Current Events

The Pope’s Visit in Turkey

Prior to the pope’s arrival in Turkey on Tuesday, Der Spiegel Online reported on November 27:

“Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Turkey this week is not shaping up to be an easy one. In fact, it seems as if everybody he will be visiting in Ankara and Istanbul would prefer he not come at all. Some 25,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Istanbul on Sunday chanting ‘No to the pope’ and ‘Don’t come insidious pope’ while waving signs depicting the pontiff as the grim reaper. Organized by an Islamist political party, the protest was the biggest yet against the pope’s visit to Turkey, set to begin on Tuesday.

“Muslims are still angered by a lecture Benedict gave in September, when he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who wrote in a dialogue with a Persian that the Prophet Muhammad had brought ‘only evil and inhuman’ things. The speech, made during a visit to his native Germany, appeared to link Islam to violence. The pope never apologized to the extent Muslims have demanded. The pope also didn’t make any friends with a recent accidental reference to Istanbul as ‘Constantinople,’ the city’s name before the Ottomans took it in 1453…

“Benedict is also controversial in Turkey due to comments in 2004, prior to his becoming pope, that Turkey didn’t belong in the European Union. ‘Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe,’ he said. Irrespective of the pope’s visit this week, Turkey’s EU ambitions took another hit on Monday as negotiations to allow Turkey to open up its ports to Cyprus broke down in Finland.

“In addition to boosting the dialogue between Catholics and Muslims, the pope will also be travelling to [Ephesus and] Istanbul to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of the world’s [150 million] Orthodox Christians. The Vatican, which oversees the world’s 1 billion Catholics, is interested in deepening ties between the two churches, which split in the 11th century. But some in the Orthodox Church… have been wary of becoming too close to the pope. Istanbul was a major Christian capital until it fell to the Ottomans.”

How to Please the Turks

How quickly alleged opinions and positions can change, became clear when observing events DURING the first two days of the pope’s visit in Turkey.

Der Spiegel Online wrote on Wednesday, November 29:

“It didn’t take long for Pope Benedict XVI to transform himself from one of Turkey’s worst enemies to one of the country’s best friends. Already on Wednesday, the pope was being given praise for his attempts to bridge the gaps between Christians and Muslims… His comments on Tuesday saying that ISLAM WAS A RELIGION OF PEACE was well received.

“But that wasn’t all. The pope came bearing a surprise gift as well: SUPPORT FOR TURKISH MEMBERSHIP IN THE EUROPEAN UNION… With foreign ministers across Europe on Wednesday [with the notable exception of Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair] putting the pressure on Turkey to give ground in the country’s ongoing tiff with Greece and Cyprus, the pope suddenly seems one of Ankara’s few friends.”

AFP reported on November 29:

“Pope Benedict XVI has begun the religious leg of his four-day visit to Turkey Wednesday by celebrating his first mass on Muslim soil at the [alleged] Home of the Virgin Mary [in Ephesus] and making a fresh appeal for peace in the Middle East… The pope recalled that the Virgin Mary, venerated by Christians as the mother of Christ, ‘is EQUALLY VENERATED BY MUSLIMS.'”

…But Perhaps Not Quite…

AFP reported on November 30:

“Pope Benedict XVI has put the brakes on his charm offensive in EU-hopeful, Muslim majority Turkey, stressing Europe’s ‘Christian roots’ and taking a strong stand on religious freedoms and minority rights. Flanked by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I after mass at the patriarcal Church of St. George, the pontiff complained in a speech Thursday that ‘the process of secularization has weakened the hold of … (Christian) tradition’ in Europe. ‘In the face of this reality, we are called, together with all other Christian communities, to renew Europe’s awareness of its Christian roots, traditions and values, giving them new vitality,’ he said. His statement came just two days after he told Turkey’s Islamist-turned-conservative Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in what was widely seen as a spectacular U-turn, that he supported Turkey’s membership in the European Union. Turkey in the EU, he had said while still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, would be ‘a grave error… against the tide of history.'”

