The Russian PM is not happy with the coalition intervention in Libya:
Putin Monday likened the U.N. Security Council resolutionsupporting military action in Libya to medieval calls for crusades.
Putin, in the first major remarks from a Russian leader since a coalition of Western countries began air strikes in Libya, said that Muammar Gaddafi’s government fell short of democracy but added that did not justify military intervention.
“The resolution is defective and flawed,” Putin told workers at aRussian ballistic missile factory. “It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades.”
Putin said that interference in other countries’ internal affairs has become a trend in U.S. foreign policy and that the events in Libya indicated that Russia should strengthen its own defense capabilities.
So why did Russia abstaind from vetoing this medieval crusade?
… including provisions to bar emergency laws, limit presidents to two terms, and prevent presidents from having foreign wives. Interesting, this constitutional referendum was opposed by the young, secular, democratic protesters, but supported by the NDP (Mubarak’s old ruling part) and the Muslim Brotherhood. And yet the latter coalition won the day. But the eagerness of the voters — the lines stretched out for three hours at some points — seems hopeful for democracy in Egypt. From the New York Times:
Elated that for the first time in their lives every ballot mattered, Egyptians flocked to the polls in record numbers on Saturday to vote in a referendum on a package of constitutional amendments that will shape the country’s political future after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.
From this provincial capital in the Nile Delta, across the sprawling capital of Cairo and beyond, voters were already waiting when the polls opened at 8 a.m. and the lines grew throughout the day, sometimes stretching to more than three hours.
Gone was the heavy security presence of the Mubarak years, with only a few police and soldiers lingering around the crowded entrances but mostly standing apart from the proceedings.
“Before, I was not even allowed into the polling station — the police would tell me go home, we already voted on your behalf, we know what is best for Egypt better than you,” said Mohamed el-Sayid Auf, a stooped 52-year-old engineer and Muslim Brotherhood supporter voting in a poor Mansoura neighborhood.
“Now there is freedom, there is organization. The people of Egypt are happy today,” he continued. “I feel like I am flying, it is something coming from deep within my soul.”
Voters had to either accept or reject the eight amendments as a whole — all of them designed to establish the foundations for parliamentary elections in June and a presidential race in August. Most addressed some of the worst excesses of previous years — limiting the president to two four-year terms, for example, to avoid another president staying in office 30 years as Mr. Mubarak did.
The referendum itself divided political movements jousting to steer Egypt into the future. Remnants of the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party, were joined with their old enemies, the Muslim Brotherhood, in supporting the changes, while most of the leaders of the youth uprising opposed the referendum, saying they needed more time to fully overhaul the Constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood, allowed to campaign openly for the first time since it was banned in 1954, wants voters to approve the changes, saying that they will hasten a return to stability and the disbanding of the military council now running the state. But their position was widely perceived as an attempt to take early advantage of their superior experience and organization to capture a larger part of the vote.
The opponents want interim military rule in conjunction with a civilian-dominated presidential council for at least six months, preferably with an elected council to write a new Constitution before selecting a president and a Parliament.
Presidential candidate Mohammed ElBaredei was reportedly assaulted on the way to the polls, possibly as a representative of secularism.
Today, on the 8th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an international coalition began military action in Libya.
No boots on the ground, yet, and apparently that was a main condition of Obama’s willingness to involve U.S. forces; and, also, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has said that as soon as the violence has stopped the west will be open to negotiations with Qaddafi.
But… the fighting today is quite serious. The French have struck a military vehicle (i.e. going beyond mere no-fly-zone enforcement). For a reason I don’t understand, it does appear that the French are leading the way at the moment. Secretary Clinton seems to relish the lack of American leadership:
Clinton emphasized that the United States is not taking the lead role in the action.“We did not lead this. We did not engage in unilateral action in any way,” she said.
