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Archive for June 7th, 2011

Syrian troops move on restive town, West alarmed

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110607/wl_nm/us_syria

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis 1 hr 4 mins ago

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian troops with tanks moved on Tuesday toward a town where the government has vowed to quell a revolt after accusing gunmen of killing scores of security men.

Though accounts of days of bloodshed in Jisr al-Shughour ranged from an official version of gunmen ambushing troops to residents’ reports of an army mutiny, the risk seemed to be growing of even greater violence than that which has left over 1,100 Syrians dead since popular unrest began three months ago.

France took a lead in proposing U.N. moves against President Bashar al-Assad. But Russia, citing NATO’s inconclusive war on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, said it would veto intervention against Syria in the United Nations Security Council.

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.

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 security crackdown on protesters in towns across the country.

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

DIPLOMATIC MOVES

Tuesday, local residents said a column of armoured vehicles and troops, apparently heading for Jisr al-Shughour, had reached the town of Ariha, 25 km (16 miles) to the east, a day after Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said army units would carry out their “national duty to restore security.”

Western powers have raised the alarm. British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament: “President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside.” He said European governments were looking at further sanctions.

For France, Britain’s ally in the air war against Gaddafi and the former colonial power in Syria, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris was ready to ask the U.N. Security Council to condemn Syria: “The process of reform is dead and we think that Bashar has lost his legitimacy to rule the country.

“We’ll see what the Russians will do. If they veto, they will take their responsibility. Maybe if they see that there are 11 votes in favor of the resolution, they will change their mind. So there is a risk to take and we’re ready to take it.”

The United States has also said Assad should reform or go.

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.

Just what has happened in Jisr al-Shughour, which lies in the northeast close to the Turkish border, remains unclear.

Official accounts say gunmen roaming the town and setting fire to government buildings had inflicted an extremely high death toll of over 120 on security men, said to have been killed in an ambush and attacks on a post office and a security post.

State television aired footage of at least five dead soldiers and police who it said were victims of an “ambush by armed gangs.” Voices are heard in the video cursing the dead men and describing how they were killed.

“I stabbed them, I stabbed the three of them,” said a man who was not seen on camera.

But residents and anti-government activists disputed the government account, saying the casualties followed a mutiny among forces sent to quell civilian protests. Assad loyalists and mutineers then fought each other around the town, they said.

Other footage posted on You Tube showed bodies of at least three soldiers and voices off camera say they were killed by fellow-security force members for refusing to fire on civilians.

PAST VIOLENCE

Fears of a sharp increase in the level of violence are informed by memories of 1982, when the forces of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, crushed an armed Islamist revolt in the city of Hama, killing many thousands and razing the town’s old center.

Jisr al-Shughour residents said violence began when scores of civilians were killed in a crackdown on the hill town on a road between Syria’s second city Aleppo and the port of Latakia.

They said security men had raided homes and made scores of arbitrary arrests after the largest pro-democracy protest yet held in the town, Friday. At least five people were killed.

The killings enraged the townsfolk and prompted defections from security police and troops belonging, like most people in Jisr al-Shugour, to Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, they said. Assad and many of his army and security commanders are Alawites.

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

“Military intelligence agents and security police stormed the town Monday. Snipers began firing at people who dared go out in the streets. Bodies lay in the streets. Around 100 police and soldiers defected and stood with us,” one resident said by phone, adding that six military intelligence agents were killed.

He said pro-Assad Alawite gunmen from neighboring villages, known as ‘shabbiha’, had been seen around Jisr al-Shughour.

Many analysts with close contacts on the ground inside Syria were reluctant to be identified when interviewed. One analyst based in Damascus said violence by security forces, who are also detaining and torturing people, was creating a violent backlash.

“Growing numbers of protesters have been pushed to take up arms, which are also being smuggled into the country at an alarming pace,” said the analyst, who works for an international organization.

The Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah said the 120 people killed were mostly civilians, or troops apparently shot dead by security agents who refused to join in the crackdown.

“The authorities are repeating their pattern of killings. They choose the town or city where demonstrations have been most vibrant and punish the population,” a Sawasiah spokesman said.

ARMY MUTINY?

Wissam Tarif, director of human rights organization Insan, said the fighting pitted rival army units against each other.

“An army unit or division arrived in the area in the morning. It seems then another unit arrived to contain the mutiny,” Tarif told Reuters. He said he had spoken to several people in Jisr al-Shughour who confirmed that account.

