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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bahrain Bans Opposition Newspaper

MANAMA (AP) - Bahraini authorities banned the country's main opposition newspaper on Sunday in a widening effort to muzzle anti-government media and crackdown on the Shiite opposition in this Sunni-ruled Gulf nation.

Al-Wasat, the country's the most popular newspaper, did not appear Sunday after Bahrain's Information Ministry ordered it to close down. Al-Wasat's online edition also was blocked. The state-run Bahrain News Agency accused the paper of "unethical" coverage of the uprising against the country's rulers.

Bahrain has sharply tightened Internet and media controls under the military rule imposed last month after weeks of protests and clashes by groups seeking to break the monarchy's grip on power in this strategic Gulf nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

"This is an attempt to silence independent news in Bahrain," said Mansoor al-Jamri, the editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat and one of its main shareholders. "There is now no other voice, but that of the state. The news blackout is so intense."

Bahrain's king declared emergency rule last month and cracked down on protests by the country's Shiite majority for more rights and freedom against a Sunni dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for two centuries.

About 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni-led Gulf states also entered Bahrain at the government's invitation to help quell the rebellion and deepening the kingdom's sectarian divide.

The unprecedented political unrest in the tiny nation of 700,000 has also inflamed tensions between the peninsula's Sunni heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, and neighboring Iran, a Shiite theocracy.

At least 20 people have been killed since the protests began in mid-February and hundreds of protesters, activists and opposition leaders have been detained by the authorities. Bloggers and journalists have been threatened by armed thugs and harassed by authorities.

Analysis: "Bahrain's government is attempting to dismantle its domestic protest movement piece-by-piece. Earlier, the protests' symbolic center was demolished when authorities tore down Manama's Pearl Monument. Now, authorities are targeting the organizational capabilities and support structure of the movement. While this may initially have an effect that authorities want, it is unlikely that this move will diminish Bahrain's protest movement in the long run."

Read the Full Article here: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/ML_BAHRAIN_PROTESTS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-04-03-09-01-30

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Syrian Crackdown Follows Protests

DAMASCUS (BBC) - Syrian security forces have arrested dozens of people, hours after clashes at pro-democracy protests in several cities left at least seven people dead, activists say. Most arrests came in the southern city of Deraa and the Damascus suburb of Duma, scene of the worst violence.

The government said its forces were not responsible for the deaths, blaming them on "armed groups".

Coverage of the protests is difficult to gauge because of media restrictions. Some reports said as many as 15 people had died in Friday's clashes.

An eyewitness told the Associated Press news agency that there was tension in Duma, with security forces patrolling the streets and checking documents. Other residents said bodies of some of the dead had been withheld, amid fears that funerals would spark further violence.

A joint statement by eight human rights groups, quoted by AFP news agency, said 46 people were arrested.

President Bashar al-Assad said earlier this week that demonstrations were part of a foreign "plot", but he has agreed to examine unpopular emergency laws in place since 1963.

Activists and rights groups estimate that between 60 and 130 people have died in clashes in the past two weeks. Government officials say the death toll is closer to 30.

Analysis: "Whether or not protester deaths are connected to the Assad regime, they will be perceived as such. The Baath government should take care not to initiate violence with protesters. It would also be in the government's interest to protect protesters from these 'armed groups' if they are, in fact, not sanctioned by Assad."

Read the Full Article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12948268

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Senior Libyan official Resigns, new blow to Regime

AJDABIYA, Libya (AP) - Opponents of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi were knocked back by government troops for a third straight day Thursday but took heart in a sign that the embattled regime is cracking at the highest levels: the defection of the second top official in roughly 48 hours.

Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and U.N. General Assembly president, had been named to represent Libya at the United Nations after a wave of defections early in the uprising. But Treki, who is currently in Cairo, said in a statement posted on several opposition websites that he was not going to accept that job or any other. "We should not let our country fall into an unknown fate," he said. "It is our nation's right to live in freedom, democracy and a good life."

Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa flew to England from Tunisia on Wednesday and the British government said he had resigned. He is privy to all the inner workings of the regime, so his departure could open the door for some hard intelligence, though Britain refused to offer him immunity from prosecution.

Gaddafi issued a defiant statement after the departures, calling on the leaders of countries attacking his forces to resign and accusing them of being "affected by power madness."

Libyan officials, who initially denied Koussa's defection, said he had resigned because he was sick with diabetes and high blood pressure. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Koussa was given permission to go to Tunisia, but the regime was surprised to learn he had flown to London.
"I talked to many people and this is not a happy piece of news, but people are saying, 'So what? If someone wants to step down that's his decision,'" Ibrahim said.

Nations behind the campaign of international airstrikes that have hobbled Libya's military hailed Koussa's resignation as a sign of weakness in Gadhafi's more-than-41-year reign. 

Koussa "can help provide critical intelligence about Gaddafi's current state of mind and military plans," said Tommy Vietor, U.S. National Security Council spokesman. He added that his defection "demonstrates that the people around Gaddafi understand his regime is in disarray."

Analysis: "While the recent defections are welcome news to opposition and coalition forces, they mean very little in a practical sense. Unless these Libyan officials can provide useful intel or spark a wave of numerous high-level defections, this will not affect Col. Gaddafi or his ability to fight the rebels. Apart from that, it could just be opportunistic political maneuvering."

