Iraq Province Wants U.S. To Stay

American troops in the tense northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk should stay past a 2011 deadline for them to withdraw, the provincial police chief has told Agence France Presse (AFP).

Major General Jamal Taher Bakr said in an interview that U.S. forces were needed to maintain stability in the oil-rich province, the focus of a dispute over land and influence between the Arab-led government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

“I hope that the troops will stay here… until all things are okay, and Kirkuk’s problems are solved,” Bakr said. “Until this point, until this time, I think it is very necessary that the troops be in Iraq.”

Asked if U.S. troops should stay for one or two years past the 2011 withdrawal deadline set in a Baghdad-Washington accord signed last November, Bakr said: “It would be better.”

The United States pulled its troops out of Iraqi cities and towns on June 30 as part of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and plans a phased withdrawal by the end of 2011 while continuing to train Iraq’s security forces.

Kurdish demands to expand their northern autonomous region to include Kirkuk city, the eponymous capital of the province, have spurred tensions in a region seen as a key potential flashpoint for future conflict.

The Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have been involved in a series of tense standoffs in recent months.

However Bakr dismissed such tensions as “small problems,” and expressed confidence that the central government and the Kurdish authorities will be able to resolve their disputes.

“I think the KRG knows that its future is with Iraq, and the government of Iraq knows it is to its benefit that it has a good relationship with the KRG,” he said. “I am optimistic, not pessimistic.”

He estimated that Kirkuk’s police were at “70 percent readiness,” but warned that the period before the planned full US withdrawal was a “short time to solve the police, army and political issues.”

Bakr has been in charge of Kirkuk’s police since May 2007, during which time, he said, they had not needed help from American or Kurdish forces to maintain security in the province’s cities and towns.

“Just the police provide security inside cities,” he said, adding that officers received information from militias loyal to the Kurdish region’s main political parties but did not allow them to make arrests or launch operations.

“If they have anything, they give the information to us and we carry out the operations with that… In 2006 they had a great role, maybe sometimes arresting some guys, but since I got here we do not allow them.”

Bakr said the Iraqi police had a “great relationship” with Kurdish security forces, and that both sides shared intelligence within the province.

Ahead of national elections set for January, the central government in Baghdad and Kurdish leaders have been locked in a war of words over the fate of disputed regions in Kirkuk, Diyala, Nineveh and Salaheddin provinces.

Kurdish Peshmerga rebels occupied many of the disputed areas during the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met leaders of the autonomous region earlier this month under U.S. pressure to reopen talks ahead of the 2011 pullout.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Probe Urged Into Iran Jail ‘Rape’

A defeated opposition candidate in Iran’s presidential election has called for an investigation into allegations some protesters were raped in prison.

In a letter to former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mehdi Karroubi said senior officials had informed him of the “shameful behaviour” taking place.

Mr Karroubi wrote that both male and female detainees had been raped, with some suffering serious injuries.

He asked Mr Rafsanjani to consult the Supreme Leader about the allegations.

About 200 people arrested during the mass protests sparked by June’s disputed election, which saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected by a wide margin, are still being detained.


In the letter addressed to Mr Rafsanjani in his capacity as head of the Assembly of Experts, Mr Karroubi demanded an investigation into allegations that several detainees had been sexually assaulted.

“Some of those arrested [as a result] of the unrest claim that detained girls have been sexually assaulted with… brutality,” he wrote.

“The young men in detention were also sexually assaulted in such a way that some are now suffering from depression and other physical and psychological problems, and are incapable of even leaving their homes,” he added.

Mr Karroubi said that the people who had told him about the allegations of sexual assault held “sensitive positions”.

“Even if one account is true, it would be a tragedy for the Islamic Republic… and it would whitewash the sins of many dictatorships, including that of the deposed Shah,” he added.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Protesters Savagely Raped in Jail: Iran’s Karroubi

Defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi claimed several of the protesters jailed following Iran’s June unrest have been savagely raped as a leading lawmaker said Monday the illegal entry to the Islamic republic of three detained American citizens may have been linked to the unrest.

“A number of detainees have said that some female detainees have been raped savagely. Young boys held in detention have also been savagely raped,” Karroubi said in a letter to powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, which was obtained by AFP.

“The young boys are suffering from depression and serious physical and mental damage since their rapes,” calling for Rafsanjani to order an investigation.

Karroubi’s “confidential letter” was delivered on July 29 to Rafsanjani in his capacity as head of the Assembly of Experts, the powerful body which selects and supervises the activities of the supreme leader.

Karroubi urged Rafsanjani to take up the issue with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying the “clergy and the Islamic republic will be held responsible” for such acts.

“The people who told me about this hold sensitive positions and some are veterans of the war (with Iraq),” he said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Illegal entry

Meanwhile Mohammad Karamirad, a member of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee, told the official IRNA news agency that the three Americans must be guilty because they snuck into the Islamic Republic.

“Their illegal entry cannot be altogether unrelated to the post-election unrest … What mission were the three pursuing in Iran? Why did not they apply for Iran visas?” he said.

And on Sunday, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ political bureau called for Karroubi, fellow defeated election challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi and Ahmadinejad’s predecessor Mohammad Khatami to go on trial for plotting a “velvet coup.”

Iranian opposition leaders have repeatedly accused security forces of mistreating detained protesters as they maintain a defiant campaign against Ahmadinejad’s victory in what they say was a rigged election.

Last month Khamenei ordered the closure of one detention centre, saying it was not “up to required standards.”

Several reformist newspapers have also reported that several protesters have died in custody, but officials say they succumbed to disease and denied they were beaten.

The crackdowns have outraged the international community as Iran continues to battle its worst crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with deep rifts between the country’s clerical groups and the ruling elite.

But Tehran hit back on Monday after Washington branded the court proceedings against protesters as “show trials.”

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi described the Western criticism as “illegal and surprising,” and said the court testimony by Iranian employees of foreign embassies was proof of foreign meddling.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Rafsanjani Withdraws From Tehran Friday Prayers

Powerful Iranian cleric and opposition supporter Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has decided not to lead Friday prayers this week to avoid “political abuse” of the event, an official said on Monday.

“This week’s Friday prayers were to be held by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani,” said Reza Taghavi, the head of the coordinating body for Friday prayers, the Fars news agency reported.

“(But) we have been informed that he has decided to leave it to another prayer leader in order to prevent any political, unconventional and unacceptable abuse of the occasion.”

Rafsanjani used his previous sermon in July to call for the release of detained election protesters and said Iran had been plunged into “crisis” since the disputed June re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani, who suffered a humiliating defeat to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 election, is currently head of two powerful regime bodies but has warned that the election aftermath had broken people’s trust.

Since the vote, the Friday prayers held at Tehran university have become a forum for highly political speeches, and occasionally the scene of opposition protests.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: HRW Reports Thousands Detained Without Trial

(ANSAmed) — RIYADH, AUGUST 10 — Saudi Arabia has detained thousands of people as a part of its anti-terrorism campaign without sentences being issued against them and at times even ignoring court decisions that ordered their release. This is the accusation that moved Human Rights Watch (HRW) against the Saudi government, and is the second international organisation to report violation of human rights in the country after Amnesty International which in recent days published a report with similar accusations. According to HRW, Saudi intelligence holds an unspecified number of detainees in prisons throughout the country, including foreigners and dissidents. The organisation, the headquarters of which are in New York, calculated that since Al Qaida launched its offensive against the Saudi Kingdom in 2003, some 9,000 people have been arrested of which very probably somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 of them are still in prison, Cristoph Wilcke, author of the HRW report, said. Few of them have ever been charged with a crime or access to a lawyer, and all of this in spite of the fact that the law in Saudi Arabia limits jail time without trial to 6 months. “Saudi Arabia’s reaction to terrorism for years has been to lock up thousands of suspects and throw away the key”, HRW maintains in the report released today including a list of the cases of the individuals held under circumstances that the organisation questions. The Saudi government did not comment on either the HRW or Amnesty International reports. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Saudi Arabia: Kingdom Reminds Palestinians of King’s Appeal

JEDDAH: The Council of Ministers on Monday expressed hope that the Palestinian factions would respond positively to the appeal made by King Abdullah to close ranks in the interest of a Palestinian nation, Higher Education Minister Khaled Al-Anqari, who is also acting minister of culture and information, said in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah called on the Palestinians last Tuesday to set their house in order while exhorting them to unite, not only to realize their dreams but also to combat Israeli aggression.

“The council of ministers stressed that the message sent by King Abdullah to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, came from a heart that has been crushed by genuine pain over the wrangling and schism of his Palestinian brothers that only served the interests of their enemies. The realization of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state requires their national unity and concerted effort. It will never be achieved if the Palestinian house remains divided,” Al-Anqari said in his statement.

The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Second Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Prince Naif at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, denounced the demolition of Palestinian houses and eviction of their residents in East Jerusalem. “The Cabinet called on the international community to take a firm and wholehearted stand to stop immediately the criminal acts perpetrated by Israel and make that country respect all legitimate international resolutions,” Al-Anqari said.

