Saudis admit they supported Libya attack to mute US criticism of Bahrain

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Bahrain steps up arrests of activists -opposition
DUBAI, March 31 (Reuters) – Bahrain has stepped up arrests of cyber activists and Shi’ites, with more than 300 detained and dozens missing since it launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests, the opposition said on Thursday. Earlier this month, the Gulf Arab island’s Sunni rulers imposed martial law and called in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, to quell the protest movement led mostly by the state’s Shi’ite majority.

U.S. criticizes Bahrain over blogger arrest
WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) – Bahrain’s arrest of a prominent blogger and other Internet activists could it could make it more difficult to establish political dialogue after recent anti-government unrest, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States was deeply concerned over the arrest of Mahmood al-Yousif and reported arrest of two other prominent activists this week.

Crackdown: Bahrain Goes After The Blogfather
Mahmood Al Yousif is so influential in Bahrain that he’s widely known as the “Blogfather.” Neither publicly pro- or anti-government, the moderator of the popular blog “Mahmood’s Den” is the rare public figure who actively discourages the Sunni-Shia tension that has plagued the tiny Gulf Kingdom for decades. But on Tuesday morning, Al Yousif apparently was dealt the same fate meted out to many prominent activist. In a pre-dawn raid, police seized the popular moderator of the multimedia site and hauled him off to jail.

Bahrain downs Iran’s Press TV channel
Bahrain’s illegal measure comes following the extensive coverage by Press TV of its brutal suppression of Bahraini protesters, backed by military forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that were deployed to the country.

Bahrain opposition head wants Iran, Saudi out (AFP)
AFP – Bahrain’s Shiite opposition head Ali Salman on Wednesday warned Iran and Saudi Arabia against using his country as a “battlefield” in a proxy war.

Saudi officials: ‘We backed air strikes on Libya in exchange for the US muting its criticism of the slaughter in Bahrain”
“The kingdom’s parliament effectively stripped 11 MPs from the Wefaq party – a quarter of the legislature’s sitting members – of their immunity from prosecution, signalling a further hardening of the ruling family’s position. Western human rights activists also accused the regime of torturing wounded protesters being held in a hospital in the capital Manama…
Saudi officials say they gave their backing to Western air strikes on Libya in exchange for the United States muting its criticism of the authorities in Bahrain, a close ally of the desert kingdom…”

And more news from the Arab uprisings:

Attack, Counterattack
Libya’s Misrata hit by shell-fire: rebel spokesman
ALGIERS, March 31 (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shelled the rebel-held city of Misrata on Thursday and dozens of civilians have been killed in the past few days when their homes were hit, a rebel spokesman said. Misrata, the last big rebel strong-hold in western Libya, has been encircled by pro-Gaddafi forces for weeks and repeated Western air strikes aimed at protecting civilians there have not so far succeeded in halting the attacks.

Rebels fight Gaddafi’s forces for east Libyan town
Rebels fight for control of the eastern oil town of Brega, a day after troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi drove them back under rocket fire.

Libya rebels fight Gaddafi forces in Brega – rebel
BENGHAZI, Libya, March 30 (Reuters) – Libyan rebels are fighting Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in the town of Brega, a rebel spokesman said on Wednesday, repeating a call for foreign powers to support anti-Gaddafi forces with arms supplies and air strikes. Ahmad Bani, a rebel military spokesman in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, said rebels pulled back after a recent string of gains in the face of Gaddafi’s better-equipped army. “Fighting is now under way at Brega and Ajdabiyah will be a new defence point,” Bani said. “We are seeking weapons that will be able to destroy the heavy weapons they are using against us such as tanks and artillery.” Bani said civilians were under threat and that Western warplanes enforcing a U.N. resolution aimed at defending civilians should therefore “take out” Gaddafi’s forces.

Libyans Offer Credible Case of Death by Airstrike
An 18-month-old baby is the first specific and credible civilian death from the airstrikes that the Qaddafi government has presented in 10 days of official statements.

