The interesting smell of burning embassies

So a mob attacked the US, Croatian, Turkish and Bosnian embassies in Belgrade today. The US embassy — evacuated in advance — was looted and partially burned. The other embassies also suffered varying degrees of damage.

This came at the same time as a government-sponsored mass demonstration against Kosovo’s declaration of independence. (Yes, Serbia still does government sponsored mass demonstrations. It’s a bad old habit that they still haven’t shaken.) The official line is that the two events were completely unrelated, and indeed the US and Croatian embassies were a couple of kilometers away from the center of the demonstration. On the other hand, there’d already been embassy attacks earlier in the week — the Slovene embassy was broken into and looted on Monday — and the Americans, at least, had pre-emptively evacuated their embassy and asked for increased police protection. Continue reading

Eins, Zwei, Polizei…ZWOOOOSH!

God knows I’ve been snarky about German lefties before. Look, not everyone who disagrees with you is a Nazi. Lectures are not a form of rape. Osama bin Laden is not on the side of eco-feminism. (The last one is a true story, although Austrian rather than German.) But it’s very true that the modern German police gets the hot shivers for new kit.

Was there any reason at all for this? For non-German readers, during the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, the police seem to have obtained the use of a Bundeswehr Tornado reconnaissance plane, and to have sent it to photograph a camp of protestors. That is creepy, but this is inexcusable: the pass was carried out as if the aircraft was doing its 1980s mission, at 150 metres’ altitude and maximum speed.

Naturally, the Greens point out that aircraft of the same type are in use over Afghanistan, and therefore Germany is Iraq and everyone is a nazi, or something. But it’s impossible to see any justification for this except for a pure indulgence in power. If they really had wanted photographs, they could have had better ones with less drama. But someone felt it necessary to drop a sonic boom over the autonomous chaosists, and the pilots are not born yet who would pass up the chance for some very fast low-level flying with an audience. Neither is the Interior Minister yet born who would pass up the chance to impress the Bild Zeitung with a binge on force.

As so often, Germany and Britain are more alike than anyone would care to admit. Not that the RAF was available to buzz demonstrators on the road to Gleneagles in 2005, but there is little in current government practice to support it. I am reminded, though, of Tim Garton-Ash’s description of a huge police deployment to squash a far-left demo on the day of reunification in Berlin. He referred to Hartley Shawcross’s crack that “we are the masters now”. Well, this is over. If there’s anyone who can’t appeal to that glee of first days, it’s the G8.

Team Europe: World Police!

Over at the Small Wars Journal‘s blog, they’re wondering if part of the problem in dealing with failed states, the aftermath of wars, peacekeeping and the like is that it’s nobody’s job to provide a police force, and specifically a real civilian one that does things like investigating crimes.

This was, of course, a bitter problem in the Balkans, and one that was never really solved. To begin with, the job simply devolved on IFOR (and later, KFOR)’s provost units and whatever troops were nearby. Later, a UN police force was constituted for Bosnia, but the less said, the better – arguably it was the source of more crime than it solved, and it was eventually wound up and replaced by an EU police mission. Kosovo was a similarly bad experience.

However, John Sullivan writes, neither the US nor NATO-as-an-organisation have any answers. He praises the EU for setting up a (putative) rapid reaction police force that can call on member states for up to 5,500 cops. And it certainly seems like a task that the EU is suited to, whilst not touching too many of the constitutional pressure points. It’s not specifically military, it’s not “an EU police” although no doubt the Sun would call it one if any of its editor knew it existed, it doesn’t annoy the Poles or Russians specifically, nor does it touch on the subsidy world. It also fits nicely with the wide variety of governmental tasks the EU can take on, alone among international institutions.

Mind you, I have my doubts. European official circles, institutions, thinktanks and so on have been pushing this around the plate since Maastricht without making many decisions. It used to be fashionable enough that NATO also got in on it – I recall a briefing at NATO SHAPE in late 2000 which concentrated almost entirely on enlargement, policing, and civil operations, something borne out by the fact the briefers included a French gendarmerie colonel, a Polish air force officer, and a British civil servant.

Survey of the Year

The US hard right is constantly telling anyone who’ll listen that France is on the brink of civil war. The latest version of this furphy is the claim that the French government has officially recognised areas of France it “doesn’t control”, that are under “sharia law.” Meant are the so-called zones urbaines sensibles, rough housing projects in the suburbs the Interior Ministry statisticians say have a high crime rate.

