Gaddafi’s son threatens war

Posted on: February 4th, 2019 by
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In an address to the nation on state TV, Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has warned that his nation is on the brink of civil war.

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Adding to claims from the prime minister, he said there were attempts to turn his country into a ‘terrorist base’, and that his father’s regime ‘will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet.’

He said the death toll had been exaggerated – some media outlets have put the number killed by police, troops, and even reported foreign mercenaries, as high as 200 – and that only 84 had died, although he expressed regret for those killed.

Gaddafi said the the People’s Congress would discuss reform on Monday, but warned that civil war could be around the corner if protests did not end.

Rumour mill

The speech came as anti-regime protests reached the capital and world powers denounced the iron-fisted crackdown. In a challenging scenario for foreign media, unable to report from the country, the BBC said there were clashes in the centre of the city between pro and anti-government elements. Unconfirmed reports on Twitter said late on Sunday night that protesters were holding the central square.

Amid rumours of his departure, the challenge to Gaddafi was mounting with reports which Al Jazeera said in a live blog had been backed up by witnesses, that anti-government protesters were effectively in control of the city of Benghazi.

Reports said that pro-Gaddafi militia in the city, centre of many of the killings of protesters, were ‘being butchered.’

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared to confirm that certain elements had taken hold of government troops and weaponry.B ut he said if violence continued, the situation may deteriorate towards a scenario which was worse than that seen in Iraq.

The news came amid unconfirmed reports that troops were joining in the protests in the city of Benghazi.

And in another significant crack in the regime’s public face, Libya’s envoy to the Arab League announced he was “joining the revolution”, AFP reported.

“I have submitted my resignation in protest against the acts of repression and violence against demonstrators (in Libya) and I am joining the ranks of the revolution,” Abdel Moneim al-Honi said.

Ironically, Libya currently holds the rotating presidency of the 22-member Arab League.

The network also reported that the Libyan ambassador to China had resigned live on air.

Shortly afterwards,

Western pressure

As the death toll continued to rise, world leaders stepped up their pressure over the response to the unprecedented challenge to his four-decade rule of the oil-rich North African country.

Reports on Twitter, confirmed by witnesses, said protests had broken out in the capital of Tripoli for the first time on Sunday night local time, with live-fire and tear gas used in response.

And state television announced that Gaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, would address the nation later on Sunday.

The 68-year-old Gaddafi has himself made no public comment since violence erupted on Tuesday.

In what was the first high-level public reaction to six days of bloody protests, Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi told EU ambassadors in Tripoli, without elaborating, that there are “very precise plans, destructive and terrorist, that want Libya to become a base for terrorism.”

And he said Libya has the “right to take all measures to preserve its unity, stability and people, and to assure the protection of its riches and preserve its relations with other countries,” state news agency Jana reported.

‘Reality and lies’

Mahmudi also lashed out at “foreign news media,” whose reports he said were a “mixture, without distinction, of reality and lies.”

While Mahmudi gave no details to support his claims, an official said earlier on Sunday that security forces had foiled an attempt by saboteurs to set fire to oil wells at the Sarir field.

He said six Libyans had been arrested and that the “gang received its weapons from outside Libya and got its instructions through the internet.”

And another official told AFP that Islamist gunmen had stormed a military depot and the nearby port of Derna on Wednesday and Friday and seized weapons and vehicles after killing four soldiers.

They also took hostages, both soldiers and civilians, and were “threatening to execute them unless a siege by security forces is lifted” in nearby Al-Baida.

With most of this week’s violence concentrated in the east of the country, unrest hit the capital itself on Sunday night, one resident told AFP.

Speaking from the working-class district of Gurgi, on Tripoli’s western approaches, the source said “there are demonstrations. You can hear slogans shouted against the regime and gunfire. Tear gas has got into my house.”

Another witness spoke of tyres burning in the neighbourhood.

Earlier, witnesses told AFP by telephone that security forces clashed with anti-regime protesters in the Mediterranean city of Misrata, 200 kilometres from Tripoli.

The witnesses said security forces, backed by “African mercenaries,” fired on crowds “without discrimination.”

Trouble in the East

In the eastern city of Benghazi, which has borne the brunt of the violence, protests continued, lawyer Mohammed al-Mughrabi told AFP by telephone.

“Lawyers are demonstrating outside the Northern Benghazi court; there are thousands here. We have called it Tahrir Square Two,” he said of the Cairo square central to protests that brought down Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Separately, others are “storming the garrison” and “taking fire from snipers,” Mughrabi said, without elaborating.

