Libya: The battle for Tripoli explained in 600 words

Counteroffensive by GNA sees rival forces of eastern-based Khalifa Haftar withdraw to pre-April 2019 lines.

After 14 months and hundreds of lives lost, renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s attempt to seize Tripoli and become Libya’s ruler is effectively over.

On Friday, forces loyal to the United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) swept through the city of Tarhuna, Haftar’s last stronghold in western Libya. It came a day after the GNA announced the recapturing of the Greater Tripoli area in its entirety.

Al Jazeera takes a quick at the collapsed offensive and what lies ahead for the oil-rich North African country. 

When did the battle for Tripoli begin?

In April 2019, just days before UN-sponsored peace talks, Haftar announced a military campaign to wrest control of Tripoli, the seat of the GNA since early 2016.

In launching the offensive, the Ajdabiya native and former CIA asset said he sought to “cleanse” the capital from a government beholden to militias and “terrorists”.

But the push stalled in the face of strong resistance, with the battle lines remaining largely fixed until a series of military victories in recent weeks by the Turkish-backed GNA’s forces.

Who are the foreign actors involved?

Haftar is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, while the Tripoli-based administration of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is supported by Turkey. 

France officially supports the GNA but has, in the past, blocked a European Union statement calling on the 76-year-old to halt his offensive. 

The United States has sent mixed signals, with President Donald Trump initially praising Haftar for his role in combatting “terrorism”. 

Washington, however, seems to have walked back on its initial position of ambiguity, with the US Africa command recently accusing Russia of deploying a dozen Russian fighter jets to Libya to expand “its military footprint” in Africa.

What are the foreign actors’ goals in Libya? 

At 46.4 billion barrels, Libya sits atop Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.

Turkey stepped up its intervention after signing a maritime demarcation deal with the GNA late last year to begin oil and gas exploration in the resource-abundant eastern Mediterranean. 

But energy interests are not alone in shaping foreign countries’ involvement in Libya, which has been mired in turmoil since the overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The UAE and Egypt see in Haftar a strongman capable of restoring order and stymying the spread of political Islam, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, which they view as a threat to their domestic rule.

Russia sees Libya as an opportunity to entrench itself in a part of the world that has traditionally fallen under the West’s purview. 

“The presence of Russia in southern shoreline of the Mediterranean threatens the US and NATO’s interests. It’s a dream that the USSR has always had,” said Mohammed Ali Abdallah, GNA adviser for US affairs. 

What next?

Analysts say the GNA’s military gains do not mark the end of Libya’s war but a return to the status quo before the launch of the Tripoli offensive.

Russia and Turkey have engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity to secure a ceasefire and reap dividends from their military investment. 

Libyan officials from both sides of the aisle have travelled to Ankara and Moscow to discuss details of a future ceasefire agreement. 

For Emadeddin Badi, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, this is proof of the two countries’ success in imposing themselves as indispensable interlocutors in any future peace deal. 

“Tellingly, no European capital features among any of the locales visited by Libyan factions these days,” Badi said. 

“The US and Europeans have worked doubly hard at sidelining themselves over the past year. France has undermined Europe by backing Haftar – and has nothing to show for it now.” 

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China warns against travel to Australia, citing discrimination

(Reuters) – China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism on Friday advised the public to avoid traveling to Austrlia, citing racial discrimination and violence against the Chinese in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There has been an alarming increase recently in acts of racial discrimination and violence against Chinese and Asians in Australia, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the ministry said in a statement. It did not give any specific examples of such discrimination or violence.

Asians of various backgrounds have said they have been harassed since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, including in the United States. China issued a warning to tourists traveling there earlier this year after some said they were mistreated in connection with the outbreak.

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U.S. will allow Chinese passenger carriers two flights per week

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Department said on Friday it will allow Chinese passenger air carriers to operate two flights per week after Beijing said it would ease coronavirus restrictions to allow in more foreign carriers.

On Wednesday, Washington said it planned to bar all Chinese passenger airlines from flying to the United States by June 16, due to Beijing’s curbs on U.S. carriers. The revised Transportation Department order cuts in half the four weekly round trip flights Chinese passenger carriers have been flying to the United States and take effect immediately.

The department said if China takes further steps for U.S. carriers it is “fully prepared to once again revisit the action.” The notice added that the department is “troubled by China’s continued unilateral dictation of the terms of the U.S.-China scheduled passenger air transportation market without respect for the rights of U.S. carriers.”

The announcement defuses a potential new flashpoint in the U.S.-China relationship. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment.