“In a later joint declaration with Bartholomew I, at the risk of once again rubbing up his hosts the wrong way, he said respect for religious freedom must be a criterion for membership in the EU, which must ensure that its members respect the rights of their religious minorities… Another bone of contention is Turkey’s refusal to recognize Bartholomew I as the ecumenical, or universal, leader of about 150 million Orthodox faithful around the world… Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I have both put reconciliation of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches high on their agendas, and the pope described the schism, which dates back to 1054, as a ‘scandal to the world.’ But he remained steadfast on a key point of contention between the two rites — papal authority — by referring in his speech to the Catholic leader’s ‘universal responsibility.'”

Catholic Church and Anglican Church Remain Far Apart

AFP reported on November 23:

“Serious obstacles impede closer ties between Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said… The cordial meeting marked the 40th anniversary of the historic encounter between Williams’ predecessor Michael Ramsey and pope Paul VI that set the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches on a path of reconciliation after a rift of more than 400 years. ‘There are many areas of witness and service in which we can stand together,’ the statement said, listing the quest for peace in the Middle East ‘and in other parts of the world marred by conflict and the threat of terrorism; promoting respect for life from conception until natural death (and) protecting the sanctity of marriage.’ Afterward, the two men prayed together in a chapel in the Apostolic palace.

“Experts expected LITTLE PROGRESS TOWARDS MORE UNITY between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, which remain divided on issues including papal authority, the ordination of women and gay priests, priestly celibacy and other questions of sexual mores. The Anglican communion, which split from Catholicism in the 16th century when Pope Clement VII refused to grant King Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine d’Aragon, opened the priesthood to women in 1994 and is currently considering allowing woman bishops.The church is also considering allowing openly homosexual men and women into the priesthood, while it remains divided on the question of gay marriage.”

Enlargement of Europe

AFP reported on November 25:

“Bulgaria and Romania have cleared the last hurdle to joining the EU next year… after the German parliament ratified their entry into the club. ‘I welcome today’s vote in the German Bundesrat (upper house) on the accession treaty of Bulgaria and Romania, which completes the ratification process in Germany. It also completes the ratification process as a whole in the EU, since all the parliaments of the 25 member states and both acceding countries have now ratified the treaty,’ said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn…

“While the Bulgarians and Romanians will become full members of the club on January 1, [2007], they will do so under close scrutiny… Bulgaria and Romania began the membership process in 2000, along with the 10 mainly ex-Soviet bloc nations who joined the EU in 2004. Their admittance to the European Union continues the process of embracing former members of the Communist bloc which crumbled 15 years ago.

“Still waiting in the wings after January 1 will be the western Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia… However the Union wants to sort out its own constitutional crisis, caused by the rejection of the bloc’s draft constitution by Dutch and French voters last year, before letting anyone else into the club. Croatia could become the 28th EU member state but not until 2009-2010.

“As for Turkey, another EU hopeful, the membership horizon is growing more distant as relations grow more strained, and few observers expect Ankara to be popping any European champagne corks for at least another decade.”

Putin Unhappy With EU Enlargement

The Bulgarian paper, Sofia Weekly, reported on November 24:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the European Union for accepting Bulgaria and Romania as new member states without consulting Moscow, DPA reported. ‘Unfortunately, the EU while adopting the accession of those two countries didn’t find it necessary to consult with us on the interests of all sides concerned,’ Putin told reporters on the eve of summit talks in Helsinki. The remarks came after Poland refused to lift its veto on opening EU partnership talks with Russia. It came in protest against Moscow’s ban on imports of Polish meat and plant exports–which Russia sees as linked with Bulgarian and Romanian accession… Officials in Moscow say food products from the two former Eastern Bloc countries could reach Russia through third-party EU members–especially Poland–after their EU accession… Officials in Moscow said the reason for their planned EU-wide ban–which encompasses dairy and fish products, in addition to meat–was lax veterinary standards in Romania and Bulgaria.”

Listen to Poland!

