Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arab states back Libya no-fly zone against Gaddafi, Posted by Meosha Eaton

* Arab League decision a surprise
* Government troops attack Misrata
* Rebels pushed back in the east
(Updates with Arab League decision)

By Michael Georgy and Yasmine Saleh
RAS LANUF, Libya/CAIRO March 12 (Reuters) - Arab countries appealed to the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone on Libya as pro-government troops backed by warplanes fought to drive rebels from remaining strongholds in the west of the country.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said the League, meeting in Cairo on Saturday, had decided that "serious crimes and great violations" committed by the government of Muammar Gaddafi against his people had stripped it of legitimacy.

The League's call for a no-fly zone could provide the regional endorsement that NATO has said is needed for any military action to curb Gaddafi. The League also said it had opened contacts with the Libyan rebel leadership.

Events on the ground, however, are moving more quickly than international diplomatic efforts. The EU and the United States have both balked at proposing a no-fly zone as Gaddafi steps up his effort to crush the uprising against his four-decade rule.

Pro-Gaddafi troops unleashed an assault on the town of Misrata, the only rebel outpost between the capital and the eastern front around the oil town of Ras Lanuf.

"We are hearing shelling. We have no choice but to fight," rebel spokesman Gemal said by telephone from Misrata. "I can hear loud explosions," said a resident who would only give his name as Mohammad. "Everybody is rushing home, the shops have closed and the rebels are taking up positions."

Mussa Ibrahim, a government spokesman in Tripoli, could neither confirm nor deny a military operation was under way.

"There is a hard core of al Qaeda fighters there," he said. "It looks like a Zawiyah scenario. Some people will give up, some will disappear ... Tribal leaders are talking to them. Those who stay behind, we will deal with them accordingly."

It took a week of repeated assaults by government troops, backed by tanks and air power, to crush the uprising in Zawiyah, a much smaller town 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli.

While the death toll in Zawiyah is unknown, much of the town was destroyed, with buildings around the main square showing gaping holes blown by tank rounds and rockets. Gaddafi's forces bulldozed a cemetery where rebel fighters had been buried.

Gaddafi's guns are now trained on Misrata. "We are bracing for a massacre," said Mohammad Ahmed, a rebel fighter. "We know it will happen and Misrata will be like Zawiyah, but we believe in God. We do not have the capabilities to fight Gaddafi and his forces. They have tanks and heavy weapons and we have our belief and trust in God."

Further east, Gaddafi's troops pushed insurgents out of Ras Lanuf, a day after making an amphibious assault on the oil port and pitting tanks and jets against rebels armed with light weapons and machineguns mounted on pick-up trucks.

Libyan troops were waving posters of Gaddafi and painting over rebel graffiti in Ras Lanuf later in the day when foreign journalists arrived on an official visit.

Libya's flat desert terrain favours the use of heavy armour and air power. The Libyan army is also better trained and more disciplined than the rag-tag, though enthusiastic, rebel force.

The rebels have repeatedly called for foreign countries to impose a no-fly zone to stop air strikes on cities, while insisting they do not want military intervention on the ground.
Arab League Secretary General Moussa told a news conference after Cairo talks: "The Arab League has officially requested the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone against any military action against the Libyan people."

It was not immediately clear how Russia and China, who have veto rights in the Security Council and have publicly opposed a no-fly zone, would react to a call for action from a regional body; the more so since the call was, according to Omani Foreign Minister Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, backed unanimously.

The terms of any no-fly zone would have to be agreed carefully and time may be working against the rebels. Its general aim would be to stop Gaddafi using his air force in attacking rebel forces, transport and reconnaissance.

President Barack Obama said the United States and its allies were "tightening the noose" on Gaddafi and that he had not taken any options off the table, a hint at military action. But there is little enthusiasm in Washington for enforcing a no-fly zone without United Nations backing.

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Friday sidestepped a British and French call to draw up a U.N. Security Council resolution to authorise a no-fly zone over Libya. Instead, they called for a three-way summit with the African Union and the Arab League to discuss the crisis further.

Western states' reluctance to intervene in an Arab conflict, amid pleas from the rebels and now the League, might win them few friends in a Middle East now in a period of transformation. "The risks of intervening are great. But the Arabs in revolt share a fundamental value with people in the West -- the call of freedom. Whoever does not honour this debt will find himself, five or six years from now, back sitting with Gaddafi in his Bedouin tent," wrote Tomas Avenarius in the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"If Gaddafi goes on slaughtering his people, the Americans and Europeans will have to get involved in the end. Their own claims to morality and the calls from supporters of human rights ... will not let thousands die in Libya while politicians look on idly from the far side of the Mediterranean." Ahmed, a rebel fighter in Misrata, said: "The fighters here and the people of Misrata hold the international community responsible for the fall of Zawiyah and for all the deaths that happened. Gaddafi is responsible, but they are partners in crime.

