Tag Archive: Tunisia


Islamists claim win in Tunisia’s Arab Spring vote

http://news.yahoo.com/tunisia-counts-votes-first-arab-spring-election-011055438.html

TUNIS (Reuters) – Moderate Islamists claimed victory on Monday in Tunisia’s first democratic election, sending a message to other states in the region that long-sidelined Islamists are challenging for power after the “Arab Spring.”

Official results have not been announced, but the Ennahda party said its workers had tallied the results posted at polling stations after Sunday’s vote, the first since the uprisings which began in Tunisia and spread through the region.

“The first confirmed results show that Ennahda has obtained first place,” campaign manager Abdelhamid Jlazzi said outside party headquarters in the center of the Tunisian capital.

As he spoke, a crowd of more than 300 in the street shouted “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is great!” Other people started singing the Tunisian national anthem.

Mindful that some people in Tunisia and elsewhere see the resurgence of Islamists as a threat to modern, liberal values, party officials said they were prepared to form an alliance with two secularist parties, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.

“We will spare no effort to create a stable political alliance … We reassure the investors and international economic partners,” Jlazzi said.

Sunday’s vote was for an assembly which will sit for one year to draft a new constitution. It will also appoint a new interim president and government to run the country until fresh elections late next year or early in 2013.

The voting system has built-in checks and balances which make it nearly impossible for any one party to have a majority, compelling Ennahda to seek alliances with secularist parties, which will dilute its influence.

“This is an historic moment,” said Zeinab Omri, a young woman in a hijab, or Islamic head scarf, who was outside the Ennahda headquarters when party officials claimed victory.

“No one can doubt this result. This result shows very clearly that the Tunisian people is a people attached to its Islamic identity,” she said.

REVOLUTION INSPIRED UPRISINGS

Tunisia became the birthplace of the “Arab Spring” when Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable seller in a provincial town, set fire to himself in protest at poverty and government repression.

His suicide provoked a wave of protests which, weeks later, forced autocratic president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia.

The revolution in Tunisia, a former French colony, in turn inspired uprisings which forced out entrenched leaders in Egypt and Libya, and convulsed Yemen and Syria — re-shaping the political landscape of the Middle East.

Ennahda is led by Rachid Ghannouchi, forced into exile in Britain for 22 years because of harassment by Ben Ali’s police.

A softly spoken scholar, he dresses in suits and open-necked shirts while his wife and daughter wear the hijab.

Ghannouchi is at pains to stress his party will not enforce any code of morality on Tunisian society, or the millions of Western tourists who holiday on its beaches.

He models his approach on the moderate Islamism of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

The party’s rise has been met with ambivalence by some people in Tunisia. The country’s strong secularist traditions go back to the first post-independence president, Habiba Bourguiba, who called the hijab an “odious rag.”

Outside the offices of the commission which organized the election, about 50 people staged a sit-in demanding an investigation into what they said were irregularities committed by Ennahda. Election officials said any problems were minor.

“I really feel a lot of fear and concern after this result,” said Meriam Othmani, a 28-year-old journalist. “Women’s rights will be eroded,” she said. “Also, you’ll see the return of dictatorship once Ennahda achieves a majority in the constituent assembly.”

Ennahda’s preferred coalition partners may reassure some opponents. Ali Larayd, a member of the party’s executive committee, said it was ready to form an alliance with the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, both secularist groups respected by Tunisia’s intelligentsia.

 

The Congress is led by Moncef Marzouki, a doctor and human rights activist who spent years in exile in France. Ettakatol is a socialist party led by Mustafa Ben Jaafar, another doctor and veteran Ben Ali opponent.

The only official results released were from polling stations abroad, because they voted early.

The election commission said that out of 18 seats in the 217-seat assembly allocated to the Tunisian diaspora, 9 went to Ennahda. Its closest rivals were Marzouki’s Congress on four seats and Ettakatol, which won three.

The highest-profile secularist challenger to Ennahda, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat. It had warned voters that modern, liberal values would be threatened if the Islamists won.

“The PDP respects the democratic game. The people gave their trust to those it considers worthy of that trust. We congratulate the winner and we will be in the ranks of the opposition,” a party statement sent to Reuters said.

Ennahda’s win was a remarkable turnaround for a party which just 10 months ago had to operate underground because of a government ban and which had hundreds of followers in prison.

In a slick and well-funded campaign, the party tapped into a desire among ordinary Tunisians to be able to express their faith freely after years of aggressively enforced secularism.

It also sought to show it could represent all Tunisians, including the large number who take a laissez-faire view of Islam’s strictures, drink alcohol, wear revealing clothes and rarely visit the mosque.

Secularist opponents say they believe this is just a cleverly constructed front that conceals more radical views, especially among Ennahda’s rank and file in the provinces.

The party’s final election rally last week was addressed by one of Ennahda’s candidates, a glamorous woman who does not wear a hijab.

