Pirates prompt cruise ship evacuation
Hundreds of passengers to disembark, rejoin ship in Dubai to avoid threat
The Associated Press
updated 1:46 p.m. ET, Tues., Dec. 9, 2008
BERLIN - Hundreds of passengers on a round-the-world cruise will disembark before reaching waters off Somalia and fly to Dubai to avoid pirates, German cruise operator Hapag-Lloyd said Tuesday.
The company said the 150-meter (490-foot) MS Columbus and its crew will continue on through the Gulf of Aden. Passengers will rejoin the vessel in Oman for the remainder of a trip that began last month in Genoa, Italy.
The company said that it had asked the German Navy for an armed escort but that its request had been denied.
Last week, the German Navy said it had foiled an attempted pirate attack on the cruise ship MS Astor in the Gulf of Aden, after firing warning shots at the pirates' vessel.
is the ms astor sailing under the german flag ?
'Exported' and Exploited
12 Dec 2008
The Sofia Echo
A round table on the practices and challenges of combating trafficking in human beings in Europe on December 9 presented a general message of the necessity of cross-border co-operation, and of the conviction of the possibility to change the situation in Bulgaria. [..]
Human trafficking in Bulgaria has not, said Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Daniel Vulchev, reduced since the country joined the European Union on January 1 2007. “And given the current economic crisis, the question of an increase in the number of persons being trafficked with the goal of labour exploitation will only become more acute.”
Human trafficking encompasses men, women and children, with the latter two making up 80 per cent of those “exported”, Vulchev said. Deputy Chief Prosecutor Hristo Manchev said that in addition to trafficking for sex purposes, there were also markets in forced labour and in children for organ “donations”. [..]
In Bulgaria, the three risk groups where work could be “more effective” were with children in institutions (no social network, often a lack of emotional stability and awareness, along with everyday survival and work skills); persons of Roma origin (often a lack of other possibilities for a “good life”: “It is much easier to exploit when there is the perception that this person is not deserving, or would, in any case, spoil his life, whatever.”); and in relation to child prostitution. [..]
Of the police estimate of 2000 to 2500 prostitutes in Norway, 700 to 800 were from Bulgaria, making Bulgaria the second-largest country of supply, Tove Skarstein, the Norwegian ambassador in Sofia and the former Norwegian co-ordinator on trafficking issues, said.
“There are three pillars to combat human trafficking,” she said. “Protection, prosecution and prevention. You cannot isolate one of them.”
In 2006, the two countries signed a bilateral contract to co-operate on the problem, and to prosecute those who deserved it.
Talking from the experience of her own country, Skarstein said that Norway, where prostitution is legal, had recently decided to implement a “comprehensive action plan” to combat human trafficking that includes following the model of Sweden: as of January 1 2009, Norway will penalise the buying of sex. [..]
Can Václav Klaus Put the Brakes on Europe?
By Jan Puhl in Prague
Czech President Václav Klaus has encountered approval -- both in Prague and elsewhere -- for his new approach to critiquing the European Union, which dispenses with the vulgar nationalist behavior he has thus far displayed. On Jan. 1, his country will assume the EU's six-month rotating presidency.
But this is far from the end for the president, who remains the Czech Republic's most popular politician by far. After years as honorary party president, Klaus now plans to turn his back on the ODS and launch a new political movement. Its most important characteristic will be its critical stance toward Europe. Even Social Democratic and Communist voters appreciate Klaus's unbending stance toward Brussels. More than half of these voters are also suspicious of Brussels.
His EU skepticism, which dispenses with nationalist pathos, also falls on receptive ears internationally. Klaus could even attempt to cooperate with other EU opponents and forge an international group of EU critics keen to put the brakes on Brussels.
During his most recent state visit to Ireland, the Czech president made time for a private dinner with Declan Ganley, a multi-millionaire who was one of the key sponsors of the Irish No campaign leading up to the referendum over the Treaty of Lisbon with his Libertas party. Using the same programmatic name, Klaus's associates apparently plan to form a Czech branch in the near future.
