Another Nigerian passenger caused consternation on today’s Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. This poor fellow felt a little sick, and locked himself in the restroom for an hour. A stewardess notified the pilot, who called an alert, and once again the might of the FBI was waiting for the plane when it landed. The passenger was questioned, the plane was searched, and as far as could be ascertained, no terrorism had been attempted.
I hope they gave the poor guy bathroom breaks while they were interrogating him.
Major events are unfolding in Iran. Opposition groups continue their demonstrations, and several have been killed by the security forces. There are reports that some members of the security forces refused orders to fire on the demonstrators, and that some of them have also defected to the opposition.
In other news, the German Environment Minister blames the USA and China for the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Summit. Nonetheless, the Swiss hold out Obama as their great hope for the new year.
Meanwhile, Abel Xavier, a world-famous Portuguese soccer star, has converted to Islam, and henceforth will call himself Faisal Xavier.
Thanks to Barry Rubin, C. Cantoni, Esther, heroyalwhyness, Insubria, JD, KGS, Sean O’Brian, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
– – – – – – – – –
||Another Delta Flight Scare in Detroit
||Muslim Leaders Try to Counter Radicals’ Influence on Youths
||Nigerian Charged in Attack on US Plane
||Teaching America as ‘Hellhole’ Called ‘Brainstorming’
||Video Calling for Islamic State Within America
||Canadian Muslim Accuses Police of Racial Abuse
Europe and the EU
||“This is What the Majority of Europeans Think”
||Czech Republic: Fewer Residency Applicants as Foreigners Fear Language Exams
||German Environment Minister Condemns USA and China
||Italy: Venice Hit by Record Flooding
||Pressure on Banking Secrecy Galvanises Support
||Spain Takes in First Albino Refugee
||Swiss See Obama as Figure of Hope for 2010
||This is England: Masked Like Terrorists, Members of Britain’s Newest and Fastest -Growing Protest Group Intimidate a Muslim Woman on a Train En Route to a Violent Demo
||UK: ‘Bonkers’ Police Drop the Word Christmas From Poster to Avoid Upsetting Other Faiths
||UK: Britain Like Third World on Crime, Says Jailed Burglary Victim’s Brother
||UK: Ex-Archbishop Brands Shoplift Sermon Priest ‘Foolish’
||UK: Paedophiles Among 6,000 ‘High-Risk’ Criminals Let Free by Courts
||UK: Telecom Firms’ Fury at Plan for ‘Stasi’ Checks on Every Phone Call and Email
||UK: Wealthy, Quiet, Unassuming: The Christmas Day Bomb Suspect
||UK: Why Was He Ever Allowed to Fly? Syringe Bomber Had Been Barred From Britain, Was on a Terror List and Even His Father Had Warned U.S.
||Vatican: Catholic Church Defends Wartime Pope’s Beatification
||Albania: Country’s Largest Shopping Centre Inaugurated
||Italy-Montenegro: Support Balkan Entrance Into EU, Mantica
||Cast Lead: Egypt Says No to Gaza Freedom March
||Egypt: Suez Cement; Accord to Support Families in Governorates
||Egypt-Italy: Accord Signed for Education, Employment Sector
||OIC and Arab League Explore Modes for Countering Islamophobia
||Tunisia-Italy: Benassi, Friendship Beyond Economic Links
Israel and the Palestinians
||3 Fatah Activists Killed in Israeli Raid
||At Militants’ Funeral, Palestinians Vow Revenge on Israel
||Commander of Exodus Passed Away
||For Israel, Good Prospects in 2010
||Israelis Seek Arrest of Hamas Leaders Abroad
||Lieberman Makes it Clear: ‘No to Oslo Illusion and Fantasy’
||Nazareth: Jesus-Era House Uncovered
||World Marks Gaza Assault in Solidarity With Strip
||Christians Flock to Churches in the Arab World
||Deaths Reported in Iran Clashes
||Iran to Celebrate Yalda; Longest Night of the Year
||Iran Jails Former Government Spokesman
||Iraqi Priest Says Christians Must ‘Not be Afraid’
||Italy-Syria: New Framework Agreement for Cooperation Signed
||Martial vs. Democratic Diplomacy, Part 1
||Maverick Iraqi Politician Claims Iran Could Go Nuclear Within Weeks
||Syria: Citrus Fruit Output Up in 2009
||Turkish Soldiers Held in ‘Deputy PM Assassination Plot’
||World Famous Footballer Embraces Islam in UAE
||Yemen: Imam Linked to Ft. Hood Rampage Believed to be Alive
||Yemeni Director Combats Terrorism With Propaganda
||Russia: Muslim Chechen Members Claim Responsibility for Murdering Russian Orthodox Priest Daniil Sysoyev on 20 November, 2009 in Moscow.
||Turks, Armenians Share Similar Genes, Say Scientists
||Afghan President Wishes Foreign Troops a Merry Christmas
||Afghanistan: Taliban Commander Killed in Mosque Shootout
||Fear and Loathing as Uzbek Poll Looms
||Indonesia’s Religious Police on Hemline Frontline
||Jihadi Culture on the Rise in Pakistan (Part-I)
||China’s 245mph Train Service is the World’s Fastest… And it Was Completed in Just Four Years
||Fears for Hmong Soon to be Deported by Thailand to Laos
||Philippines: Muslim Kids Sing Carols, Too
||Food Giant Nestlé Halts Operations in Zimbabwe
||Greenspan Calls for Lower Wages for America’s Skilled Workers
||‘Sangatte II’ Immigrant Welcome Centre is Torched by Arsonists: Police Suspect Furious Calais Residents
Another Delta Flight Scare in Detroit
Airline Says Sick Passenger was “Disruptive” But Officials Say He Posed No Threat
The same Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight that was attacked on Christmas Day saw another security scare Sunday after a confrontation with a sick passenger, officials said.
Security and airline personnel have been on edge since authorities charged a passenger from Nigeria with attempting to detonate a hidden explosive device while his flight from Amsterdam approached Detroit on Friday.
In the Sunday incident, the flight crew became concerned after the man — also Nigerian — became sick and spent about an hour locked in the bathroom, officials said.
“This raised concerns so an alert was raised,” FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said. “The investigation shows that this was a non-serious incident and all is clear at this point.”
No devices have been found on the plane and investigators say no apparent threats were made, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.
After the flight crew became concerned, the pilot of the Sunday flight had requested emergency assistance upon arrival, sending federal authorities scrambling to respond to a potential danger.
The Transportation Security Administration said the airline alerted authorities to a “disruptive passenger” on board flight 253, who was taken into custody when the plane landed.
Two law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident, said the crew apparently acted out of an abundance of caution in alerting authorities.
Post-flight interviews by investigators determined the passenger was a legitimate businessman who posed no security threat to the plane, the two law enforcement officials said.
White House officials briefed President Barack Obama on the incident, which generated multiple law enforcement reports of a disruptive passenger aboard a Detroit-bound plane.
Muslim Leaders Try to Counter Radicals’ Influence on Youths
The adults thought they’d done all they could. They had condemned extremist ideology, provided ski trips and Scout meetings, and encouraged young people to speak openly about how to integrate their religion, Islam, with the secular world.
But five college-age Northern Virginia men were arrested in Pakistan this month after allegedly being recruited over the Internet to join al-Qaeda, and many Washington area Muslims are questioning whether condemnation is enough.
Mustafa Abu Maryam, a Muslim youth leader who has known the arrested men since 2006, said he was alarmed by their decision to go to Pakistan after allegedly exchanging coded e-mails with a recruiter for the Pakistani Taliban. “I always thought that they had a firm grasp on life and that they rejected extremism or terrorism,” Maryam said of the Alexandria men.
Mosques and Islamic organizations across the United States regularly issue statements rejecting violence and fringe ideologies. But after the arrests, Muslim leaders have been scrambling to fill what they describe as a gap in their connection with young people, searching for new ways to counter the influence of the extremists whom young people might encounter, especially online.
“I’m really concerned about what the Internet is doing to my young people,” said Mohamed Magid, imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling. “I used to not be worried about the radicalism of our youth. But now, after this, I’m worried more.”
Since Sept. 11, 2001, as American Muslims have seen repeated arrests of young European Muslims on terrorism charges, many in this country came to believe that the stronger integration of young American Muslims in the United States would help immunize them against the disaffection that leads to extremism. Magid said he has met in recent years with other Muslim leaders to talk about social networking to counter radicalism in Europe, “but we never thought about it for here.”
Now, Magid said, “I have to be a virtual imam,” meaning that Muslim groups need a larger and more effective online presence. Referring to extremists, he said: “Twenty-four hours, they’re available. I want to be able to respond to that.”
Seeking a counterweight
Until now, many Muslim leaders have focused on what they considered external threats to young people, such as Islamophobia or the temptations of modern, secular life. Now they say it is time to look inward, to provide a counterweight to those who misinterpret Koranic verses to promote violence — and to learn what rhetoric and methods appeal to young people.
Radicals “seem to understand our youth better than we do,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation. “They use hip-hop elements for some who relate to that.” Bray said “seductive videos” gradually lure young people, building outrage over atrocities committed against Muslims. Extremist videos “play to what we call in the Muslim youth community ‘jihad cool’ — a kind of machismo that this is the hip thing to do.”
For some, a new approach cannot come too soon. Zaki Barzinji, 20, a Sterling native and former president of Muslim Youth of North America, said mosques are “sort of in the Stone Age when it comes to outreach. Their youth programs are not attractive, not engaging . . . . They’re shooting in the dark because it’s always adults who are planning this outreach.”
Nor is the threat limited to the Internet, Barzinji said, adding that groups of “traveling Muslim proselytizers” sometimes appear at Virginia Tech, where he is a senior, often attracting foreign students, who tend to be more socially isolated.
“They go to the dorms, look for Muslim-sounding names, knock on the door and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to talk to you about hellfire and how you’re heading that way,’ “ Barzinji said. “All they’re offering is social connection and acceptance.”
Barzinji said Muslim groups should create online forums where young Muslims can find answers from authoritative sources. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman at the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he spent a recent day at work with a copy of “The Social Media Bible,” trying to figure out how to do just that.
One idea: a Web portal offering video explanations of Koranic verses that are sometimes misinterpreted by radicals, as well as suggestions of what Hooper called “positive things you can do to rectify injustice.”
Many Muslim parents said they don’t worry about the influence of radical strangers on their children. “I just don’t see it as a very widespread phenomenon,” said Bob Marro, a Great Falls father of two college students who were active in their high school’s Muslim Student Association. “I know for my sons and their friends, if they got a message like that, they would find it just laughingly funny. . . . If you’ve been open with your kids and talked to them as they were growing up, they’ll have enough of a sense of their own value and their place in the world.”
His son, Nicolas Marro, 19, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, said the five young men’s decision to go to Pakistan “seems like such an anomaly, especially in this area, where people take their studies so seriously.”
Whenever he has seen radical rhetoric on a public forum, he said, it has usually been shouted down. “There will be a plethora of responses: ‘Are you crazy?’ ‘Is something wrong with you?’ “ he said.
Effects on community
But if even a few young people slip through the cracks, the results can be devastating for the community. “They ruin it for the rest of us,” said Azraf Ullah, 15, of Herndon, who was attending a Scout meeting at the All Dulles Area center this month. “We have to work harder to show that we’re not that.”
“The impression is like, ‘Every Muslim youth is involved with this thing,’ “ said Syed Akhtar Alam, a father of three in Ashburn. At an interfaith youth group Alam is involved with, parents from other religions approached him after the arrests in Pakistan. “They just wanted to know, ‘How could this happen?’ “ he said. “It just happened randomly. Bad people are everywhere. . . . It is parents’ responsibility to tell their kids, ‘This is your country, and you need to protect it.’ “
Relatives of the five men have declined to speak to reporters.
