Thursday, March 29, 2012

Syrian Rebels need Arms, Ammo and Support


This is a great photo, but it comes with a caption that is blatant Syrian government propaganda.

For starters, don't forget that the Syrian revolution began a year ago when a group of kids - not even teenagers, were arrested, tortured and killed for writing graffiti on walls. I guess that's the Arab Muslim way of teaching them a lesson.

"Syrian rebels have formed their own laws, courts and death squads in Baba Amr neighborhood in the restive city of Homs and beheaded the captured army soldiers, a report has revealed. The report, published by Spiegel Online on Monday, discloses violent measures by the anti-government armed groups, laying bare the other side of the unrest in the Middle Eastern country."

Since the Syrian government won't allow independent reporters into the country, I don't think we have heard any side of the story yet, only the fact that over 9,000 people have been killed by the military, most by Russian made artillery and tanks.

"Hussein, one of the rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, is quoted in the report as saying that he himself decapitated four army soldiers who had been detained by gunmen. Hussein said that he beheaded the first victim, a Shia soldier who had confessed to using violent tactics, in mid-October, 2011, in a cemetery."

I guess that's the way the Arab Muslims teach lessons to those who don't know how treat people.

Hussein did not care whether the soldier’s confessions were real or he had made them under duress. He had simply grabbed a knife and beheaded the soldier who had knelt down in front of him. The soldier had been captured out of sheer “bad luck”, said Hussein. While he is a member of a rebel death squad killing government forces in the name of the “Syrian revolution,” there are others who are responsible for torturing captured soldiers."

Most of the soldiers that aren't in tanks or shooting cannons at civilian neighborhoods are defecting and joining the Free Syrian Army, certainly a viable alternative to killing their neighbors or being captured and decapitated.

"Many rebels can torture, but not everyone can kill, admits Hussein, who is now receiving treatment in a hospital in the Lebanese city of Tripoli where he and his fellow companions are openly talking about torturing and killing Syrian army soldiers."

So this report is not from Syria but from Tripoli, Lebanon, where the writer has no idea of what is really happening other than what his new friend Hussein tells him.

“But I do not know why killing is not difficult for me,” he added. Hussein’s life story demonstrates the course of actions rebels have taken during more than a year in the Arab state. The report further divulges that Syrian rebels in Homs have since August, 2011 begun regular execution of Syrian soldiers."

“As of last summer, we have executed 150 men, which constitutes only 20 percent of our prisoners,” claimed another hospitalized rebel identified as Abu Rami.

Let's see, if we were playing cricket then the score would be 150 to 9,000 in favor of Assad's team.

“Moreover, when we realize that a Sunni is spying against us we then hold a brief trial for him,” Abu Rami said, adding that they have executed between 200 and 250 people in such cases. Revealing the shocking incidents in which rebels even kill Sunnis, he went on to say that “Syria is not a place for the squeamish."

And neither is Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain or Yemen, at least until the revolution is over.

"The West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of killing the protesters. Damascus, however, blames ''outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups'' for the unrest, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad."

Whose the "West" again?

The Syrian government is killing not only protesters, but shelling entire cities at random, just as Gadhafi did, and if there is justice, Assad will end up the same as Gadhafi.

The ordinary citizens are now "outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorists groups," and the only thing being orchestrated from abroad is the armed support Russia is giving the government.


Libyan Free Press?

Why Libya Needs a Free Media to Emerge

Everette E. Dennis
Dean and CEO, Northwestern University in Qatar

One year after the bloody civil war that toppled Muammar Gaddafi began, it is clear that the transition to a functional democracy in Libya is still a long way off. Libya under Gaddafi's iron fist had no independent political, civil society, commercial, or media institutions to speak of, and remains a blank slate on which an uncertain future will be written. But it is important to keep an eye on the country's progress, for its path towards developing viable institutions is instructive to other countries of the so-called "Arab spring."

The most potent symbol of the old regime in Libya, as in many other parts of the Arab world, was the absence of a free and independent press. While for decades the media served as nothing but a propaganda tool for the Gaddafi regime, in the wake of the revolution the media in Libya can play an integral role in stabilizing the country by promoting transparency and engaging the people of Libya in the great debates that will shape their future.