He said “at least 200 have been killed altogether (since the unrest began) but we can’t verify from hospital. We are pleading for the Red Cross to send field hospitals. We can’t take it any more.”

Speaking to Al-Jazeera television, one resident spoke of “out-of-sight massacres” in Benghazi.

“It feels like an open war zone between protesters and security forces,” said Fathi Terbeel, a protest organiser. “Our numbers show that more than 200 people have been killed. God have mercy on them.”

In London, Human Rights Watch said at least 173 people had died since Tuesday.

“It’s a conservative figure based on hospital sources in eastern Libya, Benghazi and three other places,” HRW’s Tom Porteous said. “It is a very incomplete figure and there are also a very large umber of wounded.

“According to medical sources in Libya the wounds are indicative of heavy weapons being used against the demonstrators.”

Porteous had said earlier that “we are very concerned that under the communication blackout that has fallen on Libya since yesterday a human rights catastrophe is unfolding.”

US condemnation

The United States strongly condemned the use of lethal force in Libya and called on Tripoli to allow peaceful protests after “credible reports” of hundreds of casualties.

“We are working to ascertain the facts, but we have received multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in several days of unrest — and the full extent of the death toll is unknown due to the lack of access of international media and human rights organisations,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.

“Libyan officials have stated their commitment to protecting and safeguarding the right of peaceful protest. We call upon the Libyan government to uphold that commitment, and hold accountable any security officer who does not act in accordance with that commitment.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he will raise the crackdown with EU ministers this week, and urged Arab nations to speak out.

“I think we have to increase the international pressure and condemnation,” Hague told Sky News television.

“The United Kingdom condemns what the Libyan government has been doing and how they have responded to these protests, and we look to other countries to do the same.”

The Foreign Office said Hague had spoken to Gaddafi’s son Seif, who heads the Gaddafi Human Rights Society.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that she was “really worried about what is happening in Libya,” whose government has told Brussels to stop “encouraging” demonstrators or face a halt to cooperation on illegal immigration.

“We have been urging restraint and it is important to continue to do so,” Ashton said. “It is very, very important that the violence stops.”

German European Affairs Minister Werner Hoyer expressed Berlin’s “indignation” at the crackdown, speaking at the start of an EU ministerial session on the revolts sweeping the Arab world.


News Corp gets nod for full BSkyB control

Posted on: February 4th, 2019 by
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Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire is poised to grow ever bigger after the British government approved plans by News Corp to buy full control of satellite TV operator British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC.

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In a controversial move, the Conservative-led coalition said Thursday it will give News Corp the green light to buy the remaining 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own – on the condition that it spin off its Sky news channel as an independent company.

The ruling, which is subject to industry consultation and potential legal challenges, was immediately attacked by a coalition of other major media outlets and the opposition Labour Party.

News Corp made the concession to hive off Sky to avoid a prolonged investigation by competition regulators into the proposed STG12.3 billion ($A19.76 billion) deal, one of its most politically charged takeovers in years.

Opponents are concerned that the company, which already owns the top-selling tabloid newspaper, The Sun, as well as The Times, The Sunday Times and the News of the World, will have too strong a voice in the British media industry.

They also question the government’s relationship with Murdoch’s powerful news group.

“We deeply regret the fact that the Secretary of State is minded to clear the deal,” the Media Alliance, a grouping including BT Group PLC, the Guardian Media Group, Associated Newspapers Ltd, Trinity Mirror PLC and the Telegraph Media Group, said in a statement.

“The proposed undertaking is pure window-dressing.”

“Smoke and mirrors will not protect media plurality in the UK from the overweening influence of News Corp.”

The alliance said it intended to “vigorously contest” the proposal during the 18-day consultation period and examine its legal options, raising the likelihood of a court challenge to the ruling.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “very aware” of the controversy surrounding the deal, but the company had addressed concerns about media plurality should the takeover go ahead.

“The undertakings offered would ensure that shareholdings in Sky News would remain unchanged, and indeed offer it more independence from News Corp than it currently has,” Hunt said.

“Nothing is more precious to me than the free and independent press for which this country is famous the world over.”

Murdoch’s News Corp wants full ownership of BSkyB to get access to all of the pay-television company’s profits, which amounted to STG407 million ($A653.71 million) in the second half of 2010.

In return for government approval, News Corp will spin off the loss-making but influential Sky News, retaining a 39.1 per cent stake in the news channel, the same as its current stake in BSkyB.

It will not be able to increase that shareholding for 10 years without government permission.

To ensure the channel’s survival, News Corp will fund Sky for 10 years and agree to a seven-year licensing agreement for it to use the Sky News name.

