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Summary of the American and International Press on the Libyan Revolution - Morgan Strong
24/07/2011 10:22:00
Rebels Say Al Qathafi Must Face Trial as Tripoli Hit

(N.Y. Times) - A Libyan rebel spokesman insisted Friday that Muammar Al Qathafi stand trial at the international war crimes tribunal, despite growing Western consensus that the longtime dictator be allowed to stay in his homeland if he relinquishes power.

NATO jet planes, meanwhile, struck the capital Tripoli near Al Qathafi's headquarters at Bab al-Azziziyah in the early hours of the morning Saturday.

Several bright flashes and loud explosions split the night at around 2:30 a.m. local time while jets could be heard circling overhead.

NATO bombing raids and other military operations began this spring to protect civilians rebelling against the Libyan regime, but Al Qathafi has managed to keep his grip on the capital, Tripoli, to the frustration of Western leaders.

NATO planes struck a factory near the embattled oil city of Brega on Friday killing six guards, Libyan officials said.

The plant, located six miles (10 kilometres) south of the strategic oil installation, builds the huge pipes that carry water from underground aquifers deep in the south to the coast as part of the Great Man Made River irrigation project.

"Major parts of the plant have been damaged," said Abdel-Hakim el-Shwehdy, head of the company running the project. "There could be major setback for the future projects."

At least 70 percent of Libyans survive on the water carried through the pipes to the coast in the project, according to government figures.

"Most Libyans drink from the Great Manmade River, most Libyan land is farmed from the water, so any harm against this vital project is a harm against all Libyans," warned government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim. "We believe this a very dangerous development in NATO'S attacks."

Washington, Paris and Rome have all proclaimed their acceptance of the idea that Al Qathafi remain in Libya on the condition that he give up power and the Libyan people grant their approval.

In Rome, rebel spokesman Ali al-Issawi met with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Asked how the so-called "leave Al Qathafi in Libya option" squares with the warrant for his arrest by the International Criminal Court, al-Issawi told reporters that there was "no contradiction between the two."

"The first principle is that Al Qathafi should step down," al-Issawi, a leader of the rebels' executive office said after a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. "After that you can talk about the details."

"We would like Al Qathafi to be taken to the ICC," al-Issawi said, referring to the Hague-based tribunal.

Al-Issawi's office essentially serves as a Cabinet for the National Transitional Council, the Benghazi-based anti-Al Qathafi front that was recently recognised by Washington as Libya's legitimate government.

Frattini noted that Libya isn't among the signatory countries to an agreement obligating arrest for such warrants, and he stressed that while "impunity (for Al Qathafi) would be a mistake, it has to be the Libyans to decide" Al Qathafi's fate. Whatever that decision is, "we'll respect it," the foreign minister added.

Whether Western support to allow Libyans to keep Al Qathafi in his country once out of power indicates waning desire to drive him out of Tripoli is unclear. There have been fears the civil warfare could end in a kind of stalemate, with the rebels in charge mainly in eastern Libya and Al Qathafi's forces entrenched in Tripoli.

Al-Issawi said that a blast at a Tripoli hotel Thursday where several top members of the regime, including Al Qathafi's son Seif al-Islam, were meeting was caused by a rocket launched from within the city.

"This is a good signal that people inside Tripoli are organising" against Al Qathafi, Frattini told reporters.

The rebel spokesman said the attack "severely wounded" Abdullah Mansour, apparently a high official in Al Qathafi's inner circle.

A Tripoli-based opposition group called the Free Generation Movement said in a statement that three rocket-propelled grenades were used to attack the hotel.

However, the government spokesman, Ibrahim, denied any attack had occurred, saying it was only an accident turned into a propaganda ploy by rebels.

"There was no attack yesterday whatsoever, there was an explosion near the Sheraton caused by a (cooking) gas cylinder," said. "It was a kitchen explosion that was immediately turned into an attack to boost (rebel) morale."

Libya, a major supplier of oil and natural gas to Italy, was Rome's biggest trading partner before the outbreak of civil war, and al-Issawi assured Frattini that Italy would regain that rank in Libya's future.

"We invite all the Italian companies in Libya to restart their activities," al-Issawi told reporters.

Among those eager to return to full operations is Italian energy company Eni, which the Libyan government has banned from operating in Libya due to Italy's participation in the NATO attacks.

