Gates of Vienna News Feed 9/19/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 9/19/2009Zbigniew Brzezinski — whom readers of a certain age will remember as the national security advisor under former President Jimmuh from the Ummah — believes that it is imperative for the United States to shoot down Israeli aircraft if they attempt to cross Iraqi air space on a mission to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In other news, another schoolboy in England had a sex change over the summer holidays. In this case, the lad who became a lassie was only nine years old.

Thanks to A Greek Friend, Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Gaia, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JP, Nilk, Paul Green, REP, Sean O’Brian, Vlad Tepes, Zenster, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Asian Countries Want Greater Decision-Making Role
Financial Regulation Rises to Top of G20 Agenda
Outsourcing Unemployment to China
UK: Finances Out of Control — Cameron
UK: Public Finances Plunge Into Record Deficit
UK: Recession Swells British Government’s Debts
Al Qaeda Operative Had $50k in Unsecured Loans From Bailout Banks
Brzezinski Calls for Obama to Shoot Down Israeli Jets; “A Liberty in Reverse”
Glenn Beck “Discovers the Network” — Connects 60’s Radicals to Obama Administration
Insane Killer Escapes on Field Trip to County Fair
Man in Terror Probe Meets With Attorney, Not FBI
Obama Readies High-Stakes First UN Visit
Obama, Clinton Extend Greetings to Muslims for Eid Al-Fitr
Reports: FCC to Propose ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules
Second Execution Attempt on US Murderer Halted by Judge
US Objects to Google Book Deal
Canada Introduces Bill Supporting US Deserters
Canada Anger at ‘Flu Body Bags’
Europe and the EU
British Trade Unions to Boycott Israeli Goods
Emotions Running High as Ireland Weighs the Cost of a Vote for Europe
EU: ‘Tories Won’t Get a Better Lisbon Treaty Deal’
Germany: Al-Qaida Posts Video With New Threat
Ireland: Leaflet Financed by Europe — Farage
Italy: Mourning for Italian Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan
Lisbon Rejection Would Hurt Ireland, Says Barroso
Many Poles Support U.S. Move to Scrap Shield
NATO Chief Proposes Linked US/Russian/NATO Defense
Spain: Warrant of Arrest for 3 Former SS Members
Swedish Anti-Semitism Satire Clip a Hit
UK: Burnt Vans Left on Tracks Again
UK: Biggest-Ever Heroin Haul Found at Heathrow
UK: Call to Change Anti-Bullying Law
UK: Don’t Eat Near Ramadan Fasters, Home Office Staff Told
UK: Police Thought Mother Who Killed Herself and Disabled Daughter in Blazing Car Was ‘Over-Reacting’
UK: Pupils Told ‘A New Girl is Starting’ After Boy of Nine Returns to School Female
UK: Row Over Labour’s ‘Secret Tax Bombshell’
UK: Schoolgirl, 12, Keeps Harrowing Diary of Abuse by Mother
Walesa: ‘No’ Vote ‘Could Split Europe’
Balkans — Canciani (PDL): Security Concerns Over Visas
Organizers Cancel Serbia’s Gay Pride March
Serbia: Gay Parade Provokes Bitter Row
Serbian Gay Parade is Called Off
North Africa
Lockerbie Bomber Releases Legal Documents
Well, Isn’t That Just Precious? The Lockerbie Bomber Has a Blog.
Israel and the Palestinians
IAF Chief: We Must Stop S-300 Delivery
MDA Takes Six Injured Gazans to Israeli Hospital
Meet the Palestinians’ Next Leader, Muhammad (Abu Al-Mahir) Ghaneim: The Man Who Will Make Comprehensive Peace Impossible
Moroccan Foundation Buys $5 Million Worth of Land in E. Jerusalem
Renault Electric Vehicle to Roll Into Israel in 2011
UN: US Concerned on Goldstone Report Elements
Middle East
Anger at Iranian Holocaust Denial
Cyprus: Strasbourg Sentences Turkey for 9 Missing Men
Obama Aide: No UN Meeting for Obama, Ahmadinejad
Targeted Deaths Curb Al-Qaida’s Expansion
Yemen: UN Rights Commissioner Calls for Inquiry
Yemen Offers Cease-Fire to Shi’ite Rebels
Yemen Ceasefire ‘Not Respected’
Analysis: Advantage to Russia in US Missile Move
Russia condemns Ahmadinejad’s speech
Russia: Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust Statement ‘Totally Unacceptable’
Russia May Ease Foreign Access to Energy Projects
South Asia
Afghanistan: ‘Italy Will Stay’
Afghanistan: Frattini, We Stay Committed
Afghanistan: Taliban Pledges More NATO Attacks in New Strategy
Governor of Punjab: The Law on Blasphemy Should be Abolished
Israel Warns of Threats to India
Italians Support Shift in Afghan Strategy
Pakistan Police Raid US-Contracted Security Firm
Sex Abuse and Silence Exposed
Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Takes Aim at Obama
U.S., British Generals Lay Out Complex Afghan Picture
UK Army Chief: Afghan Defeat Would Harm Reputation
Australia — Pacific
Australia ‘Sleepwalking’ Into Population Disaster
Heathcliffe the Giant Burrowing Cockroach May be World’s Heaviest Insect
Sub-Saharan Africa
AU Urges More Weapons for Somalia
Latin America
Kouchner: UN Should Stay in Haiti Through Election
Australia: Alarm Over Five Asylum Boats in 14 Days
Berlusconi: EU Agency to Verify Asylum
Maroni Meets With Cypriot Interior Minister
Spain: Boat With 90 Migrants Reaches Canaries
UK: When ‘The Jungle’ Is Razed, How Many Migrants Will Britain Take From Calais This Time?
Culture Wars
UK: Christian Hotel Owners Hauled Before Court After Defending Their Beliefs in Discussion With Muslim Guest
A Point of View: From a Whisper to a Roar: The Return of the Blood Libel
Nuclear Conference Criticizes Israeli Nukes
Pope: Bishops to Discuss Middle East Next Year
Swine Flu ‘Could Kill Millions Unless Rich Nations Give £900m’

Financial Crisis

Asian Countries Want Greater Decision-Making Role

WASHINGTON — Asian leaders gathering at next week’s economic summit in Pittsburgh will be demanding a greater voice in the way global financial institutions make crucial decisions. Likewise, the world’s established powers will have some demands of their own for the rising Asian nations.

The Western countries who traditionally have wielded power at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations will want Asia to cut greenhouse gases blamed for dangerous climate change and to slash barriers that prevent free trade.

China, with its powerful economy and diplomatic and military strength, will be a leading player at the summit. The other Asian-Pacific G-20 nations — Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia — believe their growing importance deserves a bigger say in the world’s financial decision-making. The G-20, which represents 80 percent of the world’s economic output, is where they will make their case.

“Broadly, they’re looking for more input on how the world runs,” said Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank.

It remains to be seen how successful Asian countries will be at getting their points across at a gathering that features 20 leading rich and developing nations, all with competing national interests and often with little in common.

Asia has done well, comparatively, during the world economic crisis. But the region has been criticized for protecting its trade and agricultural industries from competition. At the Pittsburgh conference next Thursday and Friday, the West will want Asia to help jump-start stalled world trade liberalization talks, to increase imports and to reduce large trade surpluses.

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said major questions will be: “‘What are you doing to stimulate your economy?’ — and some of them are doing quite a bit — and ‘What more can you do?’“

Asia will also face questions over climate change. Many argue that if Asia does not make cuts to emissions, progress will stall. Pittsburgh marks one of the last chances world leaders will have to generate momentum before a U.N. conference in December in Copenhagen, Denmark. Countries hope to forge a new agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Already some leaders worry that disputes among industrialized and developing nations over cuts to emissions threaten to ruin a deal in Copenhagen. Asia is seen as the key to any progress.

Japan also could make a splash on climate change. The Democratic Party of Japan, which won last month’s national elections, has made bold promises to reduce the country’s greenhouse emissions. The new government will be closely watched to see if it is more assertive than previous administrations, which tended to echo U.S. views.

Fast-developing India is seen as key not only in the climate discussions but in world trade talks as well.

India, along with Brazil, Russia and China, is hoping Pittsburgh will lead to an agreement on proposed new targets to shift voting power in both the IMF and the World Bank to developing countries.

In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will seek international support for his plan to spend his country deep into debt to keep its economy buoyant. He has pointed to worsening unemployment data and declining retail spending in recent months as evidence that government spending remains critical to future growth.

In Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will be eager to show that newfound stability in the predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million will continue.

South Korea plans to urge advanced nations to extend greater help to poorer countries in their efforts to overcome the economic crisis.

Han Duk-soo, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, said Thursday that his country wants to host a G-20 summit next year. South Korea, he said in Washington, can bridge the divide between rich and poor countries, having gone, in a matter of decades, from a country devastated by war to one with a vibrant, thriving economy.

Steven Schrage, a former U.S. trade official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said it would be “a devastating blow to the credibility” of the G-20 if South Korea did not host a summit and “the outcome is that the old boys’ club of the G-8 are the only ones that can host summits.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Financial Regulation Rises to Top of G20 Agenda

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Barack Obama, preparing to meet with other G20 leaders in Pittsburgh, on Saturday stressed the need for regulations to prevent another global economic crisis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was optimistic agreement could be reached at the summit.

Financial market reform will be a central issue at the summit of leading developed and developing nations but Obama’s U.S. regulation agenda has moved slowly in Congress. In his weekly radio and Internet address he sought to show other countries that his administration is serious about tackling U.S. shortcomings blamed for triggering last year’s the global crisis.

“As the world’s largest economy, we must lead, not just by word, but by example,” Obama said.

“We know we still have a lot to do, in conjunction with nations around the world, to strengthen the rules governing financial markets and ensure that we never again find ourselves in the precarious situation we found ourselves in just one year ago,” he said.

Merkel, in her weekly online podcast, said she was “thoroughly optimistic” about the two days of talks starting Thursday in Pittsburgh because the European Union would be able to speak there with one voice. She said the summit must take a step forward from the G20 gathering hosted by Britain in April.

“We need to get well beyond the agreements made in London,” she said. “We can work toward ensuring a (financial) crisis like this is not repeated worldwide. That must be our goal.”

Obama and Merkel both took aim at the “bonus culture” in the banking industry with the German chancellor saying bankers must not be allowed to claim bonuses for running up losses.

Obama echoed that by saying, “We cannot allow the thirst for reckless schemes that produce quick profits and fat executive bonuses to override the security of our entire financial system and leave taxpayers on the hook for cleaning up the mess.”

Federal Reserve sources said on Friday the U.S. central bank was near to proposing wide-ranging rules to apply to any banker able to take risks that could imperil an institution.

That would be a step forward for U.S. policymakers who have been reluctant to endorse anything like the caps or dollar limits on pay and bonuses sought by some European officials.

Obama renewed his call on Congress to approve his proposal for creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which he said would set clear rules on mortgages, credit cards and lending.

“Not surprisingly, lobbyists for big Wall Street banks are hard at work trying to stop reforms that would hold them accountable and they want to keep things just the way they are. But we cannot let politics as usual triumph so business as usual can reign,” Obama said.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, told the Financial Times that G20 nations had to provide the political leadership that had been lacking in past efforts to cut back economic imbalances while helping to ensure growth.

“We need to have rebalancing of growth and increase in consumption in the emerging markets to have enough growth in the short term,” he told the newspaper. “We also need to define what the long-term growth model will be.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Outsourcing Unemployment to China

As goes the US consumer so goes Chinese manufacturing. Here is a long but educational video produced by the Vanguard Journalism team at Current TV (not affiliated with the broker) on several Chinese manufacturing cities and what the economic downturn has meant for them. It’s well worth a play.

That video is more confirmation of the Chinese manufacturing and unemployment woes outlined in How Will China Handle The Yuan? and over a year ago in Is China’s Growth Story Coming Unglued?

Yet the myth of Chinese decoupling still persists.

Some day China will be far less dependent on the US but that day is not in the immediate foreseeable future. The videos are proof enough. Moreover, a strong case can be made that Obama Risks Global Trade War With Misguided Tariffs…

           — Hat tip: REP [Return to headlines]

UK: Finances Out of Control — Cameron

Tory leader David Cameron has accused the government of “losing control of the nation’s finances” as figures show public sector borrowing is soaring.

The Office for National Statistics revealed £16.1bn was borrowed in August — compared with £9.9bn in August 2008.

Downing Street says the figures are “broadly in line” with predictions and are less than the markets had expected.

It comes as Chancellor Alistair Darling begins talks with cabinet colleagues about possible spending cuts.

The latest ONS figures show UK public sector net borrowing reached £16.1bn last month — taking net borrowing to £65.3bn for the first five months of this financial year.

Budget forecasts

Government spending during August was £45.6bn — with an increase of £900m on unemployment benefits — while tax revenues slumped by 9.2% to £34.1bn.

The UK’s overall net debt is £804.8bn — an increase of £172bn in a year, £140bn of was spent on banking sector bailouts.

The chancellor forecast in the Budget that it would reach a record £175bn by the end of this financial year — but some have predicted it will be higher.

“ Today’s figures are in line with our Budget forecasts “

Treasury spokesman

Mr Cameron said: “We used to worry about borrowing £16bn in a whole year, but under this government we are borrowing it in a single month, they have completely lost control of the nation’s finances.”

A Treasury spokesman said the figures were in line with Budget forecasts.

“They reflect the impact of the global financial crisis on tax receipts as well as the action we are taking to support the economy right now and invest to benefit from the recovery.”

Earlier it emerged that the chancellor has begun a series of one-to-one meetings with cabinet ministers, to identify priorities and areas of potential savings.

Vital services

It follows Gordon Brown’s admission on Tuesday there would have to be some cuts in public spending in future, to rebalance the finances.

He said he would “cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets” but would not support cuts in “vital front-line services”.

The government has accused the Conservatives of planning swingeing 10% cuts across Whitehall departments but the Tories say Treasury papers leaked to them show the government was preparing 9.3% cuts between 2010 and 2014.

“ They’re talking about cutting things that are unnecessary and wasteful — well if they’re unnecessary and wasteful, why are they spending money on it at the moment? “

Vince Cable Liberal Democrats

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable said the government had to work out how the budget deficit would be addressed in future years.

He told the BBC: “They have to have a plan and they haven’t got one at the moment and all we’ve got is a grudging admission by Gordon Brown that there have to be cuts.

“And they’re talking about cutting things that are unnecessary and wasteful — well if they’re unnecessary and wasteful, why are they spending money on it at the moment?”

But he said the government was right not to start cutting spending now, while Britain was still in a recession.

“To rush in now with cuts in services, people losing their jobs would be disastrous, it would make the recession worse.

“What we have to have is a very clear plan as to how this whole process is going to be dealt with in the years ahead.”

The Tories say the process of bringing down spending should start now and that a planned substantial increase in spending next year is unaffordable. But Mr Cameron has said he would protect NHS spending and also says he wants to protect front line services.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Public Finances Plunge Into Record Deficit

LONDON (AFP) — Public sector finances plunged further into the red in August, striking a record deficit for the month under the weight of a deep recession, official data showed on Friday.

Economists said the dire news, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed the government needed to slash public spending after a week of political dog-fighting over the crucial issue.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown vowed to cut public expenditure as he battled to avoid a general election meltdown next year at the hands of the main opposition Conservatives.

The ONS on Friday said the public sector net borrowing requirement — the government’s preferred measure of public finances — hit 16.1 billion pounds last month.

That was the biggest August deficit on record and the third-biggest monthly figure since records began.

The PSNBR figure compared with a deficit of 9.9 billion pounds for the same month one year ago, but was slightly less than the 18 billion pounds forecast by analysts.

“In a week dominated by speculation on how soon and how much politicians will cut public spending, today’s figures reconfirm the pressing need for strong measures,” said Richard Snook, senior economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a London-based consultancy.

“Even though the economy is now in recovery mode we have a huge underlying deficit caused by the collapse in tax revenues … It will take a long time for revenues to return to pre-recession levels.”

The ONS said the government’s taxation take tumbled 9.2 percent in August, compared with a year earlier, as businesses buckled under a vicious recession and soaring unemployment hit income tax.

The public sector net cash requirement (PSNCR) — an alternative measure of public finances — doubled last month to show a deficit of 10.4 billion pounds, compared with 5.1 billion pounds in August 2008, the ONS said.

Capital Economics analyst Jonathan Loynes predicted that Chancellor Alistair Darling was likely to overshoot his borrowing target.

“At this rate, borrowing will overshoot Darling’s 175-billion-pound forecast for the full year by around 50 billion,” Loynes said.

“With the main political parties now openly discussing plans to cut public spending more sharply than current plans allow, a severe fiscal squeeze is on the way which will necessitate the maintenance of very loose monetary policy for a prolonged period.”

However, a Treasury spokesman said the data tallied with Darling’s predictions.

“Today’s figures are in line with our budget forecasts,” he said.

“They reflect the impact of the global financial crisis on tax receipts as well as the action we are taking to support the economy right now and invest to benefit from the recovery.”

The state of the public coffers has dramatically deteriorated due to the financial crisis, and the economy has yet to see many signs of recovery, unlike a number of other major nations.

In a closely-watched speech earlier this week, Brown said his Labour government “will cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets.”

Media coverage of leaked Treasury papers show government spending is to be cut by a total of 9.3 percent between 2010 and 2014.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Recession Swells British Government’s Debts

LONDON — The recession’s toll on British government finances was highlighted Friday by official figures showing the government borrowed a record 16.1 billion pounds ($26.3 billion) in August, just days after Prime Minister Gordon Brown conceded that whoever wins the next election will have to take an axe to spending.

The rise took net borrowing to 65.3 billion pounds for the first five months of the financial year so far, the Office for National Statistics said — more than double the 26.1 billion pounds seen at the same stage last year.

As with many other countries, Britain’s public finances have deteriorated sharply as tax revenues have sunk during the recession and government spending on unemployment benefits has soared. In the first quarter of the year, the British economy shrank by a massive 2.4 percent, followed by 0.8 percent contraction in the second. Growth has been hit by a collapsed housing boom and losses in London’s financial services sector.

With a general election required by June next year, the political debate has moved swiftly on how debt will be brought down. The opposition Conservative Party have for months been trying to make the state of the public finances the number one issue in an attempt to pin blame for the ballooning deficit firmly on Brown.

Earlier this week, Brown admitted for the first time that his Labour Party government would have to make cuts in public spending after the next general election, which Brown has to call by June next year.

A Treasury spokesman said Friday that Britain’s finance chief Alistair Darling is meeting with fellow ministers in the run-up to the next set of budget predictions, due later in the autumn. However, he played down reports that a special set of discussions to identify potential targets for cuts had already been started in the wake of Brown’s admission.

Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, said borrowing this financial year looks like it will overshoot Darling’s 175 billion pound forecast by around 50 billion pounds.

“With the main political parties now openly discussing plans to cut public spending more sharply than current plans allow, a severe fiscal squeeze is on the way,” he said.

Though August’s borrowing was slightly lower than the 18 billion pounds forecast by most economists, it still represented the highest ever for the month, and the third biggest monthly borrowing total since records began.

At the end of August, Britain’s net debt stood at 804.8 billion pounds ($1.315 trillion), or about 57.5 percent of the value of the country’s total output.

Many economists fear that the country’s debt burden may actually exceed gross domestic product in the next couple of years amid mounting debt interest payments and rising unemployment costs.

Treasury chief Alistair Darling said in his April budget that the figure would likely peak just below 80 percent of GDP in 2013-2014, but his forecasts will likely be revised soon, especially as the recession in 2009 has been deeper than he expected.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Al Qaeda Operative Had $50k in Unsecured Loans From Bailout Banks

This story comes from Karl Denninger at Market Ticker. It seems the admitted Afghan Al-Qaeda operative currently being questioned by the FBI for a possible attack against NY targets, Najibullah Zazi, had obtained unsecured credit cards amounting to $50,000 by the time he declared bankruptcy this past March. As the NY Daily News reported yesterday:

Between 2005 and 2008, he opened credit card accounts with Bank of America, Chase, Capital One, Discover and Citibank and ran up a debt of more than $50,000.

When he filed for bankruptcy, Zazi said he hadn’t worked in two months.

How many of those banks received bailout money? Sadly, all of these banks happily loaned mountains of money to immigrants — legal and illegal alike — and all other manner of individuals who had no possibility of repaying. Bills your children and grandchildren will be paying for many years to come.

As Denninger summarizes:

Can someone answer this question:



This is an OUTRAGE. Not only did this guy effectively stick the US Taxpayer with the $50,000 in debt it appears he may have been using the freaking money to plot some sort of terrorist attack as part of an Al-Qaida cell INSIDE THE UNITED STATES?


No doubt Osama bin Laden is kicking himself that they hadn’t figured out this scam before the 9/11 attacks.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Brzezinski Calls for Obama to Shoot Down Israeli Jets; “A Liberty in Reverse”

In a little noticed interview with the Daily Beast (presumably little noticed because serious people don’t read the Daily Beast), Zbigniew Brzezinski suggests that Barack Obama do more than just refuse to support an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites — the American president must give the order to shoot down Israeli aircraft as they cross Iraqi airspace:

DB: How aggressive can Obama be in insisting to the Israelis that a military strike might be in America’s worst interest?

Brzezinski: We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?

DB: What if they fly over anyway?

Brzezinski: Well, we have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren’t just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a Liberty in reverse.

Contrary to Brezinski’s half-hearted disclaimer that no one wishes for such an outcome, there are plenty on the left who would delight in a pitched battle between the United States and Israel. Democrats in Congress routinely support resolutions affirming Israel’s right to take whatever steps it deems necessary to assure its own national defense. And Obama has at least paid lip service to the concept. But hostility to Israel among the rank and file is very real on the left — and among “realists.”

So conjure the image — the Obama administration sending U.S. aircraft up to protect Iran’s airspace and its nuclear installations from an attack by a democracy that is one of America’s closest allies. Unfortunately, this may not be so hard to imagine in Israel, where the number of people who believe Obama is pro-Israel is at just 4 percent — and falling. And given Obama’s (literally) submissive posture to the Saudis, his indulgence of the Iranians, and his simultaneously hard-line approach to Israel, it seems even some of Obama’s supporters can savor the possibility of a “reverse Liberty.

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

Glenn Beck “Discovers the Network” — Connects 60’s Radicals to Obama Administration

[must see video at link]

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Insane Killer Escapes on Field Trip to County Fair

SPOKANE, Wash. — A criminally insane killer who escaped during a mental hospital field trip to a county fair remained on the run Friday, and furious residents and officials wondered why such a dangerous person was out in public.

Authorities believe Phillip Arnold Paul, 47, is heading to the Sunnyside, Wash., area, where his parents and many siblings live. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office used a helicopter to search Friday, and officers also searched transient camps along railroad tracks in the area. The public was urged to call 911.

“He is in a bad mental state,” his brother, Tom Paul, told The Associated Press. “Why would they load him on a bus and take him to a fair?”

That’s a question many are asking.

Authorities at Eastern State Hospital are being criticized for allowing Paul to visit the fair despite his violent criminal past and history of trying to escape. Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard has called it unacceptable, and the state Department of Social and Health Services ordered an immediate end to such trips and launched an investigation into the practice.

Paul was committed after he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1987 slaying of an elderly woman in Sunnyside. He soaked the woman’s body in gasoline to throw off search dogs and buried the remains in her flower garden.

“Why was he allowed to take such a trip?” Gov. Chris Gregoire said Friday. “Why did they go to a location that was so heavily populated with families?”

