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Friday
Mar252011

Libya (and Beyond) LiveBlog: NATO Comes to the Rescue?

2015 GMT: Graffiti in Syria, "Your turn has come, doctor", referring to President (and ophthalmologist) Bashar Al-Assad:

2005 GMT: Video of the protest by about 2000 people in front of State TV in Cairo today (see 1615 GMT):

2000 GMT: The Qatari Air Force has announced that its warplanes have overflown Libya.

Qatar is the first Arab state to take part in military operations to enforce the no-fly zone under the UN resolution. The number of jets and the location of their flights was not specified.

1950 GMT: A man has died after Jordanian security forces used batons and sprayed water to disperse a clash between pro-regime and pro-reform demonstrators in Amman.

Amer Khairy Saad, the son of the slain protester, said police had beaten his father as they were trying to separate the opposing crowds who had gathered near the Ministry of Interior.

Al Arabiya is reporting that a second person has died.

1940 GMT: Al Jazeera reports that about 100 pro-regime protesters continue to surround its office in Damascus. They are demanding that Al Jazeera air its support for President al-Assad live or they will storm the office.

1625 GMT: The British military say Tornado jets destroyed seven tanks of the Libyan regime today. British officers claimed the tanks were pointing their guns towards Ajdabiya, the town in east Libya which is on the front-line of a fight between regime and opposition forces.

1615 GMT: In the Egyptian capital Cairo, about 1000 protesters gathered in Tahrir Square and about 2000 assembled in front of State TV to demonstrate against the anti-protest law, approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday, which imposes up to a one-year sentence and a hefty fine on protesters. They demonstrators also called for swift trials of those involved in corruption in the Mubarak regime, including the former President and his family, and the removal of all media personalities associated with the old regime.

A mass protest was also reported in Alexandria, Egypt's second city.

1610 GMT: Video of security forces breaking up a protest in Sitra in Bahrain, which was defying the ban on demonstrations:

1600 GMT: Eyewitnesses say that the violence in the flashpoint of Daraa in southern Syria started when young men burned a poster of President Bashar al-Assad and tried to topple the statue of his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad. Security forces started firing live ammunition."

There is an unconfirmed report of one death. Unconfirmed claims point to dead and wounded from security force fire in other Syrian towns.

1535 GMT: A report comes in that protests in the Jordanian capital Amman have turned violent after regime supporters hurled rocks at pro-reform protesters. More than 60 people are injured.

1530 GMT: A witness has told Al Jazeera that security forces opened fire on protesters in the town of Sanamein in southern Syria, killing more than 20 people, a witness told Al Jazeera television on Friday.

1340 GMT: Reuters reports that a protest in support of Daraa has taken place in Hama, the site of a 1982 attack by security forces that killed between 17,000 and 40,000 people.

1330 GMT: A witness reports that thousands of protesters in Daraa in southern Syria denounced Maher al-Assad, brother of President Bashar al-Assad, and head of the Republican Guard, a witness tells Reuters. As they headed to the main square after the funeral of protesters killed by security forces this week, thousands chanted: "Maher. you coward. Send your troops to liberate the Golan."

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War.

About 1,000 people rallied in the town of Tel, just north of Damascus, in support of protesters Daraa, denouncing two relatives of president Bashar al-Assad as "thieves".

1325 GMT: The BBC reports that about 100 people gathered in al Qraya in souther Syria, but the group found a large crowd of pro-regime Baathists had occupied the main square.

1315 GMT: We have posted first claimed videos of today's protests in Syria in a separate entry.

This picture is reportedly of a protest in Sitra in Bahrain before it was broken up by security forces today.

1150 GMT: A witness reports that "hundreds" of Syrian villagers are marching to Daraa in support of protesters in the town, chanting "Freedom is ringing".

1140 GMT: Al Jazeera English's report as protesters assembled in Sanaa in Yemen this morning before Friday Prayers:

1130 GMT: Reuters is reporting that Syrian security forces in Damascus have broken up a demonstration of hundreds of protesters, who were chanting, "We sacrifice our blood, our soul, for you Daraa." Dozens were arrested by secret police.

