Greece: Relief as Greece's pro-bailout edges victory18-06-2012
Greece's pro-bailout parties have won a slim majority, easing fears the country might be on course for an exit from the euro. The result has been greeted with relief by the markets, and German chancellor Angela Merkel.
The leader of Greece's center right New Democracy hailed the result as a validation of the country's commitment to the euro after his party won the largest share of the vote.
"The Greek people voted today to stay on the European course and remain in the euro zone," New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras told jubilant supporters. "There will be no more adventures. Greece's place in Europe will not be put in doubt."
With the votes almost fully counted, New Democracy had won 29.6 percent of the vote, while the leftist anti-bailout Syriza party came close with 26.9 percent. Winning the largest share makes all the difference under the Greek electoral system, with the top party being awarded a bonus of 50 parliamentary seats.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras conceded the election to Samaras late on Sunday. He had earlier said the bailout deal would be "history" on Monday if he won.
There had been speculation that a Syriza win would lead to a default of Greek debt, possibly forcing an exit from the eurozone.
Congratulations by telephone
Chancellor Angela Merkel's office said she had congratulated Samaras by phone late on Sunday.
New Democracy was set to take129 seats in the 300-seat assembly. Meanwhile the socialist PASOK party, which gained 13.3 percent of the vote, secured 33 seats.
After results were announced, the euro rose against the US dollar and yen, and world stock markets looked set to make gains.
Speaking as the early news of the vote came through, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that, if confirmed, Germany "would consider such a result a decision by Greek voters to forge ahead with the implementation of far-reaching economic and fiscal reforms in the country."
Samaras has said he wants to renegotiate the loan terms, calling for an extra two years to make cuts demanded by the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF ).
Room for maneuver
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle hinted that there may be some room for flexibility on the time frame for Athens to meet its commitments.
"There can't be substantial changes in the engagements" said Westerwelle, referring to the commitments made by Greece in the bailout deal. "But I can imagine we discuss again a delay."
A similar note of compromise was sounded by the International Monetary Fund indicating it was prepared to renegotiate Greece's borrowing program.
"We take note of the election results in Greece and stand ready to engage with the new government on the way forward to help Greece achieve its objective of restoring financial stability, economic growth and jobs," a statement read.
Sunday's election was the second in six weeks after May 6 polls failed to produce a government.
The country has sought bailouts twice since May 2010, amounting to about 347 billion euros ($442 billion).
rc/mr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
France: Integration is answer to eurozone woes, says Barroso14-06-2012
European Commission head Jose Manual Barroso has urged eurozone governments to adopt greater integration as the "far-reaching" solution to the eurozone's debt crisis.
Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Barroso said financial markets needed convincing that economic and monetary union was irreversible, saying otherwise "our prospects are limited."
His call came on Wednesday as Spain and Italy paid sharply higher interest rates on financial markets to loan funds, just four days before a crucial election re-run among Greeks who are widely skeptical about an international bailout plan and slumping living standards.
"We are now in a defining moment for European integration," Barroso said, accusing some European governments of failing to understand the need for a comprehensive solution."
"We must recognize that we have a systemic problem," he said. "I'm not sure whether the urgency of this is fully understood in all the capitals."
Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the parliament's liberal group, conceded that markets were still not convinced that Europe would solve its problem.
"The markets don't believe us," said Verhofstadt, who pointed to this week's rise in Spain's borrowing costs just days after a high-profile bank bailout offered by eurozone finance ministers.
Barroso argued in Strasbourg that Europe had broken new ground with its recently unveiled plan to shelter taxpayers from the risk of bank bailouts. The European executive's other recent proposals would involve the issuance of Eurobonds - international bonds denominated in a currency not native to the country where they are issued - and an EU-wide banking supervisory body. Some EU governments regard the proposals with skepticism.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Wednesday exuded calm regarding his own country's finances.
"We are relaxed over Italy's standing on the international stage and on the markets," Monti told his cabinet.
The former EU commissioner, who heads a technocratic cabinet that since December has instituted tax hikes and spending cuts, said Italy's public deficit of 3.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) was lower than those of many other EU countries.
Italy's banks were "stable," he added, saying they were not exposed to real estate woes like those gripping Spain.
Italian loan rates rose, however, on Wednesday, with 12-month money costing 3.9 percent, back near the level last seen in December. Last month the rate was 2.3 percent. Spanish 10-year bonds stood at 6.72 percent on Wednesday, near the 6.8-percent record reached on Tuesday.
In Madrid, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would also press for more European integration to protect the euro at a summit with Germany, France and Italy on June 22.
ipj/ncy (AFP, AP, dpa)
Spain asks for financial help for banks, 'not a bailout'10-06-2012
Spain has requested financial aid from the eurozone to recapitalize its stricken banking sector. But its finance minister has denied that it is a bailout and the exact figure of the assistance package is still unknown.
The Spanish government will request financial support for its banks from its eurozone partners, but it does not constitute a formal bailout, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told a press conference in Madrid on Saturday.
"As this is a request for financial support, it has nothing to do with a bailout, nothing at all," said de Guindos, who declined to outline the amount to be received from Europe.
"Spain declares its intention to apply for European funding to capitalize the banks that need it," de Guindos added.
"The amount will be enough to cover what is necessary as well as an additional margin."
He explained that the money would be received by the Spanish rescue fund FROB, which would in turn "inject the money into those financial institutions that need it."
De Guindos said that Madrid wished to help restore confidence in the eurozone and its reforms had been greeted with support from other European member states.
Worth "up to 100 billion euros"
The rescue package could be worth up to 100 billion euros ($125 billion) but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will not make a contribution, eurozone finance ministers confirmed on Saturday.
The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will provide the capital, a statement by the finance ministers read.
The breakthrough was welcomed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
"I welcome, like other Eurogroup colleagues, the Spanish government's determination to recapitalize (the banks) via the European rescue funds, the EFSF and ESM, with corresponding conditions," he said in a statement.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde also welcomed the package, saying that her organization "stands ready at the invitation of the Eurogroup members to support the implementation and monitoring of this financial assistance through regular reporting."
A statement from the Group of Seven (G7) developed nations, released by the US Treasury Department, called the financial assistance "important progress as the euro area moves forward on greater financial and fiscal union." US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also said expressed support for the eurozone's "concrete steps on the path to financial union."
The bailout makes Spain, whose banking sector was hit by a boom-and-bust real estate debacle, the fourth country in the 17-member eurozone to be propped up with financial help.
Developments ahead of schedule
The development comes despite the fact that Spain said it would wait for independent audits due on June 21 before making a decision over a bailout. Madrid has come under intense pressure to act more quickly in recent days.
The IMF published a report that found that Spanish banks require at least 40 billion euros to plug the gap in its finances after it carried out a stress test on the country's financial sector. That report was released three days ahead of schedule, reflecting growing urgency over the situation.
Spain was hit with a credit downgrade on Thursday by the rating agency, Fitch, which estimated that Spanish banks would require up to 100 billion euros in aid. On Friday, Moody's indicated it might also downgrade Spain.
The weakness of the Spanish economy has sent waves of alarm through the eurozone in recent weeks. It is currently in the grips of its second recession in three years and one in four citizens are unemployed, despite a raft of austerity measures, including making it cheaper to hire and fire, and tax hikes, which the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has adopted since coming to power in December.
The Spanish bailout could put Italy in the spotlight next, which is struggling under the second-highest debt rate in the eurozone.
sej,slk/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)
Germany: Merkel, Cameron look beyond fiscal pact to save EU08-06-2012
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday in Berlin, where the two leaders discussed ideas about how lead Europe out of the eurozone crisis.
Their talks were part of a conference at Chancellor Merkel's office in which Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also took part. Ninety-three students were on hand as well.
The two leaders agreed that the EU's fiscal pact alone would not be able to stand alone as the only solution for the debt crisis threatening the eurozone.
"When we look at the medium and longer term, we need more coherence," Merkel said at a press conference following the meeting. "Not just in terms of fiscal policy, but also in other areas ... (the fiscal pact) is a necessary step, but not sufficient."
Merkel also said there were other points that needed to be addressed for the long-term future of the EU.
"For example, when one country spends nothing on research and another spends three percent of its gross domestic product, that cannot work in the long term," the chancellor said.
During the press conference, Cameron urged eurozone countries to take swift action to deal with uncertainty in the markets. He also made it clear that Britain - a country that is not part of the eurozone - expected the single currency bloc to handle the crisis, saying he could not call on British taxpayers to guarantee Greek or Spanish bank deposits.
Earlier in the day, Merkel appear on a morning talk show on German public television saying "more Europe" was the best way forward, meaning the future of the EU would lie in a closer political union that gives Brussels more authority.
"We don't only need a currency union, we also need a so-called fiscal union, that is, more joint budget policy," she said in an interview with German broadcaster ARD. "And we also need first and foremost a political union, meaning we must cede responsibilities to Europe step by step," she added.
Merkel acknowledged that the EU now has "different speeds," referring to the countries in the eurozone and those that have their own national currencies. She said the differences would become more pronounced over time, because the euro countries would inevitably draw closer together.
"We can't stand still because [others] don't yet want to come along," she said.
She said Europe should have a strategy for growth, but stressed that "budget consolidation and questions of growth are two sides of the same coin," adding that solid finances were necessary for growth.
Merkel has been the focus of increasing pressure domestically and internationally to find a solution to the eurozone financial crisis.
mz,ncy/pfd (AFP, dapd, dpa Reuters)
Spain 'de facto' barred from financial markets says minister06-06-2012
Spain has admitted it faces problems refinancing itself in financial markets due to the high interest rates it is being required to pay. But an EU bailout isn't an alternative, it insists.
International financial markets were "de facto closed" to Spain, Budget Minister Cristobal Montoro told the radio station "Onda Cero" Tuesday, as exorbitant risk premiums for Spanish government bonds were a "serious problem" for refinancing the country's debt.
On Friday, the risk premium for Spanish 10-year debt compared to the German equivalent hit a record eurozone high of 548 basis points.
Investors are concerned that Spain will need a bailout from the eurozone rescue fund to support its struggling banking system and its heavily indebted autonomous regions.
In obvious reference to EU bureaucrats behind any rescue plan, Montoro was asked whether the "men in black" would now come to Spain to take over the country.
