Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Gaddafi in Checkmate? Or is he in plain sight?
"He also claimed on Wednesday to have walked incognito on the streets of Tripoli without being recognised."
Gaddafi’s Wacky Russian Soulmate
Aug 25, 2011 1:23 PM EDT
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has been president of a Russian state, a millionaire car dealer, a Buddhist, and a chess fanatic. He is also Muammar Gaddafi’s BFF. He tells all to Anna Nemtsova, including the story of his abduction by aliens.
Muammar Gaddafi was always known for his eccentricities—the all-female bodyguard detail, the Bedouin tents he’d have pitched for himself when traveling abroad. But perhaps the strangest of all Gaddafi’s associations was his friendship with an eccentric multimillionaire chess and Buddhism fanatic, self-confessed alien abductee, and ex-president of the Russian Federated Republic of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
When they met in 2001, the Libyan leader and Ilyumzhinov found they had a lot in common. They were both blamed for their tough dictatorial rule; opponents accused them of being narcissists; both surrounded themselves with luxury and beautiful women—and both considered the U.S. and NATO the world’s real axis of evil. In the past decade, the two friends had several occasions to tour the Libyan desert, discuss polygamy and politics, or play chess. And in the last days before the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, they talked on the phone at night about why things worked out beautifully for Kirsan and so unfortunately for Muammar.
They have something else in common too: a reputation for liquidating critics. Ilyumzhinov’s legal adviser was jailed in 1999 for murdering journalist Larisa Yudina, editor of the Sovetskaya Kalmykia, after she leveled corruption charges at the president. Today Ilyumzhinov brushes away the dark sides of his career. “Oh, just like in the case with Gaddafi, all the accusations against me were made up by mass media,” he told The Daily Beast by phone. Though Kalmykia (pop. 314,000) is Russia’s second-poorest region, Ilyumzhinov—a 49-year-old millionaire who made his fortune importing and selling cars in Russia—sported a private jet and six Rolls-Royces (he said he had a red Rolls for the days of hunting; white ones were good for hot Elista, Kalmykia’s capital; and black ones he used in chilly Moscow). None of this put much of a dent in his popularity: he remained president for 17 years before stepping down in 2010. At the end, street protesters came out in Moscow and Elista yelling: “We are sick of you, Ilyumzhinov!” and “Ilyumzhinov is the shame of Russia!” But he wasn’t fazed: his posterity project was channeling millions of dollars of Moscow’s money into building a "Chess City" in Elista to host international chess championships. The Chess City is a middle-class town of suburban cottages—but so far Kalmykia has no middle class to live in them.
Last year Ilyumzhinov was reelected president of the World Chess Federation, an activity that now occupies all his time. Last month he visited eight Asian countries in 10 days arranging international tournaments. Before boarding his plane to Mongolia, he explained that he judges people by their attitude to chess and nothing else. “I like them all the same way: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, the Dalai Lama, or Vladimir Putin—everybody who supports the idea of chess playing is my friend.”
He also doesn’t like it when chess lovers like Gaddafi are bothered. He talks of “NATO invaders in Libya” in the same firm tone that he used when he promised to provide “every Kalmyk shepherd with a cellphone” during his final election campaign; or when he invited poor Vietnamese to come and find jobs in Kalmykia; or last year when he launched a chess tournament between thousands of Arab and Israeli chess players. Five-time world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who has known Ilyumzhinov since 1990, said the secret of both Ilyumzhinov’s and Gaddafi’s long-term successes lies in a talent for self-delusion: “Even now in his last days, Gaddafi believes that his people love him. After many years of being unpunished, both Gaddafi and Ilyumzhinov have become used to believing in the myths they created around themselves.”
Ilyumzhinov is always keen to recall the exploit for which he’s best known in Russia, a flight in an alien spaceship in September 1997. “I first thought it was a dream, but there were three witnesses—my driver and two friends—to confirm that I was missing from my house that night, from 11 p.m. until early morning. Then they saw how I emerged in my bedroom,” Ilyumzhinov recalls. He says he was about to go to sleep when somebody called him to step into a glass tube leading from his balcony into a spaceship full of aliens in orange spacesuits. “I asked them why they did not talk to Earth population publicly on CNN or BBC. They said that we humans were still not developed enough, that we ate each other. They mean that we eat intellectual animals, like dogs and cows.” Ilyumzhinov said he had seen UFOs multiple times but had only one interaction with aliens. “Those who have had similar experience to mine are afraid of publicly admitting the truth, as people might think they are schizophrenic,” he noted.
Libyan rebels aim knockout punch at Gaddafi
Tripoli, August 25, 2011
Hardened fighters streamed Thursday into Tripoli as Libya's rebels sought to deliver a knockout punch to Muammar Gaddafi's diehards and to flush out the elusive strongman, dead or alive. They were being supported in their hunt for the wily Gaddafi by Nato, which according to Britain's
defence minister Liam Fox is contributing intelligence and reconnaissance equipment.
