Mar 27, 2011

President of Yemen fires his entire government

By Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa

Monday March 21 2011

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh fired his entire government last night after a string of allies broke ranks with him as he faces increasing pressure from street protests to step down.

Mourners buried some of the 52 anti-government protesters shot dead by rooftop snipers after Muslim Friday prayers in the Arabian Peninsula state, where tens of thousands of people have protested for weeks against Mr Saleh's three decades long rule.

Yassin Noman, rotating head of an opposition coalition, dismissed the move as "an attempt to diminish the repercussions that the regime faces after the resignations of a number of ministers and ambassadors".

Friday's bloodshed prompted Mr Saleh, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qai'da, to declare a state of emergency for 30 days that restricts freedom of movement and the right to gather.

Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations Abdullah Alsaidi resigned yesterday as defections picked up steam.

A government source said neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, had been trying to quietly mediate even before Friday's shooting, and efforts were continuing.

Mr Saleh, also trying to cement a northern truce and quell southern separatism, has rejected demands to resign immediately, promising instead to step down in 2013.

A string of his allies have since broken ranks to join protesters frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment. Some 40pc of the population live on $2 (€1.40) a day, or less, and a third face chronic hunger.

Defect

In addition to the UN envoy, Yemen's Minister for Human Rights Houda al-Ban resigned yesterday, the second cabinet member to defect since Friday.

Washington, which sees Yemen as a rampart against a resurgent al-Qa'ida wing, said US citizens should avoid areas of planned demonstrations, which could turn violent. It has already urged Americans to leave Yemen.

As unrest continued across Yemen, five pro-government tribesmen were killed in clashes with northern Shi'ite rebels yesterday.

- Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa

Irish Independent


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Jerusalem bomb blast injures 25

Rescue workers and paramedics following an explosion at a bus stop in Jerusalem. Photo: AP

At least 25 people have been injured in a bomb blast at a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem, apparently the first militant attack in the city in years.

The blast could be heard throughout Jerusalem and blew out the windows of two crowded buses.

Israel's national rescue service said 25 people were injured, including 15 seriously.

Meir Hagid, one of the bus drivers, said he heard a loud explosion as he drove by the site, near the main entrance to Jerusalem and its central bus station.

"I heard the explosion in the bus stop," he said. He halted his vehicle and people got off. He said nobody in his bus was hurt.

Jerusalem suffered dozens of suicide bombings that targeted buses and restaurants during the second Palestinian uprising last decade.

But the attacks have halted in recent years and Jerusalem last experienced a suicide bombing in 2004.

The bombing came amid rising tensions between Israel and the Hamas militant group, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks in recent years.

Press Association


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Gaddafi 'attacking civilians' despite allied military action

THE head of US forces in Libya claimed yesterday that Col Muammar Gaddafi was continuing to attack civilians despite the allied military intervention.

Adml Samuel Locklear, who has joint responsibility for enforcing the no-fly zone, said that, according to US intelligence, Gaddafi had launched attacks on the rebel-held western city of Misrata, where four children were reportedly killed by shelling yesterday.

"It's my judgment that, despite our success, Gaddafi and his forces are not yet complying with the UN resolution due to the continued aggressive actions his forces have taken against the civilian population of Libya," he said.

His comments followed reports that Misrata was under siege by Gaddafi's forces. Tanks and snipers have been deployed to the city centre, killing more than 40 people and injuring 300.

Doctors described desperate scenes as hospitals struggled to cope with the number of injured. Surgeons were forced to operate on bullet and shrapnel wounds in hospital corridors because of a lack of space.

One doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "They are talking about a ceasefire, they are talking about a no-fly zone, for me that does not mean anything. My people here are under attack.

"In my hospital here, we have no electricity and we work with a generator. We are relieved to hear about the air strikes and the coalition forces, but on the ground we are dying every day."

Another doctor said: "Snipers are everywhere in Misrata, shooting anyone who walks by while the world is still watching. The situation is going from bad to worse. We can do nothing but wait. Sometimes we depend on one meal per day."

The dead children, two boys and two girls, were reportedly being driven out of the city when their car was hit by a shell. The oldest was 13.

"It's horrible. Their father has collapsed and is in total shock," said Saadoun, a resident.

Shelter

Gaddafi's forces were also trying to seize the western town of Zintan, near the Tunisian border, and launched attacks using heavy weapons. Many residents have already fled the town centre to seek shelter in mountain caves.

Several houses and a mosque minaret were destroyed by shelling.

Abdulrahmane Daw, a resident, said: "New forces were sent today to besiege the city. There are now at least 40 tanks at the foothills of the mountains near Zintan."

There was also fighting in the rebel-held town of Yafran, south-west of Tripoli, where at least nine people were reported to have died. One resident said: "We had been waiting for the coalition to stop the advance of Gaddafi's battalion.

"In the absence of such an intervention, the regime wanted to take the city quickly by bombarding it and carrying out massacres."

Despite the international intervention, the rebels had made little progress yesterday, raising concerns about their organisation and leadership. In eastern Libya they remained stationed outside Ajdabiyah, having made no further advance on the strategic town.

Ahmed al-Alroufi, a rebel fighter, said: "Gaddafi has tanks and trucks with missiles. We don't depend on anyone but God, not France or America. We started this revolution without them through the sweat of our own brow, and that is how we will finish it."

Adml Locklear added that Qatar's air forces would be "up and flying" by the weekend, making it the first Arab state to help enforce the no-fly zone. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Steven Swinford in Misrata

Irish Independent


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Gaddafi son 'dies in attack'

ONE of Muammar Gaddafi's sons is believed to have been killed in an air strike on the Libyan leader's compound in the heart of Tripoli.

Khamis Gaddafi, the dictators's sixth son, died in the attack which destroyed a three-storey administrative building, according to Arab newspaper reports.

Conflicting reports suggested that he was killed when a Libyan pilot deliberately crashed his plane into a barracks, but this claim was denied by sources in the capital.

Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night last night, targeting the air defences and forces loyal to Libyan ruler Col Gaddafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat just last week.

US President Barack Obama said the United States expects to hand over military leadership to its allies within days once the initial phase -- knocking out air defences to support the no-fly zone -- is complete.

However, Libyan anti-aircraft guns were in action in Tripoli for the third night, suggesting that the coalition was still some distance from the effective no-fly zone that it is aiming to achieve.

And ground forces loyal to Col Gaddafi were still fighting to gain and hold territory. They launched a fresh onslaught on Misrata, the last rebel stronghold in the western part of the country. Residents said water supplies had been cut off and government troops had encircled the city.

One resident suggested that the pro-Gaddafi forces were deploying human shields from nearby towns in the city, and claimed that when civilians had gathered in the centre of the town to confront the forces, they "started shooting at them with artillery and guns. The hospital told us that at least nine people were killed".

The British RAF backed up the claim that human shields were being deployed throughout Libya, admitting that a 3,000-mile mission to bomb Libya was aborted minutes from the targets on Sunday night because of reports that civilians were in the area.

INNOCENT

Major General John Lorimer, strategic communications officer to the British Chief of Defence Staff, said the decision to call the mission off illustrated the coalition's determination to "take all measures possible to reduce the chance of harming innocent civilians".

It remained unclear whether Col Gaddafi was using them as human shields.

The British Ministry of Defence denied reports that Royal Marines from 40 Commando had been put on five days' notice to leave for the Mediterranean.

In Cairo yesterday, Libyans infuriated by the international military intervention blocked the path of the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, after his meeting with the Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, who has been increasingly restive about the western attacks to impose a no-fly zone that his organisation backed 11 days ago.

