Inside Gaddafi’s Surreal Bubble As The Bombing Begins

Human shields and Shakira beats. The view from one of the foreign journalists accredited by the regime to report from Tripoli, as the Western-led missile attacks begin.

Inside Gaddafi’s Surreal Bubble As The Bombing Begins
Delphine Minoui

TRIPOLI - "Message to the press: you are invited for a tour of Bab-el Aziza. Please gather at the entrance hall of the hotel as soon as possible!" Moussa Ibrahim, the announcer at the hotel Rixos Al Nasr in Tripoli, is speaking with a voice that is more excited than normal. We have to be fast. In the parking lot, our usual tourist bus is waiting for us, and the door is already open. We have only enough time to grab our video recorders, microphones and cameras.

We are the several dozen journalists authorized by the regime to cover events in the capital – and we set off for Bab-el Aziza, Muammad Gaddafi's main base, which is just ten minutes away from the hotel.

Very quickly, a rumor spreads about a public announcement by the Libyan leader. It would be the first response from Gaddafi since Thursday's UN Security Council approval of a resolution for a Libyan no-fly zone. At our arrival at his headquarters, the usual supporters of the regime are already gathered in front of the gates. They are waving green flags and pictures of the Colonel. We pass through several checkpoints. The controls are strangely not very strict. We arrive in front a collapsed compound. It is a symbolic place. Gaddafi barely escaped the US air-striking which was carried out here in 1986 in response to a Berlin discotheque bombing that killed American soliders. Gaddafi's adopted daughter, Hannah, was killed.

The ruins were left here as a memorial. In front of it, hundreds of people are gathering. There are men, women, and teenagers. They are, in effect, forming a human shield. Bab-el Aziza is one of the possible targets of foreign air strikes. The crowd is singing pro-regime slogans, like football fans waiting for their team to take the field.

Banners are warning the West. "The people are ready to die for Libya," one reads. "Libya is ready and out of reach," reads another. There are metaphors too: "We are waiting for you and so are the fish." Our guide explains that this is a reference to a US aircraft which was shot down in the sea in the 80s.

A song that sounds like Shakira is playing. Some veiled women move to the music. Listening more carefully to the words, it is possible to recognize Gaddafi's first speech after the start of the popular uprising. On February 22nd, he said he would "cleanse Libya house by house" and "street by street" if necessary. The song, "Zenga Zenga" ("Street by street") is currently one of the most popular viral hits on YouTube. Noy Alooshe, an Israeli musician of Tunisian descent, created it to support Libyan opposition. The regime seems to have decided to adopt it for its own purposes.

Everything is strange tonight, even the full moon. Oddest of all is when I run into the owner of an esthetician center I'd interviewed last week. Instinctively, she hugs me, though she is a discreet opponent of the regime. Why is she attending such a propaganda show? There is no time to ask. The journalists are requested to gather on the ground floor of the collapsed compound. Minutes and hours go by. Gaddafi will keep us waiting, as usual.

All of a sudden, a cell phone rings. "Two missiles fell in East Tripoli," a fellow journalist says. The military action has officially started. There is no more time to waste acting as Gaddafi's propaganda speakers. All the journalists go back to the big bus, to ask for more updates. Once we are back at the hotel, the news is confirmed: US and British forces have fired more than 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libyan defense targets. One hour later, Gaddafi finally appears on the Libyan national television. "The Mediterranean region has become a real battlefield," he says in a audio message recorded at unknown time and place. "Arms depots have been opened, and all the Libyan people are being armed to defend the country against Western forces." Far away, blasts echo in the night.

Read the original article in French

Photo credit - (startagain)

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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