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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nigerian Christians warn of religious war following Christmas day bombings

Northern Nigerian Christians said on Tuesday they feared that a spate of Christmas Day bombings by Islamist militants that killed over two dozen people could lead to a religious war in Africa’s most populous country.

The warning was made in a statement by the northern branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella organization comprising various denominations including Catholics, Protestant and Pentecostal churches.

But a powerful Muslim traditional ruler, the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar said after meeting the Nigerian president in Abuja on Tuesday that it was not a conflict between Muslims and Christians or between Islam and Christianity.

The Boko Haram Islamist sect, which aims to impose sharia Islamic law across Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the blasts, the second Christmas in a row it has caused carnage at Christian churches.

Saidu Dogo, secretary general for the CAN in Nigeria’s 19 northern provinces called on Muslim leaders to control their faithful, saying Christians will be forced to defend themselves against further attacks.

“We fear that the situation may degenerate to a religious war and Nigeria may not be able to survive one. Once again, ’enough is enough!’,” Mr. Dogo said.

The attacks risk reviving tit-for-tat sectarian violence between the mostly Muslim north and the largely Christian south, which has claimed thousands of lives in the past decade.

Mr. Dogo said the CAN was calling on all Christians to continue respecting the law but to defend themselves when needed.

“We shall henceforth in the midst of these provocations and wanton destruction of innocent lives and property be compelled to make our own efforts and arrangements to protect the lives of innocent Christians and peace-loving citizens of this country,” Mr. Dogo said.

The most deadly attack killed at least 27 people in the St Theresa Catholic church in Madalla, a town on the edge of the capital Abuja, and devastated surrounding buildings and cars as faithful poured out of the church after Christmas mass.

“What is going on is a conflict between evil people and good people,” Sultan Abubakar said after the meeting at the presidential residence. “The good people are more than the evil ones. So the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones and that is the message.”

“We want to assure our brother Christians and Christian leaders to stand on the part of truth according to our religion and continue to work for the greatness of this country,” the Sultan said.

Security forces also blamed Boko Haram for two explosions in the north targeting their facilities. Officials have confirmed 32 people died in the wave of attacks across Nigeria, though local media have put the number higher.

But the church bombs are more worrying because they raise fears that Boko Haram is trying to ignite a sectarian civil war in the nearly 160 million nation split evenly between Christians and Muslims, who for the most part co-exist in peace.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has come under pressure to do more to fight the growing security threat which risks derailing economic gains in the OPEC member and Africa’s top oil-producing nation.

Nigeria’s main opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner and former military ruler who lost a presidential election in April to Mr. Jonathan, accused the government of incompetence on Monday, saying government was slow to respond and had shown indifference to the bombings.

The CAN said in the statement that it was concerned that the perpetrators and their sponsors “are well-known to government and no serious or decisive actions have been taken to stem their nefarious activities”.

The Globe and Mail

If Abraham Were to Come This Year, Temple Mount Would be Closed

“If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed', theLondon Guardian reported this week. And what if Abraham were to visit?

The Guardian article painted a bleak picture of an “Apartheid wall” and military checkpoints that supposedly have stagnated the city of Bethlehem, located immediately south of Jerusalem. This idea was also used by anti-Israel NGO's (see NGO Monitor's "The NGO's that Stole Christmas" posted on Arutz Shevafor details.)

The writer, Phoebe Greenwood, also details the nearby Jewish communities that are “strangling” the city and quotes a Catholic priest bemoaning the exodus of Christians from the ancient city. He neglected to mention that the reason is mistreatment by the Muslim PA.

Many businesses in the communities employ neighboring Arabs, who are able to travel freely while Jews are not allowed into Bethlehem and other “Apartheid” areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Foreign media headlined the alleged problems of Bethlehem – until Christmas Eve, when suddenly there were reports of nearly 100,000 visitors who apparently were able to pass the “Apartheid wall.”

All of the reports from foreign news services, such as the Associated Press, routinely traced Christians’ problems to Israel. “Like the rest of the West Bank, the town fell on hard times after the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation broke out in late 2000,” according to AP.