The Libyan people understand this. Regional news organizations such as Al Jazeera and Libyans' own use of social media played a crucial role in raising international awareness and outrage at Gaddafi's vicious crackdown, and in creating a sense of solidarity among the fragmented dissent, both of which proved key to the success of the revolution.

The Libyan National Transitional Council seems serious about addressing the need for a free press. A recent conference held in Doha, Qatar brought together media scholars and professionals from around the world with senior representatives of the NTC to discuss how to nurture and professionalize an independent media in Libya.

They agreed on six basic principles

1. Libya should have a free, open, and independent media and communications system.

2. Private media should be permitted and encouraged.

3. The state regulator should become an independent regulator to direct technical, structural, and spectrum regulation, as well as to promote development of broadcasting and telecommunication services.

4. Control of content should be limited. Any limitations should be enacted by the parliament and adjudicated by an independent judiciary.

5. State media should be transformed into independent media operated as a public service trust and/or privatized.

6. There should be a robust system for media literacy and journalism education and training.
These principles can be the bedrock of an open media system in Libya and throughout the Arab world. Post-revolution Libya has already witnessed a surge in newspapers, social networking sites, broadcasting and other media outlets, few of which are sustainable without adequate training, legal protections, and resources.

There is also a massive media infrastructure and thousands of media workers left over from the Gaddafi government. Libya must be careful not to succumb to the desire to purge all media professionals connected to the former regime. Doing so, as some have argued, would drain all of the professional capacity in Libya and create an unacceptable lag before an entire new generation of journalists and technical experts could be trained and deployed.

Libya's first-ever parliamentary elections are only months away. This leaves the NTC little time to implement a plan for the media to play its needed part in this landmark event. To that end, the NTC should act to enshrine media freedom in the nation's constitution. It should also conduct an inventory of state media assets and grant temporary licensing authority to existing broadcasters until an independent regulator is established.

Countries free of tyrants are not wholly liberated without a free and open media. I am encouraged by what I've seen thus far in Libya, where the transitional leadership recognizes that what they fought for is embodied and emboldened by a free press, and has shown an interest in making a clean break with the past. But much work lies ahead to ensure that the new leaders of Libya, who face disarray in the wake of a long entrenched dictator, don't themselves backslide into restrictions on free speech.

As demonstrated in Qatar, the international community stands ready to help develop this vital institution and allow it to take its place alongside the electoral process and a robust and transparent commercial sector as prerequisites of a legitimate Libyan state.

Everette E. Dennis, Dean and CEO of Northwestern University in Qatar, was chair of the "Media Vision for Libya: A Good Offices Conference," which was held this December in Doha, Qatar. Dr. Dennis, who is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations, previously served as founding president of the American Academy in Berlin and founding director of the Media Studies Center at Columbia University.

DOHA // Qatar is sending a delegation of media experts to Libya to help train the country's journalists as they enter a new era.

A small group from the Doha Centre for Media Freedom will depart within the next few weeks, with the aim of launching a programme in Libya to last at least six months.

Jan Keulen, the centre's director, said: "We'll be helping train journalists and will provide technical assistance. We'll consult with the NTC, media leaders, journalists and young activists." The exact details of the programme will be decided upon when the delegation, led by Mr Keulen, returns to Doha.

"We would also like to work on helping solve some of the humanitarian problems," Mr Keulen said. "There are more than 30,000 missing people and we could support local stations or set up a radio station to help locate them and reunite them with their families."

The details of the budget were not disclosed but the centre is financed almost entirely by the Qatari government.

"We are now in a new phase. Most of the military phase is almost finished and it's a very crucial time for building a civil society," Mr Keulen said. "People have been calling for freedom. If the media is doing a bad job, it could destabilise the revolution."

Members of Libya's media have suffered for decades of working under tight controls and censorship. Colonel Qaddafi's regime did not allow independent news channels, regularly restricted internet use and punished those who spoke out against the regime.

As the country prepares for a new government, the independent media industry is exploding. Five new television stations have launched this year. Two are based inside the country and the others are in Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mali Coup aftershock of African Revolutions

Analysis: Mali coup shakes cocktail of instability in Sahel
David Lewis Reuters
7:09 a.m. CDT, March 24, 2012,0,1371622.story

BAMAKO, March 23 (Reuters) - Spillover from the overthrow of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year has been stirring a toxic cocktail of rebels, weapons, refugees, drought, smugglers and violent Islamic militants in Africa's turbulent Sahel region.