Qaddafi sent a personal letter to PM David Cameron, President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:
“Libya is not yours. Libya is for all Libyans. The resolutions of the Security Council are invalid because the Security Council is not authorized, … to intervene in the internal affairs of any country. This is injustice, it’s a clear aggression, and it’s uncalculated risk for its consequences on the Mediterranean and Europe.”
And he sent a much weirder letter to Obama:
To Obama, he wrote: “If Libya and the US enter into a war you will always remain my son, and I have love for you.” Libya is battling al-Qaeda, he said, seeking Obama’s advice. “How would you behave so that I can follow your example?” he asked.
Meanwhile, this dramatic video shows a downed fighter jet, purportedly shot down over Benghazi.
My colleague Dan Foster beat me to it over at the Corner:
As he writes:
“Al-Jazeera English reports that pro-Qaddafi forces could be as close to 50km from Benghazi, putting him in a race with American, European, and Arab forces slated to enforce a cease-fire.
Meanwhile, al-Jazeera Arabic reports on the indiscriminate slaughter taking place as Qaddafi “tightens the noose.”
Telecommunications have been cut from Benghazi
Geminis and Sullog areas (approximately 50km south west of Benghazi) currently under heavy attack
Gaddafi has used the navy to deploy troops in Gargoora region to make headwayGaddafi’s troops have progressed 60km in 2 hours towards Benghazi
Reports that Gaddafi’s troops entered Misratah hospital today and killed the wounded
Reports of 1200 families fled Ajdabiya via Al Kufrah headed towards Qubbah and Tobruk
AlHurra Radio in Benghazi is calling on the Benghazi youth to take arms and prepare for battle
Residents in Ajdabiya, one of the areas from which the UN has ordered Qaddafi to withdraw, are reporting “horrors and massacres” over the past 24 hours.
Merciless killings that spared no one be they young or old, man or woman. Residential areas that housed peaceful families were heavily bombed with tanks and heavy artillery. The civilians were unarmed and were simply overwhelmed. Many have fled and are now near the Libyan-Egyptian border.”
Video is here. It lasts 10 minutes.
And here is everything I thought noteworthy:
President Obama began by clearly expressing sympathy with the Libyan demonstrators: “Last month, protesters took to the streets to demand their universal rights… But they were met with an iron first. Within days, whole parts of the country declared their independence from the brutal regime… Qaddafi clearly lost the confidence of his own people, and the legitimacy to lead. Instead of respecting the rights of his people, Qaddafi chose the path of suppression…”
He justified his records so far: “In the face of this injustice, the United States and the international community moved swiftly. Sanctions were put in place…”
He explained the swift move to stronger action by Qaddafi’s rantings from yesterday: “Just yesterday, speaking of the city of Benghazi, a city of roughly 700,000 people he said, and I quote, “We will have no mercy and no pity.” “
Obama slowed his speech when speaking fully of the reasons for intervention: “Here is why this matters to us,” he began. “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people, many thousands could die, a humanitarian crisis would ensue, the entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and our partners. The calls of the Libyan people would go unanswered, and the democratic values we stand for would be overrun. Moreover the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.
The president then gave a basic explanation of what exactly was in the U.N. Security Council Resolution.
He went on, becoming more explicit about demands: “Now, once more Qaddafi has a choice. The resolution that passed laid out very clear conditions that must be met. The U.S., the U.K., France, and Arab states agreed that a ceasefire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his advance on Benghazi, pull them back from Misrata, and establish, water, and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya. Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable… The resolution will be enforced through military intervention.”
He then got into the uni/multilateralism question: “In this effort, the United States is willing to act as part of a coalition. American leadership is essential, but that does not mean acting alone. It means shaping the conditions for the international condition to work together…” He described his orders to Robert Gates to form plans with other states, and to send diplomats to Europe to organize.
“I have no doubt that the men and women of our military are capable of carrying out this mission,” he said.
