In Libya, the Cellphone as Weapon

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nick Carey

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Libyans living in Turkey wave a flag of the Kingdom of Libya during a protest against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi outside the Libyan embassy in Ankara August 22, 2011. Libyan rebel fighters poured into Tripoli and on Monday morning controlled most of the capital, though fighting persisted in a few districts. The whereabouts of Muammar Gaddafi were unknown but the rebels held two of his sons, Saif Al-Islam and Mohammed.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – When Muammar Gaddafi’s government shut off the cellphone network in Misrata in the early days of Libya’s uprising, it wanted to stop rebel forces communicating with each other. But the power of a modern phone goes beyond its network.

Both rebels and government soldiers have used their phones to take pictures and videos of the conflict, a digital record of fighting from both sides. With the rebels now in Tripoli, the capital, and Gaddafi’s whereabouts unknown, those gigabytes of potential evidence may play a role in any war crimes cases.

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo made an appeal in February for “footage and images to confirm the alleged crimes”, after the United Nations Security Council referred the Libyan uprising to the court. A court filing applying for arrest warrants listed video evidence, mainly from media, but also from unspecified sources, in support of its claim.

In the Mediterranean city of Misrata, in particular, a group of rebel-allied lawyers has worked to gather evidence of what it calls war crimes committed by Gaddafi forces.

“In the beginning when there were snipers we had to move around carefully,” said Omar Abulifa, a former prosecutor and head of the Misrata-based Human Rights Activists Association. “It was hard to get the evidence, but we did what we could.”

As the rebels gained control of more of the city in April and May, the association set up a system to gather evidence after every incident, especially the continued bombardment of the city with Grad rockets by Gaddafi loyalists, which killed and injured many civilians. The footage they gathered includes videos taken from the cellphones of rebel fighters and from those of government troops captured or killed during the fighting. Other video and photographs came from citizens of the town.

Some of that film can be used as evidence, Abulifa says. “But not all of it because to be used as evidence it has to be from a trusted source and it has to be clear what is happening.”

Around 150 gigabytes of video gathered by the city’s media committee, which was set up after the uprising, has been provided to the association. A member of the committee gave a Reuters reporter who was in Misrata in July a large volume of that material.

“Everyone has stuff like this,” said Ali, 21, an off-duty rebel fighter, as he showed a Reuters reporter videos on his touch-screen phone, including one of government tanks entering Misrata and one showing a man he says was an unarmed doctor who had been shot by Gaddafi troops and bled to death in the street.

Hair slicked back, and impeccably turned out in western jeans, shirt and shoes, Ali speaks in the weary tone of a young man explaining modern technology to someone older.

“Just ask anyone and they’ll show you,” he said.

Grilled Fish

Technology has been vital to Misrata’s uprising since the beginning.

When his closest childhood friend invited him to a dinner in a fisherman’s hut on the beach last December, Ayman Al Sahli was puzzled. As the 31-year-old lawyer and six other men tucked into grilled fish, their friend, Mohammed Al Madani, explained why he had called the group together.

The accountant brought out a photograph of the old Libyan flag, which predates Muammar Gaddafi’s seizure of power in a 1969 coup. The red-black-and-green flag with its white crescent moon and star is now ubiquitous in the rebel-held city and other parts of Libya. But in December it was forbidden so a small, easily hidden photograph had to do.

Al Madani then used his mobile phone to play Libya’s old national anthem. The song dates back to the country’s independence in 1951 and was banned after Gaddafi seized power. None of the men present had ever heard it before.

“We spent the rest of the evening talking about the unrest in Tunisia,” al Sahli says, “and about what Libya would be like without Gaddafi.”

In the six months since they rose against Gaddafi, the 500,000 or so residents of Libya’s third largest city have remained close to one of the fiercest frontlines of the Arab Spring. The rebels seized Misrata in May after a bloody, three-month long battle against well-armed government militia and in the past few weeks forced the government troops west toward Tripoli.

