A report produced by a group of 11 E.U. foreign ministers this week on the future of Europe focused, understandably, on how greater integration - or "more Europe" - could help resolve the ongoing debt crises, through greater oversight of member states' budgets, centralized bank supervision, etc.
But further down, the 8-page document also lays out a plan for how more federalism could boost the region's overall global clout -- and includes the possibility of a Pan-European Army.
"To make the EU into a real actor on the global scene we believe that we should in the long term... aim for a European Defence Policy with joint efforts regarding the defence industry (e.g. the creation of a single market for armament projects); for some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army."
The report makes clear that an all-Europe fighting force is only supported by some of the countries who helped produce the document; however, it also argues for a policy of more majority voting on security and foreign policy questions, meaning single states would no longer be able to veto defense policies they aren't in favor of. Alongside the European Army proposal, the report calls for an overall strengthening of the European External Action Service, the E.U.'s foreign policy arm.
The document has the backing of foreign ministers from Germany and France, as well as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and other major European actors, but not Britain, where news of the report has met with some alarm. The UK has opposed greater European military integration in the past, and the Daily Telegraph speculates that the new report could fuel current calls for a referendum on the E.U.
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AFP reports that Belarus has formally expelled all Swedish diplomats, giving Stockholm until August 30th to remove all diplomatic officials from Minsk. Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson was forced to leave Minsk first after "a decision was made not to renew his credentials."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt attributed the eviction to his country's active stance on human rights, warning that Belarusian President Aleskandr Lukashenko's "fear of human rights is reaching new heights." Blidt doubled down an hour later, tweeting "We remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe."
The sudden timing has many speculating that it was the recent"Teddy Bear Drop" by Swedish activists that incited the expulsion. In an original act of protest, Swedish advertising agency Studio Total flew a small private plane over Belarusian airspace, dropping stuffed toy bears with messages of free speech. In an interview with FP's Elias Groll, pilots Hannah Frey and Thomas Mazetti elaborated upon their "campaign of laughter" to highlight the regime's political and security weaknesses.
Though Belarusian officials initially denied that the teddy bear drop had even happened, two high ranking generals were fired shortly afterward for "failing to ensure national security." Belarusian blogger Anton Surapin and entrepreneur Syarhey Basharymau were later arrested on charges of involvement in the "illegal intrusion" of airspace.
Packing should be easy for the Swedish embassy. The current round of evictions comes just months after Sweden withdrew officials from its embassy in February in protest against Lukashenka's authoritarian administration. All 27 EU member states removed diplomatic envoys after new economic sanctions were imposed, with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia not returning until late April. An emergency meeting of European Union ambassadors has been called for Friday to discuss the situation.
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Those hoping for an Iran-Israel Judo showdown will be disappointed after a "critical digestive system infection" prevented Jahvaad Majoob -- the only Iranian athlete scheduled to compete alongside an Israeli -- from boarding the plane to London. Yet, from the North Korean flag mix up to the ongoing controversy over a Saudi Arabian judo fighter's headscarf, those itching for some geopolitical proxy battles will have their fill. Here are another seven matches to watch:
Table Tennis: North Korea vs. South Korea
August 3, 2:00 pm EST
For big tension on a very small court, viewers should tune in to the first found of men's team table tennis where North Korea will face off against its archenemy South Korea. The nations remain technically at war despite a July 27, 1953 armistice, and the demilitarized zone remains one of the most dangerous borders in the world with Pyongyang threatening to turn Seoul into a "sea of flames." In this match at least, paddles are certain to fly.
Lightweight Double Sculls: South China smackdown
July 29 5:40 am EST
Poor Germany is stuck in the middle of China, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea in the women's lightweight double sculls. As the Asian nations squabble over islands in the East and South China Seas and the potential for naval war looms, the title of best rower may mean more than just a medal.
Handball: Britain vs. Argentina
August 2, 11:15 am EST
Despite insisting in February that her country would not boycott the games, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced this week she will not attend the opening ceremony. Her absence is a protest against Britain's claims to the Falklands, which Argentine maintains at their rightful territory despite their military defeat in 1982. As the island nears a referendum to determine its political status, Argentinean and British Olympic teams will have the chance to fight it out on men's handball court. If the losing country isn't satisfied, it will get another chance -- they're scheduled to play in field hockey too.
Pair Rowing: Greece vs. Germany
July 28, 7:00 am EST
Blood pressure will be high as Greece's Nikolaos Gkountoulas and Apostolos Gkountoulas race Germany's Anton Braun and Felix Drahotta in the men's pair rowing race. As debtor faces creditor, viewers should hope it'll be a repeat of the 2012 Euro Cup. Team loyalty got political when creative German fans mocked the Greeks "Without Angie, you wouldn't be here." Not to be beat, the Greeks struck low: "We'll never pay you back. We'll never pay you back." The question remains-if Greece wins, who gets the gold?
Soccer: U.S. vs. North Korea
July 31, 12:15 pm EST
Opponents on every issue ranging from human rights to nuclear weapons, the United States and North Korea will face off in match 15 of the women's group G. Though the United States won the FIFA 2008 Championship title after defeating North Korea in the final round, their 2010 quarterfinal losses prevented a rematch. It remains to be seen if young leader Kim Jong Un is as harsh as his dad when it comes to international soccer failure.
Fencing: China vs. Japan
August 5, 5:30 am EST
While Beijing and Tokyo diplomats have so far limited themselves to lobbing rhetorical barbs over the latest territorial row, fencers Kenta Chida, Ryo Miyake, Lei Sheng and Jianfei Ma will face off in the men's team foil. Though fencing is lauded as a game of strategy, not force, the fighters' long history is certainly bloody.
Basketball: U.S. vs. China
August 5, 11:45 am EST
The U.S. women's basketball team faces China in game 52. U.S. - Sino relations have begun to sour as the United States pivots its forces to Asia and populist rhetoric has entered the U.S. presidential race. Bruised by an embarrassing 62-100 loss to the U.S. in May, seventh-ranked China is thirsty for revenge.