Now this backwash of instability from one field of the Arab Spring has now claimed its first government south of the Sahara - with this week's coup in Mali, where renegade low-ranking officers in the West African state toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure.

They overthrew him early on Thursday because they said his government had not adequately supported the Malian army's fight against an advancing Tuareg-led rebellion in the north that was swelled by arms and former pro-Gaddafi fighters from Libya.

"It was a cascade effect," said Yvan Guichaoua, a lecturer in African politics at the University of East Anglia, speaking to Reuters from the Malian capital Bamako where the mutinous soldiers have been stealing vehicles and looting petrol stations and businesses. But despite frequent bouts of gunfire, there appears to have been relatively little bloodshed so far.

Mali, Africa's third largest gold miner and a major local cotton grower, was viewed on the continent and in the wider world as a relatively stable democratic state in a permanently restless region dogged for decades by coups and mutinies.

It was an ally of regional and Western governments in their efforts to stop attacks and kidnappings by al Qaeda-associated Islamic militants from spreading southwards down through the Sahara. Such violence is already causing bloodshed in Africa's top oil producer Nigeria, in the form of the Boko Haram sect.

"It's clearly unfortunate for Mali ... This is plunging one of the most stable countries in West Africa into instability," Gilles Yabi, the Dakar-based West Africa project director for the International Crisis Group think tank, told Reuters.

"Disputes should not be resolved by arms. It's a bad sign for other countries which are in the process of consolidating their democracies," said Nadia Nata, political governance officer at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

The United States had been providing counter-terrorism training to Mali's army. One of the coup leaders, Captain Amadou Sanogo, president of the newly formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR), said he received training from U.S. Marines and intelligence.

But the overnight coup, carried out apparently by mid-level and junior officers, will put an end to such support for the moment. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and European Commission have all suspended aid funding to Mali.


The coup leaders of the CNRDR have promised to hand power back to a democratically-elected president "as soon as the country is reunified".

But the Tuareg rebels in the north, whose recent battlefield humiliations of the Malian army triggered the putsch in Bamako, are already pushing south, taking advantage of the confusion.

The coup chiefs' seeming inability to control the soldiers under their command, to judge by the pillaging and wild shooting in the streets, bodes ill for the immediate future.

"There is no clear agenda ... what will happen next is very unclear,' said Guichaoua.

ICG's Yabi said: "This is giving an impression of chaos".

The uncertainty was compounded on Friday when the African Union said it was told President Toure was still in Mali, safe and protected by loyalists, not far from Bamako.

Amnesty International said coup leaders had arrested several members of Toure's government. It demanded their release.

Despite Toure's public image as a steadfast "Soldier of Democracy", analysts said Western backers like France and the United States had been less than happy recently with his government's efforts in countering the threat of al Qaeda and its allies in Mali's vast and remote desert north.

Tuareg Rebels Threaten Unstable Mali

Tuareg rebels continue to push south in Mali, as mutinous soldiers struggle to maintain control of the capital two days after they seized power in a coup that has created more problems than it solved.

Mali's future looks more uncertain than ever.

President Amadou Toumane Toure has not been seen or heard from publicly since Thursday. Rumors are flying of a countercoup in the works. Northern strongholds are bracing for a fight as ethnic Tuareg separatists push South.

Bamako residents say mutineering soldiers have looted the presidential palace, gas stations and shops.

Coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, says he is calling for an end to vandalism and pillaging but denies that his forces are involved. He says people posing as army and police are trying to undermine support for the coup. He says the military is united behind the coup. He says their priority is to maintain Mali's territorial integrity.

The coup was spearheaded by rank-and-file army soldiers and junior officers. Captain Sonogo addressed the nation flanked by members of several military units, though the coup does not appear to have garnered broad military support, particularly among high-ranking officers.

President Toure, a former paratrooper and coup leader himself, is believed to be safe and protected by his loyalist soldiers at a paratrooper camp outside the capital.

Soldiers took power Thursday after staging a mutiny against what coup leaders say was the government's mishandling of the two-month old Tuareg rebellion in the North.

Outgunned and lacking basic supplies, including food, the army has suffered crushing defeats and numerous casualties there as it faced Tuareg separatists, many of them former pro-Moammar Ghadafi fighters who returned to Mali heavily-armed from the conflict in Libya.

