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9320Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Iraq

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  • Zafar Khan
    Oct 2, 2011

      The mystery of Gaddafi’s gold
      Sep 15, 2011 21:02


      Libya’s National Transitional Council is preoccupied with two missing points: Gaddafi and his gold. The rebels are not the only party concerned. Popular rumor has it that Gaddafi’s regime was attacked due to its vast gold reserves and Colonel’s plans to introduce a new currency in Africa–gold dinar - to shatter USD and euro.

      Libya under Gaddafi was among top 25 gold reserve owners. The Financial Times estimated the country to have almost 144 tons of gold worth 4,5 bn euro in March 2011. While other leaders put their money into banks of London, NY and Switzerland, Gaddafi preferred to keep it home inaccessible for international embargo imposed on all his foreign assets.

      In March 2011, the IMF estimated Libya’s reserves even higher but the official amount remained 144 tons that were registered by Gaddafi-controlled Libya’s Central Bank. When the country saw first unrest the treasure was moved southwards of the Sabha town to the border with Chad and Niger to make it easily movable to a different country in case of invasion.

      The head of the Bank Qasem Azoz claims that Gaddafi sold 20 percent of the reserves in the first months of the uprising, namely 29 tons of gold worth 1 bn 4 mln euro in May. Spain’s El Pais newspaper wrote that the dictator did it to pay his supporters. Other versions say that the money went to private mercenary army which was to fight with the opposition.

      Qasem Azoz claims that the gold vanished in April-May, his colleagues believe that it was moved to Tunisia or Niger. The NTC is now looking for both Colonel and his gold.

      Some believe the truth hides in one of the vehicles suspected to have carried Gaddafi out of the country. However, this week Colonel published an address denying that he had fled. Niger’s FM Mohamed Bazoum also said that Gaddafi is not in the country during his Algeria visit. The diplomat stated that Gaddafi was not in the vehicles that had crossed the border. But maybe the gold was….Or a leader of tuareg rebels from Niger Rhissa Ag Boula.

      Information about Gaddafi’s links with tuareg tribes and mercenaries circulated since the first days of the war. La Vanguardia paper gave proof of collaboration between Gaddafi’s security services headed by Abdullah Mansour Dao and mercenary recruiter from Niger Aghali Alambo. Maybe the gold went to private mercenary army and Gaddafi’s safety. Ex-head of Libya’s Bank Farhat Bengdara told Italy’s Corriere dela Sera that Libya has more gold than estimated which is worth 7 bn euro. Gaddafi needs it to bribe tribes and mercenaries, pay his guards and provoke panic and chaos in the country.

      To find Gaddaffi’s gold one has to find Gaddafi first. Farhat Bengdara believes that Colonel can play endless hide-and seek being safe behind his multi-billion dollar shield. Even if he is captured it may not make the situation clearer. Gaddafi as many dictators knows how to keep secrets. The same as deep sands of Sahara do which can be safer than any banks.

      Gaddafi may be hiding on border with Algeria, say rebels
      The man most Libyans now call 'the tyrant' or 'the fugitive' may be sheltered by Tuareg tribesmen near the town of Ghadamis
      Ian Black in Tripoli
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 September 2011 20.28 BST


      Libya fighters gain ground in Sirte battle
      New offensive by interim government forces take them even closer to the centre of Gaddafi's coastal stronghold.
      Last Modified: 25 Sep 2011 07:23


      Libya's main university prepares new term for a new dawn
      Tripoli University was used to bolster Gaddafi regime but now it is preparing for a chance to be normal
      Ian Black in Tripoli
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 21 September 2011 22.00 BST


      No one seems to mind that term is starting late at Tripoli University this year. It's not every summer vacation, after all, that records the triumph of a revolution, and there are problems to sort out – not least the huge number of young men toting machine guns on campus – before the students start streaming in past the "down with Gaddafi" and "Free Libya" slogans.

      Staff and new intake alike are preparing for a freshers' week with a difference. "In the circumstances I think we can be forgiven if this term is a bit delayed," says administrator Khalifa Shakreen. "Things are changing so fast."

      For the first time in 42 years the university has the chance to be a normal academic institution. "Until now we had the form of a university but not the function," says Sami Khaskusha, a political scientist. "We fed young people garbage. [Muammar] Gaddafi just used this place to boost his cult of personality and bolster the regime. It did nothing for Libyan society."

