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Sunday, February 20, 2011

After 42 years, Libya's controversial ruler faces new threats

Experts and critics say freedom and basic rights in Libya remain widely restricted under Gadhafi's rule.

(CNN) -- Moammar Gadhafi's first grab at power occurred 42 years ago in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, when he led a crew of fellow military officers in taking over key government institutions on his way to usurping the nation's monarchy.

Ever since, he's referred to himself as the Leader of the Revolution -- though politically, at least, Libya has appeared to be largely stable, with few threats to Gadhafi's power.

But that all changed this past week, with reports that tens of thousands took to the streets calling for an end to Gadhafi's rule. And, once again, that change began in Benghazi.

CNN has been unable to independently confirm information on the escalating unrest in Libya, the most isolated nation in the region. The government has not responded to repeated requests from CNN for access to the country and maintains tight control over communications.

Still, phone interviews with witnesses and others on the ground suggest that some of Gadhafi's strongest opposition has been in Benghazi, where protests began and have escalated. Since then, there have been indications that the opposition movement has spread westward toward the capital Tripoli.

Why Gadhafi suddenly came under fire after decades of a strong-handed, seemingly stable rule remains a question.

One obvious factor is that Libya borders Tunisia, where popular unrest last month helped unseat authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after more than two decades in power. Weeks later, a similar movement contributed to the end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Gadhafi is far from alone now. Anti-government protests have popped up all around the Arab world, with pressure growing on powerful leaders in places like Bahrain, Yemen and Algeria.

But what makes Libya unique, in large part, is its colorful, controversial and powerful leader.

Gadhafi was a captain in Libya's army when, on September 1, 1969 -- which is referred to as Revolution Day in Libya -- he and others launched the coup by assuming control of key institutions in Benghazi. The overthrow was completed in two hours, according to, an independent provider of security information.

At the time, the United States had military aircraft at Wheelus Air Base in Libya. And Washington did not initially oppose the coup, a 2008 Congressional Research Service report noted.

Gadhafi soon established himself as one of America's most vocal, and flamboyant, enemies.

By 1972, Gadhafi urged Muslims to fight the United States and Great Britain and vowed support for black revolutionaries in America. The next year, he launched a program "to destroy imported ideologies, whether they are Eastern or Western," a U.S. State Department timeline noted. In 1979, the U.S. designated Libya as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The relationship only worsened in the 1980s, when U.S. military aircraft shot down two Libyan fighter jets. Libya's alleged attacks in Sudan, support for Nicaragua's Sandanista government and role in the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub only further stoked the ire of the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who called Gadhafi a "mad dog."

Libya's standing took a turn with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. World pressure intensified on Tripoli after Libyan intelligence agents were implicated.

By 1993, Gadhafi told the International Herald Tribune that he was taking a more conciliatory approach to world affairs. He called U.S. President Bill Clinton "the savior of the new world," and decried Islamic militants as "mad dogs" and "terrorists."

Clinton continued to keep pressure on Libya, signing a law imposing sanctions on companies that invested more than $40 million in that nation's petroleum industry. By 1999, Libya finally agreed to transfer the Pan Am 103 suspects for a trial in the Netherlands, leading to their conviction two years later.

While still known for sometimes unconventional comments, Gadhafi appeared to evolve into more of a statesman -- at least internationally. In 2009, he was elected by member states as head of the African Union.

That year, he also addressed the United Nations' General Assembly for the first time. Still, he proved to be more a firebrand than an even-keeled diplomat, delivering a blistering, wide-ranging 96-minute rant.

His topics ranged from the U.N. Security Council to the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy to a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians: Isratine. Gadhafi blamed the U.N. for failing to prevent 65 wars since its founding in 1945. But he also had kind words for U.S. President Barack Obama: "We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as the president of America," Gadhafi said.

While Gadhafi seemed to take on a new role internationally, the world had few insights into what was happening inside Libya itself.

Even as the U.N., the United States and other nations gradually began to soften their stance on Libya, reports suggested that freedom and basic rights remained widely restricted under Gadhafi.

"He hasn't changed," said Fouad Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "This is a monster. And the Libyan people are suffering from this."

The government maintained a tight control over its communications, clamping down on news accounts critical of Gadhafi and his colleagues. It also restricted outside media access, including denying repeated requests from CNN to enter the country this month.

On Friday night, Libyan authorities shut down the nation's access to the internet, the U.S.-based tech firm Arbor Networks reported. While there have been indications of spotty Web coverage since, Libya sent out a text message warning about the "inappropriate use of telecommunications services."

Internal political dissent was largely and often violently squashed. Moftah, an anti-government protester who did not give his full name for security reasons, said Gadhafi "always plays on fear" -- relying on a broad network of intelligence agents, secret police and others.

"He makes you afraid of your family, of your friends," Moftah told CNN. "He will tell you that his secret police are everywhere."

And yet, despite the odds, people have still risen up this month against Gadhafi.

For years, Libya profited greatly from its vast oil reserves. One of Gadhafi's first orders of business after taking over was to assume control of properties and other interests of international petroleum companies.

Still, even the great wealth of oil couldn't change the fact that Libya has suffered in the recent global economic downturn. As in much of the Arab world, youth unemployment is high in Libya -- and most of the population has never known a leader other than Gadhafi.

