Saturday, January 11, 2003

News Feed 20110303

Financial Crisis
»Food Prices Hit New Record
»Spain: Madrid and Catalonia Against Govt Austerity Measures
»Missing 13-Year-Old Girl Fled to Avoid Arranged Marriage in Pakistan
»Rihanna Bites Back at Filth Jibe From Minister Farrakhan
»Zakaria: America is Doomed Because it Fails to Embrace Globalism
Europe and the EU
»Arid Uka: Face of Kosovan Muslim Who Shot Dead Two U.S. Airmen at Frankfurt Airport
»Citizen’s De-Veiling Outlawed as Countdown to French Burka Ban Continues
»Dutch Back Down Over Polish Immigrant Slur
»Dutch Government Dealt Election Blow in Senate
»France: Council Forbids Pork and Wine Buffet Outside Muslim Prayer Hall
»Frankfurt Airport Shooter Shouted ‘Allahu Akhbar’ Before Opening Fire
»Germany: Suspect Admits Targeting American Troops
»Italy: Ruby Invite to Vienna Opera Ball Stirs Scandal
»Italy: Weather Emergency Declared Following Deadly Storms
»Italy: House-Hunting Ruby Unfazed by €300,000 Price Tag — “Uncle Will Pay”
»Italy: Premier Complains of Interference From Presidency
»Pope Has No Place in EU Parliament, Says Parliamentarian
»UK: Jews Lead the Way in Fight Against Hate
»UK: LSE Head Quits Over Gaddafi Scandal
»UK: Terrorists Could Walk Free Under Government’s New ‘Plea Bargaining’ System
»Croatia: EU: Progress on Justice But More Efforts Needed
»Kosovo: EU Mission Begins Probe of Alleged Organs Trafficking
North Africa
»British Father of 7 Killed in Libya After Going to ‘Rescue Daughter in Tripoli’
»Egypt: Imams: Sharia Should Remain Basis of Constitution
»Egypt: The Revolution That Came From Serbia
»Libya: Frattini: Gaddafi Words Against Italy Sign of Weakness
»Libya: Frattini: Soon Italian Camp on Tunisian Border
»Libya: ICC: Prosecutor Decides to Open Investigation
»Libya: Ahmadinejad Warns Against US Military Intervention
»Libya: Gadaffi Rebuke to Berlusconi at End of Rambling Speech
»Libya: Italy to Send Ships, Planes to Ease Refugee Crisis
»Libya: A Civil War Beckons
»Libya and the LSE: Large Arab Gifts to Universities Lead to ‘Hostile’ Teaching
»Libya Lurches Towards Civil War
»More Strife in Store for Egypt
»No Foreign Boots on Libya’s Ground, Warns Turkish FM
»Tunisia: Ennahda Islamic Movement Legalised
»Tunisia: Politics Paralyse Country, Protests and Proposals
»Tunisia: Zapatero: Support Democracy and Marshall Plan
»Tunisia: Ennahdha Changes Name, It Becomes Islamic Mouvement
»U. S. French and British Warships Enter Mediterranean
Middle East
»Analysis — Saudi Needs Bolder Steps to Avoid Protest Contagion
»Bahrain: Students Take Part in Protests
»Girl’s Death in ‘Honor Killing’ Angers Main Turkish Opposition
»Jordan: Royal Court Chief Replaced as Pressure on King Rises
»Jordan: US Top Official Urges Respect Freedom of Expression
»Jordan: Queen’s Gambit
»Maid Faces Beheading in Saudi Arabia for Murdering the Boss She Said Tried to Rape Her
»Saudi Hardliners Disrupt Book Fair: Witnesses
»Turkey: No More Mr. Nice Guy
»Turkey Detains 10 in Crackdown
»We Don’t Need to Worry About the Middle East if We Give Up Its Oil
South Asia
»Another Political Assassination in Pakistan: Things Fall Apart
»Indonesia: War on the Ahmadi Considered Blasphemous by Government and Islamic Leaders
»Indonesia: New Ban Imposed on Ahmadiyah Islamic Sect
»Indonesia Province Announces Ahmadiyah Curbs
»Pakistan: Court Gives Go-Ahead for CIA Contractor Murder Trial
»Pakistan: Minister’s Murder ‘A CIA Plot Aimed at US Contractor’s Release’
»Pakistan Vows to Battle Extremism After Minister Slain
»Video of Children Playing Suicide Bomb Game Circulates in Pakistan
Far East
»China Pressures Foreign Journalists Not to Report on Protests
»100k Eastern European Migrants Free to Claim Full UK Benefits After EU Ruling
»Italy: ‘Ships Ready to Sail for Tunisia in 24-48 Hours’
»Libya: IOM: 2.5 Mln Foreigners Flee After Losing Jobs
»Libya: Maroni: 5 Mln Euros Ready for Humanitarian Mission
Culture Wars
»Turkey’s First Openly Gay Referee Adamant to Continue Battle
»UK: Nick Clegg Sets Out Vision of Multiculturalism

Financial Crisis

Food Prices Hit New Record

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) said that turmoil in north Africa and the Middle East was behind the fresh spike in the price of wheat and cooking oil, with many governments hoarding food.

If crude oil — a key cost for farmers and shipping companies moving commodities around the world — continues to climb prices will climb yet higher, the UN warned.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO’s) food price index averaged 236 points in February, a record, up 2.2 per cent from January and rising for the eighth month in a row.

The index highlights how food prices, which throughout most of the last two decades have been stable, have taken off in alarming fashion in the last three years. In 2000 the index stood at 90 and did not break through 100 until 2004.

Coffee has more than doubled over the last year from $1.30 a pound to more than $2.60. Milling wheat futures, which are a guide to bread prices, have jumped from around €120 a tonne to more than €250 a tonne. Cocoa has risen from $2,800 a tonne to more than $3,600 in the last two months alone.

The FAO measures food prices from an index made up of a basket of key commodities such as wheat, milk, oil and sugar, and is widely watched by economists and politicians around the world as the first indicator of whether prices will end up higher on shop shelves. Tom Hind at the National Farmers Union said it was likely that food prices were likely to continue climbing all year, after many shoppers have already been hit with jumps in the price of eggs, orange juice, chocolate and other key food items.

“There is some evidence that high price of goods is already filtering down to supermarkets. Though, many farmers are struggling to pass on their high costs.

“And many of the high prices in Britain are because of the value of the pound, with us importing more than half of what we eat.”

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Spain: Madrid and Catalonia Against Govt Austerity Measures

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, MARCH 2 — The two most important autonomous communities in Spain, Madrid and Catalonia, are at loggerheads with the central government on the energy saving plan, which calls for a 5% decrease to the cost of regional and medium-distance train tickets to encourage the use of public transport. The measure, promoted by the Zapatero government to reduce spending on energy, which has increased due to rising oil prices provoked by the uprising in Libya, is considered to be inadequate by the government of the Community of Madrid, which yesterday indicated the savings would amount to “just 45 million euros”, as well as the Generalitat in Catalonia, which estimated savings of 26 million euros resulting from the reduction. Catalonia, which received authorisation to manage the regional train service just one year ago, protested via regional government spokesman Francesc Homs for not having been consulted beforehand about the federal government’s decision. The cost of the measure is seen as “impossible to assume” for the disastrous financial situation in the region. The discount to train tickets will take effect starting on March 7, according to the decree approved recently by the cabinet.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Missing 13-Year-Old Girl Fled to Avoid Arranged Marriage in Pakistan

A 13-year-old schoolgirl who was missing for more than a week ran away because she was terrified by her mother and stepfather’s alleged plot to send her to Pakistan for an arranged marriage, police claimed today.

Jessie Bender’s parents are accused of keeping their plan secret from detectives after reporting that she had disappeared from their California home.

Their claim that Jessie was abducted by a Facebook predator was proved false after she was discovered hiding with a relative at a hotel about 30 miles from her home in Hesperia, California.

Speaking to MailOnline, Hesperia Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Roxanne Walker said Jessie’s stepfather, Mohammad Khan — who is from Pakistan — and her American mother, Melissa, were planning an arranged marriage for the teen.

‘There was something to that effect in the works and the daughter was scared.

‘She was found with the uncle who was protecting her from the parents,’ said Ms Walker.

Detective Gerald Davenport was carrying out interviews today to determine whether the parents will face prosecution.

One line of inquiry is whether there was any intention to involve Jessie in an arranged marriage in Pakistan while she was under age.

Police also slammed the Bender family for ‘misleading’ them over Jessie’s disappearance, wasting time and resources.

Mrs Walker added: ‘Bender family members misled detectives and withheld critical information and as a result delayed the investigation and recovery of their daughter Jessie Bender.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Rihanna Bites Back at Filth Jibe From Minister Farrakhan

RIHANNA has been labelled “filthy” and her fans “swine” by a controversial American preacher.

Nation of Islam Minister LOUIS FARRAKHAN lashed out at the Bajan beauty during a recent speech.

The outspoken 77-year-old made the comments at a convention in Illinois last Sunday the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

But the songbird has struck back at the veteran who had previously fostered a good relationship with members of the hip-hop community including WYCLEF JEAN and PUBLIC ENEMY.

She Tweeted: “A minister says I perform filthy, sat and watched the filth, then called you SWINE for doin the same. Haa, is that judgment in ur tone?”

She then added: “I certainly don’t think you are swine. But a holy man of God does. #swineNavy.”

I bet he wasn’t expecting that…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Zakaria: America is Doomed Because it Fails to Embrace Globalism

The globalist Fareed Zakaria — a member of both the CFR and Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission — has penned an article for the one of the crown jewels of the CIA’s emasculation of the media — Henry Luce’s Time Magazine — where he predicts the end of America as we know it, or as some of us once knew it.

America’s problem, according to Zakaria, is political insularity and especially our failure to embrace “market-based” globalism. In addition, we cling to funny and antiquated ideas about natural rights and the Constitution. “I believe that the Constitution was one of the wonders of the world — in the 18th century. But today we face the reality of a system that has become creaky,” he writes.

Too many of us, Zakaria argues, believe “demigods who walked the earth in the late 18th century” handed down “perfect system of government.” Even the founders, he insists, “understood that it was a work in progress, an unfinished enterprise that would constantly be in need of change, adjustment and repair.”

In other words, if the founders were alive today, they would embrace globalism. Zakaria also seems to think they would support the sort of excessive taxation suffered by Europeans and also would approve of carbon taxes.

As noted above, Zakaria is a member of both the CFR and the Trilateral Commission. The stated purpose of the Trilateral Commission is to create a “New International Economic Order,” in other words one world government at the expense of national sovereignty.

“The Trilateral Commission is international and is intended to be the vehicle for multinational consolidation of the commercial and banking interests by seizing control of the political government of the United States,” said the late Barry Goldwater. “The Trilateral Commission represents a skillful, coordinated effort to seize control and consolidate the four centers of power — political, monetary, intellectual and ecclesiastical.”

According to Holly Sklar, “the people, governments, and economies of all nations must serve the needs of multinational banks and corporations,” and this servitude is the ultimate goal of the Trilateralists, the CFR, the Bilderbergers, and the shadow government they have installed in Congress and the White House.

It is no mistake Obama was spotted reading Zakaria’s The Post-American World. The book argues that America is in decline and the sort of “authoritarian modernization” at work in the slave labor gulag of China is all the rage.

For Obama, reading the book — and being photographed with it — was a natural. His administration, after all, is stacked with CFR members, globalists, and Goldman Sachs cronies.

The globalists are seriously opposed to what Zakaria denounces as a political “system that has become creaky,” a system originally based on the Constitution and its accompanying Bill of Rights engineered by “demigods who walked the earth in the late 18th century” and who are now considered irrelevant dinosaurs by globalist intellectuals like Zakaria.

[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

Arid Uka: Face of Kosovan Muslim Who Shot Dead Two U.S. Airmen at Frankfurt Airport

This is the face of the man suspected of killing two U.S. soldiers in Germany in an Islamist rage.

The photo is from Arid Uka’s Facebook page — once listed under his real name but changed recently to that of Abu Reyann, his chosen ‘warrior’ name.

The site is littered with references to Holy War, hatred of ‘non believers’ and has his favourite saying — ‘may the eyes of the cowards never sleep’ — by Khalid Bin Walid, an ancient Islamic fighter who united Arabia for the first time.

‘This is my favourite killer outfit when rolling the dice on black ops,ha ha,’ he boasts to his friends on the social networking site — probably more a reference to the computer game of the same name that he played avidly than any attack like that he carried out in Frankfurt which left two Americans dead and two severely wounded.

‘Way to go, you old killer!’ posts friend Kastrijot Ferizi on the photo that was added to his page in December last year. Another writes that Abu Reyyan was his nickname that he knew him by.

There are hate-filled rants against Jews and a cry to Jihad which said: ‘If someone would call you to Holy War… yeah, and?

‘That is part of this beautiful religion. One is allowed to fight the unbelievers when attacked.’

In August last year the 21-year-old answered an online question about what his favourite weapon was — it turns out to be a Barrett M82 sniper rifle.

‘The miserable non-believer’ is an anti-western song on the website that he also makes reference to.

‘Germans are afraid of Islam and its spread and would rather we believe in Santa Claus,’ he rambles.

He calls Chancellor Angela Merkel an ‘unbeliever’ too, claiming she has sided with Israel which he described as ‘a declaration of war’.

The photo has also been published by German newspaper Die Welt.

How Kosovo Has Become a Fertile Recruiting Ground for Al Qaeda

With a young Muslim population in the newly-independent state of Kosovo, al Qaeda sees it as a fertile recruitment ground.

With an average age of under 30 it has one of the youngest populations in Europe and Muslims make up around 80 per cent of the population which stands at around two million.

The independence of Kosovo was secured in 1999 after a Nato-led coalition bombed the country.

Advancing U.S. troops at the time were greeted with flowers and cheers as the state secured its independence from Yugoslavia.

The country declared independence in 2008 and it was recognised by the U.S. at ambassadorial level.

However, former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic claimed that rebels were assisted by al Qaeda in their fight.

German federal prosecutors said the attack appears to have been motivated by Islamic extremism.

Prosecutors said in a statement today that ‘because of the circumstances there is a suspicion that it was an Islamist motivated act’.

The federal prosecutors took over the case early in the day and are working with Frankfurt and federal police, as well as American investigators.

Uka, whose family come from the northern town of Mitrovica, was born and educated in Germany where his family moved to some 40 years ago.

Rexhep Uka said the suspect’s grandfather was a religious leader at a mosque in a village near Mitrovica.

A cousin, Behxhet Uka, said he spoke to the suspect’s father, Murat Uka, several times by telephone from Frankfurt after the family was contacted by Kosovo police.

The father said all he knew was that his son did not come home from his job at the airport on Wednesday.

Behxet Uka said he would be ‘shocked’ if Arid Uka was behind the shooting, saying that like the vast majority of Kosovo Albanians, the family is pro-American.

The airmen shot in Frankfurt were stationed at the Lakenheath airfield in England, home to the 48th Fighter Wing, the only F-15 fighter wing in Europe.

German police are probing whether Uka had accomplices but believe so far he was acting alone.

Officials said the gunman shouted out ‘Islamic slogans’ before opening fire…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Citizen’s De-Veiling Outlawed as Countdown to French Burka Ban Continues

People will be barred from performing ‘citizen’s de-veilings’ when a full burka ban comes into force across France next month, the country’s Interior Ministry announced today.

This means that members of the public will not be allowed to take the law into their own hands when they see a Muslim woman hiding her features in a public place.

Instead they will have to call the police, who will in turn consider whether the offender should be fined.

In turn, the police have complained that they will have to waste time on ‘burka- chasing’, with Denis Jacob of the Alliance police union adding: ‘We have more important matters to be dealing with.’