China’s announcement should allow U.S. carriers to resume once-a-week flights into a city of their choice starting on June 8, a fraction of what the U.S.-China aviation agreement allows.

The U.S. limit affects U.S. roundtrip flights by Air China (601111.SS), China Eastern Airlines Corp, China Southern Airlines Co (600029.SS) and Xiamen Airlines Co. It is not immediately known which flights will be allowed to continue.

It is also unclear if U.S. carriers will agree to fly just once a week to China when they have sought approval for two or three daily flights.

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and United Airlines (UAL.O) asked to resume flights to China this month. Both said they were studying China’s action.

China said all airlines can increase the number of international flights involving China to two per week if none of their passengers test positive for COVID-19 for three consecutive weeks.

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TV depictions of cops can't, and shouldn't, go back to the way they were

Since Memorial Day, protests and police violence have gripped the nation in a way not seen in decades, spreading images of civic upheaval across our screens.

These are the same screens we watch our TV shows on in 2020. How can these two things coexist?

They can’t, at least not without some cognitive dissonance. Much of the escapism and drama we depend on in the entertainment world seems trivial at the moment. Not simply because of the events happening since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, but because coronavirus was already setting the stage for a new, unfamiliar landscape.

We can’t go back to the way things were, even when the “new normal” finally arrives. And we shouldn’t.

First, the snap-back from coronavirus, which has become a rallying point for politicians and business owners over the last few weeks, is not going to happen anytime soon. (And by “anytime soon,” I mean until there’s a free, widely available vaccine.) It’s the same with live, public performances. Concerts still scheduled for Red Rocks Amphitheatre this summer look delusional on the venue’s calendar. How do you socially distance a sold-out concert? Who gets to attend, and who’s left out?

And even with people eating on patios and protesting in the streets after a long period of public silence, no one’s hosting new plays, comedy shows, gallery exhibitions or dance programs anywhere but online.

Figuring out how to return to live, public performances is clearly a big problem in the realm of arts and entertainment. But so is figuring out how to responsibly portray the civic crisis in this country on screen, specifically on TV shows about cops.

The backlog of new television series and other media (movies, albums, etc.) now releasing online feels necessarily disconnected. It’s not most creators’ fault, as I said in a negative review of “Space Force,” the Netflix show set in Colorado that treads comically on government ineptitude. While some people claim to have seen this coming, the past few months have been a slow, painful process of disillusionment for many of us, regardless of politics or taste. Of course, art and entertainment can’t keep pace.

Or can it? Westword last week rounded up a dozen-plus examples of Denver musicians creating music for the moment — new works in the longstanding tradition of grassroots activism. Singers and actors such as Halsey, John Cusack and Kendrick Sampson have shared videos of themselves being roughed up by cops or facing tear gas. And black artists are raising money, organizing legal responses and otherwise leading the way toward what our new creative reality could look like.

Some of their messages will sound like broken records to critics of the protests, who may already see Hollywood as a liberal swamp and social-justice activism as a performative whine. But those people are not setting the tone right now, at least not for anyone actually driving change, and the promise of more shows like HBO’s still hyper-relevant “Watchmen” — which dealt directly and brilliantly with white supremacy and police brutality — is enticing.

Actors who play cops, such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” co-star Stephanie Beatriz, are donating tens of thousands of dollars to bail funds for protesters while begging their peers to do the same. Powerful TV producers such as Dick Wolf, the creator of the “Law & Order” franchise, are taking action. Wolf last week fired Craig Gore, a writer on one of his shows, for threatening on social media to shoot looters. That sends a message to any of his employees harboring similar sentiments.

Remaining neutral on racism and police violence is increasingly not an option. Regressive attitudes are not welcome.

Cop shows have long been a popular genre because they’re innately compelling, with an endless number of real-world examples to fictionalize. But the majority of them have acted for too long as a kind of PR department for police forces. Even shows that explore racism within departments or heavy-handed approaches on the street tend to reinforce that police are always “the good guys,” heroes above reproach.

There’s a reason police procedurals like “CSI” and its spin-offs reach more people than “The Wire,” despite the latter’s widespread acclaim. The former reinforces the status quo and is therefore a more widely palatable (and bankable) project. The latter humanizes those who oppose the legal system, showing the complicated, uncomfortable relationship between privilege, politics, economic inequality and long-ingrained bigotry. Unassailably good and bad guys don’t exist on that show, as is usually the case in real life.

Great writing, acting and production can be its own virtue, regardless of politics. But the way that shows such as “Hill Street Blues” (1981-1987), “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993-1998) and “NYPD Blue” (1993-2005) have aged should serve as an example to current and future cop-show writers. Their characters are rich and full of doubt, their story lines less than tidy. Instead of having their buttons pushed, viewers were asked to ponder the moral and ethical conundrums present in each episode.

