Gates of Vienna News Feed 11/6/2009

Gates of Vienna News Feed 11/6/2009The big news of the day is a report from the Czech media that President Vaclav Klaus is considering pulling out of the EU in order preserve Czech sovereignty when the Lisbon Treaty takes effect. More power to him!

In other news, the Dutch government is moving to make it illegal to utilize the services of illegal prostitutes — i.e. those not registered and licensed by the government.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, CSP, Diana West, Gaia, JD, JP, Paul Belien, Sean O’Brian, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
World Economy on the Brink of a New Crisis
Arab-Americans Respond to Shootings
Classmate: Hasan Said Terror Fight a War on Islam
Flashback: FT. Hood’s Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond and the Koran Sniper
Fort Hood Shooting: Muslim Major Nidal Malik Hasan Who Shot Dead 13 at Texas Army Base Faced FBI Probe Into His Support for Suicide Bombers
Frank Gaffney in Newsmax: As FT. Hood Tragedy Unfolds, Obama is Politician-in-Chief
Major Nidal Malik Hasan: Soldiers’ Psychiatrist Who Heard Frontline Stories
Military Jihadists Fill ‘Every Branch’
Muslim Major Nidal Malik Hasan Faced FBI Probe Into His Support for Suicide Bombers
Obama to Native Americans: ‘I Understand What it Means to be an Outsider’
Obama’s ‘Army’ Crashes Colleges for Health ‘Reform’
The Moment I First Heard About the Mass Murders at FT Hood I Knew in My Bones That the Shooter or Shooters Were Muslims.
Europe and the EU
Britain Needs Clarity About Afghanistan
Czech Republic: Hájek: Klaus May Want CR to Renew Sovereignty by Leaving EU
Europeans Too Selfish to Have Children, Says Chief Rabbi
Italy: Berlusconi Denies Liaison With 18 Year-Old Lingerie Model
Italy: Berlusconi’s Wealth Declines But Moves Up in Billionaire Ranks
Italy: Sex Scandal Governor’s Expenses Probed
Italy: Top Mafia Fugitive ‘Betrayed’ By Boss
Italy: Novel Takes Fresh Look at Fall of Roman Empire
Italy: Mafia Relatives Rap Ministers Over Tough Prison Regime
Italy: Al-Qaeda Allies ‘May Carry Out Attacks’
Italy: Anti-Immigrant Party Supports Crucifix in Schools
Italy: PM Says He Met Teen Model Four Times
Italy: Govt to Appeal European Court Ban on Crucifix
Netherlands: Visits to Illegal Prostitutes to be Illegal
Nicolas Sarkozy Should Apologise for French Minister Pierre Lellouche’s Anti-British Rant
Sweden: ‘I Won’t Let My Country be Taken Over by Xenophobes’
UK: Anti-Terror Code ‘Would Alienate Most Muslims’•
UK: Daniel Hannan Resigns From European Parliament Post
UK: No Respect, No Morals, No Trust — Welcome to Modern Britain
Vatican Calls Order to Remove Crosses From Classrooms “Short-Sighted”
North Africa
Egypt: Terror Suspects Arrested by Police
Egyptian Security Arrests Several Christians for Praying at Home
Egypt: Women to Appear on State TV Without Muslim Veil
Morocco Expels Swedish Diplomat
Middle East
Caroline Glick: The Mullahs’ Big Week
Danish Student ‘Arrested in Iran’
Hezbollah Denies Links to Seized Arms Ship
Iran: Fate of Jailed Journalists Unclear
Top IDF Officer: Iran Has Taken Over Hezbollah
Turkey, EU Tension Mounting Over Sudanese Leader’s Visit
Turkey Defends Sudan Leader Visit
South Asia
Afghanistan: Italian Soldiers Targeted in Herat Bomb Attack
Afghanistan: Karzai Rival ‘Withdrew Under US Pressure’
Afghanistan: NATO Looks for Missing Soldiers
Blasphemy Legislation Strikes Minorities and Islamises the Country, Pakistan Priest Says
Court Impedes Effort to Rescue Kidnapped Girl in Bangladesh
Don’t Fool Yourselves… Afghanistan is an Unwinnable War
Pakistan: Iranians Arrested Over Suicide Attack
Far East
Beijing in Support of the Burmese Junta: Work on a New Oil Pipeline Begins
Australia — Pacific
Dad Pays $82.5k for Email to Principal
Sub-Saharan Africa
Somalia: Islamists Destroy Graves Near Kismayu Town
Somali Adulterer Stoned to Death
Spain Resists Deal With Pirates
Latin America
Brazil: in the Midst of a Tectonic Shift in the New World Order
Under a Bridge, Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia Wait to Get Arrested

Financial Crisis

World Economy on the Brink of a New Crisis

Upbeat news about positive markets and GDP trends are the result of government stimuli, especially in the US and China. However, they are only tranquilisers, when their effects end, markets could collapse and societies will be in for a rough ride.

Milan (AsiaNews) — Good economic news from Asia and the United States are leading some to think that the worst is over and that the world has just turned the corner around its crisis. Today the World Bank announced in fact that China’s economy will grow by 8.4 per cent this year, higher than the psychological (and good luck) barrier of 8 per cent, mentioned by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao last March. Similarly, the US happily announced a few days ago that its economy grew at a healthy 3.5 per cent, boosted by third quarter consumption.

In reality, the situation is far from improved. A Bloomberg survey released on 29 October indicated that investor confidence actually dropped from 35 per cent in July to 31. Even an eight-month, 68 per cent rally in global stocks failed to convince investors and analysts that it’s time to take on more risk or dispel their concerns about US economic policies and its banking system. Most fear that recent growth is not driven by real demand but rather by the stimulus from the Federal Reserve and government spending. The risk is that the injection of thousands of billions of dollars into the economy (what Bloomberg calls the biggest government intrusion into the economy since World War II ) will leave the world saddled with huge debts after the stimulus ends. For this reason, Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming was quick to warn his country and the world against withdrawing economic stimulus measures, citing the risk of another world slump. “There are increasing signs that the global economy is heading in a positive direction, but there are still many uncertainties,” Chen said at a forum in Shanghai today. If countries “withdraw the stimulus measures now, the global economy will plunge.”

For investor George Soros, another recession is likely in 2010 or 2011. Here is expert Maurizio d’Orlando’s take on the issue.

China seems to be better weathering the economic crisis for well-known reasons, namely an exchange rate that has undervalued the yuan for a long time against the US dollar, and Chinese leaders’ plans to restore national grandeur on the backs Chinese workers and the world’s middle classes with the complicity of small Western and transnational oligarchies, something that applies to a great extent to other emerging countries as well.

Given its overall imbalance, the global system has generated huge amounts of mostly dollar-issued securities (in yen and, to a lesser extent, Euros as well) that are without adequate coverage but can still boost share values on the short-term, thus creating an impression of wealth.

Like a good anti-depressant, this has eased a deep malaise. People have been able to tell themselves that the situation is indeed bad, but not as bad as they actually thought.

It is as if the US economy and the world were taking unprecedented doses of acetaminophen to remove the immediate and most obvious effects of the malaise without providing any long-term solution to its underlying cause.

Still, the strategy might even work, but on two conditions. First, the system needs to be treated on long haul, and, second, the patient must overcome the crisis on its own.

Indeed, everything might still run smoothly as long as Chinese workers, especially those at the bottom of the ladder, continue to suffer rather than rise up, and Western middle classes remain befuddled as a group by sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and other trifling distractions, their sense of responsibility clouded, unable to see the decline of democracy and freedom.

The system is currently outpacing itself. It is inconceivable that world standards of living can rise without innovations but simply by shifting production to low cost areas (like China and other emerging economies).

Large multinationals or China cannot succeed in technological innovations or scientific breakthroughs, the former because they are organisationally costly, lack coherence to innovate and vision to plan strategically, the latter because its “successful” model relies on counterfeiting.

When the two aforementioned placebo mechanisms stop working, the lack of treatment will mean that underlying imbalances will blow up big time.

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


Arab-Americans Respond to Shootings

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The D.C. area Islamic community has been quick to condemn Nidal Malik Hasan’s alleged attack on dozens of people at Ft. Hood, Texas. They’re taking a stand, and trying to cut off any impending backlash.

D.C. area Arab-American leaders are calling for calm. They do indeed fear there will be a backlash. They told FOX 5 the hate calls and hate emails have already begun.

Leaders from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and local Imams held a news conference appealing for calm. They say they have already begun receiving hateful phone calls and emails.

They say they worry especially for Arab-American women whose clothing makes them a frequent target…and the estimated 11,000 Muslims serving in the U.S. military.

[Return to headlines]

Classmate: Hasan Said Terror Fight a War on Islam

WASHINGTON (AP) — A classmate of the Fort Hood shooting suspect says Maj. Nidal Hasan was an outspoken opponent of the U.S. war on terror and called it a “war against Islam.”

Dr. Val Finnell was a classmate of Hasan’s at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. Both attended a master’s in public health program in 2007 and 2008.

Finnell says he got to know Hasan in an environmental health class. At the end of the class, students gave presentations. Finnell says other classmates wrote on subjects such as dry cleaning chemicals and mold in homes, but Hasan’s topic was whether the war against terror was “a war against Islam.” Finnell described Hasan as a “vociferous opponent” of the terror war.

Finnell says Hasan told classmates he was “a Muslim first and an American second.”

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

Flashback: FT. Hood’s Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond and the Koran Sniper

by Diana West

Some backstory to the Ft. Hood Massacre by a “Palestinian” Muslim officer in the United States Army.

First, why do I call Hasan a “Palestinian”? Because he has identified himself as Palestinian.

Why do I call him “Muslim”? Despite what dhimmi-media are not bothering to mention, or barely mentioning in passing, he is a Muslim. In this Age of Jihad, this is RELEVANT.

Elementary example: If, during World War II, a German-American Nazi had shouted “Sieg Heil” befor committing a similar unspeakable act on a US base, his German-ness and Nazi beliefs would also have been RELEVANT. (Of course, had such an officer been arguing against US involvement in WWII and calling for German Nazis to “rise up against the aggressor,” etc., he would have been relieved of duty if not arrested long before such an attack.)

But even as we learn Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar” — not “God is Great,” as the media oh-so-prudishly prefers — before mowing down dozens of brave American soldiers deep in the heart of Texas (just as Mohammed Atta, the Egyptian AIr 990 pilot, the Bulldozer killer, and more, all yelled) the military spokesmen, pundits, newspapers remain “stumped” as to his motivation.


They are unable even to speculate whether this was an act of jihad. They can’t even mouth the words, certainly can’t write them. Here are a couple of sample headlines in the morning papers. After reporting the death toll, they add:

“Officer Is Supect” (NYT). Or: “Suspect Is Army Psychiatrist Who Worked at Walter Reed” (WP).

The suspect officer is a Muslim, and the headlines should have reflected this, iike so:

“Muslim Officer is Suspect.” Or: “Muslim Suspect Is Army Psychiatrist…”

He is what he is.

In a slightly saner world the media would explore how — “whether” would be a start — Islamic beliefs figured into the massacre; Congress would investigate how such a man — someone described as happy about the jihadist attack on a Little Rock Army-Navy recruiting station that killed Pvt. William Long — was allowed to remain in the military. And it would fall to the military and security services to own up to politically incorrect fact that at the very least combat cohesion is shot, certainly post-Ft. Hood this week, certainly post-Helmand this week (where five British troops were killed by a Taliban-linked Afghan policeman) with Muslims in the ranks.

Meanwhile, there seem to be few Muslims in the military. I am still looking for current data, but meanwhile came across this 2007 report from Newsmax which reports…

           — Hat tip: Diana West [Return to headlines]

Fort Hood Shooting: Muslim Major Nidal Malik Hasan Who Shot Dead 13 at Texas Army Base Faced FBI Probe Into His Support for Suicide Bombers

[Comments from JD: This single news page has the best summary I’ve seen of all the details of the attack and the attacker.]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Frank Gaffney in Newsmax: As FT. Hood Tragedy Unfolds, Obama is Politician-in-Chief

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was castigated widely when he declared two weeks ago that Barack Obama was “dithering” with respect to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s urgent request for the dispatch of additional troops to Afghanistan. President Obama’s astonishing response to the murderous attack at Fort Hood suggests the commander in chief is not merely a ditherer, but someone who reflexively subordinates national security to political considerations…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]

Major Nidal Malik Hasan: Soldiers’ Psychiatrist Who Heard Frontline Stories

Unhappy soldier who faced deployment to Iraq and did not want to see what his patients had described

Violence in the US involving soldiers is commonplace, with a rise in domestic abuse, murder and suicide since the wars began in Afghanistan and Iraq. But there is nothing commonplace about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the soldier allegedly responsible for the biggest mass killing at a military base in the US.

He was not a soldier returning from deployment in either Iraq or Afghanistan, suffering from stress or combat fatigue. Hasan, although 39 years old, has never served in a war zone. Instead, his horror of war came secondhand. He was a psychiatrist who listened to the harrowing stories of his comrades at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, and latterly at Fort Hood, Texas.

Unusually for a soldier, Hasan appeared to have little taste for violence, at least up until yesterday. His cousin, Nader Hasan, said: “He was someone who did not enjoy going to the firing range.” That may have been a consequence of the stories he had heard in the hospital wards from the returning soldiers.

Hasan became an unhappy soldier as his career progressed, according to his family and colleagues.

Nader said his cousin, though born in America, had suffered harassment from fellow soldiers who questioned his loyalty to the US and commented on his Middle East ethnicity. As a Muslim, he was upset at the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Nader confirmed that he had been resisting deployment in either war zone.

He had been scheduled for deployment to Iraq at the end of the year and had told colleagues repeatedly he did not want to go. He felt trapped, looking at ways to buy his way out, even going to the extent of hiring a lawyer to see if he could leave military service honourably.

After a killing on this scale, there will inevitably be questions about whether the fact that Hasan was a Muslim was a factor, and whether the incident will fuel tension between Muslims and non-Muslims in the US military.

There was already tension, but on a lesser scale, mainly because it was overshadowed by the invasion of Iraq, when Sergeant Hasan Akbar in 2003 threw a grenade into a tent of his comrades in Kuwait. He was sentenced two years later to death and the prosecution claimed he had been motivated by Islamist extremism.

The case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan is much more complicated, the motivation less clear. He was born in Arlington, Virginia, close to Washington DC. He was brought up at Roanoke, in rural Virginia, the son of Palestinians from a village near Jerusalem. He went to Virginia Tech, where he joined the Officer Training Corps and graduated with a degree in biochemistry. From there, against his family’s wishes, he joined the military, who sent him to study psychiatry at the United Services University of the Health Sciences, just outside Washington DC, graduating in 2001.

He served at Walter Reed, one of the main hospitals in the US for soldiers recovering from physical and mental illness. He was promoted in May and transferred from Walter Reed to Fort Hood. He was said to be single, with no children.

His problem may have been one of alienation, as his family suggested yesterday, a common complaint of recent or second-generation immigrants, as was the case of the Virginia Tech shooter three years ago, whose family was South Korean.