Last year a woman in Paris was fined after ripping off a Muslim’s veil in a busy department store in the country’s first known case of ‘burka rage’.

The attacker said she had been hugely irritated by seeing a fellow customer shopping with all her features hidden.

The Interior Ministry in Paris today released the warning after announcing that the ban on full face coverings will come into effect on April 11.

It will mean France is officially the second country in Europe, after Belgium, to introduce a full ban on a garment which immigration minister Eric Besson has called a ‘walking coffin’.

The rigorous new law, which was passed last October, makes it an offence to wear face coverings in ‘public places’.

Exceptions include crash helmets and ski masks, with the government making it clear that garments favoured by Muslim women are the principal target of the legislation.

While women face fines of £130 pounds and ‘civic duty’ guidance if they break the law, men who force their wives or daughters to wear burkas will face up to a year in prison, and fines of up to £25,000.

An Interior Ministry source said: ‘Women cannot be subjected to a citizen’s de-veiling. Anybody caught trying to pull a veil off, for example, will face criminal action against them.

‘The aim of this new law is not to cause humiliation, or even persecution. It is to make sure that people do not cover their faces in public in a manner which will upset others.’

Posters have already gone up in town halls across France reading: ‘The Republic lives with its face uncovered.’

Belgium introduced a full ban last year, while Holland, Spain and Switzerland are also likely to follow suit.

There are no plans to introduce a similar ban in Britain, although politicians from the UK Independence Party and some Tory backbenchers have suggested one.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Dutch Back Down Over Polish Immigrant Slur

“The Dutch government has apologised for suggestions about expelling unemployed Poles from the Netherlands,” Gazeta Wyborcza reports with satisfaction, referring to a statement by Dutch labour minister Henk Kamp, who in mid-February said that “homeless and unemployed immigrants from Eastern Europe should be sent home, and if they don’t want to go, they should be expelled”. It was clear that Mr Kemp meant Poles, who are by far the largest group among the estimated 160,000-200,000 economic migrants in the Netherlands. According to official figures, Poles account for 40 percent of residents in some homeless shelters. “More and more politicians have been resorting to populist slogans by claiming that Poles are flooding the Dutch labour market”, notes the Warsaw daily. The official reaction from Warsaw was quick and firm. According to Wyborcza, European minister Mikolaj Dowgielewicz has been assured by Uri Rosenthal, Dutch foreign minister and adviser to prime minister Mark Rutte, that Mr Kemp’s words are “not official policy but the minister’s private initiative”. Polish intervention with EU Vice-President and Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has been equally successful, as she reminded the Hague on 25 February that it was obliged to respect the Union’s principles of the free movement and equal rights for all member states. “Mr Kemp’s statement was apparently part of the campaign before local elections taking place in the Netherlands 2 March,” concludes Gazeta Wyborcza.

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

Dutch Government Dealt Election Blow in Senate

THE HAGUE — The rightist Dutch government, backed by an anti-Islam party, appeared headed for a historic minority in the Senate which analysts have warned could paralyse its policy-making. Provisional results released early Thursday for the provincial vote gave 37 out of 75 Senate seats to an alliance of the pro-business, liberal VVD party, the Christian Democratic Action (CDA) and the Party for Freedom (PVV) of controversial anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders. That result, issued with 98 percent of the vote counted, is one short of the majority required to pass laws through the veto-wielding Senate — the first time since 1918 that a Dutch government will find itself in such a position.

Individually, the VVD which came first should get 16 seats (up from 14 in 2007), the CDA 11 (down from 21) and the PVV, which took part in its first-ever provincial elections, ten.

Turnout was 55.9 percent, well up on the 2007 elections (46.4 percent). “It is a very hard blow for the government,” Free University of Amsterdam political analyst Andre Krouwel told AFP, adding that Wednesday’s vote was akin to a referendum on the cabinet and its far-right partner.

“It is not yet the death knell, but it will be extremely difficult for the government to pursue its rightist programme” of budget cuts and tougher immigration measures backed by the PVV but maligned by the opposition.

In an unusually closely watched election for the country’s 12 provincial councils, voters chose 566 deputies who will be charged in turn with electing the Senate, along party lines, on May 23. Krouwel said the governing alliance was hurt by apathy among PVV voters and a protest stay-away from CDA supporters incensed by their leaders’ cooperation with Wilders, who advocates a ban of the burqa and the Koran in his campaign against the “Islamisation” of the Netherlands. Wilders, who faces trial for inciting hatred against Muslims, provides the majority the VVD-CDA government needs to pass laws through the 150-seat lower house of parliament, from where they go to the upper house Senate for final approval.

In exchange, his PVV gets a bigger say in policy formulation. Without a Senate majority, the government would be forced, on a case-by-case basis, to seek support for its laws from opposition parties.

“It is possible that the government will get some budget cuts through the Senate, though less than the 18 billion euros ($25 billion) it hopes for. Its anti-immigration programme will be a big problem,” Krouwel said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

France: Council Forbids Pork and Wine Buffet Outside Muslim Prayer Hall

Authorities in the French city of Nice have forbidden a far-right group to hold a “porchetta and rosé apéritif” outside a Muslim prayer hall. The Nissa Rebela nationalist group says it has already submitted a second request for permission for the event after its first was rejected on Wednesday.

The permit was denied on technical grounds, according to the Alpes-Maritimes regional council.

Under French law, organisers must seek a licence for all public gatherings at least three days before the event takes place. Nissa Rebela applied after this deadline, the council said.

The group’s members could face six months in prison and a 7,500-euro fine if they go ahead with the event without permission.

But Nissa Rebela insists that the event is still on. The group is calling its supporters to gather outside a Muslim prayer hall on Nice’s rue de la Suisse on Friday evening, where it will be serving pork and wine.

The worshippers at the hall have been conducting evening prayers in the street, since they say the building is too small to house them.

Anti-racism groups and local politicians have strongly condemned Nissa Rebela’s plans. The event is deliberately provocative and designed to stir up hatred, said the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi.

Nissa Rebela courted controversy in 2005 with a stunt that saw them hand out pork soup to homeless people, thereby excluding Jews and Muslims.

The group has 15 candidates in local elections this month.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Frankfurt Airport Shooter Shouted ‘Allahu Akhbar’ Before Opening Fire

Witnesses heard 21-year-old Arif Uka make the cry “God is the greatest” in English as he launched Wednesday’s attack on a busload of US military personnel, increasing the likelihood that it was motivated by radical Islamist beliefs.

“The suspect is accused of killing two U.S. military personnel and seriously injuring two others,” said federal prosecutors, who handle terrorism cases, in a statement. “Given the circumstances, there is a suspicion that the act was motivated by Islamism.” Boris Rhein, interior minister for Hesse state, said that the suspect, an Albanian Muslim from Kosovo, had apparently been radicalised in the last few weeks and had acted alone.

Investigators also revealed that the suspect’s Facebook page made clear his strong Islamic beliefs. The page contained alleged links to a jihadist war song and described non-Muslims as “miserable infidels”. The increasing possibility that the attack was a planned act of terrorism appears to have quashed an earlier theory that the shooting was the result of an argument.

Police said they believe that the pistol used in the attack jammed after a few shots thereby limiting the number of casualties. When arrested by police immediately after the attack the suspect was carrying a spare magazine and a knife.

Based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, the US service personnel were passing through Germany from UK bases for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Germany: Suspect Admits Targeting American Troops

FRANKFURT, Germany — The suspect in the slaying of two U.S. airmen at Frankfurt airport has confessed to targeting American military members, a German security official said Thursday as investigators probed what they considered a possible act of Islamic terrorism. German federal prosecutors took over the investigation into Wednesday’s shooting, which also injured two U.S. airmen, one of them critically. They are working together with U.S. authorities. Hesse state Interior Minister Boris Rhein told reporters in Wiesbaden that the suspect, identified as a 21-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, was apparently radicalized over the last few weeks. Relatives in northern Kosovo identified him as Arid Uka, whose family has been living in Germany for 40 years.

The suspect opened fire on a U.S. Air Force bus carrying 15 airmen based in the Lakenheath airfield in eastern England from Frankfurt to Ramstein Air Base, the Air Force said. From there, the airmen were to deploy to Afghanistan.

Uka’s family said he worked at Frankfurt airport and was a devout Muslim. He was taken into custody immediately after the shooting and was later brought before a federal judge in Karlsruhe. There was disagreement Thursday between German and American officials whether the suspect may have had help. So far, German investigators thought he did not, but Americans were not ruling that out yet. “From our investigation so far we conclude that he acted alone,” Rhein said. “So far we cannot see a network.”

Although the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina referred to “the act of a single individual,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan said was still not clear whether others could have been involved in planning the attack.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: Ruby Invite to Vienna Opera Ball Stirs Scandal

Teen at centre of sex indictment for Italian premier

(ANSA) — Rome, March 1 — The teenage Moroccan belly dancer Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi allegedly paid to have sex with when she was 17 is stirring a new scandal in Austria. Karima El Mahroug, 18, nicknamed ‘Ruby Heart-stealer’ is attending the high society debutant Viennese Opera Ball on March 3 at the behest of maverick Austrian real-estate magnate Richard Lugner, 78.

Lugner is paying El Mahroug 40,000 euros for her presence, Austrian tabloids have reported. Gossip newspapers also claim she will supplement that income granting interviews at 10,000 euros each, and that Lugner poached rare tickets for her and her entourage on the black market. Tickets normally sell from 230 euros for a simple entry ticket, up to 17,000 euro for a box. El Mahroug is at the center of the scandal for which Berlusconi is charged with abetting prostitution of minors and abuse of office and will go to trial in Milan April 6. Both she and Berlusconi deny they ever had intercourse. A private jet sent by Lugner whisked El Maroug and her boyfriend, Luca Risso, from Genoa to Vienna Tuesday. She is expected to attend the debutant ball escorted by Risso and four bodyguards. Ball promoters are reportedly reeling over the gesture. Lugner has scandalized elite circles before by cavorting with young starlets, and reportedly paid American actress Bo Derek to attend the ball in the past. The Austrian press says Lugner is riling high society once more as a gesture of pure provocation. El Mahroug arrived at Genoa airport dressed in jeans and a beige sweater, a grey down jacket, and gold stilettos.

Lugner, holding a bouquet of yellow and red flowers, greeted the smiling Moroccan beauty at the foot of the private jet. Around 10 others were also present, including bodyguards, a photographer and a cameraman. The jet landed at Schwechat airport in Vienna at 15:00 local time. Waiting for the entourage was a swarm of reporters, three white limousines, and a three vehicle escort. To avoid a press assault, El Mahroug was escorted through a partitioned area of the airport. From there she was taken to an unidentified luxury hotel in the Austrian capital. She was scheduled to then try on her ball gown at the atelier of Austrian fashion stylist Niko Fechter. She is to go sightseeing Wednesday, and give a press conference at 13:00 at Lugner’s mall, called Lugner City. The historic debutante ball, which takes place in the Vienna State Opera at the close of the carnival season, has roots going back the 19th century Hapsburg empire. Aspiring debutants must audition to participate. Selection criteria include the capacity to waltz gracefully counter-clockwise with a capable dance partner. Debutants and their partners train for two months prior to the ball to perfect the evening’s pageantry. Debutants wear white and are crowned with crystal tiaras made by Swarovski.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Weather Emergency Declared Following Deadly Storms

Rome, 2 March (AKI) — Storms battered central and southern Italy overnight, killing at least four people, prompting the central Marche region to declare a state of emergency. At least three people drowned in flooding while a fourth person died when a mudslide hit his car in the southern Calabria region.

A man and a young woman died in Casette d’Ete when their car was swept into a river which burst its banks, flooding the entire town.

An old woman was found drowned in a stream near the town of Ascoli Piceno after she disappeared on her way home from church.

Firemen were on Wednesday searching for a car that disappeared near the city of Fermo with a man and a small child inside, who are feared drowned. Firemen were also trying to rescue a family whose home in Fermo was cut off by floods.

In the northeastern coastal city of Trieste, around 100 people — mainly pensioners — required medical treatment after being blown over by 170 kilometre-per-hour winds.

The high winds in Trieste and elsewhere in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region have uprooted trees and damaged buildings and vehicles.

A 68-year-old man was killed on Monday in Petto Gallico in the southern Calabria region when his car was swept away in a mudslide during heavy rains. Residents turned out with shovels and machinery to clear mud and debris from homes, shops and offices after mudslides engulfed much of the town.

Flooding and mud caused major traffic problems, while heavy snowfalls were reported to have disrupted highway traffic in the northern Emiglia Romagna and Piemonte regions.

The extreme weather was responsible for blackouts in many areas too, power company Enel said.

The flooding has caused 100 million euros of damage to agriculture , especially vegetable, fruit and citrus crops, according to Italy’s national farmers’ union Coldiretti.

Coldiretti warned on Monday that all of Calabria’s 450 towns, cities and villages were at risk of flooding and landslides. This compared with around 70 percent of municipalities nationwide.

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

Italy: House-Hunting Ruby Unfazed by €300,000 Price Tag — “Uncle Will Pay”

“Silvio will give me six million to protect him”

MILAN — Ruby went hunting for a €350,000 home, “after all, it’s Uncle’s treat”. At Christmas, the newly-of-age Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug, today the focus of a trial in which Silvio Berlusconi faces charges of under-age prostitution and abuse of power, was in negotiations with a Milan estate agency over the purchase of a home. Seemingly, she was in possession of, or at least very sure of obtaining, this amount of money. “After all, he’s giving it to me so I can choose somewhere nice!”.

Nine new phone taps underline Ruby’s expectations of receiving money from Silvio Berlusconi for her behaviour at the trial while the house-hunting emerges from text messages Ruby exchanged with C.A., an estate agency employee, on 19 December.

Ruby: “Let me know by Thursday. Remember, no more than €350,000, OK!!”

C.A.: “Darling , there’s a lovely one for 290 [€290,000 — Ed.]”.

Ruby: “How many square metres? “After all, he’s giving it to me so I can choose somewhere nice!”

C.A. describes the apartment “70 square metres with parquet floor and air-conditioning”.

Ruby wants somewhere “bigger preferably!” and C.A. points out that “the furniture is new” and “we can negotiate on the price”.

Ruby: “Hm, let me look and get an idea but honestly 70 square metres isn’t very much!”

C.A.: “OK but you won’t find more for €300,000”.

Ruby, with a smiley: “Go higher, after all it’s Uncle’s treat.. ha, ha”.

When Silvio was charged on 14 January 2011, investigators’ attention had already focused on the 28 October 2010 phone call in which Ruby told her interlocutor that “Silvio keeps calling me up… he told me ‘pretend to be insane.. tell them any old bullshit… I’ll always stand by you… and you can have anything from me’. Me and my lawyer asked for five million euros… in exchange for me pretending to be insane and feeding them bullshit… And he agreed… in fact that’s the way we’re going..”.

Now investigators have deposited a further nine phone taps on the subject. As early as 14 October, Ruby’s boyfriend Luca Risso told Luca Giuliante, at the time Ruby’s lawyer and now representing Lele Mora, also under investigation, that “Ruby told me that at the end of the month, the person we have talked so much about will give her… eh… four and a half kilos of potatoes. The lawyer replies that “it is absolutely not so”. This may be the expectation that Ruby is seeking to project, although “I confirm that there is a willingness to give her a hand, We need to understand how”.

On 26 October, Ruby attempts to avoid the questions of a friend who asks her on the phone if she has been to bed with Berlusconi: “Watch it or I’ll put the phone down now”. Friend: “But has this guy given you any money?” Ruby: “Five million”. On 28 October, the 17-year-old talks to a female friend about her sexual relations with the prime minister again: “Now it seems that who knows what has been going on” but “there are 3,000 men of 50 who do it with under-age girls and never say anything” but “because he’s Silvio, they have to attack him like this (…) Oh, Silvio doesn’t think it was anyone who works with him that blabbed”. And now “he told me: ‘I’ll give you all the money you want. I’ll shower you in gold but you pretend to be insane. Don’t ever tell the truth’“.

