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  • How to wreck a country

    How to wreck a country

    By anyone’s standards, Lybia is a failed state that threatens to destabilise the rest of Africa. The blame for this lies with NATO, writes Moffat Ekoriko

    US PRESIDENT Barack Obama must be gifted in euphemism. Asked about the outcome of the NATO intervention in Libya, he said it is a “mess”. The reporter who anchored the interview apparently taken aback wrote: “Mess is the president’s diplo­matic term; privately, he calls Libya a ‘shot show’.”

    The reality is that Libya, once one of the most stable countries in Africa with high ratings on the human development index (HDI), has become a failed state. Hell would have been a better four-letter word to describe a country with no functional gov­ernment, ridden with competing armed mili­tias and one of the three with territories held by the Islamic State. The chaos in Libya is down to the NATO military intervention in the country of 2011, which went ahead despite the protests of the African Union.

    As at the time of going to press, the gov­ernment of national unity formed at the instance of the United Nations in January was still based in neighbouring Tunisia. It was meant to end the feud between two rival administrations, one based in Tripoli and the other in the eastern town of Tobruk. The new government, made of 32 cabinet members, was the culmination of a UN- backed peace process. A nine member pres­idential council was set up and tasked with the mandate of appointing the new admin­istration. On the surface of it, this new gov­ernment should work. It has representatives from the two rival parliaments. Fayez Sarraj, a politician from the east will serve as the prime minister. Al-Aref al-Khoga, former interior minister from the west, retains his portfolio in the new arrangement. Khaled Nejm from the east will be responsible for information with Mahdi al Barghathi, an army commander from the east taking charge of defence.

    However, given the chaos prevalent in the country, the new government is unable to set foot in Tripoli. Reports say the planned relocation of the new unity government to Tripoli was thwarted by Khalifa Al Ghweil, the prime minister of the Tripoli-based fac­tional government. The new government is also suffering legitimacy questions following the inability of the internationally recognised parliament based at Tobruk to pass a reso­lution endorsing it.

    Aguila Saleh Issa, the president of the the Tobruk parliament, had called for debate to endorse the new government, March 28, but there are not enough members to form a quorum. Although the new government said late March, that the security arrangements for it to relocate to Tripoli were complete and that it was mindful of “saving Libyan blood” and therefore wanted to move there when there is guarantee of peace.

    Ghweil does not appear to be thinking of that peace. A day before the announcement, he closed the airports at Tripoli and Misrata following rumours that Sarraj was going to fly into the country to assume office., leaving thousands of travellers stranded at the airport.

    Even when the new government takes over, it will have to grapple with the wors­ening security situation in the country. Libya is now broken into fiefdoms controlled by different militia. Efforts to disarm the militia have been frustrated by the absence of a national army and a stable political authority. The government faction in Tripoli is backed by Islamist militia. What should be the national army is controlled by Khalifa Haftar, supportive of the Tobruk govern­ment but opposed to Islamists. In between the two major forces are tribal and town based militias.

    To compound the security crisis, the dreaded Islamic State (IS) has made Libya its third area of operation. With forces based in around Sirte, the home town of Gaddafi, the IS forces pose a threat to any attempt to impose a nationwide order. Apart from their trademark brutality, IS forces are kid­napping people from as far afield as Tripoli and Adjabbiya. Late last month, they exe­cuted three Libyan army soldiers seized while on leave from their duty posts in Benghazi. The presence of the group has also attracted the intervention of foreign forces. US troops have carried out regular air attacks against the group (without seeking the consent of any government in Libya). So have the Egyptians and the Emirati.

    As the security situation worsens, so has the economy. Oil production dropped to 396,000 barrels per day in February against peak production of 1.4 million barrels per day before the overthrow of the Gaaddafi government. The standard of living has plummeted as Libyans face shortages and spiralling cost of staple foods.

    It will be an uphill task to stop Libya from falling into complete anarchy not to talk of restoring it to stability. That Libya is in such a state is down to the recklessness of the NATO for effecting regime change and failing to take responsibility for stabilising the country after that. President Obama who led the military operation to topple Gaddafi, said he had believed that the Europeans (in this case, Britain and France) would invest in the follow up. Some Middle East experts like Alan Kuperman of the Texas University at Austin think the present crisis in Libya was totally avoidable since NATO had no real reason to intervene.

