Archive for February, 2011

February 28, 2011

Banpu unphased by TLL lawsuit

Cached:  http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/02/28/business/Banpu-unphased-by-TLL-lawsuit-30149616.html

By Nalin Viboonchart
The Nation
Published on February 28, 2011

 

Banpu is confident that a lawsuit claiming damages of Bt63.5 billion, filed against it by Thai-Lao Lignite (TLL), will not affect development of the 1,878-megawatt (MW) Hongsa power plant project in Laos.

Banpu recently secured a loan worth US$2.78 billion (approximately Bt94.62 billion) to finance the project.

Banpu CEO Chanin Vongkusolkit said that since Hongsa was developed by Hongsa Power Co (HPC), not Banpu, TLL’s lawsuit would not disrupt development.

Banpu holds a 40-per-cent stake in HPC, with Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding holding 40 per cent and Lao Holding State Enterprise with the remaining 20 per cent.

TLL, the Lao government’s former concessionaire for the Hongsa power project, filed a lawsuit against Banpu in 2007.

It alleged that Banpu and its subsidiaries deceived TLL into entering into an agreement in order to gain access to information about coalmine conces?sions and feasibility study reports on the lignite-fired power-plant project. As a result, TLL misinformed the Lao government, leading to the concession termination. The government later awarded the concession to the Banpu consortium.

Chanin said Banpu estimated it would take more than two years to complete the hearings, since TLL’s CEO Siva Nganthavee had been subject to a receivership order by the Central Bankruptcy Court and the official receiver would take his place in pursuing the civil case.

Chanin also denied TLL’s allegations, saying TLL invited Banpu to invest in the Hongsa power project in late 2004. However, there were certain disagreements during the development of the project and the agreement was terminated by TLL in July 2006.

In 2006, the Lao government was worried about delays to the Hongsa project. It terminated the mining concession and power project agreement with TLL and called for a new bid process. Three Thai companies including Banpu joined the bidding. About three months later, Banpu was awarded the right to conduct a feasibility study on developing the Hongsa project.

“Banpu puts much emphasis on good corporate governance, having adhered to integrity, transparency and fairness,” Chanin said.

According to Noppol Milinthanggoon, managing director of Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding, the Hongsa power project is about 30 per cent complete.

HPC last year secured a syndicated loan from nine banks, including Bangkok Bank, Siam Commercial Bank, Kasikorn Bank, and the Government Savings Bank, to finance the project. The power plant is set to be commissioned in 2015.

Despite Banpu’s confidence, James Berger, a lawyer from Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP, which is responsible for TLL’s litigation, is bullish on the lawsuit.

TLL also commenced arbitration against the Lao government in 2007.

In November 2009, UNCITRAL, the core UN legal body for international trade law, ruled that the Lao government improperly breached the agreement with TLL and ordered Laos to pay US$57.2 million (Bt1.75 billion) to the company.

The government is still refusing to pay the award, leading the law firm to commence enforcement proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). It subsequently filed similar actions in London, Paris and New York.

The French courts in July 2010 confirmed the ruling. The judgement from the New York Convention is expected to be made this month, said Berger.

Berger said Banpu agreed to pay the Lao government’s legal expenses in connection with any claims brought by TLL as a result of Laos’ termination of its concession. This, he said, pro?vided convincing evidence that Banpu benefited from the termination.

He said there was also a memorandum to the prime minister of Laos in which the chairman of the Committee for Planning and Investment stat?ed that selecting a new investor by way of an auction was not desirable because the government would have to spend a long time preparing documents. And Banpu had all the information needed to decide to develop the project.

When TLL terminated the agreement with Banpu, it requested that Banpu return all information concerning the Hongsa project, but Banpu refused to do so, he said.

“Laos is heavily dependent on foreign investment for its infrastructure development. The refusal to honour the arbi?tration award is really a fundamental breach of trust that may become an obstacle to Laos’ ability to lure foreign investors,” he said.

A Thai lawyer from TLL said the company was more confident about the suit against Banpu after the arbitration ruling.

TLL insisted construction in 2006 was on track and there was no reason for the termination.

