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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Terrorist arrests;NATO alliance;Bakoyannis new party;Greek,Cypriot leaders meet;Saakashvilli's pledge;Serbia-EU-Kosovo;Religious Fasting, human health

Authorities have arrested 10 people in two separate terrorism investigations in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, Belgian officials said Tuesday. Some of them are suspected of links to terror suspect Bassam Ayachi, who was charged in 2009 with preparing terrorist attacks. The suspects were using a jihadi website to plan an attack on an unspecified target in Belgium, police said. The investigation, which also looked into the financing of what police called a Chechen terror organization, has been going on since late 2009, according to a statement from the Belgian prosecutor's office. Those arrested are Belgian, Dutch, Moroccan and Chechen, authorities said. Belgian counterterrorism sources told CNN that two unrelated police operations targeting terrorist suspects are under way, one in Brussels and another in Antwerp. The sources say police have visited 15 locations in Brussels, the nation's capital, as part of a continuing investigation into a terrorist cell linked to Ayachi. A number of arrests have been made. The other investigation is focused on Antwerp, where several people have been arrested in connection with a jihadist plot to attack targets in Belgium. The operation there follows a year of investigation, the sources say. The Antwerp investigation began after a U.S. intelligence agency passed on intercept information to their Belgian counterparts, an intelligence source told CNN.

On November 19 and 20, the heads of state of NATO member countries came together in Lisbon for their annual summit, at which they adopted a new strategic charter that will guide the alliance for the next decade. The charter repositions NATO to meet 21st century threats like insurgencies, cyber attacks, and terrorism. The military alliance also took the historic steps of including Russia in its meeting -- in hopes of what NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called "a fresh start" in relations -- and agreed to develop a missile-defense system to protect all NATO territory. Less than 48 hours after the summit ended, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder sat down with RFE/RL's chief Washington editor Christian Caryl to talk about the alliance's achievements and the challenges that remain. To read the entire interview, please click here.

Former conservative Foreign Minister and New Democracy outcast Dora Bakoyannis yesterday broke a long silence and launched her own political party, named Democratic Alliance, before an audience of about 5,000 supporters. In a speech at a crowded Badminton Theater in Goudi, Bakoyannis said that her party would be a business-friendly alliance that would seek “cooperation and common ground with other political forces” from the center of the spectrum to help extract Greece from its debt crisis. The new party’s logo is an olive tree in blue and orange colors. The 56-year-old politician, who served as mayor of Athens between 2002 and 2006 and foreign minister under the previous conservative government from 2006 to 2009, defended her decision to vote in favor of an international rescue plan for Greece in May, a move that led ND leader Antonis Samaras to oust her from the party. “There were some measures in the memorandum that I disagreed with and still disagree with,” Bakoyannis said, referring to the agreement between Greece and its international creditors. “But at that moment, in May, the dilemma was inexorable for all, approval of the rescue mechanism or immediate bankruptcy,” she added. Bakoyannis also directed clear criticism against ND for its rhetoric against the rescue package. “Choosing not to vote for saving your country and not bearing the political cost of your decisions is the epitome of extreme and irresponsible populist politics,” she said. Several former ND cadres attended Bakoyannis’s speech and there were reports of interest by current members of ND, fueling speculation that Bakoyannis’s venture will weaken the already strife-riven main conservative opposition.

Prime Minister George Papandreou on Tuesday received visiting Cyprus President Demetris Christofias in Athens, as the two leaders reiterated long-standing support for a bizonal and bicommunal solution within the framework of UN resolutions, International Law and and the European Union's acquis communautaire. Greek and Cypriot leaderships referred to an absolute convergence on views and cited flawless cooperation, while noting that Cyprus must prevail as one state, with one authority and one nationality for its citizens.ana-mpa After the meeting with Christofias, the Greek premier noted that unless the Cyprus issue is solved relations between Athens and Ankara can never be completely normalised.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has said he will make a unilateral "pledge not to use force" over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and invite Russia to talks without preconditions. In an interview with France's Figaro published on Tuesday, he also said he would make the announcements during his speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg later in the day. "We tried everything to speak directly with the Russians. Every time we invited them to begin a dialogue, they refused in quite a rude manner. I have no choice but to turn to the moral authority of the European Parliament to make this unilateral declaration not to use force," the Georgian leader said. "This is a controversial initiative, because every country, when occupied, has the right and even the obligation to fight for its sovereignty, including by military means. But I see things differently," Saakashvili said. "Georgia should become a European country, a modern country. We can not end up like Afghanistan or Chechnya." He also said that Russia and Georgia, who broke off diplomatic ties after the 2008 five-day war over South Ossetia, should begin talks without any preconditions. "We should start talking to each other," the Georgian leader said. "The situation [in Abkhazia and South Ossetia] is illegal from the point of view of international law, both in legal terms and at the local level. I don't think this is in Moscow's interests." He described the situation in its former republics as "unbearable," with almost 500,000 people displaced, "20% of our territory occupied and two thirds of our coastline lost." Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in South Ossetia in August 2008 after Georgian forces attacked the republic in a bid to bring it back under central control. Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states shortly after the end of the fighting.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Jeremic said in London on Thursday, that unless the fatigue caused by EU enlargement is overcome, the silent pro-European majority in the Western Balkans might become a silent minority. Speaking at the London School of Economics, Jeremic reiterated that Serbia is absolutely committed to EU membership as a strategic goal and Belgrade is open for dialogue and compromise with Pristina, acceptable for both sides. The dialogue should begin as soon as possible and on less controversial issues, in order to gradually shift to more delicate ones, the Minister explained. Serbia will not recognise its province’s independence, either explicitly or implicitly, he underscored, adding that dialogue is the only path to peace. Belgrade will be open and just in any such dialogue and will put forward concrete proposals which may bring about a compromise acceptable to both sides. We will not decline any outcome in advance, but we will not accept a dictate either, Jeremic emphasised, warning that obstinacy and insistence on unilateral decisions will not yield results. Two-thirds of countries worldwide do not recognise Kosovo’s independence, while one third is trying to convince others to recognise it, but with little success, the Minister recalled. Jeremic highlighted that attempts to jeopardise dialogue by unilateral change of reality in the field or by force must not be tolerated, warning that such a scenario might even undermine the peace process. The region has achieved a new level of trust and understanding and cooperation that has not existed ever before has been established, he stated. Speaking of reconciliation, the Minister specified that Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are especially obliged in this process, noting that for Belgrade this is not just a political priority, but also a strategic and moral imperative. Jeremic echoed Serbia’s absolute commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina and stressed that Serbia is committed to the "one Bosnia policy", which is the surest guarantee that the country will not fall apart. We will support all reforms that are acceptable to representatives of both entities and all three constituent nations, he declared and stressed the importance of mutual respect, pragmatism and compromise.

The past two decades have seen a rise in the number of investigations examining the health-related effects of religiously motivated fasts. Greek Orthodox Christians fast for a total of 180 - 200 days each year, and their main fasting periods are the Nativity Fast (40 days prior to Christmas), Lent (48 days prior to Easter), and the Assumption (15 days in August). The fasting periods are more similar than dissimilar, and they can each be described as a variant of vegetarianism. Some of the more favorable effects of these fasts include the lowering of body mass, total cholesterol, LDL-C, and the LDL-C/HDL-C ratio. This review summarizes the health-specific effects of these fasts [Orthodox, Ramadan, Daniel Fast] and provides suggestions for future research. To download the report in PDF, click here.