Gates of Vienna News Feed 2/4/2016

A seminar on LGBT rights in Indonesia was broken up by a mob from the Islamic Defenders Front, which attacked the event at a hotel meeting room in central Jakarta. A participant in the seminar said it had been suspended for security reasons.

In other news, Greece was paralyzed by a general strike today, which was called by the major public- and private-sector unions to protest proposed pension reforms.

To see the headlines and the articles, click “Continue reading” below.

Thanks to AF, C. Cantoni, Dean, Insubria, Jerry Gordon, and all the other tipsters who sent these in.

Notice to tipsters: Please don’t submit extensive excerpts from articles that have been posted behind a subscription firewall, or are otherwise under copyright protection.

Caveat: Articles in the news feed are posted “as is”. Gates of Vienna cannot vouch for the authenticity or accuracy of the contents of any individual item posted here. We check each entry to make sure it is relatively interesting, not patently offensive, and at least superficially plausible. The link to the original is included with each item’s title. Further research and verification are left to the reader.

Financial Crisis
» Cheesed Off With Banks, Italian Dairy Co-Op Turns to Parmesan Bonds
» EC Raises Italy’s Deficit Forecast, Says Rome Must ‘Show Ability to Listen’
» Greece: Country Paralyzed by General Strike
» Inflation Held Down by ‘Conspiring’ Forces Says Draghi
» Italy Expects Flexibility ‘Since Libya Crisis Began’
» Breaking: Fourth Circuit Strikes Down Maryland’s ‘Assault Weapon’ And ‘High Capacity’ Magazine Bans
» Obama Floats $10-a-Barrel Oil Tax
» President Addresses Baltimore Mosque With Terrorist Connections Caught Practicing Gender Apartheid
» The Latest: Student’s Parents Give Emotional Testimony
» The Smith Project: What Voters Want
Europe and the EU
» Bulgaria: Juncker Plan: Agreement on 35 Mln of Loans
» France: ‘I Feel Abandoned, ‘ Says Witness Who Turned in Paris Attacks Coordinator
» Italian Police Clash With Protesters During Evictions
» Italy: Tronca Vows to Get to Bottom of Pittance Rent Scandal
» Italy: INPGI Head Camporese Indicted for Sopaf Bankruptcy
» Portugal Government Adopts 2016 Draft Budget Without EU’s Approval
North Africa
» Libya Actions to be Agreed With Neighbors, Tunisia President
» Military Intervention in Libya ‘Not Imminent’ — Pinotti
Middle East
» English-Speaking Child Issues Chilling Warning to America Before Beheading Prisoner in Latest Sick ISIS Video
» Iraq: Chaldean Bishop Backs Barzani on Referendum for Kurdish Independence
» Italy to Contribute USD 400 Million for Syria
» US Calls on Ten New Countries to Take in Syrian Refugees, Pledge Assistance
» Discredited Ex-IMF Chief Strauss-Kahn Joins Ukrainian Billionaire’s Bank
» ‘NATO Expanded Eastwards to Help Russia to Give Up Its Imperial Temptation’
» Ukraine Economy Minister Quits, “Reforms Blocked”
South Asia
» India: Uttar Pradesh: Christian’s Head Shaved and Publically Humiliated Over Alleged Forced Conversions
» Pakistan Shut Down 182 Madrassas Since Peshawar Massacre
Far East
» Pope Francis Under Fire Over China ‘Realpolitik’
» Cities With Largest Influx of Migrants Say They’ve Suffered a Huge Drop in Living Standards, European Commission Study Finds
» Fewer Asylum Seekers ‘Voluntarily Departed’ Israel in 2015
» Germany: Over 91,000 Asylum-Seekers Arrived in January
» Italy: TV Presenter Insinna Donates Boat to Doctors Without Borders
» Juncker Welcomes Italian OK to Turkey Aid, Says No Stupid Austerity
» Official Scoffs at Washington’s Fears Over Canadian Plan to Take Refugees
» Polls: UK Worries About Migrants Whilst US Names Own Gov’t as Top Concern
» Russia Agrees to Take 200-300 Failed Asylum Seekers From Norway
» Sweden: No Memorial for Slain Migrant Worker in Sweden for Fear of Offending Migrants
» Swedish Schoolgirls Become Latest Victims of Migrant Harassment
» Syrian Crisis Brings Jordan to Verge of Collapse Amid Risk of Silent Fanaticism
» Vucic: Serbia is Not a ‘Parking Lot’
Culture Wars
» Indonesia: LGBT Seminar Broken Up by Muslim Extremists
» Italy: Lorenzin ‘Absolutely Against’ Stepchild Adoption
» Italy: Minimum Women Quotas Approved for Regional Assemblies
» Italy: Forty Senators in Civil Unions Constitutional Court Appeal

Cheesed Off With Banks, Italian Dairy Co-Op Turns to Parmesan Bonds

With banks still reluctant to lend money to businesses following the 2008 financial crisis, one Italian dairy cooperative has gone to extraordinary lengths to secure funding, raising more than US$6.7 million (€6 million) by issuing bonds guaranteed by huge wheels of parmesan cheese.

The 4 Madonne cooperative in northern Italy took advantage of a government-back mini bonds scheme to help boost funding to support the business’ expanding operations after banks refused to provide more finance. Andrea Setti, the cooperative’s financial controller told AFP:

“We already have some loans but, after a certain point, the banks don’t want to give you any more.”

The cooperative, which makes cheese from milk supplied by 40 different dairy farmers, managed to secure US$6.7 million (€6 million) worth of funds by guaranteeing loans against wheels of its own parmesan cheese.

Under the scheme, investors provide funding for six years in return for a five percent yield backed by cheese assets valued at a 120 percent of the bonds’ worth.

The business said that the funds will help boost its presence into the US market and upgrade some of its own facilities.

The initiative is part of measures aimed at trying to help local Italian businesses generate money and expand their operations, amid signs that the country is going through a tentative economic recovery.

An increasing number of Italian producers are taking advantage of the ‘cheese economy’ to secure more finance with some traditional lenders still apprehensive about lending money to businesses.

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

EC Raises Italy’s Deficit Forecast, Says Rome Must ‘Show Ability to Listen’

Commission says expansionist impact of budget law the cause

(ANSA) — Brussels, February 4 — The European Commission said Thursday that it had raised its deficit-to-GDP forecast for Italy to 2.5% for 2016, up from the 2.3% it predicted in November. It said the deficit for 2016 was 2015. “Despite positive growth, the deficit will only come down marginally,” the EC said in its winter forecasts. “This reflects the expansionist impact of the (2016) budget law (of Premier Matteo Renzi’s government), including 3.2 billion euros in additional spending on security and culture, which increased the deficit forecast in the DEF (Economic and Financial Document) from 2.2% to 2.4%”.

European Economic Affairs Commisssioner Pierre Moscovici on Thursday said Italy should show “serenity and an ability to listen” in discussions on budget flexibility. “I am convinced that the spirit of dialogue must prevail over clashes. Serenity, patience, hard work, a mutual capacity to listen to each other and dialogue are needed,” said Moscovici when asked when he would reply to Italy’s demands for greater flexibility. “You know the rules, the reply to the flexibility requested will be in May, we’ll examine demands continuing dialogue with Italy, in a serene and objective, methodical way and with a precise deadline, recalling that Italy is the only (country) that already benefits from a significant flexibility”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Greece: Country Paralyzed by General Strike

Unions against pension reform, march on Parliament

(ANSA) — ATHENS — Greece is paralyzed by a general strike called by the largest private and public sector unions against a pension reform proposed by the Tsipras government. At around midday, workers including employees, the self-employed, farmers and pensioners will demonstrate in downtown Athens and then march towards Parliament. Many categories are protesting against a hike in social security payments and taxes, which will affect 75-80% of these categories’ salaries, according to unions.