Justus Reid Weiner, an international human rights lawyer who teaches at Hebrew University, in an interview by Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld posted on Arutz Sheva recently, says that Christians lost their majority status in Bethlehem soon after Yasser Arafat assumed control of the Palestinian Authority.

Weiner added that "under these regimes, the resident Christian Arabs have been victims of frequent human rights abuses including intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycott, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion".

“And Muslims who have converted to Christianity are the ones in the greatest danger".

In the previous years under Jewish control, the economy in Bethelhem, as in all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, flourished after being suffocated under Jordanian rule, until the Intifada under Arafat. Under Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967, all holy sites were barred to both Christians and Jews, except for visiting dignitaries, until Israel opened up the sites after the Six-Day War in 1967.

Neither the Guardian nor foreign news services noted what would happen to the Biblical Abraham if he were to return today for a visit to the Temple Mount, where he sacrificed a ram after G-d told him not to sacrifice his only son, Yitzchak (Isaac).

After the Six-Day War, Israel recognized Muslim claims to the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most sacred site, but Muslim authorities have used their de facto control to haul out tons of earth containing artifacts dating from the First and Second Jewish Temple, whose existence has been increasingly denied by the Palestinian Authority in specific and the Arab world in general.

Jews are barred from praying on the Temple Mount and are not even allowed to carry any holy articles with them. With Muslim observers supervising visits, police have frequently arrested or removed Jews for various violations, such as singing or reciting a prayer even in a whisper.

The Palestinian Authority has been insistent in claiming that the Temple Mount, as well as all of the Old City, is sovereign PA territory and will be the seat of a country it wants to establish. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has stated that in a Palestinian Authority country, no Jews would be allowed, which would preclude a visit by Abraham to the place that is the foundation of the belief in one God.

Arutz Sheva

Iran threatens to cut off oil exports if sanctions imposed over nuclear activity

TEHRAN — Iran threatened on Tuesday to stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz if foreign sanctions were imposed on its crude exports over its nuclear ambitions, a move that could trigger military conflict with economies dependent on Gulf oil.

Western tensions with Iran have increased since a November 8 report by the UN nuclear watchdog saying Tehran appears to have worked on designing an atomic bomb and may still be pursuing research to that end. Iran strongly denies this and says it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Iran has defiantly expanded nuclear activity despite four rounds of UN sanctions meted out since 2006 over its refusal to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment and open up to UN nuclear inspectors and investigators.

Many diplomats and analysts believe only sanctions targeting Iran’s lifeblood oil sector might be painful enough to make it change course, but Russia and China — big trade partners of Tehran — have blocked such a move at the United Nations.

Iran’s warning on Tuesday came three weeks after EU foreign ministers decided to tighten sanctions over the UN watchdog report and laid out plans for a possible embargo of oil from the world’s No. 5 crude exporter.

“If they [the West] impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz,” the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying.

The U.S. State Department said it saw “an element of bluster” in the threat but underscored that the United States would support the free flow of oil.

“It’s another attempt to distract attention away from the real issue, which is their continued non-compliance with their international nuclear obligations,” spokesman Mark Toner said.

Rahimi’s remarks coincided with a 10-day Iranian naval exercise in the Strait and nearby waters, a show of military force that began on Saturday.

“Our enemies will give up on their plots against Iran only if we give them a firm and strong lesson,” Rahimi said.

National Post

Happy new GIABO

Russia test fires long-range missile with new warhead

Russia on Tuesday successfully test fired its long range ballistic missile RS-18 from its Baiknonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with a new warhead aimed at overcoming Western air defence systems, news agencies said.

The RS-18, a warhorse missile known to the West as Stilet (Stileto) that the Russian defence ministry has given a new lease of life, successfully hit its target on the Kamchatka Pensinsula on the Pacific, the reports quoted the defence ministry as saying.

