Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/5/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/5/2009One of the recently arrested Islamic terror suspects in Australia has demanded — demanded! — that his religion be respected. Most of us would have no problem responding, “You’re in no position to demand anything, mate.” But we’ll see what the Aussie government says.

In other news, some German politicians are unhappy that their government paid ransom to the Somali pirates in order to secure the release of the German crew of a container ship.

Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, JD, Lurker from Tulsa, Natalie, Politically Incorrect, Pundita, Sean O’Brian, Steen, VH, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
USA: ADP Sees 371,000 Private-Sector Jobs Lost in July
7 Democratic Reps Lobby Ag Holder on Behalf of Islamist Groups
Ambassador John Bolton Got it
Gun Foes See New Hope With Sotomayor
Medical Murder
Oklahoma: Congressman Dan Boren Becomes Target of the GOP
US Defends Robinson Medal
White House’s Call for ‘Informants’ Draws Conservatives’ Ire
Europe and the EU
A Burning Feeling From Berlin — Only This Time, It’s Your Car
Austria Plagued With Islamic Controversy
EU Rules Force NHS to Hire Staff
Far Right Rising in Hungary
France: Sarkozy Sent Bullet in Threat Letter
Freedom at Risk: The Proposed EU Equal Treatment Directive
German Politicians Criticize Ransom Payment to Somali Pirates
Germany: Deutsche Bahn Spied on Employee Health Records Too
Germany: Jewish Council Backs New Mein Kampf Edition
Germany: Nazi Hit Man Trial to Start in October
Germany’s Hitler-Style ‘Youth Camp’ Closed Down
German Jewish Head Wants Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ Republished
Greek Cypriots Tired of Endless Talks
Italy: Energy Giant Endorses Nuclear Deal With French Firm
Italy: PM’s Daughter Says Politicians Should Uphold Values
Most Icelanders Opposed to EU Membership
New NATO Chief Vows to Fulfill Turkey Commitments
Novartis Starts Testing Its Swine Flu Vaccine
Turkey’s EU Accession Would Stabilize Region, Says German Minister
UK: Muslim Extremists Call for Caliphate in London
UK: Midlands Former Soldier Claims Troops Smuggle Weapons to Gangs
UK: Passwords Stolen for Tax Returns
UK: Sin Bins for Worst Families
UK: Terror Attack Relatives Criticise Suicide Bomber Comedy Series
Croat Leader Condemns War Crimes Against Serbs
Kosovo: Bosnian Muslim Leader’s Visit Sparks Protests
Tearing Up of Serbia: Albanians Want East Kosovo
Israel and the Palestinians
End Rift, King Tells Palestinians
Fatah Holds First Party Congress in 20 Years
Middle East
Barry Rubin: Obama Administration Recognizes Ahmadinejad as President
Choosing My Religion: Turkish Reality TV Show Aims to Convert Non-Believers
Iraq: Armed Group Posts Beheading Video
Stakelbeck: Is Yemen the Next Al Qaeda Hotbed?
Turkey: Man Assaulted for Missionary Activities
White House Reverses Statement on Iran Election
Putin’s Action-Man Holiday Album
Russia Keeping US Humvees as War Trophies
South Asia
Afghanistan: Italian and Afghan Soldiers Face Taliban Attack
Bangladesh: Dhaka, Death Threats Against the Family of a Christian Convert From Islam
Hate Engulfs Christians in Pakistan
Missile Kills Relatives of Pakistani Taliban Chief
Pakistan: Anti-Christian Attacks “Premeditated”, Says Archbishop of Lahore
Pakistan: Blasphemy Laws, A Pretext to Attack Pakistan’s Religious Minorities
Pakistan Raid ‘Kills Mehsud’s Wife’
Australia — Pacific
Hizbullah Media Goes Worldwide, To Broadcast in Australia
Journalists Caught Inside Sydney Army Base
Terrorism Suspect Demands Respect for His Religion
Sub-Saharan Africa
Nigeria to Screen Preachers After Unrest
South Africa: Rich Nations Must Pay on Climate Change
Zambia Reporter in ‘Porn’ Trial
Latin America
Brazilian Environmentalists: If You’ve Got to Go, Go Green — by Going in the Shower
The Big Question: Is Hugo Chavez Guilty of Wielding Excessive Power in Venezuela?
U.S. Appears to Soften Support for Honduras’s Zelaya
Algiers: Migrants Battle Locals
Algiers: About a Hundred Chinese and Algerians Battle it Out
Ireland: 156 Foreign Nationals Deported So Far This Year, Data Shows
The EU Reaches 500 Million Inhabitants Thanks to Immigration
UK: Top Judge Faces Sack for Speaking Out About Immigrants Abusing Benefits System
Culture Wars
NEA Goes All-Out for Same-Sex Marriage
Guantanamo Ex-Prisoners Get Jobs on Golf Course

Financial Crisis

USA: ADP Sees 371,000 Private-Sector Jobs Lost in July

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is scheduled to release its July jobs report on Friday, and a closely-watched estimate of last month’s private-sector job losses came out this morning.

Automatic Data Processing Inc., a payroll processing giant, says the U.S. economy probably lost 371,000 jobs in the non-farm private sector in July. That’s a bit more than the Bloomberg News estimate of 350,000 jobs, according to this story.

In partnership with Macroeconomic Advisers LLC, ADP bases its estimate on actual payroll data. In February and June, the ADP estimates were particularly close to the actual change in private-sector employment as measured by the BLS. They were particularly far off the mark in January and May.

Here’s a comparison of ADP’s advance estimates with the BLS numbers for change in private-sector employment (the BLS’s May and June figures are preliminary):


January -522,000 -749,000

February -697,000 -688,000

March -742,000 -648,000

April -491,000 -592,000

May -532,000 -312,000

June -473,000 -415,000*

July -371,000 ?

And here’s the historical series from the BLS on total non-farm employment changes, including the public sector (preliminary data for May and June):

January: -741,000

February: -681,000

March: -652,000

April: -519,000

May: -322,000

June: -467,000

The Texas Workforce Commission is scheduled to release its Texas jobs report for July on Aug. 21.

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


7 Democratic Reps Lobby Ag Holder on Behalf of Islamist Groups

In an interview with FrontPageMagazine, terror investigator Steve Emerson reports that seven Democratic members of the US House of Representatives have lobbied Attorney General Eric Holder to ease up on nine Islamist terror groups. The Democrats involved include some household names.

Emerson: We obtained a letter sent on July 24 by seven House Democrats to Attorney General Holder on behalf of 9 radical Islamic front groups relaying the complaints of the groups about law enforcement techniques in terrorist cases, including the use of informants.

The Congressmen acted as virtual lobbyists for these militant groups, asking that the AG stop employing tried and proven counter-terrorist techniques and also echoed information that was blatantly false claiming the FBI was engaged in racial profiling. The Congressmen asked that the AG meet with these groups, which are almost all derivatives of the Muslim Brotherhood.

FP: And we have members of Congress actually working on behalf of these terrorist-related groups? Who are these Congressmen?

Emerson: The letter was signed by California representatives Loretta Sanchez, Adam Schiff, Mike Honda and Lois Capps, along with Ohio representatives Mary Jo Kilroy and Dennis Kucinich. Northern Virginia Congressman James Moran joined the group. Moran serves on the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on defense. Schiff and Honda serve on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Kilroy sits on the House Homeland Security Committee.

These issues have been pushed by radical Islamist groups for months. The letter’s close tracking of the interest groups’ positions indicates that their officials dictated its terms for the members of Congress to sign. In fact, the nine entities all are listed in exactly the same sequence in this release from CAIR. The April 2009 release also cites two of the same issues as in the letter to Holder.

As I wrote in my piece, many of the representatives who signed this letter have a history of supporting CAIR.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Ambassador John Bolton Got it

John Bolton was appointed by President George W. Bush as the interim ambassador to the United Nations. Unable to have his nomination overcome a veto-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate, Bolton served his ambassadorship as a recess appointment from August 2005 to December 2006. Shortly thereafter, Bush and the Republicans saw the Democrats regain both houses of Congress, which effectively forced Bolton to resign his position in December 2006. Presently, Bolton is a writer and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. His latest book, “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (2007), is an excellent and informative memoir of his U.N. years.

In my opinion, Bolton is a man of honor. He is one of the few conservatives that place principle above politics. Bolton’s America-first foreign policy worldview can be summarized by this quote: “There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.”

In my 2008 book, “The Nuremberg Trials: Last Tragedy of the Holocaust,” I was equally emphatic in my disdain and derision of the U.N. I even called the United Nations a “legal fiction” — postulating: how can one have a group of 192 member states under the control of the U.N., yet each country considers itself a “sovereign nation”? It doesn’t make any sense. The U.N. is indeed a legal fiction that, combined with its ever-growing power, makes the globalist international community essentially a cabal of totalitarian states and an enemy to freedom lovers everywhere.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Gun Foes See New Hope With Sotomayor

After years of losing, gun control advocates say this week’s vote on confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court will be their long-awaited win that shatters conventional wisdom and proves that the Second Amendment is no longer the unstoppable force of Washington politics.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Medical Murder

Why Obamacare could result in the early deaths of millions of baby boomers

Imagine lying in some government-run hospital, hospice or nursing home many years from now. Imagine languishing unattended for days in soiled sheets, suffering from hunger and thirst, covered with bed sores, your flesh aboil with untreated infections. Imagine living in fear of resentful, underpaid health aides who take out their anger on you and abuse you. And imagine spending your final moments on earth in the company of a government health care worker with a syringe, who injects you with a lethal cocktail.


“Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller,” the president offered.

Obama was slightly more explicit in a May 3 interview with the New York Times, when he said there ought to be a national “conversation” over whether “sort of in the aggregate, society making those decisions to give my grandmother, or everybody else’s aging grandparents or parents, a hip replacement when they’re terminally ill is a sustainable model.” Such decisions, added Obama, shouldn’t be left to patients or their relatives, but to a “group” of “doctors, scientists, ethicists” who are not part of “normal political channels.”

One such elite medical decision-maker would be Obama’s special adviser for health policy, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Rahm Emanuel. He’s a longtime advocate of “age-weighted medical rationing” — meaning, the older you are, the less care you get, as in Britain. But what about the Hippocratic Oath, you might ask, the sacred vow doctors have always taken to do all they can to heal their patients? As Whistleblower documents, Emanuel advises doctors to stop taking that oath so literally, and instead to be “prudent” in assessing how much time, effort and money each patient is worth, for the greater good of society.

Moreover, as “MEDICAL MURDER” reports, a bill being pushed hard by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care, will take from Congress all authority over federal health spending and decree that such decisions in the future would be made by a secretive committee of “experts” modeled after — are you ready? — the Federal Reserve Board.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Oklahoma: Congressman Dan Boren Becomes Target of the GOP

OKLAHOMA CITY — Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Boren is on a list of 80 House Democrats being targeted by Republicans in next year’s election.

The list was developed by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Boren is the only Democrat in the Oklahoma congressional delegation. He was first elected in 2005 and has been re-elected with 70 and 73 percent of the vote in the past two elections.

Boren’s 2nd congressional district is also 70 percent registered Democrats — but voted overwhelmingly last year for Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

State Republican Party Chairman Gary Jones admits Boren often votes against his Democratic colleagues but says Boren is still “part of the team.”

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

US Defends Robinson Medal

The White House has defended its decision to award the highest civilian honour in the United States to former president Mary Robinson.

President Barack Obama named Mrs Robinson as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week.

However, some Jewish groups have criticised the move over her stance on Israel.

US pro-Israeli lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) expressed concern at the award.

“Mary Robinson, who was one of the people responsible for the 2001 Durban conference against racism descending into an anti-Israel propaganda forum, is not an appropriate recipient for one of our nation’s highest honors”, the Committee said in a statement issued yesterday.

“In fact, awarding the Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson does great dishonor to the many outstanding men and women who have received it in the past,” the coalition said in a statement.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mrs Robinson was being recognised because she was a prominent advocate for women’s rights in Ireland and around the world.

Mr Gibbs said she had made statements that President Barack Obama did not agree with, but that was likely to be the case with a number of the 16 people he planned to recognise for their lifetime achievements.

Last week, the White House praised Mrs Robinson’s contribution to human rights rights at home and internationally.

“Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland (1990 — 1997) and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 — 2002), a post that required her to end her presidency four months early. Robinson served as a prominent member of the Irish Senate prior to her election as President,” The White House said in its citation.

“She continues to bring attention to international issues as Honorary President of Oxfam International, and Chairs the Board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI Alliance). Since 2002 she has been President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, based in New York, which is an organization she founded to make human rights the compass which charts a course for globalization that is fair, just and benefits all”, it concluded.

Mr Obama will award the medals at the White House on August 12th.

[Return to headlines]

White House’s Call for ‘Informants’ Draws Conservatives’ Ire

Conservative bloggers and opinion leaders Tuesday expressed outrage over the White House’s call for informants to notify it of “disinformation” regarding the health care debate.

From the White House Web site:

“There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end-of-life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain e-mails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an e-mail or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to”

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

A Burning Feeling From Berlin — Only This Time, It’s Your Car

Drive a luxury car in the city of Berlin, and you might just add arson to the options list.

Across the German capital, owners of Porsches, BMWs, Benzes, even more prosaic Volkswagens, are under fire as terrorists torch luxury cars to protest consumerism in, well, a pretty hot and obvious way.

Back in February, Bloomberg reported on the growing incidence of vehicular arson in the German capital. Now a Web site, the Burning Cars of Berlin, has translated the crime wave into our favorite Web widget—an astonishing Google Map Enlarge Photo of all the places where luxury cars have been burned in the past six months.

They’re also hitting police cars, a troubling trend in the restive east of Germany, where anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-capitalist sentiment still crops up—and gangs up with eco-terrorists, it seems.

Using slow-burning fuses, arsonists are targeting one car a day, on average. Out of the 170 car arson cases reported this year, almost 100 have been attributed to political attacks. Most of them are clustered in nouveau-riche areas of resurgent Berlin, where prosperity’s returned for the first time since before World War II.

Owners of cars are stripping badges off their vehicles to protect their cars, but as of yet, the Berlin police have been unable to stamp out the viral crime.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Austria Plagued With Islamic Controversy

Austrian authorities have prosecuted the leader of the right-leaning Freedom Party of Austria for inciting religious hatred, but some say the move sacrifices people’s freedom of speech.

In 2008, Susanne Winter became a hate figure among much of Europe’s Muslim community.

She told her fellow members at the right-leaning Freedom Party of Austria that, if the Prophet Mohammed were alive today, he would be considered a child molester. Austria, she warned, faced an “Islamic immigration tsunami”.

“Over the past 10 years we’ve become the third largest party in Austria, so I know people agree with us. ‘Mainstream’ parties are trapped by political correctness. We don’t play on fears, we raise the genuine concerns of normal people,” Winter says.

Austria’s politicians and its president, however, were swift in their condemnation. A two-year suspended sentence for inciting religious hatred and a €24,000 fine followed.

Austria’s Muslims feel bolstered by her punishment — a victory in the fight against, what they call, an increasingly dangerous trend spreading across the continent.

“The new cultural racism is Islamophobia. In this sense we are concerned about the situation in Europe, but especially also in our country Austria,” Tarafa Baghajati from the Initiative of Muslim Austrians says.

Europe is split over its position on Islam. Supporters of Dutch politician Geert Wilders described Britain’s decision to refuse him entry over his anti-Islamic rhetoric as disgusting and cowardly. In Germany, a lack of media coverage of the murder of Marwa el-Sherbini sparked outrage in her native Egypt.

Austria itself is no stranger to the Islamic debate. In recent years, the country’s politics have been torn between moderates and nationalists. Right-wing parties have been strengthening their position by playing on fears of mass immigration from Muslim countries. Until his death last year, the controversial and far-right figure Jorg Haider was Austria’s most famous MP.

However, Tarafa Baghajati’s wife thinks the country still has a much better relationship with Muslims than Germany, for example. Carla, who converted to Islam in 1989, renounced her German citizenship.

“I’m happy for the role we Muslims have in Austria and official recognition. I really appreciate that we have the basis for an institutional dialogue. And it works out well, especially in the case of crisis as we saw with Susanne Winter,” Carla Baghajati says.

Yet others have seen Winter’s case not as an attack on Islam, but on freedom of speech. A German alternative news website backed her and, for similar reasons, reprinted the controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, two years ago, saying it was fighting to protect traditional European values.

“If you are a woman, a Jew or a homosexual, you have problems with Islam. We feel that all these archaic ideas are against what we believe are human rights,” Dr Christine Dietrich from the “Politically Incorrect” website says.

The Viennese Islamic Centre, built in 1979 on the outskirts of the city, is one of only two mosques in all of Austria that looks identifiably like a mosque, while the rest are housed in ordinary looking buildings. It is surprising, given that for such a small country its 400,000 strong Muslim community makes up almost 5% of the total population.

The likelihood is that figure will continue to grow. Austria, and all of Europe, is at a crossroads in its relationship with Islam. The absence of a visible, architectural symbolism belies deep, and potentially explosive, emotions on both sides.

           — Hat tip: Politically Incorrect [Return to headlines]

EU Rules Force NHS to Hire Staff

The NHS in Scotland has had to employ more than 150 extra staff to help cope with a reduction in the number of hours junior doctors can work.

New European rules reducing junior doctors’ hours to a maximum of 48 per week came into force at the weekend.

NHS Grampian revealed it had employed 60 additional staff in order to comply with the European Working Time Directive.

BBC Scotland has learned other health boards are also feeling the impact.

NHS Highland has employed the equivalent of 33 full-time staff, while NHS Lothian has employed 29.

However, some health boards have said they have managed to implement the changes without recruiting any additional staff, including Scotland’s largest health board Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

NHS Grampian said employing the 60 extra staff was part of the reason it was facing a £900,000 financial deficit this year.