And the fact it began in Benghazi, despite the Libyan leader's early history, is not a surprise, said Dirk Vandewalle, an associate professor at Dartmouth and author of "A History of Modern Libya." He noted that the coastal city has traditionally been seen as somewhat disloyal to Gadhafi's regime.

Whether the Libyan demonstrators can follow the leads of their Arab colleagues in Tunisia and Egypt remains to be seen. If they do, they will have to overcome a cult of personality -- much like prevailed in those countries -- without having any fallback as far as political institutions or legislation to build off should they succeed.

Unlike Egypt, Libya has no constitution, established institutions or any kind of mechanisms in place to support a new nation. The nation and its leader are one.

"In Libya," Vandewalle said, "there is nothing beyond Gadhafi and his close circle."

Crackdown on Hindraf continues

Police crack their whips again, coming down hard on Hindraf leaders and activists at an anti-Interlok forum.
LUNAS: The police’s clampdown on Hindraf Makkal Sakti’s anti-Interlok campaign continues with the arrest of eight leaders and activists at an anti-Interlok forum here in Kedah this morning.
However, all eight have been released at 5.30pm, some six hours later.
The eight were Human Rights Party (HRP) Malaysia president W Sambulingam, 48, Kedah Hindraf chief R Ramu, 43, deputy chief P Muniandy, 37, CF Mani, 35, S Kuberadasan, 25, S Maniam, 57, T Raja, 52, and Perak Hindraf chief P Ramesh, 45.
They were detained when police stormed and disrupted the forum at the Kattu Raja hall in Paya Besar at 11.30am here.
All have been released on police bail. They will have to report at the Kulim police headquarters on March 19.
HRP secretary-general P Uthayakumar said that police have denied Hindraf permits to hold the anti-Interlok forum at Paya Besar and Air Itam and Simpang Ampat, Penang.
He said that police also prevented Hindraf activists and other Hindus from entering a temple in Kampar, Perak, to attend a similar forum last night.
He said the police clearly showed they would violate all human rights, including freedom of religion and assembly, enshrined under the Federal Constitution.
“They would violate all principles of human rights to halt our anti-Interlok peaceful march planned for Feb 27 in Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).
“The police clampdown is a replay of the historic Nov 25 mammoth gathering at KLCC three years ago.
‘Handcuffed, chained, locked up’
“Its déjà vu 2007,” said Uthayakumar.
Meanwhile, Hindraf adviser N Ganesan claimed that his detained colleagues were “handcuffed, chained and locked up” at the Kulim district police headquarters.
He said Sambulingam was addressing some 100 people at the Kattu Raja hall at 11.30am when a group of police officers entered and told the Hindraf leader to stop speaking.
Police gave Sambulingam and the others about 10 minutes to disperse. The activists were arrested when they defied the order.
HRP secretary-general P Uthayakumar told FMT that police have threatened to detain the Hindraf activists for seven days and asked them to hand over their saffron-coloured shirts.
“However, they did not give their shirts. They told the police that our saffron shirt is sacred,” he said.
Meanwhile, at another forum at a community hall at Bandar Baru Air Itam on the island, the police did not barge into the community hall or arrest any Hindraf leaders and activists.
But they managed to stop the forum within minutes of its commencement.
Massive barricade
Earlier, Ganesan got the ball rolling by addressing a few people who defied the police order to attend the forum.
While he was speaking, a group of policemen led by a commander known only as ASP Jamaluddin entered the hall and stopped Ganesan from speaking.
They gave Ganesan and others 10 minutes to disperse to avoid arrest. Ganesan and the rest obeyed and ended the forum.
They then left, but not without loud chants of “Hindraf, Hindraf, Hindraf”.
Using a loud hailer, Jamaluddin also ordered all journalists and cameramen to leave the area immediately.
Earlier, the police formed a massive barricade to prevent anyone from entering the hall. They have also put up blockades and booths along roads leading to the hall. A police notice was pasted outside the hall warning the people not to attend the forum.
The notice stated that the forum was illegal since it was being held without a valid police permit. Police warned they would detain anyone who showed up.
About two hours before the forum started, some police officers have also allegedly intimidated HRP/Hindraf activists to get them to cancel their plans.
When the activists showed their defiance, police began to build up their presence. Residents claimed at least 100 police personnel gathered in the area within an hour.
Another forum is scheduled at 6pm at the Meenakshi Aman Kovil in Simpang Ampat, Seberang Perai.
Political rally
Ganesan said that a police permit was not needed for an indoor forum for the people.
“We are not having a political rally. We duly paid the hall rental and the building management allowed us to organise the forum without any qualms.
“But we have been told not hold the forum and leave the area,” he said.
“Under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, Malaysian citizens have every right to assemble,” he added.
Ganesan was puzzled why the authorities strongly opposed the anti-Interlok campaign.
“We are actually helping the Umno government to eliminate racism in the country.
“I don’t understand why the government and police are not assisting us,” he told FMT.
Earlier, in his address, Ganesan told the attendees that Interlok had projected the Indians in an undignified and distorted manner.
He said that the novel was reinforcing the stereotyped portrayal of Indians in the country as “dark, oily and scraggy community of low life”.
“Interlok must not be seen as an isolated case. It’s part of Umno government’s racist agenda to demean and degrade the Indian poor.
“The racist perpetrators want to ensure that the Indian poor will forever remain oppressed, suppressed and subservient to the Umno regime,” said Ganesan.
He also attributed the low turnout to the heavy police presence since morning.
“It’s a serious violation of human rights. Why must the police stop us from speaking to a small crowd in a peaceful manner?
“It’s a high-handed tactics of Umno regime to instil fear into us and the Indian poor.”

