Tag Archive: Associated Press


Pakistani troops retake naval base from militants

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110523/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan

Fire and smoke rises from a Pakistani naval aviation base, following an attack by militants in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, May 22, 2011. Militants atta

By ADIL JAWAD, Associated Press Adil Jawad, Associated Press 2 hrs 29 mins ago

KARACHI, Pakistan – Pakistani commandos regained control of a naval base Monday from a team of Taliban militants who attacked then occupied the high-security facility for 18 hours — an exceptionally audacious act of insurgent violence that dealt a humiliating blow to the military.

The attackers — thought to number around six — destroyed at least two U.S.-supplied surveillance planes and killed 10 security officers, officials said. At least four of the attackers were killed, and two others may have escaped, said Pakistan Navy chief Nauman Bashir.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault in the city of Karachi. The militants said it was revenge for the May 2 American raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, and the insurgents were under orders to fight until the death.

“They do not want to come out alive, they have gone there to embrace martyrdom,” said spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan.

The insurgent team armed with grenades, rockets and automatic weapons stormed Naval Station Mehran under cover of darkness late Sunday, using ladders and cutting the wire to get into the facility, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

Once inside, they scattered around the compound, setting off explosions and hiding in the sprawling facility.

During the day Monday, the militants were holed up in an office building in a gunbattle with commandos, navy spokesman Irfan ul Haq said. Navy helicopters flew over the base, and snipers were seen on a runway control tower.

By the afternoon, Haq said the militants had been defeated. “Thanks be to God, the base is cleared and the operation is over,” he said. Commandos leaving the complex flashed victory signs to reporters.

Malik said he saw some of the bodies of the attackers, even showing a picture of one lying bloodied on the grass that he took with his cell phone. He said the were dressed in black and looked “like the Star Wars characters.”

Six Americans and 11 Chinese aviation engineers were on the base but escaped unharmed, he said.

The insurgents’ ability to penetrate the facility rattled a military establishment already embarrassed by the unilateral American raid on bin Laden and raised the possibility they had inside help.

It will also likely lead to more questions over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. In 2009, Islamist terrorists stormed army headquarters close to the capital, holding hostages for 22 hours. But unlike the attack Sunday in Karachi, the attackers then failed to deeply penetrate the complex.

The unilateral U.S. raid on bin Laden’s compound in the northwest Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad has triggered a strong backlash against Washington, as well as rare domestic criticism of the armed forces for failing to detect or prevent the American operation. Pakistani leaders insist they had no idea the al-Qaida boss had been hiding in Abbottabad.

This is the third major attack the group has claimed since the bin Laden killing. The others were a car bombing that slightly injured American consulate workers in the northwest city of Peshawar and a twin suicide attack that killed around 90 Pakistani paramilitary police recruits.

At least two P-3C Orions, maritime surveillance aircraft given to Pakistan by the U.S., were destroyed, he said. The U.S. Navy puts the cost of the planes at $36 million each.

The United States handed over two Orions to the Pakistani navy at a ceremony at the base in June 2010 attended by 250 Pakistani and American officials, according to the website of the U.S. Central Command. It said by late 2012, Pakistan would have eight of the planes.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez said the Americans were working as contractors to help support the P-3C aircraft but did not report to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Four of them were part of a Lockheed Martin contract engineering and technical support team, he said.

Karachi, a city of around 18 million people, has not been spared the violence sweeping the country, despite being in the south and far from the northwest where militancy is at its strongest. In April, militants bombed three buses taking navy employees to work, killing at least nine people.

The Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups have little direct public support, but the army and the government have struggled to convince the people of the need for armed operations against them. The militants’ identification with Islam, strong anti-American rhetoric and support for insurgents in Afghanistan resonates with some in the country.

Also Monday, Pakistani intelligence officials said a pair of suspected U.S. missiles hit a vehicle and killed four people near the Afghan border. It was the latest in an uptick of strikes following the bin Laden raid.

The attack occurred in Machi Khel area in North Waziristan, a tribal region home to several militant groups attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. relies heavily on missile strikes to target foes in Pakistan. Pakistan objects to the attacks publicly, but is believed to support them in private.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. They said they did not know the identities of the people killed.

___

Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud and Rasool Dawar in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.

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Triple bombing kills 27 at Iraqi police station

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110519/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq

By YAHYA BARZANJI and LARA JAKES, Associated Press Yahya Barzanji And Lara Jakes, Associated Press 1 hr 34 mins ago

KIRKUK, Iraq – A triple bombing killed 27 people and wounded scores outside a police station Thursday, heightening tensions in a northern Iraqi city already on edge after a string of kidnappings and attacks against security officers.

The new violence adds to strain that already besets Kirkuk, a city that has long been plagued by ethnic squabbles over land and oil fields. Iraqi and U.S. officials long have feared Kirkuk and the disputed lands surrounding it — sandwiched between Arab villages and an autonomous Kurdish region — could destabilize the country if American forces leave at the end of this year on schedule.

“This shows there is no government in this country,” railed Ahmed Salih, 55, sitting next to a hospital bed where his 30-year-old son, Omar Ahmed, lay with bandages around his head and legs. “How such an incident can take place at the police station, where there is security, is nonsense.”

The first blast, a bomb stuck to a car in a parking lot in central Kirkuk, lured policemen out of their fortified headquarters to investigate around 9 a.m., said police Capt. Abdul Salam Zangana. Three minutes later, a second blast rocked the lot when a car packed with explosives blew up in the crowd of police.

“The boots of police officers were scattered at the scene,” said one a police officer, Ahmed Hamid, who survived the strike. “I saw a severed hand on the ground.”

The third bomb, planted on a road leading to a hospital, set cars and trucks ablaze when it exploded about 550 yards (500 meters) away less than an hour later. Zangana said it targeted a police patrol near a mosque.

In all, the blasts killed 27 — most of them police officers — and wounded at least 60 people, said provincial health director Siddiq Omar. Eyewitness Adnan Karim described the scene as “a chaos of terror and fear.”

Located 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Kirkuk has been an ethnic flashpoint for years among Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen, who each claim the oil-rich city as their own. Kirkuk’s two largest ethnic groups have their own competing security forces — the Arab national police and the predominantly Kurdish peshmerga forces — and that division has stoked tensions.