The Cabinet congratulated President Abbas on his re-election as the chairman of the Central Committee of the Fatah movement.

Prince Naif briefed the ministers on the meetings and discussions held by King Abdullah, Crown Prince Sultan and himself with various world leaders and their emissaries.

The Cabinet authorized the president of the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology to negotiate and sign two memoranda of understanding with two Indian organizations — the Indian Space Research Organization for cooperation in the area of peaceful use of space and the Center for Development of Advanced Computing in the field of information technology.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Kremlin: Russia to Bolster Law on Using Military Abroad

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday introduced a bill to parliament that would strengthen an existing law on the use of the Russian armed forces against enemies abroad, the Kremlin said.

Medvedev said that the change was linked to last year’s war with Georgia, after which Moscow declared the rebel Georgian region of South Ossetia to be an independent state.

The Kremlin said in a statement on its website that the amendments proposed by Medvedev amounted to additions to the existing law “on defense”.

“The bill is aimed at creating the legal mechanism allowing the president to use the armed forces in operations outside Russia’s borders,” it said.

The amendments would create the legal basis to allow the armed forces to be used abroad for “rebuffing or preventing aggressions on other states” and “protecting citizens of Russia abroad”, the Kremlin said.

“This is linked to the well known events that happened last year,” said Medvedev. Russia has repeatedly accused Georgia of starting the 2008 war by launching an unprovoked attack on South Ossetia.

“These questions need to be properly addressed. We very much hope that these events do not happen again but the issues need to be addressed,” he added, according to the Interfax news agency.

The amendments would also allow the armed forces to act abroad to fight piracy and ensure the security of shipping, the Kremlin said.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Kremlin Bill on Using Army Abroad

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has introduced a bill to parliament that would allow the country’s armed forces to intervene beyond Russia’s borders.

The bill would allow Russian troops to be used abroad “to rebuff or prevent an aggression against another state” or “protect Russian citizens abroad”.

Mr Medvedev said the bill was linked to last year’s war with Georgia over South Ossetia, Russia’s Interfax reports.

Moscow said it was protecting Russian citizens in South Ossetia.

The war began on 7 August 2008, as Georgia tried to retake control of its breakaway region, following a series of clashes.

Russian forces quickly repelled the assault and pushed further into Georgia.

The conflict lasted for five days before a ceasefire was agreed. Russia pulled back, but built up its military presence in both South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

‘Addressing issues’

On Monday, Mr Medvedev said the new bill was “linked to the well-known events that happened last year”, according to Interfax.

“We very much hope that these events do not happen again but the issues need to be addressed,” he said.

If approved, the bill would augment an existing law allowing the president to use Russian special military units abroad.

Under the law adopted by MPs in 2006, the president must notify lawmakers of any such operation, but the unit size, location and timing can be kept secret.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

South Asia

50 Drug Barons on US Target List in Afghanistan

KABUL — A U.S. military “kill or capture” list of 367 wanted insurgents in Afghanistan includes 50 major drug traffickers who give money to Taliban militants, U.S. military commanders told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

U.S. and NATO troops are attacking drug warehouses and militant-linked narco dealers in Afghanistan for the first time this year, a new strategy to counter the country’s booming opium poppy and heroin trade. NATO defense ministers approved the targeted drug raids late last year, saying the link between Taliban insurgents and the drug trade was clear.

According to a report to be issued by the committee this week, U.S. commanders have no restrictions on the use of force against the targets, “which means they can be killed or captured on the battlefield,” the report states.

When the nexus between a drug trafficker and the insurgency is clear enough, the drug trafficker is put on a list of insurgent leaders wanted by U.S. forces, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan.

“The list of targets are those that are contributing to the insurgency, so the key leadership, and part of that obviously is the link between the narco industry and the militants,” Smith said Monday.

To be placed on this target list, formally called the “joint integrated prioritized target list,” requires two verifiable human sources and “substantial additional evidence,” the report says.

The U.S. military does not conduct operations against narcotics dealers who are not involved in the insurgency, because those individuals are dealt with by law enforcement agencies, according to Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

“It’s terrorists with links to the drug trade rather than drug traffickers with links to terrorism,” said Lt. Col. Todd Vician, another U.S. military spokesman.

The existence of militant-linked drug traffickers on a wanted list of insurgents is a fairly recent development, following that NATO change in policy, though the individuals likely were known to the military before then, Smith said.

The majority of the wanted drug traffickers are in southern Afghanistan, where the drug trade is strongest, though “there are links elsewhere dealing with trafficking,” Smith said.

U.S. Marines and Afghan forces have found and destroyed hundreds of tons of poppy seeds, opium and heroin in southern Afghanistan this summer in raids that troops were not allowed to carry out a year ago.

In another major U.S. policy shift, the U.S. announced in June it would no longer support the destruction of individual farmers’ poppy plants, and instead would increase attacks on drug warehouses.

For years, the U.S. strategy has centered on training Afghan forces to eradicate farmers’ poppy fields by hand. But such efforts never destroyed a significant portion of the crops. Farmers complained that the program targeted small, helpless poppy growers and passed over more powerful land owners, and the forces came under constant attack by militants.

Linking the fight against Taliban or al-Qaida insurgents to people seen driving the country’s illegal drugs trade is an issue that has long stirred debate inside NATO.

The top U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, said last month that the Taliban gets more money from donors in oil-rich Persian Gulf nations than from drugs.

European governments have never shared U.S. enthusiasm to use military power in a counternarcotics strategy, and last fall’s decision by NATO to declare war against drug labs and traffickers in Afghanistan has not silenced critics.

“NATO policy is that if there is a direct nexus between drugs and funding the insurgency, then NATO has a role,” said NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero.

Placing drug traffickers on a wanted list of Afghan militants will significantly hurt insurgents, according to Daniel Twining of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The Taliban insurgency “is only sustainable thanks to the roughly $300-400 million in drug revenues it earns annually from controlling or taxing the narcotics trade, and from the failures of the Afghan state to connect with the Afghan people, leaving vast and ungoverned swathes of the country subject to parallel administration by the Taliban,” Twining said.

However, Fabrice Pothier, head of Brussels-based Carnegie Europe, said the effectiveness of NATO’s policy is “highly disputable.”

“How can restricted NATO interdiction operations put a dent in a $3.5 billion industry? There is no clear evidence to date that proves that targeting the drugs business will weaken the Taliban insurgency,” Pothier said.

Afghanistan’s Counter Narcotics Ministry says 98 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy crop is grown in five southern insurgency-plagued provinces, where the government has little or no control. That is where U.S., Afghan and British forces have been destroying drug warehouses this summer.

About 4,000 U.S. Marines in July launched their biggest anti-Taliban offensive since 2001 on the southern province of Helmand, the center of the country’s opium poppy cultivation.

U.N. officials say Taliban fighters reap hundreds of millions of dollars from the drug trade each year, profits used to fund the insurgency. A New York Times report published Monday cited CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency estimates saying that the Taliban earn $70 million a year from narcotics.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

India: Christian Leaders: Pakistan Must Abolish the Blasphemy Law

In a letter addressed to Pakistani President Zardari, Indian Christians seek punishment for those responsible for violence in Korian and Gojra. They claim that the charges the Koran was desecrated are used as an excuse to “attack the minorities”, while the mullahs “foment hatred and violence.”

New Delhi (AsiaNews) — The abolishment of the law on blasphemy and punishment for those responsible for anti-Christian violence in Gojra and Korian in Pakistan. These were the requests made yesterday by Christian leaders in India, during a peaceful demonstration opposite the headquarters of the Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi. They also sent a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, in which they stress that “accusations of the desecration of the Koran” a increasingly being used as a “pretext” to justify religious persecution.

The demonstration, which saw the participation of Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, Pentecostals and other Christian denominations, was launched by the National United Christian Forum, Global Council of Indian Christians and All India Christian Council. Solidarity with the Christian community was also expressed by Asghar Ali Engineer, a leading figure in the world Muslim Indian, who joined the protest.

In the letter addressed to Pakistani President Zardari, the Christian leaders state that “India has been victim of similar violence, but there’s nothing “random about violence against religious minorities”. They add that “charges of blasphemy and desecration of the Koran, have now become routine against the community [Christian]”, while the mullahs (the experts of Islamic law, ed) “foment hatred and violence” during prayers.

“There is proof — reads the letter — that the attacks on Korian and Gojra were planned and instigated by people from Islamic outlawed groups. These groups are bent on a sort of religious cleansing. “ This is why the Christian community in India “is united with the people of peace and goodwill throughout the world” in supporting the requests put forward by Pakistani civil society and minorities, especially Christians, for strong action by Federal and Provincial authorities to bring the guilty to book and to create an environment of peace in which the religious minorities can regain their confidence”.

