UN chief urges ceasefire to avert ‘bloody battle’ for Tripoli

Libyan fighters loyal to the Government of National Accord run during clashes with forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar south of the capital Tripoli’s suburb of Ain Zara, on April 10, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 April 2019
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UN chief urges ceasefire to avert ‘bloody battle’ for Tripoli

TRIPOLI: The UN chief warned Libya is on the brink of “a very dangerous situation” as forces loyal to the internationally recognized government and a rival strongman battle for control of the capital.
Thousands of people have fled heavy fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli that has left dozens dead and prompted mounting global alarm.
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appealed for a halt to hostilities to prevent the situation spiralling out of control.
“It’s still time to stop,” he told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council in a closed session in New York.
“It’s still time for a cease-fire to take place, for a cessation of hostilities to take place, and to avoid the worst, which would be a dramatic, bloody battle for Tripoli.”
Nearly a week of fighting on the city’s doorstep has already killed 56 people and wounded 266, the World Health Organization said.
“Thousands of people have fled their homes, while others are trapped in conflict areas. Hospitals inside and outside (Tripoli) are receiving daily casualties,” it said.
The UN chief was in Libya when forces loyal to military strongman Khalifa Hafta last week launched an offensive to capture the capital, which is controlled by a UN-backed government and an array of militias.
Haftar backs a rival administration based in eastern Libya that refuses to recognize the authority of the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al-Sarraj.
Guterres said Libya was facing a “very dangerous situation” and urged a halt to the fighting to allow political negotiations to start anew.
“It is very clear for me that we need to restart a serious political dialogue and a serious political negotiation but it is obvious that cannot take place without a full stop to the hostilities,” he said.
The council met for more than two hours behind closed doors to consider how to address the fresh fighting that has derailed efforts to end instability that has been exploited by jihadists and people-smugglers.
The United Nations postponed a national conference that was to open on Sunday to draw up a roadmap to elections, meant to turn the page on years of turmoil since the NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Heavy clashes shook Ain Zara, a town dotted with farms on the southeastern outskirts of Tripoli where pro-GNA fighters managed to reverse an advance by Haftar’s forces.
On the town’s main street, lined with shops and houses, a sand barrier erected by pro-GNA forces separated the two camps.
“Today, the criminals of Haftar’s group have advanced, but we destroyed a tank and two armored vehicles,” said a pro-GNA fighter who gave his name as Youssef.
“The situation is good now,” he said.
Behind him, artillery fire stirred up a cloud of sand as the sound of machine guns and anti-aircraft guns rang out.
Suddenly a shell sliced through the air and hit a nearby house.
“You see, he (Haftar) wants to destroy our houses and all of Tripoli,” one of the fighters shouted.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which controls swathes of the country’s east, said on Wednesday it had seized a barracks in the Aziziya area around 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Tripoli after “ferocious clashes.”
It said several fighters loyal to the UN-backed government had been detained and their weapons seized.
“For the moment, it’s still a game of cat and mouse,” said a commander from a pro-GNA group.
“We’re still organizing ourselves. The war hasn’t truly started,” he told AFP in Ain Zara.
Heavy arms fire was heard from the front line about 10 kilometers (six miles) away where the city’s disused international airport has changed hands several times over the past week.
Haftar’s forces appear to be advancing on two fronts, from the south and southeast of Tripoli, while coast roads to the east and west of the city are defended by fighters loyal to the GNA.
The strongman, whose key allies are the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia, is a former Qaddafi military chief who has emerged as a major player in Libya’s political struggle.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was “deeply concerned by the situation in Libya.”
“The current military operation and advance on Tripoli are increasing the suffering of the Libyan people and putting civilian lives at risk,” he said.
The UN children’s agency (UNICEF) said “nearly half a million children in Tripoli and tens of thousands more in the western areas are at a direct risk due to the intensification of fighting.”
Although casualties remain limited so far, the International Crisis Group warned further escalation “could precipitate a humanitarian disaster.”
“If unleashed, a full-fledged offensive could become a proxy war between regional powers and cause innumerable casualties as well as immense devastation,” it said.


Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

Updated 49 min 55 sec ago
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Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

  • More than half of Algeria’s population are under 30
  • Young protesters say they are able to receive diplomas but unable to find jobs

ALGIERS: They’re on the peaceful front line of the protest movement that toppled Algeria’s longtime ruler, facing down water cannons with attitude, memes — and fearless calls for shampoo.
Oil-rich Algeria is one of the most youthful countries in the world with two-thirds of the population under 30.
They are politically engaged, educated, on social media and funny. And they initiated nationwide protests in mid-February that toppled the only leader they’ve ever known — former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999.
“Only Chanel does No. 5,” read the placard of a young Algerian protesting against Bouteflika’s failed bid for a fifth term. “Love the Way You Lie,” read another, referencing Rihanna’s hit song. Yet another, featuring the “Ghostbusters” movie poster, was a humorous rebuke to the infirm 82-year-old who’s rarely been seen since a 2013 stroke. And when police unfurl the water cannons, they start to sing in rhyming Arabic: “Bring me some shampoo and I’ll feel good!“
A quarter of these under-30s are out of work, creating a deep well of frustration against the North African country’s veteran rulers and the policies that have left them behind.
“I came to protest against this power structure because we, the young people, we are the main victims,” said Belkacem Canna, who just turned 30, and works for the local water company on what he described as a miserable salary. “We get diplomas but can’t get jobs.”
For two decades, Algeria has been ruled by Bouteflika and other survivors of the 1954-1962 War of Independence against colonial power France.
“Algeria’s leaders have one foot in the War of Independence and the other foot in the post-colonial period. This is a generational problem. Algeria is a gerontocracy that can’t represent the country’s majority,” said Rachid Tlemcani, political scientist at Algiers University.
Bouteflika had for years used Algeria’s oil and gas wealth to fund affordable homes and handouts. The country escaped the Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia in 2010. But tensions began simmering after oil prices slumped in 2014, exposing a country blighted by youth unemployment where more than one person in four aged under 30 doesn’t have a job.
Over a decade ago, Bouteflika’s government made a half-baked attempt at helping the country’s youth by creating a funding initiative for young entrepreneurs. However, it only stoked further anger amid perceptions it was a handout scheme, after borrowers who didn’t repay debts faced no consequences.
“Mentalities have to change,” said Imad Touji, a 22-year-old geology student at Bab Ezzouar University. “It’s not just about going out and shouting. We really need to change things in a concrete way.”
In February, it was clear that many Algerians were aghast at their plight.
Many trapped at home with their parents and with seemingly little to lose, took to the streets some ten days after Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term. Students and professionals such as doctors, lawyers and magistrates all joined in.
Bouteflika’s replacement, the 77-year-old Abdelkader Bensalah, is yet another veteran of the War of Independence. It’s an open question if fresh presidential elections announced for July 4, will appease the vociferous movement.
“We are raising awareness, all the youth is,” said Sofiane Smain, a 23-year-old computing student. “We are trying to make all the Algerian people follow us so we can be unified to make a better Algeria, God willing.”
Social media instructions told protesters to come equipped only with “love, faith, Algerian flags and roses,” and to remove trash. In a poignant detail, many of them were observed cleaning up.
“Algeria’s youth are an example to the world of what a smiling and peaceful protest movement can achieve,” Tlemcani said.
Though the protests have been largely judged to have been peaceful, they have claimed their first casualty. On Friday, an unemployed 19-year-old from a town south of Algiers was buried. Police say he died after falling from a truck, while his friends say he was beaten by police with truncheons.