BENGHAZI, Libya, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Libya's rebel leader has sacked his cabinet to try to rebuild confidence in the opposition that was damaged by the murky killing of the rebels' own military commander.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, leader of the rebels' National Transitional Council (NTC), dismissed his 14-member executive committee on Monday after they were held responsible for blunders linked to the assassination of Abdel Fattah Younes.
While the Younes killing brought things to a head, Jalil is also seen as taking the opportunity to get rid of underperforming cabinet members and permit the reappointment of a more effective body.
Younes was killed on July 28 after being taken into custody by his own side for questioning. Opposition leaders have linked his killing to elements loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi but there has been widespread speculation that rivals in the opposition camp could have been responsible.
The killing came as the NTC was winning broader international recognition and it compounded concern among the rebels' Western backers, including the United States, who are frustrated by their lack of unity and nervous about the influence of Islamists.
Those backers have been telling the rebels to put their house in order.
“It was huge mismanagement,” one analyst with knowledge of contacts between the rebels and their Western backers said of the killing of Younes.
The initial part of an investigation has been completed and the dismissal of the cabinet was an acknowledgement that there had been certain procedural errors and an acceptance of some responsibility in general terms, analysts said.
It was also aimed at highlighting a commitment to democracy and transparency, and demonstrating a readiness to act to fix problems.
“Hopefully, this will improve things,” said Omar Sallabi, manager of a political research centre at Garyounis University in the rebels' capital of Benghazi.
“They want to show that if there's something wrong, they'll change it,” Sallabi said.
DEMAND FOR PROSECUTION
The NTC leader had been unhappy for some time with the performance of his executive, said Ashour Shamis, a London-based Libyan opposition activist. Then Younes was killed.
“This thing was the straw which broke the camel's back,” Shamis told Reuters. “There was a lot of criticism of the council and this worried Mr. Abdel Jalil and drove him to dismiss the cabinet.”
He said he hoped the new executive would be more professional. “In the past they chose people on an ad hoc basis ... There were some people who were not suitable for the jobs they were given.”
Younes, a former interior minister under Gaddafi, defected to the rebels soon after the uprising began in February.
His relatives and supporters, including leaders of his large tribe, have demanded a full and transparent investigation into his killing.
They reiterated that demand after the dismissal of the cabinet, which included officials in charge of defence and interior affairs.
“We still insist on bringing those who are involved with the assassination, regardless of their rank or title, to prosecution,” relatives of Younes said in a statement.
The opposition's prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, kept his post and will nominate a new line-up and submit it to the NTC for approval.
The sacking of the entire cabinet was a culturally acceptable way of getting rid of a few people without singling them out, one analyst said.
Many of the members are expected to come back to their old posts and foreign oil companies will be watching to see if Ali Tarhouni, in charge of the oil industry, makes a return.
Jibril himself has been spending a considerable amount of his time abroad, to the frustration of Western backers, and he will be expected to refocus his efforts on organising the opposition.
“He has to come back to Benghazi and stay here and run things from here,” NTC media director Shamsiddin Abdulmolah told Reuters late on Monday. The NTC has been recognised by about 30 countries.
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BENGHAZI, Libya, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Libya's rebel leader has sacked his cabinet to try to rebuild confidence in the opposition that was damaged by the murky killing of the rebels' own military commander.
DUBAI, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, self-appointed guardian of Sunni Islam, is deeply wary of popular uprisings that have convulsed the Arab world, but it has lost patience with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's violent attempts to crush a mainly Sunni protest movement.
Saudi-Syrian relations were rarely warm, with Riyadh riled by Syria's alliance with its Shi'ite regional rival Iran, and they chilled further after the 2005 assassination of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri, a friend of the Saudi royal family.
But until this week Saudi King Abdullah had kept silent on the violence in Syria, which human rights groups say has cost more than 1,600 civilian lives in five months of turmoil.
Now the Saudis have taken a stand, perhaps deciding that Syria's diplomatic isolation and the bloodshed unleashed by its minority Alawite rulers on their majority Sunni opponents have made Damascus a ripe target of diplomatic opportunity.
“They realise the regime in Syria is facing a serious, nationwide, deep rebellion and is therefore vulnerable,” said Beirut-based Middle East analyst Rami Khouri.
The kingdom, which brooks no dissent at home and helped Bahrain crush Shi'ite-led protests in March, recalled its ambassador from Damascus on Monday and denounced the violence in Syria, which Assad blames on armed gangs with foreign backing.
The Saudi decision was announced in a statement in the name of King Abdullah, who warned Syria it faced ruin over the crackdown, among the bloodiest in Arab uprisings that have already brought down the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.