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Researchers from Oslo's Norwegian Institute for Water Research and Milan's Mario Negri Institute revealed results from their collaborative study on European sewage today.
Partnering with eleven other institutions across Europe, they traced illicit drug use across 19 European cities measuring biomarkers of cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, methamphetamine and cannabis in each city's sewer system. In what was essentially a "city-wide urine test," scientists found cocaine usage was highest in Antwerp while Nordics preferred methamphetamines; Amsterdam had the highest use of cannabis (surprise, surprise).
While questionnaire-based studies, police reports, and medical data have been the predominant methods to map drug use in cities, studying sewage might yield the most "accurate and dependable results," according to Kevin Thomas -- one of the project's coordinators. He added that "with the right financing we have the potential for the first time to better understand the hard facts about illicit drug use worldwide."
Gert-Jan Geraeds, the Executive Publisher Environmental Science & Ecology at Elsevier, said:
"The importance of solid academic foundations to develop effective drug policies cannot be underestimated. It all comes together in this study: science and policy, on a local scale with global significance."
Way to kill Europe's buzz, man.
The first six months of this year have been the hottest on record since 1895. In June alone, we smashed more than 3,000 temperature records across the United States. It was the 328th consecutive month in which the average global temperature exceeded the 20th century mean. As Bill McKibben put it, "the odds of [that] occurring by simple chance were [one in] 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."
But if that much is obvious to most people who don't harbor deep suspicions about the value of science, the rate at which global warming is changing life on this planet may still come as a shock. Not only are the 3.7 million Americans living within a few feet of the coastline already experiencing more frequent flooding -- the result of rising sea levels -- but unusual weather patterns are likely to make food more expensive, and fast.
Figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predict substantial increases in food prices as a result of weather patterns in the Midwest -- the worst drought in nearly half a century.
The prices of chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs are all supposed to rise between three and five percentage points this year. Corn futures have already spiked nearly 50 percent over the last month to roughly $8.00 a bushel on fears that crops will be ruined. (The Department of Agriculture estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is in poor or very poor condition as a result of the drought.)
And it's not just the U.S. market that will be affected. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn -- exporting millions of tons every year to countries like Japan, Egypt, and China. In 2000, for example, Egypt imported 76 percent of its corn from the United States.
In 2011, revolutions erupted across the Arab world at least in part because of rising food prices. Recall that protesters in Tunisia wielded loaves of bread and Egypt suffered a spate of "bread riots" when grain prices spiked between 2007 and 2008. Now, more than a year after the uprisings, many Arab economies are struggling to get back on their feet. Significant increases in global food prices might well plunge them back into chaos.
But bad weather and worse crop yields in the U.S. are not the only forces driving grain prices skyward. Southern Europe, which typically supplies 16 percent of global corn exports, is having its own ecological disaster. Temperatures in the band that runs from eastern Italy to the Black Sea averaged about five degrees higher than normal last month, according to Bloomberg, baking corn crops that are in the critical pollination phase. Cedic Weber, whose company advises about 5,000 farmers in Europe, told Bloomberg, "in Europe we'll need to import a lot of wheat and corn...That's just adding to the problems we've got everywhere."
That doesn't bode well for the Egypts and the Tunisias of the world -- or for any other net importer of food, for that matter. As it happens, that's practically all of the Middle East and Africa, and much of Southeast Asia.
Early this morning, Hungarian law enforcement detained accused Nazi war criminal Laszlo Csatary. The judge in the case ordered him placed under house arrest.
Csatary was a commander for the Royal Hungarian police force in Kassa, in modern-day Slovakia, where he served as commander of the Jewish ghetto during the Second World War. While in this capacity he was allegedly responsible for the deportation of 15,000 Jews to concentration camps. Csatary is also accused of assaulting prisoners.
In 1948, Csatary was convicted in absentia and sentenced to death in Czechoslovakia, but fled to Canada where he obtained citizenship. He remained there until 1997 when he escaped back to Hungary after his Canadian citizenship was revoked for providing false information to immigration authorities and deportation hearings were underway.
Csatary was identified and located by Hungarian authorities almost a year ago using information provided by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but further investigation was required to make the arrest possible. Csatary had been living in Budapest under his real name for 15 year.
The attention his identification drew forced Csatary to move apartments in the past year, according to his attorney, but authorities worried this might be an effort to evade capture. During questioning, Csatary, who is now 97 years old, claimed innocence and insisted that he had only been carrying out orders.
In 2011, the Simon Wiesenthal Center reported that there are over 800 investigations underway and 21 new indictments filed against suspected Nazi war criminals in 2010. Csatary was one of the top-ten most wanted. Last year, Hungary arrested the top name on the most-wanted list, Sandor Kapiro, for his role in a massacre in Serbia during the War, but later acquitted him of all charges shortly before his death in September.
If he is indicted, Csatary's trial would take place in Hungary and could involve testimony from survivors, if they can be located.
Spain's King Juan Carlos is showing solidarity with his financially-distressed country by announcing salary cuts for the royal family today. As civil servants protest pay cuts and the government struggles to stabilize the precarious economy, the royals have decided that the king and prince will take a 7-percent reduction in their salary, according to Spanish news sources. This year, King Juan Carlos and his son Prince Felipe will have to live on approximately $350,000 and $160,000 respectively.
With nearly one-quarter of the workforce currently unemployed, Spain's austerity measures are hitting the public hard. But while Madrid burned (figuratively, thankfully) under peril of financial collapse, the royal family drew ire this spring when the King was injured on an elephant hunt in Botswana.
Calls for the end of the monarchy and return of the republic ensued. Of course, with an annual budget of only $10 million, doing away with the entire monarchy would amount to savings of about .008 percent of the cost of the deal to bail out Spain's banks.
According to El Pais, the cuts to the royal budget, which were decided upon in April, will affect only the protocol budget and 11 senior officials of the monarchy. Frustration with the royals had already compelled the government to release information about the King's finances in December of 2011.