Montoro said that Spain "doesn't need" EU financial supervisors, as the government was itself able to "balance the budget, to return to stability through constitutional reform, to clean up the banking sector, and to improve labor relations."
Ahead of a crucial test of market sentiment on Thursday, in which Spain seeks to auction off up to 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) in medium- and long-term bonds, Montoro said that refinancing Spain's debt through the eurozone rescue fund was "technically impossible."
"Spain cannot be rescued in the technical sense of the term, and Spain does not need that," he told Onda Cero radio without clarifying what he meant by that.
Economists fear that the eurozone's fourth largest economy was too big and too heavily indebted to be rescued by the eurozone bailout fund, the so-called European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
Spain's debt-stricken bank Bankia alone needs funding to the tune of 23.5 billion euros to repair a balance sheet which is deeply in the red due to bad loans from the collapse of the Spanish property market in 2008.
Montoro also said that neither Germany nor France was urging the Spanish government to accept an EU bailout.
Insisting that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government had a "mandate to reform," Montoro said that it would finish the task that the Spaniards had given it, adding that the country's future would remain "in Europe, and in the euro."
uhe/mll (AFP, Reuters)
Denmark convicts four over plot to attack newspaper offices05-06-2012
Four men accused of planning to attack the Copenhagen newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005 have been convicted of terrorism. They were arrested in 2010 before they could carry out the plot.
A Danish court found the four men guilty of plotting to attack the offices of Jyllands-Posten newspaper for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad seven years ago. They were sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to be expelled from Denmark after serving their time.
Prosecutors had accused Tunisian national Mounir Ben Mohamed Dhahri, and Swedish citizens Sahbi Ben Mohamed Zalouti , Munir Awad and Omar Abdalla Aboelazm of planning to "kill a large number of people" at the offices of the newspaper. The three Swedish citizens are of Tunisian, Lebanese and Moroccan origin respectively.
All four had pleaded not guilty to the charges of terrorism and three of them pleaded not guilty to charges of weapons possession. Dhahri pleaded guilty and was convicted of the weapons charge.
Arrests in Denmark and Sweden
They were arrested in a joint operation between Danish and Swedish police on December 29, 2010. Danish police had wiretapped the suspects and said they moved in to make the arrests after hearing that the men were about to travel to the newspaper's offices.
Danish police arrested three of the suspects in a Copenhagen suburb, while their Swedish counterparts took Zolouti into custody outside of Stockholm later on the same day.
Many Muslims found the cartoons - one of which depicted the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban - offensive, and they were protested all over the Arab world.
Denmark's PET intelligence service said earlier this year that Jyllands-Posten remains a prime target for Islamist extremists.
pfd, ncy/jlw (Reuters, AFP)
Germany: Hamburg anti-fascists set light to barricades03-06-2012
Thousands have taken to the streets in the German city of Hamburg, in a counter-demonstration to a neo-Nazi march. Barricades set up to prevent the far-right parade were set alight by counter demonstrators.
Some 10,000 demonstrators against the far-right flocked to the rally at Hamburg's Rathausplatz, under the banner "Hamburg shows its True Colors."
"We stand together," Mayor of Hamburg Olaf Scholz told the rally, organized by a broad coalition of politicians, political parties, trade unions and social organizations. "We are proud to be a cosmopolitan city."
The counter demonstrators significantly outnumbered participants in the German parade, named The Day of the German Future.
Some 700 neo Nazis took part in the march along a route that was shortened amid instances of violence.
Effort to hinder parade
In the district of Wandsbeck, some 4,400 people gathered separately to block the planned path of the parade - some of them erecting barriers that were subsequently set alight.
Cars, including police vehicles were also set on fire, with stones thrown at police as they moved in around the counter demonstrators.
Officers were unable to remove those blocking the route, although the blazes were largely extinguished with water cannons. "There were simply too many counter-demonstrators," said a police spokeswoman.
Some 19 police officers were reported to have been injured, with 12 arrests, mainly of anti-Nazi demonstrators.
rc/jlw (dapd, dpa, AFP)
France: Le Pen in fake Arabic pamphlet scandal02-06-2012
Supporters of far right leader Marine le Pen have been distributing fake pamphlets in Arabic to discredit her opponent, far left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.
"It’s fake propaganda and it could cost her the election because it’s illegal to distribute fake pamphlets in France," says Jean-Luc Melenchon. Melenchon and le Pen are both campaining for the same constituency Henin-Beaumont in the north of France ahead of parliamentary elections this month.
On Tuesday, National Front supporters were caught distributing fake pamphlets calling on voters to support Melenchon. The leaflet had a photo of Melenchon and includes a quote "There is no future for France without the Arabs and Berbers of North Africa" from a political meeting in Marseille. The pamphlet also has another caption that reads "Vote Melenchon" in Arabic.
At first, the National Front denied responsibility for the pamphlets, saying friends of the party had distributed them.
But later le Pen admitted her party distributed the pamphlets. "I take responsibility for the pamphlet," said le Pen on French TV channel Canal plus, "It’s not unfair, I was simply quoting him".
Both Melenchon and le Pen ran for the presidential elections in May this year.
Serbia: New Serbian president claims Srebrenica 'not genocide'02-06-2012
Serbia's newly-inaugurated president has said in an interview that the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica amounted to war crimes, but not genocide.
A day after taking office as Serbia's new president, Tomislav Nikolic said in an interview that the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war was not genocide.
"There was no genocide in Srebrenica," he said in an interview with Montenegrin state television that was published on its website. "In Srebrenica, grave war crimes were committed by some Serbs, who should be found, prosecuted, and punished."
The United Nations International Court of Justice and the UN Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia both consider the massacre to be genocide. Around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serbs under the command of Ratko Mladic.
Mladic is on trial at the UN tribunal in The Hague along with Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. They are both accused of genocide, among other crimes, in connection with the massacre.
Nikolic to skip memorial ceremony
The Muslim chairman of Bosnia's three-way presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, criticized Nikolic's comments on Friday.
"The denial of genocide in Srebrenica ... will not pave the way for cooperation and reconciliation in the region, but on the contrary may cause fresh misunderstandings and tensions," he said. "By giving such statements, Nikolic has clearly demonstrated that he is still not ready to face the truth about the events that took place in our recent past."
Nikolic also said he would not attend a yearly commemoration for Srebrenica victims on July 11.
"My predecessor was there and paid tribute ... why should every president do the same?" he said.
Nikolic was once an ally of nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic. He served as deputy prime minister in a coalition with Milosevic when NATO bombed Serbia to drive its troops out of Kosovo during a 1998-99 war. Known previously as a hard-line nationalist, in recent years Nikolic has attempted to rebrand himself from being staunchly anti-Western to espousing a more pro-EU conservative stance.
The Serbian presidency is a largely ceremonial office.
mz/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP)
Ireland: Irish voters back EU's new fiscal pact02-06-2012
Ireland's voters have agreed to ratify the European Union's new deficit-fighting treaty. The government expressed relief but saw little reason to celebrate.
Ireland passed the fiscal pact with a comfortable majority, according to the results of a referendum. Election officials on Friday said 60.3 percent had voted "yes" in the previous day's poll. The result was welcomed by Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his cabinet.
"It's a sigh of relief from the government rather than a celebration," Transport Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters in Dublin.
The fiscal pact is meant to shore up the eurozone by penalizing countries that fail to keep their deficits under control.
Had voters rejected the pact, heavily-indebted Ireland could have been blocked from receiving new EU loans when its 2010 bailout money runs out next year. It also could have caused uproar elsewhere in Europe, where austerity programs have also caused anger among citizens. Ireland is the only member to put the treaty's ratification to a popular vote.
Fiscal discipline required
"The question now is where will the jobs and the stability they have promised come from, against the backdrop of a continuing and deepening capitalist crisis within Europe? [The pro-treaty side's] policies will only make the situation worse," said Joe Higgins, the leader of Ireland's Socialist Party, which opposed the treaty along with the nationalist Sinn Fein.
Countries that ratify the treaty, which was signed by European leaders in February, are expected to reduce their annual deficits to no more than 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. The eurozone's current limit is 3 percent of GDP.
Only around half of the Irish electorate of 3.1 million are estimated to have cast ballots.
ncy/ccp (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Sweden: Police hunt man for imam shooting26-05-2012
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a man in connection with the shooting of an Uzbek imam in northern Sweden in February.
The man is suspected of attempting to murder Obydkhon Sobitkhony Nazarov who was shot in the head on February 22nd in Strömsund.
"It is the man who has carried out the attack. He is from Eastern Europe and is between 30 and 40-years-old," said prosecutor Krister Petersson to the TT news agency.
Krister Petersson was unwilling to confirm either man's nationality or the country in which he is suspected to be residing.
Following the decision by Östersund district court, Petersson confirmed that he plans to submit a European arrest warrant which is a requirement to facilitate the man's extradition to Sweden.
Two further people were arrested in mid-May on suspicion of involvement in the shooting and remain remanded in custody.
The Uzbek imam was found bleeding in his staircase in Strömsund in Jämtland at midday on February 22nd. Over three months later the 54-year-old, who was shot in the head, remains in a coma in hospital.
Nazarov is a well known religious leader and dissident in Uzbekistan and came to Sweden in 2006.
Investigators believe that Nazarov's political activities may have been the reason for why he was shot and opted to inform Swedish security service Säpo at an early stage of the investigation.
Nazarov is a known critic of the regime in Uzbekistan and came to Sweden along with scores of other political refugees after a 2005 crackdown by Uzbek government troops in Andijan in which hundreds of protesters were killed, although the exact number of casualties remains in dispute.
At the time of the incident, known as the Andijan massacre, the Uzbek government claimed the demonstrations were organized by Islamic radicals.
In the wake of the influx of Uzbek refugees, Strömsund, a town of just over 4,000 residents, has seen a rise in hate crimes ranging from racist graffiti to the burning down of a mosque in the city in 2008.
Germany: German bank chief trashes eurobonds26-05-2012
The president of Germany's central bank has warned against viewing eurobonds as a suitable instrument to overcome the current financial crisis. He said debt could not be brought down by even more debt.
German Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann refuses to accept jointly issued eurobonds as the right answer to the eurozone's current financial woes.
"I don't think we'll be successful in trying to resolve the crisis with more debt outside regular budgets," Weidmann told Friday's edition of the French newspaper Le Monde.
