Thursday, 26 May 2011

Serbian War Crimes Fugitive Ratko Mladic Arrested

Serbian President Boris Tadic has announced the arrest of longtime war-crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, the former commander of Bosnian Serb forces during the war that took place after Yugoslavia's breakup.

President Tadic said Mladic was arrested on Serbian soil and that the process of handing him over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal is under way.

Tadic said Serbia has now closed another chapter in its recent history, one that will bring the country a step closer to full reconciliation.  He promised there also will be an investigation into why it took 16 years to apprehend the 69-year-old former military leader.

The United Nations tribunal on war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia indicted Mladic in 1995 for atrocities he allegedly carried out or ordered during the three-year siege of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, and for the killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys near the city of Srebrenica.

The massacre of civilians at Srebrenica is considered to be the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War.  Mladic also was seen as the architect of a bloody 43-month mortar assault on Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, from 1992-96 - the longest siege in the history of modern warfare.  

Mladic was one of three principal war-crimes suspects who remained at large for years following the war in Bosnia.  Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was captured in 2008 in Belgrade.  Still wanted is a key Croatian Serb figure, Goran Hadzic.

The chief prosecutor for the U.N. war crimes tribunal, Serge Brammertz, had criticized Serbia last week for not doing enough to capture Mladic or Hadzic.

European Union officials have made delivering Mladic a key condition for favorable action on Serbia's application to join the EU.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

Thousands of Spaniards in central Madrid have defied a ban on their protest camp and continued their open-air sit-in.

Thousands of Spaniards in central Madrid have defied a ban on their protest camp and continued their open-air sit-in.

Spain's electoral board had ruled that the gathering could not continue into the weekend.

It argued the protest could unduly influence voters taking part in local and regional elections across the country on Sunday.

The decision - and the deadline - were met with jeers in Puerta del Sol, where thousands gather every evening - and hundreds have been camping out for a week now.

Dubbed the "Spanish revolution", the protest began with a march through Madrid on Sunday, led by young Spaniards angry at mass unemployment, austerity measures and political corruption.

It turned into a spontaneous sit-in on the square in Sol, which organisers say has now been mirrored in 57 other cities.

Our life is practically over, but they are acting for their future. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose”

Alfredo Guerra
Unemployed hotel worker
Independent of any trade union or political party, the protesters' ranks have been swollen through campaigns on social networking sites and Twitter.

"Finally the Spanish people are on the street," says Juan Lopez, 30, a camp spokesman. He lost his job six months ago in a round of staff cuts due to the economic crisis.

"Young people are here because they're worried about the future. We can't tolerate it that 43% of the young have no jobs. That should be the first priority of our society," he argues.

Spain's young generation has been hard-hit by the crisis. Most had temporary contracts, making them cheap and easy to fire.

Many highly-qualified graduates are forced to work as low-paid interns for years and a growing number have moved back home to live with their parents.

'Democracy camp'
Increasingly frustrated, they have finally found their voice.

"On Sunday we realised we were not alone," Juan Lopez explains. "Before [the march] we didn't feel we could make a difference. Now we want the politicians to listen to the people, and help change our country."

The protesters are not identifying with any particular political party, Spanish media say.
The protesters' demands, pasted up all over Puerta del Sol, are impossible to ignore.

A statue of King Carlos III on horseback has been decorated with declarations. The metro entrance is now a vast citizens' noticeboard. "We are not slaves," one sign says; another instructs: "No alcohol: today the priority is revolution!"

The camp has become more organised by the day, with bright blue tarpaulins strung from statues and lamp posts and tents pitched on the cobblestones. There are sofas, mattresses and - since Wednesday - four chemical toilets, provided by the firm for free.

Behind a table piled high with fruit, biscuits and Turkish delight, is a mountain of milk cartons, canned fish and crisps.

