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Friday, September 23, 2011

West bank crowds erupt as Abbas demands U.N. membership

As Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas called on the United Nations to recognize a state of Palestine, huge crowds began gathering into the main towns and cities of the West Bank on Friday, hailing his decision to bid for statehood despite opposition from Israel and the United States.

Crowds in Ramallah and across the West Bank cheered and chanted their approval as Abbas submitted demand for a state of Palestine based on 1967 borders, before the Six-Day war with Israel.

“With our souls, with our blood, we will defend Palestine!” they roared as they saw live footage of Abbas holding up a copy of the membership demand he had personally handed to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.

“There’s great pride. We are behind president Abbas.” Tawfiq Nimr, 63, told Reuters as he stood to watch the events unfold. “Obama spoke about freedom in the Arab world but forgot that the Palestinian people are under occupation,” Tawfiq said.

Another pro-Abbas onlooker said that Abbas stood up to United States President Barack Obama in his bid for statehood.

“He was strong − the first Arab leader to challenge Obama. This is a historic moment in his life,” said Badr Abdel Razeq, 35, who brought his three children to witness the moment.

Despite the prospect of failure as the United States has already vowed to veto the bid at the U.N. Security Council, Palestinians who turned out on Friday welcomed the step as a change of approach 20 years after the start of peace talks that have failed to deliver their independence.

Abbas’ speech to the General Assembly had detailed Palestinian grievances against Israel and he called on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to expedite transmittal of his request to the Security Council.

He also called upon “the distinguished members of the Security Council to vote in favor of full membership.”

But Israelis politicians gave an angry response to Abbas’ speech.

“This speech was a real incitement to violence,” Israel’s ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Channel 10 television in New York, AFP reported.

His speech “proves that the Palestinians have no intention of negotiating with Israel and that their proposals (to that end) are merely rhetoric,” Lieberman said.

Meanwhile, education Minister Gideon Saar, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, described Abbas’s address to the UN General Assembly as “venomous.”

He said Netanyahu, who was to give his address shortly afterwards, would “certainly not give such a venomous speech.”

Abbas had said in his address that Israel’s settlement policy would “destroy” any chances of achieving a two-state solution, and said he would return to negotiations only if the Israelis agreed to freeze settlement activity and recognize the 1967 lines as being the basis for any future talks.

Al Arabiya

Monday, September 19, 2011

Turkish cargo plane fired on over Libya; Qaddafi loyalists capture 17 ‘mercenaries’

A Turkish military cargo plane dropping humanitarian aid over the Libyan town of Bani Walid came under fire from the ground, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported Monday.

The incident happened on Saturday when one of two Turkish C-130 transport planes parachuting aid to residents was fired on, the agency said, citing a journalist on the plane, according to AFP.

The pilots took evasive action and narrowly missed being hit, returning the plane safely to base in Turkey after a brief stopover in Benghazi to check for possible damage.

A spokesman for Muammar Qaddafi, meanwhile, said on Sunday that 17 “mercenaries,” including what he called French and British “technical experts” had been captured in the Qaddafi bastion of Bani Walid in Libya.

“A group was captured in Bani Walid consisting of 17 mercenaries. They are technical experts and they include consultative officers,” Moussa Ibrahim told Syrian-based Arrai TV.

“Most of them are French, one of them is from an Asian country that has not been identified, two English people and one Qatari,” he added, according to Reuters.

He said the 17 would be shown on television at a later time, but did not give more details.

It was not immediately possible to verify Ibrahim’s claims. The French foreign ministry said it had no information regarding the report.

NATO, French and British officials had on Saturday denied a report by Arrai TV that some NATO troops had been captured by Qaddafi loyalists.

Western special forces are known to have been in Libya and to have liaised with anti-Qaddafi officials during the conflict. Private security firms have also been helping anti-Qaddafi forces, according to Western media reports.

Libyan interim government fighters fired rockets from the southern entrance to Sirte on Sunday and exchanged heavy fire with Qaddafi loyalists holed up in a conference center.

“The situation is very, very dangerous,” Mohamed Abdullah, a rebel, told Reuters on the edge of the coastal city, where the ousted leader was born.

“There are so many snipers and all the types of weapons you can imagine,” he said, as rockets whooshed in the air and black smoke rose above the city, which is controlled by soldiers loyal to Qaddafi.
The rebels fired several mortars and tried to ambush revolutionary forces Sunday at the northern gate of the loyalist stronghold of Bani Walid, The Associated Press reported.

With their numbers stretched thin, the former rebels sent reinforcements, some who arrived with a tank that had been seized from the ousted regime.