He was responding to calls by France and other nations for joint eurobonds which would have the effect of roping stronger economies, like Germany's, into guaranteeing the debt of weaker countries, such as Greek and Spain.
Why be gullible?
"You don't give your credit card to someone, if you can't control their spending," the central bank chief quipped in the interview. He indicated that eurobonds could one day become an end point on the path to real budgetary union, but would be no good as a quick fix or even a sustainable remedy right now.
Weidmann said the issuing of eurobonds would in the long run require member states to transfer more sovereignty from national governments to Brussels.
"Even in countries where governments are demanding eurobonds, like France, I see no public debate or any popular support for the transfer of sovereignty that would surely be required for such a move," Weidmann stated.
hg/gb (Reuters, dpa)
Belgium: Lengthy EU meeting closes without eurobond agreement24-05-2012
There was no shortage of opinions at the EU summit, as leaders debated the continent’s financial woes. The talks closed with no agreement on an immediate growth strategy and a note of caution for Greece.
The meeting ran into the early hours, with representatives of all 27 member states making statements.
French President Francois Hollande told a press conference it had been possible to gain some agreement on pooling debt into eurobonds as a long term strategy for integration. However, he said there was no agreement on the idea as a tool for shorter term growth.
"Germany remains convinced that eurobonds can only be the end of a process, while we believe it's the start of a process. That's it, in a nutshell," he said.
Hollande added that he hoped to make progress at a summit late next month. "This was a necessary first stage," he said, admitting there was still work to do to convince their partners.
The French president, attending his first EU summit as leader, said that the meeting had taken so long because there had been so many speakers – rather than because there had been major disagreement.
He joked that while some had given concise summaries of their position, "others - I don't know why, go on and on and on."
Eurobonds would be jointly issued and could protect debt-ridden countries like Spain and Italy by shielding them from high borrowing rates. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had earlier given a clear signal that she was determined to fight her corner.
Measured support for Greece
Greece was also on the agenda, after the Greek prime minister warned that his country might be poised for a eurozone exit.
After the five-and-a-half-hour summit, European Union president Herman Van Rompuy reaffirmed EU leaders' commitment to preserving Greece's place in the eurozone, but added that Athens must honor its promises.
"We want Greece to remain in the euro area while respecting its commitments," said Van Rompuy.
Speaking after the meeting, president of the group Eurogroup body of finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters the eurozone countries would “have to consider all kinds of events. However, he insisted that “the working assumption” was that Greece would remain part of the euro.
In his press conference, Hollande called for structural reforms to be implemented to boost growth in Greece.
The summit began after European shares plummeted and the euro hit a 22-month low against the dollar on Wednesday, amid market anxiety about Greece.
rc/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)
Deal with Iran on nuclear inspection to be signed soon, says IAEA head23-05-2012
VIENNA, (Xinhua): Agreement on probing suspected work on Iran's controversial nuclear program was expected to be signed soon, said Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tuesday.
"There was an important development on the structured approach document on which we have been working since January," Amano told reporters at Vienna airport after return from his one-day trip to Tehran where he held talks with chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.
Amano said the decision was made to reach agreement on the mechanics of giving the IAEA access to sites, scientists and documents it seeks to address international concerns over the country' nuclear activities.
"There remain some differences, but Mr. Jalili elaborated that the differences will not be an obstacle to reach an agreement," Amano said.
He added that the two sides "understood each other's positions better," which was the reason that "we could make this important development."
One priority issue for IAEA in recent talks with Iran is the agency's demand for access to Iran's Parchin military site southeast of Tehran.
Media said the IAEA has received reports that Iran had tested explosives which could be used to set off a nuclear charge.
Iran denied such reports, and insisted access to Parchin would only be granted if Iran and the IAEA agree on certain conditions and steps.
In response to questions on the matter, Amano said "I have raised this issue of access to Parchin, and this issue will be addressed as a part of the implementation of the structured approach document."
Amano was quoted by Iranian semi-official Mehr news agency on Monday as saying that they held expansive and intensive talks in good atmosphere, and the progress in the dialogue will have positive impact on the wider nuclear talks beween Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Wednesday.
New round of nuclear talks over the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear activities was resumed between the IAEA and Iran last week.
After two days of negotiations, the two sides agreed to meet again, and Amano travelled to Tehran to discuss "issues of mutual interests" with high-level Iranian officials.
US: G8 leaders want Greece to remain in eurozone20-05-2012
Leaders of the eight largest economies have affirmed their commitment on Saturday to a "strong and cohesive" eurozone with Greece as a member. They also stressed the need to promote growth and fiscal discipline.
G8 leaders meeting at US President Barack Obama's weekend retreat of Camp David in Maryland said on Saturday that they want to see Greece remain in the eurozone as part of a "strong and cohesive" eurozone to ensure "global stability and recovery."
The leaders of the US, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Russia, Japan and Italy also committed themselves to "take all necessary steps to strengthen and reinvigorate our economies and combat financial stresses, recognizing that the right measures are not the same for each of us," hinting at the ongoing debate about stimulating growth versus fiscal discipline.
Earlier on Saturday, British Prime Minister David Cameron had agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that "growth and austerity aren't alternatives," suggesting that measures for economic stimulus as well as austerities had to come together.
Austerity plus growth
Merkel has long been the eurozone's staunchest advocate of fiscal discipline in the recipe for the eurozone crisis. The election of new French President Francois Hollande, who stresses the need to stimulate growth, reignited that debate, but Hollande and Merkel demonstrated unity at Camp David.
"The message is that consolidation and growth are two sides of one and the same coin," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. "We were in complete agreement that we need both," she added.
Hollande agreed, saying that "we have to pursue these two objectives at the same time."
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti also agreed but stressed that "we should not just wait for structural reforms and the reduction of deficits to generate growth." Monti, Hollande and Merkel are set to meet in June for a mini summit on the eurozone crisis, the leaders said at the G8 meeting.
Oil and nuclear weapons
Leaders also discussed the global supply of oil, which has become fragile, also because of tensions with Iran.
"Looking ahead to the likelihood of further disruptions in oil sales and the expected increased demand over the coming months, we are monitoring the situation closely and stand ready to call upon the International Energy Agency to take appropriate action to ensure that the market is fully and timely supplied," the G8 statement read, in an unusually straightforward manner.
High oil prices put a damper on the global recovery
Obama stressed that G8 leaders were "unified when it comes to our approach with Iran." He also said that G8 leaders decided that sanctions will continue alongside further negotiations.
On Syria, Obama said that leaders agreed that the political process in Syria should move forward "in a more timely fashion."
"We had a discussion about Syria, we all believe that a peaceful resolution and a political transition in Syria is preferable," he said.
ng/ipj (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Italy: Bomb explodes at Brindisi school killing one19-05-2012
One person has been killed and six people injured Saturday after a bomb exploded near a school in Brindisi in southern Italy, an official at the Civil Protection Authority said.
He said it was unclear if one or two devices had exploded in the incident but said: "Given the effect of the explosion, it appears that this was something quite powerful."
Two of the students are said to be in a serious condition.
According to the Italian media, two blasts went off in front of the Morvillo Falcone vocational school, spreading panic among the pupils.
The devices had apparently been left in bags in front of the school.
The Hague: Mladic genocide trial halted over 'irregularities'18-05-2012
The war crimes trial of Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic has been halted due to a prosecution error a day after opening at The Hague. Mladic is on trial for his role in the murders of over 7,000 Muslim men and boys.
The presiding judge at the war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic delayed proceedings on Thursday, citing a prosecution error.
Three hours into the high-profile trial's second day at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, judge Alphons Orie declared that the prosecution had failed to submit all its evidence to Mladic's defense in time.
He suspended the next phase of the trial, the presentation of evidence, which had originally been scheduled to take place on May 29. A new date is yet to be announced.
Mladic, the so-called "Butcher of Bosnia," is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, including two of genocide during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
Prosecutors had spent the second day of the trial describing the "horror" of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which Mladic is accused of orchestrating. Almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered in what was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
"Mladic himself was on the ground and personally involved," prosecutor Peter McCloskey told the court on Thursday.
ccp/msh (APF, dpa)
Greece: Caretaker Prime Minister starts four-week tenure17-05-2012
Greece has sworn in a senior judge as caretaker prime minister for one month as the country prepares for further elections. Panagiotis Pikrammenos was selected after nine days of coalition negotiations failed.
The head of Greece's top administrative court, 67-year-old Panagiotis Pikrammenos, was sworn in as caretaker prime minister Wednesday - an interim solution after May elections failed to produce a viable coalition government. The veteran judge, whose political mandate is limited to the bare essentials, will be tasked with organizing another election on June 17.
President Karolos Papoulias, the last actor to try and fail to cobble a coalition together, appointed Pikrammenos to the post and is likely to fill other key positions with neutral figures like diplomats or retired military officers. Veteran diplomat Petros Molyviatis was linked with the foreign minister's post, while retired general Frangoulis Frangos was mooted as an interim defense minister.
The unelected caretaker government has a very limited mandate, with the Greek Communist party explicitly calling on them to refrain from any major decisions.
"It will be a strictly caretaker government, which must not take any action at the EU or NATO that will be binding for the Greek people," Communist party leader Aleka Papariga said. "If there is an emergency or unforeseen event, then that can be addressed by consultation among the parties with the involvement of the president."
Greece's traditional political powerhouses, the conservative New Democracy party and the Socialist PASOK bloc, suffered massive election losses in May. These two groups at least broadly support the terms of Greece's so-called bailouts, while the remaining parties - who posted massive gains on voter dissatisfaction - want either to renegotiate or to scrap them. Neither of these broad sets of parties had sufficient support to form a functioning coalition.
The protracted coalition negotiations finally collapsed on Tuesday, nine days after the Greek election.
"In a democracy, new elections are the natural consequence of the impossibility to form a government following an election," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. "It will now be for the Greek people to take a fully informed decision on the alternatives, having in mind that this will be indeed an historic election."
Barroso went on to say that Europe would of course "respect the democratic decision of the Greek people," but said that by the same token, Greek people should respect democratic decisions taken in the other 16 eurozone member countries.
IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told television station France 24 that two options were on the table from an interntional perspective, either "supplementary financing and additional time, or mechanisms for an exit [from the eurozone], which in this case must be orderly."