A Western diplomat in the region said he took the mutiny reports seriously, although he had no first-hand knowledge of events in Jisr al-Shughour. “It is plausible that the violent response to the protesters is causing widening cracks on sectarian lines within the army,” he said.

Rights groups say security forces, troops and gunmen loyal to Assad have killed 1,100 civilians since protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa on March 18. Unrest later spread to the Mediterranean coast and eastern Kurdish regions.

Assad has made some reformist gestures, such as issuing a general amnesty to political prisoners and launching a national dialogue, but protesters and opposition figures have dismissed such measures, saying thousands of political prisoners remain in jail and there can be no dialogue while repression continues.

Another resident, a history teacher who gave his name as Ahmed, said clashes had begun Saturday when snipers on the roof of the post office fired at a funeral for six protesters killed the day before. Mourners then set the post office ablaze.

State television said eight members of the security forces were killed when gunmen attacked the post office building.

It said at least 20 more were killed in an ambush by “armed gangs,” and 82 in an attack on a security post. It said the overall death toll for security forces topped 120.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny and Yara Bayoumy in Beirut; editing by Alistair Lyon and Alastair Macdonald)

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WHO: Time running out to solve E. coli outbreak

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110607/ap_on_he_me/eu_contaminated_vegetables_investigation;_ylt=AmPpLvgL3mF190QkHr7fysNvaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTNkdmRvMjJiBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwNjA3L2V1X2NvbnRhbWluYXRlZF92ZWdldGFibGVzX2ludmVzdGlnYXRpb24EcG9zAzYEc2VjA3luX2FydGljbGVfc3VtbWFyeV9saXN0BHNsawN3aG90aW1lcnVubmk-

by MARIA CHENG, Associated Press 32 mins ago

LONDON – An expert at the World Health Organization says time is running out for German investigators to find the source of the world’s deadliest E. coli outbreak, which has spread fear across Europe and cost farmers millions in exports.

German officials are still seeking the cause of the outbreak weeks after it began May 2. They wrongly accused Spanish cucumbers of being the culprit last week but had to retract when the cucumbers had a different strain of E. coli. On Sunday, they blamed German sprouts, only to backtrack a day later when initial tests were negative. The sprouts are still being tested.

So far, the outbreak has killed 24 people, infected over 2,400 and left hundreds hospitalized with a serious complication that can lead to kidney failure.

“If we don’t know the likely culprit in a week’s time, we may never know the cause,” Dr. Guenael Rodier, the director of communicable diseases at WHO, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

He said the contaminated vegetables have likely disappeared from the market and it would be difficult for German investigators to link patients to contaminated produce weeks after they first became infected.

“Right now, (Germans) are interviewing patients about foods they ate one to two weeks ago,” he said. “It’s very hard to know how accurate that information is.”

Without more details about what exact foods link sick patients, Rodier said it would be very difficult to narrow down the cause.

“The final proof will come from the lab,” he said. “But first you need the epidemiological link to the suspected food.”

Other experts issued harsher criticism of the German investigation.

“If you gave us 200 cases and 5 days, we should be able to solve this outbreak,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, whose team has contained numerous food-borne outbreaks in the United States.

Osterholm described the German effort as “erratic” and “a disaster” and said officials should have done more detailed patient interviews as soon as the epidemic began.

The medical director of Berlin’s Charite Hospitals, Ulrich Frei, said it took the national disease control center weeks to send his hospital questionnaires for E. coli patients to fill out about their eating habits.

Osterholm said the Germans should have been able to trace cases of illness to infected produce by now and that tests on current produce won’t be helpful.

“It’s like looking at camera footage of a traffic intersection today to see what caused an accident three weeks ago,” he said.

“This is an outbreak response that is not being led by the data,” he added. “Solving an outbreak like this is difficult, but it’s not an impossible task.”

On Tuesday, the EU health chief warned Germany against issuing any more premature — and inaccurate — conclusions about the source of contaminated food. The comments by EU health chief John Dalli came only a day after he had defended the German investigators, saying they were under extreme pressure.

Dalli told the EU parliament in Strasbourg that information must be scientifically sound and foolproof before it becomes public.

“It is crucial that national authorities do not rush to give information on the source of infection that is not proven by bacteriological analysis, as this spreads unjustified fears (among) the population all over Europe and creates problems for our food producers,” Dalli said.

