Libya’s election faces uncertainty amid towering challenges

Libya’s election faces uncertainty amid towering challenges
Demonstrators protest in Tripoli, Libya, on Sept. 24, 2021, in opposition to parliament passing a vote of no-confidence in the transitional government. (AP)
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Updated 15 December 2021

Libya’s election faces uncertainty amid towering challenges

Libya’s election faces uncertainty amid towering challenges

CAIRO: Libya’s presidential election, meant to help unify the nation after a decade of civil war, is supposed to take place in just over a week, but calls are mounting for a delay.
Either scenario — holding the vote on time or postponing it — could turn into a destabilizing setback.
The vote, scheduled for Dec. 24, is to choose Libya’s first president since the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi more than a decade ago.
For nearly a year, the election has been the lynchpin of international efforts to bring peace to the oil-rich North African nation, and supporters fear a dangerous void if it is not held on schedule.
But critics warn that going ahead with the vote now could throw the country into new violence. They say Libya remains too bitterly divided among armed factions that are likely to reject any victory by rivals in the election. The presence of some of Libya’s most polarizing figures in the race — including one of Qaddafi’s sons — only makes it more explosive.
Nearly 100 people have announced their candidacies, but the election commission has still not announced a final list of candidates because of legal disputes. It should have announced the list earlier this month. The rules governing the election are also in dispute, with western Libya politicians accusing the east-based parliament of adopting them without consultations.
Libya plunged into chaos after Qaddafi’s death during a 2011 uprising backed by a US-led NATO military campaign. Control splintered among a myriad of armed militias. For years, the country was split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by militias and foreign governments.
The current political process emerged last year after the latest round of brutal fighting.
In April 2019, the eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive aimed at capturing the capital, Tripoli, and bringing down the UN-recognized government based there. Haftar was backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey and Qatar responded by stepping up support for pro-Tripoli militias, supplying them with advanced weapons and providing troops and Syrian mercenaries.
After 14 months of fighting, Haftar’s offensive collapsed. After a UN-brokered cease-fire in October 2020, a grouping of Libyan factions called the Political Forum drew up a road map that led to the creation of an interim government to run the country until the Dec. 24 election.
Those calling for a delay in the election say the mistrust between east and west remains too deep and volatile. The interim government has not been able to unify Libya’s institutions, particularly the military, dismantle militias or ensure the exit of foreign mercenaries and fighters, said one UN official.
“These issues should have been settled before going to elections. They need more time and effort to be resolved,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Tarek Mitri, a former UN envoy for Libya, warned that “without unified military forces, the election poses a threat to peace.”
“How can you win the argument in a democratic election when guns are loaded to the hilt on both sides?” he said.
In a last-minute effort to save the elections, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres named American diplomat Stephanie Williams, who led the talks resulting in the October 2020 cease-fire deal, as his special adviser on Libya.
Williams met with Libyan officials in Tripoli on Sunday. She called for all sides to respect the “overwhelming demand of the Libyan people to elect their representatives through a free, fair and credible election.” She did not mention the Dec. 24 dateline in her public comments.
The United States and some others in the international community want the vote to go ahead. As he stepped down on Dec. 8, outgoing UN envoy Jan Kubis said the election must take place on schedule, calling it “a critically important step that opens doors to future solutions.”
The polarization around the election only grew hotter after both Haftar and Seif Al-Islam Qaddafi, the son and one-time heir apparent of the longtime dictator, announced their candidacies.
Haftar, touted in the east as a hero, is hated by many in the west of the country.
“The entire western region will fight Haftar ... he will never rule Libya,” Islamist Khalid Al-Mishri, head of the Tripoli-based Supreme Council of State, said in televised comments last month.
Seif Al-Islam’s bid raised cries of an attempted return to the days of his father.
“Those who believe in the possibility of Libya’s returning to the era of dictatorship after all these sacrifices are delusional,” Abdel-Rahman el-Swahili, a lawmaker from Misrata, the western city that was one of the leading forces in the rebellion against the elder Qaddafi.
The prime minister of the interim government, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, also caused an uproar when he announced his bid to enter the race. When he took his post, he had vowed not to run in the election.
Many Libyans are skeptical.
“All (the factions) say publicly they want elections, but in in fact, all worked against it,” said Ramadan Al-Zawi, a 29-year-old teacher. “We are deceiving ourselves when we talk about elections while we are still in such an unchanged situation since 2011.”


Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage

Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage
Updated 26 May 2022

Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage

Death of US embassy employee in Houthi detention sparks outrage
  • The US embassy said that Abdulhameed Al-Ajami, one of its staff members in the Yemeni capital, who was abducted by the Houthis, had died in Houthi detention
  • Al-Ajami was among at least a dozen Yemeni workers at the embassy, and USAID, who were abducted and later forcibly disappeared

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have again been criticized for mistreating prisoners after an employee at a US aid organization in Yemen died while being held by the group.

The US embassy in Sanaa said on Thursday that Abdulhameed Al-Ajami, one of its staff members in the Yemeni capital who was abducted by the Houthis late last year, had died in Houthi detention.

In a statement, also calling for the release of the other workers detained by the Houthis, the embassy said: “We grieve for retired USAID (US Agency for International Development) employee Abdulhameed Al-Ajami, who died in Houthi captivity.

“He was an innocent grandfather who should never have died away from his family, a proud Yemeni dedicated to educating Yemeni children.

“We extend our condolences to his loved ones and call on the Houthis to end this injustice and release every single current and former US Embassy employee now.”

Al-Ajami was among at least a dozen Yemeni workers at the embassy and USAID who were abducted and later forcibly disappeared after the militia group raided the embassy’s compound.

Yemeni activists and local media reports said that Al-Ajami was brutally tortured by the Houthis and was denied life-saving mediation, a move that led to his death.

Al-Ajami’s death came as friends of another US embassy abductee, Bassam Al-Mardahi, warned that he could die too, as he was in a critical condition due to torture by his captors.

Yemeni government officials, human rights activists, and former abductees strongly condemned the Houthis for abusing prisoners, stating that the death of Al-Ajami was another clue to the torture methods used by the group against thousands of prisoners.

Yemen’s Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani offered his condolences to Al-Ajami’s family and called for international action to force the Houthis to stop abusing prisoners and release them immediately.

He expressed his strong condemnation of the group’s “psychological and physical torture” of Al-Ajami, treatment, the minister said, that had resulted in his death eight months after being abducted, adding that he had been deprived “of his most basic rights, including medicines.”

The French Embassy in Yemen also denounced the death and asked the Houthis to release the remaining abducted US and UN workers.

In a tweet, the embassy said: “It reiterated its demand for the release of all local employees of the US embassy and the UN who have been arbitrarily detained by the Houthis for several months.”

The Houthis are also still holding two Yemenis working for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sanaa who were abducted in the city in November. The two workers have not been put on trial and the Houthis have prevented them from contacting their families, the UN said.

Similarly, Yemeni human rights activists said that torture was rife inside Houthi prisons and dozens of civilians abducted by the group had died while in detention.

Fuad Al-Mansouri, a Yemeni human rights activist, told Arab News that many detainees inside Houthi prisons may face the same fate as Al-Ajami if the Houthis were not forced to stop abusing prisoners.

“Al-Ajami’s death is a very serious indication of the mistreatment of detainees in the prisons of the Houthi militia. This is not the first incident, and it will not be the last,” Al-Mansouri said.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, chairwoman of the Abductees’ Mothers Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, told Arab News that the Houthis had barred relatives of the detained US embassy employees from speaking to the organization or media, urging the UN Yemen envoy to work on releasing thousands of detainees.

“In Houthi prisons, the dignity of the Yemeni human being is insulted. The file of the abductee is a true humanitarian crisis that must be addressed,” she said.

Abdullah Al-Munifi, a Yemeni journalist and former detainee who was released from a Houthi prison in 2018, told Arab News that he was whipped with electrical cables, hung by his arms, deprived of sleep and toilet facilities, electrocuted, and kept in solitary confinement for months.

