Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rare rainfall in the deserts of North Africa A look at recent shower activity in the usually dry Sahara

Fighters heading towards Sirte under clear blue skies [GALLO/GETTY]
The battle for control of Libya has become a familiar sight on our television screens over the last few months. A less familiar sight has been that of the fighting taking place during heavy rain. This has fallen over the Libyan coast as a trough of low pressure has moved through the Gulf of Sirte.
Other North African states have also seen some heavy rainfall. Algeria, at the start of the month, saw flooding around the town of el-Bayadh, which killed eight people, including three children swept away in a river flood.
Rainfall in the northern parts of Africa usually increases at this time of year as high pressure, situated over the Mediterranean, begins to withdraw. This allows frontal systems to move in from the northwest. In fact, climatologists identify 20th October as the date when there is a significant pressure drop and much of North Africa can expect to enter the rainy season.
‘Rainy’ is a relative term, of course. There is a marked rainfall gradient from west to east across the North African coast. October rainfall in Benghazi is less than half that of Tripoli, 1000 kilometers to the west.
Over the last week there has even been some penetration of troughs into southern parts of both Algeria and Tunisia. Unfortunately weather observations, despite the best efforts of the World Meteorological Organization, are rather limited in this region, but computer forecasts certainly indicated the possibility of desert showers late last week.
Where rain did fall, then it is likely that dormant plant life would have been rejuvenated. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that on such occasions 50 percent of sand dunes and 20 percent of gravel plains may spring into life.
This is quite an unusual event. Most troughs and frontal systems tend to peter out before they reach the Sahara.
The other source of rain in this region is from the monsoon trough which meanders up from the south during the late summer. But it rarely reaches the southern part of the Sahara and it soon retreats southwards.
Throughout the Sahara rainfall does not exceed 25 millimetres (mm) per annum and in the eastern part of the desert it is less than 5mm. It is also hugely inconsistent and no rain may fall in some areas for many years.

Germany and France agree bank rescue plan Announcement in Berlin comes after European leaders reach accord on strategy for dismantling troubled Dexia Bank.

Germany and France stand ready to recapitalise banks according to common criteria, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.
"We are not going into details today, we will present a complete package" for stabilising the eurozone at the end of the month, Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin on Sunday following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The meeting came in the face of evidence that some European banks are creaking under the strain of the mounting debt crisis which has pushed Greece to the brink of bankruptcy.
It also came hours after France, Belgium and Luxembourg agreed to a rescue plan for Dexia, that is expected to lead to the dismantling of the troubled bank.
"The governments ... have reaffirmed their solidarity in finding a solution to secure the future of Dexia," said a statement on Sunday from the office of Yves Leterme, Belgium's caretaker prime minister.
Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer, reporting from Berlin, said the plan is likely to be accepted by the bank's board.
"It is pretty much a done deal," he said.
France and Belgium became part owners of the bank during a 6bn euro ($7.8bn) bailout in 2008. Luxembourg holds a smaller stake. They have promised to ensure that no Dexia depositors lose money.
After Dexia's shares plunged last week due to fears it could go bankrupt, the French and Belgian governments stepped in and guaranteed its financing and deposits.
Debt exposure
International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, who was the first to call for banks to be urgently recapitalised, has met both Sarkozy and Merkel in the last few days.
French banks are seen as particularly overexposed to Greek, Italian and Spanish debt. Leaders want to prevent any new, bigger reduction of Greece's debt triggering a banking crisis reminiscent of 2008, which set off a global recession.
"We must ensure that the banks have sufficient capital" to face any possible increase in the reduction of Greece's debt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper quoted Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, as saying.
A planned 21 per cent "haircut" or reduction in value of the debt banks hold in an exchange for lowering Athens' debilitating repayments in the next few years - which was agreed in July - could "perhaps" be insufficient, he added.
Germany, Europe's strongest economy, wants under-pressure banks to first turn to investors for funds before appealing for national or European cash.
The EU's $589bn European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund could intervene as a last resort "only if a country cannot do this with its own means", Merkel said Friday.
France, fearful of losing its top-notch AAA credit rating, would rather dip into European funds than its own coffers.
The IMF estimated the eurozone debt crisis has directly cost banks in the European Union some 200bn euros in sovereign credit risk in the past two years.