Magid, the imam from Sterling, said Muslim leaders should be more active on social networking sites and should create an online network of imams to talk to young people, “even addressing questions about jihad,” he said, adding that it is no longer enough to rely only on mosque-based Scout troops, basketball teams and religion classes.
Hooper said some leaders are discussing an Islamic Peace Corps through which youths could help Muslims in underdeveloped countries. But some advocate a more adventuresome approach, borrowing from the extremists’ methods. “A 20-year-old, he’s not satisfied with a canned food drive to solve the world’s problems,” said a religious leader whose mosque would not permit him to be quoted by name. “You’ve got to give them something more, even a little macho.
“These boys who got busted . . . they want to be baaaad. You’ve got to be as bad as the jihadis. You’ve got to show them jumping out of helicopters. This ain’t no Peace Corps.”
Nigerian Charged in Attack on US Plane
A Nigerian man was charged on Saturday with attempting to destroy a US passenger plane on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with an explosive strapped to his body.
He claimed when arrested to have links with al-Qaeda but federal authorities investigating the attack said that could not be immediately confirmed. Security was stepped up on flights to and from the US on Saturday as federal officials questioned the Nigerian, who was subdued by fellow passengers when he ignited the device.
The man, identified by authorities as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, was being treated at a burns unit following the Christmas Day attack but no one else was reported injured in the incident shortly before the Northwest Airlines flight was due to land.
The detained man’s name figured on a database because of extremist connections, according to Peter King, senior Republican on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, and a White House official said: “We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism.”
However, officials told reporters in Detroit the suspect appeared to have acted alone rather than as an agent of al-Qaeda or other terrorist organisation.
Nigeria’s This Day newspaper identified the man detained as the son of a prominent Nigerian banker and former minister, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab.
It quoted members of the banker’s family as saying he had become concerned about his son’s extreme religious views and six months ago reported his activities to the US embassy in Abuja and to Nigerian security agencies.
It said the elder Mr Mutallab had travelled to Abuja to help Nigerian authorities attempting to establish the background of the incident.
The newspaper said the banker owned the central London residence searched by British police, where his son lived while a student of engineering at London’s University College until last year.
Prime minister Gordon Brown said he would take “whatever action was necessary” to protect passengers after the terror scare on the transatlantic jet. Mr Brown said he had been contact with Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, because of the “serious potential threat”. “The security of the public must always be our primary concern. We have been working closely with the US authorities investigating this incident since it happened.”
A Met spokesman said searches were being carried out as part of ongoing inquiries being carried out in conjunction with US authorities.
US authorities asked airlines to implement additional security measures on all incoming flights and stepped up measures on domestic and international flights leaving US airports. They did not step up the colour-coded level of nationwide alert that has fallen into disuse under the present administration.
Mr King said the suspect started his journey in Nigeria. “How sophisticated he was, I don’t know,” he said. “But again, it was a fairly sophisticated device. I would say we dropped the ball on this one.”
Judith Sluiter, a spokeswoman for Dutch counter-terrorism agency NCTb, said it had started a probe into the incident, trying to determine where the suspect originated. “He did not go through passport control,” a Dutch military police spokesman said. The spokesman confirmed he transferred from another flight of uncertain origin.
An Air France-KLM spokeswoman said passenger lists were confidential and she could not confirm Abdulmutallab started his journey with a KLM flight to Amsterdam from Lagos.
The Nigerian government ordered security agencies to investigate the incident and said they would co-operate fully with the American authorities. “All the necessary security measures are in place in Nigeria. Any passenger, including crew members, on any flight, is subject to the same security screening,” a spokesman for Nigeria’s Federal Airport Authority said.
The aircraft, Northwest Airlines flight 253, was an Airbus 330 carrying 278 passengers. Delta Air Lines has taken over Northwest.
A woman passenger from the plane described the man as standing up and shouting and “screaming about Afghanistan”.
Investigators were examining the residue of the device, which was thought to contain powder and liquid.
Passenger Richelle Keepman said the incident was terrifying. “I thought — I think we all thought we weren’t going to land, we weren’t going to make it,” Ms Keepman told NBC News.
In Britain, airports operator BAA said the Department of Transport had issued a notice to all British airport operators to tighten security.
“Passengers travelling to the United States should expect their airline to carry out additional security checks prior to boarding,” BAA said in a statement, adding that passengers should leave more time to check in.
In Brussels, Jacques Barrot, vice-president of the European Commission in charge of justice, freedom and security, said the EU executive was in contact with all relevant authorities to make sure rules and procedures were being followed in Europe.
Teaching America as ‘Hellhole’ Called ‘Brainstorming’
University confirms proposal hasn’t been adopted for use
A lawyer for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus has confirmed to an educational rights organization that a plan described by a critic as teaching America as a “hellhole” hasn’t been adopted, and came about because of brainstorming efforts by the education department.
The issue of the program at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was raised by officials with The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The group wrote to President Robert Bruinicks questioning the program’s legality. The proposal included the suggestion of examinations of teacher candidates on “white privilege” as well as “remedial re-education” for those who hold the “wrong” views.
The FIRE today announced that in response to its pressure on the university, officials there are backing away from their plans “to enforce a political litmus test.”
“The plans from its College of Education and Human Development involved redesigning admissions and the curriculum to enforce an ideology centered on a narrow view of ‘cultural competence,” the FIRE announced.
“To learn about other cultures is one thing, but to say someone with the ‘wrong’ political views should not be allowed to teach is unacceptable,” said Kissel. “We would defend the University of Minnesota professors who proposed this program if they were censored or punished for expressing their points of view, but they have gone too far by demanding that everyone in the program share their views.”
Video Calling for Islamic State Within America
Here we have Detroit Red, who says that he fulls supports Sharia Law, but he clearly needs to lose the ego as he obviously knows little about it. He states that Sharia is the perfect system for mankind to live righteous. That Sharia is the best system for those that are sincerely trying to “do the right thing”.
Canadian Muslim Accuses Police of Racial Abuse
Toronto, Dec 27 (PTI) A Canadian Muslim has sought USD 1.75 million in damages from the police in the Canadian city of Windsor, accusing them of racially intimidating and harassing him.
Mohamad Jouduh, 26, has alleged that Constables of the Emergency Services Unit, Ken Price and Tony Smith, referred to him on separate occasions as “sand n*****”, a racially abusive term against Arabs.
“This is What the Majority of Europeans Think”
Stephane Lathion talks to Marco Cesario
For Stephane Lathion, a specialist in European Islam and a religious history professor at the University of Freiburg, the outcome of the referendum is an indication of disquiet in Swiss society, and a symptom of the desire of citizens to start a public debate on European Islam. Lathion, who is also a member of Switzerland’s religious research group at Lausanne University and President of the GRIS (Group of Research on Islam in Switzerland), deplores a campaign based exclusively on emotions and above all the small-mindedness of a political class that literally took no interest in the problem, with the results we can all see.
Last November 29th Swiss citizens definitely said no to the building of minarets in their country. This prohibition is now part of the Swiss Constitution. How was the point of no return reached?
The specificity of Swiss democracy is that it is direct. If a group of people manage to collect more than 100,000 signatures and deposit them with the Federal Chancellery, and if after careful analysis the text is not considered to be in conflict with the Swiss Constitution, the government must submit it for a referendum. The time limit for collecting signatures is usually 18 months. Over a six to eight month period the UDC managed to collect 115,000 signatures. This reveals a clear disquiet within Swiss society, but also, I believe, a desire to open a public debate on this issue. On the other hand one must add that the opponents to this referendum did not mount an intelligent campaign since they were unable to move from the emotional issue to the real problem. The result was that the outcome of the referendum held on November 29th surprised everyone. One must now address the consequences.
Up to the last minute Swiss politicians believed the “no” would win since the last surveys published stated that 53% of voters would say no, 37% would vote yes and 10% were undecided. Was it the undecided who made all the difference in the end?
I do not think so. People often answer surveys one way and then vote differently when alone in the booth. I too believed the surveys because the organisers of this referendum had started their campaign too early and I thought that because it was based on emotions, it would have a lasting effect. It was not based on any real issues. Unfortunately, in addition to a powerful xenophobe tradition expressed with this vote, in Switzerland citizens are also tired of politics and this has been emphasised by the economic crisis. In this sense Islam is a subject that causes powerful feelings. But the problem does not only concern Switzerland. Unfortunately it exists elsewhere in Europe where there is disquiet and fear as far as Islam is concerned.
Extreme right-wing parties in Europe have taken advantage of the Swiss referendum to push for holding a vote on minarets (see Holland, Belgium or Denmark). Do you fear this phenomenon of anti-Islam referendums will spread to other European countries?
Referendums are not used as a democratic instrument in other European countries in the same way as it is used in Switzerland, where there is a specificity linked to a particular form of direct democracy. In fact it is important to hold a debate on Islam in Europe. This debate should focus on coexistence with the Muslim communities of Europe. One must remember that we are speaking of European citizens. Being a European citizen and a Muslim are not incompatible. From a political point of view there is also another problem. While extreme right-wing parties ride the wave of fear, there is deadly silence from all the other political parties that do not have the courage to open a public debate. I believe there is incompetence in the political parties, which instead of questioning their positions or bravely addressing certain problems linked to multiculturalisms and a multiplicity of religious denominations, prefer to keep a low profile or exacerbate the debate.
Is that why the President of the Coordination of Swiss Islamic Organisations (COIS), Farhad Afshar, declared that Swiss political parties did not address this issue seriously and that Swiss Islamic organisations on their own did not have the power for a political battle?
Yes, but one must add that political parties are very ignorant of Islam. Above all they have shown they hold in contempt the fear of the people, managing only to intensify the proclamations of extreme right-wing parties. In my opinion they were mistaken in this too, after all it is easy to discredit the populist and emotive agenda of extreme right-wing parties. Unfortunately no one made this effort. Today the prohibition to build minarets is an indelible stain on the Swiss Constitution. A pointless stain, because within the Swiss Confederation there is already the possibility to forbid the building of minarets. So there was no need to touch the Constitution. The vote is simply a discriminatory act against one specific religion. This does not however mean that in Switzerland there is not freedom of worship. Muslims can always profess their faith. One must not forget this. The truth is that the Swiss have said out loud what the majority of European citizens think. After the result of this referendum there has to be a real debate involving Islamic organisations, the academic world, the world of politics, the media and civil society.
Islam is the third religion in Switzerland with 400,000 followers, about 5% of the population. And yet in the whole of the country there are only 4 minarets. Do minarets cause irrational fear in the Swiss collective imagination?
Minarets were just an excuse, like the veil before this. The problem is not Islam but rather its visibility. What is different and also visible is frightening. It was impossible to forbid the building of mosques because this is against Swiss and European freedom of worship laws. Minarets instead are an additional architectural element. It is thanks to this subtle distinction that the UDC was able to communicate its message. Forbidding the building of minarets will become an excuse for communicating accusations of a presumed lack of integration by Swiss Muslims. They are perfectly integrated and also happy about it. It is visibility that bothers people and that is what has been attacked. Minarets are not important, but they are symbols. I consider it extremely wrong to attack the symbols of a religion.
Do you fear that by attacking Islam’s visibility there will be a more sectarian sort of ‘invisible’ Islam? Or perhaps a more rigid religious attitude in those who do not feel totally accepted?
Yes, of course, there is such a danger. It is, however, the responsibility of the leaders of Muslim organisations and communities to prevent this from happening. The result of the referendum can of course be exploited and used by radical preachers or imams as an excuse for delivering self-pitying sermons. I repeat, it is up to the organisations to continue to work and to explain that Muslims are happy in Switzerland and feel fully integrated.