The royal family's self-imposed austerity measure will also include a 7-percent cut to protocol funds, which cover the royal party costs, for the entire royal family. How the news will play among the financially distressed Spanish public remains unclear.
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Despite the heated rhetoric over inequality in the United States and elsewhere, today more people on average believe that the rich "deserve their wealth," according to a 23-country survey released by Globe Scan last week.
The survey, which asked over 12,000 people whether they agreed with the statement "most rich people in my country deserve their wealth," found that this year nearly 15 percent strongly agreed and 28 percent agreed versus 12 percent and 27 percent respectively in 2008. The slight increase was driven by improved perceptions of deserved wealth in Australia and Indonesia, with an eight and 11 percent increase of "agree" statements respectively. In the United States, ground zero for the Occupy movement, 58 percent believed the rich deserved their wealth.
The study found that in 6 of the 23 countries surveyed-- Australia, the United States, Canada, China, and Indonesia and India -- the majority of respondents believe that the rich deserve their wealth.
This group represents almost half of the world's population and includes the world's three largest democracies, India, the United States and Indonesia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, among the countries with pro-wealthy perceptions are the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and countries in the upper tiers of fastest growing economies -- China, Indonesia, and India.
However, the countries in this group run the gamut in terms of prosperity levels: India and the United States occupy opposite ends of the GDP-per-capita spectrum. Also notable is the absence of any European or Latin American state in the pro-rich category. Six European states, five of which are in the OECD, and five Latin American countries all pooh-poohed their country's wealthy. The only African countries surveyed, Kenya and Ghana, showed unfavorable views of the rich and their wealth, though there was a significant jump in approval in Kenya from 2008.
Below is a side-by-side comparison between each country's GINI coefficients-a commonly-used measure of inequality-- and their attitudes towards the rich.
*CIA World Factbook Figures (higher numbers indicate greater inequality)
The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence on Tuesday to Congolese war criminal Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers. After over three years at trial, and following his conviction in March of this year, the court issued a 14-year sentence, with one judge dissenting on the grounds that the nature of the crimes warranted a longer sentence. The court has not yet decided where Lubanga will serve out his term.
This is the court's first conviction and sentencing after nearly a decade in existence. But others are in the works, including the first head of state to be tried, Cote D'Ivoire's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was transferred to the ICC for trial in November 2011. (Sudan's current president Omar al-Bashir has also been indicted but has yet to be arrested). Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for acts committed after the 2010 election when electoral disputes erupted into violence as Gbagbo refused to relinquish the presidency. The next step in his trial, the confirmation of charges, is expected in August 2012.
Under the tenure of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo -- who was replaced earlier this month by new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- the court has issued open (public) indictments against 28 individuals from seven countries -- all in Africa. The list is a who's who of notorious political leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Saif al-Qaddafi, and military officials. The Court relies on national law enforcement, Interpol and the UN to arrest those charged, and only five of those indicted are currently in custody. 15 cases are currently before the Court, though trials are only scheduled for those in the Court's custody (some pre-trial proceedings are underway in absentia).
The Court's summer schedule shows proceedings will continue against the Central African Republic's Jean Pierre Bemba accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes; Sudan's Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo for war crimes, including attacks on peacekeepers, and Gbagbo. Nearly a decade elapsed between Lubanga's crimes and his sentencing by the court, so don't expect speedy proceedings for any of them.
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British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed in a statement to parliament today that the British Army will be slashed by 20,000 troops over the next decade as part of a new strategic plan called Army 2020. Nearly one-fifth of standing forces will be relieved of their duties as 17 major units are culled and many others shrunk in the effort to limit the army's force numbers to 82,000, its lowest level since the Napoleonic Wars.
In a video interview with the Telegraph, Hammond cited a "black hole in the defense budget" and a need for the military to contribute to "the wider package of fiscal correction." Calling Army 2020 "an army designed package to create an army fit for the future," Hammond called for a reorientation of British security policy as the country withdraws from its active combat role in Afghanistan.
"It will be one of the most effective armies in the world, best of its class supported by a defense budget that is still going to be above the four or five largest in the world," Hammond predicted, declaring that increased integration of reserve forces and heavier use of private contractors would produce an army that was "more agile...able to do all the tasks set out for it in the strategic defense and security review."
Others, however, disagree. In the days' leading up to the predicted announcement, several high ranking military officers warned that the cuts were "not a sensible military option" and called for a reconsideration of the Army 2020 plan. Labour Shadow Defense Secretary Jim Murphy responded immediately to Hammond's statement, deriding the speech as "rightly long on detail but totally short of strategic context." Murphy elaborated in a statement to Sky News, warning: "You can't make cuts in the British army of this depth and at this speed without it having an impact on our ability to project power, our influence in the world and the ability of the British army to be deployed on a sustainable basis at points in the future...This isn't without cost and without consequence."
As Passport reported last May, a general trend of European demilitarization has begun despite Asia's dramatic defense build up. Coupled with the United State's pivot towards the Pacific and NATO's increasing reliance on European forces, the announcement highlight's Stephen M. Walt's question last week: "Are the EU member states serious about being in the security and defense business at all?"
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Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't choose his foreign visits lightly. On May 31, Putin makes his first trip abroad since being inaugurated for a third term as president on May 7, to neighboring Belarus. The visit is highly symbolic of Russia's desire to be the leader in the post-Soviet space, as well as Putin's continued support for the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko (also known as "Europe's Last Dictator"). Afterwards, Putin will head to Germany and France, Russia's major trading partners in the EU. After the European visits, Putin will fly to speak with Uzbek ruler Islam Karimov in Tashkent, to Beijing, and finally to Astana, Kazakhstan, to meet with long-time ruler Nursultan Kazarbayev; countries central to Putin's vision of a Eurasian Union.
Earlier in the month, Putin suddenly declined to attend the G8 Summit in Camp David, under pretext that he was too busy forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, sending instead Prime Minister Medvedev. The move was widely seen as a snub to President Obama, as Putin avoided a meeting with the president, and sidestepped making the U.S. his first foreign visit. A few days later, Obama announced he would not be able to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Vladivostok this September, because it conflicted with the Democratic Party convention.
