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Libyan national conference postponed as fighting intensifies in Tripoli

We cannot ask people to take part in the conference during gunfire and air strikes

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Spokesman for the Libyan forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Mohamed Gnounou holds a press conference in the capital Tripoli on April 9, 2019. - The United Nations on Tuesday postponed a Libyan national conference aimed at drawing up an election roadmap because of fighting raging near the capital, in another setback to peace efforts. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

The United Nations on Tuesday postponed a Libyan national conference aimed at drawing up an election roadmap because of fighting raging near the capital, in another setback to peace efforts.

The move came as the North African country’s warring parties faced mounting international pressure to halt violence that has caused thousands to flee and left several dozen people dead.

“We cannot ask people to take part in the conference during gunfire and air strikes,” UN envoy Ghassan Salame said.

He expressed hope that the meeting, which had been scheduled for next week, would take place “as soon as possible”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an “immediate halt” to hostilities, after Tripoli’s only functional airport was hit in an air strike on Monday by the forces of strongman Khalifa Haftar.

After a night-time lull, fighting resumed on Tuesday morning south of the city, a security source said.

The oil-rich country has been rocked by violent power struggles between an array of armed groups since the NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) controls the capital, but its authority is not recognised by a parallel administration in the east of the country, allied with Haftar.

The strongman’s forces, who launched a surprise offensive on the Libyan capital last week, claimed responsibility for Monday’s air raid on Mitiga airport. It caused no casualties, but left a metre-deep crater on a runway.

Salame said the attack “constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks against civilian infrastructure”.

Thousands displaced

Flights were suspended on Monday, but the airport was due to be reopened to night-time flights only late Tuesday.

Since launching his lightning offensive on Tripoli last Thursday, Hafter has defied international calls to halt the advance, including from the UN Security Council and the United States.

The unity government’s health ministry on Monday put the death toll in the fighting at 35. Haftar’s forces have said 14 of their fighters have died.

The UN said the clashes have displaced some 3,400 people.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj to voice his “total opposition to the offensive against the capital and the endangering of civilian lives”, the unity government said.

The French presidency said in a statement that Macron had also been in contact with Haftar and in his calls expressed his “deep concern about the latest developments”, adding it was “imperative” that the fighting ends immediately.

International efforts to end the Libyan conflict have repeatedly failed.

Rival leaders agreed last year to hold elections before December 10, 2018 under a French plan, but that vote never materialised. 

The national conference, which had been scheduled for April 14-16 in the central city of Ghadames, aimed to fix dates for legislative and presidential elections, and work towards a new constitution.

Global powers divided

Haftar is a former Kadhafi military chief who has emerged as a major player in Libya’s political struggle. 

Having seized control of much of eastern Libya — and buoyed by a series of victories in the desert south — he turned his sights on Tripoli, vowing to “cleanse” it of “terrorists and mercenaries”.

His offensive threatens to plunge the country into a full-blown civil war and has thrown into sharp relief the divisions between world powers over how to end the chaos that has riven Libya since 2011.

On one side of the struggle is Haftar, whose key allies are the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and increasingly Saudi Arabia, while he is strongly opposed by their regional foe Qatar as well as Doha’s chief supporter Turkey.

Russia has said meanwhile it is not taking sides in the fighting in Libya but behind the scenes, experts say, Moscow is firmly backing Haftar.

“Haftar is ideologically close to Russia,” said analyst Alexander Shumilin of the Centre for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts in Moscow.

“He is supplied with Russian weapons and gladly takes them. He is Moscow’s man,” he said.

On the other side of the fight, Sarraj’s UN-backed government retains substantial support from former colonial power Italy.

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East Africa Politics News & Stories

Bashir to face corruption charges in court next week

The prosecutor general said that Bashir had been charged over the killings of protesters during those anti-regime demonstrations

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Ousted Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir will appear in court next week to face charges of corruption and possessing foreign currency, the country’s acting prosecutor general told reporters on Saturday.

The announcement came more than two months after the military overthrew Bashir on April 11 following months of nationwide protests against his 30-year iron-fisted rule.

Bashir “will appear in court next week following charges of corruption and possessing foreign currency,” Al-Waleed Sayyed Ahmed said, without specifying the day.

He added that the investigation launched against Bashir for the charges had been completed.

On Thursday, an unnamed Sudanese official was quoted by the official SUNA news agency as saying Bashir was facing charges including “possessing foreign funds, acquiring suspected and illegal wealth and ordering (the state of) emergency”.

In April, Sudan’s army ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said that more than $113 million worth of cash in three currencies had been seized from Bashir’s residence.

He said a team of police, army and security agents found seven million euros, $350,000 and five billion Sudanese pounds. 

Bashir swept to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989. 

Sudan suffered high rates of corruption during his rule, ranking 172 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Last month, Ahmed ordered Bashir questioned over money-laundering and “financing terrorism”.