    So what went wrong? Towards the end of 2010, the Arab Street was very restive. A revolt had dramatically sacked the govern­ments in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. The success of the protesters had started what was called the Arab Spring. The once impregnable autocrats of the Mddle East, not least Muammar Gaddafi, were looking vulnerable.

    In February 2011, following the arrest of a lawyer representing the families of 1,200 people who died in prison, protests broke out in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and later spread to other urban areas. The security forces batded to contain the unrest, which were becoming increasingly violent. By the middle of March 2011, the protests had turned into a full blown rebellion but much of Libya lies bi ruins following NATO’s disastrous intervention the rebels were no match for Gaddafi’s forces. One city after the other, the security forces established order, save for Benghazi, which had become the de facto epicentre of the rebellion. It is at this point that foreign forces stepped in, claiming that Gaddafi was planning to massacre his own people there.

    Countries that had axes to grind with him quickly rallied round the rebels, investing their political and diplomatic capital to win them legitimacy. Media from the west and Gulf countries quickly swung behind the narrative. Aljazeera’s false report that Gaddafi’s air force was strafing and bombing civilians in Benghazi was seized upon by those pushing for a no-fly zone. The Saudi- owned channel Al Arabiya reported falsely that the death toll from the clashes was 10,000. Human Rights Watch documented only 233.

    Sections of the rebel leadership, much of which had been courted by the CIA for years, were emboldened. The height of this support was a Linited Nations Security Council resolution, which was obtained under the guise of preventing a massacre of civilians by regime forces. The UN Resolution 1973 (passed March 17, 2011) imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and autho­rised the use of all necessary means, save an occupation, to protect civilians. This sup­posed humanitarian intervention was a follow up to the sanctions and embargoes earlier imposed on the country three weeks before then.

    Unknown to many, including the Russians who abstained, the trio of the US, Britain and France secretly had regime change at the top of their agenda. Within 24 hours of that resolution, NATO forces attacked Libya. Targets of air strikes included members of the government. With such an advanced air force at their disposal, the rebels became hostile to all efforts at achiev­ing a political resolution.

    One of such efforts that was rebuffed by the rebels came from the African Union. After its opposition to military intervention was ignored, the AU came up with a peace plan. The plan was spearheaded by a high powered committee led by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Other members of the committee were presidents Mohammed Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, Amadou Toure of Mali, Dennis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Brazaville and Yoweri Museveni of Llganda.

    Under the plan, there was to be an imme­diate ceasefire, unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid, protection of foreign nationals, dialogue between the government  and rebels on a political setdement and the suspension of NATO air strikes. The embattled Gaddafi, after meeting with Zuma and three other heads of state plus the foreign minister of Uganda in Tripoli, readily accepted the roadmap. But with NATO behind them, the rebels binned the plan. They insisted there would be no peace until Gaddafi and his sons stood down. NATO was equally dismissive.

    What was most shocking was the approach of the western media. According to the BBC in its report of the peace plan: “The situation is muddied by money. Col Gaddafi has bankrolled the AU for years and he has bought friends in Africa.” Translation: the AU has been bought by Gaddafi.

    Nothing could be farther from the truth. The funding of the AU is through the contribution of all member states and the ratio is pre-determined based on the financial capability of individual countries. Libya’s contributions would have been based on the agreed parameters. Even then, it would not have been more than the contributions of Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. Besides, such funding would be by Libya as a member state and not Gaddafi as an indi­vidual.

    Even with the rebuff from the rebels and insults by the media, the AU did not give up. Zuma made a further trip to Tripoli six weeks later but NATO was in no mood to stop despite further concessions by Gaddafi. Contrary to the perception in the west, the AU dreaded the consequences of Gaddafi’s forced exit from power. There were three dangers: One, Libya could become a failed state. The tribal and ethnic mix of Libya was such that the forced removal of the government would make it difficult to build a political consensus for post- Gaddafi sta­bility. Having lived with consequences of Somalia, African countries knew the cost of having a failed state in the region.