Has the Muslim community made any mistakes?
First of all there is not only one Muslim community in Switzerland, there are many. There are Turkish, Albanian, Bosnian, Arab and sub-Saharan communities. It is too soon to speak of mistakes and too easy with hindsight to say if any have been made. I honestly do not think that the Muslim communities made the most mistakes. On the contrary, I believe they were placed in a very difficult position. The positive aspect is that many in the Muslim world who were previously silent have now spoken and, during and after the referendum, they joined in the debate. Bosnians, Turks, Senegalese, all spoke out proving that Swiss Islam is diverse and varied. I believe that is the most positive result of the referendum. Now I hope they will not stop and will continue to concentrate on this diversity to make progress. After all, that is European Islam’s real challenge; to assume and carry forward its diversity in every sense, cultural, ethnic or religious.
Translated by Francesca Simmons
Czech Republic: Fewer Residency Applicants as Foreigners Fear Language Exams
The number of foreigners moving to the Czech Republic has been steadily on the rise for years. The number of people applying for permanent residence here has declined over the last year however, and one of the main reasons for that decline it seems are the Czech language exams imposed at the end of 2008 for residence applicants from non-EU countries.
Citing a report from the Ministry of the Interior, the daily Právo reports that 20% of non-EU citizens who took the new mandatory Czech language proficiency tests failed them, and were thus denied permanent residence in the Czech Republic. That amounts to about a thousand people since the tests were introduced in October of 2008, but it would seem there are many more people who are no longer bothering to seek permanent residence out of concern they will fail the tests. According to Šárka Svobodová of the Education Ministry, that was an unintended side effect of the exams.
“Well I cannot say that that was the intention of the exam at all. The aim was to solve the problem of integrating the foreigners, not to prevent them from residing here. These tests were introduced to help integrate foreigners coming to the Czech Republic and to the everyday life here, to be able to take care of themselves, attend events that are arranged for them, and to be able to live here.”
Apparently Mongolians followed by Moldavians and Vietnamese have had the most trouble passing the tests, despite the fact that Russian is a common second language in the first two of those countries, and speakers of other Slavic languages have an obvious advantage. Thanks to similarities with Czech, Byelorussians and Ukrainians have had the highest success rate on the test. Ms Svobodová says that despite the general concern, the tests are not particularly challenging.
“The exam is really designed to help foreigners to be able to cope with basic everyday situations and it is not difficult at all, it is level A1, which really should be the basic level of foreigners who live in the Czech Republic and seek a job here.”
Markéta Slezáková So why the fear? The daily Právo reports rather widespread cheating and attempts at bribery. Instructors giving the tests have been firmly warned against accepting the bounteous gifts they are offered. Meanwhile, in larger cities, companies have apparently been found that are providing “look-alikes” with stronger grasps of Czech to take the exams for the applicants using their ID cards. Markéta Slezáková of the Centre for the Integration of Foreigners helps compose the exam itself, and says one of the main problems may be the form rather than the content.
“It could be connected to the fact that they are not familiar with the format of the tests: they don’t know how to fill them in, or they are not familiar with the types of exercises that are in tests. So if they don’t know how to fill it in, then it takes them more time to study it during the test, and then they can’t pass it because they don’t have enough time.”
Corruption though, or rather the money spent on combating it, could jeopardise the entire system. In 55 of the schools that offer certification in Czech for foreigners the two ministries involved, education and the interior, are planning to provide anticorruption training for teachers, but the Ministry of Finance is not going to give them the funding for it. For now, that poses a threat to the preparatory services that the ministries currently offer, such as a website and free hotline to advise applicants, and may ultimately lower the standard of the tests even more.
German Environment Minister Condemns USA and China
German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen had harsh words for the USA and China over the failure of this month’s Copenhagen climate conference.
In a new interview with news magazine Der Spiegel, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen laid the blame for the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference at the feet of the USA and China.
Röttgen said that US President Barack Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had “agreed to the lowest common denominator. China didn’t want to lead and the USA couldn’t lead.”
The low-point of the negotiations came, according to Röttgen, when China even refused to accept a pledge by industrialised nations to reduce CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In Röttgen’s opinion, China’s priority was clearly not protecting the climate, but “obstruction.”
Röttgen added that the political elites in the USA were incapable of winning over the majority of the people to protect the climate. Too many Americans simply want “cheap money, so they can consume, and are not interested in limiting their CO2 emissions.”
Röttgen also refused to consider the suggestion of Hans-Peter Keitel, president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), to lower Germany’s domestic target of decreasing emissions by 40 percent by 2020.
“This target is a condition for our prosperity,” the environment minister said, pointing to Germany’s success in exporting new clean energy and environmental technologies. “We shouldn’t send the money abroad to buy oil. We should use German engineering to create jobs at home.”
Despite the failure of the Copenhagen summit, the German government is considering increasing its climate protection support for poor countries. “We should not refuse help to those states that are seriously trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” said Development Minister Dirk Niebel in the latest edition of news magazine Focus.
In Copenhagen, Germany agreed to offer €1.26 billion from 2010 to 2012 to help develop climate protection in poor countries. “This offer is still valid,” Niebel said, though details are still to be negotiated.
Italy: Venice Hit by Record Flooding
Venice, 24 Dec. (AKI) — An exceptionally high tide has flooded most of the Italian lagoon city of Venice and the country’s meterological office has predicted the flood water will reach a peak of 150cm late on Thursday. City authorities said that around 62 percent of Venice’s streets and piazzas were under water. The northeastern Adriatic port city of Trieste was also hit by flooding and its central square was submerged.
On Wednesday, the waters in Venice reached a peak of 144 centimetres above average sea level, forcing tourists and residents to wade through knee-high waters or use improvised, elevated boardwalks set up in St. Mark’s Square and other landmarks.
Cafe chairs and tables were submerged in water and some shops and ground-floor apartments were damaged by Wednesday’s flood waters.
Authorities in Venice had warned residents that they expected rising winds from the south to cause an exceptionally high tide leaving large parts of the historic city flooded. Venetians are largely used to the so-called “acqua alta” (high water) phenomenon.
Elsewhere in Italy snowfall in recent days wrought havoc on traffic in Milan, Italy’s financial capital, and elsewhere in the north of the country. Over 80 people have died in icy weather that has gripped Europe this month, including two in Italy.
A system of movable barriers that would rise from the sea bed to protect Venice from exceptionally high tides will not be operational before 2014.
Pressure on Banking Secrecy Galvanises Support
The Swiss have made it clear they treasure the country’s banking secrecy legislation and want to protect it, a study at Zurich University has shown.
In an online survey a group of university psychologists and other researchers asked 1,179 people in German-speaking Switzerland whether they felt banking secrecy was worth preserving.
Almost 72 per cent of respondents were in favour, with about 65 percent saying they would vote to keep banking secrecy for both domestic and foreign clients if the issue came to a national vote.
The results also showed that the more banking secrecy comes under fire, the stronger Swiss sentiment grows for protecting it.
About half the respondents also said they were against facilitating tax evasion.
Researchers said they could assume from the results that the willingness to defend banking secrecy would decrease if the topic were discussed objectively and not while under pressure from foreign influences.
Spain Takes in First Albino Refugee
Madrid — Spain has granted asylum to an African albino for the first time after a 22-year-old Malian claimed he was persecuted by witchdoctor kidnappers in his home country, reports said on Tuesday.
Abdoulaye Coulibaly, who reached Spain’s Canary Islands illegally in March and was granted asylum status on Friday, says he escaped several kidnap attempts in the Malian capital Bamako, El Pais newspaper reported.
“Twice they tried to kidnap me to use my body,” Coulibaly told El Pais. “I know they cut off the fingers and the hands of other albinos to use them in rituals.”
Swiss See Obama as Figure of Hope for 2010
United States President Barack Obama has topped a list of people Swiss are pinning their hopes on in 2010.
The internet study on the bigger question of “hope” attracted 2,735 respondents from German-speaking Switzerland.
Respondents were asked which three people they placed their hopes in next year, with Obama coming first, ahead of life partners and children.
The Dalai Lama was fourth, followed by world tennis number one Roger Federer.
Swiss politicians Didier Burkhalter and Ueli Maurer, the two newest members of the cabinet, were also in the top ten, ahead of rightwing politician Christoph Blocher, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Swiss footballer Alex Frei.
The German proverb “Hope is the last thing to die” was seen as the most hopeful phrase, followed by Obama’s rallying call “Yes we can”.
A total of 84 per cent said hope was very important or important in their lives. A third said personal health was their biggest hope for next year and 22 per cent said success at work. Success was more important for men and security for women.
The survey was carried out by the Swiss Association for Future Research and weiterdenken.ch in November.
This is England: Masked Like Terrorists, Members of Britain’s Newest and Fastest -Growing Protest Group Intimidate a Muslim Woman on a Train En Route to a Violent Demo
The rise of the English Defence League has been rapid. Since its formation at the start of the summer the group has organised nearly 20 major protests in Britain’s cities, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Luton, Nottingham, Glasgow and Swansea.
Its leaders are professional and articulate and they claim that the EDL is a peaceful, non-racist organisation. But having spent time with them, there is evidence that this movement has a more disturbing side. There is talk of the need for a ‘street army’, and there are links with football hooligans and evidence that violent neo-Nazi groups including Combat 18, Blood and Honour and the British Freedom Fighters have been attending demos.
Violence has erupted at most of the EDL’s demonstrations. In total, nearly 200 people have been arrested and an array of weapons has been seized, including knuckledusters, a hammer, a chisel and a bottle of bleach.
As the EDL gains support across the UK, Muslims have already been targeted in unprovoked attacks. In the worst incident, a mob of 30 white and black youths is said to have surrounded Asian students near City University in central London and attacked them with metal poles, bricks and sticks while shouting racist abuse. Three people — two students and a passer-by who tried to intervene — were stabbed.
I had met the English Defence League for the first time in Luton three weeks before the Manchester demonstration. After several calls, key members agreed to talk on the condition that I did not identify them. We met at a derelict building close to Luton town centre. Eleven men turned up. All wore balaclavas, as they often do to hide their identities, and most had black EDL hoodies with ‘Luton Division’ written on the back. They’d made placards bearing slogans such as ‘Ban the Burka’.
The group’s self-proclaimed leader, who goes by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, did most of the talking. A father of two, Robinson explained the background to the rise of the movement.
‘For more than a decade now there’s been tension in Luton between Muslim youths and whites. We all get on fine — black, white, Indian, Chinese… Everyone does, in fact, apart from these Muslim youths who’ve become extremely radicalised since the first Gulf War. This is because preachers of hate live in Luton and have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups for years. Our Government does nothing about them so we decided that we’d start protesting.’ Demonstration by the English Defence League in Birmingham
EDL demonstrators in Birmingham in September
Robinson could barely conceal his anger as he explained that the spark for him had been the sight of radical Muslims protesting when soldiers paraded through the town on their regiment’s return from Afghanistan in May.
Professor Matthew Goodwin, an expert on far-right organisations who has advised the Home Office, says that the police are right to monitor the EDL and to take them seriously.
‘(The EDL) is now well-organised and not just a minor irritant. It has become a rallying point for a number of different groups and to have them marching through sensitive areas is a major concern.’
Communities Minister John Denham has also condemned the rise of the EDL: ‘If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks clear that it’s a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response. It’s designed to create violence. And we must all make sure this doesn’t happen.’