Putin has now also taken the opportunity to snub the UK, by announcing he will not attend the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, even though the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on Russian territory in Sochi. Likely, Medvedev will once again be sent in his stead. Russian-British relations have been tense since the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moreover the West has been pressuring Russian officials over the 2009 death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky while he was detained in prison. Putin's foreign trip destinations are by no means accidental.
It's often said that politics makes strange bedfellows. Leave it to Silvio Berlusconi, the scandal-ridden former premier of Italy, to make the platitude uncomfortably literal.
Thanks to an ongoing trial centering around whether or not Berlusconi paid for sex in 2010 with then-underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan woman who attended Berlusconi's infamous "bunga-bunga" parties, new details are still emerging about the Bacchanalian festivals at the ex-leader's vacation home in Arcore, an Italian town outside of Milan. The latest salacious detail? That one of Berlusconi's attendees, a beautiful Dominican woman named Marysthell Polanco, dressed up as U.S. President Barack Obama to entertain guests at what Berlusconi has described as "elegant dinners," Reuters is reporting.
"I dressed up as Boccassini [a female prosecutor in the trial against Berlusconi] with a toga to make him laugh, and also as Obama," Polanco told the Italian court on Friday.
For his part, Berlusconi, who was recently spotted at Vladimir Putin's inauguration, denies all wrong-doing. We can only assume that he is longing for the days when his biggest gaffe with Obama was repeatedly describing him as "suntanned."
Berlusconi was forced to resign in November 2011 amid the scandal and Italy's economic woes, ending 17 years in Italian political life (incidentally, making his political career the same age as El Mahroug's was when Berlusconi allegedly paid her for intercourse).
Since then, Italy's technocratic new leader Mario Monti has steered the country through tough austerity cuts, maneuvered through a delicate European political situation as Greece's economy has unraveled, and discussed the importance of European growth with Obama at Camp David without even once making a racially charged remark. He is also, it should be noted, not part of an ongoing investigation over whether or not he paid for sex with a teenage girl.
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
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Two years ago today, British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Though BP reached an "estimated multibillion-dollar settlement" with lawyers representing individual and business plaintiffs in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Gulf Coast is strill struggling to recover from the disaster. Fish are dying, Louisiana's seafood industry is reeling, and Gulf Coast residents and cleanup workers continue to experience health problems tied to the spill.
After taking measures such as sacking then-CEO Tony Hayward, running an aggressive advertising campaign throughout the region, and settling on the multibillion-dollar payout, BP continues to shower the Gulf Coast with goodwill. According to Mike Utsler, president of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, the company is still spending "millions of dollars" on the cleanup operation, and even offering guided tours of the recovery efforts.
Millions of dollars, of course, is just a drop in the bucket for BP, which Forbes recently called "one of the greatest corporate survival stories in history":
"Since last year BP has risen a remarkable 379 spots to 11th place in The Forbes Global 2000 survey. Key to the climb is a return to profitability in a big way. In 2010 BP took a $41 billion charge against earnings, giving shareholders their financial whipping all at once rather than dribbling it out over years. In 2011 BP reversed the previous year's $3.3 billion net loss, posting $26 billion in income, with promises of a further profit surge in the years ahead, thanks to high gasoline prices and a new slate of projects coming online."
One of the 15 new projects that BP plans to bring online by 2015 is its first post-spill well, Kaskida, located 250 miles southwest of New Orleans. If anything goes wrong, one hopes CEO Bob Dudley won't be as insensitive as his predecessor.
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
With Greece's national parliamentary election set for May 6, the crisis-ridden country may have a new threat to worry about: the extremist fringe vote. Due to popular frustration with the country's current economic situation, it is "thought likely" that left- and right-wing political fringe parties will make gains among voters at the expense of mainstream political parties like the conservative New Democracy party and the socialist Pasok party.
But as the New York Times reported yesterday, the Greek ultranationalist group Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi group that has broadened its appeal by "capitalizing on fears that illegal immigration has grown out of control at a time when the economy is bleeding jobs," may very well receive more than the 3 percent of votes needed to enter Parliament. This is bad news for Greek society, which University of Athens political scientist Nicos Demertzis calls a "a laboratory of extreme-right-wing evolution." Though no Golden Party member has ever held national office, party leader Nikos Michaloliakos was elected to the Athens City Council in 2010.
Golden Dawn joins the ranks of dozens of nationalist-populist fringe parties all over Europe whose enflamed euroskeptic reactions to the "cuts to wages and pensions imposed in order to secure aid from the EU and the IMF" have resulted in political shakeups. The Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) , led by Geert Wilders, won 24 of the 150 parliamentary seats in the 2010 general election, and came in second in the Netherlands in the 2009 European Parliament elections.
Golden Dawn also espouses a particularly anti-German sentiment:
''It's right to hate Germany, because it is still the leader of the banksters and the European Union,'' Mr. Michaloliakos, the group's leader, said, using a derogatory term for bankers.
Of course, Golden Dawn is still transitioning from a street-fighting group into a political party, but it remains to be seen whether it can become a well-oiled machine like France's National Front, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, is still campaigning for the presidency. Even so, its increasing popularity is evidence of a dangerous trend that only promises to worsen. At least we have Greek left-wing anarchist groups like the Cosnpiracy of Fire Nuclei, Nikola Tesla Commandos, and Immediate Intervention Hood-wearers to keep us properly entertained.
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Swedish furniture giant IKEA has begun work on a 26-acre self-contained neighborhood in Stratford, East London - just in time for the 2012 Olympics.
The town will be called Strand East and will contain 1,200 new homes, 480,000 square feet of office space, and a 350 bedroom hotel. The development's canal side location -- nicknamed "mini Venice" -- will feature a water-taxi service and floating cocktail bar. It is the first major development for LandProp, which owns the intellectual assets of the furniture company. The development group already operates in Holland, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia, according to the Daily Globe and Mail.