The Libyans, carrying pictures of Col Gaddafi and banners criticising the intervention, stopped Mr Ban from walking round Tahrir Square, the scene of the protests which toppled Hosni Mubarak and helped to stimulate the uprising in Libya itself.

Meanwhile, four 'New York Times' journalists who had been held for six days after being detained in the east of the country were released yesterday. Bill Keller, executive editor of the newspaper, said that the paper was "overjoyed".

- Donald Macintyre in Tripoli

Irish Independent


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Human shields bussed in to help protect leader's compound

The crowd shouted "Down, down, USA. Go, Go, UK" and "Death to Sarkozy".

Inside Col Muammar Gaddafi's Tripoli compound the swelling numbers of "voluntary" human shields were in full cry. Hundreds strong, they included women with babies; all camped within the Libyan leader's fortress as the West trains its military might upon them.

Yesterday they sat on mattresses and snacked on takeaway food. A child held a toy rifle with a flashing barrel.

Muatas, a 45-year-old engineer, said: "I love Gaddafi. He is our father. I'll die for him."

No one could doubt his sincerity. The danger was just 50 yards away. An RAF air strike destroyed a building at the heart of the Bab al-Azizia complex, dubbed Libya's "Green Zone" after the famously protected international area of Baghdad.

The three-storey block reduced to rubble was located on a parade ground just 100 yards from Col Gaddafi's tent, where he holds court for foreign dignitaries and the media.

Officials said the building was an administrative unit, and not connected with the military, but an Arab newspaper reported that Col Gaddafi's son, Khamis -- a military commander -- was gravely injured in the air strike.

Col Gaddafi's response was to bus in more volunteers. In fact, he is drawing on every part of the civilian population to withstand the opening rounds of the UN-backed campaign to contain his regime.

BARRAGE

The British Ministry of Defence yesterday admitted that RAF Typhoons were forced to abandon a Tripoli bombing raid after spotting civilians in the vicinity of a facility targeted in a second attack on the compound.

Libya's leader was also wheeling out children at a local school to demonstrate that support for his rule can withstand the barrage.

"God, Muammar, Libya only," children chanted over and over from behind their desks.

Girls as young as six recited for foreign visitors the regime's main slogans, including the latest chants about the army going house to house to wipe out those involved in the uprising that has divided Libya.

Yesterday's Spring Equinox holiday -- March 21 -- is the highlight of the year for Libyan children as families distribute gifts and cakes.

Officials had brought Barbie dolls and its locally branded Islamic equivalents to the Meethaq school in Saraj, a southern suburb of Tripoli.

As the gifts piled up, they pushed the pupils to chant in unison.

Leila Mohammad, the head teacher, claimed that normally 200 pupils attended the modest three-story school but that only 50 could attend yesterday.

VERIFICATION

Precision bombing carried out so far by the coalition has not given Col Gaddafi's supporters much scope to condemn the attacks.

The regime has been unable -- or unwilling -- to open up its hospitals or morgues for independent verification of the number of dead and injured.

Despite a second night of bombing, Libyan officials have been unable to update the number of 64 killed that was published on Sunday morning.

Instead, the children's day events were used as cover for a much more broader accusation of unflinching foreign brutality.

"Most of the children could not come here today. The houses of some of the teachers and children have been damaged in the bombing," the teacher said.

"None were killed but there were some injuries and others are too afraid to come.

"What has this got to do with a no-fly zone? This is just frightening children by using weapons against them." (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Damien McElroy in Tripoli


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Yemen on brink of civil war, says leader

By Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

Wednesday March 23 2011

YEMEN is on the brink of civil war, its president warned last night. Ali Abdullah Saleh made his biggest concession yet to those demanding his resignation by promising to step down at the end of the year. But opposition leaders immediately rejected the offer.

However, Mr Saleh, who has been president for 32 years, warned of the dangers ahead if they tried to force him out. "The homeland will not be stable," he said. "There will be a civil war, a bloody war."

In the rest of the volatile region, Palestinian officials said an Israeli strike aimed at militants in the Gaza Strip missed its target and killed four people. A second attack killed a further three Palestinians. The Israeli military acknowledged the deaths.

Protests

About 3,000 mourners defied martial law in Bahrain to march through the capital Manama as they buried a woman allegedly shot dead by security forces.

In Syria seven protesters have been killed in the town of Daraa after a fifth day of anti-regime protests.

In Cairo, Egypt, fire tore through a seven-storey interior ministry building yesterday during demonstrations by Egyptian policemen seeking better pay and conditions.

A ministry source said the fire was probably linked to the demonstrations, but witnesses said the protests had been peaceful and accused the officials of using the protests as cover to burn potentially incriminating documents. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

Irish Independent


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The hunt for Gaddafi

ALLIED forces were last night trying to establish the location of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi after the Libyan leader went underground amid the massive bombardment of his country.

Col Gaddafi disappeared from Bab al-Azizia, his compound in central Tripoli, as Libya was plunged into a second night of military conflict.

His disappearance could mean he has left the compound to evade probable attack, or could represent a double-bluff to fox the coalition.

The Libyan leader tried to prevent a second wave of air strikes by announcing another ceasefire from 7pm yesterday, but American F-16 fighters took off from Italian air bases within an hour amid widespread scepticism over the announcement.

Anti-aircraft fire was heard in Tripoli over Col Gaddafi's residence and the American authorities broadcast warnings to local residents to not interfere with the military operation.

Loud explosions were heard in the Libyan capital last night and a plume of smoke was reported to be coming from near the dictator's home.

Yesterday, an increasingly erratic Col Gaddafi initially refused to back down following the first round of air strikes from the UN-backed allies, declaring that he was arming more than one million of his people for a "long war".

However, as the second round began a spokesman for the Libyan military issued a statement ordering all units in the country to observe a ceasefire.

It is only likely to become clear today whether the ceasefire is genuine, or is the "sham" that last week's ceasefire has emerged to be.

"I question anything Gaddafi says," a spokesman for the US Pentagon said.

"He called a ceasefire last week then ordered his troops in to Benghazi."

Col Gaddafi's defiance led to suggestions that British ground forces might need to be deployed. Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of the US armed forces, warned of a potential stalemate as he admitted he was unclear of the "endgame".

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox raised the possibility that Col Gaddafi could be personally targeted in air strikes.

Senior British defence sources insisted no plans were being drawn up to send in forces on the ground but several ministers refused to rule out the possibility.

Foreign Secretary William Hague indicated ground forces could be used for specific missions under the terms of the UN mandate, providing they did not become an "occupying force".

US President Barack Obama has already ruled out the use of the American military and British Prime Minister David Cameron is likely to come under pressure today to clarify the UK's terms of involvement in the international mission.

The coalition suffered its first diplomatic blow yesterday when the Arab League criticised the operation, expressing concern about a "bombardment" rather than the enforcement of a no-fly zone. Russia and China also condemned the attack.

On Saturday, forces from the US, Britain, France and Canada launched a series of bombing raids on Libyan airfields, tanks and air defence systems. Qatari and Italian planes were due to join the offensive last night.

More than 110 cruise missiles were fired from ships and submarines to destroy dozens of tanks and aircraft.

Commanders said most of Libya's military air capacity was destroyed with few, or no, civilian casualties.

Senior military officials said they were "entirely comfortable" with the success of the attacks, which had struck "high-value targets" in Tripoli and other parts of Libya.

Adm Mullen said Col Gaddafi was no longer able to deploy helicopters and aircraft, meaning that "effectively the no-fly zone has been put in place".

However, he warned that the dictator could use chemical weapons, including a "significant quantity" of mustard gas in the Libyan desert.