“I wish I would die due to torture. Sometimes they make wounds on the body and put salt on them,” Al-Munifi said.


Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief

Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief
Updated 26 May 2022

Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief

Europe ‘silent’ on ‘deplorable conditions’ for migrants in Libya: NGO chief
  • IOM Chief of Mission Federico Soda: ‘On a number of issues in the country, we (the IOM) are the only voice; that’s problematic; what concerns me is kind of the acquiescence’
  • A recent IOM report found that a record 32,425 people were returned to Libya after trying to travel to Europe last year

LONDON: Europe has failed to note and act on the plight of thousands of migrants in Libya who are being held in “deplorable conditions” and often under arbitrary detention, an international NGO chief has said.

Federico Soda, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration’s presence in Libya, said too little is being done to have an effect on the country’s “environment of arbitrary detention and deplorable conditions” for migrants.

“Most member states are silent on these issues in Libya,” Soda told reporters in Brussels. “On a number of issues in the country, we (the IOM) are the only voice. That’s problematic. What concerns me is kind of the acquiescence.”

He described the attitude prevalent in Europe as: “‘It’s not a problem on our shore, so let’s just keep it there’.”

Soda said the international community should dish out “more condemnation” and demand “more calls for law and order for investigations” into the situation in Libya.

A recent IOM report found that a record 32,425 people were returned to Libya after trying to travel to Europe last year.

The majority were intercepted or rescued from the often unsafe small boats they travel in across the Mediterranean Sea.

Soda said the issue is society-wide, with multiple groups guilty of allowing the crisis to continue.

“It’s not about elected people; I think the whole of the community has a responsibility here, because when societies becomes as polarized as we’ve been on migration issues, I think we all have to look in the mirror and maybe put ourselves in the shoes and the conditions of where these people are coming from,” he added.


Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 
Updated 26 May 2022

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 

Yemen government, Houthis begin Amman talks on ending Taiz siege 
  • Desperate civilians hold rallies protesting the Houthi siege, calling for action from international community

AL-MUKALLA: Discussions between the Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthis on opening roads in the city of Taiz and other provinces started on Wednesday as thousands gathered in the streets of Taiz to demand an immediate end to the Houthis’ siege. 

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s Yemen envoy, said his office would sponsor the meeting between both sides in the Jordanian capital to discuss opening roads in Taiz and the provinces as part of the two-month truce.

“The meeting between Government of Yemen & Ansar Allah representatives on opening roads in #Taiz & other governorates as per the truce agreement starts today in Amman under the auspices of the UN Envoy for #Yemen,” Grundberg tweeted, using the official name of the Houthis.

The Yemeni government delegation said they held a meeting with Grundberg shortly after landing in Amman, adding that they might engage in direct talks with the Houthis over the coming days. 

“We would be pushing for opening roads to pre-war time and resuming the flow of water and power supplies to the city,” Ali Al-Ajar, a member of the government delegation, told Arab News by telephone from Amman. 

The truce, which came into effect on April 2 and is the longest since the beginning of the war, called for a pause in fighting on all fronts, resuming flights from Sanaa airport, allowing fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port and forming a joint committee to discuss opening roads in Taiz, Abyan, Al-Bayda, Marib and the other provinces. 

The meeting was delayed many times as the Houthis refused to name their representatives, despite constant demands from international mediators. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of citizens rallied in the streets of Taiz on Wednesday to demand international action to force the Houthis to end their siege on the city. 

The protesters carried posters and slogans demanding action from Yemeni negotiators in Amman, the UN Yemen envoy and the international community in ending the siege that has cut off the city from the rest of the country. 

“The complete lifting of the siege is an inalienable human right,” read one of the posters. 

This week, people in Taiz challenged the Houthi siege by arranging rallies near the heavily mined checkpoints on the edges of the city, drawing attention to their suffering under the siege. These rallies are rare and reflect the desperation felt by the people living under siege.

