Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Libyan Leader vows to keep nation together

Libyan leader vows to keep nation together by force

Declaration of autonomy by politicians and tribes in oil-rich eastern region prompts warning from Mustafa Abdul Jalil

The Libyan leader, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has vowed to use force to stop the country breaking up after leaders in an eastern region declared autonomy.

"We are not prepared to divide Libya," he said, blaming infiltrators and pro-Gaddafi elements for backing the autonomy plan. "We are ready to deter them, even with force."

His comments come amid mounting evidence that Libya is slowly splintering into a series of rival fiefdoms controlled by competing militias, who increasingly follow their own agendas rather than acting in the national interest.

In February, the city of Misrata, which suffered a brutal siege by pro-Muammar Gaddafi forces, forged ahead with its own municipal elections, while the militia in Zintan is still holding Gaddafi's son Saif.

Misrata has established a security zone that prohibits many Libyans from entering. It held the first city council elections in Libya last month, without the involvement of the ruling National Transitional Council (NTC).

The sense of growing instability in Libya was compounded by a recent Amnesty International report that the hundreds of militias vying for power in the country were out of control and increasingly behaving like mafia organisations.

Jalil's comments are unusually strident for the Libyan leader and came a day after 3,000 activists, politicians and tribal leaders met in the eastern city of Benghazi to inaugurate a self-declared Cyrenaica Provisional Council.

As well as deep rivalries between individual cities, Libya has long been marked by a divide between east and south – Cyrenaica and Tripolitania – that has re-emerged since the fall of the old regime. This history is exacerbated by the fact that most of the country's oil reserves are in the east.

The competition has led to armed clashes in the capital, Tripoli, and elsewhere and a growing distrust as the country has struggled to move forward to elections and a national government since Gaddafi's overthrow last October.

Their declaration of autonomy, and the appointment of Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya's former king, Idris, as head of the Cyrenaica council, has rapidly spiralled into a crisis.

Libya eastern breakaway?

Jalil warned: "I call on my brothers the Libyan people to be aware and alert to the conspiracies that are being plotted against them and to be aware that some people are dragging the country back down into a deep pit."

Pro-autonomy leaders say their ambition is limited to self-government in a region of Libya that had been neglected by the former regime of Gaddafi.

The Cyrenaica council insisted that control of the national army, foreign policy and oil reserves would remain with the national government.

But the declaration is also a reminder of the strength of regional and tribal affiliations in a country whose provinces formed the current state of Libya only in 1934, having been occupied by Italy and before that by the Ottoman empire.

Critics see it as evidence that eastern leaders want to form a breakaway state. It is lost on few Libyans that Cyrenaica, which stretches from the city of Sirte to the Egyptian border, contains 80% of Libya's oil and only 20% of the population.

"It is crazy. Libya cannot divide," said Abdulfatah Alghannai, a student in Misrata. "Nobody wants it. The martyrs and the wounded fought to unite Libya, not divide it."

The call for autonomy centres on an eight-point declaration to "administer the affairs of the province". Protests against the move took place earlier this week in Tripoli and Benghazi itself.
The call underlines the continuing fragmentation of a country where the central government has been struggling to exert control, four months after the official end of the revolution. The NTC has been the target of sporadic protests nationally over its failure to hold meetings in public or reveal the destination of the country's booming oil revenues.

Libya's militias remain outside central government control, many distrusting a national army staffed by Gaddafi-era officers. Sporadic clashes between militia groups have continued in parts of the country.

By Christian Lowe
TRIPOLI | Fri Mar 9, 2012 1:49pm EST

(Reuters) - Thousands of people protested in Libya's two biggest cities on Friday in a show of opposition to moves from some in the oil-producing east to declare autonomy from central rule.

A group of civic leaders in the eastern city of Benghazi this week said they would run their own affairs, defying the government in Tripoli which is already struggling to assert its authority after Muammar Gaddafi was ousted last year.

At Friday prayers in Benghazi and Tripoli, clerics warned the autonomy plan could lead to the break up of Libya, and later crowds packed into squares in both cities to express their opposition to the idea.

"We want to be one country," said 18-year-old Taha, one of about 5,000 people taking part in the demonstration in Tripoli's Martyr's Square. "This is what we fought for ... We are going to stand as one man and say no to federalism."

In Benghazi's Tahrir square, between 3,000 and 4,000 people joined in the protest against the autonomy plan, which aims to recreate Libya's 1950s constitution when the country was divided into three semi-autonomous provinces.

The protests were some of the biggest in Libya in several months.

Earlier, a cleric addressing about 1,000 worshippers praying on mats laid out in Benghazi's Tahrir square, called on people to resist the push for autonomy.