The rebel Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or MNLA, says it has met little resistance as it closes on the regional capital of Kidal.

President of the District Council of Kidal, Mahamadou Belco Maiga, says the city is surrounded but they will defend themselves with all their means. He is asking the state to give them weapons.

The chaos of the past 48 hours has left holes in northern defenses.

Director of the Michael S. Ansara Africa Center in Washington, J. Peter Pham, says in staging what appears to have been a hasty and unplanned coup, soldiers made their situation worse.

"They certainly did the one thing that was sure to get them the reverse of what they wanted because now France, the U.S., the European Union have all cut them off from military assistance," he said. "Until such time as the coup is reversed which does not look likely or until they hold the elections as they promise, we are talking months if not a year before military assistance is resumed in which time the Tuaregs will dig in, in the areas that they control in the North."

Tuareg rebellions have waxed and waned in Mali since independence in 1960. Rebels now say they want an independent homeland in the North, called Azawad.

Hama Ag Mahmoud, of MNLA's political wing, says their demands are the same. He says they want the Azawad but will not advance further than that. He says they do not want problems with this new regime or the old one. He says they are willing to negotiate with an established president supported by Mali's political class and international power, like the European Union, the United States or France.

A storm of international condemnation has rained down on the coup leaders. The African Union suspended Mali. The EU and World Bank both suspended development aid to the West African nation. The United States warned Friday it could suspend its non-humanitarian assistance to Mali if democracy is not restored.

Mali was one of West Africa's few established democracies. It was set to hold a presidential election on April 29. President Toure was not seeking another term, having served his legal limit of two mandates.

Presidential candidate, Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, says constitutional order should be re-established immediately. He says the elections must take place on the original date.

Coup leaders say Bamako will return to business as usual Tuesday. They say they are creating a government of national unity to organize elections.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gadhafi's Intelligence Chief al-Senoussi Arrested

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) – Mauritania on Saturday arrested Moammar Ghadafi's former intelligence chief, accused of attacking civilians during the uprising in Libya last year and the 1989 bombing of a French airliner. The International Criminal Court, France and Libya all said they want to prosecute Abdullah al-Senoussi.

Bu Dario Lopez-Mills, AP

Mauritania's state information agency said in a statement that al-Senoussi was arrested at the airport in the capital Nouakchott upon arrival from the Moroccan city of Casablanca. It said he was carrying a fake Malian passport.

A spokesman for Libya's ruling National Transitional Council, Mohammed al-Hareiz confirmed that the ex-intelligence chief had been captured by Mauritian officials.

As Gadhafi's regime crumbled in the second half of 2011 after more than four decades of rule, many of the dictator's inner circle fled from advancing rebels toward the Sahara, where the regime had long cultivated ties with desert groups both in Libya and in neighboring countries.

A Libyan military official said al-Senoussi, who is also Gadhafi's brother-in-law, likely fled to Chad just before the opposition captured the capital Tripoli in October and passed through Mali and Morocco before heading to Mauritania. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the details.

Some Libyan officials reported last year that al-Senoussi had been captured and was being held in the southern city of Sabha. But some later cast doubt on that assertion, and his whereabouts have not been known — a reflection of the confusion in post-Gadhafi Libya, where "revolutionary militias" hold local control in many towns and cities with little accountability to the Tripoli government.

In October, a Western diplomatic official in Mali's capital, Bamako, told the Associated Press that al-Senoussi was in Mali and that the French government was taking the lead in hunting him down. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Al-Hareiz said Libya is requesting the former intelligence head be handed over to Libya for trial but the line to prosecute al-Senoussi is long.
Judges at the Netherlands-based ICC issued an arrest warrant for al-Senoussi last June on two counts of crimes against humanity — murder and persecution — for allegedly masterminding attacks on civilians in the early days of the uprising that eventually toppled Gadhafi from power.

A spokesman for the ICC, Fadi El Abdallah, said the court was seeking official confirmation from Mauritania of his arrest.

"We will ask them for their cooperation in order to surrender him (to the court)," he said.
El Abdallah said that while Mauritania is not a member of the court, all UN member states have been urged by the Security Council to cooperate in the court's efforts to prosecute suspects indicted in Libya.

