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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Meris Lutz

LIBYA: Al Jazeera cameraman mourned as journalists continue to be targeted

A cameraman for Al Jazeera was killed and another man wounded Saturday afternoon when a network van came under fire near the rebel-held city of Benghazi in what the network is describing as an ambush (link in Arabic).

Although the identity of the assailants is unknown, Al Jazeera has made it clear that it holds besieged Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and his government responsible.

"This attack came after an unprecedented incitement campaign by Kadafi," the station's general director, Wadah Khanfar, said on Al Jazeera, according to the Associated Press. "This incitement is the main reason for what happened."

The above video released by the network shows a large crowd of Libyan supporters who gathered in the city's main square to mourn the death of 56-year-old Ali Hassan Jaber, a Qatari national. The crowd can be heard yelling, "Without our soul and our blood, we'll defend you Al Jazeera."

Al Jazeera has been successfully broadcasting its coverage of the ongoing unrest in Libya, undermining claims by Kadafi that the country is either calm and under his control or that there is violence being caused by Islamic radicals and drugged-out Revolutionaries.

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BAHRAIN: Gates urges reform to keep Iran at bay amid renewed violence

Gates khalifa
Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged United States ally Bahrain to take "far-reaching steps" toward reform, and quickly, in order to prevent Iran from exploiting the rift between the Sunni monarchy and the largely Shiite protesters.

"I expressed the view that we had no evidence that suggested that Iran started any of these popular revolutions or demonstrations across the region," Gates said Saturday following talks with Bahrain's king and crown prince. Bahraini officials have repeatedly tried to discredit the anti-government protest movement by alleging links to Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, a claim the protesters deny.

"But there is clear evidence that as the process is protracted, particularly in Bahrain, the Iranians are looking for ways to exploit it and create problems," Gates said, according to Agence France-Presse. "So I told them, in this instance, time is not our friend."

Gates' comments followed renewed violence in Bahrain, home to the U.S. 5th Fleet, on Friday when clashes erupted between pro- and anti-government groups just outside the capital of Manama.

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MIDDLE EAST: Protest movements give new energy to International Women's Day

International Women's Day is normally an occasion for politicians to issue lukewarm statements about equality, while rights activists struggle to rally support around issues such as citizenship, child-custody law and domestic abuse.

But this year, women across the Middle East and North Africa are highlighting their role in the protest movements that have toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and appear on the verge of pushing through major changes in other places.

Twitter and Facebook were filled with messages of support for the women of Egypt and Tunisia, as well as protesters in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iran. Some posted video tributes to the female protesters, while others, perhaps bolstered by the energy of the protest movements, published their own demands for equal rights and a greater say in their countries' politics.


The top video calls for equal citizenship rights for Saudi women, while the second features women who took part in the Egyptian protest movement that forced former President Hosni Mubarak from power (both are subtitled in English).

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MIDDLE EAST: Turkey's arms exports not affected by unrest, report says

Is Turkey's role in the Middle East centrist, or just plain cynical?

Ankara's arms trade with Middle Eastern and North African countries is thriving, according to local reports, despite popular uprisings across the region against governments described by the protest movement and others as repressive and corrupt.

One senior procurement official with knowledge of defense contracts described the current industry climate as "business as usual" to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.

"Egypt is a market and partner with previously signed contracts," he said.

"Tunisia and Libya were prospective markets. They still are for the longer term," he added. "As the dust settles we will roll up our sleeves to help the [Turkish] industry for new contracts...future contracts will come up as soon as stability has been restored."

Turkey's total arms exports are expected to reach $1.5 billion this year, with the Middle East and North Africa accounting for a significant chunk.

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LIBYA: Rebels reject Kadafi's call for talks as government forces advance on key oil town

Rebel leadership rejected talks with Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's government  Monday, insisting that the longtime ruler agree to step down before any dialogue can take place.