Chancellor Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Germany's hope was for "a Greek government which is capable of acting" to emerge from June elections as swiftly as possible.
"I am not going to say anything here and now about the payment of tranches [of international loans] which are due at the end of June - that doesn't have to be decided in mid-May."
Syriza party leader, and possible election front-runner Alexis Tsipras, meanwhile, called in an interview with the BBC for "European leadership and especially Mrs Merkel … to stop playing poker with the lives of people." Tsipras said that banks were profiting from the Greek rescue, while ordinary people were suffering, calling austerity "a disease."
msh/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
France: Hollande to take over French presidency15-05-2012
Socialist Francois Hollande will be sworn in as France's president on Tuesday before naming a prime minister and dashing to Germany to battle with Berlin over how to tackle Europe's debt crisis.
Nine days after he defeated right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in a fierce campaign, Hollande, 57, will be inaugurated at the Elysee Palace and only hours later head to Germany for his first foreign visit as president.
He is also set to make the much-anticipated announcement of who will lead his government as prime minister, with Jean-Marc Ayrault, the head of the Socialists' parliamentary bloc, tipped as frontrunner.
Hollande is expected to be sworn in shortly after meeting Sarkozy at the Elysee at around 10am.
The ceremony itself will be relatively simple -- with no other heads of state invited -- and Hollande will then take an open-topped ride in a Citroen up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, waving to the crowd.
In separate ceremonies, he will then pay tribute to 19th-century educational reformer Jules Ferry -- father of France's free, secular education system -- and to Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist.
At 4pm Hollande will fly to Berlin, where he faces an uncertain reception from Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Sarkozy ally and the main backer of the European Union's fiscal austerity drive.
Hollande has vowed to refocus European economic policy on growth by re-opening talks on a fiscal pact agreed in March that aims to control European debt by enshrining greater budget discipline.
The deal was Merkel's brainchild and she has repeatedly insisted since Hollande's election that the pact, signed by 25 of the 27 EU countries and already ratified in some, is not open to renegotiation.
But observers say there is room for compromise, with Hollande likely to agree to additional stimulus measures without a rewrite of the pact.
And with political paralysis in Greece raising the spectre of the country being forced from the eurozone, the heads of Europe's two largest economies will be keen to reassure worried markets they can work together.
Before he heads to Berlin, Hollande's first order of business will be to nominate a prime minister, who will be tasked with forming a government before a first cabinet session likely on Thursday.
The Socialists have been careful to let nothing slip, but Ayrault, a 62-year-old longtime Hollande ally, is considered first in line for the job.
Other contenders include Socialist Party leader and former labour minister Martine Aubry, Hollande's communications director during the campaign, Manuel Valls, and his campaign and transition chief Pierre Moscovici.
Once the cabinet is named, the focus will move to the Socialists' campaign to win a parliamentary majority in June's legislative elections -- a key test for the party after Hollande's win.
New official estimates of how the French economy performed in the first quarter are also due on Tuesday.
Hollande has ordered an audit of government finances, but EU forecasts suggest he will struggle to meet his goal of cutting the deficit to three percent of gross domestic product by 2013 and balancing the books by 2017.
After Merkel, Hollande heads to the United States where he is to meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday ahead of back-to back G8 then NATO summits.
These meetings are also expected to be a test for the new leader, as he explains his decision to pull French forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year ahead of schedule.
Malaysians to bring Islamic banking to Germany13-05-2012
Islamic investing represents a 1.2 trillion euro market. Now one Malaysian firm wants to bring the trend to Germany. Others have tried and failed before, so it could be a struggle.
Confident and professional, the female chief executive of Malaysia-based CIMB-Principal recently gave a press conference in Frankfurt about the only registered Islamic investment fund in Germany.
With uncovered hair, red lipstick and silver earrings, Noripah Kamso said, "I want to share the new i-word with you. It doesn't stand for iPad, iPhone or inflation–but for Islamic banking."
Kamoso wants to improve the image of Islamic investment
The firm's goal is to win over Germany's roughly 4 million Muslim residents, along non-Muslims, to the bank's strategy of investing in accordance with the Koran.
The Muslim market
Islamic investment firms have been around since the 1970s. They prohibit interest, speculation and betting. They also do not put any money into companies that make alcohol or deal with pornography, gambling or pork. Islamic investment firms also keep away from companies with debts amounting to more than 30 percent of their own value.
In spite of these restrictions, customers of Islamic financial products can make money through a number of tricks. For instance, such customers earn no interest, strictly speaking, on their bank accounts. Yet it is a common practice for banks to contribute a sum to such customers' accounts every year in place of the interest.
An association of banks based in Muslim countries assesses whether or not firms conform to the Koran. According to CIMB-Principal, Germany has 27 publicly traded companies, including chemical giant BASF, that qualify.
The Islamic finance industry value is estimated at about 1.2 trillion euros (about $1.6 trillion), with yearly growth of more than 15 percent. Malaysia and countries in the Persian Gulf are the main nations to bind their firms to Islamic rules.
Even though Islamic banking accounts for just one percent of the global financial industry, there has been an increasing demand for alternative investments since the onset of the financial crisis. That's according to Daud Abdullah, president of the Global University of Islamic Finance in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur.
"If people invested more in Islamic finance, the world would not have such problems," he said. "Then we wouldn't have highly speculative instruments that provide no economic benefit, but get countries deep into debt."
Islamic financial products got their first major boost after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many Arabs withdrew their money from the US at the time, and Abdullah says some of those funds ended up in Malaysia and the Gulf states.
A second boost came during the international financial crisis, when Islamic financial products actually showed profits. The Dow Jones Islamic Market Titans Index, which tracks the 100 biggest Islam-compliant businesses in Europe, the US and Asia, has nearly doubled over the last five years.
That is why a growing number of non-Muslims are also showing interest, said Abdullah, a scientist and Muslim convert.
"Islamic finance is for everyone," he added. "If you look at [Islamic finance] globally, 60 percent of investors are not Muslims."
In CIMB-Principal's first phase, the firm wants to arouse interest in Germany's Muslim population. According to studies by the firm, 23 percent of German Muslims want to put their money in Islamic investments.
"Most Muslims in Germany are from the second or third generation," Kamso said. "Many of them have good jobs."
CIMB-Principal's second phase is to target non-Muslim investors. But the prospects are not especially promising. Unlike in the UK, where many firms similar to CIMB-Principal have long been on the market, there is little experience of Islamic firms in Germany.
"German firms are making Islamic bond portfolios and investment funds available," manager Karim Zaazou said. "But they only offer these products in Arab countries, to get a share of the petro-dollars."
Scandal casts a shadow
CIMB-Principal's plan is not the first to try and encourage Islamic investment in Germany. In the 1990s, Commerzbank and the state of Saxony-Anhalt developed a Islam-compliant bond known as a "Sukkuk." But the scheme was undermined by a scandal concerning share certificates.
Some 300,000 Muslims invested in one product, known as the "Konya model," only to see its Turkish operators disappear with the money. The damage was estimated at five billion euros.
Based on this experience, the general secretary of Germany's second largest Muslim organization does not think the Turkish community will be eager to invest in the new fund.
"There is obviously a need to apply one's religious principles in investing," Milli Gorus said. "But there is also a great deal of scepticism because of the past."
CIMB-Principal's first phase in Germany might come to nought. But you don't have to be religious to be interested in a good investment. The firm might not make headway in Germany until its second phase begins – unless this latest attempt at Islamic investments falls by the wayside like others before it.
Author: Nicolas Martin / srs
Editor: Ben Knight
Greece: Greek governing parties lose parliamentary majority07-05-2012
Greece's two main pro-bailout parties have failed to win a combined majority in parliament after dramatic election losses. The Socialist PASOK party and New Democracy conservatives accummulated just 32.4 percent.
After severe election losses, Greece's coalition parties have lost their combined majority in parliament, official figures released Monday revealed.
With 95 percent of the vote counted the Socialist PASOK party and the conservatives of New Democracy (ND) amassed just 32.4 percent between them in Sunday's election, plummeting from 77.4 percent in 2009.
The conservatives led by Antonis Samaras and the Socialists led by former Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos had jointly ruled in an uneasy coalition since last November.
It appears that they are now being punished by the Greek electorate in anger at their implementation of harsh austerity measures aimed at tackling the Hellenic debt crisis.
Greece had been forced to introduce severe budgetary cuts in exchange for two international bailouts worth 240 billion euros ($314 billion) from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank
The nation faces demands to put in place even more austerity measures next month if it is to prevent a default and a potentially disastrous exit from the euro.
Asian markets reacted with alarm in early trading on Monday to the election results in both Greece and France - where Socialist Francois Hollande has been elected president.
In Japan the euro hit a more than three-month low, with the single currency changing hands at 1.2973 euro in morning trade, down from 1.3082 euro on Friday in New York.
ccp/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)
France: Socialist Hollande wins French presidency07-05-2012
Socialist Francois Hollande has won the French presidency, ousting Nicolas Sarkozy. In a result which could have far-reaching implications for the eurozone, Hollande has pledged to renegotiate Europe's austerity pact.
Tens of thousands of supporters gathered at Paris's Place de la Bastille on Sunday to celebrate French's president-elect Francois Hollande's victory over conservative incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, Socialist Hollande won Sunday's presidential runoff with 51.7 percent of the vote. He is France's first Socialist president in nearly two decades. Sarkozy, meanwhile, secured 48.3 percent, making him the 11th European leader to be swept out since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008.
Addressing the crowds at the Place de la Bastille, Hollande hailed his victory as a sign of growing discontent in Europe against fiscal austerity.
Earlier Hollande gave his victory speech in his constituency of Tulle in central France. "Austerity can no longer be the only option," he told another huge crowd of supporters.
Sarkozy concedes defeat
Sarkozy conceded within 30 minutes of the polls closing, saying he had spoken with Hollande on the phone to wish him good luck.
"I bear the full responsibility for this defeat," Sarkozy said.
"My place can no longer be the same. My involvement in the life of my country will be different from now on," he added, indicating he would withdraw from frontline politics.
Sarkozy's popularity had waned during his five-year term over his handling of the economic crisis and failure to rein in France's double-digit jobless rate. He has also attracted criticism for his apparent "flashy style."
Hollande victory welcomed
President Barack Obama joined a growing number of world leaders on Sunday to offer their congratulations to Francois Hollande.
