Libya: (Archive 4)

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More airstrikes in east after Libyan rebels repel assault by Gaddafi forces

March 3, 2011

BREGA, LIBYA – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi launched renewed airstrikes against two key rebel-held towns Thursday, a day after poorly armed citizens repelled a major government assault on the area. On Thursday morning, at least three powerful air strikes hit this oil installation town. There was also a strike near an army munitions storage unit just outside of Ajdabiya, about 40 miles away. But there was no ground fighting. In the Hague, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court told reporters he will investigate Gaddafi and his inner circle for alleged crimes against humanity.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo vowed there would be “no impunity in Libya” and said he was contacting former Libyan officials and army officers to determine who would have ordered alleged attacks on peaceful demonstrators, the Associated Press reported. He said he is seeking video and photographic evidence of any alleged atrocities. “We are not saying who is responsible yet,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “Today is the start of the investigation.” It is the second time the United Nations-backed court, which was created in 2002 as the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, has investigated a sitting head of state, AP said. Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir has been indicted on three counts of genocide for attacks in the western Darfur region, but has rejected the charges against him and refused to surrender.

On Wednesday–despite aged equipment and little training–a ragtag team of thousands of rebels rushed to Brega and drove back government forces, retaking the port city after setbacks earlier in the day. Emboldened by their victory, some rebels said they planned to advance west and on to Gaddafi’s stronghold of Tripoli, the capital. “He has the force, but we have the heart,” said Suleiman Abdel, a surgeon and, now, a rebel. The government’s assaults on Brega show that Gaddafi still has substantial military resources at his disposal – and that he is willing to use them. Even as Wednesday’s battle unfolded, Gaddafi pledged in a defiant televised address to “fight to the last drop of Libyan blood.”

The day’s clashes suggested that in the absence of outside intervention, Libya could be headed toward a long and bloody stalemate. Gaddafi holds Tripoli and other western cities, the rebels control the east, and neither side appears able to decisively shift the balance. “He showed he still has the power to inflict serious damage on the protesters and the places they control,” said Ibrahim Sharqieh of the Brookings Doha Center. “If he is willing to use the air force, this could drag on for months.”

Libyan cities under renewed attack

March 3, 2011

The struggle between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, and anti-government protesters has intensified amid reports of renewed attacks on rebel-held towns in the country’s east. Witnesses in Ajdabiya and the oil port town of Brega reported fresh fighting on Thursday, a day after clashes between anti- and pro-Gaddafi forces left at least 10 civilians dead, residents said. “Around two hours ago, warplanes dropped a bomb in the area between the oil company and the residential area,” Fattah al-Moghrabi, director of supplies for  Brega hospital, told the AFP news agency. “As far as I know, there was no casualties,” he said. The reported strike in Brega comes in the wake of a counter-offensive launched by Gaddafi, aimed at taking back lost territory in the country’s east. About 300 men loyal to the Libyan leader attacked Brega, some 500km east of the capital, Tripoli, on Wednesday. The struggle between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, and anti-government protesters has intensified amid reports of renewed attacks on rebel-held towns in the country’s east.

Witnesses in Ajdabiya and the oil port town of Brega reported fresh fighting on Thursday, a day after clashes between anti- and pro-Gaddafi forces left at least 10 civilians dead, residents said. “Around two hours ago, warplanes dropped a bomb in the area between the oil company and the residential area,” Fattah al-Moghrabi, director of supplies for  Brega hospital, told the AFP news agency. “As far as I know, there was no casualties,” he said. The reported strike in Brega comes in the wake of a counter-offensive launched by Gaddafi, aimed at taking back lost territory in the country’s east. About 300 men loyal to the Libyan leader attacked Brega, some 500km east of the capital, Tripoli, on Wednesday. “Chavez spoke on the phone to Gaddafi and proposed to him the idea of forming a commission for peace in Libya and Gaddafi is said to have approved that idea,” Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib, reporting from the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, said. Sources later told our correspondent that Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan’s foreign minister, discussed the offer with Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League. Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from the eastern opposition-held city of Benghazi, said anti-Gaddafi activists in the city were unlikely to agree to any kind of mediation.

“All along they have been saying that the only mediation they will consider is to find an exit strategy for Gaddafi and his family and all his close aides,” she said. “They said there is no time anymore for dialogue, there is no way that they will do any kind of settlement. They say there is a complete lack of trust at the moment. Mediation, unless it’s with an exit strategy, will be quite difficult..” ‘No fly’ zone As international concern grows over the violence in Libya, the Arab League has announced it could impose a “no fly” zone over the country if the fighting continues. Moussa said on Wednesday that the action could be taken in co-ordination with the African Union. The Arab League has suspended the membership of Gaddafi’s government in protest against its crackdown on protesters. The situation in Libya is sorrowful and it is not correct that we accept it or live with it,” Moussa said at the opening session of a ministers’ meeting in Cairo. “The Arab League will not stand with its hands tied while the blood of the brotherly Libyan people is spilt.” However, Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, has warned of the gravity of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences, that’s the way you do a no fly zone,” he said.  “Then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. “But that’s the way it starts and it requires … more airplanes than you would find on a single aircraft carrier. So it is a big operation in a big country.”

Libya revolt: Fresh air strikes in Brega

March 3, 2011

The Libyan oil terminal town of Brega has been targeted with air strikes, sources in the town said. The strikes come a day after clashes between rebels and government troops in the town in which 14 people died. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took control there on Wednesday morning but were forced out by opposition fighters later in the day. Col Gaddafi has lost control of the eastern half of Libya during two weeks of unrest but has vowed to fight on. In a televised speech on Wednesday, Col Gaddafi also said that thousands of Libyans would die if Western forces intervened. Thousands of people are thought to have died in the violence after security forces fired on protesters in the early stages of the protests.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said that he will announce the names of between 10 and 15 Libyan leaders that the court intends to investigate for crimes against humanity. It was not clear what was being targeted in the air strikes on Brega. “Around two hours ago, warplanes dropped a bomb in the area between the oil company and the residential area,” hospital official Fattah al-Moghrabi said, quoted by AFP news agency. “As far as I know, there were no casualties.” A rebel spokesman said planes had also bombed positions in Ajdabiya, a larger town further inside rebel territory. Rebels were reported as saying pro-Gaddafi forces were in Ras Lanuf, another oil terminal to the west of Brega, and were preparing another attack. Separately, the Netherlands confirmed three of its marines had been captured by pro-Gaddafi forces. They had been helping to evacuate two European civilians when they were detained in the city of Sirte.

Gaddafi’s forces capture Dutch marines on rescue mission

March 3, 2011

Three Dutch marines are being held in Libya after they were captured by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi while trying to rescue Dutch workers. The marines were surrounded by armed men and captured on Sunday after landing near Sirte in a Lynx helicopter that was on board a navy ship, HMS Tromp, which is anchored off the Libyan coast to help evacuations, Dutch defence ministry spokesman Otte Beeksma said. Dutch officials were in “intensive negotiations” with the Libyan government to secure the marines’ release, he said. “We have also been in contact with the crewmen involved. They are doing well under the circumstances and we hope they will be released as quickly as possible.” Asked if the Dutch government considered the marines hostages, Beeksma said: “They are being held by Libyan authorities.”

Two people the marines were trying to rescue were also captured but have been released and left the country. The identities of the marines were not released. News of the marines’ detention came a day after anti-government rebels fought off forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi in a fierce battle for Brega, a strategic oil facility east of Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli. The prosecutor of the international criminal court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, is expected to announce on Thursday that he is opening an investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed in Libya.

International criminal court to investigate Libyan violence

March 3, 2011

The international criminal court is set to open an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya after its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, decided there is sufficient evidence against the Gaddafi regime to press ahead. The ICC’s announcement, expected on Thursday at The Hague, that it is to launch a full investigation into the bloody crackdown in Libya, marks an important step in the court’s growing power since it began hearings under the Treaty of Rome in 2002. It is the first time the US government has openly backed the court, and only the second time, after Darfur in Sudan, that a case has been initiated by the UN security council. The court will have two months to prepare an initial report to the security council. ICC judges will then decide whether or not to issue arrest warrants.

As western powers deliberate over how to bring extra pressure on Gaddafi to cease his attacks on rebel forces in Libya, hopes are being focused on the ICC as a form of leverage on senior members of the regime. Other possible measures, such as the imposition of a no-fly zone or military assistance to the anti-government forces, are fraught with political, military and logistical difficulties. Senior western diplomats are pointing to the referral of Libya to the ICC as the most important single element of the UN resolution 1970 that was passed unanimously by the security council on Saturday. The aim is to apply pressure on key figures in Gaddafi’s inner circle to make them reconsider their support for him. Gaddafi himself is considered to have drifted too far away from international consensus to be amenable to persuasion. But his immediate coterie, diplomats believe, are susceptible to influence if backed by the threat of prosecution at the ICC. A senior western source said: “The move is designed to change the mindset of those around Gaddafi who now know that the international community is on the case and that if they carry out Gaddafi’s orders to attack civilian populations they will be subject to ICC proceedings.”

He added: “We are putting out the message that they are on the wrong side of history.” The ICC will make its own decision on who to prosecute, entirely independently from the UN sanctions committee that is now being set up to enforce the asset freeze and travel ban put in place under resolution 1970. However, diplomats hope that anyone listed under the new travel ban will also fear that they now vulnerable to a war crimes trial that could see them imprisoned for life, greatly increasing pressure on them. Those listed include Gaddafi himself, the head of his security team, several of his relatives including three sons, the defence minister and the head of military intelligence. There is some evidence that the ICC investigation, combined with the travel ban, has begun to take effect. Western sources said they have learnt that one of Gaddafi’s cousins, Ahmed Mohammed Qadhaf al-Dam, who was in charge of an elite army battalion, has defected from the regime. Dam was to have been included under the travel ban, but his name was removed after his defection became known. It is understood that Dam discovered that he was about to be listed by the UN, and reacted accordingly.

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Libya rebels retake Brega

Libyan opposition forces say that they have taken back control of the eastern city of Brega after pro-Kadhafi forces captured it earlier today.

10.21am:

A worker at the Brega oil facility has just told al-Jazeera English that the rebels are indeed in control of the town. He was clearly emotional and gave a breathless account of clashes with Gaddafi forces who he said had been repelled but were still at the airport. He said 15 people had been killed. At one point he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest) and people with him joined in the chanting. When asked who was in control of Brega, the unnamed man said: “The locals, the revolutionaries, it’s us. Allahu Akbar. We are controlling Brega now.”

10.10am:

A rebel coalition has told Reuters Brega is under its control: “We are probably going to call for foreign help, probably air strikes at strategic locations that will put the nail in his (Gaddafi’s) coffin,” Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebel February 17th coalition, told Reuters. “They tried to take Brega this morning, but they failed. It is back in the hands of the revolutionaries. He is trying to create all kinds of psychological warfare to keep these cities on edge,” he said. About Ajdabiyah, he said the town was ” basically stable and our people are grouping to deal with any major assault. For now, it is still just hit and run.”

Journalists detained and broadcasts jammed in Libya

New York, March 1, 2011–Security forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi continue to detain journalists and jam broadcast frequencies, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. “It is beyond irony that the authorities in Tripoli are inviting in foreign reporters for guided tours of the capital while they round up Libyan journalists who dare talk to foreign broadcasters,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We are deeply concerned for the welfare of six Libyan journalists who have either been detained or gone missing since the unrest began. We hold the Tripoli administration responsible for their safety.”