Analysts suggested that Saudi Arabia sees in Assad's woes a chance to strike a blow at Iran, even at the cost of undermining an established ruler, with a chance of chaos -- or even representative government -- in a nation at the heart of the Arab world.
“The benefits of hitting the Iranian connection outweigh the negatives of a new democracy in Syria”, should one emerge in a post-Assad Syria, Khouri said.
IMPACT ON THE STREET
The Saudi shift was prefigured in the regional political blocs over which the kingdom casts a long shadow, and mirrored by the countries and institutions for which its oil wealth and claim to religious rectitude are persuasive.
The Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council -- which includes Bahrain -- on Saturday expressed its “concern and regret” over Syria's crackdown, echoing Western calls for political reform.
A day later, the Arab League, whose new head had visited Assad soon after taking office, called for an immediate halt to violence against demonstrators during military operations in Hama, Deir al-Zor and elsewhere in Syria.
The king's warning to Syria, said one Saudi commentator, has paved the way for more states to pile pressure on Syria's rulers while leaving some margin for them to avoid downfall.
“The statement wasn't isolated from the worldwide movement to put pressure on the Syria regime. Saudi Arabia is important when it comes to future decisions, actions taken to pressure the regime,” said Jamal al-Khashoggi.
“For Saudi Arabia to come out criticising the regime will no doubt have an impact on the Syrian street. It will fuel the tension, fuel the anger ... It will create pressure on Syria to recognise its position for what it is.”
The move has had the immediate effect of cranking up the chorus of condemnation surrounding Syria, already facing sanctions from the United States and Europe.
Bahrain and Kuwait recalled their ambassadors from Damascus hours after the king's message, and Sunni Islam's most venerable institution of learning, al-Azhar in Cairo, called the Syrian assault on protesters an unacceptable “human tragedy.”
The latter voice echoes the Sunni bonds Saudi Arabia was invoking by moving against Syria during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, on the heels of a tank assault against a rebellious, largely Sunni city, Hama, where Assad's father killed thousands to put down an Islamist armed revolt in 1982.
The Assads' Alawite sect is deemed heretical by Saudi Arabia's austere brand of Sunni Islam.
Videos posted on YouTube after the king's message appear to show Syrians in Saudi Arabia cheering the defence of his co-religionists in Syria.
“I don't think it's a coincidence that this [the Saudi decision] happened during Ramadan,” said Gregory Gause, a political science professor at the University of Vermont.
“There is a heightened sense of the importance and role of religion, and people in Syria, an overwhelmingly Sunni country, were sure to read it in a sectarian way,” he said.
“They (the Saudis) increasingly see Iran and the Arab upheavals as requiring them to play their hole card: We're Sunnis, they're Shi'a, and there are more of us than there are of them.”
Anti-Assad protesters have sometimes shouted slogans against Iran and Syria's close Lebanese Shi'ite ally Hezbollah, once wildly popular for its confrontations with Israel.
LONDON, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Earlier this year, Tottenham lawmaker David Lammy pleaded for attention to his struggling constituency after official figures showed it had the highest jobless count in London and the 10th highest in Britain.
Last weekend, he got it -- though not in the way he had hoped -- after a protest over the police shooting of a 29-year-old black man sparked some of the most violent riots in the capital in years.
Politicians, including Lammy, have been quick to blame the riots and looting on Saturday night and “copycat” outbreaks of violence elsewhere in London on Sunday on small groups of criminals.
But locals and commentators warn that high levels of long-term and youth unemployment and cuts in services like youth centres in places like Haringey -- the borough where Tottenham sits -- are creating a tinder box for unrest.
Lammy had hoped the constituency could be made an enterprise zone to attract investment.
“Haringey is one of the poorest places in the UK, in the heart of bustling London,” said Professor Mike Hardy, Executive Director of the Institute of Community Cohesion, which researches and develop policies on integrating communities.
“This is not about race, faith and class pure and simple... One of the most powerful drivers is about the haves and have nots... It's about those who are excluded.”
Some 6,000 people in Tottenham, or 8 percent of the adult population, are claiming job seekers allowance, more than double the UK average. One fifth of those claiming are under 24.
Hardy said high unemployment, coupled with cuts in “cohesion instruments” like sports and community groups, created environments where people felt like outsiders in their own society .
“People learn to live outside the norms... where they have no buy-in to the structures we expect.”
NOT THE POLICE
Many of Britain's most deprived communities have worked hard to build support networks within communities, and with formal structures such as the police, in the wake of riots during the 1980s, including one in Tottenham in 1985. At that time, a police officer was killed during riots sparked by the death of a woman whose home was being searched by police.