Yesterday afternoon, there were reports that regime forces had entered the coastal town of Misrata. The regime was also said to be using civilians as "human shields" around key military sites.

Residents reported that Col Gaddafi's tank commanders had pushed through to the centre of the city, triggering clashes that had caused dozens of casualties. A spokesman for the rebels said: "There are so many casualties we cannot count them. He is using a scorched earth strategy. Burning and destroying everything in his way."

This presents coalition forces with a dilemma as air force cannot easily be used to stop Libyan aggression in dense urban areas without the risk of large numbers of civilian casualties.

- Robert Winnett and Damien McElroy

Irish Independent


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Mar 26, 2011

Former Israeli president in tears as he is jailed for rape

Moshe Katsav: seven years in jail for rape

Moshe Katsav, Israel's former president, broke down in tears yesterday as he was sentenced to seven years in jail for rape.

The sentence, much harsher than expected, brought to an end a series of scandals that has tarnished Israel's political elite.

Katsav (65), who served as head of state from 2000 to 2007, was convicted last December of twice raping a female employee at Israel's tourism ministry and sexually harassing a subordinate who worked at the presidential residence.

A three-judge panel at Tel Aviv's district court told the former president, an immigrant from Iran, that he could expect no leniency given the severity of his crimes.

"The defendant committed the crime and, like every other person, he must bear the consequences," the judges said, according to a official transcript of the closed-door hearing. "No man is above the law."

Katsav lost control of himself and began haranguing the judges, shouting: "You are mistaken, ma'am, you are mistaken! You have committed an injustice! You allowed lies to emerge victorious."

He then turned his ire on the women who brought the charges against him, neither of whom is thought to have been in court, saying: "The women know that they lied! They know that they lied and they are laughing at the judgment."

Earlier in the trial, Katsav had turned down a plea-bargain deal that would have seen him escape prison if he pleaded guilty to lesser charges of sexual harassment.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, hailed the sentencing of his former friend and colleague in the right-wing Likud party as evidence of the country's remarkable justice system.

Appalled

But many ordinary Israelis have been appalled by the culture of criminality that has seeped into the political elite. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, is on trial for corruption while Avigdor Lieberman, Mr Netanyahu's foreign minister, is under police investigation for fraud.

But Katsav's trial overshadowed the others.

The case began when Katsav suddenly complained to police five years ago that a female employee was trying to extort him. She went to police with her side of the story, and other women came forward with similar complaints of sexual assaults.

Katsav, Israel's eighth president, resigned under public pressure two weeks before his term was to end in 2007. Nobel laureate and ex-prime minister Shimon Peres was elected by parliament to succeed him.

The case's twists and salacious details has captivated the Israeli public.

In one memorably bizarre press conference while he was still in office, Katsav lashed out angrily at prosecutors and the media, accusing them of plotting his demise. He shook with anger, waved a computer disk that he said proved his innocence and screamed at reporters.

Later, he rejected a plea bargain that would have allowed him to avoid jail time.

Katsav's supporters are still holding out hope.

"The legal process is not over," said family friend Ronen Ben Menashe. "I think we would all be happy that the eighth president . . . will come out innocent in the end."

A stone-faced Katsav was accompanied by his sons yesterday, but neither his wife, Gila, nor any of his three accusers were present.

He refused to sit in the dock until the cameras left and remained stoic throughout most of the ruling, but broke down in tears upon hearing his sentence.

Katsav Attorney Zion Amir said he would appeal to the Supreme Court. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

Irish Independent


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Britain admits it has no idea how long Libya mission will last

By Damien McElroy in Tripoli

Wednesday March 23 2011

Britain's coalition government does not know how long it will be engaged in Libya, it was admitted yesterday, as debate intensified over the likely outcome, cost and leadership of the mission.

Nick Harvey, the British armed forces minister, was asked how long Britain would be involved in the military operation in north Africa.

He replied: "How long is a piece of string? We don't know how long this is going to go on for."

His admission, three days into the intervention, came as governments faced mounting pressure to set out the limits of their countries' involvement and explain their eventual exit strategy.

Adding to the sense of uncertainty, France and Britain remained at odds over a plan for NATO to take over command of military operations when the US winds down its involvement, a transition expected in days.

In other developments, US troops entered Libya briefly to rescue the pilot of a US fighter that crashed near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. In a potential propaganda disaster, the rescuers opened fire on Libyans who were trying to help the pilot, injuring six.

The British Ministry of Defence said three nights of air strikes were having a "very real effect" on Muammar Gaddafi's regime and a no-fly zone was being maintained. But the head of US forces said loyalist forces were continuing to attack rebels and civilians, especially in and around the city of Misurata. Anti-aircraft fire was heard again over Tripoli last night.

Meanwhile, Qatar made the first military contribution by an Arab nation to the UN campaign. Two Qatari fighter jets and a transport plane arrived in Crete to help police the no-fly zone. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Damien McElroy in Tripoli

Irish Independent


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US fighter jet crashes in Libya

An American jet has crashed in Libya, but US officials insist it was not shot down.

The US military said both crew members on board the F-15 Strike Eagle ejected from the aircraft and had been recovered separately. Both sustained minor injuries.

A spokesman said the plane may have suffered a mechanical problem.

He said the crew members were separated because they ejected at high altitudes and ended up in different areas.

He declined to say who was involved in rescuing the crew, but said that before each mission the military puts recovery plans in place.

The aircraft involved was based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, which is home to three squadrons of US F-15s, and it was flying out of Italy's Aviano Air Base in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn.

The US Air Force has said B-2, F-15 and F-16 fighters are participating in operations over Libya.

The US's involvement in Libya is being run by Africa Command, which is based in Stuttgart, Germany.

Africa Command launched in October 2008 after the Pentagon abandoned efforts to base the command on the continent after it hit resistance among the African nations, and instead posted about two dozen liaison officers at African embassies.

The F-15E Strike Eagle is described by Boeing, its manufacturer, as “a superior next generation multi-role strike fighter”.

It is the backbone of the US Air Force (USAF) and made its first flight in 1986.

The latest advanced avionics systems gives the Strike Eagle the capability to “perform air-to-air or air-to-surface missions at all altitudes, day or night, in any weather”, Boeing boasts.

In April 2001, Boeing received a contract for a further ten F-15E aircraft for the USAF, bringing the total to 227.

The first production model of the F-15E was delivered to the US military in April 1988. The 'Strike Eagle', as it was dubbed, and first saw active service the following year.

Its maximum speed is twice the speed of sound and it has a digital threat warning system. Its 23,000lb arsenal includes air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.

The planes are expected to be safe for operational used until at least 2035.

Since 2001 USAF F-15E aircraft have been almost exclusively used for close air support.

In addition to the United States, Korea and Singapore, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Israeli forces also have F15s.

Press Association


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Yemen generals defect to anti-government ranks

By Cynthia Johnston in Sanaa

Tuesday March 22 2011

Three senior army commanders defected to anti-government ranks in Yemen yesterday and ordered their tanks on to the capital's streets in a show of force.

Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army's powerful 1st Armoured Division, announced his defection in a message to protest leaders at the square in Sanaa that has become the centre of their movement.

Some of the division's tanks then deployed in the square, which protesters have occupied for more than a month to call for the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 32 years in power.

A crackdown on the demonstrations escalated on Friday when Mr Saleh's forces opened fire from rooftops, killing more than 40 in an assault that caused much of his remaining power base to splinter.

The president appeared to be retaining the loyalty of at least some of Yemen's military. Defence Minister Mohammed Nasser Ahmed said the armed forces would counter any plots against "constitutional legitimacy" and "democracy".