It’s not exactly light viewing for someone who doesn’t want to be challenged. But it matches up better with what we’ve seen on the streets than most TV shows about police. While some elected officials and police chiefs have been marching, hugging or kneeling with protesters, others sit in undisclosed locations while their employees tear-gas dozens of protesters and members of the media, violently drag college kids from their cars, or flash white power symbols at each other. The videos of cops attacking peaceful protesters and members of the media seem to mount by the hour.

Can we truthfully portray cops as “mostly good” when there’s incontrovertible evidence to the contrary? No, and it’s something that black communities have seen clearly since the founding of this nation.

Of course, this brings up an old argument about whether art and entertainment need to be activist to be meaningful. It doesn’t. It can be anything it wants. A documentary about climate change or teachers in poor communities is as valid as a painting of a hummingbird or an absurdist comedy sketch — if it compels you to think and feel. Right-leaning creatives have the same freedom to make shows glorifying cops as liberals do to tear them down.

But with minor exceptions, they all glorify cops. Racist, violent behavior is an aberration to be addressed in a single episode instead of a systemic issue. After I submitted a draft of this piece to my editor last week, I found numerous parallel articles with titles such as “Cops Are Always the Main Character” (Vulture), “How TV Cops Taught Us to Valorize the Police” (Vox), and “Cop Shows Are Undergoing a Reckoning — With One Big Exception” (Slate; that exception is the CBS network, home to “CSI,” “Blue Bloods,” “SWAT,” etc.).

Not all TV shows need to generate empathy for their main characters, to twist a phrase from the late, great Roger Ebert. Storytelling can also be a warning against danger, an imagining of worst-case scenarios so we can prepare ourselves for potential trouble. That’s why films get compared to dreams so much — flights of fancy, yes, but also nightmares that hand us previously unimaginable scenarios and speak directly to our squishy lizard brains. Good or bad, they allow us to escape reality and imagine something that doesn’t exist.

And so it is with TV, from utopian pioneers such as the original “Star Trek” series to surreal, progressive, animated shows like “Tuca & Bertie,” which was just picked up for a second season by Adult Swim after being dropped by Netflix.

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If we want anything to change, we need to not only witness but also marinate in the loss, pain and complexity in our country right now, whatever that looks like for each of us. We need to watch and listen as peaceful young protesters are beaten in broad daylight by police, while mobs of white men with bats, for example, are allowed by police to roam the streets of Philadelphia. And we need to see that reflected in the shows we use to escape from or sharpen our reality — not all of them, but any that have the pretense of dealing with such issues — for them to remain relevant.

Whatever the future brings, there is no way to meaningfully recover from what’s happening without a fundamental shift, both in real life and on the TV shows that portray it. Until that happens, we’re just spinning our wheels in the same outdated vehicle that got us here.

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Nigerian campaigners stage protest over sexual violence

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerian rights campaigners took to the streets of the capital Abuja on Friday to raise awareness about sexual violence in the West African country after a series of high-profile rape cases.

#JusticeforUwa has trended on social media in the last week after Vera Uwaila Omosuwa, a 22-year-old student, died two days after she was raped in a church in the southern city of Benin.

More than 200 protesters marched around police headquarters in Abuja, chanting and holding placards that read “Justice for all Nigerian girls and women”, and “No means no”.

The march was one of a number of activities planned by campaigners to raise awareness of sexual violence and urge politicians to set aside more money to tackle the issue and ensure police independence.

“Children are dying, women are dying, enough is enough,” said Dorothy Njemanze, one of the protest organisers.

Njemanze said she and other campaigners were “watching every step of everything they (politicians) say and do on sexual based violence”.

Nigeria’s most senior policeman has ordered the immediate deployment of additional investigators to specialist gender violence desks, a Police Force statement said on Tuesday.

“This is to strengthen and enhance the capacity of the units to respond to increasing challenges of sexual assaults and domestic/gender-based violence linked with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and other social ills within the country,” it said.

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UPDATE 1-Investors shed safe-haven German Bunds as ECB fortifies the euro zone

* German 30-year yields rise to five-month high

* Long-end Italy/Germany spread at tightest since March

* U.S. payroll numbers show 2.5 mln jobs added

* Euro zone periphery govt bond yields tmsnrt.rs/2ii2Bqr (Adds graphic, updates prices)

By Abhinav Ramnarayan

LONDON, June 5 (Reuters) – Safe-haven German government bonds sold off for a second day on Friday, with yields reaching their highest levels in months, after the European Central Bank’s support for the euro zone helped boost sentiment towards the region.