With the rebels on the verge of victory, much is likely to be made of the NATO bombing raids, which have hammered Gaddafi’s forces since March, and the role of Qatar, which has financed the rebels. But just as important have been two things on show that night in the Misrata beach hut: a low-tech, make-do resourcefulness and mobile phones.

Facebook “Event”

A few days before Misrata’s first street protest on February 17, Mohammed Agila, 32, a bespectacled bank employee, took his heavily pregnant wife and two children to her parents’ house. He withdrew all the money from his bank account and gave it to his father-in-law.

“I did not know exactly what would happen when we went out in the street,” said Agila, one of 70 or so participants in that initial demonstration. “But I knew I could be arrested.”

In the preceding months, Agila and Jamal Sibai, who also took part in the first protest, joined small group meetings like the one at the fisherman’s hut.

“People met in groups of 10, 11, 12 and talked about going into the streets to demonstrate,” said Sibai, 25, a slender, bearded art student and now a writer for a new newspaper called Free Libya. “We talked about freedom and the need for a constitution. We talked about how we wanted a president who could only serve for four or eight years and then, ‘Thank you, goodbye.’

“We didn’t talk about fighting,” he added. “We just wanted the things a normal country should have.”

In January, two Facebook pages — “Amal Libya” or Hope Libya, and another calling for a “day of anger” on February 17 — helped protesters like Sibai and Agila realize they were not alone.

“Before the Facebook pages, we did not know exactly when or where we should go out into the streets,” Agila said. “But they told us when and where to do it. We didn’t create the revolution in Misrata,” added Agila, now a radio announcer as well as working at a bank. “Everyone here wanted to do what we did. We just happened to do it first.”

By this time Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak had already been toppled and protests were underway in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries. Protests began in Benghazi on February 15, because of fears Gaddafi was preparing to send in his militia.

When protesters, most of them strangers to each other, showed up in the parking lot of Misrata’s technological college on February 17, they noticed cars carrying Gaddafi’s secret police and militia waiting for them. All the protesters were arrested.

“I was afraid,” Sibai said. “But I knew I had to do this anyway.”

Taking It In Turns

The first protests sparked off a series of increasingly large demonstrations in the city, Libya’s commercial and industrial heart some 200 km (124 miles) east of Tripoli. Government forces opened fire on protesters on February 19. Rebels armed with Molotov cocktails, hunting rifles and crude, home-made blades, took control of the city within a few days, but barely.

On March 17, the same day a United Nations resolution ushered in a NATO bombing campaign, Gaddafi forces began an artillery bombardment. Within a few days government tanks backed by snipers firing from tall buildings on Tripoli Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, had forced the rebels to hole up in the city’s seaport.

“We had no weapons, so we fought with what we could find,” says Abu Youssef, 55, a former caterer who recalls his amazement when he saw a teenager take out a tank in the early days of the uprising with just a Molotov cocktail.

On the ground, men like Youssef, 37, a former truck driver on the city’s southern front, joined small groups of men. The group Youssef joined had just one gun between them, a common situation in the opening days of the war before the city’s entrepreneurs, and mass fundraising efforts, brought weapons and ammunition.

Some weapons came from the temporary rebel capital of Benghazi in the east, but the fact that most were bought by locals is both a source of pride and a bone of contention with Benghazi.

“We would take it in turns to fire the gun,” Youssef says while taking shade from the fierce late July sun with his comrades. “The rest of us would help the man with the gun.”

Another fighter called Alim, 21, said rocket-propelled grenade launchers, a much-needed weapon against Gaddafi’s more heavily armed forces, were in particularly short supply. When a group without a launcher needed one for an attack they would ask other groups in the neighborhood to borrow theirs.

“Once we fired it, we returned it as promised,” Alim said as he sped toward the front line last month in a Chinese-made pickup, one of several thousand commandeered from the city’s port during the uprising.