On the fringes of the same rally, stalls sold books by Salafist authors, followers of a strict interpretation of Islam who believe women should be covered up and that the sexes should be segregated in public.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by  Tim Pearce)

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Arab strongman: With Gadhafi death, an era passes

FILE - This undated photo shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. A U.S. official says Libya's new government has told the United States that Gadhafi, 69, is dead. The official said Libya's Transitional National Council informed U.S. officials in Libya of the development Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. His death on Thursday, confirmed by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, came as Libyan fighters defeated Gadhafi's last holdouts in his hometown of Sirte, the last major site of resistance in the country. (AP Photo/File)http://news.yahoo.com/arab-strongman-gadhafi-death-era-passes-151535237.html

CAIRO (AP) — He often looked like a comical buffoon, standing before audiences, bedecked in colorful robes, spouting words that most of the world considered nonsense.

Yet the death of Moammar Gadhafi was a milestone in modern Arab history, in some ways more significant than the overthrow of lesser autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.

Gadhafi was the last of the old-style Arab strongmen — the charismatic, nationalist revolutionaries who rose to power in the 1950s and 1960s, promising to liberate the masses from the shackles of European colonialism and the stultifying rule of the Arab elite that the foreigners left behind after World War II.

He was swept aside by a new brand of revolutionary — the leaderless crowds organized by social media, fed up with the oppressive past, keenly aware that the rest of the world has left them behind and convinced that they can build a better society even if at the moment, they aren’t sure how.

Gadhafi was the last of a generation of Arab leaders such as Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, Hafez Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein of Iraq who emerged from poverty, rising to the pinnacle of power either through the ranks of the military or the disciplined, conspiratorial world of underground political organizations.

None of the latter crop of Arab autocrats, including Assad’s son Bashar, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and even Egypt’s colorless, ousted president Hosni Mubarak, could rival them in their heyday in terms of charisma, flair, stature and power.

Their model was Nasser, the towering champion of Arab unity who ousted Western-backed King Farouk in 1952 and inspired Arab peoples with fiery speeches broadcast by Egyptian radio from Iraq to Mauritania.

But Nasser’s dreams of Arab unity and social revival crumbled in defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Nasser died three years later, and the fellow strongmen left behind led their countries instead into a political swamp of corruption, cronyism and dictatorship now challenged by the Arab Spring.

The hallmark of the Arab strongman was unquestioned power, the use of state media to promote a larger than life image and a ruthless security network that stifled even a whiff of dissent. That worked in an age before the Internet and global satellite television which opened the eyes of the strongman’s followers to a world without secret police and economic systems run by the leader’s family and cronies.

The Arab political transformation is far from complete. Autocratic rulers are facing challenges from their own people in Yemen and Syria. Bahrain’s Shiite majority is pressing the Sunni monarchy for reform. Rulers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are maneuvering to contain the Arab Spring.

Iraq is struggling to build a democracy eight years after American-led arms brought down Saddam’s rule.

With Gadhafi’s passing, however, a milestone has been passed. The future belongs to a different style of ruler, whoever it may be.

It may be difficult to imagine that the Gadhafi of his final years — with his flamboyant robes, dark and curly wigs and sagging, surgically altered face — was a trim, handsome, vigorous 27-year-old when he came to power as a strong and vigorous leader. Over the years he had become a caricature figure associated with grandiose dreams such as a “United States of Africa” or seizing all of Israel and sending Jews “back to Europe.”

Even when he was younger, eccentricity was the mark of Gadhafi’s public persona.

A generation ago, President Ronald Reagan described him as the “mad dog of the Middle East,” and his fellow Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat considered him a dangerous megalomaniac.

Journalists covered his speeches and international visits primarily for amusement.

Images of Gadhafi’s final moments — toupee gone, terrified, confused, powerless in the grip of men who may be about to kill him — make the ousted tyrant appear more pitiable than powerful.

All that was far from his image when he and his comrades toppled a Western-backed monarchy in 1969 in a bloodless coup, promising to transform his poor, backwater country into a modern state.

Promising a new era for his people, Gadhafi closed a U.S. air base, forced international oil companies to hand over most of their profits from Libyan oil to the Libyan state and shook the world with his unabashed support for terrorist or insurgent movements in Northern Ireland, Palestine, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Oil gave him a reach beyond his sparsely populated desert land and enabled him to pursue his revolutionary dreams.

In the 1980s, the lobbies of Tripoli’s few hotels were populated by representatives of what the West considered the most dangerous groups on Earth — stiff North Koreans wearing lapel buttons of their leader Kim Il-Sung, Palestinian extremists huddled over cups of sweet tea, European anarchists and revolutionaries — all come to town to seek the oil-fueled largesse of the “Brother Leader.”

While insisting that Libya was the freest nation on Earth, Gadhafi ruthlessly suppressed dissent, dispatched agents to assassinate his opponents abroad and drove thousands of Libyans into exile.

It all came crashing down in the final battle in his hometown of Sirte. A man who came to power as an Arab revolutionary and self-styled leader of the oppressed and downtrodden died a brutal and inglorious death at the hands of the people he purported to lead.