Frattini delivered some good news to the rebel's political arm. He said that within days, the first tranche of euro350 million ($503 million) in cash and fuel would be transferred to Benghazi to help civilians there, while Italy and other countries wait for U.N. sanctions officials to free up billions of dollars in frozen Al Qathafi regime assets.

Blasts rock Tripoli, Libya state TV says NATO strikes

(Reuters) - Explosions rocked the Libyan capital early on Sunday, Reuters witnesses said, sending a giant plume of smoke into the air. Libyan state television said NATO air strikes struck the Libyan capital but gave no further details.

Libyan leader Muammar Al Qathafi is clinging to power despite ongoing NATO-led air campaign and a lengthening conflict with rebels who now control roughly half the country.

The explosions hit Tripoli at about 0100 local time on Sunday, a day after NATO launched strikes on what it said was a military command site in Tripoli.

State television said the NATO strikes early on Saturday had hit civilian and military sites and had wounded several people.

One Tripoli resident said one of Sunday's strikes appeared to have hit an intelligence building in Tripoli, the first hit on that building since the Western-led military alliance began strikes on Libya in March.

Libya rebels report loss of Qatrun

(AFP/Daily Star, Beirut) - Libyan rebel fighters have lost control of the southwestern oasis town of Qatrun after an attack by forces loyal to Muammar Al Qathafi, a member of the local Toubou tribe told AFP on Saturday.

Al Qathafi's troops swept in from the north on Thursday, forcing rebel fighters from the town, according to Mohammed Lino, who relayed information gleaned via satellite phone, said in Benghazi.

At least two people are thought to have been killed and eight wounded in the attack.

The lack of transport links to the southwest, patchy telecommunications and poor security make independent verification of the claim impossible.

But Lino said Al Qathafi's forces had been camped on the north side of the town and rebels in the south, with an estimated 20,000 civilians trapped between the two.

It is not clear if the town has since been taken.

Toubou tribesmen had earlier reported capturing the town on July 17. A delegation is now in Benghazi to ask for supplies and assistance.

Qatrun is 1,000 kilometres south of Tripoli.

Al Qathafi's forces had tried to retake the town on at least three occasions before Thursday.

"We have been attacked twice in the past week by Al Qathafi's army," said Mohammed Sidi, a Toubou tribal leader said earlier this week.

One attack, he said, involved as many as 150 4X4 vehicles. In repelling the attacks, one person was killed and eight wounded.

Qatari munition-labelled boxes sent to Libya

(Aljazeera.net) - Trucks apparently carrying munitions found amid medical and other supplies on a Qatari flight to Libya.

Qatar has sent at least 200 tonnes of aid, including medical supplies, to help Libyan opposition forces since foreign support began to arrive.

The Qatari air force showed Al Jazeera a cargo plane bound for Libya containing computers, printers, rice, milk and sugar.

The main cargo on the plane were a military police unit and some intelligence personnel. Also on the plane were four trucks full of wooden boxes which were clearly marked "munitions".

Al Jazeera was unable to find out if they were for the Qatari security forces to use or the rebels.

But the trucks were driven away by men who told Al Jazeera they had recently joined the pro-democracy fighters.

Police in Libya rebel capital pivot from oppressor to protector

(L.A. Times) - The police force in Benghazi, the Libyan rebel stronghold, is 6,000 poorly trained and woefully equipped men struggling to establish law and order in the middle of a revolution.

Officer Sharif Ganasi was working the 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift, cruising the trash-strewn streets of Benghazi, alert for drunks and carjackers.

His new black police uniform was too tight and too hot. He was drenched with sweat, his bulky body crammed into the tiny driver's seat of a white Hyundai compact. His hand-held radio kept cutting out.

"We could use better equipment," he said as he guided car 23 through evening traffic in the de facto capital of Libya's rebels.

Ganasi doesn't carry a gun or a badge. He rarely arrests anyone. Mostly he reports suspicious activities so that police headquarters can dispatch officers who actually do have guns.

Such is the marginalized world of Benghazi's finest: 6,000 poorly trained and woefully equipped men struggling to establish law and order in the middle of a revolution.

They haven't been paid in two months. They often buy their own gasoline. If they want a gun, they come up with their own.

The first target of rebels who liberated eastern Libya from Muammar Al Qathafi in February was the instrument of state repression: the police. Their stations were burned and ransacked. Guns, radios and police cruisers were looted. Cops fled, many to join the rebel fight against Al Qathafi's troops.