Media watchdog Ofcom, which had submitted a critical report on News Corp’s original takeover plans, said it supported the new proposals, noting that the company had agreed to “place editorial independence and integrity at the heart” of the spun-off Sky News.

Aside from the consultation hurdle, the proposed deal hinges on shareholder approval. News Corp has yet to agree on a takeover price with BSkyB after its initial STG12.3 billion ($A19.76 billion), or 700 pence per share, bid was rejected as too low. The two companies agreed to postpone setting a price until the regulatory hurdles had been overcome.


More than 10,000 missing after quake

Posted on: February 4th, 2019 by
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The US Geological Survey says the temblor had a magnitude of 6.

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2 and struck at 10.26am (12.26pm AEST) on Sunday. It was centred about 179 km east of Tokyo, at a depth of 24.5 km.

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the largest on record in Japan, struck Japan’s northeast coast at 2.46pm on Friday (4.46pm AEDT) triggering a 10-metre tsunami that washed over hundreds of kilometres of coastline including the city of Sendai, causing widespread destruction.

A 6.8-magnitude aftershock hit the Niigata prefecture northwest of Tokyo, causing landslides and avalanches and destroying some wooden houses, less than 24 hours later, on Saturday.

Japan has been rattled by more than 150 aftershocks since Friday’s massive quake.

The death toll

The National Police Agency says 688 people have been confirmed dead and 642 are missing, with 1,570 injured. Police in Sendai in the country’s northeast, separately say 200 to 300 bodies been found on the shore.

“We have received a preliminary report that more than 200 bodies were found in the city of Higashimatsushima,” a National Police Agency spokesman said, adding that local police are starting to collect the bodies.

In the small port town of Minamisanriku alone some 10,000 people were unaccounted for – more than half the population of the town, which was practically erased, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The police chief in Miyagi prefecture – where Minamisanriku is situated – said the death toll was certain to exceed 10,000 in his district.

Nuclear reactor damaged

An explosion at the ageing Fukushima No 1 atomic plant blew apart the building housing one of its reactors on Saturday.

The atomic emergency widened Sunday as the cooling systems vital for preventing overheating failed at a second reactor, and the government warned there was a risk it too could be hit with a blast.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said about 200,000 people had so far been evacuated from the area around the two Fukushima plants that house a total of 10 reactors.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency rated the incident at four on the international scale of zero to seven. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States was rated five, while the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a seven.

Impact outside Japan

Tsunami waves hit the North American shores of Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington and Mexico.

Tsunami warnings were issued for Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Indonesia but have been lifted.

Boats have been damaged by waves at Crescent City, California, and a 25-year old man was confirmed dead after he was swept out to sea while taking pictures of the tsunami.

Australians in Japan

About 191 Australians are registered as living in the quake- and tsunami-hit region and 2,331 registered in Japan. DFAT reported on Sunday morning that 1,271 Australians were confirmed as safe, including five in Sendai.

Worldwide response

US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan arrived off the coast of Japan early on Sunday to provide logistical support for Japanese forces.

Japan has asked it to refuel its helicopters and help transport its troops to affected areas, the US Pacific Fleet said on its Facebook page.

A 144-member rescue team of the US Agency for International Development was also due at Misawa, northern Japan to join inland operations, the Japanese foreign ministry said.

They included 12 dogs trained to detect victims trapped under rubble and about 150 tonnes of rescue equipment, USAID said.

Japanese officials have asked other nations to provide sniffer dogs to help search for trapped survivors.

Australia, South Korea and Singapore on Saturday all pledged to send dogs and search and rescue teams, as they also offered their condolences to Tokyo.

Two experts from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission were headed for Japan, the commission announced Saturday.

After the European Union vowed to get aid to Japan Friday, many member states were quick to make their contribution.

From Britain, a 59-strong search and rescue team was headed for Japan Sunday, with two rescue dogs, a medical support unit — and 11 tonnes of specialist rescue equipment including heavy lifting and cutting gear.

France said it was sending two civil security teams to help with rescue efforts.

And a 66-strong Japanese team which has spent more than two weeks searching the rubble left by last month’s 6.3-magnitude quake in Christchurch in New Zealand was due back home to confront the unfolding tragedy.

The United Nations said Japan had also accepted help from Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, with rescue teams from another 39 countries on standby.

A team from the United Nations Disaster and Assessment body (UNDAC) was also on the way.

Messages of sympathy

In a message to the Japanese prime minister the Dalai Lama, who has a huge following among Japanese Buddhists, expressed his “sadness” at the catastrophe and praised Japan’s high level of disaster preparedness for saving lives.

And Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent her “heartfelt sympathy” in a message to Japan’s Emperor Akihito.