[Comments from JD: Except for one or two paragraphs, the report seems designed to brush under the “carpet of hate” legitimate criticisms of political policy. Eg. Labour’s secret (now not so secret) policy of allowing rampant immigration to change the voting demographics of the country.]
UK: ‘Bonkers’ Police Drop the Word Christmas From Poster to Avoid Upsetting Other Faiths
British Transport Police have dropped the word ‘Christmas’ from a national publicity poster to avoid upsetting people who do not ‘buy into’ the festival.
The word was proposed as part of a slogan on the poster, which is designed to alert people to the extra number of transport police on duty over the festive period.
The slogan — devised by an advertising company commissioned by the Transport Police — read ‘Christmas presence’, a pun on the word ‘presents’.
But in a move branded ‘bonkers’ by Christian leaders, the police’s marketing department decided the word Christmas could anger non-believers or people from other faiths who disliked its Christian connotations.
Instead of scrapping the poster, however, the department merely swapped ‘Christmas’ for ‘Holiday’, so the slogan now reads ‘Holiday presence’.
Critics said last night that the slogan was meaningless and accused the Transport Police of bowing to political correctness.
Nick Baines, the Church of England Bishop of Croydon, said: ‘It is bonkers. To replace “Christmas” with “Holiday” not only makes nonsense of the phrase and the sentiment, it also shows that the advertisers have lost the plot.’
Former Tory Minister Ann Widdecombe said: ‘It’s astounding. The person who made this decision must be living on a different planet from everyone else — one where Christmas doesn’t exist.’
UK: Britain Like Third World on Crime, Says Jailed Burglary Victim’s Brother
Liberal policies have left Britain similar to a “Third World country” no longer able to provide basic protection for innocent people the brother of two businessmen jailed for attacking a burglar said.
Qadeer Hussain, 45, called for an overhaul of the law to clarify the rights of homeowners. His brothers Munir, 53, and Tokeer, 35, are serving sentences for injuring a man who held their family hostage at knifepoint.
He also disclosed that the family felt that it was living in a “continuous nightmare”, with his son Wahleed, 20, facing a retrial over the attack on the burglar.
The Birmingham University student, who hoped to become a barrister, was accused of joining his uncles in the attack but he denied being there.
A jury that convicted the two brothers was unable to reach a verdict on him, but the Crown has pressed for a fresh trial.
“It is a continuous nightmare for our whole family,”said Mr Hussain. “It really seems to be never ending.
“We had hoped to put this behind us at some stage, but it is obviously not going to be in the near future.
“It has affected his [Wahleed’s] studies in a big way. He was always a straight A* student before.”
Munir Hussain was jailed for 30 months and Tokeer Hussain for 39 months, last week, for chasing Walid Salem, a burglar with more than 50 convictions, down a road and beating him with a cricket bat.
Reading Crown Court was told that Munir Hussain was ambushed by Salem and two other masked men in September last year as he returned to his home in High Wycombe, Bucks, after Ramadan prayers at a mosque.
He was tied up with his wife and three children and forced to lie face-down in their lounge while their captors threatened to slit their throats.
But after his 15-year-old son managed to create a distraction, Mr Hussain broke free and chased Salem out of the house.
UK: Ex-Archbishop Brands Shoplift Sermon Priest ‘Foolish’
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has branded a priest who advised needy people to shoplift from large retailers as “misguided and foolish”.
Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, said stealing from big chains was often the best option for vulnerable people.
His comments were made in a sermon to his congregation last Sunday.
Writing in the News of the World, Lord Carey said: “Of all people, priests ought to know right from wrong.”
Talking about the desperate situation facing some vulnerable people, Father Jones told his congregation: “My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift.
“I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither.
“I would ask that they do not steal from small, family businesses, but from national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices.”
Lord Carey said: “His concern for the least well-off is admirable, but his remedy is both misguided and foolish.”
He added: “We aren’t in a Dickensian era when people were driven to picking a pocket or two in order to survive.
“There is now a safety net provided by the state with many charities offering advice, food and shelter.
“Nobody is dying of hunger even though the inequalities of our society are still greater than they should be.”
The priest’s comments have also been criticised by the Archdeacon of York, the Venerable Richard Seed, and North Yorkshire Police who said justifying shoplifting was “highly irresponsible”.
The British Retail Consortium also criticised the comments and said the effects of shoplifting ultimately meant retailers had to pay more.
Father Jones has defended his remarks, saying that stealing was a “dreadful thing” but that it caused less harm to big retailers.
He said: “When we, as a society, let our most vulnerable people down so terribly badly, I would rather that people take an 80p can of ravioli rather than turn to some of the most appalling things.”
UK: Paedophiles Among 6,000 ‘High-Risk’ Criminals Let Free by Courts
More than 6,000 rapists, robbers, paedophiles and violent criminals have been given community service orders or suspended sentences even though courts were warned they posed a high risk of causing serious harm if they reoffended.
The alarming figures are revealed today as Britain’s chronically overcrowded prisons reach breaking point. There are a record 84,231 inmates in prisons in England and Wales — just 1,755 short of the capacity.
Critics say that weaker sentences are being handed down by judges and magistrates who are under pressure to cut the numbers they send to jail.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice disclose that between 2006 and 2009, 6,370 criminals were given a community order or suspended sentence after having been assessed as posing a high or a very high risk of causing serious harm if they reoffended.
A further 96,000 offenders given such sentences were deemed to pose a ‘medium’ risk of serious harm, according to the Ministry.
Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve said last night: ‘These figures are deeply shocking. People will rightly be concerned that so many offenders who are high-risk are given little more than a slap on the wrist.
[Comments from JD: Read the comment by Mike A at the end of the article. Reproduced here in case it goes missing in action…
“AGAIN I say — prison sentences are too LONG. I met a young man who had been in and out of borstal, contemptuous of probation, despised all authority. Yet somehow he got into the army. He assaulted a sergeant who had had the temerity to give him an order. At the court martial he laughed at his sentence of two weeks in the glass house. “Just another soppy boot camp.” But — Full kit inspection 06.00 hrs then push a wheelbarrow full of wet sand round the parade ground at the double, laces removed from boots, until 07.00 hrs breakfast. 07.15 hrs Ten mile route march with full pack. And so on until at 22.00 hrs he fell sobbing into the barrack room knowing that the filthy kit and boots he was wearing would be inspected at 06.00 hrs. If not perfect, a day would be added to his sentence. One year later, now a corporal and rising, he was still saying “I’m straight for life now!” Forget human rights and the PC ninnies. Two years in a luxurious prison does not work. Two weeks in hell DOES! — Mike A., Channel Islands, 27/12/2009 09:01]
UK: Telecom Firms’ Fury at Plan for ‘Stasi’ Checks on Every Phone Call and Email
Telecoms firms have accused the Government of acting like the East German Stasi over plans to force them to store the details of every phone call for at least a year.
Under the proposals, the details of every email sent and website visited will also be recorded to help the police and security services fight crime and terrorism.
But mobile phone companies have attacked the plans as a massive assault on privacy and warned it could be the first step towards a centralised ‘Big Brother’ database.
They have also told the Home Office that the scheme is deeply flawed.
The criticism of Britain’s growing ‘surveillance culture’ was made in a series of responses to an official consultation on the plans, which have been obtained by The Mail on Sunday.
T-Mobile said in its submission that it was a ‘particularly sensitive’ time as many people were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the protests that led to the collapse of ‘surveillance states in Eastern Europe’.
Martin Hopkins, head of data protection and disclosure, said: ‘It would be extremely ironic if we at T-Mobile (UK) Ltd had to acquire the surveillance functionality envisaged by the Consultation Document at the same time that our parent company, headquartered in Germany, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the demise of the equivalent systems established by the Stasi in the federal states of the former East Germany.’
UK: Wealthy, Quiet, Unassuming: The Christmas Day Bomb Suspect
The inside story of the privileged student who embraced al-Qa’ida and tried to blow a transatlantic jet out of the sky — and the lessons for us all
Abdulmutallab, 23, had lived a gilded life, and, for the three years he studied in London, he stayed in a £2m flat. He was from a very different background to many of the other al-Qa’ida recruits who opt for martyrdom.
The charges were read out to him by US District Judge Paul Borman in a conference room at the medical centre where he is receiving treatment for burns. Agents brought Abdulmutallab, who had a blanket over his lap and was wearing a green hospital robe, into the room in a wheelchair.
Abdulmutallab’s father, Umaru, is the former economics minister of Nigeria. He retired earlier this month as the chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria but is still on the boards of several of Nigeria’s biggest firms, including Jaiz International, a holding company for the Islamic Bank. The 70-year-old, who was also educated in London, holds the Commander of the Order of the Niger as well as the Italian Order of Merit.
Dr Mutallab said he was planning to meet with police in Nigeria last night after realising his son had joined the notorious roster of al-Qa’ida terrorists, and is said to have warned the US authorities about his son’s extreme views six months ago.
Dr Sally Leivesley, a leading terror expert who advises governments and businesses, said yesterday there have been several incidents where detonators have failed to ignite devices, with a major terror attack averted through luck or human error.
“The devices may not be competent,” Dr Leivesley said. “Scientists will now try to replicate the method in the laboratory and then we’ll know. The reason it didn’t go off may be a fault with the device, or human error. The reports so far suggest that the bomber sat quietly after the incident, but had suffered third-degree burns on his leg. That suggests to me that he may have been sedated in order not to appear anxious, but that may have impaired his ability.”
UK: Why Was He Ever Allowed to Fly? Syringe Bomber Had Been Barred From Britain, Was on a Terror List and Even His Father Had Warned U.S.
The alleged bomber was also on a separate U.S. terror database, but was not considered an immediate threat. His name was absent from ‘no-fly’ lists.
Abdulmutallab, who had previously been living in a luxury mansion block while studying at University College London, was also charged with with placing a destructive device on the Northwest Airlines Flight 253.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Abdulmutallab had a device attached to his body when he boarded the aircraft in Amsterdam on Christmas Eve.
As the flight was approaching Detroit Airport, Abdulmutallab was said to have set off the device, which resulted in a fire and what appears to have been an explosion.
A preliminary FBI analysis found that it contained a high explosive known as PETN or pentaerythritol. FBI agents were also said recovered what appeared to be the remnants of the syringe found near Abdulmutallab’s seat, which is believed to have been part of the device.
Vatican: Catholic Church Defends Wartime Pope’s Beatification
Vatican City, 23 Dec. (AKI) — The Vatican on Wednesday defended its moves towards making Pope Pius XII a saint saying that they reflected the controversial wartime pontiff’s piety, not his “historical impact”. Responding to widespread Jewish criticism over the moves, the Vatican said Pius XII would not be beatified at the same time as Pope John Paul II.
The title of ‘venerable’ bestowed on Pius XII last Saturday by Pope Benedict XVI did not drive from Pius’s “operative decisions” but his deep piety and “witness of Christian life”, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
Becoming ‘venerable’ is a necessary step towards beatification and eventual sainthood in the Catholic Church, and Benedict’s decree drew widespread criticism from Jewish bodies.
Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, has been criticised by historians for his silence in the face of the World War II Nazi Holocaust in which six million Jews perished.
Critics accuse Pius XII of not having done enough to save Jews during the Holocaust, and they have called for the opening of the Vatican’s secret archives to clarify the issue.
Lombardi said it was “widely recognised” that the wartime pontiff had expressed “attention’ and “concern” for the fate of the Jews.
But he said the fact Pius XII and John Paul II had been made venerable on the same day “gave no reason to imagine that any future beatification will take place together”.
Lombardi’s comments were welcomed by Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Segni.
“I consider the statement a timely, conciliatory signal,” he said.
Benedict is due to pay a visit to Rome’s main synagogue on 17 January.