Sarkozy ended his term as the least popular president in French history
In a statement the White House said Obama had told Hollande in a phone conversation that he "looks forward to working closely" with him and his government on a "range of shared economic and security challenges." Obama invited the president-elect to the White House this month.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also phoned Hollande to offer her congratulations. The conservative leader, who worked closely with outgoing President Nicolas Sarkozy, invited him to Berlin as soon as possible.
As France looks set to take a new economic direction, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed that both countries still shared a "joint objective" to help the EU respond the debt crisis.
Austerity measures up for debate
Nevertheless, Merkel and Hollande are likely to have a difficult relationship. Merkel backed Sarkozy's reelection, and has rejected Hollande's notion that the European treaty on trimming budgets is renegotiable.
Hollande led his campaign with promises to rework the treaty to avoid a debt crisis similar to that which Greece is now facing. He also wants to raise taxes, especially on high earners, and increase government spending.
ccp, ncy/nt (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)
France: Sarkozy and Hollande on Middle East: La Même Chose07-05-2012
When the frontrunners in France's presidential race took their seats on Thursday evening for a final televised debate, they did so with battle lines firmly entrenched.
Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande had spent the previous month on a vitriolic campaign trail exposing deep rifts among the French electorate over the economy, immigration, and nuclear energy.
But the most significant player in Sunday’s election, which most opinion polls predict will go down to the wire, was not even in the studio.
Both Hollande and Sarkozy are mindful that the 6.4 million who voted for Marine Le Pen of the far right National front will have a large bearing on the outcome of Sunday’s run-off. That’s why they have sought to echo Le Pen’s strident anti-immigration rhetoric which reached out to disenchanted voters and hardliners alike.
Hollande vowed to cut economic migration at a time when France is feeling the pinch from the eurozone’s financial turmoil. Sarkozy went one step further, referencing Le Pen by name and claiming only he had the experience and gumption to put a meaningful cap on immigration’s pall over France by cutting the number of people entering the country in half.
Judy Dempsey, a senior associate at Carnegie Europe, said although immigration was being touted as a domestic stand from both candidates, using the issue as a sweetener to attract far-right voters could have an adverse effect on France internationally.
“Immigration is foreign policy and when they speak about immigration now in France it's fortress Europe,” she said. “[Hollande and Sarkozy] don't see immigration in a positive sense and it sends completely the wrong signal to the younger generation and the emerging business community in the Middle East.”
It was not until the final minutes of Thursday’s debate that the issue of foreign policy was raised. Here, both candidates demurred.
Sarkozy was quick to point out how he took the lead as France led the way in a number of international decisions while in office.
France's president has often sought to paint himself as a highly experienced operator in the realm of global diplomacy. As well as inheriting French involvement in NATO's Afghanistan mission, Sarkozy oversaw the stationing of French troops in the Middle East and Africa, largely in a peacekeeping capacity.
He played a prominent role in meditation between Tbilisi and Moscow in 2008 when the fight over Abkhazia and South Ossetia threatened to boil over into all out war.
And last year, Sarkozy’s France spearheaded NATO's campaign for military intervention in Libya.
Sarkozy avoided mentioning Libya in Thursday’s debate after embarrassing allegations that his 2007 presidential campaign had received an offer of funding from Tripoli. Sarkozy is seeking legal action over the claim, but thought better of opening that particular can of worms in the closing moments of a potentially election-changing televised appearance.
Like Sarkozy, Hollande has declared that an Iranian nuclear missile would be unacceptable for Europe. Like Sarkozy, Hollande has called for a two-state solution in Palestine while trumpeting Israeli security as a key French concern.
Hollande's public statements indicate striking Middle Eastern policy similarities to the current government. The Socialist leader has been necessarily vague over French foreign policy. He currently lacks a dedicated adviser for overseas affairs. Instead of laying out detailed plans for France's global relations, the Socialist challenger has made a point of criticizing Sarkozy in this regard.
Looking ahead to the next term in office, Hollande has struck a remarkably similar tone to the current government.
Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe have been among the most hawkish European officials to address the Syrian crisis, closing the French Embassy in Damascus and calling multiple times for President Bashar Assad to leave office. Sarkozy has issued incessant calls for a full ceasefire in Syria, and has somewhat ominously compared the restive city of Homs to Benghazi, Libya's erstwhile rebel stronghold.
Hollande, for his part, declared last month that he would support military intervention in Syria, “if done within a [United Nations] framework.” Juppe has offered words to the same effect in recent weeks.
According to Thomas Klau, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, both Sarkozy and Hollande will wait and see what happens in Syria before veering from the French course of public criticism of the Damascus government.
“The current government and Juppe have been very active on the Syria dossier and doing all they could to get Russia to move its stance,” Klau told Al-Akhbar. “I wouldn't expect the French policy to be different under Hollande. Much of his policy will be determined by events on the ground and the success – or the lack of it – from the [U.N./Arab League Envoy Kofi] Annan's mediation effort.”
Dempsey added that Hollande had raised the prospect of military intervention in Syria “because he can say it without the responsibility” of having to go through with it. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France still has some global clout, but not nearly enough to convince Russia or China to bless any advance on Syria. Both candidates know and accept this, and continuity in the French approach to Damascus is more likely than meaningful change.
In a similar way, with Paris' pro-Israel lobby as influential among the Socialists as they are in Sarkozy's UMP party, Hollande, should he win, is unlikely to depart from France's current line on Palestine.
In spite of a few diplomatic gaffes, including branding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a liar,” Sarkozy has spent much of the last five years offering support to Israeli officials. Hollande, with influential pro-Israeli figures such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn having the ear of many Parisian socialists, will have a hard time departing from such engagement.
“Nicolas Sarkozy was personally convinced that the national interest of Israel was very close to French national interest,” Klau said. “With Francois Hollande, his attitude isn't very significant. Neither of them place themselves in the Arabist tradition of French foreign policy, which has lost relevance anyway.”
Hollande raised the prospect of military intervention in Syria “because he can say it without the responsibility” of having to go through with it. So if foreign policy has provided so few soundbites in the French presidential election, it is because both candidates are largely in assent.
That is not to say Sarkozy and Hollande agree on every foreign policy area.
Hollande used Thursday's debate to repeat a campaign promise that, if elected, he would withdraw all French troops serving with NATO from Afghanistan by the end of 2012 – a full year ahead of a planned pullout, and much to the chagrin of Sarkozy. The French president has said he'd prefer not to renege on the current withdrawal timetable agreed with NATO.
In recent months, Sarkozy has faced the wrath of Turkey, one of France's major trading partners, by pursuing legislation that would make it illegal to deny the Armenian Genocide. Amid opprobrium from Ankara, the president has pushed ahead with the controversial bill, which critics have denounced as a cynical attempt to get France's estimated 400,000 ethnic Armenians on his side ahead of elections.
Sarkozy has made no secret of his objection to Turkey applying for EU membership, and fallout over the genocide bill is just the latest of a series of spats with Ankara during his time in office. Hollande also indicated he would oppose Turkish EU accession if elected, but, significantly for officials in Ankara, he has not ruled out future negotiations.
“Sarkozy is openly hostile to the notion that Turkey should join the EU, whereas the Socialist position is that that door should remain open,” said Klau.
France's poor diplomatic ties with Ankara can be counted as a black mark against Sarkozy's foreign policy initiatives, something Hollande should seek to take advantage of, according to Dempsey.
“Sarkozy had something near contempt for Turkey and there is no love lost between Ankara and Paris,” she said. “This would change slowly under Hollande. It's time France considered [engagement with Turkey] as its long-term strategic interest but that is one thing that Hollande might be able to change if he wins.”
With France mired in discontent over domestic issues, it is no surprise that neither Hollande nor Sarkozy has been overly willing to share their opinions on global affairs.
But whoever inherits control of one of NATO's largest troop contributing countries will need to keep plans in place.
The Netherlands: Scrap burqa, dual nationality bans, Labour MPs tell minister03-05-2012
Labour MPs on Wednesday urged home affairs ministry Liesbeth Spies to act according to her convictions and formally scrap draft legislation to ban the burqa and eradicate dual nationality.
Spies said in an interview with the Volkskrant newspaper earlier both issues are no longer priorities but plans to leave it up to parliament to decide what to do.
Spies, who is campaigning for the Christian Democratic party leadership, said: ‘Parliament wants to bin the dual nationality plans. And I would not shed a tear if that happened to the burqa ban either’.
The coalition alliance collapsed last month when Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam PVV, pulled out after disagreeing with austerity measures. The dual nationality and burqa bans were PVV policies.
Until now Spies has defended the policies, describing the proposed ban on the face-covering Islamic government in January as ‘of very great importance’ to ensure open communication. She also rejected criticism of the dual nationality proposals from the Council of State, the government’s most senior advisory body.
The Volkskrant points out that the CDA has supported a ban on the burqa since 2005. In addition, restricting dual nationality has been on the party’s agenda since 2003.
However, a spokesman told the paper the contents of the 2010 election manifesto are paramount. There is no mention of restricting dual nationality or banning Islamic clothing in that document, the paper says.
Spies is one of four candidates for the CDA top job.
Last week, immigration minister Gerd Leers said he would no longer promote PVV causes within Europe. This means an end to campaigning for a higher age limit and income requirement in family reunion cases.
The Netherlands: Stockholm suicide bombing trial begins30-04-2012
Nazzedine Menni, the student who allegedly helped plan the suicide bomb attack in Stockholm in 2010, stands trial in Glasgow on Monday for what is anticipated to be a 12 week court case.
The man, who denies the charges, risks life imprisonment.
He is suspected of aiding Taimour Abdulwahab, an Iraqi-born Swede, who was the only fatality of the twin blasts in Drottninggatan, central Stockholm, on December 12.
According to Aftonbladet newspaper, Menni helped finance the attack, partly due to claiming benefits through eight of his different aliases.
The man, who studied in the English town of Luton, was arrested under the name of Ahmed al-Khaledi, which has since been formally changed in legal documents a number of times, with courts recently settling on Nazzedine Menni.
Neighbours had described him as a “neat” 30-year-old family man from Kuwait, who lived with his wife and three children, wrote the paper.
Abdulwahab had tried to call Menni several times on the day of the attack, however did not succeed in reaching him. It is alleged the pair planned the attack for eight years.