He also clearly delimited the U.S. response: “I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing — the United States is not going to deploy ground troops to Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal: specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya…Let me be clear, the change that will happen in the Arab world, cannot and will not be imposed by the United States or any foreign power. “
He said there is no decision he takes so seriously as that to command American soldiers into war — especially with the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq. But, he said, “the United States will not stand idly by in the face of events that undermine global peace and security… Our goal is focused, our cause is just, and our coalition is strong.”
CNN.com has testimony from a doctor in Misrata who is treating casualties of government shelling within the last hour.
Libya’s government announced a “immediate” cease-fire on Friday, but witnesses in western and eastern Libya said the conflict is raging.
Witnesses in the western city of Misrata said a pro-government assault is persisting and casualties are mounting.
“What cease-fire,” asked a doctor in Misrata, who described hours of military poundings, casualties, and dwindling resources to treat the wounded. “We’re under the bombs.”
“This morning they are burning the city,” the doctor said. “There are deaths everywhere.”
“Misrata is on fire,” according to an opposition member — who said tanks and vehicles with heavy artillery shot their way into the city Thursday night and the assault continued on Friday. He said Gadhafi’s regime announced a cease-fire to buy time for itself. “Please help us.”
The deadliest day yet:
Security forces and government supporters opened fire on demonstrators on Friday, killing at least 30, as the largest protest so far in Yemen came under violent and sustained attack in the center of the capital, Sana.
The toll mounted rapidly through the afternoon, as some of the more than 100 people wounded by gunfire or rocks hurled by government supporters succumbed to their injuries, according to several doctors at a makeshift hospital near the protest site.
A heavy cloud of black smoke rose over a downtown commercial district at the southern end of the protest, which swelled to tens of thousands of people and stretched for a mile from its center at Sana University.
Government supporters in plain clothes fired down on the demonstration from rooftops and windows almost immediately after the protesters rose from their noon prayers, conducted en masse in the street on Friday.
The news this morning made it look like Qaddafi had folded almost immediately.
But there are still scattered reports of attacks by pro-Qaddafi forces. From the BBC:
While the Libyan foreign minister was speaking of a cease-fire, an eyewitness in Misrata, who has asked to remain unnamed, told the BBC there was heavy fighting between rebels and the brigade forces, and that several civilian buildings had been hit. “We are terrified,” she said. “He [Qaddafi] is going to kill us all.”
… of course. Secretary Clinton explained the U.S.’s reversal by saying the Arab League’s request was a “game changer.” The Qaddafi regime threatened counterattacks, including on civilians if foreigners intervened. Oh, and I should note, all the “no-fly zone” headlines are a bit misleading as this also gives UN planes the right to actively target pro-Qaddafi forces on the ground.
From the Times:
The measure allows not only a no-fly zone but effectively any measures short of a ground invasion to halt attacks that might result in civilian fatalities. It comes as Colonel Qaddafi warned residents of Benghazi, Libya, the rebel capital, that an attack was imminent and promised lenient treatment for those who offered no resistance.
“We are coming tonight,” Colonel Qaddafi said. “You will come out from inside. Prepare yourselves from tonight. We will find you in your closets.”
Speaking on a call-in radio show, he promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away” but “no mercy or compassion” for those who fight. Explosions were heard in Benghazi early on Friday, unnerving residents there, Agence-France Presse reported.
The United States, originally leery of any military involvement in Libya, became a strong proponent of the resolution, particularly after the Arab League approved a no-fly zone, something that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called a “game changer”
With the recent advances made by pro-Qaddafi forces in the east, there was a growing consensus in the Obama administration that imposing a no-fly zone by itself would no longer make much of a difference and that there was a need for more aggressive airstrikes that would make targets of Colonel Qaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery — an option sometimes referred to as a no-drive zone. The United States or its allies might also send military personnel to advise and train the rebels, an official said.
