Ahad, 27 Mac 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Aided by air strikes Libya’s rebels push west

Posted: 27 Mar 2011 06:19 PM PDT

A rebel fighter walks amid debris at Brega, after forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi fled westward following coalition air strikes in eastern Libya, March 27, 2011. — Reuters pic

BIN JAWAD, Libya, March 28 — Libya's ramshackle rebel army have pushed west to retake a series of towns from the forces of Muammar Gaddafi as they pulled back under pressure from Western air strikes.

Emboldened by the help of the air strikes, the rebels have rapidly reversed military losses in their five-week insurgency and regained control of all the main oil terminals in eastern Libya, as far as the town of Bin Jawad.

Rebels said today they now had their sights on the coastal town of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown and an important military base about 150km further along the coast. A Reuters reporter in Sirte heard four blasts last night. It was unclear if they were in the town or its outskirts.

The reporter also saw a convoy of 20 military vehicles including truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns leaving Sirte and moving westwards towards Tripoli, along with dozens of civilian cars carrying families and stuffed with personal belongings.

"We want to go to Sirte today. I don't know if it will happen," said 25-year-old rebel fighter Marjai Agouri as he waited with 100 others outside Bin Jawad with three multiple rocket launchers, six anti-aircraft guns and around a dozen pickup trucks mounted with machineguns.

The advance along Libya's Mediterranean coast by a poorly armed and uncoordinated force of volunteer rebels suggested that Western strikes under a UN no-fly zone were shifting the battlefield dynamics dramatically, in the east at least.

The rebels are now back in control of the main oil terminals in the east — Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, Zueitina and Tobruk — while Gaddafi appears to be retrenching in the west.


Nearer the capital, Gaddafi's forces fought rebels in the centre of Misrata, Libya's third city, to try to consolidate his grip on western Libya. Misrata is the only western city still in rebel hands and has been sealed off for weeks.

A resident called Saadoun told Reuters by phone that at least eight people were killed and 24 wounded when Gaddafi's forces fired mortar shells while attacking Misrata from the west in a day of fighting.

Pro-Gaddafi snipers were also pinning down rebel forces but late on Sunday night the fighting died down.

A rebel called Mohammed told Reuters by phone that pro-Gaddafi forces controlled "only one small area, a couple of streets" in the western part of the city.

Residents told Reuters they were having to use wells to get water and that medicines were in short supply.

At least six blasts resonated in Tripoli last night, followed by long bursts of anti-aircraft fire by Libyan forces. Libyan television said there had been air strikes on the "civilian and military areas" in the capital.

Libyan state TV broadcast what it said was live footage of Gaddafi in a car in his Tripoli compound where hundreds of supporters waved green flags and chanted slogans. Gaddafi could not be seen in the white car but the TV said he was in it.

Yesterday, Nato agreed to take full command of military operations in Libya after a week of heated negotiations, officials said, as Washington seeks to scale back its role in another Muslim country after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Western air strikes had "eliminated" Gaddafi's ability to move his heavy weapons.

Gates also raised the possibility that Gaddafi's government could splinter and said an international conference in London on Tuesday would discuss political strategies to help bring an end to Gaddafi's 41-year rule.

Libya accused Nato of "terrorising" and killing its people as part of a global plot to humiliate and weaken the North African country.

The government says Western-led air attacks have killed more than 100 civilians, a charge denied by the coalition which says it is protecting civilians from Gadaffi's forces and targeting only military sites to enforce the no-fly zone.

"The terror people live in, the fear, the tension is everywhere. And these are civilians who are being terrorised every day," said Mussa Ibrahim, a Libyan government spokesman.

"We believe the unnecessary continuation of the air strikes is a plan to put the Libyan government in a weak negotiating position. Nato is prepared to kill people, destroy army training camps and army checkpoints and other locations."

Ibrahim acknowledged that rebel forces in the east were advancing westwards but declined to give any details on the retreat of government troops.

He said three Libyan civilian sailors were killed in a coalition air strike on a fishing harbour in the city of Sirte on Saturday. — Reuters  

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Nigeria president appeals to Muslim leaders before vote

Posted: 27 Mar 2011 04:58 PM PDT

Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan addresses delegates next to vice-president Namadi Sambo (right) during the primaries of the ruling People's Democratic Party in the federal capital Abuja January 13, 2011. — Reuters pic

KADUNA, Nigeria, March 28 — Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan appealed to Muslim leaders yesterday to help ensure that elections next month, which risk stoking regional rivalries, pass off peacefully.

Africa's most populous nation holds presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections spread over three weeks in April, all of which are set to be fiercely contested.

Jonathan met with the Sultan of Sokoto, one of Nigeria's most influential Islamic leaders, and other senior figures from the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Muslim umbrella organisation Jamatul Nasir Islam in the northern city of Kaduna.

Nigeria is home to the largest Muslim community in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for roughly half of the country's 150 million people, as well as to more than 200 ethnicities, most of whom generally live peacefully side by side.

But ethnic and religious rivalries bubble under the surface and the candidacy of Jonathan, a Christian from the southern Niger Delta, has fuelled resentment from some in the north who believe the next president should be a northern Muslim.

Jonathan is running for what would have been the second term of late President Umaru Yar'Adua, a northerner who died last year leaving Jonathan to inherit the country's highest office.

His main rival in the presidential race is former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner whose reputation as a devout Muslim and a disciplinarian means he has strong grassroots support in large parts of the north.

"Some members of the political class may be very desperate to win the elections by all means," Jonathan said after the meeting, also attended by the Emir of Kano and Shehu of Borno, the leaders of Nigeria's other two main Muslim dynasties.

"They will create a lot of problems and the only people who can counsel us are religious leaders and our traditional rulers ... I am requesting for you to continue to impress on all Nigerians the need for peaceful coexistence," Jonathan said.

Some diplomats and political analysts fear protests in parts of the north if, as widely expected, Jonathan wins the April 9 presidential election, particularly if the polls are deemed to have been anything other than free or fair.

Nigeria also holds parliamentary elections a week before the presidential vote and governorship elections in its 36 states a week later.


The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa'adu Abubakar, commended Jonathan for reaching out to Muslim and traditional leaders and said he was "on the right path." But he also voiced concern about violence around the country as the elections approach.

More than 200 people have died in sectarian clashes since late December around Jos in the Middle Belt, which lies between the Muslim north and largely Christian south.

Although not all of violence is directly election-related, the tensions are rooted in rivalry over political and economic power and have been exacerbated in the run-up to the polls.

Buhari's team accused the police of killing four supporters during a rally in Jos last week, while the security forces found bomb-making equipment at a house in the city.

There has also been a spate of political killings in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state in the northeast, which have been blamed on radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, although many analysts believe the group's name is being used as a front.

Gunmen shot dead a youth leader from the opposition All Nigeria People's Party on Sunday, the latest killing blamed on the sect. The party's candidate in forthcoming governorship elections was gunned down in January.

There has also been unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

Local reports said four people were killed in rioting between supporters of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the southeastern state of Akwa Ibom last week. Jonathan said on Sunday 500 vehicles and a school had been burned in the unrest.

The ACN's candidate for the Akwa Ibom governorship, James Akpanudoedehe, was charged with treason on Friday for alleged involvement in the violence. The ACN accused the government of "intimidation" and called for his release.

Three people were killed by an explosive device thrown from a car at a PDP rally in Suleja, just outside Abuja, on March 3, three months after a car bomb exploded in the capital. — Reuters 

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