Klaus ought to get along well with Britain's Tories, as well. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sealed off her country against dictates from Brussels. A portrait of the Iron Lady is believed to grace Klaus's desk on the Hradjin, and the president is making sure that, in the coming six months, the blue flag with the yellow stars will not be hoisted next to the Czech flag on the ramparts of his castle.
Greece: Riots fed by years of anger
19 December 2008
The killing of 15-years-old Alexis Grigoropoulos by a policeman drove Greek youths on a rampage. Now that the rioting has died down, questions arise over the underlying causes.
It is not enough simply to blame some Anarchists. The protests were rooted in a political memory which has instilled distrust of the state, as well as a contempt for the police that has its roots in the old dictatorship.
Moreover, social conditions are difficult: poverty rates are increasing rapidly and unemployment is at 15%, destroying much of the middle class that guaranteed social cohesion in the past.
The young are hit the hardest: the current generation is known as the "generation of 700 euros", after the minimum wage offered to most of them, regardless of qualifications.
The neo-liberal polices of the last two governments have brought social deterioration: aggressive monopolies control politics, corruption is widespread, inequality is on the rise, and expectations of social security and a decent pension are suddenly in doubt.
"In a society where every authority is routinely corrupted, none can expect from younger generations to have respect for everything," says Paschos Mandravelis.
Earlier on Monday, police also discovered 1500 kilos of illegal fireworks in an industrial building in Giessen, a village east of Rotterdam. The cache included mortar shells weighing one and a half kilos each.
In an editorial entitled "Anger's teen martyr", Mr Konstandaras wrote that Mr Grioropoulos' blood would be "used to bind together every disparate protest and complaint into a platform of righteous rage against all the ills of our society.
"It will quickly become a flag of convenience for anyone who has a grudge against the state, the government, the economic system, foreign powers, capitalism and so on."
"If Greece had already appeared difficult to govern, it will now be out of control."
Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria
New York Times
October 15, 2008
Politics is played to the death in Bulgaria, where the lives of politicians can be as cheap as spent bullets and murky business groups wage a murderous struggle for their cut of everything from real estate deals to millions in European aid.
Last year, a mayor of a resort town and the wealthy City Council chairman of Nesebur were shot, the home of the chairwoman of a municipal electoral committee was set on fire, and the garages of mayors were firebombed. "Other countries have the mafia," said Atanas Atanasov, an MP and former counterintelligence chief. "In Bulgaria, the mafia has the country."
Questionable business networks have moved from black markets for smuggled cigarettes and alcohol to legal investments in booming real estate. The nation’s homegrown mobs of men in black " the “mutri,” or mugs " control construction projects in city halls.
EU membership has done little to tame the criminal networks; it has arguably only made them richer. Once Bulgaria’s shady businessmen realized how much EU money was at stake, they moved from buying off politicians to muscling into public office themselves.
When necessary, they buy votes, which can be traded or sold for up to 100 leva, or $69. People document their votes by taking pictures of their ballots with their cellphone cameras, according to Iva Pushkarova, executive director of the Bulgarian Judges Association.
Ties to Top Officials
This summer, European officials froze $670 million in financing, alarmed at freewheeling white-collar criminals with links to the very highest reaches of power. Interior minister Rumen Petkov resigned a few months ago amid revelations that he had met organized crime figures.
EU antifraud investigators are focusing on the Nikolov-Stoykov group, a sprawling conglomerate of companies with interests from meat processing and cold storage to scrap metal and a Black Sea resort. In an unusually blunt report leaked this summer, they accused the group of being a front for a “criminal company network composed of more than 50 Bulgarian enterprises and various other European and offshore companies.”
Among the investigators’ accusations were tax and subsidy fraud: taking development aid to buy new equipment for companies and then passing off ancient equipment from the former East Germany and pocketing the difference. The companies were also accused of illegally importing huge quantities of Chinese rabbit meat for export to France and Germany with fake health certificates from Argentina.