In outbreaks, it is not unusual for certain foods to be suspected at first, then ruled out. In 2008 in the U.S., raw tomatoes were initially implicated in a nationwide salmonella outbreak. Consumers shunned tomatoes, costing the tomato industry millions. Weeks later, jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico were found to be the cause.

In the current E. coli outbreak, tests are continuing on sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany, but have so far come back negative. Rodier said that doesn’t necessarily exonerate the vegetables.

“Just because tests are negative doesn’t mean you can rule them out,” he said. “The bacteria could have been in just one batch of contaminated food and by the time you collect specimens from the samples that are left, it could be gone.”

He said food-borne outbreaks are difficult to investigate because they involve multiple industries, government departments and in Germany’s case, several layers of bureaucracy to report numbers.

In Luxembourg, a heated battle erupted Tuesday over compensation payments to European farmers blindsided by plunging demand during the deadly E. coli outbreak, with Spain and France scoffing at the amount proposed by the EU farm chief.

Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos suggested the European Union give farmers euro150 million ($219 million) in compensation — about 30 percent of the value of vegetables that cannot be sold.

But Spain and France, traditional vegetable producers, insisted that is not even close to enough, aiming for aid to farmers between 90 percent and 100 percent of the market price for their produce.

The losses to EU farmers have been staggering — in the neighborhood of euro417 million ($611 million) a week.

Germany’s national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, on Tuesday raised the number deaths to 24 — 23 in Germany and one in Sweden — and the number of infections in Germany to 2,325. The number of victims with a rare complication that may lead to kidney failure rose by 12 to 642.

Ten other European countries and the United States have another 100 cases.

The institute said the number of new cases had declined — a sign the epidemic might have reached its peak — but added it was not certain whether that decrease will continue.

In a major difference from other E. coli outbreaks, the crisis is mostly affecting women. Most of the victims in Germany are women between 20 and 50 years old, highly educated and very fit, investigators said.

“What do they have in common? They are thin, clean pictures of health,” said Friedrich Hagenmueller of the Asklepios Hospital in Hamburg, Germany.

___

David Rising in Hamburg, Raf Casert in Brussels and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.

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Australia's military loses its UFO X-Files: report

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110607/lf_nm_life/us_australia_ufo;_ylt=AjicqRVarlW4T6ttZRWwAg1vaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTJtb3F2dWxhBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMTEwNjA3L3VzX2F1c3RyYWxpYV91Zm8EcG9zAzMwBHNlYwN5bl9hcnRpY2xlX3N1bW1hcnlfbGlzdARzbGsDYXVzdHJhbGlhMzlz

Tue Jun 7, 9:49 am ET

CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) – Australia‘s military has lost its X-Files, detailing sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs, across the country, a newspaper report said Tuesday.

After a two-month search in response to a newspaper Freedom of Information (FOI) request, which forces government officials to release documents of public interest, Australia’s Department of Defense had been unable to locate the files, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

“The files could not be located and Headquarters Air Command formally advised that this file is deemed lost,” the department’s FOI assistant director, Natalie Carpenter, told the paper. Defense officials could not be contacted by Reuters.

The only file Defense had been able to locate was a folder called: “Report on UFOs/Strange Occurrences and Phenomena in Woomera,” a military weapons testing range in the center of Australia’s vast outback, Carpenter said.

All other files had been lost or destroyed, which the Herald said could fuel conspiracy theories about their disappearance.

The single remaining file detailed a sketchy series of sightings from around the country and overseas, including people living in towns near Woomera, in South Australia state.

X Files, named after a popular U.S. television science fiction program, refer to supposed government records detailing paranormal mysteries, usually involving fictitious alien species.

Australia’s military had decided to stop taking UFO sighting reports in late 2000, the Herald said, asking members of the public to report incidents to police instead.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Elaine Lies)

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Chile volcano ash grounds flights in Argentina

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110607/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_argentina_volcano_flights;_ylt=AumL1MyRuLgejfnudAGMXFRvaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTMyODY5djI0BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTEwNjA3L2x0X2FyZ2VudGluYV92b2xjYW5vX2ZsaWdodHMEcG9zAzE4BHNlYwN5bl9hcnRpY2xlX3N1bW1hcnlfbGlzdARzbGsDY2hpbGV2b2xjYW5v

By MICHAEL WARREN, Associated Press 20 mins ago

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Stiff winds blew ash from a Chilean volcano Tuesday in a widening arc across Argentina to the capital, grounding most air travel to and from the country.

Since airborne ash can severely damage jet engines, Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral, the country’s state-owned international and domestic airlines, canceled all flights within Argentina as well as to and from other countries until further notice.