An activist claims, "After police stopped the protest in Deir Al Zour, another protest started from the old Ottoman Mosque in the city."

1032 GMT: Yemen's President Saleh is now in conciliatory mode: "I tell you I am prepared to sit and talk to you, to listen to your demands. We need to transfer power to capable hands, not malicious hands. We are prepared to give up power....You will receive the reins of power, not those malicious perpetrators. You the believers, the youth of the revolution."

Saleh reaches out, "We salute you again on this Friday, the Friday of tolerance and peace.

1030 GMT: Back from a break to find Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaking live, in an attempt to pre-empt the opposition's "Day of Departure" rally. Talking to an audience of thousands, he says that this is a referendum in the capital Sanaa on his leadership: "I salute you and your support of legitimacy and the leadership. I reiterate we are with you, behind you, supporting you."

The President continues, "We cannot be shaken by any storm, we will not fall to our knees. We will not fall to any plot." He explains, "We are facing all the odds, the Houthis, the other political parties are working to ruin our countries."

0850 GMT: Claimed footage of a protest on Thursday by students in Daraa in Syria (see 0555 GMT):

0845 GMT: Laura Kasinof and Scott Shane of The New York Times summarises reports (see Thursday's updates) of talks between Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his military rival, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, over a deal in which both men would step down and a transitional Government would take control.

0840 GMT: Al Wasat reports on continuing raids and detentions by Bahraini security forces.

0730 GMT: Al Jazeera English's Anita McNaught summarises the Libyan regime's claims of civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes and the difficulties in verifying them:

0715 GMT: Just a quick reminder --- we are watching for demonstrations, especially after Friday Prayers, in a "Day of Dignity" in Syria, a "Day of Departure" in Yemen, and in Bahrain, even though gatherings have been banned.

0555 GMT: In Syria, the story this morning is of possible concessions by the Assad regime a week after the start of sustained protests, especially in Daraa in the south, and the killing of at least 25 demonstrators by security forces (see separate video).

The regime said it may scrap a 1963 emergency law and State TV announced, "Under a directive by President Bashar al-Assad, all those detained in recent events have been freed."

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the release of all detainees arrested in Daraa. 

Earlier on Thursday, presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban said the ruling Baath party had agreed to study the possibility of lifting the emergency law and announced a string of other reforms, including pay rises for state employees and possible licensing of political parties.

Pro-regime demonstrators went on the streets of Damascus, honking horns and waving Syrian flags and pictures of the President and his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.

0540 GMT: With an inconclusive situation on the ground, "Western" headlines this morning may be dominated by the decision of NATO members, after days of discussion, that the organisation will take command of aerial and naval operations in Libya.

Some advocates of intervention, such as Juan Cole, declare this morning, "Nato Comes to the Rescue". It could be argued, however, that this is a fig leaf of international bureaucracy and politics. The US will stay lead and carry out the bulk of the military intervention, but Washington needs the cloak --- given the Obama Administration's declaration that it is at the front for "days, not weeks" --- that it is handing over command to alliance partners.

Meanwhile, both the aerial and ground campaigns followed established, if muddled and often bloody, patterns last night. The coalition carried out more airstrikes on Tripoli, apparently focusing on regime positions in the eastern suburbs, and the struggle for control of Misurata in the west and Ajdabiya in the east continued.

The twist this morning is a story in The Los Angeles Times, "Libyan Rebels Appear to Take Lead from Kadafi's Playbook":

For a month, gangs of young gunmen have roamed the city [of Benghazi, the base of the opposition in east Libya], rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies.

Over the last several days, the opposition has begun rounding up men accused of fighting as mercenaries for Kadafi's militias as government forces pushed toward Benghazi. It has launched nightly manhunts for about 8,000 people named as government operatives in secret police files seized after internal security operatives fled in the face of the rebellion that ended Kadafi's control of eastern Libya last month.

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