The Arab world on fire (updates)

LIBYA:

3nd of March

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2nd of March

[8] Al Jazeera News: The Libyan air force has bombed the oil refinery and port town of Marsa El Brega as battles between forces loyal and against Muammar Gaddafi raged in several towns across the North African country.

We just watched an air force jet … fly over Brega and drop at least one bomb and huge plumes of smoke are now coming out ,” Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley said on Wednesday. The warplane from Gadhafi’s air force struck a beach near where the two sides were fighting at a university campus. A witness said the blast raised a plume of sand from a dune but caused no casualties, apparently an attempt to scare off the anti-Gadhafi fighters besieging regime forces in the campus.

“All the fighters here are massing. We understand that something like 250-300 pro-Gaddafi fighters are inside Brega and they are being surrounded,” our correspondent said.

The bombing of Brega and reports about the fall of Gharyan and Sabratha towns in the country’s northwest to pro-Gaddafi forces came as Gaddafi appeared on state television once again. Located between Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte — still under government control — and the opposition-held eastern port of Benghazi, Brega also sits near ethnic fault lines between tribes loyal to Gaddafi and eastern groups opposed to him.

“They tried to take Brega this morning, but they failed,” Mustafa Gheriani, a spokesman for the February 17th Coalition, an anti-government group, told the Reuters news agency.

“It is back in the hands of the revolutionaries. He is trying to create all kinds of psychological warfare to keep these cities on edge.”

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city now controlled by rebels, described the situation in the Brega region as fluid. ” I think it’s fair to say that here is a fair amount of fighting going on in that area,” she said.

Earlier the Associated Press news agency quoted Ahmed Jerksi, manager of the oil installation in Brega, as saying that pro-Gaddafi forces took control of the facility at dawn without using force. There were conflicting claims about the casualties from these battles.

Government forces were also reported to be battling to regain control of rebel-held towns close to Tripoli, trying to create a buffer zone around what is still Gaddafi’s seat of power. Our correspondent said an air raid carried out by forces loyal to Gaddafi reportedly targeted a weapons store about 6km outside the eastern town of Ajdabiya.

Witnesses told the Associated Press news agency that they saw two warplanes bomb the town’s eastern outskirts at 10am local time. They also said pro-Gaddafi forces were advancing on the town. “I see two jets bombing now,” one witness said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Another witness said rebel forces were rushing to the western side of Ajdabiya to meet the advancing pro-Gaddafi force. Libyan forces have launched repeated air raids during the two-week revolt but all of them have been reported to target facilities that store weapons in areas controlled by the rebels.

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1st of May

[7] Gaddafi feels “betrayed” by the West

The hypocrisy of the imperialists has no limits. In the past they made deals with Gaddafi, both economic and military. That also explains why Gaddafi in a BBC interview revealed that he feels “betrayed”. The BBC reporter Jeremy Bowen put this to Gaddafi:”In recent years you’ve had a rapprochement with Western countries. You’ve had important leaders like Tony Blair here. But now there are Western leaders saying you should go. Do you feel a sense of betrayal about that? Did you ever regard them as friends?” And Gaddafi’s reply was: “Of course it’s betrayal. They have no morals.” Indeed, there is no honour among thieves, as the saying goes.

Tucked away on page 524 of the Congressional Budget Justification, Foreign Operations FY 2009 Budget Request we find that the US government, far from pushing for Gaddafi’s overthrow, had been financing Libya in their so-called effort to “combat al-Qaeda”.

The document clearly explains US objectives in Libya:

____the U.S. will build working linkages within Libya’s security forces that will help foster greater counter-terrorism cooperation. U.S. military education and training funds will educate and train Libyan security forces as well as create vital linkages with Libyan officers after a 35-year break in contact. Initial funding would be used for English language education as U.S. Government representatives in country seek to identify candidates for specific courses on civil-military relations, border security, counter-terrorism, etc.

And as if to cover themselves against any possible accusation that they were in fact training Libyan security forces, that have never been renowned for their respect for human rights, the document adds:

____This would include training programs that bring Libyan officers to the United States and expose them to democratic practices and respect for human rights.

