Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Libya's NTC claims control of Sabha

Interim rulers say Gaddafi stronghold, south of Tripoli, is "totally under the control of the revolutionaries".

NTC forces are facing stiff resistance as they seek to wrest control of Bani Walid and Sirte [EPA]

Libya's interim rulers are claiming that their fighters have overrun the key southern city of Sabha, one of the last strongholds of forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

"We are in complete control of the city of Sabha. Everybody, including [those who were] pro-Gaddafi, are now with the revolution," Abdelmajid Seif Ennasr, an official for the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Sabha, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

He added that the NTC fighters were only encountering "resistance from some individuals here and there".

Strategically vital
"Sabha is totally under the control of the revolutionaries," said Mohammed Wardugu, the Benghazi spokesman of the "Desert Shield Brigade" that is fighting in the region.

On Tuesday, Wardugu said the NTC forces had taken control of the airport and a garrison in Sabha and forced 300 pro-Gaddafi mercenaries to flee before capturing 150 of his loyalists.

NTC forces have faced stiffer resistance than expected in their efforts to take Bani Walid and Sirte, two other strongholds of the toppled Libyan leader, and have had several major assaults repulsed by heavy fire from pro-Gaddafi forces. Many residents of Sabha fear reprisals from the NTC because of a belief that many fought as Gaddafi mercenaries during the civil war.

Sabha, the largest city in the Libyan desert, is home to 100,000 people and an important military base, making it strategically vital.
There were reports earlier that Gaddafi himself may be hiding in the town, along with Saif al-Islam, his most politically prominent son, but NTC fighters in Sabha have reported no signs of them.
Fight for Bani Walid
Meanwhile in Bani Walid, NTC forces moved tanks towards the frontline on Wednesday in an attempt to capture the town.
"Of course it will certainly help us a lot in the final battle. You have seen these tanks. There are also Grads and we will use them by putting them in the front," Abdul Salaam Ganuna, an NTC commander, said.
Almost a month after armed rebels, backed by a NATO bombing campaign, seized control of Tripoli, Libya's new leaders are still trying to assert their authority over the desert town 56km southeast of the capital.
Irregular militias have been pushing into Bani Walid in recent days to confront pro-Gaddafi fighters before pulling back, but forces for Libya's NTC say they are preparing for a co-ordinated military assault in the coming days.
Heavy losses
On Tuesday, NTC officials admitted heavy losses in an assault on Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte.
At least three NTC fighters, all in their 30s, were killed and 17 wounded around Sirte as they encountered fierce resistance, said medics.
"The offensive on Sirte has been high intensity in terms of casualties," Dr Suheib Abu Garza told AFP in Misrata, about 150km  east of Sirte, where many of the casualties of battle are being brought.
NTC forces suspect Gaddafi enjoys a broad base of support in Sirte.
"The majority of residents are with Gaddafi," said Zuber al-Gadir, a spokesman of the Misrata military council, adding their persistent loyalty to the ousted leader was a legacy of his now defunct propaganda machine.

'Several killed' in Sanaa shelling

Mortars hit street where protesters seeking president's removal are camped, raising spectre of fresh violence.

Those attending funerals for 30 protesters in Sanaa today were fired upon by government forces [Reuters]
At least nine people have been killed after positions occupied by opposition demonstrators and army forces were shelled in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, medical officials say.
Less than 24 hours after a truce was declared, witnesses reported clashes had taken place in several areas of the capital on Wednesday. Medical officials told the AP news agency that mortars had been fired at Change Square, a central site which anti-govenrment protesters have occupied since February, when a movement for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh first began.
Dr Tariq Noman, the chief surgeon at a medical camp set up in Change Square, said that the shelling had begun during funeral prayers at the square.
"During the [funeral] prayer we start to hear the shelling on the square ... and we found we have at the moment nine dead people, six we have already evacuated them from the Change Square, but three of the dead people they are still now in the square ... we couldn't evacuate them from there," he said.
A military official from the First Armoured Brigade, commanded by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, told the AFP news agency that the shelling had targeted the brigade's headquarters, located near Change Square. He said that the northern part of the square had also been shelled.
Late on Tuesday, a ceasefire went into effect between the two sides to end three days of clashes that have killed more than 80 people, according to a freelance reporter.