Susan Dreyfus, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, said those questions would be answered in an investigation she has ordered that included both state mental hospitals. She was peppered with questions at a news conference, but deferred nearly all of them until the 15-day review, which will be in part conducted by the state Department of Corrections, was finished.

Dreyfus said it is not unusual for so-called “forensic” patients, who are being held against their will, to earn the opportunity to go on field trips as part of their therapy. The mental hospitals also treat people who are mentally ill but have not committed crimes.

Thirty-one patients from the mental hospital were on the trip Thursday with 11 staff members. Dreyfus said she did not know how many of those had violent criminal backgrounds. Patients must be cleared by a treatment team before they can go on trips to stores, parks, and other sites, said Dr. Rob Henry, director of forensic services at Eastern State. They wear street clothing and staff members are required to keep each patient within eyesight at all times.

Henry said trips to the fair were an annual event. The last escape from the forensic unit occurred in 1992, he said.

It is possible the review will end such outings, Dreyfus said.

Members of an employees union at Eastern State put out a statement saying they had long opposed such field trips.

“They believe he was an extreme escape risk and the administration should never have allowed him on the field trip,” the statement from the Washington Federation of State Employees said. “The workers have unsuccessfully fought to stop the outings for murderers, rapists and pedophiles committed to the hospital as criminally insane.”

The union said workers alerted superiors “within two to three minutes of discovering Paul’s escape.” But administrators waited nearly two hours before calling law enforcement. That gave Paul plenty of time to disappear.

Dreyfus said it was not clear how long it took for law enforcement to be alerted. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich insisted on the two-hour delay.

Sheriff’s officials were told Paul had $50 at the time of his escape.

“Fifty dollars will buy you a bus ticket,” sheriff’s spokesman Dave Reagan said.

In addition to local law enforcement, the Washington State Patrol joined the search, as did an inmate recovery team from the state Department of Corrections.

Paul is a white male, 5-foot-8, 220 pounds, with brownish-gray hair, blue eyes, and a goatee. At the time of his escape, Paul was wearing a red windbreaker jacket, with a T-shirt and jeans.

The sheriff’s office said Paul’s medication should keep him stable for 14 days, not 48 hours as previously reported.

His brother said Paul was a high school and junior college wrestler and a martial artist who should not be approached.

“I’m a tough guy but I wouldn’t take him on,” Tom Paul said. “I hope he doesn’t hurt anybody.”

This was the second escape for Paul. In 1991, he walked away during a day trip in Medical Lake and was later captured. He attacked a sheriff’s deputy in the jail booking area, knocking him unconscious, and was convicted of first-degree escape and second-degree assault.

Phillip Paul had a normal childhood in Sunnyside, 200 miles southwest of Spokane, but he started acting strangely as a high school student. He said he was hearing voices and thought they were witches, Tom Paul said. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Phillip Paul has been on and off a variety of medications over the years, and also been in and out of institutions, Tom Paul said. He has repeatedly proven unable to live in society, he said.

Paul was living in a halfway house in Spokane last year, but ended up back at the hospital in a very agitated state, Tom Paul said. Hospital officials said Paul hadn’t exhibited violent behavior in years. They argued in the past that he should be released, but his petition for release was rejected in 2003.

           — Hat tip: Zenster [Return to headlines]

Man in Terror Probe Meets With Attorney, Not FBI

DENVER — A man under investigation in a terrorism probe in New York and Colorado didn’t report for a fourth day of FBI questioning Saturday so he could spend a much-needed day with his attorney, the attorney’s spokeswoman said.

Zazi had been scheduled to go to the Federal Building in Denver on Saturday. But Wendy Aiello, a spokeswoman for Zazi’s defense team, told The Associated Press that Zazi and his attorney contacted the FBI to cancel the meeting.

“They are meeting as client and attorney to review the case and the entire situation,” Aiello said. “Further meetings with the FBI are not being ruled out.”

“I do know that Mr. Zazi is very tired,” she added.

The FBI had no immediate comment.

Zazi, a 24-year-old airport shuttle driver, insists he is not involved in terrorism and has no links to al-Qaida. He is not under arrest.

He completed a third day of questioning Friday and was allowed to return to his suburban Denver apartment.

“The Denver FBI office has been very professional and courteous to Mr. Zazi and his family, and Mr. Zazi has cooperated fully with the Denver FBI office,” Aiello said.

Zazi’s defense team denied reports that Zazi is considering a plea deal related to terror charges, and Zazi’s attorney, Arthur Folsom, has dismissed as “rumor” remarks by a senior U.S. intelligence official in Washington that Zazi played a crucial role in an intended terrorist attack.

The official told the AP on Friday that Zazi has indicated he is directly linked with al-Qaida. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss intelligence matters, said Zazi played a crucial role in an intended terrorist attack but that it was not immediately clear what the targets were.

The official said the plot was being directed from outside the United States.

“Absolutely no way. It’s a rumor,” Folsom said Friday.

The FBI has searched Zazi’s apartment and his uncle and aunt’s home in suburban Denver. Authorities have not said what they found and have made no public statements on the investigation.

Another official familiar with the investigation told the AP on Thursday that agents have been monitoring Zazi and four others in Colorado as part of a terrorism investigation.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the FBI was “working this case around the clock” in New York, Denver and other parts of the country but that there was no imminent threat.

Authorities say Zazi rented a car and drove from Denver to New York, crossing into Manhattan on Sept. 10. Zazi said he went to New York to resolve some issues with a coffee cart he owns in Manhattan.

On Monday, FBI agents and police officers with search warrants seeking bomb materials searched three apartments and questioned residents in the Queens neighborhood where Zazi stayed.

A joint FBI-New York Police Department task force feared Zazi may have been involved in a potential plot involving hydrogen peroxide-based explosives like those cited in an intelligence warning issued Monday, according to two other law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation.

Folsom has repeatedly denied any such claims.

Zazi was born in Afghanistan in 1985, moved to Pakistan at age 7 and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He returned to Pakistan in 2007 and 2008 to visit his wife, Folsom said.

The New York Daily News reported Saturday that investigators spent several hours this week at a U-Haul in Queens, examining an apparent attempt by some men under scrutiny to rent a large truck.

A manager at the rental lot, Robert Larson, told the newspaper the men went away empty-handed because they didn’t have a valid credit card.

The paper reported that U-Haul workers identified one of the people involved as Naiz Khan, an Afghan immigrant in Queens who knew Zazi and has been questioned by the FBI in connection with the case.

Khan told the AP and other reporters in a brief interview at his Queens apartment building Saturday that agents had asked him about renting a U-Haul truck but he knew nothing about it.

He called reports that he was involved “totally wrong.”

“I’ve never been to that U-Haul,” he said.

Asked what he thought about the scrutiny of Zazi, Khan said he wasn’t sure.

“My opinion is, I don’t know him. I know him from a mosque, that’s all. He’s my friend.”

A worker at the U-Haul referred questions to a company public relations official, who did not immediately respond to a phone message.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Obama Readies High-Stakes First UN Visit

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama geared up Saturday for whirlwind meetings next week with counterparts from China, Japan and Russia, but Iran’s firebrand leader looked set to be left out in the cold.

Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation will also loom large at a United Nations Security Council summit on the issue that Obama will chair on September 24.

Washington and its allies have threatened to slap a fourth set of UN sanctions on Iran if it does not demonstrate its willingness to engage in negotiations on its controversial nuclear program — despite the objections of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China.

As world leaders converge on New York for the annual UN general assembly, Obama was scheduled to kick off a flurry of high-profile bilateral encounters by meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday.

They will look to resolve a simmering trade row ahead of the G20 summit of leading economies in Pittsburgh later in the week, and Obama’s first presidential visit to China in November.

US officials last week slapped punitive tariffs of an additional 35 percent on Chinese-made tire imports, prompting Beijing to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

With such a significant chunk of the world economy relying on the symbiotic US-China relationship, other world leaders will be hoping Hu and Obama can make peace.

The pair are also likely to discuss policy toward North Korea, whose leader on Friday reportedly told a Chinese envoy that the country was willing to engage in bilateral and multilateral talks on Pyongyang’s controversial nuclear program.

Obama meets Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday, looking to build on the positive response that greeted his revamped plans for missile defense in Europe after his administration determined that Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles presented a more imminent threat.

Russia had condemned a scheme to install an anti-missile radar in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland drawn up by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush that focused on Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities.

Russia’s defense ministry confirmed Saturday it had scrapped plans to site missiles on the European Union’s border after Obama’s announcement.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hailed Obama’s “brave” decision, but said it should be followed by other US measures: to lift Soviet-era restrictions on the export of sensitive technology to Russia and to help its WTO membership bid.

Obama is also poised to meet with Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama on Wednesday, two weeks after the new prime minister ended more than half a century of almost unbroken rule by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The coalition government is seeking to strike a balance between the demands of some of its own left-leaning and pacifist members, and desire to maintain the traditionally strong US alliance.

Hatoyama’s center-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which in opposition criticized the Japanese government for supporting “American wars,” has vowed not to renew a naval refueling mission that supports US-led operations in Afghanistan when it expires in January.

During his first UN visit, Obama will also be careful to avoid interactions with top US foes after the Republican opposition rapped him for a friendly handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in April.

There is also little chance of a one-on-one meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“There is no obvious venue in which that would occur, and certainly we have no meetings or anything of the sort planned,” said US envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile urged Tehran to move forward on engaging in talks with the United States.

“We have made clear our desire to resolve issues with Iran, diplomatically. Iran must now decide whether to join us in this effort,” she said.

As fresh protests over Iran’s disputed presidential election rocked Tehran Friday, the White House condemned as “ignorant and hateful” new comments from Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust.

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, attending his first UN general assembly, has been urged by the US not to gloat over Scotland’s decision to release the Lockerbie bomber, a move that enraged many Americans.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Obama, Clinton Extend Greetings to Muslims for Eid Al-Fitr

[the POTUS and the USSS “extend” a dhimmicratic dawa message]

US President Barack Obama is extending greetings to Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month-long fasting time known as Ramadan.

Obama on Saturday issued a statement saying he and his wife, Michelle, congratulate Muslims in the US and around on the world on a “blessed day.”

Obama said even at this festive occasion, Muslims remember the less fortunate, those suffering in poverty, hunger, conflict and disease.

In her own statement, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the occasion is a reminder that the values of Islam — “charity, community, cooperation, compassion are values which we hold dear as Americans.”

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Reports: FCC to Propose ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules

WASHINGTON — The head of the FCC plans to propose new rules that would prohibit Internet service providers from interfering with the free flow of information and certain applications over their networks, according to reports published Saturday.

The Washington Post and New York Times said the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Julius Genachowski, will announced the proposed rules in a speech Monday at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The proposals would uphold a pledge Barack Obama made during the presidential campaign to support Internet neutrality and would bar companies like Verizon, Comcast or ATT&T, from slowing or blocking certain services or content flowing through their vast networks.

The rules would apply to all ISPs, including wireless service providers.

Without strict rules ensuring Net neutrality, consumer watchdogs fear the communications companies could interfere with the transmission of content, such as TV shows delivered over the Internet, that compete with services the ISPs offer, like cable television.

Internet providers have opposed regulations that would inhibit the way they control their networks, arguing they need to be able to make sure applications that consume a lot of bandwidth don’t slow Internet access to other users.

“We are concerned about the unintended consequences that Net neutrality regulation would have on investments from the very industry that’s helping to drive the U.S. economy,” Chris Guttman-McCabe, a vice president at CTIA, a wireless trade group, told the Post.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Second Execution Attempt on US Murderer Halted by Judge

A second attempt to execute a murderer and rapist by lethal injection has been temporarily halted by a federal judge.

During the first two-hour attempt to kill the Ohio inmate needles were repeatedly stuck in his bone and muscles.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost issued the temporary restraining order effective for ten days against the state, preventing a second execution attempt on Romell Broom, 53, from going forward as planned Tuesday.

Attorneys for the state consented to the request for a delay from Broom’s attorneys, who will argue that the pain Broom experienced during the aborted attempt violates a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

[Return to headlines]

US Objects to Google Book Deal

The US Justice Department has urged a New York court to reject a deal that would allow internet company Google to publish millions of books online.

The deal raised copyright and anti-trust issues, the department said, and should be rejected in its current form.

The court is due to rule on the issue early next month.

Under the deal — the product of a legal suit — Google would establish a $125m (£77m) fund to compensate those whose works it published online.

It would establish a Book Rights Registry so that authors whose work it digitised were paid when their material was viewed online.

The deal was agreed in October 2008 with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) after they sued Google for copyright infringement.

Companies including Microsoft, Amazon and Yahoo have all objected to the deal.

‘More talks needed’

The US justice department said that the breadth of the settlement raised “significant legal concerns”. HAVE YOUR SAY Speaking as a researcher, I find Google Books a practical way to obtain information from rare books. But I do not want to read a novel online Shelia, USA

In its present form it would, it said, give Google sole authority for books whose copyright holder could not be found and provide inadequate protection to foreign rights holders.

It also seemed to give publishers the power to restrict price competition and drive other digital distributors from the market, it said.

The court “should reject the proposed settlement in its current form and encourage the parties to continue negotiations to modify it”, the department said in its submission.

In a statement, Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP said that they were “considering the points raised by the department and look forward to addressing them as the court proceedings continue”.

Google says the deal would give readers unprecedented access to books that have been out of print for years.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Canada Introduces Bill Supporting US Deserters

TORONTO — Canadian Parliament will consider a bill introduced Thursday that would allow American and other war resisters to stay in Canada.

The bill, introduced by the Liberal Party’s Gerard Kennedy, would allow other countries’ military deserters to stay in Canada if their refusal to serve is based on sincere moral, political or religious objections.

Parliament has already voted twice to support war resisters, but those were non-binding motions.

Kennedy’s bill would be binding because it would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Most war resisters in Canada are U.S. military personnel who have refused to participate in the Iraq War on the grounds that it’s illegal and immoral.

There are thought to be about 200 American military deserters who have come to Canada to avoid service in Iraq.

Canadian immigration officials and the courts have rejected efforts to grant them refugee status, and several face deportation. At least two have already been deported to the U.S.

During the war in Vietnam, thousands of American fled to Canada to avoid the draft. Many were given permanent residence status that eventually resulted in citizenship.

[Return to headlines]

Canada Anger at ‘Flu Body Bags’

Canada’s health minister has ordered an investigation after body bags were sent to aboriginal reserves as part of supplies to deal with swine flu.

The body bags were delivered this week to First Nation communities in Manitoba province which were hard hit by a swine flu outbreak a few months ago.

Community leaders said they were “horrified” when they saw the bags.

Health officials have apologised for any alarm caused and say the bags were just sent as routine restocking.

Ordering an inquiry, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the actions of the Health Canada department were unacceptable, insensitive and offensive.

“As minister of health and as an aboriginal, I am offended,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

“To all who took offence at what occurred, I want to say that I share your concern and I pledge to get to the bottom of it.”

“ We regret the alarm this incident has caused “

Jim Wolfe, Health Canada

First Nations leaders said dozens of body bags had been sent to remote northern indigenous communities, which have suffered a disproportionate number of severe cases of swine flu.

“I was very disturbed and actually frightened that they’re actually shipping that number of body bags to the communities,” Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans told the Associated Press.

“I thought they were preparing for what the experts were predicting.”

Hand gel

Jim Wolfe, the regional director of the First Nations and Inuit branch of Health Canada, said that the body bags had been sent to reserves as part of general medical supplies for winter.

“We really regret the alarm this incident has caused and it was unintended. We order these supplies as a matter of routine business and… this was part of a very normal restocking process,” he said.

Ties were already strained between aboriginal communities and the government, after Health Canada delayed sending hand gel to some reserves amid concerns it would be abused by alcoholics.

Health Canada has recorded 76 deaths across the country attributed to the H1N1 virus.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

British Trade Unions to Boycott Israeli Goods

Talkbacks for this article: 174 Article’s topics: British Trade Unions, Boycott, Operation Cast Lead, West Bank, Settlements

Britain’s 6.5-million member labor federation, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), has adopted a policy calling for a consumer-led boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel at their annual conference in Liverpool on Thursday.

The TUC policy calls on the British Government to condemn the “Israeli military aggression and the continuing blockade of Gaza” and end arms sales to Israel, which it said reached a value of £18.8 million in 2008.

It also calls for a ban on goods originated from the settlements and an end to the European Union’s preferential trading terms with Israel.

“The TUC calls on the British Government to seek EU agreement to impose a ban on the importing of goods produced in the illegal settlements and support moves to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement which provides preferential trade facilities to Israel,” read the policy statement.

It came as the TUC’s General Council (GC) introduced a “compromise” after the conference passed a motion calling for a complete boycott of Israeli goods and for the TUC to “carry out a review” of its relationship with the Histadrut for not condemning Operation Cast Lead, introduced by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU).

Announcing the compromise, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The GC has worked hard to come up with a statement which the congress can unite around. That has involved compromise on all sides and I’m grateful to all the colleagues who have contributed. What you have before you sets out principles we can all share, conclusions I hope we can all agree on and actions we can all take.”

The compromise included “targeted action” aimed at Israel goods and “consumer-led” sanctions against Israeli businesses.

“The GC has considered what can be done by us to apply pressure to the Israeli government to end the occupation, dismantle the separation wall and removal illegal settlements,” Barber said. “We believe that targeted action — aimed at goods from the illegal settlements and at companies involved in the occupation and the wall — is the right way forward.”

Maintaining that it was not a boycott call, Barber added: “This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers, but targeted, consumer-led sanctions directed at businesses based in, and sustaining, the illegal settlements.”

This was reiterated in the text of the compromise: “To increase the pressure for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories and removal of the separation wall and illegal settlements, we will support a boycott (where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products) of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements — through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign working closely with [radical fringe group] Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) — and campaign for disinvestment by companies associated with the occupation as well as engaged in building the separation wall.”

The GC said that each union would interpret how to implement the boycott and encouraged affiliation to a radical anti-Israel group.

“In undertaking these actions each affiliate will operate within its own aims and objectives and within the law. We reiterate our encouragement to unions to affiliate to the PSC and to raise greater awareness of the issues,” it said.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) issued a joint statement condemning the move: “The fact that within moments of this statement being released, conference delegates voted for another extreme hard-line pro-boycott motion proposed by the FBU is evidence that our concerns are well placed and that TUC leaders must act against the harmful influence of the PSC within their unions. We insist that TUC leaders immediately clarify that this motion does not stand as TUC policy.”

The compromise also reiterated condemnation of Operation Cast Lead and welcomed the controversial Goldstone Report.

“Earlier this year, the TUC condemned the Israeli offensive in Gaza. And we reiterate that condemnation in the statement today. It led to many, many deaths and intolerable suffering,” Barber said. “We also reiterate our condemnation of the rocket attacks from inside Gaza against Israeli civilians. We welcome the findings of the UN investigation which highlighted possible war crimes on both sides. The TUC remains concerned about the situation in Gaza and reiterates its opposition to the Israeli blockade, which is in contravention of international law and prevents vital supplies from reaching the people of Gaza.”

Barber also attacked the Histadrut: “We have for the last year been trying to persuade the Histadrut to be more vocal in criticizing the Israeli Government. We think that the statement issued by the Histadrut in January, which failed to recognize the appalling loss of life and the suffering caused by the Gaza offensive, should be condemned. We will continue to press them over the crucial issues of the occupation, the separation wall, the roadblocks and illegal settlements.”

The Board of Deputies and JLC said they would respond “robustly” to the boycott call.

“Our communal leaders will respond robustly to this policy, which risks driving a wedge between British Jews and trade union movement.

“We will be asking the TUC leadership to act swiftly and decisively to reassert their opposition to a boycott of Israel and advise their member unions accordingly. We expect the GC’s statement to be used as a license to boycott by anti-Israel activists. Secondly, we will actively expose the discriminatory politics of the PSC, in order to frustrate their hijacking of trade unions to promote their anti-Israel and anti-peace agenda. Thirdly, we will be encouraging members of our own community to fight back by getting involved in trade unions and speaking out,” it said.

Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Ron Proser, said the TUC should hang their heads in shame.

“The TUC’s leaders should hang their heads in shame at this reckless call. They have betrayed their own constituency by allowing the TUC to be hijacked as a political tool for extremists. This one sided approach subjects the Israel to a despicable double standard not experienced by any other nation, including dictatorships such as Libya, which recently celebrated the return of a convicted mass murderer,” he said.

“The boycott statement fails to acknowledge Israel’s obligation to protect its citizens from terror and issues no calls on Gaza’s rulers or the Arab world to address Israel’s legitimate security concerns. The statement’s condemnation of rocket attacks is nothing but flimsy lip-service, and does not in any way sufficiently address the suffering of Israel’s citizens, in the face of years of terror from thousands of Hamas missiles,” he added.

The Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) was happy with the compromise saying it would increase TUC support for Israeli and Palestinian trade unions opposed to boycotts.

“Over 50,000 Palestinians working in Israel could lose their jobs as a result of a boycott, as well as many British workers producing exports to Israel. Today’s statement shows that a majority of trade unions in the UK want to provide meaningful help to the people in Israel and Palestine, rather than call for divisive and counterproductive boycotts. The sensible voices of the TUC have prevailed,” said Roger Lyons, former TUC president and chair of TUFl.

Debate on the boycott motion had been postponed until Thursday, the last day of the conference, after heated exchanges between senior officials.

On Wednesday, Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, along with the largest public sector trade union, Unison, said they would back the FBU motion. However, the National Union of General and Municipal Workers (GMB) opposed it calling it “incredibly divisive.” Senior GMB official Paul Kenny described the boycott call as “way beyond the logic of where we should be.”

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Emotions Running High as Ireland Weighs the Cost of a Vote for Europe

It was at about the time that the vote was taking place on the Lisbon treaty last year that — in the words of a celebrity chef whose Dublin restaurant has since folded — “the arse fell out of Ireland”.

Calling time on the decade-long Celtic Tiger turned the world upside down for a nation that had grown blasé about having it all. One over-reaching builder — builders were the Icaruses of the Irish boom — called the collapse in the property market “a tsunami that just keeps coming”.

A protester’s banner called the unfamiliar landscape “The Banana Republic of Direland”. Others are calling it “Namaland” — after the National Asset Management Agency, which, if the Government gets its way, will transfer €90 billion (£81 billion) of bad debts from Irish banks to the taxpayer.

But this will happen only if Brian Cowen, the Taoiseach, gets Lisbon past the angry people of Ireland on October 2. If it is rejected again, then Mr Cowan — “Biffo” to his friends and enemies (it stands for Big Ignorant F***er from Offaly) — knows it will be all over. It would be the end both for him and his party, Fianna Fáil, which has been in power for more years than any other in postwar Europe.

This, in part, explains why the “yes” campaign is talking up the apocalyptic consequences of saying “no”. Michael O’Leary, the colourfully rude boss of Ryanair, expresses what the Government would love to put on its posters, but dare not: “The country is bust and the European Central Bank is all that stands between us and a return to the poorhouse”.

Namaland is already here: there are bits of it scattered across the countryside. Once it was “bungalow blight” that vexed the aesthetes, the myriad carbuncles on Ireland’s pristine wild scenery. Today it is the abandoned estates of half-built “luxury homes” that stand empty.

The ugliness scarring the landscape is mirrored in the language of the debate. The people spent their last drops of bile on the expenses-giddy political class, which frittered away the Celtic bonanza. Now they have a new target — the Lisbon treaty.