- Cynthia Johnston in Sanaa

Irish Independent


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Attempts to crush rebels fail as strikes halt Gaddafi's army

THE remains of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's attempt to smash the rebels' resistance lay smouldering in a scrub field outside Benghazi.

The carcasses of at least 10 tanks lay blackened and twisted as the sun rose yesterday morning. An armoured gun turret had been thrown 30 yards through the air by the impact of air strikes delivered at dusk by French warplanes. It had gouged a deep wound in the soft soil and lay broken and useless.

Transporters -- one still carrying a tank -- and armoured personnel carriers were burning all around, sending up black plumes of acrid smoke. Dozens of pickups had been destroyed.

And in the distance, a vehicle erupted in a blinding, white fireball, sending up the fizz and pop of exploding ammunition.

The smoking hardware stretched far into the distance. It was an awesome and impressive sight. A day earlier, the same tanks had bulldozered their way into the city as thousands of refugees fled before the devastating assault. The fall of Benghazi seemed inevitable.

Now, rebel leaders hope the arrival of air strikes will herald a new phase in their uprising, sending mutiny through the ranks of Col Gaddafi's demoralised army and prompting a fresh wave of popular protests, even in his strongholds of Tripoli and Sirte.

"They will run away now," said one rebel fighter, who had come to celebrate the carnage. "They cannot fight this. We thank the French and their planes."

Closer to Benghazi, a one-storey home had been used as an impromptu government morgue and some of the bodies had borne the signs of execution, said witnesses.

"There were two with single gunshots to the head, like they were executed. Others had shrapnel wounds," said a French photographer who had seen the bodies piled one atop the other on Saturday night.

He pointed to where blood had soaked into the ground before a wall which was riddled with bullet marks, as if the men had been lined up in front of a firing squad.

The rebels are convinced that Col Gaddafi is making his final stand and has sent young, demoralised soldiers to fight while handcuffed to tanks or in planes without parachutes.

"We found 13 men wearing the military uniform of Gaddafi," Khaled al-Sayeh, a spokesman for the rebels, said. "Some were handcuffed and we believe they were executed possibly for defying orders."

Frustration

All Saturday the fighters had waited for the air strikes. With a growing sense of anger and frustration they wondered whether the UN resolution -- passed on Thursday night -- had any teeth. All morning Col Gaddafi's forces sent a deadly barrage of artillery into the city, edging closer and closer to the centre.

By 10am the tanks were inside the streets, drawing fire from rebel armoured vehicles as they raced to cut off the advance.

Trees along the road were shredded, their leaves and branches scythed down by sharp-edged shrapnel. Street lights were bent in two by the force of explosions.

Hundreds of men ran to the front line without weapons to see if they could help defend the city.

"We could see them right up close. There were just columns and columns of men walking behind the tanks," said Tamer Backr (33). "We hid behind the wall until we could run back."

By yesterday morning it was all over, hastened by the warplanes that witnesses said had plunged out of dark cloud as the sun dropped and returned in the early morning.

The wreckage of burnt-out vehicles -- pickups, civilian cars and three buses used to ferry members of Libya's special forces Khamis brigade to the fighting -- littered the south-western approach to Benghazi.

Jubilant rebels fired their rifles in the air as they paraded a captured Gaddafi tank through the streets on the back of a transporter. Cars tooted their horns in salute.

Revolution

The immediate threat to Benghazi was gone, with Col Gaddafi's forces reportedly pushed back 40 miles from the city by air strikes.

Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the rebels' governing council, said the revolution had started with peaceful protests and he hoped they could now return to a peaceful struggle with more defections and demonstrations undermining Col Gaddafi's hold on power.

"The sight of warplanes in the air will have a huge psychological effect on his own people," he said.

The past week has shown that rebels cannot advance on the capital Tripoli from their eastern strongholds without help. They will need towns and cities in the path to switch allegiance from government to rebel and for more military units to defect to the revolutionary cause. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Rob Crilly in Benghazi

Irish Independent


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Mar 25, 2011

Putin likens UN resolution to 'medieval crusade call'

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Tuesday March 22 2011

Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, criticised the air strikes on Libya yesterday and likened the United Nations resolution that allowed the attacks to "a medieval call to crusade".

His comments led to a rebuke from Dmitry Medvedev, the president, who said it was unacceptable to make such historical comparisons and warned that such remarks risked stirring up more trouble.

"The resolution is defective and flawed," Mr Putin told workers at a Russian ballistic missile factory. "I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use force are taken in international affairs. This is becoming a persistent tendency in US policy.

"During the Clinton era they bombed Belgrade; Bush sent forces into Afghanistan and then under an invented, false pretext they sent forces into Iraq.

"Now it is Libya's turn, under the pretext of protecting the peaceful population. But in air strikes it is precisely the civilian population that gets killed. Where is the logic and the conscience?"

Abstained

Mr Medvedev described the remarks as "unacceptable".

"Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions which essentially lead to a clash of civilisations. Such as [talking of] a 'crusade' and so on," he said.

"Otherwise everything could end up much worse compared to what is going on now. Everyone should remember that."

Russia, which has arms and oil deals with Libya totalling billions of dollars, decided not to exercise its veto in Thursday's vote at the UN and abstained. It sacked its ambassador to Libya for his staunch support of Col Gaddafi. The Kremlin was reported to have been divided over the issue.

India added to a growing chorus of criticism over the air strikes. SM Krishna, the foreign minister, said they would cause more harm to "innocent civilians, foreign nationals and diplomatic missions".

Brazil and China also abstained from the UN vote, which was backed by 10 nations, that allowed use of "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians from Col Gaddafi's forces. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Irish Independent


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Libya: 'It felt like an ambush. Bullets fizzed past our ears'

THE rebels raced each other along the Tripoli road making pell-mell for the disputed town of Ajdabiya. They charged ahead convinced war planes were in the air again.

Buoyed by the sight of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's tanks lying smashed and charred along the route, the disparate column of pick-ups had chased government troops almost 90 miles out of the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

But it wasn't supposed to be like that. Commanders had been co-ordinating attacks with coalition leaders to enable French and British war planes to bomb Gaddafi targets before rebel fighters advanced. Yet there was no sign of anything reining in the chaotic advance -- until the sound of katyusha rockets slamming into the sandy soil sent the ranks of volunteers into a frenzied panic of honking three-point turns.

Bullet rounds fizzed through the air past our ears. It felt like an ambush. The revolutionary soldiers had been lured too close to the town where they were horribly exposed on the road.

They retreated just as fast as they had advanced, finally stopping to catch their breath about 10 miles from Ajdabiya.

A battered Toyota pick-up bore the scars of the failed assault. Its windscreen was shattered. Shrapnel had shredded one wing. Four people had been killed, said the rebels.

A fresh mound of damp sand marked the grave of one of the dead men who had been buried within minutes of the retreat. The headstone was a lump of concrete pulled from a pile of rubble at the side of the road.

No one was sure of his name. All they had managed to retrieve was his head.

Salah Abdelkarim Abar, a 25-year-old law student until the popular uprising had taken him from his studies, said the rebels would regroup and head back down the road again before the day was out. "All we want to do is go there to get the civilians and get them out," he said. "We have to wait for things to calm down and we will go back."

Last week Ajdabiya was all but lost. Heavy artillery swept through the town, driving hundreds of armed volunteers back from the front. By the end of the week it was surrounded by Gaddafi troops, trapping a rebel unit inside. A column of tanks rumbled on towards Benghazi, the rebels' de facto capital.

Then all changed in the early hours of Sunday morning when French air strikes left Gaddafi's war machine in a mangled mess of smoking metal. Now the rebels are at the gateway to Ajdabiya once again.