France also quickly lobbied to get custody of al-Senoussi. He was one of six Libyans convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison in France for the 1989 bombing of a passenger jet over Niger that killed all 170 people on board including 54 French people. The French government asked last year that he be handed over to France when captured.
President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Saturday that France would be handing over an extradition request for al-Senoussi to Mauritanian authorities in the next few hours. The French leader said his arrest was the result of a joint French-Mauritanian effort.

Families of victims of the deadly plane bombing said they hoped he would be sent to France to stand trial.

"Twenty-two years after the attack, we never lost hope that those responsible for this attack, the most deadly attack to target France, would be judged," said Guillaume Denoix de Saint Marc, who heads a group of victims' family members.

If al-Senoussi is handed over to the ICC, he would be the first suspect indicted for alleged atrocities in Libya to be taken into their custody.

The court also indicted Gadhafi but the ousted leader was killed by rebel fighters in October. Libyan authorities say they want to put Seif al-Islam, one of Gadhafi's sons, on trial at home instead of turning him over him to the court.

Libyan officials are currently holding al-Islam, who was arrested in November by fighters in Libya's remote southern desert. The former heir apparent has been held largely without access to the outside world ever since.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Syrian General Defects

Syrian Brass Defect, Buoying Rebels


Several high-ranking Syrian military officials joined the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday and Friday, in the Syrian conflict's biggest wave of military defections to date.

The defections appeared to boost Syria's armed opposition, and exposed corrosive sectarian splits in Syria's army, between a largely Sunni core of soldiers and the highest officials, many of whom are from the same minority Alawite sect as President Assad

Associated Press

An antigovernment demonstration in Idlib, northern Syria, on Friday.

The defections also appeared to lay the ground for new struggles within Syria's already-fractured opposition. The rebel Free Syrian Army, led by a former Syrian army colonel since its founding last year, has since been joined by higher-ranking officers. A brigadier-general who defected in January is preparing to split into his own armed group, rebels familiar with his plans said Friday.

U.S. intelligence officials said that while the opposition movement is fractured—they cited 32 constituent groups from around Syria, including Islamist, Kurdish and secular groups—the armed rebels appear to be gaining momentum against the regime. The rebels are likely to win out eventually, these officials said, but are up against a more powerful military than insurgents faced in Libya.

"The odds are against [the regime], but they're going to fight very hard," said one senior U.S. intelligence official.

On Friday, Syria's military widened an offensive on Syria's restive north, sending hundreds of people fleeing into Turkey, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian forces also resumed artillery attacks on the city of Homs, killing at least 68 people across the country, the London-based activist group said.

At least 50 officers have defected from the army over the past week, including 15 who crossed into Turkey on Thursday and Friday, senior rebel leaders said. The latest wave, these people said, included six brigadier-generals, four colonels and a female first lieutenant.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said 234 Syrian refugees crossed into Turkey since Thursday, including four defected generals, two colonels and a field officer. The agency hasn't typically catalogued defections.

The Free Syrian Army, a patchwork group of defectors and local militias fighting the regime's forces, has become the focus of international attention, despite a joint United Nations-Arab League effort to pursue a diplomatic track on Syria.

On Saturday, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, is scheduled to meet with Syria's president in Damascus. Mr. Annan is expected to urge Mr. Assad to step aside in an orchestrated power hand-over aimed at stanching violence that has killed well over 7,500 people, based on U.N. estimates.

Syria's president has already rejected such calls. Syria's leading opposition group, the Syrian National Council, on Friday slammed the international call for dialogue with a regime it accused of waging "a genocide war against the Syrian people."

"The world cannot distract us with the matter of dialogue," council President Burhan Ghalioun told the pan-Arab Al Arabiya television. He also said the opposition group had received funding from Arab states to help equip the Free Syrian Army.

Syria's mounting economic crisis now likely stands as the regime's greatest point of vulnerability, the U.S. intelligence officials said Friday. International sanctions against Mr. Assad's regime have sharply curtailed oil exports. Unemployment has shot up to 15%, factories are closing, food prices are rising and fuel prices have doubled, they said.
The high-ranking defections announced Friday are significant, analysts say, because they could give credence to a rebel group so far dominated by young conscripts and led by colonels who appear to have little command over a growing ground insurgency.