Battle for Benghazi
New footage has emerged from the first moments of the uprising in Libya, showing gunmen – who appear to be Gaddafi loyalists – shooting unarmed protesters dead. With armed men dragging people from Benghazi’s mosque, others were left to die on the streets. Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton reports from the city.

War on Media
Libyan government expels Reuters correspondent
LONDON, March 30 (Reuters) – The Libyan government expelled a Reuters correspondent on Wednesday. It gave no reason for ordering out Michael Georgy, who had been in Tripoli since Feb. 28 among a small group of foreign journalists allowed in to report under government restrictions. Georgy, an American currently based in Pakistan, was notified late on Tuesday that he must leave Libya. He arrived in neighbouring Tunisia on Wednesday. “We regret the decision of the Libyan authorities to expel our correspondent and we regret the fact that no reason has been given for his expulsion,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said. “We are committed to continuing our accurate and impartial coverage of events in Libya.”

VIDEO: BBC reporter on the frontlines in Libya
The BBC’s Orla Guerin was travelling with rebel forces near Ajdabiya, when the convey she was with came under attack in an ambush.

Humanitarian Crisis
Human Rights Watch Libya: At Least 370 Missing From Country’s East
(Benghazi) – At least 370 Libyans have been reported missing in the eastern part of the country since mid-February 2011, some of them known or suspected to be in Libyan government custody, Human Rights Watch said today.

Misurata doctor describes civilian casualties
A doctor in Misurata, a city in western Libya that has been besieged by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, told Al Jazeera on March 28 that his hospital has treated more than 1,500 injured people and taken in more than 200 killed since the conflict began mroe than 40 days ago.

Refugees trapped on Tunisian Libyan border
As the fighting continues in Libya, hundreds of people are fleeing the country everyday. Many head to Tunsia where they’re being housed in temporary camps. Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri reports from Shousha camp on the Tunisian Libyan border.

Amnesty International Libya  End campaign to discredit Eman al-Obeidi
The Libyan authorities have been carrying out a smear campaign against Eman al-Obeidi, who is now being sued by those she says raped her. The Libyan authorities must end their campaign to discredit Eman al-Obeidi, Amnesty International said today, after the government said she was being sued by the security officials who she says raped her.

Libya rape victim’s cousin warns of regime revenge
After Eman al-Obaidi made headlines worlwide by telling international media of how she was gang-raped my members of Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces, her cousin Mariam Omar warned of the grave consequences of her decision to expose the Libyan regime.

Libyan families flee east from Ajdabiyah
CAIRO, March 30 (Reuters) – Libyan families fled the eastern town of Ajdabiyah towards the rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Wednesday as attacks by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces prompted a panicked retreat by rebel fighters, a Reuters witness said. The road out of Ajdabiyah was packed with cars carrying families and their belongings, said correspondent Alexander Dziadosz. An artillery offensive by troops loyal to Gaddafi routed the rebels east of Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, who dashed back over territory as quickly as they had taken it, ceding oil towns as the Libyan leader’s troops advanced.

Tunisia rescues migrants on way from Libya – TAP
TUNIS, March 30 (Reuters) – The Tunisian coastguard rescued some 300 migrants sailing from Libya towards Europe on Wednesday after a leak on their boat, the official TAP news agency said on Wednesday, quoting a security source. TAP said the migrants had been taken to the transit point of Ras Jdir on the Libyan-Tunisian border, where thousands of refugees have been fleeing to since unrest in Libya began last month, as well as to the southeastern town of Ben Guerdane, where arrangements for evacuations would be made.
“The maritime guards in Sfax rescued 300 migrants from Somalia, Sudan and Bangladesh after they sent out distress calls early on Wednesday after a leak in the boat,” TAP said.

Developments & Other News
Libya’s foreign minister defects
Senior official arrives in the UK as Britain gives marching orders to five Libyan diplomats citing national security.

Profile: Moussa Koussa
A look at Moussa Koussa, the Libyan foreign minister’s career and the steps that led to his escape to the UK.