Lombardi said he hoped that visit would be “an opportunity for the cordial reiteration and reinforcement of ties of friendship and respect.”
Albania: Country’s Largest Shopping Centre Inaugurated
(ANSAmed) — TIRANA, DECEMBER 24 — City Park, the largest shopping centre in Albania, covering a surface area of 237,600 square metres, has been inaugurated. According to Informest, the centre is halfway between the country’s two major cities, Tirana and Durres, and is five kilometres from the capital’s international airport. The potential customer base is around 1.35 million people. City Park boasts a retail surface area of 40,000 square metres, and has already attracted a number of retail chains, such as the Slovenian Mercator and the Italian Euronics. The centre offers 180 commercial units, supermarkets, restaurants and entertainment areas, and parking for over 3,000 vehicles. The overall investment cost is estimated at 80 million euros. (ANSAmed).
Italy-Montenegro: Support Balkan Entrance Into EU, Mantica
(ANSAmed) — PODGORICA, DECEMBER 21 — “The entrance into the EU of all western Balkan countries is the Northern Star of our policy in this area”, stated the undersecretary of Italy’s Foreign Ministry, Alfredo Mantica, speaking with journalists at the end of meetings with his counterpart in Montenegro, Milorad Scepanovic. “Italy has given a great contribution to the progress that has been seen in Montenegro and its closer relations to NATO and the EU”, stated the senator who will meet today the Foreign Minister Milan Rocen in the country’s capital. “Our objective now is that the two initiatives which Montenegro will be president of in 2010, the Central European Initiative (CEI) and the Adriatic-Jonic Initiative (AII), become strategic tools for the western Balkans to come even closer to Europe”. There will also be even more collaboration between Italy and Montenegro as a part of the Central European Initiative and that of the Adriatic and Ionian, and this hope was also expressed by Scepanovic. “We will work to the end that the structures are increasingly mobile and aimed at the development of shared projects like the coastal motorways and the road arteries along the Adriatic Basin”. (ANSAmed).
Cast Lead: Egypt Says No to Gaza Freedom March
(ANSAmed) — ROME, DECEMBER 24 — Egypt has prohibited the ‘Gaza Freedom March’, a demonstration organised by numerous international NGOs a year after ‘Cast Lead’, the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, scheduled for December 27. The news came from a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Cairo. “Egyptian authorities discovered that some of the NGOs did not have the necessary requirements. In addition, disputes between the organisations complicated the permit issuing process”, the statement goes on to read, specifying that “access to Gaza has been denied and any attempt to organise the march on Egyptian soil will be considered illegal”. Operation ‘Cast Lead’ was decided on in response to the launch of some Qassam rockets on the Israeli cities that border the Strip. The Israeli bombardment lasted some three weeks and hit schools, hospitals and a United Nations office. (ANSAmed).
Egypt: Suez Cement; Accord to Support Families in Governorates
(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, DECEMBER 23 — Roberto Callieri, Managing Director of Suez Cement group of Companies, and the Minister of Family and Population, Moushira Khattab, signed a new partnership agreement to support the families of Helwan and El Minya governorates. With this agreement Suez Cement and the Ministry of Family and Population target the poorest and most vulnerable groups of Kafr El Elw, El Maasara and Beni Khaled Samalut areas and will build capacity to deliver more effective and efficient social services. Suez Cement group of Companies and NCCM have entered in 2007 a strategic partnership aiming to promote and protect the children rights by providing them birth certificates, ensuring the child’s rights to education, raising environmental and health awareness, supporting medical care and health standards, improve recreational and sports activities as well as enhancing the economic and social standards. Speaking at the signing ceremony, the Managing Director of Suez Cement group of Companies, Roberto Callieri said “Suez Cement has been engaged in projects supporting the rights of the children and their families living in Helwan and El Minya governorates for more than three years. We will continue our commitment to a program designed to fight unemployment and alleviate its consequences in the framework of the strategy of the Ministry of Family and Population to implement a program of social protection”. With the third phase of the project the activities implemented in Helwan governorate will be extended also to El Minya governorate. The new project will mainly focus on developing new or existing income-generating activities, protect the environment and promote grass-roots institutions.(ANSAmed).
Egypt-Italy: Accord Signed for Education, Employment Sector
(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, DECEMBER 23 — In the framework of the excellent Italian-Egyptian strategic partnership, the Italian Ambassador to Egypt, Claudio Pacifico and the Minister for Family and Population of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Moushira Khattab, signed a memorandum of understanding which will allow, through a financial provision of 2.000.000 mil euros, financed by the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, the enhancement of capacities of vocational educational institutions in the Governorate of Fayoum as well as creating employment opportunities for youth. Irregular migration of young youth has created a new social phenomenon among the Egyptian community in the past years. As a response to the current situation, the Italian and Egyptian Governments, decided to strengthen the bilateral partnership in the sector. The initiative is part of a wider bilateral programmatic development plan, which will be piloted starting from Fayoum Governorate, and implemented by the Egyptian National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) and the International Organization for Migrations. (ANSAmed).
OIC and Arab League Explore Modes for Countering Islamophobia
A senior official-level meeting was held between a delegation from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the League of Arab States on Wednesday 23rd December 2009 at the Arab League’s headquarters in Cairo, with a view to examine and adopt joint action plans and evolve an integrated vision to face up to the various prejudicial phenomena such as Islamophobia and the aggressive campaign led by certain political, media and intellectual quarters in the Western societies against Islam and Muslims.
The OIC delegation was led by the Oorganization’s Assistant Secretary General, Amb. Abbullah Abdurrahman Alim, who delivered a statement at the opening of the two-day meeting, in which he stressed the OIC’s readiness to further boost its existing outstanding relations with the Arab League, and its desire to map out modes of cooperation and coordination with the League on all issues of common interest to the Arabo-Islamic world and to face up to the phenomenon of Islamophobia and the widespread hate campaigns in the West against Islam and Muslims.
Amb. Alim outlined the various actions undertaken by the OIC in countering the phenomenon and invited the Arab League at the same time for joint action in various fields, particularly in the area of information.
Amb. Alim also emphasized the need to remove the confused picture held by the public opinion in the West and in America where a deliberate amalgam is made between Islam and terrorism, and the need to underline Islam’s inherent rejection of all acts or manifestations of violence and extremism.
Tunisia-Italy: Benassi, Friendship Beyond Economic Links
(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, DECEMBER 23 — The links that Italy and Tunisia have always shared go beyond their economic relations. The presentation of the Tunisia-Italy cross-border cooperation programme was the occasion for the Italian ambassador to Tunisia, Pietro Benassi, to stress the close cultural, human and trade relations that have always united the two countries. Italy, the second supplier and client to Tunisia, has multiple interests in the country, with some 700 companies of Italian or mixed capital, employing some 50,000 people, with total investment in 2008 of 216 million euros. “Geographic proximity, special administrative terms, a favourable judicial context made possible through local reforms and the presence of qualified manpower — Benassi noted — constitute factors which have and continue to entice Italian enterprises to establish themselves in Tunisia”. The ambassador then emphasised that “at the cultural level, the existing affinities, healthy trade relations, the impact of over 30 years of Italian television in Tunisia and growing migratory flows, have created an ever growing interest for Italian language and culture. More than 22,000 Tunisian students study Italian in secondary schools and there are five departments in Italian language, literature and civilisation in different Tunisian universities”. Concerning Italy’s cooperation, he reminded, it currently finances initiatives worth a total of some 134 million euros, 86 in the form of donations and 48 as subsidised credit. The sectors influenced most are those of small and medium sized enterprises, protecting cultural heritage, urban requalification, social development and healthcare. Regarding the 3,000 Italians resident in the country, Benassi remarked that “it is a truly established community, which has been here for centuries”. Tunisian residents in Italy, the majority of which live in Sicily, number 71,000. “In this context”, the ambassador stated, “we are inserting the Italy-Tunisia Programme. It is yet another tool for cooperation aimed at contributing to the possibility of taking advantage of the important growth opportunities which Mediterranean currently represents for Italy, Europe and North Africa”. “These initiatives”, Benassi concluded, “confirm Italy’s ability to play a fundamental role in the Mediterranean region, with profound conviction that this body of water must be a border that unites and not one that separates and that this must be a shared objective with our Mediterranean partners, starting with Tunisia”. (ANSAmed).
3 Fatah Activists Killed in Israeli Raid
The three men killed Saturday were identified as members of Fatah’s violent Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a group that carried out many shootings during the second Palestinian uprising, which erupted in 2000. The deputy governor of Nablus, Anan Attireh, said one of the men — Anan Subeh — had been accepted in Israel’s amnesty program for Fatah gunmen, while two others, Ghassan Abu Sharah and Raed Suragji, were still on Israel’s wanted list.
At Militants’ Funeral, Palestinians Vow Revenge on Israel
Some 10,000 people attended the funeral Saturday of three Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade operatives, killed in an overnight Israel Defense Forces raid near Nablus.
Security officials said the three had been involved in the fatal shooting attack on Thursday that killed 40-year-old father of seven Meir Hai near the settlement of Shavei Shomron, where he lived.
Commander of Exodus Passed Away
(ANSAmed) — JERUSALEM, DECEMBER 23 — Yitzhak Aharonovitch, commander of the vessel Exodus made famous by the homonymous Hollywood movie starring actor Paul Newman, died today in Hadera, in the heart of Israel, at the age of 86. Aharonovitch, together with Yosi Harel, another pivotal player in the fight of the Jews against the British mandate in Palestine, commanded the Exodus which in 1947 left from France carrying 4,554 Nazi concentration camp survivors in an attempt to reach Palestine, challenging the British naval blockade. However the vessel was intercepted by the British Navy and the passengers were returned to Europe. At the time the event was widely reported by international media and later became the plot of the movie Exodus, which achieved great success. Aharonovitch was born in Germany in 1923 and emigrated to Palestine with his family in 1932.(ANSAmed).
For Israel, Good Prospects in 2010
by Barry Rubin
In contrast to my rather gloomy assessment of the Obama Administration’s prospects in the Middle East, Israel’s prospects look rather good. This is granted, of course, that the chances for any formal peace (note the word “formal”) with the Arab states or the Palestinians are close to zero. In addition there are two longer-term threats in the form of Iranian nuclear weapons and Islamists one day taking over one or more Arab states.
But let’s enjoy ourselves while we can. It’s also important to remember in the Middle East, optimism does not mean forecasting blue skies but merely ones only lightly overcast.
It’s funny, though, how much better Israel’s situation is then it’s generally perceived. Consider the pluses…
Israelis Seek Arrest of Hamas Leaders Abroad
JERUSALEM — A group of Israelis wounded in Palestinian rocket attacks during this year’s Gaza war have asked a Belgian court to issue war crimes arrest warrants against Hamas leaders, they said on Thursday.
The lawsuit, which the plaintiffs say is unprecedented, follows a slew of requests filed by pro-Palestinian groups across Europe for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders over their role in the devastating Gaza offensive.
The latest move was led by a European pro-Israeli lobby representing 15 victims of rocket attacks on southern Israel, who were wounded, whose homes were damaged and in one case who lost a relative.
Lieberman Makes it Clear: ‘No to Oslo Illusion and Fantasy’
(IsraelNN.com) Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman enhanced his reputation for straight talk Sunday when he told Israeli diplomats “to get the message across very clearly that the Palestinian Authority is not prepared to reach an agreement with Israel.” He also said that if Syria wants peace, it can hold direct talks with Jerusalem without Turkish mediation.
In the first-ever meeting with Israeli diplomats stationed around the world, the tough-talking Foreign Minister called the Oslo peace accords an “illusion” that Israel “sold to Europe and the United States.” He added, “It is easy to sell illusions and fantasies.”