Again on 28 October, Ruby and her friend G. talk about a dinner where “he [Fabrizio Corona — Ed.] was there and so was Stefano Bettarini… then my lawyer came… and Silvio’s lawyer, because they had to deal with the business and he [Corona — Ed.] said to me ‘you’re fantastic, go on like this and you know how much money you’ll make?’ Apart from the six million that’s already safe, and I’ll get as soon as I’m 18, six million euros from Silvio… to cover up all of this…”. When the Corriere della Sera contacted them yesterday, Fabrizio Corona and Stefano Bettarini both denied they had ever met or had dinner with Ruby. Besides, Ruby is certainly lying when she says in the same phone call that “the whole mess” started when “they came to my house and as soon as they opened the shoe rack, an envelope practically fell out and in it was €150,000 in cash”, a sum that was never actually seized. Ruby also appears to be fascinated with the figure of €187,000. In her statements last summer, she claimed that she was given the money by the prime minister but speaking on the phone with a prostitute on 20 October, she says she “came back from Dubai with €187,000”…

English translation by Giles Watson

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

Italy: Premier Complains of Interference From Presidency

(AGI) Milan — Silvio Berlusconi has launched a wide-ranging attack. Speaking in Milan, the prime minister spoke of many attempts to slow down legislative and government activities both due to restrictions imposed by the constitution and external intervention he at times considers misplaced. “When the government decides to approve a law, it must first be assessed by the presidency and all the staff assisting the Head of States. They all instantly comment everything.” .

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

Pope Has No Place in EU Parliament, Says Parliamentarian

D66 MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld has called on the chairman of the European parliament Jerzy Buzek to withdraw an invitation to the pope to address the gathering.

The parliament is a place where important decisions affecting 500 million Europeans are taken, regardless of their beliefs and religion, In ‘t Veldhuis is quoted as saying in the Telegraaf.

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

UK: Jews Lead the Way in Fight Against Hate

by Martin Bright

The Jewish community is prepared to put itself at the forefront of the campaign against religious and racial extremism, according to a detailed new analysis of identity in England. Research carried out by pollsters Populus for the anti-fascist Searchlight Education Trust showed that the community is more tolerant of immigrants than the rest of society, more likely to support community-based solutions to extremism and no more hostile to Muslims than other English people.

A massive 88 per cent of Jewish respondents would “definitely support” or “consider supporting” a new group to campaign against religious and racial extremism, compared to 68 per cent of the general population. When Jewish participants were asked what measures would help defeat extremism, 73 per cent cited “community organisations that work to bring people of different backgrounds together so they can get to know each other”; “campaigns supported by prominent people from different backgrounds to show people that those from different backgrounds aren’t actually different to them” and “children going to schools where there is a mixture of children from different backgrounds”. This compared to 60 per cent of the wider population who supported these solutions.

On immigration, the difference between the Jewish respondents and the wider population was equally stark. Only 15 per cent of Jews saw “controlling and limiting immigration” as a solution to extremism compared to 31 per cent of the general public. Perhaps most surprising was the attitude towards radical Islam. The vast majority of Jews polled (64 per cent) said anti-Muslim extremists were as bad as Muslim extremists. There was no difference in the attitude of Jewish people when they “hear or see that Muslims are increasingly associated with violence and terrorism” to those of the population at large.

Eighty-eight per cent of Jewish people said that violence from either side (in a dispute over building a new mosque, for example) would be unacceptable. This compared to 81 per cent generally.

The research was contained in Fear and Hope: the New Politics of Identity, a publication to mark the launch of an anti-extremism project to be known as Together. It is designed to challenge the English Defence League and Islamic extremists using research, policy initiatives and community activism.

The research has raised significant concerns about a large section (almost 30 per cent) of the British public, which the authors call “Identity Ambivalents”, who are increasingly susceptible to the anti-immigrant message of the extreme right. However, it would appear that the Jewish community as a whole has not been swayed by the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant message of the EDL, despite its well-publicised “Jewish division”. Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, described the attitude of the Jewish community as “muscular enlightenment”. He added: “This will hopefully stop some of the stereotypes about the Jewish community. It shows what a contribution it makes to social cohesion. Given the antisemitism it has faced at the hands of extremists, it is all the more remarkable that the Jewish community remains so enlightened about the Muslim religion itself.”

[JP note: Jewish dhimmitude rubbing off on the non-Jewish editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Martin Bright.]

           — Hat tip: JP[Return to headlines]

UK: LSE Head Quits Over Gaddafi Scandal

A deepening row over the London School of Economics and its dealings with the Gaddafi regime has claimed the career of the university’s director.

Sir Howard Davies resigned over fresh revelations that the institution had been involved in a deal to train hundreds of young Libyans to become part of the country’s future elite. Davies admitted at the start of this week that he felt embarrassed about the university’s ties with the dictator’s family.

A leaked US diplomatic cable indicates that the British government was also party to the deal to bring 400 Libyans to Britain for leadership training. The cable, published by WikiLeaks, suggests that other UK universities were involved in similar schemes, though there is no independent confirmation of this.

The university’s reputation has taken a battering over links with the Libyan regime, which include a donation of £1.5m from a charitable foundation run by one of Muammar Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, who studied at the LSE. On Tuesday, the LSE agreed to put £300,000, equivalent to the cash it has received from the foundation, into a scholarship for north African students.

But that was not enough to draw a line under the affair. On Thursday morning, a report of the WikiLeaks claims was circulated to members of the LSE council, its governing body in advance of a crisis meeting on Thursday night.

In September 2009, US diplomats were told by Libya’s national economic development board: “The NEDB is cooperating with the UK government and the London School of Economics, among other UK institutions, on an exchange program to send 400 ‘future leaders’ of Libya for leadership and management training.”

A Libyan official told the diplomats that, apparently as part of the same deal: “Two hundred and fifty additional Libyan ‘future leaders’ would also be trained in Libya. Likewise, the NEDB is working with universities in the United States (Michigan State and elsewhere), the UK, and France to manage exchange programs for 90 young Libyan diplomats (30 Libyan diplomats are currently being trained in each country).”

The official, Faouzi Saleh Elmozogi, said the NEDB “had also sent 70 Libyan judges to the UK to study English language and international law”.

The Foreign Office confirmed that the NEDB had sent 70 Libyan judges and 30 diplomats to the LSE to study English language and international law.

It remained unclear whether these were in addition to the 400 “future leaders” agreed as part of a £1m deal to train the dictatorship’s elite.

A diplomatic source said: “The Foreign Office was aware of the deal. But it was a purely private arrangement and was not something that the Foreign Office was intimately involved with.”

The source added that as far as the Foreign Office was aware, the LSE was the only British university involved in the Libyan leaders’ programme.

These revelations put fresh pressure on Davies, who had begun the week attempting to salvage the LSE’s reputation with an act of contrition. He appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to say: “We thought that since he [Saif al-Islam] was not going to control the research that this was a reasonable thing to do and this was supported widely in the school.

“It was debated at some length. We took a risk on that and I think it’s right to say that that risk backfired on us.

“I feel embarrassed about it but I don’t think the decision was made without due consideration at the time.”

The LSE has separately confirmed it was investigating claims that Saif Gaddafi had plagiarised parts of his doctoral thesis, allegations that have caused further embarrassment.

On Tuesday, after a meeting of the LSE council, the university said in a statement that the governing body had endorsed the director’s decisions to date…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

UK: Terrorists Could Walk Free Under Government’s New ‘Plea Bargaining’ System

The Home Secretary is preparing plans to give terrorists immunity from prosecution in exchange for information on plots over fears that extremists are refusing to answer police questions.

Theresa May wants to introduce the ‘plea bargaining’ system in a a bid to increase the number of terrorism convictions.

Under the system reduced sentences would be offered to some, but it is the prospect of extremists committing atrocities on British soil and then being allowed to escape that will anger many.

However, supporters of the legal changes say that the modifications would enable the authorities to build cases against people who would otherwise prove impossible to prosecute.

The Government’s decision to seek to deploy plea bargaining in terrorism cases comes after concerns that too many suspects are refusing to answer police questions.

Such tactics make it difficult for police to discover the full extent of complex terrorist conspiracies and networks and to amass the evidence needed to mount prosecutions.

Announcing the new approach, police minister Nick Herbert said that the aim was to expand the use of existing legal powers on ‘Queen’s evidence’ deals — introduced six years ago for use in organised crime investigations — to terrorist cases.

‘Sections of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 give a statutory basis for defendants and prisoners to provide evidence… in return for immunity from prosecution or a possible reduction in sentence,’ he told the Evening Standard.

‘The Government are looking at ways in which the use of these provisions in terrorism cases to support our prosecution efforts can be increased.’

The Crown Prosecution Service said that 33 Queen’s evidence deals using the existing legislation have been struck so far to help bring prosecutions.

Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP and former shadow security minister, said the expansion of the tactic to terrorist cases was a ‘welcome’ step towards increasing convictions.

‘This is one way of getting more terrorists into court and I am surprised it has taken the Government so long to act,’ he said.

Under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, senior prosecutors can offer an ‘immunity notice’ to a suspect if it is deemed to be ‘appropriate’ to assist an investigation.

The legislation also empowers judges to impose a lower sentence in cases in which prosecutors have struck a written, pre-trial agreement with an offender in return for assistance.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


Croatia: EU: Progress on Justice But More Efforts Needed

(ANSAmed) — BRUSSELS, MARCH 2 — Croatia has made “significant progress” on justice and fundamental rights, but new efforts are needed if the country is to meet the targets necessary for joining the European Union. This is according to the European Commission’s latest report on the state of justice in Croatia, which is drawing ever closer to the end of EU negotiations. Zagreb still needs to work on four main points. “First of all, we must see the new State Council and Prosecution Office showing its self-regulation and setting convincing precedents by enlisting and appointing judges and solicitors,” says the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fule. The importance of efficient courts must also be emphasised, while “concern” remains over the issue of war criminals.

“More must be done to ensure that they are investigated and tried correctly,” said Fule, adding that this was a factor “of importance not only for justice, but for reconciliation throughout the region”. Another key area is the fight against corruption, where progress needs to be made from investigations to sentences. Steps forward must also be taken regarding the protection of minorities and refugees, with concrete action to facilitate refugees’ return to their countries of origin. Regarding cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICT), the EU is awaiting the new report by the chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, in May.

These factors mean that Brussels is not yet giving the green light for the closure of the negotiation chapter on justice and is refusing to speculate on Zagreb’s chances of joining the EU by June 2011. “We are not speculating on dates — reforms are carried out by candidate countries,” said Natasha Butler, Fule’s spokesperson. “The timetable is not in our hands, but in Croatia’s”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Kosovo: EU Mission Begins Probe of Alleged Organs Trafficking

Pristina, 2 March — (AKI) — The European Union judicial and police mission in Kosovo (EULEX) has opened an investigation into alleged human organs trafficking by the Kosovo Liberation Army, EULEX spokesperson Christine Herodes said on Wednesday.

“For now, we are talking only about preliminary investigation,” she told Kosovo Albanian language media.

“The results of the investigation have to be kept secret,” she added.

EULEX is probing claims that high-ranking KLA officers were involved in trafficking of human organs removed from hundreds of Serb prisoners during the Kosovo 1999 war and afterwards.

The disturbing claims were made in a January report by an investigator for Europe’s top human rights watchdog The Council of Europe, Dick Marty.

Marty, a Swiss lawyer, said the operation couldn’t have been carried out without the knowledge of the current Kosovo prime minister Hasim Thaci, who was then political director the KLA, which fought for independence from Serbia.

Thaci and other Kosovo officials have rejected the accusations as “Serbian propaganda”, but said they were ready to cooperate in an international investigation.

“We are expecting evidence from Dick Marty in order to be able to start a detailed investigation,” Herodes said. At the moment, the mission’s cooperation with Marty boils down to an “exchange of letters”, she added.

Marty claimed that at least 300 Serb prisoners were transported by the KLA to northern Albania, where their organs were harvested and patients were left to die. The organs were later sold on the international black market, he said.

Organs trafficking allegations were first published in 2008 by former chief prosecutor of the Hague-based United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Carla del Ponte in her book “The Hunt”.

Marty has said he doubts EULEX will be able to investigate the reports, as it has no mechanism to protect witnesses. He has called for the creation of an independent international body to investigate the alleged crimes.

Del Ponte said she would be willing to head an ad hoc body, provided there was “political will” in the international community to find out the truth.

“For me personally, it would be a challenge to head the investigation in Kosovo,” she told Swiss media.

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

North Africa

British Father of 7 Killed in Libya After Going to ‘Rescue Daughter in Tripoli’

A British father-of-seven is believed to have been killed in Libya after desperately racing to the country to rescue his stranded daughter.

Businessman Khaled Att-ardi, who is in his forties, travelled to the war-torn country two weeks ago in an effort to get his 20-year-old daughter, Fatima, from the capital of Tripoli.

After being denied entry across the Tunisian border, Mr Att-ardi is understood to have flown to Egypt and crossed the border to the rebel capital of Benghazi.

From there the desperate father travelled west to Berga and was in the city yesterday when government forces attacked.

But the tragic father was caught in a bomb blast in the port of Brega after forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi attacked the city, according to a family friend.

Family friend Nadia Handi , 40, said Mr Att-ardi’s wife, Monya, had become frantic after being unable to contact him and at first refused to believe it when a friend called from Libya to say he had been killed.

Ms Handi, who lives near Mr Att-ardi’s home in Whalley Range, Manchester, said: ‘He was going to Libya to bring back their daughter and now he is dead.

‘Monya is devastated, she can’t talk at all. She can’t concentrate, or eat or drink.

‘The children are all crying, I can’t explain how horrible it is.’

Ms Handi said Khaled,who was born in Tripoli, had been in Manchester for 13 years and was a British citizen.

His youngest child, Layla, is 18 months old. The Foreign Office said it was ‘urgently investigating’ reports of his death.

Thousands are thought to have been killed in Libya since the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi began on February 15.

Reports of the father of seven’s death came on a day when Gaddafi launched a second wave of attacks on rebels in Brega and Ajdabiyah this morning.

Gaddafi is desperate to reclaim eastern cities which account for three quarters of Libya’s oil output and provide the estimated £65million in oil revenue each day that is essential to the dictator’s hold on power.

‘Gaddafi’s forces are in Ras Lanuf,’ said Mohammed al-Maghrabi, a rebel volunteer this morning.

Rebel Captain Bashir Abdul Gadr, speaking outside Brega, said: ‘Gaddafi’s forces are at Ras Lanuf, there are many of them. Our forces are in Brega and al-Ugayla.

There have just been air strikes in Brega at the airport and in Ajdabiyah on our forces at the western gate.’

But despite the intense attacks as Gaddafi grows ever more ruthless in his bid to retain power, the rebels resisted the strikes and actually pushed back the front line.

The frontline on the ground has now moved to the coastal town of al-Uqayla, which lies 25 miles west of Brega, an oil exporting terminal and also a few miles short of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, also oil towns.

The rebels have called for U.N. backed air strikes on foreign mercenaries it said were fighting for Gaddafi.

The uprising, the bloodiest yet against long-serving rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, is causing a humanitarian crisis, especially on the Tunisian border where tens of thousands of foreign workers have fled to safety.

As the authorities tried to confirm details surrounding Mr Att-ardi’s suspected death, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court said they will investigate Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and his inner circle, including some of his sons, for possible crimes against humanity in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Gaddafi’s security forces are alleged to have attacked peaceful demonstrators in several towns and cities across Libya since Feb. 15, and identified Gaddafi and several commanders and regime officials as having formal or de facto command over forces that may have committed crimes.