Within the last 10 days alone, police patrols in Kirkuk have been targeted in five roadside bombings and an Iraqi army base has been hit by two Kaytusha rockets, said city police Col. Sherzad Mofari.

In Mosul, another major city within the disputed territories, four Iraqi army soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb Thursday afternoon, a policeman said.

Also, Kirkuk kidnappers also killed a policeman and a Christian construction worker. The latter was dismembered after his attackers gave up on collecting the $100,000 random they had demanded.

Mofari blamed the violent upsurge on al-Qaida and its allies in Iraq, which seek to stir up Kirkuk’s tensions. “They are trying to keep this instability of security in the city for a long time,” he said.

American military commanders have long worried that the simmering fight over Kirkuk could provoke violence that could spread to the rest of the country. For the last several years, U.S. troops have worked to build partnerships between Iraqi army forces and the Kurdish security forces, known as peshmerga, to secure the swath of disputed lands that stretches over three northern Iraqi provinces — and over some of the world’s most lucrative oil reserves.

But as the U.S. troops withdraw, there is little indication the Kurdish-Arab partnerships will hold, and officials gloomily predict they could return to violence if the Americans leave as scheduled on Dec. 31.

In February, for example, the Kurdish government sent thousands of peshmerga around Kirkuk, claiming to be protecting the city from planned demonstrations that might turn violent. But the incursion scared Arab and Turkomen residents, who called it a thinly veiled attempt to surround Kirkuk with Kurdish forces. The peshmerga pulled back a few weeks later and the crisis passed without bloodshed.

In Baghdad, lawmakers are still haggling over rules for taking a national census that that would determine Kirkuk’s residency — and therefore which ethnic group can rightfully claim power — trying to shape the eligibility requirements to best suit their constituents.

Hours after the bombings, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, called on all sides to quickly settle the disputes to prove that Iraqi leaders want to ensure security and stability across the country. The U.N. has been working with Kirkuk’s leaders for years to settle the dispute over the territory and get the census taken, but few believe it will be resolved any time soon.

At one hospital where victims were taken, some said they were close to giving up hope.

“This is because of carelessness of security,” said Awaz Kamal, 45, crying as she watched her son, policeman Saman Salih, being prepared for an operation to remove shrapnel from his stomach.

Around them, bloodied and bandaged victims lay on the floor, because the beds were already filled with patients.

Then a police truck pulled into the hospital driveway with four bodies lying motionless in the truck bed. It was not clear whether they were alive or dead.

___

Jakes reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed and Rebecca Santana also contributed.

AP IMPACT: How rebels held Misrata

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110504/ap_on_bi_ge/ml_libya_battle_for_misrata

By BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press Ben Hubbard, Associated Press Wed May 4, 5:40 am ET

MISRATA, Libya – Tripoli Street is a bullet-scarred wasteland — littered with charred cars and tanks, its cafes and offices shattered. Yet for Misrata’s civilians-turned-fighters, the boulevard is a prized trophy, paid for in blood, won with grit and guile.

It took five weeks of fierce street battles — on rooftops, in alleyways — for Misrata’s inexperienced rebels to wrest control of their city’s commercial heart from forces loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. Up against armored units and professional sniper squads, they turned bottles, tires and trailer trucks into tools of war.

When they finally succeeded in pushing government forces out of Libya’s third-largest city in late April, it was the greatest head-to-head military victory yet in the uprising that threatens Gadhafi’s 42-year hold on power. The opposition controls much of eastern Libya, but Misrata is the only city in the west rebels have managed to hold.

“Our fighters weren’t fighting from experience,” said the local military spokesman, Ibrahim Beatelmal, noting that most had never touched a gun before joining the fight. “They had to make it all up as they went along.”

The city remains surrounded, accessible only through its port and subjected to daily bombardments. After two months of siege, cemeteries accommodate rows of new graves and hospitals have transformed into battlefield clinics; doctors estimate that the siege’s death toll has passed 1,000.

Yet amid the carnage, residents have organized to stave off hunger, allocate fuel and protect the city. They’ve erected sand berms along streets to absorb blasts, hacked down palm trees to delineate ambulance fast lanes, formed an array of administrative committees — all with a community spirit that revealed itself in many ways during an Associated Press reporter’s weeklong stay.

Misrata is a merchant city, with a large professional class whose expertise has paid off in distinctive ways. Dermatologists treat blast victims. University students master street-fighting tactics.

“All of a sudden I became responsible for macaroni and onions,” said Majdi Shibani, a telecommunications professor put in charge of food distribution — a daunting task in a sprawling city where all phone lines have been cut. His team oversees distribution of 400 tons of food per week from a room in the back of a hookah lounge, where customers smoke water pipes.

Donations of food have streamed in on boats from the Libyan diaspora, foreign countries and international organizations. There’s little coordination, resulting in huge surpluses of, say, canned corn — which Shibani said Libyans hate.

The stalemate in Misrata mirrors the situation nationwide. Soon after the uprising against Gadhafi broke out on Feb. 15, the opposition took over Benghazi and other eastern towns, but its patchwork forces proved unable to make further gains even after U.S. and NATO airstrikes on Gadhafi’s troops began in late March.

Meanwhile, government forces surrounded Misrata, 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital Tripoli, cutting it off and attacking from three sides. Unlike fighters in eastern Libya, who retreat across stretches of desert when attacked, Misrata’s rebels can’t run; their backs are to the Mediterranean Sea.

After several failed attacks on Misrata, government commanders sent a column of tanks blasting its way down Tripoli Street on March 16. Residents fled, and regime sniper teams moved in, building nests on a dozen of the city’s tallest buildings, notably a nine-story insurance building. Gunfire from the rooftops killed and wounded scores of civilians.

The city’s youth organized resistance. Led by a handful of retired army officers, they formed brigades of dozens of fighters, each assigned to a side street, said Samir al-Hadi, a grocer who led a group at Tripoli Street’s southern end.

Local youths used their intimate knowledge of the area to dodge sniper fire, serving as scouts, gunmen, messengers and supply runners. Over walkie-talkies, group leaders let others know when tanks or supply trucks arrived so they could attack them with Molotov cocktails or rocket-propelled grenades.