A retired colonel, Terry Lee, who worked beside Hasan in a ward, said he had been unhappy about US foreign policy and had made several comments that the US should not be in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lee cited an incident earlier this year as having had a big influence on Hasan — a fatal shooting at an army recruiting base in Little Rock, Arkansas. The suspect, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, faces trial for murder.

The FBI had investigated postings on the social website Scribd in which a writer describing himself as Nidal Hasan made a case in apparent defence of suicide bombers. Among other musings, he wrote: “If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory.” But the FBI did not pursue it, unsure whether it was Major Hasan and how seriously the writer was advocating action.

One of the ironies of yesterday’s killings was that while the gunman was on the rampage at Fort Hood, military veterans were in Washington campaigning for more help in dealing with mental health problems, mainly for returning soldiers.

Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said that he and others had warned that an incident such as the one which unfolded yesterday had been on the cards for a long time. “We warned the military about this. We warned the military about the need to increase the number of mental health care providers,” he said. “We warned the military about lowering recruiting standards, about the medical exams for soldiers coming back from the war and needing mental health care and brain injury exams.

“We have been working tirelessly to try to prevent this from happening,” he said. “This is so horrible. This is a tragedy.”

The problem is that Hasan was not a damaged soldier, but one of the mental healthcare providers that Sullivan was pressing the military to recruit more of.

The US military is dealing with a rising number of stress-related homicides and suicides among soldiers who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, or have returned from duty in those conflicts. Many troops are on their third or fourth tour of combat.

Some studies suggest that about 15% of soldiers returning from Iraq suffer from emotional problems.

Last year there were 128 confirmed suicides by serving US army personnel, and 41 by serving marines — the highest number since records began in 1980.

Another 15 army deaths were still under investigation when the figures were released in February.

The confirmed rate of army suicides was 20.2 per 100,000 last year. In 2002, the army suicide rate was just 9.8 per 100,000. The last time it exceeded the civilian rate was at the height of the Vietnam war.

Hasan did not fit the classic pattern of a stressed soldier. But someone listening day after day to troops describing the tension and carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan could end up as damaged as those facing combat at first hand.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Military Jihadists Fill ‘Every Branch’

Ultimate 5th column penetration, warns best-selling ‘Muslim Mafia’

Shockingly, a growing number of other Muslim American soldiers as well as civilian contractors have put their religion before their duty. Some like Hasan have killed, or tried to kill, their fellow soldiers. Others have infiltrated the military in order to undermine it and aid and comfort the enemy.

According to an explosive new book, “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” Hasan is just the tip of a jihadist Fifth Column operating within the ranks of the U.S. military — which is too blinded by political correctness to see the threat.

Quoting from a classified military briefing, “Muslim Mafia” reveals that this Fifth Column has penetrated “every branch of the U.S. military.” The Islamist enemy has even infiltrated the al-Qaida detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


The enemy infiltration is not limited to Guantanamo.

The report strongly suggests that Islamist spies have penetrated nearly every sensitive U.S. security agency involved in the war on terror, potentially compromising intelligence government-wide.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Muslim Major Nidal Malik Hasan Faced FBI Probe Into His Support for Suicide Bombers

The army psychiatrist who shot dead 13 people in a murderous rampage at America’s biggest military base was facing an FBI investigation for expressing sympathy with suicide bombers.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, had allegedly posted a series of comments on a website which drew parallels between terrorists and a US soldier who sacrificed himself to save his comrades.

Investigators were tipped off six months ago by the devout Muslim’s worried colleagues.

‘If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory,’ he is said to have written.

‘Their intention is not to die because of some despair. Their act was not one of suicide that is despised by Islam.’

A well-known opponent of the so-called War on Terror, Hasan armed himself with two handguns before bursting into a medical centre at Fort Hood in Texas and spraying the room with bullets.

The major was eventually brought down by a female police officer who was herself wounded in the exchange of gunfire.

Hasan, who was furious about US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now in a stable condition in hospital.

Witnesses described complete carnage as the officer entered the Soldier Readiness Facility, where troops receive final medical checkups before being deployed overseas, and opened fire at around 1.30pm yesterday.

George Stratton said his son George Stratton III was just five feet from the gunman and dived behind a desk to escape a hail of bullets.

‘Around 15 rounds went off an people started dropping to the floor,’ he said. ‘My son peeked up over the desk and that was when he got shot.

‘He said he saw one of the NCOs get badly shot. He told me “Dad, I got up, held my arm and took off runnning.”‘

Some victims were women. Amber Bahr, 19, had been on the phone to her mother before being shot in the stomach.

‘She said “Hi Mommy, how are you doing?,” Lisa Pfund said. ‘All of a sudden, she said, “I gotta go.”‘

A short time later, Mrs Pfund received a phone call from the hospital confirming her daughter was injured.

Another of the injured was Private Keara Bono, 21. In a desperate phone call to her husband, she said: ‘They shot me. And I’m still here in ths country.’

He heard shots and shouting before the line went dead. She was shot in the back.

In the aftermath of the shooting, soldiers rushed to treat their injured colleagues by ripping their uniforms into makeshift bandages.

First reports said Hasan had been killed. But early this morning it was revealed that he had been wounded and was in a stable condition on a ventilator.

‘I would say his death is not imminent,’ Lt. Gen. Bob Cone at Fort Hood said.

Investigators said Hasan had used two pistols, one a semi-automatic. Neither of the weapons was military issue. Soldiers at the base only carry weapons during training exercises.

The shooting took place just 50 yards from the Howze Theatre where a graduation ceremony for soldiers who had finished college courses was due to take place.

There were 600 people inside the auditorium at the time but quick-thinking soldiers managed to close the doors, averting a potentially worse tragedy.

Hasan is described as:

Retired Colonel Terry Lee who worked with the major said: ‘He was so outspoken I once said to him, “Look, you got to cool it”.

‘He was reacting with open glee at the death of some soldiers by a suicide bomber. I told him, “You might not agree with this but this is the army and we are here to serve the country.’

Mr Lee said Hasan repeatedly stated: ‘Muslims should rise up against the aggressors.’

‘He was very much against that and he was appealing through the channels for the deployment to be cancelled,’ Mr Lee said.

However, Hasan’s cousin Nader Hasan claimed he was a ‘normal’ American.

He said being deployed to Iraq was the major’s ‘worst nightmare.’

I can’t tell you why it happened,’ Nader Hasan told Fox News. ‘He’s been making those requests (not to be deployed) since 9/11. He’s been in military since right out of high school..

‘Both his parents are American and I just want to make sure everyone understands he is a good American and we are shocked.’

As an army psychiatrist, Hasan helped counsel countless traumatised soldiers returning from Iraq. ‘He deals with stories, he’d tell us how he would hear things, horrific things,’ his cousin added.

‘But even before hearing things from the war, what was affecting him psychologically (was that) he was dealing with some harassment with some of his military colleagues to the extent that he hired a military attorney to try to have the issue resolved, pay back the Government to get out of the military.’

‘It was the harassment that got to him, him being referenced from his Middle Eastern ethnicity even though was born and raised here, went to high school here in North Virginia.. went to Virginia Tech and never been in any trouble, just normal and played sports.’


On a form filled out by those seeking spouses through a programme at the mosque, Hasan listed his birthplace as Arlington, Virginia, but his nationality as Palestinian, Khan said.

‘I don’t know why he listed Palestinian,’ Khan said, ‘He was not born in Palestine.’

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Obama to Native Americans: ‘I Understand What it Means to be an Outsider’

“I understand what it means to be an outsider,” Obama said, son of a single mother and oft-absent father from Africa. “You will not be forgotten as l am in this White House.”

Obama told the first White House Tribal Nations Conference that he got elected because millions of people wanted to “change the way Washington works,” especially when it comes to groups that have been “excluded from the American Dream.”

“Few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, our first Americans,” Obama said.

Obama said he is committed to “forging a new and better future” with Native Americans, and to “getting this relationship right.”

[Comments from JD: I watched this live yesterday, Obama also said something like “there will be greater co-operation between your government and our government“. Many columns have omitted this crucial statement. ]

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Obama’s ‘Army’ Crashes Colleges for Health ‘Reform’

Students recruited to lobby Congress in major push for Obamacare

President Obama’s “grassroots army” has descended upon college campuses, knocking on dorm doors to recruit students and slam lawmakers with phone calls pushing health-care “reform.”

Obama for America, Obama’s 2008 political campaign, merged with the Democratic National Committee in January and is now known as Organizing for America. The grassroots army that some refer to as “Obama 2.0” is hosting a contest to see which college can call the most state and U.S. representatives by the end of November, the Arizona State University campus newspaper reports.

According to the report, Arizona OFA Director Jessica Jones said students may win bragging rights and other prizes if they blast legislators with the most calls in favor of health-care legislation.


As WND has also reported, help-wanted ads have appeared on Craigslist that offer to pay citizens between $9 and $16 an hour to lobby for the passage of Obama’s health care.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

The Moment I First Heard About the Mass Murders at FT Hood I Knew in My Bones That the Shooter or Shooters Were Muslims.

Call me “Islamophobic,” call me “psychic,” call me what you will.

It now seems that there was only a single shooter: Major Malik Nidal Hasan, a Muslim man of Palestinian/Jordanian descent but an American citizen who is a physician—a psychiatrist to be exact—as well as a religious Muslim.

According to the Washington Post (and cited at JihadWatch):

“Hasan attended the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring and was ‘very devout,’ according to Faizul Khan, a former imam at the center. Khan said Hasan attended prayers at least once a day, seven days a week, often in his Army fatigues. Khan also said Hasan applied to an annual matrimonial seminar that matches Muslims looking for spouses. ‘I don’t think he ever had a match, because he had too many conditions,’ Khan said.”…

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Britain Needs Clarity About Afghanistan

Gordon Brown and Barack Obama must show leadership if further loss of life in Afghanistan is to be, if not acceptable, then tolerable.

Gordon Brown will today deliver what his advisers say will be a major speech on Afghanistan. It will be among the most important he has made. The country seeks clarity about why British troops are still there, eight years after they were first deployed, and needs a sense of when they might be able to withdraw. Even if a specific timetable for departure may not be feasible, how will success be recognised?

The deaths this week of a bomb disposal expert killed while disarming his 69th device of a six-month tour, and of five soldiers gunned down by an Afghan policeman, offer a poignant backdrop to Mr Brown’s speech, not least at this time of Remembrance. Yet another soldier died yesterday. In war, such casualties are inevitable; and this country and its Armed Forces have never flinched from taking them if the cause is right, however great the heartache and sacrifice. But the conflict in Afghanistan is in danger of losing public support — if it has not done so already — unless there is a clear exposition of why it is in Britain’s national interests to remain there.

Mr Brown tried to do this two months ago, in a speech that failed to address some key questions, especially those surrounding vote-rigging during the elections that returned Hamid Karzai to power. Now that Mr Karzai is confirmed as president, the question is how Britain, America and the other Nato powers propose to ensure that the corruption that marked his first term in office is not replicated in the next.

The subsequent perception that British troops are dying to prop up a discredited government is one that Mr Brown must address. He needs also to place Afghanistan in a larger strategic context. His attempt to justify the bloody war in Helmand on the grounds that it stops terrorist attacks in the streets of London or Manchester has always been hard to sustain. The biggest threat to life and limb here has come from British Islamists with connections to Pakistan, where the government is waging its own fight against the jihadis, who would be greatly encouraged by the failure of the Nato mission in Afghanistan. Preventing a nuclear-armed Pakistan from falling under the sway of militant Islamists is a foreign policy objective worth fighting for, and Mr Brown should spell out how the two goals are connected. We need clarity, too, from across the Atlantic, where President Obama continues to haver over what to do next, despite setting out what appeared to be a definitive and coherent “Af-Pak” strategy earlier in the year. There is a palpable feeling that neither Mr Obama nor Mr Brown believe in that approach any more. They both need to show the leadership and sense of purpose that would make further loss of life if not acceptable, then tolerable.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Czech Republic: Hájek: Klaus May Want CR to Renew Sovereignty by Leaving EU

Prague, Nov 4 (CTK) — One of Czech President Vaclav Klaus’s goals may be to have the Czech Republic regain its lost sovereignty, for example by its departure from the EU, Petr Hajek, deputy head of the Presidential Office, said on Prima TV Wednesday.

He alluded to Klaus’s words that the Czech Republic will cease to be a sovereign state after the Lisbon treaty comes into force.

Klaus, the treaty’s staunch critic, signed it after the Czech Constitutional Court gave the green light to it on Tuesday, as the last among the heads of EU states.

On that occasion he said that the loss of sovereignty due to the Lisbon treaty “legitimises the efforts of the part of the Czech public that does not feel indifferent to the matter of our national and state existence and that does not want to come to terms with this outcome.”

“The president is definitely one of the players in our reality and I think one of his possible goals is this extreme goal [Czech departure from the EU]. This is how I understand his statement on Tuesday,” Hajek said.

Asked whether Klaus has told him about such his plan, Hajek answered in the negative.

Hajek said he had advised Klaus to sign the Lisbon treaty. “There was consensus among president’s advisers in this respect,” he added.

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

Europeans Too Selfish to Have Children, Says Chief Rabbi

Europe is “dying’’ because its secular residents are too selfish to have children, according to Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi.

Lord Sacks: The Chief Rabbi’s provocative comments came as he delivered the annual lecture for theology think-tank Theos in central London. Photo: PA

The leader of Britain’s Jewish community claimed the continent’s population is in decline because people care more about shopping than the sacrifice involved in parenthood.

He blamed atheist “neo-Darwinians” for Europe’s low birth rate and said religious people of all denominations are more likely to have large families.

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Former head of BBC calls for atheists on Radio 4 God Slot The Chief Rabbi, who entered the House of Lords last week, made his comments in a lecture on religion in the 21st century hosted by Theos, the public theology think-tank, on Wednesday night.

Lord Sacks said that faith had survived so far because it could provide answers to mankind’s eternal search for meaning in life — unlike the market, the state, science or philosophy, which underpin modern liberal democracies.

He claimed religion could continue to play an important role worldwide in the future, by engaging in debate with scientists, by campaigning on issues such as global poverty or the environment, and by discussing the nature of the common good with humanists.

The Chief Rabbi warned that secular Europe is at risk, however, because its moral relativism can easily be defeated by fundamentalists.

And he claimed that its population is also in decline, compared with every other part of the world, because non-believers lack shared values of family and community that religions have.

Lord Sacks said: “Parenthood involves massive sacrifice of money, attention, time and emotional energy.

“Where today in European culture with its consumerism and instant gratification — because you’re worth it — where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?

“Europe, at least the indigenous population of Europe, is dying.”

“That is one of the unsayable truths of our time. We are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change and no one is talking about it.

“Albert Camus once said, ‘The only serious philosophical question is why should I not commit suicide?’.

“I think he was wrong. The only serious philosophical question is, why should I have a child? Our culture is not giving an easy answer to that question.”

He added: “Wherever you turn today — Jewish, Christian or Muslim — the more religious the community, the larger on average are their families.

“The major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians.’’

