Sunday, September 18, 2011

Libyans fail to agree new government

BENGHAZI/BANI WALID, Libya (Reuters) - Libya's interim leaders failed to agree a new cabinet on Sunday and the forces that forced Muammar Gaddafi from power remained bogged down in fighting with troops loyal to the former ruler.
Interim government forces fled in chaos from the town of Bani Walid and pulled back from Sirte after yet more failed attempts to storm Gaddafi's final bastions and take control of the entire country.
The political and military problems underscored how hard it would be to restore stability to Libya after Gaddafi was driven out of Tripoli last month.
The former rebels' executive committee, or cabinet, was dissolved last month. A new committee, to include officials responsible for defense and interior affairs, was supposed to be appointed by interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril on Sunday.
But the talks broke down when his proposals did not receive full backing from all current members.
"We had an advisory meeting with the NTC in order to form a new cabinet. We have agreed on a number of portfolios. We still have more portfolios to be discussed," Jibril told reporters through a translator at a news conference on Sunday.
A list of the approved ministries was not available, though sources familiar with the negotiations said that the position of Jibril himself was a sticking point during the talks.
There was also disagreement about whether it is necessary to form a transitional government before the declaration of "liberation" - a concept that appears to include the capture of Gaddafi and the defeat of his loyalists who still hold three key towns.
The NTC has drawn up a road map setting out plans for a new constitution and elections over a 20-month period, which should start once that declaration is made.
With political negotiations bogged down, Sunday's failed attempt to take Bani Walid set off angry recriminations among the attackers, who must capture the town and Gaddafi's birthplace Sirte before they can declare Libya "liberated".
Since taking Tripoli last month, National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters have tried several times to storm Bani Walid, 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the capital, only to retreat under heavy fire and in disorder.
NTC fighters said they had planned for tanks and pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers to lead Sunday's attack, but foot soldiers had piled in first.
"There is a lack of organization so far. Infantry men are running in all directions," said Zakaria Tuham, a senior fighter with a Tripoli-based unit.
"Our commanders had been told that heavy artillery units had already gone ahead, but when we advanced into Bani Walid they were nowhere to be seen.
"Gaddafi forces were hitting us heavily with rockets and mortars, so we have pulled out."
A Reuters reporter saw fighters withdraw around two km (more than a mile) after they had stormed into the town.
NATO planes circled above the town later on Sunday and loud explosions were heard from the center, though it was not clear whether the planes had attacked.
Anti-Gaddafi fighters from Bani Walid blamed comrades from elsewhere in Libya for being unwilling to coordinate. Those from elsewhere accused some local fighters of being traitors and passing information to Gaddafi loyalists.
"Commanders who are from the Warfalla tribe, they tell us one thing and then commanders from the other cities say something else. We do not understand anything," said pro-NTC fighter Mohamed Saleh.
Some fighters openly disobeyed orders. In one incident, an officer from Bani Walid was heckled by troops from Tripoli after he tried to order them to stop randomly shooting in the air as they celebrated seizing a mortar from Gaddafi forces.
"You are not my boss. Don't tell me what to do," one of the Tripoli fighters snapped back at him.
Shells whistled above anti-Gaddafi positions and exploded across the desert valley as invisible snipers sprayed bullets from Bani Walid's rooftops and smoke rose above the town.
NTC fighters helped some families leave the town, driving them out in military trucks.
"The past two weeks have been awful but last night was particularly bad," said Zamzam al-Taher, a 38-year-old mother of four. "We have been trapped here without a car and with no food. Snipers are everywhere."
NTC forces and NATO warplanes also attacked Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace. Fighters launched rockets from the city's southern entrance and traded fire with Gaddafi loyalists holed up in a conference center.
"The situation is very dangerous. There are so many snipers and all the types of weapons you can imagine," said fighter Mohamed Abdullah as rockets whooshed through the air and black smoke rose above the city.
As in many episodes during Libya's conflict, the front lines at Sirte and Bani Walid have moved back and forth, with shows of bravado crumbling in the reality of battle.
An incoming shell landed within 200 meters of NTC-held lines, only to be met with return fire from NTC fighters shouting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is greatest).
Speaking against the roar of NATO jets overhead, one anti-Gaddafi fighter at Sirte, Mahmoud Othman, said his men were helping families who had fled ahead of the next assault.
"We don't want any more bloodshed between us. But if the Gaddafa want more blood, we are ready," he said, referring to the deposed leader's tribe. "In the end we want Gaddafi."
A spokesman for Gaddafi told Syrian-based Arrai TV on Sunday that 17 "mercenaries", including what he called French and British "technical experts" had been captured in Bani Walid.
It was not immediately possible to verify the report. NATO, French and British officials had on Saturday denied a report by Arrai TV that NATO troops had been captured by Gaddafi loyalists.
(Additional reporting by William MacLean and Joseph Logan in Tripoli, Sherine El Madany in Herawa, Alexander Dziadosz in Benghazi, Barry Malone and Sylvia Westall in Tunis; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

Gaddafi spokesman: 17, including French and British, captured

CAIRO (Reuters) - A spokesman for Muammar Gaddafi said on Sunday that 17 "mercenaries," including what he called French and British "technical experts" have been captured in the Gaddafi 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 the 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.
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.
NATO, French and British officials had on Saturday denied a report by Arrai TV that some NATO troops had been captured by Gaddafi loyalists.

