Thursday, March 24, 2011

Inside free Libya

Libya, an oil-rich nation in North Africa, has been under the firm, if sometimes erratic, control of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi since he seized power in 1969. But in February 2011, the unrest sweeping through much of the Arab world erupted in several Libyan cities. Though it began with a relatively organized core of antigovernment opponents in Benghazi, its spread to the capital of Tripoli was swift and spontaneous.

Colonel Qaddafi lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings, but an inchoate opposition cobbled together the semblance of a transitional government, fielded a makeshift rebel army and portrayed itself to the West and Libyans as an alternative to Colonel Qaddafi's four decades of freakish rule.

Momentum shifted quickly, however, and the rebels faced the possibilty of being outgunned and outnumbered in what increasingly looked like a mismatched civil war. As Colonel Qaddafi’s troops advanced to within 100 miles of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the west, the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of the rebels by loyalist forces.

On March 19, American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against Colonel Qaddafi and his government, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war.

'Western agenda behind Libya attack'

The United States, Britain and France have launched air and sea attacks on forces loyal to Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi to enforce a no-fly zone. Press TV has discussed the issue with John Rees from the Stop the World Coalition in London.

Press TV: Regarding the no-fly zone, would you share your thoughts with us on the implementation of that UN Security Council resolution?

John Rees: I think it's immediately clear that what many people imagined to be the look of a no-fly zone has been completely contradicted by the very first hour of its implementation. I think most people kind of thought it would be a kind of neutral pacific umbrella, which would allow revolutionary forces to regain momentum inside Libya itself.

But what is absolutely clear now is that with 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired within a matter of hours and with air sorties being run over Libya the Western intervention will entirely transform the nature of this conflict.

It's not about helping the Libyan people it's about asserting the power of Western imperial nations in this part of the globe.

Press TV: Let's discuss the resolution itself a little more. There doesn't seem to be an end-game designated in this resolution; no time frame; and also the targets have not been defined as to which targets are to be attacked and which are not. Can you tell us more about the missing addendums in this resolution?

John Rees: It is increasingly clear that rather than being a specific and illuminative commitment it is indeed as you say an open-ended one. I believe it is a revival of an old UN resolution, which does rather give you the impression that something has been designed here, which is to give the freest possible hand to the military of the big powers and not to circumscribe their activity in any way whatsoever.

Press TV: You mention it's been designed in a way to give mostly the Western powers as much freedom as possible, but the question that pops into mind is - is it just going to end there, is what we are seeing with the foreign military intervention in a no fly zone going to be the end of it?

John Rees: The obvious risk is that it won't; that this will be the wedge. And we can imagine scenarios so easily I think where the war would descend from the air to the ground.

For instance, what would be the situation if Libyan air defenses bring down one of the major powers' aircraft? Or, if they capture a pilot and display that pilot perhaps after torture on the television screens - will we not then here very insistent voices in London and Paris and in Washington saying that special services need to be deployed or perhaps larger numbers of troops? What if Gaddafi continues to fight a conflict with the Libyan people, which he hasn't mainly done through air power by the way, it's been perhaps 90 percent to do with ground forces? What if he continues that struggle and the no fly zone doesn't halt his attack on the Libyan revolution? Will there not then be calls for further measures?

I think we've been here before; we've seen what happens before and I think the dangers are all too apparent now.

Press TV: Some very interesting points you've mentioned there. Apart from the reasons that might demand further intervention from foreign forces in Libya, what about the aftermath of the resolution? Do you think the US is going to be obliged or assume the role of a protagonist in the survival of the revolution?

John Rees: I think the US is certainly engaged obviously militarily. And if it is a lasting conflict it will be the US overwhelming military arch that is called upon to do the bulk of the fighting. Certainly the overstretched British forces deployed already in Afghanistan to be cut to 93,000 personnel if the current government carries through its defense review are not going to be conducting any type of long term commitment here.

So, if it lasts longer and if they are drawn into greater deployment it will be the US, which is at the heart of that. And they will alter the character of what's going on. They are not there to defend the revolution; they are there to halt or freeze revolutionary developments and to gain a hand in a fast moving series of revolutionary movements in the Arab world, which has left them utterly disconcerted, that's what this is about.

Press TV: Prior to the implementation and of the drafting of the resolution of the no fly zone - how come the US has been taking a back seat in all of this?

John Rees: I think for two reasons really. Anybody who's watched the international opinion poll will know that US international standing is at an all-time low after Iraq and Afghanistan and so it makes sense in PR terms that they're not seen to lead this. And anybody who has studied domestic opinion polls will know that the Afghan war is massively unpopular in the US; deployment in this conflict is also unpopular in the US and this president ran on his record of arguing for withdrawal - which still hasn't happened - form Iraq.

So there are both domestic and international reasons why the US would prefer to others rode in the forward seat on this particular expedition.

Press TV: Regarding the events that are going to be transpiring on the ground, is this no-fly zone going to be enough to shift the momentum of what's going on in favor of the revolutionaries?

John Rees: Military events in the middle of battle are notoriously hard to predict. I think it was Napoleon who said that no plan survives contact with the enemy. So I think we'll have a very different picture perhaps in two or three days' time than we have at the moment.