Aftonbladet reports that Menni had deleted contact details and private photographs of Abdulwahab from his phone during a pause in the police interrogation.
Despite it being 18-months since the attack, and five countries being somehow related to the incident, Menni and the bomber himself are still the only two people suspected of any crime.
The 12 week trial, which begins on Monday, has 250 possible witnesses to be called upon, according to TT news agency.
Belgium: EU strengthens sanctions against Syria24-04-2012
BRUSSELS, (Xinhua): The European Union (EU) on Monday strengthened sanctions against Syria, in view of the gravity of the situation in the country.
According to the conclusions adopted by the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, the EU adopt restrictive measures on the export to Syria of additional equipment, goods and technology that can be used for internal repression or for making and maintaining such products.
It also agreed to ban the sales of luxury goods from the EU to Syria.
"We have imposed additional sanctions against the Syrian regime because of deep concern about the situation and the continuing violence, in spite of the ceasefire," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton following the council meeting.
"The repression in Syria must stop. We are working with the international community to ensure that we enforce sanctions as effectively as possible," she said.
The EU strongly urged the Syrian government to allow the effective operation and deployment of the United Nations' supervision mission and its advance team and allow full freedom of movement, access and communication "including agreement on the use of air assets."
This is the fourteenth time the EU imposes restrictive measures against the Syrian government since the eruption of violence in the country.
Editor: Mu Xuequan
France: Hollande and Le Pen emerge as major winners in France's election23-04-2012
As expected, French socialist Francois Hollande has won the first round of the presidental poll. But populist extremist parties have also brought in record results.
The first signs of Francois Hollande's victory came from France's overseas territories where already around noon the first results came out. Voters in Martinique and Guadeloupe confirmed what had been widely expected: Socialist Francois Hollande is the clear favorite for winning the French presidency and taking over from Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace.
Sarkozy still has a chance - but few expect him to be able to pull it off
Hollande got around 29 percent in the first round of voting and thus came ahead of Sarkozy who merely mustered 26 percent. The incumbent though can claim a somewhat less flattering win – according to an opinion poll he is the least popular president of France's recent history.
"It really would take a lot to give Sarkozy another chance to win re-election after all," Henrik Uterwedde of the Franco-German Institute think tank told DW. He's sure that unless there's a major blunder by Hollande, he'll win the presidency in the runoff vote on May 6. "It would be incredibly difficult for Sarkozy to catch up. I see Hollande as the clear favorite."
A vote against Sarkozy
Hollande's biggest selling point in the election campaign was not being Sarkozy. Essentially, the French have voted the incumbent out of office, Uterwedde said. "Sarkozy is a president who was really unpopular towards the end of his term. He failed to fulfill many of the promises he'd made to make it into office five years ago."
Franceindeed is faced with tough challenges at the end of Sarkozy's term. Unemployment stands at a 20-year record of 10 percent, public debt is getting out of hand and the trade deficit is massive. The next five-year term is likely to be difficult and many French voters do not necessarily trust Hollande to do that much of a better job. "The result does not suggest a glowing pro-Holland sentiment either."
Supporters of Sarkozy have not given up though. They put their faith in his fighting abilities and on the upcoming TV debate between him and his challenger Hollande. Five years ago, Sarkozy clearly dominated the TV debate. But back then, he was up against Segolene Royal. The only real weakness Sarkozy could try to capitalize on this time is the fact that Hollande has little experience. While he headed the Socialist party for 10 years, he never held office as a member of a government.
Surprising result for Le Pen
Hollande winning the first round had been expected – the success of the far-right Front National though came as a surprise. It's the first time that Marine Le Pen, daughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, ran for presidency. And with almost 19 percent, she secured the best result in the party's history. "This is more than a footnote – this shows that right-wing sentiment is widespread," said Uterwedde. At the same time it shows that Sarkozy's campaign strategy of trying to woo right-wing voters away from Le Pen did not work. "All it did was that it made the right-wing agenda of Le Pen more acceptable to voters. All parties now will have to put a lot of effort into figuring out how to handle that part of the electorate. Those are not all extremists but also a lot of people who are suffering from the crisis."
Similar to the gains on the extreme right, the extreme left also managed to do surprisingly well. Around 12 percent cast their ballot for Jean-Luc Melenchon of the communist-backed Left Front alliance. Melenchon's campaign was a mix of being anti-EU and promising an increase in social spending. All in all, a rough one-third of the voters have backed extremist parties. Uterwedde expects this to have consequences for France's foreign policy – any future president will have to take those people into account. "Germany better be prepared for a somewhat uneasy relationship with the next French president. But then again, also Sarkozy was not an easy person to work with."
In Germany, the French elections are likely to spur a new discussion about the French take on government and economy: growth stimulus programs rather than cutting spending. The European Central Bank's independence will also move back into the focus of the debate. "France never has been an easy partner," says Uterwedde. "And after this election it will be less so than ever before."
Author: Andreas Noll / ai
Editor: Spencer Kimball
France: French candidate calls for military action against Syria21-04-2012
France would join a campaign for war against its former colony Syria if endorsed by the United Nations, French presidential candidate Francois Hollande said on Friday, who leads his rival President Nicolas Sarkozy in current polls.
"If done within a UN framework, we would participate in such an intervention," Hollande, the Socialist Party's candidate, told Europe 1 radio when asked about possible UN military action in Syria.
Western and Arab powers meeting in Paris on Thursday said that they would seek tougher international action if Bashar Assad's Syrian regime flouted a shaky UN peace plan.
They said a UN observer mission in Syria would be dramatically reinforced and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the UN Security Council to authorize tough new measures against Assad.
She also raised the prospect that Turkey could react to "outrageous" Syrian shelling on its border by invoking a clause in the NATO alliance treaty that would require members to decide if their security is threatened.
Hollande is tipped in opinion polls to win France's two-round April 22-May 6 presidential election.
Oil-rich Gulf Arab monarchies have so far been the only states in the anti-Assad camp to call for the militarization of the Syrian revolution, while Western powers, including Sarkozy's France have poured cold water on the suggestion and balked at foreign intervention.
Hollande's support for military action represents a u-turn in France's current policy to the crisis, which has opted for sanctions and non-lethal means to pressure Assad.
It is also uncertain whether Hollande would pursue that pledge if elected, or if the Socialist candidate is simply playing the hardline card to draw votes in the upcoming presidential elections.
Russia: ceasefire holding
While Western powers talked down the ceasefire in Syria, Russia sounded cautious optimism on Friday, saying it was generally holding despite some violations and should be seen as an achievement that was saving the country from a broader civil war.
"Despite the existing violations and provocations, the ceasefire is holding overall. This is a great achievement whose loss could lead to a dangerous retreat to a new wave of violence," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia's comments came one day after Clinton called on the UN Security Council to brand Syrian Assad a threat to peace.
The Russian foreign ministry said Syria was currently facing a choice of either "moving toward a peaceful national dialogue or retreating to civil war."
"And every participant of the domestic conflict must make their choice," Russia said in comments directed at both Assad and the armed opposition.
The foreign ministry added that it also intended to soon host members of the Gulf-funded Syrian National Council (SNC) opposition group in hopes of establishing dialogue in the 13-month conflict.
Russia this week hosted one domestic opposition group whose members are not a part of the SNC and now intends to host other groups in the coming days in a bid to show its constructive approach.
Moscow has been more critical of Assad in recent weeks, but it is also accusing foreign powers – chiefly Gulf Arab states – of openly backing the armed opposition while doing little to support talks.
The foreign ministry said it was "satisfied" by Syria's decision Thursday to sign a deal on a protocol for observers monitoring the ceasefire under a six-point plan agreed with UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
But it added that what mattered most was the question of how "constructive the Syrian government and opposition groups are toward implementing Annan's plan."
Meanwhile, China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the country was willing to contribute members to a United Nations observer team in Syria.
Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin made the comment at a daily news briefing in Beijing.
A handful of UN observers are already in Syria monitoring a week-old truce that has failed to stop bloodshed.
China, along with Russia, has been particularly active diplomatically in preventing the West and its Gulf Arab allies from exploiting the Syrian crisis to further their interests.
(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, AFP)
Sweden: 'Tortured' US Muslim seeks asylum in Sweden20-04-2012
A US citizen who claims he was imprisoned and tortured at the behest the American FBI is seeking political asylum in Sweden.
Yonas Fikre, a 33-year-old American Muslim, is currently in Sweden awaiting word on his application for political asylum after having been imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates where he claims he was tortured for 106 days at the request of American government agents.
"He told me to lie down on the floor and he started beating the soles of my feet," he said in a video clip published on the YouTube channel of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group for American Muslims which has supported Fikre throughout his ordeal.
"This guy looked at me and said, 'Look, your government doesn't care about you. You're in our hands now. You do what we tell you to do and you'll get out of here as soon as possible. Otherwise you're going to sit here for years and years to come and your government will never, ever find you.'"
Fikre's problems first started back in 2009 while he was visiting Sudan and stem from his association with a mosque in Portland, Oregon in the western United States.
While he was in Sudan, Fikre, a naturalized US citizen from Eritrea who converted to Islam in 2003, was "harassed" by FBI agents from Portland looking for information about Portland's Masjid as-Sabr mosque.
According to Fikre's Swedish lawyer Hans Bredberg, the agents thought Fikre could help them learn more about the mosque, where Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American charged with plotting the "Christmas tree bomb" attempt in 2010, had once worshiped.
"He refused to cooperate so they started harassing him," Bredberg told The Local.
"I think these agents were sort of working on their own initiative, that it wasn't officially sanctioned, but the FBI isn't saying anything."
Suddenly, Fikre found himself on the FBI's "no-fly" list and unable to fly to the United States.
He then travelled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but the harassment continued, and on June 1st, 2011, Fikre was arrested and imprisoned, not to be released for another three months.
He claims to have been tortured for 106 days, in what he described to the AP news agency as the most isolating experience of his life.
In addition to having his bare feet beaten, Fikre claims to have been kicked and punched and sprayed with a fire hose.
"It wasn't actual FBI agents who tortured him, they were private contractors," said Bredberg, adding that the prison where his client was held was "a few hundred metres" from the US embassy.
When officials from the US embassy came to visit, Fikre was threatened by his interrogators that “all hell would break loose” if he hinted that he was being mistreated and was subsequently held even longer.
