News & Current Affairs

November 1, 2008

Libya compensates terror victims

People visit the Lockerbie Garden of Remembrance (image from May 2000)

Most of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing were Americans

Libya has paid $1.5bn into a US compensation fund for relatives of victims of terror attacks blamed on Tripoli, the US state department says.

The fund was agreed in August to settle remaining lawsuits in the US.

The attacks include the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco which killed three and wounded more than 200.

Under the deal, Libya did not accept responsibility for the attacks, but agreed to compensate victims.

It is the final step in a long diplomatic process, which has seen Libya come back into the international fold.

US contribution

The first $300m Libyan payment into the fund was made on 9 October, shortly after an historic visit to Tripoli by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Its second payment of $600m was received on Thursday and a final installment of $600m was made on Friday, said David Welch, the US diplomat who negotiated the settlement.

In exchange, President Bush has signed an executive order restoring the Libyan government’s immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing pending compensation cases in the US, the White House said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs David Welch (l), and Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Fitouri (14.8.2008)

The US and Libya agreed to the compensation deal in August

Our correspondent says it is unclear why it took so long for the money to be paid into the fund.

She adds that there may have been contributions by American companies lured by business opportunities in Tripoli and keen to expedite the process of normalising ties.

The US State Department, however, has insisted that no money from the American taxpayer will be used for the US portion of the fund.

Libya has already paid the families of Lockerbie victims $8m (£4m) each, but it owes them $2m more.

The fund will also be used to compensate relatives of seven Americans who died in the bombing of a French UTA airliner over Chad in 1989.

In 2004, Libya agreed to pay $35m in compensation to non-US victims of the 1986 Berlin bombing.

In the same year, relatives of non-US victims of the UTA bombing accepted a payment of $1m each from the Gaddafi International Foundation for Charity Associations.

Relations between Libya and the US improved in 2003 when Tripoli stopped working on weapons of mass destruction.

The decision led to the restoration of US diplomatic ties with Libya in 2006.

In turn, it was removed from America’s list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

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September 29, 2008

Deadly blast rocks Lebanese city

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:05 pm

Deadly blast rocks Lebanese city

At least five people have been killed in a suspected car bomb attack on a military bus carrying soldiers in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Witnesses said the blast happened on the outskirts of the city during morning rush hour. Some 30 people are believed to be wounded.

Several soldiers as well as civilians were killed in a similar blast on a bus in the city last month.

Lebanon’s leaders said the attacks were an attempt to destabilise the country.

Efforts have been under way recently to try and reconcile Lebanon’s rival factions after a wave of violence in May pushed the country close to civil war.

Pro-government Sunni fighters and pro-Syrian gunmen, whose fighting has centred on Tripoli, agreed to a peace deal earlier this month.

Threatened deal

Lebanese officials said the blast came after a car parked by a busy roadside near the southern entrance to the city was detonated by remote control.

The explosives were believed to have been mixed with nuts and bolts, and shattered nearby windows and damaged other cars.

Lebanon

The blast appeared to target a military bus that was passing through morning traffic in the Bahsas neighborhood at the time.

Security sources said four of the dead and at least 21 of the wounded were soldiers, the rest were civilians.

TV pictures showed soldiers sealing off the area and preventing people from approaching the scene of the blast.

Government officials said an investigation into the attack was under way, but no one had yet claimed responsibility.

At least 14 people were killed in a similar attack on a bus in the city in August. Several of the victims were off-duty soldiers.

‘Terrorist act’

“Once again the hand of treachery has reached the military institution in a clear targeting of security and stability,” the Lebanese military said in a statement after Monday’s attack.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the bombing was aimed at undermining efforts to reconcile Lebanon’s various rival factions.

Syria too denounced the bombing, calling it a “terrorist and criminal act”.

A similar bombing in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 17 people just two days ago.

The Syrian authorities have blamed the attack on Islamist extremists, and say the car came from a “neighbouring Arab country”.

Some analysts believe this new trend for car bombings in the region is directly linked to the changing situation in Iraq.

As the security situation improves there, analysts say, so insurgents are driving their members across the border into neighboring countries.


Are you in the area? Have you been affected by the violence in northern Lebanon? Send us your comments

September 5, 2008

Rice making historic Libya visit

Rice making historic Libya visit

Condoleezza Rice in Lisbon before going to Libya - 5/9/2008

The US state department described the visit as a “new chapter” in relations

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed as “historic” her visit to Libya to meet its leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But she pointed out the “suffering” caused by the North African country’s long stand-off with the West.