The FSA is led by Col. Riad al-As'ad, who held on to the top spot even after the January defection of Brigadier General Moustafa al-Shaikh, who now heads a military council meant to absorb higher-ranking defectors.

Rebels say the council works within the rebel army. The two officers appear to maintain contact, separately, with different groups on the ground in different regions of Syria.
Brig. Gen. Shaikh now plans to split off and form his own group in coming days amid disagreements over the rebel army's relationship to the Syrian National Council, if rebel and opposition leaders can't come to a power-sharing compromise, rebels familiar with his plans said Friday. The move could make it vastly more difficult for the opposition council to coordinate, fund and equip the rebels.

Defections haven't yet penetrated the core of Mr. Assad's support base in the military and security services, where the top cadre of officials largely hail, like the president, from the Alawite sect. The rank and file of the army is dominated by officers from Syria's majority Sunni Muslim sect.

Senior rebels said Friday that recent defections were partly due to Sunni officers coming under increasing threat from higher-ranking Alawites.

"The situation has changed very quickly in Syria," said Col. Aref Hammoud, who was among dissident soldiers who greeted the incoming defectors in the southern Turkey camp that houses the Free Syrian Army. "Everyone, including top generals, now fear for their lives."

Mr. Hammoud described recent high-ranking defectors relaying stories of Sunni officers in Syria being detained, and their families being pursued.

"Just being Sunni is suspect," he said. A higher-ranking defector said some 2,000 Sunni officers have been detained since the start of the uprising last year.

Syrian government forces also appear to have started to pursue rebel leaders seeking refuge in neighboring Turkey, as they simultaneously crush rebel strongholds inside Syria.

Senior defectors confirmed that Turkish authorities last week thwarted a planned kidnapping of Col. As'ad, the FSA's founder.

And on Wednesday, Syrian security forces detained the family of Brig. Gen. Fayez Amro, the deptuty of the rebels' Higher Revolutionary Military Council.

Mr. Amro's wife and six children were kidnapped by members of Syria's powerful air-force intelligence, said Fahd Almasri, a Paris-based spokesperson for the council.

The Syrian regime also benefits from growing support from Iran, the U.S. intelligence officials said. Initially, Tehran provided non-lethal aid, like crowd suppression materials and Internet surveillance capabilities. Recently, the aid has become more lethal to include small arms. "In the last couple months, the Iranians really have gone all-in," one of the intelligence officials said.

The regime's tactics have become increasingly brutal, with apparent disregard for civilian casualties, the intelligence official said, citing satellite photos that showed mosques, schools and medical facilities in the Bab Amr neighborhood being hit by artillery.

Al Qaeda in recent months has turned against the Syrian regime, and the Assad regime has blamed it for carrying out spectacular attacks in the Damascus and Aleppo. U.S. intelligence officials believe al Qaeda is attempting to infiltrate the Syrian opposition forces without their knowledge. That dynamic could bolster the regime's argument that they are fighting an extremist insurgency, officials said.

—Siobhan Gorman in Washington and Ayla Albayrak in Istanbul contributed to this article.

A version of this article appeared Mar. 10, 2012, on page A7 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Syrian Brass Defect, Buoying Rebels.

Syrian Oil Minister Defects to Revolution

Syrian Minister Appears to Defect and Join Opposition
Published: March 8, 2012

BEIRUT, Lebanon — In a video statement denouncing what he called the “brutal” government of President Bashar al-Assad, a senior official in Syria’s Oil Ministry announced on Thursday that he was switching to the opposition, marking what appeared to be the highest-level defection of a government official since the start of the Syrian uprising nearly a year ago.

A man identifying himself as the deputy oil minister, Abdo Hussameldin, appeared in a video posted online.

British and American officials, who have supported the overthrow of Mr. Assad’s government, spoke about the defection of the deputy oil minister, Abdu Hussameldin, as a potentially significant event. Prominent Syrian opposition figures were more cautious about the development, with some saying it was unlikely to hurt the government seriously.

“I don’t consider such a defection a strike for the regime,” said Samir Nachar, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council. “It’s more a political and moral message for loyalist figures and regime symbols who are still hesitant to declare their defection. It’s just the beginning.”

Haytham Manna, a Syrian dissident based in Paris, said the defections of bureaucrats would not be enough to topple the government. “The most important thing is the army,” he said.