Security forces have arrested the head of Libyan Journalists Syndicate, Salma al-Shaab, and Suad al-Turabouls, a correspondent for the pro-government Al-Jamahiriya newspaper, on Monday in Tripoli, according to news reports. However, a local journalist told CPJ that al-Shaab dissapeared about 10 days ago after she spoke to Al-Jazeera. The arrests were thought to be related to the journalists’ work with Al-Jazeera, according to Quryna, a privately owned Libyan newspaper. Quryna said security forces are conducting a widespread campaign of arrests against journalists that are in contact with non-Libyan media.

Jalal al-Kawafi, a detained Libyan blogger and political writer, was freed on Saturday after protesters expelled pro-Qaddafi forces from the city. Al-Kawafi had been arrested shortly before February 17, a local journalist from Benghazi, Naim Ibrahim al-Ushayba, told CPJ. The whearabouts of at least four journalists from Benghazi are still unknown. They are: Atef al-Atrash, Idris al-Mismar, Mohamed al-Sahim, and Mohamed al-Amin. Jamming of Al-Jazeera and Alhurra continues. Al-Jazeera’s signal has been intermittently jammed since February 2, according to the network, although it intensified after anti-government protests began in the country. Alhurra reported it is being jammed on the Nilesat satellite.

Ushayba added that radio station Voice of Free Libya, formerly state-controlled but now controlled by protesters, received call-in threats of potential suicide bombings. Hanan Jallal, a local activist in Benghazi who is a member of a newly organized protesters’ media office in Benghazi, told CPJ that Voice of Free Libya’s signal is experiencing interference because of possible government jamming. In Misurata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) east of Tripoli, on Monday, a helicopter tried to destroy the antenna of a local radio station that protesters had taken over, international media reported.  Anti-Qaddafi protesters took control of the city on Thursday, according to news reports. Misurata is the third largest city in Libya, after Tripoli and Benghazi.

9.14am: More on the bombing of Ajdabiya – about 75km from Brega which has already been retaken – from the Associated Press:

The witnesses told The Associated Press they saw two warplanes bomb the eastern part of the town of Ajdabiya at 10am (8am GMT) local time Wednesday. They also said that pro-Gaddafi forces were advancing on the town, some 470 miles (750km) east of the capital Tripoli.

Ahmed Jerksi, manager of the Sirte oil company which runs the facility in the eastern town of Brega, said pro-Gaddafi forces retook control of the facility, south-west of Ajdabiya.

Gaddafi Forces ‘Bomb’ Eastern Rebel Town

Pro-Gaddafi forces have attacked the eastern town of Ajdabiyah using warplanes and seized a nearby oil facility, reports say. Witnesses near Ajdabiyah claim two warplanes bombed the area 500 miles from Tripoli and say Colonel Gaddafi’s forces are advancing on the town. The reports come as rebels confirmed that the nearby town of Brega had been retaken by the leader’s forces after a bloody battle. “It’s true. There was aerial bombardment of Brega and Gaddafi’s forces have taken it,”said Mohamed Yousef, an officer in the town of Ajdabiyah. Colonel Gaddafi’s retaliation is the most significant since protests began in the east two weeks ago.

Gaddafi loyalists advance to east

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi are moving into rebel territory in the east, taking an oil installation in the town of Brega. The BBC’s John Simpson in the nearby city of Ajdabiya says the 100-vehicle convoy is expected to head towards it, and an arms dump there has been bombed. The city’s defenders are in a high state of excitement and expecting an attack, our correspondent says.

In two weeks of unrest Col Gaddafi has lost control of large parts of Libya. The violence has led to a major humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian border, with tens of thousands of foreigners, most of them Egyptian, stranded and unable to get home. The UN says a mass evacuation is needed and thousands of lives are at stake. Meanwhile in the capital Tripoli, where Col Gaddafi is still in charge, a fuel tanker overturned causing several large explosions.

It is not clear whether the incident was an act of sabotage. Our correspondent says Brega was defended by a handful of lightly armed rebels, but Ajdabiya is a more important target. It has a large arms dump which has been bombed several times by pro-Gaddafi forces. The loyalists are now only a couple of miles from Ajdabiya, the defenders say. The rebels are determined to put up a fight but it remains to be seen whether this translates into an organised defence of the city, our correspondent says.

Libya unrest: Huge explosions in capital Tripoli

There has been a series of large explosions in the Libyan capital Tripoli. A BBC correspondent reports seeing plumes of smoke, police and fire engines. The cause of the blasts is unclear. More to follow.

@NicRobertsonCNN – Turns out fuel truck rolled on its side at traffic intersection and four fuel compartments exploded.

Libya unrest: Benghazi gripped by anti-Gaddafi fervour

Almost spontaneously, the Libyan city of Benghazi has been galvanised into action. Residents have taken on the challenge of normal life just as dynamically as protesters took on Muammar Gaddafi’s toughest troops. Ayman Nas is on one of a series of committees that have sprung up. “The banks started operating, and next week hopefully the schools will start and the university,” he said. “Yesterday we tried to maintain the police department… then the security, the education. Everything will be as normal, as before.”  Zinedine is working frantically to produce placards for the protesters, mocking Col Gaddafi in a variety of languages. I asked him who organised this whirlwind of activity.  “It happened spontaneously, everything has just fitted into place. I think this is destiny, it is fate. It is a wave that is spreading, and everything is just fitting into place. It is the will of the Gods.” At a secret location, I was given access to the Voice of Free Libya. It is a makeshift radio station cobbled together after the state TV and radio headquarters was burnt down by protesters who were furious at the propaganda that used to be pumped out.

From somewhere they have found a mixing desk. Cables straggle around the room. Phones ring in the studio as they take calls from across Libya. The station beams a signal as far as Tripoli, in the west, and to neighbouring countries. The presenter is urging all Libyans to take the battle to Tripoli itself. “We have to get to the capital,” he exhorts listeners. “You have to strike the final blow, you are the heroes, so let’s march, let’s crawl on Tripoli.” But is there a plan to make that happen?  At the town’s air base they still have fighter jets and helicopter gunships that theoretically could be used as part of such an offensive. The defection of this base was critical to the success of the protests here, and so to the protest movement across the country. When Col Gaddafi’s loyalists ordered the pilots to use the helicopters last weekend to attack protesters, the pilots played for time until it was dark and they could not fly. Within hours the protesters had overwhelmed government forces in the middle of town. That success in Benghazi enabled the opposition to take control of the whole east of the country, and to challenge Col Gaddafi in Tripoli itself.

So I asked a senior officer at the base, Col Abdullah El Hassi, whether his forces would now take the offensive and join the battle for Tripoli. “From the first day we took the side of the people’s revolution and we are ready to stand up to any attacking forces,” he told me. But he added: “We have not been able to help our brothers in the western region for logistical reasons. We would like to do so, but the airspace has been closed, and there are ground-to-air missiles that we have to take care of. Until we are ready we cannot move further.” It is a key question. So far, much of the revolution has been a battle between protesters, armed only with improvised weaponry, fighting Col Gaddafi’s forces.

US brands Muammar Gaddafi ‘delusional’ after interview

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is “delusional” and “unfit to lead”, the US ambassador to the UN has said. Susan Rice was speaking after the embattled Colonel Gaddafi was interviewed by the BBC and others. In the interview, Col Gaddafi said he was loved by all his people and denied there had been any protests in Tripoli. It came as a humanitarian crisis involving thousands of Egyptian migrant workers stranded on the Tunisian border worsened. About 2,000 are crossing into Tunisia every hour but once in Tunisia many of them have nowhere to go. Another 20,000 are said to be backed up on the Libyan side. They are complaining that they have been forgotten by their government, says the BBC’s Jim Muir on the border. Food is being distributed but the relief effort is way behind the reality of the situation, our correspondent says. The sanitation is a disaster and many are sleeping in roads and car parks, he adds. The UN’s World Food Programme said its head, Josette Sheeran, is expected to visit the border later on Tuesday.

In other developments:

World foreign ministers earlier condemned attacks on Libyan civilians and the European Union imposed sanctions including an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on Col Gaddafi and his close entourage. Col Gaddafi is facing a massive challenge to his 41-year rule, with protesters in control of towns in the east. He was answering questions in the capital Tripoli from BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, US TV network ABC, and the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper. He accused Western countries of abandoning Libya and said that they had no morals and wanted to colonise the country. When asked whether he would resign, he said he could not step down as he did not have an official position – and insisted that the power in the country was with the people.

Col Gaddafi challenged those, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who have accused him of having money abroad, to produce evidence. He said he would “put two fingers in their eye”. Col Gaddafi said true Libyans had not demonstrated but those who had come on to the streets were under the influence of drugs supplied by Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. He said those people had seized weapons and that his supporters were under orders not to shoot back. But in response to the interview, Susan Rice said the fact he was laughing at questions while “slaughtering his own people” showed that he was disconnected from reality.

Libya unrest: UK prepared for humanitarian aid effort

The UK is prepared for a humanitarian aid effort after the political turmoil in Libya, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has said. The UN estimates that 100,000 people have fled Libya over the past week into neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia. Mr Mitchell told the BBC that the UK was “very engaged”, with British officials in both border areas. Meanwhile the cabinet has discussed Libya, including the possibility of a military no-fly zone over the country. Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain needed to “plan for every eventuality” and to continue to pressurise and isolate the regime. Asked whether the UK would arm Gaddafi’s opponents, Mr Cameron said contact was being made with them. “I don’t think we should go beyond that for now,” he added. Mr Cameron has also chaired a meeting of the UK’s National Security Council. The prime minister’s spokesman said: “Clearly there are certain sets of circumstances where a no-fly zone may be appropriate, but we are not at that stage.”

Earlier, Mr Mitchell said of the aid situation: “We’re very engaged indeed in this. We have officials on the two borders of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia. “We are monitoring very carefully what is happening there, we’re working closely with the United Nations and a number of leading NGOs (non-governmental organisations). He added that tents and blankets were being flown in to provide help for people – particularly those currently on the Tunisia border. The Department for International Development said Mr Mitchell had already been in contact with the head of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Baroness Amos, and Islamic Relief UK director Jehangir Malik. On Monday, Mr Cameron told the House of Commons there was a “real danger” of a humanitarian crisis in Libya. “We are acutely conscious of the risks of shortages and are monitoring the situation closely. We have dispatched technical teams to be in place at both the Tunisian and Egyptian borders,” he said.

The prime minister told MPs that Mr Mitchell would be visiting the region later this week “to assess the situation on the ground for himself”. There were thought to be fewer than 150 Britons remaining in Libya and only a “very small proportion” of those wanted to leave, he added. HMS York is on its way to Libya’s second city, Benghazi, to drop off medical supplies and pick up more British nationals. The head of the UN’s World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, who has been visiting the border area in Tunisia, told the BBC that food delivery systems were under “deep stress.” She said 14,000 people crossed the border on Monday, more than on previous days. “For some time here”, she said, “this will be a very pressured situation.” A team from humanitarian organisation Mercy Corps is expected to arrive in Libya later this week to begin assessing how the agency can help those in need. Mercy Corps said violence and displacement could have a dramatic impact on critical services and the availability of food and water. Libya has been hit by protests calling for the Middle East’s longest-serving ruler, Col Muammar Gaddafi, to step down. The UN believes thousands of people may have been killed or injured in a violent crackdown by the Libyan regime.