Internet traffic in Libya goes dark

Posted on: February 4th, 2019 by
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The move, coming ahead of planned protests in Libya, appears similar to Egypt’s response to the demonstrations that led President Hosni Mubarak to step down last month.

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The Libyan government controls the country’s primary internet service provider.

Arbor Networks, a Chelmsford, Massachusetts, network security company said on Friday that all internet traffic coming in and out of Libya had ceased, starting at about 7pm local time. Google’s transparency report, which shows traffic to the company’s sites from various countries, also showed that internet traffic had fallen to zero in Libya.

Several days into Egypt’s largely nonviolent protest, the government there shut down internet access for almost a week. Anti-government protesters there had been using social-media services such as Facebook and Twitter to organise and share personal experiences of the unrest.

That wasn’t the case in Libya, a country where relatively few people have internet access. Only about six per cent of Libyans have internet access in the home or in public places, such as

internet cafes, according to the research group OpenNet Initiative.

That compares with 24 per cent of Egyptians and 81 per cent of people in the US, according to OpenNet.

As a result, services such as Facebook and Twitter have played a marginal role in galvanising anti-government protesters, said Jillian York, who coordinates the OpenNet Initiative, a research project run by scholars at Harvard University and the University of Toronto and by the Canadian consultancy SecDev Group.

Nonetheless, because the internet isn’t as central to everyday life in Libya, it is more likely that the few who can get online are educated, influential and using the web to keep informed about politics, York said.

“You’ve got millions of people in Egypt using the internet. It’s not just the few people with access are reporting on protests. It’s mommy blogging. It’s all sorts of things not related to the

protests,” she said. “In Libya there’s a stronger chance they’d be focused on what’s happening right now politically.”

But the blackout will affect even those who are not politically active. The loss of internet access will make it more difficult for Libyans, particularly those living in the capital of Tripoli, to receive updates about the uprising in other parts of the country, said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes free expression on the internet.

“For the people not in Tripoli the internet is not so central in what’s become an armed rebellion,” she said. “For the people in Tripoli it’s going to further isolate them from people in other parts of the country and information about what’s happening there.”

In particular, an internet blackout in Libya will make it tougher for people outside the country to know how the uprising is unfolding. That was likely the government’s main motivation in shutting down the internet in a country where people are more likely to communicate using mobile phones, said Richard Esguerra, policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“I think what it raises is illuminating about how desperate this act is,” he said. “Shutting off the internet seems to be one of the last things in the playbook in terms of a dictator that’s being threatened by uprisings.”

It was not clear on Friday whether mobile phone service in Libya had been disrupted. Libya has one of the highest concentrations of mobile phone users in Africa. The Libyan government owns the country’s two mobile phone operators.


American arrested in Pakistan was ‘CIA spy’

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The US man held over the shooting deaths of two men in Pakistan has been revealed as a CIA agent on assignment at the time, the Guardian reports.

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Authorities in Pakistan charged Raymond Davis with murder, but the US government insisted he had diplomatic immunity as an ‘administrative and technical official’, sparking an international row.

Prosecutors say Davis fired ten shots with a semi-automatic weapon when two men pulled up in front of his car at a red light in Lahore in January, awith one of the men being shot twice in the back as he fled.

The Guardian said its information is based on interviews held in Pakistan and the US, and that a senior Pakistani intelligence official said it was ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt’ that the former special forces officer was employed by the CIA.

International row

On Saturday, the spokeswoman for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party resigned Saturday days after backing the claims of diplomatic immunity, AFP reported.

Pakistan’s ties with the United States have been strained since police arrested Raymond Davis, who confessed to killing the two men in self-defence on a busy street in the eastern city of Lahore on January 27.

On Monday Fauzia Wahab said diplomats have immunity and that Davis had an official visa, in comments swifty dismissed as personal views by a presidential spokesman.

“I have resigned because I gave that statement in my personal capacity,” Fauzia Wahab told AFP.

“I do not want to appear before Lahore High Court as an office-bearer of the Pakistan People’s Party. To uphold the dignity and respect of my party I have resigned from my post,” she added.

Wahab had said that Davis had an official business visa “so why argue and why are we risking our overall good reputation before the rest of the world? We have always abided by international laws and conventions,” she had said.

The ruling party has also ditched Pakistan’s former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a recent cabinet reshuffle.

Qureshi, who was still in his post at the time of the shootings, said Wednesday that in his view Davis did not have full diplomatic immunity.

Pakistan’s unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, struggling to keep his coalition in power, say it is up to the courts to decide on the case.