Five months later, 80% of those police officers are back on the streets. But of the more than 500 police cars they once drove, barely 100 have been returned.

For all the shortcomings, though, Benghazi's police seem to be slowly earning something that did not exist under Al Qathafi: trust.

"Before, people were terrified of the police; they hated us," Ganasi, 35, said as pedestrians waved to him on his rounds. "Now they see us as someone who can protect them, not someone to protect the people in power."

Ashour Showil, 52, the city's new police chief, served as Benghazi's top traffic officer under Al Qathafi. He now commands both forces. Before, he acknowledges, police were "a threat to civilians, rather than their protectors."

Now, as Showil tries to fashion a modern police force from the ashes of a state security apparatus, he has a simple message for his officers:

"The old ways are gone," he said. "Police are here to serve the people, to treat them with respect."

Officers explain their sudden pivot from oppressors to public servants by saying they quietly seethed under Al Qathafi's regime. Ganasi said he was jailed for two weeks for complaining about raw sewage at the police academy.

"No one was proud to be a policeman then, but you couldn't say anything or there would be severe punishment," said Saad Mohammed Agheli, a 21-year traffic police veteran who patrols in a Ford Crown Victoria.

Saad Ashour, 32, who sells coffee outside a downtown police station, said people tolerate the suddenly repentant police because ordinary citizens also resented Al Qathafi's stifling rule but were terrified to speak out.

Besides, he said, it was the dreaded Lijan Thawriya, Al Qathafi's secret security police, they really hated, not ordinary cops.

"We're being patient with the police, because they're sincerely trying to be good officers," Ashour said. "They just need better training to learn how to serve the people."

The scholarly Showil, whose men address him as "Doctor" on account of his advanced degree in legal management, said that crime is down in Benghazi. His said his city is far safer than any municipality in Egypt or Tunisia, two neighbours that toppled long-standing autocrats this year.

In fact, Benghazi is far less chaotic than it was in February and March, when gunmen roamed the streets, firing weapons day and night. Gun trucks crammed with looted police and army weapons careened through the streets.

The gun trucks are now at the battle front outside the oil city of Port Brega, 140 miles southwest of Benghazi, and few weapons appear in public here. In fact, police have issued a directive that any American gun-control advocate would love: All weapons must be registered, and they may not be carried on the street.

Billboards proclaim: "Hey, young guy, don't shoot. You're scaring my mother!"

Out on evening patrol, Ganasi said robberies and kidnappings are few these days. Thefts are down, except for a rash of cellphone pilfering.

But even with the gun law, young toughs with looted weapons still embark on carjacking rampages. Firearms were strictly banned under Al Qathafi's rule, so guns have a distinct allure for young men, Ganasi said. They are the cause of most violence here, he said.

"Now, when these young guys get into fights, somebody ends up shot dead," he said.

In March, Ganasi said, he and two other officers encountered an armed gang that had carjacked a woman. One officer was armed, so they confronted the carjackers instead of calling headquarters.

The officer fired into the air and the gang retreated, Ganasi said. They didn't arrest anyone, but they recovered the woman's car and escorted her home.

Alone and unarmed tonight, he wouldn't dare confront gunmen. He focuses instead on young men drinking khamra, or homemade booze. Alcohol is banned in Muslim Libya.

"We never got cooperation from the public before, but now these guys' fathers report them for drinking and carousing," Ganasi said.

He steered past the Doha police station, burned and gutted in February but now rebuilt as a showpiece. In other neighbourhoods, chief Showil said, people who had reviled the police now raise money to rebuild substations.

Inside the whitewashed Doha station, deputy station chief Moussa Muzany has only 15 pistols and 10 automatic rifles for 150 officers. He pointed to a stack of papers in his bare, freshly painted office.

"Those are police reports of stolen weapons" from the February uprising, he said. "I'm still trying to get them back."

Muzany does not carry a gun. Asked about his station's most urgent needs, he replied, "Everything: cars, gasoline, guns, training." Seven of his men are fighting for the rebels.

Even under Al Qathafi, Muzany said, officers' access to guns was restricted. Al Qathafi kept both the police and the military in restive eastern Libya weak and poorly armed to discourage coup attempts.

