Western European News Digest
Merkel Raised Issue of Guantanamo During U.S. Visit
German Prime Minister Angela Merkel arrived in the U.S. Jan. 12; she was to give a presentation at the German Embassy that evening, to a select audience, invited by the American Council on Germany and the German Foreign Policy Association. Prominents invited include former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Fed chairman Alan Greenspan.
Merkel was scheduled to have breakfast with members of Congress, notably Senators Bill Frist, John Kyl, Joe Biden, and Joseph Lieberman; she was also to meet with President Bush for 30 minutes, followed by a dinnerall in all, Merkel and Bush were scheduled to spend three hours together.
One of the topics Merkel raised with Bush was the issue of the United States' Guantanamo prison. In an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine before she left, Merkel said, "An institution like Guantanamo cannot and must not continue to exist in that way. Other ways and means to deal with the prisoners have to be found."
British General Calls for Blair's Impeachment
General Sir Michael Rose has called for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be impeached for going to war on Iraq "on false grounds." General Rose, who was Commander of UN forces in Bosnia, is one of a group of retired senior military officers who are criticizing Blair's war policy in a documentary scheduled to be aired in January. Rose appeared on BBC's Radio Four Today Programme Jan. 9, where he said: "To go to war on what turns out to be false grounds is something that no one should be allowed to walk away from.... Certainly from a soldier's perspective, there cannot be any more serious decision taken by a Prime Minister than declaring war."
Rose has said that he would have resigned his commission rather than take troops to war on the basis offered by Blair, but added it would be wrong to just walk away from Iraq now. "The politicians should be held to account, and my own view is that Blair should be impeached. That would prevent politicians treating quite so carelessly the subject of taking a country to war."
Egyptian Document May Offer Proof of Secret Prisons
Investigators for the Council of Europe say that an Egyptian government document could be indirect proof that the CIA ran secret prisons for terrorist suspects in Europe. The Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick reported Jan. 8 that an Egyptian goverment document stated that it had confirmed through its own sources that the CIA had held 23 terrorist suspects at a base in Romania, and other suspects in prisons in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. The document is a fax from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to its London Embassy.
The Council of Europe has been designated to investigate the charges about CIA rendition flights and prisons in European nations. Chief investigator Dick Marty has received a copy of the document, according to CoE officials, and is trying to confirm if it is genuine. If so, it could be indirect proof of the existence of the prisons, and that European governments involved have not revealed all they know of the matter.
This document was intercepted by Swiss intelligence on Nov. 15, SonntagsBlick reported, and now the Swiss Defense Ministry is investigating the leak.
'Bomb Al-Jazeera' Leak Came from Two British MPs
Two British Members of Parliament leaked the story of George Bush's threats to bomb the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera to an American contact back in October 2004, in an attempt to get it out in the U.S. media before the Presidential elections. In April 2004, Bush had told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Al-Jazeera's headquarters should be eliminated. A transcript of the discussion was given to then-MP Tony Clarke by a Cabinet employee, David Keogh, and Leo O'Connor, Clarke's researcher. Clarke consulted Labour backbencher (and outspoken war opponent) Peter Kilfoyle on the issue, and after Keogh and O'Connor were arrested under the Official Secrets Act, the two MPs decided to send their information to their California contact John Latham, a contributing member of the Democratic National Committee, in October 2004. The MPs wanted Latham to send letters on the issue to newspapers in New York and Los Angeles, but Latham did not do so.
Late last year, Keogh and O'Connor were finally charged under the Official Secrets Act, and within days the transcript was leaked to the Daily Mirror, which published parts of the story. British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith threatened other newspapers with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if they published more on the story, but has not been able to cover it up.
German State Governors Demand Nuclear Power Options
In an interview with Germany's Leipziger Volkszeitung Jan. 9, Roland Koch (Christian Democrat), said that "the construction of new nuclear power plants should not be ruled out, in principle. We must keep this option open for the next decade."
"This is a technical and economic question, not one of ideology.... It would be a success for the Grand Coalition to leave open the question of whether a nuclear power plant should be shut down," Koch added, referring to the problem of three nuclear plants that are supposed to be decommissioned by the end of 2009, under the existing nuclear exit law. The three plants are Biblis I (2007), Neckarwestheim I (2008), and Biblis II (2009).
In another interview, with Radio Berlin-Brandenburg, Gov. Guenther Oettinger of Baden-Wuerttemberg urged that all 17 existing nuclear plants in Germany be kept operating as long as possible. The alternatives are either to import electricity from France, at higher prices than if produced in Germany, or to import even more natural gas from Russia and Eastern Europe.
A third Christian Democratic Governor, Hans-Peter Mueller (Saarland), called for a "moratorium on the exit," to avoid shutting down any nuclear plants in the coming years.
Spanish General Put Under House Arrest
For the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship in Spain 30 years ago, a general, Jose Mena Aguadothe Chief of the Spanish Armywas put under House arrest for 80 days and relieved of all duties by Jose Bono, Spain's Defense Minister. The reason given was that the General, during a New Year's reception in Seville Jan. 6, had indirectly threatened to use military force against Catalonia, if the region continued its demands for autonomy. The General referred to Article 8 of the Spanish Constitution, whereby the Armed Forces have to guarantee the sovereignty of the country and its territorial integrity. The same Constitution, however, also says that the Spanish Army should not interfere in political debates.
Longshoremen Protest Continued Port Deregulation
For 24 hours Jan. 11, more than 40,000 longshoremen and ship pilots staged walkouts at some 50 ports in Europe, mainly in Germany and the Netherlands. The protests were aimed at the EU Commission's Port Package II plan, which involves further deregulation of port structures, the dismantling of traditional standards of loading-unloading, and reduced safety and health standards.
The Commission's plan would, for example, permit any murky "entrepreneur" from anywhere in the globalized world, to offer his services at dumping prices, including permitting unscrupulous shipowners to force their own crews to load and unloadwhether or not they are qualified to do that. With that, aspects of slavery would return to Europe's ports.
Remarkable at the protest action was the level of coordination, for the first time in such a European-wide labor union strike action, and remarkable too was the support which this action received from the (public-sector) port authorities and shipowners.
45,000 Cars Burned in France in 2005
The Interior Ministry published its figures for delinquency in France for last year, including the November riot-rampages. Altogether, 45,000 cars were burned throughout the year, with 10,000 destroyed during the riots. According to Le Parisian, which published advance information of the report, this figure is up from "normal" years, when "only" around 30,000 cars are burned. The paper describes this as a French specialty, a form of aggression against an intimate element of a person, without attacking the person himself.