      Omar Tajouri, doing a master's degree in international law, wants better teaching, cleaner administration and, above all, freedom. His ambition – unthinkable just months ago – is to specialise in human rights. "Gaddafi's regime was founded on ignorance," he says. "They were the enemies of education and of students."

      Signs of change are everywhere. Last term the university was still named al-Fateh ("The Conqueror") after Gaddafi's 1969 revolution. Now billboards advertising the rules of the sinister revolutionary committees have been defaced. Maps of Libya have been altered to remove the word "Jamahiriya" – the unlamented "state of the masses" presided over by the now fugitive "brother leader". The ubiquitous green flags have gone.

      Faisal Krekshi, a Belfast-trained gynaecologist who helped co-ordinate clandestine preparations for the Tripoli uprising, has been appointed acting president instead of the old regime placeman awaiting investigation. "There is a new spirit in the university and in Libyan society," he says, "but I fear expectations are too high."

      Anxious to quickly demonstrate some tangible benefits, he plans to provide free transport to and from the campus. And the new independent student union has been given computers and other equipment confiscated from the revolutionary committees, whose members are lying low or are in detention.

      If the sense of freedom is intoxicating, painful memories have not faded. In the 1970s and 1980s students were forced to watch public hangings next to the medical faculty to punish dissent and inspire fear. Purges and book bannings were common. Executions stopped years ago but other abuses continued: two weeks ago a secret underground chamber was discovered under a lecture hall. It contained a bedroom, a Jacuzzi, and a fully-equipped gynaecological operating theatre that was used for officially sanctioned but illegal abortions.

      Repression was routine under Gaddafi. But many say the corruption and cronyism were as bad. The highly qualified Krekshi only got his teaching job because he had treated the wife of a revolutionary committee member.

      Huda Shadi, preparing a thesis on linguistics, was told she could not study English because she had good marks in sciences and was only able to switch through the intervention of a friend in the university administration. "The whole system was corrupt," she muses. "You had to do what the people with the files told you to do. It wasn't about what the student wanted. It was dictatorial – like everything else in Libya."

      Khaskusha describes being questioned by the revolutionary committee after telling an international relations class on the global north-south divide about the issue of corruption in southern (developing) countries. He was ordered to clarify to his students that he had not been referring to Libya. "It was terrible," he says. "You had to act like a robot and simply repeat what they said. If you spoke your mind you would be classified as a counter-revolutionary."

      The sprawling campus is pleasant enough but badly dilapidated. It is also strikingly relaxed: couples – many women wearing headscarves – walk hand-in-hand through leafy passageways that offer shelter from the baking heat.

      But facilities and academic standards, staff say, urgently need improving. Curriculum reform is a big issue though the interim government – the National Transitional Council – has scrapped previously compulsory nonsense such as Gaddafi's "universal theory" and "Green Book studies" – a speciality of the University of Tarhouna, south of Tripoli.

      Improving language teaching is expected to be an early focus: many young and middle-aged Libyans speak nothing but Arabic because of abysmal standards and a formal ban on "imperialist" tongues in one of Gaddafi's zanier periods in the 1980s.

      Financial resources were never the problem – true generally of a country blessed with vast oil wealth and a relatively small population. "The priorities were always providing funds for the student union so they could jump up and down and declare their allegiance to the Gaddafi regime," says Hussein al-Ageli, who runs the university language centre. "Proposals for spending on the library or other improvements were just brushed aside."

      Now, in a world without Gaddafi, exciting possibilities beckon. "If Libya is going to move forward and people can understand the new liberties and build a civil society, the universities are where it has to happen," Ageli says. "We must raise standards and play a role in scientific research. We are supposed to be the backbone of the intelligentsia."

      Law student Tajouri expects things will improve. "But it will take time," he admits. "This is a country which has to be built from scratch."

