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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Question to Muslims (#468)

Quran 009:029 says:
"Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
The "People of the Book" are primarily Jews and Christians.

What should Muslims say to Muslims who include Jews and Christians among "those" who should be "fought" on the basis of this verse?

Cultural Diversity and Social Customs

thenews - Two killed over Karo-Kari.
June 24, 2007 ◊ A man and a woman were gunned down and three others, including an eight-year-old girl, injured seriously by armed persons over Karo-Kari in the Bello Banglani village near Thull on Sunday.

Khamiso Banglani, along with his accomplices, allegedly gunned down his wife Zarina (25) and her alleged paramour Gahi (15), and injured two women, Jamali Khatoon, Jannat Khatoon, and an eight-year-old girl, Zahida.

The injured were shifted to a local hospital in critical condition.

Police have registered a case against five attackers identified as Khamiso Banglani, Fazil, Bahadur, Ghulam Rasool and Suhrab.

Separately, a policeman was put to death over a minor issue in Gambat late on Saturday night.

Ashiq Hussain Thebo, who was a police constable at the Gambat police station, was attacked with wooden sticks by unidentified persons, injuring him seriously. He succumbed to his injuries at a Gamat hospital. Police have arrested an accused, Sarwar Shaikh, and are investigating the matter.
anp - 24-yr-old woman shot dead.
June 25, 2007 ◊ Alkmaar Station was evacuated and shut by police on Monday morning after a shooting just after 10 am this morning. One person was killed and another seriously injured.

The reason for the shooting may have been the result of an argument in a relationship. RTV Noord-Holland reports that the male gunman tried to kill himself immediately after shooting a 24-year-old woman. He has been taken to hospital in serious condition.

Eye witnesses say the gunman and the victim exchanged words in Turkish before the shooting.

At about 10.30 am two ambulances were called and a trauma helicopter was on hand. One of the 2 had been shot in the head. Witnesses say the woman was shot as she ascended the steps to platform 5.

Limited train service to and from Alkmaar has resumed. Travellers should still expect delays.
calsun - Repentant honour-killer asks court for early release.
June 26, 2007 ◊ Triple-murderer Daljit Singh Dulay has renounced the culture of honour-killings that led him to commit his crimes and deserves a chance at early release, his lawyer argued yesterday.

Dulay, 43, who gunned down his sister Kulvinder, her husband Gary Dulay and their friend Mukesh Sharma outside a Marlborough strip mall on March 19, 1991, is seeking a Section 745 hearing -- the so-called faint-hope clause -- that would shorten his 25-year life sentence.

His lawyer, Richard Cairns, told Court of Queen's Bench his client, who has served 16 years in prison, takes full responsibility for his acts and rejects the concept of honour-killing derived from his native India.

"He's taken treatment and programs, he has come to challenge his Sikh beliefs," said Cairns.

"He willingly says he denounces his cultural violence and believes Canadian culture is much more compassionate ... the course of his length of imprisonment has affected the change."

His sister Kulvinder's marriage to her husband, who was considered a relative before their union, enraged Dulay and shamed his family.

Crown prosecutor Steve Koval argued the scope of Dulay's crimes and his lack of remorse make the likelihood of early release remote.

"At the end of the day, he has no reasonable hope -- he's a violent man," said Koval.

Justice Sandy Park is to rule on whether Dulay will get his Section 745 hearing July 30.

Religion of Peace strikes Spain

ap - Spain: 3 suspected al-Qaida recruiters arrested.
Spanish police have arrested three men on suspicion of having links with al-Qaida, authorities said Tuesday.

Mohamed Laksir, 23, Mohamed Akazim, 32, and Moulay Lahoucine Miftah Idrissi, 27, were detained in the northeastern port city of Barcelona on suspicion of belonging to and recruiting volunteers for a terror organization, the Interior Ministry said.

Recruits would have been sent for training in terror activities in Africa's dry Sahel region, south of the Sahara Desert, the ministry said.

The two suspects are believed to have belonged to a cell which also promoted radical Islam, the statement said.

Abbas issues Decree forbidding Problems

jpost - Abbas issues decree forbidding weapons carrying.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abba signed a presidential decree on Tuesday forbidding the brandishing of weapons without a license in the West Bank.

While the decree is aimed mostly at Hamas, Abbas-affiliated Fatah groups, such as the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, will also be expected to follow the new law.

Terrorbusiness as usual

jpost - 'Hamas is trying to create a humanitarian crisis'
A security source said that Hamas was trying to create a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which was why it was consistently trying to target border crossings, Israel Radio reported. The source added that Hamas's objective was to generate international pressure on Israel.

Security sources said that Gazans had an 80-day supply of food, water and fuel.
jpost - Peace Now: Remove unnecessary W. Bank checkpoints.
A report published by Peace Now on Wednesday morning called on the IDF to remove dozens of checkpoints in the West Bank, saying they were not vital to Israel's security and were causing unnecessary difficulties for the Palestinians.

The organization noted that of the 93 manned checkpoints, only 35 were located on the Green Line, with 15 in Hebron and the surrounding area and 43 in other areas of the West Bank.

"More than half of the manned checkpoints (and almost all of the roadblocks) are internal, and are not the last point before entry into Israel," the report said. "As such, no Palestinian can pass through these roadblocks/checkpoints without passing another checkpoint before entering Israeli territory. Thus, there is no immediate security necessity in order to prevent a terror infiltration into Israel."

In addition, the report said, "the checkpoint is a dangerous place for the soldiers manning it. Soldiers are required to man one area for lengthy periods of time and come in close contact with the Palestinian population, raising the risk of a suicide attack. Each checkpoint requires at least six soldiers per shift for many hours of the day, using a large portion of the army's personnel."
ap - EU aid chief urges opening of Israel-Gaza border.
The European Union appealed Tuesday for the opening of border crossings between Israel and the Gaza strip to allow in more humanitarian aid supplies.

"The needs are increasing all the time," EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said. "€30 million (US$40 million) in supplies and funding from the EU are ready and waiting, give us the tools to get on with the job."

International aid officials say the number of people in relying on food handouts has grown since Hamas seized control in Gaza two weeks ago.

The World Food Program in Geneva said about 60 commercial trucks and 11 carrying food aid were passing through the Sufa cargo crossing into Gaza Tuesday, but mortar fire forced the closure of another crossing point Monday.

Separation of Faith and Culture in Britain

bbc - 'Honour' violence 'terror-linked'
There are links between some cases of "honour" violence in Britain and extremist groups abroad, a BBC investigation has been told.

Victims of such attacks are alleged by their families to have disgraced them.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Islamist terror groups were behind one murder, as well as a case where a woman was threatened and is in hiding.

But the Muslim Council of Britain said "honour" violence was a cultural practice, and nothing to do with faith.

The CPS pointed to the death five years ago of Heshu Yones, 16, who was stabbed to death by her father.

Nazir Afzal, the CPS's national lead on honour crime, told BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme the threats to kill a woman known as Miss B, who is now in hiding, came from her family but originated in an Egyptian terrorist group.

He said: "They told her husband that if he didn't put his wife in her place then they would do it themselves."

Heshu Yones was stabbed to death by her father, Abdalla Yones, who had associations with a Kurdish nationalist organisation, says Mr Afzal.

While he was on remand, the group raised substantial amounts of cash to try to secure his release on bail.

Mr Afzal said honour violence was not confined to fathers and grandfathers, but was carried out by younger relations too.

"You have a second generation youth who have an exaggerated concept of what home is like," he said.

"They get their identity and their ethnicity from these traditions.

"We know they are bizarre and outdated but they get their identity from those traditions and they feel very strongly that how you treat your women is a demonstration of your commitment to radicalism and extremist thought."

However, Reefat Drabu of the Muslim Council of Britain told the BBC she disagreed with Mr Afzal's comments.

She said: "First and foremost there has to be clarity that this is nothing to do with any faith, in particular Islam.

"It is a cultural practice and there is nothing in any faith that would condone it or say that it is the right thing do it.

"This is to do with misguided notions of family honour. It has nothing to do with radicalism or terrorism."

Contract killers

According to the United Nations Population Fund, 5,000 women a year die in honour killings.

There were a dozen such murders recorded in the UK last year although some police officers and campaigners say there may be many more.

Two weeks ago, three men were found guilty of the murder of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod who was found in a suitcase buried in a garden in Birmingham last year.

She had been strangled with a bootlace by contract killers on the wishes of her father because she had fallen in love with a man her family did not approve of.

Her case is now being reviewed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission after it emerged she made several attempts to warn police that her life was in danger.

Praying to the Gods of Earth, Wind & Fire

ap - Blair, Schwarzenegger hold talks on environment.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger met on Tuesday to discuss the trans-Atlantic battle against global warming.

Schwarzenegger, a conservative who has put major emphasis on the fight against climate change, praised Blair's "great leadership" on the environment.

He said that during a decade in power, the British leader has "proven to the world that you can do both, you can protect the Earth and protect the economy."

Last year, Schwarzenegger signed legislation that imposed the first statewide cap on greenhouse gases. The move put California at odds with the administration of US President George W. Bush, which has resisted global agreements to limit emissions.

