Libya

February 22, 2011

EDITOR: The Butcher of Tripoli goes on the rampage

It has become crystal clear that Gaddafi, apart from being the longest surviving tyrant in the world, is also criminally insane, and capable of the most terrible atrocities if left to his own devices. He now has nothing to lose, as no government is likely to give him refuge, not even Saudi Arabia. In that situation, he will fight the whole Libyan people to the bitter end.

It may be certain that he will lose this battle, but at what cost? Isn’t the responsibility of the UN to step in and stop the massacre? This inane organisation seems unable to act on every single issue it touches, and its arcane regulations, such as those governing the Security Council, are of another age, and represent a skewed value system of the old empires. Never has there been a more urgent case to intervene in recently, but this seems totally out of the question, sadly. While Gaddafi is murdering his people, the UN is talking about sanctions.

A delirious sideshow to the mass protest in the Arab world, has been the Arms Sales Circus, headed by the trapeze artist David Cameron, and appearing in various capitals offering more armaments to all and sundry, and especially to the tyrants still left. And they will need the arms, of course, if they are to resist the people’s struggle to topple their bizarre regime. Excellent performance by Cameron and Co., all devoted to the task of selling death and destruction. Not to be missed!

The Guardian Feb 22, 2011, by Steve Bell

Defiant Gaddafi vows to fight on: Al Jazeera online

In televised speech, Libyan leader blames youths inspired by regional events for uprising and vows to die a “martyr”.
22 Feb 2011
Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, has vowed to fight on and die a “martyr”, calling on his supporters to take back the streets from protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech on state TV.

Gaddafi, clad in brown robes and turban, spoke on Tuesday from a podium set up in the entrance of a bombed-out building that appeared to be his Tripoli residence hit by US air raids in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.

“I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end,” he said.

“Muammar Gaddafi is the leader of the revolution, I am not a president to step down … This is my country. Muammar is not a president to leave his post.”

“I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when I do, everything will burn.”

He called on supporters to take to the streets to attack protesters. “You men and women who love Gaddafi …get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs … Starting tomorrow the cordons will be lifted, go out and fight them.”

Gaddafi said “peaceful protests is one thing, but armed rebellion is another”.

“From tonight to tomorrow, all the young men should form local committees for popular security,” he said, telling them to wear a green armband to identify themselves. “The Libyan people and the popular revolution will control Libya.”

The speech, which appeared to have been taped earlier, was aired on a screen to hundreds of supporters massed in Tripoli’s central Green Square.

At times the camera panned out to show a towering gold-coloured monument in front of the building, showing a fist crushing a fighter jet with an American flag on it – a view that also gave the strange image of Gaddafi speaking alone from behind a podium in the building’s dilapidated lobby, with no audience in front of him.

Speech highlights

Shouting in the rambling speech, Gaddafi declared himself “a warrior” and proclaimed: “Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world”.

Among the other points made by Gaddafi in his speech:

He called on the people to catch what he called drugged young people and bring them to justice.

He called on the people to “cleanse Libya house by house” unless protesters on the streets surrendered.

He warned that instability in Libya “will give al-Qaeda a base”.

He cited the examples of attack on Russian parliament and China’s crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, saying that the international community did not interfere.

He said he could do the same in Derna and Bayda.

He offered a new constitution starting from Wednesday, but this would come with dialogue, not by collaboration with the enemy.

He blamed the uprising on Islamists who wanted to create another Afghanistan, and warned that those in Bayda and Derna had already set up an Islamic Emirate that would reach Benghazi.

He said that the country’s youth was drugged and did not know anything; they were following the Islamists’ leader and their leaders would be punished with death in accordance with the Libyan law.

Just hours after Gaddafi’s speech, Libya’s interior minister, General Abdul-Fatah Younis, announced his defection and support for what he called the “February 17 revolution”.

In a video obtained by Al Jazeera, he was seen sitting on a his desk and reading a statement that also urged the Libyan army to join the people and their “legitimate demands”.

Gaddafis’ hidden billions: Dubai banks, plush London pads and Italian water: The Guardian

Libya’s oil wealth has been siphoned out of the country by a powerful elite – including Gaddafi and his nine children

An oil well in Shahara, Libya, 2004. Libya is Africa's fourth-largest oil producer, but analysts say much of the wealth from its reserves has been stolen. Photograph: Benjamin Lowy/Corbis

The Gaddafi family could have billions of dollars of funds hidden away in secret bank accounts in Dubai, south-east Asia and the Persian Gulf, much of it likely to have come from Libya’s vast oil revenues, according to analysis by leading Middle East experts.

Professor Tim Niblock, a specialist in Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter, has identified a “gap” of several billion dollars a year between the amount Libya makes from its oil reserves and government spending – a shortfall he expects has contributed greatly to the wealth of Muammar Gaddafi and his nine children.