The reporter, who cannot be named for his safety, said a huge funeral for the victims took place on Wednesday in the north of Sanaa.

He said heavy sound of shelling suddenly broke out just as people were praying and white smoke could seen rising from the centre of the capital.

More than 100 people have been wounded across the country since clashes erupted on Sunday.
Dr Noman said that Yemeni youth activists had called on the international community to provide them with medical aid, but that they had received no response.
"We don't have any response from anybody in the world until now. [...] I can say it is a disaster because most of these people they are dying because we don't have medical supplies to help them," he said.
"This is really strange, I don't know what they consider the Yemeni people: are we human or not? I mean we are suffering here, innocent people are suffering."
'Unprecedented' violence
The tenuous truce was negotiated by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the vice-president, and mediated by several foreign envoys, including the US and British ambassadors in Sanaa.
Yemen's interior ministry accused Ahmar's troops of "violating the ceasefire" in a statement aired on state television.
Ahmar's office, however, said the breakdown was instigated by the government.
"This is an attempt to explode the situation militarily and to impose a situation that triggers confrontation," a statement said, calling for international mediators to "discipline this gang and stop its barbaric actions."
Protests also took place in the southern city of Taiz on Wednesday, with police using water cannons and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters gathered there who were demanding an end to Saleh's rule.
For more on Yemen, visit our Spotlight page
On Wednesday, Abullatif al-Zayani, the chief of the Gulf Cooperation Council left Yemen saying that political leaders on both sides were not ready to reach an agreement, the state news agency reported.
Zayani was in Sanaa to examine the outlook for a GCC peace plan which both parties have at earlier dates agreed to, but Salah has reneged on several times.
Zayani had met with Hadi on Wednesday, with the vice-president calling on "all Yemenis to respect the GCC efforts and what Zayani specifically is doing".
Zayani "affirmed that when conditions are more favourable then all sides will be ready to exert the efforts needed to overcome tension and achieve security and stability in Yemen," the report said.
Hadi also met with Jamal Benomar, a UN envoy, on Wednesday, the state news agency reported.
Benomar told the AFP news agency that he had also met with Maj-Gen Ahmar and opposition leaders, and that he would be remaining in the country in order to continue talks in hopes of "achiev[ing] a consensus" between all sides, including southern separatists.
He warned of "the risk of civil war breaking out if no political agreement is reached".
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said violence in Sanaa has reached "unprecedented" levels.
It cited "very worrying" reports of armed confrontations taking place at one of the main hospitals in the capital.
"[ICRC] called on Yemeni authorities, pro-democracy protesters and others involved in the violence to spare lives after scores were killed in the past 72 hours alone," Valerie Petitpierre, deputy head of the ICRC's delegation in Yemen, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The confrontation between former soldiers backing the protesters and government troops portends a new and even more violent phase in Yemen's eight-month standoff.
Saleh's forces have hit back by using rooftop snipers and shelling protest encampments.
The latest violence is the worst incident of bloodshed since a similar massacre killed 52 people in mid-March.
President Saleh, who has been in power for 33 years, has since January faced protests over nepotism and corruption from reform activists inspired by the Arab Spring.

Dozens of bodies found in eastern Mexico

Prosecutor says the remains of 35 people with links to organised crime found in abandoned lorries in Veracruz.

