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Archive for September 28, 2010

France under terror threat alert in wider European plot

September 28, 2010 4 comments

This is not to scare my readers but to inform them. For the past couple weeks, the threat alert in France has been high as intelligence agencies from the US and EU have picked up on widespread and credible hints at a terrorist plot of coordinated attacks on targets in Europe, particularly in France. This in the wake of French nationals being kidnapped in Niger by Al-Qaida affiliates and bomb alerts against the Eiffel Tower, and French transport systems.

French weekly Le Point talks about how the French government is communicating on this issue, with predictable criticism coming from left and right about how they are creating panic. But according to French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, there is a “real threat of an imminent attack.” And Police Director Frédéric Péchenard adds that “we have serious indications from reliable intelligence sources that there is a risk of a big attack.”

Meanwhile, the CIA is upping drone attacks of militants in Pakistan in an effort to hamper terrorist threats against European targets.

As the Wall Street Journal stated:

“…Last week, France stepped up its level of vigilance over what was thought could be an imminent al Qaeda threat. Authorities said that they had uncovered a suicide bombing plot to attack the Paris subway linked to al Qaeda’s North African affiliate. They said the threat might be connected to France’s recent vote to ban the wearing of burqas, the head-to-toe garb worn by the most conservative Muslim women…”

The US Embassy in Paris has issued this warning against attacks.

Authorities are trying to prevent a repeat of the 1995 Paris metro bombings and related scares or something even worse.

Louis Caprioli, former anti-terrorist intelligence chief at DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) (former French intelligence services agency, now part of the larger DCRI), was interviewed by Le Figaro here below talking about how there is a real threat notably from Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb including Algerian networks that use women suicide bombers.

Stay alert, stay safe, but don’t let this interrupt your daily life, of course. Il faut vivre.

US travel tax angering EU, which could react with similar policy

September 28, 2010 3 comments

In German news magazine Der Spiegel, European Union officials are responding negatively to a travel fee ESTA that the US is imposing on residents of countries that are currently not required to obtain visas to visit the US, “36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.” Although the $14 fee is small, $10 of it goes to promoting tourism in the US. While the US economy is certainly not at its strongest point, it is the #2 travel destination in visitors (France is #1) and already pulls in the most revenue. This fee, combined with notorious US customs and immigration officials, make for a very unwelcoming and unattractive image of America abroad as a travel destination. This is undermining our global image and respect. I certainly hope this policy is repealed and that the EU does not retaliate with similar measures.

Excerpts below.

European Union Up in Arms over US Travel Tax

“European Union officials are furious with a new US fee mandatory for most travelers from Europe. Calling the charge tantamount to a new visa requirement, the EU is now considering introducing a similar fee for American travelers. Fourteen dollars may not sound like a lot. But this autumn, the sum — in the shape of the new fee being charged by the United States to some overseas visitors coming into the country — is proving enough to inflame tempers in the European Union. This month, an increasing number of members of the European Parliament and other EU officials are blasting the charge for being both incongruous and for running counter to US-EU agreements.

“I think it is a bit bizarre to introduce a tax to promote tourism,” intoned Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of European Parliament with Germany’s business-friendly Free Democratic Party during a recent debate on the issue in Strasbourg. In addition to pointing out that such a tax could actually dissuade people from traveling to the US, Lambsdorff also said “it seems a bit absurd that the US of all countries would tax people who are not represented in this debate. Taxation without representation, I believe, has played a certain role in American history.”

At issue is the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a $14 fee which travelers from 36 countries now have to pay prior to visiting the US. While $4 dollars of the fee is to be for ESTA administrative costs, $10 is to pay for US efforts to promote the US as a tourism destination. Travelers to the US, in effect, are being asked to pay for the advertising aimed at encouraging them to travel to the country…Now, the EU is exploring the possibility of introducing a similar system for travellers from the US, according to the European Commission for Home Affairs. A “policy study” is currently being undertaken to investigate the feasibility of such a fee…

…The US fee applies only to travelers from countries not currently required to obtain a visa prior to travel — a list comprising 36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. In a parliamentary debate last week, several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) complained that the fee was simply a different kind of visa, particularly given that those travelers who do not pay the fee can be refused entry into the US…

…The fee, part of a tourism promotion package pushed through primarily by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been controversial in the travel industry as well. “It’s like inviting a friend over for dinner and then charging them a fee at the door,” Steve Lott, a representative for the International Air Transport Association, told CNN earlier this month. “If the idea is to make the United States more welcoming and to increase tourism, raising the entry fee seems to be counterintuitive to what you’re trying to do.”

European Commission officials have promised to take up the issue in upcoming meetings with their US counterparts. Speaking on behalf of EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton, EU State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel insisted that “the EU places great importance on the issue of reciprocity” when it comes to trans-Atlantic travel. He said his office “will pull out all the stops to work with the Commission to establish the principle of reciprocity on travel…”

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