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Saturday Holiday in Iraq Called 'Zionist Plot'


Iraqi students have protested a decision to extend the weekend holiday to include Saturday, saying it is a Zionist plot. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawai had announced that the Muslim prayer day of Friday would be followed by another day off. Critics demanded that the extra day of rest be on Thursday in order not to recognize the Jewish Sabbath as a day of rest.

Sharon Warns Palestinians Must Take Action Against Terrorists

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's prime minister said Sunday that a faction of the Palestinian terrorist group Islamic Jihad, based in Syria, was behind Friday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed four Israelis and injured dozens more. Ariel Sharon also called on the Palestinian Authority to take decisive action against terrorist groups. He blamed Islamic Jihad elements in Syria for the bombing, but said that fact does not absolve the Palestinian Authority of its responsibility to go after terrorists. Speaking before Sunday's regular cabinet meeting, Sharon said the test for the Palestinian Authority would be in how vigorously it acts against Islamic Jihad.

He said Israel was interested in moving toward peace with the Palestinians, but warned there would be no progress until the Palestinians take strong action against terrorists. The prime minister also said Israel had shown restraint recently to facilitate progress, but said if the Palestinians do not begin taking vigorous action, Israel would.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would not take up arms against his own people, preferring to bring the militants into the political process. Abbas blamed what he called "third parties" for trying to sabotage peace efforts. Palestinian police have arrested several men with ties to Islamic Jihad in connection with the bombing.

Syria quickly rejected Israel's accusations saying that the Islamic Jihad office in Damascus has been closed. And, the Reuter news agency quoted an unnamed Syrian Foreign Ministry official as saying Sunday that Damascus supports the Palestinian peace process with Israel, and the bombing on Friday contradicts its policy.

Cabinet Approves 'Big Brother' Unit


The Israel Cabinet has approved the establishment of a special unit to combat incitement and public disruptions in protest of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. The unit is the idea of Justice Minister Tzippy Livni, who wants to ensure that the process of prosecuting protesters is streamlined ahead of the mass opposition to the implementation of the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern Shomron and the forced removal of the Jewish residents living there.

The government decision stipulates that the unit would be responsible for, "legal proceedings against incidents of incitement to violence, rebellion and protest activities, including blocking roads, holding unauthorized demonstrations and threats against public servants in the context of the struggle against the disengagement."

Shabak (General Security Services) chief Avi Dichter told the Cabinet that he does not believe the time for using administrative detention (jailing without trial for up to six months) against anti-withdrawal activists has arrived yet. Dichter noted that by law making such arrests was within his power. But he did not believe, however, that it was necessary or advisable to do so at present.

The statement came after much publicized debate recently over what steps Israel's security forces ought to take to thwart expected resistance to Sharon's planned disengagement. Security agencies expect tens of thousands of those who oppose the disengagement to rally around those being exiled from their homes led by charismatic right-wing faction leaders and have considered putting those leaders under administrative arrest in order to allow them to force through the withdrawal.

The Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) Council criticized the establishment of the new unit, which it termed, "the thought police." "The new unit's purpose is to shut the mouths of those who are opposed to the expulsion plan and to brand them inciters," the council said. "[Its purpose is to] forbid us to think differently than the government. The democratic right to protest is slowly disappearing in face of the 'sanctified' disengagement plan."

The new unit will combat anti-disengagement protests and demonstrations, and will work in coordination with the Shabak to deter activists from engaging mass civil disobedience.

Activist Barch Marzel, who heads the newly-founded Jewish National Front suggested sarcastically that Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan - appointed head of the legal team for the new unit - ask for the death penalty when punishing anti-government activists. "When in a dictatorship, act like you are in a dictatorship," Marzel said. "If someone can have a police investigation opened against him for calling Sharon a dictator, then it is possible for punishments like that to eventually be meted out in the same manner."

Threat of Neo-Nazi March Hangs over German War Ceremony

By Bell Globemedia Publishing

A neo-Nazi plan to disrupt a commemoration ceremony marking 60 years since the end of the Second World War has created unprecedented unity among Germany's three major political parties in a desperate effort to avoid international embarrassment.

The National Democratic Party (NPD), an openly anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler party that German governments have repeatedly tried to ban, has applied to hold a major demonstration on May 8, known as "end-of-war day" in Germany and V-E Day elsewhere. The march would take thousands of neo-Nazis through Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of the unification of East and West, and past the new Memorial to the Murdered European Jews, an austere Holocaust monument designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman.

The governing and opposition parties put aside deep differences this week and agreed to pass a law by March 11 that would make it easier for police to ban public demonstrations by limiting the right to public assembly.

Berlin's political and intellectual circles have become consumed with the difficult question of how to prevent the demonstration without violating the German constitution's strong protection of civil liberties, and without offending one or another of the parties. Such a law could potentially affect other protests, such as the rallies that greeted President George W. Bush in Mainzt last Wednesday. These are the sort of protests that brought the Green Party, part of Germany's governing coalition, to power in the 1990s.

But the embarrassment that a neo-Nazi rally would cause on such a well-observed day has led almost all the major parties, including the Greens and the opposition Christian Democrats, to embrace new restrictions on civil liberties." It's about Germany's image abroad," said Hartmut Koschyk, a spokesman for the Christian Democratic Party.

Members of the conservative Christian Democrats are usually deeply opposed to any legislation proposed by Germany's ruling "red-green" coalition of Social Democratic and Green parties. Only a few weeks ago, Christian Democratic leaders accused the ruling coalition of having created the same economic conditions that brought Hitler to power in 1933.

With 12 per cent of the population unemployed in a stagnant economy, disgruntled Germans in eastern regions recently voted for extremist parties in unprecedented numbers, leading the NPD to win seats in a provincial election last fall. This neo-Nazi revival, while limited in scope and widely condemned throughout German society, has caught political leaders off guard. The NPD has embarrassed Germans before, such as three years ago when thousands of skinheads marched in front of Berlin's largest synagogue.

Germans are now left with the tricky question of how to use laws to prevent the May 8 demonstration. The NPD has been able to make its demonstrations legal by carefully crafting its applications so they don't violate Germany's 10-year-old law against Holocaust denial. Last week, the governing parties proposed an expansion of that law that would also ban public demonstrations that included the "playing down of" the significance of the Holocaust and other Nazi human-rights atrocities. That, they argued, would render illegal any NPD demonstration, especially one held near the Holocaust memorial. But legal advisers said that this language would be unconstitutional, as it would outlaw all sorts of rude but commonplace behavior.

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