Senior Libyan diplomat says quits over “bloodshed”
CAIRO, March 31 (Reuters) – A former Libyan foreign minister who Muammar Gaddafi had appointed as his U.N. ambassador, Ali Abdussalm Treki, has refused to take up any official position and condemned the “spilling of blood.” Treki made the remarks in a statement sent to Reuters by his nephew, Soufian Treki, a Libyan diplomat at the Arab League in Cairo. He said his uncle was in Cairo now. “I have decided not to continue work or to accept any duty,” the former minister said in the statement. “I pray to God to help me participate in saving this precious nation.” He called for a national dialogue to discuss Libyan aspirations.

Nato takes sole command of Libya air operations
Nato assumed command of all air operations over Libya early today, taking over from the US, which had been eager to be rid that responsibility.

Obama Signed Secret Libya Order Authorizing Support For Rebels
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.–secret-order-libya-signed-rebel-support_n_842734.html

House intelligence chairman: Obama Cabinet split on arming rebels
Responding to reports President Barack Obama secretly authorized covert action to support the Libyan rebels, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that actually arming the Libyan rebels would require his approval and he hasn’t given it. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a late Wednesday interview that the Obama administration’s top national security officials were deeply split on whether arming the rebels was a good idea. In a classified briefing Wednesday with lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Rogers said it was clear that there were deep divisions between the cabinet officials regarding the wisdom of arming the rebels.

CIA Operatives Reportedly On The Ground In Libya
WASHINGTON — The CIA has sent small teams of operatives into Libya after the agency’s station in the capital was forced to close, and officers assisted in rescuing one of the two crew members of an F-15E Strike Eagle that crashed, an American official and a former U.S. intelligence officer told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The agency’s precise role in Libya is unclear. Intelligence experts said the CIA would have sent officials to make contact with the opposition and assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces battling Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the event President Barack Obama decided to arm them.

France says UAE Libya participation is confirmed
PARIS, March 31 (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates will definitely participate in the coalition operation against Muammar Gaddafi’s troops in Libya, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said on Thursday. The UAE has already offered planes to coalition air bases in the Mediterranean in order to help Western powers enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone.

Some Arab states shy away from London conference on Libya
LONDON: Some Arab countries appeared to distance themselves from Tuesday’s London conference, held to plot a course for Libya’s political transition, damping French and British hopes of building a consensus. Several Arab states did not attend the meeting, which set up the Libya “contact group.”

Russia: Coalition troops in Libya must stay within UN mandate
Coalition forces involved in military action in Libya must operate strictly within the United Nations mandate, said Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, on Tuesday.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has spoken to Al Jazeera about the crisis in Libya. He told Sami Zeidan that his country’s priority was to protect Libya’s civilians.

Libya’s Gaddafi not close to breaking point-US
WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is not close to a military breaking point even though coalition strikes have seriously degraded his fighting power, the top U.S. military officer told Congress on Thursday. “We have actually fairly seriously degraded his military capabilities. … We’ve attrited his overall forces at about the 20- to 25-percent level,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers.

US sees Gaddafi’s eventual ouster by Libyan people
WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) – Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will likely be removed from power over time by his own people, as a result of political and economic measures, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday. But Gates, in prepared remarks to Congress, stressed that removing Gaddafi was “not part of the military mission” by coalition forces acting under a U.N. Security Council mandate. The comments came a day after revelations that President Barack Obama signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Gaddafi.

US official casts doubt on Libya’s Nicaraguan envoy
UNITED NATIONS, March 29 (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations cast doubt on Wednesday on the naming of a former Nicaraguan foreign minister as Libyan envoy to the world body, saying he must leave the United States and re-apply for a visa. Nicaragua said on Tuesday that Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, who once served in a leftist Sandinista government and has been a sharp critic of U.S. governments, would represent Libya at the United Nations.

