Monthly Archives: June 2011

Thousands of Britain Workers Strike in Pensions Row

Hundreds of thousands of civil servants and teachers have gone on strike in England over proposed pension changes. Rallies took place across the country, including in Manchester where 200 firefighters who are not on strike, joined a march to show support. More than half of state schools were shut or partially closed over reforms that public sector workers say will make them work longer and pay more.

The government said the plans were “fair to taxpayers” and necessary. (BBC)

Up to 750,000 teachers, civil servants and other workers went on strike in England. Disruption hit airports, job centres, driving test centres and courts across the country. London’s Metropolitan Police said 90% of civilian staff who handled calls had not turned up for work, making response times slower. The force said 335 police officers had been taken from their borough duties to cover night and day shifts for 999 call operators. Met. Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson told a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting it meant “service to Londoners was necessarily degraded.” (BBC)

Almost all staff at the Passport Agency in Liverpool were striking, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said.

At the Criminal Records Bureau, 485 out of 500 were on strike; while at the Ministry of Defence 485 out of 500 staff took action, the union said. Meanwhile, up to 6,000 people joined a pension protest through Newcastle, a union leader said.

TUC regional secretary Kevin Rowan said: “It’s a real show of strength because we have a fairly weak private sector, so any action by this government is going to impact more on this region. It is unjustified and unacceptable.” (BBC)

About 30 people were arrested at a march in central London, the Met. Police said. The alleged offences including drug possession and criminal damage.

Unions said up to 20,000 people took part in the demonstration which passed Dowing Street and Parliament.

The Department for Education said more than 11,000 of its 21,500 state schools in England had been affected by the industrial action. Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary, said the “draconian changes” meant teachers paying more, working longer and getting less. (BBC) “Today’s action across the country demonstrates the anger and distress that this government is causing teachers,” Blower said in a statement. (New York Times) The NUT said the strike is because “the government is planning to cut your pension. They want you to pay more, work longer, and get less,” arguing that because pensions are “deferred pay… you are effectively being asked to take a pay cut.” (CNN)

Helen Andrews of the National Union of Teachers told a rally in the city of Manchester that teachers were being asked to “pay more, work longer, get less.” Prime Minister “David Cameron has accused teachers of a lack of morality,” she said. “Who really lacks morality? The thief or those who try to stop the thief?” (Washington Post)

Michael Gove, the education secretary, told reporters that he was disappointed by the strike. “I understand that there are really strong feelings about pensions, and we absolutely want to ensure that everyone in the public, especially teachers, have decent pensions,” he said, visiting an elementary school in south London. “But I just don’t think it’s a good idea to have gone out on strike today.” (New York Times)

However, David Cameron insisted the pension changes, being proposed for millions of public sector workers, would secure affordable pensions for decades to come. The government said reforms were necessary because as people live longer the cost of funding public sector pensions was “unsustainable.” (BBC) Cameron has said the reform is essential to stop the pension system from “going broke.” (CBC)

In Greater Manchester, more than 550 of the 1,050 schools were closed or partially closed.

Bev Dickson, a mother-of-two from Sale who runs a financial recruitment consultancy, was among thousands of parents who had to take time off work or make alternative childcare arrangements. She said: “While I sympathize with the teachers wholeheartedly, working in recruitment I’ve seen a lot of examples of people in the private sector having their pay and benefits hit – and unfortunately it’s a sign of the time.” (BBC)

One of the London boroughs most affected by the strikes was Camden, where only four of its 58 schools were fully open.

“We’ve paid into our pensions, we’ve paid our taxes,” striking adult education tutor Annie Holder said, adding that she was “really angry about the government’s politically motivated attempt to steal our pensions.” She blamed “the banking sector” for the country’s budget woes. And she rejected rhetoric from opponents of the strike about the public sector’s “gold-plated pensions… Our pensions will be about 60 pounds ($96) a week. It’s hardly gold-plated. We’ll have to work much harder and pay more,” Holder said. (CNN)

Elsewhere, Luton teacher Steve Coghian said: “I work in the public sector and I think we teachers, nurse, dinner ladies, lollipop ladies and people like that were not to the cause of the crisis but the government want to push us and rip us off.” (BBC)

And Rob Davison, a teacher at Dorchester’s Thomas Hardye School, said: “We’ve had a wage freeze already, we’re being asked to work longer and contribute more. Where’s the tax on the bankers, where’s the Robin Hood tax everyone’s been talking about?” (BBC)

In Lincolnshire, the county council said the majority of its schools remained open.

