Libya interim govt to be announced within days

BENGHAZI, Libya, Sept 23 (Reuters) – An interim government in Libya will be announced within the next few days and will include 22 ministerial portfolios, a spokesman for the North African country’s transitional rulers said on Friday.

“We’ve agreed on a number of portfolios and who would hold the most important ones. There will be 22 portfolios and one vice premier,” said Abdel Hafiz Ghoga, a spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC). “It would be a compact government, a crisis government.”

Discussions in Libya to set up a more inclusive interim government have been unproductive before. It remains unclear whether the NTC, still based in the eastern city of Benghazi, can unify a country split along tribal and regional lines.

NTC forces are still fighting to capture a couple of towns controlled by loyalists to Muammar Gaddafi, whose regime was toppled with the capture of Tripoli last month.

Chaotic scenes at the front line and prolonged discussions about the formation of an new cabinet have raised questions about the NTC’s ability to control the country.

Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said this week that the new government would be announced within 10 days.

Ghoga said the prime minister in the new government would no longer hold the foreign affairs portfolio. “There’s an agreement now on who would be the foreign minister,” he said, declining to give more details.

He added that Abdullah Shamia and Soliman el-Sahli would keep their respective portfolios of economy and education in the new cabinet but other ministries would be run by new ministers.

“We are still in the stage of liberating the country. War is still going on. The focus should be on portfolios like defence, security, health and economy,” he said.

Despite gaining almost full control of a string of desert towns in Libya’s deep south, NTC forces have so far failed to take the two much larger loyalist strongholds far to the north, Bani Walid and Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.

Ghoga denied reports that divisions among NTC officials were hampering an agreement on a new government.

“There was only a debate about the vision for forming the government: what are the most important portfolios? How do we limit (the number of portfolios) to a minimum until the war ends?”

The NTC said last week it would move to Tripoli only after its forces are in full control of Libyan territory, contradicting an earlier pledge to move the interim administration to the capital around mid-September.

“Complete liberation would be announced when we are in control of Sirte and Bani Walid and control all the border crossings,” Ghoga said. “This means Gaddafi forces would have no control over any of those crossings. I believe it’s a matter of few days.”

Source: Reuters

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September 23rd Updates

New York: London: Tripoli:

Reuters12:27 Reuters An interim government in Libya will be announced within the next few days and include 22 ministerial portfolios, a spokesman for the North African country’s transitional rulers said on Friday.

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Gaddafi forces “executing people” in Sirte – residents

SIRTE, Libya, Sept 22 (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi who control the city of Sirte have been executing residents suspected of sympathising with Libya’s new rulers, forces backing the country’s interim government and fleeing residents said.

On the Mediterranean coast about 450 km (280 miles) east of Tripoli, Sirte is Gaddafi’s hometown and one of just a handful of places in Libya still held by fighters loyal to him.

National Transitional Council (NTC) forces have surrounded the city for a week, but say their progress has been stymied largely because there are many civilians still inside the city, where residents report shortages of basic goods.

Hundreds of civilians continued to pour out of the city on Thursday in cars and pickups loaded with mattresses and food as the former rebel fighters fired machine guns and incoming rockets crashed on the city’s outskirts.

“The situation isn’t great,” said one resident who did not give his name as he left the city, where he said Gaddafi’s forces were moving “like gangs” through the streets.

“There have been executions,” he said, naming two men who he said had been executed on Thursday. He also said he had witnessed executions in front of the house of a local family, whose name he gave as Safruny.

An NTC commander on the outskirts of Sirte, separately showed Reuters a handwritten list of families whose members were said to have been executed in Sirte. The list, which he said he compiled with information from people inside the city, included the Safruny family.

The commander gave his first name as Saleh but declined to give his family name. He said other attacks on suspected NTC sympathisers had been carried out.

“One man, they cut him like this,” Saleh said, dragging his finger from the ends of his mouth across his cheeks. “Another, they cut his lips.”

Humanitarian groups have expressed concern about the situation in Sirte, and the fears have been compounded by reports from NTC fighters who say their family members inside have been prevented from leaving.

Hafed Makhlouf, a resident of Misrata, said his nephew had been executed in Sirte after he was accused of helping the NTC forces.

