Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/5/2010

Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/5/2010Yemenis make up the bulk of the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo, and it has been revealed that at least a dozen have been returned to their homeland as the Obama administration pushes to close the Gitmo facility. An indeterminate number of those Guantanamo alumni have joined Al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen, some of whom were recently bombed by Predator drones.

Our government says that it will send no more Yemenis home for the time being, and our embassy in Sanaa has reopened after the Yemeni government successfully addressed an unspecified “area of concern”.

In other news, security personnel at an airport in Slovakia deliberately planted contraband in the luggage of several unsuspecting passengers before their flights, with the purpose of testing security screening systems. A batch of dangerous RDX explosives successfully evaded detection and flew all the way to Ireland, but the airport authorities somehow forgot to tell the Irish government until three days later.

Thanks to C. Cantoni, DF, Diana West, Esther, Gaia, Henrik, Insubria, JD, LS, Sean O’Brian, spackle, Steen, TB, and all the other tipsters who sent these in. Headlines and articles are below the fold.
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Financial Crisis
Growing Unemployment in the Philippines, Also Due to Corruption and Waste
Iceland Leader Vetoes Bank Compensation for Foreigners
Clemency Sought in Death of Al-Qaida Terrorist
Group Slams Chertoff on Scanner Promotion
Northrop Grumman Moving Headquarters From L.a. To Washington, D.C., Area
Stakelbeck on ‘09: The Year of Homegrown Jihad
The Deadliest of Obama’s Screw Ups
Why Obamacare Must be Defeated
Europe and the EU
Beyoncé Sings for Gaddafi’s Son on New Year’s
Bruce Bawer: While Europe Sneered
Bulgaria Puts Price on Turkey’s EU Membership
EU: Spanish Presidency, Mr Bean Replaces Zapatero on Website
Explosive Reached Ireland After Failed Test
France: Household Savings Rate Highest Since 2002
Greece Faces Intrusive EU Surveillance Amid Reports of a Burgeoning Deficit
‘I Have Met Auschwitz Sign Swede’: Lawyer
Ireland: Fury Over Explosives ‘Smuggling’
Spain: Gender Violence Continues, Pink Cabs in Barcelona
Spain: Tensions With Cuba Mark Start of EU Presidency
UK: Court Hears Muslims Calling British Soldiers ‘Rapists’, ‘Cowards’ And ‘Scum’
UK: Muslim Mourners Pay Tribute to Soldiers at Wootton Bassett as Top Officer Says Hate Preacher ‘Does Have Right to March’
UK: New Scanners Break Child Porn Laws
UK: Top Officer Says Muslim Hate Preacher ‘Does Have Right to March’ As 400,000 Join Facebook Group Against Wootton Bassett Protestby Ian Drury
When the Swiss Voted to Ban New Minarets, This Man Built One
Italy-Albania: Berisha, Don’t Envy Our Relations
Kosovo: 500 Italian Soldiers to Leave by February
Serbia: Belgrade Accuses Croatia of Genocide
Serbia: Suspect Arrested for War Crimes Against Muslims
North Africa
Israeli Pilgrims Flight to Egypt Called Off
Pilgrims Still Arriving in Egypt Despite Protest
Seven Egyptian Christians Sentenced to Prison
Middle East
“Some of Them Demand Israel Come and Save the Iranian People.”
Diana West: Debating the Surge
Freed Guantánamo Inmates Are Heading for Yemen to Join Al-Qaeda Fight
Iran Denies Cancellation of EU Lawmakers’ Trip
Iraq De-Judaizing Ezekiel’s Tomb
Six Trucks of Explosives ‘Disappear’ In Yemen
Standoff in Iran Deepens With New Show of Force
US Embassy in Yemen Reopens After Strikes on Al-Qaeda
South Asia
Bangladesh Bans Religion in Politics
Malaysian Supreme Court Authorizes Christians to Use the Word Allah. Government Appeals
Unmarried Couples Caught in Malaysia Hotel Raids
Latin America
As Brazilians Flee Suriname, Government Promises Crackdown
Sub-Saharan Africa
Kenya ‘Deports Muslim Hate Cleric Abdullah Al-Faisal’
Somali Pirates Free Hijacked Pakistani ‘Mother Ship’
Sudan vs. Susanne
Five More Suspected Illegal Migrants Found Dead at Greek Border
UK: Asylum Seeker Lived Rent-Free in Council Flat While Earning £75,000
Culture Wars
Spain: Anti-Abortion Campaign in 12th Night Procession
Spotty Enforcement for New US Air Screening Rules

Financial Crisis

Growing Unemployment in the Philippines, Also Due to Corruption and Waste

Drop of 7% employment in industry in the second quarter of 2009. However slight recovery in agriculture. The Philippine government promises 5 million jobs for 2010. Bishop: the corruption of the political class is the real problem of the country.

Manila (AsiaNews) — The economic crisis is hitting the Philippines and countries in the developing world with unemployment. Nevertheless, there are weak signs of recovery in agriculture. These are the findings from a study of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which considers the industry sector most at risk.

According to the ADB in the second quarter of 2009 employment in the Philippines fell by 7%, while agriculture grew by 2.6%. This trend is also confirmed by the National Statistics Office — NSO which reported 2, 719 million unemployed in the month of October 2009. This is 191 thousand higher than the 2.525 million unemployed in October 2008. This figure also reflects the damage of typhoons Ketsana and Parma, which between September and October brought the capital, where the large majority of industrial establishments are based, to its knees.

“In 2010 the government will create 1.5 million jobs — said Augusto Santos, director of the program for economic planning — they will be concentrated in service industries such as trade, finance and banking industry”. For now, the NSO has registered about 944 thousand new jobs in 2009. The goal promised by the government in 2008 was more than 1 million.

According to Mgr. Broderick S. Pabillo, auxiliary bishop of Manila, the country’s main problem is corruption in high places instead of politics and industry. “The political class — he says — is wasting money that is meant to be spent on socio — economic development projects for the population, using it instead for their own purposes.” For the prelate the government should consider the common good and rediscover Christian values even in the economy. “The Church — he says — through Caritas operates numerous projects of micro credit to combat the crisis, which are useful for creating new jobs and helping the poor.”

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

Iceland Leader Vetoes Bank Compensation for Foreigners

LONDON — The president of Iceland blocked a hard fought $5 billion compensation deal with the British and Dutch governments on Tuesday, upending the precarious finances and politics of the island nation and further jeopardizing already frayed ties with Europe and international lenders.

In a televised speech, President Olafur R. Grimsson said he would veto legislation under which Iceland was to repay the British and Dutch governments for funds they used compensate depositors of a recently collapsed Icelandic bank in their countries.

His decision means the bill will be submitted to a referendum in a country where recent polls show that 70 percent of the population opposed to the bill. Its rejection would force Iceland’s increasingly shaky left-wing coalition to have to reopen negotiations with the British and Dutch governments — both of which have taken a hard negotiating stance.

The presidential rebuke is being described as one of the more momentous decisions in recent Icelandic history. But it also highlights a widening fault line between struggling European governments, pressed by impatient bond investors, ratings agencies and the International Monetary Fund to impose budget cuts and shrink deficits, and their recession-battered citizenry. Some 60,000 people in Iceland — one fifth of the population — had signed a petition against the bill, which was presented to the president last week.

Late last month, the constitutional court in Latvia vetoed a move by the government there to cut pensions in order to keep in tune with an I.M.F.-sponsored austerity package — a development which not only threatens the I.M.F. agreement but the country’s ties with foreign creditors.

Governments in Ireland, Greece and even Britain are also threading the increasingly difficult needle of satisfying bond investors as well as voters.

In a country that was driven to default by the speculative overseas excesses of its banks, doubt and suspicion over the motivations of outsiders has been awkwardly balanced by a grudging recognition that Iceland is obliged to repay Britain and the Netherlands for bailing out depositors there in Icesave, the Internet unit of Landsbanki, which collapsed in late 2008 along with the rest of Iceland’s banking sector.

The savings of Icelandic citizens were protected by an unlimited domestic deposit guarantee.

In a statement, the British treasury — which along with its Dutch counterpart pushed Iceland to amend a previous bill, making it tougher on Iceland — said that the “government expects Iceland to live up to its obligations.”

But sotto voce, British government officials were also casting doubt on what would happen next. Iceland has never held a referendum and there is scant language in its constitution explaining how one would be carried out.

Iceland’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, told reporters in Rekyjavik that Iceland would have its referendum and that “Iceland honors its international obligations.”

Any backroom dealings between Iceland and its lenders though is likely to be received with even more anger by emboldened Icelanders…

           — Hat tip: Henrik [Return to headlines]


Clemency Sought in Death of Al-Qaida Terrorist

Conviction for shooting described as self-defense also on appeal track

The family of an American soldier serving time in prison after he said he killed a known al-Qaida operative in Iraq in self-defense is gearing up for a coming hearing before a military clemency board on the case against Lt. Michael Behenna.

The hearing scheduled Thursday before the military’s Clemency and Parole Board in Arlington, Va., is one of two tracks Behenna’s family members and legal representatives are pursuing and is in addition to an appeal of his conviction.

The focal point of the arguments is the statement from a witness for the prosecution that Behenna’s own description of how the al-Qaida operative tried to attack him and he shot in self-defense was the only explanation that was supported by the facts.

The issue is raising concerns because of the decision by the prosecution to not only exclude that statement from the case, but withhold it from the defense until after the conviction.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Group Slams Chertoff on Scanner Promotion

Since the attempted bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Day, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports.

What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. Chertoff disclosed the relationship on a CNN program Wednesday, in response to a question.

An airport passengers’ rights group on Thursday criticized Chertoff’s use of his former government credentials to advocate for a product that benefits his clients.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Northrop Grumman Moving Headquarters From L.a. To Washington, D.C., Area

In a blow to Southern California, Northrop Grumman Corp. said it would relocate its headquarters from Los Angeles — leaving the region that gave birth to the aerospace industry without a single major military contractor based here.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Stakelbeck on ‘09: The Year of Homegrown Jihad

2009 was a record year in America’s war against radical Islam—and for all the wrong reasons.

From the Fort Hood massacre to the failed attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas day, Islamic jihadists have never been more active in their attempts to attack the U.S.

Many of the plots were hatched by U.S. citizens — homegrown jihadists.

You can watch my investigative report on this topic, followed by Q and A with Pat Robertson, by clicking the link above.

[Return to headlines]

The Deadliest of Obama’s Screw Ups

People tell me the President’s rush to acknowledge the attack on the CIA in Afghanistan and mourn the deaths openly, publicly, and via press release is a huge no no. The CIA and greater intelligence community would prefer not to have the attention put on them. Additionally, because the President took the time to draft a blanket statement focused on the CIA in general instead of individually and more privately focusing on the families of the victims, it acknowledges the CIA’s work in Afghanistan, acknowledges that the attack has an impact on the CIA, and gives the terrorists a new recruiting tool — “you too can cause America to publicly mourn the loss of their spies.”

To you and me this may not seem like a big deal. But I’m told this is hugely significant and shows just how out of touch the Obama administration is with the intelligence community. I’m told that no other President has issued such blanket statements of public mourning directed toward an attack on the CIA and thereby having the White House itself confirming an attack on our intelligence community.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Why Obamacare Must be Defeated

A recent move by the Mayo Clinic, which has been praised by the president as a national model for efficient health care, is yet another warning of what may be ahead.

