Thursday, March 31, 2011

Egypt's military issue Interim Constitution, 25 January Youth are preparing new big demonstration

 General Mamdouh Shahin (R), assistant minister of defense for legal and constitutional affairs, and general Ismail Etman, like him a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) during the announcement of the Constitutional Declaration. (Al-Ahram)

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the de facto rulers of Egypt, and the government both have made a number announcements in recent days concerning the next steps towards a democratization of the country, a number of which are accentuating the differences between the army and the revolutionaries of 25 January.
It started with announcement of the dates of the parliamentary and presidential elections respectively, which are not really contested. The elections for the maglis as-shaab, the lower house of parliament, will take place in september. The presidential ones will follow in October or November. Earlier the SCAF had set the date for the parliamentary elections in July. But after protests from nanby sides that this was too early for the parties to be prepared, it was postponed a few months.

More controversial was the publication of the amended law on the parties, which at the one hand considerably expands the possiblities for parties to be admitted, but at the other complicates the procedures involved. In the new law not 1000 but 5000 signatures are needed before a party can apply. Also the law compells parties to publish the name of the founders in an add in one of the state owned newspapers, of which the cost  can amount to no less than 1 million Egyptian pounds.
Yet more controversial was the announcement of an 'Ínterim Constitutional Declaration', which will be the basisc law of the country until a new parliament will install a committee to writ a complete nbew constitution. This Declaration was made public on Wednesday during a press conference by general Mamdouh Shahin, assistant minister of defense and member of the SCAF. On top is an article stating that half of the seats in the maglis as shaab, must be reserved for workers and farmers. This completey outdated article goes back to the days of Gamal Abdel-Nasser.
The Declaration consists of 62 articles, divided between four chapters regulating the performance of the state, including basic rights and freedoms; the system of government; and the rule of law. Eighty percnet of it is derived from Sadat's constitution of 1971, including the controversial Article 2, which says that Islam is the religion of the state and that the principles of Islamic Sharia law are the main source of legislation in Egypt. The declaration contains the nine amendments approved in the 19 March referendum, which limited the presidency to two four-year terms, eased the restrictions on candidates seeking to run for president and compelled the new president to select a vice-president within his first 60 days. Also  they stated that elections must be held under supervision of judges.  in power. It furthermore puts an end to an indefinite state of emergency and calls for a constituent assembly to be formed by the new houses of parliament to draft a new permanent constitution.
The anouncemnet of the Constitutional Declaration runs counter to what the Youth Coalition of the 25 January revolution and parties like Elbaradei's Nationalo Association for Change had asked for, nameluy a complete new constitution. Some of the parties were also not very pleaqsed by the announcmenet by the government-Sharaf of a  national dialogue with 160 public figures belonging to different political forces. Deputy prime minister Yehia Al-Gammal indicated that 'the main objective of the dialogue  (held under the title 'Towards a new social contract for Egypt') is to give the chance for all political forces to reach an agenda of priorities for the coming stage. Major paties like the Wafd, Tagammu and Nasserist parties, said that, they had not received any inviations and that apart from that it was questionable how fruitful such a dialogue could be when it is the SCAF that has 'the final say on political decisions'.
Another irritating development for political activists was that Minister of Justice Mohamed El-Guindy refused to abrogate the newly issued anti-protest law.

The 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition, meanwhile came to the conclusion that new action is needed to save the revolution.  It is trying to organise a massive million-man protest under the slogan the 'Friday of Salvation'. The coalition includes activists of the 6th April Movement, Kifaya, the Democratic Front Party, Ayman Nour's Ghad Party, ElBaradei's National Association for Change and independents. A few hours before the SCAF issued its declaration, the coalition said in a statement that it will the  SCAF till  8 April to achieve the 25th Revolution's unfulfilled demands, which are listed as follows:
Speeding up the trial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his regime's 'gang of the three': Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the People's Assembly; Safwat El-Sherif, former chairman of the Shura Council and secretary-general of Mubarak's erstwhile ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), and Zakaria Azmi, Mubarak's chief of staff and the NDP's assistant secretary-general. These three, the coalition said, should be held accountable together with former minister of the interior Habib al-Adly for the more than 650 dead and the thousands of injured in attempts to put down the 25 January uprising.
The Coalition argued that  'three weeks ago, we decided to stop protesting at Tahrir Square in order to give SCAF and the government a chance to achieve the objectives of the 25 January Revolution, bring stability back and rebuild the country. But,' it said in its statement, 'while we were rebuilding our country, it took us by surprise that some are doing their best to steal the revolution. We will not allow the vestiges of the toppled regime — state security, Mubarak's NDP, thugs and corrupt business tycoons — to steal our revolution.'  The coalition called it 'highly provocative' that people like Sorour, still make press interviews and that Azmi is still in charge of running the affairs of the presidential staff and palaces. It wondered why Sorour, El-Sherif and Azmi had not been summoned for interrogation, although there are strong indications that they masterminded the 'Battle of the Camel' on 2 February to kill pro-democracy protesters on Tahrir Square.'
The coalition asked to from a special judicial committee to bring Mubarak and his corrupt aides to trial as soon as possible and that more serious efforts should be made to reclaim the assets of Mubarak and his family and associates from local and foreign banks. Also it demanded again that the former ruling party NDP be disbanded as soon as possible, its headquarters and provincial offices reclaimed and it members barred from political activities for at least five years.
Furtheron it called for cleansing media institutions — including state television and radio, and newspapers — of sycophants still loyal to Mubarak and his regime; dismantling local councils and ridding state universities of Mubarak's men. (The government Sharaf in the meantime replaced 17 leading journalists of state media by others who made less dirty hands during the Mubarak-era).
Finally, the coalition called for the release of all political prisoners, abrogating the newly-issued anti-protest law and forming a “presidential council” to be tasked with running the affairs of the country and drafting a new constitution.

President Saleh looses the control over several parts of Yemen

Tribesmen stand with the bodies of people killed in an explosion in an ammunition factory  on  Sunday in the southern town of Jaab. It is believed that up to 150 people were killed and some 80 wounded. The disaster occurred after the government hd withdrawn its security troops. Local  oppostion forces after that looted the Soviet build factory. When locals started to follow their example a fire broke out that caused the blast. 

As Yemen searches for a solution to the current political crisis, many restive areas in the poverty-stricken country have broken away from the central government and are being governed by local armed groups. The regime has lost its grip on many provinces such as Saada, Jawf, Abyan and Shabwa.
In the northern province of Saada, Houthi rebels seized control of the province following clashes with local tribes, a resident told Arab News. The rebels now run government facilities and control checkpoints. Residents approved Faris Manna, an alleged notorious arms dealer, as replacement for the governor. This governor left a few days ago aboard a chartered plane after emptying the central bank – literally carrying the money with him in sacks to Sana’a. Police deserted their posts and relocated themselves to army camps.

Armed groups in the jihadi-laden governorate of Abyan in south Yemen have taken over the local radio station, Presidential palace and an ammunition factory while the area is still witnessing violent clashes between the republican guards and armed rebels. News reports conveyed only one casualty but the clashes are ongoing and the citizens are still hearing the gun shots until the time of writing this report.
Locals with support from the attacking rebels -- some of whom are jihadis-- have formed popular committees to control the area.
The government on Saturday announced that it killed three Al-Qa’ida members from the governorate, but the locals rejected this claim and said that the men killed were locals and not aligned with Al-Qa’ida. They vowed to take revenge, hence the clashes today.
The central government, in a move to appease the secessionist movement in the south, has ordered the release of a number of leading figures in the movement who were arrested because of their campaign against the beleaguered Yemeni president.
The state’s position has been significantly weakened after Gen. Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, chief of the western army division who controls almost half of Yemen’s army, defected last week and joined the opposition movement that aims to oust President Saleh from his reign of 32 years.