“It is very, very difficult to work out with any degree of certainty just how much they have because the ruling elite hides it in all sorts of places,” said Niblock, who is also vice president of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES). “But at the very least it would be several billion dollars, in whatever form and it could potentially be a lot higher although I wouldn’t want to predict just how much it might be.”

Alistair Newton, senior political analyst at Nomura, the Japanese bank and president of BRISMES, agreed that it was difficult to establish the extent of the Gaddafis’ wealth but said he “would be surprised if it didn’t run into billions”.

Where the Gaddafis have hidden their vast funds is anybody’s guess, although Niblock expects that most of it is “in bank accounts and liquid assets in Dubai, the Gulf and south east Asia” rather than in relatively transparent countries such as the UK, where the Libyan state has invested in London properties and in companies such as Pearson Group, owner of the Financial Times.

In addition to squirrelling away much of their income, the Gaddafis have spent fortunes over the years “propping up” various African regimes, with Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, widely acknowledged to be among the biggest recipients, Niblock said.

In the 1990s Gaddafi is thought to have given money to the Zaghawan tribe in Darfur, “and I suspect some of them are among the African mercenaries fighting the civilians in Libya,” Niblock added.

Libya’s breakneck growth has enabled the country to build up myriad investments overseas. In addition to the Gaddafis’ private holdings, the state is thought to have invested close to £61.8bn in assets across the globe.

Their investments in the UK include an eight-bedroom home in Hampstead, north London, with a swimming pool and suede-lined cinema room. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s second son, bought it in 2009 for £10m.

Most of the state’s investments are made by the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), a so-called sovereign wealth fund set up in 2006 to spend the country’s oil money, which has an estimated $70bn of assets. LIA bought 3% of Pearson last year for £224m, making it one of the group’s biggest shareholders, and had a 0.02% stake in RBS, although this has been sold in the past few months.

The fund’s UK property investments include Portman House, a 146,550 sq ft retail complex in Oxford Street, London, which houses retailers such as Boots and New Look, and an office at 14 Cornhill, opposite the Bank of England in the City.

Aside from the Hampstead home, which is not primarily an investment, the only two direct investment projects that the Gaddafi family are known to be involved with both involve water.

In 2009, when Silvio Berlusconi hosted the summit of G8 leading economies, he invited the Libyan leader as a special guest. Speeding towards the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila, which Berlusconi had chosen as the venue, Gaddafi’s motor cavalcade stopped in a remote town by a river at the bottom of a deep gorge.

Not many people find their way to Antrodoco, let alone a “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution”. Such was the welcome he received that shortly afterwards a Libyan delegation returned to the town to announce that the colonel wanted to plough money into it.

Agreement was reached on a complex involving a luxury spa hotel and water bottling plant. Last September, Antrodocoís mayor, Maurizio Faina, said the €15m (£12.7m) scheme was “firming up”.

Whether it survives the current turmoil in Libya, however, remains to be seen. A similar question mark hangs over the established, if struggling, spa town of Fiuggi, south of Rome where pope Boniface VIII, among others, took the waters. In January, the Corriere della Sera reported that Gaddafi’s family had formalised a proposal to sink €250m (£211m) into a conference centre with an airstrip and a complex that, once again, involved a spa and a water bottling plant.

The paper said the deal was being brokered, not through Libyan channels, but by the Italo-Iraqi chamber of commerce. Fiuggi’s mayor, along with his counterpart from Antrodoco, was a guest at a party thrown by Silvio Berlusconi in honour of the Libyan leader when he visited Rome last September.

Gaddafi and Berlusconi have a famously warm personal relationship. Less well-known, however, is the fact that Berlusconi is in business with one of the Libyan state’s investment vehicles.

In June 2009, a Dutch-registered firm controlled by the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, took a 10% stake in Quinta Communications, a Paris-based film production and distribution company. Quinta Communications was founded back in 1990 by Berlusconi in partnership with Tarak Ben Ammar, the nephew of the late Tunisian leader, Habib Bourguiba.

The Italian prime minister has a 22% interest in the company through a Luxembourg-registered subsidiary of Fininvest, the firm at the heart of his sprawling business empire. Last September, the Libyans put a director on the board of Quinta Communications to sit alongside Berlusconiís representatives.

Libyan investors already hold significant interests in several strategic Italian enterprises. They reportedly own around one per cent of Italy’s biggest oil company, Eni; the LIA has an acknowledged 2% interest in the aerospace and defence group, Finmeccanica; Lafico is thought to retain more than 2% of Fiat and almost 15% of a quoted telecommunications company, Retelit.

The Libyans also own 22% of the capital of a textile firm, Olcese. Perhaps their best-known investment is a 7.5% stake in the Serie A side Juventus. But undoubtedly the most controversial is another 7.5 per cent interest in Italyís largest bank, Unicredit.