In an effort to quell protests that erupted against his rule in December, Bashir imposed a nationwide state of emergency on February 22.

In May, the prosecutor general said that Bashir had been charged over the killings of protesters during those anti-regime demonstrations, which eventually led to his ouster.

Ahmed also said on Saturday that 41 other charges against “symbols of the ousted regime” were under investigation. 

He did not name the others accused but said most of the charges were related to the “possession of land”.

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North Africa Politics

Opposition leader in Sudan calls for investigation into crackdown

The protest movement has also called for an international probe, something rejected by the military council

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Opposition leader in Sudan calls for investigation into crackdown

Sudan’s veteran opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi called on Friday for an “objective” international investigation into last week’s deadly crackdown on protesters, after the ruling military council rejected such a probe.

Mahdi’s call was backed by top US envoy Tibor Nagy, who urged an “independent and credible” investigation into the June 3 killings.

Thousands of protesters who had camped outside the army headquarters in central Khartoum for weeks were dispersed in an operation which left dozens dead.

The crackdown followed the collapse of talks between protest leaders and generals, following the ouster of president Omar al-Bashir.

The generals had repeatedly pledged they would not disperse the sit-in, but on Thursday admitted that “mistakes” had been made.

Mahdi, speaking after attending Friday prayers at a mosque in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, condemned the operation.

“The protest’s dispersal was wrong. There should be an independent international investigation into it,” he told AFP. 

“It’s important that the probe is objective and not biased in favour of the authorities.”

Mahdi’s elected government was toppled in a 1989 coup led by Bashir, who then ruled for three decades before being ousted in April following mass protests.

‘Independent and credible’

Nagy, the US assistant secretary of state for Africa, also called for an investigation.

“The USA believe very strongly there has to be an investigation which is independent and credible which will hold accountable those committing the egregious events,” he said in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, after a two-day visit to Khartoum.

Along with the newly-appointed US special envoy to Sudan, Donald Booth, Nagy met with military council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Thursday.

The June 3 crackdown left about 120 people dead and hundreds wounded, according to doctors linked to protesters, while the health ministry put the death toll at 61.

The protest movement has also called for an international probe, something rejected by the military council.

“We do not accept an international investigating committee. We are a sovereign state,” council spokesman Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters late Thursday.

Expressing “regret” over the crackdown, Kabbashi said the plan had been to clear an area close to the sit-in — but “excesses happened”.

He said the military is carrying out its own inquiry, whose findings are to be released on Saturday.

‘Harsh and unacceptable’

On Friday, worshippers at the mosque linked to Mahdi’s National Umma Party appeared frustrated with the generals’ version of the crackdown.

“The way the sit-in was dispersed was harsh and unacceptable,” said Salim Gebril, a university professor and member of the National Umma Party. 

“They (the military rulers) keep saying they are looking forward to reaching an agreement (with the protest leaders) but their tone sounded as if they may take another route.”

Another worshipper, Abdelrahman Amir al-Tom, found the military council’s statement to be “extremely disappointing”. 

Protest leaders and generals have now agreed to resume talks after mediation led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Mahdi believes the mediation “may have a positive impact,” and may help both sides overcome the differences.

“In the end, the military council cannot rule, that is clear, and civilian forces cannot talk about a future without the participation of the military council,” the former premier said.

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Africa News & Updates

Egypt will always support Haftar’s army forces -Sisi

According to Sisi, Egypt is supporting “the legitimacy of Libya represented in the country’s House of Representatives.”

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Egypt will always support Haftar’s army forces -Sisi | News Central TV
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said yesterday, that Egypt will always support the Libyan troops loyal to the General Khalifa Haftar.

Following his meeting with the Libyan parliament speaker Aqilah Saleh in Cairo the Egyptian capital, Sisi said, “Egypt’s position on supporting the Libyan National Army in its campaign to eliminate terrorist groups across Libya will never change.”

Saleh is currently on an indefinite visit to Cairo where he is holding meetings with Egyptian officials.

Sisi noted that his country was supporting what he described as “the legitimacy of Libya represented in the country’s House of Representatives,” stressing that the will of Libyans “must be respected.”

During a meeting in Tunisia on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia called for “an immediate ceasefire,” adding that there was “no military solution to the crisis in Libya.”

In April, Haftar forces launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar’s campaign has, thus far, failed to achieve its primary objective, even after several weeks of fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli. Nevertheless, Haftar’s forces remain deployed in several areas around the capital.

Libya has witnessed serious political unrest since 2011 when long-time leader, Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in a bloody NATO-backed uprising after four decades in power.

Two rival seats of power have since emerged in the country, the Tripoli-based GNA, which enjoys UN recognition, and the other one on the eastern part of the country, which is affiliated to Haftar.

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