They first fought with only light arms. With each ambush, they captured more — mostly anti-aircraft and heavy artillery guns — which they welded to the backs of pickup trucks.

The Gadhafi regime imported the pickups — cheap Chinese imitations of name-brand trucks — in 2007, but they sat unwanted in a lot until the war. Now, the rebels have registered about 2,000, even issuing photo IDs to their drivers to prevent theft.

The fleet is essential to the rebel cause, ferrying fighters to battle, aid to families, and casualties to hospitals. Although the trucks often break down, the rebels call them a blessing.

“The bad cars Gadhafi brought us we now use to fight him,” said Hisham Bansasi, who helps coordinate the fleet. “You can call it a joke of destiny.”

Bigger trucks were used when the rebels — unable to blast the snipers from their positions — decided instead to cut their supply lines. While rooftop gunmen provided cover, rebels drove trucks full of sand onto Tripoli Street, dumped their trailers and shot out their tires, forming heavy roadblocks.

“When we blocked the road, there was no way to get supplies to the snipers,” al-Hadi said.

The rebels then circled in, closing off back routes with destroyed cars and concrete sewage pipes.

Street battles raged while they besieged the snipers. Government forces peppered the area with mortars, killing many rebels. Al-Hadi guesses that about 400 died in the fighting on Tripoli Street alone, although no one has exact figures.

Among the victims were two Western photojournalists who had accompanied rebels to the street — Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images, and British-born Tim Hetherington, co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

As the snipers gradually weakened, rebel fighters went building by building, clearing them any way they could.

Near the battle’s end, a team of snipers held out in a multistory furniture store called “Make Yourself at Home,” al-Hadi said. Rebels fired on the building with anti-aircraft guns, forcing the snipers into the basement.

Gunmen then stormed the building and rolled burning tires down the stairs. Days later, its stairwell was charred black, and the smell of burnt rubber and dead bodies fouled the air.

The battle turned in late April, al-Hadi said, as government troops ran low on supplies and fled from the high-rises to nearby homes. The rebels raised their flag on the insurance building on April 21.

Rebel fighter Mustafa Zredi, 18, said he watched one of the last sniper groups seize a house on April 26 and punch holes for their rifles in the stairway walls.

“We knew we could easily put gas in a bottle and throw it over the wall to burn them out,” Zredi said.

Before doing so, the fighters asked permission from the owner, 66-year-old Mohammed Labbiz. With regret, he said OK.

“That was the only way to get those dogs out,” Labbiz recalled, standing in the charred shell of his home of 30 years. “I hope that God will reimburse me.”

Two days later, curious families walked down Tripoli Street, snapping photos of their children next to burned-out tanks.

The fighting has caused massive displacement throughout Misrata. Thousands of residents now squat in schools or crowd in with family members.

The Refayda family, from a semi-rural area to the east, evacuated into the city in mid-April after a surge of sniper fire and bombardments.

Some 70 clan members now stay in an unfinished, four-room house near the ocean. They’ve divided the rooms by age and gender — women in the bedrooms, girls in the living room, boys in the garage. The oldest is 77, the youngest 4 months. About 30 of the clan’s grown men are on the battlefield but visit regularly.

Demand is high for the home’s three bathrooms; three children shower at a time.

Ali Hameida built the house in 2003 for his wife and five children, never imagining so many guests.

“If I had known, I’d have dug a basement,” he said.

It’s been impossible to keep a precise count of Misrata’s death toll; doctors’ estimates range between 1,000 and 2,000. The central hospital, Hikma, has registered more than 550 dead since mid-February, but others were brought to outlying clinics or buried straightaway.

The Libyan government has provided no information on how many soldiers it has lost, further blurring the picture.

Hikma, originally a private clinic, has been transformed by the war. A tent in the parking lot houses the triage unit. Another serves as a mosque. Wards are crowded around the clock, and doctors bed down in alcoves hidden behind sheets. Outside, families cluster to await news, erupting in tears and chants when a new death is confirmed.

Dr. Ali Mustafa Ali, like many of his colleagues, often sleeps at Hikma but returns home to his wife and children during lulls, snipping a few roses from his garden to bring back to work.

“The severity of the situation has made everyone pull together in a way I’ve never seen before,” Ali said.

A group of men emerged from the hospital carrying a wooden coffin covered in a blanket — the first of 11 “martyrs” who would reach the hospital before nightfall.

“God is great,” Ali said as the men passed. Then he entered the hospital to put the flowers on his desk.

“They’re for the people inside,” he said, “to keep their spirits up.”

Egypt’s Mubarak detained for investigation

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110413/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_egypt

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press 1 hr 42 mins ago

CAIRO – Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak was put under detention in his hospital room Wednesday for investigation on accusations of corruption, abuse of power and killings of protesters in a dramatic step Wednesday that brought celebrations from the movement that drove him from office.

Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were also detained for questioning and taken to Cairo’s Torah prison where a string of former top regime figures — including the former prime minister, head of the ruling party and Mubarak’s chief of staff — are already languishing, facing similar investigations on corruption.

The move reflected the enormous pressure from the public on the ruling military, which was handed power when Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11. On Friday tens of thousands protested in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square demanding Mubarak and his family be put on trial, and many in the crowds accused the military of protecting the former president.

The detention came hours after the 82-year-old Mubarak was hospitalized Tuesday evening with heart problems in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where he and his family have been living since his fall from power.

Early Wednesday, the public prosecutor announced Mubarak was ordered put under detention for 15 days for investigation. He was to be flown later in the day to a military hospital outside Cairo, where he would remain in detention, a security official in Sharm el-Sheikh said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Protesters had pushed hard for Mubarak’s prosecution, demanding what they called a clear signal that the corruption that pervaded his nearly 30-year rule would be definitively broken. Public outrage was widespread over allegations that large fortunes were skimmed off by top regime officials through shady deals over the years.

Beyond the anger has been the fear that Mubarak cronies are maneuvering to regain power as the country tries to work out democratic rule — and that the ruling military was not taking action to prevent them, or was even abetting them.

“I was so happy in the morning when I heard the news,” said Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 group, one of the movements that led the unprecedented 18-day protest movement against Mubarak.

“All people are very happy because this step reassured them after a period of doubts and stagnation,” referring to doubts over the military’s intentions, he told The Associated Press. Worries over the military were intensified by a fierce pre-dawn raid on protesters in Tahrir on Saturday that killed at least one person.

