International pressure on Gaddafi mounts

International pressure on Gaddafi mounts. Belarus violates Ivorian arms embargo as violence escalates. Rangoon bomb blast. Yemen to announce government of national unity within 24 hours. North Korea threatens war over leaflets. All this and more in today’s briefing...
Josephine Whitaker
28 February 2011

World leaders, who today gathered in Geneva for a meeting of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, called for an end to violence against anti-government protestors in Libya. The move comes after the UN voted on Saturday night to impose an arms embargo and an asset freeze on senior Libyan government officials close to the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that the violence in Libya “shocks our conscience,” while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Libya had “failed shamefully in its responsibilities to its people.”  The United States has publicly backed anti-Gaddafi groups in eastern Libya, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denouncing Gaddafi’s use of “mercenaries and thugs” against the Libyan population.

European leaders have been quick to implement sanctions against Libya, which produces 2% of the world’s oil, with most governments approving sanctions today. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court will shortly complete its preliminary inquiry into government violence against protestors. Although this process usually takes months to complete, it is widely expected to culminate with Gaddafi being charged with perpetrating crimes against humanity.

According to local reports, rebel control in eastern Libya is now solid, especially around the town of Benghazi where the protests began. Rebels holding Benghazi have announced that they have formed a national council to act as the political face of anti-Gaddafi movement. Witnesses in the coastal town of Misrata, now under rebel control, report that the government has mounted repeated counter-attacks to try and retake the city.  

Meanwhile, despite news reports to the contrary, Gaddafi assured BBC reporters, with a chilling dramatic irony, that the Libyan people would die to protect him and denied that there have been any anti-government protests in Tripoli. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim denied massacres and bombardments – saying Saturday’s UN resolution was based on misleading media reports. Today, Moussa attempted to strike a conciliatory note, saying that soldiers fired on civilians only because they were not trained to deal with the large-scale unrest that Libya is experiencing.

The humanitarian situation in Libya is believed to be increasingly dire, with over 1000 people killed in the last ten days. According to the UN, 100,000 people – both Libyans and foreign migrant workers – have fled the fighting, crossing the Tunisian border in droves. The BBC is reporting that migrants fleeing Libya into Tunisia are arriving at a rate of more than 1000 per hour. Eastern Libya is predicted to face dire food shortages within the next three weeks, as the impact of chaos begins to bite on agricultural imports and distribution.

Some analysts expect anti-government rebels to eventually take Tripoli, and capture of kill Gaddafi. However, many fear that Gaddafi still retains the resources and wherewithal to turn the uprising against him into a prolonged civil war.

Belarus violates Ivorian arms embargo as violence escalates

Belarus has seriously violated an international arms embargo imposed on Ivory Coast since 2004 say United Nations sources, as violence escalates in this conflict-stricken West African nation after a three-month political impasse.

Elections in November 2010 intended to reunify the country after years of civil war between north and south but produced a political stand-off when incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to the widely-acknowledged victor, Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara has been holed-up inside a luxury Abidjan hotel under protection from UN peacekeepers since the elections, while Gbagbo retains control of the national army and most of southern Ivory Coast.

According to UN reports, the first delivery of attack helicopters and other hardware arrived in Ivory Coast late yesterday, with more arms expected to arrive today. Andrei Savinykh, a spokesmen for Belarusian foreign ministry, has denied the accusations, refuting them as “groundless” according to Associated Press.  

Reports of arms deliveries to the Ivory Coast come as the UN warns that the country risks slipping back into civil war if the political stand-off between Ouattara and Gbagbo continues. While the conflict has long centred on Abidjan, the commercial capital, violence is growing in Yamoussoukro, the country’s official capital.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said “these developments mark a disturbing escalation which draws the country closer to the brink of reigniting civil war,” in a statement released by his office.

Since the elections in late November, the country has split along much the same lines that it was divided along during civil war which ended in 2003. The north of the country is now largely controlled by the New Forces, loyal to Ouattara, while the south remains controlled by Gbagbo forces.

Amid reports of escalating clashes, a spokesman for Gbagbo confirmed that rebels determined to oust him had seized control of the town of Zouan-Hounien in an overnight attack.

According to the United Nations’ refugee agency, the last week has seen a surge in the number of civilians fleeing the fighting. According to UNHCR, the number of civilians crossing the border into neighbouring Liberia has increased to 5,000 in the last 24 hours alone, whereas the rate had stabilised at around 100 a day since violence initially broke out last year.  

The ongoing impasse between Ouattara and Gbagbo has brought the economy of the world’s largest cocoa producer to its knees, with business activity stalled in recent weeks. African Union leaders and Ivory Coast’s neighbours have met repeatedly to discuss how to respond to the crisis, with little success.  

Rangoon bomb blast

At least six people were injured in a bomb blast in Rangoon’s Insein township late on Sunday night, according to local reports. A man carrying an explosive device is believed to have accidentally set off a bomb as he passed through the area, injuring himself and at least four others.

Burmese authorities are yet to publicly identify the man in question. It is not yet clear why he was carrying explosives, or whether he intended to carry out a bombing in the capital. According to an official, an eight-year-old girl and a thirteen-year-old boy were among those injured.

Bombings occur sporadically in Burma, but large scale coordinated bombings are less common. Last year, a bomb attack during the water festival killed at least ten people, including a senior military officer.

Yemen to announce government of national unity within 24 hours

Yemen’s beleaguered president will announce a government of national unity within next 24 hours, according to Al Jazeera news agency. The Qatari agency, whose coverage of recent political events in the middle east has raised its profile dramatically, reports from government sources that “president Ali Abduallah Saleh has had a crucial meeting with the clerics of Yemen in the presidential palace and he told them that within 24 hours from now he will announce a national unity government.” The national unity government will lay the groundwork for sweeping constitutional reforms, it is believed.

The announcement comes as thousands more join anti-government protests in this most impoverished of Arab states, making Saleh’s government look increasingly desperate. Analysts believe the beleaguered Yemeni president, who has become a close ally of Washington and London in their fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may have left it too late to offer meaningful reforms. The main opposition party, Islah, rejected the offer out of hand, saying it would “stick to the demands of the people.” Other opposition groups, which have already called for Saleh’s resignation, also look unlikely to accept the offer.

North Korea threatens war over leaflets

North Korea has issued an official warning that it will fire on South Korea if its neighbour does not halt what the North terms a ‘psychological’ campaign, including the dropping of leaflets into North Korea with information about pro-democracy protests in north Africa.State controlled KCNA news agency reported that “if this action continues despite our repeated warning, we officially inform that our military will shoot the area where the anti-republic, psychological plots come from, including Imjingak, under the right of self-defence.”

In addition to leaflet drops, the South has sent food, medicine and radios into North Korea in efforts to foment dissent. South Korea has resumed a well-practiced tactic of attempting to communicate directly with northern citizens after the reclusive government in Pyongyang bombarded an island near a disputed sea border in November that left four dead.

The first attempts at talks between the Koreas since the sinking of South Korean naval ship the Cheonan almost a year ago broke down earlier this month, with little progress towards rapprochement.

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