Imported by the government a few years ago to sell to Libyans, the Toyota-lookalikes were rejected by consumers as too shoddy and sat idle at the port. Now they are a hot commodity. The trucks have to be hotwired to start, because no one knows where the keys are, and have a notoriously loose tailgate that pops open at inopportune moments.

“I’d rather have a Toyota,” Alim says, as he hotwires the truck. “Or any other half-decent truck. But I’ll make do with this.”

Dog Fight

The citizens of Misrata made do with whatever came to hand in a battle where, perhaps surprisingly, tanks were not the biggest threat the rebel fighters faced. “In the city, we could use the houses and buildings to get close to tanks,” says Ali, 29, a dentist on the western front line. “We found out that we could take out a tank at 80 meters.”

Far worse were the snipers.

On a tour around the damaged University of Misrata’s Faculty of Medical Technology, medical management lecturer Mahmoud Attaweil pointed to the holes knocked by government snipers in the roof of a five-storey building. Holes along the side of the building were caused by rebels trying to dislodge the snipers, said Attaweil.

“You can’t get a sniper out of a building with small arms,” he said. “The only way to persuade him to leave is to make him believe you will bring the whole building down if you have to.”

One group of rebel fighters attached flashlights to the heads of dogs at night then released them near buildings where they suspected a sniper was hiding. The sniper would open fire, almost invariably missing the fast-moving target presented by the running dog. Once the sniper had given away his position, the rebels would open fire with rocket-propelled grenades.

Gigabytes of Evidence

Mobile phones also became a weapon.

Much of the footage of fighting and its aftermath held by the rebels is too graphic for Reuters to show.

In one sequence, people run toward a car and open the door. The vehicle’s driver slumps out of the door, shot through the head by a sniper, his brains spilling out of a hole in his forehead. Many others, from the city’s hospitals and clinics — a trusted source of information — show injured children. One clip shows a bombed incubator room for infants where nurses pull glass out of the bloodied bodies of crying babies.

Another video, purportedly taken from the phone of a captured government soldier, shows what appear to be uniformed Gaddafi loyalists in the back of a truck trying to force a group of men mainly in civilian clothes to “Say Muammar!” and “Say something!”. Two of the civilians are assaulted — the first, a bearded man, is repeatedly slapped in the face, and pushed against the side of the truck by a man in a black coat. The second is slapped in the face. The men then all begin to chant “Long Live Muammar’s lions!”

The Misrata group says it has already started work on 150 war crimes cases against the Gaddafi regime, and Abulifa says it will add many more.

Gaddafi’s government has denied anything beyond firing at the “armed gangs” and mercenaries, and in June angrily rejected charges of crimes against humanity filed by the International Criminal Court against the Libyan leader, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

While Abulifa says he welcomes the ICC’s war crimes charges, if the country’s longtime ruler is captured he says he wants him to stand trial in Libya. When asked why, he pauses, then leans forward in his chair and speaks slowly.

“The ICC does not have the death penalty,” he says. “Libya does. We want Gaddafi brought to trial. We want the world to see what he has done. And then we want him brought to justice.”

The ICC said the possible admissibility of mobile phone footage as evidence would be decided on a case-by-case basis. “If there is a conversation from the defense about certain evidence it is up to the judges to decide the admissibility of that evidence,” ICC official Fadi el-Abdallah said.

“The Revolution Did Not Kill Him”

The rebel flag flies everywhere in Misrata now. It is painted on lamp posts, empty oil drums and even the old cargo containers that serve at increasingly irrelevant checkpoints in the city. The people of Misrata boast of how quickly law and order has been restored to the streets — a feat more elusive for Benghazi, Libya’s second city and home to the National Transitional Council, the ruling body for the parts of the country under rebel control.

Today, too, everyone knows Libya’s old national anthem.