Still, he said, Egypt faces a long road to ensure the transition period leads to real democracy. “Trying Mubarak and his regime is very important but what is super important is the political future of Egypt and what kind of political system we want to have,” he said.

The prosecutor’s announcement gave a momentary easing of tensions between the military and protesters. Following the prosecutor’s announcement, the coalition of youth groups that have organized the protests said it is canceling a planned new mass demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday to demand Mubarak’s prosecution.

But the coalition underlined that there are still demands left unfulfilled — including the dissolving of the former ruling party and the sacking of Mubarak-appointed governors as well as university deans and local city councils, both seen as levers of his regime.

Activist Amr Bassiouny said in a Tweet that the detention was not the protesters’ primary goal but “free speech, free assembly, free press — no torture, real democracy, end of lies.”

Since Mubarak’s fall, activists have complained that the Armed Forces Supreme Council, the body of top generals that now rules Egypt, has been dictating the post-Mubarak transition without consultation. Relations have rapidly soured over past week, amid reports of abuses by the military that reminded some of Mubarak’s rule — including torture of detained protesters and the imprisoning of an activist for criticizing the army

Protesters have criticized the army for being too close to the old regime and not swiftly bringing Mubarak to trial while hundreds of protesters remain in military detention, some convicted in swift trials before military courts.

In its announcement, posted on the social networking site Facebook, the public prosecutor said Mubarak was under investigation into allegations of assaults, killings and injury of protesters, corruption, squandering of public funds, and the abuse of authority for personal gain.

Hundreds are estimated to have been killed during the protests as police opened fire and cracked down on the crowds. Officials put the number of protesters killed during the uprising at 365, but human rights activists and others have said the figure is much higher. According to a count by the Front to Defend Egypt Protesters, a group that provides medical and legal assistance to the demonstrators, 685 people died as of March 7.

On Sunday, Mubarak defended himself in a prerecorded message saying he had not abused his authority, and investigators were welcome to check over his assets.

It was his first address to the people in the two months since his ouster. He has kept a low profile since he was ousted, living on his compound in Sharm el-Sheikh. He and his family were banned from traveling and their assets frozen.

Shortly after, the prosecutor general issued a summons for Mubarak to appear for questioning.

Soon after the hospitalization Tuesday night and in a sign that his ailment might not be very serious, Justice Minister Mohammed el-Guindi said Mubarak was then questioned in his suite for his role in the violence against protesters. The ministry statement on Facebook said Mubarak’s lawyers and a medical team were present during the interrogation. Mubarak has a history of minor ailments and underwent gallbladder surgery in Germany in March last year.

While the ex-president was taken to the hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has been living since being removed from power, his sons were taken for questioning to the nearby courthouse.

An angry crowd of 2,000 people had gathered outside the hospital late Tuesday, demanding the sons’ arrest. Then, in the early hours Wednesday, head of provincial security in the South Sinai told the crowd that Gamal and Alaa would be detained.

“Brothers, whatever you wanted, you have got … 15 days,” said Maj. Gen. Mohammed el-Khatib, as the crowd erupted in cheers.

As a police van with drawn curtains took away the brothers, the crowd pelted it with water bottles, stones and their flip-flops, as a sign of contempt.

Over the past decade, Gamal had risen to the top ranks of the ruling party and was widely seen as Mubarak’s designated succession. Anger over that prospect helped galvanize Egypt’s protest movement. Gamal brought into government and the ruling party a number of top businessmen who led an economic liberalization program that brought in billions in foreign investment but has also widened the gap between rich and poor. Several of those businessman-politicians now face trial or investigation for allegedly using their positions to amassing fortunes. His brother Alaa is a prominent businessman.

Egyptian stock market’s posted moderate gains Wednesday with investors buoyed by news that Mubarak and his sons have been detained. The market had been relatively stable in the days after its reopening late last month, following a nearly two-month closure linked to the anti-Mubarak uprising.

_____

Associated Press writers Paul Schemm and Maggie Michael in Cairo, and Yasser Imam and Ashraf Sweilam in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110404/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI and YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi And Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press 2 hrs 55 mins ago

TOKYO – Workers used a milky bathwater dye Monday as they frantically tried to trace the path of radioactive water seeping into the ocean from Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear plant.

The crack in a maintenance pit discovered over the weekend was the latest confirmation that radioactivity continues to spill into the environment. The leak is a symptom of the primary difficulty at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex: Radioactive water is pooling around the plant and preventing workers from powering up cooling systems needed to stabilize dangerously vulnerable fuel rods.

The plant operators also deliberately dumped 10,000 tons of tainted water — measuring about 500 times above the legal limit for radiactivity — into the ocean Monday to make space at a storage site for water that is even more highly radiactive.

Engineers have turned to a host of improvised and sometimes bizarre methods to tame the nuclear plant after it was crippled in Japan’s magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami on March 11.

Efforts over the weekend to clog the leak with a special polymer, sawdust and even shredded newspapers failed to halt the flow at a cracked concrete maintenance pit near the shoreline. The water in that leak contains radioactive iodine at rates 10,000 times the legal limit.

Suspecting they might be targeting the wrong channel to the pit, workers tried to confirm the leak’s pathway by dumping several pounds (kilograms) of salts used to give bathwater a milky hue into the system, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday.

“There could be other possible passages that the water may be traveling. We must watch carefully and contain it as quickly as possible,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency.

Radioactive water has pooled throughout the plant because the operator has been forced to rely on makeshift ways of pumping water into the reactors — and allowing it to gush out wherever it can — to bring down temperatures and pressure in the cores.

Government officials conceded Sunday that it will likely be several months before the cooling systems are completely restored. And even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

The makeshift system makes it difficult to contain the radiation leaks, but it is aimed a preventing fuel rods from going into a full meltdown that would release even more radiactivity into the environment.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

“We must keep putting water into the reactors to cool to prevent further fuel damage, even though we know that there is a side effect, which is the leakage,” Nishiyama said. “We want to get rid of the stagnant water and decontaminate the place so that we can return to our primary task to restore the sustainable cooling capacity as quickly as possible.”

