Militant threat hangs over Daesh’s former Libyan stronghold
Militant threat hangs over Daesh’s former Libyan stronghold
Though security in the Mediterranean coastal city has improved, residents remain wary of terrorists in the desert to the south who have stepped up their activity in recent months, setting up checkpoints and carrying out occasional attacks.
In a country where fighting between rival forces frequently flares, Sirte is particularly exposed. It sits in the center of Libya’s coastline on the dividing line between loose alliances aligned with rival governments in Tripoli and the east.
“If the situation continues like this then Daesh will come back, no doubt. There was a reason why they came. People were angry, felt sidelined,” said Ali Miftah, a civil servant and father of five.
“Now we don’t get any support from the government. Look at these ruins. We lost everything.”
Last month, Daesh gunmen staged a suicide attack in Misrata, the coastal city about 230 km to the northwest that led the campaign last year to expel the militants from Sirte.
Daesh also has sleeper cells in other cities along Libya’s western coast, security officials say, and there is concern foreign fighters seeking sanctuary after defeats in Syria and Iraq could once again exploit the country’s security vacuum and link up with Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the desert south.
Divisions among Libya’s many armed factions and uncertainty over how long the forces from Misrata that drove Daesh out will remain in Sirte are compounding residents’ worries.
In parts of the city, life is slowly returning to normal, though Daesh’s black logos are still visible on some shops and inhabitants struggle with cash shortages and failing public services, as they do elsewhere in Libya.
But in areas that saw the heaviest fighting, families see little hope of rebuilding their homes.
Sirte, the home city of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, was pounded by nearly 500 US airstrikes between August and December last year.
In El-Manar and Giza Bahriya, once among Sirte’s best neighborhoods, houses looking onto the crystal blue Mediterranean are now crumpled piles of twisted metal and concrete, doors blasted from their metal frames.
A damaged primary school said to have once been attended by Qaddafi lies abandoned.
Residents say skeletons among the rubble have been left to be tested to see if they belong to Daesh fighters, or their captives. They are also scared to search their ruined homes because of the unexploded ordnance in the wreckage.
Local forces man checkpoints on the outskirts of Sirte and carry out patrols to the south. But they say they lack the vehicles and weapons to pursue the jihadists, who have retreated into mobile desert camps.
Instead, they rely on the US airstrikes that have killed dozens of suspected militants this year.
“We contain the threat but we cannot chase them in their camps because we lack the right equipment like four-wheel cars needed to drive in the desert,” said Taher Hadeed, an official with the forces securing Sirte.
“It won’t be possible for Daesh to take back the city, but there is a risk of attacks.”
The forces that led the campaign against Daesh in Sirte last year are nominally loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli to the west — and Sirte now represents the eastern limit of their control.
Beyond, forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army control oil terminals they seized during the campaign. But for now, the two sides do not coordinate, said Mohamed Al-Ghasri, a military spokesman from Misrata.
Residents and officials in Sirte say the threat cannot be dealt with without proper support from the state and professional security forces.
“They are suffering from a lack of services and we don’t see any real efforts or results on the ground at any level,” said Siddeeq Ismaiel, a municipal official.
An estimated 2,500-3,000 homes need to be built so families forced to live in other parts of Sirte or Misrata can return.
“This will never end if there is no government,” said Hamza Ali, a 34-year-old university employee, standing near his brother’s ruined house.
“It will stop maybe for two, three, four, five, six months, then you will hear an explosion somewhere if there is no official security, police.”
Erdogan proclaimed winner of Turkey’s presidential election
- Erdogan has just under 53 percent in the presidential poll while Ince, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 31 percent, state-run Anadolu news agency said, based on a 96 percent vote count
- The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was polling 11 percent, well over the 10 percent minimum threshold needed to win 46 seats, which would make it the second largest opposition party in the new chamber
ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s landmark election Sunday, the country’s electoral commission said, ushering in a new system granting the president sweeping new powers which critics say will cement what they call a one-man rule.