Jenny Adams, a teacher from Croydon, said, “We’ve got a situation where young people are not going to want to stay in this profession. It’s about who’s being asked to foot the bill for a mess that was made by others. We’re in a profession that is not kind when it comes to age. It’s inconceivable to be in a classroom in (one’s) late 60s.” (CNN)

Pupils in Norfolk were not affected because they had already been given the day off to attend the Royal Norfolk Show with their families. Blackpool Pleasure Beach laid on extra staff, hoping some families would take advantage of the extra time to head to the attraction.

The PCS union said early indications from pickets suggested about 210,000 of its members, who include air traffic controllers and coastguards, went on strike. However, the government said figures “from every government department” indicated just under 100,000 civil servants went on strike, meaning 75% went to work. (BBC)

There was a picket line outside the MoD supply organization in Arncott, near Bicester, which distributes supplies to front-line troops in Afghanistan. However, Richard Kelsell, Oxfordshire branch secretary of the PCS union, said many members went to work because they had a “crisis of conscience.” (BBC)

Meanwhile, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said some coastguards were on strike but all coastguard stations were “operational and appropriately manned.” (BBC)

Danny Alexander, the No. 2 official in the British Treasury, argued earlier this month that “it is unjustifiable that other taxpayers should work longer and pay more tax so public service workers can retire earlier and get more than them… It is the employees who are benefiting from longer life and generous pensions, but it is the taxpayer who is picking up the tab,” he said. (CNN)

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Greek Parliament Approves Austerity Plan

The Greek Parliament backed Prime Minister George Papandreou’s bitterly contested package of austerity measures on Wednesday, clearing the way for crucial international lending to stave off default over the summer. But thousands of Greeks took to the streets in protest, and some clashed violently with police officers, who responded with tear gas.

The vote, 155 to 138, removes a serious obstacle to the release of $17 billion by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, funds the Greek government needs to pay its expenses through the summer. Questions remain about whether the measures would ultimately cure the debt-ridden country of its many ills. The shape and size of a second bailout, whose planning can now begin, could become clear at a meeting on July 3 of euro zone finance ministers in Brussels.

Stock markets, which began rallying earlier in the day across Europe and much of Asia amid indications that the measures would be approved, moderated after the vote. Investors had feared that a collapse in Greece might have repercussions throughout the international financial system. Two other European Union countries – Ireland and Portugal – have also turned to international leaders for assistance.

“This is logical and may continue over the next couple of hours and days as markets will quickly realize that this is only a first step on the road to recovery,” said Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets. “We still expect a hot, nervous and volatile summer.” (Reuters)

Only one member of the ruling Socialist Party voted against the measure, and one opposition deputy voting crossed party lines to support the measure. (Five others voted present, and two members were absent.)

The measures approved include tax increases, wage cuts and the privatization of 50 billion euros, or about $72 billion, in state assets. A second vote will be held Thursday to enact the measures, with crucial sticking points expected to include the timing of privatizations, especially of the state electric utility, the Public Power Corporation, whose powerful union has close ties to the Socialists.

Mr. Papandreou and Antonis Samaras, the leader of the main opposition party, New Democracy, clashed in Parliament just before the vote, accusing each other of letting down the country.

“All of Europe knows that your party is responsible for the current situation,” Mr. Papandreou told Mr. Samaras, alluding to the debt that ballooned in 2009 when New Democracy was in power. Mr. Papandreou, who made several failed overtures to the opposition for political consensus on the austerity measures, made a last-ditch appeal to the conservatives to back the program. “Don’t bet on failure,” he said. (New York Times)

The prime minister said the European Union was also to blame for failing to call the previous government on its dubious statistics. But Mr. Papandreou said Greece’s foreign creditors – the European Union and the International Monetary Fund – had given “a vote of confidence in the Greek people” by offering rescue financing. (New York Times)

Mr. Papandreou says his austerity plan is the only way to get Greece back on his feet. “We must avoid the country’s collapse at all costs. Now is not the time to step back,” he told deputies. (BBC)

Outside Parliament, protesters had massed for a second day in Syntagma Square, shouting, “Traitors, traitors!” The police repeatedly fired tear gas to maintain control before and after the vote. The demonstrators, the majority of whom were peaceful, came prepared with surgical masks.

“The air here is just thick with tear gas,” said CBC News reporter Tom Parry outside parliament. “It’s difficult for anyone without a gas mask to breathe. People are coughing, retching, running away from the huge clouds of tear gas that are just floating through the streets.”

