Daily Archives: October 16, 2008

Berlusconi calls for Russia to join the EU

Russia’s President Vladmir Putin, left, gestures as Italy’s Premier-elect Silvio Berlusconi looks on, during a joint news conference after talks in Berlusconi’s Villa Certosa in Porto Rotondo, on the island region of Sardinia, Italy, Friday, April 18, 2008. The Italian prime minister has had a friendly relationship with Russian Prime Minister Putin for several years and invited the former president of Russia, along with his family, to stay at his private residence on the island of Sardinia.

AFP | Oct 16, 2008

BRUSSELS (AFP) — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that he is in favour of Russia becoming a member of the European Union, a “vision” he has held for several years.

“I consider Russia to be a Western country and my plan is for the Russian Federation to be able to become a member of the European Union in the coming years,” Berlusconi told reporters in Brussels.

He said that first of all the European Union should resume talks with Moscow on a partnership agreement that was suspended following a war between Russia and Georgia in August.

“Me, I want to go further. I have had this vision for years,” Berlusconi said as he arrived in Brussels for an EU summit.

The Italian prime minister has had a friendly relationship with Russian Prime Minister Putin for several years and invited the former president of Russia, along with his family, to stay at his private residence on the island of Sardinia.

The EU suspended talks on a partnership agreement with Moscow on September 1 in protest at Russia’s formal recognition of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Relations are fraught over a number of other areas including over the eastwards enlargement of the EU to former Soviet-bloc nations, US plans for elements of a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and expansion of the NATO military alliance.

Russia in turn has been accused of using its status as a major hydrocarbons exporter to political ends and has faced criticisms over alleged human rights abuses and democratic flaws in this year’s presidential election.

But Moscow and the EU need each other. Russia is the main source of Europe’s oil and gas and Russia is a major and fast-growing market for the continent’s firms.

More Russian exports go to the EU than anywhere else while Russia is the bloc’s third biggest trade partner after the United States and China.

Politically too, Moscow has close ties with Europe. Of all countries with which the EU has tight relations, it has the most frequent official meetings with Russia. Two EU-Russia summits are held annually compared with only one with the United States and China.

There are also regular meetings with the Russian foreign minister as well as numerous forums on subjects ranging from human rights to investment, justice issues and culture.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency and which brokered a six-point Russia-Georgia ceasefire agreement, has indicated that he is in favour of resuming talks on the stalled new cooperation pact.

Currently, their relations are governed by a partnership accord that dates from 1997, when Russia was still suffering economically from the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The new partnership pact is supposed to deepen relations between the two sides both politically and economically and especially as regards energy supplies to Europe, eager to secure gas and oil supply guarantees.

Taser activist hounded by spies, crooked cops and industry reps

Tasers in spotlight of alleged French spying plot

AP | Oct 16, 2008


PARIS (AP) — A postman-turned-leftist politician who has campaigned against the use of Tasers claims he has been targeted by a shady spy ring — allegedly made up of crooked cops, private eyes and the head of a French company that sells the stun guns.

The bizarre tale unfolding in France this week is the latest chapter of a global controversy over the use of Tasers, which are used by many police departments around the world. The weapon was designed as a non-lethal means to immobilize suspects, but it has been blamed for some deaths.

French police this week detained 11 people in a probe into the spying allegations by Olivier Besancenot, a mail carrier who heads the country’s far-left Communist Revolutionary League. He says he and his family were trailed and spied on because of his campaign against Tasers.

By Wednesday night, seven people remained in custody, including two officials of a private detective firm, a customs agent, current and former police officers and the president of SMP Technologies, which markets Tasers in France.

Besancenot ran for president last year, and during his campaign he blamed stun guns for 150 deaths in the United States.

SMP Technologies has filed suit charging Besancenot with defamation over his anti-Taser comments.

Police searched the company’s offices and found a copy of what is described as an incriminating report of an investigation, a police official close to the probe said.