Public transportation stopped working on Thursday both in city and in outer areas while members of unions representing professionals, artisans and retailers (Gsevee) will also strike.

The Confederation of trade and enterprise (Esee) is also adhering to the protest.

Lawyers, notaries, truck drivers, gas station attendants, doctors and pharmacists are among those expected to demonstrate.

Maritime transport workers will strike for 48 hours until Saturday morning.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Inflation Held Down by ‘Conspiring’ Forces Says Draghi

‘No reason why situation should be permanent,’ ECB chief says

(ANSA) — Frankfurt, February 4 — There are forces in the global economy that are “conspiring” to hold down inflation, President of the European Central Bank (ECB) Mario Draghi said Thursday. “Those forces might cause inflation to return more slowly to our objective,” Draghi added. However, “there is no reason why they should lead to a permanently lower inflation rate,” he continued. Forces influencing the inflation rate include demographic change, aging populations, the long-term cycle in commodity prices and technological change including e-commerce, the ECB chief said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy Expects Flexibility ‘Since Libya Crisis Began’

In return for OK on Turkey refugee fund

(ANSA) — Brussels, February 3 — Italy has given its OK to a three-billion-euro fund for refugees in Turkey and expects the European Commission to free its spending since the beginning of the Libya crisis from deficit constraints in return, Italy said in a statement attached to its decision Wednesday.

European Affairs Undersecretary Sandro Gozi earlier echoed this by saying Italy expects the European Commission to respect budget flexibility rules with regards to its spending on the migrant emergency.

“At the same time as it confirmed it would OK the fund for refugees in Turkey, Italy made it clear that this exceptional event cannot affect just one part of the Mediterranean,” Gozi told the Lower House EU policies committee.

“Spending on managing the migratory flow from North Africa must be assessed with the same norms and the same interpretation,” Gozi told lawmakers.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Breaking: Fourth Circuit Strikes Down Maryland’s ‘Assault Weapon’ And ‘High Capacity’ Magazine Bans

“In our view, Maryland law implicates the core protection of the Second Amendment—’the right of law-abiding responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home,’ District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 635 (2008), and we are compelled by Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), as well as our own precedent in the wake of these decisions, to conclude that the burden is substantial and strict scrutiny is the applicable standard of review for Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment claim.”

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

Obama Floats $10-a-Barrel Oil Tax

US President Barack Obama on Thursday proposed a $10-a-barrel tax on oil firms to pay for much needed infrastructure improvements.

The $10 charge, phased in over five years, would be levied on companies — but the costs could be passed on to consumers.

“For too long, bipartisan support for innovative and expansive transportation investment has not been accompanied by a long-term plan for paying for it,” the White House said in a statement.

The proposal comes amid current low oil prices and is also designed to wean Americans onto more climate-friendly fuels…

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

President Addresses Baltimore Mosque With Terrorist Connections Caught Practicing Gender Apartheid

President Obama went to Baltimore today for a friendly gathering at the Islamic Center of Baltimore Mosque in Catonsville, Maryland . He was there to convey a message that Muslims are as American as apple pie. Problem is that he chose a Mosque deep into political Islam, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate , the Islamic Society of North America , supporting suicide bombers and professing hate for US ally Israel. All despite the FBI file sent to the White House confirming this information. No matter. It was a photo op moment to show support for embattled American Muslims given statements from Republican hopeful, Donald Trump that he would stop immigration of Muslims.

The scene was replete with introduction by a hijab swathed college student on track for a medical career. The President in his remarks pointed out another hijab wearing fencing marvel that may be carrying the US flag at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero this summer. The President spoke of the kind comments of founding Fathers John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who purportedly included Mohammedans in the ambit of freedom of worship in America guaranteed by our First Amendment.

Problem is that he forgot to mention the real reason Thomas Jefferson had a copy of a Qur’an in his library at Monticello . A Qur’an, upon which , the first elected US Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) swore a private oath of office on January 4, 2007. I know I passed by his office with a clutch of TV cameramen recording this for posterity. Ellison was at the ISB gathering, as was the second elected Muslim Congressmen, Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN). Doubtless, as this was the President’s alleged first visit to an American Mosque, there may have been notables at the Mosque in Catonsville from CAIR and ISNA. But not too worry this was kumbaya day at the ISB.

Watch the You Tube video of the President’s expansive, yet, cautionary message of support for American Muslims.

American Muslims that he pointed out in his remarks assembled Ford automobiles in Michigan, built the first continuous Mosque in Cedar Rapids,, Iowa, served honorably in the US military and some were buried in the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, there were those small pockets of extremists in the Muslim Ummah like ISIS or ISIL as he likes to call it with its self-declared Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Barbarically beheading Christians, enslaving minority Yazidi women and children, destroying ancient cultures in the name of Allah, their God. Then there are the extremist Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan killing women, homosexuals and Christian infidels. Oh, we forgot the Mahdist Shia in Tehran who the President makes deals with to prevent a nuclear war, he thinks. Last year, they only executed 1,000 for crimes of gender, homosexuality and heterodox beliefs.

As to the reason why Jefferson had a Qur’an in his library, just recall their encounter in London with the Tripolitanian Ambassador in their roles as US Commissioners trying to understand why the Bey of Tripoli enslaved American sailors he seized along with their ships in the Mediterranean. Note this Notable and Quotable in the Wall Street Journal:

           — Hat tip: Jerry Gordon [Return to headlines]

The Latest: Student’s Parents Give Emotional Testimony

BLACKSBURG, Va. — The Latest on charges against two Virginia Tech students in the death of a 13-year-old girl (all times local):

1:45 p.m.

The parents of one of two Virginia Tech students charged in the death of a 13-year-old girl gave emotional testimony during her bail hearing.

On Thursday, Tim and Sara Keepers spoke during the hearing for 19-year-old Natalie Keepers. Tim Keepers teared up as he told the judge his daughter wanted to follow in his footsteps an aerospace engineer.

Sara Keepers, an X-ray technician, called her daughter’s situation devastating. She said she knew her daughter and fellow student David Eisenhauer were friends, but nothing stood out. Eisenhauer is charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder. Keepers is charged with improper disposal of a body and accessory before and after the fact in the commission of a felony.

Keepers’ parents said that if she were released on bail, their daughter would be under constant supervision. But bail was denied.


1:20 p.m.

A prosecutor says two Virginia Tech students plotted to kill a 13-year-old girl and hide her body.

Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt revealed details about the accusations against 18-year-old David Eisenhauer and 19-year-old Natalie Keepers at a Thursday hearing. Until then, details about 13-year-old Nicole Lovell’s death had been scarce.

Pettit says Eisenhauer and Keepers met at a fast-food restaurant to plan how they’d kill Nicole, and drove past her home. Pettit says they bought cleaning supplies at one Wal-Mart and a shovel at another.

Pettitt says Eisenhauer planned to cut Nicole’s throat at a remote location. Pettit says the pair put the body in the back of a Lexus. Pettit says authorities found a weapon, but she didn’t describe it.

Pettitt didn’t give a possible motive or describe how the killing was carried out; instead she detailed only the pair’s plans.

She says Eisenhauer first denied involvement in killing Nicole but admitted to driving to her home. Pettit says he also admitted that he saw her climb out of her window, and she says he greeted her with a side hug and then brought her to Keepers.


12:55 p.m.