So, what happened when Nicolas Sarkozy’s pollsters headed for the frontline? Le Canard Enchainé has the results. Much as it may surprise Daniel Pipes, nobody cut their heads off. In fact, the 2,039 members of their representative sample rather disagreed with the hype. Although 53 per cent wanted to move, 48 per cent of the sample said they wanted to move to another place within their neighbourhood rather than leave. 80 per cent said they were satisfied with public transport, and a similar proportion with schools. A majority thought there were enough shops.

Asked to give their views of the cause of last year’s riots, 52 per cent blamed Sarko, with 44.5 per cent claiming that TV reporting had contributed to escalation. 25 per cent blamed police brutality, and 20 per cent criminals protecting their patch. Despite that, 72 per cent of persons “of metropolitan origin” said they trusted the police, as did 55 per cent of those originating from the Maghreb, Africa, and the overseas territories. This latter group reported being asked for their papers by the police twice as often as the first group.

58 per cent of those who said they would vote, said they would vote for Ségoléne Royal, as against 37 per cent for Nicolas Sarkozy. This trend held across all ethnic groups.

Moscow’s Respect for Strasbourg

Peter Finn writes in the Washington Post that despite the Russian government’s problematic relationship with the rule of law, it has actually been quite good at complying with rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, aka Strasbourg. Of course, it would have to: Since 2002, the court has issued 362 judgements concerning Russia; 352 of them have gone against the Russian government.

Finn starts with the Salvation Army’s seven-year struggle with the city government in Moscow. The city had maintained with a straight face that the Salvation Army was a foreign paramilitary organization and suggested that it might involve itself in the violent overthrow of the state. Strasbourg was not amused.

Russians now file more complaints with the court than any other member nation. They account for more than 10,000 of the 45,000 petitions Strasbourg receives annually. The vast majority are never heard.

In another case:

For Alexei Mikheyev, redress came even before the court ruled. In 1998, he was subjected to nine days of torture, including electric shock, in a local police station after being picked up as a suspect in the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl in the central Russian city of Nizhniy Novgorod.

Mikheyev confessed to raping and killing the girl but retracted his statement after he was taken to the prosecutor’s office. Returned to the police station and facing more torture, he threw himself out of a third-story window and was left partially paralyzed. The girl he had confessed to killing returned home the next day.

Prosecutors opened and then dropped 23 preliminary investigations into the police force’s treatment of Mikheyev, in what human rights activists call an effort to stymie any trial. After the European Court agreed to hear Mikheyev’s case in 2004, prosecutors reopened the case and finally secured the conviction of two police officers, who were given four-year sentences for abuse of power. In January, Mikheyev was awarded approximately $300,000 in compensation.

(As if another datapoint were necessary to show torture’s ineffectiveness.)

Still, while the Russian government takes its obligations seriously enough to pay fines, Strasbourg does not have enough leverage to force systematic reforms. Still, it is an effective lever, one that deserves to be more widely known outside judicial and activist circles.

SWIFT will likely escape criminal penalties in Belgium

Today’s Le Soir is reporting on the conclusions that the Belgian parliamentary committee on intelligence services (the Comité R) seems to be coming to in its closed door hearings on the SWIFT banking information affair (see here and here). The article is in the print edition of Le Soir, and online for a fee.

According to the paper, SWIFT will likely escape criminal sanction, but may face civil penalties if the courts decide they gave the Americans more data than was strictly necessary to fight terrorism. Much of the logic appears to be based on the fact that the data itself is outside of Belgium, in the Netherlands and the USA. Furthermore, it seems likely that SWIFT employees will not face charges for failing to inform the Belgian government of its decision to give the CIA access to its records, since such a disclosure would have meant criminal penalties in the US.

The article also claims that the Belgian National Bank, which was informed of the program, will likely face the most criticism. The bank had decided that since SWIFT’s decision did not affect financial stability, it was not the bank’s responsibility to take any action. The committee, however, seems to have decided that this was a serious error. The National Bank had a responsibility to inform the state and would not have been subject to criminal penalties for doing so.

The committee has also apparently let the state security services and the federal police off the hook for not doing anything, claiming that the first had no responsibility outside of military threats and that the second didn’t know until the New York Times broke the story. As is typically the case in Belgium, the legislation controlling the police’s responsibility is somewhat vague. The federal police are supposed to protect Belgium’s “scientific and economic potential” and no one seems clear on what that means in practice.

Belgium yet again in turmoil over killings

In the night between May 6th and 7th 2006 five skinheads, coming from De Kastelein, a known extreme right café in West Flanders, beat up Raphaël Mensah, a fifty year old Parisian artist of Gabonese descent, and his thirty seven year old Belgian friend Alain Bouillon. Bouillon was heavily wounded and Mensah is now lying in a coma. According to Bouillon “the skinheads weren’t after money, they went after us because my friend has the wrong skin colour”. In fact, according to Belgian French-language La Dernière Heure, Mensah’s wallet was recovered on the crime scene with the 150 euros he carried on him still in it.