BBC Scotland health correspondent Eleanor Bradford said that with all health boards facing a tight budget this year, the cost of these extra posts are likely to have an impact on other areas.

Unions have warned that the 48-hour weekly limit could harm the quality of training for junior doctors.

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

Far Right Rising in Hungary

The crux of the problem is that only the symptom is being addressed, not the root causes

Recently the rise of the right in Hungary has been discernibly visible. Last month it was especially apparent. At the beginning of the month a peaceful sit-down protest organized by members and sympathizers of the Hungarian Guard, a right-wing paramilitary group, was brutally broken up by police. This prompted a nation-wide demonstration the following weekend by the supporters of the Hungarian Guard in where the movement — which was officially disbanded by a court order — was defiantly re-organized while the police simply looked on.

All this left many wondering as to what is really going. For some, last month merely demonstrated how the government and the police have been overstepping their authority and, in turn, has provoked events to the present stage. Others, meanwhile, view the events of the past month with alarm and feel that the government and the police are losing control of the situation as well as of themselves.

Politicians, for their part, have been quick to use the present state of affairs to their own advantage and to advance their own narrow interests with a view to the upcoming national elections. For those on the left, namely the Socialists and Liberals, the rise of the far right represents everything they warned against since their disastrous showing at the EU elections in June. Thus, unless disgruntled left-wing voters come back to the fold then there is a real danger that the far-right will assume a large measure of political power next year in Hungary.

As for those on the right, foremost represented by the Young Democrats (FIDESZ), the rise of the far right has enabled the party to move more toward the political center. Although it doesn’t deny that it’s still a right-wing party, it nevertheless views itself as the only party sitting between two extremes: the radical neo-liberalist left represented by the Socialists and Liberals (many of whom who have links to the former communist regime) and the far-right extremists represented by the Hungarian Guard and its political wing, the Jobbik.

The problem of the far right in Hungary, however, is more complex than it appears on the surface. As elsewhere within Europe, a general right-wing backlash against the EU led to a major victory for the right in Hungary during the EU elections in June. This anti-EU backlash also prompted disillusioned voters to support the far-right; within Hungary the stellar rise of the Jobbik from the fringes to 15% is a testament to this level of dissatisfaction with the EU.

Yet it’s not only with the EU which has led to the success of the far-right. Over the years many have become deeply distrustful of politics in general and politicians in particular, more commonly referred to as “the political elite”. In many ways, this notion of the “political elite” and all it entails is not unlike the notion of the “nomenklatura”, a term which was prevalent during the communist era. This overall distrust of politics and politicians has been brewing in Hungary for several years now, and has merely deepened as the country was hard hit by the financial crisis and is still struggling to find its way forward.

Anti-Roma-Sentiments are apparent for the vast majority of people

While the EU election results may have made the rise of the far-right look impressive, it’s still unclear as to how strong they really are and how they will perform in a “real” general election. For most, the EU elections are not considered that important, and thus are not viewed as a “real” election in this regard. As a result, the low turnout in last June’s vote, at 36 percent, helped to inflate the Jobbik’s impressive results.

Not only this, but if history is anything to go by, then the Jobbik and the far-right might be in for a nasty surprise. Prior to the 2002 general elections in Hungary, Istvan Csurka’s radical right-wing Truth and Life Party (MIEP) had scored a similar success at a by-election in the small town of Dabas. With a similar result of 15%, the MIEP were confident that they would score big at the upcoming general election. The foreign media also went along for the ride; the BBC did an extensive report on the likely impressive showing of the MIEP. Indeed, on the day of the election Csurka himself went to the horse races and even won 100,000 HUF (about $500) and was confident that this was a good omen. In the end, not only was his showing at the election not impressive, the MIEP had failed to even make it into parliament.

The rise and fall of the MIEP is important in that not only does it illustrate that elections which are not “real” can be very misleading, but that after this fiasco the MIEP fell apart and has failed to recover since. Indeed, it was this failure that prompted many from within the party to call for a change. However, as with all political parties in Hungary (especially those on the right), everyone wants to be king and thus Csurka adamantly held on to power. Subsequently, scores left the party or were kicked out. Many of these people ultimately came together and helped forge a new party together with other elements of the right (many from the FIDESZ as well as groups of right-wing university youths). All were disgruntled by the victory of the Socialists in 2002; it was widely assumed by them that the Socialists and Liberals had cheated their way into power. This new party ultimately became the Jobbik in 2003.

Unlike Csurka and other radical right-wing parties, the Jobbik tried to avoid using anti-Semitic cliche’s and instead focused on the Roma (gypsy) issue instead. This proved to be a much more successful formula for the Jobbik as the concept of a “Jewish connection” to blame for Hungary’s problem is hard for many to visualize or even comprehend. Roma issues, on the other hand, are much more apparent for the vast majority of people. This is not to say that an anti-Jewish bias doesn’t exist within the Jobbik; instead, this bias is carefully framed within the context of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression.

What is ironic is that while there is much concern over the rise of the far-right in Hungary, some of the harshest critics against the Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard come from none other than the radical right itself such as Csurka and the MIEP. In fact, during the EU elections in June the MIEP decided not to run any candidates. Instead, Csurka urged his followers to put their support behind the FIDESZ.

As far as some on the radical right are concerned, the Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard are nothing more than a left-wing ploy. Csurka himself regards the Jobbik as a party of “Jews wrapped in an Arpad flag”. He is especially critical of Krisztina Morvai, the head of the party’s list for the European Parliament.

growing Radicalism

Without a doubt, Morvai has had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the Jobbik which perhaps explains best the resentment of Csurka and others have toward her and the party. A former member of the Women’s Anti-discrimination Committee of the United Nations, Krisztina Morvai gained prestige in right-wing circles after leading investigations into police violence during street protests against the Socialist government in 2006. Then Socialist Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, admitted lying to the electorate on the state of the economy to win re-election, causing furious protests from the right. Ever since, the right-wing in Hungary has considered the ruling Socialists as illegitimate, and have repeatedly demanded new elections.

Subsequently, this has led to a growing radicalism among many within the right as well as those who regard themselves more as centrists, a factor which has played in the favor of the Jobbik. Likewise, as the FIDESZ moved more to the center in order to mop up disillusioned supporters of the left, right-wing voters unhappy with this move gravitated more toward the Jobbik. In addition to this, as the state of the economy and public security declined rapidly over the past few years, the Jobbik has also been able to secure support from traditional Socialist strongholds, especially those areas with a high Roma population.

There is no doubt that the declining economic situation in Hungary coupled with bleak future prospects has all played a major role in the rise of the far-right. Yet what has also contributed significantly to this shift is the equally declining state of public security. This is not only limited to the problems between mainstream society and the Roma minority. In general, crime has been on the rise although the authorities have done their best to paint another picture. Statistics speak for themselves: in the first few months of this year more armed robberies occurred than all of last year, and the trend is continuing upward. At one point, ripping ATM machines from walls were so common that they appeared to occur almost on a weekly basis.

The success of the right and the far-right isn’t only due to national issues and the state of the economy, however. The EU is blamed for forcing Hungary into a supplicant role within the union. Not only were the glowing promises of EU membership not forthcoming after accession in 2004, many feel that they have been hamstrung as a result. Farmers are fighting a losing battle as store shelves are dumped with cheap products from other parts of the EU, most of which are of poor or dubious quality. Meanwhile, better quality Hungarian products are made exclusively for export and not the domestic market. A case in point is with garlic: Hungarians consume cheap Chinese garlic whereas excellent quality Hungarian garlic is sent to Italy.

The 1990s dream of a “Silicon Valley of the East” has long since vanished

Recently, the agreement by the EU to allow Mercedes to open a plant in Hungary has angered some. The new German car factory will employ Germans who will come to Hungary to work at the plant. With high unemployment within the region, many wonder where is the logic in letting foreign companies settle in a country and bring in their own workers. Sadly, this is not something limited to Hungary or Central Europe but is apparent throughout the EU. Not long ago British workers protested at a similar plan by a company to bring in cheap labor from abroad.

It is quite clear to many that the EU as it now stands is not for the benefit of Europeans but for multinational corporations in where it has become easier for them to move operations throughout Europe in order to exploit cheap labor, lax environmental conditions, corrupt bureaucracies, and to be closer to their markets in order to reduce the cost of delivery. All this can be found within the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. People, in turn, are faced with an absurd situation in where much of the food that is produced locally isn’t for local consumption, and the goods manufactured within the country are not even being made by their fellow-citizens. Governments, meanwhile, are coerced into introducing austerity measures in face of declining sources of revenue. This is because the revenue that would have come from taxes related to domestic production and consumption is evidently missing.

This sad state of affairs is clearly visible within Central and Eastern Europe which has been demoted to a colonial status within the EU. In many ways, Hungary and other countries within the region are considered Third World states. One just has to look at the types of investments which are being sought by some governments within the region. The Hungarian government, for instance, has done its best to encourage the settlement of companies that employ menial labor. Incentives have also been given to polluting industries in order to have them set up operations within the country. Ironically, some of these investments come from Third World countries such as India, as exemplified by plans for a tire factory in the Matra hills (a plan which was later scrapped). Meanwhile, highly skilled jobs, such as computer programming, find their way back to Third World countries such as India. Hungarian computer programmers, which once were highly sought after some two decades ago, are no longer so highly regarded. The 1990s dream of a “Silicon Valley of the East” has long since vanished and is nothing more than a distant memory.

For a modern, industrial nation this emphasis on menial labor and polluting industries are a thing of the past. Modern industrial countries are now focused on service industries and skilled, niche sectors such as biotechnology and as informatics. Consequently, education systems have been geared toward meeting this demand. Yet in countries such as Hungary the government is moving in diametrically the opposing direction. Hence, the country’s educational system reflects this, and many lament the poor and dilapidated state of the schools, colleges, and universities. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the majority of high school graduates in Hungary are barely literate.

All this has led to a perceptible shift within the region toward the right in recent years. In the Czech Republic, for example, a country with the same population size as Hungary and with similar ethnic problems, also boasts a right-wing a semi-paramilitary group of “concerned citizens”. The Czech Guard, as in Hungary, aims to protect Czechs from “Roma crime”. A similar paramilitary-style squad has also been formed in Bulgaria as well.

One of the effects of the far-right rising in one country is that it indubitably leads to the far-right rising in a neighboring state as well. This, in turn, leads to tensions among neighboring states which, in turn, only further exacerbate the situation. The EU, meanwhile, appears to simply look the other way, making the situation even worse. Indeed, the inability of Brussels to do anything inflames passions further and deepens the anti-EU sentiments which already exist. It’s a whirlwind of intolerance which threatens to spin out of control.

Tensions between Slovakia and Hungary

The most notable example of this is the tensions which exist between Slovakia and Hungary. Tensions have traditionally been cool between the two countries, but relations have become ice-cold as of late due to a controversial language law introduced by the Slovak government. Basically, this law requires that Slovak only be used in official places even if both parties happen to speak another language and are comfortable using another language. For Slovakia’s Hungarian minority, the language law is ridiculous and discriminatory: for example, an ethnic Hungarian doctor treating an ethnic Hungarian patient has to communicate in Slovak even though both the doctor and patient may find it easier using Hungarian. In this case, failure to speak in Slovak results in a stiff fine.

Similar repressive language laws can be found elsewhere, for example in Romania. In areas predominantly Hungarian and often visited by Hungarians, signs linked to places of interest are displayed in Romanian as well as French and English — but not Hungarian. According to Romanian authorities, the rationale for doing so is because Hungarian is not considered a world language even though the sites concerned are visited foremost by Hungarians. The rationale of the Romanian authorities is clearly ludicrous: accordingly, one can also question why the signs are also displayed in Romanian since it too isn’t a world language.

Aside from inflaming passions and reopening old wounds on all sides, such controversies simply add to anti-EU sentiment — especially in Hungary. Apart from economic prosperity, one the main justifications for EU membership was security and minority rights. Many ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries feel that they are actually worse off now than before EU membership. Before EU accession, ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania seemed to enjoy more rights and autonomy in terms of using their language and practicing their customs. All this seems to have changed with EU accession, and the EU — which boasts of being a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-ethnic entity — appears to be unconcerned with their plight.

All this plays into the hands of the Jobbik as well as more moderate elements on the right, such as the FIDESZ. The level of frustration within the country is such that many Hungarians aren’t afraid of the far-right. In fact, recent polls suggest that Hungarians are more afraid of gypsies than of the Hungarian Guard.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that far-right parties such as the Jobbik have gained in popularity. With clever slogan such as “Hungary for Hungarians” and “make the multis (i.e., multinational companies) pay” the Jobbik have tapped into a large pool of resentment felt at all levels of society yet expressed in different ways. At the same time, the incumbent Socialists and Liberals are deeply mistrusted and seen as nothing more than neo-liberalist gangsters who have sold their country’s resources — and even people — to the highest bidder. Thus, the poor showing of the left in Hungary is not only due to increased support for the right, but to a rapidly declining level of support for the left. Taken together, the two has made the rise of the right and the far-right in Hungary look impressive indeed.

Still, it’s uncertain whether the right and the far-right in Hungary can hold on to their momentum. People are desperate for solutions, and they want these solutions delivered quickly and painlessly. To most observers, this is an impossible task; in fact, for the right in Hungary herein lays the danger: as the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for — you may get it in the end.

For the moment, the Hungarian authorities are at a loss of how to confront the growing power and influence of the far-right, and have thus resorted to the use of violence. For its part, the government has relied heavily on the use of new legislation. For instance, subsequent to the events in the beginning of July parliament passed a law making it illegal to appear in a Hungarian Guard uniform or to show public support for the organization.

As with so much similar legislation as of late that has been passed in order to curb anti-government protest, this law is much ado about nothing. For legal experts, the law appears to create more problems than it solves. First and foremost, while it makes it a crime to wear a Hungarian Guard uniform, no such uniform really exists. Instead, the Hungarian Guard adopted traditional Hungarian male dress as its so-called uniform: white shirt, black vest, and black pants. Wearing this combination of clothing is not considered illegal in Hungary, at least not yet.

There also remains the question as to what the authorities had banned in the first place. The Hungarian court determined that the Hungarian Guard did not fulfill the conditions of its original charter and ordered it disbanded. This does not mean that the concept itself was illegal. In effect, the group can reorganize under a different name and start all over. Some legal experts feel the government may have even overstepped its authority in drafting the new law and the issue is now being sent to international forums such as the European Court of Human Rights. It also doesn’t help that the head of the Jobbik, Krisztina Morvai, is a lawyer and very well versed on legal matters.

Complicating the situation even further is the justification often used by the government for certain repressive actions. The police action to break up the protest by members and supporters of the Hungarian Guard in early July was a prime example of this. About sixty or so people gathered together and staged a relatively peaceful sit-down protest. Police quickly moved in and randomly picked people from the crowd and then started using tear gas to disperse .everyone. In one instance an innocent bystander was even charged with assaulting an officer. Only when an amateur mobile phone video of the incident surfaced was it proven that it was the bystander who was victimized by the police. Although the person was released without charge, there was no official apology or explanation for what happened. Likewise, there was no follow up to the incident or investigation into why the officer had claimed to have been assaulted, and whether or not this officer or any of his colleagues had actually committed a crime for bearing false witness.

It’s this seeming impunity of the police which has turned the general public against the authorities. The arrogance of law enforcement officials in Hungary appears to run to the very top. The Law Enforcement and Justice Minister, Tibor Draskovits, went so far as to justify the illegal police action at the beginning of July by claiming that the people who were gathered at the protest had shown their sympathy in public for terrorists such as Gyorgy Budahazy.

Budahazy is a right-wing activist and agitator who on several occasions confronted the authorities head-on. His most notable exploits were the Elisabeth Bridge blockade in 2002 and the attack on the state television building in 2006. In mid June he was taken into custody on suspicion of terrorism and for running the Hungarian Arrow, an organization that was allegedly behind several Molotov cocktail attacks against the homes of politicians, among other things.

Although it’s not inconceivable that Budahazy was a leading figure behind the Hungarian Arrow and that this organization does exist (some are still unsure of whether it really exists or not) Budahazy for his part has pleaded not guilty and still has yet to have his day in court. Thus, Draskovits’ reference to Budahazy as a terrorist and his supporters as supporters of terrorism is uncalled for by a person in his position. In a democracy a person is considered innocent until proven guilty; Draskovits, therefore, overstepped his authority when he attempted to justify the police crackdown as a response to terrorism.

This mistake on the part of the authorities was quite apparent the following week when members of the disbanded Hungarian Guard announced a nation-wide protest in response to the police action earlier. During this demonstration the police then stood idly by and simply watched as Morvai and others publicly condemned the authorities. The demonstrators then vowed to reconstitute the Hungarian Guard and symbolically put on their black vests in defiance.

For his part Draskovits was not content with letting Morvai and the Hungarian Guard have the last word. A video surfaced toward the end of the month allegedly showing the kind of attacks that the Hungarian Arrow was planning. Without a doubt, this video was to demonstrate the actual threat that far-right extremists pose, and to this extent the Hungarian Guard and the Jobbik as well. It soon turned out, however, that the video had nothing to do with the Hungarian Arrow or political terrorism. The opposition FIDESZ was quick to condemn the government for playing the terrorist card and the Liberals, who have since gone through a major leadership overhaul, also joined in to condemn Draskovits and called for his resignation.

Most legal experts agree that these and other government responses to the far-right are more of a knee-jerk reaction and in the end does more harm than good. Sadly, for the past couple of years in Hungary the authorities have been unable to constructively deal with the problems it faces other than resorting to the big stick. The problem with this method is that by using the law as a big stick innocent people and individual human rights end up getting hurt more than those whom the restrictions were targeted for in the first place. Not only this, but such a mindset ultimately puts society on the road to what former Russian President Vladimir Putin once described as a “dictatorship of law”.