___

Eds: Robert H. Reid is Middle East regional editor for The Associated Press and has reported from the Middle East since 1978.

Turnout key as Moroccans vote on king’s reforms

Thousands of people gather as they take part in a rally to support the government's project for constitutional reform during a peaceful protest in Casablancahttp://news.yahoo.com/turnout-key-moroccans-vote-kings-reforms-091824853.html

RABAT (Reuters) – Moroccans voted on Friday in a referendum on a revised constitution offered by King Mohammed to placate “Arab Spring” street protesters and the “yes” camp was tipped to win despite boycott calls by opponents.

The new charter explicitly grants the government executive powers, but retains the king at the helm of the army, religious authorities and the judiciary and still allows him to dissolve parliament, though not unilaterally as is the case now.

That falls far short of the demands of the “February 20” protest movement, which wants a parliamentary monarchy where the king’s powers would be kept in check by elected lawmakers.

However the movement so far has not attracted the mass support of popular uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. It urged Moroccans to boycott the vote and said a low turnout would back their calls for more radical reforms.

Turnout stood at 26 percent by midday local time (1100 GMT), according to the interior ministry. Preliminary results were due to be announced late on Friday, a ministry spokesman said.

“I voted ‘yes’ because we have to obey the Commander of the Faithful,” retired agriculture ministry engineer Samira Denguir said in the middle-class Hassan suburb of the capital Rabat, referring to the king’s religious role.

“A large ‘yes’ vote with a high abstention rate or spoiled ballots is not a great result, and the monarchy, Makhzen and (political) parties know it,” said Lise Storm, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter in England.

The Makhzen is the royal court seen by many Moroccans as a largely unaccountable and shadowy political and business elite.

The 47-year-old ruler has had some success in repairing the legacy of human right abuses, high illiteracy and poverty he inherited after his late father’s 38-year rule ended in 1999.

WESTERN ALLY

A staunch Western ally, Morocco under King Mohammed has stepped up cooperation against terrorism and illegal migration, notably with the European Union which is keen to avoid the spread of Islamic militancy along its southern shores.

But while his personal popularity is expected to swing many voters in favor of the reforms, the margin of victory could be eroded by resentment at wide disparities between rich and poor, and a sense of alienation from the political elite.

“I’m not voting because I couldn’t get my voter card and to be totally honest I couldn’t care less. If they really mean good they would have done it years ago,” said market trader Younes Driouki, 29, heading to the beach with his surfboard.

Results of an online poll conducted by independent portal Lakome.com showed 52 percent of 51,200 participants saying they would boycott the referendum. The vast bulk of the rest said they would vote in favor, but such a low turnout would raise questions about the credibility of the exercise.

Some 13 million people registered to vote — more than 6 million fewer than the 19.4 million Moroccans over 19 years old in a 2009 census. Moroccans above 18 are eligible to vote.

Hamid Benchrifa, an analyst from the Social Development Agency, said the disparity may be due either to voters not updating their identity cards after changing address, or a simple lack of interest in politics.

The February 20 movement has brought together Islamists bent on setting up an Islamic caliphate and secular left-wingers focusing on what they see as rising levels of corruption.

They say they will continue their common fight for a system of parliamentary monarchy and more curbs on the king’s powers.

(Editing by Mark John and Mark Heinrich)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI (R) heads a cabinet meeting at the Royal Palace in Rabat. The king outlined curbs to his wide political powers in proposed constitutional reforms and pledged to build a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament

 

VIDEO Residents of Rabat dance in the streets after Moroccan King Mohammed VI outlines curbs to his wide political powers in proposed constitutional reforms.http://beta.news.yahoo.com/moroccos-king-unveils-reforms-curbs-own-power-025217779.html

Moroccan King Mohammed VI outlined curbs to his wide political powers in proposed constitutional reforms and pledged to build a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament.

The proposals will be put to a referendum on July 1, the king said. They devolve many of the king’s powers to the prime minister and parliament.

The proposals come in the wake of nationwide pro-reform demonstrations that started in February, inspired by other popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

The 47-year-old monarch, who in 1999 took over the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty, holds virtually all power in the Muslim north African country, and he is also its top religious authority as the Commander of the Faithful.

In future the head of government should come “from the ranks of the political party which comes out top in parliamentary elections,” the king said in a keenly-awaited televised address.

It would mean a “government emerging through direct universal suffrage,” he said.

The prime minister, now to be called the “president of the government” will have the “power to dissolve parliament,” which was hitherto the monarch’s prerogative, the king said.

King Mohammed VI also pledged an independent judiciary and said the proposals would “consolidate the pillars of a constitutional monarchy.”

The king has until now headed the council that has appointed the country’s judges.

Under the proposals, drawn up by a reform panel appointed by Mohammed VI in March, the prime minister will be able to appoint government officials, including in the public administration and state enterprises, taking over an authority previously held only by the king.

The prime minister will also be able to debate general state policy with a government council at weekly meetings to be held in the absence of the king, according to the draft proposals seen earlier by AFP.

Under the current constitution, only the cabinet chaired by the monarch can decide on state policy.