Discussing the popular secular idea that there are no absolute moral values, he said: “You cannot defend a civilisation on the basis of moral relativism.

“In a head-to-head contest between a moral relativist and a fundamentalist, who wins? The fundamentalist must win because he is sure he’s right, and you are not sure he’s wrong.”

He said that although the war on terror had been portrayed by Western politicians as a “battle of ideas”, there is little hope that Islamists who believe they owe allegiance to God would be swayed by talk of freedom or democracy.

“The place for religion is in civil society, where it achieves many things essential to liberal democratic freedom. It sanctifies marriage and the family and the obligations of parenthood, and it safeguards the non-relativist moral principles on which Western freedom is based.

“It may not be religion that is dying, it may be liberal democratic Europe that is in danger, demographically and in its ability to defend its own values.”

Lord Sacks, who has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since 1991, described the modern phenomenon of “angry atheists” as the “intellectual equivalent of road rage”.

He said that more respectful dialogue is needed between religious groups and the secular world.

“All peace depends on compromise and that is why peace comes to seem to some religious groups to be a form of betrayal, and that is why peacemakers get assassinated.”

           — Hat tip: Paul Belien [Return to headlines]

Italy: Berlusconi Denies Liaison With 18 Year-Old Lingerie Model

Rome, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said he has never had a relationship with 18 year-old lingerie model Noemi Letizia. “I have had no relations with Ms Noemi. Everything that was said and written were lies,” Berlusconi told journalist Bruno Vespa in the book Donne di Cuore or Women of Hearts, to be released on Friday.

After Berlusconi was pictured attending her 18th birthday party in late April, Letizia told the media she called the prime minister ‘papi’ or daddy and went to meet him in Rome and Milan whenever he telephoned her.

Berlusconi has repeatedly denied ever having an improper relationship with Letizia, after Berlusconi’s wife Veronica Lario accused him of “frequenting minors”.

Berlusconi also denied having selected numerous showgirls as candidates for his conservative People of Freedom party, claiming he only chose them according to their qualifications.

“I proposed positions of high responsibility only to women with a high moral, intellectual, cultural and professional profile,” he said.

In the book, Berlusconi said he did not want to be president of Italy and instead suggested another candidate.

“I never thought about becoming a candidate for the presidency.

Berlusconi said earlier this year that he wanted cabinet undersecretary Gianni Letta to become president of Italy.

Berlusconi nominated Letta in 2006 as the conservative candidate to succeed Italy’s previous president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Letta was defeated at the first ballot. The Italian parliament elected Giorgio Napolitano Italy’s president on 10 May, 2006 after four ballots.

Vespa also added an author’s note to his book mentioning the name of Letta, who is a member of Berlusconi’s ruling centre-right People of Freedom party.

Iinterviewed by Vespa for the book, Berlusconi also denied using state flights to fly private guests to his villa in Sardinia.

“The courts have already archived the case. I have never used state flights in an illegal way. I would also like to make it clear that my group has five aeroplanes which I can use any time,” said the premier.

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

Italy: Berlusconi’s Wealth Declines But Moves Up in Billionaire Ranks

New York, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Italian prime minister and media-mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s wealth decreased this year, but he moved up an annual global ranking of billionaires published earlier this week. The US-based Forbes magazine’s 2009 rich list ranked him as the 72nd wealthiest individual in the world, compared with 90th last year.

Berlusconi is now Italy’s second richest man, with net assets of 6.5 billion dollars, compared with 9.4 billion dollars in 2008. He has overtaken Italian luxury eyewear king Leonardo Del Vecchio, whose net worth is 6.3 billion dollars, compared to 10 billion dollars last year.

Del Vecchio’s company Luxottica boasts brands like RayBan.

Forbes, however, ranks European chocolate giant Michele Ferrero, owner of Ferrero SpA, the richest Italian in the world, with an estimated net worth of 9.5 billion dollars, compared to 11 billion dollars last year.

However, the richest Italians cannot compete with the vast fortune of American computer software tycoon and owner of Microsoft, Bill Gates, whose net wealth is estimated at 40 billion dollars.

Out of the world’s top 10 richest billionaires, three are from the United States and two are German. The rest are from Mexico, Switzerland, India, The United Kingdom and Spain.

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

Italy: Sex Scandal Governor’s Expenses Probed

Rome, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Rome prosecutors were on Thursday reportedly investigating whether disgraced local governor Piero Marrazzo used public funds to pay for his encounters with transsexual prostitutes. Media reports said they were also looking into whether funds were used to pay four Italian police officers who were allegedly blackmailing him to keep secret a video they shot of him during one of the alleged encounters.

Marrazzo, who was once tipped as a future leader of Italy’s centre-left, tendered his resignation from his post in late October.

He stepped down as reports surfaced about another, longer and allegedly more compromising video of him and the use of cocaine.

The four police officers allegedly extorted 80,000 euros from Marrazzo over the mobile phone video allegedly filmed during a raid on a transsexual prostitute’s apartment in northern Rome in July.

The video also shows a line of cocaine on a table by the bed in the apartment.

When initially questioned by prosecutors, Marrazzo said he had 5,000 euros in his wallet.

But when prosecutors quizzed him again this week, he claimed the sum was 3,000 euros.

He alleged he paid 1,000 euros to the transsexual prostitute, named in reports as ‘Nathalie’, and claimed police had stolen the remaining 2,000 euros.

Marrazzo has admitted to “sporadic and occasional” cocaine use but claimed that the cocaine shown in the video on the beside table had been planted there.

Police are now scrutinising Marrazzo’s 742,649 euros expenses as Lazio governor — 400,000 euros this year plus 342,679 that remained from 2008.

His monthly salary was 10,500 euros — unlikely to be enough to pay his blackmailers and for his sex encounters and cocaine, according to investigators.

When questioned on Monday, Marrazzo, who is married with three children, admitted to several encounters with Nathalie as well as other transsexual prostitutes, including one named Brenda.

Brenda has told prosecutors that she shot a video at a sex and drugs party she attended with Marrazzo and fellow transsexual prostitute Michelle.

Brenda said she had destroyed the video but that Michelle — who has since moved to Paris — also had a copy.

Prosecutors reportedly have suspicions that other VIPs may have been photographed and videoed in embarrassing situations.

An Italian photo agency already tried to sell the mobile phone video of Marrazzo to ‘Chi’ weekly magazine for 200,000 euros.

Marrazzo said he was not aware Brenda had filmed a video or taken pictures of him, although he admitted to encounters with her.

“I took cocaine on these occasions which left me in such a confused state that I can’t possibly know,” he told prosecutors.

A regional councillor from the conservative People of Freedom Party, Tommaso Luzzi, on Thursday urged all Marrazzo’s executive orders as governor to be annulled.

Luzzi claimed Marrazzo’s drug habit “made him less than fully aware of his actions”.

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

Italy: Top Mafia Fugitive ‘Betrayed’ By Boss

Palermo, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Jailed Italian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano betrayed the “boss of bosses” Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina by revealing his hiding place to police in 1993, it was claimed on Thursday. Massimo Ciancimino, son of Vito, the former mayor of Palermo, made the shocking revelation to prosecutors in the Sicilian city.

“It was Provenzano who indicated the exact area where Toto Riina was then arrested,” Ciancimino said.

According to a reconstruction by investigators, this fact would link Provenzano to the treaty that Ciancimino claims that the Italian state made with the Sicilian mafia or Cosa Nostra after the brutal murders of the antimafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in Sicily in 1992.

In the latest development Ciancimino said that Giuseppe de Donno from the antimafia police, sent Vito Ciancimino maps of Palermo, while police were trying to locate Riina.

According to the information Massimo Ciancimino has given investigators, his father asked him to make two copies of the maps and one was delivered to Provenzano, then a mafia fugitive, whose codename was “Mr Lo Verde, the surveyor”.

Ciancimino said the map was returned by Provenzano who indicated the precise location of Riina’s hiding place.

Riina, who was born in the Sicilian town of Corleone, was arrested in January 1993.

Also known as The Beast, Riina was tried and convicted of over a hundred counts of murder, including sanctioning the slayings of Falcone and Borsellino.

In October 1993, nine months after his capture, Riina was convicted of ordering the murders of Vincenzo Puccio and his brother Pietro.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Provenzano spent four decades on the run before he was arrested in 2006. Informants claim that after Riina was captured and jailed for life, Provenzano succeeded Riina as head of the Sicilian mafia until his arrest at a farmhouse near Corleone.

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

Italy: Novel Takes Fresh Look at Fall of Roman Empire

Rome, 6 Nov. (AKI) — A new Italian novel released in Rome on Friday takes a fresh look at the collapse of the Roman empire. ‘Gli Ultimi Fuochi dell’Impero Romano’ or ‘The Final Splendour of the Roman Empire’ is written by historian, journalist and author, Giulio Castelli.

The novel focuses on the story of Roman emperor Majorian who ruled the western Roman empire from 457 to 461 A.D. and his successors, particularly emperor Anthemius who ruled from 466 to 472 A.D.

In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Castelli said that the decline of the ancient world was a powerful metaphor for the current cultural and moral crisis afflicting the West.

“From late antiquity to the current era, there have been extraordinary analogies, which is discouraging. In fact, as we already know, the late antiquity was regarded — at least from a secular point of view — as being marred by political, social and economical crises,” Castelli told AKI.

“Among the many analogies, are the economic crisis, immigration, corruption, bureaucracy and its inefficiencies, religious fundamentalism — at the time Christian — and now Islamic (fundamentalism).”

The story’s central character is Ricimer, a Germanic military leader who effectively controlled the remaining parts of the Western Roman Empire. An unscrupulous man who held power for fifteen years, appointing Roman nobles as emperors only to crush them when they proved to be too independent.

Castelli also said that he did extensive research using numerous texts by various German, English, French and American historians as well as a few Latin language sources.

However, he stressed how difficult it was to find objective sources due to the diverging interests of Christians and pagans at the time.

“During that period, Christian authors preferred to talk about miracles and saints, while the pagans preferred to talk about how Christianity was threatening the empire. The clear and objective chronicals are indeed very few,” said Castelli.

The novel is considered a sequel to the author’s previous book, ‘Emperor, the last hero of ancient Rome’ which was published in 2008.

It examines an historical epoch that covers the dissolution of the ancient world and the advent of the Middle Ages.

Castelli said the novel could be considered a yardstick between what took place more than fifteen centuries ago and what is occurring today.

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

Italy: Mafia Relatives Rap Ministers Over Tough Prison Regime

Palermo, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Italy’s interior minister Roberto Maroni, its justice minister Angelino Alfano and two judges have received a letter threatening reprisals over the restrictive measures imposed on jailed senior mafia members. “You will pay and there will be blood,” the letter reads.

Reportedly signed by relatives of jailed Sicilian mafia members, the letter was delivered to left-leaning daily La Repubblica’s offices late on Wednesday in the Sicilian capital Palermo.

Italian police and prosecutors were on Thursday investigating the missive, which claims the restrictions placed on top mafia prisoners “are driving people to suicide.”

“You will pay and there will be blood,” it warns.

The letter was also sent judges Roberto Piscitello and Sergio Barbiera, as well as ruling conservative People of Freedom party MP Carlo Vizzini, a deputy from the opposition Democratic Party, Giuseppe Lumia, and two top civil servants in the justice ministry.

Lumia and Vizzini were among MPs who in July voted into law measures that toughened existing restrictions on jailed mafia bosses and other dangerous prisoners.

These include no phone access, solitary confinement and a ban on meetings or correspondence with other prisoners, limited visits by family members who are only allowed to communicate with prisoners through thick glass, and a ban on sending or receiving money or parcels.

In November, 2007, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for the tough prison regime it imposes on its most dangerous criminals, known as the ‘41 bis’.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled unanimously that the so-called 41 bis regime violated two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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

Italy: Al-Qaeda Allies ‘May Carry Out Attacks’

Rome, 6 Nov. (AKI) — Italy was susceptible to terror attacks by allies of the Al-Qaeda network, the interior minister Roberto Maroni said on Friday. Maroni warned there were terror cells that identified with Al-Qaeda and they had “authorisation” to carry out attacks in Italy.

“Al-Qaeda is not present in Italy, however we are investigating terror cells who identify with it and have somehow obtained authorisation from Al-Qaeda,” said Maroni.

He was speaking during a media conference at Rome’s foreign press club.

“We are very worried,” he said, warning that terrorists could be training in Italy to carry out attacks inside the country.

“We think there could be terror cells in Italy that are being created, financed and trained to carry out attacks against us.”

Maroni said after the attack last month by a Libyan citizen against an army barracks in the northern city of Milan that “the conditions have changed” and that the event marked a “turning-point” in regard to this type of activity in Italy.

Early in October, an Italian soldier was injured after a 35-year-old Libyan Mohammed Game allegedly exploded a bomb at the entrance of the ‘Santa Barbara’ barracks using rudimentary explosives reportedly made of solid nitrate.

Two other alleged accomplices, an Egyptian and a Libyan, were arrested after the attack.

While Game suffered severe injuries to his face and his hand was amputated, no others were injured.

According to Maroni, before the attack by the Libyan, Italian cells would collect funds and recruit people to carry out attacks abroad.

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

Italy: Anti-Immigrant Party Supports Crucifix in Schools

Venice, 6 Nov. (AKI) — The anti-immigrant Northern League party has called for the northeastern province surrounding the city of Venice to defy a court ruling and keep the crucifix in public places, including local schools. The move follows a decision by the European Court of Human Rights against the presence of crucifixes in classrooms in Italy, which is an officially secular country.

“The provincial council should keep crucifixes in all public places in the province, school classrooms and defend our identity,” reads the Northern League motion.

“Removal of the crucifix from public places shows a desire to annul the traditions which form the basis of our society, culture and morality,” continues the motion, which is backed by other conservative parties.

It says that “symbols, celebrations and local traditions such as the Christmas nativity scene have been cancelled in favour of dubious festivals such as Halloween.”

The motion will be debated by the provincial council next Tuesday.

It also cites a 2005 ruling by the surrounding Veneto region’s administrative court which opposed the removal of crucifixes from Italian classrooms.

The administrative court ruling said the crucifix “represents a symbol of Christian culture and civilisation as a universal value that is separate from specific religions and is not discriminatory.”

The mayor of Vicenza, also located in the Veneto region, said on Thursday he would also oppose the removal of the crucifix from schools and public places in the city.

“The Italian government has already announced it intends to challenge the European Court of Human Rights ruling,” said Achille Variati.

The Italian minister of European affairs, Andrea Ronchi, on Wednesday rejected the controversial decision in a TV interview.

“The crucifix will never be taken away, not from any secular place nor from anywhere in our Italy. I think the government should and will appeal this sentence,” Ronchi said.

The Vatican on Tuesday strongly rejected the ruling, saying it was “wrong and myopic” to exclude a symbol of charity from education.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled the placing of the crucifix in school classrooms infringed parents’ right to educate their children “in conformity with their convictions”.

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

Italy: PM Says He Met Teen Model Four Times

Rome, 6 November (AKI) — Italy’s scandal-hit prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has once again denied he had a relationship with teenage lingerie model Noemi Letizia and claimed he met her just four times.