A dictatorship is a dictatorship no matter what word is put before or after it. As history has shown, a communist dictatorship is just as brutal as a Nazi dictatorship. Consequently, for those living under such a regime there is little difference between the variants. In this manner, there is a growing feeling within Central and Eastern Europe that after freeing themselves from various dictatorships over the past decades, the people within the region have now succumbed to a neo-liberalist dictatorship of sorts.

At this point the question naturally arises as to how the authorities should deal with problems such as the Hungarian Guard if not by brute force. Although the far-right in Hungary appears to address some legitimate concerns that people have, there are many elements within it which indubitably exploit the situation for their own ends. In many ways, the problem is akin to that of football hooliganism: the game has become so intertwined with violence that it’s hard to separate the two.

Lacking of Civil Society

The main difference in how other countries handle a similar problem is through the concept of a civil society. In effect, it’s public pressure and condemnation which keeps such radical elements at bay. All societies have their radical elements; the extent to which these elements are kept in check, however, depends on how strong is the sense of civil society among citizens. Indubitably, such radicalism is less of a problem the stronger this sense of civil society, to the extent that it’s even tolerated to a certain level.

Unfortunately, in countries such as Hungary this sense of civil society is almost non-existent, especially in urban areas such as Budapest. This is plainly visible in such obvious signs as the rampant corruption which exists and the garbage-filled streets. Yet there are less visible and not so obvious signs as well.

A recent example of the extent to which civil society is absent within Hungary is the case involving a high-level attempt to frame two journalists in order to quell anti-government criticism within the media. A close aid to the former Finance Minister, Janos Veres, arranged with a high-profile lawyer to plant drugs in the car of two journalists. The lawyer, who had some “friends” in the police, would arrange to have the car stopped as if on a routine check. The drugs would be found and the two reporters would then be put out of the way, behind bars. This entire plan was documented on audio tape. On the day the plan was to go into action, the leading suspect was apprehended as he attempted to plant what was supposed to be cocaine (but later turned out to be baking powder) into the car of one of the reporters. This scene was captured on video tape.

If not for the audio and video evidence, this story would seem too incredible to be true, something that is only to be found in the imagination of Hollywood script writers. Yet the actors in this drama are all real people, and now it appears that knowledge of this plot extends to the very top — including both the former Finance Minster Janos Veres and the present Justice Minister Tibor Draskovits as well.

What is even more astonishing, however, is the relative silence this entire incident has received, both within the media and the general public. One reason for this is because the media in Hungary is a heavily partisan one; thus, while the right-wing media made much of the story, the left-wing media almost ignored it. Similarly, after the story initially broke people talked about it for a few days and then it simply disappeared, as if never even happened.

All this demonstrates the extent to which civil society is lacking in Hungary. A true sense of civil society transcends all political bias and holds certain aspects of civil society as sacred above all else. One of these is the freedom of speech and expression. The very idea that a government would go so far as to frame someone for a serious crime in order to silence them is something that a person with a normal sense of civil responsibility would raise their voice in protest against. Thus, whether the victim would have been from the left-wing or the right-wing is of no difference; what is at issue is that such an ignominious attempt was even made in the first place.

This raises some very troubling questions as to the state of democracy within Hungary. If leading members of Hungarian society would go so far in order to silence opposition, then Hungary is far from what would be considered a democracy. Moreover, the fact that people don’t seem overly troubled by all this is equally disturbing. In essence, in present day Hungary anyone can be picked up off the street by the police for no apparent reason, falsely charged with a crime, and locked away for a number of years with no recourse to justice. Nobody seems to care.

It goes without saying that this lacking sense of a civil society among not only the political elite but within the general public as well ensures that radicalism and extremism will always have a strong foothold within the region. Not only this, but as Hungary has slowly evolved into a two-party state split between left and right, the chances for a true multi-party democracy flourishing in this part of Europe in the near future is remote.

Ironically, the problem of the rise of the far-right in Hungary is, in many ways, more of a reaction against this two-party state than anything else. Clearly, for many there appears to be no other alternative. On the left the Liberals are in their death throes, and it’s almost certain that they will disappear in the next general election. Similarly, the conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) is not expected to survive the polls next year. There is some speculation that somehow these two parties will come together and forge some kind of an alliance in order to try and stay alive, however observes are doubtful if such a formation is feasible or can last.

This leaves only the Socialists on the left and the FIDESZ on the right, with the Jobbik as a wildcard. The political situation in Hungary is still quite fluid at the moment; therefore it’s still too early to say whether the rise of the far-right is a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon or has gained enough momentum to carry it through to electoral success next year. In any case, if the root causes that contributed to the rise of the far-right are not constructively dealt with, then the legitimate grievances of many will no doubt help sustain those who appear to offer some hope for a radical change.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

France: Sarkozy Sent Bullet in Threat Letter

French authorities have intercepted a threatening letter containing a large caliber, hunting bullet addressed to President Nicolas Sarkozy, officials said Wednesday.

French anti-terror police have opened an investigation after the letter was discovered Tuesday in a mail sorting station in the southern city of Montpellier.

The threat appears to be the latest in a series of such warnings sent to right-wing personalities in recent years, apparently by a lone left-wing extremist or a group, according to investigators.

In the letter, the author warns the “old guard” in Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party that an “accident” might befall them.

A man from the southern city of Montpellier was arrested last year after a series of letters signed by an unknown group — “The Combatants of Cell 34” — were sent to Sarkozy and several of his political allies.

The suspect, an unemployed computer programmer and military reservist, was later released after someone proclaiming himself to be the true letter writer sent details of the bullets used in previous threats to his lawyer.

The writer or writers demand a halt to France’s expulsion of illegal immigrants and the release from prison of Jean-Marc Rouillan, the leader of the armed leftist group Action Directe, among others.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Freedom at Risk: The Proposed EU Equal Treatment Directive

by Prof. William Wagner

“Discrimination” and “Equality” laws may well force Christians into silence, to act against their conscience or risk being on the wrong side of the law. Thus, many Christians around the world are paying close attention to the E.U.’s so-called “Equal Treatment” Directive. This Directive extends “discrimination” law based on sexual orientation, religion or belief, to the provision of goods, facilities and services. Included within the parameters of discrimination is something the directive calls harassment.

Unfortunately, the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently endorsed the harassment provision of the proposed Directive. In doing so, the EHRC gravely threatens freedom of speech and the free exercise of religious conscience in the United Kingdom. “Harassment,” as vaguely defined in the Directive, allows an individual to accuse someone of discrimination merely for expressing something the individual allegedly perceives as creating an offensive environment. For example, once someone decides to perceive an offer of prayers or words of comfort by a hospital chaplain based on his faith as offensive, that person can bring legal action against the chaplain and the hospital, even if the chaplain at the hospital intended no offense. To further chill fundamental freedoms, the burden of proof then shifts to the chaplain to prove that the accuser was not offended.

Discussions about faith or sexual ethics, during the provision of a service to the public or commercial service, provide endless opportunities for individuals to allege offence — and to silence those whose views are informed by ancient sacred tenets. Censuring an idea simply because the idea is informed by a religious worldview, prevents thousands of years of wisdom from informing the civic ethic. A citizen who attempts to inform the civic ethic should not be punished or persecuted simply because the citizen’s ideas are informed by sincerely held Christian truths.

In a democracy, freedom of expression is not needed to protect the ideas of people with whom those in power agree — it is needed to protect people who express ideas with which those in power do not agree. Thus, the test of a functioning moral democracy is not whether the government protects speech with which it agrees — it is whether it will protect expression which is against its own viewpoint. Instead of censuring or punishing speech, good governance always allows more speech. Selective enforcement and punishment of expression sends a bitter chill throughout the citizenry in a democracy. Institutional integrity cannot exist without personal virtue. Good governance and civic institutional integrity rest on the virtue of its citizens. Christian ideas support and nurture this virtue and should, therefore, always be permitted within the marketplace of ideas.

Professor William Wagner teaches Ethics and Constitutional Law at the Cooley Law School. Before joining academia, he served as a federal judge in the United States Courts.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

German Politicians Criticize Ransom Payment to Somali Pirates

Politicians from Germany’s governing parties have criticized the payment of a $2.75 million ransom to Somali pirates for the release of the container ship Hansa Stavanger. The ransom makes further hijackings more likely and puts German ships at greater risk, they say.

German politicians from the ruling conservative and Social Democrat parties have criticized the payment this week of a $2.75 million ransom to free the German container ship Hansa Stavanger, which had been seized by Somali pirates in April.

They say giving in to the pirates has made the Indian Ocean even more dangerous for European ships.

Hans-Peter Uhl, the security policy spokesman for the conservative Christian Social Union, called for an end to “checkbook diplomacy with Somali pirates.”

“Despite the relief at the release of the crew no one should be pleased that a $2.7 million ransom has been passed to dangerous criminals.” The money would increase the temptation to seize more ships, he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper, adding: “The danger to German cargo ships has become greater rather than smaller.”

Uhl called for much tougher action against pirates including military action to free hijacked vessels.

Is the West Funding a Pirate Industry?

Thomas Oppermann, a member of parliament for the center-left Social Democrats, said the West was effectively funding a hijacking industry in Somalia.

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

Germany: Deutsche Bahn Spied on Employee Health Records Too

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, still reeling from a spy scandal earlier this year, admitted on Tuesday it had secretly and illegally monitored the health records of some of its employees.

“The Deutsche Bahn management has received indications that the group’s security division collected employees’ illness-related information and circulated it within the group,” the firm said in a statement.

“As the data were not job-specific, they should not have been collected,” the statement said, adding that those responsible were no longer with the company.

Earlier this year, Deutsche Bahn confirmed it had scoured the personal data of 173,000 workers, around three-fourths of its workforce, for signs of dubious relations with suppliers.

The resulting outcry eventually led to the resignation of the firm’s chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn.

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

Germany: Jewish Council Backs New Mein Kampf Edition

The Central Council of Jews advocates the publication of a scholarly edition of Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf,” broadcaster 3SAT reported on Wednesday.

Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the council told the broadcaster that despite having reservations, it would be “sensible and important” to publish an edition that included commentary from scholars.

In late June, Bavaria’s science minister Wolfgang Heubisch said he advocated a new annotated edition of the book ahead of December 31, 2015, the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s death and when the German state’s exclusive copyrights to the work expire. Plans for the project are underway at Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ).

But some critics say that re-issuing the controversial book would offend survivors of the Holocaust. Hitler used the book’s ideology to justify the murder more than six million Jews before and during World War II. The state has forbidden the reproduction of the text due to fears of its misuse.

But Kramer said there must be a “scholarly historically critical edition in preparation today just to prevent future racketeering by neo-Nazis.”

First published in 1925, “Mein Kampf,” or “My Struggle,” is an autobiographical outline of the Nazi dictator’s political ideology written during a four-year stint in prison after a failed attempt to start a revolution in 1923.

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

Germany: Nazi Hit Man Trial to Start in October

BERLIN — Admitted Nazi hit man Heinrich Boere will go on trial in October for the execution-style killings of three Dutch civilians during World War II, a German court spokesman said Tuesday.

The Aachen state court has scheduled 13 court sessions for Boere’s trial on three counts of murder, to begin Oct. 28 and run through Dec. 18, spokesman Georg Winkel said.

Boere, 88, was ruled fit to stand trial last month, despite suffering medical problems. A Cologne appeals court overturned a lower court’s decision earlier this year not to put him on trial.

It was not yet clear whether the trial sessions would be limited in length in deference to Boere’s age and health issues, Winkel said, though that is usually the case in such situations. He said more trial dates could be added if necessary.

Boere’s attorney, Gordon Christiansen, was not available for comment, his office said. Christiansen has said that his client suffers a serious heart condition.

Boere is accused of the 1944 killings of three men in the Netherlands when he was a member of a Waffen SS death squad that targeted civilians in reprisal killings for resistance attacks.

The son of a Dutch man and German woman, Boere was 18 when he joined the Waffen SS — the fanatical military organization faithful to Adolf Hitler’s ideology — at the end of 1940, only months after the Netherlands had fallen to the Nazi blitzkrieg.

Boere was sentenced to death in absentia by a Dutch court in 1949, later commuted to life imprisonment.

The Netherlands has sought Boere’s extradition, but a German court refused it in 1983 refused on grounds that he might have German citizenship. Germany had no provision at the time to extradite its nationals.

An Aachen court ruled in 2007 that Boere could legally serve his Dutch sentence in Germany, but an appeals court in Cologne overturned that ruling, calling the 1949 conviction invalid because Boere was not there to present a defense. He had fled to Germany.

Dortmund prosecutors then reopened the case, relying heavily on statements to Dutch police preserved in the court file in which Boere details the killings, almost gunshot by gunshot.

Besides the police statements, Boere also gave an interview to the Netherlands’ Algemeen Dagblad newspaper in 2006 in which he recalled slaying bicycle-shop owner Teun de Groot when he answered the doorbell at his home in the town of Voorschoten.

“When we knew for sure we had the right person, we shot him dead, at the door,” he was quoted as saying. “I didn’t feel anything, it was work. Orders were orders, otherwise it would have meant my skin. Later it began to bother me. Now I’m sorry.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Germany’s Hitler-Style ‘Youth Camp’ Closed Down

London, Aug. 5 : The plans of Germany’s pro-Hitler party to open a Third Reich-style ‘youth camp’ in a small village have been scrapped by a court ruling, which directed Neo-Nazis to evict the hotel premises.

A court in Lower Saxony cleared the way for the debt-ridden hotel owner Jens Wilhelm to throw out the Neo-Nazis, who had been occupying the premises amid a tense standoff with police and local anti-Nazi protesters, The Telegraph reports.Hours before the decision, German commandos had raided the hotel after hearing what they thought to be gunshots.

They found several fake firearms, a concealable truncheon and pepper spray. Twelve neo-Nazis were on the premises, four of whom were minors and were handed over to youth services.

Later, the eight remaining Neo-Nazis, masked and hooded, a police spokesman said.

Earlier, the owners of the hotel had signed a 10-year lease with Jürgen Rieger, a senior member of German Neo-Nazi National Democratic Party.

Rieger’s idea was to convert the old hotel into a pilgrimage for NPD devotees, where they can learn about the ‘menace’ of immigration, the ‘criminality’ of Roma gypsies and the ‘innate decency of law-abiding German nationalists.’

Rieger, 61, has also tried to open Boys From Brazil-style ‘breeding centres’ in other locations. The plan being for all white, Aryan racists like himself to produce offspring to people the Fourth Reich, which he believes will emerge one day.

Wilhelm was rejected a court order to force the neo-Nazis off the property. Soon after followed violent protests by Left-wing, anti-Nazi groups near the 80-room property.

Rieger was also trying to open a museum in Wolfsburg dedicated to the Nazi leisure organisation Strength Through Joy.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

German Jewish Head Wants Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ Republished

The head of Germany’s leading Jewish group called on Wednesday for an annotated version of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography-cum-manifesto “Mein Kampf” to be republished despite a ban.

Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany told ZDF television: “I think it makes sense and it is important to publish an edition of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” with an academic commentary.” Kramer added: “An academic and historically critical edition needs to be prepared today, to prevent neo-Nazis profiting from it.”

“Mein Kampf” has been banned in Germany since the end of World War II, and the southern state of Bavaria holds the rights until 70 years after the Nazi dictator’s death in 1945.

However, in June, a Bavarian minister added his voice to calls for the work to be republished with a critical commentary to avoid it being misused by far-right groups when the rights expire in 2015.

Wolfgang Heubisch, science and research minister, said: “There is a danger that charlatans and neo-Nazis could seize this disgraceful work when Bavaria’s rights run out.”

“Therefore I am of the opinion there should be a decently prepared and well-grounded critical edition.”

The book, written in 1924 when Hitler was languishing in a Bavarian prison, combines elements of autobiography and sets out his views on Aryan racial purity, his hatred of Jews and his opposition to communism.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Greek Cypriots Tired of Endless Talks

Greek Cypriots admit that although peace talks between their side and Turkish Cyprus have become an everyday fixture, not many care to follow the process.

Greek Cypriots of different backgrounds admit that although ongoing peace talks between their side and Turkish Cyprus have become an everyday fixture in Cypriot politics, not many care to follow the process. On the condition of autonomy, many also note that they prefer a separation to living with Turkish Cypriots.

Eleni, a 40-year-old shop assistant in Nicosia, starts by stating she is no longer interested in actively following the negotiations. “They are just continuing. I don’t see any proper solution in view. In fact, I no longer even believe there will be a solution,” she said, after only giving her first name. Three Greek Cypriot ladies in the shoe store she works in nod in agreement.

Eleni’s family members are refugees from Kyrenia in northern Cyprus, and she has visited the other side several times. “We should continue living as we do today — separately,” she said.

Maria, a cosmetologist from Nicosia, also does not believe in a solution. “I am skeptical, it’s just talks again. I don’t think there will be any solution,” she said. “But if there is ever a solution, I would prefer to live in separate states, like today. So that I can live separately but go to visit places on the other side.”

Maria said one of the reasons she preferred living separately from Turkish Cypriots was “their different mentality.” “I think they don’t have the same Cypriot mentality,” she said. “They are somehow more conservative than us.”

Maria was only 5 years old during the Turkish intervention on Cyprus and has vivid memories from the summer of 1974. She has visited the other side a couple of times but has no refugee background. “During my visits to the Turkish side, I felt sad because I saw places where people I know used to live. The beaches where they used to go, their houses …

“In the summer of 1974, I remember the bombs. There was no electricity for a while. We went to my mother’s village and stayed the night in a school with all the others,” she said. When asked if she understands the Turkish Cypriots’ concerns about physical safety on the island, her answer was swift and clear: “Yes.”