The announcement comes shortly after the British government's agreement last month to slim down urban planning laws in order to encourage more sustainable projects, like this one. In what was a bitter dispute with countryside campaigners, the reforms represent a huge step along the way to reviving Britain's struggling rural economy.
Andrew Cobden, a spokesman for the project, also described a 40-meter illuminated tower that will be visible across the East London skyline - meant to emulate the Olympic torch. Like all things IKEA, the tower will be made from relatively "simple" materials, a wooden lattice of 72 diagonal laths, 16 horizontal steel rings, and held together by 32,000 trusty steel bolts.
The development will accommodate residents at a range of income levels. IKEA's first pre-fabricated home debuted last month in Portland, at an all-inclusive price of just $86,000. You might need more than a tiny Allen wrench to build this one.
Above, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will give the keynote address at Davos tomorrow, receives an effigy of a golden goose during Germany's annual carnival season. What you can't see is the crowd of Greek pensioners hovering in the background, plotting to steal the goose in the hopes of extracting magical golden eggs from within it.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
While the investors and credit ratings agencies may be mulling over the economic turmoil gripping France, one set of investors is seeing opportunity. In Le Monde, Arthur Frayer profiled the efforts of Qatar to create a 50 million euro investment fund for the banlieues, France's poverty-stricken, largely-immigrant suburbs.
The initiative, formally announced in December, began after the National Association of Elected Local Diversity (French acronym ANELD), a group of officials who are descendents of immigrants to France wrote to the Ambassador of Qatar to France earlier this fall. In their initial correspondence, they asked for help for the people of the poor banlieus, areas that have suffered nothing but "abandonment from the French state." These neglected suburbs have been especially hard hit by France's weak labor market.
"For once, our identity was promoted and was no longer a handicap," Kamel Hamza, the president of ANELD told Le Monde about the announced investments.
The fund would invest in small entrepreneurs living in the banlieu, encouraging small businesses to access capital that they would not have necessarily had access to. Already, ANELD has received hundreds of applications for possible projects.
However, the initiative has received mixed reviews. Renaud Gauquelin, a former local official, was appreciative of the money, but was more critical of the state of affairs which required foreign investment to rescue the neglected areas. Former Senator Claude Dilain saw it as another example of the "disconnect" between French society and the suburbs. Previously, the State Department had reached out to these disaffected suburbs to stem anti-American sentiment
The Qatari investment is part of a broadening effort by the small country to expand its international presence through investment and diplomacy. Besides opening an office in Doha to broker talks between the U.S and the Taliban, it is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and gradually expanding its international development assistance programs.
Italian fashion house United Colours of Benetton has launched a shock and awe advertising campaign called Unhate to boost its lagging brand recognition. Not a huge deal, just a bunch of unauthorized doctored photos of world leaders kissing each other on the lips. Obama smooching Hugo Chávez, for example.
In another photo he kisses Hu Jintao. Last year, the White House called foul when Weatherproof featured their jacket-clad Commander in Chief without permission in one of the company's New York billboards. But I'm sure they'll be fine with this.
Another photo shows presidents Kim Jong-Il and Lee Myung-bak kissing. In Benetton's world, the fact that they preside over one of the most contentious borders on the planet just adds to their latent steaming affection for one other.
Here's the mission statement for the Unhate campaign from the Benetton website:
Object: the aim of contrasting the culture of hatred and promoting closeness between peoples, faiths, cultures, and the peaceful understanding of each other's motivations... The central theme is the kiss, the most universal symbol of love, between world political and religious leaders
Someone over there must have picked up on our Merkozy story, too, as France and Germany's leading man and lady lock lips in another Unhate photograph. Also of note is the Prime Minister of Israel rounding first base with the President of the Palestinian Authority.
Will it sell more scarfs and clutches? Maybe. But it most definitely will incite a response from the catholic church whose pope is shown cozying up to the mustache of the sheikh of the al-Alzhar mosque.
(Update: prediction confirmed. But we've still got the Pope photo below... for now.)
Here are more:
As Europe continues to be roiled by the ongoing effects of the debt crisis, another situation is quietly gripping Greece. Reuters reports that the number of new cases of the virus detected in the first five months of this year was 50 percent higher than the same period last year. These include the country's first-ever cases of mother-child transmissions:
In 2009, the year the baby was born, Greece had detected not a single case of a mother transmitting the AIDS virus to her child, according to the Hellenic Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, a public health agency funded by the Health Ministry. The mother's infection was apparently missed by a nationwide screening program for pregnant women.
"How was it possible for an HIV-positive child to be born in Greece? That is my question," asked the woman's social worker, Anna Kavouri, head of social services at The Center for Life, which helps people living with HIV/AIDS. Kavouri is working with the woman to try to find out what happened and what options she may have for legal redress.
With tough austerity already taking a toll on the Greek economy, the social safety nets that many had become used to, including testing for sexually transmitted diseases, are gradually eroding away. Rising poverty has been linked to increases in prostitution and drug use amongst the population. As Reuters noted, the Greek healthcare system is due for a 36 percent budget cut next year, which will undoubtedly reduce the scale and quality of services.
LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
The protestors of London's "Occupy" chapter have chosen to camp out in the forecourt of St. Paul's cathedral. The site of the tent city was originally to be further down the road at the home of the London Stock Exchange and rightful equivalent to Wall Street, but Paternoster Square is privately owned property and, right now, it's heavily guarded. But the cathedral locale has become a flashpoint of a larger, unexpected controversy: a schism in the Anglican Church.
A lawsuit has been filed by the City of London Corporation (CLC) to evict the protestors on the grounds that they are blocking traffic. While the demonstrators aren't actually occupying the streets or, more specifically, the highways which are the jurisdiction of the CLC's Planning and Transportation Committee responsible for the suit, committee member Michael Wellbank explained that "encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others."
