August 29, 2007

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 6, No. 35

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“One day it’s from Fatah, and another day the threats come from Hamas. For the past month, I haven’t been able to write anything under my name out of fear for my life.”

— A Palestinian journalist on devolving civil society in Jenin (see “Middle East,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Pakistan: Unregulated donations fund terror
Hungarian militia casts fascist shadow
The toll of fake AIDS drugs

*Energy*
Biodiesel’s mixed blessings

*Middle East*
A house divided: Palestinians trapped by warring factions

*Afghanistan*
A fundamentalist surge gains ground


TOP STORIES

Pakistan: Unregulated Donations Fund Terror

Black-market money transfers in Pakistan, known as Hawala, are done verbally, leave no paper trail, and fund much of the Islamist violence in northern Pakistan; Osama bin Laden used it to fund his terror operations, according to the 9/11 Commission.

U.S. officials are frustrated with the Pakistani government for not cracking down on the practice, which thrives in tribal areas under Taliban command.

Although some money transfers are legit, like wage remittances, much is disguised as zakat, a Muslim charity tax, that funds the work of Muslim mosques, madrassas and militias.

Wealthy donors who feel a religious obligation to give to charities and “don’t think too hard about where it goes,” one U.S. expert told the Guardian. Trying to regulate zakat is “impossible,” he adds.

Source:

“Faith, charity and the money trail to militants”
Guardian (U.K.), August 26, 2007

Hungarian Militia Casts a Fascist Shadow

Hungary’s Jewish community sees frightening precedent in the recent creation of the Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard) by the far-right party Jobbik this week.

The Guard, a paramilitary group with the avowed goal of providing “physical, mental and spiritual training to help maintain public order, preserve Hungarian culture and defend the nation in extraordinary situations,” has uniforms and a coat of arms similar to that of the Hungary’s Nazi-aligned Arrow Cross party that coordinated efforts to send Jews to concentration camps during World War II.

The creation of the Guard sparked counter-demonstrations and condemnation by Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who called them “Hungary’s shame.”

Jobbik has no seats in Parliament, but its candidates competed widely in the last election, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Source:

“Extreme-right party swears in first members of militia”
Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 26, 2007

The Toll of Fake AIDS Drugs

A growing number of Zimbabweans infected with HIV are being sold counterfeit or contaminated anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) at non-approved dispensaries such as flea markets and hair salons, according to IRIN, the United Nations news service.

With the health system in collapse and medication in short supply, only a fraction of Zimbabwe’s estimated 300,000 patients in need to ARVs have access to the real medications.

Most cannot afford to pay private-sector prices for the drugs, while government-subsidized programs cannot handle the demand.

Trade groups blame the government for a lack of internal controls and for not going after the counterfeiters, while unlicensed “doctors” perform illegal surgeries and then sell patients counterfeit drugs, often with fatal consequences.

Source:

“ZIMBABWE: Fake ARVs threaten lives”
IRIN (United Nations), August 24, 2007


ENERGY

Biodiesel’s Mixed Blessings

Biodiesel shows promise as an alternative fuel, but it presents substantial challenges to produce locally, efficiently, and in quantities to keep prices down and sustain a budding industry.

Hawaii’s main electric companies have committed to using biodiesel in energy production by 2009, but are under pressure to make sure the soybean oil is locally grown to avoid driving clearcuts in Indonesia for soybean plantations, reports the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

The Associated Press notes six organic farmers in California’s Santa Cruz county are also taking a local approach, growing mustard seed instead of soybeans to fill school buses, tractors and three local biodiesel fueling stations.

Most of the soybeans would otherwise be grown in the Midwest and processed outside the state — not a very efficient use of energy.

The high cost of producing and transporting biodiesel and its components remains one of the technology’s biggest problems.

Dozens of new soybean processing plants are popping up across the Midwest, and provide jobs with benefits in economically depressed areas.

But the new facility in Lilbourn, Missouri, nevertheless struggles to make ends meet, reports the Southeast Missourian, as soybean oil prices climb due to high demand for biodiesel production and drought.

Scientists in India have developed a new process that may help keep prices down and make biodiesel production more efficient.

Wired News reports that researchers there used fungal enzymes produced in a lab — rather than the more energy-intensive method of heating a mixture of methanol, lye and vegetable oil to bond them into biodiesel.