      Gaddafi's birthplace 'captured by rebels' in battle for last Libya coast stronghold
      Rebels claim control of centre of Sirte after three-pronged attack with Gaddafi's son Khamis said to be barricaded in at sea front
      Chris Stephen in Misrata
      guardian.co.uk, Thursday 15 September 2011 21.58 BST


      Turkey PM hails 'sacrifice' of Libyan people
      Erdogan attends Friday prayers at Tripoli's Martyr Square, meets interim leader and expresses support for last battles.
      Last Modified: 16 Sep 2011 11:10


      Libya's new leader calls for civil state
      Mustafa Abdul-Jalil's first public speech in Tripoli defines Libya as a democratic state based on Islamic law.
      Last Modified: 13 Sep 2011 10:59


      Gaddafi's son 'flees to Niger'
      Battles continue for holdout towns as Nigerien officials say Saadi Gaddafi has crossed into the country from Libya.
      Last Modified: 11 Sep 2011 22:11


      Here Gaddafi's men trapped their prey – then threw in the grenades
      Kim Sengupta discovers evidence of a recent atrocity by the feared Khamis Brigade
      Saturday, 10 September 2011


      Amr Dau Algala was picking through the ashes with a stick when he came across the charred and broken bones. A little later he found the buckle. "Only my brother was wearing a belt in our group. This looks like my brother's," he whispered, looking down at the twisted piece of metal.

      Around 60 men, prisoners of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, died when guards first opened fire and then tossed grenades into the warehouse where they were being held. Among them was Amr and three of his brothers. They ran for their lives amid the flames, noise and confusion and escaped. A fourth, 25-year-old Abdullah, is missing.

      "The last time I saw Abdullah was there, sitting in that corner," said Mr Algala, pointing at a blackened corner of the metal box, around 25 feet long and 20 feet wide, into which more than a hundred captives had been crammed. "He is young and looked very scared that morning. When the guards opened fire I started running. I looked back, but there was too much smoke, I could not see my brother. Some people got away after us, we are really hoping Abdullah was one of them, but we don't know."

      Six mounds of reddish brown earth, in a stretch of ground next to the headquarters in Yarmuk of the 32nd Brigade, commanded by Khamis, Colonel Gaddafi's son, marked where the remains of the prisoners had been buried. Decomposed by the heat in the shallow graves most of them have been impossible to identify.

      The revolutionaries in Libya claim that up to 50,000 people have died or disappeared in the hands of the regime's forces since the uprising began in February. Caution is needed about such numbers and the figure may well be too high. But it is also the case that what happened to the Algala brothers is just one of many examples of Gaddafi's forces taking vicious retribution in the dying days of the regime.

      Abdul Birbash was sitting outside the brigade compound, at Gasar ben Ghasir, a suburb of Tripoli, in an old Toyota car clutching photocopied images of his brother, Abdullah, 31, cousin Hasaib, 24, and 26-year-old Salah Nouer, a neighbour. They had disappeared returning from the town of Zintan on the night of 23 August.

      "They were bringing back some people who had been arrested by Gaddafi, but there were still government soldiers around and they must have run into them. They were with another man whose body has been found, he was shot and burned," said Mr Birbash, 21, a student.

      "We have driven hundreds of miles trying to find out what has happened, I don't think they are here, the dates do not match. My mother, my aunt, are very worried. We do not know what to tell them."

      Amr Dau Algala, 34, knew that he would receive particularly harsh treatment from the regime because he had joined the underground opposition in the Libyan capital while still a serving policeman.

      He had done his bit to sabotage the machinery of state, he said, by destroying messages from embassies abroad he had been tasked to decode. But with Colonel Gaddafi clinging on to Tripoli, Mr Algala decided to play a more active part and started smuggling guns into the city.

      "There were many, many police officers who were working in secret to bring down Gaddafi. But someone must have said something and there was a raid at night. They took me and my brothers away," Mr Algala recalled.

      The Algalas were taken to Abu Salim prison, a place of fear where 1,200 inmates were slaughtered following riots in 1996. "We were beaten repeatedly there with sticks and pieces of hosepipe. They didn't even bother to question us much, they just kept hitting us," said Mr Algala. "After two days we were driven out of Abu Salim. I was put in the boot of the car and I wished that I would die there. I did not want to be taken out and tortured again. My hands were tied with wire, I could not move them, they swelled up."

      Mr Algala and his brothers, among others, were locked up for two days and nights in a prison van at the "Khamis Brigade" headquarters. "I don't know how we survived that. But we were taken out and the beatings began immediately. Then we were put on chairs and given electric shocks. My whole body shook. I have never felt such pain. After that we were just thrown into the room and left there."