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

Pakistan: A Catholic Activist: Petition for the Abolition of Blasphemy Law

Peter Jacob, executive secretary for Justice and Peace, stresses that the government is “more sensitive” than before to violence against minorities. He adds, however, that change is only possible through a “mass movement”. Human Rights Commission warns: attacks against Christians in Gojra “premeditated” and executed with the complicity of the police.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — The government is more “sensitive” than in the past to the problems caused by the blasphemy law, but change will only be possible if “there is a mass movement” behind us. That is why we decided to launch “a petition campaign throughout the country,” says Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church in Pakistan in an interview with AsiaNews.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilan and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab, yesterday visited the Christian families of Gojra, affected by the violence of Islamic extremists. The premier met with Christian leaders and ensured “justice and redress.” In this regard the Government is planning the allocation of 100 million rupees (just over 900mila euro).

A private Pakistani television reported that Gilan announced a “revision of the law” while not directly mentioning the blasphemy norm. He announced a draft reform of laws deemed “harmful to religious harmony”, to understand how they “can be improved”.

“The government is more sensitive than in the past — comments Peter Jacob — but it is the responsibility of civil society to promote the issue. People are in solidarity with victims of violence and is a solidarity that can help bring about change”. He explains that the key point is “pressure from civil society on the government”, because only a “mass movement” can really bear fruit.

The Catholic activist says that “the goal is to reach out to people and make them aware of the issue” so that there may really be a profound rethinking of the law and better protection of minority rights. Jacob is cautiously optimistic: “we have no available official statistics” and “movements that are opposed to change are strong”, but the support of the public “is greater and so we can work” to see the law is changed.

Regarding the anti-violence in Gojra, the Pakistan Commission for Human Rights (HRCP) warns that it was not “a spontaneous reaction to a case of blasphemy,” but was “planned well in advance.”

On July 31 last in the city mosques religious leaders urged Muslims to “make minced meat of the Christians.” Local sources, reached by HRCP activists describe how they lodged complaints with the police who confirmed the risk of attack. The next day a crowd of at least 1000 people met in the city and marched towards the homes of Christians, a contingent of police on patrol nearby, did not stop the attackers — among them several masked men — thus encouraging the massacre.

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

Pakistan: Gone Insane for a Son

Daughter survived father’s acid assault to tell world of a sick paternal craving

Babli’s father wanted to be the “proud parent” of a son, and when a son was not born to him but a daughter, he chose to be a villain.

Bakhtiar Rana, a carpenter by profession in Betagi Thana in Rangunia, Chittagong, took an instant dislike to the fact that his wife “had given him a burden instead of an heir” and made his feelings clear.

The resentment over being stuck with a burden — as a girl child is still labelled in society — grew in such proportions in him that things took a turn for the worst when Babli was just seven months old in July 2000.

On the fateful day, Babli’s father chose to forget that he was a human being. He took his child in his arms and used a medicine dropper to force acid into her mouth, into her ears and on her feet. He also did not spare her anal passage.

The attack left Babli with a burnt throat, tongue and severe hearing impairment. She also suffered serious damage to knees, feet and anal passage. But the fighter that the little baby was, she kept her struggle to just stay alive and she was lucky enough to draw the attention of people who would help her.

Now eight years later, after sessions of continuous treatments, Babli can now not only eat on her own but also talk and even goes to school.

Bakhtiar Rana was never arrested and her mother Parul Akter still suffers from the trauma of witnessing the heinous attack on her child to kill her.

Parul who lives and works in Dhaka now told The Daily Star yesterday “Everyone apprehended she would die from the injuries she suffered but my brave daughter held on. She underwent at least six major operations over the last eight years since 2001.

A visiting surgeon from the USA first operated on Babli to try and repair her food pipe and throat. After that surgery she was able to drink liquid food and gradually was able to swallow semi-solid food.

In 2004, one of her damaged toes had to be amputated during surgeries to restore the use of her feet. In 2005, further surgery restored the use of her tongue. Then in January and March 2006, two operations by a visiting plastic surgeon from UK reconstructed her inner mouth.

All these operations were made possible because of the shelter given to the mother and child by the Acid Survivors Foundation since November 2000.

Parul told The Daily Star “We did not get justice in nine years and I now think that we will never get any justice because the law enforcement agencies say that Bakhtiar is still absconding.

“The joke is that Bakhtiar still lives where he used to live, has since got remarried and is now the father of two, including a son. Only the law enforcement agencies cannot find him.”

A case has filed around a year after the attack under the Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Domon Tribunals, Chittagong. After reinvestigating the case, the court finally accepted the charge sheet and the charges were framed in January 2003.

Monira Rahman, executive director of Acid Survivors Foundation, said “Both victims — mother and child — of this cruel violence has suffered severe traumatic disorder over the years.”

Babli is a student of class-II in a city school and she is also learning to dance. She is quite good at dancing and has already performed at national level programmes despite the loss of a toe.

She is able to talk now, and though not clearly, doctors at Jibon Tari Hospital, run by ASF where Babli was treated, expressed hope that in time her speech will be totally alright.

Parul today works as an office assistant in Dhaka and supports herself and Babli.

“We hear every day that the government is so aware about acid crimes, but why is then Bakhtiar still free while my child suffers by the hour?”

“What is my child’s fault? Why does she suffer alone still?” Parul said as she burst into tears while talking about the ordeal they have been through.

Babli is one of the many cases of acid violence. According to a report by Acid Survivors Foundation, 45 people fell victim to acid violence between January to June this year alone. Another 179 people in 2008, 192 in 2007, 221 in 2006, 272 in 2005, 325 in 2004, 411 in 2003, 490 in 2002, 349 in 2001 and 234 people in 2000 suffered similar attacks.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Pakistan Says Its Civil Nuclear Technology Better Than India’s

Islamabad, Aug 10 : Pakistan Monday claimed its civilian nuclear technology was better than India’s.

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Ansar Pervez made the claim while speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a seminar here, Online news agency reported.

Pakistan had the infrastructure and effective systems to run nuclear power plants, he said, adding the country had received civil nuclear technology from China in 1970 and was itself manufacturing fuel and parts of atomic power plants.

Speaking about the future, Pervez said the under-construction Chashma Nuclear Power Plant II (CHASNUPP-2) would be functionalised by 2010 and would start generating 340 MW of electricity by 2011. Of this, 315 MW would be fed into the national grid.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Pakistan Seeking Civil N-Deal With US: Official

Islamabad, Aug 10 : Pakistan is seeking a civilian nuclear deal with the US to overcome its energy needs and this cannot be ruled out in future, a top official said Monday.

Denying reports that Pakistan had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a precursor to opening negotiations with Washington on a civilian nuclear deal, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Asif Ahmed Ali, however, said Islamabad was trying its level best to strike the deal.

Pakistan has not signed such agreement that bars it from signing a nuclear deal with any country, Online news agency quoted Ali as telling reporters on the sidelines of a seminar organised by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.

Pakistan has for long been clamouring for a civilian nuclear deal with the US on the lines of the one inked with India. Washington, however, has ruled this out.

Ali noted that Pakistan was the only country in the world with which China was cooperating for nuclear power generation. Pakistan was also working to generate power through alternate sources like solar, hydro and coal, he added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Pakistan Taliban — What if?

Baitullah Mehsud, the feared militant commander in Pakistan, appears to have ended his career in much the same way as he had started — by keeping a low profile.

Speculation about whether he is dead or alive is rife across Pakistan — from the mountainous tribal territory of South Waziristan to the capital Islamabad.

But the ambiguity surrounding his reported death may well persist. Nobody has as yet been willing or able to confirm his demise.

We do know that the missile which struck the remote corner of South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud’s tribal stronghold, killed one of his wives.

But only days later did news trickle out that the Taliban commander may have perished in the attack too.

Rapid response

The Taliban have a strategy of blocking traffic to any area where missiles hit, so that the number of casualties and the identities of the dead remain unknown.

They often bury the dead immediately to remove evidence.

As to whether he is dead or alive, there are three possible ways of getting some clarity.

  • Communication intercepts may well pick up some news from key sources
  • Ground intelligence might yield clues, although the government denies it has sources on the ground
  • The Taliban may announce his death and could even announce his successor

If he is gone, it will lead to a dramatic re-orientation of his Pakistani Taliban movement, Tehrik Taliban.

or a year after his 2004 appointment as the chief commander of the Mehsud tribe by the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, Mr Mehsud stayed away from the limelight, allowing other local commanders to hog the headlines.

In the past few months, he withdrew into the hole again, severing all contact with the press and reducing his mobility to avoid missile strikes from suspected US drones.

The most immediate impact would be felt by his Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is now open to all kinds of possibilities.

It may be headed by one of his trusted commanders and carry on as before, or it may transform into a more mainstream Taliban organisation with a wider focus.

TTP was formed in December 2007, and marked a watershed in the recent history of militancy in the region.

It decisively turned against Pakistan, a move over which both Afghani and Pakistani Taliban had reservations because they believed this would distract the TTP from fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan.

But Baitullah Mehsud displayed a remarkable talent for alliance-making and was able to extend the TTP’s influence to distant areas like Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai and Kurram.

