Libyan Rebels Push Towards Tripoli on Two Fronts

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Peter Graff

2011-07-06T212010Z_307909548_GM1E7770F1801_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA

A Libyan boy flashing a victory sign attends a rally against Muammar Gaddafi in Misrata July 6, 2011.  

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

AL-QAWALISH, Libya (Reuters) – Rebel fighters seized a village south of the Libyan capital and another group advanced toward Tripoli from the east on Wednesday in the biggest push in weeks toward Muammar Gaddafi’s main stronghold.

Rebels firing their rifles into the air in celebration poured into the village of Al-Qawalish, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Tripoli, after a six-hour battle with pro-Gaddafi forces who had been holding the town.

Rushing through an abandoned checkpoint where government troops had left tents and half-eaten bread in their rush to get away, the rebels ripped down pro-Gaddafi flags.

Farther north, rebels pushed westward from the city of Misrata to within 13 km of the center of the town of Zlitan, where large numbers of pro-Gaddafi forces are based.

But they came under artillery fire. Doctors at the al-Hekma hospital in Misrata said 14 fighters had been killed on Wednesday and about 50 were injured.

The advances came amid reports that Gaddafi — under pressure from a five-month uprising against his rule, sanctions and a NATO bombing campaign — was seeking a deal under which he would step down.

His government has denied any such negotiations are underway, and NATO’s chief said he had no confirmation that Gaddafi was looking for a deal to relinquish power.

A Libyan official told Reuters on Wednesday there were signs a solution to the conflict could be found by the start of August, though he did not say what that solution might involve.

In the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata, thousands demonstrated against Gadaffi, waving European and rebel flags and calling for the end of his four-decade rule.

The rebel advances followed weeks of largely static fighting. Heavily armed Gaddafi forces still lie between the rebels and Tripoli, and previous rebel advances have either bogged down or quickly turned into retreats.

But with Al-Qawalish now in rebel hands, they can advance northeast to the larger town of Garyan, which controls the main highway leading into Tripoli. Libyan state television reported on Wednesday that NATO hit targets in Garyan as well fuel tanks in the town of Brega, 200 km (130 miles) west of Benghazi.

The previous big advance in the region was last month, when rebels pushed 20 km (12 miles) north from their base in the Western Mountains to the town of Bir al-Ghanam.

Misrata Push

At the frontline on the outskirts of Zlitan, a unit of fighters had built a sand-bank behind which they could shelter while firing at government troops. There were still sounds of intermittent shelling as night fell.

Unit commander Tarek Mardi, a 36-year-old former banker, said pro-Gaddafi forces had tried to push his fighters back but they had held their ground.

“Why isn’t NATO doing its job, where are the Apaches?” he asked, referring to the attack helicopters the alliance had deployed to Libya. “We are protecting our people, our country. We want to save our land from Gaddafi. He is a criminal.”

More than 100,000 rebel supporters spilled into the streets of Benghazi waving European and rebel flags and chanting slogans against the Libyan leader.

Gaddafi, who has ruled oil producer Libya for 41 years, says the rebels are armed criminals and al Qaeda militants. He has described the NATO campaign as an act of colonial aggression aimed at stealing Libya’s oil.

Deal Talk

A Russian newspaper this week quoted what it described as a high-level source as saying Gaddafi is sounding out the possibility of stepping down on condition there was a political role for one of his sons.

A Libyan government spokesman denied that report, saying Gaddafi’s future was not up for negotiation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim told Reuters in Tripoli that a solution to the conflict could be found before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins early in August.

“There are signals that the crisis will find a solution in the coming weeks. We will do whatever possible so that our people will spend Ramadan in peace,” he said.

“Currently the key hurdle to a solution is the NATO military campaign, and we hope that our friends in the African Union organization will do whatever possible to convince it to stop its aggression against our people.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had no confirmed information that Gaddafi had sounded out the possibility of stepping down.

“But it is quite clear that the end state must be that he leaves power,” Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

(Additional reporting by Nick Carey in Misrata, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Lamine Chikhi in Tripoli, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Maria Golovnina in Benghazi, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and Moscow bureau; Writing by Christian Lowe and David Dolan; Editing by Diana Abdallah)

13-28

Musharraf Exit Brokered by ‘Foreign Powers’

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

PressTV

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has revealed that his predecessor Pervez Musharraf was given a “safe exit” due to a secret deal in place with foreign powers.