The group’s leading partners - both briefly detained last year - boast top connections. Ludmil Stoykov helped finance the campaign of President Parvanov and organized a business group supporting him. Mario Nikolov, who is scheduled to stand trial next week on fraud charges, steered more than $137,000 to PM Stanishev’s Socialists.
A five-minute video obtained from Sofia’s mayor shows Stanishev meeting Nikolov at his meat factory in 2005, inspecting equipment and a table laden with goose liver sausages before sitting down to lunch with white wine; a few weeks later, according to deposit slips handed to prosecutors by the mayor, contributions to Mr. Stanishev’s party started to flow.
Origins of Crime
Bulgaria’s gray economy is looped around disparate politically connected companies that shift in and out of business as opportunities and legal obstacles arise. Profits from sources like cigarette or alcohol smuggling are plowed into legal front companies, like soccer clubs, where money can be laundered through huge fees paid for transfers of players.
The competition is brutal: all three past chairmen of the soccer club Lokomotiv Plovdiv have been killed, one by a sniper by the Black Sea. In the past five years, Bulgaria has weathered machine gun assassinations and inventive daylight attacks. Hitmen disguised themselves as drunks and Orthodox priests. The toll now tops more than 125 contract killings since 1993. Most of the killings are unsolved.
The roots of this organized crime date to the collapse of Communism in the early 1990s. Thousands of secret agents and athletes, including wrestlers once supported and coddled by the state, were cast onto the street. During the UN embargo of Serbia in the 1990s, they seized smuggling opportunities and solidified their networks. The wrestlers developed private security forces that were little more than shakedown protection rackets.
As in Russia and some other Balkan nations, corruption has seeped into the fabric of life. In Sofia, men nicknamed “thick necks” linger in nightclubs or keep watch over Mercedes jeeps and Audis outside. (Tip from the guidebooks: Avoid restaurants that draw businessmen with four or more bodyguards.)
The city has a thriving black market for blood outside hospitals, where patients’ families haggle over purchases with dealers. The impact is particularly stark in the legal system, where some people without political connections have resorted to hiring decoy lawyers, for fear that their legal documents would vanish if presented to particular clerks by lawyers recognized as working for them.
Impatience in the West
Among Western nations, impatience is growing, particularly at the lack of trials of high-level government officials accused of corruption. Dutch minister for European affairs Frans Timmermans said, “What we need to see is real people put before real judges, convicted and put in jail.”
Some European countries have simply given up on Bulgarian justice. Germany complained of getting little local help in its effort to prosecute Konstantin Hadjivanov, a wealthy businessman and a member of the City Council in Petrich, Bulgaria, who is known as “the Kitty.”
So the Germans waited until he had stepped into Greece to serve their warrant. Now he sits in a jail cell on cigarette smuggling charges while facing another fraud inquiry. But it is only a matter of time before he returns home to resume his political career, say his supporters and wife, a former Mrs. Bulgaria.
However, when Hadjivanov gamely ran for re-election from his Greek jail cell in city elections on Saturday, voters finally rebelled: He won less than 1 percent of Petrich’s vote.
A satellite system linking two continents became the latest weapon in Europe's armoury against illegal immigration yesterday, as police forces in countries as far apart as Spain, Senegal and Mauritania were hooked up to a single high-speed communications and data network.
The EU-funded Sea Horse system helps relocate the effort to prevent illegal immigration from the coast of Africa, with stations opened in port cities such as Dakar in Senegal, Praia in Cape Verde and Nouadhibou in Mauritania.
The system should allow police to track immigrant vessels, as they are spotted travelling up the Atlantic coast of Africa and then veering west in search of the Canary Islands or heading north for the southern shores of Spain or Portugal.
Police can plot charts and draw up shared maps of where vessels carrying would-be illegal immigrants are going and what routes they follow.