Last week, the organization, cited by Obama as well as others as a good model of a health institution that really works, announced that as of now, one of its clinic facilities in Arizona will stop accepting Medicare payments! Three-thousand patients who now use that clinic in Glendale will be asked to pay cash at full price if they want to continue seeing their regular doctors at this family treatment center.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Beyoncé Sings for Gaddafi’s Son on New Year’s

On Sunday, Mediaite reported that singer Beyoncé Knowles had given a private New Year’s Eve performance for an exclusive crowd in St. Barth — and made the case that she had performed and been paid by relatives of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi (variously known as Khadafy, Qaddafi, Quadhafi and more). Atlanta-based blogger Necole Bitchie reported a $2 million fee; the UK Mirror reported a “six-figure sum” and yesterday Media Takeout made the same claim, repeating the $2 million number and confirming the Gaddafi-hosted party from a guest who was there (hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons also placed Beyoncé at a “Khadafy party.” Today Page Six confirms our original report, with one new piece of information: the party was thrown by Moutassim Gaddafi, known as Hannibal, son of the Libyan dictator who less than a week before made headlines for allegedly attacking his wife in a London hotel.

Page Six notes — as we did! — that Beyoncé’s sang five songs for a crowd that included her husband Jay-Z, Lindsay Lohan and Usher (who also did the New Year’s countdown); Jon Bon Jovi, Simmons, supermodels Miranda Kerr and Victoria Slivstedt and BET founder Bob Johnson. Page Six could not confirm the rumored $2 million sum cited elsewher, but did note (again as we did) Mariah Carey’s reported $1-million payday for the same gig last year.

Last year’s party, it should be noted, was thrown by Hannibal’s brother Saif Gaddafi, who this year was reportedly in New Zealand. Page Six has a lovely rundown of Hannibal’s seemingly frequent bouts of violence and reckless behavior. Odds are Beyoncé probably didn’t see his halo.

It should be noted that Jay-Z also reportedly joined Carey last year in performing for the Gaddafi party, and that there was no backlash for either of them (indeed, Carey went on 20 days later to sing for President Obama’s inauguration — as did Beyoncé). However, this year Gaddafi’s history of terrorism has come to the fore with the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrah, the Libyan convicted of setting the bomb that took down Pan Am 103. Gaddafi and Libya accepted responsibility for the bombing in 2004, and has paid millions of dollars in reparations to the victims’ families.

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

Bruce Bawer: While Europe Sneered

Kurt Westergaard and other brave critics of Islamic fanaticism continue to fend for themselves.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to an article entitled “Eurabian Follies” on the website of the journal Foreign Policy. The author, Justin Vaïsse, took to task several authors, including me, who have warned in recent years of the Islamization of Europe. Vaïsse countered these authors’ mountains of hard facts with a big helping of the usual supercilious sneering. His thesis: Europe is chugging along just fine; Islam poses no real challenge to the continent’s freedom and prosperity; after all, the “experts” say so. Never mind the draining of European welfare systems by Muslim families, the explosion in rapes and gay-bashings and Jew-baitings, the proliferation of honor killings and forced marriages and no-go zones; never mind the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh by fanatics who objected to those men’s positions on Islam; never mind the threats directed at critics of Islam, such as Geert Wilders, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Robert Redeker, which have obliged them to live in hiding or with round-the-clock bodyguards.

The timing of Vaïsse’s article was unfortunate—for him, anyway: it appeared around the time of the Christmas Day terrorist attack on Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 and the New Year’s Dayassassination attempt on Kurt Westergaard, creator of the famous Mohammed-in-a-bomb-turban cartoon published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. (Only a bathroom that had been converted to a panic room in Westergaard’s house saved the artist from an axe-wielding Islamist maniac.) Let’s not even mention the over 1,000 cars torched in French cities on New Year’s Eve, which is becoming an annual tradition among that nation’s Muslim youth.

As it happened, I received the link to Vaïsse’s article on the same day that I discovered that my dear friend Hege Storhaug had once, like Westergaard, been a target of violence, apparently because of her criticism of Islam. Hege is a former journalist and longtime women’s rights activist in Oslo whose concern about the treatment of women and girls in Muslim communities made her a pioneering critic of Islam in Norway. Time and again she has taken extraordinary personal risks to stand up for females who are confined to their homes, who are denied educations and careers, and who are the victims (or potential victims) of honor killing, genital mutilation, forced marriage, and sundry forms of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

In 2006, her book But the Greatest of All Is Freedom: On the Consequences of Immigrationbecame a huge—and controversial—best-seller in Norway. At the time, Hege lived in a neighborhood called Kampen, a part of Oslo that brings to mind the Haight-Ashbury or East Village of the 1960s. Hege notes that after her book began to sell big—and draw harsh media attacks—her neighborhood was papered over with posters featuring a photo of her with an X drawn over her face, along with the slogan NO TO RACISTS IN KAMPEN. Then one day—as Hege revealed in a powerful account posted yesterday on the website of Human Rights Service, the small foundation where she works—one or more people broke into her home, beat her, and left her bruised and unconscious in a pool of blood on the floor. Nothing was stolen. The date was January 1, 2007—three years to the day before the attempted murder of Westergaard.

At first, Hege kept the crime secret, for fear that publicizing it would discourage other critics of Islam from speaking out. Not until a month later did she report the brutal event to the police, and then only after a lawyer friend had secured a guarantee that the report would not be made public. But the steady rise in Muslim violence in Europe, culminating in the Westergaard attack, helped changed her mind about publicly revealing the assault. She also wanted to underscore the fact that many in the media—people like Vaïsse, I might add—were by their see-no-evil approach to the subject encouraging physical attacks on people like her and Westergaard. This state of affairs, she felt, needed to be addressed publicly and its real-world consequences made clear…

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

Bulgaria Puts Price on Turkey’s EU Membership

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Bulgaria is threatening to block Turkey’s application to join the European Union unless it pays out billions of euros in compensation for displaced people, in a case dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire.

A Bulgarian cabinet minister without portfolio who runs the country’s Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Bojidar Dimitrov, pressed the claim in remarks to the Bulgarian newspaper, 24 Hours, on Sunday (3 January).

“Turkey is surely able to pay this sum, after all, it’s the 16th largest economic power in the world,” he said, putting a total of $20 billion (€14 billion) on the settlement. “One of the three conditions of Turkey’s full membership of the EU is solving the problem of the real estate of Thracian refugees.”

The Ottoman Empire in 1913 expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Bulgarians from lands lying on the western side of the Bosphorus. It became the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and recognised the rights of the displaced people in a 1925 treaty, but the agreement was never implemented, Bulgaria says.

An official in the Bulgarian government press office, Veselin Ninov, told EUobserver on Monday that Mr Dimitrov’s statement reflects government policy and that the dispute is being handled by a Bulgarian-Turkish intergovernmental working group.

Mr Ninov mentioned a different sum, however.

“This is a matter of official government policy. There is a contract between the two parties, dated 1925. This is an official contract, so, according to the contracting parties, the Turkish government has to repay $10 billion to $12 billion (€8 billion) to the Bulgarian refugees,” he said.

Mr Ninov described the issue as being “more historical than political.”

But when asked if Bulgaria is ready to veto progress in EU-Turkey negotiations because of the dispute, he said: “There is such an option. But this is just one of many other conditions of Bulgarian support for Turkish membership. There are also issues relating to energy and water management projects.”

Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov is set to raise the compensation question during a visit to Turkey in January or February, Mr Ninov added.

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

EU: Spanish Presidency, Mr Bean Replaces Zapatero on Website

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 4 — A smiling Mr. Bean replaces Zapatero: hackers succeeded today in accessing the official website of the Spanish presidency of the European Council, avoiding all security systems. The hackers have replaced the photo of Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero by one of Mr. Bean, a famous character played by British actor Rowan Atkinson, greeting visitors of the website with a surprised look on his face and a “Hi there”. According to the official figures quoted by the on-line edition of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, the socialist government pays 11.9 million euros for technical assistance and security of the Spanish presidency’s webpage. The page was taken off-line early this afternoon, and was back on-line by 3 p.m., without the picture of Mr. Bean. The news of the hacked page was announced on Twitter. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Explosive Reached Ireland After Failed Test

A quantity of explosive, found in a flat on Dorset Street in Dublin this morning, was brought into Ireland following a failed security operation in Slovakia.

The explosive was one of eight pieces of contraband planted by the authorities in the luggage of unsuspecting passengers at Bratislava Airport in Slovakia last weekend as part of a test of security procedures.

Seven were detected by airport security, but the eighth — 90g of research development explosive or RDX — was put in the luggage of a Slovakian electrician who lives and works in Dublin.

The 49-year-old unwittingly brought the material to Dublin when he returned from Christmas holidays.

Garda were eventually alerted this morning following a call from police in Bratislava and the flat on Dorset Street was sealed off.

During the operation, the adjoining homes and businesses were evacuated as the Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit removed the explosive for further analysis.

Both Gardiner Street and Lower Dorset street were closed off for about an hour.

The Slovakian man was arrested at the scene, but garda are now satisfied that he is innocent and he was released from custody this afternoon. He will not face charges.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the Slovakian Minister for the Interior has conveyed his Government’s profound regret for this incident to the Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.

Minister Ahern said he was very concerned about the fact that the garda were not alerted for three days and has asked for a full report.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has appointed Detective Chief Superintendent Martin McLaughlin to establish the full background to this incident.

The Slovakian Minister has told Minister Ahern that his government will cooperate fully with the Garda investigation.

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

France: Household Savings Rate Highest Since 2002

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, DECEMBER 30 — The savings rate of French households in the third quarter of 2009 has reached 17% of income, the highest level since 2002. According to a statement by the national French institute of statistics INSEE, the rate is even higher than the one estimated by the 2009 Budget Law, which forecast a savings rate of 15.8%. In the second quarter the rate was at 16.7%, while in 2008 the 12-month average was 15.3%. Also increasing was the financial savings rate (excluding real estate), which has risen to 7.9% of household income, compared with 7.3% in the previous quarter. Meanwhile, according to the data supplied by the French Ministry for the Environment, construction permits for new residential buildings between December 2008 and November 2009 dropped by 17.9% compared with the previous year, halting at just above 400,000. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Greece Faces Intrusive EU Surveillance Amid Reports of a Burgeoning Deficit

Officials from the European Commission and the European Central Bank are on standby for a “monitoring visit” to Athens as soon as they receive word from Greek authorities outlining how they intend to get a grip on public debt.

The Greek financial website Ta Nea reported that last year’s deficit may have reached 14.5pc of GDP as a result of plunging tax revenues in the late Autumn, even higher than the 12.7pc “shocker” revealed by the new Hellenic Socialist (PASOK) government in November.

Julian Callow from Barclays Capital said a detailed analysis of budget data shows the deficit had been running at an annual rate of 16pc over the second half of the year. “The monthly data is even worse than people realise,” he said.

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

‘I Have Met Auschwitz Sign Swede’: Lawyer

Sweden is now processing a formal request for legal assistance from Polish authorities seeking to shed light on the baffling disappearance of the wrought-iron “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“This request is now being passed on to the Prosecutor-General, who will decide which pubic prosecution office will handle the case,” said Martin Valfridsson, a spokesman for Justice Minister Beatrice Ask.

Ask’s Polish counterpart Krzysztof Kwiatowski informed the Swedish minister shortly before the end of the year that Warsaw was planning to request Sweden’s help following the disappearance on December 18th of the infamous sign from the entrance to the Nazi death camp.

The Polish prosecutor leading the preliminary investigation has indicated that the macabre crime was masterminded by a citizen of a country outside Poland. He would not however confirm media reports that a Swede or Swedes were suspected of being behind the plot.

But high profile defence lawyer Peter Althin said he expects to represent a Swedish citizen reported by Aftonbladet to have been planning to sell the sign to a wealthy British Nazi before ditching the plot and informing Interpol.

Althin would not confirm that his prospective client had confessed to involvement in the crime, only that he would represent the man should the prosecutor choose to press charges.