He said he received the news from some of his family who were still inside the city and were trying to escape. “They’re afraid of coming out and being detected by the enemy and executed by them,” he said.

Other fighters from Misrata also said they had family stuck inside but had no way of communicating with them.

Misrata, a port city west of Sirte, withstood a devastating siege earlier in the Libyan civil war that killed more than 1,000 residents. Most of the fighters now surrounding Sirte have come from there.

The fleeing resident who did not give his name said families linked to Misrata had been targeted particularly by Gaddafi loyalists in Sirte.

“Really, the situation is not good,” he said, shaking his head and staring out the windshield of his car.

Accounts from inside Sirte could not be independently verified as journalists have not been able to move beyond the outskirts of the city held by NTC forces.

A spokesman for Gaddafi, who contacted Reuters on Thursday, said it was the anti-Gaddafi forces, and NATO warplanes, which were killing people in Sirte, not the other way around.

“Between yesterday and this morning, 151 civilians were killed inside their homes as the Grad rockets and other explosives fell upon their heads,” the spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, said in a satellite phone call to Reuters in Tunis.

“The city hospital stopped functioning altogether last night. Patients died simply because nothing can be done to help them.”

Source: Reuters

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September 22nd Updates

New York: London: Tripoli:

Reuters20:30 Reuters Libya’s new rulers may be basking in international goodwill after Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow but that support failed to win them a coveted U.N. atomic agency board seat on Thursday when most delegates backed neighbouring Egypt instead.

In a rare display of regional disunity on nominating members for the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the African group failed to agree on which two countries should represent them over the next two years.

Egypt and Libya, which have both seen the overthrow of strongmen this year, both sought one of the two African seats, alongside Tanzania.

The issue had to be settled by a vote in the full plenary of the annual gathering of the IAEA’s 151 member states, which Egypt went on to win by 87 ballots against 28 for Libya.

Reuters19:37 Reuters The European Union said on Thursday it had eased a freeze on assets of the Libyan Central Bank and several other entities to support the building of a new government.

An EU statement said that in line with last week’s U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya, frozen funds from entities would be released “for humanitarian and civilian needs, to support renewed activity in the Libyan oil and banking sectors and to assist with building a civilian government”.

16:50 Al Jazeera The number of landmines planted by Gaddafi troops in the district between Ajdabiya and Sirte towns, is estimated at 60 thousand anti-personnel and anti-armour landmines.

twitter16:15 Hadeel al Shalchi tweets: “BaniWalid front is super dead today. Rev fighters beginning to abandon it, very few cars w rebels to be seen”

15:41 Al Arabiya reports that the former Libyan prime minister has been arrested in Tunisia.

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Video: Inside a Gaddafi compound in Tripoli

Gaddafi left behind several houses and compounds in Tripoli and the rest of Libya, Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton offers a look inside one of them.

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Libya gets U.N. welcome, pledges of support

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Libya’s new flag flew at the United Nations on Tuesday for the first time since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow as U.S. President Barack Obama called for the last of the deposed leader’s loyalists to stop fighting.

International leaders at a high-level U.N. conference on Libya congratulated Libyans — and themselves — for Gaddafi’s removal by NATO-backed rebels in a seven-month-old conflict.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, welcoming Libya’s new leaders into the international community, said the Security Council had acted to protect the Libyan people from violence.

“Today, we must once again respond with such speed and decisive action — this time to consolidate peace and democracy,” Ban added.

Libya has reverted to the flag that was used from 1951 until 1977 when Gaddafi, who ruled for nearly 42 years, introduced a green flag for his Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, or people’s republic.

Libya’s new rulers, finally recognized on Tuesday by the African Union, are still trying to dislodge well-armed Gaddafi loyalists from several towns and have yet to start a countdown toward writing a new constitution and holding elections.

They face questions about whether they can unify a country divided on tribal, regional and ideological lines.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, president of Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), promised a spirit of tolerance and reconciliation and appealed for international assistance to help his country emerge from conflict and build democracy.

“Today, the Libyan people are writing a new chapter in the life of their nation,” Obama said, announcing the return of the U.S. envoy to Tripoli. “We will stand with you in your struggle to realize the peace and prosperity that freedom can bring.”

“Those still holding out must understand — the old regime is over, and it is time to lay down your arms and join the new Libya,” Obama said nearly a month after Gaddafi was driven from power with the help of a NATO-led bombing campaign.