A post-Gaddafi Libya would likely diversify-World Bank
RABAT, March 30 (Reuters) – A post-Gaddafi Libya would likely seek to diversify its economy and encourage the private sector, the World Bank’s regional director said on Wednesday. “I would have thought going forward, depending on what the authorities would be looking at, is to build up a modern, private-sector friendly environment that allows it to diversify from its petrol-rich dependency to something that’s more sustainable,” Simon Gray, who oversees the Maghreb region, told Reuters when asked how he thought Libya’s economy might change in the event Muammar Gaddafi left power.

What Qaddafi loses with Moussa Koussa’s defection
Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who as former intelligence chief is intimately familiar with Qaddafi’s most notorious operations, defected from the Libyan regime yesterday.

Sirte, Gaddafi’s Hometown: Why It Matters In the Fight For Libya
Earlier this week, rebel forces in Libya fought their way to the outskirts of Sirte, a coastal city about the size of Tallahassee. The day before, pushing westward along the coast from Ajdabiya, they recaptured the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf; Sirte, we were told, was the last major obstacle standing between them and Tripoli.Sirte. Before Sunday, few of us outside Libya had heard of it. Now experts were saying that it was the key to Libya’s hopes for democracy—the fulcrum on which Libya’s fate would turn. Partly its importance could be explained by location, its proximity to the capital. But there were other reasons for its importance, too, reasons that reveal a lot about a conflict with complexity we’re only beginning to grasp. In 1942, as every Libyan schoolchild knows, a future authoritarian ruler was born in a tent outside the city. He went to school in the city itself; not that it was much of a city at the time. Even after he came to power, in 1969, Sirte was a quiet rural outpost in a country that was pretty provincial.

One thing is clear in Libya: Rebels can’t advance without air support
If international powers narrow their interpretation of the UN mandate in Libya, rebels would have a much harder time making headway against Muammar Qaddafi’s forces.

Why more weapons wouldn’t help Libya’s rebels – at least not right away
The lesson of the past week is that Libya’s rebels don’t need arms as much as training in how to use them. They also need a communications network and a command structure.

Dissent still rife in small Libyan garrison town
GARYAN, Libya, March 30 (Reuters) – In a small Libyan town long suspicious of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule, people watched in awe as Western warplanes roared into view this week and bombed a nearby army ammunition dump. Just weeks ago, the town of Garyan, perched in the rocky slopes of Libya’s Western mountains, sided with anti-Gaddafi rebels and announced its opposition to the central government. Its revolt was swiftly quashed and anti-Gaddafi graffiti wiped out, but dissent is still bubbling underneath the surface.

Libyan rebel city struggles to resume normal life
BENGHAZI, Libya, March 30 (Reuters) – Some stores have reopened, coffeehouses serve tea and water pipes and residents can now withdraw money from banks in Benghazi. But the few signs of life returning to normal in the Libyan rebel city could be just as quickly snuffed out by a rapid advance east by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s troops. Rebels who set up a transitional government in the country’s second-largest city are striving to keep the oil-reliant economy ticking over — especially as the advance by Gaddafi’s troops force more families to flee fighting in towns further westwards.

Is the Libyan opposition Kosher, asks a top US diplomat?
“Gene A. Cretz, the American ambassador to Libya, said last week that he was impressed by the democratic instincts of the opposition leaders and that he did not believe that they were dominated by extremists. But he acknowledged that there was no way to know if they were “100 percent kosher, so to speak.”

The wisdom and legality of arming Libyan rebels
If the U.S. wants to arm the rebels, it will do so regardless of whether it violates any U.N. arms embargo, and few supporters of this war — most of whom justify it by pointing to these U.N. Resolutions — will care very much, if at all. Once wars begin, and positions harden, nothing matters less than legalities.

you didn’t need to be an expert on Libya to know which way the wind was blowing…, Max Ajl
Slightly on-topic, here is an excerpt from a NYT article from 3.5 weeks ago that I refrained from posting because I didn’t want to deal with the irate/furious responses of allies accusing me of being a Stalinist-without-Stalin or whatever: Rebel commanders have begged for American strikes on troops and weapons that have turned on civilians and assaulted strongholds of the resistance. And on Sunday, three prominent members of the United States Senate, from both major political parties, renewed the Senate’s call for consideration of enforcing a  “no-flight” zone to ground the Libyan air force and prevent it from attacking its people. They also pressed the Obama administration for a more aggressive response, including supplying intelligence, arms and training to the rebels.