“I never had a relationship with Ms Noemi. Everything that has been said and written about that is slander,” Berlusconi said in an interview with veteran journalist Bruno Vespa published in his new book The Queen of Hearts.

The book — tipped to become a best-seller — is a study of the role women have played in history and politics.

Berlusconi’s wife of 20 years, Veronica Lario, announced she was divorcing him days after he was pictured attending Letizia’s her 18th birthday party in late April. He gave Letizia a 6,000 euro pearl and gold pendant as a birthday present.

Berlusconi has repeatedly denied ever having an improper relationship with Letizia, who told the media she called the prime minister ‘papi’ or daddy and went to meet him in Rome and Milan whenever he telephoned her.

Letizia has never said when or how she first met Berlusconi.

In the interview for Vespa’s book, Berlusconi contradicts earlier claims by Letizia’s father and says he first met Noemi on 19 November last year at the Italian Senate in Rome, then in September last year, at New Year and on her 18th birthday.

Letizia’s father Elio told Naples daily Il Mattino on 25 May he first introduced his wife and Noemi to Berlusconi in Rome in 2001 during a family shopping trip.

In The Queen of Hearts Berlusconi also denied that he fielded Italian showgirls with dubious credentials as candidates for his ruling People of Freedom party.

“I proposed positions of high responsibility only to women with a high moral, intellectual, cultural and professional profile,” he said.

Berlusconi’s comments have been construed as the long-awaited replies to a series of questions published repeatedly by left-leaning daily La Repubblica about his flamboyant private life.

Italian opposition politicians maintain that Berlusconi should respond to questions from MPs on allegations that he slept with a prostitute, endangered state security by entertaining dozens of prostitutes, and fielded women with dubious credentials as candidates for his party.

One of the main critics has been high profile former prosecutor and Italy of Values party leader Antonio Di Pietro who has demanded his impeachment.

“The methods he chose and the evasive replies justify his impeachment. He can’t choose who questions him. A head of government can’t drip feed answers like they are gold dust and be able to avoid telling the truth.

“The questions posed by La Repubblica have relevance at institutional level, and Berlusconi must answer to the parliament,” Di Pietro said.

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

Italy: Govt to Appeal European Court Ban on Crucifix

Rome, 6 Nov. (AKI) — The Italian government said on Friday it would appeal the “unacceptable” decision by the European Court of Human Rights opposing the crucifix in school classrooms in officially secular Italy. The government announced the move in a statement after a cabinet meeting.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that placing the crucifix in classrooms infringed parents’ right to educate their children “in conformity with their convictions”.

Italy’s conservative prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said the ruling was “disrespectful” and could not be enforced in Italian schools.

“The decision is absolutely disrespectful of a Catholic country like ours,” told journalists in Rome after the cabinet meeting.

“Our country can only be described as Christian,” he said. “Even an atheist has to agree with this.”

Eight European countries have the cross on their national flags, he noted.

“Should this be changed because there are foreigners of other faiths who have taken citizenship?” he asked.

In any case, the European Court of Human Rights ruling had no legal weight and could not be enforced, Berlusconi stated.

“The sentence is not a coercive one and there is nothing to stop crucifixes being placed in school classrooms,” he said.

The court ruling has sparked fierce debate in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy where the Vatican on Tuesday strongly rejected the ruling, saying it was “wrong and myopic” to exclude a symbol of charity from education.

The mayor of Vicenza in the northeastern Veneto region said on Thursday he would also oppose the removal of the crucifix from schools and public places in the city.

The anti-immigrant Northern League party has tabled a motion in the northeastern province surrounding the city of Venice to defy the court decision and keep the crucifix in public places, including local schools.

The case was launched by an Italian woman, Soile Lautsi, who opposed the display of a Catholic crucifix at her children’s state school in Abano Terme, a small town outside the northern city of Padua.

Lautsi was also awarded 5,000 euros in damages by the court.

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

Netherlands: Visits to Illegal Prostitutes to be Illegal

Ministers are working on draft legislation to make it illegal to visit prostitutes who are not registered with the authorities, Trouw reports on Friday.

Clients visiting illegal prostitutes can be arrested and may face criminal charges if the legislation is approved by parliament, the paper says.

The draft law also includes setting up a national register of prostitutes. Men and women who work as prostitutes but are not on the list may also face charges if caught.

Brothels and sex clubs will also be required to apply for a nationwide licence to operate. At the moment brothels are licenced by the local authorities.

Council of State

Trouw says the draft legislation has now been sent to the government’s highest advisory body, the Council of State. The paper says it bases its claims on a document detailing ministers’ responses to Council of State recommendations.

The aim of the registration system is to help the authorities clamp down on human trafficking and tax evasion. Brothels have been legal in the Netherlands since 2000.

The proposals, drawn up by home affairs minister Guusje ter Horst and justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin, were circulated to police, justice ministry officials, the tax office and other interested parties for their comments at the end of last year.

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

Nicolas Sarkozy Should Apologise for French Minister Pierre Lellouche’s Anti-British Rant

Pierre Lellouche, the outspoken French Europe Minister, has ironically made the strongest case yet from across the Channel for a referendum on the future of Britain’s relationship with Europe. His bizarre and hugely insulting rant following David Cameron’s unveiling yesterday of the Tories’ strategy on Europe underscores exactly why the British public should be given the ultimate say over Britain’s relationship with the EU — and the opportunity to emphatically reject the kind of sneering hectoring from over-zealous European officials who are driven by a hatred of Anglo-Saxon global dominance.

Who does Pierre Lellouche think he is lecturing the British people over how they should conduct their own foreign policy? What gives him the right to dictate the future direction of a sovereign nation? It is exactly the kind of Gallic arrogance displayed by M. Lellouche that has prompted a wave of revulsion in the UK over the prospect of the poisonous Treaty of Lisbon coming into force. The next Prime Minister should take note — this is just the shape of things to come once the revived EU Constitution is enacted and British sovereignty is further eroded.

Here are Lellouche’s comments as quoted by the Guardian:

“It’s pathetic. It’s just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just cutting itself out from the rest and disappearing from the radar map … This is a culture of opposition … It is the result of a long period of opposition. I know they will come back, but I hope the trip will be short… They are doing what they have done in the European parliament. They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European parliament.”

“I have told William Hague: go away for two to three years, in your political economic situation you’re going to be all by your self and you’ll come back. Go ahead and do it. That is my message to them … You want to be marginalised? Well, you go for it. But it’s a waste of time for all of us.”

“It’s not going to happen for a minute. Nobody is going to indulge in rewriting [treaties for] many, many years. Nobody is going to play with the institutions again. It’s going to be take it or leave it and they should be honest and say that. “It is a time of tumultuous waters all around us. Wars, terrorism, proliferation, Afghanistan, energy with Russia, massive immigration, economic crisis. It is time when the destiny of Europe is being defined — whether or not we will exist as a third of the world’s GDP capable of fighting it out on climate, on trade, on every … issue on the surface of the Earth.”

“We need to be united, otherwise we will be wiped out and marginalised. None of us can do it alone. Whether you’re big or small, the lesson is the same. And [Britain’s] risk is one of marginalisation. Irrelevance. Finally we have institutional package, but it took 15 years of looking at our navel and getting everybody bored to death with sterile debate”.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy should issue an apology for the offensive and downright rude comments of one of his own senior ministers. Frankly, there is something rather pathetic about a representative of the French government lecturing Britain on being marginalised and irrelevant. This from a country that refuses to send a single additional soldier to the battlefields of Afghanistan, humiliatingly kowtows to the Russian bear, and can barely make an international decision without the permission of its larger neighbour in Berlin. It’s not hard to see why Paris is pushing so hard for the new EU Constitution — after all it is far easier to mask your own decline as a nation under the cover of a European superstate.

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

Sweden: ‘I Won’t Let My Country be Taken Over by Xenophobes’

Curiosity is the most effective weapon against xenophobia, writes journalist and head of think tank FORES Martin Ådahl, as a comment on the Sweden Democrats’ future role in Swedish politics.

When I was five, I was pushed over by two boys at my preschool. I still have the scars from the ugly cuts on my left hand.

While my parents comforted me that evening, I grumbled about the “Frenchies” who had attacked me. I was taken aback, and a bit irritated, when my father interrupted to ask where they came from. I knew that they came from Africa. But where in Africa? Was it Cameroon? No, it was probably Senegal. Had I talked about Senegal with them, my father asked. He was disappointed to learn I had not. So he began telling me things about that exciting country himself. I waited for some kind of explanation as to why the “Frenchies” had been so mean to me.

Whether my father wanted to arouse my interest in West Africa or to make sure I understood the danger of using expressions like “Frenchies,” I’ll never know. But as usual he managed to infect me with his incurable curiosity about the world. About the fact that there’s a unique thread in each individual that leads straight into the mighty web of world history and world culture — and which you just can’t help talking about.

The Sweden Democrats recently had their annual congress. The economic crisis and unemployment, it is claimed, could bring them parliamentary seats, a pivotal role in Swedish politics and undue influence on future government policy.

I could write about the rational aspect. About the studies showing that immigration neither boosts unemployment nor reduces pay for the worst off. About the new report from the Government’s Expert Group on Public Finance, showing that public finances are hardly affected at all. That it is enough for just 72 per cent of foreign-born citizens to be in work for the Swedish taxpayer to make a net profit from immigration.

But I’d like to discuss the irrational aspect instead — the emotional side of the matter.

Many politicians think xenophobia obeys the usual cynical laws of politics. If people complain about healthcare, you increase care funding. If people complain about foreigners, you cut back immigration. So the politicians move slightly closer to the xenophobes.

This is not only immoral, it’s stupid. In Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, France — the list goes on — every attempt to placate the xenophobes has simply served to strengthen the extremists.

This is because xenophobia has nothing to do with rational thought. In the part of the brain that generates emotions and stress, known as the amygdala, lies the caveman’s fear of the unknown. The more negative or disparaging about immigrants we are, the more the amygdala is stimulated to focus anxiety, stress and anger on the unknown. And the more our rational defense against fear breaks down.

The good part, though, is that what is morally right in this case is also politically effective. We are so much more than our amygdalas. We have equally strong impulses with regard to curiosity, optimism and compassion. Only one political tactic has managed to conquer xenophobia in the long run — that of enthusiastically describing time and again how people come here to join their life stories with ours and to bring us new ties, fascinating places, and cultures steeped in ancient history. This is what they’ve always done in Canada, one of the world’s largest melting pots and welfare states — and a country without a single anti-immigrant party.

It’s not a case of being merciful or “generous” (the term commonly used to describe our refugee policy). Nor is it a question of “reverse racism,” of excusing errors or shortcomings because of someone’s ethnic or cultural background. It’s the opposite. Each of us is responsible for his or her choices as an individual. For every stone-throwing teenager there are tens of thousands of people who have come from all corners of the world to contribute, to build Swedish cars, to write Swedish books, to save Swedish lives.

Ultimately, it’s a question of dignity. My Sweden is a progressive, optimistic country, open to the world. A country with affection for people and their fate. This is my native country, my father’s country, and I won’t let it be taken from me by xenophobes.

Having spent his life looking for the gleams of light, the cultural and historical ties, among all the injustices between nations, factions and coalitions, my father contracted cancer this spring. As it happened, the people who operated on him and cared for him included a Swedish—Latvian—Iranian surgeon, a Bosnian—Swedish doctor, and an Iraqi—Swedish and an Iranian—Swedish nurse. They gave him an extra few months, and then another week.

He spent that final week talking to us about the history and culture of the world, and about our little family’s place in all this. And naturally, curious as ever, he asked those who were fighting to keep him alive to tell him their stories so that he could learn about the strange and wonderful ways in which their destinies had become interwoven with his life and with ours.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

UK: Anti-Terror Code ‘Would Alienate Most Muslims’•

Draft strategy brands thousands as extremists

The government is considering plans that would lead to thousands more British Muslims being branded as extremists, the Guardian has learned. The proposals are in a counterterrorism strategy which ministers and security officials are drawing up that is due to be unveiled next month.

Some say the plans would see views held by most Muslims in Britain being classed by the government as extreme.

According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Contest 2 would widen the definition of extremists to those who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values. Those who advocate the wider definition say hardline Islamist interpretation of the Qur’an leads to views that are the root cause of the terrorism threat Britain faces. But opponents say the strategy would brand the vast majority of British Muslims as extremists and alienate them even further.

The Guardian has also learned of a separate secret Whitehall counterterrorism report advocating widening the definition of who is considered extremist. Not all in Whitehall agree with the proposals and one official source said plans to widen the definition were “incendiary” and could alienate Muslims, whose support in the counterterrorism effort is needed. There were also fears it could aid the far right.

Contest 2 is still being finalised by officials and ministers. Those considered extreme would not be targeted by the criminal law, but would be sidelined and denied public funds. Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation thinktank, said the root causes of terrorism were extremist views, even if those advocating the views did not call for violence.

Husain, once an extremist himself, said: “Violent extremism is produced by Islamist extremism and it’s only right to get into the root causes.”

Inayat Bunglawala, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Great Britain, said such plans would affect many British Muslims. Bunglawala, who now runs Engage, which tries to get Muslims to participate in politics and civic society, said: “That would alienate the majority of the British Muslim public. It would be counterproductive and class most Muslims as extremists.”

In a speech in December, the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said the government’s counterterrorism strategy had to include challenging nonviolent extremist groups that “skirt the fringes of the law … to promote hate-filled ideologies”.

The Contest strategy was put in place in 2003 as the UK beefed up its response to the threat of al-Qaida inspired terrorism.

But the security service’s assessment shows no drop in those they consider dangerous and the UK’s terror threat level remains at severe general.

The Home Office said: “We don’t comment on leaked documents.”

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Daniel Hannan Resigns From European Parliament Post

Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP, has resigned as European legal spokesman only two months after taking up the post in protest at his party’s stance on the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr Hannan, a leading Eurosceptic, became the Tory spokesman on legal affairs in the European Parliament in September.

But last night on his Telegraph blog, Mr Hannan, the Conservative MEP for South East England, said he would be returning to the back benches in order to campaign for direct democracy that will see power in the hands of individual citizens.

Mr Hannan’s resignation comes as David Cameron said he could not longer consider holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty now that it had been ratified by all 27 European Union countries.

He has instead decided to concentrate on clawing back some EU policies and never again allow powers to be passed to Brussels without a vote in Britain.

In his blog, Mr Hannan argues that the issue of referendums goes beyond Europe and the Lisbon Treaty.

“I want open primaries, popular initiative procedures, elected sheriffs, self-financing councils, an end to quangos, recall mechanisms and, yes, referendums — lots and lots of referendums,” he wrote.

Mr Hannan, whose withering attack on Gordon Brown in which he likened him to a “Brezhnev era apparatchik” became an internet hit, added: “We need a broad movement within the Conservative Party that will push for referendums, citizens’ initiatives and the rest of the paraphernalia of direct democracy.

“I don’t just mean a referndum on Europe — though, naturally, that is the obvious place to start. I mean full-on Helvetic people power… I have returned to the back benches in order to concentrate on building such a movement.”