In fact, the iconic St. Paul's Cathedral closed its doors to worshippers and tourists last week due to safety concerns for the first time since WWII and joined the CLC's lawsuit last Friday. But since the court action could lead to the forceful removal of protesters, and ultimately violence, the cathedral proceeds without three of its clergymen who have already resigned in protest. One of them, Canon Chancellor Giles Frase, explained his decision to the Guardian:
St. Paul was a tentmaker. If you looked around and you tried to recreate where Jesus would be born -- for me, I could imagine Jesus being born in the camp. It is not about my sympathies or what I believe about the camp. I support the right to protest and in a perfect world we could have negotiated. But our legal advice was that this would have implied consent. The church cannot answer peaceful protest with violence.
Church leaders seem divided between general sympathy for the protesters' goals, and a desire to have them advocate those goals somewhere else. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the controversy for the first time today, saying, "The urgent larger issues raised by the protesters at St. Paul's remain very much on the table and we need -- as a Church and as society as a whole -- to work to make sure that they are properly addressed."
Meanwhile, the bishop of London, Rev. Richard Chartres, was called a hypocrite by angry protestors as he tried to walk a fine line with his remarks supporting both their causes and their peacefully disbanding. On Sunday, he told the crowd, "You have a notice saying, ‘What would Jesus do? That is a question for me as well."
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
During his last, desperate days, Colonel Qaddafi may have turned to an old friend, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for help in trying to avert the international action being undertaken by NATO's forces.
In a letter published by French weekly tabloid, Paris Match, Qaddafi allegedly wrote to Berlusconi, asking him to help stop the bombing and "turn the page" on the relationship between the Libyan people and Italy.
One quote, translated from Paris Match's website:
Stop the bombings that kill our Libyan brothers and our children. Talk to your [new (striped)] friends and allies (1) to achieve [a solution that guarantees the great Libyan people the total freedom of choice that leads (striped)] that this aggression continues against my country (1).
The controversial relationship between Berlusconi and Qaddafi has been well publicized. In 2009, Berlusconi shut down Rome's largest park to allow Qaddafi and his entourage of female body guards to set up a Bedouin style camp during a state visit. This comes on top of the extensive economic relations between Italy and Libya; along with being Libya's largest trading partner, Libya's sovereign wealth funds had invested in many Italian companies, including football club Juventus F.C. Initially, Berlusconi opposed the NATO mission over Libya, but had an about face in August, as he stood beside interim Prime Minister Jibril, announcing the release of frozen assets to the NTC.
If this letter is true, Berlusconi may have been one of the last world leaders to have received direct communication with Qaddafi before his death. South African President Jacob Zuma may have been the last to meet the Colonel, after an attempt in late May to negotiate an end to the fighting.
LIVIO ANTICOLI/AFP/Getty Images
This past weekend's (already delayed) summit to prevent the European debt crisis from spiraling out of control and plunging Europe into recession proved divisive and inconclusive. French and German officials scolded Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for not doing enough to reduce his country's debt, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy effectively told British Prime Minister David Cameron to either adopt the euro (a rather shaky proposition at the moment) or "shut up" about Europe's economic woes.
Given all that, EU leaders seem surprisingly optimistic about their ability to strike a deal by their next summit on Wednesday -- an agreement that will likely involve measures to cut Greece's debt as the country continues to flounder, recapitalize European banks as they struggle with exposure to Greek debt, and beef up the eurozone bailout fund as Spain and Italy waver.
"Progress has been made," Sarkozy proclaimed on Saturday. "Between now and Wednesday a solution must be found, a structural solution, an ambitious solution, a definitive solution." Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency, added, "We all have a sense that the crisis in the euro zone is reaching very worrisome levels. We have to be happy that the decision-making progress has gained some momentum, although we can't say we have reached the finish line today."
Markets are responding positively to these glimmers of hope. But the words -- however heartening -- are hard to believe. After all, we've heard these back-against-the-wall, do-or-die pledges of a comprehensive and decisive solution to the debt crisis before. Let's take a look at some of the other statements that have come out of what seems like a perpetual procession of emergency Brussels summits:
Date: May 9, 2010
Action: Shortly after bailing out Greece, European officials create a €440 billion European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) that can lend money to troubled eurozone countries by selling bonds (this is the fund that European officials now say needs more firepower).
Assurances: "The Council and the Member States have decided today on a comprehensive package of measures to preserve financial stability in Europe," European finance ministers crow in a statement. A month later, the European Investment Bank's Philippe Maystadt says the creation of the fund "constitutes evidence that, when the stakes are high, member states -- together with the European Commission and the E.I.B. -- can sit down together and work for the common interest, within a tight deadline."
Date: December 16, 2010
Action: European leaders agree to create a permanent European bailout fund called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to replace the ESFS in 2013.
Assurances: "We are ready to do everything that is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area," European Commission President José Manuel Barroso declares. European officials promise to unveil a "comprehensive package" to resolve the eurozone debt crisis once and for all in March.
Date: March 25, 2011
Action: A political crisis in Portugal prevents European officials from unveiling a package that meets market expectations. Officials delay increasing the European rescue fund but do strike deals on how to fund the ESM and better coordinate economic policy.
Assurances: "We adopted today a comprehensive package of measures which should allow us to turn the corner of the financial crisis and continue our path towards sustainable growth," the European Council says in a statement.
Date: July 21, 2011
Action: European leaders agree to reduce Greece's debt burden and grant new powers to the region's rescue fund.
Assurances: "We improved Greek debt sustainability, we took measures to stop the risk of contagion and finally we committed to improve the eurozone's crisis management" European Council President Herman Van Rompuy announces after the meeting. "When European leaders say that we will do ‘everything what is required' to save the eurozone, it is very simple: We mean it," he adds.
Given the political and logistical obstacles, we wonder if we'll be adding October 26, 2011 to the list of failed attempts to arrive at a workable solution.
Europeans know a thing or two about down-to-the-wire debt deals, but with time running out in Washington to reach an agreement before a catastrophic default that could have devastating spillover effects around the globe, European leaders are sweating. On Tuesday, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and former finance minister of France, warned the United States that the issue needed to be "resolved immediately." Today, she told the PBS NewsHour that there would be dire consequences for the world economy if there wasn't resolution.