Dozens of people have gone to hospitals with breathing problems, police said. Andreas Lourandos, the president of the Pharmacists’ Association of Athens, called on police to “stop using chemicals before we mourn any victims.” (CNN)

On hearing the result of the vote, some outraged protesters waged running battles with police in the streets around the Parliament, television images showed.

“Let the prime minister come down here and see if he can live on 300 euros a month,” one female protester told the BBC outside parliament.

The vote was conducted by roll call after several hours of debate in which most Socialist legislators said they would back the measures, in some cases only grudgingly, and with most stressing that patriotic duty must go before party ideals.

Among the Socialists, only Panagiotis Kouroublis opposed the measures. Another, Alexandros Athanassiadis, who had expressed extreme opposition to the planned privatization of the Public Power Corporation, surprised Greece by voting in favor of the program, saying Mr. Papandreou’s pledges to guarantee transparency in the selloff of the utility had reassured him. “I have not changed my opinion… as things stand, I persist in my decision,” he told The Associated Press. “I don’t think (any other socialist) deputies will vote against. I will be the only one.” (Washington Post)
Elsa Papadimitriou, a legislator from New Democracy, voted for the measures. Breaking ranks with her party and declaring herself an independent, Ms. Papadimitriou said she hoped that the government would not disappoint her, calling her vote “the most difficult but valuable decision of my political career… There is only one act of patriotism: consensus and cooperation,” she said. “Fiscal suicide is not an alternative.”  (New York Times)

The nation’s unions turned up the heat on legislators on Tuesday when they began a 48-hour general strike – the first time they had walked out for moer than 24 hours since democracy was restored to Greece in 1974 after a seven-year military dictatorship. The police called in reinforcements Wednesday to cordon off streets near Parliament to ensure that protesters did not block legislators’ access to the building, with 5,000 officers on the job.

Before the vote, one protester said on Wednesday that Greeks’ lives “are going to change forever” if the measures were approved. “If you belong to the middle class, that doesn’t exist anymore. There’s only rich and poor.” (New York Times)

Another protester, Anastasia Arvanitiki, 57, a pharmacist, said, “What they’re voting on is exactly the opposite of what they were elected to do… They’ll be the worst criminals in history” if the vote goes through, she said. “We want to see them hanged.” (New York Times)

Mr. Papandreou went into the historic vote with a five-vote parliamentary majority. But the outcome was not certain, as the austerity plan strikes at the heart of his Socialist Party base. The center-right New Democracy opposition party struck a populist tone, saying the measures offered too much austerity and not enough stimulus. Last year, Greece’s foreign lenders imposed austerity measures after they provided a first round of aid. Since then, Greece has cut the wages of its 800,000 public workers – a quarter of the work force – by more than 10 percent.

Top EU officials welcomed the result as a “vote of national responsibility”, saying it had pulled Greece away from the “very grave scenario of default” while paving the way for a second passage. “The country has taken an important step forward along the necessary path of fiscal consolidation and growth-enhancing structural reform,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a joint statement. (BBC)

“The austerity measures are not only harsh, not only unfair, but they are also ineffective,” Socialist critic Vasso Papandreou, who is not related to the prime minister, told parliament Tuesday. Still, she said, she would grudgingly vote for the bill. “Greece has many problems but the real problem is the eurozone,” said Papandreou, a former EU commissioner. “Europe should be a zone of solidarity, but it is a jungle where the banks can do what they like.” (Washington Post)


Greek Austerity Protests Turn Violent as Strike Begins

Greek riot police fired tear gas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrations Tuesday, as thousands rallied to protest proposed austerity measures on the first day of a two-day strike. Twenty-one police officers and one demonstrator were hurt, and at least five people have been arrested, police said. About 3,000 officers are deployed on the streets of Athens.

The protesters are rallying outside the Greek Parliament building in the center of the country’s capital, where lawmakers are set to vote Wednesday on a tough five-year package of tax increases and spending cuts.

European Council President Herman van Rompuy urged them to pass the measures, for the sake of Greece and the wider economy. “There are decisive moments and the coming hours will be decisive, crucial for the Greek people, but also for the Eurozone and the stability of the world economy,” he told the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday. (CNN)

As the demonstration carried on into the evening, thousands of protesters – some newly arrived – continued to face police in riot gear manning barricades outside the Greek Parliament, but the mood had quietened. Earlier Tuesday, live television footage showed clouds of tear gas as police and protesters clashed, and black smoke from small fires billowing through the streets. Police appeared to be trying to force protesters out of Constitution Square, CNN reporters said, but some were returning and others gathered in side streets ready to move back in.