Weapons restrictions were tossed aside to help put down the February uprising, but many officers joined the rebels after security police shot their relatives.

Al Qathafi had given the best weapons to the Lijan Thawriya, which detained, tortured and killed regime opponents. The Lijan Thawriya is gone here, but rebels who control the east have their own special security branch.

Working with militias that report to the military, it hunts down suspected pro-Al Qathafi sympathisers, including former security branch members, and detains them without charge or trial.

Muzany said security police intercepted several carloads of explosives that Al Qathafi supporters intended for attacks on civilians at a recent rebel rally.

In his little Hyundai - one of dozens donated by wealthy businessmen - Ganasi drove on. A cop for 13 years, he fled his post during the uprising, he said, but returned a week later because police work is all he knows.

It was early evening. The call to prayer rang out. Garbage burned in alleyways, and stray dogs tore at bags of restaurant waste. Idle young men gathered in sidewalk cafes.

Ganasi steered the car to a hotel, his normal duty station, where he provides security, sitting for hours at a time, listening to radio calls, usually hot and bored. He parked, took a drag on a cigarette and exhaled blue smoke.

"A new day is coming," he said. "Soon, God willing, we will all be doing real police work."

Libya wants more talks with U.S. and rebels

(Daily Star, Beirut) - Libyan representatives are ready to hold more talks with the United States and with rebels hoping to push Muammar Al Qathafi from power, but Al Qathafi will not bow to demands he quit, a government spokesman said.

Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said senior Libyan officials had a `productive dialogue' with U.S. counterparts last week in a rare meeting that followed the Obama administration's recognition of the rebel government that hopes to end Al Qathafi's 41-year rule.

"We believe other meetings in the future ... will help solve Libyan problems," Ibrahim told reporters in Tripoli on Friday. "We are willing to talk to the Americans more."

Early on Saturday NATO warplanes bombed targets in the Libyan capital, causing damage and casualties, Libyan state television said, without giving details.

A Reuters witness said there were at least six blasts, adding they were the largest to the hit the capital in several weeks. Four explosions rocked the hotel where international media were based and two more were heard slightly further off.

As Al Qathafi clings to power despite five months of civil conflict and a lengthening NATO bombing campaign, the West is increasingly hoping for a negotiated settlement to the Libyan conflict.

While the United States, NATO's dominant military power, is hoping that talks can gain traction, it along with the rebels that now control roughly half of Libya insists Al Qathafi must go.

Ibrahim said Libyan officials - but not Al Qathafi himself - would be willing to hold further meetings with rebels. But such talks will only take place on the government's terms, he said, as it urges them to put down their arms and rejoin the Al Qathafi camp.

"Nations do not negotiate with armed gangs," Ibrahim said. Al Qathafi is urging Libyans, however, to persuade rebels to disarm - and to fight them if they don't.

The comments came as the Libya reported a NATO airstrike near the eastern oil hub of Brega, the scene of recent fighting, which the government said killed six guards at a water pipeline plant. The report could not be immediately verified.

As Western nations intensify diplomatic efforts to foster an exit from the conflict, a European diplomat said that a U.N. envoy will seek to persuade warring parties in Libya to accept a plan that envisages a ceasefire and a power-sharing government, but with no role for Al Qathafi.

The diplomat said the informal proposals would be canvassed by the special U.N. envoy to Libya, Abdul Elah al-Khatib, who has met both government and rebels several times.

Khatib, a Jordanian senator, told Reuters in Amman he hoped both sides would accept his ideas.

"The U.N. is exerting very serious efforts to create a political process that has two pillars; one is an agreement on a ceasefire and simultaneously an agreement on setting up a mechanism to manage the transitional period," he said. He did not go into the details of that mechanism.

Tough fight

Poorly armed rebels seem unlikely on the cusp of the Islamic holy month to quickly unseat Al Qathafi, who came to power himself as a young revolutionary influenced by Egypt's Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

The rebels declared advances this week but they also suffered losses near their stronghold of Misurata and in fighting for Brega.

On Thursday rebels said minefields slowed their advance on Brega - which they had earlier claimed to have all but captured - but that they had pushed closer to Zlitan, on the Mediterranean coast 160 km (100 miles) east of Tripoli.

A rebel spokesman near Zlitan called urgently for help for people in nearby Souk al-Thulatha who joined the rebels but were now besieged by government forces. "This is very dangerous for the course of the revolution," he wrote in an online posting.