At least six international carriers also suspended flights through Wednesday between Buenos Aires and cities in the United States, Europe and South America. Other carriers were expected to follow. Flights from Chile over Argentine territory also were suspended.

The capital’s usually bustling international and domestic airports were nearly deserted Tuesday, and aviation regulators met to decide whether and for how long to close them. Geologists in Chile have said the Cordon Caulle volcano could keep erupting for several weeks.

The closest major city to the volcano is San Carlos de Bariloche, just over the border in Argentina, where thick abrasive soot was coating slopes in a string of resorts that depend on the winter ski season, opening in less than two weeks. The plume then stretched northeast before curving east, dumping ash over Argentina’s vast ranchlands before reaching the capital.

“Given that even this morning the volcano continues to be active, the reopening of the airports isn’t expected until the conditions necessary for security can be guaranteed,” Argentina’s transportation department announced.

Transportation officials were meeting with representatives of Argentina’s meteorological service, civil aviation board and airport regulator to figure out where the ash cloud will move next and what to do about it, the statement said.

Despite the complications to air travel, the ash couldn’t be seen in the streets of downtown Buenos Aires by midday Tuesday.

But Jorge Echarran, who runs the emergency council of the surrounding Buenos Aires province, said in a local radio interview that “the cloud is already in the suburbs and is reaching the capital,” hovering at an altitude of between 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) and 22,970 feet (7,000 meters).

The ash cloud was blowing well to the south and away from Chile’s capital, Santiago, but at least four international carriers there canceled flights across Argentina to Buenos Aires, Brazil, Uruguay and Europe as a precaution.

Closer to the volcano, strong rains that began Monday night increased the danger of rivers getting clogged with ash and then overflowing in flash floods. Evacuations were expanding, with more than 4,000 people already fleeing their homes.

Vulcanologist Jorge Munoz of Chile’s National Geology and Mines Service said the eruption so far is considered to be moderate, but that could change. He said the volcano will likely begin to expel lava in the coming days, along with pyroclastic material that can turn waterways into avalanches of mud and rock that have the potential to destroy downstream communities.

___

Associated Press writer Federico Quilodran in Santiago, Chile, and Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

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Thousands of Yemenis protest for Saleh to stay out

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110607/wl_nm/us_yemen

By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashaf 22 mins ago

SANAA (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Yemeni vice president’s residence on Tuesday, demanding the acting leader for wounded President Ali Abdullah Saleh form a transitional council to create a new government.

Outside the peaceful protest in the capital of Sanaa, battles raged in a southern town held by Islamist militants.

Around 4,000 demonstrators in Sanaa, who have been calling for Saleh to step down for five months, called for a “million-man march” for him to stay in Saudi Arabia, where he has been treated for injuries since an attack on Friday.

“The people want to form a transitional council, we will not sleep, we will not sit until the council is formed,” the protesters chanted.

Protesters carried banners saying “The blood of the liberated achieved victory,” while others waved banners saying “Our revolution is Yemeni, not Gulf or American.”

“We will remain in front of the residence of the vice president for 24 hours to pressure him for the formation of a transitional council,” youth activist Omar al-Qudsi said.

“The era of Saleh has ended,” he told Reuters.

Saleh, 69, was wounded on Friday when rockets struck his Sanaa palace, killing seven people and wounding senior officials and advisers in what his officials said was an assassination attempt. He is being treated in a Riyadh hospital.

The volatile situation in Yemen, which lies on vital oil shipping lanes, alarms Western powers and neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia, who fear that chaos would enable the local al Qaeda franchise to operate more freely there.

They see Saleh’s absence for medical treatment in Riyadh as an opportunity to ease the president out of office after nearly 33 years ruling the impoverished Arab nation.

“We are calling for a peaceful and orderly transition,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called Vice President Abu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, appointed by Saleh as acting president, and pushed for a ceasefire.

Hadi has insisted that Saleh would return within days.

Saudi officials say it is up to Saleh whether he returns home or not, but they and their Western allies may want to revive a Gulf-brokered transition deal under which the Yemeni leader would quit in return for immunity from prosecution.

“Saleh’s departure is probably permanent,” said Robert Powell, Yemen analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“The Saudis, as well as the U.S. and European Union, are pushing hard for him to stay in Saudi Arabia, as they view the prospect of his return as a catastrophe.

