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LIBYA: Moammar Kadafi orders release of 20 journalists detained amid apparent power struggle

November 9, 2010 |  9:02 am

1a12Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi has ordered the  release of 20 detained journalists working for media outlets affiliated with his reform-minded son amid apparent rising tensions between moderates and the nation's old guard.

Kadafi also asked that an investigation be opened into the matter, reported Libya's Jamahiriya News Agency, or JANA.

The reporters, who include six women and Egyptian and Tunisian citizens, were reportedly picked up by the Libyan security forces in arrest sweeps late last week in Tripoli and the city of Benghazi.

The reasons behind the arrests were not immediately clear, but the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement that the detained journalists had called for the return of opposition figures to power. 

Many of the detainees work for the Libya Press news agency,  and the Libyan Oea weekly also said that a number of its journalists were among those arrested. Both media outlets are run by the Al-Ghad publishing company, an umbrella group controlled by Kadafi's London-educated  son Saif al-Islam Kadafi, viewed by some as a potential successor to his father.

The elder Kadafi's order for the journalists' release came shortly after Libya Press posted a news release on its website calling on the Libyan leader and the justice minister to personally intervene in the case. It said the arrests were arbitrary and called the detention of its journalists "shameful and "scandalous."

The son has played an important role in improving Libya's ties with the West and has emerged as a vocal critic of conservative hardliners in the government while calling for more freedoms -- views sometimes reflected in the media outlets affiliated with him. He holds no formal political power, however, and his calls for economic and political liberalization have not gone down well with some conservatives.

In another twist that is feeding suspicions about internal political turmoil in the Libyan state, Al-Ghad claimed it was forced to suspend the publication of Oea after the Libyan state printing press put out a "fake" version of the paper over the weekend, according to Agence-France Presse.

_49841247_libya On Sunday morning, Oea suddenly appeared as "Morning Oea" but with the same editor's name and design. Al-Ghad slammed the stunt and stressed that it had no relation with the real publication.

This came a few days after Oea reportedly published an article criticizing the Libyan prime minister and a recent editorial urging the return to government of some banned leaders of the 1969 military revolt that put Kadafi in power.

The Libyan media remains tightly controlled and shows few signs of improvement, according to press freedom advocates. This year, Libya ranked 160th out of 178 countries in Reporters Without Borders'  press freedom index, and the veteran Libyan leader remained in his spot on the organization’s list of “Predators of Press Freedom."

Media reports have also emerged about the expulsion of a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli over the weekend for allegedly violating diplomatic rules.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photos: A montage of the 20 journalists who were detained in Libya last week. Credit: Libya Press news agency. Lower image: Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's son Saif al-Islam Kadafi  has emerged as potential successor to his father. Credit: Getty Images