The other controversial governorate, Mareb -- which is known for its armed tribal men and kidnapping of foreigners -- has also witnessed armed clashes with unknown gunmen at a security check point as recently as March 26. At least 14 security men were killed or injured in that attack.While some of the tribal men of Mareb are very much part of the movement for change in “Change Square” in Sana’a, there is a question regarding the united position of Yemeni tribes.

The authority of the airport of Taiz, a city in the middle of the counytry, has announced joining the change revolution, becoming the second airbase after Hodeida on the Red Sea to break-off from the central government.
Saleh has promised that even if -- or when -- he releases power he is not going to give up his position as president of the General People’s Congress party. “I am telling all those defecting soldiers that I will forgive them if they come back to the truthful side now before it is too late. And we will investigate the cases of the resigning government officials and deal with them soon,” Saleh said in a Sunday news conference while inaugurating the fourth GPC conference.

He warned that if the opposition continues such resistance, not agreeing to dialogue, Yemen is likely to fall into the hands of terrorists and rebellion, a situation not unlike the present one.

 Saleh has made a new offer to protesters demanding his ouster, proposing he stays in office until elections are held but transferring his powers to a caretaker government. The opposition promptly rejected the offer, with a spokesman calling it "an attempt to prolong the survival of regime." Saleh made his offer at a meeting on Tuesday night with Mohammed al-Yadoumi, head of the Islamist Islah party. It was the first time Saleh had dealt with Islah, once a partner in his government, an opposition spokesmen said.  Groups calling themselves the Youth Revolution said on Wednesday they would not end a sit-in near Sanaa University until Saleh and his allies are removed from power. The group said ´a temporary presidential council of five individuals known for experience and integrity´ should run the country for an interim period (of six months) and this council should appoint a technocrat to form a caretaker government. The group also
called for corruption trials, return of "stolen public and private property," release of political detainees, dissolving state security forces and closing the information ministry -- steps taken in Tunisia and Egypt after similar pro-democracy uprisings had removed entrenched leaders. They called for dialogue over the complaints of northern Shi'ites and southerners who lean toward secession.

 Saleh long had the backing of the US which considered him a trusted ally in the fight against the local branch of Al Qaeda. Washington might still consider him the man who is the best guaratee against total chaos in the country.  However, the Yemeni opposition suspect incidents of lax security over the past week are government ploys to show to foreign powers that Saleh is the strongman who can hold the impoverished country together. The opposition says Saleh is to blame for the presence of militants, including al Qaeda, in the Abyan city of Jaar, where an explosion at a bullet factory killed 140 people on Monday.
In opposition circles it is believed that Saleh himself has been at least in part responsible for bringing Al-Qaeda into the country. Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, a leader of the biggest tribal coalition of the Hashed and also a leader of the Islah party, told Reuters on Tuesday Islah and the opposition could handle the militant issue better than Saleh. "I think Yemenis would be capable of freeing Yemen of terror within months," Al-Ahmar said, adding that the United States and European countries should call directly for Saleh's departure.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nothing new in disappointing speech by Syrian president Assad

The Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has told parliament that Syria will defeat those behind a 'plot' against his country. 'Syria is a target of a big plot from outside - its timing, its format has been speeded up,' he said.

People were 'duped' to go into the streets, he said, in his first speech since anti-government demonstrations erupted two weeks ago.

It is believed that some 130 people have been
killed during violent protests that began in the southern city of Deraa. 'Deraa is in the heart of every Syrian,' Mr Assad said. It is on the front line of Syria's enemy, Israel. The people of Deraa will 'eliminate whoever is behind the violence.'.
His speech was interrupted several times by MPs pledging their support.

Huge crowds took to the streets to show support for Mr Assad, the supporters having been been mobilised by the government. In cases like this members of the unions which are all controlled by the Baath Party, governement employees and the Baath Party members themselves are ordered to attend the rallies, according to Reuters.

It was expected that Assad would to use the address to discuss a string of reforms announced last week, amid a wave of dissent and protests demanding more freedoms. One of the most important  was the lifting of the state of emergency which has been in place for the past five decades. But Assad not ony failed to do so, he also disappointed the people who had been hoping for some changes to the better, by lamely blaming the insurgancey on outside plotters. .
Assad apologized that it took him several days before he held his long awaited address. 'I know that the Syrian people have been awaiting this speech since last week, but I was waiting to get the full picture... to avoid giving an emotional address that would put the people at ease but have no real effect, at a time when our enemies are targeting Syria,' he said.
A day before Assad's speech the country's cabinet resigned. Naji al-Otari, the resigning premier, has been chosen by Assad as caretaker prime minister. Otari has been prime minister since 2003.The government has little power in Syria, where power is concentrated in the hands of Assad, his family and the security apparatus. This ruling elite is reported to be studying the liberalisation of laws on media and political parties as well as anti-corruption measures. An easing of restrictions on civil liberties and political freedom is still  expected. But analysts say there are divergent views within the Syrian leadership on handing the crisis - one group favours a crackdown on the dissent while the other prefers dialogue.

Libyan rebels again driven out of Ras Lanouf

Libyan rebels pulled out of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on Wednesday under heavy bombardment from Muammar Gaddafi's forces, showing up their weakness without Western air strikes to tip the scales in their favor.
The rapid reverse comes just two days after the rebels raced westwards along the coastal road in hot pursuit of the government army. Gaddafi's forces first ambushed the insurgent pick-up convoy outside Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, which the rebels eralier failed to take. Then they outflanked them through the desert, a maneuver requiring the sort of discipline entirely lacking in rag-tag rebel force.
On the offensive, government tanks and artillery have unleashed a fierce bombardment on towns and cities which has usually forced rebels to swiftly flee. That tactic appears to have worked once again in Ras Lanuf, an oil terminal town, 375 km east of the capital Tripoli.
"Gaddafi hit us with huge rockets. He has entered Ras Lanuf," rebel fighter Faraj Muftah told Reuters after pulling out of Ras Lanuf. "We were at the western gate in Ras Lanuf and we were bombarded," said a second fighter, Hisham.