A Virginia Tech student who is charged in the death of a 13-year-old girl was a cutter as early as eighth grade, was taking medication for anxiety problems, and was seeing a counselor on campus for treatment.

Those details came to light during an hourlong bail hearing Thursday for 19-year-old Natalie Keepers. She’s charged with being an accessory before and after the death of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell.

Keepers described some of her problems in her own words. Her father also was questioned, and he described her having an appendectomy sometime in the fall. He said fellow student 18-year-old David Eisenhauer took her to the hospital. He’s accused of kidnapping and fatally stabbing Nicole.

Keepers also said she’s not getting her full medication and is gluten intolerant and can’t eat jail food.

At the hearing’s end, bail was denied for Keepers.


12:20 p.m.

A judge has denied bail for a Virginia Tech student charged with being an accessory in the death of a 13-year-old girl.

Nineteen-year-old Natalie Keepers appeared in court for an hourlong hearing Thursday. She wore an orange jumpsuit, her wrists cuffed and ankles shackled. She looked down as she entered but answered Judge Robert Viar Jr.’s questions clearly and without emotion.

Defense attorneys argued that they needed Keepers released to prepare for her case. They suggested she’s under duress and being held in isolation. Prosecutors argued that the accusations over 13-year-old Nicole Lovell’s death are reason enough to keep Keepers behind bars.

Keepers’ parents attended and held hands at they left.

Fellow student 18-year-old David Eisenhauer also is charged in the death; he’s accused of kidnapping and fatally stabbing Nicole. Keepers is charged with being an accessory before and after the crime, and she’s accused of helping to hide Nicole’s body…

           — Hat tip: Dean [Return to headlines]

The Smith Project: What Voters Want

Veteran pollster Pat Caddell’s Armada group has spent the past several years charting the alienation of the American electorate, constructing a fascinating model of what most Americans desire in the ideal political candidate — the great statesman, or stateswoman, voters want for our time.

Using a large volume of survey data, they created a hypothetical “Candidate Smith” whose platform would enjoy strong majority support from the entire country.

Here are some of the many highlights from the poll, which is attached below:

70% agree that the federal government today no longer has the consent of the people

79% want to recruit and support more candidates who are ordinary citizens rather than professional politicians and lawyer

A majority of voters would join a third party if it had a chance of success

77% prefer candidates who “take on the political elites and special interests” to those who conform to a set ideology

Considering how bitterly fractured the electorate has become, with intra-party disputes almost as vicious as the exchange of heavy artillery fire across the partisan divide, there is a remarkably strong consensus about what “Candidate Smith” would stand for. All of the existing candidates from both parties fall far short of this lofty ideal… and yet, the passionate supporters of every candidate in the race would insist their man or woman is Candidate Smith.

           — Hat tip: AF [Return to headlines]

Bulgaria: Juncker Plan: Agreement on 35 Mln of Loans

Georgieva, support to SMEs which create most of the jobs

(ANSA) — BRUSSELS — The European Investment Fund (EIF) and Raiffeisenbank (Bulgaria) EAD, a subsidiary of Raiffeisen Bank International AG, have signed a guarantee agreement to increase lending to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and small mid-caps in Bulgaria. This transaction benefits from the support of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the heart of the Investment Plan for Europe. The agreement will allow Raiffeisenbank to provide 35 million euros of loans to innovative SMEs in Bulgaria over the next 2 years. The loan comes under the Horizon 2020 programme’s InnovFin initiative. “For the second time in less than half a year, Bulgaria taps into the guarantee provided under the Investment Plan, this time for 35 million euros”, the European Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva, said. “This agreement is again for what matters the most — support for SMEs which create most of the new jobs in Europe. I commend this pro-activity and wish all the success to the companies that will take advantage of this opportunity” Georgieva added.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

France: ‘I Feel Abandoned, ‘ Says Witness Who Turned in Paris Attacks Coordinator

A woman who turned in Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the November Paris attacks, said Thursday she feels “abandoned” and afraid of reprisals, in an interview with French broadcaster RMC.

The woman — using the pseudonym Sonia — said she had received little support from the state in changing her identity and was living in fear, even though she had police protection.

Sonia was a friend of Hasna Aitboulahcen, Abaaoud’s cousin, who helped him hide after he and a group of jihadists attacked Parisian cafes, restaurants, a concert hall and the Stade de France stadium on November 13, killing 130.

Both Aitboulahcen and Abaaoud were killed in a police raid after the attacks, launched after prosecutors said a “witness” had come forward, whose claims were backed up by police investigations…

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

Italian Police Clash With Protesters During Evictions

Scuffles break out in Rome and Milan

(ANSA) — Rome, February 4 — Italian police clashed with housing rights protesters in Rome and Milan on Thursday during eviction attempts on squatted property.

Some protesters supporting housing rights group Action’s occupation of a building in Rome’s Viale Ostiense resisted an eviction by police, who responded with water cannons.

Describing a “serious housing emergency” affecting thousands of families, Action said in a statement that it was one of the only organisations pushing for funds to help deal with the situation in the Lazio region.

In Milan, police scuffled with protesters opposing the eviction of an Egyptian couple and their young child from the public property apartment they were squatting in.

Police were called in after members of the Cantiere social centre tried to block council housing workers from entering the building. They reached an agreement with the protesters after some moments of tension and the eviction went ahead.

The Egyptian family were offered alternative housing but they refused, according to ANSA sources close to the situation.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Tronca Vows to Get to Bottom of Pittance Rent Scandal

Mayoral candidate says he denounced this a year ago

(ANSA) — Rome, February 3 — Rome Commissioner Francesco Paolo Tronca on Wednesday vowed to get to the bottom of a scandal into city-owned apartments in luxury neighborhoods being rented for a pittance. Earlier this week the extraordinary commissioner said he had uncovered several bizarre cases, citing the examples of a flat in the Borgo Pio historic district near the Vatican being rented out at 10.29 euros a month, another in the central Corso Vittorio Emanuele rented at 24.21 euros a month, and yet another with a view over the Imperial Forums rented at 23.65 euros a month. “It’s an ethical question because this time we have to get to the bottom of it,” Tronca told RAI public broadcaster. “We owe it to the people of Rome and to city workers”. Tronca said that losses from the failure to get reasonable rents from the apartments “could amount to over 100 million euros a year”.

“We want to know who is responsible for this shameful situation — which city managers failed to check or outright favored it,” Green Party spokesman Gianfranco Mascia said.

However this issue should not be used as an excuse to sell off the city’s real estate assets to the benefit of “the usual suspects”, Mascia said.

Alfio Marchini, who is running for Rome mayor on an independent ticket, said Wednesday that he reported on this scandal a year ago on State broadcaster RAI.

“A year ago we denounced on two RAI programs what is emerging today,” he said.

“Those in power at the time said it was all falsehood….

The responsibility is a political one, and it’s down to those who have been running the city,” Marchini said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: INPGI Head Camporese Indicted for Sopaf Bankruptcy

And 12 others

(ANSA) — Milan, February 4 — Andrea Camporese, president of the Italian journalists’ pension fund INPGI, was sent to trial April 21 on Thursday in the bankruptcy of the Sopaf holding company. Camporese, who is accused of fraud and corruption, was sent to trial along with 12 others. The INPGI head, who denies wrongdoing, has been sent to trial with financiers Aldo and Andrea Magnoni, among others.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Portugal Government Adopts 2016 Draft Budget Without EU’s Approval

The Portuguese cabinet on Thursday adopted its 2016 draft budget without waiting for EU Commission approval, a government spokesman said.