"They do not care for us. All they care for is the oil, and it seems they are waiting to see who is going to win so that they can deal with them, whether it's Gaddafi or us. They do not want to burn their bridges with him. All they do is say they are assessing the situation. Why are they taking so long?"

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Zawiyah, Mohammed Abbas in Brega, Tom Pfeiffer in Benghazi, Mariam Karouny in Ras Jdir, Tunisia, Writing by Jon Hemming and Ralph Boulton; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Michelle Obama The 1st First Lady of Fashion

US to help Egypt and Tunisia Recover

Friday, March 11, 2011

* Tsunami reaches more than 6 feet in California, Posted by Meosha Eaton

* Tsunami reaches more than 6 feet in California
* Thousands evacuate in California
* Hawaii residents told to move inland
* Ecuador takes extreme precautions

(Updates with Ecuador, Mexico tsunami preparations)

By Peter Henderson and Alexandra Valencia
OAKLAND, Calif./QUITO, March 11 (Reuters) - Thousands of people fled their homes along the California coast on Friday as a tsunami triggered by the massive earthquake in Japan began hitting the U.S. West Coast after rolling through Hawaii.

Initial reports from U.S. civil defense officials and residents of coastal communities suggested the force of the tsunami, a giant wall of water, had dissipated as it sped across the Pacific Ocean toward North America. The massive 8.9 magnitude quake in Japan triggered tsunami warnings for most of the Pacific basin. Advisories or warnings were in effect from Canada all the way down the Pacific coast of South America.

Tidal surges in the Hawaiian island chain were generally little higher than normal, officials said, and there were no reports of injuries or severe inland property damage.
An Obama administration official said Hawaii appeared to be out of danger, but some risk remained for the U.S. West Coast.

"I think the enormous fears that were there hours ago, for some of us hours ago, has diminished greatly, which is quite a relief for all of us," White House chief of staff Bill Daley said. "There's always the possibility that something may happen after, so people are watching it now," he added.

Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was more cautious. "The problem is you're never sure until the waves come in," he told CNN.
Tsunami waves crashing ashore in the northern Californian city of Crescent City were more than 6 feet (2 metres), the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

"They are starting to roll in," said Jordan Scott, spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency. He cautioned it could take 10 to 12 hours for the effects of the quake to completely fade.

Thousands of residents were being evacuated along the California coast, including some 6,000 near the surfing town of Santa Cruz, civil defense officials said.
Scott said people were also being evacuated in Del Norte and San Mateo counties. Del Norte is the northernmost California coastal county and San Mateo includes much of Silicon Valley, although the technology center is well inland. Authorities in the neighboring state of Oregon closed schools along the coast and advised residents to evacuate.

In Hawaii, 3,800 miles (6,200 km) from Japan, the main airports on at least three of the major islands -- Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii -- were shut down as a precaution, and the U.S. Navy ordered all warships in Pearl Harbor to remain in port to support rescue missions as needed. Civil defense sirens blared statewide, starting shortly before 10 p.m. local time, and police with bullhorns urged residents near shore to higher ground.

John Cummings, a spokesman for emergency management in Honolulu, said no injuries or property damage had been reported after a series of four tsunami waves had hit the Hawaii's capital or the rest of the island of Oahu. President Barack Obama, a native of Hawaii, was notified of the massive Japanese quake at 4 a.m./0900 GMT and instructed FEMA to be prepared to help affected U.S. states and territories, the White House said.

Ecuador took extreme precautions after President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency across the Andean nation on national television and urged residents to move inland.

The area at risk includes the Galapagos Islands -- a popular tourist destination known for its incredible wildlife, including endangered species, that inspired British naturalist Charles Darwin's evolution theory in the 19th century. State oil company Petroecuador halted product shipments.

On Easter Island, a Chilean territory in the South Pacific, authorities planned to move residents to higher ground, in preparation for a possible tsunami on Friday afternoon.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, whose country was hit by a 8.8 magnitude quake and ensuing tsunamis that killed more than 500 people a year ago, told Chileans to remain alert. Peruvian officials said they were waiting until late afternoon to decide if they would order evacuations from low-lying coastal areas such as the port city of Callao.