Libya was on the US state department list of sponsors of terrorism until 2003, when it abandoned weapons of mass destruction and renounced terrorism.

Ms Rice will be the first US secretary of state to visit Libya since 1953.

“It is a historic moment and it is one that has come after a lot of difficulty, the suffering of many people that will never be forgotten or assuaged,” Ms Rice told a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal, before leaving for Libya.

Her trip will also include visits to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

But the visit could be overshadowed by Libya’s failure so far to honour a deal offering compensation to families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Six years ago, such a visit would have seemed far-fetched, but diplomacy and political will have overcome the obstacles.

The US State Department have described it as a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries, following on from the restoration of diplomatic ties in 2006.

‘Way forward’

Earlier this month, Libya agreed to pay compensation to families of the victims of the Lockerbie aircraft bombing, for which it formally accepted responsibility in 2003.

The deal includes compensation for Libyan victims of the United States’ retaliatory bombing raid over Libya in 1986.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi  (file image)

Ms Rice’s visit was partly intended to be a reward for successful completion of the deal, but Libya has not yet transferred the promised hundreds of millions of dollars into a humanitarian account.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Welch, told Reuters that he was optimistic the transfer would happen soon but that Ms Rice would press Libya on this issue.

Col Gaddafi has stopped short of referring to America as a friend, but in a televised speech this week he said improved relations were a way for both countries to leave each other alone.

Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter told a briefing in Washington on Thursday that the visit would show other countries they have “a way forward” if they change their behaviour and co-operate with the US.

Our correspondent says that although the visit is largely symbolic diplomacy, many in Libya hope that US-Libyan relations will only improve in the long-run.


What do you think about Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Libya? Send us your comments

August 31, 2008

Italy seals Libya colonial deal

Italy seals Libya colonial deal

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (left) shakes hands with Libya's Col Muammar Gaddafi  in Benghazi on 30 August

Mr Berlusconi (left) and Col Gaddafi shook hands

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has signed an agreement to pay Libya $5bn as part of a deal to resolve colonial-era disputes.

Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi said the settlement signed in the city of Benghazi opened the door to partnership between the two states.

Mr Berlusconi said the deal, which sees the money being released over 25 years, ended “40 years of misunderstanding”.

Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s.

The former Ottoman territory became an independent country in 1951.

This is the first African country to be compensated by a former colonial master.

The question is, she adds: will this latest move set precedents for other former African countries to follow suit?

Coastal motorway

Mr Berlusconi explained that $200m would be paid annually over the next 25 years through investments in infrastructure projects, the main one being a coastal motorway between the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.

The Venus of Cyrene statue is displayed at the signing ceremony

The headless statue was displayed when the two leaders met

There will also be a colonial-era mine clearing project.

As a goodwill gesture, Italy also returned an ancient statue of Venus, the headless “Venus of Cyrene”, which had been taken to Rome in colonial times.

The settlement was a “complete and moral acknowledgement of the damage inflicted on Libya by Italy during the colonial era”, the Italian prime minister said.

“In this historic document, Italy apologises for its killing, destruction and repression against Libyans during the colonial rule,” Col Gaddafi said for his part.

The agreement was signed in the Benghazi palace which once housed the Italian colonial administration, Reuters news agency reports.

Rome and Tripoli have spent years arguing over compensation for the colonial period.

Mr Berlusconi’s one-day trip was his second since June when illegal immigration from Africa to Europe was the key issue of talks.

Italy has been swamped by thousands of African migrants trying to reach its shores by boat.

Libya has come in from the diplomatic cold since 2003 when it abandoned efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to make the first high-ranking American visit to Libya since 1953.

August 30, 2008

Italy to seal Libya colonial deal

Italy to seal Libya colonial deal

Silvio Berlusconi

Mr Berlusconi is making his second trip to Libya since June

Italy is to provide billions of dollars to Libya as part of a deal to resolve colonial-era disputes, Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has announced.

At least $5bn will go to help Libyan infrastructure projects over the next 25 years.

Mr Berlusconi is in the port of Benghazi to meet Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi and seal a bilateral friendship and cooperation accord.

Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s.

It became independent in 1951.

Motorway

Mr Berlusconi said: “The accord will provide for $200m a year over the next 25 years through investments in infrastructure projects in Libya.”

The main project will be a coastal motorway between the Egyptian and Tunisian borders.

There will also be a colonial-era mine clearing project.

The Italian leader had earlier said he wanted the agreement to “turn the page on the past”.

Rome and Tripoli have spent years arguing over compensation for the colonial period.