Regarding the civil lawsuit against Banpu, TLL claimed damages of Bt63.5 billion. Including interest of 7.5 per cent per year, the amount now totals Bt80 billion.

Echoing Chanin, the lawyer said he expected the case between TLL and Banpu to be concluded in 2012 or 2013.

February 28, 2011

Could the next Mideast uprising happen in Saudi Arabia?

Cached:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/25/AR2011022503188_2.html

By Rachel Bronson

Friday, February 25, 2011; 1:00 PM

 

Tunisia. Egypt. Yemen. Bahrain. And now the uprising and brutality in Libya. Could Saudi Arabia be next?

The notion of a revolution in the Saudi kingdom seems unthinkable. Yet, a Facebook page is calling for a “day of rage” protest on March 11. Prominent Saudis are urging political and social reforms. And the aging monarch, King Abdullah, has announced new economic assistance to the population, possibly to preempt any unrest.

Is the immovable Saudi regime, a linchpin of U.S. security interests in the region, actually movable?

Revolutions are contagious in the Middle East – and not just in the past few weeks. In the 1950s, when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser swept into power, nationalist protests ignited across the region, challenging the leadership in Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and eventually Libya and beyond.

A shocked Saudi royal family watched helplessly as one of its members, directly in line to become king, claimed solidarity with the revolution and took up residence in Egypt for a few years. That prince, Talal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, a son of the kingdom’s founder and a half-brother of the king, is now reintegrated into the Saudi elite – and on hand to remind the monarchy that it is not immune to regional revolts. “Unless problems facing Saudi Arabia are solved, what happened and is still happening in some Arab countries, including Bahrain, could spread to Saudi Arabia, even worse,” Prince Talal recently told the BBC.

The unrest in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen (to the kingdom’s west, east and south) plays on the Saudis’ greatest fear: encirclement. The Saudis aligned with the United States instead of colonial Britain in the early 20th century in part to defend against creeping British hegemony. During the Cold War the monarchy hunkered down against its Soviet-backed neighbors out of fear of being surrounded by communist regimes. And since the end of the Cold War, the overarching goal of Saudi foreign policy has been countering the spread of Iranian influence in all directions – Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Yemen.

When King Abdullah returned to Saudi Arabia last week after three months of convalescence in the United States and Morocco, one of the first meetings he took was with his ally King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain to discuss the turmoil in his tiny nation. Sunni-ruled Bahrain, less than 20 miles from Saudi Arabia’s oil- and Shiite-rich Eastern Province, has been a longtime recipient of Saudi aid. It has also been a focus of Iranian interests. The meeting was a clear signal of support for reigning monarchs, and an indication that the Saudi leadership is concerned about the events unfolding in Bahrain and throughout the region.

Further emphasizing that concern, Saudi leaders were reportedly furious that the Obama administration ultimately supported regime change in Egypt, because of the precedent it could set. Before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak left office, the Saudis offered to compensate his faltering regime for any withdrawal of U.S. economic assistance – aiming to undermine Washington’s influence in Egypt and reduce its leverage.

As Saudi leaders look across the region, they have reason to believe that they won’t find themselves confronting revolutionaries at their own doorstep. The upheaval in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere is driven by popular revulsion with sclerotic, corrupt leadership. These countries do not have clear succession plans in place. They do have organized opposition movements, both inside and outside their borders, that are exploiting new means and technologies to challenge the governments. Their leaders are vulnerable to independent militaries. Their economies are weak, and educational opportunities are few.

These conditions seem to be present in Saudi Arabia, too, but the country is different in some important ways. First, its economic situation is far better. Egypt’s per capita gross domestic product is slightly more than $6,000, and Tunisia’s is closer to $9,000. For Saudi Arabia, it is roughly $24,000 and climbing (up from $9,000 a little more than a decade ago). The Saudi regime also has resources to spend on its people. Oil prices are high and rising. On Wednesday, the king announced massive social benefits packages totaling more than $35 billion and including unemployment relief, housing subsidies, funds to support study abroad and a raft of new job opportunities created by the state. Clearly the king is nervous, but he has goodies to spread around.