      The maltreatment started again soon afterwards. One warehouse, with bloodstains on the walls and ceiling, coils of orange and green rope on the floor, was where prisoners had been strung up by their wrists. "They were begging to be cut down, but the guards would not listen," said Mr Algala. "They really had no pity. One man had been shot in the leg. He was so thirsty that he drank his own piss. But still they would not give him any water. I believe he died before the guards started shooting."

      Mr Algala recalled that one day the guards announced that Khamis al-Gaddafi was arriving himself and the prisoners would be free. "People got very excited and the guards started laughing. They said that being 'free' of this place meant that we will all be killed. We did not know whether to believe them or not."

      The threat proved to be real the following morning when the murders began. "Three guards came to the doorway and started firing, they took turns to fire, then there were loud bangs. I realised they were throwing in grenades. We were all shouting and we ran out," said Mr Algala. "We climbed over that wall and we ran through the houses. They came after us, firing, and I saw some people fall. But others got away.

      "Maybe my brother was one of them. Maybe he was injured and someone is looking after him. Maybe we shall hear from him soon."

      Gaddafi's 'Amazonian' bodyguards' barracks quashes myth of glamour
      Tripoli living quarters belonging to Libya dictator's elite cadre reveals a picture of ruthless control and shattered lives
      Martin Chulov in Tripoli
      guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 September 2011 19.45 BST


      Large Libyan armoured convoy arrives in Niger
      About 250 vehicles enter country, as Libyan fighters hold talks with tribal leaders to peacefully enter Bani Walid.
      Last Modified: 06 Sep 2011 10:42


      Libyan papers show UK worked with Gaddafi in rendition operation
      A secret CIA document shows that British and Libyans worked together to arrange the removal of a terror suspect to Tripoli


      Libyan papers 'show CIA and MI6 links'
      Documents in abandoned Tripoli office suggest Gaddafi's intelligence chief had ties with US and British spy agencies.
      Last Modified: 04 Sep 2011 06:49


      Secret files: Gaddafi had spies in rebel camp
      Double agents worked the highest levels of the rebel movement, according to intelligence documents found by Al Jazeera.
      Jamal Elshayyal Last Modified: 01 Sep 2011 21:26



      Egyptian television chef hailed as the 'cook of the revolution'
      Ghalia Mahmoud gains huge following with her mix of thrifty cuisine and all-inclusive message for a new Egypt
      Tracy McVeigh
      The Observer, Sunday 11 September 2011


      Armed with a mismatched set of cheap aluminium pots, a propane gas stove and a warm smile, a 33-year-old housemaid from Cairo has become the unlikely sensation of post-revolutionary Egypt – an inspirational symbol of a new era.

      Ghalia Mahmoud has become a celebrity chef in just a few weeks after the boss of a new Egyptian TV channel hired her to do a cookery spot during the month of Ramadan, which began in August.

      TV viewing usually soars during Ramadan and Mahmoud shot to fame. In her traditional dress, and in a studio mocked up to look like the kitchen of an average working-class Egyptian, Mahmoud's brand of budget-conscious cuisine has won her a growing following in a country gripped by economic uncertainty.

      She announced at the end of one show that she was giving some Eid treats she had made to her Christian neighbours – a small message of tolerance that chimed with the national mood as people look forward to a "new Egypt".

      "The old government only treated the crème de la crème with respect, and the rest of us were invisible," said Mahmoud last week. "I hope that for my two girls the country will be different.

      "I'm really happy that people like me," she added. "I love them too. On the streets they wave and ask, 'Are you really the Ghalia?'" Her daily trip to the local vegetable market, in the poor neighbourhood of El-Warak to buy food for her family of 15, now takes twice as long as she is besieged by well-wishers.

      It was TV executive Muhammad Gohar who decided to put Mahmoud, his sister's maid, on to his new network, Channel 25 – named in honour of 25 January, when the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak began. First he gave her the test of creating a meal that would feed a family of eight for £3. For Mahmoud, one of nine siblings in a fatherless family, it was something she had been doing all her life. The underclass in Egypt, who have been living on about £150 each a month, has now taken her to their hearts, calling her the "cook of the 25 January revolution".

      "This is the new Egypt, a new era, a new television, a new people-to-people talk, instead of authoritarian-to-people," said Gohar. "A lot of poor people see themselves in her."

