More than 50 killed in Benghazi, Tripoli clashes

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Updated 28 July 2014

More than 50 killed in Benghazi, Tripoli clashes

BENGHAZI/TRIPOLI, July 27 : At least 36 people were killed in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi where Libyan Special Forces and Islamist militants clashed on Saturday night and Sunday morning, medical and security sources said.
The government said more than 150 people have died, many of them civilian, in the capital Tripoli and Benghazi in two weeks of fighting as clashes forced US and foreign diplomats to pull out of the country.
In Tripoli, 23 people, all Egyptian workers, were killed when a rocket hit their home on Saturday during fighting between rival militias battling over the city’s main airport, the Egyptian state news agency reported.
Since the clashes erupted a fortnight ago, 94 people have died in the capital, and more than 400 have been injured as militias exchanged rocket and artillery fire across southern Tripoli, the health ministry said.
Another 55 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Benghazi since the clashes have intensified over the last week between regular forces and Islamist militants who are entrenched in the city.
“Most of the victims we have noticed are civilians as the fighters have their own hospitals on the battlefield,” a Benghazi medical source told Reuters.
Fuel storage tanks that supply Tripoli were hit on Sunday by rockets igniting a huge fire near the international airport, the National oil corporation (NOC) said.
“It is a tank of 6 million liters of gasoline and it is close to others containing gas and diesel,” NOC spokesman Mohamed Al-Alharari said. “The firefighters are trying to counter the fire but if they cannot, a big disaster will happen” he added.

DEEP CONCERNS
In the last two weeks, Libya has descended into its deadliest violence since the 2011 war that ousted Muammar Qaddafi, with the central government unable to impose order.
The United States, the United Nations and Turkey have pulled their diplomats out of the North African country.
The United States evacuated its embassy on Saturday, driving diplomats across the border into Tunisia under heavy military protection because of Tripoli clashes near the embassy compound.
A British embassy convoy was hit by gunfire during an attempted hijacking outside the capital Tripoli on the way to the Tunisian border, but no-one was injured in the incident, an embassy official said on Sunday.
“It was an attempted hijack as the convoy was on its way to the Tunisian border,” the official said. “No one was injured but vehicles were damaged.”
On Sunday, shelling continued in Tripoli around the international airport that is controlled by militias from the western city of Zintan. More Islamist-leaning rival brigades are trying to force them from the airport, which Zintanis have controlled since the fall of Tripoli.
But clashes were far heavier in Benghazi overnight, where regular army and air force units have joined with a renegade ex-army general who has launched a self-declared campaign to oust Islamist militants from the city.
A source from the Special forces fighting Islamist militants in Benghazi told Reuters clashes involved warplanes hitting militant positions belonging to Ansar al Sharia and another group in the city.
Libya’s Western allies worry the OPEC country is becoming polarised between the two main factions of competing militia brigades and their political allies, whose battle is shaping the country’s transition.
Special envoys for Libya from the Arab League, the United States and European countries expressed their concerns about the situation in Libya, saying it had reached a “critical stage” and called for an immediate cease-fire.
“The UN should play a leading role in reaching a cease-fire in conjunction with the Libyan government and other internal partners, with the full support of the international envoys,” a statement issued after a meeting in Brussels said.
A new Libyan parliament was elected in June and Western governments hope warring parties may be able to reach a political agreement when the lawmakers meet in August for the first session.
But three years after Qaddafi’s demise, Libya’s transition to democracy has been delayed by political infighting and militia violence. Armed groups have also targeted the oil industry to pressure the state.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Benghazi)


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 34 min 12 sec ago

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.