UNstoppable

ap - UN team: Arms smuggling into Lebanon unstoppable.
Security along the Lebanon-Syria border is insufficient to prevent arms smuggling and Lebanon should quickly establish a mobile force to intercept any flow of weapons, a UN-appointed team said in a report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

The 46-page "Report of the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team" said management of the border is currently shared by four different Lebanese security agencies that do not coordinate operations or planning, and do not share intelligence.

In addition, it said, most of Lebanon's border posts are far from the border, are not fenced or secured by gates, and operate with no obvious procedures to determine which goods to inspect -- and which people to question.

"Therefore, the ingenious smuggler may find it quite easy to conceal not only explosives, light weapons and ammunition, but also assembled and unassembled heavy weaponry, such as missiles and rockets into the country concealed in compartments and panels of cargo trucks and passenger vehicles," the team said.

Faces of Peace

ap - Probe implicates Saudi religious police in death.
In a new blow to Saudi Arabia's powerful religious police, a member of the force has been implicated in the death of a man whose house was raided because he was suspected of possessing and consuming alcohol, an official statement said Wednesday.

The accusation leveled against the unnamed agent of the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which employs the religious police, is the second such charge of police brutality targeting the governmental body. The commission is charged with enforcing the kingdom's strict Islamic lifestyle.

Last Saturday, a judge postponed the trial of three commission members allegedly involved in the death in custody of Ahmed al-Bulaiwi, a retired border patrol guard in his early 50s.

Al-Bulaiwi died shortly after his June 1 arrest in the northern town of Tabuk for being alone with a woman who was not a relative -- an act considered an offense in the kingdom. No date has been set for the new trial.
ap - Jordan: 2 men get 10 years for 'honor killings'
A Jordanian man who stabbed his sister to death in a premeditated "honor crime" was sentenced to ten years prison along with his cousin and accomplice, a court official said Wednesday.

Jordan's criminal court initially sentenced both men to death but then commuted the verdict because the father and the husband of the slain woman dropped the charges, said the official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the press.

According to the indictment, the woman was killed with a kitchen knife by her brother while her cousin prevented her from fleeing as a punishment for having allegedly had a relationship with her husband before marrying him.

The indictment sheet said the brother did not approve this relationship and had intended to marry the victim to another man. It said he first planned to poison his sister, before stabbing her to death in September 2004. The knife broke during the killing, so he brought another knife and continued to hit until she died, it said.

Explaining Jews, Part V: Why are Jews liberal?

jpost - 'Fatah gunmen are the best chance against Hamas'
Israel should consider stopping the arrests of fugitive Fatah gunmen on condition that they cease receiving funds from Iran and halt their attacks against Israel, a senior government official told Israel Radio Tuesday morning.

Among the fugitives are also Al Aksa Brigades operatives, the official said, adding that if they would be allowed to openly join Mahmoud Abbas's forces instead of operating clandestinely (for fear of being arrested by Israel), they would constitute Fatah's "best chance" against Hamas.

Liberal Parenting Skills

cphpost - Au pairs affect children's language.
Working parents who hire au pairs to take care of their children during the day are helping to create an entire group of young people whose Danish language abilities are severely limited by the time they reach nursery school, reported 24timer newspaper Wednesday.

Existence of the phenomenon is supported by several language experts including Ulla Lahti Falkenberg, language acquisition expert at the University of Copenhagen, who said she encounters the problem regularly.

'We meet children that speak Danish with Thai or Latvian accents -- Danish children with severe accents primarily because of contact with their foreign au pairs,' said Falkenberg, who is also president of the Danish Speech Language Hearing Association. 'It's a problem that parents are so busy with their own lives and spend so little time with their children that they don't even realise the child speaks bad Danish.'

The problem is most common among wealthier parents that can afford au pairs and who themselves are well-educated and generally live in upper or upper-middle class neighbourhoods. Au pairs -- especially those from Asia and Eastern Europe -- rarely master the difficult Danish tongue and often only learn a few Danish phrases and speak limited English.

Lone Andersen, a speech and hearing consultant, has also encountered the problem in several areas in northern Zealand, where parents are generally well-to-do.

'It's of course practical to have an au pair, but when they often come from Eastern Europe it means that the children hear hardly any Danish in their most important learning years, and that negatively affects their language abilities,' said Andersen.

Maria, from the Phillipines, earns only DKK 2500 a month plus lodging and meals as an au pair. She said she is lucky that the oldest boy in the family she is employed by understands some English.

'The children get frustrated when I can't understand them. Sometimes I manage to handle the situation by getting different things and showing them to the children until I understand what it is they want,' she said.

Speech therapist Mariann Nysander said she believes parents are becoming busier outside the home. But she added most parents she has spoken with are motivated to help their children if a language problem exists, once they become aware of the situation.

'When there are Danish speaking adults who spend free time with the children, then the adults can read, relate and explain things to help develop the children's vocabularies. Those with another native language can't.'

Quota and Equal Rights for Women Plumbers

local - Few women employed in top state jobs.
Since the new government came into power last October, only four out of fourteen top management positions in the state sector have been filled by women. This corresponds to 28 percent, Svenska Dagbladet reports.

The previous government had set itself the stated aim of employing women in half of all top level state jobs. In 2005, 41 percent of available posts in this category were occupied by women.

The new government however removed this goal, a decision which Minister for Financial Markets Mats Odell still feels was the the correct one.

"If we were to take stock of our appointment policies now we would not see a satisfactory result. But our ambition is to improve this in the future and we will have to return to the matter to see how the situation has developed," he said.

Abtreibung Macht Frei

paulbelien - Secularist Europe silences pro-lifers and creationists.
Last week, a German court sentenced a 55-year old Lutheran pastor to one year in jail for "Volksverhetzung" (incitement of the people) because he compared the killing of the unborn in contemporary Germany to the holocaust. Next week, the Council of Europe is going to vote on a resolution imposing Darwinism as Europe's official ideology. The European governments are asked to fight the expression of creationist opinions, such as young earth and intelligent design theories. According to the Council of Europe these theories are "undemocratic" and "a threat to human rights."

Without legalized abortion the number of German children would increase annually by at least 150,000 -- which is the number of legal abortions in birth dearth Germany. Pastor Johannes Lerle compared the killing of the unborn to the killing of the Jews in Auschwitz during the Second World War. On 14 June, a court in Erlangen ruled that, in doing so, the pastor had "incited the people" because his statement was a denial of the holocaust of the Jews in Nazi-Germany. Hence, Herr Lerle was sentenced to one year in jail. Earlier, he had already spent eight months in jail for calling abortionists "professional killers" -- an allegation which the court ruled to be slanderous because, according to the court, the unborn are not humans.

Other German courts convicted pro-lifers for saying that "in abortion clinics, life unworthy of living is being killed," because this terminology evoked Hitler's euthanasia program, which used the same language. In 2005, a German pro-lifer, Günter Annen, was sentenced to 50 days in jail for saying "Stop unjust [rechtswidrige] abortions in [medical] practice," because, according to the court, the expression "unjust" is understood by laymen as meaning illegal, which abortions are not.

Volksverhetzung is a crime which the Nazis often invoked against their enemies and which contemporary Germany also uses to intimidate homeschoolers. Soon, the German authorities will be able to use the same charge against people who question Darwin's evolution theory.

Indeed, next Tuesday, the Council of Europe (CoE), Europe's main human-rights body, will vote on a proposal which advocates the fight against creationism, "young earth" and "intelligent design" in its 47 member states.

According to a report of the CoE's Parliamentary Assembly, creationists are dangerous "religious fundamentalists" who propagate "forms of religious extremism" and "could become a threat to human rights." The report adds that the acceptance of the science of evolutionism "is crucial to the future of our societies and our democracies."

"Creationism, born of the denial of the evolution of species through natural selection, was for a long time an almost exclusively American phenomenon," the report says.
    "Today creationist theories are tending to find their way into Europe and their spread is affecting quite a few Council of Europe member states. [...] [T]his is liable to encourage the development of all manner of fundamentalism and extremism, synonymous with attacks of utmost virulence on human rights. The total rejection of science is definitely one of the most serious threats to human rights and civic rights. [...] The war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism which are closely allied to extreme right-wing political movements. The creationist movements possess real political power. The fact of the matter, and this has been exposed on several occasions, is that the advocates of strict creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy. [...] If we are not careful, the values that are the very essence of the Council of Europe will be under direct threat from creationist fundamentalists."
According to the CoE report, America and Australia are already on their way towards becoming such undemocratic theocracies where human and civic rights are endangered. Creationism is "well-developed in the English-speaking countries, especially the United States and Australia," the report states.
    "While most curricula in Europe today unashamedly teach evolution as a recognised scientific theory, the same does not apply to the United States. In July 2005, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll that showed that 64% of Americans favoured the teaching of intelligent design alongside the theory of evolution and that 38% would support the total abandonment of the teaching of evolution in publicly owned schools. The American President George W. Bush supports the principle of teaching both intelligent design and the theory of evolution. At the moment, 20 of the 50 American states are facing potential adjustments of their school curricula in favour of intelligent design. Many people think that this phenomenon only affects the United States and that, even if it is not possible to be indifferent to what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic, it is not the Council of Europe's role to deal with this issue. That, however, is not the case. On the contrary, it would seem crucial for us to take the appropriate precautions in our 47 member states."
Though one may disagree with people who take the Book of Genesis literally (believing that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh), surely secularist political organizations telling people what they may or may not believe, constitute a far greater threat to human rights than religious institutions telling their faithful how to vote. In the voting booth people are free to do what they like, whilst in contemporary Europe people are no longer free to publicly voice their own, deeply felt opinions in public.

