Saturday, August 28, 2010

Taiwan trader jailed for forcing Muslim staff to eat pork

TAIPEI: A Taiwanese garment factory owner was sentenced to six months in jail for forcing three Muslim women on her staff to eat pork, but she could escape prison by paying a fine, a court official said today.

Chang Wen-lin was sentenced for coercion after she confessed to pushing the three women, all from Indonesia, to eat the meat, which is considered strictly taboo in Islam, according to the Panchiao district court in Taipei.

However, in light of her confession and her decision to compensate the women, she will be allowed to pay a fine of 60,000 Taiwan dollars (USD 1,875) in exchange for a two-year suspended sentence, said a court spokesman.

Chang initially defended herself by saying she thought that eating pork would provide the women with energy, but later agreed to give each worker 150,000 Taiwan dollars.

The case stirred an outcry in Taiwan and abroad when the three women complained that Chang threatened to cut their salaries if they refused to eat the meals she provided, including pork.

They also filed a complaint to the Taipei county government saying that they were overworked and had not been paid for around eight months.

There are around 350,000 foreign labourers in Taiwan, largely from Southeast Asia including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Living with the Taliban on the Afghan frontline

By Alex Thomson
Channel 4 News has obtained rare film of Taliban fighters on the Afghanistan frontline, including footage of their attacks on US forces. Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson looks at what the film tells us about the insurgents and their tactics.

Even if I did want to do it, I would not be allowed to by ITN. Nor would anybody here. But out there in the wide open world of the freelancer, Paul Refsdal did it. He did it brilliantly well.

If he hadn't slightly overplayed his hand at the last moment, he would have got away with it unscathed and pulled the whole thing off. But even as it is, he has emerged from Afghanistan with footage the like of which has not been seen I will bet, in nine years of war.

Because that's what it's like if you want to seek out the Taliban or other insurgent groups across Afghanistan and set up what the west would call an "embed" with them. It's a helluva risk.

Paul is at least alive to tell the tale and sell his story. Though not without a six day kidnapping under murky circumstances. The Norwegian cameraman insists that no ransom was paid.

Armed fighters
It all starts with the moment when you move beyond the point of return. When the RV finally takes place up some distant mountain track in the east of the country in this case, Kunar Province.

Unsmiling, heavily armed fighters suddenly materialise and then there you are, out there, on your own, with nothing but trust to keep you going. From behind their turban-masked faces they are smirking, saying quietly to each other, "He's really scared of us, isn't he?" And so it went on for the whole of the first day as they trekked back up to their command post.

Day two and things had calmed a little. Commander Dawran - who set the whole thing up - made it plain that Refsdal is a guest. And that is that. Under Afghan custom they will now pretty much lay down their arms to protect him. Rather, on this occasion, than shoot or behead him as a suspected spy.

And by the second day the faces are being revealed, they are laughing around and joking: "If I appear in this people are going to say 'Who's the country boy?'" His mate laughs and adds: "He's filming us all to say look here - these are the bad guys." And things begin to fall into something of a routine.

The men have a heavy machine gun of fairly ancient origin placed to cover an ambush point on a road used almost daily by the US military. There is no problem filming them as they discuss ambush plans, set it up and execute it. There is much celebration when they claim to hit an American vehicle with a short burst from their primitive gun emplacement high above the snaking mountain road.

But, try as I do, I see no vehicle hit on the camera, at any rate. Commander Dawran lectures his men saying: "During the Russian invasion, someone asked me when the victory will come? The answer was, if the holy warriors are honest and fight only for the sake of God, then victory will come soon. If not, it will take more time."

He compares the motives for the insurgents fighting with those of the west, the Americans - for this is both a US dominated war and they are in a US area of operations: "We fight for our freedom, our religion and we fight for our holy land. We are fighting for these goals. What are their goals? For what are they fighting us? Are they oppressed? Have they been treated unfairly? Are they living in a dictatorship?"

With their trust in their God, their belief is absolute that their day will come against the Americans as it did against the Russians. History, they sense, is on their side. Time, they know, certainly is. But with shortages of weaponry and ammo there is plenty of time, up here in the hills of Kunar, for Commander Dawran to be with his wife and their three children.

Or to play their favourite pastime of rock throwing - see who can hurl the boulder the furthest. Commander Dawran of course, seems to win all the time, though not without loud allegations of cheating. With every day comes the ambush. It is almost routine. And ultimately that is their problem. You can obviously only ambush the Americans for so long until their Special Forces or air attack will seek you out.

So many Nato soldiers on the other side have been puzzled at the insurgents' habit of going for the same ambush points time after time after time. The dangers of this are obvious. And so it happened. One night they had to get out and run up the mountains immediately for cover. Special Forces duly attacked Assad - their second in command - the fighters said he, several soldiers and 13 family members were killed. The game was up. Their war in this area had ended.

Those same Special Forces would surely come calling at another of their houses that night, or the night after. They had to leave that day and Paul had to get out, back to Kabul. Just before he left, Omar, one of this group's up and coming fighters, gave Paul his mobile number and said to call in two weeks and he could come and film with him at another location.

