Geopolitics

In Benghazi, Pre-Revolution Soccer Rivalry Now Played For Keeps On Battlefield

Jailed and tortured under Muammar al-Gaddafi, whose son ran the rival team, Benghazi's local club supporters are now at the heart of the Libyan revolution.

Flags these days are Libyan, but Benghazi is also loyal to the local FC al-Ahli club. (Al Jazeera)
Flags these days are Libyan, but Benghazi is also loyal to the local FC al-Ahli club. (Al Jazeera)
Cyrille Louis

BENGHAZI – Recognizable by their bright red FC al-Ahli soccer jerseys, you can see them on virtually every street corner in Benghazi. Since the Libyan uprising of Feb. 17, local soccer supporters have been among those most active in trying to build of a new Libyan nation. Some have put their sweat into repairing pavements or roads. Others have gone to the front to fight against Colonel Gaddafi's troops.

But on a recent evening, a few supporters got together in Benghazi Central Square and recalled when they were routinely beaten up a decade ago because they were FC al-Ahli fans. At that time, about 30 supporters went through a living hell because they dared to rebel against Saadi Gaddafi – the third son of the Libyan leader – who back then was both owner and captain of the rival club based in Tripoli called Al Ahly Tripoli.

Soccer was then one of the few fields in which people would show their collective local pride, and more implicitly their rejection of the current regime. Thus, the Libyan dictator thought that it was anything but a harmless hobby.

In the summer of 2000, Saadi Gaddafi decided to reign in the unruly rival team after a series of on-field disputes. During a match between the two clubs, Benghazi players threatened to leave the field after two "imaginary" penalties and an offside goal were awarded to the rival team leader. Later, FC al-Ahli supporters refused to support the Libyan national team, and ransacked the premises of the Libyan Soccer Federation, which was then chaired by Saadi Gaddafi himself.

In the following days, Libya's Internal Security Forces rounded up several dozen supporters and sent them to Tripoli. "Before being transferred to the Ain Zara prison, usually reserved for political prisoners, they shaved our heads," recalls Abdul Salam el-Mozoughi, a strapping fan, now 42. "We were tortured for five weeks. Our torturers wanted us to confess to the worst crimes imaginable. Gaddafi's soldiers treated us like terrorists. They wanted us to say that we were in touch with political opponents in exile."

In the meantime, Benghazi's FC al-Ahli was temporarily disbanded, as 34 defendants were accused of attempting to create a political party, insulting the Libyan guide's family and criminal conspiracy. Three of the defendants were sentenced to death. Those sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment.

"The truth is that Saadi Gaddafi had a grudge against us, because our team was strong, and because we refused to submit to his whims," says Murad Rhoma, who was behind bars for three years. "On the field, the other teams' players were so afraid of his fits of anger that they did not dare to try to get the ball from him," adds Abdul Salam el-Mozoughi, who was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment.

The supporters, who were pardoned at the end of 2005, have got their team back now. But Saadi Gaddafi does not seem to have forgiven Benghazi's inhabitants. In the early days of Libya's revolt, he seemed to have personally ordered to shoot young protesters in Benghazi.

Many FC al-Ahli supporters have taken active roles in the Libyan revolution, only too pleased to be able to take their revenge. At the end of March, six of them were killed by accident by a NATO strike. Others were shot dead by the pro-Gaddafi troops. "Our country is worth those sacrifices," says Murad Rhomas. The man is overjoyed to be able to speak openly of his pride. At present, like many other locals, he wants to devote himself totally to fight against Gaddafi's troops.

But as soon as the peace is won, they boast to their French visitors, the old Hugo Chavez Stadium will be re-baptized Nicolas Sarkozy Stadium. "Then it will be time to enjoy playing soccer again."

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Al Jazeera

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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