Two Americans win Nobel Prize in economics Professors devised models to "untangle" complex relationship between policy actions and growth and inflation.

Princeton University's Sims said he and co-winner took approach that 'recognises uncertainty' [AFP]
Christopher Sims and Thomas Sargent have no simple solutions to the global economic crisis, but the models that have won them the Nobel Prize in economics are guiding central bankers and policymakers as they search for answers.
The two American professors, both 68, were honoured on Monday for their research in the 1970s and 1980s on the cause-and-effect relationship between the economy and government policy.
Sims is a professor at Princeton University. Sargent teaches at New York University and is a visiting professor at Princeton, where he currently teaches a course with Sims.
Among their achievements, the two Nobel laureates - working as friendly rivals for the most part over the years - devised tools to analyse how changes in interest rates and taxes affect growth and inflation.
Their work does not provide prescriptions for policymakers to solve today's crises. Rather, their achievement has been to create mathematical models that central bankers and other leaders can use to devise policy proposals.
"My view is that technical, careful, statistically based macroeconomics is our hope for getting out of our difficulties," he said.
"The main contribution of this work is to provide a way to untangle the relationship between interest rates and inflation, so we can see what the effect of interest-rate policy changes are on the price level and inflation, and separate that from the reverse causality that makes central banks react to inflation by changing interest rates."
US dominance

Sargent and Sims have been friends since the 1960s, when both were Harvard graduate students.
They later taught at the same time at the University of Minnesota. This semester, they are teaching a graduate-level macroeconomics course together at Princeton.
Their awards extend Americans' dominance in the Nobel economics category. Thirteen of the 15 most recent winners of the prize in economics have been Americans.
Robert Lucas, a University of Chicago economist who won the Nobel in 1995, said the work of Sargent and Sims is timely now that policymakers are debating whether to do something to stimulate the US economy.
"We want to know what happens if we do it, what happens if we don't, what are the long-term consequences,'' he said. "[They] got their hands dirty, using data, trying to forecast, trying to see what works, what doesn't."
In its citation, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Sargent showed how statistical models could help analyse how households and companies adjust their expectations as conditions and policies shift.
Sargent model
Using such models, for example, Sargent argued in 1981 that public expectations were crucial to combating high inflation. At the time, many economists assumed it would take many months, even years, of high interest rates to reduce inflation.
But Sargent argued that inflation could be tamed much faster if central banks acted decisively to dispel public expectations that prices would continue to rise rapidly.
That's basically what happened shortly afterward: Paul Volcker, then the Federal Reserve chairman, shattered inflation expectations by raising rates sharply and quickly. Expectations of inflation, it turned out, were even more important than inflation itself in shaping economic behavior.
Economists are at a disadvantage compared with researchers in many other fields. They can't experiment on economies the way scientists experiment with laboratory rats or chemicals.
"We've got to glean it from the information that's out there," said Art Rolnick, former director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Fed matters less
Before Sims and Sargent, many economists had underestimated the complexity with which businesses and people respond to economic events and government actions. The two showed how hard it is to predict public responses to policy changes.
"People form their own ideas about what's going to happen independently of what the economists say is going to happen," David Warsh, an author who writes the blog Economic Principles, said.
Sims reached the surprising conclusion that interest-rate changes engineered by the Fed and other central banks typically have less effect on the economy than previously thought.
On the other hand, policies that involve taxes and spending tend to play a bigger role than many economists had assumed.
"They've really been giants in the field," Rolnick said.
"The fundamental insights they had over the years radically affected the way we thought about policy at the Fed."
Torsten Persson, a Nobel committee member, told the AP: "It is not an exaggeration to say that both Sargent's and Sims' methods are used daily ... in all central banks that I know of in the developed world and at several finance departments too."
Sobering message
Warsh said their work is helping policymakers who are trying to determine whether governments should be cutting deficits or spending more to help invigorate the global economy.
In a way, their message is sobering for policymakers and central bankers: Because people and businesses often don't respond to policy changes predictably, "attempts to intervene in the economy are more complicated than we thought," said Rolnick, now a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
The economics prize capped this year's Nobel announcements. The awards will be handed on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel's death.
The economics prize is not among the original awards established in Nobel's 1895 will but was created in 1968 by the Swedish central bank in his memory.
Asked how he would invest his half of $1.5m award, given the turbulence of today's financial markets, Sims said: "First thing I'm going to do is keep it in cash for a while and think."