But while Ayman Al Sahli, who first heard that anthem on the mobile phone of his friend Mohammed Al Madani last December, says he still backs the revolution, he mourns the loss of his friend, who was killed near the frontline on April 27.

When the fighting began, the accountant who had arranged the beach hut dinner began working for the rebel-run radio station in Misrata, making frequent trips to the station to report on the latest events at the frontline. Al Sahli was sitting with him and other friends when a mortar fired by Gaddafi loyalists struck, killing Al Madani instantly.

“The revolution did not kill Al Madani, Gaddafi did,” Al Sahli said. “More than anything, I want Libya to be free. But I lost my joy the day my friend died.”

(Nick Carey reported from Misrata in July; additional reporting by Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam; Edited by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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Comparing Israel’s and Iran’s Nuclear Programs

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Steinbach

John Steinbach, an educator and author, has written extensively on environmental, economics, energy, social justice and nuclear energy issues.

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Iran’s Head of Atomic Energy Organization Fereyoun Abbasi-Davani attends the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna in Vienna June 20, 2011.

REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Despite being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), since its 1979 revolution and especially over the past 10 years, Iran has come under unprecedented scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear program. Meanwhile, Israel—one of only four NPT non-signatories (Pakistan, India and North Korea are the others) and the only state in the Middle East actually possessing nuclear weapons—has remained free  from any meaningful international oversight. While Iran has suffered debilitating economic sanctions over unproven suspicions that it might have a clandestine nuclear weapons program, Israel, with an arsenal of hundreds of modern nuclear weapons and a sophisticated delivery system capable of targeting the entire Middle East and Europe, is permitted to act with impunity.

Not only has this blatant double standard over the Iranian and Israeli nuclear programs been recognized by many observers as weakening the international nuclear non-proliferation agenda, but it raises the specter of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Shortly before stepping down as IAEA director general in November 2009, Mohammed Elbaradei declared, “This is not really sustainable that you have Israel sitting with nuclear weapons capability there while everyone else is part of the non-proliferation regime.” As Joseph Cirincione, former director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out, “The world does well to remember that most Middle East weapons programs began as a response to Israel’s nuclear weapons—It should be obvious that Israelis are better off in a region where no one has nuclear weapons than in one where many nations have them.”

The Shah’s Nuclear Program

Iran’s nuclear program had its beginnings in the 1953 CIA-orchestrated coup that deposed Prime Minister Mohammad Mosadegh and installed Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to power. That same year President Dwight Eisenhower gave his “Atoms for Peace” speech promoting the civilian uses of nuclear technology, including the promotion of nuclear power.

Under the aegis of a civilian nuclear cooperation program established under the Atoms for Peace program, Iran sent students abroad to study nuclear engineering in the United States and in 1967 established the Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) run by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). The TNRC’s centerpiece was a U.S.-supplied 5-megawatt reactor fueled with Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU). The following year, Iran signed the NPT, making its nuclear program subject to IAEA verification inspections.

In the early 1970s, Tehran approved plans for 20 commercial power reactors, with the shah stating in 1974, “Petroleum is a noble material, much too valuable to burn—We envision producing, as soon as possible, 23,000 megawatts of electricity using nuclear plants.”

With its substantial oil revenue, Iran proceeded to order its first two nuclear power reactors at Bushear from Germany in 1975. It also signed a contract with France to construct two more reactors at Darkhovin. To supply the reactors with fuel, Iran invested in a uranium enrichment factory in France, with the shah lending the Eurodif consortium (including France, Sweden, Belgium and Spain) more than $1 billion for the right to purchase 10 percent of the production of enriched uranium.

In 1976, the U.S. offered Iran a reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from used reactor fuel. “Introduction of nuclear power will provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy,” Washington stated, “and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” This argument supporting nuclear power continues to be the basis of Iran’s current nuclear power rationale.

In addition, Iran signed an agreement with the apartheid regime in South Africa whereby Iran helped finance the development of nuclear fuel technology in return for guaranteed supplies of enriched uranium.