Coming: Interlok's ideal antidote

Come August, barring the unexpected, Malaysian readers will be able to access the ideal antidote to the controversial literary text, Interlok, which is said to be disparaging of Indian Malaysians.

A book, 'A History of Indians in Malaysia: From the Melaka Sultanate to Hindraf,' is set to be published in that month. It will tell the story of Indian Malaysians' contribution to the development of the country.

The author, Carl Vadivella Belle, is what academics would call an 'Indologist,' in the same vein scholars of Chinese studies are termed 'Sinologists.' He is in the final stages of completing the manuscript for publication.

Vadivella Belle, aged 62, became enamored of things Malaysian when he was the Attache (Development Assistance) at the Australian High Commission here in 1976-79.

Fascination with the annual Thaipusam festival led this former Lutheran to become a Hindu in 1981.

A doctoral dissertation, 'Thaipusam in Malaysia: A Hindu Festival Misunderstood,' obtained for him a Phd from Deakin University, Melbourne, 2004.

This was followed by a paper, 'The Development of Indian Political Consciousness in Malaya: Colonialism, Nationalism and Subhas Chandra Bose' that he submitted in 2009 to the Centre for Indian Diaspora Studies at the University of Hyderabad.

After that it was a logical progression for Vadivella to attempt the book he hopes would place the contributions of Indian Malaysians to national development in proper perspective.

“I think this contribution has not been accorded the recognition that is properly its due,” he told Malaysiakini in an interview at the tail end of his month-long stay in country that took in the Thaipusam celebration in Batu Caves last month and ended with the Masi Magham festival in Malacca earlier this week.

He said two earlier forays on the subject, one by Kernial Singh Sandu in 1969 ('Indian Migrations to Malaya') and the other by Sinappah Arasaratnam ('Indians in Malaysia'), were seminal works at the time of their publication, but both left out what Vadivella claimed were factors critical to the whole story: Imperial Britain's theories on race and religion that impacted adversely on Indian migrant labor in Malaya.

Vadivella said his book would examine those theories and how they affected the plight of the Indians who were brought to Malay to work in plantation agriculture, road and railway construction, and the development of ports.

“The laying of the transport infrastructure in the peninsula was in large part the work of Indians,” he asserted.

“The perception that the life of the Tamil indentured laborer in Malaya was better than what he experienced in his place of origin has to be put against such facts as the 18 per cent mortality rate from malaria, snakebite and malnutrition suffered by them in many parts of the peninsula,” he elaborated.

Vadivella said between the setting up of the Straits Settlements in 1826 and Merdeka in 1957, 4.2 million Indians had come to Malaya.
Of this number, he said 2.8 million returned to their ancestral land by the time of Independence. He said by 1957, 700,000 Indians in Malaya were local-born.

Vadivella obtained research grants for the book from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore, which is headed by by Klang-born M. Kesavapany, a former High Commissioner of Singapore to Malaysia.

The book is scheduled to be launched in August in Singapore. This will be followed by a launch in Kuala Lumpur.

Vadivella has done research for the book among archives in Malaysia, Singapore, India and England.

The writing is done at his 20-acre farm on which he and wife Wendy live in the rural small town of Millicent, which is about 400 kilometers from Melbourne.

“The mornings I devote to my writing and the afternoons to manual labor on the farm,” said Vadivella, of a pattern that is an apparent reversal of that of the people who are the subject of his book, who rose early for their daily labor and retired in the late afternoon.

Of course, the disjunction is of no import to a man who third child, a son, Carl Jr, was born in Kuala Lumpur and spoke Tamil to the housemaid, Jayaletchumy, before learning to speak in English to his parents.

“Malaysia is a fascinating in its complexity,” said Vadivella, with evident affection for the three years he spent here.

“It's sad to see so much that's fascinating about it marred by the racial prisms through which it is viewed,” he opined.

UBF wades into ‘Interlok’ row

Literature deemed to have seditious tendencies should be banned, United Borneo Front chief Jeffrey Kitingan says.
KOTA KINABALU: A Sabah NGO has called on the government to ban any form of literature that could be deemed seditious from the school curriculum.

United Borneo Front (UBF) chief Jeffrey Kitingan said that literature which could be deemed to have seditious tendencies should be banned from schools and not form part of the humanities courses as it could potentially be in breach of Sections 3 (1) (d) or 3 (1) (e) of the Sedition Act 1948.

Jeffrey, who is a former PKR vice-president, waded into the row over the Malay language novel, Interlok, which has raised the ire of the Indians over certain portions considered derogatory to them.

He said that it was for the public prosecutor to raise the matter in court and not for the Education Department to deliberate.

“Affected communities should raise the matter with the proper authorities,” he said in a press statement.
“We have to ask ourselves what literary or historical value is achieved by the study of a work of literature and whether such study could benefit all races in this country, and not only some sections of the communities.

“A comprehensive education should be relevant to all, but if the education ministry promotes works which single out studies of certain sections of our racial communities, whether based on fact or fiction, the first thing it should ask itself is whether it would have seditious tendencies which would promote feelings of ill-will or hostility among the races in this country, ” Jefffrey said.