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

Libya Actions to be Agreed With Neighbors, Tunisia President

‘Take interests and stability into consideration’

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, FEBRUARY 4 — Prior to planning any foreign intervention in Libya, it is necessary to “take into consideration the interests of neighboring countries and especially Tunisia”, Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi said Thursday. The remark came during a meeting with diplomatic missions and international organizations accredited in Tunis. President Essebsi underscored the repercussions of the Libyan conflict on Tunisia’s security and stability, expressing his confidence in Libyans’ ability to deal with internal divergences without foreign interference. The head of state called on the international community to help Libyans achieve “full reconciliation” to conclude the political transition process and to begin to rebuild for a “better future for Libya and the region in general”.

“It is in the interests of Tunisia, the region and the world,” he concluded, “that Libya be united and stable”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Military Intervention in Libya ‘Not Imminent’ — Pinotti

Italy is focusing on supporting Libya through political process

(ANSA) — Rome, February 4 — Military intervention in Libya is “not imminent”, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said on Thursday.

Pinotti told a talkshow on Canale 5 that Italy was focused on supporting Libya through its political process, although concerns were growing over the influence of the Islamic State (ISIS) militants.

She said ISIS “is experiencing defeats in Iraq and Syria and is thinking of moving into Libya, where we have recorded the transfer of some leaders to protect themselves from coalition attacks”.

A list of proposed government ministers presented in Libya had been rejected and a new list is due to be presented next week, she said.

“We hope that MPs will be able to agree on a government of national unity and then the Libyans themselves will tell us what they need and establish the necessary security framework,” she said.

Turning to Iraq, she said an Italian military mission tasked with protecting the Mosul dam would leave in the Spring. Italian firm Trevi has been awarded the contract to repair Iraq’s biggest dam, whose risk of collapse has increased since it was seized by ISIS in 2014 and did not receive adequate maintenance.

Separately, Pinotti said a decision to send 130 Italian soldiers to Iraq with personnel recovery duties was a response to requests for extra support from France after the attacks in Paris last year.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

English-Speaking Child Issues Chilling Warning to America Before Beheading Prisoner in Latest Sick ISIS Video

A barbaric new ISIS video shows a young, English speaking boy sawing the head off an unarmed hostage.

With his dagger pointed down the camera lens, the child issues a chilling threat to the United States for arming rebel groups to fight the terror group in Syria.

He says: ‘Oh America, these are the soldiers you armed and you spent money on to fight the Sharia of Islam.

           — Hat tip: AF [Return to headlines]

Iraq: Chaldean Bishop Backs Barzani on Referendum for Kurdish Independence

The Kurdish leader says that the “time has come” for the Kurdish people to decide “their future”. A consultative referendum would express the “will” of the people. Mgr Rabban al-Qas backs a secular basis, open to all faiths, based on shared citizenship and equal rights.

Erbil (AsiaNews) — Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani has stated that the “time has come” for the Iraqi Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood. Chaldean bishop Mgr Rabban al-Qas is ready to support Massoud Barzani if the new entity is a civil state and multi-confessional, unconcerned by religious differences but focused on developing a people’s riches.

“The time has come and the conditions are now suitable for the people to make a decision through a referendum on their future,” Barzani said. “This referendum would not necessarily lead to (an) immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the people of Kurdistan about their future,” he added.

Kurdish Peshmerga are a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in northern Iraq, and, for a long time, only they have represented the only bulwark against the relentless advance of the jihadi militants.

Nevertheless, a referendum on independence and the territories (and their oil and natural gas reserves) the new state would incorporate are a source of tension between Erbil and Iraq’s central government, which opposes an independent Kurdish nation. One of the unresolved issues concerns the Kirkuk area, which is now mostly under Peshmerga control.

Currently, both Baghdad and the Kurdish region are going through a deep economic and financial crisis, exacerbated by the collapse in the price of oil, which represents the bulk of their revenue.

Questioned on the matter, Mgr Rabban al-Qas, Chaldean bishop of Amadiya and Zakho, in the homonymous governorate on the border with Turkey and Syria (Iraqi Kurdistan), said that “the time has come” for an autonomous Kurdish entity.

For the prelate, this can revive the economy and lead to the development of an area that has been for far too long victimised by war and abuse, yet one that has been able to demonstrate in the recent past that it knows how to resist jihadi barbarism.

“Kurdistan today is not a paradise,” the prelate explained, “but we live better here than elsewhere . . . Here we can and must help those in need, whilst Baghdad has never really helped this region, even though today there are mostly Arabs, especially in Erbil and Dohuk.”

After the Islamic State group came to prominence, hundreds of thousands of Christians fled the Nineveh Plain and found refuge in the Kurdistan region. According to the bishop, a new reality can and should emerge on this basis.

“We need a Kurdish state that allows everyone to live together,” Mgr Rabban said, “not a state that is separated and confessional.” The state should be “based on secularism, a shared citizenship, and a constitution for everyone with equal rights and duties for Muslims, Christians and Yazidis.”

The prelate is not soft with Iraq’s central government in Baghdad, which has failed to protect the interest of the Iraqi people and allowed the mass exodus of Christians because of violence, persecution, and abuse.

Although the Iraqi Church has always promoted national unity, for the prelate, times have now changed. “Promoting this referendum on separation is the right thing to do, to know who we are,” he said.

“I also believe that the great powers like the United States are pushing in this direction. A Kurdish state that it is not anti-Baghdad can be a centre of freedom and coexistence . . . and ultimately Turkey will have to accept that. Barzani certainly does not want to make war on the Turks.”

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

Italy to Contribute USD 400 Million for Syria

(ANSAmed) — LONDON, FEBRUARY 4 — Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni announced at the conference of donors for Syria on Thursday that Italy will contribute “400 million dollars over the next three years”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

US Calls on Ten New Countries to Take in Syrian Refugees, Pledge Assistance

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington would continue to press the international community to increase its response to humanitarian funding appeals for refugees by at least 30 percent.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The United States is asking at least 10 more countries to pledge more assistance and open their doors to Syrian refugees, US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a speech in London on Thursday.

“We urge at least 10 countries to make pledges that have never made pledges before,” Kerry said. “We urge 10 nations to open their doors to refugee admissions that have not done so in the past.”

Kerry said that Washington would continue to press the international community to increase its response to humanitarian funding appeals for refugees by at least 30 percent.

The US secretary of state also urged multilateral development banks to do more to assist countries in the region including Jordan and Lebanon and offer them concessional finance for programs helping communities and supporting job creation.

Kerry’s announcement come after the State Department has pledged on Thursday more than $600 million in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees that will help countries such as Lebanon and Jordan as well as Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

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

Discredited Ex-IMF Chief Strauss-Kahn Joins Ukrainian Billionaire’s Bank

Dominique Strauss-Kahn — who was forced to resign over allegations of pimping and rape and aggravated pimping charges — is set to join the supervisory board of a bank owned by Ukraine’s second-richest businessman Viktor Pinchuk.

Strauss-Kahn served as the head of the International Monetary Fund from 2007 until 2011 when an allegation of sexual assault was made against him. He was arrested after New York police ordered the aircraft he was about to take off in to stop, after which they boarded the plane and arrested him.

He was arraigned over allegations by Nafissatou Diallo, a maid at the Sofitel New York Hotel, who alleged that Strauss-Kahn had sexually assaulted her after she entered his suite. Although a semen sample taken from her skirt matched a DNA submitted by Strauss-Kahn, the charges were dropped because the police and prosecutors said they could not rely on the maid’s testimony.

The Sofitel affair was later made into a film starring Gérard Depardieu playing a role based on Strauss-Kahn.