New, at least in the sense that it has been dug up after a spell in the cold earth. Some politicians would prefer to forget the words spoken at its hasty funeral last year: “The Lisbon treaty is dead.” When Ireland became the only country given a free vote on Lisbon out of the EU’s 27 member states, the people stood as a symbol of democratic freedom.

But now they are being asked to repeat the exercise because they came up with the “wrong” answer, and the democratic deficit in the European project has moved centre stage.

It is an enormous responsibility, one that is felt keenly. The impression one gets, driving around the country, is that, this time, Brussels and Dublin will get their way. But there is a deep sense of resentment, bubbling up into what may yet turn into a revolt — a belief that Ireland is having its arm twisted up its back.

In fishing ports such as Baltimore, Union Hall and Castletownbere, the Mediterranean temperatures of a late summer do nothing to persuade those who ply traditional Irish trades that their future lies in Europe.

Ebbie Sheehan, who bought his first trawler three decades ago when he was 21, believes that he has never seen the best days of what should be the “the most vibrant fishing industry in the world”. The chairman of the Irish Fishermen’s Organisation, he grits his teeth when he hears the “ungrateful Irish” line being trotted out by committed “yes” voters.

“It has always been proclaimed by the bureaucrats that the EU has contributed huge amounts of cash to the Irish economy,” he says in his office, its walls covered with photographs of his prize-winning, show-jumping children. “But what they neglected to mention was that the joint EU fishing effort in Irish waters takes €1.5 billion of fish every year. The truth is we have contributed an immense amount of wealth to the EU. When we joined in 1973, our waters were all we had to offer.”

He rails against “the mad things with absolutely no common sense that are advocated by Brussels” — chief among them the quota system, where it is not illegal to catch as much hake, cod, monkfish and prawns as one likes, but it must be thrown back into the sea, dead, if the monthly quota for each has already been reached.

“If you bring back one box of cod over it, you will automatically end up in the circuit court with a criminal record. We have people with oceans of brains in Ireland and Brussels, but they are so removed from reality it is frightening.”

He knows three skippers who, in the past six months, have given up because they were found guilty of catching too much monkfish, or landing in an undesignated harbour, or failing to have an up-to-date logbook during an inspection at sea.This, while foreign trawlers do what they like, taking 92 per cent of Ireland’s fishing resources. “Our politicians are the best Europeans, because if the EU comes out with a new regulation on Friday they have imposed it by Monday.

“If we vote ‘yes’ to Lisbon, we will never again be asked our opinion of, or consent to, anything.”

In Dingle, the capital of craic, Phil the Flute is planning his winter. “I got these wood chisels in Lidl for €20 and I’ve collected a pile of driftwood,” he says. Phil, a qualified engineer in his fifties, entertains visitors to the town’s famous “spirit grocers” — bars such as Dick Mack’s and Foxy John’s. He charges just the price of a pint or a whiskey. “I don’t busk any more — you have to be careful. I get €200 a week social security. There’s no point working.” Phil the Flute will vote “yes”. Why? “The country’s bankrupt, we’d be mad to vote ‘no’,” he chuckles.

Dingle has history behind it. In 1529 the Treaty of Dingle was signed here between the 11th Earl of Desmond, James Fitzgerald, and Don Gonzalo Fernández, Ambassador Plenipotentiary of Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Spain.

Pre-dating Ireland’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) by 440 years, it was a founding piece of common European legislation, conferring full rights of citizenship on Irish émigre’s and exiles living under the Habsburg Empire. Don Gonzalo requested 120 ducat gold coins to cover his travel expenses, but was given four times that sum.

Three years ago, Dingle carried out its own referendum, after the Government decided to strip the town of its name and impose a Gaelic replacement, An Daingean. With an 89 per cent turnout, 93 per cent voted to retain Dingle. As if precedents were required, the result was ignored.

Head west out of Dingle, or An Daingean, and you reach Dún Chaoin, the last parish before America. In this westernmost outpost of the EU, the question of divided loyalties seems appropriate: Boston or Berlin? Before joining the EEC the question would have seemed ridiculous to any patriot: America absorbed generations of Irish emigrants, and every homestead mantelpiece once carried a framed photograph of JFK.

The biggest employee in Dún Chaoin is the Blasket Islands Heritage Centre. Opened in 1993, the EU paid €3 million of the €4 million that it cost to build. It is in some respects a monument to the €34 billion that has flowed into Ireland from European “foreign aid” since 1973. The funds dried up just as the Tiger was breathing its last in 2007.

In spite of that largesse the parishioners of Dún Chaoin might seem remarkably ungrateful, if a Brussels bureaucrat were to visit. Daithi de Mordha, 27, a civil servant, said: “I voted ‘no’ last time and I will again. It’s insulting, they’re treating us like children making us vote again. We know our own minds.

“I think that Europe has enough power already. We fought long and hard enough for our independence, to give it away 70 or 80 years later. I’m Irish, not European.” And Mr de Mordha knows his local history.

“Thirty years ago there were 31 dairy farmers in this parish, now there’s just one. There were up to 30 boats fishing out of the pier and now there’s one.

“Granted, we have better roads now. But what’s the point of that unless you have goods to transport on them? Ten years ago, the EU was a community of economies. Who put it and us on the road to being a nation? I’m not antiEuropean, but we don’t want to be on our way to a European nation state with a president.”

As the light dwindles on Garryhinch Bog in the Irish Midlands, Edward Deegan is finishing work. A 22-year-old contract worker with Bord na Móna, the state’s third energy company, Mr Deegan is worried about job security. He blames the EU’s bureaucratic rules, principally the Habitats Directive that, he says, bans the harvesting of peat on 132 raised bogs. A sixth of Ireland is bog.

“The more the EU gets involved, the more we give up to them, the worse it will get,” he tuts, then adds: “Our culture won’t be our culture.”

Michael Maher, a generation his senior, disagrees good-naturedly. “If it wasn’t for the EU, we would have been down the Swannee 20 years ago,” he chuckles lightly and adds: “I think bigger is better. The country’s on its knees.”

But what’s this about the minimum wage being cut to €1.84? Mr Deegan asks — there are posters claiming such a dizzy descent from the current €8.65. “That’s only the ‘no’ side spinning a yarn,” soothes Mr Maher.

Mandy Maher, 33, his daughter-in-law, jumps down from a towering tractor with moon-surface tyres and proudly says she is the only Irishwoman to be working the bogs.

“I used to be a PA in an office but this is much better, even though it’s seasonal work. I work in a bar the rest of the year.”

She expects to earn €800 after tax per week — high wages in Ireland. “But if Lisbon goes through I’m sure I’ll be lucky to clear half that. I voted ‘no’ last time and I think I’ll stick with that. I don’t want my son to be drafted into a European army when he’s 16. I’d like Ireland to remain Ireland. I like being Irish.”As the day wanes Mr Deegan has a final tilt at the older man. “Michael, but what happens if Lisbon goes through, and they won’t let us cut the turf? What do we do then?”

Mr Maher keeps his answer short. Jumping into his pick-up truck and driving off in a cloud of dust, he says: “Keep cutting.”

[Return to headlines]

EU: ‘Tories Won’t Get a Better Lisbon Treaty Deal’

Gordon Brown is very popular with Europe’s politicians — the same cannot be said for David Cameron’s team, reports Simon Heffer.

The latest turning-point in our country’s relationship with the European Union came in a coach museum in Lisbon on December 13 2007. It was not so much that that was the time, and the place, where Gordon Brown signed the Treaty of Lisbon, and with it signalled his willingness to cede more sovereignty to the EU; it was that, after much dithering about whether to attend the signing ceremony at all, he turned up late. He missed the main ceremony, in which the other 26 heads of government signed the document in a late mediaeval monastery before embarking on a typically strenuous celebration lunch. By the time Mr Brown turned up, some of his confrères had already gone home.

Next day, the Prime Minister was savaged by the British press, ridiculed by some of the foreign media, and abused by William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary. According to diplomats, however, this caused something to happen to Mr Brown that appears to be almost unique in the history of a character who cannot admit error or be seen to change his mind: he suddenly started to bend over backwards to be part of the European process, to be courteous to his fellow leaders, and to try to play a leading part in that process himself.

No one seems quite sure what happened to effect this change. It may have been that senior figures in his own party, including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, expressed their anger at the embarrassment he had caused by his behaviour, both to the Labour Government and to the country. It may have been that senior diplomats in the Foreign Office and in the capitals of Europe made it unequivocally clear how impossible such conduct made their already difficult jobs, and how it was causing such influence as Britain had in Europe to haemorrhage away. Or, as most of the diplomats to whom I have just spoken on a tour round some European capitals have suggested to me, the shock of uniformly appalling headlines might have been enough to cause Mr Brown to sharpen up his act without any prompting.

His failure to attend the ceremony was routinely described as “cowardly”. He knew that the Lisbon Treaty, because of the powers it handed over to Brussels, was seriously unpopular in Britain. He knew that were he to have honoured the Government’s pledge to hold a referendum on it, there wasn’t a prayer of it being approved. He therefore had to engage in the untruth that the treaty was not substantially the same document as the already-rejected constitution, even though the architect of the process, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, was going around innocently, and accurately, saying that it was. This was the excuse not to have the referendum. Fearing the damage that would be done to him for signing it, Mr Brown then engaged in his display of indifference towards it. This simply made everyone, not just the Euro-sceptics, condemn him.

However, nearly two years later, Europe loves Gordon Brown. He has good relations with most of its leaders, and especially with those who matter most. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, takes him seriously and Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, sees and talks to him often.

Whereas America has written Mr Brown off — the White House gives the impression of simply marking time until there is a new prime minister in post with whom they will have to deal — in Europe he remains a player. “They respect him for what he did during the financial crisis last autumn,” one diplomat told me this week. “They really didn’t know what to do: he had a plan. Things calmed down. He still gets credit for that.”

Mr Brown is also an effective negotiator, something he has had to learn quickly. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer he could barely bring himself to attend meetings of European finance ministers. It was felt that his own views on economic matters were so rigid that he could barely be interested in the views of his counterparts, unless they happened to agree with his. His scepticism about the euro has long been well-known. He looked towards Alan Greenspan, then head of America’s Federal Reserve Bank, for guidance, not towards Frankfurt. Unfortunately, it was Mr Greenspan’s promiscuity on first Bill Clinton’s, and then George Bush’s, behalf with the American money supply, and Mr Brown’s imitation of that, that caused so many problems for our economy.

However, Mr Brown no longer adopts the same tactics with his fellow heads of government. He does engage with them; he does listen to them, or at least make a show of listening. And when he has to press a point, he presses it with his customary insistence, usually to the point where others give up and give in. “That,” as a long-serving diplomat pointed out to me, with approval, “makes him a successful negotiator.”

So, for the moment, matters are calm in Anglo-European relations. The prospect of David Cameron taking over from Mr Brown at some point in the next few months may well change things. Some diplomats foresee possible difficulties for the Tories on several fronts. First, it is perceived by continental politicians that neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Hague is especially interested in Europe: America seems to be their first priority. “What they don’t seem to get,” one diplomat told me, “is that our country’s value to America is as their interpreters towards the Europeans. If a Conservative government is held in distrust in Europe, America has no need to bother with them. When they need to talk to Sarkozy or Merkel or Barroso, they will just go direct.”

Second, the Conservatives’ decision to leave the European People’s Party in the European Parliament has damaged their reputation with the ruling parties in several countries who are also members. “They claimed they were getting out not least because some of the parties in it were supporters of the Lisbon Treaty,” another diplomat told me. “They are now in a largely irrelevant grouping with other people, some of whom support Lisbon, and have lost enormous clout in the process.”

Third, there is irritation that some senior Conservatives seem not to understand what the Lisbon Treaty really means. “It can’t be torn up once it’s ratified,” says one official close to the process. “Its powers are consolidated into the treaty that is the basis of the whole EU. If the Tories want to extract Britain from Lisbon’s effects, then they have to take us out of the EU.”

Fourth, there is impatience among European politicians at the use by some Tories of the notion of a “renegotiation” of our terms of membership of the EU. Diplomats understand that this, like the promise to leave the EPP, was forced on Mr Cameron in 2005 when he sought the votes of Right-wingers in the parliamentary party as part of his leadership challenge.

“However, it’s unworkable,” I was told. “A renegotiation requires the other 26 to sit down and renegotiate too. They won’t. There’s agreement in Brussels that the period of treaty-making is, for the moment, over. Now they are just going to get on with running the show. It might be 10 or even 20 years before any further reforms are proposed. There’s nothing the Tories can do about that.”

Officials expect that Mr Cameron and Mr Hague are aware of this, though they will be watching with interest the election campaign when it comes, and listening out for the tone of the rhetoric. If Ireland rejects Lisbon on October 2, the treaty will be dead — “there simply can’t, won’t, be a third referendum” a diplomat told me, so Mr Cameron will be spared having to worry about how to implement it.

If it is enforced, then officials are anxious to explain to him that he will have to make the best of it. “Tony Blair may well be President. There will be a high representative for foreign affairs, who won’t be British. Britain will have to work to ensure there aren’t any great divergences in foreign policy, and that will best be done by accepting what has happened and working with it.”

The belief is that Mr Cameron already knows the realities of what Irish and Czech ratification of Lisbon will mean for a Tory government, but it will serve no electoral purpose for him to admit to them in an election campaign. Instead, the vague rhetoric about not letting matters rest, or renegotiating, will be pushed out to keep the Right happy.

It is likely that within days of his becoming prime minister — if that is indeed what happens — the Foreign Office will tell him that his choice is to stay in or get out, and that the most he can honestly offer the British people is a promise that any further attempts to erode sovereignty will be resisted firmly. Europe accepts that entry to the euro is not an issue, and will not be one under a Tory government. Also, as a senior diplomat put it to me, “the march to federalism has stopped”.

Should he become prime minister, therefore, it should be easier for Mr Cameron to avoid confrontations and difficulties with his fellow heads of government than it has been for any British leader since Edward Heath — not least because the pass has already been sold. That is, of course, if his party will let him.

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Germany: Al-Qaida Posts Video With New Threat

Al-Qaida has posted a new video threatening Germany, highlighting an increased threat level ahead of national elections and prompting authorities to step up security, the Interior Ministry said Friday.

The ministry gave no details of the al-Qaida posting, but said in a brief statement it underlines the fact that the Sept. 27 elections offer “a particular background for propaganda and operational actions by terrorist groups.”

It said authorities believe there is an “increased threat situation” to which they are responding with “adjusted security measures in particular at airports and stations.”

ARD television reported that the video features a German-speaker who has featured in previous videos over the past year, issuing a threat connected to Germany’s troop presence in Afghanistan.

“If the people decides for a continuation of the war, it has delivered its own verdict,” the channel quoted Bekkay Harrach, who uses the pseudonym Abu Talha, as saying in the video. “The parliamentary election is the people’s only opportunity to shape the policy of the country.”

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Ireland: Leaflet Financed by Europe — Farage

UKIP PUBLICATION: A CONTROVERSIAL leaflet advocating a No vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum is being funded by the European Parliament, the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage said yesterday.

The eight-page leaflet, distributed to every home in the country, has been heavily criticised by Yes campaigners and yesterday it drew an unprecedented rebuke from the Labour Court. Its chairman, Kevin Duffy, said the leaflet seriously misrepresented one of the court’s decisions about contractors from other member states. The wording of the decision had been changed so as to alter its meaning and the decision was the opposite of the one claimed in the leaflet, he said.

But Mr Farage, speaking earlier in Dublin, insisted the leaflet was accurate and accused the Yes side of telling “a constant stream of lies” about the treaty. The treaty was being “rammed through in the most undemocratic way” with the previous referendum being “wilfully ignored”, he told the press conference organised by the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) grouping in the European Parliament. UKIP is the largest party in the grouping, which has no Irish members.

The leaflet claims 75 million Turks will get free movement within the EU if the treaty is passed and “tens of thousands” of Irish workers may see their wages lowered or their jobs displaced.

The €170,000 funding for the leaflet, Mr Farage revealed, is coming from the European Parliament’s information budget.

A spokeswoman for the parliament confirmed the group received funding last week, and was largely entitled to spend this as it saw fit. Mr Farage denied the leaflet was being published by UKIP alone. “There has been a deliberate attempt to say this is a UKIP campaign in Ireland. This is not true, and we wouldn’t do it because it would be illegal. We’re not putting a penny in.”

Some 18 of the 32 members of the group have signed up to the leaflet, according to Timo Soini, a Finnish MEP and chair of the EFD group, of which 13 are UKIP MEPs.

Mr Farage said the Lisbon Treaty was the EU constitution in all but name and it wasn’t true to say nothing would change. The aim was to create a global superpower in Europe and to pretend otherwise was ridiculous.

Members of Generation Yes and Labour Youth staged a protest outside the city centre hotel in which the press conference was held. The group carried posters such as “UK Interference Party” and claimed UKIP was a racist party.

Labour deputy leader Joan Burton said she was angry and offended at the use of a quote from her in the leaflet: “Ukip is made up of a . . . bunch of extreme right-wingers . . . notable only for their anti-Irish and anti-European views.”

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Italy: Mourning for Italian Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

(ANSAmed) — ROME, SEPTEMBER 17 — The whole country is in mourning over the deaths of six Italian parachutists and the four soldiers injured in the attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. The soldiers who died belonged to the 186th Folgore regiment, while three of the injured are from the Army and one from the Air Force. The victims are Lieutenant Antonio Fortunato, Sergeant Major Roberto Valente, and Corporals Matteo Mureddu, Giandomenico Pistonami, Massimiliano Randino and Davide Ricchiuto. The attack happened at 12.10 local time (9.40 in Italy) in the centre of Kabul, at the Massoud roundabout, at a junction of the road which leads to the capital’s airport. The soldiers were on board a convoy which was coming from the international airport, on its way to the Isaf general quarters.

According to early reconstructions, a car bomb exploded, a white Toyota with two suicide bombers inside, said Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa. NATO reports that fifteen civilians were killed in the attack and sixty injured. The risk of attack in the province of Kabul was announced yesterday by security forces. President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano, on an official visit to Japan, expressed “deep sorrow” over the loss of the Italian soldiers, and “sincere and heartfelt sympathy for the families of the victims, and hopes for the recovery of the wounded”. There was deep emotion on the part of the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. “The Italian Government is with the families of the victims, and shares in their grief at this tragic time, and expresses its solidarity with all the members of the Italian mission in Afghanistan, working to support democracy and freedom in this unhappy country”.

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that his country would not forget, and was grateful for the service that the Italian soldiers were providing on behalf of peace and security. Solidarity and sorrow were also expressed by NATO and the US Government. “The Italian soldiers have paid a high price for the freedom and security of Afghanistan” was the first comment by Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Many people are calling for an immediate withdrawal of Italian troops. ‘Let us get out of there as soon as possible” said secretary of the Pdci Oliviero Diliberto at a meeting of the Party executive, while the IdV party called for a meeting to establish ways and timescales for an exit strategy. Today’s attack is the worst suffered by Italy since the attack in Nassirya, in Iraq, in 2002. (ANSamed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Lisbon Rejection Would Hurt Ireland, Says Barroso

IRELAND COULD lose its right to nominate an EU commissioner if it rejects the Lisbon Treaty for a second time, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has warned.

He has also predicted a No vote on October 2nd would create uncertainty about Ireland’s place in Europe, threaten jobs and investment, and damage the economy.

“Honestly, there are some doubts now about the future situation of Ireland. Some people have asked me: Is Ireland going to leave the EU? For investor confidence, it is important that there is certainty about the future of Ireland in the EU,” said Mr Barroso, who arrives in Ireland today for a two-day visit, during which he will meet civil society groups, students and politicians.

Mr Barroso said Ireland would not be forced to leave the union in the event of a No vote. But he said not all audiences understood how the EU worked, citing the example of US firms asking him if Ireland would stay in the EU. “Perceptions count in politics . . . I tell you this very frankly. I believe confidence is part of the economy, as we have been seeing recently,” he said.

He told The Irish Times a No vote could also result in Ireland losing its automatic right to nominate a person to the commission, the EU executive branch that proposes new legislation and manages the EU budget.

“The only way to ensure that Ireland will always have a commissioner is to vote Yes to Lisbon. If not, of course we have to reduce the amount of commissioners. This is in the current treaties and we are legally obliged to do it,” said Mr Barroso in a reference to the Nice Treaty, which stipulates the number of commissioners must be less than the number of member states.

To accommodate Irish concerns following the first No vote last June, EU leaders agreed to invoke a clause in the Lisbon Treaty that would enable the commission to remain at 27 members. But the current EU treaties do not have this clause, which would prompt an immediate institutional problem if the Irish people vote No a second time and Lisbon cannot enter into force.

Mr Barroso said there was no agreement yet on a proposal by Sweden to allow 26 member states to retain a commissioner and give the 27th country the right to appoint a new EU high representative for foreign affairs. “There are different scenarios. Some people say we should have a commission of 15 members. It’s too soon to speculate,” he added.

Mr Barroso said he was not threatening the Irish people, but wanted to put across his honest and frank assessment of the consequences of a second No.

“We respect the vote of the Irish people. It has to be very clear that we are making no threats at all. I don’t want to put any kind of pressure on people. It’s up to each Irish citizen to make his or her decision,” he said.

He said the referendum campaign should be based on facts, not fears. “I don’t like racism or this type of campaign that is based on falsehoods and scaremongering. This is fanatical and should be condemned,” said Mr Barroso, when asked about the campaign led by the British party UKIP.

He said he had heard of No campaigner Declan Ganley but declined the Libertas leader’s invitation to debate the treaty. “I’m going to debate with elected politicians and with citizens in Limerick,” he said.

Mr Barroso, who was re-elected for a second five-year term as commission president on Wednesday, said Irish people had benefited enormously from EU membership and made a very important contribution to Europe. He said they had good economic, political and pragmatic reasons for voting Yes. He rejected criticism he was interfering in a national debate. “The European Commission has not only the right but a duty to inform, as any public authority. I believe we would be criticised if we were not informing citizens of what we are doing and about the reality of Europe,” he said.

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Many Poles Support U.S. Move to Scrap Shield

WARSAW (Reuters) — Almost half Poland’s population supports a U.S. decision to scrap a planned anti-missile system partly based on their soil, a survey published on Saturday showed.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday he was scrapping Bush-era plans to build missile interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic, and instead proposed more flexible defense systems to protect against Iran.

The survey published in the daily Rzeczpospolita by polling firm GFK showed 48 percent of Poles believed the decision was good for Poland, while 31 percent had the opposite view.

A total of 58 percent said the move would have no impact on Poland’s security.

Political analysts say the economy is a far bigger priority than missile defense for Polish and Czech voters.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s center-right, pro-EU government never embraced missile defense as keenly as its more conservative predecessor led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski which it ousted in 2007.

When asked how they interpreted Obama’s decision, 40 percent of Poles in the survey said it was a concession to Russia.

Russia had fiercely opposed plans to deploy the shield in a region it had dominated until the fall of communism in 1989.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

NATO Chief Proposes Linked US/Russian/NATO Defense

BRUSSELS — The head of NATO called Friday for the U.S., Russia and NATO to link their missile defense systems against potential new nuclear threats from Asia and the Middle East, saying that the old foes must forget their lingering Cold War animosity.

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen appealed for unity a day after the U.S. shelved a Bush-era plan for an Eastern European missile defense shield that has been a major irritant in relations with Russia.

“We should explore the potential for linking the U.S., NATO and Russia missile defense systems at an appropriate time,” Fogh Rasmussen said.

“Both NATO and Russia have a wealth of experience in missile defense. We should now work to combine this experience to our mutual benefit,” he said.

Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin said the NATO chief’s address had a “very positive tone.”

“Cooperation with Russia is not a matter of choice but of necessity,” Rogozin said.

Fogh Rasmussen called for a reconsideration of NATO-Russia relations. He said long-range ballistic missile technology in the hands of such countries as North Korea and Iran threatens both the West and Russia.

“If North Korea stays nuclear, and if Iran becomes nuclear, some of their neighbors might feel compelled to follow their example,” he said.

Making NATO and Russian missile defense systems interoperable is a minor issue compared to finding enough political will to let software and other experts at radar sites and command centers exchange military data on a sustained basis.

Since 2003, NATO and Russia have staged at least four simulated missile defense exercises. Both sides say they were successful.

“They showed (NATO’s and Russia’s) missile defense systems could be made interoperable,” Rogozin told reporters Friday. “They showed this can enhance the level of security for everyone.”

A NATO diplomat, speaking privately, said “there were even plans for a live exercise.”

That did not happen, said the official, because of political turmoil in the NATO-Russia relationship

In his address to the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels, Fogh Rasmussen said NATO and Russia remain hostages of Cold War thinking.

“When the Cold War ended 20 years ago, NATO and Russia developed rather unrealistic expectations about each other,” he said. “Those flawed expectations … continue to burden our relationship.”

Thursday saw a break with the U.S. decision to abandon the Bush administration’s plan to deploy an American missile shield in Eastern Europe because of a changed perception of the threat posed by Iran.

U.S. intelligence decided short- and medium-range missiles from Iran now pose a greater near-term threat than the intercontinental ballistic missiles the Bush plan addressed.

A new missile-defense plan would rely on a network of sensors and interceptor missiles based at sea, on land and in the air as a bulwark against Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday praised Obama’s decision and urged the U.S. to also cancel Cold War-era restrictions on trade with Russia.

In Brussels, Rogozin, the Russian NATO envoy, said the shelving of the U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe means Russia will now not deploy short-range Iskander missiles near Poland. “If you have no radars and missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, we don’t need to find some response,” he said.

Russia has long sought a stronger voice in European missile defense plans and has said it would like to link systems. But it insists on a joint analysis of threats first.

The Kremlin has always contended the potential threat from Iran was not as serious as the Bush administration said it was

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s foreign policy adviser suggested Friday that Obama’s decision to scrap the plans could lead to closer cooperation on security issues including missile defense.

A key irritant in NATO’s relations with Moscow is the drive to bring ex-Soviet states and satellites into the alliance which now has 28 members. The membership prospects of Georgia and Ukraine especially have soured relations.

While proposing an unprecedented level of military cooperation with Moscow, Rasmussen said NATO will continue to admit new members if they are judged suited for membership.

Rogozin said Russia continues to object to NATO’s claim to be Europe’s premier security provider, saying the alliance must formally recognize the Collective Security Treaty Organization that Moscow created in 2002. Its members include Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Spain: Warrant of Arrest for 3 Former SS Members

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 17 — Audiencia Nacional judge Ismael Moreno, issued an international warrant of arrest against three former SS members, accused of being responsible for tortures and abuse against Spanish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. According to court sources quoted by press agencies, the three men are Johann Leprich, Anton Tiijung and Josis Kumpf. The former two are currently living in the US and the third one in Austria and all three of them are between the ages of 84 and 85. According to Moreno, the three former SS member are responsible of genocide and crimes against humanity, perpetrated in the Mauthasen , Sachsenhausen and Flossenburg concentration camps, were 7000 Spanish citizens were held during WWII. The inquiry started with a lawsuit filed by Spanish Holocaust survivors against 4 former SS members: the three men included in the warrant of arrest and a fourth one, John Demjanjuc, currently under trial in Germany. All four men belonged to the ill-famed SS Totenkopf-Sturmbann, the Skull Battalion. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Swedish Anti-Semitism Satire Clip a Hit

Israeli satirical video posted on the Internet became a hit in the very countries it criticizes.

The video was produced and posted by latma, a Website criticizing Israeli and international media outlets.

It was produced in the wake of a report by the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet which alleged that the IDF harvests organs of Palestinians killed in conflict for transplant in Israeli patients. The writer of the report has since admitted he had no way of ascertaining its veracity. Israel called the Aftonbladet report a “new blood libel.”

Last week, Norway announced its divestment from Elbit, an Israeli Hi Tech manufacturer which is a world leader in the defense industry. Norway announced it would divest from Elbit because of the company’s work on the security barrier in the West Bank.

The announcement infuriated Israel, which learned of the divestment from a press statement, and Israeli officials said it was made in an “undiplomatic” fashion.

After only two days on the air, the above clip was picked up by the leading newspaper in Sweden,, and by Swedish and Norwegian bloggers.

The clip has over 10,000 views and 500 comments, and Shlomo Blass, who runs the latma Web site it was initially posted on, said the success is overwhelming.

“We were surprised by how quickly the clip took-off, we must have hit a sensitive nerve,” he said.

Many of the some 500 comments on the blog are anti-Israel and there are more than a handful of anti-Semitic and Neo-Nazi comments as well.

Although Blass posted an item on latma calling on people to respond, he doesn’t seem to be disturbed by the comments.

“It is good that people see the true faces of the so-called enlightened and Liberal Europeans who criticize us while turning a blind eye to real human rights abusers. Secondly, the idea was to get them angry and this is a sign of success,” he said.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

UK: Burnt Vans Left on Tracks Again

Hijacked vehicles were placed on the rail line in Lurgan, County Armagh, on a second night of trouble in the town.

About 30 youths were involved in the disturbances during which two vans were hijacked and set alight along with a car stolen earlier at a GAA club.

Masked gunmen were again reported to have been seen in the area.

The disturbances followed the sentencing of three local men on Thursday over a dissident republican mortar bomb plot to murder police.

The railway line remains closed between Portadown and Lisburn.


Translink has advised that train passengers travelling on the cross border Enterprise service to Dublin will be bussed between Belfast and Newry.

Those passengers already faced delays to their journeys as there is still a bus substitution in place between Drogheda and Dublin due to a bridge collapse at Malahide last month.

However, Sinn Fein councillor Johnny McGibbon said the rioters had again failed in their attempts to create widespread disruption.

“The majority of young republicans are not interested in this type of activity and have stayed away,” he said.

“At this point the PSNI have not been dragged into confrontation in the area, and this is the sensible approach.”

On Thursday night, at least five vehicles were hijacked during a night of violence, two of which were also set alight and abandoned on the nearby railway track.

Police carrying out a follow-up search at a property in the Kilwilkie area of the town on Friday recovered a replica gun.

Chief Inspector Jason Murphy said police had received numerous reports of armed men in the area on Thursday night.

“While there are no reports of any shots being fired, this is not acceptable behaviour for our streets and robust action will be taken,” he said.

He said there were no reports of petrol bombs being thrown and no-one was injured.

“This was clearly an attempt to draw my officers into the situation to escalate the violence and to cause serious disruption or injury,” he added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Biggest-Ever Heroin Haul Found at Heathrow

LONDON (AFP) — British and South African authorities have made a record heroin seizure following on operation at Heathrow Airport and raids in both countries, officials have said.

Immigration officials discovered some of the drugs hidden in souvenirs from South Africa, sparking an investigation that netted 360 kilogrammes (793 lbs) of heroin in total, the UK Border Agency said on Thursday.

Seven people have been arrested in both countries over the total seizure, worth 27 million euros, the agency said.

Thousands of kilogrammes of cannabis were also discovered, the agency said.

“This latest detection of heroin at Heathrow, believed to be our biggest ever, highlights our success in preventing class A drugs entering the UK,” said Philip Astle, the UK Border Agency’s Heathrow director.

About 165 kilogrammes were discovered at Heathrow, a record seizure for the world’s busiest airport, on September 9 in the consignment of souvenirs.

After an investigation, police seized another 80 kilogrammes and arrested two people in Kent, charging one with conspiracy to import drugs and possession, the agency said.

Acting on information from London, South African police arrested five people, including three Britons nationals, and seized 115 kilogrammes of heroin and 6,500 kilogrammes of cannabis in a warehouse outside Durban.

“These seizures are a great example of what can happen when partners work together, said Andy Sellers, deputy director of the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

“Both ends of this international chain have been attacked, and a significant amount of heroin and cannabis has been kept off the UK’s streets.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Call to Change Anti-Bullying Law

Leading education lawyers and charities are calling for a change in the law to protect vulnerable young people from extreme bullying in England and Wales.

Head teachers are not being held accountable for violent and abusive pupils and anti-bullying guidelines should be strengthened, they claim.

The Children’s Legal Centre said more parents had been seeking legal advice.

But the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said “hyper-accountability” already existed.

England Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said the government’s measures were working, but recognised procedures for parents needed to be strengthened. He said a bill to address this was already in parliament.

The call comes after the Westminster government launched a campaign to help tackle bullying against children with special needs.

Mike Charles, an education lawyer, said schools are too often trying to avoid responsibility.

“I’m seeing a rise in the number of people turning to the law, heads are not being held accountable,” he said.

He wants heads to be forced to report and act on all cases of bullying, and an independent adjudicator to access every school.

Physical and emotional

In a BBC Breakfast News report Debbie (name changed to protect her children) said she had no choice but to consider legal action against the school her two teenage children used to attend.

She claims teachers stood by and watched as her son was attacked — in front of her — by about 40 other pupils.

“They had these temporary metal road signs the triangular ones and they just attacked him with it, beating him.

“Watching your kids being persecuted for no reason — it’s heartbreaking,” she said.

She says her children have been kept out of class for nearly a year because of physical and emotional bullying by other pupils.

The school says Debbie’s child’s special needs were behind many of the problems, and any bullying took place outside the school.

Alison Fiddy, from the Children’s Legal Centre, backed the call to stress the responsibility of head teachers. “We need to see heads being held accountable,” she said.

But Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said head teachers were already held to account in a number of different ways and “hyper-accountability [is] out there already”.

Mr Coaker said: “There is a bill before parliament at the current time which will allow those procedures to be strengthened in the small number of cases where things haven’t worked.

“That will allow parents to go to the local government ombudsman,” he added.

‘Distressed child’

The National Bullying Helpline has called for a new code of practice for schools, similar to one used in the workplace by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

The helpline’s chief executive Christine Pratt said she wanted outsiders brought in to schools to investigate bullying claims and take pressure away from parents.

“We believe teachers are not necessarily the right person or individual to address a complaint from a parent,” she said.

“That just raises another issue of conflict and then the parent is in a situation where they’ve got a credibility issue and they’ve got a distressed child at home.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Don’t Eat Near Ramadan Fasters, Home Office Staff Told

Home Office staff were officially warned not to eat in front of their fasting Muslim colleagues during Ramadan — in case it made them feel hungry.

The advice came in a taxpayer-funded internal document listing do’s and don’ts during the Muslim holy month, which ends this weekend.

But the guide is now at the centre of a row with Islamic groups who said it was more likely to incite hatred of Muslims than promote understanding.

The Home Office Islamic Network produced the five-page information sheet which says: ‘In practical terms, please be sensitive when eating lunch near a Muslim colleague who is fasting.

This can make an individual feel hungrier and make it more challenging to observe the fast.’

During the holy month devout Muslims do not drink or eat from dawn until sunset and, according to the document, must avoid ‘all obscene and irreligious sights and sounds’.

It also urged Home Office managers to be flexible over working arrangements.

It says: ‘The most likely need Muslim staff may present to managers during this period is for flexibility around working hours and break times as those fasting will have a slightly different routine from usual. Managers and Muslim staff should discuss what their needs are and be responsive and sensitive.’

Managers were also told: ‘Muslim staff who are fasting and whose environment allows it may wish to set out for work earlier than usual and finish their working day correspondingly early…in line with flexi-time arrangements.’

Last night a Home Office spokeswoman confirmed the document had been distributed to its staff and posted on the department’s internal intranet system.

She said: ‘It is not formal departmental guidance and was written by volunteers.’

The spokeswoman added that the Islamic Network was one of a number of staff faith and equality groups within the Home Office and was paid for by the taxpayer.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which claims to be fighting a ‘political jihad against Islamophobia’, attacked the document.

It said: ‘It is designed to create more hatred in the hearts of non-Muslims.

‘We don’t care how much non-Muslims eat in front of us.

‘It’s never been an issue and never will be and we have never asked for any special treatment or sensitivity from non-Muslims whilst fasting.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Police Thought Mother Who Killed Herself and Disabled Daughter in Blazing Car Was ‘Over-Reacting’

A mother and her disabled daughter died in a blazing car after police decided a campaign of terror against them by local yobs was not worth prosecuting, an inquest heard yesterday.

Fiona Pilkington, her family and neighbours asked for help more than 30 times but she was accused of ‘ over-reacting’.

The 38-year-old also complained to the council and her MP in a bid to stop nearly a decade of abuse of her mentally disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick,18, and dyslexic son Anthony.

The yobs, some as young as ten, threw stones and eggs at her home in Barwell, Leicestershire, urinated on a wall, invaded the garden and pushed fireworks through the letter box, leaving the family ‘under siege’.

Anthony was beaten up in the street and locked in a shed at knifepoint.

The final call to police came on the day of Miss Pilkington’s death in October 2007, when she was told to ‘ignore’ girls trampling over her hedge and mocking Francecca, who had developmental delay and a mental age of four..

Hours later her torment, and that of her daughter, ended in the blazing car.

Yesterday coroner Olivia Davison put a series of searching questions to Chris Tew, who was then assistant chief constable of Leicestershire Police.

She said it must have been ‘common sense’ to want to help a family who were feeling ‘victimised’.

Mr Tew, now retired, said: ‘Anti-social behaviour often occurs in residential areas when no actual crime is being committed. There’s no damage or assault and it doesn’t pass the threshold for a crime.’

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

UK: Pupils Told ‘A New Girl is Starting’ After Boy of Nine Returns to School Female

A boy of nine has returned to school as a girl in what is believed to be Britain’s youngest gender swap.

Children at the school in southern England were told the child had left and been replaced by a female pupil.

The child came dressed in girls’ uniform with long hair tied in a pink ribbon.

The case comes after it was revealed yesterday that a 12-year-old boy had started his first term at secondary school in southern England as a girl.

Some parents at the school have criticised staff for not informing them before telling children about the gender change at a special assembly.

[Return to headlines]

UK: Row Over Labour’s ‘Secret Tax Bombshell’

A major political row has broken out after the Tories seized on Treasury documents to claim that Labour was planning a “bombshell” rise in income tax of 3p in the pound if it won the next general election.

The Treasury figures — marked “confidential” — disclosed a big rise in projected income tax receipts between now and 2011-12, as well as in subsequent years. They led the Tories to accuse ministers of “factoring in” an immediate rise in income tax if Labour was returned to power.

Further rises could lead to the amount taken through the tax increasing by almost a third by 2013-14, the Tories said. They claimed the rise in receipts could not be accounted for by people returning to work and the introduction of the new 50p top-rate tax on earnings of more than £150,000 a year.

George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: “Labour’s secret spending plans, which Gordon Brown never wanted to make public, appear to reveal an income tax bombshell”.

The figures suggested that the average family’s tax bill would rise by £2,770 by 2013, he added. However, Liam Byrne, the Treasury Chief Secretary, accused Mr Osborne of making “false” claims and trying to “mislead the British people”. The increase in income tax receipts was accounted for, he said, by “the economy returning to growth, no more, no less”.

The disclosures followed a leak to the Tories last week that showed that the Treasury was planning to cut the budgets of Whitehall departments by 9.28 per cent over four years starting in April 2010 — a reduction of £36 billion a year.

The main parties have become embroiled in a pre-election spending battle, with Mr Brown finally admitting last week, in a speech to the TUC ­conference in Liverpool, that Labour would have to make cuts if re-elected, although he pledged to protect front-line services.

The latest row centred on a series of Treasury tables showing the anticipated income tax receipts in the years up to 2013-14.

The total falls to £140.5 billion this year, which most experts expect will include the worst of the recession, before rising slightly to £144.7 billion in 2010-11, which covers the period when the next election is expected to be held.

In 2011-12, however, the projected income tax “take” leaps to £161.6 billion. The Tories said that rise could not be accounted for by the planned 50p tax rate for those on incomes of more than £150,000, which would raise just under £2 billion in

2011-12, or by people returning to work as the economy started to recover.

They said the £14.8 billion “unexplained” increase in receipts would be the equivalent of putting 3p on the standard rate of income tax. The tables showed that receipts would rise still further in subsequent years, ending up at £191.8 billion in 2013-14 — a rise of 32.55 per cent from 2010-11.

Mr Osborne said: “Income tax receipts are set to rise by a third. Are ministers asking us to believe that this is due only to recovery from recession and the 50p rate?

“Hard-working families are having to pay a heavy price for Labour’s economic incompetence and the tragedy is that so much of the money will be spent on the bills of social failure like the cost of unemployment and paying the interest on debt.”

If ministers were planning to raise income tax if they won the next election, it might help explain why their current strategy was to admit to spending cutbacks in the future but claim that cuts under the Tories would be more severe — relying on the extra tax revenue to plug the gap.

The documents also predicted that income tax receipts would rise faster than growth in the economy.

The tables showed that “TME” (Total Managed Expenditure, which encompassed all spending by central government) would rise from £701.7 billion next year to £758.3 billion in

2013-14. Over the same period, payments on debt interest were projected to rise from £42.9 billion to £63.7 billion — or more than £2,000 from each taxpayer.

Mr Byrne said: “These government tax projections simply set out what is raised by our existing published measures as the economy returns to growth. No more, no less. This creates serious questions over George Osborne’s judgment. The shadow chancellor needs to answer why he is trying to mislead the British people.”

At the time of the Budget, in April, the Treasury published official growth forecasts for the economy that were widely branded as “over optimistic”.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK: Schoolgirl, 12, Keeps Harrowing Diary of Abuse by Mother

A schoolgirl kept a diary chronicling months of physical and mental abuse by her mother, a court heard.

The harrowing journal told how the 12-year-old was whipped with computer cables and left at home with her nine-year-old brother for four days.

In one entry she wrote: ‘I try my best all the time but she only focuses on my mistakes.’

The diary describes how she was sent to the cash machine to withdraw money but the card was swallowed.

She was so terrified of returning home that she walked the streets of the Lancashire town where she lived for two hours.

On returning home, she was whipped with a computer cable and denied an evening meal.

Peter Wild, prosecuting, told Blackburn Magistrates court: ‘When she eventually did go home she was whipped with a computer cable.

‘She remembers asking her mum for mercy. Her response was that a stupid child didn’t deserve mercy, a stupid child deserved beating.’

The girl wrote: ‘She has hurt me to the point I can’t take it any more. I have endured a lot of pain and suffering. I am covered in scars due to the wires and I have been roaming the streets.’

When an MP3 player was taken away as a punishment she revealed: ‘It is the only present I have had in seven years.’

She also told how she was not allowed to go to a friend’s birthday party: ‘It was the first birthday party I was ever invited to. I felt so left out.’

In another entry the girl described how she was forced to ‘stool down’ as a punishment, which involved bending over with one finger touching the floor while being beaten.

During such a beating, she locked herself in the bathroom and called police.

However the girl still defended her mother in the diary writing: ‘My mum is not a bad person. She simply believes in the African way of thinking.’

The 37-year-old mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, pleaded guilty to child cruelty.

Michael Blacklidge, defending, said his client came from a good family in Nigeria and she had been well educated.

He said Social Services were involved with the family and the children were still at home with their mother.

The family moved to England because the children’s father wished her daughter to undergo a form of ritual mutilation.

The woman was committed on bail to Preston Crown Court for sentence.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

Walesa: ‘No’ Vote ‘Could Split Europe’

Former Polish president condemns ‘lies’ of anti-treaty campaign

REJECTION of the Lisbon Treaty could prompt calls for the EU to move off in two separate directions, former Polish president Lech Walesa said yesterday.

If Ireland votes ‘No’ again, Mr Walesa said he would recommend that countries in favour of the Lisbon Treaty join forces.

“I will propose that if the countries who understand there is a need for a stronger control of Europe would lead towards this direction, towards the direction I suggested before, and let the other countries establish their own union,” he said through a translator. “The European Union needs some kind of a controlling system.”

His comments came as a Millward Brown Lansdowne survey last night revealed that 67pc of voters are now in favour of the treaty when undecided voters are taken out.

When undecided voters are taken account of, the poll showed that 53pc will vote ‘Yes’, 26pc will vote ‘No’ and 21pc of voters remain undecided.

The former president and Solidarity leader, who was in Dublin to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote at the invitation of Fine Gael, said “hidden forces” feel threatened by a united and well-organised Europe. And he insisted the Lisbon Treaty did not negatively impact on workers’ rights, contrary to claims by some ‘No’ campaigners.


Some of the arguments of anti-Lisbon Treaty campaigners are bordering on the “ridiculous”, he said. “It is certainly a lie that this treaty works to the disadvantage of the labour force on any single issue,” he said.

“And actually, all the ‘No’ arguments that I have been hearing here in Ireland, they border on the ridiculous, and they border on lies.”

Asked about speculation that he had obtained €100,000 to speak at a conference organised by Libertas earlier this year, Mr Walesa said such a figure was “absurd”.

While supportive of Libertas’s general views about the need to reorganise European structures and put citizens at its heart, Mr Walesa said he disagreed with them on their Lisbon Treaty stance.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny described Mr Walesa as “a powerful symbol, an iconic figure and the father of democracy in Eastern Europe”. He too claimed some of the ‘No’ side’s arguments, such as the argument about the minimum wage falling to €1.84, were “bare-faced lies”.

[Return to headlines]


Balkans — Canciani (PDL): Security Concerns Over Visas

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, SEPTEMBER 17 — The go-ahead should be given for visa liberalisation for citizens of the western Balkans to enter the Schengen area, but only with guarantees on questions of security and human rights, without forgetting the issue of Kosovo. This is the message delivered by Italy’s PDL (People of Freedom) MP Antonio Canciani in his speech to the European Parliament in Strasburg. “I begin by saying that I am in favour of the liberalisation and the integration and inclusion of the mosaic of the western Balkans in Europe , because, as has been said, we need a stable Balkans, and so integration has to happen as soon as possible. However, I have to recall the debate on immigration that took place in this house, which means security and human rights. This means that the necessary checks need to be carried out in the case of the Balkans, to guarantee the security of all, also in the fastest timeframe possible”. Further, “there is a hole in the chart for the lifting of visas, which is Kosovo. Once Serbian liberalisation is operative, this should be a short step”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Organizers Cancel Serbia’s Gay Pride March

BELGRADE, Serbia — Organizers have canceled Serbia’s gay pride march after authorities said they could not guarantee protection for the event from extremist groups.

The gathering was to be Serbia’s first gay pride march since 2001. The previous event received almost no police protection and was broken up by rightist groups.

The planned march was seen a major test for the current Serbian government, which has launched pro-Western reforms and pledged to protect human rights.

But organizers said Saturday authorities have informed them that the march in downtown Belgrade was too risky. Spokesman Dusan Kosanovic says police offered a different venue but organizers decided to cancel the march instead.

Several extremist groups had said they would attack the gathering.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Serbia: Gay Parade Provokes Bitter Row

Belgrade, 18 Sept. (AKI) — A gay pride march to be held in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Sunday has sparked a bitter row between liberals and conservatives in Serbia. Homosexuality is still far from being widely accepted in the Balkan country, where many gays are forced to lead a double life and use coded messages to meet in their homes as well as clubs and bars.