Libya’s new rulers, meanwhile, pressed forward with efforts to assert authority over the country. The National Transitional Council (TNC) is expected to announce a new Cabinet lineup soon. That would show progress in forming a new government ahead of the U.N. General Assembly this week.

Al Arabiya

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bring corporates under Lokpal to check graft: CVC

As the Lokpal debate rages, the Central Vigilance Commission feels corporates should be brought under the purview of the proposed anti-corruption bill to check graft effectively.

It also favours that corruption in higher levels of bureaucracy and among political executives should be dealt with by the Lokpal provided there is a proper demarcation of work to avoid overlapping of powers with the CVC.

“Lokpal should cover corruption in higher bureaucracy and among political executives. There may also be a provision, as in UK bribery law, where a bribe giver is punished. We are also not against bringing corporates under the purview of Lokpal,” Central Vigilance Commissioner Pradeep Kumar told PTI in an interview.

At present CVC has no power to check corruption in private firms. However, the Commission refers cases of criminal conspiracy and corruption by government officials and private persons to the CBI.

“Lokpal may investigate cases of corruption involving political executives (ministers). In case they are found involved in wrong doings then action against them should be taken as per the law,” he said.

Mr. Kumar, who took over the reins of country’s top anti-graft body in July this year, cautioned that there should not be complexity in exercising powers by Lokpal to avoid delay in checking corruption.

“All civil servants are governed by departmental punishment rules. The CVC, in some cases, may impose penalty directly while it has to seek sanction for prosecution against senior officials. The Lokpal may look into these aspects (and simplify the process),” he said.

The CVC’s view may be conveyed to the Parliamentary Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice for Lokpal when the Commission appears before it.

The 31-member House panel, reconstituted a few days ago, is likely to call the CVC either on September 23 or 24 after the delay in its constitution resulted in cancelling the Commission’s presentation twice -- on September 7 and 15.

Mr. Kumar wanted extension of the vigilance mechanism in graft cases through speedy enquiries and prosecution procedures.

“The standard of proof (evidence) is lower in the Prevention of Corruption Act, which is time consuming. There is preponderance of probability. That is why there are a bulk of cases going on in courts. Cases under the PC Act are pending for over 10-15 years,” the CVC said.

The Commission covers corruption involving central government officials working in banks, public sector units and other undertakings of the Government of India.

“There is a need for preventive and punitive vigilance while dealing with corruption cases. We favour strengthening of grievance redressal mechanism and law to ensure delivery of service to public. There should be a citizen’s charter and equal need to ensure strict adherence to it,” Mr. Kumar said.


Libya’s NTC fighters withdraw from Qaddafi’s hometown, resume push in Bani Walid

Libya’s revolutionary fighters have pulled out from Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte on Saturday for “tactical reasons,” Al Arabiya correspondent said, hours after having fought street-by-street battles against loyalist forces fiercely defending the most symbolic of the shattered regime’s remaining strongholds.

Reporting from the frontlines, Al Arabiya correspondent Ahmad Bagato earlier said about 6,000 fighters were slowly advancing into Sirte as they were met with strong resistance from Qaddafi loyalists. The fighters had taken control of Dyafa Palace in the city’s area number 1 and forced Qaddafi’s forces to pull back to the city’s center.

A Sirte resident fighting along the revolutionary forces told Al Arabiya TV that only few residents were supporting Qaddafi and most of them were either “bought with money or forced to support him.” He said Qaddafi’s son Mutasim was suspected of leading the fight inside Sirte. “I think Mutasim is there, he is a criminal and bloodthirsty,” Muhammad said.

The commander of the Saadi brigade in Sirte was reportedly captured by a group of Misrata revolutionary fighters, but the reports could not be confirmed.

At a checkpoint some 30 kilometers west of the town, Commander Salem Jeha, a member of Misrata Military Council, told AFP: “We are now concentrated in a handful of buildings in the city and on the outskirts including Wadi Abu Hadi where Qaddafi’s forces are concentrated.”

Sirte airport came under complete control of NTC combatants late on Friday, he said, adding that there was “no possibility for them (Qaddafi’s forces) to continue their resistance.”

A Helicopter ambulance takes off from a medical centre in al-Hisha on the road to Sirte. (Photo by AFP)
A Helicopter ambulance takes off from a medical centre in al-Hisha on the road to Sirte. (Photo by AFP)

At the Gate 30 checkpoint, truckloads of ammunition could be seen heading towards the front, along with more pick-ups bearing fighters and anti-aircraft guns.

Jeha said there were some 1,200 NTC armed vehicles plus the thousands of fighters, mostly from Misrata, in the Sirte area.