To that end, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said it jettisoned the 10,000 tons of water Monday, clearing space in a waste-storage facility. The government decided to allow the step as “an unavoidable emergency measure,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

An additional 1,500 tons will be dumped from a trench under the plant’s units 5 and 6. That water is threatening to interfere with the workings at those units, whose reactors are under control.

Radioactivity is quickly diluted in the ocean, and Edano said the dump should not affect the safety of seafood in the area.

The crisis has unfolded as Japan deals with the aftermath of twin natural disasters that decimated large swaths of its northeastern coast. Up to 25,000 people are believed to have died in the disaster, and tens of thousands lost their homes. Thousands more were forced to flee a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius around the plant because of the radiation.

The 8-inch-long (20-centimeter-long) crack was discovered in the maintenance pit over the weekend. It is sending radioactive water into area that is normally blocked off by a seawall, but a crack was also discovered in that outer barrier Monday.

Though it later authorized the dumping of slightly radioactive water, the government said Monday it was growing concerned about the sheer volume of contaminated materials spilling into the Pacific. It is not clear how much water has leaked from the pit so far.

“Even if they say the contamination will be diluted in the ocean, the longer this continues, the more radioactive particles will be released and the greater the impact on the ocean,” Edano said. “We are strongly urging TEPCO that they have to take immediate action to deal with this.”

The crisis has sparked protests in Japan and raised questions around the world about the safety of nuclear power. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told delegates at a nuclear safety conference Monday that the industry cannot afford to ignore these concerns.

“We cannot take a ‘business as usual’ approach,” Yukiya Amano said.

The operator said Monday it is ordering fencing that is typically used to contain oil spills. The screens are not designed to trap radioactivity but might curtail the flow of water and thus reduce the spread of contamination, said TEPCO manager Teruaki Kobayashi. It was not clear when they would arrive.

All of the plant’s reactors were designed by General Electric, and the company’s CEO met Sunday with TEPCO’s chairman. Jeffrey Immelt told reporters Monday that more than 1,000 engineers from GE and its partner Hitachi are helping to analyze the problems at the plant.

Immelt also offered assistance in dealing with the electricity shortage brought on by damage to Dai-ichi and other power plants. Japan is expecting a shortfall of at least 10 million kilowatts come summer.

Gas turbines are on their way from the U.S. with both long- and short-term capabilities, Immelt said.

___

Associated Press writer Ryan Nakashima in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Japan’s PM vows to win battle against nuke plant

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110401/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By RYAN NAKASHIMA and MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Ryan Nakashima And Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 1 hr 41 mins ago

TOKYO – Japan’s prime minister sounded a resolute note Friday, promising to win the battle against an overheating nuclear plant even as atomic safety officials raised questions about the accuracy of radiation measurements at the complex.

Naoto Kan was grave a week ago when he addressed this nation rattled by fears of radiation that has contaminated food, milk and tap water. But three weeks after a massive tsunami disabled a nuclear power plant’s cooling systems, Kan vowed that Japan would create the safest system anywhere.

Japan will “do whatever it takes to win the battle” at Fukushima Dai-ichi, Kan said in a televised news conference. And when the crisis ends, “We will establish a system that could respond to any situation based on an assumption that anything could happen.”

While a massive earthquake and tsunami set off a series of events that disabled the plant, the accident has been exacerbated by several missteps along the way. Apparently spotting another mistake Friday, the nuclear safety agency ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to review its recent radiation figures, saying they seemed suspiciously high.

TEPCO has repeatedly been forced to retract such figures, eroding confidence in the company’s ability to respond effectively to the crisis and fueling fears over health risks.

Among the measurements called into question was one from Thursday that TEPCO said showed groundwater under one of the reactors contained iodine concentrations that were 10,000 times the government’s standard for the plant, the safety agency’s spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said. Seawater and air concentrations from this week also are under review.

“We have suspected their isotope analysis, and we will wait for the new results,” Nishiyama said.

TEPCO has conceded that there appears to be an error in the computer program used to analyze the data, but spokesman Junichi Matsumoto insisted that the glitch only affected readings for two radioactive isotopes, neither of which was iodine or other readings that have raised recent radiation concerns.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has held out the possibility that a complete review of all radiation data collected since the tsunami might eventually be ordered.

In any case, it appears radiation is still streaming out of the plant, underscoring TEPCO’s inability to get it under control. The company has increasingly asked for international help in its uphill battle, most recently ordering giant pumps from the U.S. that were to arrive later this month to spray water on the reactors.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

“I don’t think the evacuation zones make any sense,” said Tadayuki Matsumoto, a 46-year-old construction worker who lives in a zone 15 miles (25 kilometers) away where residents have been advised to stay indoors. “They don’t seem to have thought it out and are making things up as they go along.”

Radiation concerns have rattled the Japanese public, already struggling to return to normal life after the earthquake-borne tsunami pulverized hundreds of miles (kilometers) of the northeastern coast. Three weeks after the disaster in one of the most connected countries in the world, 260,000 households still do not have running water and 170,000 do not have electricity.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency on Friday ordered plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to review its latest measurements of radiation in air, seawater and groundwater samples, saying they seemed suspiciously high.

TEPCO has repeatedly made mistakes in analyzing radiation levels, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said it might eventually order a complete review of all radiation data collected since the tsunami.

Though the size of recent leaks is unclear, it appears radiation is still streaming out of the plant, underscoring TEPCO’s inability to get it under control.

The company has increasingly asked for international help, most recently ordering giant pumps from the U.S. that will arrive later this month to spray water on the reactors.

The prime minister said in a televised news conference Friday that Japan will do whatever it takes to win the battle at Fukushima Dai-ichi, though he warned that it could be a long process.

“I promise to overcome this problem and regain a society where we can live with peace of mind,” said Kan, who wore a suit instead of a blue work jacket for the first time since the tsunami. He also looked ahead, saying he wants to do something innovative beyond just restoring the areas that were destroyed.

He vowed that Japan would create the safest nuclear systems anywhere and reiterated that TEPCO will be responsible for compensating victims of the nuclear disaster — a bill that could be anywhere between 1 trillion and 10 trillion yen ($12 billion and $120 billion), depending on how long it takes to resolve the crisis, according to Yusuke Ueda, a Merrill Lynch analyst. Kan said the government will provide some compensation beyond the utility’s legal responsibility.