Solution rests with Turkey

In central Nicosia, Panayiotis, 37, believes any solution will depend on Turkey. He regularly deals with Turkish Cypriots coming to visit the Greek side but has never discussed current affairs or everyday life with a Turkish Cypriot. “No matter what Greeks say, the solution rests with Turkey. They have the upper hand. But the problem has become such an everyday issue that many of those, who are not from the north, have grown nearly indifferent,” he said.

During a daylong random poll of Nicosians, only a 68-year-old Greek Cypriot retiree declared he would like to live with Turkish Cypriots. His ideal future Cyprus is reminiscent of the vision of Greek Cypriot nationalists in the early 1960s who aimed to reduce the minority rights given to Turkish Cypriots by the 1960 Constitution and allocate power to the island’s Greek majority.

“The solution should be something logical, in accordance with the demographics here. The population of Cyprus consists of 82 percent of Greeks and 18 percent of Turks. I hope there will be one state under Greek majority rule,” he said. “Unfortunately, our government has accepted Turkish Cypriots as an entity.”

The pensioner has fond memories of life with Turkish Cypriots. “I’m now married, but when I was single I knew a lot of nice Turkish ladies. Two-thirds of our village in Skiloura [today in the north] used to be Greeks, the remaining Turks,” he said.

“My father was the muhtar, village chief for the Greeks there,” he said. “I wanted to marry the daughter of our village’s Turkish muhtar, but my father didn’t allow it because of our different religions.”

When Turkish forces arrived on the island in July 1974 the pensioner, then 33, remembers vividly taking his car and driving toward the mountains south of Nicosia.

“The war broke out because Turks wanted to live all around the island. We didn’t like that,” he said. “Since 1974, I haven’t been to the other side. My nephews went there and advised me not to go, saying it would hurt me so much and I would end up in hospital.”

The pensioner, who voted against the so-called Annan Plan in 2004, added that if negotiations fail, life in Cyprus could go on as it is today. “I voted ‘no’ as it meant some of the Turkish soldiers would have stayed here. We can live together with the Turks, but we should get our property back.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Italy: Energy Giant Endorses Nuclear Deal With French Firm

Rome, 3 August (AKI) — Italian energy giant Enel and French electricity firm EDF have announced the creation of a joint venture expected to pave the way for the construction of four nuclear reactors designed to revive Italy’s nuclear programme. The decision, announced on Monday, follows an agreement between the two energy providers in February 2009 during a summit in Rome.

Italy shut down its four nuclear power plants after a referendum held the year after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Italy signed an historic agreement on nuclear cooperation with France when prime minister Silvio Berlusconi met president Nicolas Sarkozy in Rome in February.

Under the new agreement, both companies will have a 50 percent stake in the venture which will be headquartered in Rome.

“The creation of this joint venture lays the ground for a concrete come back of the nuclear industry in Italy and represents a unique opportunity for contributing to the recovery of the country’s economy, creating specialised jobs and increasing employment,” said CEO and general manager of Enel, Fulvio Conti.

“In the past few years Enel has been able to rebuild the nuclear skills and expertise, thanks to its international operations and we are now ready to take the lead of the Italian nuclear programme in co-operation with EDF, a world key player in this industry.”

The move represents a major policy change for Italy, which following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, closed down its four nuclear power plants due to widespread concern about saftey and nuclear waste as an issue, as well as the high cost of producing nuclear energy.

EDF, the world’s biggest operator of nuclear power plants, said it was enthusiastic about working with Enel and Italy’s relaunch of nuclear production.

As of today, Italy is a net energy importer and acquires a substantial share of its electricity from France.

While there has a moratorium on the construction of new plants, the Berlusconi government has flagged the possibility of new nuclear plants because of Italy’s dependence on energy imports.

Italy has been paying for the referendum decision with energy costs higher than most other European nations.

Italy also imports a substantial part of its electricity from France where nuclear power is one of the main sources of energy.

Many French nuclear power plants are located near the Italian border, making Italy vulnerable to nuclear disasters, even though none are present on its soil.

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

Italy: PM’s Daughter Says Politicians Should Uphold Values

Rome, 4 August (AKI) — The daughter of the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has told a top weekly magazine that politicians must uphold family values and cannot separate their public and private lives. In her first interview since the publication of lurid audio tapes which included her father’s alleged conversation with a prostitute, Barbara Berlusconi said she recognised, as he said, he was not a “saint”.

“I think a society expresses a sense of common morality,” she said. “Political representatives are called upon to govern well, to make the community prosper and to also safeguard the values which are expressed, possibly even raise them.

“So I do not believe that a politician can make a distinction between his public and private life.”

The prime minister has five children — two from his first marriage and three, including Barbara, from his second marriage to former actress Veronica Lario.

Barbara Berlusconi said the birth of her first son, Alessandro, had created “greater harmony” between her parents. In July she gave birth to her second son, Edoardo.

Asked about her father’s alleged relationship with teenage lingerie model and aspiring actress Noemi Letizia, she said: “That astonished me and it is not something I can relate to. I don’t go out with old men.”

While there’s speculation about potential conflict over family inheritance between the children from Berlusconi’s two marriages, Barbara Berlusconi dismissed the suggestion.

“As of today there is no conflict. And if my father is a just and fair man, there will not be any in the future.”

Barbara Berlusconi posed for photographs with her new baby, Edoardo, at Villa Belvedere Visconti di Modrone near Milan, where she lives with her companion, Giorgio Valaguzza.

She also discussed her experience as a mother and the possibility of returning to work at her father’s publishing house, Mondadori.

Barbara Berlusconi also confirmed that she would holiday with her family and friend at her father’s luxurious Villa Certosa in Sardinia.

“It will be a restful summer with the family,” she said.

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

Most Icelanders Opposed to EU Membership

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Less than two weeks after Iceland formally applied to join the European Union, a Capacent Gallup poll published in the country’s largest daily, Morgunbladid, has shown that most Icelanders are cold on membership.

A majority of 48.5 percent is now opposed to entering the EU, 34.7 percent of people are in favor and 16.9 percent are undecided, the survey shows. The study was conducted between 16 and 27 July 2009 among 1,273 people.

The new poll suggests a swing to the No camp of almost 10 per cent since the last survey, conducted by the same company in spring.

In May, 38.6 percent was opposed to EU membership, 39 percent of people were in favor and 22.4 percent were undecided.

A slim majority in the newly elected Icelandic parliament, the Althing, decided last month (16 July) to back a bid for EU membership.

Iceland’s minister of foreign affairs, Ossur Skarphedinsson, submitted the request to his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, representing the Swedish EU presidency, a few days later.

If the EU negotiations go smoothly, Icelanders will eventually be asked to approve accession in a referendum, according to a deal between the political parties in Iceland.

The new opinion poll was published on the same day as news emerged about the reasons behind the financial collapse last year of the country’s biggest bank, Kaupthing Bank.

An internal risk analysis report from the bank has been leaked via the WikiLeaks whistleblower website. The text shows how the bank’s loan committee lent huge sums to a handful of named companies just two weeks before the system broke down last October.

The biggest loans, which total more than €6 billion, were given to companies who were at the same time major shareholders in the bank.

“The only securities for the loans were the shares themselves. So there was nothing behind this capital,” said Vilhjalmur Bjarnason, director of the Iceland Shareholders Association and a lecturer in business at the University of Iceland, according to AP.

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

New NATO Chief Vows to Fulfill Turkey Commitments

New NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen hopes to fulfill the commitments he made to Turkey before he was appointed to the post

The new secretary-general of NATO, former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses, a press conference at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels on Monday. AFP PHOTO/John THYS

New NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday that he hoped to fulfill the commitments he made to Turkey before he was appointed to the post.

When reporters recalled the agreement he reached with Turkey in the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit in April, Rasmussen, who took office earlier in the day as NATO’s new secretary-general, said they had reached a common understanding with Turkey and that he had full confidence that the agreement would be fulfilled.

Noting that he would do his best to fulfill the commitments, Rasmussen said he also believed in the support of NATO members, reported Anatolia news agency. He also said that eliminating obstacles before EU-NATO cooperation would be one of his priorities, adding that this would be the main issue he discusses during his visits to Turkey and Greece.

During a NATO meeting in April, Rasmussen said he would closely cooperate with Turkey during his term in office and that Turkey was an important NATO member that acts as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East.

He also said Danish police and prosecutors were carrying out an investigation into whether Roj TV, which broadcasts from Denmark, had an economic connection with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and whether its broadcasts provoked terrorism.

The military alliance’s new civilian chief also said Monday that NATO needs more international help from the United Nations and European Union to secure and rebuild Afghanistan.

“NATO will do its part, but it cannot do it alone. This needs to be an international effort, both military and civilian,” The Associated Press quoted him as saying. Fogh Rasmussen said his top priorities would be guiding the war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion, repairing ties with Russia that were further strained by last year’s Russo-Georgian war, and expanding NATO’s partnership with moderate nations in North Africa and the Middle East.

NATO has about 64,000 soldiers in Afghanistan — half of them Americans — where they are struggling to contain an escalating Taliban insurgency. More than 20,000 new U.S. troops are being deployed, but European allies have been reluctant to increase their contributions to the international force.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Novartis Starts Testing Its Swine Flu Vaccine

LONDON — Swiss drugmaker Novartis says it has begun injecting its swine flu vaccine into people for its first human tests.

Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff says a person in Britain became the first person to get its swine flu vaccine about 10 days ago.

The vaccine is being tested in a yearlong trial in about 6,000 people in Britain, Germany and the United States.

Althoff said the vaccine will likely be on the market before the trial finishes.

European and U.S. regulators have a fast-track approval process for swine flu vaccines that will allow them to be sold before extensive safety data are available.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Turkey’s EU Accession Would Stabilize Region, Says German Minister

Turkey’s accession to the EU will stabilize the world’s most delicate region, a German minister says.

Turkey’s accession to the European Union would stabilize the world’s most delicate region and be a source of motivation for neighboring countries, according to German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Association at Bilgi University in Istanbul on Monday, Wieczorek-Zeul extended support to Turkey’s EU bid and said Europe and Turkey would be stronger together. She referred to the attention paid by Middle East countries and Turkey’s other neighbors to Turkey’s EU membership.

“Turkey has a say in several key organizations, such as the Group of 20 and NATO. This shows Turkey’s importance over hot international topics,” she said. “The relationship between Turkey and the European Union has been followed closely in the near region and the Middle East. Our main aim is to support the [EU] process with constructive ways and to help for a final solution. We will continue to support Turkey’s membership bid.”

Along with France, Germany is one of the main opponents of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Instead, the two key EU countries propose a privileged membership to Turkey, but Ankara has repeatedly said its aim is full membership.

In the run-up to European Parliament election in June, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both questioned the reason of accepting a predominantly Muslim country of more than 70 million people into the bloc. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan accused Germany and France of stalling its European Union membership bid during his visit to Brussels in June.

Still, German Minister Wieczorek-Zeul also said 22 out of 27 EU member states support Turkey’s accession to the EU, pointing out that the accession criteria are applied to all candidates alike and that these should not be misinterpreted.

The EU and Turkey should implement common policies for development as an expression of common interests and values, Wieczorek-Zeul said, adding: “We will be stronger if we succeed in solid unity. Turkey’s EU membership will prompt stability in the world’s fragile regions, and it will be a source of motivation for neighboring countries.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Extremists Call for Caliphate in London

Furious Londoners are demanding to know why a Muslim extremist organisation they say is ‘peddling divisive hatred’ was allowed to hold a conference for 2,000 people in London’s East End.

Residents of Tower Hamlets, a London borough to the east of the City of London and north of the River Thames in East London, have contacted their local councillors about Hizb ut-Tahrir taking over Stepney’s Troxy theatre for the conference on Sunday, 26 July 2009, with police being deployed outside.

Tim Archer, a council Tory Opposition deputy leader, said: “It is extremely dangerous that this organisation is coming to the East End. Hizb ut-Tahrir is known for peddling hatred and violence that can be divisive in the community. (See the East London Advertiser report)

Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international pan-Islamist Sunni political group whose goal is to combine all Muslim countries in a unitary Islamic state or caliphate, have conducted its conference The Struggle for Islam and the call for Khilafah in London. The group addressed “the issue of terrorism and extremism Western governments have embarked on a campaign to prevent the Muslim world establishing an Islamic government, the Caliphate that will free the Muslim world from the terror and hegemony that has been brought upon it by the West.”

Voices at the conference stated that “on a daily basis, Muslims are subjected to insults and attacks in the media on their Aqeeda, the hijab, Shariah and Khilafah.

(See the Hizb ut-Tahrir press release)

The arguments at the conference were expressed at the time when a recent study by the think-tank Civitas found that there are at least 85 Islamic sharia courts operating in Britain. The number being almost 20 times as many as previously believed.

(See the CCFON report).

In addition, a large number of recent media reports state that this September will see new courses and postgraduate qualifications in Islamic finance springing up throughout the UK and elsewhere in Europe. In the UK, interest in the sector also reflects the government’s commitment to promoting Britain as an Islamic finance centre. The UK already leads Europe in the number of Islamic finance training courses it offers, from entry to postgraduate level, and in 2006 saw the launch of the Islamic Finance Qualification, a joint initiative between a Lebanese business school and the Securities and Investment Institute, The Guardian reports.

Last week, Dudley Council lost its appeal at the High Court against building a new £18m mosque and community centre in the West Midlands.. The council originally turned down the application to build the mosque on the grounds that the land had been designated for employment purposes. The case cost taxpayers around £16,000. The mosque is now set to be built in the centre of a Black Country town after the High Court threw out the council’s challenge.

(See the BBC News report)

Yesterday, female police officers were ordered to dress up as Muslim women for the day in order to “see what it felt like.” They wore traditional burkhas as part of a scheme designed to help police interact better with the Islamic community. (See the Daily Telegraph report)

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has begun to equip its female officers with a uniform issue hijab to wear when they enter a mosque. (See The Times report)

In 2003 and 2006, the BBC and The Guardian have cited the extremist activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Denmark as evidence that its members view Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel as legitimate acts of resistance.

           — Hat tip: VH [Return to headlines]

UK: Midlands Former Soldier Claims Troops Smuggle Weapons to Gangs

Add a commentRecommendBritish troops are smuggling guns and drugs into the UK and Europe and selling them on to criminal gangs, a former soldier from the Midlands has claimed

The ex-serviceman said it was “mega-easy” to bring back weapons from Iraq and Afghanistan and said some soldiers had become adept at hiding weapons and shipping them back from the frontline.

Handguns are brought back inside field radios and tool boxes — while grenades are hidden inside tank gun barrels for collection on arrival in Britain or Europe, he said

The crooked soldiers also concealed weapons in the fuel tanks of armoured vehicles and inside wheels to avoid detection.

“A lot of weapons get back to the UK, but some end up in military bases in countries like Germany and are then sold to European criminal gangs,’’ said the former Midlands serviceman.

“It’s mega-easy to smuggle them back. The military will say that this is isolated, or that the systems in place are 100 per cent safe — but that isn’t the case.

“Smuggling goes on a lot because it would take days to search everything and the military simply don’t have the time or manpower to do it.

“It’s the system that’s wrong — just like MPs’ expenses. If the system can be abused it will be abused and this will carry on if things are not tightened up.’’

He said many of the smuggled arms were offered for sale by crooked Iraqi cops.

The former serviceman — who did not want to be named — claimed: “The lads would never risk smuggling weapons in their kitbags as they know they will get searched.

“But if anything is found in a vehicle or a container there’s no way of tracing it back to any individual soldier.

“It’s mainly handguns being brought back, because a rifle would have to be broken down and split up. If any part of the whole rifle is intercepted then the weapon is useless.

“Having said that, British military weapons and ammunition go missing all the time and where do you think they end up?”

A Birmingham soldier who served in Iraq was jailed for seven years in 2006 for handling a stolen rifle.

L/Cpl James Piotrowski, from Northfield, pleaded guilty to possessing and handling the SA80 after another soldier stole it from a barracks in London.

The soldier, who served for three months in Iraq with the Irish Guards, had been at the centre of a manhunt in Birmingham when he went missing from his barracks in November 2004.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: ‘“This is a serious issue and we have a huge responsibility to stop military personnel from abusing the position of trust they are in.

“There are procedures and processes in place to stop this from happening and they are fully aware of the rules.

“When personnel return from theatre (war zones) there is a system in place that replicates that of Revenue and Customs for anyone coming into the UK.”

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

UK: Passwords Stolen for Tax Returns

Gangs are stealing taxpayers’ passwords and submitting claims for tax refunds to be paid to them, HM Revenue and Customs has warned.

A series of attempted fraudulent claims through the self-assessment repayments system has been discovered.

No figures have been released outlining the extent of the fraud, but a HMRC spokesman said this was a new method of trying to extract money.

He urged people to ensure passwords sent to them by HMRC were kept secure.

“They should treat these details as carefully as they would a Pin for their bank account,” he said.


More than 9.5 million taxpayers are in the self-assessment system, which was changed this year to encourage more people to submit their details via the internet.

Two-thirds of all filings for 2007-08 were submitted via the internet, rather than on paper.

When people apply to use the system they are sent a password through the mail which is then used when the taxpayer logs onto the HMRC website over the following 30 days.

However, fraudsters have been getting hold of these passwords and other personal details. This could have been by stealing the mail, tricking people out of the details or even finding the letters discarded in bins.

They then used these details to make fraudulent repayment claims, requesting funds be sent to other bank accounts.

The HMRC spokesman said this was different from so-called phishing e-mails which pretended to be from the tax authority and aimed to discover taxpayers’ banking details so their accounts could be raided.

Liability for any losses would be judged on a case-by-case basis, he added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Sin Bins for Worst Families

THOUSANDS of the worst families in England are to be put in “sin bins” in a bid to change their bad behaviour, Ed Balls announced yesterday.