Mr Hannan added that his decision was not an attack on Mr Cameron’s decision to no longer hold a Lisbon Treaty referendum.

“Don’t misunderstand me: I voted for David Cameron as leader, I like him, and I reckon he’d be a million times better than Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. One of his strengths is that, unlike Gordon Brown, he doesn’t mind people disagreeing with him,” he wrote.

“Well, then. This Conservative is for a referendum: a proper, deep-cleansing referendum that will settle whether our country remains subordinate, or becomes self-governing.”

Mr Hannan caused controversy earlier this summer when he launched a blistering attack on the NHS, telling US TV station Fox News that it was a “relic”.

His comments came at a time Barack Obama was attempting to convince the US public to support his health care reforms. Mr Hannan questioned why the US would want to adopt a similar system, resulting in Mr Cameron dismissing his comments as “eccentric views”.

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

UK: No Respect, No Morals, No Trust — Welcome to Modern Britain

Earlier this year, the BBC broadcast a two-part documentary called The Death of Respect. It went out late and would have been missed by many. For those who did not see it, there was compelling evidence this week that the social decomposition chronicled in John Ware’s programme is very real, when film of a Sheffield student relieving himself on a war memorial was shown in the same news bulletins that covered the murder of five British soldiers in Helmand.

It’s hard to think of a more offensive image than booze-fuelled urine flowing over poppies, on a day when courageous servicemen are being slaughtered in order, the Government claims, to keep the rest of us safe. Hard, but not impossible. The front-page story from my local newspaper, the Brentwood Gazette, came close: thieves stole the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal collection box from St Thomas’s church in the town centre. In the week of Remembrance Sunday, low-lifers had plumbed new depths.

Do not tell me that these are isolated incidents. Anxiety over the collapse of respect in modern Britain is not, as some liberal sociologists would have us believe, the creation of news-hungry tabloids and suburban reactionaries. Examples of guttersnipery are all around: from unpleasant vulgarity (spitting and swearing) to the contempt with which a sleazy political class treats its electorate. We are, one fears, in danger of becoming inured to disrespect.

On the way to the train station each day, I trudge past a trail of sweet wrappers, sandwich boxes and drink cans, discarded on the grass verge by children walking to school. Every morning they litter the streets, seemingly unaware of the mess piling up, while eating breakfast on the hoof. I once challenged a twerp who was poking an empty crisp bag into a neighbour’s hedge. He seemed shocked that anyone would care.

Litter is annoying, but in the grand scheme of a society that has traded personal responsibility for blame transfer, it is little more than a pointer to a deeper malaise: the corrosion of deference in our schools, the abandonment of manners on our streets and, yes, the death of respect for civility and integrity. We are close to the point where ethical behaviour is regarded as an affliction to be pitied, a loser’s burden.

In a piercing summary of what has gone wrong, Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, concludes: “Concepts like duty, obligation, responsibility and honour have come to seem antiquated and irrelevant. Emotions like guilt, shame, contrition and remorse have been deleted from our vocabulary, for are we not all entitled to self-esteem? The still, small voice of conscience is rarely heard these days. Conscience has been outsourced, delegated away.”

Indeed it has. Individual wrongdoings are, increasingly, an issue not for those concerned, but the state, which dishes out rights in return for unquestioning obeisance. In place of self-restraint, we have installed an all-embracing culture of grievance. Culprits have learnt to claim victim status.

As the banking crisis and MPs’ expenses scandal revealed, there is barely a distinction between legality and morality. Freedom means pursuing that with which it is possible to get away. If everyone else is gaming the system, only a mug would choose to do otherwise. When caught, the perpetrators point shamelessly to a failure by regulators. Soon after becoming prime minister, Tony Blair offered a fresh start for a modernised Britain. It was an attractive vision. He did not want, he said, his children brought up in a country where gangs of teenagers hung around street corners, doing nothing but abusing passers-by. “I tell you: a decent society is not based on rights,” he said. “It is based on duty… the duty to show respect.”

No quibbles there, except that after 12 years of his New Labour project, the respect to which Mr Blair referred is in the sewer. Teachers who seek to reprimand offensive pupils are attacked by yobbish parents; train drivers who ask unruly gangs to get off are beaten up. A vulnerable mother kills herself and her disabled daughter after years of brutal abuse from thugs. This, I’m afraid, is the reality of contemporary Britain, a sprawling no-respect zone.

According to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research, Britain’s teenagers are among the most badly behaved in Europe. It paints a picture of adolescents immersed in consumerism, who are drunk more often and involved in more fights than their Continental counterparts. The IPPR’s explanation for our dismal record is a collapse in family and community life. In Italy, 93 per cent of 15-year-olds eat regularly with their parents; in Britain, it is just 64 per cent. We should not be surprised. The British state rewards unmarried mothers with a level of benefits most would be unable to earn in legal employment. They are incentivised to go solo.

For Karen Matthews, who colluded in the kidnapping of her own daughter, Shannon, there was no right and wrong: just an economic decision, a perverse cost-benefit analysis. She worked out that having more children with a variety of fathers meant a rising tide of cash payments and handouts in kind. In her miserable milieu, self-respect and honour seemed like unaffordable luxuries. The same conclusion must have been reached by a neighbour and close friend of the family, who was jailed yesterday for benefit fraud.

In establishing 40 “respect zones” to fight anti-social behaviour, Mr Blair’s Government promised to provide “parenting classes” and other “family projects”. This was, in part, a response to official figures showing that half of all anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) in England and Wales had been breached. What happened to that initiative? One senses little progress.

Respect, of course, is a two-way process. For a system based on mutual respect to function properly, those at the top must show the way. This, sadly, is where our political leaders fall short. It’s all very well ministers cooking up respect agendas for hoi polloi, whose votes they need, but how much respect is shown to those same people from on high?

When Labour forced through its disastrous policy of mass immigration, what respect did it show to the millions of indigenous working-class voters whose communities would come under serious strain as a result? Did anyone explain the true consequences, rather than just the bogus benefits?

And when David Cameron gave us a cast-iron guarantee that we would be able to vote on the ratification of a European Constitution (for that is what the Lisbon Treaty is) did he consider how disrespectful it would be to renege? Apparently not. Up his sleeve was the metaphorical small print.

As bleak as it seems, Lord Sacks’s prognosis is unavoidable: “Parliamentary reform and financial re-regulation will treat the symptoms, not the cause. Without conscience there can be no trust. Without a shared moral code there can be no free society. Either we recover the moral sense or we will find, too late, that in the name of liberty, we have lost our freedom..”

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Vatican Calls Order to Remove Crosses From Classrooms “Short-Sighted”

Request by Finnish-born Italian upheld. Government to appeal. Bishops’ conference calls ruling “ideological”

MILAN — The presence of crucifixes in classrooms constitutes “a violation of parents’ right to educate their children according to conscience” and is a violation of “the pupils’ freedom of religion”. The ruling came from the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, upholding a request presented by an Italian woman. A note from education minister Mariastella Gelmini announced that “the government has presented an appeal against the sentence by the European court of human rights in Strasbourg”. If the court allows the appeal, the case will be reviewed by the grand chamber, which has the task of pronouncing sentence on cases that raise serious questions relating to the interpretation or application of the human rights convention or protocols, or important issues of a general nature. If the petition is rejected, the sentence will become final in three months, when the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers will have to decide within six months what action the Italian government will have to take to avoid further sanctions. The Vatican expressed “bewilderment and disappointment” at a “short-sighted and wrong-headed ruling”. The Italian bishops’ conference (CEI) rejected the sentence as a “partial, ideological view”.

PLAINTIFF — The woman who took the case to the Strasbourg court is Soile Lautsi Albertin, an Italian citizen of Finnish origin. In 2002, she asked the Vittorino da Feltre primary and middle school at Abano Terme in the province of Padua, attended by her two children, to remove the crucifixes from classrooms in accordance with the principle of the secular state. School managers refused and Ms Lautsi’s appeals were turned down. In December 2004, the Italian constitutional court rejected the appeal she presented to the Veneto regional administrative court (TAR). The case went back to the TAR, which in 2005 itself rejected the appeal, maintaining that the crucifix is a symbol of Italian history and culture, and so of the country’s identity and of the principles of equality, liberty, tolerance and secularism of the state, a position confirmed by Italy’s Council of State in 2006. But now, the tables have been turned. The judges in Strasbourg, to whom Ms Lautsi appealed in 2007, upheld her case, also ruling that the Italian government must pay her 5,000 euros in moral damages. It is the Strasbourg court’s first ruling on religious symbols in school classrooms. “Now Italy will have to take account of the sentence by the European court of human rights”, commented Ms Lautsi and her husband.

SENTENCE — The sentence says: “The presence of the crucifix, which it is impossible not to notice in school classrooms, could easily be interpreted by students of all ages as a religious symbol. They would thus be aware of being educated in a school environment bearing the mark of a given religion”. The sentence continues that this “could be reassuring for religious students but annoying for those who practice other religions, especially if they belong to religious minorities or are atheists”. The court “is unable to comprehend how the display in state school classrooms of a symbol that can reasonably be associated with Catholicism can serve to further the educational pluralism that is essential to conserve a democratic society as envisaged by the European convention on human rights, a pluralism that is acknowledged by the Italian constitutional court”. The seven judges who drafted the sentence are Françoise Tulkens (Belgium, president), Vladimiro Zagrebelsky (Italy), Ireneu Cabral Barreto (Portugal), Danute Jociene (Lithuania), Dragoljub Popovic (Serbia), Andras Sajò (Hungary) and I??l Karaka? (Turkey).

VATICAN — The Vatican regards the Strasbourg court’s ruling as short-sighted and wrong-headed. The Holy See’s spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, referred in a brief appearance on Vatican Radio and RAI TV’s TG1 news bulletin to the “bewilderment and disappointment” with which the ruling from the Council of Europe’s court was received in the Vatican. He pointed out that “the crucifix has always been a sign of God’s love and of union and acceptance for the whole of humanity. It is regrettable that it should be considered a mark of division, exclusion or limitation of freedom. It is not, nor is it such in the common feeling of our people”. He went on: “In particular, it is serious that there should be a desire to exclude from the world of education a fundamental sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture. Religion makes a valuable contribution to education and moral growth, and is an essential element of our culture. It is wrong-headed and short-sighted to exclude it from education”, he stressed, adding: “It is astonishing that a European court should intervene so massively in an issue very profoundly bound up with the historical, cultural and spiritual identity of the Italian people. This is not the way to attract people to love and share the European idea, which we as Italian Catholics have strongly supported since its inception”.

COMMENTS — Many reservations about the Strasbourg court’s ruling were expressed on both sides of the political fence. The leader of the Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, said: “I hope that the sentence will not be taken as a proper assertion of institutional secularity, which is a very different value from the negation, typical of the worst secularism, of the role of Christianity in Italian society and identity”. For education minister, Mariastella Gelmini of the People of Freedom (PDL), “the presence of the crucifix in the classroom does not signify adherence to Catholicism. It is a symbol of our tradition”. The newly elected leader of the Democratic Party (PD), Pierluigi Bersani, also expressed doubts about the ruling. “I don’t think an ancient tradition like the crucifix can be offensive to anyone”, said the PD secretary. According to the minister for culture and PDL coordinator Sandro Bondi, “these decisions take us away from the idea of Europe held by De Gasperi, Adenauer and Schuman. At this rate, political failure is inevitable”. For Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the Christian Democrat UDC, the sentence “is the consequence of the timidity of Europe’s rulers, who refused to mention Christian roots in the European constitution. The crucifix is the sign of Italy’s and Europe’s Christian identity”. “I hope the judgment is simply indicative, in other words that it should be seen in the context of respect for religious beliefs”, said Paola Binetti (PD). But Raffaele Carcano, national secretary of the Union of atheists and rationalist agnostics, called it “a great day for Italian secularism”. “I applaud the sentence. A secular state must respect the various religions but should not identify itself with any of them”, said Communist Refoundation secretary, Paolo Ferrero. Massimo Donadi, the Italy of Values group leader in the Chamber of Deputies, said: “The Strasbourg sentence is not a good response to the demand for the secularism of the state, which is however legitimate and reasonable”. Adel Smith, president of the union of Italian Muslims, was unrelenting: “Supporters of crucifixes in the classroom should have expected this. In a state that calls itself secular, you can’t oppress all other the faiths by displaying a symbol that belongs to one confession”.

English translation by Giles Watson

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

North Africa

Egypt: Terror Suspects Arrested by Police

Cairo, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Egyptian authorities have arrested 17 suspected Islamist militants accused of being part of an illegal Jihadi organisation. According to the Arab TV network, al-Arabiya, the suspects were arrested with arms and explosives that were to be used in a series of planned terror attacks.

The alleged militants were arrested in the area of Dakhiliya, in the Nile delta.

Police found an arms cache at the home of one member of the group in the village of Mait Ghamar, while other items were found in a house of another suspect in the city of Mansoura.

The house was believed to have been used as a location for meetings of the same illegal group allegedly responsible for the assassination of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat during a military parade in 1981.

Police claimed to have found flyers supporting Islamic jihad in three areas in the Nile delta.

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

Egyptian Security Arrests Several Christians for Praying at Home

by Mary Abdelmassih

Egypt (AINA) — On October 24, 2009 Egyptian State Security arrested a Christian Copt in the village of Deir Samalout, Samalout, Minia province, for praying “without a license.” He was held in prison for two days before being released on “compassionate grounds.” Maurice Salama Sharkawy, 37 years old, had invited Pastor Elia Shafik, to conduct the sacrament of the ‘Anointing of the Sick’ for his sick father, who had suffered a stroke. State Security broke into his house while the prayers were ongoing, handcuffed Maurice, put him into a police car and took him to a police station for interrogation.

Authorities accused him of carrying out “religious rites without a license” and “causing sectarian sedation” by calling a priest into the village. A number of his cousins living in the same family house and who attended the prayers were also detained with him.

State Security has placed Maurice under observation by three policemen.

In an audio interview with Wagih Yacoub of Middle East Christian Association (MECA), Maurice said that State Security told him he should have gone to them first to obtain permission before carrying out any religious rites. He was also advised by Security that there are twelve Muslim houses in the village and that would create sectarian clashes.

The son of the village mayor filed a complaint that the Copt Maurice has converted his home into a place of worship without obtaining a governmental license to host performances of religious rites.

The police record of the investigation states the defendant called for this prayer meeting, which raised the anger of a number of Muslim neighbors who complained to the mayor of the village. The village of Deir Samalut has no church, and the nearest one is in the village of el Tayeba, over five miles away.

Mohammed Khalaf Allah, mayor of the village Deir Samalout, told al-Sherouk newspaper that Maurice used to invite Copts in his home, and that he asked him more than once to go to church (in the next village) and “pray there but he claimed that he could not go to church and that the priest visits him at home for ordinary matters, which is common among Christians.” The mayor also said: “The villagers confirmed to me more than once that the sound of prayer comes out of Maurice’s house, and that he refuses to go to church and decides to pray in his own home together with a number of the village Copts.”