The parade has caused a bitter rift between pro-European politicians who support the parade and nationalist groups and religious conservatives who oppose it.

The march being organised by gay and lesbian groups and has made headlines across Serbia for the past few weeks.

It is supported by the human rights ministry, and is the first parade since 2001, when a gay march ended in violent clashes in which over 40 people were injured.

Police minister Ivica Dacic called the parade a “high risk event” and said several thousand police would be on the streets to prevent violence on Sunday.

“Serbia is a democratic country with high human rights standards and every citizen has the right to express his constitutional freedoms,” the government said in a statement.

But some politicians and two archbishops from of the Serbian Orthodox Church called the event a “parade of shame”, saying that gays, like other citizens, should exercise their sexual inclinations in their own bedrooms.

“I don’t agree with the march and don’t understand the need to express sexual inclinations in this way. But at the same time everyone has the right to express themselves,” said Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas.

Several western embassies in Belgrade, including Sweden, Germany and Netherlands have voiced their support for the parade and appealed for calm.

“Any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation should be condemned and rejected, because it isn’t in harmony with basic principles and values on which the European Union is based,” the Swedish embassy said in a statement.

Sweden is the current European Union president.

But one blunt message has already come from the right-wing ultra-nationalist group Obraz, which has a history of violence.

“We will not allow this parade of shame to be held at any price,” said Obraz’s Mladen Obradovic.

Although the parliament enacted a law in March banning discrimination against gays amid strong opposition, gays cannot marry or adopt children.

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

Serbian Gay Parade is Called Off

A Gay Pride march in Serbia has been called off after police told organisers they could not guarantee its safety.

One of the organisers said Serbia’s prime minister had urged them to switch Sunday’s rally from central Belgrade, but the proposal was “unacceptable”.

President Boris Tadic vowed on Friday to protect the participants.

Anti-gay groups had threatened violence if the march were allowed to go ahead. “We’re expecting you” posters had been stuck around the Serbian capital.

“Pride parades are traditionally organised in the main streets of big cities,” said one of the organisers, Dragana Vuckovic.

It is “unacceptable” to stage the parade in a “field”, she told the media.

“ The Republic of Serbia has capitulated. We have not “

Gay Pride organising committee

The decision had been taken after a meeting on Saturday with Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic.

Nationalist and religious leaders have opposed a Serbian bill banning discrimination against homosexuals.

The ultra-nationalist Serb Popular Movement 1389 hailed the cancellation of Sunday’s march as “a great victory for normal Serbia”.

“In our city infidels and Satanists will not pass,” it added.

Homosexuality in Serbia is still far from accepted, says the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Belgrade.

The gay scene is underground and members of the community are regularly the target of discrimination.

Belgrade’s first gay parade in 2001 descended into chaos amid widespread violence by mobs of protesters — with television images of bleeding participants and police firing rubber bullets broadcast around the world.

The organising committee of the planned Sunday march will certainly keep up the pressure, says our correspondent.

“The state has failed the fundamental test,” it says in a statement. “The next exam period is approaching fast. The Republic of Serbia has capitulated. We have not.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

North Africa

Lockerbie Bomber Releases Legal Documents

LONDON — The only man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing posted his legal defense to the Web on Friday, saying he hopes it will help convince people he had nothing to do with the terrorist attack that killed 270 people.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi said the 353 pages of legal arguments are part of an appeal of his conviction that was dropped shortly before he was released from a Scottish jail last month. The documents are particularly aimed at Scots and the families of the bombing’s victims, he said.

All 259 people on board Pan Am Flight 103 — mostly Americans — and 11 people on the ground died on Dec. 21, 1988 when a bomb exploded mid-flight as the plane flew over Scotland.

“I will do everything in my power to persuade the public, and in particular the Scottish public, of my innocence,” the terminally ill al-Megrahi said in a statement. “I hope that this can assist in the understanding of my case, especially for those who have been most profoundly affected by it.”

Al-Megrahi, who was given only about three months to live by doctors, was freed last month by Scottish authorities on compassionate grounds.

His release and the festive welcome he received upon returning to his native Libya outraged the families of the American victims and drew strong protests from U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama and FBI director Robert Mueller.

But the release also interrupted al-Megrahi’s legal campaign to have his conviction overturned.

The former Libyan intelligence agent was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years in prison by a specially convened Scottish Court in The Netherlands in 2001, but he always proclaimed his innocence.

His Scottish lawyers argue that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and won the right to have the case reviewed in 2007.

Al-Megrahi’s appeal began in April, but was dropped Aug. 18 to allow al-Megrahi to be considered for a prison transfer to Libya. No transfer can occur while legal proceedings are ongoing.

Al-Megrahi was eventually freed on compassionate grounds, not through a prison transfer. He said Friday that by dropping the appeal, he had robbed himself of an opportunity to clear his name through legal channels.

The legal argument released Friday consisted of the written grounds of appeal submitted to Scotland’s High Court this year. In the papers, his lawyers argued that al-Megrahi’s conviction relied on sketchy eyewitness testimony and several leaps of faith.

“The verdict was one which no reasonable jury could have returned,” the argument says. “There are too many gaps in the evidence.”

In particular, the argument challenged evidence that tied al-Megrahi to a piece of clothing found wrapped around the bomb that brought down the airliner.

Tony Gauci, a Maltese store owner, claimed that a man resembling al-Megrahi entered his shop on Dec. 7, 1988 and bought the clothing in question. But the argument said Gauci’s testimony was of “poor quality — confused, contradictory and factually incorrect.”

The argument also called into question the prosecution’s theory of what al-Megrahi was doing in Malta and how the bomb made it on to the plane.

Richard Barker, an opposition lawmaker at Scotland’s Parliament, said that al-Megrahi “remains in the eyes of Scottish justice the murderer of 270 people.”

“The release of these files does not change that fact,” he said Friday.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Well, Isn’t That Just Precious? The Lockerbie Bomber Has a Blog.

Remember Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi? He’s also known as the “Lockerbie Bomber,” for his part in killing 270, including 190 Americans in 1988. Scotland recently released him, ostensibly on “compassionate” grounds, because he is supposedly terminally ill. After he was given a hero’s welcome in Libya, information has begun to surface, indicating that his release was most likely a deal for oil.

So…what’s the dying martyr wannabe up to now? He has his own website, declaring his innocence: (Yes, I used rel=“nofollow” on that link!) Feel free to check it out — download the .pdf’s at your own risk (I didn’t, and wouldn’t recommend it).

           — Hat tip: Paul Green [Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

IAF Chief: We Must Stop S-300 Delivery

Israel needs to make every effort to stop the S-300 missile defense system from reaching countries where the air force may need to fly, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan has told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview.

“The S-300 is a Russian-made surface-to-air missile system that is very advanced, with long ranges and many capabilities,” Nehushtan told the Post in the interview, which appears in our Friday Magazine.

“We need to make every effort to stop this system from getting to places where the IAF needs to operate or may need to operate in the future,” he said.

The S-300 is one of the most advanced multi-target antiaircraft missile systems in the world and has a reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to 12 at the same time. It has a range of about 200 km. and can hit targets at altitudes of 90,000 feet.

While Russia and Iran signed a deal for the sale of the system several years ago, according to latest assessments in Israel, it has yet to be delivered.

Last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to Moscow for talks, which according to some news reports focused on the possible sale of the S-300 to Iran.

Earlier in the month, reports surfaced that the Mossad was involved in the interception of the missing Arctic Sea cargo ship in August. According to some versions, the ship was carrying S-300 missiles destined for Iran.

In the interview, Nehushtan offered a fierce defense of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009.

He defended Israel’s opening bombardment, including the attack on Hamas policemen, which the UN’s Richard Goldstone-led fact-finding mission this week branded a violation of international law.

“We need to look at Hamas from top to bottom,” Nehushtan said, in answer to a question about the legitimacy of targeting Hamas police forces. “Look at the way they [Hamas] killed Fatah. Who do you think did that? This is how they killed their own people. We need to disconnect from traditional military concepts and understand that Hamas doesn’t work that way. They don’t come in uniforms or in tanks to a battlefield.”

No other military in the world, Nehushtan said, was as careful as Israel’s when operating in a densely-populated urban setting.

“This was demonstrated by our accuracy as well as [by] the attention we gave to every single target, with exact planning to prevent collateral damage, even by calling the people there to let them leave their homes, which in some cases were storehouses for weapons,” the air force chief said. “We then kept our eye on the homes and ensured that they left. We gave this service and only then attacked.”

While vague in his answers on the Iranian threat, Nehushtan said Israel “retains the right to defend itself” and that “ultimately, the job of the IAF is to provide security for the State of Israel and we know how to do this.”

Israel, he said, preferred that the Iranian issue be handled by the international community. “We would be happy if these efforts are successful,” he said.

The sense of urgency regarding the S-300 was mentioned earlier this week in a report on the Iranian threat published by the Bipartisan Policy Center and called “Meeting the Challenge — Time is Running Out.”

Authored by two former US senators and the former deputy head of the US Military European Command — whose geographic area of responsibility includes Israel — the report warned that Israel might attack in one of two scenarios.

“Should we [the US] fail to act decisively to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in the near-term, or if it appears likely that Iran is about to obtain game-changing military technology — such as Russia’s S-300 anti-aircraft system — Israel, more likely than not, will act on its own,” the authors wrote.

The story, which also seems to be increasingly disseminated via e-mail, is nothing less than a modern variation of the ancient blood libel. It claims that Interpol, the international police organization, has revealed the existence of “a Jewish gang” that was “involved in the abduction of children from Algeria and trafficking of their organs.”

What are the lessons to be taken away from this new revival of the blood libel?

One is that we cannot be complacent when faced with misinformation and slander. In the new 24-hour media environment, which is fueled by rumors in the blogosphere, it is far easier than ever before for myths to spin out of control before someone bothers to check the facts. And we know what can happen when anti-Semitism is left unchecked.

There needs to be an immediate response, not just from watchdog organizations, but from governments and people of authority, who will to stand up to make clear that such unfounded rumors playing on age-old stereotypes about Jews are unacceptable.

Sweden’s leadership, faced with a controversy not of their making, failed in this moral test by setting up the Aftonbladet blood libel story as a matter of freedom of the press. In fact, they were defending the indefensible, a terrible fiction masquerading as fact.

Another lesson is the need for more education, especially in democratic societies that can serve as the stalwarts against anti-Semitism. It is vital that societies continue to educate their young people about the dangers of anti-Semitism and the history of the Holocaust so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated — never, ever again.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

MDA Takes Six Injured Gazans to Israeli Hospital

[the red crescent of the emulators of the insane camel would have done the same for the Jooz, no?]

Magen David Adom evacuated six injured Gazans from the Erez border crossing to a hospital in Israel on Friday.

The six had been injured in a gas explosion in their home, MDA said.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Meet the Palestinians’ Next Leader, Muhammad (Abu Al-Mahir) Ghaneim: The Man Who Will Make Comprehensive Peace Impossible

By Barry Rubin

There’s nothing written about more often—and inaccurately—than the Palestinians, yet there is curiously little interest about the politics and ideology which governs their behavior. The same situation applies to the man s slated to become that movement’s next leader, only the third to hold that post in 50 years, after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

The fact that an issue that is supposedly the most important, high-priority question in the Middle East, or even the world, is so little studied in depth has a simple answer. The contemporary narrative is that the Palestinian leadership yearns for a state, an end to the conflict, and peace, while the failure to achieve can be blamed on Israel. Yet even the slightest real examination shows the exact opposite is true.

This point is only underlined by looking at the current candidate for next leader, Muhammad Ghaneim, often known as Abu Mahir. Of all those who might credibly have been considered for the leadership of Fatah—and hence of the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA)—he is probably the most hardline one.

Ironically, while media coverage of the 2009 Fatah Congress stressed the accession of young and more flexible leaders, the 72-year-old Ghaneim certainly does not fit that description.

Born in Jerusalem on August 29, 1937. His first political involvement was with the Muslim Brotherhood but he became a founding member of the Fatah movement in 1959 and active ever after, involved mainly in recruitment and organizational matters.

It is difficult to say to what extent Ghaneim’s early involvement with radical Islamism has shaped his thinking and whether it would make it easier for him to reconcile with the even more radical Hamas…

           — Hat tip: Barry Rubin [Return to headlines]

Moroccan Foundation Buys $5 Million Worth of Land in E. Jerusalem

The “Al-Quds Foundation,” an organization which is based in Morocco, announced on Saturday that it has bought $5 million worth of land in east Jerusalem, a move which it said was intended to protect the “Islamic-Arab” nature of the eastern portion of the city, Israel Radio reported.

According to the report, which cited a press conference given by the foundation in Morocco, the purchased land amounted to 1,800 square meters, and would serve as the location of a future cultural center.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Renault Electric Vehicle to Roll Into Israel in 2011

French car manufacturer Renault and Israeli electric car infrastructure builder Better Place signed an agreement on Tuesday to import the Fluence ZE to Israel by the first half of 2011.

The new electric powered cars of Renault are seen on the first press day of the Frankfurt Auto Show in Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday.

Better Place is to import and distribute the cars in Israel and to market them via subscriptions, similar to those used for cellphones, in Denmark. The company’s committed to selling a total of 100,000 vehicles in the two countries by 2016.

Renault unveiled the concept car prototype for its Fluence line at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany on Tuesday. It will be the world’s first mass-market zero-emission electric vehicle with a switchable battery.

The five-seat Fluence ZE is 4.82 meters long, has an axle track of 1.672 meters, and a 0.329 cu.m. trunk.

It has a range of 160 km. In Israel, it will come with a four-year, 120,000 km. warranty.

Better Place has designed a battery switch station that can replace an empty battery with a new one in less than five minutes. It will also offer charging spots that provide a full charge in four to eight hours, or a fast boost to 80 percent of capacity in 20 minutes.

Carlos Ghosn, Renault’s president and CEO, said, “The signing of this agreement is a step forward for Renault’s electric vehicle strategy. Fluence ZE will be the first Renault passenger electric vehicle, launched in 2011 in more than 20 countries worldwide. It will be an attractive and spacious electric family car that will enjoy highly competitive running costs compared to conventional vehicles.

“Since we first announced our partnership with Better Place in January 2008, the Renault and Better Place teams have worked diligently to make today’s announcement a reality, giving us a two-year lead over the competition.”

Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, added, “Today marks an historic milestone in the tremendous collaboration between Renault and Better Place to bring to market a mainstream electric car that’s more convenient and affordable than an ICE [internal combustion engine] car. We commend Carlos Ghosn and the entire Renault team for having the vision and execution skills to define a new market for the auto industry with Better Place.

“We believe this kind of collaboration and innovation on zero-emission vehicles is the solution for turning around the auto industry and solving the harmful impact that CO2 has on our planet.”

Due to its alliance with Nissan, Renault is the fourth largest auto manufacturer in the world.

Better Place also unveiled its EV (electric vehicle) service platform in Frankfurt. The Israeli-designed onboard computer system, linked to a central data center, will help manage each car’s energy needs while ensuring the local electricity grid is not unduly stressed by excessive demand at any one time. Notwithstanding Better Place’s partnership with Renault, the charging network will be suitable for all brands of electric vehicles.

For the production of charge spots, Better Place announced that it has signed an agreement with the Singapore-based Flextronics International.

Better Place and Flextronics will jointly engineer, develop and stress-test 1,000 next generation charge spots in the field before scaling up to 100,000 production-grade charge spots by 2011.

Better Place is currently field testing nearly 800 charge points in Israel in a variety of private and public locations, including curbside locations, parking lots, shopping malls and private residences.

The company has already signed agreements with 50 partners in Israel who have committed to converting a portion of their internal combustion fleets to electric vehicles. These include the Israel operations for multinational companies such as Cisco, FedEx and IBM.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

UN: US Concerned on Goldstone Report Elements

(ANSAmed) — WASHINGTON — The United States is “concerned over certain recommendations” in the report by the UN Commission on Operation Cast Lead, said a State Department spokesman. The report, presented yesterday, accuses Israel of war crimes. “We are looking it over,” said the spokesman, Ian Kelly, “and at a glance are concerned over some of its recommendations.” The report accuses Israeli armed forces of actions — during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip — comparable to “war crimes and, in certain circumstances, crimes against humanity.” The report, which is named after the chairman of the commission (the South African magistrate Richard Goldstone), has given rise to harsh criticism from Israel. The US spokesman also criticised the “biased” mandate received from the Human Rights Commission, but acknowledged that Goldstone had tried to ‘broaden’ his mandate “to look into abuses committed by all those involved in the conflict”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Middle East

Anger at Iranian Holocaust Denial

The Iranian president’s latest denial of the Nazi Holocaust has drawn strong condemnation from Western powers.

Speaking in the capital, Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was “a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim”.

Germany said the comments were a “disgrace to his country” while the US said they would “isolate Iran further”.

Mr Ahmadinejad made the remarks at an annual rally where opposition supporters clashed with police.

Reformists, who have been banned from holding demonstrations since disputed presidential elections in June, defied warnings not to use the pro-Palestinian Quds (Jerusalem) Day marches to stage protests.

‘Unacceptable and shocking’

As part of the Quds Day events, President Ahmadinejad delivered a speech in which he repeated previous assertions that the Holocaust was a lie.

“ Promoting those vicious lies serves only to isolate Iran further from the world “

Robert Gibbs White House press secretary

“The pretext [the Holocaust] for the creation of the Zionist regime [Israel] is false,” he told worshippers at Tehran university.

“It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim.”

In reaction, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs cited President Barack Obama’s assertion in a speech to the Muslim world that “denying the Holocaust is baseless, ignorant and hateful”.

“Promoting those vicious lies serves only to isolate Iran further from the world,” Mr Gibbs said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “This sheer anti-Semitism demands our collective condemnation.

“We will continue to confront it decisively in the future.”

A French foreign ministry spokesman called the remarks “unacceptable and shocking”, while British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the denial was “abhorrent as well as ignorant”.

“It is very important that the world community stands up against this tide of abuse,” Mr Miliband said.

Reformists attacked

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Tehran that it also risked further isolation and economic pressure if it did not provide answers soon about its nuclear ambitions.

Western powers suspect Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons, though Iran insists its programme is purely to generate power for civilian uses.

UN Security Council powers and Germany are due to hold talks on the programme at the UN General Assembly next week.

The BBC’s Kim Ghattas reports from Washington that despite Mr Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust comments and Iran’s disputed election, the US offer to engage diplomatically with Iran is still on the table.

Even so, the US ambassador to the UN said there would be no meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Ahmadinejad at the UN.

At the rally in Tehran, thousands of opposition supporters turned out, shouting slogans in support of defeated presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Reports say there were clashes between police and protesters as the march progressed, with some arrests. Stones were thrown, and police used tear gas.

Iranian state-run channel Press TV showed footage of an opposition rally, with many supporters wearing green, the colour adopted by supporters of Mr Mousavi.

Mr Mousavi was forced to leave the rally after his car was attacked, the official Irna news agency reported, while former President Mohammad Khatami — also a reformist — was reportedly pushed to the ground and had his turban knocked off, before police intervened.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Cyprus: Strasbourg Sentences Turkey for 9 Missing Men

(ANSAmed) — STRASBOURG, SEPTEMBER 18 — Today the European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for not having properly investigated the disappearance of nine men during military operations carried out by the Turkish army in northern Cyprus between July and August of 1974. Eight of the men were members of the Greek/Cypriot forces that attempted to resist the advance of the Turkish army, the ninth was a bank employee. Judges in Strasbourg specified in their ruling that despite the passage of 35 years, which makes any investigation difficult, according to the Court’s jurisprudence the Turkish government is in any case obliged to verify the events. The judges consequently established that Turkey violated article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which sanctions the right to life) by not effectively investigating the fate of the 9 men. The Court also established that Ankara subjected relatives of the victims to inhuman treatment, in violation of article 3 of the Convention, because it did not comment on the event and offered no indication of the fate of the men to their relatives. The Court awarded each claimant 12,000 euros in damages and 8,000 for legal expenses. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Obama Aide: No UN Meeting for Obama, Ahmadinejad

A top adviser to Barack Obama said the president will not meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations next week.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said, “I don’t expect that they will have a direct engagement.”

Obama will be in New York from Monday to Wednesday for the gathering of the 192-member UN General Assembly.

Rice spoke on Friday, after Ahmadinejad lashed out at Israel and the West and again questioned whether the Holocaust happened.

Rice called those comments “hateful.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters: “Obviously we condemn what he said.”

The US accuses Iran of running an illicit nuclear weapons program. Iran denies that.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Targeted Deaths Curb Al-Qaida’s Expansion

LONDON — Recent targeted attacks that killed militants in Somalia, Indonesia and Pakistan have chipped away at al-Qaida’s power base, sapping the terror network of key leaders and experienced operatives who train recruits and wage attacks.

Intelligence officials said Friday that the military strikes have reduced al-Qaida’s core leadership to only a handful of men and diminished its ability to train fighters. This, they said, has forced al-Qaida to turn to its global affiliates for survival.

The killings of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in Somalia, Noordin Muhammed Top in Indonesia and Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan — all in recent weeks — have been the latest blow.

A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the subject, said the deaths deal “a major near-term blow to their respective militant groups.”

Since the start of the year, American forces have stepped up strikes against militants in terrorist hubs, including Pakistan and Somalia. U.S. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said this week that such strikes have been possible because of a greater understanding of al-Qaida.

British intelligence agents have joined the United States in stepping up counterterrorism measures and adding agents, leading to fewer fully developed terrorist plots being uncovered in Britain.

Still, al-Qaida’s top leaders — Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri — remain free, and terrorist bombings continue to roil countries from Asia to Africa as al-Qaida and the Taliban establish links with satellite groups.

This week, suicide bombers in Somalia killed 21 people, including 17 peacekeepers, in twin attacks at an African Union base in Mogadishu.

The attacks were said to be in retaliation for the U.S. commando raid Monday in southern Somalia that killed Nabhan — the leader of the powerful Islamist group Al-Shabab, which was using foreign fighters to help al-Qaida expand deeper into the Horn of Africa.

Nabhan was one of the founders of al-Shabab, a group that didn’t exist a decade ago.

Nabhan — a Kenyan with Yemeni roots who had years of strategic and weapons training — was being used to build alliances. He was also key in procuring weapons and funds, and training recruits, according to Rohan Gunaratna, author of “Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror.”

His death, along with the killing of reputed Shabaab commander Aden Hashi Ayro in Somalia last year, highlights al-Qaida’s challenge in expanding in Africa.

Mehsud’s death in Pakistan last month represented a similar blow. Mehsud was the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Strikes against militant leaders in Pakistan have been particularly important for Britain. About 75 percent of the terrorist plots against the U.K. have roots in Pakistan.

A plot to down at least seven trans-Atlantic airliners in 2006 was thwarted partially because counterterrorism officials intercepted coded e-mails between a British terror cell and their handlers in Pakistan, prosecutors said during a trial where three men were convicted in the plot.

Mehsud, who underwent extensive training in Afghanistan before 9/11, acted as a unifying force among Taliban factions.

In addition to his death, Ilyas Kashmiri — an al-Qaida operations chief in northwest Pakistan — was also believed to have been killed in North Waziristan by missiles fired by U.S. drones. Kashmiri was accused of playing a role in the failed assassination attempts against former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work, said it appeared many factions were starting to fight among themselves for leadership, and ranks are turning on each other because they are suspicious and the finances are slowing.

Al-Qaida’s capacity to communicate, instigate, organize, commission and execute spectacular terrorist attacks has been severely diminished in the past two years, particularly because of successful drone attacks in Pakistan, according to Jason Burke, author of “Al-Qaida: The True Story of Radical Islam.”

