Monday, August 22, 2011

Endgame for Gaddafi

Late Sunday night it became clear that the Gaddafi regime was in its final throws as rebel forces converged on the Libyan capital Tripoli. As the news broke that rebels had taken parts of Tripoli Sky News was the first to bring live pictures of jubilant crowds on the streets. The BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera struggled to bring live pictures from the country relying on recently shot video and still pictures of correspondents who relayed reports by telephone.

As the anti-Gaddafi forces made the final push Sky News certainly won the day as far as news coverage was concerned. Sky correspondent Alex Crawford was the only broadcaster on the ground in Tripoli itself surrounded by a jubilant and excited crowd. Al Jazeera meanwhile was only broadcasting pictures from Benghazi as its correspondent struggled to describe what might be happening in the capital. Behind he the town square was filled with thousand of jubilant Libyans. The BBC and CNN could only relay second hand reports and voice overs from some correspondents by phone.

Other broadcasters also struggled with the breaking news story. For political and editorial reasons Xinhua's CNC and China's state broadcaster CCTV News only touched on the developing story. The coverage from Russia Today and Iran's Press TV was also scant and did not match the in depth analysis provided by western media outlets.

While the rebel advance continued towards the centre of the city it became clear that some of Gaddafi's power base remained as Moussa Ibrahim, the Acting Minister of Information, came on air in a live broadcast. He criticised NATO for "attacking the heart of a peaceful city" and spoke of more than some 1,300 killed in the previous 12 hours. The press conference was short and relayed by France 24 and Al Jazeera amongst others. However the BBC ran the broadcast a few minutes later though did not remove the Live strap until some minutes later.

In the morning papers there was only one story [Sky - papers]. Many spoke of Gaddafi's regime being "on the brink" and that it was the "endgame" for his near 42 year dictatorship. By the early hours of Monday Downing Street released a statement saying it was clear the end was near for Col. Gaddafi. However as the sun rose over Tripoli there were still pockets of resistance in many parts of the city.

The whereabouts of Muammar Gaddafi was still not clear on Monday though the Pentagon did not believe he had left the country. There was a strong indication he might be holed up at his Tripoli compound which remained protected by pro-Gaddafi troops and tanks as the day continued.

Wherever he was he was certainly not in control. The TV station had been seized by the rebels by Monday and several of the dictator's sons had been detained.

Around the world leaders aired their joy that the end of Gaddafi's regime seemed close. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the allies should be proud to have helped the Libyan people. "This is not our revolution but we should be proud that we've played a part," he said on the steps of Downing Street. But he urged some caution. "We will not be complacent, there is still lots to do," he added.

Of NATO's actions he said that it was legal and right to have intervened. But the revolution in Libya was not only a turning point for Libyans. "I do think the Arab spring is a great opportunity for North Africa... and indeed the whole world," Cameron continued.

While Western politicians spoke out loud and clear in support of the rebels some nations were far more critical. Hugo Chavez slammed NATO saying that they were "destroying Tripoli with their bombs." In a statement he said, "Today we are seeing images of the democratic governments of Europe, along with the supposedly democratic government of the United States destroying Tripoli with their bombs." [WSJ]

However China, who abstained in the original UN vote for action and have been critical of NATO's role, seemed to made a U-turn. In a statement the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeman Ma Zhaoxu said, "We have noticed recent changes in the Libyan situation and we respect the Libyan people's choice." [Xinhua]

The muted statement was a far cry from the vociferous statements coming from China a few months ago. In March the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, accused the United States and its allies of violating international rules through the use of air strikes. This despite the fact that China had refrained from blocking the United Nations Security Council decision which effectively authorised the air attacks.

The People's Daily likened the assault on Libyan sites to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and suggested it followed a pattern of the West's overreaching into other countries' affairs.

"The blood-soaked tempests that Iraq has undergone for eight years and the unspeakable suffering of its people are a mirror and a warning," said the commentary in the People's Daily. "The military attacks on Libya are, following on the Afghan and Iraq wars, the third time that some countries have launched armed action against sovereign countries." [Reuters]

China's handling of Western pressure on Libya has laid bare the quandaries facing Beijing in the Middle East. The Middle East is an important source of oil for China and Libya had particularly strong ties before the turmoil begun. About half of China's crude imports last year came from the Middle East and North Africa.

Such voices of criticism subsided later in the year when it became clear that the Gaddafi regime might fall. In July a Chinese official met with a Libyan rebel group fighting to oust Gaddafi. The foreign ministry said Beijing's ambassador to Qatar, Zhang Zhiliang, and the head of Libya's Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, met in Qatar's capital, Doha. The men "exchanged views on the Libyan situation," a ministry statement said though they gave no further details. "The Chinese side's position on the Libya problem is clear," the statement said. "That is, we hope for the crisis to reach a political resolution." It seemed more likely that China was attempting to broker potential deals should the rebels succeed in ousting the Libyan dictator [WSJ].

It is not only China who is after Libya's oil. Western nations will certainly be keeping a keen eye on the country's oil interests. Oil reserves in Libya are the largest in Africa and the ninth largest in the world, however it may take some time to restore the flow of the precious resource. Foreign oil producers in Libya have already said it is too early to consider restoring output at halted fields. Italy's Eni SpA has said it may take as much as a year to get fields back to full capacity. Meanwhile the US, UK, France and Italy are all said to be working with Libya's National Transitional Council to restore oil production [Business Week].

Oil prices have fallen as markets spiked ahead of a possible conclusion to unrest in Libya. However this maybe shortlived, and any fall in oil prices is unlikely to make it to the pumps [Sky / Guardian].

For Libyans there may soon be great cause for celebration, despite the massive loss of life over the last six months. Oil companies around the world may ultimately benefit too. Whether the rest of the world benefits is not so clearcut.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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