Mexican cartel 'finance chief' taken in raid Troops seize drugs and weapons and kill 11 suspected Gulf Cartel fighters over five days in Tamaulipas state.

Marines captured the cartel's finance chief, Gabriela Robles, at left, and the regional boss, Ricardo Pequeno, right [EPA]
The Mexican military has killed 11 suspected Gulf Cartel members and captured 36 more in a major crackdown that began last week, officials say.
Among those arrested was Gabriela Gomez Robles, known as "La Gaby," who is believed to be the finance chief of the drug-trafficking group, Admiral Jose Luis Vergara, the military spokesman, said on Monday.
Also detained was Ricardo Salazar Pequeno, an alleged Gulf Cartel boss, Vergara said.
The Associated Press news agency reported that the alleged head of the cartel had been captured after a gunfight in which 10 cartel members died, though it did not name the person.
The operation was launched October 5 in Tamaulipas, one of the most violent areas in Mexico. Officials also seized more than four tonnes of marijuana, numerous weapons and one anti-aircraft missile.
Tamaulipas is the scene of a bloody turf battle between the formerly dominant Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, led by former elite military officials, with whom the Gulf Cartel used to be allied.
Mexican authorities used Black Hawk helicopters loaned by the United States under the Merida Initiative, during the operation.
Almost 45,000 people have been killed across Mexico since the federal government in 2006 launched a crackdown against drug cartels, according to official data and media tallies.

UN finds 'systematic' torture in Afghanistan Afghan intelligence agency denies report's findings, saying "torture methods such as electric shock" are "non-existent".

A United Nations report has found "compelling evidence" that Afghan intelligence officials at five detention centres "systematically tortured detainees for the purpose of obtaining confessions and information".
In the report published on Monday, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said torture was practised systematically in some Afghan intelligence detention centres and children were among those who had suffered.
The report singled out National Directorate Security (NDS) facilities in the provinces of Herat, Kandahar, Khost and Laghman, as well as the national headquarters of the NDS counter-terrorism department in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
"Nearly all detainees tortured by the National Directorate Security reported the abuse took place during interrogations and was aimed at obtaining a confession or information," the report said.
The findings were based on interviews, conducted from October 2010 to August 2011, with 379 pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners at 47 detention centres across the country, the UNAMA said.
Gareth Porter, an American investigative journalist who writes on US foreign and military policy, told Al Jazeera that, for years, international troops routinely handed detainees over to Afghan intelligence and security forces specifically to be interrogated harshly.
Pointing to a report he had published earlier this year, Porter said this goes back to 2005 and 2006 when US and Canadian forces were conducting large scale sweeps.
"They were picking up hundreds of young Afghans without really knowing who they were and trying to interrogate them to get information from them, but not very successfully," he said.
"What they did was to turn to the Afghan intelligence service and have them interrogated by the Afghans."
Torture methods
The report said ill-treatment and lack of respect for due process had helped foster mistrust in the government and fueled the 10-year Taliban rebellion. Torture is a crime under Afghan and international law.
Although the report said there were credible allegations of torture at NDS centres, it noted that the use of torture was not NDS or government policy. The UN said it welcomed being given full access to detainees.
In response to the report, the intelligence service said: "Torture methods such as electric shock, threat of rape, twisting of sexual organs, are methods that are absolutely non-existent in the NDS."
Some detainees interviewed for the report described being hung by the wrists from the wall or ceiling. Others gave accounts of being beaten, especially with rubber hoses, electric cables or wires or wooden sticks, on the soles of the feet, the report said.
Electric shock, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threats of sexual abuse were among other forms of torture that detainees reported, it added.
Routine blindfolding and hooding, and denial of access to medical care in some facilities were also reported. The UN documented one death in Afghan custody from torture in Kandahar in April 2011