In the most strident verbal attack on Colonel Qaddafi to date by an American official, Mrs. Clinton said Thursday that the Western powers had little choice but to provide critical military backing for the rebels. “We want to support the opposition who are standing against the dictator,” she told an applauding audience in Tunisia on Thursday. “This is a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.”
She added that Colonel Qaddafi would do “terrible things” to Libya and its neighbors. “It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”
The Qaddafi government responded to the potential United Nations action with threats.
“Any foreign military act against Libya will expose all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea to danger and civilian and military facilities will become targets of Libya’s counterattack,” it said in a statement carried on Libyan television and the official news agency, JANA, Reuters reported. “The Mediterranean basin will face danger not just in the short term, but also in the long term.”
From Al Aribya:
The latest draft resolution on Libya under discussion at the United Nations calls for “all necessary measures short of an occupation force” to protect civilians under threat of attack, Britain said on Thursday, as NATO warned that time was “running out” to stop Muammar Gaddafi from prevailing
As David Kirpatrick and Kareem Fahim report in the Times, it appears that fighters in the rebel city of Misurata, the last rebel stronghold in the Libyan west, are stalling, fighting for time in the hopes of an international intervention:
Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi massed Thursday outside the city of Misurata — the last major rebel foothold in the west — apparently in preparation for an attack, as the rebels at both ends of the country’s coast battled to hold off the Qaddafi forces and their superior firepower.
Musa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Qaddafi government, confirmed that its forces were preparing to take Misurata just as they did Zawiyah, another western town that had been held by the rebels.
“It starts in the beginning by surrounding the city,” he said, “then moving slowly to avoid casualties.” Rebels in Zawiyah described heavy casualties — at least dozens — during the Qaddafi forces’ siege of that city.
“It should be finished up tomorrow if not today,” Mr. Ibrahim added.
Rebels in Misurata said that Qaddafi forces had so far appeared to hold back, though electricity, water and telecommunications remained severed a day after fighters held the town against an onslaught of tank and artillery fire.
After days of retreat, the rebels appeared to be fighting for time in the hope of obtaining some form of international military backing, which Western leaders now seem close to delivering. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, said late Wednesday that she had been working furiously throughout the day on language for a resolution that would authorize not just a no-flight zone but additional steps to halt the movement of Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.
“We are discussing very seriously and leading efforts in the Council around a range of actions that we believe could be effective in protecting civilians,” Ms. Rice said. “The U.S. view is that we need to be prepared to contemplate steps that include but perhaps go beyond a no-fly zone.”
The diplomats were in a race against time, however, with loyalist military units surrounding the strategically located town of Ajdabiya and massing for a push up the road to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, 100 miles distant, rebel officials said. Ms. Rice said she hoped to bring the measure to a vote on Thursday.
Mohamed, a rebel spokesman in Misurata, welcomed the new American push. “We are very heartened yesterday by the moves in the United Nations Security Council and the urgency of the American stand,” he said, speaking over a satellite phone.
A look at how pro-Qaddafi forces nearing Benghazi is changing the Obama administration’s tone and thoughts — including the Times’ claim that the administration has concluded that a no-fly zone now would be “too little, too late.” Which suggests either a stronger response, or none (“The United States is pretty busy with two wars, and we don’t want a third,” a senior official said.)
A look at Qaddafi’s attempts to manage and manipulate the foreign press.
Four New York Times journalists missing in Libya.
Calls for protests in Syria didn’t go anywhere, beneath the brutal regime:
For a moment, you might almost have thought you were in Cairo, or Tunis. Five brave young men stood in this city’s ancient Hamidiya market and began chanting, “We sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Syria!” Soon, a crowd of about 150 had gathered, and the call was heard: “The revolution has started!”
But it had not.
Within minutes, Syrian security men beat and dispersed the protesters, arresting several. That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, some 200 people gathered in front of the Interior Ministry building here. They included relatives of longtime political prisoners as well as activists and students, and they began calling for the release of those in custody.
