Newt-loving socialist or floppy-haired bike rider? One will be London’s Olympic mayor

LONDON — One sports an unruly blond mop, spouts Latin aphorisms and loves to ride his bicycle. The other is a neat, newt-loving socialist who prefers to travel by subway.

Their contest is an Olympic-size grudge match. Meet Boris and Ken — hometown celebrities known universally by their first names. When the 2012 London Games open on July 27, one of them will stand before billions of television viewers as mayor of the host city.

The incumbent, Boris Johnson, warns that it had better be him and not Ken Livingstone — his predecessor, intense rival and would-be successor.

Whoever wins, London’s next mayor will be a larger-than-life figure whose gaffes and idiosyncrasies would have sunk a less confident politician. The winner will oversee a world-class city of 8 million people and a 14 billion-pound ($22 billion) budget.

Johnson, a Conservative, hopes to win a second four-year term while Livingstone, London’s mayor from 2000 to 2008, is from Labour — but both transcend the parties they nominally represent.

His views on international issues are more controversial. Livingstone once called President George W. Bush “the greatest threat to life on this planet,” welcomed hard-line Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi to London, and was suspended from his post for a month after comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Livingstone denies anti-Semitism, but his words have alienated many Jewish voters.

Both men are also known for their busy private lives. Livingstone has five children with three women, while Johnson was once fired from a Conservative post for lying about an extramarital affair.

They seem to have a visceral animosity, getting into a shouting match in an elevator after a recent radio debate, with Johnson repeatedly calling his rival an “(expletive) liar” for claims about Johnson’s tax status.

The dispute ended with the candidates publishing their tax records, which showed that both earn many times more than the average Londoner: 1.7 million pounds ($2.7 million) over four years for Johnson; 342,000 pounds ($540,000) for Livingstone.

Supreme Court considers former attorney general Ashcroft’s liability in lawsuit

On Wednesday the Supreme Court justices considered whether former attorney general John D. Ashcroft could be held personally liable for the detention of an American Muslim.

Abdullah al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in 2003 and held as a material witness. But Kidd contends that he was not detained because he had information about terrorism. Instead, he says, he was detained as part of a plan approved by Ashcroft to sweep up Muslim men the government suspected but could not prove had ties to terrorism.

Ashcroft, President George W. Bush’s attorney general from 2001 to 2005, claims legal immunity from the lawsuit, and the Obama administration is defending him.

Kidd is a onetime University of Idaho football star, born Lavoni T. Kidd. He converted to Islam in college. He was arrested at Dulles International Airport in 2003 as he was boarding a plane for Saudi Arabia, where he planned to study.

Kidd maintains that in his more than two weeks of detention, he was strip-searched, shackled, interrogated without an attorney present and treated as a terrorist.

Iraqi shoe-thrower launches Geneva-based agency

The Iraqi journalist who pitched his shoes at former United States President George W. Bush is in Geneva setting up a foundation to help Iraqi war victims. Munthader al-Zaidi, a television reporter, shot to fame on December 14, 2008 when he hurled his two shoes at Bush at a Baghdad news conference, shouting: “This is your farewell kiss, you dog!”

“From Geneva, the capital of humanitarian institutions, I am launching an appeal on behalf of my people,” Zaidi told journalists in Geneva on Monday. He aims to build orphanages, a children’s hospital, and medical and orthopaedic centres offering free treatment and manned by Iraqi doctors and medical staff. He also wants to set up income-generating schemes for widows to help them get back on their feet. The foundation carries his last name.

Zaidi arrived in Switzerland on October 13 on a three-month tourist visa, accompanied by his brother. He was released on September 15 after spending nine months in an Iraqi prison. “He hopes to surf on the wave of support he has gained to do some good,” explained Mauro Poggia, his Swiss lawyer, who organised the visit.

Britain renames “Islamic terrorism”

The British government seems to have embarked on a new strategy on labelling terrorists and their recruiting agents as security officials believe that directly linking terrorism to Islam is inflammatory, and risks alienating mainstream Muslim opinion. Though the British Home Office stressed that no phrases have been banned, sources made it clear that the “war on terror” and “Islamic extremism” will not be used by top officials. British ministers have already adopted a new language for declarations on Islamic terrorism. In her first major speech on radicalisation, home secretary Jacqui Smith repeatedly used the phrase “anti-Islamic” in a carefully crafted strategy, sources said. In future, fanatics will be referred to as pursuing “anti-Islamic activity”. Security officials believe that directly linking terrorism to Islam is inflammatory, and risks alienating mainstream Muslim opinion. The shift follows a decision taken last year to stop using the phrase “war on terror”, first adopted by US President George Bush, Daily Mail newspaper reported.

Sharing his story: Muslim cleric writes a book about Islam and his family’s suffering in Iraq

By Niraj Warikoo Born into a prestigious Iraqi family descended from Islam’s prophet, Imam Hassan Qazwini started life anew when he moved to the United States in 1992. He knew little English, was unfamiliar with American culture and uncertain about his future. But now, Qazwini of Dearborn heads one the largest U.S. mosques — the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn — and has become a nationally known figure who has advised President George W. Bush, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Muslims from metro Detroit to Baghdad.

UK hints at foreign policy shift

A British Cabinet minister has hinted at a change in the relationship between the UK and US. Speaking in the US, International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander emphasised the need for “new alliances, based on common values”. He warned against unilateralism and called for an “internationalist approach” to global problems. Correspondents say the speech appeared to be a “coded criticism” of the policies of President George W Bush.