On May 11th, in an Antwerp street very close to where I used to live, an 18-year old man, Hans Van Themsche, went on a killing spree. His first victim, 46-year old Sonhul Koç, a Turkish woman who was sitting on a park bench reading a book, was heavily wounded. Van Themsche had shot her in the back from a distance of six meters (6.5 yards).

The second and third victims were both killed. They were a 24-year old Malinese woman called Oulemata Niangadou who worked as an au pair and the little Belgian girl she was looking after, two year old Luna. Van Themsche had spotted Oulemata and Luna walking down the street, he passed them, turned around and fired at them, in theirs backs, from point blank range. When he was later questioned about his motive for killing the little girl, he is reported to have said: “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time”. In all it took Van Themsche just four minutes to destroy three lives. He was stopped by a policeman who arrived at the scene and shot Van Themsche, apparently a willing target since he shouted “just shoot me”, in the stomach. Van Themsche is now in the hospital, but he will survive.
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Good Lord!

Good lord, this looks serious:

A dawn bomb attack devastated a major Shi’ite shrine in Iraq on Wednesday, sparking nationwide protests and sectarian reprisals against Sunni mosques despite appeals for calm from government and religious leaders. The attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest sites, provoked more violence than attacks that have killed thousands but the Shi’ite-led government insisted it would not provoke civil war…..

No one was killed in the attack on the mosque in Samarra. However a Sunni cleric was killed, police said, at one of 17 Sunni mosques in Baghdad fired on by militants. One mosque was damaged by fire, though most damage appeared relatively minor.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, declared three days of mourning and called for Muslim unity. He said the interim government had sent officials to Samarra. Residents said police sealed off the mainly Sunni city, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad; police fired over demonstrators’ heads as they chanted religious and anti-American slogans.

Armed Mehdi Army militiamen loyal to radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took up positions on streets in Baghdad and Shi’ite cities in the south, clashing in Basra and elsewhere with Sunnis; a Sadr aide said: “If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so.”

Witnesses said rocket-propelled grenades damaged a Sunni mosque in Basra and there were heavy exchanges of fire after Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia attacked an Islamic Party office in the city. Thousands of people marched in Shi’ite towns across the country and through the capital, condemning the Samarra attack.

Europe’s Shame

What is happening right now in Ceuta and Melilla is shameful, it brings no credit to any of us. The anomolous position of these two Spanish North African enclaves should have been resolved long ago. As an urgent interim measure some sort of dual-sovereignty agreement between Spain and Morocco (such as that which was applied between France and Spain in the case of Andorra) should be thrashed out as a matter of urgency. I will try and find the time for a longer post on Afoe later.

Hundreds of African immigrants stormed a fence surrounding the tiny Spanish enclave of Melilla on the Moroccan coast on Tuesday, trying to climb over on makeshift ladders before being repelled by police in riot gear.

Spanish authorities called it the biggest ever mass attempt to breach the fence guarding the coastal enclave, about 100 miles from the Spanish mainland across the Mediterranean. At least 19 people suffered minor injuries.

Of the 500 who stormed the enclave, some 100 immigrants, all from sub-Saharan Africa, managed to break through and enter Spanish territory. They were taken to a police station for identification, said Narciso Serrano, from the Interior Ministry in Melilla.

Serrano said police found some 270 ladders made of tree branches in the area.

So – What Did Happen to Iraq?

A few weeks ago, if you can cast your mind back that far, the big story was apparently something to do with a country called Iraq that was trying to agree among itself on its future constitution. After multiple deadlines were breached, two of the factions in the country decided to impose the constitution on the other by their majority. But then, they hesitated. The text was amended, but not by the drafting committee..

And then there was a hurricane. Not that it was one anywhere near Iraq, where they don’t have hurricanes, but it still knocked the whole thing off the agenda. And the Iraqis had a particularly horrible disaster of their own. So – what did happen to that constitution?

Well, it seems nothing happened to it. They have done absolutely nothing about it since then – it still hasn’t gone before Parliament, and even its opponents haven’t held the meeting to draft a counter-constitution they promised. What has been going on is that the killing has kept up at a rate of about thirty a day. August saw the deaths of 85 US servicemen. And, worryingly, there are signs that after a period of quiet, what I call the New-Old Iraqi Army has entered the lists again.
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