CBC News reporter Susan Ormiston reported that dozens of people have been going at the police back and forth. “They’ve been throwing firebombs at the police. The police have responded with tear gas,” she said. “The Greeks are not convinced that further cuts to their standard of living is going to fix the problem,” Ormiston added later. (CBC)

Drumming and music reverberated around the square, as well as shouted slogans. One group of protesters chanted “Bread, education, freedom,” an old rallying cry from 1973, when thousands of students clashed violently with police during protests against the military government. (CNN)

Youths torched a satellite truck parked near parliament. The fire caused a freezer at a neighbouring kiosk to explode, and hooded youths ducked behind the burning truck to help themselves to ice-cream cones.

“The troublemakers are attacking the police fiercely and trying to disrupt a peaceful protest,” police spokesman Athanasios Kokalakis said. (CBC)
The 48-hour general strike kicked off in the early morning hours, hobbling most of Greece’s transportation systems but freeing workers to participate in demonstrations. Members of the communist PAME labour union took to the streets first, waving socialist signs in front of the Greek Parliament. The main rally, a cooperative effort between two much larger, mainstream unions, launched later.

Cloth banners reading “No sacrifices for plutocracy” flapped in chorus with chants of “Workers, you can live without a boss,” and “We want workers’ rights, not profits for the boss!” (CNN)

Government offices, schools and courts had closed, the unions said. Hospitals were operating on skeleton staffs, according to Greek state television broadcaster ERT. Transportation disruptions were planned on land, on sea and in the air. Air traffic controllers will periodically stop work and fight traffic, according to their union. Stoppages are also expected to disrupt sea travel in the maritime nation, which encompasses many islands.

Train and municipal transportation has also shut down, but Athens metro workers are abstaining from the strike, according to the country’s transportation union. Train operators will provide continuous service to demonstrators headed for central Athens. But bus drivers are on strike, keeping city busses off Athens’ streets. In Athens, the metro is the only form of public transport which will work “so as to allow Athenians to join the planned protests in the capital,” metro drivers said. (BBC)

Greece needs the bailout funds to avert a default on debt repayments that are due as soon as mid-July. Such a default would send shock waves through the European banking sector and potentially dent global economic confidence.

European Union Commissioner Ollie Rehn, the bloc’s lead negotiator on the bailout, warned Tuesday that Greece faced “a critical juncture,” as he pressed Parliament to pass the austerity measures. “Both the future of the country and financial stability in Europe are at stake,” Rehn said in Brussels. “I trust that Greek political leaders are fully aware of the responsibility that lies on their shoulders to avoid default.” He warned that there was “no Plan B” to avert default, and insisted that economic reforms – although challenging – were a better alternative for the Greek people. “To those who speculate about other options, let me say this clearly: there is no Plan B to avoid default,” Rehn said, dismissing widespread reports that Brussels was working on a fallback plan to keep Greece afloat. (Reuters) “The European Union continues to be ready to support Greece. But Europe can only help Greece if Greece helps itself,” he added. (CNN)

The blunt alternative was underscored by Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, who told British parliamentarians that policymakers were working on ways to limit the damage from a potential default on Greece’s 340 billion euro debt pile. “What we’re doing is to say there is sufficient concern in the market about the possibility of default for us to think about contingency plans and the consequences of this event,” King said. (Reuters) He urged greater transparency about sovereign exposures to prevent a sudden, broad-based loss of confidence in European banks in the event of  a Greek default, which could trigger a new credit crunch.

Protesters lament that the cuts are being carried out on the backs of those who can afford it least. “With the policy followed since the bailout, we have sen people’s living standards going down. It is the workers and the pensioners who are paying the debt,” said electrical engineer Ioanna Lagonika. Lagonika, who marched in PAME’s demonstration, said, “The PM (prime minister) has said that this is a new start for Greece, but to us it feels like this is our end.” (CNN)

“The situation that the workers are undergoing is tragic and we are near poverty levels,” said Spyros Linardopoulos, a protester with the PAME union at the blockade. “The government has declared war and to this war we will answer back with war.” (BBC)

Accountant Pericles Panagakis, who also participated in the communists’ march, would rather see Greece go through bankruptcy. The austerity programs mean “even tougher measures for the people and just for the people,” he said. Panagakis would also like to see Greece’s wealthiest make up for the government shortfalls. “The solution is to take the money from people who have money, not from the workers,” he said. (CNN)

Polls suggest that between 70% and 80% of Greek people oppose the austerity plan. “We’re opposed to what they’re trying to do to us,” said bank worker Kali Patouna. “We know very well that these measures will be our tombstone. They will have extreme consequences for workers and for everyone on all social levels.” (BBC)

The parliamentary vote, which comes a day later than originally planned, will be followed by a meeting of European Union finance ministers on July 3 to approve the final part of funding from last year’s bailout.