International and local powers were guarantors in Musharraf’s resignation, Zardari said at an informal dinner meeting with journalists.

The president added that he was part of the discussions that eventually led to the former military ruler’s resignation in August 2008.

“During those talks it was decided that after quitting power, Musharraf will play golf, but now he is doing other things,” Zardari said.

Musharraf, who left Pakistan in mid-April and has been living in London for more than four months, has delivered a series of lectures commenting on Pakistani politics over the past few months.

Although Zardari did not name any countries that guaranteed immunity deal, Pakistan’s main opposition party Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) has said the UK and the Saudi Arabia were guarantors in the deal, the BBC reported.

11-40

For the Birds

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

racing pigeon

The hobby of pigeon raising in the Middle East goes back several years. Enthusiasts spend a great deal of time and money acquiring rare and beautiful birds. The supplies for housing pigeons are also very expensive. Pigeon owners often build elaborate cages on their rooftops or in their gardens. Each cage typically holds around thirty birds. A devout pigeon master often pays more attention to his birds than he does to his own children, because one sick bird can destroy the entire lot. For many enthusiasts, they have turned a mere hobby into an exact science.

There are so many rare varieties of pigeons, each varying in color, sheen and ability. The most popular in the Gulf region include the Sherazi, Sudani and Baljiki. However, the favorite pigeon amongst enthusiasts is known as the ‘flipper’. The reason it is so popular is because of its mid-flight aerobics that it performs at great heights, flipping full circle without losing speed. Exquisite and unique pigeons are much sought after by wealthy hobbyists who are often willing to pay thousands of dollars to acquire a prized bird for their collection. It is not uncommon for buyers to trade their expensive luxury cars and watches for a single bird. Most of the time, however, a lump of cash is enough to seal the deal.

Pigeon raising is also a lucrative sport. Enthusiasts gather to race their pigeons in competition with other birds. Most competitors will select their top five pigeons to perform in endurance races against the wind. The competitions are primarily held during the months of September and October when winds in the open desert often exceed 60 kilometers per hour. Each bird’s flight is measured in terms of resistance.

Come March, prize-winning pigeons are tucked away into their cages with equally alluring mates. The offspring of award winning pigeons can fetch even more money than the ‘contender’ bird himself. Newly hatched birds are also very easy to train for an optimum life span of racing and bringing joy to his master’s eyes. 

In Saudi Arabia, where pigeon raising is a part of local traditions, there is a special pigeon market held every Friday in the city of Medina. The market opens right after the dawn prayers and bustles for several hours to around mid-morning when the heat of the desert sun becomes unbearable. Bidding wars are common during the auctions held for the most sought-after birds and often get heated as the passion for pigeon rearing usually defies all reason.

However, not everyone has the bankroll to fund an elaborate pigeon pen plus fill it with expensive birds, then feed and pay for the medicines often needed to keep the birds healthy. In the state of Kuwait, the love for pigeons is a public affair. Right in the center of Kuwait City is what has come to be known as ‘Pigeon Square’.  Hundreds of pigeons descend upon the square around the clock, often mingling with shoppers and spectators alike. The area is lined with small grocery stores and meat shops.

It has long been a Kuwaiti tradition during the Holy Month of Ramadan to take the children of the family to visit the pigeons of Pigeon Square right before the Iftar meal. The grocery stores often see a rise in business as visitors often buy bread to feed the pigeons. In return, the pigeons ‘dot’ the landscape with their droppings, which the very same shop owners must clean up. Many locals have longed for the square to be turned into a tourist destination complete with refurbished structures, restaurants and cafes.

11-38

California Dodges Bullet with Budget Deal–for Now

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Peter Henderson and Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California’s state budget deal is a bet its economy, the world’s eighth-largest, will rebound — but that’s not likely to happen soon.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers agreed Monday to close a $26 billion budget gap, largely with $15 billion in spending cuts, with many pushed into future years.

“They are waiting for the economy to bail them out,” said Chris Ryon, a fund manager at Thornburg Investment who sees “a lot of risk” for investors in California debt.

The budget deal would let the state start traditional borrowing again, although state officials were waiting for the legislature to pass the deal before saying when they will tap the debt market.

Meanwhile, the state is still paying its way with IOUs and must contend with the financial effects of double-digit unemployment and foreclosures dominating its housing market.

“Unemployment, unfortunately, probably hasn’t peaked yet,” said Nuveen Investments fund manager Paul Brennan, who views the budget as a bet that better times are around the corner.