He further pledged: “So long as the Libyan people are being threatened, the NATO-led mission to protect them will continue.”

Gaddafi, who is on the run, taunted the Western alliance in a speech broadcast by a Syrian-based television station on Tuesday, saying: “The bombs of NATO planes will not last.”

DEFENSE OF LIBYA STRATEGY

Obama also defended his Libya strategy. He had faced criticism for an initially slow response to the Libyan uprising and then setting limits on the U.S. role in the NATO air campaign.

“Libya is a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one,” Obama said, but added: “We cannot and should not intervene every time there’s an injustice in the world.”

Obama pushed for swift steps toward democracy after decades of Gaddafi’s quirky one-man rule, calling for “new laws and a constitution that upholds the rule of law … and, for the first time in Libyan history, free and fair elections.”

Libya’s interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril failed to win approval for his proposed new cabinet on Sunday, but he said said in New York he expected a new government to be formed in the next week to 10 days.

The political infighting reveals some of the fractures in a leadership that was united in civil war by hatred of Gaddafi but remains split among pro-Western liberals, underground Islamist guerrillas and defectors from Gaddafi’s government.

Gaddafi suffered a further diplomatic blow when the African Union recognized the NTC. It urged the new rulers to protect African migrant workers following reports of black Africans being targeted by fighters hunting pro-Gaddafi mercenaries.

South African President Jacob Zuma, whose country also abandoned its Gaddafi sympathies and recognized the NTC, urged the United Nations to lift the NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Libya soon, echoing a call by Russia last week.

A U.N. spokesman said international donors and organizations would meet later in the day to establish a Libya Recovery Trust Fund under the NTC’s leadership to support rebuilding efforts.

The White House said it had held talks with the NTC on the gradual unfreezing of billions of dollars of Libyan assets.

“The NTC … are telling us they’ve got the money they need at this point,” said Derek Chollet, director for strategic planning at the White House National Security Council.

“They’re mindful that they don’t want to be flooded with resources absent the institutions to manage them or the accountability that will be necessary to make sure they don’t end up in the wrong hands or pilfered in any way.”

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Libyan leaders were counting on renewed oil revenues once the country is stabilized and crude can start flowing again.

But he acknowledged that the NTC had no firm word on when that might happen. “I wouldn’t suggest that there’s an imminent announcement per se,” Rhodes said.

Souce: Reuters

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September 21st Updates

New York: London: Tripoli:

NATO20:24 NATO The sea and air campaign in Libya will be extended by a further three months, ambassadors of the 28 NATO states agreed at a meeting in Brussels. The current mandate was due to expire on September 27th.

Al Jazeera14:27 Al Jazeera English The NTC on Wednesday admitted heavy losses and hospitals full of wounded from their assault on Gaddafi hometown of Sirte, forcing them to send abroad critically hurt troops.

At least 45 NTC fighters have been killed and more than 200 wounded — mostly by explosions or gunfire — since they launched an offensive against Sirte last week, medics in Misrata said.

At least six explosions shook the town in the early afternoon as NATO aircraft overflew the town where forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi battled NTC fighters seeking to oust them.

Reuters13:34 Reuters Libya’s new flag flew at the United Nations on Tuesday for the first time since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow as U.S. President Barack Obama called for the last of the deposed leader’s loyalists to stop fighting.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, welcoming Libya’s new leaders into the international community, said the Security Council had acted to protect the Libyan people from violence.

The African Union has now also recognized the NTC as the legitimate Libyan authorities.

Reuters10:24 Reuters One of the last three main bastions of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya has been largely taken over by forces of the provisional government a month after he was toppled, an official said on Wednesday.

Sabha — deep in the North African state’s Sahara desert — has been holding out along with Bani Walid and Gaddafi’s hometown Sirte since the fall of the capital Tripoli on Aug. 23.

“We control most of Sabha apart from the al-Manshiya district. This is still resisting, but it will fall,” National Transitional Council military spokesman Ahmed Bani told Reuters.

Reuters09:57 Reuters Libya will likely name a new government within 10 days, interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril said, raising hopes of political progress in the fractured country weeks after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

Libya’s de facto rulers won expressions of support from Washington, the African Union and South Africa on Tuesday and its new flag flew for the first time at the United Nations.

