15 February 2009

* Italy police warn of Skype threat

Criminals in Italy are increasingly making phone calls over the internet in order to avoid getting caught through mobile phone intercepts, police say.

Officers in Milan say organised crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype in order to frustrate investigators. The police say Skype's encryption system is a secret which the company refuses to share with the authorities. Investigators have become increasingly reliant on wiretaps in recent years.

Customs and tax police in Milan have sounded the alarm.

They overheard a suspected cocaine trafficker telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg (4.4lb) drug consignment. Use of wiretaps by prosecutors in Italy has grown exponentially in recent years.

Heated debate

Investigators say intercepts of telephone calls have become an essential tool of the police, who spend millions of dollars each year tracking down crime through wiretaps of landlines and mobile phones.
But the law may be about to change. 


Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government has drawn up a bill which would restrict police wiretaps to only the most serious crimes. Much crime reporting in the Italian media is based on leaks of wiretaps and leading politicians, including Mr Berlusconi himself, have found to their embarrassment that details of their private telephone conversations have sometimes been leaked to newspapers. Under the new law reporting of details of criminal investigations obtained through wiretaps would become illegal until a final verdict has been delivered.

Given the extreme slowness of Italian justice, this would mean that details of cases now before the courts might be reported by the press only in 15 years time. Not only have Italian journalists been protesting at the new draft bill, but a heated debate is also going on about it within the country's highest body for the administration of justice - the supreme council of the magistrature, composed of the country's top judges.




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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.