Rebel commanders said they were also readying fresh attempts to advance against Gaddafi's forces in his hometown Sirte, 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of Tripoli and to break a siege of Zuwarah, a town to the west.
Leading the army of reinforcements into Tripoli were seasoned combatants from the city of Misrata, whose fellow fighters spearheaded the weekend assault that saw the Libyan capital swiftly overrun and Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound captured by Tuesday.
Rebel commanders said that while they control most of Tripoli, hot spots remain where sniper fire, rocket explosions and heavy weaponry make life dangerous.
The rebels are also hellbent on finding Gaddafi, so they can proclaim final victory in an uprising that began six months ago and was all but crushed by Gaddafi's forces before Nato warplanes gave crucial air support to the rebels.
Rebel leaders say they want to put Gaddafi on trial in Libya even though he also faces charges of crimes against humanity along with his son Seif al Islam and spymaster Abdullah al Senussi at the International Criminal Court.
The rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) on Wednesday offered a $1.7 million reward for the capture of the elusive strongman, dead or alive.
"The NTC supports the initiative of businessmen who are offering two million dinars for the capture of Muammar Gaddafi, dead or alive," NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil said in the rebel capital Benghazi.
Jalil also offered amnesty to "members of (Gaddafi's) close circle who kill him or capture him."
The 69-year-old Gaddafi has not been seen in public for weeks and despite losing control of the oil-rich North African country he ruled with an iron first for 42 years is still managing to broadcast messages urging Libyans to drive out the "rats" -- as he disparagingly calls the rebels.
He also claimed on Wednesday to have walked incognito on the streets of Tripoli without being recognised.
Britain's Fox told Sky news on Thursday that NATO is providing "intelligence and reconnaissance assets to the NTC to help them track down Colonel Gaddafi and other remnants of the regime."
The defence ministry said Fox was referring to "various assets such as military planes."
A ministry spokesman would not say whether SAS special forces members had been deployed in the search, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper quoted defence ministry sources as saying SAS members were sent to Libya several weeks ago and played a key role in coordinating the battle for Tripoli.
Meanwhile diplomatic efforts were launched at the United Nations and in Qatar by backers of the insurgents to secure the unlocking of billions of dollars of Libyan assets for the rebels.
The rebels also made key diplomatic gains when two of Gaddafi's staunchest African allies -- Chad and Burkina Faso -- said they recognise the NTC as the sole representative of the Libyan people.
A rebel military spokesman told Al Jazeera television that "Libyan territory is 90 to 95% under the control of the rebellion."
Colonel Abdullah Abu Afra said "the fall of Bab al-Aziziya marked the end of the Gaddafi regime in Tripoli and in Libya" after 42 years in power.
In Tripoli's souk al Jumaa, the arrival of at least 60 Misrata rebels on Wednesday sparked joy among residents.
"We are very happy. Misrata's soldiers can win anything," said Taha Abu Zeid. "They could even win Afghanistan."
They were joined by rebels from as far west as the Nafusa mountains and as far east as Benghazi, as field commanders vowed to bring the capital under full rebel control.
Fighting is concentrated along the perimeters of Bab al Aziziya and the neighbouring Abu Slim district, where Gaddafi reportedly released, armed and paid former prisoners to fight for his regime.
On Wednesday, thick smoke hung over the Bab al Aziziya complex, where the two sides fought with light arms, heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars.
Other pro-Gaddafi troops fired heavy Grad rockets in a bid to regain control of Tripoli's airport from a small group of rebels holding on.
In its latest operational report, NATO said it had on Wednesday struck numerous targets in the vicinity of Tripoli, including two military storage facilities, two anti-aircraft guns and a multiple rocket launcher.
But rebels said Gaddafi forces were pounding insurgents holding the centre of Zuwarah, west of Tripoli, adding that they needed reinforcements to help them break the siege.
Rebels advancing towards Sirte were also blocked Wednesday in the town of Bin Jawad as loyalists kept up stiff resistance.
"Gaddafi's forces are still fighting, we are surprised. We thought they would surrender with the fall of Tripoli," rebel commander Fawzi Bukatif said.
In Doha the NTC sought five billion dollars in emergency aid from frozen assets at a meeting with foreign representatives from the Libya contact group, the NTC's delegate Aref Ali Nayed said.
The sum was twice that announced Tuesday by NTC number two Mahmud Jibril.
Nayed said the NTC needed the cash to pay civil servants' wages, meet other basic humanitarian needs, clear mines from towns and cities and restore schools and hospitals.
But at the United Nations South Africa refused to lift a block on the United States unfreezing 1.5 billion dollars of Libyan assets to buy humanitarian aid, setting up a diplomatic showdown at the Security Council.
South Africa insisted the council wait for the African Union to decide whether to recognize the NTC at a summit Thursday before approving the move.