Qaddafi Makes Little Headway in Assault on Libyan Rebels

BENGHAZI, Libya — Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces appeared to make little headway in a concerted assault on rebels in several cities around the country and in a sustained attack early Tuesday morning in the western city of Zawiyah. With escalating hostilities bringing Libya closer to civil war, rebels appeared to hold the city after a night of fighting, fending off tanks and artillery vehicles, special forces and regular army troops, and, rebels said, fighter jets. Rebel leaders in Libya said the latest attacks by Colonel Qaddafi’s supporters smacked of desperation, and that the failed assault on Zawiyah, a city with important oil resources just 30 miles from the capital, raised questions about the ability of the government to muster a serious challenge to the rebels’ growing power. At the same time, Colonel Qaddafi faced a growing international campaign to force him from power, as the Obama administration announced on Monday that it had seized $30 billion in Libyan assets and the European Union adopted an arms embargo and other sanctions. As the Pentagon began repositioning Navy warships to support a possible humanitarian or military intervention, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bluntly told the Libyan leader on Monday to surrender power “now, without further violence or delay.” The attacks by the colonel’s troops on an oil refinery in central Libya and on cities on either side of the country unsettled rebel leaders — who have maintained that they are close to liberating the country — and showed that despite defections by the military, the government may still possess powerful assets, including fighter pilots willing to bomb Libyan cities. On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton, just back in Washington after consultations in Geneva with foreign counterparts, reiterated that a no-fly zone for Libya was “under active consideration.” But in her comments, made to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, she laid out one of the several reasons Western countries are moving with caution on such an option. Mrs. Clinton said that the administration was keenly aware that the Libyan opposition was anxious to be seen “as doing this by themselves on behalf of the Libyan people — that there not be outside intervention by any external force.”

Russia, meanwhile, dismissed the option of a no-fly zone, The Associated Press reported from Geneva, quoting Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov as saying the proposal was “superfluous.” Colonel Qaddafi has remained defiant. In an interview on Monday with ABC News, he said he was fighting against “terrorists,” and he accused the West of seeking to “occupy Libya.” He gave no hint of surrender. “My people love me,” he said. “They would die for me.” Those unyielding words, and the colonel’s military attacks were met with both nerves and defiance by rebel military leaders as the two sides seemed to steel themselves for a long battle along shifting and ever more violent front lines. The antigovernment protesters, who started their uprising with peaceful sit-ins but have increasingly turned to arms to counter Colonel Qaddafi’s brutal paramilitary forces, have promised a large military response that has yet to come. At the same time, government forces have been unable to reverse the costly loss of territory to a popular revolt that has brought together lawyers, young people and tribal leaders. Across the region, the tumult that has already toppled two leaders and threatened one autocrat after another continued unabated on Monday. In Yemen, protests drove President Ali Abdullah Saleh to make a bid for a unity government, but the political opposition quickly refused and protesters returned to the streets on Tuesday. An opposition leader, Mohamed al-Sabry, said in a statement that the president’s proposal was a “desperate attempt” to counter Tuesday’s protests. The enduring impact of the region’s turmoil was evident in Cairo, where Egypt postponed the reopening of its stock exchange again on Tuesday until Sunday. The exchange has been closed for over a month, after antigovernment protests in late January shook investor confidence and drove the value of the country’s benchmark index down 17 percent in two trading days. In Bahrain on Tuesday, protesters marched down King Faisal Highway in the capital, Manama. In Oman, whose first major protests were reported over the weekend, demonstrations continued on Tuesday, a day after violent clashes with the security forces in the port city of Sohar, and the unrest spread for the first time to the capital, Muscat. Witnesses in Tehran said there was a heavy police presence on the streets on Tuesday. Citing opposition Web sites, Reuters said protesters in the Iranian capital clashed with security forces firing tear gas. Those reports, and others posted via social media, could not be immediately verified.

The political landscape continued to shift in Tunisia, where the interim government on Tuesday granted the main Islamist group, Ennahda, permission to form a political party, Reuters reported, two days after the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a close ally of the ousted president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The Islamic group had been banned under Mr. Ben Ali’s two-decade rule. In a further sign of turbulence, one of the most prominent opposition leaders, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, who founded the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, said he was quitting the interim government, news reports said. Libya itself seemed to be brewing a major humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of mostly impoverished contract workers tried desperately to flee to its neighbors, Tunisia to the west and Egypt to the east. The United Nations refugee agency called the situation a humanitarian emergency as workers hauling suitcases stood in long lines to leave Libya, many of them uncertain how they would finally get home. The country they left behind faced similar uncertainty, as warplanes took to the sky for the first time in 10 days, according to military officials allied with the rebels. In a direct challenge to claims by those officials, who have asserted that Libyan Air Force pilots were no longer taking orders from Colonel Qaddafi, two Libyan Air Force jets conducted bombing raids on Monday, according to witnesses and two military officers in Benghazi allied with the antigovernment protesters. Col. Hamed Bilkhair said that the jets, two MIG-23s that took off from an air base near Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown in the city of Surt, struck three targets, but were deterred by rebel antiaircraft fire from striking a fourth at an air base in Benghazi. The jets — a bomber and an escort plane — attacked three other locations, south of Benghazi, and on the outskirts of the eastern city of Ajdabiya.

Colonel Bilkhair said that a weapons depot was struck, but that the other strikes — including one on a water pipeline — were “ineffective.” It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties, and the airstrikes could not be independently verified. The colonel said that government special forces took control of the oil refinery at Ras Lanuf on Monday, though he and other rebel leaders played down the significance of the assault, saying the refinery was only lightly guarded. “It was only briefly occupied,” by the rebels, Colonel Bilkhair said. “They occupied it for four days, and they had no weapons.” The colonel, speaking in an interview on Monday evening, said government troops were in the midst of shelling Misurata, a breakaway city 130 miles east of the capital. In Zawiyah, residents said they rebuffed a series of attacks on Monday and into Tuesday morning, suffering no casualties but killing about 10 soldiers and capturing about a dozen others. A government spokesman confirmed the death toll. “It is perfect news,” said A. K. Nasrat, 51, an engineer who is among the rebels, before adding, “There is no way they are going to take this city out of our hands unless we all die first.” The first attack took place shortly after midnight, when some pro-Qaddafi soldiers in pickup trucks tried to pass through the city’s eastern gate, Mr. Nasrat said. But they were spotted by rebel sentries who defeated them with help from army and police defectors defending the town. Four soldiers were killed and several captured, with some of the captives readily surrendering their arms and switching sides, he said Then, in the early evening, several witnesses said, the Qaddafi forces — believed to be led by his son Khamis’s private militia — attacked from both the east and the west. Three pickup trucks tried to enter the narrow city gates from the west, but a rebel-held artillery unit struck one, blowing it up and overturning a second truck, Mr. Nasrat said. Six more pickup trucks tried to breach the eastern gate, he said, but after an exchange of fire the rebels captured two of the trucks and several of the soldiers.

“So about 12 or 14 soldiers were hostages,” he said, “and 8 of them turned over their arms and joined the people. They are on our side now.” For days, military leaders in Benghazi have said they are preparing to assemble a force of thousands to conduct a final assault on Tripoli; some of the officials have even promised to send planes to bomb Colonel Qaddafi’s fortified compound, Bab al-Aziziya. But there are few signs that a plan has materialized, though military leaders maintain they are simply waiting for the right time. A fighter pilot sympathetic to the antigovernment protesters, Mohammed Miftah Dinali, expressed some frustration that he had not yet been called on to aid the rebel effort. “My friends and I are willing to go and do an airstrike on Qaddafi’s compound,” he said. “I cannot just sit and watch this happen.” Inside Tripoli on Monday, hundreds of protesters joined a demonstration in the working-class suburb of Tajoura after a funeral for a neighbor killed by security forces during clashes over the weekend. But a heavy contingent of security forces guarding the neighborhood fired into the air and, some witnesses said, filled the streets with tear gas to disperse the crowd without new fatalities. Tajoura has become the site of a daily back and forth, as protesters fill the walls each night with graffiti denouncing Colonel Qaddafi and government paint crews swing by each day to try to cover it up. Almost every storefront and wall in the neighborhood bore a splotch of brown or red paint covering anti-Qaddafi graffiti. Protesters gathered around a small store at twilight said their newest chant was: “Qaddafi, Qaddafi, patience, patience, we will dig your grave.” The half-dozen protesters filled in more details of what they called a massacre over the last week. Security forces, they said, had repeatedly driven through the neighborhood shooting at crowds or even buildings, usually from double-cabin pick-up trucks but occasionally from the back of ambulances. They said one resident, Fatama Ragebi, had been killed by a stray bullet that entered her home and was buried on Saturday.

They repeated reports that security forces had not only fired into crowds but then scooped up the dead and wounded, sometimes even removing them from local hospitals. But residents had mixed views about what might come next. Some said they were awaiting help in the form of weapons from bastions of the rebellion outside of Tripoli, like Benghazi to the east. Others vowed that “the people are going to free themselves by themselves.” Still others said their destiny was in the hands of God. A man in his 30s who identified himself only as Hisham said the killings had scared more than half of the crowd who turned out last Friday into staying inside since then. “We need time to organize again,” he said. Kareem Fahim reported from Benghazi, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Tripoli, Libya. Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Benghazi, Brian Knowlton from Washington, Alan Cowell from Paris, Steven Lee Myers from Geneva, and Liam Stack from Cairo.

In U.S.-Libya Nuclear Deal, a Qaddafi Threat Faded Away

WASHINGTON — In late 2009 the Obama administration was leaning on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his son, Seif, to allow the removal from Libya of the remnants of the country’s nuclear weapons program: casks of highly enriched uranium. Meeting with the American ambassador, Gene A. Cretz, the younger Qaddafi complained that the United States had retained “an embargo on the purchase of lethal equipment” even though Libya had turned over more than $100 million in bomb-making technology in 2003. Libya was “fed up,” he told Mr. Kretz, at Washington’s slowness in doling out rewards for Libya’s cooperation, according to cables released by WikiLeaks. Today, with father and son preparing for a siege of Tripoli, the success of a joint American-British effort to eliminate Libya’s capability to make nuclear and chemical weapons has never, in retrospect, looked more important. Senior administration officials and Pentagon planners, as they discuss sanctions and a possible no-fly zone to neutralize the Libyan air force, say that the 2003 deal removed Colonel Qaddafi’s biggest trump card: the threat of using a nuclear weapon, or even just selling nuclear material or technology, if he believed it was the only way to save his 42-year rule. While Colonel Qaddafi retains a stockpile of mustard gas, it is not clear he has any effective way to deploy it.

“Imagine the possible nightmare if we had failed to remove the Libyan nuclear weapons program and their longer range missile force,” said Robert Joseph, who played a central role in organizing the effort in 2003, in the months just after the invasion of Iraq. “You can’t know for sure how far the Libyan program would have progressed in the last eight years,” said Mr. Joseph, who left the Bush administration a few years after the Libya events, partly because he believed it had gone soft on nuclear rogue states. But given Colonel Qadaffi’s recent threats, he said on Monday, “there is no question he would have used whatever he felt necessary to stay in power.” Whether he would have is, of course, unknowable. But Colonel Qadaffi appeared to sense that loss of leverage over the last two years. The cables indicate a last-minute effort to hold on to the remnants of the program, less to assure his regime’s survival than to have some bargaining chips to get the weapons and aid that Colonel. Qaddafi and his son insisted they were promised. The cache of nuclear technology that Libya turned over to the United States, Britain and international nuclear inspectors in early 2004 was large — far larger than American intelligence experts had expected. There were more than 4,000 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium. There were blueprints for how to build a nuclear bomb — missing some critical components but good enough to get the work started.

