Sunday, February 27, 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
If the popular uprising in Libya succeeds, and protesters drive leader Moammar Gadhafi from power, the transition could be far from smooth.
Gadhafi's political genius has been his skill in creating a state that revolves completely around him while claiming that he has no formal role in government and is simply an adviser to the people.
During his 42-year reign, Gadhafi has dismantled nearly all the state institutions of the former monarchy he overthrew in 1969, creating a form of government that only functions because of massive amounts of oil money, political repression and his own skills in playing off competing interests that might challenge his grip on power.
Professor Udo Steinbach at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, says Gadhafi "created a Libya of two systems — one built around Gadhafi, his sons and his family, the other around the 'people's committees.' "
Gadhafi sat at the center of both systems; the first controlled the power and money, the second controlled the people.
Officially, the roughly 6 million citizens of Libya are ruled by a bewildering array of people's committees, from local neighborhoods right up to the national level. Many of these committees were either ineffective talking shops or had overlapping or contradictory responsibilities, creating a system where nobody knew who was responsible for anything, and who was supposed to be in control. Except that everyone knew who was really making the decisions — Gadhafi.
Although portrayed as a revolutionary system of giving direct control of the state to the people themselves, Dr. Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics says the system "enshrines [Gadhafi's] inherent suspicion of state bureaucracies and institutions, and reinforced Gadhafi's divide-and-rule strategy," effectively preventing the development of any centers of power that could have challenged his leadership.
In the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the armed forces were a source of national cohesion and stability — but Steinbach says that resource would be not available in Libya since the army is "practically useless" and Gadhafi "has divided it using the tribal system. It was never a national army in the true sense."
"Gadhafi was always suspicious of the army as a potential rival power base," says Brahimi, "and his rule has been riven with coup attempts, so the army has been deliberately emasculated and made powerless by Gadhafi."
Gadhafi was always suspicious of the army as a potential rival power base, and his rule has been riven with coup attempts, so the army has been deliberately emasculated and made powerless by Gadhafi.
- Dr. Alia Brahimi, London School of Economics
Instead, she says, the Libyan leader has created "a number of militias which are ideologically and personally allied to the man himself."
"It will be a long and laborious process of rebuilding the power of the state," Steinbach says, and Libya will have to go back to its roots to find structures to replace the Gadhafi regime.
Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Libya as a country is actually an amalgam of about 140 tribes and clans, and "the traditional tribal leaders have come up recently," Steinbach says. Two of the largest tribes, the Warfalla and the Misurata, were the first to declare against Gadhafi. But others, notably the Qadhafah and Magariha, provide many members of the security forces. So if Gadhafi goes, there could be competition for power and influence between the tribes.
But, says Brahimi, "the tribes themselves have been fragmented over time, and a huge element of Libya's population lives in the cities, and they are less identified by their tribal affiliation."
About 97 percent of Libya's population is Sunni Muslim, which could be a unifying force for a new Libya.
Steinbach sees an opportunity for the Senussi religious and political movement, which led the struggle for Libya's independence from Italy "and ran Libya quite effectively until the Gadhafi revolution." Its leader, the former King Idris, was overthrown by Gadhafi in 1969. Although some reports say up to a third of Libyans still claim affiliation to the Senussi movement, Brahimi of the London School of Economics says the movement isn't what it used to be. "Their networks and capabilities have been severely and deliberately weakened by Gadhafi."
As for mainstream religion: "Up till now, to be a cleric in a mosque in Libya, you essentially had to have the backing of the state, and most had been co-opted into the system," Brahimi says. However, she says, "it was significant when we heard [recently] that some imams were refusing to read out the weekly sermon that had been handed out by the regime."
Until the recent uprising, the most serious threat to Gadhafi's rule came in the 1990s, when he was nearly killed in an assassination attempt, and his security forces fought a series of battles against militants of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
They "were physically crushed by Gadhafi and the remaining leadership put in jail," says Brahimi. "Although those leaders were released over recent years in return for a renunciation of violence."
For his part, Steinbach says he believes "there is a danger of Islamist elements, including the AQIM [Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] and other radicals" gaining influence in the chaos that would likely follow if Gadhafi falls.
In this case, says Steinbach, Libyans would have to rely heavily on "their intellectuals, especially intellectuals coming from abroad" to create a new system of government, "in a country with no structures, no parties and no constitution."
"Obviously there are tough times ahead," says Brahimi. "It's an unusual level of repression over an unusually long period of time."
But she sees grounds for optimism.