Among the new competencies of the parliament would be declaring a general amnesty, also currently only the king’s domain.

The reference to the king in the constitution as “sacred” would be replaced by the expression: “The integrity of the person of the king should not be violated.”

This is an important change because the word “sacred” has a strong religious connotation, especially in Arabic, analyst Mohamed Darif said.

“The new formula does not try to put a religious dimension to the person of the king but rather highlights political responsibilities,” he said.

Mohammed VI would still hold the title of Commander of the Faithful, which makes him the country’s only religious authority, and remain the head of the military forces and nominate ambassadors and diplomats.

The proposals also provide for indigenous Berber (amazigh) to be considered an official language alongside Arabic in the preamble of the new draft constitution.

A large section of Morocco’s 32 million people use one of the three dialects of the language.

The reforms are expected to transform the kingdom’s political system into a constitutional monarchy, as demanded by the February 20 Movement named after the date of its first nationwide pro-reform protests.

The youth-led group has brought thousands of people onto the streets in unprecedented calls for change, on the back of uprisings that toppled the autocratic rulers of Tunisia and Egypt in January and February.

 

NATO targets Tripoli with daytime raid

http://beta.news.yahoo.com/nato-targets-tripoli-daytime-raid-103459345.html

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — NATO warplanes dashed into the Libyan capital Tripoli at midday Friday, pounding a target in the south of the city and sending a thick cloud of black smoke rising high into the air.

A series of explosions rumbled across other parts of the city as fighter jets could by heard flying overhead. Fire engines raced through the streets, sirens blaring.

It wasn’t clear what was hit or whether there were casualties. Friday is the main day of rest in Libya, with many people off work.

NATO has been ramping up the pressure on Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. Though most airstrikes happen under cover of darkness, daytime raids have grown more frequent.

Friday’s raids follow a barrage that struck multiple targets late Thursday night.

The fresh strikes blasted the capital as renewed diplomatic efforts to halt Libya’s civil war appeared to be gaining momentum, though there are no signs a breakthrough is imminent.

On Thursday, Russia’s envoy to Libya met with senior government leaders in Tripoli, but not Gadhafi himself, in an effort to stop the fighting.

Last week, the envoy Mikhail Margelov visited the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and said that Gadhafi has lost his legitimacy. However, the envoy also said NATO airstrikes are not a solution to Libya’s violent stalemate.

Libyan Prime Minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi said the Libyan government has held a number of “preliminary meetings” with officials based in the eastern rebel-held city of Benghazi. He said the talks took place abroad, including in Egypt, Tunisia and Norway, but he did not provide specifics.

A coalition including France, Britain and the United States launched the first strikes against Gadhafi’s forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31. It’s joined by a number of Arab allies.

Speaking by video link from Naples, NATO Wing Commander Mike Bracken said Gadhafi’s future at the helm of Libya was a what he called a “political decision.” Bracken was speaking to reporters in Brussels, NATO headquarters.

Later, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said there were no indications Gadhafi would stop attacking the opposition.

“It is hard to imagine the end to attacks on civilians while the pro-Gadhafi regime is still in power,” Lungescu said in Brussels. “It is unfortunately still the case that pro-Gadhafi forces continue to show shocking determination to harm the Libyan people.”

What started as a peaceful uprising inside Libya against Gadhafi has grown into a civil war, with rebels now holding a third of the country in the east and pockets in the west.

Libya’s rebels mark Feb. 17 — four months ago Friday — as the start of their revolution against Gadhafi’s more than four-decade rule.

It was on that date that protesters emboldened by Arab uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets in a number of Libyan cities. At least 20 people were reported killed in a crackdown by state security forces.

Fighting between government forces and the rebels had reached a stalemate until last week when NATO launched the heaviest bombardment of Gadhafi forces since the alliance took control of the skies over Libya.

___

AP writer Don Melvin contributed from Brussels.

 

Libyan rebels claim breakout from Misrata

In this image taken from TV, showing rebel forces on the front line as they repel government troops, Sunday June 12, 2011, in Dafniya, Libya. as fighthttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110613/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_libya

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI and MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press        Hadeel Al-shalchi And Maggie Michael, Associated Press–    53 mins ago

MISRATA, Libya – Government artillery rained down on rebel forces Monday but failed to stop their advance into key ground west of their stronghold at Libya’s major port. As fighting raged for a fourth day, Germany’s foreign minister paid a surprise visit to the rebel’s de facto capital.

Guido Westerwelle met with officials of the Transitional National Council, telling members of the nascent rebel government that Germany recognized the council as “the legitimate representative of the Libyan people”

That position is similar to that of the United States, which has stopped short of outright diplomatic recognition of the council. The move was, nevertheless, another big diplomatic boost for the rebels and their four-month uprising to end Moammar Gadhafi’s 40-year rule in the oil-rich North African country. Germany refused to participate in the NATO air mission over Libya and withheld support for the no-fly zone.