Then the French journalist and writer claimed that Strauss Kahn had attempted to rape her, but the charges were dropped through lack of evidence. In 2012, he was accused of taking part in sex parties at hotels in Lille, northern France, which involved prostitutes. Although he admitted attending the parties, Strauss-Kahn denied knowing the involvement of prostitutes. He was accused of “aggravated pimping” but the charges were dropped in 2015.

Billionaire Battle

He joins the supervisory board at Bank Credit-Dnepr, which is owned by Ukrainian billionaire Viktor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. He is ranked by Forbes — as at January 2016 — as being worth US$1.4 billion. He is a friend of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Pinchuk is the founder and main owner of EastOne Group LLC which provides services to around twenty companies which include: Credit-Dnepr, the Interpipe Pipe and Wheel Company, StarLightMedia TV (which includes STB, Novy, ICTV, QTV, M1 and M2), and the Fakty i Komentarii newspaper.

Punchuk became embroiled in what was due to be the most expensive court case in English history when he brought legal action in a US$2 billion lawsuit against two other Ukrainian billionaires, London-based Gennadiy Bogolyubov and his business partner, Igor Kolomoisky over the purchase of a mining company in Ukraine. The case was settled out of court just days before the trial was due to begin.

The Victor Pinchuk Foundation has supported a film made by Steven Spielberg on the Holocaust in Ukraine as well as human rights projects with George Soros. Pinchuk organized a free concert by Paul McCartney and launched an arts prize, with a jury comprising Elton John and Jeff Koons, among others.

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

‘NATO Expanded Eastwards to Help Russia to Give Up Its Imperial Temptation’

NATO’s Eastwards expansion is not about the military hegemony of the US but is more about consolidating the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall through offering security guarantees to Eastern European countries and easing the imperial temptation of Russia, according to a biographer of former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Political scientist and geostrategist, former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was in favor of NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe after the fall of the USSR, unlike American diplomat and political scientist George Kennan who believed that it would be America’s most fateful political error in the entire post-cold war period.

His biographer, author of the book “Zbigniew Brzezinski. Strategist of the Empire”, Justin Vaisse, has recently given an interview to the French daily Le Figaro where he explained what were the true motives of Brzezinski’s support for the expansion of the Alliance.

It was not to ensure the military hegemony of the US, but rather consolidate the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall by offering security guarantees to countries of the Eastern Europe, according to Vaisse.

It was also aimed at preventing Russia from “yielding to the imperial temptation to lay its hands on these countries.”

The idea was to extend the democratic security area of Western Europe towards the East.

Another aim was to help “Russia become a country rather than an empire.”

Vaisse notes that even at the age of 88 Brzezinski remains an influential political analyst and geostrategist and his advice and political expertise is still in high demand.

Regarding the recent crisis in Ukraine, the biographer says that Brzezinski has never been an extremist or a neoconservative and called for the decentralization and “Finlandization” of Ukraine. However he warned Ukraine off from joining NATO because it would be an unnecessary provocation of Russia.

However after the deterioration of its internal crisis, Brzezinski has called for arming the Ukrainians, as a possible military defeat could result in an unbalance in the settlement of the crisis.

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

Ukraine Economy Minister Quits, “Reforms Blocked”

Abromavicius resigned and denounced the impasse

(ANSA) — TRIESTE — The Minister of Economy and Trade of Ukraine Aivaras Abromavicius resigned today. “I decided to leave my job because of the commitment active in blocking important systemic reforms in the country”, said.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

India: Uttar Pradesh: Christian’s Head Shaved and Publically Humiliated Over Alleged Forced Conversions

The man was taken forcefully by a mob of 200 Hindu extremists. He is accused of having lured three men under the pretext of attending a meditation session. Police opened three cases, one against the Christian and two against extremists. Christian leader. “The accusations do not hold up. No sensible person would ever do what they say. Christians always respect the laws “.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) — Awdhesh Savita, a Christian of Uttar Pradesh, was forcibly taken from his home by 200 enraged Hindu extremists, who accused him of trying to convert three people to Christianity. The man was shaved, festooned with garlands of shoes and carried through the streets of his village riding a donkey.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), has sent an appeal to the Indian National Commission for Human Rights, demanding justice. He tells AsiaNews: “The GCIC harshly condemns the public humiliation of this young man and extremist forces trying to foment and incite violence and hatred against the Christian minority.”

The incident happened on January 29 last, but it was only made public in these days. Awdhesh was humiliated in public by members of the local branch of the Bajrang Dal, a militant youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, Hindu ultranationalists). The crowd surrounded his home in Randar (in Jalaun district), forced him to leave it, shaved his head, mustache and eyebrows and then led him to the organization’s headquarters.

When police arrived at the scene, the extremists refused to hand over the man. Only after the arrival of reinforcements, Awdhesh was transferred to the police station of Orai (district capital).

The president of the GCIC reported that the Christian is accused of trying to convert devout Hindus. The members of the militant group reported to police that he lured them with the pretext of attending a satsang [a Hindu gathering in which people meditate together, usually in the presence of a guru — ed].

One of the three Hindu Sangam Jatav, said Awdhesh also forced them to eat cow meat against their will, and then threw images of Hindu gods on the floor and forced to step on them.

Police are investigating the act, and trying to reconstruct the episode. Inspector General, Sharad Sachan, reported that three complaints have been filed, two of which are borne by the members of the Bajrang Dal.

In the GCIC letter to the Commission for Human Rights, Sajan K George said: “The alleged forced conversion charges are not convincing. No Christian with common sense would have done what they say. No one, though fanatical, would be so stupid, unless mentally ill. “

“Your judges — he says in conclusion — belong to a constitutional body in charge of ensuring the protection of the Indian people. The GCIC asks you to take the necessary measures to safeguard the interests of the innocent and law-abiding Christian community. “

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

Pakistan Shut Down 182 Madrassas Since Peshawar Massacre

Pakistani authorities are pursuing a broad strategy to counter Islamic terrorism, detaining thousands of people, seizing hate speech material, freezing bank accounts, and closing religious seminaries. Law enforcement agencies have also gone after extremist groups’ money and the media tools they use to spread radical ideas.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) — Pakistani authorities have shut down 182 madrassas (Islamic seminaries) since the deadly Peshawar school attack in 2014 that killed 134 children and 9 adults.

Part of the strategy includes choking terror financing. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has so far frozen Rs 1 billion (US.5 million) in 126 accounts linked to banned militant groups. Law enforcement agencies have also recovered around Rs 251 million (US$ 2.4 million) in cash.

The government has placed the names of 8,195 people in the fourth schedule* and 188 on the Exit Control List** whilst the movement of 2,052 hard-core militants has been restricted.

The madrassas that were closed are located in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (whose capital is Peshawar) because of their involvement in promoting extremism and other suspicious activities, the government-operated Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency reported.

The action was taken under the National Action Plan (NAP) put in place after militants affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan carried out the massacre at an Peshawar army school in December 2014.

The government has also registered 1,026 cases and arrested 230 terror suspects. Sixty-four organisations were banned whilst the United Nations outlawed 74 groups.

The activities of some organisations are also constantly monitored and their activists have been placed “under surveillance”.

Finally, with regard to hate speech, the Pakistani government seized 1,500 books and other hate material, and sealed 73 shops.

Law-enforcement agencies have also registered 2,337 cases of hate speech and material and arrested 2,195 people.

* The fourth schedule restricts the movement of a person placed on the list from the place of his permanent residence without seeking prior permission from police.

** The Exit Control List is a system of border control under the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance. Anyone on the list is banned from leaving Pakistan.

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

Pope Francis Under Fire Over China ‘Realpolitik’

Pope Francis came under fire Wednesday after lavishing praise on China in a move widely seen as part of Vatican moves to improve relations with Beijing.