Last September, the bank’s chief executive, Alessandro Profumo, walked out after a row over his willingness to let the Libyans build up that stake. The Northern League, Berlusconi’s key allies in Italy’s rightwing government, was known to be particularly queasy about the emergence of such a powerful Libyan presence.

Experts say if Gaddafi is overthrown, the investments made by Libya’s various state funds would probably be unaffected, since any new government would have far more pressing matters to attend to, and any sudden movements could damage their reputation for the future.

However, it is thought likely that a new regime in Libya could look to freeze the assets of the Gaddafi family, as the new government in Egypt did with the assets of Hosni Mubarak and his family. Since most of these are held in liquid form – and in country’s outside Europe and the US – this would have no significant ramifications for business, they argue.

UK interests

About 150 British companies have established a presence in Libya since the US and Europe lifted economic sanctions in 2004, after the country renounced terrorism, ceased its nuclear weapons programme and handed over two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing case.

The most high profile have been the oil companies, keen to tap Libya’s vast reserves of fossil fuels. In a deal brokered in 2007 by Tony Blair, BP signed a £560m exploration agreement allowing it to search for oil and gas, offshore and onshore, in a joint venture with the Libya Investment Corporation. Shell is also exploring for oil in Libya as western companies seek to capitalise on a country with the largest oil reserves in Africa and substantial supplies of gas.

High street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Next, Monsoon and Accessorize have also set up in the country to serve the growing middle-class population, as oil revenues have “trickled down” into the broader Libyan population.

Companies such as AMEC, an engineering firm, and Biwater, a waste treatment company, have supplied services to Libya, which is using its oil revenues to reshape the country through an infrastructure spending spree that will cost about £310bn over the next decade.

British exports to Libya have soared to about £930m in recent years, while the business momentum in post-sanctions Libya is so great that the economy managed to grow by about 5% last year, while much of the rest of the world struggled.

Many British and foreign companies – including M&S, BP and Shell – are evacuating staff from Libya and it could be some time before they return.

by Carlos Latuff

Bahrain protesters back in action: Al Jazeera online

Tens of thousands march in the first organised demonstration since unrest broke out in the Gulf Arab nation.
22 Feb 2011

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Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Bahrain in the possibly biggest demonstration since unrest began last week.
Demonstrators circled the Bahrain Mall and the financial district of Manama, the capital, in a march to the heart of the protest at Pearl Square.

“We want the fall of the government” was the most common chant among the mainly Shia Muslim protesters who accuse the Sunni rulers of discriminating against the island’s Shia majority.

Led by opposition groups such as Wefaq and Waad, it was the first organised demonstration and followed spontaneous protests by a rising youth movement relying on social media.

Helicopters hovered overhead but security forces offered no resistance after opening fire on protesters last week.

“Some want the [ruling] family out but most [want] only the prime minister [to quit],” Abbas al-Fardan, a protester, said.

“We want a new government, the people need to rule the country.”

Opposition demands

The widow of one of the seven people killed in a crackdown on protesters read a statement outlining the opposition’s demands, which centre on the current government’s resignation and the replacement of the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty with a constitutional monarchy.

The statement also demanded an immediate, “impartial” probe to identify and try those behind the killings and reiterated opposition calls for the formation of a “national salvation” government.

“We don’t have a problem if elections bring a Sunni or a Shia ruler,” Saeed, a protester, said.

“The most important thing is to have egalitarian distribution of wealth among both communities.”

Shias account for about 70 per cent of the population but are a minority in Bahrain’s 40-seat parliament.

The al-Khalifa dynasty has ruled Bahrain for 200 years, and the family dominates a cabinet led by the king’s uncle, who has been prime minister since independence in 1971.

Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition Haq movement, had vowed to return to Bahrain on Tuesday from London where he is based.

He is one of 25 people on trial since last year over an alleged coup plot but a statement by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Monday hinted that the trial would be shelved, allowing Mushaimaa an unhindered return.

But a friend of Mushaimaa said the opposition leader had been unable to board his flight to Bahrain from Beirut where he had landed earlier for a planned stopover.

State media said the king had ordered the release of convicted prisoners whose names would be released on Wednesday and a stop to ongoing court cases.

The US praised Bahrain’s leadership on Tuesday for having announced steps towards opening a national dialogue, releasing political prisoners and permitting peaceful demonstrations.

“We commend the steps taken by King Hamad as well as Crown Prince Salman and others to restore calm to Bahrain, to allow peaceful demonstrations to take place,” PJ Crowley, the state department spokesman, said.

“We view recent announcements to launch a national dialogue and the release of political prisoners as positive steps towards addressing the concerns of Bahraini citizens.”

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