Liberians vote in presidential poll Nobel peace laureate and incumbent president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf pitted against a former UN diplomat and 14 others.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was one of three women awarded the Nobel Peace prize last week [REUTERS]
Liberians are voting in the West African state's second presidential election since a civil war, with international appeals for rival supporters to stay peaceful during the hotly-contested poll.
Tuesday's election pits the incumbent, Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, against former UN diplomat Winston Tubman and 14 others.
It comes as Liberia stands to gain billions of dollars in foreign investment in its mining sector and its potential emergence as an oil nation.
Passions have run high in a contest that some forecast will go to a second-round runoff between Johnson-Sirleaf and Tubman, and many voters recall how a dispute over the outcome of the 2005 election led to days of rioting in the capital Monrovia.
Johnson-Sirleaf may have won the Nobel but that may not be enough to persuade voters to re-elect her.
The 72-year-old Harvard-educated leader suffers from a rare paradox: her star has continued to rise internationally, even as her popularity at home has waned over claims that she has done too little to alleviate the nation's crushing poverty.
"One out of every three Liberians cannot feed themselves. They live in abject poverty. And they couldn't care less about the Nobel prize,'' said 60-year-old Charles Brumskine, one of 15 opposition candidates facing Sirleaf in Tuesday's election.
"There's a disconnect between how she is seen abroad and how she is seen here. Ellen will be lucky to get 10 per cent of the vote in tomorrow's election.''
Achievements and criticisms
Eight years into peace, Liberia has seen growing investment in its iron and gold mines.
Sirleaf's achievements include getting $5bn of the country's international debt wiped clean, allowing Liberia to establish a sovereign credit rating, a precondition for issuing bonds. Her government has built
clinics, schools and roads, though her critics say she has built too few. And despite the deep wounds inflicted by the civil war, she is credited with maintaining peace.
Still, unemployment remains rife, residents complain of a lack of basic services, high food prices, rampant crime and corruption. The average income stands at $300 a year - below the $1-a-day benchmark for extreme poverty.
Campaigning for the election has been mostly calm, though scuffles erupted between rival supporters in Monrovia during final rallies at the weekend.
The election is Liberia's first locally-organised presidential poll since the end of the 1989-2003 conflict that killed nearly a quarter of a million people.
Football glamour
Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa's first freely elected female head of state in the 2005 election that was organised by the United Nations. She defeated football sensation George Weah, who came in second and who lost the race in part because of his lack of formal education.
Weah, a former FIFA World Player of the Year, is again her main contender. However, in a move intended to silence critics he has agreed to run as the No. 2 on a ticket alongside presidential candidate Winston Tubman, who like Sirleaf was educated at Harvard.
Tubman told the Reuters news agency on Saturday he was certain he would win and issued a veiled warning that his supporters could make it "difficult to govern" for anyone else.
"We have expressed some concerns about innuendos about violence, encouraging people not to support the results of the election," US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told Reuters.
The United Nations said the return of homegrown mercenaries from a four-month civil war in Ivory Coast this year could be a threat. Several weapons caches have been seized, but there has been no evidence of plans to disrupt voting.

Russia says Syria veto 'no blank cheque' Appeal made for national dialogue following Medvedev's warning that Syrian leaders should enact reforms or step down.