Close watchers of the Holy See were taken by surprise by the content of an interview with the Asia Times in which the Argentinian pontiff said the world need not fear China’s growing power and avoided any mention of human rights or the restrictions on Catholics and other Christians’ freedom of worship in the world’s most populous nation.

“A superb example of Realpolitik pushed to the extreme,” was the verdict of Sandro Magister, one of Italy’s leading Vatican experts.

Writing on his blog for Italian weekly L’Espresso, Magister lamented Francis’s “total silence” on questions of religion and freedom and what he interpreted as an “unrestrained absolution” of the Chinese communist regime’s historical record…

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

Cities With Largest Influx of Migrants Say They’ve Suffered a Huge Drop in Living Standards, European Commission Study Finds

European cities in countries hardest hit by the migrant crisis say the arrival of foreigners has had a negative impact on their communities, according to a new survey.

A wide-ranging study by the European Commission in 83 cities analysed people’s quality of life by asking them to rate factors from education, housing, happiness and the impact of migration.

When asked whether foreigners have been well integrated, less than half of respondents agreed in 33 cities — around 40 per cent of the places surveyed.

The highest levels of discontent were found in Athens (76%), Greater Athens (75%), Malmo (65%), Roma (64%) and Istanbul (64%).

           — Hat tip: AF [Return to headlines]

Fewer Asylum Seekers ‘Voluntarily Departed’ Israel in 2015

43,000 remain from 64,000 that crossed border in 10 years

(ANSAmed) — TEL AVIV, FEBRUARY 4 — The past year saw a slowdown in the rate of asylum seekers leaving Israel.

There was a 47% decrease in the number of “voluntary departures” in 2015 compared to 2014, according to a report from the interior ministry. At the end of the year in Israel, there were still 43,000 asylum seekers while 3,381 had voluntarily left the country, compared with 6,414 in 2014. The figures show that 73% of those that left were Eritrean nationals, 18% Sudanese and 9% from other African countries. Over the past ten years, more than 64,000 people “infiltrated” Israel through its southern border with Egypt.

Of the 43,000 remaining in Israel, 73% are Eritreans, 19% Sudanese, 6.5% from other African countries and 15% from the rest of the world.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Germany: Over 91,000 Asylum-Seekers Arrived in January

Lower than the 127,320 who arrived in December

(ANSA-AP) — BERLIN (AP) — The German government says more than 91,000 asylum seekers arrived last month, underlining the pressure the country faces to diminish the influx of migrants.

The Interior Ministry said Thursday that 91,671 people were registered as asylum seekers in January. That’s lower than the 127,320 who arrived in December; officials have said that winter weather was the driving force behind the decline.

In all, Germany saw nearly 1.1 million people arrive last year, and officials are keen to ensure that the figures are lower this year. Chancellor Angela Merkel insists that diplomacy is the key to a solution, and has resisted pressure for unilateral measures such as a cap on refugee numbers. However, the government has moved to toughen asylum policies.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: TV Presenter Insinna Donates Boat to Doctors Without Borders

To support NGO’s migrant rescue in the Mediterranean

(ANSA) — Rome, February 3 — Actor, TV presenter and game show host Flavio Insinna has donated his speedboat to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) humanitarian NGO to help rescue refugees crossing the Mediterranean, sources said Wednesday.

“We are very grateful to Flavio Insinna…for supporting our action along the migration routes,” MSF Italy chief Gabriele Eminente said.

“To this day, thousands of people continue risking — and losing — their lives in a bid to seek safety in Europe from conflicts and poverty,” he said.

“We are assessing…how best to employ this significant donation,” he said of the 14.80-meter vessel named Roxana.

The medical humanitarian group said it rescued 23,747 people at sea in 2015, and its staffers provided 100,000 medical and psychological consultations on rescue ships and in Greece, Italy, and the Balkans — the three main routes into Europe for asylum seekers fleeing civil war and Islamist terror in North Africa and the Middle East.

In Greece, MSF provides assistance to refugees at sea and on land, including medical care, protection, sanitation services, and basic necessities on the islands where asylum seekers first make landfall, such as Lesbos and Samos.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Juncker Welcomes Italian OK to Turkey Aid, Says No Stupid Austerity

Flexibility rules exist, not invented by Italy says Padoan

(ANSA) — Strasbourg, February 3 — European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday said Italy was willing to make its contribution to three billion euros in EU aid to Turkey in exchange for cooperation on the refugee crisis.

“The three billion for Turkey must be made available,” Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg. “We all have to respect our commitments. Even the Italian government has said it is willing (to contribute). This is positive and I welcome it”. The Commission had criticised Italian Premier Matteo Renzi’s executive for allegedly holding up the aid package.

There has been tension between the Commission and the Renzi government in recent weeks over several issues.

The Commission is set to say in the spring whether it has granted Italy’s request for flexibility in the application of the EU’s budget laws for spending related to asylum seekers. Juncker said Wednesday that the EU executive will not pursue “stupid austerity policies” when it assesses member States’ budgets. “It’s right for the Commission to examine the State budgets as stipulated by the treaties,” Juncker said. “It will conduct its role without following stupid austerity policies. There is plenty of flexibility to permit balances that respect the rules”. Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said Wednesday that Italy was only asking for European Union rules to be respected by requesting flexibility in the application of budget rules.

“Italy is requesting a more flexible management of fiscal policy on the basis of rules that Europe set, not ones that we are inventing,” Padoan said during a meeting with British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne at an Aspen forum.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Official Scoffs at Washington’s Fears Over Canadian Plan to Take Refugees

Washington reportedly wants reassurances that Canada will not take any “shortcuts” during the implementation of its plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees.

Canada’s plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees was high on the agenda of a US Senate committee hearing, with lawmakers urging Canada to reassure that it will not take any “shortcuts”, media reports said.

Committee chair Ron Johnson delivered a speech during Wednesday’s gathering which heard from four witnesses, including a US border patrol guard and three Canadians, according to the Canadian news network CBC.

“Will there be shortcuts taken? Is that something that really ought to concern Americans here, as Canada is really ramping up… [and] admitting a much higher level of refugees than they are normally taking in and at a much faster pace,” Johnson said.

The hearing came shortly after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that all Muslims should be banned from entering the US, while several American lawmakers voted to prohibit Syrian refugees from entering their states.

Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum has, meanwhile, pointed to the fact that no major concerns emerged during the Wednesday hearing’s testimonies.

In an interview with CBC, he expressed confidence that “we have a proper security approach,” noting that “we have explained it in detail to our US counterparts and they have not expressed any concerns.”

“So perhaps this is a little bit of political theater in Washington,” McCallum added.

In late November, Canada’s new government said that it plans to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, and another 15,000 by the end of February 2016.

The country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had originally planned to resettle all 25,000 refugees by December 31, but he had to change the schedule after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13.

McCallum said in turn that Canada could resettle a total of 50,000 refugees by the end of 2016.

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

Polls: UK Worries About Migrants Whilst US Names Own Gov’t as Top Concern

The British public finds armed conflicts, population growth and terrorism more of a worry than climate change or nukes, whilst the US, for the second year running, names its own government as a concern, two separate surveys have concluded.

A recent poll conducted by YouGov shows that the European refugee crisis, migration and the threat of Daesh have the British public feeling quite nervous. The US on the other hand, according to a survey by Gallup, is more bothered when it comes to its own government. Climate change, though dominating politicians’ agendas, seems to be at the bottom of the list for both countries.

Healthcare, poverty and nuclear weapons also made it to the list of the top 10 most worrisome issues, however the difference between the responses in the UK and US is quite striking.