“I won’t get into it any more for the moment, except to say that I have, in Sweden, met the man who has been written about,” Althin told news agency TT.

British newspaper reports on Monday suggested that a Swedish right-wing extremist group agreed to help a wealthy UK-based collector and Nazi sympathizer acquire the sign in exchange for “huge money”.

“The collector wanted it as a trophy — and used his neo-Nazi contacts to put word out he was prepared to pay huge money for it,” a source based in Sweden told the Sunday Mirror newspaper.

Five men are currently being held in Poland in connection with the December 18th theft of the iconic, five metre long sign, which translates from German to “Work sets you free”.

According to the Mirror, the suspects in Poland were merely “bit-part players” in a larger international plot which would have also benefited pro-Nazi groups in Sweden.

“Arrangements had been made to hide the sign in a cellar in Stockholm, waiting for the British man to collect. The plan was to use the British guy’s money to fund neo-Nazi hate attacks in Sweden,” the source told the newspaper.

A rumoured Swedish connection surfaced around the time the sign was recovered three days after its removal from the front gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp, with Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet reporting that an extremist group was plotting a politically-motivated attack against the Swedish parliament, the foreign ministry, and the prime minister’s residence.

While Swedish intelligence agency Säpo confirmed it was investigating a far-right attack, the agency refused to say whether there was a connection between the Swedish plot and the theft of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign.

When it was recovered, the sign had been cut into three pieces, with the letter “i” from “Frei” abandoned at the camp, a Polish state-run museum and memorial since 1947.

The sign has long symbolized the horror of the camp, created by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in 1940 and run until Soviet troops liberated it in 1945.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Ireland: Fury Over Explosives ‘Smuggling’

A furious Government has demanded that Slovakia explain itself after an unsuspecting electrician was allowed to carry explosives on a flight to Dublin in a botched security exercise.

The diplomatic row erupted after Slovak airport police randomly planted powerful RDX in the 49-year-old’s bag but took three days to warn authorities he had unwittingly evaded scanning machines.

It is understood Government officials were angry about the high level security breach and have called for answers.

A spokesman said: “The Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, has ordered a full report into what has transpired.”

Slovak authorities began the live security tests last Saturday but only contacted Irish police to warn of the lapse.

Officers planted several items, including the RDX plastic explosive, in the luggage of eight unsuspecting passengers as they prepared to board international flights at Bratislava and Poprad Traty airports.

A Garda source said: “It seems his bag was picked randomly — he is not in any trouble with us. We have verified the whole thing through proper police channels and security chiefs in the Slovak authorities.”

One security source said: “If that much explosive was detonated, it would cause serious damage, it would kill if it went off in a plane — it’s an unbelievable mistake.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about to put that kind of explosive on a plane, unaccounted for.”

Seven passengers were stopped as they went through scanning machines while the electrician unwittingly evaded checks at Poprad Tatry and made it to Dublin. He was carrying 4oz (about 90 grams) of the explosive material.

           — Hat tip: LS [Return to headlines]

Spain: Gender Violence Continues, Pink Cabs in Barcelona

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 4 — While Spain mourns its first fatality of domestic violence in 2010 (a woman strangled by her husband during yet another marital row), Barcelona is following the example of London, Mexico City and Dubai in introducing a womens taxi service with women drivers for a female clientele. This is a significant initiative in a country where male-on-female violence is a social scourge. There will be an identifying pink sticker on the rear window of the taxi, but the taxi cabs will otherwise sport the Catalan black and yellow livery. As explained by Begoa Torres at the Servitaxi switchboard, the radio sender promoting the new service, it will be possible to book a pink-line vehicle night and day by calling a special number. The service is aimed to girls going out of an evening who would feel more at ease with a woman behind the steering wheel, or at women who have suffered a family trauma, without necessarily being victims of gender violence, or even of sexual harassment by a taxi driver. Ms Torres is herself a mother who proposed the idea of the pink taxis in the tourist city with the backing of a majority of her 300 colleagues at Servitaxi. Begoa is one of the 16 women taxi-drivers in the Barcelona area where women represent only 7% of those at the wheel of the cabs. But the initiative risks hurting the feeling of some of her colleagues who find it out of date and that it discriminates against men, as well as detrimental to a free market. Even though for many of the users it caters for, such as Alicia Garcia, a 26-year-old university student, find it useful and effective for making you feel safer, especially at night. For now, the pink cabs have met with approval from the Catalan women’s institute. Meanwhile gender-related violence, especially within domestic walls, retains its topicality, even if it is slowly waning thanks to a law enacted by the first Zapatero government. Josefa R.Z., a 45-year-old from Seville, was the first fatal victim in 2010: strangled yesterday at dawn by husband Juan Manuel C.E., 54. Following periods of intermittent separation, Josefa had returned to live with the man who was to become her murderer a month ago. Investigations have not uncovered any complaints on her part regarding mistreatment. The last domestic murder case in 2009 goes back to December 28: the victim was a 24-year-old Lithuanian, mother of a one-year-old girl. She was the last of the 55 fatalities recorded last year, a drop of 40% on 2008 according to figures supplied by the Ministry for Equality. It is a silent massacre which continues despite the increase in the numbers of women reporting violent incidents. The real problem, which the head of the Ministry, Bibiana Aido, is continually highlighting, is the level of cultural tolerance and acceptance of all kinds of violence inflicted on women, which is deeply rooted within the society. For this reason, during its six-month period of presidency of the European Union, Spain will be proposing the creation of a gender violence watchdog on a European level and based on the country’s experience as well as the setting up of European protection orders for women victims of violence. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Spain: Tensions With Cuba Mark Start of EU Presidency

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 5 — The Spanish presidency of the EU has had a tense start in terms of relations with Cuba, after the authorities in Havana prevented Socialist Euro MP Luis Yanez from entering the country on Sunday. “This is not good news, I think that the Cuban government has made a mistake”, said Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, during the presentation of the Spanish presidency’s programme to his European counterparts. The Spanish Government hopes that this kind of incident does not happen again, as it does not help to develop relations between the two countries, said a statement from the Ministry, after a formal protest was sent today to Cubas Ambassador in Spain, Alejandro Gonzalez, by Secretary of State for Latin America, Juan Pablo De Laiglesia. According to Gonzalez, Yanez refusal of admittance is a consequence of the application of Cubas internal laws. The incident will in any case not alter relations between Madrid and Cuba, and Spain’s willingness to promote an agreement between the EU and Havana during the six-month presidency. Moratinos pointed out that Raul Castro has launched a process of reforms and that a chapter for dialogue has been opened with the EU and the United States, in which highs and lows are to be expected. Talks are the only possible strategy, since the blockade and embargo imposed on the island have not yielded results in the past 50 years. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

UK: Court Hears Muslims Calling British Soldiers ‘Rapists’, ‘Cowards’ And ‘Scum’

The mob of Muslim anti-war protesters screamed hostile chants including ‘baby killers and murderers all of you’ and ‘British army murderers’ at 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment — which had lost 12 soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Holding signs made from cardboard boxes denouncing soldiers as ‘Butchers of Basra’ and ‘war criminals’, the group of men jeered ‘murderers’ as they marched past.

What should have been a joyful homecoming spilled over into violence as angry members of the public there to give the soldiers a heroes’ welcome shouted insults back at the protestors, Luton Magistrates Court heard.

The court saw video footage of the protestors being circled and protected by police. They were later joined by a group of 20 women dressed in full hijab coverings, as well as children and babies in buggies.

A Muslim woman, clad from head to toe in black, carried a placard that read ‘Muslims rise against British oppression’.

Munin Abdul, 28, Jalal Ahmed, 21, Jabair Ahmed, 19, Yousaf Bashir, 29, Shajjadar Choudhury, 31, Ziaur Rahman, 32, and Ibrahim Anderson, 32, all from Luton, deny using threatening, abusive, insulting words and behaviour which was likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to others.

The seven men, who all wore items of traditional Islamic dress in court, are alleged to have shouted chants at the soldiers including: ‘British soldiers you will pay’, ‘baby killers shame on you’ and ‘shame, shame, shame on you’.

Some were seen on the video waving signs saying ‘British Government, Terrorist Government’ and ‘Anglian Soldiers: Cowards Killers Extremists’.

Their actions caused what should have been a joyful event attended by children and families, to spill over into a stand-off between angry supporters of the soldiers and the Muslim group with police officers keeping both sides at bay, the court heard.

The maximum fine each of the men can receive is £1,000.

Trouble flared as the regiment — known as the Poachers — marched to a meeting with the Duke of Gloucester, the regiment’s colonel-in-chief, and local dignitaries in Luton town centre on March 10 last year.

Thousands of members of the public lined the streets four-deep waving flags and clapping as the soldiers marched by.

But mid-way along the route a small group of Muslim protesters started waving placards and jeering at the soldiers.

Hundreds of members of the public who had previously been applauding the soldiers turned on the protestors in an angry confrontation. Some could be seen pushing at the 30-strong police cordon which had been formed around the group, and trying to hit some of the 20 protestors.

Others chanted ‘scum, scum, scum’ back at the protestors, started to boo and chanted the football chant of ‘England’.

At one point one man suggests to the police that the protesters should be arrested, saying: ‘That’s inciting racial hatred by saying it. That should never have been allowed to happen.’

The protestors were moved by police, but were again cornered by hundreds of angry members of the public. One protester shouted to the crowds in retaliation using a microphone, telling them there was no reason to be proud of the soldiers.

He said: ‘They are killing babies, they are shooting babies, they are raping women and you are supporting this.

‘When it comes to us addressing you, you don’t care about freedom of speech. Can you see the hypocrisy? They kill innocent men, women and children, babies.’

Bacon was then thrown at them from the roofs of a shopping centre by an angry member of the public while others are alleged to have shouted ‘go and have a shave’ and ‘Bin Laden’s wife is a whore’.

The protesters were eventually led away from the scene by police, around an hour after the protest started.

Although the chants were aimed at members of the regiment, it is the members of the public supporting them that the prosecution say were caused alarm and distress.

Some of the defendants admit saying certain things, but claim the issue was when and to whom they made the comments.

Yesterday Archangelo Power, defending Jalal Ahmed, claimed right wing activists had turned up to cause trouble with the protestors.

On Monday, the men were threatened with contempt of court by district judge Carolyn Mellanby as they would not stand as she entered the courtroom, as is convention out of respect. Eventually a compromise was reached where they would enter the court after her during the six-day trial. The case continues.

           — Hat tip: Gaia [Return to headlines]

UK: Muslim Mourners Pay Tribute to Soldiers at Wootton Bassett as Top Officer Says Hate Preacher ‘Does Have Right to March’

Abdul Latif and his wife Samina joined hundreds of people in the streets of Wootton Bassett as two more casualties of the war in Helmand returned to Britain for burial.

The couple joined condemnation of the fundamentalist cleric’s plan to lead 500 Islamic extremists on a march through the town.

Choudary sparked outrage when he said members of radical group Islam4UK would carry empty coffins along the streets to symbolise the Muslims ‘murdered’ by UK forces.

Today Mr Latif, 65, and his 52-year-old wife joined the family and friends of Rifleman Aidan Howell, 19, and Sapper David Watson, 23, as their bodies were repatriated.

The soldiers were killed when Taliban booby-trap bombs exploded in Helmand Province last week.

Mr Latif, who has lived in Wootton Bassett since 1995, said: ‘I’ve been to these repatriations about 13 times and we have great sympathy with the families who have lost their children at war.

‘They are fighting for all of us, not just their religions, but the whole country. We have great respect for everyone that passes through here.