Poverty is real in Saudi Arabia, but higher oil prices and slowly liberalizing economic policies help mask it. When I met then-Crown Prince Abdullah in 1999, he told a group of us that unemployment was “the number one national security problem that Saudi Arabia faced.” He was right then and remains right now. According to an analysis by Banque Saudi Fransi, joblessness among Saudis under age 30 hovered around 30 percent in 2009. Still, many of the king’s key policy decisions – joining the World Trade Organization, creating new cities with more liberal values, promoting education and particularly study abroad – have sought to solve these problems. The country may be on a very slow path toward modernization, but it is not sliding backward like many others in the Middle East.

Another difference between Saudi Arabia and its neighbors is that the opposition has been largely co-opted or destroyed. For the past 10 years, the Saudi government has systematically gone after al-Qaeda cells on its territory and has rooted out suspected supporters in the military and the national guard, especially after a series of attacks in 2003. Key opposition clerics have been slowly brought under the wing of the regime. This has involved some cozying up to unsavory people, but the threat from the radical fringe is lower now than it has been in the recent past. And the Saudis have been quite clever about convincing the country’s liberal elites that the regime is their best hope for a successful future.

The loyalty of the security services is always an important predictor of a regime’s stability, and here the Saudis again have reason for some confidence. Senior members of the royal family and their sons are in control of all the security forces – the military, the national guard and the religious police. They will survive or fall together. There can be no equivalent to the Egyptian military taking over as a credible, independent institution. In Saudi Arabia, the government has a monopoly on violence. Indeed, the Saudis are taking no chances and have arrested people trying to establish a new political party calling for greater democracy and protections for human rights.

Finally, a succession plan is in place. Saudi Arabia has had five monarchs in the past six decades, since the death of its founder. There is not a succession vacuum as there was in Egypt and Tunisia. Many Saudis may not like Prince Nayaf, the interior minister, but they know he is likely to follow King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan on the throne. And there is a process, if somewhat opaque, for choosing the king after him.

The United States has a great deal at stake in Saudi Arabia, though Americans often look at the Saudis with distaste. As one senior Saudi government official once asked me: “What does the United States share with a country where women can’t drive, the Koran is the constitution and beheadings are commonplace?” It’s a tough question, but the answer, quite simply, is geopolitics – and that we know and like Saudi’s U.S.-educated liberal elites.

The Saudis have been helpful to us. They are reasonably peaceful stalwarts. They don’t attack their neighbors, although they do try to influence them, often by funding allies in local competitions for power. They are generally committed to reasonable oil prices. For example, although their oil is not a direct substitute for Libyan sweet crude, the Saudis have offered to increase their supply to offset any reduction in Libyan production due to the violence there. We work closely with them on counterterrorism operations. And the Saudis are a counterbalance to Iran. We disagree on the Israel-Palestinian issue, but we don’t let it get in the way of other key interests.

Washington does not want the Saudi monarchy to fall. The Obama administration would like it to change over time and should encourage a better system of governance with more representation and liberal policies and laws. But revolutions aren’t necessarily going to help those we hope will win.

It is dangerous business to predict events in the Middle East, especially in times of regional crisis. It’s hard to block out flashbacks of President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 New Year’s Eve statement that Iran under the shah was an island of stability in a troubled region – only months before that stability was shattered. Still, the key components of rapid, massive, revolutionary change are not present in Saudi Arabia. At least, not yet.

Rachel Bronson is the author of “Thicker Than Oil: America’s Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia” and is the vice president of programs and studies at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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February 28, 2011

Korea Exchange to Study ‘Every Option’ Amid Global Bourse M&A

Cached:  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-27/korea-exchange-to-study-every-option-seeks-japan-china-trading-links.html

By Saeromi Shin – Feb 26, 2011 10:00 PM ET

South Korea’s stock exchange plans to consider “every option” including cross-trading and strategic alliances to respond to mergers and acquisitions among global bourses.

