Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Swedish minister denies claims of racism over black woman cake stunt

Sweden's minister of culture has been accused of racism after cutting a cake depicting a naked black woman.

Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was taking part in an event at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the capital's museum of modern art and home to works by Picasso and DalĂ­. She was invited to cut the cake, an art installation meant to highlight the issue of female genital mutilation. She began, as instructed, by taking a chunk from the cake's "clitoris".

The artist, Makode Aj Linde, who created the installation for World Art Day on 15 April, took part in the cake-cutting, with his blackened face and head sticking up next to the cake's stomach and arms. The cakes "insides" were a gruesome red. A video shows him screaming loudly every time a visitor hacks off another slice of the cake.

Linde posted photos of the "genital mutilation cake" on his Facebook page. But the images provoked a furious response, with Sweden's African-Swedish Association describing it as "a racist spectacle".

A spokesman for the association, Kitimbwa Sabuni, told Sweden's The Local newspaper: "In our view, this simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden."

The association has demanded her resignation. In a statement, Sabuni said the association doubted a cake party meant to highlight the issue of female genital mutilation had achieved its aim. Instead, the cake was just "a racist caricature of a black woman". He said the minister's decision to take part in a dubious event with cannibalistic overtones showed her "incompetence and lack of judgment".

Sabuni told the newspaper: "Her participation, as she laughs, drinks and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision."

Adelsohn Liljeroth, however, said she sympathised with the association's criticisms but denied she had done anything wrong. Speaking to the TT news agency, she conceded the cake installation was provocative and rather bizarre, and said she had been invited to speak about artistic freedom and the right to offend.

She added: "They wanted me to cut the cake." Ultimately, the artist was to blame for any confusion, she said, arguing that the situation had been misinterpreted. "He claims that it challenges a romanticised and exoticised view from the west about something that is really about violence and racism," she said. "Art needs to be provocative."

Sabuni dismissed the remarks, according to Swedish media reports, and called the minister's comments "extremely insulting". He added: "Sweden thinks of itself as a place where racism is not a problem. That just provides cover for not discussing the issue, which leads to incidents like this.

"To participate in a racist manifestation masquerading as art is totally over the line and can only be interpreted as the culture minister supporting the Moderna Museet's racist prank," he said.

The Guardian

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: Engaged Since Christmas

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: Engaged Since Christmas BRAD Pitt proposed to Angelina Jolie over Christmas, it has been revealed.

According to America’s Life & Style magazine, Pitt went down on one knee over the festive period but the couple decided to keep their engagement a secret until the timing was just right.

“Brad had the ring designed last year and made sure it was ready by Christmas because he wanted a romantic Christmas proposal — and he got it,” a source said.

“They didn’t announce their engagement sooner because Angie focused so much on promoting her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey.

“She was very busy with the movie and her Oscar campaign. She also worried that the engagement would take over press on her film and detract from that. There was some negative press on Blood and Honey that bothered her a lot, and she didn’t feel the timing was right. So they waited.”

Showbiz Spy

Gulf Leaders Discuss UAE-Iran Island Dispute

RTR30UMP_UAE_GCC_17APR12 Foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council held an emergency meeting in Doha Tuesday to discuss a territorial dispute between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, which some believe could pose a threat to international security. The talks followed a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Abu Musa, a Persian Gulf island controlled by Iran, but also claimed by the UAE.

Iranian state media said Mr. Ahmadinejad traveled to the disputed territory last week to deal with domestic issues.

Abu Musa is one of three islands claimed by both Iran and the UAE that lie near the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic channel through which roughly one-fifth of the world’s oil supplies are shipped.

Iran threatened to close the strait earlier this year in response to sanctions targeting its nuclear program. Analysts said if Iran were to carry out the threat, it would likely use troops stationed on Abu Musa.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan called on Tehran to end its “occupation” of the islands, saying it is not likely the consequences could “be contained by either the UAE or Iran” if the discord carried on much longer.

However, Iranian officials said their rule of the land is “not negotiable.”

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, professor of political science at the UAE University, expects Mr. Ahmadinejad’s stopover in Abu Musa to become a turning point in the confrontation.

"I think the UAE now is going to change course. It used to follow a more diplomatic, a more quiet, more peaceful approach," Abdulla said. "From now on, I think all options are open for the UAE.”

Iran has had control of the three islands since 1971, but recently agreed to negotiations with the UAE to resolve the dispute.

Sheikh Abdullah says the Iranian president’s recent actions undermined the agreement and deepened the mistrust between Iran and its neighbors.