Media reports said some of the bodies had their hands tied and showed signs of torture [EPA]
The bodies of 35 people with links to organised crime have been found in two abandoned lorries on a highway underpass in eastern Mexico, authorities say.
The bodies were discovered near a shopping centre in Boca del Rio, adjacent to the port city of Veracruz, state prosecutor Reynaldo Escobar told television station Milenio.
"These were people involved in organised crime," Escobar said of the victims. Seven had been identified.
Al Jazeera's Frank Contraes reporting from Veracruz  said "the bodies piled up on the streets showing marks of torture, while body parts were also found."
Newspapers Milenio and La Jornada said some of the bodies had their hands tied and showed signs of torture.
Local television showed some corpses dumped on the street and others in the vehicles covered with blue plastic sheeting.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Mexican army announced it had captured a key figure in one of the country's newest drug gangs, the Knights Templar, that is sowing violence in western Mexico.
Saul Solis, a former police chief and one-time congressional candidate, was captured without incident on Monday in the cartel's home state of Michoacan, Brigadier General Edgar Luis Villegas said during a presentation of Solis to the media.
He is accused of drug trafficking, kidnapping and various attacks on the military and federal police.
The Knights Templar split late last year from La Familia, a drug gang known as a major trafficker of methamphetamine.
About 42,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon launched a campaign against drug cartels at the beginning of his term in late 2006. Most of that violence has been focused on the northern border with the United States.

Iran releases US men jailed as spies

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, two US citizens jailed in Iran as spies, freed from Tehran prison on $1m bail.

Two US men who had been held as spies in Iran for more than two years have been released on bail from their Tehran jail.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal left Tehran's Evin prison on Wednesday, shortly after their lawyer Masoud Shafiei said he had completed the paperwork for their release.
"I have finished the job that I had to do as their lawyer,'' Shafiei said.

Immediately after their release, Bauer and Fattal left for Mehrabad airport, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported, and later flew to the Gulf state of Oman.
They arrived in Oman several hours later, the AP news agency reported, where their families were waiting to greet them.
Swiss and Omani representation

The Swiss ambassador to Tehran and a delegation from Oman were present when the two American prisoners were freed.

The men were released into the custody of the Swiss embassy, as Washington has no diplomatic relations with Tehran and its interests are looked after by the Swiss.

Oman, a US Gulf ally which has good relations with Iran, agreed to pay the two men's bail of $1m, $500,000 for each.
US President Barack Obama welcomed their release in a statement on Wednesday, saying he was pleased that they were being reunited with their loved ones, and expressing gratitude to several foreign officials for their help.

"We are deeply grateful to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the Swiss government, and to all our partners and allies around the world who have worked steadfastly over the past two years to secure the release of Shane and Josh," the statement said.
Charges denied

Fattal and Bauer were arrested in July 2009 near Iran's border with Iraq, and sentenced last month to eight years in prison on charges of spying for the US and illegally entering Iran.

A third person with whom they were arrested, Sarah Shourd, was freed in September 2010 on a $500,000 bail payment.
The three US citizens have denied the charges of spying and repeatedly said they were hiking in the area when they were detained.
Their families and the US government also said they were hiking in northern Iraq's Kurdish region when they may have accidentally strayed over the unmarked border with Iran.
Iranians in US jails
The affair heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, which severed diplomatic ties after the storming of the US embassy in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mohammad Marandi, professor of political science at the University of Tehran, told Al Jazeera that the US citizens were "treated quite well" while many Iranians are held in solitary confinement in the US for a variety of reasons.
"The Iranians have many of their people in American prisons," Marandi said.
"There are a number of Iranians that have been put in jail in solitary confinement in the US for doing trade with Iran; there are others that have been put in jail on charges that are completely baseless.
"There is a great deal of suspicion about the Americans in Iran. The Iranians believe they were spies.
"If three Iranians were arrested crossing into the United States from the Mexican border ... and the Americans had captured them, do you think the Americans would release them if the Iranians demanded their release?"

Better than S-300: Iran boasts of air defense system

Troops prepare the anti-aircraft missile system S-300V to detect and destroy air targets at the tactical training exercises of Air Defense Forces in the Western military district (ZVO) at Kapustin Yar. (RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga)
Troops prepare the anti-aircraft missile system S-300V to detect and destroy air targets at the tactical training exercises of Air Defense Forces in the Western military district (ZVO) at Kapustin Yar. (RIA Novosti/Kirill Braga)

An Iranian general says the Islamic Republic has built an ingenious air defense system which surpasses the Russian S-300. Moscow intended to provide S-300s to Teheran, but canceled the sale due to UN sanctions against Iran.
"The flaws and defects of the S-300 system have been corrected in the indigenous version of the system and its conceptual designing has been finished,” Fars news agency quoted Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili as saying on Tuesday.

The commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base said the surface-to-air missile system is dubbed Bavar-373 and uses two or three different types of missiles to attack aerial targets, depending on their altitude.

Iran has been developing a long-range air defense system for several years and first tested it last year. Some military experts speculated that the technology may have been borrowed from China. China was one of the several legitimate buyers of the Russian system.

The S-300 was developed in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and has a range of up to 150 kilometers. It can hit aircraft, cruise missiles and even ballistic missiles, and track up to 24 targets simultaneously.

The system was supplied to a number of other nations. A deal with Iran was reportedly signed in 2007, but was never finalized. The contract, which would have allowed Iran protect its crucial nuclear facilities from a possible air strike, was vocally objected to by Israel and its allies.

The sale was canceled in June 2010 due to a set of sanctions imposed against Teheran by the UN Security Council. The international security body mounted pressure to force Iran to make its nuclear and ballistic missile programs more transparent.

The Russian army is currently replacing the old air defense system with the newest S-400, which has improved specifications. The next-generation hardware has not been sold to any other countries yet, although a possible deal with Saudi Arabia has been reported.

Breaking ill luck: Proton rocket blasts into orbit

RIA Novosti / Oleg Urusov
RIA Novosti / Oleg Urusov
The first Russian space launch after the crash of the cargo ship Progress is a success. The Proton-M rocket has delivered a military satellite into orbit, hopefully breaking the chain of failures.
The rocket blasted off the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday morning. After the successful launch the military communication satellite was given the designation Kosmos-2473, Defense Ministry reported.
Space Troops spokesman Colonel Aleksey Zolotukhin said there were no deviations from the flight plan.
“After its delivery the Titov Chief Test and Control Center took the spacecraft under control and will now be in charge of its orbital mission,” he said.
The launch was scheduled on August 31, but was postponed due to the crash of the Express-AM4 satellite on August 18. Both launches used similar Briz-M upper stage, so the Kosmos launch had to be delayed until an official investigation into the crash is over.
The Wednesday launch was the first after the loss of the Proton space freighter on August 24, which was the last in an embarrassing spate of failures of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
The failures cast doubt on Russia’s ability to sustain the transport needs of the International Space Stations. Russia is the only member of the international collaboration, which at the moment has the ability to deliver crews to the ISS.
The marred record resulted in an overhaul of Roscosmos’ quality control practices. A probe into integrity of the agency’s management is underway.

New book blasts Obama administration

Barack Obama (Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP)
Barack Obama (Joe Raedle / Getty Images / AFP)

What better time to kick President Obama than while he’s already down? That’s the route Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind with his new expose on the inefficiency of the Oval Office. And it has the White House running scared.
"Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President” is the name of Suskind’s latest effort, and it is hitting book store shelves as the commander-in-chief’s approval rating is at the lowest it’s been since he took the oath of office. The authors scathing take on the Obama administration has White House officials pouring over pages with a fine tooth comb in an attempt to discredit the journalist’s chronicle of the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency. They have good reason to, too. Suskind calls out the administration for being dysfunctional and incompetent.
Suskind writes that Obama’s early advisors couldn’t offer a hand at all in helping with the economy, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is among the first to offer a rebuttal — even if he hasn’t flipped through the pages yet.
"I lived the original, and the reality I lived, we all lived together, bears no relation to the sad little stories I heard reported from that book,” Geithner told reporters from the White House on Monday, the Associated Press reports.
White House spokesman Jay Carney also attacked Suskind’s script, and chastised the author for what he says are incorrect assumptions.
"What we know is that very simple things, facts that could be ascertained — dates, titles, statistics, quotes — are wrong in this book," Carney responded. He added that Suskind lifted excerpts from Wikipedia pages and says that, "Based on that, I would caution anyone to assume that if you can't get those things that you suddenly get the broader analysis right. That analysis is wrong.”
While the sections in question do bare some similarities to related Wikipedia articles, they are not outright copies and apparently occur far from often. As Suskind attempts to tear down Obama’s administration, however, his officials are looking to prove that they have been in the right by retorting to each argument they can.
Elsewhere in the book, former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is described as a poor manager who excluded women from White House meetings. Former Communications Director Anita Dunn is also quoted as saying that the White House “would be in court for a hostile workplace. . . . Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women." And as the White House tried to make the most of a financial crisis during the president’s first year in office, Suskind reveals that former National Economics Council Chief Larry Summers thought that “no adult [was] in charge” on Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President” contains material collected from over 200 interviews that Suskind oversaw, including a personal sit-down with President Obama himself. Suskind was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in recognition of his work with the Wall Street Journal in 1995.