"There are a great number of intellectuals and a great number of very capable people in both Benghazi and Tripoli who are democratic reformers committed to rebuilding their country," she says. We should not underestimate the power of their message, she adds. "The notion of restoring human rights and democracy will find wide resonance in a society that has been kept in such isolation and under such repression for such a long time."
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Friday, February 25, 2011
By HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER
Just minutes after a charter flight left Tripoli carrying the last Americans who wanted to leave Libya, officials markedly toughened the administration’s words and actions against Colonel Qaddafi, announcing that high-ranking Libyan officials who supported or participated in his violent crackdown would also see their assets frozen and might, along with Colonel Qaddafi, be subject to war crimes prosecution.
“It’s clear that Colonel Qaddafi has lost the confidence of his people,” said the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, in a briefing that was delayed to allow the plane to take off because the Americans feared that the Libyan leader might harm the passengers. “His legitimacy has been reduced to zero.”
On Friday night, President Obama issued a formal executive order freezing the American-held assets of Colonel Qaddafi, his children and family, and senior members of the Libyan government.
With Colonel Qaddafi killing more of his people every day in a desperate bid to remain in power, it was not clear that these actions would do much to mitigate the worsening crisis. Sanctions, for instance, take time to put in place, and every other option comes with its own set of complications. Colonel Qaddafi, increasingly erratic, has seemed to shrug off outside pressure, becoming even more bizarre — with charges that protesters are on drugs — in the face of the world’s scorn. And unlike with Egypt and Bahrain, close American allies that also erupted into crisis, the United States has few contacts deep inside the Libyan government, and little personal sway with its leadership.
Libya and the United States resumed full diplomatic relations only in 2008; before that it was regarded as an outlaw state. In fact, even as he was announcing that the Obama administration was cutting off military to military cooperation with the Libyan Army, Mr. Carney noted that such cooperation was “limited” — a stark contrast to the deep ties that the Pentagon has cultivated with other Arab armies.
The tougher American response came nine days into the Libyan crisis and six days after Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces first opened fire on protesters at a funeral in Benghazi, plunging Libya into something close to civil war and igniting worldwide condemnation. In the days after, the Obama administration repeatedly called for an end to the violence, but avoided criticizing Colonel Qaddafi by name — a cautious policy that brought criticism from the president’s Republican rivals.
Countering those criticisms, administration officials said they feared a hostage crisis, which tied President Obama’s hands until American citizens, diplomats and their families were evacuated from Libya. A ferry with 167 Americans left Tripoli on Friday afternoon, having been delayed for two days by 15- to 18-foot waves in the Mediterranean, and a charter plane with additional Americans left Friday night. The embassy, Mr. Carney said, “has been shuttered.”
European leaders have been more aggressive. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has called on Colonel Qaddafi to resign, a step that Mr. Obama has yet to take. But American allies and the United Nations also moved to isolate Libya diplomatically. A senior United Nations official said that the world should intervene to stop the bloodshed in Libya, and France and Britain called on the international organization to approve an arms embargo and sanctions. NATO said it was ready to help evacuate refugees.
In Geneva, the normally passive United Nations Human Rights Council voted unanimously on Friday to suspend Libya’s membership, but not before a junior delegate of the Libyan mission announced that he and his colleagues had resigned after deciding to side with the Libyan people. The gesture drew a standing ovation and a handshake from the United States ambassador, Eileen Donahoe.
Administration officials said that getting the people around Colonel Qaddafi to abandon him is a key part of the American and international strategy to isolate him. Administration officials say they are supporting a British proposal to try to bring before a war crimes tribunal Colonel Qaddafi and those who support or enable his violent crackdown.
“It’s hard to do, but the point is to encourage the remaining supporters of Qaddafi to peel off,” said Robert Malley, the Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group. “If you want to accelerate his demise, you send the message that those who do not participate in the violence might not be prosecuted for their association with the regime.”
American officials are also discussing a no-flight zone over Libya to prevent Colonel Qaddafi from using military aircraft against demonstrators. But such a move would have to be coordinated with NATO, and would require a Security Council resolution, diplomats said. Arab governments might object on sovereignty grounds.
Administration officials have avoided public discussion of additional military options. When asked whether the United States was considering using its military assets in the region — including a marine amphibious ship in the Red Sea — to support the rebellion in Libya, Mr. Carney said, “We are not taking any options off the table in the future.” But administration officials said there were no immediate plans to intervene militarily.
The administration’s measures appeared to satisfy human-rights groups. Analysts said they wanted more details about the sanctions, but they were encouraged by signs that the United States would support the effort to have Colonel Qaddafi referred to the International Criminal Court on war-crimes charges, as well as by a special NATO meeting.