    Two, Libya had a huge arms arsenal, which would be difficult to secure in such a vast country. AU felt that these arms would spread all over the region. Three, there were other Africans in the Libyan Army who would return home with military skills to pose a destabilising risk to their home coun­tries. Four, among the rebels were Islamists and terrorists and the AU feared the conse­quences of giving them a safe haven in an post-Gaddafi Libya. Gaddafi, himself, in a tearful letter to Obama, begged NATO to back off so that Libyans could decide its future “within the African Union frame”.

    Africa is paying a high cost for NATO’s arrogance. The arms looted from Libya has found its way to armed insurgents in many different parts of the continent. The country itself has become a haven for ter­rorists, threatening the spread of IS. President Obama thinks the problem with Libya is that NATO did not enter the country with a force strong enough to rebuild Libya after the war.

    Kuperman thinks the president is wrong. “The error in Libya was not an inadequate intervention effort, but the decision to inter­vene in the first place. The AU is vindicated.”

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  • NY attack 'in name of IS,' Trump vows visa crackdown

    he Uzbek who killed eight people in New York acted in the name of the Islamic State group, police confirmed Wednesday, as the US president vowed to scrap the visa program that allowed him to enter the country.

    Tuesday's attack, which mowed down pedestrians and cyclists at high speed on Lower Manhattan's West Side, was the deadliest attack blamed on terrorism in America's financial capital since the September 11, 2001 hijackings.

    While 29-year-old suspect Sayfullo Saipov had not previously been the subject of an FBI investigation, police confirmed he had planned the attack for weeks.

    Saipov, who moved to America legally in March 2010, rented a pickup truck in New Jersey without suspicion, before driving into New York, mounting a bike path and unleashing mayhem as children and their parents prepared to celebrate Halloween.

    Five of the dead were Argentines, visiting for a school reunion. A Belgian woman was also killed. Of 12 injured, nine remain in hospital -- four in a critical but stable condition. One Argentine, a German and three Belgians, were among the injured.

    The suspect was shot in the abdomen by a police officer after he crashed into a school bus and exited his truck, brandishing paintball and pellet guns. He has been interviewed in hospital and remains in custody, police said.

    "He did this in the name of ISIS," John Miller, the head of New York police intelligence and counter-terrorism, told a news conference.

    - Animal -

    "He appears to have followed almost exactly to a 't' the instructions that ISIS has put out in its social media channels before with instructions to their followers on how to carry out such an attack," Miller added.

    Vehicle rammings have been a frequent tactic deployed by IS sympathizers in the West, including in Barcelona, London, Stockholm and in Nice, where a Tunisian suicide truck bomber killed 86 people on Bastille Day last year.

    Police said it was too early to determine when Saipov may have become radicalized, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it happened after he moved to the United States. He is not a US citizen but a legal permanent resident.

    AFP / St. Charles County Dept. of CorrectionsSayfullo Saipov, the suspected driver who killed eight people in New York, mowing down cyclists and pedestrians, before striking a school bus in what officials branded a 'cowardly act of terror'

    Trump, confronting the worst jihadist-inspired attack of his 10 months in office, denounced Saipov as an "animal" and charged that he had been a point of contact for up to 23 immigrants or would-be immigrants, quipping that he "would certainly consider" sending him to Guantanamo Bay.

    The Republican president said that he was "starting the process of terminating" the popular green card lottery, which he said had enabled Saipov to enter the country.

    "We have to do what's right to protect our citizens," the Republican president told reporters. "We will get rid of this lottery program as soon as possible."

    The 1990 program awards US permanent resident visas to around 50,000 applicants around the world each year, opening the door as well for members of their wider families to follow them, so-called chain migration.

    Trump has already slashed the country's annual refugee intake by more than 50 percent, tightened visa issuance around the world and attempted to ban travelers from 11 countries, most of them with Muslim-majority populations, but not Uzbekistan.

    "We also have to come up with punishment that's far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now," the president said.

    Saipov lived in Florida and Ohio, before moving to Paterson, a former industrial hub in New Jersey about 20 miles (30 kilometers) northeast of New York, where he lived with his wife and three children. The truck was rented in New Jersey.

    - 'Scary' -

    Neighbors in the working-class, immigrant community reacted with shock and horror on Wednesday, saying that they knew little about the man who kept to himself.

    "It's a very quiet neighborhood. We leave our doors unlocked. We thought we were pretty safe, but to know that someone like that lives down the street is scary," said Kimberly Perez, 20, who lives across the street.