“Prior to his departure, the country was slipping inexorably into a civil war. However, his removal has suddenly opened a diplomatic window to restart the seemingly failed GCC-mediated proposal. It seems Saudi Arabia and other interested parties are unwilling to allow Saleh to derail it this time.”

CLASHES IN SOUTH

Saudi Arabia is worried by the activities of the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has staged daring if not very effective attacks on Saudi and U.S. targets.

The army said it had killed dozens of Islamist militants including a local al Qaeda leader in the southern town of Zinjibar, capital of the flashpoint Abyan province.

A local official said 15 soldiers had been killed in the battles for control of the town seized by militants some 10 days ago.

Some of Saleh’s opponents have accused the president of deliberately letting AQAP militants take over Zinjibar to demonstrate the security risks if he lost power.

The fighting has reduced Zinjibar, once home to more than 50,000 people, to a ghost town without power or running water.

Fighting also flared again in the city of Taiz, south of Sanaa, where anti-government gunmen have clashed sporadically with troops in the past few days.

A Saudi-brokered truce was holding in the capital after two weeks of fighting between Saleh’s forces and tribesmen in which more than 200 people were killed and thousands forced to flee.

POWER TRANSFER

Saleh has defied pressure to accept the transition plan brokered by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Three times, he has backed away from signing it at the last minute.

“The transition seems to be on track as per the GCC initiative. There will be many obstacles down the road, but without Saleh’s destructive presence, we can overcome them,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdul-Ghani al-Iryani.

The future of Yemen, where shifting alliances of tribal leaders, generals and politicians compete for power, is uncertain. Saleh’s sons and relatives remain in the country, commanding elite military units and security agencies.

Other contenders in a possible power struggle include the well-armed Hashed tribal federation, breakaway military leaders, Islamists, leftists and an angry public seeking relief from crippling poverty, corruption and failing public services.

Youthful protesters have been celebrating Saleh’s departure, but are wary of any attempt by the wily leader to return.

“In the near term, the biggest challenge is to set up a viable political reform process that has the general backing of the population, and allows Yemen to return to normal after months of unrest,” the EIU’s Powell said.

“In the medium term, Yemen’s biggest challenge is economic — already the poorest country in the Middle East, it is running out of oil and water, and unless it can find alternative drivers of growth an economic collapse is entirely feasible,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Nour Merza in Dubai, Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Alistair Lyon in London; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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Waves of NATO aircraft intensify strikes on Tripoli

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110607/wl_nm/us_libya

By Peter Graff 2 hrs 27 mins ago

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Waves of NATO aircraft hit Tripoli on Tuesday in the most sustained bombardment of the Libyan capital since Western forces began air strikes in March.

By Tuesday afternoon, war planes were striking different parts of the city several times an hour, hour after hour, rattling windows and sending clouds of grey smoke into the sky, a Reuters correspondent in the center of the city said.

The Libyan government attributed earlier blasts to NATO air strikes on military compounds in the capital, a day after rebels drove Muammar Gaddafi‘s forces out of a western town.

Bombs have been striking the city every few hours since Monday, at a steadily increasing pace. On Tuesday they began before 11 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) and were continuing five hours later.

Air strikes were previously rarer and usually at night.

Some of the bombs appeared to hit in the vicinity of Gaddafi’s vast Bab al-Aziziya residential compound.

A Libyan official, speaking over a loudspeaker in a hotel where foreign journalists stay under government supervision, said some strikes had hit the Popular Guard compound and the Revolutionary Guard compound, giving no comment on casualties.

A NATO military official in Naples, headquarters of the alliance’s Libya operation, confirmed the current strikes were the heaviest on Tripoli so far.

“Definitely there are more strikes going into Tripoli than there have been in the past … This is just to increase the pressure on the Gaddafi regime and it’s been going on like this for a couple of days now …”

“The targets we are striking are the same types as … in the past — command and control, ammunition storage, vehicle storage — any function or system the Gaddafi regime can use to attack civilians.”

Libyan TV said late on Monday NATO had bombed the al-Karama neighbourhood and a civilian telecommunications station.

NATO said it hit a military “command and control target.”

Further east, Gaddafi’s troops and the rebels have been in stalemate for weeks, neither able to hold territory on a road between Ajdabiyah, which Gaddafi’s forces shelled on Monday, and the Gaddafi-held oil town of Brega further west.

Rebels control the east of Libya, the western city of Misrata and the range of mountains near the border with Tunisia. They have been unable to advance on the capital against Gaddafi’s better-equipped forces, despite NATO air strikes.