This north-eastward extension of jihad into Pakistan — and away from Afghanistan — can be explained in terms of what some analysts call Mr Mehsud’s own “locational disadvantage”.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Plan to Attack Pakistan’s Parliament House Foiled: Minister

Islamabad, Aug 10 : Pakistan’s security forces have foiled a plan to attack Parliament House and the headquarters of the country’s spy agency and have arrested 36 terrorists, it was announced here Monday.

Briefing the Senate Standing Committee on the Interior in Parliament House, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Islamabad Police and intelligence agencies in a joint action had foiled the terror attempts.

Eight suicide jackets had been recovered from the arrested terrorists, Online news agency quoted Malik as saying.

Speaking on the enhanced security measures in the country, he said a deal to get scanners from China had been completed and these would be installed in all main cities within six months to thoroughly check all vehicles.

Mobile scanners would be installed in smaller cities.

Speaking about operations against the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the minister said the Pakistan Army conducted these in record time in Swat and two other districts of the Malakand division and made possible the repatriation of internally displaced people to their respective areas.

Commenting on police station culture in the country that has been widely criticised, he said it was the government’s utmost priority to change this and to make police

stations people friendly.

He also noted that the country was not only facing a shortage of police stations but also of staff, adding that 20,000 police officers were being recruited in each of the four provinces to achieve a ratio of one policeman for every 557 people.

Talking about the death of former foreign secretary Niaz A. Naik, Malik said preliminary investigations had revealed that thieves had tied up his body and hung it from a ceiling fan in his house.

It had also been learnt that Naik had quarrelled with his servants and they have been made a part of the investigation process, the minister added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Western Airstrikes Kill Fewer Afghan Civilians

KABUL — Fewer civilians were killed by airstrikes in Afghanistan last month even as U.S. and NATO forces pushed deep into Taliban territory, driving clashes and Western casualties sharply higher.

Western and Afghan officials say the drop appears to be an early indication of success for restrictions on air power imposed in July by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of coalition forces, in an attempt to limit civilian casualties. The U.S. and NATO saw Afghan anger over the deaths as a major impediment to a new counterinsurgency strategy that makes winning over the population a higher priority than killing insurgents.

Six civilians died in airstrikes last month compared to 89 in July 2008, according to an Associated Press count of reports on civilian deaths by witnesses and Afghan officials. None of the reports was the subject of significant dispute by the U.S. and NATO.

A single mishap could send civilian deaths up again this month, dashing Western hopes of any real downward trend. But Afghan civilians and officials say the lower death toll for July mirrors a broader reduction in the accidental bombing of nonmilitary targets.

“When the Taliban are moving in our village, we are scared, but the good thing is there has been no bombing of civilian homes,” said Baz Mohammad, a grape farmer from the village of Nilgham in the southern province of Kandahar. “A few months ago there was bombing every day in our district.”

Western military officials attribute the drop in large part to less powerful and more carefully targeted airstrikes.

The U.S.-led Western coalition launched more than 40 percent more airstrikes last month than in July 2008, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. But at the same time, many of the strikes appeared to be far less powerful: a tally of the total number of rockets, bombs and cannon shells used in airstrikes dropped 50 percent.

“You’re starting to see a lot more emphasis now on using the least amount of force necessary to get the result we want,” said Capt. Frank Harnett, a spokesman for U.S. Air Force Central Command. “There’s an added emphasis about noncombatant casualties. That will drive decisions made out in the field.”

Air Force Staff Sgt. Dan Waugh just started a one-year tour in Afghanistan as an air controller, who moves with ground troops and communicates with aircraft called in to attack insurgent positions.

Waugh, who’s stationed at a forward operating base in the Spin Boldak district of southern Kandahar, near the border with Pakistan, said he’s been told to avoid strikes on buildings. McChrystal has told his commanders to ask themselves how they can be sure there are no civilians inside compounds where militants are also seeking shelter.

“They’re wanting us to get away from structures,” Waugh said. “If a commander orders an attack on a ridge-line, and it’s a clear view and there’s no civilians, that’s fine.”

The Taliban government was overthrown in late 2001 by relatively small numbers of Western troops working with local forces and backed by aircraft armed with precision-guided bombs and missiles, a tactic promoted by some officials in the Bush administration as a revolution in modern warfare.

But the approach proved ill-suited to stabilizing the country once the Taliban became insurgents who hid in rural villages and launched fierce attacks on small Western units who were far from reinforcements. Hundreds of civilians were killed by airstrikes, many called in by Western troops under fire from Taliban fighters they believed to be taking cover in buildings.

The deaths enraged villagers, sparking angry protests and prompting calls from President Hamid Karzai to halt aerial attacks in populated areas.

Western military officials, outside experts, local and national Afghan leaders and troops on the ground say they believe such deaths are now less likely.

“A very good and positive change has come in the past two months,” said Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi. “The coalition are very careful now in using bombs … I hope it will continue.”

Last month, about 4,000 U.S. Marines flew into the southern province of Helmand to wrest control from the Taliban ahead of the Aug. 20 presidential election — the largest U.S. military operation in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion. The new U.S. presence has allowed British forces to intensify their operations northeast of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

The number of clashes involving Western forces rose to 590 in July 2009, a more than 30 percent increase over the same month last year, according to Air Force statistics. U.S. and NATO troops deaths in direct combat with insurgents rose from 14 to 23, an AP count shows.

July also saw an increase in clashes and airstrikes when compared to the previous month, according to Air Force figures and the AP tally. Civilian deaths nonetheless dropped slightly, from 10 in June, and munitions expenditures decreased.

For Western forces, July was the bloodiest month since the start of the war.

NATO says the new restrictions on air power were not a factor in the rising Western death toll. Most deaths were a result of roadside bombs rather than direct combat with insurgents who would be vulnerable to airstrikes.

“What you’re seeing, fundamentally, is not an effort to reduce airstrike numbers alone but to change their character,” said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Western planes launched 222 airstrikes in Afghanistan last month, Air Force statistics show, compared to 156 in July 2008. But over the same period, the number of rockets, bombs and strafing runs dropped from 752 to 369.

“You’ve created much more demanding release and targeting criteria,” Cordesman said, although he noted that the American-led NATO alliance was trying to reduce civilian deaths in airstrikes before McChrystal took over.

NATO’s figures on civilian deaths appear to mirror the AP’s. The alliance’s new secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, praised the “drastic decline in the number of civilian casualties” last week during his first trip to Afghanistan.

Afghan officials say there has been a change in public opinion around the country.

“The people are pleased, they had a lot of concerns in the past about airstrikes. It continued until the new directive by the ISAF,” said Musa Zafar, an international humanitarian law investigator with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a nine-member panel appointed by the Afghan president.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Far East

North Korea: A Lousy Day’s Work

Was Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea worth the time, energy, and prestige? No way.

I call your attention to a small detail about Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two American journalists who were wrongfully arrested, illegally detained, and then capriciously released by the crime family that controls the northern section of the Korean peninsula and treats all its inhabitants as slave-prisoners and all the neighbors within its missile range as hostages.

The two young women were picked up in March and released in August. That means they spent almost half a year in the North Korean prison system. Yet to judge by the photographs of them arriving back on U.S. soil, they were in approximately the same physical condition as they had been when they were first unlawfully apprehended.

Now, I spent less time than that as an honored guest in North Korea and still managed to lose weight during my stay. The shattering statistic that everybody now knows about North Korea is that its citizens are on average 5 to 6 inches shorter than South Koreans. And by that I mean to say “on average”—it seems to be true even of North Korean soldiers. The stunting and shortening of the children of the last famine generation may be still more heartbreaking when we come to measure it. And the fate of those who are in the North Korean gulag can, by this measure, only be imagined. There is a starvation regime within the wider nightmare of the slave system. Yet Ling and Lee had obviously not been maltreated or emaciated in the usual way that even a North Korean civilian, let alone a North Korean prisoner, could expect to be.

The logical corollary of this is obvious. The Kim Jong-il gang was always planning to release them. They were arrested in order to be let go and were maintained in releasable shape until the deal could be done.

Does this not—or should this not—slightly qualify and dilute our joy in seeing them come home? Does the Dear Leader not say to himself, That was easy? Are the North Korean people not being assured, through their megaphone media, that the sun shines so consistently out of the rear end of their celestial boss that even powerful U.S. statesmen will appear at the airport to bring apologies, pay tribute, and receive custody of uninvited guests in the workers’ paradise?

Whatever the Pyongyang press has said, it is unlikely to exceed in its flattery the encomium already offered by Lanny Davis, a former consigliere to both Clintons. I strongly urge you to read his entire boot-lick essay here, but I offer you this for flavor:

“The release of the two journalists by the North Koreans … was the result of a tour-de-force, trifecta combination of the three most talented and truly great political leaders of our times—Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; her husband, former President Bill Clinton; and President Barack Obama. Without the special talents and the synergistic magic of the three of them working together …”

Hold it right there. As I say, take a look at the whole piece and roll it round your tongue for as long as you can bear it.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Opposition and Dissidents Persecuted in Cambodia, HRW Says

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen systematically uses violence to bolster its power. Nine people, including lawmakers, journalists and human rights activists, have been arrested. An appeal is made to the international community to put pressure on Cambodian authorities.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) — The Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen “should end its campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action aimed at consolidating its rule by silencing the political opposition and peaceful critics,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said today.