Korea Exchange Inc. plans to meet with its Tokyo and Shanghai counterparts this year to discuss cross-trading ventures, Kim Bong Soo, chairman of the Korean bourse, said in an e-mailed statement today.

“If Korea is isolated from the regrouping of global exchanges, KRX could become only a small- or medium-sized exchange in Asia,” the closely held exchange said. The bourse plans to set up cross-trading partnerships with exchanges in a similar time zone, such as those in Japan and Hong Kong, before seeking other opportunities, it said.

Rising competition from alternative trading venues, faster systems and increasing globalization of capital markets had driven almost $100 billion in exchange mergers in the past 10 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Deutsche Boerse AG announced a $9.53 billion takeover of New York-based NYSE Euronext on Feb. 15, less than a week after London Stock Exchange Group Plc agreed to purchase TMX Group Inc. of Toronto. Singapore Exchange Ltd. offered to buy Australia’s ASX Ltd. in a cash and share deal in October valued at A$8.4 billion ($8.5 billion).

South Korea, home to the world’s 13th-largest stock market, also needs to start “thinking” about an initial public offering because it’s harder for an unlisted exchange to forge alliances with publicly traded global exchanges, Kim said. The bourse said in August 2007 that it suspended plans to sell its shares after the government called for the operator to surrender its right to review companies for listing or delisting.

Expanding Overseas

Korea Exchange also needs capital to boost its overseas business, according to the statement, which didn’t provide further details on a share sale.

South Korea’s stock exchange is aiming to sell its information-technology system to 30 developing nations and is seeking to lure more foreign companies to list in its stock market to diversify revenue.

Korea Exchange is working with Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Uzbekistan bourses to provide systems including platforms for stock trading, market operation, data and derivatives clearing, Park Jong Kil, head of the exchange’s management strategy division, said on Jan. 19.

The Korean bourse helped Laos, Southeast Asia’s smallest economy, open a stock exchange, in which Korea Exchange owns a 49 percent stake. The Korean company provided information technology systems and trained employees in exchange for the stake. It has a similar venture agreement with Cambodia, and aims to open a stock market in the nation in July, Park said.

Korea Exchange posted revenue of 367 billion won ($326 million) in 2009, compared with 296 billion won in 2008, according to a finance ministry website that releases information on government agencies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Saeromi Shin in Seoul at sshin15@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim McDonald at jmcdonald8@bloomberg.net; Darren Boey at dboey@bloomberg.net

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Korea Exchange to gear up for globalization: chief

Yonhap News

Cached:  http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/business/2011/02/25/44/0503000000AEN20110225008800320F.HTML

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SEOUL, Feb. 27 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s stock exchange will step up efforts to lure more foreign companies and forge partnerships with overseas bourse operators in an effort to cope with ongoing consolidation among the world’s major exchanges, its chief said Sunday.

“We need to grow larger in order to cope with the rapidly changing global environment,” Kim Bong-soo, chairman of the Korea Exchange (KRX), said in an interview with reporters. “More efforts will be made to attract foreign blue-chip companies.”

As part of the efforts, Kim said the KRX is looking into introducing real-time cross-border trading with bourses around the world.

“Investors will feel that the world is a single market in less than five years. The KRX is actively looking into introducing real-time cross-border trading with bourses in countries such as Brazil, Turkey and Japan,” said Kim.

Kim’s remarks come amid a growing wave of consolidations among the world’s major stock exchanges, including the recent tie-up between Germany’s Deutsche Boerse and the United States’ New York Stock Exchange, which is forecast to overshadow their smaller counterparts.

The combined market cap and sales of the two bourses is projected to be 16 times and 24 times larger, respectively, than the KRX.

The KRX plans to first start talks with the bourse operators of Tokyo and Hong Kong ahead of discussing real-time trade with more distant countries, Kim said, adding the relatively small time difference between Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong is likely to make the plan feasible in the future.

A regular meeting among the bourse chiefs of Tokyo and Shanghai is also slated to kick off this year, he said.

Kim also stressed the importance of listing more blue-chip shares on the local bourse to attract investors to South Korea.

