Daily Archives: March 20, 2011
VATICAN CITY, March 20, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / WASHINGTON POST / AP) — Pope Benedict XVI issued an urgent appeal Sunday to military and political leaders to consider the safety of Libyan civilians and ensure they have access to emergency aid in his first public comments on the conflict, as reported by The Washington Post.
Benedict said the outbreak of hostilities had sparked “great fear and alarm in me” and said he was praying for peace in the region.
Benedict didn’t identify which political or military leaders he was referring to in comments at his traditional Sunday blessing. Rather, he directed his appeal to “those who have the political and military responsibility to take to heart the safety and security of citizens and guarantee that they have access to humanitarian aid.”
The Vatican has been remarkably quiet about the mounting tensions in Libya and U.N. Security Council decision to authorize military force to halt Moammar Gadhafi’s crackdown: the Vatican newspaper has reported on the developments matter-of-factly, without commentary.
That was not the case eight years ago in the run-up to the Iraq war, when Pope John Paul II voiced emphatic opposition to U.S.-led military action and sent an envoy to Washington to try to avert it.
Recently, the Vatican has been chastened for what some in the Arab world considered interference in its internal affairs: The pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world froze talks with the Vatican earlier this year after Benedict called for better protection of Christians in Egypt.
Benedict’s appeal had followed the New Year’s bombing on a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria that killed 21 people. (*)
TRIPOLI, Libya, March 20, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM) – Muammar Gaddafi vowed a “long war” against the international military force that struck at his forces with airstrikes and dozens of cruise missiles that shook the Libyan capital early Sunday with the sound of explosions and anti-aircraft fire. In the capital of the rebel-held east, the Libyan leader’s guns appeared to go silent, AP reported on Sunday.
State television said 48 people died in the U.S. and European strikes, which marked the widest international military effort since the Iraq war and came as the rebels saw a month’s worth of gains reversed by Gaddafi’s overwhelming firepower.
Rebels said the international strikes also hit an air force complex outside Misrata, the last rebel-held city in Libya’s west. Gaddafi forces have bombarded the city from the complex, which houses a base and a military academy.
In Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the uprising that began Feb. 15, people said the strikes happened just in time. Libyan government tanks and troops had reached the edges of the city on Saturday.
Mohammed Faraj, 44, a former military man who joined the rebels, held a grenade in each hand as he manned a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city.
“Me and all of Benghazi, we will die before Gaddafi sets foot here again,” Faraj told The Associated Press. “Our spirits are very high.”
Though the U.S. and Europeans focused their attention on the no-fly zone, the U.N. resolution authorizing the action demanded a ceasefire and authorizes “all necessary means” to protect civilians.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, said the goals of the international campaign “are limited and it isn’t about seeing him go.”
In the phone call to state television, Gaddafi said he would not let up on Benghazi and said the government had opened up weapons depots to all Libyans, who were now armed with “automatic weapons, mortars and bombs.” State television said Gaddafi’s supporters were converging on airports as human shields.
“We promise you a long war,” he said.
The U.S. military said 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from American and British ships and submarines at more than 20 coastal targets to clear the way for air patrols to ground Libya’s air force. French fighter jets fired the first salvos, carrying out several strikes in the rebel-held east, while British fighter jets also bombarded the North African nation.
President Barack Obama said military action was not his first choice and reiterated that he would not send American ground troops.
“This is not an outcome the U.S. or any of our partners sought,” Obama said from Brazil, where he is starting a five-day visit to Latin America. “We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.”
Explosions rocked the coastal cities, including Tripoli, where anti-aircraft guns could be heard firing overnight.
Libyan TV quoted the armed forces command as saying 48 people were killed and 150 wounded in the allied assault. It said most of the casualties were children but gave no more details.
Mullen told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he had seen no reports of civilian casualties as a result of the coalition’s military operation.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was “deeply concerned” about civilians and called on all sides work to distinguish between civilians and fighters and allow safe access for humanitarian organizations.
Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for 41 years, said the international action against his forces was unjustified, calling it “simply a colonial crusader aggression that may ignite another large-scale crusader war.”
His regime acted quickly in the run-up to the strikes, sending warplanes, tanks and troops into the eastern city of Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the rebellion that began Feb. 15. Then the government attacks appeared to go silent.
Operation Odyssey Dawn, as the allied assault has been dubbed, followed an emergency summit in Paris during which the 22 leaders and top officials agreed to do everything necessary to make Gadhafi respect a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday calling for the no-fly zone and demanding a cease-fire, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.
Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters in Washington that U.S. ships and a British submarine had launched the first phase of a missile assault on Libyan air defenses.
Gortney said the mission has two goals: prevent further attacks by Libyan forces on rebels and civilians, and degrade the Libyan military’s ability to contest a no-fly zone.