There's quite a lot of concern out there. The global economy is clearly highly dependent on the U.S. economy, because the U.S. economy is the first in the world and it's a major power in many respects. So to have the lead economy uncertain about its debt ceiling is quite worrisome.
In a separate interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, she said the solution would be to raise the debt ceiling now and address fiscal consolidation issues in the medium term.
Today, the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble also warned Washington to act.
Everyone in the US should be aware of their responsibility for the global financial markets.
He added, "The core of [the U.S.'s] difficulties is exorbitant debt and the economic prospects. Americans have to find long-term solutions to create solid fiscal and growth policies."
Schäuble and Lagarde were downright tame compared to Vince Cable, Britain's secretary of state for business, who told the BBC earlier this week that "the biggest threat to the world financial system comes from a few rightwing nutters in the American Congress rather than the euro zone."
Perhaps, the most sobering analysis of all comes from Germany's Der Spiegel:
Even if the worst is avoided, US finances are still a mess. Total debt is approaching 100 percent of gross domestic product, putting it in the same league as Italy, Portugal and Ireland, three of the euro-zone's famous PIIGS states. America's budget deficit is well over a trillion dollars -- more than 10 percent of GDP. Were Washington to apply to become a member of the European common currency zone, it would be rejected out of hand.
We'd be rejected by the euro zone? This euro zone?
It is perhaps inevitable, given the facts of the case, that Norway's worst massacre in recent memory will lead to soul-searching questions about immigration. A blond-haired, blue-eyed sociopath -- who has railed against "Islamic colonization" -- bombed government buildings and gunned down young people at a summer retreat (officials have yet to release information about how many of the victims were Muslim and whether they were specifically targeted by the gunman). But will his actions change anything politically?
Norway's Muslim population has been growing in recent years -- estimates say there are about 100,000 Muslims in the country -- and with that growth has come the kind of backlash many of its European neighbors have seen. Immigration and asylum rules have been tightened. And the anti-immigrant Progress Party has risen to become the second largest in parliament. Its leader, Siv Jensen, has spoken of "a form of sneak-Islamization in this society and we must put a stop to that." (Last week's mass killer, Anders Behring Breivik, was once a member of the party, though he has also criticized it for not going far enough).
Analysts say politicians are going to be careful talking about immigration in the wake of the attack. "In the short term, the parties are not going to touch the immigration issue.… I think it's going to make politicians quite cautious in their wording, their rhetoric," Hanne Marthe Narud, a political science professor at Oslo University, told Reuters.
Some Muslim leaders have said the violent outburst could help bring Muslims and Christians closer together. "I think minorities will think of themselves as more Norwegian.… Religion, ethnicity, color will go into the background. The Norwegian identity will be strengthened," Mehtab Afsar, the Islamic Council of Norway's general-secretary, told Reuters. "We are standing shoulder to shoulder with our Christian brothers and sisters in Norway."
Politically, it's less clear what the outcome of the attack will be. Raymond Johansen, the ruling Labor Party's general secretary, said yesterday that the shooting "will impact Norway and the political debate in Norway for many years." Does that mean bad news for the anti-immigrant Progress Party? Not necessarily, say political analysts. Local elections are set for September, and the Progress Party will "have to keep a low profile on the immigration issue in the upcoming election campaign simply to avoid being associated with the terrorist attack," Todal Jenssen, a Norwegian analyst, told Bloomberg News. But, the party is unlikely to see a major loss of political support since national traumas like last week's rampage "tend to breed cultural fears, which project onto immigrants or the unknown," Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy in Brussels, told Bloomberg. "The fantastic show of support for open society and the values of democracy will inevitably fade away and be overshadowed by suspicion of the unknown." As shocking as it is to believe, the Progress Party could actually benefit from Breivik's attack.
One Eritrean immigrant said he wasn't worried about any negative consequences: "The most important thing is what the majority thinks. And the majority is fine with us."
The annual Bayreuth music festival in Germany -- which celebrates the works of German composer Richard Wagner -- kicked off today and for the first time will feature a group of musicians from Israel. Wagner, an avowed anti-Semite and an inspiration for Adolph Hitler, is rarely heard in Israel, where there is an unwritten ban on performing his music. Tomorrow, the Israel Chamber Orchestra will perform Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" for an audience at the festival. The group rehearsed for the first time yesterday after landing in Germany (they said they declined to practice the piece while in Israel).
The Wagner family has run the festival for the past 100 years -- including during the Nazi era. But the current co-director of the festival, Katharina Wagner, the 32-year-old great-granddaughter of the composer, said she has been trying to reach out to Jewish groups. The festival plans to introduce a Jewish cultural center and Wagner has said she would open the family archives, allowing historians to see the extent of her family's relationship with the Nazis.
The Israeli group's conductor, Roberto Paternostro, explained the decision to play the music. "Wagner's ideology and anti-Semitism was terrible, but he was a great composer," he told Reuters. "The aim in 2011 is to distinguish between the man and his art."
Among the many questions that remain over why and how a gunman was able to kill at least 76 people in Norway on Friday, perhaps nothing is more infuriating than the cushy fate that seems to await Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect. If you're going to go on a maniacal murder rampage and then not have the decency to include yourself in the body count -- Norway is the place to do it.
Norway takes the mantra of rehabilitation to an extreme. Not only are there no death sentences, there aren't life sentences. The maximum Breivik can face is 21 years (not per murder, but in total). Yes, there is a caveat that says a prisoner deemed to still be a threat can have his sentence expanded in five year blocks -- but in a very real sense, that means he will come up for parole every five years for the rest of his life -- or until he is no longer seen as a threat. Few killers in Norway serve more than 14 years.
The Norwegian prison system takes seriously the philosophy that inmates should be treated as humanely as possible and that jail sentences should be seen less as punishment than as an opportunity to reintegrate troubled people back into society. According to the numbers, this approach has some benefits -- only 20 percent of prisoners there eventually return to prison, as opposed to 50 - 60 percent in the United States and Britain. Violent crime is much lower than in other societies.