“This is a disturbing case. It fits a pattern of what we call proxy detention, where the American government has a US citizen detained and tortured overseas for information," CAIR spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper told The Local, explaining the incident isn't the first time an American Muslim has been detained and tortured in such circumstances.
"They do things to their prisoners that are illegal in America."
According to Hooper, when Fikre asked for a legal representation in Sudan he was refused, just as when he asked for a counselor in the UAE.
However, this was not the first time someone with a connection to the Portland mosque has received this kind of treatment from government officials, who Hooper claims are “fixated” on the mosque.
“The situation is ludicrous, think about it. You’ve got an American citizen who’s asked for asylum overseas because he’s too afraid to return to the US,” said Hooper.
“This would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.”
Meanwhile, Anna-Pia Beier, a lawyer with the Swedish Refugee Advice Centre (Rådgivningsbyrån för asylsökande och flyktingar), told The Local she wasn't aware of the case, but said it was "theoretically possible" that Fikre could end up being granted political asylum in Sweden.
"If he can show that he's being persecuted on religious or political grounds and that the authorities are unable to protect him, he could be granted asylum," she said, emphasizing, however, that it was hard to assess his chances without knowing the details of the case.
"It's very unusual for Americans to apply for political asylum here," she said, an assessment backed up by Fikre's lawyer who explained that such cases were "extremely rare".
According to Bredberg, Fikre ended up in Sweden because some distant relatives from Eritrea live here.
"When they finally released him in September, they told him they would fly him to somewhere in Europe and to pick a country and he chose Sweden," the lawyer explained.
Fikre has been in Sweden since September while his asylum application has been processed, something which has taken exceedingly long, according to Bredberg, because of an unexplained delay by an investigation being carried out by Swedish security service Säpo.
"They're looking into whether he's a threat to Swedish national security or not," he said.
"It's taken more than two months. It usually goes much faster and I suspect they've been in contact with US authorities and I'm not sure what they might say."
David Landes and Oliver Gee
European Parliament approves US data-sharing deal20-04-2012
European parliamentarians have approved a controversial data-sharing deal with the US. Proponents argue that it will make travel more safe, but critics say it violates the rights of EU citizens.
The European Parliament has approved a controversial agreement that will give US authorities access to data on passengers flying from European Union destinations to the United States.
The approval, which came after more than two years of wrangling, was approved by a vote in the Strasbourg-based parliament of 409 in favor, 226 against and 33 abstentions.
The Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement will allow the US Department of Homeland Security to keep the data it receives on European travelers in its transparent form for a maximum of five years. After six months it will be required to encrypt the names or contact details of the passengers. After the five years, the US authorities will keep the data for a further five years, but it will be moved to a "dormant" database with more restricted access.
The data, which is to be gathered by air carriers during flight reservations and check-in, is to include a passenger's name, address, phone number and credit card details, But it will also include information that some may consider to be more sensitive, such as meal choices based on religious grounds or requests a passenger makes for assistance due to a medical condition.
The US first began pushing for Europe to hand over extensive data on its citizens after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington.
Deal welcomed by Washington
The approval of the deal has been welcomed by officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
The US ambassador to the European Union, William E. Kennard said the agreement "reaffirms the shared commitment of the United States and the European Union to the security of the travelling public."
The deal, which was approved by EU interior ministers last December, replaces an interim deal that had been in placed for the past five years.
"The new agreement is a substantial improvement on the existing agreement from 2007," European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said.
Data protection concerns
Despite the fact that the deal was passed by a large majority, significant concerns remained about the possible damage the agreement could represent to the rights of EU citizens.
The deal "unfortunately still falls short of the high standards of data privacy and legal protection that our citizens expect," said Sophie in'T Veld, a liberal MEP from the Netherlands.
German Social Democrat MEP Birti Sippel said she objected to the deal because it "places all citizens under general suspicion and hands them over to the justice system of the United States, instead of defending our values."
pfd/mz (AFP, dpa, AP)
Norway: Breivik boastful in Norway massacre trial18-04-2012
Anders Behring Breivik has defended his massacre of 77 people in and around Oslo last year, admitting he would 'do it again.' The right-wing extremist returns to the witness stand on Wednesday on day three of his trial.
Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik is due to return to the witness stand on Wednesday a day after declaring he would repeat the killings of 77 people if he had the chance. Breivik showed no remorse for the July massacre on Tuesday as he took the stand for the first time.
"I have carried out the most sophisticated and spectacular political attacks committed in Europe since the Second World War," Breivik told the court, reading from a prepared statement.
Detailing his anti-Islam, anti-multicultural ideology, he claimed to have acted out of "goodness, not evil" to prevent a wider civil war in Europe, insisting "I would have done it again."
"The attacks on July 22 were preventive attacks, and I can therefore not acknowledge criminal guilt," Breivik said as the almost hour-long statement came to an end.
Breivik's testimony was delayed on Tuesday after one of the five judges in the trial was dismissed over revelations that he had posted a comment on Facebook saying Breivik deserved the death penalty.
Chief judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen ruled Indreboe was unfit to continue
"The death penalty is the only fair outcome in this case!!!!" citizen judge Thomas Indreboe wrote a day after the July 22 attacks.
After a 30-minute recess to reach the decision, Indreboe was replaced by backup lay judge Elisabeth Wisloeff.
Breivik, 33, pleaded not guilty on Monday to setting off a car bomb at government headquarters in Oslo before embarking on a shooting spree at a youth summer camp organized by the ruling Labor Party.
He claims to have been acting in self-defense to protect Norway from Muslims by attacking the left-leaning political party he blamed for the country's immigration policies.
The trial is expected to last up to 10 weeks, with the next five days set aside for Breivik's testimony.
ccp/acb (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)
The Netherlands: Terror suspect loses extradition appeal18-04-2012
Dutch-Pakistani terror suspect Sabir K on Tuesday lost his appeal against extradition to the US. He is wanted there in connection with conspiracy to attack US military personnel in Afghanistan.
The 25-year-old was arrested in Pakistan early in 2011 and sent back to the Netherlands, where he was arrested on arrival. The Rotterdam court found in favour of the extradition order and K appealed to the supreme court.
According to the US, he was working with the al-Quaeda terror group in planning the attacks.
The final decision on extradition will be taken by justice minister Ivo Opstelten, who will study the court report and the comments of K's defence lawyer before deciding. This could take up to a month, say press reports.
France: Air France accused of racism after banning non-Jew from flight18-04-2012
French activists participating in the Welcome to Palestine campaign over the weekend accused Air France of racism on Tuesday after the airline asked passengers if they were Jewish as part of a strategy to prevent the activists from boarding.
"The racism of Israel and Air France was brought in plain light on Sunday...It was proven that one had to declare themselves Jewish or holder of an Israeli passport to have the right to travel," the French contingent of Welcome to Palestine 2012 said in a press release on their website.
The activists noted the case of a passenger named as Horia, who had successfully boarded the plane, but was then asked by an air hostess whether she was Jewish before the flight had taken off.
An Air France employee signed Horia's response on an official document (see below), and was then allegedly told by Air France personnel that she was prohibited to travel to Tel Aviv, according to activists.
Coordinator for the French chapter of Welcome to Palestine 2012, Maximilien Shahshahani, told Al-Akhbar that Air France was colluding with Israel's secret service, Shin Bet, in determining which activists were not permitted to board Sunday's flight to Tel Aviv.
"Shin Bit shared a blacklist of names with Air France, but told the airline to double check [others not blacklisted] with a series of questions," he said.
The questions were also asked of other passengers, Shahshahani said, who were not participating in the Welcome to Palestine campaign.
"We saw another passenger, to which the same questions were asked. The response to the second question was that they were Jewish. The passenger was extremely shocked by the nature of the questions," he said.
Air France in a statement issued on its website said Israeli authorities demanded that the airline question one of the passengers, without detailing what kind of questions were asked.
"The Israeli authorities requested that one of the passengers be questioned. The answers did not satisfy the Israeli authorities, the passenger had to disembark the flight at their demand," Air France said.
Hundreds of activists, mostly from Europe, were due to fly into Tel Aviv international airport on Sunday as part of a global campaign to raise awareness of the restriction of movement and travel for Palestinians brought by Israel's military occupation.
But, as in 2011, Israel threatened airlines that they faced sanctions if they did not prevent activists from boarding their flights, providing them with a list of names.
"You are ordered not to board them [activists] on your flights to Israel. Failure to comply with this directive will result in sanctions against the airlines," a stern statement from Israel's Ministry of Interior to airlines, obtained by activists, read.
Dozens still managed to board flights to Israel, with the official website for the French contingent of Welcome to Palestine saying that 40 French activists were detained upon arrival.
Preparations for legal proceedings against Air France are underway, Shahshahani said.
Welcome to Palestine has become an annual campaign, which is part of a growing international movement to highlight the continued suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and Israel's apartheid policies.
An alleged Air France document showing questions asked of a passenger boarding a flight to Israel on Sunday 15 April 2012. (Photo: Handout - Welcome to Palestine 2012)An alleged Air France document showing questions asked of a passenger boarding a flight to Israel on Sunday 15 April 2012. (Photo: Handout - Welcome to Palestine 2012)
France: Sarkozy lashes out at Financial Times14-04-2012
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the midst of a re-election campaign, has taken aim at the British Financial Times daily, accusing it of blindly supporting the "Anglo-Saxon model" of economics.
"They don't agree with me, which I really rejoice in that, you know, because I don't agree with them," Sarkozy said during a television debate Thursday on France 2.
"The FT, as they say in informed circles, has always defended the Anglo-Saxon model, considering the French incorrigible and that we would do better to align ourselves to the Anglo-Saxon model," he added.
Sarkozy faces a tough fight against French Socialist presidential frontrunner Francois Hollande over two rounds of voting on April 22 and May 6.
"The FT has thought for many years that the solution for the world is that there should be no law... I think exactly the opposite," Sarkozy said.
"The FT explains to us that it is necessary to act exactly like Britain, which is in a far worse economic situation than France."
His comments came after the Financial Times published a piece headlined "Broken promises come back to haunt Sarkozy."
In it the paper said that the French president's promises to raise spending power and create more jobs "are now being thrown back in his face as broken promises".
The Netherlands: Handshake Muslim loses court case11-04-2012
Rotterdam council was right not to offer lawyer Mohammed Enait the job of client manager after he refused to shake hands with women, a court in The Hague said on Tuesday afternoon.
