- - Sunday, April 10, 2011

ICELAND

Icelanders again reject debt deal; court case looms

REYKJAVIK | Iceland faces more economic uncertainty and a drawn-out European court case after its voters rejected for a second time a plan to repay $5 billion to Britain and the Netherlands from a bank crash.

The British and Dutch governments voiced disappointment with the result of Saturday’s referendum, in which almost 60 percent of voters opposed the repayment deal.

“We must do all we can to prevent political and economic chaos as a result of this outcome,” Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir told state television.

The issue now will be settled by the court of the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), the European trade body overseeing Iceland’s cooperation with the European Union.

“My estimate is that the process will take a year, a year and a half at least, Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson told a news conference.

The debt was incurred when Britain and the Netherlands compensated their nationals who lost savings in online “Icesave” accounts owned by Landsbanki, one of three overextended Icelandic banks that collapsed in late 2008, triggering an economic meltdown in the country of 320,000 people.

Economists have said failure to resolve the issue means Iceland faces delays ending currency controls, boosting investment and returning to financial markets for funding.

But the center-left coalition government said it would not resign despite the defeat.

FRANCE

New veil ban to go into effect

TRAPPES | For Muslim women who cover their faces with veils, it is the moment for making plans. Starting Monday, a new law banning garments that hide the face takes effect. Women who disobey it risk a fine, special classes and a police record.

The law comes as Muslims face what some see as a new jab at their religion. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party is set to hold a debate Tuesday on the place of Islamic practices, and Islam itself, in strictly secular but traditionally Catholic France.

The increasing focus on France’s Muslims — the largest such population in western Europe, at 5 million people — comes with presidential elections a year away and support for a far-right opposition party growing.

A recent palpable rise in tensions also has been boosted by fears of a mass migration of Muslims from the disarray in the Arab world.

“This growth in the number of [Muslims] and a certain number of behaviors cause problems,” Interior Minister Claude Gueant recently said on French radio. “There is no reason why the nation should accord to one particular religion more rights than religions that were formerly anchored in our country.”

France’s challenge is evident in the Paris suburb of Trappes. It has a large Muslim population and is one of the few towns in France where veiled women are occasionally seen on the streets.

NETHERLANDS

Dutch mourn six mall shooting victims

AMSTERDAM | Memorial services were held Sunday in a quiet suburb outside Amsterdam to mourn six people killed by a gunman at a crowded mall, as investigators puzzled over his motive and struggled to explain how he was able to obtain and legally own five firearms in the Netherlands.

The attacker, identified as 24-year-old Tristan van der Vlis, opened fire in Alphen aan den Rijn with an automatic rifle on one of the first pleasant Saturdays of spring, authorities said.

In addition to the fatalities, he wounded at least 17 others, including two children, and dozens more suffered minor injuries, including one infant. Van der Vlis ended the rampage by shooting himself fatally in the head at the Ridderhof mall, bringing the death toll to seven.

District Attorney Kitty Nooy said the investigation had uncovered two notes left by the killer, and more information in several files on his computer.

FRANCE

Police arrest two ETA suspects after gunfight

PARIS | Police said officers in central France arrested a man and a woman allegedly linked to the Basque separatist group ETA after a pair of weekend shooting incidents against officers that injured at least one.

Authorities said police detained the couple Sunday in the central town of Croze after a gunbattle. No one was injured.

Nearly 300 police officers, helicopters and dog-search teams were deployed after a female driver refused to stop at a police checkpoint on Saturday near the town of Valliere. Her companion opened fire on officers in pursuit, and one was hit in the shoulder.

ETA has killed more than 825 people since the 1960s in its effort to create a Basque state independent of Spain and France. The EU and the U.S. consider it a terrorist group.

From wire dispatches and staff reports