‘We sit here in peace and harmony while they fight for us. That’s why we come here to show our respects. Whatever my beliefs they are human just like us.

‘Although we believe in Islam we do not support Islam4UK. They are a minority of Muslims.

‘They are extremists and we will not support them walking through Wootton Bassett.’

Sapper Watson, a bomb disposal expert with 33 Engineer Regiment who grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was killed when an improvised explosive device blew up on New Year’s Eve near Sangin.

Rifleman Howell, of the 3rd Battalion the Rifles, died when a bomb exploded near Kajaki on December 28. They made their final journey from RAF Lyneham to a morgue in Oxford in Union Flag-draped coffins.

Friends of Rifleman Howell, Steven Stratford and Pete Bell, criticised Islam4UK for proposing a march in Wootton Bassett.

‘If they want to protest they should do it in London against the Government, not here. Wootton Bassett is where the soldiers come back, all of them, as heroes,’ said Mr Stratford.

Mr Bell said: ‘If they came to protest here there would be carnage. Imagine Aidan’s mother and father seeing that, it’s the lowest of the low.’

Home secretary Alan Johnson made clear on Monday that he would rubber-stamp any request by Wiltshire Police and Wiltshire Council to ban the provocative parade.

Abdul Latif and his wife Samina joined hundreds of people in the streets of Wootton Bassett as two more casualties of the war in Helmand returned to Britain for burial.

The couple joined condemnation of the fundamentalist cleric’s plan to lead 500 Islamic extremists on a march through the town.

The preacher pledged to apply to Wiltshire Police for permission to march — which will call for the withdrawal of British troops from the warzone — ‘in the next few days’.

Despite the storm over the march, Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said police should not ban it.

The former Northern Ireland chief constable said any group has a right to march even if their views are ‘unpleasant and offensive’.

Speaking in central London today, Sir Hugh said whatever happens police will be ‘left in the middle’ handling the protest and any reaction it sparks.

He said: ‘I would be surprised because this can be dealt with. It is a classic case of just because something is unpleasant and offensive.

‘Our view is we will have to deal with it, people have a right to march. People might not like it but that is the law.’

He added: ‘Does banning it actually make it worse?

‘It can be the case that if you ban something it becomes more popular to turn up to. You then have a mass unlawful protest.

‘It will be one that requires pretty clear thinking, but it is far too early really because all we have is the threat of a march.’

           — Hat tip: spackle [Return to headlines]

UK: New Scanners Break Child Porn Laws

The rapid introduction of full body scanners at British airports threatens to breach child protection laws which ban the creation of indecent images of children, the Guardian has learned.

Privacy campaigners claim the images created by the machines are so graphic they amount to “virtual strip-searching” and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved.

Ministers now face having to exempt under 18s from the scans or face the delays of introducing new legislation to ensure airport security staff do not commit offences under child pornography laws.

They also face demands from civil liberties groups for safeguards to ensure that images from the £80,000 scanners, including those of celebrities, do not end up on the internet. The Department for Transport confirmed that the “child porn” problem was among the “legal and operational issues” now under discussion in Whitehall after Gordon Brown’s announcement on Sunday that he wanted to see their “gradual” introduction at British airports.

A 12-month trial at Manchester airport of scanners which reveal naked images of passengers including their genitalia and breast enlargements, only went ahead last month after under-18s were exempted.

The decision followed a warning from Terri Dowty, of Action for Rights of Children, that the scanners could breach the Protection of Children Act 1978, under which it is illegal to create an indecent image or a “pseudo-image” of a child.

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

UK: Top Officer Says Muslim Hate Preacher ‘Does Have Right to March’ As 400,000 Join Facebook Group Against Wootton Bassett Protestby Ian Drury

A senior police officer has called for a provocative march by Islamic extremists through Wootton Bassett, the town renowned for honouring Britain’s war dead, not to be banned amid fears it could further inflame tensions.

The Home Secretary Alan Johnson yesterday reacted to mounting public anger at hate preacher Anjem Choudary’s plan to stage the stunt, by saying he would support any request to ban the march.

Gordon Brown had earlier declared that he was ‘completely disgusted’ at the ‘abhorrent’ protest proposed by the firebrand cleric.

But Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said he would be ‘surprised’ if senior officers in Wiltshire block the protest.

The former Northern Ireland police chief said any group has a right to march even if their views are ‘unpleasant and offensive’.

Speaking in Central London today, Sir Hugh said: ‘Our view is we will have to deal with it, people have a right to march. People might not like it but that is the law.

‘It can be the case that if you ban something it becomes more popular to turn up to. You then have a mass unlawful protest.

‘It will be one that requires pretty clear thinking, but it is far too early really because all we have is the threat of a march.’

Wiltshire Chief Constable Brian Moore could apply to ban the march if he believes it could lead to serious public disorder that other restrictions will not help.

Any application must first be backed by the local authority and Mr Johnson, who said he would support it.

Choudary provoked outrage at the weekend by announcing that 500 hard-line members of the radical group Islam4UK would parade through the Wiltshire market town with empty coffins to symbolise the Muslims ‘mercilessly murdered’ in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 42-year-old cleric is head of the banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun and has hailed the 9/11 terrorists as ‘martyrs’.

His plans for the march have prompted more than 400,000 signatures on a Facebook petition demanding it be banned. The huge scale of the internet campaign — even though a date for the protest has not yet been announced — forced the Government to move to quell public anger.

Amid fears that the protest would descend into violence, Mr Johnson said he would have no hesitation in backing any request by Wiltshire Police and Wiltshire Council to ban it.

But today, as hundreds of mourners lined the patriotic town of Wootton Bassett to pay a respectful tribute to our war dead, friends of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan spoke of their anger at Choudary’s plan.

The Union flag-draped coffins carrying Rifleman Aidan Howell and Sapper David Watson were driven through Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, for their repatriation today.

Sapper Watson, 23, of 33 Engineer Regiment — a bomb disposal expert — and Rifleman Howell, 19, of 3rd Battalion the Rifles, were killed in Afghanistan in the last week of December.

Sapper Watson was brought up in Whickham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and died of wounds sustained in a blast caused by an improvised explosive device on New Year’s Eve near Patrol Base Blenheim in the Sangin region of Helmand province.

Rifleman Howell, who was born in Sidcup, Kent, died after an explosion near Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge in the Kajaki area of Helmand province on December 28.

Friends of Rifleman Howell, Steven Stratford and Pete Bell, criticised Islam4UK for suggesting Wootton Bassett as a venue for the march.

‘If they want to protest they should do it in London against the Government, not here. Wootton Bassett is where the soldiers come back, all of them, as heroes,’ said Mr Stratford.

Mr Bell said: ‘If they came to protest here there would be carnage.

‘Imagine Aidan’s mother and father seeing that, it’s the lowest of the low.

‘It’s been very difficult to be here today, but we have been made very welcome by the people of Wootton Bassett.

‘We all came down from Leeds by coach but I would have walked every inch of the way.’

Mr Stratford said: ‘Aidan was a true hero, there could not have been a better friend, he would have made a day like today into fun.’

‘The idea that anyone would stage this kind of demonstration in Wootton Bassett fills me with revulsion,’ said the Home Secretary.

‘I find it particularly offensive that the town which has acted in such a moving and dignified way in paying tribute to our troops who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country should be targeted in this manner.

‘Those behind this stunt seek only to incite hatred and discord.’

Muslim mourners also joined the devastated families of the two fallen soldiers in condemning Islam4UK’s planned march.

Pensioner Abdul Latif, 65, who has lived in Wootton Bassett, since 1995 with wife Samina, 52, condemned Islam4UK as ‘extremists’.

He said: ‘I’ve been to these repatriations about 13 times and we have great sympathy with the families who have lost their children at war.

‘They are fighting for all of us, not just their religions, but the whole country. We have great respect for everyone that passes through here.

‘We sit here in peace and harmony while they fight for us. That’s why we come here to show our respects. Whatever my beliefs they are human just like us.

‘Although we believe in Islam we do not support Islam4UK. They are a minority of Muslims. They are extremists and we will not support them walking through Wootton Bassett.’

The people of Wootton Bassett have lined the streets more than 100 times to pay their respects when the bodies of servicemen and women are driven through the town after being repatriated to nearby RAF Lyneham.

Yesterday a clearly angry Mr Brown said he was horrified that Choudary was shamefully attempting to hijack the market town for political purposes.

‘I am personally appalled by the prospect of a march in Wootton Bassett,’ he said. ‘Any attempt to use this location to cause further distress and suffering to those who have lost loved ones would be abhorrent and offensive.’

David Cameron said such a march would be unacceptable. ‘I think this group are just saying that because they want to get some cheap publicity. Their views are completely reprehensible to the overwhelming majority of not just the British public, but British Muslims as well.

‘Anjem Choudary needs to be looked at seriously in terms of the legality of what he’s saying because he strays, I think, extremely close to the line of encouraging hatred, extremism and violence.’

Lucy Aldridge, whose rifleman son William, 18, was killed in a Taliban ambush last year, said: ‘My son lost his life and had respect paid to him through Wootton Bassett and I applaud the kind people of that town.

‘Anjem Choudary is a well-known extremist and his aim is to simply incite civil unrest and violence. I’m sure there are grounds for the police to investigate whether he has committed an offence.

‘If it goes ahead there is no way it will be peaceful.’

General Sir Patrick Cordingley, commander of the Desert Rats in the 1991 Gulf War, said: ‘It is bitterly disappointing that this wonderful response to our servicemen’s sacrifice in Afghanistan is hijacked for clearly political purposes.

‘I hope that it will be ignored as it should be. This proposition will serve to incense the British public.’

Refusing to call off the march, Choudary said: ‘The objective of this procession is not against the people of Wootton Bassett. It is about making a political statement.’

In remarks designed to cause maximum offence, he compared fallen British heroes to Nazi stormtroopers and the terrorists who carried out September 11 and July attacks on the U.S. and London.

Launching into a bizarre explanation of why he opposed crowds honouring fallen British soldiers, he said: ‘The same could be said about the Germans fighting for Nazism in the Second World War. Those involved in 7/7 and 9/11 considered themselves to be soldiers.

‘How would the British people feel if there was a parade for those who carried out 9/11 or 7/7?’

Choudary has posted an open letter on the internet addressed to the families of British troops killed by the Taliban, urging them to become Muslims ‘to save yourselves from the hellfire’.

The preacher told the parents that their children had died in vain.

The Wiltshire Islamic Cultural Centre said: ‘We unreservedly condemn this march and call on the organisers to not go ahead with it in the interests of public safety and the Muslims they claim to represent as well as to respect the rights of the people of Wootton Bassett and Wiltshire.

‘We will hold Anjum Choudary and al-Muhajiroun responsible for any backlash against any Muslim in Wiltshire or elsewhere as a result of their proposed irresponsible and irrational actions and any insecurity brought upon the majority peaceful Muslim population.’

Neither Wiltshire Council nor Wiltshire Police has yet received an application from Islam4UK to stage a march.

They could ban the march using the Public Order Act 1986, once a formal request has been submitted.

The Mayor of Wootton Bassett, Steven Bucknell, said he had received concerned emails from all over the world about the protest march.

He said: ‘I won’t comment on whether this march is a good thing or a bad thing but I will say it is entirely inappropriate for any march, protest or demonstration which refers to Afghanistan or Iraq to come through Wootton Bassett.’

[Return to headlines]

When the Swiss Voted to Ban New Minarets, This Man Built One

Mr. Morand Put It on His Roof, Shined Spotlights on It and Thumbed His Nose

BUSSIGNY, Switzerland — In November, Switzerland voted to ban the construction of new minarets, the towerlike structures that adorn mosques. A week or so later, in an apparent act of defiance, a new minaret unexpectedly sprang up here.

