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U.S. Ambassador Says Libyan General Is Going After 'Terrorists'

Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference Saturday in Benghazi, Libya.

Πηγή: USNews
By: Barbara Slavin
May 23 2014

WASHINGTON — US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said Wednesday that she would not condemn the actions of Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a former officer in Moammar Gadhafi’s army who has declared war on Islamic “terrorists” in Libya and forced the country to call new parliamentary elections for June 25.

Speaking at the Stimson Center in Washington, Jones repeated US State Department assertions that the Barack Obama administration did not support and had no advance knowledge of Hifter’s actions — which included sending forces to kill scores of Islamist fighters in eastern Libya last week and storming Libya’s parliament in Tripoli over the weekend. But she added that “it’s very difficult to step up and condemn” Hifter given that his forces are “going after very specific groups … on our list of terrorists.”

“I am not going to come out and condemn blanketly what he did,” she said.

Hifter defected from Gadhafi’s military two decades ago after a failed war in Chad and moved to northern Virginia where he acquired US citizenship. He has claimed that the US government backed him in the 1990s in unsuccessful efforts to overturn the Gadhafi regime.

Karim Mezran, an expert on Libya at the Atlantic Council, told Al-Monitor that there are “widespread rumors that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates” are backing Hifter in hopes that he will expunge the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist elements from the Libyan government and even take power as Abdel Fattah al-Sisi did in Egypt after ousting President Mohammed Morsi. “If they can conquer the east, the military balance will be in their favor,” Mezran said of Hifter’s forces.

Jones, asked by Al-Monitor if Egypt and the UAE were behind Hifter, who staged a failed coup in February, said, “I have nothing for you on than that” — the diplomatic equivalent of a non-denial — but that “Libyans who reside in the UAE and Egypt support him.” She added, “I hear a lot of support of his actions against these groups but less for him as an individual. The jury is still out because it’s not clear what the agenda is behind this.”

She added that Hifter is “clearly one of the influencers” in Libya and that “our approach now is to reach out to all the influencers.”

Egyptian officials did not respond to a request for comment about the Libyan security situation and its impact on Egypt, which is home to as many as a million Libyan refugees. Areas close to the Egyptian border, such as the town of Derna, have been headquarters for extremist groups including Ansar al-Sharia, whose leader, Ahmad Abu Khattala, is a suspect in the attack that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in 2012 in Benghazi.

The latest moves by Hifter appear to add only more confusion to a country that has struggled to form a coherent national government since Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011 with the help of the United States, other NATO forces and the Arab League. Libya has had nearly half a dozen prime ministers since then and many episodes of political violence, including the fatal attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, the abduction of other diplomats — most recently Jordan’s ambassador — as well as government officials and their relatives and clashes between myriad ethnic, tribal and religiously inspired militias.

According to a recent report by the Atlantic Council, there are at least a quarter million Libyans under arms who are members of militias and on the government payroll even though only about 30,000 men took part in the revolution against Gadhafi. Groups that have pledged loyalty to the government have become part of the problem; a former head of the Petroleum Facilities Guard seized Libyan oil terminals and attempted in March to export oil on behalf of his self-appointed “Political Bureau of Cyrenaica,” but the North Korean-flagged tanker was seized in the Mediterranean by US Navy Seals. Libyan oil exports, which should total more than 1 million barrels a day, are hovering around 250,000 barrels a day.

Jones blamed much of the disarray on Gadhafi, who seized power in 1969 in a country that lacked a strong central government and political institutions.

“There never was a functioning Libyan state per se,” she said. “That weakened state permitted Gadhafi to exploit the situation. … He was like an abusive parent” who squeezed his own people of resources while doling out Libya’s oil revenues on foreign causes and conflicts.

Since the revolution, the United States, European countries and the United Nations have sought to help Libya construct the basics of a functioning state. But plans to train a proper army for the country have been impeded by concerns over who would command them when they get back home. The United States had planned to help train 8,000 Libyans in Bulgaria, but that effort is being reviewed and scaled back, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor.

With its oil wealth and small population, Libya should be able to prosper if it can establish some semblance of security. But oil also tempts various elements to continue to fight over the spoils, and the country is awash in weapons “liberated” from the Gadhafi regime.

Asked his view of Libya’s future, Michael Morell, a former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, told Al-Monitor, “It is one of the biggest nation-building challenges that I have seen.”

Several countries and organizations have appointed envoys to try to reconcile Hifter’s forces with the moderate Islamists who dominate Libya’s parliament. Among them is David Satterfield, a veteran US diplomat who heads the multinational peacekeeping force for the Sinai. He visited Tripoli recently.

Jones said Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns had also met with numerous influential Libyans and that she has as well, but she has not been able to travel to eastern Libya because of security concerns. She called the US Embassy in Tripoli “lean and mean” and “somewhat similar to a medieval fortress. Benghazi [the killing of Stevens and three others] will not happen again, but something else will,” she said.

She praised Libya for its “five [UNESCO] world heritage sites, amazing weather and fantastic fish.” But asked if she would advise Americans to travel to Libya, she said not “unless you know Libyans.” Applying what she called the “911 standard,” she said that Americans traveling in Europe in need of help would easily get it, but “if you’re in Libya, you’re going to keep dialing.”


Greece Needs a Deep Debt Write-Off

Πηγή:  Research on Money and Finance
Written by Costas Lapavitsas and Daniel Munevar
May 20 2014

Greece needs debt relief to generate additional fiscal space for the government, allowing it to adopt fiscal policies that could quickly facilitate recovery and growth. This is imperative in a country with adult unemployment currently standing at the extraordinary level of 27%. The real question is not whether but how to effect debt relief for the country. In this light there
are two options.

