Updates on Libya’s Revolt and Middle East Protests

The Lede - The New York Times News Blog

March 9, 2011, 8:13 am— Updated: 3:35 pm –>

March 9: Updates on Libya’s Revolt and Middle East Protests

On Wednesday, The Lede is following the uprising in Libya and protest movements across North Africa and the Middle East. Updates below mix alerts on breaking news with reports from bloggers and journalists on the ground. Readers can also follow some of the discussion of the region on Twitter in this blog’s right column.

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3:35 P.M. |More Video as Tahrir Square is Cleared

More video clips have surfaced of the chaotic clashes in Tahrir Square in Cairo, where groups of plainclothes men and the uniformed army soldiers moved in and knocked down the remaining protesters’ camp.

Amnesty International criticized the Egyptian military for “heavy handed” actions. The group said that it had learned through interviews with witnesses that soldiers had beaten demonstrators and made “scores of arrests.”
“It is absolutely unacceptable that the army should participate in violently breaking up the peaceful protests,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the group’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, wrote in a statement. “The Supreme Military Council has the duty to uphold the right to peaceful protest,” he added.
Meanwhile, according to Rawya Rageh, an Al Jazeera reporter, by the end of the day the Egyptian military succeeded in clearing the square of camping protesters, a development that Egyptian state television appeared to welcome:

#Egypt state TV aired live shot of #Tahrir sq with no more tents, cars driving by, repeating twice: ‘This is what the sq looks like now’Wed Mar 09 19:46:18 via web

3:20 P.M. |Theme and Variations on a Strongman’s Name

Over his 40 years in power, the subject is a recurring one: You write Gadhafi, I write Qaddafi.
Why?
Lee Keath, the Middle East enterprise editor for The Associated Press, explains in a Facebook post on Wednesday why his news agency has chosen the Gadhafi spelling, and why 25 years ago it spelled the Libyan ruler’s name Khadafy. (The Times, by contrast, spells it Qaddafi.)
“It’s not just media organizations: Even official Libyan government documents vary widely in rendering his name in Latin letters,” Mr. Keath writes.
The short explanation of why the colonel’s name causes such headaches of transliteration is that it contains several Arabic sounds that have no precise English equivalents, and they are pronounced slightly differently in the Libyan dialect than they would be in formal Arabic, Mr. Keath writes. That makes any phonetic spelling of the name only a rough approximation.
The problem has bedeviled Westerners as long as the colonel has. A Times reader, writing in April 1986, pleaded with news organizations to “codify Qaddafi.”

It would seem that every newspaper, chain, or magazine worth its salt has its own spelling: Khadafy (Gannett), Gaddafi (Time), Kaddafi (Newsweek), Qaddafi (The New York Times) and Kadafi (Los Angeles Times).
His first name has fewer variations (Moamar and Muammar), though others are not unknown. With the ”el” before his last name (or ”al,” with or without hyphen), a mathematician might figure out all the permutations.
If only for the sake of current indexers and future historians, the media should get together and decide how the man’s name should be written.

As the colonel clings to power, that same letter could be written today.

1:57 P.M. |U.N. Blessing Needed for No-Flight Zone, U.S. Says

The American stance on imposing a no-flight zone in Libya remains that the United Nations must make the decision to do it, a view laid out by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and reaffirmed on Wednesday in the city where the NATO alliance has its headquarters, my colleague Stephen Castle  reports:

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, a senior American official said that any decision to go-ahead with a no-flight zone would need a clear legal basis, and that a United Nations Security Council Resolution would be desirable. Action would be taken only if there was a clear need and if regional support was forthcoming.
“We would welcome a U.N. Security Council Resolution, we would want one,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
NATO planners are studying various options, including enforcing a no-flight zone. The alliance’s defense ministers will meet in Brussels on Thursday.
A British official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that merely having the no-flight zone on the table for discussion seemed to have a deterrent effect: so far there has been only limited use of Libyan military air power against civilians. Still, the official added, the NATO preparations were “not a bluff.”
Since NATO operates on unanimity and any one of the 28 members of the alliance can block it from taking action, the official said it was hard to envisage a no-flight zone without a U.N. resolution.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain also said on Wednesday that a  no-flight zone would need broad international backing, the BBC reported.
As Western powers continue to weigh an intervention to prevent bombing runs by Libyan war planes, Reuters provided a helpful breakdown on where various countries stood on the issue as of Tuesday.

