Posted: 21 Mar 2011 07:18 PM PDT
SANAA,Popular unrest yesterday swelled into a crisis for one Arab autocrat and began to rattle another long seen as immune as leading figures parted ways with Yemen's president and street protests spread in Syria.
Top generals, ambassadors and some tribes endorsed the goals of Yemen's anti-government protesters in a glancing blow to President Ali Abdullah Saleh as he strove to withstand demands for his resignation after 32 years in power.
Saleh, an important US and Saudi ally in the world's paramount oil-exporting region, has survived a civil war, tribal revolts and al Qaeda militant campaigns so far.
However, the defections of major officials appeared to pose the gravest threat yet to his tenure, although some important military allies remained loyal.
The three-month-old tide of revolt against Arab rulers seen as repressive, corrupt and unaccountable for unemployment and poverty reached Syria on Friday and gained momentum yesterday as rallies for "freedom" spread in the south.
President Bashar al-Assad's security forces killed four civilians in demonstrations that erupted in the southern city of Deraa on Friday, uncorking the sharpest challenge yet to his 11-year-old rule. His Baath Party has dominated Syria since 1963.
In Libya, where peaceful protests grew into insurrection within weeks, Muammar Gaddafi's forces besieged the only major rebel city in the west and brought in human shields, residents of Misrata said, to ward off further Western air strikes meant to protect civilians.
The first French and British sorties, backed by US missile salvoes, at the weekend halted the Gaddafi forces' advance on the rebels' eastern power base of Benghazi and pounded Libyan air defences to enforce a UN-declared no-fly zone.
As Western forces prepared to shift from air strikes to air patrols, there was no sign of any gains on the ground by the loosely organised, poorly trained insurgents.
Nevertheless, a senior official with the rebel National Council, based in Benghazi, said the rebels aimed to capture the capital Tripoli and drive out Gaddafi. He welcomed the no-fly zone but again said no foreign ground forces were wanted.
International divisions over intervention in Libya flared into the open yesterday as leaders in Russia and China criticised the air strike policy that neither approved in the UN Security Council vote last week.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the air strikes to "medieval crusades", eliciting a rare rebuke from his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev, while China's official media accused countries involved of inviting new upheaval in the Middle East. Turkey and Germany, both members of Nato, voiced further doubt and the Arab League was also divided.
Bahrain says foreign plot foiled
In Bahrain, where the absolute Sunni Muslim monarchy has been grappling with a restive Shi'ite majority, said a foreign plot against the Gulf island state had been thwarted.
The head of the Gulf Cooperation Council said interference in Gulf state affairs by Iran, the Shi'ite giant across the water from Bahrain, would not be tolerated.
Confrontation between Bahraini Sunnis and Shi'ites calling for democracy has whipped up international tension in the region. About 1,000 Saudi soldiers and 500 police officers from the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain last week to safeguard government facilities.
Kuwaiti naval vessels arrived in Bahrain yesterday to help protect its waters as part of a Gulf defence pact, Bahrain's state news agency said. Bahrain is the base for the US Fifth Fleet, central to Washington's military power in the oil-rich region.
France yesterday became the first Western power to call publicly for Yemen's Saleh to stand down. Pan-Arab TV channel Al Arabiya quoted Saleh as saying most Yemenis were with him and he would remain steadfast.
A government official said the president had asked Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to mediate in the crisis.
Defence Minister Mohammad Nasser Ali said the army still backed Saleh, setting the stage for a possible standoff with those commanders who threw in their lot with tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to the street for weeks.
The latest defections seemed to be sparked by Yemen's bloody response to protests on Friday, when plainclothes snipers killed 52 protesters in Sanaa, prompting Saleh to sack his cabinet and declare a 30-day state of emergency.
In Syria, hundreds of people demonstrated against the government in the southern town of Jassem, activists said, but authorities did not use force to quell the latest protest.
"This is peaceful, peaceful. God, Syria, freedom!" chanted the protesters in Jassem, an agricultural town near Deraa.
Syrian Justice Minister Mohamad Ahmad Younis went to Deraa to try to calm emotions and open a dialogue with protesters.
The authorities appeared to adopt less heavy-handed tactics, opting not to intervene against protests demanding freedom and an end to graft and repression, but not the overthrow of Assad.
The Baath Party has banned opposition and enforced emergency laws since seizing power in a coup 48 years ago.
The Pentagon said yesterday that Libya air strikes had hamstrung Gaddafi's might but signalled that the United States would keep the rebels at arm's length to avoid getting mired in a messy civil conflict amid war weariness over Afghanistan and Iraq.
General Carter Ham, US commander leading a multinational coalition against Gaddafi, said three days of air and missile strikes had fashioned a broad no-fly zone but Western forces were not providing close air support for Libyan insurgents. — Reuters
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Posted: 21 Mar 2011 05:17 PM PDT
TRIPOLI,Anti-aircraft fire and explosions reverberated across Tripoli for a third night last night, and state television said several sites had come under attack in the capital.
Western powers had no immediate confirmation they had launched fresh strikes on Tripoli in a campaign to target Libyan air defences and enforce a no-fly zone.
A US general said, however, that attacks on Libya — launched in a UN-mandated operation to stop attacks on civilians by Muammar Gaddafi's forces — were likely to slow in the coming days.
Despite the campaign, residents in two besieged rebel-held western cities, Misrata and Zintan, said they had been attacked by government troops, some of whom were expected to try to force their way into civilian areas to escape attack from the air.
Rebels, who had been driven back towards their eastern Benghazi stronghold before the air attacks halted an advance by Gaddafi's forces, have so far done little to capitalise on the campaign, raising fears the war could grind to a stalemate.
Washington, wary of being drawn into another war after long campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, has ruled out specific action to overthrow Gaddafi, although France said yesterday that it hoped the Libyan government would collapse from within.
"My sense is that, that unless something unusual or unexpected happens, we may see a decline in the frequency of attacks," General Carter Ham, who is leading US forces in the Libyan operation, told reporters in Washington.
He added, however, that "we possess the capability to bring overwhelming combat power to bear, as we have done in the initial stages of this, where it's been required".
Libyan state television reported that several sites in Tripoli had been subjected to new attacks by what it called the "crusader enemy".
"These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people," state television said.
Anti-aircraft gunfire rang out throughout the night and pro-Gaddafi slogans echoed around the city centre. Cars sped through Tripoli streets honking wildly.
Al Jazeera television said coalition forces had struck radar installations at two air defence bases in eastern Libya late yesterday. However, a French armed forces spokesman said France, which has been involved in strikes in the east, had no planes in the air at the time.
In Misrata, residents said people had gone out into the streets to try to stop Gaddafi's forces entering the city.
"When they gathered in the centre, the Gaddafi forces started shooting at them with artillery and guns," said the resident, who gave his name as Saadoun. He said nine people were killed.
Zintan, near the Tunisian border, faced heavy shelling, two witnesses said, forcing residents to flee to mountain caves. Several houses were destroyed and a mosque minaret destroyed. — Reuters
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