The whole package of goods came from a deal the Qaddafis struck with Abdul Qadeer Khan, one of the architects of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, who built the world’s largest black-market network in nuclear technology. The $100 million to $200 million that the Central Intelligence Agency later estimated that Libya spent on the nuclear project has never been recovered. For their part, the Libyans could never get the system working; many of the large centrifuges were still in their wooden packing crates when they were turned over. The haul was so large that President George W. Bush, with photographers in tow, flew to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to celebrate a rare victory against nuclear proliferation. He briefly noted the success in his recent memoir, “Decision Points,” saying that with the surrender of the weapons Libya “resumed normal relations with the world.” Mr. Bush lifted restrictions on doing business with Libya and praised Colonel Qaddafi, saying his action have “made our country and our world safer.” In Libya, the story was told very differently. In an interview with The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for a documentary, “Nuclear Jihad,” Seif Qadaffi complained that the West never followed through on many of its promises. By 2009, when the Qaddafis were refusing to turn over the remaining highly enriched uranium, he said the decision to give up the weapons had been “contingent on ‘compensation’ from the U.S. including the purchase of conventional weapons and nonconventional military equipment,” a cable in late 2009 reported to the Obama administration.

Colonel Qaddafi, his son said, was unhappy that the centrifuges ended up in the United States, which he called a “big insult to the Leader,” compounded by the fact that little compensation followed. Today Obama administration officials say that whether or not the Bush administration carried through on its promises, the deal deprived Mr. Qaddafi of far more fearsome weapons that he might have reached for as he attempts to stay in office. While it is unclear whether he might have ultimately succeeded in building nuclear weapons, as part of the deal he gave up thousands of shells filled with chemical weapons. “They were bulldozed,” William Tobey, a former senior official in the Energy Department under Mr. Bush recalled on Monday. While Mr. Qaddafi has many tons of mustard gas left, he said, “it’s very difficult to handle and I’m not sure it’s useful” to the Libyan leader. But the message of the Libyan experience to other countries under pressure to give up their arsenals may not be the one Washington intends. Iran and North Korea, who have often been urged by the West to follow Libya’s example, may conclude that Mr. Qaddafi made a fatal error. While South Korea is dropping leaflets in North Korea alerting its population to the uprisings in the Middle East, senior South Korean officials acknowledged in interviews last week that should North Korea face a similar uprising, it could use the threat to unleash its arsenal — which includes six to a dozen nuclear weapons by most estimates — in an effort to keep neighboring countries from encouraging the regime’s ouster. “When the North collapses — and one day it will, of course — we’re going to face a problem that we’ve been spared in Libya,” one senior South Korean official said on Friday in Seoul, declining to speak on the record about most sensitive contingency planning involving South Korean and American officials. “You have to bet that the leadership is going to threaten to use its weapons to stay in power. Even if they are bluffing, it’s going to change the entire strategy.”

What next for Libya, a divided land riven by bloodshed?

Divided country

It is possible the current situation could settle into a de facto division between a rump Libyan state around Tripoli and an eastern rebel movement that cannot take over the whole country. Anti-Gaddafi forces now control Benghazi and much of eastern Libya up to the border with Egypt. The area is run by tribal elders, local people and senior figures who have defected from the regime. The rebels control the oilfields in Ras Lanuf and Brega. Opposition forces also control Zawiyah, just 30 miles from Tripoli, although signs are imminent of a counter-offensive by the government. Misrata, an important Mediterranean port, east of the capital, is disputed and saw fighting again on Monday. Reports from Benghazi speak of concerns about food and medical supplies running low in a couple of weeks, although the port and the border with Egypt are open. The regime controls Tripoli, home to some 2 million of Libya’s 6.5 million population, the international airport, the port and some outlying towns. It also controls Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town, which opposition supporters have to skirt on a long detour south to avoid loyalist forces. A further large area, as much as a third of the country in the south and areas around Tripoli, are effectively neutral and under the control of tribes. Sebha on the edge of the Sahara is a Gaddafi stronghold and was reportedly used to ferry in African mercenaries. It is hard to see opposition forces winning an outright military victory, not least because many tribes in western Libya have remained neutral.

Gaddafi: fight or flight?

Muammar Gaddafi has said he will die a martyr in Libya rather than flee abroad. Military experts estimate he can count on 10,000 to 12,000 troops, as well as the regime’s security services and foreign mercenaries. The air force is an important factor. But with UN sanctions banning him and his sons from foreign travel, his only escape would be to a friendly country that is already defying the international community, with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe the most likely candidate. It was intriguing to hear a White House spokesman say explicitly that exile would be one option. On the face of it, defiance to the end is likely to be Gaddafi’s preferred option, though that is likely to mean far more bloodshed. “The west are telling him to go, but to go where?” asked an Algerian analyst, Saad Djebbar. “Gaddafi needs a safe passage.” Could loyalist tribes persuade the leader to step down and guarantee him a peaceful retirement, like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt? Gaddafi’s tribe, the Gaddadfa, is allied with the larger Megraha tribe. Both their interests are intimately tied in with the regime. US and western policy is to quietly encourage more high-level defections from the regime and key elements of the military.

Military intervention

David Cameron told parliament that he had asked the defence ministry and armed services chiefs to work with allies on plans for a no-fly zone. Those talks have started in Washington over the past few days. British officials caution that any such action would be taken only with “wide international support”. That would mean a further meeting of the UN security council, which left the door open to stronger action in the resolution it passed. Russia and China have made it clear they are opposed in principle to any such action, but they would be under heavy pressure to relent if the Gaddafi regime committed an atrocity with mass casualties using warplanes or helicopters. The UN could also be called on to provide blue-helmeted peacekeepers to ensure the delivery of food aid, perhaps along corridors through Tunisia and Egypt, if the humanitarian crisis develops as a result of the conflict. British and German planes have already landed in the Libyan desert without the permission of Tripoli, so that barrier has been breached, and the French have announced they will fly two planes into Benghazi to deliver humanitarian supplies. The prime minister, François Fillon, described it as the start of “a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories”. Possibly in anticipation of a future need to operate as a staging post for a multilateral military mission, Italy has suspended a two-year-old pact with the Gaddafi government that promised not to use “direct or indirect” military force against Libya, or allow Italian territory to be used “in any hostile act against Libya”.

Power vacuum

There are concerns about a power vacuum developing if the regime is toppled or suddenly collapses. The Benghazi-based National Libyan Council, which insists it is not an interim government, is designed to fill that gap. But it is divided politically. Two of its key leaders are high-level defectors from the regime: Abdel-Fatah Yunis al-Obeidi and Mustafa Abdel-Jalil were respectively Gaddafi’s ministers of the interior and justice. Some analysts see a possible future unifying role for Abdel-Salam Jalloud, Gaddafi’s former right-hand man, who is untainted by corruption. “Jalloud would be a steady pair of hands to steer the country through the troubled waters of the coming months,” said Menas, a London-based consultancy. Concerns also centre on the possibility of tribal rivalries intensifying and of al-Qaida militants taking advantage of a vacuum to regroup in a country where jihadis have been defeated. The Quilliam Foundation thinktank said it was important for the international community to help Libyans create a national coalition. “Creating this coalition would also allow … the orderly supply of food and humanitarian relief, the systematic protection of the Libyan infrastructure against looting and the security of Libya’s borders.” Libya watchers worry that the disparate opposition factions taking part in the fight against Gaddafi are not organised politically and lack a clear strategy for ousting him, said IHS Global Insight Perspective.

Libya: Tunisian border guards struggle to control tidal wave of refugees

Police and aid workers dragged dozens of unconscious people from the seething tide of desperate migrant workers crushed up against the concrete wall that divides the two countries at the Ras Jedir frontier post, while soldiers have fired in the air to disperse gangs of criminals seeking to extort money from the refugees. More than 75,000 people – mostly Egyptian migrant workers – have so far poured into Tunisia, and tens of thousands more are still trapped in Libya, and struggling to get out. Few of those who have arrived in Tunisia can afford the fare home, and Egypt has so far been unable to make arrangements for them to repatriate them. “It looks like it’s going to get worse,” said Ayman Gharaibeh, an officer with the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. Most of the new arrivals are still sleeping rough, though aid workers are racing to erect transit camp to cope with 10,000 people. Some 500 tents have so far sprung up in the desert. Even that, however, will house only a small fraction of the refugees.

“Water and sanitation is a major issue, toilets are our next big headache,” Mr Etyemezian said at the camp, British aid officials have been stationed on Libya’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia to prepare to assist with the humanitarian emergency, said Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary. “We are monitoring very carefully what is happening there,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “Today we are flying, from our stocks in Dubai, tents and blankets and support in conjunction with the UN to help people.” Local volunteers have joined the relief effort, providing water and food to the refugees. But Hamdi Henchiri, a police officer, said expressed concern about “a growing criminal element which is trying to profit from the situation, by asking for extortionate amounts of money to take the new arrivals to the nearest town.” Tunisia’s fragile government, in the throes of a still-unfolding political crisis, is ill placed to deal with the brewing humanitarian disaster. Two ministers from the country’s interim government on Tuesday, which was installed last month after a wave of protests and a brutal crackdown that ended with the overthrow of former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Mohammed Ghannouchi, the interim prime minister, resigned over the weekend after clashes with protesters claimed five lives, saying he was unwilling to take responsibility for “decisions that would end up causing casualties.”

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Doctors report 17 dead in Libyan city of Zawiya

February 25, 2011

Benghazi, Libya (CNN) — Doctors at a field hospital in Martyrs Square in Zawiya said Friday that 17 people were killed and another 150 were wounded when government forces attacked the city. They predicted the death toll would rise by morning. Six pro-regime soldiers who were captured said they had been told that the city was being run by Arab militants and it was their job to liberate it, according to the doctors, who asked not to be identified. The soldiers added that they had been misled so that they would fight against their countrymen, the doctors said. By the end of the day, the situation was calm in the seaside city, they said. The casualties were announced shortly after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi accused followers of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden of brainwashing the youth of Zawiya with hallucinogenic drugs, resulting in the unrest. “They put it with milk or with other drinks, spiked drinks,” he said. After taking the tablets, “they attack this police station or that one so they can steal from there the criminal records.” He pleaded with the protesters’ mothers to track them down in the streets of the coastal town about 55 kilometers (about 35 miles) west of Tripoli and take them home. He added that he had ordered an end to the violence there, but his order upset his security forces. “They told me they are being shot at and they were doing it in self-defense,” Gadhafi said. “Why do you give us orders to stop?”

Addressing the people of Zawiya, he sent condolences to the families of the dead and wounded. “These are our children,” he said. “We are quite upset about the senseless loss of lives.” Zawiya’s residents are free to do as they like, though there will be consequences, he said. “If you want to pit against one another, then it’s up to you,” he said. “But the borders of the city will be sealed in order to stop it from spreading elsewhere.” He added, “How can such lunatic youth cause such anarchy?” Gadhafi said Libya has peaceful ways for its citizens to address their grievances. “We are not like Egypt or Tunisia,” he said, referring to two countries that have ousted their leaders in recent weeks. “Here, the authority is in the hands of the people. You can change your authority, just make committees. And if you think they are corrupt, take them to court. Prosecute them.” In an apparent allusion to calls for government officials to be held accountable for violence against Libyan civilians, Gadhafi said it is bin Laden who should be prosecuted. “He’s responsible for any acts of murder or sabotage,” Gadhafi said. He accused foreigners of fomenting the discontent. “These acts cannot happen by Libyan men,” he said. “No Libyan of any background would go into this, join these acts of sabotage.”