A conference of 40 governments and international bodies agreed to press on with a NATO-led aerial bombardment of Libyan forces until Gaddafi complied with a U.N. resolution to end violence against civilians.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday 115 strike sorties had been flown against Gaddafi's forces in the previous 24 hours, and 22 Tomahawk cruise missiles had been fired. Britain said two of its Tornado fighter-bombers had attacked a government armored vehicle and two artillery pieces outside the besieged western town of Misrata.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

World powers debate fate of Libya in London

World powers meet on Thursday to try to lay the groundwork for a Libya without Muammar Gaddafi. Reuters reports that the London meeting is expected to set up a high-level steering group, including Arab states, to provide political guidance for the international response to the crisis and coordinate long-term support to Libyans.
Britain has invited Mahmoud Jebril, a member of the rebel Libyan National Council, to London although he is not formally invited to the conference, a diplomatic source said.
Some 40 governments and international organizations will discuss stepping up humanitarian aid, and call for a political process to enable Libyans to choose their own future.
Meanwhile the American president Obama said NATO would take over full command of military operations from the United States on Wednesday. Obama vowed to work with allies to hasten Gaddafi's exit from power but said he would not use force to topple him -- as his predecessor President George W. Bush did in ousting Saddam Hussein in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
"To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq," Obama told an audience of military officers in Washington. "But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."
Libyan rebels on the road to Sirte (AP)

As militiamen loyal to Muammar Gaddafi braced for a possible rebel attack on Monday on the Libyan leader’s hometown of Sirte, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated his government’s readiness to act as a mediator to broker an early cease-fire. Erdogan said this in an interview with The Guardian that was published on Monday. 'We will take steps to do that within the framework of NATO, the Arab League and African Union, if the two parties to the conflict requested Turkey to play the role of mediator,' Erdoğan said in te interview.
Turkey is assuming control of the Benghazi airport, and sending naval forces to patrol the corridor between the rebel-held city and Crete, as it prepares to join a London meeting on the international response to Libya.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday that Turkey would take control of the airport in order to coordinate humanitarian assistance to the crisis-hit North African country as part of the multinational task force now under NATO command.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Yemeni president Saleh will offer 'no more concessions' and decides to stay till 2013 after all

President Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen has made several promises over the past weeks. First he said he would step down at the end of 2013, then it was 2012, after that 2011, and the past days the news was that he was even discussing to hand over power immediately, as soon as he knew that there was someone trustworthy to hand it over to.

But no, this Sunday the president held a defiant speech for the members of his ruling party, the Genereal People Congress (GPC). There will be no more concessions, he said, and he wil stay till the end of his mandate:

President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Sunday that he would not offer more concessions in future. This came in President Saleh's speech at the fourth session of the General People's Congress (GPC)'s Standing Committee held Sunday in the Police College in the capital Sana'a and attended by over one thousand GPC members.
He noted that all concessions have been made by him so far were not decided individually, but in coordination and agreement with the GPC's leadership. He said,” When we respond to demands is not out of weakness but to avoid destabilization security of the homeland , bloodshed and killing of souls.”
In his speech, Saleh referred to the importance of this session, which is being held under difficult conditions experienced by the homeland.
He reviewed the latest developments over the past two months that led to the recent crisis, pointing that since the presidential election in 2006, the situation escalates gradually within the Yemeni arena, demonstrations and sit-ins.
Democracy means that people breathe and talk reasonably within national principles, but they went too far and misunderstood democracy, he added.
"I derive my strength from the people, not from the tank", he said.
Saleh stated that al-Qaeda, Houthi rebels, joint meeting parties (JMP) and those who left the army have become in an alliance against the regime and the majority. He emphasized "if we stand up together to face this challenge, the crisis will end."
The president warned of sectarian and tribal strife if the opposition continued to reject the solutions provided by him, including his acceptance of the eight points presented by scholars and what came in his recent initiatives at the parliament and the general national congress.
The one who must depart is the one who conspires on the country, not the owner of constitutional legitimacy, said Saleh. "Brothers in the opposition propose a condition that if the president departs power, he should not communicate with the people, and this reflects their fears", said Saleh expressing his regret for such intransigent conditions. He renewed the call for dialogue and agreement on a peaceful transfer of power.

The president got the backing of his party. because the  Yemen Post reported:
Yemen's ruling General People Congress party, (GPC), affirmed on Sunday that President Ali Abdullah Saleh will stay until his presidential term expires in 2013.
In a statement by the ruling party which came after a meeting President Saleh had with members of the GPC, it discussed the ongoing political crisis and affirmed Saleh's right to stay in power. The statement renewed the calls for the opposition coalition, the Joint Meeting Party, JMP, to resume dialogue for the sake of the country.
President Saleh has been facing escalating protests since mid February demanding the fall of Saleh's regime.

Troops in the streets of Latakia

Al Jazeera about what happened in Sanamin on Friday.

Syria has deployed security forces to the northern city of Latakia after violent protests left there at least 12 people dead and more than 150 injured amid calls for reform. Protests have grasped Syria since more than a week. On Saturday, demonstrators torched the Baath party's local headquarters in the southern town of Tafas. Security forces have used brutal force gto quell the protests.
Syrian officials say that more than 30 people have died since the unrest began earlier this month. But activists have said that more than 126 people have already died, with possibly 100 killed on Wednesday alone in a crackdown on protests in Deraa, in the south, and dozens in similar clashes in other towns and cities across the country.
In Sanamin, a city of 35.000 near Deraa, the relatives of those killed in clashes on Friday said the demonstration had been peacefully and that security forces killed at least 20 people there. Bouthaina Shaaban, media adviser to president Assad, told Al Jazeera that what happened in Sanamin 'was not a protest' but 'a group of about 10 people who attacked a police station'. 
Syria announced on Sunday that it would end decades of emergency rule in the country. A timetable qs not given, however. he emergency law is in place since the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power. It's abolishment has been a key demand of protesters. The law imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement. It authorises arrests and interrogation of individuals and the surveillance of personal communications, while it also imposes control over the content of newspapers and other media before publication.

In a move said to be aimed at placating protesters, Syrian authorities on Sunday released a lawyer - Diana Jawabra, along with 215 others. She had been arrested for taking part in a silent protest in Damascus demanding the release of children from Deraa detained for scrawling graffiti inspired by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world. The unrest across Syria has put enormous pressure on president Assad, who is confronted with calls to curb the security apparatus, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s. Assad  is expected to make a public address in the days to come.

Libyan rebels close in on Sirte

 Libya's rebel forces closed in Monday on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the gateway to the western half of the country, after it was targeted for the first time by international air strikes.
The rebels have recovered hundreds of kilometers of territory, regaining the control over most of Libya's oil installations in the past days. They are now back in control of the main oil terminals in the east -- Es Sider, Ras Lanuf, Brega, and Zueitina, while Tobruk was in their hand from the beginning of the uprising. Gaddafi appears to be retrenching in the west. The coastal complexes at Ras Lanouf and Brega were responsible for a large chunk of Libya's 1.5 million barrels of daily exports. But production is at a trickle at the moment. The foreign oil workers and their vital expertise have fled after the uprising began.

Rebels said on Sunday they now had their sights on the coastal town of Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown and an important military base about 150 km  further along the coast.The advance along Libya's Mediterranean coast by a poorly armed and uncoordinated force of volunteer rebels suggested that Western strikes under a U.N. no-fly zone were shifting the battlefield dynamics dramatically, in the east at least.
In Misrata, residents reported fighting between rebels and Gadhafi loyalists who fired from tanks on residential areas. Misrata is one of two cities in western Libya that have risen against the regime and suffered brutal crackdowns. It is located between Tripoli and Sirte on the coastal road.
On Sunday, NATO agreed to take full command of military operations in Libya after a week of heated negotiations, officials said, as Washington seeks to scale back its role in another Muslim country after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Western air strikes had "eliminated" Gaddafi's ability to move his heavy weapons.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Several thousand Egyptians demonstrate against new 'anti-protest law'

Protest at the TV Building in Maspero.

In Tahrir Square around 1,000 protesters were voicing their anger on Friday over the anti-protests law approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, which proposed to punishable anyone inciting, urging, promoting or participating in a protest or strike with with jail sentences or an LE 500,000 fine. The law has nbot gone into effect yet, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has yet to approve it.
The protesters were also voicing dissatisfaction with the trials of the former ministers and businessmen during the Mubarak regime.Over in Maspero, near the Radio and TV-Building, another 2,000 protesters were also protesting against the new law and moreover calling for the removal of all media personalities associated with the old regime, all editors of national papers included. The protesters chanted, “The people want to free the media.”