But the new minaret is not attached to a mosque; this small town near Geneva doesn’t even have one. And it’s not the work of a local Muslim outraged by Switzerland’s controversial vote to ban the structures, which often are used to launch the call to prayer.

Instead, Bussigny’s minaret is attached to the warehouse of a shoe store called Pomp It Up, which is part of a Swiss chain. It was erected by the chain’s owner, Guillaume Morand, who fashioned it out of plastic and wood and attached it to a chimney. The new minaret, nearly 20 feet high and illuminated at night, is clearly visible from the main highway connecting Lausanne and Geneva.

“The referendum was a scandal,” Mr. Morand said recently at his cavernous warehouse, near pallets piled high with shoe boxes as pop music played on an old stereo system. “I was ashamed to be Swiss. I don’t have the power to do much, but I wanted to give a message of peace to Muslims.”

Mr. Morand’s provocation has attracted national interest as Switzerland grapples with the fallout of the referendum. On Nov. 29, 58% of Swiss voters approved the ban on new minarets, thus sparking a fresh debate around the world over the integration of Muslims in Western society. While civic and religious leaders in many Muslim countries denounced the ban, the feared backlash against Swiss interests around the world hasn’t materialized.

In Switzerland, the debate over the referendum is still hot. On Dec. 13, hundreds of Swiss Muslims protested the vote in Bern, the capital. According to Swiss legal experts, it is next to impossible to contest the outcome of a referendum. Indeed, on Dec. 18, a Swiss federal court refused to hear a plea by two Swiss citizens to nullify the vote.

But one Swiss Muslim leader has already requested that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, consider whether the ban violates international law on freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Meanwhile, Mr. Morand’s gesture has rallied Swiss citizens upset by the vote. There are only four minarets in Switzerland, the most prominent one in Geneva. Only four of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, or states, voted against the referendum, including Vaud, the canton in which Bussigny is located. Bussigny, a sleepy commuter town of 8,000 just five miles from Lausanne, voted 52% against the ban. Bussigny has three Christian churches but no mosque, so the roughly 150 Muslims of the town must travel to Lausanne in order to worship in a mosque.

When the referendum passed, the ban on the construction of new minarets instantly became Swiss law, but the government didn’t define exactly what constitutes a minaret. The law simply bans the construction of new ones. A parliamentary report outlining the issue before the vote says a minaret can exist without a mosque and without any religious function. Indeed, one of Switzerland’s four existing minarets is a free-standing structure not attached to a mosque.

Mr. Morand, a Lausanne native who does not actively practice any religion, decided the day after the vote to build his minaret.

His business partner, an architect by training, searched the Internet for the right style of minaret, settling on one common in Turkey. After discarding a first design because it would have weighed 770 pounds , he settled on a second that used a large slice of a hard plastic tube to make the base. He fashioned a cap from pressed wood and painted it gold, topped by a gold crescent.

It took Mr. Morand’s workers half a day to raise the 265-pound minaret up four floors and over the lip of the roof. He then installed two 500-watt spotlights to light it at night.

As Mr. Morand, who has been making shoes since 1989, and his team set the minaret into place, the police, alerted by a neighbor, arrived. They took photographs and quickly left.

Mr. Morand, a wiry 46-year-old who goes by the nickname Toto and dresses in jeans and a leather jacket, has dipped his toe into political causes before, taking out newspaper ads opposing the expansion of an incinerator with the slogan “Lausanne is not a trash bag.” He has also refused to travel to the U.S. since the start of U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Pomp It Up minaret, however, stands as his biggest political statement yet. The reserved Swiss have largely not confronted him, though he has received some nasty letters. “Are these the sort of wonderful Muslims you’re defending?” wrote a man from Geneva, enclosing a newspaper clipping on fiery sermons by radical imams in Switzerland. Mr. Morand proudly shows off the letter.

Instead, news of Mr. Morand’s minaret brought out supporters. A Muslim doctor from Geneva sent chocolates. “Thank you for restoring my faith in Switzerland,” wrote an admirer on a postcard bearing an image of a minaret.

“It’s great,” Tawfiq El Maliki, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Lausanne, said of the minaret. “A lot of people didn’t agree with the vote and they’re searching for a way to show how they feel.”

Even though Mr. Morand’s minaret seems to be in violation of the law, local authorities are trying not to see it that way. The police never came back after their visit, and local prosecutors don’t plan to file charges. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry said it has no plans to take legal action against Mr. Morand. The ministry views the minaret as a temporary structure.

Claudine Wyssa, the town’s acting mayor — who called Mr. Morand’s action infantile — doesn’t think the do-it-yourself project qualifies as a minaret and plans no legal action.

“It doesn’t violate the law,” she said in an interview. “It has nothing to do with Islam. A minaret needs a mosque. In this case, there isn’t one. There’s just a shoe warehouse.”

Mr. Morand doesn’t plan to remove the minaret. “I’m leaving it up,” he says. “If they want to come and take it down themselves, I won’t fight it. But I’ll take photos of them doing it and send them to the media. Then they’ll have to take responsibility for it.” In the meantime, he has added several new spotlights to his roof to better show off his handiwork.

           — Hat tip: DF [Return to headlines]


Italy-Albania: Berisha, Don’t Envy Our Relations

(ANSAmed) — TIRANA, DECEMBER 30 — “Our relations with Italy are and remain those with a particular and strategic partner and nobody should envy these relations”, stated Albanian premier Sali Berisha during the end of year interview. Berisha listed a number of reasons which consolidated these preferential relations. “Since the early 90s the support and assistance provided by Italy was exceptional, he said, adding that “there is excellent cooperation which covers all sectors. “It is not by chance that our soldiers are next to the Italian ones in Afganistan, and that cooperation with Italy in the fight against criminality remains a fundamental condition. Italy still holds a record in trade with Albania and the premier pointed out the major Italian entrepreneurial presence in the country. Berisha said that Italians are the main investors, and these relations cannot make anyone jealous. We need to be aware that there is a self-proclaimed decision: Italy, but also Greece, are the advocates of the Balkans in the EU because they are the countries that know the regions problems better than anyone else”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Kosovo: 500 Italian Soldiers to Leave by February

(ANSAmed) — ROME, JANUARY 5 — Approximately 500 soldiers of the Italian force will leave Kosovo by late January or early February. This is part of the reorganisation of the NATO KFOR mission. ANSA received the report from military sources. The downsizing of the Italian contingent, which currently amounts to some 1,900 men, was announced in recent weeks by Italian minister of Defence Ignazio La Russa. On January 10 the commander of Multinational Task Force West, general Roberto D’Alessandro, will be replaced by colonel Vincenzo Grasso, and at the same time the force will be renamed to Multinational Battle Group, rising from the level of brigade to that of regiment. Following the NATO authorisation of downsizing the KFOR force from 15,000 to 10,000 units, Italy, like the other Nations participating in the operation, will gradually resize its force by sending home approximately 500 units. The Defence Chief of Staff reported that the resizing of the contingent will take place in a gradual and coordinated manner. It was pointed out that this is an adjustment of the military instrument to the current situation in Kosovo which, considering the remarkable progress that has been achieved, now allows for a reduction of employed forces without compromising the capability of responding to potential threats”. Protecting the locations that identify the local culture and traditions is one of KFORs main tasks, and the Italian will continue to guarantee, without cutting dedicated assets, the protection of four places of worship of the Serb-Orthodox Church: the Visoky monastery in Decane, the Goriok monastery, the Budisavic monastery, and the Patriarchate in Pec. Italy will continue to act as the leading nation in the western area of KFORs zone of responsibility. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Serbia: Belgrade Accuses Croatia of Genocide

The Hague, 4 Jan. (AKI) — Serbia on Monday accused Croatia of genocide in a lawsuit filed at the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ). The move came after Croatia in 1999 sued Serbia for genocide, allegedly committed by the former Yugoslav army in the 1991-1995 war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. No verdict has been reached in that case.

Serbia’s democratic government argued that Croatia’s lawsuit was groundless and that Serbs suffered the most in the war. The governmnet came to power in October 2000, after late strongman Slobodan Milosevic was ousted.

“After consultations with prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic and president Boris Tadic, the government decided to file a lawsuit against Croatia before the International Court for genocide against Serbs,” the Serbian government said in a statement.

Croatia has accused Serbia of shelling Croatian cities, destroying property and killing civilians while helping local Serbs to rebel against Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia.

Belgrade has been trying to persuade Zagreb to drop the case, after the Hague-based court International Court of Justice rejected a similar suit filed by Bosnia-Herzegovina in February 2007.

The ICJ ruled that Bosnian Serb forces had committed genocide in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995, but acquitted the Serbian state of genocide charges.

The Serbian countersuit blames Croatia for destroying Serbian property, killings and the expulsion of up to 250,000 Serbs in the military operation ‘Storm’ that ended the Serb rebellion in August 1995.

Serbia’s pro-western president Boris Tadic and Croatian prime minister Jadranka Kosor have said that both countries will continue to strive for good neighbourly relations pending the ICJ ruling.

But analysts said relations between the Balkan neighbours would suffer and neither country would gain anything from it.

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

Serbia: Suspect Arrested for War Crimes Against Muslims

Belgrade, 4 Jan. (AKI) — Serbian police have arrested a Serb suspected of committing atrocities against Muslims during the Bosnian war, local media reported on Monday. The man, Darko Jankovic, is potentially linked to “horrendous crimes,” including the killing of Muslim civilians near the Bosnian town of Zvornik in 1992, said Serbian war crime prosecutor’s spokesman, Bruno Vekaric.

Zvornik, on Bosnia’s border with Serbia, was the scene of killings, torture and deportation of Muslims during the 1992-95 war.

Three men have already been convicted for their roles in the atrocities and were handed lengthy prison sentences in 2008. Four others are due to stand trial.

Serbia has yet to locate and arrest two remaining fugitive war crime suspects wanted by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

They are Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, a wartime leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia.

Serbian president Boris Tadic last month presented his country’s formal application to join the European Union.

The main precondition the Balkan country faces in its EU membership bid is the arrest and extradition for trial at The Hague of Mladic and Hadzic.

Mladic is known as the “butcher of Srebrenica” — a reference to his alleged role in the massacre by Serb forces of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town in July, 1995.

