Ahad, 13 Mac 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Gaddafi troops take oil town, France pushes no-fly zone

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 05:37 PM PDT

A rebel fighter sits on a truck as he fires an anti-aircraft gun during an air strike at a rebel fighters checkpoint in Al Ugaila area along a road between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 12, 2011. — Reuters pic

AJDABIYAH, Libya, March 14 — Muammar Gaddafi's troops battled rebel fighters for control of the strategic Libyan oil town of Brega yesterday, as France promised to push harder for a UN-backed no-fly zone over the country.

Government troops advancing east along the coast road took Brega early yesterday in what looked like an increasingly confident drive towards the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

But the rebels, inspired by the overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents to try to end Gaddafi's four-decade rule, said they had re-taken Brega on Sunday night. There was no way of verifying the rival claims.

The government, whose forces had previously captured Ras Lanuf, another oil town 100 km west of Brega, said earlier it was certain of victory and threatened to "bury" the rebels, whom it linked to al Qaeda and "foreign security services."

Gaddafi himself met the Russian, Chinese and Indian ambassadors and urged their countries to invest in Libya's oil sector, badly disrupted by the uprising and the flight of tens of thousands of expatriates oil workers.

Libyan oil exports have been badly disrupted by the fighting, lack of staff, international sanctions and the refusal of international banks to fund trade deals. Some experts say it may take a year for output to recover to its previous level of about 1.6 million barrels per day.

International crude prices fell by about US$1 (RM3.04) a barrel on Gaddafi regaining territory over the weekend.

On the diplomatic front, France said it would step up efforts to persuade world powers to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. It said the Arab League's weekend call on the United Nations to impose such a zone showed the world's concern for Libyan civilians.

Time however is short for ill-equipped rebels facing far superior firepower, including warplanes and helicopters.

The Libyan government said it would welcome an African Union panel to try to help resolve the crisis, but condemned the Arab League call for a no-fly zone, describing it as "a dangerous act for Arab security that only serves the Zionist enemy."

France said it would consult other powers "in the coming hours" to try to set up such a zone "to assure the protection of the civilian population in Libya ... in the face of the terrible violence suffered by the Libyan population."

France hosts a Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting on Monday and said they would discuss the situation in Libya.


A Libyan government army source told state television yesterday morning: "Brega has been cleansed of armed gangs," and rebel fighters retreating eastwards were demoralised.

"There's no uprising any more," said rebel Nabeel Tijouri, his heavy machinegun destroyed in the fighting. "The other day we were in Ras Lanuf, then Brega, the day after tomorrow they will be in Benghazi."

Brega is 220km south of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi and Ajdabiyah is the only sizeable town between them.

The flat desert terrain means the government's aircraft and tanks outweigh the rebels' enthusiasm and light weaponry, except in towns where the odds against the rebels are reduced.

State television carried a confident official message. "We are certain of our victory, whatever the price," it said.

"Those acts of division will be buried together with those who committed them, who are linked to foreign security services and the terrorist organisation al Qaeda," it said.

But last night, rebel media officer Mustafa Gheriani told reporters in Benghazi the rebels had retaken Brega, killed 25 Gaddafi fighters and taken 20 prisoners of war.

"Tonight it (Brega) is back in the hands of the revolutionaries, but they will probably come back tomorrow with big machines, bomb it and take it back again," Gheriani said. "This is a war of resolve and the resolve of his (Gaddafi's) people is breaking down."

Rashid Khalikov, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya, said in an interview he wanted unimpeded access:

"The situation is changing from one day to another," he said. "The main concern is to find out what's going on, which we don't know...The civilian population is suffering a lot."

The United States said the Arab League's call for a UN no-fly zone to protect Libyan cities was an "important step," but Washington remained cautious about military intervention.

Arab support satisfies one of three conditions NATO set on Friday for it to police Libyan air space. The others are proof that its help is needed, and a UN Security Council resolution.

Even if the Security Council meets to discuss a no-fly zone, it is far from clear whether it would pass a resolution as veto holders Russia and China have both publicly opposed the idea.


The Libyan conflict has escalated from a popular uprising similar to protests that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and have shaken other countries in the region. It is now more akin to a civil war.

Protests in the capital have stopped.

Human Rights Watch said "Gaddafi and his security forces are brutally suppressing all opposition in Tripoli — including peaceful protests — with lethal force, arbitrary arrests, and forced disappearances."