On Wednesday, Gilani asked Islamic scholars to help, suggesting that the families might pardon the American and telling clerics that the government was caught between a public backlash and international anger.

US Senator John Kerry visited the country last week to hold talks with Pakistani leaders aimed at resolving a bitter diplomatic row, but returned empty handed, the Guardian reported.


Japan disaster takes dire toll on economy

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Preliminary estimates put repair costs from the earthquake and tsunami in the tens of billions of dollars – a huge blow for an economy that lost its place as the world’s No.

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2 to China last year, and was already in a fragile state.

Japan’ economy has been ailing for 20 years, barely managing to eke out weak growth between slowdowns, saddled by a massive public debt that, at 200 per cent of gross domestic product, is the biggest among industrialised nations.

“In the short term, the market will almost surely suffer and stocks will plunge. People might see an already weakened Japan, overshadowed by a growing China, getting dealt the finishing blow from this quake,” said Koetsu Aizawa, economics professor at Saitama University.

The nation’s big-three automakers, meanwhile, said they would halt all production in Japan due to widespread damage to both suppliers and transport networks in the region.

The Bank of Japan pledged to pump more money into financial markets when it holds a policy board meeting Monday. There is not much left for the central bank to do regarding interest rates, which are already close to zero.

Tens of billions of dollars are expected to be needed to rebuild homes, roads and other infrastructure – requiring public spending that will add to the national debt.

“The impact on Japan’s economy will be devastating,” said Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank. “The long-term economic blow to a country already struggling to lower its budget deficit … will be significant.”

Noting the 1995 earthquake in Kobe cost $132 billion and was the world’s most expensive natural disaster, she said it was too early to say whether the losses from Friday’s disaster would be on that massive a scale.

Four nuclear plants were damaged in the temblors, causing widespread power outages. In a frantic effort to prevent meltdowns, nuclear plant operators ruined at least two reactors by pumping sea water into them.

In an unprecedented move for tech-savvy Japan in recent decades, Tokyo Electric Power Co. rolled out blackouts of three hours per day to parts of suburban Tokyo and other cities, starting Monday.

And Tokyo trains, which usually run like clockwork but stopped for nearly the entire day after the quake, will be on a reduced schedule starting Monday, to conserve electricity.

“It looks like we are going to be running on reduced electricity for a long time. That is a definite risk to industrial production,” said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at New York-based researcher High Frequency Economics.

“For Japan, a nation that lives by the sea, food comes in by the sea, energy comes in by the sea, exports go out by the sea.

Everything stops if a quarter of the coastline has been wiped out,” said Weinberg who teaches at New York University.

Profits at both Tokyo Electric and Tohoku Power utility are likely to plummet because of recovery costs for the nuclear power plants damaged by the quake, according to Shigeki Matsumoto, analyst at Nomura Securities Co.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s top automaker, as well as Nissan Motor Co. and Honda suspended production at all their auto plants in Japan, starting Monday.

When production will resume is uncertain. The area hit by the quake is a major centre for car production, complete with a myriad of parts suppliers and a network of roads and ports for efficient shipments.

“There is no way to get our products out, even if we make them, with the roads and distribution system damaged,” said Honda Motor Co. spokeswoman Natsuno Asanuma.

Honda said the production halt will cost it about 4,000 vehicles a day.

Nissan said the tsunami damaged 1,300 vehicles bound for the US, including its Infiniti luxury brand, at Hitachi port in Ibaraki state in the northeast, and 1,000 vehicles stored at another centre.

Among the plants being shut down is one Toyota had just opened in Miyagi prefecture, within the region hardest hit by the quake.

The factory, Toyota’s first new Japan plant in 18 years, had been proudly shown to reporters last month as a welcome development in an otherwise stagnant Japanese auto market. It was set to start producing the Corolla for both the Japanese and North American markets in April.

Electronics plants in the northeast were also temporarily closed, including those owned by Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp.

But Aizawa, the economics professor, warned against too much pessimism.

A giant disaster can get Japan to pull together and even provide opportunities for construction and jobs as the recovery gets under way, he said.

“There can be a blessing even in misfortune,” he said. “Recovery is about regaining a livelihood for people. No one is going to blame Japan or lower its debt ratings for working on a recovery. This is about lives.”


Gaddafi’s Libyan regime crumbles

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With news of indiscriminate firing on protesters and even fighter jets being used on areas of Tripoli – denied by the regime on state TV – Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations joined growing international calls for Gaddafi to go now, accusing him of genocide and saying he should stand trial for war crimes.

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Ibrahim Dabbashi has told reporters at the UN in New York that after 42 years, time’s up for Colonel Gaddafif, and if he doesn’t leave, the Libyan people will get rid of him anyway, AAP reported.