The rebels control roughly the eastern one-third of Libya as well as Misrata, the country’s major port. The also claim to have taken parts of coastal oil center of Zawiya in the far west. That port city is 18 miles (30 kilometers) west of Tripoli and a prize that would put them in striking distance of the capital. Control of the city also would cut one of Moammar Gadhafi’s last supply routes from Tunisia.

Despite rebel claims, government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said late Sunday that Gadhafi forces had driven off the attackers, and reporters taken to Zawiya saw secure streets and the green national flag flying over a central square. The insurgents, for their part, claimed a high-ranking Gadhafi commander was badly wounded in the fighting.

“The wishful reporting of some journalists that the rebels are gaining more power and more control of some areas is not correct,” he said.

In the major fighting near Misrata on Monday, an Associated Press photographer at the rebel front lines said they had pushed along the Mediterranean Sea to within 6 miles (10 kilometers) of Zlitan, the next city to the west of Misrata. A rebel commander said his forces, using arms seized from government weapons depots and fresh armaments being shipped in from Benghazi, planned to have moved into Zlitan, by Tuesday.

Ali Terbelo, the rebel commander, said other opposition forces already were in Zlitan, trying to encircle Gadhafi troops. If the rebels take the city they would be within 85 miles (135 kilometers) of the eastern outskirts of Gadhafi’s capital, Tripoli.

An AP reporter with rebel forces said shelling was intense Monday morning with rockets and artillery and mortar shells slamming into rebel lines west of Dafniya at a rate of about 7 each minute. Dafniya is about 20 miles (30 kilometers) west of Misrata

Officials at Hikma Hospital in Misrata said government shelling killed seven and wounded 49 on Sunday. New casualty figures were not available but ambulances were rushing from the Dafniya line back into Misrata.

The rebel thrust at Zawiya and movements farther east — near Misrata and Brega — suggested the stalemated uprising had been reinvigorated, and that Gadhafi’s defenders may become stretched thin.

“Over the past three days, we set fire under the feet of Gadhafi forces everywhere,” Col. Hamid al-Hasi, a rebel battalion commander, told AP. He said the rebels attacked “in very good coordination with NATO” to avoid friendly-fire incidents. “We don’t move unless we have very clear instructions from NATO.”

Rebels encountered a major setback, however, near the eastern oil town of Brega on Monday. Suleiman Rafathi, a doctor at the hospital in the town of Ajdabiya where the casualties were taken, said 23 rebels were killed and 26 wounded in a government ambush about 22 miles (35 kilometers) east of Brega.

The front lines between Brega and Ajdabiya have been relatively quiet in recent weeks, while fighting has raged in western Libya.

Rebel fighters appear to be rebounding with help from the NATO blockade of ports still under government control and alliance control of Libyan airspace. Both have severely crimped the North African dictator’s ability to resupply his forces. And his control has been hard hit by defections from his military and government inner circle.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke again against the Libyan regime, telling the nations of Africa on Monday to sever links Gadhafi despite his long support and patronage for many African leaders.

In a speech on Monday to diplomats at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Clinton said Africa should join most of the rest of the world in abandoning Gadhafi. She said the Libyan leader has lost all legitimacy to rule because of attacks on his own citizens.

She’s urged all African leaders to demand that Gadhafi accept a ceasefire and then leave Libya. She also said they should expel pro-Gadhafi Libyan diplomats from their countries, suspend the operations of Libyan embassies and work with the Libyan opposition.

The rebel council also won recognition from the United Arab Emirates, adding a wealthy, influential Arab state to the handful of nations thus far accepting the insurgents as Libyans’ sole legitimate representatives.

In a lighter moment, the Libyan leader was shown playing chess with the visiting Russian head of the World Chess Federation. The federation is headed by the eccentric Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who until last year was the leader of Russia’s predominantly Buddhist republic of Kalmykia. He once claimed to have visited an alien spaceship.

Libyan state television showed Gadhafi, dressed all in black and wearing dark sunglasses, playing chess Sunday evening with his Russian guest.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Ilyumzhinov as saying Gadhafi told him he has no intention of leaving Libya despite international pressure.

It was unclear where the chess game took place. Gadhafi’s compound in the center of Tripoli has been under NATO bombardment and was hit again Sunday.

Gadhafi had not been seen in public since mid-May, and Ilyumzhinov told him how pleased he was to find him healthy and well.

 

Egypt’s Mubarak to be tried over protester deaths

Hosni Mubarakhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110524/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_egypt

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press 34 mins ago

CAIRO – Egypt’s ex-President Hosni Mubarak will stand trial on charges of conspiring in the deadly shootings of protesters during the uprising that ousted him, the prosecutor-general said Tuesday, a major step in a country still rattled by protests and demands for justice.

The 83-year-old leader and his two sons also were charged with abusing power to amass wealth, enriching associates and accepting bribes, the prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement.

A date has not been set for the trial in criminal court. The prosecutor general spokesman Adel el-Said told The Associated Press the charges against Mubarak for his alleged role in the killing of protesters by security forces could carry the death penalty.