Brits Fear Migration

With conflicts in the Middle East fueling the mass migration of people into Europe, it comes as no surprises, according to YouGov, that for half of the 1,700 adults surveyed in the UK, the main concern is population growth.

You could also say it’s the size of the island — the UK does have the third highest population density of the 17 countries polled — however, Singapore and Hong Kong, which both have much higher densities, find population growth not so much of an issue to be worried about.

YouGov believes this may simply be down to the fact that the UK’s migration question, in light of the refugee crisis, has been highly politicized.

“It is likely Britain’s exceptional concern over the issue is linked to the politicization of immigration, which has been seen as the most important issue facing the country since May,” YouGov said.

Britain’s decision to join a western-led coalition of airstrikes in Syria, as well as the Paris terror attacks on November 13 last year, led to armed conflicts and the threat of Daesh coming in just second to migration. The current threat to Britain from international terrorism remains at ‘severe’, which means a terror attack is highly likely.

Washington, We Have a Problem

On the other side of the Atlantic, however, pollsters Gallup discovered that 16 percent of Americans for the second consecutive year see the US government as the nation’s top problem. Some of the issues by those surveyed were President Obama, the Congress and political conflict in general.

The economy came in second with budget deficit, unemployment and inflation mentioned by some as major areas of concern.

The European refugee crisis hasn’t really had an effect on the US but it seems Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric has pushed the migration question into the limelight, coming in at third place.

Terrorism was mention by only 5 percent of those polled, but the figure varies through most of 2015. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino shooting there was a 16 percent spike of those concerned with terrorism. During the rest of the year, however, terrorism figured mostly in the 2 — 4 percent range.

From the refugee crisis engulfing Europe to the 2016 presidential campaign in the US, the surveys conducted seem to be a good reflection of what has both nations biting their nails.

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

Russia Agrees to Take 200-300 Failed Asylum Seekers From Norway

Russia and Norway have agreed that at least 200 failed asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa who had crossed the Russian border with Norway north of the Arctic Circle will be flown to Moscow.

Russia has agreed to receive at least 200 to 300 failed asylum seekers from Norway. The rejected refugees entered Norway at the Storskog border crossing but were then refused the right to remain in the country, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice told Norway’s NRK newspaper on Wednesday.

On January 22 the Russian authorities had stopped taking back failed asylum seekers from Norway via the Storskog border crossing for security reasons.

On January 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a press conference that Russia refuses to receive those individuals who gained a Russian visa under false pretenses in order to migrate to Norway.

“These are people who traveled to Russia with the stated aim of working or visiting relatives; it was not stated that their aim was to travel to Norway. These people made false claims about the purpose of their visit to Russia. We don’t want to take those people back, they broke our laws, and we have agreed with the Norwegian authorities to take pause and work on a procedure that will allow us to resolve this problem in the interests of Russia and Norway.”

“We have an agreement about readmission between Russia and Norway and our Federal Migration Service is discussing the possibility of making a speedy addition to that agreement with our Norwegian colleagues which solves the practical problems that arise from such unscrupulous travelers,” Lavrov said.

On Wednesday a delegation from the Norwegian Justice and Foreign Ministries met with representatives of the Russian Migration Service to discuss the issue.

Thor Arne Aas, Director General of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice, told Norway’s Afterposten that as a result of the meeting Russia agreed to take back between 200 and 300 failed asylum seekers who have a valid Russian visa or right to reside in Russia.

Norway wants Russia to take 700 failed asylum seekers who they believe have a right to remain in Russia, and Russia agreed to consider the readmission of those individuals on a case by case basis.

Norway agreed to Russia’s request not to bus the migrants back across the border at Storskog, but rather to send them by plane to Moscow. Russia agreed that Russian border guards will stop migrants and refugees from trying to enter Norway without a valid Schengen visa.

During 2015 around 5,500 people, mainly Syrians but also asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan and some North African countries, crossed the border at Storskog and claimed asylum in Norway. Many of them traveled across on bicycles because the border crossing station allows vehicle transit but prohibits crossing the border on foot.

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

Sweden: No Memorial for Slain Migrant Worker in Sweden for Fear of Offending Migrants

The municipal government in the Swedish town where an asylum centre worker was stabbed to death refuses to allow a memorial at the centre for fear of offending migrants.

Swedish media SVT reports that the co-workers of the victim wished to honour the memory of 22-year-old Alexandra Mezher (pictured) who was stabbed to death by an underage Somali male on the 25th of January. The case provoked an international uproar which has led many to question the Swedish government’s handling of the migrant crisis.

The request for a memorial comes after Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven visited the centre for underage migrants in Örnsköldsvik and said “This is a tragedy. You should be able to feel safe at work and the children and young people who arrive in Sweden alone will be able to feel safe,” as he talked with police, trade unions and municipal officials.

Carl Lindahl, who has worked at a similar asylum centre for over three years and is now on stress leave since December said, “What happened in Mölndal could just as easily have happened here.”

Lindhal, along with another colleague, wished to organize a small rally or march in the town to express mourning for Ms. Mezher but were shocked to learn that the municipality not only refused to fly their flag at half mast but also denied them use of any municipal premises.

           — Hat tip: AF [Return to headlines]

Swedish Schoolgirls Become Latest Victims of Migrant Harassment

Female high-school students of the Swedish city of Malmo fear for their safety due to being constantly harassed by migrants.

According to the Sydsvenskan daily newspaper, municipal authorities took the decision to use a school that was previously attended by 12 to 15 years old students to provide education to much older male refugees.

Last autumn local police received six complaints from female high school students who were harassed right on the school premises, in the cafeteria. The school authorities have reported that its female students feel they’re being harassed by the 20-year old men.

“I don’t care about Sweden’s migration policy in general — what matters to me is what happens to my child,” a mother of one of the students said.

Anders Öhlin, the man in charge of the culture and education department of the Burlov Municipality, told Sydsvenskan that such incidents mostly occur after school.

Since summer the number of refugees requiring the integrative education has increased from a few dozen to over a hundred, with most of the migrants being boys and young men, which upset the ‘balance’ between boys and girls, he added.

A fourteen-year-old female high-school student named Emilia told the newspaper how a young man, her senior, threatened her, and then began stalking her and her friends after school.

Her friend, Nora, confirmed the story, adding that she no longer wants to go to school.

A mother of one of the students said that her daughter is so afraid that she keeps the blinds in their house closed at all times.

Earlier, Svenska Dagbladet reported that Stockholm sought to offer economic assistance to Morocco in an attempt to return young Moroccan refugees to their country of origin. The move was apparently prompted by numerous petty robberies and thefts committed by Moroccan teenagers in Sweden’s major cities which became a serious concern for local police, the newspaper remarks.

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

Syrian Crisis Brings Jordan to Verge of Collapse Amid Risk of Silent Fanaticism

An AsiaNews source describes a situation “at breaking point. There is no housing, water or work”. The government has so far maintained “control”, but long-term projects are needed as well as peace in Syria, because the refugees “want to return to their country”. The increasing risk of a “silent fanaticism” that could flare up. In the midst of chaos, the reality of Karak Hospital, whichcontinues to assist pregnant women and children.

Amman (AsiaNews) — The situation in Jordan is on “the verge of collapse”, the country is struggling to withstand the waves of refugees that “continue to arrive from Syria”, to withstand a war that risks “destabilizing” the entire region, although “so far the government has been able to maintain control”.