Al Qathafi has stepped up his defiant rhetoric amid persistent reports of talks. Pro-government rallies are being shown almost daily on state television, perhaps a reminder to outsiders that he can still command considerable support.

On Friday, thousands of people gathered near Tripoli's historic centre to watch the unveiling of a massive likeness of the longtime leader.

State television said Al Qathafi would make another speech on Saturday, this time addressed to Egyptians on the anniversary of their revolution - not this year's, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but pan-Arabist Nasser's in 1959.

Despite facing a rebel challenge and ostracised by much of the international community, the government remained potent, Ibrahim said.

"NATO, you are losing, you will lose," he said. "The armed gangs in the western mountains and the east part of the country, you have no future (in the country). Admit it."

Ibrahim also denied a report from rebel foreign spokesman Ali Essawi that Mansour Daw, a key aide to Al Qathafi, had been wounded in a rebel rocket attack on a meeting of Al Qathafi's inner circle in Tripoli on Thursday. Ibrahim said there had been an explosion caused by a kitchen gas cylinder.

Hopes for a negotiated settlement are growing as Europe and the United States grapple with fiscal crises at home. This week, France said for the first time that Al Qathafi could stay in Libya as long as he gives up power.

But there is little evidence in Libya that either side is ready to make serious concessions.

"The first principle for Libyans is that Al Qathafi should step down, and announce this and make this very clear. After that, we can talk about details," Essawi told reporters in Rome.

"Negotiations will be only on the departure of Al Qathafi. We will not negotiate on his staying in Libya or ruling the Libyans," he said.

Ibrahim meanwhile reiterated that Al Qathafi would not leave his position nor leave Libya on demands from rebels or from NATO.

Complicating Al Qathafi's situation is the fact that the world court in The Hague which seeks his arrest over crimes against humanity allegedly committed by his forces, he added.

As the war in Libya drags on, the U.S. military is weighing options that may deepen its involvement in the conflict and its alliance with the rebels.

A U.S. official told Reuters on Friday that the United States is considering a NATO request to send more Predator drones to Libya, as well as other surveillance aircraft. It has also reopened a debate over arming the rebels, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Al Qathafi’s resilience has diluted Western ambitions for change in Libya

(Al Arabiya) - Military pressure alone may not end Libya’s war, but neither is diplomacy proving to be the fast track to peace that impatient Western powers had hoped. Ineptly deployed, it may even put a brake on the deal-making a resolution will almost certainly require, analysts say.

Just how slippery the political track has become for the West emerged on Wednesday, when France, a leading nation in the coalition attacking Colonel Muammar Al Qathafi’s forces, said the Libyan leader could remain in the country if he relinquished power.

The idea floated by Foreign Minister Alain Juppé will be anathema to many in the rebel opposition who insist Colonel Al Qathafi not only end his 41-year-old rule but also leave the country.

The notion also looks at odds with a Al Qathafi arrest warrant issued by The Hague court for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by state forces against civilian demonstrators.

Perhaps most starkly of all, Mr. Juppé’s remark shows how far Colonel Al Qathafi’s resilience has diluted Western ambitions five months after the start of an anti-government revolt and four months after NATO began air strikes.

Then, back on February 24, Mr. Juppé, echoing the aspirations of officials in many Western states, said: “I hope wholeheartedly Al Qathafi is living his last moments as leader.”

The more modest the West’s expectations, the better the deal Colonel Al Qathafi may eventually be able to strike.

Foreign powers are eager for a rapid end to hostilities, because they want the oil-exporting nation of 6 million to emerge as a stable democracy rather than fall prey to ethnic or tribal conflict, or become a haven for Islamist militants - both outcomes a prolonged conflict might produce.

But the remarks by Mr. Juppé, the first senior Western official to express the Al Qathafi-can-stay option in such a direct manner, will “give great comfort” to the leader, said Jon Marks, a veteran Libya watcher and chairman of Cross Border Information, a UK-based consultancy.

It would encourage the Colonel in a belief that he can widen rifts within the international community by stringing out talks with Western powers on a potential exit strategy, he said.

Opposition activist and journalist Ashour Shamis said it was impossible to imagine Colonel Al Qathafi, a proven survivor who ruled for years under sanctions, remaining in Libya in retirement “keeping quiet and not making trouble.”