On November 25, the German conservative daily, Die Welt, published an intriguing and thought-provoking article. The paper stated:

“We should not view Poland’s resistance to a continued relationship between the EU and Russia as mere stiff-necked opposition. Our eastern neighbor is far ahead of us in its realistic analysis of the dangers, which exist for Europe due to Putin’s hunger for power… All these developments [in Russia] have not created in us the realization that Russia’s desire to meddle could also pose a SECURITY THREAT FOR THE EUROPEAN UNION… That [former German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder agreed to a pipeline with Russia, thereby circumventing Poland, was devastating enough… But it was even a much worse blow when he participated in Moscow at the festivities of the Red Army in celebration of the end of the war sixty years ago, and when he praised [the Red Army’s] accomplishments in achieving ‘freedom from fascism,’ while failing to mention at all the Hitler-Stalin Pact, which led to the partitioning of the Polish Nation among the totalitarian comrades.”

Russia an Enemy of the U.S.?

Another insightful article was published on November 28 by The Wall Street Journal:

“It’s time we start thinking of Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an enemy of the United States. This isn’t simply because a former KGB agent turned Putin critic died last week in London after ingesting a dose of polonium 210, an element that usually functions as a neutron trigger in atomic bombs. Nor is it that Alexander Litvinenko’s death is the latest in a series of killings, attempted murders, imprisonments and forced exiles whose victims just happened to be prominent opponents of Mr. Putin. It is because the foreign policy of Russia has become openly, and often gratuitously, hostile to the U.S.

“Some examples: Last summer, Russia signed a billion-dollar arms deal with Venezuela; Hugo Chávez wasted no time fantasizing aloud about using the weapons to sink an American aircraft carrier. Last week, Russia began deliveries to Iran of highly sophisticated SA-15 anti-aircraft missiles, at a value of $700 million… the purpose of the missiles is to defend Iran’s nuclear sites, which do threaten the balance of power. [Russian Defense Minister Igor] Ivanov… says he is ‘absolutely sure’ the billion-dollar Bushehr reactor that Russia is building for Iran could not be used to build nuclear weapons. This is false, and Mr. Ivanov must know it: The spent plutonium from the reactor can easily be diverted and reprocessed to produce as many as 60 bombs.

“At the United Nations, Russia has consistently opposed U.S. efforts to sanction Iran and North Korea for their nuclear programs and diluted the effects of the resolutions that were passed. The Russians say they oppose the use of sanctions because they ‘don’t work.’ It’s an odd claim coming from a government that in October brusquely imposed trade, travel and postal sanctions on neighboring Georgia…”

Is Ethiopia Pushing or Being Pushed?

AFP reported on November 25:

“Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said his country would not wait for foreign approval to attack powerful Islamists in neighboring Somalia that many fear could lead to a regional war. As the powerful Islamist movement poured troops into frontline positions outside the Ethiopian-backed weak Somali government’s seat, Meles called for international understanding but said he needed no ‘green light’ to fight. Speaking to reporters in Addis Ababa two days after announcing to parliament that ETHIOPIA HAD COMPLETED PREPARATIONS FOR WAR, he said he understood calls for restraint and was committed to dialogue but would act to defend his country…

“‘I want to stress again that we are not saying we might be attacked, we have already been attacked,’ Meles said of the Islamists, who have declared holy war on Ethiopian troops in Somalia deployed to protect the Somali government… Mainly Christian Ethiopia has watched with growing concern the rise on its southeastern border of the Islamists, who seized Mogadishu in June and now control most of southern and central Somalia.”

Will a New Lebanese War Break Out?

NewsFront Page magazine reported the following on November 22:

“In the wake of this summer’s bloody, 33-day war between Hezbollah and Israel, most analysts predicted that the region would never be the same. In fact, they asserted that with UN Resolution 1701, Hezbollah would be disarmed and expelled from its redoubt in southern Lebanon. This in turn would give effective control of the region to the Lebanese Army, while a UNIFIL force 15,000-men strong would secure the cease-fire and put an end to the armed conflict.