Moreno-Ocampo vowed Thursday there would be ‘no impunity in Libya.’

The prosecution office has acted with unprecedented haste to launch an investigation, partly to warn Libyan officials against continuing the deliberate slaughter of civilians.

He said the court was using the opportunity ‘to put them on notice: If forces under their command commit crimes, they could be criminally responsible.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Egypt: Imams: Sharia Should Remain Basis of Constitution

(ANSAmed) — CAIRO, MARCH 1 — About 200 imams protested today in front of the Religious Affairs Ministry, calling for politicians to relinquish their influence in the appointment of religious officials in Egypt. The imams, reports MENA, specifically demanded for the appointment of the head of the Al Ahzar Mosque no longer to be decided by the president of the republic and that the security department should no longer have a say regarding the appointment of religious officials and professors.

They also demanded to leave article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution unchanged, which states that Sharia (Islamic law) is the main basis for the legal system. Similar protests took place in several regions in the country, calling for a meeting with Minister Abdullah el-Hosseini.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Egypt: The Revolution That Came From Serbia

Svenska Dagbladet Stockholm

Some of the members of the April 6 Youth Movement, which spearheaded the Egyptian revolution, were trained by members of Otpor!, a Serbian-based group that was responsible for the fall of the Milosevic regime in 2000

Tomas Lundin

The organisation dubbed by some commentators as “Revolution Ltd” has trained activists and non-violent resistants who have struggled to overthrow most of the world’s dictatorial regimes. Its methods have served as “weapons” almost everywhere: from the Rose Revolution in Georgia [2003] to the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan [2005], and more recently in the revolt that has swept across the Arab world.

“Yes, it’s true. We did train members of the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt,” remarks Srdja Popovic, who now runs the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade, whose senior members are veterans of the Otpor! civil resistance movement.

However, Srdja Popovic has no intention of hogging the limelight and appears exasperated when we ask him if Otpor! is an exporter of revolutions. “We do not descend on countries with revolution in a suitcase. It is their revolution and the foreign consultants should not take credit for it. These people risked their lives for freedom, and their victory is 100% of their own making. No question about it!”

Always the emphasis on non-violence

Srdja Popovic is long-standing authority on civil disobedience and non-violent resistance. In 1998, when he was a 25-year old biology student, he and a dozen of his friends founded Otpor!. At the time, Milosevic had been in power for almost ten years and was preparing to wage war Kosovo.

In a student canteen in Belgrade University, they devised a plan for a new resistance movement, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and the campaign against apartheid, with a fresh and trendy image that even succeeded in attracting their apolitical peers.

Highly imaginative initiatives, which brought them increasing attention in the media, became their signature. As always the emphasis was on non-violence: they challenged and ridiculed the regime, but confronted soldiers and police carrying flowers. Otpor! had understood that Milosevic would fall when he could no longer rely on the unquestioning support of the police and the army.

“They were the methods and the message that we are now teaching to activists in other countries,” explains Srdja Popovic. “In our courses, we ask them to identify the pillars of the regime. Then we tell them: ‘Do not attack them, because that will only lead to violence. Try to win them over to your side’“.

People power is the decisive factor

From the start of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, members of the April 6 Youth Movement brandishing the Otpor! symbol of a clenched white fist on a black background were a visible presence in Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, one of their number, 22-year-old blogger Mohammed Adel explained: “I was in Serbia where I learned about the organisation of non-violent demonstrations and the best methods to counter security service brutality.”

When he returned to Egypt at the end of 2009, he brought with him a guide to subversive activities, which he distributed to other members of the April 6 and Kefaya movements. A little more than a year later, this document was put to good use.

Srdja Popovic affirms that “people power” is the decisive factor. No two revolutions are the same, but there is an arsenal of tools that can be put to use everywhere. For the Serbian activist, “Every regime, even the most repressive ones, can be over thrown by non-violent means.”

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

Libya: Frattini: Gaddafi Words Against Italy Sign of Weakness

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 2 — “Anti-Italian rhetoric is a sign of weakness,” according to the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, who has been speaking to SKYTG24 in reaction to a televised speech by the Libyan leader, which featured harsh words on the country’s colonial past.

“It is a return to anti-Italian rhetoric,” explained Frattini. “It is a sign of weakness by Gaddafi not to have remembered that Italy showed profound friendship towards the Libyan people, who suffered at the hands of Italy and towards whom Italy was determined to reiterate a feeling of affinity, friendship and consideration. Looking for someone to point the finger at is a sign of weakness”.(

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Frattini: Soon Italian Camp on Tunisian Border

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 2 — Italy will “swiftly” set up an assistance camp on Tunisian soil, on the border with Libya, to offer “assistance, food and medical care” to the tens of thousands of refugees that moved from Libya to Tunisia. The statement was made by Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, who added that “the ships are ready to sail”, and this will happen in the next 24 to 48 hours.

At the end of the technical meeting that was held today in the Ministry to outline the characteristics of the humanitarian mission decided by Italy, Frattini added that Italy will send, “as soon as security conditions are met”, a ship loaded with humanitarian aid to Bengasi to counter the humanitarian emergency that is also emerging in Cyrenaica.

Furthermore Italy, upon Egypt’s request, will repatriate the thousands of Egyptian refugees that in recent hours poured into Tunisia from Libya. The minister specified that “We will manage these operations from the humanitarian assistance camp that will be set up in Rasejder”.

Frattini reported that “Egypt asked Italy to bring back the Egyptian citizens safe and sound”. These citizens represent 70% of the almost 80,000 refugees amassed in the area. He again explained that these operations will be carried out with logistics and transportation provided by the Italian ministry of Defence. Some of them will leave on board ships heading for the port of Alexandria, while others will be repatriated on aircraft that will land at the Cairo airport

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: ICC: Prosecutor Decides to Open Investigation

(ANSAmed) — THE HAGUE, MARCH 2 — Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, decided to open an official investigation into the crimes committed in Libya since February 15. The Court made the report. The decision was taken in the wake of the results of the review of initial information collected by the ICC.

Tomorrow the ICC will announce the list of the names of Libyan exponents involved in the investigation into alleged crimes committed in Libya. The Court pointed out that the list will be drawn up by general prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

The ICC statement added that the mandate to investigate events in Libya was handed to the Court by UN resolution 1970 approved on Saturday. According to what is provided by the Rome statute, the prosecutor, in presence of “reasonable evidence” of crimes, has the duty to set up a formal investigation.

The statement added that “following the preliminary exam of available information, the prosecutor has now reached the conclusion that the investigation is necessary”.

Tomorrow in the Hague Moreno-Ocampo will present a first report on the crimes committed in Libya since February 15 and some preliminary information on bodies and persons that could be involved in the investigation.

The Court prosecutor’s next step will be to present his conclusions to the ICC judges who will then have to decide, on the basis of collected evidence, whether to issue arrest warrants.

Moreno-Ocampo will work with the UN, African Union, Arab League and individual States. Furthermore, Interpol will provide assistance in investigation activities.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Ahmadinejad Warns Against US Military Intervention

Tehran, 2 March (AKI) — Iran’s hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday warned the West it risked “digging graves” for its soldiers if it intervened to oust Libya’s veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi .

“Over the past ten years the United States under the pretext of September 11th terror targeted Iraq and Afghanistan. In case they dare to attack North of Africa or the Middle East, you should know that all the nations in the region will stand up and dig graves for your soldiers,” said Ahmadinejad, cited by Iran’s official news agency IRNA.

He described the US as “the number one criminal in the world”.

“No one believes that you are advocating human rights,” he said.

Noting the presence of various US military based in the oil and gas rich region, Ahmadinejad blamed Washington for the unrest that has shaken Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and other Arab states.

“It shows people are frustrated with the US and its allies, holding them to account for all crimes and plundering their national wealth,” he said

Ahmadinejad was speaking in the city of Khorramabad, where he was on a two-day visit to the surrounding province.

Ahmadinejad’s remarks came as debate continued in the international community over imposing a no-fly zone to curb the Libyan air force.

Libyan fighter jets bombed a section of eastern Libya on Wednesday as Gaddafi tried to take back control of an area seized by rebels. At least 1,000 people have been killed in Gaddafi’s current crackdown according to conservative UN estimates.

The Arab League met Wednesday to consider a resolution rejecting foreign military intervention in Libya, where Gaddafi has lost control of large areas of the country.

The United States has said all options are on the table. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said a no-fly zone would be a big operation that would need “an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences”.

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

Libya: Gadaffi Rebuke to Berlusconi at End of Rambling Speech

Tripoli, 2 March (AKI) — Libya’s embattled leader Muammar Gadaffi on Wednesday issued a rebuke to Itay’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, rejecting his claims the veteran leader lost control of Libya to rebel forces.

“So prime minister Berlusconi said I am not in control of the country? I should remind him that my family and are Libya,” Gadaffi said at the end of a televised speech to loyalists in the capital, Tripoli, that lasted over an hour.

In the speech, Gadaffi repeated his earlier claims that Al-Qaeda was behind the current revolt in his country, refused to resign and warned Washington or other foreign powers they would face a bloody war if they entered Libya in which thousands would be killed.

“When we met, he told me my people suffered greatly during Italy’s colonisation. I explained that my family had fought in the resistance against the Italians and grandfather died a martyr to that cause.”

“For this reason… they can never throw Gadaffi and his family out of this country,” he said.

Italy, a former colonial power in Libya has extensive and political ties with the oil-rich North African country. Gadaffi has often visited Rome, most recently in August 2010 to celebrate the second anniversary of a controversial bilateral ‘friendship pact’.

Italy las week suspended the pact under which it agreed to pay nearly 5 billion euros in reparations to Libya for its occupation and colonisation of the country from 1911-1943. The pact also includes a non-aggression clause.

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

Libya: Italy to Send Ships, Planes to Ease Refugee Crisis

Rome, 3 March (AKI) — Italy will send ships and planes to help repatriate thousands Egyptians caught between the borders of Tunisia and Libya, foreign minister Franco Frattini said today in Rome.

Frattini also said his country will provide medical and food assistance to people in Benghazi, a coastal city in eastern Libya captured by forces opposed to Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

‘We have information that thousands have been injured (in the fighting) some of them seriously,’ Frattini told reporters during a press conference.

The United Nations Refugee Organisation (UNHRC) on Tuesday warned of a looming refugee crisis in North Africa, where over 140,000 people have fled the unrest in Libya and crossed into Egypt and Tunisia, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

More than 6,000 people have been detained in southern Italy following the fall of Tunisia’s authoritarian government in January. Most of the migrants were reported to be Tunisan men.

Italy has launched an appeal for help from the European Union for what it fears will be an inundation of illegal migrants leaving North African shores amid political turmoil. Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government says the situation in Libya threatens to unleash further waves of immigrants after it put on hold a security pact with Libya to jointly patrol the Mediterranean for boats transporting migrants.

Italy is Libya’s biggest trading partner. The two countries in 2009 announced a deal that would grant Italian businesses favourable tax and export privileges.

Amid an international outcry over Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on opponents, Italy suspended a so-called friendship agreement between the two nations that provides 5 billion dollars over 20 years as compensation for Italy’s 1911-1943 rule and to fund the building of a motorway along the Libyan coast.

Italy will launch its mission to Tunisia within the next two days by sending ships loaded with supplies to establish a refugee camp in Ras Ejder along the Tunisian coast and close to Libya, Frattini said.

The facility will be run along with the United Nations Regugee Organisation.

So far, Italy has earmarked a tourist ferry and 5 million dollars for the plan.

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

Libya: A Civil War Beckons

WHAT began as a more or less peaceful uprising is set to degenerate into a full-scale civil war. After losing a string of cities on all sides of Tripoli, his capital, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi is fighting back. The coastal strip on Libya’s east side remains firmly under control of the rebels, with their headquarters at Benghazi. The rebels beat off the colonel’s forces in their attempt to recapture Brega, an oil town west of Benghazi (see map). But the Libyan leader seems determined to retake some of the towns closer to his capital and has sent his aircraft to bomb targets in a swathe of rebel-held areas.

Meanwhile Western and Arab leaders pondered whether, if the bloodshed worsens, they should enforce a no-fly zone over the country in an effort to isolate and bring down the colonel (see article). The rebels, unsurprisingly, are keen on the idea. For the moment, the Americans sounded wary. The Arab League said it was not against it in principle, provided the Arabs and the African Union gave a green light. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, a friend of the Libyan leader, aired a peace plan, which few seemed likely to take seriously. As the battle intensified, speculation grew that outsiders might become more involved. American battleships assembled off the coast, while global jihadists eyed their chance to get embroiled.

In any event, the rebels’ heralded push to the west has slowed right down. Impatient rebel sons are begging their fathers to let them march on Tripoli; some 17,000 have signed up as volunteers in Benghazi alone. But it is unclear who is in charge. Civilian leaders, saying they must call the shots, mistrust the rebel soldiers, especially those bearing the rank of colonel, who question the civilians’ capacity to command. Standing on a balcony above the entrance to Benghazi’s court-house, now the rebel headquarters, an elder tells a champing crowd to expect a long struggle.

Moreover, Colonel Qaddafi still commands a band of tribal support, running down through central Libya from Sirte, where his own clan is based on the Mediterranean coast, south through the tribal lands of Oulad Suleiman to Tuareg territory near the border with Chad. “We’re facing a stalemate,” says a banker-turned-opposition leader in Beida, a conservative religious and tribal centre in the Green Mountain, north-east of Benghazi. The rebels’ priority is to fortify and hold on to Ajdabiya, a gateway between east and west.

Libya’s tribes are in a state of flux. Elders from the Zintan tribe, south-west of Tripoli, which has traditionally been allied to Colonel Qaddafi’s, have broadcast a statement on a satellite channel aligning themselves with the rebels. But Libya’s largest tribe, the Warfalla, with nearly 1m members (in a total population of nearly 7m), remains nervously part of a federation loyal to the colonel. Its members still fearfully remember the bloody punishment they got after backing an abortive coup in 1993. “Their elders still refuse to talk to us,” bemoans a rebel leader from Beida…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Libya and the LSE: Large Arab Gifts to Universities Lead to ‘Hostile’ Teaching

If Sir Howard Davies, the director of the London School of Economics, had a shred of honour, his resignation would already be with his university’s governing council. The LSE’s shameless prostituting of its good name in return for Muammar Gaddafi’s blood money (as the Tory MP Robert Halfon has rightly called it) is as great a betrayal of the spirit of a university as there has ever been in Britain. But while it will take the LSE quite some time to regain a seat at the table of respectability, it is not the only university that has reason to feel ashamed. The LSE is said to have received no more than £300,000 of the £1.5 million it was due from Libya.

Yet, on the most conservative estimate, other British universities have received hundreds of millions of pounds from Saudi and other Islamic sources — in the guise of philanthropic donations, but with the real intention of changing the intellectual climate of the United Kingdom. Between 1995 and 2008, eight universities — Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London, the LSE, Exeter, Dundee and City — accepted more than £233.5 million from Muslim rulers and those closely connected to them.

Much of the money has gone to Islamic study centres: the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies received £75 million from a dozen Middle Eastern rulers, including the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia; one of the current king’s nephews, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, gave £8 million each to Cambridge and Edinburgh. Then there was the LSE’s own Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, which got £9 million from the United Arab Emirates; this week, a majority of the centre’s board was revealed to be pushing for a boycott of Israel.

While figures since 2008 have yet to be collated, the scale of funding has only increased: such donations are now the largest source of external funding for universities by quite a long way. The donors claim that they want only to promote understanding of Islam — a fine goal for any university.