In Germany, believing abortion to be as murderous as the holocaust is a crime, and educating your own children is a crime too. In France, saying that "homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity" is a crime, and so is the distribution of pork soup to the poor. In Belgium, speaking out against immigration is a crime.

In the latest issue of the Dutch conservative magazine Bitter Lemon the Dutch author Erik van Goor writes that European courts are silencing conservative and orthodox citizens. Freedom of speech no longer exist, says van Goor.
    "While many in the West still idolize the second-hand fighters for free speech, such as [Ayaan] Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh, the true victims of curtailment are deliberately kept under wraps. Hirsi Ali, [Pim] Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh were not curtailed by the state or by court, Johannes Lerle is. The former voiced mere opinions -- expressions of a public opinion which one may or may not value or believe. The latter -- Dr Lerle -- shows that what is at stake is not merely opinions, but a moral order which is being questioned; a reality of life and death which is at risk."
Hirsi Ali, Fortuyn and van Gogh did not defend Europe's traditional Christian moral order. People such as Johannes Lerle and Christian Vanneste, the French parliamentarian who was convicted for "homophobia," do. The latter are being persecuted by Western Europe's political regimes -- a phenomenon which is ignored completely by the Western mainstream media, who participate in the persecution.

Update

A quote from Reuters, 25 June 2007:

Europe's main human rights body on Monday cancelled a scheduled vote on banning creationist and intelligent design views from school science classes, saying the proposed resolution was one-sided. [...]

Guy Lengagne, the French Socialist member of the Assembly who drew up the report, protested after the Parliamentary Assembly voted to call off the debate and vote, and [approved a proposal of the Flemish Christian-Democrat Luc Van den Brande] to send the report back to committee for further study. [...]

Deputies said the motion by the Christian Democratic group of parliamentarians also won support from east European deputies, who recalled that Darwinian evolution was a favorite theory of their former communist rulers. [...]

Kremlin: Cold War ruined Socialist Economy

ap - Iran to launch English-speaking satellite TV.
Iran's state broadcasting company is launching an English-speaking satellite TV channel to counter the West's influence in covering news, the television's web site says.

The 24-hour PRESS TV news channel said its goal was to "break the global media stranglehold of western outlets," and "show the other side of the story" in the Mideast.

The English-speaking network has 26 correspondents around the world and is due to launch on July 2, Mohammad Sarafraz, the vice president of Iran's state broadcast company, told reporters.

Sarafraz accused western TV channels of being biased against Middle East nations and of spinning the news the way the US government wants.
jpost - Abbas's office condemns Israeli 'crimes' in Gaza.
"The crimes that were committed in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation must be strongly condemned," read a statement released by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's office Wednesday.

The statement continued: "This bloody escalation, which was initiated by the Israeli government, is a distinct violation of the tahadiyeh, and will lead to a chain of retaliations and the prolongation of violence."

The PA chairman's office went on to say that "this aggression comes only a single day after the Sharm e-Sheikh summit and calls into question whether Israel really intends to seal an agreement and negotiate to end the occupation."

Separation of Church and State in Netherlands

anp - 'Cut benefits to burqa wearers'
A majority in Parliament wants the government to allow municipalities to cut benefits if the recipients are unable to find a job because they wear a burqa.

A motion to this effect from Liberal VVD MP Atzo Nicolaï and Labour PvdA MP Hans Spekman was passed on Tuesday.

Coalition party PvdA and opposition party VVD are concerned about a verdict from the court in Amsterdam earlier this month. The court found in preliminary proceedings that the municipality Diemen had unlawfully docked the benefits of a Muslim woman who wears a burqa because she had been unable to find a job after four job applications.

If this verdict becomes a precedent, Spekman and Nicolaï want to know what state secretary for social affairs Ahmed Aboutaleb plans to do to ensure that municipalities will be able dock benefits in cases like this.

The state secretary first wants to wait for the final outcome of the court case before drawing conclusions. But he will "of course" inform Parliament of any steps he plans to take.

Aboutaleb has said in earlier debates with Parliament that the case in Diemen should be put in perspective. He says it is just "one case," while there have also been court verdicts that have found in favour of municipalities in cases where the behaviour of the job seeker prevented him or her from finding a job. One of these cases also concerned the wearing of a burqa.

Let's play "Guess the Ethnicity"

dpa - Dramatic rise in school violence in Berlin.
Violence at schools in immigrant-dominated districts of Berlin has soared in recent months, with the opposition Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) accusing the city government of turning a blind eye to the violence at the city's educational facilities.

The violence reached a peak recently when two masked youths burst into a classroom at the Dag Hammerskjoeld School in the city's Tempelhof district to attack a 58-year-old woman teacher.

One beat the terrified teacher about the head and body with a steel rod, while the other tried to make off with her handbag. Pupils intervened, driving the intruders from the classroom. Curiously, the teacher was discussing the great late Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi's political philosophy of "non-violence" at the time.

Later it transpired that a girl in the class, who had learned she was to be kept down a class, had urged the youths to carry out the attack.

In another act of violence, a 54-year-old male teacher at the Roentgen Secondary School in the city's Neukoelln district was beaten up by a 17-year-old Serbian-born youth who surfaced at the school, demanding to see his ex-girlfriend.

Ordered to leave the premises, the youngster went berserk, punching and kicking the teacher to the ground in the school yard, before fleeing, pursued by several school pupils.

Three other bouts of school violence have occurred in Berlin in the past few days, two of them at schools in the city's "problem" districts of Neukoelln and Wedding. A 10-year-old boy of Palestinian descent called Abdul, was set upon by a group of older pupils at the Kurt Tucholsky School.

Singled out for "mobbing" by older pupils on previous occasions according to witnesses, he was slapped and kicked as he lay on the ground while an 11-year-old boy filmed the events on a mobile phone camera, intending to show it on the internet.

The school's deputy director Gerd Combecher said the filmed sequences had since been studied by the police. Iris Pakulat, the school's headmistress, claimed those who had seized the boy in what started as a prank, but got wildly out of control, had now been identified.

The boy's mother says the incident was no surprise. "Our boy has been attacked by pupils in the past," she said, adding "there's no point in sending him to another school now because in the coming months we must return to Palestine."

Her husband said he'd visited the school several times to protest his son's treatment. "He (Abdul) is a very shy boy so perhaps he became an easy target," he said.

Despite his son's experiences in Berlin, Abdul's father said it would be difficult for the family going back to the Palestinian territories. "We will be strangers there, having lived in Berlin for 20 years, and Abdul being born here."

Two years ago a puerile "game" dubbed "Happy Slapping," which became popular in some English schools, spread to Germany. This involved older pupils grabbing a younger child for so-called "slapping" sessions -- with the scenes captured in mobile camera phone sequences.

Reports of "mobbing" of teachers and pupils by students became widespread as a result, with bullying sequences appearing on the internet. In one film extract in England, a pupil was seen to approach a teacher from the rear, to yank down his trousers.

In subsequent sequences in England and Germany, teachers were made to look ridiculous by the antics of out-of-control students.

In another recent Berlin incident, a 19-year-old pupil at the Mildred Harnack Comprehensive School in Berlin-Lichtenberg, threatened a teacher who had repeatedly ordered him to put away his mobile phone by screaming, "you will be dead by this evening!"

Even Berlin's renowned Humboldt University has not escaped violence. A 34-year-old former student recently assaulted a 40-year- old woman professor and Harvard graduate, thrusting her to the ground and spitting in her face. He'd allegedly harboured a two-year grudge against the lecturer for her "low" assessment of his doctoral thesis.

In March last year the city's Ruetli School, dominated by Arab and Turkish youths in the tough Neukoelln district, made international headlines when a teacher published a letter claiming conditions at the school had become so bad that it should be closed down.

She felt teachers had lost all authority and were now so afraid that they only entered classrooms with a mobile phone so they could call for help in an emergency. As a result of her plea for help, city authorities installed a new rector who made sweeping changes.

School psychologists were called in "help" problem pupils, especially Arab male students, some of whom refused to respect the authority of women teachers. Today, the Ruetli School no longer makes negative headlines, with pupils evidently happy in the "new" environment.

Surprising progress has been made here," claims a member of the school staff. Berlin's education senator, Juergen Zoellner does not see a serious situation developing but concedes violence prevention programmes at city schools will have to be expanded.

CDU politicians, on the other hand, claim he is not doing enough to stem school violence. Whereas, in the year 2001 to 2002, there were 250 cases of school-related violence, the figure leapt to 1,500 in 2005 to 2006, they say.