"I brought bread, tomatoes, cheese and chickpeas," says Leticia Moya, 28, an unemployed nursery worker who lives close to the camp and is one of many supporters donating supplies.

"I feel we should all collaborate, however we can. I can't stay sleeping here overnight, but at least I can bring food. I don't have much, but I prefer to spend my money on this, than on going out at the weekend," she says.

Usually filled with mime artists, tourists and shoppers, the plaza in Sol has been transformed into a vast democracy camp.

During the day, curious locals - many of them pensioners - tour the site, joining in on one of dozens of animated debates.

Suggestions box
There are committees for food, cleaning, legal affairs and communication and daily assembly meetings that hear proposals and allow joint decisions to be made.

The protests have spread to Bilbao in the north and to other cities in Spain
"It's the young who are leading this," says Alfredo Guerra, admiringly, as he listens in on one assembly. A hotel worker, aged 56, he also lost his job in the recession.

"Our life is practically over, but they are acting for their future. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose," he says.

A core group of protesters have been camping out non-stop since Sunday. Others, who have to work or study, sign up for shifts to join them.

A rough attempt by police to dislodge the apparently peaceful demonstration on Sunday night only brought more people out in support.

In one corner, there is a queue to sign a petition that reads: "We want to demonstrate that society is not asleep, and we will fight for what we deserve. We want a society that prioritises people over economic interests."

"We're fed up with politicians governing according to the markets, and not the needs of the citizens," explains Antonio Rodriguez. "They don't represent us - we're asking for change," he says.

Opinion polls show the Socialist government will fare badly in Sunday's elections. But the protesters in Sol are no happier with Spain's right-wing alternative.

There is much talk on the plaza of electoral reform - to prevent power simply switching back and forth between two parties. Many also demand a ban on all candidates implicated in corruption.

Proposals for debate are posted in a suggestions box.

The camp in Sol has been growing every night, even spawning its own internet TV channel - - and dominating the local news coverage. But as it all emerged spontaneously, no-one is quite sure where it will lead.

Despite the ban, they have vowed to stay put - right in the middle of Madrid.

"For the moment, we're staying here 24 hours a day," says Juan Lopez. "We have to make sure our message is heard."

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

EasyJet, the low-cost carrier, has reported a 94% rise in pre-tax losses

The airline claimed the losses were "in line with expectations" and attributed costs of £43m to the increase in fuel costs, and £21m to rises in passenger tax.

The airline recorded an 8.1% increase in revenue for the period to £1.27bn.

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet, said: "The past six months has been tough, with sharply rising fuel costs, combined with cautious behaviour by consumers and an adverse impact from taxes on passengers.

"Despite this difficult environment, we have made strong progress over the past six months in implementing the strategy outlined, following our review of the business last year.

"We have also made use of the commercial freedom granted by the brand licence agreement and delivered progress in controlling costs."

The airline stated that it was disappointed by the Government’s proposals to change air passenger duty (APD), which, easyJet claims, will "reduce the incentives the tax provides for environmentally efficient travel and will undermine economic growth".

EasyJet said it would be launching a new campaign to voice its concerns to the Government about further rises in APD.   

EasyJet and its founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, settled their "easy" brand name dispute in court last October, when the airline agreed to pay thousands of pounds a year in royalties to Haji-Ioannou in order to use the "easy" name.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Middle-ranking gardai have demanded a specialist unit within the force to crack down on social welfare fraud.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) said a dedicated benefits fraud team would save the public purse as much as 300 million euro.
Sergeant Padraic Tully, on the Agsi national executive, said the unit would work with the Department of Social Protection to weed out prolific and repeat offenders in particular.

Organised crime is changing and becoming increasingly diverse in its methods, group structures, and impact on society, reveals Europol’s 2011 Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA), published today.

Organised crime is changing and becoming increasingly diverse in its methods, group structures, and impact on society, reveals Europol’s 2011 Organised Crime Threat Assessment (OCTA), published today. The bi–annual report, which assesses current and expected trends in organised crime affecting the European Union, explores how a new criminal landscape is emerging, marked increasingly by highly mobile and flexible groups operating in multiple jurisdictions and criminal sectors.