12:59 P.M. |Anti-Qaddafi Activists Seize a London Townhouse
DESCRIPTIONTwitpic by nusibab Activists in London occupied a home that is said to belong to a son of Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

A group of activists calling themselves “Topple the Tyrants” moved to seize a symbolic bit of real estate: a London house that is said to be owned by one of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam.
The Associated Press reports that a spokesman for the group, whose members are not Libyan themselves, said they would occupy the roughly $16 million home “until this property can be returned to the Libyan people.”
The spokesman, Montgomery Jones, said that Libyan exiles had been invited to join the activists at the house a Georgian-style 8-bedroom mansion with a swimming-pool, hot tub and sauna, The A.P. reported.
A tony London pied-à-terre is just one indication of the resources at the disposal of Colonel Qaddafi and his family as they fight to remain in power. Another is that Libyan officials are said to have started offering cash rewards for the capture of rebel leaders.
Quoting Libyan state television, the BBC reports on its live blog that the Qaddafi government has offered a $400,000 bounty for the capture of Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former minister of justice who now leads a rebel umbrella group, the Transitional National Council. Information leading to his capture would qualify for a $160,000 reward, the report said. 

12:11 P.M. |Scuffles in Cairo as Army Moves to Clear Tahrir Square


“The people and the army are one hand,” was a common chant during the anti-government protests that forced President Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt last month.
But that sentiment appeared to fray on Wednesday as Egyptian bloggers and other activists posted eyewitness reports, photos and video images of soldiers in uniform, along with dozens of rock-throwing men in plain clothes, moving to forcibly evict the last remnants of encamped protesters from Tahrir Square in central Cairo.

military attack was extremely sudden. People were running everywhere, jumping over cars, fences taken down. complete chaos!! #tahrirWed Mar 09 15:24:19 via Nimbuzz Mobile

According to the reports, the soldiers moved in to pull down the ramshackle encampment in the late afternoon, shortly after state television showed footage of hundreds of people in the square facing off angrily and throwing rocks. It was not immediately clear what precipitated the rock-throwing; one possibility was that the men in plain clothes began trying to break up the camp, only to meet resistance. After that, the soldiers moved in. 
Before long, fresh images began appearing online, showing soldiers moving through the wrecked camp, helping to pull down tents. And a flood of messages coursed through Twitter from people in Egypt who bemoaned the apparent behavior of army soldiers.

Another Twitpic image from Mohamed Salah on Wednesday said to be of Tahrir Square.

“This is insane,” wrote a Twitter poster using the name Amr Bassiouny. “People just came in and demolished everything with the army.” He added: “Looks like the thugs were those standing by us all along.”
The State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, published a post on Wednesday referring to the anti-woman sentiment seen from some in the square the day before; it was quickly picked up and repeated in connection with the apparent military crackdown on the remaining protesters in Tahrir Square.

If #Tahrir Square has meaning, then all #Egyptians must be able to participate in, shape and benefit from the transition, including #women.Wed Mar 09 15:24:31 via web

The protests in Tahrir Square had turned increasingly sour and chaotic on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning. Groups of men harassed a demonstration demanding a greater role for women in Egyptian life. Just after midnight, clashes broke out between camping protesters and men wielding Molotov cocktails.
The video below, posted on a blog run by Hossam El-Hamalawy, is said to show those clashes early Wednesday morning.

Elsewhere in Egypt, a day after sectarian violence that killed at least 13 people, Al Masry Al Youm reported renewed clashes between Coptic Christians and Muslims in the Zarayeb area of Moqattam on Wednesday.

10:22 A.M. |In Libya, Smoke In the Air

Thick plumes of black smoke rose into the sky west of Ras Lanuf, the Libyan refinery town that has been a focus of recent fighting, as warplanes appeared to bomb an oil terminal facility on the outskirts of town, according to televised reports and Reuters.

A screen shot of Al Jazeera English.

Citing rebel fighters, Reuters reported that storage tanks in the Es Sider oil terminal had been hit.
“It was a fierce, random bombardment on us, and then it hit the storage tanks,” Abdel Salam Mohamed, a rebel fighter who had been at Es Sider, told Reuters. The news agency pointed out, though, that the destruction could also have been touched off by rockets fired by the rebels, either intentionally or by accident.
Though loyalist forces are using air power daily against the rebels, Colonel Qaddafi seemed in an interview with Turkish television on Wednesday to invite the imposition of a no-flight zone on the country that would ground his air force. He said it would galvanize his support in Libya by making clear that the West wanted to recolonize the country.
“Such a move would be very useful in a way that all Libyan people would then realize that their real intention is to take Libya under control, take people’s freedoms away and seize their oil,” he said. “Therefore, all Libyan people would take up arms and fight.”

9:23 A.M. |More on the Mysterious Flight

My colleagues David D. Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell clear things up a bit concerning the jet that flew to Egypt from Libya:

On Wednesday, Egyptian officials said, Colonel Qaddafi sent an emissary to Cairo but the scope of the mission was not clear. The officials, who spoke in return for anonymity under departmental rules, said a Libyan executive jet landed in the Egyptian capital on Wednesday carrying a senior military official – Maj. Gen. Abdel Rahman Ben Ali, identified as the deputy minister of Libya’s logistics and supply ministry.
The plane, a private Falcon jet, had taken off from a small Libyan airfield and flown through Maltese and Greek airspace, news reports said. Since Libya’s uprising began last month, Colonel Qaddafi has seemed isolated with few, if any, Arab leaders ready to speak to him, publicly at least. The officials said General Ben Ali was seeking a meeting with the military council running Egypt since last month’s ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
But Musa Ibrahim, a spokesman for Col. Qaddafi, said there would be nothing unusual about the flight since Libya was in constant touch with its neighbors about the crisis in the region. Speaking to reporters, he did not comment on the specific flight on Wednesday. Despite Libya’s turmoil, commercial flights from Tripoli are still flying to cities in the region and elsewhere. There was no indication of whom General Ben Ali intended to see.
Apart from its military-sponsored government, Cairo hosts the Arab League, which is set to debate the issue of a no-fly zone this weekend, news reports said. Libya’s representative at the Arab League resigned last month, saying the Libyan leader had lost all legitimacy.

9:21 A.M. |Video Images of Crackdown in Yemen

Video images began to emerge on Wednesday depicting the violent crackdown on protests in Sana, the capital of Yemen, that took place Tuesday night. One protester died from a gunshot wound to the eye, doctors said.
Note: Several of these videos contain graphic scenes of blood and bodily injury.

As my colleague Laura Kasinof reports, witnesses said that security forces beat people as they tried to carry more tents to a sit-in at Sana University, the center of protests in the capital. The officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition, according to witnesses.
Ms. Kasinof told The Lede on Wednesday morning that doctors at a nearby hospital counted at least ten people who had been shot with live ammunition, including the protester who was hit in the eye, a 20-year-old man who died early Wednesday morning. As many as 60 others were injured from rubber bullets, tear gas and sticks, she said.
Ms. Kasinof confirmed for The Lede that the video embedded above and the one below, which was posted by a freelance journalist in Sana, Iona Craig, show the violence in the city Tuesday night and its aftermath.

Ms. Kasinof also uploaded her own video to YouTube on Wednesday. Along with several Yemeni protesters and a freelance reporter for The  Wall Street Journal, she collected and examined some of the material that was used to beat back protesters, including a tear gas canister and a round canister that no one at the protest could identify.

Do you recognize the round canister? Could it be an outdated or unfamiliar type of tear gas canister, or is it some other kind of munition? Please post your observations and theories in the comments.

8

8:11 a.m. |Tracking a Flight From Libya

Another morning, another swirl of speculation about possible overtures and secret messages from the Libyan leader.
News agencies were watching the skies over North Africa and the Mediterranean on Wednesday as a plane, said to be carrying a senior Libyan general with a “message” from Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, flew to Egypt.
With the strong caution that little has been officially confirmed, here is a tick-tock of its movements — and the hypotheses about its mission — as documented in wire bulletins and Twitter commentary this morning.
5:55 a.m. Eastern

1055 GMT: A private plane belonging to embattled Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi with unknown passengers aboard crossed Greek airspace en route to Egypt on Wednesday, a Greek defense ministry source has told AFP.

7:02 a.m. Eastern

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian airport official says a high-ranking member of the Libyan government has landed in Cairo saying he has a message from Moammar Gadhafi.

7:11 a.m. Eastern

CAIRO, March 9 (Reuters) — A Libyan plane carrying the head of the Libyan Authority for Supply and Logistics has landed in Cairo airport, an Egyptian airport official said on Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Abdel Rahman Ben Ali al-Sayyid al-Zawy was on board the plane that came from Tripoli, the official said.

The content of his message — not to mention its purpose and its intended recipient  — were not immediately known. Nor was it clear whether this was the only plane dispatched from Libya: Al Jazeera reported that three private planes, carrying up to eight passengers each, had taken off. As The A.P. notes:

There have been no public contacts between the Libyan regime and Egypt’s ruling generals since the Libyan uprising broke out on Feb. 15, and there have been no known government-related flights during that time.

At least one correspondent, without saying where she got her information, said that Colonel Qaddafi might be trying to connect with Egypt’s new military leadership:

AJE BREAKING:Reports senior Libyan official has landed in Cairo to meet with Tantawi, head of supreme council of armed forces. #egypt #libyaWed Mar 09 12:04:19 via web

By 7:38 a.m., the speculation engine had run out of new sources of information and the echoing began. One correspondent, reached by Al Jazeera, had a theory about the plane (or planes):

Karl Stango-Navarra, a journalist based in Valletta, Malta, told Al Jazeera that the three jets are flying in three different directions.
“One is suggested to be Vienna, the other is supposed to be Athens in Greece, and the other is Cairo, Egypt,” Stango-Navarra said.
“Obviously, nobody knows who may be aboard the planes,” he said. However, he added that one of the planes, which are being monitored by NATO, has been known to have made flights over the past two weeks to Belarus and Jordan.

So, what mission could the Libyans aboard be on? And if the aircraft did indeed travel to Belarus and Jordan recently, what were they after there?
The Lede will continue to monitor the churn of partial information coming out about these flights and report back as the facts start to coalesce.

  Copyright. 2011. The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved

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