Before the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, al-Qaida provided fighters with extensive four-month training sessions at camps in Afghanistan. Now, training has been driven underground and recruits lack real battle experience, counterterrorism experts said.

A lack of an experienced pool of leaders has sparked bitter infighting among members vying for power.

In Indonesia, there is no clear successor for Noordin Muhammed Top, who was killed this week during a gunfight with police seeking suspects in the July bombings of two Jakarta hotels.

Top was identified by authorities as the leader of al-Qaida in Southeast Asia. He had also been implicated in every major attack in Indonesia since 2002, including two bombings on the resort island of Bali that together killed 222 people, mostly foreigners.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Yemen: UN Rights Commissioner Calls for Inquiry

(ANSAmed) — GENEVA, SEPTEMBER 18 — The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has urged that an inquiry be held the raid carried out on Wednesday by the Yemeni military on an improvised refugee camp in the north of the country. In a statement, Pillay expressed herself as “deeply disturbed” by news of the deaths of dozens of people during the air strike, people who had left their homes due to clashes between government troops and Houti Shiite rebels. The UN official urged the government to set up an inquiry and to undertake immediate action to prevent a repetition of such a “tragedy”. Yemen’s government and armed forces, Pillay underlined, have an obligation to protect civilian victims of conflict and to respect international human rights. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Yemen Offers Cease-Fire to Shi’ite Rebels

The Yemeni government offered on Saturday a new conditional cease-fire, the second this month, to end fighting with Shi’ite rebels in the north of the country.

The early morning announcement stated the cease-fire would take effect at midday, just a day before the Muslims’ Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The rebels said they were considering the offer.

The move comes after international calls to implement a cease-fire to allow medical and food supplies to reach the civilians caught up in the fighting.

On September 4, a cease-fire was offered, but the fighting resumed hours later.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Yemen Ceasefire ‘Not Respected’

Fighting in Yemen is reported to be continuing despite a conditional ceasefire called by the government in its conflict with northern Shia rebels.

The government had called the ceasefire to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The UN has appealed to both sides to allow humanitarian corridors to be opened so that aid can be delivered to those displaced by the fighting.

About 150,000 people have been displaced in the five-year conflict.

On Saturday, statements from both the military and the rebels accused the other side of continuing attacks in spite of the ceasefire.

The combat area has been cut off from journalists, and correspondents say it has been hard to verify conflicting reports from both sides.

Air strike

It is the second recent ceasefire that appears to have quickly collapsed.

The government had proposed that it begin late on Friday and run during Eid, the three-day holiday that starts on Sunday and marks the end of Ramadan.

The government’s five conditions included removing road blocks, the withdrawal of rebel forces, the release of detained military personnel, and abiding by the constitution and Yemeni law in general.

But the rebels have asked that the ceasefire be unconditional.

The BBC’s Paul Wood reports from Yemen that people at a camp for the displaced said rebels had been steadily winning territory from the army.

International concern about the conflict has intensified after witnesses said that more than 80 people were killed in a government air raid on a camp for displaced people on Wednesday.

The rebels, known as Houthis, complain of discrimination. They say they want greater autonomy and a greater role for their version of Shia Islam.

Both sides see unwelcome influences from abroad, with government accusing rebels of having Iranian backing and being accused itself of being influenced by Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.

The Yemeni government is also battling secessionists in the south and has been criticised by the US for its failure to tackle al-Qaeda militants in the east and pirates off the coast.

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


Analysis: Advantage to Russia in US Missile Move

MOSCOW — The Kremlin got exactly what it wanted when the United States scrapped plans for missile defenses on Russia’s borders.

And Moscow wasted no time in trying to show, at least publicly, that it has ceded nothing in return and, in fact, intends to press for more from Washington.

Iran and its nuclear intentions loomed over Thursday’s decision by the Obama administration to abandon the idea of placing a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lurking not far under the surface were deeper issues such as the fate of Washington’s staunchest allies in the former Soviet bloc and their fears of their massive eastern neighbor.

For now, Russia appears to have the upper hand — the Kremlin can crow to a domestic audience about staring down the Americans and thumbing its nose at the upstart Poles. The White House is hoping for more cooperation from Moscow on Iran and other simmering international issues, something that’s far from a sure thing.

Missile defense in Eastern Europe was arguably the most serious thorn in the U.S.-Russian relationship, with Moscow repeatedly and angrily insisting that the system was pointless against an imagined Iranian threat — and was a grave threat to Russian national security.

On the day after Barack Obama won his historic election victory last year, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in lieu of congratulations, threw down the gauntlet, threatening to put sophisticated short-range Iskander missiles on Poland’s border if Washington didn’t stop the deployment.

On the day Obama announced the decision to scrap the plan, Medvedev said that was the right move all along — a smug announcement that made no concessions and sounded like a lecture to a wayward teenager.

He took a similarly blunt tone in an interview with Swiss media that was posted on the Kremlin Web site Friday, saying: “If our partners hear any of our concerns, then we of course we will more carefully consider their concerns. But this doesn’t mean primitive compromises and swaps.”

“We are mature enough not to tie one decision to another,” he said. “But there always is a score in politics. This is also obvious.”

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who often found incendiary ways to describe the United States as president before Medvedev, praised the decision. He then promptly demanded more, such as lifting Cold War-era trade restrictions.

“I very much hope that this right and brave decision will be followed up by others, including the full cancellation of all restrictions on cooperation with Russia and high technology transfer to Russia as well as a boost to expand the (World Trade Organization) to embrace Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan,” Putin told an investment forum.

Russia is the largest economy without WTO membership, and Moscow accuses Washington of being behind that.

It was unclear what behind-the-scenes talks went on between Moscow and Washington before Obama’s announcement Thursday. Russian officials said there was no quid pro quo.

Medvedev foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said the move would require the Kremlin to “attentively consider new possibilities opening up for cooperation and interaction.”

And the announcement Friday that Russia would not deploy Iskander missiles near the Polish border? That had merely been a threat, not an actual deployment.

Neil MacFarlane, a Russia expert at Oxford University, said the Obama decision was made for technical reasons, not as a result of some deal with Russia.

“A specific quid pro quo? I doubt it,” he said. “But was there a nod and a wink? Well, I don’t know.”

Where Washington is counting on Moscow for serious help is on Iran, and pressing it to stop moving toward development of nuclear weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will join U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and counterparts from the three other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in New York next week for discussions on Iran.

But there’s no indication that Russia — a major trading partner with Iran — is yet willing to support harsher U.S. measures against Tehran. Prikhodko gave no hint whether Moscow could edge closer to the U.S. position, and Lavrov made the same signal in a speech given just hours before Obama’s announcement.

“There is a real chance to engage in talks which could result in an agreement allowing us to regain confidence in exclusively peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear program,” Lavrov said. “It would be a grave mistake to ruin that chance by demanding a quick introduction of sanctions.”

While Moscow may be content, countries like Poland and the Czech Republic fear Obama’s decision has only darkened the shadow that Russia has long cast over them.

On Friday, in the same Polish tabloid whose headline screamed “Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back,” President Lech Kaczynski wrote that Poland had been left in a dangerous “gray zone.”

That fear may be even more acute in Ukraine and Georgia. Both aspire for NATO membership, yet Moscow considers both to be part of its historic sphere of influence.

“Russia will probably also get the right to lobby for not letting Ukraine and Georgia join NATO for the near future,” said Viktor Chumak, a foreign policy expert with the International Center for Policy Studies in Kiev. “We are losing the possibility to enter NATO in the immediate future.”

Georgia, in particular, has staked its future on the U.S. countering Russia’s dominance in the strategic South Caucasus. Many had hoped the U.S. would have done more to help Georgia in its war last year with Russia, which resulted in the loss of the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Temuri Yakobashvili, the Georgian government minister in charge of efforts to regain control of the regions, said Washington has given in to Russia — during the war and now with missile defense — and warned that Moscow will now seek even more concessions.

“I don’t think that they will be satisfied with only this,” he told The Associated Press.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Russia condemns Ahmadinejad’s speech

Russia on Saturday joined the US and UK in condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying the Holocaust was “a myth,” calling his statement “totally unacceptable.”

In a rally in Teheran on Friday, Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was “a false pretext to create Israel.” He also called on all Muslims to confront the “Zionist regime [as] a national and religious duty.”

According to AFP, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said that “such statements, wherever they come from, contradict the truth and are totally unacceptable.”

The Iranian leader’s comment “does not contribute to creating an international atmosphere that would foster a fruitful dialogue on issues concerning Iran,” Nesterenko reportedly said.

“Attempts to rewrite history, especially as the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II is being marked this year, are an offense to the memory of all victims and all those who fought fascism,” he added.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Friday that Ahmadinejad’s comments were “hateful.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs echoed her, telling reporters: “Obviously we condemn what he said.”

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also criticized Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, in a statement communicated by the UK Embassy in Israel Friday.

“Ahmadinejad’s repeated denials of the Holocaust are abhorrent as well as ignorant. It is very important that the world community stands up against this tide of abuse. This outburst is not worthy of the leader of Iran,” Miliband said.

“Iran’s people have a great history and culture,” Miliband said in response to Ahmadinejad’s statement. “I cannot believe that the vast majority of them want to rewrite this chapter of history rather than focus on the future. The coincidence of today’s comments with the start of Jewish New Year only adds to the insult.”

Earlier, Miliband issued a blessing for the Jewish new year, saying “Rosh Hashanah is a time of celebration for Jewish communities in the UK and around the world. A chance to look forward to the coming year and make plans, but also a period of reflection and soul searching.”

“At this time of reflection, many Jews will be praying for the peace of Israel. The Jewish New Year is a good time for us all to re-dedicate ourselves to the cause of peace in the Middle East. We must hope that this year, the Shofar’s call will bring this peace, that has for so long been the hope and prayer of the Jewish people.

“I wish the Jewish community in Britain, in Israel and around the world a year of peace and prosperity. Shana Tovah v’hatima tovah.”

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Russia: Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust Statement ‘Totally Unacceptable’

The Russian foreign ministry on Saturday condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for saying the Holocaust was “a myth,” calling his statement “totally unacceptable.”

In a rally in Teheran on Friday, Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was “a false pretext to create Israel.” He also called on all Muslims to confront the “Zionist regime [as] a national and religious duty.”

“Such statements, wherever they come from, contradict the truth and are totally unacceptable,” AFP quoted ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenkoas as saying.

The Iranian leader’s comment “does not contribute to creating an international atmosphere that would foster a fruitful dialogue on issues concerning Iran,” Nesterenko reportedly said.

“Attempts to rewrite history, especially as the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II is being marked this year, are an offense to the memory of all victims and all those who fought fascism,” he added.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Russia May Ease Foreign Access to Energy Projects

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) — Russia will discuss relaxing laws regulating foreign participation in offshore energy projects to attract investment from abroad, Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev told Reuters on Saturday.

Encouraged by a surge in crude prices from 2002 to a peak in July 2008, Russia passed laws curbing foreign participation in tapping its mineral resources, but oil prices have plummeted since then.

“We will look into this issue (laws regarding foreign investment) first of all in relation to offshore exploration. We believe that state regulation creates many obstacles for exploration,” Trutnev said in the resort of Sochi on the sidelines of an economic forum.

The minister also blamed state-controlled energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom, which are the only two firms carrying out offshore exploration in Russia at the moment, for underinvestment.

“Even in pre-crisis 2008, financing volumes were such that the target period for fields’ development was estimated at 180 years,” Trutnev said. “With such a time horizon it is impossible to plan.”

Trutnev said Russia will look at Norway’s experience in attracting foreign investment in offshore exploration, saying the government and not state-controlled firms should have a say in who gets access to Russia’s resources.

“When we give a license to Rosneft, with all due respect to this company, I am not sure if we should charge it with defending the strategic interests of Russia. There is a government to defend Russia’s interests,” he said.

Trutnev said that, as in Norway, the state would maintain overall control of the industry but it was interested in foreign firms as co-investors which could bring new technology to Russia.

Russia should use offshore projects to develop other industries. “We can use this God’s gift to develop machine building, pipe production and other industries, producing everything that we are importing today,” he said.

The government could help to create consortiums with foreign participation, he noted. Russia would offer more attractive energy fields at upcoming auctions and seek to group licenses into larger blocks to create better conditions for building infrastructure, he added.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

South Asia

Afghanistan: ‘Italy Will Stay’

No giving in to terrorism, officials say after six die

(ANSA) — Rome, September 17 — Italy will stay the course in Afghanistan despite its worst loss of life in its five years there, officials said.

Rejecting withdrawal calls from leftwing parties after a car bomb killed six soldiers in Kabul, Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni all said Italy would not be deterred from its part in US-led efforts to stabilise the country.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano voiced his continued support for the troops.

Small leftwing parties called for an “immediate” troop withdrawal but the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, did not, joining instead in the chorus of support and condolences. The six were named as Lieutenant Antonio Fortunato, 35, from a town near Potenza; Sergeant Major Roberto Valente, 37, from Naples; Corporal Matteo Mureddu, 26, from the Sardinian city of Oristano; Corporal Davide Ricchiuto, 26, born in the Swiss town of Glarus; Corporal Gian Domenico Pistonami, 26, from Orvieto; and Corporal Massimiliano Randino, 32, born in Pagani near Salerno. Berlusconi said they died defending Afghan democracy.

He stressed the Italian mission is “supporting democracy and freedom in this unfortunate country”.

Frattini said Italy would not be deterred by the Taliban, even after the biggest attack in Kabul’s green zone.

Such attacks, he said, “will not deter us from helping the Afghan people consolidate its democratic aspirations”.

He said the attacks were aimed at weakening “the Afghan people’s will to strengthen democracy, clearly expressed in the significant and courageous participation in the recent presidential elections”.

“The electoral procedure that is bringing Hamid Karzai towards confirmation as Afghan president is a sign that democracy, which the terrorists fear as the worst of threats, is being re-established”.


The foreign minister stressed the need, alongside military action, for a political solution, “shared with our allies and all democratic Afghan institutions,” to help stabilise the country.

La Russa said: “These cowardly killers will not stop us” while Maroni said withdrawal would be “giving in to terrorism”.

Karzai said his country would never forget Italy’s support.

“Afghans will never forget and will continue to be immensely grateful for the service given by Italian troops towards peace and security in our country”.

The Afghan president condemned the terrorists responsible for a “brutal and anti-Islamic attack” which had been carried out, he said, regardless of the holy month of Ramadan.

He stressed that terrorist attacks “would not hinder Afghanistan’s determination to obtain peace and stability”.

Thursday’s attack, which also killed 15 Afghans including four policemen, wounded four Italian soldiers and around 60 civilians.

La Russa told parliament there must have been “at least” 150kg of explosive in the car.

The car bombing, Italy’s worst single loss of life from a terrorist attack since 19 Italians were killed in a 2003 truck bomb attack in Iraq, brought Italy’s death toll in Afghanistan to 21.

All told, some 1,400 Western troops have died there, 836 of them American, 216 British and 130 Canadian.

AS well as from the Vatican, which said Pope Benedict XVI was praying for the victims, Italy also received condolences from NATO and the European Union, among others.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Afghanistan: Frattini, We Stay Committed

(AGI) — Rome, 17 Sept. — Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has expressed his sorrow to the families of the six Italian victims of the attack on the Italian contingent in Kabul, and to the injured soldiers and their relatives, as well as the Afghan victims. “I absolutely condemn this terrorist barbarism, which uses suicide attacks like this in an attempt to deny the Afghan people their desire for democracy, a desire which became clear in their substantial and courageous participation in the recent presidential election” a statement issued by the Italian foreign ministry reads. “Today’s tragedy” the statement continues “is the price we unfortunately have to pay to defeat terrorism and to give our contribution to peace and international security”. According to the minister, the stream of terrorist attacks on those trying to help the Afghan people on their way to democracy will not discourage Italy.

“Particularly at these difficult moments” Frattini said “we must stand by the Afghans and we should not forget that our presence in the country increases their and our safety. The stabilization process of Afghanistan must be based on a political solution shared with our allies and the Afghan democratic institutions”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Afghanistan: Taliban Pledges More NATO Attacks in New Strategy

Kabul, 18 Sept. (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — The devastating suicide car bombing which killed six Italian soldiers in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Thursday, signals a significant shift in Taliban strategy. The Taliban have not only penetrated the local administration in Kabul, but cleverly moved its loyal militants from the eastern province of Khost to the capital for the attack.

The organisation has demonstrated its ability to successfully target NATO convoys in a highly organised operation and have pledged to carry out more suicide attacks within days.

“This was a joint operation,” said a commander linked to Pashtun warlord and military leader Sirajuddin Haqqani’s militant network based in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan as well as Khost.

“The operation was planned by Sirajuddin Haqqani and about two dozen people were sent from Khost to Kabul in phases. They all stayed at different Taliban ‘safe houses’ in Kabul,” the commander added.

“One person was picked for the suicide mission. The rest are waiting for another operation in the next few days.”

The Kabul bombing coincided with allegations that as many as a quarter of votes cast in Afghanistan’s 20 August elections were fraudulent.

The allegations are delaying by weeks the final election results and could trigger further political instability in the country.

Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid admitted responsibility for Thursday’s attack in several text message to several media organisations. However he did not respond to calls from journalists.

Ahead of Thursday’s deadly attack, an observation post was created with the help of Taliban sympathisers inside the government.

They detected three vehicles travelling down the main road to the airport.

The suicide bomber’s vehicle was able to penetrate the military convoy and position itself between two of the armoured vehicles, according to the unnamed Pashtun commander.

The commander claimed that the sympathisers manning the militants’ observation post confirmed the success of the mission.

“This is one of the several successful attacks on NATO troops which was actively supported by the masses, like the masses supported the resistance against the Soviets,” the commander said.

“God willing, we will carry out more such actions in the future,” he said.

The bomb attack struck two Italian military vehicles killing six soldiers and wounding another four. Ten Afghans also lost their lives.

The bombing was the fourth major attack in the capital in five weeks and came as stark reminder that Taliban are increasing its clout in and around the Afghan capital, as president Hamid Karzai’s government is beset by grave electoral fraud allegations and recounts of millions of ballots.

Instead of major guerrilla operations, like the Taliban undertook in the spring of 2006, leading to major casualties among their ranks, this year they are using roadside bombs and very selective suicide attacks against NATO targets.

Much of the Taliban warfare is now taking place in urban centres instead of the southern outskirts of Afghanistan and they are hitting 80 percent of their targets.

Sirajuddin Haqqani’s network has emerged as the most powerful in inflicting major attacks against the NATO troops in Kabul.

Sirajuddin Haqqani assumed his position from his father, legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani who for years fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

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

Governor of Punjab: The Law on Blasphemy Should be Abolished

Salman Taseer: “exploited” by extremists to target religious minorities, who instead should be “protected”. Christian leaders: “important statements”. The cancellation of the norm is decided by the central government which must “inform” the citizens of the violence. The list of anti-Christian persecution in the Punjab.

Lahore (AsiaNews) — Abolishing the blasphemy law to protect minorities. This is what has been “suggested” by Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, who is urging the central government “to consider the repeal” of a law — a plea that has been repeated on several occasions by the Christian community in Pakistan — a law that is used by Islamic fundamentalists to commit crimes and violence. Christian leaders have reacted positively, but now expect concrete steps from the central government.

“The blasphemy law — said Salman Taseer — should be repealed to protect minorities, particularly the growing violence and persecution against Christians by extremists.” Speaking to reporters during a dinner in Lahore, the Punjab Governor adds that “there was an abuse of the blasphemy law. This is what I think. This law should be erased. “

Commenting on the statements of Governor of Punjab, Peter Jacob — Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church — said that “it is an important statement” and “a welcome one”. “But what counts most — added the activist Catholic — is that the Prime Minister of Pakistan ought to speak of the matter and explain to the people” what’s happening in the country.

In recent months Punjab has experienced an escalation in attacks against Christians and their places of worship, committed in the name of “the alleged desecration of the Quran” On 22 April 2009, a band of extremists attacked a group of Christians in Tias, a suburb of Karachi, burning houses and seriously injuring three people. One of these was Irfan Masih, who died three days later.

A crowd of angry Muslims, on June 30, attacked homes of Christians in the village of Wala Bahmani. About 100 homes were damaged, the assailants also stole jewellery and cash, destroying furniture and other furnishings.

On July 2009 a young Christian, Imram Masih was tortured at length by a group of Muslims, then he was arrested by police for having “burned the Koran.” The incident happened at Hajwary, district Faisalabad.

On 30 July, thousands of Muslims in Koriyan set Christian property on fire, burning down 51 houses. The madness of Muslims was unleash by an alleged case of blasphemy. Two days later — the first of August — at least 3 thousand extremists attacked the community of Gojra, burning seven people alive (including two children and three women), wounding 19 and burning dozens of homes.

On September 11, new violence in Sialkot: for an alleged blasphemy case against Masih Fanish, Muslims attacked the local church and some buildings, the 20 year-old Christian was arrested. The night between 14 and 15 September, the young man was found dead by guards, an apparent committed suicide, but the signs of torture present all over his body indicate that the young man died from the violence suffered in the cell.

According to data collected by NCJP from 1986 to August 2009, at least 964 people have been charged under the blasphemy law: among these were 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindu and 10 of unknown religion. At least 33 extra-judicial killings, committed by individuals or angry crowds. Last on the list is Fanish, for whom the Christians are demanding “justice.”

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

Israel Warns of Threats to India

Israel is warning that Islamist militants are preparing attacks in India similar to those in Mumbai last year, media and officials have said.

Israel’s counterterrorism unit said the group that launched the Mumbai attacks was planning to target Western or Israeli tourists, AFP news agency said.

Israeli television also reported that a travel advisory would warn Israelis against travelling to India.

India has blamed Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba for the Mumbai attacks.

“The terrorist group that carried out the serious Mumbai attack in India is planning to carry out a number of attacks across India, particularly against concentrations of Western or Israeli tourists,” AFP quoted the counterterrorism unit as saying.

The attacks last November left more than 170 people dead, including nine gunmen.

Targets included a Jewish centre run by the New York-based orthodox Lubavitch organisation.

The Israeli statement said the planned attacks could target other Lubavitch centres in India.

The warning was based on “a concrete, very serious threat”, it said.

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

Italians Support Shift in Afghan Strategy

ROME — The killing of six Italian soldiers in Afghanistan — Italy’s deadliest day in the conflict to date — has set off calls to bring the troops home or least for a change in the international strategy in the war.

As Italy mourned its dead Friday, only a few politicians have urged a straight pullout of Italy’s 2,800 troops in Afghanistan. But a poll taken last week — before the attacks — already showed that a majority of Italians wanted the soldiers back. This week’s bloody attacks are likely to reinforce that stance, a pollster said.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out a unilateral withdrawal, stressing that any move would be discussed with allies.

But as he went to pay homage to the dead soldiers in a memorial Friday, he said that “we will need to come up with a transition strategy in order to charge the new government with more responsibility.”

He said the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who just won a disputed election, should increasingly take control of the security situation and allow foreign troops to progressively leave.

Berlusconi met with the new U.S. ambassador to Italy, David H. Thorne, for talks that had been long arranged but that were likely devoted to Afghanistan.

Under pressure from Washington, Italy last year agreed to lift some restrictions on the use of Italian troops in combat.

The brazen attack Thursday in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killed the six Italians and 10 Afghan civilians. The bodies of the Italians are expected back home on Sunday, with a state funeral planned for the following day.