Similarly, Saturday's protests, which Lammy said were later “hijacked” by criminals who set fire to buildings, looted shops and attacked police officers, were triggered by the killing of a 29-year-old black man by police last week.
Some have blamed the police for acting too slowly and not listening properly to community leaders who warned of potential violence, but local officials and community groups say a lack of trust in the police is not the key driver for unrest.
“Relationships between the local police force and the community have improved dramatically since the Broadwater Farm riots of 26 years ago,” Lammy wrote in a newspaper column.
“One local sergeant can name almost every teenager on the estate on his beat and they know him.”
The bigger issue is a lack of purpose and lack of jobs, they say.
NOTHING TO DO
“It's unacceptable. They shouldn't have started looting,” said Erika Lopez, a 19-year-old university student and volunteer with Haringey's Young People Empowered, a youth network in the borough.
But she painted a telling picture of an area in which services face more and more cuts, with summer activities for young people like cooking, music and sports all slashed.
“Especially during the summer we have nothing to do... It feels like they've taken away the things that matter,” she said.
Britain has embarked on an unprecedented level of spending cuts in an effort to drive down its budget deficit, with local councils slashing a host of services from elderly care to libraries.
Haringey's youth services budget was cut by 75% this year, as part of 84 million pounds in budget cuts planned by the council over the next three years.
On top of youth unemployment another worry is long-term unemployment, which has also increased sharply in Britain and is described by one leading think-tank as “worryingly high”.
“Someone needs to help us out, we ain't getting no help and then they wonder why things turn out like this,” said Tottenham resident Jason, 26, who left school at 16 and has been unemployed ever since.
“Most of my friends are in the same position as me (unemployed),” he said. “That's not good. For one, there's nowhere for us to hang around.
“When we do hang around together in groups, we're a gang. when we're dispersed, we're doing something dodgy, suspicion of this, suspicion of that, there is no way to win, it's a lose-lose situation.”
PROSPECTS NOT LIKELY TO IMPROVE SOON
In Brixton in south London, home to some of the most violent riots during the 1980s sparked by racial tensions between police and locals at a time of soaring unemployment, the picture is similar.
“I've got bricklaying skills, got plastering skills but everywhere I am looking is just, like, no vacancies.
A fierce blaze guts a store after looters rampaged through a shopping mall in Woolwich, southeast London, August 9, 2011. Rioting and looting spread across and beyond London on Monday as hooded youths set fire to cars and buildings, smashed shop windows and hurled bottles and stones at police in a third night of violence in Britain's worst unrest in decades. REUTERS
DUBAI, Aug 8, 2011 (AFP) - The decision of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to recall their envoys from Damascus reflects a tough new Arab stand on the Syrian regime's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
“This is the first clear toughening” of the position of Saudi Arabia, the Sunni Arab heavyweight and leader of the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said Paul Salem, director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Centre.
King Abdullah on Sunday sent a firm message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, telling him to “stop the killing machine and the bloodshed... before it is too late,” after months-long Saudi silence on the protests.
The Saudi monarch also urged the Syrian government to introduce “comprehensive and quick reforms.””The future of Syria lies between two options: either Syria chooses willingly to resort to reason, or faces being swept into deep chaos, God forbid,” the ultra-conservative state's ruler warned.
On Monday, Kuwait followed suit, as Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Sabah announced that the Gulf state was also recalling its envoy from Damascus as he slammed the “bloodshed” in Syria.
With neighbouring Bahrain also taking the same action, Sheikh Mohammed said that foreign ministers of the six-nation GCC would meet soon to discuss the crisis in Syria.
“This is an indication of a movement in the Gulf, at the level of people and governments, to put pressure on the Syrian regime,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Anwar al-Rasheed.
“It does not seem that Saudi Arabia has really put its weight and money behind the revolution. So far, this is the first indication that they are taking a tough stand,” Salem told AFP.
“We don't know yet if it will translate into direct financial support to the rebels,” he added.
Saudi political science lecturer Sadaqa Fadhel said that King Abdullah's message reflected a “firm Arab and Muslim position” which could lead to further pressure.
“The Saudi position is just a warning for now, but the kingdom could take tougher measures,” he said.
An editorial in the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan said the king's statement “drew the path for the Syrian regime to exit the crisis ... as it includes a clear call to use reason, end bloodshed and introduce serious reforms.”The call appeared to have followed “contacts which hit a brick wall.”Ties between Riyadh and Damascus have hit rough patches in the past, notably after the 2005 assassination of Saudi Arabia's protege in Lebanon, former premier Rafiq Hariri, at a time when Syrian troops controlled the country.