With the Prime Minister’s backing Cambodian authorities have “lodged at least nine criminal defamation and disinformation complaints against journalists, members of parliament, lawyers and critics of the government since April.”

Two members of Cambodia’s National Assembly were singled out. On 22 June Mu Sochua and Ho Vann of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party lost their parliamentary immunity for allegedly defaming the prime minister and 22 military officials.

On 26 June, a Phnom Penh court sentenced Hang Chakra, owner of the opposition newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, to one year in prison on charges of disinformation after the newspaper published articles on widespread government corruption.

On 14 July, Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on charges of disinformation after he raised concerns about the effect of installation of lights on the Angkor monuments, which are a UNESCO world heritage site.

The UN’s human rights office in Cambodia also issued a report warning that the spate of lawsuits against critics could nurture “fear, frustration and anger, with the risk of leading to further conflict and violence,”

HRW calls on international donors, which provide aide and assistance to Cambodia, to put pressure on the government to stop its domestic repression campaign.

“Hun Sen already controls almost every aspect of Cambodia’s politics,” HRW’s Adams said. “Yet his efforts to silence dissent seem endless. Why does he seem to wake up every day looking for enemies to persecute? Will this ever end?”

Hun Sen has been Cambodian prime minister since November 1998.

He became paramount leader after Norodom Ranariddh, son of then King Norodom Sihanouk, was forced out of power after a coup.

Hanging over the prime minister are several allegations, including membership in the Khmer Rouges who were responsible for the death of about two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 as well as frequent charges of corruption.

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

Australia — Pacific

Authorities Play Down Hendra Virus Fears

People exposed to the potentially deadly Hendra virus at a central Queensland horse stud say suggestions they should get tested at their local GP are ridiculous.

Two properties remain in lockdown after tests confirmed the virus killed a mare at a property at Cawarral, near Rockhampton, at the weekend.

More than 30 people may have been exposed to the virus.

Queensland Health says it has started testing a number of people for Hendra virus after the outbreak and is advising them to see their local doctor.

All other horses on the property are being tested and authorities are trying to trace five owners whose horses have recently been moved from the stud.

But the owner of the horse stud, John Brady, says staff at the property who had contact with the horse that died still have not had any medical tests.

Mr Brady says Queensland Health is advising his staff to go to the GP for testing.

“The local DPI [Department of Primary Industries] people will come up here, they’ll suit up in overalls, they’ll put face masks on, they’ll sit down and talk to you and they won’t even take their face masks off,” he said.

“That sort of suggests to you they don’t want to catch anything.

“The Health Department says, ‘she’ll be right mate, you just go off and go to your own GP and get a blood test’.”

‘Not contagious’

However, Department spokeswoman Dr Margaret Young says they are not treating Hendra virus as contagious.

Dr Young says Hendra virus will not endanger doctors or their other patients.

“We have no evidence of human-to-human transmission of this disease,” she said.

“It does not appear to be a very contagious illness.

“I think that we can be quite confident that we are not putting the community at risk.”

Dr Young says concerned people should visit their local doctor.

“I know the criticism about referring people to their GP for testing,” she said.

“It’s not just testing — we refer people to their regular doctor who know their medical history, but certainly in a well person with Hendra virus, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.”


But the manager of the quarantined horse stud, Debbie Brown, says she does not accept Queensland Health’s advice the disease cannot be transferred from human-to-human.

Ms Brown says Queensland Health advised her to see her local GP after she had direct contact with the horse that died at the weekend.

She says three people have died from Hendra virus since 1994 and authorities have admitted they know very little about the disease.

Ms Brown says it seems reckless, risky and premature to assume it cannot spread in a community.

“What I don’t understand is that they don’t even know all of the symptoms that people get, so therefore how can they know we can’t transmit it person-to-person,” she said.

Ms Brown says Queensland Health has been too slow to respond and those directly exposed to the dead horse still have not been tested.

However, Dr Young says Ms Brown should see her local GP immediately, but maintains the virus cannot be spread from person-to-person.

Dr Young says more people will be tested today and tomorrow.

“We would imagine that we would have the results provided the tests are done in that timeframe,” Dr Young said.

“I imagine we will have the results by the end of the week.”

Bats on property

Mr Brady says he never thought the thousands of bats that visit his property posed a risk of Hendra virus.

He says it has all come as a shock.

“We have thousands of fruit bats come in here every night,” he said.

“Our place is surrounded by trees and they hang in the trees every night, eat the fruit and the nectar, and then they defecate and urinate over the horses and over the ground and over the horse feed and in the water troughs — that’s how it’s transmitted.”

Horse sales

Meanwhile, the dead mare and two other horses from the stud were due to be sold at Magic Millions Sport-Horse and Thoroughbred Sales on the Gold Coast this weekend.

The sale’s managing director, David Chester, says he will be advising staff to be very careful, but at this stage there are no plans to ban any horses from regional Queensland.

“I knew they were coming — they were catalogued in the sale — but I didn’t realise they had been affected and again this has only just happened and so we will be talking to the DPI [Department of Primary Industries],” he said.

“They handled the situation really well last time there was an outbreak and hopefully they can contain it very quickly.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Don’t Give Kids Tamiflu: Doctors

A new study released overnight in Britain warns against giving antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza to children under the age of 12.

A team of researchers writing in the British Medical Journal found that the drugs may be doing more harm than good.

The British Health Department website says: “Whilst there is doubt about how swine flu affects children, we believe that a safety-first approach of offering antivirals to everyone remains the most sensible and responsible way forward”.

Australian health officials offer similar advice. But now questions are being raised about whether it is the right way to go.

Research by Dr Matthew Thompson, a clinical scientist and Oxford GP, and Dr Carl Heneghan, a GP and clinical lecturer at Oxford University, found that in some children Tamiflu caused vomiting which can lead to dehydration and complications.

Dr Thompson said it was inappropriate for Tamiflu and Relenza to be given to most of the children who demonstrate just mild flu symptoms.

“The effect of these drugs is fairly small for most children,” he said.

“There are always going to be some children with very serious underlying health problems, as well as some adults for which the situation is different, but for most children who are having a mild flu-like illness the benefit of these drugs appears to be fairly small.”

This latest study reviewed seven clinical trials, four of them involving children under the age of 12.

The children were being treated for normal seasonal flu but the experts behind the research said their findings would extend to the current swine flu pandemic.

The report comes 10 days after reports that more than half of the 248 students in the UK, given Tamiflu after a classmate fell ill with swine flu, suffered side effects such as nausea, insomnia and nightmares.

“There’s always going to be a balance in terms of the potential benefits of that treatment and the potential harms,” Dr Thompson said.

“And for the antiviral drugs we found that the benefit is fairly small for children with seasonal flu. They’re likely to get better about one day more quickly if they’re given one of these drugs.

“And the downside of course is that the studies that have been published so far aren’t big enough to let us know how effective these drugs are at preventing children getting very serious complications.”

Britain’s current health policy saw more than 315,000 courses of antivirals handed out in the first fortnight after the launch of the UK’s national pandemic flu helpline.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis is the president of the UK’s Faculty of Public Health.

He concedes that there may be a problem with over-prescription of the drugs.

“I think there’s a danger that we might get a resistance developing to the antivirals,” he said.

“Of course that … could be a major problem if this virus comes back again with a vengeance in the autumn as we’re expecting it to do so. So there are some worries there.”

The UK’s chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, has released a statement in response to this new report.

He says he welcomes the research but says it is limited in its scope and tentative in its finding.

He stresses that antivirals remain the only weapon against the H1N1 virus.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Two More Indian Students Attacked in Australia

Melbourne/Indore, Aug 10 : Two more Indian students were separately assaulted by a group of men in Australia.

Gaurav Kakkar, a student of a hairdressing course, was attacked by a group of men on Friday when he was talking to his family in Punjab’s Ferozpur from a local telephone booth.

On the same day, Mohit Mangal from Indore was attacked when he was on his way to a shopping mall in Sydney.

According to sources, Mohit was attacked from behind with a beer bottle on his head and beaten up with a baseball bat on his waist and leg.

According to Mohit father, his condition was out of danger.

Mohit, who works as a mall supervisor, had gone to Australia about two years back to pursue his study in BE.

The attacks assumes significance as India’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is currently on a visit to Australia to raise concern over the recent violence against Indian students in Australia.

About the motive of these attacks, Krishna said: “By and large, I think there are so many other considerations which have led to this attack on Indian students.”

“In India itself, we will have to take some measure like regulate unscrupulous agents to ensure students understand what is in store for them when they go abroad to study,” he added.