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes.

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

Around 2,000 families have gone through these Family Intervention Projects so far.

But ministers want to target 20,000 more in the next two years, with each costing between £5,000 and £20,000 — a potential total bill of £400million.

Ministers hope the move will reduce the number of youngsters who get drawn into crime because of their chaotic family lives, as portrayed in Channel 4 comedy drama Shameless.

Sin bin projects operate in half of council areas already but Mr Balls wants every local authority to fund them.

He said: “This is pretty tough and non-negotiable support for families to get to the root of the problem. There should be Family Intervention Projects in every local authority area because every area has families that need support.”

But Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: “This is all much too little, much too late.

“This Government has been in power for more than a decade during which time anti-social behaviour, family breakdown and problems like alcohol abuse and truancy have just got worse and worse.”

           — Hat tip: Pundita [Return to headlines]

UK: Terror Attack Relatives Criticise Suicide Bomber Comedy Series

A comedy series about a gang of bungling Muslim suicide bombers, Living With The Infidels, has been criticised by relatives of one of the London terror attack victims.

The five-part creation, which is to be posted on YouTube and already has a tribute page on Facebook, tells the spoof story of a five-strong group who plan to wipe out Bradford with a chemical bomb so they can all go to Paradise.

One character called Psycho Ali shows off a device “to protect his manhood in the event of a suicide bomb” for when meets the 72 virgins promised to martyrs.

The series was made by former advertising commercials director Aasaf Ainapore, and its YouTube page says it has been “developed with the support of a senior member of the Muslim Council of Britain”.

Veronica Cassidy, whose son Ciaran, 22, died in the London Tube bombings, told The Sun: “Who is going to find this funny? I won’t be watching it.”

The synopsis of the series says: “Initially set on a path to martyrdom, Yorkshire’s jihadi warriors discover the West isn’t as bad as it seems. Tempted by the likes of Man U, cable TV and ample Abi upstairs, what’s a man to do? Will they find Paradise in the arms of seventy-two virgins, or is Shangri-La closer to home, propped up at the bar in The Dog and Duck?”

Mr Ainapore told the Daily Telegraph he could not be quoted about the series because he had “agreed an exclusive” with another newspaper but that he had consulted Abdurahman Jafar, a senior member of the Muslim Council of Britain, throughout the development of the series.

The first episode, entitled Ample Abi, is five and a half minutes long and is schedule to go online on August 20.

The series was written by theatre writer Kira-Anne Pelican and “fully financed” by Mr Ainapore.

Mr Ainapore’s website says he has directed commercials and short films “as well as written projects for Pathe” and Film4. He has previously been a visiting lecturer at the London Film School and the National Film and Television School.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]


Croat Leader Condemns War Crimes Against Serbs

Croatian President Stipe Mesic denounced Wednesday wartime atrocities committed against Serbs on the 14th anniversary of a military offensive that brought independence.

“I condemn today and here, again without hesitation, all crimes committed during the patriotic war,” Mesic said during a ceremony in the southern town of Knin.

Crimes during Operation Storm against Serbs should be denounced “even more strongly as they cast a shadown on the noble fight by Croatian defenders and their sacrifice,” he said in a speech broadcast on national radio.

Launched on August 4, 1995, the offensive saw Croatian forces swiftly retake one third of the former Yugoslav republic held by rebel Serbs then backed by Belgrade under late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Three former Croatian generals are being tried for war crimes committed against Serbs during the offensive which claimed hundreds of lives and triggered a mass exodus of Serb civilians to Bosnia and Serbia.

The United Nations estimates about 280,000 ethnic Serbs fled Croatia during its 1991-1995 war of independence. So far around 130,000 have returned, while many have settled permanently abroad.

Resolving the fate of the refugees is a key condition that Croatia is expected to meet in order to fulfill its aim of becoming a member of the European Union by 2011.(AFP)

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Kosovo: Bosnian Muslim Leader’s Visit Sparks Protests

Belgrade, 5 August (AKI) — Bosnian Muslims’ spiritual leader Reiss-ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric, on Wednesday began a three-day visit to Kosovo, angering local Serb leaders who described his visit as a “provocation”. It is Ceric’s first visit to Kosovo since it declared independence last year — a move backed by most Bosnian Muslims.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said Ceric’s visit to Kosovo was “inappropriate”, because Bosnia has not officially recognised Kosovo.

Dodik accused Ceric of being “an important ideologue of Islamic policy, who interferes not only in internal matters of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the entire region”.

Ceric’s visit was officially billed as a visit to the “Islamic community of the Republic of Kosovo”.

Belgrade doesn’t recognise Kosovo independence and has not given up its diplomatic battle to retain Kosovo within Serbia’s borders.

Kosovo ethnic Albanians are overwhelmingly Muslim. Besides a tiny Serb minority, there is also a small Muslim community of Slavic origin who call themselves Bosniacs.

Ceric drew sharp criticism during his recent visit to the southwestern Serbian region of Sandzak, where Muslims form the largest group.

“Nothing could separate Muslims in Serbia from those in Bosnia,” he said.

Ceric was scheduled to meet Kosovo Muslim religious leaders, president Fatmir Sejdiu and other officials during his visit.

He will also visit a memorial to Adem Jasari, a leader of the Kosovo Albanian rebellion against Serbian rule, whose entire family was killed by Serbian forces in 1998.

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

Tearing Up of Serbia: Albanians Want East Kosovo

Albanians from the south of the country want a separate region because the issue of Kosovo has not been solved. Serbs are refusing the idea.

Albanians from southern Serbia have started an initiative for the forming of a special region Presevo Valley. But the Belgrade political public sees this as an unacceptable act of separatism, Serbia’s Kurir reported.

Albanian parties forwarded to the Serbian government a request for the formation of Albanian regional institutions and the separate region of Presevo Valley, which would mean, according to the Kurir daily, the introduction of special institutions which would entail financing from EU funds.

Assemblies of the Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac municipalities requested of the Serbian government to speed up talks on regionalisation, with international mediation.

– The latest document is a response to the irresponsible relation of the Serbian government towards the problems and demands of Albanians in the south of Serbia — Riza Halimi, leader of the PDP, said.

‘Request for regionalisation is politically motivated’

But the president of the coordination for the south of Serbia, Milan Markovic, says the Albanians’ request is unrealistic and politically motivated.

– I think that such ideas do not go hand in hand with ideas that advocate a better life in the south of Serbia — Markovic said.

Dusan Janjic, director of the Forum for Ethnic Relations, said this is a reactivation of the idea of an exchange of territory.

– It is true that the old story on the exchange of territory is being renewed again because the status of Kosovo has still not been defined. This government is only looking how to get more Kosovo territory and is not thinking about the possible reactions. And one of the reactions is this, a request for a new region or, as the Albanians call it, eastern Kosovo — Janjic said.

The coordinator of a working group for the preparation of a solution for regionalisation, Suzana Grubjesic, believes that regionalisation would contribute to the destabilisation and disintegration of Serbia.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

End Rift, King Tells Palestinians

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

King Abdullah expressed these sentiments in a message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who opened the Fatah movement’s first congress in 20 years in Bethlehem on Tuesday.

“I frankly tell you that all that the arrogant and lawbreaking enemy could not do to the Palestinian cause over the past long years of continuous aggression the Palestinians themselves have done in a few months. I am telling you the truth, if the whole world jointly strove to establish an independent Palestinian state but the Palestinian house remained divided, nothing would be achieved.” The king quoted verses of the Holy Qur’an referring to the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque and stressed the significance of the real spiritual unity between the people of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“I entreat you in the name of Allah to rise above your pettiness and divisions to unite your ranks. If you do so then victory from God will be with you shortly.”

Opening the Fatah conference in Bethlehem, Abbas said Palestinians sought peace with Israel but “resistance” would remain an option. “Although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance, legitimate under international law,” Abbas said.

Officials said a draft of Fatah’s program called for new forms of resistance, such as civil disobedience, against Jewish settlement expansion and a West Bank wall Israel says is for security but which Palestinians see as a land grab.

The draft leaves the option of “armed struggle” on the charter of Fatah if talks with Israel fail, and does not rule out a unilateral declaration of statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if negotiations remain at a stalemate.

But Abbas stressed to the congress that Fatah had endorsed the 1993 Oslo Accords, which specifically recognize Israel, and was abiding by all of its obligations under the 2003 road map to peace and a two-state agreement with Israel.

Asked about Abbas’ reference to “resistance,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Israel seeks historic reconciliation with our Palestinian neighbors — we want peace and the best way to achieve that is around the negotiating table.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has held a series of meetings with Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell, said Israel should accept a plan Mitchell was expected to present to the parties “in the coming weeks.”

Tight security was in place as more than 2,000 delegates convened in a Christian school near the Church of the Nativity for the first Fatah congress since a gathering in Tunis in 1989.

More than 300 Fatah delegates living in the Gaza Strip were banned from going to Bethlehem by Gaza’s ruler, Hamas, whose fighters kicked Fatah out of the enclave in 2007.

Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas leader, said Abbas’ speech was full of “fallacies and lies.”

He accused Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) of complicity in Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza earlier this year. He said several European countries told Hamas that the PA “participated in the blockade on Gaza.”

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum also slammed Abbas’ speech as “hostile.” “This is a hostile speech and does not bode well for reconciliation (between Fatah and Hamas),” he said.

Barhoum was referring to Abbas’ statement at the convention blasting Hamas for preventing the Gaza-based Fatah members from joining the conference. Despite months of reconciliation efforts by Egyptian mediators, the two factions remain mutually hostile.

Abbas said neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian faction had the right to choose on its own what future “resistance” against Israeli occupation should entail. “No one can … take us to where we do not want to be,” he said, echoing past criticism of Hamas attacks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Fatah Holds First Party Congress in 20 Years

Party remains open to dialogue with Israel but armed struggle still a possibility. Movement faces many internal problems like corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and youth marginalisation.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) — More than 2,000 delegates are convening in the town of Bethlehem for Fatah’s first congress in 20 years under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. The three-day meeting should see delegates discuss a new party platform, rejuvenate the movement and launch a path for dialogue with Israel.

Under its rules Fatah has to hold a congress every five years, but the last one was celebrated in 1989. After that Arafat, who avoided challenges to his authority, kept postponing the meeting.

In its 41-page draft proposal, the movement looks at the dramatic events in the last 20 years. It proposes to push to the sidelines a call to “armed struggle” against Israel, without dropping it altogether.

It calls for an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank, a condition also demanded by the United States but which has fallen on the deaf ears of Israel’s hard line Netanyahu government.

But the movement has even greater challenges. It is plagued by corruption, nepotism and inefficiency, which led the former ruling party to lose ground to the radical Islamist Hamas movement, now ruling Gaza.

Some 400 Fatah delegates from Gaza may in fact not be able to attend the congress because Hamas wants the release of its militants imprisoned in Fatah-controlled West Bank.

Party renewal is also a difficult proposition. Since Arafat’s death in 2004 members of Fatah’s younger generation have met the opposition of the movement’s old guard, who are reluctant to easily step aside.

Only about one-fourth of the more than 2,000 delegates were elected by the rank-and-file. The rest were picked by Abbas and a small committee, in what could turn out to be an obstacle to sweeping leadership changes.

Delegates will elect two leadership committees, one with 18 seats and the second with 120.Abbas’ job as party leader is not up for a vote.

Young delegates hope to elect Marwan Barghouti, the charismatic former leader of the Palestinian uprising who is now in an Israeli jail.

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

Middle East

Barry Rubin: Obama Administration Recognizes Ahmadinejad as President

No, I don’t want to keep writing every day about the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy. There are many other topics I’d prefer, but the problem is that they keep doing things.

Now the White House has recognized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “the elected leader” of Iran, in the words of White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Let’s be clear here. It would be understandable, though worthy of serious debate, if the U.S. government said that Ahmadinejad was the de facto leader of Iran. What was called for here was a little sneer, a little sarcasm. Something like: He is in fact the president and so we have to face the fact that he’s running the country. Or even, If we are going to deal with Iran in any way, we must recognize that he is functioning as president.

There needed to be some reservation, some caveat, some hope thrown to the millions of brave oppositionists who are being beaten, arrested, tried in court, or even murdered.

But what we got was this, quoting the AP dispatch:

“Gibbs was asked [August 4] if the White House recognized Ahmadinejad as the country’s legitimate president.

“‘He’s the elected leader,’ Gibbs responded.”

Did you catch that? In the context, and every detail is carefully orchestrated to send the proper message, Gibbs did two things:

First, he implied that Ahmadinejad is the legitimate president, that is he is properly president, that his placement in office was legally and properly done.

Second, he reinforced this idea and went further, in effect endorsing the election as fair and Ahmadinejad as the winner. “Elected president” means he got the most votes, right?

Was this an error? Did Gibbs mess up? Did the State Department get on the phones to the White House and urge some “qualification” on this statement? We will see but no hint of that yet.

This is deeply and profoundly wrong…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Choosing My Religion: Turkish Reality TV Show Aims to Convert Non-Believers

A new reality television show has rabbis, priests, imams and monks trying to make non-believers pious. The Vatican is reportedly sending a priest, a Buddhist monk has been recruited and atheists who convert will win a trip to a holy site. The Muslim religious authority in Turkey is not amused.

Channel T is not exactly one of the major players in the Turkish television business. And the niche station, tucked away in a commercial area of Istanbul, has made headlines primarily because of the woman who runs it, Seyhan Soylu. Often simply called “Sisi” by the press, the 36 year old is a former police officer and journalist, a transsexual and the enfant terrible of Turkey.

At 20, the son of a diplomat and graduate of a police academy had a sex change operation. At 22, Sisi appeared on the cover page of an issue of Playboy, and since then she has developed an interest in politics on a bigger scale. As an employee of “state services,” Soylu allegedly took part in the overthrow of fundamentalist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1997. Last September, the eloquent blonde with the tattooed upper arms was even arrested and briefly detained on suspicion of membership in Ergenekon, a shadowy, ultra-nationalist organization Ankara believes has plotted to overthrow the government.

So perhaps it comes as no surprise that Sisi also happens to be the force behind the country’s most controversial television program. For weeks, a reality show dreamed up by the head of Channel T and called “Tövbekarlar yarisiyor” (“Penitents Compete”) has been at the center of public discussion. The show focuses on 12 atheists and several religious dignitaries, including a Catholic and an Orthodox priest, a Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk.

Religious Authority: “A Debasement of Religion”

For eight weeks, the clerics, acting independently of one another, will try to convert the atheist candidates to their respective faiths. The program will include face-to-face conversations, group question-and-answer sessions and visits to mosques and churches. If the holy men manage to convert a participant, the participant wins a trip to the applicable holy site. A freshly minted Muslim will make a pilgrimage to Mecca at the station’s expense, a Jew will go to Jerusalem, a Catholic to the Vatican and a Buddhist to Tibet.

It sounds like a joke, but the show’s creators at Channel T are perfectly serious. “We selected our 12 atheists from more than 200 applications. We already have a commitment from the Vatican, which plans to send us a priest,” says Soylu in her office in Istanbul’s Güngören neighborhood. A rabbi and a Buddhist monk have also been recruited. Initially, the station had difficulty signing on a representative of Islam, but it eventually found a Tunisian imam willing to tackle the challenge.

Soylu says the religious authority had been hesitant about permitting a Turkish imam on the show, but that’s putting it mildly. The Office of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) in Ankara reacted angrily to Channel T’s announcement about the planned program. “Not a single imam” would participate in this “frippery,” outraged Diyanet President Ali Bardakoglu said in a TV interview. The show, he said, is nothing but a “fatal error” and, what’s more, represents a “debasement of religion.”

Mustafa Çagrici, the supreme mufti of Istanbul, who, like Bardakoglu, is among the more moderate voices in Turkish Islam, fears the demise of the Eastern world. Experimenting with god, he says heatedly, is detrimental to public harmony.

“We Want to Help People Find God”

Soylu, who sees herself as a “devout Muslim with non-dogmatic views” in a country with a population in which 99 percent share the same faith, has launched a counterattack. “Where is the problem? We don’t want to incite a religious war,” she says. “We want to help people find God.”

If the program does indeed end up offending religious sensibilities, the station can expect to be slapped with a fine by the agency that regulates the Turkish media. In the worst case scenario, it could face the loss of its license.

Ironically, Turkey’s media watchdogs have been dealing with increasingly absurd programs for some time now. In the battle for viewers, Turkish channels are outdoing each other with distasteful programs like “Ver coskuyu” (“Come On, Give Me What You’ve Got”), in which candidates are showered with small bugs or given electric shocks while singing a song. In another show, which has been accused of sexism, a man faces off against 50 blonde women in a test of knowledge — eventually he wins, exposing the blondes as intellectually inferior.

Sisi’s show about atheists and religion is relatively harmless by comparison. Turkish sociologist Nilüfer Narli even feels that it satisfies a social need: the “growing curiosity about other religions.” Meanwhile, it remains unclear when exactly “Penitents Compete” will air. The station had announced a September premier at first, but now an advisor to Channel T says that it will not be launched before October — after Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.

That much consideration is a must.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Iraq: Armed Group Posts Beheading Video

Baghdad, 5 August (AKI) — An Iraqi insurgent group calling itself The Arrows of Truth Brigades has posted to jihadist websites a 90 second video entitled ‘The Decapitation of a Spy’. The video, which shows in graphic detail a hooded executioner slitting the throat of a captive ‘police informer’, is believed to be the first Iraqi beheading to surface on the Internet in over a year.

The hostage, whose gruesome execution is shown in the video, is accused of having told Iraqi police the exact location of roadside bombs the group has placed along the northern city of Mosul’s streets to target military vehicles.

In the video, the executioner, wearing a black hood and a white tunic, is seen placing the hostage on his side on a patch of grass, the position in which animals are ritually slaughtered under Islam.