The RIA Novosti news agency said that the RS-18 missile was now carrying a new warhead aimed at overcoming missile defence systems at a time of growing tensions over plans for a US missile shield in Europe.

Space War

Russian election and protests.....

Now Under Obama, an emerging global apparatus for drone killing

The Obama administration’s counterterrorism accomplishments are most apparent in what it has been able to dismantle, including CIA prisons and entire tiers of al-Qaeda’s leadership. But what the administration has assembled, hidden from public view, may be equally consequential.

In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force­ ­cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.

Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation’s security goals.

The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.

In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don’t match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.

With a year to go in President Obama’s first term, his administration can point to undeniable results: Osama bin Laden is dead, the core al-Qaeda network is near defeat, and members of its regional affiliates scan the sky for metallic glints.

Those results, delivered with unprecedented precision from aircraft that put no American pilots at risk, may help explain why the drone campaign has never attracted as much scrutiny as the detention or interrogation programs of the George W. Bush era. Although human rights advocates and others are increasingly critical of the drone program, the level of public debate remains muted.

Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, described the program with a mixture of awe and concern. Its expansion under Obama was almost inevitable, she said, because of the technology’s growing sophistication. But the pace of its development, she said, makes it hard to predict how it might come to be used.
The Washington Post

China-Japan pact to sideline the dollar

The announcement was made in a statement by the Japanese government on Monday after the Asian leaders met in China's capital Beijing.

Both sides also agreed that Japan will hold Chinese currency, yuan, in its foreign-exchange reserves, now largely denominated in dollars.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said after the meeting that the agreement “benefits the ease of trade and investments between the two countries.”

“It strengthens the region's ability to protect against risks and deal with challenges,” Lei added.

The direct currency swap between the world's second- and third-largest economies reflects efforts to reduce risks stemming from fluctuations of foreign exchange rates and transaction costs.

"As implications from the current global financial crisis continue to spread and the complexity and severity of the world and regional situations are worse than expected, it is necessary and possible that China and Japan join efforts to address the challenges and deepen strategic reciprocal ties," the Chinese premier said.

China is Japan's biggest trading partner, with transactions between the two amounting to $340 billion in 2010, from $120 billion a decade earlier.

China also forged a deal with Thailand for a direct currency swap worth $11 billion last week as part of a plan outlined in October to promote the use of the yuan in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and establish free trade zones.

Press TV

Europe´s debt debacle

Ron Paul warns of eroding civil liberties, a Soviet Union-style economic collapse and violence in the streets.

(Reuters) - The man who might win the Republican Party's first presidential nominating contest fears that the United Nations may take control of the U.S. money supply.

Campaigning for the January 3 Iowa caucuses, Ron Paul warns of eroding civil liberties, a Soviet Union-style economic collapse and violence in the streets.

The Texas congressman, author of "End the Fed," also wants to eliminate the central banking system that underpins the world's largest economy.

"Not only would we audit the Federal Reserve, we may well curtail the Federal Reserve," Paul told a cheering crowd of more than 100 in this small Iowa city last week.

Paul, 76, is facing questions for racist writings that appeared under his name two decades ago, which he has disavowed as the work of "ghost writers."

But Paul's dark-horse presidential bid ultimately could founder, analysts and others say, because of increasing questions about how his unorthodox vision of government would work in the real world.

Republican rivals criticize his anti-war, isolationist approach to foreign policy as dangerously naive, and object to his plans to slash the Pentagon's budget and pull back U.S. troops from overseas.

Non-partisan analysts say his economic proposals - drastic spending cuts, elimination of the Federal Reserve and a return to the gold standard - would plunge the country back into recession.

"Paul appeals to people whose knowledge of major issues is superficial (and) he sees conspiracies where there are none," said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group, an analysis firm. "If he does well in Iowa, which is likely, it will be an enormous embarrassment to the Republicans."

However, Paul's calls for a dramatically limited government and a hands-off foreign policy are resonating among voters who have grown deeply alienated from Washington after a decade of war and nearly five years of economic malaise.