“The sons and the businessman have nothing to do with the charges of the killing of protesters,” he said. “Mubarak and some police chiefs are charged with that.”

Putting Mubarak on trial is a key demand of many Egyptians who have rallied to demand the ousted leader and his aides face justice. A close associate of Mubarak, Hussein Salem, also was charged. He is at large.

Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11 and transferred power to the military after an 18-day popular uprising. At least 846 protesters were killed, according to a government fact-finding mission.

Mubarak has been in custody in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since last month. His two sons are in detention in a Cairo prison.

The Mubaraks and other members of the former regime have been the subject of legal efforts to bring them to trial since the ex-president was forced to resign on Feb. 11. Egypt’s former security chief and four of his top aides are already on trial in the shooting of protesters.

Earlier this month, Tunisia’s toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was charged along with his wife of inciting violence in the bloody crackdown on the popular uprising there. Ben Ali has fled to Saudi Arabia.

But after the initial euphoria in Egypt of a successful uprising, protesters have become impatient and stepped up demands that reforms and promises be carried out.

Mubarak’s prosecution has been complicated by his health condition. He has been interrogated in the hospital, but an order by the prosecutor to transfer him to prison during the investigation was overturned on grounds the prison health facilities were not ready to receive him. He was never moved to a military hospital as suggested by the prosecutor.

Protesters took to the streets several times demanding a speedy trial for Mubarak and his sons.

The calls were aggravated two weeks ago by reports suggesting the military rulers might grant Mubarak amnesty. The reports sparked a wave of criticism and calls for mass rallies to demand justice. The anger prompted a quick denial from the military rulers.

The statement from prosecutor-general Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid on Tuesday accused Mubarak of having “conspired” with the former security chief and other officers to shoot and kill protesters who took to the streets starting Jan. 25. The decision comes ahead of a planned Friday protest dubbed “Egypt’s second revolution,” to demand Mubarak be put on trial and that all remnants of his regime be uprooted, including the hated emergency laws that remain on the books more than three months after his ouster.

Activist Hossam Hamalawi said the Friday protests will go ahead because there are other unmet demands besides trial for Mubarak. “It has to be a public trial, aired minute by minute,” he said. “It is not a legal process as much as it is a political one.”

Abdel-Meguid also charged Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, with using their authority and power to enrich himself and business associate Salem.

Prosecution spokesman Adel al-Said said Mubarak’s sons are still being interrogated on other accusations.

The prosecutor had earlier ordered the freezing of the assets of Mubarak and his family. His 70-year- old wife Suzanne was released after she relinquished assets and property valued at $4 million. The move aimed to settle corruption allegations against her, but it was unclear whether she would still face trial.

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UN to send teams to Syria as 6 die in clashes

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110506/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Bassem Mroue, Associated Press 12 mins ago

SOFIA, Bulgaria – United Nation’s chief says Syria has agreed to allow U.N. teams to go into the country and check the humanitarian situation there.

Ban Ki-moon spoke in Bulgaria Friday, as Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters Friday, killing at least six people as thousands joined demonstrations across the country calling for an end to President Bashar Assad’s regime, witnesses and activists said.

Ban said Assad agreed to allow U.N. humanitarian teams during a phone call.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters Friday, killing at least six people as thousands joined demonstrations across the country calling for an end to President Bashar Assad’s regime, witnesses and activists said.

Syrian authorities also detained Riad Seif, a leading opposition figure and former lawmaker who has been an outspoken critic of the regime during the seven-week uprising, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Five people were killed in the central city of Homs and one was killed in Hama, said a senior member of a human rights group that compiles death toll figures in Syria.

Like most activists and witnesses who spoke to The Associated Press, he asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals by the government.

“We were chanting, peaceful, peaceful, and we didn’t even throw a stone at the security forces,” said a witness in Homs. “But they waited for us to reach the main square and then they opened fire on us.”

From Hama, footage posted on YouTube showed protesters frantically trying to resuscitate a man lying on the ground with a bloodied face and shirt, while people shouted “God is great!”

The protesters turned out Friday despite a bloody crackdown on the uprising. More than 565 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since the revolt began in March, according to rights groups.

Rallies were held in major areas including the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs, the central city of Homs, Banias on the coast and Qamishli in the northeast.

“The people want to topple the regime!” protesters shouted, echoing the cries heard during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

Witnesses also reported some of the tightest security seen since the protests began in mid-March. In the Damascus suburb of Douma, scene of intense protests over recent weeks, security forces cordoned off the area to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.

A witness near Douma said he saw a train carrying about 15 army tanks heading north Thursday evening toward the central province of Homs, another site of recent violence.

Another activist in Damascus said hundreds of people marched in the central neighborhood of Midan. In Banias, witnesses said more than 5,000 people carrying olive branches and Syrian flags also were calling for regime change.

They were among several demonstrations and marches planned for Friday, the main day of protests in the Arab world, for what activists were calling a “Day of Defiance.”

More than 565 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since an anti-regime uprising, inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, began in March, according to rights groups.

The activists said security forces set up checkpoints and closed some areas that experienced protests in recent weeks.