      The producer of the show, Habiba Hesham, said during the programme she could hardly keep up with the incoming phone calls from viewers. "She has an energy and a sense of humour that suits the people," said Hesham. People phone in to ask questions or just to say hello. With her broad smile, Mahmoud tells her audience: "You women are smart and you can cook anything if you try."

      Along with her pots with missing handles, her measuring cups are made of plastic and the only electrical device is a well-used blender. On her round tin table are vegetables bought from Cairo's street vendors – courgettes, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, onions – and she follows simple, authentic recipes, such as mashed fava beans, stuffed vine leaves and cabbage, with cucumber and cheese on the side. As for meat, the expense means it is only cooked for one meal a week, on Fridays, the Muslim sabbath.

      But Mahmoud also talks of recipes she will be producing for Egyptian Christians during Lent: "In poor Egyptian neighbourhoods, there is no Muslim-Christian divide. That divide was of Mubarak's making," she told her audience. She is breaking the divides between rich and poor too – in one show she took a call from a wealthy group of giggling girls out in their Mercedes who wanted to make her "delicious lentil soup".

      Mahmoud gets calls from children who tell her: "Auntie Ghalia, we love you." Along with her new Facebook page there is another site declaring: "Ghalia Mahmoud for president!!" In the new Egypt, anything could be possible.

      Egyptians rally against emergency laws
      Hundreds in Tahrir Square condemn ruling military council's decision to expand Mubarak-era legislation.
      Last Modified: 16 Sep 2011 12:22


      Hundreds of people have gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to protest against the recent expansion of the Egypt's emergency law, amid palpable anger over the military's handling of transition from autocratic rule.

      Imam Gomaa Mohammed, delivering the Muslim noon prayer sermon on Friday, called on the authorities "to repeal the law immediately and also to end the military trial of civilians".

      "The application of the emergency law totally contradicts the demands of the revolution" that toppled Mubarak in February following 18 days of mass nationwide rallies, Mohammed said.

      Earlier this week, following a violent attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo and attempts to storm security buildings, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said it would enforce the Emergency Law at least until the end of this year, on articles relating to the spreading of misinformation, arms possession and interfering with traffic.

      At least 33 political groups and movements had announced they would take part in the protest in Tahrir Square, which had been the focal point of demonstrations over the past eight months.

      The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya did not take part in the rally.

      Al Jazeera's Sherin Tadros reporting from Cairo said: "Although a lot of the political forces agree that something should be done about [the] emergency law, only some of them decided that the thing that should be done is to come out to Tahrir and protest today."

      "The Muslim Brotherhood and other important political groups and factions in the country said that what is needed is a coordinated response and for a mass protest to take place at the end of the month on September 30.

      "There are various manifestations of the anger over here right now to do with the emergency law, but we do not expect [today's protest] to get out of hand."

      Protesters have rallied to press SCAF to rescind its recent decision to expand the Mubarak-era emergency laws, to set a timetable to hand power to a civilian administration and to prevent members of the National Democratic Party, the disbanded former ruling party, from taking part in parliamentary elections scheduled for November.

      Lifting the emergency law, which gave security forces unlimited powers for 30 years in Egypt during Hosni Mubarak's rule, was one of the demands of protesters who took to the streets across Egypt earlier this year calling for the toppling of Mubarak.

      Following Mubarak's resignation on February 11, SCAF pledged that the country's emergency law will be lifted, but only "as soon as current circumstances end".

      Amnesty International, the UK-based rights group, condemned on Thursday the recent expansion of the law as a "serious erosion of human rights."

      "The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt's laws back to the bad old days," Philip Luther, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.

      "These changes are a major threat to the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the right to strike.

      "We are looking at the most serious erosion of human rights in Egypt since Mubarak stepped down."

      Luther said that not only must SCAF repeal these amendments, "they need to end the state of emergency altogether, as they promised upon taking power in February".

      Israel evacuates ambassador to Egypt after embassy attack
      Egypt declares state of alert after three die and more than a thousand are injured as crowds storm the Israeli embassy in Cairo
      David Batty and agencies
      guardian.co.uk, Saturday 10 September 2011 11.01 BST



      Yemen protesters under 'heavy mortar fire'
      Military rival accuses Saleh of "driving the country into civil war" as protest camp in Sanaa draws sustained fire.
      Last Modified: 24 Sep 2011 08:11


      Forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh have intensified their assault on opposition protesters, attacking unarmed demonstrators in Sanaa's "Change Square" and the headquarters of defected soldiers - leaving scores dead and injured just one day after the president returned from a three-month absence in Saudi Arabia.

