Friday, February 17, 2006

Situation of German Hostages in Iraq Remains Unclear

The two German engineers held hostage in Iraq will soon be released by their captors, an unconfirmed news report said. Germany's foreign minister said there was "nothing new."

"There is nothing new," Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday evening. Shortly before, the Web site of Der Spiegel newsmagazine published an article saying that Rene Bräunlich and Thomas Nitzschke were in good health and would soon be released from captivity in Iraq.

"I don't comment on press reports," Steinmeier said, according to The Associated Press.

Spiegel-Online said that German sources had received the information from Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, head of the Sunni Muslim Council of Clerics.

Just expressing hope?

A spokesman for the council, Sheikh Mohammed Bashar al-Fajdhi, said al-Dhari had not announced the hostages' imminent release, but had only expressed the hope that they would soon be freed, according to German broadcaster ARD.

Reuters also referred to a "prominent member of the council" who said the sheikh had merely expressed the hope the hostages would be released soon.

A spokesman for al-Dhari said Germany's ambassador to Iraq, Bernd Erbel, had spoken with the sheikh a third time on Wednesday regarding the hostages, Reuters reported. The man said he was unaware of information suggesting the Germans would soon be released.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would comment when she received "reliable information."

The two engineers were kidnapped while working in the northern Iraqi town of Baiji on Jan. 24. In videos messages, the hostage-takers have threatened to kill them if the German government does not cut off all ties to Iran.

The foreign ministry's crisis group has been evaluating the most recent video, broadcast on satellite channel Al Arabiya on Monday, in which the kidnappers spoke of a "last ultimatum."

Germany has not yet been able to get in contact with the hostage-takers, according to officials.

Deutsche Welle 02/2006

EU Uncertain About Bird Flu's Economic Consequences

Will the recent cases of bird flu found in the European Union make people eat less poultry? Experts don't think so and warn against creating a panic that could have economic consequences.

Italy is already suffering from a "chicken psychosis," as Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung put it. Fearing infection with the deadly H5N1 virus, eight out of 10 Italians have stopped eating poultry. The drop in consumption has reportedly led to the loss of 30,000 jobs over the last couple of months so far. The economic damage comes to 600 million euros ($714 million).

But Bernd Adleff, the president of Bavaria's Poultry Association, said that talk about the bird flu's economic damage was vastly exaggerated.

"You don't need to believe such nonsense," he said, adding that consumers were insecure and hesitant about buying poultry.

But Adleff said he didn't believe this would lead to long-term problems.

"It's just a trend and a short-lived development," he said. "The consumer will forget quickly."

The media's responsibility

Georg Alpers, a psychologist at Würzburg University, also warned against blowing the danger out of proportion.

"At the moment we don't know what the real dangers are and how
we can protect ourselves against them," he said, adding that people get scared because of insecurities that arise through extensive media coverage about the potential danger.

Adleff also blamed the media for the current problems.

"We're hurting because the media constantly report on this garbage," he said. "The consumer start to believe that he's in extreme danger, which is wrong."

EU offers pragmatic help

Officially, no hard numbers exist yet to assess the economic damage caused by bird flu within the EU, said Michael Mann, the press spokesman for EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel.

"We have first indicators," he said. "Some member states have told us about a 15 percent drop in poultry consumption."

A compulsory poultry lockdown like the one that took effect in Germany on Friday could have consequences for farmers who keep free-range chicken.

"We've so far managed to find pragmatic solutions for them to keep marketing their produce like they did before," Mann said. Free-range chicken will still be sold as such even though the animals are currently kept inside.

No state help needed?

The EU itself has little resources to compensate farmers, Mann said, adding that Brussels can help farmers if there's a bird flu outbreak among domestic animals.

Should a farmer be forced to destroy his stock and eggs, the EU can pay for half the costs to renew the livestock.

Farmers will need help if they have to cull their entire stockBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Farmers will need help if they have to cull their entire stock

"We can also raise export subsidies to help the sector to export produce," Mann said. "The more meat is exported, the less remains on the domestic market and that's good for prices."

Adleff, however, said that farmers would manage to get by without help.

"The industry will deal with this on its own," he said. "We don't always have to call for state support."

Deutsche Welle 02/2006

Thursday, February 16, 2006

No Right to Shoot

Wednesday's high court ruling against a law which would allow hijacked planes to be shot from the skies, has provoked a mixed reaction in German editorials.

The Berlin daily, the TAZ said the court had "proclaimed the protection of human dignity as an absolute," and added that if it were to be taken seriously, a consequence must be an end to discussions on permissible and non-permissible forms of torture. The paper says the ruling "won't facilitate the fight against terrorism," and adds that "the price that democratic societies pay for their culture is not being able to do whatever they want just because it is theoretically possible."

Another Berlin-based paper, the Berliner Zeitung also welcomed the ruling which it said left no room for doubt about the court's views on the law. "The Karlsruhe judges have occasionally reprimanded violations of human dignity through state measures, but never before have they accused the state of passing a law which denies people their dignity and the right to life."

In Dusseldorf, the Rheinische Post described the ruling as too rigid. "That the Karlsruhe court yesterday ruled against the law was not only predictable, but also a crass example of a German passion for rules. In passing its veto verdict, the highest court is attempting to create a legal framework for even the most desperate of situations. A more pragmatic, Anglo-Saxon approach, in which a decision could be taken as and when such a situation arises, would have made more sense."

The Oldenbürgische Volkszeitung said the high court judges in Karlsruhe had shown just how untouchable human dignity in Germany is. "They have sharpened the contours of our democracy. Despite the dangers of an attack, German values have proved victorious. And that makes the ruling historic."

The Frankfurter Rundschau writes that yesterday's ruling is not only "a slap in the face for the previous government but a warning for the current Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble to expand the domestic deployment possibilities of the German armed forces." The paper says "the high court judges have left no doubt that human dignity is untouchable," adding that it is unconstitutional to kill innocent people in the name of staving off danger.

Deutsche Welle 02/2006

First cases of H5N1 virus (aka. birdflu) in Germany

Germany probably had avian flu for some months before tests earlier this week confirmed that dead birds had carried the virus, a state agricultural minister said in a TV interview on Thursday.

Till Backhaus, from the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern where the birds were found, said the affected mute swans were not migratory and tended to stick to one area.

"This is why I assume ... that the virus must have been introduced in autumn," Backhaus told public broadcaster ZDF.

German authorities said on Wednesday that two swans and a hawk found on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen were infected with H5N1. Further tests should confirm later on Thursday whether it was the highly pathogenic strain transmittable to humans.

Local officials said on Wednesday some 100 dead swans had been spotted in the affected area.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the southern state of Bavaria have already banned farmers from keeping poultry outdoors. A nationwide ban takes effect on Friday.

BERLIN, Feb 16 (Reuters)

Terrorists escape

The International Criminal Police Organization, known as Interpol, issued a worldwide alert yesterday for 23 prison escapees, including 13 convicted al Qaeda terrorists, according to an Interpol news release.

The criminals escaped last week from a Yemen jail. They include Jamal al-Badawi, a terrorist convicted of masterminding the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, news reports said. Terrorists pulled alongside the anchored Cole and detonated an explosive-loaded boat. The blast killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 others. The two terrorists in the boat also were killed.

INTERPOL Media Release, 07. February 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006



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