The head of Deutsche Bank warned politicians Monday against taking steps that might lead to the crisis to spread beyond Greece. “If it is Greece alone, that’s already big. But if other countries are drawn in through contagion, it could be bigger than Lehman,” Josef Ackermann said, referring to the financial meltdown that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment firm in the U.S. in 2008. (CNN)

International lenders have insisted Greece cut spending, lay off public workers, raise taxes and raise 50 billion euros ($71 billion) through selling off state-owned enterprises in exchange for a further bailout of the cash-strapped nation.

The latest demands follow austerity measures imposed last year that included pension cuts; a sales tax boost; excise taxes on fuel, cigarettes, alcohol and luxury goods; and a rise in the average retirement age to 65 from 61.

The economic crisis has inspired rioting in the streets of Athens in recent weeks, where protesters have thrown firebombs and clashed with armoured police. The Parliament plans to vote on the austerity package sometime after 1 p.m. Wednesday. All three unions that marched Tuesday have also planned rallies for Wednesday evening.

The recently-appointed Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos acknowledged that the cuts were “unfair,” but said they were absolutely necessary. He called on MPs to back the measures, saying both the government and the opposition were “running out of time.” “We are handling our country’s history right now and nobody can play with that,” he said. (BBC)

But the main opposition leader, Anotnis Samaras of the New Democracy party, said the thinking behind the austerity package was flawed and that tax rates should be lowered rather than raised in order to stimulate the economy. “This policy is wrong, it has exhausted the Greek people and Greek society,” Samaras told parliament. “If we perpetuate this mistaken policy we will only make things worse, both for Greece and for Europe.” (Reuters)

The outcome of the debate is uncertain. Mr. Papandreou faces opposition from within the governing Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), with two MPs saying they may oppose the bill. “I call on you to vote for survival, growth, justice, and a future for the citizens of this country,” Papandreou told legislators. (CBC)

The party has a slim majority, with 155 seats out of 300 in parliament.


International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Moammar Gadhafi

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Monday for LIbyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and two of his relatives. ICC Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng read aloud the decision to issue warrants for Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanussi. Saif al-Islam Gadhafi is a close adviser to his father. His arrest warrant came two days after his 39th birthday. Al-Sanussi serves as Gadhafi’s head of intelligence.

The warrants are “for crimes against humanity,” including murder and persecution, “allegedly committed across Libya” from February 15 through “at least” February 28, “through the state apparatus and security forces,” the court said in a news release. (CNN)

In Misrata, a critical city for Libyan rebels in which fighting has raged, a crowd cheered Monday following the news from the court. The BBC’s Andrew Harding in Misrata said there was celebratory gunfire on the streets of the besieged city as the news emerged. “We are extremely happy that the whole world has united in prosecuting Gadhafi for the crimes he has committed,” rebel council spokesman Jalal al-Galal told Reuters news agency from the rebel stronghold Benghazi. “The people feel vindicated by such a response.” (BBC) “After this warrant, it is all irrelevant. We cannot negotiate with war criminals,” al-Galal told Reuters in Benghazi. “The world has confirmed what we have been saying all along. He’s a war criminal, and he should be tried for it.” (Reuters)

The announcement at The Hague came as fighting inside Libya inched closer to the capital. A rebel fighter, Hassan al-Jiwali, told CNN the rebels were 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Tripoli on Monday.

Libya is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the international court’s authority, and the court does not have power to enter Libya and arrest the leaders. Many of those cheering in Misrata saw the news as a sign that the world recognizes the conduct that rebels say Gadhafi’s regime has been engaged in.

The three-judge Pre-Trial Chamber 1 at The Hague found “reasonable grounds to believe that the three suspects committed the alleged crimes and that their arrests appear necessary in order to ensure their appearances before the court,” the written announcement said. The court also believes the warrants are needed to ensure that the three “do not continue to obstruct and endanger the court’s investigations; and to prevent them from using their powers to continue the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court.” (CNN)

The U.N. Security Council referred the matter to the ICC through a resolution February 26, following widespread complaints about Gadhafi’s efforts to crush a rebellion. The resolution said that while “states not party to the Rome Statute have no obligations under the statute, the Security Council urged all states and corned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully with the court and the prosecutor.” (CNN)