Once again, a large force of armed officers — more numerous than the protesters — charged the group, and arrested 36 people, witnesses and human rights activists said. Among those arrested was Hannibal al-Hasan, the 10-year-old son of Ragda al-Hasan, a political prisoner.
After three months of uprisings across the Arab world, Syria has seen scarcely any protests. In a police state where emergency laws have banned public gatherings since 1963, few dare to challenge the state, which proved its willingness to massacre its own citizens in the early 1980s. The battles of that time, with armed members of the Muslim Brotherhood, have cast a long shadow.
This hasn’t stopped Harvard University from delighting in the Syrian first lady, the “Rose in the Desert.”
The beginning of the end for the Shiite protesters in Bahrain?
A day after hundreds of Bahraini troops forcefully cleared out a central square of reform-seeking protesters, the authorities arrested major opposition figures early Thursday, the next stage of a crackdown that has the opposition in a tailspin.
State television said the leaders were arrested for having “communicated with foreign countries” and because they “incited killing of citizens and destruction of public and private property,” Reuters reported.
Hassan Mushaima, a Shiite and Islamist dissident politician, who arrived here last month from London to great fanfare as a potentially charismatic leader, was among those detained overnight, officials from his party said. In addition, Ebrahim Sharif, leader of a secular party, was taken in by the police, his associates said.
A number of other political opponents were also detained by security officials as it became clear that the Bahraini government, which sought last month to mollify protesters clamoring for democratic reform, had decisively shifted tactics to forceful repression.
“We feel cornered and are trying to find a way out,” said Jalal Fairooz, a leader of the Wefaq opposition party and one of 18 members of the Council of Representatives from the party who resigned en masse last month.
The streets remained littered with rubble and tanks held positions at intersections and outside the main hospital. Traffic was light and most shops remained shuttered although the government announced that the stock market had reopened.
These steps followed the military’s retaking of Pearl Square in central Manama, the capital, on Wednesday and the arrival on Monday of 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring allies. Popular protests here modeled on the hopeful events in Egypt took on the darkness of those in Libya on Wednesday as hundreds of Bahraini troops, backed by helicopters and tanks, cleared Pearl Square of demonstrators. Three protesters and two security officers were killed.
Security forces roared through downtown Manama, wresting it from the protesters who had in recent days taken charge of neighborhoods and nearby villages. As skirmishes continued into the evening, a curfew was announced for the center of the city.
…The crackdown placed the United States in an awkward bind. The United States, which bases its Fifth Fleet here, has struggled to balance its strategic interest in placating Bahrain and its ally, Saudi Arabia, its fears that Iran is exploiting the anger of Bahrain’s majority Shiite protesters, and American democratic principles. American officials have held off backing the protesters while urging Bahrain’s leaders to exercise restraint. That advice was ignored.
Thinks looked very grim for anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya this morning. They were down to one last, ragtag line of defense before the crucial city of Benghazi. The Times reported:
Behind tanks, heavy artillery and airstrikes, forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi routed on Tuesday a ragtag army of insurgents and would-be revolutionaries who were holding the last defensive line before the rebel capital of Benghazi.
Blasts of incoming fire came every few seconds at the edge of this city straddling a strategic highway intersection where rebels have bulldozed berms and filled hundreds of sandbags around two metal green arches marking the western approaches to the city. As the shelling intensified on Tuesday, hundreds of cars packed with children, mattresses, suitcases — anything that could be grabbed and packed in — careened through the streets as residents fled. Long lines of cars could be seen on the highway heading north to the Benghazi, about 100 miles away.
In Benghazi itself, though, there were no signs of preparations for a vigorous defense.
The barrage offered a loud and ferocious counterpoint to stalled efforts by Western diplomats to agree on help for the retreating rebels, like a no-flight zone, even as Colonel Qaddafi warned the insurgents on Tuesday that they had only one choice: surrender or flee. By Tuesday afternoon, the pro-Qaddafi forces had taken control of the road to Benghazi to the east, cutting off the rebels’ main line of retreat, The Associated Press reported, citing rebel sources.