Some cities are already helping their own residents. In hard-hit Natori, next to Sendai, dozens lined up to apply for funds as aircraft searching for bodies zoomed overhead.

Many people lost all of their possessions, including IDs, so the city has created software that compares neighborhoods before and after the tsunami. People point out where they lived, and if the house in that location has been destroyed, they are eligible for 100,000 yen ($1,200) in assistance.

“We have records of everyone that lived there, and so we can confirm identities by asking birthdays and other information,” said Takeshi Shibuya, an official at city hall.

Some applying for the funds, like 33-year-old Osamu Sato, said it would be hardly be enough. He and his pregnant wife bought their apartment and moved in six months before the tsunami destroyed it, plus all of their new furniture and electronics.

“To be honest, 100,000 yen doesn’t help much,” Sato said. “I’ve lost everything.”

___

Associated Press Writers Eric Talmadge in Fukushima and Ryan Nakashima, Shino Yuasa, Mayumi Saito, Noriko Kitano and Cara Rubinsky in Tokyo contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110401/ap_on_bi_ge/af_libya

By BEN HUBBARD and RYAN LUCAS, Associated Press Ben Hubbard And Ryan Lucas, Associated Press 15 mins ago

BENGHAZI, Libya – Libya’s rebels will agree to a cease-fire if Moammar Gadhafi pulls his military forces out of cities and allows peaceful protests against his regime, an opposition leader said Friday as rebels showed signs that their front-line organization is improving.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the opposition’s interim governing council based in Benghazi, spoke during a joint press conference with U.N. envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib. After meeting government officials in Thursday, Al-Khatib was visiting the rebels’ de facto stronghold of Benghazi in hopes of reaching a political solution to the crisis embroiling the North African nation.

Abdul-Jalil said the rebels’ condition for a cease-fire is “that the Gadhafi brigades and forces withdraw from inside and outside Libyan cities to give freedom to the Libyan people to choose and the world will see that they will choose freedom.”

The U.N. resolution that authorized international airstrikes against Libya called for Gadhafi and the rebels to end hostilities. Gadhafi announced a cease-fire immediately but has shown no sign of heeding it. His forces continue to attack rebels in the east, where the opposition in strongest, and have besieged the only major rebel-held city in the west, Misrata.

The city has been shelled by tanks and artillery for days, said a doctor in a Misrata hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. Many people have been killed, including eight since Thursday, he said. He said Gadhafi brigades control the port and a main street, but rebels control the heart of the city.

Abdul-Jalil said the regime must withdraw its forces and lift all sieges.

He stressed the ultimate goal was Gadhafi’s ouster.

“Our aim is to liberate and have sovereignty over all of Libya with its capital in Tripoli,” he said.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

The U.N. said Al-Khatib arrived Thursday in Tripoli.

Forces loyal to Libya’s leader of nearly 42 years spent much of this week pushing the rebels back about 100 miles (160 kilometers) along the coast. On Friday, the opposition showed signs of gaining discipline on what has often been a disorganized battlefield.

Fighters said fresh forces were coming in, mostly ex-military, but also volunteers with not quite a month of training. The rebels also appeared to have more communication equipment such as radios and satellite phones, and were working in more organized units, in which military defectors were each leading six or seven volunteers.

The untrained masses who have rushed in and out of the fight for weeks with no apparent organization were barred from the front line. They stayed to the rear, to hold the line temporarily in case Gadhafi’s forces attempt to flank the rebels.

“The problem with the young untrained guys is they’ll weaken us at the front, so we’re trying to use them as a backup force,” said Mohammed Majah, 33, a former sergeant. “They have great enthusiasm, but that’s not enough now.”

Majah said the only people at the front now are former soldiers, “experienced guys who have been in reserves, and about 20 percent are young revolutionaries who have been in training and are in organized units.”

The rebels also had mortars Friday, weapons they previously appeared to have lacked, and on Thursday night they drove in a convoy with at least eight rocket launchers — more artillery than usual.

The rebels’ losses this week, and others before airstrikes began March 19, underlined that their equipment, training and organization were far inferior to those of Gadhafi’s forces. The recent changes appear to be an attempt to correct, or at least ease, the imbalance.

It was not immediately clear where the front line was on Friday. On Thursday, the opposition had moved into Brega, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Ajdabiya, before Gadhafi’s forces pushed them out.

Gadhafi’s greatest losses this week were not military but political. Two members of his inner circle, including his foreign minister, abandoned him Wednesday and Thursday, setting off speculation about other officials who may be next. The defections could sway people who have stuck with Gadhafi despite the uprising that began Feb. 15 and the international airstrikes aimed at keeping the autocrat from attacking his own people.

Libyan state TV aired a phone interview with intelligence chief Bouzeid Dorda to knock down rumors that he also left Gadhafi.

“I am in Libya and will remain here steadfast in the same camp of the revolution despite everything,” Dorda said. “I never thought to cross the borders or violate commitment to the people, the revolution and the leader.”

Gadhafi struck a defiant stance in a statement Thursday, saying he’s not the one who should go — it’s the Western leaders who attacking his military with airstrikes who should resign immediately. Gadhafi’s message was undercut by its delivery — a scroll across the bottom of state TV as he remained out of sight.

The White House said the strongman’s inner circle was clearly crumbling with the loss of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who flew from Tunisia to England on Wednesday. Koussa is privy to all the inner workings of the regime, so his departure could open the door for some hard intelligence, though Britain refused to offer him immunity from prosecution.

Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president, announced his departure on several opposition websites the next day, saying “It is our nation’s right to live in freedom and democracy and enjoy a good life.”

Gadhafi accused the leaders of the countries attacking his forces of being “affected by power madness.”

“The solution for this problem is that they resign immediately and their peoples find alternatives to them,” the Libya state news agency quoted him as saying.

___

Lucas reported from Ajdabiya, Libya. Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Tripoli and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA and JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Shino Yuasa And Jay Alabaster, Associated Press 11 mins ago

TOKYO – A suspected breach in the reactor at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could mean more serious radioactive contamination, Japanese officials revealed Friday, as the prime minister called the country’s ongoing fight to stabilize the plant “very grave and serious.”

