Archive | May, 2006

Sail to Canary Islands or Die Trying

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Spain’s latest headache is the increasingly popular human smuggling route that starts in West Africa and ends in the Canary Islands.

The international fishing industry has all but wiped out the livelihood of local fishermen in Senegal, forcing them to risk death and smuggle migrants 1,350 kilometers (845 miles) to the Canary Islands in Spain. The country’s liberal policy toward refugees and worsening economy in West Africa are making Spain a prime destination for illegal immigrants. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has dispatched the military to intercept them, is asking the European Union for help.

This year alone, more than 8,000 migrants have reached the Canaries, Antonio Mazzitelli of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime told the International Herald Tribune. In Senegal, the migrants pay a smuggler about US$800 and then risk their lives aboard the colorful fishing boats known as pirogues for a shot at life in Europe.

If they make it, the boat is destroyed along with any remaining identification papers in order to take advantage of weaknesses in Spanish immigration rules. Illegal migrants are repatriated within 40 days. If their country of origin cannot be identified, they are flown to the mainland where they are released in big cities.

In the past 24 hours, 796 migrants arrived in the Canaries, the largest number for a single day, Spanish news agency EFE reported. The largest number of new arrivals was 647 immigrants on May 18. But the number reflects only those who were intercepted by the military.

Spanish daily El Pais said Austria, Britain, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal have agreed to dispatch the military alongside Spain to patrol the waters off Senegal and its neighbors. Desperate to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, Spain is dispatching more than a dozen representatives to West Africa to sign a migration agreement, which would include some form of economic aid to these countries.

For decades, Spain has been one of African immigrants’ favorite destinations. Spain’s efforts to keep migrants away from Ceuta and Melilla have been unsuccessful, writes Wayne Cornelius in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times. The tiny coastal territories in North Africa are surrounded by Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. Others would cobble up €3,000 (US$3,860) for a seat on a flimsy boat to the Canary Islands.

Thousands are believed to die each year in similar illegal crossings around the world. And sometimes the only thing that lives is a ghost ship like the one that showed up in Barbados.

The ship sailed from West Africa in January with more than 50 migrants destined for the Canaries. The “ghost ship” was found four months later with only 11 desiccated bodies.

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Sex, Lies and Terrorist Attacks

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Exotic dancer “Samantha” tells the San Francisco Chronicle about her encounter with a 9/11 hijacker.

Terrorists, as well as would-be terrorists, have been caught relaxing with hardcore porn. Not a pastime for a pious Muslim. When the F.B.I. arrested a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old and searched their homes, what fell out of a suitcase was a pirated copy of a hard-core porn flick. Several of the September 11 hijackers were also seen “engaged in some decidedly un-Islamic sampling of prohibited pleasures” before the attacks.

Why?

When the F.B.I. raided the homes of Eshanul Islam Sadequee, 19, and Syed Haris Ahmed, 21, in Georgia earlier this year, they found two CDs. One was encrypted and the F.B.I. could not crack. The other was a bootleg porn film, The Toronto Star reported. The F.B.I. did not say Between trips to Toronto and elsewhere, the two allegedly plotted to disable the Pentagon’s Global Positioning System [GPS].

Marwan Al-Shehi, 23 and one of the September 11 hijackers, was not a good tipper and looked “cheap,” exotic dancer who goes by “Samantha” told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001. The women at the Olympic Garden Topless Cabaret remembered another man, Mohammed Atta, as well.

When the German law enforcement officials combed the hard drive of Mounir el-Motassadeq, who was arrested in Hamburg for allegedly helping the hijackers, they found a ton of Internet pornography.

Muslim countries are generally tough on women. Lebanon and Turkey, for example, are exceptions. In conservative Qatar, where women are to be completely covered, the sex trade is thriving, a report by the official National Human Rights Committee [NHRC] shows.

That would indicate the men would get their fix from abducted foreign women, while forcing their women at home to cover themselves. Sex trade, obviously, would not thrive without demand.

It is unclear why the purportedly pious hijackers espousing extremist views would so blatantly turn to un-Islamic behavior. Perhaps they took a break from religion as well as from their sanity.

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Gasoline: 12 Cents a Gallon in Venezuela

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Source: El Universal newspaper and Ministerio de Energía y Petróleo [MENPET]

The Europeans are used to it. The Germans are paying US$6.37 a gallon (€1.31/L), and the Belgians $6.76 a gallon (€1.39/L). The Norwegians shell out $7.45 a gallon (€1.53/L), an incredibly high price considering their country produces and exports petroleum. But Venezuelans pay only US$0.12 per gallon thanks to a huge government subsidy.