Sunni Arab states in the Gulf have become increasingly weary of Shi’ite Iran and accuse the country of fomenting unrest in Bahrain to extend its influence in the region.

Tehran denies the accusations, but has been highly critical of Bahrain’s crackdown on Shi’ite protesters, and even built a replica of the Pearl Roundabout monument on Abu Musa.  Destroyed by the government, the original monument has become a symbol of Bahrain’s opposition movement.

In light of the escalating tensions between Iran and its Arab neighbors, David Roberts - deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in Qatar - suggests other regional issues will quickly overshadow the UAE’s territorial dispute with Iran.

“It’s in this argumentative accusatory context that we are talking about this and therefore, given that tensions are still quite high, I don’t see how there is enough space for a reasoned, measured discussion to take place,” Roberts said.

Abdulla also doubts a resolution is on the horizon. “I expect the days to come are going to be a very difficult time for the UAE-Iran relationship and the UAE-GCC relationship and 2012 is not going to be an easy year for either of us here, he said.

The UAE has urged Tehran to take the island dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

VOA News

Palestinian prisoners in mass hunger strike

Palestinian prisoners in mass hunger strike At least 1,200 Palestinian inmates of Israeli jails began an open-ended hunger strike on Tuesday, as rallies across the occupied territories marked "Prisoners' Day".

As thousands gathered in towns and cities in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, three-quarters of the 4,700 Palestinians held by Israel began refusing food, the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) said.

"In the framework of (Palestinian) Prisoners' Day, around 2,300 security prisoners said they were refusing their daily meals, and around 1,200 prisoners said they were starting a hunger strike," IPS spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said on Tuesday.

Another eight women inmates had also said they were refusing food as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian security prisoners, Weizman said.

"We have coped with hunger strikes in the past and we are prepared to do so again now," she added.

Speaking to crowds gathered in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, gave a higher figure for the hunger strike, saying "1,500 prisoners from all the factions" had joined it already and more were expected to later in the month.

"We are united and undivided when it comes to prisoners, and we will stand by them until they get their demands," he said.

The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry says there are about 4,700 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, including 319 being held without charge in so-called "administrative detention".

The action by prisoners comes on the same day that Palestinian activist Khader Adnan was due to be released as part of a deal struck earlier this year to end his 66-day hunger strike in protest at his detention without charge.

Throughout the morning, thousands of people held marches and rallies across the West Bank, with about 3,000 people gathering in Shuhada Square in central Nablus, waving Palestinian flags and holding up pictures of imprisoned relatives.

Another 1,000 or so people gathered in central Ramallah, with a sit-in planned for later in the afternoon outside the nearby Ofer prison.

In the southern West Bank city of Hebron, 1,500 people gathered holding up flags, pictures and slogans reading: "Stop the policy of solitary confinement."

Hundreds more gathered in the northern towns of Tulkarem and Qalqilya, a witneses said.

In Gaza City, about 2,000 people marched to the headquarters of the Red Cross where they set up a solidarity tent with the hunger strikers.

There are currently 10 Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli prisons, four of whom have been transferred to prison hospitals because of the fragile state of their heath, the Palestinian Prisoners Club says.

Two of them, Bilal Diab, 27, and Thaer Halahla, 34, have been refusing food for 50 days, with medics expressing concern over their deteriorating health.

Another prisoner, Hassan Safdi, on hunger strike for 44 days, was being held in the same facility, with his condition described as "very serious".

All 10 are being held without charge under administrative detention orders, which means they can be held for renewable periods of up to six months.


Argentina moves to seize control of Repsol's YPF

Cristina-Fernandez Argentine President Cristina Fernandez unveiled plans on Monday to seize control of leading energy company YPF, drawing swift warnings from key trade partners and risking the country's further economic isolation.

YPF (YPFD.BA), controlled by Spain's Repsol (REP.MC), has been under intense pressure from Fernandez's center-left government to boost production, and its share price has plunged due to months of speculation about a state takeover.

Until recently, YPF had a harmonious relationship with Fernandez, whose increasingly interventionist and off-beat policies infuriate critics. She praised YPF when it found massive resources of shale oil and natural gas in late 2010.

However, a surging fuel import bill has pushed a widening energy shortfall to the top of her agenda at a time of worsening state finances in Latin America's No. 3 economy.

Fernandez said the government would ask Congress, which she controls, to approve a bill to expropriate a controlling 51 percent stake in the company by seizing shares held exclusively by Repsol, saying energy was a "vital resource."

"If this policy continues - draining fields dry, no exploration and practically no investment - the country will end up having no viable future, not because of a lack of resources but because of business policies," she said.