Gadhafi has made clear he would not recognize the court’s authority.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said he has evidence linking Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi and Abdullah al-Sanussi to crimes against humanity, including “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilians, in their attempts to put down the months-long revolt. (CNN)

Libyan government spokesman Musa Ibrahim has previously denied the allegations and criticized what he said were incoherent conclusions of the prosecutor’s office.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney said the warrant for Gadhafi is another indication that the Libyan leader “has lost validity… It’s another step in the process of holding him accountable,” Carney told reporters. (CNN)

The United Nations issued a statement Monday about the arrest warrants, noting that “hundreds of people are confirmed to have been killed since opposition forces rose up against the regime of Mr. Gadhafi in February as part of a wider pro-democracy movement across North Africa and the Middle East.” (CNN)

The European Union said it “fully supports” the court and underscores that the court’s Libya investigation “is an independent judicial process which must be fully respected.” (CNN)

Not everyone was cheering the news. Michael Rubin, an analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the court’s move could damage efforts to get Gadhafi to end his 42-year-reign, because he would not seek refuge in a country that is a party or signatory to the Rome Statute. “The ICC’s arrest warrant symbolizes the dirty underside of international law,” Rubin said. “While the ICC makes itself feel good and diplomats can chatter about their commitment to international law, the fact of the matter is their action takes off the table any possibility that Gadhafi could flee to a retirement haven outside Libya. In effect, the ICC arrest warrant tells Gadhafi to fight to the death.” (CNN)

Most African countries are parties or signatories to the Rome Statute. The ICC website lists a total of 47 non-signatories in the world, 13 of them in Africa and the Middle East.

Ali Ahmida, an analyst at the University of New England who was born in Libya, said the ICC decision “complicates” the matter. “Since last week, things were heating up toward an exit strategy for Gadhafi and his sons, either inside or outside Libya in another African country,” Ahmida said. Some rebel leaders in the Transitional National Council said they would consider allowing Gadhafi to stay inside Libya, and both sides were starting to indicate a compromise was possible, Ahmida said. But now, the regime “may circle the wagons a little more,” and Gadhafi will think, “I’m a hunted criminal and should pursue civil war to the end,” Ahmida said. (CNN) While the ICC decision is justified, Ahmida said, cynics in the region will ask why Gadhafi was selected and not others. “Why not (former Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak? Why not (former Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben) Ali?” Mubark and Ali both gave up power following protests in their countries. “The court is selecting some dictators to indict, and being silent about others. That may be the biggest issue for the court,” Ahmida said. (CNN)

When asked about those suggestions, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States “believes that the decision to refer the case to the ICC was the right decision; that the ICC has spoken now about the need for justice and accountability. With regard to whether this hurts or helps, it doesn’t change the fact that Gadhafi’s got to take the message that it’s time to go.” (CNN)

This is not the first time that the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for a country’s leader in the midst of a conflict. The court issued a warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2007, while conflict simmered in that country’s western Darfur region.

Moreno-Ocampo told CNN shortly after filing his request with the court that he had evidence that revealed Saif al-Islam Gadhafi organized the recruitment of mercenaries to defend the regime and al-Sanussi participated in attacks on demonstrators. Authorities believe Moammar Gaddafi ordered attacks on unarmed civilians, he told CNN, and al-Sanussi is “his right-hand man, the executioner.”

Moreno-Ocampo began investigating claims against Moammar Gadhafi on February 15, when demonstrations against the leader’s regime accelrated. Since then, war has erupted in Libya as Gadhafi has tried to keep his grip on power. The probe took investigators to 11 countries and included the review of 1,200 documents and interviews with about 50 witnesses. A report issued in early May found the alleged crimes against humanity included the alleged commission of rape by supporters of Gadhafi’s government, as well as the deportation or forcible transfer of citizens during the civil war in the country. Moreno-Ocampo has scheduled a news conference Tuesday to discuss the court’s decision.

The issue of Libyan casualties led the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution in March authorizing force by whatever means necessary, with the exception of a ground invasion, to protect civilians. NATO began bombing military targets a short time later.

A rebel military leader, Hajj Osama al-Jiwali, told CNN on Monday that rebels want “more airstrikes and hits of Gadhafi strategic locations for the wake of time and for the rebuilding of Libya.” He called on the United Nations to be “at the forefront” of efforts in Libya.
Al-Jiwali said rebel fighters on Sunday fought “a very fierce battle against the Gadhafi forces in Bi’r al Ghanam, where four rebel fighters died and eight were injured, and mroe than 30 of the Gadhafi forces have been killed.” The battle was still ongoing Monday, but not as fierce, he said. CNN could not independently confirm the reports. “The rebel forces are in high spirits and determined to continue to Tripoli to get rid of Gadhafi and his collaborators. They are in high spirits and the victory is closer than ever,” al-Jiwali added. (CNN)

NATO warplanes struck a rocket launcher system mounted on a government truck near the town of Bi’r al Ghanam. Three explosions could be heard in the Libyan capital late Monday morning.