Syrian opposition members who travelled to Moscow thanked Russia for vetoing the UN sanctions resolution [Reuters]
Russia has told both the Syrian government and the opposition that real actions are needed to solve the internal crisis in Syria, according to the Russian upper house of parliament's foreign-affairs chief.
Following a meeting in Moscow with representatives of the Syrian opposition, Mikhail Margelov said on Monday the conflict sides should urgently start a broad and comprehensive national dialogue.
"The Russian veto at the UN Security Council on the Syria draft resolution is no way a carte blanche for the
current ruling Syrian regime to do everything they want," he said.
"We are indulging neither the regime nor the opposition, no way, it is actually the last bell.
"With our veto at the UN Security Council we have used up the whole tool kit which international law offers us. This is the last appeal to the authorities and the opposition to take their places around the table and to start a national dialogue."
Margelov's appeal followed Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's statement last week that Syria's leaders should step down if they cannot enact reforms, but warned the West not to try to push President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Towards compromise
Medvedev's remarks appeared aimed to push Assad towards compromise and to patch up Russia's image after it blocked a Security Council draft resolution that would have condemned Syria's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
He also made clear that Russia opposes change in Syria on terms set by the West.
For their part, the visiting Syrian opposition members praised the Russian efforts.
"We, the representatives of the internal opposition, have come from Syria to say 'thank you for the veto' to the Russian Federation," Qadri Jamil, secretary-general of the National Committee for Unity of Syrian Communists, said on Monday.
Click for more of Al Jazeera's special coverage
"Why? Because of the fact that it made it possible to prevent external interference in Syrian affairs, and opens the way for dialogue.
"Preventing external interference [in Syria's affairs] provides safety guarantees for the civilians in Syria."
Russia had said it will oppose almost any resolution condemning Assad, making Syria a red line for Moscow after it had allowed NATO air raids in Libya by refraining from using its veto in a Security Council vote in March.
Russia said the draft UN resolution could have led to military intervention.
Russia has repeatedly urged Syria's government to implement promised reforms, but has differed starkly with
Western nations by saying Assad needs more time to do so, and has said his opponents share the blame for months of bloodshed.
Russia has accused the West of betraying its trust, charging that NATO overstepped its mandate to protect
civilians and used the UN resolution to depose Muammar Gaddafi by force.
Medvedev suggested the latest draft resolution on Syria had a similar aim and said other Security Council nations had refused to include language ruling out military intervention.
West warned
On the domestic front, Syria's highest Sunni Muslim religious leader has given warning to Western countries against military intervention and also threatened to retaliate with suicide bombings in the US and Europe if Syria comes under attack.
"I say to all of Europe, I say to America, we will set up suicide bombers who are now in your countries, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon," Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun said in a speech late on Sunday evening.
"From now on, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
Hassoun spoke to a delegation of Lebanese women who came to offer their condolences for his son's death by unknown assailants earlier this month.
"Don't come near our country, I beg you."
Hassoun's comments follow another warning by Walid Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, who told the international community not to recognise the new umbrella council formed by the opposition, threatening "tough measures" against any country that does so.

Egypt army seeks probe into Cairo clashes Military council asks government to form fact- finding team to investigate Sunday's clashes that left 26 people dead.

Egypt's interim prime minister has called for calm and warned against 'sowing the seeds of division' [Al Jazeera]
Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] has called for a speedy investigation into Sunday night's deadly clashes in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, that left at least 26 dead and more than 300 injured, mostly Coptic Christians.
The SCAF "tasked the government with quickly forming a fact finding committee to determine what happened and take legal measures against all those proven to have been involved, either directly or by incitement," state television reported.
At an emergency meeting held on Monday, the military council also reiterated that it "continues to bear national responsibility to protect the people after the January 25 revolution... until it hands power to an elected civilian authority".
It blamed the clashes on "efforts by some to destroy the pillars of the state and sow chaos" and said it would "take the necessary measures to restore the security situation".
Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros said the military council's demand for a probe was good news for Egyptians.
"The very fact that the investigation has been called for, is at least some good news for people here, who feel that military has not been interested in finding out who is behind the events of Sunday night," said said.
Sunday's clashes were the worst violence since the country’s revolution in February that toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The violence erupted after Coptic Christians, protesting against the destruction of a church in the southern province of Aswan, came under attack.
On Monday, funerals were being held for many of those who died. Also during the day, several hundred angry Christians pelted police with rocks outside a Cairo hospital, despite calls from Essam Sharaf, Egypt's interim prime minister, for calm.
"Instead of advancing to build a modern state of democratic principles, we are back searching for security and stability, worrying that there are hidden hands, both domestic and foreign, seeking to obstruct the will of Egyptians in establishing a democracy," Sharaf said on state television.
Dozens of people have been detained in connection with Sunday's violence, with MENA, the country's official news agency, saying that "instigators of chaos" had been arrested.
Egypt's Coptic church has called for three days of mourning, asking followers to fast and pray for peace in the country.
'Stoking sectarian tensions'
Some blamed the deaths on execessive use of force by the Egyptian army.
Hossam Bahgat, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Al Jazeera that Sunday night's clashes were unprecedented.
  Visit our Egypt live blog for all the latest news coverage
"There is nothing like what we saw yesterday, because it was the army," he said. "For the first time [the Christians] are not being attacked by Muslim extremists or police security forces, but by the army. We don't understand why the army resorted to such measures.
"There needs to be an independent investigation into the attacks, and it should not be carried out by the army."
Al Jazeera's Tadros said the Coptic Church issued a statement stating that Copts had not fired any shots on Sunday night and were not the instigators.
"That's really in reference to continued coverage on state TV which through the night and even through morning, very much had a shuttle message to it, trying to tell general people that Christians were the ones behind the violence and that they were the ones shooting at soldiers," she said
"In fact, state TV was talking about the soldiers who had died as "martyrs" and protesters who were killed as "civilians", she said.
"So, it was sending a very potent message, and the fear here is that kind of reporting and message out to millions of people who tune into state TV will stoke sectarian tensions."
Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's roughly 80 million people, took to the streets after blaming Muslim radicals for partially demolishing the church last week.
They also demanded the sacking of the province's governor for failing to protect the building.
The Copts say they were marching peacefully when thugs attacked them, drawing in the military police who used what activists described as unnecessary force.

