|McCain backs rebels,
Libya changes tack in Misrata
|BENGHAZI, Libya (AFP) - NATO carried out fresh air raids
on Tripoli Saturday as Moamer Kadhafi’s government planned
to withdraw from the besieged third city of Misrata and
leave local tribes to fight off insurgents.
Senior US Senator John McCain urged the Western coalition on
Friday to launch intensified air strikes against Libyan
troops and recognise the rebels’ council as he became the
highest-ranking US politician to visit the rebel-held east
since the popular uprising began in mid-February.
Rebels bogged down in their bid to oust Kadhafi on Friday
hailed a US decision to deploy armed drones over Libya.
“We hope that this can bring some relief to the people in
Misrata,” the rebels’ media liaison Mustafa Gheriani told
AFP of the rebel-held city in western Libya that has been
pounded by Kadhafi’s forces for more than six weeks, leaving
AFP journalists reported hearing several blasts early
Saturday after many warplanes flew over the Libyan capital.
Anti-aircraft fire rang out as ambulance sirens wailed.
Al-Libya television said Tripoli was “now the target of
raids by the barbaric crusader colonialist aggressor,” a
term used for Western forces.
The official JANA news agency reported that two people died
in NATO air raids late Friday on the Zenten region southwest
of Tripoli where stepped up fighting has taken place with
rebels who hold several towns. NATO warplanes had overflown
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s stronghold throughout the
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said armed
tribesmen would be dispatched to Misrata, while the army
would be phased out, to deal with the rebellion “using force
Kaim said US President Barack Obama’s administration had
decided to send drones to Libya “to assassinate the people,”
accusing Washington of “new crimes against humanity” after
those he said had been committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A NATO official said the unmanned drones and their precision
would give the allies more options, especially in urban
“The use of drones will make it easier to target Kadhafi
forces in crowded urban areas.
A vehicle like the Predator, that can get down lower and can
get IDs, will better help us carrying out the mission with
precision and care,” the official said.
The US military’s top officer, meanwhile, said allied air
strikes had destroyed 30 to 40 percent of Kadhafi’s forces
and noted the conflict was progressing into a stalemate.
“I am sure that NATO forces will continue to attrite the
military capability of the regime forces,” Admiral Michael
Mullen said in Baghdad.
Rebels, who on Thursday overran a post on the Tunisian
border in their first advance in weeks against Kadhafi’s
forces, have complained that civilians are being killed in
places like Misrata, where entire streets have been
pulverised by gunfire, shelling and cluster bombs.
“Our houses are being hit by bombs and rockets,” said
45-year-old Ibrahim Issa Abu Hajjar, who fled the city with
hundreds of civilians aboard a Turkish ferry to Benghazi.
|US drone kills 23
after Taliban attack in Pakistan
Pakistan (AFP) - A US drone strike targeting Taliban in
northwest Pakistan killed 23 people including three
civilians on Friday, officials said, after 16 security
forces died in an insurgent attack.
It was the first missile strike to hit North Waziristan
tribal district since a diplomatic furore erupted between
Pakistan and the United States over a drone attack on March
17, which killed 39 people including civilians.
The pilotless aircraft targeted two compounds in Spinwam, 40
kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Miranshah, the main town
in North Waziristan.
“The drones launched two successive attacks. In the first
strike they fired two missiles and in the second they
released three more,” a military official in the area said.
Military officials in Peshawar said the death toll had risen
from 20 to 23, with two women and one boy among the dead,
although that could not be independently verified.
Another official said the rest of the dead were insurgents,
but there was no report of any high value target and their
nationalities were unknown.
“The missiles hit a house and a nearby guest house in Hasan
Khel town in Spinwam area,” another official said, adding
that the two buildings belong to a tribesman supporter of
local Taliban leader Gul Bahadur.
Local security and administration officials in Miranshah
gave a higher toll of 25 dead, including three women and
Most drone attacks have been in North Waziristan, the most
notorious Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda bastion in Pakistan,
where the United States wants the Pakistan military to
launch a ground offensive as soon as possible.
Pakistan says its troops are too overstretched to mount such
In the far north of the troubled region bordering war-torn
Afghanistan, 16 security officials were killed on Thursday
in Taliban attacks on a checkpost being set up on the
frontier, a military official said.
He said 200 armed militants had surrounded the post in the
Kharkai area of Lower Dir, a district bordering
Afghanistan’s eastern Nuristan province.
The first ambush saw 14 security personnel killed, he said,
and a further two died in a subsequent attack on troops sent
to reinforce the position.
In the first attack, “14 people were killed including nine
Frontier Corps soldiers and five police officials,” the
official said, adding that five or six other officials were
The violence came as US and Pakistani officials wrangle over
their counterterrorism efforts on the border and the
unpopular US missile campaign.
The strikes inflame anti-US feeling, which is already
running high after the January killing of two Pakistani men
in a busy Lahore street by a US embassy official later
revealed to be working for the CIA.
Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan has announced he will
hold a mass protest in Peshawar city on Sunday against the
Last month’s US drone attack led Pakistani civilian and
military leaders to publicly protest the civilian
casualties, although the drone campaign is believed to
operate with the tacit consent of the government.
Missile attacks doubled last year, with more than 100 drone
strikes killing over 670 people in 2010, compared with 45
strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally.
|Boozy Brits abroad
part of national character: Poll
(AFP) - More than a quarter of Britons think getting drunk
abroad is a national characteristic, according to a survey
marking England’s national day Saturday.
An Opinium Research poll of 2,012 British adults found that
60 percent thought drinking tea was a national trait,
closely followed by talking about the weather.