“The listing of healthy companies leads to a competitive bourse,” Kim said. “If more global blue chips are listed, more overseas investors will flock to the Seoul bourse and domestic investors will earn opportunities to invest in competitive companies.”

The KRX is working to attract companies listed in overseas bourses to also list in the Seoul stock market. It is also pushing to cooperate with the state-run trade agency and foreign firms in Korea to help companies listed on the Tokyo and London bourses list on the Seoul bourse as well, according to the KRX chief.

Kim, meanwhile, said the KRX plans to focus on exporting IT systems and modernizing bourses in emerging markets.

By helping set up a bourse system, the KRX acquired 45 and 49 percent stakes in Cambodia and Laos, respectively. In December, the bourse operator inked a memorandum of understanding to modernize the bourse system in Uzbekistan in exchange for an undecided amount of stake.

“South Korea has been lucky (in overseas business) … The KRX is also eying Eastern Europe, where the bourse system is underdeveloped. Western Africa, with its ample resources, is another region we plan to tap. Perhaps the KRX can even foray into Latin America,” said Kim. “It’s good that the KRX is expanding its financial territory.”

Korea Exchange Chairman Kim Bong-soo. (Photo courtesy of the Korea Exchange)

mil@yna.co.kr
(END)

February 28, 2011

In Laos, Bringing Books to Children—Via Elephant

Cached:  http://www.newser.com/story/112538/in-laos-bringing-books-to-children-via-elephant.html

The story of one American expatriate’s local publishing company

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2011 2:37 PM CST

Children of an Laotian mahout look on as their father prepares his elephant for ceremonies, but this is not one of the elephants used for book delivery.

(Newser) – In Laos, many children had never seen a book until “Uncle Sasha” came to town. American Sasha Alyson first visited the impoverished country in 2003, and was struck by the lack of books for children. “Many [kids] don’t even know what a book is. Sometimes you have to show them how to turn a page,” he tells the Christian Science Monitor. So he created his own publishing company, Big Brother Mouse, in 2006 and, along with two dozen local helpers, he’s been publishing and distributing children’s books in Laos ever since.

There are original stories, fairy tales, riddles, alphabet books, science books, and local folk tales. Most are written by “Uncle Sasha,” who taught himself the language, or his staff members; more than 30 titles are produced each year. Books sell for $2, but most are sponsored by foreign donors through “book parties,” where books are given to children and then a small library is set up in a village hut. The only problem? How to get all the books to the remote villages where parties are held. Staffers often lug the books on their backs and trek for days by foot, by boat … or by elephant. Fittingly, the elephant is named Boom-Boom, which means “books” in Lao, and she is the subject of one of Big Brother Mouse’s books.

Publishing children’s books – and delivering them by elephant

Sasha Alyson hauls (sometimes by elephant) children’s books in the local language to kids in rural Laos eager to learn to read.

 

Sasha Alyson (c.) reads ‘New, Improved Buffalo’ – a book he wrote and published in Lao and English – to two children at the elementary school in Pakseuang village in Laos during a ‘book party.’ Mr. Alyson’s group, Big Brother Mouse, aims to ‘make literacy fun for children in Laos.’ Tibor Krausz

Cached:  http://www.csmonitor.com/World/making-a-difference/2011/0221/Publishing-children-s-books-and-delivering-them-by-elephant

By Tibor Krausz, Correspondent / February 21, 2011

Luang Prabang, Laos

The little booklet contains riddles about animals – and the children in Pakseuang village just love it. Squeezing around a young Laotian staffer from Big Brother Mouse, the 40 or so second-graders listen with bated breath as he reads out the rhyming riddles to them.

Buffalo!” “Snake!” “Frog!” they shout back their guesses. At each correct answer they jump up cheering with arms raised.

Books – even simple ones like the 32-page “What Am I?” – hold a magical appeal for Laotian children. Many of them have never seen a book, much less owned one.

“What struck me when I came here [as a tourist in 2003],” says Sasha Alyson, the American expatriate who founded Big Brother Mouse, a local children’s publisher, “was that I never saw a book for children.”

