In Benghazi, A Revolt 33 Years In The Making. And Plans To Finish The Job

In Benghazi, A Revolt 33 Years In The Making. And Plans To Finish The Job

As locals search for corpses at the Ground Zero of the Feb. 17 Revolution, military and civilians map out a final assault on Muammar Gadaffi.

Opposition poster (mshamma)

BENGHAZI - Osama is rotating in his hand a new Belgian-made 9-mm Parabellum cartridge. He took it after the assault on Al Fadil, a major Libyan police base in Benghazi's suburbs, and the scene of the most serious fighting between police forces and anti-government protesters in these early weeks of the Revolution of Feb. 17.

Osama is chubby and bold. He is 40 years old, but looks younger. He is a Libyan Olympic Committee employee, and has a friendly demeanor. But he is originally from Saika, Benghazi's toughest neighborhood. "Our local ‘bad guys' were crucial during the assault," he says. "They had explosives. We had tried to break the perimeter fence in every way. We tried with an excavator and sand pallet trucks. Then, we just blew it off. It was the end for the policemen."

Osama shows the individual bullets, labeled with the name of a famous Belgian manufacturer. They are his war chest from Al Fadil's armory. It was Gaddafi's stronghold, in the middle of a city that was destined to fall to the revolutionaries. Benghazi is said to have being in revolt since 1977, when for the first time there was a bloody crackdown by Muammar Gaddafi's forces that culminated in the public hanging of students. The repression became more severe over the years, with the bloodiest massacre in June 1996.

The February 17 revolution can trace its origins to these past uprisings. For 15 years, Benghazi's people have looked for the corpses of the victims. They thought they were buried in Al Fadil, a labyrinth made of prisons, barracks, stages for Gaddafi's speeches, and underground cells, which were used as torture rooms -- and to bury dissidents alive. Residents are still digging and looking for the victims of the 1996 massacre, and others that followed.

Friday morning, they found the corpses of nine soldiers, who had refused Gaddafi's orders to shoot at the Libyan people. They were lashed, killed, burned alive, and buried under the sand. The 1.5 meter-high, 3-by-4-meter wide cells are horrifying. A white plastic tube was the sole conduit for air to enter. "They promised us houses and schools. And this is where they put our sons. They killed them as rats," cries a mother.

Injured people are still arriving at the city's main hospital, which has been renamed "Martyrs' Hospital." In the villages of the southern region Sirte, fighting persists between the revolutionaries and Gaddafi's tribal militia. Those most seriously injured on February 17 are still dying. More than 300 have been killed, according to Imed Al Jouif, a 32 year-old surgeon. "On the first day, 10 people died. On the second day, 45. Last Sunday, more than 100 people died," he says.

Since February 15th, Imed has not left the hospital ward. He sleeps just a few hours a night on a cot. Nearby, in a big room, there are 10 critically injured people. Ahmed was wounded in the stomach. He tries to smile, to make a ‘Victory" sign with two fingers, but it is too painful. His smile becomes a grimace. He is 27 years old. He was shot in front of Al Fadil during the last assault.

"They attacked with hard weapons," says Al Jouif. "We have seen crashed skulls, huge holes in the chests, and broken limbs." He shows the documentation on his computer. Many radiographies show that the injuries were caused by major assault weapons, machine guns from helicopters and grenades. "In the worst days, 250 people worked in the hospital. Many of them were just students. Some colleagues who studied in Germany and are more expert on these kind of injuries were priceless."

The air force, which is still loyal to Gaddafi, worked hard in Benghazi. It is the most serious issue for the new Republic of Free Libya's army. This would be the name of a post-Gaddafi Libya. At the air base in Benghazi, a new air force is being created, putting together retired officials, exiles, and former jailed dissidents. They are tearing down a sign with Gaddafi's revolution slogan "September 1 Forever."

"That was not a revolution, it was a military coup d'etat," says General Fatih Al Kaidani, who is the commander-in-chief of the base. "We instead feel close to the people. Gaddafi answered with repression to people's rightful claims. He has become a traitor to Libya. It is wrong to kill your own youth. He is just a traitor." The general stresses the point that this is a "republican," not Islamic or military revolution. This is the new, free Libya.

Many years ago, Lt. Atia Mansouri used to dream about such freedom. He is now 60. Rail thin with a sunken face and wild eyes, he is wearing his old uniform. He spent 13 years in one of Gaddafi's prisons, where he was tortured and kept in solitary confinement for three years. "In 1975 it was already obvious that Gaddafi would have never kept his word. He has always spoken and promised. That's all. We were more than 200 young officials preparing a military coup d'etat. I don't hide it. They discovered us."

At the base, military personnel and civilians are discussing the situation. There is not a common line yet. Lt. Mansouri admits that there are one or two Mirages, the jet fighter he learned to pilot in Dijon. They are hidden in underground bunkers, out of sight. Some planes of the national Libyan airline are on the runway. They are stuck here because the airport is closed, the radar busted.

According to rumors, there should be a new offensive from Misurata to Tripoli. It could happen in two or three days, maybe with helicopters and, possibly, planes. However, it is necessary to make sure the coast along Sirte's Gulf is safe, an area traditionally loyal to Gaddafi. Osama – the man who with the Parabellum cartridge – says he is ready to leave with the expedition. Currently, he is giving away sandwiches at his cousin's restaurant. They give them away for free, for the revolution. "Now my people are happy. Gaddafi will die or we will die. But we cannot go back."

Read the original article in Italian

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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