      The main opposition protest camp in Sanaa came under heavy mortar fire and sniper attack by Yemeni government forces on Friday. Reports indicate that at least 16 people were killed and 54 injured in the assault.

      Troops loyal to Saleh launched the attack a little after midnight on Friday, opening fire with guns and shelling "Change Square", which protesters first occupied back in January.

      Muttahar al-Masri, Yemen's interior minister, however denied that a raid took place, blaming the gunfire on "extremists".

      Snipers also targeted the people in the square from buildings around it, witnesses said.

      Medics working at a field hospital set up in the square said that some of those killed were mangled.

      "We have ... one killed in a terrible way by the mortar fire - we only have half a body," Dr Mohammed al-Qubati said.

      Hundreds fled from the southern end of the camp, witnesses said, as the attack continued through Saturday morning.

      Elsewhere in Sanaa, pro-Saleh shelled the headquarters of the First Armoured Division - the unit of defected soldiers supporting the Yemeni people's revolution.

      Reports said 11 soldiers were killed and 120 injured in the shelling.

      The fatalities brought the number of those killed to at least 47 since Friday - and to 142 since Sunday, when the ongoing wave of violence hit the Yemeni capital.

      "Vemgful soul"

      The main military rival of Saleh said the returning leader was set on driving the country into civil war and called on the international community to rein him in.

      Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar issued a strongly worded statement on Saturday, calling Saleh a "sick, vengeful soul'' and comparing him to the Roman emperor Nero, burning down his own city.

      Many Yemenis thought they had seen the last of Saleh when he flew to Saudi Arabia in June for medical treatment after a bomb explosion at his palace left him with severe burns.

      His reappearance raised big questions over the future of the fractious Arabian Peninsula state.

      In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "We urge President Saleh to initiate a full transfer of power and arrange for presidential elections to be held before the end of then year.

      "The Yemeni people have suffered enough and deserve a path towards a better future."

      A senior Saudi official told AFP news agency that Saleh had returned from Riyadh to put his house "in order" and "prepare for elections".

      Saleh will "leave" after this, the official said without specifying whether he would leave Yemen altogether or only leave power.

      Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbours have been trying for months to persuade Saleh to accept a plan under which he would hand over power in return for a promise of immunity from prosecution.

      Saleh had been involved in the negotiations, repeatedly promising to step down only to change his position at the last minute.

      "I return to the nation carrying the dove of peace and the olive branch," Saleh was quoted as saying by state television on Friday.

      He also called for a ceasefire.

      However, the violent crackdown on anti-Saleh protesters by pro-Saleh forces have left many Yemenis skeptical of his intentions.

      Yemen's Saleh calls for ceasefire on return
      Protesters killed in violence following surprise arrival of the president in Sanaa after three-month absence.
      Last Modified: 23 Sep 2011 11:53


      Baby among scores shot dead on bloodiest day of Yemen’s uprising
      By Ahmed al-Haj in Sana'a and Richard Hall
      Tuesday, 20 September 2011


      More than 50 protesters have been killed in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, over the past two days in the deadliest crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations since they began in January.

      The resurgence in violence came as envoys from the United Nations and the Gulf Co-operation Council were attempting to negotiate a handover of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Tens of thousands of protesters had taken to the streets in the preceding days in frustration over Mr Saleh's refusal to step down.

      Government forces reportedly killed 30 people yesterday, raising the death toll to 56 over two days. One witness reported that a baby girl was killed by a stray bullet.

      Following the attacks, thousands of protesters armed with sticks and backed by armed military defectors overran a base of the elite Presidential Guards yesterday. The protesters, joined by soldiers from the 1st Armoured Division, stormed the base without firing a single shot and seized a large number of firearms left by fleeing Guards. "It was unbelievable," said protester, Ameen Ali Saleh, of the storming the base on the west of the major al-Zubairy road, which runs through the heart of Sanaa.

      "We acted like it was us who had the weapons, not the soldiers."

      "Now the remainder of the regime will finally crumble," said another demonstrator, Mohammed al-Wasaby. "Our will is more effective than weapons."

