Khamis, 14 April 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Allies vow no halt to campaign until Gaddafi goes

Posted: 14 Apr 2011 05:38 PM PDT

Smoke rises after a Nato and coalition air strike in Tripoli April 14, 2011. — Reuters pic

TRIPOLI, April 15 — The British, French and US leaders vowed today to press on with their military campaign in Libya until Muammar Gaddafi leaves power, and rebels said his forces were pounding the besieged city of Misrata with missiles.

In a strongly worded, jointly written article published in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama said leaving Gaddafi in power would be an "unconscionable betrayal" of the Libyan people.

"It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government," the leaders wrote.

"So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds," they wrote.

"Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good."

The article appeared at a time when diplomatic efforts have failed to paper over divisions between Nato allies about how intensively they should prosecute the three-week-old air war, and the situation on the ground has shown signs of stalemate.

Washington, which led the campaign in its first week, has since turned over command to Nato and taken a back-seat role. Britain and France complain that other Nato allies have not provided enough fire power to take out Gaddafi's armour and allow the rebels in control of the east to sweep him from power.

Libyan rebels begged yesterday for more air strikes and said they faced a massacre from government forces, who blasted the besieged city of Misrata with missiles.

Nato planes bombed targets in the capital Tripoli, where state television showed footage of a defiant Gaddafi cruising through the streets in a green safari jacket and sunglasses, pumping his fists and waving from an open-top vehicle.

'Medieval siege'

Rebels said a hail of rockets fired by besieging forces into a residential district of Misrata, Libya's third-largest city, had killed 23 civilians, mostly women and children.

"Over 200 Grad missiles fell on the port area, including residential neighbourhoods near the port. They shelled this area because the port is Misrata's only window to the outside world," a rebel spokesman using the name Ghassan said by telephone.

"The destruction there was huge. I was there and saw for myself," he said, adding that the port had been shut.

In their article, the US, British and French leaders said Misrata was "enduring a medieval siege as Gaddafi tries to strangle its population into submission".

Aid organisations warn of a humanitarian disaster in the city, the lone major rebel bastion in western Libya, where hundreds of civilians are said to have died in a six-week siege.

Nato foreign ministers in Berlin promised yesterday in a joint declaration to provide "all necessary resources and maximum operational flexibility" for the air campaign to maintain a "high operational tempo against legitimate targets".

But several allies rebuffed calls from France and Britain to contribute more to the air attacks, conducted under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after the Berlin meeting that he was hopeful more countries would contribute to the strike force. "It's not unreasonable to ask other nations . . . to make additional contributions," he said.

Spain said it had no plan to join the seven Nato states that had conducted ground strikes. Italy, Libya's former colonial power, expressed reluctance to launch attacks. — Reuters

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Assad names govt, frees detainees to defuse tension

Posted: 14 Apr 2011 04:31 PM PDT

President Bashar Al-Assad: Mix of carrot and stick fails to quell the dissension. — Reuters pic

AMMAN, April 15 — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday unveiled a new cabinet and ordered the release of detainees arrested during a month of unprecedented protests in an attempt to defuse tension ahead of demonstrations today.

Assad's gestures were unlikely to appease protesters calling for greater freedoms, especially as the cabinet has little power in Syria. The release of detainees excluded those who committed crimes "against the nation and the citizens".

Hours after Assad's decrees, a pro-democracy demonstration erupted in Sweida, Syria's Druze heartland, a witness said.

Assad has tried to face off the protests, which spread from the southern city of Deraa, by a mixture of force, vague promises of reform and reaching out to minority Kurds and conservative Sunni Muslims.

Emergency law in force since the Baath Party took power nearly 50 years ago bans any public gatherings of greater than five people. Demonstrations after midday Friday prayers have tended to be the strongest in numbers.

They have also been among the most bloody, with witnesses saying security forces have fired on protesters. Authorities blame "armed groups" and "infiltrators" for the violence.

Rights groups say at least 200 people have died in protests that have posed the greatest challenge to Assad's 11-year rule.

The United States said it believed there was evidence Iran, which shares with Syria a strong anti-Israeli alliance, was assisting Damascus in quelling the protests.

Syria denied the US allegations. "There is no truth to the announcement by the US State Department about the presence of evidence of Iranian help to Syria in quelling the protests," state television quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Restive city of Banias

A rights group reported that authorities had freed hundreds of people in the restive coastal city of Banias, which security forces had sealed off and surrounded with tanks after a demonstration last week.

The move was part of a deal struck in Damascus between a Baath Party official and imams and prominent figures from Banias, intended to help calm the city ahead of Friday prayers.

Syria said snipers shot dead a soldier in Banias yesterday and wounded another.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported that hundreds of Banias detainees had been freed yesterday under the deal, said it had documented several cases of torture.

"Some swore they were interrogated about things they never heard of in their lives," it said in a statement, calling for an independent legal investigation.

The group said authorities had pledged to improve living conditions in Banias and withdraw secret police, replacing them with troops who would safeguard residents.

Irregular loyalists to Assad, known as "al-shabbiha", killed four people in Banias last Sunday, a rights campaigner said.

The United States, France, Britain and other nations have urged Assad to refrain from violence in dealing with protests.

Some of the tension has sectarian overtones in a mostly Sunni Muslim nation ruled by minority Alawites, adherents to an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

The unrest in Syria started last month after police detained more than a dozen children in the southern city of Deraa for graffiti inspired by democracy protests across the Arab world.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in this tightly controlled country.

A delegation from Deraa, which has seen the bloodiest clashes since unrest first broke out on March 18, met Assad in Damascus yesterday to discuss the crisis. The delegation included state employees and tribal figures, but other prominent figures in the city refused to go, a source in Deraa said.

Protests have not reached the critical mass seen in uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. A heavy secret police presence, preachers on the state payroll giving pro-Assad sermons and a Sunni merchant class staying on the sidelines have helped prevent major protests reaching central Damascus and Aleppo.

But religiously conservative Sunni areas along Syria's coastline have defied a campaign of arrests and security sweeps designed to stop the unrest from taking hold of the country.

Opposition figures said any genuine reforms in Syria to allow people more freedom would require an effective executive branch and independent judiciary to replace a powerless government structure dominated by the Baath Party.  — Reuters

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