“They appear closer than those heard in the past few days and week,” said CNN producer Raja Razek, who is n Tripoli.

The International Criminal Court action comes a day after the African Union announced Gadhafi will not be apart of its next attempt to map out a peace deal in Libya. It was unclear who would represent the Libyan government in negotiations, or when negotiations would occur. Journalists were not allowed to ask questions at a news conference following Sunday’s meeting of the African Union’s special committee on Libya in Pretoria, South Africa.

Members of the committee have met with Gadhafi and opposition leaders over the past three months. Another African Union-led attempt to broker peace between Gadhafi and the rebels fell through in April.

The committee repeated calls Sunday for a cease-fire between the Libyan government and rebels. “Only a political solution will make it possible to sustainably settle the current conflict,” the statement said. (CNN) It also urged NATO to temporarily suspend its bombing  campaign to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The ICC announcement was welcomed by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said the court’s decision highlighted the increasing isolation of the Libyan regime. “It reinforces the reason for NATO’s mission to protect the Libyan people from Gadhafi’s forces,” said Mr. Fogh Rasmussen in Brussels. (BBC)

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the court’s decision further demonstrated “why Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy and why he should go immediately.” Mr. Hague called on people within the Libyan regime to abandon the leader and said those responsible for “atrocities” must be held to account. (BBC)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy echoed those sentiments, saying of the Libyan leader: “After 41 years of dictatorship, it is perhaps time to stop, for him to leave power.” (BBC)

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said that after more than 40 years in power, “Gadhafi has made clear his determination to hang on; it defies belief that his arrest warrant is an obstacle to a negotiated settlement of the Libya crisis.” (New York Times)


Today In the News…

Syria

Syrian tanks have fanned out around towns and villages near the Turkish border, widening a crackdown on 12 weeks of anti-government protests. Damascus said its forces were pursuing rebels through the countryside around Jisr al-Shughour, after consolidating control over the northern town. The U.S., meanwhile, renewed calls on Syria to halt its crackdwon. Protests against President Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father, Hafez, in 2000, began in mid-March. Human rights groups say that at least 1,300 people have been killed in the crackdown.

Libya

A NATO airstrike hit an area near Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s compound in the capital again Tuesday, as military leaders voiced concerns about sustaining the operations if the alliance mission drags on. East of the capital, alliance aircraft have begun dropping leaflets warning government troops to abandon their posts outside Zlitan, which lies just west of the rebel-held port city of Misrata.Rebel forces have been advancing along the Mediterranean coast toward Zlitan, but say they have been instructed by NATO to withdraw ahead of expected bombing runs to old front lines in Dafniya.

Canada

About 200 Canada Post employees picketed the mail sorting plant on Eastern Ave. Tuesday as their union’s series of 24-hour rotating strikes finally arrived in the GTA. As pickets surrounded mall facilities from Ajax to Port Credit and north to Brampton and Richmond Hill, Canada Post issued a statement claiming it has lost more than $70 million in revenue as the rotating national strike entered its 12th day targeting Toronto and Montreal.

Meanwhile, air travelers across the country are facing some delays after Air Canada customer service and sales staff went on strike at midnight when their union failed to reach an agreement with the airline. Discussions had seemed to progress positively through Monday, but the airline’s position on the employee pension plan proved intractable. Air Canada reported a net loss of $19 million in the first quarter of this year, and in May said it expected higher fuel prices to add $800 million to its costs in 2011.


Syrian Unrest: Clashes Continue to Wound Country

At least 28 people have been killed in fresh clashes in Syria between security forces and protesters, activists say. They say tanks and helicopter gunships opened fire on crowds in the northern town of Maarat al-Numan, leaving several protesters dead. The violence came as government forces moved on the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour where the government said 120 security personnel had been killed.

Hundreds of civilians have fled north into Turkey to escape the assault.

Opposition activists told the BBC that the army was adopting a “scorched earth policy” around Jisr al-Shughour, with helicopter gunships and tanks firing into the town as advancing troops bulldozed homes and torched crops and fields. The Syrian government has not commented on the claim.