By the late 1970s, concerns about nuclear proliferation and a potential Iranian nuclear weapons program resulted in erosion of U.S. support for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. American pressure on France and Germany led to cancellation of the Bushear and Darkhovin reactors. France refused to deliver the enriched uranium purchased under the Eurodif partnership. The plutonium-reprocessing offer was withdrawn. By the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian nuclear program was in disarray.

Iran’s Nuclear Program Since 1979

For the first few years after the revolution, Iran’s nuclear program was at a standstill due to the confluence of several influences:   withdrawal of Western support; the mass exodus of Iranian nuclear scientists; the opposition to nuclear technology of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; and Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osiraq. This began to change in the late 1980s, especially after Khomeini’s death in 1989. In 1995, Iran signed a contract with Russia to complete the two Bushear reactors, which had been damaged during the Iran-Iraq war. The first reactor is now scheduled to go online sometime this year. Officials also announced resumption of work on the Darkhovin project, with plans for an operational 360 megawatt reactor by 2016. To fuel these reactors, Iran has initiated an ambitious integrated program of uranium mines, uranium processing and enrichment facilities, a heavy water production facility, and research reactors.

As it is legally entitled to do under provisions of the NPT, Tehran has proceeded with a uranium conversion and enrichment program. Primarily focused on low enriched uranium for the power reactors, Iran has also produced smaller amounts of 20 percent enriched uranium to fuel a reactor for producing medical isotopes.

Despite the fact that Iran allowed unprecedented inspections of its nuclear facilities by the IAEA, which found no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, the Security Council has imposed several sets of sanctions against Iran. The reason given for these sanctions is Tehran’s delay in declaring the existence of several nuclear facilities, and a lack of transparency about former nuclear and missile-related programs. Iran has responded that it has complied with the legal requirements of the NPT and that the sanctions have been politically motivated. As recently as February 2011, the IAEA has continued to state that there is no evidence that Iran is currently pursuing a nuclear weapons program, a finding that conforms to a 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

The History of Israel’s Nuclear Program

Israel’s nuclear program had its inception with the establishment of the state in 1948. Profoundly influenced by the horrors of the Holocaust, Ernst David Bergmann, “father” of the Israeli bomb program, and David Ben-Gurion began a program to develop nuclear weapons because, in the words of Bergmann, “The State of Israel needs a defense research program of its own, so that we shall never again be as lambs led to the slaughter.” In 1952, the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission was established, and the Israeli bomb project initiated.

Like the Iranians, Israel eagerly signed up with Washington’s Atoms for Peace Program and, like the Iranians, was rewarded by the U.S. with a 5 megawatt highly enriched uranium research reactor. By the mid-1950s, Israeli nuclear and computer scientists began collaborating with their French counterparts in the French bomb project, and were integral partners with Paris in the Algerian atomic bomb tests. For its part, France reciprocated by building Israel a natural uranium heavy water moderated plutonium production reactor and reprocessing plant at Dimona. Israel also forged a nuclear partnership with South Africa’s apartheid regime, providing it with technical and economic assistance in return for access to uranium and missile launch test facilities.

Despite Israel’s assurances to Washington that Dimona was a peaceful research facility, extreme security measures—including shooting down one of its own Mirage fighters, and a civilian Libyan airline, killing 104 civilians—told a far different story. Dimona went online in 1964 and plutonium production began shortly thereafter. By 1966 Israel had built its first nuclear weapon, and by the 1967 war two nuclear weapons were ready for use. During the 1973 war, Israel possessed several dozen nuclear weapons and threatened to use them in order to coerce the U.S. into providing a massive airlift of weapons.

By the 1970s, U.S. intelligence agencies had become aware of Israel’s nuclear bomb program, but it was generally thought that its arsenal consisted of no more than a relative handful of primitive devices.