But I think we do have to be clear that this is not the purpose; it's not the motivation for the US to intervene to assist the revolutionary process. If that is what they were interested in, after all, they wouldn't be allowing the Saudis and the Qataris and others to try to crush the revolution in Bahrain.

If assisting revolutions was their aim that contradiction wouldn't exist. They have interests in Libya and they have a genuine interest I think in hoping they can draw a line in front of the further advance of the revolutionary movement throughout the Middle East. And that means intervening to at least freeze the revolutionary process in Libya and allowing the surviving dictators to attack the revolutionary forces in other countries without them even mentioning the question of intervention let alone actually acting on it.

Press TV: You mentioned a few Arab nations in your comments. What can you tell us about the Arab world's reaction and their willingness in participating in the implementation of the no-fly zone over Libya?

John Rees: I mentioned Qatar - there's a deep irony surely in the fact that Qatari troops are now currently being deployed alongside Saudi troops in crushing the Bahrain revolution and at the same time it is being said that they will supply aircraft to take part in the no-fly zone. The only way you can make sense of this is if you say that what is going on in Libya is an attempt to freeze the revolutionary process and to advance Western aims because that is congruent or complimentary to what they're doing in Bahrain. Otherwise you have a great deal of difficulty making any logical sense of the two cases here.

Press TV: What about Gaddafi's side? What kind of a contingency plan do you think he has? Up until the implementation of this no-fly zone it had always been just talk, but now it has actually materialized; we've seen French and US forces already attacking targets in Libya - what do you think Gaddafi has in mind for his next step?

John Rees: Well I think it's a big ask to invite me to comment on the state of mind of Colonel Gaddafi - I don't feel that I have the necessary qualifications to do that. However, what I think the effect will be on the Gaddafi camp is this: that the threat of foreign intervention will underline something that has been a constant part of Gaddafi's propaganda from the beginning and that is that the revolution is simply a tool or front for the Western powers. This intervention makes it seem as if that is true and therefore some people who may have been thinking of deserting or quitting the Gaddafi camp, some sections of the army, may feel more inclined to stay with the army.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquake, tsunami & threat of multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns in Japan

Last Friday, Japan was shaken by a strong 9.0-magnitude earthquake and it was one of the worst on record for that country and one of the worst recorded in the past 100 years.

The earthquake in Japan was followed by a tsunami with waves as high as 10 meter. The effect was devastated buildings, missing trains and a cruise ship, cracks on the roads and widespread flooding throughout the island. Residents are now without power, food and water.

The estimated death toll from Japan's disasters climbed past 10,000 Sunday as authorities raced to combat the threat of multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns and hundreds of thousands of people struggled to find food and water. The prime minister said it was the nation's worst crisis since World War II.

Nuclear plant operators worked frantically to try to keep temperatures down in several reactors crippled by the earthquake and tsunami, wrecking at least two by dumping sea water into them in last-ditch efforts to avoid meltdowns.

Japan was warned two years ago that its safety rules were not up to date and a strong earthquake would pose a serious problem to its nuclear power stations, reveals a cable leaked by WikiLeaks. The country is now facing the prospect of a nuclear meltdown following a massive earthquake and tsunami.

The Telegraph reported that an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official had pointed out in December 2008 that safety rules were out of date and strong earthquakes would pose a 'serious problem' for nuclear stations.

The Japanese government had then vowed that it would upgrade safety at all its nuclear plants and it built an emergency response centre at the now stricken Fukushima plant that was designed to withstand magnitude 7 temblor. The earthquake that rocked Japan Friday measured 9 on the Richter scale.

A US embassy cable cited by The Daily Telegraph said: 'He (an IAEA official) explained that safety guides for seismic safety have only been revised three times in the last 35 years and that the IAEA is now re-examining them. Also, the presenter noted recent earthquakes in some cases have exceeded the design basis for some nuclear plants, and that this is a serious problem that is now driving seismic safety work.'

The media report said safety warnings about nuclear power plants in Japan, which is one of the most seismologically active countries in the world, were raised during the 2008 meeting of the G8's Nuclear Safety and Security Group in Tokyo.

The cables show how Tokyo opposed a court order to shut down another nuclear power plant in western Japan due to concerns about whether it could withstand powerful earthquakes. The court ruling said there was a possibility people might get exposed to radiation if there was an accident at the plant that built to withstand a 6.5 magnitude earthquake.

A March 2006 cable said that the court's concerns were not shared by the country's nuclear safety agency. It said: 'Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency believes the reactor is safe and that all safety analyses were appropriately conducted.' The government overturned the ruling in 2009.

There have been explosions at three of the reactors in the Fukushima plant while a fire broke out at a fourth reactor. Prime Minister Naoto Kan appealed for calm as he asked people living in the radius of up to 20 km to leave.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said radioactivity around the damaged nuclear reactors, located 250 km north of Tokyo, had reached dangerous levels. 'We are talking now about radiation levels that can endanger human health,' he said.

The prospect of a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant triggered panic, with many Tokyo residents deciding to leave the city.