The hostage, whose hands are bound, struggles, but his throat is quickly slit by the executioner and his assistants and is beheaded.

“O apostates, this is the fate that will befall you,” the executioner warns.

Al-Qaeda’s late leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, gained notoriety for his grisly beheadings of hostages, which were videoed and posted to the Internet. He was killed in a US airstrike in June 2006 near Baquba, in eastern Diyala province.

The little known Arrows of Truth Brigades are reported to be active in northern Iraq but are a smaller group than the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organisation including Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgent formations.

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

Stakelbeck: Is Yemen the Next Al Qaeda Hotbed?

Al Qaeda had found a sanctuary in Iraq before being decimated by Coalition forces and local tribes. Now, it is seeing its safe haven along the Afghan/Pakistan border threatened by a new U.S. military offensive.

But the group may already be turning to Plan B.

The nation of Yemen, like Pakistan’s tribal regions, is rugged, mountainous and extremely tough to govern. And like Pakistan, Yemen has an al Qaeda problem..

You can watch my latest story, about Al Qaeda’s growth in Yemen and what it means for the West, by clicking the above link.

[Return to headlines]

Turkey: Man Assaulted for Missionary Activities

A 24-year-old street seller assaulted a man on the grounds that he was proselytizing Christianity, holding a knife to his throat in Istanbul before surrendering to police, newspapers reported Tuesday.

The incident, the latest in a string of religiously-motivated attacks in Turkey in recent years, happened Monday on a busy avenue in Istanbul’s Kadiköy district, before the eyes of dozens of passersby.

The assailant — identified as 24-year-old pirate CD vendor — wrapped a Turkish flag around the head of Ýsmail Aydýn, 35, put a knife to his throat and shouted, “This is Turkey, you cannot distribute Bibles here,” Habertürk newspaper said.

The stand-off lasted 20 minutes before the police persuaded the assailant to surrender, according to the daily Sabah.

The street vendor later told police he was angry with Aydýn for converting to Christianity and engaging in missionary activities, Sabah reported, while the daily Vatan suggested the assailant was mentally disturbed.

Proselytizing is generally viewed with suspicion in Turkey, whose population is predominantly Muslim, with small Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian and Jewish communities, concentrated in Istanbul.

An Italian Roman Catholic priest was shot dead in 2006 and three Protestants — a German missionary and two Turkish converts — had their throats cut in 2007.

Two Catholic priests have been stabbed and several churches have reported harassment and threats.

The incidents have fueled fears of rising nationalism and hostility against non-Muslims in Turkey.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

White House Reverses Statement on Iran Election

(Reuters) — White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Wednesday said he had misspoken in calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Iran’s elected leader and that Washington will let the Iranian people decide whether Iran’s election was fair.

“Let me correct a little bit of what I said yesterday. I denoted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran. I would say that’s not for me to pass judgment on,” Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One.

“He’s been inaugurated. That’s a fact. Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that, and we’ll let them decide about that.”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in as Iran’s president on Wednesday in a ceremony boycotted by reformist leaders and parliamentarians and marred by street protests over his victory.

The 53-year-old hard-liner took his oath of office nearly eight weeks after a disputed election that unleashed Iran’s worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution and divided the political and clerical elite.

Obama and the leaders of France, Britain, Italy and Germany have all decided not to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election. Gibbs had called Ahmadinejad Iran’s “elected leader” on Tuesday during a briefing.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Putin’s Action-Man Holiday Album

The Tuva holidays of Vladimir Putin — the title of a summer blockbuster film?

The name of a thriller about an ex-KGB officer just trying to enjoy a quiet life, but who keeps getting drawn back to solve problems which defeat everyone else?

No, but there might be something to that…

It is actually the headline which the website of one of Russia’s leading news agencies, Ria Novosti, put above a selection of official photographs of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin enjoying a summer break in a remote region of Siberia.

Mr Putin is shown standing on a rocky mountain slope; resting in the branches of a tree; swimming in a river; riding a horse.

In most of the photos, he wears military-style clothes and boots. In the equestrian shots, he is shirtless.

In a country where most men do not live until the age of 60, Mr Putin stands out as an example of someone who has looked after himself.

Smoking and drinking are big factors in Russia’s low male life expectancy.

Mr Putin will be 57 in October. He looks in better physical shape than many Russian men 20 years his junior.

His media team want to make sure that message — like Mr Putin’s chest — does not remain hidden.

The implication, obviously, is that he knows how to look after the country too.

To anyone fed up with their father/husband/boss dragging himself out of bed, or going to work so hung over he does not really know what he is doing, these pictures say: “At least there is one man who is in control”.

Lost in translation

That is important for the prime minister, whose main task is to steer Russia through the storms of economic crisis.

It also serves as a reminder that he has in no sense become less active since ending his time as president.

The suggestion is that he would be in good shape to go back to the top job in 2012 if that is the way things turn out.

The Kremlin either does not know, or does not care, how these pictures will be seen by some people in the West.

The photographs of a bare-chested Mr Putin riding a horse through mountain scenery may of course put some people more in mind of a recent Hollywood film about gay cowboys.

That is not the message these pictures, and those of previous years, send out to the majority of Russians.

In Russia, they reinforce Mr Putin’s image as a man many men aspire to be, and — as a recent pop song suggested — many women aspire to be with.

           — Hat tip: Natalie [Return to headlines]


Russia Keeping US Humvees as War Trophies

MOSCOW — A top Russian general says Russia has no intention of returning U.S. Humvees that Russian soldiers seized during the brief war with Georgia a year ago.

Deputy chief of the General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn says Russia considers the four Humvees to be war trophies and thus has no obligation to give them back.

Nogovitsyn told reporters Wednesday that Russia considered the subject closed.

The U.S. vehicles were seized in western Georgia. They had been used in joint military exercises in which U.S. trainers were preparing Georgian troops for deployment in Iraq.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: Italian and Afghan Soldiers Face Taliban Attack

Kabul, 4 August(AKI) — Italian and Afghan soldiers on Tuesday came under fierce attack from militants, just north of Farah in western Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that the Afghan soldiers, backed by the Italians immediately responded with an exchange of fire.

One militant was captured but no injuries were reported amid reports of worsening violence across the country.

Taliban militants fired at least nine rockets, some of them at western embassies, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, early on Tuesday in the biggest attack of its kind for many years.

In an escalation of violence ahead of the August presidential elections, two rockets struck the Wazir Akbar Khan diplomatic area, home to both the US and British embassies as well as the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Nine rockets landed in various parts of the city, at least one of them in the US embassy’s neighbourhood and others near the airport and in the east, the interior ministry said.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections and have urged people to boycott the ballot, the second direct presidential poll since the hardline Taliban were removed by US-backed Afghan forces in 2001.

Violence across Afghanistan this year has reached its worst level since 2001 and worsened even further since US and British troops launched a major offensive in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand in the south last month.

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

Bangladesh: Dhaka, Death Threats Against the Family of a Christian Convert From Islam

A year ago, Rashidul Khandaker, who was in Australia for business, converted to Christianity. Since then his family in Bangladesh has been marginalised and now it has received threats from an extremist group. Experts say such dangers should not be underestimated.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) — After graduating from a top Bangladeshi university Rashidul Amin Khandaker went to Australia to expand his father Ruhul’s business. Here he discovered Christianity and was attracted by the faith’s beauty. On 26 July 2008 he was baptised by Fr Dominic Ceresoli, parish priest at St Therese in the Archdiocese of Sydney. As a result of this his family has met with the disapproval of the community and has been ostracised. Now they have received death threats.

Upon hearing of his son’s conversion, Rashidul’s father Ruhul suffered a stroke and was partially paralysed. He remains under treatment. The family home was ransacked by local Muslims.

Ruhul told AsiaNews that since his son’s conversion he has been ostracised by Muslim clerics and cannot even go to the local mosque to pray.

He and his family are confined to their own home and no one pays them any visit anymore.

He cannot understand why they have been rejected. Following his son’s conversion he read the Bible and the Qur’an and did not find that many differences. Instead he said that the Holy Qur’an itself describes Christians as Muslims’ closest friends.

Last Saturday he received a letter from ‘Allahr Dal’ (Allah’s Group), an extremist Islamic group banned for its violent views. In it he is accused of being a “tool” of Christians to destroy Islam. They order him to “sacrifice” his son Rashidul because the latter’s conversion has brought into disrepute the whole Muslim community.

He concludes saying that “we don’t even have the courage to go to the police” to file a complaint.

Speaking to AsiaNews, a Christian woman, Annie Halder, said that such threats should not be underestimated.

Allahr Dal is thought to be closely linked to Muslim extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The lives of Christian converts from Islam are in great danger in Bangladesh. We have seen converts murdered as the government failed to protect them.”

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

Hate Engulfs Christians in Pakistan

More than 100 Christian houses were burned and looted on Saturday in a rampage that lasted about eight hours by a crowd the authorities estimate was as large as 20,000 strong. In addition to the seven members of the Hameed family who were killed, about 20 people were wounded.

The authorities, who said the Koran accusation was spurious, filed criminal charges in the case late Sunday and apprehended at least 12 people. Officials said a banned Sunni militant group, Sipah-e-Sohaba, was among those responsible for the attacks, the third convulsion of anti-Christian mob violence in the region in the past four weeks.

Christians, who make up less than 5 percent of the entire population, are often treated as second-class citizens in Pakistan, where Islam is the official religion. Non-Muslims are constitutionally barred from becoming president or prime minister.

While some Christians rise to become government officials or run businesses, the poorest work the country’s worst jobs, as toilet cleaners and street sweepers.

It was the poorest class who lived in Christian Colony, a small enclave of bare brick houses where the mob struck Saturday. Its residents work as day laborers and peddlers in the market, often earning far less than the minimum wage, $75 a month.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Missile Kills Relatives of Pakistani Taliban Chief

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suspected U.S. missile strike destroyed the home of a close relative of top Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a volatile tribal region, killing two people early Wednesday, two intelligence officials said.

The officials said the missile targeted the Akramud Din’s home in South Waziristan, part of the lawless tribal region along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and where Taliban and al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media, did not say what relation the casualties were to Mehsud. They said one of the dead was a woman.

One of the officials said it was not clear whether Mehsud himself was in the house at the time, but that he was known to often visit.

The second official said agents were trying to get details about the second person who died in the attack.

Mehsud is the head of Tehrik-e-Taliban, a militant group blamed by Pakistan for the assassination of the country’s ex-premier, Benazir Bhutto, in a gun-and-bomb attack near the capital Islamabad in December 2007.

He is also accused of organizing dozens of other suicide attacks in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s air force and the military have carried out several attacks targeting Mehsud, and the army has said it is preparing for a major offensive against Mehsud and his network in the tribal region.

Wednesday morning’s attack is the latest in a series of suspected U.S. missile strikes in recent weeks targeting Mehsud.

Pakistani and U.S. officials say the missiles have killed several al-Qaida operatives in the North and South Waziristan tribal regions where Pakistan has deployed more than 100,000 troops to flush out militants and their local supporters.

Pakistan has publicly opposed such attacks, saying they were counterproductive and were angering local residents. Islamabad has asked Washington to provide it with access to the latest technology to it so that Pakistan’s own military could carry out such attacks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Anti-Christian Attacks “Premeditated”, Says Archbishop of Lahore

Mgr Saldanha calls for more decisive government action to protect the Christian minority, forced to “defend itself alone”. He launches an appeal “to protect the Christians of Pakistan.” Christian leaders shut down all Christian schools and institutions to protest the violence. The Pope sends a telegram for the victims.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — “We must defend ourselves” from “premeditated” attacks against Pakistan’s Christian minority. For this reason it is necessary “to keep a low profile” and avoid giving fundamentalists “any more pretexts” to carry out violence on confessional grounds, said Mgr John Lawrence Saldanha, the archbishop of Lahore, as he spoke to AsiaNews about anti-Christian attacks in Gojra and the village of Korian, in Punjab.

“The Christian community suffered two premeditated attacks,” Archbishop Saldanha. “The first one, on 30 July, fortunately produced no victims. But on 1 August, people were not prepared to confront the onslaught and some died.”

About “seven people died, six from the same family,” the prelate added. But the number of casualties could rise.

Following the intervention of the Pakistani army, calm returned to the area.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), which is chaired by Archbishop Saldanha, has decided to shut down all Catholic schools and institutions in Punjab for three days of mourning.

In a joint statement signed by the archbishop and Peter Jacob, the NCJP executive secretary, the NCJP called on the government to address the root causes of religious intolerance in Pakistan.

More specifically, the archbishop denounced the use of a “special fuel” to make it more difficult to put out the flames, a fuel also used in Shanti Nagar, a village that was torched in February 1997 and in Sangla Hill in 2005.

The prelate went on to call for “more decisive government action” to protect the country’s minorities as well as a “special meeting with the authorities in Islamabad,” guilty of not taking “all the necessary steps to defend the population.”

For Mgr Saldanha the Sunni extremist group Sipah-e-Sahabaha could be behind the attack. He said he hoped that “concrete steps” will be taken to stop the violence.

“We must defend ourselves” and “keep a low profile”, he said. “Christians must avoid giving the terrorists more scope to carry out more attacks.”

In an atmosphere of “profound sadness,” he made a plea through AsiaNews: “[We Catholics of Pakistan] call upon the Christians of the entire world for their solidarity and prayers. Do not leave us alone; remain close to us in your hearts and minds. Now all we can do is stay united and hope the situation will improve.”

For NCJP leaders the government must find a solution to the problems caused by the blasphemy laws, which have been used to sow “hatred and divisions” in the country.

They denounce the existence of extremist cells in Punjab, involved in attacks across Pakistan.

Punjab’s provincial government must adopt a strategy to “eliminate hate speech” and violence in all their forms.

In a telegram sent by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, to the Bishop of Faisalabad, the Most Reverend Joseph Coutts, the Holy Father said he “was deeply grieved to learn of the senseless attack on the Christian community of Gojra City which resulted in the tragic killing of innocent men, women and children”.

“In the name of God,” he said “everyone” should “renounce the way of violence which causes so much suffering and” instead “embrace the way of peace.”

His Holiness also charge bishop Coutts to strongly encourage the whole diocesan community, and all Christians in Pakistan, to continue their efforts at building “a society which, with a profound sense of trust in religious and human values, is marked by mutual respect among all its members.”

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

Pakistan: Blasphemy Laws, A Pretext to Attack Pakistan’s Religious Minorities

The official death toll in the Gorja massacre now stands at eight. A 35-year-old man succumbs last night to injuries he sustained during the attack by Muslim fundamentalists. Rights activists and minority leaders believe the government condones such attacks by tolerating laws that punish offences against Islam. The Catholic Church of India and Geneva-based World Council of Churches express their solidarity with fellow Christians in Pakistan.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — Pakistan’s parliament has unanimously condemned the attacks against Christians as an inquiry gets underway to quickly find the culprits. Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari announces a compensation package for victims’ families. In spite of all of this Pakistani Christians continue to endure violence and discrimination as the death toll in Gorja rose to eight. For human rights activists and minority leaders blasphemy laws are the cause of the problem.

Last night a private TV station announced that a 35-year-old Christian man succumbed in Gorja hospital to the injuries he sustained last Saturday, when a Muslim mob went out of control and attacked the local Christian community.

Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer handed a preliminary report to President Asif Ali Zardari on the recent riots in Gojra where a semblance of calm is in place following the massive deployment of security forces.

For his part President Zardari announced that families that lost a member would get 500,000 rupees (US$ 6,000) as compensation, whilst families that lost their homes, torched by Muslims extremists using a special fuel, would get 300,000 rupees (US$ 3,600).

Meanwhile Lahore High Court’s Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman has reached the town to start the judicial inquiry ordered by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the Gojra killings and asking the Punjab government to bring the culprits to justice. For the lawmakers the killings are conspiracy designed to defame Pakistan and Islam.

Promises and announcements aside Pakistan’s Christian community is still up in arms against the latest episode of violence committed in the name and under the protection of the blasphemy laws, which have become a pretext to attack religious minorities.

For Minorities Minister Bhatti, who is Catholic, the “allegations of desecration of the holy Qur’an, which were used as an excuse by banned groups to foment violence on such a big scale, were baseless and without grounds.”

The “killing of Christians, rape of Christian women, enforced conversion and allegations of blasphemy” rise whenever the “Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) come to power. [. . .] both of these political parties played a role” in the enforcement of “blasphemy laws which are the root cause of Islamic militancy,” said Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC).

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches have also publicly expressed their solidarity with the Christians of Pakistan.

The “Church in India is deeply saddened and anguished by events in Pakistan,” Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes told AsiaNews.

“I spoke to the Archbishop of Lahore (Mgr Saldanha) and expressed our grief and assured him of the prayerful solidarity of the Church in India,’ the archbishop said.

The prelate, who is the CBCI chairman, called on the Pakistani government to “provide security to minorities” because no group “should feel alienated or discriminated” on the basis of religion.

The death of Christians on Saturday in the Gojra “reconfirms the fear that the government is constantly failing to protect its citizens,” said Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), in a letter he wrote to President Asif Ali Zardari.

Such episodes of mass killing are the consequence of the blasphemy laws which should be abolished because they violate the fundamental rights of citizens.

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to the report)

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

Pakistan Raid ‘Kills Mehsud’s Wife’

The wife and father-in-law of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban have reportedly been killed in an air raid in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region.

A missile, suspected to have been fired from a US drone, reportedly destroyed the home of Akramud Din, the father-in-law of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban, early on Wednesday.

“I confirm that the female that was killed in the strike was the wife of Baitullah Mehsud,” a relative told the Reuters news agency by telephone on Wednesday.

The woman was reported to be Mehsud’s second wife.

Four children were also injured in the overnight raid, local officials said.