In Caracas, filling up the 19-gallon tank of a 1976 Chevy Nova will set you back $2.30. Yet a litre of milk costs 1,500 Bolivars, or US$2.65 per gallon. Bottled water is just as expensive, at 1,200 Bolivars, or $2.12 per gallon.

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Chikungunya Infection and Pregnancy

The time of greatest risk of chikungunya virus transmission from a mother to a fetus appears to be during birth, if the mother acquired the disease days before delivery and carries the virus, according to the Perinatal Network of Réunion. This network of physicians and researchers on the French island of Le Réunion has published a wealth of data on chikungunya infection during pregnancy since the epidemic began in March 2005. Preliminary data showed that such a contamination is “rarely serious” and more than 90 percent of the infected newborns recovered quickly without sequelae.

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Health authorities in Le Réunion, off East Africa, have been urging women who are nine-month pregnant and show symptoms of chikungunya infection to be be hospitalized.

The time of greatest risk of chikungunya virus transmission from a mother to a fetus appears to be during birth, if the mother acquired the disease days before delivery and carries the virus, according to the Perinatal Network of Réunion. This network of physicians and researchers on the French island of Le Réunion has published a wealth of data on chikungunya infection during pregnancy since the epidemic began in March 2005. Preliminary data showed that such a contamination is “rarely serious” and more than 90 percent of the infected newborns recovered quickly without sequelae.
According to a pamphlet edited by Dr. Marc Gabriele and Dr. Alby Jean Dominique of the Perinatal Network, they have seen cases of mother-to-fetus infection which occurred between 3 and 4.5 months into pregnancy. Before and after that period in pregnancy, they have not seen any infection. However, there is a 48 percent risk of infection at birth if the virus is still present in the mother’s blood.

The incubation period of the chikungunya virus is about 2 to 4 days, according to the Regional Department of Health and Social Affairs of Le Réunion. Immunoglobulin M [IgM], an antibody, generally appears between 4 and 7 days after the onset of clinical signs. IgM, however, does not pass through the placental barrier. The body starts producing Immunoglobulin G [IgG] around Day 15 and does pass it through the placenta and confer immunity to the fetus.

The Health and Social Affair Department mentions in its literature for physicians that such an infection may be “at the origin of miscarriages,” but that they have not seen any increases in cases of birth defects associated with the illness. Fever, in general, can trigger uterine contractions, miscarriages or fetal deaths, the bulletin reminds physicians.

When the babies were infected during birth, signs of infection appeared around Day 4, the Perinatal Network’s pamphlet says. More than 90 percent of the infected newborns recovered rapidly without any subsequent problems.

These observations were made during the ongoing epidemic that began in March 2005. The information by the Le Réunion and French health authority was gathered from 3,007 births between June 1, 2005, and February 28, 2006. Researchers have noted that there is little cause for panic, but they also urged follow-up studies and interviews to rule out long-term complications, if any.

Since the epidemic started in March 2005, 258,000 people have been infected, an estimate by the regional health authority shows. As of May 14, 219 death certificates mentioned chikungunya. There were 1,400 new cases in the second week of May. The French Health Ministry has also recorded 376 laboratory-confirmed cases of imported chikungunya in mainland.

The epidemic has spread to the Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, and the Comoros. Four Indian states have reported 150,000 suspected cases in the past three months. An epidemic is feared in Malaysia where 200 cases have been reported just north of Kuala Lumpur.

A vaccine is still not publicly available.

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Turkey On Brink of Political Upheaval

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The murder of high-ranking judge, who upheld the controversial ban on headscarves, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party’s radical rhetoric that incited the incident places Turkey on the brink of another political upheaval. If political and grassroots pressure fails to unseat the misguided prime minister, the military, which sees itself as the guardian of the country’s secular nature, could be forced to intervene again.

Alpaslan Aslan, 29, burst into the chambers of the Council of State, Turkey’s highest administrative court, on Wednesday and gunned down five judges. Judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin died after several hours in surgery. The rest survived. Before opening fire, Mr. Aslan reportedly blamed the justices for their February ruling that upheld the ban on headscarf, a religious attire, from universities and other public buildings.

On Thursday, an estimated 25,000 protestors gathered at the Council of State building in Ankara, chanting secularist slogans and calling on Mr. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi [AKP]) to resign.

The Turkish Daily News [TDN], the government-backed English daily, said some protestors were chanting “Down with Shariah” and “Mullahs, go to Iran,” while waving the national flag. Sumru Cortoğlu, chief justice of the Council of State, accused Mr. Erdoğan’s administration for the murder, saying “careless remarks by government officials” resulted in the shooting rampage.

Mr. Erdoğan’s quest for an Islamist country appeared during his days as mayor of İstanbul and a leading member of the Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi), which was led by Necmettin Erbakan and banned in 1997 for undermining the secular nature of the country. He and others then set up another Islamist group and called it the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi), which was banned in 1999. He became Turkish prime minister in March 2003.