Australian police told Krishna that the attacks had not been racially motivated and blamed Indian media for labelling the incidents as ‘racially motivated’.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Clinton: My Husband is Not Secretary of State, I Am

Top US diplomat Hillary Clinton snapped at a Congolese student on Monday when asked about her husband’s views on a foreign policy issue, saying: “My husband is not secretary of state, I am”.

“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?,” she replied angrily when a university student in Kinshasa asked what former President Bill Clinton thought about a deal between China and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion, I am not going to be channeling my husband,” she added, without commenting further on the infrastructure-to-minerals deal that has raised some IMF concerns.

The former US president stole the diplomatic spotlight from his wife last week. On the day she set off on an 11-day trip to Africa, Bill Clinton was on a secret mission to North Korea to secure the release of two US journalists.

Ms Clinton said afterward she was relieved the mission had been successful but made clear the former president’s Pyongyang mission was purely humanitarian and not linked to the work she is doing to revive stalled nuclear talks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Pirates Free Italian Tugboat Crew

The crew of an Italian tugboat held for four months by Somali pirates has been freed, Italy’s foreign minister says.

Franco Frattini said no ransom money had been paid; the release was the result of collaboration between the Italian and Somali authorities.

The 75m (250ft) tugboat with its crew of 10 Italians, five Romanians and one Croat was towing two barges when it was seized in the Gulf of Aden in April.

It is now on its way to Djibouti, accompanied by naval vessels.

Mr Frattini expressed his satisfaction at the positive resolution of the affair and the release of the Italian citizens on board.

Their release was the result of a long process involving contact with the Somali government, the collaboration of the authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, and the work of the Italian intelligence services, he said.

Somalia’s UN-backed government is battling Islamist insurgents and controls only a small part of the country.

There has been no effective central government since 1991 and the lack of law and order has led to the dramatic rise in piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in recent years.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Somali Islamists Pull “Sinners” Gold Teeth

Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab is forcibly removing gold and silver teeth from residents in southern Somalia because it says they contravene strict religious law, locals from a coastal town said on Monday.

Residents in Marka say al-Shabaab has been rounding up anyone seen with a silver or gold tooth and taking them to a masked man who then rips them out using basic tools.

“I never thought al-Shabaab would see my denture as a sin. They took me to their station and removed my silver tooth,” resident Bashir told Reuters.

“In the station, I met several men and women whose dentures were being pulled out by a masked man they called a doctor. The doctor used a pincer or his gloved hand depending on the strength of the tooth,” Bashir said.

“As you smile your silver tooth accuses you. I was at a counter with my friend when three armed al-Shabaab ordered me to follow them,” he added. “I am afraid they want to make money from taking all this precious metal.”

Al-Shabaab officials declined to comment.

Fashion forbidden

The Islamist group says the gold and silver teeth are used for fashion and beauty, which is against strict interpretations of Islam, residents told Reuters.

Al-Shabaab, which means “youth” in Arabic, is an al Qaeda-inspired militant group that has taken control of large swathes of south and central Somalia.

The group’s hard-line interpretation of Islamic law has shocked many Somalis, who are traditionally more moderate Muslims. Some residents, however, give the insurgents credit for restoring order to the regions under their control.

In June, al-Shabaab officials in one of the group’s Mogadishu strongholds ordered four teenagers to each have a hand and a foot cut off as punishments for robbery.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Cash-Strapped Cuba Says Toilet Paper Running Short

Cuba, in the grip of a serious economic crisis, is running short of toilet paper and may not get sufficient supplies until the end of the year, officials with state-run companies said on Friday.

Officials said they were lowering the prices of 24 basic goods to help Cubans get through the difficulties provoked in part by the global financial crisis and three destructive hurricanes that struck the island last year.

Cuba’s financial reserves have been depleted by increased spending for imports and reduced export income, which has forced the communist-led government to take extraordinary measures to keep the economy afloat.

“The corporation has taken all the steps so that at the end of the year there will be an important importation of toilet paper,” an official with state conglomerate Cimex said on state-run Radio Rebelde.

[Return to headlines]

Mexican Cartels Smuggle Oil to US

MEXICO CITY — U.S. refineries bought millions of dollars worth of oil stolen from Mexican government pipelines and smuggled across the border, the U.S. Justice Department told The Associated Press — illegal operations now led by Mexican drug cartels expanding their reach.

Criminals — mostly drug gangs — tap remote pipelines, sometimes building pipelines of their own, to siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil each year, the Mexican oil monopoly said. At least one U.S. oil executive has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in such a deal.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Homeland Security department is scheduled to return $2.4 million to Mexico’s tax administration, the first batch of money seized during a binational investigation into smuggled oil that authorities expect to lead to more arrests and seizures.

“The United States is working with the Mexican government on the theft of oil,” said Nancy Herrera, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Houston. “It’s an ongoing investigation, with one indictment so far.”

In that case, Donald Schroeder, president of Houston-based Trammo Petroleum, is scheduled to be sentenced in December after pleading guilty in May.

In a $2 million scheme, Herrera said, Schroeder purchased stolen Mexican oil that had been brought across the border in trucks and barges and sold it to various U.S. refineries, which she did not identify. Trammo’s tiny firm profited about $150,000 in the scheme, she said.

Schroeder’s attorneys said in an e-mail that neither they nor their client would respond to AP’s requests for comment.

Bill Holbrook, spokesman for the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, said a single indictment against a small company should not be used to smear the reputation of the entire U.S. oil industry, “and is not indicative of how domestic refiners operate.”

But in Mexico, federal police commissioner Rodrigo Esparza said the Zetas, a fierce drug gang aligned with the Gulf cartel, used false import documents to smuggle at least $46 million worth of oil in tankers to unnamed U.S. refineries.

Mexico froze 149 bank accounts this year in connection with that crime, which continues at a record rate, according to Mexico’s state oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.

In a surprising public acknowledgment, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said last week that drug cartels have extended their operations into the theft of oil, Mexico’s leading source of foreign income which finances about 40 percent of the national budget.

“These are Mexican resources, and we do not have to sit back or turn a blind eye,” Calderon said. “This is our national heritage and we must defend it.”

Highly sophisticated thieves using Pemex equipment “are basically working day and night, seeing how they can penetrate our infrastructure,” said Pemex spokesman Carlos Ramirez. The thieves, operating in remote parts of the country, have even built tunnels and their own pipelines to siphon off the product, he said.

How much of the stolen oil is crossing into the U.S., and how much of the theft is at the hands of cartels? So far, nobody knows.

“These questions are really the center point of all of this,” Ramirez said.

He said cartels in northern Mexico are responsible for most of the theft, though he said there may well be internal operatives at Pemex stealing as well. Last week, police raided Pemex offices looking for insider misconduct.

Trammo, the sole company named in court records so far, is dwarfed by any refiner most people have heard of. It sells some 2.1 million barrels a year.

Major refiners such as San Antonio-based Valero Energy can produce more than that in a single day, buying crude from tankers or pipelines, and none has been implicated in buying stolen oil.

“It is Exxon Mobil’s policy to always obey relevant laws, rules and regulations everywhere we operate,” said spokesman Kevin Allexon. Shell Oil Co. said it abides by all laws.

Various kinds of petroleum products, including gasoline, are being stolen and sold to gas stations and factories in Mexico, said Ramirez, adding that service stations in at least two states have been shut down recently for selling stolen gas.

The thefts are a devastating blow to Pemex, which saw production fall 7.5 percent in the first half of the year.

So far this year, Pemex is aware of 190 different thefts, almost half in the Gulf state of Veracruz. Ramirez said Pemex is using hidden cameras, extra guards and additional investigators to catch the thieves, but the problem is still spreading: So far this year, oil theft is up 10 percent, and have been confirmed in 19 states, up from 13 in 2008.

And oil theft experts say that just like drugs, the crimes will be tough to stop as long as there’s money to be made.

“U.S. refineries willing to buy stolen crude don’t care where it comes from. Once the product is at their doorstep, the deal is done, and they can pay pennies on the dollar without taking the risk of getting it across the border,” said Kent Chrisman, director for global security with Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy.

Chrisman, a former Secret Service agent, recently teamed up with Texas law enforcement agents to bust a ring of thieves in that state.

Oil theft in general is a relatively new problem, Chrisman said, “but we’ve seen a big spike in recent years because oil prices went up. Every year it seems to get worse and worse. It’s a profitable business.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Mexico ‘Courage’ On Drugs Praised

US President Barack Obama has praised Mexico’s leaders for their “courage” in fighting drugs cartels.

At a regional summit in Guadalajara, he said Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon had pledged to uphold human rights.

The Mexican military has been accused by rights groups of widespread abuses in its war on drugs traffickers.

In Guadalajara, Mr Obama, Mr Calderon and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed to fight swine flu and restore growth across North America.

“I heartily commend President Calderon and his government for their determination and courage in taking on these [drugs] cartels,” Mr Obama said.

He said he had great confidence that “human rights will be observed” under Mr Calderon.

For his part, Mr Calderon said his government had an “absolute and categorical” commitment to human rights.

Pressing issues

In a final summit statement, the three leaders promised to forge a joint position on climate change and also reaffirmed the need to reject trade protectionism.