NTC: Gaddafi fighters cornered in Sirte Battles continue in toppled Libyan leader's hometown as his loyalists put up resistance despite suffering setbacks.

National Transitional Council (NTC) forces say they have cornered loyalists of Muammar Gaddafi in a small area in the centre of Sirte, the hometown of the deposed Libyan leader whose whereabouts remain unknown more than six weeks after he was driven out of the capital Tripoli.

"Gaddafi's forces are cornered in two neighbourhoods near the sea, an area of about 2km square, but there is still resistance," Abdul Salam Javallah, commander of NTC units from eastern Libya, told the Reuters news agency from the frontline on Monday. "We are dealing with them now with light weapons because there are still families inside," he said.
There are fears the fighting could breed long-term hostility, making it hard for the NTC to unite the vast North African state once the conflict is over.
'Tightening noose'
Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Sirte, said the "noose has tightened around" pro-Gaddafi fighters but he added that they had "a lot of ammunitions and a lot of resolve".
NTC forces in Sirte took three important landmark buildings on Sunday - the main hospital, the university and the opulent Ouagadougou conference centre, built to host the summits of foreign dignitaries that Gaddafi was fond of staging.
"Eighty per cent of Sirte is now under our control," said Omar Abu Lifa, a commander of government forces attacking Sirte from the west.

Click here for more of Al Jazeera's special coverage
NTC forces have repeatedly claimed to be on the point of victory in Sirte, only to suffer sudden reversals at the hands of a tenacious enemy fighting for its life, surrounded on three sides and with its back to the sea. The protracted battle for Sirte, a showpiece Mediterranean coastal city largely loyal to Gaddafi, has raised concerns about many civilian casualties.
Desperate civilians were still trying to flee the fierce street clashes as fighting continued.
Shortly after NTC commander Javallah spoke, a group of three women, three small children and two male civilians emerged from a house on the front line. They were searched by NTC fighters and hurriedly got into a car and drove off waving the V-for-victory sign.
Another family of three women and one man, stopping at a checkpoint as they fled Sirte, said they had been trapped in their house by the fighting.
"We didn't know where the strikes were coming from. Everyone is being hit all day and all night. There is no electricity and no water. There's nothing. There's not one neighbourhood that hasn't been hit," said one of the women, who gave her name as Umm Ismail.
Battle for Bani Walid
Gaddafi supporters also still hold the inland enclave of Bani Walid, where NTC forces also reported key gains after weeks of faltering advances that resulted in part from the challenging terrain of desert hills and steep valleys.
Al Jazeera has the latest on the fight for Bani Walid
Bani Walid is believed to be harbouring high-level figures from the old regime.
Meanwhile, a group of more than 200 gunmen attacked a mosque in Tripoli and ransacked the tombs of two imams, witnesses said on Monday.
"They arrived shortly after 10pm (2000 GMT, Sunday night), between 200 and 300 of them, in pickup trucks fitted with heavy machineguns. They took off at about 1am," said Mahmud Rahman, a resident of Tripoli's northeastern Al-Masri district.
"They forced open the mosque's door and then started to dig up the tombs of imams Abdel Rahman el-Masri and Salem Abu Seif, and made off with their relics," said Rahman.
An AFP journalist, visiting the mosque and its adjoining Quranic school, said Muslim holy books had been burnt.