Sources:

“HECO vows biodiesel effort will aid trees”
Honolulu Star Bulletin, August 22, 2007

“Fungi Make Biodiesel Efficiently at Room Temperature”
Wired.com, August 20, 2007

“Biodiesel’s challenge”
Southeast Missourian, August 22, 2007

“Homegrown biodiesel effort by Santa Cruz County farmers”
Associated Press, August 29, 2007


MIDDLE EAST

A House Divided: Palestinians Trapped by Warring Factions

There seems to be little hope for any sort of resolution in the ongoing civil war between the Palestinian Fatah party and its rival, Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip two months ago.

Hamas is cracking down on Fatah supporters at protests and in the street with beatings and torture, and has banned all demonstrations and even outdoor weddings without prior approval, according to the Telegraph.

Newspapers and uncensored talk shows have also been banned.

Neither Fatah nor Hamas want local residents to hear criticism of their leadership in their respective areas, so Fatah has banned distribution of all Hamas-affiliated newspapers in the West Bank, and Hamas has banned all Fatah-connected papers and radio stations in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian journalists have been caught in the crossfire, and last week announced a series of protests against the violent treatment they have received at the hands of both factions.

One critical voice has been heard — that of Dr. Ghazi Hamad, who resigned this week as spokesman for Hamas.

Dr. Hamad was known to oppose Hamas’ takeover of the strip, which he felt did not accomplish much.

According to sources cited by YNetNews.com, he also believed Hamas should reach out to Fatah for a reconciliation.

One effort at mediation is occurring in the midst of the conflict.

According to the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Israeli mediators are trying to reconcile the two parties by suggesting that Hamas return the security compounds and civil institutions it took from Fatah in its conquest of in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is reportedly “studying” the options.

It is not clear who, from each side, is involved in the mediation process.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not negotiate with Hamas until conditions return to the way they were prior to the takeover.

Sources:

“Hamas honeymoon ends with torture”
Telegraph (U.K.), August 26, 2007

“Israelis said to be mediating between Hamas and Fatah”
Ha’aretz, August 26, 2007

“Palestinian journalists protest threats, arrests”
Jerusalem Post, August 26, 2007

“Report: Hamas government spokesman resigns”
YnetNews.com (Israel), August 24, 2007


AFGHANISTAN

A Fundamentalist Surge Gains Ground

The Taliban is making political as well as military headway in many parts of Afghanistan, and using opium production to further entrench their dominion.

Peace reigns at last over Musa Qala, a district of Helmand province newly controlled by the Taliban. TK TK

With no one willing to challenge them, including the Afghan government and the occupation forces, the Taliban have been able to reinstate Islamic law and customs, take over government and police forces, and ensure security for its grateful residents, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Business pay a tax to the organization, but it has discontinued the practice of conscripting one man from each household for militia service, and has relaxed other rules, such as permitting women to leave the house alone.

But residents are now altering their own lifestyles to avoid upsetting the theocrats — such as not watching TV and not listening to any music besides Taliban songs.

Co-education is still banned, and there are no schools available, especially for girls.

Taliban forces are also manipulating opium production to suit their own needs.

While in 2001 they reduced the poppy crop and punished all offenders, they now control provinces in the south that account for 70 percent of all production, according to Reuters.

Reports have suggested the Taliban gets a cut of farmers’ profits under a corrupt government system, leading more and more of the country to rely on opium production as the only means of economic survival.

Afghanistan now produces nearly 95 percent of the world’s opium, up from 92 percent last year.

In Pakistan, soldiers tasked with fighting Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents along the Aghan border have begun deserting their posts because of moral qualms against “fighting their own people,” reports Deutsch Presse-Agentur.

The force of 90,000 troops is crucial to defending international forces against attacks by insurgents.

Pakistani officials acknowledge the desertions but maintain they are “insignificant.”

This comes as U.S. officials expect to lose a good chunk of their international troop support in Aghanistan from Germany and Italy.

Italy’s foreign minister is calling the hundreds of civilian casualties in Aghanistan “morally unacceptable,” while Germany has lost 32 soldiers, police and citizens in the war.

A majority of Germans — 64 percent — favor pulling out of the conflict, and a vote on the issue is upcoming in Parliament, reports Agence France-Presse.

Sources:

“Helmand: A kinder, gentler Taliban?”
Institute for War and Peace Reporting, August 21, 2007

“Scores of Pak soldiers desert forces”
Deutsche Press-Agentur, August 26, 2007

“Opium crop destabilizes Afghanistan”
Reuters, August 26, 2007

“U.S. worried about fading German, Italian support in Afghanistan”
Agence France-Presse, August 27, 2007


Editors: Julia Scott, Josh Wilson

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