Religious Charities Boom Under Bush

By Farah A. Chowdhury NEW YORK – Although the federal government has always been a major source of money for charities, it has become more easier for religiously affiliated charity groups to get a piece of the tax-payer pie since President George Bush introduced his Faith Based and Community Initiative in 2001. For fiscal year 2005, more than $2.1 billion in competitive social service grants were awarded to faith-based organizations. The majority of recipients of federal funding appear to be predominately of the Christian faith. According to an article in the Boston Globe, Christian faith-based organizations with operations overseas received 98.3% of all federal grants or contracts between fiscal year 2001 to 2005. In 2003, only two Islamic organizations received any type of federal funding.

Denmark: India, Denmark Agree To Delay Danish Pm’s Visit

A visit to India by Denmark’s leader has been delayed, the Indian foreign ministry, amid reports New Delhi feared the trip could provoke new anti-Danish protests by Muslims. “The two sides have found that the proposed timing for the visit was not optimal,” the ministry said in a statement. “India and Denmark look forward to the visit of the Danish prime minister to India at an early date.” Newspapers said the Danish government had agreed, at New Delhi’s request, to delay Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s visit which the reports said was due to begin April 2. India, the reports said, was worried the controversy surrounding the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed would overshadow the visit. In February, large but peaceful protests were staged in several cities against controversial images of the Prophet Mohammed by Danish cartoonists that sparked anger among Muslims worldwide. The protests created tension in some flashpoint areas of India known for communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. Police blamed the increased temperatures for providing the spark which saw demonstrations against the visit to India of US President George W. Bush in early March degenerate into rioting in the north Indian city of Lucknow, in which four people were killed. The caricatures were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September and later reprinted in other mainly European dailies. They have sparked protests and riots worldwide that have left dozens of people dead. Muslims consider any depiction of the prophet to be blasphemous. Last month, an Indian Islamic court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh issued a fatwa, or religious decree, condemning to death the 12 artists who drew the cartoons. A minister in the state government also offered a reward of 11.5 million dollars for the beheading of any of the cartoonists. Muslims make up around 130 million of mainly Hindu India’s billion-plus population.

Hezbollah Chief Urges Bush To ‘Shut Up’

By Sam Ghattas, Beirut THE leader of Hezbollah yesterday hit back at the US over claims Syria and Iran had fuelled protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Meanwhile, it emerged that an Egyptian newspaper had reprinted the cartoons in news story back in October without any apparent problems. Egyptian bloggers reproduced pages from the October 17 edition of Al Fagr, which had printed the cartoons in an article about the controversial images. The article had a headline which one blogger translated as “Continued Boldness. Mocking the Prophet and his Wife by Caricature.” Denmark, meanwhile, said it had temporarily closed its diplomatic mission in Beirut, which was burned by protesters on Sunday, and all staff had left Lebanon. The Danes also feared religious processions in Muslim countries to mark the Shi’ite festival of Ashoura would spill over into violence against its diplomats and soldiers after days of protests over the caricatures, which were first published in a Danish newspaper in September. About 2,000 hard-liners rallied and burned a Danish flag in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka yesterday. In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah urged Muslims worldwide to keep demonstrating until there is an apology over the drawings and Europe passes laws forbidding insults to the prophet. The head of the guerrilla group, which is backed by Iran and Syria, spoke before a mass Ashoura procession. Whipping up the crowds on the most solemn day for Shi’ites worldwide, Mr Nasrallah declared: “Defending the prophet should continue all over the world. Let Condoleezza Rice and Bush and all the tyrants shut up. We are an Islamic nation that cannot tolerate, be silent or be lax when they insult our prophet and sanctities. “We will uphold the messenger of God not only by our voices but also by our blood,” he told the crowds, estimated by organisers at about 700,000. Police had no final estimates but said the figure was likely to be even higher. Speaking about the controversy on Wednesday, US President George Bush condemned the deadly rioting sparked by the cartoons and urged foreign leaders to halt the spreading violence. Secretary of State Ms Rice said Iran and Syria “have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.” Iran has rejected the US accusations. Syria has not commented publicly.

Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes On Rise In Us: Study

Hate crimes against Muslims soared in the United States last year, according to a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations released Wednesday. The number of hate crimes against members of the Muslim community jumped 52 per cent last year, from 93 incidents in 2003 to 141 in 2004. And the number of violent acts, discriminatory incidents and cases of harassment against Muslims rose 49 per cent between 2003 and 2004, to 1,522. CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad called the figures alarming and urged President George W Bush-‘whose statements after the (September 11, 2001) attacks were so important in helping to protect the well-being of the American Muslim community-to once again speak out against Islam phobic attitudes.’ The Annual Report Noted That Workplace Discrimination Against Muslims Was Less prevalent, while incidents involving police were on the rise, in the form of unjustified arrests and searches and abusive interrogations. Among the factors contributing to the rise in incidents, CAIR said, were the ‘lingering impact’ of fears following the September 11 attacks, heightened awareness of civil rights issues within the Muslim community and a ‘general increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric.’ ‘These disturbing figures come as no surprise given growing Islam phobic sentiments and a general misperception of Islam and Muslims,’ CAIR’s legal director, Arsalan Iftikhar, who authored the report, said in a statement.