The 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition had called on Egyptians to take part in the protest. It dubbed the planned protest “The Friday of Cleansing”, during which the protesters will demand the resignation of all officials loyal to the former regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, including those working for state TV and state-run newspapers.Wael Abbas, activist and blogger said on Friday that more people would have come out but were frightened of the anti-protest law.
 In a statement on Thursday, the coalition said protesters would also demonstrate their solidarity with the "assaulted university students and to support workers against intimidation attempts through the use of repressive laws, which should have been used to bring those truly corrupt to justice."  Late Wednesday, the armed forces broke up a sit-in by Cairo University communications students who were calling for the resignation of Dean Sami Abdel Aziz.

In another development the State Commissioner's Authority on Thursday called for the dissolution of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and the liquidation and return of all of its assets to the state.
In a report on Thursday, the Authority said that the NDP was behind the corruption of political life, the deterioration of democracy, and the poor state of the economy. The report was issued two days prior to the Supreme Administrative Court’s consideration of a lawsuit filed by a number of activists demanding the party’s  dissolution.

Protests in Syria spread out

Mass protests are taking place on Friday in Syria on a day that has been pronounced a 'Day of Dignity' by the Syrian opposition (See also the earlier post Syria is 'studying' the possibility to liberalize the system). According to various sources protests are taking place in the governorates of Damascus (in serveral places), Deraa (also in various places), Aleppo, Hama,  Homs and Araqqa.
Here some video's of demonstrations. I expect to update this post later in the day.  

Damascus, Omayyad mosque

Damascus, Rifa'i mosque.


 Zabadani (town near the border with Lebanon) 

Jabla, town on the Mediterranean, near Tartus  

Latakia, Ibn al-Walid mosque

Syria is 'studying' the possibilities of liberalising the political system

Ms Bouthaina Shaaban, media adviser to president Assad during her news conference

 Syria was preparing itself for a new day of protests on Friday,  after calls had been made to turn the day into a 'Day of Dignity'. The calls were were made in spite of  some promises to liberalize and reform the system by the Syrian governement, which were made by Bouthaina Shaaban, president Assad's media adviser, during a press conference on Thursday evening.
Shaaban's news conference came after a day during which in Deraa some 20.000 people, about a fifth of the total population of the town, were on the streets during a funeral of some of the protesters killed on Wednesday. 
 Shaaban said that the government would 'study the possibility of lifting the state of emergency', which is in place since 1962. Also it would 'look into the possiblitity of legalising political parties', in the country, where since the rise to power of the Baath party in 163 only this one party is allowed.     
About the events in the southern city of Deraa, where at least 37 people, but according to some up to now some 100 people may have been have been killed, she said that international media, including the BBC and CNN, had grossly exaggerated the crackdown.
'This is in Syria,' she said, so 'only Syrian television could be trusted'. According to her no more than ten people had been killed on Wednesday. She blamed outside agitators for it, who had instigated unrest in an attempt to target Syria because 'of its ability to be a pillar of resistance against Zionism and US schemes.'  She claimed that president Assad had ordered not to use live ammunition against the protesters. However, the protesters in Deraa had attacked the security forces. Shaaban announced that a committee would be set up to talk to 'our brothers in Deraa' and bring to justice those responsible for the killings.
She said the Syrian government was studying the 'demands of the people night and day and promised that Syria would witness 'important decisions that meet the ambitions of our people'. She added to that the government would raise workers' wages, introduce health reforms, arelax media restrictions and establish a new mechanism for fighting corruption.
Reuters reported that dissidents in Syria and in exile dismissed the reforms, calling for the immediate scrapping of the state of emergency and freeing of thousands of political prisoners. They pointed to the fact that Ms Shaaban announced a similar package of reforms in 2005, but that her pledges were never enacted.
In spite of the obvious lies about the events by Ms Shaaban, the regime did, however,  release some actvists, of the at least 93 people that, according to Amnesty International,  had been arrested during the past days.
Abdul-Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian Human Rights League, said authorities had released several activists including prominent journalist Mazen Darwish and writer Louay Hussein.

Gaddafi is trying to negotiate behind the scenes

Rebel forces in the desert near Ajdabiyah.

The regime of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya is seeking some kind of peaceful end to U.N.-backed military action or a safe exit for members of Gaddafi's entourage. Messages  have been sent via intermediaries in Austria, Britain and France, Reuters said  quoting Roger Tamraz, a Middle Eastern businessman with long experience conducting deals with the Libyan regime. In an interview on Tuesday with a U.S. television network, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said she was aware that people close to Gaddafi had been trying to make contact.
This news came after Adm. Edouard Guillaud, the commander of the French troops, said on Thursday that the Libyan airspace is under control. 'We proved it yesterday, because a Libyan plane in the hands of pro-Gadhafi forces, which had just taken off from Misrata in order to bomb Misrata, was destroyed by a French Rafale," he told France 24 Info. He warned, however, that the struggle wil not be short. 'I think it will be weeks. I hope it will not take months.'
Guillaud said a French plane destroyed an artillery battery belonging to Gaddafi's forces near the eastern frontline town of Ajdabiyah, 150 km south of Benghazi. Ajdabiyah is strategically important as it commands the coastal highway to the west. British jets also launched missiles at Libyan armoured vehicles near Ajdabiya during a sixth night of allied raids, the BBC said..
Reuters reported that Western jets pounded targets in southern Libya on Thursday but failed to prevent government tanks re-entering the western city of Misrata, whose main hospital was besieged by armor and government snipers.
Western commanders hope rebel forces in eastern Libya will overthrow Gaddafi, but the return of tanks to Misrata under cover of darkness highlighted the difficulties they face in trying to force the Libyan leader to cease fire.
Residents are said to control the port, but electricity, water and regular land and cell phone service to the town are not functioning. In Benghazi, where the opposition has set up an alternative government, rebel fighters say they need anti-tank weapons if they are to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule.
The NATO is meanwhile exspected to take over the command over the operations. NATO officials said a decision was expected on Sunday on whether to broaden the mandate to take full command, including over attacks on ground targets to protect civilian areas under threat. 
The final decision comes after days of  heated arguments over the scope the U.N. resolution gave for military action against Gaddafi. The United States, which already has enough going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, wanted to step back and play a supporting role in Libya. France, Britain and most NATO member were for having the NATO to take over. But for a decision unanimity is needed  and Turkey said it did not want NATO to take responsibility for offensive operations that could cause civilian casualties or be in charge of enforcing a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone, while at th same time coalition aircraft were bombing Libyan forces.
In the meantime the operations will get more support from the side of Arab countries. The United Arab Emirates will send 12 planes, the state news agency said. Qatar has already contributed two fighters and two military transport planes to help enforce the no-fly zone. Reuters reported that there is also support from Sudan, which has allowed the coalition forces to use its airspace for operations in the south of Libya..

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Many more dead in Deraa, wave of arrests in all of Syria

Update Thursday The Syrian Human Rights Organisation 'Syrian Human Rights Committee (SHRC )composed a list of no lss than 32 names of people killed in Deraa. Maybe thisis no surprise if we take into account the absolute unbelievable cruelty of the events as reveald in the videos below. The SHRC list (in Arabic) is to be found here

Terrible scene from Deraa, taken by the inhabitants.