California’s revenues rely heavily on personal income taxes and tend to swing strongly. Google Inc’s initial public offering helped fuel a bumper year for taxes, so if the state economy recovers, revenue could grow quickly.

But economist Steve Levy says California’s economy likely will remain weak for some time and the state government’s main problem will persist — that its citizens and government can not agree on the level of public services to provide.

“We are a state in gridlock, in disagreement,” said Levy, director of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.

Lawsuits Ready

Around the state, uncertainty greeted the budget agreement. Its details were sparse while rank-and-file lawmakers reviewed the deal for potential votes in the state Assembly and Senate by Thursday.

But opposition formed quickly to some of the plan’s proposals, such as taking roughly $4 billion from cities and counties for state needs. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, for instance, voted Tuesday to sue the state to stop proposed cuts to the county’s share of the state highway tax and community redevelopment funds.

The California State Association of Counties said it would mull a lawsuit as well and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed told Reuters that his city, the 10th-largest in the nation, also is “committed to participating in a lawsuit” to keep the state from grabbing its money.

“They are probably in violation of the (state) Constitution in taking our redevelopment funds, in violation of the law in taking our highway users tax,” Reed said.

In addition to concerns about losing money to the state, county officials fear losing state aid for health and human service programs they must provide.

“Make no mistake, under this budget scenario counties cannot uniformly ensure the delivery of critical health, public safety and other vital local services,” said Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties.

To Buy or Not

Once a budget is signed, state finance officials will decide on the kind of short-term debt the state will need to sell to raise money for cash-flow purposes.

Until then, plans for selling either revenue anticipation notes or revenue anticipation warrants are on hold, said State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

Nevertheless, the budget deal came just in time, Lockyer told Reuters, and he sees lawmakers endorsing it. “Most of them understand we’re getting real close to the edge of the cliff here and we’d better wrap it up quickly.”

Standard & Poor’s analyst Gabriel Petek said the deal averted a certain downgrade next month by his rating agency, which has the state’s general obligation debt at A and CreditWatch with negative implications. “That was the trajectory it was on,” Petek said.

Investment analysts were split over the budget agreement and whether to buy California’s existing or new debt.

Dick Larkin, director of credit rating analysis at Herbert J. Sims Co Inc, said he suspects the agreement will end up deferring hard decisions about the state’s finances and a budget deficit will reemerge. “This is a pretty crappy budget to try to make the case to borrow billions of dollars over the next three months,” Larkin said.

Tom Tarabicos, a financial adviser at Wells Fargo Financial Advisors, said the deal failed to sway him from his dim view of California’s finances and their effect on the state’s bonds.

“This appears to me to be just a short-term reprieve,” Tarabicos said. “We’re going to maintain our distance.”

By contrast, Ken Naehu, head of fixed income at Bel Air Investment Advisors in Los Angeles, said the agreement should end speculation over whether California would not make payments on its debt service to bondholders.

Naehu said debt service payments were never in doubt as they are the state’s No. 2 payment priority as required by law and because the state’s revenues, albeit weak compared with a year earlier, were strong enough to support them.

“Why in the world would you cut your arm off and not make debt service payment when it’s such a small part of the budget?” Naehu said.

11-31

NSG-Waiver: Historic Or Black Day For India!

September 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

2008-09-06T180730Z_01_DEL23-_RTRMDNP_3_NUCLEAR-INDIA-SUPPLIERS

Supporters of India’s ruling Congress Party celebrate the approval of U.S.-Indian atomic energy deal in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad September 6, 2008. Forty-five nations approved a U.S. proposal on Saturday to lift a global ban on nuclear trade with India in a breakthrough towards sealing a U.S.-Indian atomic energy deal.

REUTERS/Amit Dave

NEW DELHI: The waiver granted to India by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for nuclear commerce with it, ending 34 years of the country’s nuclear isolation definitely marks a major diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (September 6). While it spells celebration for Congress and its allies, the waiver has given opposition parties and the left bloc a serious issue to strongly criticize the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Mixed reactions to India having secured the NSG waiver suggest beginning of a major political battle at home for the Congress, which is going to be a fiery one with national elections less than a year away.

Welcoming the waiver, Singh described it as “forward-looking and momentous decision.” “It is a recognition of India’s impeccable non-proliferation credentials and its status as a state with advanced nuclear technology. It will give an impetus to India’s pursuit of environmentally sustainable economic growth,” he said. Thanking United States and NSG members for “ensuring this outcome,” Singh said: “We look forward to establishing a mutually beneficial partnership with friendly countries in an area, which is important for both global energy security as well as to meet the challenge of climate change.”