"Organised crime is a multi–billion euro business in Europe and it is growing in scale. The further expansion of Internet and mobile technologies, the proliferation of illicit trafficking routes and methods as well as opportunities offered by the global economic crisis, have all contributed to the development of a more potent threat from organised crime," says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.

The report highlights the fact that criminal groups are increasingly multi–commodity and poly–criminal in their activities, gathering diverse portfolios of criminal business interests, improving their resilience at a time of economic austerity and strengthening their capability to identify and exploit new illicit markets. Activities such as carbon credit fraud, payment card fraud and commodity counterfeiting attract increasing interest due to a lower level of perceived risk.

The OCTA estimates for the first time that organised crime groups derived more than 1.5 billion euro from payment card fraud in the EU. While the introduction of the EMV chip standard provides a very high level of protection for payment card transactions within the EU, lack of wholesale implementation in other regions has compelled EU card issuers to retain magnetic strips. As a result, half the fraudulent withdrawals made with cloned EU payment cards are currently made outside the EU.

Strong levels of cooperation exist between different organised crime groups, more than ever before, transcending national, ethnic, and business differences. An increasingly collaborative atmosphere has also intensified the practice of barter, in which illicit commodities are exchanged rather than purchased with cash. This has made organised crime activities less visible to authorities targeting criminal assets.

Internet technology has now emerged as a key facilitator for the vast majority of offline organised crime activity. In addition to the high–tech crimes of cybercrime, payment card fraud, the distribution of child abuse material, and audio visual piracy, extensive use of the internet now underpins illicit drug synthesis, extraction and distribution, the recruitment and marketing of victims of trafficking in human beings, the facilitation of illegal immigration, the supply of counterfeit commodities, trafficking in endangered species, and many other criminal activities. It is also widely used as a secure communication and money laundering tool by criminal groups.

In geographical terms the most prominent organised crime activities in the EU are underpinned by a logistical architecture located around five key hubs.

The North West hub retains its role as the principal coordination centre for drug distribution, due to its proximity to highly profitable destination markets, its well developed commercial and transport infrastructure, and its production capacity. The North East hub remains a focus for transit of illicit commodities to and from the Former Soviet Union and a base for violent poly–criminal groups with international reach. The rapid expansion in Europe, in the last two years, of the activities of Lithuanian organised crime groups is a notable feature. The leading role of the South West hub in cocaine and cannabis resin transit and distribution persists despite eastward shifts in some trafficking routes, and it currently serves also as a transit zone for victims of THB for sexual exploitation. The Southern hub continues to be prominent in criminal entrepreneurship, as a centre for counterfeit currency and commodities, a transit zone for victims of THB and illegal immigrants, and a base for some of the best resourced criminal groups in Europe.

Of all the hubs the South East has seen the greatest expansion in recent years, as a result of increased trafficking via the Black Sea, proliferation of numerous Balkan routes for illicit commodities to and from the EU, and a significant increase in illegal immigration via Greece. These developments in the region have contributed to the formation of a Balkan axis for trafficking to the EU, consisting of the Western Balkans and South East Europe. New transit hubs are in the process of being formed in countries such as Hungary, where several Balkan and Black Sea routes converge. Albanian speaking, Turkish and Former Soviet Union criminal groups are seeking to expand their interests in the EU, and may exploit opportunities in the possible accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen Zone, and recent and prospective EU visa exemptions for Western Balkan states, the Ukraine and Moldova.

"Europol’s OCTA is the definitive EU assessment of organised crime activity. Ministers, police chiefs, and policy makers will use it to set priorities and establish effective response measures. Europol looks forward to continuing to play a significant role in the fight against organised crime," says the Europol Director, Rob Wainwright.


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