      An opposition source told Reuters last night that anti-government fighters had agreed a ceasefire after the battles, but this was not officially confirmed. The fall of the base into protesters' hands is a significant development in the uprising against President Saleh. Together with the country's Special Forces, the Presidential Guards have long been thought to be the regime's last line of defence.

      The storming of the base capped two days of clashes in the capital that, as well leaving many dead, has left nearly 1,000 people injured, mostly demonstrators.

      Witnesses and security officials described scenes of mutilated bodies, some torn apart. An infant girl, a 14-year-old boy and three rebel soldiers were among those killed yesterday. Protest leader, Abdul-Hadi al-Azzai, said: "It is over. The Ali Abdullah Saleh regime is finished. How can you negotiate while massacres are ongoing? The world is silent."

      The violence led authorities to close Sanaa airport and order four flights to go instead to the southern port city of Aden, according to an airport official.

      But even Aden did not escape bloodshed. Three protesters were wounded in clashes with government forces, witnesses there said.

      In the southern city of Taiz, at least four protesters were killed and 40 others wounded, according to witnesses.

      The United States, European Union nations and others on the UN Human Rights Council used a meeting of the Geneva-based body to urge the government of Yemen to stop exercising force against peaceful protesters and to seek a resolution to the unrest.

      The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said: "The responsibility for preserving law and order, respecting the right to peaceful protest and ensuring early justice for the victims of yesterday's attacks, rests with the government of Yemen."

      Also speaking at the human rights council, the Yemeni Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr al-Kurbi, condemned the killing, adding: "The government will investigate and hold accountable all those who were in charge of these acts."

      The latest violence was born partly out of frustration after Mr Saleh, who is recovering in Saudi Arabia from a June assassination attempt, shattered hopes raised by the US last week that he was about to relinquish power.

      Diplomats and Yemeni politicians scrambled yesterday to speed up a long-stalled transition plan under which Mr Saleh would hand over power. He has backed out of signing a deal a number of times and many believe the move is a delaying tactic.

      A source in Yemen's political opposition told Reuters they were meeting with government officials and diplomats to try to push through a deal.

      Yemeni toll rises after fresh Sanaa shelling
      More killed in rocket attack, pushing the toll past 60 as clashes between ex-soldiers and pro-Saleh forces continue.
      Last Modified: 20 Sep 2011 02:59


      Street clashes resume in Yemeni capital
      At least 21 killed in fresh violence in Sanaa, a day after dozens were shot dead by forces loyal to President Saleh.
      Last Modified: 19 Sep 2011 11:15


      At least 21 people have been killed and over 100 injured in fresh clashes on the streets of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, a day after 26 anti-government protesters were shot dead and hundreds wounded by troops and gunmen loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

      According to reports, Monday's deaths occurred as snipers fired upon passers-by and peaceful protesters demonstrating at Change Square.

      "Help me, oh my God look at his slaughter!" said the father of a boy who died from a gunshot wound to the head.

      "We were just in the car on Hayel Street (near the fighting). I stepped out to get some food and left my two boys in the car and I heard the older one scream. The little one was shot straight through the head."

      The clashes came as protesters tried to push further into territory held by government forces after extending their camp overnight.

      The opposition had earlier vowed to press ahead with demonstrations despite Sunday's crackdown.

      A freelance journalist stationed in Yemen, told Al Jazeera, "Everything points to more protest".

      Meanwhile, Abdu al-Janadi, Yemen's deputy information minister, rejected accusations that the regime had planned attacks on the protesters and accused what he described as "unknown assailants" of carrying out the acts.

      "This attack was prepared so as to kill as many people as they could. ... This is a plot against all the Yemeni people," al-Janadi told a British television station.

      Also on Monday, two people were killed and 10 injured when security forces loyal to the president opened fire on protesters in the city of Taiz.


      Tunisia jails Qaddafi-era premier for illegal entry
      Published: Sep 22, 2011 22:42 Updated: Sep 22, 2011 22:42


      TUNIS: Tunisia has arrested and jailed Baghdadi Al-Mahmudi, who was Muammar Qaddafi's prime minister until the collapse of the Libyan regime last month, officials said Thursday.

      Al-Mahmudi, one of the most senior members of the former Libyan regime to have been detained to date, was sentenced to six months in prison for illegal entry, a Tunisian Justice Ministry spokesman said.