"Both society and the individual simply have to put aside their desire for revenge, and stop focusing on prisons as places of punishment and pain," one prison official said last year. "Depriving a person of their freedom for a period of time is sufficient punishment in itself without any need whatsoever for harsh prison conditions."
That's a fair point, but can the theory hold in a case like this? Will Breivik be seen as a person who can be rehabilitated and returned to society? And if not, what does the soft Norwegian prison system mean for him?
Wifi and Rock climbing walls
Norway doesn't have many jails to choose from (there are only 3,300 incarcerated prisoners in the whole country, compared to 2.5 million in the United States). Last year, Norway inaugurated its newest prison -- a campus that embodies its principles of rehabbing the worst of society.
With prisoners that include rapists and murderers, Halden Prison -- the second largest in the country and the most secure facility -- looks more like a sleepaway camp than a traditional prison -- architects say they purposely tried to avoid an "institutional feel." When it opened, some news accounts called it the "most humane" prison in the world. According to a Time magazine story last year:
Halden is spread over 75 acres (30 hectares) of gently sloping forest in southeastern Norway. The facility boasts amenities like a sound studio, jogging trails and a freestanding two-bedroom house where inmates can host their families during overnight visits. Unlike many American prisons, the air isn't tinged with the smell of sweat and urine. Instead, the scent of orange sorbet emanates from the "kitchen laboratory" where inmates take cooking courses.... To avoid an institutional feel, exteriors are not concrete but made of bricks, galvanized steel and larch; the buildings seem to have grown organically from the woodlands. And while there is one obvious symbol of incarceration -- a 20-ft. (6 m) concrete security wall along the prison's perimeter -- trees obscure it, and its top has been rounded off.
Prisoners' cells include flat screen TVs, minifridges, and long windows that let in more sunlight. Prisoners share kitchens and living rooms with sofas and coffee tables. There's a state-of-the-art gym with a climbing wall and expensive artwork commissioned for the prison. At other maximum security prisons, inmates have access to the internet, even in their jail cells.
Prison guards don't carry guns. And they are encouraged to be outgoing and friendly toward the inmates -- eating together and playing sports to "create a sense of family," one official said.
Other lower-security prisons in Norway (where violent criminals tend to end up after a few years) are even cushier -- with tennis courts, horseback riding, beaches, and ski trails (prisoners can participate in ski-jumping competitions in the winter at one facility). At an island prison (which includes murders and rapists as well) inmates work on a farm and live in "comfortable wooden houses shared between four to six inmates."
Societal criticism of prison life is somewhat faint (most of the criticism in the past has had to do with the fear that cushy jails could lure more organized crime to the country (one politician argued that some of the nicer prisons should "only be for Norwegian criminals.")
Time noted last summer that: "Norway's cultural values and attitudes toward crime mean the public sees no need to push for tougher penalties or harsher prisons."
The article also noted, "In Norway, acts of extreme violence are seen as aberrant events, not symptoms of national decay."
This unprecedented case could make Norwegians reexamine their thoughts on incarceration. For now, Breivik has been remanded to custody for eight weeks (he'll be held in isolation for the first month -- meaning no outside communication with anyone besides his lawyers). After that, if convicted, the alleged mass killer of at least 76 people may end up in a prison with a lovely rock-climbing wall to keep himself occupied.
To be clear -- no one has yet claimed responsibility for today's blasts in central Oslo. But Norway has not been immune from terror threats in the past. Al Qaeda's new chief, Ayman al Zawahri, has called for attacks on the country. After an audio message from Zawahri in 2003 singled it out, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said the government was "surprised" to be a target. Zawahri threatened Norway again in 2007, for participating "in the war against the Muslims."
Last year, Norway arrested two immigrants from China and Uzbekistan with alleged ties to al Qaeda. (A third man believed to be connected to the group was arrested in Germany). Norwegian authorities believed they were plotting an attack in Norway, though that was never confirmed. At the time, the minister of justice said the arrests indicated that the country needed to pay closer attention to possible links between immigrants and terror groups overseas.
But, why Norway?
The country supported the invasion of Afghanistan (though its troop presence is very low -- only about 400 soldiers); and there is still lingering anger over the Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy from 2006. A Norwegian newspaper reprinted some of them, forcing the government to apologize. Norway's embassy in Syria was attacked by protesters. Some analysts say Scandinavian countries are often lumped together by extremist groups -- meaning Denmark and Norway are seen as intertwined. In fact, one of the immigrants arrested last year in Norway, reportedly told police his target was originally the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons.
Another potential explanation has to do with the complicated case of Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi Kurd who worked with Islamist groups there before moving to Norway in 1991 and claiming refugee status. He's praised bin Laden and has called for attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq. In 2005, he was ordered deported after being declared a national security threat, but his deportation was suspended. Earlier this month, prosecutors in Norway charged Krekar with threatening government officials. Krekar has denied having any links to al Qaeda and it seems unlikely the group would seek vengeance for his arrest.
In the end, Norway may simply have been attacked because -- despite being a low priority for terror groups -- it proved to be an easier target than higher profile locations. And in the wake of bin Laden's killing, al Qaeda has been looking to launch an attack against the West.
"It may be pointless to search for a single grievance," said Thomas Hegghammer, an expert on terror groups with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, last year after the arrests were made. "Most likely, a combination of factors placed Norway on the jihadists' radar. In al-Qaeda's binary worldview, Norway is part of the ‘Jewish-Crusader alliance.' Not a platinum member, perhaps, but a member nonetheless.... Frustrated by the difficulty of striking key adversaries like Britain and the United States, al-Qaeda seems to be moving down the food chain."
AFP/ Getty Images
At least one bomb went off outside the offices of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and several other government buildings earlier today. The prime minister was unharmed. Just within the hour, there were reports of a second blast in central Oslo, according to Norwegian state broadcaster NRK -- though there has been no confirmation yet.
CNN is reporting a "state of confusion" in the city. Roads into the center of the city have been shut. "It's complete chaos here. The windows are blown out in all the buildings close by," according to one reporter in the area.
No word yet on any deaths, though eight people have been reported injured. And that number will likely rise. So far, no one has claimed responsibility.
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