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

North Africa

Israeli Pilgrims Flight to Egypt Called Off

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, JANUARY 5 — At the last moment last night — most likely for security reasons — a flight on which 200 Israeli pilgrims were to have gone to Egypt to take part in a ceremony commemorating a rabbi buried in 1880 in Damanhour in the Nile Delta. Reports were from Jerusalem Radio. According to the broadcaster, the request to authorise the entrance of pilgrims into Egypt was made last week by premier Benyamin Netanyahu in a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. However, the issue had immediately given rise to protest by various Egyptian opposition groups — from Nasserites to the leftist party Tagamou to the Muslim Brotherhood — who claim that Israelis citizens are not welcome in Egypt, especially — as was noted — on the anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, conducted in Gaza against Hamas. The pilgrims, who were already on the plane when the decision to call off the flight was announced, had intended to pay their respects to the Kabbalist rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzera, who was born in Morocco in 1805 and died in Damanhour in 1880 on his way to the “Promised Land”: modern-day Israel. Moroccan Jews believe that a visit to the tomb of the religious figure can have miraculous effects on believers. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Pilgrims Still Arriving in Egypt Despite Protest

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, JANUARY 5 — Despite the cancellation of a flight from Tel Aviv last night, due — in the words of Israel’s Ambassador to Cairo — to the absence of the requisite visas, Hebrew pilgrims continue to arrive in Egypt, intent on attending the annual commemoration of the Moroccan-born Rabbi, Yaakov Abuhatzera, or Abu Hassira, who lived during the 19th Century. The tomb of the Rabbi, who is still believed to possess miraculous powers, is located in a village in the Nile Delta. Following the arrival of around three hundred pilgrims at Cairo Airport yesterday, a further 265 have arrived overnight, including forty rabbis. However, all flights from Tel Aviv were already fully booked last week. In the meantime, a protest movement has been organised in the area, hostile to the pilgrimage partly because it coincides with the first anniversary of Israel’s operation ‘Cast Lead’ in Gaza. According to the independent daily Al Masri al Yom, a demonstration has been planned in Damanhur, a town closed to the village of Damtiuh where the Rabbi sojourned on his voyage to the Holy Land. According to anonymous sources, Egypt’s Foreign Minister has been showing signs of wanting to ban the pilgrimage over recent weeks, but during a recent visit to Cairo, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have obtained assurances from President Hosni Mubarak that it may go ahead. However, pilgrims making their way from Israel and other countries to the Delta have made their own private arrangements, via travel agencies and an association set up for the purpose, without any intervention on the part of the Israeli embassy but by applying to the Egyptian authorities for visa permits. Opposing this pilgrimage — which has been held each year since the signing of the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel, but which was not authorised last year — the Popular Movement to Prevent the Jewish Moulid has also appealed to the courts. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Seven Egyptian Christians Sentenced to Prison

by Mary Abdelmassih

Egypt (AINA) — Seven Coptic Christians, including two priests, were sentenced to prison for allegedly being involved in a brawl in connection with a dispute over the purchase of a property by the Coptic Orthodox Bishopric of Delga and Deir Mawas, 270 KM from Cairo. The Misdemeanor Court in Mallawi upheld a verdict passed by the First Instance Court in April, 2007. The Rev. Maximos Talat and Rev. Bolah Nassif — priest of St. George’s Church were sentence to one week in prison and fined 200 Egyptian Pounds, “based on claims made by the ‘aggressors’ and without any legal basis,” according to the their lawyer, Amgad Lamei.

In 2007 an adjacent property was legally acquired by the Bishopric from the Selim family. The dispute ensued after another neighbor, the Shaker family, said they have “right of first refusal” as they are cousins of the Selims, and subsequently occupied the property. The Bishopric obtained an eviction order from the Attorney General.

Attorney Amgad Lamei, who is also sentenced to prison, told Freecopts that during the execution of the eviction order on 4/15/2007, the Shaker family assaulted the party accompanying the two priests, in the presence of the police. “When I saw the brawl, I left the place with the priests and went to the police station to file a report about the incident,” said Mr. Lamei. “We went at 14:00 to report the matter to the police, and found out at 17:00 that we had been accused.” He expressed his surprise and disappointment at the verdict. He plans to take case to the Court of Cassation, but that will not stop the prison sentence.

There has been an escalation in the imprisonment of clergy. In October 2008 an Egyptian court sentenced Coptic priest Father Mettaos Wahba to five years hard labor. He was falsely accused of aiding a young Muslim woman in getting an ID card that had falsely indicated her religion as Christian, thus enabling her to marry a Christian man and flee Egypt.

[Return to headlines]

Middle East

“Some of Them Demand Israel Come and Save the Iranian People.”

Veteran Persian-language Israel Radio broadcaster Menashe Amir commented on the ban in a talk with Ynet and said, “We have been broadcasting for nearly 20 years, and this is not the first time Iran’s leaders accuse us of encouraging the Iranian people to conduct a fight for its rights.

“This does not impact our policies. Every time there were riots in Iran or important date nearing, they would try to block foreign broadcasts and the internet.”

According to Amir, the Iranian intelligence ministry’s claims are “setting the foundations for the completion of the political-cultural coup that began after the presidential election.”We talk with listeners in and outside of Iran, and many get on the air and express their opinion against the regime in a free and assertive manner. These listeners live in all corners of Iran and present a cross section of every cultural and age group. Some of them demand Israel come and save the Iranian people.”

           — Hat tip: Esther [Return to headlines]

Diana West: Debating the Surge

Over at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff takes note of my three-column series examining the afternath of the “surge” in Iraq.

The series argues that the surge was not, contrary to the conventional wisdom from Right to Obama, a “success” that the US should repeat in Afghanistan namely because US-liberated, -protected, -supported -mentored and hallowed-by-American-blood Iraq is a lemon.

Yes, of course, the additional US troops of the 2007 “surge” (and the additional payola they brought with them) restored temporary security to Iraq, but the surge strategy was supposed to accomplish much, much more than that. Paul appears to have forgotten this. He writes:

I think Diana has misapprehended the purpose of the Iraq surge. Our goal, in those desperate days of 2007, was to avoid a military defeat, inflict a defeat on al-Qaeda in the heart of the Sunni Muslim world, and substantially diminish the amount of violence in the Baghdad and elsewhere. We also hoped in so doing to strengthen the highly imperfect fledgling democracy in Iraq. The surge achieved all of these goals.

Here’s a memory jog courtesy the January 2007 Iraq Strategy Review, the one that specifies the deployment of surge troops to Iraq. It defines our goal as being “a unified democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror.” (Italics added.)

It’s crucial to fix this objective in mind when evaluating the effectiveness of the surge strategy. In other words, the goal posts shouldn’t be moved now to credit the strategy with a victory it doesn’t rate. The crushingly obvious fact is, no such ally, no such even theoretical ally on paper, exists in post-surge Iraq. Rather, what we see after six-plus years of intensive American involvement, frantic nation-building, untold billions of dollars, thousands of combat deaths and thousands more grievous casualties, is just another Muslim nation-state with the same old allegiance to the OIC and OPEC, with the same old sympathy for Hezbollah and Hamas versus Israel (which Iraq, of course, boycotts enthusastically with the rest of the Arab League), and with newly intimate economic and politico-religious ties to Iran, Oh, and also new and ramped-up investments from China and Russia.

In other words, Uncle Sam didn’t make a dent. Do we really want to knock his block against the wall again in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan?

Paul summarizes my three-column argument as resting on “a series of unfavorable economic, social and political outcomes” that “include the awarding of the best oil contracts to governments other than the U.S., the closing of night clubs, the banning of the sale of alcohol, and other encroachments of Shariah (Islamic law).”

Unfortunately, he neglects to mention what these “outcomes” signify — namely, a divide between US and Iraqi interests that is so wide that, for example, the long-negotiated SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) between the US and Iraq specifically prohibits the US from attacking Iran (or any other country) from Iraq. So much for those permanent bases.

When, as I wrote in Column 1, post-surge Iraq freezes out US companies (not just oil companies) and economically favors America’s rivals including China and Russia (not simply, as Paul writes, “governments other than the U.S.”), Iraq is denigrating the US and its massive sacrifice for Iraq. Such behavior tells us the US-Iraq relationship is anything but “special.” Ditto when this same behavior repeats itself on the world stage (Column 2) when, for example, Iraq supports the OIC against the US at the United Nations in voting against freedom of speech, or when Iraq supports Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel, or when Iraq allows Bank Melli, an Iranian terror-bank outlawed by the US, to operate freely in Baghdad. Part 3 examines post-surge Iraq itself, increasingly a land where sharia and other repressive measures are in force. Evidence of this includes not just the ban on alcohol (also for non-Muslims) and nightclubs that Paul notes, but also the startling return to heavy, Saddam-style media censorship, as well as the ongoing, relentless persecution of Christian minorities that is so intense as to inspire a conference last month in post-surge Baghdad called: “Is There a Future for Christians in Iraq?” Some monument to American sacrifice.

To lament such “outcomes” is not to lament, as Paul writes, the failure of “liberal democracy” to emerge in Iraq. It is to ask Americans to question the wisdom of a hugely costly policy that promises, at best, only more of the same “success” in Afghanistan…

           — Hat tip: Diana West [Return to headlines]

Freed Guantánamo Inmates Are Heading for Yemen to Join Al-Qaeda Fight

At least a dozen former Guantánamo Bay inmates have rejoined al-Qaeda to fight in Yemen, The Times has learnt, amid growing concern over the ability of the country’s Government to accept almost 100 more former inmates from the detention centre.

The Obama Administration promised to close the Guantánamo facility by January 22, a deadline that it will be unable to meet. The 91 Yemeni prisoners in Guantánamo make up the largest national contingent among the 198 being held.

Six prisoners were returned to Yemen last month. After the Christmas Day bomb plot in Detroit, US officials are increasingly concerned that the country is becoming a hot-bed of terrorism. Eleven of the former inmates known to have rejoined al-Qaeda in Yemen were born in Saudi Arabia. The organisation merged its Saudi and Yemeni offshoots last year.

The country’s mountainous terrain, poverty and lawless tribal society make it, in the opinion of many analysts, a close match for Afghanistan as a new terrorist haven.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, voiced concern about the growing strength of al-Qaeda in Yemen. “Obviously, we see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region,” she said.

A Yemeni, Hani Abdo Shaalan, who was released from Guantánamo in 2007, was killed in an airstrike on December 17, the Yemeni Government reported last week. The deputy head of al-Qaeda in the country is Said Ali al-Shihri, 36, who was released in 2007. Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, who was released in 2006, is a prominent ideologue featured on Yemeni al-Qaeda websites.

Geoff Morrell, the spokesman for the Pentagon, said: “This is a large question that goes beyond the issue of transferring detainees. The bulk of the remaining detainees are from Yemen and that has been the case for a long time. We are trying to work with the Yemeni Government on this.”

The US Government issued figures in May showing that 74 of the 530 detainees in Guantánamo were suspected or known to have returned to terrorist activity since their release. They included the commander of the Taleban in Helmand province, Mullah Zakir, whom the British Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, called “a key and seemingly effective tactical leader”. Among others who returned to terrorism was Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti who killed six Iraqis in Mosul in 2008.

The number believed to have “returned to the fight” in the May 2009 estimate was double that of a US estimate from June 2008. US officials acknowledged that more detainees were known to have reoffended since, but the number has been classified.

“There is a historic trend and it continues. I will only say that we have said there is a trend, we are aware of it, there is no denying the trend and we are doing our best to deal with this reality,” Mr Morrell said.

Officials said that a higher proportion of those still being held were likely to return to terrorism because they were considered more of a security threat than those selected in the early stages of the release programme.

Chris Boucek, an expert on the region for the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said that up-to-date figures for Saudi Arabia showed that 26 of the 120 Saudis released from Guantánamo were either in jail, wanted by the authorities or dead.

Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University, said evidence showed that al-Qaeda was seeking to use Yemen to mount a renewed campaign into Saudi Arabia. He cited a recent incident in which two Saudi militants, one the brother-in-law of alShihri, were killed while trying to cross the border in women’s clothing. Martyrdom videos were subsequently posted on militant websites.

The Saudi Government had boasted previously of a zero reoffence rate for Guantánamo detainees who were put through its widely praised rehabilitation programme for al-Qaeda members.

Robert Lacey, who writes about Saudi Arabia, made numerous visits to the Prince Mohammad bin Naif rehabilitation facility north of Riyadh.

“I know a number of young men from Guantánamo who were successfully reintegrated,” he told The Times. “The programme involves the whole family with a mixture of religious re-education, patriotism, guilt and co-opting in terms of being given a car, job and a nice wife.”

However, other analysts suggested that the claims for the Saudi programme were exaggerated. Mr Johnsen pointed out that an attack that nearly killed Prince Mohammad bin Naif, the Saudi head of counterterrorism, in August was mounted by a Yemen-based al-Qaeda terrorist who had offered to join the reintegration programme to get near his target.

“The Saudi programme is nothing but bureaucratised bribery. The ideologically committed terrorists simply won’t listen,” Mr Johnsen said.