Attacks

But they have been ordered to rein in the excitable rabble of volunteer fighters to free French and British ground attack planes to target Gaddafi's forces.

Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, a member of the rebels' national council, said that the rebels' chief of staff, Gen Abdel Fattah Yunis, was liaising with coalition nations to co-ordinate attacks and keep opposition forces from getting caught in strikes.

"This was requested by the military council and this request was passed on to the forces on the ground to stay back and facilitate the attacks by the coalition," he said.

Faraj Younis al-Fadeeli, a honey farmer by trade, summed up the problem: "We have got to have a leader. There's no one at the moment. Instead we all do our own thing."

Another man, who asked not to be identified because his brother and father were in Ajdabiya, said the coalition must bomb the town even if it meant civilian casualties.

Razing the town was the best way to free the country of Gaddafi resistance, he added. "Even if they blow up Ajdabiya we don't care -- to get rid of them is crucial." (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Rob Crilly in Libya

Irish Independent


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Gaddafi declares ceasefire but regime's bombs keep falling

THE WARPLANE streaked across the sky, emerging through low clouds as its missiles landed, orange flames rising under dark plumes of smoke.

A few minutes later came shattering volleys of artillery shells and rockets, announcing that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces were moving forward.

This was Libya's eastern front line, two hours and six minutes after the regime in Tripoli had officially declared a ceasefire following the UN resolution authorising military action in Libya.

In the west, tanks from Colonel Gaddafi's forces rolled into the town of Misrata, the last remaining pocket of resistance in the region, where forces shelled homes, hospitals and a mosque, killing six people, according to local doctors who pleaded that a blockade be lifted, allowing supplies of medicine and food to get in.

Last night, there were reports that instead of withdrawing from cities they had occupied, as US President Barack Obama had demanded, Colonel Gaddafi's forces were advancing further towards Benghazi, the eastern rebel stronghold.

Celebrated

The day had started with the promise of a new beginning Libya. People in what remains of 'Free Libya' celebrated the UN resolution, which they hoped would be their deliverance from Colonel Gaddafi's threat that they would be shown "no mercy".

Then came the announcement that he had ordered a cessation of hostilities and offered negotiations. But there was little joy at the news. Few in the crowds thronging Benghazi believed that peace was about to break out.

Many queued to implore the international community, which had acted at last, not to accept at face value the words of a man who had killed and persecuted so many of his fellow citizens.

What, they asked, would be the fate of those already in the clutches of Colonel Gaddafi's henchmen, facing retribution in the towns and cities recaptured from the revolution in brutal offensives over the past few weeks?

"There have been men dragged away from their wives and children on the words of masked informers. Would they simply be forgotten?" asked Hania Ferousi, a university lecturer.

Ninety six kilometres away in Sultan, where the retreating fighters of the revolution were making a stand, the war continued.

Eight were killed in Zuwaytina after leaving their house at Ajdabiya, under regime control following days of fierce fighting. The bodies of four adults and three children lay by the side of the road. Further on, propped up in the front passenger seat of a battered black Daiwa saloon, was an elderly man, still, mouth open as if he was asleep.

Faiz al-Beidi, who was driving by in his pick-up truck, tried to retrieve the corpses but had to flee when regime soldiers arrived. "They were just firing, at everyone, for no reason," he said. "We are Muslims, I wanted to see these poor people were given proper burial, but they stopped even that." (? Independent News Service)

- Kim Sengupta in Sultan, Eastern Libya

Irish Independent


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Jets deployed for Libya air strikes

COLONEL GADDAFI was last night warned he must surrender large swathes of Libya or face military action from Britain, France and other western countries this weekend.

British and French fighter jets were last night poised to participate in bombing raids against tanks and other targets after Barack Obama issued a final ultimatum to the Libyan leader.

In a statement last night, the US president warned Col Gaddafi that he must withdraw troops from previously rebel-held towns including Misrata and Zawiya.

The regime should also immediately stop its advance on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, he said, and basic services including water and electricity should be returned to the areas.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the "final result" of international action against Libya must be Gaddafi's departure from power.

World leaders hope that by protecting rebel areas and civilians, Libyans will force the peaceful removal of the dictator and prevent massacres of his own citizens.

However, the countdown to war was dramatically halted yesterday afternoon after the Libyan Government announced a ceasefire which it claimed could be monitored by international observers.

There were conflicting reports over whether the ceasefire was being observed by Libyan troops and western leaders said they were waiting for "action rather than words" from the regime.

"Let us understand the particular nature of the Libyan situation," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech last night. "This is happening now right in front of us.

"A dictator no longer wanted by his people, but determined to play out in real time a bloody slaughter, and it is a slaughter that we now have the power, the demand and the legal basis to stop. That is why what we are doing is right," he said.

Consequences

"Now once more Muammar Gaddafi has a choice," Mr Obama said. "Let me be clear: these terms are not negotiable, these terms are not subject to negotiation. If Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences and the resolution will be enforced."

Meanwhile, Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Eamon Gilmore yesterday backed the UN-mandated bombing of Libya.

"I believe Colonel Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy to rule and should be urged to leave the stage. We hope that the adoption of resolution 1973 will bring an end to that violence, protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access," he said.

The Tanaiste was speaking after a meeting with Ms Clinton in the wake of the UN resolution to enforce the no-fly zone over the troubled country.

- Robert Winnett, Andrew Porter and James Kirkup

Irish Independent


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US warplane hits six civilians during rescue of fighter pilots

THE wreckage of the American war plane was still smoking yesterday morning in the meadow where it had fallen.

I was the first reporter to reach the site and walked with a small crowd of local farmers to peer at the blackened cockpit filled with ash. The locals poked curiously in the wreckage for keepsakes: an F15E Strike Eagle -- backbone of the US Air Force -- had fallen from the sky.

Crashing in eastern Libya could have been the worst nightmare of American airmen.

As they stumbled out of the darkness, neither of the two-man crew would have had an idea whether the armed men coming towards them were soldiers loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi searching for infidel Western aggressors, or the opposition fighters who have cheered on allied air strikes as they pulverised the Libyan government's war machine.

The wrecked war plane erupted in a ball of flames, heightening the sense of fear.

But the first American to walk clear -- tall and with a moustache -- need not have worried. He held up his hands in submission and tried his best to surrender, calling out "OK, OK", to the advancing crowd. But his parachute had delivered him safely into a field of sheep, deep in rebel-held territory.

"I hugged him and said don't be scared we are your friends," said Younis Amruni (27) one of the first on the scene. An American rescue was meanwhile on its way, and it was to taint this touching scene of comradeship.

Witnesses said a helicopter whirred low over the treetops as a second warplane strafed the meadow in a botched attempt to collect the two men.

Six people were hurt as they scrambled for cover and US military chiefs later declined to comment or deny that the shootings had taken place.

While they did so, the injured lay in hospital, and one had to have his leg amputated.

The first flier out of the plane was a weapons control officer, according to sources in the US, and had ejected after a mechanical fault had crippled his fighter plane at high altitude during a sortie against Col Gaddafi's air defences.

Those raids have turned the tide in the desert war, helping rebels to keep the government from attacking their stronghold in Benghazi, about 25 miles away. A queue formed to shake his hand, thanking him for his role in staving off Col Gaddafi's forces.

Yesterday, standing beside the wreckage, Mohamed Breek said he had come out of his home a couple of hundred yards away to see what was happening above his flower-studded meadow. "It was on fire," he said. "We didn't hear any shots. It just fell from the sky by itself and then there was a big explosion."