“Even if people aren’t explicitly talking about no-fly zones, the fact that NATO met today suggests there is more on people’s minds than diplomacy,” said Tom Malinowski, the director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. “I sense military contingencies are on the table.”
One complication that could speed up consideration of any military action would be evidence that Colonel Qaddafi was prepared to use his remaining stockpile of mustard gas.
The American sanctions will also include travel bans against Colonel Qaddafi and senior members of his government, and the freezing of assets, including a move to freeze all American-controlled portions of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, administration officials said. Sanctions, once they go into effect, could have an impact on oil-rich Libya. According to an American diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks, a senior Libyan official told American diplomats in January 2010 that the Libyan Investment Authority, which manages the country’s oil revenue, had $32 billion in cash, and that several American banks managed up to $500 million in each of those funds. Administration officials said they planned to go after that money as part of the punitive sanctions.
“The government of Libya has claimed that it holds as much as $130 billion in reserves and its sovereign wealth fund reportedly holds more than $70 billion in foreign assets,” an Obama administration official said. The official said that “while we are aware of certain assets owned by the Libyan government in the U.S., there are likely additional funds that we are not aware of.”
Analysts said that going after the assets of Colonel Qaddafi’s aides would probably be more effective than going after those held by the leader himself, given that he is engaged in an all-or-nothing defense of his rule.
A more draconian approach, suggested Danielle Pletka, an expert on sanctions at the American Enterprise Institute, would be to impose a trade embargo on Libya, excepting only food and other humanitarian aid.
The United Nations Security Council will discuss a proposal backed by France and Britain for multilateral sanctions, including an arms embargo and financial sanctions. But no definitive move was expected until next week. Italy, which is not in the Security Council and has deep investments in Libya, said Friday that it also backed sanctions.
Events continue to move quickly in Libya. Leader Moammar Gadhafi is said to be hunkered down in Tripoli — where, The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof reports, the sounds of gunfire can be heard.
The BBC reports that "eyewitnesses in Tripoli say that security forces are now shooting at protesters in the capital's suburbs."
Anti-Gadhafi organizers are hoping there will be large protests today in the Libyan capital. Al-Jazeera says that "security forces are deployed around mosques in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, fearing protests when Friday prayers end shortly."
As Korva reported earlier, Gadhafi's son Seif said today that the family's "plan A is to live and die in Libya; plan B is to live and die in Libya; plan C is to live and die in Libya."
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, reporting from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, told NPR's Newcast earlier that again today thousands of people are outside the city's courthouse. Gadhafi's forces abandoned the city earlier this week, and Lourdes says that the people there are trying to send this message to other Libyans: "There will be freedom in this country, the whole of the country, not just the east."
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Image via WikipediaJulian Assange Ordered by Court to Be Extradited to Sweden - NYTimes.com
LONDON —A British court on Thursday ordered Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to be extradited to Sweden to face accusations of sexual abuse. His lawyers have seven days to appeal the ruling and immediately indicated that they would so.
Mr. Assange has said the accusations are “incredible lies,” and he has referred to Sweden as “the Saudi Arabia of feminism.”
Judge Little said on Thursday that if there have been abuses in Sweden, “the right place for these to be examined and remedied is in the Swedish trial system.”
Mr. Assange has also denied accusations by the Swedish authorities that he fled the country in September rather than surrender to the police; he says he left Sweden with permission. And he has denounced the leaks of two Swedish police documents that provided graphic details of the accusations.
Mr. Assange, and his lawyers have signaled their intent to take their fight to Britain’s highest courts, and even to the European Court of Human Rights. In adjourning a hearing earlier this month to make his decision, Judge Riddle said with a note of resignation that whatever he decided would “perhaps inevitably be appealed.”
The long and costly legal battle has left Mr. Assange isolated in the country house of a wealthy friend, and he is electronically monitored as a condition of his bail.
During the legal fight, many of his closest colleagues have defected from WikiLeaks, and a dozen of them formed a rival Web site, OpenLeaks. The United States Justice Department, meanwhile, has subpoenaed his Twitter account as part of an investigation that could lead to espionage charges.
In one of the frequent interviews from his friend’s house, Mr. Assange compared himself to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In a recorded speech played this month at a rally in Melbourne, Australia, his adopted hometown, he went further, comparing the struggles of WikiLeaks to those of African-Americans who fought for equal rights in the 1950s, of protesters who sought an end to the Vietnam War in the ‘60s and of the feminist and environmental movements. “For the Internet generation,” he said, “this is our challenge, and this is our time.”
