Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Libyan Rebels Said to Debate Seeking U.N. Airstrikes

BENGHAZI, Libya — In a sign of mounting frustration among rebel leaders over Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s diminished but unyielding grip on power, rebel leaders here are debating whether to ask for Western airstrikes under the United Nations banner, according to four people with knowledge of the deliberations.

By invoking the United Nations, a council of opposition leaders made up of lawyers, academics, judges and other prominent figures is seeking to draw a distinction between such airstrikes and foreign intervention, which the rebels said they emphatically opposed.

“He destroyed the army; we have two or three planes,” said a spokesman for the council, Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga. He refused to say if there would be any imminent announcement about such strikes, but he wanted to make it clear: “If it is with the United Nations, it is not a foreign intervention.”

That distinction is lost on many people, and any call for foreign military help carries great risks.

The antigovernment protesters in Libya, like those in Tunisia and Egypt, have drawn broad popular support — and great pride — from their status as homegrown movements that have defied autocrats without outside help.

Any intervention, even one with the imprimatur of the United Nations, could play into the hands of Colonel Qaddafi, who has called the uprising a foreign plot by Western powers that seek to occupy Libya.

“If he falls with no intervention, I’d be happy,” one rebel leader said. “But if he’s going to commit a massacre, my priority is to save my people.”

There was no indication that the United Nations Security Council’s members would approve such a request, or that most Libyans who are seeking to topple Colonel Qaddafi would welcome it. Among the Security Council’s members, Russia has dismissed talk of a no-fly zone to curb strikes by the Libyan Air Force still under Colonel Qaddafi’s control, and China usually votes against foreign intervention.

The discussions appeared to signal a rebel movement that is impatient with a military stalemate that has crippled the country. The airstrikes’ supporters hoped they might dislodge Colonel Qaddafi from crucial strongholds, including a fortified compound in the capital, Tripoli.

The council is considering strikes against only the compound and assets like radar stations, according to the people briefed on the discussions, who requested anonymity because no formal decision had been made.

The United States acknowledged the sensitivity concerning outside intervention.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the Obama administration knew that the Libyan opposition was eager to be seen “as doing this by themselves on behalf of the Libyan people — that there not be outside intervention by any external force.”

Tensions were high in Benghazi on Tuesday, the day after government warplanes attacked sites south of the city and special forces retook a rebel-held oil refinery at Ras Lanuf in central Libya.

Rebel soldiers drove a convoy of pickup trucks mounted with antiaircraft guns through the streets of Benghazi, and officers welcomed journalists at a base near the airport, where volunteers were learning to how to operate the weapons.

The training was far from complete: while one of the antiaircraft weapons was being fired, a large metal chunk flew off the gun and landed in the street.

Despite bold stands against government forces, and tremendous gains in territory, the military commanders allied with the rebels seemed unsure about how the effort to topple Colonel Qaddafi would play out. The Libyan leader commands loyalty in his hometown, Surt, whose location on a road that links eastern and western Libya is strategically important.

But of particular concern to the rebels is the colonel’s reinforced bunker, which is known as Bab al-Aziziya and is said to contain tunnels for easy escape. “It is designed to resist an atomic attack,” said Ramdan Jarbou, a writer who is advising the rebel council.
Faced with those realities, the council in Benghazi began talking about help from abroad. A heated discussion pitted several people — including those who dismissed the idea out of hand as a point of honor — against others who saw no option but to call in the airstrikes to end the bloodshed.

Another member of the rebel leadership who supported the idea said: “It should have been done three days ago. But it’s a burden to take this responsibility. It’s like you’re a traitor.” The leader said the council had reached a consensus to request the airstrikes.

As council members left the meeting on Tuesday evening, Ali Abubaker, 40, a trader, said it would take “big pressure” to remove Colonel Qaddafi. “We don’t want to be in the situation where the people are turning against one another,” he said, warning of the threat of civil war. “We’d like the honor of the Libyan people doing it themselves. But perhaps we need help.”

Others strongly disagreed.

“No foreign intervention in Libya,” said Essam al-Tawargi, an engineer. “With our guns, with our potential, we can bring Qaddafi down.”

That conviction was tested on Tuesday in Nalut, a city on the Tunisian border that the rebels said they now controlled, in part because local army units refused to fight them. “They said we cannot and we will not kill you because we are all Libyan,” a rebel who gave his name only as Ayman said in a telephone interview.

He said that soldiers working for Colonel Qaddafi still controlled the border but could not enter the city and that defectors from local army units had helped residents arm themselves. “At first we didn’t have weapons, so we didn’t use them,” Ayman said. “But in this war we need weapons, so we get weapons from our soldiers in our army — they have given them to us.”

He said that the people in the mountain region near Nalut rose in rebellion after hearing reports of massacres in Benghazi. “They are my brothers,” he said, “so of course I will fight for them.”

He said the rebels in the mountains would march on Tripoli “when all of our region is free.”

Rebels also said they continued to hold Zawiyah, an oil port just 30 miles from the capital, after fighting off an assault by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces on Monday night.