Some of the people involved in the opposition, he said, were detained by the United States in Guantanamo. Finally, he expressed confidence that all will end up will for his regime. “I believe Zawiya will toe the line,” he said, then directed his final comment to the city’s residents themselves. “Please live up to my expectations, people of Zawiya.” Zawiya was not alone as a site of violence Thursday. A formerly pro-government newspaper in Libya reported Thursday that African mercenaries were shooting at unarmed civilians in Tajura, about 25 miles east of Tripoli. CNN could not confirm the report. Ten days into protests that have resulted in his loss of control of eastern Libya and led members of his government to defect, Gadhafi faced new international pressure Thursday. Switzerland ordered that his assets, and those of his entourage, be frozen, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said. Gadhafi’s characteristically rambling remarks followed reports that anti-government forces had gained control of Zawiya. At the hospital, a woman who said her son had been shot told CNN, “Blood is all over the streets.” The woman said unarmed people had been fired on indiscriminately. “We want to call all human beings: Zawiya is finished,” she said. “The people (are) finished. The people (are) dying.” She said it was unclear who was behind were shooting. Many seemed to be African mercenaries, but they may have been from the government or military, she said.

“People are crying,” she said, calling for help from the world. “Where (are) the people? Where is the peace?” The hospital in Zawiya is “a disaster,” she said, adding that some shooters had entered the hospital and insisted that no one was killed. CNN could not confirm reports for many areas in Libya. The Libyan government maintains tight control of communications and has not responded to repeated requests for access to the country. CNN has interviewed numerous witnesses by phone. Misrata — sometimes spelled Misurata — is in the hands of the opposition, who have driven out the mercenaries, witnesses and media reports said. It is the country’s third-largest city and is east of Tripoli. Witnesses and reports also said the town of Az Zintan was under opposition control. The opposition already controls Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, where crowds cheered as international journalists drove through. The only shooting that could be heard was celebratory gunfire. Men in their 20s were guarding the city with shotguns, clubs or hunting knives. But Tripoli was a different story. Gunfire erupted at dawn Thursday as chanting crowds dispersed. Government security forces were tightening their grip on the capital, according to sources. In one neighborhood, no one was allowed in or out. “There’s nobody walking in the street, nobody is trying to get out, even to look through the window,” said a resident who, for security reasons, did not want to be identified. “It’s a little scary.”

She said she was risking her life by talking to a reporter. “I’ve been trying to keep my identity hidden,” the woman said. “There are reported kidnappings happening in homes for anybody credible that is talking to the media and giving them the truth about what’s happening in Libya.” Continuing a stream of defections among Libyan diplomats, the ambassador to Jordan, Mohammed Hassan Al Barghathi, said Thursday he was resigning because of the unrest.  So, too, did a cousin of Gadhafi, Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, a top security official who was considered one of Gadhafi’s closest aides. In a news release, his office said he left Libya last week “in protest of the way the crisis was handled” and that he had resigned. Underscoring the growing distance between the Gadhafi regime and Libyan diplomats, the flag hanging outside the Libyan Mission to the United Nations in New York was the opposition flag; the regime’s flag had been taken down. But an anchor on state television said that Libyan diplomats and staff in Saudi Arabia had sent a cable of support “paying their respective loyalty to the leader of Libya.” The U.N. Security Council will meet privately at 3 p.m. Friday to discuss taking additional measures against Libya. The U.N. Human Rights Council also plans to meet Friday to discuss a resolution that would suspend Libya from the council. The resolution would condemn “the massive and unacceptable violence currently being perpetrated in this country,” French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Thursday in a statement. “It holds the Libyan authorities accountable. This violence could constitute crimes against humanity.”

Governments around the world scrambled to get their citizens out of the country. A ferry chartered by the United States to evacuate U.S. citizens remained in port in Tripoli because of bad weather, diplomatic sources said. Dena Drotar said her mother, who was on the ship, told her that her fellow passengers were being fed, but were anxious and having difficulty sleeping, “so they’re also getting a little bit giddy.” In Washington, a senior U.S. military official said the Pentagon was looking at “all options” it can offer President Barack Obama in dealing with the crisis. “Our job is to give options from the military side, and that is what we are thinking about now,” said the official, who declined to be identified because of the extremely sensitive nature of the situation. “We will provide the president with options should he need them.” Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the situation, and both presidents “reiterated their demand for an immediate halt to the use of force against the civilian population,” the French Embassy said.

Libya: Gaddafi blames Osama Bin Laden for protests

February 24, 2011

Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has told state TV that Osama Bin Laden and his followers are to blame for the protests racking his country. In a phone call addressed to residents of the town of al-Zawiya, Col Gaddafi said young people were being duped with drugs and alcohol to take part in “destruction and sabotage”. Col Gaddafi is battling to shore up control of Tripoli and western areas. Protesters have been consolidating gains in cities in the east. Opposition politicians and tribal leaders have held a key meeting in the eastern town of al-Bayda to show a united front against Col Gaddafi. The telephone call addressed al-Zawiya, 50km (30 miles) west of the capital, where fighting now appears to be the most fierce. Col Gaddafi said the protesters had no genuine demands and were being dictated to by the al-Qaeda leader. “Bin Laden… this is the enemy who is manipulating people. Do not be swayed by Bin Laden,” he said. “It is obvious now that this issue is run by al-Qaeda. Those armed youngsters, our children, are incited by people who are wanted by America and the Western world. “Those inciting are very few in numbers and we have to capture them.” He said the young protesters were “trigger happy and they shoot especially when they are stoned with drugs”. He said that Libya was not like Egypt and Tunisia, which have seen their leaders deposed, because the people of Libya had it in their own hands to change their lives through committees.

“This is your country and it is up to you how to deal with it,” he said. Calling the situation in al-Zawiya a “farce”, he urged families to rein in their sons, saying many of the protesters were underage and beyond the reach of the law. But he also vowed that those carrying out violent protests should be put on trial. BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says blaming al-Qaeda is a cheap shot as the whole international jihadist movement has been left largely sidelined by the current popular uprisings across the Middle East, in which religion has played almost no part. This was Col Gaddafi’s second live TV appearance since the protests erupted on 15 February. On Tuesday he said he would die a martyr in Libya and fight to the “last drop” of his blood. The latest broadcast was a lot shorter – about 20 minutes compared with 75 minutes on Tuesday. Heavy gunfire has been reported in al-Zawiya and there are reports of a police station on fire.

Libya rebels isolate Gaddafi, seizing cities and oilfields

February 24, 2011

Opposition activists are increasing the pressure on Muammar Gaddafi’s ailing regime, shutting down oil exports and mobilising rebel groups in the west of the country as the revolution rapidly spreads. Gaddafi’s hold on power appears confined to parts of Tripoli and perhaps several regions in the centre of the country. Towns to the west of the capital have fallen and all of eastern Libya is firmly in opposition hands. In a rambling appeal for calm on state TV, Gaddafi blamed the revolt on al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and said the protesters were fuelled by Nescafe spiked with hallucinogenic drugs. In Benghazi, the country’s second city, basic order is returning to the streets after days of fierce fighting that resulted in the military defecting en masse. Virtually all government buildings were looted and wrecked. There are long lines outside closed banks as people try to resume normal life. Cars have returned to city streets but almost all shops remain closed and the internet is blocked.

Benghazi is now being run by a makeshift organising committee of judges, lawyers and other professionals who have sent out young people to direct traffic and restore basic order. One high court lawyer, Amal Bagaigis, said: “We started just as lawyers looking for our rights and now we are revolutionaries, and we don’t know how to manage. We want to have our own face. For 42 years we lived with this kind of barbarianism. We now want to live by ourselves.” The town of Misrata, about halfway between Benghazi and Tripoli, is reported to have fallen after days of violence. A resident, Abdul Basit Imzivig, told the Guardian that regime forces had fled overnight and the city was in opposition hands. All southern oilfields are in rebel control. Moustafa Raba’a, a mechanical engineer with the Sirte oil company, said pressure had been put on field and refinery managers to stop work and protect all foreign nationals working with them. “The order was put out to send a message to Gaddafi to stop the slaying of our people in Benghazi. We made a decision to deny him the privilege of exporting oil and gas to Europe.” He said the blockade had prevented 80,000 barrels a day being exported from the Dregga field alone.

In Gaddafi’s latest broadcast, he spoke to state television by telephone without appearing in person, and his tone seemed more conciliatory. But it was peppered with bizarre references – he compared his authority to the British Queen and said of the protesters: “Their ages are 17. They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe.” Opposition to Gaddafi appears to have reached a critical mass, with his influence confined to parts of the capital and steadily shrinking. Tripoli remains in lockdown and there are reports of snipers. Irish-trained surgeon Heitham Gheriani, who was one of the revolution’s organisers in Benghazi, said: “Now the people realise the power they have. They started this protest peacefully and then the youths joined them. And when Gaddafi started killing them they rose up. But we honestly didn’t think it would happen so quickly.” A Turkish ferry has docked in Benghazi to evacuate a small number of Turkish nationals, and a British warship remains off the coast waiting for permission to approach Libyan shores. A second ship, the HMS York, has been stationed in Malta to help with the rescue effort. Tens of thousands of Egyptians are continuing to pour towards their home border along with a convoy of other foreign workers.

Elsewhere in Libya forces loyal to Gaddafi are reported to have launched a counter-attack on anti-government militias controlling Misrata, 125 miles (200km) east of Tripoli. Several people were killed in fighting near the city’s airport. Lawyers and judges have said they control the city in an internet statement. With help from “honest” military officers they had removed agents of the “oppressive regime” in Misrata, the statement said. Another western town, Zuara, is reported to have fallen to opposition forces as the tide of rebellion advanced closer to Tripoli. Violence reached the town of Az-Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli. Al-Arabiya television said Gaddafi would address residents of the town. In Oman, the British prime minister David Cameron delivered an unequivocal apology for the failings that left British citizens stranded in Libya. Two chartered planes have now left Tripoli, and a Hercules landed in the Libyan capital. British officials are confident that all UK citizens at the airport have been flown out, though they expect more to turn up. The prime minister said British officials would be “sweeping up” any remaining British citizens who arrive at the airport, while HMS Cumberland has docked in Benghazi to pick up passengers there. The Ministry of Defence is assessing how to rescue between 100 and 150 British citizens working for oil companies in the desert.

Gaddafi’s right-hand man should not be underestimated

February 24, 2011

As the Gaddafi regime continues to fight on in Libya, we must ask ourselves what kind of men constitute Muammar Gaddafi’s inner circle of confidants and trusted allies. Are they thugs fighting to preserve their control over the spigots that pour black gold? Or do they believe that their cause is just and that the Gaddafi regime has genuinely inaugurated the era of the rule of the masses? To refine our inquiry, we might probe the character of Abdullah Senussi, the leader’s brother-in-law, his key enforcer, and former head of external security who was described in the Guardian by Ian Black on Tuesday as a one of Gaddafi’s most important confidants.

The upper echelons of power around Gaddafi consist of uneducated, yet shrewd men who have learned one lesson over the last 42 years of clutching onto power – paranoia. In November 2008, I frequently visited Abdullah Senussi’s home in north-western Tripoli. From outside on a dirt street littered with potholes, the Senussi mansion does not look like much. By contrast, on the inside there are palatial sitting rooms with badly upholstered French Second Empire furniture. I recall ants swarming underneath the chairs where crumbs of honeyed sweets had been dropped and never cleaned. Despite exhibiting extensive knowledge of many Swiss and Italian resort hotels, Abdullah’s son Muhammad once told me that glass comes from the sea. I explained that glass was produced from sand, not from the sea. He knew that Libya was an exporter of glass. He maintained steadfastly that this must be a result of Libya’s long coastline. Then to buttress his argument, Muhammad told me that his grandfather (who was illiterate) had told him that glass comes from the sea and that I was wrong. End of story. So reasoned Muammar Gaddafi’s nephew.