Singh also spoke to President George Bush on telephone thanking him. Besides, “The two leaders expressed their belief that mutually beneficial relations between India and the United States were in the interest of their peoples, and were on a path of steady consolidation and multifaceted expansion, to which both leaders reiterated their commitment,” official sources said.

The NSG-waiver will “enable India to resume full civil nuclear cooperation with the international community to meet its energy and development requirements,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said. “We welcome this decision,” which “constitutes a major landmark in our quest for energy security,” he said. It “will open a new chapter in India’s cooperation with other countries in peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” he pointed out.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi congratulated Singh and Mukherjee for the NSG-waiver. Describing the waiver as a historic moment, Gandhi said it “marks the culmination of enormous efforts and skilful negotiations by our diplomats and nuclear scientists. Three decades of isolation have ended.” In a press statement, Gandhi congratulated the Prime Minister for his “conviction and commitment to pursue with determination India’s integration with global mainstream to meet requirements of our energy security.”

“This is a triumphant day for India. The NSG consensus … (is) culmination of years of hard work and cooperation between India and the US to bring India into the global nuclear mainstream,” US envoy in India David C. Mulford said.

Hailing NSG waiver as “historic” and significant victory for not just the government but for all Indians, Congress party spokesman Manish Tiwari said: “It is a historic day for India. It is a red letter day.”

Describing the waiver as a great victory for India, which will help in the country’s development, Samajwadi Party (SP) general secretary Amar Singh said: “India needs development and not nuclear bombs.” He also criticized the Indo-US deals’ opponents for “beating around the bush.”

While the NSG-waiver has spelt “victory” for Congress party and its allies, the opposition parties and the left bloc who have opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal think otherwise. Describing the waiver as a “stage-managed show,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi blamed the PM for having “compromised on national interests.” “In spite of winning the vote at the NSG meeting, the prime minister has lost the battle at home. The deal, in its present state, is going to have long-term consequences,” he said.

Senior BJP leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said: “The Congress is saying that this will end India’s nuclear isolation. We believe this does not hold any ground.”  “India has walked into a non-proliferation trap. It has lost its right to conduct nuclear tests forever. NSG guidelines are tougher than the Hyde Act,” Sinha said.

“This is an injustice done to the generation next to come. The Manmohan Singh government has taken an unfortunate decision by submitting our authority before the United States,” Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader A. Vijayaraghavan said.

Indian politicians opposed to the deal have been further enraged on contents of a “secret” letter published in The Washington Post, just ahead of NSG meeting in Vienna. The controversial contents made public by Republican Howard L. Berman, Chairman of House Foreign Affairs committee, are viewed as at variance with the stand maintained by India so far. The 26-page letter states that the United States would help India deal only with “disruptions in supply to India that may result through no fault of its own,” such as trade war or market disruptions. “The fuel supply assurances are not, however, meant to insulate India against the consequences of a nuclear explosive test or a violation of nonproliferation commitments,” the letter says.  The Indian government is expected to take “letter”-issue with the Bush administration, sources said.

The letter has provoked the deal’s opponents to blame the government for “misleading” the Parliament, “hiding facts” and “lying” to the people over the nature of the deal. CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat said: “The only option left to them (UPA) is that the Prime Minister should quit. But neither will they convene Parliament session nor will they quit. It is a shameless government.” Describing the waiver as a step in direction of total surrender of country’s nuclear rights, Karat said that the US orchestrated the NSG waiver as it wants the 123 Agreement to be operationalized. The waiver is in conformity with the Hyde Act. “Any new government that comes to power after next elections other than Congress should get the Indo-US nuclear deal terminated,” Karat said. The left would continue its struggle in this regard, he asserted. India has now become part of the “non-proliferation regime, which we have always found to be discriminatory and resisted so far,” Karat said.

“We continue to be opposed to 123 agreement. It’s a surrender of all our sovereign right,” Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary D. Raja said. In a statement, the CPI said that it is “not a historic day but a black day for India as far as our nuclear program is concerned. This waiver will kill our efforts to develop nuclear technology based on thorium.” Another strong opponent of the Indo-US nuke deal, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, who is also Uttar Pradesh chief minister, described the development in Vienna as a “black day” for India.

10-38