A somber Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded a pessimistic note at a briefing hours after nuclear safety officials announced what could be a major setback in the urgent mission to stop the plant from leaking radiation, two weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami disabled it.

“The situation today at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant is still very grave and serious. We must remain vigilant,” Kan said. “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care.”

The uncertain situation halted work at the nuclear complex, where dozens had been trying feverishly to stop the overheated plant from leaking dangerous radiation. The plant has leaked some low levels of radiation, but a breach could mean a much larger release of contaminants.

The possible breach in Unit 3 might be a crack or a hole in the stainless steel chamber of the reactor core or in the spent fuel pool that’s lined with several feet of reinforced concrete. The temperature and pressure inside the core, which holds the fuel rods, remained stable and was far lower than would further melt the core.

Suspicions of a possible breach were raised when two workers waded into water 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found in water in or around a reactor and suffered skin burns, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Kan apologized to farmers and business owners for the toll the radiation has had on their livelihoods: Several countries have halted some food imports from areas near the plant after milk and produce were found to contain elevated levels of radiation.

He also thanked utility workers, firefighters and military personnel for “risking their lives” to cool the overheated facility.

The alarm Friday comes two weeks to the day since the magnitude-9 quake triggered a tsunami that enveloped cities along the northeastern coast and knocked out the Fukushima reactor’s cooling systems.

Police said the official death toll jumped past 10,000 on Friday. With the cleanup and recovery operations continuing and more than 17,400 listed as missing, the final number of dead was expected to surpass 18,000.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

The nuclear crisis has compounded the challenges faced by a nation already saddled with a humanitarian disaster. Much of the frigid northeast remains a scene of despair and devastation, with Japan struggling to feed and house hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors, clear away debris and bury the dead.

A breach could mean a leak has been seeping for days, likely since the hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 on March 14. It’s not clear if any of the contaminated water has run into the ground. Radiation readings for the air were not yet available for Friday, but detections in recent days have shown no significant spike.

But elevated levels of radiation have already turned up in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips. Tap water in several areas of Japan — including Tokyo — also showed radiation levels considered unsafe for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to cancer-causing radioactive iodine, officials said.

The scare caused a run on bottled water in the capital, and Tokyo municipal officials are distributing it to families with babies.

Previous radioactive emissions have come from intentional efforts to vent small amounts of steam through valves to prevent the core from bursting. However, releases from a breach could allow uncontrolled quantities of radioactive contaminants to escape into the surrounding ground or air.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano said “safety measures may not be adequate” and warned that may contribute to rising anxiety among people about how the disaster is being managed.

“We have to make sure that safety is secured for the people working in that area. We truly believe that is incumbent upon us,” the chief Cabinet secretary told reporters.

Edano said people living 12 to 20 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) from the plant should still be safe from the radiation as long as they stay indoors. But since supplies are not being delivered to the area fast enough, he said it may be better for residents in the area to voluntarily evacuate to places with better facilities.

“If the current situation is protracted and worsens, then we will not deny the possibility of (mandatory) evacuation,” he said.

NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said later that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was issued a “very strong warning” for safety violations and that a thorough review would be conducted once the situation stabilizes.

Meanwhile, damage to factories was taking its toll on the world’s third-largest economy and creating a ripple effect felt worldwide.

Nissan Motor Co. said it may move part of its engine production line to the United States because of damage to a plant.

The quake and tsunami are emerging as the world’s most expensive natural disasters on record, wreaking up to $310 billion in damages, the government said.

“There is no doubt that we have immense economic and financial damage,” Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. “It will be our task how to recover from the damage.”

At Sendai’s port, brand new Toyota cars lay crushed in piles. At the airport, flooded by the tsunami on March 11, U.S. Marines used bulldozers and shovels to shift wrecked cars that lay scattered like discarded toys.

Still, there were examples of resilience, patience and fortitude across the region.

In Soma, a hard-hit town along the Fukushima prefecture coast, rubble covered the block where Hiroshi Suzuki’s home once stood. He watched as soldiers dug into mounds of timber had been neighbors’ homes in search of bodies. Just three bodies have been pulled out.

“I never expected to have to live through anything like this,” he said mournfully. Suzuki is one of Soma’s lucky residents, but the tsunami washed away the shop where he sold fish and seaweed.

“My business is gone. I don’t think I will ever be able to recover,” said Suzuki, 59.

Still, he managed to find a bright side. “The one good thing is the way everyone is pulling together and helping each other. No one is stealing or looting,” he said.

“It makes me feel proud to be Japanese.”

___

Alabaster reported from Onagawa. Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Tomoko A. Hosaka, Kristen Gelineau, Jean H. Lee and Jeff Donn in Tokyo, Eric Talmadge in Soma and Johnson Lai in Sendai contributed to this report.

Rebels push back Libya regime attack on oil port

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/af_libya

By PAUL SCHEMM and MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press Paul Schemm And Maggie Michael, Associated Press 59 mins ago

BREGA, Libya – Opponents of Moammar Gahadfi repelled an attack by the Libyan leader’s forces trying to retake a key coastal oil installation in a topsy-turvy battle Wednesday in which shells splashed in the Mediterranean and a warplane bombed a beach where rebel fighters were charging over the dunes. At least five people were killed in the fighting.

The assault on the Brega oil port was the first major regime counteroffensive against the opposition-held eastern half of Libya, where the population backed by mutinous army units rose up and drove out Gadhafi’s rule over the past two weeks.

For the past week, pro-Gadhafi forces have been focusing on the west, securing his stronghold in the capital Tripoli and trying to take back nearby rebel-held cities with only mixed success.

But the foray east against opposition-held Brega appeared to stumble. The pro-Gadhafi forces initially re-captured the oil facilities Wednesday morning. But then a wave of opposition citizen militias drove them out again, cornering them in a nearby university campus where they battled for several hours until the approximately 200 Gadhafi loyalists fled, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

In the capital, Gadhafi vowed, “We will fight until the last man and woman.” He lashed out against Europe and the United States for their pressure on him to step down, warning that thousands of Libyans will die if U.S. and NATO forces intervene in the conflict.

The United States is moving naval and air forces closer to Libyan shores and is calling for Gadhafi to give up power immediately. The U.S., Britain and other NATO countries are drawing up contingency plans to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gadhafi’s air forces from striking rebels. But any no-fly zone would need a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, where veto-holding Russia opposes the idea.