The three leaders also reaffirmed their support for ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, saying he remained the rightful leader of the country.

The summit in Guadalajara had been dubbed the meeting of three amigos, but the leaders apparently failed to resolve several pressing issues.

Mexico is concerned that recent US moves, including a ban on Mexican truckers operating in the US, suggest protectionism and could worsen its economic situation.

At the summit, Mr Harper raised with Mr Obama Canada’s concerns that the Buy America provisions in the multibillion dollar US economic stimulus plan could shut out Canadian companies.

But Mr Obama said that the provisions had not hurt trade with Canada — America’s largest partner.

“This in no way has endangered the billions of dollars in trade taking place between our two countries,” he said.

Mexico has also been unhappy with Canada’s decision to require visas from Mexican visitors to the country.

           — Hat tip: Sean O’Brian [Return to headlines]

Obama Presses for New Tone in U.S. Ties With Mexico

President Barack Obama pressed for a new tone in the United States’ relationship with Mexico but found no immediate progress Sunday on the divisions between him and Mexican President Felipe Calderon over the pace of U.S. drug-fighting aid and a ban on Mexican trucks north of the border.

Obama kicked off his second trip to Mexico as president with a friendly 45-minute meeting with Calderon that touched on the vast trade relationship between their two countries, their cooperation on swine flu and the violent Mexican gangs dominating the drug trade on both sides of the border. Their talks came before the start of a lightning-quick three-way summit between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Often called the “Three Amigos” summit, the meeting of Obama, Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper began over dinner at a cultural institution in this town near the mountains. The summit’s formal talks, the fifth for the three countries, were taking place Monday, followed by a joint appearance before reporters at midday.

During the separate sit-down between Obama and Calderon, the Mexican leader raised his concerns about the speed of implementation of the United States’ three-year, $1.4 billion drug-fighting package known as the Merida Initiative. One $100 million installment is being delayed over rising concerns among some in Congress about the Mexican army’s abuses.

The U.S. law requires Congress to withhold some funding unless the State Department reports Mexico is not violating human rights during its anti-cartel crackdown, which started in 2006.

Obama told Calderon that human rights is a major priority for him, but also assured him that the State Department is working to prepare a report that recognizes all Mexico’s efforts to prevent abuses, said a senior administration official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in order to more freely describe private meetings.

Drug violence has killed more than 11,000 people since Mexico launched its crackdown. Mexican cities are essentially under siege, and the killings are spilling over the border into the United States and as far as Canada.

Calderon also quizzed Obama on his earlier promise to restore a canceled pilot program that had allowed Mexican truckers to travel into the United States, the official said.

The North American Free Trade Agreement required the United States to grant Mexican trucks full access to its highways by January 2000, but domestic opposition stalled that plan until a 2007 pilot program allowed some trucks. Facing opposition from U.S. labor unions and consumer groups, Obama signed a spending bill that included a ban on spending for the program.

Mexico retaliated by imposing tariffs on dozens of U.S. products ranging from fruit and wine to washing machines.

Obama told Calderon he would work “to try to move forward” but also said Congress has “legitimate safety concerns” about Mexican trucks, the official said.

Outside the sprawling colonial-era building where they met in Mexico’s second-largest city, caravans of heavily armed federal agents patrolled the streets. Dozens of police carrying riot gear manned roadblocks meant to keep protesters away.

U.S.-Mexico relations went on a roller-coaster ride during the tenure of former President George W. Bush, driven by a divide over the Iraq war, the United States’ building of a border fence and Bush’s failure to secure immigration reform. While Obama has, like Bush, emphasized beefed-up border security, he has pledged to renew efforts to push through an immigration overhaul, including a citizenship path for illegal immigrants.

And during his April visit, Obama made a welcome acknowledgment to Mexicans that Americans share the blame for violence south of the border because of drug consumption and gun trafficking.

A major topic of discussion for the three leaders on Monday will be the now-global swine flu epidemic believed to have started in Mexico in April just before Obama’s last trip, unbeknownst to the White House. The United States earned huge points with its southern neighbor for not joining the countries banning flights, halting trade and taking other actions that Mexico considered unfairly punitive.

Obama, Calderon and Harper will look for ways to build on that earlier partnership to handle an expected new wave of cases during North America’s upcoming flu season. John Brennan, Obama’s chief homeland security aide, said it is as important to further link up health officials and ready vaccine and antiviral supplies as it is for the three leaders to publicly reinforce a determination not to panic when cases arise.

“There are people who are going to be getting sick in the fall and die,” Brennan said. “We want to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure the continuation of commerce, transportation and trade between the three countries.”

America’s first- and third-largest trade relationships are with Canada and Mexico. All three are partners in NAFTA, the largest free-trade zone in the world. Closing borders or restricting travel would be very costly for families and businesses on all sides of the borders, an important consideration given the limping economy and the fact that health experts see such actions as pointless in containing the flu’s spread.

The U.S. neighbors will want Obama to explain where America’s economic recovery is going because both countries saw their own fortunes fall as a result of problems in the U.S. Obama will hear complaints from Calderon and Harper about “Buy American” requirements in the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

The three leaders also are expected to take a joint stand on a recent problem in their hemisphere — the June coup in Honduras that saw President Manuel Zelaya ousted by the military.

Obama has no separate session with Harper alone. The Canadian leader will see the president on Sept. 16 in Washington.(AP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


1 Missing in Attempted Landing on Pantelleria

(ANSAmed) — ROME, AUGUST 10 — It has been a particularly heavy day for immigration today, beginning with the attempted landing on Pantelleria which ended with one person missing and one in a serious condition, who was rescued by the Coastguard. The alarm was raised yesterday evening when a boat was noticed around three miles off the coast. Four out of the nine people on board tried to swim to the shore. Two were stopped by the police on landing; another was rescued by a Coastguard motorboat: although he was wearing a lifejacket he had taken in a large quantity of water and was in an advanced state of hypothermia. The man was immediately taken to the Nagar hospital, where doctors have postponed diagnosis. The other five on board the dinghy were rescued by the motorboat. One migrant is still missing, and a search for him has been under way for hours. Yesterday evening 22 immigrants landed on Lampedusa and were immediately transferred to Porto Empedocle on a ferry, and then transferred to a reception centre in Sicily. The Financial Police found 38 irregular foreigners in Ancona (20 Iraqis, 14 Afghans, 2 Palestinians, an Iranian and a Pakistani) hidden in the semi-trailer of an articulated lorry which had just disembarked from the Superfast ship from Greece. There was a small fan inside the space to ensure a minimum circulation of air. The illegal immigrants, who were suffering from the heat and inhuman conditions were identified and then checked and given refreshments, then handed back to the captain of the original ship. In the province of Catanzaro, 13 illegal immigrants, all Senegalese, were stopped at Davoli, after being found in possession of fake items. They were all given expulsion orders, and two of them were arrested because a routine inspection found that they had not obeyed the expulsion order. Finally, the damage at the Identification and expulsion centre in Gradisca d’Isonzo (Gorizia) is being examined, following protests by around 120 immigrants last Saturday evening. The electricity system was damaged during the protest, security doors and extinguishers were pulled down, reinforced windows were broken and drinks machines were destroyed. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Speech on ‘Immigration’ And Jihad

Here is a little light reading, , on the Islamic view of immigration, and jihad. This document provided by KitmanTV is a transcript of a speech given in Iran on the true meanings of immigration and jihad in the Islamic view. While in some ways this is tedious as hell, there is insight as to how Muslims think, and why when they say one thing we hear another. Not to mention that this is also a deception which is intentional in many cases. This is a .PDF file.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Italy: Catholic Bishop Condemns Abortion Pill

Turin, 7 July (AKI) — The archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Severino Poletto, has condemned a decision by Italian health authorities to approve the use of the abortion pill, mifepristone (Ru486). He is currently working on a petition to campaign against the drug.

“The church condemns abortion and severely judges those who choose to administer it,” Poletto told the Italian daily, La Repubblica.

“We believe that these decisions come from models that show the wrong kind of sexual behaviour, but in spite of our condemnation and excommunication, the church is always open to accept the women who will surely repent after having an abortion.”

Poletto said that under church doctrine that an abortion performed surgically or chemically were both considered a crime, a homicide.

He said that it was dangerous to see the new pill described as an easier method of abortion.

He also stressed that the commercialisation of the abortion pill “influences public opinion that is already influenced by role models on TV and public behaviour that trivialises sexuality. It is a superficial idea and without ethical limits that can also promote the idea that for these types of accidents there is a remedy with the pill”.

However, women’s rights groups and Italy’s Association for Demographic Education (AIED) have welcomed the drug’ s approval.

The Italian drug agency ruled after a meeting that ended late Thursday that the drug cannot be sold in pharmacies and can only be administered by doctors in a hospital.

The agency said the pill can only be taken up to the seventh week of pregnancy.

Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 in the first 90 days of pregnancy and until the 24th week if the life of the mother is at risk or the foetus is malformed.