“But the present reality is far from this rosy picture. Indeed, one can make the case that this summer’s hostilities have achieved little and that ANOTHER WAR WILL RESUME IN THE NEAR FUTURE. A few prescient facts confirm this grim assessment. First, there is the anti-Israel composition of the Lebanese army. Forty percent of the 60,000-strong Lebanese army is composed of Shiite soldiers, many whom are extremely favorable to Hezbollah. There are also thousands of ex-Syrian troops, who joined the Lebanese Army when Syria ‘officially’ left Lebanon last year, just before the Syrian withdrawal, when thousands of Syrian soldiers were naturalized and incorporated into the ranks of the army.

“UNIFIL is scarcely an improvement. On the contrary, it is a DISASTER IN WAITING. Initially intended to number 15,000 soldiers, it is barely reaching 5,700. At the same time, countries like France are balking at sending additional troops to bolster the promised numbers. Understaffed and guided by an unclear mandate, UNIFIL troops are unwilling to tame Hezbollah. Proof for this proposition comes from a recent episode, wherein Spanish troops stood down at the mere sight of Hezbollah fighters. One of the Spanish patrol leaders explained that UNIFIL’s role was only to ‘observe changes in behavior of the local population.’

“On top of that, no UNIFIL patrols are carried out at night, for safety reasons. UN soldiers, feeling that they are increasingly viewed by the local population as an occupation force, are more interested in leaving than confronting Hezbollah: they are clearly worried about potential Hezbollah terror attacks. Such an attack would mirror the terrorist group’s October 1983 bombing, which killed 241 U.S. troops and 58 French troops. A few months later, multinational forces were gone. This time, the strategy appears to be preemptive retreat: A European diplomat was recently quoted as saying that, after an attack on UNIFIL, international forces would be gone within three days.

“To sum up the situation: the Lebanese Army is watching UNIFIL watching Hezbollah. Thus it is far from surprising that Hezbollah is fast rearming through Syria, right under the nose of UNIFIL troops and the Lebanese Army, a fact confirmed by U.N. Special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. But while UNIFIL does not seem particularly concerned with Hezbollah’s buildup, it is focusing on Israel’s violations of Lebanese airspace. Significantly, however, these incursions occur because Israel is compelled to fulfill UNIFIL’s mandate, which is to arrest — and not simply to observe — Hezbollah’s rearmament. France in particular has threatened to punish Israel while permitting Hezbollah to operate with impunity… A likely scenario includes Hezbollah again controlling South Lebanon and launching attacks against Israel. This could be accelerated if Syria succeeds in igniting a civil war by pushing Hezbollah and its Shiite allies… towards a major confrontation with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora…

“In the worst-case scenario, THE CHAOS COULD REACH WESTERN SHORES if Hezbollah decides, on the orders of Iran, to start a terror campaign in the West or against Western targets, as it did in France in 1986. In the meantime, one thing seems clear. This summer’s Israel-Hezbollah standoff marked not the end of a conflict but the BEGINNING OF A BROADER WAR THAT SEEMS LIKELY TO REIGNITE BEFORE LONG.”

U.S. Dollar Continues to Fall

The Financial Times wrote on November 24 about the continuing slide of the U.S. dollar, stating:

“A sharpening slide in the US dollar unnerved global markets on Friday as investors sought to protect themselves from the possibility of sustained dollar weakness. As US markets were closing on Friday, THE EURO STOOD AT A 19-MONTH HIGH of $1.309, up 1.2 per cent, while sterling gained 0.9 per cent… The dollar has now fallen this year by more than 10 per cent against the euro and 12 per cent against sterling. Some economists suggest the greenback has FURTHER TO SLIDE given a WEAK ECONOMIC OUTLOOK in the US.”