These estimates were demolished in 1986, when a Dimona nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, smuggled out hundreds of photos published in the Sunday—London Times. Analysis by senior nuclear weapons designers Frank Barnaby and Ted Taylor showed that Israel possessed approximately 200 highly sophisticated nuclear weapons, including boosted fission and, perhaps, hydrogen bombs. Barnaby concluded, “The acquisition by Israel of lithium deuteride implies that it has become a thermonuclear-weapon power—a manufacturer of hydrogen bombs—Israel has the ability to turn out the weapons with a yield of 200-250 kilotons.”

Although Israel maintained—and still maintains—a position of “nuclear ambiguity,” neither acknowledging or denying its nuclear arsenal, the Israeli “bomb in the basement” was now an open secret.

Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal

Most estimates of Israel’s current nuclear arsenal range from about 100 to over 400 weapons, making it comparable in size to the British, French and Chinese arsenals. However, given the sophistication of the weapons and their delivery systems, and the immense power of these weapons, the actual size of the Israeli arsenal is largely moot. Even at the lowest estimates, Israel possesses enough nuclear weapons to destroy every major Middle Eastern city several times over. Like the U.S. and Russia, the Israeli nuclear threat is based on a triad of delivery systems: long-range bombers, ballistic missiles and submarines, with which it can target all of Europe and the Middle East, and much of Asia and Africa.

The Israeli nuclear bomber fleet consists of 25 F-15-E and 102 highly modified F-16-I fighter-bombers with a reported range of nearly 4,500 kilometers—enough to fly from Israel to Iran and back. The Israeli ballistic missile arsenal consists of approximately 100 Jericho-1 and 50 Jericho-2 missiles. The Jericho-1 missile has a range of over 500 kilometers and can reach Damascus or Cairo. According to the widely respected Jane’s Intelligence Review, the Jericho-2 has an extended range of approximately 5,000 kilometers carrying a 2,500 kilogram payload. A more powerful missile called Jericho-3 is under development.

The third leg of the triad consists of five Dolphin-Class submarines (three currently deployed and two more scheduled for deployment in 2011 or 2012). These super-sophisticated diesel-powered subs, built for Israel by the Germans, have an extended range of about 8,000 kilometers. The two new subs scheduled for delivery during the coming year have an extended range of 10,000 kilometers.

In 2000, an Israeli submarine successfully launched a cruise missile that destroyed a target more than 900 miles away. Israel currently is stationing its submarines in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea—targeting Iran.

Washington Report

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Syrians Flee Town as Troops Approach

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

 
 

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrians fled a restive town toward the Turkish border, fearing bloodshed as troops with tanks approached, under orders to hit back after the government accused armed bands there of killing scores of its security men.

Though accounts of days of killing in Jisr al-Shughour ranged from an official version of gunmen ambushing troops to residents’ reports of an army mutiny, it triggered international alarm that violence may enter a new and bloodier phase after three months of popular unrest that has left over 1,000 dead.

France and Britain, allies in the war against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, took a lead in pushing U.N. moves against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Russia, citing NATO’s inconclusive bombing of Tripoli, said it would veto intervention against Syria in the United Nations Security Council.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, at U.N. headquarters in New York, said it was “a question of days, maybe hours” before the Council voted on a resolution condemning Syria. A draft circulated last month does not propose military intervention.

At Jisr al-Shughour, home to tens of thousands of people, residents said they were taking cover and bracing for attacks.

“The army is taking up position around Jisr al-Shughour,” one anti-government activist told Reuters by telephone, saying residents have seen troops approaching the northeastern town from Aleppo, Syria’s second city, and from Latakia on the coast.

“Most people have left the town because they are scared,” he said, asking not to be named for his own safety. “They know the deaths will be high. People have gone to nearby villages close to the Turkish border. The doctors and nurses have also left.”

On Monday, Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said army units would carry out their “national duty to restore security.”

