News roundup — April 24

Heavy fighting grips battle-ravaged Misurata

Heavy fighting has raged anew in Misurata, leaving at least 25 people killed and at least 71 others critically injured as forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi gave up more ground inside Libya’s third-largest city.

Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said early on Sunday the army had suspended operations against rebels in Misurata, but not left the city, to enable local tribes to find a peaceful solution.

“The armed forces have not withdrawn from Misurata. They have simply suspended their operations,” Kaim told a news conference in the capital.

If the rebels don’t surrender in the next two days, armed tribesmen will fight them in place of the army, he said. (Al Jazeera)

Libyan rebels firmly in control in mountainous west

Moammar Kadafi’s forces came by the thousands with tanks, armored vehicles and rocket launchers to quell an uprising in the forbidding Western Mountains region of Libya.

They left Zintan last month in a rout, rebels and Western journalists say, running through the woods as residents of the rebellious city pursued them using weapons and equipment seized from troops. It was a decisive battle that exposed the far western flank of Kadafi’s security forces.

“What happened here was a beautiful thing,” Milad Lameen, a 59-year-old former Libyan Airlines official and businessman who now serves as a political leader in Zintan, said in an interview conducted over Skype. “The equation was absolutely against us. But his troops and his mercenaries did not have a winning cause. We have a good cause.”

While international attention has been focused on the rebel-controlled stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya and the besieged coastal city of Misurata, tens of thousands of Libyans have taken control of a mountainous region stretching about 100 miles from the Tunisian border toward the capital, Tripoli. The provisional government in the far west is in touch with the rebels in Benghazi but not under their authority. (Los Angeles Times)

Attempt to freeze Moammar Kadafi’s assets hits resistance

The international drive to freeze the Libyan regime’s foreign assets is running into stiff resistance in many parts of the world, allowing Moammar Kadafi to dig into a vast hoard of cash that has helped him cling to power as he battles rebel forces.

Although the United States and the European Union have blocked access to more than $60 billion in Libya’s overseas bank accounts and investments, other nations have done little or nothing to freeze tens of billions more that Kadafi and his family spread around the globe over the last decade, according to U.S., European and U.N. officials involved in the search for Libyan assets.

Kadafi has moved billions of dollars back to Tripoli since the rebellion began in mid-February, the officials said. The totals are not clear, in part because investigators believe the Libyan ruler made significant investments in companies and financial institutions that shield his identity.

Kadafi’s ability to skirt sanctions has undermined the Obama administration’s attempts to force his ouster after four decades in power. And his access to ready cash has hampered efforts to persuade his top aides and military commanders to defect as the conflict drags on, officials acknowledged. (Los Angeles Times)

Syrian mourners ‘cut down like weeds’

Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry writes: Every other journalist is trying to get into Syria, but on Saturday I was trying to get out. The government had made it perfectly clear: My visa was expiring and unless I left on April 23, I would “face the full force of the law”.

I had agreed the night before with my cameraman, Ben Mitchell, over a drink that neither of us wanted to discover what “full force of the law” meant. So the debate was really whether I should fly out from Damascus or drive to Amman, Jordan, and fly from there.

The decision was made that he would fly out from Damascus, the Syrian capital, with the gear and I would drive to Amman. I had left my second passport there with a friend. One for Arab countries and the other for Israel. Welcome to 21st century diplomatic relations.

I decided to wait until after noon prayers before setting out south to the border. If the roads were going to be blocked with various pieces of burning detritus, as they had the day before, I wanted to know first. It’s about 125km from Damascus to the Jordanian border – a drive that should only take an hour or so, especially with the way Syrian drivers tend to step on the gas.

I was in a really bad mood on this particular morning as I was by default being expelled from the country. I said very little to the driver as we set out, which is unusual for me. I’ve been grilled in the old school style of journalism: I can still hear the voice of one of my mentors saying “eyes and ears Mr Perry … eyes and ears”.

The only two questions I asked my driver as we left Damascus were his name, and where he was from. “Abdel … from Daraa,” he told me.

“Beautiful city,” I responded.

Truth was: I didn’t know if it was beautiful or not. It was less than four weeks ago when I tried to access the city (which lies right against the Jordanian border in the South) and was turned back by the army. It was my first week in Syria when we tried to cover the initial protests in Daraa. I remember coming across that army checkpoint and two machine-gun positions had been “pre-sighted”.

Exiles shaping world’s image of Syria revolt

On the bloodiest day of Syria’s uprising, Rami Nakhle’s fingers drifted over the keyboard in a room silent but for the news bulletins of Al Jazeera, yet filled with the commotion on his computer screen.

As the events unfolded Friday, user names flashed and faded. Twitter flickered with agitprop and trash talk. And Facebook glided past Gmail and Skype as Mr. Nakhle joined a coterie of exiled Syrians fomenting, reporting and, most remarkably, shaping the greatest challenge to four decades of the Assad family’s rule in Syria.