The literacy rate in Laos, an impoverished communist holdout of 6 million people bordering Vietnam, is around 70 percent. Yet most people have nothing to read besides old dog-eared textbooks and government pamphlets. At many village schools blackboards are the sole means of instruction, and children lack even pencils and paper.

I knew I couldn’t do education reform here,” notes Mr. Alyson, who once ran a niche publishing firm in Boston. “But I could set up a small publishing project.”

So he did. In 2006 Alyson obtained the very first publishing license in Luang Prabang, a historic northern town on the Mekong River where he now lives. He recruited several young locals he had met by chance: One was a waiter who wanted to become a writer, another a Buddhist novice monk eager to try something different.

The mission of the small but thriving enterprise, which has a bookish cartoon mouse as its logo, is to “make literacy fun for children in Laos.”

On a recent Friday morning, Alyson and several of his helpers were in Pakseuang to hold a “book party” at the local elementary school. They led the children in playing games and singing songs with words like “Books are good/ Books make me smart.”

The children then each had their pick from a stash of new books – and instantly lost themselves in them. Khamla, a shy 9-year-old with a Young Pioneer’s red kerchief, chose “Animals of Africa.” At a previous book party she received “The Monkey King” storybook.

When I read, I feel happy,” she says.

Based in a modest two-story house in Luang Prabang, Alyson and his two dozen helpers produce more than 30 new titles a year in print runs of 6,000 copies each: colorful alphabet books, science primers, fairy tales, and folk tales. All the books are produced in-house and most are written by “Uncle Sasha” and his Laotian staff.

An elephant and a mahout, or handler, share a light moment at the ElefantAsia festival in the Hongsa district of the northern Lao province of Xayabouri.

“When I was 7, my parents bought me ‘The Cat in the Hat.‘ That turned me on to reading,” Alyson says. “Most Laotian children have no comparable memories. Many don’t even know what a book is. Sometimes you have to show them how to turn a page.

Inspired by the playful style of Dr. Seuss, Alyson, who taught himself to read and write the Lao language, has penned more than two dozen children’s books.

New, Improved Buffalo,” for one, tells the story of a village boy who outfits his trusted mount in various ways, much to the animal’s dismay. Like all the publisher’s books, it’s printed on glossy paper and illustrated in a charming, idiosyncratic style by local teenage artists recruited from schools and villages through drawing competitions. It sells for just 15,000 kip ($2).

Alyson’s team also sets local folk tales down in writing to preserve them and translates out-of-copyright foreign children’s classics, retelling them in a local context. In its version of “The Wizard of Oz,” illustrated by a 16-year-old Hmong boy, Dorothy is a girl called Kham who is swept away by a flood from Luang Namtha Province to the magical land of Oz.

Most of the books – and the “parties” at which they’re given to children in 500 villages near and far – are sponsored by foreign donors, many of whom are tourists like Stuart and Alison McKenzie, a couple from Glasgow, Scotland, on their honeymoon.

“[Alyson and his staff] seem very engaged,” Mr. McKenzie says. The couple paid for the book party in Pakseuang. “It’s great to see children so happy with something we take for granted in the West,” he adds.

Printing books is one thing. Getting them to children in remote villages is another. Alyson’s helpers, several of whom are from Hmong and Khmu villages, regularly fan out across the rugged countryside.

Lugging stacks of books strapped to their backs, small teams undertake arduous days-long treks on foot, by boat – and at times astride Boom-Boom, a sturdy Asian elephant whose name means “books” in Lao. Boom-Boom now even has her own book, “The Little Elephant That Could.

In village after village they set up “junior libraries” for children in the bamboo hut of a local volunteer.

Very few people read books in Laos,” says Siphone Vouthisakdee, who is from a village where only five people have finished primary school. He now writes, edits, and designs books at Big Brother Mouse.

“But some children are becoming little bookworms,” he says, “and take their books everywhere with them.”

• For more stories about people making a difference, go here.