Defense officials cautioned it was too early to fully gauge the impact of the onslaught. But a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the mission was ongoing, said the Americans felt that Libya’s air defenses had been heavily damaged given the precision targeting of the cruise missiles.
Mohammed Ali, a spokesman for the exiled opposition group the Libyan Salvation Front, said the Libyan air force headquarters at the Mateiga air base in eastern Tripoli and the Aviation Academy in Misrata had been targeted.
Switzerland-based Libyan activist Fathi al-Warfali said Misrata came under heavy shelling Sunday.
“Misrata is the only city in western Libya not under Gadhafi’s control; he is trying hard to change its position,” al-Warfala said.
About 20 French fighter jets carried out “several strikes” earlier Saturday, military spokesman Thierry Burkhard told The Associated Press.
“All our planes have returned to base tonight,” he said, and denied a Libyan TV report that a French plane had been hit.
He would not elaborate on what was hit or where, but said French forces are focusing on the Benghazi area and U.S. forces are focused in the west.
The U.S. has struck Libya before. Former President Reagan launched U.S. airstrikes on Libya in 1986 after a bombing at a Berlin disco — which the U.S. blamed on Libya — that killed three people, including two American soldiers. The airstrikes killed about 100 people in Libya, including Gadhafi’s young adopted daughter at his Tripoli compound. (*)
TRIPOLI, LIBYA, March 20, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) — Excerpts of letters Muammar Al Gaddafi sent to President Barack Obama and others involved in the international coalition supporting the uprising against him:
Letter to Obama:
To our son, the honorable Barack Hussein Obama,
As I have said before, even if, God forbid, there were a war between Libya and America, you would remain my son and I would still love you. I do not want to change the image I have of you. All of the Libyan people are with me, ready to die, even the women and children. We are fighting nothing other than al-Qaida in what they call the Islamic Maghreb. It’s an armed group that is fighting from Libya to Mauritania and through Algeria and Mali. … If you had found them taking over American cities by the force of arms, tell me what you would do?”
Letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon:
Libya is not yours. Libya is for the Libyans. The Security Council resolution is invalid because it does not follow the charter regarding the internal affairs of any country. This is terrible oppression, crude aggression.
You never have the right to intervene in our internal affairs. Who gave you this right? You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country. Our country is not your country. We cannot fire a single bullet at our people.”
(This version CORRECTS title to U.N. secretary-general).)
CARACAS, Venezuela, March 20, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez condemned military strikes against Libya on Saturday, accusing the United States and its European allies of attacking the country to seize its oil, AP reported on Sunday.
Chavez’s ally and mentor Fidel Castro raised similar concerns in a column written before the first strikes, while Bolivian President Evo Morales also accused world powers of intervening with an eye to the North African country’s oil.
Chavez, who has long-standing ties to Moammar Gadhafi, has urged mediation and called it “disgusting” that the U.S., France and other countries are taking military action.
“More death, more war. They are the masters of war,” Chavez said. “What irresponsibility. And behind that is the hand of the United States and its European allies.”
“They want to seize Libya’s oil. The lives of Libya’s people don’t matter to them at all,” Chavez said. “It is deplorable that once again the warmongering policy of the Yankee empire and its allies is being imposed, and it is deplorable that the United Nations lends itself to supporting war, infringing on its fundamental principles instead of urgently forming a commission to go to Libya.”
Operating under authorization of the U.N. Security Council, French fighter jets fired the first shots at Gadhafi’s troops Saturday, and U.S. and British warships launched a missile attack on Libya’s air defenses.
“We know what’s going to happen: bombs, bombs, war, more suffering for the people, more death,” Chavez said in a televised speech in Caracas.
The socialist leader has been joined by Latin American allies including Castro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in strongly opposing U.S. and NATO military involvement in Libya, and in suggesting that reports of atrocities by Gadhafi’s troops were overblown or unproven.
In a column published in Cuba’s state media Saturday, Castro asked why the U.N. Security Council exists, and said NATO wields such a colossal military force that it “serves only to show the waste and chaos generated by capitalism.”
Speaking in Bolivia, Morales condemned the military intervention and said the strategy of some powerful countries has been to “invent a problem, and the problem is wanting to take control of oil.”
Chavez criticized President Barack Obama, saying he won the Nobel Peace Prize but is pursuing another war in the same mold as Iraq and Afghanistan. He also mocked French and other European leaders, saying “they still feel like owners of the world, empires of this world.”
Chavez said the freezing of Libyan accounts in U.S. and European banks — an amount he said he believes is nearly $200 billion — is effectively “a robbery, it’s looting, taking advantage of Libya’s internal conflict.”
The military strikes against Libya came after the U.N. Security Council authorized a no-fly zone and are aimed at supporting an uprising by rebels trying to topple Gadhafi after more than four decades in power.
“What is that called? Intervention in another country’s internal affairs,” Chavez said. “We demand … a true cease-fire.” (*)