Sedition Act
Jeffrey added that if it was “purely a question of literary artistic merit”, then the government may as well include Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “The Malay Dilemma” as reading material in schools.
“Authors should have the freedom to write what they want, but we can’t hide from the reality that we have in place the Sedition Act 1948 to control what we say and how we say it.”

Jeffrey said that UBF continued to advocate for total compliance with the principles behind the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations to which Malaysia belongs.

“The Commonwealth of Nations has a very clear statement on educational standards which says: ‘We advocate for enhancement of the quality of education and equality of opportunities, for both boys and girls, through improved teaching and management processes.

“‘We engage in brokering for the promotion of respect and understanding and social cohesion in the Commonwealth through education’.

“If the novel does nothing to promote respect, understanding and social cohesion, it is not up to Commonwealth standards for use in our schools,” he said

HRP leaders arrested at anti-Interlok forum

Seven leaders and activists of the Human Rights Party (HRP) were arrested earlier today during a forum held by the Indian-based group's on the controversial 'Interlok' novel in Kulim, Kedah.

police arrest human rights party activist in interlok forum 200211 2According to HRP pro-tem secretary-general P Uthayakumar, the seven include HRP president W Sambulingam, Kedah HRP deputy-chief P Muniandy.

Among the others were Kedah HRP coordinator R Ramu, Selangor HRP deputy chief MS Maniam, and activists S Dass, D Raja and CF Mani.

Uthayakumar said the party also expects arrests to be made at a similar forum to be held this afternoon in Farlim, Penang.

The police, Uthayakumar added, have put up notices of arrest against those attending the forum.
According to HRP information chief S Jayathas, all seven activists who were arrested in Kulim were taken to the Kulim district police station.
The police, said Jayathas in a posting on the group's website, had said the forum was illegally held after its application for a permit was rejected.
The forum is part of HRP's nationwide campaign that will culminate on Feb 27 in a march against racism and the Interlok novel.
hindraf feb 27 march against interlok 030211 posterInterlok, written by national laureate Abdullah Hussain, has been accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes.
T-shirts confiscated, again
When contacted, Uthayakumar said the police at the Kulim police station were attempting to repeat the efforts made last week to confiscate the orange-coloured T-shirts worn by the HRP activists as a condition for their release.
"They say that if the HRP activists do not surrender their shirts, they will be locked up for seven days," said Uthayakumar.
"But to us, we will not surrender the shirts. They have become (like) sacred to us," he added.
Uthayakumar, who is also legal advisor to Hindraf, noted that thousands of PAS Youth members gathered in Kota Sarang Semut in Kedah without being disturbed by the police.
These activists nor the members of other NGOs and parties ordered to surrender their 'kopiah' or shirts, he added.
Meanwhile, the group has also reported at 2.45pm that their gathering at Farlin, Penang was also scuttled.
The Penang CPO reportedly dispersed the forum "forcibly" leaving the scene "like a war zone with the Indian poor scattered all around on the one hand, and the over 100 police having cordoned off the Farlin Hall".
They also expect police raids and arrests at their 6.30pm forum at Simpang Ampat Sri Meenachiamman Temple, Prai.
[More to follow]

Libya forces 'open fire' at funeral

Libyan security forces have reportedly opened fire at a funeral in the eastern city of Benghazi, killing at least 15 people and injuring scores more as protests against Muammar Gaddafi, the country's long-time ruler, continued.
The victims on Saturday were mourning the loss of protesters who had been killed during anti-government demonstrations in the city during the past week, witnesses said, bringing the death toll to more than 100 in six days of unrest, according to opposition groups.
A doctor from Benghazi told Al Jazeera that the Al Jalah hospital where he works had received 15 bodies and was treating numerous people following the shootings at the funeral.
He said the hospital had counted 44 deaths in total in three days, adding that it was struggling to treat the wounded.
"This is not a well-equipped hospital and these injuries come in waves. All are very serious injuries, involving the head, the chest and the abdomen. They are bullet injuries from high-velocity rifles.
"All are civilians aged from 13 to 35, no police or military injuries," he said, adding that there was no way the wounds could have come from anyone other than security forces.
"Absolutely a shoot-to-kill policy," he said.
Hospitals 'overwhelmed'
The deaths came amid claims that a military brigade in Benghazi had fallen to the people. The doctor in Benghazi told Al Jazeera that protesters stormed the building on Saturday.
Live Blog
The violence came after Human Rights Watch said earlier on Saturday that 84 people had died over the past three days.
Ahmed, a businessman and resident of Benghazi who declined to give his real name for his own safety, told Al Jazeera that hospitals in the city were overwhelmed with the number of dead and injured and were running out of blood.
"It's a big, big massacre. We've never heard of anything like this before. It's horrible," he said.
"The shooting is still taking place right now. We're about 3km away from it, and we saw this morning army troops coming into the city. You can hear the shooting now. They don't care about us."
Unrest 'spreading'
The unrest in Libya has largely been centred in the eastern cities of Benghazi, Bayda and Tobruk. But Al Jazeera has received reports that the protests have begun to spread to the country's west.
Witnesses said thousands of people took part in peaceful protests in the western city of Misurata. They were demonstrating against state brutality, rather than calling for a change in government.