DIPLOMATIC CONTACT WITH REBELS

But world powers are increasingly making diplomatic overtures to the rebels, including Russia and China — despite misgivings about interference in Libya’s sovereign affairs.

Mikhail Margelov, Special Representative for the President of Russia for Africa, told journalists in the rebel capital of Benghazi on Tuesday that Gaddafi can no longer represent Libya.

“We highly believe that Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy after the first bullet shot against the Libyan people,” he said.

“Russia is ready to help politically, economically and in any possible way … That is why we have established a direct relationship with the national council here in Benghazi.”

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said an Egypt-based Chinese diplomat had visited Benghazi for talks with the rebel-led National Transitional Council, adding to signs that China too is courting the insurgents.

China has officially declined to take sides, but its moves reflect growing recognition that Gaddafi’s days in power may be numbered, said Yin Gang, an expert on Arab affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Libya’s pro-Gaddafi Foreign Minister Abdelati Obeidi is visiting China as a “special envoy” for his government and will hold talks with his counterpart Yang Jiechi on “the situation in Libya and (finding) a political solution to the Libyan crisis,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement that France — the first country to recognize the rebels — sees the National Transitional Council as representative of Libya.

“After being found guilty of the most serious crimes against the Libyan people, in breach of international law, authorities related to Col. Gaddafi cannot claim any role in representing the Libyan state,” Juppe said.

Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez will travel to Benghazi to meet rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Wednesday, her ministry said.

ICG URGES CEASEFIRE

Western governments and rebels say a combination of NATO air strikes, diplomatic isolation and grassroots opposition will eventually end Gaddafi’s rule.

Gaddafi refuses to step down, saying he is supported by all Libyans apart from a minority of “rats” and al Qaeda fighters, and that NATO strikes are a Western plot to steal Libya’s oil.

In a report on Monday, the International Crisis Group (ICG) urged the rebels and their NATO allies to propose a ceasefire, arguing that demands that Gaddafi step down as a pre-condition and threats of war crimes charges had forced him into a corner.

“The (rebels) and their NATO supporters appear uninterested in resolving the conflict through negotiation,” it said.

“To insist that he (Gaddafi) go now, as the precondition for any negotiation … is to render a ceasefire all but impossible and so to maximize the prospect of continued armed conflict. To insist that he both leave … and face trial in the International Criminal Court is virtually to ensure that he will stay in Libya to the bitter end and go down fighting.”

In a sign NATO strikes may be aiding the rebel advance, the rebels seized Yafran, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Tripoli, on Monday, after British warplanes had destroyed two tanks and two armored personnel carriers there on June 2.

In Brussels on Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he would repeat calls for NATO allies to boost involvement at an alliance defense ministers meeting this week.

NATO decided last week to extend operations in Libya until the end of September.

(Additional reporting by Sherine El Madany in Benghazi, Youssef Boudlal in Yafran, Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Elizabeth Pineau in Paris, Tim Cocks in Tunis, Chris Buckley in Beijing and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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Libya's Gaddafi vows to fight to the death

Posted by Admin on June 7, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110607/wl_nm/us_libya_gaddafi

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi vowed on Tuesday in a speech broadcast live on state television to fight to the end, after NATO intensified air strikes on Tripoli.

“We only have one choice: we will stay in our land dead or alive,” he said in the fiery audio address, calling on his supporters to flock to his Bab al-Aziziya compound.

Waves of NATO aircraft hit the Libyan capital on Tuesday, including targets in the vicinity of the vast Bab al-Aziziya residential compound, in the most sustained bombardment of the Libyan capital since Western forces began air strikes in March.

Describing planes flying overhead and explosions around him, Gaddafi was defiant.

“We are stronger than your missiles, stronger than your planes and the voice of the Libyan people is louder than explosions,” he said in his customary impassioned tone.

He said he was ready to unleash between 250,000 to 500,00 armed Libyans to swarm across the country to cleanse it from “armed gangs,” a reference to the rebels controlling the east of the North African oil producer.

Gaddafi was last seen on state television on May 30 in footage of him meeting South African President Jacob Zuma.

By Tuesday afternoon, warplanes were striking different parts of Tripoli several times an hour, rattling windows and sending clouds of grey smoke into the sky, a Reuters correspondent in the center of the city said.

“Whether we are martyred, killed or commit suicide, we care about our duty toward history,” Gaddafi said, demanding to know why the bombardment was continuing.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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