Libya has accused Italy of killing thousands of its citizens and expelling thousands more from their homes in three decades of occupation.

Mr Berlusconi’s trip is his second since June when illegal immigration from Africa to Europe was the key issue of talks.

Italy has been swamped by thousands of African migrants trying to reach its shores by boat.

Libya has come in from the diplomatic cold since 2003 when it abandoned efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to make the first high-ranking American visit to Libya since 1953.

August 21, 2008

Gaddafi son retires from politics

Gaddafi son retires from politics

Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi

Sayf al-Islam said he was not at odds with his father

The son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has announced his retirement from political life.

Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi has been a leading proponent of reform through his charity, The Gaddafi Foundation.

He said he had been obliged to intervene politically, but this was no longer necessary, as Libya now had institutions and systems it had lacked.

He has previously denied reports he was being groomed to take power and said there was no rift with his father.

He has no official role in government but in the past four years he has come into the limelight internationally because of his interventions.

The situation has changed and if I continue there will be a problem
Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi

In an hour-long televised speech, Sayf al-Islam Gaddafi took some credit for the rehabilitation of Libya’s reputation.

“I intervened extensively in everything: our foreign policy, in a lot of problems, in development, in housing. Because there were no institutions or an administrative system that were able to do so,” he told a crowd in the desert town of Sebha.

“But now the situation has changed and if I continue there will be a problem.”

He said the decision-making process should not be held in the hands of a few people and again urged the creation of more civil societies, an independent media and a judiciary enshrined in a new constitution.

These goals were the responsibility of all Libyans, he said, to a standing ovation in Sebha, where he was addressing a crowd of thousands of young supporters.

Sayf al-Islam is one of seven of Col Gaddafi’s sons.

The Libyan leader’s youngest son, Hannibal, has caused a diplomatic row with Switzerland after being charged with assaulting two of his servants last month.

Libya’s state shipping company halted oil shipments to Switzerland in protest.

August 15, 2008

US-Libya compensation deal sealed

US-Libya compensation deal sealed

David Welch and Ahmed al-Fatroui sign the agreement

The signing comes after a long process of negotiation

The US and Libya are set to renew diplomatic relations after signing a deal to compensate all victims of bombings involving the two countries.

The agreement will fully compensate victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, and of the bombing of a Berlin disco two years earlier.

It will also address Libyan claims arising from US attacks on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and Benghazi in 1986.

The deal was signed in Tripoli by US and Libyan officials.

David Welch, US assistant secretary of state and Washington’s top Middle East diplomat, met Ahmed al-Fatroui, head of America affairs, in Libya’s foreign ministry to seal the agreement.

When fulfilled, the agreement will permit Libya and the US to develop their relations
David Welch
US assistant secretary of state

Mr Fatroui told reporters it was “the crowning of a long process of exhausting negotiations”.

Mr Welch said it was a very important agreement that “turns a new page in our relationship”.

“Under this agreement each country’s citizens can receive fair compensation for past incidents. When fulfilled, the agreement will permit Libya and the US to develop their relations,” he said.

Libyan state media said US President George W Bush had sent a message to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, saying he hoped relations between the two countries would continue to improve.

The agreement does not constitute an admission of fault by either party.

An international Humanitarian Settlement Fund will be set up in Libya to compensate all American and Libyan claimants.

Foreign companies and international institutions operating in Libya, which include some American companies, will contribute to the fund.

The deal also paves the way for a full restoration of relations, including the opening of a US embassy in Tripoli and direct US aid.

In all, there were 26 lawsuits filed by American citizens against Libya and three by Libyan citizens against the US.

The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco killed three people and wounded more than 200.

Libya says at least 40 people died in the US air strikes.

Relations between Libya and the US have improved dramatically since 2003, when Libya accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing.

August 14, 2008

Lebanon chief mends ties in Syria

Lebanon chief mends ties in Syria

The Lebanese and Syrian presidents have been holding talks in Damascus, where they formally confirmed a move to establish full diplomatic relations.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman was given a red-carpet welcome by President Bashar al-Assad, the first such visit after a turbulent three years.

Tension has been high since the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese blame Damascus for the killing, but it denies involvement.

The two leaders were meeting in the Syrian capital a month after a summit in Paris, where they agreed to establish diplomatic ties and open embassies.

“The two presidents… have instructed their foreign ministers to take the necessary steps in this regard, starting from today,” said Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to President Assad.

The Arab neighbours are set to normalise relations for the first time since the Arab neighbours gained independence from France in the 1940s.