First, there is the ‘soft’ option of consensually extending the maturity of debt and lowering the average interest rate, thus reducing the annual interest outlay. This form of debt relief is preferred by the EU and the current Greek government because it would leave the nominal value of the debt intact, thus avoiding major conflict with the official lenders by protecting their interests.

(Available in Greek translation here)


General's revolt threatens to new fight in Libya

In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter addresses a press conference in Benghazi, Libya. The death toll from fighting over the weekend in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi between troops loyal to Hifter, a rogue general, and Islamist militias has risen to at least 70, the Health Ministry said on Sunday. In a statement late Saturday, Libya's interim prime minister, parliament speaker and the head of military warned Hifter against further pursuing his offensive and threatened the troops cooperating with him.

Πηγή: Idaho Statesman
May 19 2014

TRIPOLI, LIBYA — A revolt by a renegade general against Islamists who dominate Libya's politics threatened to spiral into an outright battle for power that could fragment the North African nation as the country's numerous armed militias on Monday started to line up behind the rival camps.

Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who lived for years in exile in the United States during the rule of autocrat Moammar Gadhafi, touts himself as a nationalist who is waging a war against terrorism to save Libya from Islamic extremists. His loyalists and allies in the past days attacked Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi and on Sunday stormed the Islamist-led parliament in Tripoli.

Hifter's opponents accuse him of seeking to grab power, acting on behalf of former regime figures in exile by orchestrating an Egyptian-style military overthrow of Islamists that would wreck already struggling attempts at democracy.

Since Gadhafi's ouster and death in a 2011 civil war, Libya has been in chaos. The central government has almost no authority. The military and police, shattered during the civil war, have never recovered and remain in disarray. Filling the void are hundreds of militias around the country. Many of them are locally based, rooted in specific cities or neighborhoods. Others are based on ethnic allegiances. Others have embraced al-Qaida-inspired extremism.

The country has held several elections, including ones that created a new parliament. But administrations have been paralyzed by the competition between Islamist parties and their rivals, each of which are backed by militias. Islamist lawmakers who dominate parliament removed the Western-backed prime minister earlier this year and named an Islamist-leaning figure Ahmed Maiteg to replace him in a vote their opponents say was illegal.

In response to the parliament attack, the Islamist-leaning head of the legislature, Nouri Abu Sahmein, ordered militias backing his camp to deploy in Tripoli on Monday to resist what he called "the attempt to wreck the path of democracy and take power."

The pro-parliament militias are largely from Libya's third largest city of Misrata, one of Islamists' biggest constituencies. Footage posted online by Misrata forces showed hundreds of pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, tanks and armored vehicles it said were ready to move into the capital.

But backing for parliament appeared to be eroding, including within the interim government installed by lawmakers after the prime minister's removal.

The interim government, led by the defense minister, put forward a proposal for resolving the conflict. It said parliament should hold a new vote on a prime minister, pass a budget and then halt work to allow new parliament elections. Parliament's mandate expired earlier this year, and Islamists' opponents have held protests demanding it be dissolved.

Units of the weak military on Monday began splitting from their top generals to support Hifter.

The commander of an elite army unit in Benghazi, the Special Forces, announced his support for Hifter and his National Libyan Army, as he has called his loyalists. The unit is the only real state force in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, where it has been fighting militants for months.

"Anyone who hurts the nation will be smashed. We are with the will of the people alongside the National Libyan Army in the battle of dignity," the commander, Wanis Abu Khamada, said in a televised address.

Also, troops at a military air base in the eastern city of Tobruk joined Hifter's forces, his spokesman Mohammed Hegazi said — the latest in around five air bases to back the general in recent weeks. The claim was quickly challenged by deputy Defense Minister Khaled el-Sherif, who said that the base is still under "legitimate authorities."

"We are the real army of Libya," Hegazi told Libya al-Ahrar TV. "We are waiting for orders ... to either seek victory or be killed."

In a sign the violence could worsen, a number of foreign embassies in Tripoli shut down, including those of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria, which also closed its borders with Libya, according to several news reports.

Hifter was a senior general in Gadhafi's military but defected, living in exile for years in Virginia in the United States in the 1980s. He returned during the 2011 uprising against Gadhafi.

The general is aiming to harness widespread public frustration with the weak military, the government's impotence and Islamists' power.

He appears to have the support of one of the country's most powerful militias, from the western Zintan region.

Hifter also draws strong backing in the eastern part of the country, especially Benghazi, where many demand autonomy from the central government and where anger at Islamists is high. Suspected extremist militias have been killing military and police officials, judges, activists and clerics in the city almost daily for months.

In Benghazi, a lawyer prominent in the city said there is general public backing there for Hifter because he is seen as a figure who "can rescue them from terrorism." But the lawyer said he personally worries that after defeating Islamists, Hifter would become a new Gadhafi. He spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

On Friday, Hifter loyalists attacked Islamic extremist militias in Benghazi in fighting that authorities said left 70 dead.

Pro-Hifter militiamen stormed parliament Sunday. They ransacked the legislature, then withdrew toward Tripoli's airport on the southern edges of the city, clashing with rivals. By Monday morning, fighting stopped.

Hifter's camp declared that the legislature was suspended and its powers handed over to a 60-member assembly that was recently elected to write the constitution. The government dismissed the declaration.

The Islamist parties, in turn, are backed by the powerful militia based in the western city of Misrata, which has forces in Tripoli.

One of Libya's many al-Qaida-inspired extremist groups on Monday vowed to fight Hifter's forces.

"You have entered a battle you will lose," a masked militant, identifying himself as Abu Musab al-Arabi, said in a video posted on militant websites by the Lions of Monotheism.

Editor's note: See also CIA’s favourite appointed as chief of revamped Libyan army.