Benghazi resident says hospitals in the city are overwhelmed [Al Jazeera]
Mohamed Abdulmalek, the chairman of Libya Watch - a human rights group that monitors abuses within the country - said the delay of protests in the west was due to the heavy presence of security forces there.
"The delay in the uprising in the west was not because the people did not want to go out," he told Al Jazeera from the UK.
"But the security presence in Tripoli, for example, was so intense that people gathered individually in the beginning. The Libyan regime anticipated this so the squares in Tripoli were occupied by security forces and therefore people were not allowed to gather.
"But eventually, the pressure on the capital started from outside Tripoli and now you see the people revolting. We have no doubt that the east and the west will unite."
Verifying news from Libya has been difficult since the protests began, thanks to restrictions on journalists entering the country, as well as internet and mobile phone black outs imposed by the government.
The Libyan government has blocked Al Jazeera's TV signal in the country and people have also reported that the network's website is inaccessible from there. 
'Ready to die'
Protests in the country began on February 14, and three days later tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators seeking to oust Gaddafi took to the streets in what organisers called a "day of rage" modelled after similar protests in Tunisia and Egypt that ousted longtime leaders there.
Gaddafi has ruled Libya since 1969.

Twitter Reaction

Libya Protests

bulutuzun profile
bulutuzun RT @Libyayalibya: please save us from #Gaddafi. He is murdering our people. please spread the word. Help #libya. We need freedom #libya #benghazi#feb1723 seconds ago · reply
skotmaudlin profile
skotmaudlin RT @Shhh527: /@IbnOmar2005: contact in libya:#GADDAFI SHOOTING PEOPLE IN#TRIPOLI FROM HELICOPTER#LIBYA #fashloom5 minutes ago · reply
4 new tweets
detronizator profile
detronizator RT @iyad_elbaghdadi: Reports of fire and thick smoke in Bab Alaziziya, close to #Gaddafiresidence in #Tripoli #Feb17#Libya28 seconds ago · reply
Jnoubiyeh profile
Jnoubiyeh Al Jazeera Confirmed: Women and children are amongst the dead in the horrific #Benghazimassacre ordered by #Gaddafi.#Libya #Feb17 #Libyans4 hours ago · reply60+ recent retweets
Libyan state television, however, has made little mention of the anti-government protests. Instead, it showed supporters of Gaddafi filling the streets of the capital, singing as they surrounded his limousine as it crept along a road packed with people carrying his portrait.
The worst clashes during the unrest appear to have taken place in the eastern Cyrenaica region, centred on Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has historically been weaker than in other parts of the country.
Libya's Quryna newspaper reported on Thursday that the regional security chief had been removed from his post over the deaths of protesters in the city of Bayda.
Libyan opposition groups in exile claimed that Bayda citizens had joined with local police forces to take over Bayda and fight against government-backed militias, whose ranks are allegedly filled by recruits from other African nations.

While Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, two-thirds of the 6.5 million strong population live on less than $2 a day.
Recent leaked memos from US diplomats have even said that Gaddafi's government seems to neglect the east intentionally to weaken the opposition.
Political analysts say Libyan oil wealth may give the government the capacity to smooth over social problems and
reduce the risk of an Egypt-style revolt.

But Gaddafi's opponents say they want political freedoms, respect for human rights and an end to corruption.
The government has proposed the doubling of government employees' salaries and released 110 suspected anti-government figures who oppose him - tactics similar to those adopted by other Arab governments facing recent mass protests.
Gaddafi also has been meeting with tribal leaders to solicit their support.
Al Jazeera and agencies

Malaysia economy lags behind neighbours, says Anwar

Anwar said the country was losing its competitiveness. — File pic

PETALING JAYA, Feb 19 — Malaysia’s 7.2 per cent economic growth last year was outperformed by its neighbours, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim pointed out today while stressing that the country was losing its competitiveness and public debt was ballooning.

Although the 2010 economic growth had topped government expectations of a 6 per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth, the opposition leader said the increase should “not be viewed in a vacuum” and noted that Singapore and Indonesia had registered growth of 14.5 per cent and 6.1 per cent respectively.

“Both outperformed Malaysia’s growth by miles especially considering that Indonesia’s 6.1 per cent growth was calculated on a higher base as Indonesia did not face economic contraction in 2009 unlike Malaysia or Singapore,” Anwar said in a statement released today.

“This is yet another proof that our economy is sliding downwards relative to our neighbours. We are losing our competitiveness and our fiscal position is in a lot worse shape compared to the neighbours,” he said, referring to the public debt of RM407 billion, or 53 per cent of GDP.

The Malaysian economy is now roughly the same size as Singapore’s at US$239.96 billion (RM728.62 billion) compared to US$239.33 billion.

The resource-rich nation was largely saved the blushes of being surpassed by the tiny city state in 2010 by the strength of the ringgit versus the US dollar when it appreciated by about 12 per cent over the last 12 months, the most of any Asian currency except for the Japanese yen.

Singapore’s growth has seen it catch up and now threaten to displace Malaysia from its long-held position as the third-most valuable economy in the region behind Indonesia and Thailand.

Anwar said Singapore achieved its double-digit growth on the back of a strong rebound in manufacturing sector which recorded growth of 29.7 per cent while Malaysia only saw an 11.4 per cent increase in manufacturing.

“The reality is our manufacturing products are steadily losing their competitiveness in the global market as we are relegated to the lower rung of the value chain while competitors like Singapore upgrade higher and higher on the value chain,” the former deputy prime minister said.

He also said that Indonesia’s “sterling performance” came after it avoided recession in 2009 whereas Malaysia had experienced a 1.7 per cent dip.