It proved to be a trap. Omar would then kidnap Paul Refsdal, holding him for six days. As ever with these things, precisely what happened is murky and mysterious. Though Paul insists no ransom was paid after he converted to Islam.

As for Commander Dawran, his prediction was deadly accurate. The Americans did subsequently attack his house. He survived. Two of his three young children, did not.

Libyan cash may help Italian town beat recession

Antrodoco, ITALY (Reuters)
Like countless other small towns across Italy suffering from the economic downturn, Antrodoco has long prayed for an investor with deep pockets to help revive its fortunes.

For a town in the shadow of a mountain where a pine grove spells out "DUX" -- for 20th century fascist dictator Benito Mussolini -- hope has come from an unexpected source: Libya.

" It's something Gaddafi can say: 'After all the Italians have done to us, now they're dependent on us' "

Dirk VandewalleLibyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has demonstrated a growing interest in Italy for some time and will be visiting Rome for talks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday.

Set in green hills on a road between Rome and the Adriatic, the unremarkable town of 3,000 caught Gaddafi's eye when he was on his way to a Group of Eight summit in L'Aquila last year.

Antrodroco's Mayor Maurizio Faina said a Libyan delegation returned later to say Gaddafi, known for his apparently spontaneous decisions, was bowled over by local hospitality and wanted to do something for the town.

The delegation said Libya wanted to invest as much as 15 million euros ($19 million) to build a luxury hotel and a bottled water plant in the town, said a delighted Faina.

This was music to the ears of the mayor, whose town has struggled with rising unemployment, lack of investment and an exodus of its young people.

"The economic crisis is massive at the moment so this is just huge for us. It could really put us on the tourist map," he said, showing photos of Gaddafi in dark glasses surrounded by smiling residents when he stopped here last year. "We were so surprised. Investors are so hard to find these days."

At the Gelateria Bruno ice cream parlor in the main square, Rina Boni has prepared an iced concoction with chunky dates to honor Gaddafi. She calls the new flavor "Taste of the East".

"I thought we should make a gelato that pays homage to the leader," she said. "How I wish we could present him with this ice cream to taste! But protocol will not allow him to taste anything not approved (by his entourage)."

Growing influence
The palpable excitement in Antrodoco at a rosy future backed by Libyan money illustrates the growing influence the former pariah state wields in its former colonial ruler Italy, where it has snapped up stakes in major companies such as UniCredit bank.

While the United States and Britain grapple with difficult ties with Libya, strained further by outrage over the release from a Scottish prison last year of a terminally ill Libyan convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Italy has embraced Gaddafi.

Residents may be wondering what exactly the Libyan leader saw in their town -- "Perhaps he was taken in by the fresh air and greenery here," muses Deputy Mayor Armando Nicoletti -- but some Libya watchers are not surprised.

"The leader suddenly taking a fancy to a village and then deciding to turn its fortunes around -- a lot of planning in Libya was done like that," said Dirk Vandewalle, a professor at Dartmouth College in the United States and a Libya expert.

Still, there may be nothing arbitrary about the political dividends the wily Libyan leader stands to gain.

"The irony of a small village in what used to be a colonial power being helped out by Libya, it makes for a lot of political capital at home for Gaddafi," said Vandewalle.

"It's something quite symbolic. It's something Gaddafi can say: 'After all the Italians have done to us, now they're dependent on us'. Nothing escapes Gaddafi from the point of view of portraying himself in the way he is."

Indeed, when Tripoli flew Antrodoco officials to Libya in June to meet Gaddafi in his tent, Italian media reported the event made it on to the front pages of Libyan newspapers, with one, Al Manara, headlining its story: "Gaddafi saves an Italian village from unemployment".

At his office, Faina showed photos of him meeting Gaddafi and visiting a site bombed by the United States. Other officials recall staying at a luxury waterfront hotel and being whisked through VIP airport facilities.

Initially, the town presented three potential projects that included a soccer stadium, but the Libyans opted for a hotel next to a thermal spa complex and the bottling plant, said Faina. Details of the deal remained unclear, but Libya had promised work would start soon, he said.

Symbiotic ties
Rome and Tripoli kept up business ties even in the years when Gaddafi lambasted Italy over its colonial rule, but deals have accelerated recently while political ties have warmed.

Mindful of the $65 billion Libyan sovereign wealth fund's spending power at a time of recession and Italy's own reliance on Libyan oil imports, Berlusconi signed a friendship treaty with Libya in 2008 which includes a $5 billion reparations deal over colonial misdeeds.

Italy has since rolled out the red carpet for Gaddafi during multiple visits in the space of a year, even allowing him to address Romans from the Michelangelo-designed Campidoglio square, an occasion he used to rail against elected government.

Libya, meanwhile, has made bought minority stakes in UniCredit and the oil company Eni, and has expressed interest in others such as power company Enel.