"Obama got into office and I can't tell the difference between him and Bush," said Deanna Pitman, a homemaker from Bloomfield, Iowa, citing President Barack Obama's support for policies such as the Wall Street bailout and the war in Afghanistan that began under George W. Bush.

Polls show Paul jockeying for the lead in the Iowa caucuses, and political observers say his organization in the state is unmatched. His campaign stops draw hundreds of enthusiastic supporters, along with undecided voters who are giving him a look.

On the campaign trail, he reaches out to Tea Party supporters on the right and Occupy Wall Street supporters on the left.

Some potential supporters from the left have been put off by Paul's uncompromising support for the free market.

At a campaign stop in this small city of about 7,000, Paul told breast cancer survivor Danielle Lin that insurance companies should not be required to offer coverage to people who are already sick.

"It's sort of like me living on the Gulf Coast, not buying insurance until I see the hurricane," said Paul, whose Galveston-based district was devastated by a hurricane in 2008. "Insurance is supposed to measure risk."

The response left Lin in tears. While her insurance covered her treatment, she said, several of her friends were not so fortunate.

"I watched three friends die because they didn't have insurance," said Lin, a registered Democrat who is looking for a Republican candidate to support this time.

"Nobody can afford private insurance, nobody can. And they're dead."


Paul can wax apocalyptic as he warns of the dangers of a diluted currency and a deeply indebted government. His doomsday scenarios often are incomplete, leaving listeners room to fill in the blanks.

He draws parallels between the current situation in the United States and that of the former Soviet Union, whose economy collapsed amid the union's breakup and civil unrest in 1991.

Paul acknowledges that his proposal to avoid that outcome - an immediate, $1 trillion spending cut that would slash the federal budget by more than one-third and eliminate the departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development - could have some unpleasant side effects.

"I'm afraid of violence coming," he told a crowd of more than 600 in Bettendorf, Iowa. "When you see what the government is preparing for, and the arrests and military law, and the demonstrations in the streets, some people aren't going to be convinced so easily that you don't owe them a living."

At the earlier stop in Washington, he said the Federal Reserve was poised to "bail out" the Euro zone, a move that he said ultimately would cause the United States to surrender control of its own currency to the United Nations.

"This monetary crisis is well known by the international bankers. They want the U.N. to come in and solve this problem," he said. "The dollar will probably eventually disintegrate and be taken over. But I don't want the U.N. issuing that currency."

Economists note that Paul's long-standing proposal to return the dollar to a gold standard would force the United States to relinquish control of its currency.

"We would still have monetary policy - it would be set by gold miners in South Africa and Uzbekistan, rather than bureaucrats in Washington," said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist with JPMorgan Chase.

"If you like what OPEC means for oil prices, you'd love what the gold standard would do to financial markets."

Home Prices Fall in Most Major US Cities: Case-Shiller

U.S. single-family home prices fell more than expected in October, data showed Tuesday, raising doubts that recent signs of improvement in the housing market would be sustained.

The S&P/Case-Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas dropped 1.2 percent on an unadjusted basis, worse than economists' expectations for a 0.5 percent fall. Prices dropped 0.6 percent in September.

For the year, home prices were down 3.4 percent in October.

Recent data have shown an improvement in home sales volumes and rising confidence among builders who have been breaking ground on new projects.

U.S. home sales rose in November, adding to hints of recovery. The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday last week that sales of previously owned homes increased 4.0 percent from October to an annual rate of 4.42 million units.

The median sales price in the NAR survey rose 2.1 percent from October, but was still down 3.5 percent from a year ago at $164,200.

That had raised cautious optimism the housing market, one of the constraints on the economy, was on the brink of recovery.

"In light of the more positive housing numbers we've seen in the last week or so, this might be a bit of a disappointment,'' said Omer Esiner, chief market strategist at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.

The data on Tuesday showed prices declined in October in 19 of the 20 cities.


Harry Reid and the mytical millionaire job

Spectacular Christmas Comet Amazes Skywatchers in Chile

A stunning comet that survived a recent brush with the sun is amazing astronomers again, this time in dazzling new photos captured just before sunrise over Chile.