But the man who gathered the earlier figures, Prof Anthony Glees, argues that their real agenda is rather different: to push an extreme ideology and act as a form of propaganda for the Wahhabist strain of Islam within universities. They push, he says, “the wrong sort of education by the wrong sort of people, funded by the wrong sorts of donor”. This is not simply scare-mongering. The management committees of the Islamic Studies centres at Cambridge and Edinburgh contained appointees hand-picked by Prince Alwaleed. Other universities have altered their study areas in line with their donors’ demands. And it works. A study of five years of politics lectures at the Middle Eastern Centre at St Antony’s College, Oxford, found that 70 per cent were “implacably hostile” to the West and Israel. A friend of mine, a former Oxford academic, felt that his time was largely spent battling a cadre of academics overwhelmingly hostile to the West, in an ambience in which students — from both Britain and abroad — were presented a world-view that was almost exclusively anti-Western…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Libya Lurches Towards Civil War

Rebel Libyan forces moved further west into government-held territory on Thursday, amid attacks by Muammer Gaddafi’s jets and a warning from President Barack Obama that the conflict could become a bloody stalemate.

The move west came as the rebel forces strengthened their defences in the opposition-controlled east, a day after repulsing the first significant counter-offensive in the region by troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi.

As the oil-rich north African state lurches dangerously towards full civil war, government jets attacked Brega, home to Libya’s second largest hydrocarbons complex, for the second consecutive day and dropped two bombs on Ajdabiyah, an important eastern town. But as in previous air strikes, none of the bombs hit their targets, further strengthening the opposition’s belief that pilots are deliberately disobeying orders.

Seif al-Islam, Col Gaddafi’s son, told Sky News the bombs were intended “just to frighten” opposition forces away.

Rebel fighters, predominantly made up of civilians in pick-up trucks, said their forces had pushed the front line forward to al-Aqaylah, which lies between Brega and Ras Lanuf, a key oil export terminal that is controlled by pro-Gaddafi troops.

“For now we will just stop in al-Aqaylah but, if the fighting continues, then naturally we will move west,” said Omar Senousi, a rebel fighter.

But there were also reports of pro-regime forces preparing for more counter-attacks. Gen Ahmed el-Gatrani, a senior army officer in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the opposition’s headquarters, told the Financial Times that three or four brigades of “mercenaries” were moving east towards Brega and were mobilising around Ras Lanuf.

“We need to keep our calm: there might be a decisive battle between Brega and Ras Lanuf,” Gen Gatrani said. “They [the mercenaries] are very well equipped and have been preparing for a long time.”

Brega is considered important as it supplies fuel for Benghazi’s power plant and petrol stations in the east, said Mohammed Khamis, an employee at Sirte Oil Company, which operates the oil installations. The facilities were not damaged but were operating at less than 10 per cent of capacity, he said…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

More Strife in Store for Egypt

By Victor Kotsev

TEL AVIV — “[There will be] no presidential candidate from the military establishment in upcoming presidential elections,” a high-ranking Egyptian military officer assured Reuters two weeks ago. Yet the Egyptian army is gradually but firmly taking control of the country and asserting itself in issues ranging from domestic security to foreign policy.

Similarly, Muslim Brotherhood officials interviewed by CNN asserted that they “want to participate [in], not to dominate” the government, and have promised not to field a presidential candidate. With some reservations, the Brotherhood has backed the idea of a “secular government,” and has elected to stay on the sidelines, even as many analysts doubt it will remain there long.

This is something rare and alarming. Neither of two main established forces in Egypt — the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, who have battled each other in different circumstances and ways ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1952 military coup — wants to govern. It is unlikely that they have been infected with popular revolutionary fervor and have decided to throw out good old Machiavellian realpolitik for a utopian political model based on selflessness and broad social consensus. It is possible that one of them — specifically the military — is bluffing. Even more likely, however, is the possibility that they have both concluded that whoever assumes power is doomed.

This has a lot to do with economics. Even the International Monetary Fund, which otherwise painted a rosy picture of the protests and cautiously predicted long-term growth, acknowledged that the immediate future looked bleak. In his article Food and failed Arab states (Asia Times Online, February 1, 2011) David Goldman became one of the first to argue that a long-term upward trend in wheat prices is at the root of popular discontent in Egypt.

“It is unclear whether President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will survive, or whether his nationalist regime will be replaced by an Islamist, democratic, or authoritarian state,” Goldman writes, less than a week after the protests began. “What is certain is that it will be a failed state.”

Politically, things don’t look very good either. The popular enthusiasm is still strong: observers on the ground note an unprecedented level of social solidarity, a decline in sexual harassment of women, and a general atmosphere of hope and mutual support. However, at the current levels, change is not coming to Egypt nearly as quickly as the protesters may expect.

There are warning signs as well. Some reports indicate that there is also a lot of confusion, paranoia, and opportunism on the ground. According to others, despite the ouster of Mubarak, the old regime is very much alive and well.

Amira Hass, a prominent Israeli journalist with close ties to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, reports from Cairo:

People are now talking about ‘the return of the bullies’ — emissaries of the old order who are signaling that they don’t intend to go quietly. A meeting between two friends is delayed: there are problems at the workplace of one of the women, which has to do with the opposition to Mubarak. Out of the blue, a swarm of thugs appears, bullying and threatening people. It’s been going on for three days already. The phone call was light on details, but others too sense the presence of a real but hidden hand that is attempting to screw things up. There are undeciphered signals that evoke anxiety.

The military may want to divert the responsibility of governing, but it also appears set on holding on to “real” power. “What we see is that while Mubarak is gone, the military regime in which he served has dramatically increased its power,” writes prestigious American think-tank Stratfor.

The generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, now in charge of the country, all have ties to the old regime, and are unlikely to execute radical reform. They may be willing to reform the political system, to impose term limits on the presidency, and to relax the emergency laws that have been in place for the last 30 years, but they are unlikely to overturn their broad power base…

Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst based in Tel Aviv.

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

No Foreign Boots on Libya’s Ground, Warns Turkish FM

With Turkey remaining in an outlying position internationally for its stance on how the world should respond to the turmoil in Libya, a division in views has also emerged between the government and the main opposition.

An external intervention in Libya would make the situation in the North African country worse, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul, emphasizing Turkey’s opposition to such a move.

According to Davutoglu, even the protesters fighting to topple the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would oppose any kind of external military intervention.

The head of Turkey’s main opposition, however, said Tuesday that he would support an intervention in Libya if both the international community and the Libyan people call for it…

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

Tunisia: Ennahda Islamic Movement Legalised

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 1 — The Tunisian Islamic movement, Ennahda, has been legalised: the transition government in Tunis has given the group authorisation to form a political party, which gives the movement, previously banned and persecuted during the regime of Ben Ali, to participate in the country’s elections, reports TAP news agency.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Politics Paralyse Country, Protests and Proposals

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 2 — Tunisia seems to be caught in a state of political paralysis, and not only due to the opposition which forced Mohanned Gannouchi to resign from his post as prime minister, while his successor Beji Caid Essebsi has had to defend himself not due to any fault of his own but to the fact of having been designated without consulting parties and social partners. The problem on which Tunisia’s political class risks running aground on the fragile boat of revolution is that of deadlines drawing ever closer, which will see the end of the President of the Republic ad interim Foued Mebazaa’s term in mid-March and — over a medium term — a possible holding of elections in July. This, however, depends on whether the commission tasked with doing so has had the time to draw up joint political reforms and rules for the transition to democracy. Uncertainty — of a political and public order nature but not only of this type, as long denounced by Tunisian and foreign entrepreneurs — is also linked to the fact that, having put Ben Ali’s regime behind, there has been a multiplication of bona fide and alleged political bodies, each fighting to carve out their own territory. The situation is so intricate — and proof is apparent on daily papers and televised political talk shows — that everyone (parties, associations, orders, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and citizens) are launching proposals. All are claiming the right — either for their parties or simply themselves — for the chance to draw up the priorities and limits for the government and parliament to come. The latest proposal is one from the UGTT, the country’s most powerful union, which has become part if the “political game” and which therefore claims the right to dialogue directly with the highest position within the State, the President of the Republic. The UGTT has officially requested that the government be made up of technocrats, held to be the only ones able to intervene in an effective manner to save the country from chaos.

At the basis of the request was an essentially political motivation, which rings out as a sort of accusation of Gannouchi and his government, responsible “for not having sped up the dissolution of RDC (former president Ben Ali’s party, Ed.) structures,” and most of all for not having waged the battle against corruption which all had set as the basis for the creation of the “new Tunisia”.

The union’s headquarters have also made other requests: one for the creation of a Constituent Assembly and another for the institution of a Council for the Protection of the Revolution, which seems to be a show of solidarity with street protestors. However, not even on the figure of Mohammed Gannouchi and any faults of his is there unanimity, to the point that the much-reviled former prime minister, able to easily shift from Ben Ali’s “court” to the role of the head of the first government following the ousting of his mentor, has met with a surprising amount of sympathy, with thousands of people in the street who — praising his actions and honesty — spoke out against the media, which have become the target of almost everyone.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Zapatero: Support Democracy and Marshall Plan

(ANSAmed) — MADRID, 2 MAR — “Spain is on the front line to help to consolidate the process of democracy in the Arab world”. The statement was made today by Spanish premier Jose’ Luis Rodriguez Zapatero during the press conference in Tunis that followed the meeting with the new prime minister of the transitional government, Beji Caid Essebsi, who met the socialist leader as his first action in office.

Zapatero, quoted by the Europa Press agency, guaranteed that his trip to the Maghreb is the result of the belief that “the process of change must be supported at this time”. And he did not conceal his “emotion” in front of “the exemplary process of demands and peaceful change of Tunis, that will represent a point of reference for the rest of the Arab world”.

The socialist leader expressed his belief that the wave of democracy that is sweeping the Arab world “will expand”. He added that “We did not come here to tell the Tunisian people how to do things. We came here simply to say that we’re available”.

85-year-old Essebsim instead stated that he felt supported by Spain “at a historical time, when the Tunisian people are awaking from years of lethargy”. The Spanish premier stated that he was ready to work on a Marshall Plan to help the Maghreb Countries, at bilateral and multilateral level.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Ennahdha Changes Name, It Becomes Islamic Mouvement

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, MARCH 2 — Ennahdha, the Tunisian Islamist party that was legalised yesterday, is changing name into its original one: Mouvement de la tendance islamique (Mti).

The different name, Ennahdha (Rebirth), was imposed by the regime of Ben Ali, according to which no party had the right to speak in the name of Islam which, according to the Constitution, is the religion of all Tunisians. The party was disbanded in 1990, after the 1989 elections when it gained a 17% election result. And many of its leaders and militants ended up in jail, accused of having “attempted to change the nature of the regime by force”. The current president, Rached Ghannouchi, returned last month after being exiled in Great Britain for 23 years.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

U. S. French and British Warships Enter Mediterranean

(AGI) Paris — The USA, France and Great Britain now have military assets in the Mediterranean. France has decided to send the Mistral, its helicopter-carrier, which, according to the Defense Ministry will contribute to the evacuation of thousands of Egyptians. In the meantime two American vessels entered the Mediterranean today, the USS Kersage and the USS Ponce, which is carrying 800 marines as well as a fleet of helicopters and a medical crew. The vessels sailed up the Suez Canal towards the coasts of Libya.

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

Middle East

Analysis — Saudi Needs Bolder Steps to Avoid Protest Contagion

RIYADH, March 3 (Reuters) — Saudi Arabia’s elderly rulers need to do more than simply spread state largesse if they want to insulate the top oil exporter from Arab protests reaching the kingdom’s borders.

Last week, King Abdullah handed out benefits worth $37 billion to Saudis in an apparent bid to curb rising dissent and head off any repeat of protests that gripped the Middle East while he was abroad for three months for medical treatment.

The handouts, to be spent on social measures from housing to unemployment, study grants and sports clubs, represented less than a tenth of the sums the kingdom holds in foreign assets in order to be able to address social grievances.

But pressure is piling on the government to give its young, Internet-savvy population a greater say, analysts and diplomats say. And the injection of cash signally fails to address reform demands contained in petitions from a loose coalition of liberals, rights activists, Islamists and intellectuals.

“The king’s benefits were well received but are themselves not sufficient,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst who signed one of the petitions calling for elections and greater transparency in government decisions.

“I think the leadership will make some changes and start an informal dialogue. There could be a cabinet change, and elections are on the table,” he said.

In three separate petitions, signed by more than 1,000 people, the heteroclite coalition also demanded greater transparency over state spending and curbs on the dominant role of the Al Saud family in politics.

“All of them basically call for a constitutional monarchy which is quite good because it came from different groups,” said Mohammed al-Qahtani, head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association grouping liberals, lawyers and human rights activists.

“But whether the government will respond this is a big guess,” said Qahtani who has been campaigning for years.


The tightly-controlled kingdom of over 18 million is ruled by the Al Saud family in alliance with Sunni clerics and has no elected parliament or political parties.

While analysts say there is no sign yet of the sort of popular protests that have spread to neighbours Yemen, Bahrain and Oman from Tunisia and Egypt, more than 17,000 have backed calls on Facebook for protests this month.

Emboldened, Saudis have embraced debate on social media, often using their full name — in contrast to the past when many were afraid to speak out for the fear of landing in jail.

Saudi leaders faced similar calls after the 1991 Gulf war when mainly Islamists enraged by the presence of U.S. troops in the birthplace of Islam flooded the late King Fahd with petitions and he eventually allowed some limited reforms.

“It is very different now. In 1991 you had two camps, the camp of Islamists… and liberals. They had completely different traditions,” said Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi analyst in London.

“They are (now) coming from different sections of society but there is a common theme. They are really pushing for a constitutional monarchy but I don’t think this is going to happen,” she said.

In the spotlight is the oil-producing Eastern Province where minority Shi’ites have held small protests demanding the release of prisoners, empowered by calls for change by their brethren in nearby Bahrain, a Saudi-allied Sunni monarchy.

Shi’ites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have long complained of marginalisation, despite official denials. Saudi Shi’ite protests were much smaller than clashes in 2009, when a preacher broke a taboo by suggesting they could seek their own state.

But the nervous market reaction showed that events in Saudi Arabia are closely watched. Saudi currency markets are at their weakest levels in two years, while credit default swaps rose to their highest level since July 2009…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Bahrain: Students Take Part in Protests

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 2 — Schools in the Kingdom of Bahrain were drawn into the clashes between Shiites and Sunnis yesterday during the protest planned by the opposition and held in all neighbourhoods in the capital city of Manama. Several schools for boys and girls took part in the protest yesterday, resulting in scuffles between the students, according to Al Arabiya’s website.

Several girls chanted political slogans, while others chanted conflicting slogans. The situation degenerated into physical clashes. Education Under Secretary Abdullah Al Mutauà and seven opposition political organisations made an appeal to parents not to allow the political protest transform into a sectarian conflict.

At the end of the protest, the demonstrators issued a manifesto/statement asking for a constitutional monarchy, a government elected by the people and an electoral system that guarantees the fair representation of all sectors of society.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Girl’s Death in ‘Honor Killing’ Angers Main Turkish Opposition

A 19-year-old woman is dead following an alleged ‘honor killing’ at the hands of her boyfriend in the southern province of Mersin. Republican People Party Deputy Canan Aritman has urged the government to take measures on women’s murders in response to the death. ‘The state should consider the reasons for the increase in such murders,’ she says

A 19-year-old girl killed in what appears to be an honor killing in Mersin was buried Tuesday as parliamentary deputies urged the government to take measures on women’s murders in the wake of the death.

“In the last six months, a woman was killed everyday through domestic violence. The state could not protect the right to live, which is the first right of humans. It is dangerous that the perception that ‘males may decide to divorce, but female may not’ is being cultivated in society,” a motion drafted by members of the Republican People Party, or CHP, said Wednesday.