But they kept an anxious watch on the barricades; the government’s forces were heavily deployed just outside town. “Everything is all right, but there are army tanks on a farm outside the main gate from Tripoli,” said a rebel who used the name Faisal.

Some fighters had begun to refer to their town as “the Zawiyah State.”

Inside Tripoli, residents of the working class suburb of Tajoura described a massacre that they said had been carried out by pro-government forces last week.

The soldiers, they said, repeatedly drove through the neighborhood shooting at crowds and buildings, usually from Toyota Tundra pickup trucks but occasionally from the backs of ambulances.

They said one resident, a mother named Fatama Ragebi, had been killed by a stray bullet in her home and was buried on Saturday.

They repeated reports that the security forces had not only fired into crowds but also carried off the dead and wounded, sometimes from the hospitals.

The residents named 17 neighbors who they said had been killed and eight who had disappeared from just one street.
Few could agree on what would come next. Some said they were waiting for help in the form of weapons from the bastions of rebellion outside of Tripoli, like Benghazi.

Others vowed that “the people are going to free themselves by themselves.”


Gaddafi in bid to reassert control

Libyan leader dispatches troops to areas in the western part of the country amid mounting pressure from Western leaders.

The opposition has seized weapons and ammunition from army depots in the east of the country [Reuters]

Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's embattled leader, is defying mounting calls to step down and has instead dispatched forces to several far-flung regions in a bid to reassert his control that has been threatened by the uprising sweeping the North African nation.

Barely 12 hours after the United States said it was moving warships and air forces closer to Libya, Gaddafi's forces re-asserted their presence at the Dehiba border crossing in the country's west on Tuesday, decorating the border post with green Libyan flags.

Reporters on the Tunisian side saw Libyan army vehicles and soldiers armed with Kalashnikov rifles. The previous day, there was no Libyan security presence at the border crossing.

Residents of Nalut, about 60km from the Tunisian border, also reported seeing paramilitary forces massing outside the city.

Assault repelled

The fresh deployments come after a night of clashes that broke out after pro-Gaddafi forces attempted to wrest back the city of Az Zawiyah from opposition control.

Residents took out a victory march in the city, 50km from the capital Tripoli, on Tuesday, after having successfully repelled the assault.

"Allahu Akbar [God is Great] for our victory,'' residents chanted as they paraded through the city's main square. Some carried on their shoulders an air force colonel they said had just defected to the opposition side.

Witnesses said pro-Gaddafi forces battled opposition fighters for six hours overnight but could not retake control of the city.
But some analysts doubted that Gaddafi would launch a widescale military offensive to regain captured territory given the outside pressure.

"Gaddafi is finished if he does it [military attack] and finished if he doesn't. In both cases he is very vulnerable," Ashour Shamis, a UK-based Libyan activist, said.

"He is losing out sections of Libya very very fast. He has no influence except in Tripoli and even there very small areas are under his control."

Gaddafi's influence over the desert nation has drastically shrunk following the deadly protests. The opposition movement is in control of most of the eastern region, and several cities elsewhere have also slipped out of Gaddafi's hands.

Numerous tribal leaders, officials, military officers and army units have defected, weakening the leader who has ruled Libya for more than 41 years.

Humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, international pressure is continuing to mount on Gaddafi, with David Cameron, the British prime minister, saying his government will work to prepare a "no-fly" zone to protect the Libyan people.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has called on nations to fully implement Saturday's UN Security Council resolution on Libya. The measures agreed at the world body included a freeze on Gaddafi's assets, travel bans on him and his associates, and referring his regime's brutal crackdown to the International Criminal Court.
Concerns are also growing over the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Libya.

A resident of Az Zawiyah told Al Jazeera that he feared a food shortage as Gaddafi loyalists outside the city were hindering food supplies from entering the city.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 140,000 people, mainly foreign migrants, have fled Libya to neighbouring countries and thousands more are arriving at the borders.

The Red Cross and UN have complained of limited access to Tripoli and areas in the west. France said humanitarian aid must be the priority in Libya rather than military action to oust Gaddafi.

The French government has sent two airplanes with medical equipment and staff to the Libyan city of Benghazi, now in the hands of opposition, and more planes are to follow, government spokesman Francois Baroin said.

Source: Al Jazeera

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Joe Scarborough: Glenn Beck Is 'Losing It Before Our Eyes'

On Friday's "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough said Glenn Beck has gone "out of control" and is "bad for the conservative movement."
Scarborough started by playing a clip of a particularly agitated and angry Beck. He was not happy with what he saw.
"I've been telling conservatives for about two years, this guy is bad for the movement," Scarborough said. "This guy is losing it before our eyes. He's bad for the conservative movement. He's bad for the Republican Party. He's bad for Fox News...even guys over at Fox News have to start thinking, this can't last. He's out of control."
Scarborough then read a blog post by conservative commentator Peter Wehner. "Glenn Beck has become the most disturbing personality on cable television," Wehner wrote. Scarborough clearly seemed to agree with that assessment.

"He throws bombs out all the time," he said. "It's the conspiracy theories that are the most dangerous because that gets people acting out."
Scarborough has previously said that Beck is delivering a "vile message" to the country.