The comet Lovejoy may not be the famed Star of Bethlehem, but it still provided a jaw-dropping sight for astronomer Gabriel Brammer, photographed the comet rising ahead of the sun on Dec. 22 at Paranal Observatory in Chile's high Atacama Desert.

Brammer is a support astronomer for the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which runs the Paranal facility. His time-lapse photos of comet Lovejoy show it rising ahead of the sun as the Paranal astronomers fire a laser beam, which serves as a guide star, into the sky. Our Milky Way galaxy and the moon are also visible in the images.

"On the last morning of my shift I tried to try catching it on camera before sunrise," Brammer said in a statement. "The tail of the comet was easily visible with the naked eye, and the combination of the crescent moon, comet, Milky Way and the laser guide star was nearly as impressive to the naked eye as it appears in the long-exposure photos."


Banks Bunker Hundreds of Billions in Deposits at ECB

The sum of overnight deposits at the European Central Bank (ECB) is often considered to be an indicator of the level of fear brewing within the financial sector. The greater the degree of distrust between banks, the more money banks tend to deposit on a daily basis with the ECB, where interest rates are low, but deposits more secure. This week has seen the level of deposits at the ECB's overnight facility rise to close to €412 billion ($538.4 billion) -- the greatest amount seen since the euro's introduction, and representing a single overnight increase on Monday of €65 billion.

The previous record had been reached in the summer of 2010, when banks parked around €385 billion at the ECB.

Normally banks tend to lend any excess funds to each other. By doing so, they can make more money -- especially given that interest rates at banks are currently twice as high as those offered by the ECB. But the interbank market has been disrupted for weeks now, prompting concerns that the credit crunch last seen after the collapse of Lehman Brothers has returned. European banks no longer trust each other because it is unclear to what extent individual banks are exposed to government bonds from countries hit by the debt crisis, and whether those institutions are in jeopardy. Instead, they are turning to the ECB as a safe haven for their money.

Did ECB's Action Backfire?

In an attempt to jumpstart the interbank market last week, the ECB released nearly €500 billion in liquidity to banks within the euro zone. The custodians of the euro had hoped to strengthen the financial situation of the currency zone's banks with the action. They also hoped that the financial institutions would pass the additional money on to businesses in the form of loans in order to help spur the economy. But instead it appears that a large share of that money has now been parked overnight at the ECB.

Shortly before Christmas, positive economic data from the euro zone and the United States had awakened hope that a recession feared for 2012 might be weaker than some had thought. But the chief economist at Germany's Deutsche Bank, Thomas Mayer, said in an interview this weekend that the fate of the euro would be pegged to developments in Italy.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper, Mayer said the currency's survival would be contingent on Rome. Mayer said he expected Italy to fall into a deep state of recession at the beginning of 2012. "If the country succeeds in pulling itself out of it prior to elections in May 2013, and I expect it to, then Italy will be able to serve as a model for all southern European countries. Otherwise the euro zone will break up," he said.

Mayer is far from alone in this assessment, and this week many market traders are attentively observing what happens with a planned €20 billion auction of Italian government bonds. During other recent auctions, Italy has had to pay high interest rates for credit. Some market observers are speculating that banks may use some of the cheap ECB money in order to purchase Italian and Spanish government bonds, thus causing interest rates on those sovereign bonds to fall.


Iran flex military muscle in strategic naval drills

Iran´s navy continued exercises in waters beyond the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the passageway for about a third of the world's oil tanker traffic, for the third day.

A spokesman said the Islamic Republic had successfully tested new naval armaments at sea during drills, which are set to last until next Monday.

"On the third day of the great manoeuvres the brave forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran's navy – from various destroyers, logistical, light and heavy submarines, aerial, light and heavy hovercraft units as well as commando and marine units – successfully carried out pre-planned drills." said Rear Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi, deputy commander of Iran's Navy.

The drill is Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its controversial nuclear programme.

The Telegraph