“In his mind he is Libya and therefore has the natural right to intervene. So this idea of Al Qathafi staying in the country undermines the whole project (or reaching a workable solution).”

“It will create more problems than it solves.”

Western officials have said they are receiving continual approaches by Libyan officials expressing contradictory messages on how to bring peace to the country. Some indicate a willingness to step down and help with transitional elections.

But on the record, Colonel Al Qathafi appears defiant. Earlier this month he even threatened to take the war to Europe.

His foreign minister, Abdulati al-Obeidi, said on Wednesday that the government was not in any discussions about Colonel Al Qathafi’s potential departure from power.

As a result of the mixed messages, no one appears sure whether Colonel Al Qathafi intends to fight in hope of keeping his grip on the territory around Tripoli or seek an exit strategy that guarantees security for himself and his family.

Colonel Al Qathafi is under huge pressure from dwindling fuel supplies and a broadening network of diplomatic acceptance of the rebels, notably Washington’s July 15 recognition of the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council as Libya’s government.

“The colonel’s best hope of survival is for a large-scale fallout between NATO members and a scaling back or cessation of air strikes,” a briefing by risk analysis firm Maplecroft said.

“This, however, is unlikely to occur in the near term. As such, the noose continues to tighten around Al Qathafi.”

But Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, said behind-the-scenes contacts had clearly not clinched agreement about Colonel Al Qathafi’s evident desire to stay in Libya. “There’s no real indication that that difference has been bridged yet.”

Some analysts say Colonel Al Qathafi is not likely to embrace the notion of asylum in a third country, even if the UN Security Council voted to give him immunity from prosecution.

Uppermost in the minds of Colonel Al Qathafi’s aides, Miles said, was the case of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was arrested in March 2006 for crimes committed in Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war.

Mr. Taylor was in exile in Nigeria from 2003 until March 2006, when he briefly disappeared before Nigerian police arrested him at a remote border post as he tried to flee into Cameroon.

“The version of the Charles Taylor story that seems to be believed in Libya is that he was given assurances of asylum by the Nigerians and they welshed on this and handed him over to the court,” Mr. Miles said.

“That must be in anyone’s mind if they are thinking in terms of asylum in Africa.”

U.S. struggles to free money for Libyan rebels

(Washington Post) - Despite newly won diplomatic recognition from the United States, Libyan rebels could face a long wait for promised financial relief, say U.S. officials who cite a thicket of red tape that continues to ensnare most of the $34 billion in frozen Libyan assets held in U.S.-controlled bank accounts.

Obama administration officials held at least two rounds of meetings over the past week to explore ways to free the money, which the opposition Transitional National Council says it urgently needs to pay salaries and buy ammunition and other critical supplies.

But so far, State and Treasury department officials have identified only a small fraction of the vast Libyan holdings that can be quickly freed for the rebels, according to current and former officials familiar with the talks.

Even that modest sum - estimated by some officials to be as little as a few hundred million dollars - will likely be released slowly because of bankers’ concerns about possible legal risks in handing over money to someone other than the account holder, the officials said.

“All these institutions want assurances that they’ll be protected,” said one U.S. government official who insisted on anonymity in describing internal discussions about money for the rebels. “This is something that is going to take some time.”

The surprising difficulties over releasing money are latest in a series of frustrations for the rebel group, which had hoped that diplomatic recognition would lead to the freeing of billions of dollars in frozen assets controlled by autocratic leader Muammar Al Qathafi.

TNC officials say billions are needed urgently to keep the transitional government afloat and allow their troops to press their their five-month-long fight against Al Qathafi loyalists.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on July 15 that the United States would recognize the TNC as Libya’s official government, a move that itself followed months of legal wrangling over whether Washington could grant formal recognition to a group that does not control large swaths of the country.

But while the rebels hailed Clinton’s announcement, the opposition group has seen few benefits so far. On Friday, the TNC’s representative in Washington was still waiting for word on when he could move into the empty Libyan Embassy.

Ali Aujali, who was Al Qathafi’s ambassador before resigning earlier this year, said he needed “just the State Department to finalize the issue” before he moved back in.

Aujali met with State Department officials this week to implore them to unfreeze some of the Libyan assets in U.S. institutions. But he acknowledged afterward that it would take weeks before the rebels would see the cash.