YPF's market value is $10.6 billion, although an Argentine tribunal will be responsible for valuing the company as part of the takeover. Central bank reserves or state pension funds could be used for compensation, analysts say.

Fernandez, who still wears the black of mourning 18 months after the death of her husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, stunned investors in 2008 when she nationalized private pension funds at the height of the global financial crisis.

She has also renationalized the country's flagship airline, Aerolineas Argentinas.

Such measures are popular with ordinary Argentines, many of whom blame free-market policies such as the privatizations of the 1990s for the devastating economic crisis and subsequent debt default of 2001/02.

Her announcement of the YPF takeover plan, however, drew strongly worded warnings from Spain, Mexico and the European Union, a key market for Argentina's soymeal exports.

Spain vowed "clear and strong" measures over what it called a hostile decision, while the EU's executive European Commission warned that an expropriation would send a very negative signal to investors.

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon said Fernandez's plan would damage chances for future foreign investment in Argentina and hurt YPF's controlling shareholder, Spain's Repsol, in which Mexico's state oil monopoly Pemex holds a 10-percent stake.

The U.S. State Department said it was following developments.

Repsol described Argentina's move as "clearly unlawful and seriously discriminatory" and said it would take legal action.

But Fernandez dismissed the risk of reprisals.

"This president isn't going to respond to any threats ... because I represent the Argentine people. I'm the head of state, not a thug," she said.

Venezuela, where socialist President Hugo Chavez has nationalized almost all the OPEC member's giant oil industry during his 13 years in power, applauded her move.

"Venezuela rejects the threats and attempts at intimidation from Europe ... and calls on all the sisterly nations of the continent to accompany Argentina in the exercise of its sovereign rights," its Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Fernandez's row with YPF comes as her administration heaps pressure on Britain over oil exploration off the disputed Falkland Islands, over which Argentina claims sovereignty.


A decade after staging the biggest sovereign debt default in history, Argentina has yet to return to global credit markets, and economic analysts said seizing control of YPF might make it even harder for the country to get fresh financing.

"YPF's expropriation does little to improve the already poor investment climate," said Ignacio Labaqui, local analyst for New York-based consultancy Global Medley Advisors.

Under the terms of the bill, the government would hold 51 percent of the expropriated shares and the rest would be held by the country's energy-producing provinces.

All of the shares targeted by the government belong to Repsol, which owns 57 percent of YPF. Repsol's Argentine partner, the Eskenazi family's Grupo Petersen, will not be affected. Petersen owns a 25.5 percent stake in YPF.

Fernandez said she had also passed a decree giving the government immediate administrative control of the company.

Speculation over a takeover has been weighing on Argentine asset prices for weeks, meaning Monday's news had been factored in by many investors. Still, U.S.-listed YPF shares (YPF.N) fell 11 percent before trading was suspended in New York and Buenos Aires.

The spread between the yield on benchmark Argentine bonds and comparable U.S. Treasuries widened after the announcement but was up just 2 basis points at 948 basis points at 2100 GMT, according to the JPMorgan Emerging Markets Bond Index, in line with the rest of the index.


Energy analysts say the government's heavy-handed approach is unlikely to resolve Argentina's energy time-bomb despite the discovery of the huge shale oil and gas resources.

"In the short term, I don't think this will solve anything. It doesn't mean that YPF's going to start producing more starting tomorrow," Argentine analyst Eduardo Fernandez said.

Argentina's hydrocarbons output has been in decline for years at a time of strong demand from industry and consumers.

Crude production fell 5.9 percent and natural gas output slipped 3.4 percent last year as power demand rose 5.1 percent, according to the latest figures from the Argentine Institute of Petroleum and Gas.

YPF's proven reserves of crude and natural gas - which do not include the new shale finds - fell 15 percent and 31 percent respectively between 2007 and 2010.

Massive, long-term investment will be required to bring the shale resources on stream, and the spiraling cost of fuel imports prompted Fernandez to seek a swifter resolution to the country's growing energy deficit.

Imports of fuels such as liquefied natural gas and diesel doubled last year to about $9.4 billion, playing a major part in eroding the president's cherished trade surplus.

Bolstering foreign currency stocks is especially important for Fernandez because she uses them to service the public debt, freeing up more spending for the welfare programs that helped her win a landslide re-election late last year.

(Additional reporting by Karina Grazina, Juliana Castilla and Hugh Bronstein in Buenos Aires, Andres Gonzalez in Madrid, John Crawley in Washington, and Daniel Wallis in Caracas; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Dale Hudson and Lisa Shumaker)

Auto News Users