The government has expelled independent journalists, making it hard to determine clearly what is happening in the country.

Despite enthusiasm for pro-democracy movements that have unseated dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, few Western leaders — let alone their autocratic Arab partners — have shown a will to intervene in Syria, an Iranian ally whose volatile mix of ethnic and religious groups sits astride a web of regional conflicts.

Foreign Pressure

Assad’s family and supporters from the minority Alawite sect have dominated Syria since his late father seized power 41 years ago. He has responded with promises of reform, and a crackdown on protesters in towns across the country. His officials accuse radical Islamists of fomenting a violent, armed revolt.

Neighboring countries, including Israel and Turkey, worry that a collapse into chaos could set off sectarian conflict and the emergence of violent, radical Islamists, as happened in Neighboring Iraq after the U.S. invasion of 2003.

But Western powers kept up pressure. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, in some of London’s strongest language yet against the 45-year-old leader, told parliament: “President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside.” He said European governments were looking at further sanctions.

“We are working to persuade other countries that the Security Council has a responsibility to speak out,” Hague added. Russia appears opposed to a general condemnation of Assad, let alone authorising military action against him.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who last month urged Assad to lead a transition to democracy or “get out of the way,” did not mention Syria in remarks at a news briefing on Tuesday.

But in Brussels, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said: “The prospect of a U.N. Security Council resolution that’s along the same lines as Resolution 1973 on Libya will not be supported by my country … The use of force, as Libya shows, does not provide answers.”

Veto-holding Russia abstained on the Libya vote, allowing NATO to begin a bombing campaign that Western powers say saved civilians in rebel-held Benghazi from an onslaught by Gaddafi’s forces, but which has failed to dislodge the Libyan leader.

Syria’s ambassador to France strongly denied a report on Tuesday that she had resigned in protest at the government’s repression of protests, saying it was part of a campaign of disinformation against Damascus.

Lamia Chakkour, shown standing in front of a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Paris embassy, told France’s BFM television that a report by news channel France 24, featuring a telephone interview with a woman claiming to be her, was false.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny and Yara Bayoumy in Beirut; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Successful Demonstration for Freedom in Syria and Libya

April 11, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

As revolutions sweep the Muslim world, the Southern California community, home to many from that area and their children, are taking a proactive interest in events there.

The Syrian community in the greater Los Angeles area and the Libyan Emergency Task Force there sponsored a well attended and successful demonstration in front of the Federal Building in Los Angeles this past weekend. The event was held to show support for and solidarity with the people of Syria and Libya.

In announcing the demonstration the organizers called attention to the 48 years of one party rule in Syria. Attention also was focused on the civilian deaths resulting from the repressive measures, including the use of live ammunition and mass arrests, on the part of Syrian Special Forces.

The Libyan Emergency Task Force supports the passage of United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 which authorizes all necessary measures to protect civilian life including the well publicized “no fly zone”. The Task Force acknowledges the need for United States participation to unseat dictator Muammar Qaddifi.

The local Libyan Emergency Task Force is in contact with the main office, located in Washington, D. C. .  A meeting will be held in the near future to facilitate the centralization of the group’s work.

Idris Traina, a spokesperson for the Task Force, told The Muslim Observer that a critical situation – a barrier -exists with respect to aiding the Libyan civilians. It is presently against United States law to send money to Libya even under the auspices of charity and for humanitarian reasons. Efforts are underway through contact with elected officials to repeal or mitigate this law.

When asked what type of government he wanted for Libya, he replied one that is “democratic and free” with an “open society and formation of political parties”.

A fundraiser for Libya was held in early March and others are planned for the future as soon as US based charity organizations are allowed to provide help inside Libya.

Motorists travelling along the busy thoroughfare where the Federal Building is located honked their approval of the signs held by the demonstrators.

For further information, please contact: Ammar Khaf at ammar@kahf.com or Sarah Larbah  at sarah.larbah@gmail.com.

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