I once asked Muhammad to recommend a popular cafe to me in Tripoli. He confessed that he could not do so as he had never eaten outside of a few restaurants in elite hotels and residential compounds. He seemed shocked that I would want to mingle among the hoi polloi of Tripoli. His countrymen frightened him and he never indicated to me even the slightest curiosity about how they lived their daily lives. In short, Muhammad as-Senussi represents the younger generation of spoiled oil brats who lack the qualifications and the temperament to inherit rulership from their parents. In his speech of 20 February Saif al-Islam Gaddafi – who speaks perfect English and holds a PhD from the London School of Economics – , definitively showed that he too belongs in the spoiled oil brat category. Saif’s brothers Hannibal, Saadi, and Muattasim made this amply clear long before. However, the older generation of Muammar Gaddafi and his intimates like Abdullah Senussi are cut from a entirely different cloth. They grew up in relative poverty, were inspired by Gamal Abdel Nasser, overthrew the government of King Idriss, and have learned the art of repressive governance through its constant practice. They are the Arab equivalent of American high school dropouts who have worked their way up from the mailroom to being CEOs.

Journalists missing in Libya; one killed in Iraq bombing

New York, February 24, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists remains alarmed by the Libyan government’s ongoing, threatening rhetoric against the press, as well as the continued violence against journalists–a number of whom have not been heard from since demonstrations began on February 17. In a separate development, an Iraqi journalist was killed and another reporter injured today in a suicide bombing in Anbar province, according to news reports. In Libya, Saif al-Islam, the son of Muammar Qaddafi, announced during an appearance on the official station, Libyan TV, that the country is accessible to the international press. “Starting today, Libya will be opened to journalists from all over the world,” he said, according to Al-Jazeera. However, in the same speech he attacked the Arab media. “The conspiracy doesn’t come from Libyans but from your Arab brothers who unleashed on you their broadcasters, poisoned words, and false rumors.” He added that “this is a media battle. They misguided the Libyans with media and false information. The information that these stations and channels are broadcasting is a lie,” he said, according to Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya. The New York Times reported today that three Libyan bloggers tweeted that Libyana, the country’s leading cell phone provider, sent residents of Tripoli text messages that said that “a local cleric issued a fatwa against watching television channels ‘like Al Jazeera,’ that incite bloodshed.”

“We are concerned by reports that a number of Libyan journalists have not been heard from for several days,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “As the authorities in Tripoli invite media to visit the capital they must remember that the international community holds them responsible for the safety of all journalists.” Naim Ibrahim al-Ushayba, a Libyan journalist from Benghazi and a correspondent for Libya Al-Youm news website, told CPJ that there is still no news about his colleague Atef al-Atrash, who disappeared after speaking to Al-Jazeera on the air on February 17. Al-Ushayba said the following other journalists have also been missing since the day before the demonstrations began: Mohamed al-Sahim, a blogger and political writer who published a critical article about the Libyan regime shortly before February 17; Mohamed al-Amin, a cartoonist; blogger Jalal al-Kawafi; and Idris al-Mismar, a writer and the former editor-in-chief of Arajin, a monthly culture magazine. A government militia today briefly detained a group of nine Italian journalists invited by the Libyan government to Tripoli as they drove to the city center from the airport, Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported. Fabrizio Caccia, a correspondent for Corriere, was beaten and kicked. The journalists were released after an inspection and were able to reach their hotel in the capital, according to the paper. In Iraq, Mohamed al-Hamdani, a correspondent for Al-Itaijah satellite TV, was killed today when a suicide attacker detonated a bomb in Ramadi, in Iraq’s Al-Anbar province during religious celebrations, news website Al-Sumaria News reported. Al-Hamdani was covering the celebrations in a cultural center in Ramadi.  Two journalists for Al-Aan satellite TV station– correspondent Ahmad Abd al-Salam and radio and TV reporter Ahmad al-Hayti–were injured, according to news reports. Fourteen people were killed and 23 injured in the attack. Meanwhile, in Syria, blogger Ahmad Hadayfa–who writes under the name Ahmad Abu al-Khair–has been released, according news reports. Hadayfa was detained on Sunday.

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Tripoli: a city in the shadow of death

Up to 15,000 men, women and children besieged Tripoli’s international airport last night, shouting and screaming for seats on the few airliners still prepared to fly to Muammar Gaddafi’s rump state, paying Libyan police bribe after bribe to reach the ticket desks in a rain-soaked mob of hungry, desperate families. Many were trampled as Libyan security men savagely beat those who pushed their way to the front.  Among them were Gaddafi’s fellow Arabs, thousands of them Egyptians, some of whom had been living at the airport for two days without food or sanitation. The place stank of faeces and urine and fear. Yet a 45-minute visit into the city for a new airline ticket to another destination is the only chance to see Gaddafi’s capital if you are a “dog” of the international press.  There was little sign of opposition to the Great Leader. Squads of young men with Kalashnikov rifles stood on the side roads next to barricades of upturned chairs and wooden doors. But these were pro-Gaddafi vigilantes – a faint echo of the armed Egyptian “neighbourhood guard” I saw in Cairo a month ago – and had pinned photographs of their leader’s infamous Green Book to their checkpoint signs.

There is little food in Tripoli, and over the city there fell a blanket of drab, sullen rain. It guttered onto an empty Green Square and down the Italianate streets of the old capital of Tripolitania. But there were no tanks, no armoured personnel carriers, no soldiers, not a fighter plane in the air; just a few police and elderly men and women walking the pavements – a numbed populous. Sadly for the West and for the people of the free city of Benghazi, Libya’s capital appeared as quiet as any dictator would wish. But this is an illusion. Petrol and food prices have trebled; entire towns outside Tripoli have been torn apart by fighting between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces. In the suburbs of the city, especially in the Noufreen district, militias fought for 24 hours on Sunday with machine guns and pistols, a battle the Gadaffi forces won. In the end, the exodus of expatriates will do far more than street warfare to bring down the regime.

I was told that at least 30,000 Turks, who make up the bulk of the Libyan construction and engineering industry, have now fled the capital, along with tens of thousands of other foreign workers. On my own aircraft out of Tripoli, an evacuation flight to Europe, there were Polish, German, Japanese and Italian businessmen, all of whom told me they had closed down major companies in the past week. Worse still for Gaddafi, the oil, chemical and uranium fields of Libya lie to the south of “liberated” Benghazi. Gaddafi’s hungry capital controls only water resources, so a temporary division of Libya, which may have entered Gaddafi’s mind, would not be sustainable. Libyans and expatriates I spoke to yesterday said they thought he was clinically insane, but they expressed more anger at his son, Saif al-Islam. “We thought Saif was the new light, the ‘liberal'”, a Libyan businessman sad to me. “Now we realise he is crazier and more cruel than his father.”The panic that has now taken hold in what is left of Gaddafi’s Libya was all too evident at the airport. In the crush of people fighting for tickets, one man, witnessed by an evacuated Tokyo car-dealer, was beaten so viciously on the head that “his face fell apart”.

Talking to Libyans in Tripoli and expatriates at the airport, it is clear that neither tanks nor armour were used in the streets of Tripoli. Air attacks targeted Benghazi and other towns, but not the capital. Yet all spoke of a wave of looting and arson by Libyans who believed that with the fall of Benghazi, Gaddafi was finished and the country open to anarchy. The centre of the city was largely closed up. All foreign offices have been shut including overseas airlines, and every bakery I saw was shuttered. Rumours abound that members of Gaddafi’s family are trying to flee abroad. Although William Hague’s ramblings about Gaddafi’s flight to Venezuela have been disproved, I spoke to a number of Libyans who believed that Burkina Faso might be his only viable retreat. Two nights ago, a Libyan private jet approached Beirut airport with a request to land but was refused permission when the crew declined to identify their eight passengers. And last night, a Libyan Arab Airlines flight reported by Al Jazeera to be carrying Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, was refused permission to land in Malta.

Gaddafi is blamed by Shia Muslims in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran for the murder of Imam Moussa Sadr, a supposedly charismatic divine who unwisely accepted an invitation to visit Gaddafi in 1978 and, after an apparent argument about money, was never seen again. Nor was a Lebanese journalist accompanying him on the trip. While dark humour has never been a strong quality in Libyans, there was one moment at Tripoli airport yesterday which proved it does exist. An incoming passenger from a Libyan Arab Airlines flight at the front of an immigration queue bellowed out: “And long life to our great leader Muammar Gaddafi.” Then he burst into laughter – and the immigration officers did the same.

Libya protests: Obama condemns ‘outrageous’ crackdown

US President Barack Obama has denounced the violent crackdown by the Libyan authorities on peaceful protesters as “outrageous and unacceptable”. Mr Obama said the world had to speak with “one voice”, and that the US was drawing up a range of options for action in consultation with its allies. The Libyan government would be held accountable for its actions, he added. His comments came as Muammar Gaddafi battled to keep control of western Libya, including the capital, Tripoli. Opposition protesters – supported by many defecting government troops – have consolidated their control of the east of the country. Residents of Tripoli have said they are too frightened to venture out, because of fears that pro-government forces will shoot them on sight. Thousands of foreigners are meanwhile still trying to flee Libya through ports, airports, and the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.

The overall death toll has been impossible to determine. Human Rights Watch says it has confirmed nearly 300 deaths, but the International Federation for Human Rights says at least 700 people have been killed.In his first public comments on unrest in Libya, Mr Obama did not criticise Col Gaddafi directly but did condemn strongly the use of violence by his supporters to suppress those demanding he step down. “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and unacceptable,” he said from the White House. “So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya.” “These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop.” Mr Obama said he had ordered his administration team to prepare the “full range of options” for dealing with the crisis, including unspecified actions that the United States could take alone or with its allies. “In a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice,” he added.

Earlier, jubilant demonstrators took to the streets of the eastern cities of Benghazi and Tobruk waving flags, honking horns and setting off fireworks in what correspondents described as a giant party. “We have been suffering for 41 years,” Hamida Muftah, a resident of Benghazi, told Reuters. “Gaddafi has killed people… We are a very rich country, but most of the people are poorer than poor.” A number of military units in the east now say they have unified their command in support of the protesters, while a growing number of towns have set up informal opposition governments to fill the power vacuum. The government has not yet attempted to regain control of the east, except around the town Ajdabiya, where security forces and militia are reportedly clashing with protesters along the road to Col Gaddafi’s hometown of Surt.

Witnesses said Tripoli was largely deserted, with many fearing pro-government forces would shoot them if they ventured out.  “Anti-government protesters have disappeared. The streets are quiet. There are many, many deaths,” one resident told BBC Arabic. Two naval gunships are reported to have been deployed along the coast. Col Gaddafi has urged his supporters to attack the “cockroaches” protesting against his rule, and “cleanse Libya house by house”. Despite the threats, opposition supporters said they were making plans for their first co-ordinated demonstration in the capital on Friday. Reports from Misurata – Libya’s third city, 210km (130 miles) from the capital – say security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several. Clashes were also reported in the western towns of Zawiya and Sabratha, where witnesses said troops and foreign mercenaries had been deployed after demonstrators burned government buildings.