Yemeni forces open fire on protesters, 26 killed

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni government forces opened fire with anti-aircraft guns and automatic weapons on tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in the capital demanding ouster of their longtime ruler, killing at least 26 and wounding dozens, medical officials and witnesses said.
After nightfall, Sanaa sank into complete darkness after a sudden power outage, as protesters took control of a vital bridge, halting traffic and setting up tents. Thousands of other protesters attacked government buildings and set fires to buildings they said were used by snipers and pro-government thugs.
The attack was the deadliest in months against protesters and comes as tensions have been escalating in the long, drawn-out stalemate between the regime and the opposition. The president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, left for Saudi Arabia for treatment after being severely wounded in a June 3 attack on his palace, raising hopes for his swift removal — but instead, he has dug in, refusing to step down.
The protest movement has stepped up demonstrations the past week, angered after Saleh deputized Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to negotiate a power-transfer deal. Many believe the move is just the latest of many delaying tactics.
At the same time, greater numbers of the powerful Republican Guards force, led by Saleh's son and heir apparent Ahmed and armed regime supporters have also been turning out in the streets in recent days, raising fears of a new bloody confrontation.
More than 100,000 protesters massed Sunday around the state radio building and government offices, witnesses said. When the crowd began to march toward the nearby Presidential Palace, security forces opened fire and shot tear gas canisters, they said. Snipers fired down at the crowd from nearby rooftops, and plainclothes Saleh supporters armed with automatic rifles, swords and batons attacked the protesters. Protesters took control of a main bridge, closed off the entrances and set fire to tents in a camp used by pro-government forces.
"This peaceful protest was confronted by heavy weapons and anti-aircraft guns," said Mohammed al-Sabri, an opposition spokesman. He vowed that the intensifying protests "will not stop and will not retreat."
At the neighborhood of al-Zubairi in the heart of Sanaa, troops opened fire at an anti-government force, the 1st Armored Division led by Maj. Gen. Ali al-Ahmar, who defected to the opposition along with his 50,000 troops several months ago.
Witnesses said al-Ahmar's forces engaged in the fighting Sunday for the first time, but Abdel-Ghani al-Shemari, spokesman for al-Ahmar division denied that and said they are "maintaining self-restraint."
Tarek Noaman, a doctor at Sanaa field hospital, said that 26 protesters were shot dead and more than 200 were wounded. "Most of the injuries are at the chest, shoulder, head and face," he said, and said 25 of injured protesters were in critical condition.
He accused security forces of preventing ambulances from evacuating the wounded and collecting bodies of the slain protesters.
A Yemeni opposition television network carried live video of men carrying injured protesters on stretchers, including a motionless man whose face was covered with blood and eyes wrapped with bandages. Other young men were lying on the floor in the chaotic field hospital. Men on motorcycles rushed the injured from the square to field hospital.
Protesters throwing stones managed to break through security force lines and advance to near the Yemeni Republican Palace at the heart of Sanaa, turning the clashes with the security forces into street battles.
The Youth Revolution committee, which leads the protests, called on Yemenis to rally "day and night and everywhere in Yemen until we topple the remnants of the regime."
The Yemeni state news agency Saba quoted a security official as saying that the Muslim Brotherhood rallied "unlicensed protests" near the university of Sanaa, and "the militia threw firebombs at a power station, setting it on fire."
Though Saleh has been in Saudi Arabia since June, he has resisted calls to resign. Last week he deputized his vice president to discuss a Gulf-mediated, U.S.-backed deal under which he would step down in return for immunity from prosecution. Saleh has already backed away three times from signing the deal.
The U.S. once saw Saleh as a key ally in the battle against the dangerous Yemen-based al-Qaida branch, which has taken over parts of southern Yemen under cover of the political turmoil in the country. The U.S. withdrew its support of Saleh as the protests gained strength.
Later Sunday, Abdullah Oubal, a leading opposition member, charged that the violence was linked to the power deal.
"This is intentional. The hawks within the ruling regime are trying to abort efforts to seal the deal," he said.
Demonstrations also took place Sunday in many other Yemeni cities, including Taiz, Saada, Ibb and Damar.