Monday, February 28, 2011

U.S. Offers Aid to Libya Opposition as Unrest Spreads to Oman, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The U.S. said it will assist Libyan rebels trying to forceMuammar Qaddafi from power, as pro- democracy protests that have swept the Middle East spread to Oman and reignited in Tunisia.

“We’ve been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and, as the revolution moves westward, there as well,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said en route to Geneva for talks on Libya. The U.S. will provide “any kind of assistance” to those seeking to end Qaddafi’s 41-year dictatorship, she said.

Armed anti-government forces control much of Libya’s east and have deployed tanks and anti-aircraft weapons to defend Al- Zawiyah near the capital, Tripoli, according to the Associated Press. Helicopters attacked a rebel-held radio station in Misrata, east of Tripoli, Al Arabiya television said. The United Nations estimates that more than 1,000 people have died in the uprising and almost 100,000 have fled amid the heaviest fighting in six weeks of unrest that has spread from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, home of the world’s biggest oil reserves.

Crude for April delivery rose 0.8 percent to $98.62 at 9:45 a.m. in London. Futures posted the biggest weekly gain in two years last week amid estimates that Libya’s output fell by as much as two-thirds. The country is Africa’s third-biggest oil producer after Nigeria and Angola, and holds the continent’s largest reserves according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Hypermarket On Fire

The regional unrest that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reached Oman, where two demonstrators were killed yesterday and several were wounded in clashes with security forces in the city of Sohar, according to hospital and government officials.

Demonstrations in Sohar resumed today, and a hypermarket in the coastal city was set on fire as hundreds gathered to protest and roads were closed. Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the ruler since 1970, has told the government to create 50,000 jobs and boost allowances for those without full-time work.

Oman, where companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA have a stake in the oil industry, produces about 800,000 barrels a day and lies at the critical entryway to the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes.

Oman’s benchmark MSM30 stock index slumped 4.9 percent, the biggest drop for more than two years. In Dubai the main index fell 4.5 percent at 1:45 p.m. local time. The Bloomberg GCC 200 index of regional shares fell 1.2 percent, extending its decline this year to 9.2 percent.

Tunisia Premier Quits

In Tunisia, where the regional turmoil began two months ago, protests have flared up again, forcing interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi to resign after at least three people were killed. The demonstrators had called for the removal of Ghannouchi because of his links with former ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on Jan. 14. Interim President Fouad Mebazaa named former foreign minister Beji Caid Essebsi as the new prime minister and appealed for calm.

In Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier, activists and academics called on King Abdullahto increase political rights and move toward a constitutional monarchy. Libya and Saudi Arabiaare among the 12 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which pumps about 40 percent of the world’s oil.

Foreign Asset Freeze

International efforts to end Qaddafi’s attacks on the Libyan rebels and force him from power may gain momentum today when Clinton meets other foreign ministers at the UN Human Rights Council to discuss a coordinated response. U.S. officials have discussed the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya in talks with allied governments, the New York Times reported, citing an unidentified senior administration official.

The UN Security Council voted 15-0 on Feb. 26 to freeze the foreign assets of Qaddafi and four aides and to bar them from traveling. The resolution also imposes an arms embargo on Libya and calls for an immediate end to violence that it says “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Libyan rebels are organizing in the eastern port of Benghazi, the biggest city they control. On the roads between Benghazi and the Egyptian border, anti-Qaddafi protesters carrying assault rifles and former soldiers in uniform set up tents and searched passing cars for weapons, some of them welcoming passersby with juice and sweets.

There were no major clashes yesterday, though gunfire was heard in Tripoli after nightfall, the AP said. In al-Zawiyah, 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of the capital and the nearest population center to fall to the rebels, hundreds of people chanted “Qaddafi out!,” it said.

Evacuation Efforts

Governments throughout the world have rushed to get their nationals out of Libya. China has evacuated about 29,000 people, state news agency Xinhua said today, and Turkey said 18,000 of its citizens have been removed. The U.K. and Germany sent military missions to help with the evacuation.

Qaddafi remained defiant yesterday as he said he would remain in Libya and quash the rebellion. “The people of Libya support me,” he said in a telephone interview with Serbia’s Pink television station, according to a Haaretz report. “Small groups of rebels are surrounded and will be dealt with.”

By Viola Gienger and Maher Chmaytelli

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