Fifteen more people have died on Wednesday in the Syrian town of Deraa in continuing violence between Syrian security forces and anti-government protesters, witnesses and rights activists said. Syrian state television reported the government fired the governor of Deraa province. 
According to the witnesses seven people died shortly after dawn prayers near al Omari mosque when security personnel tried to storm the area where protesters took positions. Later, about 3,000 protesters from neighboring towns gathered outside Daraa and clashed with an army unit known for its loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad. The army unit is headed by a family member, Maher al-Assad, an opposition spokesman said. Eight more people died in the later clashes, bringing the death toll Wednesday to 15. Overall, at least 21 people have died in unrest in the city since Friday.
Army tanks are positioned in the city, including near al Omari mosque, the opposition spokesman said. Mobile and regular telephone service from Daraa has been cut off.
According to Amnesty International roads to the town have been closed by the authorities, while security forces are said to be going from house to house detaining people and taking them to unknown locations.
Among those detained in Dera’a in the last two days is community leader Nizar al-Harek, who had been appointed to negotiate with the authorities.
 More horror from Deraa. (Videos collected by Global Voices)

Amnesty also reports a wave of arrests in the country. Based on reports from Syrian human rights organizations and relatives, Amnesty International has compiled the names of 93 people who were arrested between 8 and 23 March in Damascus, Aleppo, Banias, Dera’a, Douma, Hama, Homs, Latakia, Ma’aratan Nu’man and al-Malkiyah and remain detained in unknown locations. The real number of those arrested is likely to be considerably higher. According to one Syrian human rights organization, around 300 people had been arrested in Dera’a in the five days before last night’s attack. The 93 people are believed to be aged between 14 and 45 and include five women. Some are members of the same family. The detained include students, intellectuals, journalists and activists. Not all took part in the demonstrations; some seem to have been arrested for their activities on the internet.

Egyptian cabinet bans strikes and demonstrations

The Egyptian government has unexpectadly created a rather tesne situation by criminalizing protests and strikes. It passed a law on Wednesday under which anyone organizing or calling for a protest will be sentenced to jail and/or a fine of LE500,000.
Shady Ghozali, a member of the Youth Revolution Coalition, told Ahram Online "I'm against it [the law], this is against human rights; peaceful demonstrations are amongst the basic human rights." Ghozali empasised that these views are his own, as he is yet to discuss the law with the coalition, though he expects it to also be opposed to the law.
News of the law drew instant heated reaction on social media sites like Twitter that disseminate calls for demonstrations, now deemed a criminal act. "Where is Essam Sharaf who said my legitimacy is from Tahrir Square and I will return to the street with you if I can't implement your demands," said blogger Amr Ezzat.
Essam Sharaf (with microphone) adresses the protesters on Tahrir at the promising start of his career as prime minister. Today he banned demonstrations and strikes. At the request of the Supreme Council of the army and his minister of Defense, marshall Tantawi?

 The new law will be enforced as long as the current Emergency Law is in place, said the Council of Ministers in a statement on Wednesday. The Emergency Law has been in force since 1981 following the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat.
The new law will apply to anyone inciting, urging, promoting or participating in a protest or strike that hampers or delays work at any private or public establishments.
Since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, Egypt has witnessed nationwide labor strikes and political protests. Among those protesting have been university students, political activists, railway workers, doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, journalists, pensioners, and the police force.
"The government is working on a new policy to deal with employment and wages and in this context the cabinet has approved a draft law that would penalize some cases of protest and strikes," the cabinet said in a statement.
The cabinet also approved a law under which new political parties can be approved. The military had promised to lift restrictions on the formation of political parties after amendments to the constitution were approved in a referendum on Saturday.
Political parties. The cabinet also approved a law whereby new political parties can be registered.The  military had promised to lift restrictions on the formation of political parties after amendments to the constitution were approved in a referendum on Saturday. 
The cabinet said the amendments would uphold a ban on parties that discriminate by religion, gender, ethnic background, race or language. Parties must be open about their funding and organization and would need the signatures of 1,000 founding members from at least 10 provinces across the country, it said. New parties must give notice to a committee formed by a top judge and two members of Egypt's State Council and would not be allowed to receive donations from foreigners or foreign governments, the cabinet added.

Syrian security forces kill six at Omari mosque protest in border town of Deraa

Syrian forces killed at least six people on Wednesday in an attack on a mosque in the southern city of Deraa, site of unprecedented protests challenging President Bashar al-Assad's Baathist rule, residents said.
Those killed included Ali Ghassab al-Mahamid, a doctor from a prominent Deraa family who went to the Omari mosque in the city's old quarter to help victims of the attack, which occurred just after midnight, said the residents, declining to be named.
An official statement said Mahamid, who was killed while he was in an ambulance that had arrived at the scene to rescue the injured, was 'assaulted by an armed gang, which caused his martyrdom.' Before security forces attacked the mosque, electricity was cut off in the area and telephone services were severed. Cries of "Allahu Akbar (God is the greatest)" erupted across neighborhoods in Deraa when the shooting began.
The attack brought to 10 the number of civilians killed by Syrian forces during six days of demonstrations calling for political freedoms.
The protesters, who erected tents in the mosque's grounds, said earlier they were going to remain at the site until their demands were met. The mosque's preacher, Ahmad Siasneh, told Arabiya television on Tuesday that the mosque protest was peaceful.
Authorities arrested a leading campaigner who had supported the protesters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It said Loay Hussein, a political prisoner from 1984 to 1991, was taken from his home near Damascus.
Syria is a country of 20 million. It has been under emergency law since the Baath Party took power in a 1963, banning any opposition. Assad has made promises about liberalisation but has so far ignored demands to end emergency law, curb the security apparatus, free political prisoners, allow freedom of expression, and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissenters who disappeared in the 1980s.

Yemeni president Saleh warns of civil war, makes new offer, situation in Sanaa tense

Update Wednesday:  President Ali Abdallah Saleh has made a new offer to the opposition. After initially having promised to step down in 2013, and thereafter in an new proposal in  2012, he now proposed to leave at the end of the year after elections for a new parliament and a new president.
'At this historic moment Yemen needs wisdom to avoid slipping into violence ... that would destroy gains and leave the country facing a dangerous fate,' Saleh said in a letter passed to opposition groups in a bid to reconcile differences. Opposition groups, which had earlier called for massive rallies in the capital Sanaa on Friday to force Saleh from power, said they were studying the offer. The letter, also sent to army commander Ali Mohsen, who has declared support for the protesters, contained a proposal to hold a referendum on a new constitution, then a parliamentary election followed by a presidential poll before the end of 2011.

Also on Wednesday the Yemeni parliament approved an emergency law. Human Rights Watch commented: Yemen's new emergency law does not override the government's obligation to respect fundamental human rights under international law. Yemen's parliament on March 23, 2011, approved sweeping emergency legislation authorizing 30 days of expanded powers of arrest, detention, and censorship. President Ali Abdullah Saleh had declared a state of emergency on March 18, hours after pro-government gunmen opened fire on anti-government protesters in Sanaa, the capital. The attack killed at least 52 people and wounded hundreds.
"Emergency laws are no excuse to use unlawful force to quash peaceful protests," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The world is watching to see whether President Saleh will respect the basic rights of his citizens."
The legislation, which effectively suspends the constitution, allows media censorship, bars street protests, and gives security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects without judicial process. Human Rights Watch also called for a full disclosure of the voting procedures used to pass the law. Article 71 of Yemen's Constitution states that at least half of the 301 National Assembly members must be present for its meetings to be valid. Some opposition legislators issued statements saying that fewer than half the assembly members were present for the vote and that it was taken by a show of hands.