Hostile

Before they knew it the rescue helicopter had swept in low from the north. Shots strafed the field and the low houses dotted here and there. Bullets tore through Mr Amruni's driveway and gate.

He showed me where the rounds had ripped holes in the ironwork and pumped lead into his packed-earth driveway, narrowly missing his car.

American forces attempting the rescue seem to have assumed that anyone approaching the mangled grey mess was potentially hostile. Those nearest the wreckage were targeted.

"I am angry because I was trying to help the pilot and see if he needed any medical attention," said Ahmed Abdulati Mohamed, a 50-year-old farmer who had been woken by the crash, as he lay in a hospital ward the next day.

Bandages on his right leg, dressings on his chest and a strapped ankle showed where the bullets had ricocheted into his body. His 22-year-old son, Hamdi Ahmed Abdulati, lay unconscious in the intensive care ward after surgery to remove his left leg below the knee. One of the stranded crewmen -- the pilot -- managed to scramble into the rescue helicopter leaving the other behind, for that wary meeting with the Libyan farmers of Gult Sultan.

Peace

Mr Breek said he seemed to be in good shape. "We told him not to worry -- we are with him," he said. "He was nervous because he didn't know who we were. We gave him signs of peace."

More sightseers arrived to view the wrecked carcass of the jet as the morning wore on.

All said they recognised the value of the raids on Col Gaddafi's military muscle, in spite of the damage inflicted by the rescue party "We are so grateful to these men who are protecting the skies," Mr Amruni said.

They gave the airman fresh fruit juice until members of the rebels' military corps arrived to usher him away to safety.

Mr Breek, the farmer whose field was teeming with gawkers, said Americans should not fear the people of "free Libya". Anyone else who had the misfortune to crash in his field would be well looked after. "They are coming to protect us so we owe them a lot," he said. "Without them they would have taken Benghazi. When one falls here it is safe." (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Rob Crilly in Gult Sultan

Irish Independent


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Sole rebel jet is lost in sky over Benghazi

By SEAN RAYMENT

Sunday March 20 2011

PLUMMETING to earth in flames, this is the dramatic moment when a rebel Libyan fighter jet was apparently brought down over Benghazi.

The jet crashed to the ground yesterday.

Just seconds after an initial explosion, the pilot was seen ejecting from the stricken aircraft, which crashed on the western outskirts of the city.

Rebels said the plane was one under their control and accused Gaddafi's forces of bringing it down.

"From what I hear, the pilot is dead but I cannot confirm that," an official said.

The plane is believed to have been a MiG fighter whose pilot had defected with his aircraft to join the rebels.

Libya had been a large-scale buyer of the Soviet jets and though many are unserviceable, several have been used in the conflict. Libya's air force has two types of MiG -- the MiG-23 and the MiG-21.

Though it was unclear what brought the aircraft down, anti-aircraft gunfire was heard moments before it spiralled out of control and burst into flames.

It is possible it could have been hit by a surface-to-air missile (Sam), such as the Soviet-made SA5 Gammon, which can shoot down a plane at a range of up to 90 miles -- but no vapour trails were seen in the sky prior to the attack.

Although now a relic by modern standards, the SA5 can still fly at four times the speed of sound, out-pacing every Nato combat jet.

It uses radar to search out targets and can destroy aircraft by hitting or exploding in close proximity to the target, peppering it with thousands of steel pellets.

Colonel Gaddafi is thought to have at least nine batteries of SA5 missiles.

- SEAN RAYMENT

Sunday Independent


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Mar 24, 2011

Bahrain's king accuses Iran of being behind Shi'ite uprising

By Erika Solomon in Manama

Tuesday March 22 2011

Bahrain's king has accused Iran of being behind the Shi'ite uprising which has rocked the country.

While not naming Iran directly, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said in a thinly-veiled reference: "I here announce the failure of the fomented subversive plot against security and stability."

The king spoke to the commander of the Sunni Saudi-led Gulf force which moved into Bahrain last week and said its troops give strength and confidence. Iran has condemned the presence of the Gulf force and Shi'ites across the Middle East have been outraged by the deadly crackdown on protests that has killed at least 13 people.

The Bahrain opposition's main demand is for a constitutional monarchy that would keep the royal family in power but would let people elect a government.

Inspired by mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt that toppled the two countries' presidents, it rejects accusations of influence by the Shi'ite powerhouse across the Persian Gulf.

"We don't want Iranians to come. We don't want a big problem in this small country," senior opposition leader Ali Salman said, adding that the solution to the country's crisis had to come from its people.

The ferocity of last week's government crackdown, in which Bahrain called in Gulf troops, imposed martial law and drove protesters off the streets, has stunned majority Shi'ites, the main force behind the protests, and enraged Tehran. Iran, which supports Shi'ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon, has complained to the United Nations and asked neighbours to join it in urging Saudi Arabia to withdraw forces from Bahrain.

- Erika Solomon in Manama

Irish Independent


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Saudi king uses a mix of stick and carrot

By Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

Saturday March 19 2011

SAUDI King Abdullah yesterday announced unprecedented economic benefits worth tens of billions of dollars, but warned against any attempt to undermine the kingdom. In a speech on state-run television, the king, praised the security forces for preventing protests that were planned for March 11.

He rewarded the interior ministry by ordering the creation of 60,000 more military and security jobs and a large number of promotions for soldiers and officers.

He also announced massive social benefits, including higher unemployment payments, better healthcare and improved housing services and loans.

Among other things, he ordered the pumping of 250 billion riyals (€47bn) into building as many as 500,000 housing units. This is in addition to a package of social benefits worth an estimated €25bn, mostly aimed at youth, civil servants and the unemployed, announced earlier this month. (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Adrian Blomfield in Jerusalem

Irish Independent


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'North Africa's Claudia Schiffer' keeps eye on rest of Gaddafi clan

You would think that Aisha Gaddafi had nothing else to think about these days apart from shaping her eyebrows.

While her elder brother Saif looks dishevelled and sounds almost as crazed as his father, she stands amid the crowd in her father's compound, Bab al-Azizia, looking immaculate.

Apart from the fact that she has stopped dyeing her hair blonde and now wears a veil, Ms Gaddafi, who is in her 40s, lives up to her reputation in the Arab press of being the "Claudia Schiffer of north Africa".

Given her glamour and Gaddafi's need to present an attractive face to the world, his only daughter should be as familiar an inhabitant of the pages of 'Hello!' as Queen Rania of Jordan.

In January, there was a tantalising rumour that she had had an affair with Silvio Berlusconi. It turned out to be no more than flippant speculation by an Italian newspaper.

Pout

But apart from one widely reproduced photo in which she sports tumbling blonde locks and a trout pout, she rarely ventures into the public eye.

The glamour shot was taken before 2006 when she married Ahmed al-Gaddafi al-Qahsi, a cousin and army colonel, and became a mother of three.

Since then she has maintained a low profile, despite heading up Wa'tassimu, Libya's largest charity group, and her role (terminated last month) as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. 'Princess of Peace', a 92-page biography of Ms Gaddafi by a Tunisian, is sadly not available in translation.

She gave an interview last October, when the Western world was still sucking up to her father, not shooting at him. It took place on a mermaid-shaped sofa in her vast villa in the suburbs of Tripoli.

When asked how people react when they find out who she is, she said that they "generally gasp, and then they become very friendly, and take the chance to send greetings to my father. No one has ever reacted badly".

Some inkling that the old man may not be as universally popular these days might explain why she attempted to fly to Malta last month. Like Saddam Hussein's daughters, who took refuge in Jordan, she might have preferred not to join her much-admired father in his last stand. But, having found herself turned back, she has been making the most of her situation. "I am steadfastly here," she told the Libyan public.