Hours before Mr Suleiman flew to Damascus for the two-day visit, a bomb exploded in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, the scene of fierce street fighting between pro- and anti-Syria supporters since May.

Lebanon’s pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri said the timing of the attack was meant “to prevent the improvement of Lebanese-Syrian relations”.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the attack a “criminal act” and voiced support for Lebanon “in the face of all those who are manipulating its security and stability”.

Tough issues

The BBC’s Bethany Bell in Damascus says despite progress in relations between the two nations, potential stumbling blocks remain – not least over the international tribunal into the death of Mr Hariri.

Past international investigators said Syrian intelligence and its Lebanese associates had played a role, although the report of the latest prosecutor – Daniel Bellemare of Canada – spoke of a criminal network without saying whether it had political motives.

Syrian officials have consistently and strenuously denied any Syrian role.

Syria kept a large military and intelligence presence in Lebanon after the civil war ended in 1990, but it was forced to withdraw after the Hariri assassination because of massive public pressure in Lebanon with strong international support.

Settling relations with Syria is a top priority for the new government in Lebanon.

The unity coalition was formed after the Qatari-mediated Doha accord which ended months of deadlock and bouts of violence between pro-Syria factions and supporters of the Western-backed government.

The Doha accord also allowed the installation of former army chief Mr Suleiman as president, a candidate deemed acceptable on both sides of the political divide.

Other issues for discussion in Damascus are likely to be demarcating the mountainous Lebanon-Syria border and determining the fate of Lebanese detainees in Syria.

August 13, 2008

Lebanese city rocked by bus bomb

Lebanese city rocked by bus bomb

At least 11 people have been killed by a blast in the center of the Lebanese city of Tripoli, the military says.

Security officials said a bomb went off close to a bus whose passengers included a number of off-duty soldiers.

The port city has been the scene of sectarian fighting in recent months in which more than 20 people have died.

The attack comes a day after the new national unity government won a vote of confidence and as President Michel Suleiman was due to travel to Syria.

The hands of the criminals have hit in Tripoli against innocent soldiers and civilians
Tareq Mitri, Information Minister

No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which also wounded at least 30 people.Some reports put the number of dead at 18.

Nine of those killed were reported to be soldiers who had been travelling on the bus. The army has said it believes it was directly targeted by the attack.

Mr Suleiman described the explosion as “a terrorist act”.

“The army and security forces will not be terrorised by attacks and crimes that target it and civil society, and the history of the army attests to that”, he said in a statement.

Syria’s foreign ministry said it “staunchly denounced the criminal attack that killed many innocent civilians”.

‘Many interpretations’

Lebanese Red Cross volunteers help a wounded man in Tripoli (13/08/2008)

Reports say at least 30 people were injured by the blast

Lebanese Information Minister Tareq Mitri told reporters in Beirut that an investigation was taking place but he did not speculate on who had been behind the attack.”The investigation has begun and there are many interpretations, political interpretations”

Mr Mitri said the government would “make every effort” to support the people of Tripoli.

“The hands of the criminals have hit in Tripoli against innocent soldiers and civilians”, he said.

“Once again, they want our country to be an arena for settling scores and battling for influence.”

Correspondents said it appeared the bomb was intended to disrupt the groundbreaking presidential visit, which was hoped to patch up years of stormy relations between the two neighbours.

The bomb went off in Masarif Street in Tripoli’s busy commercial district.

TV footage showed the surrounding area spattered with blood and covered in broken glass. The strength of the explosion blew debris and body parts onto nearby roofs.

Troubled city

Lebanon

In recent months, Tripoli has seen a series of clashes between the city’s majority Sunni Muslim community, who mainly support the anti-Syrian movement, and members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, linked to the powerful political and militant group Hezbollah.Mr Suleiman, the president, was due to travel to Syria on Wednesday for talks with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad.

The BBC’s Bethany Bell, in Damascus, says his visit marks a gradual thaw in relations between the two countries, which have been strained since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

They planned to discuss demarcating their shared border and setting up diplomatic relations for the first time since independence in the 1940s.

Many Lebanese blame Syria for the Hariri killing, but Damascus has consistently denied any involvement.

Tuesday’s vote gave the formal go-ahead for a government which brings together the anti-Syrian bloc, backed by Western powers and Sunni-led Arab governments, and former opposition groups led by Hezbollah and backed by Syria and Iran.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the bombing “will not affect the launching of our government”.


Are you in Tripoli? Have you been affected by the blast? Send your comments

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