The Yemen reintegration programme for terrorists was abandoned on December 10, 2005.

           — Hat tip: Steen [Return to headlines]

Iran Denies Cancellation of EU Lawmakers’ Trip

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS — Several MEPs on Monday complained that the Iranian authorities made a last-minute cancellation of a planned trip to the country, but Tehran claimed that the EU lawmakers themselves postponed the visit.

“I regret this last minute move to block the EU Parliament visit to Iran, which is further proof of the Iranian authorities’ blank refusal to allow any serious discussion about the grave unresolved issues in the country,” German Green MEP Barbara Lochbihler, the delegation’s chair, said in a statement.

She indicated that the Iranian ambassador to Brussels, Ali Asghar Khaji, had “in a surprise move” blocked the visit to the country scheduled for 7-11 January.

But Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that it was the lawmakers themselves who had decided to postpone the visit. He did not give a reason for the delay.

The Iranian state news agency IRNA, meanwhile, said the delegation had cancelled the visit because of protests by members of the US Congress.

Ms Lochbihler confirmed that she had received a letter from Congress asking her not to go ahead with the visit and claiming that it would be counter-productive.

“The isolated voices within the US Congress and EU Parliament who opposed the visit have given an easy excuse to Iran to block the trip on grounds of “media pressure.” It is also a blow to Iranian civil society, which had high hopes for a European Parliament visit that would show solidarity with the concerns of millions of Iranians who have supported the so-called “green” movement,” she explained.

The EU lawmakers were due to meet human rights activists as well as Iranian parliamentarians, as Iran’s opposition faces a government crackdown amid protests over the disputed June re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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

Iraq De-Judaizing Ezekiel’s Tomb

Early reports that Iraq plans to retain the Jewish nature of the Tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel are apparently false. Sources in Baghdad say that the government plans to turn it into a mosque and erase all Jewish markings.

Iraq announced earlier this year that it would revamp the ancient burial site, which is located in Al-Kifl, a small town south of Baghdad. The U.S.-backed government announcement implied that its Jewish nature would continue to be emphasized.

Since then, however, reports have surfaced that the government is actually planning to build a mosque there, including removing the ancient Hebew inscriptions that adorn the site. Some reports say that all or some of the lines of Hebrew script have already been erased.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Six Trucks of Explosives ‘Disappear’ In Yemen

Fears of a terrorist strike against Western embassies in Yemen have grown amid claims a convoy of lorries laden with explosives had been smuggled into the country’s capital city, Sana’a.

           — Hat tip: JD [Return to headlines]

Standoff in Iran Deepens With New Show of Force

CAIRO — Iranian authorities sent police officers into the streets to deter protests on Friday as Mir Hussein Moussavi, the principal opposition leader, said in a statement that he did not fear giving his life as “a martyr.”

The continuing show of force in the capital and Mr. Moussavi’s declaration, in which he said that even killing him would not end the unrest, were part of a day of charges, countercharges and warnings from both sides, illustrating the deep divisions that have emerged since Iran’s political crisis began six months ago.

The government and its hard-line supporters continued to rely on force, and the threat of force, to quell protests and demand loyalty, while the opposition refused to back down. There was no indication that compromise was on the agenda.

During Friday Prayer services in the capital, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a fundamentalist cleric who leads the powerful Guardian Council, called protesters “flagrant examples of the corrupt on Earth” and effectively urged that they be executed as “in the early days of the revolution.”

Mr. Moussavi issued a statement on his Web site,, that took a broad swipe at the government for its use of force against civilian protesters. It also criticized the government’s handling of the economy and foreign policy and its failure to address institutional corruption.

Mr. Moussavi offered a prescription for the government to restore its lost legitimacy, calling for the release of political prisoners and the repair of electoral laws, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and the press.

Then he directly addressed those who in recent days called for him to be arrested and executed, along with other opposition leaders, like Mehdi Karroubi, the cleric and former Parliament speaker.

“I’m not afraid of being one of the post-election martyrs who lost their lives in their struggle for their rightful demands,” he said in the statement. “My blood is no different from that of other martyrs.”

But Mr. Moussavi also acknowledged what had become increasingly evident during recent events, that neither he nor Mr. Karroubi was actually in charge…

[Return to headlines]

US Embassy in Yemen Reopens After Strikes on Al-Qaeda

The US embassy in Yemen has reopened after “successful counter-terrorism operations” by Yemeni security forces north of the capital on Monday.

The embassy had closed on Sunday in response to what it had said were al-Qaeda threats, with the British and French embassies following suit.

On Tuesday, the US embassy said on its website that Yemeni security forces had addressed a “specific area of concern”.

The British and French embassies are operating but closed to the public.

“Successful counter-terrorism operations conducted by the government of Yemen security forces January 4 north of the capital have addressed a specific area of concern, and have contributed to the embassy’s decision to resume operations,” the US embassy said.

The statement apparently referred to an operation on Monday, some 25 miles north of Sanaa, in which two suspected members of al-Qaeda were killed.

The difficulties of travel within Yemen have prevented the BBC from independently verifying details of the raid.

But the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, in Sanaa, says he saw military jets flying over the capital on Monday afternoon and into the evening, suggesting some kind of operation was under way.

‘Global threat’

American intelligence officials say the failed plot to bomb a US-bound jet on 25 December originated in Yemen — where the suspect was allegedly trained by al-Qaeda.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said instability in Yemen was a global as well as regional threat.

She said the Yemeni government had to take measures to restore stability or risk losing Western support.

Correspondents say the security situation in Yemen is complicated by an abundance of firearms, an insurgency in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.

But the prospects of reasserting central government authority over the lawless areas where al-Qaeda is based look, in the opinion of some analysts, remote — even with beefed-up American support

The Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) last week said it had been behind the alleged plot to bomb the Detroit-bound aircraft.

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

South Asia

Bangladesh Bans Religion in Politics

DHAKA: All the Islamic political parties of Bangladesh should drop the name of Islam from their name and should stop using religion during campaigning, Law Minister Ahmad Shafique said on Monday. He said this following a Supreme Court ruling on Sunday, which upheld a 2005 ruling by the high court throwing out the fifth amendment of the constitution, which had allowed religion-based politics to flourish in the country since the late 1970s. “All politics based on religion are going to be banned as per the original constitution,” Ahmed said. The move follows the Awami League’s sweep to power in 2008 elections, which saw them beat the BNP with a landslide. The new government outlawed a controversial Islamic party in October, accusing it of destabilising the country. “We want to reinstate the original constitution. Secularism was a pillar of the 1972 constitution,” said Ahmed. The main opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is allied with two other Islamic parties, said it would appeal the verdict. Four other Islamist organisations, including the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), were banned after they carried out a series of nationwide bombings that left 28 people dead in 2005. afp

           — Hat tip: Henrik [Return to headlines]

Malaysian Supreme Court Authorizes Christians to Use the Word Allah. Government Appeals

Minister for Religious Affairs: protecting the name of Allah from “insults and abuse.” The website of the weekly Catholic Herald Malaysia attacked by hackers. The Director: guarantee the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and speech.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) — The Malaysian government will appeal against the decision of the Supreme Court, which authorized the weekly Catholic Herald Malaysia to use the word “Allah”.

The Executive has invited faithful to remain calm, while stressing that “Allah” is only for Muslims. Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic weekly, states that there is no intention of proselytizing, but to ensure respect for “the right of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution and freedom of thought.”

On 31 December, the judges — after a long legal battle led by local Catholics, and supported by AsiaNews — agreed that the term can be used in the Malay language as a reference to God, even by non-Muslims. An adverse decision according to the executive which through Jamil Khir Johari, Minister for Religious Affairs, says that “it is important to protect the use of the word” and prevent “insults and abuse.” He promised “all necessary legal measures, in compliance with the Federal Constitution” so the government regulation is reintroduced.

Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, refers to the Constitution which stresses the “right” enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the State to “religious freedom” and “freedom of thought and opinion.” In its ruling the judges said that Catholics “have a constitutional right” to use the word “Allah”, branded as “illegal, null and void” by the previous government legislation.

Last night the website of the Catholic publication — was twice attacked by hackers. Engineers have neutralized the raids and the site has resumed regular activities. The director will not comment on the incident, so as not to “increase tension” to a “very delicate” issue.

In an editorial released in the next issue of the magazine — and received exclusively by AsiaNews — Father Andrew says that “the Christian faithful have used the word Allah since the time of the Sultanate of Malacca.” The priest adds that “one of the first dictionaries printed in Malay language, the Malay-Latin dictionary of 1631, contains the word Allah.” He stresses that “the Catholic weekly is in line with the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution” concerning freedom of expression, speech and religion. Fr. Andrew finally thanks those who “have supported us on many occasions,” through “prayer and fasting.”

The Malaysia Herald is published in four languages and has a circulation of about 14 thousand copies per week. Malaysia is a multi-cultural country, it has a population exceeding 23 million inhabitants, with a substantial presence of ethnic minorities, including Chinese and Indian. 60% are Muslim: Christians are about 10% of the population.

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

Unmarried Couples Caught in Malaysia Hotel Raids

Fifty-two unmarried couples could face charges of sexual misconduct and jail terms after being caught in hotel rooms by Malaysia’s Islamic morality police.

Scores of officers conducted raids on budget hotels on New Year’s Day in the western state of Selangor.

Those detained in the early hours of New Year’s Day were mainly students and young factory workers.

The Muslim couples are expected to be charged with the offence of close proximity, or Khalwat.

Under Malaysia’s Islamic Sharia Law, couples who are not married to each other should not be in a secluded area or confined space, which could give rise to suspicion that they were engaged in immoral acts.

A spokesman for the Selangor State Islamic Department says they chose New Year’s Day because many people are known to commit this offence when celebrating a major holiday.

If convicted, the couples could get a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine.

Sharia laws in Malaysia apply only to Muslims, who make up over half the population.

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

Latin America

As Brazilians Flee Suriname, Government Promises Crackdown

Surinamese authorities arrested 50 people on Monday in connection with the massive riots that took place over Christmas in the eastern border town of Albina.

Feature — Racially charged violence claims lives in Suriname

The Surinamese minister of justice, Chandrikapersad Santhoki, announced a massive government crackdown on crime in the Albina region would follow next month.

Rioting erupted in Albina on Christmas Eve after a local inhabitant stabbed a Brazilian prospector to death. The border region is well known for its gold mining industry that employs thousands of Brazilians, most of whom are in Suriname illegally.

Hundreds of local maroons, the descendants of escaped slaves, took to the streets wielding axes and other weapons, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Their aggression was mostly directed at the Brazilians and Chinese in the village.

How many victims the riots claimed is still unclear. Local authorities assume only one person died. However, eye witnesses have reported the body of a Brazilian victim washed up ashore after being dumped in the river. A Brazilian priest said he witnessed the death of at least seven. Some people are still missing.

The violence has received a lot of publicity in Brazil. A Brazilian military aircraft evacuated people from the northern town of Belem. Hundreds of Brazilians have been put up in hotels in Paramaribo. According to the Surinamese president, Ronald Venetiaan, who has condemned the violence in no uncertain terms, the Brazilian president, Lula da Silva, has said he bears the Surinamese no ill will because of the violence.

Members of the Surinamese parliament were left aghast by the riots and want troops to be stationed in the Albina region permanently. Ex-rebel leader Ronny Brunswijk, who currently leads the largest maroon party in parliament, also condemned the violence.

What Santhoki’s crackdown will entail remains. Santhoki asked a security law which he had drafted well before the events of Christmas Eve be pushed through parliament more quickly.

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya ‘Deports Muslim Hate Cleric Abdullah Al-Faisal’

Kenyan police say they have deported a Jamaican-born Muslim cleric notorious for preaching racial hatred but have declined to say where he has gone.