“There may be houses and pockets of resistance, but they will not be able to overcome the rebels’ massive forces,” he said, adding that he had received reports that half of the city's civilians had fled.

The attacking fighters were trying to prevent civilian loss of life and were not seeking revenge: “We are not using heavy weapons except to protect our rebels when they are targeted.”

Jeha added: “This matter is sealed, it’s over. Our focus will now shift to free the south.”

Lieutenant Abdel Wahid al-Aguri, a former regular officer, said: “We are now in control of the highway and the southern part of the city.”

He added that the national army would continue to back and protect volunteer fighter brigades leading the Sirte offensive, but admitted there were some coordination issues between different forces on the battlefield.

“This is a weird battle, because in the traditional army there are clear orders whereas here we cannot coordinate closely,” he said.

Aguri said rebels had so far held back from firing their heaviest weapons, which include cannon and Grad rockets that are readily available, in a bid to minimize loss of life and damage to property.

A pick-up truck arrived at the Gate 30 checkpoint bearing three prisoners whom the NTC forces said were Qaddafi snipers, an AFP correspondent reported.

One prisoner, an old man showed signs of having been beaten, with blood streaming from his temple.

The youngest prisoner managed to blurt out to AFP that he was 19 as an angry crowd of fighters ringed the vehicle and tried to beat the three. Others held them back, however, shouting that there were media present.

“Sahafa, sahafa (journalists, journalists),” they yelled.

Qaddafi in Libya

Meanwhile, Qaddafi’s spokesman, Mousa Ibrahim, said that the deposed strongman is in Libya, directing all aspects of fight against provisional government, Reuters reported him as saying.

Ibrahim also said that NATO air strikes on Sirte overnight had hit a residential building and a hotel, killing 354 people.

He said that more than 2,000 people were killed by NATO’s airstrikes in Sirte in the last 17 days.

His claim could not immediately be verified as Sirte has been largely cut off from communication since the fall of Tripoli.

“NATO attacked the city of Sirte last night with more than 30 rockets directed at the city’s main hotel and the Tamin building, which consists of more than 90 residential flats.

“The result is more than 354 dead and 89 still missing and almost 700 injured in one night,” Ibrahim said.

“We are aware of these allegations,” Colonel Roland Lavoie, spokesman for the Western military alliance, said in Brussels. “It is not the first time such allegations have been made. Most often, they are revealed to be unfounded or inconclusive.”

According to Ibrahim, the loyalists’ forces have enough arms and ready to fight for months.

Aggravated in Bani Walid

Anti-Qaddafi fighters carry their wounded comrade during fighting at the frontline, in the north of the besieged city of Bani Walid. (Photo by Reuters)
Anti-Qaddafi fighters carry their wounded comrade during fighting at the frontline, in the north of the besieged city of Bani Walid. (Photo by Reuters)

Fighting resumed in the besieged Libyan town of Bani Walid, meanwhile, after diehard loyalists of Qaddafi dug in there shelled a key checkpoint controlled by transitional government forces on its northern outskirts.

A column of National Transitional Council pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft machineguns and fresh ammunition was seen rushing back into the interior desert town as dusk fell.

The day before, NTC fighters seeking to capture one of the fallen, fugitive Libyan leader’s last bastions had beat an embarrassing retreat from Bani Walid under withering heavy weapons fire from his loyalists.

The surly-looking NTC fighters had several theories as to why they were defeated.

“There are traitors among us,” Anas Madraha told Reuters, repeating a familiar refrain that Qaddafi infiltrators were feeding information to Bani Walid’s defenders.

Another NTC fighter, Abushusha Bellal, went further.

“When we entered the city, snipers shot at us from the front and traitors shot at us from the back,” he said with a look of disbelief. “They always play tricks and shoot us in the back.”

For others, there were other reasons. There were not enough troops. The organization was chaotic. There was no cooperation between the different brigades who took part in the attack. There was a lack of discipline, they said.

One fighter, Nuraldin Zardi, told Reuters his brigade had missed the order to retreat and had found itself trapped and isolated inside Bani Walid hours after their comrades had fled.

“God only knows why,” he yelled, shaking his fist. “When the shelling started no one told us we were supposed to retreat.”

Zardi said his unit had conserved its ammunition and fought its way out street by street.

NTC fighters had spent much of the day grumbling about their setback the day before as mortar rounds from Banin Walid’s defenders whistled by them, only aggravating the anti-Qaddafi forces’ humiliation.

Late on Saturday morning, NTC reinforcements began to arrive from around Libya and fighters said another 1,000 men from Tripoli and other parts of the country were on their way.

Al Arabiya