The attack highlighted surging violence in Afghanistan — mirrored in Western capitals by growing skepticism over the eight-year conflict in the Central Asian nation.

A poll, conducted last week but published by Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper on Friday, showed that 58 percent of Italians were against the war, while 26 percent said they wanted to keep the troops there and 16 percent did not know. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, said the ISPO institute that conducted it.

Renato Mannheimer of ISPO said the figures are “bound to inevitably go up.”

“A lot must be changed,” Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said of the international mission in Afghanistan.

“Even if we had 30,000 soldiers more, they wouldn’t be enough. Surely to win the trust of the Afghans, it’s more useful to have 30,000 more schools than an extra 100,000 troops,” he told Corriere. “This means staying — not an exit strategy, not leaving.”

Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi, a key Berlusconi ally, said immediately after the attack that Italy should bring its troops home by Christmas, irritating other members of the government. Others on the extreme also demanded a troop withdrawal.

Members of Bossi’s Northern League party appeared to tone down that demand during a Cabinet meeting Friday, proposing instead that Italy reduce its peacekeeping missions in Lebanon and the Balkans, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

While all newspapers devoted huge space to Thursday’s attack, Corriere della Sera featured a front-page commentary with the headline “Everybody home? A temptation to resist.”

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Pakistan Police Raid US-Contracted Security Firm

By NAHAL TOOSI and MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writers Nahal Toosi And Munir Ahmad, Associated Press Writers — Sat Sep 19, 2:27 pm ET

ISLAMABAD — Police raided a Pakistani security firm that helps protect the U.S. Embassy on Saturday, seizing 70 allegedly unlicensed weapons and arresting two people. The incident follows a series of scandals surrounding American use of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The raid on two offices of the Inter-Risk company is especially sensitive because of a slew of recent rumors and media reports that U.S. embassy expansion plans in Pakistan include hiring the security firm formerly known as Blackwater.

The U.S. says there is no truth in the reports, but they have resonated with the many Pakistanis familiar with allegations that Blackwater employees were involved in unprovoked killings of Iraqi civilians.

Police official Rana Akram said that two Inter-Risk employees were arrested and being questioned. He said authorities were also seeking the company’s owner, a retired Pakistani army captain.

Reporters were shown the weapons — 61 assault rifles and nine pistols — that were seized by dozens of police from the sites in pre-dawn raids in the capital, Islamabad.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire said the U.S. contract with Inter-Risk to provide security at the embassy and consulates took effect this year. It is believed to be the first U.S. contract for the firm, Snelsire said. He did not know how long the contract was for or what it was worth.

“Our understanding is they obtained licenses with whatever they brought into the country to meet the contractual needs,” he said. “We told the government that we had a contract with Inter-Risk.”

A man who answered the phone number listed for the company and identified himself as Riaz Hussain said a raid had occurred, but gave no more information.

According to Inter-Risk’s Web site, it was first formed in 1988 and offers wireless home alarm systems as well as security guards and other services.

Though the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad does have American security staff, much of the work is done by local workers. At checkpoints and gates leading to the embassy compound, for instance, Pakistani security guards inspect vehicles and log in visitors.

Scandals involving private contractors have dogged the U.S. in the Middle East and South Asia.

In Washington on Friday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting heard testimony about another contractor — ArmorGroup North America — involving alleged illegal and immoral conduct by its guards at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, the Iraqi government refused to grant Xe Services — the new name for what was once Blackwater — an operating license amid continued outrage over a 2007 lethal firefight involving some of its employees in Baghdad, although the State Department has temporarily extended a contract with a Xe subsidiary to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq.

Many of the recent rumors in Pakistan have been prompted by U.S. plans to expand its embassy space and staff. Among the other unsubstantiated stories the U.S. denies: that 1,000 U.S. Marines will land in the capital, and that Americans will set up a Guantanamo-style prison.

The U.S. says it needs to add hundreds more staff to allow it to disburse billions of dollars in additional humanitarian and economic aid to Pakistan. The goal is to improve education and other areas, lessening the allure of extremism.

Pakistani reporters, anti-U.S. bloggers and others have repeatedly alleged that the U.S. is using Xe, and the issue continues to pop up in major newspapers despite U.S. Embassy denials. Xe Services officials could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday.

The U.S. has signed a contract worth up to $18.3 million with DynCorp International, another U.S.-based security firm, according to federal records online.

Some analysts say Islamist and other opposition groups may be planting the stories in the Pakistani press and blogs to portray Pakistan’s government as an American lackey.

Pakistani political analyst Talat Masood said Inter-Risk’s association with America “will increase the apprehensions that existed that the Americans are engaged in clandestine activities,” and that the raid shows “the Pakistan government is asserting itself.”

The U.S. considers stability in Pakistan critical to helping the faltering war effort in neighboring Afghanistan, and has pressed Pakistan to crack down on extremism on its soil. Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters are believed to use Pakistan’s northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan as hide-outs from which to plan attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has launched offensives against militants, but has also relied on some local militias to help fend off the Pakistani Taliban. Some of these militias share the same aims as the Taliban in Afghanistan, but disagree with targeting the Pakistani government.

On Saturday, one pro-government militia leader said the army had asked him to stop fighting the Pakistani Taliban. Turkistan Bhitani told The Associated Press that he and 24 aides surrendered their weapons to the army in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan and that he had asked 350 of his men to do so as well.

Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, however, said he knew nothing of such an arrangement.

Also Saturday, a bomb at a security checkpoint in the northwestern region of Dara Adam Khel killed at least two people, local government official Aslam Khan said. He said police are still investigating if it was a suicide attack and determining the identity of the victims. Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan frequently target security checkpoints.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Sex Abuse and Silence Exposed

Canadian DND brass told of rape of boys by Afghan allies

Ottawa — Army staff and National Defence headquarters officials were told in 2007 that young boys had allegedly been sexually abused by Afghan security forces at a Canadian base in Afghanistan, but the concern at the time was that the incident might be reported in the news media, according to military records obtained by the Citizen.

In addition, last year Brig.-Gen. J.C. Collin, commander of Land Force Central Area, passed on to the senior army leadership the concerns raised by military police who said they had been told by their commanders not to interfere in incidents in which Afghan forces were having sex with children.

The newly released records raise questions about a military investigation that earlier this year concluded that allegations about sexual abuse of Afghan children by members of the Afghan army and police were unfounded. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service also stated that its thorough investigation concluded allegations of such incidents were never reported to Canadian military commanders.

The allegations first surfaced publicly in June 2008 after concerns about the incidents, originally raised by soldiers and military chaplains, were reported in the news media.

Former Cpl. Travis Schouten told military officials he had witnessed an Afghan boy being sodomized by two Afghan security personnel at Canada’s Forward Operating Base Wilson in Afghanistan in 2006. Another soldier also came forward to a Toronto newspaper to report a similar occurrence at the same base in 2006. A military chaplain talked about the abuse in a report sent up the chain of command at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. Two other chaplains have also come forward to state that soldiers came to them upset about such abuses.

The issue is sensitive for the Canadian Forces and the federal government as the Afghanistan mission has been promoted to the public as being about protecting Afghan civilians. The Afghan National Army and police are seen as key to Canada’s military withdrawal from that country in 2011.

It is the position of the Canadian Forces that its troops have no jurisdiction over the activities of Afghan military and police personnel, even those operating on Canadian bases.

The military records obtained by the Citizen through the Access to Information law note that a 90-minute meeting was held between an army public affairs staff member and a member of army commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie’s executive staff in the summer/fall of 2007. According to the June 2008 e-mail written by Lt.-Col. Stephane Grenier, an adviser on operational stress injuries, the meeting focused on various controversies that might be brought out in the news media, including, “ANP/ANA members having anal sex with young boys.”

ANP stands for Afghan National Police while ANA refers to Afghan National Army.

A second meeting about Afghan police and soldiers having sex with children was held later that week at National Defence headquarters involving senior members of the Defence Department’s civilian and military public affairs staff, according to the e-mail.

In addition, on June 18, 2008, Brig.-Gen. J.C. Collin, commander of Land Force Central Area, passed on to Leslie’s staff and Brig.-Gen. Ian Poulter the concerns raised by several military police officers. Collin called the e-mail from the military police commander, “rather disconcerting.”

Included were details from military police who noted it was well known among Canadian troops that ANA and ANP personnel had sex with kids. Another was upset that military police were told not to intervene in such matters, according to the e-mail.

“At this late date I cannot specifically remember who delivered the said briefings however I can say that it was delivered in Gagetown and that it sparked considerable debate amongst the MP pers(onnel),” noted one police officer in an e-mail Collin forwarded to the army’s senior staff. The e-mail had been written by Maj. V.R. Ethier, the commander of 2 MP Unit, the army military police unit of Ontario.

“Of greatest concern to the MP members was the belief that if they were (to) intervene in any instances of this nature that they would not be supported by the C o C,” the e-mail added. C o C is a military term for chain of command.

Having sex with children is against the law in Afghanistan, but some military officers have argued that since it is practised by some Afghans, particularly in Kandahar, then the Canadian Forces should not get involved in what should be seen as a “cultural” issue.

Maj. Francis Bolduc, deputy commanding officer of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, said his organization’s examination of the issue found no evidence to support the sexual abuse allegations.

He said a thorough review of military police records showed no complaints were made about the issue and “all the allegations were unfounded.” Bolduc noted that the investigation found the sexual abuse concerns were never reported to commanders.

Asked about the e-mails from Lt.-Col. Grenier and military police commander Maj. V.R. Ethier, he replied: “This is outside our lane.”

Bolduc said those issues could be looked at by a board of inquiry into the issue that had been ordered by Lt.-Gen. Leslie.

Last June, Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the House of Commons that troops would not turn a blind eye to the abuse of children. “Let us be clear, in no way, shape or form have Canadian soldiers and certainly the Canadian government ever condoned or excused allegations of sexual abuse against children in this country or anywhere else,” he said.

Another incident recounted in the Ethier e-mail detailed how a complaint was made about the sexual abuse of children to his chain of command in 2005-2006 in Kandahar and after that an Afghanistan commander dealt with the situation.

In addition, Brig.-Gen. Poulter received an e-mail on June 17, 2008 indicating that the sexual abuse issue had been raised by a Canadian colonel, a veteran of the war, during a military training session about Afghan culture. “He emphasized that it is not a practice that Afghan men discuss or practise in an open manner … one of those things that Afghans know happens but nobody talks about,” noted the e-mail to Poulter.

In addition, it appears senior Canadian commanders were also concerned about the abuse. In a June 13, 2008, letter to army commander Leslie, the office of Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier asked that an investigation be started into the sexual assault allegations. “Furthermore, initial queries suggest there appeared to be some concern of the part of the Roto 2 BG chain of command with respect to certain off-duty activities related to the same incidents later raised to the reporter,” the letter noted.

The records also indicate the allegations sparked much debate inside the military on what to acknowledge in public. The first response was to deny anything ever took place.

However, a series of “talking points” were produced on June 17, 2008, in which it was acknowledged in regard to “Afghan male sexual abuse of underage males” that “Soldiers are generally aware of this practice taking place in Afghanistan; They know that abuse, let alone of minors is wrong by our standards; They will report this activity to the appropriate authorities.”

It is unclear how the NIS investigation concluded the allegations were unfounded when other organizations inside the Canadian Forces were acknowledging that the sexual abuse was indeed taking place.

A board of inquiry, ordered by Leslie last year, is still under way. The board, which has not released its report, will look only at whether the one assault reported in media occurred. The board is to “identify the actions taken by individual CF members and the chain of command in response to that incident,” as well as assess whether medical care was provided to any soldier who witnessed the incident.

Recommendations will be made on how to address future incidents of that nature, noted the board of inquiry outline produced by Leslie.

Leslie will review the contents of the report even though, according to military records, a member of his staff was informed about the sexual abuse issue in 2007.

Leslie, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed as the board is still ongoing.

Asked whether there was a conflict of interest in allowing Leslie to review the findings of the board examining how the senior army leadership responded, an army official noted that Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk will also review the records.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes [Return to headlines]

Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Takes Aim at Obama

KABUL (Reuters) — Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued a statement Saturday telling people of the West not to listen to U.S. President Barack Obama’s justifications of war and vowing to defeat NATO troops like other invaders of history.

In a statement posted in English on a Taliban website,, marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and attributed to the reclusive Taliban leader, Omar said U.S. and British offensives in recent months had been a failure.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on the public of the West not to be deceived by the assertions of Obama, who says the war in Afghanistan, is a war of necessity. The West does not have to wage this war,” the statement said.

“The public of the West should also not be deceived by the assertions of the General Secretary of NATO and British prime minister who claim the war in Afghanistan is for the defense of the West. Such deceiving and baseless utterances must not confuse you.”

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf, said the statement was genuine. The precise whereabouts and health status of Omar are not known, as he does not appear in public.

Obama, who has already ordered 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year, is expected to consider a request for more troops from his commander there in coming weeks.

There are now more than 100,000 Western troops in Afghanistan, two thirds of them Americans.

“The invaders should study the history of Afghanistan from the time of the aggression of the Alexander,” the statement said.

“Still, if they are bent on ignoring the history, then they themselves saw with their own eyes the events of the past eight years. Have they achieved anything in the past eight years?”

U.S. commanders believe the reclusive Taliban leader has been hiding in Pakistan since he was driven from power in Kabul in 2001 after refusing to turn over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

A press officer for U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, Captain Elizabeth Mathias, declined to comment on the statement.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

U.S., British Generals Lay Out Complex Afghan Picture

LONDON (Reuters) — In the past two days, one U.S. and three British generals have laid out their thinking on Afghanistan, and in doing so have revealed just how complex and even muddled the effort to defeat the Taliban has become.

The latest to speak out was Major General Nick Carter, who will shortly take over command of Britain’s 9,000 troops in south Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency remains fierce.

Carter said on Friday the U.S. and NATO-led coalition, with nearly 100,000 troops on the ground, most of them American, was running out of time, with the need to show success quickly eight years into a war that looks increasingly bogged down.

“I absolutely acknowledge that time is not on our side and we have got to show positive trends as quickly as we possibly can,” he told BBC radio. “We can’t be everywhere, so what we’ve got to do is focus on achievable directives.”

At the same time he said talking to the Taliban — or at least moderate elements within the tribal, Pashtun-dominated movement — might provide a way forward, putting the insurgency, which has intensified in the past two years, on the back foot.

“If we can talk to people then that may well be a much quicker solution than shooting them,” he said.

While those comments chimed to an extent with Graeme Lamb, a retired British lieutenant general sent to Afghanistan to try to mediate with elements of the Taliban, they didn’t go nearly as far as Lamb went in comments on Thursday.

Also speaking to the BBC, Lamb appeared to back a policy of buying off moderate Taliban. A former commander in Iraq, he said a similar approach had worked with militants there. “I always said in Iraq, you can buy an insurgency if you have enough money,” he said. “These are local people who need to have a dialogue to understand why, and then they have the choice to have a better life.

“If somebody is on the wrong side of the wire and is inclined to come back then I have to set the conditions, or we have to set the conditions, whereby that young man comes back in, so he is not a pariah,” he said, hinting at payments. “It’s not a case of paying him a dollar and he’ll stop fighting for a month or two,” but about providing opportunities for employment and a better quality of life, he argued. “None of this is rocket science.”


It may not be rocket science, but Britain’s most senior army officer, newly appointed General David Richards, made clear in his first major speech on Thursday that the formula for success was not there yet, even if the ingredients were.

Richards, a former NATO commander in Afghanistan who has worked closely with U.S. General David Petraeus, the man overseeing the Afghan effort from Washington, said Afghanistan was a long-haul war.

“The ingredients for success in Afghanistan are similar (to those in Iraq), but we have not yet confirmed the correct formula for that country,” he told diplomats and military chiefs at Chatham House, a foreign affairs think-tank.

Richards, who oversees both Carter and Lamb, may have the more nuanced view of what needs to happen in Afghanistan, but the ultimate decider may well be Petraeus, who sounded a more realist note about the prospects while speaking in London.

“The challenges in Afghanistan clearly are significant, but the stakes are also high,” he told military and security experts at the Policy Exchange, another think-tank.

“In truth it is I think accurate to observe that as in Iraq in 2007, everything in Afghanistan is hard, and it is hard all the time,” he said, acknowledging the view of General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that the situation is serious even if the mission is doable.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

UK Army Chief: Afghan Defeat Would Harm Reputation

LONDON — Britain’s new army chief warned Thursday that failure in Afghanistan would alienate millions of Afghans, lead to a resurgence of al-Qaida inspired terrorism and destabilize neighboring Pakistan.

Speaking at London’s Chatham House, Gen. David Richards warned that failure would have a “hugely intoxicating impact on extremists worldwide of the perceived defeat of the USA and NATO, the most powerful alliance in the history of the world and the debilitating impact on these countries.”

Richards, who became Britain’s Chief of the General Staff in August, also said future conflicts were likely to involve failed states like Afghanistan rather than more conventional wars between two governments. He said Britain should rethink its traditional military strategy and make sure it was more prepared for other guerrilla style conflicts.

Also Thursday, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Petraeus addressed the challenges facing the West in Iraq and Afghanistan, warning that violence in the country was rising — some of that possibly because of offensive tactics by Afghan and coalition forces.

“The Taliban have expanded their strength and influence, particularly in places which lack Afghan security forces,” he said at a talk organized by the Policy Exchange think tank in London. “They benefit from reasonable freedom of movement in border areas, funding their activities from the narcotics industry and donations.”

Petraeus was more upbeat about developments in Pakistan, where he said leaders have recognized the threat extremists pose to their state.

He also said the international community must remain involved in Iraq, even as U.S. troops withdraw.

“The central questions for the international community are how to help the Iraqis to preserve hard won security gains and how to promote regional engagement and stability even as the international security presence in Iraq decreases,” he said.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Australia — Pacific

Australia ‘Sleepwalking’ Into Population Disaster

Federal Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson says Australia’s projected population explosion will have a “catastrophic” effect on the environment and he has called for immigration levels to be cut.

The latest Intergenerational Report predicts Australia’s population will rise to 35 million in 40 years’ time, up from about 21.5 million people at present.

Higher migration and women having more children will account for the boost in numbers.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan says the forecast population growth presents as great a challenge as climate change.

And Mr Thomson says now is the time for population reform.

“We are sleepwalking into an environmental disaster,” he said.

“There will be impact on the availability of food, water, energy and land. These things are already stretched and a 60 per cent population increase will only drive up the cost of these essentials and lower our living standards.

“And what about the impact on our major cities? Declining housing affordability, traffic congestion, over-crowded concrete jungles.

“Australia is blessed in the quality of life that we have and I believe that we have an obligation to pass onto our children an environment and a country in as good a condition as the one our parents left to us.”

Mr Thomson wants Australia’s immigration rate cut.

“I think what we need to do is to go back to the sorts of levels that prevailed in the early to mid-1990s and indeed for many years prior to that; that will produce better outcomes than the ones we’re getting now,” he said.

Aging population

This projection of 35 million people is significantly higher than those that were produced in the second intergenerational report. The projection there was 28.5 million in 2047.

Speaking at the launch of the new Australian Institute For Population Ageing Research, Mr Swan said that over the next 40 years, the number of people aged 65 to 84 would more than double and there would be four-and-a-half times the number of people over 85.

“I think along with climate change, this is the most substantial challenge we face,” Mr Swan said.

“It’s an intergenerational challenge, it’s an economic challenge, it’s a social challenge and it goes to the core in the end of the type of country we want to be.”

The Government has already pushed up the retirement age but Mr Swan says more will need to be done.

“The Government needs to facilitate the significant contribution that older people can make to the economy and the community, and that also means an unparalleled degree of social engagement and changes of approach in that area,” he said.

There is good news in the figures: there will be more younger people than predicted in previous intergenerational reports.

A demographer at the Australian National University, Peter McDonald, says the younger people will help pay for the costs of a rising population and a growing number of older Australians.

“The demographic changes we’ve seen are making us relatively younger than we would have been otherwise,” he said.

“And the effects there are quite substantial on budget because a lot of the costs associated with ageing are health costs and the income support costs.

“They won’t be quite as big as, relatively, compared to the size of the labour force, as we’d predicated in the past.

“As we’ve gone through these intergenerational reports the first one was very pessimistic, the second one was a bit more optimistic and now this one is even more optimistic again in respect to the costs of ageing.”

Infrastructure and environment

But Mr McDonald says the increase in population will provide some challenges, particularly for cities.

“Cities will be bigger than we’d projected in the past and … we already have problems in our cities,” he said.

“So urban infrastructure is going to be very, very important.

“We have to be considering the potential environmental effects of a bigger population but I think we can deal with those.

“What we’re talking about here is a bigger labour force and that labour force will be generating wealth, and so Australia is liable to be quite a wealthy country.

“I think that’s going to give us the income to make all the environmental changes that we have to make.”

           — Hat tip: Nilk [Return to headlines]

Heathcliffe the Giant Burrowing Cockroach May be World’s Heaviest Insect

MEET Heathcliffe, the giant burrowing cockroach and contender for the title of world’s heaviest insect.

And before you go “Ewwww yuck, a cockie”, Heathcliffe and his kind are not your average dirty, imported roaches, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Australia’s giants give birth to live young, look after them in a burrow, make “great pets” and dine on leaves.

“Native to western NSW and north Queensland, they can reach 30 to 35g and more than 85mm in length,” Sydney University senior biology lecturer Nathan Lo said yesterday.

“They are the world’s heaviest cockroach and if not the heaviest of all insects, they are certainly a contender.

“They are different to other insects in a lot of ways and are totally unrelated to the American or German cockroaches found in Australian households.

“Giants can live up to eight years, which is pretty amazing for an insect.”

Rather handsome looking bloke. I ‘ope he wins the title.

Dr Lo said they were popular pets — Heathcliffe is owned by a university media manager — and can fetch $100 a pair.

Heathcliffe will be on display this weekend at the university’s annual open day and visitors are invited to guess his weight.

           — Hat tip: Paul Green [Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

AU Urges More Weapons for Somalia

The African Union has called on the international community to send weapons to the UN-backed Somali government to help it fight Islamist militants.

The AU envoy to Somalia made the plea in the wake of the suicide attacks in Mogadishu in which 17 AU peacekeepers were blown up by the al-Shabab group.

“If we go after Shabab, we’d destroy them in no time,” said Nicolas Bwakira.

He said the attacks should not deter countries from keeping to their promises to bolster the AU force.

The force currently operates with 5,000 soldiers, instead of an intended 8,000. Nigeria and Ghana have promised troops, but so far these pledges remain unfulfilled.

The UN has also said it will take over the mission — at an unspecified date.

Arms embargo

Mr Bwakira told journalists in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, that the deadly attack has not demoralised the force, despite more threats from al-Shabab.

“ We do not run away when the situation worsen “

Lt Col Felix Kulayigye Ugandan military spokesman

“Peacekeepers do not come to play football or go to the beach — there is a risk to peacekeeping.”

But he said the transitional government needed help to fight its “enemies”.

“To be fighting with enemies, they need arms — arms which are superior to the capacity of Shabab’s.”

The BBC’s Anne Waithera in Nairobi says there is currently an arms embargo on Somalia, but the United States has been supplying arms to the government after seeking an exemption from the UN.

Our reporter says those injured in Thursday’s blasts are still being airlifted to neighbouring Kenya for treatment.

Nine peacekeepers were flown to Nairobi on the day of the attack and an additional 20 arrived on Friday morning.

The deputy commander of the AU force in Somalia died in the attack when two vehicles with UN logos, packed with explosives, were driven into a peacekeeping base by the airport.