Commenting on the latest incident, Rev. Moses Raphael of the Samalout Coptic Orthodox Diocese said the arrest of the village Copts for praying at home is not uncommon. “Such a matter comes as no surprise; it has become common in Minya to prevent Christians from praying.”

Given the recent security clampdown on Christians praying in places outside their licensed churches, Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic Watani newspaper, blames the State as the main party standing in the way of promulgating the unified law for building places of worship which, would put an end to these human rights transgressions. “Authorities turn a blind eye to Constitutional provisions of equality and freedom of belief.” He said. “They terrorize worshippers who dare conduct services outside a licensed church, treating them as law violators, despite the fact that the root problem lies in the authorities’ reluctance to permit the erection of new churches or restore existing ones.”

[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Women to Appear on State TV Without Muslim Veil

Cairo, 6 Nov. (AKI) — Female presenters will no longer appear on Egypt’s state television channel wearing the Muslim veil, according to the head of the public station, al-Masriya. Osama al-Sheikh said: “You will not see any veiled female TV presenters on air on the screens of Egypt’s state TV any more.”

The channel’s director made the remarks during a seminar at the faculty of science and communications at Cairo University, according to a report in Egyptian magazine al-Youm al-Saba.

“It is part of our society’s culture to show hair. Now I am not saying it is a bad thing to wear the veil, but because this is state TV, everything that is seen must be official,” he said.

“The TV presenters who are veiled will be able to continue to work in private satellite TV stations,” he said.

His remarks provoked uproar in the Egyptian parliament by members who are close to the banned Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement.

“The director of the TV station should be bound by the laws of the state when he makes decisions, however his words seem to be based on customary practices. The courts have already reaffirmed the legitimacy of veiled presenters to appear on TV,” said Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood MP Muhsin Radi.

The Muslim Brotherhood organisation, founded in 1928, was officially banned in 1954.

Using sympathisers running as independents, the group won one-fifth of seats in Egypt’s 2005 parliamentary elections.

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

Morocco Expels Swedish Diplomat

Morocco on Wednesday ordered the immediate departure of a Swedish diplomat accused of handing over official Moroccan documents to Western Saharan separatists.

Swedish ambassador Michael Odevald was summoned by Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri to be told of “a serious breach in diplomatic practice and an unacceptable professional error committed by an advisor at Sweden’s embassy in Rabat, Mrs Anna Block-Mazoyer,” a statement said.

Block-Mazoyer “gave an official document that was given by the foreign and cooperation ministry to the Swedish embassy in Rabat as part of a diplomatic

process to separatist elements linked to Algeria and the Polisario Front.”

“This document then turned up in the hands of enemies of the kingdom’s territorial integrity,” it said.

The Polisario Front seeks independence for the Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Morocco after Spanish settlers left in 1975.

The statement said that the foreign ministry had organised a briefing on Sahara developments to which diplomats were invited, including from Sweden which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.

“Block-Mazoyer’s giving away this official document breaches ethical and

diplomatic professional rules (so) Moroccan authorities demand (her) immediate


The Swedish foreign ministry confirmed it had been informed of the Moroccan request.

“These are bilateral issues, it has nothing to do with the EU presidency as far as I know,” spokesperson Cecilia Julin told AFP in Stockholm.

Asked if the diplomat was going to leave the country, she said “normally you respect decisions like that.”

UN-backed talks on the territory’s future are currently stalled. Four rounds of negotiations on the territory held in Manhasset, a suburb of New York, could not bridge the gap between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

An informal bid to unblock negotiations took place on August 10th in Vienna.

Morocco offers considerable autonomy to the Sahrawi people. The Polisario Front wants a referendum on self-determination, with independence as one of the options.

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

Middle East

Caroline Glick: The Mullahs’ Big Week

At first glance, this past week seems like a week that Iran’s mullahs would very much like to forget. Early Wednesday morning, IDF naval commandos boarded the merchant ship Francop and diverted it to the naval base at Ashdod. There the IDF displayed its cargo of 3,000 rockets and various and other sundry ordnance useful only to terror forces. The Francop originated in Iran and was intercepted en route to Iran’s Hizbullah proxy force in Lebanon via Iran’s Arab toady Syria. As Israel’s political leadership noted, this shipment constitutes hard proof that Iran is actively sponsoring terrorist armies in Lebanon, and doing so in full breach of binding UN Security Council resolutions. The commando raid also exposed the depth of Syria’s collusion with Iran in arming Hizbullah. After Israel’s seizure of the Francop, voices claiming that Syria is but a bit player in the terror game can be laughed off the international stage…

           — Hat tip: CSP [Return to headlines]

Danish Student ‘Arrested in Iran’

A Danish journalism student has been arrested in Iran after covering anti-government protests, unions say.

The Danish Union of Journalists named the student as Niels Krogsgaard, 31.

Wednesday’s Tehran protests coincided with an official rally to mark 30 years since the storming of the US embassy during the 1979 Islamic revolution.

A Canadian, a Japanese and an Iranian journalist are also being held for covering the protests without permits, the semi-official Fars agency reports.

Iran has tightened reporting rules since protests flared in the days following a disputed presidential election in June.

Opposition supporters say the elections were rigged to ensure the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

At least 30 protesters have been killed in clashes since the elections. Thousands have been arrested, and some 200 opposition activists remain behind bars. Three have been sentenced to death.

Batons and tear gas

Mr Krogsgaard was in Tehran working on an academic paper about Iranian politics, said the Danish Union of Journalists.

He was “apparently arrested in connection with a demonstration on Wednesday”, the union was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Security forces had used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters and there were unconfirmed reports the authorities had also opened fire.

Video footage and photos showed what appeared to be large crowds of opposition supporters being chased by security forces in riot gear.

Many of the opposition demonstrators wore green scarves or bands, which have been used in repeated protests since Iran’s disputed presidential elections in June.

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

Hezbollah Denies Links to Seized Arms Ship

Beirut, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Militant Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah has denied any links to the arms ship seized on Wednesday by the Israeli navy which claimed it was heading to Syria or Lebanon from Iran. “Hezbollah denies any link to the weapons that the Zionist enemy claims it removed from the vessel Francop,” the group said in a statement, quoted by Israeli media.

“At the same time it condemns Israeli piracy in international waters.”

Israel’s foreign ministry issued a document to Israeli embassies and consulates around the world to publicise the seizure of the ship and direct international pressure towards Iran.

In addition, Israel’s hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has summoned foreign ambassadors to the Israeli port of Ashdod — where the arms ship was taken after seizure — to see the cache of weapons.

Lieberman also told Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the seizure of the ship was really the “smoking gun” that proved weapons were being delivered from Iran to Hezbollah.

“There is more than a smoking gun here. Here we have, unfortunately, a gun that is firing. It is firing in Afghanistan, it is firing in Pakistan, it is firing in Iraq, it is firing in Gaza and it is firing in south Lebanon,” said Lieberman.

According to Israeli media reports, the arms shipment set out 10 days ago from the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas and then headed to the Egyptian port of Damietta in Egypt.

The cargo was then reportedly unloaded in Egypt and then loaded three days later onto the Francop, a German-owned ship operated by a Cypriot company.

Special forces of the Israeli navy located the Francop after it left Damietta on its way to the city of Limassol, in Cyprus, and thence to Syria.

A fleet of smaller ships approached the vessel early on Wednesday, and asked to carry out an inspection of the cargo and boarded it. Israeli media said the 11 crew members offered no resistance.

The ship’s log showed that the cargo was going to the Syrian port city of Latakia.

The cargo reportedly included thousands of medium-range rockets, armor piercing artillery, Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades and mortar shells. Because the cargo was hidden in crates inside the containers, the Israeli army said it believes the weapons were destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

After the seizure of the ship and its containers, the vessel was escorted to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

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

Iran: Fate of Jailed Journalists Unclear

Tehran, 6 Nov. (AKI) — The Tehran prosecutor said on Friday that his office was investigating the arrest of Agence France Presse reporter Farhad Pouladi while he was covering an anti-American rally in the Iranian capital this week. “The claim about the arrest of the AFP journalist is under investigation,” the country’s official news agency IRNA quoted Abbas Jaffari Doulatabadi as saying.

The prosecutor confirmed that several people were arrested on Wednesday when a commemoration of the 1979 storming of the US embassy was overshadowed by a counter demonstration by opponents of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s.

“Some people were arrested on November 4. The policy of the prosecutor’s office is to release all those people against whom there are no accusations,” he said.

Four journalists — including a Japanese, two Canadians and an Iranian — were reportedly among those arrested in Tehran after covering the opposition protest in the Iranian capital.

According to the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars, the journalists “are being investigated”.

The news agency gave no further details about the journalists except to say that the Iranian journalist was working for “satellite channels”.

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Reporters without Borders have condemned the use of excessive force by Iranian authorities to counter recent protests against the government.

“Journalists are still being kidnapped or arrested illegally in Iran,” Reporters Without Borders said on its website.

“At least 100 journalists and cyber-dissidents have been arrested in the past 145 days (since the 12 June presidential election) and 23 three of them are still being held.”

Amnesty expressed concern about detainees and their treatment.

“Based on the experience of the summer unrest and our long-standing concerns about torture in Iran, those detained are now at risk of torture or other ill-treatment,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme on Thursday.

Amnesty said 74-year-old protester Habibollah Peyman, a member of the National Peace Committee was among those beaten.

It said AFP journalist Farhad Pouladi was being detained in an unknown location.

Defeated presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who has been vocal in his criticism of the authorities, also participated in the protests.

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

Top IDF Officer: Iran Has Taken Over Hezbollah

A senior Israel Defense Forces officer said Thursday that all five incidents of rocket fire from southern Lebanon into Israel since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War have been carried out in absolute defiance of Hezbollah directives and that Iran had taken control over the Lebanese militia.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Turkey, EU Tension Mounting Over Sudanese Leader’s Visit

The European Union has urged Turkey, a candidate country, to reconsider the invitation granted to Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a controversial international figure who stands accused of committing war crimes in his country’s western Darfur region.

Al-Bashir plans to arrive in Turkey on Sunday to attend to a summit for the Organization of Islamic Conference, or OIC, alongside Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“It would be a very bad signal for Turkey to host him and let him walk back to his country as a free man,” a European diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday, confirming that the 27-member bloc issued a demarche to Turkey on al-Bashir’s visit.

“Turkey is a candidate country and according to Accession Partnership documents, it is equally binding for Turkey to act in line with the international conventions endorsed by the EU,” diplomats said. The International Criminal Court, or ICC, issued an arrest warrant for the 65-year-old leader in March on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, Turkey’s reaction against the EU’s move was harsh. President Abdullah Gül, speaking to reporters, accused Brussels on Friday of interfering in its internal affairs.

“What are they interfering in? This is a meeting held within the framework of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It is not a bilateral meeting. Everyone should see it this way and act accordingly,” Gül said. A Turkish diplomat reiterated to the Daily News on Friday there was no obligation for Turkey to arrest al-Bashir.

Speaking to reporters in France, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu late Friday denied the claims that the EU had urged Turkey to reconsider allowing al-Bashir to attend the OIC conference, according to the Anatolia news agency. Other Turkish officials also said the EU had not delivered a protest note.

Though the meeting is hosted by the OIC and all invitations were extended by the secretary-general of the organization, Turkey as a sovereign country has the responsibility to fulfill obligations in line with the ICC ruling, according to legal experts.

Turkey has not ratified the Rome Statute, and does not recognize the rulings of the ICC. The experts said, however, as the case at the ICC opened in line with a report forwarded by the U.N. Security Council, Turkey as the member of the United Nations has the responsibility to act in line with the court’s arrest warrant.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised the EU in 2004 that Turkey would ratify the Rome Statute after completing domestic arrangements. Though urged to keep its promise, Turkey has not moved forward on the ratification.

Recalling Erdogan’s promises, European diplomats confess that they are far from understanding the government’s resistance to ratifying the statute.

The Turkish government believes that arresting al-Bashir at this moment will not help keep stability in an already fragile country. Furthermore, it argues that the real purpose behind the move is to divide Sudan into two parts, Sudan and Darfur, to keep the powerful Khartoum administration away from the oil-rich part of the country. In recent years, Turkey has deepened its commercial and energy ties with Sudan.

The Rome Statute came into force in July 2002 and established the International Criminal Court. It now has the support of more than half the world’s nations. With Japan’s accession on July 17, 2007, a historic benchmark of 105 states have now acceded to or ratified the treaty and 139 are signatories. The new system of international justice represented by the International Criminal Court is an important tool in pursuing punishment for the most serious international crimes.

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

Turkey Defends Sudan Leader Visit

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has accused the EU of interfering after Ankara was asked to reconsider an invitation to the president of Sudan.

Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But Mr Gul said he was invited to a summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), not for bilateral talks with Turkish officials.

Turkey, which has applied for EU membership, does not recognise the ICC.

It says it has no plans to arrest Mr Bashir, who is due to attend an OIC economic summit in Istanbul on Sunday and Monday.

Turkey insists it is not shifting away from its traditionally close ties to the West.

But the BBC’s Jonathan Head, in Istanbul, says the country is certainly choosing some controversial new partnerships.

The visit by the Sudanese president comes fresh on the heels of the Turkish prime minister’s groundbreaking state visit to Iran in October, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that country’s nuclear programme to be entirely peaceful.

Mr Bashir’s visit to Turkey will be his third in the past 18 months, but his first since the ICC arrest warrant was issued in March.

A coalition of Turkish human rights groups is protesting against the visit, our correspondent says.

They have accused the government of double standards for condemning Israel over its actions in Gaza, and then hosting a president who is blamed for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur.

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

South Asia

Afghanistan: Italian Soldiers Targeted in Herat Bomb Attack

Kabul, 5 Nov. (AKI) — Four Italian soldiers were wounded in a bomb attack in the western Afghanistan province of Herat on Thursday, an Italian defence ministry spokesman said. The latest attack occurred as the United Nations announced it was temporarily relocating 600 foreign staff based in Afghanistan.

The Italian paratroopers were injured when a bomb exploded on a road 20 kilometres from the town of Shindand, in the Zerko Valley. None of the soldiers was seriously injured.

“They are not critical and have already communicated personally with their families,” military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Marco Mele told Adnkronos.

An investigation had begun to determine whether the attack was caused by a roadside bomb, a suicide bomber or a car bomb, he said.

About 3,000 Italian soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan, mostly around Herat.

Six Italian soldiers were killed in the Afghan capital,Kabul, in September in the deadliest attack against Italy’s forces in the country.

At the end of October Italy set aside 224.8 million euros for foreign peacekeeping missions until the end of the year.

The UN personnel will return to work once security had been improved at unsecured accommodation used by the organisation, it said.

The UN decision follows a deadly raid by the Taliban last week on a hostel in the capital, Kabul, which left five UN workers and three Afghans dead.

The attack on the private guesthouse last Wednesday was the deadliest on the UN in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

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

Afghanistan: Karzai Rival ‘Withdrew Under US Pressure’

Islamabad, 6 Nov. (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — The United States put pressure on Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to withdraw from the country’s presidential race and hand victory to Karzai, sources have told Adnkronos International (AKI).

