News roundup — May 11

NATO steps up bombing in Libya; rebels report gains

NATO carried out its most forceful attacks in weeks in Libya on Tuesday, part of an apparently coordinated push with rebel forces to bring an end to Moammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-long rule.

NATO warplanes pummeled command-and-control targets in four cities, including Tripoli and Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte. U.S. officials said NATO had increased the tempo of its airstrikes throughout the country, and members of the alliance spoke of improved targeting of dug-in loyalist forces, made possible in part by the presence of U.S. Predator drone aircraft.

The new assault appeared to reflect increased cooperation between NATO and the rebel army, allowing the rebels to make modest gains on the ground this week, particularly in and around the western city of Misurata. Although it was too early to tell whether the advances would mark a meaningful turning point in a conflict that has left the country divided since February, the progress “shows where the momentum lies,” said a European diplomat privy to NATO’s internal discussions.

“It is noteworthy that Gaddafi’s forces have not been able to mount a sustained attack for quite some time,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations. He said the rebels’ recent success in Misurata was largely due to the fact that government troops had been forced to abandon entrenched positions, making them vulnerable to ground attack. (Washington Post)

Gaddafi has until end of May for exile deal: Italy

leader Muammar Gaddafi has until the end of May to agree his exile before an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court is issued, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Wednesday.

‘There are countries that in recent weeks have indicated… a willingness to welcome him,’ Mr Frattini said in an interview with RAI public radio.

‘It’s clear that if there is an international arrest warrant it would be more difficult to find an arrangement for the colonel and his family,’ he said.

‘This will happen by the end of May,’ he added.

Mr Frattini also said he believed there were ‘many defections’ from the regime underway, adding: ‘This shows we have probably arrived at a turning point.’ (AFP)

Killings and rumors unsettle Benghazi

Three weeks ago, a traveler spotted a man’s body in the farmland on this city’s outskirts, shot twice in the head with his hands and feet bound. He had disappeared earlier that day, after visiting a market.

Ten days later, near the same spot, a shepherd stumbled upon the body of a second man, killed with a single bullet to the forehead. Masked, armed men had taken him from his home the night before, without giving a reason, his wife said.

The dead men, Nasser al-Sirmany and Hussein Ghaith, had both worked as interrogators for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s internal security services, known for their brutality against domestic dissidents. The killings, still unsolved, appeared to be rooted in revenge, the families said, and have raised the specter of a death squad stalking former Qaddafi officials in Benghazi, the opposition stronghold.

The killings have unsettled an already paranoid city, where rebel authorities have spent weeks trying to round up people suspected of being Qaddafi loyalists — members of a fifth column who they say are trying to overthrow the rebels. If the violence continues, it will pose a stern challenge to a movement trying to present a vision of a new country committed to the rule of law, while potentially undermining hopes for a peaceful transition if Colonel Qaddafi surrenders power.

The rebels say their security forces are not responsible for the killings. Prosecutors here say they are investigating at least four attacks, including another murder in March, and they are exploring the possible involvement of Islamists who were imprisoned by the Qaddafi government and are now settling old scores. “It’s our responsibility to protect people,” said Jamal Benour, the justice coordinator for the opposition in Benghazi. “It’s important the killers are punished. The law is most important.”

But some here dismiss talk of Islamists, saying they believe the killings are being carried out by an armed group allied with the rebels, or possibly Qaddafi loyalists pretending to be. (New York Times)

Libyan rebels seize control of Misurata’s airport

Rebels in the contested western city of Misurata stormed the city’s airport on Wednesday afternoon, swarming over the grounds from the south and east and reclaiming it from the military of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Seizing the airport in Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city, which has been under siege for nearly two months, marked one of the most significant rebel victories in the Libyan conflict.

The airport and its approaches were the last remaining pieces of significant terrain in the city to be controlled by the Qaddafi soldiers. (New York Times)

Nick Clegg backs decision to not open Britain’s borders to Libyan refugees

Nick Clegg has backed a decision by the home secretary, Theresa May, not to open Britain’s borders to migrants fleeing the turmoil in Libya and North Africa.

Instead the Liberal Democrat leader said Italy should be offered practical assistance in helping those refugees and migrants who manage to complete the dangerous journey from Libya across the Mediterranean.

On Thursday May is to confirm Britain’s rejection of calls to take part in a European-wide “burden-sharing” scheme when she meets EU interior ministers in Brussels to discuss the north African situation. (The Guardian)

Helping Libya’s refugees is the better way to beat Gaddafi

Simon Tsidall writes: Given the mad rush to war in Libya, when Britain and others suddenly decided Benghazi risked becoming the new Srebrenica, it is unsurprising that little or no thought was given to the seemingly unrelated question of sub-Saharan migration into the EU. But the law of unintended consequences is inexorable. What began as a quixotic fight in a faraway country has mutated into a life-or-death struggle on the tourist beaches of Europe. Apparently, nobody saw it coming.

The people dying in this war within a war are not Libyans, not the Gaddafi-ites, not the rebels. They are not the endlessly affronted residents of Lampedusa and other Italian and Maltese islands. Nor are they British or other Nato airmen. They are the people who always die first in such situations: the poor, the uneducated, the dark-skinned.

They are people from Eritrea and Somalia, from Chad and Niger, and from other sub-Saharan loser nations. And they are now being washed up daily on Europe’s shores, some just alive, others not so lucky – washed up in their hundreds and thousands, unknowing and blameless, the helpless collateral victims of the high-handed US-British-French decision to rid the world of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and damn the consequences. (The Guardian)

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Schoolgirls ‘beaten’ in Bahrain raids

Secret filming conducted by Al Jazeera has revealed shocking evidence of the brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protesters in the Gulf state of Bahrain.

An undercover investigation conducted by Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Charles Stratford, has unearthed evidence that Bahraini police carried out periodic raids on girls’ schools since the unrest began.

The government of Bahrain deployed security forces onto the streets on March 14 in an attempt to quell more than four weeks of protests.

A three-month “state of emergency” that was declared by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on March 15, is due to be lifted on June 1.

At the height of the protests, up to 200,000 people rallied against the government. The crackdown was an attempt to end the protests that demanded the end of the despotic rule of the Khalifah royal family.

In an interview “Heba”, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, alleges she, along with three of her school friends, were taken away by the police from their school and subjected to severe beatings while in custody for three consecutive days. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen security forces fire upon protesters

Witnesses say Yemeni security forces and snipers have opened fire on thousands of anti-government protesters marching towars the cabinet building in Sanaa, the capital.

A doctor who treated some of the wounded said that at least one protester had been killed and dozens more wounded.

The doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said that wounded protesters were still arriving at a field hospital where he was treating patients.

The protesters were calling for the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s logtime president, when they came under fire on Wednesday. (Al Jazeera)

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