Libya 101: A primer on key battleground cities
Reports from Libya are a constant flurry of cities gained and lost by Muammar Qaddafi’s forces and rebel troops, and it’s hard to keep track if you don’t know where these cities are or why they matter. Here’s an quick explanation, with cities listed west to east.

A primer on Libya’s key cities
Reports from Libya are a constant flurry of cities gained and lost by Muammar Qaddafi’s forces and rebel troops, and it’s hard to keep track if you don’t know where these cities are or why they matter. Here’s an quick explanation, with cities listed west to east.

Kuwait Cabinet resigns over Bahrain crisis (AP)
AP – Kuwait’s Cabinet resigned on Thursday over regional turmoil, the country’s official news agency said, in an apparent reference to the political unrest in neighboring Bahrain.*

Teenager killed by Bahraini forces
A woman cries during the funeral for a victim of the government-sanctioned crackdown in the village of Karranah on the outskirts of the Bahraini capital, Manama on March 18, 2011.
Security forces in Bahrain have reportedly killed a male teenager amid continuing crackdown on the popular revolution around the country.

VIDEO: ‘Snipers started shooting people’
One young mother has spoken to the BBC about what draws her to the protests in Yemen, despite the threat of violence.

Yemen’s Saleh ‘makes new offer to protesters’
President reportedly offers to transfer powers to caretaker government till next elections.

Yemen Protesters Press On For President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s Ouster
SANAA, Yemen — Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters packed the streets of several Yemeni cities Wednesday to demand the president’s ouster and denounce a munitions factory blast that left at least 100 people dead. Opposition groups have accused President Ali Abdullah Saleh of collaborating with al-Qaida militants by pulling back the army from the factory area and allowing the terror network to overrun the area.

Syrian President misses opportunity as emergency powers remain
President al-Assad blamed a foreign ‘conspiracy’ for unrest instead of lifting the country’s repressive state of emergency in a key speech today.

Syria’s Assad warns of ‘conspiracy’
Syrian president fails to lift emergency laws in his first speech since security forces curbed anti-government protests.

Syria moves to scrap emergency law
State media says committee set up by president to study abolition of decades-old law will finish work by April 25.

Asad’s speech (I)

Asad’s speech (II): distasteful and repugnant

Other Mideast
Anti-sectarian activists prepare for more rallies across country
BEIRUT: A new round of events aiming “to topple the sectarian system” are planned in several locations across the country this weekend, with demonstrations in Tripoli and Sidon, and a sit-in Saturday in Beirut. The events are part of a national campaign against sectarianism that started a month ago, since when demonstrations have taken place in the capital and other areas every weekend.

Post-revolution Tunisia is on right path -PM
TUNIS, March 30 (Reuters) – Tunisia is on the right track and must not stray from the righteous path, Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi said in a television interview on Wednesday. “When (U.S. President Barack) Obama speaks of Tunisia and Congress strongly applauds Tunisia that means that we are on the right track and we must not stray from the righteous path,” he said in an interview with reporters on Tunisia’s main television channels. “As long as I am here I will not let anyone fail the historic revolution.” Sebsi also said Farhat Rajhi, who was replaced as interior minister on Monday, would take up “a big role” in coming days.–pm

Riz Khan – Intervention in the Arab world
Why are Western nations so keen to intervene in Libya and why are they not coming to the aid of other Arabs facing similar violence?

Emir Of Qatar
He appeared on Aljazeera and said that the reason why his country and others rallied to case of the Libyan rebels is because the Libyan people were under attack by Qadhdhafi.  Does that mean that Qatar will send its fighter jets to defend the people of Palestine, or even (closer) the people of Bahrain?

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