He was then joined by Libyan diplomats to the US.

Ali Ojli, Libyan Ambassador to the US told Al Jazeera he could not condone the ‘massacre.’

Deputy ambassador to the US Ibrahim Dabbashi told CNN Gaddafi has “declared war” on the Libyan people and is committing “genocide”, AFP reported.

In an interview with BBC World, Dabbashi added: “I think it is the end of Colonel Gaddafi, it is a matter of days, whether he steps down or the Libyan people will get rid of him anyway.

Libya’s justice minister, Mustapha Abdeljalil, resigned in objection to “the excessive use of force” against demonstrators, the Quryna newspaper website reported.

In Cairo, Libya’s Arab League envoy said he too had stepped down to “join the revolution.” Tripoli’s ambassador to Delhi also quit, as did a diplomat in Beijing, Al-Jazeera television reported.

Pilots flee

Reports also emerged of Libyan troops and African ‘mercenaries’ firing live rounds on protesters, as well as fighter jets being used to attack areas of Tripoli. Gaddafi’s son appeared on State TV to discredit these reports, saying only out-of-town arms depots had been attacked.

Two Libyan fighter pilots – both colonels – flew their single-seater Mirage F1 jets to Malta and said they had defected after being ordered to attack protesters in Benghazi, Maltese military and official sources said.

Malta is the closest European state to Libya, just 340 kilometres north of its coastline.

Italy put all military air bases on maximum alert after the fighters landed, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he was alarmed” by clashes in the former Italian colony.

Reuters reported claims from the Egytpian army that Libyan guards had left the border.

Gaddafi whereabouts unknown

Protesters overran several Libyan cities and Tripoli was being rocked by violence some residents said was a “massacre”, as the pillars of Muammar Gaddafi’s, hardline four-decade rule begins to crumble. Reports said around 150 people had been killed on Monday alone.

A suggestion in Brussels by British Foreign Secretary William Hague that Gaddafi may have left the country for Venezuela was swiftly denied by Caracas, home to the embattled Libyan leader’s firebrand ally President Hugo Chavez.

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro spoke to his Libyan counterpart Mussa Kussa on Monday, who told him Gaddafi was “in Tripoli, exercising his powers of state and confronting the situation in the country,” the foreign ministry in Caracas said in a statement.

The uprising spread to the Libyan capital itself, with gunfire rattling Tripoli, where protesters attacked police stations and the offices of the state broadcaster, Gaddafi mouthpiece, and set government buildings ablaze.

Residents of two districts in Tripoli said in Cairo by telephone there had been “a massacre.”

“What happened today in Tajura was a massacre,” one said. “Armed men were firing indiscriminately. There are even women among the dead.”

Another witness in Fashlum said helicopters had landed what he called African mercenaries who opened fire on anyone in the street, causing a large number of deaths.

Condemnation

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on Tripoli to stop the deadly crackdown, saying in a statement: “I am shocked by the indiscriminate use of violence against peaceful protesters in Libya.”

Celebrated and influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa on Monday that any Libyan soldier who can kill Gaddafi should do so “to rid Libya of him,” he told Al-Jazeera.

Benghazi, Libya’s second city and an opposition stronghold in the east, fell to anti-regime demonstrators after military units deserted, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) reported earlier.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon told Gaddafi in a phone call that the violence “must stop immediately” and called for a broad-based dialogue, a UN spokesman said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy also condemned the “unacceptable use of force” and called for an “immediate halt” to the violence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a surprise visit to Libya’s eastern neighbour Egypt, where long-time president Hosni Mubarak was swept out on February 11 by a tide of people power, also slammed the violence.

“The violence, the brutality, that has got to stop, that is completely unacceptable,” he told Britain’s ITV news.

The 27-nation European Union urged all sides to show restraint.

US President Barack Obama was “considering all appropriate actions” as Washington ordered all non-essential staff out of Libya and warned Americans to avoid travel to the north African country.

Libyan state television said security forces were battling “dens of terrorists” in a sweep that has killed a number of people, without specifying where or who was being targeted.

State television reported that Gaddafi son, Seif al-Islam, had set up a commission to probe “the sad events,” and that it would include “members of Libyan and foreign rights organisations.”

He had already appeared on television early Monday to warn of looming civil conflict.

“Libya is at a crossroads. If we do not agree today on reforms… rivers of blood will run through Libya,” he said.

“We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet. We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other… Libya is not Egypt, it is not Tunisia.”