The oppositional National Libyan Council released its statement after an appeal for talks on state television from Jadallah Azous Talhi, a government official originally from eastern Libya.

The council's Ahmed Jabreel told Reuters that the anti-government movement would not engage in talks with the government.

"We have made it clear all along that any negotiations must be on the basis that Kadafi will step down. There can be no other compromise," he said.

Meanwhile, Kadafi's forces appear determined to take the eastern town of Ras Lanuf, home to a major oil refinery, back from anti-government forces.

Libya fighter jets bombed rebel-held sites on the outskirts of the town  Monday, amid reports that government forces had taken the town of Bin Jawwad, about 40 miles away.

--Meris Lutz in Beirut

LIBYA: Former interior minister says Kadafi regime to fall within days

Picture 8 Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi is running out of time, his former interior minister told the pan-Arab satellite channel Al Arabiya on Sunday night.

Abdul Fatah Younis estimated that anti-government forces controlled about 90% of Libyan territory, adding that he expects the regime to fall within days (Arabic link).

"The regime is spreading rumors, and this proves that it is on its last breath," he said in a phone interview. "News reports confirm that the situation will come to an end in three days at most, and we will witness the fall of the regime and its corrupt symbols which contributed to the killing of Libyan people in this brutal and contemptible manner."

The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in three weeks of clashes between pro- and anti-government forces in Libya.

--Meris Lutz in Beirut


Screenshot: Abdul Fatah Younis,  former Libyan interior minister. 

BAHRAIN: Freed political prisoners join protests

Prisoner march
Some political prisoners freed just hours earlier joined anti-government protesters marching through the capital of Manama, Bahrain, on Wednesday, but local rights groups say hundreds more remain in prison. Meanwhile, the protest movement shows no signs of losing steam.

The move by King Hamed bin Isa Khalifa to free about 100 prisoners is intended to appease protesters who took to the streets last week demanding reform but have begun calling for an end to the monarchy following a crackdown by authorities that left at least seven people dead and dozens wounded.

"Allowing the people to protest and releasing those people are positive moves," Ibrahim Mattar of the main Shiite Wefaq party told Reuters.

But the king's gesture did not satisfy opposition and human-rights groups, which have been demanding a promise to transition to a constitutional monarchy and the release of all prisoners of conscience.

"The main point we are waiting for is the initiative for political reform. Until now, they didn't promise anything," Mattar said. "If they don't say it, we are wasting our time."

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights was also critical of the government, tweeting on Wednesday: "About 100 political prisoners had been freed but another 400 or so are still held."

Maryam Khawaja, who works for the center, tweeted "ppl r chanting for the fall of the entire regime in the march of free prisoners."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Freed political prisoners join protesters in the streets of Manama, Bahrain. Credit: Maryam  Khawaja / Bahrain Center for Human Rights

LIBYA: Ahmadinejad slams repression in Libya as Iranian authorities confiscate satellite dishes

Ahmadinejad Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday slammed Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi for what he described as "unimaginable repression" against the Libyan people.

"It is unimaginable that someone is killing his citizens, bombarding his citizens," Ahmadinejad said in an interview broadcast on state television. "How can officers be ordered to use bullets from machine guns, tanks and guns against their own citizens?"

"This is unacceptable. Let the people speak, be free, decide to express their will," he added. "Do not resist the will of the people."

Ahmadinejad has been widely criticized for his government's violent crackdown on protesters following the disputed 2009 presidential elections in Iran.

The president's words followed midnight raids Monday and Tuesday on several apartment buildings in the Qods township in western Tehran, considered a bastion of the opposition. The raids were aimed at collecting banned television satellite dishes, sources in Tehran told Babylon & Beyond. Authorities have repeatedly blamed foreign and opposition media beamed into Iran via satellite for fomenting unrest against the government.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

AFP contributed to this report.

Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has criticized Libya for its violent crackdown on protesters. Credit: Fars News Agency


MIDDLE EAST: Al Jazeera English coming to the U.S.?