Southern European borrowing costs fell further and the gap between long-dated Italian and German bond yields shrunk to its narrowest since the first coronavirus-related market rout in late March.

The ECB approved a bigger-than-expected expansion of its stimulus package on Thursday to prop up an economy plunged by the coronavirus pandemic into its worst recession since World War Two.

“If you think about what the ECB has done, it is dramatically supporting the euro through reducing tail risk. Peripheral spreads will keep tightening, especially at the long end,” said Peter Chatwell, Mizuho’s head of rates.

The gap between Italian and German 30-year bond yields was at its narrowest since March 27 at 211 basis points.

Long-dated 30-year German government bond yields rose six basis points to 0.24%, the highest level since January. The bonds were trading at a negative yield just 10 days ago.

“Yesterday, Christine (Lagarde) fired yet another bazooka – almost doubling the size of the purchase programme. That means a lot of support for Italy,” said Gregory Perdon, co-chief investment officer at Arbuthnot Latham.

Italy’s benchmark 10-year bond yields were at 1.42% on Friday, close to Thursday’s two-month low and half of mid-March’s level, when worries around the spread of the novel coronavirus were at their most elevated.

Greek 10-year yields were also at their lowest levels since March at 1.35%.

Employment data from the United States, meanwhile, showed over 2.5 million jobs being added, an improvement from a dire figure the month before and adding to the positive sentiment.

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Egypt father charged over girls’ genital mutilation

A man in Egypt who allegedly had female genital mutilation (FGM) carried out on his three daughters after tricking them, has been charged along with the doctor who performed the procedure.

The doctor went to the girls’ house after their father told them they would receive a coronavirus “vaccination”, Egypt’s prosecutor-general said.

The girls, aged under 18, were drugged and the doctor cut their genitals.

FGM was made illegal in 2008 in Egypt but remains prevalent.

A coronavirus vaccine currently does not exist although global trials to develop one are under way.

The girls told their mother, who is divorced from their father, about the procedure and she notified authorities.

“They lost consciousness and when they woke up they were shocked to find their legs bound together and a sensation of pain in their genitals,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

Performing FGM was made a criminal act in Egypt in 2016, and doctors can be jailed for up to seven years if found guilty of carrying out the procedure. Anyone who requests it can face up to three years in prison.

But so far no-one has been successfully prosecuted under the law. Women’s rights groups say judges and police do not take the legislation seriously enough.

“It’s really shocking that authorities such as judges and the police continue to treat FGM cases with extreme leniency here,” Reda el-Danbouki, executive director of the Cairo-based Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness, told AFP news agency.

In January, 14-year-old Nada Abdel Maqsood bled to death after forcibly undergoing FGM, sparking fury online.

Her parents and the doctor were referred to a criminal court, but Mr Danbouki says it is now unclear whether a trial will go ahead.

What is female genital mutilation?

Despite being outlawed in many parts of the world, the ritual is still practised globally.

The procedures alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons, and often involve the removal or cutting of the labia and clitoris.

The UN estimates that 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone some form of genital mutilation.

In Egypt, it is widespread in both Christian and Muslim communities, and is often justified for cultural or religious reasons but is rooted in the desire to control a woman’s sexuality.

As much as 87% of Egyptian women and girls aged 15-49 have undergone FGM, according to a 2016 survey by the UN Children’s Fund.

It can cause lasting physical and mental trauma, including chronic infections, menstrual problems, infertility, pregnancy and childbirth complications.

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Libya's Tripoli government seizes last LNA stronghold near capital

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government captured the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli on Friday, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive on the capital.

Military sources in Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said their forces had withdrawn from the town of Tarhouna. They headed towards Sirte, far along the coast, and the airbase of al-Jufra in central Libya. The LNA made no immediate official comment.

The advance extends the control of the Government of National Accord (GNA) and allied forces across most of northwest Libya, reversing many of Haftar’s gains from last year when he raced towards Tripoli.

The GNA has been backed by Turkey, while Haftar, whose LNA still controls the east and oil fields in the south, has been supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The United Nations has started holding talks with both sides for a ceasefire deal in recent days, though previous truces have not stuck. The GNA gains could entrench the de facto partition of Libya into zones controlled by rival eastern and western governments whose foreign backers compete for regional sway.