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February 27, 2011

Clinton: U.S. ready to aid to Libyan opposition

Cached:  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/feb/27/clinton-us-ready-aid-libyan-opposition/

By Bradley Klapper | Associated Press | 2:53 p.m., Sunday, February 27, 2011

**FILE** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration stands ready to offer “any type of assistance” to Libyans seeking to oust Moammar Gadhafi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday, adding a warning to other African nations not to let mercenaries go to the aid of the longtime dictator.

Mrs. Clinton made no mention of any U.S. military assistance in her remarks to reporters before flying to Geneva for talks with diplomats from Russia, the European Union and other powers eager to present a united anti-Gadhafi front.

Shortly before she left, two senators urged the administration to help arm a provisional government in Libya, where Col. Gadhafi is in the midst of the desperate and increasingly violent bid to retain power.

Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, also called for the United States and its allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the military from again firing on civilian protesters from the air.

The White House had no immediate comment on their recommendations.

Mrs. Clinton spoke to reporters one day after President Obama branded Col. Gadhafi an illegitimate ruler who must leave power immediately.

“We want him to leave and we want him to end his regime and call off the mercenaries and those troops that remain loyal to him,” she said. “How he manages that is obviously up to him and to his family.”

The U.N. Security Council voted last Saturday to impose new penalties against the Gadhafi government, in power since 1969 in the oil-rich nation along Africa’s Mediterranean coast.

“We are just at the beginning of what will follow Gadhafi. … But we’ve been reaching out to many different Libyans who are attempting to organize in the east and as the revolution moves westward there as well,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I think it’s way too soon to tell how this is going to play out, but we’re going to be ready and prepared to offer any kind of assistance that anyone wishes to have from the United States.”

Efforts are under way to form a provisional government in the eastern part of the country, where the rebellion began at midmonth.

The United States, Mrs. Clinton said, is threatening more measures against Col. Gadhafi‘s government but did not say what they were or when they might be announced.

Addressing the rulers of unnamed neighboring countries, she said: “You must stop mercenaries; you must stop those who may be going to Libya either at the behest or opportunistically to engage in violence or other criminal acts. And we will be working closely with those neighboring countries to ensure that they do so.”

The African fighters that Col. Gadhafi allegedly is using against protesters come from several nations.

Mrs. Clinton‘s remarks did not go as far as those of Mr. McCain or Mr. Lieberman.

“Libyan pilots aren’t going to fly if there is a no-fly zone, and we could get air assets there to ensure it,” Mr. McCain said. But he added, “I’m not ready to use ground forces or further intervention than that.”

He said the United States should “recognize some provisional government that they are trying to set already up in the eastern part of Libya, help them with material assistance, make sure that every one of the mercenaries know that any acts they commit they will find themselves in front a war crimes tribunal. Get tough.”

Mr. Lieberman spoke in similar terms, urging “tangible support, (a) no-fly zone, recognition of the revolutionary government, the citizens government and support for them with both humanitarian assistance, and I would provide them with arms.”

He likened the situation in Libya to the events in the Balkans in the 1990s, when he said the U.S. “intervened to stop a genocide against Bosnians. And the first we did was to provide them the arms to defend themselves. That’s what I think we ought to do in Libya.”

Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” from Egypt, where a largely peaceful popular uprising recently toppled President Hosni Mubarak from power after a reign of nearly three decades.

It was one of numerous rebellions across North Africa and the Middle East in recent months, all of them far less violent than the events in Libya, where Col. Gadhafi has used his military and foreign mercenaries to try to crush a revolt and has threatened to begin arming Libyans who support his rule.

The rebellion began Feb. 15 in Benghazi, where a member of the city council said on Sunday that an ex-justice minister was appointed to lead a provisional government for cities under rebel control.

Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman also said Obama was slow to react to Col. Gadhafi‘s brutal response to the protests. The administration has said the president did not want to risk any attack on Americans were trying to leave the country and waited until a ferry loaded with evacuees reached Malta after spending two days in the harbor at Tripoli, the capital, because of bad weather.

“The British prime minister and the French president and others were not hesitant, and they have citizens in that country,” said Mr. McCain, who also appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Lieberman said he understood why the administration hesitated, but he added, “I wish we had spoken out much more clearly and early against the Gadhafi regime.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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