Lieberman told the diplomats, “We have to stop thinking that the whole world is involved with us. It has many other problems and challenges besides the PA-Israeli struggle. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What are the chances of reaching a peace agreement with the PA?’ We have done everything, more than any other country would do. The problem is not Israel’s; it is the PA’s willingness. Even if we return to the 1967 borders, there will not be an end to the conflict. Even if we divide Jerusalem, nothing will change — we will be in the same situation as today.”
Repeating what a Russian analyst said at a Middle East conference in Jordan last week, Foreign Minister Lieberman estimated that there will be no lasting agreement in the next decade.
Concerning Syria, he repeated a theme he declared more than a year ago concerning Egypt, that a leader who wants to speak with Israel can come to Jerusalem. He created an uproar in Egypt when he stated that President Hosni Mubarak “can go to hell” if he does not want to visit Jerusalem, which he never has done except for the funeral of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
The Foreign Minister declared on Sunday that if Syrian President Bashar Assad wants to negotiate with Israel, “It will be only in direct talks, alternating between Jerusalem and Damascus.” He rejected out of hand Turkey’s offer to mediate indirect talks, as was done during the administration of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Moving to the subject of Iran, he estimated that anti-Semitism is a bigger danger to Israel than the Iranian nuclear threat. “It is intolerable that world leaders can incite against the State of Israel and deny the Holocaust while continuing to be acceptable in the eyes of the world.”
Nazareth: Jesus-Era House Uncovered
(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, DECEMBER 21 — The remains of a small house that can be dated back to the time of Jesus have been found in the past days during excavation works in progress in Nazareth, guided by a team of Israeli archaeologists. According to the scientists, this is the first house from that era ever uncovered. The find was announced by professor Yardenna Alexandre, who leads the project on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. She said that the remains have been dated back, with a small margin of error, to around 2000 years ago. “The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth. It sheds light on common life (in Palestine) in that era”, underlines Alexandre in a press meeting. “The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period,” the archaeologist added, suggesting that “Jesus and his childhood friends may have known this house”. Alexandre pointed out that according to the little written evidence available, including the Gospel, Nazareth at the time was a small Jewish village, which seems to be confirmed by the recent find. “Until now” she specified, “a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth, however no settlement remains had been discovered that were attributed to this period”. The Israeli Antiquities Authority has started some excavation projects in Nazareth close to the Church of the Annunciation, built in 1969 on the remains of three older churches, including one in Byzantine style that dates back to the fourth century AD. (ANSAmed).
World Marks Gaza Assault in Solidarity With Strip
From London to Sydney people prepared to stand in solidarity with the Gaza Strip as Sunday marked a year since Israel launched its deadly air, land and sea assault on the impoverished territory.
As politicians failed to bring those responsible for the mass destruction and death of more than 1, 500 Palestinians to justice, advocacy groups urged people to demonstrate to show the residents of Gaza they were not forgotten.
Fresh off the Christmas holidays, London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said it was staging a demonstration outside the British capital’s Israeli embassy and said candlelight vigils would be held across the United Kingdom.
“The protest is simply to remind the British public what happened a year ago and to remind people that Israel still operates a deadly siege over Gaza,” Betty Hunter, the general secretary of PSC, told Al Arabiya.
Hunter said PSC expected a few hundred people to attend the protest and said the group was calling on the British government to take practical steps to end the suffering of the people of Gaza.
“It is barbaric that the Israeli government can lay siege to 1.5 million people in Gaza without international governments taking action to force Israel to abide by international law,” Hunter said.
“The British government must force Israel to end its siege, implement the Goldstone Report, and bring Israeli war criminals to justice.”
US dollars on Israeli wars
Meanwhile across the Atlantic a mass rally was also planned for Dec. 27 in New York City’s Times Square, where thousands were expected to assemble before heading for the Israeli mission and the United Nations.
The protest was being organized by a coalition of advocacy groups, including the U.S. Palestinian Community Network of NY, Al-Awda New York and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, to call for an end to Israel’s ongoing siege and protest last year’s “massacre.”
“This Christmas the massacre continues. Palestinians in Gaza are still dying because the Israelis will not allow them to access medicine,” Lamis Deek, co-chair of Al-Awda New York, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, said in a press release.
“This is a continuing crime which must be stopped immediately,” Deek added.
Meanwhile, Dima Abi Saab, a student and rally organizer, protested the “outrageous” waste of American tax dollars on Israeli wars.
“During this recession, while many in the U.S. cannot afford medical insurance let alone Christmas gifts, our government is sending our tax dollars to fund Israeli war crimes. This is outrageous. We simply want our money to stay here — where we need it, for schools, health care and jobs.”
Other protests were also expected in major cities across the world as people were urged to remember Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead,” which lasted over three weeks and rained thousands of tons of bombs and missiles on Palestinians trapped behind the Israeli-built segregation wall.
Human rights groups have accused Israel of using phosphorus bombs on civilians, which left victims with severe third-degree burns.
To the people of Gaza, Hunter said you “are not forgotten the situation is not forgotten and the support for your rights, human and political, has grown tremendously, there will be a change.”
Christians Flock to Churches in the Arab World
Two million Roman Catholics live in the Arabian peninsula, and at Christmas the churches are full to bursting.
Swiss bishop Paul Hinder, who has pastoral responsibility for the area of three million square kilometres, tells swissinfo.ch that although freedom of religion varies from country to country, Christians are managing to practise their faith.
He says that while Switzerland’s image in the Arab world has been tarnished by the vote to ban minarets, the country’s reputation will recover.
While he condemns the ban, he also expresses some sympathy with those who voted for it.
This Christmas around 15,000 faithful will take part in different masses in St Joseph’s cathedral in Abu Dhabi, the bishop’s seat. The Catholics, mainly from Asia, make up only 2.7 per cent of the population of the region, but they fill the churches.
swissinfo.ch: You are from a religious order and yet have become a bishop with a diplomatic role. That’s quite unusual, isn’t it?
Paul Hinder: I never set out to become a bishop, rather to avoid becoming one! But it would have been difficult to refuse the nomination.
At the outset I had some idea of what was in store for me, as I knew the region. But the challenge has been far greater than I anticipated: I am up to my eyes in work and constantly on the move around this vast territory with its many Catholics, mostly Asian but also from many other places.
The most difficult thing for me has been the language. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to learn Arabic. English is what I use with the authorities and with almost all the faithful, who are foreigners.
swissinfo.ch: These full churches are a far cry from what is happening in Europe and in Switzerland…
P.H.: … It is true that, unlike in Europe, the church here is really flourishing. I have been impressed by the devotion of the faithful, and that also helps me personally.
This diverse church contains a richness of nations, races, traditions — there are many oriental Catholics, even some groups I had never heard of.
But this diversity also implies a certain complexity. And the shortage of places of worship, a challenge in itself, can be a source of tension among communities. But I rejoice that so many people can live with serenity in countries where freedom is limited.
swissinfo.ch: Are the Christians persecuted?
P.H.: In the ordinary sense of the word, no, not all. At least, not in the region I cover. But there is a more subtle form of persecution, which means that certain people in some regions have to keep their heads down and cannot openly declare themselves Christian.
But that does not mean that their existence is threatened. They can live their lives, with some difficulty, and they can practise their faith. They simply do so in a more private way. It is not ideal but it impresses me every time I (re) discover this very precarious state of religious freedom in which some people live.
I myself can move around all the countries, but I need a visa everywhere, which I can sometimes get at the airport when I arrive. I generally wear a clerical collar when I travel, but sometimes I am in ordinary clothes, depending on where I am going.
Cathedral Abu Dhabi
swissinfo.ch: What are the greatest constraints on Christian believers?
P.H.: There are limitations in terms of building regulations, and church bells are obviously not permitted. But for me that is not the most important thing. What I need most is houses of worship and places to teach children and train adults for work in the parishes. Because we are obliged to conduct our “public” activities on the sites we have been allocated.
The diocese comprises 18 parishes in five of the six countries of the Arabian peninsula [there are no churches in Saudi Arabia]. Since my arrival I have had the pleasure of inaugurating two new churches: a large church in Doha — the first in Qatar, and another in early December in Al-Aïn, an oasis town and the second city of the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
swissinfo.ch: You must certainly have followed the vote on November 29 to ban minarets. What is your reaction to the fact that many Christians voted for the ban?
P.H.: In line with the Catholic hierarchy, I am convinced that this runs counter to democratic principles. But I must confess I do have some understanding for the fears of many people.
I do not believe that they simply voted against Islam as such, or against Muslims. But it is a fact that 23 per cent of the population in Switzerland are foreigners, and some people have problems accepting all these religions and cultures because they have a deep fear of losing their own identity. Even though, paradoxically, you could question whether they still have a Christian identity.
We all misjudged the strength of these feelings, and I believe this should not have happened. But now we have to live with this reality, while hoping that the Christians of the East will not suffer as a result.
swissinfo.ch.: Do you think the image of Switzerland has been harmed?
P.H.: There have of course been strong reactions here in the Arab world, and there has even been some disinformation in the media. (Local media have not contacted me, so far.) But I don’t think we can judge that yet, we need to wait and see.
For now, Switzerland’s image has certainly been tarnished in some countries — and not just Muslim ones — where people see that it is not as unblemished as they thought. But I do not think that will last, because Switzerland has other qualities which are recognised.
As for the rest of Europe, I believe that voters would have given the same if not a worse response in most countries, had they had the chance to vote on the issue. But that’s another question.
Isabelle Eichenberger, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from French by Morven McLean)
Deaths Reported in Iran Clashes
Tehran, Iran (CNN) — Fresh clashes broke out between demonstrators and security forces in Tehran on Sunday as large crowds gathered for Ashura, a major religious observance.
An opposition Web site said three people had been killed in clashes. But, with tight restrictions on international media, CNN could not independently verfiy the casualties.
Since the disputed presidential elections in June, protesters have turned public gatherings into rallies against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared the overwhelming winner of the race.
Police, wary of the potential that Ashura gatherings could present, were out in full force Sunday to quell disruptions but it did not stop demonstrators holding widespread protests.
Near Imam Hussein Square in central Tehran, security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and blocked roads to prevent more from arriving, a witness said.
Protesters seized a motorcycle belonging to a security force member and set it on fire.
Elsewhere in the city, witnesses reported seeing protesters being beaten with batons. Demonstrators chanted “death to the dictator” and some ripped down a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Police helicopters hovered above city squares while small trucks brought in fresh supplies of riot police in parts where clashes were fierce.
Protesters played cat-and-mouse with security forces — gathering, then scrambling and gathering elsewhere.
On Saturday evening, a pro-government mob barged into a mosque where former president and reformist leader Mohammad Khatami was speaking.
The dozens-strong group forced Khatami to end his remarks abruptly when it interrupted the gathering at Jamaran mosque.
Earlier Saturday, scores of security forces on motorcycles charged protesters on sidewalks whenever they started chanting anti-government slogans, witnesses said.
Sunday marks Ashura, the observance of the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed.
Hussein, who was killed in battle in Karbala in 680 A.D., is regarded as a martyr — and the battle that led to his death is one of the events that helped create the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, the two main Muslim religious movements.
Iran is predominantly Shiite.
During Sunday’s protests, some demonstrators compared Khamenei to Yazid, the caliph who killed Hussein.
Religious mourning during Ashura is characterized by people chanting, beating their breasts in penance, cutting themselves with daggers or swords and whipping themselves in synchronized moves.
Sunday also happens to be a week to the day since the death of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a key figure in the 1979 Iranian revolution. Montazeri, who went on to become one of the government’s most vocal critics, died December 20.