Mr. Edroğan was conspicuously absent from Judge Özbilgin’s funeral yesterday, while high-ranking military leaders were very visible at the funeral and other government ceremonies, The New Anatolian, and independent daily, reported.

“I condemn once more this heinous attack which targets the secular republic. Anyone who has caused the attack should reassess his attitude and behavior,” President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, former chief justice of the Constitutional Court that banned Mr. Erdoğan’s Islamist parties, was quoted by the Anatolian as saying.

Mr. Erdoğan’s policies and public statements have energized the religious ultra-nationalists who have attacked young girls for wearing short skirts. While Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim, its dress code and trends are European. Turkey’s secularism has been enshrined by Kemal Mustafa Atatürk, who founded the modern Republic, in the constitution. And the military has never shied away from guaranteeing a secular republic by force, if necessary.

Columnist Mete Belovacikli warns Mr. Erdoğan and his party to heed former President Süleyman Demirel’s caution that the military may not sit idly to watch the A.K.P. radicalize or diminish the country’s secularist nature.

Meanwhile, former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit was in a coma after suffering a massive stroke. He was the leader of the Democratic Left Party and oversaw the capture of Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK] leader Abdullah Ocalan. In 1974 he ordered Turkish troops to northern Cyprus after Greek Cypriots launched a coup to unit with Greece. Mr. Ecevit was born in 1925 in what was then Constantinople.

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Leftist Leaders Drop Dead in Philippines

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The Philippine military is using psychological warfare to stoke paranoia inside the New People’s Army [NPA] by claiming that army agents have infiltrated the communist rebel group. Whether true or not today, the U.S., led by the late Colonel James Nicholas Rowe, did infiltrate the N.P.A. in the 1980s. The military blames N.P.A. purges for most of the 123 deaths of leftist leaders and sympathizers. But a National Police task force is taking a more diplomatic approach by saying that the military and paramilitary groups as well as the communist rebels themselves may have had a part in the killings.

All of these groups are suspected of involvement in the killings though they have not been formally linked to any of the murders, Deputy Director General Avelino Ignacio Razon Jr., of the Philippine National Police, who is leading a task force investigating the spate of killings, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Army generals on Monday blamed the killings on an N.P.A. purge, citing examples of a similar event during the 1980s. The Philippine Army has in the past blamed the deaths of some prominent journalists on the communist rebels amid evidence that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration was increasingly cracking down on dissident journalists. The communist rebels this morning blamed military death squads for the death of 93 People First faction leaders in the past five years.

The N.P.A. was formed in 1969, a year after the Communist Party of the Philippines broke away from the Philippine Communist Party, better known as PKP-1930, to fulfill its stated goal of overthrowing the government through sustained guerrilla warfare. China allegedly supplied them in their early days, but evidence of any recent support is scarce. Since Mrs. Macapagal took office in 2001 through the controversial protest known as Edsa II, the ranks of the communist rebels is estimated to have swelled to more than 10,000.

These and other communist factions have sophisticated networks in rural as well as urban Philippines. The N.P.A. targets Philippine security forces, state and local officials, journalists and local businesses and funds itself largely through donations and “revolutionary taxes.” The C.P.P. and the N.P.A. are on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The breakaway Revolutionary Proletariat Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade [RPA-ABB] runs the deadly urban hit squads known as “sparrow units” that have targeted government officials and military officers.

The ouster of U.S. forces from the Philippines is another goal of these factions, who in the past have been infiltrated by government agents working with the U.S. military and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

U.S. Army Colonel James Nicholas Rowe, who set up the infiltration program for the Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] and the C.I.A., was assassinated by suspected N.P.A. assailants on April 21, 1989. Col. Rowe was famous for escaping a Viet Cong prison after five years in captivity. He designed the original search, evasion, resistance and escape [Sere] courses and was reactivated as chief of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group in Luzon to infiltrate the N.P.A. Circumstances leading to his death — whether the U.S. intelligence agencies allegedly downplayed threats to his life — are still being debated.

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Local Police Spying on Americans

Unmonitored, these untrained local police intelligence units could turn into the infamous Red Squads that suppressed dissent and protests before the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act limited the power of local police.

Local and state police are forming intelligence units and spying on ordinary Americans with little understanding of or concern for privacy laws. Their mixed results, U.S. News & World Report says, include targeting “save the whale” groups, labor leaders and anti-war protestors. Untrained, overzealous local police “intelligence” agents have harassed library patrons surfing the Web and infiltrated anti-war groups and animal rights groups. At the same time, the Justice Department and states are setting up “fusion centers” to pool databases of multiple jurisdictions apparently with few privacy safeguards.

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