The inability to attract high-level defectors has been a continuing source of consternation for Mr. Assad’s opponents and an enduring sign of the government’s resilience, despite its growing international isolation. While the Libyan opposition was able to attract high-level government and military defectors days after the uprising began there — and myriad other officials, from ambassadors to the foreign minister, as the conflict wore on — the Syrian opposition is still waiting for one well-known person to step down and denounce the government.

Even so, a State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the defection of Mr. Hussameldin, while not confirmed, could be significant and that he could be “privy to a lot of information about what Assad has really done to his country.”

“He would be well placed, this particular individual, to understand the impact that the international sanctions that we, that the Europeans, that the Arab League, that other countries are now beginning to put on Syria,” she said.

The video of Mr. Hussameldin, which first surfaced early Thursday in the Middle East, did not specify where or when it had been made, and he could not be reached to verify its authenticity.

In it, Mr. Hussameldin, a deputy assistant to the Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources, said: “I declare I am joining the people’s revolution which will not and will never accept oppression and the brutality practiced by the regime.”

Saying the country’s economy was about to collapse, Mr. Hussameldin condemned Russia and China, contending that they were “partners” in the government’s killing of civilians. “I don’t want to end my career in the service of this regime’s crimes,” he said.

Eiad Shurbaji, a prominent Syrian dissident and journalist who said he had worked with Mr. Hussameldin in 2004 and 2005, when Mr. Shurbaji was head of the Oil Ministry’s media department, confirmed that Mr. Hussameldin was the man in the video.

Mr. Shurbaji said Mr. Hussameldin was a friend and had served as a deputy under at least four ministers. Mr. Shurbaji said that when he worked at the ministry, the two men had long conversations over coffee that mostly focused on Mr. Hussameldin’s complaints about corruption in the ministry.

“He was a clean person,” said Mr. Shurbaji, who left Syria for the United States several months ago after he had been arrested and released by the authorities. “I am so pleased to hear about this defection. He became aware where things are heading in Syria.”

The news of the defection came amid signs of other challenges to the government, which has seen the country’s currency plunge to roughly half the value that it had a year ago.

Comments in Washington in recent days, most notably by Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, calling for aerial bombardment of Syria’s military, apparently contributed to a demand for dollars by nervous money traders in Syria. That demand put new pressure on the Syrian pound, which has been eroding for months. Although senior Obama administration officials said they opposed military intervention in Syria, they did not rule out the option.

Quoting currency dealers in Damascus who were reached by telephone, Reuters reported that the Syrian pound had lost about 13 percent of its value in the past few days and was trading at about 100 pounds to the dollar, compared with 47 pounds to the dollar in March 2011, when the antigovernment uprising began.

International diplomatic efforts in Syria on Thursday focused mainly on how to provide emergency relief to civilians in Homs and other cities that have been upended by the violence. Large parts of the country are bereft of food, water and medical supplies, activists said.

Valerie Amos, the top United Nations relief official, who arrived in Syria on Wednesday to assess those needs, said she was overwhelmed by the destruction she saw from a monthlong military assault on Homs, an epicenter of armed resistance to Mr. Assad. She said she saw very few residents, particularly in the ravaged neighborhood of Baba Amr, and she wondered where they had gone.

Ms. Amos was preparing to leave Syria as Kofi Annan, the new special envoy on Syria representing the United Nations and the Arab League, was scheduled to visit on Saturday. He told reporters in Cairo that he would urge Mr. Assad and his opponents to stop fighting and seek a political solution.

Kareem Fahim reported from Beirut, Lebanon, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and J. David Goodman from New York.

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)

Football banned in Algeria

Algeria: Football Ban to Lead to Street Protest?

Fears that anti-government protests in Algerian soccer stadiums and provincial towns could again spill into the streets of the capital Algiers have prompted the government to ban matches in early May when Algerians go to the polls.

The ban follows failed efforts by the government to persuade soccer officials to speed up this season’s premier league so that it would end no later than May 10, the day of the parliamentary election, rather than on May 22, the scheduled end of the soccer season. Efforts to rush teams through the season’s schedule in a bid to end this year’s league early were in part thwarted by the cancellation of several matches as a result of unusually heavy snowfall this year.