"We should keep Libya as one country, one family," said the cleric. "Federalism will take Libya backwards because it will split the country."


Civic leaders in Benghazi on Tuesday declared the creation of a "Provincial Council" to run the affairs of Cyrenaica, the historic province which runs from the border with Egypt in the east to half way across Libya's Mediterranean coast.

The province is home to Libya's biggest oil fields, and the new council, if it can assert real power, could cause complications for international oil firms. They might have to re-negotiate their contracts with the new provincial entity, as well as with Tripoli.

Cyrenaica flourished in the 1950s when it enjoyed the patronage of Libya's royal family. But after Gaddafi came to power in a 1969 coup the province fell into decay and was denied its share of the country's oil wealth.

After the rebellion which forced out Gaddafi, many in the east expected an immediate injection of money and development. They have been frustrated at the slow pace of change coming from the interim government in Tripoli.

Yet even in the east, there is no consensus in favor of the plan for autonomy.

"We are against the idea of a federal system and we will protect Libyan unity with our lives," said Hakim Abdulrahman Hamad, head of the city council in the eastern city of Tobruk.

"We support freedom for the Libyan people but not to split the country up," he told Reuters. "The choice about the type of government should be taken by parliament, through democratic means."

(Additional reporting by Ali Shuaib in Tripoli and Ahmad Noman in Benghazi, Libya; Editing by
Reuters) - The Libyan government reclaimed possession from Saadi Gaddafi of a London mansion worth 10 million pounds ($16 million) after a British court ruled on Friday it had been bought using stolen Libyan state funds.

Anti-corruption activists said it was the first successful asset recovery case brought to court by a country swept up in the "Arab Spring" uprisings that began more than a year ago.

"I am satisfied on the evidence put before me that the property was wrongfully and unlawfully purchased using funds belonging to the claimant (the state of Libya)," said Justice Popplewell, delivering his ruling at the High Court in London.

The eight-bedroom house in the upmarket area of Hampstead Garden Suburb has a swimming pool, jacuzzi, suede-lined home cinema and flat-screen televisions in every room, in keeping with Saadi's well-publicized taste for luxury.

The claim was brought on behalf of the new government of Libya, the National Transitional Council that came to power following the overthrow and murder of Saadi's father Muammar Gaddafi last year.

"This ruling signals the end of the era of impunity for dictators and their families who loot state resources for their personal benefit," said Mohamed Shaban, a London-based lawyer of Libyan origin who was representing Libya in the case.

"It also signals the intention of the new Libyan government to pursue the recovery of stolen assets ... We hear of other properties in London, bank accounts in the UK and Switzerland, valuable paintings, yachts, shares in companies, even an ostrich farm. It's a massive project," he told Reuters at the court.

The house was bought in May 2009 by a shell company based in the British Virgin Islands called Capitana Seas Limited. The owner of the company was Saadi Gaddafi, according to evidence presented to the court and accepted by the judge.

No one representing Capitana or Saadi was present in court to contest Libya's claim to the house.

The judge said the defendant, Capitana, had 14 days to hand over the house to Libyan representatives and should pay 120,000 pounds ($188,300) to cover their legal costs, although the dormant company appears unlikely to produce the cash.


Saadi fled south over Libya's border with Niger in September as rebels gained the upper hand over his father's forces. The new Libyan authorities have urged Niger to extradite him.

Campaigners from the anti-corruption group Global Witness attended Friday's hearing and welcomed the ruling, which they hoped would be the first of many to emerge from the Arab Spring.

They also said the case demonstrated that it remained too easy for corrupt politicians to park their stolen money in Britain or in other countries.

"The British government needs to do more to ensure that corrupt politicians and their family members cannot bring their ill-gotten gains into the UK and spend them on luxury lifestyles," said Robert Palmer of Global Witness.

"If Saadi had a house, he must have had a bank account here as well. What checks did that bank do on his source of funds?"
Located on a quiet street described by some British media as Millionaire's Row, the house made headlines when it was taken over by a group of Libyan squatters calling themselves "Topple the Tyrants" at the height of the Libyan conflict last year.

Gregory Mitchell, a senior lawyer representing Libya at Friday's court hearing, said that since then the house had been peacefully handed over to Libyan embassy staff who were looking after it while awaiting the outcome of the legal action.

Before Libya's civil war, Saadi was best-known for his jet-setting playboy lifestyle and obsession with soccer. He had a brief career as a professional player in Italy's Serie A league but spent little time on the field.

He also played for the Libyan national team. Libya's former Italian coach, Francesco Scoglio, was once quoted as saying he was fired for not picking Saadi to play.
($1 = 0.6372 British pounds)

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