“Can you hear it?” Mr. Nakhle cried, showing a video of chants for the government’s fall. “This is Syria, man! Unbelievable.”

Unlike the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and even Libya, which were televised to the world, Syria’s revolt is distinguished by the power of a self-styled vanguard abroad to ferry out images and news that are anarchic and illuminating, if incomplete.

For weeks now, the small number of activists, spanning the Middle East, Europe and the United States, have coordinated across almost every time zone and managed to smuggle hundreds of satellite and mobile phones, modems, laptops and cameras into Syria. There, compatriots elude surveillance with e-mailed software and upload videos on dial-up connections.

Their work has ensured what was once impossible.

In 1982, Syria’s government managed to hide, for a time, its massacre of at least 10,000 people in Hama in a brutal crackdown of an Islamist revolt. But Saturday, the world could witness, in almost real time, the chants of anger and cries for the fallen as security forces fired on the funerals for Friday’s dead. (New York Times)

Rights activist: Syrian authorities detain dozens

Syrian security forces detained dozens of opposition activists and others in raids Sunday launched less than a week after President Bashar Assad’s regime abolished emergency laws used for decades to crush dissent, a human rights activist said.

In the coastal town of Jableh, meanwhile, witnesses said that army troops and police opened fire from rooftop positions even though no protest was in progress, killing one person and wounding several others. The reports said that angry residents later blocked the main highway linking the cities of Tartous and Latakia to protest the attack.

The police sweeps, which began late Saturday, reinforce opposition claims that the repeal of the nearly 50-year-old state of emergency codes offers no protection against blitz-style detentions by Assad’s forces. (Associated Press)

Iran on edge as ally Syria fights for survival

When Syria’s president visited Iran late last year, he received a heroes’ medal and spoke about unbreakable bonds in a ceremony broadcast on national television.

Now, a nervous leadership in Iran has imposed a media blackout on Bashar Assad’s struggle against a swelling Syrian uprising and Tehran faces the unsettling prospect of losing its most stalwart ally in the region.

The Islamic Republic managed to choke off its homegrown “Green Revolution” after the disputed June 2009 presidential election. But now it is being dragged into the uprisings sweeping across the Middle East and stirring unrest in Syria, and unfriendly neighbor Bahrain. (Associated Press)

Iranian leader asserts power over president

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Saturday that he remained ready to intervene in the country’s political affairs if the nation’s interests were being “neglected,” continuing a rare public flexing of his power days after a disagreement with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flared into the open.

In a speech to supporters in Fars Province that was broadcast live on state television, he praised Mr. Ahmadinejad’s administration. But he said that the country’s religious leadership would remain the ultimate authority. “While the leadership is alive, it will never allow deviation in the movement of the Iranian nation toward its goals,” he said.

The statement came after a week of public tension between the president and Mr. Khamenei over what was seen as an effort by Mr. Ahmadinejad to extend control over the politically sensitive Intelligence Ministry. (New York Times)

Egypt orders ex-energy minister, former officials tried

Egypt on Saturday ordered former energy minister Sameh Fahmy and six other officials to stand trial on charges related to a natural gas deal with Israel, the public prosecutor said.

The decision is part of a crackdown on graft during the 30-year rule of deposed President Hosni Mubarak by the government appointed by the military generals who now rule Egypt.

A statement from the prosecutor said the officials, who were ordered detained earlier this week, would be tried at a criminal court in Cairo at a date to be decided later.

It said they were charged with “committing the crimes of harming the country’s interests, squandering public funds and enabling others to make financial profits through selling and exporting Egyptian gas to the state of Israel at a low price below international market rates at the time of the contract.”

The statement said the deal in question caused Egypt losses worth more than $714 million and enabled a local businessman, also indicted in the same case but at large, to make financial profits.

Israel gets 40 percent of its natural gas from Egypt under an arrangement put in place after a 1979 peace deal.

Opposition groups have long complained gas was being sold at preferential prices and East Mediterranean Gas (EMG), the company which supplies it, violated bureaucratic regulations. (Reuters)

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One thought on “News roundup — April 24

  1. Norman

    The tenacity of the protesters, in this Arab Spring uprising, really has to be admired. I find it all the more remarkable that even though there have been deaths to the protesters, they haven’t given up. Indeed, it appears to drive them forward in their quest for the freedoms they seek. I read that Yemen’s President is stepping down, but not before the brutal thrashings his citizens have endured. Now, it’s Syria’s turn. The more success that takes place, I believe will continue to spur on those other countries to follow suit.

    Here in this country, we can only sit back and watch, but there are lessons to be learned here as well. One of those being that the plutocracy under estimates the people’s resolve, as has been shown in the Arab World, can happen here as well. You can only steal from the people so long, before there is push back. As with the plutocracy in the Arab World, who drink their own koolaid believing themselves to be invincible, so too here in this country. Food for thought.

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