During the past seven years, the Houthis have blocked the city’s main entrances and roads that link it with Sanaa, Hodeidah and Aden. The Iran-backed terrorists have planted landmines and deployed snipers in the surrounding areas after failing to seize control of the city’s downtown due to resistance from government troops. 

The siege has pushed thousands of people into famine as the Houthis prevent aid and vital goods from reaching the city, forcing people into using dangerous mountain roads. 

Mohammed Al-Mekhlafi, a Yemeni political analyst, criticized the international community for not mounting enough pressure on the Houthis to lift the siege on Taiz as they did with the Yemeni government and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen over Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port. 

“The UN and the international community did not use serious and active pressure on the Houthis to open humanitarian corridors in Taiz. The Houthis got many concessions concerning Sanaa airport and Hodeidah seaport without offering anything in return,” Al-Mekhlafi told Arab News.

The Houthis, who usually deny that they are laying a siege on Taiz, said on Tuesday that they closed some roads in Taiz to protect people from clashes. 

“The procedures in Taiz were imposed following military necessities to preserve the lives of citizens,” said Abdul Malik Al-Ajri, a Houthi negotiator, according to the Houthi media. He said the movement has not discussed the truce extension with the UN. 


Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report
No one has taken responsibility for Khodaei’s death. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 May 2022

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report

Slain IRGC officer headed assassination unit: Report
  • Hassan Sayyad Khodaei planned kidnappings, killings for Quds Force Unit 840: WSJ
  • Targets included Israeli diplomat, American general, French intellectual

LONDON: An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer killed outside his home in Tehran on Sunday is thought to have been responsible for the group’s assassination unit, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper reported that Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei planned kidnappings and killings for Quds Force Unit 840, including recent failed plots against an Israeli diplomat, an American general and a French intellectual.  

Some of those the WSJ cited questioned whether any of the operations planned by Khodaei had been successful, noting that he was also tied to a foiled plot to murder an Israeli businessman in Cyprus last year, which led to the arrest of an Azerbaijani national.

No one has taken responsibility for Khodaei’s death, but Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi appeared to blame the US when he referred to the role of the “global arrogance” — a term applied to America — in the killing during a televised statement.

“I have no doubt that revenge for the pure blood of this martyr on the hands of the criminals is inevitable,” he added.

Israel warned that it would respond to acts of Iranian aggression abroad inside Iran, the WSJ reported.


Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit
One person has been killed in an “industrial accident” near an Iranian military complex. (Shutterstock)
Updated 26 May 2022

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit

Iran says ‘accident’ near Tehran was at defense research unit
  • One person has been killed in an “industrial accident” near an Iranian military complex, according to state media
  • It gave no details of the cause of the accident.

TEHRAN: Iran’s defense ministry said Thursday that an “accident” in the Parchin area near Tehran, happened at one of its “research units,” and killed one “engineer” and injured another.
“On Wednesday evening, in an accident that took place in one of the research units of the defense ministry in the Parchin area, engineer Ehsan Ghad Beigi was martyred and one of his colleagues injured,” the ministry said.
State media had earlier reported one person killed in an “industrial accident” near the Parchin military complex, which has previously come under scrutiny by the UN nuclear watchdog.
The Parchin complex, southeast of Tehran, is alleged to have hosted past testing of conventional explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear warhead, something Iran has repeatedly denied.
The site came under renewed scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2015 when Tehran reached a landmark deal with major powers under which it agreed to curb its nuclear activities under UN supervision in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Iran had previously denied the IAEA access to Parchin, insisting it was a military site unrelated to any nuclear activities, but the agency’s then chief, the late Yukiya Amano, paid a visit.
In June 2020, a gas tank explosion in a “public area” near the complex shook the capital, 30 kilometers (20 miles) away, but caused no casualties, the defense ministry said at the time.
Iran’s nuclear program has been the target of a campaign of sabotage, cyberattacks and assassinations of key scientists that it has blamed on arch foe Israel.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly refused to rule out military action to prevent Iran developing an atomic bomb.
Iran has consistently denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapon, insisting its activities are entirely peaceful.