An institutional source for AsiaNews in Jordan, who has requested anonymity for security reasons, confirms the alarm recently sounded by King Abdullah, that “the dam is about to burst.” According to the United Nations, there are at least 635 thousand refugees in Jordan. Amman says the figure is even higher and amounts to 1.4 million, about 20% of the total population.

“Right now — says the source — the country is experiencing a situation of overcrowding, the presence of over a million refugees begins to weigh, forbearance has reached its limit”. This uncertainty “scares people” and caused enormous repercussions. There is no water; people “are looking for jobs, often on the black market because cheaper, a framework that upset the normal situation of the country” .

In Jordan, the schools, the hospitals, the labor market are collapsing. The European Union calls on the Amman government to create job opportunities for the refugees, but the reality is complicated and requires investment funds for both the local population and the refugees. Of which only 1.5% have a work permit, and the situation will worsen.

“Prices have risen — confirms the AsiaNews source — and the biggest problem concerns water and houses. Added to this is the question of heating, which in winter becomes a necessity. It’s really hard to provide for everything. Jordan has done all that it can, but now there is really need help because Amman cannot continue alone. And in this context there is an added risk of destabilization, even if currently the situation is not dangerous, there is great uncertainty about the future. “ And the “future”, a long term vision of the future is what is lacking in a country which is still hosting refugees from the first Gulf War, in 1991.

Today world leaders will gather in London to raise nine billion dollars to meet the needs of the millions of Syrian refugees; the United Nations is asking for 7.73 billion dollars in aid to Syria, in addition to 1.23 billion for the states involved in the crisis. “World leaders — warns the source — must think about the extreme poverty and uncertainty that we experience here. Hunger, disease, the lack of basic necessities … and then they also have to think about peace, the end of the conflict which is the primary condition to solve every crisis “.

The main problem is the lack of “long-term” projects, so that the refugees can “look forward to be able to return to their homeland, where they lost homes, assets, property … They come from Homs, Damascus, Aleppo, and want to return there”. Projects and initiatives that must be supported by a united front: this cannot concern only governments but must also be shared by Europe, the United States, by the international community. “Because we are facing a closed world — concludes the source — where a silent fanaticism, which for now remains under control, is beginning to make its presence felt. But, one day, it could flare up … “.

In a widely critical situation, which also covers the southern Jordan, where there are at least 10 thousand Syrian refugees, there is a reality that continues to welcome refugees, especially pregnant women and children with severe problems due to the cold (it is snowing in the area) and malnutrition.

This is the Italian Cnewa Hospital in Karak, a city of 170 thousand inhabitants 150 km south of Amman, the only equipped center of the region, where staff work with a common mission and without discrimination. Staff speak of a situation of emergency, with many children hospitalized with pneumonia and newborns that are physically debilitated.

Despite the difficulties the hospital run by the Comboni Sisters keeps the doors open, welcoming Christians and Muslims without discrimination indeed, promoting mutual harmony. Even women experience this welcoming climate. The structure also suffers from the same severe financial difficulties that are affecting the whole country, but the help of volunteers and associations allows them to continue their work.

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

Vucic: Serbia is Not a ‘Parking Lot’

‘We cannot accommodate hundreds of thousands of people’

(ANSA) — BELGRADE — Serbia will not become “parking lot for migrants”, according to Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. The country, said Vucic quoted by local media, “is not able to guarantee accommodation to hundreds of thousands of people.” Vucic commented on rumors that the conference aimed at raising funds for Syrian refugees scheduled for tomorrow in London would allocate part of the funds to Serbia in order to leave in the Balkan country a certain number of migrants. “We have not yet seen this money. It’s a huge amount for our country, and if someone wanted to offer us several millions, it would mean that hundreds of thousands of migrants should remain in Serbia. But that’s not possible”, Vucic said. “Serbia is not and cannot become a parking lot for anyone”, the prime minister added, underlining, however, that Serbia is still willing to participate in the quota system, although it is not an EU country and has no obligation to do so.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Indonesia: LGBT Seminar Broken Up by Muslim Extremists

A dozen members of Islam Defenders Front raided a Jakarta hotel, where the meeting on human rights was taking place. After hours of threats and negotiations with police, participants were evacuated for “security reasons”.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — A seminar on the rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) being held yesterday at a hotel in the center of Jakarta, was forcibly suspended by a dozen members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) a local fundamentalist movement. A few hours before the event, with scheduled interventions by human rights groups and activists, the mob raided the meeting location demanding its suspension.

Mering, one of the participants in the seminar, told AsiaNews that the forum has been suspended for security reasons: “Hours of negotiations with members of the FPI in the Menteng district police station resulted in nothing, and eventually all the participants were told to leave the hotel. “

The debate on the rights of LGBT persons has reignited in Indonesia, after the case of SGRC (Support and Research Group on sexual studies) which was denied permission by the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, to operate within the University of Indonesia because “against the moral of the State” and the culture of the country.

In the past, members of the FPI have been protagonists of targeted campaigns and attacks against Christians, in their wave of protests against “illegal rituals and celebrations “ in buildings without the so-called building permit (IMB). In late 2014, the police declared war on the group.

A few days ago, the FPI also received the warning of the mayor of Bandung, West Java, who invited the Radicals to tone down the rhetoric against gay people, after the group had raided a college thinking it was the seat of LGBT meetings .

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

Italy: Lorenzin ‘Absolutely Against’ Stepchild Adoption

Surrogate mortherhood ‘ultraprostitution’ says health minister

(ANSA) — Rome, February 3 — Health minister and New Centre Right (NCD) member Beatrice Lorenzin said Wednesday she is “absolutely against” a measure in the government’s civil unions bill allowing partners to adopt each other’s biological children — so-called stepchild adoption.

Lorenzin said having same-sex parents instead of heterosexual ones “puts a strain on the child”. However she denied this issue will put a strain on the governing left-right coalition, of which her small center-right party is a junior member.

The health minister went on to reaffirm the NCD’s contention that stepchild adoption spelled “the legitimisation of surrogate motherhood”, which she called “ultra-prostitution”.

She added that civil unions should be recognized and that gay couples should be respected. In Italy, children of same-sex couples currently risk ending up in foster care if one of their parents die, because the surviving parent has no legal custody of them. The bill now before the Senate would also extend to partners in a civil union some of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, such as the right to inherit a deceased spouse’s benefits and property and to make decisions in their stead should one partner become incapacitated. Italy is the only western European country without legalized gay marriage or civil unions between same-sex couples.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Minimum Women Quotas Approved for Regional Assemblies

Law sets 40% threshold

(ANSA) — Rome, February 3 — The Lower House on Wednesday gave final approval to a law setting minimum quotas for the number of woman members of Italian regional assemblies. As of the next regional elections, the assemblies will have to be made up of at least 40% women after the law was approved with 334 votes in favour, 91 against and 21 abstentions. The right-wing Northern League party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) voted against the bill. At the moment, the percentages of women members of the assemblies is much lower and the southern regional of Basilicata does not have any women regional councillors.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

Italy: Forty Senators in Civil Unions Constitutional Court Appeal

Conservatives allege their parliamentary rights violated

(ANSA) — Rome, February 4 — Forty conservative Senators announced Thursday they will file a Constitutional Court appeal alleging their parliamentary rights were violated during debate of the government’s civil unions bill regulating gay partnerships. The lawmakers said Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso from the ruling Democratic Party (PD) failed to respect procedure. The appeal was signed by Carlo Giovanardi from the New Center Right (NCD) party, a junior member in the governing left-right coalition, by former reforms minister Gaetano Quagliariello, founder of an NCD splinter party called Identity and Action (IDEA), former defence minister Mario Mauro from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) party, and others.

           — Hat tip: Insubria [Return to headlines]

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