Saleh had accused defecting generals on Tuesday of trying to stage a coup against him, saying the country would descend into a bloody civil war if he were forced to step down. 'Those trying to wrest power through coups should know that this is impossible,' Saleh said in a defiant speech on television on Tuesday. 'The fatherland will be made unstable, there will be war, a bloody civil war. They should carefully reflect on this.'
Military units appeared to have taken sides in the capital, with the elite troops of the Republican Guard protecting the palace of the president and soldiers from the 1st Armored Division under the defected Ali Mohsen Saleh, protecting the protesters. Ali Mohsen Saleh, the president's half brother, used to be an ally of Ali Abdallah Saleh, but since a few years, particularly since president Saleh appeared to prepare the way for his son Ahmed to become his successor, he became a rival.
 Late on Monday Yemen's defence minister, Mohammad Nasser Ali, set the scene for possible military confrontation between the two, saying the army would back Saleh against any coup attempt. Analysts are worried that if a political agreement is not reached soon a violent military showdown will ensue. Clashes already broke out on Tuesday between units of the  Republican Guard led by the president's son, Ahmed, and Yemen's regular army, in the southern city of Mukalla. Two soldiers died.   
Saleh also announced on Tuesday that he would accept a proposal for an early departure from office, in January 2012. Previously he had offered to leave by 2013. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen's opposition coalition, refused the offer and said they would accept nothing short of immediate resignation.
In the meantime the defections from the governbment ranks continue. Seventeen more foreign diplomats, including the Yemeni ambassador to the UK, resigned on Monday. Abdul-Karim al-Iryani, the minister of water and environment, former prime minister and former minister of foreign affairs, who long has been close to president Saleh (and who was dismissed with the remainder of the cabinet on Sunday), also said he was joining 'the revolutionaries'.
Yemen opposition groups called on protesters to march on President Ali Abdullah Saleh's Sanaa palace on Friday to demand he step down, hoping to end a crisis that his allies abroad fear will benefit Islamic militants. "Friday will be the 'Friday of the March Forward', with hundreds of thousands of people... We will arrive where you are and we will remove you,' opposition spokesman Mohamed Qahtan told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, addressing the beleaguered Yemeni president.<

Monday, March 21, 2011

Defection of half brother of the president, may be bad omen for Yemen's opposition

Ali Mohsen Saleh, half brother of the president
Brigadier Ali Mohsen Saleh al-Ahmar has joined the protests in Yemen and deployed troops in Sanaa in order to 'protect the protesters' as he said. Brigadier Saleh is a half brother of president Saleh. He commands the north western military zone and is the head of the first armoured division. He was followed by two other generals.  The defection of these generals follows a stream of resignations of personalities from official positions.  Earlier president Saleh already lost the support of sheikh Hamid Al-Ahmar, leader of the  important tribal confederation of the Hashed, which by the way is Saleh's own tribe.

But while the defection of Ali Mohsen Saleh is another a sign that the regime is crumbling, it might complicate the already complicated Yemeni political situation even further, as Ali Mohsen is not only a close relative of the president, but also someone who has long been seen as a rival who was seeking power in his place. It rises even th possibility that secret deals hav been made between general Al Mohsen and others, possibly the family Al-Ahmar, the leaders of the Hashed tribe. 

This is what was written about the rivalry between Ali Mohsen Saleh and Ali Abdallah Saleh and his son Ahmed Ali Saleh in 2009:
Yemen Tribune SANAA, 09 Oct — The independent weekly newspaper, Almasder Thursday published an article written by Hussein al-Laswas on the relations between President Saleh and his half brother, General Ali Muhsen. “It was Ali Muhsen who assisted Saleh to come to power when he besieged the capital back in the seventies and hence furnished the way for Saleh’s coup d’état to succeed … Ali Muhsen who was once Yemen’s most powerful general was capable of toppling Saleh after the civil war of 1994 when his popularity among the soldiers, the Islamists and the Saudis was at its top, but he remained loyal to Saleh. Trust between the two has waned after Ali Muhsen failed in the fifth round of war with the Huthis and Saleh opted to remove him from the sixth round of war … both men have palaces and huge bank accounts and both see Yemen as their own personal property … Saleh has been trying to liberate the capital from the grip of Muhsen’s battalions and when the sixth round of war with the Shiite rebels erupted, Saleh and his son, Ahmad found a historical opportunity to make the change and spread the control of the republican guards over Sanaa.

While General Ali Muhsen was busy in the battlefield during the first and second wars with the Huthi insurgents, Saleh and his son were busy marginalizing him. Ali Muhsen escaped eight assassination attempts so far and he is now left with nothing but a few fragile battalions whose loyalty to him is doubtful and the republican guards along with battalions from the central forces have taken over in several governorates … Ali Muhsen ended from being the commander in chief leading wars against the Huthis to merely a military commander in al-Malahid region who receives orders. But Ali Mushen is a still a power to reckon with.

And the Yemen Tribune on 7 November of the same year:

Ahmed Ali Saleh, the son of president Saleh
Tribal leader and business tycoon, Sheik Hamid Abdullah al-Ahmar late Friday accused the Republican Guards of supporting the Shiite rebels in previous wars. He said “the Yemeni army is no longer capable of ending the war in north Yemen militarily because it lost trust in the political leadership in Yemen which plays around with peoples’ lives.” Al-Ahmar who was speaking to the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite TV channel said “the Republican Guards headed by the President’s son supported the Shiite rebels in north Yemen in order to hit the First Artillery military division led by Brigadier General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar and hence get rid of him,” adding “a rebel leader is a friend of the President’s son, Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh.” (my italics,tp) Ali Mohsen is President Saleh’s half brother and al-Ahmar talked about “internal conflict between the various wings inside the army about the war in Sadaa,” and called on President Saleh to visit Abyan or Sadaa “in order to prove to us that he is still the President of all of Yemen,” adding “the President no longer has a state to rule.” “The state no longer exists except in the Presidential Palace and in the capital, Sanaa which is protected by 60 thousand troops,” Al-Ahmar said, adding “dialogue is the only hope to bring Yemen out of this situation,” stressing “dialogue with everyone is still possible to resolve the current crisis in Yemen.” He accused President Saleh of “wanting to turn the country into a monarchy through his pursuit to install his son in power,” and renewed his call for the President to step down, stressing “changing the head is the door to reforming the situations in Yemen.”

Morrocco again took to the streets


El Hoceima
 Thousands have taken to the streets in Maorocco on Sunday to demonstrate for freedom, democracy and jobs. On March 9, king Mohammed VI  promised in a speech a series of reforms,  but this does not appear to have made much of a difference. According to Reuters, quoting a government offcial, the numbers on the streets on Sunday were 'at least as many' as those who protested on February 20. Apart from places like Marrakech, El Hoceima and the huge protest in Casablance (here on photos), there were demonstrations in Rabat, Tanger, Tetouan, Taza, Agadair an several smaller places. (For more pictures click here)

So Gaddafi has been bombed, what comes next?