Pakistan offensive

The missiles struck Akramud’s high-walled compound in Makeen, a virtually inaccessible village in the heart of the Mehsud tribal lands, shortly before 1.00 a.m. (1900 GMT) on Tuesday.

Two missiles were fired, according to a senior government official in South Waziristan. Mehsud’s whereabouts were not known at the time of the attack.

Pakistan’s military has repeatedly targeted Mehsud in recent months, saying it is preparing to launch an offensive against his fighters in the tribal region close to the border with Afghanistan.

The US has also apparently carried out a number of missile attacks in North and South Waziristan, which officials say have killed a number of Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives.

Washington does not confirm such attacks, but the US military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are the only people operating the unmanned aircraft in the region.

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

Australia — Pacific

Hizbullah Media Goes Worldwide, To Broadcast in Australia

Australia has reversed two previous decisions and is allowing Hizbullah’s Al Manar satellite television network to broadcast in the continent. Jewish groups expressed outrage at the decision.

The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) ruled that the Lebanese-based network does not violate Australia’s anti-terrorism standards, although the network is banned in the United States, France, Spain and Germany. Australia’s ban on the armed wing of Hizbullah remains in effect.

The ACMA previously stopped Al Manar from broadcasting and conducted an investigation last year after the Australian news outlet The Age alerted it that Al Manar was reaching Australia from Indonesia. Al Manar previously has endorsed suicide bombings and has occasionally referred to Jews as being descendants of apes and pigs.

The broadcast authority explained that it monitored Al Manar for one week last year. It only found references to the Hizbullah terrorist organization but that there were no attempts to recruit terrorists or campaign for money.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot said he will appeal the decision to the Communications Ministry, adding that Al Manar is “viciously anti-Semitic, and interlaced anti-Israel and anti-U.S. rhetoric with medieval anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council director Colin Rubenstein said he was not surprised by the ACMA decision because its regulations have been watered down. “The hatred, incitement to violence and racism broadcast on Al-Manar, and its attempts to raise funds for a terrorist organization, have not changed in recent years,” he said.

Australian Arabic Council chairman Roland Jabbour has defended Al Manar as being unrelated to terrorism or anti-Semitism.

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

Journalists Caught Inside Sydney Army Base

A journalist and a photographer have managed to enter Sydney’s Holsworthy army base, just a day after five men were arrested over an alleged plot to attack it.

Police say defence personnel caught two employees of the Daily Telegraph newspaper taking photographs inside the base on Wednesday afternoon.

The army detained the men until police arrived to arrest them. Police say they also seized a laptop and a camera.

The men, aged 26 and 38, have been granted bail to face Liverpool Local Court on September 25 charged with taking photos of a fortification.

The arrests came just hours after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ordered an inquiry into the security at Australia’s defence installations amid calls from the Opposition for unarmed private security guards to be replaced with armed soldiers.

Mr Rudd said the review would look at whether it was appropriate to keep using private security firms, but he said the Chief of the Defence Force believed the existing arrangements were adequate.

It was the second time the owner of the Daily Telegraph, News Limited, encountered controversy over the alleged terrorism plot in as many days.

The organisation had already been accused of risking lives by publishing the details of Tuesday’s counter-terrorism raids before they happened.

The raids led to the arrests of five Melbourne men who have been charged over an alleged plot to launch a suicide mission on the Holsworthy base.

Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland yesterday said the report in he Australian newspaper threatened the operation and the safety of officers.

He vowed to find the source of the leak, who he said could be jailed for unlawfully releasing information.

The newspaper has rejected the claims, saying it honoured an agreement with the Australian Federal Police to withhold publication until its latest editions.

It says it took every reasonable measure to prevent copies containing the story from being publicly available until after the raids started.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Terrorism Suspect Demands Respect for His Religion

A man charged over an alleged terrorist plot to attack a Sydney army base has demanded a magistrate “respect his religion” during an outburst in court.

Security was tight as Wissam Fattal, 33, appeared with three other men in Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

Their co-accused Nayef El Sayed was in court a day earlier.

All five were charged after pre-dawn raids in suburban Melbourne and in a Victorian town on Tuesday morning.

Police surrounded the court building and anyone wanting to see the proceedings had to pass through security twice.

First, walking through metal detectors and having bags scanned on the ground floor, then all lawyers, journalists, family members and observers had to present photo ID, walk through more metal detectors, have their bags checked again, and then submit to a final search by hand-held electronic scanners at the door of the court.

Not everyone could fit into courtroom and about 30 family members and friends of the accused were anxious to be allowed in.

But they were told only 12 of them would be admitted and that they were to decide which 12 it would be.

Somali-Australian men surged towards the metal detectors outside the court while a small group of veiled women moved back and sat down.

The court’s security guards became exasperated as the large group continually pressed to get in and were repeatedly reminded that photo ID was needed.

One man holding his Victorian driver’s licence said he was the brother of one of the accused and was let in.

More security officers were called in to help and eventually the court was closed.

Fattal, 33, a Lebanese Australian from Melbourne is one of the men charged with conspiring to prepare a terrorist act on the Holsworthy army base in Sydney.

After a short mention of his matter in court, he refused to stand when asked by Magistrate Peter Reardon.

His solicitor told the magistrate that it was a matter of religious belief and that Fattal believed he should only stand for his God.

“I respect you. Respect my religion,” Fattal said.

But Mr Reardon told Fattal’s solicitor that he did not accept that as an excuse and that it showed a lack of respect to the court.

He said that if it continued to be an issue in these cases he would deal with it at a later date.

Fattal then asked to speak and said: “You call me a terrorist. I’ve never killed a person in my life.

“You send terrorists to Afghanistan and Iraq. Your army kills innocent people and Israel takes land by force.”

As two guards then led Fattal away to the cells he said: “Take me from this country.”

Yacqub Khayre, 22, also appeared in court today charged with the same conspiracy offence.

Saney Aweys, 26, and Abdirahman Ahmed, 25, face the same charge as well as charges of aiding and abetting a man to engage in hostile acts overseas, referring to the civil war in Somalia.

After the hearings, a relative of Yacqub Khayre said he was surprised by the situation in which the young man finds himself.

“He was a very young boy. He was in uni. We had a very difficult time to hear such things for our community,” he said.

“We are not happy about these things to happen in our community.”

None of the four accused in court on Wednesday applied for bail, but the court was told they may apply in future.

All five men have been remanded in custody and will return to court on October 26.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria to Screen Preachers After Unrest

KANO, Nigeria (AFP) — State governors in northern Nigeria have set up a committee to regulate the activities of religious preachers in a bid to avoid further unrest in the mainly-Muslim region.

The Northern Governors Forum, comprising 19 governors, met in the city of Kaduna late Monday to discuss last week’s uprising by an Islamist sect and a subsequent military crackdown which claimed more than 800 lives.

“This forum has resolved to constitute a preaching board that will screen and approve competent Muslim and Christian clergy for evangelical activities,” Niger state governor Babanginda Aliyu said.

“Islam means peace and we will therefore not condone any group of people who hide under its canopy to foment trouble and senseless killings in its name,” he told reporters.

Nigeria’s 140 million population is divided between Muslims, mainly in the north, and Christians, in the south, and 12 of the 36 states adopted Sharia law in 2000.

The Boko Haram sect began a five-day uprising on July 26 over the adoption of Sharia law across the nation.

The governors condemned the uprising which they said affected five northern states, although violence had only been previously reported in four.

“The Forum condemns in totality the sectarian activities of the religious sect called Boko Haram which caused mayhem in the states of Borno, Bauchi, Yobe, Katsina and Kano,” he added.

Aliyu said the governors would empower traditional chiefs in the region to effectively monitor the activities of religious groups in their areas.

Fighting in last week’s uprising was fiercest in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, where the military bombarded the headquarters of Boko Haram and killed hundreds of suspected followers, along with the sect’s leadership

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Africa: Rich Nations Must Pay on Climate Change

PRETORIA, South Africa — Developing countries won’t consider the next round of climate change talks successful unless rich nations set aside money to help them address global warming, South African officials said Tuesday.

The officials, who are expected to lead the African bloc at the negotiations, met to discuss strategy ahead of the December climate change talks in Copenhagen.

They said at least 1 percent of global GDP should be set aside by rich nations. That money would help developing countries conduct research, improve flood control, protect their coastlines, create seed banks and take other steps to cope with the severe storms and droughts linked to climate change.

The money also could help poor countries obtain technology to reduce their carbon emissions.

Alf Wills, a top South African environmental official, sums up the position going into Copenhagen: “No money, no deal.

“We need the support — the financial and technological support,” Wills said.

Africa is among the hardest hit by climate change, but is not a large producer of greenhouse gases except for South Africa.

But despite living in a country more industrialized than most on the continent, the majority of South Africans are poor, some living without electricity even as the country’s coal-fired power plants contribute to global warming.

South Africa, the only nation on the continent that is among the 20 countries that emit nearly 90 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, argues that other nations grew rich with polluting technologies and the poor now need new technologies to develop.

In return, developing nations promise action on climate change, said Joanne Yawitch, a colleague of Wills at South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

South Africa, for example, could enact a law requiring all new hot water heaters to be solar powered. But that can’t happen unless rich nations transfer licenses so that the heaters can be manufactured in South Africa.

“We do not believe we should have to put together any comprehensive plans until the finances start to flow,” Yawitch said.

That might sound like a negotiating tactic, said Hugh Cole, an Oxfam representative at Tuesday’s meeting. But he said it reflected a real fear among developing countries that rich nations won’t make good on their pledges.

Cole said rich countries should understand it is in their interest to help the poor.

“In a globalized world, you can’t have one continent, for example, Africa, getting hammered by climate change without it affecting the rest of the world,” he said.

The Copenhagen talks will bring 190 nations together to try to draft an ambitious agreement to fight climate change. Expectations of a breakthrough were low at the Pretoria meeting of officials from several South African government departments, and representatives from mining companies and other businesses, and international environmental and development agencies.

“We’ve been burned before when we thought we had made an excellent deal,” said Sandea de Wet, a South African foreign affairs official who is a veteran of previous climate change rounds.

“A major, major achievement for us would be to keep the unity of the African group,” she said. “Unified, we are a force to be reckoned with.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Zambia Reporter in ‘Porn’ Trial

The news editor of Zambia’s largest independent newspaper has gone on trial accused of distributing obscene images.

Chansa Kabwela sent two photographs of a woman giving birth without medical help to the country’s vice-president, health minister and rights groups.

She says she was highlighting issues in the healthcare system and calling for an end to a nurses’ strike.

But President Rupiah Banda called the pictures pornographic and demanded a police investigation.

The Post’s news editor Ms Kabwela did not publish the controversial photographs, but sent copies to a number of prominent people and women’s rights groups, along with a letter calling for the strike to be brought to an end.

The defence is arguing that the case rests on the definition of obscenity and so witnesses should have to describe what counts as obscene and arousing.

The first prosecution witness, the senior private secretary to the vice-president who opened The Post’s letter, was roundly embarrassed by having to describe arousal.

Critics of the government

The pictures are graphic. They show a woman in the process of giving birth to a baby in the breech position — when the baby’s legs come out first.

Its shoulders, legs and arms are visible, but the head has not yet been delivered.

The photos were apparently taken in the grounds of Lusaka’s main hospital.

The nurses were on strike and the woman had been turned away from two clinics.

By the time doctors operated, the baby had suffocated.

Ms Kabwela says she was given the photographs by the woman’s relatives.

President Banda expressed his outrage at a news conference, calling the photographs pornographic.

Pornography is illegal in Zambia and Ms Kabwela was arrested soon afterwards and charged with distributing obscene material with intent to corrupt public morals.

She faces five years in jail.

In her view, and in the view of campaigners for press freedom, the case is political.

The Post — Zambia’s most popular newspaper — has relentlessly pursued the government with allegations of corruption and the president has made no secret of his dislike of the paper.

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

Latin America

Brazilian Environmentalists: If You’ve Got to Go, Go Green — by Going in the Shower

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS RIO DE JANEIRO — New TV ads are encouraging Brazilians to save water — by urinating in the shower.

Brazilian environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica says the campaign, running on several television stations, uses humour to persuade people to reduce flushes.

The group says if a household avoids one flush a day, it can save up to 4,380 litres (1,157 gallons) of water annually.

SOS spokeswoman Adriana Kfouri said Tuesday that the ad is “a way to be playful about a serious subject.”

The spot features cartoon drawings of people from all walks of life — a trapeze artist, a basketball player, even an alien — urinating in the shower.

Narrated by children’s voices, the ad ends with: “Pee in the shower! Save the Atlantic rainforest!”

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

The Big Question: Is Hugo Chavez Guilty of Wielding Excessive Power in Venezuela?

Why are we asking this now?

A group of radical supporters of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez have attacked an opposition TV channel, Globovision, including by firing tear gas. It comes just as the Chávez government has adopted a series of measures to control the media. Some 34 radio stations have been closed for “irregularities” and 200 more are “under investigation”. Critics say it is an assault on free speech by the man who the leftist New Statesman once placed near the top of its list of “Heroes of Our Time”. Yesterday the former Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane suggested that it was now time for the Hooray Hugos to give up their uncritical admiration for Chávez after the South American proletarian hero announced a law that could jail journalists for up to four years if they divulged information against “the stability of the institutions of the state”.

How authoritarian is he?

In 2006 he withdrew the terrestrial licence for Venezuela’s second largest TV channel and replaced it with a state network. But then the station had, along with all the other privately-owned channels, backed a United States-inspired coup against him. Then, earlier this year, he persuaded voters to lift the two-term limit on the presidency — enabling him to keep standing indefinitely for the job. Opponents criticised him for having a second referendum on the subject after the first one failed. (A trick he perhaps learned from the EU’s second plebiscite in Ireland over the Lisbon treaty). But an impressive 70 per cent of voters turned out, and 54 per cent said “Yes”. Chávez announced: “In 2012, there will be presidential elections, and unless God decides otherwise, unless the people decide otherwise, this soldier is already a candidate,” he told his supporters. “I am ready!” Critics say Chávez is hollowing-out Venezuelan democracy, though his supporters point to Germany, which allows for re-election indefinitely (Chancellor Helmut Kohl was in power for 16 years before losing his fourth election) without any major threat to German democracy.

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

U.S. Appears to Soften Support for Honduras’s Zelaya

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. policy on Honduras’ political crisis is not aimed at supporting any particular individual, the State Department said in a new letter that implied softening support for ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

The letter to Republican Senator Richard Lugar contained criticism of Zelaya, saying the left-leaning former leader had taken “provocative” actions ahead of his removal by the Honduran military on June 28.

The State Department also indicated severe U.S. economic sanctions were not being considered against the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, which took over in Honduras after Zelaya removed from office.

“Our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual. Rather, it is based on finding a resolution that best serves the Honduran people and their democratic aspirations,” Richard Verma, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said in the letter.

“We have rejected calls for crippling economic sanctions and made clear that all states should seek to facilitate a solution without calls for violence and with respect for the principle of nonintervention,” he said. The letter was dated Tuesday and obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama has condemned Zelaya’s ouster, refused to recognize Micheletti, cut $16.5 million in military aid to Honduras and thrown his support behind the mediation efforts of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, whose proposals include Zelaya’s reinstatement.

Last week the U.S. government announced it was revoking diplomatic visas for several members of Micheletti’s administration.


But the State Department letter, while “energetically” condemning Zelaya’s ouster on June 28, noted that the coup had been preceded by a political conflict between Zelaya and other institutions inside Honduras.

“We also recognize that President Zelaya’s insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal,” it said.

Zelaya was pushing for constitutional reforms that included changing term limits for presidents. His opponents accused him of trying to seek re-election, but he denies the allegation.

The Supreme Court ordered his arrest and the Honduran Congress later approved his ouster.

In the letter to Lugar, the State Department also indicated the Obama administration has still not made a definite decision as to whether Zelaya’s ouster constituted a coup.

“We have suspended certain assistance as a policy matter pending an ongoing determination under U.S. law about the applicability of the provisions requiring termination of assistance in the event of a military coup.”

Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had asked the government to explain its policy on the Honduran political crisis, warning that Senate confirmation may be delayed for a diplomatic nominee for Latin America without it.

The letter appeared to be a response to this request.

Because of U.S. support for Zelaya, conservative Republican Senator Jim DeMint has threatened to delay a Senate vote on the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs.

DeMint welcomed the State Department letter but said the Obama administration had not gone far enough.

“I’m glad to see the State Department is finally beginning to walk back its support for Manuel Zelaya and admit that his ‘provocative’ actions were responsible for his removal,” he said through a spokesman.

“These admissions are helpful, but what is necessary is for President Obama to end his support for Zelaya who broke the law and sought to become a Chavez-style dictator,” DeMint said, referring to Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez, an ally of Zelaya.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Algiers: Migrants Battle Locals

About 100 Algerians and Chinese migrant workers fought with knives and bludgeons in the capital Algiers, witnesses said today, in an unprecedented flare-up of local anger at Chinese immigration.

Planeloads of Chinese workers have been arriving in the North African oil producer, mainly to work on state-funded construction projects, and their presence has fuelled resentment in a country where seven out of 10 adults under 30 are unemployed.

A diplomat at China’s embassy in Algiers said about 10 Chinese were injured and five Chinese-owned shops were looted in the fighting on Monday in the eastern district of Bab Ezzouar, an area known to locals as ‘Chinatown’.

Local people said a confrontation between a shop owner and a Chinese motorist led to the outbreak of fighting.

“I told him not to park his car in front of my shop, but he insulted me,” said shopkeeper Abdelkrim Salouda, wearing a bloodstained gown.

“I punched him, I thought it was over, but after 30 minutes he came back with at least 50 Chinese to take revenge. It is a miracle I am still alive,” said Mr Salouda.

