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New chief for Libya's revamped national army
by Staff Writers
Al-Baida, Libya (AFP) Nov 17, 2011

Iraq's Sadr backs embattled Assad
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 17, 2011 - Iraq's radical anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has expressed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as much of the Arab world turns against the embattled strongman.

Assad has since March been trying to crush a popular uprising against his government, in which over 3,500 people have been killed, according to UN figures.

The Arab League on November 12 voted to suspend Syria, although Iraq itself abstained, and Arab leaders on Wednesday gave Assad three days to halt his "bloody repression" of protests or face sanctions.

But there is "a big difference" between what is happening in Syria and the "great revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen," Sadr said in a statement received by AFP on Thursday, referring to other Arab states that have seen popular uprisings this year.

"One of the reasons behind this difference is that Bashar al-Assad is against the American and Israeli presence and his attitudes are clear, not like those who collapsed before him, or will collapse," said the statement released by his office in the city of Najaf, reiterating points Sadr made in August.

"Some of your lands are still occupied," Sadr said, referring to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which the Jewish state seized from Syria in 1967.

Sadr also warned against throwing Syria into "an abyss of terrorism and fragmentation in the event of a vacuum in power."

"We support your demonstrations to show your opinion," Sadr said of the anti-Assad camp.

"But there are large groups that ... are with keeping the government," he said, calling for dialogue and an end to the conflict.

Commanders who defected from Moamer Kadhafi's armed forces in the heat of the civil uprising named a new chief on Thursday, presenting the new Libyan authorities with a done-deal.

Some 150 officers and sub-officers, gathered in the eastern city of Al-Baida, unanimously approved the appointment of Khalifa Haftar and announced the re-activation of the army, which has yet to be officially reconstituted.

"Participants agreed to choose Major General Khalifa Belgacem Haftar as commander-in-chief of the national army due to his seniority, experience and capacity to command troops as well as the efforts he made to support the February 17 revolution," said General Fraj Bunseira, head of Al-Baida's military council.

The nomination is to be presented for approval to the head of the governing National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Bunseira told an audience of senior military officers.

The announcement was welcomed by applause and cries of "God is greatest."

But it was met with silence in the capital.

Abdelhakim Belhaj, the influential Islamist commander of Tripoli's military council, told AFP he had not heard of the news and declined to make any immediate comment.

But Belhaj, whom Libyan media have touted as one of the favourites for the defence portfolio, said he had agreed with the NTC that the "thwar," or civilian fighters who helped to overthrow the former strongman would be included in the new cabinet.

"We have reached an agreement that candidates from among the thwar will get certain specific cabinet posts," he said ahead of a military parade in Tripoli without elaborating.

"We hope that these promises are kept."

The NTC has said a new government led by interim premier Abdel Rahim al-Kib will likely be announced on Sunday.

The naming of the army chief comes amid a growing rift between members of the national army and the defence ministry which oversees scores of brigades, formed by civilians turned fighters during the revolt against Kadhafi.

Haftar, who comes from the ranks of Benghazi's military academy and trained in the former Soviet Union, defected from the Kadhafi regime in the 1990s after the Libya-Chad conflict and went to live in the United States.

He returned home in March to join the military campaign to unseat Kadhafi.

Members of the old army were keen to take the lead before a formal meeting scheduled for Sunday to discuss the fate of the national army as they believe the defence ministry wants to keep them weak.

"Those people are against the military establishment," said General Suleiman Mahmud in reference to Defence Minister Jalal al-Degheili and his deputy, Fawzi Bukatif, who sought to bring former rebel militias under one unified command.

Some of the old guard officers expressed criticism of Qatar, which provided arms and training for Libya's inexperienced and ill-disciplined rebel forces.

"Qatar is welcome in the living room but not in the bedroom," Colonel Abdel Mottaleb Miled told journalists.

"We are grateful to Qatar for its help but there are limits ... I say loudly and clearly that I do not like Qatar's methods," said General Mahmud.

He also called for unity in the army's ranks.

"I urge you to set aside personal rivalries. The core of the army is under threat. You must stand united. The army is a symbol of the nation," he said, before announcing his retirement to make way for younger officers.

Though many officer broke ranks and joined the NATO-backed fighters during the seven-month campaign to oust the Kadhafi regime, they are still viewed with suspicion by civilian brigades who took arms against the former strongman.

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China says 'highly concerned' about Syria
Beijing (AFP) Nov 17, 2011 - China said Thursday it was "highly concerned" about the situation in Syria, where the regime is being pressed to end a violent crackdown on protests and implement an Arab League peace plan.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has so far failed to comply with the peace plan -- signed on November 2 -- to end its crackdown on protests, which the United Nations says has left at least 3,500 people dead since March.

"China is highly concerned about the developments in Syria," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Thursday, after Arab leaders gave Assad three days to halt what they called his "bloody repression" of the protests or risk sanctions.

"We hope that all relevant parties will work together to accelerate the implementation of the resolution scheme reached between the Arab League and Syria and seek to resolve the Syrian crisis through political means," he said.

Assad's regime signed up to the deal brokered by the Arab League to end the crackdown under huge pressure from fellow Arab states, to avoid the internationalisation of the crisis.

But it has failed to fulfil commitments to release detainees, withdraw the army from urban areas, allow free movement for observers and media and negotiate with the opposition.

China, along with Russia, vetoed a Western-drafted resolution at the UN Security Council on October 4 that would have threatened Assad's regime with targeted sanctions if it continued its campaign against protesters.

But days later, Beijing urged Damascus to speed up the implementation of reforms, veering away from its longstanding policy of non-interference in the country's affairs.

The situation in Syria has drawn widespread condemnation. Morocco on Wednesday recalled its ambassador from Damascus after its embassy there was attacked by pro-regime protesters.

The UAE has condemned the attacks and France also recalled its ambassador to Syria.


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Yemen: Saleh and 'new guard' play for time
Sanaa, Yemen (UPI) Nov 16, 2011
An offer by embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down within 90 days could avert all-out civil war in his tormented country - if he does it. Saleh has said at least three times this year he would quit under a Gulf-brokered power transition plan - then reneged, even as massive protests continue to delegitimize his regime. The bottom line is Saleh's announcement ... read more

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