Mr. Assange is also working on his autobiography, which he has said will be worth $1.7 million in publishing deals. “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to,” he said in a December interview with The Sunday Times of London, explaining that his legal costs had reached more than $300,000. “I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”
The book, he said, will detail his “global struggle to force a new relationship between the people and their governments.” He said he hoped the book, due out in April, “will become one of the unifying documents of our generation.”
This month, in another fund-raising effort, he organized what he called a “dinner for free speech,” encouraging online supporters to donate to his defense and dine with friends while watching a video message he had recorded. On a Web site to promote the idea, where he was pictured holding a wine glass aloft, he was quoted as declaring, “There are four things that cannot be concealed for long, the sun, the moon, the truth — and dessert!”
WikiLeaks, though unable to process and release new material, has continued to post classified United States diplomatic cables from the cache of the more than 250,000 it has obtained. Recent examples have included documents concerning the opulent lifestyle of the family of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. The documents were widely disseminated during the revolution that ousted Mr. Ben Ali and started a wave of protests in the Arab world.
In recent weeks, some of Mr. Assange’s supporters, eager to see WikiLeaks operating with its founder’s full attention, have been echoing a question asked by a judge at one of the initial hearings in the case. “If he is so keen to clear his name,” the judge, Justice Duncan Ouseley, asked in December, “what stops a voluntary return to Sweden?”
Mr. Assange told friends in Britain he feared that if he returned to Sweden he would be extradited to the United States and perhaps be detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or executed. But one of his former WikiLeaks colleagues said in an interview that he thought Mr. Assange’s reason was more mundane.
The colleague, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who is one of the OpenLeaks founders, told reporters last week that when Mr. Assange first heard about the sexual abuse allegations in late August, “he was not concerned about the United States.”
“He was very scared of going to prison in Sweden,” Mr. Domscheit-Berg said, “which he thought might happen.” Such charges carry a maximum sentence of four years and no minimum sentence.
Richard Berry contributed reporting from Paris.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
- Obama Will Not Defend Defense of Marriage Act (politicalwire.com)
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
- Christchurch hit by major earthquake (guardian.co.uk)
- Earthquake hits Christchurch causing serious injuries (guardian.co.uk)
- VIDEO: Christchurch: 'A city destroyed' (bbc.co.uk)
The bodies of slain protesters were left on the streets of the Libyan capital Tuesday and frightened residents hunkered down in their homes as forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi sought to crush anti-government demonstrations by shooting on sight anyone outside, residents and an opposition activist said.
Amid the crackdown, a defiant Gadhafi appeared on state TV in the early hours Tuesday to show he was still in charge, brandishing a large umbrella and wearing a cap with fur ear flaps, and denying reports he had left the country.
The eruption of turmoil in the capital after a week of protests and bloody clashes in Libya's eastern cities has sharply escalated the challenge to Gadhafi, and his regime has been hit by a string of defections by ambassadors abroad and even some officials at home. His security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing sources inside the country, said Tuesday that at least 250 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in the crackdown on protesters in Libya, though its officials said the true number was not known.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the toll at at least 233 killed, based on contacts with Libyan hospitals — but their toll did not include casualties from crackdowns in Tripoli since Sunday night, a sign of the difficulty of getting information out of the highly closed North African Nation.
The head of the U.N. agency, Navi Pillay, called for an investigation, saying widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population "may amount to crimes against humanity."
The first major protests to hit an OPEC country — and major supplier to Europe — sent oil prices soaring to more than $93 a barrel Tuesday, and the industry has begun eyeing reserves touched only after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 1991 Gulf War.
World leaders also have expressed outrage. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Gadhafi to "stop this unacceptable bloodshed" and said the world was watching the events "with alarm."
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, visiting Cairo, denounced the violence and called for dialogue. He said his country was worried about the "imminent danger of a civil war in Libya and the exodus of migrants to Italy." Libya, just across the Mediterranean from southern Italy, is a common departure point for Africans trying to reach Europe, and Italy has close cooperation with Gadhafi's regime on stopping migrants, as well as economic ties.
Protesters demanding Gadhafi's ouster had planned a new rally in Tripoli's central Green Square and other locations Monday evening. But pro-regime militiamen — reportedly a mix of Libyans and foreign mercenaries — fanned out to unleash a heavy crackdown, sealing off neighborhoods and shooting from rooftops, several residents said.
Throughout the night, until just before dawn Tuesday, militiamen assaulted the Tripoli district of Fashloum, an impoverished area where many protesters have come, one resident told The Associated Press.