Witnesses said about 60 Algerian residents joined the fight.

Employers in Algeria, Africa’s third-biggest economy, say Chinese workers will accept lower pay and are often better qualified than Algerians. Many big construction projects would grind to a halt without Chinese labour.

Official estimates put the number of Chinese in the Muslim former French colony at 35,000, though many local people believe the real figure is much higher.

The Chinese influx mirrors a broader trend.

Academics estimate there could be about 750,000 Chinese in Africa, making them one of the continent’s biggest foreign communities. Investment has flooded in from Chinese firms seeking access to Africa’s mineral resources.

At the scene of the brawl, groups of Algerian residents stood outside buildings today where Chinese people live. “We can’t live with them,” said shop owner Rachid Azoug, who was among a group of men watching a row of boarded up Chinese shops. “They drink alcohol and do not respect our religion. They must leave.”

Ling Jun, a diplomat at the Chinese embassy, said local authorities were investigating the fighting. “We trust the Algerian police to shed light on what happened,” he said.

He said the incident would not dampen Chinese firms’ enthusiasm for doing business in Algeria. “Our friendship with Algeria is strong and this event is nothing in comparison with the links between our two countries,” he said.

The clashes appeared to stem from a combination of Algerians’ resentment at their lack of work and cultural misunderstandings between locals and Chinese, said Nacer Jabi, who teaches sociology at Algiers University.

“In poor areas unemployment is higher, and that could explain the anger of Algerian youth towards the Chinese workers,” Mr Jabi.

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

Algiers: About a Hundred Chinese and Algerians Battle it Out

An altercation leads to a furious brawl with knives and rods. The incident is a sign of the difficulties the two groups have in living side by side. The Chinese are active in the country but often take away jobs from locals.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) — About 100 Algerians and Chinese workers got into a fight in the capital Algiers yesterday using knives and rods. The violent confrontation is symptomatic of a deep resentment many Algerians feel towards the country’s large Chinese community.

Chinese began arriving in the North African country years ago to work on oil and public works awarded to Chinese companies. Many have stayed on after the projects were completed, concentrating in Algiers’ eastern district of Bab Ezzouar where a virtual Chinatown has emerged.

The recent flare-up, which left ten Chinese injured, began when an Algerian shopkeeper, Abdelkrim Salouda, told a Chinese motorist not to park in front of his store. According to the Algerian, the Chinese man insulted him and he retaliated by punching him. Some 30 minutes later the Chinese man came back with at least 50 Chinese to take revenge. Eventually some 60 Algerian residents joined the fight.

For experts on the issue, the incident is due to rivalries between the two groups. The Chinese are quite active in the country, will accept lower pay and are often better qualified than the Algerians. Many projects would grind to a halt without Chinese labour, this in a country where seven out of ten adults under the age of 30 are unemployed

Official estimates put the number of Chinese in Algeria at 35,000, but many locals believe the real figure is much higher, with most immigrants living in the main cities where they have set up their own small neighbourhoods.

After the clash many locals agree with a local shop owner who, speaking about the Chinese, said: “They drink alcohol and do not respect our religion. They must leave.”

Ling Jun, a diplomat at the Chinese embassy, tried to downplay the incident. He said he trusted Algerian police to shed light on what happened, adding that the fight would not affect cooperation and the old friendship between the two countries.

China has a great economic and political stake in Algeria where Chinese firms have been awarded contracts worth billions of dollars in sectors ranging from housing construction, public works and hydro-electricity projects to mining and transport, and often employ Chinese engineers, managers and even labourers.

For instance, Chinese state-owned energy giants Sinopec and CNPC have won oil exploration contracts in Algeria. But many Chinese have also set up small retail businesses.

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

Ireland: 156 Foreign Nationals Deported So Far This Year, Data Shows

THE AUTHORITIES have deported 156 foreign nationals to their countries of origin so far this year — almost as many as were expelled in the whole of 2008.

Figures compiled by the Department of Justice show that 602 deportation orders have been issued so far this year, with 156 people being flown to their country of origin by the Garda National Immigration Bureau. Most of the deportees were failed asylum applicants.

The figures suggest a significant increase on last year, when 776 deportation orders were signed and 162 were effected.

A further 145 foreigners have been transferred to other European states this year under the so-called Dublin II regulation, which states that asylum must be sought in the applicant’s first EU country of arrival.

Of those who have been deported this year, Nigerian nationals (99) account for a majority, followed by Georgians (10), South Africans and Chinese (eight each) and Brazilians (six).

Commenting on the increase, a source said the deportation rate had been rising across Europe and the Irish figures reflected that trend. There was additional pressure to deport failed asylum seekers given the cost to the State of supporting them here.

Some six deportation charter flights have taken place since December — four to Nigeria and two to Georgia. Each flight carried up to 55 deportees.

Last year, the cost of deportations and Dublin II transfers was €1,074,179.

Some deportations are carried out jointly with other EU member states to maximise the use of aircraft chartered for deportations to countries into which there are few direct commercial flights. The multinational deportations are usually organised by the EU border security agency Frontex.

Separate figures, meanwhile, show that 261 foreign nationals have left Ireland and returned to their country of origin so far this year under a voluntary return programme run by the International Organisation for Migration.

Funded by the Department of Justice, the scheme is open to asylum seekers and undocumented migrants from outside the European Economic Area who wish to return home but lack the means. Successful applicants are provided with travel costs and reintegration assistance.

Of the 261 migrants who have availed of it so far this year, the largest national groups were Brazilians (114), Moldovans (47), Nigerians (24) and Georgians (14).

The number of people seeking asylum here has been in decline for a number of years. In 2008, 3,866 applications were lodged, a 3 per cent reduction on the previous year and a dramatic fall from a peak of more than 11,500 in 2002.

As of mid-July, there were just under 6,800 people living in 56 asylum seeker accommodation centres across the country. Under “direct provision”, asylum seekers are given accommodation, meals and a weekly allowance of € 19.10 but are precluded from paid work.

The top countries of origin of new asylum applicants in the first six months of this year were Nigeria (23 per cent), Pakistan (10 per cent), China (7 per cent), the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe (both 4 per cent).

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

The EU Reaches 500 Million Inhabitants Thanks to Immigration

Europe will come to 500 million, thanks in part to migration and an increase in the number of births while the rate of deaths has remained stable. All EU countries except Germany, have seen their birth rate increase, particularly Lithuania, Poland and Ireland.

In total, 5.4 million were born in 2008 new European citizens, and 4.83 million people died, which places the rate of natural increase (births minus deaths) to 0.58 million people, an increase of 0, 6% compared to 2007.

In total, Europe has 499.8 million inhabitants right now, an increase of 2.1 million compared to 2007. This is revealed by the data published byEurostat, the Statistical Office of the European communities, which confirms a trend change with respect to the negative data of the beginning of the decade, and questiones that growth was due only to immigration, as stated in the report about population projections 2008-2060 issued by Eurostat.

Immigration is the big driver of growth in the European population: it is estimated that 1.5 million immigrants settled in Europe during 2008. In absolute terms, Italy and Spain are the countries that most immigrants have received: 438,000 and 414,000, respetively.

In the euro zone countries, the population reached 328.7 million people in January compared with 327.1 million a year earlier, due to a natural increase of 0.4 million people, and a net immigration of 1.2 million people.

Increases in birth rates

Between 2007 and 2008, all EU countries reported increases in the number of births, except Germany, with a crude birth rate down from 8.3 people per thousand population to 8.2.

Germany is the only country in Europe where the crude birth rate fell in 2008. 8.3 births per thousand inhabitants was 8.2. On the other side of the balance is Lithuania, which rose from 9.6 to 10.4 births, Ireland (from 16.2 to 16.9), Cyprus (from 10.9 to 11.6) and Poland (10 , 2 to 10.9). Ireland is also the EU country with a higher birth rate, followed far behind by France, with 13 births per thousand inhabitants.

Spain also saw the birth rate increased from 11 per thousand births rose to 11.4 in 2008. However, it also increased its rate of mortality was 8.5 people per thousand inhabitants, compared to 8.3 in 2007. Nevertheless, this is below the EU average, with 9.7 deaths per thousand inhabitants.Thispositive natural grownth, along with immigration, boostered the rate of population in Spain to 45.8 million.

Mortality rates are highest in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary,with rates of between 14.5 and 13 per thousand. Nevertheless, these two Baltic countries are among those that have seen their death rate.

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

UK: Top Judge Faces Sack for Speaking Out About Immigrants Abusing Benefits System

A senior judge faces the sack after saying that ‘hundreds of thousands of immigrants’ come to Britain to receive generous welfare payments.

Judge Ian Trigger was told yesterday that a disciplinary inquiry is to look at whether his criticisms of the links between crime, large-scale immigration and the welfare system were ‘too political’.

The 65-year-old Crown Court judge, who has also served on immigration tribunals for just over a decade, made his remarks as he jailed an illegal immigrant and drug runner last month.

The official investigation has been ordered by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who has the power, along with Justice Secretary Jack Straw, to dismiss judges who speak out of turn.

But the decision to put the case before the Office for Judicial Complaints (OJC) was attacked yesterday, with some critics claiming it threatens the right of anyone to speak out about immigration.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the Migrationwatch pressure group, said: ‘There is a great deal of concern, privately expressed, in many parts of the judiciary,

about the number of failed asylum-seekers.

‘There ought to be some way in which those concerns can be expressed without infringing judicial guidelines.’

Robert Whelan, of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘This reinforces the view that there are certain things that may not be expressed in this country any more. There are great fears for freedom of speech.’

Judge Trigger made his remarks last week as he jailed a Jamaican man, Lucien McClearley, for two years for drugs offences at Liverpool Crown Court.

The 31-year-old illegal immigrant was arrested after being caught with more than £7,200 worth of cannabis, a gram of cocaine and a fake passport.

He arrived in Britain on a visitor’s visa in November 2001 but claimed asylum when it ran out the following October.

The court heard how he then ‘disappeared from the radar of the authorities’.

Judge Trigger said the case illustrated how a ‘lax’ immigration policy had led to ‘hundreds and hundreds of thousands’ of immigrants arriving in Britain to claim generous welfare benefits.

And he warned that wasted welfare payments had helped double the national debt, with the burden falling on decent hard-working citizens.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the OJC said that the inquiry would consider whether Judge Trigger’s remarks ‘went beyond the facts of the case and extended overtly into the political arena’.

The OJC states that if a judge uses ‘insulting, racist or sexist language’ it amounts to misconduct.

Judges are given much firmer guidelines as to what they can and cannot say in court by the body set up to train judges, the Judicial Studies Board, in its ‘Equal Treatment Bench Book’.

The book, which contains detailed advice on correct language and opinions, tells judges they should avoid the term ‘asylum seeker’ because it is ‘almost pejorative’ and that the word immigrant is ‘exclusionary and likely to offend’.

A spokesman for the OJC said last night that the referral of Judge Trigger for investigation ‘is not related to the judge’s comments on the specific case or the sentence passed’.

The body received 178 complaints about ‘inappropriate behaviour or comments’ by

judges last year, with only one senior judge subject to disciplinary action.

Judge Trigger has already made a number of controversial comments in court. During one 1997 case, he criticised single parents, claiming the defendant had ‘lacked structure and stability’ in his life.

And last year, he said Britain was ‘bedevilled by wild feral youths’ in a case in which a teenager had committed a violent attack while on bail.

Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, said: ‘I would be appalled if this judge were to face disciplinary action.

‘We should be thanking him for drawing attention to the problems caused by the shambolic immigration system.

‘It is the Lord Chief Justice who is acting in a political way by calling for an inquiry.’

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

NEA Goes All-Out for Same-Sex Marriage

The National Education Association, which usually passes a dozen or more pro-homosexual resolutions every year at its annual national convention, this year in San Diego went all-out in support of same-sex marriage. This emphasis on advocacy for homosexuals was spelled out in a five-point New Business Item E.

Point No.1 tells its union affiliates to support state legislation that registers same-sex couples in a way that mimics marriage. This registration would cover taxes, inheritance, adoptions, medical decisions and even immigration.

Point No. 2 says that states can call this same-sex registration marriage or civil union or domestic partnership, so long as same-sex relationships are treated like marriage.

In Point No. 3, the NEA promises to “support its affiliates” in opposing state constitutional amendments and laws that “could have the effect” of differentiating between homosexual and heterosexual couples. The NEA’s California affiliate spent $1.25 million of teachers’ dues money on the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 last year.

In Point No. 4, the NEA supports repeal of federal laws and regulations such as the very popular 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. According to the Government Accountability Office’s list of laws that use DOMA’s definition of marriage, repeal of this law would create new Social Security and joint income tax benefits for homosexual partners.


Chanin answered, “NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power, and we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year.”

Such arrogance! The NEA would have a small fraction of its power and bank account if it had to depend on teachers “willing to pay” dues.

In many states, teachers pay union dues because it is a condition of their employment. Many of the NEA’s contracts require school districts to promptly fire any teacher who fails to pay dues.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]


Guantanamo Ex-Prisoners Get Jobs on Golf Course

HAMILTON (Reuters) — Four Guantanamo prisoners who were released to Bermuda in June have been given jobs tending a public golf course on the tiny Atlantic island.

The four members of China’s Muslim Uighur minority began working last week to help prepare the lush, seaside Port Royal course to host the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in October.

The hiring raised eyebrows in the British territory, where employers can only take on foreigners if no qualified local wants the job. Wendall Brown, chairman of the board of trustees for Bermuda’s public golf courses, said the men replaced a group of Filipino workers who left at short notice.

“They have been offered a temporary position at Port Royal until the Grand Slam,” he said. “There are still special projects that we need to do like cleaning up and beautifying the course … All four of them have been given a job there. It’s on a temporary basis. Two of them speak fairly good English.”

Brown said the men were likely to still be working there during the two-day Grand Slam tournament, when golf’s greatest champions of the year will be pitted against one another on the 18-hole course.

Port Royal head superintendent Steve Johnson said the Uighurs were doing well in their ground staff roles.

Their lawyer in Bermuda identified them as Khalil Mamut, Abilikim Turahun, Abdullah Abdulqadir and Salahidin Abdulahat, and said they had been known by a series of nicknames during the seven years they were held at the detention camp for suspected terrorists on the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Their imprisonment continued long after the U.S. military and courts determined that they posed no threat. The United States said it could not send them to China because they faced persecution there, but U.S. politicians blocked plans to settle them in the United States.

The four landed on the 21-square-mile island on June 11 after Bermuda’s premier, Ewart Brown, negotiated their resettlement directly with the United States. The move enraged the United Kingdom, which insisted the Bermuda government did not have the power to handle such foreign affairs and security matters.

Britain and the United States are still in talks about the men’s future.

Expatriates make up a third of the work force in Bermuda, which has a population of 65,000 and requires permits to work. Brown said the golf course worked with immigration officials to get the men permission to work.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

11 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 8/5/2009

  1. Haha look’s like we got a clown here, allah the whimp you mean? Yes he’s been here for the last 1400 years at least, mostly hiding in various ratholes over the world. We see the work of him everyday, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Swat-valley and so forth ad infinitum. Perhaps you and Solkhar can help strengthen each others iman now?

  2. Terrorism Suspect Demands Respect for His Religion

    “I respect you. Respect my religion,” Fattal said.

    Fattal’s “plot to attack a Sydney army base” is an odd way of showing “respect” for an Australian judge.

    Let’s hope that Wissam encounters a less tolerant Aussie inmate who can teach him how to “respect this”.

  3. Solkhar: … the United States is not the world’s policeman nor the neighbourhood bouncer.

    Even if we pretend otherwise, it remains curious as to how so many other nations, be they Islamic or not, all love complaining about America, even as they sit around with their collective thumbs up their arses, only to heave a sigh of relief when the USA (usually alone), finally takes action.

    I think that this is something Bolton understands better than 99.99% of all other diplomats and politicians, combined.

  4. If the United States is the Great Satan, why do all the people desperate to go there want to dance with the devil? The hypocrisy and self-delusion implicit in this is profound and incurable.

  5. Solkhar huffs as though “the World’s” opinion should count for something.

    What “World”? The one busily ignoring the genocide in Sudan of half a million blacks by Muslims along with thousands of other crimes around the globe in every country against non-Muslims and even Muslims who are not Muslim enough?

    Is it the World that keeps its citizens mired in ignorance and resultant poverty? That includes all the Muslim world but also Africa, and parts of Asia and South America?

    Is it the World where citizens are denied liberty and where the United Nations charter of Human Rights is missing in action, starting with the human right to life without government democide, where exercising what’s supposed to be the universal right of free speech can get you imprisoned, tortured or killed?

    Is it the World where there is no rule of law and/or equality under the law?

    Is it the World where one is condemned by one’s birth to stay in a caste or social condition with no ability to move upwards?

    Is it the World where 800 000 Rwandans can be butchered solely on the basis of their racial characteristics?

    Is it the World that lives in the Middle Ages and like a dumb beast craves modern weaponry but cannot fathom modernity of thought and being?

    Is it the European world that is a stranger to gratitude for being saved from themselves twice and dares to think itself somehow superior for having spent their defense subsidy from the United States on Welfare candy?

    Is it the hypocritical World that built Empires of colonies by force and exploited them who now sneer at the one country that did not keep any lands it quelled militarily calling IT an “Empire”?

    Is it the World with its hand out constantly to the country it reviles?

    There simply is no World opinion that is credible on lecturing their betters when their own status is much worse and/or they do not utter a word of criticism toward the worst oppressors of humankind.

    Bolton has it right. Solkhar has it dead wrong.

  6. If the United States is the Great Satan, why do all the people desperate to go there want to dance with the devil?

    Money, probably. Lots of economic migrants go to the US (and Europe) to receive welfare or even just earn higher wages although they do not especially care for the historic or political culture. Plus they can always return home at any moment.

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