IFHR head Souhayr Belhassen said protesters controlled Benghazi, Sirte, Tobruk in the east, as well as Misrata, Khoms, Tarhounah, Zenten, Al-Zawiya and Zouara, closer to the capital.

It said the protests had resulted in up to 400 deaths. Human Rights Watch earlier cited a death toll of 233.

Oil prices soared above $105 per barrel on the turmoil, and the Fitch agency downgraded Libya’s debt rating a notch from BBB+ to BBB. British and French energy giants BP and Total were also evacuating some staff from Libya, which holds Africa’s biggest oil reserves, as other European governments and firms also scrambled to evacuate their citizens.


Libya nears civil war

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Muammar Gaddafi’s regime struck back at its opponents with a powerful attack on the closest opposition-held city to Tripoli and a barrage of tear gas and live ammunition to smother new protests in the capital.

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At least 37 people died in fighting and in an explosion at an ammunitions depot in Libya’s rebellious east.

The bloodshed signalled an escalation in efforts by both sides to break the deadlock that has gripped Libya’s 18-day upheaval, which has lasted longer than the Egyptian revolt that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak amid a wave of protests across the region.

So far, Gaddafi has had little success in taking back territory, with several rebel cities repelling assaults and the entire eastern half of the country under rebel control. But the opposition forces have seemed unable to go on the offensive to march on pro-Gaddafi areas.

Meanwhile, in Tripoli – Gaddafi’s most important bastion – his loyalists have waged a campaign of terror to ensure that protesters do not rise up in significant numbers.

Friday’s assault on the rebel city of Zawiya, about 50 kilometers west of Tripoli, appeared to be the strongest yet by Gaddafi’s forces after repeated earlier forays against it were beaten back.

In the morning, troops from the elite Khamis Brigade – named after the Gaddafi son who commands it – bombarded the city’s western edges with mortar shells, heavy machine guns, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons, several residents said. By the evening, another brigade had opened a front on the eastern side. Armed Zawiya citizens backed by allied army units were fighting back.

The commander of the rebel forces – Colonel Hussein Darbouk – was killed by fire from an anti-aircraft gun, said Alaa al-Zawi, an activist in the city. Darbouk was a colonel in Gaddafi’s army who defected along with other troops in Zawiya early in the uprising.

A witness in Zawiya’s hospital said at least 18 people were killed and 120 wounded. Libyan state TV reported the attackers had retaken the city. But al-Zawi, the witness and other residents said it remained in rebel hands, with skirmishes continuing after nightfall.

A doctor on the scene said pro-Gaddafi fighters would not allow medics to treat the injured, opened fire on ambulances trying to assist and hauled away the bodies of some of the dead in an apparent effort to keep death toll reports low.

The gunmen killed a wounded rebel with three shots as a medic tried to pull him to safety, then even threatened to shoot the medic, the doctor said.

The doctor and witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The day’s other fighting took place at Ras Lanouf, a small oil port 620km east of Tripoli, just outside the long swath of eastern Libya controlled by the opposition.

Rebels attacked Ras Lanouf on Friday afternoon, feeling flush with victory after repelling Gaddafi forces who attacked them days earlier at Brega, a larger oil facility just to the east. Fighters armed with Kalashnikovs and heavy machine guns were seen streaming in pick-up trucks and other vehicles from Brega heading in the direction of Ras Lanouf.

They battled about 3,000 pro-Gaddafi troops, mainly around the facility’s airstrip, said a resident of the town. She reported heavy explosions starting around 4pm.

As night fell, the explosions eased, she said, but it was not clear who was in control of the complex, which includes a port and storage facilities for crude coming from fields in the deserts to the south.Ahmed al-Zwei, a member of the post-uprising town committee in nearby Ajdabiya, said the rebels were in control of the Ras Lanouf airstrip and the oil and gas facilities, and the regime forces had returned to their base at Sirte, a Gaddafi stronghold.

At least two dead and 16 wounded were taken to the hospital at nearby Ajdabiya, although that did not include the toll from other hospitals in the area. Al-Zwei, however, said the Gaddafi forces had killed 20 guards from the two facilities. The death toll couldn’t immediately be confirmed.

To the northeast, hospital officials said at least 17 people were killed in an explosion at an ammunition storage facility at a military base about 32km from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The blast destroyed one warehouse in the base and damaged a second, according to an ambulance driver who said he recovered body parts from the scene. The driver spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

“There were so many people killed. I can’t describe it,” said a resident of Benghazi who gave his name as Abdullah and whose voice was filled with emotion.

Dr Habib al-Obeidi in Benghazi’s al-Jalaa hospital says the blast also hit a residential area. Witnesses on the scene, said secondary explosions destroyed two firetrucks.