American fans of Al Jazeera English, most of whom until now have had to go online to access the channel, may soon get greater TV access to the network described by many as a leading source of news on the protest movements erupting across the Middle East and North Africa.

The Doha, Qatar-based network announced Tuesday that the managing editor of Al Jazeera English, Al Anstey, was in New York meeting with cable TV operators about making the channel available to more U.S. viewers. In Los Angeles, KCET-TV provides online streaming coverage from the network and includes an Al Jazeera English report in its broadcast lineup.

Al Jazeera is available in neither English nor Arabic throughout most of the country, but interest seems to spike every time a major event happens in the Middle East. Following the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the network said its website saw a 2,500% increase in visitors, half of which were logging on from the U.S.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Al Jazeera English's Doha newsroom. Credit: CMDavid via Wikimedia Commons


LIBYA: Popular TV cleric issues fatwa against Kadafi

Picture 26 Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, issued a fatwa on live television (Arabic link) Monday night urging the Libyan army to kill the country's embattled leader, Moammar Kadafi.

"It is not heroism to fight your people and to hit them with missiles," Qaradawi said in an interview with Al Jazeera, which also hosts his popular show, "Sharia and Life."

Libyan security forces waged a fierce attack on demonstrators in the two major cities of Tripoli and Benghazi on Monday, with many reports that the regime had ordered air strikes against protesters.

Those assertions were bolstered by news that two Libyan fighter jets had landed in Malta on Monday and that the pilots were seeking asylum after refusing orders to bomb demonstrators who had taken control of Benghazi, according to the Times of Malta.

"I say to my brothers and sons who are soldiers and officers in the Libyan Army to disobey when [the government] gives orders to kill the people using warplanes," the cleric said. "I now issue a fatwa urging officers and soldiers who can to kill Moammar Kadafi."

"Shoot him down and relieve the people and the country of his burden," he added. "This man wants to annihilate the people."

--Meris Lutz in Beirut

BAHRAIN: Celebrations break out as protesters retake Pearl Square

  Lulu 3
Thousands of Bahraini protesters flooded back into Pearl Square in the capital of Manama on Saturday afternoon after the army appeared to withdraw from the area following two days of violent clashes that killed several people and injured dozens more.

Angry crowds headed toward the square chanted "Down, down Hamed!" referring to the king, and "Bring down the government!" according to the Los Angeles Times.

CNN's Nic Robertson described "scenes of jubilation" in Pearl Square, despite reports of initial attempts by police to disperse the protesters with tear gas.

"People in [Pearl Square] calling this a victory, laying flowers where men [were] shot dead last night," he tweeted around 4:30 p.m. local time.

On Thursday, at least three people were killed and dozens more were wounded when government forces violently ousted demonstrators camped out in the square, which has emerged as a stronghold of the protest movement since it erupted earlier this week over complaints of government abuse and corruption.

Protesters who tried to retake the square on Friday were fired on, allegedly by security forces, according to numerous media reports. Reports of fatalities have not been confirmed by the government.

Earlier, opposition figures had said they would not meet with government officials until the army withdrew from the streets. For now such talks do not appear to have the popular support from the protesters.

--Meris Lutz in Beirut

 Photo: Thousands of jubilant protesters returned to Pearl Square after deadly clashes. Credit: Maryam al Khawaja via Twitter

ALGERIA: Police crack down on rally, but protesters vow to press on


Algerian riot police prevented protesters from gathering Saturday in May 1 Square in Algiers, the nation's capital, according to media reports.

"Incredible tension on the streets. people standing around, police everywhere helicopters above. Feels like it'll break any minute," journalist Assia Boundaoui tweeted from the capital around noon Saturday.

Footage aired by Al Jazeera English about the same time appeared to show several hundred protesters converging on May 1 Square surrounded by a heavy police presence. Many protesters were shouting slogans and holding signs calling for increased freedom and democracy.

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