“The Good old days”. Group photo of G8 Summit in Italy, with Mubarak and Gaddafi. Photo: White House/ Pete SouzaIn 2008, the US allocated $333,000 in IMET funds and had budgeted a further $350,000 for 2009 for Libya because of its “commitment to renouncing weapons of mass destruction; combating the rapidly growing terrorist threat posed by al-Qaeda in Libya and the region; and promoting professional, effective law enforcement and military services that respect international norms and practices.” (Source :here). Both Egypt and Tunisia received far greater amounts and over a much longer period, without any noticeable improvement in “democratic practices and respect for human rights.” [Note: The IMET, International Military Education and Training, programme provides funding to train military and civilian leaders of foreign countries, primarily at schools and facilities in the US].

The Europeans and the Russians were no better. According to one European Union report, in 2009 alone EU member states provided Gaddafi with €344 million of military equipment. Russian leaders have been making statements in the past few days about Gaddafi being unfit to lead his country, but it was only just over one year ago, in January 2010 that they signed a contract for the supply of military equipment to Libya worth 1.3 billion euros. That was in the good old days when they could do business with the very same man they now say must go.

28th of February

[1] Libya’s opposition movement has seized control of territory close to the capital, Tripoli, as anti-government protesters gear up for what could be a final battle for leader Muammar Gaddafi’s stronghold.

Three areas in the east were reported to be under the control of protesters on Monday, a day after pro-democracy demonstrators took control of the city of Az-Zawiyah, just 50km west of Tripoli. Men opposed to Gaddafi patrolled the streets of Az-Zawiyah, saying they had seized weapons and even tanks which they would use to defend themselves. But they were also bracing themselves for a potential showdown with forces loyal to Gaddafi, who have reportedly surrounded the city.

Ezeldina, a Zawiyah resident, told Al Jazeera that people in the city had raided  military camps to prepare for a potential raid by government forces.”We are expecting an attack at any moment,” he said. “We are forming rotating watch groups, guarding the neighbourhood.”

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Pro-Gaddafi rallies

Government forces manned several checkpoints between Az-Zawiyah and the capital, and supporters of the Libyan leader demonstrated in the Harsha district, 5km from the centre of Zawiyah. Government loyalists also took to the streets just outside the capital, waving posters and chanting slogans. The rallies appeared to be evidence that Gaddafi had not lost complete control of the capital.

Ibrahim Sharquieh, deputy director of the Brookings Doha Centre, said the battle between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces for Tripoli is not likely to be won immediately.”We know that [Gaddafi] is in the Bab al-Aziziya area [of Tripoli] and Bab al-Aziziya seems to be very secure. He has his militia around him and they are doing a good job protecting him,” Sharquieh told Al Jazeera. “He has even made some attacks outside the Bab al-Aziziya area. We can comfortably say that he is still in control in Tripoli. Although there is some resistance in some areas I don’t think we can talk about the city falling today or tomorrow.”

Below: This how Tunisians welcomed Egyptians who arrived in Tunisia after fleeing from Gaddafi’s genocide. They are chanting: “Tunisia and Egypt one hand“.

YEMEN: [2] (Sanaa) – State security forces have participated in or stood by during brutal attacks on journalists covering the February 2011 demonstrations against Yemen’s president, Human Rights Watch said today. Security forces or armed supporters of the president have beaten or harassed at least 31 international and Yemeni journalists in an effort to quash reporting on the protests. [..]

____Beating up journalists is a blatant attempt by the authorities to prevent the Yemeni people and the world from witnessing a critical moment in Yemen… Yemeni authorities should halt these attacks and promptly bring assailants, including security officials, to justice.

(Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch)

Reporters Attacked, Harassed or Injured During February 2011 Anti-Government Demonstrations

1.  Khalil al-Berh, detained for half-hour in car by security officials, digital camera confiscated and returned with memory deleted, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ] 2.  Khalid al-Mahdi, photographer for Reuters, detained and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ] 3.  Hani al-Ansi, photographer for The Associated Press, camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ] 4.  Wajdi Assalmi, of Hadith al-Madina newspaper, beaten by armed men and camera destroyed, Sanaa, February 13. [YJS, CPJ] 5.  Samia al-Aghrabi, fell and injured head while fleeing armed men, February 13. [YJS, CPJ] 6.  Abdallah Gorab, correspondent for the BBC, beaten with sticks by men armed with knives and guns, Sanaa, February 14. Attackers brought Gorab to Yemeni government official Hafez Meiyad, an associate of the president, who rebuked him for tarnishing Yemen’s reputation, the BBC reported. [YJS, CPJ, BBC] 7.  Mohamed Omran, cameraman for BBC, beaten and watch stolen in same attack as Abdallah Gorab, Sanaa, February 14. [CPJ, BBC] 8.  Majid Shuaibi, Mareb Press, attacked and camera confiscated by armed men, Sanaa, February 14. [YJS] 9.  Salah Saleh, beaten and detained at demonstration, Taizz, February 15. [YJS] 10.  Hassan al-Watat, beaten by armed men, February 16. [CPJ] 11.  Ahmed Ghrasi, photographer for Agence France-Presse, beaten and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ] 12.  Yahya Arhab, European Pressphoto Agency, attacked and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ] 13.  Adel Abdulmughni, reporter for Al-Wahdawi newspaper, attacked and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ] 14.  Amr Awd, Reuters, beaten and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ] 15.  Samir al-Namri, al-Jazeera, beaten and camera destroyed, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS, CPJ] 16.  Muhi al-Din Jarma, reporter for Al-Quds, suffered severe head injuries and internal bleeding after beating by armed men while a plainclothes policeman watched, Sanaa, February 17. [HRW, YJS] 17.  Akram al-Talyae, verbally abused, physically assaulted and camera confiscated, Sanaa, February 17. [YJS] 18.  Tom Finn, correspondent for the Guardian, attacked by a group of men in Sanaa, February 17. [RWB] 19.  Yasser al-Ma’amari, photographer for al-Qatariya, no further details, Sanaa, February 18. [RWB] 20.  Hamoud Munasser, Sanaa bureau chief for Al-Arabiya, beaten with sticks by armed men, Sanaa, February 18. Car attacked by same group in front of director of US-funded Counterterrorism Unit and a Central Investigation Department official. [HRW, YJS, RWB] 21.  Fu’ad al-Khadhr, cameraman for Al-Arabiya, beaten and camera seized by armed men in Sanaa, February 18. [HRW, YJS, RWB] 22.  Muhammad Sa’id al-Sharabi, freelance reporter, attacked by men armed with sticks, Sanaa, February 18. [HRW] 23.  Abd al-Qawi al-Soufi: Al-Arabiya cameraman, beaten by pro-government supporters and his camera broken, February 18. [CPJ] 24.  Awsan al-Qaatabi, correspondent for Iran’s al-Alam TV, attacked, Sanaa, February 18. [YJS, RWB] 25.  Yasser al-Maamari, cameraman for Qatar TV, attacked, Sanaa, February 18. [RWB] 26.  Abd al-Karim Sallam, a correspondent for Swissinfo, attacked by armed men as a plainclothes government security officer watched, subsequently hospitalized, Sanaa, February 20. [HRW, YJS, RWB] 27.  Zaki Saqladi, correspondent for al-Masdar Online, attacked, car and camera seized, ad-Dali, February 22. [RWB] 28.  Marzouq Yasin, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ] 29.  Abdel Rahman Anis, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ] 30.  Bassim al-Shaabi, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ] 31.  Fares al-Jalal, freelance journalist, detained by security forces while covering protest, Aden, February 25. [CPJ]

IRAQ: [3] The wave of revolution that started in Tunisia is now also reaching Iraq, where the Kurdish areas had already flared up last week. But the protests are not limited to these areas. On Friday an anti-government rally named the Day of Rage, was organised in Baghdad and other cities with thousands taking part.