“The money is really needed in Libya, badly needed,” he said. “I think the Americans recognise this is very important,” he said, adding that the U.S. diplomatic recognition “will help many other countries to change their position to send the money” to the TNC.

Officials with the TNC have said they are not seeking the immediate handover of all $34 billion in frozen assets, a sum they acknowledge the council may not yet be able to handle.

But Aujali said at least $4 billion was needed by his government would ensure that markets were stocked with critical supplies and the TNC could maintain credibility with the population. The rebels also need weapons, he said.

“Al Qathafi is not killing people using potatoes or tomatoes, he is using real weapons,” he said.

One option, he said, might be using the frozen funds as collateral. “We can have loans against this frozen money. That’s what Turkey did,” Aujali said, referring to a $200 million payment from the Turks.

The TNC signed a contract last month with the lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs to help them win diplomatic recognition from the U.S. government and gain access to the frozen funds.

The contract allowed payments of up to $50,000 a month to the Washington firm, but also stipulated that Patton Boggs would not seek payment until the TNC was on sound financial footing.

U.S. and Libyan officials cite several hurdles in releasing money to the rebels. Chief among them are legally binding economic sanctions imposed against the Al Qathafi regime by the U.N. Security Council.

Unfreezing the money, diplomats said, would require a consensus vote of the U.N. sanctions committee, which includes countries such as Russia and China that are skeptical of NATO’s military campaign in Libya.

Other difficulties stem from the fact that Libya’s financial holdings are widely dispersed among financial institutions that are subject to the laws of foreign governments, some of whom do not yet recognize the TNC as Libya’s government, diplomats said.

Indeed, some U.S. legal experts continue to question whether the U.S. recognition of the TNC was legally sound.

John B. Bellinger III, who was department’s legal counsel during the George W. Bush administration, said recognition “raises difficult questions as to who has the international obligations of Libya under international law” - such as upholding the Vienna convention, which requires governments to provide access to detained foreigners.

“Who owes that obligation? Is it that the old Libyan government under Al Qathafi or the new transitional council?” Bellinger asked in a Washington Post interview

But other experts on international law note a long tradition by U.S. governments to use diplomatic recognition as a policy instrument, backing new governments whenever there’s a compelling U.S. interest for doing so.

“Lawyers will always come up with elaborate arguments,” said Philip Zelikow, a former Counsellor to the State Department. “The important questions are: What are the facts on the ground, and what is it that you want to achieve.”

Rather than debating the issue for months, the administration should have granted recognition months ago, thus avoiding the current problems with frozen assets, he said. “Back then, it might have been a decisive factor,” he said. “It could have knocked the wind of of Al Qathafi’s sails.”

Libyan women fight for freedom on the home front

(AFP) - Libyan men have had to reassess how they view the fairer sex since the start of the uprising, and when the dust settles the role of women in the north African country may well have changed for ever.

The women of Libya - especially in the Nafusa Mountains - were among the protesters before the fighting started, and since then they have readied their sons and husbands for battle and nursed the wounded.

Meanwhile, they are also fighting for their own emancipation in the new Libya they are helping their men to forge.

Women do not exchange glances on the streets of the conservative Arab city of Zintan at the foot of the Nafusa range in western Libya. Behind walls daubed with graffiti proclaiming a "Free Libya," they move like black phantoms, hidden behind the full veil of the niqab.

At home, the arrival of an unfamiliar male guest sparks panic, and the ladies of the house scatter like bees. In times of war, they spend most of their time cloistered within four walls.

However, the ladies of Libya have felt the winds of change at their backs.

They were chanting "Down with Al Qathafi" at the start of the insurrection, alongside the men, calling for veteran strongman Muammar Al Qathafi to go.

"I've rallied with plenty of young women, even some pregnant ones. The men were so impressed they fired their Kalashnikovs in our honour! That showed them we were equal, and changed their opinion of us," says Afaf Abusaa, a 20-year-old technology student.

With the men away at the battlefield, the women secure the home front with housework and by providing moral support.

"Men have seen the women nurse the wounded, do volunteer work and cook for the fighters. They've seen mothers tell their sons: 'Go and fight. I will support you.' They hadn't expected that," says Hana Akra, a 24-year-old medical intern.

Women in Libya have come to see the revolution as a route towards their own emancipation, a way to break free from the jobs reserved for them: nurse, secretary or teacher, trades that leave time to take care of the family.