The body of Hatice Firat was found Monday in the Mediterranean province. It is alleged that she ran away with her boyfriend Feb. 3 but was eventually located by her family. The girl’s brother, Mahsun Firat, is suspected of stabbing Hatice Firat more than 40 times following an alleged decision by the family to kill the girl for besmirching the family’s honor.

The girl’s funeral was conducted by a group of 50 women Tuesday in Mersin’s Güneykent cemetery after her family refused to take responsibility for the ceremony.

The women shouted slogans during the funeral, saying, “We are not going to be anyone’s honor,” “End honor killings,” “Hands that hurt women should be broken.”

Police have detained 11 family members, as well the girl’s boyfriend, but Mahsun Firat remains missing, Dogan news agency reported.

Decrying the murder and others like it in Parliament, CHP Izmir Deputy Canan Aritman and 22 other CHP deputies presented the speaker of Parliament with their motion on Wednesday, which also showed that women’s murders as a result of domestic violence had increased exponentially in recent years.

The state should investigate the reasons for the increase in the number of women’s murders, the deputies said.

The motion also said increasing unemployment and poverty in Turkey could have a profound effect on women because they could ultimately result in violence against women.

Girl ‘offends family honor’

According to the news agency, Hatice Firat left her house Feb. 3 and said she was heading to the supermarket. When she did not return home, however, her family called the police.

The girl was last seen with her brother and her brother’s friend whose identity was not announced by the police, report said.

After the girl allegedly escaped with her boyfriend, she was spotted by a friend of Mahsun Firat, who called the latter to say he had seen Hatice Firat in Mersin’s Mezitli district.

According to reports, Mahsun Firat told him to chase her and added that he would be there soon.

Mahsun Firat reportedly met his sister at a restaurant in Mezitli where he tried to convince her that he had good intentions, the news agency said.

While Mahsun Firat allegedly tried to calm his sister down, she told him that she was happy with her boyfriend. During their conversation, Mahsun Firat told her that he could keep their secret and convinced her to indicate where they were hiding. Hatice Firat then brought her brother and his friend to the location, the agency reported.

The brother and his friend eventually left the house but Mahsun Firat informed the family about the girl, according to the report.

The Firat family then gathered to discuss the situation and allegedly decided to kill the runaway daughter. Mahsun Firat then reportedly called his sister and offered to take a walk along the coast.

The siblings reportedly met in Mezitli’s Viransehir neighborhood, where Mahsun Firat allegedly killed Hatice Firat before dumping her body in a nearby river.

Officials at Mersin University Medical Faculty later confirmed that the body belonged to Hatice Firat.

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

Jordan: Royal Court Chief Replaced as Pressure on King Rises

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, MARCH 2 — King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday replaced his liberal royal court with an autocrat former minister from the southern city of Karak to absorb growing pressure on his rule.

The pro-west Monarch accepted resignation of Nasser Lawzi and announced the appointment of Khalid Karaki, former education minister who has close links to influential tribes in the south.

Royal court position is the second highest ranking official job after the prime minister. For many years, this post has been conspired as a stepping stone for holding prime minister post.

Abdullah’s appointment comes less than a month after he fired his young prime minister Sameer Refai and appointed former army general and ambassador Maruf Bakhit to lead a new government in the face of political and economic challenges.

Abdullah, who took over after his father king Hussein died in 1999, is facing pressure from the opposition to let go some of his powers and accept reform following revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. The monarch recently said his efforts for reform have been hampered by some conservative powers within the establishment, but vowed to maintain his pursue for reform.

The appointment of Karaki, viewed by many as a conservative autocrat raises yet more questions on the future of relations between the palace and the opposition as well as security forces. The kingdom has witnessed a series of protests by the opposition in the past month calling for sweeping reforms including new elections law and legislation’s that grant more political freedoms.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: US Top Official Urges Respect Freedom of Expression

(ANSAmed) — AMMAN, MARCH 2 — Top US officials from the foreign ministry on Wednesday called during meetings Jordanian officials for respect of people’s right to freedom of expression.

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner met King Abdullah II, Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit and other Jordanian officials and civil society members to discuss the regional developments that lead to toppling two Arab regimes. The US official expressed support to the pro-wet King Abdullah, whose regime is under pressure to carry out political and reform. Posner conveyed the “American support for King Abdullah’s call for a sustained, serious, and comprehensive program of political and economic reform as the key to realizing the enormous potential of Jordan and Jordanians,” according to a press release by the American embassy in Amman.

The US has dispatched a number of top diplomats to key allies in the region to assess the situation and offer advice on how to handle growing protests that call for reform and regime change.

Jordan has witnessed a spat of protests by the Islamist movement and other opposition parties in demand for limitation to king’s power including the introduction of new elections law that allows for forming governments based on parliament majority.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Jordan: Queen’s Gambit

Is Queen Rania of Jordan turning into the Marie Antoinette of Jordan? She is loved in the West, and seen as the very model of a modern Muslim monarch. But in Jordan she’s viewed with increasing resentment. As the Arab Spring shakes thrones all over the Muslim world, Mary Ann Sieghart jetted off there to find out — and the results are in this week’s magazine. I thought CoffeeHousers may appreciate a preview.

We all Queen Rania’s her background: a Palestinian beauty, hailed by Oprah as an “international fashion icon,” who speaks up for women’s rights. But, as Mary Ann writes:

“If she mingled at parties with Hollywood stars, her people read about it online. Given her countrymen’s traditional hostility to the West, and particularly the US, this did not go down well. Rania thought she was selling Jordan: many Jordanians thought she was selling out.

This anger came to a head last September when Rania held a lavish 40th birthday party in the Wadi Rum desert, Jordan’s answer to Monument Valley. Six hundred guests were flown in from all over the world. To giant figure ‘40s’s were beamed on to mountainous outcrops — although the neighbouring villages don’t even have electricity. Locals still speak of the water used to dampen down the sand, so that the guests could walk more easily — though there were desperate water shortages nearby. It might not have been as excessive as the party the Shah of Iran threw before his downfall, but that hasn’t stopped Jordanians from drawing the comparison.”

Mary Ann speaks to Fares Al-Fayez, a senior figure of the Bani Sakher tribe which is a bulwark of the Jordanian monarchy. In his house last month, he and 35 other tribesmen drafted a letter to King Abdullah, complaining about his wife — a pretty drastic step in Jordan. Al-Fayez says:

“She’s spending a lot of money on jewellery and shoes. Some people say she’s like Imelda Marcos. Then there was her birthday party. Poor people see that — they have eyes — and this hurts their feelings. I want the king to stop her. Some people spend hundreds of millions, and others have nothing to at but bread and tea. It’s painful and sad.”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Maid Faces Beheading in Saudi Arabia for Murdering the Boss She Said Tried to Rape Her

An Indonesian maid faces being beheaded in Saudi Arabia after murdering the employer she claimed had tried to rape her.

Darsem binti Dawud Tawar had pleaded self-defence when she went on trial accused of the fatal attack on her Yemeni boss.

Camapaigners are now desperately trying to raise half a million dollars in blood money to save her life.

They are asking for donations on TV and social networking sites like Facebook.

Darseem was found guilty at at Riyadh court in May 2009.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kusuma Habir said the victim’s family agreed to pardon her if she came up with 530,000 dollars (£340,000) — known in Arabic as ‘diyat’ or blood money — by July.

She said they had already collected 265,000 dollars (£170,000), through social networking site campaigns, television ads and appeals by local officials.

Human rights groups have repeatedly highlighted the abuse of maids — many of them foreign nationals — in Saudi Arabia.

Alone and unprotected, a large number have complained of being abused by their employers.

Female workers are particularly susceptible to violent physical attacks and rapes.

But many travel to the desert kingdom every year as work and wages are more plentiful than there than in their home countries.

           — Hat tip: Gaia[Return to headlines]

Saudi Hardliners Disrupt Book Fair: Witnesses

RIYADH — Dozens of Saudi extremists descended on the Riyadh International Book Fair late Wednesday night denouncing the sale of books “contrary to Islam,” witnesses said.

Turki al-Shalil, a spokesman for the powerful Saudi religious police, told reporters that his men were not involved in the incident. According to one witness, dozens of bearded young men entered the venue in the capital as the Saudi information minister, Abdel Aziz Khoja, was touring the fair on the first day it was open to the public. They asked Khoja “how he could allow such a fair,” and said that certain books on display were the work “of infidels who would go to hell,” the witness said.

Another witness said that the men went around the fair harassing women, a number of whom then departed, and also prevented a female television presenter from doing her job.

The Riyadh International Book Fair is an annual event attended by a number of Saudis, and censorship on books there is less stringent than that against bookstores in the kingdom.

According to the news website, three of the hardliners have been arrested.

Khoja on his Facebook page on Thursday criticised “the harassment of visitors and publishers,” and said that the fair is “a cultural showcase for our country.”

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or the religious police, ensures the strict application of the country’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi version of Islam…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Turkey: No More Mr. Nice Guy

The Turkish prime minister is in Germany parading the self-confidence of his country. Encouraged by a booming economy and increasingly becoming a role model for emerging Arab democracies, Turkey is finding the EU increasingly unnecessary, writes the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Gerd Höhler

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in his parade-ground costume: Prime Minister of all Turks — even if they do already have second-generation German nationality. This was the Erdogan who addressed 10,000 immigrants of Turkish origin in Dusseldorf. In a similar mass rally in Cologne three years ago, the Premier stirred up controversy when he called “assimilation” a “crime against humanity”. The sentence was dropped in verbatim once more, but a touch of clarification was added: “I say ‘Yes’ to integration.”

During his tour of Germany, however, the Turkish Prime Minister has shown a selective perception of reality. No one should ignore the rights of minorities, urged Erdogan; yet the Kurds in Turkey will be asking why this does not apply to them. Everyone has the right to live his faith, he postulated; but that right is not extended to Christians in Turkey. Erdogan accused the Western powers of remaining silent over Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, yet rejects sanctions against the Gaddafi regime as harmful to Turkish business interests.

A country with economic punch and political muscle

Erdogan believes he can afford these contradictions. His country’s self-confidence seems to be growing, and this is particularly obvious in Brussels. In wearily drawn-out talks with Ankara, EU diplomats had negotiated an agreement under which Turkey committed to take back illegal immigrants who had crossed Turkish territory to get to the EU. But now, says Ankara, Turkey will neither sign nor enforce the agreement unless the EU waives visa requirements for Turks. For good measure, Turkey is opening up its borders. As Syrians, Jordanians, Moroccans and Algerians can enter Turkey without a visa, hundreds of illegal migrants from these countries are crossing Turkey every day to get to Greece. And the EU is feeling that deliberate pressure.

Turkey no longer bows down to the Europeans; rather, it crows. The new self-confidence of the country is based on its growing economic clout. While Turkey teetered on the brink of bankruptcy just a decade ago, today it’s the 17th largest economy in the world. If the country belonged to the EU, it would be number seven.

The country that has economic punch also has political muscle, and Turkey is beginning to wield it in its backyard. As descendants of the Ottomans, who ruled the region for centuries, the Turks are not entirely welcome in the Arab world. Nonetheless, many Arabs see in today’s Turkey a role model — thanks to its economic rise, but more because the country shows that Islam and democracy are not incompatible, even if Turkish democracy may be imperfect from a Europe perspective.

Rose-tinted European dream has faded

Turkey is increasingly looking to the east, and many are wondering what this means for the country’s views on Europe. Erdogan has not yet grown tired of insisting that EU accession remains a priority. But it’s beginning to sound more like a duty. Since Turkey first knocked on the door of Europe half a century ago the country has changed. Today it no longer stands at the gates as “nothing but a humble supplicant”, Erdogan said recently.

Inside the country many Turks are saying farewell to the European idea. While 38 percent still support EU membership, that’s down from 66 percent three years ago. The “rose-tinted European dream, believed in by all,” has faded, the writer Orhan Pamuk believes — perhaps because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was, and perhaps because it is no longer ruled by an army but by a strong civil society.

The country is increasingly walking its own path. And it doesn’t look as though it leads to the EU…

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

Turkey Detains 10 in Crackdown

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish police on Thursday detained about 10 people, mostly journalists, in a crackdown on an alleged secularist network accused of conspiring to topple the Islamic-rooted government, reports said. Critics say the case is part of a government assault on press freedom.

Police raided homes of suspects in Ankara and Istanbul, copied hard disks of their computers and seized notes or books that could serve as evidence in the case of the alleged Ergenekon network, NTV television said. Officials allege Ergenekon tried to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist government in 2003.

The raid on Thursday expanded a crackdown on anti-government Oda TV, with police detaining its coordinator Dogan Yurdakul and its Ankara representative, Mumtaz Idil, along with several other journalists, NTV said. The United States expressed concern about press freedom in Turkey after a similar raid last month on Oda TV, prompting denials by Erdogan of any attempt to silence journalists.

The government’s opponents said the detentions were an attempt by the government to silence any criticism ahead of the parliamentary elections slated for June.

“The detentions of journalists has just one goal: to silence voices of opposition that criticize the government,” said Akif Hamzacelebi, a senior member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

The European Union and the Committee to Protect Journalists have accused Turkey of suppressing critical news and commentary on the alleged anti-government conspiracy. About 400 people, including journalists, politicians, academics and retired military officers are on trial, accused of being part of the alleged network.

“Free press is being intimidated in Turkey,” Turkey’s Journalists Association said in a statement.

The government insists the Ergenekon trials are a step toward democratic reform. Opponents counter that many of the accused are innocent and have been targeted as part of a broader plan to muzzle dissent and undermine Turkey’s secular legacy.

Hundreds of journalists are being investigated for allegedly violating court rulings that bar media coverage of the case of Ergenekon, which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the Turks’ ancestral homeland.

The alleged discovery during last month’s raid of a computer file that focuses on the influence of an Islamic group within the police force, led police on Thursday to search the house of another journalist, Ahmet Sik, and detain him…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

We Don’t Need to Worry About the Middle East if We Give Up Its Oil

Back in 1976, the man who founded Opec, the oil cartel which was threatening to bring the world economy to its knees, held out a grim warning to its members: “We are drowning in the Devil’s excrement.” Now, as panicked oil corporations lobby world leaders for military action to stamp out the spreading flames in the Middle East and North Africa, both oil-producing petro-states and the West need to carefully consider the words of the late Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo. If the West is to ensure that it doesn’t become mired in conflicts across the Middle East, it will need to reduce its dependence on the region’s oil. Ending the flow of cash from our wallets to the Middle East will also help build the foundations for a stable, democratic order. For the one thing that binds the crisis isn’t Twitter: it’s oil. Bahrain and Libya built their future by pumping the seemingly exhaustible pool of cash from the ground beneath their feet. Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen exported educated, low-wage workers to the petro-states. From the outside, the model appeared to be working. Libya’s economy grew at 6 per cent in 2007, winning it applause from the World Bank. Egypt grew at 4.7 per cent in 2007. Bahrain has a per capita income not dissimilar to New Zealand. But the growth rates mask a less happy reality: prosperity hasn’t generated productive jobs. Half the population in the arc of nations running from Algeria to Pakistan is less than 25 years old, but unemployment is at record levels. In the mid-1970s, Alfonzo told a young political science student called Terry Lynn Karl that this was just what would happen. “Ten years from now,” he warned, “twenty years from now, you will see, oil will bring us ruin.”

Alfonzo’s prophecy didn’t seem plausible at the time: oil made every petro-state ruler a Midas. The Shah of Iran promised his people a “great civilisation”. Carlos Andre’s Pérez, Venezuela’s president, imagined a future where “Americans will be driving cars built by our workers in our modern factories”.

In a 1999 article, Dr Karl explained why the dream turned sour. Instead of building infrastructure and industries, the petro-states’ rulers used their revenues to build patronage networks ensuring the survival of their regimes. There were no incentives to engage in economic reforms, and generous handouts led “polities to develop an addiction to petrodollars”.