City prosecutors confirm they have files on 342 youths, aged between 14 and 20, who have been involved in recent criminal activity. In ten cases, serious crimes were committed, such as robbery or causing serious bodily harm. Of those apprehended, 144 remain in youth custody.

The Meaning of Jihad

jpost - Islamic Jihad claims responsibility for Kassam.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Kassam rocket that landed in the western Negev on Wednesday morning.

According to the group, the attack was in retaliation for the IDF's killing of two of its senior operatives.
aki - Mauritania: Five al-Qaeda suspects arrested in an internet cafe.
The recent arrest of five al-Qaeda suspects in an internet cafe in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott is the latest signal that the terror network is increasingly favouring the Web to recruit operatives and to communicate with its various cells in Africa, Arabic daily al-Watan reports.

The suspects -- two Algerians, two Moroccans, and Mauritanian -- were arrested on Sunday during raids of three Internet cafes close to the Palestinian embassy carried out by Mauritanian anti-terror police, the paper said.

The five suspects are members of the Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb -- formerly the GSPC (the Algerian Salafite Group for Preaching and Combat) -- and had recently entered Mauritania, according to police. Their role was to plan and carry out an attack in Noakchott on behalf of the group and also recruited several locals to the jihadi cause.

The GSPC pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda last year and changed its name to the Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb in January.

Meanwhile, in the Islamic Republic of Kosova ...

aki - Kosovo: Serbian FM asks NATO to protect Serbs as tensions rise.
Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic on Wednesday asked NATO to protect minority Serbs in breakaway Kosovo province as tensions grew over the status of the province with majority ethnic Albanians, which has been under United Nations control since 1999.

Jeremic was quoted by Serbian media as telling NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Schefer in Brussels that the situation in Kosovo was complex and asked the western military alliance, which has a contingent of 17,000 soldiers (Kfor) stationed in Kosovo, "to do everything to protect peace and security of Serbs in Kosovo".

"Regardless of political and diplomatic developments, maintaining peace and stability in Kosovo and the region must be absolute priority," Jeremic said. His warning came as thousands of Serbs were planning to commemorate 617th anniversary of the historic battle of Kosovo in which Serbian army was defeated by Ottoman invaders, opening doors to six centuries of Turkish occupation of the Balkans.

Western powers are pushing for Kosovo independence to sooth majority ethnic Albanians, but Belgrade and Russia oppose the move. Moscow has threatened to use a veto in the UN Security Council and demanded fresh negotiations which might lead to a negotiated settlement.

Ethnic Albanians, who outnumber the remaining Serbs in the province by 17 to one, have grown restless over independence project being stalled in the Security Council and have hinted they might resort to violence.

"Schefer has completely agreed that the situation was complex, but he underlined that Kfor would do everything in its power to completely protect peace and stability in Kosovo," Jeremic was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, a group of Serbian youths calling themselves "The Guard of emperor Lazar", who embarked on a two-week march from Belgrade to Kosovo on June 14, reached Kosovo on Tuesday and was ready to take part in the commemoration at Gazimestan, near Kosovo capital of Pristina.

Emperor Lazar led Serbian forces at the historic 1389 battle, and the Guard rallies Serbian youths irritated over prospective loss of Kosovo. On the other hand, veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which started a rebellion against Serbian rule in 1998, have threatened to settle accounts "with the Guard of criminals" and warned Kfor not to try to protect them.

"Hands away from Kosovo and the provocations which might lead to new wars in the region," KLA veterans said in a statement.

Brain Drain in Africa

jpost - 200 Sudanese refugees put on busses to Jerusalem.
200 Sudanese refugees have been put on busses by the Be'er Sheba municipality who announced Wednesday that they could no longer take care of the refugees' needs and that it was the responsibility of the Israeli government.

"The problem is that the government of Israel has not worked together with the municipality to deal with this crisis," a municipality spokesmen told the Jerusalem Post "so we've decided to take some of the refugees and leave them in the streets of Jerusalem."

The busses carrying the refugees are expected to arrive at the Rose Garden next to the Knesset by 6 p.m.

The gov't is set to discuss the policy on refugees on Thursday.

Main Stream Message: Iran needs Nukes

ap - Iran: Fuel rationing begins, gas stations attacked.
Angry Iranians attacked several gas stations in protest after the government suddenly began long-threatened fuel rationing, while many others rushed to fill their tanks.

The Oil Ministry announced the start of rationing Tuesday night only three hours before it was due to begin at midnight. The sudden announcement sparked long lines at stations as Iranians tried to get one last fill-up before the limitations kicked in.

Several stations were attacked "by vandals," state radio reported early Wednesday. It did not say how many stations were damaged or give details.

The Iranian government had been planning for weeks to implement rationing, which was supposed to begin May 21 but was repeatedly put off. In May, the government reduced subsidies for gas, causing a 25 percent jump in the price.

Pakistan warns of Muslim "Explosion"

danielpipes - Salman Rushdie and British Backbone.
Is the knighting of Salman Rushdie, 60, by the queen of England "a sign of the changing mood" toward British Muslims, as Observer columnist Nick Cohen wrote? Is it "a welcome example of ... British backbone," as Islamism specialist Sadanand Dhume described it in the Wall Street Journal?

I think not. Rather, the knighting, announced June 16, was done without heed of its implications.

Most of the uproar against the honor is taking place in Pakistan, as it did in 1988, when Sir Salman's novel, The Satanic Verses, was initially published. "We deplore the decision of the British government to knight him," a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said The lower house of parliament unanimously passed a government-backed resolution calling Rushdie a "blasphemer."

Most extraordinarily, Pakistan's minister of religious affairs, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, endorsed suicide bombing against the United Kingdom. "If someone exploded a bomb on his body, he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the 'sir' title." Ijaz ul-Haq later added that "If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, his act is justified."

A trade union offered a $160,000 reward to anyone who beheads Rushdie. Iran's speaker of parliament, Gholamali Haddadadel, threatened that Muslims "will not leave this imprudent and shameless act without response."

Islamists demonstrate in Pakistan.

Such reactions from on-high spurred Islamists to the streets in many cities, including London's, burning effigies of Rushdie and Queen Elizabeth and chanting slogans such as "Death to Rushdie! Death to the queen!"

Fortunately, some Muslims decried these reactions. Canadian writer Irshad Manji noted that the Pakistani government had nothing to say about "assaults on fellow believers" in Kabul and Baghdad, where Islamist terrorism killed more than 100 Muslims. "I am offended that amid the internecine carnage, a professed atheist named Salman Rushdie tops the to-do list," she wrote.

These Islamist threats extend a drama begun on Valentine's Day, 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini issued his death edict against Rushdie, stating that "the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses -- which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur'an and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly."

That very day, I went on television and predicted that the novelist would never escape the edict. He, however, experimented with appeasement in 1990 and with self-delusion since 1998, when the Iranian foreign minister declared his government no longer intent on murdering him. Rushdie wishfully deemed this "a breakthrough," concluding that the Khomeini edict "will be left to wither on the vine."

I warned Rushdie in 1998 against his giddy insistence on being in the clear. For one, the edict remained in place; Iranian leaders do not believe themselves competent to undo it (a point reiterated by an ayatollah, Ahmad Khatami, just the other day). For another, freelancers around the globe could still nominate themselves to fulfill Khomeini's call to action.

But Rushdie and his friends ignored these apprehensions. Christopher Hitchens, for example, thought Rushdie had returned to normal life. That became conventional wisdom; such insouciance and naïveté -- rather than "backbone" -- best explains awarding the knighthood.

I welcome the knighting because, for all his political mistakes, Rushdie is indeed a fine novelist. I wish I could agree with Dhume that this recognition of him suggests "the pendulum has begun to swing" in Britain against appeasing radical Islam.

But I cannot. Instead, I draw two conclusions: First, Rushdie should plan around the fact of Khomeini's edict being permanent, to expire only when he does. Second, the British government should take seriously the official Pakistani threat of suicide terrorism, which amounts to a declaration of war and an operational endorsement. So far, it has not done that.

Other than an ambassadorial statement of "deep concern," Whitehall insists that the minister's threat will not harm a "very good relationship" with Pakistan. It has even indicated that Ijaz ul-Haq is welcome in Britain if on a private visit. (Are suicide bombers also welcome, so long as they are not guests of the government?) Until the Pakistani authorities retract and apologize for Ijaz ul-Haq's outrageous statement, London must not conduct business-as-usual with Islamabad.

Now that would constitute "British backbone."

The Inshallah Factor

ap - Ten die, thousands flee as cyclone hits Pakistan.
Ten people drowned and thousands fled to higher ground Tuesday as a tropical cyclone lashed Pakistan's coastline with heavy rains and high winds, officials said.

At least three small boats were reported to have sunk and 18 fishing boats were missing as the navy sent a warship and two helicopters to scour the rough seas in search of vessels caught up in the storm.