The Permatang Pauh MP added that Indonesia had achieved this despite moderate government spending, with a fiscal deficit of 1.1 per cent in 2010 and public debt standing at 28.3 per cent of GDP.

Malaysia, on the other hand, has seen the federal debt rise to 53.1 per cent of GDP after the budget deficit hit 7 per cent in 2009 and 5.6 per cent last year.

“The stagnation in private investments had caused the government to rely on pump priming to fuel economic growth so much so that fiscal deficit remains one of the biggest economic problems the country is facing,” said the former finance minister, referring to Malaysia’s US$7 billion worth of foreign direct investment in 2010 compared to Singapore’s US$37.4 billion.

Anwar further cited the contractions in the crucial sectors of mining and agricultural of 1.3 and 4.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2010, which resulted in an annual growth of just 0.2 and 1.7 per cent respectively as a “symptom of stagnation plaguing the economy.”

He called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to recognise that “no amount of glossing and public relations campaigns can confuse the public of the urgent need to institute vital economic reforms to reverse the slide.”

He said “economic reforms can only be effective if complimented by an equally strong set of political reforms.”

‘Dr Mahathir is hilarious’

PETALING JAYA: An amused PAS information chief, Idris Ahmad, thinks former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s allegations that PAS spiritual adviser, Nik Aziz Nik Mat, was “working with the devil” “hilarious”.

“Mahathir’s statement is hilarious. Which political party campaigns to lose elections?” he said, referring to Mahathir’s accusation that Nik Aziz’s ultimate goal was not Islam but to rule Malaysia.

Mahathir had a few days ago reportedly said: “Whatever that rolls out of Nik Aziz’s mouth is to win elections and to become the joint ruler of this country with DAP and PKR.”

Rebutting his accusation, Nik Aziz told Mahathir that DAP was much more open to Islam now as a result of PAS collaboration via Pakatan Rakyat.

Said Idris: “When Mahathir led Umno, they broke all the laws and molested democracy for the sake of winning elections.”

PAS, on the other hand, he said, wins elections so that Islam is appreciated by all.

“Umno uses Islam as the means, not the goal,” he added.

Idris also took Mahathir to task over MCA’s campaign in Tenang where MCA campaigned on PAS candidate Normala Sudirman’s refusal to shake hands with men.

“MCA is allied to Umno for 53 years yet it has failed to understand the handshake rules between a man and a woman.”

“This is because leaders such as Mahathir failed to portray the character of a true Muslim.”

Race Relations Worsen Under Najib

Najib’s 1Malaysia, which he promulgated as the signature theme of his premiership, is facing a critical test when more and more warnings are made inside and outside the country that racial and religious relations in Malaysia are at their worst since he became Prime Minister just short of two years ago.
Suara Keadilan
Yesterday, political scientist  Farish Noor  told the forum on public governance by the Perdana Leadership Foundation and the National Professors’  Council that Malaysia is dangerously close to absolutely breaking down if racial politics is not kept in check.

Farish, who said that Malaysia's patterns of politics seem to reflect that of other countries which have suffered severe racial and religious discord, told the forum:

"I've spent more than 10 years studying dysfunctional countries and I believe we are going down the path of countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

"I have seen enough race and religious riots to see that Malaysia is close to going down that path."

A week ago, former US ambassador to Malaysia John Malott warned that racial and religious tensions are higher today than when Datuk Seri Najib Razak took office in 2009 and even worse than at any time since 1969.

Najib’s 1Malaysia, which he promulgated as the signature theme of his premiership, is facing a critical test when more and more warnings are made inside and outside the country that racial and religious relations in Malaysia are at their worst since he became Prime Minister just short of two years ago.

Any independent, objective and dispassionate observer would agree with the analysis that despite all the massive publicity and propaganda about Najib’s 1Malaysia policy to create a more united, vibrant, productive and competitive Malaysia, race and religious relations have never been more jeopardised in the past two years  because of the unrelenting  stoking of communal poison and religious intolerance by quarters which seem to enjoy immunity and impunity  for such criminal incitements.

What is worse, those most guilty of sowing and escalating racial distrust and religious disharmony emanate from the ruling circles, particularly from Umno ranks and Umno’s official media, particularly Utusan Malaysia.

Why is Najib indulging in the irresponsible and dangerous game of advocating an inclusive 1Malaysia on the one hand while allowing Umno leaders and mouthpieces to poison the wellsprings of 1Malaysia nation-building with incessant extremist, exclusivist, intolerant and incendiary race and religious baiting?

Is Najib the mastermind of such devious, hypocritical and hydra-headed 1Malaysia campaign or is he captive and helpless to check such  irresponsible politics of race and religion from Umno ranks?

Furthermore, why are the other leaders of the other Barisan Nasional component parties silent, indifferent or utterly impotent in the face of such relentless  escalation of hate politics of race and religion from Umno ranks and media, which make a total mockery of Najib’s 1Malaysia slogan and policy?

Kedah BN Can Sweep More Than Two Thirds Majority - Ahmad Bashah

ALOR SETAR, Feb 19 (Bernama) -- Kedah Barisan Nasional (BN) can not only wrest the state back from Pas in the next election but win by more than two thirds majority, said its chairman Datuk Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah.

He said this was not impossible in view of the fact that the people had full confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

"We are confident of winning 31 of the 36 seats in the state assembly," he told reporters after opening a leadership course for Kedah Wanita Umno members here Saturday.