Sources said the American pressure was part of a deal struck last week with the Pakistani military, which in exchange agreed to establish direct contact with the Taliban and obtain peace with Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan.

The deal was said to have been negotiated during US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan last week, when she met army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the head of Pakistan’s military intelligence Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

As part of the deal, the US ended negotiations with Abdullah which included offering him the position of chief executive officer of Afghanistan.

Instead the US swung its full support behind Karzai, said an unnamed senior Pakistani diplomat involved in Af-Pak-US negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sources told AKI the deal would make a major contribution to reconciliation between the warring factions of the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistan armed forces and help end a bloody two-year insurgency in the country in which hundreds have died.

The deal also highlighted the key role played by the Pakistani armed forces in regional politics, according to sources.

Clinton played a major role behind the Indian decision to withdraw its forces along the Pakistan-India border near the disputed territory of Kashmir, allowing Pakistan’s army to step up its fight against Al-Qaeda in the Pakistani tribal areas in coming months, sources told AKI.

The administration of US president Barack Obama fears that failure to combat extremism in Pakistan will have a dominoe effect on the whole region and lead to certain defeat of American interests in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Last month, the US Congress approved a 1.5 billion dollar annual aid package to Pakistan for the next five years as part of a joint commitment to fight terrorism in the region.

The Pakistani military was opposed to Abdullah arguing that his participation in a new Afghan government would have been detrimental to dialogue with the Taliban. It also considered Abdullah as pro-India.

Abdullah said his withdrawal from the Afghan presidential run-off on Monday was in protest at the failure of key poll officials to resign.

He claimed he did not believe there would be a fair ballot after the first round of voting was overshadowed by mass electoral fraud.

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

Afghanistan: NATO Looks for Missing Soldiers

Kabul, 6 Nov. (AKI) — Two soldiers are missing in western Afghanistan after failing to return from a routine resupply mission, NATO officials said on Friday. Extensive search and rescue operations were being conducted in a bid to find the soldiers who disappeared on Wednesday.

In a statement, NATO did not reveal the soldiers’ nationalities or say which province where they had gone missing.

Local police said the two were Americans who were swept away by a river in the western province of Badghis.

Military officials said the families of the two soldiers had been informed.

NATO added that three of its soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks on Thursday.

Two of the soldiers were American, but the nationality of the third was not given.

Military officials told journalists that they did not suspect the case was similar to that of an American soldier who was captured by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan in June.

“We continue exhaustive search and rescue operations to locate our missing service members,” spokeswoman Navy Capt. Jane Campbell said in the NATO statement. “We are doing everything we can to find them.”

Soldiers from more than 40 countries are taking part in NATO’s force of nearly 110,000 troops in Afghanistan and two-thirds of them come from the US.

The biggest contingents operating in the west of the country are from the United States and Italy.

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

Blasphemy Legislation Strikes Minorities and Islamises the Country, Pakistan Priest Says

The Taliban want to destroy democracy and spread a fundamentalist ideology, Fr Bonnie Mendes says. A small fringe is fighting extremism, but they have “no unity of intent.” Christians live in an atmosphere of fear, but are urged to be stronger.

Rome (AsiaNews) — Blasphemy laws are a means fundamentalists use to hit the “country’s minorities and those who do not submit to their will,” Fr Bonnie Mendes told AsiaNews. The clergyman and human rights activist is currently in Italy as coordinator for Caritas Asia. He denounces a “specific plan to attack anywhere anytime in order to Islamise Pakistan.”

Last week, AsiaNews launched an awareness campaign about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which impose life in prison or the death penalty on anyone who desecrates the Qur’an or defiles the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

Father Mendes, 70, knows Pakistan’s history very well, and is quite conscious of how a fundamentalist ideology is spreading across the country.

He remembers very well remarks made a few months ago by Sufi Muhammad, spiritual guide to the Tahrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) movement, whose goal is to “destroy democracy in the world.”

“Extremism is not only a problem for the Pakistani government but is a global problem that must be faced globally,” he said.

About 25 per cent of the population sympathises with the Taliban. Even “they have even infiltrated the army and the political system.”

“They put fear into people because of the ongoing violence,” which strikes at the heart of cities, offices, police stations and ordinary people.

“There are people in government who want to change the situation but they lack unity of purpose,” the priest lamented.

Father Mendes, a former executive secretary for the Catholic Church of Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), is also critical of the court system, which sits in judgment in blasphemy cases.

“Widespread corruption is the first problem,” he said. “The government however is unable to uproot it. In blasphemy cases, judges are usually Muslim who, fearing for their safety, dare not openly oppose the enforcement of the law.”

However, there are small signs of home. Some fringes within the ruling political class “want change”. Even among Muslim religious leaders, “some voices are emerging against the blasphemy laws.”

“For the first time, there is a part of the country that wants to fight discriminatory laws; even ordinary folks have come to realise that it is important to fight the Taliban,” he said.

Finally, even if the Christian minority lives in “an atmosphere of fear”, Fr Mendes urges the faithful and the Church to “do more to deal with daily challenges” like persecution, poverty and Pakistan’s progress.

“It is important to see strong Christian journalists, intellectuals and public figures emerge,” he said, “conscious of their national mission and able to make themselves heard.” (DS)

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

Court Impedes Effort to Rescue Kidnapped Girl in Bangladesh

Muslim men abduct Christian eighth-grader, force her to convert and marry.

DHAKA, Bangladesh, November 3 (CDN) — A bail order in Bangladesh has impeded police from rescuing a young Christian girl who was abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her kidnappers, according to police.

Four Muslim men abducted eighth-grade student Silvia Merry Sarker on July 30 as she made her way home from school in west Sujankathi village, under Agoiljhara police jurisdiction, in Barisal district in southern Bangladesh, according to her father, Julian Sarker.

Sarker filed a case under the Women and Children Repression Act against Al-Amin Faria, 24, Shamim Faria, 22, Sahadat Faria, 20, and Sattar Faria, 50.

“My daughter was abducted by Faria with the help of his cousins and other relatives,” said Sarker.

Sarker filed a First Information Report (FIR) charging that the men abducted his daughter initially to “indulge Al-Amin Faria’s evil desire.” Later she was forced to convert to Islam and marry Al-Amin Faria, which Sarker said was part of an attempt to take over his land and property.

Local police inspector Ashok Kumar Nandi told Compass that police were continuing efforts to arrest the kidnappers but had yet to find them, as the unusually early bail order had blocked their efforts.

“There are four names as prime suspects in the case,” Nandi said. “We arrested three of them, but the court released them on bail. If the court had given them to us on remand, we might have found the girl, or at least we would get much information to rescue the girl.”

Generally suspects in cases under the Women and Children Repression Act are not granted bail so early for the sake of investigations, Nandi said.

“We do not know why they were released on bail,” he said. “Those released persons are moving freely in the village. We cannot arrest them again without an order.”

Attorney Rabindra Ghosh, president of Bangladesh Minority Watch and an activist for Dutch human rights organization Global Human Rights Defense, told Compass that the granting of bail to the suspects also poses threats to the victim’s family.

“They are threatening the victim’s family to withdraw the case,” said Ghosh. “Release of the abductors on bail so early is a travesty — the abductors got impunity due to the early bail order. For the sake of the girl’s rescue, the court could have sent the arrestees to police on remand to find more information about their hideout.”

Gnosh concurred that an accused person under the Women and Children Repression Act case does not get bail so early without first getting necessary information from them.

False Document

A few days after the kidnapping, Sarker said, the abductors provided Nimchandra Bepari, a Hindu neighbor, an affidavit claiming that Sarker’s daughter was 19 years old. Bepari gave the affidavit to the local police inspector. The kidnappers also contacted sub-district chairman Mortuza Khan.

“My daughter is 13 years old, but the abductors made an affidavit of her age showing 19 years old,” Sarker said.

The headmaster of Agoiljhara Shrimoti Matrimangal Girls High School, where the girl is a student, issued a certificate denoting that Silvia Merry Sarker is even younger than 13 — born on Dec. 24, 1997, which would mean she is not yet 12 years old.

The fabricated affidavit provided by the kidnappers states that she accepted Islam and has married, said Sarker.

“I am shocked how a minor girl is shown as an adult in the affidavit,” Ghosh said. “It is illegal, and there should be proper action against this kind of illegal activity.”

Al-Amin Faria had tried to get the girl’s two older sisters to marry him, but their early marriages saved them from falling prey to him, Sarker said.

“I married off my two elder daughters at an early age immediately after finishing their schooling,” said Sarker.

Before they married, Sarker said he felt helpless to keep Faria and his family from accosting and harassing his other daughters.

“I could not take any legal action against them since we are the only Christian family here,” he said. “I tolerated everything. I did not inform it to police or they would get infuriated.”

When Faria “targeted” his second daughter for marriage, Sarker informed the headmaster of the school and its managing committee, and they warned the Muslim not to disturb the family, Sarker said. Nevertheless, he said, he felt he couldn’t send his older daughters to school because he feared Faria would harm them.

“The relation of us with those Muslim neighbors is ‘predator-and-prey,’“ he said. “I saved my other family members from his lechery, but I could not save my youngest daughter.”

Sarker said he felt alone and helpless as a Christian minority but that he doesn’t understand how the entire justice system also can be so helpless.

“Why and how can the court, law enforcement agencies, police, administration, society and the country be helpless against him? Why can’t they rescue my daughter?” he said.

Dilip Gabriel Bepari, an activist for Bangladesh Minority Watch, told Compass that the group had informed national and international officials in seeking help to find the girl.

“We informed it to various ministers, political leaders and police high officials,” Bepari said. “We also informed it to the Vatican ambassador in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the girl is still missing.”

Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Bangladesh said the Catholic Church’s impassioned plea to the government is to rescue her as soon as possible and bring the kidnappers to justice.

“It is unfortunate that the girl is not rescued yet in three months,” Costa said. “There must be negligence and indifference to the Christians from the government, otherwise the girl would be rescued.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this year removed Bangladesh from its “Watch List” of countries requiring close monitoring of religious freedom violations, but it urged the new Awami League administration to strengthen protections for all Bangladeshis.

USCIRF also indicates that it hopes the government of Bangladesh will investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violent acts against members of minority religious communities.

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

Don’t Fool Yourselves… Afghanistan is an Unwinnable War

With so many British dead, it’s unpalatable to say we’ve failed. But the real betrayal, says MAX HASTINGS, is to fool ourselves that one more heave — a few more bodybags — can secure something we could call victory

The image of a soldier’s discarded body armour, stained with the lifeblood of one of five troops killed on Tuesday by an Afghan policeman, has burned itself into the consciousness of the British people.

Yesterday the coffin of another extraordinarily brave young man, Staff-Sergeant Olaf Schmid, who defused 64 Taliban bombs before the 65th killed him, came home through the High Street of Wootton Bassett.

Lord Ashdown says: ‘There is now a real chance that we will lose this struggle in the bars and front rooms of Britain before we lose it in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.’

I have great respect for Paddy’s wisdom, but I think the former Liberal leader has got that line back to front. In truth, surely, what has happened is that in the bars and front rooms, British people perceive — and are rightly furious — that we are losing a mismanaged war on the far side of the world.

My wife asked yesterday: ‘What will history say about what America and Britain have done in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001?’ It was the right question. Everything, including that blood-soaked jacket, goes back to the 9/11 Al Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers.

U.S. President George Bush responded justly and proportionately to 9/11 by promoting the downfall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which had provided a safe haven for its perpetrators. It was unthinkable for the West to do nothing while Muslim fanatics attacked the U.S. and its allies with impunity.

Using U.S. air power and special forces to support the Northern Alliance warlords, in a few weeks the Taliban were driven from the Afghan capital, Kabul. That was almost the last moment, however, at which Washington got its decisions right.

The first big American mistake was to give unqualified backing to the Pakistani government, heedless of the fact that the Pakistani Army was supporting the Taliban, and even sending aircraft to rescue its leaders from Afghanistan.

Thanks to U.S. Army bungling in the mountains around Tora Bora, Osama Bin Laden and much of the Al Qaeda leadership escaped over the border, taking refuge in Pakistan’s anarchic tribal areas.

Then, much more disastrously, Bush and the Washington neo-cons, supported by Tony Blair, decided to seize the excuse offered by 9/11 to topple Saddam Hussein. I remember a conversation with General Sir Mike Jackson, then head of the Army, in October 2002, months before Blair sought Parliament’s endorsement for joining the Iraq invasion.

Mike had just returned from talks in Washington about the military planning. ‘Getting to Baghdad won’t be hard,’ he told me. ‘But they haven’t the slightest idea what they are going to do when they get there.’

So it proved, of course. Iraq became a quagmire which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. In recent months, the country has seemed relatively quiet as the U.S. Army has pulled back.

But the Americans are desperately apprehensive that the place is a powder keg, where civil war could erupt at any moment. Whatever comes out of Iraq, it will be nothing that can be called success. As for Afghanistan, in 2006 the allies belatedly realised that the country was lapsing into a shambles where only opium-growing flourished. Nato committed troops — pathetically few in number — to stabilise the country and promote democracy. I thought at the time that the Afghan operation was unworkable with the resources committed. I now find myself doubting that we could have succeeded, however many men we sent.

It seems impossible for the Western powers, however well-intentioned, to make Afghans what we want them to be. We say we want to confer freedom of choice, a fine idea.

But what if that choice favours warlordism, corruption, opium-growing and the oppression of women? We are attempting to train their army and police to standards of efficiency and honesty which took the British Raj decades to instil in its Indian regiments, even at the height of empire.

Recent evidence suggests that we are not enjoying unqualified success.

We entered Afghanistan to evict Al Qaeda. Today, Al Qaeda has moved to Pakistan.

But we are still attempting to achieve wholly different and ill-defined objectives in Afghanistan, imposing centralised order where there has never been such a thing.

U.S. and British military operations seem meaningless, win or lose, unless we are supporting a sustainable regime. However long we stick it out, I do not believe the Karzai government in Kabul will gain — or deserve — sufficient popular support to suppress the insurgency.

We have got into a situation in which we are there because we are there, and nobody wants to acknowledge defeat. Far from building support for Western purposes, in Afghanistan and Pakistan we are today vastly more unpopular than we were in 2001, chiefly because of our military operations.

A Pakistani journalist called Ansar Abbasi told the visiting U.S. Under-Secretary of State in August this year: ‘You should know that we hate all Americans. From the bottom of our souls, we hate you.’

Tens of millions of his fellow countrymen feel the same way — and we, the British, are included in their blind rage.

I find it impossible to imagine that committing more Western troops in Afghanistan will make it possible either to stabilise the country, or to make the U.S. and Britain less vulnerable to Al Qaeda attacks.

President Obama seems of the same opinion. His dilemma is that if he refuses his generals’ request for reinforcements, he will be accused by the American Right of ‘betraying our cause’, losing the war.