Inside Libya’s first free city: jubilation fails to hide deep wounds

At the heart of the city where he launched his rise to power, Muammar Gaddafi’s indignity is now complete. In little more than three days of rampage, the rebels in Libya’s second city have done their best to wind the clock back 42 years – to life before the dictator they loathe. Benghazi has fallen and Gaddafi’s bid to cling on to power, whatever the cost, has crumbled with it. There is barely a trace of him now, except for obscene graffiti that mocks him on the dust-strewn walls where his portraits used to hang. Residents who would not have dared to approach the town’s main military base without an invitation were doing victory laps around it in their cars. Every barrack block inside had been torched and looted. The stage where Gaddafi would address the masses on the rare occasions that he came here had collapsed. His house across the road had been ransacked and there wasn’t a loyalist soldier inside.

“He is gone. A dragon has been slain,” cried Ahmed Al-Fatuuir outside the secret police headquarters. “Now he has to explain where all the bodies are.” The Middle East’s longest ruling autocrat seems disinclined to do that, or to go quietly. His rambling speech on Tuesday night, in which he vowed to die in his homeland as a “martyr”, has convinced many in Benghazi that although they may have ousted their foe from eastern Libya, they have not seen the last of the bloodshed. At the city’s hospitals, administrators are still tallying the toll from the most savage fighting seen here in decades. At the al-Jala hospital, at least 65 deaths have been recorded since 17 February, along with dozens of injuries, many of them horrific. And they are still coming in.

A Libyan soldier, who along with many of his colleagues had joined the anti-government insurgency, was pronounced dead as the Guardian arrived inside the overworked intensive care unit. A small bullet wound near his right kidney had caused irreversible chaos inside his body. “They are still out there,” said the doctor who pronounced him dead. “These mercenaries who are hired by Gaddafi are lurking in the shadows.” Wherever they are hiding, they must be running out of arms. All day defecting troops and officers were lugging in thousands of pounds of ammunition to a courtyard inside the secret police headquarters on Bengazi’s waterfront. By the day’s end an arsenal that could easily supply an army brigade was piled up. There were plastic explosives, rockets, machine guns and even the anti-aircraft weapon that was used to mow down demonstrators as they assaulted the military base on Sunday.

Evidence of the carnage it caused was clear on the walls of nearby buildings and in the mortuaries. Doctors had used their mobile phones to capture the carnage that was caused by military weapons on human flesh. And they coolly displayed the aftermath of the battle, denouncing Gaddafi as a criminal as they did so. Nearby Filipino orderlies were putting the finishing touches to the short life of a dead soldier, washing his body with a clinical calm and slowly readying a green body bag. It was a process they were clearly familiar with. ” Too many times, too many times,” said one orderly as he rested on a trolley. “It has been terrible in here.” At least 232 demonstrators in Benghazi are believed to have been killed since the uprising began and up to 1,000 injured. There are no reliable figures on the number of soldiers or mercenaries killed during the assault of the barracks, or in the hours of chaos that followed. One thing that is clear is that this was not a peaceful stroll through the streets of Bahrain, as has largely been the case on the other side of the Arabian peninsular.

This was a savage rampage on both sides, a blood and guts revolution, fuelled by decades of repression, neglect and rage. There has been nothing peaceful about it. Testimony to the protesters’ vehemence is dotted all around the base, in the form of bulldozers stolen from nearby worksites that were used to breach the walls. At least six of them stand burned and mangled near where their work had been successfully done – gaping holes in whitewashed walls that allowed protesters to storm through. “That is where the anti-aircraft gun was and that is where all the African mercenaries were found dead,” said Mohamed Fatah, who was part of the throng that attacked the base. “The people were leading a funeral march past the big roundabout and people from inside the base opened fire,” he said. “They went home, gathered themselves and came back. This is what happened.” Gaddafi’s reported use of mercenaries appears to have tipped the hand of many protesters and armed forces. “That is why we turned against the government,” said air force major Rajib Feytouni. “That and the fact that there was an order to use planes to attack the people.”

Workers at an oil refinery 120 miles west of Benghazi said that they had seen an air force jet crash nearby and two parachutes land. There were widespread reports that those on board had refused to carry out an order to attack the east of the country. The reports could not be independently verified. However, Feytouni confirmed that an air force base to the east had been hit on Sunday by two bombs dropped from a jet. “They were trying to make sure that the weapons did not end up in the hands of the opposition,” he said. He added that he had personally witnessed 4,000-5,000 mercenaries flown into his air force base on Libyan military transport planes, beginning on about 14 February – several days before the uprising started. “They [the planes] had 300 men at a time, all of them coming out with weapons,” he said. “They were all from Africa: Ghanaians, Kenyans.”

Several of the alleged soldiers of fortune are being held in a jail at the top of the ransacked courthouse on Benghazi’s corniche. One was briefly brought to meet the Guardian. He was quickly ushered away by lawyers who said he was not allowed to speak until the case against him was finished. But the court of public opinion on the heaving street below had already convicted the unnamed African, along with anyone else linked to what they believe are the dying days of 42 years of sadistic oppression. There was no sign of any pro-regime figures. And even those who have recently defected, such as the country’s justice minister, are not prepared to show their faces publicly, fearing the reactions from a combustible street.

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Libya protests: UN Security Council condemns crackdown

February 23, 2011

The UN Security Council has condemned the Libyan authorities for using force against protesters, calling for those responsible to be held to account. In a statement, the council demanded an immediate end to the violence and said Libya’s rulers had to “address the legitimate demands of the population”. Nearly 300 people have been killed so far, according to Human Rights Watch. Earlier, Col Muammar Gaddafi urged his supporters to attack the “cockroaches” and “rats” protesting against his rule. Anyone who took up arms against Libya would be executed, he warned. Interior Minister Abdel Fattah Younes al-Abidi later resigned and called on the armed forces to “join and heed the people’s demands”. The UN Security Council’s statement came after a day of debate on the uprising in Libya, which has seen the state lose control of much of the east of the country, foreign mercenaries allegedly attacking civilians on the streets and warplanes reportedly shooting and bombing protesters. The council’s 15 members said the Libyan authorities should “meet its responsibility to protect its population”, act with restraint, and respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

The Libyan authorities should also hold accountable those people responsible for attacking civilians, and respect the rights of its citizens to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and press freedom, they added. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the statement was “extremely strong” and indicated further measures were likely in the coming days. Libya’s deputy permanent representative to the UN in New York, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who on Monday called on Col Gaddafi to step down, said the council’s statement was “not strong enough” but still “a good message to the regime in Libya about stopping the bloodshed”. But his superior, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Shalqam, dissociated himself from the remarks, calling Libya’s ruler “my friend”. The Arab League also condemned the “crimes” against protesters in Libya and said it would bar the country from League meetings. But Col Gaddafi was defiant in a rambling 75-minute speech broadcast on state television, saying he vowing to crush the revolt by “rats and mercenaries”. Standing outside the Bab al-Aziza barracks in Tripoli, which was damaged by a US air strike in 1986, he vowed: “I am not going to leave this land. I will die here as a martyr. I shall remain here defiant.”

He also called on his supporters to “cleanse Libya house by house” unless the protesters surrendered. “All of you who love Muammar Gaddafi, go out on the streets, secure the streets, don’t be afraid of them… Chase them, arrest them, hand them over,” he said. He portrayed the protesters as misguided youths who had been given drugs and money by a “small, sick group”, and blamed “bearded men” – a reference to Islamist – and Libyans living abroad for fomenting the violence. “The hour of work is here, the hour of onslaught is here, the hour of victory is here. No retreat, forward, forward, forward. Revolution, revolution,” he shouted at the end of the speech, pumping both fists in the air. Shortly after the speech, a BBC correspondent in Tripoli heard the sound of guns being fired, apparently into the air. She said fireworks were also set off and cars drove through the city at high speed, their horns blaring.  In the eastern city of Benghazi, people watching the address reportedly threw shoes at television screens as a sign of their anger. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Col Gaddafi’s speech was “very, very appalling” and “amounted to him declaring war on his own people”. In New York, Mr Dabbashi said he had received information that the Libyan leader’s supporters had started attacking people in all western cities. “The Gaddafi statement was just code for his collaborators to start the genocide against the Libyan people. It just started a few hours ago. I hope the information I get is not accurate but if it is, it will be a real genocide,” he told reporters.

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Libya protests: Tripoli hit by renewed clashes

Security forces and protesters have clashed in Libya’s capital for a second night, after the government announced a new crackdown. Witnesses say warplanes have fired on protesters in Tripoli. To the west of the city, sources say the army is fighting forces loyal to ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi, who appears to be struggling to hold on to power. Libya’s deputy envoy to the UN has called on Col Gaddafi to step down, and accused his government of genocide. Ibrahim Dabbashi said that if Col Gaddafi did not relinquish power, “the Libyan people will get rid of him”. The BBC’s Jon Leyne, in neighbouring Egypt, says Col Gaddafi has now lost the support of almost every section of society.Reliable sources say Col Gaddafi has now left the capital, our correspondent adds.

Clashes in Tripoli on Sunday night were suppressed by the security forces. On Monday, state TV reported a renewed operation had begun against opposition elements. Mr Dabbashi, the deputy envoy to the UN, called for international intervention to end the crisis. “It is a real genocide whether it is in the eastern cities of Libya or whether what is going now in Tripoli,” he said. “The information that we are receiving from the people in Tripoli is the regime is killing whoever goes out to the streets.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he had urged Col Gaddafi in a 40-minute phone call to halt the escalating violence. EU foreign ministers released a statement condemning the “ongoing repression against demonstrators”, and said they deplored the violence and death of civilians.

Some European ministers have voiced concern that there could be a wave of illegal immigration, after Libya threatened to break co-operation on controlling the flow of Tunisians to Italy. Libya had warned it could suspend co-operation in response to the condemnation of its crackdown on protesters. Meanwhile, two Libyan fighter jets have landed in Malta, where officials say the pilots defected after they were ordered to bomb civilians.
Two Libyan helicopters apparently carrying French oil workers have also landed in Malta.

Gaddafi urges violent showdown and tells Libya ‘I’ll die a martyr’

Muammar Gaddafi set the stage for a violent, final showdown to crush Libya’s popular uprising by urging loyalists to take to the streets to fight “greasy rats” in the pay of enemies ranging from the US to al-Qaida. In an angry, ranting and often incoherent speech, the beleaguered Libyan leader ignored evidence of repression and bloodshed, including new reports of death squads, to insist that he would die in his homeland rather than flee abroad. “I am not going to leave this land,” Gaddafi vowed in a live broadcast on state TV. “I will die as a martyr at the end … I shall remain, defiant. Muammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time.” Speaking in front of the Tripoli compound bombed by US planes in 1986, he invoked the spirit of resistance to foreign powers and warned that the US could occupy Libya like Afghanistan. He claimed protesters were on hallucinogenic drugs and wanted to turn Libya into an Islamic state. They deserved the death penalty, he said, waving his Green Book.

His address showed that, despite an estimated 300 people already killed, he is prepared to unleash more violence even though parts of the country, including its second city, Benghazi, Tobruk and other eastern towns, are already out of control of his security forces. Ominously, he observed that “the integrity of China was more important than [the people] in Tiananmen Square” – scene of the 1989 massacre of democracy protesters. Reports from Tripoli described corpses left in the streets, burnt-out cars and shops, and armed mercenaries who looked as if they were from other parts of Africa. Residents were running out of food and water because they feel too threatened to leave their houses. Videos emerged on a filesharing website of mobs lynching two people who were understood to be mercenaries. Other film appeared of a demonstrator shot in the head by a sniper and of bodies torn apart, perhaps by artillery fire.