The stated on Wednesday, November 29:

“The dollar tumbled to a NEAR 15-YEAR LOW against sterling yesterday on fresh signs of economic trouble in the United States. An 8.3pc crash in US industrial orders and an admission by the Federal Reserve chairman that Washington does not know how bad housing really is set off another day of wild gyrations on the currency markets… The dollar continued its slide against the euro, dropping to $1.3194… The pound briefly touched $1.95 and surged to eight-year highs against the yen. The Japanese currency has been in freefall for months on repeated weak data. It suffered a fresh blow yesterday after retail sales fell for a second month, increasing fears that Japan’s export-dependent economy may slow in lock step with America.”

Violence in Iraq Out Of Control

On November 24, AFP reported about continuing violence in Iraq:

“The Iraqi capital has been locked down by an indefinite curfew after more than 200 people were killed by a wave of bombings in a Shiite slum in BY FAR THE DEADLIEST ATTACK SINCE THE WAR IN 2003… Almost a thousand people have been killed by violence in Iraq since Saddam was sentenced to death on November 5 for the mass killing of Shiites in the 1980s.”

The most recent attacks were blamed on Sunnis, prompting retaliation from Shiites. As The Associated Press reported on November 24:

“Shiite militiamen grabbed six Sunnis as they left Friday worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive NEAR IRAQI SOLDIERS WHO DID NOT INTERVENE…The savage revenge attack for Thursday’s slaying of 215 people in the Shiite Sadr City slum occurred as members of the Mahdi Army militia burned four mosques, and several homes while killing an unknown number of Sunni residents in the once-mixed Hurriyah neighborhood of Baghdad.”

The vicious cycle of violence continues in Iraq, and NO ONE seems to be able to stop it.

Middle Eastern Civil Wars Not Just in Iraq?

The Associated Press reported on November 26:

“Jordan’s King Abdullah said Sunday the problems in the Middle East go beyond the war in Iraq and that much of the region soon could become engulfed in violence unless the central issues are addressed quickly. ‘We could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands,’ he said, citing conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and the decades-long strife between the Palestinians and Israelis.'”

On Monday, November 27, 2006, several U.S. broadcasting companies, including CNN, NBC and MSNBC, decided to officially label the present situation in Iraq as “Civil War.” President Bush rejected this description on Tuesday, while former “U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said on Wednesday Iraq had descended into civil war and urged world leaders to accept that ‘reality'” (Reuters, November 29, 2006).

Bring Saddam Hussein Back?

HOW BAD the situation in Iraq has become, and how desperate some are looking for “solutions” in face of an apparently unsolvable problem, can be seen when considering a most unusual and seemingly ridiculous proposal to bring rest to the area stricken by Civil War. The solution of The Los Angeles Times’ writer Jonathan Chait is simply this: Bring Saddam Hussein back! And Chait is not joking. In his editorial of November 26, 2006, he wrote:

“The debate about Iraq has moved past the question of whether it was a mistake (everybody knows it was) to the more depressing question of whether it is possible to avert total disaster. Every self-respecting foreign policy analyst has his own plan for Iraq. The trouble is that these tracts are inevitably unconvincing, except when they argue why all the other plans would fail. It’s all terribly grim. So allow me to propose the unthinkable: Maybe, just maybe, our best option is to restore Saddam Hussein to power… At the outset of the war, I had no high hopes for Iraqi democracy, but I paid no attention to the possibility that the Iraqis would end up with a worse government than the one they had. It turns out, however, that there is something more awful than totalitarianism, and that is endless chaos and civil war.

“Nobody seems to foresee the possibility of restoring order to Iraq. Here is the basic dilemma: The government is run by Shiites, and the security agencies have been overrun by militias and death squads. The government is strong enough to terrorize the Sunnis into rebellion but not strong enough to crush this rebellion… The disadvantages of reinstalling Hussein are obvious, but consider some of the upside. He would not allow the country to be dominated by Iran, which is the United States’ major regional enemy, a sponsor of terrorism and an instigator of warfare between Lebanon and Israel. Hussein was extremely difficult to deal with before the war, in large part because he apparently believed that he could defeat any U.S. invasion if it came to that. Now he knows he can’t. And he’d probably be amenable because his alternative is death by hanging.”