The NTC forces have been trying for a month to gain control of Bani Walid, an oasis in rugged terrain where Gaddafi loyalists have been putting up fierce resistance.

NTC commanders are convinced that Gaddafi's most prominent son, Seif al-Islam, is in the town, as well as possibly the deposed strongman himself.

Thai capital prepares for floodwaters Defences being built to protect Bangkok from rising monsoon waters that have already killed more than 250 people.

Thousands of people in Thailand are fleeing their homes as flood waters threaten to engulf entire villages and towns.

More than 250 people have been killed by monsoon rains in the past two months, and now authorities are working around the clock to stop waters from reaching the capital, Bangkok.
Reporting from the northern Ayutthaya province on Tuesday, Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay said: "So much of the flood waters lying around in the northern part of Thailand are on their way to ... Bangkok."
Yingluck Shinawatra, the Thai prime minister, said on Monday that government workers had two days to build three major water barricades before a runoff from the north reached Bangkok.
She said she did not know if Bangkok would be protected from the flooding.
"It is really hard to tell because it's difficult to predict the volume of water," Yingluck said. "But I insist if we can complete the three main water barriers within the next one or two days, Bangkok will be safe".
Drowning deaths
The country's Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department has said 269 people have died, mostly from drowning, since tropical storms began hitting Thailand at the end of July.
It said 8.2 million people in 60 of the country's 77 provinces have been affected by floods and mudslides, and 30 provinces are currently inundated.
The government planned to use 1.5 million sandbags to build the barriers but still lacked more than 100,000 as of Monday.
In Ayutthaya province, to the north, flooding forced more than 200 factories in two industrial zones to shut, including the Japanese car manufacturer, Honda, whose production plant suffered water damage.
Floods also inundated Thailand's eastern neighbour, Cambodia, where at least 207 people have died since August, when waters from the Mekong River and mountainous areas.
The floods have affected 1.2 million people and damaged more than 1,000 schools and 400 Buddhist temples.
Hundreds of people have been killed across Southeast Asia, China, Japan and South Asia in the last four months from prolonged monsoon flooding,typhoons and storms

Oil spill NZ's 'worst maritime disaster' Warning comes after heavy fuel leaking from a container ship stranded off the North Island coast increases five-fold.

The ship's owners said they were making efforts to minimise the environmental consequences of the incident [EPA]
New Zealand says an oil spill from a container ship stranded off the North Island coast has become the country's worst maritime environmental disaster.

The amount of oil spewing from the stricken vessel MV Rena, which hit a reef last Wednesday, had increased five-fold after it sustained further damage in a storm overnight, Nick Smith, the country's environment mnister, said on Tuesday.
"In the coming days [oil leak] will be noticeable, it will be a large scale environmental disaster"
- Michael Morrah, journalist
"I'd like to acknowledge this event has come to a stage where it is New Zealand's most significant maritime environmental disaster."
Smith made the remarks in Tauranga, where once-pristine beaches have been fouled with oil.

He described as tragic the latest developments, in which up to 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil leaked into the Bay of Plenty early on Tuesday, but said there was little authorities could do to prevent it.

"It is my view that the tragic events we are seeing unfolding were absolutely inevitable from the point that the Rena ran onto the reef in the early hours of Wednesday morning," he said.

The latest spill dwarfed an initial leak of 20 tonnes after the Liberian-flagged vessel ploughed into the reef, 22km offshore.

The crippled ship ruptured a fuel tank after it was pounded by five-metre (16.5-foot) swells, forcing a salvage crew on the vessel to issue a mayday earlier Tuesday and evacuate as a safety precaution.

Full evacuation
Earlier, many of the crew had been evacuated but the captain and salvage workers had remained on board. But all have now left the ship.
Michael Morrah, a journalist from New Zealand's TV3 television station, told Al Jazeera: "All the staff have been accounted for.
"But there has been a leak of 200-300 tonnes of oil from the ship, and in the coming days it will be noticeable, it will be a large scale environmental disaster."