A check for $5,420 from SMP was found at the detective agency, the official said, but added that it did not establish the agency was paid to spy on Besancenot.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation and agreed to discuss the case only if not quoted by name.

Besancenot is not the only one to raise questions about police use of the Taser, a pistol-shaped weapon that shoots excruciatingly painful, 50,000-volt barbs of electricity meant to stun targets.

In Canada, an official report last month criticized the country’s federal police for failing to do enough research on the dangers of Tasers before approving the weapon for use. The report was ordered after the 2007 death of a Polish immigrant Tasered by police at Vancouver’s airport.

Another report, warning of the dangers of firing a Taser at those high on drugs, prompted police in San Antonio, Texas, this week to ban the stun gun’s use on anyone known to be under the influence.

In New York last month, a man plunged head first to his death from a 10-foot-high perch after he was Tasered. The officer who ordered the stun gun’s use later killed himself.

Associated Press writers Jean-Pierre Verges and Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

Winston Churchill ‘bribed Franco’s generals to stay out of the war’

The Times | Oct 15, 2008

Graham Keeley in Barcelona

Winston Churchill authorised millions of dollars in bribes to stop General Franco from entering the Second World War on the side of Germany, a new book claims.

The British wartime leader persuaded Juan March, a Spanish banker, to act as a secret agent, organising payments of millions of dollars to the generals. In return the generals persuaded Franco not to side with Hitler.

The plot was revealed by the historian Pere Ferrer in Juan March: The Most Mysterious Man in the World, after researching papers in British and US archives.

In the summer of 1940 Churchill was convinced that Spain would enter the war on the side of Hitler after receiving reports that Franco and the Germans were planning to invade Gibraltar. Ferrer has claimed that a British officer, Alan Hillgarth, came up with a plan to bribe the generals, believing that Franco’s high command was corrupt and, because they were not paid much, would be open to bribery.

A letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Solborg, a US agent in Portugal, to J. Donovan, the head of strategic services, read: “The Spaniard selected to be the main internal instrument to acquire the political favours of these generals was the rich financier Juan March.”

March, who earned a fortune during the First World War dealing in contraband tobacco, seemed an unlikely ally because during the Spanish Civil War he sided with Franco.

Ferrer said that questions remained as to whether March was a double agent. He claimed that documents suggested March may have stayed in the pay of the Germans while working for the British. When he was approached by the British in 1940, however, March accepted the role. He approached 30 generals who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. Though their sympathies had been with the Nazis they switched sides.

The $10 million bribe money was deposited in a bank account in New York in 1940 but the plot nearly fell apart a year later when the US Treasury thought that March was using the money to support Hitler.

The British Ambassador in Washington convinced President Roosevelt that British military interests depended on the account being unfrozen. The Americans relented and in 1942 alone the generals received between $3 million and $5 million.

The book said that some generals were not simply bought off by bribes – many loathed Franco. In a reference to Franco, General Alfredo Kindelan wrote in his memoirs: “You could sense vertigo in him above all else because, like climbers who go higher than they are able, he felt dizzy from having reached such heights with limited abilities.”

After the Second World War March returned to the sedate life of finance, dying in 1962 aged 82.

Franco and Hitler

— General Franco’s rise to power, leading the Nationalist armies to victory against the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, was supported by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy during the 1930s

— Franco’s only meeting with Hitler took place in October 1940. Hitler refused to offer Franco French colonial possessions in return for Spain’s support in the war. After their meeting, Hitler remarked that he would “as soon have three or four teeth pulled out” as barter with Franco again

— Franco did allow Hitler to use Spanish naval bases during the Second World War. German U-boats were resupplied at its ports and Italian bombers refuelled at its airfields, while Spain helped to build observation posts around Gibraltar for German spies

—  Spain declared complete neutrality in 1943, allowing Franco, right, to retain power until 1975, when he died in his bed