Cyclone Yemyin hit parts of the coastline of Baluchistan province at about noon with winds of up to 57 miles (91 kilometers) an hour, said Qamaruz Zaman, director-general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Rain-swollen rivers flooded several coastal districts, killing at least ten people, including four children, said Raziq Bugti, spokesman for the provincial government.

Islam is a Religion of Peace

ap - Lebanese official: 300 killed, wounded in clashes.
Some 300 Islamic militants have been killed or wounded in the month-long battle with Lebanese troops in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, leaving only a few dozen fighters hiding in the besieged camp, Defense Minister Elias Murr said Tuesday.

In an interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television, Murr said that the Lebanese army has cornered the remaining members of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam group in a small section of the camp.

The military now controls 80 percent of the Nahr el-Bared camp, the minister said.
jpost - Top Iraqi university official shot and killed.
A top Baghdad University official was shot to death in front of his daughter in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in the capital, police said.

Nihad Mohammed al-Rawi, a Sunni Arab in his mid-50s, was killed after gunmen intercepted the car that was carrying him home, a police official said, adding that al-Rawi's daughter and two bodyguards were in the car but were not harmed.

Al-Rawi, the deputy in charge of administrative affairs and head of the chemical engineering department at Iraq's main university, was the latest in a string of academics and students targeted by both sides of the sectarian divided as extremists see universities as bastions of Western, non-Islamic thought.

More than 200 university professors have been killed since the US-led invasion in March 2003. Thousands have fled abroad, according to the Ministry of Higher Education.
bangkokpost - Sadao market reduced to ashes.
A wet market went up in smoke, a petrol station worker was killed in a drive-by shooting, a teacher escort unit had a narrow escape from a bomb and a pick-up truck was set on fire in incidents throughout in the far South yesterday. Police suspected arson was behind the blaze which reduced about 90% of the wet market in Songkhla's Sadao district to ashes.

The other incidents occurred in Pattani and Yala, further south.

The cabinet yesterday approved a budget of 271 million baht for the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre to improve living standards in Yala, Satun, Pattani, Narathiwat and four districts of Songkhla.

Assistant government spokesman Natthawat Sutthiyothin said the money would be spent on educational, agricultural, vocational and religious projects.

The cabinet also approved an extra pension equivalent to that of a C-11 level retired official for the family of the late district chief of Pattani's Mai Kaen, Chaipat Raksayod, who was killed in a bomb blast in Pattani on June 19.

Police estimated the losses from the blaze at Sadao's Kobkul market, which housed up to 200 shops and stalls on two-and-a-half rai of property, at 100 million baht.

The fire began about 1.45am somewhere in the middle of the market. Firefighters from four neighbouring districts took four hours to douse the flames.

The market and shops had no insurance for losses from fire.

Police initially suspected arson and posited two theories _ an insurgent attack or retaliation by gamblers or gangs of racers who were earlier been arrested.

Since April, there have been at least five cases of arson at schools, shops and prayer sites in Pangla municipality. All told, about 11 places have been torched.

In Yala, a pick-up truck belonging to the tambon Lidol administration organisation was set on fire near its offices in Muang district. Shortly afterwards, nearby Ban Taloh school was torched, but damage was minor.

In Pattani, petrol station attendant Matorhae Mama, 27, was killed in a drive-by shooting at a tea shop in Muang district about 12.30am. Four other customers were wounded.

A teacher escort team narrowly escaped death when a bomb exploded in Khok Pho district yesterday morning.

Eight suspected insurgents were transferred from Surat Thani to the custody of Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4 in Songkhla.

They had been in hiding in the province since June 22 following an attack on soldiers. They were apprehended and a pick-up truck riddled with bullet holes and three mobile phones seized in a raid on a vehicle repair shop on Monday.

Out of the eight, Humdee Bueraheng, 19, a resident of Narathiwat's Rueso district, was identified as a member of the Runda Kumpulan Kecil, which authorities say is a leading organiser of violence.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Question to Muslims (#467)

Quran 009:029 says:
"Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
The "People of the Book" are primarily Jews and Christians.

What should Muslims say to Muslims who include Jews and Christians among "those" who should be "fought" on the basis of this verse?

Cultural Diversity and Social Customs

dailytimes - Girl crosses LoC to avoid marriage.
June 22, 2007 ◊ An 18-year-old Pakistani girl felt so strongly about being made to marry a man against her will that she fled to Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) in a high-altitude trek across the Line of Control (LoC), reports said on Thursday.

Anida Khan was arrested by Indian authorities after having successfully crossed the de facto divide -- one of the world's deadliest borders. The English-language Excelsior newspaper said that during questioning, Khan "revealed that her parents wanted her to marry against her wishes".
dailytimes - Church slams rape of 14-year-old.
June 22, 2007 ◊ The Women Desk Church of Pakistan condemned the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old Christian girl and urged the government to immediately arrest the culprits and provide security to the victim's family, said a statement issued by the church on Thursday.

Mohammad Asif, Rizwan alias Khusri and Muhammad Nawaz allegedly raped Sumaira Rafiq Masih, 14, on May 14 in Nazampura Chak 2 Patoki.

The statement said they gave tea mixed with intoxicants to the victim and the three women had it without knowing. After the incident, it said, the victim allegedly was raped. An FIR numbered 250/07 U/S 376/337J was lodged on June 19 at the City Patoki police station, but no one had been arrested yet.
dailytimes - Blair hates Muslims, says Shujaat.
June 22, 2007 ◊ Pakistan Muslim League President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said on Thursday one should not be surprised by the British government's decision to award a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie, APP reported.

"(British prime minister) Tony Blair is personally against the Muslims," Hussain told the National Assembly while speaking on a point of order.

The PML president castigated Rushdie in the strongest possible words. "He is a mad man. He is a thief and he is a scoundrel," he said. He suggested the author should only be called Rushdie as Salman is a holy name and it is not appropriate to bracket it with Rushdie.

Earlier, the MMA's Farid Ahmed Paracha said the house should once again pass a resolution urging the British government to strip Rushdie of his knighthood. He said the British government, despite the strong Muslim protests across the world, had not apologised and what it only said was "it felt sorry because the sentiments of Muslims have been hurt". "To award Rushdie is an insult to Muslims."

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi said the house had passed a unanimous resolution in this context. "The government has strongly protested and told the British high commissioner that Pakistanis have been deeply hurt by their action," Afgan said.

The minister said Rushdie had made no contribution to literature and in fact, the British government had negated its own traditions by knighting him. "In Britain only those are knighted who have won a Nobel Prize." He, however, said he would not favour a second resolution in the house.

Dr Attaur Rehman of the MMA said Pakistan should withdraw as a frontline state in the "war on terrorism," because it also includes Britain and the US.

Staff report adds: Former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain came under fire when Dr Farid Paracha, without naming these leaders, regretted their silence over the issue.
thenews - I'll kill Rushdie: Punjab speaker.
June 22, 2007 ◊ Punjab Assembly Speaker Afzal Sahi has said that he will kill controversial writer Salman Rushdie if he comes across him.

"Death is the only punishment for a blasphemer," said the speaker when Rana Sanaullah of the PML-N asked the chair on a point of order to clarify the government's position on the federal religious affairs minister's statement about the award of knighthood to Rushdie.

The Euro-Arab Axis of Evil

aki - Syria: Italian senators visit.
A delegation of Italian senators visiting Syria has met with top officials in Damascus to discuss ways of how to relaunch a peace process in the Middle East. The head of the delegation, former Italian prime minister Lamberto Dini, held talks on Monday afternoon with Syria's deputy president, Faruq al-Sharaa. Sharaa said he appreciated Italy's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflicts in the Middle East.

Dini and members of his delegation, who arrived in Syria over the weekend, earlier met Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the country's parliamentary speaker Mahmud al-Abrash. The discussion focused on bi-lateral relations and development initiatives.

According to Syrian sources, the issue of the return to Syria of the Golan Heights which were occupied by by Israel in 1967 were also discussed.

The Italian senators' visit follows one by Italian foreign minister Massimo D'Alema earlier this month in which he urged Damascus to play a postive role in creating stability in neighbouring Lebanon.

Helpless: Muhammad's Children

aki - Baghdad orphanage scandal raises concerns.
Parents who have had to leave their children at care institutions have expressed outrage at the discovery of over 20 severely malnourished boys who had been left without proper care in a Baghdad orphanage last week.

The 24 boys -- most of whom are mentally handicapped and aged 3-15 -- were found on 10 June naked in a dark room without windows by US and Iraqi soldiers on a routine patrol. Many of the children were tied to their beds and too weak to stand once released.

In a nearby locked room, the soldiers discovered food and clothing which should have been used for the children. Three women, claiming to be the caretakers, and two men, the orphanage director and a guard, were on site when the soldiers arrived.

The case has infuriated parents of the children. "If we were living in a normal country, I would have sued these criminals," said the father of two of the boys. "But we are living in complete chaos," he added.

The father refused to be identified. He left his children in the orphanage after becoming a displaced person nearly two years ago.

"What can we do? They became a heavy burden on us. We decided to send them there and we still can't take them back because of our harsh living conditions," said the father.