Now she is the Benazir Bhutto of north Africa, a woman attempting to uphold the family honour at a time which must bring back memories of childhood trauma. Aged nine, she was sleeping next to her adopted sister Hana when the child was killed by the US air raid on Tripoli. "I woke to the thunder of the bombs and the screams of my sister with blood spattered over me." Soon after, she was seen waving her fist to the camera.

Since then, she maintained that defiance in a number of ways. In 2000, two years after the Northern Ireland peace agreement, she proved herself an undiplomatic guest to Britain by giving a speech in support of the IRA at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park.

In 2004, she volunteered to be one of the team of lawyers who defended Saddam Hussein. "I studied law and felt duty-bound to defend anyone who feels he is wrongly accused."

Compared with her seven brothers' kleptocratic and violent ways, Aisha seems relatively mild-mannered. According to WikiLeaks, she has been given the task of "monitoring the ne'er do wells". (? Daily Telegraph, London)

- Cassandra Jardine in Tripoli

Irish Independent


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UPDATE: Libya

RAF Tornado's Refueling

On their way to Libya..

Qatar and UAE 'part of Libya strikes', says key Gulf figure

The head of the Gulf's main political group has revealed that Qatar and the United Arab Emirates remain part of the coalition which is striking Libya, but stressed the mission seeks only to protect civilians.

The underlining of the Gulf states' backing for the multinational force follows criticism by Arab League chief Amr Moussa over the heavy missile barrages by US and European forces against Libyan air defences, tanks and other targets.

"What is happening now is not an intervention. It is about protecting the people from bloodshed," said Abdul Rahman bin Hamad al-Attiyah, secretary general of the Gulf Co-operation Council, which consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

But he did not clarify the role of Qatar or the UAE in the Libyan operations or whether they have taken part in missions so far.

The statement came as US, British and French planes targeted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's anti-aircraft sites for a second night and also destroyed a line of his tanks moving onto the rebel capital in eastern Libya.

On Sunday, Mr Moussa raised questions about Arab participation in the coalition after saying the attacks go beyond the mandate to impose a no-fly zone to halt Libyan air raids on rebel strongholds. Libya has claimed dozens of civilians have been killed in the strikes by the US and European forces.

Meanwhile, the UAE and Qatar also have joined Saudi-led forces in Bahrain to support the nation's embattled Sunni leadership after more than a month of anti-government protests led by the country's Shiite majority.

Mr al-Attiyah said there was no timeline on the presence of the more than 1,500 Gulf troops in Bahrain - which has come under sharp criticism from Iran and its Shiite allies around the Middle East.

"The arrival of forces is not an act of repression," he claimed.

Press Association


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Symbolic monument in Bahrain demolished

By Ben Farmer in Manama

Saturday March 19 2011

BAHRAIN'S authorities have demolished the Pearl Roundabout monument which had become the symbolic heart of the country's protest movement as forces continue a crackdown.

The monument was flattened two days after police used armoured vehicles and tear gas to sweep away a month-old Shia protest camp which had gathered around the monument.

State media said the monument was removed in a "facelift" to boost traffic flow.

The country's most prominent Shia cleric, meanwhile, criticised Britain and America for doing nothing to stop the violent crackdown by the Sunni monarchy against anti-government protests.

Sheikh Issa Qassem told a congregation of around 1,500 worshippers that protesters should remain peaceful, but that they would "bend to no one but God".

- Ben Farmer in Manama

Irish Independent


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President of Yemen fires his entire government

By Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa

Monday March 21 2011

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh fired his entire government last night after a string of allies broke ranks with him as he faces increasing pressure from street protests to step down.

Mourners buried some of the 52 anti-government protesters shot dead by rooftop snipers after Muslim Friday prayers in the Arabian Peninsula state, where tens of thousands of people have protested for weeks against Mr Saleh's three decades long rule.

Yassin Noman, rotating head of an opposition coalition, dismissed the move as "an attempt to diminish the repercussions that the regime faces after the resignations of a number of ministers and ambassadors".

Friday's bloodshed prompted Mr Saleh, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qai'da, to declare a state of emergency for 30 days that restricts freedom of movement and the right to gather.

Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations Abdullah Alsaidi resigned yesterday as defections picked up steam.

A government source said neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, had been trying to quietly mediate even before Friday's shooting, and efforts were continuing.

Mr Saleh, also trying to cement a northern truce and quell southern separatism, has rejected demands to resign immediately, promising instead to step down in 2013.

A string of his allies have since broken ranks to join protesters frustrated by rampant corruption and soaring unemployment. Some 40pc of the population live on $2 (€1.40) a day, or less, and a third face chronic hunger.

Defect

In addition to the UN envoy, Yemen's Minister for Human Rights Houda al-Ban resigned yesterday, the second cabinet member to defect since Friday.

Washington, which sees Yemen as a rampart against a resurgent al-Qa'ida wing, said US citizens should avoid areas of planned demonstrations, which could turn violent. It has already urged Americans to leave Yemen.

As unrest continued across Yemen, five pro-government tribesmen were killed in clashes with northern Shi'ite rebels yesterday.

- Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa

Irish Independent


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Mar 6, 2011

Cameron left isolated over 'no-fly zone' ahead of major Libya protest

DAVID Cameron's handling of the Libya crisis was denounced as "shambolic" as tensions grew between London and Washington over the the British prime minister's suggestion that a no-fly zone could be imposed over the north African state.
The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, delivered a pointed snub to the British government when he dismissed calls to police the Libyan airspace as "loose talk", and pointed out that it would require a massive logistical exercise.
Mr Cameron surprised MPs this week when he disclosed he had asked the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, to "work with our allies on plans for a military no-fly zone".
But Mr Gates's comments left the prime minister appearing to be struggling to find international support for the step, which has already been dismissed by Russia.
Yesterday, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said planning should take place for a no-fly zone, but only if it was endorsed by the UN Security Council.
US support for the establishment, and enforcement, of such a zone would be essential. But Mr Gates told a congressional panel: "There is a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options.
Warning
The US defence secretary's comments were seen as a warning that involvement in Libya could stretch even its extensive military forces, which remain heavily committed in Afghanistan.
British government sources last night played down suggestions of a diplomatic rift, adding that contacts between officials over Libya were continuing, and Mr Cameron was expected to speak to US President Barack Obama in the near future.
Mr Hague, speaking after meeting Mr Juppe in Paris yesterday, insisted that claims of divisions among world leaders over the response to Libya were overblown. He said: "This has been a remarkable period for unity in the international community."
But the deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, delivered the opposition's most scathing assessment to date of the government's handling of the crisis. "The response to the terrible events in Libya has been a shambles," she said.
Meanwhile, Mr Obama called on Col Muammar Gaddafi to step down, on the eve of extensive protests today intended finally to force the Libyan leader out of office.
Mr Obama attacked the Libyan regime for its sustained campaign of violence against its own people.
It also emerged last night that three Dutch marines have been detained in Libya after they were captured by forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi while trying to rescue two Europeans.
The marines were captured on Sunday by armed men after they had gone ashore at Sirte with a helicopter from a Dutch naval vessel stationed off the coast of Libya to help with evacuations according to defence sources. (? Independent News Service)
- Nigel Morris in LondonIrish Independent
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Humiliated army regroup for fresh attack on rebels