      Al-Mahmudi, who was arrested Wednesday, "appeared before the state prosecutor in Tozeur (430 km south of Tunis) and sentenced to six months in prison with immediate effect," Kadhem Zine El Abidine said.

      Interior Ministry spokesman Hichem Meddeb said Al-Mahmudi "was arrested by security forces with two men Wednesday near Tamaghza at the border with Algeria."

      He said the three men did not have a visa in their passports but he was unable to say exactly when and where they had crossed the border.

      On Sept. 7, another member of Qaddafi's inner circle, Khouildi Hamidi, was briefly detained at Tunis airport for illegal entry.

      Since Qaddafi's 42-year-old regime collapsed last month, many senior officials in his entourage have defected or fled, often transiting through neighboring Tunisia.

      Tunisia, also ruled by an interim administration since the shock January ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that started the Arab spring uprisings, officially recognized the National Transitional Congress (NTC) last month.

      Al Arabiya television quoted the Algerian foreign minister on Thursday as saying Algiers recognizes NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

      The report followed an Algerian Foreign Ministry statement which said it was ready to work closely with the NTC. The move is aimed at ending the strained relations between the two neighbors since Qaddafi's ouster.

      Meanwhile, Qaddafi's spokesman told Reuters Thursday that NATO airstrikes and shelling of Sirte by interim government forces on Wednesday and Thursday had killed 151 people.

      He also said the city's main hospital had run out of medical supplies and power.

      His claims could not immediately be verified as Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown, is largely cut off from communication and is besieged on three fronts by NTC forces.

      Comments from NATO were not immediately available.


      Deadly explosions hit Iraq's Karbala city
      Four blasts outside government offices in the shrine city leave at least 10 people dead and dozens wounded.
      Last Modified: 25 Sep 2011 10:04


      Four explosions have rocked the Iraqi city of Karbala, around 118km south of the capital Baghdad, leaving at least 10 people dead and 36 more wounded, sources say.

      The back-to-back explosions occurred on Sunday outside a governmental building and damaged many cars, police officials said.

      The first blast tore though a crowd of guards and civilians gathered in front of an office issuing identity cards and passports, while the three other explosions went off a short time later as emergency services arrived.

      No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, caused by explosive packages, according to police.

      "I was inside my house when I heard a big explosion. When I got out I saw many people wounded and some bodies on the ground," Mohammed Naeim, a local resident, told the Reuters news agency.

      Bombings and attacks are once again becoming an almost daily occurrence, often targeting security personnel, after a drop in violence levels.

      "The bomb attacks in Karbala today have so far killed nine people and there are 99 people wounded," Alaa Hammudi, head of Karbala province's health department, said.

      He said the toll could rise further.

      Lieutenant-General Othman al-Ghanimi, the army commander for forces across five provinces in central Iraq, including Karbala, put the toll at 10 dead and 86 wounded.

      He said the four explosions included two roadside bombs, a car bomb and a suicide explosion, but did not say the order in which they happened.

      Collapsed houses

      An AFP journalist at the scene reported seeing several bodies covered in blood being taken away by paramedics, and major damage to vehicles and buildings, with some houses completely collapsed.

      Security forces cordoned off the area in the aftermath of the attacks, the journalist said.

      An interior ministry official said entrances to Karbala had been closed. It is a predominantly Shia city that is home to the mausoleums of Imam Hussein and his half-brother Abbas.

      It has frequently been the target of Sunni Muslim fighters in the past, such as on January 20 when a spate of blasts against Shia pilgrims on the outskirts of Karbala killed 45 people.

      In the western city of Ramadi, meanwhile, two roadside bombs killed two people and wounded six others, including two young girls, a police officer and an anti-al-Qaeda fighters said.

      An initial explosion at the home of Mohammed Awwad, a tribal chief, killed a woman and wounded the girls, the security officials said.

      The second, which occurred when police arrived, killed a man and wounded four others, including three policemen.

      Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, a Sunni fighters' base in the years after the US-led invasion of 2003, but since 2006 local tribes have sided with the US military and day-to-day violence has dropped dramatically.

      In the north Baghdad neighbourhood of Hurriya, meanwhile, the driver of a senior official in Iraq's human rights ministry was killed by assailants using silenced pistols, an interior ministry official said.