But the absolute monarchy had so far shied away from declaring support for pro-democracy uprisings which have swept several Arab countries, apparently for fear of a knock-on effect.
“We do see a response to Arab and Sunni public opinion... The leader of the Sunni world cannot continue to say nothing,” said Salem.
“Events have passed the point of being ignored. Even though Saudi Arabia is not enthusiastic about revolutions, it has to take a stand,” he said.
“They are worried that if the revolution succeeds in Syria, it could reach Saudi Arabia,” he said, although protest calls in the kingdom have fizzled out, apart from smallscale Shiite demonstrations in its Eastern Province.
The Arab League on Sunday made its first official statement on the unrest in Syria, calling on Damascus to “immediately” stop the violence that has raged since mid-March.
The League's secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, also urged an “impartial probe” into the bloodshed, warning against “chaos” and “religious strife” in Syria.
LONDON, Aug 8, 2011 (AFP) - Two night of riots that rocked London point to deeper social unease in poor areas of the British capital, community leaders said Monday, but police and politicians said much of the violence was opportunistic.
The touchpaper for the unrest was lit on Thursday when police shot dead Mark Duggan, a resident of the multi-ethnic district of Tottenham in north London, after officers stopped the taxi in which he was a passenger.
Hooded youths set fire to police cars and a double decker bus in Tottenham on Saturday night after a peaceful protest against the death descended into violence.
A block of 26 flats was completely gutted by fire after the carpet showroom on the ground floor was set alight, sending terrified families fleeing into the street.
The violence then spread to other parts of London on Sunday, including Brixton in south London, another racially mixed district which like Tottenham was rocked by riots in the 1980s.
Young men were seen carrying new televisions out of some shops, while others tried on looted sports shoes.
The scenes in Tottenham evoked memories of severe rioting on the Broadwater Farm housing estate there in 1985, sparked when a local woman died after police raided her home. In the ensuing violence, a policeman was hacked to death.
A quarter of a century on, with Britain's economic growth almost at a standstill and government cuts to public spending hitting areas of high unemployment like Tottenham, some residents said they saw the seeds of more unrest.
Osagyefo Tongogara, a community activist who was in Tottenham during the Broadwater Farm riots, said: “There are a lot of parallels with 1985. I don't call it rioting, I call it rebellion.
“People are angry and frustrated. If you have a community with high levels of unemployment and cutbacks in welfare then this is what you are going to get,” he told AFP.
“We are told that this is a global financial crisis and that we are all in this together but why should we be?
“I don't know everything about the crisis surrounding this young man's death. But you can't just put it (the unrest) down to that or down to criminality. That's a simplistic explanation for this.”But Chuka Umunna, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party who represents a district near Brixton, said Monday that the “anger and frustration arising from the tragic death” of Duggan was no excuse for the violence that followed.
“It's shocking, it's completely opportunistic and it's totally unacceptable,” he said.
“Those in the community and local businesses pay the price for this kind of random violence and people will not put up with it.”London's deputy mayor Kit Malthouse, who watched Sunday's violence unfold from the central police control room, said he saw no evidence of a protest, just looting.
“We're talking about opportunists,” he told BBC television.
“There's no coordinated action up there, there's no Mr Big, there's no sense of protest, it's criminality pure and simple. We need to be careful in the media and in politics not to create this atmosphere of excuse for what happened.”The incident that sparked the Tottenham violence was shrouded in mystery on Monday.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is investigating the shooting, initially said 29-year-old father-of-four Duggan was killed in an exchange of fire.
Doubt has now been thrown on the initial version of events. The IPCC were even forced to issue a statement to deny rumours that Duggan had been shot in the head, “execution-style”. Ballistic results were expected on Tuesday.
Professor Gus John of the University of London, a Grenada-born academic who has written extensively about race issues in Britain, said dismissing the rioters as thugs was “fatuous” and failed to acknowledge the deeper issues.
“When I hear Home Secretary Theresa May saying this, it is almost identical to what the then home secretary Willie Whitelaw said during the Brixton riots of 1981. Such labels don't solve anything,” he told AFP.
“The question is, what disposes these young men to be like that? Why is the largest section of the young offender population in Britain young and black?”However, John said that the black community needed to take a critical look at its reaction to Duggan's death.
He said the police who had stopped the taxi Duggan was travelling in had been acting “apparently legitimately” as part of Operation Trident, set up to prevent young black men killing other young black men with guns.
“How can the black community want something to be done about this kind of violence and then when something is done, react like this?” he asked.
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