Ahmed Nasser Abdullah, 44, father of a mentally handicapped boy in another Baghdad orphanage, shared the same sentiments. "I'm totally shocked," he said.

Abdullah, a day labourer, left his son at the orphanage about three years ago as he could not afford his son’s treatment, but now he has decided to get him back.

"Living in severe hardship is better than leaving him in those uncaring hands. Now I understand why they insisted I made an appointment before visiting my son. They make sure the kids are in good shape before a visit," Abdullah added.

"Two members of staff have been arrested," said Hamid al-Zaidi, the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry's inspector-general. Arrest warrants were also issued for three employees of the orphanage who have gone into hiding and remain at large, according to al-Zaidi.

Two probes were under way -- one ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and one by the Labour Ministry, a government statement said last week.

"The incompetent employees will be severely punished and even imprisoned," al-Zaidi said.

He acknowledged that some caretakers had been negligent, but said the orphanage had been doing its best to provide care for the children under difficult circumstances. He said the caretakers had to take off the orphans' clothes to cool them down as the place had no electricity and thus no cooling systems.

"The handicapped children were abandoned by their families and we are trying to save them from death, but the whole of Iraq is undergoing difficult circumstances," he said.

Al-Zaidi said the manager of the boys' home had requested generators and pay rises but these had been rejected.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs declined to say how many orphans were in its facilities.

On 22 June the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) urged the Iraqi government to address the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Iraq.

UNICEF also called for a transparent monitoring system for the management of such institutions, and measures to improve staff skills and boost community-based childcare alternatives.

"The ongoing conflict and displacement are now putting the welfare of all children at risk, particularly orphans. Families struggling to feed and educate their own children are increasingly unable to take on others," the UNICEF statement said.

The Principle of "free and undistorted Competition"

reuters - Blair presses Sarkozy on EU competition clause.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday that a new European Union treaty must provide clarity on the bloc's free-market competition policy, Blair's spokesman said.

"The prime minister is talking to President Sarkozy at the moment about it. ... We have to have a situation where there is clarity over the EU's attitude to competition," he told reporters at an EU summit.

Sarkozy's spokesman said France was satisfied with a German EU presidency draft mandate for a new reform treaty, which removed the principle of "free and undistorted competition" from EU objectives as set out in its defunct constitution.

Nestling in Hell

aki - Iran: Festival honours headscarf and chastity.
Iran's first festival to celebrate the Muslim headscarf and chastity, entitled 'A pearl nestling in its shell' is due to take place in Birjand in the western Khorasan region.

There will be close to 200 talks and over 60 poetry readings, as well as 43 photo exhibitions and viewings of the work of 13 painters, as well as 5 multimedia installations.

The event will close with a fashion show of more than five hundred garments which in the eyes of the organisers will show that chastity and elegance are not incompatible.

Democracy: The God that Failed

cphpost - Ministry accused of stonewalling UN investigation.
Authorities investigating corruption charges stemming from the UN's Oil for Food Programme are finding their progress slowed by the Foreign Ministry.

The National Serious Fraud Division is running up against a wall of silence in its attempts to investigate into the government's role in the discredited United Nation's Oil for Food Programme.

For the past 18 months, investigators have not been allowed to interview four Foreign Ministry employees who were involved with the programme nor to make copies of pertinent ministry documents, according to Jens Madsen, head of the Serious Fraud Dvision.

The foot dragging comes despite criticism this May by Per Stig Møller, the foreign minister, that the investigation into whether companies had abused the programme intended to help provide Iraqis with food and medicine after the first Gulf War was moving to slowly. At that time, he said it it was 'crucial that the national authorities are given the possibility to review' materials relating to the case.

The Oil for Food Programme -- which ran from 1996-2003, allowed Iraq, then under UN sanctions, to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine and other humanitarian items. A 2005 investigation found that of the 4500 companies that participated in the programme, nearly half, from some 40 countries, had colluded with Saddam's regime to bilk the humanitarian program of $1.8 billion in illegal surcharges and kickbacks.

Up to 17 Danish companies, including pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and pump manufacturer Grundfos, are under investigation for their role in the scandal.

Madsen said he has not been given a reason for the ministry's procrastination over the request.

'That has means that a part of the investigation remains incomplete and we'd very much like to get things in place.'

Peter Taksøe-Jensen, the Foreign Ministry's under-secretary for legal affairs, denied that the ministry was stymieing the investigation, but acknowledged the office had not yet finished 'considering the principal aspects of the request'.

Taksøe-Jensen said the investigators have been allowed to view the documents they requested, but not to make copies for use as evidence.

The fraud division is seeking to obtain evidence that would support its confiscation of income received by Danish companies through improprieties committed during the Oil for Food Programme. According to Jyllands-Posten newspaper, the Foreign Ministry became aware of illegal activities in the programme in 2001, but has taken no action.

Lars Bo Langsted, a law expert at Aarhus University, said the ministry's refusal to co-operate with the fraud division's requests smells of a cover-up.

'It is incredibly difficult to understand why the Foreign Ministry does not wish to help resolve this case,' he said. 'It seems as if they could be interested in hiding their own role.'

Tactics of the Crescent Moon

aki - U.S.: Officer tells how Daniel Pearl was murdered.
The US security officer who investigated the the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan has absolved al-Fuqra leader Sheikh Gilani of involvement in the killing. In a highly unusual move, the US State Department posted an interview with the officer, Randall Bennett, on the front page of its website this weekend.

Bennett was the US Regional Security Officer in Karachi during the time Pearl was kidnapped and later murdered in 2002. Bennett was one of the last people to see Pearl alive.

The interview coincided with the release of a film "A Mighty Heart," which depicts the kidnapping and murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter. Bennett's character, played by actor Will Patton, was featured prominently in the film, which also stars actress Angelina Jolie in the lead role of Pearl's wife, Marianne.

Sheikh Omar, who has quite a history involved in the kidnapping -- the hijacking of airplanes out of India and affiliations with various hardcore jihadi organisations -- had very carefully plotted and planned this kidnapping of Danny," said Bennett.

"He had set it up where he had given Danny information and promised this interview with Sheikh Gilani. Sheikh Gilani, as it turned out, had no idea his name was even being used."

Bennett said that Sheikh Omar used the interview to bait Daniel Pearl. "He would throw the bait out and he would reel it back in. So over a period of two weeks, Danny was enticed and then lost the opportunity for the interview."

The US officer said Pearl had been looking forward to this interview because it was a very "hot item."

The so-called shoe-bomber, Richard Reed, who tried to bomb a Chicago-bound plane in 2002 with explosives hidden in his shoes, dominated the US media in those days and Pearl hoped to get some exclusive information about the bomber from this interview."So when it came time, after two weeks of baiting and switching, Danny was at the Metropol Hotel standing outside the Village restaurant. His meeting was at 1900 hours. At 1911 hrs, he received a phone call. The phone call lasted till 1916 hrs.

"So in those five minutes, the investigation later revealed that Sheikh Omar, who was using the name of Bashir at this time, told Danny that 'I'm sorry, he cannot come to see you again.' This was maybe the sixth or seventh time they had baited and switched Danny on a meeting.

"They said, 'He just cannot get away and we've tried and tried and it just hasn't worked out. If you want the interview, he's at the madrassa. We'll pick you up and bring you here and then we'll take you back, but he's not going to be able to come and see you there,'" said Bennett.

He said Pearl had asked him earlier if he could go to a madrassa to interview Sheikh Gilani, as his fixer had suggested and "I told him that that was definitely a no-go."

He said he explained to Pearl that all madrassas were essentially in dangerous locations. They typically had affiliations to the more radical elements. And for Pearl to go to one of those meant he would be completely cut off from his communication and any safe haven or recourse.

"And I guess at that moment, Danny had a tough decision to make and he made the decision that he was going to go and do the interview."

Bennett said that during the same period three other American citizens were also kidnapped in Karachi and his team and the Karachi Citizen-Police Liaison Committee were able to recover each of them within 24 hours.

But they could not recover Pearl because they learned about it 12 hours after the kidnapping, which gave the kidnappers the time to take Pearl out of the city.

In the interview, Bennett also explains how they detained Sheikh Omar's relatives in Karachi and Rawalpindi to force him to surrender.

Ultimately, Sheikh Omar surrendered to a relative, a retired intelligence officer, in Lahore who gave him to police after 15 days "and of course, we let (Sheikh Omar's) family go back to their house immediately."

The Liberal Dictionary: F - Freedom of Information

local - Prison porn for rapists approved by court.
Sweden's convicted rapists are entitled to have pornography in their cells, the Supreme Administrative Court (Regeringsrätten) judged on Monday.

The decision is the final word in a case that began when the Swedish Prison and Probation Service banned a man serving an eight year sentence for rape in Härnosand jail from receiving pornographic material.

The prison authorities argued that the use of pornography would disrupt the treatment being given to sex offenders. It was also claimed that porn would be a security risk at the jail.

In March 2006 the district administrative appeals court (kammarätten) in Sundsvall ruled that the principle of freedom of information was more important than the potential threat posed by the prisoners being allowed access to pornography.