The seventh day after a death is a traditional time for mourning in Islam, giving Iran’s opposition two reasons to demonstrate.
Iran to Celebrate Yalda; Longest Night of the Year
Family members get together at the home of the elders until after midnight. Iranians will tonight celebrate Yalda Night to observe the longest night of the solar calendar and mark the birthday of Mithra, the goddess of light.
The ancient festival of Yalda is to celebrate the beginning of winter. Yalda eve, 21st of December, is considered the longest night of the year when ancient Iranians celebrated the birth of Mithra, the goddess of light.
Mithra is the Avestan language name of the Zoroastrian divinity of covenant and oath. Mithra is a judicial figure, an all-seeing protector of truth.
Yalda Night has been officially added to Iran’s List of National Treasures in a special ceremony last year.
Iran Jails Former Government Spokesman
A former Iranian government spokesman has been jailed for six years.
Iranian media reported that Abdullah Ramezanzadeh was convicted of trying to topple the government during protests after elections last June.
The charges against him included “acts against the national security, propaganda against the Islamic state and holding classified documents”.
Iraqi Priest Says Christians Must ‘Not be Afraid’
A senior Iraqi priest in his Christmas sermon on Friday urged Christians not to be intimidated by a string of deadly attacks against the minority community but warned they should not linger near churches.
Bishop Shlemon Warduni’s message to worshippers came as security forces ramped up their presence in cities with significant Christian populations in a bid to prevent violence.
“Do not be afraid,” said Warduni, the second-most-senior Chaldean bishop in Iraq.
Italy-Syria: New Framework Agreement for Cooperation Signed
(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, DECEMBER 21 — With the signing of the new Framework Agreement, Italy and Syria are giving a new impulse to relations in issues of Cooperation for Development. In recent days, Italian Ambassador Achille Amerio and President of the State Commission for the Plan, Tayssir Al-Reddawi, have signed a new agreement which lays the foundations for future activities for cooperation between Italy and Syria. The new agreement — says the Italian embassys newsletter in Damascus — offers an important legal frame of reference for the initiatives which will be undertaken in Syria as part of Cooperation for Development, based on the triennial Memorandum of understanding, including the agreement currently in force, (2008-2010). Until today, relations in this sector have been regulated on the basis of the previous Bilateral Agreement, which dates back to 1972. (ANSAmed).
Martial vs. Democratic Diplomacy, Part 1
The methods of martial diplomacy resemble a series of military campaigns the ultimate goal of which is victory over the enemy if not his complete destruction. The purpose of negotiation is to outflank your enemy, to weaken him by all manner of attacks. If the opponent is a democracy, attempts will be made to manipulate public opinion through the media, the object being to undermine popular support for the government’s negotiating position. Efforts will also be made to divide the government itself by subtle appeals to political factions and opposition leaders. And of course there will be attempts to drive a wedge between the government and its allies. The principle is divide and conquer.
The use of deception permeates martial diplomacy. Negotiating demands are couched in moralistic and democratic language such as “peace” and “self-determination.” To spread the glad tidings of peace to the unwary, flattering interviews are granted to susceptible journalists and other opinion-makers.
While martial diplomacy attempts to disarm the adversary through guile and professions of peace, these attempts are punctuated by veiled or less-than-veiled threats of war. This use of cunning and intimidation by the martial school of diplomacy reflects the basic character of dictatorial regimes. Obviously, under such a system of negotiation, trust, fair-dealing and conciliation are not easy. A concession made, a treaty concluded, is apt to be regarded not as a final settlement of a conflict, but evidence of weakness and retreat, an advantage which must soon be exploited in preparation of further advances and triumphs.
Here martial diplomacy is aided by the fact that democracies, more than other kinds of regimes, ardently desire peace and, even in the absence of pressure, will make gratuitous concessions to the extent of taking “risks for peace.” Indeed, the very principle of compromise intrinsic to democracies renders them more yielding than dictatorships. Knowing this, the leader of a military regime—and many civilian dictatorships are actually animated by military principles—will launch his diplomatic campaign from a negotiating position involving impossible demands from which he will hardly deviate. For example, the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad insisted that Israel withdraw entirely from the Golan Heights before he would even consider signing a peace treaty! Similarly, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, demands a cessation of construction in the “West Bank” before he agrees to negotiate with Netanyahu.
Maverick Iraqi Politician Claims Iran Could Go Nuclear Within Weeks
Iraqi parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi is warning that Iran is much closer to attaining nuclear capability than most sources, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the US State Department, believe. In fact, he predicts the Iranians could have a nuclear capability — and may announce that they have it — as soon as next month.
Alusi said that the Iranian government cannot be appeased by compromise or concession. He believes they are determined to assert their hegemony; hence their brazen missile-testing.
Asked whether he thinks a military operation to set back Iran’s nuclear program will prompt a surge in terrorism, Alusi argued this reasoning is flawed. “The opposite is correct,” he said. “If Iran has [nuclear capability], there will be more terror attacks… If [after it attains nuclear capability] there is any clash, hundreds of thousands will die, at least.”
He emphasized that admittedly painful sacrifice in the short-term will avert a catastrophic scenario in the long-term.
“We will pay a price [with a limited military operation to set back Iran’s nuclear program], but nothing compared to the price if Iran has this kind of weapon and … all the international community will be in danger.”
Syria: Citrus Fruit Output Up in 2009
(ANSAmed) — DAMASCUS, DECEMBER 21 — In 2009, citrus fruit production in Syria rose slightly, from 1.046 million tonnes in 2008 to 1.05O this year. According to the figures published in a newsletter from the Italian embassy in Damascus, 135,000 tonnes of lemons were produced, 215,000 of mandarin oranges, 660,000 of oranges and 40,000 of grapefruit. With 12,500,00tress covering a surface area of 37,521 hectares, Syria is in 20th place as concerns citrus fruit production. The most productive regions are the Latakia governorate (860,000 tonnes and 400,000 employed in the sector), the Tartous governorate (175,000 tonnes) and that of Homs (5,473 tonnes). (ANSAmed).
Turkish Soldiers Held in ‘Deputy PM Assassination Plot’
Eight Turkish soldiers have been detained over an alleged plot to assassinate Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, the army has said.
It said the soldiers were taken to the army headquarters in Ankara after being interrogated by a prosecutor on Friday.
The arrests follow an inquiry which was launched last week after Mr Arinc said a car with two officers had been spotted several times near his house.
The Turkish military denied being part of any plot.
It said the officers were investigating a military official living nearby.
The detentions come amid renewed speculation that there is mounting tension between the governing AK Party, which has its roots in political Islam, and the powerful armed forces.
The Turkish army sees itself as the guardian of the country’s secularism.
Earlier this year, dozens of people, including two retired generals, journalists and academics, went on trial in Turkey accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Prosecutors argue that they were members of a shadowy ultranationalist network — dubbed Ergenekon — which allegedly aimed to provoke a military coup.
World Famous Footballer Embraces Islam in UAE
Football star Abel Xavier embraced Islam on a trip to the United Arab Emirates last week and said he will now quit football at the age of 38 to pursue a career in humanitarian work, press reports revealed.
Former Portuguese international, Abel, who will now go by the name of Faisal Xavier, said he regretted leaving the sport but said he was happy to enter a new phase in his life.
“While it’s an emotional farewell, I hope to participate in something very special as I enter a new stage of my life,” press reports quoted Xavier, who also once played for Liverpool and Everton, as saying.
“In times of trouble, I have found comfort in Islam. Gradually I learned of a religion that professes peace, equality, freedom and hope. These are extremely important,” Xavier said.
The footballer said he would now work with the United Nations on various humanitarian projects.
Xavier was born in Mozambique and previously played for the Los Angeles Galaxy, following a career in Portugal, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, England, Turkey, Germany, and the USA.
Yemen: Imam Linked to Ft. Hood Rampage Believed to be Alive
A radical Muslim imam linked to the rampage at Fort Hood is believed to be alive, after it was thought he was killed in an airstrike in Yemen earlier this week.
A source tells Fox News that the FBI now thinks that radical cleric Anwar Awlaki is still alive.
Yemeni Director Combats Terrorism With Propaganda
Government filmmaker Fadhel al-Olofi’s 2008 hit, ‘The Losing Bet,’ seeks to show the follies of the terrorists’ ways, articulating the battle within Islam between moderates and radicals.
Russia: Muslim Chechen Members Claim Responsibility for Murdering Russian Orthodox Priest Daniil Sysoyev on 20 November, 2009 in Moscow.
Excerpt — “The statement on the ****Kavkazcenter.com website, which is often used by militants (i.e. death-cultists), accused Sysoyev of writing several pamphlets insulting Islam.”
****Kavkazcenter.com is a known/designated terrorist website -active for about 10 years or longer
Turks, Armenians Share Similar Genes, Say Scientists
Turks, Armenians and Kurds are genetically linked to each other, Armenian scientists say, calling for a joint research with their Turkish colleagues on the genetic similarities. European politicians, who have supported the recent normalization efforts, will also back the project, they say
While Ankara and Yerevan struggle to ease long-standing tension that has divided the two neighbors for years, a discovery about genes appears to remind everyone how close the two nations actually are.
Armenian scientists said they observed high genetic matching between the two nations during their research on leukemia. They say Kurds are also genetically linked to the Armenians and Turks.
“Turks and Armenians were the two societies throughout the world that were genetically close to each other. Kurds are also in same genetic pool,” Savak Avagian, director of Armenia’s bone marrow bank, said in an interview with daily Hürriyet.
Calling on his Turkish colleagues to examine the genetic similarities of the two nations in addition to asking for funds from the European Union, Avagian said he believes European politicians, who have supported the recent normalization efforts between Turkey and Armenia, would also back the project.
Genetic research in 1998 also supported the Armenian scientists’ findings. A project titled “The Genetic Relations between Mediterranean Communities,” prepared by three Spanish scholars from the molecular biology division of Complutense University in Madrid, defines the Turks and Armenians as two branches with the same genetic origin.
However, Avagian said few people know the genetic similarities between Turks and Armenians. “The high ratio that we observed in bone marrow matching supports our thesis. I am sure everybody will be surprised when they hear this scientific truth.”
The Armenian Marrow Bank has 15,000 Armenian donors in its records and is cooperating with 59 other banks through the World Marrow Donor Association.
Mihran Nazeretian, chief doctor of the bank, defined the institution’s mission as trying to “discover whether there is an equivalence of cells between Armenian donors and a patient living elsewhere in the world.”
“The patient’s ethnic background, citizenship, or political and religious views are not important at all,” Nazeretian said, signaling his willingness to cooperate with Turkish marrow banks.
Avagian said he visited Turkey in 2005 and met with the executives of marrow banks in both Ankara and Istanbul with an offer of a joint project. But Turkish officials were not interested in Avagian’s offer and applied alone for EU funds on marrow research. In the end, their request was rejected.
Noting the more convenient atmosphere between Turkey and Armenia, Avagian said: “If we knock on the doors of the European Union together, they would consider our request twice. Now, there is a political motivation, too. The bloc has already voiced support for the normalization talks between the two nations and I bet many politicians would support such medical research.”
Nazeretian said they would provide marrow without question if a Turkish patient would match with one of their Armenian donors.
The doctor told of his experience with Turkish patients, saying: “From Armenia, we found 43 matches with the bank in Istanbul and five with the one in Ankara and we made immediate inquiries. However, nobody responded. Unfortunately none of those matching results led to a marrow transplant.”
Nazeretian said there might be various reasons for the failure. “Maybe the patient found another donor in Turkey or the patient was lost before our response,” he said.