Shelling after the double bombing on Thursday left at least 13 people dead, mostly civilians, witnesses say.

“We do not run away when the situation worsens,” said Lt Col Felix Kulayigye, a spokesman for the Ugandan military, which contributes about half of the 5,000-strong AU force.

Burundi, the only other country to have sent peacekeepers to Somalia, has declared five days of national mourning for the 12 of its peacekeepers who died.

But a Burundian government spokesman said it would not pull out.

Black smoke

The Islamist al-Shabab group said the attacks were revenge for a US raid on Monday.

This reportedly killed Kenyan-born al-Qaeda suspect Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was wanted by the US for attacks in Kenya.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the blast in the “strongest terms”.

It is believed Nabhan fled to Somalia after the attacks and was working with al-Shabab, which the US sees as al-Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia.

Al-Shabab and its allies control most of southern and central Somalia, while the government, helped by the AU force, just runs parts of Mogadishu.

The country has not had a functioning central government since 1991, leading to a complete breakdown of law and order both on land and in recent years in Somali waters.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist and former insurgent, was chosen in January after UN-brokered peace talks.

He has vowed to implement Sharia but al-Shabab accuses him of being a Western puppet.

Years of fighting and anarchy have left some three million people — half the population — needing food aid.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Latin America

Kouchner: UN Should Stay in Haiti Through Election

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — France’s foreign minister urged the U.N. to maintain peacekeeping troops in Haiti at least through next year’s planned presidential elections, while acknowledging improved security in the impoverished, politically chaotic country.

The 9,000-member U.N. force has been in Haiti since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a 2004 rebellion. Its mandate is expected to be renewed for another year by the Security Council before Oct. 15.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a longtime advocate of foreign interventions on behalf of human rights, said that “security is not enough” and that U.N. troops should remain until Haiti holds free and open elections to replace President Rene Preval.

“After (the elections) we will see. It depends on their actions, (if) they are going to take their own affairs in hand,” Kouchner told The Associated Press.

Preval was elected to a five-year term in 2006 after months of delays in holding elections under the U.S.-backed interim government that formed after Aristide’s departure. He has faced few challenges to his presidency since, but lost his then-prime minister to a parliamentary vote following food riots that saw angry protesters attempt to break down the gates of the national palace.

Voting to replace him is expected late next year, but no date has been set. Preval has embarked on a constitutional reform project to expand presidential powers, but has said that he will not run in 2010.

Kouchner, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders who worked with the group in Haiti nearly four decades ago, is on a two-day visit to the Caribbean nation with Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim. Brazil provides the bulk and leadership of the U.N. peacekeeping force here.

The pair met with Preval shortly after arriving Friday morning. They are also scheduled to meet with current Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis, as well as the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, and visit a bridge rebuilt after hurricanes and tropical storms last year killed some 800 people and caused $1 billion in damage.

On Friday afternoon the dignitaries visited a branch of the Haitian AIDS clinic GHESKIO to inaugurate a $147,000 (100,000 euro) French-Brazilian breast-milk storage facility that will provide donated milk for babies whose mothers who are HIV positive or too malnourished to breast-feed.

In a brief press conference at the facility Kouchner told reporters that French President Nicolas Sarkozy intends to visit Haiti at some point but that plans have not yet been finalized.

Haiti won its independence in an 1804 slave revolt against France, defeating Napoleon’s forces.

On Friday the foreign minister and Haitian health minister Alex Larsen praised the cooperation between the two countries. They sat under a picture of the Citadelle Laferriere, a fortress built by Haiti’s early leaders to defend against a French re-invasion that never came

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


Australia: Alarm Over Five Asylum Boats in 14 Days

A FIFTH boat of asylum-seekers in a fortnight is emblematic of one of the world’s biggest challenges, the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, said yesterday.

On Wednesday, a boat of 48 asylum-seekers and four crew was spotted sailing west of Darwin. The navy boarded the boat late that night and will transfer asylum-seekers to Christmas Island, taking numbers of detained there to about 750.

Facing growing pressure over the surge in boat arrivals, the Government insisted yesterday Australia’s immigration facilities on the island were coping.

The island, closer to Indonesia than to the Australian mainland, has a capacity of 1200. Surplus detainees face identity, health and security checks in Darwin, Senator Evans said.

“This will be one of the great issues of the 21st century: people movement,” he said. “We’ve seen record numbers of people moving throughout the world, record numbers of asylum-seekers, and some sort of naive belief that Australia is going to be somehow excused from facing those problems is a nonsense.”

Australia accepts less than 2 per cent of the world’s refugees, United Nations figures show. The majority are resettled in developing nations closer to the countries they are fleeing.

People fleeing unrest in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are increasingly making the voyage to Australia. Indonesia and Malaysia are the stopover points.

Yesterday, the Opposition spokeswoman on immigration, Sharman Stone, asked what the Government would do when the Darwin detention centre was full.

But the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, dismissed her question as “dog whistling”. The Coalition maintains the rise in boats is linked to the scrapping of temporary protection visas last year.

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

Berlusconi: EU Agency to Verify Asylum

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, SEPTEMBER 18 — “A European agency responsible for verifying asylum requests, which would then redistribute those who have the right to asylum among the various EU countries,” was Italian Premier Silvio Berslusconi’s proposal to his European colleagues at the end of the summit of EU leaders in Brussels. Berlusconi reiterated to the EU heads of state and government that “the burden of these immigrants cannot only fall on the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and must be shared by all”. Berlusconi added that at the next European council, common European defence policy will also be on the agenda. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Maroni Meets With Cypriot Interior Minister

(ANSAmed) — ROME, SEPTEMBER 18 — Immigration and combating organised crime were the central topics in a meeting at the Interior Ministry between Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni and his Cypriot colleague Neoklis Sylikiotis. During the meeting, reports Italian Interior Ministry, the ministers agreed on the need to activate measures in the EU already provided for by the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum in a firm manner, with solidarity and shared responsibility. The opportunity to strengthen operative and investigative collaboration between police forces to impede crime and illegal human trafficking was also highlighted. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Boat With 90 Migrants Reaches Canaries

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, SEPTEMBER 18 — A large boat with 90 sub-Saharan African migrants onboard reached the Canary Islands last night, reports the Spanish press. The boat was spotted 35 miles south of Grand Canary and was rescued by a Spanish maritime rescue boat, Salvamar. The 90 individuals onboard were accompanied to the port of Arguineguin and assisted by the local Red Cross. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK: When ‘The Jungle’ Is Razed, How Many Migrants Will Britain Take From Calais This Time?

Britain was under pressure yesterday to take in hundreds of migrants who have been living in a shanty town in Calais known as The Jungle.

The UN’s refugee chief said Britain should take a share of the migrants who are to be evicted from their shacks when French officials clear the camp, probably early next week.

As many as 2,000 foreigners live rough in the Calais area with about 800, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, camped in The Jungle.

The proposal by Antonio Guterres raised the prospect of a repeat of the British humiliation when France closed the Red Cross refugee camp at Sangatte seven years ago.

Then Britain accepted and gave four-year work permits to 1,200 migrants who had been waiting near the Channel Tunnel mouth in the hope of making a crossing and claiming asylum.

But three months later, it emerged that the great majority had refused work and were costing taxpayers £100,000 a day in benefits.

Many were living in hotels, including the four-star Adelphi in Liverpool. None of the Sangatte migrants is thought to have left the UK since.

French officials have decided to bulldoze The Jungle after months of violence and disorder on the streets of Calais involving migrant gangs and attempts to board lorries bound for Dover.

Mr Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, waded into the row over the camp with a demand that ‘everybody that is in need of protection should be granted protection’.

The former Portuguese prime minister said: ‘There will be situations in which we would recommend the British authorities consider the possibility, within reason, of receiving, for instance, people who have large families in Britain and things of this sort.’

He did not specify how many migrants he thought Britain should take.

Mr Guterres spoke after meeting with the man in charge of clearing The Jungle, French immigration minister Eric Besson, who has in the past advocated freedom of travel for migrants from France to Britain.

A statement put out by the UK Border Agency stopped short of a refusal to accept any of those from The Jungle.

A spokesman said: ‘People seeking asylum should do so in the first safe country they come to. Those who are not in need of protection will be expected to return home.

‘The decision to close illegal encampments in and around Calais is a matter for the French government and we will continue to co- operate with them on tackling illegal immigration.’

There was anger in the UK over the suggestion that migrants from The Jungle should come here.

Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: ‘Britain has a duty to genuine refugees but not to anyone who happens to have made their way to Calais.

‘We need to improve our own border security which has been too lax for too long.’

Robert Whelan, of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘It is very important that people of all countries feel they have control over their own borders.

‘Decisions need to be taken by an elected government, not by a UN quango.’

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

UK: Christian Hotel Owners Hauled Before Court After Defending Their Beliefs in Discussion With Muslim Guest

A Christian couple have been charged with a criminal offence after taking part in what they regarded as a reasonable discussion about religion with guests at their hotel.

Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were arrested after a Muslim woman complained to police that she had been offended by their comments.

They have been charged under public order laws with using ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words’ that were ‘religiously aggravated’.

The couple, whose trial has been set for December, face a fine of up to £5,000 and a criminal record if they are convicted.

Although the facts are disputed, it is thought that during the conversation the couple were challenged over their Christian beliefs.

It is understood that they suggested that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was a warlord and that traditional Muslim dress for women was a form of bondage.

They deny, however, that their comments were threatening and argue that they had every right to defend and explain their beliefs.

Mrs Vogelenzang, 54, who has run the Bounty House Hotel near Aintree racecourse in Liverpool with her husband Ben, 53, for six years, said: ‘Nothing like this has happened to us before. We are completely shocked.’

She added that the episode had damaged their business and they had been forced to lay off staff and run the nine-bedroom hotel by themselves, leaving them exhausted.

Sources said that a number of guests staying at the hotel, which charges £92 a night for a double room, were having breakfast in its restaurant on March 20 when comments were made about religion.

One of those involved was the Muslim woman, who was staying at the hotel while she received treatment at a hospital nearby.

The couple, who are members of the Bootle Christian Fellowship, and their solicitor, David Whiting, said they could not discuss the content of the conversation for legal reasons. But the independent lobby group, the Christian Institute, which has seen both the prosecution and defence legal papers, is supporting their defence.

Mr Whiting, who last year successfully defended street preacher Anthony Rollins in Birmingham, said: ‘There is a dispute as to the facts of the allegations, but Ben and Sharon do not accept they were threatening, abusive or insulting.

‘They are committed Christians and it is the defence’s contention that they have every right to defend their religious beliefs and explain those beliefs to others who do not hold similar views.’

After the incident, the couple voluntarily attended St Anne’s Street police station in Liverpool, where they were interviewed under caution.

In July they were arrested and charged under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 and Section 31 (1) (c) and (5) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

They appeared briefly at Liverpool Magistrates Court on Friday to hear the date of their trial before magistrates, and were granted bail on the condition that they did not approach any of the witnesses expected to appear.

The use by the police of the Public Order Act to arrest people over offensive comments has dismayed a number of lawyers, who say the legislation was passed to deal with law and order problems in the streets.

Neil Addison, a prominent criminal barrister and expert in religious law, said: ‘The purpose of the Public Order Act is to prevent disorder, but I’m very concerned that the police are using it merely because someone is offended.

‘It should be used where there is violence, yobbish behaviour or gratuitous personal abuse. It should never be used where there has been a personal conversation or debate with views firmly expressed.

‘If someone is in a discussion and they don’t like what they are hearing, they can walk away.’

He added that the police had a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to defend free speech ‘and I think they are forgetting that’.

A number of Church leaders in Liverpool have written to Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, voicing their concerns and pressing for the case to be dropped.

Christian Institute spokesman Mike Judge said ‘important’ issues of religious liberty were at stake.

‘In recent years, we have backed several cases where Christians have suffered unfair treatment because of their faith,’ he said. ‘We have detected a worrying tendency for public bodies to misapply the law in a way that seems to sideline Christianity more than other faiths.’

A spokesman for Merseyside Police said: ‘It would be inappropriate to comment as this is an ongoing case.’

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]


A Point of View: From a Whisper to a Roar: The Return of the Blood Libel

If there is one thing we have learned from history, it is that predicable patterns of behavior provide the underpinnings of virulent anti-Semitism. Like a lethal virus or a pestilence, the disease of Jew-hatred cannot flourish by itself. It needs the right conditions, the right combination of circumstances and a proper environment to grow and spread.

We know, for example, that the Holocaust didn’t begin with the bricks and mortar of the gas chambers. It started with words — hateful words, ugly words — words that could inspire enough hatred to create the conditions for a rapid-fire combustion that led to the annihilation of six million Jews and millions of others.

And we know that the 9/11 terror attacks in the US didn’t start with airplanes and boxcutters. Those attacks began with hateful ideas and words that inspired the terrorists to maim and kill more than 3,000 innocent people.

For centuries, one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of anti-Semites has been the ability to fuel hatred by creating a mythical idea of Jews being a pathologically loathsome people. These notions are founded in stereotypical attributes and hateful canards — that Jews are greedy, that they keep to themselves, that they are all-powerful, that they are “blood-suckers,” or that they control the government or the media in order to advance sinister agendas.

Perhaps the worst manifestation of this hatred is the ancient blood libel. This odious myth, handed down through the centuries from medieval times to the present day, suggests that Jews prepare their Passover matzot with the sacrificial blood of Christian children. This despicable slander led to pogroms, expulsions and bloodshed against Jews throughout history.

The blood libel is recognized as one of the taproots of anti-Semitism. And it is as alive and well today as it was more than a century ago. Most recently it resurfaced with accusations now swirling through the blogosphere that American Jews and Israeli soldiers are involved in a broad conspiracy to harvest organs for profit.

It started as a whisper. The whispers suggested that Israeli soldiers tasked with patrolling the Palestinian West Bank weren’t just policing and keeping the peace, but were rather involved in something much more nefarious — capturing innocent civilians so their organs could be harvested and illegally sold on the black market.

As with all urban legends of the Internet age, the source of this rumor isn’t clear. We do know, however, that the news of the arrest of several high-profile public figures and several rabbis in New Jersey on charges of graft and money-laundering may have inspired the initial whisper campaign.

Then came the “news” out of Sweden that — yes — Israeli soldiers were in fact involved in illegally harvesting organs. This, according to the mainstream Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, which ran a two-page spread detailing seamy allegations of a conspiracy by the Israel Defense Forces to remove organs from kidnapped Palestinian civilians.

This was, pure and simple, a fabrication cut from whole cloth. The article, titled “They plunder the organs of our sons,” had no basis in fact. It relied on claims by a handful of Palestinians who spoke to the reporter. No effort was made to investigate those claims. And the ink had barely dried before some of the Palestinian “sources” recanted.

The scandalous Aftonbladet story appeared on August 17. In the pre-Internet era it might have made few ripples beyond Scandinavia. But instead, the story, bereft of even a grain of truth, spread like wildfire across the Internet and took on a life of its own.

The Arab and Muslim press, which routinely dabble in anti-Semitism both in print news articles and in editorial cartoons, eagerly picked up the theme in late August and early September. Newspapers in Jordan, Qatar and Oman ran a series of cartoons over several days portraying Israeli soldiers as vicious butchers, gleefully cutting off the body parts of Arabs. One cartoon cast the state of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank as a side of beef being carved up by a stereotypical black-hatted Jew.

In the latest iteration of this blood libel, it is now Algerians who are the alleged victims of an international Jewish conspiracy to harvest organs.

By mid-September, the blogosphere and many Arab and Muslim media outlets had picked up on a story, apparently first reported on September 6 by Algeria’s daily newspaper Al-Khabar, that bands of Moroccans and Algerians were roaming the streets of Algeria’s cities and kidnapping young children, who were taken into Morocco, where they were purportedly sold to Israelis and American Jews to have their organs removed.

The fabricated story has since been reported by some mainstream media outlets in the Middle East, such as the pan-Arab satellite network Al Jazeera, and was subsequently picked up by dozens of other news sites and blogs around the world, including anti-Semitic sites that appreciate its propaganda value.

           — Hat tip: A Greek Friend [Return to headlines]

Nuclear Conference Criticizes Israeli Nukes

VIENNA — Overriding Western objections, a 150-nation nuclear conference on Friday passed a resolution directly criticizing Israel and its atomic program for the first time in 18 years. Iran hailed the vote as a “glorious moment.”

The result was a setback not only for Israel but also for the United States and other backers of the Jewish state, which had lobbied for 18 years of past practice — debate on the issue without a vote. It also reflected building tensions between Israel and its backers and Islamic nations, backed by developing countries.

Of delegations present at the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting Friday, 49 voted for the resolution. Forty-five were against and 16 abstained from endorsing or rejecting the document, which “expresses concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities,” and links it to “concern about the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons for the security and stability of the Middle East.”

In an attempt to sway the assembly before the vote, U.S. chief delegate Glyn Davies spoke out against an “attempt to use this resolution to criticize a single country.”

“Such an approach is highly politicized and does not truly address the complexities at play regarding crucial nuclear-related issues in the Middle East,” he said.

While the conference has no enforcing powers, the result once again exposed the deep North-South divide gripping IAEA meetings.

The U.S. and its allies consider Iran the region’s greatest proliferation threat, fearing that Tehran is trying to achieve the capacity to make nuclear weapons despite its assertion that it is only building a civilian program to generate power. They also say Syria — which, like Iran is under IAEA investigation — ran a clandestine nuclear program, at least until Israeli warplanes destroyed what they describe as a nearly finished plutonium-producing reactor two years ago.

But Islamic nations insist that Israel is the true danger in the Middle East, saying they fear its nuclear weapons capacity. Israel has never said it has such arms, but is universally believed to possess them.

The Muslim countries enjoy support from the developing world, which is critical of the U.S. and other nuclear weapons nations for refusing to disarm, and suspects that developed nations are trying to corner the market on peaceful nuclear technology to their disadvantage.

Israeli delegate David Danieli denounced the vote as “openly hostile to the state of Israel” and accused Iran and Syria of “creating a diplomatic smoke screen” to cover up their “pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

But chief Iranian delegate Ali Asghar Soltanieh said the vote should serve as a warning to Washington and other supporters of the Jewish state.

“The U.S. Administration … has received a message that they should not continue supporting Israel at any price,” he told reporters.

Since the conference passed a harshly worded anti-Israel resolution in 1991, there has been annual Islamic criticism of Israel’s nuclear program and its refusal to join the Nonproliferation Treaty. But — until Friday — the West had lobbied successfully against a vote, arguing they could damage hopes of a Middle East peace through negotiations.

Western diplomats had expressed hope on Thursday that a vote could again be avoided after the meeting adopted a resolution calling for a Mideast free of nuclear weapons in a near-consensus vote. One hundred delegations voted for, with only Israel against and 14 abstentions.

While Israel objected to a passage calling on all states in the region to adopt the Nonproliferation Treaty, it praised Arab willingness to compromise on other language in the document that it opposed.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Pope: Bishops to Discuss Middle East Next Year

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has announced a special meeting of bishops next year to discuss Middle East peace efforts and the role of the Catholic Church in the region.

Addressing bishops and patriarchs from Eastern rite churches, Benedict said Saturday that the meeting will take place Oct. 10-24, 2010, and will be titled “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: communion and testimony.”

The meeting of bishops, called a synod, will gather church leaders from the Middle East and around the world.

The pope and the Vatican have long been active on the Middle East diplomatic front, seeking to protect Christians in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the region while supporting efforts to solve the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

Swine Flu ‘Could Kill Millions Unless Rich Nations Give £900m’

UN report says pandemic may result in anarchy unless western world pays for antiviral drugs and vaccines

The swine flu pandemic could kill millions and cause anarchy in the world’s poorest nations unless £900m can be raised from rich countries to pay for vaccines and antiviral medicines, says a UN report leaked to the Observer.

The disclosure will provoke concerns that health officials will not be able to stem the growth of the worldwide H1N1 pandemic in developing countries. If the virus takes hold in the poorest nations, millions could die and the economies of fragile countries could be destroyed.

Health ministers around the globe were sent the warning on Thursday in a report on the costs of averting a humanitarian disaster in the next few months. It comes as officials inside the World Health Organisation, the UN’s public health body, said they feared they would not be able to raise half that amount because of the global downturn.

Gregory Hartl of WHO said the report required an urgent response from rich nations. “There needs to be recognition that the whole world is affected by this pandemic and the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We have seen how H1N1 has taken hold in richer nations and in the southern hemisphere. We have been given fair warning and must act soon,” he said.

The report was drawn up by UN officials over the last two months. It was commissioned in July after Ban ki-moon, the UN’s secretary general, expressed concern that the H1NI virus could have a severe impact on the world’s poorest countries.

It paints a disastrous picture for the world’s most vulnerable people unless there is immediate action. “There is a window in which it will be possible to help poor countries get as ready as they can for H1N1 and that window is closing rapidly,” it says.

“Countries where health services are overburdened by diseases, such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, will have great difficulty managing the surge of cases. And if the electricity and water sectors are not able to maintain services, this will have serious implications for the ability of the health sector to function.

“If suppliers of fuel, food, telecommunications, finance or transport services have not developed plans as to how they would continue to deliver their services, the consequences could be significantly intensified,” it adds.

The 47-page report provides a detailed breakdown of the basic needs of 75 vulnerable countries with the weakest capacity to withstand an escalation of the virus. Six countries from Latin America, including Cuba and Bolivia, 21 countries from Asia and the Pacific such as North Korea and Bangladesh, and 40 countries from Africa such as Congo and Eritrea are included in the survey.

UN officials say in the report that £700m should be spent on antiviral drugs and vaccines to protect health care workers and other essential personnel as well as cover those suffering from severe illness. They have identified 85 countries that do not have the ability to access vaccines from any other source and intend to cover 5-10% of each population.

A further £147m should be put aside to organise vaccine campaigns, improve communications, monitor levels of illness and improve laboratory capacity in 61 countries, the report claims. The remainder should be used to pay for the WHO and other UN-related organisations to help in these countries as well as an emergency fund for additional antiviral medicines, it argues.

The UN’s efforts were boosted last week when nine countries, including Britain and the US, pledged to give the equivalent of a 10% share of their swine flu vaccine supply to help fight the deadly virus’s global spread. In Britain, Douglas Alexander, the development secretary, pledged to give £23m.

Some officials within WHO believe, however, that this will not be enough. One said that richer countries were reluctant to pay out all of the money that was needed. “The downturn means that governments countries are reluctant to give,” he said.

Another said: “The money is a trickle, not a flood. It is going to be a struggle. If we are not careful, the virus could destroy a burgeoning economy or democracy.”

The UN’s request for the money comes as the virus begins to establish itself in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. On Wednesday, health officials told one website that the African continent had recorded 8,187 confirmed cases of swine flu and 41 deaths.

Swine flu was declared a pandemic in June and has since been identified in 180 countries. Pandemic experts believe that the western world, including Britain, is facing a second wave of the virus.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness [Return to headlines]

2 thoughts on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 9/19/2009

  1. Speaking of Brzezinski (who I do not like at all, but who is nevertheless a very fascinating and dangerous person), there is quote of his that I always think of when his name is mentioned, of course involving Russia: “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine, suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.”

    I think it’s quite an interesting take, though I take issue with his words “suborned and subordinated”.

  2. Seeing how the British are allowing dhimmitude to happen without firing a shot; changing the sex of a boy to a girl is probably highly appropriate.

    Probably investing in burqua in Britian at this point would probably be a good decision.

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