The presidential and parliamentary elections, held more than a year early, complete NATO-member Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system of government to a presidential one in a process started with a referendum last year.
“The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty,” Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul after a near-complete count carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency gave him the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Speaking early Monday, Supreme Election Council head Sadi Guven said 97.7 of votes had been counted and declared Erdogan the winner.
Guven said that based on unofficial results, five parties passed the threshold of 10 percent of votes required for parties to enter parliament.
Cheering Erdogan supporters waving Turkish flags gathered outside the president’s official residence in Istanbul, chanting, “Here’s the president, here’s the commander.”
“Justice has been served!” said Cihan Yigici, an Erdogan supporter in the crowd.
Thousands of jubilant supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, also spilled into the streets of the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unofficial results from Anadolu showed the party coming in third with 11.5 percent of the legislative vote — surpassing the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.
The HDP’s performance was a particular success since presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, eight more of its lawmakers and thousands of party members campaigned from jails and prisons. HDP says more than 350 of its election workers have been detained since April 28.
The imprisoned Demirtas, who has been jailed pending trial on terrorism-related charges he has called trumped-up and politically motivated, was in third place in the presidential race with 8.3 percent of the vote, according to Anadolu.
Revelers waved HDP flags and blared car horns. One party supporter, Nejdet Erke, said he had been “waiting for this emotion” since morning.
Erdogan insisted the expanded powers of the Turkish presidency will bring prosperity and stability to the country, especially after a failed military coup attempt in 2016. A state of emergency imposed after the coup remains in place.
Some 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under the emergency, which opposition lawmakers say Erdogan has used to stifle dissent.
The new system of government abolished the office of prime minister and empowers the president to take over an executive branch and form the government. He will appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget and decide on security policies.
The Turkish Parliament will legislate and have the right to ratify or reject the budget. With Erdogan remaining at the helm of his party, a loyal parliamentary majority could reduce checks and balances on his power unless the opposition can wield an effective challenge.
The president’s critics have warned that Erdogan’s re-election would cement his already firm grip on power and embolden a leader they accuse of showing increasingly autocratic tendencies.
Erdogan’s apparent win comes at a critical time for Turkey. He recently has led a high-stakes foreign affairs gamble, cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin with pledges to install a Russian missile defense system in the NATO-member country.
Ince said the results carried on Anadolu misrepresented the official vote count by the country’s electoral board. The main opposition party that nominated him for the presidency, the CHP, said it was waiting for an official announcement from the country’s electoral board.
Erdogan also declared victory for the People’s Alliance, an electoral coalition between his ruling Justice and Development Party and the small Nationalist Movement Party, saying they had secured a “parliamentary majority” in the 600-member assembly.
The unofficial results for the parliamentary election showed Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, losing its majority, with 293 seats in the 600-seat legislature. However, the small nationalist party the AKP allied with garnered 49 seats.
“Even though we could not reach out goal in parliament, God willing we will be working to solve that with all our efforts in the People’s Alliance,” Erdogan said.
The president, who has never lost an election and has been in power since 2003, initially as prime minister, had faced a more robust, united opposition than ever before. Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what they call Erdogan’s “one-man rule.”
A combative president, Erdogan enjoys considerable support in the conservative and pious heartland, having empowered previously disenfranchised groups. From a modest background himself, he presided over an infrastructure boom that modernized Turkey and lifted many out of poverty while also raising Islam’s profile, for instance by lifting a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and public offices.
But critics say he has become increasingly autocratic and intolerant of dissent. The election campaign was heavily skewed in his favor, with opposition candidates struggling to get their speeches aired on television in a country where Erdogan directly or indirectly controls most of the media.
Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, was backed by the center-left opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. He wooed crowds with an unexpectedly engaging campaign, drawing massive numbers at his rallies in Turkey’s three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were eligible to vote.