He also said there have been Armenian matches for Turks living in Germany as well but that no matches had resulted in transplants. “My only wish is for a transplant between an Armenian donor and a Turkish patient to happen one day,” he said.
Afghan President Wishes Foreign Troops a Merry Christmas
KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday wished merry Christmas to Western troops and foreign aid workers stationed in Afghanistan battling an insurgency and helping rebuild his war-torn country.
Around 113,000 international troops are in Afghanistan under US and NATO command to help keep Karzai’s vulnerable government in power.
Thousands of foreign aid workers and United Nations staff are also in the country to help with rebuilding and development, and establish democracy.
“I want to express my personal gratitude and that of Afghan people to the men and women, both military and civilian, who are spending time far from home and family to serve with us in partnership to rebuild Afghanistan,” Karzai said.
“Merry Christmas to you and your esteemed families,” he said in a statement.
Afghanistan: Taliban Commander Killed in Mosque Shootout
NATO says a heavily armed Taliban commander has been killed in a shootout at a mosque in eastern Afghanistan.
NATO officials say international and Afghan forces went Saturday to a compound in Wardak province to look for the commander, who fled to a nearby mosque as troops approached.
Fear and Loathing as Uzbek Poll Looms
Uzbekistan, which is holding a parliamentary election,has a highly authoritarian political system and a poor human rights record. The BBC is banned from reporting inside the Central Asian nation, but our regional correspondent, Rayhan Demytrie, has been in contact with journalists on the ground to find out what life is like.
Uzbekistan is holding parliamentary elections, but some people do not even seem to have noticed.
“Why are we re-electing our president again?” 35-year-old Olim asked a reporter in one of the Tashkent city markets.
When it is explained to him that the vote is for parliamentary candidates rather than a re-election of President Islam Karimov, his attitude is equally dismissive.
“In Samarkand, where I come from, there is one deputy who does what he wants,” Olim said.
“He doesn’t stop at red lights, and he doesn’t pay for his restaurant bills. He says he’s been appointed by the president himself. Why do we need these deputies?”
Nevertheless the streets of the Uzbek capital Tashkent are lined with banners, posters and flags to remind people that 27 December is election day, when up to 16 million eligible voters are being asked to choose members of the Oliy Majlis — the lower house of parliament.
President Karimov seems keen to use these elections to showcase what he sees as his country’s democratic credentials.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of choice indeed exist in our lives. This process means that a multi-party system is gaining strength,” he said in a national address in early December.
The authorities have proudly highlighted an increase in the number of parliamentary seats available, but 15 of these seats have already been reserved for one party.
And in reality, politics in Uzbekistan has been tightly controlled by the government since independence from the USSR.
There is no single opposition movement and no independent media, and none of the registered political parties in this election oppose President Karimov’s government.
Uzbekistan’s main opposition parties, Birlik (Unity) and Erk (Freedom), have been denied registration since the 1990s. Their leaders live in exile.
Indonesia’s Religious Police on Hemline Frontline
She wears a helmet and drives her scooter slowly through the capital of Indonesia’s Aceh province, but Yuli is still stopped by the sharia police. Her crime: wearing tight jeans and a blouse deemed “un-Islamic”.
The 20-year-old lowers her eyes and doesn’t argue with the khaki-clad male officers who summon her to the side of the road.
“I promise to buy a more Muslim outfit,” she says, showing enough contrition for the police to wave her on her way.
Jihadi Culture on the Rise in Pakistan (Part-I)
By Dr Shabir Choudhry, London: Despite ‘war on terrorism’ and Pakistan’s war against Taliban and massive propaganda against Muslim militants ‘Jihadi culture’ is on rise not only in FATA but in various parts of Pakistan, including Punjab.
Renowned Pakistani writer and defence analyst, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa writes: “Madrassas nurturing armies of young Islamic militants ready to embrace martyrdom have been on the rise for years in the Punjab. In fact, South Punjab has become the hub of jihadism. Yet, somehow, there are still many people in Pakistan who refuse to acknowledge this threat.”
China’s 245mph Train Service is the World’s Fastest… And it Was Completed in Just Four Years
In the week that Britain’s high speed rail link closed down because the wrong sort of snow interfered with the engine’s electronics, China unveiled the world’s fastest train service on one of the coldest days of the year.
Days after thousands of passengers were left stranded when Eurostar services were cancelled, China’s new system connects the modern cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan at an average speed of 217mph — and it took just four years to build.
The super-high-speed train reduces the 664-mile journey to just a three-hour ride and cuts the previous journey time by more than seven-and-a-half hours, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Fears for Hmong Soon to be Deported by Thailand to Laos
Fears are growing for the safety of about 4,000 Hmong refugees, subject to deportation from Thailand within days.
The head of the United Nations refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, has urged Thailand to call off its plan to send the ethnic Hmong back to Laos.
The United States has expressed concern and Amnesty International said it was “appalled” by the deportation plan.
The Thai government says it will act according to the law, and a deal with Laos to send them back by 31 December.
In the past week, the army has sent dozens of large trucks to the camp and thousands of soldiers, according to reports in Thai media and phone interviews with residents in the area.
The UN’s Mr Guterres said returning the refugees would not only endanger them but set a very grave example as, under international law, refugees could not be forcibly returned to countries that might persecute them.
The Hmong, being held at a camp in northern Phetchabun province, say they face persecution in Laos because they fought on the side of the Americans during the Vietnam War.
“Thailand has the responsibility and international obligation to ensure that any return of recognised refugees or other persons in needs of international protection… is undertaken on a strictly voluntary basis,” Mr Guterres said.
The US has raised the issue many times with Bangkok, most recently this week during the visit of a senior State Department official.
Nine US senators sent a letter to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to express concern about the possible repatriation and criticise the government’s screening process to determine refugee status, saying it was led by the military and lacked a civilian presence.
“Undoubtedly many of them have valid fears of persecution if they are returned to Laos,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty’s deputy Asia-Pacific director.
“We also know of people who have already been sent back who have been tortured or are missing, and moreover there has not been international access on a regular basis to these returnees, so that’s a very big concern.”
She told AFP news agency that Thailand “has completely ignored everybody’s calls and we are appalled by this…”.
“We will act according to the law, and we will be very careful,” Mr Abhisit told reporters.
“We have measures to take care of this without human rights violations,” he said.
Soon after he became prime minister a year ago, his image was damaged by revelations that the Thai army was beating and sending away boat-loads of ethnic Rohingya refugees, fleeing persecution in Burma.
Analysts have said such incidents show the prime minister’s weakness relative to the priorities of the Thai military.
Philippines: Muslim Kids Sing Carols, Too
DATU PIANG, Maguindanao -They sing Christmas carols at the top of their voices, belting out lines such as “Let earth receive her King” from the 1839 piece “Joy to the World.”
Some of the children even mix unusual lines in their rendering of Christmas songs. For those who hear them, forgiveness is readily given.
What is surprising to visitors of this sleepy town, which is a mixed community of religions, is that the carolers are not Christians, but Muslims.
Food Giant Nestlé Halts Operations in Zimbabwe
Nestlé has suspended operations in Zimbabwe, citing harassment after pulling out of a deal to buy milk from a farm taken over by President Robert Mugabe’s family.
The Swiss food multinational said it had received an unannounced visit from government officials and police on December 19 and was forced to accept a milk delivery from non-contracted suppliers.
Two of its managers were questioned by police and were released without charge the same day.
In a statement the Vevey-based company said that “under such circumstances normal operations and the safety of employees are no longer guaranteed”.
The decision is seen as a setback in efforts by the African country to persuade foreign investors to return and help rebuild a devastated economy.
Nestlé stopped buying milk from the Gushungo Dairy Estate in October, following international criticism of a deal made in February. The farm had been seized under Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme.
At that time, Nestlé said its business with the farm accounted for ten to 15 per cent of its local milk supply and that it had a long-term commitment to Zimbabwe.
Greenspan Calls for Lower Wages for America’s Skilled Workers
There is an outrageous video of how an attorney conducts a seminar that instructs other lawyers on how to not find qualified United States citizen workers for H-1B visas for computer programmers and those who are employed in the high tech industries and parallels the madness discussed in the news report on H2-B visas that prompted my commentary. This news article includes the actual covert video made of this seminar that is guaranteed to set your blood boiling.
Please take the time to read the brief article and then watch the brief video.
As you watch that video I also want you to consider the testimony of Alan Greenspan who, when he testified before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee at the behest of the Chairman of that subcommittee, Senator Charles Schumer, Greenspan called for opening up the H-1B visa program to lower the wages of America’s skilled workers! Hard to believe, but true! Here is a direct quote from his testimony at that hearing that was conducted on April 30, 2009 and entitled, “Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?”
“Greatly expanding our quotas for the highly skilled would lower wage premiums of skilled over lesser skilled. Skill shortages in America exist because we are shielding our skilled labor force from world competition. Quotas have been substituted for the wage pricing mechanism. In the process, we have created a privileged elite whose incomes are being supported at noncompetitively high levels by immigration quotas on skilled professionals. Eliminating such restrictions would reduce at least some of our income inequality.”
‘Sangatte II’ Immigrant Welcome Centre is Torched by Arsonists: Police Suspect Furious Calais Residents
Arsonists have attacked the structure of a new ‘Sangatte’ welcome centre which was due to open for UK-bound migrants in Calais this week.
They set fire to prefabricated units which were due to house hot showers at the controversial structure close to the town’s ferry port.
‘A great deal of damage was done,’ said a Calais police spokesman. ‘One of two structures earmarked for use as a shower block was badly damaged by fire. It was due to be part of a unit containing toilets and bathrooms.
‘We have launched an enquiry into this act of vandalism and arson. Our fear is that local people opposed to the setting up of the new centre may be responsible.’
Earlier this month French administrative judges approved the opening of the new centre on the Rue Jacques Prevert, next to the Marcel-Doret industrial estate.
It was immediately dubbed ‘Sangatte II’ after the former Red Cross centre which attracted thousands of illegal foreigners before it was razed to the ground in 2002.
The new centre is just a few hunded yards from the site of the notorious ‘Jungle’ — a shanty town full of mainly Afghans which was destroyed in September as part of a plan to make Calais ‘watertight’ to illegal migrants.
France’s Immigration Minister Eric Besson had pledged to rid the town of the hundreds of foreigners trying to get to the UK, where they will claim asylum or disappear into the black economy.
But soon afterwards Calais council signed an agreement with the charity Secours Catholique (Catholic Help) to provide facilities to migrants arriving in the town.
There were fears of a humanitarian tragedy involving those sleeping rough as temperatures dropped below zero.
Many attacked the U-turn, with Britain’s shadow immigration minister Damian Green saying: ‘This is another gesture of contempt from France to Britain. The only result of this will be to encourage more potential illegal immigrants to try to break our laws.’
Calais residents were also opposed to the building of the structure, which will be managed by Secours Catholique, with Calais Council paying for electricity, water and maintenance costs.
Despite this, the local authorities said they had no option but to agree to the centre, which will be open to all migrants. A special bus service will take them there from other parts of the town.
Attacking the arson attack — which may well delay this week’s planned opening of the centre — a spokesman for the Pas de Calais Green Party said: ‘This was a deliberate act aimed at putting refugees into an even more dangerous position.’
The Greens spokesman called for ‘the authorities of the state’ to ‘respect the rights of migrants to shelter, to hygiene and to health’ and to make sure that ‘those responsible for the criminal fire in Calais will be pursued and punished.’
Plans are already underway to expand the new welcome centre in 2010, with the government in Paris contributing financially.
Since the closure of the Jungle, further migrant camps have sprung up in nearby Steenvoorde, Bailleul and St Omer, with all providing beds, food, clothing shops, medical care and advice on how to claim asylum.