Many ports along Mexico's western coast were closed, including Los Cabos and Salina Cruz in southern Oaxaca, the only oil-exporting terminal on the country's Pacific side.
State-run oil company Pemex's biggest refinery, Antonio Dovali Jaime, is about two miles (3 km) from the coast near Salina Cruz but a spokesman said operations were normal. Canada advised authorities in parts of British Columbia to evacuate marinas, beaches and other low-lying areas.

(Additional reporting by Suzanne Roig and Jorene Barut in Honolulu, Peter Henderson in San Francisco, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Simon Gardner in Santiago; Anahi Rama, Cyntia Barrera Diaz, Mica Rosenberg and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico; writing by Frances Kerry and Ross Colvin; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

US still faces tsunami risk, White House says, Posted by Meosha Eaton

(Updates with full Daley comment)

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - The U.S. West Coast and Hawaii still face the possibility of risk from a quake-driven tsunami that passed Hawaii without major impact, White House chief of staff Bill Daley said on Friday.

"The tsunami wave has gone through Hawaii and there does not seem to be any enormous impact, which is extremely encouraging," Daley said at a meeting of the President's Export Council.

The tsunami originated off the coast of Japan from an earthquake that reached a magnitude of 8.9. "There's always the possibility that something may happen after, so people are watching it now," Daley said.

"There's some anticipation of what's going to happen on the West Coast. But I think the enormous fears that were there hours ago, for some of us hours ago, has diminished greatly, which is quite a relief for all of us," he said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Will Dunham)

Oil slides after quake, tsunami slam Japan, Posted by Meosha Eaton

* U.S. crude below $100
* Earthquake Japan's largest in 140 years
* Some refineries, nuclear power plants, manufacturers shut

(Updates prices)
By Ikuko Kurahone

LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) - Oil slid by on Friday, with U.S. crude falling below $100, after an earthquake rocked Japan, created a 10-metre tsunami and shut down dozens of plants in the world's third-largest oil consumer. The oil market was also keeping an eye on a planned day of demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and violence in Libya, which has disrupted its oil exports.

U.S. crude fell to as low as $99.01 a barrel and was trading at $100.44 a by 1544 GMT. ICE Brent crude fell $1.40 to $114.07 a barrel. It has fallen from a 2-1/2-year high of $119.79 on Feb. 24. Metals and soft commodities also fell.

Japan was hit by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, the largest since observations began in the late 19th century. About 200-300 bodies were found, said police in Miyagi, northern Japan, where the quakes and the tsunami hit the hardest. The death toll was expected to rise.

"We need to think what the potential impact on Japanese economy from the quake will be and what the impact on global economy will be," Olivier Jakob with Petromatrix said. "That may weigh on oil demand from Japan and the oil price." Japan is the third-largest energy consumer after China and the United States and imports almost all its energy needs.

Some refineries and nuclear power plants were shut, and analysts pointed out the shutdowns might increase demand for imports of refined products and fuels for electricity generators.

"Short-term the disruption in activity will be clearly negative for Japanese oil demand, but you may find that post the initial impact of the tsunami, there will be a need to deliver oil products to meet demand if you suffer losses in refinery output," said Harry Tchilinguirian, BNP Paribas' head of commodity markets strategy.

The earthquake triggered a 10-metre tsunami that swept away everything in its path, including houses, cars, ships and farm buildings, and then spread across the Pacific.
The Japanese government declared an emergency at nuclear power plants and evacuated thousands of residents. No radiation leak had been reported so far.
Jakob and Tchilinguirian also pointed out the potential for increased demand for natural gas and fuel oil from power producers to compensate for shutdowns of nuclear capacity.

In the Middle East, police flooded the streets of Saudi Arabia's capital to deter a planned day of demonstrations, while a small Shi'ite demonstrated was reported in Hofuf, in the oil-producing east.

In Libya, forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi entered the oil port of Ras Lanuf in the east of the country and were fighting for control of the town, rebels said on Friday. "Looking further forward it would be optimistic to expect Libyan oil production to return to normal levels this year," Lawrence Eagles with J.P. Morgan said in a research note.

Elsewhere in the region, Bahraini police blocked several thousand protestors from reaching the royal palace. In Yemen, tens of thousands of protestors marched in the capital, and protests turned violent in the southern port city of Aden. Kuwaiti riot police fired tear gas to break up a small, peaceful demonstration by stateless Arabs demanding greater rights.

European shares fell to a three-month low after the quake in Japan and on growing unrest in the Arab world. U.S. retail sales rose 1 percent, the largest gain since October. But it did not reverse the fall in oil prices.

(Reporting by Ikuko Kurahone, additional reporting by Alejandro Barbajosa in Singapore; editing by James Jukwey and Jane Baird)