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Iranians Arrested Over Suicide Attack

Islamabad, 6 Nov. (AKI) — Pakistani security forces on Thursday arrested three Iranians suspected of planning a suicide attack which killed 42 people in Iran’s southeastern region in October. The Sunni rebel group Jundallah (God’s Soldiers) claimed responsibility for launching the attack that targeted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

The attack in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province killed 15 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, including six senior commanders, and 27 others.

Three ethnic Baluch men were arrested by Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Constabulary troops in a raid in Turbat, a district in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on the Iranian border, intelligence and paramilitary officials said.

The deadly explosion took place on October 18 during a unity conference between Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in the border city of Pishin.

Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, is also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement.

It is an insurgent Sunni Islamic organisation based in Baluchistan fighting for what it claims are the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran.

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

Far East

Beijing in Support of the Burmese Junta: Work on a New Oil Pipeline Begins

770 km long from the port of Manday up to Yunnan. It will allow China to avoid the pirates of the Straits of Malacca. Thai activists fear use of forced labour.

Beijing (AsiaNews) — The China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) has begun the construction of an oil pipeline crossing Myanmar to speed up deliveries to China of Middle Eastern oil that arrives in the former Burma via the Indian Ocean.

The pipeline of over 770 kilometres and with a capacity of 84 million barrels per year is part of a plan for extensive investments in Myanmar that Beijing is implementing with the aim of gaining greater access to foreign oil and gas, which are essential to feed the its economic boom.

The pipeline will connect the Burmese port of Manday Island, on the Indian Ocean, with Ruili, a town in Yunnan — the south-western province of China — via Mandalay. Announcing the start of the project, CNPC, however, failed to add details on the estimated length of time to carry out work. Once completed, Beijing will thus avoid the passage of its precious energy resources through the Straits of Malacca, between Indonesia and Malaysia, which a pirate infested waters.

The CNPC project has rekindled the controversy over Chinese investment in infrastructure in Burma: rather than contribute to the effective development of the country, these go to bankroll the violent military regime that for 60 years has ruled over the former Burma.

China is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar and the closest ally of the government of the generals, condemned by Western powers for its harsh repression of political opposition and its failure to respect basic human rights. Thai activists also denounce that the construction of the pipeline will lead to the use of forced labour, the expropriation of lands and other abuses by the military against civilians.

But not only CNPC does business in Myanmar. Other state-owned companies such as National Offshore Oil Co., have exploration projects and are expected to be major consumers of natural gas coming from new offshore fields.

Beijing has already built a pipeline connecting its with the oil fields of Kazakhstan to the northwest and is working on another project to access Russian oil from Siberia.

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

Australia — Pacific

Dad Pays $82.5k for Email to Principal

A Sydney father who sent a “malicious”, untrue, defamatory email in a bid to force a school principal to resign has been ordered to pay her $82,543 in damages.

Justice Henric Nicholas concluded the 61-year-old principal, Jennie Ryan, had a “settled reputation for competence, honesty, and trustworthiness” and colleagues held her in high esteem.

But he said Rajaratnam Premachandran, who had children at her school, had made grave allegations of “incompetence, dishonesty, untrustworthiness” against Mrs Ryan.

“I am satisfied his allegations were groundless, and were the product of fantasy fuelled by enduring ill-will towards (her), and his desire to discredit her and bring her down,” the judge said.

The principal of Beecroft Public School, in Sydney’s northwest, sued Mr Premachandran in the NSW Supreme Court for defamation over the email he sent to fellow parents in April 2008.

Justice Nicholas concluded the email carried a string of defamatory meanings and rejected all of Mr Premachandran’s defences, including a contention the claims were true.

During the hearing, Mrs Ryan’s lawyer, Sue Chysanthou, said the father ran a year-long “malicious” campaign against the principal, including writing to the education minister and the Indian High Commissioner.

Ms Chysanthou said Mr Premachandran had blamed the principal for his child’s poor performance in selective-school tests.

“He just spewed out his rage on the page,” she said.

The judge noted Mr Premachandran was well educated and had no difficulty with the English language.

“I have no doubt that he well knew the ordinary meaning conveyed by the terms of his emails, and of the likely impact of them,” he said.

His motive had been to force Mrs Ryan to resign by “discrediting and denigrating her before the recipients”, the judge found.

“Put another way, I am satisfied that his dominant motive, by reason of his dislike and anger towards her, was to so injure (her) that she would resign,” Justice Nicholas said.

He found the email had caused Mrs Ryan “great distress and emotional upset, and that her sense of hurt continues to the present time”.

This had been seriously exacerbated by the malice of Mr Premachandran, demonstrated by his other emails and letters, his failure to apologise, and his contention the defamatory statements were true, the judge said.

The question of legal costs will be decided on another date.

[Return to headlines]

Sub-Saharan Africa

Somalia: Islamists Destroy Graves Near Kismayu Town

The Islamist fighters of Harakat Al-shabab mujihedeen in Jubba regions have conducted operations at villages around Jamame district near Kismayu town in Lower Jubba region and destroyed several graves there in southern Somalia, officials told Shabelle radio on Friday.

Ant evil deeds committee of Harakat Al-shabab Mujahideen in Jubba regions explained more about their operations which continued recently and said that they destroyed cemeteries in near Jamame district in southern Somalia.

Sheik Sa’id Karatay, head of committee for the evil deeds and advice of Harakat Al-shabab Mujahideen told reporters that they also destroyed a large idol in Jamame which he said that the former infidels who were in country were worshipping it.

Sheik Karatay also said that they smashed other graves near Jamame district saying that they were used things that are against the religion of Islam.

Nevertheless the step of the Islamist officials of Harakat Al-shabab Mujahideen comes as there had been operations against the evil things which continued in Jubba regions in southern Somalia recently.

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

Somali Adulterer Stoned to Death

Islamists in southern Somalia have stoned a man to death for adultery but spared his pregnant girlfriend until she gives birth.

Abas Hussein Abdirahman, 33, was killed in front of a crowd of some 300 people in the port town of Merka.

An official from the al-Shabab group said the woman would be killed after she has had her baby.

Islamist groups run much of southern Somalia, while the UN-backed government only control parts of the capital.

This is the third time Islamists have stoned a person to death for adultery in the past year.

Al-Shabab official Sheikh Suldan Aala Mohamed said Mr Abdirahman had confessed to adultery before an Islamic court.

“He was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving,” an eyewitness told the BBC.

The BBC’s Mohammed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says that if the woman is also killed, her baby would be given to relatives to look after.

Meanwhile, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has accused al-Shabab of spoiling the image of Islam by killing people and harassing women.

“Their actions have nothing to do with Islam,” said the moderate Islamist during a ceremony at which he nominated a new administration for the capital, Mogadishu.

“They are forcing women to wear very heavy clothes, saying they want them to properly cover their bodies but we know they have economic interests behind — they sell these kinds of clothes and want to force people to buy them.”

Last month, two men were stoned to death in the same town after being accused of spying.

A 13-year-old girl was stoned to death for adultery in the southern town of Kismayo last year.

Human rights groups said she had been raped.

Another man has also been punished in this way in the Lower Shabelle region.

Mr Sharif, a former rebel leader, was sworn in as president after UN-brokered peace talks in January.

Although he says he also wants to implement Sharia, al-Shabab says his version of Islamic law would be too lenient.

The country has not had a functioning national government for 18 years.

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

Spain Resists Deal With Pirates

Spain says it will not negotiate over two Somalis held on piracy charges, despite pleas from the relatives of Spaniards held hostage in Somalia.

“The situation is not negotiable,” Spain’s Deputy Defence Minister Constantino Mendez said.

Somali pirates have threatened to kill three crew members from the Spanish trawler Alakrana unless Spain frees the two captive Somalis, reports say.

The sailors’ families urged Spain to do so, to get the ship and its crew freed.

In all, more than 30 sailors from various countries are reported to be held by the pirates — all but three of them still aboard the Alakrana, a tuna ship hijacked in the Indian Ocean on 2 October.

Three were taken ashore on Thursday and the pirates threatened to kill them within three days unless Spain released the two Somali prisoners, the Alakrana’s captain told Spanish media by phone.

A Spanish frigate captured the two Somalis after they left the hijacked Alakrana.

Mr Mendez appeared to leave open the possibility of transferring the two to another jurisdiction, while ruling out releasing them.

“One can discuss issues of jurisdiction at length. They have many angles and the law is not mathematics,” he said.

“We shouldn’t rule anything out,” he added, implying that a military operation to free the crew was also possible, though the families have urged Spain to avoid that. Two frigates are reported to be watching the Alakrana.

A Spanish judge has charged the two Somalis with illegal detention, criminal association and armed robbery.

The Alakrana is moored off the Somali port town of Harardere, the hub of piracy in the region.

The families have called a “solidarity” meeting for Saturday in Bermeo, in the Basque Country, to put pressure on the Spanish government.

The Basque regional leader (lehendakari), Patxi Lopez, called on Madrid to study the possibility of handing over the two Somalis to judicial authorities in Somalia or neighbouring Kenya.

Last year, the crew of another Spanish boat was freed by pirates in the same area after a ransom of a reported $1.2m (£750,000) was paid, according to Somali officials.

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

Latin America

Brazil: in the Midst of a Tectonic Shift in the New World Order

Last night I found myself in the ornate circumstance of the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. I also found myself too in the midst of a tectonic shift in the new world order.

For this was an event in which the old world of European kings and queens were making way for a citizen of the new world. The man the old world was celebrating was Brazil’s President Lula de Silva.

The bibs and tuckers around the hall — and it was crammed with businessmen, lawyers, bankers and the rest — gave all the impression of supplicants at the great man’s table.

Lula — bearded and younger looking than his 64 years. Charismatic with a real twinkle in his eye, he cut a forceful and persuasive dash as he picked up the Chatham House Prize — a kind of micro Nobel Peace Prize awarded by the UK diplomatic think tank.

His speech majored on climate change and clean energy, but it also made the plea for the world’s 10th largest economy to have its rightful place at the world’s top table — a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

It was a good speech — talked of Brazil’s renewal depending upon the renewal of Latin America itself. Talked too of Brazil’s strength flowing not from its massive new deep sea oil deposits, but from its sustainable energy supplies from sugar cane and its new found determination to sustain the Amazon rain forest at all cost (a campaign likely to prove one of the few tangible outcomes from the Copenhagen climate change summit).

As he delivered his speech I noticed the missing little finger from his left hand — lost in an industrial accident in 1960.

Lula’s life is an extraordinary story from peanut seller and shoes shine boy who grew up in great poverty, to the leader of the huge Metal Workers’ Union and thence in 2002 to the democratically elected president of a country that had basked in its unfair share of corruption and military dictatorship.

Brazil, for all its inequality and development challenges, is a power house of a nation that has come of age. Its thrusting growth is an opportunity for British business. But the headsets listening to the English translation of Lula’s Portuguese spoke volumes of Britain’s lack of readiness to engage.

We shall be hearing much more of Brazil on Channel 4 News in the weeks to come. Can’t yet tell you why, but you won’t be disappointed

           — Hat tip: JP [Return to headlines]


Under a Bridge, Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia Wait to Get Arrested

Larita Delacruz sits on the concrete base of a bridge pylon, rubs her swollen belly and explains her predicament: she is five months pregnant with twins, and wants to go home to give birth.

Around 1,000 Asian men and women sit in the darkness under the flyover in this bustling Red Sea port, trying months on end to get deported. Photo: AFP/Omar Salem

But after four years of working as a maid in Saudi Arabia, she lacks both her passport and the exit permit that would allow her to return to the Philippines.

So for three months Delacruz has lived on the pavement under a massive elevated eight-lane highway in central Jeddah, hoping to be rounded up by immigration police, then given documents and a ticket home.

Around her maybe 1,000 other Asian men and women sit in darkness under the flyover in the bustling Red sea port. All have been trying for months to get deported.

In another area huddle hundreds of Africans, also seeking to leave.

Some fled abusive or non-paying employers, others were abandoned by sponsors, and still more came on pilgrimage to nearby Mecca but then stayed on to work illegally.

In each case, under Saudi rules for the millions of foreigners working in the kingdom, their documents were taken away on arrival. Without travel papers or an official exit permit, they cannot leave.

“If you are working here, automatically your passport is taken by the employer,” said Andrew Occiones, a Jeddah coordinator for Migrante, which helps overseas workers from the Philippines.

He said the numbers under the bridge seem to be rising, possibly because it has become more difficult recently for those without proper papers to get jobs.

Everyone under the Jeddah bridge has a similar story.

Sri Lankan Trina Chandrakarya came to work as a maid two years ago. For five months she was not paid, so she fled the sponsor for another job — easy to do in a huge black market for workers.

Now, with two children back home, she wants to return, but does not have her papers. So she is living under the bridge waiting to be arrested.

“All the people are coming here because they want to go home,” she said.

Such cases are a growing headache for the Saudis and foreign embassies.

Officially about six million of the country’s 25-million population are foreigners. But according to government and private sector estimates, there are as many as four million more who are undocumented.

They include people who stayed after their work permits expired, pilgrims who stayed on to work, and people who entered the country illegally.

For most, leaving is much harder than getting in. The problem is most acute in Jeddah, gateway to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

In Riyadh there is nowhere for paperless immigrants to go, and under Islamic Sharia law, a pregnant woman like Delacruz is more likely to be jailed for having illicit sex and then expelled after giving birth, diplomats say.

In the small courtyard of Nepal’s Riyadh embassy, about 15 women sit listlessly, hoping to be accepted into a half-way house run by a Saudi charity where police will process their cases.

Ambassador Hamid Ansari said most had run away from Saudi families who did not pay them at all or beat them. None has documents.

Dealing with the estimated 500,000 Nepalis in the country is especially difficult, Ansari said.

Because Riyadh has no embassy in Kathmandu, Nepalis go through Indian brokers in Mumbai to secure jobs in Saudi Arabia, and the Nepal government has no record of them.

“Before they came to our embassy, we did not know that any of these girls were in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

In Jeddah, under the flyover, the migrants are separated into sections: Sri Lankans, then Indonesian men, then Indonesian women next to them; Pakistanis further down and then Filipinos.

The space is grimy, but most people look fairly healthy and clean. Some are still working, there are charity food donations, and showers are also available at a nearby mosque.

One Wednesday evening they all jump up as two huge buses arrive. But they have come for about 100 Indonesian women, who are being taken to an immigration processing centre.

Tarina, a woman in her 30s from Banjarmasin in Java, is one of more than one million Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia, mostly women working as household maids and cooks.

She said she and her three-year-old daughter had been under the flyover for 10 days. She came on a pilgrimage pass, then had several jobs over five years, and was now simply ready to go home.

The immigration police do not relish the endless job of processing over stayers which means establishing their identities — which sometimes even embassies cannot do.

“I am trying to get arrested, but the police don’t want to catch us,” said Indian Nair Rameshen, a native of Vayanadu in Kerala, who has lived under the highway for two months.

Rameshen said he has worked for four years as a driver. He left his first job because they paid him less than promised, then found other jobs without having either passport or residency permit.

“I would like to see my parents, my two kids,” he said.

Rameshen said his embassy pushes the problem back to the police. “They tell us to stay under the bridge. They have to see us in jail” before they can help.

[Return to headlines]