Not they can see a future in which they are not overlooked for a position because a man, albeit a less qualified one, has applied for the same job.

They hope that in the new Libya, their parents will allow them to select their own husbands, that their fathers and brothers will stop bossing them around and forbidding them from actively choosing their own path through life.

"Society is very conservative here," says Najiah Hamza, a 26-year-old medical student. "Women don't really have the chance to control their own destiny. We are always told: 'Don't say this, don't do that.' I hope the revolution helps us."

Forty-year-old Salma Abu Rawi recalls how her parents refused to let her marry her childhood sweetheart because he wasn't from Zintan, while Abusaa would rather not have to wear the veil after she is married.

Akra explains how she has to fight to become a surgeon, a profession reserved for men. "A woman must break the glass ceiling," she says.

"Parents are afraid to let their daughters go out, or work, for fear of gossip. We hope this will change, that men change, that they stop wanting us to be devoted primarily to the house, to the cooking and the children. We also want to be ourselves," says Alazumi Asma, a 22-year-old trainee laboratory assistant.

In the Berber villages of west Libya, women traditionally enjoy more freedom than in other parts of the country.

In Yafran, women do not have to wear the veil in public. They can be seen behind the steering wheels of cars or discussing contraception in front of men. And no one at home can order them around.

Berber ladies feel they have been leading the way towards women's liberation in Libya for some time. "Even under Al Qathafi, we wanted to show the way," says Twzeen Ali Abud, a 20-year-old student.

They want to go further still. Women's rights groups are popping up in Zintan, where there is talk of changing the laws on divorce and allowing women to participate in politics.

"The revolution gave us a chance to play a role" in society, says 23-year-old pharmacist Anya Ali Abud.

Show of support for Al Qathafi in Sirte

(BBC) - Sirte is Col Al Qathafi's hometown. It's also his heartland. For this reason, the Libyan government invited us to have a look.

It wanted to show us that - in this part of the country at least - the leader still has plenty of support.

The six-hour drive from Tripoli to Sirte was a chance to see what life is like in the parts of Libya which are controlled by the government. Official guides (or minders) drove us in a minibus - firstly along the coastal road, then south into the desert in order to avoid the rebel-held city of Misurata.

Our drive took us past watermelon stands and herds of camels. We passed more than a dozen makeshift military checkpoints along the way - sometimes little more than a couple of soldiers guarding a few bricks laid across the road.

None of the soldiers we came across looked particularly anxious. We saw no sign of any rebels.

The ease of the journey was noticeable. There was no sense of siege.

Green brigade

In fact, it was often hard to tell that this is a country at war. The only obvious reminders were the long queues for petrol in Tripoli.

One line next to the main coastal road stretched for about a kilometre. Many of the cars were empty - suggesting that the drivers believed that the wait for petrol would be extremely long.

We arrived in Sirte in time for an early evening rally in support of Col Al Qathafi. Several thousand people gathered in the centre of the city. Many wore green baseball caps or waved green flags (green is the colour of those who support the colonel).

One young boy sat on the curb and diligently coloured his right forearm with a green felt-tip pen.

"Write the truth now," one man told us. "Hundreds of thousands of people," he said, pointing towards the crowd.

Many demonstrators carried pictures of Col Al Qathafi. Behind the stage, there was a picture of a young man who had been killed in the past few months of conflict.

"He is a martyr," another man told me approvingly.

'Judgement Day'

The rally included an audio message from the leader himself.

"There will be no talks between me and them (the rebels) until Judgement Day," Al Qathafi's voice told the crowd, to cheers.

"I'm here to support Al Qathafi because NATO just wants the oil," said Hamed Abel Asha. "This war is only for changing the government to get the oil."

"I'm very happy for this President Muammar Al Qathafi - I love Africa," said Ismail Abdullah. "Muammar Al Qathafi is very good for everybody black in Africa."

The demonstration ended with celebratory gunfire and fireworks.

It was a chance for some of the colonel's younger supporters to try out their still-developing shooting skills.

One teenager standing beneath a block of flats fired a volley of shots from an AK47 into the air. He was immediately accosted by a man who was annoyed that the shots had been fired so close to his children.

The teenager took a few steps down the street, fired off another shot, realised that he had run out of ammunition, and walked away.

Morgan Strong,
- Contributing Editor, New York
 

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