    In New York, leaders vowed that the annual marathon would go ahead as planned on Sunday. Police said the event, which attracts more than 50,000 runners and 2.5 million spectators, would be the most protected ever.

    "We will not be cowed, we will not be thrown off by anything," said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    While officials say preliminary evidence suggests Saipov acted alone and was not part of a wider plot, Cuomo has drastically stepped up security at airports, tunnels and Penn Station, which he called the busiest rail hub in the hemisphere.

    Uzbekistan, a majority Muslim country that borders Afghanistan and formerly part of the Soviet Union, is a landlocked country racked with poverty, corruption and a stifling authoritarian regime.

    In less than a year, three other men with Uzbek links have been blamed for a deadly nightclub shooting in Istanbul, a Saint Petersburg metro bombing and Stockholm attack.

    In March 2015, two Uzbeks and a Kazakh living in New York were arrested on charges of supporting IS. One of them, who threatened former president Barack Obama, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last week

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  • Togo's Gnassingbe and Guinea's Conde start Liberia mediation effort

    Embattled president of Togo Faure Gnassingbe and his Guinean counterpart Alpha Conde have entered Liberia’s political standoff ‘acting in a mediatory role,’ the AFP news agency has reported.

    Conde is in the team in his capacity as Chairman of the African Union (A.U.) whiles Faure is participating as leader of the regional political bloc of heads of state, ECOWAS.

    The Togolese leader confirmed via his official Twitter handle that the team had met with Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in order to discuss ways to complete the presidential polls in peace and in the interest of all parties. Reports indicate that they have also held talks with key members.

    The Liberian situation is currently at a stage where chances of the November 7 presidential run-off taking place is increasingly becoming slim. The country’s top court has halted the polls until it considers a challenge to first round results by a losing candidate who has alleged fraud.

    Third-place finisher Charles Brumskine’s Liberty Party contested the results of last month’s vote, which set up the run-off between former soccer star George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai.

    The election is meant to usher in Liberia’s first democratic transition since 1944, after periods of military rule and civil war that ended in 2003.

    Faure who took over the ECOWAS Chairperson post from outgoing Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has political issues back home where an opposition coalition is pushing for him to step down immediately.

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  • Trump calls for death penalty for NY attacker

    President Donald Trump called Thursday for the man charged over the New York truck attack to be executed, as a picture emerged of an Islamic State group sympathizer radicalized after struggling with life in America.

    Trump had said he was considering sending Sayfullo Saipov, 29, to the military's notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center, but backed off the idea in a blast of early morning tweets calling for the death penalty.

    "Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system," Trump tweeted.

    "There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!"

    Saipov appeared in a New York courtroom Wednesday on terrorism charges one day after he allegedly drove a rented pickup truck down a mile-long stretch of bike path in Manhattan, where children and their parents were preparing to celebrate Halloween.

    Eight people were killed, five of them friends from Argentina celebrating 30 years since their high school graduation.

    Twelve other people were wounded in the worst attack in New York since the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda hijackings. It ended when police shot Saipov in the abdomen.

    AFP / Jewel SAMADThe Home Depot pickup truck used in the attack

    Federal prosecutors have announced two charges so far: provision of material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, and violence and destruction of motor vehicles.

    The maximum punishment is life imprisonment, but attorneys could potentially seek the death penalty. A capital punishment case would be extremely rare in New York.

    The charging document said Saipov, an Uber driver and father-of-three who emigrated in 2010, confessed to acting in the name of IS and "felt good about what he had done," even demanding to hang an IS flag in his hospital room.

    He first planned an attack in the United States a year ago, before settling two months ago on a vehicle strike, choosing Halloween deliberately in a bid to kill as many people as possible, the complaint alleged.

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  • Eritrea protest aftermath: military makes arrests, internet cut reported

    Eritrean authorities have made arrests following Tuesday’s rare protest in the capital, Asmara. The BBCTigrinya service said the military carried out overnight swoops where an undisclosed number of people were rounded up.

    Security forces fired gunshots to disperse protesting students who were resisting government involvement in affairs of their school reports say.

    The Diae Al Islam school is a community-funded institution whose leadership, parents and students have all kicked against attempts to regulate the school.

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