“We’re doing our best to accommodate for the obligations of league and clubs. We believe that it is impossible to end the season before May 10th, the date set for holding the election. We’ve agreed with the public authorities not to schedule any activities during the week of election, provided that the league and clubs are allowed to resume their activities after the election,” Professional Football League (LFP) president Mahfoud Kerbadj told the Maghrebia news web site.

The suspension of matches during election week, a period in which rallies and assemblies are banned by law, is designed to free security forces from having to police stadiums where football fans regularly take on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the military ever since anti-government protests fizzled out in early 2011.

The suspension reinforces a fragile, tacit understanding between soccer fans and security forces that allows the fans to raise their grievances as long as it is contained to the stadiums. The government fears that militant soccer fan groups or ultras associated with a host of teams, including MC Algiers, Mouloudia Club D’Oran and Jeunnesse Kabyle, while less organized than their Egyptian counterparts, could emerge as a force if the protests again spill into the streets of Algerian cities.

The understanding between the security forces and the fans was made in part possible by the fact that Algeria has been among the most advanced in the Middle East and North Africa in encouraging the emergence of soccer as a professional sport rather than a policy tool for the government.

“In a context of political closure, a lack of serious political debates and projects for society and of a weakened political society, football stadia become one of the few occasions for the youth to gather, to feel a sense of belonging (for 90 minutes at least), to express their frustrations over their socio-economic condition, to mock the symbol of the state’s authority and to transgress the boundary of (imposed) political order and institutionalized language, or the narrative of the state’s political and moral legitimacy,” cautions Mahfoud Amar in a recently published book, ‘Sport, Politics and Society in the Arab World.’

With discontent over lack of water, housing, electricity and salaries pervading the country and erupting almost daily in protests inside and outside of stadiums suspension of soccer matches has become a fixture of Algerian life. The government early last year suspended the league for weeks after protests erupted in Algiers and other cities in the wake of the toppling of Tunisian President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali.

A quarter of the Algerian population lives under the poverty line and unemployment is rampant. Recent protests in Laghouat and other oil and gas cities are symbolic of simmering discontent and have gone viral in social media. The government again suspended soccer matches last year after riots erupted in the Algiers neighbourhood of Bab el-Oued.

“Bouteflika is in love with his throne, he wants another term,” is a popular anti-government chant in stadiums, referring to allegations that 74-year old Mr. Bouteflika is behind a spate of recent bombings in a bid to enhance his position in advance of a presidential election in 2014 by raising the spectre of a threat by Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Mr. Bouteflika, whose health is failing, has lost several of his closest associates over the past year as a result of a military-inspired corruption investigation. His efforts at political and economic reform designed to attract foreign investment and diversify the economy have been thwarted by the military’s desire to retain its privileges by reinforcing the state’s role in the economy.

The military has further signalled in advance of the May election that it will adopt a hard line towards domestic unrest as well as AQIM. It recently recalled from retirement Gen. Bachir Tartag to head the Directorate for Internal Security (DSI). Gen. Tartag made a name for himself during the civil war against the Islamists in the 1990s as one of Algeria’s most notorious hardliners and a brutal military commander.

The appointment positions him as a potential successor to aging Algerian spy chief Gen. Gen. Mohamed ‘Tewfik’ Mediene, widely viewed as the number two within the Algerian regime. It comes at a time that there are no clear successors to Algeria’s ageing but opaque military leadership. Gen. Tartag succeeds Gen. Abdelkader Kherfi who was criticized for having failed to prevent the kidnapping of three European aid workers in October of last year and for his handling of the protests in the first quarter of 2011.

Algeria has recently adopted a number of laws that emphasize security rather than reform and impose restrictions on the media, associations and political parties, which according to Amnesty International violate international conventions signed by Algeria.

While signalling that it will take a hard line against anti-government protesters, the government and the military are banking on the assumption that allowing protests in stadiums as a release valve coupled with last year’s lifting of the state of emergency, increased subsidies of basic goods and public sector wage and memories of the massive bloodletting in a decade-long war between the military and Islamist forces will stymie activists’ desire to confront the regime head on.
That assumption is reinforced by the fact that the experience of popular uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Yemen has so far produced mixed results and the spectre of protests descending into pro-longed bloodshed and chaos as it has in Syria.

With discontent nonetheless continuously manifesting itself, the government and the military are walking a tightrope. The seeming return to the very policies that brought protesters on to the streets of Algerian cities early last year could at any moment again tip the balance.