Belgium to ban the burqa
The draft legislation in Belgium, aimed at clamping down on Islamic extremism, forbids anyone from hiding their faces in public. And those who break the law will be fined or sent to prison for up to a week if the legislation is approved. A committee of MPs voted unanimously yesterday to put the hard-line bill to a full parliamentary vote on 22 April. If passed, Belgium will become the first country in Europe to impose a complete ban on the wearing of full-face veils. The law has cross-party support and is likely to be voted through. "We cannot allow someone to claim the right to look at others without being seen," said liberal MP Daniel Bacquelaine, who proposed the bill. "It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and encloses an individual."Mr Bacquelaine estimated that a few hundred women in Belgium wore facial veils, adding that it was a rising trend. Belgium's Muslim population stands at about 600,000, or 6 per cent of the total. More than one-third of those are Moroccans or of Moroccan descent. The second largest Muslim ethnic group is made up of Turks.
European Islamophobia spreads to Poland
In a sight familiar in some west European countries but new to Poland, dozens of protesters demonstrated in a Warsaw suburb last weekend against the construction of a mosque. Plans by Poland's tiny Muslim community to build a place of worship and an Islamic cultural centre face opposition in a sign that concerns about Islam may be spreading eastwards to the staunchly Catholic European Union member. Between 15,000 and 30,000 Muslims, many of them immigrants from Chechnya, live in Poland -- the biggest ex-communist EU state where more than 90 percent of the 38-million population declare themselves Catholics. A telephone survey conducted on March 25 among 500 Poles showed 48 percent opposed construction of a mosque with a minaret in their neighborhood, while 42 had nothing against it. "This fear comes from a lack of knowledge... The average citizen knows a Muslim was behind the World Trade Centre attacks but doesn't follow the differences within Islam. Poles have simplistic ideas about Islam as they lack their own experience with Muslims", said Agata Skoworn-Nalborczyk, an Islam specialist at the Warsaw University.
America intervenes to stage manage Sudan's election
The US special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, held talks in Khartoum on Thursday with opposition leaders in a bid to rescue this month's Sudanese elections. Gration, who flew in on Wednesday according to diplomatic sources, met separately with Umma party members, Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi and Democratic Unionist Party head Mohammed Osman al-Mirghani. The mission comes a day after presidential hopeful Yassir Arman pulled out of April 11-13 vote for fear of fraud, casting doubt on the electoral process and clearing the way for a likely first-round win by President Omar al-Beshir. The move from Arman, candidate of the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement from the south of the country, came after Beshir ruled out deferring the first multi-party Sudanese polls in 24 years.Already before Arman's pullout, the United States, Britain -- Sudan's former colonial power -- and Norway, a main provider of aid, on Wednesday expressed concern over the elections. "We urge all parties in Sudan to work urgently to ensure that elections can proceed peacefully and credibly in April," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Store said."We are deeply concerned by reports of continued administrative and logistical challenges, as well as restrictions on political freedoms," they said in a joint statement.
Moscow Accuses West of 'Narco-Aggression'
Russia has accused the United States of "conniving" with Afghan drug producers by not destroying opium crops as U.S. troops advance in Helmand Province, one of the major opium growing regions. The allegation, which came in a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry, was the second time this week that Moscow has criticized the West over the opium issue. NATO rejected the charge and said Russia could help by providing more troops to combat the insurgency. U.S. Marines in Helmand Province have told villagers that they will not destroy this year's crops. In the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, which was captured by U.S. troops last month, the U.S. offered to pay poppy farmers to destroy their own crops and provide seed for them to plant other crops next year. Apart from these token gestures the US has done little to eradicate Afghanistan's opium crops. Afghanistan produces over 90 percent of the world's opium and Russia has become its largest market for the drug.
Pak-US ‘slave' dialogue was a good step forward : Wall Street Journal
The United States must deliver what Pakistan needs rapidly, and without too much intrusive monitoring of its strategic nuclear assets, the US newspaper ‘the Wall Street Journal' writes while commenting on last week's Pakistan-US strategic dialogue held in Washington. Terming the strategic dialogue a good step forward, it said, the US must also give the Pakistan military more usable weapons to fight its militancy. The newspaper said that the US must use its influence on India to give Pakistan breathing room, so it can concentrate on the war within rather than stay ready for action on two fronts, one against India and the other on the Afghan
border. Opening US markets to Pakistani textiles and other goods will also help in the near term. In the long run, Pakistan needs help to move up the economic value chain and into manufacturing goods. With its growing population, it needs GDP growth of 6 percent or more each year to keep improving the lives of its 175 million inhabitants, half of whom are below 18 years of age. That growth depends on foreign investment, which is critically dependent on security and good governance, both of which have been in short supply in recent years. But Pakistan must also avoid becoming dependent on aid or ceding its sovereignty in the process of acquiring aid. As former military dictator, Mohammad Ayub Khan, put it bluntly: Pakistan needs "friends not masters," it concluded.