 Read the Full Article here: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AF_LIBYA?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-03-31-14-23-48

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Libyan Rebels seen at risk of Failure

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fresh battlefield setbacks by rebels seeking to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi are hardening a U.S. view that the poorly equipped opposition is probably incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention — either an all-out U.S.-led military assault on regime forces or a decision to arm the rebels.

Gaddafi is reaching deeper into his military ranks to send reinforcements onto the battlefield, has adopted new, unconventional tactics to counter the effects of coalition airstrikes, and apparently is convinced he can retain power by gradually retaking a degree of control of eastern Libya, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence on the condition and capabilities of regime and rebel forces.

On Wednesday, rebels under heavy shelling pulled back further eastward from the oil port of Ras Lanouf. Gaddafi's forces were shelling Brega, another important oil city to the east and appeared poised to attempt to retake the town of Ajdabiya, just south of Benghazi.

Helping propel the Gaddafi forces eastward was a change in battlefield tactics, the senior U.S. intelligence official said. Having seen much of their armor pounded by Western airstrikes earlier, Gaddafi commanders left many tanks and other armor in hiding places in Sirte and advanced eastward instead with small convoys of sedans, minivans, SUVs and other civilian vehicles that the official called "battle wagons" armed with small rockets and other weaponry.

This made it harder for Western pilots to distinguish the Gaddafi troops as military formations and lightened the logistics load for the Gaddafi forces.

Gaddafi in recent days also has mobilized second-tier ground forces that U.S. officials believe are less capable and less trusted by Gaddafi, the official said. This appears to reflect the Libyan leader's determination to press his advantage while the Western powers are self-limited in their assistance to the rebels.

President Barack Obama has explicitly ruled out using American ground forces, but his administration and European governments participating in the U.N.-sanctioned mission in Libya have said they are considering providing arms to the rebels. Such a move would require Obama to step back from his pledge to avoid an open-ended commitment in Libya.

Similarly, a decision to fully coordinate Western air power with rebel ground movements would place Washington openly on the side of the rebels, whose goals and makeup are murky and whose chances of winning — even with more air support — are questionable.

The alternatives include sticking to the current approach, which was cast by Obama in a speech to the nation Monday as focused on protecting Libyan civilians from attacks by regime forces. That effort succeeded last week in stopping pro-Gadhafi forces from entering the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi in eastern Libya, but when the rebels this week advanced westward to the doorstep of Gadhafi's home town of Sirte, they were repelled and forced to retreat.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. government was still gaining a better understanding of the opposition, and that no decision had yet been made on providing arms or any other assistance to rebels fighting Gadhafi's troops.

"Our assessment will help define our actions as we go forward," he said Wednesday.

Analysis: "As Gaddafi rides another wave of momentum towards the rebel capital of Benghazi, the UN will again be called on to aid Libya's opposition. Having successfully established the no-fly zone, the US and her allies will need to clarify their level of support for Libyan rebels in the coming days. There is no easy choice here for participating nations, with possible solutions ranging from an Iraq-style prolonged no-fly zone, to active logistical and military support for the opposition."

Read the Full Article here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110330/ap_on_re_us/us_libya_rebel_strategy

Also: Obama Authorizes secret help for Libya Rebels (Reuters)

Syrian President blames Protests on 'Conspirators'

DAMASCUS (AP) - Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed "conspirators" Wednesday for an extraordinary wave of dissent against his authoritarian rule, but he failed to lift the country's despised emergency law or offer any concessions in his first speech since the protests began nearly two weeks ago.

Assad said Syria is facing "a major conspiracy" that aims to weaken this country of 23 million. The Assad family has ruled Syria for nearly 40 years, using the feared security services to monitor and control even the smallest rumblings of opposition. Draconian laws have all but eradicated civil liberties and political freedoms.

"We don't seek battles," Assad, 45, said in an unusually short, televised speech before legislators who cheered for him and shouted support from their seats. "But if a battle is imposed on us today, we welcome it."

Assad's speech was surprising not so much for what he said but for what he left out. His adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, said last week that Syria had formed a committee to study a series of reforms and constitutional amendments, including lifting the state of emergency laws, in place since Assad's Baath party took power in 1963.

Assad had been widely expected to formally announce those changes. But the fact that he failed to mention any of them was a major disappointment for thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets since March 18, calling for reform. Human rights groups say more than 60 people have been killed as security forces cracked down on the demonstrations.

Within minutes of his speech, social networking sites exploded with activists expressing major disappointment, with some calling on Syrians to take to the streets immediately.

"The fact that he is blaming everything on conspirators means that he does not even acknowledge the root of the problem," said Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian lawyer and pro-reform activist. "I don't have an explanation for this speech, I am in a state of shock ... There are already calls for a day of anger on Friday. This cannot sit well with the Syrian people."

The unrest in Syria, a strategically important country, could have implications well beyond its borders given its role as Iran's top Arab ally and as a front line state against Israel.

Analysis: "Assad's over-hyped, under-delivered speech could show uncertainty within the president's inner circle. To essentially renege on a pledge of a major announcement could point to a last-minute change of policy for the Baathist regime. With the immediate options for Assad being crack down or offer concessions, he is opting for neither at the moment. Expect to see Assad make a decision soon."

Read the Full Article here: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/ML_SYRIA?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-03-30-09-27-37