The cause of the blast was unclear. Al-Obeidi says it apparently was triggered when people went into the storage facility to collect weapons, but others blamed pro-Gaddafi saboteurs.

The fall of other parts of the country has made control of Tripoli crucial for Gahdafi. His loyalists have taken fierce action to ensure protesters cannot rise up and overwhelm the city as they have in other places.


Stocks inch higher after earthquake

Posted on: February 4th, 2019 by
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Stocks finished a down week with modest gains on Friday as investors gauged the fallout from a massive earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan and triggered tsunami waves from Asia to California.

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The prospect of falling oil demand from Japan sent crude oil prices down to $101 a barrel. Industrial and materials companies rose on expectations that they will benefit from Japan’s rebuilding efforts.

One day after its biggest fall since August, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 59.79 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 12,044.40. The S&P 500 rose 9.17, or 0.7 per cent, to 1,304.28. The Nasdaq composite gained 14.59, or 0.5 per cent, to 2,715.61.

In addition to the earthquake, oil prices fell after a scheduled day of protests in Saudi Arabia only drew a few hundred people, and the capital remained quiet. Oil traders have been worried the violence in the Middle East and North Africa would spread to the world’s No 1 oil exporter.

“The market is going to be see-sawing back and forth” until the long-term effects of the unrest in the Middle East and the disaster in Japan become clear, said Anthony Chan, chief economist for J.P. Morgan Wealth Management.

The earthquake and oil protests largely overshadowed a report from the Commerce Department that retail sales rose one per cent in February, the biggest gain in four months and more than the 0.8 per cent analysts had expected. Shoppers laid out more cash for cars, clothing and gadgets in February, leading to an eighth month of gains.

Despite Fridays’ gains, each index finished the week lower. The Dow fell one per cent, while the broader S&P index lost 1.3 per cent.

Stocks fell sharply Thursday on weak economic news from China, the US and Spain combined with a slump in oil company shares. The Dow Jones industrial average had its biggest drop since August 11. Other than several large swings in the past month, stocks have been climbing steadily since September.

“It could be time for a well-deserved rest,” said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist for Schaeffer’s Investment Research.

“The markets had a spectacular six-month rally and now they’re showing some slight cracks.”

The quake caused a selloff in global stock markets, led by sharp drops in insurance companies. Japan’s Nikkei closed down 1.7 per cent. The yen remained stable, however, because it is seen as a relatively safe investment for international traders.

The yield on the 10-year US treasury note rose to 3.40 per cent from 3.37 per cent late Thursday.

Two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume came to 920 million shares.

Key overseas finance markers

According to the latest data from New York, when markets settled on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was UP 59.79 points at 12,044.4, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was 9.17 points higher at 1,304.28.

The NASDAQ Composite index was UP 14.59 points at 2,715.61.

On Monday morning, the Australian dollar is at 101.41 US cents, UP from 100.19 US cents at Friday’s local close.

The local currency is worth 82.815 Japanese yen and 72.63 euro cents.

It is trading at 63.02 British pence and 1.365 New Zealand dollars.

Benchmark crude oil is DOWN $1.54 at $US101.16 per barrel.

In Australia on Friday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index fell 54.9 points to 4,644.8 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index was DOWN 56.5 points at 4,734.8 points.

The spot price of gold is $US1,418.70, UP $5.09 from $US1,413.61 at close on Friday.


Military action on Libya possible: Obama

Posted on: February 4th, 2019 by
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Barack Obama has warned Libya’s leaders that the US and its NATO allies are still considering military options in response to what he called “unacceptable” violence perpetrated by supporters of Muammar Gaddafi.

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“I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Gaddafi. It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward. And they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place,” the US President said during remarks in the Oval Office on Monday.

Libyan warplanes launched multiple airstrikes on Monday on opposition fighters in the second day of a harsh government crackdown to thwart rebels advancing on Gaddafi’s stronghold in Tripoli.

Obama said he has also authorised $US15 million ($A14.8 million) in humanitarian aid to help international and non-governmental organisations assist and evacuate people fleeing the violence in Libya.

More than 200,000 people have fled the country, most of them foreign workers, creating a humanitarian crisis across the border with Tunisia – another North African country in turmoil after an uprising in January that ousted its longtime leader.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have died since Libya’s uprising began, although tight restrictions on media make it nearly impossible to get an accurate tally.

The US and United Nations have imposed sanctions on Gaddafi’s regime, and US military forces have also moved closer to Libya’s shores to back up demands that Gaddafi step down.

Obama spoke alongside Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is in Washington for meetings.