This comes after several weeks of protests around the country against corruption, the shortages of jobs, food, power and water, the high level of unemployment, bad healthcare, bad schooling and a general decline in all services.

At least nine people were killed and 49 wounded in clashes with security forces in several towns across the country when demonstrators tried to storm government buildings and security personnel fired shots into the crowds to try to disperse them. Groups of protesters were shouting “No to unemployment,” and “No to the liar al-Maliki”.

In Baghdad, there were violent clashes between protesters and police. According to the BBC: “Baghdad has been virtually locked down, with the authorities banning traffic in the city centre and deploying several thousand soldiers on the streets.” All the roads leading into Baghdad were blocked off by soldiers in an attempt to thwart people’s attempts to protest. In spite of this, the protest went ahead and there were clashes with the riot police.

From Mosul in the north to Basra in the south there were other such protests. In the northern city of Hawija, security forces first fired into the air as a warning against protesters trying to take over a government building. Later the guns were turned on the people and three were killed and 15 others wounded. In Mosul, large numbers of protesters rallied in front of the provincial council building. Guards opened fire, and two protesters were killed.

In Basra about 4,000 people gathered in front of the Governor’s office demanding his resignation, because he has done nothing to improve city services. Such was the power of the protest movement that the governor actually resigned. Meanwhile, around one thousand demonstrators clashed with police in Fallujah.

Al-Maliki attempts to forestall movement

Prime Minister al-Maliki had earlier urged people not to take part in the protests. He explained this was for “security reasons”. In an attempt to scare people away he said the protests had been organised by al-Qaeda insurgents and Saddam Hussein loyalists. Funnily enough this is more or less the line of Gaddafi in Libya, who says al-Qaeda is behind the revolt that is close to overthrowing him.

Again, copying what we have seen in other Arab countries, al-Maliki in a televised appeal on Thursday, pledged that 70 per cent of Iraq’s budget would be allocated to services. “Your demands have made an impact on the budget,” he said. Why he hadn’t thought of this before the protests erupted he didn’t explain. His promises are empty words, just as those of Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s were empty words.

OMAN [4] : Following clashes between Omani security forces and anti-government protesters, a police station and a government building have been set on fire.

The confrontation erupted on Sunday in the northern industrial city of Sohar, where more than 2,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets, Reuters reported. Two people have been killed and around five others injured. Omani forces say rubber bullets caused the deaths.

The protest came one day after Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos changed six ministers in his cabinet and raised stipends for university students in an attempt to prevent further protests in the tiny Persian Gulf country. On Saturday, hundreds of protesters also held a rally in Oman’s largest industrial city Sohar, demanding democracy and better living condition.

TUNISIA [5] : Ghannouchi, the prime minister of Tunisia resigned. Demonstrations across the country still take place. Ghannouchi was Ben Ali’s minister until 1999 and had promised elections for July. He has been replaced by a 84 years old man! Ghannouchi has stated: “I was not ready to take decisions that would cause death of civilians”…

Friday, 25 February: [6] Hundreds of thousands marched today in the streets of the main cities and towns of Tunisia against the Gannouchi government and demanding a Constituent Assembly. According to the revolutionary youth which has taken the initiative of these demonstrations, 250,000 marched in the capital Tunis alone, and another 100,000 in other cities (video of demonstration in Sfax). A police source in Tunis gave the figure for demonstrators in the capital at “over 100,000”. The Red Crescent said that this was “the largest demonstration since the fall of Ben Ali”.

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[1] AlJazeera: Gaddafi rivals close in on Tripoli
[2] Human Rights Watch, Yemen: Security Forces, Gangs Attack Reporters
[3] Fred Weston, Iraq about to join the Arab revolution?
[4] Press TV, Buildings on fire amid Oman clashes
[5] Athens Indymedia, Bye Bye Ghannouchi
[6] Jorge Martín, The second wave of the Tunisian revolution: down with Gannouchi – all power to the revolutionary people
[7] Fred Weston, No to imperialist intervention in Libya
[8] Al Jazeera, Battle rages over Libyan oil port
Editing, presentation, translations: Julien Chaulieu

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