Some 500 Kedah Wanita Umno leaders from the branch level attended the one-day course.

Now, PAS controls 16 seats in the Kedah state assembly followed by the BN (14 seats), PKR (three), DAP (one) and two independents, who were previously from PKR.

Ahmad Bashah, who is also Kedah Umno chief, added that the BN election machinery in the state was in a high state of readiness to face a general election, which needs to be called at the latest by 2013.

Women of the revolution

When 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz wrote on Facebook that she was going to Cairo's Tahrir Square and urged all those who wanted to save the country to join her, the founding member of the April 6 Youth Movement was hoping to seize the moment as Tunisians showed that it was possible for a popular uprising to defeat a dictator.

Mahfouz later explained on Egyptian television that she and three others from the movement went to the square and began shouting: "Egyptians, four people set themselves on fire out of humiliation and poverty. Egyptians, four people set fire to themselves because they were afraid of the security agencies, not of the fire. Four people set fire to themselves in order to tell you to awaken. We are setting ourselves on fire so that you will take action. Four people set themselves on fire in order to say to the regime: Wake up. We are fed up."

In a video she subsequently posted online , which quickly went viral, she declared: "As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go down and take a stance, then there will be hope."

Egyptian women, just like men, took up the call to 'hope'. Here they describe the spirit of Tahrir - the camaraderie and equality they experienced - and their hope that the model of democracy established there will be carried forward as Egyptians shape a new political and social landscape.
Mona Seif, 24, researcher
 I have never felt as at peace and as safe as I did during those days in Tahrir
The daughter of a political activist who was imprisoned at the time of her birth and the sister of a blogger who was jailed by the Mubarak regime, Mona Seif says nothing could have prepared her for the scale and intensity of the protests.
"I didn't think it was going to be a revolution. I thought if we could [mobilise] a couple of thousand people then that would be great.

I was angry about the corruption in the country, [about the death of] Khaled Said and the torture of those suspected but never convicted [of being behind] the Alexandria Coptic church [bombing].

I realised this was going to be bigger than we had anticipated when 20,000 people marched towards Tahrir Square on January 25. That is when we saw a shift; it was not about the minimum wage or emergency law anymore. It became much bigger than this, it turned into a protest against the regime, demanding that Mubarak step down and that parliament be dissolved.

On the night later dubbed 'the battle of the camels' when pro-Mubarak thugs attacked us, I was terrified. I thought they were going to shoot us all and get it over with. The turning point for me was when I saw the number of people ready to face death for their beliefs.
"The turning point for me was when I saw the number of people ready to die for their beliefs"
Mona Seif
I was amazed by the peoples’ determination to keep this peaceful even when we were under deadly attacks. When we caught the pro-Mubarak thugs, the guys would protect them from being beaten and say: 'Peaceful, peaceful, we are not going to beat anyone up’. That was when I started thinking: 'No matter what happens we are not going to quit until Mubarak leaves'. The spirit of the people in Tahrir kept us going.

My friend and I had the role of ensuring that all of the videos and pictures from Tahrir were uploaded and as the internet connection was bad in Tahrir, we would use a friend’s nearby flat to make sure the images made it out so everyone could see what was happening in the square.

I have never felt as at peace and as safe as I did during those days in Tahrir. There was a sense of coexistence that overcame all of the problems that usually happen - whether religious or gender based.

Pre-January 25 whenever we would attend protests I would always be told by the men to go to the back to avoid getting injured and that used to anger me. But since January 25 people have begun to treat me as an equal. There was this unspoken admiration for one another in the square.

We went through many ups and downs together. It felt like it had become a different society - there was one Egypt inside Tahrir and another Egypt outside.

The moment Tahrir opened up, we saw a lot of people that were not there before and there were reports of females being harassed.
"There was one Egypt inside Tahrir and another Egypt outside"
Mona Seif
I know that Egypt has changed and we will transfer the spirit of the square to the rest of the country. Before Tahrir if I was [harassed] I would refrain from asking people for help, because there are a lot of people that would disappoint you by blaming you. But I think the spirit of the revolution has empowered us to spread the feeling we established wider and wider. From now on, if anything happens to me, I am going to scream, I am going to ask people to help me and I know that I will find people that will help me.

I was in front of the TV building when the news broke about Mubarak stepping down. I found myself swept away with people screaming and cheering. It was an emotional moment that I celebrated with strangers. People were hugging me, shaking my hands, distributing sweets. At that moment we were all one.

I no longer feel alienated from society. I now walk the streets of Cairo and smile at strangers all the time. I have gained a sense of belonging with everyone on the streets of Cairo - at least for now. Before January 25 I was tempted to leave the country. This feeling has changed now, I want to stay here. This is an extension of our role in the revolution, we have to stay here and contribute to changing our society."
Gigi Ibrahim, 24, political activist
In my experience women play a pivotal role in all protests and strikes
Political activist Gigi Ibrahim played an instrumental role in spreading the word about the protests.

"I started [my political activism] by just talking to people [who were] involved [in the labour movement]. Then I became more active and the whole thing became addictive. I went to meetings and took part in protests. I learned very quickly that most of the strikes in the labour movement were started by women.

In my experience women play a pivotal role in all protests and strikes. Whenever violence erupts, the women would step up and fight the police, and they would be beaten just as much as the men.