Abdullah al-Faisal had been sent to a “friendly neighbouring country” despite trouble finding a country to take him, a police spokesman told the BBC.

But a Muslim group later insisted Faisal was still in Nairobi.

Kenyan officials have said Faisal was being deported because of his “terrorist history”.

He has served four years in a UK prison after being convicted of soliciting the murder of Jews and Hindus.

But the authorities have since given mixed signals over Faisal’s whereabouts.

Some reports say Kenya has failed to deport him because no other country is willing to have him.

Other reports quote officials as saying he was sent by road to Tanzania on Monday night.

Terrorist ‘watch-list’

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told the BBC there had been difficulties with deporting him because no-one wanted to grant him a visa even for transit.

Mr Kiraithe confirmed only that Faisal had left Kenya and that his final destination was Jamaica.

Shortly afterwards, Al-Amin Kimathi, of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, insisted that the authorities had not managed to expel him.

Faisal was arrested after attending evening prayers at a mosque in Mombasa last Thursday.

Muslim campaigners in Kenya have claimed Muslim clerics were being targeted.

“It is wrong for this government to allow other scholars to come in the country and accept them and deport other scholars without any reason so far,” one Muslim protester said.

But Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang said Faisal was on an international watch-list of terrorists.

The minister, quoted in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, admitted they had no charges against him, but said: “We are not deporting him because he is a Muslim.

“We are deporting him because of his terrorist history and the fact that he is on the international watch-list.”

African connection

Faisal was born Trevor William Forrest in St James, Jamaica, and left the island for the UK 26 years ago.

His parents were Salvation Army officers and he was raised as a Christian.

At the age of 16 he went to Saudi Arabia — where he is believed to have spent eight years — and became a Muslim.

He took a degree in Islamic Studies in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, before coming back to the UK.

Faisal spent years travelling the UK preaching racial hatred urging his audience to kill Jews, Hindus and Westerners.

A year after being deported from the UK in 2007, he was preaching in South Africa.

Mr Kajwang said that Faisal had recently “arrived in Nigeria, passed through Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland and Malawi,” before crossing from Tanzania into Kenya on 24 December.

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

Somali Pirates Free Hijacked Pakistani ‘Mother Ship’

A Pakistani fishing vessel used by Somali pirates to hijack a UK-owned car-transporting ship has been freed in the Indian Ocean.

The Shahbaig — also known as the Shazaib — was used as a “mother ship” from which smaller boats were launched to capture the UK-owned Asian Glory.

It was abandoned 1,000 miles (1,600kms) north of the Seychelles and then boarded by the EU’s naval force.

The Asian Glory is still being held along with at least 11 other ships.

The EU Navfor protection force said in a statement: “The Shahbaig was boarded by crew from FS Surcouf and found all crew members to be in good health except for one member whose leg was broken.”

Upsurge in piracy

Pirates had seized the Shahbaig and its 29-strong crew in early December, 370 miles (595kms) east of Socotra, an island off the Horn of Africa.

Observers say so-called “mother ships”, or larger vessels, are often used by the pirates to tow and launch their smaller speedboats, and to resupply them.

But this is one of the first known instances of one vessel being hijacked and then used to hijack another.

The Asian Glory was the more valuable ship, carrying 2,300 vehicles.

It was en route from Singapore to Saudi Arabia with a crew of 25 — 10 Ukrainians, eight Bulgarians, five Indians and two Romanians.

It was seized 620 miles (1,000km) off Somalia’s coast.

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

Sudan vs. Susanne

Sudanese government likens Danish film director Susanne Bier’s upcoming film to the Mohammed cartoons

Film director Susanne Bier’s new movie ‘Hævnen’ (The Revenge) could trigger a new Mohammed crisis, reports Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

Sudan’s government has spoken out against Bier’s film, describing it as anti-Islamic and on par with the Mohammed cartoons and right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ movie ‘Fitna’.

‘Vengeance’, shot in Kenya and Denmark, is based on the war in Sudan’s Darfur region and tracks refugees from camps in Sudan to their new life in a small town on the Danish island of Funen.

But the Sudanese foreign ministry has blasted the film, despite it not yet having been screened or released. A press release states that the film represents ‘non-existing conditions in Darfur’ and is ‘a new step in the hostile forces working to prolong the war in Darfur’.

Muawiya Osman Khalid, a spokesman for the ministry, said the film was racist. It was a ‘continuation of the notorious “Fitna” film and the drawings that insult the prophet Mohammed’, he told Sudanese news agency Suna.

The film crew paid residents between 2000 and 5000 Kenyan shillings each to play war victims from Darfur, according to Khalid, who added that the real inhabitants of Kukobi camp, where much of the film was shot, have launched a campaign against the movie.

‘Revenge’ stars Danish actors Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen, and Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt. It is expected to hit theatres in August.

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]


Five More Suspected Illegal Migrants Found Dead at Greek Border

Athens- Fishermen have discovered five more bodies of suspected illegal immigrants in the delta of the Maritsa river dividing Greece and Turkey, Greek state radio reported Tuesday. Greek rescuers had recovered four bodies from the Maritsa, known in Greek as the Evros, on Monday. The latest discovery brings the total number of victims to nine. Officials believe they died while trying to cross the river.

How many people had died in total remained unclear, local radio reported. “We expect worse,” said a reporter after speaking to police.

Eight bodies were discovered in the Maritsa delta in October in a similar incident.

The area around the Maritsa and the nearby Aegean Sea are popular routes for illegal immigrants trying to access the European Union.

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

UK: Asylum Seeker Lived Rent-Free in Council Flat While Earning £75,000

A wealthy asylum seeker who lived rent-free in a flat paid for by Camden council while earning £75,000 a year as a carpenter and builder was behind bars today.

Fahd El-Hajj, 34, was exposed as a benefit cheat only after moving home and carelessly leaving more than £10,000 in a drawer, where it was discovered by the next tenant — a policeman.

In total, El-Hajj pocketed £43,500 in a four-year swindle at the taxpayers’ espense after moving to Britain from Palestine.

El-Hajj arrived in Britain in 1999 and in January 2004 made a bogus claim for housing benefit at his home in Shoot Up Hill, Camden, on the grounds that he had no money.

A month later he was refused asylum but failed to declare his position to the authorities because it would have meant losing the handouts.

The swindle went undetected until September 2007, when he moved out and a policeman became the new tenant.

The officer discovered £10,500 cash in brown envelopes stuffed inside a drawer which El-Hajj had completely forgotten about, Blackfriars Crown Court heard. It then emerged around £150,000 had passed through several of his bank accounts in just two years.

El-Hajj, of Camden, admitted five counts of false accounting and was remanded in custody before he is sentenced later this month by Judge Deva Pillay

           — Hat tip: TB [Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Spain: Anti-Abortion Campaign in 12th Night Procession

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, JANUARY 4 — There will be a carnival float against the abortion reform law in tomorrow’s traditional ‘Cabalgada de los Reyes’, the Twelfth Night procession through Madrid, an annual event many children look out to. The anti-abortion float, an initiative of the conservative pro-life platform, has been authorized by the president of the Chamartin district, Luis Miguel Boto, asked to resign by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the on-line edition of Publico reports. According to a spokesman of the platform, the carnival float will be refer to the reform of the law on the voluntary termination of pregnancy, an initiative of the Zapatero government, in the festive character of the celebration. This is not the platform’s first move in this Christmas period: yesterday a group of activists performed several Christmas carols in the streets of Madrid, urging people who were shopping to join them in their fight against the reform of the abortion law. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]


Spotty Enforcement for New US Air Screening Rules

On the first day of what was supposed to be tighter screening ordered by the U.S. for airline passengers from certain countries, some airports around the world conceded Monday they had not cracked down.

The United States demanded more careful screening for people who are citizens of, or are flying from, 14 nations deemed security risks. But enforcement of the U.S. rules appeared spotty.

“Everything is the same. There is no extra security,” said an aviation official in Lebanon, one of the countries on the list. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Obama administration ordered the changes after what authorities say was a failed attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up a jetliner bound from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said the enhanced screening techniques would include full-body pat-downs, searches of carry-on bags, full-body scanning and explosive-detection technology.

On Monday, passengers arriving on international flights reported they had been patted down individually, or had their luggage inspected by hand — steps that have been in place on many international flights since the failed bombing.

Passengers on a flight from Stockholm to Newark, N.J., were patted down and had their bags checked at the gate, flier Mark Biddle said. He said no passengers had been singled out for special attention.

In Nigeria, one of the nations on the U.S. list for additional security, there were long lines on the first day of the new rules. At the airport in the capital of Lagos, Mine Oniovosa, a 24-year-old student, said she had been told to show up more than seven hours ahead of time for a flight to Atlanta.

A Nigerian official pledged that everyone would be patted down at the country’s international airports. In Lagos, guards wearing latex gloves combed through bags, spending more than a minute on each one.

But at international airports in Lebanon, Syria and Libya, all on the list, there were no visible changes in screening. And several European governments, including Germany, France and Spain, said they were still studying the rules before tightening security any further than the steps they took after the failed Christmas attack.

“We will continue to work with our airline and international partners to ensure they meet both international and TSA security standards,” TSA spokesman Greg Soule said.

Among the 14 nations are four — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — that the U.S. government considers state sponsors of terrorism. The list also includes Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

Passengers arriving at U.S. airports on international flights described a wide range of screening methods — from being separated by gender and patted down to nothing more invasive than normal airport security.

Lydia Habhab, a consultant for the World Bank who flew from France to Amsterdam and on to Detroit, said she was subjected to a full-body scan and her luggage was opened and inspected.

The additional security caused her flights to leave an hour later than scheduled, said Habhab, who is originally from Detroit and now lives in Washington.

“I felt personally violated, but I understand why the procedures are necessary,” she said.

Passengers on a charter flight from Havana to Miami said they did not notice any additional security in either Cuba or the United States.

“It was the same as always. There was no problem,” said Adriana Vallester, 46, who was returning from a holiday visit to her family in Cuba.

A U.S. intelligence official said the government had moved the names of dozens of people onto its terrorism watch list and its no-fly list after reviewing the government’s database of suspected terrorists.

The man arrested in the Christmas incident, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been in a database with about 550,000 other terror suspects since late November. But officials said the government did not have enough information to put him on the no-fly list.

Authorities say Abdulmutallab tried to bring down Northwest Flight 253 by igniting explosives concealed in his underwear, but the material failed to detonate, causing only a small fire. Passengers put out the fire and restrained Abdulmutallab.

While screening for international flights has been tightened since Christmas Day, there have been few changes at domestic airports.

On Sunday, officials at the Newark airport emptied a terminal and forced passengers to go through screening again after a man passed through a security checkpoint going the wrong way. His identity and whereabouts remained unknown Monday.

The failed Northwest attack has led to calls for wider use of full-body scanners, now in regular use at only a few U.S. airports. Dutch officials announced Monday they would buy 60 more of the scanners. There are already 15 in use at the Amsterdam airport alone.

Saudi Arabia said it had placed additional security personnel at its airports, and a Nigerian minister said the government there would perform whatever security checks the U.S. asked for.

“It is for the good of everybody that everybody is searched thoroughly,” Information Minister Dora Akunyili said.

Still, she questioned Nigeria’s inclusion on the list. While Abdulmutallab is Nigerian, she noted he had lived and studied abroad for years.

“It is unfair to discriminate against 150 million Nigerians over the behavior of one person,” Akunyili said. “It is outside of the shores of this country that he developed this nasty tendency to do what he tried to do.

[Return to headlines]

One thought on “Gates of Vienna News Feed 1/5/2010

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