I. UPI - EU looks into organ trafficking
The groundwork is being laid for an investigation of claims Kosovo's prime minister was involved in organ trafficking, a European Union prosecutor said. Isabelle Arnal, the chief prosecutor for the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo said a letter has been sent to the Swiss politician who accused Hashim Thaci of responsibility for the death of Serb prisoners in the 1990s and the sale of their kidneys, the EUobserver reported Wednesday. Arnal said she and her deputy met with their Albanian counterparts to seek assurances Albanian authorities would cooperate in the investigation. An accusation of Thaci's involvement in the organ selling was made to the Council of Europe in December by Dick Marty. "People very close to Thaci were implicated, so it is difficult to imagine that he has never heard about it," the Swiss politician told a radio interviewer. Human Rights Watch has called for the law mission to appoint an independent, high-level special prosecutor to handle the inquiry.
II. FOODCONSUMER - Smoking kills more men than women
Why do women live longer than men in Europe? A recent study published online in Tobacco Control says smoking may account for 40 to 60 percent of the gender gap in death rates. Scientists used World Health Organization figures on death rates among men and women to sort out factors in 30 European countries. Deaths from all causes were higher for men than for women. Causes of death related to smoking included respiratory tract cancers, coronary artery disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Eastern European countries have a gender gap of more than 400 per 100,000. Spain, France, Finland, Belgium, and Portugal had the widest gaps. The difference was obvious in both countries ranging from 188 per 100,000 of the population a year like Iceland, to 942 per 100,000 in the Ukraine. "Profound changes in the population level of smoking and in the magnitude of the gender gap in smoking should contribute to smaller gender differences in mortality in the coming decades.", the authors said. Deaths related to alcohol were particularly high among men in Eastern European countries. Overall, death rate attributed to alcohol ranged from 20 to 30 percent. Compared to the impact of smoking, that is significantly lower. Causes of alcohol-related deaths included throat and gullet cancer, chronic liver disease, as well as alcoholic psychosis and violence. Study participants were also from Greece, Malta, and Cyprus, besides the several Western and Eastern European counties mentioned. Russia and Scandinavian were excluded.
III. FOCUS - Greece pledges to enforce disputed smoking ban
Greece has pledged to enforce a smoking ban enacted last year, the latest after decades of failed effort, which continues to be widely flouted in Europe's most nicotine-addicted nation. The health ministry said it would hire additional inspectors to bolster a feeble response by municipal officials as a leading anti-tobacco activist on Wednesday rejected arguments by cafes and restaurants that the ban chases away their patrons in the midst of a bitter recession. "We need to protect public health even if it hurts the pockets of some people," Panagiotis Bechrakis, a prominent pulmonary expert, told Flash Radio. A day earlier, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos had warned that the crackdown would be enforced "without exception... Those who smoked in bars, restaurants and cafes in recent months have smoked enough," he told reporters. As a response to the reluctance of many mayors to aggressively pursue the ban -- a trend largely blamed on local elections in November - Loverdos said hundreds of state inspectors would be brought in to do the job. "The state can be ridiculed no longer," the minister said, noting that in the last two months there had been 343,000 complaints from non-smokers but only 3,000 fines were imposed. Loverdos had earlier proposed to levy 'smoking licenses' on businesses to fill the state's depleted coffers but Prime Minister George Papandreou, a dedicated non-smoker, quashed the proposal, reports said. Restaurant and cafe owners say that business is already down by 30-50 percent because of the recession gripping Greece, and the smoking restriction has brought a further slump of up to 80 percent in turnover.
IV. FINANCIALMIRROR - Britian: No partition in Cyprus
The British government has reiterated its commitment to a solution in Cyprus based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation, noting that it is not interested in arguments about the partition of the island. “Our commitment is to a bi-zonal bi-communal Cyprus. We are not interested in arguments about partition. I make that absolutely clear”, said British Minister of State Lord Howell before the House of Lords. He added that the British government is “fully supportive” of UN efforts to achieve a settlement in Cyprus “based on the bi-zonal concept with political equality as defined by the relevant Security Council resolutions”. Commending the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, President of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu “for the progress they have made so far” at the UN – led Cyprus talks, he said that “we are seeking to do everything we can with our EU partners to upgrade the welfare position of the Turkish Cypriot people so that they are prepared, I hope, for the day when we can have the solution that we all want to see”. In his statements, Lord Hannay, former British Special Representative on the Cyprus issue, noted that decisive progress in Turkey’s EU accession bid is the key that will unlock the door to a solution of the Cyprus problem. “Turkish Foreign Minister’s Ahmet Davutoglu’s precept of zero problems with the neighbours is a fine policy slogan but Cyprus is a neighbour and so is Greece”, he said. Lord Hannay noted that “the present impasse in the UN- led negotiations for a settlement of the Cyprus problem, although far from being solely the responsibility of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots will remain a pebble in their shoe for as long as it is not definitely removed”. As he pointed out, “decisive progress in Turkey’s accession bid is surely the key that will unlock the door to a solution of the Cyprus problem”. He went on to say that “we should be doing all that we can to help move those Cyprus negotiations forward... The UN faces the usual Sisyphean task and needs all the help it can get. Unaided it will not succeed”, he concluded. The Republic of Cyprus, which became a full EU member state in May 2004, is divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and since then occupy 37% of Cyprus’ territory. UN - led Cyprus talks are underway between President of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu with a view to reunify the country.
Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will moniter on Wednesday the contact line between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said. OSCE officials regularly monitor the ceasefire on the border with the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region to prevent a sudden escalation of tension between the two countries. Last time the border was last monitered, on January 12, no ceasefire violations were recorded. Armenia and Azerbaijan frequently accuse each other of violating the 1994 ceasefire agreement in the disputed area. The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian region, first erupted in 1988, when the region claimed independence from Azerbaijan to join Armenia.
VI. REUTERS - Egypt's Coptic Pope cancels mass over security fears
The head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church cancelled celebrations for the Feast of Epiphany on Tuesday over concerns for the safety of the country's Christians after a New Year's Day bombing that killed 23 people. Officials suspect an al Qaeda-inspired bomber was behind the New Year's blast outside a church in the port city of Alexandria. Islamist websites had carried repeated threats to attack churches and have since carried threats to strike again. Pope Shenouda, who led mass on Coptic Christmas on January 6, in a tense but incident-free service, will hold a small and closed celebration on Tuesday instead of the larger mass that had been planned, the pope's legal adviser said... Christians make up about 10 percent of Muslim-majority Egypt's 79 million people. Tensions often flare between the two communities over issues such as building churches or close relationships between members of the two faiths. Alexandria's attack was on a much bigger scale and appeared far more organised than the kind of violence that usually erupts when communal frustrations boil over, analysts say. Al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which attacked a church in Baghdad two months ago in what it called a response to the mistreatment of Muslim converts by Egyptian Copts, has threatened Egyptian Christians. A statement posted on an Islamist website called on Muslims to "bomb churches during the Christmas holiday when churches are crowded". A Cairo-based priest said they were instructed to keep mass short and to prevent large gatherings outside of churches. Security sources said however measures to secure the safety of worshippers were in place. Extra police had been deployed outside of the main churches during Christmas celebrations.
This is the fourth and final installment in Archbishop George Niederauer’s series on Orthodox and Catholics’ Nov. 21-Dec. 2 ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome, Athens and Constantinople (Istanbul). The archbishop and Metropolitan Gerasimos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco led a 28-member group from both communities. On Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010 (the First Sunday in Advent for Catholics), we ecumenical pilgrims left Athens for Constantinople (renamed Istanbul by Turkish sultans after 1453). This magnificent city is the gateway between the continents of Europe and Asia, and has hosted three empires: Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. In Constantinople is located the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the headquarters of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, presiding as 270th successor to St. Andrew the Apostle, elder brother of St. Peter and founder of the 2,000-year-old Christian church in this region. As Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew convenes councils and meetings of other patriarchs and hierarchs within Orthodoxy, facilitates inter-church and inter-faith dialogue, and serves as spiritual leader of approximately 250 million faithful worldwide, including the Orthodox Church in America. Together with the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and now Pope Benedict XVI, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has supported progress toward the reconciliation and reunion of the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Christianity. He is uniquely placed and experienced to lead in building peace and reconciliation among the Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim faiths. The main buildings of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are located in a compound called the Phanar. We arrived there Monday afternoon, Nov. 29, for an audience with the Ecumenical Patriarch and the celebration of the Great Vespers of the next day’s Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. As we entered the Phanar we were shown the patriarchate’s main gate, which has remained permanently sealed shut since April 1821, when Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V was hanged on that spot by the sultan, for the crime of assisting the Greek people in their successful struggle for freedom against the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire. We proceeded to the beautiful Cathedral of St. George for the Vespers service. Located in this Cathedral are the throne of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the column of Christ’s flogging, splendid icons and the Holy Relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, which Patriarch Bartholomew received from Pope John Paul II in November 2004 (they had been in St. Peter’s Basilica for 800 years). On Nov. 30, we were privileged to attend the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on the feast of St. Andrew. For several years now it has become the custom that the Ecumenical Patriarch or his representative attends the celebration of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome on June 29, and the pope or his representative attends the celebration of the Feast of St. Andrew in Constantinople on Nov. 30. This last year His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (whom we pilgrims had met with a week before in Rome), represented Pope Benedict XVI and during the liturgy delivered the Holy Father’s message, underlining “the need to progress toward full communion with the Orthodox Church, so as to give a greater Christian witness to the world.” His All-Holiness Bartholomew replied gratefully and warmly, urging both Churches to “continue to examine, in love and sincerity, the theological matters that both unite and still divide, ‘until we arrive at the unity of faith,’ according to St. Paul the Apostle.’” (Ephesians 4:13). On Dec. 1, the last full day of our pilgrimage, we visited Hagia Sophia (the Church of Holy Wisdom), originally the largest church in the Christian world, built by the Emperor Justinian, A.D. 532-537. After their victory in 1453, the Muslims converted the church into a mosque, but since the last century it has been a museum. Some of its glorious mosaics can now be seen. The dome is 182 feet high, with a diameter of 103 feet. To employ a now much-abused term, Hagia Sophia is genuinely an “awesome” sight. We also visited the famous Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. The following morning we departed Constantinople for home. In another sense, our ecumenical pilgrims had never left home: We had visited each other’s spiritual homelands – Rome, Athens and Constantinople – and, Orthodox and Catholic alike, we had felt in many ways spiritually “at home” in all three.