Anti-government activists said about 15 people died in the northern province of Idlib, most of them in Maarat al-Numan where tanks and helicopters fired on protesters. Correspondents say it is the first reported use of air power to quell protests in Syria’s three-month uprising.

Syrian state TV reported that armed gangs had attacked police stations in the town. A Syrian opposition figure told the Associated Press news agency by telephone that thousands of protesters had overwhelmed security officers and set light to a courthouse and a police station in the town.

Syria has prevented foreign journalists from entering the country, making it difficult to verify reports from there.

Another five anti-government protesters were killed in the coastal city of Latakia, according to activist sources. Elsewhere in Syria, two people were reported killed by security forces in southern Deraa province and another four in the Qaboun district of the capital, Damascus.

Since March, mass protests against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have become a regular event following Friday prayers. Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have died as the government tries to suppress dissent, most of them unarmed civilians. The government refutes the figures and says about 500 security forces have died.

With the unrest showing no sign of abating, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for immediate access to those affected by the violence and those arrested or detained.

The town of Jisr al-Shughour was said to be all but deserted as troops moved in on Friday. Witnesses reported explosions coming from near the town. The crackdown had been long expected. The Syrian government blamed armed groups for the deaths of 120 security personnel in the town earlier in the week, although there were reports of a mutiny among security forces. Syrian state TV said armed gangs had prepared defences and set fire to crops and trees around Jisr al-Shughour in order to show the army’s advances. State TV has been broadcasting images of what it says are soldiers and police shot dead in the town.

The government says local residents requested the army’s intervention to restore peace and quiet.

The Local Coordinating Committees in Syria, an activist coalition, said that at least 22 people died in clashes across the country on Friday, more than half killed in the northwestern towns around Jisr al-Shughour. The group reported that the army had begun shelling the towns of Maaret Al-Noman and Jarjanaz, a village five miles from the town, as residents burned tires in the street to slow the advance of Syrian troops. “The army is invading the villages and burning the surrounding farms and killing people randomly,” said the group’s spokesman, Hozan, who declined to give his full name for fear of government retribution. (New York Times)

Turkey – which shares a long border with northern Syria – says more than 2,000 Syrians have crossed over, seeking refuge from the expected retaliation on Jisr al-Shughour. The city has a population of about 50,000. It is not clear how many other residents have fled to other locations within Syria.

A 60-year-old Syrian man at the refugee camp in Yayladagi on the Turkish side of the border said other refugees in the camp had spoken by telephone with relatives in the villages who gave similar reports. “They are talking about the army moving with all kinds of armed vehicles and shooting randomly” with tanks and heavy weapons, he said. “The army passed through Al Sarmaneyah and troops are shooting at everyone who comes along their way. It is terrible there.” (New York Times)

A 40-year-old man who had fled across the border into Turkey from Jisr al-Shughour with a bullet still in his thigh also described mutiny in Syrian ranks. “Some of the security forces defected and there were some in the army who refused the orders of their superiors,” he said. They were firing on each other.” (Reuters)
Turkish PM Recap Tayyip Erdogan has previously been reluctant to criticize Syria, but in an interview quoted by Anatolia news agency, he said the Assad regime was committing “atrocities” against anti-government demonstrators. “They are not acting in a human manner. This is savagery,” he said in a TV interview on Thursday. (BBC)

He accused Assad of taking the situation “too lightly” and harshly criticized the president’s younger brother, Maher, who is believed to command some troops in the Jisr al-Shughour operation. Maher Assad is also in charge of the elite Republican Guard, whose job is to protect the government. “I say this clearly and openly, from a humanitarian point of view, his brother is not behaving in a humane manner. And he is chasing after savagery,” Erdogan said. The interview was posted on the Internet. (CBC) The comments reflected Ankara’s frustration with Syria after weeks of attempts by Turkish officials to coax Syrian authorities into implementing democratic reforms.

Officials said the Turkish Red Crescent was setting up two new camps near the border, in addition to the one where refugees have already been placed.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on Friday weighed in on the violence and the clampdown on citizens’ access to “communication and information.” “Reports coming from Syria are alarming,” Bokova said. “The rights of citizens must be respected, as must the rights and security of journalists. This includes the right to freedom of expression, the need to access information and the ability to communicate. The decision to shut down Internet access and cell phone networks, to block broadcasters and prevent journalists from doing their job is not acceptable.” (CNN) Mentioning a promised amnesty and call for national dialogue by the Syrian authorities, Bokova urged “authorities to immediately restore Internet and cell phone services for citizens, to lift restrictions on the media and to prevent acts of aggression against journalists, so that they can report freely on events as is their duty.” (CNN)