I have seen it during the Khaled Said protests in June 2010 when many women were beaten and arrested. Muslim, Christian - all types of women protested.

My family always had problems with me taking part in protests. They prevented me from going for my safety because I am a girl. They were worried about the risks. I would have to lie about attending protests.

When the police violently cleared the square on January 25, I was shot in the back by a rubber bullet while trying to run away from the police as they tear gassed us. I returned to the square, as did many others, the following day and stayed there on and off for the next 18 days.

As things escalated my dad got increasingly worried. On January 28, my sister wanted to lock me in the house. They tried to stop me from leaving, but I was determined and I went out. I moved to my aunt's place that is closer toTahrir Square and I would go there every now and again to wash and rest before returning to the square.

At first my family was very worried, but as things escalated they started to understand and to be more supportive. My family is not politically active at all.
The day-to-day conditions were not easy. Most of us would use the bathroom inside the nearby mosque. Others would go to nearby flats where people kindly opened their homes for people to use.
"[When the pro-Mubarak thugs attacked us] we were unarmed, we had nothing. That night I felt fear but it changed into determination"
Gigi Ibrahim
I was in Tahrir Square on February 2, when pro-Mubarak thugs attacked us with petrol bombs and rocks. That was the most horrific night. I was trapped in the middle of the square. The outskirts of the square were like a war zone. The more things escalated the more determined we became not to stop. Many people were injured and many died and that pushed us to go on and not give up.

I thought if those armed pro-Mubarak thugs came inside the square it would be the end of us. We were unarmed, we had nothing. That night I felt fear but it changed into determination.
The women played an important role that night. Because we were outnumbered, we had to secure all the exits in the square. The exits between each end of the square would take up to 10 minutes to reach, so the women would go and alert others about where the danger was coming from and make sure that the people who were battling swapped positions with others so that they could rest before going out into the battle again.
The women were also taking care of the wounded in makeshift clinics in the square. Some women were on the front line throwing rocks with the men. I was on the front line documenting the battle with my camera. It was like nothing that I have ever seen or experienced before.

During the 18 days neither I nor any of my friends were harassed. I slept in Tahrir with five men around me that I didn't know and I was safe.

But that changed on the day Mubarak stepped down. The type of people who came then were not interested in the revolution. They were there to take pictures. They came for the carnival atmosphere and that was when things started to change.

When the announcement came we all erupted in joy. I was screaming and crying. I hugged everyone around me. I went from being happy and crying to complete shock. It took a while for it to sink in.

The revolution is not over. All of our demands have not yet been met. We have to continue. This is where the real hard work begins, but it will take a different shape than staging sit-ins in the square. Rebuilding Egypt is going to be tough and we all have to take part in this. There are organised strikes demanding workers’ rights for better pay and conditions and those are the battles to be won now."
Salma El Tarzi, 33, filmmaker
What kept us going was the conviction that we did not have any option - it was either freedom or go to jail
Having never been politically active, Salma El Tarzi was sceptical about the protesters’ chances of getting their demands met until the day when she stood on her balcony and saw the crowds. She decided to join the protesters and has not looked back since.
"I was protesting on my own on the 26th and 27th, but bumped into my younger brother in the crowd by chance on the 28th. We just carried on from then onward.

What kept us going was the conviction that we did not have any option - it was either stay and fight for freedom or go to jail.

My dad has been very supportive. He was getting to the point where he was telling me and my brother: "Don't run away from gun fire, run towards it."

While in Tahrir we were all receiving threatening calls telling us that if we didn’t vacate the square we would be hunted and killed. But we didn't care at that point. We were at the point of no return.

Tahrir Square became our mini model of how democracy should be. Living there was not easy. We would use a nearby mosque and I would go to a friend’s house every now and then to wash. But I must admit that conditions were not ideal. It was very cold, we slept on the floor. Some of us had tents and some made their own tents. Let’s put it this way, due to the difficult conditions we called it the 'smell of a revolution'.
"Something changed in the dynamic between men and women in Tahrir. When the men saw that women were fighting on the front line that changed their perception of us and we were all united. We were all Egyptians now"
Salma El Tarzi
I was one of many women, young and old, there. We were as active as the men. Some acted as nurses and looked after the wounded during the battles; others were simply helping with distributing water. But there were a great number of women that were on the front line hurling stones at the police and pro-Mubarak thugs.
The duties in the square were divided. We were very organised. Something changed in the dynamic between men and women in Tahrir. When the men saw that women were fighting in the front line that changed their perception of us and we were all united. We were all Egyptians now.

The general view of women changed for many. Not a single case of sexual harassment happened during the protests up until the last day when Mubarak stepped down. That is a big change for Egypt.

The fear barrier was broken for all of us. When we took part in the protests it was just a protest for our basic human rights, but they [the regime] escalated it to a revolution. Their brutality and violence turned it into a revolution. What started as a day of rage turned into a revolution that later toppled the regime that had been in power for 30 years. They [the regime] empowered us through their violence; they made us hold on to the dream of freedom even more. We were all walking around with wounds, but we still kept going. We were even treating injured horses that they had used in their brutal attacks against us.

Before January 25 I didn't have faith that my voice could be heard. I didn't feel like I was in control of my future. The metaphor used by Mubarak that he was our father and we were his children made us feel as though we lacked any motivation.
The revolution woke us up - a collective consciousness has been awoken."
You can follow @FatmaNaib on Twitter
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