Enait had applied for the job at the social services department but said he would not shake hands with women on religious grounds. However, he would greet them in another respectful fashion, he said.
When he was refused the job, Enait brought a civil case against Rotterdam council, saying the rejection was religious discrimination.
The court found the refusal to shake women's hands 'unacceptable' and that Enait is ignoring the equality between men and women, reports news website nu.nl. In addition, it would damage the relationship between the council and its clients.
In 2009, Enait was in the news for refusing to stand up in court when judges entered the room on the grounds that in Islam all men are equal.
Iran cuts oil flow to Greece11-04-2012
Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi said on Tuesday that his country was no longer supplying any oil to Greece, which is observing an EU embargo on Iranian oil to be fully implemented in July.
"Right now, Iran is not selling any more oil to Greece," Ghasemi was quoted as saying on the oil ministry's official website, Shana.
He added that "Iran is not having any problem selling its oil and oil products" in other markets.
Greece and other EU nations have been cutting back on Iranian oil imports as part of the EU embargo announced in January.
Greece was previously heavily dependent on Iranian oil, buying 100,000 barrels per day on favorable credit conditions that its cash-strapped economy was finding difficult to obtain elsewhere.
The United States announced last month it was exempting 10 EU countries – including Greece – and Japan from its own sanctions punishing countries that did not significantly reduce Iranian oil imports.
Last week, an official in Greece's energy ministry confirmed that Greece was seeking "alternative sources" for oil because of the EU embargo. Additional quantities were being sought from Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Libya the official said.
EU states were given a six-month grace period to ease countries dependent on Iranian oil, such as Greece, onto alternative sources.
Iran in February announced it had halted all oil sales to Britain and France because of the EU sanctions, and moved to preempt the embargo by cutting oil flow to debt-ridden Greece.
Western sanctions against Iran's oil industry need the cooperation of Asia to be fully effective, which receives the bulk of Iranian oil exports.
Iran is the second-largest producer in OPEC, pumping about 3.5 million barrels a day, 2.5 million of which are sold as exports.
Brazil opposes sanctions
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff expressed concerns to US President Barack Obama on Monday that sanctions against Iran could increase tensions in the Middle East and cause a sharp rise in oil prices, sources told Reuters.
Rousseff's government has generally opposed sanctions against Syria and Iran, arguing they do more harm than good.
Also, the two leaders did not explicitly discuss Boeing's proposal to sell F-18 jets to Brazil during their bilateral meeting at the White House, the sources said on condition of anonymity.
Reuters reported in February that Brazil was "very likely" to choose a jet made by France's Dassault instead for a contract worth at least US$4 billion to modernize its air force.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
'Germany will be on Israel's side' against Iran02-04-2012
Leaders in Germany caution Israel not to make good on threats to strike at the Iranian military. But could Berlin really keep itself out of an Israeli-Iranian conflict?
Israel only has a few really good friends and "Germany is one of them," according to Israeli journalist Gad Lior. But with friendship comes responsibility - a fact that is very clear to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
When Merkel spoke to the Israeli cabinet some four years ago, she confirmed Germany's historic responsibility to the state of Israel, saying its right to exist was integral to German foreign policy.
That's one reason why Israelis say they can count on Germany.
"If it comes to a war with Iran, then we are very sure that Germany will be on Israel's side," said Lior, the Jerusalem bureau chief of Israel's largest daily paper, Yedioth Ahronoth.
Germany's limited political influence
For the moment, however, politicians in Berlin are sticking to the line of warning their Israeli counterparts not to conduct a military attack against Iran.
Primor said Israeli threats are aimed at getting allies to act
"The orders of the day are strict sanctions and hard negotiations," German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, adding that military escalation would bring "incalculable risks."
But German warnings have received little credence in Israel, where - after the United States - Germany is regarded as the country's closest friend, said former Israeli ambassador to Germany Avi Primor.
"Germany isn't given too much weight when it comes to the affairs of the Middle East," he said, adding that Israel's Middle East policy is not influenced by Germany or the rest of Europe. "America is what really counts for the Israeli government."
Still, Israel does expect Germany's support, "especially in the form of pressure on Iran and stricter sanctions that could really bring Iran to its knees," Primor said.
Should international violence erupt between Israel and Iran, Lior said there is no way Germany could remain neutral.
Germany provides some military assistance and hardware to Israel
Germany could help Israel protect civilians from Iranian rocket attacks. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, Germany stationed Patriot missiles in Israel as part of an air defense system in case Saddam Hussein fired rockets at the Jewish state.
Germany has also already sold weapons, including submarines, to the Israeli armed forces. In Mid-March it was announced that the Israelis would receive a sixth vessel and that Germany would pay for about a third of it. Experts said the boat, which is though to be capable of carrying medium-range nuclear weapons, could be part of a strategy of deterrence against an Iranian missile threat. Israel has never confirmed that it has nuclear weapons, though many arms experts believe the country does.
With the United States in the middle of a presidential election campaign, Primor said he does not expect US President Barack Obama to give Israel a green light to launch an attack against Iran, as the president cannot afford the costs of another war. And Israel would not launch military operations without any US blessing, he added.
Primor said Israeli saber-rattling is intended to make the European Union and United States take a harder line when it comes to sanctions against Iran.
Lior also said he does not believe there is an immediate danger of war breaking out, adding that comments from Israeli politicians are threats.
"They want to scare the Iranians," he said. "A war would hurt both sides."
Primor said there is still time to support and rely on opposition forces within Iran to remove President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from power.
"The problem is not the nuclear weapons," Primor said. "It's the hands they are in. In the hands of a democratic or at least an open government, these weapons would no longer be dangerous."
Author: Nils Naumann / sms
Editor: Neil King
Sweden: Malmö mayor in new row with Sweden's Jews25-03-2012
Sweden's Jewish community has railed anew against Malmö mayor Ilmar Reepalu after comments suggesting the city's Jewish community had been "infiltrated" by Sweden Democrats to foment anti-Muslim sentiments.
"With this letter, we want to point out that Ilmar Reepalu no long has any credibility among us Jews in Sweden," reads a letter signed by the heads of the Jewish communities in Malmö, Stockholm, and Gothenburg.
"Regardless of what he says and does from now on, we don't trust him."
The letter comes following an interview published on Thursday in the liberal-leaning magazine NEO in which Reepalu discussed the "strong ties" between the Jewish community and the Sweden Democrats, a political party with a clear anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim line which has its roots in Sweden's neo-Nazi movement.
According to Reepalu, "Sweden Democrats have infiltrated the Jewish community in order to push their hate of Muslims".
The statements were immediately dismissed by Fred Kahn, chair of the Jewish Community in Malmö (Judiska församlingen) as "pure fantasy".
Reepalu, a Social Democrat, quickly backtracked on Thursday, admitting to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) daily that he "had no basis" for his claims and that he "shouldn't have said it that way".
But the back tracking came too late for the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities (Judiska centralrådet i Sverige – JC), which on Friday penned a letter to Social Democrat head Stefan Löfven blasting Reepalu's claims.
According to the Jewish leaders, the Malmö mayor has "crossed all boundaries" with his comments, especially considering that Reepalu previously laid blame on Sweden's Jews for the threats, violence, and harassment to which they've been subjected.
"We are more than upset when we today read the interview in the magazine NEO where he flagrantly accuses Jews for ties with the Sweden Democrats," they write.
"We're all too familiar with these types of conspiracy theories."
The Jewish community leaders also warned Löfven that the Social Democrats risk losing support among Sweden's Jews, many of whom are members of the party, because of Reepalu's comments.
"Many of them have recently expressed their dismay, but also sadness, about no longer being able to support a party represented by someone whose rhetoric is clearly anti-Semitic," they write.
Speaking with the TT news agency following the release of the Jewish community's letter, Reepalu once again defended himself.
"I've never been an anti-Semite and never will be," he said.
"I've been in Israel with my children several times and explained to them the importance that Jewish culture has Europeans."
However, Reepalu ruled out taking any extraordinary measures to make amends with the Jewish community.
"What can I do? They don't listen," he said.
France: Investigation on terror suspect's alleged al Qa'ida connections23-03-2012
French authorities are investigating whether the man responsible for three deadly attacks acted alone or was supported by a terrorist network.
The Islamic radical had been flagged by the US and France in the past.
Authorities in France on Friday were investigating whether or not the Islamic radical responsible for the murders of Jewish school children had acted alone or was supported by al Qaeda, after a little-known extremist group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Mohamed Merah was killed by police on Thursday after a 32-hour siege of his apartment building in the southwestern city of Toulouse. Merah was shot in the head as he tried to jump out of a window in a blaze of gunfire, according to police.
The 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin had shot dead three soldiers earlier in the month and killed three children and a teacher at a Jewish school on Monday. Merah claimed to have received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the militant stronghold of Waziristan in Pakistan.
The obscure Islamist group Jund al-Khilafah issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attacks, referring to Merah as "Yusuf of France," according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Jihadist websites. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
Merah said he launched the attacks to avenge Palestinian deaths and punish France for its military presence in Afghanistan, according to prosecutor Francios Molins. The French prosecutor said that Merah had filmed all three attacks.
"You killed my brother, I kill you," he said in a video of the first attack, in which one French paratrooper died.
Flagged by authorities
Merah's travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan were known to French intelligence prior to the shootings and he had been on a US no-fly list since 2010, which prohibited him from boarding any flight to America. He also had a record of pretty crime in France and was reportedly radicalized while serving time in prison.
French prosecutor Molins said that Merah had on one occasion been arrested by Afghan police and handed over to US troops during a trip to the region.
"One can ask the question whether there was a failure or not," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Europe 1 radio. "We need to bring some clarity to this."
Police said that Merah's mother, brother and his brother's girlfriend had been detained as part of the investigation. Merah's 29-year-old brother, Abdullah, had reportedly been linked to Iraqi Islamist networks.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile, has vowed to crackdown on anyone who goes abroad "for the purposes of indoctrination in terrorist ideology." Sarkozy also cautioned against blaming France's five-million strong Muslim community for the attacks.
"Our Muslim compatriots had nothing to with the crazy motive of a terrorist," said the French president, noting that Muslim paratroopers were among those killed.
slk/pfd (AP, AFP)