After swearing in recent days to make a last ditch, do-or-die stand here, the rebels offered little resistance. Within an hour of the opening salvos, they began falling back from the city’s approaches as the shelling came closer to their positions. Some still spoke valiantly about drawing a line in the desert sand, but the superior firepower and numbers of the loyalist troops suggested otherwise. The crash of heavy ordnance almost drowned out the cries of a muezzin from the minaret at a frontline mosque: “God is great and to God, praise.”
A billboard from the days before the uprising began in mid-February proclaimed: “Ajdabiya — land of jihad and sacrifice.” By midafternoon, the slogan had taken on an ominous new meaning.
“I swear to God I am expecting a battle in the streets. Qaddafi has already shelled us with artillery and planes, and I suspect the army is coming,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a 50-year-old resident among a group of people peering at the sky as a loyalist spotter plane circled the city, illustrating how little restraint the loyalist forces feel about deploying their unchallenged air power as diplomacy falters.
Within hours, however, the loyalist forces were in complete control, their tanks standing in the center of the strategic town
After a meeting of the Group of 8 foreign ministers in Paris, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said he had been unable to secure agreement on the imposition of a no-flight zone. “If we had used military force last week to neutralize a certain number of airfields and the dozens of airplanes” available to Colonel Qaddafi, “perhaps the reversals suffered by the opposition would not have happened,” he said. “But that is the past.”
The grim news from Ajdabiya was met with anger, anguish and tears by rebel leaders in Benghazi. On Tuesday afternoon, many of them privately acknowledged that an attack on the seat of rebel power was inevitable, if not imminent, and they again pleaded for Western intervention.
Iman Bugaighis, a professor who has become a spokeswoman for the rebels, lost her composure as she spoke about the recent death of a friend’s son, who died in battle last week. Her friend’s other son, a doctor, was still missing. Western nations, she said, had “lost any credibility.”
“I am not crying out of weakness,” she added. “I’ll stay here until the end. Libyans are brave. We will stand for what we believe in. But we will never forget the people who stood with us and the people who betrayed us.”
In Ajdabiya, Mr. Abdullah said he and his eight children would not leave. “Qaddafi is determined to stay in power, and we are determined to get rid of him and live differently. God willing, we have right on our side.”
Militarily, though, the situation seemed bleak. The attack began a day after loyalist helicopters dropped pamphlets warning residents that the campaign to recapture the town would begin soon. “We are coming,” the pamphlet said. Airstrikes and ground attacks already had begun on Monday.
Fighters at the front acknowledged their deficit in weaponry and the weakness of their lines, but reached for a sentiment heard often during their headlong retreat from Ras Lanuf, the oil town to the west that marked a high point in their failed campaign to march on Tripoli, the capital.
“If we lose, no one can imagine that Libya will be the same as before,” said Muftah Sanussi, a 36-year-old volunteer fighter. The fighting “goes forwards and goes backwards but the revolution itself cannot retreat.”
At the frontline, rumors raced through the knots of fighters, driven, it seemed, more by hope than reality: two airplanes were flying in from Benghazi; resistance was still strong elsewhere; Colonel Qaddafi’s fighters were no more than mercenaries who would quit the fray before sundown.
But then just now some exciting news. Reuters reports:
RABAT, March 15 (Reuters) – An opposition Libyan news website reported on Tuesday that rebels flying a MiG 23 warplane and a helicopter sank two pro-Gaddafi warships off the eastern coast near the town of Adjabiyah.
The Brnieq online newspaper quoted an unnamed airforce officer at the Benina airbase in Benghazi as saying the two aircraft also bombed an unspecified number of tanks near Brega and Ajdabiya, two towns that fell