Economic analysts say Libya's investment drive in Italy has only just begun, while Italian firms such as defence giant Finmeccanica and builders like Impregilo stand to gain lucrative contracts in Libya as it improves its infrastructure.

Gaddafi's visit to Italy on Monday marks the second anniversary of the friendship treaty and among those invited to attend a dinner in his honour are Mayor Faina and his entourage.

The invitation signed by Berlusconi has been tacked on to the notice board in the main town square as a matter of pride.

"So many people ask, 'Why did Gaddafi stop in Antrodoco?' said Faina."We're very lucky indeed."

Hardliner leads Turk military in testing times

ANKARA (Reuters)
Turkey's new military chief, a quiet, hardline secularist, takes command on Friday of a force that sees itself cornered by EU-driven reforms and an emboldened government with roots in political Islam.

The change of command in NATO's second biggest army comes as the ruling AK Party takes on the judicial establishment, another bastion of the secularist opposition, in challenges analysts say will define the future of the Muslim democracy.

General Isik Kosaner, who was trained as a commando officer and worked in intelligence, will be tested among other things by trials of senior military officers charged with plotting to overthrow the government and a surge in a decades-long separatist conflict in the southeast.

His appointment as chief of staff this month came at the end of several days of tension in the Supreme Military Council, a body dominated by generals but chaired by the prime minister, in which the government blocked the promotion of some top officers.

"He has a difficult job ahead of him," said analyst Wolfango Piccoli from the Eurasia consultancy group.

"There is discontent in the ranks at government-military relations and PKK violence is on the rise," Piccoli said, referring to an increased campaign of violence by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) separatist guerrillas.

" I don't think there will be a conflict with the government. He's a democrat and he will try to protect the armed forces through democratic ways "

Necati Ozgen, a retired generalThe military, self-appointed guardians of secularism, has toppled four governments but reforms carried out as part of a bid for membership of the European Union have curbed its power.

The "Pashas" have also been humbled by AK, which first swept to power in 2002 and is backed by a rising conservative middle-class that has challenged the old secularist elite.

Despite unprecedented setbacks that have discredited the soldiers' image, experts expect ties between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government and the military to be smooth, although not without moments of tension.

Kosaner's predecessor, General Ilker Basbug, has said repeatedly that the days of coups are over.

"I don't think there will be a conflict with the government. He's a democrat and he will try to protect the armed forces through democratic ways," Necati Ozgen, a retired general, said of Kosaner.

He takes the top job after being promoted from land forces commander. Known as an old-school secularist, he has shied away from public statements in the past, preferring a quiet approach.

Kosaner is expected to formally take command at a ceremony in the general staff headquarters in Ankara at 5:30 p.m. (1430 GMT) which will be attended by Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul.

" The government and the military need to find a normal, democratic relationship like in the rest of Europe "

A European diplomat Turks will vote in a referendum on Sept. 12 on constitutional reforms proposed by the government.

If approved, the changes would further assert civilian control over the military, including limiting the jurisdiction of military courts and calling for military officers accused of coup-plotting to be dealt with exclusively by civil courts.

Other contentious elements of the package are articles related to the appointment of senior judges and prosecutors.

Erdogan's AK, which evolved from an Islamist party though it eschews that label, says the reforms are needed to end Turkey's military "tutelage".

Observers will also be watching out for any grumbling in the barracks under Kosaner over the "Sledgehammer" case, in which prosecutors say officers discussed a plan to destabilise the government during a war-game seminar seven years ago.

Last month, warrants were issued for the arrest of 102 retired and serving officers, including a former commander of the First Army, though those warrants were later dropped.

The case, which critics say is part of a government campaign to undermine the military, is due to go to trial in December.

Observers say the military is aware that its loss of influence is inevitable, but say the government must be careful not be perceived as acting out of revenge.

"Every country needs a military," a European diplomat said.

"The government and the military need to find a normal, democratic relationship like in the rest of Europe."

US-led troops killed in dispute over veil

A media report says that an Afghan soldier killed two US-led soldiers in a shoot-out when they tried to remove an Afghan woman's veil by force.

An exchange of fire between two Spanish soldiers and an Afghan police trainee left all three killed in northwestern Afghanistan's Badghis Province on Wednesday.

Informed sources told the Pashtun language Benava website on Thursday that the deadly incident took place after soldiers were disrespectful to the women and insulted Afghans' cultural and Islamic values.

Thousands of Afghan protesters subsequently staged a rally outside a Spanish base in the region.

The protesters also called on the Afghan government to send Spanish troops to their country.

Protesters set fire to parts of the base and were met by bullets from the foreign troops. US-led troops reportedly opened fire at demonstrators, killing dozens of people and wounding more than 20 other civilians.

More than 800 Spanish soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan within the framework of NATO forces.
Some 140,000 US-led troops are currently deployed in the war-ravaged country.
A further 10,000 are expected to be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the security situation is believed to have been deteriorated in Afghanistan with US-led forces being killed by Taliban militants on a nearly daily basis.