This, Dr Karl argued, was inevitable. Though there was no theoretical reason why petro-states could not have used oil revenues wisely, the reality was that regimes survived by spreading their unearned loot around.

Western leaders have long acknowledged that depending on oil from an unstable part of the world isn’t wise. In 2006, George Bush promised that the US would seek to substitute 75 per cent of its oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. Richard Nixon said much the same in 1973. So why hasn’t research into alternative fuels been getting the war-footing funding that it needs? The reason is simple: strange as it might sound, the devil’s excrement is still cheap. The pain you feel when you fill up your car is because of taxes, not because your money is headed to the Middle East.

Consider this: in 1929, an average American would have had to pay 1.49 per cent of her or his annual income of $84.90 to buy a barrel of crude oil, which then sold for $1.27. Fifty years later, in the wake of the Iranian revolution, oil prices soared to $31.61. But the annual earnings of the average American rose had risen even more sharply, to $7,956. That meant that a barrel of oil would cost them just 0.39 per cent of their earnings — a quarter of what it did in 1929. The numbers for recent years are even more revealing. In 2008, oil prices soared to $96.91 — very similar to now. But the average American earned $35,931 that year, which means a barrel of oil would cost them 0.26 per cent of their earnings: well below what it would have in the oil-shock 1970s.

Bar Norway, the world’s largest oil exporters are now poorer, relative to the world’s great economies, than they were five decades ago. “The conclusion must be,” the commentator Amir Taheri wrote in 2006, “that those who buy oil get rich and those who sell it do not.” Parallels have been drawn between these recent rebellions and the fall of the Soviet Union. A more useful analogy, though, is 1848, when a youth bulge, an emerging middle class, new ideologies and technologies set off revolutions across Europe. 1848 gave birth to modern Europe — but it took a century and two world wars for it to come to pass. In the Middle East, too, there will be great strife before a new order emerges. Meanwhile, the West must make decisions. It could continue to prop up the oil order, and risk being sucked into crisis after crisis. The alternative, ending our addiction to oil, involves pain — but will insulate the West from the looming problems in the region, and in the long run allow the emergence of a new, stable order…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Another Political Assassination in Pakistan: Things Fall Apart

ON MARCH 2nd came the second high-profile political murder in Pakistan in two months. Shahbaz Bhatti, the minorities minister, seems to have been killed for the same reason that Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was assassinated on January 4th. Both had called for the harsh law on blasphemy to be changed. After Mr Taseer’s death, Mr Bhatti, a Christian, was a rare prominent politician to condemn the governor’s murder. He was only too aware of the risks. But, he said, his faith gave him strength.

What is loosely known as the “Punjabi Taliban” immediately claimed responsibility. It is an assortment of Muslim extremist groups, some of whom in the past have had the help of the army’s undercover arm, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in waging a low-level guerrilla war in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The Punjabi Taliban are now distinct from that lot.

Yet people are not inclined to take things at face value. The ISI itself is widely believed to be responsible for everything from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in late 2007 to the rise of fundamentalist chat shows on cable television. But in terms of conspiracy theories, the ISI can give as good as it gets. Hamid Gul, a former head, says Mr Bhatti’s killing is “another Raymond Davis-style attack”, referring to the row between America and Pakistan over a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis (see article). The Americans, Mr Gul says, want to destabilise Pakistan so that they can somehow make the case that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe in Pakistani hands. “This is a tried and trusted intelligence tactic. I should know.”

Others recognise the Punjabi Taliban as a Pakistani phenomenon—one of the consequences of a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism which manifests itself in increasingly violent ways. Indeed, today’s crisis has been long in the making. Over three decades, political and military leaders have appealed to Islam as a source of strength. Zia ul Haq, the military dictator who ordered the killing of Bhutto’s father (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former president and prime minister), introduced sharia law, favoured Islamist political parties and promoted orthodox Muslims in the armed forces and bureaucracy.

Decades of conflict in Afghanistan have pumped guns into Pakistan, and foreign money has funded extremists. In the 1980s American and Saudi support for the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation engendered conditions that later fostered both the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda, with consequences for Pakistan today. All the while, money has been flowing into Pakistan from the Arabian Gulf to support a hardline version of Islam, pushing back Pakistan’s more tolerant Sufi-based form. Raheeq Ahmad Abbasi, of the Tehreek Minhaj-ul-Quran, a non-sectarian Muslim body, says that of around 20,000 madrassas in Pakistan roughly 15,000 promote hardline doctrines.

None of this would have mattered so much had Pakistan’s governments performed better. But the failure of both civilian and military rule to provide decent education, health care or robust levels of economic growth has fed frustration among the young. In Pakistan, where the politicians have governed no better than the soldiers, democracy has only intermittent appeal as a rallying cry.

Religion appeals more; hence the spread of militant Islam. At its violent extreme is a network of Islamist terrorist organisations which, according to Amir Rana of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, breaks down into three broad parts. Al-Qaeda provides the ideology. The “Pushtun Taliban” is a loose-knit alliance of groups along Pakistan’s north-western border who rose up in opposition to America’s war against their ethnic brothers next door in Afghanistan. It provides the logistics and the hideouts. Meanwhile the Punjabi Taliban increasingly provides the foot-soldiers for terrorism. Khaled Ahmed, author of “Sectarian War”, a new book on religious violence in Pakistan, says all three elements work closely together.

Pakistan is of increasing interest to al-Qaeda’s leaders at a time when they must be disappointed that militant Islam has played almost no part in north African uprisings. In 2009 al-Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian, produced a book on Pakistan’s constitution entitled “The Morning and the Lamp”. It argued that the state was illegitimate and should be destroyed. Mr al-Zawahiri is widely believed to be lodging with the Pushtun Taliban. The Pakistani army allowed the networks to flourish for a while, because they supported the Afghan Taliban, ISI allies. But in 2009, pressed by America, it pushed them out of their strongholds of Swat and South Waziristan and into the remote badlands of North Waziristan, where they have been left to their own devices.

The Punjabi Taliban grew out of a combination of ISI support for anti-Indian militants, anti-Shia feeling in central Punjab and Gulf money in south Punjab. Southern Punjab, a favourite area for rich people from the Arabian Gulf, is now thick with well-funded religious institutions. Mr al-Zawahiri’s tract has been widely distributed in seminaries there.

The Punjabi Taliban poses a greater threat to the Pakistani state than does the Pushtun Taliban. Three-fifths of Pakistanis live in Punjab. The province is the army’s main recruiting ground. It could not carry out the sort of operation there that it mounted in Swat and South Waziristan.

Foreigners looking nervously at this nuclear-armed state wonder whether militants who murder ministers might one day take over the government. That seems highly unlikely. The country’s political system may be weak, but its bureaucracy and armed forces are strong, and they would not allow it. However, although Pakistan’s state is not going to be overthrown, the country’s nature is changing.

Until recently, Pakistan was a joyfully argumentative and outspoken place. Now Pakistanis are falling silent. Only one among a group of academics and students at the University of Punjab discussing the fundamentalists’ control of the campus was prepared to be named. When asked why the university had organised no ceremony to mourn Mr Taseer, who was its chancellor, Samee Uzair Khan, an assistant law professor, said: “If somebody as big as Salman Taseer can be killed, how can we be safe?”

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Indonesia: War on the Ahmadi Considered Blasphemous by Government and Islamic Leaders

Moderate leaders, ministers, moderate Muslims call for the banning of the sect. They invoke “zero tolerance” because “the movement has nothing to do with Islam.” In defence of the religious minority a handful of human rights activists and members of civil society.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) — Indonesia has declared war on the Ahmadi sect, guilty of deviating from official Islamic doctrine. Not only the extremist fringe, but also members of the government — including Minister for Religious Affairs — officials and representatives of the moderate Muslim community are calling for a crack down on followers. A campaign of repression and intolerance that has even caught Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by surprise, who recently had repeatedly asked local and national politicians, as well as police forces, to suppress the manifestations of intolerance in the country.

Yesterday, the Indonesian Islamic Forum (FUI) held a mass demonstration in front of the seat of government in Central Jakarta, repeatedly demanding that it ban the Ahmadi. FUI — which brings together two extremist groups: the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) — was flexing its muscle and announce its intent to charge the Indonesian president. According to the secretary general Muhammad Al-Khathath, in fact, by tolerating the Ahmadi sect Yudhoyono has violated the 1965 law on blasphemy. Ahmadis — disciples of the founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad — do not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet and, therefore, are considered heretics.

The witch hunt against the Ahmadi sect in Indonesia is one of many signs of failure to protect religious minorities in the country. Last year, even Suryadharma Ali, Minister for Religious Affairs, branded the sect as “illegal” and expressed himself in favour of a ban. Recently, a leading member of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) — the largest moderate Muslim movement — has made it clear that there can be no compromise: Islam acknowledges the Holy Koran, Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, said its former head Nu Hajj Hasyim Muzadi, and “in these three areas there is zero tolerance.” He added: “if they are reluctant to change their doctrine, the better they are expelled from Islam and declared a new sect that has nothing to do with Islam.”

The protest is also mounting in East Java, where the governor Sukarwo officially declared the sect illegal. The move has the support of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), which prevents Ahmadi faithful from praying in public and mosques. Only a small group of human rights activists and members of civil society have come out in defense of the religious minority.

In one of the main streets of downtown Jakarta a giant banner has appeared, which bears the names of some Ahmadi leaders. Among them appear the name of the founder, Goenawan Mohamad journalist, human rights activist Hendardi and lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution.

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

Indonesia: New Ban Imposed on Ahmadiyah Islamic Sect

Jakarta, 3 March (AKI/Jakarta Post) — Following in the footsteps of East and West Java, Indonesia’s South Sulawesi provincial governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo on Thursday issued a ban on the Ahmadiyah sect from practicing their religion publicly.

Syahrul said that the sect was neither registered as a mass organization nor a religious organization in the administration.

“For that reason, I don’t think it should be a problem should the administration prohibit its activities here. We also won’t give them a permit to [to practice their religion publicly],” said Syahrul as on Thursday.

The Ahmadiyah followers in Indonesia have been experiencing a series of prosecutions in the country. In February a mob of more than 1,500 people attacked an Ahmadi congregation.

Ahmadiyah is an offshoot of Islam founded in India during the late 19th century.

He said he had issued a circular to ban all activities of the Ahmadiyah Indonesia Congregation (JAI) in the province, referring to a joint ministerial decree from the government that bans members of JAI from propagating their religious teachings, but allows them to maintain their faith and perform their daily religious duties.

Earlier on Thursday, West Java Governor Ahmad Heriyawan also issued a similar decree, telling Ahmadis to stop performing their activities in the province.

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

Indonesia Province Announces Ahmadiyah Curbs

Authorities in Indonesia’s West Java have issued a decree which severely limits the activities of a small Islamic sect called the Ahmadiyah.

Members will not be able to publicly identify themselves and are being urged to convert to mainstream Islam.

Indonesia is a secular country, where freedom of religious expression is enshrined in the constitution.

But recently the government has been under pressure from hardliners to ban the sect completely.

Low profile

The province of West Java is home to Indonesia’s largest community of Ahmadis, but there are estimated to be more than 200,000 throughout the country.

But now they will be much harder to find.

The local authorities want them to limit their activities, take down signs identifying their mosques and schools, and — ideally — to re-educate and re-integrate themselves within mainstream Islam.

They are even encouraging other people in the area to monitor what the Ahmadis are doing.

Lawyers for the Ahmadiyah say the decree violates a law protecting people’s rights to worship how they choose.

But hardline Islamic groups say the order is perfectly legal, claiming that the sect’s beliefs deviate from the tenets of Islam and therefore violate the country’s rules against blasphemy.

The hardliners have repeatedly petitioned the government to outlaw the Ahmadiyah completely, and they are finding an increasingly positive reception.

Even the minister for religion supports a ban.

The Ahmadis have already been keeping a low profile since three of their members were killed last month by an angry mob.

This decree is yet another sign that their way of life is no longer welcome in a country often lauded for religious tolerance.

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Court Gives Go-Ahead for CIA Contractor Murder Trial

Lahore, 3 March (AKI) -The murder trial in Pakistan for American CIA contractor Raymond Davis will proceed even though the United States claims that he is covered by international conventions that should grant him diplomatic immunity, according to a Pakistani court in Lahore.

The court’s decision is a setback to US efforts to seek his early release.

Davis was arrested on 27 January after he shot dead two Pakistani men in the eastern city, he claims in self-defence. He is also suspected of spying. He was an employee of the American consulate in Lahore, and worked for a private security firm before he went to Pakistan but holds a diplomatic passport.

The hearing Davis took place amid high security in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore where he is being held. The court will next convene on 8 March.

The case has increased anti-American sentiment in Pakistan strained the relationship between Pakistan and the US.

Davis, a former US special forces officer, has been charged with double-murder and faces possible execution.

Under international laws, embassy diplomats have full diplomatic immunity whereas consular officials are liable for detention in case of grave crimes.

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

Pakistan: Minister’s Murder ‘A CIA Plot Aimed at US Contractor’s Release’

Islamabad, 3 March — (AKI) — By Syed Saleem Shahzad — Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated by the CIA to divert attention from the case of detained US contractor and murder suspect Raymond Davis, religious party politicians and scholars in Pakistan claimed on Thursday.

“This murder seems to be a conspiracy of CIA and its agents to deviate the attention from the issues like Raymond Davis trial,” Hanif Jalandari, a senior official for the association of Pakistan’s Islamic seminaries told Adnkronos Internationonal (AKI).

A Pakistani court has ruled Davis, a CIA contractor should stand trial for double murder after he in January shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore he claims intended to rob him. Davis is also suspected of spying.

The death of a third Pakistani struck by a US diplomatic vehicle as it rushed to Davis’ aid, has inflamed anti-American sentiment across Pakistan.

The case has caused a huge diplomatic row and is testing the often-fraught ties between the allies. US officials insist Davis has diplomatic immunity and should be released immediately. The Lahore High Court is due to rule on that issue later this month.

Hardline religious parties have called for Davis to be hanged.

Referring to the murder of Bhatti, a Christian and one of few politicians urging Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws to be amended, Jalandri said: “This incident has no logic.”

“Had this occurred two months back the situation would have been different,” said Jalandri, noting that the government had repeatedly stated it did not intend to reform the blasphemy laws.

The sentencing to death of a Christan woman for blasphemy last year in eastern Punjab state sparked an international outcry amid moves to reform the laws. But religious parties in Pakistan staged mass protests across the country to oppose the bill tabled by a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

After the Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer, an outspoken critic of the laws, was shot dead by his bodyguard in January, the government said it had no plans to amend the blasphemy laws. Critics of the laws — which mandate the death penalty for insulting Islam — say they are abused to persecute religious minorities or settle grudges since convictions can be delivered with little evidence.

Bhatti’s slaying was condemned by the head of Pakistan’s main Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, who agreed with Jalandri that the CIA was behind the killing.

“We deplore the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti. This is the work of CIA to hush up the court trial of Raymond David in the media,” Syed Munawar Hasan said in a statement.

Bhatti was killed when four gunmen riddled his car with bullets as he was travelling to a cabinet meeting in Islamabad. The gunmen reportedly left a leaflet near his body claiming his assassination by the PakistanTaliban (TTP) and Fadayan-e-Al-Qaeda, a group of jihadists that coordinates Al-Qaeda and the TTP.

TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ahsan reportedly called local TV channels to say the group had killed Bhatti.

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

Pakistan Vows to Battle Extremism After Minister Slain

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) — Pakistan must not buckle to extremism, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Thursday, a day after Taliban militants killed his government’s only Christian minister for challenging a law on blasphemy towards Islam.

The assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in broad daylight on Wednesday threatens to further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally where many fear a strain of violent religious conservatism is becoming more mainstream in society.