Bodies of  Gaddafi loyalists, lying in front of a destroyed tank,  are being covered after the 'allied' attacks on Gaddafi's troops near Benghazi.(Reuters)

1) Coalition forces have been attacking Libyan targets fo a second consecutive night. A missile strike has destroyed a building in Libya's capital, Tripoli, which Western officials say was one of  Muammar Gaddafi's command centres. Western journalists taken by Libyan officials to the compound were shown a ruined three or four-storey building. An official from one of the coalition countries, who asked not to be named, told journalists the strike destroyed Col Gaddafi's "command and control capability".

2) A US military official said Air Force B-2 stealth bombers flew 25 hours in a round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and dropped 45 2,000-pound bombs. British offcials said Tomahawk cruise misslele had been fired from a Bitish submarine. 

3) In Misrata, a city west of Benghazi that has been under siege by government troops, residents say bombardments by pro-Gaddafi forces are continuing. A nearby air base was targeted in the first night of coalition strikes.U.S. Also in Benghazi some forces loya;l btoGaddafi are still in the city. It is not clear if the coalition is going to take action againstthem and if so how. Attacking fronm the air is not really an option in populated areas.

4) Gaddafi's troops declard a second cease fire as off 19.00 hours on Sunday night, but coaltion sources said it appeared not to be followed adn should not be taken seriously.

5) Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has criticised the severity of the bombardment. 'What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,' he said.The Arab League from the beginning supported the idea of a no-fly zone. It is not clear whether Mousa's criticism is shared by many Arab countries. Qatar, at least,  is to send four planes to join the coalition enforcing the UN-mandated no-fly zone, the US and France have said. It would make Qatar the first Arab country to take part in trhe operation.

6) U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said late Sunday that the U.S. expects turn over control of the operation to a coalition headed by France, Britain or NATO "in a matter of days," reflecting concern that the U.S. military was stretched thin by its current missions. Turkey was blocking NATO action, which requires agreement by all 28 members of the alliance.

7 ) A five member strong panel of the African Union (AU) called on Sunday for an “immediate stop” to all attacks after the United States, France and Britain launched military action against Moamer Gaddafi’s forces. The panel, composed of five African leaders,  was formed by the African Union at its 25th meeting on 10 March, to mediate between rebels in Libya and Gaddafi.Gaddafi position has always been quite strong in circles of the AU.

 8) Now that most of the air defense system of Gaddafi seems to have been been destroyed and the moment seems to be nearing that rebel stronghold are more or less safe from further attacks, questions arise what will happen next. What if the rebel forces eventually go on the offensive against Gadhafi's troops?What ifd they don't and the country remains effectively split? Are steps foreseen to put pressure on both sides in order to start negotations?
 Destruction after the attack by the coalition on Gaddafi's troops  near Benghazi (Reuters)

Juan Cole on his blog, cites the Kosovo prededent and  points to the possibility that third parties might be brought in in order to negotiate the next steps (he suggests countries that were lukwarm about the no-fly zone like Russia, India or Algeria). Also he suggests that oranisations like Amnesty should deal with officers of Gaddafi's army who  committed war crimes.
His suggestions seem rather optimistic, but insofar he points to the fact that thinking beyond the military action of the moment is needed, and needed fast, he certainly got a point. Military intervention on the basis of the U.N Charter in order to protect civilians, following the Kosovo precedent is one thing. But whereas in Kosovo the goals of th NATO intervention were quite clear, in Libya the don't even exist. There it was 'Serbs out, refugees back, return to the status quo'. Here the situation is, that the interventionits, as soon as the murder of civilians has bveen stopped, get mixed up in a revolutionary process of which the declard goa was to get rid of Gaddafi's regime. And that, it ought not be necesary to state it, is clearly not the task of outside powers. They should stay away from that as far as possible. Which makes it all the more imperative for the U.S, France, Britain and the other parties that took part in taking the decision to intervene, to sit together soon as possible and devise the next steps.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

President Saleh of Yemen fires cabinet amidst stream of resignations

Anger and horror on the faces of Yemeni protesters who checked on friends in the field hospitals on Friday after the boodbath. (AP)

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has fired his cabinet, according to a statement from his office on Sunday. His measure was taken after ministeer after minisyters was resigning from the government, in protest over the killing of at least 52 protesters by thugs in the service of the government during a demonstration on Friday. 
 Abdullah Alsaidi, Yemen's ambassador to the United Nations, quit in on Sunday. So did twenty-four parliamentarians, who left the ruling party one day earlier. Huda al-Baan, Yemen's human rights minister, said on Saturday she had resigned from the government to protest the 'massacre' of demonstrators. The undersecretary at the ministry, Ali Taysir, resigned also. Nabil al-Faqih, the minister of tourism, resigned on Friday over the 'unjustifiable use of force' against protesters, while the minister of religious endowments Hamoud al-Hattar resigned earlier in the week. The chief of the state news agency has also stepped down, along with Yemen's ambassador to Lebanon.
"The defections are on all sides and this is just the beginning," Abdul Ghani Al Iryani, a political analyst in the capital, Sanaa, told Al Jazeera. 'I  think if we don't come to some kind of national reconciliation, the defections will continue until the regime falls. The president is talking to various political groups but he's not talking to the main group, which is the youth in the square. If he wants to get out of this, he will have to address their concerns, he'll have to  include them in any national dialogue and he will have to accept the fact that much of his power needs to be transferred to a government of national unity.'
Meanwhile tnes of thousands turned out for the funeral of the victims of Fridays carnage.

Thousands revolt in Syrian city of Deraa

Protesters are showing signs - among othres - on which the release of the 15 arrested children is demanded.
Demonstrators in the southern Syrian city of Deraa have set fire to several buildings during a third consecutive day of protests.Police tried to disperse protesters, and one demonstrator was reportedly killed.
On Friday four people died during violent clashes.The protests on Sunday came as a government delegation arrived in Deraa to offer condolences for those killed. Residents told Reuters news agency that protesters had set fire to symbols of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, including the Baath Party headquarters, a courthouse and two branches of a phone company owned by the president's cousin, Rami Makhlouf. Also a statue of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, was reportedly destroyed.

Earlier, protesters in Deraa called for an end to Syria's 48-year-old emergency law, and for the dismissal of officials involved in Friday's crackdown, reports said. An important demand was also the release of 15 children who had been arrested after writing slogans on walls. The government said it would release the 15 children, but sofar that has not happened. Also it has announced a three-month reduction in the length of compulsory military service across the country, in an attempt to stem the dissatisfaction in the country.
Activists were quoted as saying that police had used tear gas and live ammunition to try to clear demonstrators, and that one protester had been shot dead and dozens of others injured. The protesters are said to be in control of the centre of the city and to have turned a mosque into a field hospital.
Syria's officials news agency blamed any violence on demonstrators. Roads into Deraa have been blocked and also the internet, electricity and most communications are blocked in the city.
Protests were also reported in other parts of the country, like in Homs and in Banias at the coast.. On Sunday there was a tiny demonstration in Salamiya, a suburb of Hama.after six people had been arrested.   

Libya's air defense system incapacitated

 Cruise missiles are fired from the US destroyer Barry in the Mediterranean Sea (Reuters)

Western forces hit targets along the Libyan coast on Saturday, using strikes from air and sea to force Muammar Gaddafi's troops to cease fire and end attacks on civilians.
 The U.S. military said 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American and British ships and submarines at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya's air force. French fighter jets fired the first salvos, carrying out several strikes in the rebel-held east, while British fighter jets also flew mission over Libya.