“Iraq Did Much Better Under Saddam”

On November 29, the German magazine, Der Stern Online, published an interview with Middle Eastern expert and well-known journalist Peter Scholl-Latour, almost echoing the above sentiments in the article of The Los Angeles Times. Scholl-Latour answered the question whether Iraq did better under Saddam:

“Much better. It is true that the Kurds and Shiites were persecuted, but Saddam held the country together; there was not daily fear to be killed or blackmailed through criminal gangs. Students could safely attend the university of Baghdad. Many women did not wear a scarf. When a woman is seen today on the streets of Baghdad without a scarf, she must expect the worse.”

When asked whether Iraqis are sad that Saddam is gone, Scholl-Latour answered:

“No, they only miss the order and security which existed then. There was one rule under Saddam Hussein: Do not oppose him. But when people kept quiet, they were left in peace for the most part.”

England Wants to Please Europe–and Angers Churches

The Daily Mail wrote on November 28 about proposed legislation in England, in compliance with a “European Directive,” pertaining to homosexuals, and the negative reaction of the Church of England and the Catholic Church. The article explained:

“The Sexual Orientation Regulations are set to go into law in England in April… [They] would have an impact on religious believers in business. Christian hoteliers will be compelled to rent rooms to gay couples, while Muslim printers will be unable to refuse to print homosexual magazines or advertisements.”

The article also stated: “Archbishop of Birmingham Vincent Nichols threatened to withdraw Catholic co-operation with the Government over schools, charity programmes and adoption agencies if the new sexual orientation regulations go ahead… Church of England leaders have said that priests could be sued for failing to bless same sex couples or give communion to churchgoers whose behaviour they believe to be wilfully sinful.” The article concluded with the following remarks:

“While the final version of the rules–which the Government has produced to MEET THE DEMANDS OF A EUROPEAN DIRECTIVE–have yet to be published in England, the version which will operate in Northern Ireland from 1 January has appeared. The Northern Ireland rules, which appear to cement the role of the province as a test bed for new legislation and forms of taxation in England, say those found guilty of breaking the rules will be fined between £500 and £1,000 for a first offence. Subsequent serious offences can attract penalties of up to £25,000.”

Colonizing Space Through Warp Drive?

On November 30, 2006, the British paper, The Telegraph, reported the following:

“Mankind will need to venture far beyond planet Earth to ensure the long-term survival of our species, according to the world’s best known scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking. Returning to a theme he has voiced many times before, the Cambridge University cosmologist said today that space-rockets propelled by the kind of matter/antimatter annihilation technology popularised in Star Trek would be needed to help Homo sapiens colonise hospitable planets orbiting alien stars… “He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that scientists still have ‘some way to go’ to reach his prediction in his bestselling A Brief History of Time that mankind would one day ‘know the mind of God’ by UNDERSTANDING THE COMPLETE SET OF LAWS WHICH GOVERN THE UNIVERSE. This set of laws, which will probably rely on theory that requires more than three dimensions of space and one of time, could be uncovered within 20 years…

“‘The long-term survival of the human race is at risk as long as it is confined to a single planet,’ he said. ‘Sooner or later, DISASTERS SUCH AS AN ASTEROID COLLISION OR NUCLEAR WAR COULD WIPE US ALL OUT. But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe. ‘There isn’t anywhere like the Earth in the solar system, so we would have to go to another star. If we used chemical fuel rockets like the Apollo mission to the moon, the journey to the nearest star would take 50,000 years. This is obviously far too long to be practical, so science fiction has developed the idea of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination. Unfortunately, this would violate the scientific law which says that nothing can travel faster than light. However, we can still within the law, by using matter/antimatter annihilation, and reach speeds just below the speed of light. With that, it would be possible to reach the next star in about six years, though it wouldn’t seem so long for those on board.’

“The science fiction series Star Trek has used matter/antimatter annihilation as an explanation for the warp drive. But, in reality, he said that scientists believe that the flash of radiation produced when matter and antimatter are brought together and destroy one another could in fact one day be used to drive craft to close to the speed of light.”

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