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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The Accordion Strategy

And so it begins. Back in Italy, the Left has comprehensively disrupted the Right’s systems by folding Massimo D’Alema’s candidacy (German link) and producing a surprise candidate, the 81-year old Democratic Leftie Giorgio Napolitano. The effect has been to split the Right coalition, with ex-cause célébre Rocco Buttiglione annoucing that his neo-Christian Democrats will back Napolitano, the Northern League announcing they will oppose him, whilst Forza Italia and the ex-fascists hold their peace – perhaps for lack of a decision on what to do.

Fascinatingly, as yesterday blogged, part of the problem is managing the vote so the Democratic Left’s honour is maintained. Apparently, if it looks like Napolitano won’t make it, the Left will spoil their ballots rather than submit him to a defeat. However, the split on the Right raises another possibility: in the first three rounds of voting, a two-thirds supermajority is needed to elect a president, but if there is no agreement by then, in the fourth round only a simple majority, 504 votes, is needed. It might pay to keep the Left vote down for three rounds, then plunge for the 50%+1..

Update, 1700BST: The voting has begun. Unione candidates are apparently going to cast a blank ballot in the first round. Are they pursuing the AFOE strategy?

Berlusgone

Well, this is a little late, but we ought to put on record that the fun-lovin’ minicaudillo’s fingers were eventually pried from the Italian prime ministership. As predicted, he went out with a considerable degree of low comedy, as the Italian senate struggled to elect a speaker largely because the Berlusconi side insisted on making a fuss about whether ballots cast for the eventual winner read “Franco” or “Francesco” Marini. Eventually, though, it was done.

The Senate speakership had been the last real opportunity to cling on, as the Left has a working majority in the lower house and therefore appointed its man without trouble. The deeper play of the Senate vote, by the way, was an effort to cause trouble in the Unione’s ranks – Romano Prodi chose to put forward a Refounded Communist, Faustino Bertinotti, as speaker of the lower house, thus getting the far Left on side, and therefore needed to balance the ticket by putting someone from the ex-Christian Democrat wing of his coalition in the Senate. This being achieved, Berlusconi had no longer any excuse to hang on.

The next problem will be to elect a President. In Italy, the presidency is a nonexecutive position more like that of Germany than that of France, but the president does choose who is asked to form a government, so without a prez there can be no prime minister. Now, the simplest option would just have been to re-elect Ciampi, but he says he’s too old. This is where it gets complicated, because a super-majority is needed to elect a president.

Recalling that the Refounded Communists got the speakership of the lower house, and the ex-democristiani the speakership of the upper house (and in all probability the prime ministership). Which major faction on the left is empty-handed? That’s right, the non-refounded communists, who in fact really did refound themselves to become the Democratic Left, unlike their former comrades in the Refoundation who didn’t refound themselves and remained communist. Their leader, former PM Massimo D’Alema, was therefore put forward as a candidate for the presidency even though the chance of Berlusconi’s side supporting him was exactly nil.

In fact, the Right is threatening a campaign of mass demonstrations in the event of his election, and suggesting that Marini be the President. This, your keen and agile minds will soon perceive, is a transparent device to reopen the speakership issue and thus destabilise the Left. Alternatively, the Right proposes, the secretary of the Presidency, Gianni Letta, might be a candidate.
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At least no one can accuse me of being knee-jerk pro-French

My goodness, talking about the headscarf law has brought up some interesting discussion on the blogs. It appears that my mistake was to think that this was ever about improving the lives of Muslim girls. From the responses there is one thing that is clear – this law is about legislating conformity.

For example, from Lilli Marleen:

So who is wetting their pants about what French do in their schools and Germany – hopefully – will do soon after? The girls can go to school, all they have to do is to behave like anyone else.

I’m sure that will make a stirring addition to the EU constitution: You have the right to be just like everyone else, especially if you’re under age. Any failure to take advantage of this right will be punished in the law. It is exactly this sentiment that leads people to think xenophobia towards non-Europeans is a deep seated problem.
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Where the River Bends

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the female Iraqui blogger River Bend, but my feeling is that those of you who aren’t would do well to make her acquaintance. Juan Cole describes her in his blogroll as an Iraqi nationalist, but reading the posts she doesn’t seem to be a nationalist in any stronger sense than say Blair and Bush are patriotic, or than Schroeder and Chirac are in the defence of their respective corners (of course this may well be problematic, but it is just to put things in perspective). Iraqi nationalism could also mean Baath, and this isn’t the case here. Indeed what she has to say about the Kurdish question is remarkably similar to what the Spanish PSOE seems to be proposing in connection with the Basque and Catalan ‘problems’ here in Spain. And this is not an idle comparison, since I think if you don’t get your mindset round what the ‘problem’ is in Spain, you are never going to begin to understand what it is in Iraq.

Reading one of her posts earlier this week, I couldn’t help been drawn towards an unfortunate parrallel: that between what is now taking place in Iraq and the topic of one of Scott Marten’s recent posts: the headscarf. Wouldn’t it indeed be ironic if we were about to witness a similar – if diametrically opposed error – being committed in two places at once? Whilst young French girls may be denied the right to religious expression at one end, young Iraqi ones may be denied the right to secularism. at the other And all in the name of democracy. Strange world.
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