John Key, New Zealand's prime minister, who flew over the scene in a helicopter on Sunday, said two inquiries to determine why the ship had collided with the Astrolabe Reef were already under way.
Rescue efforts to help wildlife affected by the spill has taken place [EPA]
"People know about the reef, and for it to plough into it for no particular reason - at night, in calm waters - tells you something terrible has gone wrong and we need to understand why," he told Radio New Zealand.
"This is a ship that's ploughed into a well documented reef in calm waters in the middle of the night at 17 knots. So, somebody needs to tell us why that's happened," Key said.
In a statement, the owners of the ship, Greece based Costamare, said they were "co-operating fully with local authorities" and were making every effort to "control and minimize the environmental consequences of this incident".
The company did not offer any explanation for the grounding.
The animal welfare group Forest and Bird said the timing of the accident, in the middle of the breeding season for birds, was "disastrous".
Greenpeace said it could also affect whales and dolphins calving in the area, as well as other species.
The Rena was built in 1990 and was carrying 1,351 containers of goods when it ran aground, according to the owners.
In addition to the oil, authorities are also concerned about some potentially dangerous goods aboard, including four containers of ferrosilicon.
New Zealand authorities said they would make it a priority to remove those goods as part of their operation.

Ukrainian ex-PM found guilty of power abuse Yulia Tymoshenko has been found guilty of exceeding her authority over gas contracts she allegedly signed with Russia.

Tymoshenko's trial has seen criticism from both the European Union and the United States [GALLO/GETTY]
A court in Ukraine has found Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, guilty of abusing her authority when she ordered state energy firm Naftogaz to sign a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

Tuesday's verdict could further strain ties between Ukraine and the West.
State prosecutors asked the court to sentence Tymoshenko, 50, the main political opponent of President Viktor Yanukovich, to seven years in jail for illegally forcing through the gas deal.

The European Union, one of Ukraine's main trading partners along with Russia, has told Yanukovich, who narrowly beat Tymoshenko for the presidency in February 2010, that landmark economic agreements will be in jeopardy if she is jailed.

Judge Rodion Kireyev, who was expected to deliver a sentence on Tymoshenko later, said her actions had led to a loss for Naftogaz of $188m.

"In January 2009, Tymoshenko, exercising the duties of prime minister ... used her powers for criminal ends and, acting delibertately, carried out actions ... which led to heavy consequences," he said on Tuesday.

Even before the judge began reading his verdict, Tymoshenko, who was flanked by her daughter and husband in court, exuded defiance.

"You know very well that the sentence is not being pronounced by Judge Kireyev but by President Yanukovich," she said.

"Whatever the sentence pronounced, my struggle will continue. This sentence, written by Yanukovich, will not change anything in my life or in my struggle."

About 2,000 Tymoshenko supporters, scores of police and crowds of anti-Tymoshenko demonstrators who turned out at the behest of the ruling Regions Party had gathered outside the central Kiev court before the verdict was delivered.

EU warning

Speaking on Monday, the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had said "we are not optimistic" about Tymoshenko's trial.
"Our impression remains [that it amounts to] selective application of justice," she said.

EU foreign ministers had expressed great concern about the upcoming verdict, she said after an EU meeting in Luxembourg.

The bloc warned Yanukovich, Tymoshenko's arch-rival, that bilateral agreements on association and a free trade zone would not be approved by EU members if she is jailed.
"Whatever the sentence pronounced, my struggle will continue. This sentence, written by [Ukraine's President] Yanukovich, will not change anything in my life or in my struggle"
- Yulia Tymoshenko, former PM
Tymoshenko was accused of exceeding her powers by ordering state energy firm Naftogaz to sign a 2009 gas deal with Russia's Gazprom, which the Yanukovich government says binded the country with an exorbitant price for Russian gas. She denied any wrongdoing.

She has been held in police detention for contempt of court since August.

When the judge late last month called an adjournment until Tuesday it was widely seen as a strategic pause to give Yanukovich and his advisers time to consider their options in the face of the Western criticism.

He maintained her prosecution was a matter for the courts.

Her supporters say that Yanukovich wants to neutralise her as a political force before next year's parliamentary election.

A powerful orator, Tymoshenko was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution that doomed Yanukovich's first bid for presidency.
She went on to hold the post of prime minister twice, but stepped down after losing to Yanukovich in the 2010 presidential election.