Militiamen shot any "moving human being" with live ammunition, including ambulances, so wounded were left in the streets to die, the resident said.
He said that as he fled the neighborhood Monday night, he ran across a group of militiamen, including foreign fighters. "The Libyans (among them) warned me to leave and showed me bodies of the dead and told me: `We were given orders to shot anybody who moves in the place,'" said the resident.
"Bodies are now in the streets; those injured and now bleeding can't find a hospital or an ambulance to rescue them. Nobody is allowed to get in and if anybody gets in, will be shot to death," he said.
Like others reached in Libya he spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retaliation. Western media are largely barred from Libya and the report couldn't be independently confirmed.
Another resident said commandos were in control of the streets and were stationed on rooftops, opening fire. "Life is paralyzed, even those who were shot can't go to hospital," he said. "No one is able to walk in the street."
Mohammed Ali, an exile opposition activist, said he had also received reports from residents of scores of bodies in the streets. Inhabitants of the capital of some 2 million people were staying home Tuesday after warnings by Gadhafi loyalists that anybody on the streets would be shot, said Ali, who is based in the Gulf emirate of Dubai.
The week of upheaval in Libya has weakened — if not broken for now — the control of Gadhafi's regime in parts of the east. Protesters in the country's second largest city Benghazi over the weekend overran police stations and security headquarters, taking control of the streets with the help of army units that broke away and sided with them.
Benghazi residents, however, remained in fear of a regime backlash. One doctor in the city said Tuesday many spent the night outside their homes, hearing rumors that airstrikes and artillery assaults were imminent. "We know that although we are in control of the city, Gadhafi loyalists are still here hiding and they can do anything anytime," he said.
A warplane bombed Monday near a military camp that protesters had overwhelmed and were looting for weapons outside the city of Ajdabiya, said one witness, Ahmed al-Zawi. He said he was among those who broke into the camp to seize ammunition, automatic weapons and grenades when the plane dropped a bomb, hitting an empty area nearby, causing no injuries.
"I think the pilot is a good man. He was given orders to bomb the camp but he didn't," al-Zawi said. "We needed the weapons to protect ourselves and the city from the mercenaries."
Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, appeared to be largely under control of protesters, who formed watch groups to guard streets and entrances to the city. The two main local tribes, the Maghrabiya and Zawi, announced their support for the protesters, and tribal fighters were guarding nearby oil fields and refineries to prevent vandalism or looting, al-Zawi said.
Gadhafi, the longest serving Arab leader with nearly 42 years in power, appeared briefly on TV early Tuesday to dispel rumors that he had fled. Sitting in a car in front of what appeared to be his residence and holding an umbrella out of the passenger side door, he told an interviewer that he had wanted to go to the capital's Green Square to talk to his supporters gathered there, but the rain stopped him.
"I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Don't believe those misleading dog stations," Gadhafi said, referring to the media reports that he had left the country. The video clip and comments lasted less than a minute.
Gadhafi appeared to have lost the support of at least one major tribe, several military units and his own diplomats, including Libya's ambassador in Washington, Ali Adjali. Deputy U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi accused Gadhafi of committing genocide against his own people in the current crisis. Two air force colonels flew their Mirage fighter jets to Malta and sought asylum.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Beverly Hills, California, on Monday described the crackdown as "a serious violation of international humanitarian law." The U.N. spokesperson's office said late Monday that the Security Council had scheduled consultations on the situation in Libya for Tuesday morning.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting Egypt, called the crackdown "appalling."
The chaos engulfing the country prompted many foreigners to flee.
Italy's government on Tuesday dispatched an air force jet to Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, to evacuate around 100 Italian citizens. Many countries had already urged their nationals to avoid nonessential travel to Libya, or recommended that those already there leave on commercial flights.
Benghazi's airport was closed, according to an airport official in Cairo.
Egyptian troops, meanwhile, have beefed up their presence on the border with Libya and set up a field hospital as thousands of Egyptians return home from Libya by land, according to an Egyptian security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to release the information.
Oil companies, including Italy's Eni, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and U.K.-based BP have also begun evacuating their expat workers or their families or both.
Jordanians who fled Libya gave horrific accounts of a "bloodbath" in Tripoli, saying they saw people shot, scores of burned cars and shops, and what appeared to be armed mercenaries who looked as if they were from other African countries.
Many billboards and posters of Gadhafi were smashed or burned along a road to downtown Tripoli, "emboldening" protesters, said a man who lives on the western outskirts of the capital.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
- Bahrain riot police storm protesters in Pearl Square (guardian.co.uk)
- Bahrain police clash with crowds (bbc.co.uk)