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Tony Blair ‘visited Libya to lobby for JP Morgan’

The TelegraphTony Blair used visits to Libya after he left office to lobby for business for the American investment bank JP Morgan, The Daily Telegraph has been told.

A senior executive with the Libyan Investment Authority, the $70 billion fund used to invest the country’s oil money abroad, said Mr Blair was one of three prominent western businessmen who regularly dealt with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the former leader.

Saif al-Islam and his close aides oversaw the activities of the fund, and often directed its officials on where they should make its investments, he said.

The executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officials were told the “ideas” they were ordered to pursue came from Mr Blair as well as one other British businessman and a former American diplomat.

“Tony Blair’s visits were purely lobby visits for banking deals with JP Morgan,” he said.

He said that unlike some other deals – notably some investments run by the US bank Goldman Sachs – JP Morgan’s had never turned “bad”.

But he added: “Saif and his father played these people like musical chairs. At the end the reputation of the LIA was really damaged because of these interventions.”

Documents found by The Sunday Telegraph published this weekend showed Mr Blair had made at least three visits to Tripoli, twice in the lead-up to the release of the alleged Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Megrahi in 2008 and 2009 and once last year. On the first two occasions he was flown to the country on planes arranged by Col Gaddafi.

A senior diplomat told The Daily Telegraph last night that the British embassy in Tripoli had arranged transport for Mr Blair and his entourage in Tripoli and ensured that representatives were there to “greet him and see him off” at the airport.

Mr Blair stayed overnight at the ambassador’s official residence in Tripoli and was accompanied by “several” British police officers for protection.

The documents show that among the people he was due to meet in 2009 was Mohammed Layas, head of the LIA.

A spokesman for Mr Blair said that the visits had largely been to discuss Africa, and categorically denied that he had lobbied Said al-Islam on behalf of JP Morgan.

The spokesman said last night: “As we have made clear many times before, Tony Blair has never had any role, either formal or informal, paid or unpaid, with the Libyan Investment Authority or the Government of Libya and he does not and has never had any commercial relationship with any Libyan company or entity.”

Mr Blair began work in January 2008 as a £2million-a-yearn adviser to JP Morgan. Last month, American officials told the New York Post newspaper that the bank managed more than half a billion US dollars on behalf of the LIA.

The executive said that he did not see Mr Blair at the LIA headquarters in the modern Tower of the Revolution overlooking the seafront. He said officials like himself were given their instructions by two senior Saif aides, including Mohammed Ismail, a Libyan with British nationality.

One of the letters arranging the 2008 visit, in which an aide to Mr Blair told the Libyan ambassador to Britain that the former prime minister was “delighted” that “The Leader” was likely to be able to see him, was on notepaper headed “Office of the Quartet Representative”, his formal title as Middle East envoy.

The Quartet he represents is made up of the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States. A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said: “It’s up to him to explain why he did this.”

The growing closeness of the Blair government to the Gaddafi regime has already come under fire. Abdulhakim Belhadj, former leader the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group and now head of the revolutionary Tripoli Military Council, is demanding an apology after papers showed MI6 arranged for his secret extradition from Malaysia back to Libya in 2004.

Many ordinary Libyans have also expressed surprise at the policy. After the latest revelations, Hoda Abuzeid, a British Libyan whose dissident father was murdered in London in 1995, accused Mr Blair of “selling out”.

“People like Blair and those who had their eyes on the business opportunities that Gaddafi could provide sold out people like my family,” said Miss Abuzeid, who has returned to the country for the first time since 1980.

“When he had tea in the desert with the ‘Brother Leader’ did he ever ask him who killed my father?”

Source: The Telegraph

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September 19th Updates

New York: London: Tripoli:

Al Jazeera20:28 Al Jazeera English Al Jazeera correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra reports that anti-Gaddafi forces have captured Sabha airport and taken control of the southern city’s Manshiya district

Sabha, deep in the Sahara desert, is one of the last redoubts held by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

NATO12:19 NATO On September 18th, NATO aircraft flew 113 sorties, including 42 strike sorties. Some of the key hits included:

In the vicinity of Sirte: 1 Military Facility, 1 Command and Control Node, 1 Multiple Rocket Launcher, 4 Air Missile Systems.
In the vicinity of Waddan: 1 Tank, 4 Multiple Rocket Launchers, 2 Armed Vehicles, 6 Anti Aircraft Guns.