Turkish military support for the GNA, with drone strikes, air defences and a supply of allied Syrian fighters, was key to its recent successes. Ankara regards Libya as crucial to defending its interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

However, the LNA still retains its foreign support. Washington said last week Moscow had sent warplanes to LNA-held Jufra, though Russia and the LNA denied this.

The United Nations says weapons and fighters have flooded into the country in defiance of an arms embargo, risking a deadlier escalation. Meanwhile, a blockade of oil ports by eastern-based forces has almost entirely cut off energy revenue and both administrations face a looming financial crisis.

STRONGHOLD

Located in the hills southeast of Tripoli, Tarhouna had functioned as a forward base for Haftar’s assault on the capital. Its swift fall suggests Haftar’s foreign supporters were less willing to sustain his bid to take over the entire country once Turkey intervened decisively to stop him.

The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had captured Tarhouna after entering from four sides. Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident, said GNA forces had entered the town.

Videos and photographs posted online appeared to show GNA forces inside Tarhouna cheering and hugging each other and firing into the air.

“The Libyan government forces are rapidly moving in an organised manner and with armed drones. There could be a solution at the table, but Haftar’s forces are losing ground in every sense,” said a Turkish official.

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Gordon Leff obituary

My friend Gordon Leff, who has died aged 93, was a historian whose writing on medievalism covered an extraordinary range, beginning with his first book in 1958, Medieval Thought: St Augustine to Ockham. Many more works followed, including  a series of monographs on 14th-century thinkers, Bradwardine (1957), Richard FitzRalph (1961), Gregory of Rimini (1963) and William of Ockham (1975), and then a look at heterodox thinkers in Heresy in the Later Middle Ages (1967), followed by The Dissolution of the Medieval Outlook (1976).

Born in London, to Solomon Leff, a food broker, and his wife, Eva (nee Gordon), “Bunny” – as he was known throughout his life – went to Summerhill school in Suffolk shortly before the second world war and, towards the end of the war when he was called up, became a quartermaster in the artillery in India (1945-46). He then studied history at King’s College, Cambridge (where he was a fellow from 1955 onwards), and his first job was lecturing in the history department at Manchester University (1956-65).

He moved to the new University of York in 1965 and bought a cottage outside York, in Strensall, which is where I first met him, after motorbiking up from Oxford to see him for postgraduate supervisions. He spent the rest of his career at York’s history department, first as a reader (1965-69) and then as a professor. When he retired in 1988 he was made an emeritus professor.

Bunny was exceptionally economical with his time: for his undergraduate lectures he would start saying his first sentence as he walked through the doorway into the lecture room, and his last as he walked towards the door to depart. He would mark exam scripts while watching the cricket at Headingley, simultaneously keeping his eye on play, and in a history department meeting he would sit in a corner by a bin, ripping through the accumulated post of several weeks or reading a book he had been sent to review – occasionally to be heard snorting with laughter at some piece of committee jargon.

Back in 1983, Bunny had been invited by Oxford University to deliver an annual series of six lectures on the history of political thought, known as the Carlyle lectures. The deliverer of the lectures is expected to hand over polished versions to Oxford’s Clarendon Press, and they usually make up a slim volume published a year or two later. Bunny instead embarked upon embellishing his lectures with further study, going back to Augustine and Plato; it was a scheme of extraordinary ambition that took him many years, and I feared he was in a logjam. However, at the age of 86 and 29 years after having delivered the lectures, he finally handed them over in four volumes of more than 1,000 pages in total. Impatient at editorial delay, he then self-published.

Bunny’s private pleasures were music, cricket and, later in life, the company of his grandchildren. He married Kate Fox in 1953; they were divorced in 1980. He is survived by their son, Gregory, and three grandchildren, Cameron, Rory and Cerys.

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Libyan government says it has entered Haftar stronghold Tarhouna

TUNIS (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognised government said on Friday they had entered Tarhouna, the last major stronghold of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar near Tripoli, capping the sudden collapse of his 14-month offensive.

There was no immediate comment from Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) on whether its forces remained in the town, a day after they were pushed from their last positions in the capital.

Turkish backing has helped the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) to a string of victories in recent weeks, ending an assault on Tripoli that led to battles in its southern suburbs and bombardment of the city centre.

The GNA operations room said in a statement that its forces had reached the centre of Tarhouna after entering from four sides.

Abdelsalam Ahmed, a resident of Tarhouna, said GNA forces had entered the town.

Libya’s conflict is far from over, however, with the LNA still controlling the country’s east, where there is a parallel administration, and large parts of the south, where the country’s main oilfields are located.

The LNA is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The United Nations has warned that a recent flood of weapons and fighters to both sides in Libya risks a major new escalation.

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