Norilsk Nickel to buyback through subsidary

Image from
Image from   

The board of directors of MMC Norilsk Nickel at a Wednesday extraordinary meeting has voted for the Norilsk Nickel Investments Ltd to buyback MMC shares and ADR from shareholders, the company said in a statement.
­The preliminary voting among the board of directors at Norilsk Nickel took place on September 13, proposing MMC Norilsk Nickel subsidiary to carry out the buyback of 14,705,882 ordinary shares, representing 7.71% of company charter capital at $306 per share and $30.6 per ADR.

The decision was approved by the majority of the shareholders with the timing of the buyback to be negotiated later.  

The buyback program could cost Norilsk Nickel as much as $4.5 billion, with half of the transaction financed through convertible bonds issues. Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, Head of MMC Norilsk Nickel, said earlier that the buyback might begin late September or early October

Norilsk Nickel had intended to retire the shares acquired in the buyback. The need for a subsidiary to carry out the buyback is attributable to specifics of the Russian legislation, noted Maksim Lobada, expert at BCS.

“Russian law does not allow the company itself to buy back ADR. If the buyback is carried out by a Norilsk Nickel subsidiary registered abroad, the shares could not be retired directly, but would need to be transferred to the balance sheet of the parent company. If Norilsk Nickel group companies registered abroad acquire 10% of the mining giant, the deal might require the approval of the government commission for oversight of foreign investment.”

Along with the announcement of the buyback of shares, Rusal shareholder Vikotor Vekselberg unveiled his plans to initiate a 25.13% Rusal stake offer in Norilsk Nickel for $18 billion.

Natalia Sheveleva, analyst at Gazprombank, says the offer comes with a high premium to the current market price and previous offer.

“Norilsk Nickel’s current capitalization is $42.12 billion, which is $221 per share. At this point, the stake owned by Rusal is valued at $10.53 billion. The $18-billion offer presumes 71% premium to the market price. The past MMC offer for the [businessman Oleg] Derepaska stake was calculated out of $306 per share, totaling $14.66 billion for the entire Rusal stake, which was a 23% premium.”

Turkey swaps football hooligans with women and kids

Women and children at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Istanbul (Image from
Women and children at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Istanbul (Image from

The Turkish football officials have come up with an original solution for tackling violence at stadiums, banning men and allowing only women and children to watch from the stands.
­The new rules apply only to the teams which are sanctioned for unruly behavior by their supporters.

Moreover, women and kids under 12 years old are to get tickets for those games for free.

Istanbul side Fenerbahce, who were ordered to play two home matches without spectators after their supporters invaded the pitch during a match against Ukrainian champs Shakhtar Donetsk, tried out the new rules first.

Forty-one thousand women and children packed the stadium and greeted the visiting Manisaspor players with applause, instead of the usual booing.

“This really is a historic day,'' female member of Fenerbahce's executive board Yasemin Mercil told AP news agency before the kickoff. “For the first time in the world, only women and children will watch a game. The women know all the chants. The same anthems, the same chants will be sung.''

Mercil was correct in her forecast – Fenerbahce had truly great and loud support, but the local footballers still seemed to be lacking their male fans, as they could only master a 1-1 draw on the night.