In the southern city of Daraa, where the army announced the end to an 11-day military operation Thursday, residents said troops were still in the streets, causing some would-be demonstrators to be wary of taking part in a planned protest Friday.

“There’s a tank stationed at each corner in Daraa. There is no way people can hold a protest today,” a resident said by telephone. “It means more killing. Daraa is taking a break. We don’t want to see more killing or face tank guns.”

The activists spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said a medical team reached Daraa on Thursday with trucks carrying humanitarian goods and medical supplies. The ICRC’s head of delegation in Damascus, Marianne Gasser, said helping people in Daraa is a priority “because it is the city that has been hardest hit by the ongoing violence.”

The ICRC had appealed to Syrian authorities earlier in the week to allow it to access to Daraa after being unable to reach the city previously while it was under siege by security forces.

Assad is determined to crush the revolt that has now become the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year dynasty. He has tried a combination of brute force, intimidation and promises of reform to quell the unrest, but his attempts have failed so far.

Security forces have repeatedly opened fire on protesters during rallies around the country in the past week and last Friday at least 65 people were killed, according to rights groups.

The mounting death toll — and the siege in Daraa — has only served to embolden protesters who are now demanding nothing less than the end of Assad’s regime. There also has been growing international condemnation of the government’s tactics.

Syria blames the unrest on a foreign conspiracy and “terrorist groups” that it says have taken advantage of protests.

The uprising in Syria was sparked by the arrest of teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Daraa. Protests spread quickly across the nation of some 23 million people.

Assad inherited power from his father in 2000.

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Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Elizabeth A. Kennedy in Beirut and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Bassem Mroue can be reached at http://twitter.com/bmroue

Libyan forces battle rebels on Tunisian border

Libyan soldiers loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi are seen in the city of Tarhounahttp://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110428/wl_nm/us_libya

By Lin Noueihed and Abdelaziz Boumzar Lin Noueihed And Abdelaziz Boumzar 1 hr 40 mins ago

TRIPOLI/DEHIBA, Tunisia (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi battled rebels on Thursday for control of a border crossing into Tunisia, provoking an angry protest from Tunis as fighting spilled on to its territory.

Early in the day Gaddafi’s troops stormed the Dehiba-Wazin crossing on Libya’s western frontier, in what appeared to be part of a broader government offensive to root out rebel outposts beyond their eastern heartland.

Tunisia strongly condemned incursions by government forces, when Libyan artillery shells also struck the Tunisian side of the crossing, and demanded that the Libyans put a stop to them.

“Given the gravity of what has happened … the Tunisian authorities have informed the Libyans of their extreme indignation and demand measures to put an immediate stop to these violations,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

Rebels rapidly staged a counter-offensive for the border post they took only a week ago, and which controls the sole supply road for rebels in Libya’s Western Mountains.

Both sides in the civil war, where Gaddafi is fighting to prolong more than four decades of rule over the oil-producing nation, also disputed whether government forces had overrun a remote desert town in the southeast of the country.

After weeks of advances and retreats by rebel and government forces along the Mediterranean coast, fighting has settled into a pattern of clashes and skirmishes.

Nowhere was the fog of war thicker than at Dehiba-Wazin crossing.

“Fighting broke out on Tunisian territory, in Dehiba, after Gaddafi’s forces attacked the border crossing,” said Ali, a Tunisian involved in helping Libyans arriving in Dehiba, adding that the rebels had withdrawn into Tunisia.

Gaddafi’s soldiers apologized to their Tunisian counterparts for the incursion and hoisted their flag at the border, tearing down a pre-Gaddafi era flag that had fluttered for a few days.

Libyan state television said some rebels had been killed and others taken prisoner in the recapture of the border post.

The counter-attack came rapidly. “The rebels in the mountains are firing at the Libyan positions,” said Reuters cameraman Abdelaziz Boumzar.

Rebel Akram el Muradi said the battle was going the rebels’ way. “Gaddafi’s forces are going out and leaving, the Libyan freedom fighters are chasing them,” he said.

However, he admitted that the battle was not over and Boumzar, who was watching the fighting from Tunisian territory, said government soldiers were still at the post.

“BALL IN NATO’S COURT”

In the confusion, scores of vehicles headed for the border from the Tunisian side with civilians on board shouting “We’ve won! We’ve won!” but they made a swift turn back when they found Gaddafi’s forces were still there.

Loss of the crossing would cut off rebels in the Western Mountains from their only road to the outside world, making them rely on rough tracks for supplies of food, fuel and medicine.

Government troops again shelled the besieged rebel outpost of Misrata, where aid ships bring in emergency supplies and evacuate the wounded, killing at least nine civilians, one rebel spokesman said. There was no independent confirmation.

Rebel spokesman Abdelsalam said from Misrata that there had been sporadic clashes on the road to the port and shelling of residential areas. “Those areas are packed with civilians who fled the fighting in the city center,” he said.

“The ball is now in NATO’s court. After Gaddafi’s soldiers and snipers were driven out from the city center and Tripoli Street by the rebel fighters, their strategy has been to shell the city from the outskirts. This can only be solved by NATO.”