“We will not accept an intervention like that of the Italians that lasted decades,” Gadhafi said, referring to Italy’s colonial rule early in the 20th Century. “We will not accept a similar American intervention. This will lead to a bloody war and thousands of Libyans will die if America and NATO enter Libya.”

Opposition members said they believe Gadhafi was pulling up reinforcements from bases deep in the deserts of southwestern Libya, flying them to the fronts on the coast.

Click image to see photos of protests in Libya

Soon after sunrise Wednesday, a large force of Gadhafi loyalists in around 50 SUVS, some mounted with machine guns, descended on opposition-held Brega, 460 miles (740 kilometers) east of Tripoli along the Mediterranean. The force caught a small opposition contingent guarding the site by suprise and it fled, said Ahmed Dawas, an anti-Gadhafi fighter at a checkpoint outside the port.

The pro-Gadhafi forces seized the port, airstrip and the oil facilities where about 4,000 personnel work, as regime warplanes hit an ammunition depot on the outskirts of the nearby rebel-held city of Ajdabiya, witnesses said.

Midmorning, the opposition counter-attacked. Anti-Gadhafi fighters with automatic weapons sped out of Ajdabiya in pickup trucks, heading for Brega, 40 miles away (70 kilometers) away. Dawas said they retook the oil facilities and airstrip. Other witnesses reported regime forces were surrounded by rebels. The sound of screaming warplanes and the crackle of heavy gunfire could be heard as the witnesses spoke to The Associated Press by phone.

By the afternoon, the regime fighters fled the oil facilities and holed up in a nearby university campus, where they came under siege by anti-Gadhafi fighters, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Machine gun and automatic weapons fire rattled in the air, and shells lobbed from the campus went over the anti-Gadhafi side to splash in the Mediterranean.

At one point, a warplane from Gadhafi’s airforce swooped overhead and an explosion was heard. A witness said it struck an empty stretch of dunes near the battle, sending a plume of sand into the air but causing no injuries in an apparent attempt to intimidate the anti-Gadhafi side.

But opposition citizen militias poured into the battle, arriving from Ajdabiya and armed with assault rifles. They moved through the dunes along the beach against the campus next to a pristine blue-water Mediterranean beach. Those without guns picked up bottles and put wicks in them to make firebombs.

An ambulance driver who was briefly held by the pro-Gadhafi force and then released told AP they numbered about 200 fighters. The forces came to Brega from Sirte, Gadhafi’s main remaining stronghold in central Libya, 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of the oil port, said the driver, Jumaa Shway.

At least five opposition fighters were killed in the fighting, their bodies covered with sand thrown up by shells bursting in the dunes. Angry crowds gathered around them at Brega’s hospital, chanting, “The blood of martyrs will not go in vain.”

In the late afternoon, the pro-Gadhafi force fled the campus, and opposition fighters were seen combing through the university buildings. Automatic gunfire was still heard in the distance, but it appeared the regime troops were withdrawing. The campus grounds and dunes between it and the beach were littered with casings and shells.

In Ajdabiya, people geared up to defend the city, fearing the pro-Gadhafi forces would move on them next. At the gates of the city, hundreds of residents took up positions on the road from Brega, armed with Kalashnikovs and hunting rifles, along with a few rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They set up two large rocket launchers and an anti-aircraft gun in the road. But by the evening, there was no sign of attack there.

Brega and nearby Ajdabiya are the furthest west points in the large contiguous swath of eastern Libya extending all the way to the Egyptian border that fell into opposition hands in the uprising that began Feb. 15. Ajdabiya is about 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and the nerve center of the opposition.

Brega is the second-largest hydrocarbon complex in OPEC-member Libya. Amid the turmoil, exports from its ports have all but stopped with no ships coming to load up with crude and natural gas. Crude production in the southeastern oil fields that feed into the facility has been scaled back because storage facilities at Brega were filling up. General Manager Fathi Eissa said last week the facility has had to scale back production dramatically from 90,000 barrels of crude a day to just 11,000.

The unrest in Libya — which ranks about 17th among world oil producers and has Africa’s largest proven oil reserves — has sparked a major spike in world oil prices. Overall crude production has dropped from 1.6 million barrels per day to 850,000.

Gadhafi’s regime has been left in control of Libya’s northwest corner, centered on Tripoli, but even here several cities have fallen into rebel hands after residents rose up in protests, backed by mutinous army units and drove out Gadhafi loyalists.

In recent days, loyalists succeeded in regaining two of those towns — Gharyan, a strategic town in the Nafusa mountains south of Tripoli, and Sabratha, a small town west of the capital.

But opposition fighters successfully repulsed attacks by pro-Gadhafi forces on several others: the key city of Zawiya outside the capital; Misrata, Libya’s third largest city east of Tripoli; and Zintan, a town further southwest in the Nafusa mountains.

The regime may be bringing in more forces from regions it still dominates in the sparsely populated deserts in the southwest.

Residents of the southwestern oasis town of Sebha — a key Gahdafi stronghold with military bases 400 miles (560 kilometers) south of Tripoli — reported heavy movement at the airport there Tuesday night, said Abdel-Bari Zwei, one of the opposition activists in Ajdabiya in touch with sympathizers in Sebha. Zwei said it is believed some of those forces were involved in the offensive against Brega.

In his speech Wednesday, Gadhafi lashed out at international moves against his regime, including the freezing of his and other Libyan assets abroad — an act he called “piracy” — and efforts by Europe to send aid to opposition-held Benghazi. He said any Libyan who accepts international aid was guilty of “high treason” because it “opens Libya to colonialism.”

In a pointed message to Europe, he warned, “There will be no stability in the Mediterranean if there is no stability in Libya.”

“Africans will march to Europe without anyone to stop them. The Mediterranean will become a center for piracy like Somalia,” he said. Gadhafi’s regime has worked closely with Italy and other European countries to stop African migrants who use Libya as a launching point to slip into Europe.

He also threatened to bring in Chinese and Indian companies to replace Western companies in Libya’s oil sector if the West keeps up its pressure on him. European firms are heavily involved in Libya’s oil production.

Michael reported from Tripoli, Libya.

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