Libyan TV quoted the armed forces command as saying 48 people were killed and 150 wounded in the allied assault. It said most of the casualties were children but gave no more details.There was no way to verrify this claim.

Gadhafi said in a telephone call to Libyan state TV that he was opening weapons depots to allow his people to arm themselves in defense.He said the international action against his forces was unjustified, calling it 'simply a colonial crusader aggression that may ignite another large-scale crusader war'.
Defense officials cautioned it was too early to fully gauge the impact of the onslaught. But a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the mission was ongoing, said the Americans felt that Libya's air defenses had been heavily damaged given the precision targeting of the cruise missiles.
Mohammed Ali, a spokesman for the exiled opposition group the Libyan Salvation Front, said the Libyan air force headquarters at the Mateiga air base in eastern Tripoli and the Aviation Academy in Misrata had been targeted.Reuters Arabic reported that Gaddadfi's forces withdrew from Misrata. In Benghazi the offensive of the government troops was haltd. Opposition forces in Benghazi say 30 people were killed and many more wounded during the fighting.
Al-Jazeera English had this video about the fighting in Benghazi:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

French planes bomb tanks near Benghazi,, American cruise missiles on targets in Tripoli

The French air force destroyed four Libyan tanks near Benghazi in the first military action in a U.N.-mandated military intervention. The US has also launched cruise missiles from ships based in the Mediterrannean Sea, and has taken the lead in military operations during the first phase, Kimberly Halkett, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Washington DC reported.
The action marks the first international military moves against the Libyan leader, and it comes a day after the UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over the North African country.  In this first phase of the operation, named "Odyssey Dawn", the US will target Libyan Integrated Missile Defence Systems, mainly near Tripoli and Misurata, officials said. French aircraft had initiated operations by targetting Libyan air fields. It is not clear when the second wave of operations will begin, but Al Jazeera's Halkett reported that it would target Gaddafi's ground forces and tanks.
 Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi on Saturday in spite of a ceasefire his government had declared earlier. This  prompted leaders meeting in Paris on Saturday to announce the start of military intervention. French president Sarkozy said an operation supported by France, Britain, the United States and Canada, and backed by Arab nations, would continue unless the Libyan leader ceased fire.
Gaddafi sharply criticised the intervention. 'This is injustice, this is clear aggression,' spokesman Mussa Ibrahim quoted Gaddafi as saying in a letter to France, Britain and the United Nations. 'Ýou will regret it if you take a step toward interfering in our internal affairs.' The Libyan government blamed the rebels, who it says are members of al Qaeda, for breaking a ceasefire around Benghazi.
Gaddafi also took the precaution to gather many people around his Bab al-Aziziyeh palace in Tripoli, apparently to avert a repetition of what happened in 1986, when his compound was bombed by U.S. warplanes 'Some 5,000 tribesmen are preparing to come here to fight with our leader. They better not try to attack our country,' farmer Mahmoud el-Mansouri told Reuters .

Big demonstration in Deraa, smaller ones elsewhere in Syria

At least 10,000 people demonstrated on Saturday at the funeral of two protesters, among at least four who were killed on Friday in the Syrina city of Deraa. The mourners mrached behind the simple wooden coffins of Wissam Ayyash and Mahmoud al-Jawabra. "God, Syria, Freedom. Whoever kills his own people is a traitor," they cahted, as well as 'Hauran wak u''. Deraa, at the border with Jordan, is the administrattive cneter of the Hauran region. .
The two men were killed when security forces opened fire on Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest demanding political freedoms and an end to corruption. A third man killed on Friday, Ayhem al-Hariri, was buried in a village near Deraa earlier on Saturday. A fourth protester, Adnan Akrad, died on Saturday from his wounds.
Deraa was less tense by late afternoon, after a meeting at the main Omari mosque between the authorities and prominent figures in the city. An activist who was at the meeting said officials were presented with a list of demands, most importantly for the release of political prisoners. Among them were 15 schoolchildren arrested in Deraa this month after writing slogans on walls, inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia that swept their autocratic leaders from power. Residents say the children's arrests deepened feelings of repression and helped fuel the protests in Deraa
Other demands included the dismantling of the secret police headquarters in Deraa, dismissal of the governor, a public trial for those responsible for the killings, and scrapping of regulations requiring permission from the secret police to sell and buy property.
Deraa is home to thousands of displaced people from eastern Syria, where up to a million people have left their homes because of a water crisis over the past six years. Experts say state mismanagement of resources has worsened the crisis.The Hauran region, once a bread basket, has also been affected by diminishing water levels, with yields falling by a quarter in Deraa last year.

Protests against Syria's ruling elite, inspired by revolts in the Arab world, have gathered momentum this week after a silent protest in Damascus by 150 people demanding the release of thousands of political prisoners.
At least one activist from Deraa, Diana al-Jawabra, who took part in the protest was arrested on charges of weakening national morale, along with 32 other protesters, a lawyer said.
Apart from protests in Deraa, there were also protests in other Syrian cities on Friday, AFP reports, following calls on Facebook for a 'Friday of Dignity'.  In Damascus  a protest at the Omayyad mosque was smothered by plainclothes policemen who dragged away at least two people who attempted to shout 'freedom'. Others, pro-Assad demonstrators, alledgedly people in the service of the regime, answederd with calls of 'There is no  God but God'. Some 200 of these people after that held a pro-Assad demonstation.
 Smaller anti-government protests took place in the central city of Homs and the coastal town of Banias, home to one of Syria’s two oil refineries, activists said. It was estmated that in both places about 150 people took to the streets.    

Gaddafi's forces enter Benghazi in spite of so called 'cease fire'

Friday night: Benghazi celebrates cease fire. On Saturday Gaddafi's toops entered the city.

 It seems the old fox Gaddafi is still very much his old treacherous self. The solemn declaration  of a cease fire on Friday by his minister Moussa Koussa was just a smoke screen to lure everybody in believing that his game was over. At least for the moment. And just when most started to believe him, his forces entered Benghazi.
Reuters news agency quoted a military spokesman for the rebels who said that Gadafi's forces entered the city on Saturday from the west. It reported that it heard at least one big explosion at the rebel headquarters in Benghazi. The Libyan government, however, denied its forces were in action in or around Benghazi. A government spokesman said they were observing the ceasefire, blaming rebels for attacks.
As explosions shook Benghazi, rebel fighters said they were being forced to retreat from the outskirts of the city. A fighter jet was shot down, when it tried to attack a target, apparently the Benghazi military barracks, according to Reuters.The rebels said Libyan jets earlier had bombed the road to Benghazi airport and elsewhere on the outskirts.
According to Al-Jazeera English fresh fighting was also going on 
in the nearby rebel-held town of Ajdabiya, while fierce battles raged in Misurata, a town close to the capital Tripoli, where pro-Gaddafi forces were gathered at the outskirts. Misurata was left stranded in the west while rebels who had advanced from the east were beaten back by a counteroffensive by loyalist forces. There were also reports of government forces attacking the town of Az Zintan, Al-Jazeera said.
The Libyan advance into Benghazi pre-empted an international meeting hosted by France on Saturday to discuss military intervention in Libya. The meeting will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Arab leaders.
 Fighter jet explodes in the ground in Benghazi after having been shot down (AFP). It seems to be possible that the rebels shot down one of their own planes.