Forty percent associated a “stiff upper lip” mentality --
stoicism in the face of adversity -- with being British.
Meanwhile 32 percent thought supporting the royal family was
a British characteristic, as the country gears up for the
wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on Friday.
Twenty-eight percent thought that getting drunk abroad was a
British attribute, while fewer than one in three thought
working hard made people British.
“Our research has revealed that it’s hard to pin down what
it means to be British,” said Opinium Research managing
director James Endersby.
“With several stereotypical attributes making the list as
well as wider personality traits, it goes to show that
Britishness is a complex mix of characteristics.”
Fewer than half of those surveyed in England knew April 23
was Saint George’s Day.
Just 48 percent knew the date celebrating England’s patron
saint -- yet 57 percent knew that Saint Patrick’s Day, the
Irish national day, was March 17.
In Northern Ireland, 100 percent of those surveyed knew when
Saint Patrick’s Day was, while eight in 10 in Wales knew
when Saint David’s Day fell.
Despite the majority not knowing when Saint George’s Day
was, 61 percent of English people described themselves as
English rather than British.
|UN chief hits out at
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - UN leader
Ban Ki-moon condemned the Syrian government for the killing
of scores of demonstrators on Friday and renewed calls for a
“transparent” independent investigation.
“The secretary-general condemns the ongoing violence against
peaceful demonstrators in Syria, which again has killed and
injured many today, and calls for it to stop immediately,”
said UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
Ban said President Bashar al-Assad’s government must
“respect international human rights, including the right to
freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the
freedom of the press.”
He also repeated his demand for an “independent, transparent
and effective investigation into the killings,” added the
Ban noted measures such as the lifting of a decades-old
state of emergency in Syria but stressed that “only an
inclusive dialogue and the effective implementation of
reforms can address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian
people and ensure social peace and order.”
Syrian security forces killed at least 72 people as they
dispersed the latest anti-government demonstrations in the
country, activists said.
Syrian authorities spoke of 10 dead.
|UN, others voice
concerns on Haiti vote fraud
|PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) - The United Nations and Haiti’s
major donor nations, including the United States, have
voiced concern over allegations of fraud in final results of
the country’s legislative elections.
Reversals in 18 legislative races raised doubts about the
legitimacy of the voting process, according to Haiti’s main
The concerns coincided with outbreaks of violence in parts
of Haiti that left at least one person dead during protests
over the final election tally.
A UN statement issued in Port-au-Prince Friday congratulated
president-elect Michel Martelly on his victory but noted
concerns over the final tally in legislative elections,
which overturned 17 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and one
in the Senate.
“The final results have therefore raised serious concern
about the transparency and legitimacy of the process,” said
the statement released by the United Nations on behalf of
the United States, Brazil, Canada, Spain, France, the
European Union and other major donors.
The statement said the United Nations and donor nations
“continue to stand with the people of Haiti” and urged all
Haitians “to remain calm and work through peaceful means to
address this issue.”
Martelly called Thursday for an independent probe into
alleged fraud by outgoing President Rene Preval’s ruling
party in the legislative vote.
On Friday, he urged the international community “not
recognize” the results of the legislative elections.
“These results are unacceptable and don’t reflect the will
of the people,” said a statement from Martelly’s office.
The United States voiced concern over alleged fraud in the
legislative elections and said authorities must explain how
some of the final results came to be reversed.
“We have found no explanation for the reversals of 18
legislative races in the final results, which in all except
two cases benefited the incumbent party,” the State
Department said in a statement, adding it had reviewed
official data from the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP),
the United Nations and observers.
“The United States calls upon the government of Haiti and
the (CEP) to provide a thorough, public explanation for the
reversals in these 18 races” following the second-round
legislative elections on March 20, it added.
Without a public explanation and a review by outside
observers, “the legitimacy of seating these candidates is in
UN peacekeepers were placed on maximum alert in Haiti as
violence flared following publication of the fraud-tainted
“There have been additional incidents of violence since
yesterday in rural areas... Our troops have been redeployed
and are using extreme caution,” UN spokeswoman Sylvie Van
Den Wildenberg told AFP. “Our forces are on maximum alert.”
While Martelly won the presidency with a resounding 67.5
percent of the vote, the ruling Unity Party expanded its
presence in the Chamber of Deputies, taking 46 of the 99
positions, and gained an absolute majority in the upper
Senate with 17 of the 30 seats, according to final results
Martelly’s fledgling Reypons Peysan party won only three
parliamentary seats, and to enact the reforms Haiti needs he
will have to forge deals with Unity.
According to the US State Department, the discrepancies
included a Unity Party candidate who placed third in the
preliminary results finishing first according to the final
Total votes in that race increased by 55,000 votes, from
90,000 votes in the preliminary results to 145,000 in the
final results, the State Department said.
The latest fraud allegations followed similar concerns after
the first round of voting that initially saw Martelly
excluded from the run-off, placing third.
Only after international pressure and street protests were
those results modified, allowing Martelly to qualify in
place of ruling party candidate Jude Celestin.
Washington called on a joint electoral observation mission
by the Organization of American States and Caribbean
Community CARICOM to witness the documentation of the final
results in the interest of transparency and fairness.
“The Haitian people, who have participated with great
patience in the two rounds of elections, deserve nothing
less,” the US statement said.
Martelly faces the daunting task of rebuilding a Caribbean
nation still trying to recover from a January 2010
earthquake that killed more than 225,000 people, displaced
1.5 million and left the capital in ruins.