The Prison and Probation Service appealed against that judgement but the Supreme Administrative Court upheld all the findings in the initial verdict.

Gays in Love for Right-Wing Moral Values

ap - Religious groups lead New York gay pride parade.
Religious groups including Christians, Jews and Buddhists led the New York gay pride parade on Sunday, lending gravity to the often outrageous event that celebrates the 1969 Stonewall riots when patrons at a Greenwich Village gay bar fought back against a police raid.

"We stand for a progressive religious voice," said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of New York City's Congregation Beth Simchat Torah. "Those who use religion to advocate an anti-gay agenda I believe are blaspheming God's name."

Kleinbaum, who heads the world's largest predominantly gay synagogue, and the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, were the parade's grand marshals, waving from his-and-hers convertibles.

The march took place days after the New York State Assembly passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which Governor Eliot Spitzer supports. Although the bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate any time soon, parade-goers said they were cheered by the Assembly's action.

"This is one very important step toward full equality for all New Yorkers," Kleinbaum said.

Tens of thousands of people attended the march, including NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Abu Mazen Fantasy

fpm - Why reward a failed illusion?
Once again a center-left government of Israel has seized on a fantasy it views as a panacea for the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a speech at an Israeli Naval base said, "An opportunity has arisen which we have not had for 40 years" to make peace with the Palestinians. In a meeting with President Bush at the White House this week Olmert vowed to support and strengthen Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) in the hopes that Abu Mazen's Fatah organization will combat the Islamist radicals of Hamas, and be a genuine peace-partner. President Bush and Secretary of State Rice expressed their hopes for the revival of the Road Map, and both Bush and Olmert viewed this week's declaration by Abu Mazen, that he is forming a new government and firing the Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Hanyia, as a very positive development.

These machinations -- counting on one Palestinian faction to do the bidding of the USA or Israel have failed miserably in the past, and are likely to fail again for the simple reason that the difference between the so called "secular" Fatah and the Islamist Hamas is merely tactical and not strategic in nature. The end game for both Fatah and Hamas is the elimination of the Jewish State and its replacement with an Arab-Muslim state. Hamas seeks a state governed by Sharia Islamic laws, while Fatah follows the vision of the Palestinian Covenant and Constitution drafted as a Palestinian Liberation Organization document in 1968.

In 1976, then Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres permitted Saudi funds to pass to pre-Hamas Islamists in order to offset the near certain election of PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) approved nationalists, pro-Arafat Palestinians in the West Bank municipal elections. The ploy failed, and the pro-Arafat mayors were elected.

Following the Oslo Accords of September 1993, Rabin and Peres ((Prime Minister, Foreign Minister respectively) who were concerned with the rise of radical Islamism in the Palestinian territories (being fueled by Iran's support to Sunni radical Islamist movements), counted on Yaser Arafat and his Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), to basically serve as Israel's local policemen and clamp down on the Hamas. Shortly thereafter, Arafat gave Hamas a green light to carry out terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and coordinated with Hamas the murderous work of his own terrorist groups affiliated with Fatah such as the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades. Arafat nevertheless pleaded his innocence to the western media and the Rabin/Peres government looked the other way. The second Intifada against Israel that began in September 2000 was led by Fatah-not the Hamas.

Both Israel and the U.S. are heavily invested in Abu Mazen and Fatah. Hundreds of millions in U.S. taxpayer's money will once again flow to the Palestinian Authority under President Abu-Mazen, just as it did under Yaser Arafat. The U.S., Israel and the EU are hoping for accelerated talks between Israel and the PA on the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

It is therefore prudent to remind American taxpayers that the PA has been the largest recipient of international aid since its creation in 1993. In fact, the per-capita aid to the Palestinians exceeds that of the Marshall Plan, which provided U.S. funds to devastated Europe in the aftermath of WWII . According to U.S. State Department figures the U.S. has since 1993 given the Palestinians an average of $85 million in economic aid annually. The U.S. has also contributed nearly $1.098 billion, from 1993-2004, to the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA's sole purpose is to provide economic and educational assistance to the Palestinians. No other group of people or refugees enjoys a similar privilege.

Under Arafat, the bulk of international aid to the Palestinian went into the private accounts of the Rais Arafat and his minions. This glaring corruption by the PA and Fatah leadership was the reason why the majority of Palestinians "kicked out the Fatah bums" and voted for a Hamas government in January 2006. Fatah's fiscal malfeasance, coupled with the absence of the rule-of-law, and lack of commitment to peace with Israel, will once again dash American and Israeli hopes.

Fatah's original charter calling for a "secular, democratic state in Palestine" has been transformed since the Oslo Accords into an Islamist movement. Fatah has competed with Hamas in the building of mosques with public funds, and hired imams to spread the message of martyrdom by encouraging suicide bombing and hatred for Jews and Christians. It was Fatah-controlled PA TV that broadcasted programs showing young children spewing hatred for Jews and Israel, and declaring their intentions to become suicide bombers. Similarly, PA textbooks have poisoned an entire generation of youth to hate Jews and Israel. Is Fatah the entity that can make peace with Israel? Will Fatah-educated children be prepared to carry out, in good faith, any peace agreements?

Abu Mazen will surely be seen and heard making declarations geared to please the western and Israeli media in which he denounces terrorism and pleads for negotiations and peace agreements, just as Arafat did. At the same time, he will signal to his own terrorist groups, such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and other groups we haven't yet learned about, to resume terrorist operations against Israel "when the timing is right."

The Fatah Jihadists are unlikely to give up the armed struggle against Israel, and while Abu Mazen might condemn unapproved terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians "that are contrary to Palestinian national interests," he has never disavowed the "armed struggle" or the immorality of terrorism.

The Bush administration and the Olmert government are gambling on Abu Mazen and the Fatah to deliver peace, end terror, and create a functioning Palestinian state. Abu Mazen did not deliver peace with Israel nor proper governance when he served as Prime Minister under Arafat, or, as President since Arafat's death. Abu Mazen's incompetence and lack of leadership enabled Hamas to take over Gaza. The West Bank might also fall to Hamas precisely because of the nature of Fatah and the lackluster leadership of Abu Mazen.

Arming Abu Mazen's Fatah goons with sophisticated weapons, and removing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank as the Sharon/Olmert plan called for, will ultimately bring Palestinian terrorism to the heart of Israel. It would be another fantasy of Israel's political left gone astray.

French Weather and Global Climate in France

afp - France to get first cash from EU globalisation fund.
The European Commission on Monday approved the first two payments of cash from a new EU fund aimed at cushioning the impact of globalisation.

Small companies that supply French car makers Peugeot-Citroen and Renault will receive 3.8 million euros (5.1 million dollars) to help "workers made redundant due to company failures in a climate of changing global trade patterns," the EU executive said.

Commission spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein said the money would be disbursed once EU member states and the European Parliament gave their approval, which could take "three or four months."

The fund was set up at the end of last year to help workers who lose their jobs because of globalisation get back to work.

Schnurbein said that other candidates for cash from the fund were "in the pipeline," including the Finnish telecoms sector and textiles workers in Malta.

Religion of Peace strikes Peacekeepers

ap - Al-Qaeda kill three Spanish peacekeepers in Lebanon.
A car bomb killed six U.N. peacekeepers on patrol in southern Lebanon in the first attack on the international force since it was expanded after last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

Ten people also died in the north Sunday, in the latest battle between Lebanese troops and Sunni militants, who have threatened to start launching attacks in other parts of Lebanon.

Among those condemning the attack on the U.N. peacekeepers was the Shiite Hezbollah, which called it a "suspicious act that harms the people of the south and of Lebanon." The militant group has had good relations with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon , known as UNIFIL, since the troops were first deployed in 1978.

The U.N. has since become increasingly involved in highly divisive issues in Lebanon, including its tense relations with neighboring Syria.

UNIFIL said in a statement that the six peacekeepers were killed and two others seriously wounded in an "apparent car bomb attack" while they were on patrol.

In Madrid, Spanish Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said three Colombian and two Spanish peacekeepers were among the slain. He called it a "premeditated attack" and said the "most likely cause" was a car bomb or device activated by remote control.

Lebanese officials said no body parts were found in the car, meaning the bomb was detonated from a distance and did not involve a suicide attacker.

The blast threw the troops' armored personnel carrier to the side of a main road between the towns of Marjayoun and Khiam, a few miles (kilometers) north of the Israeli town of Metulla. Investigators worked under floodlights late Sunday at the scene to determine what happened.

Spain has 1,100 peacekeepers in Lebanon, part of the 13,000-member U.N. force from 30 countries. UNIFIL, along with 15,000 Lebanese troops, patrols a zone along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

UNIFIL's presence puts teeth in the U.N. cease-fire resolution that halted last summer's 34-day war. Southern Lebanon has been largely quiet after the summer war killed more than 1,200 people, most of them in Lebanon.

Western-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora denounced the attack, as did Israeli, U.S. and French officials.

Syria also condemned the attack, the country's official news agency reported. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told his Spanish counterpart in a telephone call that the attack was "a criminal act that aims at shaking security and stability in southern Lebanon."

