’Jewel of Roman Empire’ faces Libya dangers

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A Spanish archaeological mission recently visited Sabratha and signed an agreement to restore some areas, including the theater. (AFP)
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Officials said Sabratha suffers from stone erosion and degradation. (AFP)
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Today, the site around 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the capital lies eerily abandoned, encircled by parched grass and weeds. (AFP)
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UNESCO declared Sabratha to be at risk in July 2016, along with four other Libyan sites on its World Heritage list. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2018
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’Jewel of Roman Empire’ faces Libya dangers

  • Experts fear worse is to come for the country’s historic sites, as armed groups continue to vie for ascendancy
  • Alongside armed conflict, several protected Libyan sites are threatened by uncontrolled urban expansion

SABRATHA, Libya: Perched on the edge of Libya’s Mediterranean coast, the ancient city of Sabratha remains an awe-inspiring spectacle, the pink columns of its amphitheater towering above turquoise waters.
But the world heritage site is classed as “endangered” by UNESCO, its majestic structures pockmarked by mortar and small arms fire.
Shell casings and bullets still litter the surrounding earth, a year after clashes between rival armed groups.
Locals say snipers positioned themselves at the top of the amphitheater, once a jewel of the Roman Empire.
Bringing bloodshed back to the gladiatorial arena some 18 centuries after it was built, 39 people were killed and 300 wounded in the fighting.
Today, the site around 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the capital lies eerily abandoned, encircled by parched grass and weeds.
Since the toppling and killing of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a 2011 uprising, Sabratha has become a key departure point for illegal migration.
Smugglers and militias have profited amply from a chronic security vacuum.
It is from the long and deserted shores a few kilometers (miles) from ancient Sabratha that most migrants start their perilous boat journeys toward Europe.


UNESCO declared Sabratha to be at risk in July 2016, along with four other Libyan sites on its World Heritage list.
The UN’s cultural organization based its decision on two factors — “damage already caused” and vulnerability to future destruction.
It noted that “armed groups are present on these sites or in their immediate proximity.”
Experts fear worse is to come for the country’s historic sites, as armed groups continue to vie for ascendancy.
Libya’s archaeological heritage is at great risk, warns Mohamad Al-Chakchouki, head of the North African country’s department of antiquities.
The “entrenchment of armed groups inside archaeological sites and the battles which have unfolded near the sites, including Sabratha, pose a permanent danger,” he told AFP.
The conservation of sites was once entrusted to Western teams.
But these experts have not traveled to Libya “for four years, because of the chaos and insecurity,” said Chakchouki.
Spread out over 90 hectares (220 acres), including a part engulfed by the sea, Sabratha is one of three former cities that constituted Roman Tripolitania.
The others are Oea — modern-day Tripoli — and Leptis Magna in western Libya that was one of the sites classed as endangered by UNESCO two years ago.
At the mercy of the scorching summer sun and the salty sea breeze, Sabratha suffers from stone erosion and degradation, said Mohamad Abu Ajela, an official at the city’s office of antiquities.
But the “damage caused by man is a greater fear,” he said.
A Spanish archaeological mission recently visited Sabratha and signed an agreement to restore some areas, including the theater.
But completion of the work “depends on the security situation,” Ajela said.


Alongside armed conflict, several protected Libyan sites are threatened by uncontrolled urban expansion.
One example is Cyrene, an ancient Greek city in northeastern Libya.
Exploiting the chaos, people have claimed ownership of land and built within the archaeological site’s perimeter.
Looting is another threat to these sites, as the lack of security has led to illicit excavation and smuggling of antiquities.
Several thefts of ancient objects have been reported.
In March, Spain’s interior ministry announced the seizure “of numerous works of art” from the Cyrenaica and Tripolitania regions, including seven mosaics, sarcophagi and pieces of Egyptian origin.
Madrid said it had proof that two necropolizes were looted by “terrorist groups.”
Officials in the antiquities department attempt to save what they can, often through desperate measures.
Museums have closed — including in Tripoli — and some archaeological treasures have been transferred to a “safe place,” Chakchouki said.


BTS’s agency apologizes over K-Pop band member’s A-bomb shirt

Updated 14 November 2018
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BTS’s agency apologizes over K-Pop band member’s A-bomb shirt

SEOUL, South Korea: The agency for K-pop superstars BTS apologized Wednesday for members wearing a T-shirt depicting the explosion of an atomic bomb and a hat with a Nazi emblem.

Japanese TV broadcasters recently canceled planned appearances in that country after images went viral of the musician wearing the shirt. The South Korean band ran into more trouble after news surfaced that another member wore a hat featuring a Nazi symbol in a magazine photo book and band members flew flags with what appeared to be the Nazi swastika during a past concert.

“We would like to again offer our sincerest apologies to anyone who has suffered pain, distress and discomfort due to our shortcomings and oversight in ensuring that these matters receive our most careful attention,” the band’s agency, the Big Hit Entertainment, said in a statement

The T-shirt portrayed an atomic bombing juxtaposed with the celebration of Korea’s 1945 liberation from Japan at the end of the World War II. The United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before Tokyo’s surrender.

Before its division into North and South Korea after the liberation, the Korean Peninsula was colonized by Japan from 1910-1945. Many in both Koreas still harbor strong resentment against the Japanese colonial masters. But in South Korea, it’s extremely rare for anyone to publicly celebrate or mock the atomic bombings.

BTS’s agency said the A-bomb shirt’s wearing was “in no way intentional” and that it wasn’t designed to “injure or make light of those affected by the use of atomic weapons.” It said it still apologizes for “failing to take the precautions that could have prevented the wearing of such clothing by our artist.”

Regarding the hat furor, it said all apparel and accessories used for the photo book were provided by a media company involved in its publication. It said the flags in question were aimed at symbolizing South Korea’s restrictively uniform and authoritarian educational systems, not Nazism.

“We will carefully examine and review not only these issues but all activities involving Big Hit and our artists based on a firm understanding of diverse social, historical and cultural considerations to ensure that we never cause any injury, pain or distress to anyone,” the agency statement said.

The seven-member band, which has worldwide following, was the first South Korean artists in May to top the Billboard 200 albums chart with “Love Yourself: Tear.” The band began its Japan tour earlier this week.

South Korean K-pop and movie stars are extremely popular in Japan and other Asian countries.