By Adrian Blomfield in Brega, eastern Libya
Friday March 04 2011
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi launched fresh air strikes on rebel-held eastern Libya yesterday as he marshalled his ground troops, humiliated on the battlefield the previous day, for a second offensive on the strategic oil town of Brega.
His air force, depleted by a spate of defections, attempted to bomb Brega's oilfield in what appeared to be a prelude to an all-out attack. If Brega were captured, the move would allow Col Gaddafi to starve eastern cities of electricity and petrol.
The rebel leadership in Libya's second city of Benghazi, 160 miles north-east of Brega, meanwhile, braced itself for a military onslaught by an enemy with vastly superior firepower.
A day earlier, these supposedly elite forces had suffered a chastening defeat in Brega's desert dunes at the hands of an ill-disciplined band of rebel irregulars.
Yesterday provided the respite needed to bury the dead.
Not all the dead were fighters. A list pinned to the wall in Brega's hospital bore the names of 12 fatalities, among them 14-year-old Hassan Amran Hassan. He had been grazing sheep with members of his family when pro-Gaddafi forces opened fire, killing him almost immediately. "They shot at anything that moved," his father, Amran Hassan Ali, said.
"We took cover, we couldn't move -- we were too scared. We took shelter for over an hour."
In a hospital bed in Ajdabiya, Hassan's twin brother Hussein, a bandage wrapped round his head, stared vacantly ahead, clearly still in shock. His seven-year-old younger brother, Faraj, lay next to him, a bullet in his nose.
Wounded and shaken, the rest of Col Gaddafi's men may have been forced to retreat, but there was little to suggest that they were beaten.
There were reports of reinforcements and helicopter gunships arriving in preparation for what the rebels expect to be a two-pronged attack on Brega.
So far in this campaign, not a single bomb has hit its target. (? Daily Telegraph, London)
- Adrian Blomfield in Brega, eastern LibyaIrish Independent
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Gaddafi and sons face international investigation over war crimes

By Bruno Waterfield
Friday March 04 2011
COLONEL Muammar Gaddafi, his sons and Libya's most senior security officials are to be investigated for war crimes against the Libyan people by international prosecutors.
The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, warned Col Gaddafi yesterday that he would be held criminally responsible for his regime's violent suppression of protesters since February 15.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor, announced that his investigation would target "Gaddafi, his inner circle, including some of his sons".
He added: "There will be no impunity in Libya. The allegations are that peaceful demonstrators were attacked by security forces. During the coming weeks, the office will investigate who are the most responsible for the most serious incidents, for the most serious crimes committed in Libya."
Immediate members of Col Gaddafi's family who are under investigation were not named but prosecutors did single out the commander of Libya's elite 32nd battalion, a post that is held by his son Khamis.
Following a UN Security Council resolution last Saturday, court prosecutors have moved quickly to launch the investigation in an attempt to put pressure on Col Gaddafi to halt attacks on Libyan rebels. (? Daily Telegraph, London)
- Bruno Waterfield Irish Independent
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Mar 5, 2011

Egypt's army appoints new PM in people power victory

THE new military rulers of Egypt yesterday appointed the first post-Hosni Mubarak prime minister.
The move was seen as an attempt to appease thousands of protesters who have threatened to renew the occupation of a central Cairo square in a mass demonstration.
The opposition hailed the decision as another victory for "people power" but many warned pressure must be maintained on the military to implement other democratic reforms, including an accountable police agency and a new constitution.
Leaders of the 18-day uprising that forced Mr Mubarak to resign had been putting pressure on the military to fire Ahmed Shafiq, arguing that a prime minister sworn in by the ousted leader should not stay in office.
The military's official Facebook page said former Transport Minister Essam Sharaf had been chosen as prime minister and asked to form a caretaker cabinet during the transition to civilian rule.
Activists say they had recommended the choice of mr Sharaf.
"First we ousted Mubarak. Second, we got rid of Shafiq. We have become again the owners of this country," said Bassem Kamel, a member of the Youth Coalition, an umbrella group of activists who launched the protests January 25.
Mr Sharaf, who served in the Cabinet for 18 months between 2004 and the end of 2005, has endeared himself to the youth groups by visiting them in Cairo's central Tahrir, or Liberation, Square, the uprising's epicenter. An engineer, Mr Sharaf also appeared to fit the image of a professional civil servant who, after leaving office, founded a group of like-minded scientists called "the age of science".
"He is a reformer and was a vocal critic" of the old system, said Shady Ghazali, another protest leader.
Celebrated
The youth celebrated in the way that was the pillar of their uprising: on social networking sites. Soon after his appointment, the name of the new minister started trending on Twitter.
Pro-democracy activist and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei thanked the military for "listening to the people".
"Today (the) old regime has finally fallen. We are on the right track," ElBaradei said on his Twitter account. He is a likely presidential candidate who has returned to Egypt since the protests.
"Let us all get down to work and start rebuilding our country. We want the world to know that Egypt is open for business," said ElBaradei, the former head of the UN's nuclear watchdog agency.
- Sarah El Deeb in CairoIrish Independent
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RAW Video; Women Protesters Gunned Down in Ivory Coast

video

'PM told Abbas Israel demands to hold 40% of W. Bank'

  Nabil Shaath
Photo by: BLOOMBERG By JPOST.COM STAFF 
03/04/2011 11:27 Talkbacks (7) Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas some five months ago that Israel demands that 40 percent of of the West Bank remain under its control for an extended period, Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Shaat said on Friday, according to Israel Radio.
Shaat added that Netanyahu also said he wouldn't listen to one word from Abbas and not a word about borders or refugees until the Palestinians agree to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and about its security needs, Israel Radio reported.


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'Hamas delegation departs for Syria to discuss Schalit'

  Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal
Photo by: Khaled Al Hariri / Reuters By JPOST.COM STAFF 
03/04/2011 13:22 Talkbacks (2) A Hamas delegation was expected to leave the Gaza Strip Friday to Sudan and then on to Damascus for a round of meetings about negotiations for a prisoner exchange that would include captive Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
The delegation set out to Damascus to meet with Hamas' political leadership regarding a new proposal put forward by the German mediator regarding the release of Schalit, Gaza-based Palestine Today reported.


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'Gaddafi’s men hiding bodies out of sight'

“Cut off the snake’s head – it’s the only way.”
The words are jarring coming from Mohamed Eljahmi, a soft-spoken software engineer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But Eljahmi – a Libyan by birth who has spent the last three decades in the United States – is also an activist, a role he inherited from his brother Fathi, one of Libya’s most prominent dissidents until his death in 2009 after five years in government custody.


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US has signs of life from FBI agent disappeared in Iran

  Family of missing FBI agent Levinson in Tehran
Photo by: Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters By REUTERS 
03/04/2011 10:14 WASHINGTON - The United States said on Thursday it has seen recent indications that a former FBI agent who vanished in Iran in 2007 is being held in southwest Asia, a rare public signal that it has reason to believe he is alive.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to Iran to help find the man, Robert Levinson, and to reunite him with his family despite past US frustration that Tehran had ignored US pleas for information about him.


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'At least 13 dead, wounded in Zawiyah, west of Tripoli'

  Libyan flag seen over protesters in Zawiyah.
Photo by: Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters By REUTERS 
03/04/2011 17:10 CAIRO - Al Arabiya television reported at least 13 people were killed on Friday in violence in the Libyan city of Zawiyah, west of Tripoli. The report was sourced to a doctor.
Al Jazeera quoted a witness saying more than 50 people had been killed and 300 wounded there.


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About me

Hi, my name is kim. I'm studying at the University of Amsterdam, and created a blog about the situation in the Middle East. I am currently in Egypt for my studdies. Happy reading!

The Revolution Blog

This blog will follow up the revolutionary situation in the Middle-East, e.g. countries like Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunis, Morocco, Yemen and so on, including their dictators such as Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali, Muammar Gaddafi..
Happy Reading! Kim

Would the Revolution have happened without social networking?