Al Jazeera12:08 Al Jazeera English A Turkish military cargo plane dropping humanitarian aid over the Libyan town of Bani Walid came under fire from the ground, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported.

The incident happened when one of two Turkish C-130 transport planes parachuting aid to residents was fired on, the agency said, citing a journalist on the plane.

Reuters12:06 Reuters A spokesman for Muammar Gaddafi said on Sunday that 17 “mercenaries”, including what he called French and British “technical experts” had been captured in the Gaddafi bastion of Bani Walid in Libya.

“A group was captured in Bani Walid consisting of 17 mercenaries. They are technical experts and they include consultative officers,” Moussa Ibrahim told Syrian-based Arrai TV.

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Rebels claim advances in Sirte battle

BBC Libya’s interim government forces say they have made progress in their attack on Sirte, a stronghold of forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi.

However, the advance has been slow and there is fierce resistance from loyalist forces.

There are also reports of heavy fighting in another Gaddafi stronghold, the town of Bani Walid.

Col Gaddafi has been in hiding since opposition forces captured the capital Tripoli in August.

His remaining forces are holding out in Sirte, Bani Walid and several other towns while forces of the new interim leadership, the National Transitional Council (NTC), try to assert full control over the country.

A spokesman for the military council in the city of Misrata, on the coast between Sirte and Tripoli, said some fighters had advanced to within 7km (4.3 miles) of the centre of Sirte.

Misrata was the scene of a long siege as Col Gaddafi’s forces tried to stamp out the uprising against him there. There is a strong contingent of fighters from Misrata among the anti-Gaddafi forces attacking Sirte.

The spokesman said another eight fighters were killed on Saturday, bringing the total to almost 30, with many more injured, reports the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Misrata.

There are reports of heavy street fighting, as the anti-Gaddafi forces are met with fierce machine gun, rocket and mortar fire.

The BBC’s Alastair Leithead, with the anti-Gaddafi forces near Sirte, describes a process of slow advances as defensive positions are bombarded, worn down and then taken.

Our correspondent says the anti-Gaddafi forces are still some distance from the town’s eastern gates, although they appear to be closer on the western and southern approaches.

The front lines around Sirte are moving forward. Tanks had to be jump-started to keep up with the pace of the assault on Col Gaddafi’s birthplace.

After a week dug into their positions on the eastern coast road, pro-Gaddafi troops have again been pushed back by a heavy barrage of rockets, artillery shells and Nato bombs.

To the south, the civilians who became soldiers are still firing from their pick-up trucks and in the west too, loosely surrounding the city and moving forward every day.

But Sirte is being fiercely defended by well-armed professional soldiers, under siege but showing no sign of giving up.

NTC spokesman Ahmed Bani said its forces had taken control of the airport and a major air base, although one fighter told Agence France-Presse there were still clashes near the airport.

The fighter, Abdul Rauf al-Mansuri, said: “We don’t even have 5% of Sirte because we just go in and out.”

A teacher fleeing Sirte, Nouri Abu Bakr, told Associated Press conditions there were worsening, with no electricity or medicine and food supplies nearly exhausted.

“Gaddafi gave all the people weapons, but those fighting are the Gaddafi brigade of loyalists,” he said.

There are unconfirmed reports that anti-Gaddafi troops have now taken full control of Harawa, 80km east of Sirte, after negotiating a surrender deal.

There were conflicting claims over a Nato bombing in the city. The Misrata military council spokesman told the BBC a Nato aircraft hit a building in the city on Friday, killing a large number of Col Gaddafi’s fighters.

Col Gaddafi’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, told Reuters news agency that the strike had killed more than 300 civilians.

Neither claim could be verified and Nato said similar reports from Col Gaddafi’s side in the past had often been “unfounded or inconclusive”.

At Bani Walid, an oasis town about 250km west of Sirte, anti-Gaddafi forces were reported to be renewing their attack late on Saturday after earlier advances had been repelled.

“Gaddafi forces attacked the checkpoint so our troops went in. There is a lot of fighting inside the city right now,” Reuters quoted regional NTC official Abdullah Kenshil as saying.

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