Italy allows surgical abortions in hospitals and the use of the morning-after pill. Critics of the abortion drug say some women are bound to use it at home without medical assistance.

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


So what prompted me to break this story in the first place? Well, when Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT) asked Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) whether President Obama’s proposed socialized healthcare plan will mandate taxpayer funded abortion, she admitted that it will require “any service deemed medically necessary or medically appropriate.” It now appears that the plan’s “medically appropriate” umbrella is far more expansive than most Americans could have imagined.

In addition to abortion on demand, the weight of the evidence indicates that, in fact, cosmetic “gender reassignment” surgeries for both U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants who suffer from APA recognized “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID) may indeed be provided — free of charge — courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. The current price tag for such a procedure can exceed $50,000.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Climate Talks Resume With New Emissions Pledges

AMSTERDAM — Wealthy countries are not going far enough to control greenhouse gas emissions, activists said Monday as delegates from 180 nations resumed talks on a global climate change pact.

Beginning a five-day meeting in Bonn, Germany, negotiators began trying to whittle down a 200-page draft into a workable treaty that will bring the world’s carbon emissions under control over the next decade.

The talks have been deadlocked for months over demands by poor countries that a block of wealthy nations commit to deep cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases by 2020, while rich countries demand that every nation share the burden.

The U.N. negotiations aim to forge a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set mandatory caps on emissions by 2012 in 37 rich countries but made no demands on other nations.

The next set of targets for 2020 is scheduled to be adopted at a major conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. The pact is likely to include funding for poor countries to adapt to climate change and help them slow their own emissions while their economies grow.

On Monday, New Zealand became the latest country to announce a 2020 target, pledging to cut greenhouse gases by 10 to 20 percent from 1990 levels.

The WWF environmental group criticized the goal as too weak, and slammed the government for caving in to industrial lobbies that presented “apocalyptic visions of a crippled New Zealand economy” if it tried to cut emissions from fossil fuels any further.

“Industrialized countries are failing on targets and need to go back to the drawing board,” said Kim Carstensen, head of the WWF Global Climate Initiative.

In Wellington, New Zealand’s minister for climate change, Nick Smith, said the announced target would be tough to reach because gross emissions were already 24 percent above 1990 levels.

“This target means we’re going to have to both catch up that 24 percent increase as well as reduce emissions by 10 or potentially 20 percent,” he said.

The Bonn meeting is the latest in six rounds of talks scheduled this year, in addition to several summit meetings among major emitters. U.N. organizers described it as informal, meaning that more time will be spent in small negotiating groups and private sessions than in large plenary meetings.

Last week, South Korea said it will set an emissions target for 2020, the first country outside the 37 nations included in the Kyoto pact to set a national cap. The Seoul government said it would announce the target later this year, and it could range from 4 percent below 2005 levels to 8 percent above.

Although the target appeared modest, it was important since South Korea’s economy had doubled between 1990 and 2005 and was continuing to grow, said Jake Schmidt of the Washington-based National Resources Defense Council.

Whichever number the Koreans chose, “the target would represent a serious cut from where they would be if the government took no action,” Schmidt said on his blog. “Given the past and projected trajectory of emissions, this is a significant reversal.”

Scientists say the world’s most advanced countries should cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels if there is any hope of keeping the earth from warming by more than 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6 Fahrenheit).

Only the European Union has submitted a pledge approaching the limits recommended by U.N. scientists in a landmark report two years ago.

The United States, which rejected the Kyoto Protocol because it exempted countries like India and China from any obligations, has pledged to take the lead in negotiating a new accord. A bill that passed the House of Representatives would reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels — about 4 percent below 1990 — and the Senate is considering its own bill.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UN Chief Calls for Global Push to Combat Climate Change

Seoul, Aug 10 : United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for international action to tackle the threats of climate change and nuclear weapons Monday.

The former South Korean foreign minister, who arrived Sunday on a 10-day private visit to his home country, addressed the annual meeting of the World Federation of UN Associations in Seoul to press for a safer and nuclear-free world.

‘We have less than 10 years to halt the global rise in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and the planet. It is, simply, the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family,’ Ban told some 250 delegates from 63 nations.

Ban heralded an upcoming meeting as a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ to negotiate a new UN-brokered climate treaty to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.

‘This December, in Copenhagen, we have a chance to put in place a climate-change agreement that all nations can embrace,’ Ban said.

Ban also called for global commitment to create a nuclear-free world. ‘For the first time in a decade, negotiators have agreed to a package of measures that can move the world away from nuclear weapons,’ he said.

The US and Russia in July ended a fourth round of talks in Geneva on a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December

‘Now is our time,’ Ban said. ‘The time to build on this momentum.’

Ban stressed the importance of multilateral action to tackle threats facing the world.

‘We are living through an age of multiple crises,’ he said. ‘Fuel, flu and food, and most seriously, financial. Each is something not seen for years, even for generations. But now they are hitting us all at once. None of these problems can be solved by any single nation acting alone.’

Ban also planned to meet South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, Prime Minister Han Seung Soo and Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

4 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/10/2009

  1. Probe Urged Into Iran Jail ‘Rape’

    At the risk of being deleted, and being in poor taste…which gallows humor mostly is…

    Can I point out just how WRONG this particular article title is?

    Just sayin’ >_>

  2. A few clarifications on the latest immigrant riots in Bagnolet next to Paris.

    The first dispatches, such as the one above, mentioned that the deceased motorcycle rider was a pizza delivery man.

    This is disingenuous, because it suggests a lawful, hardworking citizen was harrassed by the police while minding his own business and helping the economy run.

    Actually, he wasn’t delivering pizza at the time. He rode a trial motorcycle unlicensed for use on public roads. Furthermore, he was doing so in a noisy, disruptive, aggressive and dangerous way, as immigrant youths have taken to doing in city estates, for fun as well as to assert their dominance on public space.

    Such antics generally include revving up the engine constantly in order to do as much noise as possible, riding on the back wheel, and riding very fast in residential areas. It’s called a “rodeo” in French.

    Residents of “enriched” neighbourhoods are routinely submitted to that particular form of harrassment. Beyond the annoyance and aggression, it’s definitely dangerous for pedestrians, children, old people and even other drivers.

    In Bagnolet, on the day of the accident, this had been going on for quite a while when the residents complained, and the police came to the scene.

    Usually, the police do not bother to intervene when they receive such complaints, first because there are so much of them, second because it’s very dangerous to try and stop those rogue riders.

    They usually flee from the police, and, not unfrequently, get killed in an ensuing accident. Then the police find themselves in a life-threatening situation while “elder brothers” congregate and a riot breaks out.

    Coming next in the scenario, the immigrant community pretends that the “youth” has been killed by the police, the authorities chicken out and put the police version on the same level as the immigrants’, the policemen are submitted to a humiliating inquiry, and politicians, from the right and the left alike, call for an improved “dialogue” and more public funds being poured on city estates.

    This incident was not different.

    Knowledgeable bloggers researched the wrecked motorcycle from published media images, found out that it cost 6 000 euros, and asked how an 18-year old was able to purchase one from the wages of a pizza delivery job.

    The communist mayor of Bagnolet made some disgusting comments, saying that the death of a youngster is always unjustifiable (which suggests that the police is, in some way, responsible), and that the message of emotion of “the young” has been heard, so would they please calm down now.

    According to a communist mayor, the arson of more than 30 cars and numerous rubbish bins, voluntary destruction of a bus stop, murder attempts at policemen with firebombs and a handgun, all this is but a “message of emotion”.

    And it should, and has been, “heard”.

    Brace yourselves.

  3. As an afterthought, notice the cookie-cutter paragraph at the end of the WSJ dispatch :

    “Tensions between young people and police have long simmered in housing projects in France’s suburbs, feeding on poverty, unemployment and anger over discrimination against minorities.”

    This has been printed and said so many times that nobody bothers for a reality check any more. Surely, it should be a matter for thought that in this particular incident, the aformentioned explanation is just a load of [insert expletive here].

    “…feeding on poverty…” : nope. Not when you’re able to afford a 6 000 euros motorcycle (that’s 8 500 $) at age 18.

    “…unemployment…” : nope. This one had a job delivering pizzas, as the mainstream media obligingly rushed to inform us.

    “…and discrimination against minorities” : nope. Actually, it’s rather the opposite. Try riding a motorcycle in a city at 51 km/h if you’re a white, aboriginal French. You’ll quickly get a hefty fine, and points will be nipped off your license. If you don’t pay, you might even land in prison.

  4. The BBC is not regulated by OfCom for impartiality in political broadcasting.

    The BBC sold its soul to the socialist Labour Government by promoting the regional carve-up of England in return for not being regulated by Ofcom for political content.

    The BBC is the most disgusting broadcasting outfit in the world bar none. It is institutionally Anglophobic and routinely conceals information about muslim murders, rapes and kidnappings.

    However, ‘Palestinians’ feature fairly regularly as victims.

    The BBC should be closed and its employees sacked without compensation. Preferably their pensions should be taken off them too.

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