Zardari, head of a government many Pakistanis hold in little regard, said Bhatti’s killing was the result of a “negative mindset and intolerance” that had led to the killing of a provincial governor in January.

Punjab governor Salman Taseer was also shot dead, by his own bodyguard, for his staunch opposition to the blasphemy law that mandates the death sentence for anyone insulting Islam.

“We have to fight this mindset and defeat them. We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat,” the official APP news agency quoted Zardari as saying.

“Such acts will not deter the government from eliminating extremism and terrorism,” he said. “Shahbaz fell victim to the negative mindset and intolerance that also took the lives of… Benazir Bhutto and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer.”

Former prime minister Bhutto, who was Zardari’s wife, was killed by militants in 2007.

Zardari’s fears for Pakistan’s future were echoed by several newspapers and lawmakers from minority communities in the parliament who also called on the government to take a firm stand against extremists…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Video of Children Playing Suicide Bomb Game Circulates in Pakistan

A shocking video has emerged from Pakistan depicting children role-playing a Taliban suicide bombing.

The 84-second clip shows Pashtun children recreating a terrorist attack, with one boy dressed in black — the ‘bomber’ — being embraced and wished well by his friends before setting off on his deadly mission.

In the single-take video, the ‘bomber’ then approaches another boy, dressed in white, who appears to be mimicking a member of the security forces and tries to stop him.

But the young Jihadi then ‘detonates’ — with other boys throwing sand into the air to simulate the explosion — and others rush in to examine the children who are playing dead.

Ahsan Masood, a Pashtun from Waziristan in Pakistan, posted the video on Facebook because he ‘thought it was funny’.

He said he believed it had been filmed in Khost, Afghanistan, and that it had been sent to him via his mobile phone by a friend.

It has been described as ‘horrifying’ by a children’s charity in Pakistan, but others have said it could be seen in a positive light as children role-play to deal with the violent circumstances they see in their everyday lives.

Salma Jafar of Save the Children UK in Pakistan, told The Guardian: ‘It’s horrifying and alarming.

‘These children have become fascinated by bombers rather than condemning them.

‘If they glamorise violence now, they can become part of it later in life.’

However, Pakistani media commentator Fasi Zaka called clip ‘the most amazing amateur video I’ve ever seen’.

‘It’s disturbing but also sophisticated and creative — a one-camera shot that captures it all. They are reproducing what they see in their lives around them.’…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Far East

China Pressures Foreign Journalists Not to Report on Protests

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese police are further intensifying pressure on foreign reporters, warning them to stay away from spots designated for Middle East-inspired protests and threatening them with expulsion or a revoking of their credentials.

The warnings show how unnerved the authorities are by the online calls for protests every Sunday. The appeals, which started two weeks ago, have attracted few outright demonstrators but many onlookers, loads of journalists and swarms of police.

Staff from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and numerous other overseas news organizations were called in for videotaped meetings with Beijing police Wednesday and Thursday and told that reporters trying to film or interview near the proposed demonstration spots in Beijing or Shanghai this weekend would be punished.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement that some journalists reported being accused by police “of trying to help stir up a revolution, disrupt harmony in China and simply cause trouble.”

The warnings ratchet up notices from police earlier this week that put a section of the Wangfujing shopping street in downtown Beijing and an area near People’s Square in Shanghai off limits for foreign media.

However, a British broadcast journalist, who declined to be named in line with company policy, said her team was told that it was not allowed to film anywhere in China, including basic street scenes, without prior approval.

The extreme reaction signals a retreat since restrictions on foreign media were eased in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. In 2006, then Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao announced that local officials could not intervene in the work of foreign reporters doing interviews, though some sensitive areas, such as Tibet, remained off limits to reporters without special permits.

Foreign reporters have always been afforded greater latitude than domestic ones.

In a tense news conference Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu repeatedly said there was no change in the reporting regulations. Jiang said the rules were clear and that reporters were no longer journalists if they broke the law and created news.

“Some people are eager for fame and try to create trouble for China. For people with their kind of motive, no law can protect them,” Jiang said.

The furor surrounds a news event that apparently never transpired. No large protests seem to have erupted at the designated demonstration spots, though at least one activist was detained for being present at one of them. One journalist was also attacked by unidentified men while trying to report from the Beijing shopping street Sunday, and others had their equipment confiscated and footage erased by police…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]


100k Eastern European Migrants Free to Claim Full UK Benefits After EU Ruling

As many as 100,000 migrants from Eastern Europe will be allowed to claim £250-a-week as Europe forces Britain to abolish its restrictions on benefits.

In a move that could cost the British taxpayer tens of millions of pounds, migrants from the former Soviet bloc will be allowed jobseeker’s allowance, council tax benefit and housing benefit.

The law changes will come into effect within weeks as the European Union scraps restrictions imposed when eight states joined the EU in 2004, and it leaves Britain powerless to counter the move.

The end of the Workers Registration Scheme means migrants from the so-called A8 countries — the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — will no longer have to register if they wish to work for a month or more in Britain.

Estimates suggested that as many as 100,000 migrants could claim UK benefits from the start of May.

When the Soviet bloc countries joined the EU in 2004 the Office for National Statistics called it ‘the largest single wave of in-movement ever experienced by the UK’.

But the Department for Work and Pensions insisted that strict rules would remain in place to prevent abuse and stop ‘benefit tourism’.

Immigration minister Damian Green pointed out that at the same time that the scheme ended in the UK, countries including Germany and Austria were opening up their labour markets even more to workers from their eastern neighbours.

Only Britain, Ireland and Sweden permitted free access to workers from A8 countries in 2004. It is thought that many will now be attracted to Germany and Austria, which are geographically nearer.

Mr Green said: ‘Under the terms of the Accession Treaty these restrictions have to be lifted at the end of April, giving A8 nationals the same access to work as other EU nationals.

‘At the same time Germany and Austria will be opening their doors to these workers for the first time.

‘This Government will apply transitional controls for all new EU member states in accordance with the relevant Accession Treaty as a matter of course in the future.

‘We are in the process of delivering major reform to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands with the introduction of a new limit on economic migrants from outside the EU, alongside new proposals to reform other routes of entry, including students, families and marriage.’

The DWP said it had no choice but to remain in line with national and international obligations.

But the department insisted that protecting the benefit system from abuse was its ‘number one priority’.

A spokesman said: ‘No-one can just come into the UK and start claiming our benefits.

‘We have strict rules in place to protect the system from any abuse.

‘For instance, to claim an income-related benefit, a person from the EU will have to pass the Habitual Residence Test alongside all of our other eligibility criteria.

‘They will have to prove they have a right to reside here and will then be asked to prove their attachment to the UK; they will have to show an intention to settle here and their reasons for coming to the UK.

‘We will be keeping our benefit rules to people from abroad under review to ensure it’s secure.’

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]

Italy: ‘Ships Ready to Sail for Tunisia in 24-48 Hours’

Italy hoping to pave way for other EU countries

(see related story on site).

(ANSA) — Rome, March 2 — Italian navy ships will be ready to sail “within 24-48 hours” to help set up an Italian refugee camp on the Tunisian-Libyan border, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Wednesday.

With its plan to provide food and medical aid to the thousands of people on the border, Italy is aiming to avert a mass exodus across the Mediterranean.

Italy is hoping to pave the way for other European Union countries with its mission, which was commended earlier Wednesday by the European Commission. Italian ships will also be used to repatriate thousands of Egyptians who have fled Libya, he said.

Frattini added that, “as soon as security conditions permit”, Italy will also send an aid ship to Benghazi to avert a humanitarian crisis in Cirenaica, the eastern part of Libya rebels have wrested from Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

Earlier, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the EC “welcomes very favourably” the refugee-camp plan and believes the EU must “coordinate to provide massive aid” to people fleeing the Gaddafi regime.

Georgieva, who was set to fly to the area later Wednesday, added: “At this time the absolute priority is to address a very serious humanitarian emergency and help the people in difficulty on the ground”.

“It would be wrong to give the impression that we only want to defend our homes”.

The commissioner played down fears of a titanic migrant wave unleashed by the Libyan crisis, saying the numbers involved so far were not too high.

Italy has said more than 120,000 displaced people are milling around the border while some 1.5 million potential migrants may move from the Libyan interior to the coast.

It has accused the EU of a lack of solidarity for not envisaging adequate help for Italy, which is expected to take the brunt of the feared exodus.

But Georgieva stressed that the EC was “working alongside the Italian authorities”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: IOM: 2.5 Mln Foreigners Flee After Losing Jobs

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 2 — Around 2.5 million people have lost their jobs in Libya and are being forced to return, unemployed, to their countries of origin. This is according to Pasquale Lupoli, the regional director for North Africa and the Middle East of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), whose office in Cairo is working day and night to assist the tens of thousands of people attempting to leave the country.

The 10 million euros in humanitarian aid allocated by the EU for the emergency in Libya, he tells ANSAmed, “seem to us to be pretty modest in relation to the complexity of the problems to be resolved and the solutions to be applied”.

With regards to Italy, he adds, “a future Libya will certainly want to renegotiate previous agreements and, in this context, Italy needs to be very careful of its actions and the way it carries them out,” so as to help Libya and its neighbours to move towards new and more dynamic democracies.

At the moment, Lupoli explains, the IOM is working on the borders with Egypt and Tunisia, and in the south of Libya, where migrants are fleeing into Niger and Chad. On the borders with Tunisia and Egypt, where IOM is collaborating with the host countries, donor countries and individuals, migrants are helped with documents, plane tickets and first aid.

IOM statistics show that at midnight yesterday, 73,000 people had crossed the border with Egypt at Sallum, 5,000 of them on March 1 alone. Out of the total, 1,645 were from countries other than Libya or Egypt, with 63% of them Bengali, 16.5% from Ghana and 13% from Vietnam. Over the course of the week, the IOM is also aiming to help around 4,000 Egyptians stranded in Tunisia to return home.

The emergency of the last few days, however, is not the only problem to be faced. The return of emigrants will have an economic impact on Egypt. “Egyptian workers in Libya are largely employed informally and have modest income, as a result of low professional skill levels,” Lupoli says. Their return will therefore “significantly increase the rate of unemployment in age groups already suffering from a stagnating economy and access to the employment market that is not sufficiently diversified. 99% of workers returning home are men between the age of 19 and 30, many of them the breadwinners that support large extended families”.

But efforts by the EU and Italy must go beyond humanitarian aid. “The safety of the Mediterranean basin is everyone’s business, not just southern Europe’s,” the IOM representative says. “A more in-depth and integrated stance on North African countries and the whole of the Middle East when it comes to EU policy is both necessary and to be hoped for”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Libya: Maroni: 5 Mln Euros Ready for Humanitarian Mission

(ANSAmed) — ROME, MARCH 2 — Five million euros have been allocated for the humanitarian mission that Italy is about to organise in Tunisia, on the border with Libya, to meet the thousands of migrants fleeing from Libya that are still amassing on the two sides of the border. The statement was made by minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni during a hearing in front of the joint Senate and Parliament Constitutional and Foreign affairs committees.

Maroni added that even the Regions “are ready to participate in terms of financial assistance”.

“At present approximately 60,000 migrants who fled Libya are camped out in Tunisia, and as many are still in Libya, by the border”. The minister emphasised that this is “a serious situation, which could turn dramatic, because Libya is not offering any support to these people, while Tunisia is, but the assistance is disorganised, that is why we decided to set up a humanitarian mission to create a refugee camp there”.

Maroni added that in Libya “there are almost 1.5 million illegal aliens, in these days they are fleeing to the west and to the east, but I expect that in future they may also head north”. There is also “a generation that is escaping Tunisia because of the unsolved crisis and because of the absence of controls”. Maroni disclosed that to date “5,600 illegal aliens arrived in Lampedusa, all of them coming from Tunisia, and tonight, after 10 days of peace thanks to checks reinstated by Tunisia, another 347 Tunisians landed. Of the young Tunisians that have arrived in recent weeks, approximately 2,000 asked for protection and less than 400 of them requested political asylum”. Maroni stated that, according to interviews that have been made, “it appears that almost all of them stated that they wanted to move to other European countries, especially France and Germany”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Turkey’s First Openly Gay Referee Adamant to Continue Battle

Turkey’s first openly gay referee says he will not stop his legal battle against the national football’s governing body for blocking him from his profession as a match official.

Former football referee Halil Ibrahim Dinçdag first became known to the public in 2008, when it emerged that the Turkish Football Federation, or the TFF, stripped him of his rights to officiate matches.

Dinçdag was then forced to leave his job because he had been excused from his compulsory military service on account of his homosexuality, which was documented in a medical report. According to the sport’s regulations, anyone who fails to complete his military service for health reasons is unfit to perform as a referee.

The 35-year-old filed a criminal complaint against the Turkish Football Federation and sought compensations up to 110,000 Turkish liras for damages.

The case started last Tuesday in Istanbul and the second hearing will be in May.

Dinçdag spoke to Anatolia news agency about how the TFF ruined his life over the last two years.

“I have suffered much damage, both psychologically and financially,” said Dinçdag on Wednesday. “After my sexual orientation was leaked to the press by the TFF, my life changed dramatically.

“First, I was forced to quit refereeing, which I love most. I also had to quit my job as a speaker at a radio station, which I was doing for 16 years. I have been unemployed for a long time and it hurt my soul very much. I even have trouble paying for the expenses of this tribunal.”

Dinçdag said he did not want to sue the TFF, but he had no option left, since the national governing body was silent in this situation and did not support the former referee at all.

“I never wanted to sue the TFF but in the end I had to,” Dinçdag said. “I shed sweat for this institution for 14 years. I tried to contact them before the case, but they did not even respond to my lawyer. We could have found a solution but they did not want to.”

Dinçdag believes that he can return to refereeing at the end of the case.

“I will not back down from this legal battle, which I started to get my rights back,” he said. “I believe I am right and we will see it at the end of this case. But if the decision is made against me, I will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.”

“Everybody knows that there are many gay referees in European football. It is sad to see it as a disaster in Turkey while it is normal in the world.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Turkish Football Referees’ Association, or TFFHGD, said the body backs Dinçdag in his case.

“Our friend Halil was a member of the TFFHGD before his right to referee was taken from him,” Dursun Cumali told Anatolia. “He is fully right in his case and has our full support. We will definitely monitor the developments.

“They made a wrong decision [to strip him of his duties], but I believe the TFF will make the right call soon and Halil will be back in his job,” Cumali added.

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

UK: Nick Clegg Sets Out Vision of Multiculturalism

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has set out his vision of what multiculturalism means in a speech in Luton.

He backed David Cameron over the need to end “segregation” of communities.

But, in contrast to the prime minister, Mr Clegg stressed in his speech the importance of multiculturalism to “an open, confident, society”.

Mr Cameron grabbed headlines around the world with his call last month for an end to “state multiculturalism”.

In a speech in Luton, Mr Clegg said the prime minister was “absolutely right to make his argument for ‘muscular liberalism’“, and “to assert confidently our liberal values”.

But he also attempted to strike a different tone to the prime minister on the issue of multiculturalism.

He said: “Where multiculturalism is held to mean more segregation, other communities leading parallel lives, it is clearly wrong. For me, multiculturalism has to seen as a process by which people respect and communicate with each other, rather than build walls between each other.

“Welcoming diversity but resisting division: that’s the kind of multiculturalism of an open, confident society.

“And the cultures in a multicultural society are not just ethnic or religious.

“Many of the cultural issues of the day cut right across these boundaries: gay rights; the role of women; identities across national borders; differing attitudes to marriage; the list goes on.”

‘Living in silos’

Downing Street said Mr Cameron stood by his speech last month, in which he said “state multiculturalism has failed”, but the prime minister’s official spokesman said it was a “complicated issue” and an “important debate”…

           — Hat tip: DF[Return to headlines]