Fresh from crushing the revolt in Zawiyah, west of Tripoli, elite government troops and tanks turned to Misrata, Libya's third biggest city with 300,000 people and the only pocket of rebel resistance outside the east.

Rebels said a mutiny among government troops stalled their advance yesterday for a second day, but this was impossible to confirm independently.

"From the early morning they (government troops) are fighting each other. We hear the fighting," rebel fighter Mohammed told Reuters by telephone. "This division between them came to us from God ... Now we are waiting to see what happens."

Journalists have been prevented from reaching the city by the authorities. The government dismissed the reports as rumours and said there were al Qaeda fighters in Misrata. — Reuters 

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Japanese inspired and angered; resigned to more quakes

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 04:30 PM PDT

An injured girl is brought to a Japanese Red Cross hospital after being evacuated from the area hit by tsunami in Ishinomaki March 13, 2011. — Reuters

TOKYO, March 14 — While images of brutal destruction wreaked by a devastating earthquake and tsunami have stunned the nation and the world, Japanese are finding both inspiration and reasons to vent in the aftermath of the disaster.

One sentiment that is emerging is that such a calamitous event could occur again at any time, in any place.

"We don't know when it will happen to us," said Masatoshi Masuda, 52, a seal carver in the southwest city of Kagoshima, far from the deadly, three-meter-high waves that surged across farmland, villages and cities in Japan's northeast Friday.

Masuda noted that an active volcano, Mount Sakurajima, spews ash onto Kagoshima almost daily. And not far away is Shinmoedake, another volcano that began erupting in late January in its most significant activity in some 300 years.

"We're worried about what will happen next time," Masuda said. "But whatever happens it won't be a surprise."

A clearer picture of the deaths from the massive quake was emerging with estimates reaching at least 10,000, and damage at least in the tens of billions of dollars.

Letters to the editor printed in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper Sunday ran through a range of emotions, from praising the spirit of extending helping hands to strangers to fuming why infrastructure could collapse in this technologically advanced country.

Akiko Takushima, 46, of Yokohama, which neighbors Tokyo, said the tragedy brought out the best in people. She was forced to walk for more than six hours to get home Friday night when train service in the Tokyo region was shut down.

"It was terrible, but I was touched by many warm hearts along the way," she said, singling out people who served passers-by tea or recharged cellphone batteries.

Aiko Miyake, a 21-year-old from Ashiya City, in western Hyogo prefecture, who was in Tokyo for job interviews when the quake struck, wrote that the events left her sober and pensive. Experiencing the temblor made her think of Japan's last severe earthquake, in Ashiya's neighboring Kobe in 1995, when she was 6 years old.

Others found things with which to find fault.

Naohiro Hoshina, a 47-year-old worker with a shipping company in Fujisawa, west of Tokyo, wished recovery to tsunami victims but fumed at how local mobile phone systems were taken out. "Isn't the basic point of having a mobile phone to make phone calls?" he asked.

Government aid efforts has also fallen short, Akemi Kanno said Sunday in Rikuzentakata, a town in the northeast prefecture of Iwate that was devastated by the tsunami.

"At the quake response headquarters, they are not providing food. All the lifelines are down," Kanno, 53, told Reuters.

"I went to the headquarters but the mayor was standing outside laughing, and that made me upset," she said. "I do not know what the national government is doing."

Naomi Shioda, 52, Niigata City, said she trusted authorities. "I think the government understands the best so is in the best position to speak and to save lives."

The tragedy struck close to home because her son just finished his second year in college in Sendai, a city to which many Niigata residents aspire to live, and it took six to seven hours for him to get word to her that he was safe.

Shioda says she is resigned to "the big one" hitting her backyard. "I thought it would come to Niigata," she said. "But I didn't think it would be so strong, or that I'd be watching it live, watching people die."

Now, after shedding many tears while watching newscasts, she can't watch anymore, she says, and avoids TV news.

Mami Takano, a student who just finished her first year at Waseda University in Tokyo, was travelling on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido when the tragedy struck. She was glued first to Twitter reports on her phone, then to the nonstop TV news.

She agonizes over the quake and tsunami victims, with reports of hundreds of bodies found in some towns, but says these last few days have taught her a lesson in social media. Some of the Twitter reports were false, she said, such as one saying a Cosmo Oil refinery going up in flames would lead to toxic rain.

"Good judgment is very important," Takano said. — Reuters 

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