The Western alliance has been conducting air strikes on Libya since last month under a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for civilians to be protected.

But it has been reluctant to fire on Gaddafi’s forces in Misrata for fear of hitting civilians, although rebels said on Wednesday it had destroyed 37 military vehicles overnight.

An international aid ship, with 850 migrant workers who were evacuated from Misrata during a lull in shelling, docked in Benghazi on Thursday. The workers, mostly from Niger, were being taken to the Egyptian border for repatriation.

KUFRA “PURIFIED”

Gaddafi forces also took a town in the remote southeastern desert, state television reported. “Libyan forces have seized full control of the town of Kufra and purified it of the armed gangs,” it quoted a military spokesman as saying.

But rebels in their Benghazi stronghold denied the town had fallen. “Gaddafi’s forces have been shelling Kufra since this morning and in the afternoon they entered the town. But they are not in full control. The battle is not over and the situation is unclear,” said rebel spokesman Mohamed al-Muntasser.

In the Western Mountains, Zintan came under heavy fire for a second day from Russian-made missiles. “Today alone, 80 missiles hit the town. We knew they were Grad missiles by the sound they make and we checked what remained of them,” a rebel spokesman, identifying himself as Abdulrahman, said by telephone.

Gaddafi denies his forces are attacking civilians and says his opponents are Islamist militants and foreign-backed agitators who deliberately put non-combatants in harm’s way.

The U.S. Treasury has moved to permit oil deals with the rebel council in Benghazi, which is struggling to provide funding for the battle-scarred areas under its control.

Trading house Vitol has shipped at least one cargo of diesel to the rebels, easing the fuel shortage and potentially unlocking more Libyan oil for export to the West.

Libya is producing only a fraction of its pre-war output and its refineries are idle, so the rebels have been looking to clinch swap deals that involve selling oil and getting oil products in exchange. Trade sources said a diesel cargo on the tanker Delos was loaded in Malta and shipped to Benghazi just over a week ago.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Algiers, Guy Desmond and Maher Nazeh in Tripoli, Deepa Babington and Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Tarek Amara in Tunis, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Sami Aboudi in Cairo, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Jessica Donati in London; writing by David Stamp; Editing by Alison Williams)

Syrian security forces open fire at demonstrators

In this image made on a mobile phone, a Syrian man sits inside a bus as he looks through the window at  a military truck carrying Syrian soldiers, inhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110422/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_syria

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press Bassem Mroue, Associated Press 47 mins ago

BEIRUT – Syrian security forces fired live bullets and tear gas Friday at tens of thousands of people shouting for freedom and democracy, wounding about 10 people on a day that could be a major test of whether President Bashar Assad’s promises of sweeping reform will quell the monthlong uprising.

Protesters flooded into the streets after prayers Friday in at least five major areas across the country.

“The people want the downfall of the regime!” shouted protesters in Douma, a Damascus suburb where some 40,000 people took to the streets, witnesses said. It is the same rallying cry that was heard during the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

Security forces opened fire in Douma and in the central city of Homs, according to eyewitnesses. At least four people were wounded in Douma and seven in Homs, the witnesses said.

Other massive protests were reported in the coastal city of Banias, the northeastern Kurdish region and the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising kicked off more than a month ago.

The protest movement has crossed a significant threshold in recent days, with increasing numbers now seeking the downfall of the regime, not just reforms. The security crackdown has only emboldened protesters, who are enraged over the deaths of more than 200 people over five weeks.

Friday’s witness accounts could not be independently confirmed because Syria has expelled journalists and restricted access to trouble spots. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Activists promised that Friday’s protests will be the biggest rallies yet against the regime led by Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago in one of the most authoritarian countries in the Middle East.

The president has been trying to defuse the protests by launching a bloody crackdown along with a series of concessions, most recently lifting emergency laws that gave authorities almost boundless powers of surveillance and arrest.

He also has fulfilled a decades-old demand by granting citizenship to thousands among Syria’s long-ostracized Kurdish minority, fired local officials, released detainees and formed a new government.

But many protesters said the concessions have come too late — and that Assad does not deserve the credit.

“The state of emergency was brought down, not lifted,” prominent Syrian activist Suhair Atassi, who was arrested several times in the past, wrote on her Twitter page. “It is a victory as a result of demonstrations, protests and the blood of martyrs who called for Syria’s freedom.”

Earlier Friday, witnesses said security forces in uniform and plainclothes set up checkpoints around the Damascus suburb of Douma, checking peoples identity cards and preventing nonresidents from going in.

Syria stands in the middle of the most volatile conflicts in region because of its alliances with militant groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and with Shiite powerhouse Iran. That has given Damascus a pivotal role in most of the flashpoint issues of the region, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran’s widening influence.

If the regime in Syria wobbles, it also throws into disarray the U.S. push for engagement with Damascus, part of Washington’s plan to peel the country away from its allegiance to Hamas, Hezbollah and Tehran.

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