“Men in brand new Mitsubishi cars without licence plates are shooting at groups of people, three or four, wherever they see them gathering,” said a resident of the Tripoli neighbourhood of Fashloum. “These are Gaddafi’s death squads.” The BBC broadcast footage sent out of Libya via the internet which showed protesters under fire in Tripoli and troops patrolling residential neighbourhoods. Phone lines into the country were down. International efforts to influence the Libyan crisis moved painfully slowly. The UN security council was meeting in New York but was not expected to do more than issue a presidential statement condemning the violence. Western diplomats said it was too soon for the council to discuss sanctions against Libya or the imposition of an internationally policed “no-fly zone” to stop Libyan aircraft targeting civilians. But Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, called for the “immediate cessation of grave human rights violations committed by Libyan authorities”.

Citing reports of the use of machine guns, snipers and aircraft against civilians, she called for an independent international investigation into the killings. “The callousness with which Libyan authorities and their hired guns are reportedly shooting live rounds of ammunition at peaceful protesters is unconscionable,” Pillay said. With communications sporadic, it was impossible to confirm reports that key army units had defected or that officers had refused to obey orders to attack civilians. A Libyan naval frigate which sailed in the Maltese capital, Valletta, was thought to be seeking to surrender. Unconfirmed reports on Tuesday said the interior minster had resigned, urging the army to join the people and respond to the “legitimate demands”.

Libyan and foreign analysts said Gaddafi’s characteristically bizarre performance underlined his desperation. “He is like an injured animal,” said an exiled opposition activist, Abu Nasser. “He knows he has his back to the wall.” Noman Benotman, a former Islamist fighter, said: “He will stay and fight until the last day.” Like his son Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi played deliberately on fears of division, foreign occupation and civil war and Somalia-like state collapse. Crowds of protesters were seen hurling shoes at a giant TV screen as Gaddafi spoke. State TV broadcast pictures of supporters cheering and waving flags.

William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary, scorned Gaddafi’s claim of a conspiracy of world leaders against him. “There is no such conspiracy,” he said. “It is his own people who are rising up against him and trying to overthrow him and it is his own people who he has shamefully failed to protect from his own forces.” Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, called the speech “very frightening”. The Arab League, meeting in special session in Cairo, said it was suspending Libya from its sessions. In Brussels, the EU suspended a framework agreement it had been negotiating with Libya. In London, Libyan anti-government protesters gathered at Downing Street to demand Gaddafi step down. Film-maker and opposition activist Mohamed Maklouf attacked the “hypocrisy” of the west. “They don’t care about the Arabs … they only care about the oil,” he said.

Chaos Grows in Libya; Defiant Qaddafi Vows to Fight On

TOBRUK, Libya — Libya appeared to slip further into chaos on Tuesday, as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi vowed to “fight until the last drop of my blood” and clashes intensified between rebels and his loyalists in the capital, Tripoli. Opposition forces claimed to have consolidated their hold over a string of cities across nearly half of Libya’s 1,000 mile Mediterranean coast, leaving Colonel Qaddafi in control of just parts of the capital and some of southern and central Libya, including his hometown. Witnesses described the streets of Tripoli as a war zone. Several residents said they believed that massacres had taken place overnight as forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi drove through the streets opening fire at will from the backs of pickup trucks. “They would drive around, and they would start shooting, shooting, shooting,” said one resident reached by telephone. “Then they would drive like bandits, and they would repeat that every hour or so. It was absolute terror until dawn.” Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed at least 62 deaths in the violence in Tripoli so far, in addition to more than 200 people killed in clashes elsewhere, mostly in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the uprising began last week. Opposition groups estimated that at least 500 people had been killed.

For a second time, Colonel Qaddafi appeared on state television. Dressed in brown robes with a matching turban, he sometimes shouted and seemed to tremble with anger as he delivered a harangue that lasted some 73 minutes. His lectern was planted in the middle of the old wreckage of his two-story house in the Aziziyah barracks in Tripoli, a house American warplanes had destroyed in a 1986 air raid and which he has left as a monument to American perfidy. In the rambling, sometimes incoherent address, he said those challenging his government “deserved to die.” He blamed the unrest on “foreign hands,” a small group of people distributing pills, brainwashing, and the naïve desire of young people to imitate the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Without acknowledging the gravity of the crisis in the streets of the capital, he described himself in sweeping, megalomaniacal terms. “Muammar Qaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution,” he declared. Earlier, the state television broadcast images of a cleaned up Green Square in central Tripoli, the scene of a violent crackdown Monday night. It showed a few hundred Qaddafi supporters waving flags and kissing photographs of him for the cameras. With the Internet largely blocked, telephone service intermittent and access to international journalists constrained, information from inside the country remained limited, and it was impossible to determine whether the demonstrations were staged.

The rebellion is the latest and bloodiest so far of the uprisings that have swept across the Arab world with surprising speed in recent weeks, toppling autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia and challenging others in Bahrain and Yemen. Opponents of Colonel Qaddafi had tightened their control of cities from the Egyptian border in the east to Ajdabiya, an important site in the oil fields of central Libya, said Tawfiq al-Shahbi, a protest organizer in the eastern city of Tobruk. He said that had visited the crossing station into Egypt and that border guards had fled. In Tobruk and Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city, protesters were raising the pre-Qaddafi flag of Libya’s monarchy on public buildings, he and other protesters said. Despite the crackdown by pro-Qaddafi forces, clashes continued in several neighborhoods in Tripoli, including one called Fashloum, as protesters tried to seal off the streets with makeshift barricades of scrap metal and other debris. Forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi so far failed to surmount the barricades and young protesters appeared to be gathering rocks to defend against another attack. Outside the barricades, militiamen and Bedouin tribesmen defending Colonel Qaddafi and his 40-year rule were stationed at intersections around the city. Many carried Kalashnikov assault rifles and an anti-aircraft gun was deployed in front of the state television headquarters. “It is extremely tense,” one witness said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals.

Gaddafi heir who (inevitably) is a friend of (Prince Andrew) Andy and (Peter Mandelson) Mandy

Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif wagged his finger repeatedly at the cameras during his rambling state address on Libyan television on Sunday night. It was a habit borne of the belief that he would one day take over from his tyrannical father to continue Libya’s brutally repressive rule. But there was no doubting the desperation in his voice as he warned that ‘rivers of blood’ would run through the country and it would be plunged into civil war unless the uprising was crushed.  He blamed drug addicts, drunks and foreign agents for fomenting the violence now coursing through the land where he and his family once had an iron grip. There was no hint of contrition. Not once did he apologise for the countless deaths inflicted by the soldiers and henchman of his father’s bloody regime. And yet, with his impeccable English and flawless manners, 38-year-old Saif Gaddafi has long been regarded as the acceptable face of the Gaddafi clan. What is so deeply worrying is that he has tentacles deep in the heart of the British establishment. He has extremely powerful friends in Britain, among them Prince Andrew and the Rothschilds as well as Peter Mandelson.

In the boardrooms and cabinets of Western capitals Saif was always the preferred choice as heir. Colonel Gaddafi has seven sons, but the second, Saif al-Islam (it means Sword of Islam) was always generally considered the most likely to follow his father – although another brother, Mutassim, Libya’s national security adviser, recently emerged as a serious contender.  Despite his incoherent statement in support of an authoritarian crackdown on Sunday night, Saif has in the past spoken enthusiastically about reform, democracy and human rights. He was educated in Europe and did a PhD at the London School of Economics, for which he has a particular affection and regard. He is an accomplished amateur artist and an architect with his own practice, although his wealth is said to come from interests linked back to Libya’s national oil company. Certainly, he is rich. By way of diversion, Saif likes to romp with his pet tigers.

He keeps them at his villa on a hillside overlooking Tripoli, along with his hunting falcons, sporting guns and other  trappings essential to the life of a  desert princeling. Saif often emerges from his encounters with the big cats bloodied and bruised, yet cheerfully game for a re-match. It may help to explain why, in his campaign to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, he found Labour ministers were mere pussycats. Saif has a house close to Bishop’s Avenue, the so-called Millionaire’s Row, in Hampstead, north London. The Georgian style, newly-built property has eight bedrooms, an indoor pool, sauna and a cinema lined in suede-covered panelling. It cost him £10million. In Britain, Saif moves in exclusive circles. He and Prince Andrew have a mutual close friend, the Kazakh-born socialite and businesswoman Goga Ashkenazy.

She recently helped arrange Saif’s visit to Kazakhstan where he met the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and senior figures in the energy industry.
Prince Andrew has made a number of visits to Libya as Britain’s ambassador for trade and has spent time with Saif in Tripoli. In return, the prince has hosted Saif at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Witness, too, the shooting party given in 2009 by Jacob, 4th Baron Rothschild at his home in Buckinghamshire, Waddesdon Manor, a Renaissance-style chateau sometimes described as ‘a mini Versailles’. Saif was a guest, with Lord Mandelson, then Business Secretary. Cherie Blair, whose acquisition of a country house nearby makes her the Rothschilds’ neighbour, was there the same weekend for dinner, but not at the same time as Saif.

Mandelson and Saif got along famously and the subject of Al Megrahi, who was still in jail, was raised. Mandelson insists there was no negotiation. Also at Waddesdon Manor was Nat Rothschild, Lord Rothschild’s son. Nat and Saif are great pals. They also have a friend in  common, Oleg Deripaska, the controversial Russian oligarch who was the last man standing after the bloody war for control of Russia’s aluminium industry in the 1990s. Deripaska, it will be recalled, was part of the infamous summer gathering at the Rothschild house on Corfu in 2008 when Mandelson and George Osborne, then chancellor-in-waiting, were guests. Saif has also stayed with the Rothschilds on Corfu and, on a separate occasion, met Mandelson there.

The August 2008 affair led to Osborne denying he had asked Deripaska for a donation to the Tory party and denials by Mandelson that he had favoured the Russian’s aluminium interests when he was a European commissioner. It was all very messy. Deripaska has a valuable interest in Porto Montenegro, a vast marina and superyacht project in the Bay of Kotor on the Adriatic. The driving force behind the scheme is Peter Munk, the 83-year-old billionaire head of the world’s biggest goldmining concern, Barrick Gold. Jacob and Nat Rothschild are also investors in the Montenegro venture which, Munk says, will become the new Monaco. When Saif threw a huge party to celebrate his 37th birthday he held it close to his friends’ Montenegro development, inviting some of the world’s leading business figures, including Munk, a few very powerful Russians and Lakshmi Mittal, the British-based steel tycoon. The party was seen as an effort to give a boost to the profile of his friends’ marina project. His closeness to Nat Rothschild and Deripaska is also believed to be behind Libya’s decision to invest heavily in Deripaska’s aluminium concern, Rusal.

The Libyan Investment Authority took a $300million (£185million) stake in Rusal when it was floated in Hong Kong last year. The Rothschilds were Deripaska’s advisers and separately Nat invested $100million (£62million) in the company, the world’s largest producer of aluminium. Saif was also involved in an ongoing plan for Rusal to produce aluminium on a major scale inside Libya. Aluminium, however, will be the last thing on Saif’s mind tonight as Tripoli goes up in flames. As for his friends and business partners in the West, they may well be regretting getting quite so close to the dictator’s son whose television address on Sunday night showed him at last in his true colours.

Febraury 21, 2011

Febraury 22, 2011

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