Last month, the U.N. Security Council imposed an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri despite rejection from the country's Hezbollah-led opposition, which supports Damascus' involvement in Lebanon.

Complicating the picture, media reports earlier this month said interrogations by Lebanese authorities with captured al-Qaida-inspired militants revealed plots to attack the U.N. force.

The warnings became more serious after the al-Qaida-inspired Sunni Islamic group Fatah Islam began fighting Lebanese troops at Nahr el-Bared, a northern Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp, five weeks ago. The militants have threatened to expand their battle to other parts of Lebanon.

In addition, al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, in videos broadcast in September, has denounced the reinforced UNIFIL.

U.N. staff recently erected a 13-foot (4-meter)-high blast wall around the building housing U.N. offices in Beirut.

In the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanese troops on Sunday raided an apartment complex suspected of housing al-Qaida-inspired militants, sparking a gunbattle that killed six of the militants, security officials said.

A Lebanese soldier, a policeman and two family members were also slain in the fighting, which began when troops seized a building where militants had taken refuge after nighttime clashes.

The six dead militants were three Saudi nationals, one ethnic Chechen and two Lebanese who also held foreign passports, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The battle shifted the fighting from the bombed-out Nahr el-Bared back to nearby Tripoli, where violence first erupted May 20. The Nahr el-Bared fighting, Lebanon's worst internal violence since the 1975-90 civil war, has killed 80 soldiers and wounded more than 150. The fighting has claimed the lives of at least 60 militants and more than 20 civilians.

The Meaning of Jihad

aki - Egypt: al-Qaeda cell backs Hamas.
After the organisation's number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, other cells of al-Qaeda have come out in suport of Palestinian militant group Hamas and invited its militants to help the militiamen controlling the Gaza strip.

The group calling itself the "Organisation of al-Qaeda in the land of Canaan" which represents the jihadi network in Egypt, has published an internet message inviting Egyptian Islamists to "help and support the mujahadeen in Palestine". The statement explains "here finally the Hamas of Jihad and martyrdom has returned to its former splendour, conquering and supporting the Jihad, and for this we support them.

What is more the statement invites the Egyptian jihadis to strike "any Jewish crusader objective present in Egypt" and criticised the initiative of Jamaa al-Islamia who had decided to repent and give up the armed struggle. Security sources in Cairo, contacted by the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat have however played down the extent of the threat, confirming that the security measures adopted in the Sinai where there are various tourism resorts, remain unchanged.

Can Norway Save Christianity?

aftenposten - Afghan refugees carry on fight to stay in Norway.
The fate of a group of Afghan refugees in Oslo remained unclear Monday, after several of them converted to Christianity in a last-ditch effort to avoid deportation.

More than 20 other Afghan refugees whose asylum appeals remain undecided, meanwhile, said they were setting up their own "asylum academy" at a new encampment outside a church building downtown.

They say they'll use what time they have left in Norway to study human rights and democracy.

Many of the 21 refugees arrested last week when police broke up their camp in front of the Norwegian Parliament were expected to be sent back to Afghanistan over the weekend. They remained in Norway Monday morning, after Oslo Bishop Ole Christian Kvarme told immigration officials that several had converted to Christianity.

Their conversion could leave them facing death threats in Afghanistan. Norwegian officials won't return refugees to their homelands if their lives would be in danger.

The refugees whose asylum applications have been rejected in Norway, 45 in all, have argued all along that Afghanistan is too dangerous for them. They also claim they're exhausted after dealing with 30 years of war in their homeland.

Police said their deportation had been postponed while immigration officials evaluated their situation once again.

Turkey by Numbers

aki - Turkey: EU keeps monetary, economic policy out of membership talks.
Ambassadors from the 27-European Union member states decided on Monday to keep chapters on monetary and ...
... and bla.

Islam is a Religion of Peace

ap - Iraq: 8 killed by suicide bomber in Hillah.
A suicide car bomber targeted the governor's offices in the predominantly Shiite southern city of Hillah on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding 31.

It was the second attack in three days. A parked car packed with explosives blew up on Saturday in the center of the city, 95 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad.

The explosion on Monday occurred about 6:30 a.m., a spokesman for the provincial police department said. He said the eight killed included three policemen and at least four officers were among the 31 wounded. The spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
ap - Suicide bomb kills seven at central Baghdad hotel.
A suicide bomber blew himself up in a central Baghdad hotel on Monday, killing seven people, police said. At least 12 other people were reported wounded.

A man wearing a belt of explosives walked into the lobby of the Mansour Hotel, approached the reception desk and detonated his bomb, said a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The high-rise hotel, on the banks of the Tigris River, houses the Chinese Embassy and the news agency Agence France-Presse, among other tenants.
bangkokpost - Two rangers shot, burned, schools torched.
Two plainclothes rangers were killed and their bodies burned in Rueso district of Narathiwat yesterday while they were on a mission to gather information.

The charred bodies of Sgt Chakkrapong Pol-nguen and ranger volunteer Thawatchai Maneesang were found on the side of a road in Pu Poh village in tambon Samaggi. A motorcycle was found nearby.

Police said the killers shot the soldiers before dousing their bodies with petrol and setting them on fire. They also stole their weapons.

The two rangers left their base at the 44th Ranger Forces Regiment in plainclothes to mingle with the locals as usual in order to monitor insurgent movements.

Earlier, rubber tapper Kuna Sangthong, 48, was shot and burned in Rueso district.

In nearby Sungai Kolok district, teacher Nattee Pungpetsawat, 48, was shot in the leg.

Two schools were set ablaze in Raman district during the weekend.

Arsonists who burned classrooms at Ban Zue Lo school also scattered spikes on the road to delay firefighters and deter pursuit.

A one-storey building housing kindergarten rooms, a first-aid room and library was destroyed. Firefighters saved a two-storey building.

Witnesses said four or five people broke into the buildings, doused books with petrol and set them on fire. A five-litre petrol container was found nearby.

Police suspect the same gang torched Ban Panathaksin school in the same district on Saturday.

In Yala's Bannang Sata district, Jogo Josamoja, 47, was the latest casualty of a drive-by shooting. He was standing in front of his house when he was killed.

In Raman district, two military outposts were attacked on Raman road and one soldier wounded.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Question to Muslims (#466)

Quran 009:029 says:
"Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
The "People of the Book" are primarily Jews and Christians.

What should Muslims say to Muslims who include Jews and Christians among "those" who should be "fought" on the basis of this verse?

Cultural Diversity and Social Customs

dawn - Man kills daughter in name of honour.
June 19, 2007 ◊ A man shot dead his daughter in the name of honour in Jundo village, the Taxila police told Dawn on Tuesday.

The victim, Zaibun Nisa, had married Mr Yaqoob of the same village of her own will three years ago and shifted to some unknown place.

On Monday, when Zaibun Nisa revisited Jundo village, her father identified as Mohammad Taj in a fit of rage shot her Nisa dead and escaped from the crime scene.

After an autopsy at the THQ hospital Taxila, the police handed the body over to the family for burial.

Meanwhile, the police registered a murder case on the complaint of Yaqoob, but no arrest could be made till the filing of this news report.
aki - Afghanistan: Almost one in four children 'forced to work'
June 19, 2007 ◊ Poverty, lack of educational opportunities and the demand for cheap labour are helping to fuel the prevalence of child labour across Afghanistan, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned.

Nearly one quarter of Afghan children between the ages of seven and 14 are working, with more girls working than boys and the problem worst in rural areas, Noriko Izumi, head of child protection for UNICEF in Afghanistan, said at a press conference in Kabul.

"Poverty and low family income levels force children to work to support their family," said Izumi.

While some types of work serve to teach children new skills that can help them become responsible and productive adults, she said work that interferes with the education of children and affects their mental, physical and social well-being is considered child labour.

"It is those jobs which are detrimental to children's development that we are talking about."

Lack of educational opportunities also pushes a child to work, as did the demand for cheaper labour, she stated, adding "children are cheaper to employ than adults and easier to manipulate. It is easier to hire and fire children."

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 218 million children worldwide, from 5 to 17 years old, are engaged in some kind of labour, with 126 million children engaged in the worst forms of child labour.

UNICEF is working on several fronts to tackle child labour in Afghanistan, which already has a number of legal and policy instruments to protect children, including a national strategy for children at risk and a child labour law defining the legal age of employment.

At the same time, it urged the Afghan government to sign and ratify two important ILO conventions -- one concerning the minimum age of employment and the other one regarding hazardous work.

Among the challenges for UNICEF is difficulty verifying a child's age because of the low birth registration rate in the country, which has emerged from decades of conflict.

"It is also difficult to regulate informal sectors like agriculture where we know many children are employed in Afghanistan," Izumi added.

UNICEF's interventions in the country include non-formal education, which it hopes will help transit the child to formal schooling, and vocational skills training for older children. It is also supporting children "associated with armed forces and other war-affected children." Since 2003, over 12,600 children have been supported in 29 provinces with literacy classes and vocational training.

Izumi noted that while there are fewer children now involved in child labour globally, that does not seem to be the case in the Asia-Pacific region. "So we still have lots of work to do in this region."